Most of us, unless we are very careful historians, form our impression of the past by the books that are still in print and the music that is still performed, forgetting that while some cultural goods were best sellers then and are best sellers now, many others that were the talk of the town then are now completely forgotten, and some that we now consider classics were barely noticed at the time.
—Culture Making, p.192
The sacrifice of Christ is the only true revolution. All the other revolutions have turned out to be merely adjustments in the way things are done, for better and far too often for the worse.
The American Revolution was an event of great world historical significance, yet in many ways it was just an adjustment in well-established English ways of living and thinking. The French Revolution replaced the absolute monarchy of France with a government just as absolutist and more bloody, which became the ancestor of all the bloody tyrannies of our era.
Then there is the Scientific Revolution. It has brought much good, but it has also given us greater abilities than human moral capacity can easily manage. It has brought healing, conveniences, communications, and knowledge unimaginable in earlier times, but on the other hand it has brought advanced killing technology, pollution, and embryonic stem cell research. It has provided a convenient excuse for childish atheism and shattered many aspects of human community and family life.
Human revolutions are merely adjustments in human life, not human nature. They leave us unchanged and the real human problem of sin, death, and the devil unaddressed.
The Eucharist—celebrated constantly throughout the world and this night with a particular intensity—turns our world upside down. It announces that at the center of the universe is the crucified Jew, Jesus.
Do not depend on the hope of results. When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.
Thomas Merton, in a letter to Jim Forest dated February 21, 1966 (via harpers.org)
Exorbitant claims are inherent in another title genre: things that have changed the world. That list includes books, ideas, beliefs, decisions, inventions, plants, bridges, gigs, battles, speeches, photographs and molecules. Some authors prefer a single item: the ocean (Atlantic), voyage (the Mayflower’s), car (Model T), corporation (East India Company), business strategy (franchising), telescope (Galileo’s), painting (Picasso’s “Guernica”) and Olympics (Rome, 1960). Others favor a set: the 5 equations, the 10 geographical ideas, the 12 books, the 50 battles, the 100 maps, the 1,001 inventions. . . .
Ultimately, the best locutions are those that credit quotidian, trivial objects with earthshaking influence, like “Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World,” by Mark Kurlansky. The more obvious the significance of the subject, the less successful the title. After all, where’s the element of surprise or wit in “A Man Without Equal: Jesus, the Man Who Changed the World”?
Some of the more unlikely candidates endowed with superhuman powers by authors include “Tea: The Drink That Changed the World,” “Mauve: How One Man Invented a Color That Changed the World,” “Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World” and “Sugar: The Grass That Changed the World.”
The first question on the GXAT [Generation X Aptitude Test, better known as the G-zat] is this:
1. Do you want to change the world?
A. Yes, and I’m proud to say we did it, man. We changed the world. Just look around you!
B. Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as interest rates return to where they’re supposed to be.
C. Omigod, omigod, changing the world and helping people is, like, totally important to me! I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!
D. The way you phrase that question is so . . . cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.
That’s the only question on the GXAT.
We learn about and remember the inventions, equations, and colors that changed the world. But we can easily forget that at the time, which invention, equation, and color would prevail was an entirely open question. And then we can easily deceive ourselves into thinking that changing the world is a great deal easier than it actually is.
—Culture Making, p.193