cura librorum

mlk and bonhoeffer

In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

…but the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world.

– MLK Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963

The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it. But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together” (translated by john doberstein, based on experiences from the 1930s)

Today is Martin Luther King Jr. Day – January 15th. I am also, at the moment, halfway through “Bonhoeffer: Pastor Martyr Prophet Spy” by Eric Metaxas. I never thought to make connections between these two men before. Both men were pastors, martyrs, prophets, and were executed for holding to their convictions. Both lament an experiential yet theologically-based disillusionment with the church because of its failure to respond to truth with action. Both had hope in an “ecumenical movement” of sorts, that would galvanize support across churches and denominations in the name of God’s truth and that could lead to change. But both had experience pleading with fellow pastors who were complacent and lacked the same sense of urgency to respond. For Bonhoeffer, many fellow Christians failed to resist, see the threat of, or act against the Nazi regime. For King, the white pastors failed to resist, see the threat of, or act against segregationist policy and its enforcement. Yet,  both express hope in God’s leading them back to hope out of this disappointment and a redemptive aspect to this frustration.

It’s fascinating to think about how both were strongly influenced by Luther – one obviously has his namesake and another was steeped in his culture and theology from infancy. Luther, who famously said, as quoted in Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” In Letter from a Birmingham Jail, MLK says, “Was not Martin Luther an extremist when he said [this]?”

Lord, let the truth be so compelling and powerful in our lives that it leads us to love; to action. Let me refuse complacency and silence.

Let my hope in the gospel be so deep that it can overcome even cynicism or disappointment when evil seems to have the last say. Let me remember the third day.


CS Lewis – the Problem of Pain
May 31, 2016, 10:48
Filed under: Christian, prayer, Thoughts

On Heaven. – C.S Lewis, “The Problem of Pain”

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else. You may have found that the books you really love are bound together by a secret thread. You know very well what is the common quality that makes you love them, though you cannot put it into words: but most of your friends do not see it at all, and often wonder why, liking this, you should also like that. Again, you have stood before some landscape, which seems to embody what you have been looking for all you life; and then turned to the friend at your side who appears to be seeing what you saw – but at the first words a gulf yawns between you, and you realize that this landscape means something totally different to him, that he is pursuing an alien vision and cares nothing for the ineffable suggestion by which you are transported…

Are not all lifelong friendships born at the moment when you meet another human being who has some inkling (but faint and uncertain even in the best) of that something which you were born desiring, which, beneath the flux of desires and in all the momentary silences between the louder passions, night and day, year by year, from childhood to old age, you are looking for watching for, listening for? You have never had it. All the things that have every deeply possessed your soul have been but hints of it – tantalising glimpses, promises never quite fulfilled, echoes that died away just as they caught your ear. But if it should really become manifest – if there ever came an echo that did not die away but swelled into the sound itself – you would know it. Beyond all possibility of doubt you would say “Here at last is the thing I was made for.”

Lord, how I long for that day when the the unspoken can be understood without the confusion of words. For when the “yawning gulf” between myself and another will no longer have to be traversed by my faulty, failing words. You are the perfect Word and I cannot wait to be in Your presence.

Blessed and fortunate creature, your eyes shall behold Him and not another’s. All that you are, sins apart, is destined, if you will let God have His good way, to utter satisfaction… God will look to every soul like its first love because He is its first love. Your place in heaven will seem to be made for you and you alone, because you were made for it – made for it stitch by stitch as a glove is made for a hand.

It is from this point of view that we can understand hell in its aspect of privation. All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

Lord, let me behold You and not another. I submit and ask that you would have Your way, no matter the cost or no matter the painful journey that You will lead me on. Because You know what I was made for and You are lovingly shaping and disciplining me that I might “fit” into Heaven, where I can have a relationship with You.

Quote from Bon Iver – “The Fight”
September 21, 2011, 11:38
Filed under: music, Thoughts

Bon Iver recently – bought the album on iTunes with the giftcard I won at an innovation session. Makes you rather weepy, doesn’t it, at work?

Because of the extensive use of vocal harmony on the songs of For Emma, Forever Ago, Vernon was concerned that there would not be enough voices to duplicate the sound of the songs on the album in a live setting. To compensate for this problem in early performances, Vernon passed out lyrics for some songs to the audience to sing along to. In an interview with Pitchfork, Vernon described this dilemma. “I don’t want to be the guy with an acoustic guitar singing songs, because that’s boring for the most part. The song actually needs 80–500 people singing or whatever the vibe is of that room, it needs that fight.”

Google Public Data: Ethnic Breakdown of Oakland USD Elementary Schools
September 17, 2011, 20:49
Filed under: data analysis, google

Google is an extremely data-driven company – that’s no secret (I face it every day!). I stumbled upon Google Public Data while looking through the Google for Educators site, as I was thinking more about how Google works in the public sector. They’re in a really interesting and complicated situation, come to think of it. Google has so much data, the data that so many crave access to, and the computing and brain power to analyze and visualize it. Yet being a private corporation committed to dissemination & organization of information rather than decision-driving is quite the ideal postmodern position as a company… but that’s besides the point.

I present some of the data from the ethnic makeup of each of the elementary schools the Oakland USD, from 2005 – 2009. This data visualization pinpoints the location of the school when you select an “ethnicity” variable, and visualizes a bubble of a size relative to the largest proportion of data available. Provides some stark contrasts. For example, below the graph for proportion of white students clearly shows a racial divide as whites are concentrated in the Lakeshore/Piedmont areas. I drove around there today after driving through the Fruitvale/International area and indeed, all suspicions are affirmed.

Other examples by ethnicity

I think that this has just naturally occurred, but it again, is an interesting case for something like a geographical or architectural study of respective areas, as well as of disparity, social flux over time as neighborhoods grow and change, analyzing where Oakland’s revenues are coming from and if truly, the ethnic makeup of elementary schools can determine incomes/affluence of the area…

Note that you can also see this as a linear graph over time, compare schools by proportion and by time, pie/scatter plot with different x/y variables, and billions of different data visualization combinations. Interesting experiment from a ethnicity time vs. proportion graph: When I did a quick linear visualization of data by percentage of whites in the public schools in Alameda and Castro Valley Unified School districts, I saw that proportionally to the rest of the ethnicities, whites had decreased drastically (over 10%, usually) in the dataset while other ethnicities had remained mostly stagnant if not grown. Wondering about this, I remembered that this is Google Public Data – a sign that perhaps the great shift is the white migration over to private schools in the districts as opposed to public?

Questions, questions.

Fleetwood Mac – Landslide
May 11, 2011, 01:05
Filed under: Thoughts

I took my love, I took it down
I climbed a mountain and I turned around
And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hills
‘Til the landslide brought me down

Oh, mirror in the sky
What is love?
Can the child within my heart rise above?
Can I sail through the changing ocean tides?
Can I handle the seasons of my life?

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too

Well, I’ve been afraid of changing
‘Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time makes you bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older, too
Oh, I’m getting older, too

Oh, take my love, take it down
Oh, climb a mountain and turn around
And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills
Well, the landslide will bring it down

And if you see my reflection in the snow-covered hills…
Well, the landslide will bring it down
Oh, the landslide’ll bring it down

the story
May 11, 2011, 01:02
Filed under: Thoughts

Pick up the story, dust gingerly its cover
Strange, yet unseen, but somehow familiar
Knowing unknowing, pictures and patterns
Of life and history, bound ‘twixt people and hours.

These pages that thumbed with absent eye
Nostalgia infilled – what knowledge inscribed?
What love remained? What knight did save?
What lady from whither tower token waved?

Such concoctions they made, such a gander had they
That even the old lady laugh’d the worries away,
You barely could breathe, for the breaths laughter took
And without warning were shocked by the story’s sharp turn.

Bright delight dwelling in each passing word
Winding in forests, all creatures and birds
Did speak tender words to the child to tell
Such whereabouts of secrets and finespun tales.

Do write in such stories, for such stories do hail
From afar, the bright hope of a world that is well
From within, calls young hearts of young years from the aged
And rise uplift once more prayers that still remain.

the visit
May 11, 2011, 00:59
Filed under: Thoughts

It was yellow and pale all around, from the walls to the complexion of the receiving nurse staff. I saw the world through wide eyes held plastically open, and I felt strangely numb, walking up to him for inspection before I could be received. I systematically handed him the flowers (no ceramic flowerpot), her computer and laptop charger (must be held by the nurse in the supervised room at all times), and he handed me her headphones with a shake of his head. “Put these in your purse, and put your bag in that locker,” he said, gesturing, “and don’t bring them inside.” I was beginning to see a trend.

He then inspected the clothes I’d brought in. He pulled the shoelaces out of the shoes. He tugged at the string of the sweater’s hood until it came out all the way. Then he held up the plastic bag I’d brought the clothes in.  “The last successful suicide attempt in this psychiatric ward was with a plastic bag -” His voice rang a knell in my empty chamber – “You’d better make sure that this bag comes out of the ward when you leave.”

Watching each item being stripped away I felt like layers of dignity and agency were being stripped away with them. I wanted to snatch these unoffensive offensive items from his hands and to hand them to her freely, to prove that she was capable of handling the shoelaces and the plastic bags of this world. I wanted to put the ceramic pot in her hands and urge her to plant something in it and let it grow and flourish. I wanted desperately for her to take the shoelaces and tie up her shoes and walk confidently out into the sun.

But I had nothing in my hands I walked down the hall to greet her where she was sitting, curled up in a chair, staring out the window. “Hi,” I breathed gently, careful to remove any sharpness from my voice. I tangled and interlaced my fingers behind my back as I looked at her. “How are you?”