Friday, January 8, 2016

"Onward," by Dr. Russell Moore

I recently finished Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel, an delightful book from Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention.

I'm a Mormon, and Mormons and Southern Baptists have several major points of doctrinal disagreement. Nevertheless, there's abundant common ground around the Savior of the world. I've followed Dr. Moore for several years. I enjoy and am grateful for his strong testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, his colorful and bold style of expression, and his enthusiasm and optimism for the success of Christ-focused spirituality in a secular age.

Below are a few of my favorite excerpts from his book:

Engage the culture less like the chaplains of some idyllic Mayberry and more like the apostles in the book of Acts. We will be speaking not primarily to baptized pagans on someone's church roll, but to those who are hearing something new, maybe for the first time. We will hardly be "normal," but we should never have tried to be. p. 27

It would be a tragedy to get the right president, the right Congress, and the wrong Christ. p. 31

We must learn to be strange enough to have a prophetic voice, but connected enough to prophesy to those who need to hear. We need to be those who know both how to warn and to welcome, to weep and to dream. p. 45

The United States, or any other modern nation, is not in a covenant with God. … A prosperity gospel applied to a nation is no more biblical than a prosperity gospel applied to a person. p. 75

Perhaps the best way to gain influence is to lose it. p. 84

We are the people Jesus warned us about. Our gospel arrests our culture first, with a kingdom that is too strange for us to comprehend. p. 85

The womb reminds us that we are not self-existent. None of us are "viable" apart from others and from the ecosystem God has built around us. The infant in the womb is dependent indeed upon his or her mother, and cannot survive without her. But that is not unique to the fetal stage of development. A newborn is just as dependent upon a mother's care, which is why the psalmist speaks of learning to trust God at his mother's breast (Ps. 22:9). Jesus quoted a line from this same psalm as he was being crucified, with his own mother looking on, from whom he had nursed as an infant. We aren't self-existent gods. Caring for those who don't seem to "matter" takes a kind of compassion that tells us life is not about instinct and gene-preservation and the will to power. We aren't animals. … Life is about more than perceived usefulness. p. 120, 124

Let's show that God has blessed us in a Christ who never had a successful career or a balanced bank account but who was blessed by God with life, and with children that no one can number, from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language. p. 124

But the church isn't white or American; the church is headed by a Middle Eastern Jewish man who never spoke a word of English. p. 126

A religion that needs state power to enforce obedience to its beliefs is a religion that has lost confidence in the power of its Deity. p. 145

The gospel is big enough to fight for itself. And the gospel fights not with the invincible sword of Caesar but with the invisible sword of the Spirit. p. 145

We need to spend more time engaging our neighbors with the sort of news that shocks angels and redirects stargazers and knocks sheep-herders to the ground. That will seem strange, and that's all the better, because it is strange. An Incarnation safe enough to sell beer and barbecue grills is a gospel that is too safe to make blessings flow, far as the curse is found. Not everything that offends us should offend us, and not everything that offends us is persecution. p. 151

A church can only stand for religious liberty if it knows that the Judgment Seat of Christ is more ultimate than the state. p. 153

Because we know that we will as believers eternally say, "Jesus is Lord," we can as citizens temporarily say, "Hail to the chief." p. 154

Any church leader this side of Jesus can be in error and in need of rebuke. p. 155

Caesar's coin, adjusted for inflation, sometimes adds up to thirty pieces of silver. p. 156

National identity is important but transitory. … We are Americans best when we are not Americans first. p. 160

I wonder how much we have conformed to a culture that sees a child as an "expense" rather than a blessing? p. 176

Christ … displays not just affection but cross-carrying fidelity to his Bride. p. 177

In short, too often we are as countercultural as we want to be, and that's not nearly enough to turn our churches, much less the world, upside down. p. 177

There is no family revolution that can get [Christ] back into Joseph of Arimathea's grave. Regardless of what happens around us, the gospel doesn't need "family values" to flourish. … To rail against the culture is to say to God that we are entitled to a better mission field than the one he has given us. p. 181

The people who disagree with us on family issues ... aren't part of some conspiracy, as though they were cartoon super-villains plotting in a lair. They are, like all of us, seeking a way that seems right to them. We ought to love those who disagree with us, including those who see us as bigots. They are not our enemies. p. 182

One can prepare oneself to be a husband or a wife. But one can never really be "ready." p. 186

In this fallen world, the devil is normal; it's the gospel that's strange. … We are consistently wrestling with our inner satanist, as we struggle to submit ourselves to the lordship of Christ, which still seems strange even to us. … The gospel we've received isn't just strange to the culture around us; it's strange to us too. That's what makes it good news. p. 193, 222

Jesus confronted with the goal of creating a crisis--the sort of crisis that brings the person face-to-face with the call to repentance, to faith, to the possibility of a new creation. p. 195

Only when we speak to their consciences can we get to where people are, as we all once were, hiding from God. p. 199

[Jesus] was confident in his Father's mission for him, and thus was free from the need, rooted in insecurity, to constantly prove himself. p. 203

The arc of history is long, but it bends toward Jesus. p. 204

The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. p. 206

How often do we assume the good news of Christ is a message just like a political campaign or a commercial brand, targeted toward a demographic of a certain kind of buyer? p. 213

If the church is powered by the gospel, then the Body of Christ has tattoos. p. 214

The days ahead will probably be quite different than those faced by our parents and grandparents. We will be forced to articulate things we once could assume. … We may be seen as strange in American culture. If so, onward Christian strangers. Our message will be seen as increasingly freakish to American culture. Let's embrace the freakishness, knowing that such freakishness is the power of God unto salvation. p. 221

Thursday, December 31, 2015

What I Read in 2015

A few of my books from 2015. Others are tucked away on Kindle.

The rocky path toward excellent writing passes through the heart of the paradisaical land of great reading. As one writer has said"If you’re a real writer … you read and read, and then you read some more."

One of my life goals is to constantly improve my writing talent. And so I read as much as a busy life of full-time employment and family (a wife and two--soon to be three--children) allows. I read in the morning while I eat breakfast. I read while standing on the train platform. I read on the train to and from work. I read during lunch breaks. I read after the girls are in bed. I read on days off. I read while my wife drives on road trips.

In 2015, I've read several books; the number is irrelevant because quality of the text and the level of retention matters much more than quantity read. A scripture verse dear to Mormons guides me as I choose what to read: "Seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom" (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118). The definition of "best books" is different for everyone; for me, they are books of deep spirituality, refined thinking, rich wisdom, powerful ideas and new ways of looking at the world.

You'll notice my list leans heavily on the side of Russian novels. I have a strong connection to Russian and Ukrainian culture thanks to two years as a Mormon missionary in eastern Ukraine. What's more, as  a Muscovite friend of mine has said, "there is such a thing as a wide Russian soul that contains a lot of wisdom and long suffering, even though it may appear as an enigma." My experience with Russian novels is evidence of each author's "wide Russian soul."

My favorite passage of the year: 
Is there anything in the world that merits faithfulness? Such things are very few. I think we must be faithful to immortality, that other, slightly stronger name for life. We must keep faith in immortality, we must be faithful to Christ! (Dr. Zhivago, p. 8)

My favorite book of the year: Not in God's Name:Confronting Religious Violence (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks)

The asterisks in the list below indicate that book is good enough to read again.

Russian Classics

Anna Karenina*
Leo Tolstoy

Master and Man (a novella)*
Leo Tolstoy

The Idiot*
Fyodor Dostoevsky

Notes From the Underground
Fyodor Dostoevsky

Boris Pasternak

Dead Souls
Nikolai Gogol

A Hero for Our Time
Mikhail Lermontov

The Master and Margarita
Mikhail Bulgakov

Other Novels

Moby Dick
Herman Mellville

Don Quixote
Miguel de Cervantes


The Pilgrim's Progress*
John Bunyan

The Road to Character*
David Brooks

The Social Animal
David Brooks

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

The New Testament*

The Book of Mormon*

The Crucible of Doubt*
Terryl and Fiona Givens


One Good Life*
Jill Nystul

I am a Mother
Jane Clayson


The Search*
Carol Lynn Pearson

Writing Tools

The Elements of Style (I re-read this book once a year)
Williams Strunk and E.B. White

The Associated Press Guide to Punctuation (I also re-read this book once a year)

Finishing Up

Onward! Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel
Dr. Russell Moore

Russell M. Nelson: Father, Surgeon, Apostle
Spencer J. Condie

Writing Tools*
Roy Peter Clark

On Deck for 2016

The Best American Essays of 2015
Ariel Levy (editor)

Democracy in America
Alexis de Tocqueville

Fyodor Dostoevsky

Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Lynne Truss

The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
Jeffrey Toobin

The Four Loves
C.S. Lewis

The Iliad and The Odyssey

Unforgettable: A Son, a Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime
Scott Simon

Monday, December 28, 2015

'Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence'

I purchased Not in God's Name: Confronting Religious Violence because one writer says it is "one of this decade’s most important books." After reading it, I heartily second that assessment.

If you care about the future of peace, religion and religious freedom, or if you are interested in Old Testament exegesis, this book is so worth your time. 

Below are some of my favorite passages:

Science, technology, the free market and the liberal democratic state ... do not and cannot answer the three questions every reflective individual will ask at some time in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then shall I live? ... The 21st century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.  p. 13

Violence is born of the need for identity and the formation of groups. These lead to conflict and war. But war is normal. Altruistic evil is not normal. Suicide bombings, the targeting of civilians and the murder of schoolchildren are not normal. Violence may be possible wherever there is an Us and a Them. But radical violence emerges only when we see the Us as all-good and the Them as all-evil, heralding a war between the children of light and the forces of darkness. That is when altruistic evil is born.  p. 48

As Jews, Christians and Muslims, we have to be prepared to ask the most uncomfortable questions. Does the God of Abraham want his disciples to kill for his sake? Does he demand human sacrifice? Does he rejoice in holy war? Does he want us to hate our enemies and terrorize unbelievers? Have we read our sacred texts correctly? What is God saying to us, here, now?

When people accuse others of seeking to control the world, it may be that they are unconsciously projecting what they themselves want but do not wish to be accused of wanting. If you seek to understand what a group truly intends, look at the accusations it levels against its enemies.  p. 83

The face that is truly ours is the one we see reflected back at us by God. ... Peace comes when we see our reflection in the face of God and let go of the desire to be someone else. p. 138-139

Love is not unproblematic. Given to one but not another, to one more than another, it creates tensions that can turn to violence. ... the message of Genesis is that love is necessary but not sufficient. You also need sensitivity to those who feel unloved. p. 145

On the surface, Genesis is a series of stories in which the elder is supplanted by the younger. Beneath the surface, in a series of counter-narratives, it tells the opposite story, subverting the whole frame of mind that says, 'Either you or me. if you win, I lose. If I win, you lose.' That may be true of scarce goods like wealth or power. It is not true of divine love, which is governed by the principle of plenitude. p. 172

A humanitarian as opposed to a group ethic requires the most difficult of all imaginative exercises: role reversal—putting yourself in the place of those you despise, or pity, or simply do not understand. … Empathy across boundaries can sometimes threaten religion at its roots, because one of the sacred tasks of religion is boundary maintenance. … Biblical ethics is a prolonged tutorial in role reversal. … Memory and role reversal are the most powerful resources we have to cure the darkness that can sometimes occlude the human soul.  p. 183-84, 88

When a single culture is imposed on all, suppressing the diversity of languages and traditions, this is an assault on our God-given differences. p. 193

A chosen people is the opposite of a master race, first, because it is not a race but a covenant; second, because it exists to serve God, not to master others. A master race worships itself; a chosen people worships something beyond itself. p. 198

You cannot love God without first honoring the universal dignity of humanity as the image and likeness of the universal God. … Search for the trace of God in the face of the Other. Never believe that God is defined by and confined to the people like you. p. 200, 203

For all the natural pride we feel in being part of our group—the people of the covenant, a holy nation—we are brought face to face with the fact that others may sometimes respond to the word of God better than we do. p. 204

Religion is at its best when it relies on strength of argument and example. It is at its worst when it seeks to impose truth by force. … Religion — as understood by Abraham and those who followed him—is at its best when it resists the temptation of politics and opts instead for influence. For what it tell us is that civilizations are judged not by power but by their concern for the powerless; not by wealth but by how they treat the poor; not when they seek to become invulnerable but when they care for the vulnerable. Religion is not the voice of those who sit on earthly thrones but of those who, not seeking to wild power, are unafraid to criticize it when it corrupts those who hold it and diminishes those it is held against. p. 234, 236

If vengeance belongs to God, it does not belong to us. p. 247

The entire ethical-legal principle on which the Hebrew Bible is based is that we own nothing. Everything — the land, its produce, power, sovereignty, children and life itself — belongs to God. We are mere trustees, guardians, on his behalf. We possess but we do not own. That is the basis of the infrastructure of social justice that made the Bible unique in its time and still transformative today. p. 254

Altruism misdirected can lead to evil: that has been the thesis of this book. That is why the West must recover its ideals. p. 256

Hate harms the hated but it destroys the hater. There is no exception. p. 261

We must put the same long-term planning into strengthening religious freedom as was put into the spread of religious extremism. … We must train a generation of religious leaders and educators who embrace the world in its diversity, and sacred texts in their maximal generosity. p. 262

We are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story, each with our own song in the music of humankind. To be a child of Abraham is to learn to respect the other children of Abraham even if their way is not ours. We know that we are loved. That must be enough. To insist that being loved entails that others be unloved is to fail to understand love itself. p. 264

Monday, November 23, 2015

Greatest Hits of 'War and Peace'

Here are some of my favorite parts from Pevear and Volokhonsky's unabridged translation of War and Peace:
How can one be well … when one suffers morally? Is it possible to remain at ease in our time, if one has any feeling? (p. 4)
Nothing is so necessary for a young man as the company of intelligent women. (p. 15)
Influence in society is a capital that must be used sparingly, lest it disappear. Prince Vassily knew that and, having once realized that if he were to solicit for everyone who solicited from him, it would soon become impossible for him to solicit for himself, he rarely used his influence. (p. 16)
“Up to now, thank God, I’ve been a friend to my children and have enjoyed their full trust,” said the countess, repeating the error of many parents who suppose that their children have no secrets from them. (p. 42)
We love people not so much for the good they’ve done us, as for the good we’ve done them. (p. 106)
Against your will He will save you and have mercy on you and turn you to Him, because in Him alone there is truth and peace. (p. 107)
Ah! if we did not have religion to console us, life would be quite sad. (p. 111)
Ah! dear friend, the word of our divine Savior, that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, that word is terribly true; I pity Prince Vassily and I feel even sorrier for Pierre. So young and burdened with such wealth, what temptations he will have to endure! If I were asked what I would like most in the world, it would be to be poorer than the poorest beggar. (p. 111)
“One step beyond that line, reminiscent of the line separating the living from the dead, and it’s the unknown, suffering, and death. And what is there? who is there? there, beyond this field, and the tree, and the roof lit by the sun? No one knows, and you would like to know; and you’re afraid to cross that line, and would like to cross it; and you know that sooner or later you will have to cross it and find out what is there on the other side of the line , as you will inevitably find out what is there on the other side of death. And you’re strong, healthy, cheerful, and excited, and surrounded by people just as strong and excitedly animated.” So, if he does not think it, every man feels who finds himself within sight of an enemy, and this feeling gives a particular brilliance and joyful sharpness of impression to everything that happens in those moments. (p. 143)
He asked Rostov to tell them how and where he had received his wound. This pleased Rostov , and he began telling the story, growing more and more animated as it went on. He told them about his Schöngraben action in just the way that those who take part in battles usually tell about them, that is, in the way they would like it to have been, the way they have heard others tell it, the way it could be told more beautifully, but not at all the way it had been. Rostov was a truthful young man, not for anything would he have deliberately told an untruth. He began telling the story with the intention of telling it exactly as it had been, but imperceptibly, involuntarily, and inevitably for himself, he went over into untruth. If he had told the truth to these listeners, who, like himself, had already heard accounts of attacks numerous times and had formed for themselves a definite notion of what an attack was, and were expecting exactly the same sort of account— they either would not have believed him or, worse still, would have thought it was Rostov’s own fault that what usually happens in stories of cavalry attacks had not happened with him. He could not simply tell them that they all set out at a trot, he fell off his horse, dislocated his arm, and ran to the woods as fast as he could to escape a Frenchman. Besides, in order to tell everything as it had been, one would have to make an effort with oneself so as to tell only what had been. To tell the truth is very difficult, and young men are rarely capable of it. (p. 242)
“Yes, I may very well be killed tomorrow,” he thought . And suddenly, with that thought of death, a whole series of the most remote and most soul-felt memories arose in his imagination; he remembered his last farewell from his father and his wife; he remembered the first time of his love for her; remembered her pregnancy and felt sorry for her and for himself; and in an emotionally softened and troubled state, he left the cottage in which he was billeted with Nesvitsky and began pacing in front of the house. The night was misty, and through the mist moonlight shone mysteriously. 
“Yes, tomorrow, tomorrow!” he thought. “Tomorrow maybe everything will be over for me, all these memories will be no more, all these memories will simply have no more sense for me . Tomorrow maybe— even certainly, I have a presentiment of it— for the first time I’ll finally have to show all I can do.” And he imagined the battle, its loss, the concentration of the fighting at one point, and the bewilderment of all the superiors. And here that happy moment, that Toulon he has so long awaited, finally presents itself to him. He voices his opinion firmly and clearly to Kutuzov and Weyrother, and to the emperors. All are struck by the correctness of his thinking , but no one undertakes to carry it out, and here he takes a regiment, a division, negotiates the condition that no one interfere with his instructions, and leads his division to the decisive point, and alone wins the victory. 
“And death and suffering?” says another voice. But Prince Andrei does not respond to that voice and goes on with his successes . The disposition for the next battle he does alone. He bears the title of an officer on duty in Kutuzov’s army, but he does everything alone. He alone wins the next battle . Kutuzov is replaced, he is appointed … “Well, and then ?” the other voice says again. “And then, if you’re not wounded, killed, or deceived ten times over— well, then what?” “Well, then …” Prince Andrei answers himself, “I don’t know what will happen then, I don’t want to know and I can’t know ; but if I want this, want glory, want to be known to people, want to be loved by them, it’s not my fault that I want it, that it’s the only thing I want, the only thing I live for. Yes, the only thing! I’ll never tell it to anyone, but my God! what am I to do if I love nothing except glory, except people’s love? Death, wounds, loss of family, nothing frightens me. And however near and dear many people are to me— my father, my sister, my wife— the dearest people to me— but, however terrible and unnatural it seems, I’d give them all now for a moment of glory, of triumph over people, for love from people I don’t know and will never know, for the love of these people here,” he thought, listening to the talk in Kutuzov’s yard. 
From Kutuzov’s yard came the voices of orderlies preparing to sleep; one voice, probably of a coachman who was teasing Kutuzov’s old cook, whom Prince Andrei knew and whose name was Titus, said: “Titus, hey, Titus?” “Well?” replied the old man. “Titus, don’t bite us,” said the joker. “Pah, go to the devil,” a voice cried, drowned out by the guffawing of the orderlies and servants. “And still the only thing I love and cherish is triumph over all of them, I cherish that mysterious power and glory hovering over me here in this mist!” (pp. 264-265)
Looking into Napoleon’s eyes, Prince Andrei thought about the insignficance of grandeur, about the insignificance of life, the meaning of which no one could understand, and about the still greater insignificance of death, the meaning of which no one among the living could understand or explain. (p. 293)
“It would be good,” thought Prince Andrei, looking at this icon which his sister had hung on him with such feeling and reverence, “it would be good if everything was as clear and simple as it seems to Princess Marya. How good it would be to know where to look for help in this life and what to expect after it, there, beyond the grave! How happy and calm I’d be, if I could say now: Lord, have mercy on me! … But to whom shall I say it? Either it is an indefinable, unfathomable power, which I not only cannot address, but which I cannot express in words— the great all or nothing,” he said to himself, “or it is that God whom Princess Marya has sewn in here, in this amulet? Nothing, nothing is certain, except the insignificance of everything I can comprehend and the grandeur of something incomprehensible but most important!” (p. 293)
We can know only that we know nothing. And that is the highest degree of human wisdom.” (p. 348)
“The highest wisdom and truth is like the most pure liquid, which we want to receive into ourselves,” he said. “Can I receive this pure liquid in an impure vessel and then judge its purity? Only by purifying myself inwardly can I keep the liquid I receive pure to some degree.” (p. 352)
“And above all,” Pierre went on, “this I know and know for certain, that the pleasure of doing good is the only certain happiness in life.” (p. 384)
But as soon as Pierre thought of how and what he was going to say, he had the feeling that Prince Andrei would discredit his entire teaching with a single word, a single argument, and he was afraid to begin, afraid to expose his favorite, sacred thing to the possibility of ridicule. (p. 387)
“If there is God and if there is a future life, then there is truth, there is virtue; and man’s highest happiness consists in striving to attain them. We must live, we must love, we must believe,” said Pierre, “that we do not live only today on this scrap of earth, but have lived and will live eternally there, in the all” (he pointed to the sky). Prince Andrei stood with his elbow resting on the rail of the ferry, and , listening to Pierre, did not take his eyes off the red gleam of the sun on the blue floodwaters. Pierre fell silent. It was completely still . The ferry had long been moored, and only the waves of the current lapped with a faint sound against the ferry’s bottom. It seemed to Prince Andrei that this splash of waves made a refrain to Pierre’s words, saying: “It’s true, believe it.” (p. 389)
I’m happy when I can do good, but to set right an injustice is the greatest happiness (p. 411)
And what is justice? The princess never thought about this proud word justice. All the complicated laws of mankind were concentrated for her in one simple and clear law— the law of love and self-denial taught us by Him who suffered for mankind with love, though He Himself was God. What did the justice or injustice of other people matter to her? She herself had to suffer and to love, and that she did. (p. 482)
Ah, my friend, religion and religion alone can — I do not say comfort — but deliver us from despair; religion alone can explain to us that which man cannot understand without its help. (p. 483)
“Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth and told us that this life is a momentary life, a trial, yet we keep holding on to it and hope to find happiness in it. How is it no one understands that?” thought Princess Marya. “No one except these contemptible people of God, who come to me at the back door with bags over their shoulders, afraid of being noticed by the prince, not because they would suffer from him, but so as not to lead him into sin. To leave family , birthplace, all cares for worldly goods, so as to walk, without clinging to anything, in coarse rags, under an assumed name, from place to place, without harming people, and praying for them, praying for those who persecute and for those who protect: there is no truth and life higher than this truth and life!” (p. 486)
Can’t you understand finally that, besides your own pleasure, there is the happiness, the peace of other people, that you are ruining a whole life just because you want to have fun? (p. 594)
It was obvious that Balashov’s person did not interest him in the least. It was clear that only what went on in his soul was of interest to him. Everything that was outside him had no meaning for him, because everything in the world, as it seemed to him, depended only upon his will. (p. 619)
Rostov kept thinking about that brilliant feat of his, which, to his surprise, had gained him the St. George Cross and even given him the reputation of a brave man—and there was something in it that he was unable to understand. “So they’re even more afraid than we are!” he thought. “So that’s all there is to so-called heroism? And did I really do it for the fatherland? And what harm had he done, with his dimple and his light blue eyes? But how frightened he was! He thought I’d kill him . Why should I kill him? My hand faltered. And they gave me the St. George Cross. I understand nothing, nothing!” (pp. 654-655)
It seemed so natural for Pierre to be kind to everyone, that there was no merit in his kindness. (p. 658)
the higher they stand in the human hierarchy, the less free they are. (p. 682)
“My God! What is this? Why is he here?” Prince Andrei said to himself. In the unfortunate, sobbing, exhausted man whose leg had just been removed, he recognized Anatole Kuragin. They were holding him up in their arms and offering him water in a glass, the rim of which he could not catch in his trembling, swollen lips. Anatole was sobbing deeply. “Yes, it’s he; yes, this man is closely and painfully connected with me by something,” thought Prince Andrei , not yet understanding clearly what he saw before him. “What is this man’s connection with my childhood, with my life?” he asked himself, without finding an answer. And suddenly a new and unexpected memory from the world of childhood, purity, and love came to Prince Andrei. He remembered Natasha as he had seen her for the first time at the ball in 1810, with her slender neck and arms, with her frightened, happy face ready for rapture, and in his soul love and tenderness for her awakened, stronger and more alive than ever. He now remembered the connection between him and this man , who was looking at him dully through the tears that filled his swollen eyes. Prince Andrei remembered everything, and a rapturous pity and love for this man filled his happy heart. Prince Andrei could no longer restrain himself, and he wept tender, loving tears over people, over himself, and over their and his own errors. “Compassion, love for our brothers, for those who love us, love for those who hate us, love for our enemies— yes, that love which God preached on earth, which Princess Marya taught me, and which I didn’t understand; that’s why I was sorry about life, that’s what was still left for me, if I was to live. But now it’s too late. I know it!” (p. 814)
Man cannot possess anything as long as he fears death. But to him who does not fear it, everything belongs. If there was no suffering, man would not know his limits, would not know himself. (p. 843)
You can love a person dear to you with a human love, but an enemy can only be loved with divine love. (p. 921)
a man who plays a role in a historical event never understands its significance. If he attempts to understand it, he is struck with fruitlessness. (p. 944)
But his life, as he looked at it, had no meaning as a separate life. It had meaning only as a part of the whole, which he constantly sensed. (p. 974)
In captivity, in the shed, Pierre had learned, not with his mind, but with his whole being, his life, that man is created for happiness, that happiness is within him, in the satisfying of natural human needs, and that all unhappiness comes not from lack, but from superfluity; but now, in these last three weeks of the march, he had learned a new and more comforting truth— he had learned that there is nothing frightening in the world. He had learned that , as there is no situation in the world in which a man can be happy and perfectly free, so there is no situation in which he can be perfectly unhappy and unfree. He had learned that there is a limit to suffering and a limit to freedom, and that those limits are very close; that the man who suffers because one leaf is askew in his bed of roses, suffers as much as he now suffered falling asleep on the bare, damp ground, one side getting cold as the other warmed up; that when he used to put on his tight ballroom shoes, he suffered just as much as now, when he walked quite barefoot (his shoes had long since worn out) and his feet were covered with sores. (p. 1060)
For us, with the measures of good and bad given us by Christ, nothing is immeasurable. And there is no greatness where there is no simplicity, goodness, and truth. (p. 1071)
A wound in the soul, coming from the rending of the spiritual body, strange as it may seem, gradually closes like a physical wound. And once a deep wound heals over and the edges seem to have knit, a wound in the soul, like a physical wound, can be healed only by the force of life pushing up from inside. (p. 1080)
“They say: misfortunes, sufferings,” said Pierre. “Well , if someone said to me right now, this minute: do you want to remain the way you were before captivity, or live through it all over again? For God’s sake, captivity again and horsemeat! Once we’re thrown off our habitual paths, we think all is lost; but it’s only here that the new and the good begins. As long as there’s life, there’s happiness. There’s much, much still to come. (p. 1118)
Pierre’s insanity consisted in the fact that he did not wait, as before, for personal reasons, which he called people’s merits, in order to love them, but love overflowed his heart, and, loving people without reason, he discovered the unquestionable reasons for which it was worth loving them. (p. 1124)
If we allow that human life can be governed by reason, the possibility of life is annihilated. (p. 1131)
Discussions and arguments about women’s rights, about the relations between spouses, about their freedom and rights, though they had not yet been called “questions,” as they are now, were the same then as they are now; but these questions not only did not interest Natasha, but she decidedly did not understand them. These questions , then as now, existed only for those people who see in marriage nothing but the pleasure the spouses get from each other, that is, nothing but the beginnings of marriage, and not its whole significance, which consists in the family. (p. 1155)
She ate, drank, slept, woke, but did not live. Life gave her no impressions at all. She needed nothing from life except peace, and that peace she could find only in death. But as long as death did not come , she had to live, that is, to make use of her time, her life forces. In her there was noticeable in the highest degree what one notices in very small children and very old people. In her life no external purpose could be seen, but what was evident was only the need to exercise her various inclinations and abilities. She needed to eat, to sleep, to think, to talk, to weep, to work, to get angry, and so on, only because she had a stomach , a brain, muscles, nerves, and a liver. She did all that without any external impulse, not as people do in the full force of life, when, behind the purpose they are striving towards, they do not notice another purpose— that of applying their forces. She talked only because she had a physical need to work her lungs and tongue . She wept like a baby, because she had to clear her nose, and so on. What for people in full force presented itself as a purpose, for her was obviously a pretext. (pp. 1162-1163)
If Nikolai could have been conscious of his feeling, he would have found that his firm, tender, and proud love for his wife had always been based on this feeling of wonder before her inner life, before that lofty moral world, almost inaccessible to him, in which his wife lived always. He was proud that she was so intelligent and good , being conscious of his own insignificance before her in the spiritual world, and rejoiced the more that she, with her soul, not only belonged to him, but made up a part of him. (p. 1172)
general historians will only be gold when they are able to answer the essential question of history: what is power? (p. 1187)
Power is the sum total of the wills of the masses, transferred by express or tacit agreement to rulers chosen by the masses. (p. 1188)
What is the cause of historical events? Power. What is power? Power is the sum total of wills transferred to one person. On what condition are the wills of the masses transferred to one person? On condition that the person express the will of the whole people. That is, power is power. That is, power is a word the meaning of which we do not understand. (p. 1193)
Unless we allow for divine participation in human affairs, we cannot take power as the cause of events. (p. 1194)

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Dr. Zhivago

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960)
I just finished Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago. Here are some of my favorite parts:
Is there anything in the world that merits faithfulness? Such things are very few. I think we must be faithful to immortality, that other, slightly stronger name for life. We must keep faith in immortality, we must be faithful to Christ! (p. 8) 
And what is history? It is the setting in motion of centuries of work at the gradual unriddling of death and its eventual overcoming. (p. 9) 
And, making an exception for his father and mother, Misha gradually became filled with scorn for adults, who had cooked a pudding they were unable to eat. He was convinced that when he grew up, he would untangle it all. (p. 13) 
But the point is precisely this, that for centuries man has been raised above the animals and borne aloft not by the rod, but by music: the irresistibility of the unarmed truth, the attraction of its example. It has been considered up to now that the most important thing in the Gospels is the moral pronouncements and rules, but for me the main thing is that Christ speaks in parables from daily life, clarifying the truth with the light of everyday things. At the basis of this lies the thought that communion among mortals is immortal and that life is symbolic because it is meaningful.” (p. 46) 
Consciousness is poison, a means of self-poisoning for the subject who applies it to himself. Consciousness is a light directed outwards, consciousness lights the way before us so that we don’t stumble. Consciousness is the lit headlights at the front of a moving locomotive. Turn their light inwards and there will be a catastrophe. (p. 77) 
In that new way of existence and new form of communion, conceived in the heart and known as the Kingdom of God, there are no peoples, there are persons. (p. 142) 
isolated happiness is not happiness (p. 203) 
everything truly great is without beginning, like the universe. It does not emerge, but is suddenly there, as if it always existed or fell from the sky. (p. 211) 
He realized that he was a pygmy before the monstrous hulk of the future. (p. 213)
I think that we’ll gain nothing by violence. People must be drawn to the good by the good. (p. 309) 
“It has always seemed to me that every conception is immaculate, that this dogma concerning the Mother of God expresses the general idea of motherhood. (p. 331) 
“Only the ordinary is fantastic, once the hand of genius touches it. (p. 336) 
Man is born to live, not to prepare for life. And life itself, the phenomenon of life, the gift of life, is so thrillingly serious! Why then substitute for it a childish harlequinade of immature inventions. (p. 351) 
Oh, how sweet it is to exist! How sweet to live in the world and to love life! Oh, how one always longs to say thank you to life itself, to existence itself, to say it right in their faces! (p. 462) 
“Children are unconstrainedly sincere and not ashamed of the truth, while we, from fear of seeming backward, are ready to betray what’s most dear, to praise the repulsive, and to say yes to the incomprehensible.” (p. 511) 
“You understand, we’re in different positions. Wings were given you so as to fly beyond the clouds, and to me, a woman, so as to press myself to the ground and shield my fledgling from danger.” (p. 513) 
The grief in his soul sharpened Yuri Andreevich’s perceptions. He grasped everything with tenfold distinctness. (p. 533) 
When she came into a room, it was as if a window was thrown open, the room was filled with light and air.” (p. 546) 
A constant, systematic dissembling is required of the vast majority of us. It’s impossible, without its affecting your health, to show yourself day after day contrary to what you feel, to lay yourself out for what you don’t love, to rejoice over what brings you misfortune. Our nervous system is not an empty sound, not a fiction. It’s a physical body made up of fibers. Our soul takes up room in space and sits inside us like the teeth in our mouth. It cannot be endlessly violated with impunity. (p. 570) 
Everything’s getting better. I have an incredible, passionate desire to live, and to live means always to push forward, towards higher things, towards perfection, and to achieve it. (p. 571) 
The kingdom of plants so easily offers itself as the nearest neighbor to the kingdom of death. Here, in the earth’s greenery, among the trees of the cemetery, amidst the sprouting flowers rising up from the beds, are perhaps concentrated the mysteries of transformation and the riddles of life that we puzzle over. Mary did not at first recognize Jesus coming from the tomb and took him for the gardener walking in the cemetery. (“She, supposing him to be the gardener …”) (p. 582) 
What a frightening thing life is, right? (p. 587) 
Never, in any circumstances, must you despair. To hope and to act is our duty in misfortune. Inactive despair is a forgetting and failure of duty. (p. 588) 
the war came as a cleansing storm, a gust of fresh air, a breath of deliverance. (p. 598) 
courage is the root of beauty,
And that’s what draws us to each other. (p. 626) 
Ease with a woman’s last caress
The bitterness of my fatal hour. (p. 632) 
But a miracle is a miracle, and a miracle is God.
When we’re perturbed, in the midst of our disorder,
It overtakes us on the instant, unawares. (p. 643) 
the secret stream of suffering
Can lend warmth to the chill of being. (p. 644) 
When I rest your feet, Jesus,
Upon my knees, it may be
That I am learning to embrace
The four-square beam of the cross
And, feeling faint, strain towards your body,
Preparing you for burial. (p. 647) 
Peter rushed the cutthroats with his sword
And lopped off the ear of one.
He hears: “Disputes can never be resolved with iron. Put your sword back in its place, man. (p. 650)