Friday, August 23, 2019

More from early 2019

Aware: The Science and Practice of Presence--The Groundbreaking Meditation Practice by Siegel M.D., Dr. Daniel

It's hard for me to distinguish this book from many others I've read. This has much more science, and great practical insight, data. Though, since it is much longer than others, I'm not sure it is as accessible.

From Amazon: "An in-depth look at the science that underlies meditation's effectiveness, this book teaches readers how to harness the power of the principle "Where attention goes, neural firing flows, and neural connection grows." Siegel reveals how developing a Wheel of Awareness practice to focus attention, open awareness, and cultivate kind intention can literally help you grow a healthier brain and reduce fear, anxiety, and stress in your life.  Whether you have no experience with a reflective practice or are an experienced practitioner, Aware is a hands-on guide that will enable you to become more focused and present, as well as more energized and emotionally resilient in the face of stress and the everyday challenges life throws your way."

I like this practitioner's take on the insight he uses from the book in his practice:

More available at this PDF link:

Games without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan by Tamim Ansary

I tried to get a good audio read of this book, though it proved difficult.  I'm a visual learner, and tracking names/locations to this region of the world where I know so little (Afghanistan) "taxed" my ability to stay focused.  I needed a map and a key to better follow the audio version - or, I need to come back to the print.
From "Five times in the last two centuries, some great power has tried to invade, occupy, or otherwise take control of Afghanistan. And as Tamim Ansary shows in this illuminating history, every intervention has come to grief in much the same way and for much the same reason: The intervening power has failed to understand that Afghanistan has a story of its own, a story that continues to unfold between, and despite, the interventions.  Games without Rules tells this story from the inside looking out. Drawing on his Afghan background, Muslim roots, and Western and Afghan sources, Ansary weaves an epic that moves from a universe of village republics--the old Afghanistan--through a tumultuous drama of tribes, factions, and forces, to the current struggle.
Ansary paints a richly textured portrait of a nation that began to form around the same time as the United States but is still struggling to coalesce; a nation driven by its high ambitions but undermined by its own demons, while every forty to sixty years a great power crashes in and disrupts whatever progress has been made. A compelling narrative told in an accessible, conversational style, Games without Rules offers revelatory insight into a country long at the center of international debate, but never fully understood by the outside world."

One Summer: America, 1927  by Bill Bryson 

I like Bill Bryson's take on history.  This was not as compelling as other books I've enjoyed by the author.  From "The summer of 1927 began with Charles Lindbergh crossing the Atlantic. Meanwhile, Babe Ruth was closing in on the home run record. In Newark, New Jersey, Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly sat atop a flagpole for twelve days, and in Chicago, the gangster Al Capone was tightening his grip on bootlegging. The first true “talking picture,” Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer, was filmed, forever changing the motion picture industry.  All this and much, much more transpired in the year Americans attempted and accomplished outsized things—and when the twentieth century truly became the American century. One Summer transforms it all into narrative nonfiction of the highest order."
The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee

A massive story, in a massive book.  So! Much! Here! So much!  From Author: Anthony Doerr, author of All the Light We Cannot See" "This is perhaps the greatest detective story ever told—a millennia-long search, led by a thousand explorers, from Aristotle to Mendel to Francis Collins, for the question marks at the center of every living cell. Like The Emperor of All Maladies, The Gene is prodigious, sweeping, and ultimately transcendent. If you’re interested in what it means to be human, today and in the tomorrows to come, you must read this book."
This book!  A ton! of data! - the history of humanity, one might say - in six-hundred pages.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

This book is reasonably a "best-seller" and "loved by many" tale.  A "good-ol' boys" American saga, celebrating Americans.  It's no wonder it's a best seller.

A great read. From Amazon: "It was an unlikely quest from the start. With a team composed of the sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew team was never expected to defeat the elite teams of the East Coast and Great Britain, yet they did, going on to shock the world by defeating the German team rowing for Adolf Hitler. The emotional heart of the tale lies with Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not only to regain his shattered self-regard but also to find a real place for himself in the world. Drawing on the boys’ own journals and vivid memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, Brown has created an unforgettable portrait of an era, a celebration of a remarkable achievement, and a chronicle of one extraordinary young man’s personal quest."

White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg

I did not find the book compelling - though the content matters to me.  It may have been that I read through this early in 2019 and I was taxing of so much white-supremacist/white-America complicated content . . . that I couldn't take it all in.

From Amazon: "Surveying political rhetoric and policy, popular literature and scientific theories over four hundred years, Isenberg upends assumptions about America’s supposedly class-free society––where liberty and hard work were meant to ensure real social mobility. Poor whites were central to the rise of the Republican Party in the early nineteenth century, and the Civil War itself was fought over class issues nearly as much as it was fought over slavery. Reconstruction pitted poor white trash against newly freed slaves, which factored in the rise of eugenics–-a widely popular movement embraced by Theodore Roosevelt that targeted poor whites for sterilization. These poor were at the heart of New Deal reforms and LBJ’s Great Society; they haunt us in reality TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo and Duck Dynasty. Marginalized as a class, white trash have always been at or near the center of major political debates over the character of the American identity. We acknowledge racial injustice as an ugly stain on our nation’s history. With Isenberg’s landmark book, we will have to face the truth about the enduring, malevolent nature of class as well."

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams Paperback – June 19, 2018
by Walker PhD, Matthew (Author)

I get it that sleep is important.  In fact, I regularly prescribe it for students, friends, persons in ministry - and for my own kids, routinely.  And!  I know when I don't get enough of it.  I've read elsewhere on sleep theory/neuroscience of sleep - and this book brings it all together. The bottom line - we don't understand sleep, we don't appreciate sleep, and we likely all need more of it.  From Amazon: "In this “compelling and utterly convincing” (The Sunday Times) book, preeminent neuroscientist and sleep expert Matthew Walker provides a revolutionary exploration of sleep, examining how it affects every aspect of our physical and mental well-being. Charting the most cutting-edge scientific breakthroughs, and marshalling his decades of research and clinical practice, Walker explains how we can harness sleep to improve learning, mood and energy levels, regulate hormones, prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, slow the effects of aging, and increase longevity. He also provides actionable steps towards getting a better night’s sleep every night."

Before buying, keep in mind this reviewer's comments: "The author went on a nauseating rant by telling us that sleep is important in 312 different ways...and yet didn't really offer any solid advice to help us get more sleep. In other words he stated the obvious, but didn't offer anything concrete or practical. I have no doubt he is an amazing sleep expert, but we all know that sleep is good for you. The challenge is figuring out how to get more of it or better quality."

Woman Walking Ahead: In Search of Catherine Weldon and Sitting Bull: New and Updated Edition by Eileen Pollack

I learned as I read from this book - though, nothing stood out to me as "ground breaking." This publisher information summarizes the books content: "This book restores a little-known advocate of Indian rights to her place in history. In June 1889, a widowed Brooklyn artist named Catherine Weldon traveled to the Standing Rock Reservation in Dakota Territory to help Sitting Bull hold onto land that the government was trying to wrest from his people. Since the Sioux chieftain could neither read nor write English, he welcomed the white woman’'s offer to act as his secretary and lobbyist. Her efforts were counterproductive; she was ordered to leave the reservation, and the Standing Rock Sioux were bullied into signing away their land. But she returned with her teen-age son, settling at Sitting Bull’'s camp on the Grand River. In recognition of her unusual qualities, Sitting Bull'’s people called her Toka heya mani win, Woman Walking Ahead.
Predictably, the press vilified Weldon, calling her “"Sitting Bull’'s white squaw”" and accusing her of inciting Sitting Bull to join the Ghost Dance religion then sweeping the West. In fact, Weldon opposed the movement, arguing that the army would use the Ghost dance as an excuse to jail or kill Sitting Bull. Unfortunately she was right. Up to now, history has distorted and largely overlooked Weldon'’s story. In retracing Weldon’'s steps, Eileen Pollack recovers Weldon's life and compares her world to our own. Weldon'’s moving struggle is a classic example of the misunderstandings that can occur when a white woman attempts to build friendships across cultural lines and assist the members of an oppressed minority fighting for their rights."

Brian Zahn "Trumped"

I've been told by many persons that I should read Brian Zahnd's book, Postcards from Babylon since people have said to me:  "It reads like something you would have written."

I haven't read the book.

I have listened to Zahnd's sermon podcasts for years, and have read other books by Zahnd.  I've never knowingly heard him say something I categorically disagree with, and, he is a kindred spirit in theology and perspective on life, for sure!

He shared an excerpt (chapter 9) from his book on his blog - found here.

A few excerpts here:

"For me, Donald Trump was the reality TV embodiment of three of the deadly sins — lust, greed, and pride. I had no reason to think the Donald Trump who openly reveled in lust, greed, and pride in his regular appearances on the Howard Stern Show would disagree with me. I have sermon notes from the 1990s where I cite Donald Trump as an example of a popular public figure who would be a poor role model for Christians in business. That’s why when I saw a young man I had led to Jesus reading Donald Trump’s Think Big, I took him aside and urged him to find some better role models for his business aspirations. Why would I do that? Because I take seriously my pastoral calling. In Think Big, Donald Trump’s win-at-all-cost tough guy persona is on full display as he writes,
“The only way to get rich is to be realistic and brutally honest. … It is tough, and people get hurt. So you have to be as tough as nails and willing to kick ass if you want to win. … My motto is: Always get even. When somebody screws you, screw them back in spades.” . . . Kicking ass and getting even are acceptable if you’re an apprentice of Gordon Gekko but not if you’re an apprentice of Jesus Christ."
. . .

"The presidency of Donald Trump has been a relentless tornado of chaos. The controversies connected with Donald Trump seem to change by the hour — it’s neo-Nazis having “some fine people,” then it’s paying off porn stars, then it’s children in detention camps, then it’s Putin and Russia. As I write this I’m on a flight from Toronto, and for all I know what I’ve written will be out of date by the time I land in Kansas City; I’m certain it will be out of date by the time this is published. But I write it anyway. I write it in memory of my father. I write it so I’ll be on record. I write it so my grandchildren will know that during the Trump era I wasn’t duped, I wasn’t silent, and I didn’t go along for the ride. I want them to know that I saw what was happening, I knew it for what it was, and I spoke out."

Monday, August 19, 2019

New Podcasts Shaping most of 2019

I've posted in the past about podcasts I enjoy.

A few new (to me) podcasts that I have either subscribed to for weekly updates and enjoyed - or archives I've been able to work through include:

Philosophy for Our Times - The Institute of Art & Ideas Podcast. "Philosophy for our Times features debates and talks with the world’s leading thinkers on today’s biggest ideas. This live recording podcast is brought to you by the Institute of Art and Ideas – described by Total Politics as “Europe’s answer to TED”"

The N.T. Wright Podcast:  "This is a blog/podcast about New Testament scholar and former Bishop of Durham N.T. Wright. Most of the videos and audio recordings can be found on the internet free of charge. I am just collecting the various bits here and there and creating a podcast to showcase them. Most of the videos I found come from YouTube and the audio recordings I found using, which is an excellent resource for the writings of N.T. Wright."

The Hidden Brain podcast: "Hidden Brain The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain's host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships."

In Our Time BBC Podcast: "In Our Time is a live BBC radio discussion series exploring the history of ideas, presented by Melvyn Bragg since 15 October 1998. It is one of BBC Radio 4's most successful discussion programmes, acknowledged to have "transformed the landscape for serious ideas at peak listening time"."

Our Fake History:  "A podcast about myths we think are history and history that might be hidden in myths!" "Our Fake History is an award-winning podcast about myths people think are history and history that might be hidden in myths. Have you ever heard that old story about how Napoleon shot the nose off the sphinx, or that Shakespeare was an illiterate fraud, or that Queen Elizabeth was actually a man? This show explores those tall-tales and tries to figure out what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what is such a good story it simply must be told. The podcast combines storytelling, humour, and historical detective work to create a show that is good for both history buffs and anyone who loves a good story. The podcast is produced in Toronto, Canada, by Sebastian Major with help from his wife Beth Lorimer. Sebastian is a teacher, musician, and storyteller who is passionate about all things weird and wonderful from the past. All the transition music used on the podcast is written and recorded in-house by Sebastian."

HBR Ideacast (Harvard Business Review) Podcast:   "A weekly podcast featuring the leading thinkers in business and management.'

Seminary Dropout Podcast:  "Seminary Dropout is an interview format podcast that exists somewhere between seminary and youth camp. Not full on academia but no trust falls either. SD is fun, insightful, personal, thoughtful and engaging. It’s two friends talking over coffee about your creations, theology, life, and the church. So it’s a little seminary and a little dropout, and that’s why it’s called Seminary Dropout."

Behind the Bastards.  Podcasts are a bit long, and "the language" is more cursive (ha! See what I did there!?!?) than I would prefer.  And yet, intriguing.  From their own label: "From Hitler's love of young adult fiction to Saddam Hussein's shameful romance novels, this podcast sheds new, weird light on history's monsters."

Worklife with Adam Grant:  "Organizational psychologist Adam Grant takes you inside the minds of some of the world's most unusual professionals to discover the keys to better work life."

The TED Interview Podcast: "Head of TED Chris Anderson speaks with some of the world’s most interesting people to dig into the provocative and powerful ideas of our time."

Love Anyway (by Preemptive Love) Podcast: "The Love Anyway podcast
pushes beyond fear, beyond the simple narrative of “us vs. them.” Travel with us as we explore how people are choosing to love, even when it means risking everything."

The Table Podcast: Issues of God & Culture:  "The Table Podcast his brought to you by the Hendricks Center at Dallas Theological Seminary. The podcast is hosted by Dr. Darrell Bock, Executive Director for Cultural Engagement and features weekly guests on a variety of topics."

Not sure if I'll stick with this one, but I've listened more than enough times and not yet unsubscribed:
Spark My Muse Podcast:  "Listen in as your host, Lisa DeLay, engages in meaningful conversation with a diverse selection of best-selling authors, influencers, luminaries, leaders, unique thinkers, spiritual teachers, and ordinary people who lead interesting lives and do good in their part of the world.  . . . to engage your intellect, spark your inner life, and add fuel to feed your relationships, to sustain you for the long haul and add vitality to your work and play. Guest Episodes alternate each week with shorter Episodes that focus on your interior world and our common life together called Soul School Lessons. Listen in with a tribe of curious and courageous people who also enjoy a deeper dive each week."

Sunday, August 18, 2019

60 year old scholar - still learning

I resonate deeply with these words I am excerpting from a longer post by New Testament Scholar Bart Ehrman at his site:.

I am constantly awed by some fellow scholars, who have not just enormous range of knowledge about so many things but also an inordinate, almost insatiable curiosity.  
There aren’t many people like that, but I know some.   At the same time I am regularly puzzled by people who simply have no curiosity about much of anything, who have strong opinions about lots and actual knowledge about little, who just don’t have any real curiosity or drive to find answers to anything.
I’m not talking about the BIG questions of life (Why are we here? What is the purpose of it all?  What should I be doing with my life? Etc. etc.) – although I do find it odd that so many people just don’t think about them.  But here I’m talking about knowledge in general. . .  
There’s no way I could do the average American thing of watching five hours of TV a day.  Who has the time?  . . . 
When I was in graduate school, I had a teacher who said that she had a goal of learning something completely new every semester.  I thought she was nuts.  Who has the time?  I’m now finding, as a sexagenarian, that one needs to make the time.  At least I need to.   And I’m finding it one of the most exciting things I’ve done in memory. . . .

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

So many subjects

Maps of Meaning: The Architecture of Belief by Jordan Peterson.   The kind of book a person needs to read more than one time, to try to discern for its depth.  He lays out how we've been shaped by language and ideas to map the world as we do - shaped as much by culture as the reality we see/perceive.  A book I'll need to re-engage, for sure.  From the wikipedia page about the author: Peterson is a "Canadian clinical psychologist and a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto. His main areas of study are in abnormal, social, and personality psychology, with a particular interest in the psychology of religious and ideological belief and the assessment and improvement of personality and performance. . . . .The Architecture of Belief (1999), examined several academic fields to describe the structure of systems of beliefs and myths, their role in the regulation of emotion, creation of meaning, and several other topics such as motivation for genocide."

The Bonanza King: John Mackay and the Battle over the Greatest Riches in the American West by Gregory Crouch.  I learned about mining, San Fransisco, Gold, California, Industry and so much more in this great book.  This review is from an Amazon customer: "John Mackay, as presented in the Bonanza King, is certainly a fascinating story of immigrant rags-to-riches in the wild West and a refreshingly honorable, though human, role model for hard work, personal conduct, and leadership. But it is Greg Crouch's entertaining and easy-reading authorship that make this book truly one of the best biographies I've ever read. Crouch has distilled what was obviously a vast body of research on the subject into both a great story of John Mackay's life and an accessible education on topics like mining practices and corporate governance of the 19th century. From the newspaper reports of the time, Crouch has pulled plum witticisms and sprinkled them throughout each chapter, which add a wry grin at every turn and keep the whole thing feeling like a rollicking good tale rather than a pedantic history. Vignettes of other historically notable characters and events of the region and nation during the period are woven into the telling of Mackay's incredible rise, adding both entertainment and perspective. The ethnic/racial/gender/environmental injustices of the day are not glossed over, but neither are they used for story-distracting sermonizing from our two-century-removed vantage point. The only other mining-themed book I know of that is written as well is Wallace Stegner's fictional Angle of Repose, but Bonanza King has the advantages of being both factual and more uplifting! Stegner himself once said that "hard writing makes easy reading", so thanks to Greg Crouch for doing all the arduous word-mining, panning, and amalgamating that brought forth such a pure nugget of enjoyment."

The Number: A Completely Different Way to Think About the Rest of Your Life by Lee Eisenberg.  Choose a number of $ you want to retire, calculate it and plan for it - and it won't be enough (is the essence of this book.  People steward poorly and markets/economies change (in potentially exponential ways).  From an Amazon review:  "This book is a 200 page rant about the waste and fraud in the retirement financial planning industry. According to the author, the industry is set up to take advantage of boomers who are too dumb to know what to do when they retire. Yet, the book provides no useful retirement information itself. On the the last page of 200+, he finally gets around to telling you that there is no Number anyway. It's a illusion, for all you suckers who bought this book. Too late now, no returns are available. If, in the author's opinion, you're a real stooge, you can actually calculate your retirement number. Take your expected retirement income and take 4%. Live on that, he says. But it's more important to find your meaning in life. Money doesn't matter."

The Chickens**t Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives Hardcover by Jesse Eisinger.    I knew I wouldn't like this book based on the title - and the summary found prior to reading it.  It narrates how unethical practices are permitted by those in power.  A good read - yet, tragic of America will live into her best ideals and best future.  From information about the book found online:
From Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Jesse Eisinger, “a fast moving, fly-on-the-wall, disheartening look at the deterioration of the Justice Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission…It is a book of superheroes” (San Franscisco Review of Books).
Why were no bankers put in prison after the financial crisis of 2008? Why do CEOs seem to commit wrongdoing with impunity? The problem goes beyond banks deemed “Too Big to Fail” to almost every large corporation in America—to pharmaceutical companies and auto manufacturers and beyond. The Chickenshit Club—an inside reference to prosecutors too scared of failure and too daunted by legal impediments to do their jobs—explains why in “an absorbing financial history, a monumental work of journalism…a first-rate study of the federal bureaucracy” (Bloomberg Businessweek).
Jesse Eisigner begins the story in the 1970s, when the government pioneered the notion that top corporate executives, not just seedy crooks, could commit heinous crimes and go to prison. He brings us to trading desks on Wall Street, to corporate boardrooms and the offices of prosecutors and FBI agents. These revealing looks provide context for the evolution of the Justice Department’s approach to pursuing corporate criminals through the early 2000s and into the Justice Department’s approach to pursuing corporate criminals through the early 2000s and into the Justice Department of today, including the prosecutorial fiascos, corporate lobbying, trial losses, and culture shifts that have stripped the government of the will and ability to prosecute top corporate executives.
“Brave and elegant….a fearless reporter…Eisinger’s important and profound book takes no prisoners (The Washington Post). Exposing one of the most important scandals of our time, The Chickenshit Club provides a clear, detailed explanation as to how our Justice Department has come to avoid, bungle, and mismanage the fight to bring these alleged criminals to justice. “This book is a wakeup call…a chilling read, and a needed one” (

The Earth Is Weeping: The Epic Story of the Indian Wars for the American West by Peter Cozzens

A powerful tale of what the emerging "Americans" in what would become the United States did to natives in the land.

From the web:
"A detailed recounting of random carnage, bodies burned, treaties broken and treachery let loose across the land. . . . Cozzens admirably succeeds in framing the Indian Wars with acute historical accuracy. . . . [D]emonstrates vast knowledge of American military history." —Douglas Brinkley, The New York Times Book Review 
"[S]ets a new standard for Western Indian Wars history. . . . [T]he most comprehensive, insightful synthesis of the conflict between the Western tribes and the United States government and citizens published by a popular New York press in decades. . . . Like William Manchester’s The Glory and the Dream . . . [Cozzens’] brilliant thesis and detailed narrative will sustain the reader…from the prologue to the conclusion. . . . [S]uccinctly seeks a sharper understanding of the cause and effects of the American government’s policies, citizen relations with the tribes, intertribal history and warfare, and the United States’ massive immigration into the West during and after the Civil War." —Stuart Rosebrook, True West Magazine

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Some Great Reads

The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean.  What a delightful exploration of science, biography, history and the Universe.  Using the “map” or “chart” of the Periodic Table of Elements, Kean reconstructs what we know of nearly every element - with a history of how the elements were discovered, charted, and “placed” into the Table, which is itself a map of meaning.  Not only did I love this book, I read it a 2nd time in audio with my dad, a retired Science Teacher as we drove up and down the California & Oregon coasts.  Not only was the book great, the memories with my dad were stupendous. With his science knowledge, he often knew what the author would articulate about a particular element before the author spoke - and yet, Dad and I still learned so much.  Fascinating.  A great read.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris.  Having taught and studied the Shoah/Holocaust for more than 20 years, there was nothing “new” in this book’s articulation of pain and turmoil for me to discern, though the book was still a good read.  It follows the journey of one who experienced the holocaust, and love, and turmoil - from deportation through to the other side of being a displaced person. The book has very good reviews and is narrated well.  

Amish Peace by Suzanne Woods Fisher. The author took a sabbatical from her normal life to live among the Amish.  In this series of short chapters she recollects the “wisdom tradition” of the Amish as she discerned it.  The book includes narratives of Amish life and wisdom to be discerned from how they live, as persons, as family, as workers, as Christians.  It would not be a book I would describe as transformative, though, given my own life of too busy, too connected, too active, too non-sabbatical, I may come back to read this book again.  It has wisdom that I need to learn, know and live out.

Dying of Whiteness: How the Politics of Racial Resentment is Killing America's Heartland by Jonathan Metzl.  The past many years I’ve read a number of books on the dislocation of indigenous persons in the Americas - and the influx of many others (primarily Africans) through forced deportations and enforced enslavement.  This book picks up on the current culture(s) that have emerged in the established patterns of “whiteness” that have become embedded in The United States of America’s way of living.  So many reminders and aspects of learning about how entrenched we whites are in our privilege that emerged from taking the privileges of others.  ***** Amazon review here.

The Last Days of the Incas by Kim Macquarrie.   While listening to a BBC podcast I’ve come to appreciate this year, I heard about the history of the Incas from “In Our Time” (podcast.)  This inspired me to read more.  The Last Days provided the data I needed to know more - so much more.  This is one of so many books I’ve read in the past years, for which I have used a certain phrase after finishing the book, “I didn’t realize how little I knew until I read this book.”  The books detail covers the names and history of Spanish Conquistadors, and several generations of Inca leaders (and their history which created their empire).  How these people developed life in the highlands, their ability to travel and pass on communication, their ritual - and - their defeat by such a small group of Conquistadors was intriguing and I learned a vast amount of data.  A few take-aways:  (1)  So many persons in their own time have had their own WELL-developed theologies and ways of discerning the world . . . and each has been “wrong” as evidenced by the fact that their god(s) and ways of being/thinking did not prove their way of life to be superior to those who defeated them.  (2) Persons will kill, maim, destroy for wealth/gold.  And the appetite for this, for some, is indomitable.  No matter how much gold the conquistadors received, it was never enough.  As long as such way of thinking exists in the world, and is permeated, without equitable distribution of goods and resources, there will always be another group/person/power that emerges to conquer.  (3) The Conquistadors, though hugely overwhelmed by the Incan majority, defeated due to superior technology in horses and steel (swords, armour).  Technology is incredibly influential in various forms of conquest.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.  Though I viewed the movie many years ago - this was my first read of the book.  The book included as much about the authors life, as it did about the boy ABCDEFG who left the States to head into Alaska. Having seen the movie, of course, I “knew” the plot though, as with “every book” - the book told more than the movie.  My wife believes about me - and I think it may be true - that one day, too I’ll disappear into the wild.  ha!  It won’t happen, I don’t think I could do the fishing/trapping/hunting necessary to survive . . . though the thought of escaping the “rat race(s)” of so many peoples acquisitiveness and “stuff” would be delightful.  I’m not a good city person.  The only major note would be that the boy almost made it . . . he was not uniformed about what he was doing *precisely* in Alaska . . . but the weather and lack of map finally got to him when he had become sick and needed aid.

Missoula:  Rape & the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer.  I read this book.  I did not like it.  I do not like reading (or hearing or seeing on the news) stories of persons being made victim, and specifically not persons being victim to rape.  I do believe America and too much of the world exhibits a “rape culture” - and I think “the Media” does not help with sexual violence, I think persons in power use their power to make victims, the rapes of women and children in war is deeply, deeply, deeply troubling to me.  While the stories here were “just” about the rapes of women in Montana - it exposed rape culture there (in Montana), in Universities, among young people - and tells the stories of rape culture being allowed/permitted in our world/America.  

Prophet’s Prey:  My seven year investigation into Warren Jeffs and the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints by Sam Brower.  Another book I did not like reading, though, from which I learned much.  As told by the Private Investigator who “hunted” down and exposed Warren Jeffs and the FLDS movement, this book narrates the history of the FLDS, their practices in many categories and specifically their abuse and mistreatment of boys and girls, and their malformed and ingrown “family” systems - and the abuse and depraved practice(s) of Warren Jeffs and those in his inner circle.  I read a quote a few years ago that comes back to me often in the review of many past decades/centuries of narcissistic megalomaniacal world leaders and leaders of movements who are “cult leaders” - and it’s about how essentially “every one of these” so called prophets/mouthpieces for God are men, who exploit women.  It’s disturbing. Disturbing.  Disturbing.  A good book though, disturbing.  I’m thankful for persons like Brower who exposed this cult and cult leader, this false prophet who preyed on too many.

The Naturalist: Theodore Roosevelt a lifetime of exploration and the triumph of American Natural History by Darrin Lunde.  There is so much more to *any* American President than what could have been covered in my High School and University history classes (even if I took the A.P. course! ha!)  I wouldn’t rack this up as one of the best books I’ve read, nor is Theodore Roosevelt my “hero.”  I am, though, VERY thankful that he served as the President in the time that he did for many reasons, not least of which is his “conservationist” bent toward preserving land and areas for “parks” and federal “non-use.”  The only thing particularly interesting to me in this book was how much time Teddy took to hunt/fish/travel as President.  He may have done this as much as some more recent Presidents took time to golf - and for my part - I wish more leaders were in Nature, helping us better discern our responsibilities to ecosystems, the earth and all living beings in Creation, of which we have usurped our caring responsibility and acted with disdain toward the Creation.

A Lion Called Christian by Anthony Bourke.  A “fun” and “cute” story of how two young men fell into the responsibility of buying, and then caring for, a lion cub . . . toward her maturity.  Nothing remarkable in this short tale, though a fun and insignificant read.

Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover.  I don’t like reading books about abuse.  Therefore, this book was deeply problematic for me.  I learned much from Westover’s life, and I’m sorry she, too, was the victim of male-centered, religiously fueled egocentric and likely the mental health problems of her dad.  Raised to be a “second-class” citizen with no education, Westover broke free from her family system, ending up a scholar at Cambridge.  A curious story of her family’s existence - including their homeopathic oil tinctures and wealth that emerged from it.

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz.    This “life-like” narrative, reconstructed from the plausible family history of the author, narrates a young girls emigration from pending family exploitation in Latin America and her journey to the United States.  While technically not factual, the narrative emerges from a possible reconstruction of events that took place in the family system of the author and, even as fiction, the story helps “humanize” the life and choices and experience(s) of some who immigrate from Latin America to the United States in the past decades.  While aimed at a “teen” audience, the book was still a compelling read and one I could easily recommend to many who need to better discern the complex processes and perspectives that shape immigration decisions and ramifications in the Americas.

Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City by Russell Shorto.  It’s been too long since I read this book for me to remember it fully, though, I know I enjoyed it as I immediately recommended it to two of my most esteemed colleagues who teach Philosophy.  I shared with them that this book taught me so much about the history of idea, and liberty and philosophical issues that emerged in the “permissive” liberty based systems of the past 600+ years in what has become Amsterdam.  In the opening chapters I learned that a very curious perception of the Eucharistic Host being in a deceased body led to persons solemnizing a place in the Netherlands, now Amsterdam.  Various important philosophical persons and systems emerged in the thinking of Dutch persons - which have contributed to ideas shaping Western Democracies and Western Principles.  This is  book I need to re-read for it’s detail.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante.  I had the opportunity to engage this book while on a road trip in 2019.  It narrates the life of two primary characters, girls, growing up in a “constant” “struggle” of mimesis one with another, narrating a lifetime of events from childhood through teen years and family and into old age.   Nothing fantastic, though it helped pass the miles, and for that, I am thankful.

Change Anything:The New Science of Personal Success by Kerry Patterson.  This is one of so many “self-help” books that exist in our world today.  It begins to be harder for me to distinguish books like this as “urgent” or “important” as they are like so many I have read, that I may bypass their significance.  That is, I would recommend this book to persons - as it has solid insight into what it claims to offer, changing one’s life and one’s habits.  At the same time, I can’t honestly say that I “learned something distinctly new” that was “transformative” or “urgently new” to what I have known from other social/personal psychological studies I’ve engaged for years.  I don’t mean to say “nothing new here” - and yet, for me, there was little gained.  Honestly - this means I should perhaps read the book again and insure I did not miss some significant insight.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Reading Thich Nhat Hanh

Trying to work through some of the writings/dharma talks of Thich Nhat Hanh.  His teaching as offered simply in an OnBeing podcast from many years ago was transformative in my life.  

His simple notion, rooted in Buddhist thinking/teaching that misperception, miscommunication and misplaced anger are the source of our lives conflict  - rooted in our lived experiences of suffering - is central to how I see the world and how I *try* to respond to others/hurts that I experience with others.  

Just yesterday a friend shared with me how he “talked back to” another coworker.  And I called him to recognize that his coworker has hurts from his life that cause him to be gruff.  Trying to see the coworker with the eyes of compassion, recognizing he lives as he does as a result of hurts he’s experienced - would help.  So, I value Brother Thay and his teaching.  One thing I do not like is I do not like the “audibooks” that are his teachings, which have been produced as books.  Minor bit - but the audio on them is poor and even while I am not a technical person for sound, the background noise/static I find to be annoying.  A few other bits.  I always gain insight from the practices/teaching on being more aware/calm/at peace - to recognize inner and inter being.  At the same time, I don’t buy into some (many?) of the metaphysical concerns of Buddhism (including various forms of re-incarnated life) (though, it is clear that there is an accuracy to their teaching that pre-understood atomic physics, understanding that “thing”-ness of life persisted beyond the lived reality of sentience.

One thing about Thich Nhat Hanh / Brother Thay - his works offer reflections on living well - being peace - being fully alive.  As such, even as some of his writings or dharma talks I “like better” than others - it is the case that any teaching he offers would give aid to any human in how to live more wholly and more fully.  Brother Thay’s teaching has been transformative in my life over the past approximately last decade.  I knew of him before that, though I only came to read/study from him since about 2009.

Old Paths White Clouds by Thich Nhat Hanh.  This book was hugely important to me - and long.  It covers the life the Buddha.  I had a kind of “wikipedia” awareness of the life of the Buddha, knowing he had been born a prince, knowing he was married and with child when he left home to pursue wisdom - finding the Way under the Bodhi Tree, etc.  This book filled in “the entire life” of the Buddha and framed it in light of his experience of coming to discerning the Way when he was with two children, one a daughter of wealthy individuals and one a poor boy who tended water buffalo.  As with many books I read, I “learned how much I did not know” when I read this book.  This book, for sure, informed me on how the teachings of the Buddha came to be, how he gained disciples, dealt with others, was received by various communities, welcomed nuns into practice, broke expectations and cultural experiences of his people and more.  An informative book in so many ways.

These have other readers as audiobooks - and - having been published/edited - follow a more predictable pattern for organized patterns of teaching/lessons:

Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.  This is “one of the better” of the books by Brother Thay when it speaks to two issues - the clarity of the voice and tone of the audiobook reader - and the overall cumulative value of “all of the teachings” of the Buddha and Brother Thay.  A good book worth reviewing.

Happiness:  Essential Mindfulness Practices Thich Nhat Hanh.  This book has simple practices for daily living.  Read by another author.  Good. Worth review. A good book.  To be honest, I’ve lost an ability to distinguish this book from there others in a *significant* way.  Perhaps that alone means I should re-read this book as I might have missed much in it with a bit of an overdose of Brother Thay in recent days/years -though - something I need in routine doses.

Making Space:  Creating A Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh.  As a short book, with practical tips, this is one of my favorite books by Brother Thay - one to re-engage, one to share with others. One to “invite” others who don’t know Brother Thay to “start here.”  This simple book is a good one.  I liked it and should use it to share with others.  It’s not like the books of his “short sayings” like How to Sit (which I like, it was a gift to me) - this book, Making Space, is good.  I liked it.  I’ll listen to it several times and will recommend it.

True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart.  Read by another reader - somehow it didn’t feel “as significant to me personally” as Being Peace or Peace is Every step, though, I’ll admit that once a person gets infused in “too many” books by one author, as I have recently with Brother Thay - it begins to be hard to distinguish one book from another. 

The Art of Living: Peace & Freedom in the Here and Now - read by another reader.  A good practical resource to the core teaching of Brother Thay. 

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Published in the mid 1970s, as well as I know the “earliest” published work of Brother Thay. In that sense, it’s foundational to understanding Brother Thay.  I love that this book grew out of real letters he wrote to help reshape life in Vietnam.  This book is foundational to understanding Brother Thay as much as his teaching - though, again, since it was early and not written with an editor, it reads *like* letters from Brother Thay to a disciple, more than his later books (cited above) which I prefer and would recommend over this, though . . . this book is foundational and should not be overlooked.

There are a series of small, short "primers" on statements from Brother Thay - consolidated from his other talks and books, that are great for "wisdom sayings" or "daily reminders" - the "How To" series.  I have not "read" any of them through - as they are not designed to be read from cover to cover, though I enjoy each of them, particularly How to Sit.

I carry this book around with me in a specific work-site bag I use.  It's nice to have for when I'm between projects - to have some short excerpts to read.  The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Those below are Dharma Talks offered as audiobooks:

Touching the Earth  . . . Dharma Talks by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The audio is better on this than on other talks, not as much static.  There is something significant about listening to Brother Thay himself, though, this, like others, has audio noises/ticks and not as clear/focused as some books/published writings.

Truly Seeing . . . Dharma Talks by Thich Nhat Hanh..  Audio has mild static.  Basic orientation to the core of his teachings.

Looking Deeply . . . Dharma Talks by Thich Nhat Hanh.  Same as Truly Seeing above.

The Heart of Understanding:  Commentaries . . . . Dharma Talks by Thich Nhat Hanh.  The audio is imperfect, though, a “standard” set of teachings from Brother Thay.

Privileged & Thankful

Students nominated me for, then voted to award me, the Excellence in Teaching Award.

Thank You.