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.

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…



Just had to record this for future me to read and shake my head. Sent this actual message to one of Aaron’s teachers today. This is the result of that curse where my Mom said “I hope you have a kid just like you when you grow up!” So I got a kid with ADD. And I send letters like this on a fairly regular basis.


Ms. Looper,


A week ago Sunday I found a packet in Aaron’s backpack with a handwritten title sheet that read “Aaron Clark – Missing Work 2nd per” in red ink. Most of the work was from much earlier in the month. Even though it looked like the date had long passed I made him sit down and do every sheet in the packet for good measure.


Is this the packet of missing work you are referring to? If not, what does the packet look like?


Also, he’s been carrying this completed work with him for over a week. I have no idea why he does not turn it in. None at all. It’s very frustrating. Can you help me figure out what I can do to increase the probability that his work will make it the last few feet from his orange backpack into your grade book? Any clue will help. I have none.


As we speak I am having him fill out something about the path of food through the body which I found crumpled and blank in his folder. I am also having him label a picture of a digestive tract on a legal sheet of blue paper. He will also complete a blank sheet about the urinary tract. I have no idea when these things are due. But I swear they will be in his backpack when he leaves our house. Is there some way we can coax him to give these to you whether they’re due or not, just so he can have the sense memory of turning something in? And if he can get a grade for any of it, even better.


Thanks for sending the feedback home. It is still chaotic, but the feedback helps. Especially in our nightly game of “What is this paper? When is it due?”


Appreciate all you do,

Aaron’s Dad

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”>



          <created through=Son>







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


          <title>”Jesus Christ”</title>



          <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>





           </Salvation History>


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


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



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













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



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

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



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

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.


Thank you Dr. Obvious, your work here is done.

This interview with a brain science author confirms that middle-aged brains are plain smarter than teen or even young adult brains. They have more and stronger connections, more perspective, and just plain more data in them from which to arrive at better decisions faster.

Less obvious and perhaps more interesting were some tips on how to maximize your brain power through middle age:
Exercise is hands-down the surest way to improve your brain and grow new brain cells.
Those Brain Age style puzzles don’t help that much. Unless your goal is to get really good at puzzles.
Social interaction helps keep your brain sharp.
And exposing yourself to diverse views and opinion strengthens your reasoning abilities and connections in your brain. Which confirms my hypothesis that talk radio and news commentary channels rot your brain.

It also makes me feel better about my aging strategy of becoming more eccentric — by acquiring odd hobbies and cultural interests — as I age. I just need to ramp up the excercise as well.

Math Practice for My Daydreaming Fourth Grader

So Aaron needs extra practice in math if he wants to pass the TAKS test and not repeat fourth grade. I figure Aaron’s problem is not so much comprehension as, well, caring the least bit about what he’s doing in math. So this is my attempt to give math practice an adventurous twist…

The movie starts at 5:00pm. You get out of school at 3:15 pm. How much time do you have to eat dinner at your favorite cheese stick cafe and get to the movie on time

You get to the cafe at 3:27pm and discover after eating your first cheese stick that your arch enemy has poisoned your food. The evil note says that the poison will kill you in 1 hour, 12 minutes and the antidote takes 23 minutes to work. When will you die if you don’t find the antidote in time? By what time on the clock do you need to find the antidote to live?

A full order of your favorite fried cheese sticks has eight pieces. Only two of the pieces were poisoned. What was the probability that the first stick you ate would poison you? So, are you lucky or unlucky?

Using your x-ray vision, you find the three small bottles at 3:57pm sitting on a small electronic device. You grab a bottle to drink it and the bottle says that the antidote will blind you until it works fully (23 minutes). When will you be able to see again if you take the antidote now?

If only one of the small bottles contains the antidote, what is the probability that the first bottle you drink has the antidote? How about the second bottle? How about the third?

Before drinking the antidote, you look down and notice that by lifting the bottle off the device, you unwittingly triggered the timer on a bomb that will explode at 4:35. It takes 12 minutes to defuse the bomb. Do you have time to take the antidote and then defuse the bomb after you regain your sight? Or do you need to defuse the bomb first and then take the antidote?

After you have defused the bomb and saved yourself with the antidote, how much of the movie will you miss if it takes 20 minutes to get to the theater?

Yes is a World

22 years ago right now I was in the lobby of our hotel playing a videogame called Hogan’s Alley (indeed, a class joint) with my Best Man and several groomsmen. Getting ready to say the most important “Yes” of my life to date in just a few hours.

And I did say yes, nervously, to what turned out to be a blessed life of “Yes.” Heidi and I over the years have said “Yes” to so many things. We have learned and loved in abundance.

Today I have been married exactly as many years as I have not been married. I am a “Yes” man, praise God. So blessed am I that we said “Yes” again and again.

Happy Birthday, Clark Family! You started with a big “Yes” and grew over countless many smaller and bigger “Yes”-es over 22 years.

Is there ever a more blessed thing than a world of “Yes” to God? I have this poem memorized like a mantra. One of my favorites.

love is a place

love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places

yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds

ee cummings

What's in your thought bubble?

This video might be the most useful three minutes of your day. Not so much for the health care talk, which you may or may not agree with, but for the innovative use of media. I’ve never seen a more effective, efficient method of communication, speaking to all learning styles at once. I hope this thought bubble thing catches on. See their impressive promo video.

This has gotten my own thought bubble, which admittedly is kind of bloated and frenetic even on a slow day, going on overdrive. What a tool for catechesis, illustrating futures scenarios, even for prayer.

I can see the thought bubble as a model for the examen. What’s the ratio of holy stuff to profane stuff in your thought bubble lately? Reminds me of a really good article I read a few months back about Sloth. This deadly sin is not so much about laziness as it is about having zeal for the trivial and indifference to holy things, like face-to-face relationships, listening, being present. I think a thought bubble examen would be a great way to combat sloth in my own life.

What’s in your thought bubble?

Ooh, Pretty Dots!

I’m a sucker for info-viz toys. Slate’s News Dots gives a graphical analysis of patterns in over 500 news stories per day over a three day running window. Makes me clap and giggle like a little geeky girl. And the dots are very pretty too…

Each common tag is a News Dot. Dots are connected if their tags appear in the same story. And the dots are sized according to the number of stories that reference them. You can click on each dot to get links to the stories that mention that dot’s tag.

Slate has always been one of my favorite online resources, mainly because they have been a leader over the years about aggregating content in reader-friendly ways. Though I do miss the Today’s Papers feature and The Slatest does not make an adequate replacement, they have a very cool new tool indeed.