Friday, January 7, 2022

My Research and Scholarship for 2022 and Beyond

Recently I indicated that I still was plugging away on my research, and I want to update where I am and broadly outline the aims and the scope of my studies in 2022 and beyond.

I do in fact have some “scholarly goals” for the time that remains to me, but as usual they are far too extensive to be realistic even if I lived literally all of what remains of the Chinese sage's symbolic 36,000 Days. But we’ll see how far we can get. What remains undone (insofar as it’s worth doing) can be taken up by others.

I would like to organize and develop my scattered writings on human power, technological infrastructure, media, and the challenges that persons and communities continue to face in the world’s massive, chaotic, and largely unexamined transition to a new global “epoch of power” of unprecedented proportions. My goal is neither naive celebration nor pre-judged condemnation of the continually emerging new technologies, but first to understand their impact on the life of the person and the (inevitably unnoticed) physical (including neurobiological), social, and relational environments they generate and sustain as they enter into common usage. 

I was born in 1963, and I am a first generation child of television. Our generation was raised without a thought regarding the impact of the T.V., this audiovisual communicator and processor of information and sensory experience that created a new and strange global “common space” in our homes, rearranging the furniture in our living rooms, altering our schedules, shaping the expectations of our sensory and emotional responses (in many ways? but how, and how much?). 

In any case, television has been a powerful force for good and evil, even if we remain perplexed (as I have been for my whole life) on what place it has in our lives and the ways it has impacted us, perhaps enriching, perhaps impoverishing our humanity in different ways. The same is true of other electronic media, which are emerging rapidly in the present time. When we understand how we are affected by these technologies, we will also be able to seek wisdom to subordinate them properly to the dignity of the person and the building of communion between persons. 

We must cultivate together the proper self-possession and self-discipline required to live in a media environment. Call it, if you will, “media ecology.” This is an important component of a wider (and urgently necessary) “technological ecology” that goes beyond all projects that try to manage technology and its human consequences simply by using other forms of technology. Nothing can replace the agency of the human person and the responsibility of human freedom - weak and embattled though it may be. This may all seem impossible in a world misshapen in so many other ways, but we must take heart, turn to the God who makes us exist, acknowledge God as the Mystery who moves our hearts, and then do the best we can. (Christians should know that Jesus is with us in this work, which is a work of mercy - both in relation to communication of the Gospel and the temporal good of this world in which we live here and now, which He loves and wherein our love - united with Him - sows the seeds of transfiguration.)

I would also like to progress far enough in my East Asian Studies Project that I can at least become familiar with the people who are “bridges” between East and West, and also between the ancient traditions and the current realities of Asian life and cultures during these unpredictable, changing, explosive times. I hope to be able to pass on some research (bibliographic if nothing else) that will help others to go further. This work is vital for a genuine globally inculturated “new evangelization.” It is also vital for the future of the world. Mutual ignorance is no longer an option.

I have always loved the Chinese people, and admired the many heights their classical humanism attained over the course of the centuries. I also have a very personal reason for wanting-to-understand-more, but I’ll tell that story another day. The odyssey of Chinese and Asian immigrants to the West, and their great hardships and quiet dignity, remain largely unknown by Westerners. When I was a boy I was much closer to a living experience of this story than I ever knew … and books and memoirs by others about their immigrant childhoods that I have recently read have reawakened in my mind and heart questions regarding things I never understood about my best friend in school: a brilliant, humble, jovial, articulate, amazingly talented Chinese-American guy. He was someone I really trusted, and something of a role model for me from Elementary School up to High School.

Yet I didn't know much about his life at home. He and his family were Evangelical Christians, and were serious about their faith. He had a couple of younger brothers, but I can't remember their names. I met his parents several times, but they spoke almost no English. I never knew when or why his parents came to the USA. I knew nothing about their work, or where they lived, or what financial position they held. He didn't talk about these things (in his perfect English); and when you're a kid there are lots of other things to talk about. We talked about serious things too: science, music, history, religion. We were both oddballs because we liked school and we excelled.

I never understood how - when we were 16 years old - what seemed at first like an ordinary illness for him became the awful tragedy that remains one of the great scars of my adolescence. I may never learn the answers, but I know now what I didn't know then, that so many of his people faced such immense challenges when they came to the USA. Many had fled horrific events in China, and accepted the lowest places and the most humiliating conditions so that their American-born children could succeed and have a better life. Their tenuous predicament at home was carefully hidden at school. I don't know if my friend was in any situation like this, but there were definitely Asian kids like him among our generation who were at the top of their class at school, but after school they would go to work in illegal sweat shops, and then do their homework at night in deplorable living conditions.

We never knew about this. Did my best friend die because he didn't have access to adequate medical care? In any case, I still can't make any sense of what happened, and I'll probably never know. But I want to know more in general about his people and their tragic, heroic suffering.

Asia: so much suffering. But, of course, we live in a world of suffering. I must remember to bear with hope, and to offer with love, the very small suffering that God allows to afflict me so that I might grow a little in love. I’m terribly impatient. Lord, grant that I persevere.

One reason that I persist in my study of China is out of loyalty to my friend from long ago. That, however, is not the only reason. Let me return now to my resume of future academic projects.

Regarding religious and theological topics, there are various possibilities. I have already written a lot of reflections on feast days and the spiritually rich variety of Collect prayers throughout the liturgical year in the Roman rite. I have an outline for a project to edit Patristic texts in a way that allows people to pray and meditate on the the testimony of the Fathers. I’m considering publishing in book form some (perhaps all) of the “conversion stories” I have written in my column, if nothing else to make them more accessible in a single source. Or, I may pick one story, or a few related stories, and expand on them in a book. There is much more to be said about so many of these people, and I already have drafts that I had to cut significantly in order to make the final article concise and within the limits of two pages. I could go on and on about “possibilities” in this realm, but I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. Let’s first see what actually gets done.

O Lord, grant that I might remember that my aim is not more achievements, or diversions, or passing time in amiable comfort, or even being useful or “helpful” according to the way I perceive such things. I will gladly accept such things, and work in whatever way I can, for as long as I can… but (I pray that I will do so) with serenity and trust in God, free from useless anxiety or brooding over my own faults and limits. My aim, each day, is to live for the glory of Christ in whatever circumstances He places me. It is a daily work to remember that this is why I live and breathe, that this alone encompasses all other endeavors, successes, failures, joys, and sorrows in this world. Jesus, have mercy on me.