It is a gift to be one with all the worldd

24 Jun

It is a gif.  To be one with all the world

does not come as an act of the  will.

Even deeply yearning may be in vain,

but remaining  inwardly open and still

a sense of belonging may descend like softest rain—

That is the gift to be one. With all the world—

a bewildering array of shapes and sizes,

inert masses and strangest creatures hurled 

at us, and folk who come in many guises,

it is a gift to be one with all the world—

a gift as elusive as sublime—absurd

yet written in the stars, our lives unfurled

on this planet in galaxies enswirled.

It is a gift to be one with all the world

Phil Hefner.  6/23/2022

Guns and Lamentation

17 Jun

I want to introduce a new word into the discussion of guns and the horrendous killing that gun shooters inflict upon our society: Lamentation.

We are hurting—all of us—actual victims, families, classmates, teachers—our whole society. This is a time of hurt. Amanda Gorman expresses it in her recent poem, “Hymn for the Hurting”—

             “Everything hurts,
             Our hearts shadowed and strange,
             Minds made muddied and mute.
              We carry tragedy, terrifying and true.”

“Hurt” is pain and grief that something has been lost. One mother, getting the news that her son had been gunned down in Millennium Park, cried out”It’s like my soul has left my body,” a father whose son was killed in Uvalde, Texas, said, “My soul is broken in two.” Such comments tell us how deep the hurt is, how deeply we grieve. Parents grieve that they must leave the neighborhood where they have lived their entire lives, move to another city where their children can live in safety. Traumatized classmates require therapy.

Grief is loss that can never be restored, hurt that has no healing. “Thoughts and prayers,” words that we hear so often carry sympathy and wishes for a better future. “Action” is also spoken—pass new laws, limit the guns. In our current times, thoughts and prayer sound like mere lip service and action almost always settles for half-measures. Action eyes a better future. None of these plumbs the depths of hurt and grief in the here and now. Better laws and heartfelt prayers are good, but they do not put a parent’s soul back together. They don’t take hurt seriously enough.

Lamentation points to something different. Mourning, taking into oneself the hurt of the grieving people. It’s a very deep sympathy and empathy—both of which speak of suffering with someone else.

We may learn from the Latin American healing traditions, curandero. Chicano writer Rodolfo Anaya’s great novel, Bless Me, Ultimate, is a fine introduction to these traditions. This centuries-old tradition has been described as “radical empathy,” because the healer takes into herself the situation of the person she will heal. The healer establishes a relationship with that person. In the process, the curandera is herself transformed. It has been said that the curandera model doctors and psychological therapists today.

Lamentation can come close to radical empathy. It can contribute to healing this time of hurting. But it will require that we go beyond thoughts, prayers, and action—and allow ourselves to be transformed by relating to those who hurt from gun violence.

When God became incarnate in the first century, he appeared in Jesus of Nazareth, a man  of the hurting segment of humanity—Jews oppressed by Rome. He grew up in the world of the working class, subsistence farmers, hungry people, and beggars. He lived with people who were outcasts. He did not make excursions to do charitable acts for those who hurt—he became one of them. Paulos Pasolini portrays this most forcefully in his 1964 film, “The Gospel according to St. Matthew” and Gerd Theissen does the same in his novel, Shadow of the Galilean. Jesus was executed because he identified with hurting people—and called for changes that enraged the powerful people who benefited from hurting others.i

In Matthew 23, we read Jesus’ lament over the Jerusalem that put him to death: “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings.“ This is the lament of a healer.

There is much more to be said about hurting, healing, and transformation. How to bring it to bear on our present gun violence is an even greater challenge.

(c)Phil Hefner 16 June 2022

April—Between Memory and Hope

20 Mar

April—Between Memory and Hope

April brings warming days and signs of Spring’s fertility. We associate April with hopefulness—cold wintry days are only a memory. But what is happening in the world around us can sometimes dash our joy and hopes. When the  poet T. S. Eliot, was writing in the early 1920s, the effects of the First World War were all too real, and the Great Influenza pandemic of 1918-1922, the second worst pandemic in human history, was just winding down. 

In his monumental poem, “The Waste Land,” published in 1922, Eliot wrestles with the questions, Can we hope again? Can we be happy? He introduces his doubts with the lines,

        “April is the cruelest month, breeding

           Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

           Memory and desire.”

His desire was for the life and beauty that April brings; his memory was that of war and pandemic.

It has been said that history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme—that rhyming seems real today. How deeply we hope for an end to Covid, yet, as I write,  millions are still in lockdown in Asian cities. And we have already lost a million Americans to this plague.

April is a time of war today in Ukraine and—who knows—where else? On April 28, Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. In the early 1940s, a quarter million Jews from the ghetto were transported to the death camp Treblinka; more than 35,000 were killed in the ghetto. Against overwhelming odds, the ghetto Jews began their armed resistance on the eve of Passover in April 1944. They attacked the Nazis and held them at bay for a month.

It was in April 1937, on the 26th, in support of the Spanish dictator, Franco, that the Nazi Air Force destroyed the Basque village of Guernica. Since it was a market day, people throughout the region joined townspeople at the market, in restaurants, and athletic events. That day was deliberately selected, so that the civilian populated would be decimated.

Pablo Picasso was moved by the bombing to create his monumental painting, “Guernica.” This work was judged by theologian Paul Tillich to be the greatest religious painting of the 20th century. “Religious,” because it brings the viewer face-to-face with the depths of evil, with terrifying effect. The artist depicts dying children with their mothers screaming in agony, a dead fighter with the wounds of Jesus on one hand, a broken sword in the other. The painting is dominated by two dying animals—the bull, symbolic of Spain, and the horse in agony. There is much more symbolism is this large work (11.5×25.5 feet), and its overall impact in overwhelming.

Picasso’s work has come to symbolize the horrors of all war, especially the attacks on civilians, specifically women and children. In these April days, the terror of war is in Ukraine—the bombing of hospitals, refugee shelters, maternity centers. Wars always exact the Guernica toll. The Nazis bombed residential centers, like Coventry, where more than a thousand were killed—880 lying to this day in a mass grave. In 1943, British and American bombers carried out “Operation Gomorrah” over Hamburg Germany’s residential quarters, killing more than 35, 000. The infamous Allied bombing of Dresden, Germany, killed 25, 000. The most Guernica-like bombings of all were our dropping atomic bombs on Japan, resulting in a quarter million deaths.

Like Eliot, we live between memory of a death-dealing past and hope for a better future. We like to say that wars are only relics of history and that the pandemic is finally over. We must hope—our lives depend upon hope. But memory is also essential. If we truly remember the Guernicas, we may be able to eradicate them. If we repress the memories, we will repeat them. 

Perhaps April is the cruelest month—mixing memory and hope.

Hopes and hopefulness are signals of God’s presence among us. The memory of the past never goes away, but hope points to new possibilities—the past need not imprison us.

Phil Hefner (c) 3/19/3022

STEM v. History

28 Jan

STEM and History—

An American Irony

STEM is very big these days in the US of A. It’s the well-known acronym for “science, technology, engineering, and math.” If you watched the Tournament of Roses Parade, you noticed that its theme was STEM. Every bass drum that marched in the parade had the STEM motto stenciled on its drum head. 

In the past decade or so, high schools, colleges, and universities across the country have rearranged their curricula to emphasize STEM—sometimes drastically. It is increasingly difficult in many institutions to find courses in foreign languages, religion, philosophy, psychology, and history.

The reason for these changes is simple: the job market guides our education. A new engineer can expect to earn $80,000 per year. A humanities graduate might earn $50,000. An education major can count on the same.

This has prompted many state legislatures to put a premium on STEM. Some suggest that humanities students receive no financial aid at state institutions or even be charged higher tuition as penalty for insisting on “irrelevant” courses. A  governor of Kentucky said, “All the people in the world who want to study French literature can do so; they’re just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayers like engineers will be.” A liberal arts education is increasingly limited to students who can afford to attend expensive private institutions.

This should be no surprise. STEM is fundamental for the future of our society. Our place on the world stage depends on our science, technology, engineering, and math. Nearly every human being on planet earth depends on infrastructure, services, and care that are maintained by STEM.

Now comes the irony of present-day America. We aren’t spending much time debating the merits of STEM. The  hotly debated issues that capture our attention and divide us today are abortion and how to tell the story of American history and racism.

These are not issues that are relevant to a job seeker’s education. But these issues condition the lives of  those job-seekers and their families. STEM does not tell us when an embryo/fetus can be considered a human person; nor can it deal with the complex moral questions— yet our entire nation is forced to deal with such issues.

Local communities and many state legislatures are caught in a juggernaut of conflicting pressures about how to present U. S. history. Should Confederate statues be toppled? Should schools named for bygone racist leaders be changed? What about critical race theory? Or the history of Native American Indians? Local school board members are receiving death threats because of how they answer  these questions.

You might think that we would shape our education to include these burning issues, but we don’t. And the finest STEM education  is of little help when it comes to wrestling with history and morality.

This doesn’t mean that our STEM emphasis should be changed. But it does mean that our de-emphasis on humanities is short sighted, to say the least. Furthermore, we need to recognize that even if a historian or an ethicist may never earn as much as an engineer or a doctor or a nuclear physicist, they have important roles in our society today.

We also need sociologists, psychologists, therapists, and school teachers—for other reasons. Understanding our history will threaten some people: whites, especially white men, who are losing their traditional places of power and preeminence. Other groups are making their claim to power and privilege. This brings trauma—both personal and social. Psychologists, therapists, sociologists, and school teachers have much to offer in times of trauma.

What about pastors, priests, rabbis, imams, and other religious professionals? They are witnesses to the transcendence that surpasses the traumas of the present day. They are links to great traditions of well-winnowed wisdom that can guide us. They are moral teachers and exemplars, even though they, too, are fallible. STEM snaps their world, too, but it cannot raise them up or provide their training.

I quote my friend, Stewart Herman, who commented on an early draft of this blog: “STEM is morally mute and can’t help us with divisive political issues, which require the capacity of a citizenry to engage in empathetic listening and complex moral consideration. And that is the point of the humanities particularly religion, to help us imagine how others of different faiths understand their lives, and to give us a vocabulary and sensibility in order to engage in the kind of mutual understanding necessary to avoid blunt instrument politics. The developed capacity to listen, observe, absorb, and converse with what is different than you is absolutely critical to the survival of a democracy.”

I call our situation ironic, because of the disconnect between our STEM educational emphasis and the actual situation in which we live.

Bring on the STEM, by all means—but bring on the humanities and social professions, too!

(c) 1/28/2022

As If—

16 Jan

Ann is Ann Sexton, her poem, “Rowing toward God”

Occasioned by Neva’s Covid positive.

As if 

Why must it always be faith?

Why do you pose

masked as 

the great As If

Ann called you a card sharp

played your game and rowed away

as if it is a game

as if the rowing is real

Your game for me plays out

locked in your embrace

more dance 

than journey 

held fast and tricked

at once

you’re always changing steps

I do not follow

but am drawn

along the way 

you’ve chosen

I’m free you say 

the dance does not feel free—

free to call it dance

not mindless crapshoot

or aimless lurch

I’d rather say

it’s empathy—

for the steps

for the others

stomping 

gliding 

through

it’s not a dervish 

move symmetrical

graceful spinning

reaching out

to where you are

not predictable order

as marks the minuet

this is no square dance

caller shouting out

 “bow to your partner”

and “time for do-si-do”

more a blind

stomp and stumble—

as if it really is a dance

as if the dance is yours

(c) Phil Hefner 1/14/2022

Image

To friends who have died

15 Dec

Three of my seminary colleagues have died in recent months. I think of them frequently. Out of my reflections, this poem emerged.

To Friends Who Have Died

I.

You belong—

you whose bodies lie

in the earth covered

with sod

names chiseled

in stone—

You belong to all

those who carry

you in their hearts

but no less to me

you inhabit my mind and my soul

not gone to some

far away land.

In each moment

I call forth

your being-here

into my present

for conversation in which

it is true you listen

but seldom speak

II.

You have received

the blessing

that you need not

walk through the present

desert—we shared a

wilderness walk

of our own together.

Our walking a template

even as now I go

another course different

from what was set for us.

We learned what you

know well—the trek

in the wilderness

does not end with

forty years.

III.

God’s best work

is done in the desert—

so it is said.

Let me say

we were formed as friends

on a wilderness trail—

that is what I miss—

old companions

in a changing desert.

IV.

Why did you leave off?

Why am I left bereft?

Is God’s winnowing

not finished—

I need more desert time?

We said the desert

is a place for dancing—

we can dance today,

but the old moves

passed away with you

(c) Phil Hefner   12/13/2021

There is a time for everything to rest in peace

27 Oct

There is a time for every thing to rest in peace.

There is a time. For everything to rest in peace 

       requires a certain time,

       a special pace

       to create suitable

       conditions that enable 

       rest in a grueling race.

There is a time for everything. To rest in peace

        that is true shalom,

        the entire world must

        share the stillness.

        It is a covenant at heart,

        a resilient bond of trust—that

there is a time for everything to rest. In peace

         things hold together,

         form a nest 

         for the human spirit,

          where the depths within it

          gather force to attest—Indeed

there is a time for everything to rest in peace—

        A time we know 

         Shabbat is real.

         Today our work is whole,

         our struggle has received the seal.

         The sense of things we now can toll: 

This is the time for everything to rest in peace.

(c) Phil Hefner.  10/24/2021.  

Reflections on These Days

21 Oct

How can you bear it?

You had high hopes

for clay, didn’t you?

How can you bear it?

You breathed spirit 

into clay—but in what 

proportion? We may

live up to spirit 

but at this moment

we disgrace the soil

we came from

—what lies lower 

than clay? 

Dare we say it,

merde?

Are you never exasperated

with those you created

in your own image?

You have said so many times

that the poor are your preferred,

they shall not go hungry,

yet the poor persist—not

hungry, we now say

they are food deprived.

We are comforted

by your words:

“The poor you will 

always have with you.”

Guns don’t kill, the

saying goes, people do.

It’s true—created 

in your image we’ve

launched a 

pandemic

of killing.

The ones you’ve blessed

rant endlessly

cross into spiteful 

malingering—

then descend to perfidy

that brings you to pain

and us to hell.

How can you bear 

the clay you 

spirited?

Is this our freedom’s 

cost?  


God’s Cry for a Mutilated World

my world lies wounded 

good creation smeared

can you love a mutilated world

whose soul is torn and bruised

the earth a Pietà slumping in disarray

reaching for supporting arms

waters choked with offal

earth ripped scraped for profit 

creatures evicted reshaped tortured

eradicated no longer seen

homeless ones rejected 

turned aside or barracked 

gunned down children

their homes invaded

while creation groans

my brooding spirit draws near  

waiting for you to love

my mutilated world


How can you be calm

when the center does not hold?

Kipling had a recipe for living 

in such times—“Man up!” 

he said, Refuse to let

the chaos suck you in.

Yeats saw beyond 

the rugged loner—he eyed

the Second Coming—the

slouching beast he called it.

I’m with Yeats.

The agonizing whirlpool pulls

down and down are the 

pangs of labor, a new birth—

a New Age coming forth, 

shaking off the old

familiarity. In place of comfort

new incivilities. Hostilities  

frequent and too lethal.

Even the good are overtaken.

No one acclaims the slouching

beast’s enabling progress 

toward a New Jerusalem—

what is that?—no one 

imagines the possibilities

of such a destination. 

A weird rejoicing

—not calmness—

is in order.                                          

(c) Phil Hefner 10/20/2021. 

The Gospel and Our Situation —part2

13 Sep

II. Othering: The Human Condition

Otherimg

The term othering points to a fundamental element of our dis-ease—the social dimension.

We were created in a condition of oneness with God and all of the creation. Tillich called this the condition of “dreaming innocence.” Matthew Fox called it the “ original blessing.

Whatever those terms refer to, it did not last. Perhaps it refers to the pre-human stages of evolution, the un-selfconscious condition of most (but not all) non-human animals. Humans are characterized by self-awareness. If the myth of the Fall makes any sense at all, it is because it refers to the transition into self consciousness. Tillich provocatively called “the fall into selfhood.”

I agree with Tillich, who was my first theological mentor, but I want to add a different nuance. Our emergence as Homo sapiens and our entry into selfhood is also a fall into otherness.

We define ourselves over against our world. This is nowhere more evident than in our relations within the human community and even with other living things. Over-againstness is another way to describe this basic human condition of othering. Our individual existence, as well as our social existence is a lifelong attempt to negotiate this over-againstness. That we struggle so to negotiate is a testimony that our pre-human oneness is deeply embedded in our being, it holds the primacy in human nature.

At the individual level, this negotiation is a matter of human 

human development—from infancy through adolescence to adulthood, aging, and dying. At the social level, it is fundamental to both intra- and inter- group development.  Inter- and intra- over-againstness was a challenge to pre-historic humans and it persists. At some points, we make gains, mutuality blossoms where hostility once ruled. Many persons have devoted their lives to the effort to reconcile differences between individuals and groups, some at the level of ethnic groups and nations. But the lack of synchrony, asynchrony, if you will, never goes away. Its deep rootedness is an indication that it is intrinsic to  our nature as we emerged into the human phase. The theological tradition names this phenomenon as “original” sin—not the “first” sin as Augustine wrote, but the “sin of our origin,” as Gregory of Nyssa explained.

The fall into otherness is a deviation from the truth that all living things and all humans emerged within the same evolutionary process within the same planetary ecosystem. It is  a condition characterized by fundamental dualisms. Over-against ness is a primal dualism. We  begin by defining ourselves as humans over against other animals. Dualism between humans and nature, between humans and other animals is deeply ingrained in our condition. The term “other” animals is deeply offensive to our dualistic outlook. We consider ourselves to be over-against an intrinsically different set of creatures that are qualitatively different from and inferior to us humans.

Othering marks, as well, our relationship with other ethnic groups, with other cultures, with other sexual orientations

There are a number of reasonable explanations of our social othering. 

Turf wars

Turf wars have characterized human history from prehistoric eras to the present. The history of the United States was significantly shaped and tarnished by the confiscation and exploitation of land on which natives lived—a gigantic turf war. This same confiscation and exploitation marked in general  the period of  colonization by European powers in Africa, Asia, Australia, and South America in the so-called “Age of Discovery and Exploration,” from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The so-called “discovered” lands were already occupied. In nearly every instance, the native occupants were othered and in some cases considered not even human.

Consider the current battles over the Crimea and the Ukraine, for example, and the dispute between China and India over territory in the Himalayas.

Hatred and Assertion of Supremacy

We also talk about hatred and the desire to make ourselves and our group supreme over others, “white supremacy,” for example,  as it is spoken of today. Underneath racial supremacy and hatred, however, there lies the lack of a sense of fit, of being out of sync, a fundamental discomfort at the idea of living with “others” and sharing equally with them.

Racial hatred aims at keeping the other away and subordinating them. It imagines a threat from the other. In cases where the others are considered less than human,  they are consigned to subhuman living conditions. Theories of racial supremacy are formulated to justify the hateful treatment of the other. Sadistic cruelty is justified by these theories.

We can be instructed by considering the encounter of the Spanish conquistadores and the natives of Americas in the 1500s. They faced a dilemma, they thought, because they were uncertain whether or not to deal with the natives as humans. If they were human, they could be converted to Christianity; if not, they could treated as animals. They asked Spanish theologians for a the judgment.  Bartolomé de las Casas, was one of the first Spanish settlers in the “New Lands”; he became a Dominican priest and the first bishop of Chiapas. He not only argued in behalf of the indigenous people, he was instrumental in the enactment of the New Laws of 1542 that protected these peoples from abuse. The Spanish settlers, who insisted on enslaving the peoples, pushed back against these laws with such vigor that he was forced to return to Spain.

Strategies of enslavement, segregation and anti-miscegenation have the same intention: to keep the others apart. The idea of otherness is undermined if the other can participate equally in the dominant society, intermarry, have biracial children, and become leaders in the society.

Sexual and gender othering

The condition of othering is nowhere more prominent than in sex and gender relationships. In this context, I employ the term  “sex” as a biological marker, while “gender”  is a social construct. In recent decades, our ideas about sex and genders have changed dramatically. Conventional ways of thinking have been blown to smithereens. Othering  and overagainstness characterize this present situation, while at the same time some cultural forces seek to overcome the tension.

Even though men and women seem to be natural pairs, who can experience deep intimacy together, their relationships have been marked by othering from the outset. History and mythology are replete with description of this mutual otherness. Woman was associated with Moon amid Earth, accentuating fertility. Man was depicted as Sun, King, Warrior, Trickster. However interesting, even charming, these images may be, they remain strategies of stereotyping and othering. Our contemporary strategies, revealing some roots in these older archetypes, have evolved in their own ways.

Our understanding of sex and gender in Western cultures has tended to be binary—straight and lesbian/gay. The phenomena of non-binary thinking and transgendering reveal the inadequacy of traditional thinking. In  an explosive way, they call into question the othering import of traditional ways of thinking about sex and gender.

In all situations othering frequently takes  the form of aggressive hostility, the desire to dominate, the desire to hold fast and refuse to share with others—often involving cruelty. Today, strategies of othering are being challenged by individuals, groups, and larger forces that resist, refusing to allow themselves to be othered. 

The binary thinking about race is proving to be equality inadequate in the face of significant interracial mixing.

(c) Phil Hefner 9/13/2921

The Christian Gospel in Our Situation

31 Aug

I’m beginning a new series of blogs. This may be a preview of a new book of theology. I’m especially interested in your comments. This installment is long, over 900 words.

Gospel and Situation 

I.

I turned recently to the book that started me in the study of theology in the 1950s, volume 1 of Paul Tillich’s Systematic Theology. One of Tillich’s major points is that the Christian Gospel takes on meaning as a response to the deep questions posed by our culture. He interprets the early centuries as asking the question of mortality, perishing, to which the Church responded by proclaiming Christ as the “medicine of immortality.” The medieval period asked questions of guilt, to which the Gospel was preached as justification of guilty persons by grace through faith. Tillich perceived the twentieth century as seeking answers to alienation, and so he framed the response in therms of the new being in Christ that overcomes alienation with reconciliation.

The Gospel takes the shape that meets culture’s questioning. Joseph Sittler made a similar point when he said the Gospel plays a melody, but always within the counterpoint of its cultural setting. Counterpoints change, and even though the Gospel does not change, its import depends on the counterpoint in which it is played.

I have been asking myself, what are the deep questions raised by culture today? What Gospel shape responds to our culture?

Tillich probed to the deepest layers of culture to discern its questions. Culture takes many forms, but what underlies its shape and its questioning?

A powerful sense of uneasiness pervades our present cultural situation. By uneasiness I mean a lack of fit between us and our world—an uneasiness in face of uncertainty and apprehensiveness as to our place in the natural and social worlds in which we find ourselves.

We could speak of a situation of the absurd—the absurdity of existing at this time, in the apprehension caused by feeling our lack of fit. This is real cognitive dissonance for us as  persons in the world. We don’t mesh with our world.

Take a look at some cultural manifestations of unease/lack of fit.

II. I’ll at ease in the natural world

The natural environment. We seek a just and sustainable

relationship with nature. But that requires a fit between us and nature, a synchrony between human culture and the natural systems that form our environment. However, that synchrony is missing, and that is the cause of an underlying apprehensivess, because we know deep down that nature does not tolerate non synchrony. We know “nature bats last,” just as we know that despite our best efforts, we cannot escape from natural processes—planetary warming being the most prominent today.

Over the course of their long existence, humans have tried mightily to escape from the rigors of natural processes, or at least to bend them in our favor. At her most recent time at bat, nature has dealt us climate change—a stunning event that shows us how small and vulnerable we are, even as it places demands upon us to act in ways that can ameliorate certain aspects of its impact. Our cities, our agriculture, and our accustomed ways of living are a poor fit with nature.

Human history is filled our optimism that nature can be tamed, handled in ways to make it friendly. Dissonance has revealed itself, and with it has come a multi-layered human response. At one end of the spectrum is denial of nature and refusal to act in new ways. But the spectrum also includes half-way gestures that take nature into account, in clearly inadequate measures. Some individuals and communities are taking drastic actions to achieve a synchrony with nature. Planners are devising responses to climate catastrophes. Running through all of these responses is a faint hope that a future generation can achieve synchrony. And a lurking fear that catastrophe is inevitable.

Our behavior toward nature is frequently and rightly characterized in terms of arrogance and recklessness. But these are expressions of something deeper—a sense of being overwhelmed and out of joint over against nature. We frequently speak of warfare between us and nature; we proclaim victories and sometimes defeats. Medicine is often depicted as part of the battle, and our victories are wildly cheered. Nature is portrayed as the Other, resulting in traditions of separating humans from nature, rather than recognizing that we are part of nature and have evolved as animals within the continuum of natural evolution.

Medical research and practice bring a particular focus to our dissonant relationship to nature. Medicine constitutes one of most massive collective enterprises in history. It’s an enterprise dedicated to countering the natural processes of evolution. Genetic intervention, surgical procedures, transplants and implants, pharmaceuticals, and behavior modifying  are the strategies of contemporary medicine—to  cure disease or alleviate its progress, to deal with accidental injury, and to counter the processes of aging. 

Medicine has been enormously successful, and yet at every step it, too, walks the edge of fear and unease. The testimony of medicine is clear: Unless humans accept their situation as victims of natural selection, if they seek a different role, massive strategies must be employed to “fix” them; synchrony must be re-defined. Since the “natural” synchrony of humans with evolutionary nature is not acceptable, we attempt to fashion a new synchrony.  The price we pay is an ongoing dissonance between us and our world.

This blend of successful redefinition and painful dissonance is nowhere more visible than in the process of aging and communities of elderly persons. Life expectancy has been extended successfully, but the care and maintenance of the elderly pose problems. How is care of the elderly to be financed? What the elderly living for? Are the elderly taking resources from other important areas? The life of many elderly is marked by deep unease.

(a) Phil Hefner. 8/30/2021