THE COLLAPSE OF AMERICAN MARRIAGE AND HOME

BLOG #13, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE SLIPPERIEST OF SLIPPERY SLOPES:
THE COLLAPSE OF AMERICAN MARRIAGE AND HOME
March 27, 2013

The evidence has become overwhelming. Just as the Titanic—once considered unsinkable—plunged to its icy doom, just so marriage and family as institutions, are collapsing before our very eyes. Let’s note a few of the indications:

The traditional nuclear family (man, woman, and children) is no longer the norm in America. It is being dislodged by the new norm: the single-parent household.

It is now estimated that, in effect, one-third of all American children are being raised by their grandparents.

As unthinkable as such a thing once appeared, we are very close to another tipping point: live-in relationships outnumbering married relationships.

Another tipping point: out-of-wedlock births threatening to become another new normal—indeed I have begun to shudder every time I hear the term used, for almost invariably it has to do with another aspect of the continuing collapse of the American family.

Even in the ever more ubiquitous Home and Garden house-hunting shows, more and more unmarried singles are replacing married couples.

As for the juggernaut issue of gay marriage, while I’m certainly not against equal rights for gays, as a historian of ideas, I’m sensing another looming tipping point: the moment whenever the words “marriage” and “family” are referred to, they have to be qualified as to whether the term refers to the traditional meaning or “the new normal” meaning.

Today, pornography is so omnipresent, even in mainstream television, that it is no longer safe for children to have access to TV sets without parental guidance. Same for the worldwide web. And let’s face it, pornography going mainstream represents a huge threat to marriage and family.

Matthew L. Lifflander’s “The Economic Truth About Lying” in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal has to do with perjury becoming another new normal. By extension, when God—however one perceives the deity—is removed from societal relevance, then lying under oath about telling the truth, “so help me, God,” or marriage vows invoking God, and life-long commitment between bride and groom . . . none of these will remain either meaningful or binding. The logical result of all this is an absolute breakdown of our entire legal system, when perjury ceases to be a crime by being reduced to mere misdemeanor status; and marriage is merely a temporary way-station rather than a divine institution sanctioned and blessed by God.

CONCLUSION

In the Old West, faced with such overwhelming odds against the survival of people traveling in wagon trains, the last resort was to circle the wagons and prepare to fight it out to the very death.

For the Christian community in America, is it possible we’ve reached such a last-resort moment?

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IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?

BLOG #12, SERIES #4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IS HUMILITY COMING BACK?
March 20, 2013

During the last week, the world has been shocked by the sight of an unroyal pope, Francis the First, abandoning regality, both with the cardinals and curia as well as the people; taking the bus back to his modest room, carrying his own luggage, asking the massed crowd in St. Peter’s Square to pray for him, and walking into the crowds without security to interact with young and old, greeting each one individually. Nowhere to be seen: the imperial pope the world has come to expect down through the centuries. A servant pope! A throwback to the humility of our Lord while on earth over two thousand years ago.

Just so, this coming June, when Howard/Simon & Schuster releases our Abraham Lincoln Civil War Stories, readers will see revealed, in story after story after story, America’s only servant president. Sadly, even the new Lincoln film fails to adequately portray that aspect of our 16th president. When you compare the Lincoln coming to life (like old-time photo negatives in a developing tray, in each of the 32 stories) to the imperial U.S. presidents of recent memory, it will shock you just as much as Pope Francis is shocking the world during the last week. Strength tied to selfless-humility. This synthesis of two ostensible opposites is all too rare in our arrogant I-did-it-my-way society. Lincoln’s humility, as revealed in my upcoming anthology, is spiritual, a reflection emanating from his moment-by-moment dependance on God.

Just as is true with the Post-Apostolic Bishop Nicholas, a subject I have attempted to capture in two recent biographies (2010 and 2005) published by Thomas Nelson.

Is it possible, in our narcissistic self-centered age, that selfless, spiritually-based humility may be returning as an ideal? Is it possible that arrogance’s long reign over society may be nearing its own sede vacante?

We can only watch. And hope.

TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

BLOG #11, SERIES 3

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

TREASURES OF THE PAST #4

March 13, 2013

In last week’s blog, In Praise of Old Magazines, I discussed my ongoing love affair with old magazines, and what a treasure each represented to readers of the time who were privileged to read the timeless wisdom represented by the printed stories, poems, and articles.

In recent weeks and months, I’ve been perusing the pages of close to a thousand magazines of The Youth’s Companion (time period: 1870s to late 1920s), when that venerable century-old magazine finally gave up—not coincidentally, synonymous with the cataclysmic Wall Street crash of 1929.

In its pages there are so many gripping stories and memorable poems featured that I, to my later chagrin, passed over multitudinous shorts which I inwardly classified as mere “filler” (something trivial to fill up the allocated pages). Indeed, I was two-thirds through this monumental task before a certain title of a short so piqued my interest that I took the time to read it—and was instantaneously hooked. Perhaps it was but a fluke. Just to make certain, I read another—and another—and another. To my utter dismay, I concluded that I’d now have to go back to the beginning and complete my tabulating inventory!

What I discovered is that the editors early on discovered that much of the timeless wisdom submitted by contemporary authors was packaged in the shorts, any one of which might well be worth a month of reading (in terms of impact of even one of these gems upon the lives of the magazine’s readers).

I also discovered that most of these shorts are every bit as timeless (in terms of the values articulated) today as they were then.

Just to give you a feel for them, here is one. Do let me know if you’d like me to mine these shorts further for our blog readers (there is no author; almost none of these shorts referenced the author—such a pity!).

THE DREAM

The girl sprang to her feet and walked up and down the dean’s office; her eyes were red, and her thin face was drawn as if with pain. “I suppose you think I’m selfish,” she cried. “But I haven’t slept a night since the telegram came. I’ve read it over and over till I’m almost wild. I can’t see how it is right to expect me to leave college and give up all my life plans to take care of Mother. I could go to her during vacations. It isn’t as if we hadn’t money enough to make her comfortable; she could have almost anything in the world. And she may live for several years; the doctor said so.”

“Twenty years ago,” the dean said slowly, “another girl came to me with a problem like yours. She was studying chemistry. She told me that there wasn’t anything in the world she liked better, and that, if anyone offered her sunsets and music and starlight and beauty, she would want them only to analyze in the laboratory. In her junior year her mother died and left one little girl and three boys between the ages of twelve and nineteen.

“I’ve seen great struggles, but I’ve never seen a bigger one than that girl went through. When she said good-by she looked as if she had had a year’s sickness. ‘I’m going home,’ she said, ‘but I’ll never give up my dream!’

“I told her that there was as much chemistry about her home as there was anywhere else in the world, and I’ve never forgotten the startled look that came into her eyes. She stood quite still and just looked

“She was at home for nine years, till the girl started at college. Then she herself returned and took up the work where she had left off. Of course she was years older than most of her fellow students; and she had lost much of the technique of her work. But she had gained other things: judgment, power of quick decision, all-round knowledge and human sympathy. Moreover, through the years she had read much and had followed her beloved study into unusual fields. She had studied the chemistry of the Bible and of literature; she knew the history of chemistry and the lives of the great chemists. In short, she was well on the way to becoming a well-rounded chemical scholar, not a mere laboratory worker. Another thing, in the years at home she had so fired her brothers with her enthusiasm that today all three of them are men of science. Years afterwards she said, ‘My disappointment was the best thing that ever came to me. If I had had my own way, I should be nothing but a chemist now. Those years taught me to put life first and chemistry second.’

“That is why we could not afford to let her go when she finished her course. For twelve years now her influence has been inspiring hundreds of lives inside and +outside the laboratory.”

“You don’t mean—Miss Torrance?” the girl cried.

“I mean Miss Torrance.”

The girl stood quite still, and the dean, watching, saw the look she had been waiting for come into the tired eyes.

—The Youth’s Companion (March 23, 1922)

IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES

BLOG #10, SERIES 4
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
IN PRAISE OF OLD MAGAZINES
March 6, 2013

During the last couple of years the chances are excellent that at any given moment, day or night, I could have been found leafing through, or reading an old magazine. Far more likely than immersion in a book.

Why? Because it is in old magazines that the greatest stories ever written are most likely to be found. During the Golden Age of Print in America (1880s through the 1950s), magazine was king. During much of that time, magazine editors paid writers more for a given story or book manuscript than movie producers or publishing house editors. This is why the appearance of a given story in a magazine normally predated its appearance in a book.

If you were a child or a teen during that Golden Age, you had ever so many choices: long-lived magazines such as The Youth’s Companion (a weekly for over a hundred years), St. Nicholas (a monthly from 1873 to 1939), The Youth’s Instructor (a weekly for over a hundred years), Little Folks, Girl’s Own, Boy’s Own, Young People’s Weekly, Boys World, Girls’ Companion, Jack and Jill, just to name a few.

During that time period, there was an unspoken consensus in the adult world that children were to be protected from obscenities, the dark side of human nature, and printed material that would degrade or disillusion. The flip side was that since America, since its founding, was built on Judeo-Christian bedrock, authors who could memorably articulate those values in their stories and books became household words across the nation, in the Commonwealth, and in the Western World. Recognizing that children would become their favorite stories, parents everywhere religiously conducted daily story hours since the values in these magazines and books could be internalized in the hearts and souls of their listening children. And it worked!

Not so today. Today, when the Christian community is, more often than not, on the defensive, with a secular media vastly out programming it, parents everywhere feel overwhelmed. How can they prevent their children from being destroyed by a society that is openly hostile to Christianity?

I submit that Story is the answer. The stories that once could be found in most every household—but today are crumbling out of existence in old magazines that are being lost to posterity at an alarming rate. Indeed, so fast are these wonderful priceless old magazines being cut up, destroyed, hauled out to the dump, that they will soon be all but extinct.

And this is why my wife Connie and I have dedicated what’s left of our lives to preserving as many as possible of the best of these long ago treasure chests of stories. Sixty-six of our eighty books so far are story anthologies—and most originated in old magazines.

And that’s why, day and night, we are racing against time to preserve as many stories as possible before God calls us home.