The Life and Times of Radical Post-Modern Catholic Theology; or, How to be God Without Really Trying
February 23, 2008
Called and Calling
February 28, 2008

WE WALKED a ways along the sidewalk until it wound up to an old open-air theater. There was no raised platform and no sound system. It was merely an open space, elegantly canopied by a tent-like wooden dome. It smelled like the circus.

As we were leaving, joking about what must go on in such a random hideaway in Denver’s Highlands, one of my co-workers pointed to a weary old Cadillac. It was white—once—and covered in day-old snow. She turned away from the laughing crowd for a moment to say, “I want that car.”

It was a vaguely interesting statement, especially for me, because I saw little value in the old boat. I asked her why she was so enamored of it, but she didn’t respond. She just stared at it, and stood silent, as if I hadn’t said anything.

I couldn’t decide whether she didn’t hear me, or was ignoring me. The latter seemed odd and awkward, as there was no apparent reason she wouldn’t answer the question. As the rest of our group came closer and she turned to face them, it dawned on me.

She pointed to the car again and said, slightly more emphatically, “I want that car.” Another one of my co-workers responded with the same question I had asked just a moment ago: “Why?” This time, though, she answered, claiming that there was some sort of nostalgic, retro appeal to the car. I have to be honest; at that point, I was paying little attention.

But I watched the whole affair unfold long enough to recognize that my co-worker, the car lover, was interested in more attention than I could offer. She had designed the question, consciously or not, to garner interesting responses (and attention) from many of our group. Instead, she only got one—and I can hardly be called the most popular, the most idolized of the group. I don’t know that she really wanted my attention.

While I was slightly hurt that I was utterly ignored, it served as a revelation: that we operate sometimes (possibly often) according to what will garner the most attention. We say things at times, not because we truly mean them, not because they have been carefully thought out, but because they make us feel wanted—the center of attention.

I confess to this as much as anyone, though I think I weigh my thoughts in a slightly different way. I am often guilty of over thinking, which in turn leads to statements that have been parsed to the Nth degree; they’re artificial, and try too hard to appeal to as many as possible while still adhering to truth and morality. That’s a lot to arrange when simple conversation arises. And yet, it’s ingrained; it happens more often than I’d like.

I wonder, though, when I and others seek out attention through the statements we make, do we do so because we inherently lack the attention and adoration every human being needs? Is there a basal level of love each of us requires that goes so often unfulfilled? Does this speak to a lack of love in our society?

I am tempted to pull myself into tangential thoughts, but the point remains: what is it that prompts our common need for attention evinced in what we say? How can such statements be judged in a way that they account for this yearning? Again, I over-think. But isn’t it interesting?

Now, if you’re tempted (as I am) to ask the question, WWJD?, then we’d be just as lost as we are now. We’d like to think a lot of things about Jesus, and about others prophets and human-deities that walked among us once, but we hardly have evidence of their day-to-day action. It’s a moot point; let’s not ask if Jesus went fishing for attention with idle statements. Let’s focus on ourselves.

Is it wrong, or is it right? Is it something we should try to curb, a habit we should try to undo? Does its mere presence mean we should examine ourselves and the deficiencies of love and attention in our lives, consequently and candidly offering ourselves practical solutions? Or, because this is such a common thing (would we ever make such a big deal about the common cold?), should we just live on and let it come and go?

I think there are two scenarios for each of us:

1) We are, by nature, inclined to ask questions not for the sake of securing an answer, but to secure attention. This is not to be undone or messed with; it’s a part of who and what we are.

2) Our proclivity for asking/speaking/saying things that are designed, consciously or subconsciously, to secure attention and adoration points to an evident lack of love and attention in our lives that should be addressed. We can consciously examine our lives to determine the source of this lack, finding appropriate ways to fulfill the natural needs that we have to love and be loved.

Naturally, many of us will find that we fit both of these categories at one time or another. But I think it’s important to recognize that it exists—and possibly deserves some personal attention.

It doesn’t hurt, either, that consciously avoiding scenarios like the one in which I was ignored, would greatly improve others’ opinions of you, and your own effect on your friends and companions.

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