Lectionary readings in a new context

Over the last year, I’ve been attending services at The Church of the Redeemer in Pittsburgh and more recently, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Berkeley.  I have found  much needed refreshment in the worship services, leavened as they are with the  solemn beauty of written and spoken word, from the Bible and from the Book of Common Prayer.  The scriptural readings are scheduled according to a lectionary (the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL), I believe though I’m still a tad confused on these matters.) As a practical matter, this means that I have a ready-made schedule of texts to study:  either to look ahead (so I can prepare this coming Sunday) or to review (so that I can reflect on what we meditated on last Sunday).

Happily, I have found online sources for the Sunday lectionary readings, including:

Ultimately, I’d like to find sources of daily readings too. In the past, I’ve overreached in my Bible reading ambitions.  Now I plan to start with the Sunday readings but then add daily readings as I get more regular and proficient in my Bible reflections.  So when I’m ready, I should take a look at Book of Common Prayer Daily Office Lectionary (ESV Bible Online).  I took a quick glance at Reading Plans – YouVersion.com, hoping to find lectionaries tied to this online Bible and community. I’ll want to figure out how the Episcopal order of reading relates to that of the PCUSA for which I can get daily readings provided by the PCUSA (e.g., today’s reading is  PC(USA) – Devotions – Daily readings for Friday, January 29, 2010)

P.S. A post on the lectionary won’t be complete for me if I don’t mention how I can ultimately geek out on it. The Lectionary points to a spreadsheet that “has the RCL, Roman Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, and Methodist lectionaries keyed to Bible passages.”  With this key, I’ll be able to computationally generate multi-denominational Bible readings for different days in different forms.  Lectionary mashups, here we come!

True Enough for Training Trust?

Recently borrowed from the Berkeley Public Library is  Farhad Manjoo’s  True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society.  (Wiley, 2008),  which seduced me with the promising subtitle  “learning to live in a post-fact society.”  I think a lot about how to  understand what’s actually happening, how to grasp the truth, if you will.  Almost everything I believe about the world came from sources beyond my own immediate experience; even direct experience is hardly an infallible source of knowledge.  And though I could critically examine any given assertion for its  veracity, most things I have to take on trust.  I have to build upon so many other cognitive pieces that I’ve already accepted (for the time being at least) to be true that most of the time I’m working more on faith and trust than on naked reason.

From looking at True Enough‘s  table of contents, I surmise that most of the book is about why people believe so many divergent things,  based on different universes of “facts.”  What I’d really like to know is how not get trapped in the ruts of our well-worn ideological frames — and secondarily, how to help others do the same.    I couldn’t resist turning to the last page of the narrative to find “Choosing means trusting some people and distrusting the rest.  Choose wisely.”  OK, Mr. Manjoo:  teach me how to “choose wisely” or at least how to learn how to choose wisely.

When I taught high school students in  my course The Nexus of Newton and Nietzsche, I  placed a lot of emphasis on looking for areas of disagreement as a way of sorting through complicated matters.  Focus your energies on getting to the bottom of what people fight over, and you’ll get some real insight.  Now, I wonder whether I had put too emphasis on disagreement.  We should look hard also at what everyone seems to agree upon, asking ourselves:  “just because everyone seems to say it’s so, is it really so?”

An immediate objection is “certainly, overthrowing commonly held assumption is the stuff of revolutionary science, but will it help me with daily life?” When you add up what people disgree about and what they seem to agree about, well, that’s a lot of stuff to examine.   I’m still needing to define a practical methodology about where to spend my energies.

As I mulled over Manjoo’s book, I kept thinking of a popular article in The NY Times from late last year: Barbara Strauch’s  “How to Train the Aging Brain” (Dec 29, 2009)  The essential point of the piece is that people with middle aged brains  (40s to late 60s) should focus their learning on not so much accumulating more facts but challenging, stretching, and enriching what we already have learned.  Here’s some key quotes from the article, which is worth reading in full:

If kept in good shape, the brain can continue to build pathways that help its owner recognize patterns and, as a consequence, see significance and even solutions much faster than a young person can.

[…]
Educators say that, for adults, one way to nudge neurons in the right direction is to challenge the very assumptions they have worked so hard to accumulate while young. With a brain already full of well-connected pathways, adult learners should “jiggle their synapses a bit” by confronting thoughts that are contrary to their own, says Dr. Taylor, who is 66.

[….]
…continued brain development and a richer form of learning may require that you “bump up against people and ideas” that are different.

[…]
…get out of the comfort zone to push and nourish your brain. Do anything from learning a foreign language to taking a different route to work.

[….]
Jack Mezirow, a professor emeritus at Columbia Teachers College, has proposed that adults learn best if presented with what he calls a “disorienting dilemma,” or something that “helps you critically reflect on the assumptions you’ve acquired.”

These observations seem right to me as someone in my early 40s. But I wonder whether they apply to younger adults, say in their 20s — the age of most of my graduate students. (A question for the Berkeley teach-net list, methinks.)

Reflecting on those lonely days

Many years ago, I came across a famous quote of Albert Einstein’s that has since stuck in my mind:

My passionate sense of social justice and social responsibility has always contrasted oddly with my pronounced lack of need for direct contact with other human beings and human communities. I am truly a “lone traveler” and have never belonged to my country, my home, my friends, or even my immediate family, with my whole heart; in the face of all these ties, I have never lost a sense of distance and a need for solitude.

From my earliest days to well into my thirties, I often felt achingly lonely, an oddball.  Einstein was my childhood idol.  It was his life story that inspired me to start down the road of becoming a physicist.  His self-description as a “lone traveler” was  solace for me.  I used to hope that one day I’d grow up to be as special and singular a figure as Einstein.  (No lack of ambition there, eh?)

Part of growing up for me is to accept that I am no Einstein (nor even a journeyman physicist for that matter).  A side effect of  self-acceptance:  I no longer feel so lonely.   I am really like the people around me. I’m also so blessed to have the love of family and friends who accept me for who I am, in spite of  my unrealized ambitions.

Heavy rain as the semester starts

With forecasts of massive storms for the next week or two, it behooves me to concoct ways to stay cheerful in the face of gray skies and heavy rains.  At least it’s not snow, I say to myself.   Rain speaks to the limitations of life in the Bay Area, whereas sunny days  inspire in me the prospects of unlimited opportunity.  OK:  slight exaggeration — but I’m already looking forward to the first sunny day after the storms.