Monday, December 28, 2009

Great Book Title: Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

Haven't read the book but it is a great title which by itself, even, is an excellent lesson. The Author is Susan Jeffers. Learned about the book from Carl McColman's post at the Website of Unknowing, here.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Have Always Known This

Another quote from "A is for Abductive"

A change-resistant deacon board once said to their pastor. "The reason we don't want our church to change is that everywhere else in our lives, we are assaulted by change - at work, at home, in the culture at large. We want the church to be the one stable place in our world."

This is from the "K is for Kaleidoscopic Change" section.

The authors make the point that if one resists change, even that will cause them to change.

I say we can't stand still, even if we want to. Move or Die.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Initial Thoughts on "An Altar in the World"

Back from the Holidays. St. Louis, MO; Memphis, TN; and Jonesboro, AR.

A book I'm savoring right now is "An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith" by Barbara Taylor Brown. So many pithy thoughts and phrases jump off the page and into my head and mind. A few nights ago I started the first chapter. It was close to bedtime. I sat or rather lay too comfortably in my my recliner in my bedroom. Found the first chapter pleasant, though my drowsiness attenuated the experience. Took bite size pieces on successive evenings, not really having time for much more. Then, one night finally had time to read and let it sink in deeper into my psyche. What she is doing is becoming more apparent. Then next, it was a quiet time in the hotel lobby early last Tuesday morning and I re-read the first chapter. Amazing what I perceived that I hadn't earlier. The reason being more familiarity with her approach and how she was feeling it. There's lots of visual imagery. This is cool.

Touching the truth with our minds alone is not enough. We are made to touch it with our bodies.

One thing this book teaches is that the way to the spiritual life is through the sensual, physical world.

Friday, November 27, 2009

On Research - by Zora N. Hurston

I was in St. Louis on Tuesday with my son who was interviewing for med school at St. Louis University. While there and waiting on him, I wandered down a hallway toward the downstairs bookstore and came across an administrative department concerned with their research program. They had this very interesting quote on their bulletin board. This caught my attention because research and development has been my calling.

Research is formalized curiosity.

It is poking and prying with a purpose.

It is a seeking that he who wishes may know the cosmic secrets of the world and that they dwell therein.

Zora Neale Hurston.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Liturgical Turn and the YMCA

Great article over at The Church and Postmodern Culture titled The Liturgical Turn: Church and Public of Worship. The article author's thoughts were spurred by the fact that his church now meets in a YMCA gymnasium. That fact attracted me to the article because our group has likewise been meeting in a school gym for 3 and 1/2 years now.

And also, there was a pithy comment at the beginning:

It’s easy to become overly connected to place. It seems better to stay in Egypt instead of making the journey to the Promise Land because there’s a desert in between. It’s easier because it’s comfortable, familiar, and controlled.

Then there was also this:

Reflecting on the fact that we now worship in a community gymnasium is pretty exciting to me because it’s a great way to be missional and to let certain aspects of the nature of worship flourish which have a tendency to be forgotten.

I would like to say more but I've got to get to work. Yes, its only 5:30 am but so many things on the list to do.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Realism - Attachment to the Past

Realism has for most of my life held a positive meaning for me. But that has changed over the last decade. I came across this through Thomas Barnett's blog which points to an article he wrote for World Politics Review. The insight is offered as a result of the interplay between his two main activities, working in the national security realm and investigating new business opportunities in emerging/frontier economies

I find the perspective it offers invaluable, because it reveals how often what we call "realism" tends to be hopelessly trapped in centuries past.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Kierkegaard and Christianity - Belief or a Means to Change Existence?

Have not been able to do any sustained reading these past few weeks. A couple of nights ago I picked up John Caputo's book on How to Read Kierkegaard. Forty years ago when they talked about him in school, I had absolutely no interest and no regard for him as he was emotional, subjective, and mushy. But I've changed. I'm fighting to get out of the robot rationalism of my younger days of , say, before age 50.

Caputo in one place has this pithy thing to say. He says that K, and these are Caputo's words

"had written that Christianity is not a doctrine supported by evidence but a command to transform existence that can only be witnessed."


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Utterly Humbled by Mystery

This is from a beautiful "This I Believe" segment on NPR. The author/narrator is Richard Rohr, the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M.

"When I was young, I couldn't tolerate such ambiguity. My education had trained me to have a lust for answers and explanations. Now, at age 63, it's all quite different. I no longer believe this is a quid pro quo universe -- I've counseled too many prisoners, worked with too many failed marriages, faced my own dilemmas too many times and been loved gratuitously after too many failures."

The rest is HERE.

Friday, August 07, 2009

What An Oak Tree Can Teach Us

Ah! I like this. From Hillman's The Soul's Code: In Search of Character and Calling

The essence of the oak is all there at once. Theologically, the acorn is like one of Augustine's nationes seminales or seminal reasons. As far back as the Stoics, Gnostics, and Platonists such as Philo, some ancient thought held that the world was filled with spermatikoi logoi - word seeds or germinal ideas. These are present in the world from its beginning as the primordial a priori that gives form to each thing. And these spermatic words make it possible for each thing to tell of its own nature - to ears that can hear. The idea that nature speaks, especially through the voice of a talking oak, remained a vivid fantasy through the ages and was still a subject of paintings a hundred years ago.

Trees fascinate me. When we were looking for a house 19 years ago, mature trees on the land were a requirement for me. Their meaning reaches deep inside me. Hillman's book is an extended discourse on one metaphor or teaching from the mighty oak.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

The Acorn Theory

From the first chapter of The Soul's Code by James Hillman:

"We dull our lives by the way we conceive them. We have stopped imagining them with any sort of romance, any fictional flair. So, this book also picks up the romantic theme, daring to envision biography in terms of very large ideas such as beauty, mystery, and myth."

And Hillman promotes the acorn theory of human biography.

"In a nutshell, then, this book is about calling, about fate, about character, about innate image. Together they make up the "acorn theory," which holds that each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived."

Monday, June 29, 2009

Evolution is like a Muscadine Vine & Jab at Dennett's Skyhook Metaphor

Been reading back through A Third Window: Natural Life Beyond Darwin and Newton by Robert Ulanowicz. It is a difficult book. I recognize a kernel of value in many of the things he says but I'm not knowledgeable of things in depth enough to connect the dots in many of his arguments. But here I present a useful idea.

One of today's most strident reductionists is Daniel Dennett who says that evolution is a series of machine cranes stacked up on one another and that no skyhook (God) is involved. Here's what Robert says

Overall, however, I eschew his metaphor as misleading. Like Elsasser and Bateson, I believe that many, if not most , mechanical analogies are procrustean, minimalist distortions of the dynamics of living systems. Paraphrasing the analogy of Oliver Penrose (2005), living dynamics only look rosy (mechanical) because most insist on looking at them through rosy (Newtonian) glasses.

Robert describes an observation from his muscadine grapevines that grow in his garden. The vines grow up from the ground to two levels of horizontal support wires and spread sideways. Eventually, at some point, they send down roots at other locations. Next, the original trunk dies.

It struck me like lightning that here was a more appropriate metaphor for the dynamics of evolution! The muscadine plant represents an evolving system across several hierarchical levels. No skyhooks are involved because the system always remains in contact with a foundation of bottom-up causalities that remain necessary to the narrative. ... later, higher structures create new connections that eventually replace and/or displace their earlier counterparts. Such displacement is a key element in solving the enigma of how emergent structures and dynamics can influence matters at lower levels that had played a role in their own appearance.

To read more you can google-book it over to circa page 100 for further details.

The above provides me with an analogy/metaphor that can begin to explain how human thoughts can control physical body actions. We are provided with a way out of bottom up causality. And, Laplace's conjecture can be tossed aside. This is one aspect of an emergent explanation for our existence. Emergence, for me, is a useful concept for reconciling science and religion.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I've been a member of the Stone-Campbell listserve for about 10 years and Harold K. Straughn is likewise a member. His early life involved time at Abilene Christian University and the Herald of Truth. Following many life adventures he is now a Disciples of Christ minister. His book LifeSpirals arrived yesterday. I think I'm gonna like it. Here's what's at Amazon:

Product Description
LifeSpirals assimilates revolutionary discoveries in brain research, learning techniques, and the new field of "wisdom psychology." More than just a self help book, LifeSpirals guides readers through the seven major stages of adult learning that mark the achievements of history's greatest leaders. All the reader needs to maximize his/her own achievement is a greater awareness of how to make use of what he/she knows, which lies buried among your early memories. LifeSpirals shows the reader how to access these lost memories and reconstitute them into a new vision for his/her life that can make the boldest dreams so far seem like tame compromises.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Case for Working With Your Hands

Marvelous article, The Case for Working With Your Hands, by a young scholar who is now a motorcycle mechanic.

For me, at least, there is more real thinking going on in the bike shop than there was in the think tank.

I make my living as an engineer and can identify with some of this.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud

From an NYT editorial.

Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words. To read with your lungs and diaphragm, with your tongue and lips, is very different than reading with your eyes alone. The language becomes a part of the body, which is why there is always a curious tenderness, almost an erotic quality, in those 18th- and 19th-century literary scenes where a book is being read aloud in mixed company. The words are not mere words. They are the breath and mind, perhaps even the soul, of the person who is reading.

The only reading aloud I experience is the scripture reading at church and in Bible classes. It seems we are afraid to show depth of feeling when we do that. Its as if we are trying to set some kind of speed reading record.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Scientist's Postive Use of 'Postmodern Constructivism'

Robert Ulanowicz's view of postmodernism from page 10 of his introduction to A Third Window: Natural Life Beyond Newton and Darwin

He promises to write in the spirit of "postmodern constructivism". About which he says:

However, a relative few among the postmodernists are picking up elements from among the rubble left by deconstructionists and using them to build new ways of visualizing reality. Although narrative no longer requires that one abide by all the Enlightenment restrictions, neither should one forsake rationality in the process. Viewed in a poisitive light, the postmodern critique frees the investigator to search among classical, Enlightenment, and contemporary thought for concepts that can be woven into a coherent rational whole."

This book promises to be pretty good.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Job, Augustine, Nietsche, and Kierkegaard - Truth

The book of Job, we are told, is about the problem of suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa if God is Good? So what, in a nutshell, is the answer that Job gives?

Job does not give us and answer that can be summarized in a nutshell.

I am a modern person accustomed to filtering and distilling information in order to arrive at a succinct and useable conclusion. I often need an easily stated and justified rationale for spouse and employer for decisions and requests. In my occupation as an R&D engineer (a quintessential Enlightenment discipline) I couldn't function without this way of thinking.

So why didn't the author of Job trash chapters 3-41 and replace it with one chapter that gives the standard answer? Which is that if you are good, you will go to heaven and experience bliss for eternity thereby making any suffering endured in a short life insignificant. End of proof, QED.

Evidently such would not have been the right thing to write because we do have these chapters with relentless complaint about pains physical and mental, grasping for explanation, elaboration of images and arguments and wrestling with living in the present world.

And near the end of it all what does God say by way of answer?

Look at the world! It is great isn't it? Aren't the stars, mountains, rocks, rivers, and animals way cool? I think they are. You don't know how I did it do you?

Is this a direct answer to Job's suffering? God does not spell it out to Job, nor to us. And it is not direct because the most important truths cannot be directly stated. It calls to mind my June 4, 2008 blog post which presents a Karl Jasper's lecture quote about Nietsche and Kierkegaard and their use of what he calls Masks.

For them masks necessarily belong to the truth. Indirect communication becomes for them the sole way of communicating genuine truth, indirect communication, as expression, is appropriate to the ambiguity of genuine truth in temporal existence, in which process it must be grasped through sources in every Existenz.

And this correlates with a post by Fr. Stephen's blog titled Augustinian Surprises. He starts with quotes from Augustine.

God is He Whom we know best in not knowing Him. - St. Augustine

It is He about Whom we have no knowledge unless it be to know how we do not know Him. - St. Augustine

I have come to a greater appreciation of paradox, contradiction, and mystery. It seems that the further east one travels within the Christian geographical world, the greater is the appreciation fo rthis sentiment. The Orthodox tradition of "apophaticism" emphasizes the unknowability of God as a means of, paradoxically, understanding God. Further West, Protestants and especially the Evangelical types are taught the facts. We must understand everything and make it fit in tight logical bundles. The syllogism quickly wraps up the issues at hand. List the classical proofs of God and we are done. Little about mystery and the indirect.

Monday, March 02, 2009

How to Enjoy the Book of Job

Remember that most of the book is poetry. The introduction that sets up the story is prose. The last chapter is prose. In between, we do not have a logical and rational development of the problem of evil. No, we have an ancient middle eastern love for coming at a problem with a profusion of colorful images and metaphors. The same thing is sometimes repeated but in different combinations and permutations.

The author, whoever they were, lived in our world and loved it. They were not a denier of the flesh as some would be in the early Christian centuries. God and all the interlocutors draw upon what we call the natural world for many of their lessons. Notice how God loves his creation and describes the activities of creatures he has created. He derives much joy from them.

The book is about sense. Imagery from and about all the senses is there. Among his many ills, Job complains about not being able to taste.

We men often have difficulty with expressing ourselves, what we see and how we feel. Job, Jeremiah, and the other prophets are ancient examples of men who expended great effort and spoke from out of the depths of their being. They were not evidently afraid to tell God they hurt and they did not like what He was putting them through. These guys were emotional. They were generally way ahead of contemporary ancient literature in this.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Happy Thoughts on the Book of Job: Nature and Theodicy

My assignment for our Sunday Night Bible Study was Job. Now when you think of Job or you hear that occasional reference to him in a religious setting, you don't usually break out and sing "I'm Happy Today" or "I've Got the Joy Joy Joy Down in my Heart." Or do you?

But in preparation for the class I found something that did make me feel good and start me thinking down a positive and uplifting path. I came across an article by Harry Hahne titled Nature and Theodicy in the Book of Job. His web site links to it.

Here's the opening:

The book of Job has more to say about nature than any other biblical wisdom book. Concepts of nature are woven into the dialogs throughout the book -- in the mouth of Job, Job’s friends, God himself, and in the prologue. Much of the theology of nature is in the form of implicit assumptions that inform the book’s teachings on many subjects.

More later. The morning is moving on, 5:14 am, and I need to get to work.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Experiential Versus Creedal Religion

From Living Gnosticism: An Ancient Way of Knowing by Jordan Stratford.

Gnosticism is an experiential, not creedal, religion - you can't simply announce that you agree with a list of ideas and be saved from the illusion of our separation from God.

While I have some problems with aspects of gnosticism (a catch all term that covers a wide range of sometimes disparate things) I see some value in this statement. The lists of ideas to believe in serve for boundary maintenance between those outside and inside the approved group. They become internalized so that they become crucial to a person's very identity.

With this I promise to move to more positive and uplifting rather than critical comments in the near future.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Critique of the Church of Christ

Here's one perception/critique of the Church of Christ. About half way down in this blog post, Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, Fr Stephen Freeman describes what he calls Christian Atheism.

Surprisingly, I would place some forms of Christian fundamentalism within this category (as I have defined it). I recall a group affiliated with some particular Church of Christ, who regularly evangelized our apartment complex when I lived in Columbia, S.C. They were also a constant presence on the campus of the local university. They were absolute inerrantists on the subject of the Holy Scriptures. They were equally adamant that all miracles had ceased with the completion of the canon of the New Testament. Christians today only relate to God through the Bible.

Such a group can be called “Biblicists,” or something, but, in the terminology I am using here, I would describe them as “practical atheists.” Though they had great, even absolutist, faith in the Holy Scriptures, they had no relationship with a God who is living and active and directly involved in their world. Had their notion of a God died, and left somebody else in charge of His heaven, it would not have made much difference so long as the rules did not change.

I realize that this is strong criticism, but it is important for us to understand what is at stake. The more the secular world is exalted as secular, that is, having an existence somehow independent of God, the more we will live as practical atheists - perhaps practical atheists who pray (but for what do we pray?). I would also suggest that the more secular the world becomes for Christians, the more political Christians will become. We will necessarily resort to the same tools and weapons as those who do not believe.

That's a little harsh maybe but he gives a basis for an observation I've made. From my experience in the past, I think it has been easier for disenchanted ex-church-of-christers to go the way of the skepticism or atheism than perhaps those of other christian groups.

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