After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

C. S. Lewis on "Hate the sin, love the sinner."

You are told to love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born. You dislike what you have done, but you don't cease to love yourself. You may even think that you ought to be hanged. You may even think that you ought to go to the police and own up and be hanged. Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person's ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.

--C. S. Lewis from God in the Dock

Friday, January 29, 2010

Remembering J. D. Salinger, or more accurately, his work.

The silence of a writer is not the same as the silence of God, but there's something analogous: an awe-inspiring creator, someone we believe has some answers of some kind, refusing to respond to us, hiding his face, withholding his creation. The problem, the rare phenomenon of the unavailable, invisible, indifferent writer (indifferent to our questions, indifferent to the publicity-industrial complex so many serve), is the literary equivalent of the problem of theodicy, the specialized subdiscipline of theology that addresses the problem of the apparent silent indifference of God to the hell of human suffering.
Ron Rosenbaum, speaking of J. D. Salinger in Esquire magazine, June 1997

Sixty-five years ago this week

(click to enlarge)

The fury of the Haitian earthquake, which has taken more than 200,000 lives, teaches us how cruel nature can be to man. The Holocaust, which destroyed a people, teaches us that nature, even in its cruelest moments, is benign in comparison with man when he loses his moral compass and his reason.
Samuel Pisar, an Auschwitz survivor, in the New York Times.

Sixty-five years ago this week, Russian troops liberated Auschwitz/Birkenau, as American troops were entering Dachau. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Technology and Death

Technology and death.

Excerpt from a letter of I. A. Topf and Sons, manufacturers of heating equipment, to the commandant of Auschwitz, concerning a new "heating system." "We acknowledge the receipt of your order for five triple furnaces including two electric elevators for raising the corpses and one emergency elevator."

Excerpt from a letter of Didier and Co., Berlin, to the same: "For putting the bodies into the furnace we suggest simply a metal fork moving on cylinders.… For transporting the corpses we suggest using light carts on wheels." Business is business!

Excerpt from a letter of another firm: "We are submitting plans for our perfected cremation ovens which operate with coal and have hitherto given full satisfaction.… We guarantee their effectiveness, as well as their durability, the use of the best material and our faultless workmanship."

For the product: straight A.  B-plus for salesmanship.

The camp commandant of Auschwitz was of course eager to surpass the other camps in efficiency and good results. Even when he was being tried in court he wanted to make clear that he had done a very commendable job. For instance, he declared: " Another improvement we made over Treblinka was that we built our gas chambers to accommodate 2000 people at a time, whereas at Treblinka their gas chambers only accommodated 200 people each."

Food for thought: "how to accommodate people." The word "accommodate" implies to " make comfortable."

The double-talk of totalism and propaganda is probably not intentionally ironic. But it is so systematically dedicated to an ambiguous concept of reality that no parody could equal the macabre horror of its humor. There is nothing left but to quote the actual words of these men.

Himmler, in a speech to the SS generals, October 4, 1943, praised them for the dedicated and self sacrificing zeal with which they had applied themselves to the task of extermination.

"Most of you must know what it means when the 100 corpses are lying side by side, or 500, or 1000. To have stuck it out and at the same time—apart from exceptions due to human weakness—to have remained a decent fellow, that it is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written"

Pardon, Herr General, I cannot refrain from from writing it.

Photo collage by Wayne S. Click to enlarge.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Generacion Y

Who is this woman?

She is 34 years old. She was, in 2008, voted one of Time Magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World. But you won't see her on CNN, or read her in the New York Times. Because Yoani Sanchez lives in Cuba. And she blogs about Cuba. And the Cuban authorities don't like that—or her. Here's a brief bit of bio:

In September 2000, I went to work in a dark office at Gente Nueva publisher, meanwhile arriving at the conviction—shared by most Cubans—that with the wages I earned legally I could not support my family.  So, without concluding my social service, I asked to be let go and dedicated myself to the better-paid labor of freelance Spanish teacher for German tourists visiting Havana.  It was a time (which continues today) when engineers preferred to drive a taxi, teachers would do almost anything to get a job at the desk of a hotel, and at store counters you could find a neurosurgeon or nuclear physicist.  In 2002, disenchantment and economic suffocation led me to emigrate to Switzerland, from where I returned—for family reasons and against the advice of friends and acquaintances—in the summer of 2004.
In those years I discovered the profession I continue to practice today: computer science.  I discovered that binary code is more transparent than affected intellectualism, and that if I’d never really come to terms with Latin, at least I could work with the long chains of HTML language.  In 2004 I founded, with a group of Cubans all based on the Island, Consenso, a magazine of reflection and debate.  Three years later I work as a web master, columnist, and editor of the site Desde Cuba [From Cuba].
In April 2007, I entangled myself in the adventure of having a blog called Generation Y that I have defined as “an exercise in cowardice” which lets me say, in this space, what is forbidden to me in my civic action.
To my surprise, this personal therapy earned me, in a short time, the attention of thousands of people around the world.  Thanks to the virtual citizens’ network that has woven itself around GY, I have been able to update this blog every week.  Since March 2008, the Cuban government has enforced a computer filter that prevents seeing my blog from public Internet sites in Cuba.  So I need the solidarity of friends off the Island to post my texts on the web.  Thanks also to other volunteer collaborators, Generation Y is translated into fifteen languages.

Her posts are stories of everyday Cuban life, which is often harrowing and dispiriting. Yet she remains strong, even despite personal harm, and gets the word out. Please listen. You can find her at  Generation Y.

—Wayne S.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

God or gods?

In reality there are as many religions as there are individuals. —Mohandas Gandhi, in Gandhi: 'Hind Swaraj' and Other Writings Centenary Edition (Cambridge Texts in Modern Politics)

There are more idols in the world than there are realities. Friedrich Nietzsche, in Twilight of the Idols

While it lasts, the religion of worshipping one's self is the best. — C. S. Lewis, in God in the Dock

I think God is all things. So, you're God. This table is God. My children, the flower. For heaven's sakes,  that flower's God. The sound of that saw, that's God. See, I went from religion to then studying physics and string theory and those things. You study, you get into string theory and all that, quarks and the  time continuum. And you really start realizing God. -- Melissa Ethridge, in The God Factor.

   These four, from very different perspectives, seem to all be saying the same thing: It is easiest to have a god who is most like you, or perhaps even you. We want a god who makes us feel right, who justifies our goodness.
   In the 21st century, we may laugh or scoff at the ancient religions (and several current ones) who had a god for everything--sex, food, war; the list is endless. Yet do we not sometimes do the very same thing?
   The premier moral code for modern society is the Decalogue--the Old Testament Ten Commandments. It is no accident the first one reads:
You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God..." (Exodus 20: 3-5).

   Correct me if I am wrong, but God seems to rule out everything as idol material, as gods to be worshipped and served. He wants us to worship Him alone--the wily, inscrutable, all-powerful, all-loving God of the Universe.

   And how do we know if we worship the real God? I like Tim Keller's advice:
Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination.

—Wayne S.

(Tim Keller quote from The Reason for God)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Roger and Me

   I'm sure most of you know what "ego surfing" is. It is when you enter your own name into an internet search engine and see if any references pop up. I am wont to do that on occasion.
   Once I did so, and was surprised to find my name appearing on an Amazon page. I knew none of my books were listed on Amazon, mainly because I have none. Clicking through to the page, I found a surprise.

   In the early '90s, Roger Ebert, long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, hosted a film review site and "blog" (whatever it was called back then—the name escapes me) on AOL. Once I wrote him concerning the movie Jurassic Park. Little did I know that a portion of what I wrote would find its way into one of Roger's books, Questions For The Movie Answer Man.
   Here is my question from page 178 (which I assume I can quote in full, since it's my words):
I am extremely disquieted by the blatant feminist slant of Jurassic Park. Three examples: 1. At one point Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) states: "Man creates dinosaurs. Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth." This was not in the book. 2. As the Dern character is about to venture outside to restore power to the compound, the Attenborough character suggests he go, since he is a man. Sattler's response: "Cut the crap." Again, not in the book. 3. In the movie, it is the young girl who restores the computer, which saves the remnant. Not in the book! In the book, it is a male character. P-U-L-E-E-E-Z-E!! I am beginning to believe the most prescient person on film today is indeed Michael Medved, who says it is rare to find a film that does not have a liberal agenda.

Ebert's response:
Are we all agreed that portraying competent female characters is a liberal trait?

   That is a clever rejoinder, although it only appears in the book. In personal emails that ensued over the next few days, I explained how I felt much of the feminist agenda was unnecessary in movies, and pointed out remarkable women who stood strong without it, from Garland's Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz, to Sally Field's Edna Spalding in Places in the Heart, even to Kathleen Turner's Matty Walker in Body Heat. I used examples from film noir in the forties and fifties, where men were tough, and women were tougher. And Roger ended up agreeing with me on my primary point.

   I didn't know then, as I know now, that Ebert was a life-long liberal, which makes me even more respectful of his gracious dialogue with me. And I was then, as is obvious from the letter, a card-carrying member of the Religious Right, or at least one who felt that Hollywood was out to destroy Christianity. (I now know that they are not—they could care less about Christ, but they do enjoy portraying mankind, and Christians especially, in all our glorious fallenness.)
   Part of me regrets that my only published words seem so foolish, but hey, that's show business.

Monday, January 18, 2010

When... then

I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son asking in agonizing pathos: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tip-toe stance never quite knowing what to expect next, and plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"; then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into an abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.
Martin Luther King, Jr. in Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Comfortably ineffective?

   "In church, rather than rehab people, we just put them in a wheelchair and say, 'We will do everything for you. You don't have to witness to your neighbors. We will send out fliers and do tv shows and evangelize for you. You don't have to counsel your neighbors, just give them the church's phone number.'
   "Now we are saying, 'You be the discipler. You have the Holy Spirit in you, and we want to equip you to reach your neighbors.'"
Francis Chan, pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, CA, and author of Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, quoted in Christianity Today, October 2009

Saturday, January 09, 2010

A stunningly real work of unreality

The video below is hauntingly beautiful, and one would think it required the greatest patience, a very practiced eye, and a lot of blessing with lighting.

The Third & The Seventh from Alex Roman on Vimeo.
Actually, it took mostly the first. The entire film consists of CGI (Computer Generated Images). There is nothing real about it at all. It was created by Alex Roman (here is an interview).
To me, this makes James Cameron look like a piker.
But when I look around at the constantly changing, very real world that is the canvas, the celluloid, of creativity Himself... well, we're all pikers.
—W. S.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Victorian London seemed the most English London

"I think I became an Anglophile on those winter nights when I sat curled up in my dad's big chair, a single lamp creating shadows in the corners of the room, reading the Modern Library edition of the stories while in the basement I heard the comforting sounds of my parents doing the laundry." Roger Ebert, talking about Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

How many hens can you feed with one vegetarian?

On the carton of a well-known brand of "healthy" eggs is this curious statement:
Am I the only one that finds the phrase confusing? As written, the marketing tag could mean one of two things:

1. The hens are only fed by vegetarians. I assume when someone applies to work at one of their farms, this company has a line on the application which asks, "Do you eat meat?" If you are likely to do so, you will be forbidden from feeding the chickens.

2. The hens are fed actual vegetarians. Well, that is what it says. Presumably the vegetarians are prepared in some sort of way that is palatable. I'm sure PETA would find some sort of schadenfreude in that, although they would no doubt prefer that the hens be fed carnivores.

If the latter is true, it brings up an interesting question: How many hens can you feed with one vegetarian?
—Wayne S.

Friday, January 01, 2010

Time is fully God's

The next moment is as much beyond our grasp, and as much in God's care, as that a hundred years away. Care for the next minute is just as foolish as care for a day in the next thousand years. In neither can we do anything, in both God is doing everything.
George MacDonald, in George MacDonald (collected by C. S. Lewis).

Happy New Year, everyone. May you see God's merciful timing in your life in 2010. —Wayne S.