The Opposite of Throwaway Culture

The author of the book Resisting Throwaway Culture has laid out some concrete proposals for how to do so at the end of his newly published book, Losing Our Dignity.

Like Pope Francis, author Charles Camosy agrees that it is our cultural consumerism that is contributing to a “throwaway” mentality extending toward human beings.

The opposite of throwaway culture, Camosy suggests, is to “live out a counterculture of responsibility, encounter, and hospitality.”

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Who might have a truth that you need?

There is a verse in the Book of Sirach that has always resonated with me profoundly that says, “If you see an intelligent person, rise early to visit him; let your foot wear out his doorstep.” (Sirach 6:36)

Likewise, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has been an example to me of applying this principle concretely.

When he was a university student, he decided to travel throughout America to meet the leading rabbis of the day. All of them insisted he had to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

Upon requesting the meeting, Sacks was initially laughed at for his audacity. However, some days later he got a phone call informing him, “The Rebbe will see you on Thursday.”

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I Asked My Grandfather What He Hoped I Would Do in Life

Throughout Pope Francis’ pontificate, he has been emphasizing the value of encounter between the young and the old. One of my favourite quotations ever of his is this: “We, the elderly, can remind young ambitious people that a life without love is arid. We can say to young people who are afraid that anxiety about the future can be beaten. We can teach young people too in love with themselves that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. The words of grandparents have something special for young people. And they know it.”

I think the reason I appreciate this quotation so much is because these are indeed the very things my grandfather taught me and, equally, the very things I most needed to learn from him.

My grandfather was deaf in his 80s and 90s, but his mind remained sharp until his death. I wrote to him A LOT and was the scribe at family dinners, usually transcribing the flow of the entire conversation for him.

One day, several years ago, I decided to ask my grandfather what he hoped I would do in my future, what he thought I would be.

The answer he gave me in this 1-minute clip is one of my most precious memories.

Indeed those words were special, and I knew so right away.

A Premium for Conversation

The other day I was having a conversation with my nonagenarian buddy.

He regaled me with the highlight of his week which, as many Ontarians can relate, was getting a haircut.

His son, who had just gotten his haircut in BC, had told my friend that he would pay an added fee to avoid needing to talk to his hairdresser.

“You see,” my friend began, “I’m the complete opposite! I’d pay a premium for the conversation!”

He proceeded to tell me all the details he could remember about his 24-year-old Arab barber.

Then he told me about some of the business tips that he’d given to the young man.

“And would you believe it? The young man was so grateful for the advice that he refused to accept payment altogether!”

What an endearing story, I thought.

How incalculable is the value of genuine human relations.

Is your work to die for?

Today is the feast of St. Joseph the Worker and this post examines Pope Francis’ beautiful Apostolic Letter “With A Father’s Heart” to explore the practical ways in which we can see work as a context for self-gift through which we fulfill the meaning of our lives.

I have organized the themes of the letter into the following eight categories. Each category begins with a excerpt from the letter and then includes a question or two for our contemplation of some possible practical applications.

1. Names and Relationships:

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Made for Inexhaustible Joy

Today Facebook reminded me of this quotation I’d posted a few years ago from Brother Alois’ 2018 letter:

In privileged circles, where people are well fed, well educated, and well taken care of, joy is sometimes absent, as if some people were worn out and discouraged by the banality of their lives.

At times, paradoxically, the encounter with a destitute person communicates joy, perhaps only a spark of joy, but an authentic joy nonetheless.

This reminded me of what has been among the most joyful times of my life – the semester I lived at a homeless shelter as part of an intentional community at the Calgary Mustard Seed.

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Chasing Memories

This evening a friend of mine shared with me about how she had led what she described as “a pretty death-free life” until the death of her grandmother.

Since my friend was a already adult when her grandmother passed away, this experience led her to make a few observations.

First, she noted that this grandmother, who had been a quiet, trusted presence in the family until the end of her life, was somewhat taken for granted by the other family members who presumed that this matriarch would somehow always be there.

Then, when she passed away, my friend said, “She became her whole life. Suddenly, everyone was pulling out family photos and trying to piece together the narrative of her early life. She became 5-year-old her, and 20-year-old her, and wedding day her, etc. seemingly all at once.”

The other realization my friend had was about all of the things that she didn’t know about her grandmother; her grandmother’s death became a reckoning for what my friend had and hadn’t taken the time to learn about her.

After losing a loved one, many people wish that they had taken the time to interview the person, to ask certain probing questions that never seemed urgent before, and to really capture a person’s story in their own words.

Accordingly, think of those you love the most and set out to encounter them in their depth and to record this encounter through writing, audio, or video. In the future, you may be very grateful for having done so, but the activity will also present the occasion for an encounter of depth during the relationship while you are both alive.

Photo: Screenshot from an hourlong video interview of my Zaida telling the story of how he came to Canada from Poland in 1937.

Facing Up to One Another

There is a philosopher named Emmanuel Levinas who said, “The relationship with the face is immediately ethical in nature. The face is what you cannot kill, or at least in the sense that says: ‘thou shalt not kill’.”

And so, whenever I see a news article accompanied by an image of an elderly person’s hand, or a syringe, or an empty hospital hallway, this quotation always comes to my mind. How different it is to actually see faces. It is almost as if seeing faces (even if only as images) is to be given a different set of facts altogether.

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