My Phenomenological Turn

It’s been a while since I have written on my neglected blog site. Facebook and Pinterest have satisfied my needs for the kinds of “snack-sized” sharing and diverse idea hoarding that made up a lot of my old blog called Overflow. And life has been such that I have not been making time for the deeper kinds of thought required for more substantial writing.

Maybe that’s not fair to me. I do deep thinking all the time. But I rarely have my thoughts organized enough to write it down nowadays unless it’s for work, or a research project, or prep to teach a class. I don’t do much intellectual dallying nowadays. And, well, that’s a shame.

But now something has kindled both my intellectual and spiritual interest, with just enough of a fig leaf of practicality that I can  persuade my “responsible brain” to take time to organize and write my thoughts down.

I am becoming an indirect fan of French Catholic philosopher Jean-Luc Marion and the apparent revolution in theological and philosophical thought happening in France. It piqued my interest to hear that a student of Jacques Derrida has made theology “hip” in contemporary French philosophy, the “Theological Turn” in Phenomenology as it is called. What grabbed and held my attention is the provocative title of Marion’s seminal work, “God Without Being.”

God without being. That struck me and stuck with me. I have always said to myself and others unfortunate enough to ask me that I truly do not care whether God exists and find all such discussions basically useless to my faith and how I live it out. In fact, I have been wary all my life of concepts of God that seem so inherently limited that they can end up being roadblocks to faith, especially as we grow more mature.

And now , in what passes as “breaking news” in the seemingly glacial world of theology, it looked like there were some authoritative kindred spirits out there who could help me develop my own “phenomenological turn.”

So I longed to get my hands on that book. I had a peek once, I did, but two pages hurt my head. It was like staring at the sun and I couldn’t squint hard enough to make heads or tails of what I was looking at. I don’t have the intellect and the requisite background on Rene Descartes, French Phenomenology, Jacques Derrida and postmodern “deconstructionism” to approach his writing, yet alone gain insight from it.

Luckily, I found a way to approach Marion indirectly, letting others do the heavy lifting. I got a bunch of articles about Marion’s ideas from the EBSCO database at my library. I decided to approach the mountain by stomping around the foothills. I found other authors, like Bruce Ellis Benson, who could summarize for me Marion’s key concepts and help me interpret them.

So, article by article, I am reading Jean-Luc Marion indirectly. Even indirectly, Marion’s concepts of “idol,” “distance,” “saturated phenomenon,” and “givenness” defy my cranial capacity. So this blog is where I will set down my marginal crib notes, starting with Dr. Benson’s article, “Love is a Given.

The teaser idea so far. What excites me, draws me in, is that Catholic Jean-Luc Marion agrees with Nietzche’s proclamation that “God is dead.” And that, it turns out, is a good thing. A  God “without Being”  paradoxically enables us to be closer and more intimate with him where it really counts.

More later, I promise…

 

 

Poem: Save Your Knees For Dancin’

I wrote this for my Mom and Dad’s 50th anniversary party last week. Thought I’d post it here with the rest of them.

For 50 years of marriage mom and dad tilled the soil.

They never struck paydirt, never found gold nor oil,

but instead they raised a family, with its troubles and joys,

full of friends, love, and laughter, and two very grateful boys.

 

The boys grew to be men and took wives of their own

and so appreciated the wisdom their parents had sown:

Keep learning, love a lot, take care to listen.

Take time out to play, but never play “Christian.”

Nope, if you’re gonna play, use your noggin. Try to win.

Keep each other sharp. You’ll have more fun in the end.

Stay together, hang tough. It’s not for sissies, this life.

And if you want to be happy, you better listen to your wife.

Every problem can be solved if you think and work together

Create opportunities to make memories you’ll treasure.

Work hard but set aside time for romancin’

Save your money, save your health, and save your knees for dancin’

 

A Conversation with my Teen about Lunch, God, and Dinner

In adoration yesterday this conversation came to me. i know I need to have this very conversation with my kids as they start to transition into adulthood. I promised this conversation back in the letter I wrote a few years back about the deeper reality of Santa Claus. I get a lot of ideas in adoration. But I knew I just had to write this down. It’s only a start, but it’s a start.

In it I imagine Aaron coming home from school with a complaint.

Did you pack my lunch this morning Dad?

Yeah. What about it?

Really, Dad? Juice box? String cheese? Animal crackers? You even cut up my grapes.

You used to love that stuff.

Yeah, like when I was like four years old.

In fact you wouldn’t eat a whole lot else back then. What? This lunch not good enough for you anymore?

Dad, I’m older now and this just doesn’t cut it. I need meat. Bread. Something to fill me up. At least make me a sandwich. You don’t have to cut my food up for me.

Yeah I know that. I gave you that lunch to make a point.

I knew it. It’s never just lunch with you. Amiright?

You know me well.

So what’s the point?

You outgrew your lunch. What is your ideal lunch now?

Pizza, burgers, cheese sticks, tacos. You, know. Real food.

Yeah I thought so. I was like that when I was your age. Look where that got me.

Oh no, is this a nutrition lecture? I think I have some studying to do…

No, no. Just pointing out that you will outgrow your current ideal lunch like you outgrew the one you loved when you were five.

I don’t think so.

I sure hope so. If you eat like that until you’re my age that diet will straight up kill you. It’s developmentally appropriate for you to like that food right now.

But you don’t let me have it that often. So…

So… I know that you’re there, but I also know you can’t stay there. You need to learn the grown up versions of things. You can’t always eat what’s easy, what’s most pleasurable. You can’t always eat for yourself. When you are older, you eat for others’ sake as well.

(blank stare)

You know how I told you that when you are an adult your job is to live for others in some way. You need to eat to be healthy and strong so you can be around for others. When you have children you will need to eat as an example for them. You’ll need to eat for your wife to show her that you’re serious about sticking around to love her and not abandon her. You eat for a lot of reasons besides, “Mmmm… that looks yummy.”

You’re not making adulthood seem very appealing.

Well, it’s not developmentally appropriate for you to think so yet. That’s okay. But as your father I have to nudge you along.

So this is a nudge? So you’re trying to get me to eat more salad or something?

Nope, I want you to get to know God better.

That was random. I thought we were talking about eating healthy and stuff.

We were. Do you know what the word “segue” means?

Nope.

It means to make a smooth transition from one context or subject to another. No segue for you. Stay with me. Do you believe in God?

Um… yeah, I guess. I’m supposed to, right?

It’s okay to say no.

I didn’t expect you to say that. I want to say no because I just don’t see how something like God can exist in the real world.

Then say no.

No. I guess I don’t believe in God.

You know what I hear when you say that?

What? That I’m grounded?

You’ve outgrown your five-year-old lunch.

You’ve lost me.

The God you thought you knew. The God described to you in bible stories when you were in preschool. The wise bearded superman in the sky. That’s not God. That’s more like Zeus. A primitive image. That’s an image of God that you’re supposed to outgrow. It was appropriate to describe God that way to you because that’s an image of benevolent, powerful authority that you could relate to. Something that looked like a parent, which at the time was pretty much your whole world. We weren’t lying to you then about God. We were just cutting God up into pieces before we served him to you.

I see what you did there. Like the lunch, right?

You always were a clever one. Here’s the first thing any adult has to understand about God. You can’t understand God. Anything you say about him is imperfect. Any God that fits tidily in your brain is a rather sad, limited kind of God. God is bigger than that.

Okay, so you’re going to get to the part where you tell me what God is?

Patience, grasshopper.

Grasshopper?

Sorry. I’m old. Remind me to see if we can find “Kung Fu” on Netflix. Anyway, any image of God is limited and imperfect. But some images of God have benefits that exceed their limitations. They help you develop your faith at a certain stages in your progress. You are supposed to outgrow them. Use them to seek him, but don’t cling to them. Do you know what “idolatry” means?

Worshipping statues and stuff?

It means confusing the symbol with what is symbolized. Worshipping the image that points to some aspect of God instead of God. Any mature Catholic should at least be partially agnostic because he knows his understanding of God is woefully inadequate. That there is way more he cannot say about God than what he can say.

Well, if God can’t be known, why bother?

I didn’t say God can’t be known. There are images of God we can know are true. And those images can be very helpful. But – remember this well – when you find yourself questioning your belief in God it means that the limitations of your concept of God have outweighed the benefits for you. Part of that image is still probably true, but you’ve outgrown it.

So I don’t believe in God like I did when I was five? And I need to change my image of God?

Yeah. Kinda.

So anyone can choose any image of God they want? Just what feels good? That doesn’t seem right.

Well, you sure can do that. Too many people do. They select a God that fits in a convenient box and keep him there. But no, that’s not right as I, and the Church, see it. We hold in common that there are some things that the Church says are definitely true about God. Then there are some things the Church says are definitely not true about God. But there’s way more that no one can say about God.

That’s if I believe the Church’s version of God, right?

Right. I hope, eventually, you will.

Why?

Because I am your father and I want you to grow up and be a fulfilled, happy person.

I do not see how a concept of God will do that for me.

It won’t. God. The real, living God. The God of the Catholic Church and the Judeo-Christian tradition will help you do that. Everyone has a “God” whether they call it that or not. The one you choose to follow makes a big difference in your life.

Even atheists have a “God?”

More or less. But it would be very impolite for you to say that to their faces. Their connotations of the word “God” tend to be negative. Probably because they’ve obviously outgrown whatever image of God they had as children. Somebody either crammed it down their throat for too long or they did not get help in finding their next understanding of God. Imagine your parents insisting that you eat string cheese and animal crackers for lunch your whole life. “God” to them is a lot like the limited, sad God I mentioned earlier. I don’t blame them for not believing in God. But they still have something that functions for them as “God.” We all do.

So what kind of God does an atheist believe in?

Remember, that’s not polite to say. But everybody has some context that guides the “Why” and the meaning of life. Science can tell us lots of facts about the world. But meaning has to come from somewhere else. People have to answer questions like, “What is the purpose of life?” “Why am I here?” “What is my best life?” When they are presented with the findings of Science – I am a big believer in science and reason – something provides the “So what?” There are lots of ways to answer those questions. Some are somewhat helpful, some help you coast aimlessly through life, and some are downright disastrous. Everyone chooses something that defines their context and meaning.

What if they refuse to choose?

They can’t. Saying that life has no meaning, that we are pointless, that everything is random is still a choice just like deciding that Love is the guiding purpose and meaning of existence. At some point you choose. Even those who just go through life following their biological urges, instincts, and desires are choosing with their actions if not their conscious minds. My first hope for you is that you make a conscious, reasoned choice, whatever you decide.

And so you want me to believe in your God.

Will all my heart. Actually I think you already do. I think your mind just has to catch up with your heart. You have a lot of love in your heart. I can see it through your actions. I am confident you have a lot of experience with God.

Okay, so catch my head up. Explain to me how I’ve experienced this God I don’t know how to believe in with my head.

I will, but not all at one time. We’d be here forever. But I can give you a few short things to think about until we have time to talk again.

And I bet that will be soon.

Because we’re on a roll.

Is that what you call it? Fine.

Well, to start, the name “Yahweh” in the Old Testament translates roughly into “That which holds all things in existence.” You do exist, right?

As far as I know.

Me too. And I am grateful for that fact. There is a famous theologian who said, “God is not a being. God is Being.” About sums it up.

God is Being? That’s it?

Imperfect image, remember. One of the oldest, least incorrect ones. But still an image. But, to me, it’s the most basic experience of God. I am. That’s what God told Moses to say who God is, remember? “I am.”

Pretty basic.

But here’s the next thing. The book of Genesis also tells us that God created the world from nothing. That means at some point there was nothing, and there was something. Creation “Ex Nihilo.”

So who created God?

God is not a being, remember. God does not do time. God just is. God is Being.

So you say.

So the bible says. And we have to decide that we’ll believe that.

Why should I?

Because, well, think about the implications of creation “ex nihilo,” out of nothing. At the beginning, God was God. Perfectly cool with being God. He did not need to make some little followers to adore him that he could boss around. God does not need anything. God is just God. So that means that, if creation wasn’t for him, it was for us. Creation is a gift. And then after he created, he pronounced it to be “very good.” We are very good. A gift from God.

So I should just believe that because the bible says it? We know the world wasn’t created like that.

Sure. Genesis is not a scientific document. It’s a theological document. The creation story communicates truth, not scientific fact.

So why should I believe that everything is a gift and my existence is “very good?” Why shouldn’t I believe everything is just random or that life has no meaning?

If everyone has to choose the way they see the world anyway, I want to see it in a way that makes the world more fulfilling and meaningful for me. I want to choose a worldview that is consistent with the stirrings and yearnings of my heart. I love and want to be loved. I have passion. I am grateful when I receive a gift. I am relieved when somebody forgives me and we’re cool again. I experience God in my heart. I want my head to keep up.

Okay…

And I want my actions to be guided by this way of looking at the world. Because I know that my experience of the world is better when I choose to love others and when others choose to love me. God is love. And that sets the agenda for everything. If you let it.

I thought God was Being?

Limited image, remember? The next least incorrect way to think of God is that God is a special kind of love. A love that gives itself for the sake of the beloved. “Self-gift,” if you will. Remember when I said that everything is a gift? That’s God pouring himself out. Emptying himself out for our sake. Everything in the world is oriented to that kind of love. It holds all things in being. We can work with that or we can work against it. Our choice. My job as your father is to convince you that working with it is the best choice.

Or I could choose to see the world some other way.

You could. Many people do. Some people don’t see why they should give themselves away in love. They think that’s a sucker’s bet. There are many people who go through life looking out for “numero uno” and that’s it. It’s just that, I don’t think that’s truly what’s in their hearts. They’re just confused, lost, or hurt. I don’t want to believe anybody is just plain selfish by nature, even when they are habitually selfish. Creation is fundamentally good, right?

That you say.

So which world do you want to live in? The one where people love each other and look out for each other, even if it means sacrificing for one another? Or the world where everyone has to earn their right to live? Where might makes right? Where everyone looks out for only themselves?

You make that second choice sound like a bad thing. Kidding.

Well it’s not my choice. You can live in that world if you wish. Many do. I choose love. Love isn’t magic. It doesn’t make the hurts and sufferings of this world go away. It does not magically shield you from bad things. It just is a way of approaching the world that makes the most out of suffering and hurts. It is a way of life that reaches out and helps others get through the hard times. You live this paradox where, to truly live, you give up your life. To lead, you have to serve. To gain, you have to give everything away.

Again, you’re not making it sound attractive.

Well, let me put it this way. Without God, you would not be here. In this famiy I mean. If mom and I were just looking out for ourselves, if we were not looking for ways to pour out our lives as a gift to others, as God does, do you think we would have adopted you? Every payday we’d have been like, “Woohoo! Let’s go party and buy stuff!” If we didn’t believe in God’s brand of Love, we’d never spend thousands of the dollars we earn on you. We’d keep it for ourselves. We’d be a lot richer right now. But we’d also be miserable and wretched. Because selfishness is not the path to any kind of happiness or fulfillment. To me, living as if the God of Love, who created the world as a gift and judged it to be very good, is the best way to align my life so that my life is fulfilling and has a meaning that transcends my little span of time on earth.

So, it’s time for dinner….

Provided by God, aka Love, in the form of your Mother who used her time after work to do more work so that you could be fed. She could have just plopped down and watched TV, you know. So that stroganoff you’re about..

Stroganoff! Yes!

That Stroganoff you’re about to eat is yummy. Not the healthiest choice, maybe, but a tangible experience of God’s Love. Brought to you by a woman who is devoted to that kind of Love. So that’s why we pray before dinner. And your responsibility is to receive that love, be grateful, and respond by giving yourself as a gift in kind.

You’re hinting that I should offer to clear the table.

That’s a start. Also I want you to think about God as Love. Creation as a gift that is very good. And what kind of world you want to live in. I also want you to know more about who God is. To be cool with the idea that the “superfriend in the sky” does not exist, you need a better idea of who, what, whatever, God is.

But… we don’t have time for that because we’re about to eat…

Stroganoff, yes. But here’s something to think about. God is a relationship. Not a person. A relationship.

Um, okay.

That’s what we mean by the Holy Trinity. But that’s another day. My brain is full and my stomach is empty.

I’d say that it looks like the reverse is true but that would not be very loving of me.

I’ll show you love. Come here and let me smack you.

To be continued. (No, I don’t smack my kid. Very hard. In front of people.)

 

To my teenager on using social media

I feel obligated to coach you on some netiquette issues because I don’t want you to end up being “That Guy” online.

Basically, there are four main reasons to use social media.

  1. Share yourself. Let people who are interested know what’s up with you
  2. Share cool stuff you honestly think others will enjoy
  3. Encourage, appreciate, and help others
  4. Facilitate real world relationships

 That’s it. Don’t try to change people’s politics. Don’t try to convert them to your religion. Don’t try to impress people with what a great guy you are. That only happens, but only rarely so, through the example of your actions offline, never from what you say online.

 Remember that you are conducting yourself in public. Don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want me to read. It may be a free country, but this is not a free family. I, your Father, am to be regarded as “Most Benevolent Dictator and Overlord.” I also moonlight as the secret police.

 And, hey, I was a teenager once. I was socially awkward. I said stupid stuff because I desperately wanted attention. I (gasp) used the occasional inappropriate language with my friends because I thought it would make me cool and ingratiate myself to the “in” group of the moment.

The thing is, I didn’t have the internet to capture it all so that everyone could read it. You do, so you have it harder than I did in that way. It’s like you need to be more mature than your developmental age to protect your future self from humiliation at the hands of your younger self. And, lacking that, the police state that I, your Benevolent Dictator and Overlord, have cobbled together will try to help with that. So remember that Big Brother is watching always.

So run out and play, but remember these things…

Emoticons are a poor substitute for non-verbal communication. People could not see your face as you typed that last clever post. Many boisterously enthusiastic things you say can come across as loud and obnoxious. Sarcasm and inside-jokes translate badly across social media and make you look like “That Guy.”

There is nothing you have to say in social media that requires more than one exclamation point. Ever. And, unless your team just won the national championship, or unless there is a medical emergency requiring an ambulance, you never ever post in all caps. Again, don’t be “That Guy.”

I see you participate in several niche groups. Fine. Let your geek flag fly, I say.

But you need to be aware that not everyone who sees what you post cares about what you care about. On general social media sites like Facebook all of your groups and interests are “collapsed” into one list. Sociologists call it “context collapse.” Church friends, geek friends, fanboy niche friends, school friends, family —  all of your “contexts” are “collapsed” on Facebook. They all look at what you post. You can’t post just for one context all the time.

So be well-rounded. Don’t post arcane song lyrics or change your profile pic to an obscure anime character and expect everyone to appreciate your sophisticated grasp of some cultural backwater. Save the uber-geeky stuff for the group’s bulletin board and keep your Facebook page kind of generic.

And you do not want to be “That Guy” on Facebook or whatever social site who’s all. “Ooh!! Ooh!! Look at me!!”

In social media you need to remember this guiding rule: Everyone who posts stuff on social media is saying “Hey! Pay attention to me!” in some way. You need to give 10x  more attention than you get. Positive attention. Encourage people.

Don’t create your own group and ask people to join you. Instead, join others’ groups and be a model member. Spend most of your time commenting on other people’s stuff. Comment on and encourage everyone else at least 5 times more than you post your own stuff.

Word hard and stay humble. Comment way more than you post. Be a producer, not just a consumer. And, as in real life, listen more than you talk.

That’s what you need to remember when you click the “status” icon.

Love you lots,

Your Father

Holding up Moses’ Arms

In my men’s bible study today we were reading from Exodus 17 where Aaron and Hur had to help Moses hold up his arms so that the Israelites could fend off an attack from the Amalekites (yes, I had to look that up). I’ve read this reading dozens of times before and usually associated it with the “persistence in prayer” lesson of that particular week in the liturgical calendar.

But today it hit me harder. It’s probably where I am right now, but I was filled with compassion for Moses. Here is this great leader. He is in charge, poor guy, with the very lives of people depending on him and his strength. Then he’s in this situation where the very lives of people seem to depend on him holding up his arms. When he drops his arms, in the story, his people, his charges who depend on him, lose their lives.

It’s a hell of a thing to realize that your personal weakness – your inability to hold up your own damned arms — puts others in harm’s way. I’m not too proud to accept help when I am faced with an extraordinary task or problem, or if I know that what’s needed is not in my set of God-given gifts. But having someone to come help you do something so ordinary as holding up your own arms so that the people you are supposed to be taking care of aren’t hurt, that’s pretty humiliating.

So translate this story to the life of a parent, a spouse, etc. Some daily discipline, something personal, something that anybody could and should do on a daily basis, if neglected out of weakness, can put the people you have vowed to love and protect in harm’s way. This is one of the main motivators for starting a moderately successful diet this year — I realized that my bad food choices put my family in harm’s way. And I had to ask for help to hold up my damn arms. Turns out that’s not the only personal discipline area where my weakness puts my charges in harms way. So I need to be held up in many ways.

So God, not one to let me wallow in self-pity for too long, reminded me of this old poem, which I now have printed out and posted front and center.

A CONFEDERATE SOLDIER’S PRAYER
Author Unknown,
(Attributed to a battle weary C.S.A soldier near the end of the war)

I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn humbly to obey.
I asked for health, that I might do greater things;
I was given infirmity, that I might do better things.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing that I asked for, but everything I hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am among all men most richly blessed.

Words to live by. I’ll never read Exodus 17 the way I used to again.

What we don’t know to miss (yet) about the federal government

So let me tell you the story about how I came to work for IBM as a futurist. In the summer of 2005, some folks in the Supply Chain practice of IBM’s Global Business Services were asked to help the Army logistics planners anticipate disruptive technologies. And, like any group of whip-smart MBAs, IBM consultants went off and produced a well-researched market and strategic analysis. The Army yawned. They had already thought of all that stuff. They wanted to look farther, wider, deeper. They wanted to know about the stuff that nobody knew about yet — way more “high woo-woo” than IBM was used to thinking.

So, ultimately, IBM contacted a few members of a loose network of futurists I was a part of with a very intriguing proposition. Help dream up new technologies that could revolutionize military logistics in the next four decades or so (which is FOREVER in technology years) and (here’s the kicker) NOTHING was too far out. NOTHING.

Clients never say that. Every futurist has scenarios we just share with other futurists because every futurist knows to dial it back with actual paying clients because they tend to get, well, a bit freaked out. The Army was asking us to freak them out.

And so we did. And it was a freaking blast! I can’t go into any details, or even into any categories of details, but let’s just say that I was contemplating a tin-foil hat by the time we got done with the ideation phase of that project. But the real work was the research. Start with what was basically science fiction and work backward. What was impossible? Why was it impossible? What breakthroughs, enabling technologies, research initiatives would be needed to make these technologies happen? What are the current states of the technologies, how fast were the various technology progress indicators moving, etc.

The project was just sooo cool. And apparently so successful that they hired three of us futurists to offer that service — anticipating technological possibilities — to their other clients.

But that was the problem. IBM’s customers were mostly corporations. Thinking 30 years into the future is a hard sell to a corporation focused on the bottom line. Thinking 30 years into the future is necessarily messy, impractical, and expensive. Sorting though the forest of potential possibilities over a long time horizon is not a profitable activity.

This is the big thing that government does that the market cannot — solve problems that are not profitable to solve and anticipate problems that don’t exist yet.

To create markets for a technology that is not profitable (yet), someone has to dream it, nurture it, and seed it with investment and infrastructure. That’s what America does so well. We turn inventions into global industries.

I had a hand in the early part of the process of nurturing several technologies I may not get to see in my lifetime. I betcha anything that there was a similar group a few decades ago that was tasked with envisioning new communications technologies, like a “headless” global computer network that was self-routing, that could not be taken out by a single strike, that would enable robust communications in times of disaster or war. The technologies that ended up being what we call the internet.

The revolutionary technologies we love today started out as impractical, crackpot, back of the napkin ideas. Then they became clunky prototypes. The first computers that used  desktop “windows” OS were awkward. They failed. Anyone remember the Xerox Alto? The Apple Lisa? Yeah, me neither. The road to tech revolution is littered with the corpses of initial efforts toward good ideas.

Along the way to profitability, we need people who encourage the development of fledgling ideas. They are government people, because the government is supposed to have the long view in mind, independent of a profit motive.

At some point, when the technology is mature enough, the government can hand it off to the private enterprise folks to run with. I get the privilege of helping NASA to do that with the technology of Low-Earth Orbit Human Spaceflight. It’s exciting to me, this mind-numbing, painstaking work of doing the same thing only with fewer resources so it has a chance of being done profitably by the private sector in the future. It’s gotta be done, but it’s work that only government can afford to do.

So, we won’t miss that function for a few weeks, months, or maybe even years. Until the Scandinavians, Brazilians, Chinese, Indians, or whatever become the drivers of global innovation and the United States of America becomes the new Taiwan, feeding American talent and resources into the new global engines of innovation located elsewhere.

That silence you hear, the hush of America not crashing down immediately because of the federal government shutdown, is troubling to me. To me the silence is eerie. To me it is the sound of the planners, the visionaries, and the solvers of not yet profitable problems, doing nothing.

Poem: The Preferable Fire

Found something I wrote a year ago that I forgot. I wonder how many pieces of myself I’ve left out there, unremembered and uncataloged. Anyway it’s a piece of poetry I’m almost not too embarrassed to share:

I can offer you only my life.

Having been with you longer than not

My life is as much yours as it was ever mine.

I have nothing else to offer, nothing

that is not made cheaper by saying that I own it.

My love for you is a friction between the man I am

and the one I am becoming for you.

Love demands friction, which

sparks the glow of my better nature.

St. Augustine says a man’s heart can never truly rest;

he cannot escape relentless desire.

So if indeed my soul must burn,

Yours is the preferable fire.
— Cody Clark, 2011

Open Letter To My Kids About Santa Claus

Okay, kids, I admit that I haven’t been telling you the whole truth about Santa Claus. I will say that I do really still believe in him. It’s just that he’s a lot different to me than you know of him so far.

Up until now the Santa Claus you know is basically a character from a story. While much of that story is made up, meaning it is not fact, there is a lot of truth in the story of Santa Claus.

It is true that there is a parental presence out there that exists primarily to give you all good things and help you experience the wonder of the Christmas story. It is true that your willingness to receive good things and anticipate Christmas with excitement and joy are what light up the whole season. It is true that your willingness to believe, your openness, your eagerness, and your joy are examples for us adults to remember as we approach the gift of the incarnate God. Adulthood tends to be a wonder-killer. You kids protect us adults from becoming disconnected from wonder.

So, yes, we put on a “play” for you of sorts. The play teaches a lesson about a fundamental truth of life – that Love makes it a joy to give to others and it is essential that we be open to receive from those who love us. Yes, the stuff about reindeer, elves, chimneys and stockings are mostly folklore. But it’s a fun, magical, and wondrous story. And stories, fun, and imagination are the best way to teach young children the fundamental truths of life.

So, you say, Santa Claus isn’t real after all? Well, yes, I say, Santa is quite real. But not in the way you’d know yet. The other kids who’ve been telling you that Santa is “just your parents” are very wrong.

Santa Claus is bigger than just a story of a man who goes around giving gifts. Santa Claus was St. Nicholas, a real saint, in the historical sense, whose generosity to the poor was legendary. The historical St. Nicholas points us to the generosity in the gift of God’s very self in the baby Jesus. Santa Claus, Sinterklass, Father Christmas, the legend, is a global icon of the spirit of giving. But in modern times, what some might call “reality,” Santa Claus is the body of all people, many of them parents, who embrace the joy of giving good things to those they love, communicating the wonder of Christmas, and pointing to the ultimate Gift of Love made incarnate in the Christmas Story.

Ever wonder why I don’t really care what I get for Christmas? It’s because I get to experience being part of Santa, Santa being part of me, and Santa being something much bigger than me, a human image of an eternal truth that stands for the ages. I tell you that being on the adult side of Santa Claus is way cooler than experiencing the childhood Santa Claus story.

So why not just tell us the truth from the beginning, you ask? Well, we have been telling you the truth. At the kid level. At age three I could have given you a theological explanation, a historical description, and an explanation of the difference between “truth” and “fact,” “reality” and “existence.” And you would justifiably have tuned me out in two seconds. How do you explain wonder, generosity, the idea of Love made visible through a tangible gift to a small child except through a story? Such a wonderful truth is bigger than mere facts.

And so you’re at the age where you are ready to know more. You are ready to start helping make the wonder happen for younger children. Or worse, kill it for the younger kids by making them feel silly for believing in Santa Claus. You can already start to experience the joy of the giver. But to get there, you needed to experience the wonder for yourselves first.

Look, when you were a baby we fed you formula. Later we gave you soft food and cut stuff up into little pieces. Even now we give you only the food we think you are ready for, challenging you gradually to expand what food you experience. Were we lying to you because we didn’t set you down to a plate of Thai curry at age three? No, we just make the world of food age-appropriate for you. Your palate won’t be fully-formed until you are an adult and you can appreciate bitter foods more. Mom and I just this year took Hannah to one of the restaurants we go to on our dates. Her eyes were opened to a whole world of gourmet food she had never seen before. (Food you would find quite yucky, by the way). Were we keeping the truth of gourmet dining from her? No, we were just waiting until she could appreciate it with the proper perspective.

So the Santa Story is kind of like that – a crusts-cut-off, kid-food version of a very profound truth of life, delivered in the form that best suited the way you experienced the world — through stories, fun, and imagination. Now you’re ready to see a little more. And you have the responsibility to help the younger kids learn about Christmas in the way it suits them, not you.

It turns out that many of the realities of being older are going to make the things you believed as a younger child seem silly or quaint. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just the way we all grow up. Remember that there is no “lie” in the Childhood version of the Truth. It’s just that there is a wider, more wonderful, truth that you will experience when you are ready. Remember this in a few years when we have the talk about God and the Holy Trinity, okay?

And, by the way, you’ve all been very good this year (mostly) and Santa Claus will not forget that.

Love,

Daddy

Nicene Creed in XML

For a bit of geeky fun, practiced some xml coding basics by writing the Nicene Creed in xml. Well here you go:

<?xml version=”1.0″?>

<credo alt=”I Believe in”>

   <God max_num=1 min_num=1 persons=3 created=no>

        <person id=”Father”>

          <characteristic>almighty</characteristic>

          <substance>divine</substance>

          <created through=Son>

             <realm>”Heaven”</realm>

             <realm>”Earth”</realm>

             <realm>”Visible”</realm>

             <realm>”Invisible”</realm>

           </created>

       </person>

       <person id=”Son” num=1 created=no begotten=yes>

          <title>”Lord”</title>

          <title>”Jesus Christ”</title>

          <nature>True_God</nature>

          <nature>True_Man</nature>

          <substance same_as=Father>divine</substance>

          <Salvation History>

             <event by=Holy_Spirit through=Virgin_Mary>Incarnation</event>

             <event for=humanity under=Pontius Pilate>Crucifixion</event>

              <event length=3_days>Death</event>

              <event accordance_with=Scriptures>Resurrection</event>

                <event>Ascension</event>

                <event>Parousia</event>

                <event>Judgment</event>

                <event>Kingdom</event>

           </Salvation History>

      </person>

      <person id=”Holy Spirit” num=1 created=no>

         <title>”Lord”</title>

         <title>”Giver of Life”</title>

         <proceeds_from>Father</proceeds_from>

         <proceeds_from>Son</proceeds_from>

         <event>”spoken through the prophets”</event>

      </person>

   </God>

</credo>

<credo>

   <Church>

      <mark>one</mark>

      <mark>holy</mark>

      <mark>catholic</mark>

      <mark>apostolic</mark>

   </Church>

</credo>

<confess>

   <Baptism num=1 for=”Forgiveness of Sins”></Baptism>

</confess>

<anticipate>

   <event>”resurrection of the dead”</event>

   <event>”life of the world to come”</event>

</anticipate>

<amen></amen>

Haven’t had this much useless geeky learning fun since using “The Hokey Pokey” as my example for my Microsoft Project class.