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Monday, September 20, 2021

We All Live in a Soap Opera! What's Happening in Today's Episode?

I've been reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance. It accompanied me as my beach book last week when my husband and I were on vacation with our daughter and her family. I heartily recommend it with the warning that it is liberally peppered with obscenities -- the common language of some of Vance's family members. The book shines light on life in Appalachia: the white working poor, the non-working welfare dependents, the difficulty of rising above family circumstances, the devastating impact of alcohol and drug addiction. I kept closing the book and reflecting on thoughts raised by the sad, but often funny, descriptions of the colorful characters in Vance's life. There were a number of takeaways:

  • the importance of family loyalty,
  • the impact grandparents can have as a point of stability for a child caught in a roller-coaster life,
  • the tragedy of government policies that destroy the work ethic and lead people to consider themselves hopeless victims,
  • the devastating impact of broken families.
Vance caught my attention from the very beginning with this paragraph in the introduction:
Nearly every person you will read about is deeply flawed. Some have tried to murder other people, and a few were successful. Some have abused their children, physically or emotionally. Many abused (and still abuse) drugs. But I love these people, even those to whom I avoid speaking for my own sanity. And if I leave you with the impression that there are bad people in my life, then I am sorry, both to you and to the people so portrayed. For there are no villains in this story. There's just a ragtag band of hillbillies struggling to find their way -- both for their sake and, by the grace of God, for mine.

I'm near the end of the book now. (Spoiler alert...) Vance has risen above his challenging upbringing and is attending Yale Law School. He's talking about the job search and describes how different it is for the Ivy League student with network support from the average job seeker depending on resumes. It struck me as I read how important "networking" is in the spiritual life. It's the "economic capital" for the Christian. Here's what Vance wrote, but think of it applied to the pursuit of the interior spiritual life. I've inserted a few additions and subtractions of my own:

There is enormous value in what economists call social  spiritual capital. It's a professor's  grace-filled term, but the concept is pretty simple. The networks of people, the saints and angels, and institutions, the Church and the family, around us have real economic  spiritual value. They connect us to the right people, Jesus, Mary, and the saints, insure that we have opportunities to grow in holiness, and impart valuable information about the interior life that leads to unity in Christ. Without them, we're going it alone.

If you haven't read Hillbilly Elegy, give it a shot. Every one of us lives in a soap opera as a counselor told me when I asked how she can deal with listening to people's problems all day and not have it get to her. She responded that she thought of each session as an episode in a soap opera and waited to hear what happened next. 

I hope your soap opera today is filled with joy. If you're in an episode of suffering, that's the time to unite it to the cross. When we can see the cross as a blessing and source of grace, happiness will never elude us.

Have a blessed Monday!

2 comments:

Katie said...

Great thoughts in your essay today, Mary Ann. Thank you for sharing. The movie with the same title is good. I will look into reading the book. Yes, the movie is filled with cuss words too. The idea of spiritual networking is a helpful thought for me. I did not receive any Catholic formation growing up. It was a chaotic time in my family's life. Praise God I received some in my early 20's in the Arlington diocese. The friends I have now support me in faith and that is a blessing beyond measure. My friends from High School are truly befuddled by my large family and Catholic thoughts.

Blessings on your day,
Katie

Unknown said...

I saw the movie. I suspect it was a watered down version of the book, but the movie does portray what you write here. It's impressive how strong their family aleignece is.
I like your good thoughts bout spiritual networking. Maybe that's what broke down in the 20th century, this spiritual network discussions. I noticed growing up that nobody spoke much about God, let alone the strong beliefs that have divided Catholicism from protestants' (and others, who I don't think are Christian, but they do).
I think one reason is the "diverse" communities didn't want to get in fights. Discussions of Faith stopped occurring in the office, bars, dining tables, etc...
This concept of being "nice" as not to offend anyone and the concept of taking disagreements as offences has put society in a this box.
Too much to say about this last part. Satan has changed his methods years ago and gave us all the Judas rope to hang ourselves with. A. Barnhardt had a very good piece (years ago) about being "nice".
We must go out and not only live our faith but also evangelize even at risk of offending.