June 23, 2011

Heavy Metal Cloister

One of the little spiritual boundaries I try to keep for myself is not looking at any social or news media before I've said my prayers and done my spiritual exercises in the morning. One of the funny side effects of this is that sometimes on days when I go to offer morning Mass at the Poor Clares, I first hear about big news stories from them. Today it was Whitey Bulger. Some weeks ago it was Osama bin Laden. It gives a friar a shot of goofy vanity in the morning, to think that he is so unworldly as to get his news of current events from cloistered nuns.

It reminds me of the great graces of my life, and one of the periods when God was working very hard on me. Not that I knew it at the time; in fact, I was almost totally ignorant. I was like an anesthetized patient; grace was operating on me and I was unaware of it.

At some point in early 1987 I had a dramatic conversion that was to have far-reaching effects in my life. Around the time I turned fifteen, I became a metalhead. I grew my hair long, I took up the uniform, I turned the radio dial all the way to left, from the popular music stations down to WNHU from the University of New Haven, which had an all-day Heavy Metal show every Saturday. Distracted by the noise and macabre mood of it all, I was distracted from the grace God was working in me: the experience had firmly rooted me in a critical turn with regard to tastes and values; I had discovered that the things everybody did, liked, and believed were not necessarily the right or best things.

From this my ongoing conversion proceeded in stages: to thrash, crossover, second wave hardcore, punk, Oi!, anarcho-punk, spirituality, Christianity, Catholicism, Franciscanism.

I rehearse all of this personal mythology just to make another point. When I first fell into the metal subculture, I became separated from popular culture. From early 1987 or so, I became almost totally unaware of popular songs, television, and movies. In fact, I didn't come to be aware of these things again until I entered religious life the first time in the fall of 1994. This was one of the things that made my adjustment to religious life so hard the first time I tried it; I was surprised to find televisions in friaries, and even more shocked to see things like People magazine. For years, it hadn't even occurred to me to watch television or pay any attention to the vapid popular culture of the world. At the time I thought of my entrance into religious life as a kind of culmination of a conversion process; how was it that I found therein a culture that seemed more entwined with the world's inanities?

All of that is another story and another complaint. I only bring it all up because I want to thank God for inspiring the flight from the world that was my 'cloistered' period. That awareness helps me to remember to keep good boundaries with this world's media.


Lee Gilbert said...

That is a truly amazing account, Father.

Somewhere I read that many business exectives also stay away from the the mass media in the early part of the day, since it confronts them with many situations about which they can do nothing. We- the Catholic people-should be so bright.

You wrote of your shock at finding the world within the cloister. This seems to me to be a very big problem, perhaps a key problem. For example, I read of a religious order in Florida with a recreation room filled with 30 lazy-boys and a huge TV screen on the wall. It seems safe to say these men are unlikely to be salt and light in the world...

I remember as a young man being shocked at the theme song for Mash, "Suicide is painless. It brings on many changes," so shocked that I put on my jacket and walked the mile and a quarter to the rectory to knock on the door to urge our pastor to tell us to get rid of our TVs. Yet I was stopped in my tracks by the flickering gray light behind the curtains of the rectory, the same thing I had been seeing in every home in my long walk. If our clergy are not different from the world, how wil the people be different?

Although I've become something of a Johnny-one-note in the blogshere about how we Catholics need to get rid of our televisions, I'll admit to being enthralled nevertheless by the mass media particularly through the internet. I study, but then I take a break, check my e-mail, Drudge, the price of gold, Market-ticker, Fr. Z, the Crescat, New Advent, burrow into the stories about Fr. Corapi, write a blog comment and lo, my "break" has morphed into an hour and a half. This, I suspect, is not the way to sanctity, apostolic impact, or academic success, either.

Surely this is not atypical, and I wonder what the solution is, short of getting rid of the computer altogether.

My way of asking what your boundaries are vis a vis the mass media, and more importantly how you maintain them...

In other words, I would really appreciate having some idea of the entire spectrum of rules, disciplines, spiritual practices, etc. that keeps this beast inbounds.

Anonymous said...

My philosophy in this technology-driven world all boils down to one word ... relationship. To the extent that mass-media and the internet blogsphere encourages discussion amongst individuals, that's a good thing. Movies and television do no such thing other than breed a bunch of self-indulgant couch potatos. In my household, I've refused to pay for TV channels, endure whatever quality programming I can find through my converter box, and limit my seven-year old daughter's access to tv focusing instead on activities. A family game of Uno, or backgammon. Swimming, skating, and dance. My brother-in-law went so far as to call me backward and asked me to come into the 20th century let alone the 21st. Yet his 18-year old son dropped out of high school because he was too busy "gaming" until the wee hours of the morning to make it to school on time awake and alert.

Anonymous said...

Good post!!!! It reminds me of John Prines Spanish Pipedream