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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Cousin Vinnie--Between Past and Future

An addendum to my blog of yesterday.

Cousin Vinnie and I are the same age. Both third generation European immigrants (i.e. white), both raised Roman Catholic in big cities. He went into the Marines. I went into the Jesuit seminary. We both left those callings to enter the world of housing and community development.

For some reason we diverged in the yellow wood. I don't think it was because he grew up in California and I in Cleveland and Detroit. But we have very different values and so we see what is happening in society and the world differently. And so of course having very different descriptions of our present problem, we have very different prescriptions for its cure. Different prognoses call for different diagnoses.

Vinnie is past-oriented. He sees the best days for Church, society, and nation are over and must be restored. I on the other hand am future-oriented. I criticize the acts of repression and injustice of Church, society, and nation and am excited that newcomers are acknowledging that and trying to repair the hurt. (Reparations? Yes.) He deplores the changes that are taking place in philosophy, theology, technology, culture, politics, and science. I am excited by them.

Vinnie is a rural living, gun-toting, God-fearing, church-going, man's man who is uncomfortable with gays in the military, people speaking Spanish instead of English, young people living together, sexual freedom, and godlessness. He would rather women would stay women, i.e. taking care of the household, going to church with covered head, and stop sleeping around. He wants to go back to an idealized 50's when things were clear--strong military, cold war, freedom vs. communism, religious certainty, uninhibited free market capitalism, no hand-outs except by those who were inclined to provide charity.  "The Way We Never Were," as one author put it.

He tends to see the world going to hell and so is pessimistic. I tend to see the world working itself out and so am optimistic. He hopes in a restoration. I hope in a transformation. He feels the need for a gun to protect himself and his property from bad guys. I don't because I'm not worried about bad guys and don't care if they take my property. He fears loss. I anticipate gain. We are very different in attitude and values.

However, I do believe that we have some common values or we would not be able to talk with and enjoy each other--which we are.  And then I think that all human beings, unless they are very, very sick or very, very constrained, can discover values that they have in common with all other human beings and those values come right out of our common humanity, our intrinsic human dignity, our shared empathic capacity (whether you want to attribute that to the Fatherhood of God as the priests teach or to natural selection as the evolutionary psychologists teach).

Both Cousin Vinnie and I are between past and future.  We need to learn from and bring forward the values of the past--the classics in thought, art, history. But we also need to welcome in an unknown future and the new ideas and new people who are bringing in the future. That's hard for old, white, men like us who are used to seeing things our way and think we know what is truth, justice, and the American Way. Its hard for us to see that restoration and transformation often go hand in hand and to let go of our desire for control. But both we restorationists and we progressives need to hear each other, respect each other's fears and anxieties, know each others stories, if we are to continue to renegotiate the social contract that makes us We the People.