‘Corita Kent: Gentle Revolutionary of the Heart’ is a triptych of a life

November 9, 2017

B4662

Sr Rose Pacatte exhibits a literary painting-a triptych of a life destined for permanent collection: a woman artist, catholic wanderer, and human wonderer. The author reveals a complicated person bound up in the struggles and celebrations of church, higher education, art history, and self. Sr. Rose chronicles her evolution as an artist, educator, and revolutionary mystic with uncommon insight and extensive knowledge of the subject located in both the religious and secular. This book is a magisterial contribution to the series and deserves wide circulation. Miguel de Unamuno, in his Tragic Sense of Life, closes the work with these words from the heart: “May God deny you peace, but grant you glory”. Sr. Rose has issued, in vivid colors, a tribute to Corita that corresponds to Unamuno’s sentiment!
(My review posted at Liturgical Press.)

 

 

 

 

A Literary Guide in Fragments for Exiles and Outsiders

October 26, 2017

Compiled and Curated by Rev. Scott D. Young

Biola Alumn (1975) & Adjunct Faculty (1998 – 2006)

 

Musing:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky from The Brothers Karamazov

Essay:

“These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins”

by Mary Gordon

Musing:

Poem by Emily Dickinson

Essay:

“The Gift of Good Land”

by Wendell Berry

Musing:

Quotes by Jose Ortega y Gasset

Essay/Poem: Instructions to Painters and Poets” by Lawrence Ferlinghetti

“Instead of giving a firm foundation

for setting the conscience of a man at rest forever.

Thou didst choose all that is exceptional, vague and enigmatic.”

As told by Ivan Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins”

by Mary Gordon

Chapter selection from:

Reading Jesus: A Writer’s Encounter with the Gospels

I AM UNEASY CALLING MYSELF A PERSON OF FAITH, if faith is seen as a synonym for certainty, or even an unwavering trust in what I know, I cannot recognize in myself an essential stability that quickly rights itself after the occasional brief faltering or stumble. Many days, there seems no possibility that there is any kind of reality corresponding to or behind the word “God.” I know that I have often been mistaken, often proven wrong, including and especially about matters that I would once have called “articles of faith,” matters that I once believed I had to believe under pain of damnation, an eternity in a hell I took to be literal and real. I am ready, therefore, at any time to learn that almost everything and anything I know is wrong, or at least in need of radical revision.

And yet I could never say of myself, “I am not a person of faith,” because I know that I am different from people who do not have a religious imagination. I am drawn to a sense of ultimate meaningfulness, even though I can only apprehend it dimly; a figure in a mist, a shape on the horizon. That shape, that figure, embodies itself in a person, Jesus, whom I came to know through the words of the Gospel.

The elusiveness of the figure, its essential ungraspableness, leads me to the understanding that the kind of person of faith I am is a person of hopeful faith. Hope is the vector that pulls one toward the incomprehensible. And yet the ungraspable, the incomprehensible, is nevertheless rooted in profound attachments, I feel this attachment when I am praying in a place with others, possibly radically different from me in race, class, education, background…. all of us saying the same words, the same words that people have said for a thousand years.

My faith, grounded in attachments and fueled by hope, whose symbol is a flaming heart, is mobile, motile, with the mobility and the motility corresponding to the age in which I was born. Yet I am not unrooted What keeps me from flying off or apart? Why do I know myself with a particular clarity as a person of faith when I read a best selling attack on the idea of God, an attack that seems vulgarly ahistorical, intellectually crude? Why do I resist as insufficient the postmodern ironic default setting whose favorite form is parody, and whose preferred task is unmasking? It is clear to me that I prefer the risky, question found in Eliot’s The Waste Land: “What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / you cannot say, or guess, for you know only / a heap of broken images”

For one thing the terms are more resonant; for another, more would seem to be at stake. It is nearly a hundred years since Eliot wrote those words, and the passage of time makes the word “only” seem less crucial. A heap of broken images seems like quite a precious cargo, quite a desirable patrimony. A place to stand. A place to which one can become attached.

And so, as I said, I am a person of attachment. My attachments are not to a set of ideas but to a series of images and tones. Images and tones that resonate, like the tone of a foghorn or the lighthouse beam, indicating something, suggesting something, a something apprehended not early by the mind, as if they were a series of directions to be followed, but by the animal’s directed sense.

Image. Tone. Gesture. Phrase. Scene. Fragments.

“THESE FRAGMENTS I have shored against my ruins.” These words from Eliot’s Waste Land involved me in an interesting misreading that went on for several decades. I had habitually misread the plural “ruins” as the singular “ruin.” I was shocked to find out what I had done, and not pleased with Eliot’s words: I preferred my own invention. I had interpreted the line to mean that the words were a preservation against personal ruin. But “ruins” suggests a public spectacle – like the Parthenon or the Acropolis- and what would be the point of shoring fragments against these colossal wrecks? Such an act becomes an act of witness rather than of self-preservation.

But whatever Eliot meant or I understood, I came to know Jesus in fragments. Not Jesus, whom I would never have called Jesus (that was for Protestants, with their impulse to soften or democratize), but Christ. Before this enterprise of reading the Gospels straight through, beginning to end, Matthew to John, my understanding of them, therefore of their subject, Jesus, came to me in fragments. Fragments that I heard—the Gospel read by the priest from the altar at Mass (during my childhood the only English words I would have heard in the course of the Mass prayers)-then read, as I followed the priest’s voice in the missal I was given for my eighth birthday.

Alongside the words, though, there were visual imagers, part of my life from earliest memory. Images on the walls of the house I lived in, the houses of everyone I knew. Pictures in books, read to me as I sat on my father’s lap, later the subject of my first experience of reading. But, in the Catholic world of the triumphalist fifties, sacred images were popularized, commercialized: we had puzzles, coloring books, sticker books, pencil cases, lunch boxes, dish towels, saltcellars, dinner plates. We colored the sacred, ate off it, dried our dishes with it, carried it in our purses and our book bags, reached for it at lunch or at our desks.

But these sacred images don’t restrict themselves to the ones absorbed in childhood. Along with my childhood puzzle of Jesus and the children is Bellini’s risen Christ, and Fra Angelico’s, Dostoyevski’s tempted Jesus and Pasolini’s enraged reformer. Not only my life but the life of a culture, the history of a civilization. Called Christian.

After Jesus Christ.

. . .

AND SO, if no reading is innocent, how singularly un-innocent is my reacting of the Gospels? I bring to it, simply, my life, Information, misinformation, garblings, elisions, words that told me who I was and others that made me know what I would never be.

Where to begin such a reading? Perhaps with the memory, the image, that seems to have been with me before memory can fix a time.

The Prodigal Son.

I Dwell in Possibility – (466)

by Emily Dickinson

I dwell in Possibility –

A fairer House than Prose – More numerous of Windows – Superior – for Doors –

Of Chambers as the Cedars – Impregnable of eye –

And for an everlasting Roof

The Gambrels of the Sky –

Of Visitors – the fairest – For Occupation – This –

The spreading wide my narrow Hands

To gather Paradise –

“The Gift of Good Land”

by Wendall Berry

Chapter selection from:

The Gift of Good Land: Further Essays Cultural and Agricultural

“Dream not of other Worlds….” Paradise Lost VIII, 175

My purpose here is double. I want, first to attempt a Biblical argument for ecological and agricultural responsibility. Second, I want to examine some of the practical implications of such an argument. I am prompted to the first of these tasks partly because of its importance in our unresolved conflict about how we should use the world. That those who affirm the divinity of the Creator should come to the rescue of His creature is a logical consistency of great potential force.

The second task is obviously related to the first, but my motive here is somewhat more personal. I wish to deal directly at last with my own long held belief that Christianity, as usually presented by its organizations, is not earthly enough—that valid spiritual life, in this world, must have a practice and a practicality—it must have a material result. (I am well aware that in this belief I am not alone.) What I shall be working toward is some sort of practical understanding of what Arthur O. Lovejoy called the “this-worldly” aspect of Biblical thought. I want to see if there is not at least implicit in the Judeo-Christian heritage a doctrine such as that the Buddhists call “right livelihood” or “right occupation.”

Some of the reluctance to make a forthright Biblical argument against the industrial rape of the natural world seems to come from the suspicion that this rape originates with the Bible, that Christianity cannot cure what, in effect, it has caused. Judging from conversations I have had, the best known spokesman for this view is Professor Lynn White, Jr., whose essay, “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” has been widely published.

Professor White asserts that it is a “Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save to serve man.” He seems to base his argument on one Biblical passage, Genesis 1:28, in which Adam and Eve are instructed to “subdue” the earth. “Man,” says Professor White, “named all the animals, thus establishing his dominance over them.” There is no doubt that Adam’s superiority over the rest of Creation was represented, if not established, by this act of naming; he was given dominance. But that this dominance was meant to be tyrannical, or that “subdue” meant to destroy, is by no means a necessary inference. Indeed, it might be argued that the correct understanding of this “dominance” is given in Genesis 2:15, which says that Adam and Eve were put into the Garden “to dress it and to keep it.”

But these early verses of Genesis can give us only limited help. The instruction in Genesis

1:28 was, after all, given to Adam and Eve in the time of their innocence, and it seems certain that the word “subdue” would have had a different intent and sense for them at that time than it could have for them, or for us, after the Fall.

It is tempting to quarrel at length with various statements in Professor White’s essay, but he has made that unnecessary by giving us two sentences that define both his problem and my task. He writes, first, that “God planned all of this [the Creation] explicitly for man’s benefit and rule: no item in the physical creation had any purpose save to serve man’s purposes.” And a few sentences later he says: “Christianity insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends” [My emphasis].

It is certainly possible that there might be a critical difference between “man’s purposes” and “man’s proper ends.” And one’s belief or disbelief in that difference, and one’s seriousness about the issue of propriety, will tell a great deal about one’s understanding of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

I do not mean to imply that I see no involvement between that tradition and the abuse of nature. I know very well that Christians have not only been often indifferent to such abuse, but have often condoned it and often perpetrated it. That is not the issue. The issue is whether or not the Bible explicitly or implicitly defines a proper human use of Creation or the natural world. Proper use, as opposed to improper use, or abuse, is a matter of great complexity, and to find it adequately treated it is necessary to turn to a more complex story than that of Adam and Eve.

The story of the giving of the Promised Land to the Israelites is more serviceable than the story of the giving of the Garden of Eden, because the Promised Land is a divine gift to a fallen people. For that reason the giving is more problematical, and the receiving is more conditional and more difficult. In the Bible’s long working out of the understanding of this gift, we may find the beginning—and, by implication, the end—of the definition of an ecological discipline.

The effort to make sense of this story involves considerable difficulty because the tribes of Israel, though they see the Promised Land as a gift to them from God, are also obliged to take it by force from its established inhabitants. And so a lot of the “divine sanction” by which they act sounds like the sort of rationalization that invariably accompanies nationalist aggression and theft. It is impossible to ignore the similarities to the westward movement of the American frontier. The Israelites were following their own doctrine of “manifest destiny,” which for them, as for us, disallowed any human standing to their opponents. In Canaan, as in America, the conquerors acted upon the broadest possible definition of idolatry and the narrowest possible definition of justice. They conquered with the same ferocity and with the same genocidal intent.

But for all these similarities, there is a significant difference. Whereas the greed and violence of the American frontier produced an ethic of greed and violence that justified American industrialization, the ferocity of the conquest of Canaan was accompanied from the beginning by the working out of an ethical system antithetical to it—and antithetical, for that matter, to the American conquest with which I have compared it. The difficulty but also the wonder of the story of the Promised Land is that, there, the primordial and still continuing dark story of human rapaciousness begins to be accompanied by a vein of light which, however improbably and uncertainly, still accompanies us. This light originates in the idea of the land as a gift—not a free or a deserved gift, but a gift given upon certain rigorous conditions.

It is a gift because the people who are to possess it did not create it. It is accompanied by careful warnings and demonstrations of the folly of saying that “My power and the might of mine hand hath gotten me this wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:17). Thus, deeply implicated in the very definition of this gift is a specific warning against hubris which is the great ecological sin, just as it is the great sin of politics. People are not gods. They must not act like gods or assume godly authority. If they do, terrible retributions are in store. In this warning we have the root of the idea of propriety, of proper human purposes and ends. We must not use the world as though we created it ourselves.

The Promised Land is not a permanent gift. It is “given,” but only for a time, and only for so long as it is properly used. It is stated unequivocally, and repeated again and again, that “the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, the earth also, with all that therein is” (Deuteronomy 10:14). What is given is not ownership, but a sort of tenancy, the right of habitation and use: “The land shall not be sold forever: for the land is mine; for ye are strangers and sojourners with me” (Leviticus 25:23).

In token of His landlordship, God required a sabbath for the land, which was to be left fallow every seventh year; and a sabbath of sabbaths every fiftieth year, a “year of jubilee,” during which not only would the fields lie fallow, but the land would be returned to its original owners, as if to free it of the taint of trade and the conceit of human ownership. But beyond their agricultural and social intent, these sabbaths ritualize an observance of the limits of “my power and the might of mine hand”—the limits of human control. Looking at their fallowed fields, the people are to be reminded that the land is theirs only by gift; it exists in its own right, and does not begin or end with any human purpose.

The Promised Land, moreover, is “a land which the Lord thy God careth for: the eyes of the Lord thy God are always upon it” (Deuteronomy 11:12). And this care promises a repossession by the true landlord, and a fulfillment not in the power of its human inhabitants: “as truly as I live, all the earth shall be filled with the glory of the Lord” (Numbers 14:21)—a promise recalled by St. Paul in Romans 8:21: “the creature [the Creation] itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.”

Finally, and most difficult, the good land is not given as a reward. It is made clear that the people chosen for this gift do not deserve it, for they are “a stiff-necked people” who have been wicked and faithless. To such a people such a gift can be given only as a moral predicament: having failed to deserve it beforehand, they must prove worthy of it afterwards; they must use it well, or they will not continue long in it.

How are they to prove worthy?

First of all, they must be faithful, grateful, and humble; they must remember that the land is a gift: “When thou hast eaten and art full, then thou shalt bless the Lord thy God for the good land which he hath given thee” (Deuteronomy 8:10).

Second, they must be neighborly. They must be just, kind to one another, generous to strangers, honest in trading, etc. These are social virtues, but, as they invariably do, they have ecological and agricultural implications. For the land is described as an “inheritance”; the community is understood to exist not just in space, but also in time. One lives in the neighborhood, not just of those who now live “next door,” but of the dead who have bequeathed the land to the living, and of the unborn to whom the living will in turn bequeath it. But we can have no direct behavioral connection to those who are not yet alive. The only neighborly thing we can do for them is to preserve their inheritance: we must take care, among other things, of the land, which is never a possession, but an inheritance to the living, as it will be to the unborn.

And so the third thing the possessors of the land must do to be worthy of it is to practice good husbandry. The story of the Promised Land has a good deal to say on this subject, and yet its account is rather fragmentary. We must depend heavily on implication. For sake of brevity, let us consider just two verses (Deuteronomy 22:6-7):

If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee in the way in any tree, Or on the ground, whether they be young ones, or eggs, and the Dam sitting upon the young, or upon the eggs, thou shalt not Take the dam with the young:

But thou shalt in any wise let the dam go, and take the young to

thee; that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong they days.

This, obviously, is a perfect paradigm of ecological and agricultural discipline, in which the idea of inheritance is necessarily paramount. The inflexible rule is that the source must be preserved. You may take the young, but you must save the breeding stock. You may eat the harvest, but you must save seed, and you must preserve the fertility of the fields.

What we are talking about is an elaborate understanding of charity. It is so elaborate because of the perception, implicit here, explicit in the New Testament, that charity by its nature cannot be selective—that it is, so to speak, out of human control. It cannot be selective because between any two humans, or any two creatures, all Creation exists as a bond. Charity cannot be just human, any more than it can be just Jewish or just Samaritan. Once begun, wherever it begins, it cannot stop until it includes all Creation, for all creatures are parts of a whole upon which each is dependent, and it is a contradiction to love your neighbor and despise the great inheritance on which his life depends. Charity even for one person does not make sense except in terms of an effort to love all Creation in response to the Creator’s love for it.

And how is this charity answerable to “man’s purposes”? It is not, any more than the Creation itself is. Professor White’s contention that the Bible proposes any such thing is, so far as I can see, simply wrong. It is not allowable to love the Creation according to the purposes one has for it, any more than it is allowable to love one’s neighbor in order to borrow his tools. The wild ass and the unicorn are said in the Book of Job (39:5-12) to be “free,” precisely in the sense that they are not subject or serviceable to human purposes. The same point—though it is not the main point of that passage—is made in the Sermon on the Mount in reference to “the fowls of the air” and “the lilies of the field.” Faced with this problem in Book VIII of Paradise Lost, Milton scrupulously observes the same reticence. Adam asks about “celestial Motions,” and Raphael refuses to explain, making the ultimate mysteriousness of Creation a test of intellectual propriety and humility:

…. For the Heav’n’s wide Circuit, let it speak

The Maker’s high magnificence, who built

So spacious, and his Line stretcht out so far; That Man may know he dwells not in his own; An Edifice too large for hi to fill,

Lodg’d in a small partition, and the rest

Ordain’d for uses to his Lord best known. (lines 100-106)

The Creator’s love for the Creation is mysterious precisely because it does not conform to human purposes. The wild ass and the wild lilies are loved by God for their own sake and yet they are part of a pattern that we must love because it includes us. This is a pattern that humans can understand well enough to respect and preserve, though they cannot “control” it or hope to understand it completely. The mysterious and the practical, the Heavenly and the earthly, are thus joined. Charity is a theological virtue and is prompted, no doubt, by a theological emotion, but it is also a practical virtue because it must be practiced. The requirements of this complex charity cannot be fulfilled by smiling in abstract beneficence on our neighbors and on the scenery. It must come to acts, which must come from skills. Real charity calls for the study of agriculture, soil husbandry, engineering, architecture, mining, manufacturing, transportation, the making of monuments and pictures, songs and stories. It calls not just for skills but for the study and criticism of skills, because in all of them a choice must be made: they can be used either charitably or uncharitably.

How can you love your neighbor if you don’t know how to build or mend a fence, how to keep your filth out of his water supply and your poison out of his air; or if you do not produce anything and so have nothing to offer, or do not take care of yourself and so become a burden? How can you be a neighbor without applying principle—without bringing virtue to a practical issue? How will you practice virtue without skill?

The ability to be good is not the ability to do nothing. It is not negative or passive. It is the ability to do something well—to do good work for good reasons. In order to be good you have to know how—and this knowing is vast, complex, humble and humbling; it is of the mind and of the hands, of neither alone.

The divine mandate to use the world justly and charitably, then, defines every person’s moral predicament as that of a steward. But this predicament is hopeless and meaningless unless it produces an appropriate discipline: stewardship. And stewardship is hopeless and meaningless unless it involves long-term courage, perseverance, devotion, and skill. This skill is not to be confused with any accomplishment or grace of spirit or of intellect. It has to do with everyday proprieties in the practical use and care of created things—with “right livelihood.”

If “the earth is the Lord’s” and we are His stewards, then obviously some livelihoods are “right” and some are not. Is there, for instance, any such thing as a Christian strip mine? A Christian atomic bomb? A Christian nuclear power plant or radioactive waste dump? What might be the design of a Christian transportation or sewer system? Does not Christianity imply limitations on the scale of technology, architecture, and land holding? Is it Christian to profit or otherwise benefit from violence? Is there not, in Christian ethics, an implied requirement of practical separation from a destructive or wasteful economy? Do not Christian values require the enactment of a distinction between an organization and a community?

It is impossible to understand, much less to answer, such questions except in reference to issues of practical skill, because they all have to do with distinctions between kinds of action. These questions, moreover, are intransigently personal, for they ask, ultimately, how each livelihood and each life will be taken from the world, and what each will cost in terms of the livelihoods and lives of others. Organizations and even communities cannot hope to answer such questions until individuals have begun to answer them.

But here we must acknowledge one inadequacy of Judeo-Christian tradition. At least in its most prominent and best known examples, this tradition does not provide us with a precise enough understanding of the commonplace issues of livelihood. There are two reasons for this.

One is the “otherworldly philosophy” that, according to Lovejoy, “has, in one form or another, been the dominant official philosophy of the larger part of civilized mankind through most of its history. … The greater numbers of the subtler speculative minds and of the great religious teachers have…been engaged in weaning man’s thought or his affections, or both, from…Nature.” The connection here is plain.

The second reason is that the Judeo-Christian tradition as we have it in its art and literature, including the Bible, is so strongly heroic. The poets and storytellers in this tradition have tended to be interested in the extraordinary actions of “great men”—actions unique in grandeur, such as may occur only once in the history of the world. These extraordinary actions do indeed bear a universal significance, but they cannot very well serve as examples of ordinary behavior. Ordinary behavior belongs to a different dramatic mode, a different understanding of action, even a different understanding of virtue. The drama of heroism raises above all the issue of physical and moral courage: Does the hero have, in extreme circumstances, the courage to obey—to perform the task, the sacrifice, the resistance, the pilgrimage that he is called on to perform? The drama of ordinary or daily behavior also raises the issue of courage, but it raises at the same time the issue of skill; and, because ordinary behavior lasts so much longer than heroic action, it raises in a more complex and difficult way the issue of perseverance. It may, in some ways, be easier to be Samson than to be a good husband or wife day after day for fifty years.

These heroic works are meant to be (among other things) instructive and inspiring to ordinary people in ordinary life, and they are, grandly and deeply so. But there are two issues that they are prohibited by their nature from raising: the issue of life-long devotion and perseverance in unheroic tasks, and the issue of good workmanship or “right livelihood.”

It can be argued, I believe, that until fairly recently there was simply no need for attention to such issues, for there existed yeoman or peasant and artisan classes: these were the people who did the work of feeding and clothing and housing, and who were responsible for the necessary skills, disciplines, and restraints. As long as those earth-keeping classes and their traditions were strong, there was at least the hope that the world would be well used. But probably the most revolutionary accomplishment of the industrial revolution was to destroy the traditional livelihoods and so break down the cultural lineage of those classes.

The industrial revolution has held in contempt not only the “obsolete skills” of those classes, but the concern for quality, for responsible workmanship and good work, that supported their skills. For the principle of good work it substituted a secularized version of the heroic tradition: the ambition to be a “pioneer” of science or technology, to make a “breakthrough” that will “save the world” from some “crisis” (which now is usually the result of some previous “breakthrough”).

The best example we have of this kind of hero, I am afraid, is the fallen Satan of Paradise Lost—Milton undoubtedly having observed in his time the prototypes of industrial heroism. This is a hero who instigates and influences the actions of others, but does not act himself. His heroism is of the mind only—escaped as far as possible, not only from divine rule, from its place in the order of creation or the Chain of Being, but also from the influence of material creation:

A mind not to be chang’d by Place or Time. The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

(Book I, lines 253-255)

This would-be heroism is guilty of two evils that are prerequisite to its very identity: hubris and abstraction. The industrial hero supposes that “mine own mind hath saved me”—and moreover that it may save the world. Implicit in this is the assumption that one’s mind is one’s own, and that it may choose its own place in the order of things; one usurps divine authority, and thus, in classic style, becomes the author of results that one can neither foresee or control.

And because this mind is understood only as a cause, its primary works are necessarily abstract. We should remind ourselves that materialism in the sense of the love of material things is not in itself an evil. As C.S. Lewis pointed out, God too loves material things; He invented them. The Devil’s work is abstraction—not the love of material things, but the love of their quantities—which, of course, is why “David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people” (II Samuel 24:10). It is not the lover of material things but the abstractionist who defends long-term damage for short-term gain, or who calculates the “acceptability” of industrial damage to ecological or human health, or who counts dead bodies on the battlefield. The true lover of material things does not think in this way, but is answerable instead to the paradox of the lost sheep: that each is more precious than all.

But perhaps we cannot understand this secular heroic mind until we understand its opposite: the mind obedient and in place. And for that we can look again at Raphael’s warning in Book VIII of Paradise Lost:

… apt the Mind or Fancy is to rove

Uncheckt, and of her roving is no end;

Till warn’d, or by experience taught, she learn That not to know at large of things remote From use, obscure and subtle, but to know That which before us lies in daily life,

Or emptiness, or fond impertinence,

And renders us in things that most concern Unpractic’d, unprepar’d, and still to seek. Therefore from this high pitch let us descend A lower flight, and speak of things at hand

Useful …

(lines 188-200)

In its immediate sense this is a warning against thought that is theoretical or speculative (and therefore abstract), but in its broader sense it is a warning against disobedience— the eating of the forbidden fruit, an act of hubris, which Satan justifies by a compellingly reasonable theory and which Eve undertakes as a speculation.

A typical example of the conduct of industrial heroism is to be found in the present rush of experts to “solve the problem of world hunger”—which is rarely defined except as a “world problem” known, in industrial heroic jargon, as “the world food problematique.” As is characteristic of industrial heroism, the professed intention here is entirely salutary: nobody should starve. The trouble is that “world hunger” is not a problem that can be solved by a “world solution.” Except in a very limited sense, it is not an industrial problem, and industrial attempts to solve it—such as the “Green Revolution” and “Food for Peace”—have often had grotesque and destructive results. “The problem of world hunger” cannot be solved until it is understood and dealt with by local people as a multitude of local problems of ecology, agriculture, and culture.

The most necessary thing in agriculture, for instance, is not to invent new technologies or methods, not to achieve “breakthroughs,” but to determine what tools and methods are appropriate to specific people, places, and needs, and to apply them correctly. Application (which the heroic approach ignores) is the crux, because no two farms or farmers are alike; no two fields are alike. Just the changing shape or topography of the land makes for differences of the most formidable kind. Abstractions never cross these boundaries without either ceasing to be abstractions or doing damage. And prefabricated industrial methods and technologies are abstractions. The bigger and more expensive, the more heroic, they are, the harder they are to apply considerately and conservingly.

Application is the most important work, but also the most modest, complex, difficult, and long—and so it goes against the grain of industrial heroism. It destroys forever the notions that the world can be thought of (by humans) as a whole and that humans can “save” it as a whole—notions we can well do without, for they prevent us from understanding our problems and from growing up.

To use knowledge and tools in a particular place with good long-term results is not heroic. It is not a grand action visible for a long distance or a long time. It is a small action, but more complex and difficult, more skillful and responsible, more whole and enduring, than most grand actions. It comes of a willingness to devote oneself to work that perhaps only the eye of Heaven will see in its full intricacy and excellence. Perhaps the real work, like real prayer and real charity, must be done in secret.

The great study of stewardship, then, is “to know/That which before us lies in daily life” and to talk about skill. In the loss of skill we lose stewardship; in losing stewardship we lose fellowship; we become outcasts from the great neighborhood of Creation. It is possible—as our experience in this good land shows—to exile ourselves from Creation, and to ally ourselves with the principle of destruction—which is, ultimately, the principle of nonentity. It is to be willing in general for beings to not-be. And once we have allied ourselves with that principle, we are foolish to think that we can control the results. The “regulation” of abominations is a modern governmental exercise that never succeeds. If we are willing to pollute the air—to harm the elegant creature known as the atmosphere— by that token we are willing to harm all creatures that breathe, ourselves and our children among them. There is no begging off or “trading off.” You cannot affirm the power plant and condemn the smokestack, or affirm the smoke and condemn the cough.

That is not to suggest that we can live harmlessly, or strictly at our own expense; we depend upon other creatures and survive by their deaths. To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want.

Man does not have a nature, but a history…. Man is no thing, but a drama…His life is something that has to be chosen, made up as he goes along, and a man consists in that choice and invention. Each man is the novelist of himself, and though he may choose between being an original writer and a plagiarist, he cannot escape choosing…. He is condemned to be free…. Freedom is not an activity exercised by an entity that already possessed a fixed being before and apart from that activity. Being free means…. being able to be something else than what one is and not being able to settle down once and for all in any determined nature….

Unlike all other things in the universe which have a pre-fixed being given to them, man is the only and almost inconceivable reality that exists without having an irrevocably pre-fixed being….

It is not only in economics but also in metaphysics that man must earn his living (win his life).

Quotes by Jose Ortega y Gasset

Excerpts from History as a System / Man Has No Nature

Instructions to Painters & Poets

by Lawrence Ferlinghetti from How to Paint Sunlight

I asked a hundred painters and a hundred poets how to paint sunlight

on the face of life

Their answers were ambiguous and ingenuous as if they were all guarding trade secrets Whereas it seems to me

all you have to do

is conceive of the whole world and all humanity

as a kind of art work

a site-specific art work

an art project of the god of light the whole earth and all that’s in it to be painted with light

And the first thing you have to do is paint out postmodern painting

And the next thing is to paint yourself in your true colors

in primary colors as you seem them (without whitewash)

paint yourself as you see yourself

without make-up without masks

Then paint your favorite people and animals with your brush loaded with light

And be sure you get the perspective right

and don’t fake it

because one false line leads to another

And then paint the high hills when the sun first strikes them on an autumn morning

With your palette knife lay it on

the cadmium yellow leaves the ochre leaves

the vermillion leaves

of a New England autumn

And paint the ghost light of summer nights and the light of the midnight sun

which is moon light

And don’t paint out the shadows made by light

for without chiaroscuro you’ll have shallow pictures

So paint all the dark corners too everywhere in the world

all the hidden places and minds and hearts which light never reaches

all the caves of ignorance and fear the pits of despair

the sloughs of despond and write plain upon them

“Abandon all despair, ye who enter here”

And don’t forget to paint

all those who lived their lives as bearers of light

Paint their eyes

and the eyes of every animal

and the eyes of beautiful women

known best for the perfection of their breasts and the eyes of men and women

known only for the light of their minds

Paint the light of their eyes the light of sunlit laughter the song of eyes

the song of birds in flight

And remember that the light is within if it is anywhere

and you must paint from the inside

Start with purity with pure white

the pure white of gesso

the pure white of cadmium white the pure white of flake white

the pure virgin canvas

the pure life we all begin with

Turner painted sunlight with egg tempera

(which proved unstable)

and Van Gogh did it with madness and the blood of his ear

(also unstable)

and the Impressionists did it by never using black

and the Abstract Expressionists did it with white house paint

But you can do it with the pure pigment

(if you can figure out the formula)

of your own true light

But before you strike the first blow on the virgin canvas

remember its fragility life’s extreme fragility

and remember its innocence its original innocence

before you strike the first blow

Or perhaps never strike it

And let the light come through the inner light of the canvas

the inner light of the models posed in the life study

the inner light of everyone

Let it all come through like a pentimento

the light that’s been painted over

the life that’s been painted over so many times

Let it all surge to the surface the painted-over image

of primal life on earth

And when you’ve finished your painting stand back astonished

stand back and observe

the life on earth that you’ve created the lighted life on earth

that you’ve created a new brave world

Decalogue Chapel: A Ritual of Readings

October 26, 2017

52_tree17

DECALOGUE CHAPEL: A RITUAL OF READINGS

By Scott D. Young, Biola Alumni 1975 I Adjunct Faculty 1998- 2006

Artist Statement:              Gregory Michael Hernandez

lnvitatory:                            “I am an Impure Thinker”     -Eugen Rosenstock-Hussey

Responsiveness:             “Is Your God Dead?”    – George Yancy I New York Times

Responsibility:                  “Eulogy for the Twin Pillars of American Identity:  The

                                               American Dream and American Exceptionalism” – Scott D.

                                               Young I Dean of The Chapel

Liturgical Pairings:          Lament: “An Obituary: The National Endowment for the Arts,

                       of Natural Causes”     – Michael Wilkerson

                                                Promise:  “Create Dangerously”   – Albert Camus

                                                Lament: “The Trouble with Normal” – Bruce Cockburn

                                               Promise: “Uprising”, Lyrics – Muse

                                              Lament: “Sculpting in Time” – Andrei Tarkovsky

Promise: “Sculpting in Time”  – Andrei Tarkovsky

Litany of Dreams:            The American Dream is Dead, and Properly Eulogized: But, But… Dreams, Dreaming, Dreamers are Relentlessly Dancing and Doing

– Eleanor Roosevelt

– Yoko Ono

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky

– Henry David Thoreau

– Bell Hooks

Testimonial:                        “The Decalogue Chapel”

– Dr. Walter Brueggemann
ARTIST STATEMENT

Decalogue Chapel: The Ten Commandments Re-Contextualized

“You read the Ten Commandments differently if you entertain the thought that the commandments are rules for maintaining life outside the reach of Pharaoh.”

– Dr. Walter Brueggemann

In our society, The Ten Commandments are often considered irrelevant. Dismissed as old­ fashioned, moralistic rules, their discussion at large is almost entirely relegated to protesting their display or removal in a courthouse. Yet the Ten Commandments remain revered in the scriptural traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Considering the original context of the Ten Commandments, Israel was just brought out of slavery in Egypt. The commandments directly corresponded to the freshly emancipated experience of the Jewish people. More than religious rules, they represented a political manifesto promoting neighborliness. They were designed to keep the fragile community from slipping into another system of competitive acquisitiveness. Commitment to a neighborly way of being could make life viable again: beyond the reach of Pharaoh, and against an economic extraction system that depended on exploiting vulnerable people for cheap labor.

The Jewish community dared to imagine that life was created as gift, to be good. They established narratives to promote rootedness, purpose, and vision for the future. Like all good prophetic narratives, the Exodus story is a provocation waiting to be performed. The story of the Ten Commandments authorizes alternative communities in the midst of oppressive regimes. Scholar Walter Brueggemann suggests that the role of the church is to constantly re­ perform the Exodus event.

In translating the Ten Commandments into our contemporary political context, I hope to contribute toward the renewal of religion. Perhaps this renewal depends upon bold, imaginative speech/action that cuts to the core of societal systems that divide and rank people according to their economic worth. The religious imagination might be the only script with the potential to sow seeds of communion among global neighbors in pluralistic societies.

Each painting is sculpted to the exact dimensions of U.S. National Cemetery military headstones. In an age of heated debates over U.S. monuments and the correct representation of history, I consider this artwork to be a provisional monument. It is skeletal in form- it is transitory- and it is subject to future revision. My re-writing of the Ten Commandments traffics in the same debate as the United States Constitution: is it a living and breathing document or is Originalism the correct mode of interpretation?

I could be accused of conceptual plagiarism if I didn’t give credit to the work of Dr. Walter Brueggemann; Christian scholar of the Hebrew scriptures. His lifelong devotion to interpreting the text is my single greatest source of inspiration as a visual artist. I am also grateful to my four years at Biola University for feeding my religious imagination. Art Professor Dan Callis introduced me to Brueggemann’s “The Prophetic Imagination” which has become foundational for my artistic practice and former Adjunct Professor Scott D. Young continues to be my mentor.

Decalogue Chapel was first created for the Joshua Treenial in spring, 2017. When I decided it needed liturgy and a performative element, I invited Scott to be my collaborator. He curated all the readings included here, and I asked him to write a Eulogy to the American Dream and American Exceptionalism. Scott performed an outdoor chapel service twice a day during the weekend exhibit in Joshua Tree, CA.

-Gregory Michael Hernandez

Biola University Alumni 1999
INVITATORY

I am an Impure Thinker

We do not exist because we think. Man is the son of God and not brought into being by thinking. We are called into society by a mighty entreaty, “Who art though, man, that I should care for thee?” And long before our intelligence can help us, the new-born individual survives this tremendous question by his naive faith in the love of his elders. We grow into society on faith, listening to all kinds of human imperatives. Later we stammer and stutter, nations and individuals alike, in the effort to justify our existence by responding to this call. We …wish to follow the deepest questions, the central call which goes straight to the heart, and promises our soul the lasting certainty of being inscribed in the book of life.

– Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy
RESPONSIVENESS

Selections from: “Is Your God Dead?”

By George Yancy, June 19, 2017

The New York Times (Opinion Section), The Stone

Used by permission of Dr. George Yancy

Is your God dead?

I don’t mean the God of the philosophers or the scholars, but, as Blaise Pascal said, the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob.” With no disrespect, I hope the question comes as a jolt. And without being outraged or quick to accuse me of “blasphemy,” know, too, that I am a hopeful monotheist. I might even be called a Christian, only I continue, every day of my life, to fail. Friedrich Nietzsche’s observation weighs heavily on me: “There was only one Christian and he died on the cross.” Call me a failed and broken Christian, but a Christian nevertheless.

So, is your God dead? Have you buried God in the majestic, ornamental tombs of your churches, synagogues and mosques? Perhaps prosperity theology, boisterous, formalistic and mechanical prayer rituals, and skillful oratory have hastened the need for a eulogy.

Perhaps by remaining in your “holy” places, you have sacrificed looking in the face of your neighbor on the street. You know the one: the one who smells “bad” because she hasn’t bathed in days; the one who carries her home on her body; the one who begs. Surely you’ve seen that “unholy” face. I’ve seen you suddenly look away, making sure not to make eye contact with the “unclean.” Perhaps you’re preoccupied with texting, consumed by a work or family matter. Then again, perhaps it’s prayer time and you need to face east, or perhaps you’re too focused on holy communion as you make your way to church. Your refusal to stop, to linger, to look into her eyes, has already done its damage. Your body has already left a mark in its absence, in its fleeing the scene.
My hands are also dirty; I’m guilty of missing the opportunity to recognize something of the divine in the face of the Other on the street. I’m pretty sure I looked away when I caught a glimpse of a homeless man approaching the other day. How different is this from those who walked by the beaten and abandoned man in the parable of the good Samaritan? I failed to see the homeless man as a neighbor.

When we turn away like this we behave as if our bodies had boundaries, as if our skin truly separated us from the Other. But what if, as I would argue, our bodies don’t have strict edges? What if we could develop a new way of seeing the body that reveals that we are always already touching, that we are inextricably linked to a larger institutional and social body that binds us all?

In meditating on these questions, I have found that the prophetic voice of Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972), a Polish-born Jewish-American rabbi and activist, can help us toward an answer. Heschel, who studied in Germany with Martin Buber, and later became a close friend of Martin Luther King Jr., warned frequently of the dangers of theological and religious shallowness, of our tendency to “worry more about the purity of dogma than about the integrity of love.”

Heschel cautions against “an outward compliance with ritual laws, strict observance mingled with dishonesty, the pedantic performance of rituals as a form of opportunism.” And while there are many who worship in churches, synagogues and mosques, who understand that religious truth must be lived, who make a point of looking into the eyes of the woman on the street and show her mercy, too many of us refuse to look, to stop.

As the religious scholar Elisabeth T. Vasko writes, “to be human is to be a person in relation.” And it is this social and existential relationality that ties you to, and implicates you in, the life of that destitute woman. Heschel writes, “How dare we come before God with our prayers when we commit atrocities against the one image we have of the divine: human beings?” If there is a shred of life left in your God, full resuscitation might begin with remaining in the presence of that suffering face. If your God is dead, the possibility for a resurrection might be found in attending to the pain and sorrow of that image of the divine there on the street.

AS A YOUNG BOY, the idea of exempting no one from redemption tested my mother, who was a Baptist. One night I asked her if I could pray for the Devil. Strange, I admit. My mother eventually said yes. So there I was on my knees, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep, If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take. God bless my mother, my sister and my friends. And God bless the Devil.”

My older son recently brought to my attention a Mark Twain quote: “Who in 18 centuries has had the common humanity to pray for the one sinner that needed it most… ?” Well, there I was as a little boy doing just that. Beyond boyhood now, and thinking of evil in a less personified way, I no longer pray for the Devil. The more important point here is that we need a paradigm shift in how we lay claim to our religious identities. Why not claim those that are suffused with compassion, a shared reality of suffering together, in which your pain is my pain?

Indeed, King wrote in his letter from the Birmingham jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Heschel suggests that we should be mortified by the inadequacy and superficiality of our anguish when we witness the suffering of others, the sort of anguish that should make us weep until our eyes are red and swollen and bring sleepless nights and agonizing days. He writes, “We are a generation that has lost the capacity for outrage.”

I have been troubled by the lack of religious and theological outrage against national and global poverty, white racism and supremacism, sexism, classism, homophobia, bullying, building walls, “alternative facts,” visa/immigration bans and xenophobia. Heschel reminds us that when we establish a way of life predicated upon a lie, “the world can turn into a nightmare.” He makes it clear that the Holocaust did not emerge suddenly. “It was in the making for several generations. It had its origin in a lie: that the Jew was responsible for all social ills, for all personal frustrations. Decimate the Jews and all problems would be solved.” […]

“Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol,” Heschel writes. Think of segregated white churches during Jim Crow, or the many churches today, in our “post-racial” moment, that continue to be de facto segregated every Sunday morning. Think, too, of the blood that has been spilled in the name of the God we claim as our own. You have all heard the underpinnings of this idolatry: “God Bless America,” which I see as the words of a bankrupt neoliberal theology. In fact, there is something profane in that statement, which worships and calls upon a God that blesses America only.

If there are any blessings to be had, the request, surely, mustn’t be partisan. At least in Christianity, Judaism and Islam, it is believed that human beings were created in the image of God. Not just the faithful of these religions, but all humans: Syrian refugees, whom our current administration have deemed threats, were created in the image of God. Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, members of the Ku Klux Klan and Bashar al-Assad all were created in the image of God. So even as we ask God to bless America, surely we must ask God to bless those whom we have deemed threats or enemies. Our blessings must be scattered across the entire world, inclusive of all of humanity. […]

Heschel, in a speech on religion and race, reminded us of the persistence of autocratic power when he stated that “Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began but it is far from having been completed.” That exodus, originating with Moses and the emancipation of the Jews, as Heschel suggests, is eternal, and signifies the march toward not just an outward physical emancipation but a spiritual one — one that demands fierce self-reflection. I take it that for Heschel, all of the oppressed of the world are in need of an exodus. In another work Heschel later wrote, “One’s integrity must constantly be examined.” Bob Marley, in his song “Exodus,” says, “Open your eyes and look within. Are you satisfied with the life you’re living?” Some voices refuse to let us rest. King had such a voice, and so did Socrates.

AND WHAT HAVE WE SEEN? I am pretty sure that no contemporary Christians have seen God, no contemporary religious Jews have seen Yahweh and no contemporary Muslims have seen Allah — certainly not face to face. Yet all of us have seen the aftermath of murdered children from war-torn countries, their fragile bodies covered with blood. I am haunted by the little body of 3-year-old Aylan Kurdi who lay dead and face down in 2015 on a Turkish beach after his family fled violence in Syria. I continue to be haunted by the murder of an unarmed Trayvon Martin in 2012. Hundreds of thousands of children around the world are suffering. We all have known about the cruel and despicable violence toward transgender individuals. We know about the magnitude of human trafficking, the magnitude of poverty, and the sickness of hatred.

Vasko writes, “Through lamentation, voice is given to pain.” Yet our lamenting, our mourning for those who suffer, is far too short-lived. And our charity to those who wail in the night only temporarily eases their pain. According to Heschel, “one may be decent and sinister, pious and sinful.” We easily forget the weight of human suffering, the agony. Heschel asks, “If all agony were kept alive in memory, if all turmoil were told, who could endure tranquility?” Heschel and Vasko help to remind us that we ought to be suspicious of our tranquility.

In fact, I would ask, what if that tranquility, that peace of mind, rests on the rotting corpses beneath our feet? What if as we pray and rejoice in our churches, synagogues and mosques, we are throwing handfuls of dirt on God’s casket? After all, prayer and rejoicing can also function as forms of narcissism, as ways to drown out the screams of the poor, the oppressed. In a story shared by Heschel’s daughter, Susannah, she writes that he found praying during the Vietnam War impossible, but necessary to demonstrate. “Whenever I open my prayer book,” he told a journalist, “I see before me images of children burning from napalm.”

Heschel writes, “The prophet’s word is a scream in the night.” I wait to be awakened by that scream. I have not yet heard it. It is that scream, that deep existential lament, that will awaken us to the ways we are guilty of claiming to “love God” while forgetting the poor, refusing the refugee, building walls, banning the stranger, and praying and worshiping in insular and segregated “sacred” spaces filled with racism, sexism, patriarchy, xenophobia, homophobia and indifference.

WE HAVE FAILED TO DEEPEN our collective responsibility. Some of us will never do so. What would the world look like if believers from every major religion in every country, state, city and village, shut down the entire world for just a day? What would America look like, on that day, if we who call ourselves believers, decided to weep together, hold hands together, commit together to eradicate injustice? We might then permanently unlock our sacred doors, take a real step beyond our sanctimoniousness, and see one another face to face.

I await the day, perhaps soon, when those who believe in the “God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob” will lock arms and march on Washington, refusing to live any longer under the weight of so much inhumanity. Perhaps it is time for a collective demonstration of the faithful to delay going to the Western Wall in Jerusalem, to leave the pews in churches and pray one fewer time a day. None of us is innocent. “Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people,” Heschel reminds us. “Few are guilty, but all are responsible.”

In 1968, in conversation with King, Heschel asked, “Where does God dwell in America today?” I ask myself this question today. But I do not find the answer. Heschel also asks, “Where does moral religious leadership in America come from today?” I look, but I have not seen it. Perhaps, like Diogenes the Cynic, you’ll find me carrying a lamp in the daytime. But instead of looking for an honest man, I will be looking through the catacombs of your own making, asking, “Is your God dead?”

George Yancy is a professor of philosophy at Emory University. He is the author of “Black Bodies, White Gazes” and “On Race: 34 Conversations in a Time of Crisis,” and a co-editor of “Pursuing Trayvon Martinand “Our Black Sons Matter.”

© 2017 The New York Times Company
RESPONSIBILITY

Eulogy for the Twin Pillars of American Identity: The American Dream and American Exceptionalism by Scott D. Young, Dean of the Decalogue Chapel

We are gathered here to mourn and lament the agonizing loss of outsized twin personalities — the American Dream and American Exceptionalism. These twins were born early in the making of America. No birther controversy here, but exact time and location is not known. There are multiple certificates that exist to authenticate that the twins are made in the USA —homegrown and perceived to have made America Great!

The American Dream can be recognized in the following statements:

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, the set of ideals (democracy, rights, liberty, opportunity and equality) in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

The American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims that “all men are created equal” with the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

America’s unique prosperity is based on its creation of a middle class in the twentieth century, that middle class provided the workforce, the educated skills, and the demand that gave life to the world’s greatest consumer economy. It was innovative and dynamic; it eclipsed old imperial systems and colonial archetypes. It gave rise to a dream: that if you worked hard and followed the rules you would prosper in America, and your children would enjoy a better life than yours.

The American dream was the lure to gifted immigrants and the birthright opportunity for every American citizen. It is as important a part of the history of the country as the passing of the Bill of Rights, the outcome of the Battle of Gettysburg, or the space program. Incredibly, however, for more than thirty years, government and big business in America have conspired to roll back the American dream. What was once accessible to a wide swath of the population is increasingly open only to a privileged fewThe vaunted American dream, the idea that life will get better, that progress is inevitable if we obey the rules and work hard, that material prosperity is assured, has been replaced by a hard and bitter truth. The American dream, we now know, is a lie. We will all be sacrificed. The virus of corporate abuse — the perverted belief that only corporate profit matters — has spread to outsource our jobs, cut the budgets of our schools, close our libraries, and plague our communities with foreclosures and unemployment.

The “American Dream” enjoyed a charmed life from birth through young adulthood. It was traumatized in later life and fell victim to neglect and abuse. It developed phobias and disorders and was subjected to numerous diagnostic assessments. Finally, it was poisoned to death by the greedy and powerful. Many tears were shed while receiving! hospice care. The future generations, who will be denied the privilege of knowing the American Dream, will curse the murderers and will aggressively look for ways to retrieve the best traits of the Dream. The American Dream is dead but not forgotten.

It’s twin, American Exceptionalism, is likewise going to be severely missed. It received its name from Alexis de Tocqueville, during the Frenchman’s visit to America in 1831. His observation being that America’s uniqueness came from common values and beliefs rather than ethnic or nationalistic identity. The concept of American Exceptionalism is expressed in these descriptions:

That its citizens were making a new beginning and a new society, stands behind American Exceptionalism. Founded on the principles of freedom, human rights, and rights of the people to govern themselves, America would also avoid the mistakes of other nations. America would enjoy a special status among the nations of the world. America would be a “city on a hill” or a “beacon to the world,” defending and promoting democracy and liberty, exercising only “benevolent power in the world.” Many linked this with belief in a divine mission or destiny; the U.S. would be “tied to God’s steady path.”

The basis most commonly cited for American Exceptionalism is the idea that the United States and its people hold a special place in the world, by offering opportunity and hope for humanity, derived from a unique balance of public and private interests governed by constitutional ideals that are focused on personal and economic freedom. Some United States citizens have used the term to claim moral superiority for America or Americans. Others use it to refer to the American concept, or “dream” as itself an exceptional ideal. Americans can model this for other people and nations and can assist them with constructing their own democratic, free societies.

The way in which the concept of American Exceptionalism has impacted on the wider world has also involved a struggle. On the one hand, America has tried to act as a nation among nations promoting liberty and the pursuit of happiness. On the other hand, America has acted as a nation above nations pursuing its special self-interest at the expense of other people’s liberty and happiness. The convictions that poverty and class-conflict were alien to the principles on which the republic was founded can also motivate political leaders to eliminate these from the American experience. How many empires that once claimed to be special, even “God’s chosen nation” over-extended themselves and collapsed, and suggests that Americans take a look at history.

“American Exceptionalism,” like its twin pedestal, “American Dream” was enormously successful in its historic development. Unfortunately, it too, succumbed to a hybrid disorder. Instead of it nurturing U.S. citizens and generously giving to others, it became an empire of self-delusion and an imperialistic monster impressed with its wealth and power dispensing violent interventions and monopolizing global resources. In its overreach other societies realized that the lion is all growl and no longer king of the jungle. American Exceptionalism ceased being a model of virtue and became a grotesque bully who now habitually loses to small and large enemies. Its current leaders no longer exemplify nor are the paragons, of freedom, human rights, and equality of shared resources, but increasingly are seen as buffoons and clowns. American Exceptionalism is dead and the loud wailing for its best expressions from the past can be heard far and wide.

Eulogizing the American Dream and its twin, Exceptionalism, is a daunting duty. I much prefer to pronounce the death of the culprits who assassinated the twin pillars.

I wonder what character will replace the twins? What vision and which values will guide us into the future? Are we willing to embrace the virtues and convictions of a Decalogue for our times?

Rev. Scott D. Young

Dean, Decalogue Chapel
LITURGICAL PAIRINGS: LAMENTS AND PROMISES LAMENT

An Obituary: The National Endowment for the Arts, 52, of unnatural causes

By Michael Wilkerson, Opinion Contributor – March 7, 2017 http:/tlhehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/education/322704-an-obituary-the-national­endowment-for-the-arts-52-of-unnatural

The National Endowment for the Arts, aged 52, has finally died. After brushes with extinction in the 1980’s and 1990’s, along with a three-decade wait to be launched after the McCarthy­ era’s relentless attacks on artists, police are describing the NEA’s demise as “totally preventable, but oddly, both a homicide and a suicide.” The agency had been ill although determined to make a difference for many years.

The NEA expired under the care of President Donald Trump and the Tea Party Congress. It leaves as survivors its parent, the United States government. We are now the only country in the world without a federal arts presence. Other survivors include millions of artists and thousands of arts organizations. The NEA died because artists tried too hard to be “the other,” apart from the society they chronicled. It failed to make the case that the arts should mean more to ordinary Americans than whatever they did as children (overwhelmingly, Americans participate in the arts only when young). Late attempts at awkward medical procedures such as translating art into economic development did not improve the agency’s health.

The NEA will be remembered for its controversies, such as supporting artists who performed in the nude, or who explicitly sought to shock their audiences into facing hard truths of racism, sexism, the patriarchy, genocide, war and homophobia; for being unable to simultaneously fund the best American art while reaching every state; and for its political blunders, numerous and often naive.

But the NEA will also be remembered as the agency that created arts councils in every state and most cities; that spread the professionalization of arts organizations throughout America; and that generated important new fields, such as art therapy for war victims; creative place making and the rebirth of cities; research into economics, mental health, inequality and aging, among many; and whose leaders persuaded private funders of the value of artists and the arts.

Life without the NEA will not be a lot different than before. At its end, the agency was so small that the cost of one military jet equaled its entire grants budget. Few if any organizations will go out of business because of the loss of the NEA, though arts advocates have often asserted that NEA funding was the catalyst for vast amounts of additional private donations. Researchers will now have a perfect opportunity to ascertain finally what the financial impact of an NEA grant was on giving to the arts.

No artists will go broke without the NEA; at its demise, the agency offered direct support only to a handful of the nation’s writers. All other artists had been federal grant-free since the mid-1990s. Many artists of all disciplines, though, had been paid by organizations through NEA-funded projects, often the least commercial venture in a company’s annual season. It is likely that the work of artists, already governed almost entirely by the marketplace, might have to veer even more toward the commercial.

Government support for the arts will still exist, at least for a time. It will take a years to hunt down every federal dollar spent by housing, education, military, health and criminal justice agencies on artists whose work has meant so much to everyone from scientists to soldiers. It will take even longer for states to close their arts councils; none have done so permanently since the NEA began offering them matching funds in the late 1960s, though the virus that killed the NEA might spread to politically receptive states. That will, in turn, damage the arts on a local level and continue the lowering of respect and prestige that the sector has suffered since the NEA’s first illness thirty years ago.

The agency’s survivors inherit nothing except fifty years of cultural advancement of art forms and ideas. In the American tradition, they will have to make it on their own, and in some fashion, they probably will, though, like any survivor, they would have preferred not to have been left to fend for themselves. Burial was swift, though more people spoke at the funeral service than had openly supported the NEA when it was alive.

Michael Wilkerson is director of arts administration programs at Indiana University, teaches public policy and the arts.
 

 

Create Dangerously

A Lecture by Albert Camus

December 14, 1957 at the University of Uppsala in Sweden

“One may long, as I do, for a gentler flame, a respite, a pause for musing. But perhaps there is no other peace for the artist than what he finds in the heat of combat. “Every wall is a door,” Emerson correctly said. Let us not look for the door, and the way out, anywhere but in the wall against which we are living. Instead, let us seek the respite where it is-in the very thick of the battle. For in my opinion, and this is where I shall close, it is there. Great ideas, it has been said, come into the world as gently as doves. Perhaps then, if we listen attentively, we shall hear, amid the uproar of empires and nations, a faint flutter of wings, the gentle stirring of life and hope. Some will say that this hope lies in a nation; others, in a man. I believe rather that it is awakened, revived, nourished by millions of solitary individuals whose deeds and works every day negate frontiers and the crudest implications of history. As a result, there shines forth fleetingly the ever-threatened truth that each and every man, on the foundation of his own sufferings and joys, builds for all.”
The Trouble With Normal

Lyrics by Bruce Cockburn

Strikes across the frontier and strikes for higher wage Planet lurches to the right as ideologies engage Suddenly it’s repression, moratorium on rights

What did they think the politics of panic would invite? Person in the street shrugs– “Security comes first” But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Callous men in business costume speak computerese Play pinball with the third world trying to keep it on its knees Their single crop starvation plans put sugar in your tea

And the local third world’s kept on reservations you don’t see “It’ ll all go back to normal if we put our nation first” But the trouble with normal is it always gets worse

Fashionable fascism dominates the scene

When the ends don’t meet it’s easier to justify the means Tenants get the dregs and the landlords get the cream As the grinding devolution of the democratic dream

Brings us men in gas masks dancing while the shells burst

The trouble with normal is it always gets worse

The Trouble With Normal lyrics © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc., CARLIN AMERICA INC

Uprising

Lyrics by Muse

The paranoia is in bloom, the P-R Transmissions will resume They’ll try to push drugs

That keep us all dumbed down and hope that

We will never see the truth around

(So come on)

Another promise, another scene,

Another package lie to keep us trapped in greed With all the green belts wrapped around our minds And endless red tape to keep the truth confined (So come on)

They will not force us They will stop degrading us They will not control us

We will be victorious

(So come on)

Interchanging mind control

Come let the revolution take its toll if you could Flick a switch and open your third eye, you’d see that We should never be afraid to die

(So come on)

Rise up and take the power back, it’s time that The fat cats had a heart attack, you know that Their time is coming to an end

We have to unify and watch our flag ascend

(So come on)

They will not force us They will stop degrading us They will not control us

We will be victorious

(So come on)

Hey, hey, hey, hey Hey, hey, hey, hey Hey, hey, hey, hey

They will not force us They will stop degrading us They will not control us

We will be victorious

(So come on) Hey, hey, hey, hey

Written by Matt Bellamy, Matthew James Bellamy • Copyright © Warner/Chappell Music, Inc

Sculpting in Time

– Andrei Tarkovsky

Korolenko’s definition of the meaning of human existence as the right to happiness reminds me of the Book of Job, where exactly the opposite view is expressed: ‘Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upwards.’ In other words suffering is germane to our existence; indeed, how, without it, should we be able to ‘fly upwards’? And what is suffering? Where does it come from? From dissatisfaction, from the gulf between the ideal and the point at which you find yourself? A sense of ‘happiness’ is far less important than being able to confirm your own soul in the fight for that freedom which is, in the true sense, divine-where good and evil are balanced, and evil is never allowed to prevail.

PROMISE

Sculpting in Time

-Andrei Tarkovsky

Art affirms all that is best in man-hope, faith, love, beauty, prayer .. . What he dreams of and what he hopes for … When someone who doesn’t know how to swim is thrown into the water, instinct tells his body what movements will save him. The artist, too, is driven by a kind of instinct, and his work furthers man’s search for what is eternal, transcendent, divine-often in spite of the sinfulness of the poet himself.

What is art? Is it good or evil? From God or from the devil? From man’s strength or from his weakness? Could it be an image of social harmony? Might that be its function? Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other. A confession. An unconscious act that none the less reflects the true meaning of life-love and sacrifice.
LITANY OF DREAMS

The American Dream is Dead and Properly Eulogized:

 

But, But… Dreams, Dreaming, Dreamers are Relentlessly Dancing and Doing.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams”.

– Eleanor Roosevelt

“We are all dreamers creating the next world, the most beautiful world for ourselves and our children.”

– Yoko Ono

“Dreams, as we all know, are very queer things: some parts are presented with appalling vividness, with details worked up with the elaborate finish of jewelry, while others one gallops through, as it were, without noticing them at all, as, for instance, through space and time.

Dreams seem to be spurred on not by reason but by desire, not by the head but by the heart, and yet what complicated tricks my reason has played sometimes in dreams, what utterly incomprehensible things happen to it!”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.”

– Henry David Thoreau

 

 

“We used to dream the same dreams, that was how I knew you would love me in the end.”

For the Filmmaker Who Still Dreams

– Bell Hooks, Reel to Real
TESTIMONIAL

The Decalogue Chapel

Ours is an era of “fake news” when we trust in illusion and twist reality to fit our deep fears and our thin hopes. In the midst of such fakery, the Ten Commands from the voice of God at Sinai persists as non-negotiable reality, even when they contradict our world of illusion.

Gregory Michael Hernandez has seen clearly and voiced effectively the abiding truthfulness of the Big Ten from Sinai. He has rightly read them in our context as an alternative to greed, fear, anxiety, and violence that contradict the intention of God. The scaffolding of his Decalogue Chapel witnesses to the skeletal structure of a life of trust, truth, and obedience. The scaffolding allows for lots of air and light to enter, air and light as gifts of the creator. Such a skeletal structure stands in deep contrast to the illusionary construction of tall towers of protection, high walls of exclusion, sky-scrapers of hubris, armaments of self-sufficiency, and mighty monuments to human control. Of all of these Jesus might have said:

For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness (Matthew 23:27-28).

In contrast Hernandez’s Decalogue Chapel is simple, direct, straight-forward truth­ telling, just what we need now to clarify our vision, assuage our fears, and engage an active faith.

– Walter Brueggemann

March 17, 2017

Career Interrupted: Movies as Companions on the Unemployment Pilgrimage

April 1, 2015

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I am now experiencing my second bout with un/under-employment in late career. I have spent most of my working life primarily as a Campus Religious Advisor (Chaplain), part-time (adjunct) College Instructor, and a Cultural Programmer (film festival director). The loss of a job (with its prolonged absence of a daily routine, dynamic interaction with colleagues, regular paychecks, frequent frustrations incumbent in a work situation, anticipations of completing projects or finishing assignments, the satisfaction of making a contribution to a reality larger than self) can be deeply disturbing—really messing with one‘s (my) equilibrium. Many remedies exist to help one get through the fear, stress, anxiety, and depression. I have found some helpful, others not so much.

Myself, like most I surmise, search for companions that can guide, understand, offer insight and compassion. Most find this in other human beings, often those experiencing similar circumstances. Family and friends, can play a significant role in this much needed and desired process. I am thankful for being fortunate to have such people in my life.

I, also, have found reading, culinary adventures, walks, gazing on beautiful images, driving, contemplation, and long naps, even idleness/silence to be reliable partners in surviving the un/under-employment blues. Going to the motion picture theater, I have discovered, delivers the most satisfying resource in the search to locate a vibrant life in the death of a job and interruption in a career.

While, for me, the cinematic experience, in and of itself supplies the life buzz I just referred to. There are, however, particular films that resonate with me as companions on the way to feeling hopeful during the jobless season. In my first episode of joblessness, I screened (several times) “The Wrestler” (2008), and “Crazy Heart” (2009). In my current installment of un/under-employment, I have engaged “Birdman” (2014). These cinematic treasures have provided visual soul-mates that engender some relief from the feelings of misery, self-pity, as well as generating perspective and opening up for consideration the possibility that the glass of life is half-full.

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“The Wrestler,” directed by Darren Aronofsky and starring Mickey Rourke as Randy “The Ram” Robinson, is an aging and over-the-hill professional wrestler whose career and personal life is in disarray.

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“Crazy Heart,” directed by Scott Cooper and featuring Jeff Bridges as Bad Blake, a washed-up country music performer whose life is the poster image of dysfunctionality.

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“Birdman,” directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu and showcasing Michael Keaton as Riggan, an actor whose career is on the skids and in steep decline.

This piece of reflective writing focuses on unemployment and how these 3 films intersect with that reality. It is not intended to give full treatment or summary of each movie. For reviews and descriptions, go to IMDb.com, or www. Rottentomatoes.com on the internet.

I selected these films with the three lead characters as examples of careers interrupted. The resulting gargantuan struggle to find meaning, re-invent identity, and re-capture a sense of well-being in the chaos of late-career employment disruptions is the base line story. The movies do project a more or less happy ending with Randy “The Ram” scoring one last marquis match; Bad Blake a headliner concert gig, and Riggan a Broadway play. The narratives of each motion picture differ in several important ways from each other as well as from the details of my life. What I am interested in is how the cinematic experience of watching a film creates an occasion for companionship. The images cast an environment where I am involved in an active dialog with the characters discussing the joys and sorrows of a life that is scrambling to end well. As indicated, the details of each life differ dramatically but the search for significance, belonging, contributing, mattering, connecting, winning is a shared one.

What I am curious about, is how movies more than other story-telling art forms, can produce the intense companion encounter. I am attempting to capture or describe something that is significantly more than the movies just functioning as fellow travelers in a support group manner where the unemployment stories are told and caring and understanding are received. Films don‘t cry, touch, rant or express sympathetic gestures among those suffering the plight of unemployment. So, why is the sensation of these movies as companions so real to me? Why is the public screening in the theater more helpful and preferred than the presence of friends, family, support network, and real human contact? Cinema is not a place of escape but a space for thought, reflection, contemplation, and transport to an alternative location.

It is a sacred space where encountering one‘s interior comes into direct contact with the play of light, the spectacle of sights and sounds that enlarge and envelope one‘s experience. The dismal situation of unemployment, with all of its attendant negativity, is backgrounded as the moving images present lead characters suffering with similar fates are fore-grounded. I am confronted with screen companions—but not only confronted, I am with them on a cinematic-companion adventure. Randy “The Ram,” Bad Blake, and Riggan are not mere entertaining actors on a screen—I have joined with them looking for a future. I have left my seat and jumped onto the screen to share in the quest to keep working – to have a vocation of doing good in the world.

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“Why do people go to the cinema? What takes them into a darkened room where, for two hours, they watch the play of shadows on a sheet? The search for entertainment? The need for a kind of drug? All over the world there are, indeed, entertainment firms and organizations which exploit cinema and television and spectacles of many other kinds. Our starting point, however, should not be there, but in the essential principles of cinema, which have to do with the human need to master and know the world. I think that what a person normally goes to the cinema for is time: for time lost or spent or not yet had. He goes there for living experience; for cinema, like no other art, widens, enhances and concentrates a person‘s experiences—and not only enhances it but makes it longer, significantly longer. That is the power of cinema: stars,‘ storylines, and entertainment have nothing to do with it.”

–Andrei Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time

My views on ‘Killing Jesus’ (National Geographic Channel, Sunday, March 29)

March 28, 2015

Here is a review of ‘Killing Jesus’ by Sr. Rose Pacatte published online by the National Catholic Reporter. I was pleased to contribute my views to Rose’s analysis after we viewed a screener earlier this week:

Haaz Sleiman, center, in "Killing Jesus" (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

Haaz Sleiman, center, in “Killing Jesus” (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

“Killing Jesus” airs Sunday on the National Geographic Channel at 8/7 pm. It is written by Oscar- and Emmy-winner Walon Green and based on Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard’s 2013 bestseller of the same title.

The title is somewhat misleading, however. By the title, you might expect something like Jim Bishop’s 1957 book and 1980 TV movie The Day Christ Died. Instead, this television movie (like the book on which it is based) covers the entire the life of Jesus while leaving out, or rearranging, elements we might expect to see in a certain order, and time-wise making short work of actual the death of Jesus.

The film opens up with King Herod (Kelsey Grammer) in crisis because the prophecies of Isaiah are circulating, and he fears for his throne. He consults with Caiaphas (Rufus Sewell) and Annas (John Rhys-Davies). Then, men from afar visit him and tell him of a special child, and Herod sends his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill male babies.

Meanwhile, Joseph (Yousef “Joe” Sweid) takes Mary (July Namir) and the child Jesus into Egypt.

Herod Antipas (Eoin Macken) is aware of these prophecies, too, and when his father dies, he becomes Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea. It is this Herod who deals with Pontius Pilate (Stephen Moyer) when he arrives with his spoiled wife, Claudia (Tamsin Egerton.)

And so on and so forth. In broad strokes, the film follows the life of Jesus, but don’t look for the angel Gabriel and the Annunciation, any hint of Mary’s virginity, the birth of Jesus, or the breaking of bread at the Last Supper, which would have been the Passover meal and as such calls for some reflective moments. Instead, we get a moment of joviality.

My colleague Scott Young thought there was one glaring omission to making “Killing Jesus” a more authentic Jesus story:

“It did not include the start of the public ministry, when Jesus went to the synagogue and read the scroll from Isaiah [Luke 4:17] and proclaimed his mission to the poor. Except for a reference to doing unto others as you would have them do unto you and the Beatitudes in the film, there is no hint of Jesus’ coming to set free those who are oppressed and bringing justice to the social order.”

The most interesting theological issue to me is what Mary and Joseph knew about their son, Jesus, and when they knew it, and what Jesus knew about his own identity and mission and when he knew it. According to Bill O’Reilly, it is John the Baptist (Abhin Galeya) who informs Jesus (Haaz Sleiman, who in real life is a Muslim) and initiates him into the work of the Father. There is no losing or finding in the temple, when Jesus told Mary and Joseph he was about the work of his Father (Luke 2: 41-52), giving some indication of his self-awareness.

Young thought the film moved ahead at a good clip: “I found myself particularly engaged in the high-drama moments, such as Salome’s dance and the beheading of John the Baptist. The scene of Judas kissing Jesus was also believable. Pilate’s hesitation at sentencing Jesus to death seemed authentic; there was a subtlety to it that some versions of Jesus’ life can overdo.”

Certainly coming from the National Geographic channel and with Ridley Scott as one of the executive producers, audiences will see a film with fine acting, crisp dialogue and excellent production values. And National Geographic will never let you get lost; each time the locale changes, the name of the location shows up on the screen.

I hope that someday here in Hollywood, there will be a seminar where Jewish scholars will demonstrate to film and television producers how Jesus and the Jews of his time would have dressed and what their religious and life practices would have been. Here, most of the Jews wear the kippah, or skullcap — but Jesus never does. These men were observant Jews, and by leaving off the prayer shawl and the kippah for Jesus and the disciples, the film, like almost every other Jesus film, lacks historical authenticity. Jesus was not a Christian. Of course, I was 12 when I found out that Jesus wasn’t a Catholic, but you’d think that by now, with all the Jesus movies that have come before and since and the response from the Jewish community when the representation of Jewishness fails, that filmmakers would get it. Alas. Not yet.

Young continues: “As a life of Christ, I found the narrative of ‘Killing Jesus’ too literal; it lacked nuance. It took a traditional approach to the story, so it almost had a documentary feel to it. It deserves credit for the parts of the trial, beating, crucifixion, for not making these as horrific as Mel Gibson did in ‘The Passion of the Christ.’ ”

Both Young and I agree that “Killing Jesus” is remarkable in how it captures the devotional Jesus; it is unremarkable in showcasing the radical Jesus, that is, how he upset the status quo of the religious culture of his day. And it severely lacks the sacramental and mysterious elements of religious faith.

Haaz Sleiman in "Killing Jesus" (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

Haaz Sleiman in “Killing Jesus” (CNS/Courtesy National Geographic Channels/Kent Eanes)

Musings on Networking

March 23, 2015

MUSINGS ON NETWORKING

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The importance of networking in professional life is dramatized in the 1987 film Wall Street, Oliver Stone’s showcasing of the fascinating world of financial investment. The main character is Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas), who reigns over an empire of impressive money market monopolies. the stable of people he knows, privileged information he accesses and continuous communication he engages in add up to a network superstar. Bud Fox (Charlie Sheen) attempts to emulate Gekko in his competence as a power broker and in the networking skills necessary to guarantee domination in that world.

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NETWORKING AS A FEATURE OF CONTEMPORARY LIFE

In its exposé of stock market realities, Wall Street demonstrates the inescapability of networking as fixed feature of contemporary working life. Indeed, networking is most frequently associated with job and career environments. But it has evolved as a dimension of everyday life beyond the stations of the workplace. In the busy and segmented urban life of most North Americans, networking is required to find friends and to establish a community of connections. With our nostalgic and idealized notions of relationships, we are apt to suspect networking as too formal and utilitarian for our romanticized aspirations. But in the reality of city life, networking becomes the necessary bridge to identify and nurture meaningful relationships. Whether practiced consciously or accidentally, networking is a relational habit for many people. Networks require a measure of intentionality and civility. Networkers are influential precisely because they know what they want and initiate processes to attain their desires and aspirations. People, called players, who vigorously pursue strategic positioning recognize that in a competitive social setting, civility and a measure of concern for others in networking are crucial for any short-term or long-term gains. Because of the pervasiveness of networking, a moral imagination should be employed to appreciate and assess its contribution to contemporary daily life.

NETWORKING IN ORGANIZATIONAL LIFE

The twentieth century has seen the astronomical growth of large institutions. With this organizational trend has come a dramatic increase in professionals to manage and operate these bureaucratic enterprises. Concurrent with these developments has been the globalization of institutional relations in government, business and ecclesiastical sectors. All of these new realities mandate leadership styles that mobilize networking capacities. Networking is the process of creating and maintaining a pattern of informal linkages among individuals and institutions. In a swiftly changing social environment, new and flexible interconnections become necessary. Leaders must be highly skilled in constructing or re-creating the linkages necessary to function effectively (Gardner, p. 62). The recent proliferation of publications dissecting organizational culture and submitting prescriptions for successful leadership of diverse institutions frequently includes discussions of networking. The near-totalitarian presence of organizational life is the catalyst for this saturation of printed and on-line resources to assist leaders and players to operate with confidence. In today’s entrepreneurial and innovative climate, internal networking emerges as a primary ingredient in being productive. The constant moving around of people and processes means that humans rather than formal mechanisms become the principal carriers of information and integrative links between different departments within an organization. Mobility is a key factor as a network-forming vehicle and thus becomes an admission ticket to the power centers. An organization’s opportunity structure – movement to privileged and prestigious positions – is directly related to the power structure (Kanter, p. 164). Networking has become one of the preferred competencies to contribute to a healthy company and to procure advancement possibilities. The wise executive or manager carefully places in strategic positions individuals who are networkers by inclination. The inclusion of networkers enables the establishment of informal cross-boundary working groups that energize the entire corporate culture (Gardner, p. 163).

External networking is also a work of innovative trends in institutional development currently in fashion. The best companies relate even to their competitors. Building alliances enhances communication and mutuality. In a cutthroat approach to organizational relations there tend to be losers all the way around. Healthy alliance building produces mutual benefits for each partner and for society as a whole. Leaders must nurture outside networks of allies in the many other segments of society whose cooperation is desired for a significant result (Gardner, p. 104).

(c) "The Last Supper" by Andy Worhol

(c) “The Last Supper” by Andy Worhol

NETWORKING AND THE SPIRITUALITY OF DAILY LIFE

Networking is an individual and institutional activity. The movement of structures suggests the inevitability of involvement in networks. The globalization and urbanization of contemporary life also mean that institutions are interdependent and are necessarily interfacing as their respective missions and operations pull them into a marketplace of connections. Organizational life is an extension of the created and evolved world – part of what is often called in Christian theology the cultural mandate. According to the Christian tradition, God, is a Trinity who created the world in a relational manner and wired it to be a communicative network. These relational and communicative processes have been distorted and demented as they moved east of Eden. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ have brought the possibility of a more complete reconciliation into the processes. It is now possible to network in a manner that is reconciling in its intent and expression. Networking is one essential dimension of the ministry of reconciliation the apostle Paul speaks of so intently (2 Cor 5:19). The several implications of the ministry of reconciliation for networking are manifested in Jesus, mandated by the Creator and managed by the Spirit. The primary implication is the deliberate communication to the neighbor, including the stranger. The love of neighbor and stranger that Jesus exemplified becomes the starting point for the networking activity associated with a job and civic life. Networking is that public part of daily life in which we recognize our oneness, our unity, our interdependence to one another. Indeed, we are strangers and likely will remain as such, but we inhabit common space, share resources, convene around mutual opportunities and generally must learn to live and work together. The public drama in which we are all participants reveals a life in which strangers inevitably come into daily contact with other, learn to solve problems together, and generously enrich and enlarge each other’s perspectives. We are all part of a web, linked in a network (Palmer, pp. 19-20). Spiritual life is to be a communion of communions. God has called people together from disparate multicultural environments to be witnesses to human flourishing. Networking is a spiritual discipline of the faith community to celebrate our unity in the gospel and affirm the different ministries in the world of the public. Jesus’ vision of a unified and commissioned people necessitates a spirituality that includes networking as part of its habit of ecumenism and mission in the world (Marty, p. 79). A spirituality of daily life recognizes the vitality of networking in the discipleship of the Christian and in the public vocation of the church.

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CONCLUSION

I started this reflective essay on networking with a reference to the movie Wall Street and it’s dramatization of a superstar networker Gordon Gekko. I then proceeded to register the importance and inescapability of networking in the daily life of humans living in the city, working on the job, and participating in all manner of organizational life. The term “networking” is a metaphor borrowed from business vernacular that reeks of an arid instrumentality. I attempted to invest a spiritual vitality into the term by drawing specifically from a Christian framework (other spiritual perspectives and religious traditions could offer similar and alternative interpretations) that yielded a scale and scope of meaning beyond the technical definition. I will end by invoking another visual narrative from the 2005 Academy Award-winning Best Picture, Crash. Director Paul Haggis presents a Los Angeles, and by extension all cosmopolitan centers, a city robust in connections and conflicts. Modern urban life is a polyglot of human interaction replete with a dizzying diversity of political perspectives, cultural rituals, and religious practices. Crash captures on celluloid and provokes in audiences the beautiful sights and cacophonous sounds that make Los Angeles a network of networkers. In the horizon of the movie Crash and the metaphor “networking” is the human desire and demand for collaborating, caring, and connecting.

Note: I originally wrote this essay in 1997 for inclusion in The Complete Book of Everyday Christianity. I edited it in 2007 for submission as a writing sample for an academic job application. I have made a few minor edits for this blog-posting edition. There is a notorious omission in the piece: No mention of social media networking. This is deliberate for two reasons: 1: There is a plethora of commentary already in circulation. 2: This submission is intended as a prophetic gesture addressing real people in real-time: A preferred way for networking to be experienced as a professional, civic, personal, and spiritual activity.

References and Resources:

W. Baker, Networking Smart (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994); J.W. Gardner, On Leadership (New York: Free Press, 1990); R.S. Kanter, The Change Masters (New York: Simon & Shuster, 1983); M. Marty, The Public Church (New York: Crossword, 1981); P. Palmer, The Company of Strangers (New York: Crossroad, 1981).

2014 Movies: Critics/Awards/Cinephiliacs

February 19, 2015

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2014 Movies: Critics/Awards/Cinephiliacs

The thunderous buzz of film culture has enveloped us yet again. The year-end critic’s top ten lists, the non-stop awards promotions, and the favorite films-of-the-year verdicts of movie-lovers is an annual social ritual that both pleases and annoys. Reviewing, reflecting, rehearsing the good, bad and ugly of cinema is an unavoidable staple of our contemporary culture. This process is pleasing because retrieving the best cinematic experiences is an emotional, intellectual, and moral stimulant. Annoying, because the inflated and outsized importance bestowed on the process is a huge distraction.

This seasonal activity now has the significance of religious holidays—film is one of the world’s great religions. The pilgrimages we make to the theater, video store, Redbox, even the short walk to home entertainment centers are indicators of the religious dimensions of the film- viewing experience. Nurturing the soul and enlightening the mind is more frequently experienced with sights and sounds—the ocular and the auditory—than by printed texts. While the literary arts remain crucial to a vital culture, moving images and rock & roll—film and music—increasingly are where most people connect to things that matter most. The enthusiasm generated during this period approaches the fervor found at a feast, a revival of sorts.

I will join the 2014 ritualistic celebration with my own set of categories and winners. I simply cannot resist the stampede in registering my own preferences and perspectives on the films released and exhibited last year.

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Here are the Best Picture categories with top selections:

1. Films likely to be discussed ten years from now (long shelf life):

  • Goodbye to Language
  • Boyhood
  • Nymphomaniac I & II

2. Films that will likely have cult status:

  • Grand Budapest Hotel
  • Birdman
  • Inherent Vice

3. Films that will likely show up in revival programming:

  • Nightcrawler
  • Young and Beautiful
  • Gone Girl

4. Films that did not get deserved attention:

  • The Immigrant
  • Two Days, One Night
  • Venus in Fur
  • The Past
  • Missing Picture

5. Films delivering spiritual vitality:

  • Calvary
  • The Normal Heart
  • Trip to Italy
  • Wild
  • A Theory of Everything

6. Awesome retrospective screenings:

  • Alphaville
  • Babel
  • Dead Poets Society

7. My favorite films not mentioned in previous categories:

  • Chef
  • Gloria
  • The Double
  • A Most Wanted Man
  • St. Vincent
  • A Most Violent Year
  • Noah
  • Foxcatcher
  • Interstellar
  • Gore Vidal: The U.S. of America

* Notable films not screened:

  • Selma
  • Leviathan
  • Whiplash
  • The Imitation Game
  • American Sniper

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RELIGION GOES TO THE MOVIES: EATING BEAUTY, WELCOMING THE STRANGER

May 20, 2014

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(Apocalypse Now; 1979)

Culture Connection Executive Director Scott Young, in collaboration with Professor Lowell Gallagher from UCLA English Department, is presenting a class entitled “Religion Goes to the Movies: Eating Beauty, Welcoming the Stranger.” It is being offered as a Fiat Lux course in this Spring 2014 quarter. The class is executed in seminar style, involving viewing entire film in class with student interaction posted on Internet discussion board. “Religion Goes to the Movies” is Interdisciplinary & Interreligious in content & perspective. The films selected for screening are:

Apocalypse Now (1979)

The Visitor (2007)

Doubt (2008)

The Scent of Green Papaya (1993)

Babette’s Feast (1987)

Critical readings are required in addition to screenings. A sampling of themes to be discussed are: the gaze, hospitality, transcendence, symbol, myth, icons, moving images, the sacred manifested in the secular, and food & spirituality.

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CHANGING LANDSCAPE OF RELIGION IN THE UNIVERSITY

May 20, 2014

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The University Campus, and its educational culture, is in a protracted period of experiencing a rapidly changing landscape. This includes undergraduates, graduate students, faculty, and administration. These processes are both disruptive, requiring frequent recalibrations, and exhilarating, generating new possibilities. There are several trigger mechanisms for this dynamic time of transition including the resurgence of religion in classrooms, residential life, volunteerism, student organizations, faculty research, governance challenges, and campus public squares. For much of the 20th century, religion retreated to the margins of campus life in most universities and to private and parochial expressions. The last couple of decades have witnessed religion demanding a more public profile, sharing with several other major influencers a critical role in how higher education evolves in the near term and far horizon. The implications of these changes in the campus landscape are just now coming into view. Among the many that could be itemized, let me suggest three that, in my opinion, directly address the future of the campus ministry in the university.

  1. Recent studies have documented that faculty are robustly religious and spiritual. Faculty are an indispensable resource for the Multi-Faith/Interreligious mission on college campuses. Faculty participation is a requirement for a vital future of religious experience in campus life.

  2. The entrenched secularism, that has ruled most of the public research universities, is no longer a monopoly. It is not the case that secularity is in retrenchment or disappearing – it is now learning to be more hospitable to and share power with its neighbor, religion. The common understanding has not yet caught up to the new reality.

  3. The so-called Millenials, who make up most of the current undergraduates, graduate students, and younger faculty, are radically different from previous generations. Their religious perspectives and practices are frequently not connected institutionally and are far less provincial in their attitudes about doctrine and ethics. Interreligious dialogue will need to make considerable adjustments to the new class of discussants. A whole new and expanded invitation list is required for the next iteration of Interfaith expressions and projects.

There is a vast vault of literature documenting these volatile conditions: additionally, an ever greater stockpile of anecdotal evidence exists. Two very recent books on this subject are worthy of mention. The first is The Quest for Meaning and Wholeness: Spiritual and Religious Connections in the Lives of College Faculty by Jennifer A. Lindholm (Mary Ries alerted all of us to this work via email recently). The second: No Longer Invisible: Religion in University Education, by Douglas Jacobsen and Rhonda Hustedt Jacobsen.

In closing, I would like to read a selection from this second recommendation.

Dealing with Religion in a Time of Transition

Given the pluriformity of religion today, it is no wonder that colleges and university are uncertain about how to talk about it and respond to it. We are living in a time of transition. The old rhetoric of religious privatization no longer works, but new and better ways of addressing religious concerns and questions have not yet been clearly formulated. The challenges are immense. The range of religious views in the contemporary college and university world is simply stunning. Most large campuses have student populations that include conservative Protestant creationists and earth-worshipping Wiccans, spiritually inspired vegans and hijab-wearing Muslims, social-justice religious activists and right-wing religious ideologues, spiritual atheists and “believers” who are longer sure they believe in God, new converts who want to share their faith with everyone, and students who have grown up religious but know practically nothing about their own faiths. And all of that just scratches the surface. Many questions naturally emerge from this scene: What should be allowed in the classroom and what should not? What has the most potential to offend, and how can such offense be avoided? What limits should be put on discussions to keep them from getting out of control? What rules should guide student interactions? How should faculty respond to religious comments by students? Should faculty themselves ever reveal their religious or spiritual convictions?

College and university learning should be useful, but it has always sought to be more than merely pragmatic or economically self-advancing. Our hope is that big questions of meaning and purpose, important questions of social norms and values, factual questions about science and society, and existential questions about how people with different ideas, ideals, and life goals can live and work together for the benefit of everyone will be part of every undergraduate experience. Colleges and universities will engage these religion- infused questions in many ways, but choosing to ignore them or pushing them to the educational margins is patently irresponsible in an age when religion remains such a visible and influential part of public and personal life.