At the Rochester Chesterton Conference, left to right: Kevin O'Brien, Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Tom Martin.
One way to transform the culture is to get men drinking and smoking again.
"Transforming the Culture" was the theme of this year's Chesterton Conference in Rochester, New York, which 150 eager Chestertonians attended this past weekend.
It was an honor for me to be included in the line-up of presenters, including Dale Ahlquist delivering a speech entitled "Apocalypse Later", Tom Martin (the John Senior of Nebraska) speaking on Chesterton and the culture of America, and Joseph Pearce delivering such gems as
Christ is the means as well as the end, He is the Way as well as the Truth and the Life.
When you experience beauty, you cannot help having a sense of gratitude. Beauty does not exist in isolation: reason & love go with it.
Martin, for those of you who don't know him, teaches at the University of Nebraska Kearney and must be a great philosophy teacher, for only a great philosophy teacher would elicit responses from students such as these (taken from a rate the professor website):
He really needs to stop relating everything to God.
(I love that one) and
Unless you're willing to spend 4 hours on one page you can kiss your thoughts of an A goodbye. Very difficult professor.
But back to drinking and smoking.
It was the party after the conference (the party is the "end" and the conference is the "means"). I sat with perhaps fifteen other men in Lou Horvath's screened-in patio as the rain fell hard on a chilly October night, the darkness surrounding us, cigar smoke filling the room, whiskey, good wine and good beer flowing, the ChesterBelloc Drinking and Debating Club in full swing.
David Higbee of St. Irenaeus Ministries and I were sharing an intense conversation over Kentucky bourbon about evangelizing through drama. (Kentucky bourbon shown here, as modeled by an Upstage Actress for a picture I took at an unidentified tasting room in Kentucky. Note: it was either include a picture of this gal or of David Higbee, so I did what I had to do.)
And David said to me something that will always stick in my mind. We were talking about how most Catholic drama and Catholic comedy and Catholic programming is utterly bad (I've touched on this elsewhere). And David said simply, "We need to be putting stuff out there that human beings would want to see."
Now think about that.
And think about the stuff we try to pass off as our attempts at Transforming the Culture. And think about how much of that any actual human being would want to sit through.
Chesterton got it. Chesterton knew that in fiction, drama, journalism, poetry, or what have you, first you have to engage the human person - first you have to reach out to human beings.
By contrast, the True Believers, the hard core and long suffering residents of the Catholic Ghetto aren't that picky. They grasp for straws, producing and consuming stuff that hardly rates as culture much less culture transformed. But if we're going to appeal to the pagans and agnostics and lapsed Catholics in our midst, we must do so with art that's honest, that's authentic, that engages, that is not contrived, not didactic, not dreary, not self-indulgent, not boring, not bad.
The True, the Beautiful and the Good echo the glory of the Holy Trinity, and we dare not as artist or audience settle for the Trite, the Banal and the Mediocre.
These sorts of insights only come by way of cigar smoke, bourbon, a chilly night, the pouring rain, and true Christian fellowship.
This is because there's something dangerous in men of like mind smoking and drinking together, united in a love of Christ.
There's nothing dangerous about Kumbaya, about "the sign of peace", about sitting in a circle and sharing. The one is living and has gonads; the other is the emasculated product of the same society that's trying its best to re-bury G. K. Chesterton.
Thanks to Lou and Jeanne Horvath and to everyone who attended this year's conference.