Sunday, September 15, 2019

And Now I Know, Doubt is Who I Am

Joined Twitter in 2009 but did not do much with it until a couple of years ago. Now, I spend at least an hour a day, often more. I've met a great many perspectives, read some awful and wonderful things, and often drop my jaw at the cleverness, insight, pathos, and mirth of all varieties. I learn many new things every day.  Was scrolling through the tweets this evening to review and savor what I'd seen in the recent past when I came upon this one from JohnsHopkinsMedicine.
Since retiring I've been able to review my life and recognize some aspects of myself that I did not perceive earlier.  Have made some positive changes resulting from that introspection.  Looking back I acknowledge often having the problem of being a person who doubts themself obsessively.  Fear and uncertainty also accompanied this.  It has often been difficult to make decisions because I feared I did not have enough knowledge and information.  In the article from which the above tweet originates, the psychiatrist notes that doubt can often be something that characterizes a person's obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD.    He gives examples of patients who continually check that the door is locked.  They repeatedly check it and physically re-lock it. 

About 3% of the population has OCD.  Some fraction of these include this problem with doubt.  Often it limits a person's functioning in life.  Cognitive behaviour therapy can work and failing that,  antidepressants can be effective. 

It would seem the doubt issue would also relate to other personality traits like the ability to take initiative. 

I am a very religious person.  Every day I read something of a religious nature and ponder it.  I do this even though I'm unsure and have many doubts.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Eden as Past, Future, and Present


A friend recommended Tapestry by Bishop SeraphimSigrist.  I liked it very much.  It’s reads like stream-of-consciousness.  It provides many interesting vignettes.   Here is a meaningful snippet lifted from Chapter 18.  Not that I think there was a literal Adam, still, nonetheless I like this.

Ch. 18  Eden as Past, Future, and Present

Poem by Charles Reznikoff

As I was wandering with my happy thoughts,
I looked and saw
that I had come into a sunny place, familiar
    and yet strange.
“Where am I?” I asked a stranger.  “Paradise.”
“Can this be Paradise?” I ask, surprised,
For there were motor cars and factories.
“It is” he answered.  This is the sun that
    shone on Adam once;
The very wind that blew on him, too. 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

New Forms of Spiritual Understanding


I've been thinking a lot about how Christianity is by its very nature not a static thing but adaptable and always changing.  It seems to me that is the way it should be.  The tradition I come from wanted to go back to the first century and RESTORE Christianity to how it was at its founding.  The assumption was that there was one, immutable way for it to be and we must practice only that version of Christianity.  But long ago I lost confidence in that approach.  I came across a quotation this morning while reading Edward Hirsch's book "How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry."  It supports my view.  Edward, on page 193 of my Kindle version, cites this as from Hart Crane and his "General Aims and Theories" which I have not read. 
New conditions of life germinate new forms of spiritual understanding
Hirsch is discussing art and says of the above that "This key modernist idea, that fresh or changing conditions ferment fresh forms, has had particular resonance" in the New World . . . .

Even though he is discussing art, I think the principle holds for religion.  Art and religion are intertwined, despite how the Reformation heritage has attempted to squelch the connection. 

 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

From Chapter II of A Many Splendored Thing



How often do we read a book that surprises us in with topics and content we didn't expect?  That was the case with this book, A Many Splendored Thing by Han Suyin.  I did not anticipate it would contain some insights related to religion.  My twenty year old self was in mood to read something and this book was available.  On picking it up in my hand, I thought it was a romance novel based on the hit song and movie it inspired, and it was.  But the book is autobiographical and the romance cannot be understood with its highs, lows, and tensions without Suyin's  history as a person living in multiple worlds, Traditional Chinese, Western, and the newly emerging modern East with the rising communist tide on the mainland and burgeoning commercial world of Hong Kong.  In some sense all of these worlds are native to her.  She is specially positioned to perceive people from all angles, intimate with them all.  The following is from the second chapter titled "The Kingdom of God"  The timeline is important and so each chapter is dated by year and month.  The content of this chapter explains her experiences in Hong Kong shortly after moving there from med school in London. She lives in a half-way house for missionaries families who have had to leave China in that disruptive time. 

*Chapter II  The Kingdom of God  March 1949
I had always thought of missionaries as “superior persons” in the Confucian sense; that their fund of goodness, benevolence and knowledge must be greater than the average person’s.  It was with relief that I found they were just ordinary people.  Well-meaning, earnest, hard working, not endowed with more wisdom, knowledge or virtue than anyone else.  Not gifted with more vision and not always more tolerant.  Teaching the Bible was their métier, just as medicine was mine, although I suppose both professions deluded themselves into calling it a vocation.  They were concerned, as all normal, healthily self-centered people are, with family, children, home, security, life insurance, salaries, pension and furlough, all the mechanics of existence.
When I was growing up, occasionally a missionary would visit our church and give a presentation/sermon.  Usually it was a Sunday or Wednesday night so the lights could be turned off to enable a slide presentation.  It was exciting to my young self.  I would for a short time have a romantic desire to go to where ever it was they were living and working.  Of course, with never a thought of the mechanics of existence and all that would be entailed.  I heard few critiques of this.  A great Uncle was a missionary in New Zealand then.  Not long after, a cousin just older than me would move to Kenya where he lives as a missionary to this day. 
In those early months of 1949, they seemed bewildered, confused and indignant.  What was happening in China? 
Some averred that it was only a passing phase of violence, similar to those previous eruptions of xenophobia which flare up from time to time in China.  Some were inclined to think that the Kuomintang government would make a stand and win in the end “if only it would carry out reforms instead of just proclaiming them.”  The fact that the Chiang Kai-sheks were Christians seemed to them a guarantee that the Kuomintang government might still turn over a new leaf and that all would be well again.

Perhaps those who understood the irreversible change which was taking place remained in China until they could do so no longer, but those I met in Church Guest House showed much bewilderment and hurt.

It was a little like unrequited love.  “After all we’ve done for them,” they implied, “look at what they are doing to us.” 
How difficult it must be to be a missionary! In order to convince others, one must be so completely indoctrinated with the superiority of one’s own brand of belief.  To understand, to tolerate, to condone, is incompatible with the very idea of being in possession of a higher truth, a better explanation of the spiritual life. 
I don't remember having an immediate reaction when reading this last paragraph all those years ago but that question of the superiority of "our" brand of belief  would soon haunt me.   This book planted the seed which would grow into my consciousness and cause me to critique my inherited beliefs. 
There were two types of missionaries in Hong Kong.  The first, those that had not been long in China, were still under the spell of their narrow denominational fanaticism.  They carried with them a sulphurous aroma of hell-fire and damnation to the heathen.  They were spiritually intolerant and physically bigoted.  They were inclined to gloat over the possibilities of martyrdom and to emphasize the persecutional element in the pressure against them.  But they were very few.  The larger group was eminently likable.  They had been converted and mellowed to humanity, tolerance and a sense of humor.  They had quietly jettisoned the belief in the infallibility of their own theme of salvation, together with the more wrathful aspects of the Deity they professed to love.  They were far more interested in the social and practical aspects of Christianity.  They were humanists, sociologists, and for them religion became the building of hospitals and schools, the creation of Christian Associations, and picking up abandoned waifs.  But they were the ones most hurt, because they had loved their work, and they had been selfless in their devotion to it.  “What is going to happen to our Christian communities?  Many of our Christians seem to have gone over to the new regime, some have not. Will these be persecuted?  What is going to happen to our churches, our schools, our hospitals?”  They wanted to help China.  And they found that their motives were suspected, and their efforts towards conciliation and understanding misunderstood.  They were no longer wanted. China was throwing them out.
* A Many Splendored Thing by Han Suyin An Atlantic Monthly Press Book, Little, Brown and Company, Boston. 1952 

Saturday, May 11, 2019

I read "A Many Splendored Thing" years ago


We are often encouraged to reflect on important books in our lives.  And reading is recommended for help in coping with life and mental health generally.  I’ve enjoyed reading Deborah Cox’s blog and one recent post discussed this aspect of books:


While considering what new books I might read, it came to my mind to consider which books have been most important to me.  I traveled back in my mind and eventually came upon one that changed my life.  Though, it is only on reflection of my life subsequent to reading it that I now realize that fact.  Had not thought about this book in many years.  It is not about science or religion or philosophy.  It is not recognized as a classic.  The book is “A Many Splendored Thing” by Han Suyin.  It is one of only two or three Romance novels I’ve ever read.  But it came at a critical time with some messages especially pertinent to my young life.  I re-read it a few months ago to help bring back my memories of how and why it has the effect it did.

It was late summer of 1971 just before the fall term of my senior year of college and my 21st birthday.  So, a time with critical choices on which path my life would take.  I loved science and technology.  I also desired to be as good a Christian as I could be and had always considered Christian ministry in some way as a possible life path.  The previous summer I’d been to Europe on an Evangelistic campaign.  This summer I had been involved in Christian ministry in Europe.  It was late in the summer when I read the book, shortly before coming home.

It is important here to discuss the nature of the devout Christian fellowship which had nurtured me, the Churches of Christ.  My Dad was a minister and a model of love for his family and devotion to his calling. The county where we lived from second grade through the tenth had a population of about 12,000 people.  In the 1960’s there were 16 Churches of Christ in the county if I recall correctly.  In early and mid 20th century, we were amazingly independent of the rest of Protestant Christianity.  We had distinctive ideas about worship, baptism, and church organization.  Looking back, the accusation that we felt we were the only “true” Christians did have a valid basis.  Fortunately, that exclusivism and isolation has significantly waned.  Our distinctive practices are not perceived as the only valid way.  But that was the milieu in which I was raised.  Our lives were built around the Church, attending 3 times a week.  Most of the people who were my close friends were within this fellowship.  I went to a Church of Christ college where immersion in this insular world continued.  And I have many wonderful memories from those days.  While growing up I never questioned the teachings seriously.  We had a strong family history in this fellowship.  I knew the stories.  It was my identity.

That was the young man who began reading the book. 

I did not know that religion would be an important component of this book.  And that it would profoundly influence me. To be continued....

Sunday, January 20, 2019

The Spiritual Meaning of Trees - Maya Becomes a Tree

Finished reading A Many-Splendored Thing by Han Suyin this evening.  It is a semi-autobiographical novel about a romance between a Chinese Eurasian woman and a British correspondent.  The action is centered in Hong Kong with some action in China and Korea in 1949-1950.  Read it for the first time in 1971 and it made a big impression on me as I was about to start my senior year of college and turn 21.  Upon this re-reading I underlined and made checks in various places for later contemplation. 

Here is one extended passage that happens to connect with my interest in the spiritual meaning of trees is from Part 3 Chapter 4.

One day I found her sitting at my desk in the office, having fled her bed again and as if it were the most natural thing in the world, she began to tell me about the tree.
Suyin, the main character, is at her job transcribing handwritten medical records using a typewriter when her sick friend, Maya, comes to visit.  She has terminal tuberculosis. Maya describes an experience.
“As I walked here” said she, “something which had not happened before occurred to me.  Halfway up the road I sat under a tree to rest, under a candlenut tree.  Facing it, looking at the straight gray silver trunk, ringed and speckled with a frolic of young days, at the dappled white-flecked leaves, plumaged-mottled birds poised for the gust of light, under the cool green shadows spread over me, and the slanting sunlight falling upon my hand, I became a tree.
You can search and find pictures of candlenut trees of Hong Kong as well as other places.  This is startling beautiful language presaging and amazing passage.  Maya describe existence as a tree.
Insidious and bone-deep the transubstantiation; an enchanted dupe I sat, my heart the tree heart, coursing sweet green sap, sweet fire within my veins, I knew its secret name, its drift of years; I felt my thick mindless roots clutch the live earth, digging through earth and stone groping for water.  I heard each leaf grow out, an unfurling pennant in strong search of that other rain, the light.  I strained my branches, insinuating into emptiness the flourish of my life.  I knew the self-absorption of the tree, the peace acquired at last, its contemplation of the day. I sat on without motion, tree basking in the sun, and all previous awareness a half-remembered dream.
This captivates me. I don't know what it means.  It does not seem like something the author could have completely made up.  She must be conveying to us something she remembers.   I wonder if this identification with trees or other entities is something that happens with some people?
“Suddenly there was a wrench, I coughed, and the division fell between the substance of the tree and myself.  I was I and the candlenut tree stood above, green and dappled with flakes of sun, remote, unknown. I came here.”
Now that this is posted, I plan to come back to it and ponder it from time to time.  It must mean something.

Should also mention that a movie was made of this book called "Love is a Many-Splendored Thing" in 1955.  I was a little tyke but remember the Oscar winning song by the same name, a lush romantic memorable piece that attracted me to the book in the first place years later. 

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A Goethe Quote on the Stages of Life

Maxim #390 from "Maxims and Reflections" by Goethe 
“Every age of man has its own appropriate philosophy. The child appears as a realist; for he finds himself as much convinced of the existence of pears and apples as of his own.  The youth, overwhelmed by inner passions, must observe himself, feel his way forward; he is transformed into an idealist.  On the other hand, the man has every reason for becoming a skeptic; he does well to doubt whether the means he has chosen for the purpose is indeed the right one.  Before acting, in acting, he has every reason for keeping his intelligence mobile, so that he need not subsequently be sorry for having made the wrong choice.  The old man, however, will always espouse mysticism. He sees that so much seems to depend on chance:  the irrational is successful, the rational fails, fortune and misfortune unexpectedly coincide; so it is, so it was, and old age finds comfort in Him who is, who was, and also who will be.“
I originally read this in the summer of 1971 in “First German Reader: A Beginner's Dual-Language Book” ed. by H. Steinhauer. Published 1964. Library of Congress Number 64-7673. page 89-90.  Today, I learned that the quote derives from  maxim #390 from “The Maxims and Reflections” by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe which he published in 1794.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Back from the UK

We arrived back from the UK in early August.  Had a conference in Glasgow:  The Inaugural Conference on Phosphor Thermometry.  Then we took a few days of vacation following.  Never planned more than one day ahead.  Did Edinburgh a couple of days. Yes, we did the loop around Loch Ness. Next day, we spent an afternoon and evening in York.  Was blown away by the York Minster Cathedral.  No pictures could capture and convey how stunning it was.  Lastly we spent three nights in London.  Walked everywhere and loved it.  The last day we did St. Pauls Cathedral seen here..  I had been there before and knew what to expect.  So much of my genetic and cultural heritage comes from that island.  It is hard to convey what I learned deep inside.  It was very meaningful.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

The Lord Bless You And Keep You - Lutkin - performed live by Octarium





A excellent rendition of a wonderful piece of a cappella choral music.  It is not as widely known as it deserves to be.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Kinobe - Slip Into Something More Comfortable in the sea [Sgrima YDedal]



Watch and listen to this on a big screen TV.  The music reminds me of early sixties movie soundtracks.  Like what Henry Mancini and his orchestra might do for beach scenes in a South Pacific resort.  RELAXING

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Jeremiah and the Blockchain

I don’t know why these two disparate things entered into my mind all of a sudden six months ago. On the one hand, I have had a fascination and affection for the person Jeremiah the Weeping Prophet, for many years. But interest in cryptocurrency and the blockchain is recent. Once these two dissimilar things arrived within my consciousness I decided to explore. So how do we tie together Jeremiah and the Blockchain? My thoughts developed as follows. To begin, Jeremiah is one of the most important links in the chain of people and events that created the Jewish people and enabled them to survive. And without them the history of the past two thousand years would have been completely different. No Christianity or Islam, for sure. Would there have been a Renaissance? Enlightenment? Science and Industrialization?
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn - Jeremia treurend over de verwoesting van Jeruzalem - Google Art Project
Rembrandt van Rijn,
 Jeremiah Lamenting the Destruction of
Jerusalem
, c. 1630

Jeremiah and his Time

The First Axial Age

Jeremiah belongs to the Axial Age, a time that saw similar and near simultaneous changes to the major civilizations from Europe to China. Confucius, Lao-Tzu, Siddhartha (Buddha), the Hebrew prophets, the Greek philosophers were essentially contemporaries. All of these people have had a permanent effect and a role in creating the cultures and religions that have lasted down to the present. In this period, religion transitions from the communal to the personal. Karl Jaspers originated the axial age concept and some recent explicators are Karen Armstrong, Robert Bellah, and Ilia Delio. The last author combines and summarizes several sources in her book Christ in Evolution when she says:

“In the preaxial period, the human person was cosmic, collective, tribal, mythic, and ritualistic. Myth was a way in which the human person gave meaning to his/her world through the context of stories that contained essential truths. The idea of primal consciousness as mimetic consciousness, that is a consciousness of imitation, meant that humans identified with their surroundings…..Axial consciousness generated a new self awareness that included awareness of autonomy and a new sense of individuality. The human person as subject emerged. Jaspers states that, with axial consciousness, personality was revealed for the first time in history. With the emergence of the rational individual came a new sense of freedom by which the human person could make conscious and deliberate decisions.(1) Although the world religions that emerged in the first axial period are widely divergent in their doctrines and rituals, they share a common existential thread: self reflection and self transcendance of the human person.” 
A Problem with Trust

Jeremiah exemplified the new self-aware person of that era. He appears as one of the first people in history who reflects upon and describes his feelings. He is expressive. He attempts to help his fellow citizens in Jerusalem and exiles in Babylon make the transition from over emphasis on ritual to instead elevate their personal conduct and interact with their neighbors with integrity. Trust and individual responsibility are important to him. He described their problems in this area when he says:

“Let everyone be on guard against his neighbor,
And do not trust any brother;
Because every brother deals craftily*,
And every neighbor goes about as a slanderer.
“Everyone deceives his neighbor
And does not speak the truth,
Jeremiah 9:4-5 New America Standard Bible (NASB)

* some translations use the word "deceiver"

Jeremiah taught individual ethical responsibility. And also his younger contemporary with whom he corresponded, Ezekiel, communicates the same. Ezekiel 18 states that no longer will the proverb hold that says the fathers have eaten and the children’s teeth are set on edge. But rather, the soul that sins, it shall die.

Our Present Time

2nd Axial Age

But how does Jeremiah and the axial period relate to us now? He helped us to get us to where we are now.  And, perhaps, where we are is a new, second axial age. This might be illustrated by making analogies with his time and ours. The first thing to note is the question of what brought about the first axial age. Part of the answer must be that it was spurred by technological developments related to travel, communication and money. New technology creates new ways for humans to relate to and organize each other. The technology that we use for communication determines our consciousness, how we think, and how we perceive the world. Marshal McLuhan, who may have been the first to fully describe this, is convincing to me. And the developments since his death, involving the personal computer and the internet, validate what he said, in my opinion.  Our external memory is enhanced much more than what was possible for Jeremiah and other Axial people. A necessary first step was the invention of the printing press. It allowed books and mass literacy to proliferate. And, more recently, digital memory allows thousands of books even in a small thumb drive. And, due to the internet, we have near instantaneous access to the thoughts of others anywhere in the world which may bring instant validation, challenge, critique or other engagement of our views. And likewise, we have continued to develop ethics and morality and self-discipline. One may decry current ethics and morality but progress has been made in many areas. The world now frowns on wife beating, slavery, torture, punishment for religious beliefs, and many other things that were acceptable even to the deeply religiously devout of earlier societies.

It may be noted that coinage, that is, technology related to money, was invented in the 1st axial age. In parallel with that in our time, the new digital currency and what is entailed by it, just might be helping to usher in a 2nd axial age. 

Trust and the Blockchain

Three Top Cryptocoins (3) 
Like Jeremiah, we still have problems related to trust. The invention of the Blockchain addresses this problem. It makes possible a universal and unchangeable record of transactions. Incentives reward the keepers of the record. This permanent record may be viewed by anyone. Once something makes it to the blockchain, whether a financial transaction or medical record, after requisite confirmations, it is there permanently. It may not be changed.

In our new era, there is a distrust of central authority. Authority is being decentralized. Authority has become relational and social.

How to manage social relationships? For Jeremiah: Know God. Be honest. Know Thyself. Be personally responsible. What Jeremiah said still has validity for us. We are individuals who should act responsibly. In addition, in this 2nd axial age, we are developing newer tools. Yes, the blockchain is new technology for currency and payment, a breakthrough in money just as the invention of metal coins was in the first axial age. But, the development of the blockchain is making possible a web of trust, a decentralized means for validating and measuring trustworthiness. And making possible new and creative means for attending to other of our social problems that Jeremiah and those Hebrew prophets addressed, like feeding the poor, eliminating poverty, providing clean water, improving health, and other things an easy search will uncover (4). I’m kind of excited about the prospect of a basic universal income too.  

We live in fast changing and exciting times, in many ways. What the near future will bring to us in terms of breakthroughs and problems related to technological and cultural changes, I don't know in detail.  But I'm with  Jeremiah, I take it that we have a hope and a future.  (Jer 29:11).


(1)  Ilia Delio, Christ in Evolution, Orbis Books, 2011.

(2) Delio cites here Karl Jaspers, Origin and Goal of History, trans. Michael Bullock
 ( New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 1, 23, 27.


Friday, February 09, 2018

Turtle Power

The new crypto, Turtlecoin, has a Memphis connection. It has only been in existence for two months.  I found out about it a week ago.  Following it in this early stages has been fun and instructive. A great way to learn about cryptocurrency and the blockchain.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Picture Consciousness and Rudolf Steiner and YouTube

A number of people who are significant to me find value in the life and writings of Rudolf Steiner.  I had attempted to read one of his books a few years ago but just have not been able to get through it.  A friend recommended to me a book by Gary Lachman about him and so far it looks to be helpful and full of insight.  Here is a quote lifted from my Kindle of interest to me.

Steiner was captivated by a kind of picture book whose figures could be moved by pulling a string. He tells us that he and his sister spent many hours with these, and that through them he took his first steps toward reading. In later life, Steiner would argue that a kind of “picture consciousness” formed the type of consciousness of human beings during their “Old Moon” incarnation in the distant past, and that in the future, this would return and be integrated with our current rational consciousness to form a new state, what he called our Jupiter incarnation. One area his childhood toys certainly did influence was Steiner’s system of education, which employs similar picture books in its kindergartens.*

Seems to me that "a kind of 'picture consciousness'" that he projects to arrive in the future has now come to us, first with Television, then the internet, YouTube, and how we make use of the easy capture of photos and videos with our cell phones.  I should review what Marshall McLuhan said about this.  I think it squares with his thought.  Who we are, how we think, what we are even capable of perceiving all depend on the communication technology that we use.  The communication technology we use forms us.

Does this relate to  why I have so much trouble reading and understanding poetry?

*Rudolf Steiner: An Introduction to His Life and Work (Lachman, Gary)
- Your Highlight on Location 281-287 | Added on Saturday, February 3, 2018 5:24:00 AM


Friday, January 19, 2018

Mother's Day Reading Assignment: Read Books by Women

A couple of years ago, I think it was on Mother's Day, the minister at the church we were attending suggested that we should make a point to read some women authors for spiritual assistance.  I have forgotten the context.  The memory of that popped into my mind recently that I have been reading some women authors.  Had never set out to make it a point to read or not read women authors but it just happened.  A couple of nights I fell asleep trying to list them in my mind.  Before the mid-nineties and Amazon, the list is probably incomplete.  Will add to this as more come to mind.  This illuminates my interests.


Religion, Philosophy, Biography,  Novels and Spiritual Writing 


The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels   - early eighties


Adam, Eve and the Serpent: Sex and Politics in Early Christianity (1988),


The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics (1995),


Ancient Israelite Religion - Susan Niditch 1997


Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas (2003)


A History of God - Karen Armstrong - late nineties


Beloved - Toni Morrison 2004


Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith - Kathleen Norris  ~ 2005 give or take


The Fountainhead - Ayn Rand 2005






Nancey Murphy  2007





Dorothee Solle   2007





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