Monday, October 15, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

The following quote-within-a-quote is from a book review titled, Twenty Centuries of Conversation, by Dennis O’Brien in America. The book reviewed is The Secular Age, by Charles Taylor (not that friend of televangelist Pat Robinson, the corrupt diamond peddler and former President of Liberia, but the Catholic philosopher from Montreal and McGill University): “To be heard, the church will have to abandon “a longstanding nail down [issues] with ultimate, unattainable and finally self-destructive precision.”” How true. I think the current Pope doesn’t see this (Has any Pope since John XXIII?). Our secular age is as much (more!) gift as bane.

From the article, Apocalypse Now?, by Stephen Holmes in The Nation comes this long quote-within-a-quote. It is something to think about. The article is a review of Chalmers Johnson’s new book Nemesis, the third volume of "an inadvertent trilogy" that includes Blowback and The Sorrows of Empire. Here it is: “Johnson speculates that we have already entered the "last days" of the Republic. America's post-World War II "imperialism," he predicts, will soon put an end to self-government in the United States: "I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent." The destruction of the American Republic may even illustrate a profound historical regularity, he implies: "Over any fairly lengthy period of time, successful imperialism requires that a domestic republic or a domestic democracy change into a domestic tyranny." He even thinks that the American military is now "ripe" for "a Julius Caesar"--that is, for "a revolutionary, military populist with little interest in republican niceties so long as some form of emperorship lies at the end of his rocky path."” This is, of course, an intentional juxtaposing of the Rome Empire with the U.S. Certainly a historical parallel but not a certainty. Though I think we need to reread Jacques Ellul. The end of the Republic is possible.

From the article, The Sting of Death: Why We Yearn for Eternity, by Charles Taylor and published in Commonweal. The article is an excerpt from his voluminous new book A Secular Age. “The secular age is schizophrenic, or better, deeply cross-pressured. People seem at a safe distance from religion, and yet they are very moved to know that there are dedicated believers, like Mother Teresa (I would add such figures as the Dali Lama in there too). The unbelieving world, well used to disliking Pius XII, was bowled over by John XXIII. A pope just had to sound like a Christian, and many immemorial resistances melted. Il fallait y penser. It’s as though many people who don’t want to follow want nevertheless to hear the message of Christ, want it to be proclaimed out there. The paradox was evident in the response to the late pope. Many people were inspired by John Paul’s public, peripatetic preaching about love, about world peace, about international economic justice. They are thrilled that these things are being said. But even many Catholics among his admirers didn’t feel that they must follow all his moral injunctions. And in an expressive, post-Durkheimian world, this is not a contradiction. It makes perfect sense. Such are the strange and complex conditions of belief in our age.” Indeed, it makes good sense.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

work day

Thursday, October 11, 2007

physiognomy precipice mendacious

Today’s news (October 9, 2007); well, yesterday’s news today October 11, 2007. Meaning not October 10th but “yesterday’s” as in passé, old news supervened by events or by the news cycle.

It just gets more complicated. Now Turkey Says Its Troops Can Cross Iraq Border By Sebnem Arsu on the NYT website.

How Baboons Think (Yes, Think) By Nicholas Wade also on today’s NYT website.

The article is about research being done by Drs. Dorothy Cheney and Robert Seyfarth on baboon society. Baboon society is matrilineal; it follows mother-daughter lines of descent, hence, it is hereditary from mother too daughter. Data also indicates that there can be eight or nine matrilines in a troop that are ranked as well and this hierarchy can remain stable across generations. There also is a male hierarchy too that can be in competition with the female hierarchy, form alliances with it, or with elements of it, to gain mutual benefits. But the male hierarchy is dynamic with males changing troops and fighting among themselves.

Here is a quote from a member of the British royal family, Princess Michael of Kent, in response to learning of this research, “I always knew that when people who aren’t like us claim that hereditary rank is not part of human nature, they must be wrong. Now you’ve given me evolutionary proof!”

A little folk biology here?

On with the story...

One thing about this project is its dynamic nature—the project is a living thing—it is my life anyway! But it is also a story of my past that in certain ways never changes. Telling the story is a tedious process I often lose track of in the living, which is much less tedious. Where did I leave off last? Ah, yes.

It is about this time of year, I am a senior in High School, I have been attending BASIC for several weeks and I am beginning to believe these folks are on to something with all this Jesus talk. They are joyful, serious, young, pretty, have long hair like me. I have been reading the bible, I am predisposed to believe it because of my Catholic upbringing, I like the singing, I like hanging out with my friends, and I am serious.

A parenthetical moment: I believe that the world is a closed system. So why do I pray? What is prayer; magic, manipulation, psychological trickery? I don’t know.

But I believe it is of vital importance to recognize this as a fundamental fact. Just as digestion is a fundamental biological fact that has an evolutional history along with the rest of our body so is our consciousness in every way. Within our consciousness resides our experience, thoughts, beliefs, rationality, religion, language, abstraction, and the list could go on and on. Breaking it down into smaller pieces. That’s what it does. But this whole complex is a biological process with an evolutional history. This has profound consequences for the understanding of human behavior, hence in impinges directly on politics, social life, morality, culture, and religion.

Will this project slake my hunger to know? Allow me to doff my skepticism?

Can I believe Christianity is a true myth? How does history, a natural system, materialism relate to ideas of any intervention, suspension, violation, or any outside impingement upon the natural system relate?

Francis Schaeffer insisted on the historicity of the fall of humankind. Given what we know of the evolution of the species Homo sapiens, the only extant species of the primate family Hominidae, how can we even think of the historicity of the fall? We can’t. We know nothing about it. It is a myth about the belief of a fall used to explain and for pedagogy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

short today

Monday, October 8, 2007

I have heard you, Lord,

And my stomach churns within me.

From Habakkuk 3

Maladroit, I am for this project, this work of faith, writing, and exploration of my inner self, not unlike my redoubtable inabilities in relationships. I can become too distrait to do it. The result is exiguous writing and a paroxysm of inactivity. I can be facetious about it, but this is a basic component of my personality just as much as the inevitable supervenes; I resume work. But there is a sense, a feeling, and the possibility, that this project will be, or could be, a bouleversement, a returning to a vibrant faith after a long period of agnosticism.

I used today’s word of the day, maladroit, as well as the last seven days words of the day in the preceding paragraph. Every day I get one from in my e-mail.

From today’s reading:

Farming With Junk: A Rumination on Fidelity By Kyle Kramer in the October 15, 2007 issue of America. Some quotes:

I recognize the limits of my equipment, which was old when I bought it. I try to be easy on it, not ask more of it than it can deliver—as I would with an elderly person walking gingerly on a trick knee or a weak hip. In fact, my fleet of aging machines reminds me of an elder-care facility.

For all our practicality, I suspect that one of the less-admitted reasons we keep old equipment around is that we have grown attached to it, even as it rusts away. On the deepest level I think we realize—or fancy—that our equipment has been faithful to us and deserves the same from us. To be a good farmer demands fidelity, a degree of patience and commitment that seems out of vogue in a culture always fascinated with the future and the next new thing. We farmers deal with very old things: the ageless cycle of seasons and uncertain weather, the necessary bonds of family and community and the land itself —the source and sustenance of all living things, which might build an inch of topsoil over a thousand years but lose it to carelessness and erosion in just a few.

And what or who, after all, does not get old? We all run down; we all live within ever-encroaching limits of time or energy or health. So how do we respond to this undeniable fact? Do we—as farmers and as a society—pretend we can run and hide from mortality, finitude and age? Do we hide wrinkles or rust, constantly trade in our spouses or our equipment for younger models, look the other way from anyone or anything whose age and infirmity remind us of our own inevitable decline and demise?

Or do we pledge fidelity to the old things—and old people—that have given us much over a long life? Do we recognize that they might still have some life left in them and contributions to make, even as they get crotchety and need more attention and care, even as they struggle with incontinence of mechanical or bodily fluids? Do we honor these long lives and accompany them to the scrap heap or the grave with thanksgiving and gentleness? Do we show a little mercy and tender affection in the hope that as we age, break down and become less able, others might show us the same?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

In The Smear This Time by Anita Hill, her Op-Ed piece in the October 2, 2007, New York Times, Ms Hill responds to additional negative comments by Clarence Thomas in his new book. Regardless of the past—I can’t judge—it is a disgrace to the Supreme Court, and to Thomas as well, that he writes this book. He is in a particular position, one of the most prestigious and powerful positions in our Nation, and he fulminates viciously about a former employee. I think he and Bush will be marked by history as equals in one thing.

Jimmy Carter Faces Down Darfur Officials reads an Associated Press headline October 3, 2007. I think Carter is the best President we have had, definitely, the finest former President. Maybe Clinton will imitate him; he is young, popular, still handsome (so is Carter), and morally engaged. We’ll see.

Stanley, I Presume by Paul Theroux in the September 30, 2007 edition of the NYT is a review of the book Stanley: The Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer.

By Tim Jeal. Sounds very interesting.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

just what it is

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2007

Today’s news from my web reading:

Supreme Court Turns Down Cases on Religious Separation is a headline in today’s New York Times about two cases concerning how religious institutions relate to those they serve when that institution works and serves in the “secular” world. Significantly, the U. S. Supreme Court let stand lower court rulings that restricted the religious institution’s freedom by requiring the institution to act contrary to it’s own conscience, if one can imply that an institution has a conscience; Disparities by Steve Coll in the October 8, 2007 issue of the New Yorker about the Jena 6.. Good comments; And Desert Storm: Understanding the capricious God of the Psalms by James Wood in the October 1, 2007 issue of the New Yorker. This is a review by Wood of Robert Alter’s new translation of the Psalms of the Hebrew bible, The Book of Psalms. The translation sounds exciting (The Lawrence, Kansas Public Library is purchasing this translation), but this review is excellent as a read by itself. Wood is one of the best in the business.

Memory, recollection, history; what are they? This is an area I need to think about and discuss.

“Memory is an organism's ability to store, retain, and subsequently retrieve information.” This sentence is a quote from the introduction to the entry titled Memory on Wikipedia. Not a bad scientific definition. But a few things are left out. What about a species ability to remember together? How about the concept of “collective memory”? How does this relate to “history”?

“Maurice Halbwachs argued that memory, despite its seemingly internal nature, could not exist outside a social context. For our individual memories to exist, he argued, they must be constructed and edited against the backdrop collective narratives. Moreover, he argued, we often incorporate accounts other people’s past experiences into the narratives we construct as memory.” The preceding quote is directly from Wikipedia too.

Halbwachs is credited with the invention of the concept “collective memory.” The collective memory of the times I grew-up in and their narratives, imbibed as easily as breathing, influence my memories. I tell my story structured, as it were, through tropes of my times. But the interesting thing is, at least interesting to me, is that I have my own narrative that structures my memories.

Monday, October 01, 2007

It has been a while

Monday, October 1st, 2007

I have been reading a couple books important in my past history. True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer and Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H. R. Rookmaaker. Both of these books, and the type of thinking they represent—antithesis, Reformed, an intellectual defense of Christianity—were significant to me during the 1970s and early 1980s.

True Spirituality by Francis Schaeffer

Schaeffer writes in True Spirituality that he ran up against a reality problem—the reality of what the bible talked about as the result of being a Christian, the reality of love and a spiritual life, were missing from much of what he called historical, orthodox Christianity, and that this reality was, increasingly, missing from his life. He writes: “I realized that in honesty I had to go back and rethink my whole position.” I thought of this statement when I started this project. It is an ingredient in the recipe for my current project. He concluded that “there were totally sufficient reasons to know that the infinite-personal God does exist and that Christianity is true.” He then focused on the finished work of Christ for us and the result was the book True Spirituality. Following are some embedded excerpts:

“Our generation is overwhelmingly naturalistic. There is an almost complete commitment to the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in a closed system. This is its distinguishing mark” That is science by its nature.

He writes, “We must understand—intellectually, with the windows open—that the universe is not what our generation says it is, seeing only the naturalistic universe.” He writes that spirituality only has meaning if we live in a universe that is personal, in which a personal God exists. The Transfiguration confronts us with this supernatural universe.

“The bible says that man fell, at a specific point in history, and as man fell, both man and the world over which he had dominion became abnormal. It would seem, looking at subsequent history, that God’s creation of rational and moral creatures was a failure.”

“But then Christ came, died, and rose—also in history—and the necessary victory was won.”

Modern Art and the Death of a Culture by H. R. Rookmaaker

An important analysis of culture and art from a specific reformed evangelical Christian perspective. This book was important in that it was an illustration of Christian engagement with the world through an intellectual analysis.

Some reading related to the present stage of this project. I can’t forget that the real heart of the project is: How do I relate to God today?

American Catholics: Gender, Generation, and Commitment by William V. D’Antonio, James D. Davidson, Dean R. Hodge, and Katherine Meyer

“Overall, Catholics are not as likely as they once were to grant Church leaders final say; nor are they as likely to agree with Church teachings. They are more inclined to believe they have a personal responsibility to make up their own minds and, while doing so, increasingly distinguish between what they consider core beliefs and practices and what they consider peripheral and optional. Catholics are most likely to comply with teachings they consider essential to being Catholic, and they are most likely to express autonomy on teachings they consider to be peripheral. Secondly, they are more likely to comply in areas they believe church leaders have more expertise than other people, and more likely to think autonomously when they believe that they, and others whom they know, have as much expertise as Church leaders.”

Hence, areas such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the resurrection, the Eucharist, and the Virgin Mary one finds high levels of consensus and agreement between the laity and the hierarchy, while views and practice in areas such as birth control, abortion, the death penalty, and homosexuality are becoming increasingly at variance with the Church leadership. Catholics now believe (and I think we have always had our own ideas) that lay people have as much or more expertise in areas such as these. We now assume the right and the responsibility to disagree, and we insist on our righteousness, our right to be a good Catholic and disagree in these areas.

I was listening to Bruce Cockburn’s live version of Call It Democracy, an old favorite, (if one considers 21 years ago long enough to count as “old”) recorded on the You pay your Money... Live album. It was written in November of 1985 and first released on his Worlds of Wonder CD of 1986. It occurred to me how relevant this is today, especially in light of recent revelations concerning Blackwater (I wonder where this name comes from? It sounds ominous) and other military and civilian contractors in Iraq. But also it is relevant to news of the French Socialist Dominique Strauss-Kahn appointed to head the IMF.

Padded with power here they come
International loan sharks backed by the guns
Of market hungry military profiteers
Whose word is a swamp and whose brow is smeared
With the blood of the poor

Who rob life of its quality
Who render rage a necessity
By turning countries into labour camps
Modern slavers in drag as champions of freedom

Sinister cynical instrument
Who makes the gun into a sacrament --
The only response to the deification
Of tyranny by so-called "developed" nations'
Idolatry of ideology

North South East West
Kill the best and buy the rest
It's just spend a buck to make a buck
You don't really give a flying fuck
About the people in misery

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

See the paid-off local bottom feeders
Passing themselves off as leaders
Kiss the ladies shake hands with the fellows
Open for business like a cheap bordello

And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy
And they call it democracy

See the loaded eyes of the children too
Trying to make the best of it the way kids do
One day you're going to rise from your habitual feast
To find yourself staring down the throat of the beast
They call the revolution

IMF dirty MF
Takes away everything it can get
Always making certain that there's one thing left
Keep them on the hook with insupportable debt

Another song Cockburn recorded on the Live album, Fascist architecture, is an old favorite as well. Written in May of 1980 and released on the Humans album of 1980, it was a significant song for me during the mid-80’s when I was going through, what would turn out to be, the slow dissolution of my marriage and my spirituality. It was a song of hope and personal triumph.

Fascist architecture of my own design
Too long been keeping my love confined
You tore me out of myself alive

Those fingers drawing out blood like sweat
While the magnificent facades crumble and burn
The billion facets of brilliant love
The billion facets of freedom turning in the light

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok

Gonna tell my old lady
Gonna tell my little girl
There isn't anything in the world
That can lock up my love again

Fascist architecture of my own design.

Bloody nose and burning eyes
Raised in laughter to the skies
I've been in trouble but I'm ok
Been through the wringer but I'm ok
Walls are falling and I'm ok
Under the mercy and I'm ok.

Can it be that again? Could this memory be made present, recreated or new? Is my spirituality returning to my days of old where hope reigned? Is this exercise in recollection my path back to God? Is the experience of the Psalmist relevant as she remembers when she went up to the house of God and encounter/experienced the crowds, the sounds of thanksgiving and joy? Will I praise God still?

My tears are my food, by day and by night,
and everyone asks, “Where is your God?”.
I remember how I went up to your glorious dwelling-place
and into the house of God:
the memory melts my soul.
The sound of joy and thanksgiving,
the crowds at the festival

Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my saviour and my God.

Here is the entire Psalm:

Psalm 41 (42) Longing for the Lord and his temple Like a deer that longs for springs of water,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, the living God:
when shall I come and stand before the face of God?

My tears are my food, by day and by night,
and everyone asks, “Where is your God?”.
I remember how I went up to your glorious dwelling-place
and into the house of God:
the memory melts my soul.
The sound of joy and thanksgiving,
the crowds at the festival.

Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my saviour and my God.

My soul is sad within me,
and so I will remember you
in the lands of Jordan and Hermon,
on the mountain of Mizar.
Deep calls to deep
in your rushing waters:
and all your torrents, all your waves
have flowed over me.

By day the Lord sends his kindness upon me;
by night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God:
“You are my support, why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go in mourning, while the enemy persecutes me?”.
As my bones break,
my persecutors deride me,
all the time saying, “where is your God?”.

Why are you so sad, my soul,
and anxious within me?
Put your hope in the Lord, I will praise him still,
my saviour and my God.

What is memory?

Today’s Gospel reading, Luke 9: 46-50:

An argument started between the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child and set him by his side and then said to them, “Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.”
John spoke up. “Master,” he said “we saw a man casting out devils in your so name, and because he is not with us we tried to stop him.” But Jesus said to him, “you must not stop him: anyone who is not against you is for you.”

Two exciting book-related (is there a good word for this?) dealings this past weekend:

The Library’s Fall Book Sale began this past weekend and a trio of interlibrary loan books arrived.

Loosely related to today’s gospel reading is the trio of interlibrary loan books, one by Father Peter C. Phan, Being Religious Interreligiously (under investigation, see The National Catholic Reporter Wednesday, September 12th, 2007, and on their website too), and two by Father Tissa Balasuriya OMI, Mary and Human Liberation and The Eucharist and Human Liberation. I will be looking these over.

Then there was the fall book sale. I got three books important to my personal intellectual history and a couple important by reputation, though I have not read them. Significant in my personal history are, A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy, Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (What is a worldview, a thing or a dynamic collection of ideas?), and John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus. The books known to me by reputation are Faith and Violence: Christian Teaching and Christian Practice by Thomas Merton and The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.

Putin Says He Will Run for Parliament is a headline from today’s, October 1st, 2007, New York Times. (I believe October is always an auspicious month. I enjoy the fall temperatures, leaves, and football. And October culminates in All Saints Day and Halloween!). But, is the news of Putin’s assuming leadership of the United Russia party darkly auspicious, a portent of an ominous nature? Lets hope for a strong Presidential candidate from another party if Putin becomes Prime Minister! ). Also reported in today’s NYT is a potentially hope-inspiring event occurring within the Russian sphere of influence, the same sphere embodied in the former U.S.S.R. (The Cold War was always in the background of my childhood), is the election of Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian opposition leader. A very attractive woman too.

In other key headlines in today’s NYT: Darfur Rebels Kill 10 in Peace Force—What is happening in Darfur? What can we do; as individuals and a Nation?; Myanmar’s Resources Provide Leverage in Region and Karma Power and What Makes a Monk Mad—What about Myanmar? How can we help with the difficulties in the nation?; Provinces Use Rebuilding Money in Iraq—What about Iraq?; Man and God (and God’s Sick Punch Lines)—The sadness of all kinds of Orthodoxy.; And a glaring absence among the headlines of The New York Times and The Washington Post, nothing on the Jena 6. I hope the media is not losing interest in this story.