Author: Bob Adamcik

Living the blues…

For the last couple of months, I’ve been studying blues on the guitar, specifically delta blues out of the deep South…blues out of poverty, disenfranchisement, rootlessness, lonesomeness in the midst of others. It’s affecting me in ways I never anticipated, resonating… People make fun of the delta blues, because the themes are so repetitious…waking up in the morning, work, sex. But that’s the very point, consignment to a life that never changed, marking time. There is hypnotic melancholy throughout, and if my mood is right, it makes me cry. Because some days I just wake up lonesome, and stay that way all day. Thinking on this, I remembered a seemingly trivial thing: When I was in college, I would study late into the night. And at times, I would just have to move. I’d get in my car and drive for miles in the dark, alone out on the country roads around Texas A&M, going nowhere but always moving. I’d just get restless. And I realize now that the feeling has never left me. Despite having lived in multiple states and a half-dozen countries, having traveled thousands of miles by train and plane, in a car and on foot…I still get restless.   A dozen years ago, I began walking. I literally woke up early of a morning and heard a voice say, “You need to walk.” I began...

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When and how, yes.  But whether or not?  Hardly…

This is a quote from Yuval Noah Harari’s “From Animals Into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind.”  Mine is a “draft edition,” without a cited publisher, but I’m pretty sure it was finally published under the title “Sapiens,” with the same subtitle: In the year AD 1500, five hundred million people inhabited the world. Today, there are seven billion.  In 1500, global annual production was equivalent to 250 billion dollars.  Today it’s close to 60 trillion dollars.  In 1500, humankind consumed each day about 13 trillion calories of energy. Today, we consume 1500 trillion calories a day.  (Yuval Noah Harari, “From Animals Into Gods: A Brief History of Humankind,” Draft Edition 2012) How long can this last?   Or more to the point, will it end with a whimper or a bang?  Personally, I think we’re whimpering now.  But I’m waiting for the bang (a big one, either real or metaphorical).  After that, it’s anyone’s guess.   Interestingly, this also makes me think of another quote:   “Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour…”  (Matthew 25:13)...

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Joseph Campbell on meaning…

The quote below is from Chapter 1 of “The Power of Myth,” the compiled transcripts of conversations between Campbell and Bill Moyers in 1985-86.  These video interviews were edited into the subsequent PBS series of the same name.  I’m not sure, but I suspect this book version includes some material not included in the series as aired.  Campbell: …People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life.  I don’t think that’s what we are really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances within our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive. (Joseph Campbell, with Bill Moyers, “The Power of Myth.” Doubleday 1988.) Campbell’s statement approaches Point 3 in my response to Michael Weise, regarding my post on Armstrong’s “History of God.”  He’s not quite saying the same thing, but we’re converging.  But the fundamental insight I gain from Campbell’s quote is a vision of the vast majority of human beings I see around me, going through motions of each day, filling it with activity from rising to sleeping. And yet, you get the sense that so much of it is displacement activity, the kind of restless pacing of an animal in a cage.  Few ever reach “the rapture of...

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Empathy, acceptance and tolerance

This is a followup to my last post, because it seems mildly incomplete. I should have perhaps mentioned empathy.  Empathy seems to me the only means of truly communicating with anyone, of understanding them. It’s what we all want, for someone to see the world as we see it. And yet, a fully empathetic experience, actually getting into the head of another, being in their mind and experiencing emotions from their perspective, is not possible. Nor, I suspect, are we capable of understanding just how far apart from one another we really are. All of this begs for tolerance and acceptance of differences as critical to building relationships.  And it goes a long way towards explaining why the human race is in such trouble…and maybe why humanity today can be such a lonely...

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Ask for acceptance, don’t expect understanding…

Coming back from Europe last week reminded me of coming back from Chile and the Peace Corps back in 1980. This time I was only gone five months, back then it had been 30. Trying to explain to anyone what I had experienced was pointless, because no matter how carefully chosen your words, no one who hadn’t been there could really know. And, with the exception of the uniquely insightful and curious, I suspect few really care.   I shared this insight with a young French college student a few years ago and he understood immediately. He commented that he had recently spent a full year drifting around the globe, only to return home to his parents in Normandy who’d questioned him for 15 minutes. Then they began discussing lunch. And our experiences pale alongside those of soldiers returning home from war. How could any of us who haven’t been there grasp that? But then there are many things I can’t know: What it’s like to have a son or daughter, to shoulder commitment to a wife and family? To be extremely wealthy, or even poor? To be a woman, or black or Muslim? To be an addict, or live in a Haitian slum? All of of this is just an amateurish way of commenting on individual lives and the perspectives those lives create within each of us. We...

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Reflections on reading “A History of God,” by Karen Armstrong

Because of its breadth and detail, this is among the more difficult books I’ve tackled. In brief, Armstrong reviews the theological histories of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, the three related monotheistic traditions. She expounds on the complex and often surprising evolution of each, from their origins through the 20th century. It is an expansive treatment, but well worth the six months it’s taken to get through it.  I want to enumerate here the principal insights I gained. This is not a review or critique of the book, but a melange of Armstrong’s historical narrative, my own opinions, and personal reflection. In other words, it should not be attributed en toto to Armstrong. 1. As individuals constrained by short lifespans, we fail to appreciate how our respective religious practices have changed over time. In all three traditions, teachings often presented as absolute have been plastic and malleable. They have all been revised and reinterpreted continuously. Since their inceptions, the respective clergies and other intelligentsia in all generations have argued about right belief and practice. In so doing, they have taken each far from its origin, to the point that rigid and dogmatic interpretation of any is absurd. In fact, Armstrong points out that, over the centuries, people have constantly reinvented the idea of God to keep it relevant to their times and their lives. In this vein, she traces the...

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Reflections on early civilizations and social stratification

I’ve spent six years now traveling throughout Western Europe, also reading histories of western civilization…from earliest prehistory to modernity.  I’ve but scratched the surface, I know…an adequate appreciation would require a lifetime.  But even with my limited exposure, there is one theme I see virtually taken for granted rather than deeply explored:  social stratification, class and the distribution of power and wealth.  The effects have been hugely studied: feudalism, the French Revolution, colonialism and imperialism, capitalism and Marxism and communism, slave revolts, American civil rights,  even in budding movements like Occupy Wall Street within the U.S. today.  And the recent election in the U.S. is no less a reflection of its continuing dominance.  But I want to know the when, the how and the why:  When, how and why did differentiation and stratification by income and social status begin?  What are its drivers?  Why has it been so ubiquitous throughout history, and why have the less empowered classes accepted it so readily?  And what’s more, why throughout history have those in power so insistently treated their “lessers” like dirt…and why do the underprivileged so readily put up with it? This seems indeed a ubiquitous theme throughout all recorded history, and not just in the West…Ancient Egypt, the Middle East, the Orient, India all did the same.  A cursory consideration would suggest it arose in the Neolithic with the onset...

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