28 September 2008

Busy busy busy!

I had started a post for this week-end. The subject matter was something like "my life as a failure." Perhaps it there is some self-referential appropriateness in the fact that I have had to abandon the post. I am just too busy this week-end - I have failed to post! :-) Nevertheless, I was reflecting on the many things I have attempted in life. I was going to be an astronomer. I learned a lot about astronomy, did some University studies towards that, but never finished. I was going to be a linguist. I did finish my Master's degree, did some work towards my PhD, wrote a couple of books and a few articles - but never really got much further with it when I abandoned that to work in computers. In computers ... well, I rather manage to keep the University of Auckland's Business School systems from collapsing in a heap, but not a lot more. I had occasion to look at the web page of my high school best friend yesterday (http://www.physics.unr.edu/FacBennum.html) and thought of how he had indeed succeeded at exactly what I had attempted. I wondered - had I regrets? I spent a little time in prayer. God let me reflect on my life - the time spent in various marvellous places (Honolulu; Yap; Auckland; Pukekohe); the four children and six grandchildren Susan and I have fostered; Susan herself; and, wonder of wonders, our becoming Catholics. I seemed to feel the Lord was asking me, "Are you satisfied?" I am satisfied. My measure so exceeds anything I might have imagined I can scarcely take it in. I am satisfied. The next couple of weeks are going to be very busy indeed. I am off shortly to a rehearsal in Auckland. I did not want to let the week-end past without having written something - even something explaining why I haven't time to write anything :-)

20 September 2008

Youth

"John, do you think you could help out with the University Orchestra spring concert this year, as you did last year?"? And the music includes Dvoƙak's 9th (yes, it used to be called the 5th) symphony: "From the New World." Even if we were not going to be playing this at our December concert, I do not think I could have resisted. So here I am again doing seven evening and two week-end rehearsals - well, and here is Susan having to drive up those seven evenings to pick me up :-) It is a little odd, sitting amongst all these persons whose average age must be about 19 or 20 - odd, perhaps, most of all because it does not feel odd. Why are they here? Almost all of these people are majoring in music. Some will, I suppose, hope to work in music one day - but it's not much of a life. In terms of career-savvy, if you wanted to work in music, I wouldn't recommend a music major. Rather, do the 'grades' that my daughters Helen and Adele did; get your licentiate (from Trinity, perhaps, or Royal) - and get a degree in Education. Now you can teach in the schools at full salary. Certainly a select few will make it full-time as performers, but it's a hard go, chancy, poorly paid - and very unfriendly to anyone who wants to marry and have a family. I know quite a few serious musicians in the Manukau Orchestra who, nevertheless, major in Law, or Engineering, or something else that will feed them, and intend to reserve their music as an avocation. Then the break is over and we play again, and I know why they are here. Once you are caught, once you have that - whatever it is! - but that in your soul, you will play. You will play when you can. You will spend money and time that will bring you no worldly profit to play. If you are 66 years old, and not in the best of financial shape by any manner of means, nevertheless, you will spend the money and time necessarily to go to rehearsals; you will sweet-talk your wife into supporting you, though she herself does not play music; you will do quite a lot ... to play. As we thunder through to the tremendous end of the last movement, I am no longer even thinking of the people, even of the music itself. I am just taken up into it. At the best of times the sixty or so of us become the music. That is why we are here.

19 September 2008

End of the week humor before a drink at the pub

Some may get this some may not. It's very funny if you do get it and an excellent way to end the week. All the best everyone. Fawlty Towers Rocks!!!!! JJJ

Dad's favourite website (BE AFRAID, BE VERY AFRAID!!!))

This is a very scary site. Be forewarned you may feel very violated for days. SCARY!!!!

13 September 2008

Election

Tuesday, the 4th of November, 2008 is, for the United States, a day of decision - the election of many governmental officials, including 435 members of the lower house, the House of Representatives, and ... well, it ought to be of 33 and 1/3 senators! I do remember from high school days that senators in the United States are elected for a six year term, but one third of them are elected each two years - I confess I don't know how they manage to elect one third of a senator, but perhaps they sort that out some way ☺. We in New Zealand will know the results of that election probably some time on our Wednesday the 5th - Guy Fawkes Day! - as the US West Coast closes its polls. And of course the 'biggie' is the President. And in this case the Vice President. On the face of it, this is odd. It is clear that the entrance of Sarah Palin into the race has highlighted something. That something is often called the 'culture war.' I wonder if this is not a misnomer. The word 'culture' implies a particular approach to life which might clash with another. There could be - indeed, at times has been - a culture war between Christianity and Islam. There is a culture war going on at present between Christianity and Hinduism, in Orissa. The war that is being waged at present - the war symbolised by the startling reaction to the nomination of Sarah Palin as Republican vice-presidential candidate - as a war against man as man. It is a war of aggression on the part of the anti-humanity forces, of defence on the part of those who call themselves 'pro-life.' It is, you could say, a war against culture - against a way of life and for a way of death. The aggression is not that of one 'side' against another 'side,' but rather analogous to the self-hatred of the suicide. Consider:
  • contraception
  • abortion
  • euthanasia
  • homosexuality

All of these are aimed at one thing: eliminating man. Of course those on the side of aggression do not think of themselves as trying eliminate people; that is, nevertheless, the 'finality' (in the philosophic sense) of them:

  • contraception - no new babies
  • abortion - kill existing babies
  • euthanasia - kill inconvenient persons
  • homosexuality - sexual pleasure without ... new babies!

There are deeper elements to this, as well, than merely the actual killing of human beings, and the avoidance of cooperating in the production of new human beings. Is it not the case that people are unhapy with the very idea that there is such a thing as 'human nature?'

The idea of 'gender' as a cultural construct presupposes this. The idea of Transhumanism explicitly claims it. Man is to remake man ... though into what image is not clear. Deep ecology, on the other hand, desires to see man merged into his environment - and espouses What Naess called 'biospheric egalitarianism.' Man - and his nature - are up for grabs.

The American election is a straw in the wind. I think that, in the short term, it will be better for the world if the McCain/Palin ticket wins the American election. I do not think it will make much difference in the long term. Men have turned against God, and in the process the have turned against man. I do not think there will be a return to the status quo ante. We cannot return to 1954. We can go forward only if we regain hope. But without God ... what hope is there?

07 September 2008

Intelligence

In about 1971, I think it may have been, Susan and I were friends with a young couple in the church we attended then - I think his name was Dennis; I can't remember hers. One day sitting in his lounge, he showed me a little card and said there was a picture hidden in it; to me it just looked like a lot of black splotches on a white background. Susan (naturally!) saw what it was immediately, and was about to blurt it out, but Dennis said "wait!" For the next several times I was in his lounge, I would stare at the picture - still just black blotches. Finally he took pity on me and said that it was a picture of Jesus - supposed to be a photograph of melting snow on a footpath that miraculously showed a picture of the Lord (I do not vouch for the truth of the story :-)). I still couldn't see it. Well, he and Susan became frustrated. He pointed to this and that feature on it. Well, now I could see how they could decide that was what it was - like someone seeing a cloud and saying that it looked like a horse or whatever. But - really - it still looked like black patches on a white background. One day we were talking about something else. I glanced at it. Flash! I could see it, and - of course - I could never thereafter not see it. No doubt you have seen it before:

This week-end Susan and I were at a retreat given by Father Dominique Faure (I may have his last name spelt incorrectly - I have only heard it pronounced, not seen it spelt) of the Community of St John (http://www.stjean.com/EN/Jeu_accueil.php). He spoke on the book of the Apocalypse ('Revelation') - but what he spoke of was what he called the purification of the intelligence.

When we use the word 'intelligence' in English, we tend to mean what the philosopher sometimes call 'discursive reason' - the ability to 'connect the dots,' as it were, in a notion, to 'think things through to a conclusion.'

What Father Dominique is referring to is the ability to see - to take in an external reality directly. We know this and that about a person, for instance. We can tell you the colour of his eyes and hair, what he likes to eat for dinner, the sort of books he reads.

But knowing the person is something else. The sort of 'seeing' that I finally managed with that little picture is that sort of seeing. It is sometimes called, in philosophy, 'contemplation.' It means knowing a thing directly, as it is in itself, not just as it has impressed us.

This is very difficult. It is quite easy to miss this in our own experience. We often fail to know the persons we love because we are often in love with an image in our own mind, one we have created out of bits and pieces from our experience with that person, but often with material we have made up out of our own self-interest.

And we often know God in just this way. We often are directing our attention to God to just such a created idol. In fact, it is, I suspect, inevitable in this life that we should do so. We are always struggling more or less to free ourselves from such idolatry, to remind ourselves that God is not the same as our idea of Him.

It will not always be so. One day we shall know even as we are known. We shall see Him as He is - for we shall be - God grant it! - like Him. Then we shall not fail to know every other thing as it really is, for we shall know every other thing - and ever other person - as they are, in Him.