Posted by: Dan | March 21, 2012

Guest Post: Daniel Imburgia on the Meaning of Meaning

[I was thinking I could do a monthly feature on my blog: “Ten Questions with Daniel Imburgia” (which would be my way of both exploiting Daniel for my own entertainment and edification and exposing more people to his brilliance) but, well, after sending him the first ten questions it took him a few months to respond.  Then, when he did respond, he seemed to have the impression that I was asking a number of different people these questions… so much for what I had planned — “Ever tried.  Ever failed…”  My thanks to Daniel for sharing these words.]

Dear DanO, well here are my thoughts on the questions you asked. First off I reckon we aught to review your original questions though:

(1) What is meaning?

(2) What is the significance of meaning?

(3) What is the relationship of meaning to ethics?

(4) What is the relationship of meaning to events?

(5) What is the relationship of meaning to actions?

(6) What is the relationship of meaning to desire?

(7) What is the relationship of meaning to language?

(8) What is the relationship of meaning to being?

(9) What is the relationship of one person’s sense of meaning to other senses of meaning?

 (10) What is the relationship of meaning to meaninglessness?

 Meaning:” From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

 Meaning may refer to:

Meaning (linguistics), meaning which is communicated through the use of language

Meaning (non-linguistic), extra-linguistic meaning (intentional communication without the

use of language), and natural meaning, where no intentions are involved at all

Meaning (semiotics) has to do with the distribution of signs in sign relations

Meaning as a relationship between ontology and truth

Meaning as a reference of equivalence

Meaning (philosophy of language)

Meaning as values, a value system or as derived from value theory

Meaning (existential), as it is understood in contemporary existentialism

The meaning of life, a notion concerning the nature of human existence

Semantics for a general article on the study of meaning see Hermeneutics,

Logotherapy….

Hmmm…not much help there, I reckon this project is going to be a bit harder than I first thought! To be honest I had such a hard time with this DanO that I checked out some of those on-line places where you can just buy essays like this. (see http://personalwritingadvisor.com/ ). There are a lot of these outfits on-line but I kinda like the looks of this one called “Assignment Partners.” I got a quote from them for a “university level, 5 page paper” on “The Meaning of Meaning,” that quotes five sources for the low price of only 134$ USD. If I dropped it down to just ʻcollege levelʻ and quoting just 3 sources the price was reduced to 114$! Given how much stress and thinking I have put into this I think that would have been 114 bucks well spent. I mean really, whereʼs the upside for me? You got a lot of smart, educated readers here at OJWTIE DanO, and likely theyʼall are just going to nit pick and criticize me until I take to strong drink and self pity…who the hell needs it? Iʼm just a blue-collar hillbilly song writer so why not let Dr. Babu in Pakistan, who is better educated and smarter than me make a few bucks, feed his family, buy a goat, whatever, and then just move on with my life? Here is the actual chat I had with their ʻon-line representativeʼ named “Tracy”:

Daniel: Hi. Iʼm not sure how this works. I need a 5 page essay tilted “The Meaning of Meaning.” I donʼt even know where to start, I dont know phlosophy much yet. Is this the kind of thing you do? obliged.

Call accepted by operator Tracy. Currently in room: Tracy.

Tracy: Hello Daniel

Daniel: Hi. so, can you help me?

Tracy: Sure!

Daniel: How does this work?

Tracy: Just a moment, please, I’ll check it for you….you may simply go to our website, press the order button and fill in all the required fields. Once the order form is done and the payment is completed our experts will start working on the assignment.

Daniel: Do you have people who know these kinds of things? ʻThe meaning of meaningʼ is pretty confusing.

Tracy: We have experts who are ready to help you!

Daniel: Can I talk to one first or do I have to order first. Do you understand what I need and know what “meaning” is?

Tracy: You are to get in touch with the writer only after placing the order.

Daniel: Oh, it says some of the writers are from harvard and cambrige and such, but this is for more like a community college, maybe they are too advanced for my needs?

Tracy: Our team consists of professional essay writers and researchers with Masters and Ph.D. degrees.

Daniel: Yeah, but I am wondering if I present a paper from a P.h.D that it it will look obvious that it’s not from me? Can they write something not too intelectuel, and something that I can understand?

Tracy: Sure, the entire paper will be written in accordance with your instructions and specifications. All you need to do is to provide your writer with them.

Daniel: Ok, thanks Tracy. May I ask you though, do you understand the question? Can you just tell me what you think it’s asking, so I know you understand.

Tracy: Sure, just specify the details in your order form.

Daniel: Oh, do you have any samples I can see?

Tracy: Unfortunately, we have no examples.

Daniel: Ok, but you at least understand the question right? I don’t want to get all signed up and have them tell me that it’s not the kind of question they can answer?

Tracy: I understand, please, place an order and pay for the paper.

Daniel: Ok, but answering a question of “meaning” is something your writers can do?  It’s a difficult thing to understand, that’s why I am asking. Thank you for your time.

Tracy: Yes, our experts can help you with that.

Daniel: Just so were clear though. They will write the paper? yes? And on “meaning” or “truth,” or “how the universe began,” etc. They know all of that?

Tracy: yes, sure please, place an order and pay for the paper and please, don’t forget to specify all the details in the order form.

Daniel: Ok, obliged

Tracy seems awfully anxious to get my credit card number, I am beginning to wonder if this essay will be written in the back of some massage parlor in Thailand.  Still, if we can all end up with a happy ending maybe it’s worth the bucks?  I admit I am sorely tempted DanO, really (even though Tracy seems a bit pushy).  But for now, I will resist the temptation for some quick and easy answers to lifeʼs difficult questions, and I assure you that what follows is as much my own writing as it can be, for better or worse, and I pray yʼall still get 114$ worth of satisfaction out of it, obliged.

Prolegomenon to Enframing the Question of the Question of the Meaning of Meaning.

*note to readers, I owe you the truth and I will do my best to give it to you, only writing what I know or should. **Please attend to my ʻtransʼ-rather than ʻinterʼ-disciplinary approach. ʻTransʻ in the sense of traveling through a panoply of disciplines (most of which I have little competence in); but also ʻtransʻ in the sense of transgressing the conventions and contents that traditionally comprise the petty fiefdoms of disciplines comprising educational Empires in the first place (Empires that are enlarged by capturing meaning-making capital from other systems like Sociology, Economics, Theology, etc.).

Thank you for your co-operation.

The Fourteen Stations Of The Cross:

Station 1: Jesus Is Condemned To Death.

Station 2: Jesus Is Made To Carry His Cross.

Station 3: Jesus Falls The First Time.

Station 4: Jesus Meets His Sorrowful Mother.

Station 5: Simon Of Cyrene Helps Jesus Carry His Cross.

Station 6: Veronica Wipes The Face Of Jesus.

Station 7: Jesus Falls The Second Time.

Station 8: The Women Of Jerusalem Weep Over Jesus.

Station 9: Jesus Falls The Third Time.

Station 10: Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments.

Station 11: Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross.

Station 12: Jesus Is Raised Upon The Cross And Dies.

Station 13: Jesus Taken Down From The Cross And Placed In The Arms Of His Mother.

Station 14: Jesus Is Laid In The Sepulcher.

Preamble:

It occurred to me DanO that writing this during lent that I could use the “14 Stations of the Cross” as a leitmotif (a gimmick really) as a way of addressing your questions. True, it would have been more pithy had there been 14 questions or else if Jesus would have trimmed his story down a bit to just 10 stations (Jesus falls 3 times, really? donʼt we get it after just the first fall?). Still, I am hoping that this works to help folks engage these questions with us in an interesting way.

Introduction:

Well, were just not going to be able to do this without words so letʼs tackle some of those tricky philosophical questions about language right off the bat. Now Iʼm not going to jam this blog post all up with a whole bunch of quips and quotes from all the usual celebrity lingo wranglers like, Sausurre,ʼ Jacobsen, Wittgenstein, etc.. No, we must go much farther back than that, before the split, all the way back to the pre-binary, even before Heraclitus and “Being and Time,” we must go back when there was just ʻBeingʼ and no way to talk about it…and no need to.

First Station of the Cross: Jesus is condemned to death.

So, of course we first turn to Rashi and the Talmud and then to those feisty Hittites. In Bava Metzia 19a, in the middle of a whole lot of discussion about lost and found documents (property deeds, divorce ʻgets,ʼ promissory notes on loans, even ʻcredit default swaps!ʼ etc.) is a section on the manumission of slaves. Because of the Israelite experience of 400 years of slavery this subject is a big deal to them and a recurring theme in Hebrew literature. So a case is presented for consideration, and I paraphrase: ʻA writ of emancipation is found in the marketplace, to whom should it be returned; the master or the slave…?ʻ Itʼs like this, Tom finds a document just laying on the ground while strolling through the market. The document states that Dick the slave is free from his master Harry. A question arises: Who does the document belong to, should it be given to Dick the slave or back to his master Harry; that is, is Dick a free person or still a slave? The Rabbis kanoodle on this for quite a spell before offering their wisdom or judgement on Dickʼs status. But I want to first note some precedents that are brought to bear having to do with “wills,” etc., from section 18. The usual form of a ʻwillʼ that would, for example, bequest a piece of land to someone, uses the standard Hebrew phrase:…from today and after my death.” That is, I leave my vast estate to my daughter Amber but she doesnʼt take physical possession until after I die; Amber has a claim of ownership now but must wait until I die (sorry Amber) for the document to effect itʼs full possessive power. But just how does a ʻwillʼ effect that power (if it does) and how does a system of contested, differential symbols set Dick free (if in fact it can?).

Letʼs say Tom gives the writ to Dick and he begins living as a free person, he has a job and money, property and investments, then a wife and children; and he has a document of manumission attesting to his status as a “free person.” But is he really free? Harry, his (former?) master says no, and so Dick is brought before the court, his money and property may be confiscated and his marriage annulled because Harry asserts that Dick is still his slave. The Rabbiʼs then ask some probing questions: Was the writ of manumission signed? (addressing issues of authorship and authentication). Were there witnesses to the signature? (addresses issues of socially constructed/validated meaning); Is there an effective date of manumission in the document (addressing issues of the relationships of time and being. This is important because sometimes masters would write documents in anticipation of freeing a slave before a major holidays etc.). And further, did the master present the writ himself and ʻgive it into the slaveʼs hand,ʻ or was it delivered by a third party (concerns questions delimiting presence and absence). Or, and this can be a big factor, did the master free the slave verbally while nearingimmanent death,” which is one of the cases where a verbal statement supersedes a previous written one. Now I can imagine all kinds of relevant quotes from “Of Grammatology,” or “The Archeology of Knowledge” or “Power/Language” here, some stuff about “logocentrism,” the “play of differance,” and the “transcendental signified,” etc. that would work in nicely; but yʼall know them probably better than me, and since Iʼm pinched for time and space, (and yʼall really havenʼt paid me for any references) letʼs just skip all that and move on.

However, I reckon that weʼre far enough into this discussion that we should at least touch/tickle Hegelʼs ʻMaster/slave dialecticʼ (and how much his philosophy owes to those Rabbis of the Talmud, Rashi, Ran, and Rashba for example). Can we all just agree that Hegel often sees human existence as a fight to the death (though sometimes not) for recognition (mutual or otherwise), for self-emancipation, and for self-consciousness through desire. But since these are not realizable we are condemned/empowered to find meaning in the struggle itself. Seems to me like a whole passel of modern philosophers are splintered over these very questions, including that most perplexing of convoluted couples Sartre and de Beauvoir. But how will the Rabbis decide among Hegelʼs petulant children? Are they for Sartreʼs or de Beauvoirʼs understanding of Hegel? That is: Is my being, over and against all other beings, is my freedom something that must be seized from a vanquished master (or even from other slaves, other ʻbeings *in* themselvesʼ?); or is my freedom and beingness something that is only actualized intersubjectively among beings *for* themselves. And further, is there a way to break free of this binary system of, master/slave, of all the other binaries: male/female, in/out, high/low, chocolate/vanilla, Jew/Greek….and dare I even gesture toward it, “good/evil?”).

{{{ OK, I reckon by now yʼall see the problem here as plainly as I do. Obviously I have no clear idea where I am going with this and I am getting more and more lost. I guess it wouldnʼt hurt to just take a peek at how the folks at “Assignment Partner” would tackle this subject, maybe just to help me get my feet pointed in the right direction…. There…I sent in the request and charged it to my Visa. I paid a little more to get the paper by tomorrow so letʼs hope it gives us some decent answers to the question of “meaning.” Here is what I actually requested from my “Assignment Partnersʼ: “Mssg to Writer: Hi, I need and a college level essay that answers the question: “What Is The Meaning of Meaning.” I paid for 3 references so letʼs go with Jesus, Duns Scotus [I want to make them work a bit], and Martin Heidegger [thatʼs just for you DanO since you just finishedBeing and Time”]. Now I just want to make sure you understand the question (Iʼm not so sure I do, LOL). My readers are really smart and well educated so I want this essay to be good, but not too good. And it can’t just be a bunch of made up references, wikipedia snippets, and out of context quotes like I can get away with writing on my blog or facebook. But, it can’t be too intelectuel either or they will know it aint me. I was raised Catholic so I know a bit of Jesus, but Heidegger? yikes! sounds german and intimidating, but you can work him in right? Let me know and great to meet you. (yes I know, being catholic, maybe I shouldn’t even be doing this, but hey, we all make our compromises with the dark side I reckon. Godspeed and obliged, Daniel” }}}

OK, while were waiting for my “partners,” letʼs get back to work, but before we get all bogged down in the minutiae of this argument (Dick the slave can wait a bit) we have to address what are the conditions that allow the possibility of engaging this question? Letʼs look at some examples: First from Mark15:15. In what some now call the “New Testament.” “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them, and after flogging jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.” According to tradition, this is the first station of the “Way of the Cross,” and I have walked this route many times. Station #1 begins at the old Antonia fortress, which is now the Omariye Muslim College so it is mostly not available for use, so usually one begins at the Franciscan Church of the Flagellation. This is next to where one can find Muslims making crosses and renting them to Christians reenacting the crucifixion of their Jewish Messiah. I have written about this before but I think itʼs worth mentioning again because Jesus explicitly spoke about this: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, pick up his cross, and follow me continually” (yikes! talk about twitterpating that unholy trinity, Hegel/Marx/Nietzsche and their critique of “slave religion!”) Matthew 16: 24. Now what do you suppose Jesus really meant by that? Well, whatever you decide, if you lean towards a more literal interpretation, and if your in the market, they got crosses there at Station #1 that are ʻ3/4 size,ʼ ʻ1/2 size,ʼ ʻ1/4 size,ʼ etc., they got crosses to accommodate every pilgrimʼs need. They do keep in stock ʻlife-sizeʼ crosses but these are pretty heavy and rarely rented even though you can get them with a little wheel on the bottom to keep the base from banging along on the rough cobbles. This not only eases the strain on pilgrim back sides, but saves wear and tear on the crosses too. Generally you see the life size crosses only being carried by groups, lifted up over their heads and supported by lots of hands like winning football coaches, this makes a lot of sense to me and is really the most economical (as well as the most *green* way to go).

*Note* If you go Israel you will probably have friends ask you to take their prayers to the wailing wall. The protocol there is to fold them into tight little packets and tuck them into the cracks between the large stones. I brought so many prayers with me from family and friends that I felt really self-conscious about how long it was taking me to get them all into the cracks which were already bulging with prayers to begin with! I began using my swiss army knife to wedge and tuck the prayers in, but some of the Rabbis in an alcove nearby shook their heads and gave me a disapproving look (apparently using some sort of technology to get ones prayers closer to God is frowned upon). Inevitably, no matter how hard I tried, while stuffing my own prayers into the wall, other peopleʼs prayers were dislodged and would fall out. I would then pick up these fallen prayers and try to get them back into the wall again but really there just is no space left and it was just freaking impossible and frustrating. Of course I realize how ridiculous this practice may seem to some. Iʼl even bet that if Jesus and his disciples were sitting back on the steps watching me Jesus would have come up with some kind of profoundly sarcastic parable about what an Idiot I am. Something like, ʻTrue prayers come from the heart and the angels gather them like tears made of diamonds and lay them before the altar of God where each one is treasured like a…Yadda Yadda. But the foolish and unfaithful (logical positivist?) sinner mortars stone upon stone with paper and vain words. Verily I say, the kingdom is built not with the babblings that fall from the cracked lips of hypocrites, but with a pure soul that bears the sorrows of the poor and sings them into the heart of God,ʻ or such and so on.

I once asked some attending Chabadniks what happened to all the prayers that fall from the wall. I was told that they were gathered up every day and prayed over and then burnt. However, I took a picture of these fallen prayers in a trash can and they were just jumbled up with all the other garbage the pilgrims leave behind so I question what really happens to them. That also makes me wonder which prayers will soonest reach the eyes of God, the ones in the cracks or the ones in the garbage, I could make an argument either way. But when I would walk by these trash cans I sometimes imagined that I could hear the supplicants crying out; pleadings for old parents, husbands or wives that are suffering, terminal; appeals for money to save shops and houses, orchards and fields; petitions to save the lost souls of the damned and the wandering souls of the wicked; desperate begging from those who canʼt have children, and from those whose children are dying, prayers for the peace of Jerusalem, peace for the world…and prayers for the destruction of enemies.

{{{ Update from “Assignment Partners” my essay is done already, and in less than 12 hours! Wow those guys know their stuff! Let me give it a quick read and I will get right back to you….

…Boy, I am very disappointed DanO, what they sent me is really just a mish-mash of pseudo academic gobbledygook! I can tell that they just hacked the whole thing right off the internet somewhere, the nerve! Here is just a paragraph or two to show you what I am talking about:

…In fact Heidegger’s debt to the late thirteenth-century doctor subtilis [that was Duns Scotus nick name btw, like they knew that?] manifests itself on the opening page ofBeing and Time.” Heidegger asks, not about being, but about the meaning of being, that is, to what essence (logos) does the word “being” refer [Heidegger, Being and Time 1993: 2]. Further on Heidegger writes: “higher than actuality stands possibility” [Heidegger, 93]. For Scotus (by distinction from Thomas Aquinas), possibility is higher than actuality because being is ʻessentia.ʼ The ambiguity here allows Aquinas and Scotus to develop conflicting accounts of the nature of thinking. In the Habilitationsschrift Heidegger appears to align himself with philosophers who hold ontological knowledge to be primarily intuition (for example, Plato, Plotinus, Augustine, Bonaventure, Scotus, and in the modern period, Descartes, Kant, and Husserl). He argues that the truth of judgment, propositional truth is derivative or founded, secondary to the direct apprehension of being, without which it cannot occur. Heidegger writes in Being and Time that judgment is logos as apophainesthai, language that “lets something be seen.” Primal truth, aletheia, is unconcealment [Heidegger: B+T 32]. Judgment enables or hinders unconcealment. Because it can allow the thing to show itself or cover it over once again, logos apophainesthai can be true or false. Heidegger writes, “as aletheuein the ‘being true’ of logos means: to take beings that are being talked about in legein as apophainesthai out of their concealment; to let them be seen as something unconcealed (alethes); to discover them. Similarly ‘being false,’ pseudesthai, is tantamount to deceiving in the sense of covering up: putting something in front of something else (by way of letting it be seen) and thereby passing it off as something it is not”[ Heidegger B+T :29]. Aletheia is prior to the distinction between truth and falsehood. The unconcealed being is directly apprehended. “Logos simply may not be acclaimed as the primary ‘place’ of truth. In the Greek sense what is ‘true’−indeed more originally true than the logos we have been discussing−is aisthesis, the simple sense perception of something. What is in the purest and most original sense ‘true’−that is, that which only discovers in such a way that it can never cover up anythingis pure noein, straightforward observant apprehension of the simplest determinations of the being of beings as such”[ Heidegger, 1993:33].”

Jeesh, like anyone would believe I wrote something like that! I asked for 3 measly sources and I got a whole sturmenherde of Germans speaking Greek! Well I ainʼt paying for that kind of pretentious nonsense, I have already contacted AP and here is a copy of my chat with my “personal representative,”

Call accepted by operator Rose. Currently in room: Daniel, Rose.

Rose: Hello Daniel

Rose: Please give me your order number

Daniel: S20120309-30

Rose: What is your question Daniel.

Daniel: This paper is not what I asked for Rose, it needs serious revision.

Rose: You can send the paper for the revision that will be performed for free.

Daniel: OK, how do I send it? to who? Doesn’t the writer have a copy already? I really

need this right a way, couldnʼt I just talk to the writer myself?

Rose: Please just type the message with the revision request and your report. And

please clarify for the writer what is needed to be amended in the report.

Daniel: Ok, but this would go smoother if I could talk to him/her myself, but here goes.

….

Daniel: Hello ʻwriter,ʼ I am sorry to say that this paper needs serious revision. It must be more than just a cut and paste from the internet. I may be ignorant and uneducated but anyone reading what you sent can recognize this as a plagiaristic rip-off, including my future readers. You didnʼt even answer the darn question “What is The Meaning of Meaning.” You got to try and at least answer the question and then add a couple of your own insights to the subject. Granted, what we are all doing is ethically questionable, and I see the irony of accusing yʼall of plagiarism, still, just because we are all engaged in this unethical behavior is no excuse for you to blow this assignment off! I didnʼt pay for a essay on “The Ethics of Student Cheating,” but I am starting to feel like some drug addict that bought a bag of cocaine only to discover that I have been snorting baby powder and corn starch! I will give you a chance to correct this, please do so, obliged.

……

Rose: I have just sent your request to your writer.

Rose: The revision will be performed as soon as it is possible.

Daniel: When can I expect a response? Is there any way I can talk to the writer directly? Even call on the phone to clarify what I need?

Rose: No, you can not talk to the writer directly, only to message here.

Daniel: Why is that, seems like a ʻface to faceʼ so to speak might clear up this problem quicker.

Rose: Unfortunately I can not clarify the reason

Daniel: LOL your kidding right, what does that ʻmean?ʼ

Rose: I can only confirm you that the revision request is sent to your writer.

Daniel: OK, but no more corn starch! capisca!

I hope I wasnʼt too harsh, but I think they had it coming. Iʼll tell you DanO, I am beginning to suspect that there is no vast stable of Harvard grads in bustling offices full of support staff working on our question. I think ʻRose,ʼ or ʻTracy,ʼ or whoever, may just be the whole outfit and ʻtheyʼ are probably just one old guy who got expelled from a state school for cheating 30 years ago who is just sitting around some dank hotel room in his underwear smoking Pall Mallʼs, drinking boxed wine, and tiky tikying away on his laptop. If this revision doesnʼt cut the mustard I am going to ask for my money back! Well, let me get back to work and see if I can make some headway while were waiting for my “writer” to try and help me answer the question.

Second Station of the Cross: Jesus Accepts The Cross.

Not one to ask of others what he wouldnʼt do himself Jesus takes up his own cross. “So they took Jesus and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.” This station is at the the Church of the Condemnation right next to the Church of the Flagellation. First though, I want to draw attention to something a bit further on, a little past the “Ecco Homo” arch, where Jesus was presented by Pilate to the crowd proclaiming “behold the man,” John 19:5. Up just a bit and on the north side of the Way is a building owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate. They donʼt let folks go in, but there is a plaque there stating that in that basement is the actual prison where both Jesus (“the Son of Man”) and Barabbas (which means “the son of the father”) waited together before being judged by Pilate. Of course like everything else on ʻThe Way,ʼ the veracity of this site is hotly disputed. However, it was only after reading that plaque that I ever thought about Jesus and Barabbas as prisoners together waiting for judgement, waiting for freedom or death. I have tried to imagine their conversation and even attempted to write a play about it a few years ago but my imagination fails at seriously writing words into the mouth of Jesus. I think we can speculate though that the Jesus who asked for ʻthis cup to pass from his lips,ʼ the night before must have realized by now that he must drink that cup, and drink it alone. And so Barabbas would go free, must go free, and join with all those others that Jesus healed, that He delivered from devils, that He raised from the dead, and be counted among the first green fruits of the redemption of the whole world. But by what means was Barabbas emancipated? By the voice of the mob, the word of Pilate and authority of Rome, by the power of itʼs legions, or the pervasiveness of itʼs culture. Or, by just an accident of history because Pilate wanted to throw those troublesome Jews a bone and so he made an allowance for some quirky Hebrew holiday custom?

I think that itʼs only fair to ask if these events perhaps lend some support to Sartreʼs point of view (as I have grossly misrepresented it), that there is only so much freedom to go around and one persons freedom is sometimes another persons bondage. Now Barabbas may have been a Zealot freedom fighter (or just a bad pick pocket) but he did not win his freedom with his sword in a struggle to the death against his Roman overlords–at least according to the bible or “history.”

However, the story doesnʼt have to end there, for there is a great novel by the Swedish author Pär Lagerkvist and a pretty good movie by Dino de Laurentiis about Barabbas that have filled in nicely for this lack of biblical testimony. According to Lagerkvist and Hollywood, after being set free by Pilate, Barabbas then begins a journey to understand the meaning of his own freedom (and of life, the universe and everything). He is present at the crucifixion of Christ, then at the tomb of Jesus, later he also meets and talks with Peter and Paul, he confronts and fights with the priests that incited the mob against Jesus. Barabbas evolves into an amalgam of Odysseus, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Chuck Norris. I rather like this version of events by Lagerkvist and de Laurentiis and wonder if the biblical cannon could ever be reopened to include some of this new ʻGospel of Barabbas.ʼ They even re-filmed the crucifixion scene in Rome during an actual eclipse of the sun! That kind of attention to dramatic detail is something that the writers of the synoptic Gospels could have learned from!

Let me just quickly touch on a few significant incidents in Barabbasʼs later life:

His former sweetheart becomes a Christian and is martyred :-(

He is arrested during a robbery and again goes before Pilate :-.

His life is spared but he is sentenced to a life of slavery in the mines :-/|

After slaving away for 20 years the mine is destroyed by an earthquake and miraculously Barabbas and Sahak, the Christian prisoner he has been chained to, are the sole survivors =-o

Seen as having the favor of the Godʼs, Barabbas and Sahak are taken in by a Roman patrician and they are trained to become gladiators by Torvald, Romeʼs greatest gladiator :^c

Sahak is later killed by Torvald for witnessing to others about his faith in Christ. :-(

Barabbas kills Torvald in the arena and Nero is so impressed he grants him his freedom :-))

Barabbas takes Sahakʼs body to the catacombs and when he emerges sometime later Rome is burning :-O

Barabbas is told that the Christians started the fire, and desiring to finally become a Christian himself, he starts setting fires in Rome too 8-x

Barabbas is caught and imprisoned with other Christians including Peter, who tells him that he has completely misunderstood Christʼs message :-}

Barabbas, Peter, and many other christians are crucified by the Romans :-?

Oh, one other thing. When they were slaves, Barabbas and Sahak were required to wear medallions around their necks indicating that they were the property of theEmperor. Sahak, however, inscribed the back of the medallion with the sign of the cross. Now at first I thought that this counter inscription functioned as a bold sign of a slaves resistance to the empire. But after thinking about it a bit it seemed more like a passive symbol of acceptance and even cooperation (maybe he was reading St. Paul by then, who knows?). Perhaps though, it was more simply a symbol and a witness to his faith, just a kind of personal devotion without any larger social/political meaning? In the end I really wasnʼt sure what this act of inscription meant, neither the book or movie really explain it, so maybe it was better to not even bring it up?

Anyway, it seems that throughout the whole movie Barabbas keeps asking the same sorts of questions over and over, “why canʼt God make himself plain.” Through all the workings of blind chance, sheer luck, portents, auspicious coincidences, omens and signs, even the very rupture of the earth and the sky, Barabbas is painfully searching for, but at the same time, running away from the meaning of it all. Let me just include the final dialogue from the movie (you really aught to give this movie a look, itʼs not bad for 1962).

Peter: This burning city is no work of ours. This isnʼt how the new kingdom is going to be made. You were wrong Barabbas.

Barabbas: Who are you to tell me Iʼm wrong?

Peter: Many years ago, we spoke together. Do you remember?

Barabbas: No.

Peter: You asked me why I was making a net so far from the sea.

Barabbas: Yes, Jerusalem. The street of the potters.

Peter: You were as mistaken then as you are again now.

Female Christian: We didnʼt set fire to the city.

Male Christian: Youʼve done the work of the wild beasts of the emperor.

Female Christian: Are you a lunatic?

Male Christian: It was Neros fire, you fool. Not Gods.

Barabbas: [the realization of his error sinks in] Why canʼt God make himself plain? [indeed DanO indeed]. Whats become of all the fine hopes, the trumpets, the angels, all the promises? Every time Iʼve seen it end up in the same way, with torments and dead bodies, with no good come of it. Huh? All for nothing.

Peter: Do you think they persecute us to destroy nothing? Or, for that matter, do you think that what has battered on your soul for twenty years has been nothing? It wasnʼt for nothing that Christ died. Mankind isnʼt nothing. In His eyes, each individual man is the whole world. He loves each man as though there were no other.

Barabbas: I was the opposite of everything he taught, wasnʼt I? Why did He let Himself be killed instead of me?

Peter: Because being farthest from Him, you were the nearest.

Barabbas: Im no nearer than I was before.

Peter: Nor any farther away. The truth of the matter is, Heʼs never moved from your side. I can tell you this: there has been a wrestling in your spirit back and forth in your life which, in itself, is knowledge of God. By the conflict you have known Him. I can tell you as well that so it will be with the coming of the kingdom. A wrestling back and forth and a laboring of the world spirit, like a woman in childbirth. We are only the beginning. We wonʼt see the time when the earth is full of the kingdom. And yet, even now, even here, the hour at the end of life, the kingdom is within us. Thereʼs nothing more to fear. Upon us, the years will be many, with many martyrdoms. The ground of men is very stubborn to mature. But men will look back to us in our day, and will wonder, and remember our hope. It is the end of the day. We shall trust ourselves to a little pain, and sleep, saying to world, “Godspeed.”

The next and last scene DanO is the camera panning a vast field of crosses with hundreds of Christians hanging on them. The camera stops on Barabbas, he is finally crucified and dying. He looks up to the sky and asks, “what hour is it…the sixth hour it was, what darkness….darkness….then as his head falls to his bruised and scarred chest he laments, “I give myself up into your keeping.” Damn, he got me crying there DanO, but then, I have always liked Anthony Quinn.

But letʼs get back to reality, what about Tom, Dick, and Harry you ask? In the holy battles that take place within the pages of the Talmud will Dick the slave be set free, or be forced to return to slavery, or even have his death made into a spectacle in the arena. Well, like so much else in the Talmud judgement is provisional and we must defer and wait for the coming of Elijah for a definitive answer. Until then the life and death struggle among jots and tittles continues, and whether It comes by chance, design, or grace, some of us are slaves and some are masters and sometimes itʼs hard to tell the difference.

Perhaps that was part of what Pär Lagerkvist was getting at in one of his last poems, titled: Angest.

(now if your like me you donʼt read Swedish, but let me urge you to experiment reading this poem without translation and see how much meaning can still be communicated to you).

ångest är min arvedel,
min strupes sår,
mitt hjärtas skri i världen.
Nu styvnar löddrig sky
i nattens grova hand,
nu stiga skogarna
och stela höjder
så kargt mot himmelens
förkrympta valv.
Hur hårt är allt,
hur stelnat, svart och stilla!

Jag famlar kring i detta dunkla rum,
jag känner klippans vassa kant mot mina fingrar,
jag river mina uppåtsträckta händer
till blods mot molnens frusna trasor.

Ack, mina naglar sliter jag från fingrarna,
mina händer river jag såriga, ömma
mot berg och mörknad skog,
mot himlens svarta järn
och mot den kalla jorden!

Ångest, ångest är min arvedel,
min strupes sår,
mitt hjärtas skri i världen.

Third Station Of The Cross: Jesus Falls For The First Time

{{{ Hold on DanO I just got an update from my “Assignment Partners” and it looks like my ʻrevisionʼ is done. Well, Iʼll see about that….

…Oy Vey! DanO these guys just get worse and worse. They hardly changed a thing, just added a few more quotes, moved a few things around and sent it back. I am going to give them heck for this right now…

Welcome Daniel: your request has been directed to the Returning Customer department. Please wait for our operator to answer your call.

Call accepted by operator Rose. Currently in room: Rose and Daniel.

Rose: Hi Daniel.

Daniel: Hi Rose, or Tracy, or whatever your name is. The game is up, this revised essay is a complete waste of my time and I am afraid I need a refund.

Rose: What is your order number please?

Daniel: S20120309-30

Rose: State your reasons to the writer for any dissatisfaction and the writer will accommodate your needs.

Daniel: Rose, no, Iʼm sorry, we are way past that. Your ʻwriterʼ never even directly answered the question. Does the ʻwriterʼ even speak english? Or does the ʻwriterʼ (and why canʼt you guys just make up names for the “writer” too, this is ridiculous) just make stuff up and cut and paste randomly from the internet without even knowing what it means? Granted, when it comes to Heidegger not many would really know the difference, still, you donʼt have to know german to know that apophainesthai is some kind of made up word.

Rose: The writer will compose and revise your essay for your satisfaction.

Daniel: REFUND Rose, do you know the *meaning* of REFUND, refundo, understand, entienda, capisca, поймите, 瞭解, no more revisions!

Rose: The manager will look into this issue. you will be replied shortly.

….[The manager, sure…I am beginning to wonder if these guys are even people. Talking to Rose is like talking to a replicant or ʻskin jobʼ from the movie “Blade Runner.”]

Blake: Hello Daniel, how may I help you.

Daniel: Hi ʻBlakeʼ your website says “100% satisfaction guaranteed” and nothingplagiarized” I am 0% satisfied and your essay is total nonsense, stolen nonsense to boot. Just give me a refund and letʼs be done with this.

Blake: What is your order number?

Daniel: ASK ʻRose!ʼ

Blake: Just a moment please.

Blake: Daniel, resubmit your request and our writer will adjust your project to however your needs are.

Daniel: “Adjust?” I donʼt think you get it, how do you adjust something like this:

Thinking accomplishes the relation of Being to the essence of man. It does not make or cause the relation. Thinking brings this relation to Being solely as something handed over to it from Being. Such offering consists in the fact that in thinking Being comes to language. Language is the house of Being. In its home man dwells. Those who think and those who create with words are the guardians of this home. Their guardianship accomplishes the manifestation of Beings insofar as they bring the manifestation to language and maintain it in language through their speech” [Heidegger, Being and Time 217]. From both Scotus and Heidegger we come to learn that the “logos of the phenomenon” must be liberated from thinking that arrogates to itself the production of meaning; it must be permitted to show itself, or better yet, to speak itself. Understanding for Heidegger is not an act; rather, it is largely a matter of not acting, of letting be (Gelassenheit). When things show themselves (aletheia), they “speak” their names to us. “Mortals live in the speaking of language,” Heidegger says, “Language speaks. And Man speaks in as much as he responds to language” [Heidegger, 210]. A cryptic saying, but one which Duns Scotus might have understood.

Now do you get it Blake? “A cryptic saying” indeed. But did I ask for “cryptic” or did I ask for some real answers? I got lots of cryptic already Blake. What I paid for were actual answers, or at least something that could make me feel better. That “logos of the phenomenon” that Heidegger talks about above, thats me; and the “thinking that arrogates to itself the production of meaning,” thatʼs supposed to you Blake. And when Heidegger says that “understanding is not an act; rather it is largely a matter of not acting,” thatʼs bullsh%#t, so start acting Blake and hit the refund button.

Blake: One moment please.

Blake: Our payment manager will review your concerns and respond within 24 hours.

Daniel: Yeah, “payment manager” sure, ok Blake, I will give you the 24 hrs after that I am calling Visa, goodbye. [I bet they just need 24 hours to use my credit card to steal my entire identity, think about it DanO, with access to just a few numbers thisprecategorical manifestation” of “verbum interius” youʼve come to know as Daniel could be cloned into a new replicant ʻDanielʻ and be out spending me into oblivion. Well, there was no ʻobligedʻ for Blake I hope you noticed! Sorry to waste so much time on this DanO, I was hoping for a real breakthrough but I guess if the meaning of meaning could be bought for 114$ we would have gotten it by now. Ok, back to the grindstone and no more looking for short cuts, obliged] }}}

Third Station Of The Cross: Jesus Falls For The First Time

Coincidently, I started this project the week of my wedding anniversary and my wife and I had some time before dinner and since the restaurant was nearby we stopped by the chapel at Providence hospital in Everett. We decided to visit the chaplains and re-read the prayers that our family have written into the prayer request book in the chapel over the years. However our prayers were missing and in there place was a new prayer book that only went back a few months. The Catholic chaplain that I have come to know pretty well over the years popped by and told me that they go through 2 or 3 books a year these days so together we went searching for the old filled up prayer books. After an hour we found all the previous prayer books in a storage room, going all the way back to 1936! It took awhile but we found the book from when my wife had open heart surgery a year and a half ago and in it were all the prayers of the children and grandchildren and friends and all of my own prayers too. He left me to keep researching by myself and it took another hour or so but I found the prayer book form 1982 when my daughter had suffered a terrible head injury after falling from a moving car. I had forgotten but over the next two weeks in the hospital I had written fifteen prayers (still not quite corresponding to the traditional fourteen stations of the cross. However many consider that the resurrection should be included as the fifteenth station so letʼs work with that). For the first few hours after the accident it seemed that Alyssa was alright and she was sent home from the doctors office with just some bandaids on scratches and bruises. But then an hour or so later her eyesight in one eye began to fail then her right arm went numb, then she couldnʼt walk or even stand up, then a more profound paralysis, then….? Let me tell you, Itʼs really hard to go from bad news to good news, then back to bad news, to even worse news; to go from hearing that “your daughter seems to be fine so take her home” (thank you thank you Jesus!) to, “weʼre sorry, your daughter is bleeding in her brain and we just canʼt stop it…”(No God No!).

Turns out I am not a very good prayer, never have been. Most of my prayers were kinda like this one: “Dear God please heal my daughter Alyssa, please let her live, please let her walk again, donʼt let her die thank you, Iʼm sorry help my wife too please.” You know, that sort of thing. Really quite simple, ordinary, unsophisticated, like so many of the other prayers written in these kinds of books and prayed all over the world. And though I didnʼt remember any of my actual prayers, I have never forgotten the fear and the pain. I am almost sure that God remembers those prayers though. But if not, well it turns out we have copies of our prayers on file! And on the last day when God is done examining our lives, our deeds, our works and words, we can then open up our own books and witness those prayers fly from the pages like furious spirits unbound.

Station Number 6: Veronica wipes the face of Jesus.

Station #6 is commemorated in the ʻChurch of the Holy Face,ʼ served by the “Little Sisters,” a Greek Catholic rite. For some reason this seems to be the Station most accused of being a complete fiction. For those not familiar, Saint Veronica (Vera-eikon/ True-image) encounters Jesus on the way to Golgotha and she is filled with compassion for him. With a pure white cloth she wipes the sweat, spittle, and blood from his face and when she does so an image of the face of Jesus appears on or is transferred onto the cloth. Now if like me you have bought into the Jesus story up to now (the walking on water, quelching the bloody flows of women, healing lepers and cripples, even raising the dead!) I donʼt know why this simple act of acheiropoieta xeroxing is such a stumbling bloc.

In Mel Gibsonʼs truly horrific movie, “The Passion,” Veronica places the cloth on Jesusʼ face and the imprint that his face leaves is a simple ink-blotch shape and outline. I reckon one can see how from such a rudimentary image a story might begin to take shape of some sort of miraculous reproduction onto the cloth. Later, perhaps an artist touches up the Rorschach blots a bit, adding some detail, a bit of color, a little blending and shading and ʻklaatu barada nikto,ʼ God has a face! Iʼm not saying thatʼs what happened (iʼm a true believer) but I can understand how some folks might think so.

Now there are a whole bunch of these Veronica relics around both in Israel and Italy and Iʼv seen several myself, but the most famous is the one at Manoppello in Italy. This image has been studied so much a whole new term was invented to describe this, itʼs called, “sindonology.” Thus the scholars of this discipline are called sindonologists, and these guys work their whole lives just studying Veronicaʼs image. There are archeologists, theologians, historians, anatomists, medical doctors, physicists, iconologists, and more all dedicated to studying this piece of old cloth. Thereʼs another group that is doing the same for the shroud of Turin too. Then one day a guy got the brilliant idea that If these two images are of the same man shouldnʼt the face of the shroud and Veronicaʼs face on the cloth match up exactly? If they do match, then that may prove that they are both ʻrealʼ (whatever that means). And if they donʼt, well, that means at least one of the relics is a fake…but then what?

Iʼm not sure that bringing in ʻscienceʼ to answer a question like this is really the right way to go (if your sensing a bit of a post-structural queasiness about scientific metanarratives your correct). I guess I prefer to see this face, any face, like Emmanuel Levinas does, as a gift and as an opening into being, an unconcealing of our common destitution, and as a naked vulnerability that summons me to both freedom and responsibility for the Other; compels me to live in recognition that ʻthe way to God always passes through the face of another.ʼ So maybe some poor friar in an out of the way abbey decided to bring in more coin by touching up some rust stained blotches on an old cloth and claiming it is the face of Christ. Isnʼt every face in some ways the face of Christ? Isnʼt every face a part of ʻa divine nudity crying its strangeness in the world,’ a part of his loneliness, his death hidden in his being, but revealed in the wounds, scars, and cracks that break through the fissures of totality and infinity, appearance and reality?

I am an Icon painter myself, and let me remind you that painters are deceivers by trade. And though I have painted the face of Christ many times, I am not always comfortable looking into the eyes of Jesus as I paint. I may work on an Icon for months, even years, and through the whole process the eyes of Jesus seem to continually question me, judge me, call me to examine myself; not condemning me but searching out my vanity, hypocrisy, pride, selfishness. I am sure this whole experience is caught up in some abnormal psychology resulting form the absent, critical, angry, and abusive father and step-fathers I had growing up. Still, It is often a disturbing and painful experience. Painting an Icon should be a spiritual journey for the artist and when one finishes the artist should be able to reflect back on what was learned. It took me some years but eventually I learned to always paint the eyes of Jesus last.

Ooops, gosh dang it DanO, reading back over this I realize that I did it again, I wandered way off the trail like a herd of horses spooked by lightening and my thoughts took off running every which way! Let me try and lasso a few of these fillyʼs and see if I can get some of them back into the corral. Or hell, maybe itʼs best to just start over and take a fresh look at the questions again….I mean really, are we any better prepared to begin answering your questions about meaning now than when we started? No, I donʼt think so either. I reckon it might be best to just start over and go back and look at the questions again. And when we do, letʼs try to keep in mind just one possibly important idea put forward by an old Russian potato farmer who came up with the notion of something called “dialogism.”

Before all those notorious French popinjayʼs came up with their grandiloquent theories, Mikhail Bakhtin figured something out by simply by growing potatoes; preparing the ground, mulching, planting, watering, weeding and then waiting through the seasons until harvest. During the work and the waiting Bakhtinʼs mind would be filled with thoughts and ideas, music and fantastic images, he said it was like there was always a circus in his head. He was often seen talking loudly to himself out in the fields. Sometimes even laughing or crying, waving his arms or dancing, shouting at the sky (he wasnʼt shouting at God though, Russia had no god no more). And many times after the potatoes were harvested, cooked, and distilled, Bakhtin and the other potato farmers would sit around drinking, smoking and talking and Bakhtin would tell his comrades about his thoughts. And as it turns out, while all the other farmers were plowing, digging, and waiting they had been thinking too, and they also had circuses in their heads!

If you can picture it, a group of old Russian farmers in a potato shed banking the harvest into straw filled beds. A small fire lights their red faces and twinkles on vessels of pure clear spirit. And then all those Ideas, feelings, questions, jokes, worries, laughter, sorrows, desires and silences, begin flitting from mind to mind like flyers and catchers of the great trapeze! From mind to mind the flyers fly, released by one catcher and thrown into the sky where the flyer reaches for the hands of another catcher. There is no fulcrum, no center, no physics to this at all really, the flyer flies only by the faith that there will be hands ready to catch her to save her and then send her flying again. And if those hands should fail, then the flyer falls. What do you think, a bit too oblique? Yeah, itʼs a piss poor allegory that just make things more confusing. I reckon sometimes itʼs best to just say something straight out, so here goes: It seems to me that what so many philosophers have been arguing for quite a spell could be summed as something like, ‘no one owns meaning.ʼ Of course saying something like this was bound to cause a lot of consternation and it has even driven some folks to madness (yes, a lot of flyers fell that day I can tell you). But there is a heck of a lot I like about this simple yet quite dangerous proposition. Now our comrade potato farmer said something very similar, yet at the same time profoundly different; Bakhtin said, Itʼs not so much that ʻno one owns meaning,ʼ but that ʻeveryone owns meaning.ʼ Now I really like the sound of that, but I guess like so much else maybe it all comes down to the difference between Germans and Russians, Greeks and Jews.

Ok, that being said, letʼs take another crack at your questions DanO (well, by now theyʼre really as much mine as yours I reckon). But letʼs just start to pitch the circus tents, bring up the lights, and let the stars start warming up and getting ready to shine, especially those amazing trapeze flyers! I would ask my questions this-a-way:

(1) What is meaning? [Do I matter to other people, to God?].

(2) What is the significance of meaning? [Why donʼt I matter more?]

(3) What is the relationship of meaning to ethics? [How do I understand what matters most?].

(4) What is the relationship of meaning to events? [Why donʼt I have control over what matters?].

(5) What is the relationship of meaning to actions? [Why do I hurt those that matter most to me, why do they hurt me?].

(6) What is the relationship of meaning to desire? [Who will love me? Why should anyone love me? why doesnʼt everyone love me?].

(7) What is the relationship of meaning to language? [How do I tell myself the truth?].

(8) What is the relationship of meaning to being? [Who cares when I lack the will to be, when I die?].

(9) What is the relationship of one person’s sense of meaning to other senses of meaning? [Why should I care for the being of others?].

What is the relationship of meaning to meaninglessness? [See number one].

Well, I have really went on and on here DanO havenʼt I, but let me just take a quick crack at question number (1). My answers are: Yes, and again I say, Yes (I take to heart what comrade Bakhtin said, ʻthere is no alibi for being!ʼ). Much obliged brothe…..Oh Damn, I forgot about them feisty Hittites, and I never did get around to the rest of the Stations of the Cross, let me see if I can quickly wrap this up by working in just one more stop on the road of sorrows. Letʼs jump all the way forward to the last stations at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (this is where all of the last 5 stations are located anyway).

Station 10: Jesus Is Stripped Of His Garments

Station 11: Jesus Is Nailed To The Cross

Station 12: Jesus Is Raised Upon The Cross And Dies

Station 13: Jesus Taken Down From The Cross And Placed In The Arms Of His Mother

Station 14: Jesus Is Laid In The Sepulcher

Now when you enter the Church, one of the first thing you come up on is the “Stone of Anointing.” This is a bare cold blood-colored stone where Jesusʼ body was laid after his death while being prepared for burial.

I donʼt now what it is DanO, maybe I got a case of melancholia like our Danish friend, or maybe itʼs just been the long hard road, but for many years now I get all weepy over the littlest things. Like last saturday night my wife and I were watching that movieArmageddon” on TV, itʼs about a giant asteroid coming to destroy the earth. Turns out Bruce Willis has to stay on the asteroid and blow it and himself up to save the world (God bless you Bruce!). Thereʼs that scene at the end where he is saying goodbye to his daughter Grace…I gotta tell ya, I am tearing up a bit just writing about it. Anyway, he says “Goodbye Gracie I love you,” and his daughter reaches for his face on the screen and cries out to him “no daddy no!” Well, Iʼm not ashamed to tell you I was sitting there bawling my eyes out, but my wife, heck she was looking at me like I had lost my mind (she donʼt care much for science fiction movies). She donʼt care much for fancy churches, religious paraphernalia, or saints and statues etc. either (Iʼll be honest thereʼs been a bit a tension in our marriage over this through the years, like, she just looks at my rosary collection and shakes her head. But, when it comes to all her Native American regalia, beadwork, artifacts, etc., oh now thatʼs a whole different story! that stuff is all sacred and infused with spiritual meaning donʼt you know….well, your married, so you know how these things go).

However, when we walked into the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and she stood before the Stone of Anointing she just knelt right down and wept and wept. Of course I did too, really just about everyone who comes in kneels down and kisses the stone, lays their hands on it, weeps over it. I have sat off to the side for hours watching the pilgrims come and go, weeping and kissing that stone. Over the years, all those kisses and tears have actually worn that stone down! I try to imagine that stone absorbing all those tears. But where do they go, what happens to all those kisses and tears? Some folks will tell you though, that that stone ainʼt even the actual stone that Jesus was laid out on, and that no one knows which stone it was, or if he was even laid out anywhere close to this spot. Others say that carrying on this way over a stone is a sin and some kind of idolatry. They see pilgrims putting crosses and bottles of oil on the stone and laying out handkerchiefs on it to bring back and anoint loved ones who are sick at home, and they liken that unto some kind of magic or witchcraft, even some kind of evil! Now I always mostly understood evil in the sense that Aquinas talked about it, as that part of the good that is lacking or missing. But I donʼt think we are evil for wanting to touch something with our hands that we have only known with our hearts. I think that what Aquinas said might be useful, but whatʼs missing here is that part of the stone that has been lost from loving kisses and tears of sorrow. I think that what is missing is what makes that stone holy, whether Jesus ever lay on it or not.

Well DanO, for better of worse, that about wraps this up. I did the best I could the only way I knew how and I barely tackled question number one. I canʼt imagine that I have actually brought any light to the subject. But I pray that I havenʼt increased the darkness. God bless and as always, obliged.

p.s. here is a translation of Lagerkvistʼs poem. (I just hate it when “writers” leave you with words in strange tongues without knowing what they mean, donʼt you?).

Anguish

Anguish, anguish is my inheritance
The wound in my throat
my heart’s scream in the world
Now stiffens foamy sky
in the rough hand of the night.
Now rise the forests
and stiff heights
so ruggedly against the sky’s
shrunken vault.
How hard is all
how frozen, black and still!

I fumble around in this dark room,
I feel the sharp edge of the rock against my fingers,
I shred my raised hands
to blood against the frozen shatters of the clouds.

Alas, my nails I tear from my fingers,
my hands I tear wounded, sore,
against mountain and darkened wood,
against the black iron of the sky,
and against the cold earth!

Anguish, anguish is my inheritance,
the wound in my throat,
my heart’s scream in the world.

Again, obliged.

p.s.s. This just in…some great news to share DanO, my daughter Alyssa is having another (unintended, but joyfully awaited for) baby! Weʼall been keeping it quiet for awhile cause there are some troubling complications, please keep her in your prayers). However, since as of yesterday the little tyke is 3 months along, Alyssa reckoned that we could go ahead and share the good news with everybody. Well, for now, this is just another of so many great blessings in my life! I feel as blessed as Tony Soprano after he survived that gun shot in the stomach from his Uncle Junior. Do you remember that plaque hanging on the wall of his hospital room that claimed it was an “An Ojibway Saying,” the one with the verse that inspired Tony so much and helped him through the long days of suffering and healing? It said: “Sometimes I go about in pity for myself, and all the while, a great wind carries me across the sky,” (“The Sopranoʼs,” season 6, episode 4.).

Obliged Jesus, and to you too DanO, Godspeed, your brother Daniel.

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Responses

  1. Well you completely de-railed my morning reading Dan I. A beautiful piece. Thank-you.

  2. Obliged David (sorry about the length, after this nothing longer than a paragraph, I promise!).

  3. Daniel,

    I’m moving this comment here from our email exchange in order to continue a public exchange about these things (as you requested). Look forward to your response:

    the more I was thinking about your response, and the way you reframed my questions, the more I feel that the starting of it (from my perspective) was avoided (yes, I am working on some of the questions myself). For me, the starting question is not “do I matter to somebody or something else?” but “why does it matter to me that I matter to somebody or something else?” or “why does it matter to me that anything matters?” and so “should it?” and “why or why not?” And so on. Of course, I also really enjoyed the way you reworked that subsequent questions, but that’s a cluster of questions you didn’t ask (I think that’s what I meant by “what is the meaning of meaning?” but I probably didn’t communicate that at all).

  4. Dear DanO:

    “For me, the starting question is not “do I matter to somebody or something else?” but “why does it matter to me that I matter to somebody or something else?”  or “why does it matter to me that anything matters?” and so “should it?”  and “why or why not?”  And so on.”

    “And so on…” So, no, I reckon I have no answers to your questions DanO, and even if I did come up with some clever syllogistic responses, that would not be the end of it but just the beginning of a new set of propositions as your statement shows. I see now that I have completely failed to make sense to you and probably everyone else. And I take complete responsibility for this failure, without any of this ‘well they just need to read these 3 books’ or they need to have suffered in such an such a way like me, or they needed to wake up in a drunk tank in Albuquerque with no Idea how they got there, laying face down in someone else’s puke, and then look around and realize that your the most pathetic and screwed up person in the cell (I’m not saying I’v done that, just saying I‘v heard stories).

    I should have just admitted that I couldn’t answer your questions to begin with, I thought about it, but maybe my ego got the best of me again, sorry. Still, I reckon it confirms the old saying that the only truth we find is what we find for ourselves. I guess we can’t just cut and paste meaning out of wikipedia (or the bible, or Barth) after all. And those fake “fake” plagiarized papers I wrote from ‘assignment partners,” I think that is exactly the kind of academic speak you (and me too) have had enough of.
    so what’s that leave us with? Just the stories of our journeys with or without any of the right answers.

    Have you seen that movie “Training Day” DanO? The one with Denzel Washington? A lot of the time I feel like I am the rookie Jake Hoyt in that movie; an ignorant, inexperienced, neophyte that isn’t ready for the hard realities of life on the mean streets.

    Training Day (2001)

    Roger: Here’s a joke, boy. One day this man walks out of his house to
    go to work. He sees this snail on his porch. So he picks it up and
    chucks it over his roof, into the back yard. Snail bounces off a
    rock, cracks its shell all to shit, and lands in the grass. Snail
    lies there dying. But it doesn’t die. It eats some grass. Slowly
    heals. Grows a new shell. And after a while it can crawl again. One
    day the snail up and heads back to the front of the house. Finally,
    after a year, the little guy crawls back on the porch. Right then,
    the man walks out to go to work and sees this snail again. So he
    says to it, WHAT THE FUCKS YOUR PROBLEM!?

    Jake Hoyt: Thats messed up. That wasn’t funny.
    Alonzo Harris: Then why are you cackling like a jackal?
    Jake Hoyt: I dunno.
    Roger: Figure that joke out and you’ll figure the streets out.

    Roger: You figure that joke out, you’ll figure the streets out?
    Alonzo Harris: There ain’t nothing to figure out, thats just some senseless bullshit. Don’t listen to him.
    Jake Hoyt: You know, I already figured em out.
    Alonzo Harris: Really?
    Roger: You already figured the streets out.
    Jake Hoyt: Its all about smiles and cries.
    Alonzo Harris: Put the drink down, man, the motherfuckers out of his
    mind.
    Roger: Hold on, Alonzo, hold on. Smiles and cries, smiles and cries,
    I hear ya.
    Jake Hoyt: Yeah. You gotta control your smiles and cries, because
    thats all you have and nobody can take that away from you.

    Really? Does Jake have that right DanO? Is the way to survive on the streets (or in seminary, or at work, or with your family) by the careful administration of our tears and manipulation of our faces?

    Remember that day I wrote you from where I was having lunch, and I was sitting at the table with the woman whose 9 year old daughter was killed last Christmas day in a “freak accident.” Well, she is back to work now, and to be honest, I have been avoiding her, waiting till someone else can ring me up, not looking her way when she is sitting at the other end of my lunch table etc.. I just do not know what to say to her and I am scared to death that she will ask me why God let her daughter die. She sees me reading everyday and I have read all the best theological books on the subject of pain and death too DanO, but still I can not yet give my face to her. So today, right now, she is sitting about 5 feet from me; she is reading the last of the Twilight series I think and I am reading a biography of Francisco Franco y Bahamonde, the fascist Catholic dictator of Spain, and now I am writing this.

    She could just look up and I could see her. And she would see how afraid and sorrowful I am. She could cry then and I know I would cry too, we would weep and weep and not have to say anything.

    Maybe God would pick us up the way a loving father picks up a crying child.  Would that this violence could be carried away like the cry of a child in the night.

    “Hush, darlings.  It’s okay.  I’m here.”

    That would be lovely.

    Yes, that would be so lovely, but why do I seem to so often just hear God saying to me: WHAT THE FUCKS YOUR PROBLEM?

    Obliged.

  5. I see. Answering an unanswerable question by posing another unanswerable question. I deserved that. But no apology necessary.


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