Sunday, June 12, 2016


In the mid-1980s, I spent a year at St. Louis University in a program for priests, brothers and sisters who were involved in or preparing for formation ministry, that is, in the training of new members for their own communities. It was a great program, one I cannot praise enough. My sister-in-law once told my mother that I came back from St. Louis a different person. If so, it was because I had been in a different and wonderful world for nine months.

One of the most valuable aspects of the program was the international flavor of the students and the instructors. Of the 50 participants, half were from the States, but others were from Australia, Japan, Uganda, Ghana, Colombia, Philippines, Spain, Zambia, South Africa ... We all had our Catholicism in common, but it was for most of us, the first experience of the root meaning of the Greek word καθολική, catholic, meaning all-inclusive.

One of the presenters, I think it was Brother David Steindl-Rast, commented in passing that all religious communities, especially those in the States, should subscribe to at least one foreign newspaper. (He did not think L'Osservatore Romano should count, for obvious reasons.) He had the impression, after many years in this country -- he is Swiss-born -- that Americans have little idea about what goes on outside our boundaries (often outside our own city or state), and that what little we did know came through the filter of American media. He thought we would benefit from exposure to another point of view. 
Parenthetical remark: For a number of years my own community watched BBC American in the evening after the regular American network news. It was particularly enlightening during the Gulf conflicts.
Well, the fact that he was taking about newspapers dates the suggestion, but the fact that so many of us rely on the internet should mean we have easier access to what he meant: a variety of viewpoints. We don't have to run out and get a subscription to a foreign newspaper, even an English-language edition. Tap a few keys, and there we are!

Or are we?

The reality is, on social media we "friend" ... well, our friends, people pretty much like us. We read the blogs of people like us and so on. We watch television news channels that confirm what we already believe and change the channel when an opposing position is offered. We can easily forget that there are lots of other points of view out there. And why bother with them, right? After all, who has time to waste on the loonies?

Except they don't bother with us because we are their loonies.

Okay, maybe you are different. I would like to think so. 

Me? I try, but I still ... well, I feel more comfortable with people who won't rock my boat. I dip occasionally into the blog of someone who holds different political or religious views, but to be honest, I tend to skim over those bits and just read the bits that we have in common. I don't do Facebook and Twitter because I think they are a waste of time. (For me, for me.) But I also found them disheartening because I was exposed to so much that I did not like there. So I turned them off.

So as I ponder what I might do with some of the time that I will have on my hands after closing down this blog at whatever future date, I thought about reducing the amount of time I spend reading other blogs, too. Today, though, I am thinking about expanding that time, but to include blogs by people who experience the world differently. Outside my comfort zone. And maybe, once in a while, people who express that experience in a way I find disturbing, annoying, rage-inducing. 

I can't say I will do a lot of this. Certainly not at first. There is a reason I let my coffee cool down before I take a deep swallow. But who knows? Maybe like that morning coffee, the experience will wake me in some way.

Even when I would rather stay asleep.

To paraphrase the great American philosopher Pogo, I may meet the others and they is us.

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