Last night, I hosted a group of young men here at the Faber Jesuit Community for an event we called "Reel Jesuits." November 5th is the day the Society of Jesus remembers its Saints and Blessed and, in a special way, prays for vocations to the Jesuits. As part of the effort, I helped to organize "Reel Jesuits" which was a dinner of pizza and salad (it's young men, after all!) followed by a viewing of the 1986 gem The Mission. Discussion followed our viewing, reflecting together about how we today are being called into "the mission" of the Gospel.
One of the attendees pointed me in the direction of the song "Modern Man" by Arcade Fire. There's something riveting about the song. The first verse opens:
So I wait my turn, I'm a modern man
And the people behind me, they can't understand
Makes me feel like
Makes me feel like
Not to get a sacramental, but there is a way this verse, and the whole song, brings about what it represents. For, on my reading. the whole songs conveys a sense of growing tension and frustration with waiting "in line" and for "my turn" and just going through repetitive motions. The image/theme of "modern man" develops over the course of the song: at the beginning, the singer can't quite name what this makes him feel like...as the lyric above indicates, it simply "makes me feel like."
This changes, quickly, over the course of the song. The singer struggles against the structure and stricture of the "modern man" yet, by the end of the song, he seems to have submerged himself in what he was trying to escape from: four times he sings "I'm a modern man."
How much of our life is spent waiting in lines? Just think of how our culture dangles certain monuments to what success or a well-lived life looks like: the types of parties we should aspire to attend, the type of body we should hope to have, the type of job we should work toward, the type of...well, you can fill the rest in for yourself. Any effort to think outside the boundaries of the "modern man" is quickly questioned by others; we have become afraid to dream, to "break the mirror of the modern man" and set our own courses.
How many of us endure sleepless nights? Dreamless nights? Or endured dream-filled nights dashed by the cold reality of the "modern man" we were told we wanted, needed, and had to have...but, in standing in line to wait with the "modern man," we've lost ourselves?
The juxtaposition between "Modern Man" and the theme of The Mission could not be more profound. For if "Modern Man" sings of being subsumed, absorbed, or melted into the faceless and nameless and bloodless expectations of society, the oboe player of "Gabriel's Oboe" sings out, similarly solo, yet sings out supported by an entire orchestra. The orchestral community does not try to quash, or diminish, or absorb the sound of the oboe. It brings out its beauty, it supports it as, combined, they make beautiful music.
Last night, a question we discussed in light of The Mission was where the missionary frontiers of the world were today. It may be that these two pieces might point us in that direction: the Gospel needs to be directed to the hearts of individuals who are threatened by being absorbed into the "modern man," freeing them to find their individual voices. The Gospel does not drown out, or bury, or force people to stand in line. It charges their hearts with an individual mission and sends them out into the world with Good News. It frees their voices, their lives, andtheir hearts to sing anew; this song, is supported by and supports those others who sing in its salvific chorus.
If the myth of the "modern man" tells us all to be individuals in an identical way, the mission of the Gospel charges us to be individuals together, allowing the Good News to re-shape our lives and reveal to us the frontier, the horizon, where our mission will lead.
Will we be led simply by the back of the head of the person in front of us, or do we dare to take up for ourselves the mission of the Risen One who leads us, guides us, and in whom we do not lose our individuality but, rather, find it most fully?