Wednesday, April 28, 2004


I've been brooding a lot lately over the idea of being leaven in the lump. It's such a great metaphor for the lay apostolate. I rediscovered it in Vatican II'S Apostolicam Actuositatem a couple of weeks ago while preparing my RCIA class. The document is mandatory reading for my students -- who are getting the best $#@! preparation to be Catholics on the planet. (One of my former students, as it happens, Barbara Hall, the creator of Joan of Arcadia, noted to me early on it the process, "I think I can be a bad Christian." I told her, "Sure. But you're going to be a good Catholic!")

I love the idea that yeast has to be kneaded into the lump. I remember a vision from my childhood, of my mother pounding the dough on the kitchen counter; turning it, working it, stretching it -- there really isn't any other ordeal like being kneaded. The kneading mixes the yeast into the dough, principally by breaking it up. So, how has God kneaded you (for the larger lump)?

Yeast then needs time in the darkness. I remember my mother covering the bowl of dough with a towel and then putting it aside for a few hours. It's like the Spirit hovering over the waters right before God said, "Let there be..." If you haven't had this time of darkness -- and I do mean TIME; it can be years -- you aren't ready yet.

The process of raising the lump requires the death of the yeast. I remember Mom many times throwing out a package of yeast because it was dead. It had to die in the lump. Anything else was useless to the dough.

The yeast doesn't turn the lump into yeast. It disappears. It helps the dough reach its own destiny - which isn't to be yeast.

"For those to have ears to hear, let them hear."

Anyway, I am developing the "Christian as leaven" metaphor for several talks, and also for my next column in the National Catholic Register. Here's a snip...

Lots of young people have been inspired by Mel Gibson’s Passion to come to Hollywood and do more of the same. That’s all well and good, but making sacred art isn’t being the “yeast” that Jesus said we believers are supposed to be in the world. Yeast does its work by vanishing. It doesn’t make the lump turn into yeast. It gets lost in the lump, which then becomes a different kind of lump, a better lump.

So, the goal for Christians in the arts and entertainment isn’t just that we produce a continuous stream of movies about the Bible, saints and religious themes....

We have things we might say about entertainment and creativity that no one else is saying, and that the people who work in the arts and media desperately need to hear. We need to speak not as religious people separate from the world, but as human beings in the world, who happen to be informed by our religion.

Applying the Holy Father’s philosophy of personalism to entertainment and the arts would be a wonderful beginning. How can some methods and themes in entertainment inhibit broad human freedom? How can certain stories make us want to be more who we are supposed to be? We can propound the idea that entertainment is not optional, but a constituent element of human development. There are places we need to go in our entertainment time to stretch the muscles of our inner person, our soul and psyche; places that our normal worlds of work and activity will not take us. There are diseases of the human spirit that mere reality cannot heal.

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