Archive for January, 2009|Monthly archive page


January 26 was an anniversary date for me. It was a day that always gave me pause. This year, I had just returned from the city where I had attended college.

The song of Neal and Leandra. A prayer to a lover but really to God.

The gift of knowledge. Recognizing significance. People and significant moments.

Fresh. “I don’t mean to be fresh but…..Are you going out with me again? On a 2nd date?”
A search for freshness. In each day.

Freshness in me. At a time when I have relied too much on savings. On the freezer. Did I have freezer burn? With things wasted there.

Lost significance. Men and their attention span. The attraction. Sports. Money. Just sex.

What were the causes of all of this lost significance?

Lost significance. Whose fault was it? In a world of co-habitation? In a spiritual life? In the priesthood?

You may never see them again. Relationships. Changed. Different. Dealing with loss. In mourning over loss.

Good-byes. You may never see some of these people. Ever. I did not think that when I said good-bye. I was in a hurry.

The ongoing, unrecognized past with the ongoing human creation. In union with the Divine creation.

Feeling needed. Significance. Ex-communication. Feeling needed by others. Those hosts. Freshness

Awareness. Attention. Significance. Man. Love. Relationships. Sharing intimacy. Looking for more. The time involved in the pursuit.

Creation. A purpose to all of this. Looking for answers. Looking for my own significance. To others.

Sitting down to think. Sitting down to pray. For answers. About my life.

Action. Analysis. The answer was in others. In life. Purpose. Every day. Recognized and unrecognized.

The urgency to communicate again, in the real world, about this love. To a lover.

“We’ve got an old love. One we never will get tired of.
One that fits us like an old glove. One to warm a winter days.

We don’t have to say I love you. As often as we used to.
Old love just goes without saying, But we still say it anyway.”

That Protestant Work Ethic


Money.  God.  Max Weber.  Money and social policy.  Politics.  Religion.  Social justice. 


Sociology:  the study of social policy as it relates to guidelines for  creating, maintaining, or changing the living conditions which are conducive to human welfare in the areas of education, labor,  human services,  inequality, criminal justice, and health care.


For the modern-day American,” to hustle and scuffle for a deal is something he cannot even imagine,” wrote Ben Stein about his son. “I wish I could teach that work ethic to those close to me.  I very much fear that my son, more up-to-date than I am in almost every way, ….”   


Ben Stein wrote in the New York Times,  “I wish I could teach that money is a scarce good, worth fighting for and protecting.”  Nations go to war over money?  Money and the work ethic?  Apples and oranges?  What about all those nuns who worked hard teaching me.  When tuition was $35 a year.  Now it was over $1,000 in a parochial grad school.  Or $2,000.  Had those nuns been missing a work ethic? 


The concepts of money and worth ethic were not tied together in every nation on earth.  In a few places, there is a need for an understanding about money.  Max Weber wrote The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism.  The historical materialism written about by Karl Marx held that all human institutions –including religion – were based on economic foundations.  Turning Marx’s theory on its head, The Protestant Ethic implied that a religious movement fostered capitalism, not the other way around.  Attempting to deepen the understanding of the cultural origins of capitalism,  Weber thesis was based on the idea the Protestant ethic was a force behind an unplanned and uncoordinated mass action which influenced the development of capitalism.  Religious devotion usually accompanied a rejection of worldly affairs, including the pursuit of wealth and possessions.  Why was that not the case with Protestantism?  To answer the question, wanting to explain the characteristics of Western civilization, Max Weber became the first sociologist.  He wrote:


“Remember, that money is the prolific, generating nature. Money can beget money, and its offspring can beget more, and so on. Five shillings turned is six, turned again is seven and threepence, and so on, till it becomes a hundred pounds. The more there is of it, the more it produces every turning, so that the profits rise quicker and quicker. He that kills a breeding sow, destroys all her offspring to the thousandth generation. He that murders a crown, destroys all that it might have produced, even scores of pounds.”


Called a major scholar of religion, I wonder what his position was on birth control?  But money seemed to be a sign of holiness, in Weber’s view.


“It is particularly advantageous in technical occupations for workers to be extremely devoted to their craft. To view the craft as an end in itself, or as a ‘calling’ would serve this need well.  This attitude is well-noted in certain classes which have endured religious education,” Weber wrote.


Weber recognized the diverse aspects of social authority, including charismatic authority, traditional authority and legitimate authority.  His three main themes were the effect of religious ideas on economic activities, the relation between social stratification and religious ideals, and the characteristics which distinguished Western civilization.  The fact that he had lived through World War I, the German Revolution from November 1918 through August 1919, with the end of a monarchy followed by the institution of the Weimar Republic, might have affected his thinking.  His work on bureaucracies noted that institutions were based on legal (legitimate) authority, and he saw bureaucracies as mitigating the effects of “personalism” in organizations.


So if religious movement fostered capitalism, what happened in a secular society, Max?  And what happened in the world to religion when money becomes a scarce good?  When traditional Protestant churches were suffering a drought.  What would the affect be on American society?  That was the social question.  What would the affect be on, what the United States Jaycees called, “economic justice,” but really meant economic freedom? And what would the affect be on social justice?

News from the East


There are mor than 10,000 religious denominations within the Christian religion.  One pretty large denomination is meeting this week to elect a patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church.  About 700 hundred Russian Orthodox clergy, monks and lay people convened today in local council to start the process of selecting a new patriarch from the shortlist. 


The fear that in a world of 6 billion people, soon on the way to 7 billion, that the narrative was being diluted.  By the too well educated who all wanted great jobs.  Who wanted their own cars.  By too many religions.  Who wanted their own vehicles.  By the fight over earthly power and influence. 


According to the Moscow Times, in an interview published in the Trud newspaper yesterday, “Metropolitan Kirill said, ‘The position of the Russian Orthodox Church with regard to the possibility of a meeting between its patriarch and the Catholic pope remains unchanged.  A meeting between the patriarch and the pope will become possible only when there are conclusive signs of real and positive progress on issues which for a long time have been problematic for our relations.’   Kirill, 62, is a shrewd political operator, observers say, who has been careful not to appear too liberal for fear of alienating traditionalists in the church whose support he may need to win election as patriarch.   He does have close contacts with other Christian denominations.  Kirill won 97 votes at a first round of voting in the church’s Council of Bishops on Sunday.  


“Shortlisted with two other senior clergymen, Metropolitan Kirill is viewed as the candidate most open to contacts with the Vatican.  The next head of the Russian Orthodox Church will only meet the Roman Catholic pope if tensions between the two faiths are resolved, Kirill said. 


“The new patriarch will lead a church of about 165 million believers worldwide and determine whether to repair ties with the Catholic Church that have been strained since a schism in 1054 split Christianity into eastern and western branches.  The main obstacle to better relations between the two churches is the Russian charge that Rome has been trying to convert Orthodox believers to Catholicism since the end of communism, an allegation the Vatican denies. 


“Patriarch Alexy II, who died last month, resisted meetings with two successive pontiffs.  But some scholars of religion have predicted that Kirill, who met Pope Benedict in the Vatican two years ago, could be more open to the idea.  But Metropolitan Kirill said in a newspaper interview that the church’s position would not change.” 


If there was no real poverty, you could give up working hard.  More of us were fearing poverty this year. 


Without fear, you have no reason to work hard.  Without a sense of fear, you have no reason to find courage, for that matter.  Fear was the enzyme in the survival of the fittest.  Fear of hunger.  Fear of cold. 


Pessimism and fear:  fear of what?  Sometime it was the unknown that was the great motivator.  Fear of evil.  The temptations.  The loss of focus. 


Fear motivates us to work hard.  If there was no Devil, there would be no need to work hard at fighting crime.  Did anyone ever doubt the existence of evil?  And that those who were in search for the Truth were in a battle with evil every day?

There was a lot of politics with any religion.  And a lot of religion these day with any politics.   


The Conflict



What were you doing when your life had urgency? When life seemed exciting? In the morning. When there was real traffic flow, outside of the rush hours?


In the morning. Of light and movement. Of climate change. Global warming. Global dimming.

Ugency upon waking to get to work. But first the news. The urgency of ….The urgency of Henry Paulson for the last 4 months. The urgency of Christopher Cox at the SEC.

Global warming: Was it the result of avoiding suffering? The result of air conditioning? The result of cars and trucks? The result of heating spaces. Global dimming. Was its result on sunlight one affect of all these airplanes? And this affect on water evaporation?

Global dimming was as big a threat as global warming. They both are now affecting everyone. There was urgency. Like an urgency of hunger. Or of love.

Global warming: A lot of the world, the emancipated world, does not think it is wrong to turn up the air conditioner. To get drunk and drive. To do drugs. To stay warm. To avoid suffering. Or to avoid another child.

“Give me chastity. But just not right now.” That was the prayer of St. Augustine. He had a wild youth. Which was why his mother, Monica, was later canonized.

Trying to convince a kid it is wrong to have sex. To advise a son, a daughter. To stay away from someone who appeared to be evil. A lot of the world, the emancipated world, does not think sex, free sex, is wrong. Either in or outside of a relationship. So there is the conflict. Whether government belongs in the debate? Whether a religious body does? When there is national health insurance. When there is welfare. When the community was fitting the bill? With group insurance. With tax money. With the law.

“Give me chastity. Right now!” That was the prayer of the popes for the last thousand years. To all the clergy. Male and female. The real story of late was gender wars in all the secular world over the last 100 years, and humankind’s struggle with their own independence. The struggle with sex. As an adult men and women. With relationships, with each other, with your God, how to convey to the next generation the seriousness of life, the seriousness of sex and passion, and the seriousness of fertility? After the gender wars? Why should the church be immune? Intermixing the struggle on gender roles in the Church of Rome, the same gender wars in all the secular world was found in church, in discussion with living females on church issues of the day. In the mix of innocence, or purity, of sacrifice, amidst the green house gasses. Note the difficulty for guys with miters, ruling in an institution never particularly inclusive in leadership decisions for either women or married men.

“Conflict is in fact the basic law of life in all social organisms, as it is of all biological ones; societies are formed, gain strength, and move forwards through conflict; the healthiest and most vital of them assert themselves against the weakest and less well adapted through conflict; the natural evolution of nations and races takes place through conflict.” -Alfredo Rocco-

The realness … of God. The realness … of global dimming. The realness … of institutional sexism. Father Ray Bourgois was just excommunicated over the issue of urgency, over real prejudices which, he believed, were just as evil as racial prejudice. Ray Bourgois knew canon law. He knew, as well as Martin Luther knew, that his action would result in excommunication. He saw a kind of religious bigotry. The realness of life.

I was going to be in the most important church I ever prayed at in my life. On Sunday. On the college campus where I had spent 4 years. When the music of the St. Louis Jesuits had been new and heard for the first time by their companions a few hundred miles away. With readings about callings, where disciples were not asked to abandon their wives and families. Rather, Jesus settled down with his followers, and made Capernaum his home. Capernaum was in the territory of Herod Antipas which apparently was much more friendly to fishermen, than Herod Phillip. Working people, pragmatic young people, were all looking for places a little more friendly to the problems of the times. Normal people. His followers became his family.

In the end, what were you doing when your life had urgency? When life seemed exciting? When there was a realness of urgency?

So your sense of urgency. But in your hopes to move with great speed, did you know of the increased traffic in the world over the last 15 years asthe world population of cars since 1994 has grown from 550 million to about 880 million? In the internet age, you could not go so fast?

And why should the church be immune? With old vehicles and old priests? Who would replace them? In the slowdown, for those with expiration dates?

Bishops having to convince an adult he was recruiting that it was wrong to marry in his life. That there was a need for suffering, in a form of celibacy. Avoid the easy way. Find the mystery in this small sense of suffering. When your job was offering care to people. Spiritual care. With physcial exercise, you sweated but you felt good. No short cuts. Just do it. Then see what you think. When all of this was voluntary. The draft. The all volunteer spiritual army. For national service. So exactly how generous were you? With your money? With your life? But you could not have a spouse.

The readings this Sunday were about urgency. The urgency of callings … to change the world.

The difficulty to ask a young man to work for this institution with such apparent prejudices, however he felt called to serve His God. In a world that happened so fast, when not many popes lately had setttled in with his own followers and their problems, running a church 2000 years old, even when you were infallible, there was a still sense of urgency.

This was the real world. Where life seemed exciting. The urgency to communicate again, in the real world, about this God. The married and the unmarried. Men and women. But for those with real institutional prejudice.

Before the people here were allowed to lose a sense of excitement about God that the people of Europe seem to have lost over the past generation. For people who lost a sense of excitement. When religion became too much of a job. Too unreal with the everyday world. When the urgency was lost.

And when no one talked about it?

In a world where no one talked much about God. And His suddenness. And the “now what” question for Him. About all of this?

Global dimming was as big a threat as global warming. But it was the suddenness of all of this that was the crisis.

The Pipes, the Pipes Are Calling


I live in the neighborhood of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Where he once lived. In a building on the list of National Register of Historic Places. It is said Zelda and Scott were living here when their daughter was born. As a matter of fact, I think there were progeny of Scott who were over this week to fix a plumbing problem in the building. You can look it up. McQuillan Brothers Plumbing. They do good work. There is a book written that described James McQuillan’s daughter Alice as being “plumb crazy” in August 1914 over an older man, Frank Dun. It seemed like a congenital problem for some plumbers.

A plumbing problem.  I had one in my bathroom for the last 6 months.  About the time I started writing a blog.  I mean really writing.  I had put off calling a plumber.  I could avoid a bailout, caused by an overflow, just by playing with the water shut-off valve.  

The human plumbing problem.  The good news was that it did not involve incontinence or any part of my body.  Turning it on.  Turning it off.  The spiritual plumbing problem and regulating the shut-off valve.  I just had to regulate the water getting to the top of the tank.  The water in the tank affected the water in the bowl.  And the water in the bowl got flushed with all the other waste.  It seemed pretty simple.  Especially in the age where there are stories on Joe the Plumber each week of this financial crisis. 

“How many miles of water pipes? Then maintaining them. Year after year. Why did they ever build so many?

The why question of a 5-year-old . . . never really satisfactorily answered.

“Why do I have to take a nap? Why do I have to go to bed?”

“So yeah, why exactly do people need to sleep so much? And why do I love it so much? Why do I feel so invigorated on the weekend? So yeah, why are you_____?

The question to the 15-year old: what were you thinking? Why did you do that?Do you know why?

Why did you go out with him? A question to the 28-year old: Why did you ever marry him? Do you ever find out the answer?

The question of a 40-year old in times of economic distress: Why did we ever have so many kids?

A plumbing problem? The world was just there. Each morning, to my numbness. After some toothpaste. It took some coffee to get excited about it again. In the morning. Or after a shower to get excited again. In the morning.  Or a hymn. Or just a prayer. The spiritual plumbing connected us, just as McQuillan Brothers Plumbing had this week to all the neighbors.

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The New Cold War


It is twenty degrees below zero Fahrenheit here where I write.  Outside.  You begin to lose feeling fast in such an environment.  


People who do not communicate well.  In families it was called dysfunction.  It was the result of history.  Those dysfunctional Slavs.  Russians.  Ukrainians.  And natural gas.  In their lands Stalin had once used food as a weapon, starving at least 7 mullions Ukrainians to death.  They say Stalin killed 30 million of the people he ruled over.  His own. 


Dysfunction.  That was then.  This is now.  I have spent a couple nights in Bratislava, 

Today they wait in Bratislava for natural gas to be turned on.  It was not a question of supplies.  While the rest of Europe watches, in the bone chilling cold of their homes and offices, those dysfunctional Slavs.  Russians. Ukrainians, fight over the price of gas and the power that comes with having the gaslines.  Adminsistering the talent and resources that you were blessed with. 


Those other Orthodox in Bulgaria wait.  Power.  Authority.  People watching in disbelief.  Man-made conflict with natural resources.  Paybacks?  I wonder where the common heritage, in bloodlines, in belief was.  Where was the patriarch of Moscow in all of this?   Coule he get over the the pipeline and get the correct valves open? 


Power and authority.  Human authority administering justice with divine resources.  In Bratislava, in Bulgaria, the trust in Gazprom in Russians, in the Ukrainian pipeline company was lost.  It would take a generation to get it back.  When it was twenty degrees below zero Fahrenheit where you were, you had a lot of human compassion for the cold and the hungry.  You took the news a lot more personal.  And in all of this, God and his message seemed a lot more real. 



Somewhere around 25 years ago I met a lawyer who was getting sued by one of his former clients.  He told me something that day that I never forgot.  Something happened to people when they got to be over 50 years old. I sure never understood what he meant at the time.  It had nothing to do with mellowing with age. 


I think what he was alluding to was doubt.  At some people, over the age of 50, people begin to experience a form of doubt that they never imagined.  Doubt in the world and its compassion.  Doubt in the dogma of a political party.  Both of them.  Doubt in the dogma of religion.  Doubt in a creator.   Or mostly, just doubt about themselves.  Especially if they had not saved enough money for the long haul.  Especially when hemispheres looked to be ready to over turn completely.  From east to west. 


The lawyer had been talking mostly about people who never saved money for the future.  When I turned 40 there was a surprise birthday party one night.  I was as sick in the 24-hours before as I have ever been since the age of 23.  I did not want to be there.  But that night I got a coffee mug from some friends who had driven up from Chicago.  And I gave that mug back when the youngest of the group turned 40 in 2007.  And he was giving the same mug to a mutual friend who never had a party last week.  I never quite believed that I could be 40. How could a kid like me turn 40?  The latest friend that I have who turned 40 in January seems to have reacted the same way.  I think that was the reaction last week, as I read the e-mail response that I had received.  The latest friend that I have who turned 40 in January seems to have reacted the same way.  And I don’t think he appreciated that traveling trophy of a coffee mug.      


The theme of this week seemed to be about doubt. The movie, based on the play, called “Doubt.”  Then there was the American Public Radio’s “Speaking of Faith” about doubt.  And the John Updike novel on doubt that I had started. 


It was time to address the most signifiant issue of the day. In January in Minnesota.  No, not global warming.  In Minnesota at this time of year, there was doubt.  It was not going to get above zero today.  Or maybe all week.  Fahrenheit.  And two months later they were still counting, addressing ballots, 2 months after an election.  There was a lot of doubt. 


I always thought that time period post WW II was the most interesting in all of history.  The “return to nomalcy.”  Or the attempt to resume a normal life.  Was it possible if you lived in Europe in 1946?  When everything you ever believed in, when everybody you ever believed in, was challenged.  Like beyond the human imagination.  By bombed out buildings.  By cold temperatures –the worst in a long long time.  By forced migrations of people.  By national identities. 


I have not seen “Doubt.”  I had read an interview of the Irish writer which included his own thinking.  There seemed to be a lot of doubt in Europe these days.  When the natural gas would be back in the pipelines.  That interviews:  I think there was something in the air I was picking up (concerning his  own Catholicism as a “point” for Doubt).  There was a quality of certainty being exercised around me that something in me was answering with something that felt very powerful called “doubt.” Not a weakness, but in fact a passion to answer this certainty that was not as founded as doubt.  Then at another point I started to think about black and white. And about those nuns.  And their certainty.  And that connected it to the past.  Again, thinking again in black and white, I started thinking of a black woman—coming into a white woman’s office, and talking about whether something was black and white.  Democrats and Republicans who, year in and year out, show up like convicts chained together—having the exact same positions on everything!  They’re just chained to it.  I don’t think that’s “thinking.” And that’s what functioning, effective members of a culture do—say, ‘Look! I have doubts. And that’s a good thing. You should have doubts, too. And if you don’t, you’re a hammer-headed clown!’   Whether the invasion of Iraq or molestation within the Catholic Church regarding the institution.”  


Power and authority.  And doubt.  Doubt about human authority, when it came to human freedom.  Doubts about the economy.  The Freedom House annual survey group’s statement released yesterday stated: Citing 34 declines and 14 improvements, although setbacks in 2008 did not represent substantial declines for most countries, setbacks were numerous and affected most regions.”’  With Russia elections reportedly “were ‘neither free nor fair.’”  With neighboring Russian-influenced countries whichstifled dissent following peaceful anti-authoritarian revolutions.  Greece sank over nationwide riots in December and the government’s ‘inability’ to control them.’”  Notice the cultures influenced by the Eastern Orthodox Church.  


Power and authority.  Adminsistering free will in the modern world.  In the changing world.  The American Revolution.   The French Revolution.  The industrial evolution.  The

Russian Revolution.  And now this.  Carried along by the wind current.  Capitalism and its affect on freedom.  Doubts about human authority in administering justice.  In a free world.  God and freedom and free will.  And money. 


Money never seen.  There were 3 trillion dollars per day in electronic transactions.  All built on trust.  Money, the worth of paper, is a confidence game.  In the information age that seems to have resulted in a revolution affecting freedom of everything. 


Confidence and trust.  In a world where trust can be lost.  Trusting people to pay you back was the definition of….credit.  At my bank and trust.  Business no longer works without credit, we learned in mid-September 2007.  When there is doubt.  When banks quit loaning. 


Political rights and civil liberties declined largely because governments worldwide mimicked European anti-authoritarian “color revolutions” that reversed course and squelched democracy,” Freedom House said.


What of the difference between belief and atheism?  The great doubters and believers,  agnosticism. Have been preoccupied with another great schism: The one between what human beings are and what we wish we were.  What divides belief and atheism is that believers have some kind of a taste for religion and atheists think it is dangerous bunk.  What we do and what we understand.  That we love, and that love, among other possibilities, brins forth life, is very strange.  We cannot state that it is inexplicable, and yet when it happens (either true love, or conception, or both) we stand amazed.  Love can drastically alter a rational person’s world

                –Jennifer MichaeL Hecht’s book, Doubt: A History


Religion.  Some kind of a passion to record what people before us discovered about God, this “taste for religion.  Always and everywhere.  There were evangelical doubters, who wanted nothing to do with people who were interested in the spiritual history of human beings.  The atheists.  The agnostics.  The doubters.  I wonder how they disavow a belief in natural law.  That something falls from an airplane at 32 foot per second per second?  That there was a speed of light?  That there were the four seasons of the year?  Why there was high and low tide?  That the planets spun in a certain alignment?  Why gestation for a woman was 40 weeks for the most part?  Why a woman had a cycle?  Power and authority.  God.  Freedom and free will.  Natural law.  Capitalsim and freedom.  What did you believed in?  When you were hungry?  When war was declared? 


Hey!  We were all born doubters.  Doubt was a reality in this world.   Always and everywhere.  There was always a need for new discoveries.  And a lot of people grow up with belief and over a lifetime return to a period of doubt. 


John Updike wrote in his book, In the Beauty of the Lillies, of one family in characters over 4 generations of the 20th century, of belief and doubt.  “The pastor who loses faith in God whose doubts finally pushes him out of a job to where he spends his time at a movie theater.  His son content with the quiet life of a postman who doesn’t want to wade back to the God question.  His daughter who is constantly aware of God, yes her narcissism and self-centeredness betrays a very shallow faith. Infatuated with herself from a young age, she grows up to be a movie star, displaying the typical “godless” lifestyle typical of Hollywood. Belief in God is her “secret”, sees God so clearly, finds doubt a bit bemusing, but would not know what it was like to not believe in God.  And finally her son the young dropout who loses faith in Hollywood and finds escape in a cult group with an apocalyptic madman and his counterfeit God with precisely the passionate commitment which the family has never had. In a strange way, life has come full-circle for this family in his great-grandson.”


Power and authority.  Doubt.  About God, or about other humans?  Doubt not in purpose but in authority.  In law.  In order.  In war time.  In human authority?  Doubt in the need to be saved?  In saving others?  The discussion.  In January.  In good time and in bad.  In sickness and in health.  Til death do us part.  The prayer back and forth. 


In a world with doubt in God, is it a surprised that we doubt each other? 

In Search of An Audience



Identity theft. In the European Union.  A nation without a language is a nation without a soul.  The EU seemed to be simply an idea about the Americanization of Europe.  It was just the way the world was becoming.  What was it that had changed over a period of time in the culture in the age of television, with the generation formed by television?  But Europe had never been a pluralist community.  When all across Europe attitudes are stiffening toward immigration, does this all sound like a replay of the 1930s?  With a vanishing Christianity in Europe.  


When stock markets soar, people think they are geniuses, making money because of their own great thinking.  In down markets, in great depressions, people look for villains.  The expectations changed.   The politicians are likely villains.  And there will be others when fear is growing.  Social formation has changed the people.   


Identity, national, religious, was an idea that was being eroded.  In Ireland the best seller was a book titled Vanishing Ireland.  The Celtic Tiger had eroded a way of life.  Or something had changed.   


There were people there who had dedicated their live to Celtic music.  To traditional Irish music and the culture that had produced it.  the music was not about just notes drawn on paper.  It was about a sense of mystery.  Of people coming together to express something.  It was geography, language, religion, art, and all the classes assigned to young people to learn expressed in music.  Traditional music.  And the music and this identity was a civilization in a particular place and time.  Identity was a proper noun that was no longer being capitalized.   


Sugar in the diets and the affects on memory, according to a study published in the December issue of Annals of Neurology, spikes in blood sugar can take a toll on memory by affecting the dentate gyrus, an area of the brain within the hippocampus that helps form memories.  Since glucose regulation worsens with age, the study may help explain normal age-related cognitive decline.  Or the study may help explain why the sugar-coated media age was having an affect on the way people in a democratic society elected representatives, in the way people reacted to religion.  What would the effect be on memory, history and civilization?   “If we conclude this is underlying normal age-related cognitive decline, then it affects all of us,” said lead investigator Dr. Scott Small, associate professor of neurology at Columbia University Medical Center.


To lose an identity, the “idea” of a Catholic identity, was to lose a sense of significance, to become anonymous.  In the age of television, we were all forgetting who we were.  And that in a secular world was the concern about identity theft. 


Georgetown is a Catholic Jesuit university that promotes a concept of religious pluralism.  Its student population is 51% Roman Catholic.  Georgetown does not keep statistics on its faculty.  Institutions that did not want to be sued had human resource departments that would not make such information available.  In a 2003 book “A People Adrift,” Peter Steinfels states that 55% of the faculty at Notre Dame was Catholic.  So what makes it a Catholic university?  Even of the 51% of the students, of the 55% of the faculty?  In a nation where 20% of the population was Catholic, how many actually attended there because of the Catholic idenitty?  Or just to get ahead?  To make money?  Was there a mysterious power about the institution because of Catholic identity?  What did it mean intellectually to be Catholic?  What contributes to a Catholic identity when the student population of Catholics is close to a minority?  What did it mean to be baptized anyway, in going about a job?  What did it mean to be Catholic?  Either at Macy’s or in Congress?  Or what makes Notre Dame a Catholic university?  Was it only what went on in the theology departments?  At a Catholic hospital did all of the physicians need to be Catholic?  At a Catholic hospital were only Catholic patients treated?  Identity: What did it mean to be Catholic? 


Why Catholic schools?  Why did Catholics need their own place to learn how to read?  What is the purpose of the institution?  Or how to remain a Catholic school in these times without priests and nuns?  Why a religious dimension to any institution?  Catholic identity, for the best and the brightest.  For a few good men.  For a few good women.  Basic training?  If the purpose was to train leaders for the future, what happens when a Catholic instituion becomes so enamored with the financial, political, and academic sucess of its students in the secular world that it forgets its initial mission and identity?  Is there a concern about the ideals of John Carroll, S.J.?  How can you expect these leaders to continue the mission, to pass on its tradition if its board of directors lose sight of its purpose.  How can you ask young people to carry on the tradition, to give their life unconditionally to others, to truly set the world on fire? 


Because as Gordon S. Woodsome writes, there is a need for some kind of an audience as an essential necessary part if a historian, if God, is “going to influence the consciousness of our times.”  And public schools in a secular world were no longer going to pass on the religious dimension.  And that was the threat in the modern age.  Vanishing Christianity, whatever the denomination, was faced with a shortage of clergy for the next generation.  It had happened and was continuing to happen.  But why?


Sugar-frosted flakes. Sugar Pops are tops?  The ability to regulate glucose starts deteriorating by the third or fourth decade of life.  That was about the same affect television had on politics, starting in the 1990s.  Cognitive decline was affecting civilization.  In a sense, I think the reaction in the Muslim world was a gigantic scream against what television had done to their history, to their world.  Before Alzheimers afflicted their culture.   


To lose an identity was to become anonymous.  And an inability to cope, those with an undirected spiritual nature, in a secular world

When fear is growing, amidst cognitive decline, in the search for villains, as violence grew more rapidly.  My goodness.  The threat to my goodness.     


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Without the Cliff Notes

The problem on Wall Street at the end of the housing bubble is that all judgment was cast aside.” -Joe Nocera, the business columnist for The New York Times

 To analyse what had happened for the crises facing these times, all judgment was cast aside, had been cast aside, in the salaries paid to CEOs.  All judgment was cast aside in mergers and acquisitions, and the layoffs in the years before.  All judgment was cast aside in the era of free agents in sports.  Wall Street.  In the age of moral relativism.     


Waterford Wedgwood PLC, the maker of Waterford and Spode, filed for bankruptcy protection yesterday.  Waterford.  Spode.  Bulls in the china shop.  Crashes.  Bankruptcies.  GM and Chrysler did not have much more than 2 months.   


The significance of the moment.  The present.  The clock.  One minute.  A countdown.  A broken people?  What did anyone really know?   


In a world where all risk is unknowable, I have a bachelor of arts degree in history and English, a graduate of Creighton University.  When I was a student there was a philosophy professor’s whose dad was Bob Richards.  When I grew up, Bob Richards’ photo was on the boxes of Wheaties.  General Mills in that day and age never put many other people on the boxes of Wheaties.   General Mills changed that in 1987.  I never took a class from Professor Richards in college.  I only took the prerequisites in philosophy, and like most prerequisites, those classes were not very interesting.  The overview course.  Just the introductions. 


My love of history has exceeded that of literature.  At the time, the English literature courses were for me more of a challenge.   With a retrospective, I am not sure how anyone can read without an understanding history.  In my junior year, I sat In Professor Garcia’s modern literature class next to a basketball star who was as responsible as anyone for getting Eddie Sutton’s team to the Sweet 16 that year.   He was struggling as bad as I was.  (He is now an attorney.)  Struggling with the meaning of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  Struggling with more than just the meaning of James Joyce’s Ulysses.  The language on all 1264 pages.  Did you need to know Irish history?  What was going on in the Belgian Congo?  Greek Mythology?  Homer’s epics?  World history?  I don’t remember any of Ulysses.  This was tough stuff. 


I had gone to the one of the best college prep schools in these parts, and I had done well enough there.  I had spent a year translating Homer’s Iliad and then the Odyssey.  I did not know then that this was the same Ulysses.  After 4 semesters of college, I thought I knew how to study.  I did not use Cliff Notes.  Somewhere along the way, during that semester, I discovered that the library had literary criticism where I could figure out what the experts saw that I had missed.  I still never used Cliff Notes.   


For the next 18 months, I learned to study and really read on my own.  


And for the next 2 semesters, I avoided professors like Professor Garcia.  And what a mistake.  My last semester, I finally signed up for a class with Lloyd Hubenka.  The word in the dorms was that he was tough.  I was surrounded by kids interested in obtaining a seat in medical school, law school, dental school, and for the most part English lit classes were just a bother.  At the time, Creighton reserved 50% of the seats in their professional school for their degreed undergraduates.  That seemed to affect the atmosphere on campus, as it did on most American campuses.  I was surrounded by kids interested in good grades. 


Lloyd Hubenka was the best college professor I ever had.  He was allegedly a George Bernard Shaw world renowned authority.  How could I have listened to the fear in the dorm?  How could I have missed this guy until the very end?  Avoidance as a response to an unknown fear.  At the end of the semester, I regretted the classes that I had never taken from him.  Those would-be professional students really feared the curve breakers who actually loved to learn.  I had succumbed to fear.  (A finance major who graduated a year before me, told me about 25 years later that I had also missed a presentation by Warren Buffet on campus in the mid-seventies too.  I feel worse about missing more classes by Lloyd Hubenka.)    


Somewhere along the way, a lot like those semester with Dr. Garcia and Dr. Hubenka, I discovered experts saw what I had missed.   Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness was about epiphany.  The conflict.  The tension in literature, in life.  This “other way” is what Epiphany means.  In the dark.  Heart of Darkness for all practical purposes was a true story.  Conrad addressed the truth.  All great writers did.  It was why every chapter in the book of life was exciting, and not just the ending. 


What did I really know?  About anything?  Those grades and the fear of falling short motivated a lot of the young.  I had grown up in a great generation but one too much concerned about grades.  And in some ways that same generation was surrounded by an interest in good money, in good china, and in good crystal. 


A college educationFor those who know so little. The search for meaning each day.   Post college.  In the news.  In markets.  In sport.  In the age of moral relativism.  The “unknowable” God who somehow was leading us somewhere.  Unconditionally.  The “other way?”


Today is the Feast of the Epiphany.  Three wisdom-figures whose whole spirituality was based on interpreting those celestial beings, following a single unknown star in a sky that seemed alive.  A lot like investing, a lot like signing up for a class, a lot like going to college, theirs was a search with knowledge of the patterns from the simple to the complex, to an unknown destination.  Three wisdom-figures whose whole spirituality was based on interpreting the movement in the sky, somehow connecting the dots? Guys who seemed to have set out, unconditionally, not held down by conventional thinking, not unlike the connection made by God to Abraham about all the stars in the sky, which one day had affected the entire universe and guys like me.


Wise men, three: Did they represent the three major Abrahamic religions? Did you know that a rabbi, a priest, or an iman would get excommunicated for apostasy if they asked this question? Was it the number three which called the question about the major Abrahmic religions? When over and over GOD humbles us along the way, even if we humble ourselves before God. “As knowledge leads you to a destination and somehow God, in your life….”

And so the crossings. . . and never being the same. What the three wise men, also nomads, seemed to have known, amidst forms of hardship unfathomable, was God manifest. The connection in those stars to Abraham in something like 5500 galaxies, and the connection in the Atonement, in grieving over our lives. Wanting to kill his ONE son — over what he had done or over what he had failed to do. When, on issues of living inheritance, Isaac’s great sin had been not recognizing Abraham’s God? Or not quite wanting the inheritance as it was being presented in this strange blessing on Mount Moriah?

So of these “leaving and coming back” stories, some are known, most are not. Leaving and coming back. Births and deaths and new generations. Like Isaac, born oblivious, to all of the emotions. Like Isaac, oblivious to the suffering that had occurred in Abraham’s life – in the first one hundred years. Oblivious to all the tension and feelings around him. Oblivious to all the movement in the story of nomads or emigrants. About those who left, or those who stayed behind. In the initial public offering, God manifest. To take something so private public. And the involvement of the public power in the story — stopping in to see Herod.

And so the appearance of the outsiders in the Christmas story, in the connection of Atonement to the story of inheritance and birthrights. The outsiders without quite the baggage. The wise men. The learned men. The spiritual awkwardness in the story, with the movement in the sky to reap the dividends of power. Did these three guys remind you of the three men who showed up to Abraham and he ordered Sarah to start preparing a feast?

Dealing with life and death and innocence, the three wise men coming before God, to try and worship God. With gold, frankincense and myrrh somehow connected to the old stories of birthright which came out of the story of the Akedah. In a sense, learning to study for the wise men was really learning how to worship and find the power of the divine. When beginnings are so much related to endings. In the great stories.


Crossings.  And never being the same.  The Heart of Darkness.  The Belgian Congo.  Amidst forms of slavery.  Amidst forms of poverty unfathomable.  Amidst the quest for power.   In my own Illiad and  Odyssey.  When epiphany was all about good undertakings, sound fundamentals over risk-taking in the dark.  With even more mergers and acquisitions, in a quest both for survival with the search for meaning, God manifest.  With some kind of an audience as an essential necessary part, if the story-teller, if God, is “going to influence the consciousness of our times.”  In the crises of these times.  Without the Cliff Notes.

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The Purpose of the Past

 “We Americans have such a thin and meager sense of history that we cannot get too much of it. What we need more than anything is a deeper and fuller sense of the historical.” Gordon S. Wood

The Vatican Splendors Exhibition has been  extended in St. Paul by a few days.  Until January 11th.  I have not traveled the half-mile or so to the Minnesota History Museum to see it.  I have already been to the Vatican.  Long ago, after visits to about 10 European countries, I lost a lot of desire to see many more museums.  Why did people need to go to museums where there seemed to be at the ticket booth a display of one fundamental truth: The fundamental truth that we differ from our ancestors.  The fundamental arrogance was that the modern world was better.    


I had this overdue library book, The Purpose of the Past by Gordon S. Wood, on history.  Wood, the past winner of the Pulitzer Prize.   There was too much to digest in the book and I had trouble giving it up.  In The Purpose of the Past, Gordon S. Wood reviewed the debate over narrative history and microhistory.  Wood believes that the mission of the historian is to communicate the past to everyday people.


Wood was frustrated by the microhistories that used individual stories of common people to help make inferences from the past.  At a time when enrollment in higher education was booming from 1970 to 1986, “the number of history degrees granted by all American colleges and universities declined almost by two-thirds.”  In a generation when academics shunned so-called triumphalist U.S. history, “graduate students of history are well aware that ‘race, class, gender’ is the mantra they must repeat as they proceed through their studies and write their dissertations,” Wood wrote.   History had become valued more as a science than as part of the humanities.  Storytelling had become frowned upon in favor of theory.   


Story-telling.  Dealing with past reality.  Unconnected series of events.  Memoirs.  Some people were now making theirs up.  History.  Objective story-telling.  Or just another social science about problem-solving?  Ideology?


In September 2001, there was a plane ride from Warsaw to Amsterdam next to soon-to-be history professor, this twenty-something male teaching assistant.  I was reading a book.  There was his initial contemptuous comment about Columbus, about Christianity’s part in the new world.  There was discussion, a contemptuous comment, about the way history was taught to the generation behind me which I made.  History now as a social science, like your use of social media.  The ideology  – your personal ideology – as some kind of purchased commercial time.  


I had been privately reading at the time Eva Hoffman’s Shtetl.  There was discussion about September 11th.  A discussion about Poland and Jews.  This young man was Jewish.  This guy was very secular.  He had spent 2 years in the Peace Corps here.  Then he was asked to extend his stay one more year.  His brother had been in New York City on September 11th.  I was the first American he had seen since that day, who had been in the United States on September 11th.  I bore witness to all what televised America had seen that day.  He really wanted to get to this brother in New York.  To see him again before heading back to Portland.  His brother was alive. 


The struggle to say something meaningful.  Long-lasting.  The search for the Truth.  In narration.  in museums.  But the fundamental Truth carries this arrogance that the modern world is better … in history, through history, which is to society what memory is to the individual: without it, we don’t know who we are.    


Memory.  Telling the stories.  And searching for understanding.  From the past.  Jews were a story-telling people.  People with a common history.  And I loved to listen to them speak about their faith, from which I could learn a lot.  There was discussion about the conflict between Poles and Jews and whether Poles were anti-semitic.  In a sense I had come to Poland in answer to the question.  So had he.  It was one of two international flights when the time length did not seem long enough.  


The writing of history.  Stories call us, lead us to significance.  In History, there is the suddenness of evil.  Was the evil here so sudden?  That is the reality of world history.  In Poland in the 1930s.  In the United States today.  The suddenness of evil is the reality of world history.  To keep evil under some kind of control.  With freedom.  With an objectivity.  The human struggle for decency is to keep evil under some kind of communal and individual control.  


It was New Year’s Day in 1998.  It was New Year’s Day in 1999.  It was New Year’s Day in 2000.  There was talk of the New Paradigm.  Firms were trying to devise more sophisticated risk models because the world was changing around them.  It was still September 2001 when that flight came back from Poland.  The Market had crashed.


In That Noble Dream:  TheObjectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession, Peter Novick bemoans the age when ideology has replaced objectivity.   No wonder the fundamental human condition seemed to carry a doubt of the presence of the Devil in the world.  In the days leading up to September 11th, there was the fundamental arrogance that the modern world – bigger, stronger, faster – is better.  It was the New Paradigm that became old that week.


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