Daily thoughts on aesthetics and theology, and the entire world in between.

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The Lowe's school of architecture

If you want to be an architect ... don't go to the Louvre.

Go to the Lowe's.

As a young man I got into architecture because of a love for art and artsy things. But over 35 years, I've discovered that architecture is roughly 10% art and 90% hammers and nails, and plumbing and heating.

One of my Aha! moments came some years after graduating from architecture school: I started looking forward to going to the Lowe's Home Improvement Store. (Actually where I lived in Philadelphia, it was Hechinger's. But Lowe's is the same thing).

I used to hate going to stores like Lowe's. It meant another house repair. And I -- Mr. architect -- hated house repairs.

But one day as I walked up and down those aisles at Lowe's, I put two and two together, so to speak:

If I only knew about all of these tools, all of these connectors, all of these appliances, all of these thousands of gadgets, all of this lumber, ... if I only knew how to use them and connect them, I would be one formidable architect.

These days I really like going to the Ace Hardware and talking to the knowledgeable people there. I love talking over house repair problems with them. And learning from them. During these sessions I never tell them I'm a -- good grief -- an architect. That would ruin it all.

This is not to say I'm not thankful for that 10%.

I'm not sure you can buy the Art of Architecture at the Lowe's. And for me, the art of it will always be with me. For example, every time I need a 10 penny nail, I'd have to truck down to the Lowe's and learn about nails all over again.

(And hey -- I do now have a truck).

But the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, well, I can tell you a few things about her and her kind ...


Exodus 26.1-6 Moreover, you shall make the tabernacle with ten curtains of fine twined linen and blue and purple and scarlet yarns; you shall make them with cherubim skillfully worked into them. 2 The length of each curtain shall be twenty-eight cubits, [1] and the breadth of each curtain four cubits; all the curtains shall be the same size. 3 Five curtains shall be coupled to one another, and the other five curtains shall be coupled to one another. 4 And you shall make loops of blue on the edge of the outermost curtain in the first set. Likewise you shall make loops on the edge of the outermost curtain in the second set. 5 Fifty loops you shall make on the one curtain, and fifty loops you shall make on the edge of the curtain that is in the second set; the loops shall be opposite one another. 6 And you shall make fifty clasps of gold, and couple the curtains one to the other with the clasps, so that the tabernacle may be a single whole ...

Very bad days versus pretty good ones

Someone says "I had a very bad day" -- and we have a problem on our hands:

What does he mean by "very"?

What is the difference between "I had a bad day" and "I had a very bad day?"

Is "very" a matter of degree? In which case it is like a Richter scale measurement, as in "My day was 7.8 on the Bad Day scale. So a 7.8 on the BD scale means buildings falling down and bridges collapsing. That would be a very bad day.

But usually 7.8 days on the BD scale do not happen. Most days probably measure 1.2, or even .533, on the BD scale -- the equivalent of wearing your undershirt inside out and your wife laughing at you. This would NOT be a very bad day.

So stop saying you had one.

Or is "very" a measure of truthfulness, as in the old English translation of the Bible?: "Verily, verily I say unto you ..." means "Truly, truly I say to you ..." That's why in old English they would say, "Very, I had a bad day..."

But nobody speaks old English anymore.

OR: is "very" a matter of exaggeration?

Aye, my friend. 'Tis a matter of exaggeration. 'Tis very, very much a matter of exaggeration.

Exaggeration means there really is no reason at all to say "very" -- but you say it anyway. You just go a say it ANYWAY. You say, "I had a VERY bad day!" when all you need to say is "I had a bad day."

Stop saying "very." It adds to the clutter of words out there.

And it distorts your ability to be thankful.

Which raises another thing: Do you recall the last time you heard someone say "I had a very good day?" I can't remember the last time I walked into the house saying to Valerie, "Well! I had a very good day today!" I don't think I've ever done that!

In our assessment of the quality of our days, "very" and "good" tend not to go together.

First, somebody has to ask you, "How was your day?"

And we would usually respond, "Well... I guess it was a pretty good day."

I may blog about what a "pretty good day" might mean in a future blog. But for now:

We are very hard to please.


Psalm 118.24 This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Architecting sensitivity

Being sensitive to others, I have noticed, does not come naturally for most people.

Sensitivity is acquired over time.

I've had occasion to observe this during this holiday season, when my grown sons are home. Some are more sensitive to the needs and feelings of others; some are less.

In my mind's eye I see rough stones. Over time, the stones are chiseled, fashioned, smoothed little by little. They are being architected by forces beyond me.

Every holiday season when they are back home, I see the erosion of bigness. They are smaller than they were last year, some of them.

The progress so far is both satisfying as well as concerning. It is surprising too. But mostly it is satisfying.

One never stops carrying the burden of one's children.

But the relief I experience this year is this: I've reached a point in fatherhood when I no longer need to be the lead chiseler. (Perhaps I feel the freedom from the illusion that I ever was the chief chiseler).

Circumstances, what each son faces in the world, each of their spouses or spouses to be, and the fear of God.

These are the chisels now.

I pray for the fear of God to grow in each, and in me as well.


Psalm 111.10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.

Proverbs 1.7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

Proverbs 9.10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Meditations on a shopping bag

Macy's holiday bag is red all over, with a motto written elegantly in white cursive: "A millions reasons to believe."

This caused me to meditate on some things.

Believe what? And why in a million of them?

Belief is the human ability to place confidence in something that, for whatever reason -- and many of them good reasons -- is not immediately obvious, but nevertheless true. We can't live without the ability to believe.

At least Macy's knows this.

Even the most die-hard skeptic functions on such unmeasurable assumptions like spring will come again, or that his dog loves him, or that the supermarket down the street will have food on its shelves.

The real question about belief is how it all holds together. What does believing that my pet loves me, that spring will come in a few months, and that Albertson's won't run out of food have to do with each other?

Is each belief a separate belief -- a million different reasons to believe?

Or is the possibility of believing anything at all based upon an assumption of an overall orderliness, an orderliness that is the common denominator -- as it were -- that rhymes with the very human capacity to believe?


Hebrews 1.3 The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Middle-aged behavior on Facebook

I've noticed that my middle-aged friends go through flurries of activity on Facebook: Hey, look at these pictures of my kids! Hey, I can actually walk after my knee replacement!

That sort of thing. Then ...

... not a Facebook entry from them for weeks.

They forget to log on. It's like Facebook never existed for them. Facebook? What's that?

Young people are different. They're constantly on Facebook, showing pictures, playing games, taking all sorts of quizzes and tests, wishing each other best of luck, moaning and groaning about sports events, commenting on what they had for dinner, and other Important Things Everybody Else Needs to Know.

To young people, Facebook is essential to their identity.

But in middle-aged behavior, Facebook is an occasional diversion -- a kind of half-hearted gasp at trying to keep up with the times -- the essentials of identity having already been formed in other ways.


Yesterday, today, forever,
Jesus is the same,
All may change, but Jesus never!
Glory to His name!

Albert Simpson (1843–1919)

The beauty of the half note

When he was young, he loved to fill his musical compositions with all sorts of notes: sixteenth notes, thirty-second notes, trills, arpeggios.

The whole nine yards -- to borrow a non-musical turn of phrase.

But in his sunset years, they say that the composer Johannes Brahms discovered the beauty of the half note.

He discovered the beauty of the half note.

I think about Brahms' discovery whenever there is clutter all around -- like this time of the year: gifts and festivities and too many things that sparkle; food and parties and too many things that are sweet; 34 bowl games amidst a storm of wrapping paper.

The whole nine yards.

Through it all, may the Lord reveal to us the beauty of the half note.


Luke 10.39-42 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

Hebrews 11.21 By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.

On reading The Economist

Many things stir memories of my father-in-law, recently passed. One of them is The Economist.

This is not your run-of-the-mill news magazine. Upon reading others, like Newsweek or Time, I usually feel the need for a shower, or some other form of ritual cleansing.

At least I feel like I’ve been had.

Not so with The Economist, a subscription to which has been an annual Christmas gift from Mr. Bastian to me for as long as I can recall.

So at this time of the year, I think once again of Bob Bastian, er, I mean, Mr. Bastian.

When I read The Economist, I’m visiting the faculty lounge at Oxford or Cambridge. I’m not spending a night at the Holiday Inn Express.

It's like I’m privy to a serious conversation -- with Brits, no less -- about whatever the subject might be.

Oh, they are snooty to be sure, but there's at least a sheen of serious analysis. There remains a scrim of commitment to genuine reportage, and on a satisfying range of topics.

I read about Asia weekly in The Economist, and about what's going on in the Arts.

Understandably, an Economist subscription costs more than others. And when Mr. Bastian passed away, one of my sisters-in-law said, “Well, sorry Dave, no more Economist for you.”

But Valerie and I have made a major life decision: we’re gonna pay for it on our own. So there.

You've gotta know what’s going on.


Acts 17. 21-23 All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas. Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an Unknown God. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you...

What I thought about at the Verizon store

The mailer told me I qualified for a cell phone upgrade, so there I was standing in line at the Verizon store.

Rows and rows of the latest phones! With the downlighting shining on them, they glowed like jewels: the baubles of the latest technology.

The little things are combinations of what used to be big things -- typewriters, televisions, maps, cameras, calendars, tape recorders, not to mention, ahem, telephones -- now all rolled up into one little object that can fit in your pocket.

I was struck by how fast these cell phone models change. When we moved out West 12 years ago -- just 12 years ago -- Valerie and I used CB radios to stay in touch between our two cars. (You know: with the big antenna glued to the hood, etc...)

Standing in line at the Verizon store, I got to thinking: what does God see in all this?

What does God think about progress?

God, who knows the end from the beginning. God, who knew about cell phones before there were even dial-up phones?

What, exactly, does "progress" mean to God?

Progress: something we value so much. (As in: Hey, I'm making progress!!!). With a new phone that is a map-television-typewriter-camera all rolled into one, and stuffed into my pocket, I would be:

A Man Who Is Making Progress ...

That's what I was thinking about at the Verizon store.

When it was finally my turn at the counter: "You mean ... I still need to pay X for this upgrade?"

"Yes, Mr. Wang."

To begin with, I really didn't want a gaudy new phone I couldn't operate anyway.

So I left with the one I had.


Isaiah 46.10 I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.

1 Timothy 6.8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

They were all visited by God

When I say the supporting cast of the Christmas story was comprised of common folk, I don't mean their experiences were common. In the course of their common lives, doing what they commonly did, each of them was uncommonly visited by God.

They were all visited by God:

Mary was visited by God. The shepherds were visited by God. Joseph was told by an angel to take the baby Jesus to Egypt; years later he was told to bring Him back to Israel.

The stories of Christmas in these common lives began when each was uncommonly visited by God.

We often describe wonderful real-life stories as “stranger than fiction.” Why stranger than fiction?

Well, because we know that fictional stories are written by authors – and we assume that “real life” events just happen randomly. The most devout among us often assume life events just happen randomly.

In order for our "real" lives to be filled with Christmas stories, of course there needs to be an author of those stories.

And of course there is one: Jesus, "the author and finisher of our faith," as the New Testament tells us.

So when I say Christmas stories come out of the experiences of common lives, I must not leave out the treasure we have in earthen vessels. The vessel is common. The presence of Jesus, the treasure, the author and finisher of our faith, is not.

God has not only visited us, he is Immanuel (= God with us): in our salvation always true, in the Word always with us, in the body of Christ all over the world.

We live in a time when the eyes of faith ought to tell us that the Word in us is more powerful proof of God with us than when the angel Gabriel visited Mary.

And if we practice His presence in Word, in spirit, and among the saints in this world, there will be many stories to tell.

These would be the Christmas stories of our lives.


Luke 1.26-27 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary.

Luke 2.8-9 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

Matthew 2.13 ... an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him."

Matthew 2.19-20 After Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt and said, "Get up, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who were trying to take the child's life are dead."

2 Corinthians 4.7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us ...

Hebrews 12.2 Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith ...

You don't really know how the stories of Christmas play out

Here is a rule of thumb: Even if the angel Gabriel came and told you how your entire life story will play out, you’d still be befuddled by the next thing that happens to you.

Isn’t that what we get from Mary? This is the mother of Jesus. But even Mary, who was in fact visited by the angel Gabriel and told what would happen, was still in the dark about how things would play out.

Fast forward to when she and Joseph had to look for their missing son for three days – three days! can you imagine what she went through! – before they finally found him in the temple. “What are you doing to us!” they cried. “Don’t you know I have to be in my Father’s house?” the boy Jesus replied.

And then it says: “They did not understand what he was saying to them.”

Now look, we have heard of “the fog of war.” Never mind that. What we need to hear is “the fog of life.” Life is essentially a fog.

In this fog, even if the angel Gabriel came and told you the rest of your life story, you’d still be befuddled by the next thing that happens to you.

So how to steer one’s course?

Mary treasured matters in her heart. This was Mary’s trademark behavior: something happens, and she treasured the matter in her heart.

So here is a clue: not only the Word of God (the Bible) in the abstract, but also in each event that happens, you ponder and treasure the matter in your heart in light of that Word.

What does it mean to treasure? Well, you fuss over it, you toss and turn it over in your mind, you value it, you look for and see things in it that others do not ever see.

They had no idea what Jesus meant, but Mary treasured these things in her heart.

If we treasure the Word of God in this way as we face the events of our lives, out of it will come many stories of Immanuel = God with us, even though, on the ground and in real time, we still won't know how things play out.

But the way they play out, well, these would be the stories of Christmas for us.


Luke 1.26-33 In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you." Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end."

Luke 2.48-51 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart.

Matthew 1.23 The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel - which means, "God with us."

Luke 2.19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

When Christmas broke in

When Christmas broke in, they were all doing what they usually did.

The shepherds were with their sheep, as usual. Simeon was waiting patiently, as usual. Anna was at the temple as she usually was. For Mary and Joseph, when the government calls for a census, the usual thing to do is ... well, to go register.

The radical scandal of the Christian gospel, what makes it so beautiful, what makes it Good News, what makes it Christmas, is that God comes to you.

“Do not be afraid,” said the angel, “I bring YOU good tidings of great joy … Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to YOU.”

Or this:

"A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and..." what shall they call him?

"They shall call him Immanuel, God with US."

When Christmas happened to the the shepherds and the innkeepers, to the Annas and the Simeons, they were all doing what they usually did every day.

And Jesus broke in.

It is human nature to think that you have to go somewhere else, and do something else, in order to really make a difference for God. But that is not the evidence of the lives of the supporting cast of the greatest story ever told. They were basically doing what they were doing – and each of their common lives became a story.

Yes, God is great. He is so great He can change what you do for His glory. But God is so great He can be glorified just in what you are doing! That is the real miracle of Christmas.

So thank God we are where we are and doing what we do, because we are in exactly the right place to see how Christ in the world can fill our lives with stories.

These would be the stories of Christmas.


Luke 2.10-11 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.

Matthew 1.23 Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, "God with us."

A Christmas story: An old man with a hunch

The entire supporting cast of the Christmas story were common folk: shepherds, innkeepers, an old man with a hunch.

We know very little about this old man with a hunch: what tribe he was from, what he did for a living. We just know he was righteous and devout, and ...

... and he had a hunch: I’m not going to die until I see the Messiah.

Meet Simeon.

Of course, because Luke has now told us Simeon's story – because the Messiah did come in his lifetime and proved his hunch right – we think of Simeon as a special man.

"Wow," we say, "God spoke to him. How does that work?"

But when his story was playing out in real time, Simeon was a common, unknown person -- just like us.

More and more I am impressed that walking and talking with the Lord Jesus “real time” is often no more than a hunch – a deep, quietly assuring sense, yes, but if you tell anybody about it, they may well say it’s a hunch – it is often no more than a hunch.

Only afterwards, when others tell your story, do they say, “you know, the Lord must have really spoke to him about that.” Or: “Then God led him to do such and such; it was a God-thing.” And once it is reported like that, then everybody says: The Spirit told him to do it! He was LED of the Spirit!

And then we think of the person as special: Oooh he hears from God! And then we say, “Why don’t I hear from God?”

And we don’t realize that some of those “hunches” we get is the still small voice of the Holy Spirit.


Luke 2.25-29 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word...

The stories of Christmas

In the Hellenistic world into which Jesus was born, stories tended to be about the gods and their escapades; or about mythical heroes in epic poems like the Odyssey or Iliad; or about great kings and their conquests.

Stories were not about common people – like an anonymous young couple on their way to register for a census.

A census: what could be more nameless than a census?

They were not on their way to compete in American Idol, which would have at least given them 15 minutes of fame. They were going to register for a census, just so their anonymous lives could be assigned an anonymous number.

It’s just that, along the way, something happened: Jesus came into the world through them, and so we know this couple as Mary and Joseph. And boy did they have a story to tell.

But when all of it was unfolding in real time, Mary and Joseph had no idea they were Mary and Joseph.

This year I am struck by the supporting cast of the Christmas story: the Marys and the Josephs, the shepherds and innkeepers, the Simeons and Annas.

Basically, they were all nobodies until a certain baby was born in a manger.

My point is this: when Jesus Christ comes into the world, anonymous lives are all transformed into living stories. The wonder of the Christmas story is that it made possible many, many stories.

No Christmas: no story at all; just anonymity. With Christmas: many, many stories.

After we hear these stories, we think the characters in them are special people: the Marys and the Josephs, the Simeons and the Annas. Special people.

But on the ground, in real time, as their lives were playing out, they were anonymous nobodies.

Just like us.

It's just that, once Jesus came into the world, their lives became meaningful stories, all magnetized to His-story.


Luke chapter 2

Magazine architecture

That was one of the architectural projects that stirred me to go into academia.

It was nearly 20 years ago. I was in practice for myself at the time, so I took any project I can get.

It was a house addition for a client who pretty much wanted everything. So it was an enormous addition. As I recall, the project doubled the square footage of the house, which was already large.

For example, not only did the kitchen get entirely enlarged, they wanted an outdoor kitchen as well -- next to the customized new pool.

The project took shape over many months and many meetings; endless meetings.

At some point during the process, it dawned on me that
they were not going to use many of the rooms they were building.

The ever-so-carefully designed rooms and spaces -- fretted over again and again -- were more for display than for use.

It was magazine architecture.

Magazine architecture is driven by something like the same drives that make Playboy Magazine popular:

Pictures of idealized objects that never actually exist in real-life. And if those objects
did exist in real-life, to keep them existing in just that way would so warp your sense of what life is about that, well, that it would not be a life worth living.

Magazine architecture:

Shiny expensive new things in polished surfaces in extraordinary rooms arranged ever so nicely. But no one actually inhabits those rooms.

No one ever inhabits those rooms.

Oh for a dwelling that is inhabited!

That was the beginning of my exit out of architectural practice.


John 14.2 In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.


Because of stuff on the news and also in our circle of relations, I've had occasion to muse again about marriage:

I've been thinking about being one flesh.


... a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.

This is one of those actual aspects of God's creation that is often taken as negotiable. It is usually taken as something like a poetic exaggeration.

But this is no poetic exaggeration. It is simply the truth.

It is one of those truths that is not exactly scientifically verifiable. So we think we can alter its validity -- by laws, by social conventions, or even by changing the definition of marriage.

But in actuality, you can't change the truth of it.

I still recall a comment made by a boss of mine some 35 years ago. He described his divorce this way: "It was like ripping flesh ..." He was not a man of any particular faith. In fact he was quite full of himself, and as I recall it, he said "it was like ripping flesh" almost boastingly.

I've never forgotten that through the ups and downs and ins and outs of my own marriage of 31 years.

It took Adam just a few seconds to recognize Eve as "flesh of my flesh, bone of my bones."

It's taken me a lot longer to recognize that Valerie is flesh of my flesh, and bone of my bones.

For me, I see it as a benefit of old age: to appreciate the indescribable truth of one-fleshness with my wife. She's part of me, and vice-versa, in a way that is simply not describable. So I won't waste words trying to describe it.

I'll just say it's worth waiting for; it's worth not giving up on.


Mark 10-6-8
But at the beginning of creation God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,and the two will become one flesh.' So they are no longer two, but one.

On being a former somebody

It seems that to be somebody these days, you've got to be a former somebody. At least that's what it takes to be a talking head on a TV news show.

There they are, yakking away, and at the bottom of the screen we're told what they used to be:

Former attorney general Joe Blow

Former CIA agent Blah Blah

Former Tiger Woods mistress so-and-so (Hey, it could happen)

My question is this: What are these people doing now? They yakkity-yak on TV so often their current job must simply be to be the former somebodies they used to be.

But what are they doing now? What do they look forward to being?


Philippians 3.13-14
I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

The anonymity of everything

Imagine a machine -- a mechanical stenographer -- jotting down everything that ever happens, second by second, on an enormous scroll of paper that keeps rolling.

It records everything: every word I’m saying; every thought you're thinking; every car passing by outside: color, make, down to the mileage and Blue Book value of each; it records the weather this instant in every nook and cranny of the world ...

The machine writes down everything on an enormous endless scroll. Everything. What would you have?

You’d have nothing. At least you’d have nothing that makes sense – because all you'd have is the anonymity of everything.

The anonymity of everything.

Think about it: In order to have any meaning at all -- in order to make a story out of all possible events -- you'd need to have LESS than everything. In fact you need to have very very few of the things on that scroll.

Somewhere on that enormous scroll are a few facts that, if picked out and strung together... Aha! -- Washington crossing the Delaware!

Aha!: There's the young Abe Lincoln living in a cabin in the Illinois woods. What's that? Look! He walks miles to borrow some books; walks miles back with them; reads them by candlelight; walks miles to return them...

Aha: Look! My life and yours ...

You must have less than everything to make what you have meaningful.

I remember half a century ago when my family first came to this country. Both my parents worked to make ends meet. After school, my sister and I would walk back home -- it was an upstairs flat we rented from somebody -- and we'd share one bottle of Coca-Cola as an afternoon treat.

We'd share just one bottle between the two of us.

Pour it into glasses and watch it fizz...

I still remember how meaningful that was. I still remember looking forward to it.

Now I can't tell you the number of soft drinks I have in the refrigerator out in the garage ...


1 Timothy 6.6-8 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.

Psalm 87.5 Indeed, of Zion it will be said, “This one and that one were born in her, and the Most High himself will establish her.”

The mechanical stenographer that records everything was proposed by the philosopher Arthur Danto in Narration and Knowledge (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985) 152.

A question from a student

Dr. Wang:

... I had dinner with a Christian friend of mine and his wife yesterday after class. We got to talking about art and whether it was appropriate for Christians to be engaged in things like modern art. I have always thought it would be wrong for Christians to engage in a form of art that in my mind had been intentionally setup to deny God. My friend argued that it is simply the intentions of the artist that matter, and that if his intention is to glorify God then no form is wrong. I was curious what you thought on this issue?

(signed) __________

* * * * * * * * * *

Dear _________

I think one of the tragedies in the cultural history of America is the abandonment of the arts by Christian artists. This comes from certain theological roots in Protestantism which, I think, amounts to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. You can trace it all the way back to the years during and after the Reformation. John Calvin, for instance, had no time for art, and thought of it as a fleshly pursuit not glorifying to God.

But in my view, Protestant theology needs more clarity on the difference between art-making as idol-making, versus the making of beautiful things to glorify God. Makoto Fujimora is one current Christian artist you might read up on; his work is largely of the “modern art” variety:


I don’t happen to think that non-representational art (for example: Cubist art, or even more recent abstract art) must be anti-God. I know the roots of the "looks" of this kind of art are embedded in turning away from the beauty of the created world to more of an unregenerate preoccupation with fallen human emotions and psyches.

But as a matter of fact I think non-representational art can be useful in representing actual realities of the fallen world in such a way that might stir people towards contemplations about life and eternity. For example, when "modern art" depicts the angst and brokenness of life, that is not necessarily a bad thing if it can be used to bring about a hunger for righteousness.

My rule of thumb is that there is no such thing as Christian art, just Christian artists. If the artist walks with the Lord, what he creates would glorify Him. So in this regard, I am sympathetic to your friend’s opinion. The world needs to see that Christians are not just nay-sayers holed up in their holy huddles. All truth is God’s truth, and that truth needs to find expression in as many ways as possible – which includes in art.

More than ever we live in a culture that is visually driven. So, more than ever we need for those “visuals” to send a message of Christ’s love.

I look forward to more discussion on this and related matters. Please feel free to keep in touch with me about them.

David W


1 Corinthians 10.30-31 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

But what if there are no stories?

There was a stir down the road, so he went out to see what it was all about.

The rabbi was coming to town. He had heard of this Jesus of Nazareth, and there was something about him that attracted him...

He was a short man, and not well liked by the townspeople. He was the tax collector. In those days, Jewish tax collectors were regarded as traitors: they took your money and gave it to the captors, the Romans.

When Jesus walked by, the crowd was so thick the short man couldn't see him. So he climbed atop a tree, to the askance glances of the people around him.

Look at that fool! And they jeered at him.

But Jesus saw him and asked if he could eat at his house ... "This day, salvation has come to your house," Jesus said ... "yes, even you are a son of Abraham..."

* * * * * *

A nobody, a common man, pressed through to Jesus. And a story for the ages emerged.

If we have the eagerness to press through to Jesus, setting what others think aside, there will for sure be stories to tell as well.


Matthew 11.12 From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.

Luke 19.1-9 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small of stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Stories and the will of God

Life is worth living when the clutter of living is organized into stories.

It's not an easy thing to pull off.

A large part of life seems to be just clutter. And to counter the excessive clutter, we're constantly trying to arrange all of it into stories.

If only ... if only I can arrange this mess I'm in into a story, then it would all be worth it...

The trouble is, there are true stories, and then ones that are not so true. You can understand a person's life just by looking at the stories: The ones he tells others about himself. The ones he tells himself about himself. If the two batches are the same, and more or less of equal measure, chances are you have an honest person.

And then there are the stories others see in his life. Those are the most important.

One of the things I notice about the Middle Ages -- that is, the period of time in Western history after the collapse of the Classical world (read: the fall of Rome in the 4th century AD) -- is that lots and lots of stories began to fill culture. The medieval centuries were filled with stories.

Of course the Classical world had its stories too: Homer's Odyssey and Iliad, for example, or all of those escapades of the gods.

But the Middle Ages were filled with stories, not necessarily about mythical heroes, but about common people. Even animals had stories attached to them: the Bestiaries.

The lives of common folk, and common life itself, became organized into stories. Lots and lots of them.

Another term for those times is the Christian Middle Ages. Christian. I think about that in relation to the stories.

Can it be that, with the advent of Christ, and with the infusion of the Christian worldview into culture, the individual life of a common person -- not just the life of this or that king, but the life of a common person -- ascended to the possibility of stories?

That's what I look for in my life. Not willful actions on my part stitching together fictions or scenarios.

But in everything, I want to wait for the story to come.

I wait for the clutter to be organized into genuine stories.


Hebrews 12.2 ... looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith ...

The pixels of the words of Jesus

Everyone stands at a certain distance to the words of Jesus.

If you are way far away, well, they appear to be just words lost in the jungle of infinite other words. They matter little.

If you get closer, they take on a certain pictorial quality. And as I've said before, a picture is worth a thousand words. And these pictures are worth looking at.

When you get really close, amazingly the words of Jesus don't loose focus. In fact new things emerge in the pixels.

I noticed this with several guys the other day; we were reading the end of Luke 18. This is when Jesus tells his disciples they were all going to Jerusalem where he would be abused and mocked, ultimately crucified, only to rise again on the third day. His disciples understood none of it.

(Can you imagine being in Jesus' shoes? What a downer! You tell your closest friends you're about to die -- and they just don't get it. I guess at that point they were still far away from His words).

But get closer. He said something else we all missed the first time. He said they were going up to Jerusalem ...

... and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled."

Wait a minute. Everything will be fulfilled? What about the second coming?


What about the wolf dwelling with the lamb, the calf and the lion together ... and a young child leading them? What about that?


When Jesus went up to Jerusalem, suffered, died, rose on the third day, EVERYTHING the prophets ever said was fulfilled.


Who said time was linear?

When you get really close to Jesus' words, down to the pixels, they say something else.


Luke 18.31-34 Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, "We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilled. He will be handed over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again." The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.

John 19.28-30 After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus had tasted it, he said, "It is finished!" Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Isaiah 11.6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

Revelation 1.8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.

What I want for Christmas

A quick check on Wikipedia reveals that the cliche "A picture is worth a thousand words" has many sources, ranging from Confucius to Napoleon Bonaparte.

That just means people all over the world have noticed that, well, that a single picture can convey an emotion, or an affect, that many many words cannot convey.

Words make sentences.

Pictures convey worlds.

Someone once complained this way about a talkative person: All of that person's words didn't add up to a point of view. That is such devastating criticism. Words, words, words. But no point of view.

A point of view.

Imagine yourself on a precipice, perhaps at the edge of the Grand Canyon. That precipice would be the point.

Now imagine the Grand Canyon in front of you. That would be the view.

A point of view.

May God be gracious and make each of our lives points of view for others.

That is what I want for Christmas.


Matthew 13.34 Jesus always used stories and illustrations ... when speaking to the crowds. In fact, he never spoke to them without using such parables. (NLT)

It was Joseph Epstein who cited the criticism of a person's words not adding up to a point of view. I would be hard pressed to find which Epstein essay it is in.

The future is always poetical

Two hundred years ago, if someone said something about spreading wings and soaring in the sky from coast to coast, we would say he was waxing poetic.

Today we'd just think the guy works for Northwest Airlines -- and gripe about the in-flight service.

When we were young, we waxed poetic about romance and marriage. Oh, to live happily ever after!

Today Valerie just reminds me to take out the garbage.

Here's my point: the future is always poetical. But we have such a nasty way of taking the events that do transpire for granted.

In our "scientific" culture, we have the added misfortune of not taking anything poetic too seriously.

For instance, when we read in the Bible: "Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path," we think:

What a poetic way of putting it! This is great literature! At least it's Amy Grant! ... Now check the Weather Channel ...

When we read: "A virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Immanuel: God with us," we think:

Poetry! But this can't really be; it's scientifically impossible for a virgin to conceive ...

Then there is that passage in the Book of Revelation about the entire economic system of the world collapsing in one hour.

Surely this is poetry!

But during the financial crisis last October -- when many people lost thousands or even millions of dollars overnight -- I thought long and hard about that verse.


Psalm 119.105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.

Matthew 1.23 Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.

Revelation 18.19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

Things that disappear

Here are things that regularly disappear in my life:

Socks. They disappear. At least one sock disappears; the other one hangs around as a lonely soul. We used to have a plastic shopping bag (would you like paper or plastic? -- that kind of bag) hanging in the laundry. It was filled with single socks with lost mates. There's nothing you can do with them. You can't throw one out, because you're always fearful the other one will show up the minute you do.

I'm absolutely certain: when I throw pairs of matched socks into the dryer, only unmatched single ones come out. It's a hopeless mystery.

2. Mechanical pencils. In my line of work, you're constantly underlining stuff in books: Good points, questionable points, references to be cited later. Underlining these items in pen is something like a traffic offense: it's a permanent record. So you underline in pencil.

But the pencils disappear. In my travels to the Right-Aid or the supermarket, I regularly pick up yet another pack of cheap mechanical pencils -- because I know they'll all be gone in a few days. In my current pack I'm down to 2 pencils. I have no idea where the others went.

3. Cell phones. Thankfully, this item doesn't disappear forever; it plays hide-and-seek. Valerie just went through a week without knowing where hers was. She didn't worry about it (which impressed me to no end observing the crisis from afar; she's a woman of peace. At least she frets about different things than I do). Sure enough the phone turned up.

Anyway, whenever I'm looking for my cell phone, I think of The Clapper. Isn't that the thing where you clap your hands and the lights turn on? For all the gadgetry they put into cell phones, why couldn't they put The Clapper in it?

4. My cat YoYo. He, of course, is now gone forever. But he once disappeared for days in hide-and-seek fashion. YoYo was a housebound cat, so we knew he was in the house somewhere. But where? We were about to fly to Ohio, so my neighbor Cori kept searching the house, staying in touch with me on -- ahem -- on my cell phone. So Cori's been into my attic; she's crawled through my crawl space. ("Hey, check if he's sandwiched between the front door and the storm door...!" that sort of thing over the cell phone).

Finally on our way back, the plane lands in Denver and I get a message from a sobbing Cori: He's back! I found him!

How I wish I would get a call like that again!

I miss Yo-Yo terribly. He'd be sitting right here now, with his paw on my arm so I wouldn't be able to type.

I'd give all the mechanical pencils in the world to have you back, YoYo.


James 4.14 ... you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away.

Psalm 90.12 So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.

Joel 2.25 I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten ...

The problem is usually in the connections

When a building collapses, very often the fault is not in the beams, but in how the beams are connected to their supports.

In architecture school they teach you how to "size a beam": How much weight can this 2x10 hold? It depends on how long it is spanning, how close it is spaced to the next 2x10, and also what kind of wood it is. They teach you all of that.

But the real problem is at the connections. You can have all your calculations right about the beam itself. But if you attach it to the wall with just superglue, well, say "hi" to Saint Peter for me.

And when you're dealing not with simple wood frames, but with steel and concrete: with skyscrapers and bridges, the stakes become very, very high.

In life, we all "size up" people. What is this guy made of? What kinds of loads can he take? Can he withstand "dynamic" forces?

These are all good and necessary questions.

But we rarely consider the connections. How is this individual linked to others? What are others doing to support him? Does he have the resources to carry the loads he is expected to carry?

In life, when you take into account the connections, that accounting includes not just the person you are sizing up; it also includes YOU as part of that person's connective network.

This immediately calls for calculations of a more sobering kind. It calls for self-reflection and repentance.

This works in all sorts of life relationships: friendships, marriages, the raising of children, business ventures, church life, expectations for subordinates.

I know of an organization that used to excel at giving its employees titles. When someone was unhappy, they just gave that person a new title. But the organization never really did the hard work of providing the connective tissue to make anything really work.

Giving titles is like calling a beam by another name.

But how do you frame it? What do you frame it in? What connective tissues are there? How can you contribute to that connective network? That's the concern.


Ephesians 2.19-22 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Hebrews 10.24-25 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.