Tuesday, October 27

Fall photos

Fall on Cleveland Street

Thirsting after truth

"The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim."

Gustave LeBon (1841-1931) French psychologist and sociologist

Thanks go out to l. k. hanson, who illustrated this quotation in his "you don't say" in the Star Tribune.

Monday, October 19

Life Among The Lutherans

Garrison Keillor during a rainy outdoor broadc...Image via Wikipedia

If you don't have time to read the whole post, just know that Garrison Keillor is a comic genius and go ahead and read the book already.

If you're still here, welcome back for more book enthusiasm. Have I ever expressed my admiration for Garrison Keillor? I have? Huh.

I include some favorite passages below, but there's plenty more: Pastor Ingkvist's salary negotiations, his midadventures at the Sidetrack Tap. Deer Hunting, Ice Fishing, cars, brides, and the National Usher's Competition.

I used to identify with the Lake Wobegon kids, young adults recently moved to the city. Once I had kids, and increasingly as the years go by, I'm turning into Arlene Bunsen, Margaret Krebsbach, Judy Ingkvist, and Marilyn Tollerud. Heck, there's a lot of Clarence Bunsen in me, and Carl Krebsbach, Hjalmar Petersen, and the rest of the crew. In fact, every single one of them.That's part of his comic genius. He sees clearly the smallness of our dim, silly, dull, Midwestern lives and hearts, sees us as we are, the dark and the saving grace. His writer's eye takes us apart, shines a light on our flaws, yet in illuminating them, makes them ok, even funny, and we can sigh and laugh and move on. There's acceptance and love for all his characters, the young and old, men and women, pastors and barkeeps and women with badly permed hair. He's not uncritical. The writer is different from the man. There are people in real life Mr. Keillor thinks ill of. But he loves his characters.

I take a lot of heart from GK the DJ, and think his writing is deeply spiritual, though he may or not agree. It blesses us. While causing us to chortle, repeatedly, and read proclaim to anyone nearby, "Hey, listen to this."

Now we can jump into the good part, a chance for you to read some excerpts.

From "It Could Be Worse":

"A sensible person seeks to be at peace, to read books, know the neighbors, take walks, enjoy his portion, live to be eighty, and wind up fat and happy, although a little wistful when the first coronary walks up and slugs him in the chest. Nobody is meant to be a star. Charisma is pure fiction, and so is brilliance. It's the dummies who sit on the dais, and it's the smart people who sit in the dark near the exits. That is the Lake Wobegon view of life."

From "PK" (pastor's kid)

A pastor's child learns that you treat all these people with the same quiet kindness: you offer congratulations to some and condolences to others, but you say it in the same kind voice, not interfering with people's feelings or trying to analyze them, offering the simplest comfort of a hand and a voice, the presence of another human being, here in their extreme moment. And you bring a hotdish.

Twentieth Anniversary

The clergy fought this out for two years . . . People got all hot about it in that silent glacial way that Norwegians have, and the fight got so unpleasant that people would've gladly avoided heaven if it meant they'd have to talk to the others, and the Lutheran church [of Stavanger, Norway] split into factions, and the Ingqvists were glad to leave. . . the misery of this terrible argument cured him of all homesickness or regret. Norwegians are no fun to fight with because they do it silently: they know they're right, so why should they bother arguing about it? This can go on for years.

Ice Fishing

Ralph's Pretty Good Grocery was crowded yesterday morning with ambitious people buying pimientos and whole cashews and canned oysters and exotic cheeses, like Gorgonzola and Camembert, and odd spices and exotic mushrooms, and you could tell they'd gotten hold of a magazine article with beautiful color photos of dishes. They were throwing caution to the wind and putting the candied yams and turkey aside in favor of gourmet cuisine, and you knew that some of these cuisine adventures were going to end in heartbreak, in smoke-filled kitchens with frazzled cooks weeping into their aprons and coming unhinged."

The Herdsmen
(at the National Usher's Competition)

. . . it was a motley crowd. A thousand people and there were a lot of Episcopalians in there, and they always take more time, and a group of blind nuns, the Sisters of Helen Keller, and that slowed things up--old ladies waving white canes and whacking people with them, and some guide dogs growling and barking and there were 140 members of Lutheran Weightwatchers, and the kids from St. Vitus's School for children with ADD, kids who come with a fast-forward button--it was like herding fruit bats and water buffalo.

So go and read it, already, and then tell me your favorite parts. I'll even let you read them out loud.
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Saturday, October 17

The Case for God

The Case for God, by Karen Armstrong

Click on the title link to read an excerpt from the introduction to the book.

All I've read is this excerpt, but Armstrong is no lightweight -- the intro has plenty of chewy ideas. In fact,

"'That book was really hard!' readers have told me reproachfully, shaking their heads in faint reproof. 'Of course it was!' I want to reply. 'It was about God.'"

I love her description of music's transcendence:

"Music has always been inseparable from religious expression, since, like religion at its best, music marks the "limits of reason."

"It is the most corporeal of the arts: it is produced by breath, voice, horsehair, shells, guts, and skins and reaches "resonances in our bodies at levels deeper than will or consciousness." But it is also highly cerebral. . .

"Yet this intensely rational activity segues into transcendence. Music goes beyond the reach of words: it is not about anything. A late Beethoven quartet does not represent sorrow but elicits it in hearer and player alike, and yet it is emphatically not a sad experience.

"Like tragedy, it brings intense pleasure and insight. We seem to experience sadness directly in a way that transcends ego, because this is not my sadness but sorrow itself. In music, therefore, subjective and objective become one.

". . . Every day, music confronts us with a mode of knowledge that defies logical analysis and empirical proof. . . Hence all art constantly aspires to the condition of music; so too, at its best, does theology."

(I broke up the dense pararaphs to make it easier to read online.)

From the Random House blurb:

"Karen Armstrong details the great lengths to which humankind has gone in order to experience a sacred reality that it called by many names . . .

"[She] examines the diminished impulse toward religion in our own time, when a significant number of people either want nothing to do with God or question the efficacy of faith. Why has God become unbelievable? Why is it that atheists and theists alike now think and speak about God in a way that veers so profoundly from the thinking of our ancestors?"

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Thursday, October 15

P. G Wodehouse's Birthday

Stephen Fry (left) as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie a...Image via Wikipedia

P. G. Wodehouse, author of the Jeeves and Wooster books, was born on this day, October 15, in 1881.

Hugh Laurie portrayed rich, dim, and hapless Bertie Wooster and Stephen Fry played the inimitable, implacable butler Jeeves in the "Jeeves & Wooster" TV series. The line I remember most fondly had Bertie (Laurie) asking if a certain august personage was angered by his (Bertie's) antics.

Jeeves replied, "His face suffused a darker hue, and he attempted to kick a passing cat."

And yes, for those like me who struggle with Actor Non-recognition Syndrome ("Oh, he's that actor guy from that one show!") Hugh Laurie now stars as "House" on Fox TV.

There are many more clips and several interviews on YouTube. Here's another favorite, "Jeeves Disapproves."

Thank you, P. G. Wodehouse!

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Thursday, October 8

Amgansett and the passage of time

"'Conrad, Conrad . . .'

"The first light of dawn was creeping over the horizon when Conrad was roused from his slumber by Rollo's hollering. Conrad only ever slumbered, he never slept, not the sleep of a child, dead to the world, its oversized surroundings. One small part of his brain kept constant vigil, snatching at the slightest noise or shift in smell. It no longer bothered him. He accepted it for what it was: a part of him now, like the scar in his side and the remorseless throb of his damaged knee.

"The boards groaned under his feet as he shuffled from his shack onto the narrow deck that ringed it. The sharp salt air stabbed his lungs, raw from too many cigarettes the previous evening. As if in reprimand, an overflowing ashtray still sat on the arm of the slattted wooden chair out front. A book lay facedown on an upturned fish crate beside the molten remains of a candle and an all-but-empty bottle of cheap Imperial whiskey.

"He had read deep into the night, the bugs dancing dangerously close to the candle flame until it had finally sputtered and died. The waxing moon, so high and prominent at dusk, had long departed, having run her early course: and for a further hour he had sat in the deep darkness, breathing in time to the beat of the waves beyond the high beach-bank, sleep rising up around him like the unseen tide, his mind numbed by the liquor, his body by the blanket of night dew settling over him.

"Conrad stared at the chair, unable to recall the short stroll he must have surely made from the abandoned perch to his bed.

'Conrad, Conrad . . . '

There's more: turning tides, a right whale, a full breakfast, setting off to fish.

Did you notice anything? It's such a short excerpt, it may not strike you. Once I noticed, I kept looking, and pages and pages went by before I found what I was looking for.

There are no references to time other than natural time. No alarm clock, no watch. Also no morning TV or radio news, no phone, no Internet. Once I started to notice the lack of clock time and electronic references, I thought I'd entered an enchanted world.

I'd forgotten: the book is set on Long Island, where Conrad lives on his fishing boat, in the late 1940's. Realizing that set off one of those violent internal conceptual reconfigurations that occur when you realize your assumptions couldn't be more wrong.

It's good to have that happen every now and again.

Mills, Mark. Amagansett. 2005.