Monday, March 11, 2013

I Wouldn't Eat That If I Were You

Good stories are worth retelling. Just like a delicious recipe, a story once shared becomes property of the cook. We tweak it: add a pinch of this, delete the unsavory bits and let it simmer to suit our individual palates. I have swiped a few of each in my day. Not intentionally, I always preface the story with “I heard this . . .”, but over the years the prologue losses its vigor and the story becomes mine. Like a good recipe, the cook gets the credit.

Stories with conspiracy theories circulate rapidly. They are junk food for the imagination, full of white sugar, carbs and immediate gratification. Conspiracy theories spark the imagination and have the added bonus of ending with cliff-hangers. They’re great ice breakers; conversations bloom in their wake. They are easy to cook up because they require no facts; theories can’t be verified. Like white sugar, conspiracy theories have no substance, but the cumulative effect can do lasting damage.

Many people have approached me recently with the subtle lead in, “What do you think about the Pope resigning?” Most of them are protestant and know that I’m catholic. All of them want to share a conspiracy theory of one sort or another. Even a lovely, devout catholic friend approached me with information about “prayers” from an anonymous woman who claims to be a catholic visionary. She’s allegedly been receiving messages from the Blessed Mother for the past two years which predicted a conspiracy theory within the Vatican. According to this woman's website, even the Blessed Mother can’t resist a good story.  

All this fuss about why the Pope resigned; innocent curiosity some would assume. Or maybe we’ve just been really bored since the Da Vinci Code hit cable. My friends’ inquiries brought to mind a good story I heard once on Focus on the Family. So I am serving it up again, Kinskey style.

A father was approached by his boys one day, asking if they could see a movie rated PG-13 over the weekend. The boys were aged eleven and thirteen. They’d researched the movie thoroughly and with great enthusiasm pointed out to their dad all the redeeming aspects of the film: historical plot points which were educational and a father-son dynamic which reinforced good family values. The ending was filled with admirable role models who displayed loyalty and compassion. But, there was one really short scene that had some inappropriate behavior. Oh, and a few cuss words. The boys promised to go to the restroom during the one bad scene and cover their ears at the hint of a cuss word. They begged their father to let them go with their friends to the movie. All the other boys were going. All the other parents thought it was okay.

The father, in his wisdom, told his sons he needed to think about it and he would tell them on Friday. The boys waited expectantly for the father to return home from work that day. They hung up their coats and put their shoes in the laundry room. They started their homework. They didn’t leave any dishes from their after school snack in the sink and helped their mom set the table without being asked. They really wanted to go to this movie. Luckily their dad came home early from work with a foil pan in his hand. He sat down at the dining room table and placed the pan before him; brownies – could the day get any better? Their father smiled patiently through the boy’s chorus of “Can we go Dad? Please, can we go”?

“First, I want to tell you about these brownies boys. A friend of mine at work made them. He prides himself on using only the best ingredients. He uses fresh milk and eggs and real butter from Mr. Jansky’s Organic Dairy. He orders in the best milk chocolate and grinds his own flour. All the ingredients are the finest available. There is just one little surprise in these brownies -- he puts one scoop of dog poop in each batch. It’s an old family tradition; he swears it gives them a little punch. It’s just one scoop; all the other ingredients are great. So boys, what do you say, dig in.”

This story never fails to make its point. For Catholics, conspiracy theories about the Pope are nothing more than slander and gossip about our father. The spiritual father God has chosen to help us find our path to heaven. Why they are so much more fun to take in than the truth shouldn’t be a mystery to anyone.  

I’m becoming more diligent about reading labels and testing ingredients before I indulge, no matter how satisfying something appears on the surface. Healthy food, like the truth of scripture or the witness of a faith filled life, often isn’t as instantly gratifying as a Snickers Bar with a side helping of slander and gossip. The epistle of James is reinforcing the practice of “being quick to hear and slow to speak” James 1. We can’t navigate the crap in our path if we aren’t aware of it, but it is equally important we don’t spread it around by traipsing through it.

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