Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

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.

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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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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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“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]

Appreciating Christian Zionists

October 28, 2008

I’ve historically been cool the idea that the Jewish community would ally with groups seeking our conversion or who eagerly view Middle East conflict as leading to the End of Days. It feels like we’re being used for someone elses salvation.  Plus, we probably don’t agree on most of our domestic agenda, I once thought.  Didn’t Jewish social progress in the US emerge through limiting the influence of evangelical and other “public” Christians. Or at least conservative ones.  As I relax my grip on my noble and enlightened sense of self, these issues have receded and I recently found space to appreciate Christian Zionists.

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Radio Silence

October 18, 2008

About 2 weeks ago the campaign left me cold.  I decided I really wanted to figure out a compelling explanation of the Palin phenomenon (why she inspires) to the liberals.  Overcoming such a longstanding rift is no easy task and has brought about a period of silence as I’ve experienced the chasm which separates us.

Fear and Repentance: 5769

September 30, 2008

For many Jews, the most meaningful element of High Holy Days synagogue services is the rabbi’s sermon.  Indeed, careers are won or lost here.  However talented our clergy, reliance on their performance for spiritual elevation reduces our commitment to God to paid entertainment or sound-bite movie reviews.   I hope the ancient liturgy and melodies make the uncomfortable topic of our t’shuvah (repentance) real.  Amid the lengthy Hebrew and English readings, may you find small nuggets that provoke or disturb you after the service heading to Yom Kippur.

With that said, I want to share parts of Rabbi Andy Bachman’s Rosh Hashanah sermon entitled “No Fear.”  Andy reflects on existential fear that, more than anything concrete, pervades the lives of his Brooklyn congregants.  Meaning, Purpose and Rootedness are the themes congregants always use to describe what they want.  Here, toward the end of the sermon, Andy suggests active Jewish life pushes back against fear and allows us to step into the unknown.

Learning, Spirituality and Acts of Lovingkindness. The Pillars of the Universe. Shimon Ha Tzadik said the world stands upon three things: Torah (study), Avodah (service), Gemilut Hasadim (generous acts). Meaning, Beyond the Self, and CommunityEach serve as a kind of antidote to fear that we encounter on a daily basis.

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Novak and New Athiests

September 30, 2008

Jacques B in the Washington Post warmly reviews Michael Novak’s latest, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers.

First among the virtues of this book is its author’s commitment to civil, sober discourse. “My underlying thesis,” he writes, is “that unbelievers and believers need to learn a new habit of reasoned and mutually respectful conversation.”

…, No One Sees God calmly re-draws the “primitive fresco of Christianity” sketched by the New Atheists. Whereas they depict believers as simpletons and dupes, Novak offers a more complex portrait of the theist psyche. Believers routinely express dismay and anger toward their deity. They often feel betrayed by Him. And they sometimes even doubt that He exists. “The line of belief and unbelief,” he observes, “is not drawn between one person and another, normally, but rather down the inner souls of all of us.”

Novak then addresses the group bias issue familiar to students of Bernard Lonergan or Aaron Wildavsky.

The really compelling question asked by this book goes something like this: How can God’s existence, which is so abundantly obvious to believers, seem so incomprehensible to nonbelievers? To help frame the debate, he invokes the idea of a “blick,” a “way of viewing reality that is not usually overturned by one or more pieces of countervailing evidence.” Coined in about 1950 by the British philosopher R.M. Hare (who spelled it “blik”), the term refers to a mental filter through which people sift information, admitting some things as facts and rejecting others. To simplify somewhat, atheists and theists process information about the cosmos in radically different ways.

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The Truth that Dare Not Speak Its Name

September 27, 2008

Patrick Deneen and others at Culture 11, that lively, new conservative-ish blog I mentioned a few weeks ago, suggest what candidates should say in the debates. Deneen would have McCain transfer his cache of military virtue to address our own complicity in the economic and ” devote a McCain presidency to restoring virtues of frugality and self-governance.”  To address Obama’s Red State weakness, he should “call for an economy that rewards the lower and middle class, not the wealthiest, and an effort to paint these commitments as the most fundamental form of traditional values.”

Deneen declares Americans must be taught about limits and let go of the corrosive growth ideology shared by both parties. He knows, too, that none of this will happen.

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Brothers-in-Arms? Secular Humanism and Religious Faith

September 26, 2008

I have a favorite recent First Things post. Edward Oakes explores a mostly unknown T.S. Eliot essay which he recently stumbled upon.  Eliot, writing in 1930 in an anthology on the modern condition, suggests secular humanism, even aggressive anti-Christian skepticism, challenges the religious person to clarify and refine their faith, thereby serving as an ally for truth.

[V]ery little knowledge of human nature is needed to convince us that hierarchy is liable to corruption, and certainly to stupidity; that religious belief, when unquestioned and uncriticised, is liable to degeneration into superstition; that the human mind is much lazier than the human body. . . . If we cannot rely, and it seems that we can never rely, upon adequate criticism from within, it is better that there should be criticism from without.

Eliot then demands more original secular critiques!

Oakes adds:

Even a passing glance at what I have earlier in these pages called “pop atheism” is enough to show how pathetically mediocre are the recent apologetes for atheism. Going from Nietzsche to Bertrand Russell to Richard Dawkins and ending with Sam Harris is quite a declension.

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