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It is rare thing to enter the bedroom of a teenager without noticing posters on the walls of movie stars, bands, or sports figures. Once upon a time, when I was much younger, an adult asked me, "Why do this? It doesn't make any sense. It's not like the person in the picture cares about you." As a child, I had no good answer, but as an adult, I'd like to commit a few comments on the subject here.

As members of the human race, we are wired to be social beings. We come into this world almost completely helpless, and only have one or two things which we do well. Life after that is an incredible learning experience for children, but they rely on others - especially parents - to teach them things. As a result, a child who has parents who take an interest in his education, no matter what the economic level, does better than a child whose parents are indifferent.

As children grow older, they start to admire others outside of their immediate circle for doing uncommon things. If it's a sports figure, seeing a poster might remind the person how exciting it is to watch him play or it might be an encouragement to compete in the same sport. A poster of a band might remind someone of the feelings one has listening to the band's music. Movie stars represent a type of lifestyle people dream about living.

This type of thing is hardly reserved for adolescents. All over, we see images of people as reminders to us as to what they achieved. In the grand scheme of things, the accomplishments of a baseball team or its members are not terribly noteworthy, but if one goes to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play, it's not just baseball one will see, but also statues of notable people who have been with the Cubs' organization. Of course, the statues are placed in honor of the people depicted, but they wouldn't be placed there if there wasn't some sort of emotional response that people have by viewing them.

Just as learning is for a baby, the extent of human knowledge is social and cumulative. To be an airplane engineer, for example, is not to say that one has to do as the Wright Brothers did and create a totally new aircraft. A young person studying aircraft engineering will learn early on an incredible amount of information that is being handed down to him by others, be it directly or by books. Because so much can be learned quickly this way, one does not need to live longer than everybody else to learn more than others. In doing this, one becomes indebted to the ones who have built that foundation, but there also comes the understanding that we might be providing a little more to the generations following us. There are really few who have made the most incredible breakthroughs, but this is the reason that one might find a picture or bust of Shakespeare in a library.

(This line of thinking reminds me of sermon I once heard where the priest talked about discussing history with his cat, making the point today's cats live their lives in the same manner that cats always have; there are no "great cats of feline history", nor do cats build monuments or memorials to cats of yore.)

One of the very important things that I believe that Protestant churches have lost is the sense of the worshipper being part of the community of saints. Especially in the United States, Protestant churches tend to be very plain, and more than that, in not recognizing more than a handful of early saints, I believe that it becomes more difficult for people to understand that Christianity is not something that is solely personal but something precious that has been shared and passed on through the ages. By surrounding ourselves with icons, for example, one has a constant reminder that there have come before us champions of the Faith, people who struggled through their lives but stayed on the path to holiness, in days long past, as well as in days much more recent.

The images of people we don't personally know that we put around us are a good indication as to what we like, what we respect, and what we aspire to. Therefore, we need to be very careful who we choose to look to - and look up to - in the most physical sense. A child cannot explain why he wants to have these pictures around him, but it is a very powerful way of reminding him not only of history, but the potential he brings to the present.


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September 2013

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