NOTES


#BrooksDarkCentury

After reading that book on medieval history, and with what little knowledge I have about modern history, this seems to ring true to me. I think, given a different place in history, Confucius /Mencius would agree except for the idea that humans are born evil. The importance of behaviors regulated by means other than the law -- courtesy, etiquette, etc -- has been much neglected by both liberals and conservatives, in my opinion, as the litigious and bureaucratic nature of our age suggests.  I also think Brooks is correct in leveling some blame against some religious leaders.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/17/opinion/liberalism-democracy-russia-ukraine.html

OPINION
DAVID BROOKS
The Dark Century
Feb. 17, 2022
 David Brooks
By David Brooks

Opinion Columnist

In the early 1990s I was a roving correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, based in Europe. Some years it felt as if all I did was cover good news: the end of the Soviet Union, Ukrainians voting for independence, German reunification, the spread of democracy across Eastern Europe, Mandela coming out of prison and the end of apartheid, the Oslo peace process that seemed to bring stability to the Middle East.

I obsess about those years now. I obsess about them because the good times did not last. History is reverting toward barbarism. We have an authoritarian strongman in Russia threatening to invade his neighbor, an increasingly authoritarian China waging genocide on its people and threatening Taiwan, cyberattacks undermining the world order, democracy in retreat worldwide, thuggish populists across the West undermining nations from within.

What the hell happened? Why were the hopes of the 1990s not realized? What is the key factor that has made the 21st century so dark, regressive and dangerous?

The normal thing to say is that the liberal world order is in crisis. But just saying that doesn’t explain why. Why are people rejecting liberalism? What weakness in liberalism are its enemies exploiting? What is at the root of this dark century? Let me offer one explanation.

Liberalism is a way of life built on respect for the dignity of each individual. A liberal order, John Stuart Mill suggested, is one in which people are free to conduct “experiments in living” so you wind up with “a large variety in types of character.” There’s no one best way to live, so liberals celebrate freedom, personal growth and diversity.

Many of America’s founders were fervent believers in liberal democracy — up to a point. They had a profound respect for individual virtue, but also individual frailty. Samuel Adams said, “Ambitions and lust for power … are predominant passions in the breasts of most men.” Patrick Henry admitted to feelings of dread when he contemplated the “depravity of human nature.” One delegate to the constitutional convention said that the people “lack information and are constantly liable to be misled.”

Our founders were aware that majorities are easily led by ambitious demagogues.

So our founders built a system that respected popular opinion and majority rule while trying to build guardrails to check popular passion and prejudice. The crimes of the constitutional order are by now well known. It acquiesced to the existence of slavery and prolonged that institution for nearly another century. Early democratic systems enfranchised only a small share of adult Americans. But the genius of the Constitution was in its attempt to move toward democracy while trying to prevent undue concentrations of power. The founders divided power among the branches. They built in a whole series of republican checks, so that demagogues and populist crazes would not sweep over the land.

“They designed a constitution for fallen people,” the historian Robert Tracy McKenzie writes in his book “We the Fallen People.” “Its genius lay in how it held in tension two seemingly incompatible beliefs: first, that the majority must generally prevail; and second, that the majority is predisposed to seek personal advantage above the common good.”

While the Constitution guarded against abuses of power, the founders recognized that a much more important set of civic practices would mold people to be capable of being self-governing citizens: Churches were meant to teach virtue; leaders were to receive classical education, so they might understand human virtue and vice and the fragility of democracy; everyday citizens were to lead their lives as yeoman farmers so they might learn to live simply and work hard; civic associations and local government were to instill the habits of public service; patriotic rituals were observed to instill shared love of country; newspapers and magazines were there (more in theory than in fact) to create a well-informed citizenry; etiquette rules and democratic manners were adopted to encourage social equality and mutual respect.
 
Think of it like farming. Planting the seeds is like establishing a democracy. But for democracy to function you have to till and fertilize the soil, erect fences, pull up weeds, prune the early growth. The founders knew that democracy is not natural. It takes a lot of cultivation to make democracy work.

American foreign policy had a second founding after World War II. For much of our history Americans were content to prosper behind the safety of the oceans. But after having been dragged into two world wars, a generation of Americans realized the old attitude wasn’t working any more and America, following the leadership of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, would have to help build a liberal world order if it was to remain secure.

The postwar generation was a bit like the founding generation. Its leaders — from Truman to George F. Kennan to Reinhold Niebuhr — championed democracy, but they had no illusions about the depravity of human beings. They’d read their history and understood that stretching back thousands of years, war, authoritarianism, exploitation, great powers crushing little ones — these were just the natural state of human societies.

If America was to be secure, Americans would have to plant the seeds of democracy, but also do all the work of cultivation so those seeds could flourish. Americans oversaw the creation of peaceful democracies from the ruins of military dictatorships in Germany and Japan. They funded the Marshall Plan. They helped build multinational institutions like NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund. American military might stood ready to push back against the wolves who threatened the world order — sometimes effectively, as in Europe, but oftentimes, as in Vietnam and Iraq, recklessly and self-destructively. America championed democracy and human rights, at least when the Communists were violating them (not so much when our dictator allies across, say, Latin America were).

Just as America’s founders understood that democracy is not natural, the postwar generation understood that peace is not natural — it has to be tended and cultivated from the frailties of human passion and greed.

Over the past few generations that hopeful but sober view of human nature has faded. What’s been called the Culture of Narcissism took hold, with the view that human beings should be unshackled from restraint. You can trust yourself to be unselfish! Democracy and world peace were taken for granted. As Robert Kagan put it in his book “The Jungle Grows Back”: “We have lived so long inside the bubble of the liberal order that we can imagine no other kind of world. We think it is natural and normal, even inevitable.”

If people are naturally good, we no longer have to do the hard agricultural work of cultivating virtuous citizens or fighting against human frailty. The Western advisers I covered in Russia in the early 1990s thought a lot about privatization and market reforms and very little about how to prevent greedy monsters from stealing the whole country. They had a naïve view of human nature.

Even in America, over the past decades, the institutions that earlier generations thought were essential to molding a democratic citizenry have withered or malfunctioned. Many churches and media outlets have gone partisan. Civics education has receded. Neighborhood organizations have shrunk. Patriotic rituals are out of fashion.

What happens when you don’t tend the seedbeds of democracy? Chaos? War? No, you return to normal. The 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries were normal. Big countries like China, Russia and Turkey are ruled by fierce leaders with massive power. That’s normal. Small aristocracies in many nations hog gigantic shares of their nations’ wealth. That’s normal. Many people come to despise cultural outsiders, like immigrants. Normal. Global affairs resembles the law of the jungle, with big countries threatening small ones. This is the way it’s been for most of human history.

In normal times, people crave order and leaders like Vladimir Putin arise to give it to them. Putin and Xi Jinping have arisen to be the 21st century’s paradigmatic men.

Putin has established political order in Russia by reviving the Russian strong state tradition and by concentrating power in the hands of one man. He has established economic order through a grand bargain with oligarch-led firms, with him as the ultimate C.E.O. As Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy write in their book, “Mr. Putin,” corruption is the glue that holds the system together. Everybody’s wealth is deliberately tainted, so Putin has the power to accuse anyone of corruption and remove anyone at any time.

He offers cultural order. He embraces the Russian Orthodox Church and rails against the postmodern godlessness of the West. He scorns homosexuality and transgenderism.

Putin has redefined global conservatism and made himself its global leader. Many conservatives around the world see Putin’s strong, manly authority, his defense of traditional values and his enthusiastic embrace of orthodox faith, and they see their aspirations in human form. Right-wing leaders from Donald Trump in the United States to Marine Le Pen in France to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines speak of Putin admiringly.

The 21st century has become a dark century because the seedbeds of democracy have been neglected and normal historical authoritarianism is on the march. Putin and Xi seem confident that the winds of history are at their back. Writing in The Times a few weeks ago, Hill said that Putin believes the United States is in the same predicament Russia was in during the 1990s — “weakened at home and in retreat abroad.”

Putin, Xi and the other global conservatives make comprehensive critiques of liberalism and the failings of liberal society. Unlike past authoritarians they have the massive power of modern surveillance technology to control their citizens. Russian troops are on the border of Ukraine because Putin needs to create the kind of disordered world that people like him thrive in. “The problem Russia has faced since the end of the Cold War is that the greatness Putin and many Russians seek cannot be achieved in a world that is secure and stable,” Kagan writes in “The Jungle Grows Back.” “To achieve greatness on the world stage, Russia must bring the world back to a past when neither Russians nor anyone else enjoyed security.”

Will the liberals of the world be able to hold off the wolves? Strengthen democracy and preserve the rules-based world order? The events of the past few weeks have been fortifying. Joe Biden and the other world leaders have done an impressive job of rallying their collective resolve and pushing to keep Putin within his borders. But the problems of democracy and the liberal order can’t be solved from the top down. Today, across left and right, millions of Americans see U.S. efforts abroad as little more than imperialism, “endless wars” and domination. They don’t believe in the postwar project and refuse to provide popular support for it.

The real problem is in the seedbeds of democracy, the institutions that are supposed to mold a citizenry and make us qualified to practice democracy. To restore those seedbeds, we first have to relearn the wisdom of the founders: We are not as virtuous as we think we are. Americans are no better than anyone else. Democracy is not natural; it is an artificial accomplishment that takes enormous work.

Then we need to fortify the institutions that are supposed to teach the democratic skills: how to weigh evidence and commit to truth; how to correct for your own partisan blinders and learn to doubt your own opinions; how to respect people you disagree with; how to avoid catastrophism, conspiracy and apocalyptic thinking; how to avoid supporting demagogues; how to craft complex compromises.

Democrats are not born; they are made. If the 21st century is to get brighter as it goes along, we have to get a lot better at making them. We don’t only have to worry about the people tearing down democracy. We have to worry about who is building it up.



Our Comedy of Errors?
By WILLIAM SCHWEIKER February 10, 2022
William Schweiker (PhD’85), is the Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

"All you earnest young men out to save the world... Please, have a laugh." -- Reinhold Niebuhr
https://mailchi.mp/uchicago/sightings-218004?e=82c7fcf6a8


https://mailchi.mp/uchicago/sightings-218004?e=82c7fcf6a8
Other Peoples' Myths, Wendy Doniger, p8-9
THE HUNTER AND THE SAGE

One day a hunter wandered in the woods until he came to the home of a sage, who became his teacher. The sage told him this story:

    In the old days, I became an ascetic sage and lived alone in a hermitage. I studied magic. I entered someone else’s body and saw all his organs; I entered his head and then I saw a universe, with a sun and an ocean and mountains, and gods and demons and human beings. This universe was his dream, and I saw his dream. Inside his head, I saw his city and his wife and his servants and his son.

    When darkness fell, he went to bed and slept, and I slept too. Then his world was overwhelmed by a flood at doomsday; I, too, was swept away in the flood, and though I managed to obtain a foothold on a rock, a great wave knocked me into the water again. When I saw that world destroyed at doomsday, I wept. I still saw, in my own dream, a whole universe, for I had picked up his karmic memories along with his dream. I had become involved in that world and I forgot my former life; I thought, “This is my father, my mother, my village, my house, my family.”

    Once again I saw doomsday. This time, however, even while I was being burnt up by the flames, I did not suffer, for I realized, “This is a just a dream.” Then I forgot my own experiences. Time passed. A sage came to my house, and slept and ate, and as we were talking after dinner he said, “Don’t you know that all of this is a dream? I am a man in your dream, and you are a man in someone else’s dream.”

    Then I awakened, and remembered my own nature; I remembered that I was an ascetic. And I said to him, “I will go to that body of mine (that was an ascetic),” for I wanted to see my own body as well as the body which I had set out to explore. But he smiled and said, “Where do you think those two bodies of yours are?” I could find no body, nor could I get out of the head of the person I had entered, and so I asked him, “Well, where are the two bodies?”

    The sage replied, “While you were in the other person’s body, a great fire arose, that destroyed your body as well as the body of the other person. Now you are a householder, not an ascetic.” When the sage said this, I was amazed. He lay back.on his bed in silence in the night, and I did not let him go away; he stayed with me until he died.


The hunter said, “If this is so, then you and I and all of us are people in one another’s dreams.” The sage continued to teach the hunter and told him what would happen to him in the future. But the hunter left him and went on to new rebirths. Finally, the hunter became an ascetic and found release.






I response to Leroy Seat's blog:

1. Preparatory grief for the end of the world is appropriate. (I have a story about how I came to this during the Reagan years.)


2. Forestalling the day of doom is a duty, doing the right thing, regardless of the fruit of the act.

3. For me, that duty involves calling others to the sacred (what our lives depend on) as revealed in the three families of faith to address the crises in the environment, in personhood, and in the social compact -- and how these are interrelated.

4. The folly of the private automobile violates the sacred in all three of these domains, and the half-billion-dollar expansion of the highway system planned in Johnson County is a typical example of hastening doom. (Remarks about oil: https://cres.org/programs2019.htm#ToFRemarks)

5. The politics and economy of the world is so intertwined with the private automobile as a necessity for many populations, it has become a key indicator (one of a number) of our approaching collapse.


When he was President of the University of Chicago, Edward Levi was repeatedly congratulated on the University’s sponsorship of the nuclear testing initiative that supported the Manhattan Project.  Levi’s response: “Thank you, but any University presented the opportunity would have done that.  I’m proud of the fact that our Press has committed to the Hittite dictionary.”
By RICHARD A. ROSENGARTEN Jan. 27, 2022


I’m not comparing the Sacklers to the owners of sports teams, but, like so much of society, the promotion of addictive attention and behavior distracts us from seeing clearly. This addiction is engendered in part because we identify our teams with *us* — it is the *Kansas City* Chiefs we root for. I eschew professional football, but even I needed to check in from time to time Sunday to see who was ahead while I cursed missing “60 Minutes.” Yes, I know football can be considered an art form, and even a religious drama, but so were the dramas in the Roman Colosseum. The sports-media-financial-civic complex is a danger to us as individuals and as a community.


Computer mess


211217

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/17/opinion/great-books-socrates.html  JOHN MCWHORTER

I especially enjoyed teaching Immanuel Kant’s “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.” One of his categorical imperatives proposes an ultimate ethical obligation, to “act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” That is not, mind you, the old Golden Rule, because “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” could mean that you decide to be lazy and be OK with other people being lazy as well. This fails under the categorical imperative because it would be a poor universal law — a society of layabouts would be a hungry and threadbare one.

However, the categorical imperative leaks when you try to apply it to, say, suicide (Is it wrong because we wouldn’t want all people to do it?) and lying (Is a lie intended to avert catastrophe inherently wrong?). What we ultimately get from Kant is how elusive any truly universal principle is, especially if we consider that different peoples worldwide might have differing perspectives on such matters.
 



211212

. . . than listening to Mahler's Third itself, which is basically Mac 'n' Cheese gussied up in an Dime Store array of colored glass serving dishes on an endless kitchen counter in a foreclosed Santa Barbara mansion presently occupied by boys expelled from a frat house at one of the Claremont Colleges up the road. De gustibus non disputandum. The talk does confirm my long-held complaint that the Mahler malady was most powerfully insinuated by one of my own beloveds, Lennie B, for which I have not yet forgiven him. Even saints have their sins



211210

Gents, it is passages like these below that cause me to re-evaluate the scholastic tradition as a forerunner of the Enlightenment Project which has a mania about putting things in categories. I see what Peter Lombard initiated in a new light (though still I admire him for several things), and I'm sorry to say (but P. will be delighted) that this arises not so much I think from Plato but rather Aristotle

Historically, /The Sentences /shaped the development of theology more than the Bible. If the Bible had been given greater weight, its narratives would have perhaps led more to metaphorical, rather than categorical and logical thinking about the Mystery. Of course Lombard was influenced by Abelard (an Aristotelian giving lip service to Plato), but I'm not ready to assess how much blame he deserves. Any of you have an opinion? And I may change mine!

I'm *bolding* what I am focusing on here.

In the meantime, thank God for the Cathedrals and art and glorious music which sustained the faithful better than the "straw" of Aquinas to which P. referred.

pages 15-16
From the late fourteenth century onwards, a covert form of rebellion preceded the Reformation in the form of the /devotio modema./ This  was a move of piety inward, disputing the necessity, if not the efficacy, of the outward and visible sacraments. By no means a repudiation of  the sacraments, it was an appeal to what seemed a more immediate  reality of inward encounter with the risen Lord. Although not necessarily a precursor of the Reformation, the /devotio moderna/ had many  characteristics in common with movements that surfaced in the sixteenth century.

Increasingly, the sacraments had been the subject of intellectual  debate. Some of this was necessitated by the proliferation of miraculous stories of bleeding hosts, kneeling donkeys, and Jews converted   by the consecrated hosts. For the first eight hundred years, there had been no systematic treatise on what believers experienced in the eucharist. For nearly twelve hundred years, there had been no consensus even on how many sacraments there were. Augustine had  mentioned several dozen. But this freedom had come to an end in the  thirteenth century with*the scholastic urge to define things. A major impetus came through what became the standard theological textbook, **/The Sentences, /**written about 1150 by Peter Lombard*, briefly  bishop of Paris. Lombard tells us that “the sacraments of the new law  . . . are: baptism, confirmation, the bread of blessing, that is, the  eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, marriage.“ Yet as late as 1179, the Third Lateran Council mentioned “enthronement of ecclesiastical persons or the institution of priests, . . . burying the dead” as  sacraments."

This freedom of interpretation was ended by the later scholastics. The seven that Lombard enumerated became definitive, and the  Catholic Council of Trent said no “more, or less, than seven.” Lombard had said that extreme unction “is said to have been instituted by  the apostles” (James 5). A momentous shift occurred in the thirteenth-century agreement that all seven were instituted by God. Thomas  Aquinas tells us that “since, therefore, the power of the sacraments is from God alone, it follows that God alone can institute the sacraments.” This statement was taken with utmost seriousness by the  Protestant Reformers. The freedom that had prevailed for three-fifths  of church history to speak of a wide range of activities as sacraments  and not have to base them on institution by God had ended in the  thirteenth century. Augustine could call the ashes of Ash Wednesday a  sacrament; by the thirteenth century one could not.

[This is a technical discussion I retain but follows earlier exposition.] And the scholastics, in trying to fit all seven sacraments into a procrustean bed of form (words), matter (physical elements), and minister had imposed on them definitions which were not intrinsic to them. . . . .

 A more serious problem lies in the fact that abstract theology now  shapes experience rather than vice versa. It may be optimistic to say  that in earlier periods the experience of the divine in the sacraments  had shaped reflection upon them. But the scholastics, in their rational  probing into the effects of grace in each sacrament, reversed the equation that praying shapes believing.[In Latin: /Lex orandi, lex credendi/ -- which is exactly the way I would describe my experience with the Eucharist almost every Sunday, a profound deepening of my understanding of the divine, myself, and the world., mostly in ways that language cannot easily express.] Very likely this shift never happened in the East, which to this day has refused to define how many  sacraments there are or the precise operation of grace in them.

page  81 (2nd pgraf for P.)

But the Enlightenment relished this idea of making sacraments
solely a backward look to biblical times. [I think what White means here is that the experience of the sacred, of God, is not a concern of the present world.] *To the worldview of the**
**Enlightenment, anything that smacked of the supernatural was highly suspect.* Zwingli’s concept of the presence of Christ by his divine nature in the assembly was too supernatural for the desacralized mind of the Enlightenment. *Biblical literalism and the Enlightenment made good companions *because they both preferred to relegate divine activity to the first century. [In the case of fundamentalists, this would need some clarification.]

Yet in the midst of this worldview, the Wesley brothers took a
strong stand for the supernatural character of the eucharist as a means of grace. Taking their cue from Daniel Brevint, dean of Lincoln Cathedral in the previous century, they wrote what is still the greatest collection of eucharistic hymns in the English language, /Hymns on the Lord's Supper./ Published in 1745, it contains 166 hymns and is the best index of the Wesleys’ experience of the eucharist. . . .

(And about children and the Eucharist: -- p93:) In the West, until the twelfth century, children were regularly communed with wine at their baptism; the East has communicated children throughout history. Others found more persuasive a theological argument: baptism places one within the church fully and completely, so exclusion from the Lord’s table simply because of age is an illicit form of excommunication. This has further implications in terms of those with mental disabilities. Is the ability to think rationally a prerequisite for receiving communion? . . .

Finally -- one of the questions about sacraments you were interested in is whether the sacraments are best understood as primarily a cognitive activity (they are merely signs) or whether they are causative (they effect an actual change). The AnaBaptists hold the former (which is why baptism is reserved for adults.) Interestingly, Roman Catholics withhold the Eucharist from toddlers as if it were a cognitive activity but baptize infants as if it were a causative  event. I think both are causative, myself. Some might find a parallel in this pair with the formation (liturgical churches) v. conversion (Anabaptist and fundamentalist) access to grace.



 

The question you ask is not exactly quick to answer, and books and other resources will do a better job than I can.
 

For example, for US holidays, try

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Public_holidays_in_the_United_States

More detail about Christian liturgical churches which have an extensive calendar:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liturgical_year

Books:

Bud Heckman, ed. InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook. Skylight Paths, 2008. ISBN 13:978-1-59473-237-9  In the section on different faiths, you will find information about holidays.
 

Stuart M. Matlins, ed., Arthur J. Magida, ed. How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, 4th Edition. SkyLight Paths, 2006. ISBN-10: 159473140332,  This answers many of the questions you ask, but there are other books along this line as well, such as Gatle Colquitt White: Believers and Beliefs: A Practical Guide to Religious Etiquette for Business and Social Occasions.

and more specialized in hospital and other situations, the book I was involved with: Jeffers Steven, Michael E. Nelson, Vern Barnet, Michael C Brannigan: The Essential Guide to Religious Traditions and Spirituality for Health Care Providers, ISBN-13: 978-1846195600, ISBN-10: 1846195608

In sum, just ask in an unfamiliar situation: "I don't know the proper greeting to offer you for (this occasion). Would you teach it to me so I may offer my respectful greeting?"

Vern
 
 
 
 



Richard Rorty: Is Religion Compatible with Science?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn2F2BWLZ0Q

Start at about 3 and a half minutes. If you watch through about minute 21, you may get the flavor of postmodern pragmatism. A bit further, he presents both sides of the debate between James and Clifford, and postmodern pragmatism is clarified, I think, as he proceeds. As I mentioned, I think Rorty is much clearer than the French postmodernists and infinitely more practical. (He alludes to a couple, and to Nietzsche in passing in the Q&A.) My reservations about Rorty arise from my own understanding of (at least some, but not much of Fundamentalist) religion as largely a ritual and mythic activity providing an understanding of the world of meaning, ie, the sacred, which I do not think he adequately addresses. {The video has an audio problem at about 43:30 but is restored after about 47 minutes. The lecture ends at about 49 minutes, then a Q & A, with some nice quips, I thought, but you have to plow through inaudible and tedious questions.}

V



211203

. . .  It reinforces my problem with confusing religious institutions with religion, itself a nearly impossible category in the US, at least. I do weddings, almost weekly, and I often hear "We're spiritual but not religious," which means "we don't want you to think ill of us just because we don't go to church; we're really good people." I think this kind of survey makes it very difficult to understand what people might mean by their responses other than the obvious fact that religious institutions and forms and traditional faith questions or propositions have decreasing salience in how people think about what gives their lives meaning. Of course I think this development is sad, and is the inevitable result of liberal Enlightenment conceptions of religion and the concomitant influence of the Capitalist Gospel of Greed.

Constructively, an open-ended question directed toward experiences of the transcendent (a perfect baseball pitch for a boy of summer, the first time seeing the ocean, falling in love, holding a newborn, a sexual experience, an aesthetic experience of particular power, a resolution of a problem, communing at Mass, being with a loved one dying, etc) might reveal that even under the mire of a corrupt culture, apprehension of the sacred is possible. I think there are some studies that may show most people are sensitive to such experiences. Longitudinal research would be pretty interesting.


 The Interfaith Council recently named some of its partners as the Crescent Peace Society, Dialogue Institute, KC for Refugees, Heartland Coalition Against Gun Violence, Give Seven Days, Jewish Vocational Services, Heartland Alliance of Divine Love, United Religions Initiative, and the Interfaith Center at Miami University, several of which are linked from my organization's home page for easy contact. I have also sometimes found Global Ties to be surprisingly helpful. I am so glad to know this kind of information is useful for you.



It’s being reported that the melée started over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son or just the Father.

> On Dec 1, 2021, at 9:19 PM, Vern Barnet <vern@cres.org> wrote:
>
> No doubt the American Gospel of Greed affected these kids before they were five. Still you have to wonder if they were just a little to exercised and got out of hand in their disputes as to whether Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace deserved credit for the theory of evolution, or whether Franz Hals really had no understanding of the people he painted or if his perception was just overshadowed by Rembrandt, or perhaps whether string theory would ultimately pave the way to a Grand Unified Theory of Everything.  Whatever the brawl was about, the media sure does not dare to tell us, I see. Ah, a late report just in: the kids were disputing whether Hobbes or Bregman has the better view of human nature. The bad pennies drove the good pennies out. It happens. Look at Congressional retirements.
> V


on December 1, 2021 at 1:03 pm | ReplyV ern Barnet
One reason I decided to move from a little town in Pennsylvania to the KC area in 1975 was because I had read about Joseph D. McNamara, chief of KC police, in the national press. I thought, wow!, here is a city interested in rethinking the whole crime thing. McNamara didn’t last. What’s the story? Just a better job in San Jose?
 

on December 1, 2021 at 4:50 pm | Replyjimmycsays
I almost got into that, Vern, but the post was already long enough. McNamara, as I recall, basically got run out of town by resistors from within the ranks who didn’t like the changes he made and was attempting to make…That’s the problem the new outsider will face. He or she will need to make significant changes, and the union and non-union employees will undoubtedly screech and gnash their teeth. It’s going to be tough, and the chief is going to need strong backing from the police board. This will be a real test of the board’s willingness to see changes implemented.

That’s another reason I’d like to see a woman in the job: I think a strong woman would have a better chance of getting significant changes made than a man. The board might be more inclined to “have her back.”



on November 24, 2021 at 8:40 am | ReplyVern Barnet
All of those Schmitt lawsuits cited are ridiculous and reveal Schmitt’s buffoonery. But what really gets me is the immorality, the evil, the corruption, the villainous absence of caring about another human being, his vicious disregard for fairness, in his attempts to keep Strickland in prison.



211114

Thank you for your continuing efforts at expanding interfaith understanding in our community, and raising clearly the contribution such understanding can make to the ethical and moral behavior for all of us as Americans.  And thank you for your contributions to the interfaith panel discussion convened by Country Club Christian Church Thursday.

I am sure it is a disappointment that you have not received responses to your letter to several churches extending your hospitality. I suppose that this time of year may be especially difficult for Christian churches preoccupied with preparing for major festivals, including Thanksgiving and, for the liturgical churches, Advent and then the Christmas season. This may be why your letter of Sept 27 is not currently receiving responses, although I do not know which churches were recipients, so there may be other reasons. Perhaps they were recently involved with visits to other mosques. Also late September for many churches is a time of reorganization after a summer variation. I am not trying to excuse a lack of responses, but many churches plan programs many months in advance. Of course there might be less favorable interpretations as well, which is why I admire your persistence.

One statement in your letter was particularly welcome, which I applaud with joy: "Good dialogue should result in the deepening of the faith of every participant." I want people to love their own faiths as much as I love mine. The fear some people have, that interfaith exchange will reduce commitment to their own faith is, experience has shown, not true, but rather the opposite happens, as participants are motivated to delve more deeply into their own faiths by the stimulation of encountering others. However, there is one statement in your letter with which I have reservations, that "our similarities as Americans are more significant than our differences." I think differences are to be respected and enjoyed, and both similarities and differences are important to recognize. I disagree with the composer that diversity always is uncomfortable (47 minutes, about 32 seconds into the recording of the panel Thursday). When I am introduced to a new person, I am delighted, not distressed. When I encounter a new idea, I am happy, not fearful. Perhaps our culture does make some people afraid of differences, but surely that is not always the case. Couples in love often speak of how much they appreciate how their partners are different and enlarge their understanding of the world, with that delight sparking their relationship at the very beginning. I worry that unskilled (though well-intentioned) people doing interfaith work inadvertently suggest fear of difference by working so hard to establish similarities.

I remember a call I received from a reader shortly after I had been hired by the KC Star to write a weekly column. She said something like, "I just love reading your column." I thanked her and asked why she liked it. "Because all religions are basically the same," she said, with an easy comfort in her voice. I was surprised and wondered if she actually had understood what I had written since I had been emphasizing variety. So I asked, "How many religions are you acquainted with?" She responded, "Oh, I don't need to study them. They are all the same." I find this distressing because the presumption of similarity leads to lazy comfort instead of the far more rewarding exploration without that presumption, and the possible discoveries by seeing new things or things in new contexts. Many sentimental people think that all religions worship the same Creator when in fact there are non-theistic faiths, without such a god.

Many scholars, while recognizing that "religion" is an Enlightenment-Modernist-Colonial construct with no exact equivalent outside the traditional Western context, still sometimes think of four dimensions of religion: Creed, Code, Cultus, and Community. Others (such as Ninian Smart) have identified seven or more such components. In any case, it may be useful to recognize that "religion" is more complex than just beliefs and behavior, and that different faiths are likely to emphasize some components over others. Christianity in general is more likely to emphasize beliefs over other dimensions compared to most other "religions," and I think we can avoid muddles by recognizing such distinctions. Identifying "religion" as "belief" or, less commonly, "behavior," is, in my view, a peculiar Western misunderstanding about the complexity of religious expression. As the world became colonized by Western ways of thinking, other faiths have sometimes sought to understand themselves in Western categories. To me, this is like the loss of languages as dominant languages crowd out indigenous tongues. Further, the assumption that I will learn about another religion by reading its text not only ignores oral traditions but confounds religions with texts that must be placed in context to be rightly appreciated. I guess I am somewhat uncomfortable with statements made by adherents of a particular religion about other religions without their adequate acquaintance with other religions; better to ask questions. While I admire the effort of the composer, the fact that she had an idea and went searching for texts with a preconceived purpose and had such difficulty finding texts that worked for her might indicate she has missed the distinctive character of each tradition; starting with a conclusion before a search begins sometimes means the temptation to miss critically important things you are not looking for that would otherwise lead to a different result. Of course no tradition cited is unrelated to others; boundaries between religions are seldom always clear; and tremendous variation within a religion is usual, and religions have historically influenced each other as they themselves have developed internally throughout the centuries.

You, Professor Benz, and others may have a different opinion about this, and I certainly would welcome learning your thoughts. I was surprised that none of the panelists, to my knowledge, has been historically involved with interfaith work in the area through the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, and it is wonderful to expand the circle of conversation as you, Imam Dr. Abdelhamid, are so determinedly doing.

Concerning  "Etiquettes of the Interfaith Dialogue" that you cite in your letter: there are a number of books that might be helpful. Two very different books from an interesting publishing house that come to mind immediately are

    * Stuart M. Matlins, ed., Arthur J. Magida, ed. How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook, 4th Edition. SkyLight Paths, 2006. ISBN-10: 159473140332, and
    * Bud Heckman, ed. InterActive Faith: The Essential Interreligious Community-Building Handbook. Skylight Paths, 2008. ISBN 13:978-1-59473-237-9.
 

Frankly, my brother, I think the question of similarities or differences is not the most urgent question before us. What is urgent are the three great crises of humanity: in the environment, in personhood, in community. Interfaith efforts have utterly failed, in my opinion, to bring the resources of the sacred in Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic traditions, respectively, to these overwhelming crises. (A suggestive chart of a research program appears here.) While developing relationships is absolutely essential, the disasters unfolding in these areas are being addressed only in tiny ways and largely without the profound religious values of the sacred made evident which are needed to awaken us to save us from disaster. In my view, a great deal of interfaith conversation has been, in this light, relatively inconsequential and speaking "to the choir."

It may be useful to distinguish at least two kinds of interfaith work. First, building relationships, I believe from experience, best focuses on the experience of the participants without the participants being cast into the position of being authoritative about their faiths. It is better to ask "When has your faith been especially meaningful to you?" than "What does your faith teach about God?"

Another kind of interfaith exchange is possible with participants knowledgeable about their faiths in which the conversation is focused on identifying and clarifying how different faiths approach issues like the arts, nature, ethics, service, suffering, death, worship, leadership, scripture, gratitude, the transcendent, and so forth. Such discussions need not be academic, though some level of comfort with scholarly approaches is helpful. Frankly, I am weary of discussing how we are all so similar. In four decades of interfaith work, I am not convinced that this approach produces many significant improvements in the world around us.

There are, of course, other forms of interfaith activity, such as performing social service together which can be of great value in helping others, developing relationships, and enlarging understanding. Dr Khan is a model for such important efforts.

You and I do not need to agree; I welcome disagreement; I know I can be mistaken. But I want to support your wholesome efforts any way I can. The community needs your beautiful and warm leadership and companionship. If you arrange a panel -- whether I am a part of it or not -- I would do what I can to promote it through my connections and resources, and I'd suggest that The Interfaith Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, also participate, and perhaps the group in Nevada I am in touch with. I imagine the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council would also be interested, and other interfaith organizations and agencies in the area with which we have worked, as well as the contacts that other panelists might bring to a Zoom panel discussion.

A clear question to explore, carefully articulated, might be interest to a large number of people. As for timing, I would suggest after Christmastide would be best, if that is enough time for adequate preparation and promotion. Please do not feel under any obligation to include me on the panel. Involving younger people has a  real advantage.But I would be happy to promote such an interfaith effort as you might pull together.

Most sincerely yours in faith,
Vern
 


211113

It is so great to hear from you. I'm sure your life is pretty busy, so I appreciate your taking the trouble to write. Learning independence from parents is tricky, and mistakes on all sides can happen even with the very best of intentions.  But it's part of the way we learn, I guess, as we negotiate our ways through the uncertainties and puzzles and new situations.
 

I am so interested in your current Bio major. That can open up unto so many possibilities, and even medicine is such a wide and growing field.  May I tell you a story about the high school biology class I took when I was a Christian fundamentalist? I really loved biology but I did not believe in evolution. One day my class had to take a city-wide standardized test. On it were questions like, "When did eukaryotes first appear in the fossil record?" I was torn about how answer. So I gave the expected answer and added an asterisk with a note to questions like this at the bottom of the answer sheet: "I am giving the answer I was taught because I want a good grade, but I don't believe it because I believe in the Bible." When the tests came back, my teacher said I got the highest score in the entire city; but instead of feeling vindicated, I was embarrassed because in the intervening weeks, I had read Tom Paine's Age of Reason (which pretty much destroyed my respect for the Bible) and then Bertrand  Russell's "Why I am Not a Christian," and became an atheist. That was a very turbulent time for me, both in my head and with my friends. The enduring result of that experience was that I learned I could be wrong, and that, I hope, continues to keep me tolerant and a bit more humble than the arrogant "I know it all" kid that I hadbeen

{{{{{{{In Kansas City, we have one of the world's great science and technology libraries, and while most of the collection is focused on the most up-to-date research, there is an amazing historical, rare-books collection. One of the books is the first edition of Galileo's Starry Messenger (1610), with hand-corrections by Galileo himself, and it was a thrill to put on white gloves and turn the pages when I was visiting there one time. But more to biology: I had written something in the column I wrote for  the Kansas City Star every Wednesday about Darwin's Origin of Species, and a civic leader challenged me on it. I was pretty sure I had done my research, but when questioned, I decided to inspect the first edition of the book at the library. This time I was right.
 
 



211109  for Advent
The birth of joy in a landscape of sorrow happens only in the heart. The landscape may have a long distance and a wide horizon, but the heart is within, and infinite. The journey may take a very long time, but the heart discovers eternity. The passageway may be dark, but the heart is luminous. The nourishment may seem meager, but in the heart it is a feast. In the heart, all things become gifts; the heart is the realm of redemption. Living in the heart of God, all things are holy.
 



211107
Expergated response to a request for spiritual conversation.

Yes, one of the worst parts of aging is the loss of friends.  And the pandemic made it impossible even to attend in person those funerals/memorial services that were held. I don't go to live musical events anymore, and will not until the pandemic ceases. In these times, I don't know many pastors who would be able to extend themselves outside of their own parishes. Because of my hearing loss, I find phone conversations excruciating, and I am not very good at giving spiritual support in any case, as you might remember. We pretty much talked passed each other, if not politely scoffed at the viewpoint the other expressed. I am no good to you because I think it is your quest for spirituality that itself is the cause of suffering. In distress, it is very difficult to practice gratitude, the only salvation I know. If you cannot find someone to listen to you about your spiritual interests, maybe you can find people to whom you can give the gift of listening to them; for giving attention to others may give you some relief by lessening the focus on your own cravings. You have befriended me in many ways, so I am sorry not to be available to you because of these circumstances. Perhaps this will seem that I am, indeed, dead to you, but know that I cherish you as a person, even as I recognize my limits to be of any help at this time.
With sincere best wishes,



211020
I worry that matching up world religions on the "golden rule" is a disservice to the distinctive character of the various traditions and takes such statements out of context, and is a lingering ailment of the modernist/Enlightenment project, and I worry that the message about similarities backfires by making us afraid of differences (unity becomes uniformity).



211015
Dear Mr Ryan,

I treasure your column as a thoughtful conservative contribution to public discourse. But I was sorely disappointed by your Oct 12 column. I am glad Matt Navarro wrote in response (today's paper). The concern I "felt" when I read your column was that you were on a track parallel to those who won't say Trump lost but will say a lot of people are concerned about the integrity of the election, when the reason people are concerned about the integrity of the election when there is no legal or objective cause for such concern is that people say that people are concerned about the integrity of the election. Please don't do this kind of stuff again. I'm not sure I agree with Navarro that you were "gaslighting," but your column was obfuscation, which surprised me because you usually are such a clear thinker, straightforward. (For example, I really valued your column about Hotel Bravo even though I disagreed with it.) Please don't sully your reputation with such obvious sophistry.

A faithful reader,
Vern Barnet



211015 https://jimmycsays.com/2021/10/14/ill-take-golf-over-the-mayhem-at-arrowhead/#comment-24907
I know my perspective as I am now older is way out of the cultural mainstream (some might say unAmerican), and I have friends I love who are loyal Chiefs fans, and I am not an anthropologist and certainly not smart enough to characterize reality. From my tiny pinhole into the way things are, it does seem to me that many sports, most especially including football and boxing, are circuses or cults too often tending to keep the many of the populace distracted from attentive self-government and engines of greed, supported by taxpayers for the benefit of the rich and their egos. As for civic pride, I rather resent being socially pressured into identifying my town with a violent private enterprise. Again, I am not smart enough to evaluate studies that seem to connect aggression in the population with certain sports or whether such sports reduce violence by providing an outlet for aggressive feelings. In my ignorance, I worry that political parties have become like a violent sporting contest instead of a means to solve problems. I appreciate sports heroes like Mahomes who show a different side. When I was a kid and played sports, adults told me, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” In my old age, sports and politics seem to be a decent into “Winning isn’t the only thing; it’s everything.” I’m glad for companionate sports like golf.
 



211008

To answer your question. I am still a UU minister, officially retired, but I maintain my status with the denomination and continue to meet monthly with my UU colleagues in the area who accept my Episcopalian lay status. I just see no need to burn that bridge. During the bulk of my community ministry, I evaded the rare question about my own faith because I wanted to be understood as promoting all the faiths I gathered into the original Interfaith Council -- A to Z --  American Indian, Baha'i, Buddhist, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, Zoroastrian. (I tried, but originally was unsuccessful, to include Christian Orthodox, but later that happened.) This helped give me the credibility  that led to the KC Star hiring me to write a weekly "Faith and Beliefs" column for 18 years, during which time I deepened my understanding of Christianity as well as other traditions which accorded me various honors. For the first anniversary of 9/11, with dozens of churches and the many non-Christian faiths and some civic groups, I organized a day-long observance (parts of which were shown on CBS-TV), and most of that was held at the Cathedral. I was impressed with the hospitality shown there to all faiths, including an interfaith water ritual in the chancel. Separately, although I was probably theologically closest to Huayen Buddhism, I could increasingly understand Christianity as a story that resolves, or at least holds in tension, both the wonder and horror of existence, unfurled in a beautiful liturgy, conveyed through many art-forms, developing, confirming my own sense of gratitude regardless how I am feeling, with ways of expressing that in service to others. I  also have a cultural affinity, perhaps, for the Anglican tradition of literature from before John Donne to W H Auden and beyond. (T S Eliot, born in St Louis, of a long line of distinguished Unitarians, became an Anglican, and if he can go that way, so can I.) I feel immeasurably deepened each year by practicing as an Episcopalian -- without abandoning my love of other faith traditions which continue to enrich my soul. This is why it is easy for me to say I hope others love their religion as much as I love mine. This is but a sketch of  my "journey," and thank you for indulging such a long sketch!
 
 
 
 



211006

Gents,

While it would have been an interesting episode you visiting me in jail, the judge found me NOT GUILTY at my trial today. The prosecution had maybe 30-40 photos to use against me; and even after I stipulated that I owned the property, they introduced all sorts of documents (one of which had your signature on it, Joe), which was, like the whole damn thing, a colossal waste of time. I had a bunch of photos ready myself, but never got the chance to show them, and I was way over-prepared, and in my own stupid way, I kinda regret that I did not have a chance to present my carefully prepared arguments. I think that the inspector appeared incompetent when he tried to introduce photos of the Post Office mess as if this were my yard.

Again, what a waste of taxpayer resources, judge, inspector, research department, prosecutor, etc etc, plus the hours of my preparation and aggravation as a citizen. The City has serious problems to address, not some fool charge that my sidewalk is "partially obstructed." Ben and I were walking yesterday at 37th and Belleview -- gorgeous, what, maybe million dollar, homes -- and such a charge would have been far more justified around there.

I don't know why this inspector is after me -- maybe businesses that want to buy my house file complaints to force me out. Paul, you, who used to be nearby, know all about unethical complaints -- and moved out of the City. A loss to us still here.

As I sat on a bench at Ilus Davis Park before going into the courthouse across the street, I noticed the -- shall we say apparent -- violation of the ordinance against unattended growth. Some of the weeds were taller than me. I took a couple into the courtroom and used them as part of my opening statement.

I may have been found not guilty, but I still feel the process tries to victimize citizens. I know I am not alone in being harassed by incompetent or unscrupulous code inspectors. Let the good ones thrive as they help preserve homes and make a better City. And I wish out-of-state owners were subject to the court. The house next door to me has a tree now over six feet tall growing out of a basement window well. California owner.

OK, too long a report. But now you won't have to listen to me bitch about this. Until again next year.

Vern

PS. In case you missed it, I attach The Star editorial about the City inspector at the butterfly garden.
 


From: Vern Barnet <vern@cres.org>
Sent: Friday, September 10, 2021 11:06:26 AM
To: Bishop Marty <bishopfield@diowestmo.org>
Subject: Thank you, with love

 Dear Bishop Marty,

I am a writer, but  any competence with language seems to fail me now. Of course I want to thank you for your leadership of the Diocese through what might be considered normal challenges -- and also through what seems to me (from what little I know) unexpected, rough waters, and your sailing through successfully.

But I want to thank you for something more elusive, which I do not understand, but which I feel keenly.

I did not like you very much the night you baptized me, though I respected your office and cherish that primal occasion. But as I began to see you working, a human fulfilling a sacred office with genuine care for others and the institution of the Church, my mere dutiful respect turned to growing admiration. Your assignments to me were gifts. My soul was tacking this way long before that Maundy Thursday when you and I washed each other's feet. So at that service, I said that I love you. It was safe to say that then because others were around. If I had been asked to explain what I meant then, I might have constructed some verbiage about "Christian love" so that it did not seem weird.

But as I try to understand it, such an explanation does not do justice to the way the affection is for you, personally. Yet not exactly personally, since who you are I do not know well at all, though your unexpected personal attention to me has touched me. Those touches were light but felt deeply. So while the love is inherently personal, it is also interwoven with the office of Bishop. I know a little about psychological projections, as in psychotherapy and such, but that secular explanation seems insufficient. It is something more mystical. The story of apostolic succession may be part of it. And I know about Hindu gurus, but the love I have for you is not that, either. I've thought about Ibn Arabi's understanding of the attributes of God reflected in humans, and certainly I have seen Christ reflected in you. Such a love is fulfilling in itself. I need nothing from you. But I will always treasure those reflections.The love is a kind of divine gratitude wrapped up in an urgent wish for you to be supremely well, a state which, as children of God, as baptized Christians, we all are given. So why should I have this wish for you when it is already assured? This is like a Zen koan.

I do not seek to have my confusion dissolved, yet I wish I could write more clearly about it for you. So in my human confusion inside a relaxed confidence of God's grace, I say simply . . . I love you: Thank you, with every good wish.

Your bother in Christ,
Vern Barnet

On 9/10/2021 12:00 PM, Bishop Marty wrote:

 Vern, your expressed thoughts always strike deep into the center of my being. So, I thank you for the profundity of your message to me.  I am also grateful for the several times you have sent to me gracious words of approbation. Now, I am grateful for this latest expression of affection. It means much to me. In return, may I acknowledge anew that I love you and this diocesan family deeply.  Thank you. May God always light your path.

 +Marty
 
 


COMMENT ON Used to Be UU: The Systemic Attack on UU Liberalism: What You Need to Know, What You Need to Do
by Frank Casper and Jay Kiskel, 2021
Posted on Amazon 2021 July 28

     I quit the UUMA after learning about the way Todd Eklof (whom I have never met) was treated, but with earlier encounters with the self-righteous group-think apparently in UU leadership these days. Still, my personal experience with the UUMA, problematic as it has been, is comparatively slight, though is consistent with the outrageous behavior of UUMA officials reported in this book.
     But I wonder if the fancy arguments about Critical Race Theory and Postmodernism are basically a subtext (or supertext) for power struggles arising from the tendency, so evident from the 1967 General Assembly onward, to turn the denomination away from its focus on supporting local congregations to a political agenda, varying over the years in hue and tint.
     I am sorry that the authors of this book present such a cramped and misleading view of Postmodernism, citing writers of no particular academic distinction in the field, though I cannot dispute that some noxious variants of "Postmodernism" may be used in UU theological education. (Richard Rorty, for example, a moral and political philosopher worthy of admiration, is often classified as a Postmodernist in the tradition of Pragmatist John Dewey.) The idea that valuing reason is an Enlightenment gift ignores much of world history, and specifically the long Western tradition from the ancient Greeks though Aquinas forward. The Enlightenment in many ways distorted religion and corrupted society (as William Blake saw so well so early), and the very first of the Six Sources, by specifying "transcending mystery" corrects and supplements one of the many defects of the Enlightenment project. Similarly, the implication that the idea of democracy originates from the Enlightenment is quite arguable.
     All this is unnecessary to the main point the authors seem to be making, and which needs to be made. I wish the writers had minimized the philosophical arguments and focused even more on the power struggle. Those who wish to recover some integrity for the UUA need not respond so much to the way the authoritarians use Critical Race Theory to define the argument. Why let the authoritarians establish the grounds on which the contest takes place?
     Nonetheless, this book is an extraordinary exploration of the crises affecting Unitarian Universalism. Most people have some sense of fairness, and the manifest unfairness the authoritarians have exhibited, and the unfair control they seek, would be the grounds on which the contest might be most easily transparent, whatever the outcome. Invoking Martin Luther King Jr's understanding of, and vision for, America, may be a better platform for discussion than distortions of Critical Race Theory.
     As a retired UU minister who worships as a layman in a more friendly denomination (integrated in all ways without the power struggles the UUs have perpetuated), it cost me little to quit the UUMA, though I cherish friendships among colleagues. I worry for those who have been slandered and abused by the authoritarians. This book is of great value to inform and arouse those who wish a moral and effective denominational order in keeping with the Fifth Principle, to embrace the living tradition of the liberal faith.
     The liberal tradition seems a better path to the "Beloved Community" than the road the self-important critics of honest discussion who want to use their power to suppress questions and the democratic method. The danger for those who shut down honest exchange the disaster that follows from playing in the Karpman Drama Triangle where the victim (or the rescuer) becomes the oppressor. (Wikipedia has a good summary of the Karpman Drama Triangle.) The danger for the rest of us is finding ways to avoid entanglement in the game while seeking to transmit a heritage of great value to the future.
     The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn
     minister emeritus, Center for Religious Experience and Study



 

There are no points for reading my notes, so skip this email without guilt if you like.

V
 

2021/Jul/28 --
 Bayerische Staatsoper (Bavarian State Opera)  -- Idomeneo

1.

One of my favorite tenors, Michael Polenzani (an American!) is singing the title role in Mozart's opera seria "Idomeneo" in a free German production. He has fantastic breath control and can sing both robustly and tenderly, in both classical and romantic styles. So I "tuned in" this morning after Ben and I got back from our walk and I put aside some of the stuff on my desk that can wait a while. So far I think the production is stupid and annoying, the camera work distracting, etc. The singing (and music) is utterly glorious, and the clash of emotions begins this opera. (Several characters so far are in conflict with themselves, one, for example,  Ilia, a Trojan princess who is in love with Idamante, the son of Idomeneo, the Greek (Crete) king, and feels that loving him is a betrayal of her love of her country and father.)  Idamante, a prince of upright and generous character, is told that his father, whom he loves but has not seen for years because of the war, has just been ship-wrecked and is dead. Throughout the opera the various gods, particularly Neptune, are cursed and praised. As it turns out Idomeneo vows to Neptune that if Neptune will save him, he will sacrifice the first person he sees when he arrives home. Idamante now is on the shore, lamenting his dear father's death, when his father, Idomeneo, appears, hears his son's lament and love for him and realizes he is bound to kill his own beloved son. When they both recognize each other, Idomeneo will have nothing to do with his son and does not explain his vow, and Idamante's joy at finding his father alive turns to confusion and perplexity about being rejected. This, just 38 minutes into the 3-hour opera, is where I had to stop because the emotion was so overwhelming (even though it is expressed is such a stylized fashion), I needed a breather. I love this opera, and through twists and turns, it has a happy ending for all but one character.

2.

Finished the opera. Absolutely silly and distracting staging, with the singing and the orchestra superb anyhow. I was hardly thrilled to see Idomeneo given a sandwich and a can of beer. And Elettra's death scene: was that suicide by grease or chocolate or what? The Met's production, when she collapsed from her own jealously, was so superior to this gimmick. Earlier the lights flashing on the audience made no sense. So much extraneous activity on the stage throughout much of the performance. Are opera lovers in Munich just distract-able tic-tok kids? Staging and choreography (not to mention the stupid costumes, if you can call overalls costumes) should support and even enhance the acting and the music, instead of pulling our attention away from the moving drama with magnificent acting. The execution scene was well-staged, and again I had to get a grip on myself to continue.Polenzani's performance was well-applauded, but I have to say that the entire cast was excellent as was the conducting, though I did find the use of a modern piano in one place distracting, almost to say <See, this is like a Mozart piano concerto>. I'm not absolutely sure, but I recall this was an area, not a recitativo secco.

3.

Thanks to Patrick for directing me to free music now that the Met series has ended.

I can't figure out those Germans. German productions I have seen are gimmicky to distraction. Elucidate, Patrick.

I tickle to think what they will do to TRISTAN UND ISOLDE, as maybe this is the opera that could use some distraction.

Vern

Conductor
    Constantinos Carydis
Production
    Antú Romero Nunes
Choreography
    Dustin Klein
Set Design
    Phyllida Barlow
Costume Design
    Victoria Behr
Lighting
    Michael Bauer
Set Design Assistant
    Anna Schöttl
Dramaturgy
    Rainer Karlitschek
Choruses
    Stellario Fagone

Idomeneo
    Matthew Polenzani
Idamante
    Emily D'Angelo
Ilia
    Olga Kulchynska
Elettra
    Hanna-Elisabeth Müller
Arbace
    Martin Mitterrutzner
Oberpriester Poseidons
    Caspar Singh
Die Stimme (Orakel)
    Callum Thorpe
Chorus
    Chor der Bayerischen Staatsoper
Chorus
    Extrachor der Bayerischen Staatsoper



Patrick sent this in response:
https://artmusiclounge.wordpress.com/2019/02/23/eurotrash-revisited-the-academic-version/

Patrick--

What a great piece of writing! This article confirms a number of complaints I had about the trashy Idomeneo production that I didn't mention in my rant. I was interested in the complaint that too many opera goers don't know music, don't know chamber music, etc. Do you think this is true in the US?

(Questions,quibbles about the piece: I don't know enough about Corelli's acting, but I have to say I think he was a fantastic singer. Also I don't know what third-rate Handel operas he might be thinking of. I love all the Handel I've seen.)

I cannot join you in what seems a wholesale condemnation of Peter Sellars. OK, much of his stuff is trash, but his direction of  Nixon in China for the Met was fine, and I would like to see his Idomeneo -- https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/story/2019-08-22/peter-sellars-idomeneo-salzburg-yuval-sharon-lohengrin-bayreuth . (This review errs in saying Idomeneo is the only Mozart opera Sellars has done.) While I prefer a traditional Don Giovanni, as troubled as I am about the opera itself, his setting as a NY gang scene does illuminate some aspects of the work. Also I can't complain about his libretto of Dr Atomic.

Anyhow, the article you linked me to makes me appreciate the Met even more. It sometimes goes astray in its productions, but mostly does either traditional or justifiable Regietheatre,as for example Agrippina.

Thanks, thanks, thanks for sending me to this amazing article. It is comfort in my prejudiced old age.

V




2021/Jul/24

Sorry, in my opinion, this article is a mass of ignorance, confusion, and distortion. The idea that "Panpsychism is gaining steam in science communities" is risible.

An outline of what I think:

1. Everything insofar as it interacts with other things, is "conscious" if by "consciousness" you mean the ability to respond. A salt suspended in water will tend to grow into a crystal. A ball hit by a bat will maybe deliver a home run. I think this is a rather trivial meaning of "consciousness," but I grant the point offered in the article's childish survey of ideas. Organelles like mitochondria and organisms like trees have a more sophisticated "consciousness" as they "relate" to others of their kind or to their environment, with what might even look like, to use anthropomorphic language, a sense of "community." A classic example, of course, is an ant colony. I do not think it is terribly useful to bring "science" into justifying the holy sense of awe humans may feel about such phenomena, as when some native Americans may, to movingly, talk about the "rock people."

2. Degrees of "consciousness" as we more ordinarily use the term can be asserted of creatures that have some sense of self, likely members of the Corvidae family, the Cephalopoda, certainly many mammals such as elephants, dogs, chimps, whales, and homo sapiens. A sense of self is possible when a creature not only has a model understanding of the world (such as up and down, what is good to eat, etc) but that model includes (recursively) oneself. Thus I have a picture, a model of the world which includes John, Patrick, Paul, Luke, and mountains, trigonometry, history, peaches, clocks, weather, and so forth -- and myself, which John, Patrick, Paul, Luke perceive differently, and in some respects may be more apt than my own model of myself.

3. The sense of self is always incomplete and fragmentary, and the notion of identity -- embedded in the idea of an eternal soul -- is misleading, of necessity because of its incompleteness. We even have expressions like, "I am of two minds about that."

4. Religious ideas like "soul" or "atman" can be both beautiful and destructive, just as identity politics can be both instructive and calamitous.

5. Myself (myselves, better) as I write prefer the ur-Buddhist analysis, which pretty much agrees with recent psycological studies, namely, a person is a complex of many consciousnesses (not to mention "body memory, etc), and at death all that falls apart, even as in life it is constantly shifting and changing. I like the metaphor I've offered before of the mind as a corporation with competing departments and shifting CEOs with changing attention.

6. Technically, I am anti-reductionist and I am much closer to the ancient Hebrew understanding of the person (there was no thought of individual survival after death: immortality was a group thing) than to the dualism afflicting us from Plato, Augustine, and Descartes. I am fond of Michael Polanyi's notion of tacit knowledge. In practice, I think it is more useful to think about character as Aristotle put it, what a person chooses and shuns. The soul this not a thing; the soul is a succession of activities. Instead of the distinction between body and soul, I am intrigued by polarities like substance and function.

7. Arguments of course most welcome.

Yours truly but so imperfectly,
Vern the Void


on July 21, 2021 at 10:39 pm | ReplyVERN BARNET
Agreed. And what about the MO Lottery? Isn’t there a similar dynamic of preying on those among the most vulnerable? It is one thing for “riverboat” private “enterprise” to promote gambling, bad enough; but I think it is wicked for governments to do so — even for a worthy purpose. The devil appears as an angel of light.
 

on July 22, 2021 at 8:18 am | Replyjimmycsays
I agree with you completely about the lottery, Vern. Once the “riverboat” wakes hit Missouri, it was only a matter of time before the state got its grubby hands into the action…How many times have you been behind some poor-looking people at QT and had to wait while the clerk rang up their cigarettes, six-pack and lottery tickets?


Our former city logo and slogan, "City of Fountains, Heart of  the Nation," and water collected from our City and area fountains, have been meaningful in numerous interfaith activities, including events with international visitors. So thank you for your service on the Foundation. Here is a hint of this: https://www.cres.org/water/

So let my love of our fountains be clear as I complain about the environmentally offensive fountain in Mill Creek Park. I have walked there almost daily for decades. But only after a couple years of these walks did I really look at the fountain. I found a violent celebration of human subjugation of nature, a product of industrial arrogance, a blasphemy of environmental concerns.

The splash and play of the water is what we notice and enjoy, but the degradation of the planet is its message as it elevates humans over a more wholesome ecological spirit.

This is why I protested naming it for a man of peace. https://www.cres.org/fountain.htm


I love being able to walk easily to four substantial parks from where I live in Westport, and being able to brag about my City of Fountains. I worry that the civic spirit you and the others exemplify may not be as effectively received by succeeding generations, and the heritage of service may be diminished. Still, celebrating folks like Anita is a way of reminding us how community is made.



Godly Play

The "Godly Play" story-telling 3-day training. Each of us 12 had to learn and tell a GP story. I was one of the last to tell a story. I was really intimidated by many of the others. I was really tired and felt woefully unprepared as I was making so many mistakes in rehearsing the text and the actions. On the last day after lunch, it was my time to tell my assigned story. It was an amazing experience. I woke up at 4 this morning and figured out that when I told my story, from the first phrase, "Everything has changed," to the end (maybe 20 minutes), I was in a trance broken only slightly by one time when I, for split second, asked myself, "What comes next?" and one other time when I realized I had left out one part and then effortlessly added it back in. Almost all that time there was no me, there was simply the story telling itself. When the story ended, and I became aware of the others in the room, it was like waking up. At one point during the debriefing, I got pretty teary.

When some of the others told their very different stories but with the same style we were learning, I realize I was also in a light trance, but not as deep as when I told mine. This was completely unexpected.

I thought what I've been doing with the 3-5 year olds for several years now was Godly Play, but it's been pseudo-Godly Play, worthy in itself, but not like what I now know is possible.


1. Israel created Hamas to weaken the Palestinian authority.
2. Hamas is popular in Gaza because of its effective social services. Its military wing is only a part of Hamas.
3. Israel started this violence with the evictions of Arab residents in Jerusalem.
4. Netanyahu likely benefits politically from the tumoil as he faces corruption charges and the contest for the leadership of the country.
5. Nothing substantially can be done about these horrors until Israel rejects its colonial expansion and oppression. This will not happen until American Jews (and at least some "Evangelical" Christians) are able to break the power of AIPAC and such.

So why do I praise The Times for publishing something I absolutely find repulsive (as I find many of the columns by Bret Stephens? Because I want to know what thoughtful people on all sides are thinking.

I am glad The Times also published this:

OPINION
GUEST ESSAY
Bernie Sanders: The U.S. Must Stop Being an Apologist for the Netanyahu Government
May 14, 2021
----
 

Of course I condemn antisemitism. Of course there is no excuse to attack Jews. Nor is there an excuse to attack Palestinians or deprive Arabs of their homes in Jerusalem. I also condemn the Israeli instigation of the recent violent conflict which left 219 people dead in Gaza, at least 63 are children, according to its health ministry. Of the 10 people killed in Israel, two children are among the dead, the country's medical service says. I condemn violence against Asians and Pacific Islanders. I condemn American structural racism. I condemn Islamophobia. I condemn the genocide of the American Indian. I condemn all forms of prejudice, cruelty, terrorism, assault, rape, murder, exploitation, oppression, and such. In short, I condemn sin. Is that so surprising?
 
 



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Today I took the last large tomato, perfect still in its ripeness, from the produce bin in the fridge and beheld it as a holy thing to be sacrificed. My knife cut thick strips and placed one and a half on a large slice of bread covered with a nut butter mixture touched with horseradish sauce and covered it with another slice of bread on a waiting plate. The half slice remaining went naked into my mouth. The other slices were variously teased with pesto and mayo and went directly in happy succession into my enjoyment. I then divided the sandwich in two. With pause and admiration and with the rigorous contemplation of an Episcopalian, consumed in proper course the two halves of the sandwich.

Yesterday I finished off the second of five jars of tomato-lentil soup from the freezer. I had added a bit too much hot pepper to that particular jar and was glad to alternate my spoon from the soup to the dish of yoghurt which cooled my tongue, ready for the next delicious assaut it would receive.

Also in the freezer is a jar of cooked, pureed tomatoes for maybe tomato-garlic soup. Did I convey the idea that tomatoes are a love of my life, the objects of veneration, and mystical orbs of mystery, possibility, and intrigue?

Vern