Essay questions from the Primer

Neal Stephenson, The Diamond Age: or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer (1995):

  • “[He] began to develop an opinion that was to shape his political views in later years, namely, that while people were not genetically different, they were culturally as different as could be, and that some cultures were better than others. This was not a subjective value judgment, merely an observation that some cultures thrived and expanded while others failed. It was a view implicitly shared by nearly everyone but, in those days, never voiced.” pp. 16-17
  • “[A]s many first-time fathers had realized in the delivery room, there was something about the sight of an actual baby that focused the mind. In a world of abstractions, nothing was more concrete than a baby.” p. 150
  • “[T]he difference between ignorant and educated people is that the latter know more facts. But that has nothing to do with whether they are stupid or intelligent. The difference between stupid and intelligent people—and this is true whether or not they are well-educated—is that intelligent people can handle subtlety. They are not baffled by ambiguous or even contradictory situations—in fact they expect them and are apt to become suspicious when things seem overly straightforward.” p. 256

Each of these is thought or voiced by one of the father figures in this novel. Discuss among yourselves.

Wasting, food

Great article by Nat Watkins in The New Atlantis — “The Secret Life of Leftovers” [link] for anyone who ever worried about throwing away food, anyone whose refrigerator is full of leftovers that will never be eaten, or anyone whose kitchen and backyard is full of compost bins.

A few interesting tidbits:

  • [We] live in a country where 30 to 40 percent of food produced is never eaten, where the average family throws out $1,500 worth of food every year, and where a typical restaurant discards about a half-pound of food per meal. This is an astonishing historical anomaly. In almost any other time and place in human history, someone would look at the very same waste and say, “Looks delicious!”
  • Like our mass-production pipelines, we are given the tempting option to choose efficiency over ethicality. Only that lingering guilt — that irksome cognitive dissonance — remains to remind us that our judgment isn’t entirely sound.
  • [S]ome regulations are terribly inefficient for distinguishing food from waste. Take expiration dates, which we might think are a self-evident and unmistakable boundary line between food and waste. Most Americans treat them with unquestioning credibility and will toss anything a day or two over the limit straight into the trash. But expiration dates are almost entirely superficial. With the exception of infant formula, they are voluntary, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The agency even encourages us to question expiration dates. On its landing page on food dating, we read that “in an effort to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety.

Maybe you have older family members who will cheerfully carve off the mold and eat just about anything. It isn’t just a remnant of the Great Depression.

Seven from Six

It is perilous to abstract quotations from a novel since context is the key and otherwise all you have is epigrams. Nevertheless, I don’t want to give spoilers, so here goes with some excerpts from Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six (2019):

  • “You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them. And suddenly you possess the very dangerous information that you can break the rule and the world won’t instantly come to an end. You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it just gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, There was a line here once, I think.” (pp. 65-66)
  • “When you have everything, someone else getting a little something feels like they’re stealing from you.” (pp. 149-150)
  • “If I’ve given the impression that trust is easy—with your spouse, with your kids, with anybody you care about—if I’ve made it seem like it’s easy to do . . . then I’ve misspoken. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But you have nothing without it. Nothing meaningful at all. That’s why I chose to do it.” (p. 215).
  • “When [redacted] died, that was it. I’d decided there was no sense in getting sober. I rationalized it. You know, If the universe wanted me to get clean, it wouldn’t have killed [redacted]. You can justify anything. If you’re narcissistic enough to believe that the universe conspires for and against you—which we all are, deep down—then you can convince yourself you’re getting signs about anything and everything.” (pp. 295-296).
  • I was getting a lot of phone calls from [redacted] at all hours of the day. I’d say, “Let me come get you.” And [redacted]’d refuse. I thought about trying to force [redacted] into rehab. But you can’t do that. You can’t control another person. It doesn’t matter how much you love them. You can’t love someone back to health and you can’t hate someone back to health and no matter how right you are about something, it doesn’t mean they will change their mind.” (p. 299).
  • “She said, ‘Don’t count yourself out this early . . . . You’re all sorts of things you don’t even know yet.’ That really stuck with me. That who I was wasn’t entirely already determined.” (p. 320)
  • “But if you get to be my age and you can’t look back at your life and wonder about some of your choices . . . well, you have no imagination.” (p. 331).

DFW on political discourse

David Foster Wallace:

  • As of [redacted], the rhetoric of the enterprise is [redacted]. 95 percent of political commentary, whether spoken or written, is now polluted by the very politics it’s supposed to be about. Meaning it’s become totally ideological and reductive: The writer/speaker has certain political convictions or affiliations, and proceeds to filter all reality and spin all assertion according to those convictions and loyalties. Everybody’s pissed off and exasperated and impervious to argument from any other side. Opposing viewpoints are not just incorrect but contemptible, corrupt, evil. Conservative thinkers are balder about this kind of attitude [but] the Left’s been infected, too. . . . There’s no more complex, messy, community-wide argument (or “dialogue”); political discourse is now a formulaic matter of preaching to one’s own choir and demonizing the opposition. Everything’s relentlessly black-and-whitened. Since the truth is way, way more gray and complicated than any one ideology can capture, the whole thing seems to me not just stupid but stupefying. . . . How can any of this possibly help me, the average citizen, deliberate about whom to choose to decide my country’s macroeconomic policy, or how even to conceive for myself what that policy’s outlines should be, or how to minimize the chances of North Korea nuking the DMZ and pulling us into a ghastly foreign war, or how to balance domestic security concerns with civil liberties? Questions like these are all massively complicated, and much of the complication is not sexy, and well over 90 percent of political commentary now simply abets the uncomplicatedly sexy delusion that one side is Right and Just and the other Wrong and Dangerous. Which is of course a pleasant delusion, in a way—as is the belief that every last person you’re in conflict with is an asshole—but it’s childish, and totally unconducive to hard thought, give and take, compromise, or the ability of grown-ups to function as any kind of community.

From Dave Eggers, “An Interview with David Foster Wallace,” The Believer (Nov. 1, 2003) [link].

The first “redaction” was to hide that this was in 2003. The more things change, huh?

Communion Prayer

June 5, 2022

Tomorrow, of course, is the 78th anniversary of D-Day. There are not many people alive who were alive and aware then and fewer still who were there on the beaches of Normandy, but almost all of us have experienced that event through films like “Saving Private Ryan.”

The soldiers on June 6, 1944 knew that many of them would die, as every person dies. More than 6000 Allied soldiers perished that day, along with a similar number of German troops. Tomorrow we will commemorate that day.

But today we come as a body to commemorate the death of one man, Jesus. We do this through the act of eating and drinking, something that every one of us does every day.

There was a time in Jesus’ life soon after the event we call the “feeding of the 5000.” Having crossed the sea of Galilee, Jesus was in Capernaum, and the people came to him. In teaching them, he said “You came looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate all the bread you wanted. Don’t work so hard for temporary food, but apply your efforts for “the food that endures to eternal life,” which I will give to you.

This didn’t make much sense to them at first and they asked him questions and Jesus took them back to the crux of the issue – the need to believe in him. Strangely enough the audience saw a connection with the nation’s time in the wilderness in Exodus and Numbers and they said why should we believe in you? “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”

And Jesus said the Father gave them “bread from heaven” as he is giving it to you now! “For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33. They understood he was talking about himself and they said “Lord, give us this bread always.”

  • Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:35-40.

That did not go over well with the religious establishment – because essentially Jesus is saying “I am God’s blessing like the manna was God’s blessing,” and if the truth were known the Jewish leaders were used to thinking of themselves as God’s blessing on the nation.

The conversation quickly deteriorated, with Jesus saying this

  • Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me . . . . whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.

Now this was very offensive, and it got worse when Jesus said

  • Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever. 

John 6:53-58.

This teaching was the context for Jesus’ last supper with the disciples, a Passover meal.

  • Physical life is sustained by physical food, but eternal life is dependent on true food and drink.
  • That true food and drink is Jesus – sent from the Father as surely as the manna was sent.
  • The person who feeds on Jesus will live.

If the deacons would come now and pass the bread. Please hold it and we will eat together.

[Prayer]

Luke writes:

  • And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.

Luke 22:19.

And now the deacons will bring the cup. Please wait until all have been served and we will drink together:

[Prayer]

  • And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.

Luke 22:20.

The person who feeds on Jesus will live.

The Lorax

Beautiful piece by skier Mikaela Shiffrin about her dad’s death. “I Want to Remember Everything,” The Player’s Tribune (April 28, 2022) [link]

“I mean, maybe this sounds crazy, but I just felt like . . . after someone dies, you have a few days where everyone they ever touched is thinking about them, right? Celebrating them. Keeping the flame alive. But when my dad’s funeral was over, and all the incredible people who shared stories and sent letters and flowers — and everyone who simply thought of him — they moved on. It’s inevitable. And when that happens, who is left to keep his memory alive?”