Pen as Sword - Social Commentary

The Meaning of Language … communication?

Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

This is what -30 to -40 looks like …

So, what to say … first, a week ago this morning I slipped on the ice while walking in my driveway and fell on top of my leg as it folded under me, thus breaking my ankle.

That gentle “crunch” as I settled onto the ice was the give away but I chose to ignore it and “shake it off” and proceed to drive to my lunch date with an old service friend an hour and a half away and ignore the pain and tough it out in the interest of having a pleasant social gathering. Always push through and complete the mission, right?

On Wednesday last, my daughter insisted that I go to the hospital with her and get it X-rayed to prove that “It was only a serious sprain”. As life would have it, I was wrong … I admit it … and both my doctor and my daughter insisted that I repeat that several times. I. Was. Wrong. And the next day, Thursday, I found myself in surgery in the nearest city getting things repaired with plate and pins and screws.

Now, I sit in my favorite chair under doctor’s orders to keep the ankle elevated and to not put any weight on it until the next doctor’s appointment on March 14th. This is not only a pain in my ankle, but a right royal pain in my A__ since virtually everything I do including something as simple as visiting the washroom is hugely complicated by “Don’t you dare put ANY weight on that ankle!”.

Sigh … what is one to do.

Well, I guess this is one of those times in life when “tough” is another word for “stupid”. I guess I accept that. Most of what I do for work is something I can supervise over Facetime while others less crippled actually punch the keys, and the rest can just wait, I guess. My first wife of 40 years or so just laughs at me and says “I guess you will be giving up “Control” for Lent.”  I reply, “I guess that it’s nice to have “history”, to which she replies that she just wishes there wasn’t so much of it. Ha! spoken like a true loving wife.

Which brings me to the topic of “History”. What does one do when one can’t get out of the chair without enormous effort? Well, in my case I blog … This post may not be of much interest except amongst those of us who actually care about the details and precision and what things actually mean, as opposed to “just having a pleasant conversation over coffee with our friends”.

I like the term “praxis” meaning “that which people do habitually, characteristically and usually unreflectively“, as a wonderfully concise summary of our polite daily narrative. It gives me a nice handle on the state of action, conversation and thought, or the lack of same, in our social media society.

I have had an on-again, off-again, love/hate relationship with the use of our English language as a means of alleged “communications” for at least 40 years now.

After spending most of the 70’s as a practitioner (Rad Sea 251) of military communications, with it’s huge emphasis on precision and accuracy and warding off confusion, no matter the status of the current shit-storm, even to the extent of using a phonetic alphabet and spelling words and coordinates out in detail, I find myself still habitually thinking and speaking in annoyingly precise ways.

It is part of the very fiber of how I think and communicate. After all, the consequences of “getting it wrong” back then had a high probability of a Blue on Blue with predictably bad results. It is hard to shake those old life-saving habits.

I have found since then that the civilian world shows a distressing lack of precision and understanding of the meaning of common words, used every day, and in the communication of thoughts which when examined, have no relation whatsoever to the words in use to express the “feelings” of the speaker except perhaps in some vague syllabic sort of way, the more syllables the better.

The speaker(s) lack a basic understanding of what the words they use moment by moment actually mean in English is a never ending source of distress and misunderstanding. Should one raise any objection to this misuse of the language one is immediately vilified as a “pedant”, supposing that term exists in the speakers lexicon, and worse if the vocabulary is lacking.

“Red Dragonfly” by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”, (2013)

One very common example is the now popular “modern” journalistic use of and confusion of the words “honing” and “homing”, used interchangeably and it seems in use to mean a general sense of something bad coming that we can’t shake off, or of being on the right track depending on context. For just one example of many, at CNN :” Sources say Turkish investigators are honing in on a Saudi intelligence officer who allegedly led the torture and murder of “Washington Post” columnist Jamal Khashoggi.”

I sometimes question the writers in the comment column of their articles … in one recent occurrence, when asked about the confusion, “Do you mean “homing” as in “the missile is homing in to blow us to hell”, or do you mean “honing” as in “I am honing my blade in preparation to slitting your throat”? the latest writer I called on it got quite upset with me and not only refused to clarify the confusion but continued to repeat the obviously confusing misuse in subsequent writing. What is one to do? Pray, pray, and pray some more, I guess.

I am currently reading “The Resurrection of the Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God” by N.T. Wright, from “Fortress Press” . It is a joy to read, what I have in the past referred to as “Brain Candy”.

And Dr. Wright spends a significant part of the first 70 pages or so clarifying this exact problem of meaning and the need for clarity in the context of historical writing and theology …  and that same confusion is equally prevalent in daily social exchange and is arguably more important, since in the immediate sense, history is only important to historians.

This is so much fun that I am simply going to quote from the book and let the chips fall where they may (your mileage may vary):

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What, though, do we mean by ‘historical’?20 ‘History’ and its cognates have been used, within debates about Jesus and the resurrection, in at least five significantly different ways.

First, there is history as event. If we say something is ‘historical’ in this sense, it happened, whether or not we can know or prove that it happened. The death of the last pterodactyl is in that sense a historical event, even though no human witnessed it or wrote about it at the time, and we are very unlikely ever to discover when and where it took place. Similarly, we use the word ‘historical’ of persons or things, to indicate simply and solely that they existed.21

Second, there is history as significant event. Not all events are significant; history, it is often assumed, consists of the ones that are. The adjective that tends to go with this is ‘historic’; ‘a historic event’ is not simply an event that took place, but one whose occurrence carried momentous consequences. Likewise, a ‘historic’ person, building or object is one perceived to have had particular significance, not merely existence. Rudolf Bultmann, himself arguably a historic figure within the discipline of New Testament studies, famously used the adjective “geschichtlich” to convey this sense, over against “historisch” (sense 1).

Third, there is history as provable event. To say that something is ‘historical’ in this sense is to say not only that it happened but that we can demonstrate that it happened, on the analogy of mathematics or the so-called hard sciences. This is somewhat more controversial. To say ‘x may have happened, but we can’t prove it, so it isn’t really historical’ may not be self-contradictory, but is clearly operating with a more restricted sense of ‘history’ than some of the others.

Fourth, and quite different from the previous three, there is history as writing-about-events-in-the-past. To say that something is ‘historical’ in this sense is to say that it was written about, or perhaps could in principle have been written about. (This might even include ‘historical’ novels.) A variant on this, though an important one, is oral history; at a time when many regarded the spoken word as carrying more authority than the written, history as speaking-about-events-in-the-past is not to be sneezed at.22

Fifth and finally, a combination of (3) and (4) is often found precisely in discussions of Jesus: history as what modern historians can say about a topic. By ‘modern’ I mean ‘post-Enlightenment’, the period in which people have imagined some kind of analogy, even correlation, between history and the hard sciences. In this sense, ‘historical’ means not only that which can be demonstrated and written, but that which can be demonstrated and written within the post-Enlightenment worldview. This is what people have often had in mind when they have rejected ‘the historical Jesus’ (which hereby, of course, comes to mean ‘the Jesus that fits the Procrustean bed of a reductionist worldview’) in favour of ‘the Christ of faith’.23

Snow”, by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”  (2013).

N.T. Wright

Confusion between these senses has of course bedevilled this very debate about the so-called ‘historical Jesus’, the phrase being used by some to mean Jesus as he actually was (sense 1), by others to mean what was significant about Jesus (sense 2), by others to mean that which we can prove about Jesus, as opposed to that which we must either doubt or take on faith alone (sense 3); by others again to mean what people have written about Jesus (sense 4). Those who, as I mentioned, have taken the phrase in sense 5 have often rejected the Jesus not only of that sense but, apparently, of the previous four as well.24

“Jesus and the Victory of God” constitutes, in part, a response to this position. But we must now face one very specific, particular and in some senses peculiar case of the problem. In what sense, if any, can Jesus’ resurrection be spoken of as ‘historical’?

Second, how did people in Jesus’ day, both Gentiles and Jews, think and speak about the dead and their future destiny? In particular, what if anything did the word ‘resurrection’ (anastasis and its cognates, and the verb egeiro and its cognates, in Greek, and qum and its cognates in Hebrew) mean within that spectrum of belief?12

Chapters 2 and 3 address this question, clarifying in particular—a vital move, as we shall see—what the early Christians meant, and were heard to mean, when they spoke and wrote about Jesus’ resurrection.

As George Caird once pointed out, when a speaker declares ‘I’m mad about my flat’ it helps to know whether they are American (in which case they are angry about their puncture) or British (in which case they are enthusiastic about their living quarters).13

When the early Christians said ‘The Messiah was raised from the dead on the third day’, what might they have been heard to be saying? This may seem obvious to some readers, but it was by no means obvious, according to the evangelists, when Jesus said similar things to his followers, and a glance at contemporary literature will show that it remains far from obvious to many scholars today.14

As well as the question of meaning (what did this kind of talk mean at the time?) we must consider the question of derivation: what, if anything, did the Christian shaping of ideas and language about Easter owe to the wider context, both Jewish and non-Jewish?

Chapter 2 examines the non-Jewish world of the first century with these two questions in mind; chapters 3 and 4, developing the brief discussion in the first volume of this series, the Jewish world.15 Let me then spell out somewhat more fully the brief, almost formulaic account given a moment ago of how the argument develops from there.

I shall come at the main question of Parts II–IV by asking: granted the wide range of views about life after death in general and resurrection in particular, what did the early Christians believe on these topics, and how can we account for their beliefs?

This method recognizes that all knowledge of the past, as indeed of everything else, is mediated not only through sources but also through the perceptions, perceptions, and hence also the personalities, of the knowers.

There is no such thing as detached objectivity. (To say, therefore, that we can investigate other historical claims in a neutral or objective fashion, but that with the resurrection an element of subjectivity inevitably creeps in, is to ignore the fact that all historical work consists of a dialogue between the historian, in community with other historians, and the source materials; and that at every point the historians’ own worldview-perspectives are inevitably involved.)

But this does not mean that all knowledge collapses into mere subjectivity. There are ways of moving towards fair and true statements about the past.”

Wright, N. T.. Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God (pp. 8-29). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.

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Anyway, that’s enough fun for now. It is encouraging to know that there are other folks out there who see the current state of confusion in communication as problematic. I suspect the usual suspects calling me a “pedant” are not realy that sure what exactly “pedant” means anyway.

So for those who got this far, you must be amongst the blessed literate on this long journey.

Cheers

Joe

Ahhh,  time for another stress free “nice conversation with my friends”. Who cares what the words mean anyway, they just sound so “pleasantly conversational”.

But what would coffee be without a little scripture?  Paul would have recognized our current Canadian Political landscape … here is part of his letter to Timothy:

… But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. …

Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was.

But you have carefully followed my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, persecutions, afflictions, which happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra– what persecutions I endured.

And out of them all the Lord delivered me. Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2Ti 3:1-13)

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The Inner Struggle

The Never Ending Story … Faith

Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

The struggle between “The Good” and “the absence of good” is a battle of life or death, a never ending struggle since the first instant of time. This is how nations, corporations, the creatures and entities of this world fall, their self love is their fatal weakness.

Their soldiers don’t fight for them, they fight for themselves, as a mirror of their tribe or group, for their self, because of their own self love. They don’t believe in their leaders. When it comes to a battle of life or death, that lack of faith is fatal.

Without faith, it is impossible to please God, because faith is the foundation of all our relations with God. For the man, the creature, the entity without faith, God has no meaning, value, or place in their existence, their reality.

With faith, however, God can enter into a self-centered existence as the belief in something greater than the self makes room for the Other. The stronger the faith the more God can enter into our life and the more we are willing to accept the Other, and put the self away.

Ultimately, I am told that He becomes our All, the one great reality for which we live and the One for whom we are willing to suffer, and face sorrow and death. Faith does not depend on data or the perceptions of our senses, in fact it is focused on something outside of the passing realities of everyday life. Faith allows us to begin to perceive God and other creatures as He, and they really are.

And perceiving this, the desire to give glory to God as one’s creator gradually grows until life is really about making everything you do a devotion. A devotion is a prayer but more than a prayer.

A devotion is a service to God. A prayer is sometimes seen as a dialogue, a request made to God. Then when people do something extraordinary and devote that act to God, or proclaim that they do it to glorify God, they see that as something different than prayer.

But a devotion, in the way that a monk or any other religious would perform it, is to do every task of daily life as a meditation. To do even the tiniest task as if it is solely for the glory of the Creator and of all creation. Tending a garden, washing dishes, keeping livestock, writing, making music, creating art, fixing a car, taking out the garbage, listening patiently and with charity to others.

When I think about this I wonder that when we transcend the natural self centeredness of the human person, are we no longer just a human? Has God entered into our soul and rendered us “supernatural” in proportion to the vitality and strength of our faith? St. Thomas Aquinas says “Faith is a habitual disposition of soul by which eternal life begins in us”. It is a “beginning of eternal life”.

But other thoughts arise, have I changed in ways that mean I cannot worship God as well, because my self regard is actually stronger for that thought? I do not believe that, but I look beyond my current view of things and wonder if this is dangerous. Am I just indulging in “being clever”? I think that any sentient entity is necessarily filled with contradictions.

Since one essential element of faith seems to be the absence of evidence it seems normal to me that my intellect from time to time doubts what it cannot see and cannot understand. I think these doubts are temptations encouraged by the forces of “the absence of good” in a continuous struggle to separate me from the “Good”… “I do believe, Lord, help my unbelief; Increase my faith” Mk 9,23 – Lk 17,5

Cheers

Joe

 

 

 

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Life in a small town

Human Qualities …

Hamachidori“, by Ryutaro Hirota, played by Tokyo Kosei Wind Orchestra & Kazumasa Watanabe, from the album “Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

“Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

“Konomichi―Favorite Japanese Melodies (Japanese Melody Series)” (2004)

Sunday morning again … dark and cool, with a howling wind … +2 Celsius, 35 Kph wind … translates into +36 F and about 21 Mph for my American friends.

Spent a couple of hours over coffee with some gentlemen friends of mine yesterday who came by for a visit from a much larger city than my little village here in the Shire. While we get along great and have many things in common we also have great divides and differences.

One is a librarian by trade and the other is in the media business, both highly literate, both card carrying Canadian Liberals, and both very sure of the truth of their Liberal articles of faith regarding socialism, people, voters, guns, gun crimes and violence, and non-Liberal players.

They also have the typical Canadian knee–jerk reflex regarding the relative civilizing virtues of Canadians and Americans, and other non-Canadians, especially in the media, academia, and government.

While they do not exactly share my opinion that academia is the agar in the petri dishes of the Liberal Progressive weaponization lab called “university”, they acknowledge that a lot of the “qualities” of academia might lead one to that opinion absent the un-examined qualifiers inherent in the Liberal worldview.

We continue to be friends, and in reality became friends in spite of rather than because of our political and religious differences. The hallmark difference between both of them (and a few others) and the legions of zombies we all contend with when we move out of our comfortable shire is that they do not automatically assume that everyone who disagrees with them is just plain stupid.

These gentlemen assume that there must be a reason (more or less valid as the case may be), for our differing views and that people who are seeing a different world and draw different conclusions based on different life experiences are not automatically relegated to the dumpster of group opinion.

The Right of Free Speech ...

The Right of Free Speech …

What they (and I, I guess) are exhibiting are the human qualities of affability, thoughtfulness, courtesy, sociability, sincerity, and understanding. My considered opinion about the zombie hordes is just that – considered – after countless attempts to make friends with many of them, employing all of the above mentioned qualities, and being rejected, sometimes violently, by the majority and vilified for my efforts.

Eventually I step back and and consign them to the zombie straw-man dumpster for convenience, always leaving the door open for pleasant surprises and always understanding that one of my responsibilities in the universe is to protect all of them from the inevitable consequences of their affliction. Gee! I’m just so great and loving and understanding! I’m just such a nice guy … NOT!

Torches and Pitchforks ...

Torches and Pitchforks …

And that is MY affliction … that nasty red-necked neanderthal knuckle dragging a-hat is indeed one of the passengers in my personal bus of self on whom I keep an especially tight reign.

But he is still there and probably will be until I die. I pray that, if I manage to stay out of hell, that he stays there, but worry that eliminating him may be one of the contingent requirements for admission to heaven, or at least purgatory. I’m working on it.

So, these human qualities … passing lightly over the fact that they are godlike because they originate with God who is all goodness … are what one might reasonably qualify as the “better part” of humanity.

The degree to which we cultivate these qualities and apply them in our daily lives is the degree to which we ascend to some level of sanctity in our relations with our neighbors … what our church talks about when it exhorts us to practice “fraternal charity”.

“Hotaru” by Kobudo, from the album “Ototabi”, (2013)

St. Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Jesus)

St. Teresa of Avila (St. Teresa of Jesus)

Saint Francis de Sales used to say that “More flies are attracted by a drop of honey than a barrel of vinegar”, and Saint Teresa of Jesus  recommended “The holier you are, the more sociable you should be with your sisters (brothers). Although you may be sorry that all of your sisters’ conversation is not as you would like it to be, never keep aloof from them if you wish to help them and to have their love. We must try hard to be pleasant and to humor the people we deal with” (Way, 41).

“… Let him learn, then, and show by his works, the dignity proper to human nature and to society; let him regulate his countenance and bearing in a dignified manner and be faithful and sincere; let him keep his promises; let him govern his acts and his words; let him have respect for all and not harm the rights of others; let him endure evil and be sociable …”. (Pius XII, 1951)

Quagmire?

Quagmire?

These words drop into the dark well of our current society, politics and media and echo like the death knell of our civilization. These words encapsulate everything wrong with our current excuse for human relations.

How do we step back from this brink? How do we extricate ourselves from this hometown “quagmire” of our own making? There is an answer which has been around for about 4 thousand years … is anyone listening? I doubt it.

The answer is doing the “right” thing no matter what the cost, no matter how painful, no matter how we “feel” about our immediate personal interests … sometimes you just have to stand and die for the right thing … ever has it been so, world without end, amen.

Our polite society's view of "friend or foe"?

Our polite society’s view of “friend or foe”? Aren’t we just a little confused about what matters?

I used to have a friend, who I haven’t seen in years, who always used to remark “Joe!  This is not a hill to die on!” And he was mostly right, but every now and then those hills come around and the choices made set the direction for the future, and the path leads up or down as we make the choice.

Things are not as bad here as in the Middle East, but it gets really confusing when everyone who disagrees with us is “the enemy”, when we make the choice to take the easy, the complaint, the self interested way out.

How can we survive without “Fraternal Charity”, without Love?

“ゆりかごの歌”, William W. Spearman IV and Tomoko Okada, from the album “Beautiful Japanese Songs”, (2006)

The “Excellence of Love” has been in the public domain for at least two thousand years …
1If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.

11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Cheers

Joe

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