Category Visual Arts

Hungary and Syria: A Tale of Two Diasporas

We are born into a particular place to particular people, absorbing the world we find and then habituating to its rhythms and requirements. The routine of being cared for intimately in a state of comfort and stability is our natural desire and need; children cannot thrive without it.

That said, human beings grow to become curious, adventurous and mobile creatures, often, though not in every case, ranging far from our original habitats in voluntary pursuit of economic betterment and new experience.

There is an involuntary shadow side to our mobility, however. Sometimes, life confronts us with forced relocation when famine, political upheaval or war (those three are often related) give us little choice but to leave our nests and strike out, in desperate circumstances, for the great unknown.

When this involves great swaths of a population, it merits the biblical term “diaspora.” (Deuteronomy 28:25, from ...

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Fourth Annual Holiday Photo Gallery

There were times this past year when it seemed, well, it still seems, I must admit, that the world took a step or two backwards on this jagged evolutionary trail we have been traversing over the eons. And thus the tale seems to go, our better angels not yet prevailing all the time, still subject to all the old familiars—fear, greed, avarice, anger—and all the resultant wars, famines and heads-in-the-sand that keep us, if nothing else, the most exasperating/interesting species ever to bestride this earth.

But: it is surely true, too, as evidenced by the legions of people every single one of us knows and observes in such abundance, that our better angels prevail more often than not.

That fact accounts for quite a lot of something in my book. I hope it does in yours, too.

Meanwhile, we have art, among the most intense and tireless expressions of human love we have ever devised...

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Dark and Resplendent Nights: A Study of Van Gogh’s Two Cafés

Decades ago, when I had my head buried in theology and philosophy at Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, I used to regularly wander over to the Caffe Mediterraneum on Telegraph Avenue, a kind of rough-hewn and clattery coffeehouse with a 1950s pedigree, way before coffeehouses-ala-Starbucks got chic. The place had a kind of Mideast/Turkish vibe, the servers usually dark and mustachioed, the patrons hunched over their espressos with stacks of art books or Heidegger and Sartre philosophical tomes prominently displayed next to them on the round tables.

The “Med” wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea, as it were, but its tone of brooding, vaguely discernible despondency and graduate school noir held a certain bohemian allure...

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Curiosity, Holiness, Science: An Homage to Eve

A recent scene at my neighborhood pool: It’s closing time and the lifeguards are rolling the tarp off its big spool and laying it out across the water. A 3- or 4-year-old boy bolts away from his mother at the gate leading outside and squats down poolside, gazing intently as the tarp unfurls. His mother calls to him, “O.K., let’s go!”

All he does in response is reach his hand out so he can touch the tarp as it moves under his fingers. His mother may as well be a million miles away.

I am smiling to myself at the whole scene, don’t even realize my smile shows until I approach the gate and Mom says to me, smiling herself now, “It’s so interesting!”

“Of course it is!” I respond. “And it’s so interesting that it’s interesting to him!”

She vigorously assents to this and we both laugh, marveling at the insatiable, seemingly undiscriminating curiosity of the young.

But re...

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Oh, the Troubles I Seen: A Photo Essay on Labor and Toil

Short of being completely disabled or extremely young or elderly, we must work. From the lowliest worm to the sparrow to kings and queens, we have to get after our daily labor.

In one form or other, we bring the vegetables in from the fields, the meat from the plain, the water from the river, going about our appointed tasks to keep ourselves fed and hydrated.

Call it Darwin’s first imperative: Do what we must do to get food and liquid down our gullets; survive for another day.

Farmer Taking Banana Crop to Market, Uganda, by Robert Muckley

Here in the West, we often conflate work with life itself—as our passion, our very identity, with a not-always-clear demarcation between it and the other forces of family, romance, leisure, recreation that make competing claims on human time and energy (in civilized places, that is, like Canada, or Europe…).

Or we apply the “work ethic” to all of life in vaingloriou...

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