Saturday, December 02, 2006

Wendy, I'm home

Faith-Based Holiday Gift Guide

The great thing about faith-based gifts is that they come in such wide varieties. Have a jewelry lover on your list? Try a labyrinth. Have a teen on your list? Try a T-shirt. Have a reader on your hands? Try a "One Year Bible."

Ahem. The great thing about "faith and values" sections is that they're an endless source of mirth. It's not just their tendency to assume that "faith" and "values" are different ways of saying the same thing. It's that delightful ability to throw "getting in touch with your inner self" into the faith-n-values mix:

This Chartres Labyrinth pendant is 1.25 inches in diameter and made of sterling silver by Asheville artist Chuck Hunner. Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years, but modern people are finding ways to use them to release stress and to connect with their inner selves.

Exactly! The same way Jack Nicholson connected with his inner self while chasing Shelley Duvall around the maze with an ax in "The Shining"!

Tracing the pattern in, then out, can create a clear and calm feeling.

Those things down at the bottom of the page? With the prices and the pictures of women in fur coats and stuff? They're called "ads." That's where you make claims about the sorts of clear and calm feelings a particular brand of snake oil can create. More to the point, though: The labyrinth has exactly what to do with "faith" or "values"? Except maybe the edifying spectacle of Franklin Graham being fed to a minotaur?

The bigger problem with this one, though, is the problem with faith-n-values sections in general. The diversity template doesn't make for a good overlay because diversity isn't a very good fit with indivisible truths; one man's clear, calm connection with the inner self is another's idolatry. If the jewelry-lover on your Xpesmas list doesn't cotton to New Age stuff, or the "reader" doesn't fancy the idea of writing the Bible down to third-grade level, your "wide variety" has gotten a lot narrower.


Anonymous Robbie said...

I won't take issue with your view toward faith sections in general or with the blatant advertising in the excerpt you give here (though I've seen about the same in plenty of feature stories everywhere in a lot of papers...). But a few dissenting views from one who helped with a labyrinth story as a Mo'ian reporter and who has walked a few labyrinths and given some of these pewter labyrinth gifts:

Unlike a maze, a labyrinth does not have dead ends or diverging paths; also unlike a maze, a labyrinth doesn't have high walls. So it's not really the same as the Shining maze, and I can't remember whether the minotaur was in a maze or a labyrinth.

Rather, a labyrinth is often a single, winding path, usually of concentric circles and painted or engraved into a floor. Someone walking the labyrinth (or, in the case of a desktop or jewelry gift, running a pencil through one) would begin at the outside and slowly move toward the middle, before going back out.

The labyrinth did precede Christianity and has been used by many religions, but it has had some significance in Christian spirituality for several hundred years. In the Middle Ages, labyrinths became popular features in several churches, most notably the cathedral at Chartres, France, where one was build around 1200. More on this, and on labyrinths in general, can be found at

Succeeding centuries sort of cracked down on labyrinths and several other more mystical expressions of Christianity, of course. But recently they've been maing a kind of comeback, both religiously and as a "self-help" tool. Boone Hospital installed one outdoors by their huge lawn, a Columbia home has a simple one in its lawn, and a couple churches in the city have them.

To be sure, faith sections and stories like this (which looks to have a horrible lede...) can run up against the diversity issue. (Of course, considering my ideologies, I'm perhaps more inclined to question the diversity issue at times...) But I wouldn't count this specific example as a case in point, nor would I count it as simply "New Age."

Ah, always fun to ramble about random topics!

3:21 AM, December 03, 2006  
Blogger fev said...

As always, Rob, you're an editor and a gentleman. Trust all's well in your precinct.

9:53 PM, December 03, 2006  

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