Thursday, November 6, 2008

Gilead and Home

When I read in an Obama interview last fall that Marilynne Robinson's Gilead was his current favorite book ("the language just shimmers") that was reason enough for me to take him very seriously. Anna had introduced me to the book, which is one of the very best, most touching novels I've read in a long time. A companion to Gilead, called Home, has just been published. You can about Gilead here. Here's the NYT book review of Home.

The story is grounded in the trajectory of the 19th century Abolitionist movement, and 20th century race in America, including bi-racial experience, a grounding which I only understand fully now. So these books must be extra special for Obama, I imagine, apart from the wonderful writing itself. They are great stories, I think, precisely because they effectively embed the personal into the larger history of racism, and faith, in America.


I've also read that Obama is an avid student of Lincoln.

Lincoln's whole political career spanned the years of our national crack-up on the shoals of slavery, imperialism (our war with Mexico), and economic expansion. Lincoln' own journey, reflected in his writings, articulated so much of what needed digesting and healing in his time (and still does in ours.) He was really a great man, through whom we can glimpse the limitations and transcendence that real life is all about.

Team of rivals Obama reportedly has read this lately. Discusses how Lincoln handled his first term.
Lincoln's First Inaugural
Lincoln's Second Inaugural
Lincoln on slavery: 1837-1865

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

"Anthropological Intro to YouTube" and "Into Great Silence"

Dear Sam,

Yes, that video about YouTube is a fantastic presentation. I was particularly struck by the notion of "context collapse."

The whole issue of what people feel like staring into the cam when they make their first "vblog" reminded me strongly of a film released in the last year called "Into Great Silence". It's a documentary about the way of life of Carthusian monks of the ancient Grand Chartreuse monastery in the French Alps. There is a moment when the filmmaker has each of the monks stand still for a minute before the camera, and stare right into it, in silence, before a blank white wall.

And I thought then, watching their different responses, that the filmmaker had brilliantly transformed his camera into something like the inscrutable face of God, and then placed the monks before it. All their monastic "formation" is supposed to prepare them for this moment. Interestingly, the younger monks appeared to be the most uncomfortable, while the prior and the older monks, and especially the abbot's face, rather quickly settled into a posture of quiet confidence, and even joy.

Which leads me to say that the last segment of the Anthro video might be viewed as a metaphorical instance of our own faces reflecting the face of God.

la tua MAMA

Looking into the eye of God

Thursday, August 21, 2008

500 words or less

Last year Susan asked me for a quick and dirty "answer" to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Beginning steps weren't hard to formulate. A year later only one of them has come to pass: Mohammed Dahlan is no longer head of any Palestinian security forces.

On Jun 20, 2007, at 10:18 AM, sdclines wrote:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is getting worse and worse. What do you think will happen? What should the US be doing? (500 words or less)

On Jun 20, 2007, at 10:54 AM, lea wrote:

OK, how about this?

US should begin rebuilding US credibility encouraging its ally, Israel, to take these specific steps... in this order

1. Release Marwan Barghouti.

2. Deep-six Mohammed Dahlan

3. Get the Arab League, EU and US to support reconciliation of Palestinian Unity government, with promise of UNCONDITIONAL RELEASE OF TAX REVENUES Israeli is holding back once that is patched back together. With Dahlan out, it's possible. Hamas (moderates) say they want it. The major reason Abbas is saying "no", is because US and Israel are supporting that stance.

4. Israel renounces principle of "expanding existing settlements" in West Bank

5. Israel announces it will stop construction of parallel road system in West Bank

6. Israel announces that as a good will gesture it is ceasing its excavation/repairs at base of the Temple Mount.

7. US announces effort to convene conference of all outside parties providing weapons to begin talks to reduce arms flow into Israel, West Bank and Gaza. This is tricky but can be done, in a face saving manner for everyone.

After that we/EU/Arab League broker a peace deal that addresses...



Right of Return in context of the disposition of hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers in same breath as fate of Palestinian diaspora is discussed. Any compensation discussion should include claims by both Palestinians and Jews displaced since 1948 from British Mandate and surrounding Arab countries.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A More Perfect Union

Barack Obama's candidacy is taking us into new territory, where old understandings of common categories and even of our national history are shifting.

For my part, after reading Obama's speech, I think he understands the human condition far better than most politicians I've heard.

This part really touched me:

"The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America."

I think that sentence describes not just the black experience, but the American Experience, both at home and abroad- a complex truth about ourselves that sooner or later we're going to have to acknowledge.

Note: Rev. Wright's most controversial remarks were taken from the following sermons, large portions of which can be read at the links below. Links to recording of full sermon are at the end of each article.

The Day of Jerusalem's Fall
Confusing God and Government