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

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The play-by-play during art-making

What's going on inside the artist during the act of art-making? This is an area where no camera can go, no reporter can espy, no companion can observe.

It is the most private of private worlds.

Even the artist doesn't exactly know what's going on while creating a work of art. This idea has early roots. For example, Plato noted that an inspired orator is inspired precisely because he is "out of his mind" -- controlled, instead, by something divine.

Does the artist "see" something whole, and then merely gives it visible (or audible) form as is?

In the movie Amadeus, the Mozart character composes with one hand while gently rolling a billiard ball with the other. The musical notation, as it were, simply comes out of him as if by automatic writing.

If you listen to Mozart's music, you believe this is true. The theologian Karl Barth once said something to the effect that, when we have Mozart's music, there's no need to wonder what heaven's like.

Or does the artist, in some way, "figure out" the rough inspirational impulse inside of him as the artwork takes shape in front of him? We might call this the sculpture analogy: making art is like carving out a block of solid rock; you chip away at the medium until there, in front of you, is an object of aesthetic delight.

This is how this piece of art, A day in the Palouse, came about. I started with quite another "look" in mind. But as I "chipped away" at it, it began to tell me what it really wanted to be.

A play-by-play commentary sort of thing went on inside of me while the artwork came into being. I mean play-by-play because, just like watching any sports event with commentary, I didn't know what the end result would be. There was a fair amount of suspense.

Now as I look at it -- in other words, now that this piece of art has been brought into the world, it has a life of its own, and I, like anybody else, have to get used to relating to it -- now as I look at it, I have gradually come to like it.

But it does not look like that original impulse I had for this work. That impulse is still stuck somewhere in the inner rooms of my being.

I don't think this is how God creates ex nihilo. Because if this is how He creates, it would raise enormous questions about His sovereignty and foreknowledge.

This whole thing, then, is a conversation between freedom and determination.

That is what art is, in a way: a living example of the tug-of-war between what a creator "wants" and what the work of art ends up to be.

I see it as a theological - aesthetic question.

But I see everything in these terms.


Psalm 139.14
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

Ephesians 2.10
For we are his workmanship (the word here is "poetry"; as in we are his poetry), created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
I believe Barth's comment comes from his Church Dogmatics, but I don't have it in front of me. Here are many quotes by famous people about Mozart; several of the observations are by Barth.

Plato, Ion 532b-536b SOCRATES: I perceive, Ion; and I will proceed to explain to you what I imagine to be the reason of this. The gift which you possess of speaking excellently about Homer is not an art, but, as I was just saying, an inspiration; there is a divinity moving you, ... so the lyric poets are not in their right mind when they are composing their beautiful strains...

A day in the Palouse, oil pastel on poster board

The cultural evolution of sermons

Sermonizing is never easy.

The word "sermon" is never mentioned in the Scriptures. This is the first challenge, because it suggests something of a conventionalized practice commonly understood as a church-authorized person speaking from the Scriptures to an audience.

And this is fine as far as it goes; many well-established truths are not explicitly enumerated by Scripture, but are nevertheless unassailable as Christian doctrine or practice.

But sermonizing is not easy for this simple reason: it doesn't mix well with established culture.

This is seen in the very first recorded sermon, the one given by Jesus himself, the one conventionally referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Six times in that sermon, Jesus said:

But I say unto you ...

It is part of a formulaic contrast between what the culture had come to expect in the way of life and practice, versus what God is saying now via his spokesperson. Here is one of the six times Jesus invokes the contrast in his famous sermon:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment..."

And so on for six categories of the most commonest issues we all deal with. The culture says this about anger; but I say unto you something different. The culture says this about adultery; but I say unto you something different. The culture says this about divorce, but I say unto you ...; About oaths, but I say unto you ...; About taking revenge, but I say unto you ...; About hating your enemies ... but I say unto you...

... love your enemies...

Taken together, the list is an impossible bar to attain to. And so the kingdom of God must be lived by the grace of Christ, not by our own efforts; this is the difference between the bondage of the regime of law and the freedom of the regime of grace.

But to return to sermons and sermonizing: most of the sermons today are not of the but-I-say-unto-you variety. They are not that disruptive.

They are, shall we say, kinder and gentler.

If we look to history, we see that there is something of an evolutionary pattern that can be discerned about sermons and sermonizing, depending upon the cultural venue into which sermons are spoken. The pattern can be roughly divided into three stages:

1. At the beginning of a work of God, sermons tend to be disruptive in relation to how cultural life is conducted. This certainly applies to the Sermon on the Mount: the culture tells you this, BUT I SAY UNTO YOU ... that.

And it applies not only to the heathen; it applies to the devout, to the simple, to the innocent. All are shaped by their culture. Thus it is to all that the word of God comes as a DISRUPTION. This is the first stage.

2. And then, as the news of the disruptive word becomes incorporated into the lives of the people, sermons at the second stage tend not to be so disruptive. They tend more to be informative.

Let's see now ... what was it that Luther and the first Reformers found? Oh yes: they found that we can live by faith alone. Now, here are the ways we can do that ...

And so disruption becomes INFORMATION. Sermons as information are what they are. But they aren't what they aren't. They may have the stamp of God's mind. But they may not have the force of his Word. These kinds of sermons inform; they hardly ever convict.

3. And then, in the third stage, sermons become evaluative. By this stage, the onus shifts to the audience -- who are, at this point of the evolution of sermons, comfortably in their pews, perhaps dressed in their Sunday best. (In America, even Sunday best has gone by the wayside; jeans and shorts will do).

Sermons at this stage are merely for evaluation. Did he have three clear points? Did he follow the accepted rules of exegesis? Wasn't he just a tad too funny this morning? Hey, where do we go for lunch?

This stage of the process often coincides with divine re-adjustments of cultural complacency.


Matthew 5.22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.

Matthew 5.28 But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

Matthew 5.32 But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.

Matthew 5.34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God's throne...

Matthew 5.39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5.44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you...

Why old corn?

It says they ate old corn when they crossed into the promised land.

Why old corn? Why not
new corn for a celebration? After all, this was the culmination of forty years wandering in the desert. They had finally entered the land! But ...

... they ate
old corn. It sounds like having leftovers. What a let down!

There are two ways we can apply the Old Testament account of the Israelites crossing the river Jordan into the promised land. One way pictures a future condition: Having received salvation (the exodus from Egypt and crossing the Sea of Reeds), God's people wander through a fallen world today (the desert) ... towards a future entrance into God's kingdom. And so the New Testament says we are like those of old, who "did not receive what was promised;" and that, like them, we should persevere, looking towards Jesus, the "author and finisher of our faith."

The other way is this: crossing the Jordan is a picture of being in Christ now. For the New Testament also says: "If anyone is in Christ ... he is a new creation!" In other words, those in Christ have already entered into the promised land; it is a present condition.

But the problem of the old corn holds for both interpretations.

Why old corn? Why old corn when it will be a
new heavens and a new earth? (Picture 1) Why old corn when, in Christ, there is a new creation now? (Picture 2).

The old corn signals that, while the mercies of Christ are new everyday, those mercies are never of our innovation, as if we can (newly) cook them up. They were planned for us from of old. Life in Christ is never our plan, our cleverness, our resources, our education, our upbringing, our good looks, our high perch in society, our professional title.

Sure we talk a good game: God is sovereign over everything in our lives. But when the rubber meets the road, we are really quite anxious about picking up those new boy scout badges.

But what we feast on in Christ is never these new things we've picked up along the way. It is of the salvation that included us before the foundation of the world.

It is that old.

This, by the way, might explain a curious observation Jesus made:

Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.

And then there was that incident when Jesus met Peter and some others struggling to catch fish all night long without success. He told them to place their nets at another location -- and they hauled in great numbers of fish (153, to be exact). But ...

... when they came ashore, He had a breakfast of fish waiting for them. In other words, the fish they ate was not the fish they caught.

fish is the old corn.

It is always the meal that was provided for from long ago; it is never the meal we work for and cook up for ourselves -- even when that work is also blessed.


Joshua 5.11-12 And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched [corn] in the selfsame day. And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year. (KJV)

Hebrews 12.1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

2 Corinthians 5.17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

1 Peter 1.18-21 ... knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Matthew 12.52 "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

John 21.8-13 The other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire in place, with fish laid out on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, 153 of them. And although there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish.

Thoughts upon a possible biopsy

Last week, at a routine dental cleaning, the hygienist noticed a lesion on the roof of my mouth. Upon seeing it, the dentist referred me to an oral surgeon; she told me he'll most likely perform a biopsy. It was not helpful that she also said she "didn't like the looks of it."

Well, the oral surgeon saw me yesterday and concluded that the lesion (or whatever it is) seems to be healing when compared with photos forwarded him by my dentist the week prior. So he's going to wait on it, and I see him again later in August to see if a biopsy is even needed.

But of course this matter has me thinking a lot about facing another serious illness. With Valerie's cancer last year, we've been made aware of just how temporary life is; another biopsy only underlines this sense. What if it's something serious? Can I be as fortunate as Valerie, who, after two lumpectomies and ultimately a mastectomy, is free of cancer today? What are the chances of dodging the cancer bullet twice in 18 months?
These have been some of my thoughts.

But they have not been all of my thoughts.

I also sense -- ever so elusively, but it is not a mirage -- I also sense a certain peace about facing the possibility of very bad news. Our Christian confession comes completely down to this: if there is actually nothing on the other side of the grave, if in fact after physical death there is indeed only non-existence, then nothing else about the Faith amounts to much.

As a matter of fact, nothing about our culture -- that is, our way of life -- amounts to much. Despite what secularists say, our cultural ways, the tenets of our worldview, are so steeped in the truths of the Biblical message that, if upon death we discover there really is nothing --
nothing -- on the other side, then all of history amounts to a fiction. All of that would have been a grand mirage.

The countless millions who have gone ahead and left this world with hope, with rejoicing, in anticipation of seeing Christ ... all of them will prove to have been the fools. Count the Apostle Paul as chief among them, because he said, "My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better..." All of the good works done by saints motivated to enact the Christian world-and-life view into cultural institutions -- hospitals, just legal systems, honest business practices, universities (yes, once, alas), the centuries of art informed by Christian theology -- all of these cultural practices ... would have been founded on a lie. Conversely, the reprobate, the deniers of God, those who reject Christ and His message, those who insist on a materialist cosmos as the final reality ...
they would have proven to be the prescient ones. Never mind spiritual convictions. This just doesn't seem plausible.

Since the lesion was found, I've posted here and here and here about my thoughts on life and death. This is another way of saying that, somehow, the precise Scriptures of comfort have come to me at the times when I needed them. These Scriptures don't tell me that, if I have a terminal illness, I will be healed. They say nothing of the sort. Instead, they tell me that there is nothing to fear in death. They say to me, in fact, that "all are alive in God."

It will just be "alive" in a completely different sense than what we are accustomed to.

What we are accustomed to. We in this scientific age are so cock-sure of the physics of existence, of the biological science of our existence. But more than any other culture, we are the most blind to seeing beyond any material dimension. And yet we tacitly assume we are the most advanced and enlightened culture there ever was. Even Christians are taken in by this. We have so "scientized" our understanding of the Faith that we have lost the possibility of experiencing the mind-bending awe of the full-orbed reality the Bible really paints. We confess the Scriptures are the Word of God; but by this we merely confess the
principle that the Scriptures are the Word of God -- almost like we would confess it as a scientific fact -- but we hardly actually believe the words themselves as the words of God. We hardly ever truly cast our lot with those words.

Until faced with death.

When faced with death, this simple sentence, as one of many examples, strikes our attention. At least it struck mine:
... whether life or death or the present or the future, all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

In my worries about a terminal disease, I try to wrap my mind, nay, my heart, around what this one sentence means. Is it an exaggeration? Is it an exaggeration that "all is mine". All is mine, whether in life
or death, in present or future. This makes no sense in the framework of this world.

But ... it is the word of God, the word we confess to
be His word.

When I say I sense a scrim of peace about possible death, I mean there is something I almost look forward to; because I suspect that the sentence above, if it makes no sense in this world,
would make sense in that world. How? I have no idea. But yes, I look forward to finding out. I want to live in a world in which the trees, indeed, clap their hands. I want to live in a world where the angels actually do sing at the unspeakable beauties of creation -- I mean, where this possibility doesn't just come alive in poems, not even in poems that are psalms, but in actual life, period. And I want to learn to sing with those angels.

After all, it will all be mine.


Philippians 1.22-23. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, which is far better ...

Luke 20.38
Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him."

1 Corinthians 3.19-23 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their craftiness," and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future--all are yours, and you are Christ's, and Christ is God's.

Isaiah 55.12 For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.

Job 38.4-7 Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements--surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

Two facts about eternal life

After feeding five thousand people with just a few loaves of bread and some fish, Jesus gave two facts about eternal life.

For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

This "I will raise him up at the last day" suggests all the trappings that come with death, namely, the grave. The good news is that there
will be a resurrection from the grave.

So far, this is pretty much the common understanding of eternal life: we die; followed by a resurrection at some far distant "last day"; and only after that does eternal life commence.

But here is the second fact Jesus said:
Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died ... (I am) the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever ...

This seems to be a different fact. Here, Jesus says that those who will be raised up at the last day ...
will not die in the first place. It is in this way that Jesus' work supersedes the work of the fathers: they ate manna -- which was miraculous enough -- but they died. In contrast, partake of me, Jesus said, and you will NOT die.

But how does not dying at all jibe with the common understanding of dying first, and only afterwards ... eternal life? How do you die, but not die?

I think this touches on what I said yesterday: those in Christ, that is, those of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,
are continuously alive in God all the time.

It is not that there will be no grave. There will be. But as is noted elsewhere by St. Paul, who understood the implications of what Jesus did more than most of us: O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

In other words, Jesus' second point suggests that eternal life is NOW; that we who believe in Him are already in possession of eternal life. It is not a reality reserved for us only in some far, far mythical future. Eternal life is now.

This suggests that physical death, for those in Christ, is merely a shedding of the body. With respect to life itself, death in this sense is something of an event in a life that never ends. Hence there is no sting to it.

Perhaps it is a kind of graduation.

This might just be the deeper truth illustrated by Jesus feeding five thousand people with only five loaves of bread and two fish. Yes, present life in this world amounts to a few loaves of physical bread. But the real Bread of Life is also here, right now, and its magnitude -- right now -- is a thousand times greater. Right now.

And in that distant future, we get our bodies back too, untainted by sin.


John 6.40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.

John 6.49-51a Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died ... (I am) the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it
and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever ...

1 Corinthians 15.55 O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?

Why the bush was not consumed

Jesus proved there is life after death by invoking a Name of God:

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

Somehow this is proof enough that there is resurrection from the dead. How? I think in this way:

Jesus' point is that those privileged enough to be in the lineage of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
are always alive.

Think of it.

These patriarchs, from whom issue the great lineage of Judaism, from which issues forth the Messiah's work of including the Gentiles into the purposes of God -- (we Gentiles in Christ are all sons of Abraham) -- these patriarchs are important enough

But they are dead only from our earthly perspective, in time and in space.

From God's vantage point,
they are alive and always have been. Therefore, says Jesus, there is life after death.

This point needs to be savored, as I have been, for days on end. Savor it like a sweet something in the mouth of your being. It is not something that the knowledge of this world can remotely grasp.

He is God not of the dead, but of the living ... for all live to him.
ALL live to him. This is the word of God.

Jesus gave this proof to the Sadducees, who deny any resurrection from the dead. He said -- and you can almost detect a certain "don't you guys get it?" tone in His voice -- He said:
But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob...

Moses. Come on guys. Even Moses knew this.

Moses, who by the time he saw the burning bush had come to the end of his life, or so he thought. Educated in the courts of Egypt, he had been exiled to the desert for killing a man in religious-cultural zeal. There in the desert, he tended sheep for forty years -- forty years -- until God met him in the bush. But at that bush he met the God who is always alive, whose purposes are always alive, whose people who serve him are always alive ...

He is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

Those who are called by this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob ... those who are touched by the God with this Name, never come to an end.

And the fire burned in the bush.

And the bush was not consumed.


Exodus 3.2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

Luke 20.37-39 "But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. "Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him." Then some of the scribes answered, "Teacher, you have spoken well."

Galatians 3.6-9
Thus Abraham "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." So you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "In you shall all the nations be blessed." So then, those who are men of faith are blessed with Abraham who had faith.

How many times does "mind" occur in Psalms?

It has been said that all the books of the Bible consist of God speaking to man. Only the Psalms is characterized by man speaking to God -- in worship and praise.

Now, in all 150 psalms, the word
mind is mentioned ...

... just once (in KJV translation).

And it is not a flattering use of the word: the psalmist is fretting that he is "like a dead man forgotten out of

Think of it: the book of the Bible that records worship and praise offered back up to God ... and the word "mind" occurs ONCE in it.

There are many Hebrew words translated "mind" in English versions. Those original words (nephesh, lav, lavav, ruwach, peh) mean a wide variety of things:

soul / creature / person / appetite / living being / desire / emotion / passions / inclination / relfection / memory / conscience / seat of the appetites / seat of emotions and passions / to breathe / to perspire / mouth / resolution / determination of will / seat of courage / plan / purpose

Here is the conclusion I come to: the Hebrew worldview did not have a concise concept of (what we would call) mind. Put another way, praise of God in the Old Testament worldview was always a whole-person activity. It would have been unthinkable in that worldview to praise God any other way.

Then here's this:

Perhaps the most telling example of whole-person worship in the Old Testament is the famous passage called the Shmah in the Torah -- but here let's consider how Jesus quotes it by the time of the New Testament. Here is the Shmah in the King James Version of Deuteronomy:

And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

So the whole person, in the Old Testament, involved heart, soul and might. But when asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus, clearly quoting the Shmah, answered with this:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul,
and with all thy mind.

Mind. This is the Greek word
διάνοια, which means "by the mind," where mind (νοῦς) means the intellectual faculty; the understanding.

So when Jesus, a Jewish man, but a Jewish man living in the Greek / Hellenistic culture of the New Testament, quoted the Shmah, he added "with all thy mind." Jesus' point, of course, was also that worship of God must be whole-person worship of God. This much did not change.

But by the time of the New Testament, the whole-person included the mind.

We can go on from here to discuss profound implications of how culture affects Scriptural revelation -- to the extent that even when Jesus, the God-man, cited the Old Testament ... he cited it in context of the cultural worldview of his day.

And it is all the Word of God.

Two points come to me (or, perhaps, come to mind):

1. If the word "mind" occurs only once in the Psalms, perhaps we over-estimate how much the mind -- that is to say, intellectual prowess -- is needed in our worship of God. Perhaps intellectual sophistication is a hindrance to worship.

2. Don't try what Jesus did on your own; instead, cite Scripture passages


Psalm 31.12 I am forgotten as a dead man out of mind: I am like a broken vessel.

Deuteronomy 6.4-5 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.

Matthew 22.37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

Note: the NIV translates Hebrew words as "mind" four times in the Psalms: at 26.2 / 64.6 / 83.5 / 110.4. The ESV uses "mind" 3 times in Psalms (the same as the NIV, but leaving out 83.5). In the KJV, 26.2 renders it "heart" / 64.6 is also "heart" / 83.5 renders it "with one consent" / and in 110.4, while the NIV and ESV has "will not change his mind" the KJV renders it "will not repent."

For all live to Him

Today on a regularly scheduled visit to have my teeth cleaned, the hygienist noticed something on the roof of my mouth, towards the back.

"I don't like that!" she said.

She took a picture and showed it to me: it looks like some sort of lesion. And she said the picture looks better than it actually looks in my mouth. Recently I've indeed sensed some irritation in that area; what feels like a sinus infection. But I thought nothing of it.

Until now.

The hygienist called the dentist in to have a look. When she came in, after the usual greetings, she said: "Well, my first reaction is I don't like it..."

So she scheduled me to see an oral surgeon, but they couldn't get me in until the middle of next week.

I am now trying to prepare class lectures. But of course my mind is on this new problem. What can it be? Hmmm ... just yesterday I posted about our stay here being so short ...

I reach out to the New Testament next to my computer. Maybe this is one of those times that opening the Book randomly will give insight. This is what I read:

Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.

Jesus said this in answer to the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. But I've always found it to be an odd answer, because Jesus' proof that there
is a resurrection of the dead is by ... recalling Moses at the burning bush. Here is what Jesus said:

But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him

So the very fact that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob somehow proves that
all live to God. That is to say, all remain alive to Him.

So this passage tells me I will live; it just may be "alive to Him" in another dimension altogether.

This will have to be my comfort for today, and perhaps for upcoming days as well.


Luke 20.27-39
There came to him some Sadducees, those who deny that there is a resurrection, 28 and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man's brother dies, having a wife but no children, the man must take the widow and raise up offspring for his brother. 29 Now there were seven brothers. The first took a wife, and died without children. 30 And the second 31 and the third took her, and likewise all seven left no children and died. 32 Afterward the woman also died. 33 In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had her as wife.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, 35 but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, 36 for they cannot die anymore, because they are equal to angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection. 37 But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the passage about the bush, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. 38 Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living, for all live to him.” 39 Then some of the scribes answered, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” 40 For they no longer dared to ask him any question.

I also found this, the words of the theologian Jurgen Moltmann:

“With God, nothing is at all lost. Everything remains in God. We experience our life as temporal and mortal. But as God experiences it, our life is eternally immortal. Nothing is lost to God, not the moments of happiness, not the times of pain. ‘All live to him (Luke 20.38).’”

A temporary stay

Last night we learned that one of our dear friends -- the one who has led us on two short term missions to China -- went into the emergency room with inexplicable bleeding, and that this has been going on for a month.

This morning I receive two emails:

My mother in California fell on the driveway and had to go to the emergency room. I cannot communicate with my father on the phone because he is hard of hearing. So I can only await emails.

The other email: Andrew's high school Japanese teacher, one of his favorites, dies at age 55. That would be one year younger than me.

Ours is a temporary stay in this world, no matter how much glitzy technology gives us illusions otherwise. It is just a little while.


John 16.19-20 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, "Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, 'A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me'? "Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

A coincidence at the wedding

Something happened at the wedding this weekend.

As the outdoor ceremony began, the sun was glaring in our faces like a heat lamp. Many held their programs up for shade. I felt like a judge at some sort of gymnastics competition. But I could hardly see anything in the bright light.

Then, during the course of the ceremony, a shade come over the place.

It was like someone dimmed the lights just a little; and all those programs rested back on everyone's laps. The whole thing was so subtle it could easily have been missed.

But it struck me how quietly appropriate it was, as the young minister made the point the marriage is ordained of God.

These days we deny big miracles. And the little ones we call coincidences.


Psalm 121.5 The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.

Jonah 4.6 And the LORD God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah's head, shading him from the sun. This eased some of his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.

he's past his prime / he's arrogant

Student evaluations from one of my classes came in while we were traveling in Colorado and Wyoming. Against the backdrop of stunning natural beauty, I read the following (I'm skipping the nice comments because they are not the ones that stay with you):

I didn't learn anything.

The grading was mystifying -- a "B" is unacceptable.

He's past his prime.

He is arrogant.

My first reaction was that students these days are so ungrateful. They are now the patrons and customers; we professors are merely waiters serving them their selections from a menu of their making (a menu that is unknown to us, and probably unknown to them).

My second reaction -- and this is the one that has stayed with me -- is that what they said, all that they said, might be true. And so this summer I am taking pains to revise my material, and to rectify my heart.

Teaching is a mystery. What is it?

Is it a transmission of facts? An impartation of inspiration? An opening of new vistas neither teacher nor student were previously aware of? Is it being a role model?

And there is indeed the question -- especially in these rapidly changing times -- of whether or not a person educated at year-1 can even teach relevant content by year-10.

Teaching is a mystery because knowledge -- this thing we call knowledge -- is itself a mystery. We are never in possession of it. We simply become aware of certain things about God's world for a time; perhaps we tell others about it; but very quickly we pass on and all is forgotten. (Much is forgotten even before we pass).

To rectify my heart. What is meant by this? Well, on our trip we read to each other the words of Paul: For I determined to know nothing among you, except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

This has also stayed with me through these weeks.


1 Corinthians 2.1-5 And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, 4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

While I have my being

I am taken by this from the psalmist:

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

While I have my being? This suggests that at some point I will no longer have my being. And no longer having my being is much more worrisome than no longer having my body.

A long tradition of thought tells us that our bodies are not us in our totality; that our beings will survive our bodies; that what is to come after our bodies pass away is much better, and hence much more to be desired, than what is presently at hand.

Upon this all the hope of the Christian gospel -- and also all the fear of it -- is founded. As it says in the Book elsewhere: it is appointed to men once to die, and then the judgment. This presumes that after the body dies, there remains something of us to judge. That would be our beings; perhaps what our beings did while in our bodies.

Or, conversely, in the words of St. Paul:
if in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. Why most pitied? Because we put our hope in the life to come, after this life -- and this body -- passes. If there is indeed no such future life ... we are of all people most to be pitied.

There is, therefore, a much better existence to come for those who fear God and hold to Christ (or better: for those who are held by Him). Put another way, our beings have not seen nor experienced anything like what remains to be experienced.

All of this presumes that we will continue to have our beings -- or more simply, that we will continue to BE -- after our bodies pass away. So:

I will sing praises to my God while I have my being ...
this "while" I have my being is disquieting.

The Old Testament is much less clear on the status of the afterlife in general. But the New Testament is quite clear: that which is sown a physical body will be raised a spiritual body. Taken together -- and we should take them together -- it is a complex brew of encouragement and wonderment.

In other words, I am encouraged. But I also wonder -- not the wonder of one in bliss; but the wondering of one who has questions.

And then there are Job's words:
“And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God ..."

How does that really work? I don't know.


Psalm 146.2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Hebrews 9.27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment...

1 Corinthians 15.19 If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

1 Corinthians 15.44 It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

Job 19.27 “And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God ...

Tent making

Not a camper, I am constructing a tent for the first time.

Freed from its ingeniously small packaging, there it lies unfurled in large confusion on the grass.

I read the directions in small print -- and these days directions always come in the Interlinear Version, in at least two if not three foreign languages. This is respectful of diversity.

But it is not respectful of any one particular user. It takes some time to find the directions in English, adding feelings of smallness to already-present feelings of incompetence.

Then the discipline of reading and doing.

Reading and doing: these are two different categories of things. You may be able to read the English. But comprehension beyond words, even words you think you understand -- to doing the actions those words describe -- this is not an easy matter.

In fact I think it takes a lifetime to rectify words with actions.

Even in our native language, what a reader comprehends may not be what the writer meant. What, for example, does the writer mean by "sleeve?" Insert the rod through the hole in the sleeve. I look at the puddle of fabric on the ground and see no sleeves.

Are the sleeves under here? (The puddle has many layers). No.

Is this a sleeve? It doesn't look like a sleeve either. I see only
hooks. And so on.

There is a reality "out there" the writer is trying to describe. Gradually I must submit my presumed understandings of things, and all of the meanings to words I have already assigned to the "looks" of things in my previous 55 years of life ... I have to submit all of this to the words on the page; to what the writer meant by those words, not to what I want them to mean.

I cannot freely interpret without boundaries. Because it would not conform to the reality that is out there; the reality that now invites me to participate in its further realization.

It is only after several failures at assigning my own meanings to the reality in front of me that I decide something.

Perhaps I should read through these directions -- chapter and verse. And read them again and again, until I finally see, amidst little dawns of realization, those sleeves that were there all along.


Matthew 5.18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Acts 18.3 Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tent makers just as he was.

Acts 10.34 ... Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons ...

The self interest of St. Paul

This is a well-known exhortation, although very hard to do:

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Paul wrote this to the Philippians when he himself was in prison. That alone makes his exhortation impressive. But I was struck by what Paul says a few verses later, after addressing another matter:

They all look after their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

In other words, the encouragement to look after others' interests was written by a man who himself had no one to look after his interests. And he was in prison. Not an easy thing to say.

The only exception was Timothy. Apparently Timothy was the only one around at that time to be mindful of Paul's interests.
I have no one like him, says Paul.

But in what way did Paul not have anyone else like Timothy? In this way:

I have no one like him ... who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare...

In other words, Paul had no one like Timothy not because Timothy was the only one interested in Paul's needs, but because Timothy was the only one interested in the needs of Paul's readers.

This is even more impressive. Even at the level of his own needs, Paul was focused on the needs of others. Put another way, others' interests had become Paul's own self interest. To have Timothy around to be concerned about others' interests was enough for Paul to regard his own interests as being met.

Impressive indeed.

And what was that other matter Paul addressed in between his first exhortation to be interested in the needs of others and his latter acknowledgment that he only had Timothy around to encourage him ... by being interested in the needs of others?

That other matter is the famous kenosis passage -- that is, the passage about how Christ ... emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant ... and humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.


Philippians 2.3-21: 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. 14 Do all things without grumbling or questioning, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, 16 holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. 18 Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me. 19 I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you. 20 For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. 21 For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.