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    Ten Ways to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child: Method 5

    February 16, 2011 by Brandy Vencel

    Method Five is: Cast aspersions upon the heroic and patriotic. I love the subtitle on this one: We are all traitors now. It speaks volumes, I think. It’s super cool these days (as evidenced by our Commander in Chief, who loves to apologize for America’s existence) to think little of our country. We do this under the guise of a false humility, but Esolen calls it as it is.

    He calls it refusing to honor our father and our mother.

    I’ve been thinking about this chapter for a while now.

    I thought of it the other day, when I was talking to someone about some problems at a church (not my own).

    “They let him go,” she said of one of the volunteer ministers.

    “Why?” I asked.

    “They hired a new young thing and found a new vision. Whatever that means.”

    I know what it means, because I’ve seen it in action at other churches at other times.

    It means that the church has decided that Cool will reign, that Cool somehow is the best way to serve God in the world. And so Cool disposes with the old and the antiquated, with the traditional and the remembered. Cool fires the outdated worship minister in favor of some young guy who plays electric guitar. Cool changes the rythms, and even the melodies, of the Old Songs, simply because it can, and New is Better in America today.

    Cool doesn’t care that the old people in the church can’t sing the song that way, that the old way is etched in their very bones.

    That they will die missing the songs they once knew.

    Esolen didn’t talk about Cool a whole lot, but I’m from California, which is more than a state. It’s a Present State of Mind. Cool reigns supreme here, right? Or so it seems.

    One of the things that breaks my heart over and over is seeing my beloved locality decide that it simply must be Cool. Cozy old diners with crotchety old ladies behind the counter aren’t enough–we need all the best chains from Los Angeles. Sometimes I think my Place is determined to lose itself in trying to be like LA or San Francisco, or what have you.

    And we are taught this in our youth at school, for it is Cool at school to “cast aspersions” on the past. I loved this passage of Esolen’s:

    TEN WAYS TO DESTROY THE IMAGINATION OF YOUR CHILDWhen Sophocles wrote Oedipus Tyrannos, it seemed to some in Athens that they had, in their radical democratic reforms, also killed their fathers. The danger, as Sophocles saw it, struck to the heart of the social order. To ignore tradition–to despise the past, to “kill the father”–is to set oneself above those laws that have no past, because they apply to all men, everywhere, at all times. So says the Chorus:

    I only ask to live, with pure faith keeping
    In word and deed that Law which leaps the sky,
    Made of no mortal mould, undimmed, unsleeping,
    Whose living godhead does not age or die.

    We should prefer instead of Sophocles the spawner of modern education, John Dewey:

    Education has accordingly not only to safeguard an individual against the besetting erroneous tendencies of his own mind–its rashness, presumption, and preference of what chimes with self-interest to objective evidence–but also to undermine and destroy the accumulated and self-perpetuating prejudices of long ages.

    It is to Dewey’s credit that he saw that you cannot destroy those old prejudices while continuing to expose pupils to the literature of the classical past. Oedipus killed Laius, but he did not know it. Dewey killed Sophocles, and he did know.

    Now please don’t worry that Esolen is in favor of blind tradition. He makes the point that our duty to honor thy father and thy mother is not a duty to “whitewash thy father and thy mother.” As a Christian I must assert that I love my country on the one hand, and that, on the other hand, I desire to see her not as she is, but as the Father would have her. I believe that Jesus truly intended nations to become His disciples–that they will become His disciples in time, and we will see the nations serve Him.

    But I do not think that America would better serve the Lord by acting British (as much as I adore the idea of Britain), nor Nigeria better serve the Lord by acting Chinese. Just as the Lord created many different people in my own family, I believe that the grand variety of cultures pleases Him, and He desires to redeem them for His glory.

    This desire to see one’s country redeemed is rightly called patriotism. (I’m not making much mention of heroism, but suffice it to say that heroic acts always have at their core some great love, patriotism being among the options.)

    Patriotism sparks the imagination, and therefore causes Esolen great concern. Esolen explains that multiculturalism is a great way to destroy patriotism:

    [W]e want no patriots. Therefore we want no lovers of their own place. The very purpose of what is miscalled multiculturalism is to destroy culture, by teaching students to dismiss their own and to patronize the rest. Hence the antidote to love of this place is not only a hatred of this place, but a phony engagement with any other place. Multiculturalism in this sense is like going a-whoring. Pretending to love every woman you meet, you love none at all. Nor do you genuinely get to know any of them, since it never occurs to you that there are any depths to learn to appreciate.

    Something in this chapter reminded me of Wendell Berry, and it wasn’t just the reference to Jayber Crow. I was thinking more of his essays. Can you see the similarities? For instance, in his essay Economy and Pleasure, Berry wrote:

    The idea of the teacher and scholar as one called upon to preserve and pass on a common cultural and natural birthright has been almost entirely replaced by the idea of the teacher and scholar as a developer of “human capital” and a bestower of economic advantage.

    In another essay, The Work of Local Culture (which has much that informs a good reading of Esolen here, I think), he talks about the failure of succession. It once was that men rose up and took the place of their fathers.

    Throughout most of our literature, the normal thing was for the generations to succeed one another in place. The memorable stories occurred when this succession failed or became difficult or was somehow threatened. The norm is given in Psalm 128, in which this succession is seen as one of the rewards of righteousness: “Thou shalt see thy children’s children, and peace upon Israel.”

    The longing for this result seems to have been universal. It presides over The Odyssey, in which Odysseus’s desire to return home is certainly regarded as normal.


    [B]y now the transformation of the ancient story is nearly complete. Our society, on the whole, has forgotten or repudiated the theme of return. Young people still grow up in rural families and go off to the cities, not to return. But now it is felt that this is what they should do. Now the norm is to leave and not return. And this applies as much to urban families as to rural ones.


    According to the new norm, the child’s destiny is not to succeed the parents, but to outmode them; succession has given way to supersession. And this norm is institutionalized not in great communal stories, but in the education system. The schools are no longer oriented to a cultural inheritance that it is their duty to pass on unimpaired, but to the career, which is to say the future, of the child…The child is not educated to return home and be of use to the place and community; he or she is educated to leave home and earn money in a provisional future that has nothing to do with place or community.

    Something big, like a healthy patriotism, starts small, with a love for one’s own small place.

    I am reminded of a little speech my husband once gave at a meeting of our City Council. I don’t remember the issue, but it seems that perhaps our city was trying to build something big and impressive that it couldn’t afford, probably using federal dollars, in order to attract outsiders, who would come and be impressed and, if all went as planned, spend money in town. My husband’s assessment was that what our city lacked was a love of the citizens for their Place–as evidence by the graffiti and crime problems. Building some great edifice was not a solution to the underlying issue, which had nothing to do with money, and everything to do with heart.

    He was quoting someone else when he said, “Men did not love Rome because she was beautiful. She was beautiful because men loved her.”

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  • Reply dawn February 26, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    From Mystie’s dishonoring fathers to Brandy’s church culture of COOL … those ideas together might make my head explode …

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 22, 2011 at 7:22 am

    I must say here, to those visiting from the Facebook link (yes, I see you!), that I am NOT against the new. God gives His gifts generously to each generation, and it is against His will for us to squander them by burying them until His return. But I think that Wendell Berry’s words bear remembering. There is a difference between succession and supersession. There is a difference, too, in how we introduce the new. The new can either be a gift from our generation, or a way of trampling upon the old. In the former, it is an act of respect and love, in the latter, an act of disrespect and arrogance.

    This is why I tied it all to Cool–because in that, we see our hearts, that we are striving for the approval of man, rather than God.

  • Reply Anonymous February 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    YES,and thank you.

    I especially appreciated your comments on being ‘Cool.’ Our church has just gone slightly ‘cool’ w/ the music in one of our services. There’s no way they’d fire one of the pastors, but I wish more young people could appreciate the Old as I was taught to. My children are young, but I plan to teach them to appreciate the Old as well. In many ways I have already begun, but the oldest is only 2 so we have lots of time left.

    I loved the part about honoring our mother and father, and I COMPLETELY agree. I think you quoted it from the author…what an important and convicting thought.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 17, 2011 at 5:55 pm

    Mystie, Did you know that CA has had chatter about dividing itself many times since I’ve been born (and probably before). The problem is that usually NoCal wants to portion itself off, leaving even San Francisco behind! NO THANK YOU! More than once we have thought that the best idea would be to draw a line down the middle of the state sectioning off the coast from the valleys beyond. The problem is that this would abandon Orange County to the wolves, and I certainly wouldn’t want to be them. πŸ™

    For the record, I don’t think I’ve really made any actual changes, either. I just think it’s an ideal. For a long time, I got to experience visiting small local businesses, though, and I really enjoyed it (I usually hate shopping). There is a little health food store where I bought special things for Si when he got out of the hospital. The ladies were always the same three gals and they were very sweet and helpful. Our alternative doctor that we go to treats all of our friends, and going to her office is always like a reunion with someone we haven’t seen in a long time. Then, also, our feed store was owned by a family. They were great, kept animals out in back for the kids to visit. We loved going there during fair season, when it seemed that everyone was there, and even a local vet hung around and consulted with the kids who were raising animals.

    I feel like I can envision how a place doing commerce with itself builds community in a very real way.

    Unfortunately, the city just stole the land from the feed store so that they can build a multimillion dollar overpass that will solve a very real traffic issue but likely never EVER pay for itself. My oldest was devastated.

  • Reply Mystie February 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Yay! Yes, move here if you are ever forced to move. Then we can all move to Idaho together five years later when WA follows suit. Instead of a horizontal line between Oregon & Washington, there really should be a vertical line. Eastern Oregon & WA together would be another Idaho or Texas, excepting the influence of all the government money we get for our nuclear “clean-up”

    I would probably agree with you on the WalMart/Target thing philosophically or ideally, but I just can’t bring myself to make any actual changes based on that agreement.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm

    Debra, It always freaks my dad out when I say stuff like this because he thinks I sound like a liberal, but I’m going to say it anyhow. I am definitely not the protest WalMart type. (Personally, I hate WalMart, but I loooove Target.)

    However, I think these big national corporations, even the ones I like, such as Costco and Target, are really the antithesis of the ideal. I choose to accept them as part of my circumstances, but I think they destroy communities.

    I have seen firsthand a RiteAid drive a friend’s local business, which had been passed from father to son since the founding of the town, be sold to RiteAid rather than driven out of business by it.

    The reason I am against WalMart et. al. in theory is because I agree with Wendell Berry, that in order to be a REAL community, the members have to do a majority of their business with themselves. In other words, buisness needs to be personal, and the idea of something being “just business” is an unnatural and detrimental product of the post-industrialist mentality.

    In addition to this, entrepreneurship and small business ownership are the lifeblood of a community. People who own things take responsibility for them and also tend to take responsibility for their community. Most great communities of early America were built by the rich citizens who lived there. They invested in their own place out of pride, love, or both.

    WalMart and Target and the like bring entry-level and mid-level management jobs, but not ownership. They bring slavery rather than freedom, and they do not bring a way of life that can be passed from father to son. The book Geography of Nowhere explores the impact of these stores even upon the architecture and design of cities, how the cities are increasingly designed for the sake of big business rather than to make an optimally livable life for its citizens.

    So though I don’t have a problem patronizing these stores, and I benefit from the low prices (I admit!), I think the ideal of patriotism as a sense of love for a place involves less WalMart and more Mom and Pop shops.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    Mystie, You have tumbleweeds! Wonderful! Now I know where I can go if we really do have to leave here some day. We would only leave if circumstance necessitates, but I am well aware that, considering our state’s situation, this is within the realm of possiblity.

  • Reply Mystie February 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    I understand what you mean, Brandy. Seattle has so many people that they carry the state — how we vote in Eastern Washington hardly matters. Eastern Washington is conservative with lots of (irrigated) agriculture. I am an Eastern Washingtonian, I couldn’t move to the west/wet/left side; I actually love tumbleweeds. πŸ™‚

  • Reply Debra @FueltheMuse February 17, 2011 at 9:13 am

    That sense of place is not necessarily the same as protesting against Walmart & MacDonalds (just to pick a couple of icons), even as it’s not against pretending that your country is perfect – but it is about holding to the vision. Sidney’s comment about holding up the vision rings true here – we criticise to call back to the chosen focus.

  • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts February 17, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Mystie, I must apolgize for my state being contagious! Where I live is actually the “Bible Belt” of CA–it has a very midwest feel (so they tell me–I’ve only been to the midwest once). But a number of LA-types moved here when property values were soaring there and I think we reached a sort of tipping point. πŸ™ Fortunately, I think the damage is still reversible.

    Dana, I agree. I really connected with “patriotism” as a way of being tied to a place. I am reminded that in the early days of our country, folks were more connected to their state than to their country–they were Virginians first or Oklahomans first or whatever. I feel that way. I am a Californian first, which is why I cannot leave this place even though it is literally falling apart from mismanagement.

  • Reply Cindy February 16, 2011 at 6:31 pm

    While everybody agrees that Americans are idiots, hardly anyone agrees in what way:) This always gets me. I am also grieved when a PLACE loses itself. It is truly terrible when that happens.

  • Reply Go quickly and tell February 16, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    Ditto Mystie’s perspective on patriotism because there are a lot of things *misguided* with the way America/Americans behave/believe.

    And if I may continue with my Flannery fling, she instructs us ~

    When in Rome, do as you done in Milledgeville.

  • Reply Mystie February 16, 2011 at 5:25 am

    California Cool creeps up the coast slowly through Oregon, settles in Portland and Seattle, and then sneaks its way over the mountains into our desert. We do our best to fend it off and cuddle closer to Idaho. πŸ™‚

    I was thinking on patriotism as connection to the past and that attracted me more than thinking of patriotism as Ra-ra Republicanism or Americana sappiness, both of which nauseate me. But what I think he is talking about is more a love that is deep enough to try to call your country back to the right like the example of your husband’s speech. That is something to strive for, indeed.

  • Reply sara February 16, 2011 at 1:43 am

    Very interesting!

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