Having been raised and (in the main) lived in the rural environs of the Midwest for most of my life, I’ve never actually met anyone who has engaged in the supposedly rural penchant for “cow-tipping.” Indeed, I’ve long suspected said ‘cow-tipping’ was yet another myth created by ignorant urbanites and directed toward rural types as a form of ridicule since we lack the sophistication to spend our Saturday nights dropping our hard-earned money on over-priced cocktails in the latest fashionable “club,” regaling people we hardly know with outrageous tales of things we’ve never done but always wanted to do. No, we go to places with names like “Horses and Harley’s” or “Bart’s Corner Tap,” plop down a couple of bucks for a draft of Bud or Miller Lite, and regale our lifelong friends and neighbors with outrageous tales of things we’ve never done, but always wanted to do. The urbanites, resentful we get off so cheap, compensate with ridicule.
It now appears, however, that some urbanites have gone and taken themselves too seriously—as urbanites often do—and made of the mythical rural pastime of ‘cow-tipping’ a new, real, and tragically serious pastime: statue toppling.
Much could be and has been said about the need for society to maintain our sense of history, about how we need to know from where we come in order to know who we are, about assessing the actions of individuals and groups within the historical context in which they operated, and so forth. Those are good and even necessary conversations and debates. But who among the urbanites have time for such intellectual conjecture, what with having to keep up with the latest vegetable trends at Whole Foods, the latest birth control trends at the local pharmacy, the latest exercise trends at the local gym, and all while wrestling with that maddening contractor whose been promising for months to come and install those marble countertops which you just know will make your kitchen ‘pop,’ making you the envy of friends and foe alike? It is far easier to simply go with the flow and mouth the latest, and trendiest, talking points.
For the past couple of years, toppling the statues—and supporting the toppling of statues—of Confederate soldiers and generals were all the urbanite rage. But one must stay ahead of the curve. Hating on symbols of the Confederacy is now so very 2015. Now some truly trendy (and aggressive) urbanites are casting their gaze on Washington, Jefferson, and, yes, even Lincoln.
A rural rube such as myself is left to wonder: “Where will it all end?”
For example, it’s been reported Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once counseled a homosexual to see a psychiatrist. How long before the urbanites catch wind of such homophobia and start toppling his statues and demanding the renaming of streets named after him? And what about the Union soldiers and generals? How long before the urbanites realize it was their actions—their victory in the Civil War—which secured the economically dominant position of the northern industrialists, paving the way for the Robber Barons of the late 19th century who so cruelly exploited the working classes. The exultation of self that the urbanites experience from tearing down the honor paid to others is like a drug, and like any narcotic it requires more frequent and stronger doses to achieve the desired effect.
Who can escape such ‘time-ism,’ such a demand for politically-correct perfection stemming from an artificial morality constructed today and imposed on those yesterday?
And it is in answering this question that I shall argue that perhaps the urbanites are right and we rurals –as the heartland rockers Styx might say—have “too much time on our hands,” freed as we are from the demands of trendiness which so plague the urbanites. Tantalizing is the possibility, for in thinking about it, there is one group to which we might turn so that we might show honor and respect to the truly best that the human spirit, with God’s grace, can achieve—individuals who might fill the pedestals emptied by our overburdened, thoughtless, and yet crazed urbanites: the canonized saints.
I know, I know, it seems impossible. There’s no way that the urbanites who control all the levers of cultural suasion will ever allow such a thing. But the truly Catholic (and catholic) mind can be forgiven for soaring at the mere contemplation of such a thing. Be honest, wouldn’t the Venerable Fulton Sheen look good sitting in Lincoln’s huge chair in D.C.? And wouldn’t the Jefferson Memorial be a fitting surrounding to honor St. Keteri Tekawitha? Or do we want to be so parochial and confine ourselves to just American saints? Maybe St. Thomas More gets the Lincoln Memorial and Aquinas gets the Jefferson Memorial.
Cities such as St. Louis and San Francisco are, of course, already ahead of the game. St. Louis boasts a grand statue of St. Louis IX in front of its Art Museum and San Francisco is home to the National Shrine of St. Francis of Assisi. But other cities could join in. Milwaukee, for instance, could replace its statue of Leif Erickson in Juneau Park with a monument to St. Arnold of Soissons, patron saint of hop-pickers and Belgian brewers.Davenport, Iowa could pull down its ‘Soldiers Statue’ (listed by noted art authority, Trip Advisor, no less as one of the Top Ten statues in Iowa) and replace it with a monument to St. Isadore, patron of agriculture
Chicago could still honor its Polish heritage by removing its statue to Casimir Pulaski (a lesser known Revolutionary War hero) and replacing it with a statue of a far more well-known Pole, St. John Paul the Great. Further, since Pulaski Day is still an official holiday here in the State of Illinois, we could switch the holiday to His Holiness’ Feast Day. Just ‘imagine all the children’—as the late John Lennon might say—in all our public and private schools here in Illinois learning about this great saint in the run-up to their scheduled day off. Who knows, maybe in a generation or two we Illinoisans would be electing governors free from the tendency of ending their careers in federal penitentiaries. As St. Paul reminds, ‘with God, all things are possible.’
Of course, there would undoubtedly be problems. For instance, between Memphis, Kansas City, and the entire states of Texas and North Carolina, who gets St. Lawrence? But we can work this all out. Maybe all of them should claim him. After all, is there anything more central to American culture, anything about which we certainly can all agree, than the importance of good barbecue? (I realize I’m shading toward sacrilege, here, but the good St. Lawrence, himself, purportedly had a sense of humor, so I pray he’ll forgive me.)
Back in the supposedly bad old Middle Ages, we erected statues to saints. It was an innovation of the Enlightenment to begin focusing our attention on more ‘secular saints’ such as politicians, generals, pop singers, and athletes. Perhaps it’s time we dream, at least, of reversing the process.
(Addendum: As I was completing this piece came word some urbanite has seen fit to douse a statue of St. Junipero Serra in red paint spelling the word ‘murder.’ And there is news that a grand statue of St. Joan of Arc, in New Orleans, was vandalized with the sweet dictum: “Tear it down.” Thus, it appears the progressive thirst for self-exaltation exceeds even the evident holiness of the saints. So, to quote Roseanne Roseannadanna, the greatest philosopher of my generation: “Never mind.”)
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