The Last Embers of the Fire

We Catholics are commonly urged to “engage the culture”; not to flee for monasteries of our own making, but to work within the institutions of mass media, mass education, mass marketing, and mass entertainment to advance the banners of Christ, our King.
I do not wish to criticize those who toil at that thankless task. Nor will I suggest that their work will be futile; no true service of the Lord can be without fruit. But I do believe we have mistaken the signs of the times. We seek to engage a culture, when there is no culture to engage. Our task is rather to revive the memory of what a culture is.
If that declaration seems provocative, I ask you to consider that word “culture,” and to cease using it to denote the habits and fads of the masses. For the “masses” do not produce culture. The people do, when they cherish and preserve and pass along to their descendants what is most dear to them: their memorials and feasts, their music and dances and rites of passage and of courtship; their know-how, their moral laws; most important, their worship. There is no culture without cultus. Without a common belief in God or the gods, you do not get ancient Athens and the Parthenon atop its rocky mount. You do not hear the Psalms in the synagogue. Michelangelo does not sculpt the David as a tribute to the patriots of his native Florence.
Do Americans now possess a culture? Perhaps the residue of one. American children used to be taught about the courage of the Father of our country, George Washington, as he crossed the icy Delaware River to surprise the Hessians at Trenton. Not now, I assure you. That event, and hundreds like it, that helped to define for us what we were as a people, has been forgotten. Which of us knows more than a single verse of one of our national songs? Whose heart beats with pride to hear the name of William Bradford, or John Winthrop? Listen to these lines from a song that used to be called, simply, America:
I love thy rocks and rills,
Thy woods and templed hills;
My heart with rapture fills,
Like that above.
How many people could now even conceive of the sentiment expressed in them?
I have a book called Barrett’s Grammar, published in 1854. The author, a self-promoter, purports to teach enterprising young people how to read Greek, Latin, French, Spanish, and German. The book ends with chapters 2-10 of the Gospel of Matthew, in six columns, one for each of those languages, and one for English. It apparently sold 17,000 copies in its first edition — an astounding number. In the back of the book are signatures of eminent people who supported the enterprise: President Fillmore, Henry Clay, John Calhoun, William Seward, Hamilton Fish, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and many more, from north and south, Whigs and Democrats, slaveholders and abolitionists. They were united in their devotion to both our Christian and classical heritage. That was then.
We used to make our own music. Where, now, are the songs that the generations of old sang? A few people listen to them as a hobby. A few more will listen to Stephen Foster or George Gershwin or Scott Joplin. But it is dismaying to consider what a hopping business the sale of sheet music was, a century ago. More dismaying to consider that for every person who bought it, there were probably ten others who played the fiddle or the guitar or the horn, who could not read a measure. Gone, almost all of it, along with the local ballclubs, the block parties, the neighborhood school.
Gone, too, our pride in English and American authors. Nathaniel Hawthorne used to read Spenser’s Faerie Queene aloud to his family in the evening. If that seems unusual, and no doubt most people could not afford an edition of Spenser, recall that Hawthorne himself became an eminent author whose works were eagerly read by Americans who could afford a book. But a novel like The Marble Faun is incomprehensible to us now. It presupposes a culture that is lost. We would have to know too much about the Renaissance and about classical Greece. James Fenimore Cooper, the companion of millions of schoolboys for a century, is almost as incomprehensible as Hawthorne. We can’t read The Last of the Mohicans, because we don’t know anything about the British campaign in upstate New York during the¬†French and Indian¬†War. The language would be too hard for us, too. Forget about Sir Walter Scott.
Our nation was de facto, if not also de jure, a Christian nation. But 2,000 years of Christian meditation upon the Scriptures — and, yes, fighting about it, sometimes to the point of bloodshed — have been forgotten. Girls used to wear lockets with a mustard seed encased within, as an allusion to the Gospels. Now we would be pleased to find one person in ten who could identify the allusion.
What do we love? For what would we gladly die? Joseph Pieper advises that the basis of culture is leisure — the freedom to celebrate, to worship. But we have weekends, no holidays. Beyond that point at which we could provide for our families, we work for the sake of work, to stave off loneliness, to fill up the dead silence of a rootless life. We work, because if we do not work, we are nothing. It is work for bad reasons, and it is mostly bad work, to boot. It is not leavened by Sunday. It is not done in the shadow of eternity.
In this time — a postcultural time of mediocrity and drabness — the Church like a dragon snores upon her hoard of riches. It is the Catholic Church that can fan the last glowing embers of culture into a bright and glorious flame. In the coming months I should like to identify these embers, one by one, these truths or traditions or devotions that the Church, despite the best efforts of us all, has not quite forgotten. The first, and the most important, shall be this: It is a good thing to remember.

Anthony Esolen

By

Professor Esolen is a teaching fellow and writer in residence at Thomas More College of the Liberal Arts, in Merrimack, New Hampshire. Dr. Esolen is a regular contributor to Crisis Magazine and the author of many books, including The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization (Regnery Press, 2008); Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child (ISI Books, 2010) and Reflections on the Christian Life (Sophia Institute Press, 2013). His most recent books are Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching (Sophia Institute Press, 2014); Defending Marriage (Tan Books, 2014); Life Under Compulsion (ISI Books, 2015); and Out of the Ashes (Regnery, 2017).

  • Chris B

    But “Last of the Mohicans” was set during the French and Indian War, not the American Revolution.

  • Jerry L. L.

    James Fenimore Cooper, the companion of millions of schoolboys for a century, is almost as incomprehensible as Hawthorne.

    Well, at least Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter is still read in some schools, right?

    Anyway, a fine introductory essay on this subject. Please give us some more worth remembering, soon.

  • Margaret Cabaniss

    But “Last of the Mohicans” was set during the French and Indian War, not the American Revolution.

    Chris, you’re exactly right; thanks for the catch. We made the correction.

  • Deacon Ed

    Thought-provoking essay.

    So much of culture is passed by way of the family. And within the family, culture is (was) transmitted around the table during a common meal shared among its members, mostly telling stories. The family is in the process of disintegrating / being redefined and mealtimes are virtually non-existent in our quickly-paced lives. Who cooks? Who has time to eat, let alone has time to pass along the eternal verities of life and culture to others?

    I agree that the Church has the chance to once again save civilization. What’s interesting is that our cult is around the table of the Lord where we all enter into the mystery each time we take the time to participate.

  • Steve

    and thanks for citing Josef Pieper. His works should be required reading for any Catholic interested in re-establishing Catholic culture.

    By the way, it was not so long ago that even rough Texas oil men could recite Homer’s Iliad in the Greek. And we should remember not only the English classics, but those of Europe, not to mention antiquity.

    What I like most about the liturgical recovery of Pope Benedict is that it is the springboard from which much of the Church’s memory can be reinvigorated.

  • Sid

    By last report, _The Scarlet Letter_ is still taught in school, but I

  • Tito Edwards

    Homeschool (…and turn off the television set).

  • mj anderson

    Wonderful article! Thank you.

    As an antidote to the post-election talking heads we watched the HBO series John Adams. It is clear that so few Americans understand the American founding. Thus it is little wonder that they have no conception of why a virtuous society is a prerequisite for freedom.

  • meg

    And I would add – ditch the “Hallmark” holidays and start living by holy days. Simply following the fasts and feasts of the Catholic liturgical year, in all it’s glory, would do remarkable things to renew culture in America.

    I do agree with you, Mr. Esolen, heartbreaking as your message is. That it took me this long to figure out, well, that cross is mine alone to bear. That nagging emptiness I felt since my teens turned out to be a life lived without real culture or faith. Trying to make the prevailing “culture” meaningful or transcendent is, to use the old idiom, like trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear.

    I thank God my children are still young so I can make sure they will grow up with the Faith in all it’s richness, have a proper foundation for their lives, and so they won’t make the same mistakes as their parents.

  • Beth

    Yes, I agree with the premise of the article……BUT….when living overseas, we made it a point to teach our kids all the old songs of America. We would sing them as we traveled throughout Europe. You have inspired me to insist that we sing a few this Thanksgiving holiday. We are expecting many guests–think they will know all the words? I’ll print them off.

    And…The Last of the Mohicans….one of my favorites!!! Thanks for the reminder that it should be on my kids reading list!

    Looking forward to your next essay.

  • John Jakubczyk

    A thoughtful post and one that should trigger a hope that introducing – dare I use the term evangelizing – the faith to others by the example we provide may be the tool Our Lord uses to plant the seeds of new life.

    Yet it all begins at home. The example we set for our children, the books we read, the movies we watch, all have an effect.

    My children have all read Cooper and we have pulled out the maps (teaches them geography) and looked at Lake George.
    But it is work. They are naturally inclined, as are we all in our fallen human condition, toward sloth and so diligence is required. Again the parents must lead and as I emphasize parents I must put in a strong word for fathers to take an active role in their child’s education – not just the “book learning” to use and old fashioned phrase, but the total learning of what it means to be a child of God, fully alive, thankful, appreciative, wide-eyed and excited to discover what God has in store for them in the future and at the same time fully cognizant of why Christ died on the cross.

    But it all starts at home in that little world called the domestic church.

  • NTB

    What a smug diatribe. “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” etc, etc.

  • Tony Esolen

    Dear NTB,

    I’m describing what I see. I’m not original in seeing it; Romano Guardini and Josef Pieper long ago saw the same shift from culture to the “mass man” in progress. So did Christopher Lasch.

    You want to persuade me, perhaps, that we now have a culture? Then I want to know precisely which stories are passed along from generation to generation. I want to know which holy days we celebrate as a people. I want to be shown the cache of practical skills passed down from father to son, or mother to daughter. Show me where this culture is. Please refrain from pointing my attention to mass entertainment, or mass politics, or mass education — these are far different phenomena.

    As for “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” I don’t know what you are talking about. The analogy is not apt. Edwards was a Calvinist preaching strict Reformed doctrine, to a people that had grown a little hard of hearing. I have little sympathy with Puritan Calvinism. What I long for is that thing that transcends the generations — that allows a human being to dwell in the ages, and not just to breathe for a brief space in his seventy or eighty years. I long for something that lends at least a semblance of permanence to those who came before us, and at least a shadow of hope that what we do now will not be merely leveled by the next mass fad. It is culture that performs that function. And my point is that of all the institutions that have been left standing, Catholicism is the one that provides forgetful man with the best hope of remembering what a culture looks like.

    What is your problem with that? Or perhaps you meet people all day long who actually know and cherish the history of our country, or who celebrate holy days with their neighbors — I mean the people who live on either side of them?

  • August Driscoll

    Mr. Esolen,

    Another brilliant article. “Liberty Forgotten” was timely and poignant. It drew a line in the sand at a crucial moment in our nation’s history. But I believe the issue of culture you touch on above is even more paramount. I greatly look forward to reading your future thoughts on the topic.

  • Jackson K. Eskew

    Esolen is precisely right. What he describes is the burgeoning Brave New World. Yes, the BNW is upon us friends, and we’ve just elected Mustapha Mond as our president. The essential task of today is recovery, and it must be done while there are still those we know there’s much to recover.

    See my lists:

    “Resist the Brave New World”:

    http://tinyurl.com/63eyo3

    “Mustapha Mond is Now President. Resist.”:

    http://tinyurl.com/6fgpq3

    &

    “Get Truly Countercultural”:

    http://tinyurl.com/6ffezn

    Forward them to friends and family.

  • NTB

    Dear NTB,

    I’m describing what I see. I’m not original in seeing it; Romano Guardini and Josef Pieper long ago saw the same shift from culture to the “mass man” in progress. So did Christopher Lasch.

    You want to persuade me, perhaps, that we now have a culture? Then I want to know precisely which stories are passed along from generation to generation. I want to know which holy days we celebrate as a people. I want to be shown the cache of practical skills passed down from father to son, or mother to daughter. Show me where this culture is. Please refrain from pointing my attention to mass entertainment, or mass politics, or mass education — these are far different phenomena.

    As for “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” I don’t know what you are talking about. The analogy is not apt. Edwards was a Calvinist preaching strict Reformed doctrine, to a people that had grown a little hard of hearing. I have little sympathy with Puritan Calvinism. What I long for is that thing that transcends the generations — that allows a human being to dwell in the ages, and not just to breathe for a brief space in his seventy or eighty years. I long for something that lends at least a semblance of permanence to those who came before us, and at least a shadow of hope that what we do now will not be merely leveled by the next mass fad. It is culture that performs that function. And my point is that of all the institutions that have been left standing, Catholicism is the one that provides forgetful man with the best hope of remembering what a culture looks like.

    What is your problem with that? Or perhaps you meet people all day long who actually know and cherish the history of our country, or who celebrate holy days with their neighbors — I mean the people who live on either side of them?

    Thanks for the lecture – you have so much to teach me. “Please refrain from pointing my attention to mass entertainment . . .” Love it – as for my calling you smug, Q.E.D.

    I take it I hit a nerve.

  • Tony Esolen

    NTB,

    I took your criticism seriously enough to respond — something you haven’t done in turn.

    Here is why I believe that mass entertainment is not to be equated with culture, and may better be considered antithetical to it. Take the case of baseball, let’s say, at the turn of the 1900’s. It is the national pastime. It’s hard for us to imagine now just how popular the game was, and I mean “popular” in the full sense of the word: the people played it, watched it, read about it. They did not “consume” baseball merely; they produced it. It was their game. If you had a town of 5000 people, you had a baseball team. That’s not counting school teams. Already in A Connecticut Yankee, Mark Twain assumes — with some ironic humor — that baseball will help make the knights of Arthur’s court civilized. You already have a parody of a newspaper article reporting on the latest combat of the “nines”. In Life with Father, Clarence Day describes how his brother would bang out on the piano, in code, the scores from the games the day before — old Mr. Day did not approve of baseball. That was in the 1890’s. The Frank Merriwell books were best sellers, bought by many thousands of boys. A kid could mail a letter to “Big Six, New York City,” and it would arrive in Christy Mathewson’s mailbox. In ways we can no longer imagine, the people were close to the game; the game was theirs.

    Now that’s gone. Yes, people flock to the stadiums, or watch baseball on television. But otherwise the game is not part of our daily lives. It does not unite a neighborhood or a town, not in the way it used to. It’s been at least a decade since I drove past a group of kids playing baseball in a vacant lot. (I don’t drive past them doing much of anything in vacant lots; every so often I see a few playing basketball under a hoop, but that’s about it.) Baseball has been transformed from the American game to a commodity for sale via television, or something organized by adults and cordoned off for a few dozen kids in a town of 80,000. That’s a different kind of thing. If you go to San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic — the greatest home of baseball talent in the world — you’ll see the game as intimate to a whole people’s way of life. Here in America, no game has replaced it.

    The same thing has happened to music. Now I’m very happy to be able to listen to Palestrina on a CD while I am driving to work. I am not sure that that is worth what we have lost, though. It was not so long ago that everybody sang a little, or played an instrument, and that there were songs that everybody knew. We underestimate what staying power these songs had — or forget what it was like to assume, as a matter of course, that there were songs that everybody would know and sing, old and young, songs older than anybody’s memory. In Canada, where my family and I live in the summer, you can pick up old pump organs literally for nothing — because almost no one can play them anymore. We no longer make our own music; a relatively few people make it for us, from far away. It too is a commodity, and not part of our way of life.

    Technological developments have enabled things like this to happen. It’s a new thing in the world. I don’t think it is a good thing, because it subjects what used to be the components of a living culture to the vagaries and degradations of advertisement and a mass market. We fall prey to the technocrat. As for mass education, do you really want to try to justify it? The old experience of education in the United States, with all its many faults, combined local responsibility and local quirks with a commitment to American heritage. We now, by contrast, have homogeneity, and no commitment at all to that heritage. Of the following considerable personages in American political history, how many do you think the typical high school senior could even identify, let alone say anything intelligent about: John Jay, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Winfield Scott, Stephen Douglas, Grover Cleveland, Robert LaFollette, Barry Goldwater, Henry Kissinger?

    I’ve mentioned Pieper and Guardini. Why not read Leisure: The Basis of Culture, and The End of the Modern World? Then we can have a discussion. Or you can engage in a discussion right now, instead of indulging yourself in easy sarcasm and insults.

  • NTB

    While I won’t be able to get to the assigned reading list before I respond (you assume that I haven’t read Pieper and Guardini – which, oh well, does happen to be true), I will start by saying sorry for throwing bricks through yout stain glass window and thank you for the effort you put in your respones.

    But there was a vote and I was appointed by the “postcultural mediocre and drab,” dungy, benighted masses to try to knock you off your high horse, Pal, before we get more of these speeches. That’s better for you than all the appaulse and me-too showing off of the other responses – you see, Sir, we only have your good in mind! Pay no attention to those knitting needles you hear in the background.

    Some of us in the mucky masses and despite the “dead silence of our rootless lives”, still don’t buy your halcyon days of old point of view. I think of my late Grandmother, born in 1902 and a Catholic School teacher all her life, who lived through the Bruegelly days you imagine and promote and much preferred the age of “mass entertainments” and post-Vatican II Church – I’ll take her word for it.

    Indeed, I propose that the satire in The Onion rivals Jonathan Swift, Shakespeare’s finest moments in the last four centuries are on YouTube (via Welles and Olivier), the last scene in The Third Man bests Virgil and Dr. Suess teaches better lessons than in any creepy McGruffy’s Reader. While we masses may not know the Fun Fact to Know and Tell that Michelangelo “sculpt the David as a tribute to the patriots of his native Florence” we still laugh when Homer Simpson calls the David the “Dave” (but I suppose that’s just pathetic us trying to “stave off loneliness”). You say “The Marble Faun is incomprehensible to us now” -we shitten shepards say it was incomprehensible then!

    You see even the Ph.dless and those sceptical of ultra-orthodoxy can go throught the attic and find things worth saving. And while we don’t any longer pull our forelocks when the priest or professor walks by, I think we can safely let that part of our Catholic heritage go. It’s past time for some embers to burn out.

  • Tony Esolen

    NTB,

    You are right that the final scene in The Third Man is excellent. It is not Virgil, whom I think you severely underestimate. Grahame Greene would not have been the writer he was without Virgil, Cervantes, etc. Dr. Suess is excellent; but now maybe you should take a more charitable look at the McGuffeys. I haven’t read the Onion. The Simpsons’ creator, Matt Groening, is a genius. In a better age he might have indulged in something other than clever flippancy, which is the show’s predominant mode.

    None of this is to the point. I could write all day long about moments of great art in mass entertainment (especially in films). It is not a substitute for culture, just as my watching Albert Pujols jack the ball out of the park is not a substitute for playing the game, or going to watch friends play the game, or kids of friends, and not just here and there but as a matter of course. And I am not talking about high culture. You have assumed that I look down upon mass entertainment from the point of view of somebody who listens only to Palestrina. But Palestrina WAS the popular culture of his day — and not mass entertainment (we could say the same thing about Virgil). Wendell Berry describes what it was like for men to just gather at a village barber shop of an evening, with fiddles, and play for hours — songs that everybody has forgotten now. I’m making no claim at all that those songs were great art. Most of them weren’t. But that isn’t the point. They were a natural expression of the people’s culture. As far as that goes, yes, I would take them over what mass marketed music has become. I think Bob Dylan and Ian Anderson would agree with me there.

    It’s that that I miss: the wisdom and grief and joy of a people, made manifest in their celebrations, their games, their customs, and their art — theirs, and not what is marketed to them by manipulators from afar. What you mean by “ultra-orthodoxy” I don’t know, and it’s not to the point, either. As for loneliness, well, I do think that television has done a lot to shut us up in our homes, not even talking to one another. Vacant lots are vacant. People who aren’t particularly friendly to Catholicism have talked about the “toxic childhood” we have given our children: indoors always, in front of electronic stimuli, few or no siblings. I miss those children, and I miss old people strolling about. I miss the sense that there is something holy to cherish. I’ll take Brueghel any day.

    Finally, please, enough with the snideness. I don’t go around calling people I don’t know “Pal”. I’ve said that mass entertainment is not the same thing as culture. I’ve implied that culture is necessary for man to thrive. And I’ve said that culture is what we no longer possess. If I am wrong on any of these three counts, you may show me.

  • August Driscoll

    But there was a vote and I was appointed by the “postcultural mediocre and drab,” dungy, benighted masses to try to knock you off your high horse, Pal, before we get more of these speeches.

    Well, you’re not doing a very good job of it. Mr. Esolen eloquently states: “What I long for is that thing that transcends the generations — that allows a human being to dwell in the ages, and not just to breathe for a brief space for his seventy or eighty years.” And all you offer is ridicule, sarcasm, and that you love mass entertainment. Who do you think you’re convincing? One of the nice things about this blog is that our comments don’t enter into a sea of oblivion, but rather are sometimes taken up by the very intellectuals we are taking the time to read and compliment or criticize.

    I will offer you one harbinger of great culture, and that is respect for the Church, for the Priesthood, and for those who take the time to defend these great institutions. And you reflect the decay of our culture in your lack of respect, and you’re squandering the opportunity to make a solid arguement and have it tested by a worthy adversary. That would be honorable, another trait sought out by men of high culture.

  • NTB

    Not convinced: in your golden age of “culture,” paintings were closed up in mansions and castles, great music (well not the “toot whistle plunk and the boom” variety that I am to understand you love ) was limited to the salon and even the cultural bounty of the Medieval Catholic Church was the property of the cleric class on the other side of the walls. I believe the wealth of what is good in previous cultures is all much more a part of more people now than ever before. There’s a reason why things changed – the greatest good for the greatest number. Just because you have a “little learning” doesn’t mean others don’t ( maybe even those who had your despised “mass education”) or give you the right to hold yourself in judgement over the world around you.

    Give me public radio, a science museum, downloading Sinatra on the family Ipod, little league, a public golf course, watching Hitcock on TCM, going to a my kid’s scratchy orchestra concert or the local high school’s attempt at Sondheim (not to mention give me public hygiene and modern medicine) – keep The Fairy Queen for extra credit for the upper division Age of Shakespeare course (and then only if you really need it). As for the McGuffey Readers and musty boys baseball books, they are fun to run into when teekin’,- but teekin’ is teekin’. You like teekin’. No one says you can’t like teekin’- but don’t be so sniffy about those who don’t.

  • Tony Esolen

    NTB,

    I will take the works of Pictor Ignotus, in any little church in medieval Italy, over just about the whole of modern religious art. More: I’ll take the tables and chairs and whatnot carved by ordinary carpenters over anything at all in a modern sculpture museum. You are historically wrong when you say that the great art of the past was closeted up in mansions. Most of it was quite public. Palestrina’s music was called “musica comune” because it didn’t take any sophistication for the people in a church to understand it. The polyphony that the people of the middle ages invented could be heard pretty much across Europe. It became the basis of — or it sprung from; I don’t know which, nor does it matter — the folk music of the Swedes and the Germans and all the rest. That was a good deal more, and better, than plinking and booming. Shakespeare’s plays were the popular culture of his day. They too sprang from a popular art — the so-called “mystery” plays of church pageant. They also sprang from a shared sense of what was most important in life.

    You talk about iPods and golf courses and Little League, and various attempts, mostly a matter of private choice, to entertain ourselves. There is nothing wrong with a private choice to entertain yourself as you see fit, with the machines of modern technology. As I said, I listen to Palestrina on the CD. It is not a substitute for a living culture. What stories are told from one generation to the next? What skills are passed on? What holy days are celebrated, not privately, but by a people?

    I don’t know what you mean by “teekin’.” Since you aren’t willing to write without insults, I’m finished with thread. I suspect, in any case, that your disagreement is not about the nature of culture. It is about something peculiar in contemporary life (and it is not modern medicine, without which I could not live another year) which you embrace, and which you know that the Church does not, and you suppose that I don’t, either.

  • Jackson

    NTB, you’re in way over your head. Stop. Just stop. It’s embarrassing.

    “O shame, where is thy blush?”

    -Shakespeare, Hamlet

  • meg

    I think teekin’ is antiqueing, no?

    Is your point that entertainment and technology have REPLACED actual culture? If so, I totally agree. Hence, the list of chosen leisure pursuits by NTB instead of examples of true culture.

    It’s difficult to see what has been lost for the very reason that most of us have never experienced true culture and tradition in our lifetimes. I’m trying to piece together a meaningful way of life for my own children from next to nothing, drawing from different sources, including our homeschool group – many of the families in it detached from the prevailing culture long before we did, so that helps. It’s fascinating to be around children who don’t define themselves by pop culture, truly eye-opening. There’s real freedom (and purity) in these children, as opposed to those who are peer-obsessed and just regurgitate whatever they’ve been fed via television and movies. My children were in public school for years, so I know of what I speak.

    Part of the structure of our lives happens to include more recently the traditional Latin Mass (I believe this is the ultra-orthodoxy NTB referred to, but could be wrong), for the simple fact that it is the only thing that offers the cultural structure and richness and tradition that we desire. Oh, and we adore it, there’s that, too.

    The man who teaches my son acoustic guitar (traditional folk songs, etc.) says that without variation the first thing most boys ask him to teach them is “Smoke on the Water”, which he won’t. Kinda says it all.

  • Jackson

    meg, you might consider switching your son to classical guitar. The repertoire is infinitely superior. For example, he could be playing things like this:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oPfZVflJdp0&fmt=18

    &

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrmaMV0Ik5c&fmt=18

    &

    http://tinyurl.com/6lmlr6

    &

    http://tinyurl.com/6n42gk

    That last one is a musical prayer. The real title is “Una Limosna por el Amor de Dios” – An Alm for the Love of God. The composer, Augustin Barrios, heard knocking at his door (hence that continuous rhythm throughout), and when he opened the door an old Catholic woman said, “Una limosna por el amor de dios.” It was the last piece he wrote. A nice swan song indeed.

  • meg

    Funny you should mention it – I heard him picking out Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring the other day and asked him if he’d like to learn classical guitar; we’re looking into it.

    Thank you for the beautiful youtube references – they will be a good source of inspiration.

  • Jackson

    meg, if you want to find a cg teacher, the Guitar Foundation of America is an excellent resource:

    http://www.guitarfoundation.org/drupal/teacherlink

  • sibyl

    Wow. You’ve just articulated exactly my problem with our so-called “culture.” It isn’t one!

    Four years ago, when we were planning our tenth wedding anniversary, I told my husband that what I wanted were toasts. Real toasts, to our old friends, and to our battered old house, and our first date, etc. I wanted there to be more than just a lot of food. I wanted to have some kind of salute, in a real and non-ironic way, to our history.

    People used to offer very witty toasts as amusements after dinner. Not only that; people (children, even!) used to all have at least one poem or song that they could perform for guests after dinner. There wasn’t a trace of elitism about the practice, although surely some must have been consciously “highbrow” in what they chose.

    Or think about the poignant scene in one of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books (can’t remember which), in which the whole town gathers in the square to listen to the schoolmaster read the Declaration of Independence, and how thrilling and solemn a moment that was.

    There is no true merriment, no real enjoyment, without a depth of memory; a piquant sense of handling ancient things meant for our benefit. Isn’t that what our delight in antiques of all sorts shows?

    I firmly agree that the Church is where we will regain culture. Can’t wait for more of your essays on this. And NTB, this has nothing to do with nostalgia or being hoity-toity; this is akin to a hunger for something solid after a lifetime of Twinkies.

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