Over the top?
And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” – Mark 12:38-40
Ever notice the vast vocabulary we have in English for emotional states? All those words must indicate something. Perhaps that we are not and never can be like Dr. Spock? Emotions get us in trouble. Emotions get us out of trouble. Books exist on how to control them. Even the Bible has something to say about them: Colossians 2:8 – Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
Can we accurately read emotions in another? Hell, can we accurately read our own emotions?
Nautilus has a thoughtful piece on reading emotions in others here.
Several years ago when I was involved with the Faculty Association the administration decided to fire one of our colleagues. This person’s department colleague was on leave in Israel and so, in an attempt to get information that would help him in his struggle, I sent an international telegram to this person.
It read “Administration trying to fire X. Letter from you might help.”
What came back was an argument in favour of firing him!
Lesson: ambiguity abounds. Attached here is an attempt to read the biblical story of Jesus.
Bob Lane’s “Jesus and the Christmas Story“.
A Christmas Story (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Bob’s talk presented at the Unitarian Fellowship of Nanaimo :
Only Connect: genetics, culture, and the veil of ignorance
Grow a language, grow a morality, grow a soul
I want to thank the Fellowship for inviting me to your service today. I want to welcome friends and family.
I have enjoyed speaking to you on several occasions and once again thank you for the opportunity. Most recently both Peter Croft and David Weston were present to question me. I miss them both.
The last time I talked with you I gave you a quiz. No quiz today! Today I want to talk about roots and soil and souls and growth. You will notice that I speak metaphorically at times and that there is in the talk a subtle (or blatant) attempt to suggest that growing tomatoes is similar to growing a soul. After the last talk one of you asked me if I am an agnostic or an atheist. I answered, “Neither. I consider myself an ignostic.”
I have been thinking about that question and answer for some time now. Perhaps a parable will help:
An ignostic was asked whether she believed in God, and said, “If you mean a big man in a cloud, as some conceive of God, then I am an atheist, for we have satellites now which would have surely seen such a creature if he existed. If you mean an all-encompassing God who is synonymous with the cosmos, then I am a theist… though I see no reason for having two words for the same thing.
Ignosticism is the position that there are many different, contradictory definitions for the word “God”, so one can’t claim to be a theist OR an atheist until one knows which definition is meant. I don’t, for example, believe in or worship Thor or Zeus or Facebook.
Furthermore, if the chosen definition is incoherent and makes no predictions that can be empirically tested, then it doesn’t matter whether one believes in it or not, for how can something meaningless be true OR false? (this last part is also known in philosophy as theological noncognitivism). And yet, of course, we humans speak and write of God. Some of us die for what we think is God. Fly planes into buildings shouting his name. God, I believe, is a character in literature in the same way that Hamlet is or that Sherlock Holmes is – an interesting, complex, fascinating character, but living only in stories.
The satirical elements of an article claiming preacher Joel Osteen was “horrified” to learn of Jesus’ crucifixion were lost on some readers.
What is truth? asked Pilate of Jesus; unfortunately Jesus didn’t answer directly.
Some time ago I was a commentator on a radio show called Insects and Robots out of Kootenay, BC. We talked about many topics on that show and one that listeners responded to was a show on truth.
You can listen to the “truth” audio files at soundcloud:
The entire show is here. The talk about truth is at about the 18 minute mark on the audio file.
Go here for an existential comic!
Seems appropriate to republish Bob’s review of this novel. I have read it and found it moving.
Author: Kent Haruf
Publisher: Alfred E. Knopf
Publication Date: 2013
Review by Bob Lane
People don’t want to be disturbed. They want assurance. They don’t come to church on Sunday morning to think about new ideas or even the important old ones. They want to hear what they’ve been told before, with only some small variation on what they’ve been hearing all their lives, and then they want to go home and eat pot roast and say it was a good service and feel satisfied. (193)
That comment by the Reverend Lyle captures perfectly the attitude of many in the congregation who show up at the Sunday service but are astonished and offended when the reverend preaches from Luke, emphasizing the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount, especially the call as made by Jesus to love your enemy . The time is post 9/11 and the USA is fighting yet another war. To speak of love and peace and forgiveness and turn the other cheek is considered by many in the small town to be a traitorous act.
“But what is Jesus Christ talking about? He can’t mean this literally. That would be impossible. He must have been speaking of some utopian idea, a fantasy. …using a metaphor.” Lyle asks his congregants to consider that the words Jesus uses are not metaphors, are not descriptive of an impossible world, but should be taken as imploring us to act on them in the here and now. “But I want to say to you here on this hot July morning in Holt, what if Jesus wasn’t kidding? What if he wasn’t talking about some never-never land? What if he really did mean what he said two thousand years ago?”
These are hardworking patriotic freedom loving Americans. Many rise from their pews and storm out of the church.
“People don’t want to be disturbed.” People like to hold on to their beliefs without thinking about them. Like to move unthinking in the world comfortable in the attitudes and beliefs that they take in from the television news, from their same-thinking (right-thinking) neighbours. And they certainly do not want to be offended by these big city ideas that Reverend Lyle brings to Holt.
Lyle has been sent to the church in Holt from Denver because he had attempted to defend homosexuals in the Denver area. He is the promise of change that enters this small town.
One of the characters in BENEDICTION talks of “the precious ordinary” and that phrase accurately captures the feel of the novel. For Haruf the imaginary town of Holt, Colorado has been the fictional setting for several of his novels. Small town, USA. Out on the plains in northeastern Colorado and filled with ordinary citizens and their relationships and lives on the windswept plains near the sand hills – and always with the big sky, the sun, and the clouds and the rain and hail and snow and heat. Benediction (we are told in an epigraph) is “the utterance of a blessing, and invocation of blessedness.”
It is a simple story: “Dad” Lewis is dying of cancer. His wife and daughter are caring for him in his final days, and we learn of his life and the lives of other long-time Holt inhabitants. We discover hope and love in the precious ordinary as well as violence, hatred and small town silliness. His son is missing, having divorced the family long ago, because he doesn’t fit in to the football oriented small minded small town. Dad Lewis connects with him only in his dying dreams.
I do not mean to suggest the novel is a religious argument in any way. It transcends religion. It is a story that has a religious grandeur to it. It speaks of life and death. It celebrates the precious ordinary with a power that will move you to tears. Yes, Dad Lewis dies. No, he is not reconciled with his son. He has lived a long and useful life, acted with good intentions, and has attempted always to be a fair man.
We hear a lot about the weather in the novel; and for anyone with experience of the plains that is just right. So much depends upon what the sky delivers. Life depends on those clouds in the sky. Life giving rain or crop destroying hail can come at any time.
The reviewer in The Denver Post writes, “The coiling of Haruf’s Holt, a fictional hamlet several hours east of Denver where Haruf’s earlier novels “Plainsong” and “Eventide” were also set, is at turns graceful and prickly. Holt’s rhythms are driven by a recognizable rural paradox — expansive skies suggest limitless freedom, but nothing goes unnoticed. A tight community is a double-edged scythe. It’s there when you need it, but also when you don’t. Dad’s debility brings well-wishers to the door and secrets to the surface.”
Haruf is brilliant at capturing the language and the feel of the people in small town Eastern Colorado – the syntax, the rhythm, the inability to express emotions – he tells it like it is.
Full disclosure: I was raised as a kid in this part of the world. Most of my generation couldn’t wait to get out of there. But it had its own beauties and a large number of good people. Thanks to Kent Haruf for capturing it with such honesty and celebrating in words the “precious ordinary.”