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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

bumper sticker theology...

I saw a bumper sticker on the way to work this morning that made me laugh. Then it made me sad. It said, “Militant agnostic... I don’t know and neither do you!”

You can hardly blame this person for defending their position, and I am certain that they’ve had cause to become militant about not being able to come to a conclusion about God’s existence. You kind of wonder how many Christians have tried to argue them into the Kingdom of God? You wonder if they were accused of stupidity or dishonesty or rebellion in the process? Makes me wonder about us and shake my head.

I see the same thing in those little fish magnets, the ones with legs and the name of Darwin inside. Whatever you think of Darwinian evolution, I think maybe those showed up as a reaction to our browbeating efforts to convince those folks that their view of the universe is somehow ungodly and that they are bound for hell all because of their view on the origins of life. You think that perhaps they are just being honest about what they’ve observed and truly think? You think there might even be some of Jesus’ followers who agree with them? You think a respectful, humble and honest conversation (heavy on the listening with a few mea culpas thrown in) might be in order rather than the complex and strained argument that some “Christian scientist” has come up with to protect the sanctity of the very modern verbal plenary inspiration view of the Scriptures? (If you didn’t know, that’s really what the whole argument is about underneath it all from the “Christian” perspective.)

The saddest and most devastating response I’ve seen to those Darwin magnets is the one that has a Christian fish swallowing the “Darwin” fish. Is this what the inbreaking Kingdom of God is all about, what someone believes about origins? And isn’t that picture of a “Christian” fish eating a “Darwin” fish a bit ironic when you think about it? Doesn’t that prove the point of Darwinian evolution, that the fittest survive? (Have the people who have those Darwin-eating fish even thought about this and how it is perceived by the world???)

Back to the militant agnostic for a moment.... Do you think that maybe they’ve come to that conclusion honestly and with a great deal of thought?

There needs to be a lot more humble listening in this world, in my opinion, especially among Christians. They ought to be leading the way in humility. Sadly, I think many of us at the back of the pack when it comes to that.

God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.

Seems I read that somewhere lately.

Sorry. My rant for the day.

Grace and peace,


Wednesday, February 22, 2006

silence 4...

Paul Simon, one of my favorite composers, wrote a song that he and Art Garfunkel sang on the Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme album called The Dangling Conversation. A couple considers shallow topics and doesn’t deal with the deeper questions about their relationship, or lack of it. “And I only kiss your shadow, I cannot feel your hand, you’re a stranger now unto me lost in the dangling conversation and the superficial sighs in the borders of our lives.”*

I think of this song sometimes in relationship to silence and the Deity. Is that descriptive of my relationship with God? More pointedly, is that descriptive of God's relationship with me?

There is another side to silence, though. Though relationship cannot exist easily in total silence, there is a place for silent companionship in relationship.

I’m wondering if the noise of our world (and it is noisy) has caused us not to seek the disciplines of mindfulness and silence that are necessary not only for our mental health, and not only so that in the silence we can actually hear God (both of which are worthy purposes), but also so that we can spend silent companionship in the presence of God himself?

I could write a lot more words about this, but I’m just going to leave it there for now.

What do you think?

Grace and peace,


*Copyright © 1966 Paul Simon

Monday, February 20, 2006

silence 3...

silence 3…

My friend, Tim, teased me several weekends ago about this series on silence. He noted the irony of spending so many words in pursuit of the subject of silence. Seems kind of oxymoronic, right? Oh, well. It is in part the subject with which I am occupied at present. (Aren’t you proud of me for not ending my sentence with a preposition? I don’t talk this way normally [as you can see by my adverb placement].) ;-)

Here I continue from previous thoughts...

One thing that silence can mean is that there is nothing there. I want to get that out on the table first. That is a challenge I have struggled with and that I know a friend of mine is struggling with. What can we say about that? In the silence we can say that there is a possibility that this conclusion is true. It is possible that nothing is there. Those who are of faith don’t like to consider that possibility, but it is a possibility nonetheless. Lack of audible or other indication of divine presence can mean that nothing is there. Let me quickly add, though, that silence in no way is conclusive in the matter.

I think of the SETI project that constantly records the background noise of the universe, the echoes of the Big Bang, the radio sounds of pulsars and quasars, hoping to hear something other than random radio signals, some indication that there is other intelligent life out there in the universe. So far, nothing. But does that mean there is no other intelligent life? Possibly. Then again, possibly not.

Silence is inconclusive.

Back when I was at Mount Calvary I decided to take a trip down one of the hiking trails that led to Rattlesnake Canyon. It was a warm day, high 70s, low 80s. A perfect day for a January hike. I got to thinking, “You know, the rattlesnakes are normally hibernating this time of year, but it’s awfully warm today. Wonder if any of them might be out for a mid-winter sunbath?” Then I thought about the proliferation of California mountain lions. If you know anything about mountain lions, you’ll know that they can see – and stalk – you without your ever knowing they are there. That made me stop and think. “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Besides, I was out of shape and I didn’t want to get myself in the position of not being able to get back up to the road. Halfway down the trail I turned around and started climbing again. It was surprising how quickly I made it back.

The point? Just because there is no audible or sensory evidence of any other presence does not mean there is no one or nothing there. Granted, one can make up their own completely imaginary world and believe it is there, act as if it is there and thus create it in their experience. But it is a wishful world, not one that is authentic. I think many of my post-modern friends are honestly trying to avoid that. Besides its irrelevancy to their lives, they see Christianity as “maybe fine for you, but I just don’t get it.” Above all, we don’t need a faith that is inauthentic.

I want to get back to silence in a moment, but let’s switch senses for a bit. What about the sense of sight? What about the nature of darkness in relationship to sight? Is darkness in and of itself a thing? Does the inability to see something mean it is not there? One of the main reasons that I was afraid of the dark when I was a child was that I couldn’t see what was out there. There could be something there that could harm me. As it turned out there never was. Almost.

Once, when I was a teenager, I stayed home to work while the rest of my family headed to a weekend church function. Sitting in my father’s recliner watching an intense movie, I suddenly heard someone step into the flowerbed just outside the window next to the chair. Internally, I freaked out. Action-wise, I quietly eased over the arm of the chair away from the window and belly-crawled to the front door where I switched on the porch light. A few seconds later, I heard a car door on the street close and the car drove away.

When my step-grandfather came up from the back house a few minutes later (I called him), we went out to the side of the house with flashlights and found the plants crushed in two places where that person had stood not three feet away from me, listening through an open window. Now, granted, I heard this person. But I didn’t see them. What if I had not heard nor seen them? Would that have made this an exercise in vivid imagination? Not at all.

So far, all that I’ve suggested in terms of example deals with sensory experience. Hearing, seeing, and, as you know, there are three more.

But we don’t discover all things with our senses. Some things we posit from reason. The existence of subatomic particles has largely been a theoretical pursuit. Those who study advanced physics work using complex math and predict what may or may not exist, as they attempt to describe subatomic “reality” and the relationships between forces and matter in our universe. They have a pretty good record. My friend, Marshall, is excited to live in such a time. It actually seems possible that in our lifetime these theoreticians may come up with a unified theory of matter and energy and whatever else there is, etc. I share Marshall’s excitement and hope.

Sometimes the math is right. Sometimes it is wrong. Mostly it seems to get closer and closer to describing reality. We’ll see if they succeed. They have, however, gotten to the point of frustration when it comes to some aspects of physics. They cannot predict, for instance, any potential reality outside of our observable universe. Well, they can predict it, but they have no hope of experiment that will verify their predictions, or for that matter, the math capable of exploring those questions. For instance, where does all that matter and energy go that is sucked into a black hole? They don’t know and they have no way of finding out.

Does that mean there is nothing outside our universe? On the contrary. Many of these same scientists are frustrated because they are convinced that there is indeed some kind of physical reality beyond what we can observe. But they can’t know. And the math frustrates them. Perhaps, some day they will figure it out. That is certainly possible. To posit that we are near the extent of what is knowable, or even observable, is foolish indeed. The truth is, the more we know, the more questions we have about what we don’t know. While explanations of physical existence as we currently know it (and may know it in the future) may be elegant, they are not simple. What we find more often than not is that we are simple creatures with simple minds that can easily be awed.

So what does all of this have to do with silence?

Good question. I would just point out that just because we don’t have observable, verifiable “evidence” of the existence of a deity, is no comment on whether that deity exists. In fact, if we posit that deity has had something to do with establishing what we observe, it is not at all surprising that evidence for that deity would be different than and not verifiable in the same way as other things “created” by that deity. Silence might be the norm. Or, communication might be accomplished, if it happens at all, through other means. And perhaps it requires listening on my part? Perhaps it requires silence in the Presence on my part?

I could write a lot more, but I’m already almost three pages into this post. I will continue to post on silence, though, because there are other questions to be asked.

But these last questions about silence, first..... In what way would God have to speak in order for us to know it was God? And how often? If the doubt that comes with distance and time makes us question those moments that happened in the past, is that later doubtful reflection more relevant or real than what we knew when we first experienced the communication from him?

Perhaps my complaint is not one of total silence from God, but the infrequency of experiencing that communication from God. I have, after all, had some experience with what I have claimed (and still claim) to be his direction. (Either that, or I am a paranoid schizophrenic and am hearing voices.....) The last time I saw The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, I was struck and disturbed by the penultimate scene of the movie, where the high kings and queens of Narnia were crowned at Cair Paravel. Lucy, watching Aslan walking away from the castle along the beach, is distressed that Aslan is leaving and begins to cry. Tumnus the fawn observes that Aslan is not a tame lion, and that he comes and goes as he pleases. I’m wondering if that is not a better, even more biblical, description of our experience of God’s voice and direction than what I have come to crave or expect. The verse in John’s gospel about how blessed we are who have not seen and still believe comes back to me here.

I don’t know.

Anyway, for now....

Grace and peace,


Saturday, February 18, 2006

back to posting soon...

Thank you for your prayers. Dorothy's mom passed away in her sleep just three days after my last post. Though grieving, the family would never want to bring her back to the suffering she endured in her last days even if they could. It is a hard blessing, but it is a blessing. And though there is grieving at her absence, it is not a grief without hope.

Speaking of hope (a different kind), I hope to be back to posting sometime in the next week.

Grace and peace,


Saturday, February 04, 2006

posting delay/family matters...

If it seems like I left you hanging and dropped off the face of the earth, it's because my mother-in-law is going through the very painful and long process of dying.

She is a sweet person and it is hard to see her going through this. Dorothy has been down here in Santa Paula everyweekend and sometimes during the week. I have been down here nearly every weekend.

While today is not a good day, she has been more expressive today than we've seen her in weeks. It has helped me today to know that she very much doesn't want to drag this out. That has been very clear. Though she can't speak more than one or two words a day, if at all, today she seems to be aware and communicating her desire to be done with this. My wife and her brother amended their mom's comfort care order today, choosing to no longer allow oral antibiotics. This will probably hasten things, since she has been constantly fighting infections. She is now strictly on pain meds and oxygen, if needed. She is in such pain, and the doctor said the antibiotics are just going to prolong that pain until the inevitable comes. She is ready to go.

Please pray for her, if you would, and for my wife, Dorothy, her brother, David, and the rest of the family.


P.S. There is at least one more part of silence coming, probably two. Plus I still have a number of things to share from the monastery experience. Just please be patient for awhile.

Grace and peace.