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August 2018


Revis  Daisy  & Michael
In all the long years my mother was a widow, I wondered what sort of man she might meet and marry.  I wanted someone who would make her happy, but worried about some man I might not get along with.

So, when my mother began seriously dating in 2001, I was nervous to meet Revis Stanford.

My nerves were quickly eased.  Revis was very kind and gentle and funny, even if his humor was corny.  It's then I learned what my mother most liked in men--those who made her laugh, as that is the trait Dad and Revis shared.

And I would soon learn many other things about Revis--he was generous, caring, athletic, smart, religious, and he liked his routines.

In 2004 he and Mom married, in a lovely little ceremony in her backyard with forty family and friends gathered for the occasion.  

In those years when I lived in Dallas, he and Mom would come to visit and bring their bicycles, and we would all bike along the trails from near my house at Royal and Greenville down to White Rock Lake and back.  We still talk with dreamy nostalgia of those days.

Mom was soon in the best shape of her adult life as she and Revis biked, fished, traveled, and had fun together.

In the summer of 2004, not long after their wedding, I came out to Mom and Revis.  I didn't know how the moment would go, and it is recounted in detail in my forthcoming memoir.  I especially didn't know what my new step-dad might say, but he reached out and held my hand and said, “Scott, why should that matter? I love you like my own son. This doesn’t change anything.” And so Revis Stanford became a hero in my story.

But he was a hero already.  Revis spent ten months in Vietnam from 1967-68 with the U. S. Marines 2nd Battalion.  He fought in seventeen battles, including Khe Sanh, the longest of the war.  He received four Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.  But in Vietnam he was also exposed to Agent Orange and experienced trauma, receiving a PTSD diagnosis forty years later.

Revis grew up in California surfing and listening to the local band, the Beach Boys, before they made it big.  He raised two children with his first wife.  He went into accounting and auditing and worked for the Phillips Petroleum company and later the U. S. Government as a Certified Fraud Examiner.  He worked for Housing and Urban Development when he and Mom met.

In 2005, when I accepted the call to serve as Pastor of the Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City, I put my Dallas house on the market and Mom offered me their guest bedroom in Oklahoma City until it sold.  Little did we know that it would be eight months, so at 32 I lived with my Mom and her new husband.  It was not ideal for any of us, but we survived.  It did give me and Revis a chance to grow closer together, while also learning each others strengths and weaknesses.

He and Mom retired in 2010 because his PTSD was worsening.  They built a big beautiful home looking out on a cove of Grand Lake O' the Cherokees with the intention of spending their retirement years peacefully enjoying the water, fishing, entertaining family, and traveling.  

They were able to do some of that, but less than a year into retirement, Revis was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease.  Since 2011 the health episodes and diagnoses have come quickly--he had a brain aneurysm and struggled to recover from the brain damage, Parkinsons, a stroke, and finally he went blind this year.  By 2015 the Veterans Administration declared him 100% disabled, and he entered a nursing home only a few weeks after Sebastian was born.

Two weeks ago I drove to Oklahoma to spend my final days with my step-father.  His corny humor was still present.  We Facetimed with Sebastian, who sang him a song, and Revis, who delighted in grandkids, was so happy in that moment.  But his horrible diseases robbed his dignity.

He died today, only 72 years old.  

Idols of the Mind

Bacon headshot
In Novum Organum, Sir Francis Bacon writes that there are "four species of idols [that] beset the human mind."

The first are Idols of the Tribe--"man's sense is falsely asserted to be the standard of things."  These are "inherent in human nature."

Second are Idols of the Den--besides the errors common to all humans, each individual has his or her own den "which intercepts and corrupts the light of nature, either from his own peculiar and singular disposition, or from his education and intercourse with others, or from his reading, and the authority acquired by those whom he reverences and admires, for from the different impressions produced on the mind."

Next are Idols of the Market--these are false ideas generated by our social interactions.  Bacon emphasizes the role language plays: "words still manifestly force the understanding, throw everything into confusion, and lead mankind into vain an innumerable controversies and fallacies."

Finally, there are Idols of the Theatre--these arise from "the various dogmas of peculiar systems of philosophy."  Bacon wrote, "For we regard all the systems of philosophy hitherto received or imagined, as so many plays brought out and performed, creating fictitious and theatrical worlds."  Wow!  That sounds like someone writing in the 20th or 21st centuries.

What can rid us of these idols?  "The formation of notions and axioms on the foundation of true induction is the only fitting remedy by which we can ward off and expel these idols."

Knowledge & Power: Some Baconian Aphorisms


I've begun reading Sir Francis Bacon's Novum Organum as part of my now many-year project of reading through some of the philosophical canon, re-reading some volumes I've read before and some for the first time.  Here are a few aphorisms from the beginning of the book.  Some comments afterwards.

Knowledge and human power are synonymous.

The subtilty of nature is far beyond that of sense or of the understanding; so that the specious meditations, speculations, and theories of mankind are but a kind of insanity, only there is no one to stand by and observe it.

For the subtilty of nature is vastly superior to that of argument.

The human understanding, from it peculiar nature, easily supposes a greater degree of order and equality in things than it really finds.

The human understanding is active and cannot halt or rest, but even, though without effect, still presses forward.

For a man always believes more readily that which he prefers.  He, therefore, rejects difficulties for want of patience in investigation; sobriety, because it limits his hope; the depths of nature, from superstition; the light of experiment, from arrogance and pride, lest his mind should appear to be occupied with common and varying objects; paradoxes, from a fear of the opinion of the vulgar; in short his feelings imbue and corrupt his understanding in innumerable and sometimes imperceptible ways.

But by far the greatest impediment and aberration of the human understanding proceeds from the dulness, incompetency, and errors of the senses; since whatever strikes the senses preponderates over everything, however superior, which does not immediately strike them.

For the sense are weak and erring.

As I read these and other comments by Bacon, at the very foundation of our modern science, I was intrigued to see not hubris and certainty (a la Descartes) but this emphasis upon limitation, bias, and error.  In some ways Bacon reads like a postmodern critique of modernism or something like Daniel Dennett's criticisms of how we interpret sense perceptions.  A reminder that our tradition contains rich material.


Segu (Ségou, #1)Segu by Maryse Condé
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A marvelous epic story. I fell in love with the characters, grieving their sorrows, and delighting in their joys.

The novel opens in Segu, the capital of the Bambara Empire in what is now Mali in the late 18th century on the day that the first white man tries to visit the city and is turned away. The story centers on the Tagore family over three generations as they navigate rapid changes brought upon West Africa by the rise of Islam, the slave trade, and the imperial ambitions of European nations. One theme of the novel is religious belief and how that is affected by larger social changes.

I come away from the novel with a much richer understanding of West African culture and history while also having greatly enjoyed the story Condé tells.

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Kofi Annan's Legacy

A good article in Foreign Policy lists the key accomplishments of Kofi Annan:

  • He developed the doctrine that a state's sovereignty is conditional it’s fulfillment of fundamental obligations to its citizens.  Sovereignty=Responsibility
  • He reformed and improved peacekeeping efforts.
  • His focus on development goals led to the greatest reduction in global poverty in world history.

The Meaning We Give History

Karl Popper
Karl Popper considers the idea that history can provide us some meaning.  He doesn't think so, "We must find our justification in our work, in what we are doing ourselves, and not in a fictitious 'meaning of history.'"

He thinks that most of the history we learn in school is only the "history of power politics," which is problematic.  So we must learn to interpret it "from the point of view of our fight for the open society, for the rule of reason, for justice, freedom, equality, and for the control of international crime.  Although history has no ends, we can impose these ends of ours upon it, and although history has no meaning, we can give it a meaning."  (italics his)

What does he mean when he says we give purpose and meaning to nature and history?  He lists some examples:

Men are not equal; but we can decide to fight for equal rights.  Human institutions such as the state are not rational, but we can decide to fight to make them more rational.  We ourselves and our ordinary language are, on the whole, emotional rather than rational; but we can try to become a little more rational, and we can train ourselves to use our language as an instrument not of self-expression (as our romantic educationists would say) but of rational communication. 

He makes a point we would be well served to remember in 2018, "Facts as such have no meaning; they can gain it only through our decisions."

The Open Society & Its Enemies

The Open Society and Its Enemies: New One-Volume EditionThe Open Society and Its Enemies: New One-Volume Edition by Karl R. Popper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This major work has been "on my list" since I read that marvelous little book Wittgenstein's Poker about the time Wittgenstein supposedly got so angry at Popper he brandished a poker at him (if you haven't read that book, I highly recommend it). After the election of Trump I thought I should hurry up and get it read.

This is a major tome that takes some work to get through (though you can effectively skim through portions). If you want to grasp the summary, read the chapter with the same title as the book.

The First Volume is a marvelous take down of Plato as the source of authoritarianism in the Western tradition. I must say, I was initially quite surprised with how critical Popper was of Plato, but the more I read the more convinced I became of Popper's analysis. Plato was an enemy of Athenian democracy and his philosophy has provided intellectual fodder for opposing the open society ever since.

The Second Volume is a criticism of historicism in more contemporary philosophy, first the conservative type represented by Hegel and then, more thoroughly, Marxism. Popper eviscerates Hegel with sentences that had me laughing out loud (despite the fact that I was reading them in my stepdad's hospital room). Popper greatly respects Marx and what he set out to do, but still thinks he was wrong. But this is judged on scientific grounds. Marx proposed a theory, Popper analyses and tests the theory and finds it wanting. He credits Marx with showing "that a social system can as such be unjust; that if the system is bad, then all the righteousness of the individuals who profit from it is a mere sham righteousness." Marx showed that we are responsible for the system.

And in this way, Popper contends that Marx contributed to the open society, for it is one in which we are all responsible. In fact, that's why there is often backlash against it--being responsible for oneself and one's society causes strain and stress.

What does sustain the open society? Democracy. The humanitarian spirit. Brotherhood. Individual freedom. Rational argument. Critical reason. Institutions. And incremental changes rather than bold revolutions. He places much emphasis on the role of institutions (a message I've been more open to since Trump, having revised my typical Gen X distrust of institutions).

And Popper doesn't think that you can give an argument to prove that the open society is right, believing in it is a matter of faith.

So, if you are looking for any purpose or meaning in history or politics, it is the purpose and meaning that we decide it will have. "Progress rests with us, with our watchfulness, with our efforts, with the clarity of our conception of our ends, and with the realism of their choice."

In the final paragraph he writes, "We must become the makers of our fate. We must learn to do things as well as we can, and to look out for our mistakes."

I wrote on the final page, "Very good. Now I have many questions." Popper wrote this book in the midst of the ascendancy of the totalitarians of the twentieth century, so he would be an excellent giver of advice for how the open society should respond to those who don't engage in rational discourse and who destroy the institutions that support democracy, but he doesn't provide such practical advice. Are we to simply continue on doing the best we can and hope that we survive? He doesn't think our success is inevitable or that history bends toward justice. So it would seem that the believers in the open society could do our best and still be defeated.

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