Chapter 4: Trip the Light

Where the heck is Matt?

Chapter 4 of Fratelli Tutti dives deeper into the issue of immigration and, more broadly, into the balance between being rooted in who you are and being fully open to someone who is different from you. This balance is one that Pope Francis recognizes as one we face as individuals, families, and groups, but his focus here is on how important it is for us to do this as nations in our policies toward building bridges with other nations.

And as fate would have it, as I was reading the chapter, a couple songs popped up in my playlist that capture this well.

He’s been off the road for a few years now, but for a while, a guy named Matt Harding was “internet famous” as the Dancing Guy, or the “Where the heck is Matt?” guy. He was and is a video game developer who loves to travel, and he would make videos of himself at various sites around the world, dancing. 

(I’m an absolutely horrible dancer, so I hesitate to throw shade here, but Matt’s “dance” evolves from what seems a lot like a series of spasms to more of a semi-rhythmic jogging in place, charitably called a “jig” on Wikipedia. But when he does it next to one of the great wonders of the world, or in some other exotic location that you probably never dreamed of visiting, it’s still pretty cool.)

There’s a kind of a developmental arc to his videos that is appropriate here. His first ones (2005-2006) show him, dancing his unique jig, in different places. And the places are unusual enough that they made him famous and even helped pay for his trips.

Something happened with his 2008 video, though. About a minute into the video, he quits dancing by himself; a crowd of locals charge into the scene, and from then on, his video isn’t about him, dancing in some place. It’s about him dancing along with a community. Even if he still just sticks to his little jig.

His 2012 video is the one that completes the evolution though. From the start, he’s not doing his dance; he’s learning to dance along with locals as they do their dance.

OK, take ten minutes and watch the videos, if you haven’t already.

Now what does that have to do with Fratelli Tutti? As I was reading Chapter 4, the song from the 2012 video came up on my playlist. Listen to the words from “Trip the Light” by Garry Schyman:

If all the days that come to pass are behind these walls,

I’ll be left at the end of things in a world made small.

Travel far from what I know, and I’ll be swept away

I need to know I can be lost and not afraid.

In other words, if we stay within our bubbles, closed off from encountering others so that we can protect our culture, our world gets restrictively small and narrow. But if we go in the opposite direction and stray far from our home, we could lose ourselves.

The key, per Schyman’s song, is to remember our common humanity while embracing both that which makes us unique and that which does so for others:

Remember we’re lost together, remember we’re the same

We hold the burning rhythm in our hearts, we hold the flame

I’ll find my way home on the western wind

To a place that was once my world back from where I’ve been

And in the morning light I’ll remember as the sun will rise

We are the glowing embers in a distant fire

Pope Francis sees this tension. On the one hand, one of his starkest statements about the need for international cooperation is that, “We need to develop the awareness that nowadays we are either all saved together or no one is saved” (137). (He says this less from a soteriological perspective of religious salvation than as a reflection of how we need to recognize that our challenges here and now, like climate change and the pandemic, reveal that we are all interdependent.)

Francis’ emphasis on our interconnectedness is explicitly not just a utilitarian one though. It’s not just that we need each other for selfish reasons; embracing each other is a good in itself that he compares to the gratuity of God’s love for us: “There is always the factor of “gratuitousness”: the ability to do some things simply because they are good in themselves, without concern for personal gain or recompense” (139). In fact, “the true worth of the different countries of our world is measured by their ability to think not simply as a country but also as part of the larger human family” (141) and “Global society is not the sum total of diffferent countries, but rather the communion that exists among them” (149).

Though in the face of this nationalist moment, Francis emphasizes the need to embrace the other, he recognizes the other half of that tension, that we need to know who we are in order to ever know others truly: “I cannot truly encounter another unless I stand on firm foundations, for it is on the basis of these that I can accept the gift the other brings and in turn offer an authentic gift of my own” (143). It’s through this lens, Francis says, that we can really understand what private property is for: “I care for and cultivate something that I possess, in such a way that it can contribute to the good of all” (143).

I’ll say more about that need for a sense of our own identity later. For now, just note that, a la Matt, Francis challenges us to broaden our horizons. “Yet it is impossible to be ‘local’ in a healthy way without being sincerely open to the universal, without feeling challenged by what is happening in other places, without openness to enrichment by other cultures, and without solidarity and concern for the tragedies affecting other peoples” (146).

We might start out focused on being the center of the picture, doing our dance. As we become more open, we can invite others to come dance in the same frame. But the real goal is to get to a place that allows us to appreciate and learn other peoples’ dances just as we teach them ours. Glowing embers in a distant fire.

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