Sunday, August 29, 2010


August 29, 2010

Dear friends,

I had the pleasure today of going to brunch with friends after church. We ate in the dining room of an historic old hotel in a small foothills town. We were seated by a wide unshaded window that overlooked a mountain stream lined by ancient cottonwoods. The cream for my coffee was served in a miniature glass bottle shaped exactly like the old glass milkbottles that the milkman once delivered door to door in slower days.

My friends (young by my standards) laughed at my delight in that cream bottle, and their amusement added greatly to my joy. It was one of those "thin" moments when perspective is broadened so that for an instant we experience life more deeply and more clearly in all directions. The present reached back behind us and pulled the past forward in the high old ceilings in the dining room, in the old hammered silver pattern of the new stainless steel spoon with which I stirred cream into my coffee. That small cream bottle was new but its shape was a replica of an old pattern; it was both same and different. We were laughing together, eating together in a place where others had laughed and eaten before us, and where others would replace us and laugh and eat other breakfasts in a world in which things both stay the same and change.

The Greeks reminded us that we cannot walk in the same water twice; I thought of that as I watched the mountain stream tumble in noisy energy through the ancient rocks below us. And I noticed too that the old cottonwood outside our window was already showing a branch of yellow leaves against the late August sky. The past is always present, we know, but it is also true that the present is in one sense already past. While we laughed and talked and drank excellent coffee, I looked often at the cream "milk" bottle bridging past and present. It was, I decided, a small utilitarian icon.

I found it an altogether satisfying lunch in every way. I know, however, that if I go again it will be both the same and different, as will I.

I'm thinking about change these days for many reasons. Pressing among these reasons is a class
I'm teaching this fall centered around the topic of change in the context of our faith. How does "spiritual formation" actually work in real life? How does choosing to be a Christian change us? Is change automatic? How does spiritual change and change related to time and aging differ? How are they alike? What is the significance of choice in the process of change?

And how are you thinking about change in your life?

If you're interested in thinking with others, please join us. The class will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 17707 West 16th Avenue, Golden, CO, beginning at 10:30, Sept. 12. Call 303-279-5591 for additional information.

See you next week.



Sunday, August 15, 2010

August 15, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

A friend came to visit and read my blog about the picture I saw of the hands full of money.

She wondered if it was an advertisement for a nail salon. She "heard" the unverbalized message as saying this: "Ladies, if you want your hands full of money, pay us to make your nails look like this." She titled the picture, "Bait."

One reader titled the picture, "The Harlot," and "heard" the unverbalized message as demonstration of unwise choices of lesser values.

After mulling the image over in my mind, I finally titled it "Illusion." The money was counterfeit, the nails fake, and the perfection of the woman's hands the result of a brush (camel's hair or air); no human hand I've ever seen looks that perfect.

Most of you know the old cliche that says "A picture is worth a thousand words." H-m-m-. Maybe.

Look what's happening here. One stationary image (all right--I'll grant you that it is a picture you have through words, but that doesn't nullify my point). Already we have three different titles carrying three very different ideas, any one of which might well require a thousand words to explain that one picture. In one sense, this stands the old cliche on its head: one picture requires a thousand words for understanding.

I'm proposing a cliche for the ditigal world:

A picture requires a thousand words to explain--no image is unambiguous.

What do you think?

See you next week.


Sunday, August 8, 2010

August 8, 2010

Good afternoon, friends,

Thank you for your comments last week. It has been fun as well as helpful to think your thinking with you. Send more!!

My friend [aka The Ditigal Semanarian] came to visit. She brought laughter, good food, and a feast of ideas. We talked often (and sometimes late) about the ways in which ideas are conveyed through images in the present world of digitalized information. A picture in a book does not convey information in the same ways as does an image on a screen, we agreed, then wondered: How does the rapid flow of images across a screen impact differently our human processes of knowing?

Wannabe armchair philosophers that we are, we revisited Descarte's idea ["I think, therefore I am"]. We considered the possibility of revising it for this present age into something like, "I visually process images, therefore I am." We thought about the ways in which we humans make meaning and asked ourselves, "How do we make truth from the images we visually absorb?"

On our last evening together we considered another question: can any image be declared to have intrinsic 'goodness' or 'badness'? If so, what forms the foundation for an 'ethic of the eye'?

My friend returned to teaching, and I resumed the undramatic routine of my days. Then while the afterglow of our conversations still lingered in the back of my mind, I had a startling experience. I saw a picture--a picture on an unmoving wall, not a screen.

The picture hung slightly left of center and several degrees lower than the viewer's eye might have anticipated. This artfully chosen imbalance made the wall itself an extension of the canvas, a large unbordered empty space within which the picture aggressively held its small framed place.

While the space the picture occupied initially caught my attention, it was the content of the picture--the static image it held--that stopped me in stride.

It was an image of a woman's hands, extended gracefully as though she held a spray of flowers. What she held, however, was a spray of money, an enormous bundle of thousand-dollar bills that had begun to unroll making a half-formed bouquet in her hands. The viewer's eyes were drawn simultaneously to the money (a fortune held casually in those slender fingers) and the nails on those fingers--they were long, fashionably square-cut, and varnished a fierce, fire-engine, in-your-face red.

The image was untitled.

In the time since I first saw it, I occasionally revisit that image in the gallery of my mind. I still have yet to give it a title.

What do you think? What title would you give it? What truth does the image give you to see and know?

See you next week.