life in the suture zone...

In the earthquake faults between tectonic plates, the suture zone is the in between place where they meet. I find in that a metaphor for the times in which we live... and invite your conversation in the suture zone.

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Location: Bakersfield, CA, United States

... a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

knowing god...

Wow! Great comments to the last post! If you didn't read the comments you may want to in order to understand my response here. I decided to put it on as a post instead of a comment.

Hey, Tim! Welcome to my blog! Good comments. I think you are right. Modernism cannot completely describe God. Our knowing is imperfect. Our experience of him is imperfect. Glory to God that he desires (and accomplishes) relationship with us in spite of our lack of knowing or full experience. I think this is what drove St. Paul's comments in 1 Corinthians 13, by the way. We "see in a glass darkly" right now. We would all be better off to admit it.

Judy, the quote was sent to me by Marshall after a wonderful day of fellowship, talking, exploring and saying a lot of I-don't-knows.

Speaking of Marshall... great comment. Thanks for the literary landscape of how post-modernism has sprouted up there, echoing the sciences, philosophy and the other arts. I knew there was a reason I liked Garcia-Marquez! Thanks for introducing me to him years back.

Since you used me as an illustration regarding "knowing" someone, let me note a couple of things about just one thing you said (peripherally) and then expand a bit on it.

First of all, when we speak of knowing people, we are speaking in terms that may include some of but go well beyond knowing about them. True knowing as you have spoken of it comes in spending time with, in honest discussion with, in good and frustrating moments with, walking a life path with the one we are coming to know. I remember back when Dorothy (my wife) and I were first dating. We spent hours upon hours talking together about tons of things. We were finding out about each other, but at the same time we were coming to know each other in relational terms. Deeper relationship began forming when we went through experiences together, clashed, learned to understand more through experience, etc. To intellectually know about God or even surmise about him is not the same as knowing God. I'm reading a book right now about experiencing a conversational relationship with God. The premise is that the conversation, as in any good friendship, is intended to be bi-directional. (Mother Theresa's quoted answer to the question, "What do you do when you pray?", paraphrased poorly by me is said to have been something like, "Mostly I listen." Seems appropriate here.) I'm still working my way through the book but I'm sure I will post on it sometime. The point is that one way conversations where we do all the talking and none of the listening yield poor relationships in the end. Ask any woman that has married the "big, silent type." It would be nice if God didn't seem such the "big, silent type". No offense or disrespect meant toward him, but that is often the extent of our prayers -- and consequently of our relationship. Or can be if we aren't careful to learn to listen to our beloved.

Second, there are different levels or textures of knowing someone. Your knowing of me is different from Dorothy's knowing, or my parents' knowing, or Rebecca and Steven's (my children) knowing of me. But I am not defined by them. I am the same me. Their experience of and relationship to me makes a difference in how they perceive me, but I'm still the same person. How they see me is defined by how they view me and what role I play in their lives.

Which leads to my third point. I am not unknowable. But I can and do have relationships with friends and family, some of them quite deep, in spite of the fact that they cannot fully know me. (Nuts! I don't even know myself fully!)

This is where I think our analysis of post-modern thought thus far breaks down. We have not fully allowed for a God who desires to know and be known. Nor have we allowed for people who desire to embrace the mystery of such knowing.

Just as "language is inherently limited", so experience is inherently limited. Thus the wonder of something like love. How ironic that in the midst of the inherent limits, the misunderstandings, missed communications, cross purposes, self interests, etc, there are actually bonafide, valuable, valuing relationships. Certainly not perfect, but beautifully ironic, none the less.

If such relationships can exist in such a world of irony, how much more ironic (in the way we traditionally use the word) to not believe that kind of relationship is possible with the one who created all of this. Maybe that is what St. Paul was trying to say in his prayer for the Ephesians that they may know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3).

The caution to those of us living in this age is not to so crystallize our conception of God and what he will and won't do on the one hand, or decry on the other hand any kind of knowing of him whatsoever.

Some of the greatest biblical scholars I have known have been, above all, incredibly humble. I think that may be because they have learned to live in the tension of knowing and not knowing (with the "tilt" growing much heavier on the not knowing side as time goes by), and while doing that, as Micah says, walking humbly with their God. They were pretty honest with him, too.

Enough for now. But I'm intrigued, Marshall, with how you talk about being freed by the relationship with God to actually walk with, discuss with, argue with Him (my words, not yours). I think you're onto something there. It sounds much more like what I read in the biblical narratives, though, I must say, that Samson is certainly not the poster child for faithful relationship with God. ;o)

Still working on two cafe dolce posts, but these interesting thoughts (and family duties) keep getting in the way. Another post, unrelated to all of this and dealing with the poor, is simmering just below the surface, too.

Blessings to you all, folks. Thanks for reading and commenting on my blog.

Grace and peace,


Friday, July 22, 2005

holy imagination...

You can thank Judy Thomas for the genesis of these thoughts if you like them. (Please blame me if you don’t, for I wouldn’t want to blame her for my ramblings on a theme.) But something she said on her blog several weeks ago got me thinking about the lost place of imagination in the modern Western world. If you would like to check out her blog go to Musings. I try to go there most days.

In a response to something she wrote, I said…

“The absence of imagination is the failure of knowledge.”

Sometimes, when I am writing I just pop out with statements like that. I don’t know that I fully think them through (and this blog post is probably the beginning of my wrestling with whether I believe that statement or not.)

When I was growing up, the first Dragnet episodes were being taped and broadcast. There’s a signature line from that show. “Just the facts, ma’am.” One can’t find a better description of the pinnacle process of the modern era, in my opinion. We have been consumed with facts and their construction into what we would call “truths”. Truths are assembled to create systems and systems into worldviews. It’s just our way. Or at least it has been.

It’s not that the post-moderns I have had conversations with are throwing out reason. Nor is it that moderns during the modern era stuck with one objective scientific truth for all time. We have all been told of two of the scientific/philosophical bookends of the modern era, Sir Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein.

As Brian McLaren has noted, until Newton, Ptolemy’s view largely held sway, at least as a system. Newton looked at the discoveries of Galileo, Copernicus and others, and, when Ptolemy’s world was crashing down around everyone else’s ears, Newton created a metaphor for science – the laws of nature – which largely resolved the issue for most of the modern era. Einstein’s reflections, upon imagining something other than Newtonian physics said it seemed as if the rug had been pulled out from under him. His eyes were opened to a new world.

There is a lot more of significance that could be said in regard to what each of these men discovered and how they characterized those discoveries. But, what I want to note is that both of these men had incredible imaginations that allowed them to think of the world in ways that no one else had thought of before. Both men, dealing with the same world, came to very different conclusions about physics, how the world began, what matter and energy are. The world did not stop because Newton didn’t imagine quantum mechanics. Quite the contrary. His view of the world enabled not only science, but government and society and religion and all other facets of human interaction and encounter with the world to continue. But it failed to fully describe the world and how it worked. Most of all it failed to ascribe meaning or value to existence. (Remember Jean Paul Sartre? Pretty depressing plays, aren’t they?) Einstein and Planck and their heirs have pushed us back toward mystery. The math of quantum mechanics fails those who wield it as they struggle to explain the complex relationships between the different forces that exist in our universe and matter. Take, for instance, that illusive unified theory. We still don’t understand gravity (though there are some scientists who believe they are close to a breakthrough).

It proves the axiom that the more you know, the more you know you don’t know.

For all those whose heads are swimming (like mine) right now, please note this simple truth: imagination makes the difference. From Ptolemy to Newton to Planck and Einstein, now to Sagan and Hawking and others, the ability to imagine the “facts” in different ways and relationships has allowed us to transport a single photon from one location to another. It has allowed us to look below the surface of protons, neutrons and electrons that were the smallest building blocks of matter when I was going to school (I know, this dates me!) to quarks and neutrinos and so forth. And below that? Some scientists postulate super string theory.

We’re still searching for appropriate metaphors, but a few have already developed. How about “the fabric of space and time”? How about this quote from a current scientist struggling with how all of this could be:

At the most fundamental level, all of the most important physical processes are, in part, determined by “factors” that have no detectable presence in the physical world. A range of possible outcomes are determined mechanically, but untold numbers of decisions are being made by “something” that from among these possibilities selects every actual outcome. And furthermore, each time a decision is made, all other probabilities are instantaneously adjusted and altered so as to keep the whole system within certain bounds. This is not a philosophical concept. This is a description of what has been shown, to the shock and horror of many scientists, in actual physical experiments. The only way to talk about it metaphorically is that there’s “something” that is not part of the physical universe, which sits outside it, and simultaneously orchestrates all events throughout the entire universe, according to principles we can’t know. My own particular angle on this is that if there is this effect that is sustaining the universe in an ongoing way, causing results, but itself has no prior cause, well, that is one of the oldest definitions of God.
-- Jeffrey B. Satinover

(Thanks to Marshall for this quote.)

So where is this post leading?

The only real point I want to make is that imagination is behind all of these thoughts we call facts.

While, in religious terms, imagination on its own is not infallible, knowledge without imagination is deadly. In my experience with the modern era, the loss of imagination and the dependence on “knowledge” has led to religion that is based on so-called “facts” that have little to do with God’s character and much to do with a closed system of beliefs, complete with checklists that help us avoid hell. All of this bears little resemblance to God’s interaction with people as recorded in the Bible (at least as I read it). Certainly behavior is important, but it is a byproduct of relationship, or at least the desire for relationship, more than something in and of itself. Also, the results of that closed system in so far as how it attempts to make us into better people are mixed at best and absolutely evil at worst.

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe that God is unknowable, even in the midst of our religious systems. God has always revealed himself in the midst of human imperfection, if the Bible’s accounts can be trusted. Even Jesus, many of whose followers consider him to be God in the Flesh (yes, I am a committed Trinitarian after many years of waffling on it), lived among people sporting numerous imperfections, not only in behavior but in understanding also. As I said when I began this blog, I am a struggling, but mostly joyful, apprentice of Jesus. Since I also believe he is God revealed, I certainly believe God is knowable. However, “seeing God” in some kind of religious belief system of rights and wrongs and facts and checklists is difficult, sometimes impossible IMHO.

Well, this has become a ponderous post.

Enough to state my premises… first, imagination is sorely needed as God's people try to figure out what it looks like to be God's people in a post-modern world. There's a lot more that could be said about that. Second, imagination has an incredibly important place in a walk with God. Not imagination as wishful thinking. Instead, a faith that opens its eyes beyond the jail bars of systems of theology to its infinite God, who, though not observable in the same way you and I are, is still very much real, very observable, very close, and very much in love with every single person, every sparrow, and every wildflower that exists, has existed or ever will exist.

As with Leonard Sweet, that’s something that is too much for me to get my two-pound box of brains around.

Might take a good bit of imagination, you think?

Grace and peace,


Thursday, July 21, 2005

catching up...

Thanks to all who keep visiting my blog. I haven't given up blogging. In fact I have four or five posts nearly ready to go. Check back. Probably tomorrow I'll be posting something. Sorry to be so long between posts.

Grace and peace,


Sunday, July 03, 2005


Hey, everyone. I finally added links to the left. Unfortunately, the title typeface is unlike "Recent Posts" and other sidebar titles that came with this template because they are really jpegs that load from the server. I haven't researched whether there is a "Links" jpeg in the same format... I figure if there was the person who created the template would have included it in the template as a possible add on. So this is the way it will look unless I figure out another way to do it.

Anyway, here are my first few links. I've included Larry James' blog at the very top because he does such a good job focusing us on the kinds of things Jesus found important when he was here rather than all the stuff we seem preoccupied with. Zoe Group is the blogsite of Brandon Scott Thomas, the leader of that a cappella group and the worship leader at Otter Creek Church in Nashville. The Ooze and Next-Wave are good sites if you want a taste of what people in the emergent conversation are saying.

I'll be adding other links as time goes on, but this is a start. As I said earlier, if you have suggestions for links, let me know by email (see my profile link above).


Grace and peace!


Saturday, July 02, 2005

to the dump...

Warning: this is going to be a long post. Guess I’ve been saving up for the last couple of weeks. So grab a cup of coffee (or do the Dew) and let me know what you think when you’re done reading.

A few weeks back I made several trips to our local landfill. I parted with an old friend there and several of its cousins. It was an IBM clone. A Lazer XT. (Anybody remember how fast the XT machines were in their day?) MS-DOS. My first DOS machine. Not my first computer, but the one on which I wrote two novels, finished a screenplay, wrote umpteen other sermons, scripts, plays, magazine articles, treatments and picture book texts and the computer on which I honed my writing skills. I learned to think through my fingers on that computer. And I spent many nights falling asleep at that keyboard.

Mind you, I haven’t used that particular computer for probably 15 years. But it was somewhat hard to part with it after all that time anyway. In its day it was fast. Much faster than the Atari 130XE that started my journey in computer land. Faster even than my dad’s IBM PC, which was quite impressive at the time next to my Atari (and whose keyboard, by the way, would have made a great boat anchor). The Lazer was among probably five or six old machines we dumped that day. But I was the one to toss it on the pile. I waited as long in its life as I could to do it. But the time had come. I needed the space for other things in our “collection.”

It made me think.

This computer was long, long past its prime. Pre-windows of any kind. It required all kinds of special knowledge in order to operate effectively. No GUI (graphical user interface) on this puppy. No easy buttons that launched macros for every little thing. If you wanted to use this machine, you had to know the code. Else it was pretty useless. But for me, it was the lifeblood of writing.

Writing as an art has changed very little over the last fifteen years. But the latest and greatest computers have. They are faster, easier to use (my opinion), more intuitive than ever (even the non-Mac computers, grudgingly admitted by me, a Mac aficionado). You don’t have to use just text anymore to communicate. You can include pictures, movies, music. You can mix the media up and with a certain amount of skill come out with something akin to lower-priced Madison Avenue presentations. Anyone can publish these days. They can publish it to the world on Blogger or some other online sharing vehicle using today’s hardware and software and the ever-present World Wide Web.

Funny thing is that I can still get a command prompt line on both my Mac G4 Powerbook and on my Windows XP machine. I don’t do it often, usually only when I’m struggling with Internet connectivity and need to ping a site. But I can still get it. It’s there, underlying all of the new gadgets and gizmos. Today’s latest and greatest computers stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before.

Even the very first groundbreaking computers stand on the shoulders of the primitive abacus.

I’m saying all of this to make a point. Or two.

First point. This is for people who are leaving things behind. There is an appropriate time to dump a computer. That time was probably long before when I did it. I held onto that Lazer XT because it was what I “grew up” with. It was foundational. It was my introduction to computing. It was almost a funereal event when I tossed it on the junk pyre. That may seem overly dramatic, but more importantly there are beneficial ways and reasons to dump a computer and less than beneficial ways and reasons to dump a computer.

Seow Choon Leong is a college friend that I haven’t seen since Pepperdine days. He is a brilliant Biblical scholar who has gone on to Princeton Theological Seminary as a professor of Old Testament. I heard years back that his beginning Hebrew students give him standing ovations at the end of class. I bought his religion library from him before he left Malibu years ago. One book in particular he took great care with and spoke to me specifically only of that one. It was a beaten copy of a basic introduction to the Bible, very few pages, almost an outline. Not of much use to me. And Leong was well beyond it by this point. But, for all its simplicity and even mistakeness, he treated it with great respect. It was his first introduction to the Bible. It was foundational for him.

There is much talk in emergent church conversations about the failure of the structure of the modern church, about mistaken focus on organizational survival rather than kingdom outbreak, much of which I agree with. Most of it is critical, some very vehement. And the conversation on the side of those who are not convinced of the validity of the emergent leaders’ conversations is equally strident and growing more so all the time.

Might I suggest that the church has always been flawed, from its very beginnings, and will always be? A fair reading of the gospels and letters would certainly admit that, wouldn’t you say? But for all its warts, challenges, stumbles and faux pas, the early church changed the world as it changed people’s outlooks, attitudes and purposes. There was an underlying kingdom theme through it all. God has broken into, and continues to break into, the world through his son Jesus in his apprentices, whether modern or emergent.

So might I also suggest that if we choose to leave behind what was before, what even may have been toxic to us, that we recognize that for all its toxicity (as we see it at least), that good has come from and through it? Some people stubbornly hang onto and even use DOS computers. It may make no sense in the larger world around all of us, but it makes sense in their world. God bless ‘em. Truly. Leave them alone. In the words of St. Paul, “Who are you to judge the servant of another?” If you are “dumping the computer” because it no longer makes sense to you, or for the sake of the kingdom or whatever your reason, is it too much to ask to be respectful of the people that are not ready to do so, whose worldview is still defined by modern structures and strictures? Whether you want to admit it or not, you stand on the shoulders of those who have come before you.

Second point, for those who are not ready to dump the computer. When I dumped my Lazer XT, I was not dumping what had been done on that machine by me. I was not dumping what I learned in the process of using it (except perhaps the codes, etc). I was not dumping my purposes in what I wrote on that machine. I was dumping an outmoded way of working. It was a tool that had become ineffective. It would no longer allow me to communicate with anyone else. Had I insisted on staying with it, I would only have become more ineffective and isolated. And perhaps I was also dumping one construction of the data so that I could build another. I don’t know. This metaphor is getting clumsier by the moment and way too mechanistic, but I think you get what I’m trying to say.

I believe very strongly that a transition must be made in our conception of church. Like clock speeds on microchips that double every how many months, the world has rapidly changed around us. The way people think and what they value is different today. The whole worldview of the western world has become post-modern, post-Christian and post pretty much everything. The structures of church that made sense when I was a child, for many no longer make sense. We perhaps became distracted at times during the modern era with the “computer codes”, from a modern viewpoint of course, rather than the timeless kingdom purpose that Jesus preached. Perhaps we were more concerned about how “clean” and precise the computer code was rather than building the relationships between God and man that Jesus worked for while he was on earth. That having been said, there was a lot of kingdom work accomplished during the last 500 years. A lot of Jesus has crept in through the church as it was experienced during the Modern Era. We should celebrate that. And at the same time, we should not be so wedded to modern “hardware” that we cannot see another way (or more likely multiple ways) that the living Jesus can work through his people to bring the kingdom into today’s (and tomorrow’s) world. Because, truth is that we have become ineffective. We have become isolated. We have become anachronistic.

So do we close all the institutional churches? Toss out modern expressions of somewhat spiritually-motivated social structure? No. But we need a rebirth of imagination. And I think we in the institutional church need to very carefully examine what hills are worth dying on. Perhaps, claiming to be followers of Jesus as we do, we ought not to die on any hill that he wouldn’t die on. You think? Chew on that one for a while.

The church of Jesus Christ is not a building. It is not even a group of people agreed for the most part on a list of doctrines, and working on their implementation to some extent, nor is it a group whose “correct” belief structure insures their eternal outcome. It is not even necessarily a social organism structured in certain forms, practicing certain rituals, etc.


In the words of St. Paul the church is the Body of the living Christ, and we are each interlinking pieces in the ongoing work of Jesus in the world. It is less about systematic theologies (a problem that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had honed to a fine art) and more about living presence, God and man, the ones who wrestle with God (and each other).

Personally, I think it’s time to take a few trips to the dump. But it is never time to look down on those who don’t. Nor is it time to arrogantly declare our old ways or new ways or modern ways or post-modern ways as The Way.

Perhaps if we shed some of the baggage – new pride or old structures – we can start becoming what he is trying to form us into: people who lived and acted and loved like him.

Grace and peace!


a report on my health...

Thank you for all those who have expressed concern over my health. All indicators have come back negative for disease. I have been told by the doctors to eat right, get the proper amount of rest and exercise prudently (unlike I did during the treadmill test). Unspoken this time (but oft repeated in the past by them) is the expectation that I not overcommit myself to any activity.

Of course, I am procrastinating in implementing all of these advice points. My intentions are good, though. (Why is it that a song my mother used to sing is coming to mind right now? "Mañana, mañana, mañana is good enough for me....")

I truly do intend to implement this stuff very soon.


Grace and peace!