Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Impact of John the Baptist

Yesterday reflecting on John the Baptist and his role in the life of Jesus, it occured to me that by way of impact, there was hardly any great 'preparation' that JB did for Jesus.  So when Jesus began his ministry there was still opposition, criticism and ultimately his public trial and death.   If John had done a 'better' work surely Jesus should have had a bit more of support and ease in carrying out his mission.  So in terms of 'preparation' there was not much that John the Baptist did.  In comparison to his work, the apostles did a 'better job'. 

Well, that's an easy presumption.  The fact is that John did what he could to the best of his ability.  Jesus knew exactly what he was upto and how he was to carry out his mission.  The apostles so to say did not have to be 'creative' in their mission.  They just had to replicate what Jesus said and did.  However, in the case of John the Baptist, he did not have a clue of what exactly lay in the future. And he did not have a precedent to follow.  He had to literally and metaphorically 'make the way'. 

Besides this, in comparison to Jesus, no one on earth has ever had a greater impact - at least not so lasting and powerful.  But each one who came before and after him put in their best efforts.  Impact or no impact, they did not wait for it.  They just did what they were convinced was the right and best thing to do.  They were not showmen or artists who were keen to merely gather attention.  They had a message to convey, a task to carry out and that's all they did.  

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Wipers on headlights

Next generation technology and ideas...
Or creative ideas that will fizzle out as ridiculous?
Came across this car with wipers on its headlights, during my walk on my first day of retreat at Farnborough. 

Friday, 21 June 2019

Kids and philosophy

This video is really funny and insightful at the same time... children speaking of philosophical questions (creation, God, death, meaning of life).  The answers of the children show how they perceive things, how they pick up thoughts from the grown-ups, and how they put it all together.  Lovely, especially their thoughts about creation!
Directed by Karina Garcia Casanova
Illustrations by James Braithwaite
Animation by Darren Pasemko
Produced by John Christou and Karina Garcia Casanova
Year: 2009

Philosophizing as...

The other day while listening to a paper on Schelling, and his efforts at recognizing and addressing the alienation of humankind from nature, it was interesting to hear a particular nuanced approach that lies at the heart of the issue.  Schelling says that in order to restore the lost connection, one has to become a philosopher of nature.  And how does one become one? 

Among the other ways and descriptions of what and who a nature philosopher is, the author was stating that it is not so much about a person doing 'philosophy of nature' rather it is philosophizing as nature.  In the former instance, of doing 'philosophy of nature' or 'philosophizing about nature', the person is still maintaining a separation between nature and oneself.  There is already a disunity, right at the outset of one's effort at rectifying the brokenness.  The latter perspective, of 'philosophizing as nature' is whereby one realizes oneself as part of nature, not separate or disunited from.  Humankind is part of nature.  In so far as this is true, it is nature philosophizing nature!

This perfectly sums up what Taylor is trying to say about language.  We have no vantage point outside of it, so as to speak about it.  If we do so, we are already alienating ourselves from our own reality.  Language is to be understood from the inside, not from the outside - unless one is merely doing philosophy of language. 

Strength in/of weakness

This is getting more and more intriguing.  Another quote this morning from the Scriptures to make the point I've been trying to get my head around this week.  This time from the scripture reading during morning prayer. A quote from 2 Corinthians 12: 9-10. 
I am most happy then, to be proud of my weaknesses, in order to feel the protection of Christ's power over me. I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and difficulties for Christ's sake. 
And then the bombshell... 
For when I am weak, then I am strong. 
Again the same story: for a Christian this passage, especially the last line wouldn't really be odd or strange.  For one who has spent months, and years listening, reading and meditating on this passage, there is no contradiction there. Rather a very consoling reassurance.  

But for someone reading it as 'just another regular text', without the background of Christian life and living, the logical conclusion would be, it has to be either weakness or strength.  Both of them cannot be said to be true at the same time.  It is either-or. They are not compatible in the same breath (same line/same thought).  

Cultures and traditions which have a rich history of viewing the inter-relatedness of everything stand at a real advantage here when it comes to language and meaning.  When everything is connected to everything else, there is nothing that is explicitly or exclusively true or false.  One is more prone to see the underlying network rather than the contradiction and incompatibilities. For instance, the Buddhist notion of Pratityasamutpada

The midnight moon

Burning the midnight oil... but still managed to notice the midnight moon, two nights ago, right above my head through the sunroof. 

Somehow felt the urge to click a photo... after months am using the phone camera.  But it was too dark. Tried a couple of things to lighten up the scene but then had to ask myself, "Is this what I should be doing with a paper presenting in a couple of hours?" Nonetheless took a few minutes to enjoy the night sky! 

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Poverty or generosity?

Another interesting passage: this time from the letter to the second letter to the Corinthians (8: 1 & 9).
Here, brothers, is the news of the grace of God which was given in the churches of Macedonia; and of how, throughout great trials by suffering, their constant cheerfulness and their intense poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity.  
Note the seemingly contrasting facts about the same group of people: 'intense poverty' and 'overflowed in a wealth of generosity'.  It could be argued that the first is about material possessions and the second about a virtue.  Yet, how can one be generous with what one does not have.  Well, that brings to question the historical meaning assigned to 'poverty'.  Even if not the dictionary meaning, the one assigned to 'poverty' as is appears here; as inserted by the author; as understood by the reader. 

Another line of argument (the usual interpretation): they were poor, yet generous with the little they had.  So, there is no rivalry, both the phrases are compatible.  Yet, this compatibility is not the initial focus; it is only the intended derived focus!  This 'compatibility' would not have been that hitting and efficient, if not for the purposely contradicted phrases 'intense poverty' and 'wealth of generosity'. 

For a normal reader, the first point would be, which of these two is true? Both can't be, at the same time!  But for a Christian, I wonder how many ever thought of the two as incompatible?  Compare the meaning accorded to the words 'poor' and 'generosity' here with the intended meaning in the instance of the poor widow's contribution. Is one right in according the latter narration or the present text in discussion a 'great Christian writing'? Or is one right about saying that these are examples of illogical thinking and confused ideas? If criteria for judging are different then one ought to be ready to grant two different verdicts - even contradictory ones.  Then there is no common ground for further discussion.  If on the other hand, we seek for common ground, one might ask, then what's Christian about this? 

And with v. 9:
... he was rich, but he became poor for your sake, to make you rich out of his poverty! 
note the words rich used twice, don't mean the same, even though occurring in the same sentence.  And what if they did??  The same with 'poor' and 'poverty'.  

She put in two pence

In the gospel there is the instance where the poor old widow puts in two pence and Jesus cites her as the one who gave the most.

It now strikes me that there is a very strange affinity with what I'm researching: human meanings (those felt by us) and life meanings (those labelled).  In the instance of the old widow, she put in the least, in comparison with the others.  But she was most generous, again in comparison to others.  Or it could also be said that she contributed the most, again in simple logical mathematical ratio comparison.  Two different standards: in comparison to others and in comparison to mathematical ratio. Two contradictory results.

If speaking in terms of quantity and quality, then quantity wise she contributed practically nothing.  But qualitatively she contributed everything.  But again, quantity is in terms of cash; quality is in terms of generosity.

Two different standards of measurement and the resulting two conclusions can either be treated as contradictory or complementary.  Viewed from either side, the result of the other perspective is contradictory (even if we don't call it 'false'). But if viewed holistically. both the views are valid and compatible with one another - none truer than the other.

Only when we introduce criteria external to the woman and her action, be it either Jesus or the rich men and their subsequent critique of her and her action, do comparative words like 'little', 'much'... and all the other vocabulary flow in.  She put in two pence! 

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Little things...

It is said that during the lifetime of St Francis de Sales, there was this particular young seminarian who came to meet him and speak about his desire to serve the poor and change the world and go to great lengths to preach the Gospels.  St Francis listened to him attentively and when asked for his advice as to how to go about doing all of that grand stuff, he replied, "When you leave shut the door silently." 

Sanctity in little things.  Ordinary things in an extraordinary manner! 

Hit and miss - or not?

Today was a very new experience.  Not really new but different.  As part of the work-in-progress sharing that we had I presented what I thought was the method of seeking and applying verification criteria for language and meaning, especially that of Taylor.  For this I used the notion of  'semantic holism' as conceived by Willard Quine. 

I was quite happy with what I had come up with. For this presentation, unlike my previous presentations, I had the whole text typed out verbatim.  And it turned out that I was the only one among the four of us presenting and sharing, who had the whole text typed and 'ready'. Anyway, what bowled me out completely was the first and only question my supervisor asked: So, what are the criteria for 'human meanings'?  I just didn't know!  And all along I thought I had hit jackpot by way of knowing the answer!!

However, after a few minutes (during the break!) it struck me that what I had actually and accidently stumbled upon was not the criteria for verification, but the certainty that an epistemological verification is possible and also a method to carry it out.  I still did not have any defined criteria, but I now knew for sure and could prove that criteria could be provided or sought! 

Talk about throwing a stone at a particularly enticing mango, picking one up from the ground, only to look up and see that the one you aimed for and actually wanted is still up there, but thrilled that you now have one in hand and walking back home with the confidence that I can throw stones and aim for mangoes!  That's quite a feeling - after long! 

Friday, 14 June 2019

Scattered bits

Can certainly understand and vibe with Wittgenstein as he wrote these words in the preface of his Philosophical Investigations:
After several unsuccessful attempts to weld my results together into such a whole, I realized that I should never succeed.  The best that I could write would never be more than philosophical remarks; my thoughts soon grew feeble if I tried to force them along a single track against their natural inclination.  - And this was, of course, connected with the very nature of the investigation.  For it compels us to travel criss-cross in every direction over a wide field of thought.  
What to do when what you want to say is best said in scattered bits rather than a lengthy harmonious logical single thought?  Wittgenstein is widely read now, but was thrashed then... and even if he were to present his thought(s) in the scattered manner he wrote PI, he would not have got anywhere close to the book it today actually is!  

When the ordinary becomes the extraordinary

There are times when you have so much of leisure and comfort that one longs for some active work.  At such moments it is exactly the opposite of what longs for when one is so immersed in work that one cannot afford to take a break - and thereby longs for a 'short' breathing space!

Or else there are times when one is fed with such lavish food that getting something that is not really 'tasty' tastes new and thereby different and good!  So too, since Easter we have had this solemnity on, that it was finally good to have the 'green' back.  Even with the Eastertide concluding on Sunday, all through the week there was some commemoration or the other and only today we had the ordinary 'green' for Mass. 

Talk of the ordinary becoming the extraordinary!! 

Thursday, 13 June 2019

No wrong prayers

At times there is some 'discussion' (talk in the air) after we have our morning practices of piety.  Invariably it is after those days when there is some 'optional memoria' or 'memoria' or a salesian saint being commemorated that day.  And some in the community just don't like the 'five-finger-morning prayer' where the hymn is from one section, the psalms from another place, the reading and the intercessions from another place and the concluding blessing from another section.  There is sometimes this statement that we should have said the Mass for this particular saint and not that commemoration.  Or else that the saint of the day was totally forgotten and we said the 'ordinary mass'. 

Whatever be the case, there is never any serious dispute about this!  Why? Because as Fr Sean puts it, "There are no wrong prayers!" 


The whole phenomenon of trust and hope is a very illogical one.  Nothing exemplifies this more than the following verse from Hebrews (10:23):
Let us keep firm in the hope we profess, because the one who made the promise is faithful. 
We persevere in hope not because we trust in our capabilities or strength but because we trust God to be faithful - even if we are not! 

Contrast this with one Anthony DeMello's quotes:
A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch but on it's wings. 
Perhaps the only difference here is that trust is not in a material object but a living person.  Only that logic makes sense - some sense.  But still this aspect of trust can never be fully explained away.  Nonetheless we trust.  We hope! 

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Widening and levelling piety

Within a span of a week there are two 'new' additions to the ordo - feasts that are being added.  Two days ago it was Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of the Church and tomorrow there is Jesus Christ the eternal high priest.  Wonder how relevant or meaningful are these additions in the present times. 

Honestly I know not and have not made any effort to find out the real rationale behind the institution of these two special days, but just out of a general feeling...

The first one, Mother Mary as the mother of the Church... well for us Catholics there never has been a doubt about that.  Most Christians and even non-Christians who have heard of Mother Mary have no problem in seeking her maternal protection and venerating her as 'mother'.  So then why exclusively title her as 'mother of the church'.   If any broaden the attitude to speak of her as mother of all!  Why so to speak monopolize her as to belonging and of the Church.  Why not be generous in stating that she is the mother of all.  That way those who want to approach her feel comfortable and not feel as though they are 'appropriating' someone else's family member. 

The second one, of Jesus the eternal high priest, appears very pessimistic.  In this age, especially in the West, where there is a real decline in the number of those joining priesthood and religious life, attributing the eternal priesthood to Jesus is like a consolation prize for those who do opt.  Moreover, why at all 'high priest'?  Sounds really hierarchical... exactly the opposite of the whole reality of incarnation and Jesus' own mission while on earth. 

More than mere additional special days of commemoration, we do need to widen our inclusive attitude and make our existing pieties more deep and social.  

Sunday, 9 June 2019

They heard...

The reading from the Acts of the apostles of this morning, as is always on the feast of the Pentecost, is that of the disciples 'hearing' the others in their own language.  It does not say, that they understood in their own respective language.  It says they heard them speak in their own language.

Other than the primary intended meaning of this being a miracle, the work of the Holy Spirit, how does one explain this?  Why is it that I feel there is something here for me, for my research?

  • that there is a 'gap', a wide chasm between 'hearing' and understanding?  Or not?
  • that hearing the message being spoken in their own native language did make a huge impact on their attitude and reception of the Gospel, goes without saying.  Primarily because it now 'appealed' to them at a personal level.  The message remained the same, only the channel of communication changed. Not exactly.  Because the channel, medium, language is also the message (McLuhan).
  • what of those preaching? Were they aware of themselves speaking in a foreign language? And yet communicate perfectly well, without they themselves really knowing what they were speaking?  That's really doubtful.  The only (human) possibility is that they were totally oblivious of this process.  They could have only been speaking in their native Jewish Hebrew.  It was the listeners who heard it differently from the speakers.  

Friday, 7 June 2019

Those without grandmothers...

Most academic philosophers never had grandmothers!  Nor did they ever have any good relationship with their own mothers!  Of this I'm sure!  If they did have grandmothers and lived with them even if for a little while in their grown up years, they'd never have become what most of them are: jargon monsters! 

It is said that comprehension of an idea, however complex it may be, is tested when you can explain it to your grandma and she'll understand.  Don Bosco had his mother.  And the first time he wrote a verbose sermon, she almost tore it up!  Then there is the Salesian tradition of goodnight thoughts.  Again, Mamma Margaret offering the boys some good piece of advice before they hit bed for the night.  I really prefer that. 

I'm not against grand and complex ideas and thoughts.  I certainly deem them very essential for growth and progress.  However, that's what we do within ourselves or at the most with like minded people.  We don't experiment those thoughts in their epistemological and metaphysical laden jargon with everyone.  And if we can't or don't want to, break it down so that all benefit from the richness of the thought, without the burden of academic jargon, then there is something wrong with us!  

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Diplomacy in witnessing?

Paul in today's reading plays a very shrewd game when called before the sanhedrin.  He was well aware of the rift between the Sadducees and the Pharisees.  He just played it up so that they would fight and argue among themselves and he would be safe.  But he does so with great diplomacy.  He does not lie. Neither does he tell the truth.  He merely uses words cleverly.  I wonder if such diplomacy can be counted as evangelisation or witnessing.  Perhaps the last line of the reading offers us some insight. 
Courage!  You have borne witness to me in Jerusalem.  Now you must bear witness to me in Rome.  
And Rome surely did not have the Jewish lot of Sadducees and Pharisees!  That's God being diplomatic!

Deification and Idolization

In the Acts of the apostles, after the resurrection of Jesus, the apostles go around preaching the risen Christ.  In Liconium, they find themselves in a very weird situation.  Having performed a couple of miracles and verified the authenticity of their preaching, they are being praised and exalted by the people.  The people then decide to offer sacrifice to the new 'gods' amidst them!  Peter rebukes them sternly.  Deification of mortals. 

Come to modern times where at times the gods are happily 'idolized'.  "You stay there and we'll do everything that needs to be done.  Just don't move!" That's the silent prayer of most priests and religious elders. Idolization of gods.  

Once humans were exalted to be worshipped as gods.  Today God is 'refrigerated'/ fossilized.   

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Miners vs farmers

Just some wild imagination running amok, with all the tension of the PhD research!

Miners are not people who scratch the surface. They do deep.  Real deep.  But it is mostly in the same place.  Depth is the real matter.  Width as per need. 

The miner works mostly in the dark.  The brightest light one has for the work at hand is the helmet light - just like my table lamp.  The farmer relies on the sun!  His work does not rely on a torchlight! 

Contrast that with the farmer.  He or she is not going to go deep.  The farmer is happy with the surface and makes the most of what lies along the length and breadth of his field.  He is not too concerned if there is gold hidden deep in his field.  His treasure is what his crop produces. 

The miners culls out minerals and stones.  Those are valuable to the miner.  For the farmer his living crops are the real treasure.  Not really worth in property compared to the minerals and diamonds that are excavated from the womb of the earth, but essential for life and living. 

The former is a PhD scholar; the latter a learner!  And at any given day or time, I'd prefer to be the latter!  

Life as a witness media

What really impressed the Jews during the time of Jesus and the immediate post-resurrection period was the witness of the early Christians.  The teachings and doctrines were pretty much present in their own scriptures but what was lacking was a 'living model'.  Someone or some who would make that doctrine into actual living.  Jesus initiated it and the early Christians, especially the apostles and disciples, continued it.  Just imagine if the apostles and others merely went about preaching the Gospel but not really living it - mere transmission of the text!  Christianity would have ended up even before it spread! 

An interesting statement to this effect is the following text from St Paul's letter to the Thessalonians (2:8):
Like a mother feeding and looking after her own children we felt so devoted and protective towards you, and had come to love you so much, that we were eager to hand over to you not only the Good News but our whole lives as well
What really carried home the message of the Gospel was not their oratorian skills or communication media, but their lives filled with the very message of what they were preaching.  Their life was the message and the message was also the medium. 

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

Tough policy - tough action

Know not how actual is the implementation of this news story in Tanzania. But even if half of this is true and effective then, hats off to the person(s) making the news. 

There is a plastic ban in Tanzania.  Anyone found with a plastic bag will be fined $ 87 or face upto seven days in jail.  Those caught manufacturing or importing plastic bags will be fined $ 430,000. (Really??) But what I liked about this ban and the subsequent penalty for going against it is the first hand example by the President John Magufuli.  He has been at the forefront of this ban and was recently shown buying fish using a wicker basket rather than a plastic bag!  It may all be for the cameras.  Nonetheless, am surprised and happy that there is such a ban in place and people at least making a serious effort to reduce production and use of plastic bags. More than 30 African countries have banned single use plastic.  That's something amazing.  Wonder how many European countries have such a ban in place?  

Roots and ashes

Never came across a better analogy than this one to explain and understand tradition...
Thanks to Pope Francis...

Speaking to a group of journalists he spoke of tradition and the need to look at it as roots that nourish life rather than ashes to be carefully preserved!

An extract from the news report on National Catholic Reporter:
Pope Francis has criticized traditionalist Catholics who seek to "safeguard the ashes" of the past, saying the global church's centuries of tradition are not akin to a container for preserved objects but instead like roots to be drawn on for future growth. 
In a press conference aboard the papal flight back to Rome after his three-day visit to Romania, he singled out Catholic "fundamentalists," who he said have a nostalgia for "returning to the ashes." 
Tradition is the guarantee of the future and not the container of the ashes. Tradition is like roots [of a tree], which give us nutrition to grow.  You will not become like the roots. You will flower, grow, give fruit. And the seeds become roots for other people. The tradition of the church is always in movement. The tradition does not safeguard the ashes.
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