I grew up in a bubble.
Earlier this week, in his review of The Benedict Option, my friend Sam mentioned a bit about the bubbles he grew up in; my friend Justin mentions the Evangelical Bubble in one of his pieces as well. It seems that I’m always talking about the bubble I, personally, grew up in, but for those of you just joining us: I was raised for a few years as part of a Charismatic Catholic “community” and then ended up enmeshed in one of your standard stodgy modest Catholic homeschooling “communities” until I left home for graduate school. In graduate school I found a different bubble, but that’s a story for another post.
The exact boundaries of our homeschool bubble differed from time to time; the bubble was subject to fads, as every other movement in history is subject to fads. Sometimes we used only ancient textbooks from the 1950s, and sometimes we dared to use modern ones. We were usually not allowed to watch “commercial television,” with some exceptions. For a time, my father let us watch the fight sequences from the Martial Law television series, but we watched them with the television muted so that we wouldn’t be contaminated by hearing swear words or innuendo. We boycotted Disney from time to time. We listened to “Christian Rock.” We interceded for unborn babies but rarely talked about the situations which might put a woman in that predicament. We refused to call homosexuals “gay” or to let on we knew such people existed, right up until we found out anyway; then we were allowed to talk, about how dangerous they were, as long as we did not call them “gay.”
Sometimes the whole homeschool group got together and put on plays about the lives of the saints, which my mother directed. They were quite good, for children’s theater, and some of my happiest childhood memories. Sometimes we got together and put on Rogers and Hammerstein musicals or revues based on the musicals, carefully edited. Every reference to Buddha in The King And I was changed to “God” and we still got anxious questions from the other homeschool mothers about why were were putting on a play that mentioned polygamy.
And what was it really like inside this bubble, where we were so carefully insulated from the big bad world? Were we kept safe from sin?
Not in the least. There was the sin of gossip right and left; mothers, a coffee mug in one hand and a Rosary in the other, sat around and gossipped about everyone in the homeschool group before they began their prayers. They gossiped about poorer members of the group– “Can you believe those dalmatian-spot winter coats the girls were wearing? She has no taste. I think she sews her own clothes. Can you believe that she said she’d only ever eaten out at Spaghetti Warehouse? They’d better get their act together and take their children to someplace nicer than Spaghetti Warehouse.” Through the gossip, I learned that one of the homeschool mothers had had an affair and was running away with her paramour– the same sort of thing that happens in the big bad world.
Some homeschool mothers gave up and left the homeschool group because they or their children were being bullied by the other children, just like in school. Some went into schism with the original homeschool group and started their own, stricter and more “traditional” group; they even appropriated the church’s associate pastor for their spiritual director, with disastrous results for anyone who wasn’t in their particular in-crowd. They spread horrible lies and gossip about the members of the original group. Imagine two bubbles eternally bouncing into one another, vying for control of an old Irish Catholic parish.
The Great Exodus started when I was still in contact with my family– all the chaste and sheltered children I grew up with went away to college, and found their bubble gone. Some maintained their faith. Some turned to drinking or drugs. At least one discovered he was gay– excuse me, I mean “decided he was homosexual.” Some got pregnant out of wedlock. Many of them don’t practice any faith at all right now. In other words, what happened was exactly what would have happened if we hadn’t been insulated in a bubble in the first place, or maybe even worse.
And that’s why bubbles are trouble.
The trouble with bubbles, is that they don’t work as you expect. They work like butter on a burn– they make you feel comfortable and protected, but they’re actually incubating disease. They provide the illusion that you are a chosen race, a special clean and tidy people sacred to the Lord, cut off from contamination by “the world” where all the sins are. You begin to think that, instead of being in the world but not of it, you’ve successfully left the world. But “the world” is not something you can cut off by walling yourself in. The spirit of the world is in you, as a fallen being. The strong inclination to sin is something you carry with you wherever you go, even into the walls of a bubble. A bubble can make you feel safe, and in that false sense of safety you stop being severe with yourself and merciful with others. And when that happens, you can’t see your own sin anymore. You imagine yourself righteous because you’re looking in the wrong direction–marveling at the sins of other people, distorted into funhouse phantoms by the curved walls of the bubble.
And what do bubbles always do in the end? They burst. And when they burst, you’re left with your own relationship with God and your own sinful soul. You find that the distorted caricatures you laughed at from inside your bubble, are human beings. You don’t have any practice in loving and reverencing these human beings as you ought while still disagreeing with any of their views that are against your own moral compass. You may begin to think your whole set of values was an arbitrary lie. Or, you may fall prey to that heresy that some human beings are fundamentally better than others, that your sins are not as grievous as theirs– that God will have mercy on you but wrath on them, and that this is just, because your sins were the kind that incubate in the bubble and their sins were the kind that a bubble repels. That they are of “the world” that is perishing but the “the world” has no hold on you.
You may never even notice that your bubble is gone, and you’re standing naked in the middle of the big bad world, a sinful human being just like everyone else.
No bubble can save you.
Best to let them float by, and live in the real world. Because you’re there anyway.
(image via Pixabay)