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October 2014

Descartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction

Descartes: An Analytical and Historical IntroductionDescartes: An Analytical and Historical Introduction by Georges Dicker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first used this book in graduate school and determined at the time that I would get my own copy, which I never did, as I headed off into ministry. Finally a couple of years ago, I saw an unmarked copy for only $8 in a used book store and snatched it up. I'm so glad I did, because it has been very helpful in teaching the Descartes section in my philosophy class at Creighton this semester.

Dicker gives a thorough commentary on the Meditations in First Philosophy, reconstructing the arguments of Descartes and testing them to see if they work. He isn't only interested in them for historical reasons, but considers what our present day take on them can and should be. This is a valuable for resource for anyone wanting to understand Descartes better.

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The Journal of Hildegard of Bingen

The Journal of Hildegard of Bingen: A NovelThe Journal of Hildegard of Bingen: A Novel by Barbara Lachman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lachman imagines a journal, kept by Hildegard in the year of 1152, one of the more eventful in her life as her abbey at Bingen was getting established and she made advances in her musical composition. This was an enjoyable way to summarize aspects of Hildegard's life and thought, and it was easy to forget that I was reading a novel and not actual excerpts from journals and letters (though Lachman used quotes and extensive research into Hildegard's writings).

I first was drawn to Hildegard when in college I heard a friend playing a cd of her music, but set to more contemporary musical forms. It was haunting, inspiring, and mesmerizing, and has remained a favourite cd of mine.

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Favourite Place in Autumn


Today I spent the afternoon at my favourite place to be in the autumn in Omaha.  It is at Memorial Park, on a warm day, when the leaves are at prime color.  There is a spot where you can sit under trees with bright yellow, red, and orange leaves and bath in the colored sunlight.  The view is over the west lawn toward the university and the Catholic school, with their towers in site.  

Our second autumn here, on a really nice day, I went out there and found this spot and enjoyed an afternoon drinking wine and reading The Varieties of Religious Experience.  I've tried to do the same every year, but the weather doesn't always cooperate (we don't always get a warm, dry, clear, sunny day when the leaves are at their prime).  

But this year, today, was the best so far.  

This is a good experience to have in the autumn, because winter is coming, and this lovely memory will help to buoy my spirits through it.

Moral Man and Immoral Society

Moral Man and Immoral SocietyMoral Man and Immoral Society by Reinhold Niebuhr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I have never been a fan of Niebuhr. But I'd never actually read him. Only secondary treatments. Having been influenced by Yoder and Hauerwas, his Christian realism never set well with me. That it could be claimed by neo-cons and liberals both in the last 13 years of American political life, didn't help.

But I found myself more persuaded than I expected. Maybe it is because I've grown more pessimistic and cynical?

I began the book in August when the world appeared to be going to hell (that I was behind on finishing it is one of the things I wanted to get done this week), and it's opening statements that humanity could not be expected to improve much for many more centuries fit the mood of the time.

The book is so much more political thought than traditional theology. That alone surprised me. If you want a careful analysis of the state of reform in the early 30's, here it is, with his prognostications that another world war is probably necessary before humanity really begins the necessary changes to bring about justice and equality.

He is critical of moralists who think that society can abide by the same ethics as individuals. He doesn't think it can, at least at this point in human development. He is critical of Gandhi, but appreciates that Gandhi isn't the typical pacifist or believer in non-resistance. Gandhi engages in coercive resistance. Niebuhr doesn't think that non-violence is inherently more moral than violence, that either approach is simply a means to an end and both can be coercive in destructive ways. He does advocate the approach for "the American Negro," believing that it is the only approach that will lead to their equality.

There is more of value for me to consider from this book than I expected. And I am almost certain to use elements of the opening chapters in my Advent sermon series "Be Not Afraid."

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Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Foundation (Foundation, #1)Foundation by Isaac Asimov
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My husband Michael is a big fan of the Foundation series by Isaac Asimov. I gave him the hardbound Library of America volume of the first three novel last year for Christmas. I decided to begin reading the series this week.

Set far into the future at the time of the collapse of the First Galactic Empire as a group of scientists work to preserve the culture and technology of humanity through the predicted dark ages. It is a fascinating story, told over centuries, with quite memorable characters. As with any good science fiction, this work requires your brain to think and analyze the decisions of the characters and the turns of the plot. I really wish I had read these as a child, because I'm certain they would have endeared themselves to me, and I would have spent hours ruminating on them and discussing them with friends.

Contained with the novel are interesting lessons for contemporary humanity as we make important ethical and political decisions.

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Fall Vacation 2014

In 2011 I went to Virginia to tour Civil War battlefields and Presidential mansions and to drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and through Shenandoah National Park.  In 2012 I went to Paris with Rob Howard and Tom Saylor, and we spent our days lounging in cafes people-watching.  In 2013 I drove to Dallas to attend the OU-Texas game with Eric Brooks, visiting friends and family in Oklahoma, Texas, and Kansas going and coming.

So, what did I plan for my 2014 Fall vacation?

Basically nothing.

The main focus of this week is going to be writing.  This summer, after I returned from Yale, I was very disciplined in my writing, but that has suffered since the fall semester began and my teaching philosophy at Creighton has occupied much of my creative energy and time.

The secondary focus is resting.  I look forward to sitting under trees in their full autumnal color and reading books while drinking wine.  And the weather is going to be excellent this week.

And the final goal of this week is to spend some time each day catching up on some personal and household projects that I'm behind on.  

So, hopefully, come Monday, I'll be rested, renewed, caught up, and ready for the second half of the semester and the beginning of the church holiday season.