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April 2012

Posterior Analytics

Posterior Analytics/TopicaPosterior Analytics/Topica by Aristotle
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

One bit of evidence that I'm a geek: I get excited that I can read Aristotle.

Back in grad school I really liked the Posterior Analytics and wanted to re-read it as part of my reading back through elements of the philosophical canon. This time I wasn't as engaged by it, presumably because it does not align as closely with my current interests as it did in grad school in the nineties. The closing pages, which discuss the limitations of scientific knowledge, are the best.

While reading, I was reminded powerfully of how different philosophical reasoning and debate is from the way most debate now occurs in our wider culture. In philosophy you must present an argument for your idea and then others look for and point out the weak points in the argument, compelling you to strengthen or abandon it.

I think one reason I get so easily annoyed with some people and their views is that there is a correct way to argue and there are things that are true and right. We may have a constitutional right to believe whatever, but we do not have a logical, rational "right" to.

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Possibility Scanning

Possibility Scanning

Luke 24:36-48

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

29 April 2012



     Remember this television advertisement?


Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.


    The title of that ad was "Think Different." Go home and Google it after church. The ad included images of Picasso, Einstein, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Amelia Earhart, and others. The ad was for Apple computers, and it caused an incredible sensation.

    Apple has changed our lives, by revolutionizing not only personal computers but also how we listen to music, how we interact with the devices that we still call phones, and overall how we interact with most digital information. They've also awakened desires we didn't even know we had.

    Now, many of you think I'm something of a techie, and I must confess that I actually am not. I'm a late-adopter and a curmudgeon. I refused to get a cell phone, for instance, until 2005. But the biggest sign that I'm not on the leading edge of technology in my generation is that I have never owned an Apple device of any kind. Hopefully that confession doesn't mean I've lost a huge segment of potential church members, as Apple people are really, really loyal to their brand.

    But even if we don't own Apple devices, their innovation has affected all of the devices we use and how we consume information and media. They have also made design a central element of contemporary existence. No longer are people satisfied with a difficult interface, an inefficient process, or an unwieldy physical object. Everything must be sleek, elegant, and intuitive. The surprise the first time you picked up an iPad, for instance, was that without any instruction you immediately knew how to use it.


    Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, Apple's founder and driving genius, was a recent bestseller. I read the book for insights into leadership, innovation, and design, wondering if I could apply any lessons to my job. This week while working on the sermon, I've carried the book around and a handful of you have said, "Oh, have you read that?" It has sparked some interesting conversations.

    When Steve Jobs died last year, he was treated as something of a spiritual guru. I read lots of blog posts and articles on his personal spirituality or how his ideas could be incorporated into spiritual practice. Very little of that appears in the biography. The two basic things you learn about Steve Jobs is that he was a genius and that he was also a real jerk. Actually, that word is too mild. The only words to describe that side of his personality are probably ones not appropriate to use from the pulpit. Basically, he was an arrogant, entitled, difficult human being with explosive anger who was not nice to people. He lived within what his compatriots called a "reality distortion field." This was also part of the secret of his success, in that he didn't accept the world the way it was, knowing that it could be better.

    So, in my opinion, Steve Jobs is not a moral or personal example for us to follow, but there are some of the things I took away from the book: beautiful and efficient design is important at every level of an experience, even the parts people don't see should be beautiful; that discipline, even in the details, is important; that people will succeed when they believe they are part of an exalted mission; that deep collaboration is important; that you must bring together and empower creative people; that ideas must be allowed to generate and develop. And, as Bill Atkinson, one of the early designers on the Mac said, "I got a feeling for the empowering aspect of naïveté. Because I didn't know it couldn't be done, I was enabled to do it."

    This Apple ethos is summed up in the "Think Different" television ad, and its proclamation "Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do."


    Today's contemporary reading came from a commentary on the Gospel story. It strikes a similar note. The "something new" of Jesus' resurrection was not "contained or comprehended by current modes of thinking." Instead the resurrection is the rejection of "systems of thought that limit the vision of the future to the shape of what seems probable according to current conceptions." Professor Cooper writes, "Possibility beyond the probable is the nature of religious hope."

    The resurrection stories of Jesus are their own "Think Different" advertisement. The Jesus of the Gospels can be described as "misfit, rebel, troublemaker," the one "who sees things differently." And many did think he was a crazy person. Others thought he was dangerous, out to change the world, and so they killed him.

    But that violent, horrible execution was not the end of the story. The change Jesus began would not be limited by his death, or by the attempts of the authorities to strike fear into Jesus' followers. No, the revolution that Jesus began would continue despite the crucifixion, maybe even because of the crucifixion.

    And it would catch fire, changing the world, because it was not limited to the status quo. It dreamed new possibilities and had the courage to make them happen.


    Jesus appears in this story from the Gospel of Luke and empowers his followers to become witnesses to that change. He invites them to become those who will have the courage to think and act differently. And because they were faithful to that call, the world did change and the good news of that change spread, and over time more and more people benefited from a faith that imagined that this world could be better.

    This Easter we experience the call of Jesus. Jesus is inviting us to become witnesses of the good news that the world can be better. But, what does following this call require of us?


    One thing it requires is that we become those who think differently. That we, the church, together become creators and innovators. We are not bound by the status quo, by this troubled, anxious, violent, and fear-filled world. We can imagine a different future and then act creatively and boldly to engage others in making that future a reality. That's really what it means to share our faith, to evangelize, to share the good news. It means recruiting others to collaborate with us in the effort of thinking and living differently.

    This week the Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ released a vision plan. We are all tired of reading about the decline of mainline Protestant churches, and all the analysis of why that has happened and what individual churches can do to remain vital. One of the keys to being a vital church is staying focused on the mission of God. Ben Guess, the executive minister of Local Church Ministries, who will keynote the annual meeting of the Nebraska Conference this June, said this week, "The United Church of Christ is emerging, not dying. We have the best opportunity now to become the church that we first dared to be in 1957." Linda Jaramillo, of the Justice and Witness Ministries, said that we must become "bold, effective and responsive servant[s]" of the mission of God.

    W. Mark Clark, the associate general minister, proclaimed that we must let go "of such 'old church questions' as 'How do I make my church grow?' or 'How do we attract new members' to embrace new questions: 'What is God doing in my neighborhood, in my community, in the world?' 'How can I –– and my congregation –– join God in that 'doing'?.'"


    What are some of the skills required now and in the future for congregational vitality? Our cultural and religious environment will grow ever more pluralistic and complex. We must learn to thrive in that complexity. We must strengthen our theological and biblical understanding, as these will empower us to engage more effectively in a world of searchers and skeptics. We must train leaders to think and act boldly. We must be radically welcoming. And throughout we must maintain the high-level perspective of the mission of God.

    And one skill we'll need is what video game designer Jane McGonigal calls "possibility scanning," which she describes as "always remaining open and alert to unplanned opportunities and surprising insights."

    Fortunately, that should be easy for us Christians, because our core story includes the resurrection, the event that exploded the status quo and taught us to imagine new possibilities and to think and act differently.


    In your worship bulletins you'll find two post-it notes. Post-it notes are ubiquitous in the design world, as a way to brainstorm ideas. We are going to use those post-it notes to spark and share ideas.

    Mark Clark said that the church should ask, "What is God doing in my neighborhood, in my community, in the world?" So, on one post-it, I want you to answer that question. What is something you see God doing in your neighborhood, in this community, or this world? If you do have an idea today, I'm going to ask you to write it down on one of those post-its and then put it on one of the easels either in the parlor or the narthex. You'll see them. They say, "Post your ideas here."

    On the second post-it note I want you to write some way that you can be God's witness in the world. And think "outside the box." Then, I want you to take it home and put it someplace you'll see it. I want it to be a reminder to you to think differently in how you personally participate in God's mission.

     This week, as I look over the ones you'll leave here, I'm going to do a little possibility scanning, staying "open and alert to unplanned opportunities and surprising insights" that you will share.


    Friends, Jesus comes to us, now, in 2012, and tells us not to fear. Instead, he shares with us the power of God. Then he calls us to proclaim the good news of forgiveness, love, and compassion. The news of a new, better, more beautiful and more peaceful world. "You are my witnesses," he says.

    Let us respond, so that it might be said of us by all who come to know us:


They are the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Ron Brown news

The national sports media has jumped on the Ron Brown story.

ESPN commentary, excerpt:

 Discrimination is discrimination. It isn't a buffet line where Brown can pick and choose who can be protected from it. It is repugnant in all forms.

Sports Illustrated goes even further, excerpt:

It is my fervent hope that Brown finds some love in his heart and in his true religion, and shifts his cares from Omaha back to Lincoln, to his own locker room, where he’s bound to alienate some kid someday who might need him, if he hasn’t already. And if he’s happy just being a mouthpiece for division and discrimination, I hope he’ll forgive me if I begin to forget the “good coach” facet and see the bigot first. It’d be the Christian thing to do.


Berry on economy

And so I am nominating economy for an equal standing among the arts and humanities. I mean, not economics, but economy, the making of the human household upon the earth: the arts of adapting kindly the many human households to the earth’s many ecosystems and human neighborhoods. This is the economy that the most public and influential economists never talk about, the economy that is the primary vocation and responsibility of every one of us.

Berry on good words

truth, nature, imagination, affection, love, hope, beauty, joy. Those words are hard to keep still within definitions; they make the dictionary hum like a beehive. But in such words, in their resonance within their histories and in their associations with one another, we find our indispensable humanity, without which we are lost and in danger.

Berry on capitalism

In his Jefferson lecture, Wendell Berry has this to say about capitalism:

But now, three-quarters of a century later, we are no longer talking about theoretical alternatives to corporate rule. We are talking with practical urgency about an obvious need. Now the two great aims of industrialism—replacement of people by technology and concentration of wealth into the hands of a small plutocracy—seem close to fulfillment. At the same time the failures of industrialism have become too great and too dangerous to deny. Corporate industrialism itself has exposed the falsehood that it ever was inevitable or that it ever has given precedence to the common good. It has failed to sustain the health and stability of human society. Among its characteristic signs are destroyed communities, neighborhoods, families, small businesses, and small farms. It has failed just as conspicuously and more dangerously to conserve the wealth and health of nature. No amount of fiddling with capitalism to regulate and humanize it, no pointless rhetoric on the virtues of capitalism or socialism, no billions or trillions spent on “defense” of the “American dream,” can for long disguise this failure. The evidences of it are everywhere: eroded, wasted, or degraded soils; damaged or destroyed ecosystems; extinction of species; whole landscapes defaced, gouged, flooded, or blown up; pollution of the whole atmosphere and of the water cycle; “dead zones” in the coastal waters; thoughtless squandering of fossil fuels and fossil waters, of mineable minerals and ores; natural health and beauty replaced by a heartless and sickening ugliness. Perhaps its greatest success is an astounding increase in the destructiveness, and therefore the profitability, of war.

It All Turns on Affection

A masterful lecture by Wendell Berry.  He was the Jefferson lecturer for the National Endowment for the Humanities.  Read these central paragraphs and ponder to good effect:

The term “imagination” in what I take to be its truest sense refers to a mental faculty that some people have used and thought about with the utmost seriousness. The sense of the verb “to imagine” contains the full richness of the verb “to see.” To imagine is to see most clearly, familiarly, and understandingly with the eyes, but also to see inwardly, with “the mind’s eye.” It is to see, not passively, but with a force of vision and even with visionary force. To take it seriously we must give up at once any notion that imagination is disconnected from reality or truth or knowledge. It has nothing to do either with clever imitation of appearances or with “dreaming up.” It does not depend upon one’s attitude or point of view, but grasps securely the qualities of things seen or envisioned.

I will say, from my own belief and experience, that imagination thrives on contact, on tangible connection. For humans to have a responsible relationship to the world, they must imagine their places in it. To have a place, to live and belong in a place, to live from a place without destroying it, we must imagine it. By imagination we see it illuminated by its own unique character and by our love for it. By imagination we recognize with sympathy the fellow members, human and nonhuman, with whom we share our place. By that local experience we see the need to grant a sort of preemptive sympathy to all the fellow members, the neighbors, with whom we share the world. As imagination enables sympathy, sympathy enables affection. And it is in affection that we find the possibility of a neighborly, kind, and conserving economy.

Obviously there is some risk in making affection the pivot of an argument about economy. The charge will be made that affection is an emotion, merely “subjective,” and therefore that all affections are more or less equal: people may have affection for their children and their automobiles, their neighbors and their weapons. But the risk, I think, is only that affection is personal. If it is not personal, it is nothing; we don’t, at least, have to worry about governmental or corporate affection. And one of the endeavors of human cultures, from the beginning, has been to qualify and direct the influence of emotion. The word “affection” and the terms of value that cluster around it—love, care, sympathy, mercy, forbearance, respect, reverence—have histories and meanings that raise the issue of worth. We should, as our culture has warned us over and over again, give our affection to things that are true, just, and beautiful. When we give affection to things that are destructive, we are wrong. A large machine in a large, toxic, eroded cornfield is not, properly speaking, an object or a sign of affection.


Horses at Midnight Without a Moon

I really enjoyed today's poem for the day from the American Academy of Poets:

Horses at Midnight Without a Moon  
by Jack Gilbert

Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise 
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing. 
Our spirit persists like a man struggling 
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.