presented at the 2018 Louisiana Chesterton Conference
Over the past few generations, the world has seen a rise in critics and practical men, and we have seen a plummet in theorists and impractical men. There are more critics and pragmatists than ever before, but there are fewer philosophers, fewer poets, fewer priests, and fewer willing to receive that honor society has long called motherhood. And this means there are many more people ready and willing to tell us what’s wrong with the world but fewer ready and willing to tell us what the world ought to be.
There is indeed plenty telling us what’s wrong with the world. And our solution to all the criticisms about the world’s ills are typically to suggest and create some quite creative and sometimes ridiculous remedies. We start laughing yoga classes to help release endorphins, or we begin positive thinking think-tanks. We even legislate soda fountains. All too often when we are tired of asking what’s wrong with the world, we seek to avoid any criticism whatsoever, any thoughtfulness, by simply affirming as widely and as deeply as possible anything and everything. In seeing too often the fruit of a fallen world and having no answer for it, we make the bold attempt to see nothing but silver linings. But in so doing we place on ourselves an opposite yoke, one alien to the Christian’s love of truth, and one alien to discovering any true and lasting remedies whatsoever. The solution to what’s wrong with the world is found much closer than we think. I hope my talk this year is an opportunity for consideration, not so much of lecture or essaying through a problem, but of considering how we may be a part of the solution, no matter what problem we find.
One recent project of Mud House’s has been to design and print a two-volume reader in moral and political philosophy. In the introduction, editor Thomas Achord says this…(read quote)
In What’s Wrong with the World, Chesterton gives several critiques on different components of our society, of our lives. One of the central threads through the whole book is that of the home.
What is ‘home’? Let’s make it basic. What part of speech is home? Is it a noun? Is it a concrete noun? Is it an abstract noun? Is it a common abstract noun? It seems important enough. Why not call it Home, as if there is only one, singular and dignified? Is ‘home’ simply a Western construct or is there something in its notion which transcends language and cultural goods? What are the multiple relationships one can have with a ‘home’? What are the various uses of the word ‘home’ in our culture? What is the etymology of the English word ‘home’? What are the determining factors of your own understanding of home? How does ‘home’ come to be defined as such? What are the various postures or relationships one can have toward home? From Antiquity to today, how does the concept of home manifest itself as a literary theme throughout various cultures and languages? How has our own time and culture conceived of ‘home’. Is it an idea? Is it a place? We say home is where the heart is…Is it where the heart is?
While these questions certainly venture into the broader discipline of philosophy, these are also literary concerns. What role does ‘home’ have in setting a plot? What role does ‘home’ have in character development?
Chesterton in Tremendous Trifles said that to be at home everywhere is to be at home nowhere. Think about that for a moment. To be at home everywhere is to be at home nowhere. How easy it is today, with travel, social media, to attempt to be at home everywhere, to make every move nothing more than retreat, vacation. We then, as Os Guinness states, become like cut flowers. Cut flowers are unrooted, dying. They have no home, and therefore they have no future.
Whatever “home” is, it appears to have a favorable connotation, in whatever language one speaks. The term ‘home’ bounds around us like a cheerful toddler, calling for our attention yet mystifying our daily plans. It inculcates our dialogue and organizes our manner of attention.
I’d like for us to do a bit of interaction. Find a sheet or scrap of paper near you. You may even use your phone if that’s easier, and I want to give you five minutes to write down as many words as you can which have the word “home” in it.
Count the number of total original answers your table gave. Make sure you don’t count the answers that were given twice at your table.
The table with the most number of “home” words which align with mine…each person at the table a free book of your choice
- Homeowner’s insurance
- Homestead exemption act
- Hometown hero
- Home land security
- Sweet home Alabama
- Home away from home
- Home health
- Home theater system
- home as originator (home of the world’s best cup of coffee)
- home as container (home of the LSU Tigers)
- Home sweet home
- Home crowd
- Home state
- Home builders of America
- Homecourt advantage
- Homemeade bread
- Motor homes
- Mobile home
- “No place like home” Wizard of Oz
- Home for the holidays
- Catholic church pitch “Come Home”
- Homeowner’s association
- Extreme makeover – home edition
- Home Shopping Network
- Stay-at-home mom
- Home business
- Home and Garden Television (HGTV)
- Home décor
- Homecooked meal
- Home security system
Home is fully integrated into our vocabulary and into our imaginations, yet it is too far from our intentionality. We know, and in many places Chesterton affirms, that the idea of home is one of the most central themes to the good life.
Let us, however, not be fooled that all this talk of fixing the world’s ills at home is somehow an academic or sociological answer. To say our ills are to be fixed on a local level before they are fixed on any greater level is to merely believe the words of Holy Scripture:
Mat_7:4 Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye?
Act 1:6-8 So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
1Ti 3:1-5 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?
Let us then take Chesterton’s own categories in What’s Wrong with the World and consider the local work set before us.
I do not say we should avoid discussing or thinking about Christendom, but I must consider Christendom first and foremost by passing the peace each Sunday, by attending funerals and throwing birthday parties for our friends.
I do not saw we should avoid thinking about the health of the global and general priesthood or pastorate, but we must consider the general health of the priesthood or pastorate first and foremost by asking our pastor or priest how they are doing, we can pray for them and serve their mundane needs.
I do not say we should avoid thinking about feminism, or national education reform, but I must consider these first and foremost by looking at those two little girls in my living room, by singing with them and tell them brief fables before bedtime.
One of my favorite things about Chesterton is he will in one and the same sentence bring you ten-thousand feet above the earth, to look and contemplate, to think and philosophize, and in that very instant you will find yourself standing in your own living room. It is indeed my challenge to each of us, that as we read Chesterton, as we learn, as we learn to love God with our minds, we remember that the other half of the command is to love our neighbor, the one by the road, the one by the grocery store aisle, the one in the pew next to us, the one at our own dining room table. Whatever we decide on the question of what is wrong with our world, the remedy must begin at home.