Gina Christian

I stood in front of a dozen squirming fifth graders, ready to begin our weekly catechism lesson — but before I could open my mouth, an eager hand shot up.

“Can I do my Fortnite dance?” one boy asked.

I had no idea what he meant. “Maybe after class,” I promised vaguely, hastening to hush excited comments from the other students, who were apparently well acquainted with — and quite enthusiastic about — Fortnite.

A quick Google search later revealed that Fortnite is a video game, and a wildly successful one at that. According to some estimates, as of June 2018 nearly 125 million players worldwide were clicking their way through the online “Battle Royale” version, gunning down opponents, building defenses and acquiring various rewards.

And with the press of a button, victorious players can dance on the bodies of their slain enemies — a feature that has spawned a craze of various Fortnite moves, or “emotes.”

Good grief, I thought. I’m teaching these kids the Beatitudes, and they’re heading home to dance on dead combatants?

This calls for a column, I fumed, indignantly typing “video game violence” into Google’s search bar.

Of course, the results — all 675 million of them — were mixed. After decades of study, behavioral scientists can’t agree if there’s a definitive and statistically significant link between virtual violence and real-world aggression. Some argue yes, others no, and still others say maybe, but additional factors (including researcher bias and flawed methodology) must also be considered.

Canadian psychologist Romeo Vitelli observed that “the lack of a clear answer” regarding the effects of video game violence “suggests that the real problem may well lie with our not being able to ask the right questions.”

Vitelli’s point was echoed by one media blogger, who suggested that instead of focusing only on video games, we should examine what drives kids to spend hours on end glued to a screen — for example, loneliness or lack of parental supervision.

As our collective attention span continues to decrease, we seem to be losing the ability to ask such authentic questions — the kind that require research and reflection, the kind that often lead to more questions.

Confronted by a given issue, we bark at each other on cable news shows, talk radio and social media. We don’t zoom out from our narrow perspective to take in new information; we don’t seek any opinion except the one we already possess, which is often an uneven mix of speculation and scant data. We demand to know if others agree or disagree, and depending on the response, we decide if they’re for or against us.

But that’s not a strategy that Christ uses.

In Luke’s Gospel, the first mention of Jesus speaking finds a 12-year-old Savior “in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, listening to them and asking questions” (Luke 2:46).

The Son of God was humble enough to enter the conversation by first remaining silent, taking in others’ words, perhaps watching their faces, studying their gestures. He didn’t interrupt the dialogue by announcing that he was, in fact, the one whom they’d been discussing, and he certainly didn’t chastise them for not picking up on that the moment he walked into the room.

When he did speak, it was not to denounce the teachers for their insufficient knowledge, but rather to invite them to a deeper wisdom, one gained by seeing from a new angle. The encounter with this unusual boy from Nazareth left his hearers “astounded at his understanding and his answers” (Luke 2:47).

Later, Christ would indeed clash with those whose hearts and ears were closed, but he routinely did so through questions — challenging his listeners to reflect on their attitudes, their actions and everything that hindered the fullness of God’s love in their lives.

The Lord who by a word formed all that is asks us to join an eternal conversation, one in which listening, reflecting, questioning, and speaking are each steps in a graceful choreography. Perhaps if we practiced a bit more, we would move through this world seeking not to dance over a vanquished enemy, but to create a ballet worthy of the master composer.

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Gina Christian is a senior content producer for CatholicPhilly.com. Follow her on Twitter at @GinaJesseReina.