At Home, Post No. 1

So, time to start blogging about life during COVID-19.

Yesterday, Monday, March 16 was the first full weekday when the impacts of closures and staying at home were felt by the overwhelming number of people.  Last week was one of confusion and increasing realization of what was happening and coming.  Luckily last week I had gone to the grocery store on Monday for a normal grocery run but decided to go ahead and stock up.  There was hardly anyone in the store and the shelves were still full.

On Tuesday night last week our Church Council made decisions related to the virus and how our programming might change in the weeks ahead.  We didn't realize that the full plan would be implemented within days.  I feel pretty good about live-stream we did pull off on Sunday, and we intend to get better at it as we go along.

Live Stream Wave

Our Associate Pastor recommended people make signs to hang in their windows as ways to pass the peace to neighbors walking by.  Sebastian liked that idea.  Over time we plan to make more and fill our windows with fun messages.

Window signs

Michael works for the Election Commission, and they were already into pre-primary overtime.  The virus just added to that. He has been working very long overtimes the last week, including one twenty hour day.

Yesterday our church staff spent planning our next steps.  Despite meetings and events being cancelled, we suddenly have more work to do, as we must come up with new ways of doing what we normally do and the pastoral care needs increase.  So much of ones job becomes easy routine with time, but now all those routines are upset.  There will be fun in experimenting and innovating.  I'm excited to see the long-term benefits that could result from all of this.

I decided that one project of this season will be calling all my church members, a few each day, to check on them.  Already yesterday in the few people I called I discovered a host of needs heightened by the crisis.  Most poignant was the congregant on hospice care who now can't have visits from friends and family.  I'm so used to us surrounding people in that moment, how sad to imagine not having that.

Sebastian largely spent yesterday tagging along to my office or watching TV at home.  I told him that was the last day of that, as we would begin a daily routine on Tuesday.  His preschool e-mailed me their normal daily schedule, so I'm going to adapt it for our use.  Suddenly I find myself having more work while also becoming a full-time early childhood educator.  Add on top of that cooking every meal and the extra household chores from being at home.  And with the other parent working overtime.

For his first topic of study Sebastian selected Space and the Planets, interests of his for a while.  Last night I posted on Facebook "Like many of you, I now have a second full-time job as the early childhood educator of my son. Sebastian has decided that our first topic of exploration is space and planets (an interest of his for a while now). Any suggestions on activities and resources is much appreciated."  Within minutes the suggestions started rolling in.  I almost cried.

So during my insomnia I researched those ideas and started working out some lesson plans.  I ordered some supplies from Amazon.  You know it's real when expected delivery times are in three or four days instead of next day delivery!

Beautifully there are many places offering services for free at this time.  Also I saw that various authors and artists are now creating material from home for people to share.  There will be some good things happening in this season.

I'm both looking forward to trying our new routine today and apprehensive about how it will go.  Also worried about how soon I'm going to be drained.


A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge

Principles, Dialogues and Philosophical CorrespondencePrinciples, Dialogues and Philosophical Correspondence by George Berkeley
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

In 2016, while on a family trip to Ireland, we spent a couple of days in Kilkenny and our hotel was Berkeley House. The good bishop had gone to school in Kilkenny, so knowing he had some connection to the city, I asked the clerk if this was the house that Bishop George Berkeley the philosopher had lived in? She stared at me blankly and said she didn't know. Sigh.

In 2014, while at the Yale Writer's Conference, conference attendees all stayed in in Berkeley College, definitely named after the bishop. Annoying, Yalies mispronounce the name as if it is "Burk-ley" instead of "Bark-ley."

For some time now I've been reading back through the philosophical canon, including texts I last read in grad school a quarter of a century ago, such as this one, A Treatise Concerning the Principles of Human Knowledge.

I liked the Introduction, which I didn't remember being so strong. It is a criticism of abstract ideas with good discussions of how language works. Here he anticipates William James's pragmatism, Alfred North Whitehead's fallacy of misplaced concreteness, and some aspects of Analytic Philosophy. An example, "Whereas, in truth, there is no such thing as one precise and definite signification annexed to any general name, they all signifying indifferently a great number of particular ideas." A good rebuke to, among others, Socrates and his attempts to get THE definition of various concepts.

But after the Introduction, as Berkeley argues for Idealism--the philosophy that only ideas exist--I just found him much harder to take than I did when I first read it. And since I don't have to read it for a class or comps, I was able to quickly skim through, re-reading some texts I had liked before (such as a paragraph on the difficulty of understanding time that I quoted in my dissertation) but otherwise finding his arguments and claims rather bad.

So, interestingly, my recent re-reading of Leibniz elevated him in my appreciation and Berkeley drops in my estimation.

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To Be More . . . Neighborly

To Be More . . . Neighborly

Leviticus 19:1-4, 9-18

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

8 March 2020

            We are to be holy because God is holy.

            Kimberly Clayton in her commentary on this passage informs us that “how we love God is evident in every action we take” and so holiness is not about the grand gestures but the way we manifest the love of God in all the ordinary things we do.  For the writer in Leviticus this includes how we harvest our grain, so we can use our imaginations to think of mundane aspects of our daily lives that manifest holiness.  Ways every day that we are fair, kind, courteous, and respectful to others.  Ways we every day consider others needs and don’t think only for ourselves.  From how we drive on the interstate to how we treat the customer service person on the telephone to whether we safely return our grocery carts to the bins or let them roll around the parking lot damaging other cars.  She writes, “In Leviticus holiness is at least not making life more difficult for someone with a disability or standing idly by when your neighbor is in trouble. . . . You are holy when you are fair to everyone equally, without being influenced by either pity or greed.”

            The Book of Leviticus gives us a lot of guidelines that are intended to help shape our lives in a holy direction.  But, as one commentator I read this week emphasized, we are always a work in progress, “swimming against the tide of prevailing human ways” when we commit to living according to God’s holiness.

            And, of course, Leviticus isn’t the final word on holiness, but it does, according to biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann “[constitute] a long reflection on the form holiness may take for the people of God.”  A key question in that conversation is how we are to treat other people, which is the essence of this passage in Leviticus 19 where we are told how to be fair to the poor and the foreigner and to love our neighbors.  Of course we also hear that great question posed to Jesus in the Gospels, “Who is my neighbor?”  And our entire biblical tradition has been answering that question with a constantly expanding vision.

            Walter Brueggemann emphasizes this in his writings on neighborliness, which he takes to be one of the basics of the biblical covenant and, therefore, one of the basic ethical ideas that continues to shape us as the people of God.

            At the center of our answer is the suggestion here in Leviticus that we must love ourselves.  Sometimes that can be difficult for us.  We humans can tend to self-loathing or narcissism.  Whereas the healthy self-respect that empowers our love of neighbor can take some work.

            Leviticus teaches us to first love our neighbor as ourselves.  The circle expands from us to those we encounter daily.  To be holy is to practice kindness and justice with those people. 

            One of the delights of living and working in this neighborhood, walking it streets, and sitting on my front porch the last decade has been familiarizing myself with the neighborhood’s residents.  Last Saturday our nextdoor neighbors to the north, the Rossittos, invited us over for a cookout because the weather was so wonderful, and Angela and I sat and talked about all the interesting people we encounter.

            Tuesday night Sebastian and I were at Don & Millie’s for supper and ran into our neighbor Doug who lives to the south of us.  Sebastian hollered, “Doug, come sit by me.”  We’ve developed a good friendship with Doug.  He often takes our dog Nash for walks, and some pictures Sebastian drew for him after his partner died hang in his house. 

            The philosopher John Dewey said that democracy is a way of life that actually begins with neighbors meeting together to solve a problem on their block.  In this era when we worry about the social fabric of the nation, one of the best things we can do is to develop good relationships in our neighborhood.

            But the biblical tradition doesn’t end there.  Already in Leviticus it asks us to consider how the poor are our neighbors and we must make sure we are collectively providing for them.  Leviticus also asks us to consider the stranger among us, the foreigner, the sojourner, the immigrant and the refugee.  Holiness as neighborliness includes caring for them.  Brueggemann describes holiness as “restorative practices toward the vulnerable who have been diminished” by our culture. 

            One of the joys of this congregation’s ministry the last three years has been our sponsorship of refugee families.  First with Shee Lweh and Gar Moo and now Hawa and Mobark and their children, we have helped to make a better life for people who needed it .  Shee Lweh and Gar Moo had spent most of their lives in a refugee camp in Thailand.  As children, they fled, from Burma, with their parents, to the camp in Thailand.  They met in the camp and married and gave birth to three children.  The kids knew nothing of the world other than the refugee camp before they flew to Omaha in the winter of 2017 and were greeted at the airport by a happy group of strangers from First Central.  Now those kids are fully Americanized, according to Pat Lamberty, and Shee Lweh has a good job with career prospects. 

            Hawa and Mobark came from the Sudan, a nation ripped apart by civil war and genocide.  We don’t know all the details of what they experienced fleeing their country and eventually ending up in Jordan before coming to Omaha last year. 

            We have lived into the holy vision of God through our welcome and support and care for these families, who now have a better life.

The biblical tradition does go further, though that step is not taken here in Leviticus.  Jesus teaches us to also love our enemies.  It’s a challenging, difficult vision.

At the center of this teaching is the idea that to be holy is to treat everyone as neighbor and not as threat.  So we must learn when we encounter someone different from us not to treat them as other but to treat them with inclusive love.  To be neighborly, then, includes confronting our biases and prejudices.  Doing the often hard work of overcoming the ways we might have been programed as children.  Learning the ways we participate in unjust and oppressive systems that privilege us and harm others and then working to correct those.

So, we work to make our language gender inclusive, because the Christian tradition has a history of harming women.  We have declared ourselves open and affirming and worked to correct the oppression of LGBTQ persons.  We have acknowledged the ways our facilities and programs have not been accessible to persons of all abilities and have worked diligently to correct these mistakes.  We have confessed that mental illness is stigmatized in society, so we have committed to being more welcoming, inclusive, supportive, and engaged in order to undo that stigma.  And we’ve explored and challenged our racial biases in hopes of becoming a more multicultural people.

All of this is involved in being holy as God is holy, in being more neighborly.

So, when our Long-Range Planning Task Force completed its work, neighborliness was one of the key opportunities we identified for this church to expand our ministries in the this decade.  Our physical facility is strategically located and already a cultural anchor and asset to our neighborhood.  Neighbor children learn to ride their bikes on our patio, people sit on our benches to rest and eat, they walk our labyrinth, they grow food in our garden, shop in our Thrift shop, and attend concerts and performances here.  We imagined that we could expand on all that, becoming even more of a community center for our neighborhood and the city.

Among the opportunities we identified an invigorated Thrift Shop, a coffee and gathering area, activities and programs for neighbors including refugee support services, afterschool programs, classes on various topics, support groups, recreational activities, enhancing our exterior with benches, gardens, and a little library to engage the pedestrians of the neighborhood and more effectively communicate our values to passersby.

Being neighborly also means expanding our vision to be more engaged in service and justice work in our community.  We are respected for the work we have done, but there is even more we can do, often working in partnership with others.  A couple of years ago we were actively exploring options of working together with some of our sister churches, an initiative we need to rekindle. 

And one of the main goals of the Long-Range Plan was an emphasis on Global Citizenship.  At the recent Annual Meeting there was much discussion of how we can be more engaged in global ministries.  I’ve scheduled the new executive minister for the UCC’s Global Ministries, the Rev. Karen-Georgia Thompson, to preach and lead a workshop in October.  She’ll help us engage further in that conversation.

So, how can we be more neighborly?  Let me count the ways!

This Lent, as you are thinking and praying and reflecting and considering for yourself how God is calling you to be more, consider these possibilities.  How can you be more neighborly? And how can your Christian witness and involvement in this faith community expand our neighborhood?

For we are called to be holy as God is holy and our holiness is revealed in how we treat other people.


Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the DeadDrive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Like Flights, this book is odd, but unlike it, this book is not transcendent. It is, however, an entertaining and provocative mystery story. It took me a while to get fully into it, but when I did, I enjoyed it. I understand that the book is intended to comment on aspects of contemporary Polish culture that might somewhat be lost on us, but we have our parallels.

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Benjamin Mays

The first post in this series as I read Gary Dorrien's Breaking White Supremacy, on the history of Black Social Gospel Theology, was about Mordecai Johnson.

Mays

In chapter 3 of the book, entitled "Moral Politics and the Soul of the World" Dorrien features Benjamin Mays and Howard Thurman while discussing their interactions and Gandhi and influences upon King.  First Benjamin Mays.

The longtime President of Morehouse College grew up in South Carolina.  He said of this childhood, "The experiences I had in my most impressionable years, hearing and seeing the mob, observing the way my people were treated, noting the way in which they responded to this treatment, never having developed any white friends in the county, and living all my early years in a rented house--all this left me with a feeling of alienation from the country of my birth."  He described growing up in this segregated world that "the wings of ambition were crushed at birth."

Attending Old Mount Zion church where James F. Marshall was pastor, Mays later described Marshall's gospel--"primarily an opiate to enable them to endure and survive the oppressive conditions under which they lived at the hands of the white people in the community."  

Mays determined to pursue an education to have something more out of life.  In college he described feeling at home in the universe.  Inspired by the socialist Eugene Debs, Mays wanted a heroic Jesus, not meek and mild.  In seminary he learned and adopted the latest liberal thinking.  In his dissertation entitled "Pagan Survivals in Christianity," he argued that acknowledging these meant that "Christianity was inevitably bound up with the environmental forces of the Roman world; that it is an evolutionary movement; and must be modified, as all movements are, by its environment."

Dorrien records that Mays was fond of saying that "no person is free who backs away from the truth."

In a landmark early study, Mays criticized the black church for its conservative theology and failure to grapple with social issues.  But this wasn't really their fault as this resulted from oppression.  He did admire it as a "genuinely democratic fellowship."

Mays embraced the black social gospel--"It does not encourage one to wait for justice in the other world.  It does not dissipate itself in mere feeling."  Rather, "It tends to give one poise and balance to struggle for social righteousness here on the earth."

Mays was one of the first scholars to contend that there was a unique theological contribution in the black church where their ideas of God were "chiseled out of the very fabric of the social struggle."

Mays became a leader in the international ecumenical movement, which brought him to India and an important meeting with Gandhi in 1937.  He brought Gandhi's message of nonviolent resistance back to the US and began to write and speak about it.  

He was a part of international efforts of Christians to challenge the rise of Fascism in Europe, but her feared that the movement was too late.  He was discouraged when ecumenical statements of denominations were not embraced by congregations; he wrote "social custom makes cowards of most Christians and I fear the majority of ministers."  He proclaimed that "When the church truly repents, let us not deceive ourselves, it will be a suffering church."

Racism and a problem created by modern Christianity arising from the colonial project of European powers.  He wrote, "It is the modern church that again crucifies the body of Christ on a racial cross."  He authored the Federal Council of the Churches 1946 condemnation of segregation.  

He held out hope for a transformative movement--"If Germany through brutal means can build a kingdom evil in one decade and if Russia, through brutal processes, construct a new order in two decades, we can democratize and Christianize America in one generation."

Dorrien contends that Mays's most important legacy was his mentorship of his student Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dorrien writes that King chose Mays as a model when leadership in the movement was thrust upon him as a young age.

May declared, "I just want to be human and be allowed to walk the earth with dignity."


Where I Currently Stand in the Democratic Primary

Warren-1

It's Super Tuesday.  We in Nebraska don't vote till May 12 and one wonders what our choices will be by then.  Unlike previous election cycles I have not been blogging or social media posting my thoughts in the primary the last year, though I have been following it and reading other people's posts, open to persuasion.

There have been five candidates in the primary that I donated money to.  A large number.  There were a handful of others I could have been interested in had they performed well.  At various times I've favored different candidates, but I've largely left myself open, knowing that my vote would come very late in the process.

After all the developments of the last 48 hours, I now feel confident to publicly state my choice.  The only remaining candidate I support in the primary is Senator Elizabeth Warren.

I don't care for any of the old white guys running and wish none of them had.  We have so many strong and excellent candidates to offer that we could have had a good primary determining the future of the party without the old Baby Boomers trying to hold onto power. 

Michael Bloomberg frightens me.  He seems like a classier, more centrist version of Donald Trump--a rich guy who would try to force or buy his own way.  I'm not sure I thought this about him a decade ago, but post-Trump various things become clearer and more important.  Here in Nebraska we've endured a billionaire governor, and I don't recommend it.  Our governor uses his money like an extra veto if he doesn't get his way by funding ballot initiatives and primary challengers to legislators who oppose him.  I don't want something similar at the federal level, even from someone like Bloomberg who agrees with me on some issues.  I feel like it is most important to defend and strengthen our democratic institutions, and Bloomberg's sense of entitlement that he can buy his way into the top tier threatens that.

Bernie Sanders I mostly just disagree with as a matter of policy.  His most rabid supporters also annoy me.  I feel like he ran an insurgency in 2016 that damaged our party.  But I'm not as afraid of him as some pundits and establishment figures seem to be.  

I'm supposed to be in Joe Biden's demographic--a white, middle-aged, heartland moderate.  But Biden holds no appeal for me.

Joe Biden shouldn't have run.  He had achieved a career capstone with a well-regarded turn as Vice President.  For more than thirty years, since he ran disastrously the first time, I've never cared much for him.  I find him more than a little creepy.  Back in the Aughts Dick Cheney once said on a Sunday morning show, "In the last thirty years no one has been more wrong about more things than Joe Biden."  Cheney was right.  Biden has a long career, but little of it is inspiring.  He does seem to be motivated by compassion, which is lacking these days.  I've never understood the thought that he would have performed better in 2016, because all evidence was to the contrary based on his two previous runs for the presidency.  And even in this cycle he was fifth in New Hampshire, which would normally eliminate someone.  I still don't get how his first primary win in thirty years of trying so dramatically changed the race.  Particularly with the clear evidence of his decreased function with age, his inability to run a well-organized campaign to date, and the whole Ukraine mess which really should have eliminated him if for no other reason to spare us even the appearance of anything untoward.

But my biggest critique of Biden at this moment is that he is a nostalgia candidate, and I don't think looking backward will win us the election.  I think the Democrats need to put forward a new vision for the country and not just run in reaction to Donald Trump.   I honestly don't see Joe Biden inspiring people, and I have no confidence that he defeats Trump.  Truth is, if it comes down to Bernie and Biden on May 12, I may vote Bernie simply because he has a forward-looking vision (even if one I don't agree with) that inspires a lot of people as opposed to Biden's nostalgia tour.

One more thing about Biden.  If he should win the nomination and the general election (which I have zero confidence in), I believe we'll have four more years of stagnant government and likely a GOP victory in 2024.  I don't see that Biden creates us any lasting movement for the future.

Elizabeth Warren I do like.  She is competent, passionate, energetic, and strong.  I was shocked when she fell so quickly last fall from her short time as a front runner.  She has seemed for some time now to clearly be the candidate who appeals to enough people in the center and the left.  Most people who I know who were backing another candidate had her as a second or third choice.  I'm a little angry that she's been left out in the rapid changes of the last few days.  

So, I'm no longer undecided.  The winnowing of the race has left one candidate standing that I can support in the primary.


To Be More . . . Daring

To Be More . . . Daring

Psalm 84, Isaiah 35

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational Church

1 March 2020

            Last April I was in Sioux Falls, South Dakota at the First Congregational Church attending a visioning and training session for the directors of the boards of our three United Church of Christ conferences in Nebraska, Iowa, and South Dakota.  During the Saturday sessions our goal was to develop a “Why” statement—why we do the work we do on the conference level of the church. 

            As is often the case in these sorts of meetings, we were broken up into various small groups seated at tables around the church’s fellowship hall.  The facilitators invited us to begin the day’s work by telling stories of times in our lives when we were inspired by church. 

            I happened to be at the same table as Louie Blue Coat.  Louie is a minister in the Dakota Association, serving Virgin Creek United Church of Christ on the Cheyenne River Reservation.  The story Louie shared that day about a time he was inspired by church inspired me in turn.

            In 2016 when the Water Protectors were trying to prevent the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline across the Standing Rock Reservation, an international call went for clergy and faith leaders to gather in solidarity.  More than 500 arrived on the given day, representing 22 faith traditions.

            The morning began with a Native American water ceremony.  Then, Chief Arvol Looking Horse invited the clergy to gather around the sacred fire to pray.  And the first person invited to pray was the Rev. Gordon Rankin, then South Dakota’s UCC Conference minister.  According to Louie Blue Coat, the crowd grew silent as Gordon spoke and his words inspired and encouraged.

            “Who is that?” those around Louie began to ask.  He was proud to respond, “That’s Gordon Rankin, my Conference Minister.”

Moments later, when the march began, Louie wanted to walk alongside Gordon, but too many people wanted to be near the man who had prayed.

The clergy walked to the site where the Water Protectors and Law Enforcement faced one another.  As they gathered there, in that place of tension, a peace settled over the people. Everything became quiet.  And then an eagle flew overheard.  According to Louie, everyone, clergy, Water Protectors, and police, watched the eagle.

“God was there,” Louie said.

Then, he added, “That day, watching Gordon be a pastor made me want to be more, made me want to be a pastor too.” 

Last year listening to Louie, I knew I’d heard my why.  Why church can inspire people--it calls us to be more. 

This Lent I invite you to listen—God is calling you to be more.  “More what?” you might ask.  Well, that will be unique to you, but each Sunday we’ll consider various possibilities, particularly how we as a church together might be or do more on behalf of God’s work in this time and place. 

Today we consider what it might be like to be more daring. 

According to Vocabulary.com “To be daring is to be bold, adventurous, and a little nervy. It’s a quality possessed by people who tend to take risks.”

Of course I Googled “To be more daring” to see what the results were and you wouldn’t be surprised to find lots of self-help sites presenting the “7 ways to be more daring” and the “10 rules for a bold and daring life.”  Included in the advice were gems like “Stop Being So Scared of Looking Foolish,” “Constantly Push Against Your Comfort Zone,” and “Do Something You Think You Can’t.”

Consider the vision of the Prophet Isaiah.  The desert shall blossom, the weak kneed will be made firm, the blind will see, the wild will be tamed.  You might describe it as bold, daring, and audacious. 

The prophet inspires us to think big.  To share in God’s dream.  To imagine a world transformed.  And then to draw strength, courage, and joy from that vision.

The Psalmist adds to this image.  As we follow along God’s path, we are strengthened and made happy.  The psalmist inspires us to imagine how great and glorious is our vision of God and the home that God is creating for us to share together.  God will withhold no good thing from us.

Back in 2015, my former boss the Rev. Mike Piazza, led a workshop here at our church entitled “Reinvigorating the Vintage Church.”  He praised this congregation and the good hard work it had done.  We had responded well to the changing demographics of our society and were enjoying vitality and growth.  He said that of all the churches he had consulted with, ours was one of the best positioned. 

He said we could stay where we were, in this good position, or we could now contemplate doing even more and moving to the next level.  What would that look like for us? 

The church’s leadership accepted that challenge.  And the first thing we did was decide to turn the position of Christian Education Director into a full-time Associate Pastor position, which resulted in calling Katie here in 2016. 

And then we launched a Long-Range Planning Task Force and assigned them the job of holding brainstorming sessions with the congregation in order to identify and prioritize a set of goals and objectives for the next decade.  In 2017 that report was released, and we’ve been guided by its goals of accessibility, sustainability, neighborliness, education and outreach as we’ve introduced new programs, built up our digital and communications infrastructure, and made improvements to our facilities. 

Of course if we are going to do all the things we believe God is calling us to do, we have to have the funding in place.  One of the mechanisms for funding some of the projects will come about through our next capital campaign that is currently being prepared and will launch this summer.

Our congregation has the opportunity to be an even more vital center of community life in our neighborhood.  A place where people come for help and support, where they experience spiritual formation and religious growth, where they develop friendships and find opportunities for service, where they experience beautiful music, art, and theatre, where they practice environmental sustainability and social justice in community, and where everyone is welcome no matter who they are or where they are on life’s journey, breaking down barriers and building bridges.  We want to open even more doors to possibilities.

[INTERLUDE:  Atlantic article, Hannah Arendt, how can we think and act boldly?

We had a good example of it earlier this week in Katherine Johnson who died aged 101.  Not that many years ago, none of us knew who she was.  But once her story was told, she became a beloved American icon, a figure we can all admire.

Born in 1918 in a small town in West Virginia, she was educated in segregated schools and even had to move away from her hometown because there was no high school for African Americans for her to attend.  But she was a math prodigy from the youngest age, and her teachers steered her to a career in math.  In the 21st century, after civil rights and the women’s movement, math and technology remain fields difficult for a poor woman of color, and yet a century ago, with persistence Katherine Johnson received her education and launched her career as a computer for our nation’s space program.

When our nation dared to send human beings into outer space and fifty years ago went to the moon and back, we did so based on Katherine Johnson’s math.  And if we do such daring things again, according to NASA historian Bill Barry, “If we go back to the moon, or to Mars, we’ll be using her math.”

Katherine Johnson is a reminder to us of how bold vision, persistence and determination can succeed in world-changing ways.  She always knew she could be more and that we as a people could be more, and she was right.

Lent is a time of reflection and examination, as we prepare ourselves for the new birth of Easter.  This year, instead of giving something up, I want to you listen to God.  God who wants us to be happy, to experience joy, to receive all the blessings of this life.  God who invites us to vision and dream and be daring in imagining the possibilities. 

This year, what does it mean for you, for us To be more?  What more is God calling us to?


Arendt quotes

Some quotes I highlighted while reading The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt:

  • To be political, to live in a polis, meant that everything was decided through words and persuasion and not through force and violence.
  • A life spent entirely in public, in the presence of others, becomes, as we would say, shallow.
  • The human condition is such that pain and effort are not just symptoms which can be removed without changing life itself; they are rather the modes in which life itself, together with the necessity to which it is bound, makes itself felt.  For mortals, the "easy life of the gods" would be a lifeless life.
  • It is as though worldly stability had become transparent in the permanence of art, so that a premonition of immortality, not the immortality of the soul or of life but of something immortal achieved by mortal hands, has become tangibly present, to shine and to be seen, to sound and to be heard, to speak and to be read.
  • What gives the story of Achilles its paradigmatic significance is that it shows in a nutshell that eudaimonia can be bought only at the price of life and that one can make sure of it only by foregoing the continuity of living in which we disclose ourselves piecemeal, by summing up all of one's life in a single deed, so that the story of the act comes to its end together with life itself.
  • The organization of the polis . . . is a kind of organized remembrance.
  • Power is actualized only where word and deed have not parted company, where words are not empty and deeds not brutal, where words are not used to veil intentions but to disclose realities, and deeds are not used to violate and destroy but to establish relations and create new realities.
  • The art of politics teaches men how to bring forth what is great and radiant . . . as long as the polis is there to inspire men to dare the extraordinary, all things are safe; if it perishes, everything is lost.
  • Forgiving, in other words, is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven.
  • [Philosophy], wherever it is authentic, possesses the same permanence and durability as art works.
  • It is quite conceivable that the modern age--which began with such an unprecedented and promising outburst of human activity--may end in the deadliest, most sterile passivity history has ever known.

The Human Condition

The Human ConditionThe Human Condition by Hannah Arendt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant. Odd and unique but brilliant.

When I was in grad school Arendt wasn't treated as a necessary part of the canon. It's only been in the last decade that I've read her. And her reputation seems to be growing.

At the beginning she states as her goal to reconsider "the human condition from the vantage point of our newest experiences and our most recent fears" with the aim of getting us "to think what we are doing."

What follows is a careful review of the philosophical tradition and what can be learned about it to help us better understand human life and what we have arrived at in the contemporary era. Near the end she reveals her fears that we are headed to an time of tranquilized passivity but hopes that at least some people will think about what's happening and reorganize our political life.

There isn't a clear political program here, but a desire for humanity to better understand itself in order to then reimagine our political arrangements for our contemporary age.

And unlike some of the reviews, I found it a quick and easy read. Her arguments build slowly and carefully.

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