Tuesday, February 22, 2005

more Karen Armstrong

Here's another quote from Karen's Armstrong's book The Spiral Staircase.

Then there were my secret doubts. Even though I tried to tiptoe gingerly around difficult articles of faith, I could not stop wondering whether the Virgin Mary had been conceived without original sin and been taken up body and soul into heaven after her death. How did anybody know that Jesus was God? And was there even a God out there at all? Perhaps that was why I never encountered him in prayer? As I knelt in the chapel, watching my sisters kneeling quietly with their heads bowed contemplatively in their hands, I would sometimes wonder whether it wasn’t a bit like the emperor’s new clothers: nobody ever experienced God but nobody dared admit it. And then I would mentally shake myself. How could God reveal himself to a nun who harbored these shocking doubts?
If God did exist, he clearly wanted nothing to do with me, and right now I couldn’t blame him. There was something in me that was proof against religion, closed to the divine. Let it go, I told myself sleepily. Don’t beat yourself up anymore. Just live simply as a secular and give up these inappropriate spiritual ambitions. You’re in the world now. Make friends with it. One day at a time.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Exercising Body and Mind

I take a kill-two-birds-with-one-stone approach to exercising. When the weather is too cold to comfortably walk outdoors, I walk laps around the basketball court at the Salvation Army Community Center on 129th West Avenue in Sand Springs. While walking, I wear my portable CD player and listen to a lecture from a college level course produced by The Teaching Company. Following the lecture I will play a CD of some kind of music to finish up my walk. I usually walk an hour to an hour and forty mintues per walk.

In January, I listened to the course "Beethoven -- His Life and Music," an 8-lecture course (45 minutes per lecture) taught by Robert Greenberg. Greenberg is one of the best lecturers I have heard. Not only does he know his material thoroughly, he delivers his lectures with energy and humor. The Teaching Company has produced several courses in the area of music using Greenberg. Presently I am listening to another of his courses, "Bach and the High Baroque," as I walk. This is a longer course with 32 45-minute lectures.

The Tulsa Library has in its collection several courses from The Teaching Company in a variety of media: compact disc, audio tape, video tape, DVD. Greenberg's "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music" is available from the library in CD form. The Teaching Company also produces courses in the areas of religion, philosophy, history, psychology, and art, to name just a few other subject areas.

To learn more about The Teaching Company or to order materials, go to www.teach12.com.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

from Karen Armstrong's new book

I am presently reading The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness by Karen Armstrong. Armstrong, a well-known writer on religion, spent seven years of her early adulthood as a Catholic nun. Below is a quotation from the book. I will probably have other quotes from this book to post later.

There has been a moment early in the postulantship when I had heard a warning bell. We were doing a little course in apologetics, which explained the rational ground for faith. I was set an essay: "Assess the historicla evidence for the Resurrection." I had read the requisite textbooks, could see what was required, and duly produced a discussion of the events of the first Easter Sunday that made Jesus’ rising from the tomb as uncontroversial and unproblematic historically as the Battle of Waterloo. This was nonsense, of course, but that did not seem to matter in apologetics.

"Yes, Sister, very nice." Mother Greta, the pale delicate nun who was supervising our studies, smiled at me as she handed back my essay. "This is a very good piece of work."

"But Mother," I suddenly found myself saying, "it isn’t true, is it?"

Mother Greta sighed, pushing her hand under her tightly fitting cap and rubbing her forehead as if to erase unwelcome thoughts. "No, Sister," she said wearily, "it isn’t true. But please don’t tell the others."

This did not mean that Mother Greta did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus, or that she had lost her faith. But she had studied at the prestigious Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and knew that the kind of essay I had written was no longer regarded as a respectable intellectual exercise. A careful study of the resurrection stories in the gospels, which consistently contradict one another, shows that these were not factual accounts that could ever satisfy a modern historian, but mythical attempts to describe the religious convictions of the early Christians, who had experienced the risen Jesus as a dynamic presence in their own lives and had made a similar spiritual passage from death to life. As I stared wordlessly back at Mother Greta, I knew that, if it had been up to her, she would have scrapped this course in apologetics and introduced us to a more fruitful study of the New Testament. But, like any nun, she was bound by the orders of her superiors. What I had written was not true, because the insights of faith are not amenable to rational or historical analysis. Even at this early stage, in a confused, incoherent way, I knew this, and Mother Greta knew that I knew it.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Voting with your dollars

How often has this happened to you? You are enthusiastic about a political candidate. You talk him or her up to your friends. Your candidate reflects the liberal, progressive values that you hold. You are convinced that if your candidate could be elected it would be one step, albeit a small one, toward a better nation. You cast your vote for the candidate, and then on election evening as the returns come in you see that your candidate has lost. Another progressive has lost to the forces of conservatism, or fundamentalist religion, or corporatism.

Given the politcal environment of Oklahoma, you have mostly likely witnessed the above several times. However, the votes you cast at your precinct poling location is just one kind of voting. Another kind of voting has to do with where you spend your dollars and what you spend your dollars on.

If you are like me, you would rather purchase items and services from progressives rather than from reactionaries. But how do you know whether the owners of, say, Smith's Widget Company, are using their profits to advance the values you hold dear or are using those profits to undermine your values?

Information on various companies is available at www.buyblue.org.

Their mission statement reads as follows:

"You may have voted blue, but every day you unknowingly help dump millions of dollars into the conservative war chest. By purchasing products and services from companies that donate heavily to conservatives, we have been compromising our own interests as liberals and progressives.

"BuyBlue.org is a concerted effort to lift the veil of corporate patronage, so consumers can make informed buying decisions that coincide with their principles.

"Currently, we are developing an extensive and interactive website where users will be able to monitor corporate activity in real time. We cannot do this alone; we need an army of Blue buyers to be the eyes and ears of this movement. All we have to do is put our money where our mouth is to make it profitable to be ethical.

"Our collective buying power WILL make a difference, and we WILL be heard."

I encourage you to check out the Buy Blue website. We should all pay more attention to what values we are supporting by where and on what we spend (or vote) our dollars.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Trip to Norman

Jan and I made a trip to Norman on Feb. 7 and 8. We visited an old friend, Dan Cagle, who lives there. (Dan is not old being in his mid-forties; it's just that I have known him since the late 80s.) I met Dan through his involvement in humanist activities. He was the leader of the OKC chapter of the American Humanist Association until the chapter folded sometime in the 1990s. Sadly, the leadership of the Stillwater chapter died off, and that chapter folded, too. The Tulsa chapter is the only remaining AHA chapter in the state.

But back to Norman. We met up with Dan, and we all did some geocaching together. I was able to log nine finds on the 7th. We were about to give up locating the final cache when we found it. We probably spent half an hour looking for it. It was cleverly hidden beneath the rail of an abandoned railroad track. The next day Jan and I visited the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History. Admittance to the museum is just five dollars. It's a bargain, especially if you have any interest in dinosaurs. Remains of dinosaurs are on display as well as life-size models. There is more in the museum than dinosaurs. There are displays having to do with various cultures of the world, and there is a photo gallery. The facility also houses a restaurant and bookstore/gift shop.

Also while in Norman we walked the labyrinth in Reaves Park. That labyrinth is a modified Chartre type. Whenever I find a labyrinth, I will walk it. I would like to some day set up a large labyrinth -- large enough that it can be used for a volkswalk. Two and a half kilometers in; two and a half kilometers back out.

This is my first entry to this log in over a month. I tend to bite off more than I can chew; thus some activities get neglected. Topics have come to mind that I want to write about, but I've not had the time to write. Getting exercise by walking is a higher priority than adding to this log. I'm happy to report that I'm on target with my walking for this year. At this point I have logged 48 miles of dedicated walking so far this year.