Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

"Binding up the wounded"

I'm not on Facebook, but I can link you to this man's Facebook page.  At least I hope that link is a permanent one.  If not, the story is also at HuffPost.  Like that story did, I want to highlight this part from that post:

It wasn’t about demonstrating my outrage to right-wing drivers driving down Esters Road in front of the mosque. I can never, and will never, change any of the haters. It’s not about them. Not this time, and not here. This was about binding up the wounded. About showing compassion and empathy for the hurting and fearful among us. Or, in some Christian traditions, this was about washing my brother’s feet. This was about my religion, not theirs. And, it was about what I think I must do as an American when our way of life is threatened. Targeting people for their religion not only threatens our way of life, it is the polar opposite of our way of life.
It's a fine message for Advent.

Putting the Dog in the Manger


My scholarship on this is anything but perfect (or scholarly, for that matter).  If I confine myself to internet sources and my own blog entries, it's for convenience sake and a nod to the forum where these ideas are presented; it's not a very strong defense of said ideas.

Still, there is a lot of annual nonsense about Christmas "traditions" being stolen from "pagans."  And the silliest part about such claims is how ahistorical they are, all the while asserting a knowledge of history superior to those of us fooled by the "pagan" practices we perpetuate in the name of something holy.

So let's lay it out in careful fashion.  First:  Christmas was not observed by the Church (the "Roman" church, but at the time, the only church) until the 4th century C.E.  There was an observance of the birth day of the Christ in Egypt in the 3rd century, not surprising as the Egyptians observed the birthdays of their Pharoahs, whom they considered gods at birth (and so their birthdays were significant).* But Rome didn't pick up the practice until sometime in the mid 4th century.  To put that in historical context as far as "pagan" practices go:

In the late 4th century, persecution of pagans by newly Christian Romans had reached new levels of intensity. Temples and statues were destroyed throughout the Roman empire: pagan rituals became forbidden under punishment of death, and libraries were closed. In 391, Emperor Theodosius I ordered the destruction of all pagan temples, and the Patriarch Theophilus complied with his request. One theory has it that the great Library of Alexandria and the Serapeum were destroyed about this time.
Not, in other words, a lot of interest in taking up "pagan" (I used the word advisedly) practices at the time.  Certainly there were no Christmas trees in 4th century Rome, no holly and ivy, no boar's heads or even Santa Claus.

Then comes the medieval period, and Christmas feasts, which if "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" is any evidence, were the common feature of Christmas celebrations (again, no holly and ivy, no Christmas tree, no jolly old St. Nick; just the boar's head and lots of hunting).  But I jump to medieval Europe because that's when the passion plays began, and in Germany (influenced by the "East," which is to say the Orthodox church, which observes the festal day of Adam and Eve), a feature of some of these plays became the Paradeisbaum, the tree of Paradise, because of the feast of Adam and Eve.

CHRISTMAS Eve is the feast day of our first parents, Adam and Eve. They are commemorated as saints in the calendars of the Eastern churches (Greeks, Syrians, Copts). Under the influence of this Oriental practice,  their veneration spread also to the West and became very popular toward the end of the first millennium of the Christian era. The Latin church has never officially introduced their feast, though it did not prohibit their popular veneration. In many old churches of Europe their statues may still be seen among the images of the saints. Boys and girls  who bore the names of Adam and Eve (quite popular in past centuries) celebrated their "Name Day" with great rejoicing. In Germany the custom began in the sixteenth century of putting up a "paradise tree" in the homes to honor the first parents. This was a fir tree laden with apples,  and from it developed the modern Christmas tree.
So the "Christmas Tree" began, not with tree-worshiping Druids in England (why would you cut down and kill what you worship?  That's a very modern idea, not a very ancient one.), but with Christian Germans in the 16th century.  It finally became a feature of Christmas observances in the home in the 19th century.  You don't see them in most churches (especially the older mainline churches), at least not in the worship space, and they have nothing to do with Christianity (in fact some try to blunt their secular connections with a nativity scene; I know my family did when I was a child.).  And what about gift giving?  For that, you can blame Clement Clark Moore.

The popular assertion is that gift giving at Christmas is connected to the Roman Saturnalia.   The problem is, that practice died out in Rome before the 4th century; and gift giving didn't become a part of Christmas until the 19th century.  The closest you get to that in Europe is the sharing of food with the peasants by the landowners, but that practice is more related to the Feast of Fools that allowed the repressed a brief respite from their oppression (probably enough to keep them happy in their servitude) and the quite reasonable function of not letting the serfs starve in the winter (again, just enough to keep them in their place).  The exchange of gifts between Gawain and the Green Knight is more typical.  They aren't gifts in our modern sense at all, and they are exchanged between peers, are in fact part of a game.**  Even today our gift giving is between peers (our friends and co-workers) or within family (especially to children, where we recapitulate the relationship of lord and serf), and only occasionally to the "poor" (whom we never go to Black Friday sales for).

If you follow all the links in this post, several will send you to my archives where you will find collected posts in categories that overlap several of them; so there's a lot of repetition and some tedious data-mining if you want to get down to the bedrock; which is, in places, still rather spongy.  Suffice it to say that Christmas is pretty much a modern invention, especially as we observe it in America.  I rather like the conclusion one of my posts drew, based on the work of real scholars and historians, that Christmas was one of the first holidays America had (thanks to the Puritans and the lack of a single Church, as well as a mixture of European cultures, we had no holidays of our own that all could observe from the beginning); it was open both to the religious and the secular.  You could observe the birth of Christ, or just observe a modern version of the Feast of Fools.  But it was all about celebrating and enjoying your family and friends, and that's still what it should be.





*Origen, glancing perhaps at the discreditable imperial Natalitia, asserts (in Lev. Hom. viii in Migne, P.G., XII, 495) that in the Scriptures sinners alone, not saints, celebrate their birthday; Arnobius (VII, 32 in P.L., V, 1264) can still ridicule the "birthdays" of the gods.  New Advent.

** Games were associated with Christmas celebrations down through Dicken's A Christmas Carol where Scrooge's nephew and friends play them on Christmas Day.  Sadly that is no longer an expected feature of our Christmas revels.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

"So I cheered up."

This is not the problem:



This is:

Despite this precedent, Trump spokesperson Jason Miller remained unconvinced by CNN’s Chris Cuomo’s insistence that flag burning is a “protected constitutional right” during a Tuesday appearance on “New Day.”

“Can we agree on that?” Cuomo asked.

“No, we completely disagree,” Miller replied.

Miller repeatedly said that such a “despicable” act “should be illegal” and tried to pivot to a discussion of Trump’s cabinet appointees.

“You have to defend what is legal in this country under the Constitution. Just because I don't like it doesn't mean that it's not legal, it's not right for somebody. What do you want this country to be, only what you like? Only what President-elect Trump likes?” Cuomo asked.

“Flag burning should be illegal,” Miller said again, insisting there was a “big difference” between protecting the First Amendment and burning the American flag.


It makes me fondly remember the days when Ron Ziegler declared his previous statements "no longer operative," and we thought that was the nadir of Presidential Press Secretaries.

Sure enough...

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Very Wes Anderson Christmas



Because it is Advent, and because I can.*

*Only it isn't a TRUE Wes Anderson film, because no dogs are killed.  You can't have everything.

"Black comes in many shades"

At a rally in 1984, some of those farmers arrived wearing paper bags over their heads, to obscure their faces. It wasn’t until later that Jackson learned they were trying to hide their identities from farm bureau officials. “I looked out there, all these guys in hoods. Sort of a little moment there,” Jackson recalled a few years later in a conversation with farmer and supporter Roger Allison, as recounted by Frady. “But our people have always had more in common than other folks supposed—right, doc? We’ve both felt locked out. Exploited and discarded. People saying about the family farmer exactly what they say about unemployed urban blacks, ‘Something’s wrong with them. If they worked hard like me, wouldn’t be in all that trouble.’ Fact, more you get into this thing, more you realize that black comes in many shades. We’ve found out we kin.”

The only question is:  how long will we wring our hands, and when will we start looking at who we have common ground with?  The vilification of the Trump supporters has begun.  But is that the shortest course to victory, or just the shortest route to personal satisfaction?

Maybe the starting point is to recognize that "Black comes in many shades."

On the first day of Advent, the Internet gave to me....


A really interesting take on a subject that will get no serious consideration where it was posted:

We [Europeans] haven’t really succeeded in removing religion from the public sphere. Instead, we’ve been left with a sort of non-religious cultural Christianity that we call secularism. And we are so adamant about our belief in secularism that we don’t see it. As German philosopher Martin Heidegger taught us, our experience as humans beings is always rooted in our own reality, and what seems natural is always historical. In other words, even as European countries claim to be secular, Christianity still underpins our culture.

To take the most prosaic of examples, now that Christmas is approaching, cities will spend large sums of public funds to illuminate the streets with festive lights. In the region I’m from, it’s tradition that schoolchildren perform in a play that illustrates the nativity of Jesus. Similar traditions can be found in other countries. Even the most radical atheists buy gifts for Christmas Eve and eat chocolates for Easter. Oh, and forget about finding stores open on a Sunday.

Philosopher Mark C. Taylor points out in “After God” that “secularism is a religious phenomenon, which grows directly out of the Judeo-Christian tradition.” He argues that secularism is associated with Modernization, but both phenomena are highly rooted in Western religion. The fallacy lies in the fact that Modernization, and especially the Enlightenment, made us think of values such as laïcité as universal. But those values were actually born in Christian societies. And even as religion retreats to the private sphere, centuries of tradition cannot be extirpated from culture — nor am I arguing they should be.

But we are equating secularism and laïcité as universal, atheist values, and thus creating an opposing narrative against Muslims (and Jews) who see their religion as part of their cultural identity. The truth is, most Europeans are culturally Christian, even when their families, like mine, have long abandoned the idea of God. This narrative of the secular “us” vs. the religious “other,” which is upheld by many who consider themselves liberal, progressive people, incites and allows for populist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the ultra-right.

The author is a Spaniard writing about Europe, but she makes it clear she might as well be writing about America, too.  European culture is Christian.  The very idea that reason should prevail and be upheld as a universal standard is due to the Roman church, not to the abiding influence of Greece or Rome.  The ideals of Greek and Rome we venerate to this day (in ways obvious and all but unnoticed) would never have survived the collapse of the Empire without the Church.  Those ideas were kept alive by the Church across the centuries; it because the common glue of European society because of Christianity, not in spite of it.  If there is an anti-reason element in modern American Christianity, its roots are in American anti-papistry, not in know-nothingism.

But the idea that Europe is a secular paradise is as wrong-headed as the idea that America is ruined by religion.  If we think we are not culturally Christian, we don't see how atheism, as proclaimed by Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens or Sam Harris or whom you please, is directed against a caricature of religion that's as intellectually offensive as a caricature of a Jew (although caricatures of Muslim and Mohammed are still acceptable, for reasons that don't bear very much scrutiny).

In the Age of Trump, we would do well to engage in some self-examination and realize our "freedom" is the very thing that "incites and allows for populist, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetoric on the ultra-right," and that, in Jung's terms, the more we fight it the more we fight our shadow self.

Or, as Jesus of Nazareth put it so well:  why do you point out the splinter in your brother's eye, while ignoring the beam sticking out of yours?  Especially, in my modern gloss, when what you are seeing is a reflection, in a curved surface.....

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Is this where his mandate comes from?


Because, really, the election is only legitimate because he won.

You know, as of January 20, 2017, these tweets become part of the Presidential record.  And we have to take them seriously.

I almost saw some of that on Press the Meat today.  Chuck Todd had a Pentagon correspondent (for NBC?  NYT?  I don't remember) who identified herself as Liberian and spoke of all the good Castro and Cuba had done in the world, that the US view of Castro as a devil and a monster was a very parochial one.  An attitude that inflamed a panel member from AEI; not surprisingly, but Todd gave the Liberian journalist (now American, or sounding like it and, I think, reporting for a major American media outlet) the benefit of the doubt, something the AEI representative refused to do.

It was interesting, and it may be the result of Trump in office is more people from "outside" the "mainstream" finding themselves on mainstream outlets, to provide "balance."  We'll see.  But there was talk even among Chuck's panelists of Trump's conflicts of interest and need to divest himself of his business interests (Kellyanne Conway's whine, on the same program, that Trump's children would be disadvantaged by such a move, got no sympathy from anyone.  The consensus was:  he's President, and country comes first.  Dump the businesses, completely.).

This is not going to be a positively smooth ride for Trump, and tweets like this won't win him any friends, even among those who insist we must all accept him as "My President."

Something I will, for the first time in my life, refuse to do.

Adding:

It's a small thing, but you have to keep up with the small things, too:  since when is 290 electoral votes (Michigan is still undecided) a "landslide"?  It's possible (unlikely, but still) Clinton would flip all three recount states and win, the margin between them is so slender.  Trump has neither a mandate nor a landslide, nor the popular vote.  "Not My President" is, for the first time in my life, starting to sound like a very legitimate charge.

First Sunday of Advent 2016: "Advent is the church's season of apocalyptic."



Isaiah 2:1-5
2:1 The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

2:2 In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

2:3 Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

2:4 He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

2:5 O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the LORD!

Psalm 122
122:1 I was glad when they said to me, "Let us go to the house of the LORD!"

122:2 Our feet are standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

122:3 Jerusalem built as a city that is bound firmly together.

122:4 To it the tribes go up, the tribes of the LORD, as was decreed for Israel, to give thanks to the name of the LORD.

122:5 For there the thrones for judgment were set up, the thrones of the house of David.

122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: "May they prosper who love you.

122:7 Peace be within your walls, and security within your towers."

122:8 For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, "Peace be within you."

122:9 For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your good.

Romans 13:11-14
13:11 Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers;

13:12 the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;

13:13 let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.

13:14 Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Matthew 24:36-44
24:36 "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

The apocalypse is the revealing of the truth.  It is not the Gotterdamerung, the Armageddon, the End of All Things.  It is the revelation, the revealing, the uncovering.  The words of Isaiah are apocalyptic: "In days to come the mountain of the Lord's house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.  Many peoples shall come and say, "Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths." For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.  [God] shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more."

Ain't gonna study war no more.  Not because an ultimate power says so; not because the last war, the war to end all wars, has been fought.  Because of the revelation; because of the need.  Because we will see and want to learn the way of the Lord, of the house of the God of Jacob.

That is the apocalypse.  That is the revealing.  How we should then, and now, live.  If is for that Jesus came.  It is for that Jesus died.  It is what the church looks forward to, is herald to, is messenger for, is meant to announce and proclaim and make real here on earth, here and now.

It is always Advent.  We are always waiting.  We are always trying to stay awake.

But the meaning of the liturgical calendar, which begins with Advent, is that the apocalypse has happened, that the thing we were waiting for has come to pass, that what has been is, and will be.  It is no contradiction to cite Matthew here:  But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.  For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.  For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.  Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.  Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Taken?  Taken where?  Away, physically?  By the Spirit, emotionally?  Taken in the Rapture?  Or taken by war, tragedy, peril, catastrophe?  Jesus is not reassuring here:  our house is going to be broken into?  But how is the kingdom of heaven like that?

And what are we waiting for?  What if it has already happened?  Does it have to be a flood, a mysterious disappearance of 50% of the population?  Can it be something more prosaic, like those who see the kingdom now, and those who don't?

After all, when the people are drawn to God's holy mountain, will it be everyone?  Or just the people who want to go?

Isaiah doesn't say you have to go.  Isaiah says you will want to.  Matthew's Jesus doesn't say you will see it coming; he just says it will come, and you may not even know it.  In fact, you won't know it, otherwise the hour will be expected.  Christianity says it has come; and it is coming; that we must prepare; and that we must see it has already happened.  Advent is the season of anticipation, but it sneaks up on us every time anyway.  The world prepares too early, and more frantically every year.  Now "Black Friday" is a two-week event before Thanksgiving, and "Cyber Monday" starts the moment the turkey leaves the oven.  And still the world isn't ready for what is coming, for what has come, for what will come.

Advent is about preparing for the coming, again.  Christmas is about the coming that has already happened.  Advent reminds us to wake up, look around, see a world that needs what is coming, what has come, and who came, and what happened after that.  We start over again, to end in four weeks with what we anticipated this time; and still we are surprised by it.  Christmas is about the same thing every year, and every year we need to see again that what we waited for, what we are waiting for, is already here

 If that isn't apocalyptic, what is?

Saturday, November 26, 2016

At least it's not fake news

Which is "realDonaldTrump" and which is not?

Today, the world marks the passing of a brutal dictator who oppressed his own people for nearly six decades. Fidel Castro’s legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

While Cuba remains a totalitarian island, it is my hope that today marks a move away from the horrors endured for too long, and toward a future in which the wonderful Cuban people finally live in the freedom they so richly deserve.

Though the tragedies, deaths and pain caused by Fidel Castro cannot be erased, our administration will do all it can to ensure the Cuban people can finally begin their journey toward prosperity and liberty.  I join the many Cuban Americans who supported me so greatly in the presidential campaign, including the Brigade 2506 Veterans Association that endorsed me, with the hope of one day soon seeing a free Cuba.
Do they even realize how long Fidel has been out of power?  Do they understand we have full diplomatic relations with Cuba?  Do they want to relive the last 60 years, this time with more cowbell?

Because that, is replacing this:

“At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people,” Obama said. “We know that this moment fills Cubans ― in Cuba and in the United States - with powerful emotions, recalling the countless ways in which Fidel Castro altered the course of individual lives, families, and of the Cuban nation. History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him.”

“Today, we offer condolences to Fidel Castro’s family, and our thoughts and prayers are with the Cuban people. In the days ahead, they will recall the past and also look to the future,” he added. “As they do, the Cuban people must know that they have a friend and partner in the United States of America.”

“For nearly six decades, the relationship between the United States and Cuba was marked by discord and profound political disagreements,” Obama said.

“During my presidency, we have worked hard to put the past behind us, pursuing a future in which the relationship between our two countries is defined not by our differences but by the many things that we share as neighbors and friends - bonds of family, culture, commerce, and common humanity,” he added. “This engagement includes the contributions of Cuban Americans, who have done so much for our country and who care deeply about their loved ones in Cuba.”

Whoo-boy.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Thanksgiving 2016


"We're all forgiven at Thanksgiving, and everybody's welcome at the feast."--Garrison Keillor

This is a story I usually associate with Christmas (I used it once, for a Christmas Day sermon.  Hey!  Pastors need time off, too!  Besides, it went well with hot chocolate and cinnamon rolls and the gathered faithful in a tiny country church.  I need reminding that I have good memories of the ministry.).  It is:

The World in a Bowl of Soup
by Annie Dillard

Once there was a great feast held in a banquet hall of such enormous proportions that you could not believe men built such a thing.  Two thousand chandeliers hung from the ceiling: lumber cut from all the world’s forests made the walls and parti-color floor.  Great loose areas of the hall were given to various activities: there were dances and many kinds of gaming: a corner was devoted to the sick and injured, and another to the weaving of cloth.  Children chanted rhymes wherever they gathered, and young men sought pretty girls in greenhouses or behind the damask hangings of booths and stalls.

The feast lasted all night long.  Guests sat at a table as long as a river that stretched down the middle of the hall.  No one cloth could cover such a table, nor could one centerpiece suffice.  So the table was decorated in hundreds of different themes, with different combinations of colors and kinds of tableware, with various carved figures and various drinks, and with lively musicians in costume playing to each set of guests a special music.

There was only a single course served to the guests, but that was a soup made of so many ingredients it seemed to contain all other dishes.  The soup was served continuously, all night long, and there were so many guests that all the places at the table were always taken, and the benches always full, when the servants ladled the soup into the endlessly decorated array of metal, glass, wood, and pottery bowls.

***
Now, the host of this feast was a young man of tremendous wealth and power who stood behind a curtain on a balcony above the great hall and watched the guests as they ate and drank at the long table.  He thought: “All night long people have been eating as much soup as they wanted and then coming back to the table for more.  It is good that they enjoy themselves.  But not one person has seen or really understood the excellence of that soup.”

So the host parted the curtain a crack more and let his gaze fall.  It fell directly on an old man who happened to be sitting at the table in his line of vision, looking about and thinking of nothing at all.  At once the old man felt an overwhelming sense of power, an impact as if his spirit had been struck broadside and wakened to a flood of light.  He bowed his head and saw, through charged eyes, his bowl of soup that had come alive and was filled to endless depths with wonderful things.

There were green fields in his soup bowl, with carrots growing one by one, in slender rows.  As he watched, transfixed, men and women in bright vests and scarves came and pulled the carrots, one by one, out of the soil, and carried them in baskets to shaded kitchens, where they scrubbed them with yellow brushes under running water.  He saw white-faced cattle lowing and wading in rivers, with dust on the whorled and curly white hair between their ears.  He saw tomatoes in kitchen gardens set out as seedlings by women in plaid shirts and by strong-handed men; and he watched the tomatoes as, before his eyes, the light from the sun blew each one up like a balloon.  Cells on the root hairs of beans swelled and divided, and squashes grew spotted and striped in the fall.  Wine aged in caves, and the barrel maker went home to his wife through sunlight and shade.

He saw the ocean, and he seemed to be in the ocean himself, swimming over orange crabs that looked like coral, or off the deep Atlantic banks where whitefish school.  Or again he saw the tops of poplars and the whole sky brushed with clouds in pallid streaks, under which wild ducks flew with outstretched necks and called, one by one, and flew on.

All these things the old man saw in his soup.  Scenes grew in depth and sunlit detail under his eyes and were replaced by ever more scenes, until, with the flight of wild ducks, the worlds resolved into one blue sky, now streaked, now clear, and, at last, into soup again, dark soup, fragrant in its bowl.  The host had let the curtain fall shut.

The man blinked and moved his head from side-to-side.  “I see now,” he said to himself, “that this is truly an excellent soup, praise God.”  And he ate his bowlful and joined the dancers in a daze, a kind of very energetic daze.

And then from my old friends in the Spirit, the German Pietists:

PRAISE AND HARVEST

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and pefect gift, we call to remembrance thy loving-kindness and the tender mercies which have been ever of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to thee the voice of our thanksgiving,

For all the gifts which thou hast bestowed upon us; for the life thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on toward better things,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the blessings of civilization, wise government and legislation; for education, and all the privileges we enjoy through literature, science, and art; for the help and counsel of those who are wiser and better than ourselves,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all true knowledge of thee and the world in which we live, and the life of truth and righteousness and divine communion to which thou hast called us; for prophets and apostles, and all earnest seekers after truth; for all lovers and helpers of mankind, and all godly and gifted men and women,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the gift of thy Son Jesus Christ, and all the helps and hopes which are ours as his disciples; for the presence and inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, for all the ministries of thy truth and grace,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For communion with thee, the Father of our spirits; for the light and peace that are gained through trust and obedience, and the darkness and disquietude which befall us when we disobey thy laws and follow our lower desires and selfish passions,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the desire and power to help others; for every opportunity of serving our generation according to thy will, and manifesting the grace of Christ to men,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the discipline of life; for the tasks and trials by which we are trained to patience, self-knowledge and self-conquest, and brought into closer sympathy with our suffering brethren; for troubles which have lifted us nearer to thee and drawn us into deeper fellowship with Jesus Christ,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the sacred and tender ties which bind us to the unseen world; for the faith which dispels the shadows of earth, and fills the saddest and the last moments of life with the light of an immortal hope.

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

God of all grace and love, we have praised thee with our lips; grant that we may praise thee also in consecrated and faithful lives. And may the words of our mouth and the meditations of our heart be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our Strength and our Redeemer.

AMEN.

THANKSGIVING

Almighty God, our Heavenly Father, from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, we call to remembrance they loving-kindness and thy tender mercies which have ever been of old, and with grateful hearts we would lift up to the the voice of our thanksgiving.

For all the gifts which thou has bestowed upon us; for the life that thou hast given us, and the world in which we live,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the work we are enabled to do, and the truth we are permitted to learn; for whatever of good there has been in our past lives, and for all the hopes and aspirations which lead us on to better things,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For the order and constancy of nature; for the beauty and bounty of the world; for day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest; for the varied gifts of loveliness and use which every season brings,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

For all the comforts and gladness of life; for our homes and all our home-blessings; for our friends and all pure pleasure; for the love, sympathy, and good will of men,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

"This really brings Christmas close to a person."

I might put this on my tree as a joke.

But seriously?  Egads.

Honey Badger don't care!

Honey badger don't give a shit!

Blind trust?!  We don't need no steenken' blind trust!

Take me in, tender woman....sighed the snake.

Something tells me we're in for a test of Constitutional government that we haven't seen in a long time.

And, not just the Constitution:



But a Downing Street spokesman said: “There is no vacancy. We already have an excellent ambassador to the US.”
....
It is unprecedented for an incoming US president to ask a world leader to appoint an opposing party leader as ambassador, and the statement puts May in a difficult position.

And why does Trump like Farage?  Loyalty?  Yeah, right:

At the meeting, Farage spoke to the new president-elect about putting the bust of Winston Churchill back in the Oval Office, while Trump encouraged Farage to oppose wind farms, which he felt marred the views from his Scottish golf courses.

Andy Wigmore, a communications officer for one of the groups campaigning to leave the EU who was at the meeting alongside Farage, told the Daily Express: “We covered a lot of ground during the hour-long meeting we had.

“But one thing Mr Trump kept returning to was the issue of wind farms. He is a complete Anglophile and also absolutely adores Scotland, which he thinks is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

“But he is dismayed that his beloved Scotland has become over-run with ugly wind farms, which he believes are a blight on the stunning landscape.”

Farage is expecting an invitation to Trump’s inauguration in January, sources have told the Guardian, which increases pressure on May to give him a role in UK-US diplomatic relations. 

Did I say "Constitutional crisis"?  How about "Category 1 shitstorm"?

Yeah, this is going to go real well......

Addendum:  hand to God, I did not know this when I posted that link to the song:

Trump often recited the lyrics to a song by Al Wilson called “The Snake” at his rallies and the last line goes like this: “You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in.” He was talking about himself.

Monday, November 21, 2016

For the time being


I was so hard to please....

Something from a then-frequent reader which, ten years on, needs to be considered again:

Almost from the time of his entry in 1941 into the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance (the Trappists) at the Monastery of Gethsemani, in Kentucky, Merton was obsessed with retreat from "the World," and from about 1952 onward he pressed for permission, heretofore unknown in the Order, to become a hermit with only limited contact with the monastic community; instead, in 1955 he was appointed Master of Novices, a position he held for the next nine years.

Merton, who has been described as "never having a thought he didn't write down," tended during this time to use the texts of his regular sessions within the novitiate as the basis for his later literary output, and it’s important to note that the temper of both his Introduction to as well as his selection from the writings of the Desert Fathers very probably had their basis in his sessions with his novices.

Wisdom of the Desert was published in 1960; in December of that year he was finally granted limited permission to reside in a small building on the monastery grounds, but was still required to sleep in the monastery and to participate in the activities of the community, including remaining Master of Novices. It wasn’t until 1964, just four years before his untimely death, that he was relieved of his position as novice master and permitted to remain exclusively in his hermitage.

From the fall of 1966 until early 1968, he had a remarkable exchange of correspondence (At Home in the World: The Letters of Thomas Merton and Rosemary Radford Reuther, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N.Y. 1995). Reuther is a Catholic feminist theologian, then with a freshly minted Ph.D. In this exchange he attempted (in my view, ultimately unsuccessfully) to defend monastic solitude – the retreat from “the World” - as a necessary and viable alternative to active response to the challenges of contemporary secular society.

In her Introduction, written almost 30 years after the letters, Reuther says,

What I was looking for in initiating this conversation was neither a confessor, nor to be his confessor, but a genuine Catholic intellectual peer, one who would treat me as a peer, and with whom I could be ruthlessly honest about my own questions of intellectual and existential integrity. I was trying to test in this correspondence what was the crucial issue, for me, at that time: whether it was, in fact, actually possible to be a Roman Catholic and a person of integrity…. Could Catholics speak the truth and be Catholics? That Christians err, and even create monstrous idolatries, was in itself not scandalous to me. That would be only human. What was scandalous and insupportable was to be unable to admit error, to be incapable of repentance because you cannot entertain the possibility that you might be wrong. Worse still, to make such incapacity for self-questioning a dogma! That for me was the crux of the Catholic dilemma. [pp. xvi ff.]

Merton’s early response was to say,

“I do wonder at times if the Church is real at all. I believe it, you know. But I wonder if I am nuts to do so. Am I part of a great big hoax? I don’t explain myself as well as I would like to: there is a real sense of and confidence in an underlying reality, the presence of Christ in the world which I don’t doubt for an instant. But is that presence where we are all saying it is? We are all pointing (in various directions), and my dreadful feeling is that we are all pointing wrong. Could you point someplace for me, maybe? Thanks, and I am sorry to bother you. I have to write a book on monasticism, and I wonder if I can make it relevant – or may any sense with it at all. (I have no problem with my vocation.)[pp.17-18]

Never one to shirk a challenge, Reuther replied,
"You say you have no trouble with your vocation, but, if that is really true, maybe you should be having some trouble with your vocation. I love the monastic life dearly (I am a Third Order Benedictine) but today it is no longer the eschatological sign and witness in the church. For those who wish to be at the “kingdom” frontier of history, it is the steaming ghetto of the big city, not the countryside that is the place of the radical overcoming of this world, the place where one renews creation, disposes of oneself and does hand to hand combat with the demons. I don’t see how anyone who is tuck in the old moribund (once eschatological) structures and is at the same time alive to the times cannot be having some trouble with his vocation. But perhaps for you more important: more reading and thinking about Word and Church will not help. I think you will have to find some new way of having Word and Church happening for you….” [p.20]
Merton spends the rest of his time in this correspondence trying to explain his attitude toward his own solitude, and Reuther keeps shooting down his arguments. Finally, as the conversation begins to wind down, he writes,

"I don’t think I am rationalizing or evading when I say I think I owe it to you to pursue my own way and stand on my own in this sort of marginal and lost position I have. I am sometimes terribly hit by its meaning which is something I just cannot explain, because it is something you are not supposed to explain and must get along without explaining.” [p.62]

A rapprochement of sorts is reached in a concluding exchange. In December, 1967 Reuther writes,

"Dear Brother: You are really a shocking and dissolute fellow. Didn’t anyone ever tell you that the one thing a good son of the church never, never does, especially in ecclesiastical assemblies, is to state the bald and unregenerate truth? Surely someone must must have pointed this elementary fact out to you sometime during your novitiate.

She then quotes a fragment of a friend’s poem, applicable, she says, to Merton:

I suppose that with such views I shall be
left quite alone
To mumble plain truths like a dog
mumbling a bone… [pp.94-95]

Merton responds, 'Dear Rosemary: Ah, yes, I have become very wicked. This is due in great part to my hanging around with these women theologians. What a downfall. Let others be warned in time. Young priests can never be too careful. Tsk. Tsk.' [p. 96]

On December 10, 1968, at a conference of Asian monastic orders in Bombay, Merton finished his morning presentation with these words:

'I will conclude on that note. I believe the plan is to have all the questions for this morning’s lectures this evening at the panel. So I will disappear.'

"So he went to his room, and while taking a shower, was accidentally electrocuted."

It puts me in mind of Bonhoeffer's Christianity without religion, and my own spiritual....well, what to call it?  Every noun that makes it a metaphor makes it all sound too grand, too much about me, when the point, the goal, the telos of any spiritual effort is to negate "me,"  Oh, well, that, too, can be a point of discussion.

This long quote can be the springboard.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Ties that Bind


For All Saints Day today, our Lutheran Church with its strong German heritage recognized those we lost this year. Their name was read, a candle lit and a bell tolled for each of these saints. A family that lost a husband, father, son, brother this year in his 50's donated a beautiful glass bowl filled with white sand to hold the candles during the service. It was very moving. This, and the sermon about not only the duty we owed to not only the past saints, but also those today and those to come, reminded me of your comment "the "saints" mean the clouds of witness who we believe surrounds in time and across time, as well as space." Maybe it's just my getting older, but there is something deeply connective and reassuring about being part of this continuum of faithful across time and space. Our society wants to atomize us into individual particles, it glorifies and fetishizes our individualism. (This election and much of recent culture seems to be about the individual want over any group or society need). To be part of and believe in something greater than oneself seems almost radical in these current circumstances. I accept my responsibility to those that have gone before us, to act as one today, and to allow for those to come. I felt more at peace than I have in quite a while. May I keep thus no matter the results on Tuesday.

--rustypickup

Tötenfest 2016


In the German E&R church calendar, this prayer would probably come today, the Last Sunday of Pentecost, the day of the observance of the Tötenfest.  I use it for All Saint's day here, but there's no reason not to use it twice in one month.  As a friend of mine said recently about this prayer, the German pietists were about as deep as Protestants get; so why not indulge?

The oldest members of my last church remembered something about the service, involving lighting candles and reciting the names of those who had died in the past year.  If there was a proper service in the Evanglical book of worship that church had, I couldn't decipher it from the original German, written in Fraktur. So I lit candles, read names, and we prayed:
Almighty and everlasting God, before whom stand the spirits of the living and the dead; Light of lights, Fountain of wisdom and goodness, who livest in all pure and humble and gracious souls.

For all who witnessed a good confession for thy glory and the welfare of the world; for patriarchs, prophets, and apostles; for the wise of every land and nation, and all teachers of mankind,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the martyrs of our holy faith, the faithful witnesses of Christ of whome the world was not worthy, and for all who have resisted falsehood and wrong unto suffering or death,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have labored and suffered for freedom, good government, just laws, and the sanctity of the home; and for all who have given their lives for their country,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For all who have sought to bless men by their service and life, and to lighten the dark places of the earth,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For those who have been tender and true and brave in all times and places, and for all who have been one with thee in the communion of Christ's spirit and in the strength of his love,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the dear friends and kindred, ministering in the spiritual world, whose faces we see no more, but whose love is with us for ever,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the teachers and companions of our childhood and youth, and for the members of our household of faith who worship thee in heaven,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

For the grace which was given to all these, and for the trust and hope in which they lived and died,

WE PRAISE THEE, O GOD, AND BLESS THY NAME.

And that we may hold them in continual remembrance, that the sanctity of their wisdom and goodness may rest upon our earthly days, and that we may prepare ourselves to follow them in their upward way,

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may ever think of them as with thee, and be sure that where they are, there we may be also,

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

That we may have a hope beyond this world for all the children, even for wanderers who must be sought and brought home; that we may be comforted and sustained by the promise of a time when none shall be a stranger and an exile from thy kingdom and household;

WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, O GOD.

In the communion of the Holy Spirit, with the faithful and the saints in heaven, with the redeemed in all ages, with our beloved who dwell in thy presence and peace, we, who still serve and suffer on earth, unite in ascribing:

THANKSGIVING, GLORY, HONOR, AND POWER UNTO THEE, O LORD OUR GOD.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING, IS NOW, AND EVER SHALL BE, WORLD WITHOUT END. AMEN.

I have reason to remember my father this year.  He died at 90 years of age, a much greater age than he had any expectation to achieve.  His father died at 68, his brother in his 40's, his sister years before him.  He was the youngest in the family, and he lived the longest.  I mentioned this to his hospice nurse, the morning he passed.  She was from Kenya, so she had a metaphor I never would have considered, but it was perfect.  "He was a lion."

Yes, he was.  Everything I know about what is good and decent in the world, and how to see it and appreciate it, I owe to him.  As I write this, for the first time since he died in April, I want to mourn him properly.

A remembrance for your friends and families, too,  that we may have a hope beyond this world for all the children, even for wanderers who must be sought and brought home; that we may be comforted and sustained by the promise of a time when none shall be a stranger and an exile from God's kingdom and household.

"Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh."

Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Sly and.....

Only this, and nothing more....

I buried the lede in that prior post.  The salient point got passed over by yours truly in the rush to define "mystery."  It's here, in the definition (working definition, for the quoted passage) of "religion":

What is a religion? Religion presumes access to the responsibility of a free self. It thus implies breaking with this type of secrecy (for it is not of course the only one), that associated with sacred mystery and with what Patocka regularly calls the demonic. 
So religion is, as Derrida says elsewhere in the same essay, responsibility; or it is nothing at all.

True, we can imagine the classic religious figure as Elmer Gantry, a figure who denies all responsibility yet seeks to profit from what religious fervor can provide.  In the same way we can imagine the mad scientist, the seeker after knowledge who takes no responsibility for the consequences of his discoveries.  Faust without the comeuppance; or the morality, for that matter.   But it's rather unfair to think either figure is typical of religion or science.

To presume religion starts with the question "What makes the rain fall?" and, having no answer, discerns a deity and a doctrine and an organization, is naive beyond measure; not to mention as ignorant as those who deny the conclusions of climate science, and for pretty much the same reasons. If we start with the idea that "Religion presumes access to the responsibility of a free self," we taken in quite a bit more than a caricature of fundamentalist Christianity.  And the limitation to Christianity is something else Derrida mentions:

Under what conditions can one speak of a religion, in the proper sense of the term, if such a thing exists? Under what conditions can we speak of a history of religion, and first and foremost of the Christian religion? In noting that Patocka refers only to the example of his own religion I do not seek to denounce an omission or establish the guilt of a failure to develop a comparative analysis. On the contrary, it seems necessary to reinforce the coherence of a way of thinking that takes into account the event of Christian mystery as an absolute singularity, a religion par excellence and an irreducible condition for a joint history of the subject, responsibility, and Europe. That is so even if, here and there, the expression "history of religions" appears in the plural, and even if one can only infer from this plural a reference to Judaic, Islamic, and Christian religions alone, those known as religions of the Book.
Because certainly, those are the only three religions in human history; right?

These things that pass for knowledge I don't understand.  But we are much better off considering religion as posing Tolstoy's question:  "How should we then live?", than posing the question:  "What makes the rain fall?"  Which brings me back to my point, only with the other prong of my argument.

Science can answer the latter question; but it can't do anything about it.  Funnily enough, neither can religion.  Maybe they have that much in common.

Four more years



Or rather, four years to go:



But wait!  The transition is not keeping our President-Elect busy enough!

According to reports, it was actually the audience that booed Pence, repeatedly.





Like a traffic accident, I just can't look away....

Friday, November 18, 2016

The Philosopher Stone

The pallid bust of Socrates, just above my chamber door....

This is going to take a bit of reading, and I apologize for that in advance.  However, as one of the links says: "Philosophy majors read, and they must make sense of the arguments they encounter."  No, I'm not a philosophy major, but I play one on the intertoobs.  Well, arguendo, anyway....

So, in no particular order except the order in which I encountered them, we start here: "PHILOSOPHICAL LEARNING,"  I generally like Andrew Boyd, but he shows his own lack of philosophical education here (a fact which is generally more embarrassing when the ignorance is of science or engineering, but moving on....).  The problem is first with the idea philosophers are all logicians.  Boyd is right, formal logic has more to do with math than any other kind of reasoning, but the reasoning of philosophers has more akin to that of jurists than it is that of physicists (especially in the split between the Anglo-American schools and the Continental ones).  I would elaborate the point, but it's not my thesis just now.  Suffice to say a better understanding of becoming a lover of wisdom is involved.

A point exemplified by this:

And yet, I have to quibble with the Good Doctor. It’s a good quotation, but I don’t think mystery is the foundation of religion. I am not an historian, but from my own readings it seems to me that mystery was the jumping off point of most religions; the desire to explain the things we see around us and to answer the big questions.

But for most religions today, they claim to have the answers, and that removes the mystery. Oh, sure, there are bits about “God moving in mysterious ways” and other passages in religious texts, but these have always struck me as telling their adherents not to question, not to wonder why. Just accept.

Not all religions are like that, of course, and many religions have sects and subsects with different interpretations of their holy books and how to implement their words.

But what I like about science is that it doesn’t claim to have answers. It has methods. Yes, we do get answers, and many times they’re pretty solid. But science is all about leaving a little bit of room for further data, for an observation that doesn’t fit, for some new discovery to append or upend what we already know. Newton overturned Aristotle, and Einstein himself put Newton’s work into a larger framework; he didn’t negate it, but put it in context and showed where it could be more accurate.
Statements so factually inaccurate and fundamentally ignorant the mind reels. I know it's impolite (and impolitic) to denounce foolishness, but in the Age of Trump I can't bear egregious stupidity anymore than I could bear it before.  I disagree with Einstein that mystery is the foundation of religion, but I also disagree that religion "today" "claim[s] to have the answers."  The problem lies in the meaning of the term "mystery," which is used rather differently in philosophy of religion circles than it is in common parlance.  It's a simple shift I can easily illustrate with an example I used in class just this morning.

Discussing the idea (well, lecturing, let's be honest.  At 7:00 in the morning, I'm lucky to have students in the classroom; discussion is not on the board) of a persuasive argument I pointed out the different ways we use the phrase "sharing feelings."  I can share my feelings with you; but that's not the same thing as saying we share feelings.  You may not share my feelings at all, and simply sharing mine with you may persuade you, not to agree with me, but to want to evade me.  When you share your feelings, do I share your feelings?  The different uses of "share" are apparent in the sentence.  So in religion, does "mystery" mean something yet to be uncovered by science?  If so, will science someday explain the mystery about why I love my wife, and still have the same feelings for her I had when we first met?  Can it explain why I feel compassion for strangers (the impetus of the life's work of Emmanual Levinas)?  Perhaps, but without a reductio ad absurdum that doesn't being to explain either of those very different feelings?

I doubt, for example, Phil Plait has this in mind when he conflates "mystery" with "religion":

In one of his Heretical Essays on the Philosophy of History Jan Patocka relates secrecy, or more precisely the mystery of the sacred, to responsibility. He opposes one to the other; or rather underscores their heterogeneity. Somewhat in the manner of Levinas he warns against an experience of the sacred as an enthusiasm or fervor for fusion, cautioning in particular against a form of demonic rapture that has as its effect, and often as its first intention, the removal of responsibility, the loss of the sense or consciousness of responsibility. At the same time Patocka wants to distinguish religion from the demonic form of sacralization. What is a religion? Religion presumes access to the responsibility of a free self. It thus implies breaking with this type of secrecy (for it is not of course the only one), that associated with sacred mystery and with what Patoeka regularly calls the demonic. A distinction is to be made between the demonic on the one hand (that which confuses the limits among the animal, the human, and. the divine, and which retains an affinity with mystery, the initiatory, the esoteric, the secret or the sacred) and responsibility on the other. This therefore amounts to a thesis on the origin and essence of the religious.

Under what conditions can one speak of a religion, in the proper sense of the term, if such a thing exists? Under what conditions can we speak of a history of religion, and first and foremost of the Christian religion? In noting that Patocka refers only to the example of his own religion I do not seek to denounce an omission or establish the guilt of a failure to develop a comparative analysis. On the contrary, it seems necessary to reinforce the coherence of a way of thinking that takes into account the event of Christian mystery as an absolute singularity, a religion par excellence and an irreducible condition for a joint history of the subject, responsibility, and Europe. That is so even if, here and there, the expression "history of religions" appears in the plural, and even if one can only infer from this plural a reference to Judaic, Islamic, and Christian religions alone, those known as religions of the Book.

According to Patocka one can speak of religion only after the demonic secret, and the orgiastic sacred, have been surpassed. We should let that term retain its essential ambiguity. In the proper sense of the word, religion exists once the secret of the sacred, orgiastic, or demonic mystery has been, if not destroyed, at least integrated, and finally subjected to the sphere of responsibility. The subject of responsibility will be the subject that has managed to make orgiastic or demonic mystery subject to itself; and has done that in order to freely subject itself to the wholly and infinite other that sees without being seen. Religion is responsibility or it is nothing at all. Its history derives its sense entirely from the idea of a passage to responsibility. Such a passage involves traversing or enduring the test by means of which the ethical conscience will be delivered of the demonic, the mystagogic and the enthusiastic, of the initiatory and the esoteric. In the authentic sense of the word, religion comes into being the moment that the experience of responsibility extracts itself from that form of secrecy called demonic mystery.

Since the concept of the daimon crosses the boundaries separating the human, the animal, and the divine, one will not be surprised to see Patocka recognizing in it a dimension that is essentially that of sexual desire. In what respect does this demonic mystery of desire involve us in a history of responsibility, more precisely in history as responsibility?

 'The demonic is to be related to responsibility; in the beginning such a relation did not exist.' In other words, the demonic is originally defined as irresponsibility, or, if one wishes, as nonresponsibility. It belongs to a space in which there has not yet resounded the injunction to respond; a space in which one does not yet hear the call to explain onself, one's actions or one's thoughts, to respond to the other and answer for oneself before the other. The genesis of responsibility that Patocka proposes will not simply describe a history of religion or religiousness. It will be combined with a genealogy of the subject who says "myself," the subject's relation to itself as an instance of liberty, singularity, and responsibility, the relation to self as being before the other: the other in its relation to infinite alterity, one who regards without being seen but also whose infinite goodness gives in an experience that amounts to a gift of death. Let us for the moment leave that expression in all its ambiguity.

Since this genealogy is also a history of sexuality, it follows the traces of a genius of Christianity that is the history of Europe. For at the center of Patocka's essay the stakes are clearly defined as follows: how to interpret "the birth of Europe in the modern sense of the term"? How to conceive of "the expansion of Europe" before and after the Crusades? More radically still, what is it that ails "modern civilization" inasmuch as it is European? Not that it suffers from a particular fault or from a particular form of blindness. Rather, why does it suffer from ignorance of its history, from a failure to assume its responsibility, that is, the memory of its history as history of responsibility?"

Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (University of Chicago Press 1995), pp. 1-4.

And yet I don't know how you can form an intelligent opinion on this question without being aware of the discussions about it.  It would be like forming an opinion on the rings of Saturn with no understanding of gravity.  Surely we are going to get enough of such ignorance in the Age of Trump, without passing around more of it.

Andrew Boyd and Phil Plait make the same fundamental error:  assuming all valuable knowledge is utilitarian, and any knowledge that is not is, well, really, not worth knowing.  The concept of mystery Derrida discusses above is initiatory:  it is the secret revealed to the favored. "According to Patocka one can speak of religion only after the demonic secret, and the orgiastic sacred, have been surpassed."  The discussion even puts religion beyond mystery, even as mystery is, again, not the idea Plait has in mind.  And the mystery is related to the mysteries of human motivation, which even science is unlikely to unlock:   "In what respect does this demonic mystery of desire involve us in a history of responsibility, more precisely in history as responsibility?"  Indeed, the prime mystery of religion is not:  "How do we explain the universe?"  The prime mystery of religion is:  "How should we then live?"

 It is not mystery in the sense Plait thinks the term is used, because words are not unitary and singular.  We use the same word for different purposes on a daily basis.  Much of modern philosophy has been aware of this for over a century, but Plait (and Boyd) seem wholly unaware of this fundamental issue.  And yet, since they are scientists, or at least trained in science, their knowledge is superior.  Or something.

I dunno; in this Age of Trump I guess I'm just more aware of people parading their lack of understanding as a superior ability.  If anything under Trump is in danger of being "normalized," it's that.

Famous Last Words

Tr:  "The Pope declares Donald Trump a saint because he has made the whole world pray."  (Or so I'm told).

My daughter says she saw something like this somewhere on the intertoobs:

GREAT BRITAIN:  "Brexit!  Yeah!  Nobody can top that!"

AMERICA:  "Hold my beer and watch this!"

Round up the usual suspects

I'm shocked!  Shocked!

The Democratic Party postmortems continue to roll in.  Even the BBC World Service is doing it.  They interviewed voters in Ohio who remember the heyday of the steel mills, when unions provided good wages and everybody prospered and voted Democratic.  Those days are gone, so now they vote for Trump, not because they love him, but to "shake things up."  And then Bernie Sanders comes on, to tell us the problem is Democrats are too busy chasing corporate donors to care about the working class.  And then some apologist for the Democratic way comes on, mealy-mouthed and spouting statistics which prove (yet don't!  See, he admits it!) things are better now than they were, if only people were rational instead of emotional.

And I think of Aristotle, and how his four elements of rhetoric are ethos (character of the speaker), logos (reasoning, logic), pathos (empathy) and kairos (the crisis, the present situation of the audience), and how of those four three are aimed at the audience.  Because arguing statistics, especially economic statistics and poll numbers, is more of the same that cost Hillary Clinton the Presidency.

So let's blame NAFTA and corporations and economists, because they are such easy targets to despise.

Except NAFTA is correlation, not causation.  Middle class security started crumbling in the 1970's, not in the 1990's.  Reagan declared "Morning in America" and then fired all the workers of PATCO, and made it clear unions got no special favors from him.  Not for nothing, because union power was crumbling by then, anyway.  And still the "Reagan Democrats" loved him.  Inflation started tearing up the middle class in the '60's when Nixon was in office, took off under Ford and Carter, and was only stopped when Volcker applied the tourniquet so tightly the economy fell to its knees and almost had to amputate a limb.  Wall Street recovered; Main Street didn't (usury laws, in place for decades before Volcker, were amended or repealed in order to keep up with the Fed.  Interest rates went back down, allowable interest rates stayed high.  Nobody even mentions usury anymore, because it hurts people we don't really care about.).

Watch any movie or TV show from the period, and a bad economy is reflected in the story line.  Recessions were as common as snowfall in winter.  Wall Street boomed under Reagan, but the economy didn't.  Main Street recovered under Clinton.  Heavy industry was already on the way out when NAFTA, proposed under Bush, was supported and passed under Clinton.  What foreign competition was doing to our factories eventually was replaced by automation, something Kurt Vonnegut had foreseen with his first novel, Player Piano, in 1952.  It just took us half a century to catch up with him, but now assembly lines in Detroit are a memory not because of GM or Roger Smith, but because of robots.  And it may be why quality of production has gone up, too; but don't tell a former union member that.  Of course, auto manufacturing just shifted from Detroit to "open shop" states where unions didn't have a foothold; so there was the, too.  We still have autoworkers in America; they just don't feel beholden to the Democrats, and they don't give union dues that can be turned into donations.

Recession and job loss was the story of Reagan's America, and of W.'s, too; only he did it bigger and louder, and left the mess for Barack Obama and a recalcitrant GOP Congress to clean up.  And yes, the Democrats turned to corporations for money, because where were the unions?  Where all the flowers had gone, a turn the Democrats started making in 1968, and which continued through 2016.  How may working class people did Bernie Sanders appeal to?  Do you think of Peter Boyle's Joe Curran when you think of Sanders?  Or of a college student anxious to get his tuition paid for by someone else?  "Joe" came out in 1970, but Peter Boyle's "hardhat" working stiff became the image of Reagan's Democrats a decade later, and the GOP has been running with that ever since.

So if Democrats take money from corporations and don't support working stiffs, are they fools, or are the GOP hypocrites and the working stiffs the fools?  It's easy to blame "big money" for corrupting politics, but money is the mother's milk of politics, and always has been.  You think you can run a national party on $10 donations from supporters of a single candidate in a single Presidential election year?  If you do, I've got some land in southern Louisiana to sell you.  Trust me....

When it wasn't country-club Republicans, it was hardhat labor unions, which were seen as just as corrupt as corporations are today.  Now the unions are gone, and the workers have no one to represent them, and no money to give to anyone, and they are the prey of Pied Pipers like Donald Trump.

And who speaks for them now, really? Anxious liberals wringing their hands over someone being mean to someone else?  Irrationalists like Donald Trump who promises to round up 2 or 3 million immigrants who are violent criminals, when the actual number is likely less than 100,000?  A man who makes wild claims about what our problems are and how he will fix them, when his declarations are lies and his powers far more limited than he imagines?

As the croupier said to Captain Renault:  "Your winnings, sir."

Asking the Magic 8 Ball


Paul Ryan wants to elminate Medicare.  No surprise there; he's been trying to do that since at least 2011:

The Ryan Medicare Phaseout proposal is part of the Ryan budget which has been voted on in the House every year since 2011.
But the Congress hasn't passed a budget since 2009:

The GOP-led Congress Tuesday passed a full budget for the first time in years, laying out a road map for domestic spending cuts so deep that Democrats dared Republicans to follow through on them, predicting a swift voter backlash.

However, that "budget" was not law:

GOP leaders said the plan, which is a non-binding outline that doesn’t require the president’s signature, sets up the rest of the 2016 spending process, and is proof that Republicans can govern now that they control both chambers on Capitol Hill.
And maybe they want to pass one now, but they didn't earlier in 2016: 

Not long ago, congressional Republicans said authoring and passing a budget were the basics of governing. They flew into open rage when Harry Reid's Senate Democrats took a pass on advancing a fiscal blueprint, and threatened to withhold lawmakers’ pay as a punishment. And they persuaded voters to return them to power because they would make Capitol Hill work again.

But here we are, on April 13, with Republicans holding both chambers of Congress, and there isn't a budget in sight.

“We’re obviously not going to do a budget between now and April 15. But we’re leaving open the possibility we could do one later in the year,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Senate Republican.
What's different now, a few months later?

Now the GOP can actually catch the car they've been chasing all this time.  Ryan's budget plan passed the House in 2015; it got nowhere in the GOP Senate that year, or this year.

Does the GOP want to eliminate Medicare, or not?  Tom Price says it does, but he's in the House, too.  Lamar Alexander indicates that's a very dim possibility, because reconciliation won't repeal Obamacare, which infers it won't repeal Medicare, either.

So many moles popping up, so little time to whack them all.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

I used to think it was the hubcaps....


There's a reason the GOP has never seriously put forward any effort to repeal Obamacare:  they don't want to.

"The exchanges are the first problem, they need to be repealed, the individual mandate needs to be repealed. There are a number of things that need to be repealed, but I think what we need to focus on first is what would we replace it with and what are the steps that it would take to do that?" he said. "Preexisting conditions will stay. There is no way the Congress is going to repeal preexisting conditions. it might take a different form, but people with preexisting conditions are going to be able to buy insurance in any replacement plan Republicans put forward."

There is no plan to replace Obamacare, which is why Paul Ryan couldn't tell Andrew Cuomo what would happen to coverage for birth control.  And you can't repeal the individual mandate without destroying the entire basis for universal health insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act.  Indeed, the best way to lower insurance costs is to get even more people who don't need healthcare at the moment, to get insurance under the ACA:  that would increase the pool of money available, while diluting costs for the sickly, and so lower prices.  Remove the individual mandate, people jump out of the pool, the cost per person staying behind rises precipitously.

Of course, the real problem with the ACA is expecting those mysterious "market forces" to solve the problem in the first place.  For reasons too numerous to discuss, healthcare doesn't respond to supply and demand the way the international oil market does.  Then again, we are now awaiting the ascension of a President who doesn't understand that Japan pays 60-70% of the costs of the U.S. military bases on its territory, and so presumes Japan (and other countries similarly situated) pay nothing for the U.S. to be there.

We are guided by idiots, in other words.  Ignorant buffoons who think ignorance is a substitute for knowledge.  Clowns who think they can repeal the individual mandate to buy insurance, but still require insurance companies to overlook pre-existing conditions, and look to the market to continue to keep costs down; when the whole reason not to cover pre-existing conditions is to keep the costs of insurance down.  That's the way the market works; which is one of the many problems with relying on the market to take care of costs in healthcare. (You'll notice Sen. Alexander never says how the circle can be squared without just keeping the ACA as it is; but at the same time, he says that's what we have to do.)

And frankly, the Republicans understand this, which is why they don't have a plan to replace Obamacare.  They say they want to "reform" Medicare, too, and can do it through reconciliation.  But they know they can't; and eventually they'll blame the Democrats for their failure to do so.  The only alternative the GOP has is single-payer; because Obamacare is their program.  If they could just rename it, they'd be happy with it.

But they've made it the car they have to chase, and the GOP has one strategy: never, EVER, catch the car.  Every so often somebody needs to go out and say that they probably can't catch it as soon as they said they could so they can keep running and baying and finding another moving object to chase.

Watch the doughnut, not the hole.

That's them in the spotlight....

Dammit!  Missed again!

TPM has been touting this article on Millenials and religion (I know, I know, technically R.E.M. are Gen X'ers; just roll with it).  I can't read it without a TPM Prime subscription (I'm too old and cranky to pay for my internet twice; besides, it is seldom worth it.), but I can get this much of it before it fades away:

Just over thirty years after Falwell gave his speech, the United States is becoming more secular rather than more religious, with fully 25 percent of the population claiming no religious affiliation. The religiously unaffiliated, called the “Nones” because they check the relevant box on surveys about their religion, are made up of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, spiritual-but-not-religious types, and people who just don’t care. In 1979, they accounted for less than ten percent of the U.S. adult population. Since the mid-1990s they have grown dramatically. They are now the largest “religious” group in the country and the only one growing in all fifty states.

I don't know if they drill down into those numbers, but I hope they do.   I've covered this before, and the posts tend to repeat themselves (I grow old, I grow forgetful, now git offa mah lawn, I got clouds to yell at!), so they are collected here if you are vaguely interested.

I'm vaguely interested because this discussion comes up and goes 'round, again and again, and it never really gets anywhere.  Especially in the age of Trump, where lies and fictions pass for truth or at least good enough for government work, I'm getting more tired than ever of the stupid.

It burns.  Same as it ever was.

And as for that 25% figure; when it hits 59%, we'll be back where we were in 1906; usually idealized as an idyllic age, but also just about the time Fundamentalism got started in earnest.  The picture, as ever, is never so simple and clear as one set of statistics, and statistics never speak for themselves.

Vanity of vanities.....*

*I think the rise of Falwell was the aberration, not the "flight" of the Millenials from churches.  Mostly what Falwell & Co. accomplished was self-aggrandizement and self-enrichment.  Where are their lasting political contributions?  What did they pass on except wealth to their children?