Author: Karl (page 1 of 40)

Brooks on the Second Mt

Brooks, David. 2019. The second mountain: The quest for a moral life. New York: Random House.

Part I: The Two Mountains.

The first mountain is the normal one: the person performs in order to be successful and, when this happens, he or she begins to wonder, “Is this all there is to life? The second mountain involves a rebellion, however slight, against mainstream culture and considering others who are in need. It involves a vocation, a spouse and family, a philosophy or faith and a community. Brooks takes up each of these in the book. He notes the joy and satisfaction on starting on his quest for a moral life.

1) Moral ecologies: These are a “collective response to the big problem of a specific moment” (4). They are built on a series of assumptions: the people’s right to live as they please; the God within; privatization; total freedom; the centrality of accomplishment. A tension between the self and society.

2) The Instagram life: “the big swim to nowhere”; the aesthetic life; and the notion that complete personal freedom “sucks”.

3) The insecure overachiever: leading to personal identity and your job title alone, constantly comparing yourself to others.

4) The valley: The “social” valley has led to loneliness, a crisis of meaning, distrust, tribalism and suffering. “suffering shatters the illusion of self-sufficiency” (17).

5) The wilderness: leading to confusion of purpose and a need to shed the old self and let the new self emerge—discovering your heart and soul (43).

6) Heart and soul: “The soul is the piece of your consciousness that has moral worth and bears moral responsibility” (46). We come to see the shallowness of life, when we are not fulfilled, leading to hardship, which is necessary to begin the “second journey” (51).

7) The committed life: commitment begins with the love of something, a contract with it. It gives us our identity, a sense of purpose and builds our moral character.

8) The second mountain. There becomes a motivational shift (67) that involves our desires being transformed. States include: material pleasure, ego pleasure, intellectual pleasure, generativity, fulfilled love and transcendence (“The feeling we get when living in accordance with some ideal” (67).

The four commitments. Part II: Vocation.

9) What vocation looks like: “The think everybody knows about finding a vocation is that it’s quite different from finding a career” (89). Brooks notes that “The summons to vocation is a very holy thing. It feels mystical, like a call from deep to deep” (93).

10) The annunciation moment: realizing the moment or time when you have the awareness of a vocation and finding your purpose in life.

11) What mentors do: learning how to deal with success and error. [See my article on “Mentoring a mother tongue speaker.”]

12) Vampire problems: Choices that determine the kind of person you are and become. Shoiuld the decision be rational, which Brooks sees as a “fable” (109) or should the “daemons” (unresolvable tensions) take over and determine the journey? No one can consciously “anesthetize the daemon” but people can be strangers to their own desires and settle for a false life (115). It is not about a career path but about what “gives me my deepest satisfaction” (121) and is therefore the right “fit” for me.

13) Mastery: “A job is a way of making a living, but work is a particular way of being needed, of fulfilling the responsibility that life has placed before you” (123). A vocation makes the man.

Part III: Marriage.

14) The Maximum Marriage: “Passion peaks among the young, but marriage is the thing that peaks in old age” (139). Brooks notes that “marriage is the ultimate moral education” (144)—it demands nearly everything and gives nearly everything (146).

15) The stages of intimacy I: the glance, curiosity and the dialogue precede opening the gates to each other.

16) The stages of intimacy II: the leap, crisis and forgiveness precede fusion.

17) The marriage decision: Are you ready? Do you really like the person? Does the person fill your need? How high is the bar? Quoting Lewis Torman, there are things to look for in a relationship: happiness of parents; childhood happiness; lack of conflict with mother; home discipline (firm, not harsh); strong attachment to both mother and father; lack of conflict with father; frankness from parents about sex; degree of childhood punishment; neither disgust or aversion of premarital attitude about sex (168).

18) Marriage: The school you build together: building intimacy with autonomy; the crises of life; a rich sexual life; keep alive the idealized images of each other; empathetic wisdom; communication the art of recommitment. The first love is champagne (183), the second love is the second mountain. It is love that endures until death.

Part IV: Philosophy and Faith.

19) Intellectual commitments: The evolution of American education, including the humanistic ideal (192) and the intellectual virtues. Brooks notes that “The educated life is a journey toward higher and higher love” (201).

20) Religious commitment: stories about how some people, including a nod to himself (Brooks) have found faith.

21) A most unexpected turn of events: further examples of faith in the author’s life. His was a “pilgrimage” from the Jewish tradition into an understanding of grace. The Jews of NY put “peoplehood before faith” (210) but “the Jesus story was not about worldly accomplishment” (219). He reviews his interaction and subsequent attachment to Anne Snyder, researcher and colleague. Brooks describes his “own moment of decision (245ff) and it involved reading many authors and experiencing faith as change.

22) Ramps and walls: Brooks describes several walls: 1) the siege mentality, dividing those “who are unimpeachably good and those who are irredeemably bad” (256); 2) the wall of bad listening where people “unfurl the maxims regardless of circumstances” (256); 3) the wall of invasive care; 4) the wall of intellectual mediocracy—those who are brutal in the “march for excellence” (257). He also found ramps: 1) ritual—moral order and sacred story; 2) unabashed faith; 3) prayer; 4) spiritual consciousness; 5) the language of good and evil, now “largely abandoned in the public world,” (259), especially the word “sin.” “I am a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian, but how quick is my pace, how open are my possibilities, and how vast are my hopes” (262).

Part V: Community.

23) The stages of community building I: unveiling yourself and confronting our weaknesses in conjunction with others.

24) The stages of community building II: village over self; initiating connections; radical hospitality; community as expert; the least are the most (286). “Thick institutions have a physical location, often cramped, where members meet fact to face on a regular basis, such as a dinner table or a packed gym or an assembly hall” (294).

25) Conclusion: The rationalist manifesto: an examination of hyper-individualism vs. relationalism in the process of becoming a person. Brooks is interested in “the good life,” not in terms of things, but rather in terms of commitments and relationships. This, he notes, will lead to “the good society” (308). He concludes with a declaration of interdependence in which joy is recognized as a moral outlook.

Acknowledgments: there are many, but he concludes with Anne: “This book has been, and the rest of my life will be, warmed and guided by Anne’s light” (315).

Notes 11 pages that are cross-referenced to each chapter of the book.

Index: key terms are agency, beauty, Christianity, commitment, community, culture, ego/self, emotion, faith, first mountain, God, happiness, heart/desiring heart, individualism, Jewish people and Judaism, joy, loneliness, love, marriage, moral ecology, morality, purpose, relationships, second mountain, society, spirituality, suffering, the valley, vocation and wilderness.

Brooks is extremely well read and quotes many authors. Those who seem most quoted are: William F. Buckley Jr., Frederick Buechner, Edmund Burke, Dorothy Day, Alai de Botton, Fyodor Dostoyefsky, Victor Fankl, Sarah Hemminger, Abraham Joshua Heschel, James Hollis, William James, Jesus, Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Luther King Jr., C.S. Lewis, Abraham Lincoln, Friedrich Nietszche, Henri Nouwen, Anne Snyder, Joseph Soloveitchik, Davy and Sheldon Vanauken, David Foster Wallace, Judith Wallerstein and William Wordsworth.

The book is easy reading, aside from looking into the notes and index for the many quotes and references. I found the chapters on vocation and marriage especially well written, with practical ideas and comments.

Karl Franklin
October 2019

On Parade

The Baylor Homecoming Parade was last Saturday, and it reminded me of some parades I have seen. One vivid one was when we were living in Canberra, Australia and watched the ANZAC parade, in which Australian and New Zealand military veterans marched, as best they could, in groups representing various wars and conflicts. The Aussies didn’t care if the occasionally tipsy soldier got out of line.

Of course, it was nothing like Chairman Kim and his mighty men and missiles on parade, but it was impressive. The North Koreans march in what seems to be almost goose-stepping monotony—thousands upon thousands of them—past their beloved leader and dictator, who salutes them smartly. It was Hitler all over again.

In Texas, generally, the parades are small and patriotic—lots of American flags, the Shriner’s racing about on their scooters, fire trucks, local High School bands tooting and drumming, convertibles carrying notable and not so notable politicians, jeeps, a few floats and of course Texans riding their horses. The horses are always last in the parade and you can imagine why—who would want to march after the horses deposit their food remains down the street?

But I have a gripe about parades, and it came to light at the Baylor Parade. There were scores of people on floats and on the street as well, who were throwing candy to the children (and some big adults). The children were expecting candy—lots of it—they were holding sacks like it was Halloween only it was not “trick or treat.” It was “fill er up—throw some here.”

The problem I see is that lawsuits and parade candy may become mixed. Some of those kids are going to get awfully fat from eating so much candy and they will decide, as a result, that the Parade is responsible for their being a fat boy or a fat girl. They will blame Baylor for their obesity, and it will go to court and cost the college millions of dollars. They will be fat-shamed, and it will be Baylor’s fault.

There is no good reason to throw candy. Instead, why not have Kentucky Fried throw out wings and Chic-fil-a can toss the kids chicken nuggets; The Chinese restaurants can chuck rice balls and I Hop can spin their pancakes to help the kids have fun with frisbee-cakes, whirling them up and down the street and over and in the floats. Parade helpers, dressed like bears—the Baylor mascot—could give cups of Dr Pepper to the very young, preparing them in life for the Baylor beverage of choice.

Of course, I know that won’t happen. There are too many sororities and fraternities represented in the Parade, all performing deeds of kindness around the campus and city. I tried to keep track of each Greek alphabet letter signified in the Parade and found that Chi, Pi, and Psi were underreported and Zeta, Xsi and Omicron barely got a mention. This is surely something that the Baylor president and the Greek department should be made aware of. There was also an over-abundance of Parade queens, but no Parade kings. I have referred this discrepancy to the Future Baylor Nurses Association, The Baylor Dive Club and the Noble Nose Brotherhood.

Where they will take it remains a secret, but rumors are that the Virtual Reality Club and the Ronald McDonald House have also shown an interest.

I was somewhat shocked—as any good Baptist should be—by how many dance groups were in the Parade: the Golden Wave Band, with 300 members (or was it 3000?), the Baylor Dance Company, swing dancers, country dancers, and even the Phi Gama’s Honky Tonky Boot Stomping group.

I have mentioned the matter to the Dean of Social Services, the Baylor Pre-Vet Medical Association, The Salvation Army and Truett Seminary. In the future expect more waltzes, calypso and flamenco, perhaps even a fire dance, where the performer spins poi, consisting of wire wool in chicken wire cages first dipped in paraffin.

However, I must not close in a negative mode. The enthusiasm of the kids getting candy, the beauty of the convertibles with their shivering queens, the 300 sorority queens (or was it 3000?), and the cowboys and cowgirls with their horses—it made my eyes water and my heart pump wildly.

I awoke suddenly in this condition and realized I was now watching the Baylor football game—it had been a long sleep, dream and parade. I was bleeding green and gold.

In case I may have made up some of this, I’ll check with the Baylor Adult Day Care Center for help and see if they will loan me a service dog.

October 2019
Waco, Texas

Self-Service and Drive-Thrus

Remember the White Tower chain of hamburger joints? These small shops were set up so that the customer could watch a blob of hamburger smashed to a small pancake size, quickly cooked mass, and served up in a matter of minutes. The first store began in Wichita in 1916, but they quickly spread across the U.S.

These tiny white huts were the forerunners to the McDonald brothers, who opened shop in 1948 to show us how a high speed hamburger should be done—quickly and tastelessly. It was followed by Burger King and Wendys, and now many others, all seeing how fast they can get us to buy, devour and pay for a hamburger—or chicken sandwich, pizza, taco, donut or cup of coffee. We have become the Olympic champions of fast food and drive-thrus.

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Screwtape and His Hellions


 

The small group that meets at our house on (most) Tuesday evenings have just finished working discussing “The Screwtape Letters”. I led the sessions, ably assisted by “A companion and study guide to The Screwtape Letters” by William O’Flaherty, (main title: C.S. Lewis Goes to Hell). I am glad he did not call it “To hell with C.S. Lewis”!

Screwtape, the author of the letters and an under-secretary of a department in hell, has his own secretary named “Toadpipe”. The letters are written to a nephew of Screwtape, a devil called “Wormwood”. It is his assignment to raise hell with the “patient”, and unnamed young man and his family, who will be tempted in all kinds of ways.

Other characters in The Letters are Fr. Spike, a minister at one of the churches near the patient, “Glubose”, who is in charge of the patient’s mother, “Scabtree”, who believes that during war is the ideal time to attach the patient’s belief system, “Slubgob”, in charge of the tempters’ training college, “Triptweeze, a demon who looks after a middle-aged couple, and a nameless Vicar. All are a part of Screwtape’s cabal to work on the patient and his friends.

Think of any vice or temptation that has plagued you and it will be on the list that Screwtape and Wormwood have at their disposal: Pride is big, but so is humility; anxiety and complacency form a perfect pair; gluttony is always available; various kinds of doubting prayer work well; distraction and disappointment will keep the patient from reason; fear and hatred are proven victors; and, of course, love and lust are candidates for bending. We could go on, but that is enough to make us shudder at the devil’s resources.

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On Gender Benders

 

The January 2017 issue of National Geographic is a special one entitled “Gender Revolution.” On p. 3, Gloria Steinem is quoted as saying “I suppose getting rid of the idea of gender [is the most pressing issue today]. You know living in India was a revelation because I came to understand that there were old languages that didn’t have gender—that didn’t have “he” and “she.” The more polarized the gender roles, the more violent the society. The less polarized the gender roles, the more peaceful the society. We are each unique and individual human beings. We are linked: we are not ranked. The idea of race and the idea of gender are divisive.”

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