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

    subscribe to
  • RSS

The curious symptom of lawn mowing

Around this time of year all kinds of people in America begin the curious ritual of standing behind a cutting machine and, all through the spring, summer and into the autumn months, they push that machine back and forth and back and forth over a patch of grass again and again and again. And again.

Most do it once a week. Some more than once a week.

No one thinks anything is amiss.

No one thinks to call the psychiatrist.

In fact, just about everybody revels in this practice. Sears, the Home Depot, Ace Hardware, all of those guys, make millions on it, selling a numbing array of cutting machines, along with countless chemicals and other elixirs to put on the grass.

In my town there is a guy that fixes these machines. The outfit is called Gophers. He picks up and delivers, and he is one busy guy.

I must admit I do it too. Now in my fifties, I try to calculate the equivalent of just how many acres of lawn-area I have mowed -- back and forth and back and forth -- over four decades of engaging in this sort of behavior.

I have no idea how many acres, but my mind's eye sees a vast expanse.

So vast.

Vaster than the vast right wing conspiracy. Much vaster.

Ahhh ... those little symptoms of having once been given dominion ...


Genesis 1.28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Deuteronomy 11.24 Every place whereon the soles of your feet shall tread shall be yours: from the wilderness and Lebanon, from the river, the river Euphrates, even unto the uttermost sea shall your coast be.

When one is on journey

Many issues evaporate when one is on journey.

I don't mean going on a journey. Going on a journey is much shorter than what I have in mind. That would be more like going on a trip, as in, "I need to make a short trip to the store; I'll be right back."

I am talking about going on journey. When one is on journey, one sees the great expanse of all that is ahead, but the homing call organizes all desires, and clarifies options from passions.

When one is on journey, one knows what it means to be just passing through. When one is on journey, one cultivates discipline not as an end, but as pruning. When one is on journey, there is no problem with hope.

When one is on journey, the highways are in the heart.

You can measure the health of nations and empires by assessing whether they are on journey. Once upon a time for our great nation, there was the great trek out West; once there was winning great wars; once there was the great Space Race.

Now there are interest groups, change you can believe in, HDTV ... but no more journey.

When nations are on journey, it seems easier to produce individuals also on journey. These days, this is tougher to do.

And so it turns to us for a testimony.


Psalm 84.5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion. (English Standard Version)

Psalm 84.5 Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage. (New International Version)

Hebrews 11.13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Hebrews 12.2 ... looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Luke 21.10,13 Then said he unto them, Nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom ... And it shall turn to you for a testimony.

Jesus' theory of light

Jesus famously said it makes no sense to put a light under a bed. Light must be placed where it can shine. Once you do, everybody entering the house can see it. This is because light is by nature indiscriminate: you can’t make it selectively shine only on certain things.

But then Jesus immediately says something unexpected: “Therefore pay attention to how you hear.”


What does how I hear have anything to do with the power of light to illuminate everything? And that’s not the only strange thing Jesus said about light. He also said light can be dark. It all depends, you see, on the eye.


How can light be dark? And how can the eye, the receiving rather than the transmitting faculty, make light dark?

None of this is logical. Or … we just might be in the presence of a Higher Intelligence.

It seems that Jesus’ theory of light recognizes that, yes, light can illuminate everything in its path. But the one thing in the universe that can decisively sap the power of light is man and his senses.

The manner in which we hear can re-direct light. The manner in which we see can snuff light out, or even worse, make light “dark.” How can we be so powerful?

The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar suggests that the only way to answer this riddle is by what he calls “aesthetic reason in union with theoretical and practical reason.” Balthasar explains that light as Jesus understands it is not light that simply washes the exterior of a form. Rather, light essentially illuminates from the inside of a form.

Balthasar: “The beautiful is above all a form, and the light does not fall on this form from above and from outside, rather it breaks forth from the form’s interior.”

Now, Jesus also says that he is the light of the world (“I am the light of the world”). Jesus’ theory of light is this: He is light.

And so, Balthasar: “Christ is the redeeming illuminator of the mind and revealer of the Father.”

Illuminator of the mind: Therefore pay attention to how you hear.

Revealer of the Father: Therefore pay attention to how you see.

Balthasar: “In view of the nature of the reality involved, the human beholder can be brought to such a perception only by the grace of God, that is, by a participation in this same depth that makes him proportionate to the wholly new dimension of a form-phenomenon which comprises within itself both God and world.”


Luke 8.16-18 No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.

Luke 11.34-35 Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness. Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness.

John 8.12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, "The Light of Faith" in The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol 1, Ignatius Press/Crossroads, 1982, 148-154.

The adornment of doctrines and worlds

The language of the New Testament does not recognize our concept of “to decorate.”

In our culture “to decorate,” while a desirable activity at times, is regarded as essentially unnecessary. For example, when it comes to decorating your house, having the house is the essential thing. Decorating it, well, the choices are unlimited. Go to the Home Depot; leaf through catalogues; make it look southwest.

(When I was in architectural practice in Philadelphia, I had one client tell me: “I want the living room to look southwest; southwest!” I can still hear her scratchy voice; she was insistent. So we thought of ways to make the drywall corners rounded to look like adobe…).

Decoration, then, is the cosmetics externally applied to something. Decoration is the costume something is dressed up in. And costumes are easily changeable.

The Greek New Testament – which is to say, the common language of the Hellenistic world in which Jesus lived and during which a few writings by a few obscure people turned out to be the inspired word of God – the Greek New Testament does not recognize this idea of “to decorate.”

It does have the word “to adorn,” κοσμέω, which occurs ten times.

And yesterday one of those times stopped me in my tracks. It is in a comment Paul made in his letter to Titus. It is in reference to servants: they are to be submissive, well-pleasing, not argumentative, in everything they are to “ … adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.”

So doctrine is to be adorned. Isn’t this decoration? Not exactly.

This word for adornment goes hand-in-hand with the word for “world,” κόσμος, which occurs 184 times in the New Testament, specifically when the intention is to describe a well-ordered state of affairs populated by inhabitants.

The lesson is this: doctrine rightly understood is doctrine lived out visibly in a well-ordered life and, beyond that, in a well-ordered world. Anything less than this is merely religious principle. Too many times we get the principles right, but what we see, what our senses take in, what we experience – in other people, in church practices, and if we really look hard, in ourselves – is the mess of unadorned doctrine. Which is the same as doctrine misunderstood, misapplied, and missing the whole point about being a servant of the Creator God.


Titus 2.9-10 Servants are to be submissive to their own masters in everything; they are to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith, so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.

The nine other times “to adorn” occurs: Matthew 12.44; Matthew 23.29; Matthew 25.7; Luke 11.25; Luke 21.5; 1 Timothy 2.9; Titus 2.10; 1 Peter 3.5; Revelation 21.2; Revelation 21.19.

κοσμέω (kosméō): Strong’s number 2885: to put in proper order, i.e. decorate (literally or figuratively); specially, to snuff (a wick).

κόσμος (kósmos): Strong’s number 2889: orderly arrangement, i.e. decoration; by implication, the world (in a wide or narrow sense, including its inhabitants, literally or figuratively (morally)).

The hidden life of cathedrals and blogs

I told my wife I was up late last night writing my post on Logos2Go.

She said: "What, for all six of your readers?"

She is such a sweetheart. Once I was in Tibet and I emailed a poem I had composed for her under some sort of inspiration (the altitude in Tibet is very high). A day later I eagerly made my way back to the tent where the internet cafe was located, looking forward to a return email from my love. And yippee there it was!: "Glad to hear you are okay. As for that other stuff, write it in plain English..."

She is such a sweetheart. But I digress all in good fun ... ....

... "What, for all six of your readers?"

This threw me into deep reflection, as I am wont to do. My mind turned to the medieval cathedrals: to Notre Dame, Amiens, Reims, Chartres, Beauvais. Magnificent constructions of the human heart! The cathedrals were probably the high-water mark of Western architecture; a perfect union of immaterial ideals with material stone.

The medieval worldview regarded a cathedral as a Book of the Universe both symbolically and socially. Socially: the illiterate learned the lessons of the institutionalized Church through the stories carved into the stone.

But there are some carvings in niches and between walls that cannot be seen. Yet they are there. Removed from the eyes of men, they were carved for the eyes of God.

We have lost that love for a hidden life of communion, a secret life where contentment is found when one simply spends time with God behind shut doors. We live in a culture of instant display; we live in a look-at-me culture. Success is measured by hits.

Sure I'd like more hits on Logos2Go; at least seven of them. But I also carve for other Eyes, and as I send each one of these into the niches of cyberspace, I offer it to Him.


Psalm 139.15
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth …

Psalm 11.4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them.

Isaiah 49.5 And now the Lord says-- he who formed me in the womb to be his servant to bring Jacob back to him and gather Israel to himself, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord and my God has been my strength ...

Matthew 6.6 But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who [is] in the secret [place]; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.

Round pegs and square holes

Round pegs and square holes are just the extremes. Some pegs are no-so-round. Some holes are not-so-square. Many pegs and holes don't even look like round things and square things. They come (pegs and holes) in all different sizes and shapes.

So, "round pegs and square holes" is just a shorthand way to put the problem. But don't let the simple little ditty fool you. This is one BIG and complicated problem.

Because all of life in this fallen world is trying to fit our pegs, the sizes and shapes of which we don't fully know, into the right holes, the sizes and shapes of which we can't fully tell.

Oh, of course we get inklings. We do have some sense about ourselves. And some holes out there seem like better fits than others. But ultimately those holes are just labels. It's not like they see you coming and, boom, organically transform to fit your shape. Those holes don't say, "Oh, you want to be a doctor! Well let's just customize one hole that's a precise fit for you!"

Forget about it.

For example, I know several doctors. "Doctor" is the name of a hole. But the actual doctors I know (the pegs), are all different sizes and shapes of personality and soul. I think some of them really don't much like their jobs, I mean, their holes. Oh, society says "Man, that guy is a doctor! He must be happy; look at all the respect he gets and the money he makes." Well, some are happier than others. Others can't wait 'til retirement. This is what I suspect. (Do you ever notice how quickly conversations with doctors turn to musings about retirement?).

As for me, all my life I wanted to be a professor. Now I is one.

But my heart is restless, until it rests in You.

One reason I know there is a God is how much we all have this idea of a perfect fit. This idea came from somewhere. There is something about me, the way that I am so fearfully and wonderfully made, that just can't seem to find the right hole in this world. And I look around and I see that's true for everybody.

Everyone is making do in the hole he or she ended up in. And there, they look through a glass dimly.

But one day we will know in full, even as we have been fully known. And then we will know joy unspeakable and full of glory.


Augustine, Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5)"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."

Psalm 139.14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well.

1 Corinthians 13.12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

1 Peter 1.8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy inexpressible and filled with glory...

Matthew 4.19 Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men."

John 21.21-22 Peter, seeing him (John), said to Jesus, "But Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me."

artifacts and revelatory facts

This is the Theatre of Dionysius. When Paul gave his famous sermon on Mars Hill in Athens, he was standing not far from this site.

It makes heart and mind and spirit wonder. Artifacts endure in their way. Revelatory facts endure in theirs.

Revelation is given in the midst of visceral stone and flesh and heat and grime, in the midst of brute power and inexpressible suffering, in the midst of the heights of culture and the depths of depravity.

Here is one artifact in the state that it is in, in all of its blemished beauty.

Here is the revelatory fact in the state that it is in, from the One who everyday makes all things new:


Acts 17.24-31
… "The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, "nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. "And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, "that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, "for 'In him we live and move and have our being' as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring.' "Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. "The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, "because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."

Physical light and Moral light

Physical light -- the light from the sun -- is also moral light.

Our scientific way of seeing nature tells us this seems wrong. How can physical light be moral? Light is comprised of particle-waves. Physical matter, even if that matter is the particle-waves of physical light, is simply "brute mass." And it is at our disposal to manipulate for our comfort.

As for morality, it has no connection to brute physicality (we say). Morals have no weight to them; they have no physical dimensions, no girth.

And so we segregate the physical world, answerable to physical laws, from the moral realm, answerable to ... what?

Past cultures did not make this separation. When the medieval person looked up at the sky, he saw the vault of a vast and sublime cathedral designed and built by God.

In Imperial China, Confucianism taught that the moral stability of society depended upon all of its members cultivating social behaviors patterned after nature.

Certainly the Psalmist did not separate physical nature from moral uprightness: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork." We read this and we have no doubt that the Psalmist was simply "waxing poetic." What he says (we say) has no "literal meaning"; it is just a word picture.

Indeed it is a word picture. But I am not sure at all that a word picture is all the Psalmist had in mind. When he looked at the heavens, he saw the glory of God. When he looked at the firmament, he saw the handiwork of God.

When we look at the heavens all we see are atoms, particle-waves, brute mass. It is deeply impoverishing, and we don't even know it. We are so advanced.

Jesus says: I am the light of the world.

Aha, we say, now Jesus is waxing poetic. Surely Jesus means something like he can be a moral compass. Surely he did not mean that he is the light -- the physical light -- of the world?!?

Work with me now.

It also says that Jesus is the Word. It also says that all things are held together by this Word. Not just moral things. Not just spiritual things. ALL things -- which means also physical things -- are held together by the Word of his power.

Work with me now:

Jesus says: I am the light of the world ...

Today is a sunny April day. In my part of the world, the rolling fields of farmland glisten and dance in the light of the world as far as the eye can see.

Am I a pantheist? Of course not! Am I a scientist? Well, I know less than one, but I may be more than one.


Psalm 19.1 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.

John 8.19 Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life."

John 1.1-4 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.

Hebrews 1.1-3 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power

Primary and secondary colors

In painting, the primary colors are red, yellow and blue. From these pigments all other colors can be derived.

I have been thinking of the Apostles as primary colors from which other secondary colors can be derived. The three that most often come to mind are Peter, Paul and John.

Of course I do not mean color in racial or ethnic terms. I mean their personalities. As God transformed them over the course of their lives, their personalities not only stayed intact, their personalities came into their own.

This is one proof that God is the Creator God. Unlike cultic religion that takes away human identity by turning followers into interchangeable zombies, when a person meets Jesus Christ, he comes into his own according to a design that predated his birth. This does not mean rough edges aren’t chopped off; for example, it is instructive to consider how each of these three men was transformed as they matured.

To the end of his life Peter did not have much tact; he just had more grace. In his senior years he was convinced that the word of the prophets about Jesus had been made “more sure” – this from the man who denied his Lord during the frenetic hours leading up to the crucifixion.

When we first meet Paul, he was Saul, and he was an intellectual zealot who was responsible for the death of Christians. This man went on to write the Epistle to the Romans, without doubt one of the most intellectually rigorous books of Scripture, if not of all of intellectual history. From this book we know that a man is justified by the faith of Christ, and not by his own works. (Paul: you dodged a bullet there).

Now, John was an introvert, and remained one until the end. Not much out of him in the earlier years. Not a world traveler and world changer like Paul. Not a pushy get-it-done worker like Peter. But towards the end of the first century, we have this: “That which we have heard, and seen, and handled … of the Word of Life … this we declare to you so that our joy may be complete.”

To the very end, John was all about the feel of things, which is to say, he was all about the aesthetics of the Christian faith. I do value justification by faith. But these days, I am mostly concerned with the color of it in my life.


2 Peter 1.19 And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Matthew 26. 73-75 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, "Certainly you too are one of them, for your accent betrays you." Then he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, "I do not know the man." And immediately the rooster crowed. And Peter remembered the saying of Jesus, "Before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." And he went out and wept bitterly.

Acts 7.58 Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.

Galatians 2.16 … yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in (of) Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in (of) Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

(Note: the Greek has “by faith OF Jesus Christ” not by faith in Jesus Christ… διὰ πίστεως Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ -- DW)

1 John 1:1-4 We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us - we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

An aesthetics of holiness in everyday looks

My friend Dan P. pointed this passage out from the second century AD. It is in a letter Ignatius, an early Church Father who lived in Antioch in the first century, wrote to Polycarp, a contemporary of his who lived in Smyrna:

“The reason you have a body as well as a soul is that you may win the favor of the visible world.”

The commentator at this point says this: “The idea would seem to be that having a body leads one to seek a proper harmony with all persons and things belonging to the material world …”

Some Christians today emphasize doctrine to such a degree that it seems all you need is to get the principles right. Others are so relaxed in our laissez-faire culture that it’s all about casual: blue jeans and sneakers; Jumbo-trons in big-box churches with the bowling alleys and latte stands.

One hears very little about comportment in the world. About dress and propriety; about moderation in matters of visible conduct and demeanor – as in “let your moderation be known unto all men.”

This requires a certain appearance, or shall I say a certain aesthetics of holiness in everyday looks.

Peter indeed wrote about avoiding outward adornments like braided hair or gold jewelry. But he was not talking about invisibility. Quite to the contrary, the whole point of avoiding a certain kind of look was that another kind of look might be evident: “… seeing the purity and reverence of your lives.”


Ignatius of Antioch, To Polycarp 2.2, in Cyril C. Richardson (ed.), Early Church Fathers (New York: Collier Books, 1970), 118.

Philippians 4.5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord [is] at hand.

1 Peter 3.2 … when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.

Are you the one, or should we look for another?

We looked around the room last night. One had gone through her father's passing, but she was now with us again full of her quiet and thoughtful presence. One had just gone through three surgeries for cancer and now, cancer free, remains her upbeat self.

One couple – understandably not with us last night -- had just returned, the night before from picking up their adopted infant from faraway. Two weeks ago to the night, we were praying about a closer adoption, but it was filled with concerns. Some 36 hours later that same weekend, this adoption came through, as it were, out of the blue many states away.

One had gone through two years of being unable to see clearly; last night I saw her for the first time with her shades off. (But we still had to dim the lights; it added atmosphere to our gathering).

Then my neighbor recounted the comfort of how, after her husband passed, new neighbors moved in. She had never been in this house for the past ten years; now this house was like home for her … “I even have my own key,” she said …

… which prompted me to recount how we moved here. Just prior to our move, we were on the verge of adding on to our previous home. The day we were to write the check for the down payment, our builder did not show. He had never been late for a meeting. When he finally arrived, he said he had to pull off the road to pray: somehow he just did not feel right about going through with it… So that addition was never built. A few months later we were in this home, unsought for by us.

Another – also understandably not with us – was at home packing because, today, he flies off with his son (the son’s first time) on a medical mission.

With another one I had exchanged letters this week, he thanking me for being a role model; me thanking him for the immense practical help he had been to me.

Then we began our Bible study. The theme had to do with having a righteousness exceeding the righteousness of the Pharisees. We shook our heads. Just how can this be possible? We all agreed it was not. Unless there is a Life in us, filled with the righteousness of Another, that can actually live through us, and powerfully change not only circumstances on the outside, but clean things on the inside as well.


Luke 7.19, 22-23 (And John) calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" … And he answered them, "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. "And blessed is the one who is not offended by me."

Matthew 5.20 "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 23.25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.

Colossians 2.19-23 … holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations-- "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)--according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

John Piper, "Clean the Inside of the Cup," in What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006), 196-204.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which ...

While cleaning my office today I came across a box of old pastels. It stirred something in me, and I was reminded that I had not drawn something I’d been looking for the opportunity to draw.

The box of pastels, the time of day, and the activation of the scene within me converged. The opportunity presented itself.

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which …


Matthew 13.44 … the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field …

How prophecy works in reverse

Imagine life in fast-forward: Everything and everyone here and there and here and there, all in herky-jerky motions. And then all of it goes away.

All of it goes away.

Woke up later than usual. Walked out in pajamas to get the paper. Tax protests. Thirty undergraduates declare for the draft. Griffey hits 400th (he was here, then he was there, now he’s here). New and used trucks for sale. One of these days … me in a new truck! Somehow I’ll rationalize it. Then it gets old. Surf the web. Editorial: Tax protests mean nothing. Okay they mean nothing. What’s the reading for today?

He saw dead bones scattered. Prophesy to them the word of the Lord.

He heard a great rattling as bones and sinews came together. Prophesy breath into them.

He saw them rise and live, standing as a vast multitude. Prophesy the spirit into them.

Graves will open (not shut; they will open). And the living will be brought into their own land.

It was all in fast-forward. But it was fast-forward in reverse.

The years gone; the lives gone; all exciting experiences gone: been-there-done-that. Home runs and new trucks gone. Everything the locust has eaten. All sorts of locusts. Gone.

All of it restored back, and not quietly but with a great rattling. With graves opened. With spirit. With life. And on our own land to boot. True prophecy works in reverse.


John 15.16 You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last …

Joel 2.25 So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, The crawling locust, The consuming locust, And the chewing locust, My great army which I sent among you.

Ezekiel 37:1-14 The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all round them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry. He said to me, "Mortal, can these bones live?" I answered, "O Lord GOD, you know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. I will lay sinews on you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the LORD." So I prophesied as I had been commanded; and as I prophesied, suddenly there was a noise, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, "Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, mortal, and say to the breath: Thus says the Lord GOD: Come
from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live." I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood on their feet, a vast multitude. Then he said to me, "Mortal, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, 'Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are cut off completely.' Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: I am going to open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you back to the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and bring you up from your graves, O my people. I will put my spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you on your own soil; then you shall know that I, the LORD, have spoken and will act, says the LORD."

The incomplete apologies of self-judgment

Beginning students of pencil drawing tend to go over their lines repeatedly so that the result is not a composition of confident strokes, but a tentative hatching of incomplete apologies. Often many drawings are started but not finished, because after some tentative hatching, they are abandoned. And so it is common for student sketchbooks to be filled with pages of some lines here, some hatches there.

They are sketchbooks filled with incomplete apologies.

While battling the fear of the white paper in front of them, student sketchers also battle the voice of self-criticism inside of them.

I tell a student once pencil meets paper, do not lift your hand until the line reaches its natural expiration, no matter what, even if everyt
hing in you is saying the line is missing the mark. Once a drawing is started do not abandon it until the story is told, no matter what, even if you are doubtful about its worth at the time.

With drawings, sometimes it is more than just you that is telling the story. Each drawing is a life; the sketcher’s job is to give it a chance to grow and come into its own.

Some of my most treasure
d drawings are ones I tenaciously finished, filled with loathing about them while in process. I wanted to apologize at the time; to say I’m sorry I started you; to flip the page; to go do something else so I don’t have to confront my incompetence.

For example, I mightily doubted this drawing of Redcliff Falls at Glacier National Park as the lines were finding their way. Now I look at it, and its righteousness is in the playing out of its story, and to have been allowed to tell it.

These days I have had my usual load of public speaking: in front of students; in front of congregations; in front of interactive TV; in leading Bible studies. With each, there are lines I wish I could have redrawn. How I wish I could have redrawn some of those lines.

But the Spirit tells me to not go for the solace of incomplete apologies. Be faithful to finish the lines the Artist is drawing. It is More than just you doing the drawing.

In humility, finish the lines. Fill the sketchbook with completions … even though you have doubts in the process. Do not pronounce judgment before the time. In humility, follow through.

Do not stifle life you don’t fully understand with self judgments you don’t fully grasp.


1 Corinthians 4.1-5 This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

How to have a cause without being a jerk

“A man without a cause” is normally not something you or I would want to be called. This implies having a cause is desirable. Why?

I mean, I don’t have a Mercedes, so I am “A man without a Mercedes.” I am also “A man without two mortgages.” But these are good things to be without, at least in my mind. But “a man without a cause?” Hey, watch who you’re saying that to…

What is a cause? And why is it so desirable to have one?

At dictionary.com, I find this: “a principle, ideal, goal, or movement to which a person or group is dedicated: (e.g.): the Socialist cause; the human rights cause.”

This suggests to me that having a cause means I am a promoter of its contents (I am appreciating what comes with the word “dedicated”). It also suggests that by being part of such a dedicated group, I am necessarily divided from folks not in that group. So the more causes I have, the more divided I am from others. And this is a good thing?

That’s one conundrum. Here’s another:

It strikes me that some people can’t carry on a conversation without making it essentially a cause-promotion sort of thing. And this also is well-regarded in our culture. I once attended an architect’s conference where all the discussions were led by a person designated for the entire (long) weekend as the provocateur -- somehow it sounds better in French. The guy was a real jerk.

I don’t want to be divided from more and more groups. And I don’t want to be a jerk.

But I also don’t want to be a man without a cause.

Hmmm, what to do…?


1 Corinthians 2.2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 9.19-22 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those under the law, as under the law, that I might win those under the law; to those without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

Belt and suspenders true

Poetry has both a good side and a bad side. The good side is that it can say a lot of things prose cannot say. The bad side is that it can say a lot of things prose cannot say.

For example, almost everybody would agree that this is a poetic statement: “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” The passage is part of an extended blessing Moses gave to the twelve tribes of Israel. These Hebrew blessings are clearly poetic, and many of our English translations print them not as prose but as verse (NIV, NASB, even my copy of the Darby).

Here is the problem. In our scientific, post-Cartesian worldview, we have a tendency to think of prose as just a little closer to “the truth” than poetry is. “The truth,” on this view, is what can be measured, banked, or captured by formulas (or sentences) that have predictive value. For all of these, prose is better at conveying “the truth.”

As for poetry, well, poetry makes you feel good. It is floral. It is art and not science. It is aesthetic rather than scientific. And ever since the Enlightenment, aesthetic considerations are secondary, not primary, factors.

Poetry may add spice to life. But the life itself … well, that takes prose! This is the bad side to poetry – as we regard it through our scientific way of defining “truth.”

And so when the Scripture says “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms,” it has no more than an aesthetic affect on us – aesthetics here meant in its degraded sense of things that are non-essential, things that are merely decorative.

The verse becomes wallpaper (or a screen saver) to make you feel good when you want to be made to feel good. Its actual force is erased.

What is its actual force? Here it is, let me put it in prose:

1. Our eternal refuge is God himself.
2. Even if that fails, which it won’t, you still have his everlasting arms to both protect you and to embrace you.

The statement is not only true, it is doubly true. It is belt and suspenders true. And it is very beautifully stated.


Deuteronomy 33.27 The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

On resurrection morning, he was mistaken for a gardener

On resurrection morning, he was mistaken for a gardener.

Even that is good news enough.

Would that all of us be mistaken for gardeners.


John 20.1, 14-16 (1) Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw the stone had been removed from the entrance … (14-16) … she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said, “Mary …”

Genesis 2.15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.

1 Corinthians 15.47-49 Adam, the first man, was made from the dust of the earth, while Christ, the second man, came from heaven. Every human being has an earthly body just like Adam's, but our heavenly bodies will be just like Christ's. Just as we are now like Adam, the man of the earth, so we will someday be like Christ, the man from heaven.

The aesthetics of the REST of the story

In the book of Hebrews, the rest promised to the followers of Jesus is linked to the same rest God took after he created the heavens and the earth.

That is enough to stop us in our tracks – well, it should be enough to stop us in our tracks if we would only pause a minute from trying to be good Christians. (What am I going to wear for Easter Sunday...?).

Look at it again: The rest in Jesus is the same rest God took after he created the heavens and the earth.

That would be nature. Nature writ large. The heavens and the earth. The cosmos.

And God, who needs no rest (because that is what systematic theology, the first part, which is theo-logy proper, tells us: God needs no rest because he is omnipotent; he changes not, which means he does not tire, which means he needs no rest – look it up in your Louis Berkhof)… and God, who needs no rest, RESTED.

What a rest it must have been! What a rest it is. What does it mean?

I have no idea. But it is a rest that includes the wonder and the beauty of the created and awe-some universe. Somehow, in Christ, man is so united, or re-united, with all of this awe-some-ness, that the rest we have in the Second Adam is the same rest that God had when he created it all.

This is much bigger than doctrines written with words. At least it is a picture, which is worth a thousand words. The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork…

We don’t know anything as we ought to know it. But one day we will know even as we have been known.


Hebrews 4.1, 4, 14 (1) Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it… (4) For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works” … (14-16) Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession…

Genesis 2.2-3 And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

Psalm 19.1-3 The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork. Day unto day utters speech, and night unto night reveals knowledge. There is no speech nor language where their voice is not heard.

1 Corinthians 13.12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.

Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmanns, 1932)

Of resurrection and pickup trucks

Paul met him as a blinding light on the road to Damascus. And for the rest of his life, “Paul overwhelms us because he himself had been overwhelmed.”

We don’t know when John met Jesus, but almost for sure he was the one who reclined closest to Jesus at the last supper. He was the one “whom Jesus loved.” And for the rest of his life, John wrote about the love of God. John was such an introvert; and God used him the way he was.

And Peter, what about him? Well, Peter was a dynamo like Paul, but a different kind of dynamo. Let’s call Peter more of a blue-collar dynamo. If the man Jesus were to have come into our culture, the Peter equivalent would probably not be a fisherman. He would be a small general contractor.

A guy with a truck; maybe a backhoe.

A guy who can round up a coupla other guys to do a job. As in: “the heck with this standin’ around, I’m gonna get some work done.” And the others said, “We’ll go with you.”

And all through his life, Peter was more and more able to say, “You know guys, all this stuff we’ve been readin'; it wasn’t for the guys that wrote it, it’s for us, so let’s get to work! "

The resurrection of Jesus Christ was a historic event. How the power of that resurrection is lived out in each of us, well, that is an aesthetic matter. For each of us there’s feel to that power that is uniquely crafted for you and me … and for Christ in us the hope of glory.


Acts 9.3-6 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord,” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

John 13.23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was reclining at table close to Jesus… see also John 19.26 20.2, 21.7, 21.20 (“the one whom Jesus loved”)

John 21.3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

1 Peter 1.10-13 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours made careful search and inquiry, inquiring about the person or time that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated, when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the subsequent glory. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things that have now been announced to you through those who brought you good news by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things into which angels long to look! Therefore prepare your minds for action …

Colossians 1.27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The quote about Paul comes from Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord: A Theological Aesthetics, vol 1. San Francisco/New York: St. Ignatius/Crossroads, 232. In this context Bathasar also makes reference to John has having met Jesus when the Lord invited two disciples to “come and see” where he lived (John 1.39). It is not clear to me that this passage refers to John the writer of the fourth Gospel; I think Bathasar was mistaken here.

Signing urinals versus crying Jeremiahs

Once upon a time, there were works of art. Now we only have theories about what works of art are. These theories themselves are disguised as works of art.

For example, Marcel Duchamp famously signed a urinal and, by signing it, made that urinal a work of art. Duchamp’s action is actually a commentary about what art is. He is suggesting that by someone signing something mundane, by institutions agreeing to display it as something artistic, by publications willing to comment on this phenomena, by academicians and others with time on their hands (not to mention lattes) discussing why this is “art” -- by all of these things going on around a urinal with a signature on it, that urinal has art-status conferred upon it. So it is a work of art.

But actually the urinal is a commentary -- a theory – about what makes an object an object of art. The urinal is an object-lesson about what art is. The problem is that object-lessons should be about the actual objects; they shouldn’t be the objects themselves.

Fast forward to Jeremiah. (Or fast backward to Jeremiah). In chapter 20, we find him depressively wailing away as he usually does. But in chapter 20 he out-depresses even himself. Everybody hates him! He must speak God’s word nevertheless! If not, the word in him is “like a burning fire shut up in my bones!” He hates being like this!

Then he really gets out of hand. He curses the day he was born! His mother should not be blessed! And the man who brought the news of his birth to his father should have killed his mother instead, so that her womb could have been his grave!

But in the middle of all this: “Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers …”

This morning I read this in the comfort of my pajamas – with a cup of coffee in my hands – and find the whole thing strange. I need to write a commentary on it. I need to say something really deep and profound about why Jeremiah is acting this way. Then I would have done my Christian duty for the day.

Then it comes: Jeremiah is the work of art. What I write about him is not.

The problem with Christianity in an age of comfort is this: commentaries about Christian experience are not themselves Christian experience. And there are just too many commentaries.


Jeremiah 20:7-11 (12-13) 14-18 [7] O LORD, you have enticed me, and I was enticed; you have overpowered me, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughing-stock all day long; everyone mocks me. [8] For whenever I speak, I must cry out, I must shout, "Violence and destruction!" For the word of the LORD has become for me a reproach and derision all day long. [9] If I say, "I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name", then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot. [10] For I hear man whispering: "Terror is all around! Denounce him! Let us denounce him!" All my close friends are watching for me to stumble. "Perhaps he can be enticed, and we can prevail against him, and take our revenge on him." [11] But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior; therefore my persecutors will stumble, and they will not prevail. They will be greatly shamed, for they will not succeed. Their eternal dishonor will never be forgotten. [12] O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous, you see the heart and the mind; let me see your retribution upon them, for to you I have committed my cause … [13] Sing to the LORD; praise the LORD! For he has delivered the life of the needy from the hands of evildoers. [14] Cursed be the day on which I was born! The day when my mother bore me, let it not be blessed! [15] Cursed be the man who brought the
news to my father, saying, "A child is born to you, a son", making him very glad. [16] Let that man be like the cities that the LORD overthrew without pity; let him hear a cry in the morning and an alarm at noon, [17] because he did not kill me in the womb; so my mother would have been my grave, and her womb for ever great. [18] Why did I come forth from the womb to see toil and sorrow, and spend my days in shame?

Art and the missionary in my attic

Many years ago a devout missionary couple lived upstairs in my attic. They were elderly and retired. I was young and impressionable.

Being retired, one day I was concerned that Mr. O. have things to do. So I ventured upstairs and suggested that he take up painting again, since before he left for the mission field as a young man, he had trained to be an artist.

I have never forgotten his response. He couldn’t do that, he said, because he had given art up for the cross. The idea was that art was “of the flesh,” and ought not to occupy a life of spiritual service.

Being young, not to mention being in the arts, it made a deep impression.

Roger Lundin has pointed out that some chief tenets of Protestant theology, a theology that affirms God as Creator, also unwittingly sap an ability to appreciate what He has created. If the way to God is sola fide (by faith alone) and sola gratia (by grace alone), then going to Him via natura (by way of nature) is something of an option. Materiality itself becomes potentially burdensome more than it can become potentially beautiful.

And to work creatively with material, as artists do … well, true spirituality calls us to give that up.

Now I am solely subscribed to sola gratia and sola fide (and you can add the other three sola as well). But I think Mr. O. was off base.


Genesis 1.31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

1 Corinthians 6.12 All things are lawful for me," but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything.

1 Corinthians 7.29-31 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

1 Corinthians 10.31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

Roger Lundin, "The Beauty of Belief" in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts, edited by Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands and Roger Lundin, (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2007), 186.

Easter is a participatory sport

Well, I’m giving the Easter sermon at church this Sunday, and this is what I'm planning to open with (please pray for me):

Old man Peter was about to pass away, and he was concerned that the truth about Jesus Christ would always be remembered. This was the man, of course, who denied Jesus during those frenetic hours leading up to the crucifixion. But in the years since the resurrection, Peter gradually came to see that the word of the prophets about Jesus the Messiah had been made more certain -- so much so that he was looking forward to another arising:

Because of the word made more certain, says Peter, we can be a light in a still dark world – until the morning star arises in our hearts.

What does the rising of the morning star mean, Peter? Where did a fisherman like you get this kind of poetry? I think it was just to help his old friend Peter out that Jesus in glory dispatched an angel to say, in his last recorded utterance in the Bible, “I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright morning star ...”

Peter understood it: Yes Jesus rose from the dead to begin things. But that only proves he will return again, as the morning star, to end things. In the interim, his followers are to affirm the power of his resurrection again and again through time, so that the words of the prophets in each generation are made more certain.

As we commemorate Jesus’ resurrection, let’s not only celebrate it as a historical event. Because the resurrection is a historical event, the call is upon us to participate in it, to follow through with living in the power of resurrection life today, and in doing so to make the words of the prophets more certain.

Celebrating Easter is not observational; it is participatory. And this is what Peter meant when he said that we are to be participants in his divine nature.


1 Peter 1.3 … In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

2 Peter 1.4 … he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature

2 Peter 1.15 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.

2 Peter 1.19 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

Revelation 22.16 I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.

Be all that you can be

When we finally achieve all that we can be, we will not be like the poor slobs we are now. We’ll really be somebody. And in our minds eye, that achievement usually cannot happen in our present circumstances. In fact, our present circumstances are the Big Bad Reason why we can’t be all that we can be.

No, something big has to happen -- like joining the army or something. Then I can jump out of helicopters, scale mountains, shoot big guns, do anything other than what I’m doing now. Then I can be all that I can be. But here is the Apostle Paul:

If you serve, then serve; If you teach, then teach; If you are to encourage, then encourage; If you are to give to others, then give to others; If you are to lead, then really lead …

Well, Paul, this is no help at all. I am a great teacher, you see, but I can never be all that I can be in these crappy circumstances, with these morons I’m stuck with. Haven’t you ever heard the saying, Paul, that it’s tough to fly with the eagles when you’re stuck with a bunch of turkeys?

In context Paul is speaking of the highest form of sacrifice: laying one’s own body on the altar as a sacrifice to God. The imagery comes from the Old Testament, when endless sacrifices were offered just to achieve a semblance of right standing before a Holy God.

But also in context Paul is speaking about how Christ’s sacrifice had voided the need for these ineffective sacrifices. Instead of a nation of disparate people, Christ’s sacrifice had resulted in one body energized by the Holy Spirit. In this body, each member truly comes into his or her own. There is nothing left other than to be the redeemed person one was made to be.

So for those of us in this Body, today is the day and here is the place: if you are to serve, serve; if you are to encourage, make sure you do it. If you are to give, then give.

Signing off now; I have to teach today, and I mean to do it well.


Romans 12.6-9 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully. Love must be sincere.

The institutional theory of art and degree inflation

The institutional theory of art says that any object can be regarded as art so long as it has art-status “conferred” upon it by recognized persons or practices of “the Artworld.” For example, when the artist Marcel Duchamp signs a urinal, presto, it is art. But when I sign a urinal, what we have is simply scribble on a urinal, along with possible concerns about my sanity from family members.

The institutional theory of art is powerful because it is one manifestation of a much more pervasive way all of reality is viewed these days. That way is called structuralism, which is now so taken-for-granted it is old news, having been replaced by newer-fangled notions such as post-structuralism, deconstruction, and the like.

But structuralism remains the germinating factor in shaping outlooks in the humanities; it acts in much the same way that evolution has shaped thinking in the biological sciences. In both, meaning (or life) comes exclusively from within a system, autonomously, without anything outside of that system having any say. As a matter of fact, for both evolution and structuralism, there is no such thing as an “outside.” All meaning is generated from the inside because the inside is all there is -- and that meaning is essentially arbitrary.

All through the history of ideas in the West, primary meaning resided in objects themselves. With structuralism, primary meaning shifts to the relationships between objects. The objects themselves have no value, no meaning. Hence, the art value of the signed urinal resides in the conferral of art value upon it by Duchamp, or the Museum of Modern Art, or art critics, and the like. By itself, the urinal is just a urinal, with no art value.

The opening words of the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” are unacceptable both to structuralism as well as to evolution. That they are unacceptable to evolution is quite clear, because evolutionary theory recognizes no external Creator. They are also unacceptable to structuralism, because structuralism recognizes no external Author of meaning.

There are many benefits to these theories that pretend to no outside sources of authority. Consider degree inflation. In my years in academia, I’ve noticed the invention of degrees that are quite mysterious. These degrees usually have no clear curricula. The courses to have no clear syllabi. There are no clear bases of knowledge. There are no definitive measures for who can be accepted into these programs (usually all comers are accepted). But players in the university system have mutually winked at each other. And a degree will be conferred, no doubt about it.

These degrees are genuine works of art.


Genesis 1.1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…

George Dickie, Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis, Cornell University Press, 1974, 19-52.

How God plays hide-and-go-seek

Here is how he does it:


Jeremiah 29.13-14 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the LORD.

What pine forests and Wal-marts tell us

Although snow is still on the ground here, the promise of spring is once again about to be fulfilled. One’s mind turns to matters of cultivation.

In my philosophy class yesterday we discussed Michael Pollan’s dilemma (this is the one he had before his omnivore’s dilemma) over what to do with Cathedral Pines, a 42 acre forest laid waste by a tornado. Since the Pilgrims, the forest had been an intimate part of the life of Pollan’s New England home town. But when the tornado hit, it was gone in a flash. In the political bickering that ensued, some townsfolk wanted to keep the devastation as is, so nature can have her way without human intervention. Others wanted – horrors! – to build condos.

Pollan saw both extremes as wrong, because both result from the “wilderness ethic,” an illusory ideal that nature at her best is nature without man. This faulty illusion in turn fuels zoning, itself a problem: Let’s decree these 42 acres as “wilderness” so it can be unmolested nature – but the very decree gives license to molest everything else up to the legal line.

And so we have Wal-marts butted right up next to pine forests.

And so we have, in Pollan’s very revealing word-picture, idealized virginity and rape, but never marriage.

Hmmm, marriage…

If the earth once was pristine nature, it is not now, Pollan notes, because man is everywhere. (The class noted that even the earth’s poles are affected by pollutants; and even the depths of the oceans are tainted by shipwrecks).

The best recourse, argues Pollan, is not wildernesses or Wal-marts … but a garden. A garden on this view is where virginity is exchanged, not for rape, but for marriage. And I think (and I think Pollan thinks) that marriage is well worth trading in one’s virginity for.

Hmmm, marriage in a garden

In Pollan’s garden ethic, the enlightened gardener lets nature lead, but he or she must be realistic in that, well, somehow, nature is often against us. (Wonder why that is?).

And in Pollan’s garden ethic, the agenda must be – now here is an idea – “frankly anthropocentric.”

I just can’t get around the feeling that Michael Pollan is on to something …


Genesis 2.8
And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

Genesis 1.27-31a So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. "And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food." And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.

Jeremiah 20.4-5 "Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: "Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.

Michael Pollan, "The Idea of a Garden" in Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, New York: Delta, 1991, 209-238. Reference is also made to Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma, New York: Penguin, 2006.

Better Homes and Gardens

I often remark to my students that home is the only place in the world you return to. All other places you go to … until you return HOME. We go to work; we go to shop; we even go on vacation. But the best vacation is the one with a home to return to.

I recall my first trip out of the US; it was to China when China was not yet a great go-to place. On my return, when the plane touched down at Detroit Metro, people clapped! (The day before, Pan Am 103 was blown out of the sky).

But at Detroit Metro, one of the most anonymous places in the country, even among airports! Regardless: when those tires touched the runway, we were home.

Sad is the person who has no home to return to. Sadder is the man who has houses and lands, but has no home to return to.

The first city ever built by sinful man was in the land of Nod, which the French jurist and philosopher Jacques Ellul translates “the land of no-where.” When man was evicted out of the Garden, he built a city … in no-where. That was how it began: the conflict between the City of Man and the City of God.

I have often wondered what the psalmist saw about the house of God that made him decide dwelling in it was the one thing he will ask God for. I used to think I could describe this house.

But the house has become out of focus for me. I’m noticing the camera lens of my understanding is too small to take it all in. I am in need of a wide-angle lens. The widest angle possible. The widest angle imaginable.

It at least includes the cattle upon a thousand hills. It at least encompasses the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven: joyous ones as far as the eye can see.


Psalm 27.4 One thing I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in his temple.

Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of the City, Grand Rapids: Eerdmanns, 1970, 1.

Psalm 50.10 For every beast of the forest is mine; the cattle upon a thousand hills.

Genesis 22.17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore …

Genesis 26.4 I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed …

Basketball and shepherds

To the dismay of just about everyone in these parts, Tony Bennett is leaving. Mr. Bennett is the beloved basketball coach at Washington State University. In the last three years, he led his team into post-season tournaments each year, a significant accomplishment considering that the team has seen post-season play just six times in its entire history.

“Sacrifice” was his motto, and Tony lived it. Last year after a stellar run, he was offered jobs elsewhere. But he committed to staying, and he voiced it loud and clear: “This is my home,” he said. To many of us, it was a personification of sacrifice for a big time coach to covenant to live in this rural area of rolling farmland, faraway from the glamour schools, faraway from the big bucks. Faraway from Seattle.

He is young; he is handsome; he is building another powerhouse team with young players. And he is leaving.

Some said it felt like a punch to the stomach. Others were simply in shock. Players felt abandoned. One, a young man with a background littered with foster homes, wondered why he wasn’t good enough for Tony.

In this life are many sheepfolds we’d like to belong to. And we like the shepherds that lead us.

God bless Tony; he’s done us a service. He’s reminded us there is only one Shepherd. All others are hired hands.


John 10.11-15 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away - and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.



Blog Archive