Just enough phenomenology, thanks.

After a few months of dancing on the outside of Jean-Luc Marion’s thought, reading articles and commentaries like this one because I am not capable of digesting Marion’s writing directly, I think I am content to know just what I now know about his phenomenology and subsequent theology.

I really do not seek levels of intellectual attainment beyond my capacity, but I am so instinctively drawn to the ideas of “givenness” and “saturated phenomena” and “God Without Being.”

I am enthralled with the idea of all experience as gift, for the sake of giving it. It fits my intuition that to try to capture God in a definition or concept constitutes an “idolatrous gaze,” putting God in a box,more or less. And, from the depths of my own experience, any “God” who fits in a box (even my own brain) is no God of mine.

“Love is not connected to understanding, but to faith; only bad lovers want to understand love before they love. And God gives Himself as a gift for “no reason at all,” and thus cannot possibly be limited and conditioned by metaphysics. If God is gift and love, then we ought to renounce every effort to domesticate Him into our theories.”

The very idea of saturated phenomena, iconic experiences that overwhelm us with the sense of inexplicable excess, that we can feel there is much more behind what we can see and explain, puts words to my own transcendent experiences of Love and the divine.

“Confronted by a saturated phenomenon, we are unable to subdue it to our mastering gaze, but are instead overwhelmed by it; … “consciousness is surprised, overwhelmed and drawn up short by its inadequacy.” Marion himself writes that “It is in fact a question of something visible that our gaze cannot bear; this visible something is experienced as unbearable to the gaze because it weighs too much upon the gaze . . . . What weighs here is not unhappiness, nor pain nor lack, but indeed glory, joy, excess.” The reality of saturated phenomena like icons implies a decentering of the transcendental ego, which can no longer be considered the source of meaning. This disrupts a central phenomenological conclusion, and opens up the possibility of theology that is not mastered by philosophy.”

This may be just confirmation bias. But it feels like corroboration, a reconciliation between what my reasonable head demands and heart wants to embrace as true.

I think I can stop now. These ideas are being developed by, from what I can tell, one of the greatest contemporary philosophers and theologians who seems to be tirelessly working to liberate faith from the strictures of intellectual structures. These are the very types of structures that kept my fullest expression of my faith prisoner for so many years when I was younger.

So I’ll leave it in these folks’ esoteric hands. Trying to read this stuff is hurting my head anyway.

One Direction

First of all, let me say that I love love the job title of “neurophilosopher” and am pretty jealous, being the boring old “product manager” that I am.

Some people might worry that, as interesting as this hypothesis is, it is some sort of  evidence against faith. The idea that morality evolved from the neurochemicals involved in our brains’ need for attachment does not have to be some sort of nature-based argument for relativism.

It needs context. So… brains evolved morality based on the neurochemical need for attachment. Well, where did brains come from? Or neurochemicals for that matter? And where did the source of that stuff come from? And the source’s source, et cetera, et cetera? Ultimately comes… from somewhere…

The Thomistic (e.g. Catholic) idea is that it’s not elephants all the way down. There is a ground somewhere, a primal source. It fits with our experience of the world.

And that source, outside of creation, outside of time, made our brains, our very selves to evolve in a particular way. Toward attachment, caring, morality, and love. Starting from a soup of molecules, to us now, to whatever we will become when we fully evolve to what we were created to be. Fully human the way God made us. Evolution in One Direction (Not a new idea, eh, Pierre?)

So, as a person of faith, I find such findings to be encouraging, not daunting. Sure, it could just be confirmation bias. But if I had to choose a bias to shape the way I encounter the world, this One Direction, towards Love, towards connection, towards caring, is a pretty satisfying one to choose.


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…



I think I know…

..what I need this place to be. I have Facebook for interaction and quick “status” updates. My “readership” is far higher there than this place will ever have.

I do more actual “blogging” (in the original sense of the word weblog) on Facebook now. I share my latest finds and likes there. This “blog” is no longer really a blog.

But what this does is give me a place to put things I like, things I need, things I want to remember I wrote, things I’ll need to refer to later. It will also give my friends and family something to know me by, something they can read about me or about my life with them. I have a need to collect the stuff I do and make it available.

After 10 years of journaling or “blogging” I realize that this have become kind of a legacy. I have responsibility to maintain this since it captures so much of me and my family, things that otherwise get lost.

And it is good that Future Me will have something to look back and remember and maybe have a good laugh at the fool Past Me truly was.

Wrapping My Head Around Integration

My new job is with a systems integration group. Aside from being happy I have a job after the layoffs last week, I am grappling with just what exactly my job is. As is my nature, I tend to wax philosophical in the absence of concrete data (which I understand will be part of my job to help produce.) But it helps me to get a sense of how it all “fits” so I had to take a break and write this into my Wikidpad.

+ Herding Cats? Really?

So, for my first week of my new systems integration job, I have been trying to wrap my head around just what system “integration” means. I know what it is to *build* something from customer language to requirements to implementation. I have used the Design for Six Sigma methodology to *transform* systems into something new. I have donned my Black Belt hat and led teams to *improve* existing systems. But where I find myself seems to be both all and none of the above. And something else entirely.

A co-worker offered a popular metaphor: “Herding ferile cats.” That seems a little pat and lazy. Like throwing up your hands and saying, “It’s chaos! We’re treading water here!” This has got to be something that can be approached with a measure of engineering discipline, right? Right? (Bueller?)

+Integration Must Be Visionary

For me to survive in any work situation, I have to lock on to a pretty concrete picture of what defines success. I need to maintain a laser-like focus on whatever goals we are trying to achieve. The more observable and measurable the better. My ADD-ness requires that I have solid signposts that will orient me in the right direction or else I will go off track.

So when I join a new project, I am downright pushy about finding out what the stated goals are and clarifying them as much as possible. I bring them up frequently in conversations about resources (because that’s when you find out the difference between _stated_ goals and _actual_ goals). I post them right over my screen so they are always in view. They become a kind of mantra.

That’s my strategy for managing complexity. And I figure that in an effort to “integrate” dozens of organizations, thousands of software programs totaling hundreds of millions of SLOC, and millions of software budget dollars, it’s got to be pretty damn important to more than just me.

+Integration Creates Nothing But Value

It seems to me that a good integrator would work himself out of a job over time. By strict definition, you are non-value-added. You add form, fit, and function to _nothing_. At best you can be evaluated by what you _avoid_, which cannot be measured.

Integration creates nothing but value. Your value is measured by roadblocks cleared, risks averted, waste avoided. If you do your job well, everyone else looks good and you become redundant. Only entropy allows you to keep your job. And that’s if you’re really good.

+Integration is Information Reduction

My first week has been consumed with listening to a bunch of conversations and looking through a lot of documentation and trying to pull out the important bits. I believe that’s a lot of what we will do for the next year — make summaries of the vastness of information associated with all the systems in MOD. Then we make the handy Quick Start Guides, provide the convenient data aggregators, put the “You Are Here” arrows on the maps, and clear a path through the information jungle so people can get things done.

This is what excites me about the prospect of being an integrator. Besides my over-fondness for metaphors, I like teasing the Big Picture from the details. I like making summaries of information that other people find useful. I like to gather useful data. I like to facilitate diverse groups of people. And I like making other people’s jobs easier.

+You Must Be Willing To Be Unpopular

But unfortunately, nobody likes to be “integrated.” The drive to autonomy is at the core of the Human Person. Work groups naturally norm into equilibria that resist outside influence. But when many people and groups are supposed to be marching to a greater organizational vision, their goals and norms must be merged with the whole. Which means that someone has to walk up to an insular, well-formed workgroup and ask them to submit their desires to the Greater Good. Pretty please. Or we can’t fund your project.

This is why many of the prophets were persecuted and killed.

What this means to me is that Change Management — helping the _humans_ who use the technology cope with change — is a key part of the integrator’s job. A real challenge is to find a value statement to appeal to each stakeholder group and still move everyone toward the end goal. Any good integration plan would need to incorporate a great change management plan.

+Integration is servant leadership

Integration is inherently relational and so it seems to me to be an opportunity for spiritual practice as well.

If your job is to make people’s lives easier by reducing complexity and providing a clear path, then you are a servant leader. If your job is to keep everybody’s interests in mind and look out for things that might put others’ interests at risk, then you are a servant leader. If your job is to clear roadblocks and to occasionally have the courage to tell people something they don’t want to hear for their own good, you are a servant leader. If your job is to be the one guy representing for the unrepresented viewpoint, the long view, when all are “just trying to do their jobs” and find you annoying, you are a servant leader.

It seems that Integration is an opportunity to practice humility, compassion, courage, vision, and creativity in the mundane everydays of work.

So, okay. Maybe I already love my job though I am just getting started.

Looking for a Sign I Would Carry

It’s tough being a moderate these days. Everyone is so polarized, it’s lonely in the middle. That’s why I’m happy to hear about Jon Stewart’s ‘Rally to Restore Sanity.’ I like the theme: “Take it down a notch, America.”

“We live in troubled times, with real people facing real problems, problems that have real if imperfect solutions that I believe 70 to 80 percent of our population could agree to try and could ultimately live with. Unfortunately, the conversation and process is controlled by the other 15 to 20 percent.”

Moderation is just, well, it’s boring. The subtleties of nuanced dialogue don’t fit into soundbites or tweets. Shades of gray don’t particlarly flatter anybody. “Listening” and “Civility” are just about as enticing as eating your vegetables and flossing regularly. Sensible is just not sensational.

The only way I can see to be a moderate and command some positive attention is to do what Stewart does — make fun of both extremes while making self-deprecating fun at your own expense too. Maybe humor can succeed where Beer Summits have failed?

I probably won’t march because, as Stewart points out, most moderates “have other S%^& to do.” But it’s still fun imagining what things my sign at the march could say:


I mean, I’d certainly have fun with it. Because I am already sick to death of polarized prattling and I avoid campaign ads and opinion channels like the plague. I need a good comic relief valve.

I hope Stewart and Colbert claim that a million people attended regardless of what the aerial photo analysis says. That would be classic.

To Girlzilla on her first day at university

I am so proud of you as you start college! As your mom and I were shoveling, er, clearing out some stuff you left in your room, I came across the letter I gave you at your graduation. I’m posting it here because I think it bears repeating and I want it to be Google-able in case you (or I) need it.

So, here’s the thing about adulthood. You start becoming an adult when you get your act together and can take care of yourself and you’re nobody’s dependent. But you don’t finish becoming an adult until you live your life for others and not for yourself. Remember that stuff about essential discipleship and generative discipleship from your Teen ACTS talk? You can’t claim to be a grown-up until you have both in full swing.

My hope for you is that you get there in God’s time and don’t hold on to some fantasy about this next few years being “the best years of your life.” Bullpockey! It gets better as you go, but you gotta go. An extended adolescence is a recipe for self-absorption and misery. Getting on with responsibility is where ultimate happiness lies. No, really.

And so I have to apologize for not saying more about how proud I am of you. I have been hard on you lately. And by lately, I mean for like a year or so. I do adore you and want more than ever to share some of our dwindling spare time with you. You are someone I really like to be around. As a human being, not just as my daughter.

But my problem is that I am your Dad and I can’t help but want to try to save you from the suffering I had as a young adult and, to certain extent, even today. Every parent wants to save their children from making their same mistakes. I see the troubles I am having with being overweight, for instance, and I get scared that I didn’t do enough to protect you from it. I gave you my genes but not enough good habits to compensate for your natural disadvantage. That’s just one.

And, because of those kinds of fears, I sometimes can’t help picking at you and cajoling you. My fears and mistakes are my burden, not yours. It’s not fair of me to try to correct 18 years of parenting mistakes in the last months before you go off somewhere and strike out on your own. And I wish I had spent more of this year encouraging you and less time trying to “shape” you. Please accept that it’s all out of love and, as a Dad, I cannot help it.

But enough about me. I wanted to let you know in no uncertain terms that I admire you and am in awe of the woman you are in the process of becoming. I am very privileged to be a part of what God is doing in you.

In you I see a deep kindness. When I see you stop and focus on making someone feel loved, supported, and accepted, I see God at work in my world. It is a joy to behold. Please let this be a core value for you. In every moment. Because this is what will help make you a joyful adult.

I admire your loyalty in friendship. You have the capacity to be fiercely devoted and that’s a great thing. Just don’t let your fierce loyalty draw lines between Us and Them. To God, we’re all Us.

You are a natural leader. You’ve had the gift of persuasion from an early age (like, say, age two). You have a Tom Sawyerish ability to get people to do things for you and with you. That’s a powerful gift and will serve you well as an educator. But that gift must always be focused on others and what they need. When focused on yourself and your benefit, it is a venomous poison! I don’t want you to poison yourself.

I am so happy that you made it to your age with your natural playfulness and whimsy intact. I would tell you to keep taking time to play, but I know I don’t have to. And that’s a great thing. A challenge for you would be to approach everything as play, even the mundane stuff of adulthood — bills, housework, commuting, whatever. It’s a trick I only have started to try to master. I just know you can be better at it than I am.

You have such a gift for creativity. You have the talent to be a producer of art and entertainment and not just a consumer of it. You owe it to the world to continue to develop that gift. Because it seems you can always see a more fun, interesting way to do or say things. And with your creative gifts, drawing, graphics, video, etc. you can make some of those things a reality for others. This will mean the difference between being a good teacher and being an awesome teacher. And I see in you an awesome teacher, whether or not that’s how you end up making your living.

And, in what has been at times my joy and my exasperation, you have the gift of powerful words. Since you uttered your first word, Mom and I have had many occasions to shake our heads and say, “My God, what hath God wrought!” Your speech has the power to heal. I’ve seen it lots of times. Your speech has the power to wound. I’ve seen that too. But nobody can deny that you are a great communicator. So you have to decide who you are going to serve with everything you say. Remember the movie Hancock where Will Smith caused a lot of damage when he was careless and did a lot of good when he used his power mindfully? You have a super power like that.

I can look back and see how Mom and I either encouraged these gifts in you or just gave them to you by virtue of heredity. So I feel a little better about the overweight gene thing. And the ADD gene thing. I know that your gifts will help you get over some of the hurdles we left you with.

Since I am a Dad, and since you’re sitting here watching 67 gazillion people walk across a stage and don’t have a lot better to do right now, let me indulge myself and offer some advice:

Always turn outward. Always. If you find you’re bored, or depressed, or in a general funk, that is the time to find something to do for someone else. Turn off the TV and go find out what you can do to help. It’s the surest way to ensure your true happiness. Focus on helping others be happy instead of yourself. This is not my idea. It’s how God set things up. Just ask Him.

Remember that you are poor. When Jesus said “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” he meant for you to remember that you have nothing that is not from Him. It’s all God’s. It’s like he says to everybody, “Hey, hold this stuff for me. It’s good stuff. And when you see someone who needs some stuff, give them some of this stuff I asked you to hold. That’s what I put you here for, to give out my stuff. So take some of the stuff when you need it, because I want you to be rested and healthy and ready to give out my stuff. But be certain that I want you to pay attention and look for opportunities to give away my stuff.” Remember, none of your stuff is your stuff. God”s stuff is better anyway.

Embrace suffering in little doses for a big purpose. This is a hard lesson that I am learning. I can see that, like me, you are a procrastinator. (Sorry again.) Do a small task now to avoid a large mess later. Get the boring essential discipleship stuff out of the way so you can achieve the good stuff. The trick is to have a clear view of the Why, the Purpose, the Big Hairy Deal. Keep your Eyes on the Prize, so to speak. Each bill you pay, each dish you wash or shirt you fold can be put in the context of some big Core Value or Goal. So teaching will have lots of paperwork and administration. Do it promptly and you will have more time to do the funner teaching stuff and you will reach your Goal faster.

Love is a decision, not a feeling. In fact Love is what you do when you’re not feeling it. Mom and I are fond of the idea that “Love is being bothered for the sake of another.” Practice being bothered in lots of small ways everyday so that you don’t have to endure too many big hassles.

Reach out and ask for help. You can’t do it alone. Neither can they.

Practice being alone. Practice being still. Read Matthew Chapter 6. Practice listening to God. Sometimes you have to get away by yourself with no distractions to truly understand, at your very core, that you are never really alone.

So by now you may already know about your graduation present. And I promise to help you set it up so you can be successful with it. But I offer you a few more things.

I promise to give you maddening advice. I can’t always give you a straight answer. Often because I just plain don’t know the answer. But sometimes I do know and still there’s value in you getting at least part of the way on your own. As a teacher, you understand that idea. I promise to be there for you, but try not to do too much. Your life is becoming your own life and we both need to get used to that.

Of course, I promise you my constant prayers, but not necessarily for what you want. I thank God for the many times He did not give me what I wanted. Someday you will too.

I promise you a prophetic voice. I am a guy who looks to the future. It’s what I do. I tried to use that when you were little, guiding you to this or that hobby or interest that I thought might best position you for the future. Remember the times you were grounded and the only electronic thing I would let you do was Paint Shop Pro? That was what I was trying to do. I can still offer that kind of thing. I make a living, in part, helping people think goals and plans through, helping people see possibilities. I can help you with any time you ask. And forgive me in advance for the times I can’t help myself and do it without being asked. (Like when I urge you to take every opportunity in college to study distance education. Wave of the future, I tell you.)

I promise to always be your Dad. This job never goes away. It just changes.

And, of course, I promise to always love you.


Special, But Not That Special

I’ve admired Mike Rowe since seeing his righteous talk at TED about the dignity of blue-collar work. Now Mike’s made me proud to be an Eagle Scout again with his Eagle Scout Letter. He’ll send a signed copy of that letter to any Eagle Scout who asks (and sends a SASE.)

It reminds me of listening to Fr. Ron Cloutier tell us in ministry training a few years back, “You’re special, but not that special.” Awesome. I think it is a sacred duty of priests and prophets to say “y’all get over yourselves” on a regular basis. I know I need to hear it more often than I do. Exceptin’ from my wife, who does that just fine.

Fun Phonemic Favorites

Inspired by a recent conversation, I am recording my current fun words. And when I mean fun, I mean phonemically fun. Fun To Say. One giggles inside a bit to say them.

But there are (loose) Rules:
English words with recognizable if not common usage
Must be real words and not from a book or something
No proper names or foreign words
The shorter the better
The more ordinary (less highfalootin) the word, the better
Family friendly words. There may be a brown paper wrapped collection somewhere, but I’m not sharing those here.

The Collection:
codswallop snifter baleen mordant pantaloons haberdasher cromulent ocelot daisy nard bombard fjord spleen thwack wonky nugget gaga uvula whilst fussbudget krill unbeknownst munch salsa nacho bailiwick foofaraw buttress jejune mellifluous palaver cloy brisk tchotchke gazpacho biscuit gosling flagellum falafel kumquat zither mandibular slithy pulchritude paramecium burgle festoonery flummox ballyhoo askance souffle persnickety lather knickerbocker lollapalooza spelunking squelch (many words ending in “-elch” are fun to say) noodle (and just about any word ending in “-oodle”) pants (and any words ending in “-pants”) and… moist (I know, I know, but I like it anyway along with many words that end in “-oist”)

Making exceptions for:
grar narf (not real words but I wish they were)
webelo zamboni (proper nouns, but c’mon)

Anyway, I am a collector. Care to share?

Investment Tip

During my involuntary freelance exploration (unemployment) period last year I was engaged to do some research into 3D Printing/Rapid Manufacturing. I did research and developed a set of future technology scenarios that included:

  • A peer-to-peer design revolution where Etsy beomes the ITunes of design and art.
  • A type of nano-engineered cardboard (I love cardboard) with intelligent electronics conformally-printed so that it can be folded to create emergency housing. The cardboard would be smart enough to know which surfaces were exposed to sun and use solar cells to gather energy that could power lighting units on the surfaces turned inward.
  • A steak cultured from meat and fat cells printed onto a 3-D collagen lattice that won the James Beard award, thus passing the “Turing Test” for cruelty-free, artificial meat.
  • A large machine that can “print” entire homes, complete with plumbing and electricity.
  • And a machine that can print spare human parts for transplants.

And I’ll be damned if that last one, the least imaginative of my scenarios in my opinion, isn’t on the verge of coming true. At least there’s the promise within five years.

One faint advantage of being a futurist is that every once in a while you get one of those, “Hey! I anticipated that back in…” moments. Faint because, without action, those moments are kind of impotent. Either the client didn’t listen to you or you personally don’t have the money to invest in these “next big things” you keep seeing years in advance.

But hey if you have the money, look into Rapid Manufacturing as an investment. If you’re going to college to study anything connected to engineering, take classes that give you knowledge and skills with these machines. They will enable many “meat world” objects to be digitized and shared. Manufacturing and design will be revolutionized. Business models will be overturned. New industries will be created.