Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

System Substitution

Moreton Fig Tree “Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.” Like in the Tree of Knowledge story, note the forced out native-born in the story, like the North American Indians, comparable to Eve and Adam.

System substitutions again, by Abraham. Note the circumcision, only after he went and fathered a child through his wife’s handmaid. So in the science of consequences, his first born son was a slave. If you did Algebra I.

In an apparition, there was suddenly the unexpected banishment, like an accidental death? And these stories just seemed to be repeating themselves. With the hovering ghosts of ingratitude toward Hagar, Sarah at least banished her handmaid and her son. The thing that got between two women might have had something to do with the methods of shared prayer if not shared belief.

Narrative tension is primarily about withholding information. In a story when both Abram and Sarai had the same father but different mothers, what has become of the command given to Adam to cleave? “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Though Abram had left home in his calling, here he was still cleaving to his half-sister perhaps out of the prejudice that he had about the outside world.

In any relationship, there is the issue of undivided support.

In an act that failed to distinguish, Abraham had fathered a child. And in the science of consequences, there is another separations and a split. In a perspective which challenged, to provide a fierce undivided support for a split child – did Ishmael belong to Abraham or to the mother? And so in the relationship, based upon cleaving, there is still the issue of support. So what is this perspective about a handmaid leaving the father of her son? If Ishmael belonged to Hagar, what of his relationship with Abraham, his master?

In a story when neither Adam nor Eve had a father or a mother, what is this new perspective for Ishmael about leaving a father? And I am drawn to the opening line in the National Book Award winner, The Round House: “Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation.”

So another author captures the story of beginning – in the conflict of the Native-born with the outside, with only the one post-Apple- Age-command given to Adam, about cleaving.

With the fear in the story, doubt was always the center of either mystery or faith which moved THESE STORIES beyond the power of imagination. If you get the small details wrong, with all the fear in the story about land and women and suffering, you will get the big picture wrong – affecting if not your money, if not your land, then at least your kids. And in growing up, based upon my parochial education, let me say that the Christian world in the Americas never gave a second thought about Ishmael until sometime after September in the first year of the New Millennium.

Hagar Spirit. It is the size and shape of ghosts which get through things. Feel the Post Traumatic Stress when a father sets a captive free. It seems fair to say that the lesson of the Emancipation Proclamation is that a society ignores the formation process of Creation by solely setting a captive free. So note another separation like between Abram and Lot, only this time between Abraham and the mother of his first born son. And were you sensitive enough to a chronology over a lifetime to realize there was a significant period of time when Abraham never knew for sure – with his human doubts – whether he would have any other son? Abraham who had negotiated with his God over saving 100 people in Sodom, in contrast to his ancestor Noah who failed to negotiate with God when he knew what was coming…. the father of faith, told what was coming. Before the discovery that God might be negotiated with. Note the conflict over power in the story, when surrounded by so many of your kinsmen, the very same human condition, whether as the last person on earth — or the first — and feeling so all alone? Living with exception to these kinsmen, with Sarah and all the strangeness of Sarah through the things not physically shared – the torture of her barren-ness for the inability to carry the God of Abraham to the next generation through a child. Locate the personal boundaries in the story, with violations of individual if not communal boundaries in the story of Hagar.

The all-knowing story-teller, working for The Academy of Private Detection, before answering the question whether the G*d of Abraham would live through and/or beyond Ishmael, had some exploring to do of the people without power in this chapter of the story? Chosen, like in a mate, if the G*d of Abraham would survive for his son, with the involvement of political and Spiritual powers? Through story, image is defined by others, especially in the way of Ishmael’s handmaid-mother. What is apparent to me in my religious tradition somehow acquired through Abraham is that every tradition of the Abrahamaic religions – Judaism, Christianity, Islam – has a need for both a story and a real living human body in order to pass on the method of prayer.

From age to age, from east to west, WHERE you come to feel a Living G*d, it is story that shapes the way you think, as you come to know in the ritual of seasons, with at least this quasi-religious timetable, where to find a Living G*d. So in these stories locate the system substitutions again and again by Abraham, which over and over is repeated in the system substitution of his sons and grandsons. You learn these days in Algebra I about system substitution …and there is a theology of failure. Note the actions of substitution after Abraham realized his mistake.

The chronology in the life of Abraham started with the Call. The place in the story was always important – like the PLACE of origin – though Abraham acquired his wisdom over time because he just kept moving. So would Ishmael? There is something missing in the life of Ishmael. It is the hole that often can represent Spirituality. Note the reluctance of the narrator if not the Author of Life to state the self-evident about the inequality which threatened stability, based upon the PLACE and TIME that you were born into, with the displaced ghosts. In the beginning, like just another speck of dust – you. And when your father banished your mother over the conflict over the unconditional. And your father was gone from your everyday life. But in the case of Ishmael, not until he reached an early teen-age year.

Note the unconditional in this story, for those willing to keep moving, to start over – and the chronology which led to the idea of “unconditional love.” What transpired just before this banishment was the circumcision, after Abraham had gone and fathered a child through his wife’s handmaid. So in the science of consequences, his first born son, in the eyes of the world if not in the eyes of Abraham, was a slave.

In the ghosts of the religions of Abraham, stories do affect the way you pray … thoughtfully. In Ghost stories, this hole left in this birth of Ishmael is comparable to a hole left after a death. Remember, that thou art dust, visible and invisible. Long after you forget, one winter morn the quiet spirits of your ancestors show up again on your windshield after the morning frost melts ….and you notice that dust and it meaning, years later. When there is something in the hole that is now missing. As inequality threatens stability, in the construct of ghosts , there is the hole. And the construct of each and every ghost is still dust, from the dust of PLACE and TIME. Discussing the placement of Spirit in the hole – in the silence of Creation – the seen and the unseen construct of ghosts is still dust. Forever buried dust?

Did you grasp the resentment in the story? Why did Sarah even have a handmaid? Why did a childless woman need a handmaid? Was Abraham bringing back the spoils of war, as a sign of her worth … to prove her True worth …. like a Valentine from long ago? What had come between Sarah and the ideals of her handmaid over who she was: over identity and belonging, and over who this G*d of Abraham and of Sarah was? In having to still prove your worth at this age was there the lack of respect from outsiders to both Abraham and Sarah, without children? Did Hagar know the same feeling, as a handmaid? Was the wife of Abraham hostile that Abraham had taken in an arranged relationship – only a temporary one – a handmaid, against the mores of the people he had grown up with? Did Abraham and Sarai think that they could contend with a son born into slavery? When did the insight into the uncaring nature of others — a missing hospitality — begin that grew out of concepts of pride?

Order, before there was any law … in the beginning. Chosen first, but elite? Was the first born son better than the others? In the serial stories there are the personal and/or nostalgic associations. Not for the light-hearted, the debate is over goodness in what, for so many, were just kid stories … over whose sacrifice was best, in the debate over how to worship God which began as Abel, “for his part, brought the fatty portion of the FIRSTLING of his flock.” In the theme of “firstborn” and of chosen, with inheritance, as you assembled the children to hear the stories … about the the beginning of.

Did you ever follow the chronology which led to the idea of “unconditional love,” in the placement of the story of Sodom and purity — about intimacy — just after Ishmael had been born to Hagar? There is always the conflict over belonging to the G*d of Abraham, because Abraham himself was so divided in his love (over issues of purity), perhaps over to whom his new son belonged? Did you note the constant strife between the herdsmen — the stories over and over about shepherds — and now between Sarah and Hagar, which always exists in relationships? In the silent themes of PLACE, bloodlines, and the fertility which determine power and freedom, at this point in the Book of Genesis, Ishmael was the bastard son of Abraham, after Hagar had sacrificed her purity to her masters. When you were living as a conquered people and a conquered nation – with all the silent invisible hostility – Hagar had conceded forever not only her status but that of her son? But with the far off hope that something would one day change?

To connect the dots about Hagar, about intimacy, about unconditional love, Abraham has sacrificed his purity in the same way Adam had, to appease Eve. As your life becomes a formula, with personalities, plot structures, and noble character within, in order to develop comfort, with consistent shapes, often reaching consensus over right and wrong if not goodness over evil, there was this this hole left from this birth of Ishmael? When there did not yet exist a rule of law. And so the innocence of Abraham sacrificed, in order that Sarah might have a son.

The story begins with Creation which, as we have seen, is the story of the acts of distinguishing one thing from another. It ends by alluding to the most crucial distinction of all … wrote Daniel Mendelsohn in THE LOST.

And so the story of Abraham. An apparition is mostly an opening of light, if you did your Algebra I. And if it is Thursday, I am working on Algebra I and system substitution, but finding Abraham in the stories about sacrifice and human bodies, and their connection to unconditional love. How to communicate deep feeling of flesh and blood nomads in search of something, while unknowingly dealing with a tragic hero — in the story of the Father of Faith, concerning his God and the relationships of Abraham, moving slowly toward the proper way of worship … through stories about sacrifice and human bodies? “Mostly they are the same lives. The same stories, over and over,” wrote David Remnick, the editor of The New Yorker. When we endow our lives with stories. Mostly the same stories, generation after generation. When your relationships at their foundation were so alive, but with a great restlessness. When you prayers were so alive….and you wanted others to then have the same experience. Even if sometimes you had to hood-wink a son.

Locate the VICTIMs by the end of the Book of Genesis. As Ishmael goes missing. And in a role passed to Isaac – who had to appreciate his own father’s pain about a missing son – and then in the story of Joseph, it is Jacob, who is the ultimate VICTIM of hood-winking in response to “Where is the Lamb” question. In these stories of the missing. Like Israel, surrounded by people who he could never really trust, even his eldest son of Leah. And did you witness in the stories of Jacob & Sons, all of the Violence over trying to be One? Again. And so the invisible God of Jacob, so distinct from the God of Abraham. If you ever spent the time to try and see. And did you notice a greater suffering as the living VICTIM went missing, for over twenty years, in a witness of the unseen? With so much emotional attachment … to first Jacob, and then his son, Joseph? And the long-forgotten first born son, Ishmael?

And so this birth right, connected to the invisible if not to the missing. Yes, locate the importance of the binding in the hole left in the relationships, in stories about unconditional love … with God’s intervention in the holes.

COPYRIGHT PHOTO of a Moreton Bay Fig Tree COURTESY OF, belonging to, HO TONY of New Zealand. Touch to enlarge the photo, to locate the Spirit in the tree. Is Abraham near the root?

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2015 POST SCRIPT:
Speaking of “system substitution,” the trial of Jason Rezaian, the reporter working for the Washington Post in Iran was not much different than the news stories from 2011 involving Dorothy Parvaz or even the arrest of Shane Bauer. Yes, when we endow our lives with stories. Through stories about sacrifice involving human bodies? “Mostly they are the same lives. The same stories, over and over,” wrote David Remnick, the current editor of The New Yorker, a one-time reporter for the Washington Post. Mostly these are the same stories, generation after generation. When your relationships at their foundation were so alive and you wanted others to then have the same experience. Because of a great restlessness you were born with, that seemed to move the next generation.

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JesuitEducated
Larry Gillick, livelydust.

Human Expression

That abyss. People who once upon a time who had been in the abyss and now spent time pulling others out. In my education, by teachers. Or writers. To use perspective like artists once had in the Renaissance. In the dark, with the use of light. They used shadows to make a point. The conflict, in art. The tension in literature, in life. All great writers wrote about the abyss. To emerge out of the dark

Like a complete unknown, as Bob Dylan wrote when he was at such a young age, I had embarked this week on a work, a book, to address the issues of identity.

Starving artists. It was becoming the theme of my life in 2009. This week I was beginning to write a book about junior year abroad: the radiance of self-discovery of a student. For young men or women in search of answers. Through study. With the need of a young adult to be liberated from the tribal lien, so that religion would not become the source of disdain and aggression.

Issues of identity. Identity is just such a slow process. A lot like education. A lot like a career. Setting off in the real world. And being offered some pay.

The “what am I worth?” question. In this marketplace. Starving artists, starving novelists. Throughout the modern world, individuals and institutions grapple with the ongoing struggle to find out what they were worth. It was all part of the search for identity. In high school Latin class I struggled to learn Latin by translating Homer’s Iliad and then The Odyssey. Never in my lifetime did I think I would return with interest to The Iliad and The Odyssey. To the theme of that abyss. Trying to escape back home.

My desire at the age of 22 was to be in the real world. Was it a waste of time reading? In that first job everyone realizes how little that they know. I was done wasting time contemplating, rather than doing. Until that realization how little I knew.

In a world with so many begging for help, in search of answers. Unconscious in that 4-year island of time called college. Of the gift to be there. Watching so many squander the gift of time.

Trying to escape from the abyss. It was the same story found in myth from every culture throughout the world. The search and trying to escape from the abyss.

Now unless the gifts were shared, everything was squandered. Education was a waste unles passed along.

Presenting in fiction the present day struggle about spiritual quests. Iliads and Odysseys, and the struggle to pass on tradition in the current age. The struggle from generation to generation of off-spring. And to not fall into the abyss.

Starving artists. It was the theme of my life in 2009.

In that other quest for the Living God in a world full of people that seem to have that same ancient fear found in Judaism, where God’s name was seldom sounded, and spelled Y*w*h out of respect if not fear. To avoid the abyss.

That quest for a Living God. And the abyss. Women leading men into an abyss. Men leading women to the abyss. Generation after generation.

I think I had come to some form of acceptance about trying to present in fiction the present day struggle about spiritual quests. Iliads and Odysseys. The struggle to pass along a tradition in the current age. The same struggle from generation to generation, of starving artists to stay out of the abyss.

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Life’s Stories

In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the heaven – when the skies had been shapeless and formless, and darkness had been on the face of the deep, the earth was a formless wasteland. And darkness covered the abyss, while a mighty wind swept over the waters.

A formless wasteland. That well could be the first line in a story about any human’s faith struggle. Like most people, I struggle to grow in my faith. Being part of the real community here on earth has helped me tremendously.

I was picking out a book for a 3-year old. I considered buying a book about the stories of the Bible. I found myself wondering about the author who was a complete stranger, interpreting the stories. Somewhere in the formation process you entrusted to a stranger the passing on the meaning of these stories.

adam an eve sleeping

We have lived through an age when video has replaced the written word as a media of significant communicating. Movies. Video stores. Academy Awards.

It was Academy Awards month. And an audience was essential. An essential necessary part, if an actor, was to have some kind of following. Press releases. Interested people. Some kind of an audience was essential if life was to have meaning.

Academy Awards. The movies of 2008. Stories with relevance. Stories with relevance, or just false substitutes in the modern age? Where Broadway was slowly dying due to the cost, what was the Academy doing to preserve the story-telling role? And what would the economic downturn do to the movie industry?

Passing along the stories. For all of the 3-year-olds of the world.

Evening came, and morning followed—that first day. And then the day after.

POST SCRIPT

It is language and story that connect us through the language arts, in the beginning. With all the light that you cannot see, in the beginning, God’s Spirit was hovering?

Compare. Contrast. Tell a story, from the beginning. “In the beginning of God’s creating, when darkness had been on the face of the deep, when the skies had been shapeless and formless,” does a blind woman/man have five senses? How do I know what you can see? How do I know what you can hear? As a child?

Do as I say and live! How do you sense that God‘s spirit was hovering, in the beginning of God’s creating, as I cannot see without light? In the beginning of God’s creating the skies and the heaven, as darkness had been on the face of the deep, God‘s spirit was hovering. But what of the other senses – touch, sound, smell, in the ordering? Fully formed, without gradually coming to know the unknown? In the story of Firsts, compare Eve and Adam to me – only created, without progressive growth. So This One Law.

“Trust me, as your Creator. Ask Adam. He knows me!”

BostonGarden2

To know someone look, at where they go! Given everything at once, including the one commandment. If the audio-visual senses did not come before taste, how is taste connected to hunger and thirst? Did you ever note when you were born perfect, the missing pain . . . or the missing sacrifice, without a need for God?

And what of their art of language, without any stories of their own, without any body, except Adam’s story about the Tree of Knowledge? How had Adam and Eve ever learned to pray, when they had it all? When I seem so perfect, why do I need to abide by the Command. The conflict over the one Law and the fairness of the Law? And though all of Creation had been described as good – mostly separated – what of Evil? Who even comprehended Evil. In the world?

With a desire to see her own Creator, Eve ate the apple? In that there had been no direct contact with God and Eve until after, God did not even know Eve’s name? Until now. Yes, to know someone, in the ordering, look at where they go!

After! Given life by Someone! So how does a Creator ever know what the created can see? In the story of Firsts, theirs is the first of many stories about refugees, as Civil War follows Independence, with no right to be there! Land transfers? In a tradition of revolt, stand up to own this place, or LEAVE! Liberation from the Law of their Land, but not in the end from their God. Fancy ideas, with vitality drained, about living above the law, on the Earth, when you thought God knew you …and would remember you.

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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Doubt

 

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? 

On Passing the Turkey

 

Passing it on.  Thanksgiving was about passing it on.  In one country in North America.  Passing it on.  Inheritence, in the days of vanishing wealth, in the days of vast materialism. 

 

My dining room table was passed along to me by my grandparents.  I think it had belonged to my grandfather’s father.  I was named after him.  He was born in the decade after the Civil War.  I think there was a time years ago where the family celebrated Thanksgiving at this table.  Soon thereafter my parents were hosting most every holiday dinner.

 

Turkey.  We had always had turkey on Thanksgiving.  One Thanksgiving when I was about 6-years old, the family photograph appeared on the front page of one section of the newspaper, with my father cutting the turkey.  I discovered once I graduated college that not every family did have turkey.  I think my dad felt like he had worn his religion on his shirtsleeves with that photo, and that his family would always have turkey.  Turkey was always the meal on Thanksgiving and Christmas at the home where I grew up.  But my dad never carved another turkey after the photo was taken.  Maybe he heard from the local PETA group.   

 

Ties.  Hats.  The generations before mine had men who wore ties and hats.  Maybe it was the influence of John F. Kennedy but I always avoid hats.  Even when the temperature is minus 20 degrees.  Fahrenheit.  But I have been pretty traditional in wearing ties.  On Christmas Eve, until the past few years.  Now I keep the tie in the pocket.  A lot of the rituals that I grew up with are being discarded.  The torch has been passed to a new generation. 

 

Ties. Hats.  Turkey.  Rituals.  I have been living in the shadows of a Catholic church, since 1987.  A lot like my grandmother.  Since 1991 my view mirrored that of my grandmother’s, when I knew her, with a view of the Catholic church across the street.  She worked for the priests in the rectory, and she lived across the street.  The pastor at the church where I worship had come from that parish was he was a young man.  He wrote one Sunday in his parish bulletin that he was looking for a woman to iron the altar cloth, and all the other things that were ironed, like when he was a young priest.  He referred to my grandmother by name, about 20 years after her death.             

 

Deoxyribonucleic acid had not been discovered for most of my grandmother’s life.  Or at least what to call it.  Somewhere along the line physicians discovered that family medical history was important.  Genetics can determine life and death.  For cancer.  For arteriosclerotic coronary artery disease.  At the time of Darwin’s writing, nothing was known of this theory of inheritance called genetics.  Her genes could determine my longetivity, and she probably never even heard the terminology. 

 

The passion.  DNA.  Passing it on.  When that moment of love, when the DNA was formed.  In one moment.  Who would have thought?  The inward and outward signs of DNA. 

 

Over the river and through the woods.  To grandmother’s house.  The horse knows the way.  The moon revolves around the earth, the earth around the sun as one but many planets.  It took a few generations to discover all of this out.  But the horse knew the way.  The predictability of the solar system.  There was an animal sense about it.  

 

Rituals.  Rituals were a part of history.  There was a mystery in the rituals.  History seldom has a prominent place in the life of a young person, and because history never had a prominent place at the table, rituals, family medical history, and the meaning were often forgotten, or not passed along.  The family dog often sensed things that your teen-ager never seemed to grasp.  If the world was 10 million years old, the location of the revolution of the earth was known only over the last 500 years, in black and white.   

 

Thanksgiving was a day that was all about relationships.  And people brought together.  In good times and bad.  It was a day to stop and give thanks and praise.  For the revolutions of another year.  For those of us who are alive.  Together.   Few people ever really talk about passing on ritual along with its meaning.  Few people ever really talk of the mystery in relationships.  Without its meaning, relationships and ritual would just be another motion, in a world still spinning on its regular axis, at its regular speed, in the solar system.  When it came to passing on traditions, real life examples were more affective.  Dining room tables.  Turkey.  Darwin.  The fittest who survive.  Passing on ritual, from loved ones who have passed. 

 

DNA.  Passing it on.  Seeing it in the kids.  Where the invisible became visble.  That invisible that was felt all along.  The mystery in the ritual.  Was it why I got that table which was now to me an outward signs of mystery.  A Sacrament?  The “seen” in the years before I had figured out the mystery, of the “unseen.”

 

Tonight an Italian-American brother-in-law and his wife are hosting Thanksgiving for the first time.  Everyone is waiting to see if he and his wife prepare turkey.

The Real Disabled List

 

I live a rather storied life, it struck me this week.  I know a fairly large number of the celebrated.  I live in St. Paul.  I walked by Garrison Keillor’s house twice today.  He moved about 3 blocks further away this summer.  I have a fondness for the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald and the themes he wrote about.  In reflection, I see I have lived a life a lot like Fitzgerald.  I now live in the neighborhood he grew up in.  I went to a prep school on this side of the river not all that different than the one he attended, with the sons of the pillars of this society.  I call a plumber named McQuillan and learn later it was the family of his maternal grandmother.  I drink in the same establishments that he did, almost 100 years later.  But not like he did.  And my liquor store is where he took dance lessons as a kid.  But I don’t really dance.  I do attend birthday parties with live music of nationally acclaimed bands in backyards, when I feel like the Great Gatsby must be in the crowd (where I still owe thank you notes, two months

later).  And today I read where F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald had lived where I now live when daughter Frances was born in 1921.  Yeah, the same buidling.  

 

After the Roaring 20s, Fitzgerald wrote in troubling times.  He never had quite the success again in the 1930s as he did before the Great Depression.  Maybe his stories no longer reflected real life to struggling people.  Maybe people couldn’t afford to buy books or magazines.  Maybe the people that Fitzgerald wrote about, schooled as Fitzgerald was schooled, who earned incomes way beyond anyone’s worth, spent lavishly on things they never really needed, the leaders of their day, the people who created the mess, no longer mattered to the populace.  The rest of the people were busy looking for scapegoats, more so in Europe than in the United States.  

 

The world had changed.  A lot of thing no longer felt relevant in the real world.   

 

Financial cancer.  Denial.  Anger. People and their capacity to change. 

 

Recessions and ill health seemed the same.  Rest and recovery.  And look around at the world.  It was a lot like the landscape.  There was always change.  It was part of the mystery.  The world was always changing. 

   

“What does it matter.  You can’t do anything anyway.”  About the system of money.  About the rising or falling values of homes, of stocks.  Or the fall. 

 

We all have a spiritual nature.  For the most part, it is tied into lifelong relationships and the Truth.  A relationship is either true or it is not.  

 

Ernest Becker in 1974 won the Pulitzer Prize for The Denial of Death.  The idea of death, the fear of it, haunts the human animal like nothing else.  Death faces us with annihilation, a loss of self.  In a new day of fear over shelter, these fears are spreading to food and to basic survival.   Death faces us with annihilation, a lot like a really bad recession.  Some helped others in times of storms, those caught on the seas, of those caught in burning buildings.  The image of this decade was that day at the World Trade Center.  Now we were moving to a new day when business was in effect throwing workers out of buildings, to try and survive.  We had lived through times of mergers and acquisitions, leveraged buyouts, when business were more concerned about saving the boats caught in the storms than the people caught in the boats.  Over leveraged businesses concerned about saving their boats, choosing who to save.  When the boats did not seem sturdy.  Watching all of this, watching the people in the boats was worse than feeling pain myself.  On the seas, the rule once was women and children first. 

 

Suffering taught something mysterious.  Salvation was not some far off concept but was real.  It was all about suffering and helping those caught in the storm.  Darwin’s Theory was in the end wrong.  We were all gonna die.  Some live longer.  Suddenly, Darwin’s Theory is better understood.  In tough economic times, nobody had health insurance.  What bodies best adjust to cold temperatures when there is no heat?  Health care for few.  Life like in most of Asia.  Suffering is back.  It never really left.  It just seemed like a mirage in the distance.  But ultimately, death that haunts the human animal like nothing else was supplemented by hunger, thirst, and by cold. 

 

The Gospel reading on Sunday had been based on the release of fears and finding riches:  trusting God whose suffering taught something mysterious. 

 

Ill health.  No one knew how severe the illness.  Rest and recovery was the prescription.  Moving towards gradual acceptance.  

The Season Finale

 

In 1776, the American colonies proclaimed a declaration of independence from the British.  It took about another 150 years, following the women suffrage movement, but women then began to work on independence.  It was happening all over the world.  As a result, birth control was practiced, women went to work just to survive, and divorced rates rose.  The popes looked on with astonishment.  All Christian denominations saw disinterest.  People got busier trying to earn an income to survive.  The developed world quit having kids.  Zero population set in for Western Europe. And now the next season was coming upon us in another liturgical calendar.  There was the potential of over one billion viewers of this Roman Catholic series which occurred at least on Super Sunday. 

 

A new season with over 52 installments was coming to discover the mystery of God and sex, politics and religion.  But first the current season had to come to an end.  There never had been more suspense. 

 

If you have missed the recent installment, the world economy had been brought to the brink.  The G7 nations had expanded to the G20 to address the crisis.  New characters were going to take over the government of the largest consuming economy in the world whose economic leadership was now threatened.  With the G20, even the leaders did not know everyone.  Was that Asian guy Chinese or Korean?  Were any of the G20 currently at war?    Viewers were encouraged to watch each week.  The network based in Rome had yet to offer any repeat shows on YouTube or Slingbox. 

 

Critics were wondering if this independence of not just women was needed to reduce population. But what about the ensuing depression?   How would the characters deal with it, especially with the developing economic disaster threatening every part of the world?     

 

Audience share had been down over the past few years with the internet draining the younger generations.  Sponsors were expecting if not hoping that viewership would increase over the final weeks of this season.  And then carry over to the next liturgical season, especially in light of the upcoming holidays.  At least in the cold days of winter, the mystery of lights in darkness, the mystery in the Christmas story, the mystery between married couples, even with the suffering of women with men, still seemed somewhat worthwhile and drew a wider audience each December.  At the start of the season, it all once again seemed about the romance according to those who had read the early script for the new season.  And the wooing would be back. 

Mystery: Being Able to Question

The mystery: of baseball, of markets, of the opposite sex, of God. 

Why did you bunt, with a man on second and no one out?  All of the questions of the press conference, there were actually two managers giving honest answers.  We now live in an age where candidates, coaches, managers answered less questions.  They arranged and spun events, setting the tone.  So it was refreshing to see Joe Maddon and Charlie Manuel in action.      

The loss of access to question was followed by people who quit questioning.  It was the environment we lived in, dominated by former journalists turned public relation specialists.  The environment, the moral one, had changed.  It was a result of moral relativism, decried by agnostics like George Orwell or Christian Evelyn Waugh.   Maybe no one would notice.  But the old-timers did.  They saw limited access in press rooms and locker rooms.  Young journalists took all of this loss of access as the norm. 

The loss of access was part of the the daily llfe of a new generation.  Voice messages, e-mail, might increase communication in one way, but it was one dimensional.  I could manipulate people and time to my advantage.  But did it make people, candidates, less authentic?     

Did anyone else see the irony in lower interest rates, announced by the Fed yesterday?  Wasn’t that easy credit what created this mess in the first place?   Washington was going to be compelling banks to lend, in a new form of fascism?  The Associated Press actually ran this story:

October 28, 2008…..WASHINGTON (AP) — An impatient White House served notice Tuesday on banks and other financial companies receiving billions of dollars in federal help to quit hoarding the money and start making more loans.

“We’re trying to do is get banks to do what they are supposed to do, which is support the system that we have in America. And banks exist to lend money,” White House press secretary Dana Perino said.

Though there are limits on how much Washington can pressure banks, she noted that banks are regulated by the federal government.  “They will be watching very closely, and they’re working with the banks,” she said.  She said that Anthony Ryan, Treasury’s acting undersecretary for domestic finance, delivered a speech in New York on Tuesday that made this point. Ryan spoke to the annual meeting of the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association.” 

It also was reported, “As the crisis that began in the mortgage market spreads through the economy, policy makers are redoubling their efforts to contain the damage. Even as the Fed reduced rates on Wednesday, the Bush administration was weighing a plan to slow the foreclosure epidemic in the nation’s housing market. Details of the initiative were in flux, but the plan could involve the government guaranteeing the mortgages of as many as three million at-risk homeowners, a step that could cost taxpayers tens of billions of dollars, people briefed on the plan said.”

The “why me, Lord?” refrain.  A lot of people sang it in tough times.  Few sang it in good times.  In an affluent time, too many of use just ate, drank, and were married without realizing all of the ingredients put into the food, and from where those ingredients had come.

At some point in a budding relationship, there was hope to find out and put an end to the wonder of what was behind this body.   To see someone naked was move to the next step.  But the real mystery involved responding to a fidelity, to the wonder of nakedness.  It seemed nothing but attempting to feel a lover’s soul. 

 

With all of the questioning, there are promises made, tested, and kept. In the end, maybe at a funeral, maybe at the end of a season, you see how God has proven faithful.  And for those who survive a deadly illness, an addiction, there is a question of response.  As in any loving relationship, there is a necessity of laying down the proper way to respond to this fidelity.  

 

With mysteries, it was all about the daily questioning. 

To Know God: The Syllabus

His character explodes around us every day.

Creation
 

 


To know God.
It is not possible to like, to love anyone unless you first know them. The greatest gift passed down by a mother, a father, a teacher, is about this God. In the secular world, only the luckiest of us got to attend parochial schools…and hear the stories.

 

The New Millennium was so much fear based.  If I read the newspapers correctly, there had been no cease fire declared in the War on Terror.  So this was like it was to live in the North of Ireland for all those years. 

 

Fear.  If I overcame fear, there then was heroism.  Fear only froze me to inaction.  Knowledge made me act.  In the secular world, in the information age of digital television, of soccer moms and remote control, fear was everywhere.  And the hell with freedom.      

 

To know God.  If I would ever sign up to teach a class on God, what they called the rites of initiation in the church I belonged, I would have a fairly simple syllabus.  It would be an introduction to God.  And it would involve a combination of a literature with a theology class.

  

To know someone well certainly erases a lot of fear.  So class, read just the Book of Genesis.  Acquire 3 books.  We will begin with one chapter from Writers on Writing.  The first assignment involves the one chapter in this book called “reading” written by Richard Ford.  Yes, he is the Ford who later wrote Independence Day and won the Pulitzer Prize.   Writers on Writing was written in 1991 and was published by Bread Loaf Anthology.  Ford begins by stating that he really learned to read at the age of 25 as he prepared to teach English in college.  He had to teach and explain to his students, who demanded relevancy in everything, how to read carefully. After all, young people are in the relevancy business.  Ford’s problem was teaching about character, point of view, to a bunch of people who were as excited to be in his class as they might be visiting the dentist.  Such is the challenge of a theology professor.  

 

That syllabus, class, also includes God: A Biography.  The author is Jack Miles.  He too won a Pulitzer Prize, but for this book.  He approaches God, as presented in those 30 foot scrolls of the Torah, the Old Testament, as one developing character.  He shows the growth and change of the character, God, from the story in the Book of Genesis through the Book of Job.  Both of the cited authors present characters by having you answer for yourselves the questions:  How did he affect you?  Did he frighten you?  Did you love him?  What was he after?   Did he change much during the time that you knew him?  What most impressed you about him?

 

And finally, in the final weeks we will concentrate on the story of Noah, in the days before God becomes half conscious of the goings on in the world. You will need to acquire the book Sages and Dreamers by Elie Wiesal.  Yes.  Wiesal.  He, too, a winner of a Pulitzer Prize for the novel, Night, and a Nobel Prize winner.  Yes.  Noah, swimming in the polluted air of the earth that had occurred over 10 generations.  This is the account of the second creation.  Ford, Miles, and Wiesal will show that it is not so much the answers as the questions that help lead you to God in your personal life. 

 

Noah, living in wicked times.  Noah, who is all that others are not.  All others die, yet he lives.  The crimes of humanity, the corruption, which Noah was above, are never explained in the lines.  Who did what to whom?  Not one crime is cited, not one criminal.  It was like reading ancient history, the story of Noah, and kids have little interest in ancient history.  But the mystery was, the questions were between the lines.  How could God resent the lack of faith when it had yet to have been passed down?  It was thought that Noah was the just man of his generation.  Jewish commentary often cites the Just Man.  If Noah lived in other times, would he have attained this leadership role?  What did he do to deserve this role?  Little is ever said.  All that the Good Book says is that Noah submits to God’s will and nothing more.  God has chosen to talk to him.  Creation had become chaos. 

 

Creation. When Your work product was directed at this thing summed up in one word as Creation. Maybe, class, you should have had a bit of William Shakespeare, seen the play or the movie “Hamlet,” to appreciate the dilemma presented in the famous soliloquy, “To be, or not to be.” About the conflict in the story about the inheritance of the family kingdom by a prince, between a public life and a personal life. The conflict over your part in the cast in the outside world, with your home life and those who knew you best. The conflict over the pursuit of the kingdom and the maintenance thereof, with fertility — of either your significant other’s, or your spouse’s. The fertility that you tried to control, just as your tried to plan your own future. It would be what you would leave behind, way beyond your control.

    

The first times. Doing things the first time. Like Noah having to pair up all the animals.

    


“What about the pigeons, Noah? Are we really gonna pair up the pigeons?”
“Yeah, we better pair up the pigeons. It is said already that God works in mysterious ways. Even through the pigeons.””

    

Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, wrote that an unanswered question is a fine traveling companion which sharpens the eye for a journey.  Too often an answer is an invitation to stop thinking about something, to stop wondering. The mystery was in the questions.  The mystery of the Torah was to be found in the questions between the lines, much like in the lives you set off to live.  The Torah, where the past is connected to the present and to the future life as a process whose every event is connected to the moment that just went by, has no such stopping places.  

 

Free will, children of soccer moms, and its application in the way of civil rights and the freedoms connected to human rights come from God and are explained in the stories of the Torah.  You might want to get to know the stories and the main character.  Before the questions on the final exam.  


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