God Talk

We are all wayfaring ones, our birth, our circumstances, whether order or chaos, privilege or plague; very little is controllable in the grander scheme of things, at least from the vantage point of Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot. We carve out our tiny space, feel the “I” of it, but  it all blends together into centuries and millennia. We call it “history.” Such a strange concept. Microbe, elephant, flea, or sequoia, seem to somehow “harmonize” with wars and cruelty, chance and necessity. And then there is that amazing grace, not the song, but the “thing” of it–the Dasein.

The Universe/God began to “talk” to me in synchronicities: coincidences meaningful only to me and individually dismissible (to a skeptical outsider) as mere hokum, but too numerous and often too striking for me to dismiss.

Brenda Denzler

Nature and the Human

Nature notices neither the unspeakable sorrows and sufferings humans inflict on one another, nor the destruction and pain resulting from natural processes of cause and effect. “Chance and necessity, chance and necessity” chants Jacque Monod, with a cadence like the slow drumbeat of a cosmic mantra. “Atoms and the void, atoms, and the void,” echoes Lucretius from two millennia ago.  The flowers outside the gates of  Auschwitz burst forth a panoply of colors and the grass grows green and thick with the spring rains as rabbits and mice come forth to welcome the sun. And that nature itself, “red in tooth and claw” drums slowly on in ever unfolding evolutionary patterns, each entity oblivious to the whole, but ever acting within it. The same is true after an earthquake or volcanic disruption or astroid impact or a pandemic. We who have the gift of self-awareness and wonder and analytical observation bear the burden, shed the tears, cry out to the cosmos, and wonder as we move through life how and where our sense of “meaning” and “purpose” fits…or Not. Are we anomalies and flukes in a process otherwise dead to and unaware of anything that goes on—or is that very capacity we have to ask, somehow reflective of something we have yet to understand? Yes, Mr. Zimmerman, we are going down the Valley one-by-one, as only your 70 year-old voice can sing it. But is there a choice? I put myself deep into this painting done by my departed son David, I can actually stare at it and merge into it–a strange feeling. I want to open my eyes and look around and see that is beyond the archway ahead.

Walk through the Unknown by David S. Tabor

On Writing

Arthur Koestler once wrote that his attempt to write biography rose out of what he called the “Chronicler’s urge” and the Ecce Homo motive, both driven by a desire to transcend the self.  I think the same can be said for my own lifelong desire–since high school living in boarding school in France outside Paris–to write contemporary fiction–which is inevitably a form of veiled or not-so-veiled (think Woody Allen!) bio-fiction. However, I would add the Hemingway sense of “getting it right,” somehow capturing our common human hours and days in a way that brings the reaction–yes, that’s the way it was! That’s the way it is!

Tell the tale tale, tell the tall tale,
The idiot sputtered to the table
Yes, indeed, tell the tale tale,
That tall tale of life…

A Grief Observed…

I love the phrase, the title of C. S. Lewis’s complex book about his “raging” grief and anger, against God and the cosmos and anything and everything after the death of his late-in-life-discovered beloved soulmate, Joy Davidman, in 1960. He published it originally under a pseudonym, lest the millions who saw him as a man faith be disturbed. It is well worth reading and there is a wonderful film, Shadowlands (1993), with Anthony Hopkins and Deborah Winger–well worth watching.

The inaugural 2020 issue of The New Yorker (January 6, 2020) has a wonderfully complex personal reflection by V. S. Naipaul about his own coping with grief–over the loss of family, friends, and even beloved pets. It is well worth reading. There are many quotable lines and paragraphs but one in particular stood out for me:

The many anxieties I lived with helped to push grief away. I felt I had been inoculated against grief. I had drunk that bitterness to the dregs, and since human beings have limited capacity I didn’t think I would be able to do so again…It was a poor way of thinking. We are never finished with grief. It is part of the fabric of living. It is always waiting to happen. Love makes memories and life precious; the grief that comes to us is proportionate to that love and is inescapable.

Predators and Prey

I have become convinced over my tiny “blink of an eye” three-score and ten years on this pale blue dot that our natural world, as it has unfolded through time, most acutely reflects the dichotomy of  Predator and Prey–especially at the higher levels–those creatures, humans included, with brains and central nervous systems. Humans especially, and here I am thinking about individual psychological traits, are one or the other–not a mixture of the two.

This goes beyond the scientific understanding of our 3rd/Reptile brain–from which all of us certainly operate in a hard-wired fashion, given our instinctual drives, reflected in self-preservation–food, sex, and aggressive self-protection and promotion.

With our fellow inhabitants of the planet whose brains operate at a more instinctual “3rd brain” level, there is no moral judgment to be made. They are what they are, from the cute little kitten torturing the hapless wounded mouse, to the lion devouring the tiny lamb. But we humans have a choice, as self-conscious, self-determining “actualizations” of reality operating in a more free and adaptable arena. We call it social and individual “morality” and it is surely culturally determined in its manifestations, but not wholly so. Not at the deep level of individual Self.

Predators are those who push, manipulate, and appropriate as much as possible for the individual and extended Self. Violence, aggression, greed, and power are their hallmarks, even if such behavior is on a micro-level. Prey are their object–as one must conquer and oppress to obtain this power. Those who are Prey of course have their own system of individual and social values, chiefly the internal ethic of “Do No Harm.” Of course all give lip service to the virtues of giving, sharing, loving, and caring–but Predators do the opposite while claiming to reflect such. Prey, however, are not weak and defenseless. They are in fact “fiercely” powerful and strong in behalf of those in their care–and I mean in an extended planetary sense.

Who has the insight to do a bit of self-classification? It is tough and requires introspection and meditation on the self and the paths we have taken with their resulting consequences.

In terms of which side “wins” or dominates, the balance is overwhelmingly in favor of the Predators. After all, there is nothing stopping them from their behavior, even if it results in untold suffering and sorrow for others, and the destruction of our planet. But I am one who holds to the simple core authentic teachings of Jesus and the GENESIA vision of Isaiah the Prophet–and I take them as “apocalyptic” and “eschatological” in the long arch of history–not magical mysteries from heaven:

Happy are you poor, you who weep, you who are hungry, you who are persecuted–yours is the kingdom of God–not in heaven but on earth. Yes, the meek shall inherit the earth!

On these I stand, God help me, I can do no other…

The Best of Times, the Worst of Times…

What is the state of things on planet earth? As Dylan said in his “Song to Woody” 
Seems sick and it’s hungry, it’s tired and it’s torn
It looks like it’s a-dyin’ and it’s hardly been born 
Oh planet earth, so tired and old from blood and death, torture and injustice, waste and poverty, ignorance and oppression. Yet I believe things infinitely BETTER in our time than at any other time in history. All the indices one could point to are slowly arching toward truth, justice, and a more kind and equitable world of peace and goodness. It seems slow but if you could somehow gauge any other time in the past you would be stunned at the progress. The 100 years War. The Thirty Years War for that matter. And wars through the ages beyond calculation. The Inquisition. Crusades. Slavery. Child abuse. Denigration of women. Rich over poor. Genghis Khan…I am being random here, jumping from this to that, traversing millennia. No one could possible take it all in. Not to mention the tragedies of “Nature,” with millions starved, frozen, crushed, drowned, or otherwise wiped out with this or that disaster, plague, or disease. We historians know this. That does not diminish in the least the personal tragedies, injustice, waste, and evil, that happen close to us and all around us and touch our lives. We mourn and hurt and cry and try to turn back to our individual lives, trying to make this world a “better place” in some way large or small. Sounds trite but as one gets older–and yes, I am beyond your three-score and ten–one realizes what Dylan expresses in his incomparable song, both lyrics, music and his uniquely haunting voice, “Every Grain of Sand.” Listen and feel the message. Short of a decent sized astroid hitting, a nuclear winter, or our climate going into complete chaos, we can have hope. 
In the time of my confession, in the hour of my deepest need
When the pool of tears beneath my feet flood every newborn seed
There’s a dyin’ voice within me reaching out somewhere
Toiling in the danger and in the morals of despair.

The One Christian Doctrine with Empirical Proof…

Today is both Holocaust Remembrance Day and National Prayer Day. What a month we have had as April passes into May. What a decade. What a Century. For all of us on this Pale Blue Dot, far and near, both in time and space…Only images from El Bosco could possibly capture things. No appropriate images for this. One of my colleagues reminded me of Reinhold Niebuhr’s sage observation that total depravity is the only Christian theological doctrine for which we have empirical evidence. Sad but true. Homo Sapiens is only one designation for our species. There are others. All in Latin.

An Amazing Letter from 1936…

Amazing letter from Alfred Lord Whitehead to Charles Hartshorne, January 2, 1936. Notice final sentence on page, where he names the founders of the American Renaissance, William James (the analogue to Plato) and Charles Pierce (to Aristotle). Inspired to pull out these volumes…on top of reading Koestler, Janus (1978) and The Ghost in the Machine (1967) and Hartshorne, Whitehead’s Philosophy: Selected Essays, 1935-1970 (1972). Heavy but heady stuff. Nothing better.

An Early April Deep Dive into Philosophy