Can you remember looking out the car window from the back seat as a kid? You could make your eyes focus on the raindrops running down the window, or change and focus outside, past the raindrops. Get bored enough, it was mild fun to make your eyes focus close, then far, then close. (ah, the days before DVD players in cars....)
I have been busy at work lately - we provide budgets for our clients, and my mind is already deep in 2008. Sorry for the silence. My focus is primarily on work, and on car buying and home repairs. One or another of those topics is usually on the top and front of my mind, and concentrating and being serene about prayer and worship is getting slightly short shrift from me.
What struck me the other day is how faith focuses your eyes. I was driving to work and realized that without many extra miles, I can pass an abortion clinic, an off-track betting parlor, an "adult toys and lingerie" store with vulgar clothes and things right in the window and a bar and restaurant that "everybody knows" is mobbed up.
The preset buttons on my car radio could be set to any number of Chicago "morning zoo" radio stations, where the smut level continues to rise. I could easily install satellite radio in my car and listen to Howard Stern not just push the envelope on lewdness, but knock that envelope down and pin it to the mat.
I could go to any number of movie theaters showing movies whose "R" ratings don't mean just a little too much violence and a little dirty talk, but needless nudity, a calm acceptance of sexual promiscuity, active denigration of the Gospel, and intellectual shallowness deluxe. I could go to a clean, brightly lit, safe-looking place and get tattooed or pierced or branded or implanted, with no limits to the choice of inked words or pictures or the vulgarity of the final effect.
But I also pass a crisis pregnancy center. I know where the Catholic churches are between home and work, including mine, where I go to Mass weekdays and Sundays as well as other devotions, Confession, and family-oriented social events. I drive past my favorite crafts stores, a wonderful family-owned butcher shop where the staff is always laughing and joking, a Panera Bread where the counter lady gives me my coffee free most days, the pleasant and helpful public library, the high school where I vote, two religious bookstores who are always raising money for small and loving local charities, a car dealer who has quietly given cars to struggling immigrant families, and so on and on.
I listen to Morning Air, the morning drive-time Catholic radio program (Jesus and weather and catechesis and traffic and history and sports and heart and humor, it's great!) or play a tape of Christian music, with an occasional visit to the local newsradio station. I find myself uninterested in most movies, and I gave up buying the great-fitting underwear at Victoria's Secret because they depict women in ways that aren't healthy for society. I stopped meeting friends at a local bar that persists in showcasing "Jagermeister Girls" pushing too many drinks on customers, and I managed (only with the help of two other Christians, men, on the staff) to persuade our majority-female staff that going to Hooters for a department lunch was a bad idea.
Because I am easily tempted to "observe" the steamier side of life, I block a few channels, and watch Catholic television like EWTN's The Journey Home (love those convert stories!) or happy shows like Dirty Jobs.
It's not that *I'm* righteous, that's not it. My tastes changed as my faith grew, and my focus is different, and I am grateful to God and His Church for the education and growth in His Peace in my life.
But I worry that, by guarding my eyes and concentrating on other, holier things, I've made a Happy Land for myself and become essentially oblivious to the pain and sin around me. Should I be fiercely praying as I pass the sad places, instead of merely avoiding them? Should I be listening to the smutty channels or checking out the insulting TV shows, and writing in polite protest, or contacting public officials about the location of the OTB or the abortion clinic? (I did join the protest against the clinic, but we lost that round.)
How should we live? Seeing only the good and holy in the middle of the ugly and dying? Sure, I pray for all the lost and damaged and suffering, but have I made it too easy on myself?
I remember hearing about some saintly person who literally couldn't see sin in others, he saw Christ instead. I would LOVE to be that kind of person. But I don't think my unfocusing on the hard and sharp edges around me is the same thing, it's being sort of a holy ostrich.
What to do?