Thursday, July 16, 2020


Even though I’ve assumed a kind of militant monasticism to get through the days, what is fundamental to it is the vivid memory of the time at the NU theatre department '57-'61 when we were all so passionate and extended to our maximum for a common goal in a place that became significant because it was so full of us. But it had a dark side:  teaching high school dramatics was OUT and even “church” was inadequate, because there were always people who wouldn’t try, who were damaged or angry, who didn’t fit but wouldn’t leave. They would turn to sniggering and faking, or just ignore the whole thing.  I myself was afraid of crescendo, the great turning point, even as clergy because I was afraid of being exceeded.  Or over-achieving.

One of the main things I brought away acting (from preaching as well) is that such things are not in the producer (the actor) or in the watchers (those present in seats) but in something mysterious that happens between, in mid-air, unseen but real.  If it doesn’t happen, it’s not a play, it’s not an experience.  

In a class somewhere long ago the professor pointed out that in historical time-lines based on journals kept in monasteries researchers would come upon years when nothing was entered.  Almost decades would be empty before the recording resumed.  Perhaps it is most remarkable that they DID resume.  But everyone wonders what was happening that kept everyone from writing it down.  If you can figure that out, it may be more significant than the actual writing.  A war, a pandemic, an environmental crisis?  Politics?  Religion?  A failure to understand what was happening?

When I was circuit-riding in Montana and delivering the same sermon manuscript four times in four places, it was obvious that what each group “heard” was different from the others.  Notoriously, when couples go for therapy the counselor often asks one partner to repeat what was just declared by the other and often they couldn’t do it accurately.

Once I delivered a sermon in Seattle that was about a short story in which a Native American woman living alone realized she was being watched closely by a female black bear, an attractive glossy animal who finally proposed marriage.  The woman answered, “Well, we are both the same sex, but we’re different species so I suppose it’s all right.”  I left the church afterwards and by chance walked behind a pair of young men talking.  One said he just “couldn’t get it.  It was just a crazy story."  Hmmm.

When working on communication in terms of finding something that went wrong or pinpointing places to concentrate improvement it’s clear that “better” writing is clearer, more vivid, and so on.  It’s also clear that readers can be taught to search for and process ways to read more carefully and skillfully.  But the “real” part is what is in between, the formation of meaning in that moment.  This is what is lost without an effective teacher.  But it is also lost by an indolent or balking reader.  

Rather amazingly, a bit of writing that isn’t particularly strong at one time may have intense value at another when the surrounding events are different or the culture is different — maybe in a different place.  Living in Valier is often living in the 19th century, which they think is the 20th century, but this is the year 2020.  Living in Browning one can meet people who think the year is 1850.

The more particular a scene or explanation may be, the more likely it is to be meaningful — and thus universal, reaching towards “symbol” or “trope” which are words that try to point out value that remains and is used again and again.  A kind of penumbra of meaning.  In our efforts to reach a new universality, we are redefining again and again the meaning of things like flags or town square bronze monuments of men on horses.  It’s a struggle to get people to see the quality of the depiction or physical manufacture.

Relationships and interactions have far more value than whatever they are between but because they are abstract many people just can’t see them, don’t really believe they exist.  Things like honor or loyalty.  The ability to grasp and use abstracts is a skill that arrives towards the end of the development of the human brain, which is about 26, assuming good health.  I’ve become acutely aware that not everyone fulfills their presumed evolutionary maximum.  They just can’t get it.  But it’s not their fault.  They are not equipped with the ability.  One can’t blame people for being limited organically, socially, or economically — but we do it all the time.  We haven’t figured out what to do that will help them.  We can’t figure out how to keep their belligerent prehuman wired-in convictions from erupting up through even a completed mature mind.

When there is a culture that reinforces the worst impulses of people, we don’t have enough strategies for supporting mature minds, which would presumably choose rational outcomes.  Maybe it’s very good that everything is disrupted right now.  Maybe we can get the bucket off our pig heads.  

For instance, the Bioneers just suggested that not being able to crowd into buildings may be a chance to start the fall school year by getting everyone out of the classrooms to walk the fields or the neighborhoods, looking carefully and taking notes.  Kids are not a school of fish or birds.  They don’t learn at the same speed nor pay attention to the same things.  “Montessori” it.

Not necessarily Trump but the gang in the White House have done an excellent job of showing us all the loopholes and weaknesses of our present political system — Rule of Law or not.  And someone is painting our internet probs bright red early enough before the election to address them, if we will.

Stop sniggering and marketing, stop turning the pages without writing anything.  But we didn’t learn how to do that in the recent decades. My task at 80 is how to use my time and how to keep from giving up, not that I have any impact beyond commenting.  One of the earliest plays I learned was “Antigone.”  That helps.

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