Outline Quotes

I thought I'd share some of the lines and phrases I underlined in Rachel Cusk's Outline:

among other things a marriage is a system of belief, a story, and though it manifests itself in things that are real enough, the impulse that drives it is ultimately mysterious.

From a passage describing her infant children crying when they dropped an object from their high chair, yet constantly repeating the action:

The memory of suffering had no effect whatever on what they elected to do: on the contrary, it compelled them to repeat it, for the suffering was the magic that caused the object to come back and allowed the delight in dropping it to become possible again.

From one character describing a walk to see the Parthenon, "airing the shaded crevices of his being."

The same character drawing a maxim "What Ryan had learned from this is that your failures keep returning to you, while your successes are something you always have to convince yourself of."

Another male character remarking on the same subject "It seems success takes you away from what you know, he said, while failure condemns you to it."

This character says of marriage--"I supposed it's a bit like marriage, he said.  You build a whole structure on a period of intensity that's never repeated.  It's the basis of your faith and sometimes you doubt it, but you never renounce it because too much of your life stands on that ground."

"I said that I thought most of us didn't know how truly good or truly bad we were, and most of us would never be sufficiently tested to find out."

"for people are at their least aware of others when demonstrating their own power over them."

About hate:

when peace becomes war, when love turns to hatred, something is born into the world, a force of pure mortality.  If love is what is held to make us immortal, hatred is the reverse.  And what is astonishing is how much detail it gathers to itself, so that nothing remains untouched by it.

One character consoling the other for what she thought of as failures in her parenting, "family life was bittersweet no matter what you did."

"Writer's need to hide in bourgeois life like ticks need to hide in an animal's fur: the deeper they're buried the better."

One character commenting on his divorce, "the war we were embroiled in . . . was something far more evil, something that had destruction, annihilation, non-existence as its ambition."

The same character describing a delightful experience with his children, "for those were moments so intense that in a way we will be living them always, while other things are completely forgotten.  Yet there is no particular story attached to them."

Discussing one female character who feels trapped, "All she wishes is for her life to be integrated, to be one thing, rather than an eternal series of oppositions that confound her whichever way she looks."

The protagonist at one time says she is trying to live by "the virtues of passivity, and of living a life as unmarked by self-will as possible."


Outline

OutlineOutline by Rachel Cusk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I devoured this book. Rarely have I underlined so many sentences in a novel. There are so many insightful and profound ideas. I also found it incredibly funny. Often cackling out loud, which I also don't often do reading a novel.

By the halfway point I felt this novel a better representation of the genre than those I've read by Karl Ove Knausgaard to which they are often compared.

However, by the end, my view had slipped a little bit. Throughout she dropped hints about some of her own thoughts, but they never really appeared in any satisfactory form. Are they in the rest of the trilogy? Knausgaard almost overwhelms with his own thoughts.

By the final chapter, when one more dialogue partner was momentarily introduced, I was annoyed, which is not how one wants to feel at the end of a novel they have enjoyed.

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Whence and Whither

Whence and Whither: On Lives and LivingWhence and Whither: On Lives and Living by Thomas Lynch
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A collection of lectures, essays, and stories and, as such, varied in quality. There are some witty, provocative, insightful images and phrases, but not the overall substance I had hoped for.

His discussion "Red Wheel-Barrow" by William Carlos Williams is itself worth the price of the book. That discussion made me cry.

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God and the Pandemic

God and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its AftermathGod and the Pandemic: A Christian Reflection on the Coronavirus and Its Aftermath by N.T. Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A quick read. The first few chapters weren't as substantive, but the last two were filled with good bits.

The book includes some interesting and provocative reflections on the doctrine of God ("Might we then say that God the creator . . . has no appropriate words to say to the misery when creation is out of joint?"), which then lead to fascinating ideas in pneumatology and ecclesiology. The church should be present where people are in pain and our first task is lament.

In his final chapter he expressed some of what have been my concerns in recent months. He calls the church to take safety seriously and not do stupid things, while at the same time lamenting that the church is being left out of its traditional role of being present with sick, dying, and grieving people. He also worries that "faced with a major crisis, [the Church] has meekly followed what seems to be a secularizing lead." That we have reinforced the idea that worship is a personal hobby we share with like-minded people.

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The Fifth Season

The Fifth Season (The Broken Earth, #1)The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've had this book on my list for years. It's even sat on our shelves for a couple, as I ordered it for a Christmas gift for my husband and kept waiting for him to read it first. Finally I gave up waiting.

And it lives up to all the press and expectations. What a rich, imaginative, wonderful story. I was captivated immediately and read it quickly. Now I've ordered volume two.

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The Half-Finished Heaven

The Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas TranströmerThe Half-Finished Heaven: The Best Poems of Tomas Tranströmer by Tomas Tranströmer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"But the journey visits me. In these days when I am pushed farther and farther into a corner, when the tree rings widen, when I need reading glasses. Many more things happen than we can carry. There is nothing to be astonished about."

I wish I'd read this volume back in late March or the month of April because I think it's meditations would have resonated more deeply with the experiences of the time. Consider a line such as "the deep that loves to invade humanity without showing its own face."

But I think I'm not in as heavy a mood right now.

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Proverbs and Ecclesiastes: A Theological Commentary

Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.(Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible)Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. by Amy Plantinga Pauw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have been using this commentary while teaching a church Bible study on the Wisdom Books. This has been a very helpful guide, particularly in Ecclesiastes. Pauw brings to her commentary a rich theological understanding of the tradition, so that the ancient Hebrew work is in dialogue with Augustine, Luther, Kierkegaard, Barth, and Niebuhr, while also drawing insights from a wide set of references including the Epic of Gilgamesh, the poems of Wendell Berry, and the philosophy of Martha Nussbaum.

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Philosophy in the Islamic World

A History of Philosophy without any Gaps, Volume 3: Philosophy in the Islamic WorldA History of Philosophy without any Gaps, Volume 3: Philosophy in the Islamic World by Peter Adamson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a thorough book. Not only is there good, serious treatment of all the major figures, there were so many thinkers he covered which I had never heard of before. And some of whom I now want to read in the primary sources.

The book is in three sections, all of which could have been their own books. The first is philosophy in the Islamic world in the formative period from al-Kindi up through Ibn Sina and Al-Ghazali. The second section covers the unique context of philosophy in Andalusia with significant treatment of Jewish thinkers from Moorish Spain. Of course this tradition blended into the late Medieval Latin Christian philosophical traditions, but didn't have as much influence on the Islamic philosophies in the East. The final section covers mostly eastern Islam after Ibn Sina up to the 21st century, defending the claim that there was still vibrant philosophy underway which has been largely ignored by the European tradition.

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"Padre, You've Been Shot"

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My colleague the Rev. Darrell Goodwin, Associate Conference Minister for the Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota Conferences of the United Church of Christ, picked me up around 5:30 in the evening so we could head downtown to work as clergy providing pastoral care and de-escalation in an effort to avoid more violence, particularly loss of life while also bearing witness to those who were angry about yesterday's decision not to charge the killer of James Scurlock.

We parked on the outskirts of downtown, donned our clergy stoles, and began walking.  As we came up to the first of five police cordons we went through, I lowered my mask and introduced myself and explained why were were there, intentionally speaking first as the white man in the duo.  The first two cordons of officers sent us ahead.  At the close of each exchange, I wished those officers well and said I was praying for them.  In all the officers you could sense their worry and the tension of the day.

At the third cordon, we encountered a commander in military style fatigues who then walked us the remaining few blocks and through other cordons to where the protestors were gathered.  We walked up to the first officer there, who just happened to be Deputy Chief Kanger.  We again introduced ourselves, and he gave us elbow bumps.  We said what we were there to do and asked if we could be of help. He seemed very pleased and thanked us.  He asked us to talk to people who seemed particularly emotional, which is what we spent a lot of the evening doing.  This was the first of many conversations over the next few hours with the Deputy Chief.

Darrell and I headed to the front of the line.  We walked along between police and protestors introducing ourselves to both.  I generally led next with, "How are you feeling this evening?"  Which often elicited a long response.  In each exchange I'd close with offering to be of help in any way I could and told them I was praying for them.  One young man asked specifically for me to pray over him.  Many thanked us for being there.  A few talked about how churches needed to talk about these issues.

The protestors were almost all so young.  They were upset and afraid.  They didn't understand this injustice, why people keep getting killed, why nothing ever seems to improve or does so so very, very slowly.  A number of the protestors at front were engaging the police in conversations.  Occasionally they took pictures together.  

A few, and it was only a few, were more aggressive, yelling at the police.  Often other protestors gathered around those folk to try to de-escalate them, and the few clergy there (I think I counted six total over the course of the evening--fifty clergy would have radically altered the event for the good) also tried to engage those folk in conversation.  My experience was that most people just wanted their pain and anger heard and after someone listened to them, they appeared not as agitated.  Darrell did amazing work on more than one occasion talking someone down, including one person who early in the evening wanted to rush the cops.  

Occasionally I had to explain to some protestor why what they were demanding some cop to do was something that couldn't be done last night, trying to help them see how unreasonable demands didn't work, but that those demands could be channeled, were legitimate, and could be pursued.  

I talked for a while with one of James Scurlock's brothers, who was so heartbroken and was there to thank people for peacefully representing the family as they had asked.

Shortly after we arrived one very young woman was asking the front line of police if everyone could march together.  A pastor from Zion Baptist heard her and brought her to the Deputy Chief to talk and eventually the Deputy Chief okayed that, so the crowd, with some police included, marched around the Old Market.  For a good part of this march I walked alongside the Deputy Chief and we discussed how to help the situation when the 8 o'clock curfew rolled around.  During the march around I also ran into a church member there protesting.

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I was most troubled by one very angry woman who had a toddler with her who walked along the line screaming at all the cops.  I tried talking to her child, and she snatched him away and then wouldn't talk with me.  Darrell tried, and she wouldn't talk with him.  But eventually she did, and Darrell kept trying to talk her into taking care of her baby.  She did eventually seem to disappear.

Some of the young people were wonderful positive influences on the crowd.  One young man, crying, got everyone to kneel and asked all the cops to, and when they did, the crowd erupted in positive cheers, suddenly the cops were swarmed with hugs, hand shakes, and selfies.  This occurred shortly before the curfew, and I believe is one reason that many of the young people left before the curfew.  They had been heard and their pain acknowledged.

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Suddenly as the curfew fell, the crowd was very different.  Many of the folk who had been there on the front lines for hours had left and there were new people.  It was also a much whiter crowd than earlier.  At that point Darrell and I began trying to talk them into leaving peacefully.  One couple asked, if we do leave, which way do we go, we look boxed in.  So, I asked the Deputy Chief, who told me to the North, so we began passing out that information.  It was clear that some did not trust us or the information.  It was during this time that I had protestors asking if I was really a cop.  Or I overheard them say to others after I had talked to them, "You know he's a cop, right?"

I saw two young women, the eyes above their masks revealed their fear.  I stepped up to talk to them.  "What happens now?" one of them asked.  I told her that those who remained would be arrested.  "I can't be arrested.  Where do I go?"  I told her she was to walk north.  I took the two of them to the Deputy Chief and had him confirm that for them.  So those two young women started out the exit route.  A trickle of others began to follow.

And suddenly, some idiot in the departing crowd through a water bottle, and some police began shooting pellets at the people leaving.  I was horrified, as I had sent them that way.  I ran into the street screaming at the cop who was firing to stop as the Deputy Chief had sent them that way.  The look he gave me, I thought he was going to turn his weapon on me, but he did not.  He did quit firing.  A media person nearby said, "Yeah, they fucked that up."

We kept encouraging people to leave peacefully, even after that happened.  There was a moment when the protestors were completely closed off from the exit route.  Darrell and I were standing together with the media across the street and began yelling for the police to make an exit route.  Which they listened and did.  Suddenly, some shots and tear gas were released not far from there and so many took the opportunity to run for the exit.  Darrell and I were walking along and got a little separated.  A couple of cops began insisting I move along.  I told them I'd been working with the Deputy Chief in getting people out and was waiting for my clergy colleague right behind him, he told us snidely, "You should have left already, it's after curfew."  He didn't listen to our explanations, but we moved along, encouraging those leaving to keep going and not turn around and yell or anything as doing so risked everyone going that way.

The gas now came our direction and I was coughing and struggling momentarily to breathe.  A woman came up and squirted water on my face and in my mouth.  Moments after that, as I was walking along behind the protestors with my arms raised and yelling, "Leave peacefully" I was knocked to the ground by an impact on the back of my neck.  I yelled "What hit me?" as the realization and fear began to dawn on me.  A young man ran up to me, "Padre, you've been shot." Darrell grabbed me and pulled me against the wall of the building to make sure I wasn't bleeding.

At that point we rushed along behind the exiting protestors continuing to encourage them forward.  We finally turned a corner and found four police to whom we explained what had just happened, who we were, that we had been told by the Deputy Chief to go that way but had been shot and gassed.  We asked what was the safe way back to our car and they directed us.  We had to repeat this conversation a number of times.

We finally made it back to our cars and had to drive a circuitous route back to my house where Darrell dropped me off and then drove himself home.

I've never seen so many cops. So many of them in full military gear.  There were military-style vehicles in the streets.  It was horrifying.  There are so many different and better ways to let people express their justified anger without creating a war zone.

Today my entire body hurts, but my soul hurts even more.


Fairness in Policing and the Moral Order

Last weekend I read Michael Ignatieff's excellent book The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (you can read my review of the book here).  In the first chapter of the book, he makes this point:

Fairness in policing is the absolute sine qua non of the moral economy of the global city.

Before any other problem can be addressed or before virtue can be cultivated, a population needs to trust the police.  He writes that for the diverse city, the site where the moral order is most contested is policing.  He adds, "Police abuse is an affront to basic moral expectations: it makes a mockery of the creed promoted in every citizenship class, school civics lesson, and Fourth of July speech."

He adds that in America it is precisely in policing where our highest ideals are most in contention.

What helps to create a more moral police force, according to Ignatieff, is a robust civil society, with strong social institutions.  One chapter of his book is about Los Angeles, which focuses on the good and difficult work that city has done since Rodney King in order to build a civil society.  He writes that policing must be viewed as "politics in action" and as "maintenance of a shared moral operating system." 

Victory is achieved when people no longer feel that they are "prisoners of impersonal forces."  He adds, "To have a moral community in a city is to recover some semblance of sovereignty over life as it is lived.  It is to have the sense that you can work together with others to shape common life to humane ends."