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An Invitation to the Church of the Open Question

Saturday, June 23rd, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — announcing a new blog for matters quasi-religious, poetical ]
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The Church of the Open Question is the name of my church.

I have held this domain name, churchoftheopenquestion.com, for some years now, and a blog-church by that name should be coming online shortly — this is its first announcement.

My church bears that name because it expressly questions dogmatic formulations, while encourageing depthful exploration of the possible resonances of dogma that might go missing if all such formulations are dismissed out of hand.

Push open a question, leave it open, and what you have is possibilities.

The marvelous, beautiful, well-spoken Elizabeth Mattis Namgyel has titled her book on Tibetan Madhyamaka philosophy, The Power of an Open Question: The Buddha’s Path to Freedom, and I find myself to have come by a natural unfolding to a position very sympathetic to that which she has attained by the disciplined enterprise of Madhyamaka Buddhism under the tutelage of her husband, Lama Dzigar Kongtrül — a delightful homecoming for me.

I view my church — and the swing-doors that are its central feature — as offering a place where, for instance, Catholics who are leaving Catholicism may find certain doctrines illuminated as imaginative or poetic vehicles for wonder, which they can then carrry with them as spiritual values in an overwhelmingly secular and monteized societty, while those approaching the Church from outside it may find means of delighting in poetic or imaginative readings of texts that, stated in plain prose as definitive beliefs, are difficult indeed to swallow.

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As an example, here’s a poem I wrote in this spirit, exploring the central symbolism of thr Christmas story..

Christmas for Buddhists

Suppose the full radiance inhabiting all things,
on the specific occasion we now celebrate,
finding itself as fond of narrative as of symmetry,
of emptiness as of fullness, decided
for the sake of teaching its selves a thing
or eight, to take on a newborn form,
while letting its nature shine forth visible
to its mum, sundry animals, three visiting kings

and an assortment of invisible winged beings —
what better place than the animal stall
outside an inn, where no room was available
for a pregnant visitor to give birth, could
that master of story, Original Face, choose,
to tell humanity: humility is the necessary virtue?

or it’s close cousin, exploring the Mass:

To suppose the Eucharist

Suppose the hypothetical all of everything
in unspooling itself chose to exhibit itself in
one human, suppose further all the sun’s
light were caught in wheat and baked into
bread, all the world’s pains and passions
crushed like grapes into wine, suppose the
one person took loaf and cup and with
word and gesture raised them blood, body

of his own self to be supped and sipped,
thus woven into his one flesh, blood, mind —
just when his flesh is torn, blood spills —
suppose then that his mind to love were to
entrain this new body of many bodies to
heal with all radiance each instance of pain..

That one certainly owes something to Teilhard de Chardin, as the first may to Thomas Merton — this, then, will be above all a gathering or congregation of friends..

**

I’m encouraged by Dr Jordan Peterson‘s claim that he “wanted to establish a church .. in which he would deliver sermons every Sunday” — although in my own case, every now and then will have to substitute for every Sunday.

I have a first sermon lined up, too, in which I want to ask “What did Mozart see as Christ‘s life” when chosing the words “Ave verum corpus natum” to set to some of his most wondrous music? The answer’s a bit surprising, and suggestive of the many devotional moods the contemplation of that life can give rise to..

Coming shortly.. Clapton, too. And Anthony Bourdain.

If our toes were our fingers, if Pyongyang was Tehran

Sunday, June 17th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — metaphors, mathematics, and a question for you all ]
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There’s a toe ointment ad for Kerasil that begins:

If our toes were our fingers, everyone would instantly notice the difference..

— accompanied by various shortt clips of feet serving various functions of hands, see above.

I’ll talk about fingers and toes, okay, if you’ll tell me about Pyongyang and Tehran, deal?

**

This is the first ad — or for that matter, mass media mention — I’ve seen of the hands / feet comparison, and that’s significant in itself because, along with day / night, sun / moon, fingers / toes must be one of the earlier comparisons on which we base all future comparisons / parallelisms / oppositions, and thus analogies, and by extension, metaphors.

Fingers and toes, then, are an early matrix for us, but that matrix gets abstracted into the decimal counting system, no small matter in our culture and many others. And from decimals we can go to the Dewey Decimal System used in, Wiki informs us, 200,000 libraries in at least 135 countries — and that’s just one of the branches of the tree whose roots are in fingers and toes — our fingers and toes, not the toes of a three-toed sloth or woodpecker…

And of course, the day / night, sun / moon and other dual contrasts arguably derive some of their power from the duality hands / feet, which also gives us left / right, sinister / right, right / wrong and the entire range of moral judgments, based on the two sides of the body and extrapolated from there. We seldom think of these things, unless perhaps in early education, but as Jung and others have noted, they hold great significance for psychology and cultural anthropology.


image: the Nassau County Mathletes

Using decimals, we can represent irrational numbers — impossible to represent as fractions, pi and the square root of minus one foremost among them — a notion so disturbing tto the purist Pythagoreans that Tobias Dantzig, in Number: the Language of Science, quotes Proclus as saying:

It is told that those who first brought out the irrationals from concealment into the open perished in shipwreck, to a man. For the unutterable and the formless must needs be concealed. And those who uncovered and touched this image of life were instantly destroyed and shall remain forever exposed to the play of the eternal waves.

Irrational, or just plain crazy? And those waves — a metaphor for randomness, chaos, or for the universality (via Fourier transforms) of the sine wave?

Oh. And when a zen master wants to set a student a problem that cannot be solved by our binarily inclined minds, he gives them the koan “what’s the sound of one hand clapping?”

**

Okay, that’s enough about about hands / feet — now let’s hear about the Pyongyang summit and the Iranian nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. I’m sure you have plenty of thoughts on the matter — your turn, please..

For Jim Gant, On the Resurrection, 01

Monday, April 9th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron –with breath, thinking this through ]
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It seems to me that there are two chewable questions in all seriousness:

Does God Exist?

To which it seems to me that the only answer would be something along the line of this:

A roaring silence, in other words, which somehow worked itself out like this in the mind of one Franz Liszt — and he must have been pretty shaken by the end of it..

For the record, it’s my sense that if St Gregory of Nyssa had had a taste for Liszt and access to YouTube, he might have said much the same.. One cannot predicate existence of God, but one can experience revelation, eh?

*
Question #2 is the real shaker, though..

Did the Resurrection really happen?

*

What’s the distance between inside, and within — and politics?

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — eerie distances between thus and so, this and that — and Trump, Wolff ]
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Speaking practically: switching between the delicate details of the North Korean situation, and those of the Iranian situation, each of which involves a potential nuclear adversary and some deterrent balance, and each of which contains the other as a subset — what’s the mental distance between those two mindsets? How fast can a sharp mind switch betweeen them. Or, for that matter, between foreign affairs and domestic politics? Or between dealing with House and Senate? Or between treating with Democrat and Republican?

Is there a zoom at work here, between these difficult distances?

**

I’d been wondering recently about some mental distances that illustrate the difference betweeen qualitative and quantitative realms, subjective and objective realities..

I’ve been asking myself, what’s the distance between inside and within, between x-ray and insight, or sky and heaven?


Wm Blake, Newton (left); Angel (right).

And what scale should we use to peer into such questions? — the compass Blake’s Newton uses to parcel out earth is purely terrestrial, purely rational, and Blake’s own blazing angels would have no place in it. Should we perhaps use Taleb‘s Wittgenstein‘s ruler?

Unless you have confidence in the ruler’s reliability, if you use a ruler to measure a table you may also be using the table to measure the ruler.

Here, the distance between the measurer and the measured is itself in flux.

**

Back to politics.

How do those whose entire lives have been concerned with the largely substantial, ascertainable or verifiable facts of focus groups, polls, votes, election results, majorities, minorities, policies and so forth — with no time for Rilke‘s “angels’ hierarchies” — function when weighing the “mental stability” or “very stable genius” of a President with that same President’s policy with regard to — gasp — Kim Jong-Un?

Who has his own issues of “very stable genius” or “mental stability”?

And who doesn’t even have a semi-reliable chronicler like Wolff to illuminate the swathe he is cutting through ideology, dogma, doctrine, advisors, generals, and.. Juche?

How many minds do we have among the generals, among the punditry, who can roam at all scales of the relevant realms, psychological and political, blatant and nuanced, knowable and profoundly unknown?

This I must watch on Netflix

Monday, August 28th, 2017

[ by Charles Cameron — continuing in the pesky socratic tradition ]
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Here’s the possible parallelism, d’you dare say it’s a moral equivalence, are the scales even close to equal, or isn’t that the moral point anyway?

Just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry, the soldier wonders, have we now become oppressors? Have the Arabs now been sent into exile?

Here’s the whole paragraph:

In 1949, Yizhar Smilansky, a young Israeli veteran, national legislator, and novelist writing under the pen name S. Yizhar, published “Khirbet Khizeh,” a novella about the destruction of a lightly fictionalized Palestinian village near Ashkelon, some thirty miles south of Tel Aviv. Writing from the point of view of a disillusioned Israeli soldier, Yizhar describes the Army’s capture of the village and the expulsion of its remaining inhabitants. The time is 1948, the moment of Israel’s independence and its subsequent victory over five invading Arab armies that had hoped to erase the fledgling Jewish state from the map. It would be forty years before the New Historians—Benny Morris, Avi Shlaim, and Simha Flapan among them—marshalled the nerve and the documentary evidence required to shatter the myth that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs had all voluntarily “abandoned” their cities and villages. Yizhar was there to bear witness in real time. He wrote from personal experience; he had been an intelligence officer in the war. In “Khirbet Khizeh,” Yizhar’s protagonist is sickened as he comes across an Arab woman who watches as her home is levelled: “She had suddenly understood, it seemed, that it wasn’t just about waiting under the sycamore tree to hear what the Jews wanted and then to go home, but that her home and her world had come to a full stop, and everything had turned dark and was collapsing; suddenly she had grasped something inconceivable, terrible, incredible, standing directly before her, real and cruel, body to body, and there was no going back.” Just a few years after the destruction of European Jewry, the soldier wonders, have we now become oppressors? Have the Arabs now been sent into exile? And why can’t I bring myself to protest? “Khirbet Khizeh” eventually became part of the Israeli public-school curriculum.

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Source & resource:

  • David Remnick, How Do You Make a TV Show Set in the West Bank?
  • Netflix, Fauda
  • **

    With any luck, I’ll report back at some point. It seems to me that a love of the individual Palestinian should nest within a love of the State of Israel as the circles in the tai chih symbol rest within the swirls of the opposite colors. But what a charged topic!

    A koan!


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