black-chinned hummingbird

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black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird
black-chinned hummingbird

At the foot of the cross

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at the foot of the cross

mere Christianity

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I occasionally visit a couple of sites which have regular bashing of my ecclesial situation. It’s a healthy thing to do, not only because they also tend to have insightful religious commentary but because it’s quite eye opening to be on the other side of Christian religious judgment.

That being the case I am pleasantly surprised that one of these sites has a post today advertising the sorts of churches which I would find within my present ecclesial situation. Sure, they are in New York and not in Lake Arrowhead. Also, I most certainly would have my own opinions and judgments as I do about similar such congregations represented within the greater LA area (that’s Los Angeles, not Lake Arrowhead).

But still, this gives me a lot of respect for those who are willing to step out and see that Christianity released from the Law is not then to be beholden to newer and less Divinely mandated laws. There’s a reason why liturgy is not spelled out in the New Testament, and this reason is that we’ve been given many paths of response to the God who calls us and the Spirit who teaches us all things.

The other site I occasionally visit has among it’s recent considerations a long discussion on how gold goblets are the only kind suitable for the Eucharist. Which may be, and certainly is, important to a portion of society, but I think isn’t quite representative of the mere Christianity we are called to confess together.

First Things which makes no reservations about its Catholic leanings reveals itself to be quite open to the broader work of the Spirit, not without cautions but with a surprising willingness to discover and understanding the Spirit does in fact work in different contexts.

Too much of Church discussion has the character of crabby old men shaking their fist at the young ne’er-do-wells of the neighborhood, and promising not give them their ball back when they hit it into his yard. Such men often have a bit of justification, but also reflect an utter absence of joy and a complete loss of their own sense of discovery.

First Things reminds me now more of the kindly older man who throws the ball back, but later over ice cream happens to suggest to the kids they be more cautious about where they hit the ball, lest they sometime break a window or hit an old woman in the head.

On ignoring the huge gray animal with the long inquisitive nose that’s taking up a lot a lot of space around my desk

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You may have happened to notice there’s a bit of activity going on in the wider world, namely in the region whose initials sound like the award given to well appreciated television shows.

You may also have noticed I haven’t mentioned it, something that relegates me for the most part to contemporary commentary irrelevance. That’s not altogether bad, except for the fact the name of this blog is Present Matters, because we’re people of the future, and people of the past, but also living in the present and that matters. At least that’s about how a tagline from an earlier version of this page put it.

So, it’s a little silly to say the Present matters but not discuss what seems to matter in this present of ours. That’s right. This one. No, this one. Ah, this one. I could keep going I guess only that’s the tricky thing about the present, it’s only here for like a second and then it moves on.

But that ephemeral reality isn’t why I haven’t been talking about it. It’s something else.

This world is a big place, which seems particularly small what with television, and the internet, and email, and spam, and the United Nations, and supersonic travel, and cell phones, and satellite radio, and the World Cup, and Hollywood, and such forth. The only problem is the human soul and psyche isn’t any bigger. It has the same capacity only now there’s so much more input. Unlike Johnny 5 the reality is a human can only absorb so much input (five points and 10% off all merchandise in the supermart for those who get that aged reference).

We get more input than our capacity and things get left out, or dismissed, or washed over, or otherwise unattended. We feel emotions and worry about that which we have no capacity to control, and that which, for the most part, we have no connection with besides our addicted need to be utterly informed.

There are a lot of real and substantive problems in this world, too many for one soul, too much for even those who have no other choice but to be absorbed by particular problems. Life is an all you can eat problem buffet. Our plates are only so large but we can in fact fill them up with a hearty selection, a little of this, some of that.

I’m paying attention only I find that when I get to the point of paying so much attention that I feel a need to leave my judgment on the matter on this page I am driving out some other important consideration which is a lot more relevant to my actual life. That I’m already feeling the increased web hopping tendencies is the case, and I don’t need to encourage it by feeding into my tendency to get quite interested in things which seem incredibly important but for the fact they don’t actually affect my life.

Yes, an argument can be made it all does in some abstract way. Of course, as I do believe everything is in fact related to everything else in a certain way this would mean I need to worry about significantly more than I even know about.

But, I need to not worry about those things at the expense of the things I can and should worry about in my present existence, things which I can get up right now and do something about. I can think about Lebanon, or I can wonder why in the last few days I’ve been both listless and irritable, a reality which in no way measures to the severity of the Middle East, except for the fact that I only have the ability to change my own soul. If each person took that to heart and worked on their own soul instead of blaming others for the state of their discontent then we might in fact have peace in this world.

So, I can seek peace, not in the Middle East where I would guess not a single person cares a whit about my opinion, but in my own life, where those I interact with feel my peace or lack of peace and that resonates into them, which resonates into those who they interact with.

Indeed, getting so caught up in politics or war or all the stupid things stupid people do stupidly at every moment can rob me of that which I would otherwise hold onto, giving me false emotions that have little to do with anything in my life but are instead a sort of emotional pornography that sparks my needing constant information titillation.

With this I begin to always dwell where I don’t matter and completely lose touch with where I do matter. I gain opinions and strategies for events I do not influence while ignoring the sphere I do influence. No, my problems are not as bad as those in the wider world. But the wider world is not the problem I am called to contend with.

I have no soul to control other than my own. Nothing has control over my soul except for me. And so when I wander away from it, I lose precious time. I lose precious moments of personal progress, which may or may not someday put me into a position where I would have wisdom in things which do practically matter to the wider world.

I can only do what I can do, and I should invest my worries and emotions and thoughts and judgments in those areas I am called to invest into.

So, that’s why I haven’t been bringing it up, and likely won’t bring up the various politics or events or opinions that relate. In this world of overwhelming input and information it becomes incredibly difficult to stay aware of the limits of my emotions and concerns, keeping them to that which matters, rather than that which is merely a fact of our global present.

As far as what I think on the whole matter, well… I think Wyatt Earp was in fact a good guy, despite his personal foibles.


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It is likely one of the stronger signs of my personality that I like personality tests. The quest for self-knowledge or something like that. It’s also a strong sign that I don’t take these at face value but tend to gauge how good they are by my own sense of self.

So here’s this one.

I’m apparently a Driver. Which for some who may know me might seem a surprise, for those who have gone sailing with me, not as much. I do see this quite strongly in me, only it’s a latent reality not always on display given the context, quite strongly on display given the context. Spirituality is one of my stronger goals, which over the course of the years has fought against some of these characteristics, not driving them away but teaching how to be wise about their use.

General Description
As a Driver, you create activity and set the pace within your family and among your friends. Due to your desire to produce results, you quickly take charge by defining goals and delegating tasks. You are not afraid to take risks or impose your will through strong action in order to move ahead.

Typical Areas of Strength
Drivers, like you, are bold, direct, confident, competitive, often pioneering, assertive, frank, independent, and responsive to new challenges. You excel by having the freedom to define a direction focused on results.

Typical Areas of Struggle
You may be impatient, insensitive to the feelings of others, frustrated with details and routines, a poor listener, impulsive, too blunt, or overbearing.

Your Preferred Activities
To maximize your talents, you look for situations in which you can have a high level of independence, with obstacles to overcome, challenges to meet and solve, without many details to handle.

Your Communication Style
You communicate directly and forcefully, getting to the bottom line quickly. As a result, friends and family may see you as demanding, impersonal, and dominating.

oh!: I should probably note that according to the officially mandated personality test for Christians I am a very strong INTJ.

With something like this comes another interest. My interest in psychoanalyzing myself, to explain the nuances, how I’ve seen these traits, how some of these traits have been pushed to the rear, etc. and so on. But I won’t get into that here.

Instead, have a look at some pictures of birds.

Have a drink

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black-headed grosbeak
black-headed grosbeak


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just hanging out in the shade on a hot day


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A plane just flew over our house. Red tail. Four prop engines. White body. Filled with red fire retardent I’m fairly certain, or at least they were recently.


Not too low. Not too low. Not low enough for me to wave hello at the pilots. I’ve seen them that low on occasion. That’s too low because it means they are hanging out in the area.

But, they weren’t too high either. They were flying from south to north.

Pardon me while I check to see what’s going on north of here.

While I’m a little more prepared for it now, I’d rather not have the chance to do some fire-blogging.

theology on a Tuesday morning

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One of my interests over the last few years is discovering alternative conceptions of what it is God has done among us in bringing salvation. Unfortunately for many this is a zero sum conversation. Emphasize one bit and they think you are denying the other bits. And deny those other bits you’re labeled a heretic.

The reality of God’s work among us is that God is really, really, really more than any of us can conceive. His work is not fully grasped in the collected statements of old dusty books. His work is approachable only by the collection of generations of work. He does a work then gives folks a millenium or three to ponder what it was he did. They finally get to figuring it out and he does something new. Three seconds isn’t very long after all. Along with this he’s always doing smaller things, which could be huge things, only we don’t know because we lack perspective, and so something always may or may not be actually extremely important and may or may not have to be factored into our various lists, categories, subjects and sermons.

What really was the big deal about yet another baby being born in a Jerusalem suburb? Who cares if the carpenter’s son feels like preaching by the lake? We’ve work to do!

That makes the whole business of theology a bit exhausting. Which is why people like to have lists that can’t be changed except by massive committees and only after 500 years of conversation by which time God has moved on and is about yet different things. Other people throw up their hands and become agnostics, either practically or publically.

I, however, being an intrepid explorer of the theological realms, going everywhere by going nowhere, feel a curious interest in discovering that which is beyond the lists, outside the categories, written up in volumes not imagined in our local Christian book store, and compiled by people with ludicrous accents and/or worship practices. Yet since we all point the same direction– from Spirit, to Christ, to the Father upwards into heaven — I figure it’s a good thing to see God from alternative views. For I think we are moving past the time in which guilt is the primary motivation for conversion. It gets difficult when one first has to convince a person they should feel guilty, then get mad at them they don’t feel guilty, and accuse them of grievous sins in their lack of feeling guilt. The Gospel message becomes telling people how bad they are and what they are doing is really foolish, hoping by these hooks to get folks into church so they can learn more.

Some people really like this, of course, which is why churches have become such havens for psychological analysis, filled with touchy-feely sorts of men and the women who almost love them.

Guilt and incompleteness can certainly be great motivators to discover the fullness of Christ. Only when that’s all there is, and a lack of feeling guilt and incompleteness become actual barriers to participation, then there’s a distorted work going on.

Why am I a Christian? Two reasons. The first is that I genuinely believe Jesus was who he said he was and thus is who he says he is. That’s the essential question all are faced with, and just as in his very own era there’s no amount of learning or knowledge or training which can give someone anything other than the choice. He revealed himself so as to leave the choice for us to make.

The second reason is that I want something more from my reality. Having agreed Jesus is who he says he is I want to press on in understanding, not so that I can get over the traumas of some supposed early childhood slight, but so that I can embrace the fullness of God’s original creation, discovering if only in part the likeness of the divine in my own existence.

I have been forgiven. Fine. Dwelling on that fact is drinking only milk. There’s something more to this life than constant angst-filled “am I saved?” forgiveness quests.

There’s also angst-filled “is this all there is?” quests. The underlying factor, I think, for much of obsession over forgiveness is the quite unacceptable expectation that God does nothing else other than forgive. If his business is the forgiveness business then the way to stay in contact with him is to be constantly guilty or soul sick. That way the divine doctor can always swoop in for a new dose of eternal boosters. Which is why our churches are filled with many spiritual hypochondriacs, and why many preachers never really get beyond always refilling the same prescriptions.

But, as the writer to the Hebrews notes, this isn’t a good thing, even it’s the regular thing. “Let’s go onto perfection,” he writes. This is a journey for those past the basic things, and the assumption is that this is indeed a journey all Christians should make, if they are mature.

Only the quest for perfection is fraught with all manner of problems, which makes the discussions about constant forgiveness safer and more comforting. Because even if we don’t obsess over our guilt we are not yet perfect beings. We falter, and we fail, and we stumble and we lose heart. We see the world around us and the world in us and the world upon us all of which gets us discouraged. We are forgiven, that is the basics of the faith. But we are not yet perfect. That is the call of the faith and it is a call we are not capable of achieving. In our discouragement we falter and stop. We stand in one place, unable to go forward, unwilling to go backwards, staying with Jesus like the disciples not because they are excited about the hard teaching but because, as they say it, “Where else will we go Lord?”

Onwards and upwards, of course, is the answer, only this answer is troublesome by those of us who feel we’ve gotten to the top of one hill and can’t quite see the path forward.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. “Follow him,” Paul reminds us. “They’re both right,” preachers from the last 20 centuries encourage us.

“I can’t,” I sometimes say. “I can’t and unless I can Jesus is done with me.”

This is the same sort of response as one makes back at the forgiveness station, only there’s not a lot on how to progress once along the more distant trails of Christian maturity, so we look around for guidance and feel very alone, feeling in fact that even though we’ve gotten this far, well, this time Jesus really is done with us and since we’re forgiven it’s not all that bad right here. There are birds, and little trees, and a thick chaparral bush I can climb under when it gets to be night or if it rains.

However, our being stuck is not a good testimony. What do we say to people in such a place?

I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints. You keep my eyelids from closing; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, and remember the years of long ago. I commune with my heart in the night; I meditate and search my spirit: “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? Has his steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion? (Ps. 77:1-9)

That’s not very evangelical really. Come, be a Christian. Get stuck.

Only that’s the reality for so many who have progressed a certain way along the road to perfection. We get stuck. We make decisions that seem to be for God, only at the point we realize there’s no return we look around and God seems more distant than ever. We pursue God and while at first he pursues us too, there’s a certain point he seems to be running away. We’re left in the lurch. So it seems at least. The problem with seeming such is such a seeming can be extremely deep and real. We look around at our lives and see palpable disasters, or problems which came because, not in spite of, our choosing the Godward direction.

“Why have you rejected us forever, O God?” the psalmist asks. “Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?”

Maybe it is the end of this Psalm that gets my mind moving when I read this passage from Jürgen Moltmann about Christ and Spirit:

How does the Spirit experience Jesus’ living and dying? This question is seldom asked. But if we remember Israel’s concept of the Shekinah, we can say that if the Spirit ‘leads’ Jesus, then the Spirit accompanies him as well. And if the Spirit accompanies him, then it is drawn into his sufferings, and becomes his companion in suffering. The path the Son takes in his passion is then at the same time the path taken by the Spirit, whose strength will be proved in Jesus’ weakness. The Spirit is the transcendent side of Jesus’ immanent way of suffering. So the ‘condescendence‘ of the Spirit leads to the progressive kenosis of the Spirit, together with Jesus.

Although the Spirit fills Jesus with the divine, living energies through which the sick are healed, it does not turn him into a superman. It participates in his human suffering to the point of his death on the cross. According to Matt. 8:17, Jesus does not heal the sick through his supreme power. He heals them through his atoning representation. ‘He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows’ (Isa. 53:4). Through the Shekinah, the Spirit binds itself to Jesus’ fate, though without becoming identical with him. In this way the Spirit of God becomes definitively the Spirit of Christ, so that from that point onwards it can be called by and involked in Christ’s name.

He continues a little bit later by saying:

The value of the sacrifice does not depend solely on the one surrendered. It has to do with the mode of the surrender too. And in this happening Christ is determined through the eternal Spirit. The Spirit is not something he possesses. It is the power that makes him ready to surrender his life, and which itself sustains this surrender. According to Heb. 7:16 it is ‘the power of indestructable life’.

It is not the Romans who are the real controlling agents in Christ’s passion and death, and not even death itself. It is Christ himself who is the truly active one, through the operaation of the divine Spirit who acts in him. In ‘the theology of surrender’, Christ is made the detemining subject of his suffering and death through the Spirit of God.

There is a lot to this, to be sure, but what stuck out to me, for whatever reason comes from the idea that on Pentecost the Spirit, this same Spirit as discussed above has filled all those in the Church. All those who confess Christ confess the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit of God. In this confession the Spirit of God fills us even as the Spirit filled Christ, with the same cause and work.

So, does this mean that even as the Spirit bound itself to Jesus’ fate, the Spirit now is bound to our fate? Our confession of Christ as Lord suggests this is the case, for our fate is not only our fate now, but reflects upon the God who we call. Our fate reflects on the God who can save and does save, and reflects on his ability to save. Our sins, our failings, our enemies and distractions seek our chaotic destruction. Who do we cry to? Who is bound to us telling us we have been filled with that which has conquered even death?

With the Spirit’s indwelling our fate is not our fate alone. We have been raised with Christ and our life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, appears, we also will appear with him in glory. Our fates are bound with Christ’s fate, our lives are bound with God’s life, our hope is entirely reflective of God’s promise.

When we leap into the river of God’s divine guidance we leap into raging rapids. We leap in knowing there is uncertainty but knowing it is the progress which is uncertain, not the destination. We know this because this water, this raging wild water, is the Spirit who leads us and rescues us and delivers us not only for our sake but because it is the Spirit’s mission to bring all things into community with the Triune God, forsaking none, leaving behind none, searching after those who lose their way.

We are bound to the Spirit, and our fate is the Spirit’s fate. We know the Spirit only has one fate, which is to be in full relationship with Son and Father. Our present circumstances, dire as they may be, do not overwhelm the Spirit’s mission. For we can say with the psalmist (Ps. 74), “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever? Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Rise up O God, and defend your cause.”

The Spirit has made us the cause of God. Our fate is bound to the fate of the Spirit, who lifts us higher, even and especially from those points that seem to have no way forward. For it is here that we realize our fates are not advanced by our own efforts but by our identification with Christ. It is here we come to the end of our roads and the beginning of the royal road.

Since then, as Paul writes to the Colossians, we have been raised with Christ, let’s set our hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. For our victory is not in what we have been saved from, but what we are being brought into. That is the fate of the Spirit, that is our fate now that we have been bound with the Spirit. Our present circumstances may speak differently, but our present is not our fate, or the end.

We rise, bound with the Spirit, and the Spirit rises always to God, even if sometimes the rising pulls us through brambles and branches, lightning or rain. Our end is always and will always be God because that’s just how the Spirit does things. It is in and through all of these things that we are determined.

On an Emerging Theology

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What I think Emerging Theology must do beyond specific topics is approach it in the way that describes the beautiful and meaningful. What is beautiful and meaningful about our faith? Why do we dance and delight and celebrate? Who is this God who is above all things yet has entered into our world to create and participate?

The problem with much theology is that it has the character of dry, remote philosophy. An Emerging theology, however, should have an aesthetic. It should be a poetry of itself, an elegant description of an elegant, sublime reality.

The earliest theologies had this character, it was descriptive and worship all thrown together, the discussion about God never separated from the devotion to God.

I think the Emerging Theology will have more of the character of the Eastern Church rather than the Western Church. I like how Lossky characterizes this:

The eastern tradition has never made a sharp distinction between mysticism and theology; between personal experience of the divine mysetries and the dogma affirmed by the Church… We must live the dogma expressing a revealed truth, which appears to us as an unfathomable mystery, in such a fashion that instead of assimilating the mystery to our mode of understanding, we should , on the contrary, look for profound change, an inner transformation of spirit, enabling us to experience it mystically. Far from being mutually opposed, theology and mysticism support and complete each other. One is impossible without the other. If the mystical experience is a personal working out of the content of the common faith, theology is an expression, for the profit of all, of that which can be experienced by everyone… There is, therefore, no Christian mysticism without theology; but, above all, there is no theology without mysticism. (Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 8)

The problem with much theology as presently presented is that not only has it not supported mysticism it has intentionally tried to distance itself from mysticism.

Rather than a list of rules, standards, positions and traits an Emerging Theology can and should describe the divine and the divine experience as a poem, as a dance, as a beautiful recitation of our mystical interaction, letting our minds and our souls and the Spirit mingle together in beautiful carefully constructed praise of the God who is and who we have learned him to be.

Of course rigour should not be discarded. It isn’t about rigour, it is about expectation and training. How many graduate degrees in theology have within them a core training in Christian Disciplines? How many theologians are experts also in Christian spirituality? The classics of theology, those many wonderful and grand writers we read from centuries ago were almost always both pastors and thinkers, their thought informing their ministry, their ministry informing their thought, their private spirituality informing their ministry and their thought.

Now we separate these worlds, and insist theology fit into a mold as Philosophy’s lesser cousin.

To blend mysticism and theology is challenging and hard. But it does not mean abandoning the rigour. The idea that distancing is required is a result of centuries of assuming this, insisting there is no room for spirituality in logical thought. But of course there is, and as my Lossky quote suggests it can often result in some of the most rigorous and complex theology.

To be coherent and new and wide reaching Emerging Theology should almost certainly be challenging and difficult. And to be something truly transformative it cannot depend on the same methods or approaches that modernity has taught. Discovering again the different methods will be certainly challenging and require new emphases in training.

If all things stay the same but for different buzz words what will actually emerge from any of this?

–from a couple of comments I made over at, posted here because I think they make for a good post here.