Thursday, June 26, 2014

Quote of the Day

From an Internet meme:
In many shamanic societies, if you came to a medicine person complaining of being disheartened, dispirited, or depressed, they would ask one of four questions. When did you stop dancing? When did you stop singing? When did you stop being enchanted by stories? When did you stop finding comfort in the sweet territory of silence?

Monday, June 23, 2014

A Quote from Marcus Aurelius

“When you wake up in the morning, tell yourself: the people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous and surly. They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil. But I have seen the beauty of good, and the ugliness of evil, and have recognized that the wrongdoer has a nature related to my own - not of the same blood and birth, but the same mind, and possessing a share of the divine. And so none of them can hurt me. No one can implicate me in ugliness. Nor can I feel angry at my relative, or hate him. We were born to work together like feet, hands and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower. To obstruct each other is unnatural. To feel anger at someone, to turn your back on him: these are unnatural.”

Marcus Aurelius (121-180) was a Roman Emperor (161-180) and a stoic philosopher.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Edith Stein--a Woman in the Full

I wish to organize and preserve my thoughts about someone who moved me.

Edith Stein (1881-1942) was declared a saint by the Catholic church in 1998.  She grew up in a loving, religiously observant Jewish family in Breslau, Germany. In her teenage years, she became an atheist. She didn't really reject Judaism itself just the Judaism of her childhood. In college, Edith took an interest in psychology and then philosophy, and she went on to study for a doctorate in philosophy under Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), the founder of the branch of philosophy called phenomenology. Incidentally, he was also a German Jew but had converted to Lutheranism in his early twenties.

In these latter decades of the Kaisereich (before 1918), German Jews were no longer confined to being merchants but were able to enter the professions. Career opportunities for women were expanding as well. However, for a female to get hired as a professors of philosophy--that was another story. To get a professorship in a German university one had to do two doctoral theses, under two different advisers.  Both of Edith Stein's theses were originally rejected because her advisers could not accept the idea of a woman as a faculty peer. But Husserl's wife intervened and influenced her husband to approve Stein's thesis (1916).

After Edith Stein had left her teaching assistant position under Husserl, she was succeeded by Martin Heidigger (1889-1976), who quickly became the most influential German philosopher of the 20th century. In 1933, Martin Heidigger joined the Nazi party and remained a member until the end. In his own personal attitudes and intellectual beliefs, Heidigger was not antisemitic, but from his position as a university rector and the most renowned philosopher in Germany, he expressed significant, extensive hatred towards Jews.

Edith Stein had had some knowledge of Catholic thought. While on a summer break from university, she read the autobiography of Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), a Carmelite nun, and it moved her to become a Catholic right away. Not one to take half measures, Theresa also became a Carmelite nun (1933).  A sister followed her into Catholicism and the Carmelites as well.

In 1938, as Jewish persecution escalated in Germany, Edith Stein's religious superior transferred Edith and her sister to a Carmelite convent in the Netherlands. But in 1940, the Nazi Germany occupied the Netherlands and began to deport the Dutch Jews to the concentration camps. Originally, they did deport Jews who had converted to Christianity prior to the Nazi occupation. However, in July of 1942, the Bishops of Holland wrote a letter condemning the deportation of the Jews and had it read from the pulpit at every Mass in every church in the Netherlands. The Nazis retaliated by deporting all of the Jews that had previously converted.  I believe that, like Etty Hillesum, Edith and her sister could have escaped if they wanted. Edith and her sister were gassed about a week after their arrival at Auswitch.

After the war, Heidigger explained his antisemitism by saying that he was trying to preserve the university and philosophy. The married Heidigger had had affairs with two women that were Jewish. He helped one to escape to another country to avoid the Nazi persecution, and after the war Heidigger, sought out and resumed contact with both women. Heidigger never publicly apologized for his antisemitism. There is one record of a private conversation where he expressed regret.

Heidigger's life and philosophy never intersected.  His life was never a witness to truth. And I am ashamed to say that he was a Catholic.  In stark contrast, Edith Stein's life and beliefs were one and the same, even in the face of the Holocaust.

Phenomenology concerns itself with human experience. The thing that moves me the most about Edit Stein is that a women of her education and intellect, out of compassion for those suffering from the war (World War I), took a break from graduate school to seek training as a nurse and work for the Red Cross in a hospital for wounded soldiers. She served in the ward that took care of soldiers immediately after surgery.  If you know anything about the trench warfare of World War I--the suffering that she witnessed is unimaginable to us today. This experience could have only have verified what she believed about life, experience, and empathy. The title of Edith's doctoral thesis was, On the Problem of Empathy. It is because of her unwavering unity of belief and action, in the face of the worst suffering of which humans are capable, that I call her a woman in the full.

Saint Edit Stein, pray for us.

Most of the above information is from a book called, Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue. 1913-1922, by Alasdair Macintyre.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Update on My Fascination with Foreign Languages

In parallel with Pimsleur German, I had been doing Rosetta Stone German through a work program. I completed the 16 Pimsleur lessons and lost my motivation due to the fact that there are no German communities around but also because my pipe dream was to read Steppenwolf in German, and I thought it would be a really long, tiresome haul to get there. The other thing is, after doing the 16 lessons of German, I realized that my 40+ years old high school Spanish was still way better than my German. My overall sense of the Spanish language is still there, and I suspect that the specifics of what I learned in high school are buried in the archives of my brain somewhere. So at work, I got them to switch my German license to a Spanish license. And when they made the switch, I felt like a child opening up a new present on Christmas morning. I'm breezing through the Spanish--it's still just a refresh of high school Spanish so far. My high school teachers were expatriate Cubans, with wildly entertaining, stereotypical Latin tempers by the way. I'll have to settle for eventually reading Lorca, Neruda, and Marquez. Pimsleur emphasizes speaking/listening--which is the correct way to begin learning a new language-- and Rosetta stone seems slow in getting into reading sentences and paragraphs--but to be fair, I haven't gotten far enough into Rosetta Stone. But at a garage sale yesterday, I found a college textbook called Elementary German that looks to be just perfect for me. And they gave me the book for free--actually begged me to take it! So I may be studying German and Spanish. And by the way--I noticed a great deal of similarity between some of the Spanish and German verbs.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Internal Dialogue

You look back upon long email threads of long emails you sent to friends. You read stark, blunt, provocative things. Who wrote that? You look at the top. You wrote it. Who do you think wrote it, stupid? Does anyone else besides you write things like that? Do I really know this guy?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

To Help Uganda

A priest from Uganda spoke at Mass this past Sunday--Fr. Vincent. We know him originally because our parish had paid for him to go to the seminary in Uganda years ago. This was his 2nd trip to our parish here in the U.S.A. The conditions are Uganda are such that he is astonished at how we have running water and electricity. He was with two women from a non-profit organization in Toms River that support his community in Uganda. After Mass, I had coffee and bagels with Fr. Vincent and the women from the non-profit. The casual talk and Q&A over coffee and bagels was a virtual seminar on how to help the poorest of the poor. You can help to save the world, but you have to plan it and do it the right way. In Uganda, most people live in villages. Most children do not go to school. Most children are underweight due to insufficient food. Sanitary water is uncommon. Health care is abysmal, with the biggest problem being the lack of medicine. Malaria is rampant. The single best thing you can do is to educate the girls--it has an immediate positive impact that cascades through her family and village. Besides the education itself, educated girls become resources to their families and villages, plus the education of the girls has the effect of postponing the age at which they have children, and when they do have children, they have the benefit of a mother who is educated.

Coincidentally, today Catholics commemorate the Ugandan martyrs.

The Ugandan Martyrs, by James Martin SJ, America Magazine 6/3/2014

The Blood of the Martyrs, by Robert Barron. Word on Fire. 6/3/2014
The Feast of Charles Lwanga