Today, another fascinating and deeply insightful Design Matter’s conversation. This time Debbie Millman talks to philosopher and author Alain de Botton. The conversation is a wide-ranging overview of love and relationship. I’ve previously featured de Botton here, and you’ll find the Design Matters 48-minute conversation here (downloadable via iTunes). I found it really useful, and somewhat freeing, culturally speaking.
De Botton’s book The Course of Love: a novel, incorporating paragraphs (in different font) reflecting on different aspects of love and relationships) is sitting opposite me as I type. A local library copy, which I’ve dipped into but won’t get to read in full at the moment – too many other books on the go!
His earlier novel on love, funnily enough, called On Love: A Novel (1993) is well worth a read too. I’ve been really impressed with De Botton’s insights on love and relationships, all the more so, when you realise On Love: A Novel was written while in his mid-twenties (de Botton was born in December 1969).
“To be loved by someone is to realize how much they share the same needs that lie at the heart of our own attraction to them. Albert Camus suggested that we fall in love with people because, from the outside, they look so whole, physically whole and emotionally 'together' - when subjectively we feel dispersed and confused. We would not love if there were no lack within us, but we are offended by the discovery of a similar lack in the other. Expecting to find the answer, we find only the duplicate of our own problem” ― Alain de Botton, On Love.
He has a strong commitment to the development of emotional intelligence, and this is reflected in his founding of The School of Life. A site I highly recommend too.
On the first books I read this year (2017) was US Poet, Academic Elizabeth Alexander’s haunting and beautiful 2015 memoir The Light of the World, a love-story centered on her marriage to Eritrean-born Ficre Ghebreyesus, who tragically died at the age of 50, following a massive heart attack. I was deeply moved, and recovered an appreciation for a well-written memoir. Since that one I’ve read another two memoirs, both different, but each a rich insight into the lives of two people I have a very high-regard for. I think what I like about good memoirs is the way that they open up, and respond deeply to the questions of what it means to be a human being through all the seasons and experiences of a human life. I highly recommend the book, and gained much from reading it.
Aired on April 3rd 2017 Design Matters’ Debbie Millman talked to US-poet Elizabeth Alexander about the journey of her extraordinary life and how death makes us think about what we truly value. Some of you will recall that Alexander composed and read a poem for Barack Obama’s 20th January 2009 Inauguration (more on that poetic journey here. The January 2017 article also includes a link to Alexander reciting the poem on the day. In the Design Matters interview Alexander also reads her poem too. You’ll find the text of the poem Praise Song for the Day here).
"The contemporary interest in spirituality is basically good and may be a movement of the Spirit adjusting to people where they are ...
… [W]e believe, following the teaching of Vatican II, that the Spirit is working in them also. That means that the Word of God is manifesting itself in them ... and is guiding them in other ways that can become a source of grace for them. The fact that the Incarnation took place means that Christ is in relationship to every human being. Everybody is religious just by becoming born and, by that very fact, is in relationship with God. You don’t have to search for it – you are already in relationship to the Source of all…”
Sounds like an interesting book, albeit it cops some criticism from reviewers along the way, and one does wonder, why another book when similar ones exist.
“…In the end, Pilgrimage sheds sparks, rather than shards of light, over what we already know about Francis; yet it brings him into focus better than many of the weightier tomes out there. And as a readable, enjoyable, accessible portrait of an extraordinary man, it is hard to beat…” – Austen Ivereigh (full review here), author of the very good The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope, which is one of those books I’d say is similar though not identical in its focus.
“The church sex abuse crisis has rocked the faith of millions of Catholics.
A Pew study found that, in the United States alone, 40 per cent of people raised Catholic have left the church.
For one member of America’s most famous Catholic family, the crisis has been especially painful.
Mark Shriver is the nephew of JFK and the son of Sargent Shriver, a legendary humanitarian who ran the Peace Corps and the war on poverty in the 60s.
“Men of all ages say Richard Rohr has given them a new way into spiritual depth and religious thought — through his writing and retreats. This conversation with the Franciscan spiritual teacher delves into the expansive scope of his ideas: male formation and what he calls “father hunger”; why contemplation is as magnetic to people now, including millennials, as it’s ever been; and how to set about taking the first half of life — the drive to “successful survival” — all the way to meaning.”
You’ll find the On Being conversation here. Aired April 13th 2017.
I’m always up for an interesting conversation, and one is certainly being generated by the recent publication of The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation (March 2017). I haven’t read it yet, but have noticed it appearing, over the last few months in various reviews, promotional material etc. It’s author is Rod Dreher and his is a book which James K. A. Smith notes ‘…is offered to a world that sometimes feels as fraught as the late Roman empire of Augustine's time. Indeed, invoking a new "barbarism," Dreher looks to Benedict: "Saint Benedict had taken the proper measure of Rome. He acted wisely by leaving society and starting a new community whose practices would preserve the faith through the trials ahead”…’
I haven’t yet read the book, and likely won’t, but who knows? That a title becomes as ‘popular’ as Dreher’s book seems to be at present, gets my attention, but doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to read it. Most in my life its been the lest popular and more obscure commentators etc. that have been most helpful to me.
I’ve always found Jamie Smith a thoughtful and cogent communicator. I’ve read many of his books and listened to him for years (via podcasts etc), so I incline towards his review/commentary here. I also found this Hearts and Minds review balanced and helpful. I think it’s written by Byron Borger. See also, Michael Bird.
Have a read of the reviews and see what you feel. Is it a book you’ll read, or not?
“… The art of loving has to be learnt… Part of love is friendship, which knows how to combine affection with respect for the other person’s liberty. That means respect for the mystery of the other, and his or her still latent and unrealized potentialities. If love stops, we make a fixed image of each other. We judge and pin each other down. That is death. But love liberates us from these images and keeps the future open for the other person. We have hope for each other, so we wait for one another…” ~ Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, p. 25.
Over the last twenty-years, approx. I’ve kept running into German Reformed Theologian Jurgen Moltmann (b. 1926), mostly via books and journal articles, but also from time-to-time via podcasts and YouTube) A good friend has added a couple of Moltmann’s books to my library, and as I’m come across his books in my travels I’ve also added them to my library, which means I haven’t always read there, but they sit there for easy reference, and to be read at those times when Moltmann’s thinking is alive and I know I need to read a particular book or article.
Most recently I purchased in Whakatane (NZ) a good second-hand copy of Jesus Christ for Today’s World (SCM Press / Westminster, 1994 / I was interested to see that the original purchaser of the book lived in Murray Crescent in Kelowna BC Canada, and now its ended up at the bottom of the world in New Zealand.). I felt compelled to read it straight away, before it goes on my library shelf.
I was a good read, accessible, and a succinct overview of themes important to Moltmann, and in this instance particularly focused on Jesus Christ - Who Is Christ for Us Today? Jesus and the Kingdom of God (my favourite chapter!); The Passion of Christ and the Pain of God; The Anxiety of Christ; The Tortured Christ; The Resurrection of Christ – Hope for the World; The Cosmic Christ; Jesus Between Jews and Christians; and ‘Behold I m=Make All Things New’: The Great Invitation.
I valued the linkages he makes between theology and practice. The earlier chapters are more grounded in the practical than latter ones, but in all, he establishes a good theological framework out of which one can draw their own practical implications.
Here’s a couple of quotes from the book:
“…The church is a liberating community…”
“…The messianic hope can act in two opposite directions. It can draw the hearts of men and women away from the present into the future. Then it makes life in the present empty, and action in the present empty – and of course suffering over present oppression too. But it can also make the future of the messiah present, and fill the present with the consolation and happiness of the coming God. In this case what the messianic idea enforces is the very opposite of ‘deferred life’. It is life in anticipation, in which everything must already be done and accomplished in a final way, because the kingdom of God in its messianic form is already ‘at hand’.
A good starting point for more on Moltmann, or a good starting point if you’re new to Moltmann is Tyndale Seminary’s Jurgen Moltmann Reading Room.
I’ve been reading his for over a decade, and listening to him whenever I come across a podcast etc. There’s so much about his approach to Jung and Jungian psychoanalysis that I find both fascinating and compelling in terms of my own journey and life experience. Which of course isn’t to uncritically elevate either Jung or Hollis. Whether I agree, disagree, or am unsure, I find them both to be rich conversation partners.
I was recently reading the published transcript of a conversation with Pete Rollins in the Feb. 2017 issue (Issue # 50) of the Australian publication Dumbo Feather(still on shelves in good NZ magazine / bookshops - $20) and it as fascinating, especially his conversation about “ghosts and hauntings” and “mirrors”. I was thinking of Hollis’ book, mentioned above, as I read Rollins, and then a few days later I was listening to Hollis, covering similar ground. The combination of book, magazine article, and podcast (see below) was a rich one.
Hollis has come up many times on this blog (use search function if interested), and I’ve tried to link to all podcasts I’ve heard (hopefully most will remain active links). The most recent podcast (Nov. 2016) was this one The Love that Heals: Welcoming in our Shadow(downloadable via iTunes)
“Exploring one’s shadow is no easy undertaking. The idea of getting to know what Jung referred to as, “That which I do not wish to be” is rarely considered an exciting prospect. Yet we implore all leaders to be courageous and get to know and learn to work with their shadow. It is only when we do the work to make the unconscious conscious, that we are able to build true compassion for ourselves and others; freeing us to become the leaders we were born to become.
James Hollis is a Jungian analyst, author and lecturer whose work has inspired and influenced us at Reboot. In this episode Jerry and James talk in depth about the Jungian concept of shadow, how shadow shows up in leadership, and what we can do once we become aware of our shadow.”
Today I want to highlight a recent review, by Alan Roxburgh, of a recent book written by Chris Hedges. Hedges is a leftist thinker, one who deeply engages contemporary US and Western culture. I've always found Hedge's to be a very helpful commentator, and a number of his books can be found on my shelves, including The Wages of Rebellion, which is the book Al reviews.
"...As the expectations of a better future recede for more and more people across the West (e.g. shrinking middle classes, jobless or part-time minimum wage economies, austerity) there is a growing loss of faith in the primary narratives undergirding Western social, political and economic life. With this situation comes a weakening of the capacities or will of elites to provide leadership. The cumulative result is a growing undercurrent of rage, confusion, and frustration roiling just under the surface, waiting to be catalyzed into revolution.
For Hedges these conditions now exist across the West. The hope that we'll, somehow, get through it all with a new fix misses what is happening. In Hedges' analysis what is occurring is no longer amenable to adjustment. As the basis of people's hope keeps being hollowed out, existing social, political and economic structures can collapse at a dizzying speed. This sense of collapse is now happening, but it's not primarily at the level of rational, abstract analysis. Rather, what is occurring is that the emotional experiences and convictions of people are changing as witnessed in events like Brexit or the US election. When this happens the soil is ripe for revolution. Revolutions are about emotions not primarily new ideas. As has been said revolutions come about when people feel that established power structures no longer serve the common good. The language Hedges uses here is drawn from the American social theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr who used the term sublime madness to describe a force which gathers inside people who 'disregard immediate appearances' and, with 'nothing but madness will do battle with malignant power and "spiritual wickedness in high places"' (211). What was prescient about Niebuhr's own evaluation was his recognition that traditional liberalism (which has made a come-back in Canada in its last national election) is a 'useless force in moments of extremity' (211)..."
The first book of Hedges that I bought was his War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (2002). The most recent is Unspeakable (Oct. 2016) which is a transcript of Chris Hedges conversation with David Talbot (He is the founder and former editor in chief of Salon).. It covers all of Hedge's areas of focus and interest and should be a good introduction for anyone not familiar with Hedges and his writing.
I was disturbed by a 2016 lecture by Israeli Historian Yuval Harari (b. 1976) who specialises in World History and macro-historical processes. I listened to it yesterday. He is the author of the September 2016 published Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow. He is apparently also a practitioner of Vipassana Meditation.
“The industrial revolution gave us the working class. Harari believes the digital revolution will create the useless class as technology destroys millions of jobs. Speaking at the RSA, the Royal Society for the Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, he says that social inequality will grow unless we make different choices now. Otherwise the future could be ruled by a super-elite of technocrats.”
The following excerpt, from Tim Adams’ Guardian review of Homo Deus, will give you the flavour (you can find Adams’ complete review here:
“…The new longevity and super-human qualities are likely to be the preserve of the techno super-rich, the masters of the data universe. Meanwhile, the redundancy of labour, supplanted by efficient machines, will create an enormous “useless class”, without economic or military purpose. In the absence of religion, overarching fictions will be required to make sense of the world. Again, if nothing in our approach changes, Harari envisages that “Dataism”, a universal faith in the power of algorithms, will become sacrosanct. To utopians this will look a lot like the “singularity”: an all-knowing, omnipresent data-processing system, which is really indistinguishable from ideas of God, to which humans will be constantly connected. To dystopians it will look like that too. Harari is mostly, thrillingly or chillingly, sanguine about this prospect…”
Even if I found it disturbing, the talk is well worth a listen. You will find the downloadable podcast here. I wondered too what reponses Christianity might want to make in response to Harari's talk?
I first heard Pádraig Ó Tuama in 2014 (my post here; no link to the interview, but I wanted to share one of his poems). He was interviewed about poetry and movingly read a number of his poems. Next up was an interview on Australia’s The Spirit of Things (my post and link here). Finally there was the On Being conversation that I listened to today. I so value his take on the importance of language.
“Pádraig Ó Tuama is a poet, theologian, and extraordinary healer in our world of fracture. He leads the Corrymeela community of Northern Ireland, a place that has offered refuge since the violent division that defined that country until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. And Pádraig and Corrymeela extend a quiet, generative, and joyful force far beyond their northern coast to people around the world. “Over cups of tea, and over the experience of bringing people together,” Pádraig says, it becomes possible “to talk with each other and be in the same room with the people we talk about.””
Ó Tuama reflects of the fact that “agreement has rarely been the mandate for people who love each other. Maybe on some things, but actually, when you look at some people who are lovers and friends, you go actually they might disagree really deeply on things, but they’re somehow — I like the phrase “the argument of being alive.” Or in Irish, when you talk about trust, there’s a beautiful phrase from West Kerry where you say, “Mo sheasamh ort lá na choise tinne,” “You are the place where I stand on the day when my feet are sore.” And that is soft and kind language, but it is so robust. That is what we can have with each other.”
I enjoyed listening to Hugh Mackay’s 2017 Gandhi Oration. It was delivered at the University of New South Wales on January 30 and was titled: The State of the Nation Starts in Your Street.
I’ve always believed the importance of the local, but I think it’s important to reduce it further; reduce it to smaller constituent parts. The state of the nation starts in your home; it starts with your family relationships; your relationship with your partner; your relationship with your children; your relationship with yourself. A healthy self opens up the possibility of healthy and life-giving familial and intimate relationships. The health of these in turn open up the possibility of healthy and life-giving neighborhood relationships and so on and so forth.
I’ve lived enough of life, and through enough sad and difficult personal and relational realities to observe the truth of these statements time and time again. I’ve seen time and time again the way that personal ‘ill-health’ (an unwillingness to face into our own shadow and brokenness) flows into relationships and damages those.
Damaged personal relationships and ways of relating impact neighborhoods, towns, cities, and nations. If we can’t make our intimate and familial relationships work, if we can’t healthily overcome their inevitable dysfunction, if we can’t enact the practices of open listening, trusting, loving, supporting, believing the best about others, reconciling, holding, caring, openness, compromise etc. etc. then in my humble view there is little real hope for the neighborhood, the workplace, the city, the nation, and the nations. I feel very very sad about that.
Anyway, have a listen to Mackay, read his books (particularly his social psychology and ethics titles), reflect, start with self (but don’t stay there; don’t underestimate, for your own health and well-being, the importance of putting others and their needs ahead of your own), and work outwards from there. Couple this listening with listening to an article written by Olivia Laing on e future of thloneliness, and then check out her brilliant book, The Lonely City: Adventures of Being Alone.
You’ll find the audio recording of Mackay’s oration here, an edited (written) online copy of the talk here, and the reading of an article written by Laing in 2015 here (you’ll find the article here).
With Bruce Springsteen in the country at present (although, sadly, I’m not going to one of his concerts) I thought it would be good to feature an excellent and thoughtful interview with Springsteen. The interviewer is Marc Maron, and the audio was released 2nd January 2017.
This is a YouTube recording of the audio.
“…Two Jersey guys hanging out, talking about dads, depression, fear, fulfillment and the future. Bruce tells Marc how and why he constructed "Bruce Springsteen" and what he's learned about the struggle we all go through to become who we really are.”
The downloadable podcast can be found here.