Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Find Them

My husband recently had the opportunity to aid an aging friend of our family.  This man is an angel among men.  His body is not his friend anymore.  It makes continuous efforts to put him in the grave, but up until this writing, he has bravely and nobly thwarted every attempt.  There are more challenges than the physical when it comes to infirmity, however, and he has been made to depend on others in personal ways that we all hope never to require.  Members of my family have been his willing servants once or twice.  I fear he may not understand what that means to us.  This post is dedicated to our noble friend.

My father passed away a few years ago, but before he did, he suffered-- body, mind, and soul.  He had Parkinson's disease, dementia, and debilitating bladder and prostate issues.  He cycled through anger, terror, amnesia, paranoia, and shame. He smiled and joked whenever he could, which was not as often as he wished.

  In his younger years, Dad was practically busting apart with good humor.  He whistled songs every day, some of them songs to which he'd drummed in a 1950s big band.  One of my fondest memories was hearing him whistle throughout the house, around the yard, wherever he was and whatever he was doing.  Because of him, I whistle too, everywhere.  He suffered much sorrow throughout his young life, but he never lost hope or his sense of humor.

And then he fell apart, slowly.  He was in my care for a couple of those last years.  They were hard years.  He was embarrassed.  His face hung in sadness as I cleaned up his space around him.  He wanted to be capable.  He was angry that he was not.  His own father had suffered in like fashion, and his mother had been heavy-burdened with Grandpa's care until his passing.  Dad never wanted to go out that way.  But here he was, going out just that way, depending at various times on his daughters to help him with matters that would humble the humblest.  And he handled it with a brain that was gradually disintegrating, blurring his understanding.

I have two people now in my daily life who require my constant care.  My teenage daughter and 5-year-old son are autistic.  The former can talk and manage some things herself; the latter is not quite as capable.  I have managed many personal tasks for them both.  One day while combing my daughter's hair, she began silently weeping.  I sensed her disappointment.  "You don't want me to have to help you, do you?"  She shook her head.  "You wish you could do these things by yourself."  She nodded, and then she did something she rarely does.  She hugged me for longer than five seconds, and she cried quietly.

Every morning, a member of our family dresses my autistic son.  We feed him, wash him, brush his teeth, and carry him in and out of the house to let him loose on his second-favorite toy, the trampoline (his favorite is the iPad.)  We help him in and out of his bunk bed, which he sleeps on so he doesn't get up at night and find trouble.  We check his mouth regularly for objects that are not chew-approved, we clip his nails, follow him around as he leads us by the hand to his requests.  We talk for him, because we understand his signals and habits.  We play with him and tickle him and make all the silly noises that make him smile.  We guard him from himself.  He understands this, and he seeks our protection.  There is every reason to believe that we will be performing these duties for him for the rest of his life. 

I have learned a thing or two through these experiences.  And here is where I make a public declaration to our dear, aging friend from the beginning of my story.  The burdens we help you bear in any small way are not burdens at all.  I implore you, my brother, in the acutest possible way, feel no shame.  The opportunity we are afforded to stand at your shoulder and bear you up under the crushing weight of tribulation is life's most enduring honor. It's an honor we could never be granted without your willingness to be served.  Feel no shame! Knowing you makes us stand a little taller, but serving you makes us giants.

Here is my message to any of you reading this now. There are people in this world who cannot do it without you, who can give you nothing in return for your assistance, whose needs will tax your resolve and bend your will under their weight.  There are people whose difficulties will crack your preconceived notions and plant your face on the ground in pleading prayers.  There are duties so grinding and menial and thankless that no one wants to do them or have them done for them-- so many people who can't, very literally cannot, help themselves.  FIND THEM.

We are not here for them.  They are here for us, to make us better!  Find even one of them.  Put yourself in their space.  Do without being asked.  Provide dignity to these of God's dignitaries in disguise.  You are not too good.  You are not good enough!  And yet here they are, allowing you to serve them.  If you do not take the opportunity to know them, the door to boundless depth of character and spiritual refinement remains closed to you and the children you raise for the future.  Do you want to be like Christ?  Do something.  He will open your eyes, and you will lament the years you wasted not seeing the angels before you.  They're all here, hiding beneath robes of need.  Find them. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The 'End' of Man: Education and the Individual, Pt. 2

As discussed in part one, C.S. Lewis has determined that the authors of a particular elementary English book have, consciously or unconsciously, laced the text with a sort of relativism that neither parents nor students may be able to detect in time to untangle.  He sees this textbook as a single example of a problem becoming pervasive even back in the 1940s-- the problem of raising 'Men without Chests,' a generation of students that revere intellectualism but lack heart. 

"Gaius and Titius," he says, are people who hold to their own intellectual, 'in vogue' system of values with "complete uncritical dogmatism." Intellectualism is their religion, so to speak.  "Their skepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough.  And the phenomenon is very usual.  A great many of those who 'debunk' traditional ... values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.  They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that 'real' or 'basic' values may emerge."

Throughout the many works of C.S. Lewis, there is a clear thread of anti-progressivism, as defined in his generation.  He saw the progressives of his day as morally-relative deniers of spirituality, people whose sole motive was to go forward, with no destination except 'more forward-going.'  Consider the example of the man and the waterfall again.  "To abstain from calling it good and to use, instead, such predicates as 'necessary' or 'progressive' or 'efficient'" would force the authors to answer the questions, "Necessary for what?  Progressing towards what?  Effecting what?" ...  "We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive" (as stated in Mere Christianity).

So how does all of this forward-going, value-eschewing intellectualism really end up affecting society, beginning at the earliest stages of education?  The question can't be answered without looking into the eyes of the genuine, all-encompassing value system these textbook scholars so slyly attempted to refute.

"The Innovator attacks traditional values in defense of what he at first supposes to be 'rational' or 'biological' values.  But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking [traditional values], and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from [traditional values.]  If he really had started from scratch ... no jugglery could have advanced him an inch... Only by [it] is he enabled even to attack it."  There are things of absolute, irrefutable venerability.  There are things that are absolutely contemptible, for which no explanation is necessary.  As such, the only way to attempt to refute them is to borrow some thread from them.  There is no way to create something new apart from them-- they are the fabric of life, and every thread is a part of their weave.

This melds well into another recurring theme in Lewis' work-- that Satan, common enemy of every man, has no power or authority to create anything, and creation is surely the gift he must envy above all others.  He can only take the creations of God in his hands and corrupt them to a purpose that in turn corrupts mankind. Every human vice is but the product of a corrupted virtue.  How clever a deceit, then, that the devil can manage to convince God's children that anything he has ever produced is new, novel, or has value above that which God has already given it.  How clever to convince us that God had no hand in it at all, and that we are responsible to equalize its imagined venerability and improve upon it-- 'progress' it to something, though we know not what.

The final few pages of The Abolition of Man are a dire warning against the application of moral relativity in the classroom.  "Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted, and indeed... we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.  But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and irresistable scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

"Even more important ... In the older systems, both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him, were prescribed by [traditional values]-- a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart.  They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen.  They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike.  It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly.  This will be changed.  Values are now mere natural phenomena ...The conditioners have been emancipated from all that... They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce.  They themselves are outside, above.

"They are not bad men at all.  Stepping outside the Tao (traditional values), they have stepped into the void.  Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men.  They are not men at all: they are artefacts [man-made, a spurious experimental result].  Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man."

This series of lectures, I remind you, took place in 1943.  This year marks its 70th anniversary.  Do you see the fruition of any part of his predictions?  Are they really any new revelation, or has he only re-illustrated a societal pattern that has existed since the beginning of time?

I believe this discussion deserves a third part-- inclusion of examples in the scriptures, a spiritual discussion about this 'end of man.'  New post to come.