Doug Talks Torah

Reflecting on all the ways Torah builds the world.

Month: April 2007

Responding to the Killings at Va Tech

I posted this over at Floydville and thought I would put it here as well.

Yesterday I received an email from a co-worker who is also an alumnus of Virginia Tech. The email told the stories of one of the families who lost daughter in the on-campus killings earlier this week. Since I don’t usually watch the news, I had only read a few headlines about this painful event. Her email put a human face on this story. By humanizing this story, I could enter into the grieving at the loss of lives. Below are a few thoughts that came to mind as I reflected. I would hope that we would not simply observe the pain of those grieving families but may we also weep with those who weep.

There are pains so deep, so crushing, so horrible that our thoughts cannot contain them. We think if we can just explain them, define them, categorize them, or even spiritualize them, we will somehow gain power over them.

But we won’t.

Evil is real. The dark terror of evil cannot be contained by our minds, our media, or even our government policies. In a world of enlightened ideas and unlimited progress, the reality of evil continues to strike. And if we’re honest, we know that evil strikes through even our own hearts.

What do we do when a horrid evil is unleashed before our eyes? How do we respond? If we were still human, we would respond by grieving, moaning, and crying out in agony and despair. But we’ve forgotten how to mourn. We’re too sophisticated for lamentation.

Instead, we watch the news. We collect information, analyze it, dissect it, and reduce the horror of evil to some manageable bit of data that is stored with all the other bits of data that crowd our mechanized brains. God have mercy on us and teach us to weep with those who weep.

Facing the sudden tragic loss of lives, we are mystified. Questions cloud the heart and mind: Why? Why the suffering? Why the obscene evil? But there are some questions we simply cannot ask. The book of Job reveals the futility of asking, “Why must we suffer?”

Sure we can theorize and theologize and spiritualize, but all our wrangling brings us no closer to real answers that feed the human soul. Instead of asking “why suffering” and “why evil,” our souls long to ask another question, “Where are you God?”

Where is the absent God in our despairing heart of darkness?
Despised and rejected.
Stricken and afflicted.
Wounded and bruised.
Hanging on a cross.

He is bleeding and dying and entering into the deepest depths of human pain and suffering. Though we fall under the weight of suffering, we cannot fall lower than the “Man of Sorrows.”

He embraces us in our suffering. He enters into our mourning. He teaches us to pray rightly, “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”

For just a few moments, let go of the need to know; the need to answer why; the need make sense of tragedy. Let go and follow the pattern of Jesus who truly weeps with those who weep and suffers with those who suffer.

Jesus can teach us to mourn, to grieve, to ache at the pain within us and around us. He can restore our humanness. He can free us from the tyranny of information without love and restore us to loving bond with brokenhearted. He can teach us let go of our need for quick empty, solutions to evil and pain. He can teach us to cry and grieve and wait upon a comfort that can only come from the Spirit of God.

O LORD, God of my salvation,
I have cried out day and night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry.
For my soul is full of troubles,
And my life draws near to the grave.
I am counted with those who go down to the pit;
I am like a man who has no strength,
Adrift among the dead,
Like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom You remember no more,
And who are cut off from Your hand.
You have laid me in the lowest pit,
In darkness, in the depths.
Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
And You have afflicted me with all Your waves. Selah (Psalm 88)

My eyes flow and do not cease,
Without interruption,
Till the LORD from heaven
Looks down and sees. (Lamentations 3:49-50)

Creating the Future

I live in a world of discussions about “long tail” planning. We think we create the future through spreadsheets and programs, but I’m not so sure. We cannot even guarantee our next breath.

Here’s a provocative quote from a 1953 Dartmouth lecture by Eugen Rosenstock Huessy. He points out that the future doesn’t come because we plan it. It comes through those who chose to sacrifice the present.

The Dark Ages are not the Middle Ages, gentlemen. The Dark Ages are the ages of no women’s rights, of no real love between the sexes, of endless war. These 158 cities of which Aristotle has given us the constitutions, they were at eternal war with each other, and the Greeks never expected these wars ever to end. You had a caste system. You had warriors, eternal warriors as in India, to this day, you see. India has pre- served some of the features of antiquity as a warning.

Modern man in New York says, “We can do with cocktail parties instead of Paul, and go on to Aristotle, and Plato, and Socrates. We are witty. We are factual. And we are utopians. We found associations for the abolition of evil.” And I mean, if you think of what — Americans have tried over the last 100 years, you see, by willful association, they have really tried to — to exterminate every evil just by willpower.

It has never borne fruit. After 30 years, it was all forgotten — forgotten, all these wonderful improvement societies. We have reform governments, city government every eight years, you see. Then something is done for two years, and then six years of corruption, then we get another drive and people always believe in the ultimate good here, it seems, you see.

They always say, “Now we will be settled forever,” because they have no memory of the past. And they’ll never use anything that people could know for the last 2,000 years already. What does Paul remind the college community of, gentlemen? He enjoins on the college community the simple knowledge that in serious life, a road into the future is only open by sacrifice. You only create a new era if somebody asks for less than he can get.

That’s the deed of Jesus, that He asks — got less than He could have — had the right to ask for. Very simple, gentlemen. You try to get something for nothing. So you get stuck in the past. Anybody who tries to get something for nothing overemphasizes his given rights that he was already qualified to get. And he of course outbuys the future.

There is then less good to be had, because you have gotten too much. Jesus said — and said, “This is the way of life which all the pagans, all the Gentiles lead, and therefore I have to show that somebody asks for less than he can get, and thereby creates a surplus,” what the Catholic Church calls the {opus super erogatum}. Have you — do we have here a Roman Catholic? Who is? Have you heard of the — {opus super erogatum}, of the grace stored up in Heaven by the saints? Well, gentlemen, that’s true. That’s not just something you learn — we learned in Church. That is something for everyday use, my dear man.

If you have not in every family, and in every community some self-sacrificing people who give more of their time, their money, and even their reputation — because that’s the hardest to give, you see, in order to perform a service — if there is no unrecognized service in a community, this — community has no future. It runs down by gravity. It exhausts its resources, because the — most of the people do ask for more than they deserve.

Celtic Christianity

For the last several years, I’ve been leading retreats on Celtic Christianity, focusing primarily on the written texts that survive from the fifth to eighth centuries as well as a little later stuff. We cannot fully see inside their world, and we’re always in danger of substituting our own perceptions for reality (of course that is a danger with all history), there is still value in exploring these ancients poems, prayers, liturgies and more.

In 2005, I started working on a book exploring St. Patrick’s Breastplate. I wrote drafts of the first two chapters, but then my health took a turn for the worse, and I stopped writing. Recently, I decided to pick up the book and start writing again. In order to help jump start myself, I’ve decided to post chapters on scribd. So if anyone is interested, here are links to Chapter One and Chapter Two.

Save the Interent Radio

Great sites like Pandora could lose their ability to broadcast due to a recent decision by the Copyright Royalty Board in Washington, DC, which almost triples the licensing fees for Internet radio sites. Honestly, it doesn’t look good right now. So let’s hope enough folks will let their voice be heard. Visit Save Net Radio.

Is Google Becoming a Policy Maker?

Google’s stated aim of cataloging and organizing information is now being mixed with humanitarian causes. According to the Times online:

Google Earth, the search engine’s online mapping service, has updated its images of the Darfur region in Sudan in an attempt to draw attention to the plight of people living there.

In partnership with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Google has published new, high-resolution aerial photographs of the area, showing destroyed villages, displaced people and refugee camps. In some places, the resolution is high enough to show the burnt ruins of individual houses.

 

On one level this is an amazing use of technology to reveal a catastrophic situation that the government consistently denies. On another level, this raises questions about Google’s role.

“It raises the question of what their responsibility is to decide what to cover,” Steve Jones, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said. “This mirrors the type of things that news organisations deal with: deciding how much resources to spend on an issue and what you cover.”

So Google is moving into the role of gatekeeper, deciding what to highlight and how to highlight specific events, places, etc. While it raises interesting possibilities, I figure if Google oversteps the line, the market will help keep them in check.

Google was recently criticised for replacing post-Hurricane Katrina imagery on its map portal with views of the city from before the storm. The company said its use of the pre-Katrina imagery occurred as part of routine enhancements and denied that the move involved political considerations, but it replaced the later images in response to the criticism.

Read the whole story.

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