Sunday, January 21, 2018


New semester begins tomorrow! I'm set up for the lecture course that begins tomorrow - "Performing the Problem of Suffering: The Book of Job and the Arts" - but still fiddling with the syllabus for the seminar that starts Tuesday - "Religion and Ecology."

It turns out that all the texts I might have assigned for this new course are available as e-books from the library (I ordered several of them), so students won't have to purchase any. Ecological! That also gives me flexibility on what parts of each to assign... Early on we'll be reading the account of the emergence of this field of research by the people most responsible for it, John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Their valedictory Ecology and Religion (3rd ed., Island Press, 2014) offers a handy roster of ten words, all starting with r, to name the "values" they find in common among world religious traditions regarding nature...

restoration (8)

and the emphases of the emergent field of religion and ecology ... 

reconstruction (86)

That's a lot of r's! I'll help myself to them, but Grim and Tucker's narrative, rooted in the world religions (and the "indigenous") and their dialogue, is only one of three I'm going to try braiding. The other two are the emerging "spiritual ecology' movement, which articulates a single ecological ethic and spirituality for our shared planet from insights of religious and nonreligious and scientific leaders, and the more ambivalent academic field of religion and ecology, which dares to wonder if religion and spirituality are categories worth working with at all; anthropocene worries will come in here, too.

The "braiding" comes loosely from one of my favorite books of recent years, Robin Wall Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (Milkweed, 2016), ix:

Saturday, January 20, 2018

hack to the fray

Rose with the sun in California, back in busy New York at night.

Friday, January 19, 2018

Beach art

Low tide with strong waves makes for amazing patterns in the sand at Torrey Pines Beach, replaced and rearranged with each long wave.
It boggles the mind, more than a little: the same beach, the same kinds of sand grains, the same waves, and yet, and yet, and yet.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The function of education

The great Julius Lester has passed away. My colleague K shared these words of his, which she has used as one of the epigraphs for her course on Spiritual Autobiography: a marvel.

The function and purpose of education is not only to confirm you in who you are, in the broadest sense; it is also to introduce you to all that you are not. Education should overwhelm you to such an extent that you will never again assume that your experience, individually or as part of a collective, can be equated with all of human experience. In other words, education should impress you with how vast creation is and how small you are in the midst of it. In the acceptance of that is the beginning of wisdom.
It is the function of education to introduce the student to the terrifying unknown and give him and her the intellectual skills to make known the unknown and the emotional stability to withstand the terror when the unknown cannot be made known. Such an experience gives the student the self-confidence to go forth and face that mystery which lies at the core of each of us: Who am I?

from a speech entitled “Core Knowledge,” 1995

Unfamiliar beach

Big surf and a very high tide at Del Mar this morning - this pic was taken at 8:30, a little less than an hour before high tide. The lifeguard house is behind a protective barricade of sand. The folks in the foreground are thrilled to have found a buoy which was torn loose from its anchor somewhere and washed ashore.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Monday, January 15, 2018

Brooklyn bir'yun

My painting by Birrinbirrin (remember him?) shimmered today.
Wait, can it be I never mentioned that I acquired a painting by the Yolngu elder who plays himself (or someone of the same name) in "Ten Canoes," and plays a central role also in the article I wrote about trying to teach a course on Aboriginal Australian religion? I've had it since 2012, and up on the mantlepiece in the living room for several years. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Making kin with Job

There's a conference in May on religion and the Anthropocene! I've submitted a proposal for a paper. It would be a perfect occasion to present my thinking about the Book of Job in the Anthropocene...

Tweaking the proposal (300 word abstract, 800 word description of arguments, methods and sources), I found myself making a new argument. (This often happens to me, part of why writing is such a drag; when I revise something it changes, though not always for the worse.)

In the “age of humans,” the Book of Job may be valued as a guide to the importance of better relations between humans and the rest of what is, as well as with each other. That human beings are never mentioned in the theophany (although the fearsome beasts Behemoth and Leviathan are) will resonate with the experience that Isabelle Stengers calls the “intrusion of Gaia.” Yet here Gaia is reaching out to humanity after all, or at least addressing us across the breakdown of our efforts at understanding. Perhaps the Book of Job will become the foundation again for an apophatic theism. It will in any case direct us to a restoration of earthly bonds: Job’s relationship with his friends is, at God’s urging, the first part of his life to be restored. And, given what Job has learned of the more-than-human, surely not just human bonds. A part of the story’s end which has particularly rankled modern readers is the disconcerting suggestion that Job’s dead children can be replaced. In the Anthropocene all know that what is lost cannot be brought back. The folktale return-to-start of the Book of Job will be dismissed, the lesson in Job’s new life found in its unfamiliar newness. Job’s acceptance of a new terrestrial family, while holding the memory of the lost, will be seen to demonstrate the necessity of “making kin” – perhaps in Donna Haraway’s most radical sense – in the face of cascading extinctions.

It's not just that Job's lost children might be read as representing other species, extinct in part because of us. Maybe Job's new family is more than human, too. Maybe that's what he learns from the theophany: that he is part of a more-than-human family already.

(The pic above, from Buck Denver's "What's in the Bible," is for coloring!)

Saturday, January 13, 2018

New colors ahead

Some workers were on the roof of our building today. Through the trap door I noticed that we have received a new graffito. (Here's what our local artists offered in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017.) Will check it out soon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Rain after snow

James II

A fortnight from today I'll put my trusty grad student copy of James' Varieties aside and embark on the single-text tutorial with a clean copy. The other, which I've taught from for two decades, is full of all sorts of notes and underlinings which I'd be lying if I said didn't shape my rereadings... I discovered (or perhaps rediscovered) things each time, but my earlier engagements guided my attention. Clean slate!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Abstract snow expressionism after storm, freeze, dirty rain and melt.