Dressing Korean

August 15, 2010

I’ve blogged about the French-born anthropologist Rene Girard before (here’s my summary of key Girardian ideas); what I find particularly insightful in his work is the emphasis he places on how our desires develop through mimesis.  In other words, we learn what to desire often just by imitating others.  A few Girardian moments this summer reminded me of the validity of this point.

The first came at the first birthday party of my niece, the adorable Chloe, who I’ve mentioned before.  Chloe has idiosyncratic tastes; she’s as often interested in gnawing on someone’s shoe or a newspaper as she is in playing with her toys.  The one thing you can do to make her more interested in the toys, however, is to start playing with them yourself.  Once Chloe notices someone else playing with a toy, she crawls resolutely across the floor and takes it from them!  Mimetic desire starts early.

I thought of Girard again in northeast India when the fifth graders in the remote mountain village where I taught started flashing gang signs whenever I took their picture.  Of course, when I asked them what they were doing and why, they had no real idea—they were just imitating something they had seen on TV.

I should back up a bit here and say that even though the village where I worked has no telephone connections, paved roads, refrigeration, radio reception, or indoor plumbing, nearly every house has satellite TV.  An enduring image of the journey will be that of The Dish sticking out from under the thatched roofs of bamboo huts.

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Luxuries of a Third World Church

August 9, 2010

If you are one of our astute regular readers (and aren’t all of our regular readers by definition astute?), you might have noticed that my postings this summer were rather sparse.  You see, I was in the jungle.

The Jesuits, as most of you know, are a worldwide religious order, and, even though the order is divided into provinces, when a man becomes a Jesuit he enters the Society of Jesus, of which there is but one in the world.  Our current Father General has placed great emphasis on the international character of the Society, encouraging provinces to work together across national borders and reminding us that Jesuits in formation need to be comfortable working in any culture.

All of this, along with the inscrutable workings of Providence, is to explain how I found myself at the beginning of June in a remote mountain village in northeast India.  No phones, no internet, not even mail.

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The Ten Commandments (in Polish)

March 1, 2010

The seventh graders I teach Confirmation classes to every Saturday morning finished their test on the Ten Commandments last week (though a few will be doing retakes!).  As I graded lists of the Ten Commandments, two things came to mind.  The first was a question an agnostic friend posed to me a few years ago:  how useful are the Ten Commandments, really?  Can morality be boiled down to ten rules?

The second was a film—or more precisely, a series of films—I watched at the end of last semester, Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski’s The Decalogue (1989).  If you haven’t seen The Decalogue, add it to the list—along with the Brideshead Revisited miniseries—of really long films you really must see. Read the rest of this entry »

Faith in Anything? or Faith in Jesus?

August 2, 2009

Fresco of Christ as the Good Shepherd in the Catacomb of San Callisto

One shock I had as I began to teach religion to high-school students was how uncomfortable high-school students are with the word “faith.”  There might be no better way to reduce a class to silence than to ask the question: “So, who wants to talk about his faith in Jesus?”

I imagine this is especially true at the largely white, upper-middle-class, all-boys Jesuit Prep school where I teach, where reason and argument are prized, and faith, story and art are often called… umm… well, let’s just say they are often disparaged.  If something isn’t rational, proven, demonstrated, then it is not worth much.

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Teilhard on Teaching

August 1, 2009

classroomchaosIt’s time for the nightmares to start. Around this time of year, high school teachers–veterans and first timers–begin to have panicky dreams on the eve of opening day. Some dream about losing a stack of ungraded essay exams, others dream they can’t find their classroom and stumble through the halls under a burden of books looking for the room. Still others have the most famous anxiety dream of all: showing up to class in your pajamas or some state of undress.  Within the Society of Jesus each man much complete a two to three year period of formation called regency. During regency, many Jesuits find themselves assigned to classrooms in universities, high schools and the like. The first year of teaching is a special experience, and luckily an invincible ignorance protects rookies from all the nightmarish reality that awaits them. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, the famous Jesuit paleontologist and theologian, offers a few pieces of advice that are worth repeating.

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