Saturday, December 24, 2016

Happy Holidays!

Yes, I've stopped being a crotchety old curmudgeon who obnoxiously insists on saying only Merry Christmas, partly thanks to Celie Sternson Herbst's comments a year or 2 ago. My mother has dementia and is not able to speak. Last Sunday I took her to Mass, and after Mass, she insisted that I take her to CVS, where with a certain amount of pantomiming on her part and guesswork on my part, I helped her pick out 8 things she wanted to buy. At the register, it was a slow transaction due to my mother's condition. Outside, after I put the items in the trunk of my car, I realized that there were 3 items in the cart that we hadn't paid for. I brought them back into the store while my mother waited in the car. Throughout, the cashier, a spirited young man in shoulder-length dreadlocks, could not have been more patient, gracious and polite. Seeing his name tag, I said, "Thank you Khaleed," and he said that I was the first customer to ever pronounce his name properly. Leaving he said, "Happy Holidays!" This in a store where a large proportion of the customers are Jewish, not that that matters--just that he would have no idea what religion, if any I practice. But what did matter was that his wish for a Happy Holidays was sincere and from the heart. And a gift of Grace to me.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Understanding the Times We Live in

"Nietzsche realized the moral rot that was at the center of so-called Christian culture, and he was unwilling to overlook it."  - Dallas Willard, Professor of Philosophy, Stanford University.

Nietzche v. Jesus Christ

The description of Nietzche's thought is very clear and concise.  Of Jesus, professor Willard invites his listeners to engage and consider.  I happened to listen to the video while reading the chapter titled, "The Suicide of Thought," in Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton.  The video helped me understand Chesterton's comments on Nietzche.  

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Good Women at my Doctor's Office

I went to the doctor this afternoon. I sat In the waiting area next to the door. A girl came in, dressed somewhere between goth and metal, and sat across from me. A guy, dressed similarly, obviously her boyfriend, came in and sat next to her. After checking in with the receptionist, the girl grabbed a cell phone from her bag and went outside. I heard her shout, "Mom, the fucking insurance co-pay went up!" and launched into a big temper tantrum at her mother. About every third or fourth words was F. I imagine she really needed to see a doctor. The boyfriend ran outside and told her to quiet down, that everyone could hear her in the waiting room. She did quiet down, and he came back in. But then she went full volume again, "Mom, ...fuckin', ..., fuck, ..., fuck..., fuck..." Two more times, the boyfriend ran outside to shush her. Then, when they were both outside, a woman darted out from the office into the waiting area saying, "The insurance company just approved...where is she?" I pointed to the door, and said, "She's out on the sidewalk, talking to her mother." She ran outside, and I heard her shouting the girl's name down the sidewalk and saying, "Where did she go?" The woman came back in the reception area and said, "She's gone!" Finally, after the doctor saw me, on my way out, I leaned over the receptionist desk and asked in a low tone, "What happened to the girl? I explained that outside on the sidewalk, she was complaining to her mother that the insurance co-pay had gone up." I said I was willing to give her enough money to cover it. (The boyfriend has nothing in his pocket?) The woman told me that after the girl had left the receptionist desk , all the women in the office took out their wallets and chipped in to cover the girl's co-pay. She said the girl was pregnant, and they felt sorry for her. The woman had lied about the insurance company approval, so the girl wouldn't feel ashamed about them paying for her. I asked, "Well, can you call her back?" She said that she called her mother and told her to call her daughter and send her back. "Is she coming?" I asked. And she said, "Oh, she's back already. She's right in there," pointing to the exam room right behind me. So I ran out of there hoping the girl didn't overhear me talking about her.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Emotional Intelligence

At the time I graduated from college, I had a minimum of emotional intelligence, just enough to qualify for human, I suppose, with numerous painful and mystifying experiences with failed relationships with others, for decades. In my early thirties, I was helped by 5 years of psychotherapy for subjective depression, brought on by a wildly overdeveloped superego. I recall that at work once, there was a guy who was reading a new book called Emotional Intelligence--he carried it around with him as if he wanted to advertise that he was reading it-- and I thought it was a peculiar book to bring into work especially since he was in such a hardcore, macho, all-male group. In my fifties, I had an opportunity to study for a master's degree in administration and took all human resources related subject. I used the master's program as an excuse to buy a copy of the book, and I used it as a source for several papers. I've read the book at least twice and need to read it again. Right now, I'd rate my emotional intelligence as about average, though with a few serious recent failures with people. People need to understand, this is not something where you read a book, achieve an intellectual understanding and then suddenly you have emotional intelligence. No, you've got to change. It takes self-awareness, experience ,and all that jazz. And it's damn hard work. Looking forward to reading the book again for more insights. I don't expect to ever master emotional intelligence, but I will always be trying to improve.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Tripping on Coffee

When I was in college--Stevens Institute of Technology--there was a Cuban guy named Angelo with a food truck parked between two of the classroom buildings.  We assume he got his beans from some connection at the Maxwell House roasting warehouse which was at the North end of Hoboken. We don't know if he added anything to it, but to this day, his coffee was the most powerful and flavorful coffee anyone has ever tasted. It was as irresistible as it was powerful. To add to the picture, he sold chili dogs that were simply outrageous, one of kind culinary experiences, never to be found anywhere else, ever again. One of the school's organizations did eventually formally acknowledge and express appreciation to Angelo and his food truck, for the elevated quality of life it brought to an otherwise dreary campus of academic grind. And at this point I feel a little guilty--like I should have never mentioned this--to understand the experience of Angelos coffee and chili dogs, you had to have imbibed and eaten. You just don't know.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Why I am Interested in the Revolutionary War Period of History

I grew up just outside the village of Suffern, in the Town of Ramapo, in Rockland County, N.Y.
In John Suffern's tavern, George Washington had his headquarters more than once, with  generals Lafayette and Clinton also present.  Aaron Burr had been the commander of the garrison of troops in present day Hillburn, N.Y., guarding the Ramapo Pass, which was a 14-mile land route through the Hudson Highlands.  Rochambeau's army, plus other continental army and militia soldiers marched down the current Route 202/Haverstraw Road--about 50 yards from the house I grew up in.  In addition, Stony Point, in northern Rockland County, is the site of a winning battle that was led by Anthony Wayne.

In light of the politics of today, it is very informative and a stark contrast to read about the values and virtues of our founding fathers and why they fought--first and foremost among them is George Washington, the very personification of what it meant to be an American, with Adams, Hamilton, Jefferson, and so on, right behind him.  As well, in light of racism in America today, I find it enlightening to learn about the attitudes of the various founding fathers regarding slavery.   It is much more varied and interesting than you think.

As well, so many people like to mouth-off about what they insist the U.S. Constitution says/means, and I end up thinking that many of them lack a sufficient understanding of the history that led to the Constitution.  The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights did not suddenly appear from the abstract thought of philosophers sitting in an ivory tower somewhere.  Rather, to understand the founding documents, one must understand the history of the life experiences, thinking, and vested interests of the developers of those documents. That history is an important aid in thinking critically about all of the political issues of today.

In addition, I find the stories about our Founding Fathers as military, political, diplomat, family, and civic leaders to be outstanding case studies for learning about what it means to be a leader.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Binge Listening to Mr. Robot Demons Again

I have yet to see an episode Mr. Robot (USA Channel, Re-runs on Amazon Prime) /

A music video of  Mr. Robot Demons

I stand accused and convicted, of over-analyzing stuff.

Yes, the Christian (and human!) themes in this video.  I love it.  One when I was in my mid-forties, as a project I decided to pray all 150 psalms in a row, one per night.  After 150 days, I came away with a sense of complete dependence on God for all things.  (Think of David in the Psalms, running and hiding in in the rocks and caves in the mountains, desperately trying to escape the assassins.  And his gratitude for his life.) 

"When I see your heavens, the work of your fingers,
The moon and the stars that you set in place--
What are humans that you are mindful of them,
Mere mortals that you care for them?
(Psalms 8:4-5)

Not to be high and mighty, or self-righteous--condemned by the Psalms--but since then, after much thinking--I think to a flaw--and observing people and life--I'm ultra weak in that department--I have come to the conclusion that all spiritually mature people have an experiential knowledge and understanding of being completely dependent on God.   If you don't believe in the monotheistic God, you can substitute words like the Infinite, the Universe, or equivalent. 

Of the above and other Mr. Robot videos, through the visuals and the setting, I relate to the guy, though I am not, was never, aggressive or even assertive like he is.  Elliot lives in NYC where I did live for 7 years.   I get the anonymity, the loneliness, etc. but also the personal freedom, autonomy.  I've known a few Elliots. 

Empathy and sympathy are not the same, and I am not sure which one I have towards him, perhaps both.  But compassion.

In the video, the song is an expression of Elliot's inner life. Note it is sung by a female voice,  one very feminine in intonation and self-consoling emotion. Observe that Elliot is a male and not an effeminate one, but his inner life is expressed as feminine. The ancient Greeks believed that a person's soul contained male and female elements, which they called the Animus and Anima (and which explains a lot of things about people).  Without analyzing too much, the video feels like an expression of vulnerability.  The insight is to make the connection between vulnerability and dependency on the Infinite.  Elliot--hiding desperately in the caverns of Silicon Alley-- is terrified of emotional intimacy; yet, he does not succumb to despair.

Where do your demons hide?
"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Mt 5:3)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Dream of Macbeth

I attended the opening night of a performance of Macbeth.  I only went because @carly j Bauer was an assistant producer.  But part of the production was that at the end of the play, select members of the audience were told that had been assigned to roles in the play, and they will be performing the roles one week from now, on the same stage.   I was assigned the role of King Macbeth.  I had one week to learn my lines, with no rehearsals before the performance  Well, I thought about it and stressed out.  I thought of how I could possibly memorize all of my lines in a week. It would take all of my free time.  And since a week isn't really enough time, I thought I should write all of the lines down on index cards and have them with me when I perform them. And of course, I would have no idea when to enter the stage, where to stand, move, the timing, or who to address my lines to.  It felt like it was too much, and I didn't want to do it.  I did not see it as a positive or fun challenge.  Emotionally, I crumpled--I didn't think I could do it, and I decided to back out.  Dream Interpretation: Of challenges at work; failing or quitting before even trying a challenge; lack of confidence; not up to a challenge; not considering the rewards, learning, or growth that might result.

The night before the dream, Due to having resolved a number of things at work, I was suddenly feeling a sense of confidence, a "can do" attitude, an attitude of putting in extra effort to understand and resolve things.  So I suspect the dream actually signals that I am about to overcome the thing that it expresses.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Jesus of Tralee

God teaches me things in the most unexpected places and times. In my late teens, I had read a book called, The Voyages of Saint Brendan the Navigator & Tales of the Irish Saints, by Lady Gregory. Beginning in the sixth century, Irish monks sailed the North Atlantic Ocean in small, ox hide-covered boats, establishing monasteries on various islands, some very remote, some otherwise uninhabited, some no more than rock hills standing above the ocean surface. The monks lived on the tops of these formations, whose ruins can still be seen today. The steep ascents to the tops of some look death-defying. A strong gust of wind could blow a man into the ocean.  Life on these almost uninhabitable rocks was rugged and harsh.

One of the tales in the above book is about a pale-skinned hermit, with long white hair and beard, who lived for years in a cave on one of those islands. He prayed constantly, and several times when he was without food, an angel brought him consecrated communion bread to eat. 

As a typical American kid, I was familiar with every kind of movie, comic book, and T.V. hero--pioneers, cowboys, Indian fighters, soldiers, spies, Batman, Superman, you name it. But to me, these Irish monks were the manliest of men, the heroes among heroes, the toughest of the tough.

When I was in my twenties, with some vacation time coming, I bought a roundtrip ticket to Ireland, with no thought whatsoever of any mythical monks. I had no particular itinerary. Upon my arrival at Shannon airport, I simply rented a car and proceeded to drive haphazardly around the country.

A few days into my trip, after touring the Dingle peninsula, I saw a sign for the city of Tralee and  having nothing better to do, decided to head there. I had heard of the name Tralee before. As a child, I once heard my father refer to a pretty girl as a Rose of Tralee, and at family parties, my mother or one of my aunts would occasionally sing a song called, "The Rose of Tralee."

As I approached Tralee in my rental car, I saw hundreds of hitchhikers heading into the city as well. People hitched rides everywhere in Ireland, but I had never seen so many in one place. After eventually finding a Bread and Breakfast place that miraculously had a vacancy, the landlord asked, "Are you here for the festival?" Apparently, the city was having a festival, which featured a beauty contest in which the winner was crowned, The Rose of Tralee.

The city was chock-a-block with tourists and young people from all over Ireland. Advertisements hung from every lamppost, tree and telephone pole. Trash from overfilled and overturned garbage cans spilled all over the sidewalks and streets. Numerous young people had camped in a park near the city center.  A few had Sleeping bags, some blankets, and others slept right on the grass.  The entrance to the park had bathrooms, of which the campers made heavy use, with soaking wet floors and toilet paper scattered all around. Young people wandered around, some without shirts or shoes, looking hung over.  It was a Gaelic Woodstock.

I went into a saloon. The proprietor crowed with delight to several patrons at the bar about the America tourists who not only tipped so extravagantly but liked to buy round after round for everyone in the house. Overhearing this, I decided that I couldn't afford to delight this barkeep, and did a quiet Irish goodbye.

Walking further in town, I came upon a Catholic church. I had a curiosity about what church in Ireland was like, so I went inside and stood in the back.  Mass was underway. A feeling came over me of the incongruity of several hundred people attending Mass in the center of a city that was in a fever of tacky commercialism and bacchanalia. The prayers of the consecration had already begun.  And I suddenly suffered a case of spiritual arrest.

The priest on the altar was the image of the hermit which I had carried in my head all these years. And as the priest said the words of consecration, he adored and prayed to the real body of Christ, with his whole voice, words, and body. He was the monk in the cave.

After the consecration, the prayers felt lifeless, and I left. But outside, as I walked the streets, my mind churned with the irony, the paradox, the complete contradictory unexpectedness of what I had just witnessed: That this is the Incarnation--that Jesus is present and lives in the heart of commercial, crowded, garbage-strewn, partying, drunken, greedy, fornicating Tralee and everywhere.