Thursday, October 15, 2020

A few paragraphs of the doctrine of vocation

A friend at work asked me why his work--and, really, work in general--is valuable. I wrote this short response.


You have asked a great question. This is why theology is such a deep necessity for real human living. Human beings were created to image God, that is, to serve as priests demonstrating the divine nature and interceding for creation. That is the context for the creation mandate to "Go into all the world and garden (bring order) to it." (This after the triune God has brought the order of creation out of the watery chaos of swirling darkness.)

We know that the image of God in human beings was deeply marred and twisted by the fall into sin and rebellion. But, in Christ, our new Adam restores that image in those who are his. It is not wholly restored in us in this age. But we, by grace, still may act again in our priestly role and so image our maker. That is the Biblical context for human living and human work.

Everything we do, because it images our maker, is missional, because we do it in this age and so demonstrate/announce God's foolish wisdom before the Principalities and Powers. We are guided by the moral law and bear the Spirit's fruit "for the healing of the nations." And what we do here continues into and is valued in the next age as well in a way that is not wholly clear.

So, then, the work of our minds and hands and the communities we make and live within are meaningful because they please and satisfy the divine will for us. Exactly what those will be for each of us personally is a hermeneutical process that requires wisdom. As we know, this gets very granular: a work, community, activity, or aim that is ok for one isn't ok for another. And this removes human reckoning of value from wealth or status or race or nationality--none of that matters.

This is the framework we must keep in mind as we live our lives moment by moment in this age and into the next.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Highlightegen Geist

The most important thing about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit is recognizing its pattern.

So, let's think of preparing a recipe. You know what you want to make, say, chicken with creamy spinach. Some people don't, but I always follow a recipe. I assemble the ingredients, in this case chicken, garlic, baby spinach, wine, Djon mustard, heavy cream. Where necessary, I cut and prepare the ingredients ahead of time, following mise in place. Then the cooking and the tasty result. I have, if you will, created (in a derivative way) chicken with creamy spinach.

We see the same thing in Genesis at the creation. God the Father has decided the dish. The ingredients are God the Son. And the cooking--the bringing the ingredients to the desired result--is God the Spirit.

The Spirit is the energetic mover that uses the Son to bring the Father's desire to its realization.

That is the pattern of the Holy Spirit, his dynamic motif. His work always conforms to this shape. And anything that says it is him but that does not conform to this pattern is not him at all.

Epilogue: the Lord's Prayer.

Let your name be respected
Let your kingdom be manifested
Let your will be realized

These are all requests (also called an invocation or, in the Greek Orthodox church, an epiclesis) for the Spirit to work in these ways to accomplish the Father's purpose on the basis of Jesus's redemptive work. Here we clearly see the pattern


Above, I talked about the fundamental pattern of the Holy Spirit: that he perfects or completes or brings into being the will of the Father enacted by means of the Son. I want to develop this insight. In this email, I want to make one point of clarification:

Good, orthodox trinitarian theology does not separate the persons.

Let's hear from a foundational theologian on this point.

Gregory of Nyssa is an important theologian of the ancient church. He lived from 335-395 AD. And he wrote a letter about the Trinity that has been read ever since. The letter is called "On not three gods." Let's read what he says about not separating the persons.

"In the case of the Divine nature we do not similarly learn that the Father does anything by Himself in which the Son does not work conjointly, or again that the Son has any special operation apart from the Holy Spirit; but every operation which extends from God to the Creation, and is named according to our variable conceptions of it, has its origin from the Father, and proceeds through the Son, and is perfected in the Holy Spirit. . . . the operation is not divided with regard to the number of those who fulfil it, because the action of each concerning anything is not separate and peculiar, but whatever comes to pass, in reference either to the acts of His providence for us, or to the government and constitution of the universe, comes to pass by the action of the Three, yet what does come to pass is not three things."

Gregory says that we cannot pull the act of one person of the Trinity, such as the Holy Spirit, apart from the rest. They always work together.


We talked about food earlier. Let's think about a picnic basket. L and I still own a picnic basket. Kara was seven when we last used it. The idea, of course, is that you pack a meal into the basket. Then, when you get to some green destination, an entire spread of food and drink comes out of it. The feast spreads out much larger than the basket. The basket held the meal in miniature. And if you'd looked inside, you'd known what was coming. That is why I'm beginning with the Trinity. When we ask about the Holy Spirit, we must begin with the triune God.

In this email, I want to say that God is love. Not that he acts lovingly--of course he does--but that God IS love.

When I wrote in parts one and two, I wrote about the pattern the persons assume when they act and how they all act together. I talked about the Trinity at work (ad extra). I want to look quickly at the Godhead as it is in itself (ad intra).

Theology describes the forever life of the triune persons as an unbreakable, ever-flowing, giving and receiving, absolute reciprocating, captivating, totally transparent, intimate, and interpersonal fellowship or community (koinonia) of love (agape). The persons interpenetrate each other without losing their own distinctiveness, called, in Greek, perichoresis, in Latin, circumincession. The word is derived from the preposition peri, meaning around, and chorea which refers to a dance, such as a round dance with its music. That is why some call the divine life the perichoretic dance. It is my favorite bit of theology.

So, God IS love. And this love is the reason why, as I wrote last, one never acts without the others. The persons are always in unity. But, as I said, in their actions, they assume an identifiable pattern: the Father the creator, the Son, redeemer, the Spirit glorifier.

The Godhead of itself is ineffable. We know only what we've been told, and that is not much. How three can be one and one three is a great mystery. In our day, unlike in the past, it is not so hard. We have quantum physics as well as the nature of light to thank for allowing us to see that truth can be paradoxically complicated.

Now, then, we will discuss the Holy Spirit as he works with the Godhead in the world.


Yes, I said that we'd move on to talking about the work of God in creation (called the sending or the mission or, in Latin, the missio Dei). But I can't help myself. There is a little more I must say about the Trinity, including the matter of origin.

We can tell the persons of the Trinity apart by how they act (the pattern), of course. They have different ways of operating in the world. But what about in the inner life of the Godhead?

The persons are distinguished in the triune life by their origin. The Father is unbegotten. The Son is begotten from the Father. And the Spirit proceeds (or is aspirated -- traditions use one or the other term) from the Father.[1] Now, this begotten or proceeding is not in time. We are just making a logical differentiation, not a temporal one. There was never a time when the Son or the Spirit were not. The Godhead is from eternity and to eternity, without beginning or end. And the Godhead, rather than being a simple, undifferentiated monad, is absolutely personal and relational.

Thus, theology has always seen in the relationship of the three persons the very definition of love and the very source of ever-flowing life. They each gaze upon each other as a beloved like themselves. And they make the other: the Father cannot be the Father save the Son, and the Son cannot be the Son without the Father. Similarly, the Spirit cannot be the Gift of the each to the other save there is reciprocity.

As St. Augustine (354-430 AD) said, "Now when I, who am asking about this, love anything, there are three things present: I myself, what I love, and love itself. For I cannot love love unless I love a lover; for there is no love where nothing is loved. So there are three things: the lover, the loved and the love." Augustine and many theologians in the West surmised that so great is the love between the Father and the Son that it becomes a third Person all of itself.

Another theologian in the twelfth century in Paris, France, named Richard of St. Victor, had another way of thinking about the love between the triune persons. He wrote:

"That love must be mutual is required by the fact that supreme happiness cannot exist without the mutuality of love... the nature of true charity reveals that three persons, not two, are necessary. For charity to be excellent, as well as perfect, it must desire that the love it experiences be a love shared with another. Thus charity is not only mutual love between two; it is fully shared love among three."
And, quoting Richard a little more:
"When one person gives love to another and he alone loves only the other, there certainly is love (dilectio) but it is not a shared love (condilectio). When two love each other mutually and give to each other the affection of supreme longing; when the affection of the first goes out to the second and the affection of the second goes out to the first and tends as it were in diverse ways-- in this case there certainly is love (dilectio) on both sides, but it is not shared love (condilectio). Shared love (condilectio) is properly said to exist when a third person is loved by two persons harmoniously and in community, and the affection of the two persons is fused into one affection by the flame of love for a third. From these things it is evident that shared love (condilectio) would have no place in Divinity itself if a third person were lacking to the other two persons."

From the beginning, Christians have been gazing at this ever-flowing dynamic relationship of absolute love and thinking about ways we could understand what is going on. Either way, it is vital when we talk about a doctrine of God to understand the kind of God we are talking about. And I hope you find this as interesting as I do.

A century or so after Richard of St. Victor, in Italy, St. Catherine of Siena prayed: "O eternal Trinity! O Godhead! That Godhead, your divine nature, gave the price of your son's blood its value. You, eternal Trinity, are a deep sea: the more I enter you, the more I discover, and the more I discover, the more I seek you."


Creation. I have been so nervous about writing this one. How to keep from jumping into a theology of creation and, instead, to keep to our thread: the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I am going to try. There is a lot here.


Not from necessity, but from love's overflow the world was created. "By wisdom the Lord laid the earth's foundations" (Prov 3.19 NRSV) The Greeks, after Pythagoras, saw a wise order embedded in the universe. They called this order the logos. John's Gospel picks this up and begins, "The logos became flesh and tabernacled among us." The dark water-chaos of Genesis is made logos-orderly by the activity (in Greek, the dunamis) of the Spirit.

The Spirit always works to the pattern of the Son. The Spirit is never the point. The exaltation of the Son is the will of the Father, who has put everything under his Son's feet. (The Scriptures about the exaltation of the Son are innumerable. The New Testament often quotes, for example, Psalm 2.6: "I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.") And the Son, obedient to the will of the Father, glorifies him. In creation, the mutual adoration of the persons is pressed into the wet clay of mud and history.

Couple of things.

  1. Matter is good; bodies are good; time is good, as in fit for the divine purpose.
  2. The Spirit works not just upon but with things. Aristotle would say that God uses not just primary but secondary actions in accomplishing his will.
  3. The kind of work: a place is made for a thing: the expanse for the sun and moon, the sky for the birds, etc. The creative work is orderly. Please remember that this is not a scientific text. It is a theological one. Though, per #1, normal means of making things (geology, natural selection) don't discount the Spirit's guidance.
  4. Human beings are made as a community. The Godhead does not work in solitaries but in communities. Recall that the first pair are a married pair (Adam's covenant oath "bone of my bone"), and the command to human beings is to make larger and richer communities and to garden the world--bringing order to chaos and reflecting what the Spirit did bringing order from watery chaos. Human beings are made male + female = the imago Dei, the image of God. Like priests, they should reflect to all creation the character of their maker.
  5. God enters history and the world of things and knowledge. God chooses to reveal himself. No one else can make him or can use some reason or mathematics or philosophy to reason him out. The revealer is the Spirit. The revealed is the Son.
  6. The Bible says there were heavenly hosts rejoicing in and perhaps helping with creation (cf. Job 38:4-7). God's overflowing love means he likes communities. Think of Job's heavenly court. It shouldn't surprise us to discover communities other than our own. Christianity says there is plenty of life out there. Christians are supernaturalists, quite literally, there is more out there than matter. Lest you wonder if that has any bearing on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, it will.
  7. The triune persons move through creation toward rest, which is theological shorthand for the experience of the divine life (Heb. 4). This rest is promised to all creation, not just to human beings (Rom. 8:22).
  8. Colossians 1:15-20 shouldn't be missed. In the Son, all things hold together. And recall that the persons work as one for they are one.
  9. When we think of creation and the Spirit, we should read Psalm 104. And we should understand that this, combined with God's mandate to human beings and Colossians 1, form the basis of a Christian doctrine of creation care.


That last bit on creation was not small. So, I thought I'd do a few follow-up paragraphs that each focus on one element.

The Ghent Altarpiece is a large complex of many connected paintings that make up, well, an altarpiece. It is located in St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. Fully opened, it measures eleven feet wide and fifteen feet high. It depicts all sorts of peoples and animals and instruments--all creation--gathered around a central figure: the living lamb who was slain. The Father and the Spirit are also present, but they are part of the circle around the lamb. The point is obvious: it is all about Jesus.

So, as we think about the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, we must keep this in mind. The Holy Spirit affects the will of the Father to give to the Son "a name which is above every name." The way this happens develops as the story of God's people in history develops. In Exodus, he is hardening the heart of Pharaoh. In Judges, he is strengthening the arm of Samson. He is anointing David in 1 Samuel. And in Luke's gospel, he is resurrecting the dead Jesus. "The wind blows where it wills," Jesus said of the Spirit. But his will is not capricious. The Trinity wills together. And that will is the unquestioned peaceful rule of the God-man, Jesus, over creation.


"The Spirit of the Lord renews the face of the earth. Come, let us adore him!" (a call to worship, Book of Common Prayer)

"[All creatures] look to you
to give them their food in due season;
when you give to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
When you hide your face, they are dismayed;
when you take away their breath, they die
and return to their dust.
When you send forth your spirit, they are created;
and you renew the face of the ground." (Ps 104.27-30 NRSV)

Here is the second of my mini-explorations underneath the category of creation, which occurs in the process of our exploration of the person and work of the Holy Spirit. And this one could fill a hundred books. So, let me sum it up: God is separate from the world; God respects the things he makes.

The Spirit, with the Son, both shapes and holds the cosmos together. Speaking of the work of the Son, Paul in Colossians writes: "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together."

The Spirit is the energy of this creation and this holding together, though always working to the blueprint of wisdom, the logos, and toward the supremacy of the Son.

So, the living world is living because its source is life itself. BUT the world is not God. We do not and should not worship creation or any creature. Pantheists say the cosmos == godself. But this is not so. "You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below." (Ex. 20.4a NRSV)

God is different from the creation. And, the things he makes, he respects. He governs the world through various laws, such as the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He says that matter is good--at least good enough for his purpose in creating it. And now I want to jump into science and such. The method science, called methodological naturalism, doesn't have to bracket God, but, instead, presupposes his governance, called his general providence. As I read somewhere: "God’s general providence results in a creation that is extraordinarily consistent (i.e., God is not capricious) and this enables science to work." This is an important clarification because a purely philosophical naturalism has no way of explaining why the material world is subject to discovery. As Einstein said, "The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible." This door I'm drawing here is an important one for those who are afraid that following Jesus means lobotomizing their minds. Not so. And it is important for those who are troubled with how evil rages in this world God made. But we do not have time to go into any of that. I simply point it out.

So, more directly to our aim: why is God's relationship with matter important for understanding the work of the Holy Spirit? Simply put, the Spirit works not only like some kind of magic, such as in the healing of a blind man or in the raising of the dead. But, perhaps most often, the Spirit works through the ordinary stuff of men and things.

So often in the Bible, people are drawn to fireworks when what they should be after is in the ordinary. Naaman's reluctance to baptize himself in the Jordan River. Jesus's irritation with the crowds who crave the miracles but ignore his teachings and, ultimately, himself. People say that the world we are in is a disenchanted world, but that is only because they misunderstand what enchantment is. They tell fairy stories and think the absence of fairies proves something. All they did was expose the silly nature of idolatry and miss the real nature of God's authority and responsibility as creator of this vast-beyond-vast cosmos he has made.


In one of the letters that Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, the letter we call 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about knowledge. Corinth was a rich city. Everyone was sophisticated and educated. The schools were full of young men studying how to speak well and with authority in their future careers in government or law. But Paul had none of that polish. Instead, he talked about the cross. "I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God (τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ) to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (1 Cor. 2.1-2 NRSV). Wisdom comes from the crucified Jesus and not philosophical or rhetorical sophistication. And he goes on to say:

"[God has revealed his wisdom (σοφίας)] to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God" (v 10-11).

The Spirit reveals Jesus to us. Here is the now-familiar pattern: the Spirit points to Jesus as the Father wills. The Spirit does this revealing in three ways.

First, the Spirit affects the creation of reasonable human beings in a reasonable world out of the love of a reasonable God.[2]

Second, the Spirit reveals God. We could and would not know him but for his loving desire to be in dialogue and community with us. The Spirit makes this happen. He inspires chosen individuals (prophets and apostles) to use their reason to speak and write his words to his people--scripture. "No prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." (2 Peter 1.21a)

Third, he illuminates sin-darkened humans to recognize the truth with their hearts and to understand it with their minds. Through the scriptural preaching of God's people, human beings all over the world, sophisticated and smooth-talking people, see wisdom where it really is revealed: in the crucified Jesus.


[1] Here, following the 2018 ecumenical statement on the filoque published by the Anglican Oriental-Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC), I consider the filioque a historical assertion, agree that the Spirit aspirates eternally from the Father alone, and is only poured out through the Son in the pursuit of the redemption of God's world and people following Jesus's assumption on Pentecost. In this, I haven't deviated from the points made in Why I Like the Filioque, but I have qualified them. The title of that post was meant to be cheeky in a kind of friendly way. The truth is, my trinitarianism, like the AOOIC, follow the Orthodox.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI gave a lecture in 2006 in which he made a point worth footnoting. “The fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.” So that “not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God’s nature." For Christians, reasonable action is godly action. Christian theology does not threaten the dialogue necessary to a free society of mutual respect and responsible political action. Instead, such dialogue is part-and-parcel of its deepest theological confession.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Noodling around in 1 John 1

In preparation for teaching basic Greek in January, I am working through 1 John chapter 1 and saw a few things. A friend encouraged me to write them down. Beginning, then, at the beginning--

1 John 1.1

"That which was from the beginning.
That which we have heard;
That which we have seen with our eyes;
That which we marveled at
and we handled with our hands
-- concerning the word (logos) of life:"

 ὃ  ἦν         ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς,
ὃ ἀκηκόαμεν,
ὃ ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν,
ὃ ἐθεασάμεθα
[ὃ] αἱ χεῖρες ἡμῶν ἐψηλάφησαν
περὶ τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς--

I made a rough translation of verse one and laid the Greek out in order to highlight the structure. Pronoun and verbs build in a series, stairstepping one to the next, trumpet blasts announcing their object: the word of life. The parallels between this and Genesis 1.1-3 in the LXX are hard to miss, beginning at the beginning itself--

1 John Parallel
ἀπ᾽ ἀρχῆς ᾿Εν ἀρχῇ (LXX)
"we heard" (ἀκηκόαμεν) Genesis's "God said" (καὶ εἶπεν ὁ θεός)
we see with our eyes (ἑωράκαμεν τοῖς ὀφθαλμοῖς ἡμῶν) God said "let there be light" (Γενηθήτω φῶς)
"we marveled at" ἐθεασάμεθα Job 38:7
τοῦ λόγου the wisdom which orders creation in Prov 6
τῆς ζωῆς Genesis 3:20 LXX: καὶ ἐκάλεσεν Αδαμ τὸ ὄνομα τῆς γυναικὸς αὐτοῦ Ζωή, ὅτι αὕτη μήτηρ πάντων τῶν ζώντων.

Couple of thoughts on these parallels. On the Job 38 reference, I suspect that the creation side alludes to the sons of God, the heavenly council, rejoicing at creation. Now, however, 1 John includes a we, meaning the church. As for logos, John's Gospel equates the word, logos, with the wisdom or reason which gives order to creation in Proverbs 6. Stoic philosophers and gnostic mystics of the first century would agree. But 1 John blows it up. We "handled with our hands" is a body blow. Until then, the entire progression of 1 John's opening prologue is a kind of mystical contemplation on creation. But, instead of arriving at gnosis, "we handled with our hands" takes a baseball bat to the face--very hard, very painful, definitely solid.

Moving on: the verb "we marveled" (ἐθεασάμεθα) occurs in structural progression with the verbs before it. But it has something they do not. It is joined with the conjunction "and" to the verb "we handled" (ἐψηλάφησαν). As above, Job's elohim, the sons of God, the heavenly council rejoiced at creation. But we who marvel with them go one better. We handle it with our hands. The allusion to the incarnation is inescapable.

Finally, it would be erroneous to miss the name of Eve here, Zoe (Ζωή) in the LXX. Eve, of course, wanted wisdom but on human initiative. Now the τοῦ λόγου τῆς ζωῆς, the wisdom of Eve, has come, but this time at the initiative of the Creator. There is an entire theology, almost a mystagogy, that wants to spill out here. And, somewhere, I hope someone has done work on the New Testament's literary rehabilitation of Eve. I suspect something profoundly eschatological is going on here. Perhaps it is my protestantism bumping up against Mariology. I have nothing to say about this more than to point it out. And also to say that the narrative is holding its Adam very close to the chest and will do so until verse three.

1 John 1.2

The parallels between creation's development in Genesis 1 and the verbal series of 1 John 1 makes verse 2 a puzzle. It doesn't follow the parallel. "This life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us." I wish it followed Genesis on into the days of creation, but it does not. I'm not sure what it does. So, here is a guess. The following verse almost picks up where verse one left off. It uses the same verbs--we have seen" "we have heard." So, perhaps 1 John 1.2 is a sort of confession sandwiched between verses 1 and 3. In Genesis, God parts things: light from dark, the waters above from the waters below. Perhaps verse 2 exists in a space made by the parting of verses 1 and 3. Verse two deserves a closer look.

Verse 2 displays a beautiful layout of verb tenses. It says "The life was revealed (the past tense verb is passive) AND we have seen it (perfect tense: something happened, the affect of which is influencing the writer) AND we are bearing witness (now present tense and ongoing) AND we are announcing (again, present tense and ongoing) it to you all."

1 John 1.3

Well, that is just the way it works, right? God reveals himself, we see it, own it for ourselves, and announce it. Perhaps this evangelism does occur in a kind of parting, like a new day of creation is being hollowed out now for it to happen.

New thing I'm noticing in 1 John: the fundamental nature of communal belonging (koinonia). "We write this so that you will have koinonia with us / our community is with the Father and the Son [the eternal divine community] . . . anyone who habitually sins is not in community with us."

This picks up, of course, on the sweep of scripture: God makes the world in order to be in community w human beings and to enjoy a community of priests mediating his wise rule to our world of things.

1 John 1.5

The parallels between it and Genesis 1 keep going. Life comes before light. The reader is a few verses in before light is mentioned (though "seeing" is in verse 1), but life is in verse 1. Note also the emphasis placed on verbs of speech: we confess, we announce, we say, we claim to. In Genesis, God speaks. Here, the emphasis is on our speaking.

Imagine how this places preaching at the bow of the new creation: the proclamation of the word is analogous to God's Genesis-speech. The fellowship made by preaching is analogous to the human family made by God. And now I have this weird thought going on: if preaching is the analog to God's speaking in Genesis, creating the context for the new community, is baptism the victory over death and the sacraments the offering up in thanks of the fruit of the promised land?

Finally, there are a number of if/then (conditional) statements in this first chapter. I want to dig into them. And I also want to count them to see if these verbs of speaking might not mirror in some way the spoken days of creation.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

whiteness in the dock

Men and women of faith are being challenged today, as they should, to confront their racial biases and to act for justice. In the face of obvious, continuous, systemic, and hideous human suffering, one cannot turn away. Christians who privately live coram Deo and dwell in communities under the Reformation call to ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda secundum verbum Dei must hear in humility and repent at the witness of their neighbor. One must ask one's heart hard questions; one must interrogate every stone of one's communities. No people in the United States carry this burden more than white Christians. And I am a white Christian man who came of age in the American South.

I think of John's vision of the great multitude in Revelation chapter seven. His is not a vision of the world finally falling in line with whiteness. Without saying as much, this was the assumption in the white hermeneutics of "the way it is." But this isn't the way it is. John's vision is a challenge to whiteness. It tells whiteness to take a seat alongside everybody else. This is the Kingdom, where the first are last and the last, first. There are no grounds for boasting. Whiteness is just a fellow participant in the multi-racial, multi-lingual fellowship of God's Shalom community of priestly worship. This is the horizontal eschatological hope. But what of the vertical?

The vertical is, of course, the triune God. He is a plurality of ecstatic and contemplative unity. And it is in his figure that we hear the call to be as he is. Not a monad of absolute likeness, such as Allah. Instead, a loving whole. The Trinity is why racism through hot disentegration or cold genocide is an evil that will be overcome. The incarnation is why the racism that will be overcome will be human.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

No ideas but in things

From film critic Alissa Wilkinson's Vox review of Jim Jarmusch's film Paterson:
"Walking [his dog] Marvin one night on his way to the bar, Paterson hears a rapper in a laundromat practicing in front of a spinning washer. The rapper trips and stops, then mutters to himself, 'No ideas but in things, no ideas but in things.'

"That’s a quotation from Williams [Carlos Williams] and a mantra for imagism, but it also mirrors a dictum from Edmund Husserl, the 19th-century philosopher who more or less founded phenomenology, in which philosophers begin with the sensations of lived experience — the feeling of the shoes on feet or, presumably, the matches on the kitchen counter — and work their way out to the significance. Husserl’s maxim was to go 'back to the things themselves,' to encounter the world on its own terms by observing the feelings it provokes in us. In doing so, phenomenologists believe, we more fully grasp the nature of our existence, and gain the tools to live better lives."

Wilkinson nicely winds two threads for me: imagism and Husserl. Both figure into work done on this blog some years ago. Wind with these the principle of ad fontes "to the sources." Wind with these my belief that the work of the arts is to behold creation in the light of resurrection (coram Deo and thinking of the work of Hans Urs von Balthasar) and to remind it thereby (working in a manner analogous to Diotema's Ladder, along the direction of the psalmist's "because," and in the hope of Paul's "but now" of Romans 3:21) of its source, the triune Creator. The arts are the vertical companion to the horizontal command to freely garden the wild earth. The arts begin in quiddity, from below, and vertically climb upward (Psalm 150), and theology is an art.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Patterns are like garden tomatoes. They are like curry, like garlic

One of my favorite shows ever is Netflix's documentary series Chef's Table. I love watching shows about people who love something and tell you why. But the cinematography, the settings, the personalities, the food, and the deep humanity of cooking finds in this show a new high. Yes, it can get repetitive. There is a common direction between farm and consumption. But there is one thing that gets me every time, and that is the loving attention of each chef to ingredients. Perhaps it is salt or pork or almonds--featured chefs have gone through a process of understanding and valuing each ingredient. I love that. I'm fascinated by what happens when human beings give over their deepest attention. I love ἡσυχίᾳ.

So, I was thinking about this today in relationship to theology. In the discipline of theology, there is a lot to know. There is a reason why the old universities saved theology for last. That's what it requires. Theologians have to be historians, literature professors, quasi-scientists, philosophers, psychologists, ethicists, Biblical scholars, linguists, economists, political scientists, researchers, teachers, writers (and sometimes public speakers), and keep up with their fellow theologians all at the same time. Theology needs it all, and there is never enough. It is necessary to dive down many times and to stay down as long as possible. In theology, the Baptists finally get their wish and the submerged must be saturated through-and-through. It is necessary--along with the comorbid guilt and frustration. Nevertheless, there is a time to put it aside. That is what I am feeling.

What I want to do is follow those chefs back into the ingredients. I want to pluck a blueberry from a bush or pull a carrot from my own earth. And I have been noodling around with Christopher Alexander's pattern language ideas, his and others, because I think this is the way to do this. That is the way to pull the ingredients up out of the crazy kitchen of tradition and argument and give each one my deepest attention. I want to get to know them, be schooled by them, let them pull me into the conversation they are having, into the tradition, and not the other way round. I do not want to use them; I want to spend time with them, to love them. It is part of the working out of the transition from the practice of theology as a profession in the academy to the practice of theology as craft. It is part of ad fontes.

For a while, I have been struggling to understand how to build a pattern language. I've not been sure exactly what constitutes a pattern. Is a pattern the solution to a problem or is a pattern a theme or idea? Are the themes and ideas that make up a discipline in reality solutions to problems that come up in the practice of that discipline (in which case they trace how that discipline is practiced)? I have not been sure. And this hesitancy around what is and is not a pattern has slowed me down. But I am starting to overcome the either/or and say the ideas of a discipline are also its solutions to underlying problems. Patterns are like tomatoes, curry, and garlic, and they are solutions to necessary problems (Acts 10:13).


Epilogue: It occurs to me this evening that I still act as beholden to the academy when there is no reason to be. I do not need its permission. There is no need to beg a tenure committee. There is no need to hock my wares, desperate in a frayed suit at the yearly AAR paid for by money scraped from months of the family food budget. There is a discipline to well-formed scholarship that should be obeyed. Discipline is important, yes. So, giving a respectful nod, I feel free now to follow my muse (cf. Purgatorio I.1-84).


"Emmanuel Mounier describes the notion of environment poetically. The environment is not everything that surrounds us. It is only that which may become our experience and possesses the power of incarnation.

“Precisely that winding road transforming proximity into incarnation turns the whole human environment, from bodily fluids and blood to the starry heavens above our heads, into the living body of our life. Anything that has not been experienced this way has not yet become a human environment.”

"So things, stars, people must become my body in order to exist for me.

The same holds for poetry."

~ Anna Kamienska from In that Great River: A Notebook

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Further work on the Widow's Mite

Work continues on the pericope of the widow's mite. I did an initial analysis of that pericope in Mark 12:41-44 last September. The exegetical work was pretty thorough, but it raised more questions than provided answers. The Bible typically does this. But, in this case, there is a straightforward reason. The event of the widow's mite does not stand on its own. It is final case evidence in a series of prosecutions Jesus makes of the Jewish ruling classes in 11:1-13:37. These begin during Jesus's time in Jerusalem right after the triumphal entry. The king is, if you will, seeing how things are. He cross-examines the people he has left in charge. And this cross-examination ends at the widow's mite. After that, the king delivers his judgment, as the following pericope is Mark's mini-apocalypse, in which every stone of the temple complex will be cast down, and the cursing of the fig tree.

The outline of this section of the Gospel looks like this. And I note some chiastic elements: The triumphal entry and subsequent temple cleansing over against the tribution and the entry of the polluting abomination into the temple. The fig tree is cursed over against its appearance as an object lesson after Jesus's apocalyptic sermon. And even the bewilderment of Herod and all Jerusalem at the triumphant entry over against Jesus's statement that no one will know the day or the hour of his coming, linking the first and second advents of Jesus to Jerusalem. These chiastic sections bookend the challenge-response material that make up the king's cross-examination. He is come to his vineyard and is interrogating the wicked tenants.

A few more words about the challenge-response section of the Jerusalem section of Mark's Gospel: That Jesus responds to the chief priests and the temple hierarchy with a parable does not bode well. Parables are judgment speech meant to sift the hearer, obscuring or revealing as one has ears to hear. One would expect the most senior religious class to not require parabolic sifting. And yet, Jesus does so. The sifting begins. Each response Jesus provides is made on the challenger's home turf: Caesar's coin, the Torah, exegesis of the Psalms. Each response exposes the true nature the challenger is attempting to hide underneath a pious facade. That the scribes get a double retort on two different bases--exegetical and ethical--is surprising, and I cannot yet explain it. Perhaps, because the interlocutors begin at the top of the class pyramid and end at the bottom, Jesus expects more from the scribes. I do not know. Also, I included the widow's mite as part of Jesus's denunciation of the scribes (see also Exodus 22.22-24).

  • The triumphal entry, 11:1-11
  • The cursing of the fig tree, 11:12-14
  • Jesus cleanses the temple, 11:15-19
  • The lesson from the withered fig tree, 11:20-26

  • CHALLENGE: Temple hierarchy questions Jesus’ authority, 11:27-33
  • RESPONSE: The parable of the wicked tenants, 12:1-12
  • CHALLENGE: Pharisees and Herodians question Jesus about paying taxes to Caesar, 12:13-16
  • RESPONSE: Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, 12:17
  • CHALLENGE: Sadducees question Jesus about the resurrection, 12:18-23
  • RESPONSE: Jesus backs the resurrection, 12:24-27
  • CHALLENGE: Scribes question Jesus about the greatest commandment, 12:28-34
  • EXEGETICAL RESPONSE: Jesus asks how the messiah can be David’s son, 12:35-37
  • ETHICAL RESPONSE: Jesus denounces the scribes, 12:38-44 (widow's mite, vv. 41-44)

  • The destruction of the temple and signs before the end, 13:1-8
  • Tribulation foretold, 13:9-13
  • The abomination of desolation, 13:14-23
  • The coming of the Son of Man, 13:24-27
  • The lesson from the fig tree about the end time, 13:28-31
  • No one knows the day and hour, 13:32-37

This working outline gives context to my original work with the widow's mite. One can easily see that it fits in to a larger argument going on in the Gospel. A meaningful investigation of Jesus's pronouncement "this poor widow gave more" (12:44) must take this argument into account. As I said above, the widow sits at the bottom of this great descent through the religious classes of Jerusalem. Her act of selfless giving and Jesus's opinion of it become the linchpin of the king's sitting pronouncement. What began at the gate ends at the court of the women. The last become first when the Kingdom comes in power. And one cannot forget that the king's role is to take up the case of the orphan and the widow.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Stanley Hauerwas, Christ Church Cathedral, Nashville Feb 12, 2011

These are notes from a presentation Stanley Hauerwas gave on Sunday afternoon at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Nashville years ago. They are my notes and may not represent Hauwerwas's exact words or intentions. I tend to make notes in the margin. These will be placed in double brackets as relevantly as I can place them.


I always get the impression, when talking to Dr. Hauerwas, that, as any good Southerner, he'd rather be talking about gardening. Christianity's Family Tree.

Somber time. War for ten years. No one has noticed. War is a moral practice. Drawing on McIntrye. McClindon on the Powers. Begin in some place other than pacifism and just war. We should clarify both of these, but neither change war. War is an economic boom. No one likes it, but no one refrains. We must find a way to tell our stories without war. We must think of a world without war. Pacifists can be as dependent on war as anyone else. Peace goes deeper than pacifism. War is a habit of our imaginations. Why is war so morally compelling--if not beautiful? Here are characteristics of war as a practice: war preserves a moral of hardihood, discipline, risk, valor and its reward. James felt we need an alternative. [[W. James "The moral equivalent of war."]] Some other thing besides was is a sacrificial system--not a sacrifice of life but of our normal unwillingness to kill. The sacrifices of war is a counter-liturgy to Christ's once-and-for-all sacrifice. [[Paul Kahn. Sacred Violence.]] War's practice instantiates the sovereignty of a people.  [[Chris Hedges. War is a force that gives life meaning.]] The battlefield is a pledge of the power of the sovereign to destroy bodies. Demonstrates sovereignty. Death is the power of the monarchy. Grotesque and dark beauty. War is hard to discuss because it has revealed our deepest evils. War dismisses trivia. It makes time noble. Chivalry depended on the sacramentalization of violence. WWI soldiers seeing their violence as participation in the Mass. The US depends on the story of our wars as the ties that bind up and unify our story. WWI made the US into the number-one nation. Violent sacrifice helps nation states endure; "a god who organizes killing" I belong to the flag :: baptism. Sacrifice to honor past sacrifice. Was is a sacrificial system that creates its own culture & justification. [[Statue of Liberty as the American cross?]] We cannot live without it. War also requires moral sacrifice. What leads soldiers to kill is the power of another form of intimacy. The military is the most impressive moral community that we have left in this world. [[Military as a social petri dish.]] Should people kill to defend a society of shoppers? Jargon of war is an attempt to blunt the moral force of murder. Survivor guilt. Were you being courageous enough? Killing creates a world of silence and isolation. No one who hasn't killed can understand. In the early church, soldiers had to perform penance before they could again take the Eucharist. We ask soldiers not to tell us about the meaninglessness of what they've done. The Religion of American Patriotism -- the worship of killing authority. What is really true in a society is what's worth killing and suffering for. We aren't ready to die for Christianity anymore. The Christian alternative to war is worship, not making war just. The church doesn't have a social ethic, it is one. It is the alternative to the sacrifice of war. God forbids sacrifice to any being other than himself. The world no longer needs to make sacrifice -- the sacrifice has already been make. We cannot leave the Eucharist to kill each other. We were created for community, not killing. We seek not to survive but to live in the light of the resurrection.

[Timothy Kimbrough gave a short follow-up talk. I only took one line of notes: "The Book of Common Prayer asks that we pray differently in times of war. That we don't commonly know this is a demonstration that this church does not live as Other."]

[the Q&A]

Is Christianity an honor code?

Democracy killed honor. It is a hierarchy that cannot acknowledge itself. Honor is what limits war. The myth is that the nation state is necessary to keep religious violence at bay. Nonviolence may make the world more violent because it does not wants its peace to be seen as the violence it is. Christians don't do capital punishment because it isn't a punishment that fits the crime but because we don't kill. Memorialization. The nation cannot hear that there is only one God. Why war is a moral necessity for Americans. Pacifists always assume the burden of proof. Nonviolence is parasitic, they say, and exists only because others are willing to kill. How the Civil War works for our understanding. In Augustine, just war is a theory about police functions. If war is a sacrificial system, how can it be limited by just war. A religiously accepted nation state must have . . . [confusion in notes] All who die for country die for humanity. The war became for both sides a ritual that both needed. Gettysburg Address makes sacred ground. Means you, as a nation, are perpetually at war. National bond overcomes the bonds of the Kingdom of God. Realism is used to dismiss pacifism. Democracy requires war. Those who actually fight have no illusions. Pacifists are realists. Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ. When Christians do not commit to their own sacrifice (Jesus), they abandon the world.

[[Peter Berger, "The Decline of Honor." Nancy Sherman. The Warrior's Ethic. Bill Kavenaugh. Torture & Eucharist and The Myth of Religious Violence. Kant, On Perpetual Peace. Stout, On the Altar of the Nation. Mark Knoll, The Civil War as Theological Crisis.]]

The Jews historically have been the community that exemplified nonviolence. We have to give up temporal power. [[Colonists that do not abandon their home country.]] There is something antithetical in the nation state vis-a-vis Christianity. "Before you are a German, you are a Christian. Stay in New York." [[Message to Bonhoeffer, which he ignored.]] If Christianity is an alternative to war, we are going to have to be as disciplined as the marines. [[Military as a social services agency.]] Who cares about your subjectivity! And how do Christians tell the story of America? I articulate challenges for which I have no response at all. There is a demonic character to war that must be named. It perverts the created order to some awful ends. The comradeship of battle can be quite demonic. You'd like to see that intimacy reproduced in marriages, but it won't happen. // The particular goods war supplies are summed up in killing. The church's "killing" is the Eucharist.

What practices can keep the church from capitulating? [[This is the community to which I will be lost.]] Christian never will their way into faithfulness. God has to make us faithful. 1 Cor 11. Better to go ill than out of boredom. Even our unfaithfulness is a witness to the gospel. "We Methodists." Sacrifice must be a gift, not a mode of control. Serious commitment to nonviolence entails conflict. Implicit assumptions are the sources of our violence. So communication has to occur to keep these assumptions out. Hospitality to the stranger. Bishops are to assure Eucharistic assemblies are hospitable to other Eucharistic assemblies. This is what the word catholic means. The Christian hears the voice of Christ in the stranger. The military is an attractive community to be part of. The church cannot be an idol. We don't offer as morally compelling a life. Think of the moral regard you get for being in the service. We are all dying for that regard. What is means to be a Christian is to have something to do. We don't have to do the same old thing. And people who have something to do are attractive. [[The Bible is not owned by conservatives. Nor is it dismissed by liberals.]] It takes a lifetime to learn how to speak well. Desperateness is you saying you aren't sure that what you are living is true. The Christian narrative is complex. The church is in no hurry. [[Bonhoeffer as martyr?]] Christians martyrs do not seek death. Atonement [theory] is a mistake. You can't isolate it [the atonement?] from the death and life of Christ. If you have a church, you don't need an atonement theory. We are to live as the forgiven in a world of the unforgiven. Moral typography of war.

Pattern Language: Obedience

PATTERN: Obedience (19)

Even as God Leads Out (81), the Son follows. The pericoretic dance requires an obedient answer. There is a "Let there be" and a "so there was." The Son willingly, lovingly obeys (Phil 2). And in his incarnation, all of creation is taken up. His obedient response becomes the model for every created thing. We are not the makers of providence, but its willing participants. And freedom is not the bondage of infinite choice but wisdom's happy response. "I hasten and do not tarry to keep your commandments (Ps 119.60).


Christology * Ethics * Natural Theology

Related Cards

God leads out (81) * Every action a reaction (82) * kenosis (4) * providence (54) * imago Dei (6) * choice (45) * freedom (53) * decently and in order (71) * faith (76) * work (77) * mission (34)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

What does in-fraction mean? (first try)

Two people have asked me recently what in-fraction means. I'm flattered and blush to have chosen so enigmatic a title. I understood it in my gut long before it made any sense through the work. And lately I have been thinking of writing a post to define what in-fraction means. That is what this post is about.

When I started in-fraction on March 17, 2005, I explained that the title is a synthesis of two dissimilar words. In liturgical use, the fraction is the point of the Eucharistic service in which the celebrant breaks the host into pieces, representing the broken body of Jesus. Though the bread is broken, communal unity is front and center (οἱ γὰρ πάντες ἐκ τοῦ ἑνὸς ἄρτου μετέχομεν; 1 Cor. 10.17). People come to the same rail and eat the one life-giving bread. No such unity attends the word infraction. That word means a rude violation. It is a broken bone that never heals right. In-fraction, I said, holds these two words together. It is about entropy's undoing in the breaking of the broken man.

Now, when something is broken, like a window or a serving plate, there is nothing to do but to kneel down and collect up the pieces (Lk 15.8). My project pantomimes this very act. Here, I always lift an illustration from Gospel studies. The implicit theology of each Gospel is described as coming from below or from above. John's Gospel, for example, exemplifies a theology from above. Jesus is so divine that he barely touches the ground. He is the incarnate Son, the second person of the Trinity, glowing with divine action, who was before all things. Contrast that with Mark's Gospel. In Mark, Jesus's humanity is at the fore. Jesus is very much a second-temple Jewish prophet embedded in a people in a culture and acting at a certain moment in history. In-fraction is like the latter, an exercise from below. And I don't find this surprising. I am a Protestant after all.

Protestant theology is characteristically from below. Martin Luther's criticism of the Roman Catholic scholastic theology of his day was that it tried to climb a ladder and view the naked God (deus nudus), a tendency he called a theology of glory (theologus gloriae). A theology of glory seeks God in reason, in being moral, in private revelation. Luther said his would be a theology of the cross (theologus crucis). The Jews of Jesus's day were lost in fantasies of glory. Their "one as a son of man" was to come on the clouds without suffering, like Baal of old (Dan. 7.13). But the truth and glory of God was revealed in the death and resurrection of the Suffering Servant, a man. So, God is revealed to all in the broken body of his son on the tree as properly witnessed by the apostles and prophets. We sum this up by saying that we find God in his word and sacraments. And in-fraction attempts to be such a theology of the cross.

In his Heidelburg Disputations, Luther said, "A theologian of the cross calls the thing what it actually is." I bundle this with the Reformation principle of "to the sources" and the Enlightenment turn to observation rather than metaphysics. The arc "from below" becomes an affirmation of the cosmos and reason in their proper spheres. The theologians of glory see "the invisible things of God in works as perceived by man" (Luther) which leads to the God of the Philosophers, to Schleiermacher, to New Thought, and to be guilty of Feuerbach's projection. But the point is not to deny matter or reason, as the fundamentalists do, but to affirm these in their proper spheres.

Our time is a child of the Enlightenment. Science governs the public square. And science has disenchanted the world. A great deal of evangelical theology ignores this. It attempts to remain in an enchanted universe by building walled gardens. This is a Gnostic move away from matter, the body, beauty, and reason and toward sentimentality, tribal community, spectacle, and emotion. Secret gardens breed private revelation and virtual worlds. Such a move is anathema to proper theology.

Beginning from below, theology confesses, with the ancient creeds, that it pleased God that the Son became incarnate as a real human man. His body is a real body. And that body assumes a kinship with the created cosmos. As science tells us, we are all made of stars. The body of Jesus demands we confess that matter is real and good. And matter can hope, for what is assumed is atoned for, paraphrasing Gregory of Nazianzus. For the Christian, science is no enemy. Not that this is a new affirmation. Theology has always confessed two sources of revelation: scripture and the created world (mirroring the two-natures of Jesus, its proper Adam). In Reformation theology, the former, through Calvin's spectacles, is for salvation and the latter for praise. Revealed and natural theology are both productions of the same God.

Now, it is true that science disenchanted the world. But that disenchantment is but an extension of the iconoclastic affect of Christianity on the pagan pantheon of Rome. I welcome the acid bath of scientific skepticism as thought welcomes new understanding. The process of seeing--of contemplation--is a process of disenchantment, of disillusionment. That is how we come to contextualize knowledge properly. And apart from disenchantment, theology cannot discover the beautiful thing: that sacraments are the world's proper re-enchantment. When lamps are extinguished, the stars do shine. Thinking on whatever topic done on in-fraction must move in a common direction. All must go forward and kneel at the eucharistic rail ad fontes. So, too, science goes forward to the altar or it is no proper science.

Science, like all human things, must be properly handled. Human things are distorted by the noetic effects of sin. Unredeemed human beings make their tools into idols. And, in our day, science unbrackets it naturalism, forgets its creator, and sets up its gospel of scientism and its proponents as a priestly class. It abstracts itself away from things as they are and is lost to its own enchantment. It, too, must be disenchanted in order to properly see. Science should regain its place as a human tool working to garden a world made in God's creative providence (Gen. 1.28).

This from below principle suggests, where this blog approaches aesthetics, a similar approach to art. A movement from below calls the artist (the arts) away from groping around in pure subjectivity, in phantasie, in enchantment. The arts are freed to the contemplation of things as they are "in the light of Easter" (Balthasar). They are restored to their natural theology. The cross frees the arts for praise.


You haven't talked about the move from the individual
 to the community as a basic datum re: existential to
 political. Nor did you discuss narrative (synchronic;
 eschatological) over systematic (asynchronic; atemporal).
 Nor did you discuss historical-grammatical exegesis
 versus, say, the fourfold use. All of these emphases
 are woven through the blog and are part of this same,
 common direction, which I can sum up as my attempt to
 act as a theologian of the cross. Oh, and what about
 the direction of aesthetics from gathered ascetic
 contemplation of the concrete quiddity of things that
 naturally contextualises and moves up to contemplation
 of things in light of their creator, coram deo,
 (imagism, phenomenology, Balthasar) versus the scattered
 uncontextual, meaninglessness of subjectivity, the
 aesthetic imago-impossible godlessness explored
  by Baudrillard?

Indeed, you actually should rewrite, for the central
 symbol here is the incarnate Jesus, not a series of
 abstract arguments from historical theology.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A method for exploring poetry

Dear friend,

You say you are interested in poetry and wonder how to get started. I have been trying to expand my own repertoire for several years. It has been much harder than expected. But here is the method I am using:

(1) Respect the genre. Poetry has a history parallel to literature. Take a moment to learn the periods. Chances are, you'll like some periods and not others. And knowing who is who in the periods you like will save you time. It will allow you to zero in on the poets you either like or need to try.

(2) Rely on the experts. Poetry is a generous discipline, meaning that people that love it are happy to talk about what they love. Get a list and start working it. You can get a list from or scan the table of contents in The Oxford Book of English or American Poetry or just google lists online or college lit syllabi until you can construct your own. But this is going to be true even on the micro level. When you find a poet you want to dig more deeply into, like Frost, for example, or Pope, you don't have time to read it all. Go find a list of the best and begin there. If you finish those and you still want to loiter--which is good--you'll be ready, then.

(3) Like theater, poetry is in the ear far more than in the eye. If you can hear a poem, hear it: on the Poetry Foundation website, YouTube, the internet, Spotify--anywhere! If you can read a poem aloud, do it. I recommend taking a look at Tracy K. Smith's the Slowdown and Pádraig Ó Tuama's Poetry Unbound for their combination of audio and selection by a master poet.

(4) You cannot nor will you swallow poetry in a lifetime. Especially in a discipline where exposure and intimacy are required for knowledge. The quicker you can lay down a general understanding, find a period and then a poet that appeals to you, and begin rooting around, the better. But you will never get it all. You will always be conscious of how much you don't know.

(5) Time. As in a museum, you are walking past items, but something catches you. Obey that. Say you are reading a list of twenty-five recommended Dickinson poems and you are just reading them and nothing is catching. But then one does; "The revery alone will do / if bees are few." Stay with that poem until it is done with you, and then move on. "Attention is the beginning of devotion" (Mary Oliver). You might keep a small notebook of the ones that do.

(6) Putting some poetry any poetry on your shelf is tremendous. Do it now. Grab some chapbook of a poet you have never heard of and tuck it in somewhere. A slim volume of verse gives such a nice, briny flavor to your library. And it will be there when you need something with coffee.

(7) Finally, poetry is the work of a people. It comes in pairs. Perhaps there are bits of verse tucked in between rocks in the Pyramid of the Moon at Teotihuacán or scratched into the stony roof of the Duomo di Milano. But even there, a god sees. Find someone who loves poetry. Ask them to share what they love, and you do the same. That, in the love poem of St. Paul, is the better way.