Hinges: Wisdom and Discretion

Yesterday’s “Why do we feel so unhinged?” – an attempt at a philosophical post outside the partisan political fray – cries out this morning for a less dispassionate follow-up.

Much of the reason for feeling unhinged is unhinged behavior in the White House that violates prudence (wisdom) and temperance (restraint, self-control), two of the Four Cardinal Virtues featured in “Why do we feel so unhinged?”

trump-lavrov2.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x724The latest Washington Post news concerning the POTUS’s off-script conversation with the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian Ambassador about a highly sensitive foreign intelligence and national security matter offers the latest evidence of Mr. Trump’s imprudence and lack of restraint.

The American people and the people of the world should expect wisdom and self-control (restraint) from the most powerful man in the world. But when a society’s traditional values get obliterated by an entertainment culture whose entertainment President gets his news from watching “Good Morning, Joe” and Fox News and tweets warning shots at the FBI Director he’s just fired, the greater tragedy may be that America got a mirror image of ourselves. Until finally the question former First Lady Michelle Obama asked after the new president signed an executive order undoing the Obama Administration’s healthy school lunch program: “What is wrong with you?”

The question goes all the way back to Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero in ancient Greece and Roma, and to Thomas Aquinas, who was schooled in the Four Cardinal Virtues at the University of Paris in the 12th Century.

As previously noted (see “Two Universities: Paris and Liberty” in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, p. 101-102), it’s a long way from the University of Paris to Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia where the the new president delivered his first commencement address last Saturday.

Trump and FalwellLiberty President Jerry Falwell, Jr. urging Liberty students and faculty to buy guns to teach the Muslims a lesson when they show up at Liberty is a far cry from Jesus’s teaching that those who live by the sword will perish by the sword. While Liberty’s President, like the Liberty’s commencement speaker, measures life by what is the greatest and the biggest – Liberty boasts of being the biggest university in the world – Jesus spoke about “the least of these,” by which he did not mean the least qualified, the least accredited and least academically respected educational institution. No, he was talking about the down-trodden, the poor, the meek of the earth, the sick, the dying, the friendless, not the successful elect, the saved, the righteous, the true believers, or the well-off. This is the school President Trump chose to address last week.

Here again are the Four Cardinal Virtues on which the western moral tradition claims the good life and the good society hing. They are called ‘cardinal’ from the Latin word cardo (‘hing’) because the door to the good life and the healthy society hinges on them.

Prudence/Wisdom. In Greek and Roman philosophy – the works of Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero – and in subsequent Christian teaching, all other moral virtues depend on prudence or wisdom (Greek: φρόνησις, phronēsis; Latin: prudent): the ability to judge between appropriate (i.e. virtuous as opposed to vicious) actions in a given time and circumstance.

Temperance (Greek: σωφροσύνη, sōphrosynē; Latin: temperantia) – restraint, self-control, abstention, discretion, and moderation – is the practical exercise of prudence/wisdom.

Today is another day in America. Another day in whatever as yet un-masked country provided the highly classified intelligence report to which the President off-handedly referred in the Oval Office while bragging about his “great intel” to the dismay of an onsite witness wise enough to blow the whistle on the latest example of imprudence and intemperance that put the world at risk.

O God, who would fold both heaven and earth in a single peace:
let the design of your great love
lighten upon the waste of our wraths and sorrows:
and give peace to thy Church,
peace among nations,
peace in our dwellings,
and peace in our hearts…. Amen
[Book of Common Prayer]

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, May 16, 2017.

 

America – In Search of Wisdom

Though we Americans disagree profoundly on many profound matters, we are often united by a deeper conviction regarding good and evil.

Today in America we’re taking sides. Left-Right. Democrat-Republican. Christian-non-christian. Religious-nonreligious. good-evil. All of the splits have something to do with perceptions of the dichotomy of good and evil, the good guys and the bad guys.

Wisdom is always the victim. Wisdom is crucified by the race to goodness. It sits in the middle of dichotomous thinking, a way of life that Danish Philosopher-theologian Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1838), who was anything but a joiner, called double-mindedness.

In the Bible wisdom is personified as female.  In the Book of Proverbs Wisdom is like a concerned mother calling to her children who prefer simpleness to insight:

“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says,

“Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.

“Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Provers 9:4-6

Wisdom is maternal. Wisdom calls her wayward children – the simple ones — to “turn in here” to her house. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Wisdom’ children are mature.

Could it be that the beatitude of Jesus “blessed are the pure in heart” is a call to return to Wisdom’s house of insight where the unity of all things is unbroken, instead of a call to simpleness? Simplicity of heart, then, is not simplicity of mind but rather to will one thing only: the goodness of wisdom (unity), as described by D. Anthony Storm‘s comments on  Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing Only:

God is presented as “simple”. I use this term in the same sense as Aquinas. God is singular of nature, and is not divided or contrary in any way. By this, I do not refer to unitarian versus trinitarian theology, but simply that Kierkegaard sees God as a unity of thought, will, and being. The nature of God is changeless (see The Changelessness of God). Man, on the other hand, is divided by nature. [Italics edited for purposes of emphasis]

Wisdom holds all things together, honoring the unity already present in the nature of reality itself. It seeks the simpleness or singleness with is God, not the simple-mindedness of the warring children of light and darkness, joining the right “side” in a battle of good versus evil. The heart of Wisdom recognizes and celebrates goodness, justice, and truth in whatever venue they appear.

“You that are simple – those without sense, you that are immature – turn in here!”

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 16, 2015

 

An acrostic verse: Missa Solemnis

“Missa Solemnis”

LORD HAVE MERCY begins the Mass
Under the baton of Maestro
Dean Craig Jessop. The last word: PEACE.
Wisdom and beauty from solo
Instrument, the mass choir, voice
Go to the top of Cathedral.

Vast walls of sound show pain also,
Arising from those who are cruel.
Nothing human escapes alto,

Bass and tenor and soprano.
Even a skeptic like Ludvig
Enlisted to create music,
Tries to make out of the tragic:
Hope, faith, love, kindness, and courage.
Overwhelmed by suffering, he
Values still signs of human will.
Even though stone deaf, he can be
Nurturing peace and harmony.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL August 7, 2013

EDITOR’S NOTE: Craig Jessop is Dean of the College of the Arts at Utah State University, and former Director of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

The Secret Heart and the Inner Being

Nathan accusing David

Nathan accusing David

“Behold, You seek truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” (Psalm 51:6)

What is the secret heart?

Is it the deepest place in us, the place where God is: the equivalent or synonym for “the inward being” – a poetic parallelism of Hebrew poetry?

Or is it, perhaps, the secret place where we hide from God: the hiding place where we go off to a different heart than the Divine heart?

Or could it be both synonym and antonym at the same time?
_______

Psalm 51 is a prayer attributed to David. It is not a quiet prayer. It is a wrenching, sobbing prayer, the words tumbling from David’s mouth in halting phrases and stammers with tears flooding his eyes and streaming down his face like rivers.

David’s secret heart is dirty and he knows it. He cannot wash the stain of blood from his hands. Nathan has exposed his sin. Nathan’s story-telling has seduced David into the trap where his secret is exposed to his inner being. Nathan has baited David with a story that has aroused David’s anger. “As the LORD lives,” said David to Nathan, ” the man who has done this deserves to die!” And Nathan then said to David, “YOU are the man.”

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,” cries out David in Psalm 51, “and cleanse from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is every before me.”

It is a scene straight from Shakespeare’s Macbeth:

“Out, damn spot! OUT, I say…. all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!”

_____

Hebrew Psalms are like that. The are not sanitized. They plunge the reader into the conflict between the reader’s own inmost being, the true secret heart, you might say – the heart that pumps life into us – and the secret heart of our own flight from truth and goodness, the heart of deception and self-deception.

Why is David crying out? What has he done? What is the sin that is ever before him, the blood he can’t wash from his own hands?

Psalm 51 comes in response to an accusation that has exposed the bloody behavior his secret heart heart has produced. It is Nathan, David’s commander on the battlefront, who confronts him with the truth.

Nathan, relying on a fresh report from the front line of battle, tells David that Uriah, the King’s next door neighbor, a man of valor and impeccable loyalty to King David, whom David had sent off to war to secure Uriah’s wife Bathsheba for himself, is dead! His blood is on David! Nathan has spoken the truth to power. And the way that Nathan has spoken it to the King has taken him into the deepest parts that are at war within himself.

There is no wisdom in David’s secret heart. There is only treachery.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from Your presence,
and take not Your Holy Spirit from me.”

“Purge me!” cries David. Imagine Richard Burton at his most dramatic. “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow!”

_____

What’s hyssop?

Hyssop is the foliage of an aromatic plant named in the Passover story (Exodus 12:21-27) and used in the cleansing of a healing and cleansing of a leper (Leviticus 4:51).

The rite of cleansing involves centers on two small birds. One bird is killed. The other bird is washed in the blood of the other under the flow of water and the sweetness of hyssop. The one bird dies. The second bird lives.

“Thus he (the priest) shall cleanse the house with the blood of the bird, and with the running water, and with the living bird, and with the cedarwood and hyssop and the scarlet stuff; and he shall let the living bird go out of the city into the open field; so he shall make atonement for the house, and it shall be clean.” (Lev. 14:52-53)

“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, the God of my salvation” cries Uriah’s killer curled up in a ball, hoping against all hope, “and my tongue will sing aloud of Your deliverance.”

_____

David in Psalm 51 is both birds.

He is the one who deserves to die. Yet he is also the one who lives. He lives not because of the heart that had conspired against Uriah and betrayed his own inward being – “Against You (God) only have I sinned…” (Ps. 51:4). He lives because there is more mercy in God (the inward being) than there is sin in him.

“The sacrifice acceptable to God,” he concludes, the tears still streaming down his face, but calmer now, “is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.”

His body quivers as he imagines himself as the bird released into the open field by mercy alone, “according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy.” (Ps. 51:1) The inner being – his Deeper Being – has taught his released him for wisdom.

SPLAT !!!

rockefeller chapel

“Chosen”

I had been told that I was one of three
whose name was given to the President
from whom she would choose the new Chapel Dean.
While waiting, I went to a grand event
in the huge gothic Chapel I might rule.
A bird flew in while the Bible was read,
and I was shown to be a prideful fool when
pigeon poop fell SPLAT upon my head…
-Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL

Editor’s Note: This really happened. The windows of the grand Gothic Chapel were open when the bird of paradise flew in.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” – Proverbs 11:2) BTW, Steve did not get to rule the Chapel. The President appointed one of the three who had not been anointed by the pigeon.

They departed…by another way

Video

“And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, [the wise men] departed for their own country by another way.” – Gospel of Matthew 2:12

From Students, teachers should receive…

From students, teachers should receive

much money:  for the smart believe

they learned so much–and from the dull

because they raised unholy Hell.

(after Isocrates, 5th C., BCE)

– a Chreia

Isocrates, Greek teacher and rhetorician

A chreia in classical Greek culture was a brief, useful (“χρεία” means useful) anecdote attributed by the author to a particular character. In this case it was in honor of Isocrates, an honored rhetorician.The chreiai are remembered primarily for their role in classical Greek education, a system known as paideia in which wisdom was the goal. Children were introduced to simple chreiai almost as soon as they could read. These chreiai served as the means of character formation and the increase of wisdom for living in a civil society.

Later in their education, as they prepared to practice rhetoric (the art of discourse, both written and spoken), these chreiai served as the basis for formal eight paragraph essays in which the student elaborated on the subject of a chreia. The student would praise, paraphrase, explain, contrast, compare, provide an example, make a judgment, and, in conclusion, exhort the reader.

Thanks to my fellow student Steve for sending “after Isocrates.” In honor of my teachers – Gordon Kidder, Mrs. Martino, Mr. Thompson, Ms. Manlove, Harold Miller, Helen Semar, Esther Swenson, Ted Campbell, Lew Briner, Tom Parker, Krister Stendahl, my father and mother –  I’m going to write an eight paragraph essay on this chreia.