Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Quotes from Goethe: Autobiography: Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life

From time to time I pick up a writing of Goethe and have fun with it.  Here's something from him about the stages of a person's life that I came across as a young man and it has always stayed with me.  It is interesting when he makes a statement from his temporal location in the 18th or 19th century which his life spanned that relates to something contemporary.  Here's what he had to say about "Boomers and Millenials".  Now, I'm half way through my kindle copy of:

Autobiography: Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Below are a few of some quotes that strike me as interesting.  Every year of my life from the fifties when I was a child till the present at age 64, I heard complaints about being too easy on our kids in school.

The case often happens, that, when the elements of an exclusive art are taught us, this is done in a painful and revolting manner. The conviction that this is both wearisome and injurious has given rise, in later times, to the educational maxim, that the young must be taught every thing in an easy, cheerful, and agreeable way: from which, however, other evils and disadvantages have proceeded.

So even in his times, there was a cleavage of views on education.

Every bird has its decoy, and every man is led and misled in a way peculiar to himself.
All that had hitherto taken place was tolerably modern: the highest and high personages moved about only in coaches, but now we were going to see them in the primitive manner on horseback. (He's reminiscing about a coronation from the 1760's.) 
But a momentary incitement often brings us, and others through us, more joy than the most deliberate purpose can afford.

Saturday, February 07, 2015

My Evolution on Evolution and the Future

Been reading Jack Whelan's After the Future blog and my words here result from thoughts welling up from reading his Sacramental Semiotics post.

He says in response to my comment,

I have been a Teilhardian since I first struggled with the Phenomenon of Man in the summer of 1969. The title of the blog, 'After the Future' is my way of paying homage to two great Jesuits, Teilhard de Chardin and Rahner, Teilhard for his Omega Point and Rahner for his idea of God as Absolute Future. Those ideas are in the background of everything that I write here..

Most Christians, most humans for that matter, operate with what McLuhan called a rear-view mirror imagination of the future, and Christians, particularly Catholics, seem to think that the past is in some way privileged in a way that the Future is not. Teilhard and Rahner point us, instead, toward the Future, which has always been the deepest orientation of Jews and Christians since the time of Abraham.

My introduction to the Phenomenon of Man was in the spring of 1971 in a Philosophy of Religion class.  I was a junior physics and math major at my Christian school, Harding University. However, I was still considering the ministry and thirsted for the knowledge I thought I might learn from the class.  Some in the class were assigned the book and the ensuing reports of it and the Omega Point seemed weird and contrived.  I did not understand where it came from.  I knew it assumed evolution.  Am not sure just what I thought about evolution at that point. I probably leaned toward old earth creationism but knew I had much to learn about the Bible, Science, and Everything. Was only 20 at the time.  After my experiences in Europe that summer and then my Biology class that fall, I became convinced of evolution.  This despite the fact that one of the two teachers of the class had written at least one book against it.  I came back from Europe with the rather pessimistic thinking that what people believed and how they acted was to a great extent dependent on where they were born, how they were raised and by whom  and other external factors besides actual truth.   The question of how there can be free will vexed me.  Biology seemed to confirm that also.  For instance, consider that how we feel and our emotions can be controlled by drugs. (I'm grateful for that, just had a dental implant recently and couldn't wait to get to the drug store for pain medicine.) I'm not giving the whole argument here but the direction.  After graduating and spending one more summer in evangelism work in order to give the faith of my tradition one more chance, I set out to explore other approaches.  All this time staying moored in body if not mind to my church customs.  It appeared to me while in my more depressed moods that it could be that we humans were just complicated machines, as Bertrand Russell says, an "accidental collocation of atoms."  Another important influence on me was my study of physics. We learned how to derive equations that explained so very much of how things in nature work.   And that approach has been very successful in improving our lives when implemented by engineering and technology.  

Laplace said:  

"All the effects of Nature are only the mathematical consequences of a small number of immutable laws."

That and other things he said were the start of what came to be known as reductionism.  Everything that happens is a result of these impersonal mechanistic rules.  Free will is an illusion.  A previous post discusses this.  However, the nature of consciousness provides clues to resolution of this problem. 

In 1999 I read Ken Wilber's The Marriage of Sense and Soul.  He described the principle of emergence, Arthur Koestler's holons, and the Great Chain of Being.  A graph of the latter blew me away.  It shows clearly the direction of evolution both inner and outer of the individual, And other axes as well.  Then I later found other explications of emergence.  Briefly, each level incorporates the underlying level but also creates new features.  The universe becomes more complex and interesting and more conscious.  

Finally I've discovered some things that give me hope and which point to a resolution of the problem.  Chemistry and Biology cannot be reduced to physics!  Some of Nancy Murphy's writings have been helpful here.  Such as "Anglo-American Postmodernity: Philosophical Perspectives on Science, Religion, and Ethics".   Also, Beyond Liberalism and Fundamentalism:  How Modern and Postmodern Philosophy Set the Theological Agenda.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Books Recently Read and Favorite Music

I See Satan Fall Like Lightning by Rene Girard.  Read perhaps five years ago and needed to reread to help it soak in better.  Brian McLaren and Michael Hardin discussed it in YouTube Videos and that reminded me about it.

The Age of Spirit: How the Ghost of an Ancient Controversy is Shaping the Church  by Phyllis Tickle and Jon Sweeney.  This one is excellent history about the development of the concept of the Holy Spirit.  Does not spend much time on what the Holy Spirit is doing now and how it is viewed at the moment.  The ancient church made so much about the proper interpretation and the fine distinctions they made between each of then.  It can make you head hurt.

Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry by Owen Barfield. This one was pretty difficult going.  I'll need to go through it again.  Main thesis is that the consciousness of medieval people and before was different from we moderns and it would be helpful to us to learn from that.

How (Not) To Be Secular by James K. A. Smith  Excellent at summarizing Charles Taylor's tome. Maybe I'll address this later.  Taylor as interpreted by Smith says that most thinkers view the secular as what happens when faith is subtracted from a person's life.  As related by Smith, Taylor claims that there were several junctures on the way to secularity and that what happened was not inevitable but could have gone otherwise.  The social imaginary and the buffered self who experiences cross pressures are important concepts.

What We Mean When We Talk About God by Rob Bell.  I liked the first half.  He begins in process theology mode.  Starting with physics and evolution.  Gets to the Hebrew Bible and makes a jump I could not quite follow.  That is where I wanted something filled in.

Discovered Nicholas Jaar about 9 months ago.  I listen to this "Live at Sonar" several times a week.  Every chord, screech, trill, and sonic flourish is perfectly placed.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Caputo on Derrida and Travel, Journey and Truth

I've enjoyed reading several of John Caputo's books.  My favorite is What Would Jesus Deconstruct. The following is an excerpt from a Dec 17, 2014 interview by Amy Frykholm with Caputo that appears in the Christian Century.

When Jacques Derrida would come to Philadelphia, I would say to him, “Let me take you on a tour. Let me show  you the Liberty Bell or Valley Forge.” But he didn’t want to go. His way to explore a city was to walk until he got lost and then try to find his way back. In the process, he would discover all kinds of things. Both personally and as a philosopher, he thought that being genuinely lost and seeking something is a crucial part of the journey. We expose ourselves to the unknown and the unforeseeable. Truth is like that.
Travel can be a spiritual discipline.  This is great advice.

Friday, December 05, 2014

from "Process and Reality": Process Versus Fact

Jack Whelan at his After the Future blog has been talking about the future and a forward looking Christianity as opposed to the all prevalent, yes dominant, "rear-view mirror" kinds of Christianity. See his post on Sacramental Semiotics here.  So in the last few days I've directed my reading along this line of thought.  Both of us are influenced by the thought of Teilhard du Chardin.  And me by some of his current explicators like Ilia Delio and John Haught.  But last night I picked up my copy of Alfred North Whitehead's "Process and Reality".   I believe he adds to this view.

In chapter 1, he divides philosophy into two contrasting approaches.

One side makes process ultimate; the other side makes fact ultimate.*

Facts are static.  Life is motion, flux, process; however.  Reminds me of something I've heard from Phyllis Tickle in You Tube videos.  She says today's Emergents believe the Bible is actual not factual.  I think I know what she is getting at.

Later, in Chapter 10, entitled "Process", he recounts that he had to search for a poetical and memorable phrase to summarize these contrasting approaches.  He found it in that beautiful traditional hymn that I have sung many times.

                                                  Abide with me:                                                                                                 Fast falls the eventide.                                                              
Here the first line expresses the permanences 'abide,' 'me' and the 'Being' addressed; and the second line sets these permanences amid the inescapable flux. Here at length we find the complete problem of metaphysics. Those philosophers who start with the first line have given us the metaphysics of 'substance'; and those who start with the second line have developed the metaphysics of 'flux'. **

To me, part of the meaning of the word 'process' implies that something is happening for a purpose and towards an end.  In this postmodern era, we are seeing even in science a move away from concentrating on the 'substance' side of things and more to the relational.  This is where we need to go.

*p. 7,  P&R The Free Press, NY, NY ISBN 0-02-934570-7

** p 209.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Goethe has to say about Boomers and Millenials

A great thing about digital readers such as Kindle is that one can download all manner of older works for free or a very small fee.  So, I recently downloaded a work by Goethe:  Autobiography:  Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life.  Below is a clipping of interest.

Autobiography: Truth and Fiction Relating to My Life (Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe)
- Highlight Loc. 484-87 | Added on Saturday, October 18, 2014, 05:14 AM 
But for this is required what is scarcely attainable; namely, that the individual should know himself and his age,—himself, so far as he has remained the same under all circumstances; his age, as that which carries along with it, determines and fashions, both the willing and the unwilling: so that one may venture to pronounce, that any person born ten years earlier or later would have been quite a different being, both as regards his own culture and his influence on others. 

Amazingly, this insight by Goethe several centuries ago comports with one of the most fascinating and pertinent things I ever learned.  Back in the mid-eighties when I was in my mid-thirties, at work they showed a number of videos by Morris Massey with the title of something like:  You Are What You Were When.  The main thesis is that a young person, any young person, is programmed at the gut level by the age of ten.  The way that life is when one is ten years old is how one thinks life has always been and how it should be.   Massey said that in the twentieth century generally people in successive approximately ten year groupings had the same views.  Little did I know that Goethe had the same observation about the fashions of one's time and ten year cycles. People who came of age ten during the Depression had one set of views.  The In-Between generation coming of age in the forties had another.  Then the boomers another set of views about how life should be.  He gave us pointers on what the differences were but stopped there and later generations like Gen X and the Millenials were not covered.  Massey's goal was in helping the various generations in large companies better understand each other and work together by promoting understanding of how each group sees the world, what they expect from work, and how to work better together.  While I was growing up there were several things that I could not understand.  One thing that amazed me was the fear and loathing about hair length.  I was thirteen when the Beatles arrived and in concert with my cohort I thought the music and their hair were great.  Why did the older crowd get so upset at that?    I recall James Michenor saying in a Reader's Digest article that some people in Kent, Ohio thought that people who went barefooted deserved to be shot.  That is what we Boomers experienced. Now no one seems to care that much.  In fact I've heard that nowadays long hair is favored by people who are conservative.  Whether or not that is true, younger folks have no idea the consternation that long hair caused in the sixties.  When I went to my very conservative Christian college and walked into the library, I saw pictures of 19th century heroes like James Harding for whom the school was named.  He had a beard despite the fact that his namesake school banned beards.  And  their were others with long hair as well as a beard.  If it was ok for Presidents and Civil War Generals to have long hair why was it not OK for us? Well, Massey explains the origin of this.  Technology around the turn of the century provided better razors.  Then, our soldiers discovered by spending weeks in the trenches of World War 1 the advantage of having their hair shorn very short.  It made a lot of sense in that situation.  Good for them.  Morris said that when the WW1 soldiers returned from Europe, they were looked up to and admired.  Short hair became the norm and short hair became part of how one was supposed to be and going against that was rebellion against God and Country and a rejection of all that is good.

This has been one of the main lenses through which I have viewed the Liberal / Conservative divide.  When in the early nineties Rush Limbaugh came out with his book "The Way Things Ought To Be" I couldn't help but think of what I'd learned from Morris Massey.  Amazingly, both Massey and Goethe agree that one should be aware of the forces of society and the fashions of ones age and how they exert a formative influence on a person that one should be aware of it.  I hope I've been conscious of this through my life and constantly seeking to correct past errors and not holding too long onto my views that lack substantiation.  Sure would be nice if I could rely on gut level programming and tradition.  That would make things easier I sometimes think.  But I try not to.

Goethe says it is scarcely attainable.  But I'm glad he has redirected me at that goal.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Recalling my Birth and First Three Years

My first memory is of complete and absolute bliss.  I perceive a warm bluish light, an orb which vibrates with an assuring comfortable hum.  I'm grasping for words to properly express this.  I have some sense that I feel I'm in the presence of and with God.

Then later there is discomfort.  Something is not right.  I'm experiencing a change and I want to go back to how it was.  This lasts for a while.  I want to go back to God.  Finally, I'm out and I'm in the light of the external world.  I feel that I'm smiling and thinking "Here I Am".   Of course I did't know English but that is the translation of the feeling that I had. 


One Sunday in the 1980's we were having our Sunday dinner at my parents home.  The subject of trains was being discussed.  I turned to my Mom who was sitting next to me.  I said to her that I recall climbing onto a train with her when I was very little.  Her jaw dropped and she said that one train ride was when I was about 19 months old.  It was the early 1950's.  We were living in Comanche, Oklahoma at the time and she was pregnant with my brother.  Dad, a minister, had six weeks of Gospel Meetings (Revivals) lined up and would be out of town continuously.  Mom and I rode the train on our way to Pontiac, MI. where she could stay with her Mom and have the baby.  Also, I remember that as we walked down the aisle, there was a high pitched sound that I heard and by which I was puzzled.  I thought of it as a man singing hi and somehow injured or altered.  The closest thing I have ever heard since then has been the opening notes of a song called "Cattle Call".  The song was originally due to Tex Owen's in the thirties but sung by many since.   I don't know if this song was what was playing or if it was just some high pitched sound due to equipment and machinery.  Here is a link to the song as performed by Eddy Arnold.  The opening "ou ou" is what I remember. 

Several months later, we begin to drive back to Oklahoma from Michigan.  We stop at a restaurant and the waitress pays a lot of attention to me as the new big brother.  Everyone was very kind to me.  As we leave I'm encouraged to pick out some candy.  I don't know what anything is and I don't know what to choose.  I feel pressure to make a decision.  The waitress points to something and I nod that it is what I want.  But I really did not.  It was one of those round, pinkish peanut brittle type things.  

I was barely two when Christmas comes.  We went to Pocahontas, AR for that.  It is where my Dad and I were born.  We stay with his parents.  Aunt Edna dresses up light Santa Claus and enters the front door.  The Christmas tree is in the room that would later be cousin Dennis' room.  

Some time later, probably in the summer.  We are back in that house and Dennis and I are running and jumping onto a bed which is next to a window.  At one point I jump onto the bed and turn a flip and hit my head on the window sill.  I bleed.  My parents take me to Doctor.  It is night time and I recall a white house.  I suppose I still have the scar.  

We live across the street from a lumber mill.  I can still hear the high pitched whining of the saws that were on incessantly.  Mom has a red plastic radio she listens to.  I look through the window and see kids playing between our house and the next.  When they go inside I go out and find they have left a catcher's mask lying on the ground.  I know that it goes on the face and try to put it on but I could not figure out how to do that.   The inside of our church has wood paneling.  I want to say knotty pine but not sure of that detail.  Kind of darker.  

About two months before my 3rd birthday, we prepare to move to Velma, OK.  The moving van comes to the house and begin to move the household items.  I am worried they will not take my little rocking chair.  I take it and place it on the back of the moving truck and rock back and forth.

On my third birthday my Mom tries to teach me how to say "three" but it is so much easier to say "free".  I recall at church tapping someone from behind and looking up I put up three fingers and say I'm "free".  

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Archtypal Abraham

The career of Abraham has been simmering in my mind the past couple of days.  It is well known that the land of Canaan, later the land of Israel, Judah, Palestine etc was often like a soccer ball kicked around by the power to the Southeast, Egypt, and from the other side from which ever state of Mesopotamia was in power, variously Babylonia, Assyria, Persia, etc. How were the people of  Israel to view their origins? Pedigree and genealogy was important to ancient people. Still is today to some extent.  I've looked into my own and I like it when I find stories about my progenitors and not just their names.  We all desire to know who we are and how we arrived to where we are.  And we think genealogy will tell us about that. So in 8th or 9th century Kingdom of Judah, when the writings that would eventually find their way into the early parts of the Bible were written, what could they have known about their origin from a wandering Chaldean?  At that point, about a thousand years separated them from father Abraham.  Of course they would feel a special connection to the North and East because their Semitic languages were similar.  And so, likewise they would share religious and cultural similarities.  And this in contrast to Egypt.  However, there was commerce with Egypt and other countries to the south and east, Ethiopians were common in Jerusalem. What could the authors of the travels of Abraham have really known about him and why did they choose to write what they did?

I'm sure others have written about Abraham from the perspective of the Hero's Journey.   I read Joseph Campbell's Hero of a Thousand Faces many years ago in which he describes the archetypal journey of the Hero.  I will not go into this in detail because I did not want to do a research project but speak from my memory and impressions.  I think Abraham's life journey bears similarities to the archetype hero's journey.  First there is the call to the journey.  Then the travels and adventures commence and it is critical that while on the way he learns certain things and passes certain tests.  He travels to Egypt.  It is fitting for the story and his descendants that he receive the friendship and sanction from the Pharoah. This is important to establishing his status.  His ultimate test is the ordeal of the sacrifice of his son Isaac.  (sidebar - the story also is for the purpose of ending human sacrifice in general).  Finally he achieves his goals, wealth and numerous progeny and a fine burial and he receives the Boon: all nations are to be blessed because of him.  It was fitting to have him originate from a place like the Ur of Chaldees, at the far eastern end of Mespotamia, so that his journeys take him, as the picture above illustrates, across the whole of the known civilized world.   This is meant to convey that his descendants are also first class citizens of the world, not hicks from the edge of civilization.   

Now the rationalist in me continues to think about the fact that for any person, the number of their ancestors going back a thousand years just about equals the population of the earth.  This is not actually the case because of cousins marrying and geographic barriers like the oceans, deserts, and mountains. but the point is that any enterprising person leaving home in Mesopotamia to seek their fortune in Canaan and who had descendants would be their ancestor.  Some who did that would not have passed the tests, dying early, giving up, continuing elsewhere. Some of the others may have. Abraham is the archetype.  He is not one person but many.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

CSC Phyllis Tickle - 6/5/14

I've read her two books on Emergence and viewed/listened to several of her youtube videos.  This is the best produced video.  Sound is crisp and clear.  Very enjoyable.  The occasion was the Thomas Olbricht Christians Scholars Conference held on the campus of Lipscomb University.  I think that in general outline her observation that Christianity goes through upheaval every 500 years and we are on the cusp of a new one is valid, whether or not the term Emergence continues.  A change in mode of communication changes how people think and act.  The Reformation/Enlightenment followed the printing press and universal literacy.  Our digital era is now changing us.  She talks about some of the changes going on, noting how the younger generations already think differently than us oldsters.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Brian McLaren Interview: We Make the Road by Walking

 I enjoy listening to Brian McLaren when I'm on the road and driving a long distance. Here is one of his latest videos. He speaks with a couple from the Raven Foundation. They seek to explore and apply Rene Girard's mimetic theory of violence. And Brian has been studying that as well.  It is something that I want to learn more about.  Mimetic violence is what killed Jesus.  I see it in action in our contemporary world as well.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

After the Future: Grace in the Wilderness

After the Future: Grace in the Wilderness

Because this is the difference between the Nietzschean and the Christian. For the first, the world is radically open-ended and any human future is a possibility. The Christian would also acknowledge that because humans are no longer fated by the gods and determined by outside forces in the way they were, that a wide range of futures is a possibility, but however it is attained the future has a goal, a telos,  an Omega point.  And the striving toward that endpoint is what gives meaning and significance to what we do now. 

Underlining is my emphasis

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Sack cartoon: Climate-change denial | Star Tribune

Sack cartoon: Climate-change denial | Star Tribune

Deviant and Proud

Last night I stopped by the site of George Monbiot, an author who writes for the Guardian in the UK.  I was thinking to myself that I had not been there in a number of months.  He's a thoughtful guy.  I was so glad I did as he provides a critique of what is called neoliberalism in Europe which he interprets as free market fundamentalism.  Below is much but not all of the article.  Please go the site and read the whole thing.  I have never bought the idea that unfettered greed is good.  I admit there is value in competition but can't believe it stands by itself as the key to everything.  

Do you feel left out? Perhaps it’s because you refuse to succumb to the competition, envy and fear neoliberalism  breeds

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 6th August 2014 
To be at peace with a troubled world: this is not a reasonable aim. It can be achieved only through a disavowal of what surrounds you. To be at peace with yourself within a troubled world: that, by contrast, is an honourable aspiration. This column is for those who feel at odds with life. It calls on you not to be ashamed. 
I was prompted to write it by a remarkable book, just published in English, by a Belgian professor of psychoanalysis, Paul Verhaeghe(1). What About Me?: The Struggle for Identity in a Market-Based Society is one of those books that, by making connections between apparently distinct phenomena, permits sudden new insights into what is happening to us and why. 
We are social animals, Verhaeghe argues, and our identity is shaped by the norms and values we absorb from other people. Every society defines and shapes its own normality – and its own abnormality – according to dominant narratives, and seeks either to make people comply or to exclude them if they don’t.

The same forces afflict those who can’t find work. They must now contend, alongside the other humiliations of unemployment, with a whole new level of snooping and monitoring. All this, Verhaeghe points out, is fundamental to the neoliberal model, which everywhere insists on comparison, evaluation and quantification. We find ourselves technically free but powerless. Whether in work or out of work, we must live by the same rules or perish. All the major political parties promote them, so we have no political power either. In the name of autonomy and freedom we have ended up controlled by a grinding, faceless bureaucracy. 
These shifts have been accompanied, Verhaeghe writes, by a spectacular rise in certain psychiatric conditions: self-harm, eating disorders, depression and personality disorders. Of the personality disorders, the most common are performance anxiety and social phobia; both of which reflect a fear of other people, who are perceived as both evaluators and competitors, the only roles for society that market fundamentalism admits. Depression and loneliness plague us. The infantilising diktats of the workplace destroy our self-respect. Those who end up at the bottom of the pile are assailed by guilt and shame. The self-attribution fallacy cuts both ways(5): just as we congratulate ourselves for our successes,we blame ourselves for our failures, even if we had little to do with it. 
So if you don’t fit in; if you feel at odds with the world; if your identity is troubled and frayed; if you feel lost and ashamed, it could be because you have retained the human values you were supposed to have discarded. You are a deviant. Be proud. 

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Antarctic and Greenland Ice Mass Change

I downloaded data from this NASA site and plotted it up.  I combined the data into one plot as shown below.  Data is from the Grace Satellite and here is the reference.

Quoted from the NASA site:
Data from NASA's Grace satellites show that the land ice sheets in both Antarctica and Greenland are losing mass. The continent of Antarctica ... has been losing more than 100 cubic kilometers (24 cubic miles) of ice per year since 2002.

Along the same lines, here's an article Putting Antarctica Sea Ice Loss Into Perspective.

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