Book Break: Technopoly

Now for something completely different: I haven’t been writing nearly enough and am way behind on books I’ve read and would like to share. Most of the books I share are fiction, spiritual, or both. Technopoly by Neil Postman is neither.

This book came to me as an unexpected Christmas gift from our son Brendan’s friend Nick, who was his roommate at University of Mary and is now a seminarian for the Diocese of Milwaukee. Brendan has always been a curmudgeon and skeptic regarding technology; Nick, not so much, until he started reading more deeply on the subject. Then, he started spreading the word, including by giving our family a lightly used paperback copy of Technopoly.

One of the concepts that intrigued me as a young anthropology major was the idea that, at a certain point, our ancestors began to compete technologically rather than biologically, meaning that, at a certain point, our ancestors crossed a threshhold and were no longer strictly beholden to their biology to survive—the fittest was not necessarily the fastest or strongest hominid, but may be the cleverest one, with the best tools.

I’m certain that, soon afterward, our ancestors saw another defining characteristic of our species: Our solutions to problems often cause other, unforeseen problems. Indeed we can see this in the anthropological record, with evidence of hominids using “tools” to club each other to death beginning nearly half a million years ago.

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Last Call: A Christmas Dialogue

This year’s Christmas poem is a conversation and a modest attempt at Shakespearean style. The inspiration popped into my head several weeks ago: an imagined meeting of the World, the Flesh and the Devil, who are sharing a pint of “Christmas cheer” at the end of a seemingly successful year of sowing strife and division. The line that came first to mind was from the Flesh: “The spirit is weak, and the flesh is always willing.”—which survives in a modified form.

For whatever reason, I remain taken with the idea of Satan struggling to accept that he has been defeated by an Infant and His Mother. A few sparks from literature and pop culture also came to mind, for example, C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” Scrooge’s promise at the end of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol to discuss Bob Cratchit’s situation “over a Christmas bowl of smoking bishop,” and the exchange between Captain Jack Sparrow and Gibbs in the Tortuga tavern in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.

It may be easier to print and read in this format. Apologies to the Bard—I hope a few of you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

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Scene: A dark corner of a noisy tavern, lit by melted candle stubs and a large, crackling fire. A table with three chairs and three tankards. Two figures are seated: the World, slight, anxious and in constant motion; the Flesh, immense and languid, with eyes that rove around the room. A third figure, the Devil, well-dressed with a commanding bearing, approaches, and the first two rise.

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Embrace the Impossibility

When we first moved to Minnesota 17 years ago, I worked for a marketing agency in downtown Minneapolis. I was conspicuous as one of the only conservative folks on staff, and my honesty, joy and general lack of cynicism earned me the nickname “Farmboy” from at least one colleague. I was regarded as a good writer and editor, but so naive and old-fashioned as to be quaint.

At the time, our oldest son Brendan was in in early elementary school. Someone on the bus began to mock him for believing in Santa Claus, and Bren responded that if Santa didn’t visit their house, it was because they didn’t believe in him. When he told Jodi and me about it afterward, he ended the story with, “I’m glad you guys still believe in magic.”

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We Are All With Child

Blogger’s Note: This reflection was originally published in the Sunday, January 19, edition of the St. Michael Catholic Church bulletin.

Last weekend marked the official end of the Christmas season and the Church’s return to Ordinary Time. Of course, our life in Christ should be anything but ordinary. In early days, Christianity was known as the Way, and its followers lived lives that were different from the world around them, marked by solidarity, charity and joy.

As modern disciples, our lives should also be distinct from the world around us. As a community, this distinctiveness appears in our regular participation in Mass, Confession and the other sacraments; in our reverence for and adoration of the Holy Eucharist; and in our visible adherence to the teachings and traditions of the Catholic Church as taught by Jesus and His apostles.

We are also called as individuals to follow Christ in a particular way. This Advent and Christmas I found myself reflecting on our Blessed Mother, Mary, as the model of discipleship. While she, like all of us, was called to holiness, her specific vocation was unique and deeply personal. Called upon to bear the Son of God, once she said yes, “the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). She was left to explain her unplanned pregnancy to her betrothed and her family, to risk death by stoning, to endure the accusing stares of her community, to bow in obedience to the will of God and watch her son suffer and die at the hands of her own people. Continue reading

Christmas Poem: Conception

In endless absence, Presence spoke a whispered Word, and Love awoke.

The Word, unheard in any tongue, created all: The stars were hung;

The earth and waters teemed with life—the man woke singing to his wife.

In love the cosmos had its start, and at its core: a flaming Heart.

In perfect rhythm dwelt our kin until in pride they chose to sin

And, grasping godhood, fell from grace, condemning all the human race.

 

When in God’s time the angel spoke his gentle ave, Hope awoke

Inside Maria’s sinless breast—and grew with her obedient yes.

The Holy Spirit took a wife; her virgin womb then bloomed with Life.

Her fiat was Salvation’s start, and in His chest: a flaming Heart.

It beats though punctured by our pride, and new life gushes from His side,

Restoring mankind to God’s grace, for He has suffered in our place.

 

So to my knees I fall and pray: How shall I conceive Christ today,

Like that heroic holy girl, and bear Him to a waiting world?

 

Blogger’s Note: My Christmas poem is a few weeks late, due to an unusually eventful (and fruitful!) December. Check out past Christmas poems and other related writings!