The Appaloosa Music Festival opened my eyes to something I had been vaguely skeptical about, though vaguely skeptical might too weakly describe what I actually believed about the good, the true, and the beautiful (GTB).
GTB can be a mode of evangelizing a hostile culture. But I had tended to view it as a way to avoid truly engaging the central issues of our time. I tended to view GTB as little more than swing dancing at Auschwitz. When there is a moral emergency under way, when there is a house on fire, only direct action would do.
Several thousand people attended an outdoor music festival at a place nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, near the Shenandoah Valley, hard by Front Royal, Virginia. My wife and I, along with our two young daughters were among them. It was a music festival like any you might attend but then again, not. In fact, it was a revelation to me.
There were a few dozen acts: Celtic music, blue-grass, folk, even swing, performed on eight stages all day long and into the night for two days. Except swing, not exactly my taste in music, but deeply compelling nonetheless.
There were food trucks and booths to buy t-shirts, a kid-zone with its own stage, face-painting and bouncy things. There were a few thousand people there at any one time and dozens and dozens of children all over the place. When we arrived our two daughters disappeared and were gone for long stretches of time and it did not concern us at all.
What you saw was a music festival but, if you looked closely, more than that. Much more. It was more like a village festival in a parallel universe.
The festival began Saturday morning with a Mass on the main stage. The priests who celebrated the Mass could be seen throughout the day walking around, laughing and talking with friends, wearing cassocks no less. And did I tell you about the happy young moms and dads with gaggles of kids, sometimes four, five, and six in tow?
Other than the morning Mass, the priests wandering around, and a tent for Franciscan University at Steubenville, this deeply faithful event was not outwardly Christian at all. There were no prayers from the stage, no songs about the Blood of the Lamb, no beating you over the head with the Gospel. It was all understood though. In that way it was deeply Catholic and on its own terms communicated perfectly the good, the true and the beautiful; that is to say, God.
Without a doubt we are living through a moral emergency as bad as anything mankind has ever seen. To the long litany of social ills, one can now add outright persecution of Christians based on religious beliefs. Even expressing religious faith these days can cause a thunderstorm of viciousness from friends, neighbors, co-workers, and certainly from our cultural/economic/political betters.
How are you supposed to deal with the horrific question of 1.2 million abortions per year, pornography’s tsunamic swamping of even grade school kids, the gaying of America at all levels of society, and now the transgender ideology demanding we believe their psychotic and even monstrous lies.
Even the culture war language I used in the previous paragraph is considered hate-speech and not just on college campuses and, even if they agreed with the assessment and they do, the good-true-and-beautiful folks at Appaloosa would avoid this language like Biblical frogs.
One of my favorite scenes in the Woody Allen oeuvre is from the movie Manhattan. Isaac, the Woody character, attends a fundraiser for Bella Abzug at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City:
Isaac: Has anybody read that Nazis are going to march in New Jersey, you know? I read this in the newspaper, we should go down there, get some guys together, you know, get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them.
Man: There was this devastating satirical piece on that on the op-ed page of the Times. It is devastating.
Isaac: Well, well, a satirical piece in the Times is one thing, but bricks and baseball bats really gets right to the point.
Woman: Oh, but really biting satire is always better than physical force.
Isaac: No, physical force is always better with Nazis. Cos it’s hard to satirize a guy with shiny boots.
I’m with Isaac. Let’s get some bricks and baseball bats and really explain things to them; these get right to the point. A satirical piece in the Times, even a devastating one, is just so inadequate when Nazis are marching in Jersey.
And GTB is even weaker than a devastating piece in the Times. Only in the most circuitous way does GTB get to the point. However, at Appaloosa I finally began to get the point. Maybe GTB does get right to the point, maybe it is to fortify the faithful, restore Catholic culture and, even if slowly and by seeming indirection, change hearts and minds of the reluctant, the unschooled, and even our enemies.
What we know is that anything good, or true, or beautiful is from God. Wherever you see these things, hear these things, experience these things, you have a direct experience of the Beatific Vision, even if you don’t know it.
There is so much ugliness in the world, everywhere you look; even worse, everywhere my young daughters look. But is it enough to call it out, legislate against it, campaign against ugliness? After all, this is what many of us do, perhaps most of us do. That is what I do.
Perhaps turning the other cheek in this day and age does not simply mean being nice to our enemies and meekly taking the blows. Perhaps it means all that and something more. Maybe it is about showing them a competing way, a better way, and inviting them to come and see, like Andrew said after he met Christ. Come and see this better way. I had always thought that meant getting someone to the sacraments. But I now know it can also mean getting someone to something like the Appaloosa Festival.
Beauty need not be just Mozart motets, the paintings of Michelangelo, or the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas. It can also be what I saw in the Blue Ridge Mountains on Saturday. I saw the Gothard Sisters wailing on their violins, kicking up Celtic heels, and whooping out sweet harmonies. It certainly was for my daughters who have listened to little else since Saturday afternoon. This, too, is the good, the true and the beautiful, and what one of the organizers told me is “soft evangelization.”
There was a moment at Appaloosa when the scales from my eyes truly fell. Those same Gothard Sisters were giving a workshop on Celtic dance. My daughters were in the circle, bare feet in the dirt, kicking up dust, holding hands with their partners, people of all ages dancing and watching. And I thought this: The darkness cannot enter here. The darkness cannot find an opening here. All here is the good, the true and the beautiful. All here is light, light that cannot be overcome, light that will eventually and inevitably overcome the darkness that surrounds us. That is the good, the true and the beautiful.
So, what about direct action? Though I get GTB, I am still about direct action. There is still a place for explaining things the Woody Allen way. There is a place for all of us here, even me.
Among the food trucks and booths at Appaloosa was a Ben and Jerry’s ice cream truck. The Ben and Jerry’s girls running it had set up a bouquet of flowers. Stuck among the flowers were two flags; the American flag and the gay rainbow flag. That American flag is still there.
Editor’s note: The image above titled “The Convent Choir” was painted by Jean George Vibert.