Thursday, August 10, 2017

What's Eating The Last Angry Man?

Last week (Tuesday thru Thursday, 1-3 August 2017), the 135th Supreme Convention of the Knights of Columbus was held in St. Louis, Missouri. This is an annual event, a chance for the hierarchy & leadership of the Order to celebrate the previous year's achievements in charity, unity, fraternity, & patriotism & to set the agenda for the coming year. (The Order's "fraternal years" are like fiscal years, beginning on 1 July & ending on the following 30 June.) This year's Supreme Convention generated substantially more controversy than in years past, due to the announcement of a new uniform for the Fourth Degree Color Corps: Knights Gear-link.

Heretofore, for the past four score years (that's eight decades for those keep score at home, a good, long lifetime), the "full regalia" uniform of the Fourth Degree has consisted of a tuxedo, a cape, a sword & a baldric, & a plumed bicorne, called a chapeau (which I've never thought was a good name, since chapeau is simply the French word for "hat;" bicorne is a more specific, technical term). Below is a photograph of the Color Corps from Monsignor Patrick R. Dunigan Assembly 510 (including your humble narrator, second from the left) escorting the Most Reverend Earl Boyea, fifth Bishop of Lansing, at St. John Vianney Church in Flint, from February of this year.

The new uniform of blue blazer with hand-embroidered crest, gray slacks, blue necktie adorned with golden Fourth Degree emblems, & black beret with metal badge is intended explicitly to appeal to a younger generation. Wrote Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson in an e-mail:
"The new uniform is part of a comprehensive and necessary effort to keep our Order relevant and attractive to men, particularly younger men."
The tuxedo, cape, & chapeau are definitively out, but the ceremonial sword shall remain, as further wrote the Supreme Knight:
"Ceremonial swords will continue to be part of the Fourth Degree."
The statement about ceremonial swords remaining as part of the new uniform was not made until three days after the initial announcement of the retirement of the old regalia. Sure, one could argue that three days is not an egregiously long interval, except that this is the twenty-first century, when social media is a churning cesspool of man's basest instincts. As the late, doomed Douglas Adams reminded us, nothing travels faster than bad news. Within the Knights community, a firestorm erupted on social media about the new uniform; some of that controversy could surely have been avoided if the announcement of ceremonial swords remaining had been part of the initial announcement of the new uniform—which was vigorously promoted through social media—instead of three days later as an afterthought in an e-mail that was far less broadly circulated. Below is a photograph of the new uniform in action at the Supreme Convention. To date, no photographs of the new uniform with either a sword or a baldric have been made available.

Charity & Patriotism
So, what's eating The Last Angry Man? Two things. The first is the new uniform itself. The blazer, necktie, & slacks, while less than ideal & inferior to the existing tuxedo, are not so bad. Some have mocked the size of the crest on the blazer as excessive, even enormous, but I think it perfectly reasonable. After all, the purpose of the uniform is to be obvious in & identifiable as who we are. No, the deal breaker is the beret. The beret is unacceptable. The beret is a horror show. The beret fails the fundamental tests of a hat, to protect the wearer's head from the elements. That beret is not going to keep the sun out of anyone's eyes on a sunny day, such as Memorial Day, which yours truly habitually spends out of doors, in the blazing late-May sunshine, standing post in my cape, chapeau, & sword, honoring the glorious dead at Flint's Old Calvary Cemetery. Plain & simple, I will never wear that beret. But beyond my personal distaste for the beret, look at the photograph above, a photograph taken at the Supreme Convention & furnished by the Supreme Council itself. Look at those men, chosen specifically to showcase the new uniform. No two of them are wearing the beret in the same way, the exact opposite of a uniform appearance. Some have the beret folded crisply to the side, others have it floating vaguely to the back. If Supreme's chosen exemplars cannot evince a uniform appearance to their uniforms, what hope have we poor yokels out here in the provinces?

Opposing change simply for the sake of opposing change is a bad old vice of mine, one I've endeavored mightily to give up, & I hope that's not what I'm doing here. Is there validity in the assertion that the now-retired cape & chapeau are dated, possibly even outdated? I believe there is. But the counter argument is the long history of the cape & chapeau; the very longevity that makes the regalia outdated in the eyes of some makes it cherished tradition in the eyes of others. Look back at photographs of Sir Knights from the 1950s, the '60s, the '70s, the '80s, the '90s, & even into this present third millennium, & you will see generation after generation of Knights standing publicly for Our Blessed Savior & His One, Holy, Catholic, & Apostolic Church. The true Faith they stood for then is the true Faith I stand for now; the uniform they wore then is the uniform I wear now, & I am proud to be part of such a lineage. I did not purchase my cape, chapeau, & sword, they were donated to me by a Color Corps veteran who after many years of dedicated service to Holy Mother Church & the Order is too old & too sick to stand post. It is an honor to stand in his stead, to give him peace of mind that he can rest, that another will stand in the line for all those who cannot stand for themselves, just as he did faithfully for so many years. The new uniform is more up-to-date, but it does not have—it has not earned—the cache of the cape & chapeau. We ought not cling to past practice simply because it is past practice, but nor should we presume that past practice ought be discarded simply because it is past practice. What was the intended virtue of the past practice? What value does it still retain in itself?

The new uniform is more up-to-date, but I also fear it is too much of-the-moment. The beret especially invokes the wars of the past two decades, especially the years 2001-2011 when the United States Army mandated berets for all soldiers, not just elite units like the Rangers & the Special Forces, the latter more commonly known as the "Green Berets." (The Special Forces, as a distinct unit, ought not be confused with the many different units of special operations forces, as too commonly happens in the popular press.) The Army later reverted back to other forms of headgear, like the patrol cap & the boonie hat, once the inadequacies of the beret for everyday field use, such as those I groused about above, became overwhelmingly clear. Yes, the Army still retains the beret for many forms of dress uniform & the Fourth Degree uniform is intended for dress occasions, but the Order is still associating itself with a very specific martial era. How many decades will it be before the new uniform appears outdated? Rather fewer than more, I suspect. My intuition tells me that the new look will not stand the test of time as well as the cape & chapeau, & certainly not endure for four score years.

Unity & Fraternity
But more than the deficiencies of the new uniform, what's eating me has been the reaction among my brother Knights. The tenor of the online discussion has been hysterical, suspicious, accusatory, & in some cases even obscene. More than a few Sir Knights have thrown around loose talk of giving up their membership in the Fourth Degree, some of quitting the Order entirely. Nothing I've seen has been outside of the norm for the degraded tone of most social media discourse, & that's the problem. If Christians behave exactly the same as pagans, are we even Christians?
"This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
— The Christ (John, 13:35)
I understand that the cape & chapeau a cherished tradition. I called them so above because I subscribe to that very position myself, but the acrimony & scorn that have been directed at the Board of Directors since the announcement of the new uniform has been beyond the pale, the motives ascribed simply scandalous. It has been a bad week for the Knights of Columbus, less so due to the possibly misguided decisions of the Supreme Knight & the rest of the Supreme Council than to the intemperate, ungentlemanly reactions of so many rank-&-file Knights. I am proud to be a Knight of Columbus. I am proud of the many charitable works that we do, proud of our consistent stance to defend & aid the most vulnerable, most marginalized members of society—the widow, the orphan, the homeless, the hungry, the unborn. But this last week, confronted with the irrefutable evidence of how superficially so many of us have learned the lessons of charity (First Degree), unity (Second Degree), & fraternity (Third Degree), I have also been ashamed to be a Knight of Columbus. I'm not condemning any of my brother Knights & it is certainly not my place nor my intention to sit in judgment of anyone. We have all fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Romans, 3:23), & always shall this side o' the grave. But that said, admonishing sinners is a spiritual work of mercy, alongside forgiving offenses & bearing patiently with those who wrong us. This past week, too many of us have been far too quick to point out the splinter in a brother's eye, ignoring the plank in our own eye (cf. Matthew, 7:3).

The introduction of the new uniform means, practically speaking, the end of the road for the Color Corps of Assembly 510, the end of the Color Corps in the greater Flint metropolitan area, because my brother Sir Knights of the Color Corps & I are agreed, unanimously, that we do not like the new uniform & will not shell out $510.00 per man (plus tailoring expenses once the individual pieces arrive from Italy) to own it. The introduction of the new new uniform also occasioned deplorably uncharitable behavior in men who have publicly dedicated themselves to the imitation of Christ, & that above all else is what's eating The Last Angry Man!

God's Comic
Eye of the Tiber parodied the controversy with the headline "Swiss Guard to Modernize Uniforms to Hipster Jeans & Beanies:" Tiber-link. This seems an auspicious time to recall the Hipster Jesus:

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