September 15th, 2014
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Joseph, Family, and Forgiveness
Genesis 45: 1 – 15
September 9th, 2014
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The book describes how a kimono is made from exactly one bolt of fabric. The way the pattern of a kimono is constructed, not one scrap of fabric remains after the garment is completed. Once the kimono showed signs of wear, it began a long line of transformations — from Sunday best to an everyday item of clothing. When it was further worn, the kimono would be used as a sleeping gown or shortened to make an outdoor jacket. When further worn, the jacket would be turned into a bag or an apron. Finally, layers of scraps were sashiko quilted together into dust cloths. But sashiko was also used to strengthen fabric and in the north, it was used to secure layers of fabric together for protection against the elements. What began as utilitarian stitching began to be used as a decorative element as well and patterns evolved from the daily lives of the quilters.

Sashiko by Cortney Heimerl

September 8th, 2014
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The pressure on girls to take sexy selfies today comes out of a culture that routinely equates modesty with shame, instead of recognizing it for what it really is: an impulse that protects what is precious and intimate. Teenage girls need to know that when boys ask them for naked pictures, they can—and should—say no. It’s not merely that “sexted” pictures can find their way onto social media (even without the aid of hackers, they seem to have a way of slipping their iPhone collars and circulating with astonishing ease). A better reason to say no is that, having set a higher standard, maybe someone will write a love song for you instead.

And if he doesn’t, who cares? Modesty is, at its essence, having an internal sense of self, not needing others’ approval of how you look (naked or otherwise) to know that you have a unique purpose in this world, and certainly not needing all your friends to “like” your Facebook post in order to know that you’re great….

And yet, social media is filled with videos of parents scaring their toddlers or filming their tearful reactions when told that mommy ate all their Halloween candy. I seem to be nearly the only person who doesn’t find these videos funny, nor do I think that the appropriate reaction to a child’s tantrum is to film it and commiserate on Facebook about how hilarious it was. To me, these parents have fallen off a different cliff, albeit an imperceptible one; they’re breaking a private trust in order to feed the public’s appetite.

I can’t prove it, but I feel that the collapse of the public/private distinction has dialed down our capacity for empathy. Real empathy requires a private, intimate space, and of course, a time when you’re not on Facebook. Last Saturday, my 3-year-old daughter fell asleep in her Sabbath finery after a spirited trip to the park, and it was one of those perfect moments. I gazed at her sweet slumber on the couch, and I sighed to my husband, “The Shabbos photos you can’t take are always the best ones.” (As Jews who observe the restrictions of the Sabbath, we don’t take photos on this day.) Then I realized, maybe it’s not that Sabbath photos are better in any objective way, but since I couldn’t immediately reach for my phone and capture the picture, I had no alternative than to be in the moment and drink it all in: her little chest rising and falling, her fancy dress artfully decorated with grass stains and crumb cake. What was she dreaming about? I was able to notice things and really throw myself into the moment in a way I never would have, had I rushed for my camera as usual.

From a technical standpoint, the scene was mundane, but private, unmediated moments have a special quality. Let’s try to enjoy more of them.

—Wendy Shalit, The Private Self(ie) in Time Magazine

September 5th, 2014
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Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and the pride of man.
John Henry Newman, The Idea of a University
August 31st, 2014
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When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own, by retiring to my rooms and reading theology, and I wouldn’t go to the churches and Gospel Halls; … I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the great merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots.
C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock
August 13th, 2014
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IRS income data is collected for the purpose of raising revenue annually in the manner that Congress directs. It was not intended to be a measure of one’s overall wellbeing. In the absence of better data, some social scientists are tempted to use IRS data that way.
This is a mistake. Income data has massive confounding factors; not minor technical nitpicks, but big glaring issues so plain and so relevant that they can be expressed in terms of the lives of ordinary people. People develop professionally with age. People go to college. People think about where rents are high and where they are low. People save in retirement accounts.
Income data would be a reliable measure of social inequality if it weren’t distorted by virtually every major decision people make in their lives. Income data, out of context, leads us to conclusions so absurd that the entire project of dividing people up into quintiles may be an intellectual dead end. The dollar-denominated sum of certain classes of market transactions is not enough to identify suffering or plenty.
The United States has a progressive tax code. The primary intellectual basis for the progressivity is the idea that people with lower incomes are more in need of money than people with higher incomes. Overall, this is undeniably true. But it is far less true than often imagined. And it is particularly untrue among everyday Americans whose IRS-defined income is a poor proxy for their social wellbeing.
Because of the deadweight losses in taxes, errors in redistribution matter a great deal. Marginal tax rates discourage work, saving, and investment. If money is collected to provide struggling people with help to get by, that’s one thing. But all too often, the limits of income data result in socially-nonsensical redistribution. A reasonable person would not say Oakland, California is substantially better off than Green Bay, Wisconsin. And yet, Oakland shoulders a far higher per-household tax burden.[19] A reasonable person would not say a construction worker is clearly better off than a business school student. And yet, it is the latter who benefits from progressive income taxes and refundable tax credits at the expense of the former. Use data unreasonably and you will get unreasonable results.

—Alan Cole, Income Data is a Poor Measure of Inequality, The Tax Foundation

August 13th, 2014
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Dead Poet’s Society

No matter the text that he’s ostensibly engaged with, Mr. Keating, like Hamlet in Stéphane Mallarmé’s wonderful description, is forever “reading in the book of himself.” This is what Keating’s namesake John Keats (referencing Wordsworth) called the “egotistical sublime.” Recently, some pioneering work in neuroscience has begun to suggest what English teachers have long known: that the power of literature is the power of alterity, creating the possibility of encountering the other in a form not easily recuperable, not easily assimilable to the self. “Imaginative sympathy,” we used to call it. To read literature well is to be challenged, and to emerge changed.

But for Keating, it’s the text (like Frost’s poem) that is changed, not the reader. He does the same thing to the Whitman poem “O Me! O Life!” that he recites to his students. Used as the voiceover for a recent iPad ad, Mr. Keating’s pep talk quotes the opening and closing lines of the poem, silently eliding the middle: “Oh me! Oh life! / of the questions of these recurring, / Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish, /  .  .  .   / What good amid these, O me, O life? //Answer. // That you are here—that life exists and identity, / That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” He’s quoting from Whitman, he says, but the first line he omits is telling: “Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?).” Go back and add that line to the quotation and see how it alters the whole. For Keating—and one fears, examining the scant evidence the film provides, for his students—every poem is a Song of Myself. This, then, is what’s at stake in Keating’s misreadings—I’m not interested simply in catching a fictional teacher out in an error. But he misreads both Frost and Whitman in such a way that he avoids precisely that encounter with the other, finding in poetry only an echo of what he already knows—what he’s oft thought, but ne’er so well expressed.

Kevin J. H. Dettmar, Dead Poets Society is a Terrible Defense of the Humanities, in the Atlantic, 19 February 2014. In the history of cinema, in the history of English letters, has any teacher pulled more wool over more eyes than Mr. Keating? I lament the death of Robin Williams; and I’ve always wished he’d never played such a charlatan.

August 11th, 2014
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The creation is not a study, roughed-in sketch; it is supremely, meticulously created, created abundantly, extravagantly, and in fine… Even on the perfectly ordinary and clearly visible level, creation carries on with an intricacy unfathomable and apparently uncalled for. The lone ping into being of the first hydrogen atom ex nihilo was so unthinkably, violently radical, that surely it ought to have been enough, more than enough. But look what happens. You open the door and all heaven and hell break loose.
Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
August 10th, 2014
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We sleep to time’s hurdy-gurdy; we wake, if ever we wake, to the silence of God. And then, when we wake to the deep shores of time uncreated, then when the dazzling dark breaks over the far slopes of time, then it’s time to toss things, like our reason, and our will; then it’s time to break our necks for home.
There are no events but thoughts and the heart’s hard turning, the heart’s slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
August 6th, 2014
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(Meta)Physics: Hans Halvorson and Sean Carroll at Caltech. Sean Carroll, Senior Research Associate at Caltech and atheist, with Hans Halvorson, Professor of Philosophy at Princeton and Christian, discuss physics and philosophy at The Veritas Forum at Caltech 2014.

August 5th, 2014
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“There was just something I wanted to say,” she continued, “and the play seemed like the best way to say it. But the contribution I want to make now I want to make in the classroom. The difference between teaching and play-writing is not incomprehensible to me, they’re not so different. They both create a public event that leads to understanding. They both —— ”

She laughed and put on a professorial voice. “I could go on, but I won’t.”

Teaching — for Ms. Edson at least — is a full-time occupation. She needs the summers, she said, to do nothing, because that makes you a more interesting person in the classroom, and writing on the side is too distracting. “The presence of fictional characters in your head, especially ones who talk, is extremely preoccupying,” she said. “And the nonfictional characters in my life are abundant.”

Writing itself, on the other hand, is something to which she is deeply committed, and she usually ends each class quietly, with a writing assignment. “Sitting by yourself, forcing the swirl of thoughts into a linear, systematic journey forward — it makes you smarter,” she said. “It’s like a pastry bag, literacy is. It presses you into one clear line.”


Margaret Edson, Author of Wit, Loves Teaching, the NYT, February 16, 2012

August 5th, 2014
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The Face of God
Genesis 32: 20 - 31
August 4th, 2014
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I hear two verbal mistakes in this great scene from the movie *Wit* based on Margaret Edson’s play. Do you notice them, too? We’re unsparing with what we love.

August 3rd, 2014
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Sir Jacob Epstein, Jacob and the Angel, 1940, The Tate Museum of Modern Art, London

Sir Jacob Epstein, Jacob and the Angel, 1940, The Tate Museum of Modern Art, London

The Evangelium has not abrogated legends; it has hallowed them, especially the “happy ending.” The Christian has still to work, with mind as well as body, to suffer, hope, and die; but he may now perceive that all his bents and faculties have a purpose, which can be redeemed.
— J. R. R. Tolkien

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