“God in the beginning of time plants the vine of the human race; he loved this human race and purported to pour out his Spirit upon it and to give it the adoption of sons.”

St. Irenaeus

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The Fathers of the Church saw God so clearly and understood God’s intention. I refer to those like Irenaeus … Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Cyril of Alexandria and their kin.

They saw that the lost sheep which the Good Shepherd sought to recover and protect was each one of us. This, indeed, a task for all time – from inception to today and forever more.

Christ is the eternal bridegroom. The Good Shepherd. He seeks you and I now just as he has sought others through all time. Take Adam as an example.

The Ancients (the Early Fathers of the Church) wrote of how Christ came to redeem Adam. In their writing they explained that Christ descending into hell was to save Adam, redeem him as he is the Adam that is in all of us.

It there is one corrective that makes all the sense in the world for us today – it is this: return to Christ – be as the Fathers of the Early Church … see what they saw, do as they did, belief as they believed, act on those beliefs for in this alone will peace and happiness be known and experienced, identity established, purpose clear – and love, friendship and fellowship be present, and a people and nation excel.

Shalom.

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Happiness is, literally, god within, or good.

Seneca, De Vita Beata

True happiness flows from the possession of wisdom and virtue and not from the possession of external goods.

Aristotle, Politics (Book VII of the Analysis)

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Aristotle – three centuries before Christ. Seneca, the Stoic, – born just before Christ and died in 65 A.D.

Wise words on happiness written by the Ancients.

What do they say to us today?

Happiness is relationship with God. Happiness is derived from good from doing good, seeking good, standing for what is good. Good resides within each of us. We flourish when we engage what is good. We are unhappy when we pursue its opposite. God dwells within and without. Engage God and happiness follows. Deny God and discontent flourishes and life becomes unsettled and hard and bitter.

Wisdom (not to be confused with mere knowledge) gives us access to happiness – for the wise person is not taken in by what is popular or what is adverse to their wellbeing, or what is not right, or what is unjust and lawless.

Virtue brings us to happiness. Possessions are not good unto themselves – they are just “things” – nothing more than objects. To live in virtue is to live a good life.

So what does this all suggest for today and its challenges and its compromises?

Separate yourself from the crowd – for there good is often absent. A life away from the crowd gives you time, and space, and quiet, and solitude – and they each present the right condition for cultivating good, and the experience of God who is Good.

Think about this: a life without commercial interruptions – in the midst of nature and God’s exquisite beauty, and the winds, the clouds, the sky, the trees, the silence.

When one is offered noise and crowded streets and heavy traffic – one is too easily absorbed in that which does not provide happiness. One has demands and pace, and distraction in such a place … and goods seen but things others think we need, must have, want.

What we need most of a life in relationship to what is good – in this happiness follows.

Shalom.

No man can live happily who has regard to himself alone … Seneca

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Psychologist Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis (a book well worth a read for those who seek to understand more fully what a human being is and who they are) remains us we are social beings, that we need others, touch and close relationships.

Yes, we are wired for social connections, for love and attachments.

Those without others are more likely to commit suicide, have emotional problems, suffer loneliness, succumb to addictions, have broken marriages and such.

Those without connection to family and religious institutions are likewise more troubled, discontented, lost and unhappy.

The more we see groups weakened that could be a source of our engagement and involvement, the more despairing one becomes. Yes, a broken large government or judicial or legislative system or law organization becomes, the greater the risk of unhappiness and instability among a nation’s populace.

Ideologies that advance extreme personal freedoms a danger to the person, the community and the wellbeing of a nation.

You see we need one another, and friendship and trust in one another – much as we need faith, religion, family, friends, spouses, good relationships with our children, peers, neighbors and colleagues.

As Haidt says, “We are an ultrasocial species, full of emotions finely tuned for loving, befriending, helping, sharing, and otherwise intertwining our lives with others.”

I leave you with this question: Does our culture and its elites advance the ideas, insight, language and wisdom that makes our full growth and development more likely … or do they project that which makes us fundamentally unhappy,even sick?

Shalom.

Seen from God, the good is identical with life and organic to the world; wickedness is a disease, and evil identical with death.

Abraham Joshua Herschel in Man Is Not Alone

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It seems to me that we find ourselves today in the company of that same old human divide between Good vs. Evil. Yes, I perceive an significant presence of evil in our culture and its manifestations across many venues.

Of course, the struggle between Good and Evil is part of human history; yet, today I see far more personal and institutional corruption than I have seen in my lifetime in this country. Worse yet, I see much of the corruption go unchallenged – indeed, excused.

I add, as well, I see open hostility, antagonism, division, and abhorrent behavior normalized, rationalized and hence excused.

Indeed, I have come to see that the experience of human experience has been fundamentally altered for the worse over my lifetime. Yes, I think we are in the aggregate less well developed human beings than once we were.

So what might Rabbi Hershel say about this?

He sees evil as “divergence, confusion, that which alienates man from man and man from God.” Likewise, he knows Good, in contrast, to be “convergence, togetherness, union.”

To Herschel Good and Evil are not “qualities of the mind but relations within reality.” (Emphasis added.).

To Hershel the division we now experience raises this question: “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God made us?” (Malachi 2:10)

The Rabbi’s view is that doing Good and avoiding Evil is not merely a choice – but rather an “ontological fact” – a necessity, i.e., that we are built for Good and hunger for it. It follows then that in Good we are well and whole and content – yet in doing its opposite we are starving ourselves, becoming sick and sicker.

This, I fear, is what we encounter in our culture today – a sickness and those who advocate it, or ignore it or dismiss it with any number of misguided assertions or objectives.

The Battle is joined. Good or Evil?

Shalom.

Shalom.

God is one, but one is not God …. Some of us are inclined to deify … law that regulates all phenomena of nature, in the same manner in which primitive peoples once deified the stars … the cardinal question is not what is the law that would explain the interaction of phenomena in the universe, but why is there a law, a universe at all.

Abraham Joshua Herschel, in Man is Not Alone: A Philosophy of Religion

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The news has been dominated recently by two mass shootings, a brutally murderous random knife attack by a California violent convict who was released early from a state prison and the utterly horrendous and reckless accusations of “White Supremacy” rolling off the lips of Democrat presidential aspirants – notwithstanding the obviously unprecedented corruption now surfacing within the FBI and national intelligence community during our last President’s administration.

In such a climate, it is hard to listen to, watch, or read the news of the day without becoming discouraged and concerned for this country and its future.

Enter Rabbi Herschel.

Yes, we are prone to take the story of the day and internalize it as if there is no good done each day many times over.

Indeed, we do often, as the Rabbi suggests, look to explain the horrible misdeeds of others, the evil we witness, in a manner that seeks a static explanation that can be easily applied to man’s conduct, man’s evil. We focus in a way that undermines or confidence.

This need not be. The mistake we make is this: we seek a law, a rule, single reason, a vital flaw or a policy or the politics that will explain what we observe in the mistaken expectation that we can decisively forever eliminate the evil “with the correct approach.”

As Rabbi Herschel reminds us – such a focus distracts from the larger, more significant and ultimately more important understanding that there is a God – and we are not God.

Why is the Rabbi’s focus so vital to us? Because, amid the crisis of the day – we are apt to lose contact with the ultimate reality that we live in a time and space that is larger than us and under the inspiration of a God who created the order and wisdom that exceeds any and all of the evil deeds that the human person or the entities humans created might engage.

The Rabbi’s critical truth: we need not despair, revert to name-calling, hatred and spreading division out of fear or for political advantage for in times of evil and worry (as in all time) “we are carried beyond the known, to the presence of the divine.”

What is my point? When all else fails – there is God … and there is no more hurt, no fear, no worry and no need for our panic or the exhibition of an anger that destroys us one and all.

Think about it. It is when we feel most alone, lost or rejected then we are closest to God and hence living within the Divine Reality that transcends all early things, all deeds that would otherwise cause us to despair. Notwithstanding the news of the day – our domain is eternity and life with and within Our Creator.

Shalom.

Footnote – When you are feeling down, I suggest you read pages 107-109 of Herschel’s Man is Not Alone. It will place you in the reality you have been so generously given by a Loving God. Peace be with you.

God, alone, who is God, eternal and incomprehensible, is the whole solace and comfort of the soul. – Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

In the opinion that there is a God, there are difficulties; but in the contrary opinion there are absurdities. – Voltaire, Traite de Metaphysique

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Deeply troubling times bring us back to our essential foundation. We are in such times. Our essential foundation is, as it has always been – God.

You see God alone is our solace and the comfort for our soul. Likewise, when God is not at the center of our life, community and nation – absurdities abound.

Look about. Listen. See. Deny not what is clear and present. We have seen a concerted effort to conduct a “silent coup.” An effort that compromised those of high rank in critical national agencies and departments. We hear hatred, not healing criticism or congenial correction. Some who seek high office court outrageous and unsubstantiated accusations. The press, sadly, supports these claims and furthers the division. These are the plain view of absurdities – of the most dangerous variety.

If there is one necessary thing that must be done it is this – each of us must place God at the center of our life and discourse – and repudiate all who speak without evidence that they too have yielded to God as their center as well.

In deeply troubling times we need NOT generate untruths and hatred for doing so will bring us to the brink of violent conflict and self-destruction.

In this one thing alone (placing God at the center of our life and consciousness) will each of us have a critical hand in preserving this great Nation.

Shalom.

The existence of evil is not so much an obstacle to faith in God as a proof of God’s existence, a challenge to turn towards that in which love triumphs over hatred, union over division, and eternal life over death.

Nicholas Berdyaev, Dream and Reality

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I am particularly alarmed at the verbiage in public discourse that conveys evil when faith is needed.  Mind you, the political rhetoric on the Left, in particular, has been most troubling … and it has ratcheted up over time and found allies in what must be a free and fair press and media.

What once was helpful dialogue has turned in time to ideology, division and too often to hatred.

In this is destruction and the foretelling of violence, if it is not halted – unless cooler heads prevail, and voices come to echo faith and wisdom, unity, good will, fellowship, compassion and community.

Let’s pause to consider evil – as our words seem to tell us now that we do not know the measure of evil, its destructive force – its capacity to destroy all in its way, tear down, maim and murder.

Think of this: “Judge, not, that ye be not judged.”  These the words of Christ.

Christ does not say we ought to be silent when evil appears – but rather that we first must judge ourselves before we judge others.

Sadly, I see not much proof of pause in the words of those so quick to accuse others of evil intent and evil acts.  So think again of Christ: “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote in thy brother’s eye.”  (Matthew 7:5)

Today we are too quick to judge, to claim a moral ground that those who judge and condemn show no evidence of actually occupying.  Nae, what we see is ideological “got-ya” moments – the opportunity to make of morality itself a weapon of evil, a way to advance one’s quest for power, one’s idiocratic ideas and demonstratively discredited ideology.

Yes, evil is being “addressed” by evil.  There can be no greater harm done, no better way to perpetuate division and nudge us closer to more violence and bloodshed, than to hijack morality to advance one’s private desires for gain, superiority, power.  Such conduct is evil itself.

A response to evil must have pure objectives – to correct, to teach, to heal, to build relationship, advance fraternity, community, repair misunderstandings, restore justice, advance love, create a stronger bond with others, with what is right and good and lasting – to grow closer to God and others – while excising us from hatred and the craven desire for power and retribution for one’s real or imagined slights and injuries.

I close with this: those who see themselves as perpetual “victims” are consigning themselves to a life of unhappiness and anger when in their mere but sacred being they are, in reality, sons and daughters of a loving God.

Evil begets evil – until we seek the Good that is above and in us.

Shalom.

 

 

 

“One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.” Karl Barth, The Word of God and the Word of Man_________________________________________________________________________________

When horrible events like El Paso occur we often make the mistake of assigning to them instant analysis in the effort to understand what we have just experienced.

However, such events do not lend to instant analysis for these events are more impactful and most frequently attached to an on-going context that speaks to changes we have made, choices we have selected and to an evolution (or devolution) that cumulatively brings us these “fruits of a poisonous tree.”

Yes, in these things we meet often ourself and our culture, our daily language, default orientation, careless/unexamined thinking, and a reflection of our personal choices and the bend of the arc of a people and a nation.

El Paso is no less an important a matter that seeks our careful and patient consideration, our contemplation and thoughtful examination.

I propose that such horrible deeds (seen as one of others much like it) require that we get an overview of what, pray-tell, gets us to this point in time and would move us to a far better place in the sun.

To that end I offer several thoughts that imply what is missing in our life and culture today:

  • Restore Belief and Morality
  • Focus on what is full, healthy human growth and development – make this your routine pursuit – a life of growth and maturity
  • Teach our Legacy – that of America and Western Civilization – including the genius of liberty, lawfulness, free markets, mutual respect, civility, courage, honesty, kindness, compassion and the critical value of preserving a sacred place for faith in our lives and in the public square and discourse
  • Elevate God and religious practice above Big Centralized Government and the quest for political power
  • Replace Dependency with Individual Responsibility
  • Stress Classical Education, Family, Fidelity, Sobriety, Courtesy, Congeniality and Friendship.

Obviously there is a more lengthy story as to how we have come to this point in time and that, too, is wise to know. But what I have done here (I hope) is simply suggest what is missing and what is needed. The book list I offered yesterday is useful for a larger exploration of the trajectory that finds us in this place and this time.

May God bless each of you. We, of course, desperately need to hear the voices of wise elders. You might pray that such elders emerge.

Dear Friends, I list here (upon request) some books I have found very helpful over the last three-to-four decades of examining American Culture and Western Civilization (their devolution and history) and the task of living faith in today’s highly secularized culture.

I note that I list only the books closest to my bed (i.e., those closest to me are some of the most important and useful books – among many more in my office).

So here goes:

America & Western Civilization

Closing of the American Mind – Allan Bloom (excellent overview).

Sloughing Toward Gomorrah – Robert H. Bork (like Bloom – a very bright guy – excellent book).

The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy – Christopher Lasch (Good to fair – but it shines the light on the failure of the elites and does so some years ago.)

One Nation, Two Cultures – Gertrude Himmelfarb (Good look at America post-1968 and the cultural changes produced.)

After Virtue – Alastair MacIntyre (Best Book on moral philosophy on the last 100 years – so say the scribes … very, very significant observations as to the decline of the experience of human experience in the West and America). Note: the decline of the experience of human experience is – in my view – precisely what we are suffering through – we are far the less contented and wise and compassionate humans than we have been in the past … this is my catch-all way of boiling down what we face today – and who others desire we be … it seems.

Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties – Paul Johnson (the Brit has given us a good overview of the shifts in the last century that get us in part to the present situation- you can see the failures of others and the Left’s blindness to those errors).

Witness – Whittaker Chambers (If you do not know this iconic true story of one man and his coming to truth after being a Communist in the post WWII U.S. – this is a very instructive book and captivating story).

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy – Eric Metaxas (another personal object-lesson for all).

The Bourgeois Virtues: Ethics for the Age of Commerce – Deirdre N. McCloskey, Ph.D. (Written recently – astonishingly interesting and well done – a really hard book to put down).

Secularism

A Secular Mind – Robert Coles, M.D. (Outstanding book by an exceptional man – great read to track the growth of secularism and its destructive nature).

The Captive Mind – Czeslaw Milosz (Nobel Prize Winner – observers the cost of lives, hearts and souls in Post-WWII Europe under Communist rule).

Believing Again: Doubt and Faith in a Secular Age – Roger Lundin, Ph.D. (A gem and personal favorite traces culture change through the writing of many notable authors over a 100 or more years.)

A Secular Age – Charles Taylor, Ph.D. (Discusses the consequences of the loss of belief in contemporary culture.)

The Human Person

Wisdom of Carl Jung – edited by Edward Hoffman, Ph.D. (Jung – a real treasure in seeing and seeking the whole, healthy human person – the Divine included).

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom – Jonathan Haida, Ph.D. (Psychology meets Neurology and highlights the value and truth of ancient wisdom).

People of the Lie – M. Scott Peck, M.D. (explores from his case load as an analytical psychiatrist the reality of evil and its manifestations – can’t put this done easily).

Man’s Search from Meaning – Victor Franklin, M.D. (A brilliant Holocaust survivor and the creator of Logo Therapy – offers us encouragement and life amid the horrors we observe or suffer).

The Person as a Spiritual Being Seeking Human Experience

Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years – Diarmaid MacCulloch (A very good read. Will have you smarter.)

No Man is an Island – Thomas Merton (I began reading Merton as a sophomore in high school and have never stopped – always good for one’s compass and soul).

Thou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor – Joseph Campbell (The Father of Comparative Mythology makes the acquisition of the indispensable use and understanding of metaphor really easy to see – he is just outstanding and wise).

The Hero of a Thousand Faces – Joseph Campbell (Shows us the human story in human stories and practices over the history of human existence – we are always humans – even now and the same composition passes on from one time to another – across various venues and ages).

Man is Not Alone – Abraham Joshua Herschel (A gem of a man, outstanding Rabbi and scholar – readable book one goes back to often).

The Heart of the World: A Spiritual Catechism – Thomas Keaton’s (Food for the soul and for your solitude – i.e., a necessary and actual state for which we long now and again).

Jung’s Quest for Wholeness: A Religious and Historical Perspective – Curtis D. Smith, Ph.D. (Jung as both psychiatrist and seeker of Ultimate Reality – The Divine).

Well Folks – that is an instant offering. Hope it helps.

If you ever need a speaker and find my writing interesting – I am willing to help. My life has been a real saga with the presence of grace and the adversity that makes us both more faithful and a whole lot wiser.

Small biographical note – trial and appellate lawyer working on matters pertaining to health, death and dying and family privacy and autonomy in the context of the U.S. Constitution. Formally, Counsel on Foreign Policy in the Congress. Educated at Notre Dame (Fellowship in Theology after practicing law for several decades) and at The Johns Hopkins University (School of Advanced International Studies). Alumnus of Boston and a wild ride amid the characters that have lent themselves to movie history in films like The Town, The Departed, Good Will Hunting, etc.

What I know comes from life – its bumps, knockdowns, necessary courage, God’s grace, the love of others who did not have to love me … and the commitment to live what God presented knowing He sent my way what He knew I needed to be who He desired me to be.

Email address – xlbobs@msn.com. God bless! Blog tomorrow on El Paso and Us.

“Loneliness is the disease of feeling isolated, cut off from human contact and warmth.” So says Eric P. Mosse in his book entitled The Conquest of Loneliness.

It has been over two months since I posted a blog on Spirlaw. It has been a lonely exile, a very lonely exile – a cruel suffering for me.

You see one of the most basic aspects of my biography, my life is this: I suffered losses throughout.

Shortly after I was born my father deserted my mother and me. Not so much as a birthday card or Christmas card from him ever.

Yet that was not the only hurdle presented in my lessons of loneliness.

My mother was a young mother and we were poor. We settled in with my maternal Grandparents – two wonderful people. At the onset of my little life my mother suffered depression and several medical problems. To this day I remember times when my mother remained in her darken bedroom with drapes drawn tight against the day’s light. I stood alone in that darkness and came to know that I must help my Mother, make her life easier, more joyful.

I remember this precarious feeling of life as tenuous and fragile. In time I began to know loss as the feel of a knife’s sharp edge that could cut to the full at any moment.

When I was six my Grandfather died. He was in his early 50’s and fit, strong and broad-shouldered. He was a man of health and stature – a gentleman who left a positive impression on those who knew him. By the time I was 12 my Grandmother, also in her 50’s, passed away. She was my Second Mom – I could not utter her name for three silent years. In her passing, my world was shattered again. With this loss and loneliness made their home in my life, in my psyche – leaving the inscription that we can at any moment be caste utterly alone … and live in the dark shadow of loneliness in-waiting.

By high school my mother and I were consigned to public housing and the challenges of a tough neighborhood. Life was hard, uncertain and money and work were in short supply. Yes, another sense of how lonely and uncertain life can be.

There is a certain loneliness that comes from the hardness and uncertainty of poverty and of the death of those we love. A loss of employment underscores that loneliness.

My life was in so many ways an uphill grind. Hard on the heart. The untimely death of my dear wife Sylvia at age 29 was so representative of what I had come to know of life and its punishing, unpredictable losses – its tragic passings.

So what is my point? Being able to reach out to you each day stems off the loneliness and the losses. When I can write to you each day, I am engaged in the world by words and thoughts. I can stand with you and offer self to you – I can forestall that feeling of being absolutely alone and isolated … that experience of desertion, betrayal and death’s harsh and lingering wound.

Thank you for being there, for wading through what I might write. Thank you for your friendship and interest in me and the things so common to each of us.

God bless.

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