Bob Schwartz

Category: Uncategorized

People Evolve Slower Than Things

People evolve slower than things. Sometimes much slower.

This is not the only or ultimate key to understanding this modern world.

But faced with one puzzle after another—How could this be happening?—it explains a lot.

People evolve slower than things.

Knowing Back Not Going Back

Sources: An anthology of contemporary materials useful for preserving personal sanity while braving the great technological wilderness

Now there’s more to do than watch my sailboat glide
But every day can be a magic carpet ride
A little bit of courage is all we lack
So catch me if you can, I’m goin’ back
Goin’ Back, Gerry Goffin & Carole King

You can’t drive a car forward looking in the rear view mirror. That’s how you crash.

But if you are someone who swam in the idiot wise sea of a different time, not really so long ago, you look at some of the riches that you caught floating by, open this or that broken-binding book and say: we might use this now. They might use this now, if it wasn’t considered so old and out of touch with now. Not to mention out of print and out of mind.

What goes round comes round, or might just go away. Too bad, because great tools don’t go out of style. People just forget they’re there.

Syria Again (Weary and Helpless)

I’ve stopped counting the number of posts I’ve written about Syria. The most recent back in December, right before Christmas, was Syria: Things Fall Apart: “This is a season of light for many people, but in Syria it is getting darker every day.”

More than three years ago, the post was Syria and the Fog of Or Else:

Hints of chemical weapons allowed Obama to employ his own red line: no chemical weapons—or else. Because of world history and established international agreement, certain weapons of mass destruction are deemed so out of bounds that action is semi-automatically called for. That is, using chemical weapons trumps sovereignty. The international community might stand by for the internal slaughter of thousands, no matter how inhumane, but it is quasi-obligated to answer when certain civilized conventions come into play. In other words, the chemical weapons would offer a license to act, even if the other inhumanities didn’t

A license to act—if we knew what we could reasonably achieve, if people believe that it is worth losing lives to enforce the ban on chemical weapons, if it is actually about chemical weapons, if acting doesn’t make matters worse, if we knew exactly what we planned to do and how we would deal with all the possible aftermaths. None of which is clear now. None of which is likely to be clear anytime soon.

Welcome to the fog of or else.

The “hints” of chemical weapons aren’t just hints any more. They are being dropped in bombs. If it was dark in December just before Christmas, it is darker in April, just before Passover and Easter. Why mention those holidays? I could try to explain by making some clever intellectual and theological connections, but I’m really not sure, and anyway I’m not up to it. I am weary of writing about Syria. And I am weary of nonsense, and of comfortable leaders making others suffer, and of comfortable leaders pontificating and politicizing and pretending to be more moral and smarter than they actually might be. They may mean ill or well, but meanwhile, there is the fog and the darkness and things falling apart in Syria. And most of us are helpless to make it better.

Heschel for Passover (or Any Time)

A reader reminds me that a year ago, I posted about including readings from Abraham Joshua Heschel in the Passover seder (A Heschel Haggadah).

You will find the readings I included in last year’s seder below. As regular readers know, I’ve mentioned Heschel a few times in this blog, and more frequently in my conversations and discussions. He may be the greatest of modern masters of Judaism or of any spiritual traditions. He is not always easy, but he is accessible, inspirational, mind-and-soul-stirring at a depth that lasts. His is not fast food; it is a long, rich, delicious meal that nourishes you for a lifetime and that you never forget—kind of like a seder. In addition to Elijah, who we expect at every seder, Heschel would be so welcome any time.

Along with the readings below, I urge you to take a look at some of the collections of readings available and then, if you like what you find, check out some of the many books (I am particularly fond of The Sabbath, but there are so many worthy ones).

Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings

The Wisdom of Heschel

I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology  (“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”)


THE MEANING OF EXISTENCE is experienced in moments of exaltation. Man must strive for the summit in order to survive on the ground. His norms must be higher than his behavior, his ends must surpass his needs. The security of existence lies in the exaltation of existence.

This is one of the rewards of being human: quiet exaltation, capability for celebration. It is expressed in a phrase which Rabbi Akiba offered to his disciples:

A song every day,
A song every day

 

THE TABLETS ARE BROKEN whenever the Golden Calf is called into being. We believe that every hour is endowed with the power to lend meaning to or withhold meaning from all other hours. No moment is as a moment able to bestow ultimate meaning upon all other moments. No moment is the absolute center of history. Time is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose periphery is nowhere.

 

THE WORLD COULD NOT EXIST at all except as one; deprived of unity, it would not be a cosmos but chaos, an agglomeration of countless possibilities … Life is tangled, fierce, fickle. We cannot remain in agreement with all goals. We are constantly compelled to make a choice, and the choice of one goal means the forsaking of another.

 

THE PROPHETS PROCLAIMED that justice is omnipotent, that right and wrong are dimensions of world history, not merely modes of conduct. The existence of the world is contingent upon right and wrong … The validity of justice and the motivation for its exercise lie in the blessings it brings to man … Justice exists in relation to a person … An act of injustice is condemned, not because the law is broken, but because a person has been hurt.

 

THE HEART IS OFTEN A LONELY VOICE in the marketplace of living. Man may entertain lofty ideals and behave like the ass that, as the saying goes, “carries gold and eats thistles.” The problem of the soul is how to live nobly in an animal environment; how to persuade and train the tongue and the senses to behave in agreement with the insights of the soul.

 

HUMAN LIFE IS HOLY, holier even than the Scrolls of the Torah … Reverence for God is shown in our reverence for man. The fear you must feel of offending or hurting a human being must be as ultimate as your fear of God. An act of violence is an act of desecration. To be arrogant toward man is to be blasphemous toward God.

 

TO PRAY is to take notice of the wonder, to regain a sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments. Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living. It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

To escape from the mean and penurious, from calculating and scheming, is at times the parching desire of man … Prayer clarifies our hope and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the pangs we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self-purification … It teaches us what to aspire to, implants in us the ideals we ought to cherish.

 

THE MOST MAGNIFICENT EDIFICES, most beautiful temples and monuments of worldly glory, are repulsive to the man of piety when they are built by the sweat and tears of suffering slaves, or erected through injustice and fraud. Hypocrisy and pretense of devoutness are more distasteful to him than open iniquity. But in the roughened, soiled hands of devoted parents, or in the maimed bodies and bruised faces of those who have been persecuted but have kept faith with God, he may detect the last great light on earth.

 

WHAT WOULD ART HAVE BEEN without the religious sense of mystery and sovereignty, and how dreary would religion have been without the incessant venture of the artist to embody the invisible in visible forms, to bring his vision out of the darkness of the heart, and to fill the immense absence of the Deity with the light of human genius? The right hand of the artist withers when he forgets the sovereignty of God, and the heart of the religious man has often become dreary without the daring skill of the artist. Art seemed to be the only revelation in the face of the Deity’s vast silence.

“‘People are scared’: Paranoia seizes Trump’s White House”

This from today’s Washington Post:

 ‘People are scared’: Paranoia seizes Trump’s White House

Staffers are leaving their phones at home, using secret apps and monitoring each other’s social media.

A culture of paranoia is consuming the Trump administration, with staffers increasingly preoccupied with perceived enemies — inside their own government. In interviews, nearly a dozen White House aides and federal agency staffers described a litany of suspicions.

The report is essential and surreal reading.

There have been two parallel concerns about the trump presidency:

It would be ruthlessly effective at remaking America in an unrecognizable and un-American form.

and/or

It would be totally ineffective at getting anything done, even that which is necessary. In other words, the government would be in leaderless chaos and falling apart.

Many of the stories up to now have been evidence of the first. This story, though, is on-target about the second.

The American ideal is a government led by three branches, each one reasonably aware and capable, each one taking its role as a check and balance seriously. Right now:

The Supreme Court, thanks to the Republicans refusal to fill a vacancy last year, sits one Justice short.

A Republican-controlled Congress is caught between loyalty to the supposed leader of their party in the White House and the realization (something they knew from the campaign) that the president has…problems.

The executive branch? You can watch and read the news, including the above-mentioned report, as well as anybody.

As political theory, some say they want less government. But what if, in effect, we end up with none?

Hold your head up or keep your head down?

This post has nothing to hide. Obviously, since it is here for the world to read. It has no reason to hide, being only some thoughts on whether or not we should be concerned that something we say might be seen as trouble, and get us in trouble.

America is in theory, and mostly in practice, a model of individual freedom, because it was born out of the opposite. Yet there have been times and circumstances to the contrary. The list of instances where civil liberties gave way, arguably with or without good reason, is long. War—actual or purported or made up—has been just one such situation.

Globally and historically, the price of speaking up, truth to power, is very high. Less so in America, but not unknown. So in America, which example should we heed? Should we think in troubled times that speaking up about those troubles will be protected? Or should we think, as citizens around the world have had to consider for so long, that someone is watching, listening and reading, and what we see as legitimate commentary or call to action others in authority see as threat and danger?

This is something we should talk about. Or maybe not.

Asleep

Asleep

I fell asleep standing up
Leaning against the shelf
Books as pillow and pillar.
Too tired to be uncomfortable
I felt at peace.
I should have moved
To a chair, to bed
But that was beyond me.
Besides, the books will cover me
If I get cold
Soothe and comfort me
If I dream badly
Catch me
If I fall
Asleep.

Three Silences

Three Silences

Keep silent outside
Though inside
The conversation never ends.
Keep silent inside
Though distant whispers
Try to engage you.
Abandon silence
Where everything
Is said and heard.

The Round Trip

The Round Trip

“Form is emptiness, emptiness is form.”
Heart Sutra

The trip to Emptiness took hours
Or was it days or years
I can’t tell.
The ticket was lost
(Just misplaced it turns out)
The line for security was long
ID shown
Pockets emptied
Shoes off.
They took my bags apart
What’s this?
What’s this?
Once I put it all back together
And got on the plane
The flight seemed like every other
The seat
The blah blah blah
The shuttle to the hotel.
In the room on the table
A local magazine called Emptiness
On the cover
A picture of the city
That could be any city.
On the desk a welcome note:
“emptiness is form”
I lay down
And fell asleep
And woke up.

Or was I still sleeping?
Or had I already returned?

 

Coffee Paradise

Bodum

Coffee Paradise

The coffee’s not making itself
Arriving on its own
No cook or chef
No waiter or waitress
No server or servess.

The discipline of
Water pot
Grounds and heat
Is good for you
Poor stir press pour
Mindful walk
To kitchen and back.

But where is the angel or
The winged cup
This is a morning
For that lazy heaven.