Thursday, August 30, 2018

Heidegger's entanglement

"Had Heidegger ever come up with a saying to sum up his philosophy it would have been: ‘I dwell, therefore I am.’ For him, identity is bound up with being in the world, which in turn means having a place in it. We don’t live in the abstract space favoured by philosophers, but in a particular place, with specific features and history. We arrive already entangled with the world, not detached from it. Our identity is not secured just in our heads but through our bodies too, how we feel and how we are moved, literally and emotionally.

"Instead of presenting it as a puzzle to be solved, Heidegger’s world is one we should immerse ourselves in and care for: it is part of the larger ‘being’ where we all belong. As Malpas puts it, Heidegger argues that we should release ourselves to the world, to find our part in its larger ebb and flow, rather than seek to detach ourselves from it in order to dominate it." ~ Charles Leadbeater summarizes a lot of what I like about Heidegger in as clean a language as one could care for.


A quick word about Heidegger's Nazism: I want to say that Heidegger was like Ezra Pound, whom I feel gets a pass for being a good poet, but a political and social idiot. Pound was selfless enough to encourage many world-class poets. But, Heidegger wasn't selfless. He was man of poor character, a bigot, a coward. He did not practice what he preached. Reading Heidegger is like coming back to what was a family home, now made rubble by a spring twister. Tragedy everywhere, but some keepsakes remain.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

An Unalienable Shelf

Supreme Court Justice William Brennen, Jr., speaking at Georgetown University on October 12, 1985, put into words something that has been gnawing at me for months now. I had only one class in law, and that was business law. Yet I think it true that values exist beyond the violent grasp of politics. Brennen agrees, pointing to the Bill of Rights.

"The view that all matters of substantive policy should be resolved through the majoritarian process has appeal under some circumstances, but I think it ultimately will not do. Unabashed enshrinement of majority will would permit the imposition of a social caste system or wholesale confiscation of property so long as a majority of the authorized legislative body, fairly elected, approved. Our Constitution could not abide such a situation. It is the very purpose of a Constitution-and particularly of the Bill of Rights-to declare certain values transcendent, beyond the reach of temporary political majorities. The majoritarian process cannot be expected to rectify claims of minority right that arise as a response to the outcomes of that very majoritarian process."

The Bill of Rights, of course, is a document born of politics. But the founders rightly tossed the ball up out of reach and into the hand of God, "that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" and it lists a few of these that were consequent upon its historic purpose.

I think American politics has forgotten this high unalienable shelf. And I know that American evangelicals have largely forgotten it. But a theological politic must have it and cannot exist without it. Isn't that shelf "Jesus is Lord (and you are not)"? Yes. Consider, then, the unalienable shelf of values untouchable by the greedy chaos of human politic: to it we aspire and from it we are judged (Psalm 2).

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Some Changes Affected by Sacramental Theology

A couple of threads have come together for me recently, and I want to sketch them out. Each one began independent of the others. But all have found a common nexus in sacramental theology.

Sacramental theology is that branch of theology which asks about the sacraments. And it is a very connected node. Every branch of theology connects to it, that is, has something to say about it, and it has something to say about them. One of the best surprises in my theological life was discovering that sacramental theology existed in the edifice of theology, and that it had always done so ("The sacrament is a manifestation of the Word." ~ Schmemman). But, due to the theological choices made by earlier Christian communities in which I worshiped, it had always been avoided. It was kind of the odd basement or the run-down wing of the castle. Not so any more. Its doors were flung open in 2008, and I was allowed to wander. And, in so doing, it has slowly proved influential and necessary. So, then, getting back to those threads--

The first one has to do with the way that the New Testament casts this age as a second Exodus. Jesus, for example, is often called the prophet, and is obviously the new Moses in the Sermon on the Mount relaying a new Torah. Beyond that, though, Paul warns the Corinthians not to make the same mistakes that Israel did in the Wilderness, and equates old and new testament ritual acts. Clearly there are parallels: the crossing of the red sea becomes baptism and God's supply of water and manna in the wilderness becomes the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

The second has to do with the subtle way that Reformation theology requires sacramental theology. Without it, Calvinism becomes a baptized determinism, with its cold inevitability. With it, Calvin's (if not Paul's) debit and credit of election is balanced with the warm generosity of the open table.

The third has to do with a question I have been asking myself for a while: Why do revivalist churches hammer on sin so much? Why does the either/or in/out saved/damned of sin's dialectic logic figure so prominently in the way these traditions work? Don't get me wrong: Jesus talked about sin a lot. I'm not asking why revivalist churches talk about sin, but why it is their opening gambit? Why isn't it the third behind, say, hospitality to strangers (the other) and evangelism? Anyway, perhaps an answer may be found in the soft-pedaling revivalist traditions make of sacrament. Without the common loaf, these traditions require something else to make a common center. And that thing is dogma. Theology becomes an exercise in border patrol. Exegesis as inoculation. Sacrament resists such reduction. Sacramental theology casts a wider net that a border or than pure reason.

This is not to say that confessions which include sacramental theology must not include a well-considered harmartiology, they must or be innovators. However, the reason and function of that harmartiology is going to be different and differently expressed. How exactly, I haven't yet worked out.


Postscript: A recent Facebook discussion on the merits of subsidized (free) undergraduate education produced the following comment from a local commissioner that I know. Her response reflects exactly the kind of save/damned, in/out boundary speech discussed in the third point above, albeit in a political context. She wrote:

"With the amount of free college being already provided to a large extent in TN and an extremely high drop out rate.....there are no incentives and no proverbial skin in the game. Not everyone deserves a trophy. In the real world there are winners and losers and the sooner we realize that, the quicker we grow up and [move] on to more productive lives instead of constantly waiting for the next hand out. Life does not hand out participation trophies."

This is the spirit in which she begins to do politics or in which she does politics. And she is representative of the American norm. Why do we begin from this attitude? I don't find it a thoughtful attitude or a compassionate one, and it is definitely not a theological one.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Robinson on Conscience in the Churches

A Winter 2018 post in the American Scholar excerpts Marilynne Robinson thinking aloud about conscience. And, in the doing, she puts to words some of the thoughts about how conscience was supposed to work in the early church that have been swimming around in my head. I've long had the suspicion that more needed to be said about conscience, whatever it is. (We are still waiting on the latest brain scan to tell us.) Anyway, here is the relevant portion:
In his letter to the Romans, Paul asks the new congregation, apparently divided by cultural and ethical differences between its pagan and Jewish members, “Who are you to judge another’s servant? It is before his master that he stands or falls, and the Lord will make him stand.” This is advice meant for members of a community of believers, people who accept servanthood as descriptive of their and their fellows’ relationship to God, and who see this relationship as personal in the sense that God loves where he loves and compensates for his servants’ failings by his grace. Ideally they have accepted a particular obedience, with origins in the laws of Moses, exemplified in the life and teachings of Christ. So much might the apostle see, or hope to see, in the early Church. But history tells us that no great effort has ever been required to narrow the circle of those who should be seen as God’s servants, whose errors would be made good by God’s grace and therefore should not be judged. We all know the enormities that have made themselves presentable to the Christian conscience, often enough campaigns of violence against other Christians. Sects and denominations still remember the injuries their ancestors suffered long centuries ago, and can still become indignant at the thought of them. They might also remember injuries they inflicted, if the comforts of identity were not diluted a little by such ventures into honesty.
Here is another thing Paul says in the letter to the Romans, still in the context of his thoughts on tolerance and the authority of conscience: “The faith you have, have as your own conviction before God.” That is, do not judge fellow believers and do not offend them. It may be fair to wonder whether this excellent advice has gone unheeded all these years because faith has tended to be a conviction shown to men, who, if we can trust Paul, are a good deal more fastidious than God.

This to me is a vital plank about how we approach ecclesiology, moving away from a doctrinal line in the sand (always moving and porous for insiders, always firm and impermeable to outsiders) toward a generous tolerance bound not to tolerance for tolerance sake but to God's ability to govern for himself his own people. More later on this.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

On Bonhoeffer's world come of age

Today I finished Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Letters and Papers from Prison (MacMillan 1967 rev. ed.) and read for myself those oft-quoted passages of a world come of age and of Christian faith beyond religion. How many dozens of times have I thought about these words Bonhoeffer wrote from Tegel prison to his friend Eberhard Bethge? How many dozens of books and articles have I read from people also struggling to understand Bonhoeffer's pastoral vision?

Bonhoeffer observes that the people of his day are immunized by modernity against religious impulses. "Man," he writes (Mensch), "has learnt to deal with himself in all questions of importance without recourse to the 'working hypothesis' called 'God' . . . "Everything gets along without 'God'--and, in fact, just as well as before" (168).[1] And he wants to know how Christian preaching and the church should best address this.

What is bothering me incessantly is the question what Christianity really is, or indeed who Christ really is, for us today. The time when people could be told everything by means of words, whether theological or pious, is over, and so is the time of inwardness and conscience--and that means the time of religion in general. We are moving toward a completely religionless time; people as they are now simply cannot be religious any more. Even those who honestly describe themselves as "religious" do not in the least act up to it, and so they presumably mean something quite different. . . What kind of situation emerges emerges for us, for the church? . . . What is a religionless Christianity? (141)
At the same time, he finds the general theological response to modernity, namely the retreat to the subjective and psychological interior life, inadequate. He is no fan of a psychological flight into the inner life, which is taken up by, he says, existentialist philosophy, psychotherapy [psychologism], and methodism (which I take to mean Pietist, individualist brands of Christianity). Bonhoeffer hates their appeal to an emotional God of the Gaps that approaches a human being only "after his weaknesses and meannesses have been spied out [and in] those secret human places that God is to have his domain" (183). "The secrets known to a man's valet--that is, to put it crudely, the range of his intimate life, from prayer to his sexual life--have become the hunting-ground of modern pastoral workers" (181). "If [someone] cannot be brought to see and admit that his happiness is really an evil, his health sickness, and his vigour despair, the theologian is at his wits' end" (179). Such is not the way of Jesus for Bonhoeffer. I like this characteristic of Bonhoeffer's thought: it is muscular and energetic--courageous. "When Jesus blessed sinners, they were real sinners, but Jesus did not make everyone a sinner first" (Ibid). Such acts attempt to reduce a come-of-age humanity to an adolescent, "to make him dependent on things on which he is, in fact, no longer dependent, and thrusting him into problems that are, in fact, no longer problems for him" (169).

I therefore want to start from the premise that God should not be smuggled into some last secret place, but that we should frankly recognize that the world, and people, have come of age, that we should not run man down in his worldliness, but confront him with God at his strongest point, that we should give up all our clerical tricks, and not regard psychotherapy and existentialist philosophy as God's pioneers. . . . The Word of God is far removed from this revolt of mistrust, this revolt from below. On the contrary, it reigns. (184)
Bonhoeffer's way forward is a developing hypothesis. He knew the feel of his insight, but blurred and without edges. He eschewed what he calls a salto mortale, a death-leap back to the Middle Ages. (Here he quotes a song "Oh if only I knew the way back, the long way back to the land of childhood.")[2] And he embraced a way forward without religion, without the "religious a priori" of mankind. Bonhoeffer claimed that Karl Barth had here shown the way by means of the critique of religion Barth discussed in his commentary on Romans (Der Römerbrief, 2nd ed). Taking up the scalpel of penultimate-versus-ultimate that Bonhoeffer discusses in, for example, Act and Being, Bonhoeffer looked for a Christ outside of religion, "really the Lord of the world" (141). He would find Jesus at the center of life, not at the end of it. He would find Jesus not in the clouds, but in the concrete and everyday world. "Jesus claims for himself and the Kingdom of God the whole of human life in all its manifestations" (180).

It is not with the beyond that we are concerned, but with this world as created and preserved, subjected to laws, reconciled, and restored. What is above this world is, in the gospel, intended to exist for this world; I mean that, not in the anthropocentric sense of liberal, mystic, pietistic, ethical theology, but in the biblical sense of the creation and of the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
For Bonhoeffer, this new form of faith would use a new language "perhaps quite non-religious, but liberating and redeeming--as was Jesus's language" (161). It would speak from the courageous openness of the gospel, calling things what they are and not winking at the godlessness of the world (Luther). And it would not require, citing Paul's teaching about circumcision, people to become religious before they could be disciples. It would take "hold of a man at the centre of his life" and send "a man back to his life on earth in a wholly new way" (176).

Similarly, its god would not have his domain in the secret places of the inner world--the Bible doesn't separate the inner and outer. "It is always concerned with anthropos teleios, the whole man" (183). Its god summons his people to a maturity that means "we must live as men who manage our lives without him" (188), etsi deus non daretur (even if God did not exist).[3] Not that God is absent, but that he has "let himself be pushed out of the world and on to the cross.

The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34) . . . He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering. . . . the world's coming of age outlined above which has done away with a false conception of God, opens up a way of seeing the God of the Bible, who wins power and space in the world by his weakness. (188)
Bonhoeffer, following Martin Luther, bends to his work holding a theology of the cross. We know God best as he reveals himself in Christ crucified for sinners. And, indeed, the kenotic direction of his thought--where kenotic means "self-emptying" after the Christ hymn of Philippians chapter two--is what electrified the English west when Bonhoeffer's works were translated after the Second World War. This kenotic theology has since been well-worked-out in many directions: in the liberalism of John A. T. Robinson's popular book Honest to God and in Western liberalism (Spong etc.) and in the liberationist theologies heralded by Jürgen Moltmann, whose first published work was an essay on Bonhoeffer, and from there in Gustavo Guitterez and, after him, in a million splintered shards: womanist theologies, queer theologies, theologies of film, aesthetic theology, etc.

Finally, for I had not meant this summary of Bonhoeffer's response to modernity to go on for this length, he describes in two letters written March 19 and July 18, 1944 (within a year of his execution), his worldly Christian. It amazes me that these portrait miniatures are passed over in the literature; I see the same quotes pulled again and again (an epigraphic example of the word-thing fallacy).

In his letter of March 19, Bonhoeffer talks about maturity, about what it means to be a grown up.

Is it not characteristic of a man, in contrast to an immature person, that his centre of gravity is always where he actually is, and that the longing for the fulfillment of his wishes cannot prevent him from being his whole self, wherever he happens to be? The adolescent is never wholly in one place; that is one of his essential characteristics . . . There is a wholeness about the fully grown man which enables him to face an existing situation squarely. He may have his longings, but he keeps them out of sight, and somehow masters them; and the more he has to overcome in order to live fully in the present, the more he will have the respect and confidence of his fellows, especially the younger ones who are still on the road that he has already traveled. Desires to which we cling closely can easily prevent us from being what we ought to be and can be; and on the other hand, desires repeatedly mastered for the sake of duty make us richer. Lack of desire is poverty. Almost all the people that I find in my present surroundings cling to their own desires, and so have no interest in others; they no longer listen, and they are incapable of loving their neighbor. I think that even in this place we ought to live as if we had no wishes and no future, and just be our true selves. It is remarkable then how others come to rely on us, confide in us, and let us talk to them. . . . We can have an abundant life, even though many wishes remain unfulfilled--that is what I have really been trying to say. (127-128)
It is tempting to say that Bonhoeffer is but describing a socially respected, middle-class, German man in a society that values reticence, a man such as his father. However, such a conclusion is undone by the details. The "centre of gravity" by which Bonhoeffer's man lives is conceptually close to Bonhoeffer's emphasis throughout his writings, including those on the world come of age, on keeping ultimate things (Jesus's reign) ultimate . Bonhoeffer's Christian is not a stoic without desires but a person who values his desires, if only because they pave the road to riches of character. Desires frame the doorway toward the love of neighbor, a key Christian virtue--but as they are mastered. Those who do not master their desires, who cling to them, do not cultivate virtue and Christian character. Indeed, it is in his desires that Bonhoeffer's man becomes present: not dispassionate, but present for others who "come to rely on us." This is an abundant life, he says, even if desires go unfulfilled.[4] In summary, the Christian in a world come of age resists his desires for others and is fulfilled in each moment, even though his life may be fragmented. Such a man cannot help but become morally attractive. He attracts the nations, so to speak, and they come to hear his wisdom.

In the letter of July 18, Bonhoeffer talks about suffering. The Christian in the world come of age lives a secular life, he says, which means sharing in God's sufferings. He can do that because he is a free man, free to live "unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities" (193). He need not be religious in any particular way. Instead, he accepts himself as created by Christ. Living in the world is a metanoia, a repentance, "not thinking about one's own needs, problems, sins, and fears, but allowing oneself to be caught up into the way of Jesus Christ," which he later describes as being "caught up into the messianic suffering of God in Jesus Christ" (190). Jesus calls his people to live powerless and yet available to the world, as he did and does yet. Jesus is, as Bonhoeffer says elsewhere, "a man for others." This is to live as a blessing. "We have received God's blessing in happiness and in suffering. Yet those who have been blessed can do nothing but pass on this blessing; indeed, they must be a blessing wherever they are."

I hope this post has made a good outline of Bonhoeffer's cultural diagnosis of Western culture, his world come of age. And I hope it has suggested the kind of people and church that Bonhoeffer believes must live in such a world if they would be Christ's. I had hoped to make comments about how Bonhoeffer's points inform my own project and suggest themes that Bonhoeffer may have continued to develop had he lived. This will have to wait.


[1] Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor calls this state which is impervious to religious appeal the "buffered self."

[2] Analogous to discussions of enchantment, disenchantment, and re-enchantment, or the loss of an enchanted universe. On this blog, note the following blog posts: (1) Charles Taylor's ideological diagnosis of modernity, and (2) my description of the enchanted and disenchanted universe.

[3] Pope Benedict's used this Latin clause in an address to the Pontifical Council on Culture: "New information technologies [and] globalization has [sic] often also resulted in disseminating in all cultures many of the materialistic and individualistic elements of the West. The formula "Etsi Deus non daretur" is increasingly becoming a way of living that originates in a sort of “arrogance” of reason – a reality nonetheless created and loved by God – that deems itself self-sufficient and closes itself to contemplation and the quest for a superior Truth."

[4] In an earlier letter, Bonhoeffer compared human lives to Bach fuges whose motives are fragmentary but, in God's providence, are made into a whole.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Pattern Language: Death Begets Growth

Pattern: Death Begets Growth (85)

Jesus said, "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (Jn 12:14 ESV). What we hope for, must die. We must surrender over that which we love best.


Related Cards

Working Notes

This is a mess of a card as it stands. As it is, some nut job will kill themselves or another out of hope and love. More work in this pattern is necessary, for when does it apply? To what degree? And how can we trust ourselves or our destroyer?

Pattern Language: Opening a Closed Circle

Pattern: Opening a Closed Circle: 83

We are confronted by a closed circle, with the hidden city, with the high garden wall, and with coldness of heart. What is on the other side? And how can we ask? As Socrates says in the Meno, "A man cannot inquire either about that which he knows or about that which he does not know. For if he knows, he has no need to enquire, and if not, he cannot, for he does not know the very subject about which he is to inquire." Plato's puzzle is about knowledge, but the circle is wider still. For example,

"Only he who believes is obedient, and only he who is obedient believes," said Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Nachfolge).

"A Christian is an utterly free man, lord of all, subject to none; A Christian is an utterly dutiful man, servant of all, subject to all," said Martin Luther (De Libertate Christiana).

"Which comes first," asked the young Augustine, "to call upon you or to praise you? To know you or to call upon you? Must we know you before we can call upon you? Anyone who invokes what is still unknown may be making a mistake" (Confessiones 1.1).


Related Cards

Working Notes

I'm still working hard on completing even the first draft of this card. The circle problem is a problem of discipleship, of how one becomes another thing. It is a kind of miracle. It is ontological. It is election. What is the difference between it and creation? Is this card soteriology? Note the quote from Emerson's "Circles": "Everything looks permanent until its secret is known." And Dave Eggers has an essay called "The Circle" about corporate totalitarianism.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Pattern Language: Every Action is Reaction

PATTERN: Every Action is Reaction: 82

An end is governed by its beginning, and creation its creator. No action is an island, but is, in truth, reaction.

And because God is personal--that is, moral--reaction is a moral act. Stones testify to their fitness to the divine will. Times and seasons progress along their established ways. The natural world is borne along, green and flowering, by the progressive action of God's intent.

Human knowing too is reaction. We know in response to that in which we are thrown (Geworfenheit).

Persons alien to God's promise are not alone. Even where violent, dismissive, or agnostic, their acts (reactions) are framed still by the divine actor; God is not far away. "For in him we live, and move, and have our being" (Acts 17.28).

But the Christian has the best response, for their reaction is obedience. And that obedience is not born of force, fear, obligation, or automation. It is born of gratitude; it is born of love reciprocated. It is their appropriate hesed.


Metaphysics * Theology

Related Cards

Obedience (19) * Faithfulness (18) * Creation (31) * Time (40) * Choice (45) * Work (77) * Personal Relationship (80) * Wisdom (49) *

Working Notes

It seems to me that I'm trying to shove things clumsily together here. Natural theology; Heidegger's idea of thrownness, which is at least an epistemology--and in my thinking is a way to knowing-in-community thinking rather than individualism; the hesed of covenental fealty and obedience; and even an ontology of a sort with Ekhart. What am I trying to do in this card? I need to either abstract it out further or figure out exactly what it is doing. What problem is it solving? What pattern is it describing?

Monday, September 18, 2017

Pattern Language: God leads out

PATTERN: God leads out (81)

God begins. All else is response. From the creatio ex nihilo of the cosmos to the covenant with Abraham to the redeeming of the cosmos to the gift of the Spirit to the coming judgment, all of it would not and cannot be apart from God's beginning of it. This leading out is metaphysical (God as the Unmoved Mover), ethical (God's logos defining the basic categories of good and evil), soteriological (the missio Dei acts according to the agreed desire of the triune persons), and practical (the Christian lives upon the path of God's promises; the Christian prays the Lord's prayer and so asks that God affect his divine will).


Related Cards

Creation (31) * Grace (26) * Mission (34) * Law (37) * The Spiral/Recapitulation (42) * Election (43) * Promise (51) * Revelation (52) * Covenant (60) * Adoption (70) * Judgment (50) * Freedom (53) * Incarnation (81) * Faith (76) * Blessing (2) * Love (56)


Karl Barth: [God] wills and posits the creature neither out of caprice nor necessity, but because he has loved it from eternity, because he wills to demonstrate his love for it, and because he wills, not to limit his glory by its existence and being, but to reveal and manifest it in his own co-existence with it. . . . there cannot follow from the creature's own existence and being an immanent determination of its goal or purpose, or a claim to any right, meaning or dignity of its existence and nature accruing to it except as a gift" (CD: III/1.95).

Monday, July 10, 2017

Exploring pattern relationships: Community and Election

To move forward, my pattern language needs relationships. Where patterns are indexed to other patterns, meaning can be made. Apart from connection, what can be done? Below are my first two examples. One is built from *Community and the other from *Election.

Couple of comments: (a) Making relationships reveals holes. The *Election diagram is missing *Grace, for example. (b) Laying cards out like this begs some kind of method that identifies which idea is the spoke, which are antonyms or synonyms, which are higher-level or lower-level relationships, etc. (c) I don't think I understand what a pattern really is.

What is a pattern? Is it a recurring move or strategy or theme? For example, is *God the Father a pattern? What about *Water? What about *Christology?

And how many patterns is too many? Does a language need to be small enough to hold it all in one's mind, or, because patterns are indexed, can it be much larger? Does a large number of patterns suggest sloppy repetitiveness? Is too few not useful?

Finally, I have two ideas about an overall schema or index. I keep thinking about the divine economy and the Trinity and such. I keep thinking about the threefold liturgical confession: "Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!"

I keep thinking about theological moves and movements. And so I have been toying with the following dramatic scheme:

  • creation/introduction/recognition
  • identification/empathy
  • kenotic service
  • gracious restoration
  • glorious presentation.

But, then again, maybe the classic divisions such as Christology, pneumatology, ecclesiology, etc. are just as good.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Notes on pattern making: June 22, 201y

  • “No pattern is an isolated entity. Each pattern can exist in the world, only to the extent that it is supported by other patterns: the larger patterns within which it is embedded, the patterns of the same size that surround it, and the smaller patterns which are embedded in it. This is a fundamental view of the world.” ~ Christopher Alexander
  • "Are you paying attention to Alexander’s more recent view that the use of patterns indiscriminately was a bit haphazard. He developed a process for how patterns should unfold in time – a process of structure-preserving transformation. That’s in the four volume The Nature of Order (especially vol 2)." ~ comment by fourcultures
  • "Part of what I like about this pattern language is that it includes organizations and resources for each pattern, raising the possibility that a pattern language could be used as an organizing tool (where do I fit? who do I depend on and need to collaborate with? who depends on me?) or as a guide for curriculum development (a student would major in a pattern; but understand well the patterns connected to their specialty plus the “whole” modeled by the pattern language)." ~ comment by Tom Atlee
  • "I think of a pattern as 'a design element'—-something we need to attend to when consciously creating a healthy whole (of whatever the pattern language is about). Another way I think about it is as a 'need' of a healthy system. A major test of a pattern is whether we can manifest it in many ways." ~ Ibid.
  • "The [Liberating Voices (MIT Press, 2008)] pattern language begins with the most general patterns (“Theory”) and proceeds to the most specific (“Tactics”). Each pattern is a template for research as well as action and is linked to other patterns, thus forming a single coherent whole." ~ from the marketing blurb
  • "A lot of the papers that are labeled a pattern language are not. For example, Coplien's process patterns are true, valuable, and important. But they are not a pattern language. There are too many holes. A pattern language has to be complete in some sense. There are various States of a pattern, starting from fledgling or proto-pattern and going up all the way to be part of a pattern society or group of collaborating patterns within a pattern language." ~ Ali Arsanjani
  • "A pattern has defined fields, including Context, Problem, Forces, and Solution. A pattern is used in a certain design Context, and considers a recurring design Problem in this context. It focuses on the Forces which confront the designer, before describing a Solution--a proposed approach to the situation which resolves the tensions among forces." ~ M. Mahemoff
  • "The expertise is in the language." ~ CA
  • We extract meaning from chaos by spotting patterns. It is the signal in the noise.

Here is a "how to do it" series of instructions about creating pattern languages by a guy named Ward Cunningham:

1) Pick a whole area, not just one idea. I like subject matter that is practical but seldom explored in a text book. You know, the kind of stuff you have to learn from your colleagues on the job. The discussion on the "patterns" list got me thinking about checking data.

2) Make a list of all the little things you have learned through the years about the area. Imagine that your kid brother has just taken responsibility for this area on his first big job. You're getting together this weekend. What are you going to tell him. Make a list.

3) Cast each item on your list as a solution. I like to write a sentence with "therefore" in the middle. You will have to think a little deeper here to figure out the forces that bear on your solutions. It's ok to speculate. I find this to be a rewarding activity since I often find new reason for what I do.

4a) Now write each item as a Pattern. I've come to favor a four paragraph form where the second paragraph ends with the pivotal "therefore:". This is a good time to flip through Alexander's Pattern Language. I feel my work has always improved when I more closely mimic his style. I'm just now learning to make the first and last paragraphs carry weight. These are the ones that link a pattern with others in the language.

4b) Organize your patterns into sections. Write a little introduction to each section that lists each pattern by name. You may find you need to adjust your linking paragraphs as you study the higher level structure of your patterns. Try to keep 4a and 4b fluid as you write. As you become more familiar with your patterns you may find that they organize themselves.

5) Now write an introduction to your pattern language that hints at the forces you will be addressing.

The Public Sphere Project is using the web to annotate each of the 136 patterns that make up their Liberating Voies project.

The already existing division of theology into academic, systematic, biblical, and practical theology (maybe even including mystical theology) may be the discovery of a vertically organizing framework in existence in the discipline itself.

Oyvind Holmstad blogging on pattern languages offers this helpful way of making patterns:

Identifying any type of pattern follows the same criteria in architecture as in hardware or software.

1. A repeating solution to the same or similar set of problems, discovered by independent researchers and users at different times.

2. More or less universal solution across distinct topical applications, rather than being heavily dependent upon local and specific conditions.

3. That makes a pattern a simple general statement that addresses only one of many aspects of a complex system. Part of the pattern methodology is to isolate factors of complex situations so as to solve each one in an independent manner if possible.

4. A pattern may be discovered or "mined" by "excavating" successful practices developed by trial-and-error already in use, but which are not consciously treated as a pattern by those who use it. A successful pattern is already in use somewhere, perhaps not everywhere, but it does not represent a utopian or untried situation. Nor does it represent someone’s opinion of what "should" occur.

5. A pattern must have a higher level of abstraction that makes it useful on a more general level, otherwise we are overwhelmed with solutions that are too specific, and thus useless for any other situation. A pattern will have an essential area of vagueness that guarantees its universality. – Nikos A. Salingaros

Here's a gnarl of quotations from CA: "The patterns are patterns of action, and the action will not happen unless the patterns are felt, and created, and maintained by the people whose action goes into the patterns . . . patterns operate upon the whole : they are not parts, which can be added – but relationships, which get imposed upon the previous ones, in order to make more detail, more structure, and more substance – so the substance of the building emerges gradually . . the whole emerges. You are able to do this only when you no longer fear that nothing will happen, and you can therefore afford to let go of your images. because the gaps get filled, the small things that are wrong and gradually corrected, and finally, the whole is so smooth and relaxed, that it will seem as though it had been forever. It has no roughness about it, it simply lies there stretched out in time. Architects sometimes say that in order to design a building, you must have “an image” to start with, so as to give coherence and order to the whole. But you can never create a natural thing in this state of mind. If you have an idea – and try to add the patterns to it, the idea controls, distorts, makes artificial, the work which the patterns themselves are trying to do in your mind. Instead you must start with nothing in your mind. You are able to do this only when you no longer fear that nothing will happen, and you can therefore afford to let go of your images. ~ CA assorted quotations.

A pattern language is composed by a number of elements called patterns. Each pattern is written in a certain format. Although there are several types of format, it definitely contains name of the pattern, problem and its solution, and it may also contain context to apply the pattern, force as a premise that cause the problem, and related patterns. Such patterns are often organized into a catalogue. ~ Takashi Iba

Patterns identify a problem and suggest a core solution. Each pattern is connected to a larger and a smaller pattern.

At the heart of every pattern is a design problem.