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Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. DuBois did not immediately part ways after the publication of The Souls of Black Folk, in which DuBois was critical of Bookerism. In fact, DuBois taught at Tuskegee that summer. But part ways they did in the year after the book came out. The particular details are complicated, but Gary Dorrien interprets the division broadly as one between DuBois' embrace of "the prophetic ethical religion of Jesus" and Washington's participation in the commercialism of the age. Dorrien writes, The age proclaimed that the greatness of the nation was its money; thus, religion, politics,... Continue reading
I'm in the midst of reading the selected poems of the Syrian poet Adonis, and they are marvelous. Now I'm very puzzled why he has never won the Nobel, though he seems every year to be on the shortlist of those writers which the bookmakers imagine might win. Even without having read him, I wondered why he hadn't won during the Syrian civil war, given the Nobel's aim to often respond to something in the moment. So many good poems, here's one I particularly liked, especially the opening lines. The Fall I live between fire and plague with my language,... Continue reading
I posted my brief review of Bitter Eden by Tatamkhulu Afrika the other day. Today I'd like to share a two paragraph excerpt as an example of his eloquent writing. As in the just-past night, only terror tinged with a dull anger stirs in us as the normally ludicrous takes on a shape of nightmare under even so high and revealing a sun, and no laughter moves in us with its saving grace as we watch the beatings as of beasts of those still struggling to free themselves from the hobbles of their pants, and the face of our Jerry... Continue reading
My People, Our God Ezekiel 11:14-25 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational UCC 19 March 2017 The next four weeks I'll be preaching from the book of the prophet Ezekiel. We don't get to Ezekiel very often. One reason is that Ezekiel's prophecies can be very harsh. But contained within this book are valuable insights into covenant, our focus this Lenten season, identified with the theme Ties that Bind. By way of introduction to the prophet Ezekiel, listen to what was written about him by Elie Wiesel, Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, No prophet... Continue reading
Bitter Eden by Tatamkhulu Afrika My rating: 4 of 5 stars A white South African is taken prisoner during World War II by the Italians and eventually the Germans. This is his story--a novel based upon the author's personal history--of discovering humanity and love in the midst of a dehumanizing experience. A powerful story beautifully told. View all my reviews Continue reading
For Our Lasting Good Deuteronomy 6:20-25 by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones First Central Congregational UCC 5 March 2017 Despite having grown up in church, having completed a degree in Bible, and having been ordained just a few years before, by the turn of the millennium I was growing a little disenchanted and disengaged with church and was wondering whether ministry really was in my future. I was living in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Sadly, there is a Confederate flag rally being held in Shawnee this weekend, so you might see it on the national news. Part of my disenchantment was... Continue reading
"The humble path to the beautiful life," is what David Brooks summarizes at the conclusion of The Road to Character. Here are the fifteen points of the Humility Code. "The best life is oriented around the increasing excellence of the soul and is nourished by moral joy, the quiet sense of gratitude and tranquility that comes as a byproduct of successful moral struggle." "The long road to character begins with an accurate understanding of our nature, and the core of that understanding is that we are flawed creatures." "We are also splendidly endowed." "Humility is the greatest virtue." "Pride is... Continue reading
David Brooks uses Leo Tolstoy's Death of Ivan Ilyich to comment on how the pendulum has swung too far with the change in moral climate. He writes, "Many of us are in Ivan Ilyich's position, recognizing that the social system we are part of pushes us to live out one sort of insufficient external life. . . . The answer must be to stand against, at least in part, the prevailing winds of culture." So, what's wrong with the current moral climate? He lists some overarching problems and focuses on a few areas of society. First, the overarching problems. We... Continue reading
This weekend I began reading a collection of poems by Adonis, who is often mentioned as a contender for a Nobel prize. And being a Syrian in exile who is in his late 80's, I've been surprised that he hasn't won in recent years. In the introduction the translator summarizes Adonis' view of poetry. Poetry, he argued, must remain a realm in which language and ideas are examined, reshaped, and refined, in which the poet refuses to descend to the level of daily expediencies. Emerging as one of the most eloquent practitioners and defenders of this approach, Adonis wrote that... Continue reading
No Picnic on Mount Kenya by Felice Benuzzi My rating: 4 of 5 stars While browsing a book store in Dublin I came across this book and was intrigued. Three Italians prisoners of war of the British in Kenya during the Second World War are tired of their confinement but do not believe they could escape to a neutral or friendly country. Instead, they decide to escape and climb Mount Kenya, which beckons from above their camp. And, there plan is to return to camp when finished. Just an excursion to spend some time in freedom and to accomplish something.... Continue reading
Wordsworth: The Prelude by William Wordsworth My rating: 4 of 5 stars My morning poetry reading has not been that consistent since Sebastian's birth, disappearing with most parts of my decades-long morning routine. Oh well. So, it took me a long time to get through Wordsworth's Prelude. Part of that is because the poem itself bogs down in places. The opening and closing books are the best, filled with his experiences of nature. I've long known (and even written on) Wordsworth's influence on Whitehead's philosophy of perception. Having now finally read all of the Prelude I believe that Wordsworth may... Continue reading
So, in the middle of the twentieth century the moral culture changed, according to David Brooks. He writes, "Each moral climate is a collective response to the problems of the moment." The new moral culture which prized self-esteem, authenticity, and expression "helped correct some deep social injustices." To illustrate he chooses Katharine Graham. She was raised in an era when girls were "expected to be quiet, reserved, and correct." The Stepford Wife idea. Her husband belittled her and had many affairs. When he committed suicide in 1963 she was elected president of the Washington Post Company and assumed she'd hold... Continue reading
Ghazal: The Dark Times Marilyn Hacker Tell us that line again, the thing about the dark times… “When the dark times come, we will sing about the dark times.” They’ll always be wrong about peace when they’re wrong about justice… Were you wrong, were you right, insisting about the dark times? The traditional fears, the habitual tropes of exclusion Like ominous menhirs, close into their ring about the dark times. Naysayers in sequins or tweeds, libertine or ascetic Find a sensual frisson in what they’d call bling about the dark times. Some of the young can project themselves into a... Continue reading
Citizens Dissent: Security, Morality, and Leadership in an Age of Terror by Wendell Berry My rating: 3 of 5 stars In the midst of this new year of dissent, I finally read this small 2003 book by the poet and essayist Wendell Berry and the novelist David James Duncan opposing the Iraq War and the moral decay of our nation. As imperative as all of this felt in 2003, it seems quaint now. Yet, I do believe that the immoral decisions of our government and society at that time have contributed to the rise in immorality of the Trump Era.... Continue reading
A good Paul Krugman column on why the GOP seems incapable of actually governing. In recent years they abandoned serious thinking and actual policy development in favor of slogans that appealed to the base. Now they face the difficulty of crafting laws, which can never live up to the simplicity and purity of the slogans. Continue reading
The final chapter of David Brooks' The Road to Character is a rich and complex summary and an discussion of why and how our culture changed. He opens by contrasting Johnny Unitas with Joe Namath. Both grew up in the same area of western Pennyslvania and only a decade apart, but were fundamentally different people. Unitas said "I always figured being a little dull was part of being pro." Namath was anything but dull. Brooks explains that Unitas viewed football as a job that was not fundamentally different from a factory worker or plumber. Namath engaged in self-promotion. Reading this... Continue reading
In his chapter on Samuel Johnson, David Brooks contrasts the English writer with the French essayist Michel de Montaigne explaining that the two of them represent two different styles of goodness--Johnson struggled and suffered to become good, while Montaigne had a genial nature. Of course they were born into different strata of society. Brooks writes, "Johnson sought to reform himself through direct assault and earnest effort. Montaigne was more amused by himself and his foibles, and sought virtue through self-acceptance and sweet gestures of self-improvement." Montaigne retired from public life and discovered "that his own mind would not allow tranquility.... Continue reading
He was "a cross between Martin Luther and Oscar Wilde." So writes David Brooks of Samuel Johnson. Johnson, a "gross, disheveled, and ugly" man "more or less wrote himself to virtue." Brooks contends that it was through "writing and mental effort [that] he constructed a coherent worldview." Johnson himself contended that "It is always a writer's duty to make the world better." Johnson was part of an influential circle of friends and writers--Burke, Smith, Goldsmith, etc. Of this group Brooks claims: These were humanists, their knowledge derived from their deep reading of the great canonical texts of Western civilization. They... Continue reading
The Vegetarian by Han Kang My rating: 2 of 5 stars I expect more from a Booker prize winner, frankly. The first section I didn't care for and almost stopped reading. The second two sections were more compelling and even beautiful in places, but still strange in a way that I'm not sure I liked it. View all my reviews Continue reading
I'm a panexperientialist physicalist, not a panpsychist but similar. Here is a recent philosophical defense of panpsychism in which the author concludes that while it might sound crazy, it is probably also the best explanation. Continue reading