Tagged: Writing

Cowboys Vs. Indians, A Review of Yellowstone, starring Kevin Costner

To be honest, this is just a review of the first hour of the first episode. I cannot find the motivation to finish even that one, but rest assured, you can watch everything to date here.

You have to give props to Kevin Costner and all the other thespians who still believe in playing Cowboys and Indians at this late stage in the game. Unfortunately, while they certainly delight in donning the definitive costumes, they fail to remain faithful to the fanciful, if not now forbidden, fun of times past.

I recently picked up Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousands Leagues Under the Sea with the intent of reading it. At the back of the edition I hold is a review of the book by my current beau author, Robert Louis Stevenson, that includes an assessment of Verne which is perhaps best summarized in the Scotsman’s own stinging words, “Of human nature, it is certain he knows nothing.”

The same can be said for Yellowstone’s team. Simply put, there is no hate. The fact is there must be hate (deteste for you Verne loving Frenchies) for these types of stories to work. Fighting over land isn’t enough. The cowboys must loathe the savages, and the savages must truly believe their tomahawks can stop a six-shooter. Put another way, I must be convinced that the cowboys actually believe the blood flowing through the red-man’s veins is an aberration of nature, and that it is their duty to cure the human race through genocide. The land must be secondary. It may be seen as the reward for such a virtuous act, but land itself as goal is too abstract, as grounded as it is, to make for good television.

The audience must learn, alongside the cowboy, to not hate these primitives.

Only if there is hate–then and only then–have they told our story. And our story? That’s one worth watching.

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Women Are Safe

For Matt

I’m just saying that Robert Louis Stevenson is masterful. Check out this little section I just read from his The Master of Bellantrae.

Let anyone speak long enough, he will get believers. This view of Mr. Henry’s behavior crept about the country by little and little; it was talked upon by folk that knew the contrary, but were short of topics; and it was heard and believed and given out for gospel by the ignorant and the ill-willing. Mr. Henry began to be shunned; yet awhile, and the commons began to murmur as he went by, and the women (who are always the most bold because they are the most safe) to cry out their reproaches to his face. The Master was cried up for a saint. It was remembered how he had never any hand in pressing the tenants; as, indeed, no more he had, except to spend the money. He was a little wild perhaps, the folk said; but how much better was a natural, wild lad that would soon have settled down, than a skinflint and a sneckdraw, sitting, with his nosed in an account book, to persecute poor tenants! One trollop, who had a child to the Master, and by all accounts been very badly used, yet made herself a kind of champion of his memory. She flung a stone one day at Mr. Henry.

“Whaur’s the bonnie lad that trustit ye?” she cried.

Mr. Henry reined in his horse and looked upon her, the blood flowing from his lip, “Ay, Jess?” says he. “You too? And yet ye should ken me better.” For it was he who had helped her with money.

The woman had another stone ready, which she made as if she would cast; and he, to ward himself, threw up the hand that held his riding rod.

“What, would ye beat a lassie, ye ugly—-?” cries she, and ran away screaming as though he had struck her.

Next day word went about the country like wildfire that Mr. Henry had beaten Jessie Broun within an inch of her life.

Makes me wonder. Where is the woman who admits her safe status today? Seems out-of-fashion. And if she is in danger, what factors contributed to the change?

I say you’re all still very safe, safer in fact than you were in the nineteenth century–and that this still explains your boldness.

My Way

Nearly three years ago I applied for and was accepted into a 78-credit hour Masters of Divinity in Theology program. I later attempted to reduce my workload and transferred into the more reasonable 50-credit hour Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies degree. I am now out of quarters, as they say, and have decided to cut my losses. I will leave with the 24-credit hour Graduate Certificate in Biblical and Theological Studies to show for my efforts. I have 56 credit hours total, but stubbornly and, I believe, biblically, I refused to complete the required thesis and thus forego the actual graduate degree.

24 of the other 32 hours I passed were in ancient languages. When it comes to scholarship, I prefer word study to anything else. How precisely do words work? Answering that is endlessly fascinating to me.

Anyhow.

I confess that I would have loved to see future bio’s read, “Pete earned his Master’s of Divinity…” or hear, “…Pete comes to us having earned his Master’s…” But I had to do things my way. The truth is that I think the theological and biblical higher education degrees are the paper equivalent of bullshit. There. I said it.

First of all, any title that can generically cover studies in several religions are misleading from the beginning. Divinity? Who’s soul has divinity saved? You know the answer is, “No one’s,” and you don’t have a degree in Divinity. Amazing!

Secondly, the Bible is full of very intelligible words. Words like mountain, rock, rain, serpent, turn, and blood. Unity is another one. By my thinking, if we are not in unity as Christians, it often means we’re simply off topic. Let’s admit it. For Christians, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only topic. See for yourself if you doubt me. In any case, talk about it. Reconciling evolution with creation is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If you enjoy engaging in that type of mental gymnastic and know others who do too, by all means talk about it. If you lose friends over it, don’t talk about it; skip it like you would a difficult crossword puzzle. Keep the unity.

Thirdly, if I ran a seminary today, to accurately communicate to the fallen world what I was doing, I would confer to graduates only one degree: a Masters of Power. And I definitely would not recommend anyone enroll at my school. Can you imagine someone claiming to have earned a degree in power? And how could power be taught by books? What a joke he’d be. My first question to the new man-of-letters would be, “Which power, exactly? The wind? Heat? Speed? Darkness? Light? Forgiveness? Love? Make an actual claim, man!”

As it is, “Masters of Divinity” or “MA in Theology” plays only on a bygone era’s final unbroken string and merely reassures church-goers that they don’t need to read their Bible for themselves. Divinity and Theology are so general that their teaching solely requires that the institution’s curriculum be limited to trending positive ideas. But the Masters of Power degree, my way, would necessarily demand further specification. And instead of reassuring church-goers that they’re not being duped by some hack with a Bible, it would be an excellent metric by which to measure the preacher. Is he preaching that there’s power in some book? Power in some culture? Power in guilt and remorse? Or is he preaching that there is power in the Blood of Jesus? Power in the Word of God? Power in repentance? Power in holiness? Surely we all possess the mental faculties to discern the difference between these things.

Here me clearly: Jesus Christ is Lord of all. He holds all power. The adversary, the great serpent of old is defeated. This is good news. If someone let’s you know they disagree with this, thank them for their honesty and then pray that the Holy Spirit uses you to reveal Christ to them. When answering questions (they will have them) stick to Scripture and the spirit of Scripture. Think of yourself as the translator. You know their vocabulary and you know the Word of God. Be the friend they need. Feed them. In doing so, you’ll help them see the good news that they are already free.

Review of The Great Conversation: Volume One of the Great Books of the Western World, By Robert Maynard Hutchins

No different than the school shootings, we all have opinions on liberal education. Oh, you may disagree in this moment, but watch this: What do you think? Are all entitled to receive a liberal education or only the wealthy and powerful?

See what I mean?

Endearing Backstory: My school’s library had apparently been amassing donations of book sets for a few years and last Monday morning there was a long awaited sale. Each book cost a mere $2, but the catch was you had to purchase the entire set. I had heard rumor (cuz im sooo street) that they had a set of the famed Great Books of the Western World (hereafter GBWW). $126 poorer, and I am the proud owner of that 54 volume set. (They had 53 volumes=$106. I had to track down the missing volume on Amazon for $20. It’s best not to dwell on such things.)

Volume One explains and defends the project. There is no better title for it than The Great Conversation. I would know, because, as you know, I love conversation. According to Hutchins et al. however, what I actually love is the freedom to converse. No argument here. And inherent to our beloved way of life–as presented in GBWW–is the belief in liberal education for all. Put another way, we believe everyone gets a say and no one has the last word.

The one critique I have of the project is that Hutchins writes that the editorial board believes the–now 118 year–lack of teaching great books will be viewed by future historians as an aberration. I am happy to read such clear writing, but where I distinguish myself from Hutchins is that I believe that the lack of teaching the great books, whether someday viewed as an aberration or not, manifests something much worse. It is the evidence that in some very meaningful, though elusive, sense we are no longer the Western World.

Western Civilization, the great conversation it has had, ends with silence.

So speak up, I say! For Christ’s sake, speak up!

Why Not Soundproof the United States?

One of the joys of co-parenting involves driving on 470 twice a week. There has been road construction under way for some time now. One of the project’s features is the installation of rather large soundproofing walls between the residential areas and the presumably going-to-be-louder interstate.

As you know, benevolence often powers my wheels, and nowadays I cannot help but wish we could turn back the clock and help Trump achieve his goals, with the full support of, “We the people.”

The specific problem on my mind during these cross-town commutes is that while “walls” clearly divide people, whether they protect nation-states is apparently an eternal debate. But, but! Soundproofing simply keeps inconvenient noises from being heard.

If only we could start over, I think we all could rally behind the call to “Soundproof America!” Or maybe some Branson/Musk/Bezos-type could get the entire population of Earth to support, “We’ll Be Quieter!” or, “You Don’t Need Us Anyhow.”

As it is, we’re stuck with each other. I wonder who you think has the power to free us?

Ideas, Ideas

I am nearing a fairly big transition in life. I’ll be finished taking courses and moving on to whatever comes next. But I must confess, besides conversation, I do love thinking. As most of you witnessed, these shootings and our apparently resultant inability to calmly discuss them have set my mind ablaze. One conclusion I have drawn is that perhaps books are the way forward. If we need time to calm down, perhaps we can put our thoughts on paper, and then share them with each other and let each other digest them at our own pace. Perhaps.

My book will be called, “In Time of Peace: How Splitting the Atom Erased the Founder’s Words.” Or some such thing which explores whether my hunch is right that those men lived in a world with a different sense of up and down.

But I have other ideas too. What I don’t have is time to research them all. So, I want to share them with you and see if I get any bites. Of the following topics which intrigue me, do you any find intriguing?

First up – I do not believe the Hebrew or Greek texts of the Bible use any symbols whatsoever. It is generally accepted that they do not have punctuation. It is accepted that they do not contain arabic numerals–that’s seven hundred years later. But they also do not contain Hebrew or Greek numerals either when they mention numbers (IE – they always spell out the word o-n-e, and never put 1 or I or the equivalent). But in the Greek, there is a subscript iota on some omegas, which most scholars do not care to suggest was vocalized. I propose that the omega with the subscript iota was, in fact, uniquely vocalized, and not just in the Bible of course, but in all the written Greek texts of that era–but I need to do more research. (My overall point is that I believe the entire Bible was spoken out loud and that we can confirm this fact by demonstrating that the way the written languages worked back then–different from English today–was to try to capture the sounds with ink. (IE – We don’t vocalize punctuation–well Victor Borge does.) Maybe this one is just me. But I’ve long wondered, as I’ve heard many of you wonder, why everything happened back when it happened and I think I’ve stumbled upon one way to satisfactorily answer that curiosity.)

Next – I have a research comedy in me. I want to admit that I know nothing about women and that this bothers me. So, instead of getting to know you all in person, I devise a plan to use all my newfound library skills to research what “women” are by analyzing how they are represented in the best sellers of the years 2012-2016. I’m thinking I’ll determine which are the 25 best selling books of those five years–regardless the genre–and then analyze the female characters’ speech, actions, and descriptions of them in order to see if I can figure you all out.

Next – I want to philosophically explore the effect of literacy on community. The more I’ve read, the more I’ve withdrawn. I am not the only one who’s been affected in a such a way by the written word. The disjoint comes when I admit that the Bible is really in favor of listening to those in my community as well as observing nature, so I feel like my reading is limiting what the LORD has to say to me. This is troubling.

One more – I have observed at my black church that they use the word “survive” a lot. At first I didn’t think anything of it, but as H- gets older, I kind of squirm in my seat when I hear the adults teach, “You’ve got to survive.” No one ever taught me to merely survive. They taught me to thrive. And to be frank, I’ve always loved the Air Force’s simple slogan, “Aim High.” So I think there is merit to using my cross-cultural experiences to draw out that cultures are different down to their core teachings. And I think that we whites need to listen better, because we do do some things better than other cultures, and yet, YET, the way forward is not simple, not by a long shot. (The answer I’ve received upon stating this difference is, “Well, you’re not black. It’s different for you than us.”) Even suggesting that I think whites do something better makes me sound bigoted–which I am not. But I do mean that teaching children to thrive is about something different than setting up false expectations. Ultimately, however, the only way to get there is together.

You in?

Review of Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence (Part of The Great Ideas Program [Itself a guided reading of The Great Books of the Western World]) by Mortimer J. Adler and Peter Wolff

“When your old-ass parent is like, ‘I don’t know how to send an iMessage,’ and you’re just like, ‘Give me the fucking phone and let me handle it.’ Sadly, that’s what we have to do with our government; our parents don’t know how to use a fucking democracy, so we have to.” – David Hogg, Survivor of Marjory Stoneman Douglas schooting

Thank you, young man. I want to thank you for two reasons. First, thank you for delighting me. Second, thank you for saving me time.

Regarding delight: ask anyone who knows me and they’ll tell you that I love analogies. (Maybe you will understand me better if I write, “I ♥ analogies.” #celebrateilliteracy #icantreedorrite.) I love them because they somehow make communication crystal clear.

Regarding time: because you used an analogy, I do not have to ask clarifying questions to get at the heart of what you want to say. In other words, you have made my duty simpler. So, again, thank you for saving me time.

The analogy you provided is perfectly coherent, and undeniably clear. But do not think for a moment that through it you have demonstrated that you know up from down. I’ll grant that you are an expert at pressing “send”. Against my instincts, I’ll even grant that you are an expert at using a democracy. I will not, however, grant that you can see the truth.

The truth is that democracy is not something that is used, it is something that is built. More clearly, democracy is not the hammer, it is the house.

****

Philosophy of Law and JurisprudenceThe preface to Philosophy of Law and Jurisprudence includes two true accounts of people stranded at sea after shipwrecks. Inevitably decisions must be made as to who should get to live at least a little bit longer. And, yes, cannibalism is sometimes the best option.

Against this backdrop, the authors present Western Civilization’s history of thought about the “law”. The book isn’t very long at all. Though, I will admit that to the likes of David Hogg and friends, compared to 140 characters, the work may seem unending. To old-ass parents, however, the ability to coherently, if not comprehensively, paint the broad-strokes of the past 2500 years’ discussion of Western thought as related to the law seems a pretty incomparable feat.

Beginning with Aeschylus, we are presented with the law as found in the infamous Greek tragedies as captured in fictions surrounding the Trojan War. In short, revenge is shown for what it is–unending. The only solution to the eternal problem is given in the institution of the court, the law.

Plato, in turn, takes the law and states that it has the purpose of promoting virtue, through persuasion and coercion.

Aristotle answers the new question which arises from Plato’s idea, which is, “What is this thing that men should be persuaded and coerced to be?” In short, after delineating natural law (killing is bad) from man-made law (speeding is bad), Aristotle offers that the man-made law must be for the common good and be properly made.

The Old and New Testaments are treated next, under the question, “Why is there any need for divine law?”

We next return to Aristotle and Plutarch, to include Solon, and see outlined the three functions of the law. The law must be made, enforced, and applied. Here we see the makings of our own three branches of government, the legislative, executive, and judicial.

Aquinas seems to be one of the first to notice that up until his time none of his predecessors really even didactically defined the term in question, that being, the law.

  • Plato, for example gets close but misses when he writes, “…there is one among these cords which every man ought to grasp and never let go, but to pull with it against all the rest; and this is the sacred and golden cord of reason, called by us the common law of the State.”
  • Aristotle, for his part, says, “law has compulsive power, while it is at the same time a rule proceeding from a sort of practical wisdom and reason.”
  • The emperor Justinian wrote, “Whatsoever pleases the sovereign has the force of the law.”

Finally, we read Aquinas’ definition, being, “[law] is nothing other than an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”

Aquinas is also the author from which we find the complicated but enlightening idea that an unjust law is an impossibility, instead it is merely a counterfeit law.

Hobbes is the man responsible for creating the notion that the commonwealth, the group, should be thought of as a new being–which he calls the Leviathan. In his system, there are essentially three commands/points. First, right to life is the only inalienable right. Second, to achieve life, one must give up all rights and liberties (with the assumption that all others follow suit) and third, men must perform the covenants that they make. The tricky part of Hobbes is that there is no law without the Leviathan. And the Leviathan cannot be against itself. Put another way, for Hobbes it is irrelevant that I think a law unreasonable.

Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice receives the next chapter’s attention because of the covenant involving one character’s willingness to underwrite his debt with “a pound of flesh.” In other words, Shakespeare brings out that mindless obedience to covenants may not be best.

Montesquieu takes up the law with the phrase, “the Spirit of Laws,” as he promotes the notion Shakespeare observed, that is that there does not seem to be one hard and fast law. Specifically he advocates that the particular and distinct circumstances–especially the climate wherein the particular culture (or Leviathan if you will) exists–must be taken into account as the law is created, enforced, and applied.

Rousseau adds to the discussion by providing the sound reasoning that the law sets men free. Rousseau is also one of the first to argue that the law, as it sets us free, is primarily concerned with protection of property as property is the freedom most easily taken away.

Kant, while approaching the law from the perspective opposite Montesquieu (science), picks up the property notion and explains that to even say that we have a right to property requires a second person. And therein he defends the importance of property ownership as a measure of the law.

Next we view the American Constitution through the eyes of its inadequate predecessor, the Articles of Confederation. This will always be a worthy exercise.

Hegel then exposes the significance of understanding there is most assuredly a difference between the history of laws and the philosophy of law. He wrote, “A particular law may be shown to be wholly grounded in and consistent with the circumstances and existing legally established institutions, and yet it may be wrong and irrational in its essential character.” He is also responsible for spreading the notion that the philosophical task (in this case, answering either, “What is the law?” or “What is right?”) has not begun until the ideas are actualized.

Finally, the book ends with discussion of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. This is due to the final courtroom melodrama which is about as morally difficult as anything yet written and demonstrates that the question, “What is the law?” has not yet been conclusively answered.

Despite our current predicament, this little history lesson may be enough to demonstrate that the American system was very well thought out–not by grieving, angry teenagers but by parents who could tell the difference between hammer and house.

****

But you already knew that, Mr. Hogg, didn’t you?

The Right Brothers

“Read it.”

H- slowly read, “United States of America.”

I took back the card and scanned for the line I intended her to read and be impressed by, and then reattempted my quest, this time with my finger as a guide for her eyes.

“Flight Instruction.”

“Flight Instructor, H-. Flight Instructor. I can teach people how to fly.”

She was not impressed.

“Oh, look at this. These are the two guys who invented flight,” I said, showing her the back of the license.

She scanned it, displaying deep resolve to not feed my ego.

“Wait,” she finally said as I took it away. “Let me see it again.”

This time her eyes studied the images.

Her turn to impress, she dispassionately declared, “They look like the Wright brothers.”

Three Reasons the Bible Is Not Pro-Gun Control

By most accounts, I am not even “old,” and yet I feel old enough to say it is time to take the gloves off. I want to maintain what grammarians might call a syntax of gentleness, but truth is important too. This might be more true than gentle. We’ll see.

First: You’re a sucker, or what Jesus called a sheep, if you think the Bible has anything to say one way or the other about gun control. Just sayin.’ It is not pro-gun anymore than it is anti-gun. In fact, in all my reading of the Bible, in the words of three different languages and many more different dialects of English, I have never come across the word gun. Let this first point, then, be a lesson from a friend: don’t play the fool.

Second: The Bible is most certainly pro-death and it is most certainly anti-death. We die. All of us. If any written words have ever been indubitably aware of this fact, they are found in the Bible. This is a good thing. Only upon understanding this situation can we begin to see the invisible, to see the spiritual.

Third: One way– *one*–that I, the-looking-through-the-dim-mirror-sheep-that-I-am, view the school shootings is through the story in the end of the book of Judges wherein some Israelite’s concubine was raped and abused through the night by men from another tribe of Israelites with whom they were staying, presumably for safety. She ends up dead, lying at the threshold of the man’s door in the morning. He then chops her up into twelve pieces and sends a piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel and the recipients say, “Nothing like this has ever happened or been seen from the day when the sons of Israel came up from the land of Egypt to this day. Consider it, take counsel and speak up!” At this, civil war was the determination. The LORD did not spare his own people.

The reason that comes to mind is because of the emphasis it has on that the atrocity was committed by their own people–their own family, as it were. While our culture isn’t as segmented by bloodlines as those ancient cultures, I am comfortable with saying that when some current or former student murders his own classmates, in his own town etc. that it is similar enough to be meaningfully the same.

A lot of you like to say, “History repeats itself.” Or, “Those ignorant of history are doomed to repeat it.” Bullocks, I say. History does not repeat itself, nor are any two situations ever the same. But the LORD is righteous and he will not tolerate sin for forever. Accordingly, from today forward we can give future historians the data they need to record how these shootings turned out to be the preamble to civil war (or the less extreme, more simple crumbling of Western civilization), or we can give future historians the data they need to record how these shootings turned out to be the warnings we heeded to return to the LORD. The future has never been done before. I say let’s return to the LORD. (The Bible does talk about this being welcomed by him–every time.)