In his latest post, OSV publisher Scott Richert writes that “as Christians, we must take…
From the Chapel — June 10: The next chapter
“From the Chapel” is a series of short, daily reflections on life and faith in a time of uncertainty. As people across the world cope with the effects of the coronavirus — including the social isolation necessary to combat its spread — these reflections remind us of the hope that lies at the heart of the Gospel.
In novels and movies, the blank sheet of paper in the typewriter, or the blinking cursor on an otherwise white screen, is meant to signify a nearly insuperable obstacle. How do I begin? Once the ocean of white has been populated with even the slightest bit of black type, however, the floodgates inevitably open.
But as almost every writer knows, the hardest words to write are always the next ones. The page remains blank ahead of the cursor, no matter how many words lie behind it.
That’s why the best advice any writer can receive is to keep your feet planted on the floor and your rear end in your chair. Keeping your fingers on the keyboard isn’t bad, either.
There’s no guarantee that being prepared to type will help the words to come. But if you’re not at your keyboard when the words come, you’re not going to capture them.
So much of our life comes down to showing up. To being present. To preparing to act. And then acting when we’re called to do so. Yet so much of modern life — the culture around us — amounts to one big distraction to keep us unprepared, to keep our minds elsewhere, to make sure that even if we do show up, we’re not truly present.
Walker Percy called that abstraction — and that was in the days before round-the-clock cable news, the internet and social media. But nearly two centuries before Percy, Thomas Jefferson warned against reading the newspapers. Everything from out there becomes a convenient distraction from what we should be doing right here.
A convenient distraction: because — let’s be frank — too often we’d rather complain about things that we can’t do anything about than actions that are within our power. We prefer problems so large that they have no solutions to smaller ones whose solutions require us, rather than someone else, to act. That way we can be full of moral outrage without having to change our lives. Moral outrage takes the place of moral action.
This manifests itself in the oddest ways. For several years, I was a board member (and later treasurer and president) of a local pregnancy-care center. I believed in the work that our center, and thousands of others across the country, did — not just because I am opposed to abortion, but because our few paid staff and our many volunteers saved the lives of actual unborn babies and healed the souls of actual mothers.
To me, that seemed like a clear win. But over the years, I have run into a surprising number of people who are sincerely pro-life who have told me that, yes, pregnancy-care centers are necessary, but that they also distract from the more important battle: say, a personhood amendment to the Constitution or the U.S. Supreme Court revisiting Roe v. Wade. That’s why, they said, they supported only national pro-life organizations and politicians.
Setting aside the odd assumption that you can’t do both of these things — act locally and support changes in national laws — over the last 30 years, one of these activities has been significantly more successful than the other, and it’s the one that has actually saved babies and their mothers. But it’s also the one that’s more labor-intensive, because it’s addressing problems that can actually be solved, rather than one that’s so big it might never be.
Morality isn’t about endless debates and political posturing. It’s not about forming your conscience in the abstract but, when push comes to shove, putting that formation into action by writing the next chapter of your life — and the lives of those around you.
Scott P. Richert is publisher for OSV.