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Monday, January 30, 2006

Playing with fire

“True literature can exist only where it is created, not by diligent and trustworthy functionaries, but by madmen, hermits, heretics, dreamers, rebels, and skeptics.”
Yevgeny Zamyatin--1919

“There are books of the same chemical composition as dynamite. The only difference is that a piece of dynamite explodes once, whereas a book explodes a thousand times.”
Yevgeny Zamyatin--1928

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Potentiality and Sticky Biscuits

This morning at break fast, Bro. Sedwick offered these words to us, they were offered after several of the brothers were questioning the superiority of humans over animals. The argument became so heated that the kitchen was depleted of biscuits, and I must add the these biscuits were yet baked ... you can imagine the current state of the dining room.

Bro. Sedwick:

"Potentiality. Humans possess the potential to be better than the state they find themselves. And the power that humans possess, self-awareness and all those traits that distance (elevates?) humans from other creatures, everything that I would say makes them "closer to God" -- created in God's image -- can be used for goodness as defined by Jesus, or can be used to empower the animal nature within all of us. The empowered animal nature coupled with our God-given self-awareness, results in we becoming human gods. All humans are faced daily with the dilemma of following God, or becoming little human gods. Humans are different from all other creatures, one way to describe it would be to use the biological hierarchy model, or the totem pole, or any such description that positions humans separate from all other creatures -- above? beside? under? -- we normally use 'above' because humans possess the traits to dominate other creatures, and we are taught (and we all learn through experience) that being powerful is preferable to being weak, for obvious reasons. But this 'positioning' is merely a description. We have the potential to dominate. But must we? No. I believe that Jesus has shown the better way, the way that acknowledges that humans have dominion over nature, AND teaches that that dominance brings with it great responsibility, and how we humans ultimately treat nature, treat all creatures (including humans), will determine if we are following God, or if we have forfeited our 'image of God' in order to become little human gods."

Transcribed by,
Bro. Bartleby

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The eternal I AM

"You asked how Christ's statement that 'He and He only is the Way' can be reconciled with my approach. It depends on how you understand Christ. If you understand Christ the way that he and the enlightened saints down through the ages understood him, then there's no problem. The Christ is eternal, outside space and time. He antedated the historical Jesus--in fact, antedated time and history: 'Before Abraham was, I AM.' The eternal I AM is perpetually given birth in the ground of being, and we may participate in that birth."

--Bro. Cosmos

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Imagine

God is what we name that which is un-nameable. Imagination is our human attempt to articulate that which is beyond our human ability to articulate.

Plato's 'The Allegory of the Cave' is early Western thought wrestling with this conundrum.

[Socrates] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground cave, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the cave; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon] I see.

[Socrates] And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

[Glaucon] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

[Socrates] Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

[Glaucon] True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

[Socrates] And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

[Glaucon] Yes, he said.

[Socrates] And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

[Glaucon] Very true.

[Socrates] And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

[Glaucon] No question, he replied.

[Socrates] To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

[Glaucon] That is certain.

[Socrates] And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

[Glaucon] Far truer.

[Socrates] And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

[Glaucon] True, he now.

[Socrates] And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

[Glaucon] Not all in a moment, he said.

[Socrates] He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?

[Glaucon] Certainly.

[Socrates] Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.

[Glaucon] Certainly.

[Socrates] He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

[Glaucon] Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

[Socrates] And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the cave and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

[Glaucon] Certainly, he would.

[Socrates] And if they were in the habit of conferring honors among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honors and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer, Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?

[Glaucon] Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

[Socrates] Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

[Glaucon] To be sure, he said.

[Socrates] And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the cave, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

[Glaucon] No question, he said.

[Socrates] This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

Anticipating Groundhog Day

"When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope. Yet we know that winter is just another step in the cycle of life. But standing here among the people of Punxsutawney and basking in the warmth of their hearths and hearts, I couldn't imagine a better fate than a long and lustrous winter."

--Phil Connors (Bill Murray), Groundhog Day

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The There is Here and Now

Men go abroad to wonder at the heights of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motions of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering.

Augustine of Hippo
(354-430 AD)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

What are WE leaving behind?

All the collective good and bad that WE together have done in our lifetime will be the foundation for those not yet born. And to think that all humans that are alive at this moment will be gone in ... I suppose I must say 116 years, but let's say 100 years. Gone. Zilch. Dust to dust. The totality of humanity. The good, the bad, the ugly. The rich, the poor, the starving. The brilliant, the smart, the clever, the cunning, the decent, the indecent, the scalawag, the murderous, the evil -- gone. And the new generation will find what? A sullied and depleted Earth with a colorfully wrapped and beribboned box filled with technology atop a nest of bits and bytes of data?

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Judging 101

Judging is no more than an advanced state of 'pattern recognition' -- a chicken recognizes the 'pattern' -- the shape -- of the hawk soaring overhead, for good reason, for self preservation. And so it goes all throughout the animal kingdom, we recognize patterns -- our lives depend upon it. When socialization developed in human evolution, this pattern recognition also developed, for better or worse. One had to determine (judge) immediately if a stranger was friend or foe. Your life depended upon it. But as we have become more highly socialized, this pattern recognition has become a two-edged sword. And for some lucky folks, they have evolved beyond the need to 'judge' (so long as they live in a non life-threatening environment). But for the vast majority of us, we are stuck being judges. So the question becomes, how can we continue to use this instinctive ability for good, and not for bad?

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Friendship

From Jerome to Rufinus the Monk in Egypt
Written from Antioch, 374 a.d.

"However, to return to the point from which I set out, I beseech you do not let me pass wholly out of sight and out of mind. A friend is long sought, hardly found, and with difficulty kept. Let those who will, allow gold to dazzle them and be borne along in splendor, their very baggage glittering with gold and silver. Love is not to be purchased, and affection has no price. The friendship which can cease has never been real. Farewell in Christ."

Friday, January 06, 2006

A great fire in our soul

My Dear Theo,
"Well, what shall I say; our inward thoughts, so they ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, but no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a little bit of smoke coming through the chimney, and pass on their way.
--Ever yours, Vincent
Belgium,
July 1880
(Vincent van Gogh)

Amoral Capitalism

Perhaps it's time to ask if the continuation of world poverty into the 21st Century is values based, and not economic based (as opposed to Marxist thought). Capitalism as an economic model is amoral, and as a working model it far surpasses all other models in producing material goods (ask any Shanghai merchant who long ago retired his Chairman Mao lapel pin). So too a corporation —- amoral. Now those who operate within this economic system are either moral or immoral, decent or indecent folks. A corporation can be driven by ethical folks who use this amoral system to do morally good things. (Adam Smith recognized the limitations of capitalism, for after all he was also a moral essayist, and knowing the danger of an immoral dominance in capitalist economics, he theorized that the 'invisible hand' of society would overcome this.) From Christian teachings, Jesus spoke often of money matters in the Gospels. For the most part He taught wealth itself is amoral (how one accumulates the weath can be done honestly or dishonestly), but what is important is how one uses that wealth. In the end it all comes down to individual humans —- a corporate president, a world leader, a city mayor, a scientist, a musician, a university professor or student, a fast-food worker —- they all have the choice to live morally or immorally. But if a society doesn't value values (the 'invisible hand' of society), if ethics are but the construct of each individual with values and morals self-defined, then perhaps what we read in the daily news of crime and corruption in corporate offices is simply the fruits of our labors. Perhaps we forget, starved souls may be as tragic as starved bodies, but oh, what havoc they can reap upon a hungry world.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

ID vs Darwin vs Quarks

I have been puzzled by the Intelligence Design debate, even puzzled by how folks apply Darwinism to but half the equation, yet leave the other half not dealt with. The undealt with? The evolution of elemental particles? How did quarks and leptons evolve? Where did fundamental particles and forces come from? Did the natural laws governing them evolve before them, or evolve after them. Or are we to ‘begin’ with the assumption that gravity and such forces were part of the forever stew that was forever brewing? Okay, you get the drift. We at the monastery are forever debating over the dining table, it is these elemental matters that we debate. Yet in public debate and scientific journals, we read only about the debate ‘after the fact’ … it seems to me that this arguing of matters of life and evolution of organic entities is somewhat like building an automobile, beautiful body and with the latest paint job, yet under the hood is … nothing. The engine isn't there. So too Darwinism, a lovely theory, many parts proven, yet under the hood, all elemental matters and natural laws that precede life as we know it are ignored. I guess they are simply assumed …

Monday, January 02, 2006

Is the petri dish your crystal ball?

The root cause of death is life.
Let’s just take the evolution model, got a petri dish handy? I suppose you could cultivate a good sneeze to get the experiment going. If you don’t note a good battle (war) being waged after a few days, then introduce another party, any sundry bacilli will do. The war begins, survival of the fittest. Elementary my dear friend Watson. For the atheist in the crowd, I guess this is about as good as it is going to get, the petri dish is your crystal ball. For us in the monastery, we seek and understand a different model, but I won’t go into that now. And for the faithless, it’s as simple as birth, life, death. The bookends you have no control over, but life, just grab all the gusto you can, for if life is ultimately meaningless and finite, then why waste time and energy vexing oneself about wars and good guys and bad guys and all the other rot of the petri dish, when you could be partying.