Two simple stories

Two simple stories June 8, 2024


Pintaric does Salzburg
The Salzburger Altstadt under a stormy evening sky, much like tonight. (Wikimedia Commons public domain photo by Thomas Pintaric)  Today began sunny and beautiful, but the weather changed in the late afternoon.

The in-person turnout for the FAIR conference in Rome a week ago was, frankly, disappointing — although, already about a day after it had concluded, I was told that its online viewership was in the range of roughly eight hundred.  Attendance in person at today’s conference in Salzburg — see the program here — was probably about fifty or sixty, and the streaming audience was larger than that (although I don’t yet know how much larger it was).  The audience here in Austria was much more engaged, it seems to me, than last week’s audience.  Or, as one of our group observed, they were far more “in the FAIR space” than the attendees in Rome were. We even had a woman in attendance today who came all the way from Hungary via an overnight bus.

FAIR put on a roughly analogous program some years ago, with presentations in both Rome and Milan.  I’ve been told that attendance in Milan was excellent, although the event was on a weekday; attendance in Rome, by contrast, was sparse.  I’m not sure why that would be.  One contributing factor, I’m sure, is that getting to the Rome Temple complex is relatively difficult and/or expensive from the city of Rome itself.  It’s rather easier from other parts of Italy, since it’s outside of the main Roman urban area — but then, those are the very people (in Florence, say, or Naples or Genoa or Padua or Venice or Bologna) who would be most likely to simply stream a FAIR conference from their homes.  Which, of course, they can’t do for temple attendance.

Along Salzburg's river
Another view in Salzburg, this time along the Salzach River. (Wikimedia CC public domain image)

Scott Gordon has told a simple story at both of the conferences thus far that I think is worthy of sharing further because of the wisdom it contains.  I hope that he won’t mind my doing so here.

He tells of a man — an acquaintance, I think — who had reached a point in his marriage where he was seriously moving toward divorce.  He had decided that he didn’t love his wife and that their marriage had been a terrible mistake.  But an acquaintance (possibly his attorney) suggested that he make a note of one thing every day that he appreciated about his wife.

He decided to make the effort.  At first, it was extremely difficult for him to find even one thing to admire or respect about her.  But he dutifully persisted with the exercise.  She had, for example, done the dishes.  The next day, he noted that she had prepared lunch for their children.  Gradually, it became easier for him to recognize good qualities in her and to see the good things that she had done.

One day, while her husband was away, the wife found the ledger or notebook in which he was recording his notes, and she began to follow his example in a ledger of her own.  Every day, she would jot down a note about his good qualities and the good things that he did.

Today, twenty or thirty years later, they are still married.  Moreover, they regard themselves as the very best of friends.

The moral of the story, as Scott tells it, is that if we look for the good, we’re very likely to find it.  And, similarly, if we’re looking for the bad, we will find the bad, as well.  He applies that moral to our attitudes toward the Church and to our relationship with it.

I strongly, strongly concur.  This isn’t true, of course, of all those who have left the Church or who are disaffected from it, but it certainly is true of some of the critics whom I’ve observed over the years:  Some are unwilling ever to see anything positive or valuable in the Church.  They insist on seeing only the negative (whether real or imagined) in Church leaders, Church history, and even, yes, in any of us who defend the Church or advocate its claims.  And, obviously, if they insist upon looking for things to criticize, they will definitely find things to criticize — fairly or unfairly, justly or unjustly.

It reminds me of a little story that my father used to tell.  I found it corny when I was young, but I’ve come to appreciate it much more as I’ve matured (or, at least, grown older).  I’m sure that many of you are already familiar with it:

In some distant time and place, a wise old man used to sit at the gate of a city.  One day, a young traveler came to the gate and asked him what kind of people the citizens of the city were.  “What were they like where you come from?” inquired the old man.  “They were shiftless, liars, cheats, drunks, and thugs.  It was a terrible place, and I’m glad to be away from it!”  The wise old man shook his head sadly.  “The people in this town are exactly the same,” he said.

Later, a second traveler paused by the gate  to ask the same question.   “What are the residents of this city like?”  Once again, the wise old man asked this second traveler, “What kind of people did you just leave behind?”

The second traveler answered, “Oh, it was a wonderful city.  In fact, I hated to leave it. The people were good and kind, honest and hardworking.”  The old man smiled and said, “The people in this town are exactly the same.”

What a beautiful town this is!
A Wikimedia CC public domain view of the Altstadt from Festung Hohensalzburg

I had nothing to do with organizing this current series of three European FAIR conferences — I was simply invited to participate in them — but I think that I’ll say something about how they’ve happened, at least as I understand the story:  A very generous American couple with the means and with strong ties (including, but not limited to, both youthful and senior missions) to Italy came forward with the idea of sponsoring a FAIR conference in Rome.  (They previously sponsored the conferences in Rome and Milan mentioned above, and I think that there have been other such events that they have supported.)  If I’m not mistaken, FAIR didn’t approach them; they approached FAIR.  (And they were with us in Rome this time, too.)  And, since we would already be over here for the Rome conference, they kindly also covered similar events in Salzburg (today) and Göteborg (a week from today).  It’s not a matter, as my admirers over at the Peterson Obsession Board like to imagine, of my wringing money out of hapless donors in order to fund a European vacation for me.  Just to be clear.

Posted from Salzburg, Austria



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