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Archive for March 2010

Some Wisdom for When we are Growing Old

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Notes from a Panel Discussion of the Psychotherapy Institute of Berkeley on the experience of aging, taken on December 5th 2008:

H., aged 86: “Growing older faced me with a very steep learning curve. One’s body fails in many ways and one has to pay more attention to it. One asks, ‘What is too much to do?’ And yet, that is not an excuse for doing nothing. Self acceptance means knowing your limitations. It is important here to keep the relation with your own psyche and the relation with your inner world going.”

J., aged almost 80: “I am winging it.” She described herself as an extrovert. She is conscious of her energy and what she can do. She keeps her awareness and attention on things that really matter. She will say, “No I can’t do that by myself, but I have to make it happen.”

B., aged 73: “I found that I went from being an extrovert to an introvert and back to an extrovert. There is feeling integrated versus faking it until you make it. (I’m not sure of the context of that comparison.) One needs to relax and listen and be with people. One is forced, faced, mandated to come and face oneself.”

H.: Age becomes our advantage rather than our liability. The body may fall apart, but our psyche relaxes and grows and focuses on what really matters. “Live in your mind if your body fails you.”

J.: She has become infinitely more interior. As an extrovert, to be action-prone was her default position.

H., having been a psychoanalyst for twenty years: “Now I’m my own kind of therapist. One psychological theory does not tell you much about a human being. To learn these theories gives you a theoretical framework, but you have to leave it behind you, because you are treating a human being. Be more yourself. Dismiss theory and really pay attention. That issues into a much more genuine relationship.” She hated a psychological attitude, the stuffed shirt. She underscored the “I-Thou relationship” of Martin Buber.

J. worked with Gestalt therapy. “I come out and find that there is very little space between what I think and feel.” Someone in the gathering offered, “Life can only be understood backwards, but you have to live it forwards.”

Questions and responses: “How do I know when I should retire? How do I get out of my position? When do I stop?”

Someone offered: [I can tell when] “I need to stop. Your dreams will get you out. [If I cannot tell myself, then] “When I’m floundering around, friends have to tell me to stop.”

Questions and responses: “It becomes necessary to face end-of-life issues, to face your own death. Write a will.”

Someone said: “It is odd to be out here on the edge, living in this place where I’ve never been before.”

H.: “Being an introvert makes aging easier. For many years I lived in a way that was way over-extended. Make your life reflect who you really are.”

Question: “How does one do that?”

H.: “Nurture yourself each day. Think, meditate, and read.”

B.: “You can get recharged in a surprising way.” For retirement he gets into his sailboat. He no longer does therapy, but now writes poetry.

Questions and responses: “With aging the body slows down. What if the mind slows down?”

B.: “Make a deal with a friend: ‘Friend, tell me if I have to quit.’ The issue is all the over-extension. How do I get to do what I really want to do and not get bogged down in all the adiaphora?”

H.: We do not become undesirable when we age. We are struggling. But my heart has opened the way I’ve never seen before. We are up against it, because of the crises we face. And we have to have real solidarity like teenagers.”

B.: [At times we have to say to ourselves] “Like a kitten hanging on a clothes line: hang in there.”

Questions and responses: What about self-disclosure of the therapist versus no self-disclosure?

H.: Do not create distance and distance from yourself any longer, but feel, think, and experience. Do away with counter-transference. Now I experience co-transference.

Question: But what to do if something comes up that doesn’t belong there?!? (I did not hear an answer to this question.)

Question: “What about considering your mortality?”

J.: “Being aware of my mortality makes everyday more precious.”

H.: “Indeed,] and more precious all the way. We never thought that we would live forever and now we know that we won’t. When we grow older, we need younger friends and learn to look at the world from a younger perspective. Aging and death is a process we all go through.”

B.: “You know what Woody Allen said about his fiftieth high school reunion: ‘None of my friends were there; but all their parents were.’ You should feel no shame about how old you are, because it is a badge of honor. When necessary play the age card. Ram Dass’ last word was ‘Shit!’ It pays to have a sense of humor. The secret of old age is love.”

[My own input here about last words: Erasmus of Rotterdam was the illegitimate son of a priest. He was careful never to speak his native Dutch. He spoke only classical Latin. But his last word before he died was “God!” in Dutch!]


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March 30, 2010 at 6:42 am

Overton’s Coney Island Directory 1883

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In writing a history for St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Coney Island, New York, I noted that C.C. Overton donated the bells from the old Brighton Chapel to St. Paul’s. When it was torn down from West Fifth Street and rebuilt on West Eighth Street, St.Paul’s sold these bells to a church near the Brooklyn Library that also had a school. Its name now escapes me.

From my time in Coney Island, I have a Directory prepared by Overton in 1883. It is not in such good shape, so I have not copied all of it, just the pictures, a map, and a history of Coney Island from pages 42-43. All told the booklet has 92 pages. I also copied the cover and the table of contents. Today August 19, 2015, I just added the Rules for Bathing, pages 50-56.

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March 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Realism versus Non-Realism in the Nature of Religion

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Nature of Religion— Dr. Peter Krey, ca. 2006, Diablo Valley College, Golf Club Road, Pleasant Hill, California

From Michael Peterson, William Hasker, Bruce Reichenbach, and David Basinger, editors, Philosophy of Religion, Third Edition, (Oxford University Press, 2007), pages 5-7.

Religions realists maintain that when they discuss the existence of God and the properties of God they mean to refer to a real being with real properties.  So, if such a God or these properties did not exist, their assertions would be false (Peterson, page 5).

There are many kinds of realism, another of which is ethical realism.  Ethical realists believe their terms and normative claims pertain to actual realities in the moral realm, referring to something in the very structure of how things are (page 6).  Subjectivists on the other hand, believe these terms and normative claims only refer to feelings of private preference.  Right and wrong represent only approval or non-approval as a sentiment (Hume).

Some scientists are non-realist instrumentalists.  They consider their terms merely convenient constructs that enable a theory to predict testable results.

A non-realist in religion denies that religious belief and statements are about objectively existing entities (page 6).  Religion is a human creation and human beings are not a divine creation.  Religion makes people function better in society but spiritual things and events are not beyond ordinary experience.

Proponents of this position are Nietzsche, Freud, and William James. Non-realists ground religion sometimes in psychological experience and sometimes in the structure and demands of society.

Emile Durkheim argues that religion is essentially a social phenomenon.  Religion, he argues, lies at the heart of societies that developed.  Society uses religion to make people comply and there is no metaphysical ground of religion—it is a purely natural, not supernatural phenomenon.  Religion is created by and for humans and must be structured as a social discipline.

The basic sense of religion changes from this perspective (top of page 7). From my point of view, the mystery of there being something instead of nothing (Leibniz) is placed into human agency, and it is patently false that humans have created the universe. We find ourselves as part of the universe and the non-realist position cannot explain its creation.

Wittgenstein introduces a third perspective, both a critique of the realists and non-realists.  We should study the grammar of belief, which involves the dynamic, living context of religion’s application (page 7).  All beliefs not just religious beliefs find their meaning in their use and not in their relation to an external object.

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March 26, 2010 at 6:36 pm

The Seminarian, Hamma News Letter from January 17, 1969

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Hamma School of Theology at Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio went through a drastic change in curriculum when four new professors arrived to replace those who retired. The euphoria of the Sixties had hold of us and professors lectured on their newest writings to the whole community and other classes were mostly held seminar fashion. Students chaired classes and professors were resource persons in the class. Each Wednesday from 10 am to 12 noon, the seminary divided into core groups with about two professors and eight students, where the goal aimed for pastoral maturity and spiritual growth, rather than leaving it to happenstance and concentrating only on academic theological preparation, the way traditional theological education did. I was in St. Claire’s (a psychology Prof) and Ben Johnson (a New Testament Prof’s) group and the intellectual did not scare me, but the  psychology prof certainly did. He could nail you to the wall with words and talk about flipping ashtrays into the air that came down daisies. I really felt that a person had no business taking you apart if he couldn’t put you back together. I could handle it because I had rough inner-city experience in Cincinnati with Les Schulz, right while the racial riots were taking place in the streets. My friend Kenn Donovan couldn’t and ended up transferring to Capitol Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. His fears are well represented in his cartoon.

When I read the lines of my suggestions for the four comprehensive exams required for the new MDiv, I had a good laugh. With those exams we enter a new era – The Reign of Terror! And little did I know that I would have to take the Ministry Exam with all its seven parts over three times in order to pass it. Twice it ruled that I could not lead a group, while I was the chair of the whole community council. Having felt affirmed by the Holy Spirit, I could not get it into the psychology prof’s head that I was not a ruin coming down, but a new construction going up! Christ is a whole and mature and positive healing personal model. Psychology seemed to operate only with negative models: neurotics, psychotics, paranoia, etc. Kenn Donovan had some things right. I myself have undergone some suffering and I knew that on the other side of the cross was resurrection and the only way through it is through it!

One poem is about Louise, whom I visited regularly in a nursing home until she died. The other poem shocked me as I read it. It is in the form of a business letter and I see the skyscrapers in Boston (I worked in the John Hancock Building) as secular cathedrals erected to worship materialism. Because our family experienced the bombing of Hamburg and other cities, it now seems like an eerie premonition of 9/11.

This issue of the Seminarian is volume 5, No. 6, January 17, 1969. Emil Bartos was the editor and I was the assistant editor. I left many pages out.

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March 11, 2010 at 7:38 am

A Letter to Hamma School of Theology of 1973

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I’m continually looking through boxes. I’ve got a binder with my manuscript somewhere for my book on Performative Declarations, which I now want to work on. Going through one box I came across a four page copy of a letter that I sent from Berlin to the graduating class of Hamma School of Theology at Wittenberg University, Springfield, Ohio. I did not at all remember that I had written it.

I’m ashamed to say, that I am now a person I condemned in my letter, someone unemployed who tries to make money with money on the stock market, but sadly losing most of the time. I guess I have mellowed out. Like Woody Allen says, you mellow, ripen, and rot. I have to apologize to my younger self and other younger folks who want to take this old world by the horns and bring it down so new calves can romp and spring into a new day. But I think the hard edges of youth can be counter productive and the a stout heart of the more mature can also make this a better world to live in.  The stock market might even make possible the ownership of the corporations by the people and a democratizing of the economy could proceed from there. United Airlines was worker owned and that changed because of its bankruptcy.

I’ll put this letter in with all its flaws and blemishes, its cuss-word, misspellings, and whatnot. I was pretty fired up back then. My ministry in St. Paul’s in Coney Island was a very creative chapter in my life. But after coming to make my PhD, I never landed a position to be able to make a contribution I would have loved to have made. It was like I said in those days: What to do if you are a helicopter and no one gives you a landing pad! You will run out of gas sometime and crash. Still as I discovered when I was torn between Germany and returning to the United States, you have a place in God even if the world refuses you a place. And even if there is no position for me and I am still spending untold substance to pay for my doctorate: I’ll make my last student loan payment of $595.80 when I’m 90 years old! It will be funny hobbling up there with my cane to bring the money. I love having had the education, however. Still I wish I had not been quite so harsh in my young age! It shocked me to read it!

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March 10, 2010 at 9:46 pm