April 14, 2006

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

We shouldn’t be casual about ‘Casual’

Remember the annual Easter parade? Remember Easter hats? Remember hats at all or—for that matter—remember dressing up for Church?

These things seem quaint now, right? We live in an age of “Casual”—casual dress, casual speech, casual ethics. If we got any more casual, we’d be dead. Which brings me to the point I’d like to make: I think it’s time to examine the not-so-casual influence of “casual” in our lives.

Easter is a good time to consider this because Easter is definitely not a casual occasion. Easter is the greatest Christian feast of the year, the day on which our Lord rose from the dead, illustrating the divine glory in which we’re invited to share. That’s why we used to dress up for it. Duh.

Anyway, Easter is a passionate time (no pun intended). Jesus was a radical, his message was revolutionary and the results of his life have influenced the world in a major way ever since. We should remember our intense beginnings and get over whatever apathy and indifference have crept into our lives—along with sloppy dressing.

Now, I’ll admit that the sandals worn in Jesus’ day seem pretty casual to us, even though they were worn in the synagogue and other important places. And those robes! But those things were appropriate apparel of that day, not carrying the message of “I can’t be bothered” that some clothes do now.

The problem is that this casual attitude spills over into more than just dressing in a way that shows disrespect for a person or occasion. It seems to indicate that nothing—including a visit to the president of the United States or the pope or Christ in the Eucharist—requires a respectful demeanor.

Common good manners, which are simply behaviors that acknowledge the rights and feelings of others, have been largely done in by casualness. People carry on loud personal conversations in public places, both in person and on their cell phones. They drive cars aggressively and demonstrate road rage because it requires discipline to be patient. They walk down the center of the sidewalk and push ahead because they can’t be bothered with the comfort of others.

Children pick up on the casual attitudes of their elders, resulting in poor sportsmanship, bullying and insolence to authority. Soon they graduate to using steroids or other shortcuts to success, including cheating and plagiarism now common in schools and universities. Casual learning results in an ignorant and even illiterate society.

The opposite of casual is formal, but this does not mean we need to wear high heels to the grocery store or send thank-you notes to the mail carrier. What it does mean is that we should restore common sense in showing respect for each other and for life events.

Of course we should be casual if the occasion warrants it, both in dress and behavior. Going to a picnic—even with the boss present—is a casual occasion. But, we must always keep in mind people’s dignity as children of God and co-recipients of the Easter promise, and also acknowledge the importance of certain proceedings.

With that in mind, I wish you a blessed—not a casual—Easter!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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