In 2014, I’m reading and blogging through Pope Francis/Cardinal Bergoglio’s Open Mind, Faithful Heart: Reflections on Following Jesus. Every Monday, I’ll be writing about the next meditation in the book, so you’re welcome to peruse them all and/or read along.
In this week’s chapter, Pope Francis praises the way that David follows God during the chaos of Absalom’s rebellion:
David places his liberty at the service of God’s designs and cooperates with God’s desires. In so doing, he does not lose what he himself called “prudence,” which is simply providing the human means that God requires and then letting God act. David cares for his people and does not abandon them, He does not burn the city; he does not cremate history. He leaves some followers in the city who will counteract the influence of Absalom’s supporters (2 Sam 15:30-36). Complete surrender to God sets David’s horizons and gives him greatness of soul. But his surrender is not passive servility; rather, it is the dedication of the astute servant who unfailingly places his talents at the service of his lord. In this case, David submits his talents to the will of his God, who wants to dispossess him, but not his people.
Reading this passage brought to mind debates about “taking the Benedict option” which tends to mean carving out a little space separate from the world, but lying close enough to it that the secular world can hear tell of you and come visit and learn (à la a Benedictine monastery). In this passage, even as David is being put to flight, he maintains connections to the land he must flee, both through the remnant of followers that he leaves, and by returning God’s Ark to Jerusalem, so that God remains in the city, even when His king has been driven out.
Since my local debating circle is gearing up to fight over “Resolved: Send Your Children to Public School,” several of my friends have been discussing what ties to maintain when they try to follow God by turning away from a culture in revolt. One of my Catholic friends would prefer not to send his children to public school since he find the public square period to be too libertine, relativist, and antithetical to the values he wants to offer his children.
I pointed out that, if his assessment is correct, that for him and parents like him to withdraw their students would probably lead to an evaporative cooling of group beliefs, where the trends he disliked were entrenched or accelerated, since more students would grow up exposed primarily only to the assumptions he found distasteful. He replied, reasonably enough, that the New Evangelization can’t and shouldn’t be built primarily on the backs of seven-year-olds.
But the conversation did leave me wondering where people taking a Benedictine or Davidic approach to a hostile culture planned to leave their infiltrators, if not among the children. There are few to none circumstances that throw together all the adults of a particular neighborhood the ways that schools mix up their children (and wind up forcing the parents to meet). A family attending parochial school will see the same people they already see at church, but won’t have a reason to meet the other residents of their street (since we tend not to live in an age of block parties or unsupervised play in the street).
Without relying on schools to provide some random noise to our social circles, where will adults find opportunities to witness or to learn from others and wind up converting themselves? What else throws us together, over the long term, in unchosen fraternity and sorority? Are there arbitrary weak-tie creating institutions that you commenters encounter, that I haven’t aged into, or is school the primary way we can expect to be thrown together with our neighbors?