Ain’t this often so?

October 28, 2009

confusion info

I can recall a few moments in my life when I had enough information to “know it all.”  I note the great pain often associated with such knowledge — the distance from friends and family who don’t “get it”,  for example. We can think of Socrates or Einstein whose insights into their objects of study brought them a certain amount of humility.

Pure confusion can’t be a proper goal but maybe a certain amount serves us well during our great pursuits. (image from here, a fun site)

Books and the Lightness of Travel

August 13, 2009

8 months since last post, a repaired laptop, and returning to CT tomorrow to work at a retreat center (after the dentist).  I’ve been trying to decide what books to take with me.

I’ve settled on small ones.

  • Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy  The Christian Future and Planetary Service. I feel I need Eugen at all times and these two are focused on issues of society’s speed and the need for communion.
  • Ira Stone A Responsible Life: The Spiritual Path of Mussar.  Stone’s translation and commentary for Wisdom & Mussar by R. Simcha Zissel is a surprise gift as the appendix.  Mussar means “instruction” or “correction” and refers both to a literature of self-improvement throughout rabbinic Judaism and also specific activities. Stone’s encounter with Zissel’s Kelm school of mussar through the lens of Emmanuel Levinas brings the tradition to greater contemporary relevance.
  • Dalai Lama Spiritual Advice for Buddhists and Christians.  Short and quick.
  • Pirke Avot “Chapters of the Fathers”.  Olitsky brings major commentaries to his pages of both English and Aramaic. This is a major effort for the next few months to be able to teach this tractate.
  • Margaret Atwood Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth.  The cover has a balloon near the top above the print and a thumb tack at the bottom facing up.  I started this in June and it was a riot.  Part of my effort see the financial bubble as a poetic invention.

Perhaps Walter Brueggeman The Covenanted Self: Explorations in Law and Covenant and a Daniel Elazar edited book on covenant and constitutionalism.  There’s a project in me about the federating, communing in personal and political dynamics, drawing on Jewish and Christian sources and seen in US history.   Not sure if that deserves my time now.

I’m concerned once again with the “culture wars.” Hopefully that may subside as a I depart the DC area. It forced to drop an idea of reviewing several classic studies of legislative dynamics through the lens of health care reform 1970s-1990s.  Yet there is less legislative activity now compared to the culture war of the town hall meetings which all media outlets excitedly channel to the viewer.

Was tempted to bring an Aquinas-based reading of salvation history through he lens of Torah & Temple and a book on Lonergan’s own intellectual conversion.

There are also a number of books relevant to retreat management or other activities where I’m going. They’ll have to wait here. I’m committed to easy of travel.

That’s the update. Scattered interests, as ever.

Death: A Rabbi and a Priest Walk Out of a Bar…

January 14, 2009

Today at lunch I was told that Rabbi Alan Lew, a seemingly vigorous, recently retired pulpit rabbi, died yesterday during a post-prayer walk.  January 4th, 9 days ago, I helped Alan and his wife find transportation from this retreat center to visit friends in Martha’s Vineyard.  He then traveled to Maryland to continue teaching with Jeff Roth and Joanna Katz about mindfulness, brokenness. From his website:

Rabbi Lew’s book This Is Real And You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation was published by Little Brown and Co. in August of 2003. ” . . .Yet for Rabbi Alan Lew, the real purpose of this annual passage is for us to experience brokenheartedness and open our hearts to God. . . . Lew has marked out a journey of seven distinct stages, one that draws on these rituals to awaken the soul and wholly transform us. . .”

I like and despise the Days of Awe, an annual death preparation meant to transform our lives.  During the Yom Kippur fast, white is worn to suggest our burial outfit and bathing discouraged.  You are already rotting!  The soul must experience Tshuvah, or re-direction, turning to the ways of God and away from sin, in order to be granted life in the coming year. This is severe yet Alan know the energy can be guided toward self-revelation, the death of the old self must be embraced.

I also note Richard John Neuhaus’ passing.  His fascinating life teaches what is possible.

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Taking Sides in Gaza

January 6, 2009

I’m happily out of touch with the news most days.  I’m a bit of an addict some days and nights, parsing opinion columns and sloppy reporting.  I do all this to keep from moral sloppiness.  Here’s help for us from Jeffrey Goldberg:

It’s a strange world, but there you have it. I’ve been talking to friends of mine, former Palestinian Authority intelligence officials (ejected from power by the Hamas coup), and they tell me that not only are they rooting for the Israelis to decimate Hamas, but that Fatah has actually been assisting the Israelis with targeting information. One of my friends — if you want to know why they’re my friends, read this book — told me that one of his comrades was thrown off a high-rise building in Gaza City last year by Hamas, and so he sheds no tears for the Hamas dead. “Let the Israelis kill them,” he said. “They’ve brought only trouble for my people.”  [emphasis added]

See below for a review of Hamas’ takeover of Gaza.

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Welcome to the Blogsphere: From Darkness

December 31, 2008

I’m interested in non-pharmaceutical, soul-based responses to depression.  There are a few programs integrating the science and spirit of mental health and a few projects here and there, mostly the spheres are far apart.  Welcome to Borei Hoshech “Who Creates Darkness.” (found via Jewschool). From the ABOUT section:

This blog explores the weekday morning prayers in light of the contributors’ personal experiences with depression and anxiety, complemented by an analysis of what traditional Jewish sources have to say.

In addition to exploring the intersection between tefillah [prayer] and depression, an important secondary goal of this blog is to create a virtual community around reflections on Jewish religious practice in general from the point of view of people who have experienced depression and other mental illnesses.

The blog’s title, “Borei Hoshech” or “בוֹרֵא חֹשֶׁךְ,” means “who creates darkness,” and comes from the first blessing before the morning Shema. The full blessing reads:

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Fasting and Caged Cats

December 31, 2008

Peter Leithart drops pithy, counter-intuitive  biblical readings regularly on his blog.  Living more ascetic now than normal, I’m appreciative of this take on the Bible and the Body.

For many throughout church history, fasting is bound up with hostility to matter and the body.  We refrain from bodily pleasures of food and drink to train our souls in disembodied life.

That’s not biblical.  The biblical fast, as Isaiah 58 puts it, is to share food with the hungry and clothing with the naked.  The true fast gives good things away to those who don’t have them.

Biblical fasting, then, assumes the goodness of material things, and the propriety of pleasure.  After all, if good and drink and clothing are evil, why would we want to share them?  Isaiah’s fast assumes that creation is so good that we want everyone to have a piece of it.

The reason members of the Church began to value fasting as renunciation of the body is beyond my scope. I am concerned how a text loses its initial vitality and how a text is revivied.  Isaiah 58 illustrates this process. See reason for cat image below.

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Catching Up with 2 Poetic Images From Daily Living

December 24, 2008

I’ve thought about updating here numerous times since I arrived in Fall Village, CT 10 days ago.  Alas, I’m rarely sitting down at my laptop when I’m not exhausted.  I find myself quite content amid a flurry of work and snow.  However, I must get two ideas out before they are lost.

On the train to NYC I found a large, carpeted floor space in the last car to rest my weary back. I took my usual three deep breaths and a lower back disc slipped back into alignment. For about 3 years I’ve been able (or had to) do this a few times a day.  When the alignment is sufficiently off, my low back experiences a painful constriction of motion until this “crack” occurs.  This restores motion and eases painful pressure.

Prone on the train, a constellation of aging, body deterioration, and the soul’s growth connected in my mind’s night sky. Twenty years of ‘adult’ responses to anxiety and stimuli erode the body.  My lower back pain demands reduction of built up tension.  Breathing deeper, as this crack requires, calms nerves. Aches of aging train the spirit to confront its repression and shadow preparing for the long dark night of adulthood. Read the rest of this entry »

Taxicab Confessions — DC (microeconomics)

December 11, 2008

As I buckled up the car slowly began its journey.  The driver told me to ignore the extra dollar visible on the meter.  The fee to cover higher fuel costs ended last Thursday and he hasn’t figured out how to unset that feature. (Meters are a novel thing in DC proper, by the way.  2 months old?)

Conversation started about the benefit of lower gas prices to taxi drivers.  Then the driver announced suggestively, “What I want to know is how the price went up so fast and then down again.” I blogged last May on the poor reporting, each explanation pointing to different cavern ignorance. “I’m not happy with the reporting. There’s no clear explanation of these price changes. One reason for the drop, though, is the slowdown of the US economy. Less demand.”

“So how do they actually set prices,” he inquired.

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“Nip the Buds of Expectation”

December 9, 2008

“Winter in the soul is by no means a comfortable season, and if it be upon thee just now it will be very painful to thee; but there is this comfort, namely, that the Lord makes it. He sends the sharp blasts of adversity to nip the buds of expectation: He scattereth the hoar-frost like ashes over the once verdant meadows of our joy: He casteth forth his ice like morsels freezing the streams of our delight. He does it all, He is the great Winter King, and rules in the realms of frost, and therefore thou canst not murmur. Losses, crosses, heaviness, sickness, poverty, and a thousand other ills, are of the Lord’s sending, and come to us with wise design.” Spurgen (more info)

A similar theme here:

By not getting
What you want you become who you
Are: time permitting

[Line separation in original.  I was told the meter is off with the line breaks, but works otherwise]

Yeats, Achebe and US

November 4, 2008

In reading the transcript of a polisci conference session on Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland, I find a gem in Paul Krugman’s opening remarks.

[There’s a] Walker Percy novel with a near future setting, a dystopian scenario, in which he said, `As things fell apart, the center did not hold; however the GDP continued to rise.’

Some of us will say, “GDP is up.  Who cares about the center, whatever that is.”  Others in tense laughter announce our concern.

See WB Yeats “The Second Coming” (1920)

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