Friendship

Text:     Dear Friend: —  If I was sure of thee, sure of thy capacity, sure to match my mood with thine, I would never think again of trifles in relation to thy comings and goings.  I am not very wise; my moods are quite attainable; and I respect thy genius; it is to me as yet unfathomed;  yet dare I not presume in thee a perfect intelligence of me, and so thou art to me a delicious torment.  Thine ever or never.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

In a crass, profane age of advanced species endangerment, global warming, 16% real unemployment and constant threat of economic collapse worldwide, surety is indeed a rare and precious commodity. Paralyzed leadership and dysfunctional government clouds our hope even more.    My best friend tells me this quotation will be unfathomed by at least 90% of the American public; alas, she may be correct — judging from our current cultural mess.  Nineteenth-century prose and syntax puts us off and tries our patience in the digital age.  And yet, who doesn’t still need a friend.

In his essay Emerson cautions the reader that “these fine pains” in regard to friendship are for curiosity, not for life. We should not indulge these high-minded notions lest we “weave cobwebs and not cloth.”  Emerson was an idealist but he knew the place of idealism:  — examining the conduct of life against an ideal. In the Twentieth Century JFK”s New Frontier and Johnson’s War on Poverty come to mind as examples of idealism’s limits. Another contrast is the inspiring rhetoric of JFK contrasted to the plain-spoken realism of Harry Truman.  We are sadly lacking in both these days.

Assuming that sure people make sure leaders, I want surety not only in my leaders but in my friends.  When I see a potential friend approaching, I am immediately cautious, guarded, ready at any moment to withdraw my head back under my shell.  However, I also want to stick my neck out, take a risk with a new acquaintance in the hope that some bond may be built between us. I want surety in my friend

I do not  claim to be all wise. I try not to be dogmatic despite apparent evidence that may challenge my set beliefs. I often fail in this.  My beliefs do not go willingly into doubt and then into renaissance.  As a true liberal I have a little dogma myself, but I am not worthy of liberal mindedness if I don’t try to know my own prejudices.  I’ve got blind spots in my vision as do all men and women.  I must keep an open mind, for example that libertarians and conservatives can be right.  I must at least entertain the possibility that Michelle Bachman can harbor a thought worth considering.  And she and anyone, politician or not, must have the same openness to me — if America is to succeed.  I expect a friend to listen.

Regarding “perfect intelligence” of another, I don’t possess it. I have no radar or sonar that can reveal the truth to me about a potential friend approaching me.  Late at night in the middle of the Pacific when my ship steamed alone in unlimited acres of water, we came across  other ships.  Depending upon whether the blip “closed” us or seemed intent on its own course, we in the radar shack were more or less curious.  At some point we could use  IFF or identification friend or foe.  If the contact responded with the correct code, we were assured of a bogey and not a skunk.   Human beings apply the same technique when they take fine pains.  Trifles indeed can be excellent warnings if they are confirmed.   The more trifling thoughts we can dismiss regarding another, the greater the potential of safe passage or encounter in the darkness. Without this process, we are naive sitting ducks. We must presume in others the same intelligent facility of us.  Thus begins the delicious torment.  The mutual sniffing begins.

Unfortunately we often  refuse even to sniff around, to check each other out, to even participate in trying to understand another person and his opinion.  It is quite unnatural to behave this way.  Animals instiinctively perform this ritual that ends up in coitus, play or battle.

We no longer quite understand genius as the spirit of a person or a place.  We think of it as bright IQ.  Nothing can be more unfathomable to one person than the spirit, largely intangible and powerful, of another.  Truthfully we do not fully understand our own spirit, our own genius, but it remains our essence.  The best we can do with the genius of a friend is to love it, to befriend it without question.  Of course, we must have decided it is a genius worth respecting.  More often than not,  liking a friend will be non-rational if not irrational.

All of this goes on whether we have a personal agenda or not.  So when Emerson says, “Thine ever or never,” he means “I apprehend your genius and I determine that it is good and at least compatible with my own which you must also see in me.  When we do this we cease to make of our friendship “a texture of wine and dreams.”  Instead we weave “the tough fibre of the human heart.”  And he adds, “The laws of friendship are austere and eternal.”

“Twitting” and “friending” on the Internet are nothing more than the sniffing when two dogs meet — assuming we don’t leap into a bad deal.  Children and young kids are incredibly vulnerable to predators because they don’t understand the virtues of coyness, camouflage, watching the back trail, reserve. playing hard to get, checking things out, even those trifling thoughts.

Steadfast and cautious,

 

David Milliken

 

 

 

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In the Beginning Was the Word

Today I concluded it’s okay to be a tortoise. It’s okay to lie here in the shade of this poplar tree.  The day is sunny, enhanced by scattered, billowing, white cumulus clouds.  A chilly wind blows.  I am resting my head and chin on an exposed tree root.  The  yard is fenced and if some danger approaches, the yappy terriers will alert me.  The terriers don’t scare me.  They think I’m a rock of peculiar odor.

It’s okay to be slow of movement and ponderous of mind; and yet,  knowing that about myself, I must be extremely careful of  how much I take on and I’ve learned to limit myself.  You see, not only am I lugubrious, but I am easily carried off on tangents, so I can scatter my attention very easily. For example,  I have resolved to spend less time tracking Jim Tressel’s trials.  He and The Ohio State Buckeyes will have to get on with my empathy, not my full attention.  It’s a sad day for old Carmen Ohio. The Bucks will endure and the crisis will pass. And as for Washington the current political carnival will either destroy our government or not.  We have had better people in Congress and I lack empathy and sympathy for the whole lot of them. In any case crazies have the spotlight at the moment.  What amazes me is that so many of them are Republicans. In any case a  tortoise cannot fix that.

Instead, I adamantly pursue an old quest recently renewed.  What exactly is meant by “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God.”  Surely this matter ranks as high as the future of big time collegiate football or the rise and fall of the Tea Party.

It all started yesterday as I was applying plastic, electrical tape to the damaged cover of my old KJV, Confirmation Bible.  It fell open to the Book of Genesis and I was reminded of my dropped search. And so I began reading.  Then I turned to John’s gospel and looked up “The Word” in Wikipedia — not the most scholarly or erudite source, but serviceable, especially if I reveal my scholarly laziness right off. It’s too handy not to use.  But to get on, I learned that logos cannot be understood in human terms because the meaning rests in God.  Then I ran into pneuma which relates to breath and breathing which relates to something I don’t know yet — but will. I assume it relates to the breath of life or Spirit, but I hold that conclusion in abeyance. When I read that Augustine of Hippo believed that these two entities became personified, I concluded that I was in the realm of Jesus, the Incarnation and Christ.  I don’t know whether this insight came to Augustine as epiphany or as a scholarly thought — perhaps even derived from some other sequestered student.

In Sunday school I  heard about these,  but no one had ever really told me much beyond the fact that God made the Word real in the Christ.  And then came the admonishment to take it all on faith and believe.  Here is another of  those mysteries little children are supposed to swallow unsolved and move on.  Nope, never could. Grown ups should know better.

As a schooled adult I suspect that some well-intended Sunday school teacher either didn’t know or didn’t want kids to know that this was an idea of  Saint Augustine and others  who had been reading their Plotinus and thinking about Jesus. Perhaps the Pope didn’t want the unwashed poking around in Church history and ancient philosophy.   Of course not, ten-year-olds aren’t ready for Plotinus.  Besides, the elders of my church weren’t thinking about Plotinus either, let alone some Catholic saint.  As for me I’d pretty much concluded that for God, the Word was like “Schazam!” or “Open Sesame!” — some magic-charged imperative that just made stuff appear like “Let there be night, day, the beasts of the field, et cetera.”  I suspect that was good enough for the  elders, too.  And for a long time, the stories worked — especially at Christmas.  And when I grew up I thoroughly enjoyed reliving the sentiment of Christmas celebration.

During  what my stepmother called my religious phase, I answered an altar call.  This didn’t occur at my church which was conservative and fundamental, but not pentecostal.  It happened at another church.   Anyway, as soon as I knelt at the altar, I didn’t feel much except embarrassment over being so conspicuous.  All I wanted to do was get back to my pew and hide in the safety of the congregation.  A friend walked forward with me, but wouldn’t talk about his feelings.

I’m challenged in becoming as a child again — probably because I’m an adult and a little jaded. But I am okay with the idea that a college of smart, scholarly religious men got together and struggled to reconcile ancient Greek and Roman philosophy with the advent of Christianity and the Good News.  In fact it helps.  It doesn’t bother me that they were establishing a Church and that Rome needed a Church. And if the old pagan stuff could be reconciled with the new Christian stuff,  the Church would have a better foundation. I can handle it. I find it interesting that the Gospel of John may have been written between 70 and 100 A.D.  Augustine of Hippo lived from 354 to 400.  I figure John somehow had a mind for Plotinus and lot of ancient Hebrews, too.   I’ll have to look into this and check the dates.  I do not want to start seeing Kierkegaard symbols in the New Testament when it worked the other way.  Maybe I’ll even get to Kierkegaard later on.  I must.

But today  I am reading that St. Augustine said the divine is the eternal Lord which took on flesh in Christ in whom the Logos existed as in no other man.  The Logos is the principle of mediation and handles the interrelationship of Soul, Spirit and the One.  So that’s about where I am at this point.

What I’m trying to do here is important.  I’m the sort of cautions creature who needs to reduce through knowledge and reason, the gap between reason and faith.  If I can narrow that gap a little, a leap of faith will be a little easier and as I say, I have trouble just becoming as a child again.  I believe that the smaller the gap, the better a man’s belief will be.  Thing is, I don’t have forever.

Our situation here on earth seems so absurd in so many ways.  We don’t know why we’re here.  We don’t know why we have to leave this world with so much left undone.  Fundamentally we know that a sixteen-bedroom mansion with a Rolls parked at the old carriage entrance has nothing to do with real happiness.  The screaming wealthy are often as unsatisfied as anyone else.  And we have reason and logic which promises so much and fails in the end.  It’s absurd.

Then there’s  Albert Camus whom I discovered in the Fifties.  For some reason Camus is special to me.  Camus never liked it that Americans saw Existentialism as dark despair.  (Although what else could have come out of the Holocaust and the Occupation, I don’t know.  Despair seems like a pretty reasonable assessment for 1945 Europe). In fact, though, Camus preferred being called an absurdist. Camus believed passionately in the value of human life and creating one’s own meaning in the face of absurdity.  I have read that if the man had not been killed in an auto crash, his next work would have been on love.  If it’s possible, Camus was a devout absurdist.  And didn’t Jesus have just the slightest perception of absurdity when he cried, “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?”  Truthfully I’m not a very good absurdist, because I went to Sunday school.

In any case that’s what I discovered in school today, Mom. I’m as excited about my new quest as anyone could be excited about March Madness, really I am!  I’ve got a lot more to check out.  I’ll have to resume my quest tomorrow.  Ill keep you posted.  For now I lay me down to sleep and ask the Lord my soul to keep — just as you asked me to do, Mom.

Steadfast and cautious,

The Tortoise

 

 

 

 

 

 

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