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The dominant question of all anthropology — who or what is man? who am I? — does not arise in the biblical narratives from comparing man with the animals or with the things of the world. Nor does it arise simply from being “before the face of God”, as Augustine and the Reformers affirmed. Rather it arises in the fact of a divine mission, charge and appointment which transcend the bounds of the humanly possible. Thus Moses (Ex. 3:11) asks in the fact of his call to lead the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt: ‘Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ Thus, too, Isaiah (Isa. 6:5) in the face of his call recognizes himself to be personally guilt-laden in the midst of a guilt-laden people: ‘Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.’ Thus Jeremiah in fact of his call recognizes what he is and what he was: ‘Ah, Lord God! behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child’ (Jer. 1:6).

Self-knowledge here comes about in face of the mission and call of God, which demand impossibilities of man. It is knowledge of self, knowledge of men and knowledge of guilt, knowledge of the impossibility of one’s own existence in the face of the possibilities demanded by the divine mission. Man attains to knowledge of himself by discovering the discrepancy between the divine mission and his own being, by learning what he is, and what he is to be, yet of himself cannot be.

Hence the answer received to man’s question about himself and his human nature runs: “I will be with thee.’ This does not tell man what he was and what he really is, but what he will be and can be in that history and that future to which the mission leads him. In his call man is given the prospect of a new ability to be.

What he is and what he can do, is a thing he will learn in hopeful trust in God’s being with him. Man learns his human nature not from himself, but from the future to which the mission leads him. What man is, is told him only by history, declared W. Dilthey. We can here accept this statement, if we add: the history to which the missionary hope leads him. The real mystery of his human nature is discovered by man in the history which discloses to him his future.

In this very history of missionary possibilities which are as yet unknown and as yet unlimited, it comes to light that man is not an ‘established being’, that he is open to the future, open for new, promised possibilities of being. The very call to the possibilities of the future which are yet obscure makes it clear that man is hidden from himself and will be revealed to himself in those prospects which are opened up to him by the horizons of mission. The mission and call do not reveal man simply to himself, with the result that he can then understand himself again for what he really is. They reveal and open up to him new possibilities, with the result that he can become what he is not yet and never yet was. This is why according to Old and New Testament usage men receive along with their call a new name, and with their new name a new nature and a new future.

–Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope

icicles at dawn

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icicles at dawn

icicle at dawn

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icicle at dawn

Winter is here!

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winter morning, December 17 2006

good deed for the day

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A hummingbird got in the house. Then decided the only way out was to fly at the highest windows in the living room (which are about 20 feet high).

Poor little thing was humming away without any sense to go out either the open front door or the open sliding glass door just underneath.

I get out the ladder, climb on up, and she’s so tired she doesn’t hum away from my hands. I slowly get my hands around her, climb down the ladder, and walk out the door. She doesn’t put up a fight.

I open my hands once outside, she just lays there. She looks at me, I look down at her. The setting sun casts the barest light showing the iridescent green on its back. I know her species. A female black-chinned hummingbird.

I hold out my hand, she stands up. Perches on my index finger for about five seconds, checking out the neighborhood. Then takes off in a blur along the branches of the cedar and out across the street.

Haven’t seen a hummingbird around here for a good month. This one must be on its way from somewhere to somewhere else and got a little lost, or slept in too long when the rest continued on to warmer parts. Hopefully, she didn’t get too worn out and will happily take a little rest, snack on a little spider or bug, then continue on fruitfully to her destination.

birds in the morning

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When I woke up this morning I was feeling rather distracted. I didn’t want to get to work and my attempts to read fell apart when I realized words were passing by without getting into my head. So I sat and watched, looking outside for a while while letting my mind wander afield, trying to gain focus by letting go of time a little bit.

It turned out to be busy outside.

The mountain quails have returned for winter. Five of them.

mountain quails

The chickadees kept coming to the bird bath for a bit of water and some seed from the feeder. Black oil sunflower seeds keep them stopping by all the day.

mountain chickadee

The jays were mostly elsewhere, but a couple bounced in to see what the hubbub was about.

steller’s jay

Finally, things quieted down, and the quail group wandered off, leaving a straggler for a few minutes.

mountain quail

an old prayer

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I happened to be looking at some of my Fuller writings and wandered across a retreat reflection I wrote. At the end of it was this prayer. I’ve no reason for posting it, other than the fact it sticks out to me right now. Maybe because I miss the sentiment of it and feel the waterfall has dried up for a season.

Lord of my heart,

A waterfall of your life pours down

over rocky soil, over boulders

taller than I, through the soil,

pouring, ever pouring in,

through and under,

seeking the open spaces,

widening the cracks,

until your living water pours unimpeded,

forcefully and constantly

into the pool of my soul

refreshing, renewing, reinvigorating

a parched and weary land.

So, it’s a prayer now, as much as it was a praise then.


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For the last few months a family of acorn woodpeckers has visited each day, generally in the mid-afternoon. There are about four or five, each of them chattering with the others in between hopping down for a drink from the bird bath.

acorn woodpeckers

not interested

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I’m still looking at various pictures and trying to come to terms with what they say about the theme. This one by Botticelli stood out to me when I began to think about the wise men:

Adoration by Botticelli

Generally, these kinds of pictures tend to slip away from my interest pretty quick. It’s quite clear the artist is portraying a scene not too far from his own situation in life. Fawning nobleman crowd around a decrepit building, ruins in the distance. I feel like I am looking at a scene from the early Italian renaissance, and not so much feel any sort of connection, or even consideration of Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.

There are a lot of paintings like this, and so it’s easy to move past and gaze at another painting with more insight. Yet, in my wanderings I kept coming back to this one. I would dismiss it, then feel it tugging at me once more. All because of one man.

That guy in the lower right corner.

What is that expression? He’s there, but he’s aloof, not joining in with the prattle of the other young men, offering nothing to the focus of the scene.

Something is going on with him. Like he’s been caught in the view of this scene and wished he wasn’t. There’s a lot of bother going on, so he’s playing his role. But he would rather be elsewhere.

Maybe it’s boredom. This baby king business isn’t all that interesting.

Or maybe that look is something more. The magi had been to Herod’s before this. Herod sent them on their way to Bethlehem, trusting them to return with a report. But if you know Herod, he was a man who trusted no one. So, he sends a spy to follow the fellows.

What would that servant do when the magi have found their baby? Watch, take notes, stay on the edge of the crowd.

That’s the look I see with this guy. It’s more sinister than boredom.

When I think about the slaughter of the innocents that comes later in the story, I begin to think about this guy. He led the force back to kill the baby, and when they couldn’t identify the right one, they killed them all.

Or maybe it’s not all that sinister. Maybe he’s like a lot of us. Distracted by life, but wondering what’s going on. Interested enough to show up, not so interested as to join in with the worship. He’ll wait and see what happens. Totally noncommittal before the now acknowledged King of the Jews.

I am intrigued by him because he has a story of some kind. Whether sinister or mundane, he stands out precisely because he seems so out of place with his lack of developed interest — so out of place that he draws the eye away from what should be the focus of the painting, on the Holy Family.

He is intriguing because he seems to mock the whole point of painting a scene like this to begin with.

Odd thing that. Odd characters make for interesting considerations I suppose.

christmas art

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I’ve been spending the day looking at Christmas related art. No, not the typical kitsch filled with children sledding, cottages with smoke pouring from the fireplace, or jolly old elves. I’m having a look at the religious art that accompanies the Christmas story.

One of the pieces that sticks out to me is this one, The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti:

The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

Most religious art dealing with Mary has very much the Catholic sense about it, highlighting her stature and role as most blessed among women, and in doing that making her to be no real woman at all, but a figure of religious imagination — the goddess some folks wish Christianity had.

Here, however, we see a scene. I like this painting because I imagine this is right before the angel disappears. He’s made his announcement that Mary is going to have a baby. She’s gotten over her initial shock. She asked how this was going to happen, the angel replies, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you”. We see the dove coming through the window above the angel’s hand here.

“May it be to me as you have said,” Mary replied to the angel. But in this painting we still see the weight of her initial reaction we read about in Luke 1:20. Mary was greatly troubled.

“The Lord is with you,” the angel said.

Mary was greatly troubled at his words, Luke writes.

My guess is she knew her Scriptures. What was going through her mind? Isaiah? Joseph? David? Ruth? Esther?

The text doesn’t say she replied with serene peace or with exuberant joy. “What do you mean?” she asks the angel, fearing more than the angel’s presence.

Rossetti captures this scene with the right emotions. The angel is blessing Mary, the dove (symbol of the Spirit) is entering. But Mary looks away, looks down, completely unsure about what this really means for her life.

She will do her part, and what a part it is, but she’s not quite at the point of acceptance that makes her rejoice in song. That comes later when she greets Elizabeth. Now, the angel has spoken. Mary will do her part. The process of God becoming a man is beginning.

Both Mary and the Angel still have the typical plate behind their head, the halo that appears in most medieval art. But, she’s not beaming with joy. She’s a little out of sorts. Now that she is most blessed she has no idea what to think or what to do.

In this moment, with it all happening so quick and changing her life in an instant, Mary is indeed troubled. Here in Rossetti’s painting, Mary is human and real — precisely the servant God chose through whom to do a work.