Against the Grain

Is the Church calling people to a truly radical alternative way of life, or is it playing around the margins? Our society now tells us that two income families are the norm. Childlessness is increasingly normal, even for married couples. Fundamentally, our two income paradigm of life strikes at the heart of the nurture and teaching of children in God’s wisdom. Having children so that you can sacrifice them to daycare for a few years until the State steps in and turns them into compliant citizens for the next thirteen years isn’t exactly the best way to pass on the faith.

Foundational to my thinking is the idea that there is no neutrality in this world and the State is certainly not neutral about religion. It is anti-religious and teaches a false philosophy of the equality of gods. It is therefore critical to the spiritual health of our children that they are in private school or are home schooled. Churches can support this by teaching, by starting schools, and by maintaining a fund to send kids to school.

The systemic nature of the problem facing us is immense. When we are young and probably not thinking too clearly about how life works, we are inclined to go to college where we run up enormous debts. Or perhaps we join the military and run up credit card debt. Either way, we enter our mature years with debt. Cars cost a lot, housing costs a lot, so when we you get married, you have even more burdens placed on you. Then you have a kid. Now how will you move from being a dual-income to a single-income family? The deck is stacked against you.

So is the Church teaching her people to forego debt? To live in a manner conducive to single income living after children arrive? To forsake a public school system that is antithetical to all we believe? Or are we just trying to save souls for heaven and not worrying about earthly concerns?

What we are called to is suffering, and in our context that may not mean torture and imprisonment. It may mean long days, sleepless nights, living in close quarters and doing without. Embracing children and fighting the system may mean embracing a low standard of living. I confess that I am not an example of the best way to do this. But I think I can still see with clarity the conflict that we are in. Michael O’Brien addresses what we are called to in the context of his own calling to be an artist and a writer:

As a married man, I have always strived to put the needs of my family first. From the beginning, my wife and I have remained of one mind and heart regarding our life’s sacrifice of giving everything for the service of Our Lord and the Church. Without this unity it would have been impossible, and surely would have collapsed in the early stages and at any point along the way. In fact it was she who, shortly after we were married, first urged me to consider this way of life, and it is she who has never complained about the hardships involved, and she who has buoyed me up whenever our situation looked scary and hopeless.

By putting one’s family first I do not mean for a moment that a distinct calling from God should be rejected because the life of a Christian artist in these times probably means material insecurity. Part of accepting the call, for most people, will demand an ever-deepening trust in divine providence. While divine providence never promises us a comfortable life, it promises us all that we truly need to accomplish our missions in life.

For most of us, we can probably forget the idea of having a middle class standard of living with good pension plans. The way of Christian art as a full-time vocation demands sacrifice, and with sacrifice comes stresses and testing, which are increased when one’s family responsibilities are great. That is why it is important for married couples to discern very clearly, together, before launching with full commitment into this vocation. They must understand that their first vocation is always the sacrament of marriage, and the call to art a subsidiary vocation.

Many of you who have written to me are not married, and yet the essential task remains the same for you: to seek the will of the Father and the guidance of the Holy Spirit with your whole hearts. A life of prayer and sacraments—of union with our living savior Jesus—is absolutely essential, if we hope to bear good fruit in the world.

4 thoughts on “Against the Grain”

  1. Thanks for the thoughts. We are all to easy satisfied with earth and the trifling pleasures it provides. We truly do need a clearer focus on the providence of God in so much of life, including how we spend our money and structure our family and financial dependencies. But I don’t feel I can say much since we’re homeschoolers with a stay-at-home mom who does more at home that she ever would in a workplace, and of infinitely greater value.

  2. “It is therefore critical to the spiritual health of our children that they are in private school or are home schooled. Churches can support this by teaching, by starting schools, and by maintaining a fund to send kids to school.” I teach at a public community college and went to all public schools, including grad school, but you are right on. My wife was home-schooled, then went to a Christian high school for her last two years before heading to Messiah College. I often wish that I had gotten a Christian educational foundation, though my parents did many things right in teaching me about the faith. It’s only been in the last few years where I realized how much I was shaped by the modern/postmodern world.

    We see the need for Christian education here in Kankakee where the public schools are awful. At the community college, 94% of students come in having to take some kind of remedial math, reading, or writing course (math is the most common).

    There are three Christian high school options here. Two are small Protestant, I think more on the fundamentalist side. There’s a Catholic HS too. But for the large black population I don’t think there are many options outside of the public schools. Our pastor works with Youth for Christ, and after he did an event where kids where able to build computers parents (mostly black, I believe) told him that if he opened up a school they’d take their kids out of the public schools the next day.

    When we have children, we will be homeschooling them.

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