February 26, 2007

Homogenization of Nearly Everything

I looked out my window this morning and saw a really big mound in the backyard. Could it be:

a) My picnic table under a big snowdrift?
b) The "Jesus Family Tomb"?
c) Just a big pile of snow?
d) A stash of guns and ammo left by the Barker-Karpis Gang.
e) Cathy, you are crazy!

Answer: There is no wrong answer.

You ask: "Why isn't (b) wrong?!?" Hey, if the Discovery Channel can have a documentary on some half-baked archeological discovery that James Cameron filmed, why can't I have a Jesus Tomb in my backyard?!?

You ask: "Why isn't (d) wrong?" St. Paul in the 1920s was full of gangsters, you just never know where some of their loot or guns could turn up.

If you answered (e). Well, you know it. 'Nuff said.

(a) and (c) are perfectly respectable answers. Boring. But, respectable.

I know you may find it hard to believe (ok, NONE of you find it hard to believe) but none of that idiocy has anything to do with my post title.

We are a boring culture. We are a homogenized culture.

When travelling across our Great Nation, it used to be that at the local roadside diner you could find examples of regional cuisine. For instance: Cranberry muffins in the Northwest, Huevos Rancheros in the Southwest, Key Lime Pie in Florida, Boston Baked Beans in the Northeast, Grits in the Deep South etc.

You can still find those dishes, however, you have to work harder for it now.

What kinds of restaurants dominate the Interstate exits now? That's right. Fast-food chains or national sit-down restaurant chains. I'm not even going to pick on one in particular. I've done a lot of car traveling across the U.S. and it seems like the same 5-10 restaurants are everywhere.

If Bob's Pancake Hut can afford the taxes to have a high-traffic location at or near the Interstate more power to him. More then likely, he can't. He's in town. The Interstate bypasses the town. Maybe he can afford a sign by the highway, maybe not. In any case, how many of us will venture off the highway to patronize Bob anyway?

Don't most of us take the "safe route" and stay by the Interstate with the food we know? We may not love it, but we know what's on the menu, what the portions are, about how much it will cost etc.

We are a nation of Interstates. Most of us use the Interstate to take us to point B and we don't get off of it. We bypass everything.

You see this in town too. How many people on I-35W get off at Lake Street and eat at any of the really good, homemade, Mexican restaurants in that area? Probably not many. Locals maybe. But, then again we know they are there. Plus, you have to make it past the Golden Arches-which got the prime spot right off the exit ramp.

Then, there is the perception that the neighborhood is not "safe". How many neighborhoods are "safe". What do you mean by "safe"?

I was in a upper class neighborhood restaurant in St. Paul about a month ago and someone popped my gas door and stole my gas cap while I was in the restaurant.

I've parked on University to eat at Cheng Heng many times and never had anything stolen.

Safety is relative.

But, is it worth our effort to be safe if it costs us our identities? Our identities as a Nation, as a region, as a neighborhood?

I think most of us would say: yes. Because we have already voted with our feet and our pocketbooks.

The homogenization extends: Shopping malls nationwide have pretty much the same stores in them. It used to be a treat to go shopping when I traveled because you could hit the local stores. Great, where are they now? They've either gone under or they were purchased by Federated (Federated is not the only culprit but I miss my Dayton's!) and they all have pretty much the same "blueprint". They may tweak a few things locally here and there but they will all tell you they can't make a profit if they have to "customize their brand" too much.

Is there homogenization of religions too? Think about it.

Don't we have Baptist and Shaker hymns being sung in Catholic churches?
Protestants who pray on rosary beads?
Jewish Sader Meals during Holy Thursday Mass?
Adeste Fidelis and Veni, Veni, Emanuel sung at Methodist parishes?

Do we each need our respective religious culture? Does it matter? Is this what ecumenism, which I'm told is to be desired, all about? Or, is this "new ageism" at work? Isn't New Age really a hodgepodge of religious practices too? Is there a difference between ecumenism and New Age? Meow, slap me.

Honestly, I'm dismayed by the thought of all of the items listed in the homogenization of religions section above. Everything on it is based upon a factual event.

Is the Rosary belittled when people just pray "whatever" on the pretty beads? I can't see Protestants enjoying the Marian aspect of our Rosary.

Is it ok to sing Protestant composed hymns at Mass? I will say: no. If Protestants understood our Theology, they would still be Catholics. What kind of Theology do they write about? Not entirely Catholic, that's what. Are there no Catholic composers? Were they ever any? Of course there are/were.

Sader Meals during Holy Thursday? What's up with that?!? Some priest must have gotten tired of washing feet. Too bad. Offer the stench up.

The last one: Adeste Fidelis and Veni, Veni, Emanuel sung at at Methodist church amused me. You can barely hear those hymns sung in Latin in a Catholic parish-which is probably fodder for a new post someday.

Our Nation is "billed" as the Great Melting Pot. For all the talk about immigrants not learning English and retaining too much of their own culture: Don't worry about it. History has shown that immigrants assimilate. It may take 2-3 generations but it will happen.

Is assimilation always a good thing? I'm thinking now in terms of our identity as Catholics. I believe we assimilated about 40 years ago. Look where we are now. Good? Bad? Are things changing for us? Are Catholics becoming a distinct "culture" again? I think the more traditional Catholics are reclaiming more of our historical Catholic culture and identity. One day, will that be all of us?

More questions, though you may have your own:

If we as Catholics are homogenized will that make us boring? Irrelevant? Great?

If we want to keep our distinct Catholic identity do we lose all credibility complaining about immigrants who seem to want to retain their own culture and language?

Is allowing more faith traditions access to our Catholic traditions good because it will help convert them?


I, frequently, have meandering, philosophical posts so feel free to tell me you are not following me, you agree, you disagree, have something to add etc.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On ecumanism - the misunderstanding of the term is correct in your context. But the actual meaning of the word, if taken to mean what it really means, would be a good thing and would be the OPPOSITE of what you're describing.

~ Adoro

(back to work now...)

February 26, 2007 3:08 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

In general, I sympathize with your rambling. But I'll pick up on the hymns thread.

I was raised in a Methodist church where we sang a variety of styles and hymns. I'm now Catholic. After becoming Catholic I made some effort to get to know the Catholic culture that I did not have any experience with. I went to Saturday mass at St. Agnes to experience latin chant. I learned the rosary and had my beads blessed. I learned about and experienced adoration and benediction. I learned the lingo (e.g. "offer it up").

I love all of these practices and try to make them more my own. I'm seeing now (as I write) that they are all distinctively Catholic, being tied to theology that our separated brethren wouldn't accept. So in this sense, we shouldn't allow a homogenization of our Catholic culture.

But I also love many hymns and prayers written by Protestants. Right now I'm learning different ways to sing parts of the Liturgy of the Hours. I have my Catholic "Christian Prayer" book, Episcopal Hymnal (1940), Adoremus Hymnal and Lutheran green hymnal. There are beautiful settings, translations and hymns in each. Many of the similarities can be attributed to the fact we draw from a common tradition. And from the fact that there are many true believers in each church.

I think that similarities which recognize the good from different Christian traditions should be appreciated and practiced. There is no conflict here for the Catholic who sees the deficiencies of non-Catholic Christian belief and practice.

Similarities which seek to downplay differences, or have the effect of obscuring distinctions should be shunned. Whitewashing over disagreement does not promote Christian.

February 26, 2007 5:35 PM  
Blogger Dan said...

... unity. :)

February 26, 2007 5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cathy...interesting post!

February 26, 2007 6:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first part of your post reminded me of the Disney/Pixar movie, "Cars". I know it's supposed to be for kids, but it's a good flick--I'll bet it makes you cry.

My first thought is that we have veered as Catholics so far into ecumenism that we are protestant and don't even know our faith, generally speaking. On the other hand, my husband came to the Church from a Southern Baptist background and he has told me several times that he probably wouldn't have converted so easily (or at all) if the Masses we were attending didn't somehow look a little protestant. Of course, now we love attending the Tridentine mass as much as possible--so I don't know!! Good question!!

Rent "Cars"

February 26, 2007 6:59 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Did 15 inches of snow generate all that? Wow, what if we had a real blizzard? I'd have been reading all night long.

February 26, 2007 7:00 PM  
Blogger RecoveringCatholic said...

Excellent post and overall a wonderful blog! In France, globalization is a word full of negative connotations. It sounds a bit like the homogenization of the culture which is going on here. Is France losing its distinctiveness in an expanding Europe? Visiting Paris will lose much of its distinctive charm when the Champs Elysées is lined with too many chain clothing shops and chain restaurants.

You are absolutely on target when you bring our attention to this New Age tendency of other religions picking and choosing elements of Catholicism. It doesn't seem genuine and it ruffles my feathers a bit.

To my mind a rosary is meant for Marion prayer. Buddhists and Muslims also carry prayer beads which seem similar to rosaries. Would I feel flattered or annoyed to see a Buddhist monk/nun with a crucifix in his/her hands? For me personally, this is a very tricky issue.

Of course, it is important to be tolerant (although some faiths show no tolerance whatsoever to 'nonbelievers'). This has to be balanced with a desire that many Catholics have to return to their roots.

Like it or not (and I don't), religions need followers and churches are out there "on the market" so to speak...needing to pick up and keep followers. Can a church continue to grow if it doesn't make concessions? Or is growth the only consideration, especially if it is at the cost of the churchgoers' identity? These are tough issues to be sure.

February 27, 2007 11:53 AM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

Interesting comments. I knew my blog readers would come through!

Recovering Catholic: I think you bring a unique perspective as an American living in France. You have seen firsthand the pain of a culture feeling its losing its identity but perhaps said culture is, in some instances, going too far in trying to keep some of the outside influences out?

dan: You raise an interesting issue in that you were in essence evangelized by your exposure to elements of Catholicism that, initially, you did not understand. I know non-Muslims who use and carry Muslim prayer beads. I'm pretty sure in some parts of the world that would get them killed.

Ultimately, I don't have THE answer but it is all intriquing to me.

February 27, 2007 2:19 PM  
Blogger Cathy_of_Alex said...

My sister, Adoro, made me realize I need to do more reading on ecumenism. What it really is? What is was and is meant for? How it's been distorted etc.

Perhaps a future post...

February 27, 2007 2:22 PM  
Blogger Geometricus said...

Lots of interesting thoughts here. Being half Ho-chunk (Native American) and half German and Norwegian I can't decide if I am a the product of homogenatization or a "unique regional blend."

On hymns: When I concetrate on learning and teaching my kids my "unique culture" it involves learning Ho-Chunk 'hymns' as well as studying my European, Catholic/Lutheran hymnody. I know less about the Ho-chunk side because I live far from the rez, although I could get tapes and learn more I suppose. The European side is more accesible because I know some Latin and can get books. I am currently studying Latin hymns that are prescribed for the Liturgy of the Hours. Perhaps I'll post something about what I find on my blog.

Thanks for this great post, Cathy.

March 02, 2007 10:11 AM  

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