Monday, August 08, 2011

The "God and Culture Thang" for Those of Us Wanting To Be Happy Catholics

(A long overdue review of Julie Davis' Happy Catholic: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life)

Happy Catholic (the book!), what the committee of conciliar bishops that wrote Gaudium et Spes would have written if they cut loose, had some Chianti, and watched The Simpsons in the evenings, has an interesting premise: Do we see God in everyday life? Particularly, through books, essays, blogs, movies, and... TV shows?

I think a lot of people would immediately say "well, obviously, yes; God is everywhere, right?" And others would say "obviously, no, God is infinitely greater than our small fallen stuff. Please." In fact, there are books written about THAT...the most prominent being a book called Christ and Culture by Protestant theologian H. Richard Neibuhr in the 1950s, where he classified the relationships different theologies have to culture (against, and, in paradox, etc.).

I read Julie's eminently fun and readable book at a bit of an impasse on that "God and culture thang." On one hand, for literally decades this sort of thing--sifting through the swirl of culture for nuggets of deep Christian gold--was my daily bread. (Hey, did you know the Eagles' song "Desperado" is about not being vulnerable enough to be a human who needs God? Did you know the Doobie Brothers' "Long Train Running" is about accepting God's love in your life? And so on.) I almost always found this "hidden Christianity" more appealing than straightforward Christian music, literature, art, etc.

But in the past nine years I have committed a sin against America: I have watched no TV. Seriously, I watch about 20 hours a year, and most of that is in the week I spend at my parents' home. And I must say being without TV has been a huge boon to my spiritual life: more time for anything else, less addiction to shows, not constantly being told what I need and how I'm flawed through crazy ads--seriously, I would suggest everyone try this and not feel the same. You need to give it a good three months at least, preferably a half year. My taste for movies waned as well. I still like a good book, but my cultural hipness is falling faster than the USA's bond rating. And I'm a happy Catholic (heh) about that.

So when I read Julie's book, full of meditations and reflections on snippets of books, TV shows, movies, etc., I rejoiced!, because...she cut through all the dreck for me! These are great little insights, all the more appealing because they popped up out of a swamp. It's like you can't keep God, and human longing for God, down. He always rises to the top, like cream. Julie's brief, insightful reflections are very nicely done--and while obviously some are better than others, I'm not sure there is a poor one in the bunch. They are, much like her well known blog, fun and lovely. There is a certain sense of gathering here to see all of Julie's cool marbles...and they are swirly, shiny treats.

Anyway, it's an easy, fun, often insightful read. Certainly more fun than Christ and Culture. Go get it.


Shieldmaiden96 said...

I am definitely interested in this book. Because I find myself despairing of seeing the good. I didn't watch TV for close to three years and then got a job where a TV is on all the time (shocking but true; your 911 dispatchers are watching WWE and The Matrix in-between your life crises) and found myself indulging. If nothing else it has refined my understanding of all the things in the world that are none of my business, and yet on display.

(A fun song I always took for a deeper meaning-- 'Takin' it to the Streets'. Its either about evangelization or racial equality or both. I'm not sure. "You don't know me but I'm your brother....")

The Ironic Catholic said...

The theology of the Doobie Brothers. A dissertation coming soon....

Brian Sullivan said...

Love the Doobies link. Cornelius Bumpus on lead vocals, amazing!

Julie said...

Thank you! What a lovely review ... and I am so glad that I could bring you a few jewels from television. :-D

Although, I mourn that you know not what you are missing in Arrested Development and Community. Those are rarely going to have any visions of God. But they are absolutely hilarious. :-)

Mack said...

"Happy Catholic" is a wonderful site, truly Catholic and truly generous, thoughtful, and funny. "HC" is an everyday read for me.

Julie D. said...

Awww, Mack ... thank you. :-)