Colonial Malware

It’s the last four days of my N.T, Gospels class an we are still hopeless mired in Post-Colonialism – a point which can be made in five minutes; the implications probably exhausted to some pragmatic degree with a 30 minute discussion. 

Yet it goes on…

We could have stopped and started to study the native texts in their indigenous Middle Eastern context – but no. 

mac2016We could have discussed whether Post-Colonialism is even “Post” at all? But no. 

So we are asked (bludgeoned) with the question of how we will find our discussions of Post-Colonialism relevant in the future (can you see me looking at you sideways?)

My response:

When my PC gets malware or a bad virus I am in serious danger of losing not only my work, but often my entire computer if the virus is not eradicated. I suppose I could endless fight each incidence of the virus as it cropped up. but they tend to multiply and soon all of my attention would be on that alone and not my work. Instead, I have the option of going back to a previous system save point that existed prior to the infection and having th system rebuild from there. To be sure, I will lose some additions I may have added, but they too may now be infected. Best to go back to a time prior to the corruption when my machine took a bad turn or pretty much all will be lost.

You can see where this is headed easily enough. We can fight the resulting symptoms of Christendom’s unfortunate marriage to power with Constantine and how that eventually led to it’s championing Colonialism as its divine sanctioner; but this will never get us back to a healthy place. It simply keeps us in the disease. Worse – currently (in my view) it has given us the false sense that we are past it (which we are decidedly not). Colonialism is simply dressed in different clothing and framed in new language. But it is still Western Colonialism with its need to dominate and acquire. Show me the article or evidence that refutes this. Oh I saw Modernity fall with the Berlin Wall (but raise half its philosophic head in Post-Modernism – which was a neat trick – like “subjectivism”) but I have not seen Colonialism fall at all.

So as far as I am concerned much of this talk is premature in way. In the meantime, we can certainly, pragmatically, reset the operating system back to pre-Western times – before the virus of power was introduced. Back to indigenous Middle Eastern soil with its rich olive-skinned people and totally other context – say focusing on the first 300 years – just to be on the safe side for awhile.

ST. PERPETUA AND FELICITY-5X4It wouldn’t hurt us to spend some time studying the Martyrs of North Africa to reintroduce us to serious faith in action, nor to the Desert Fathers for contemplation and the concept of being “holy” or “set apart.” Of course we will seem like juvenile delinquents by comparison. Tough. And the role of women? One of my favorite heroes of faith in all of Christendom is Perpetua who, along with Felecity was martyred for her faith, but not before giving one of the most eloquent renouncements of faith on record. She was so brave.

Given such a clear and clean view, we are the punks, the new kids on their first day at the real school. We don’t know scabula about what is important and we need people to explain the simplest ideas from the Bible because we just do not get it.  But who will do this if all we are doing is addressing every little mutation of the virus and not the health of the original organism?  To linger on Post-Colonialism is to obsess on a pathology, not do fresh work in exploring the texts themselves. It’s to allow the disease to define the dialogue and agenda, and that is a mistake. The point about its danger is made in five minutes, and I for one, am simply tired of hearing about it and want to get to some real work. It’s not a difficult point.


Influenced But not Infected


I have loved Matisse forever. I considered naming my daughter Camille, well…you get it. I’m happy with Camille and so is she. But I first saw Matisse’s Jazz (cut-outs which are pretty simple but amazing) at the old SFMOMA with a group of high school students I had brought there for a retreat. We had stayed at the Youth Hostel in the Marin Headlands for like $5 a night – then I took them to the museum. At night we studied the Gospel of Mark in an open exploration, then walked the beaches.

AzMOMAThis picture here is a favorite. I took it (1988) of the entourage upside-down in the little SFMOMA elevator which had Art Deco lighting. It really captured the various personalities of the students on that trip well in an unguarded moment. Shooting upside-down can do that.

My next reintroduction to Matisse was really through my teacher- J. Rod Larson-Swenson. He had adopted so much of Matisse’s coloration and not a few of his subjects (including the fishbowl..,or was that Diebenkorn..see now I do not know!) I am forever indebted to Rod fpr so


J. Rod Swenson with black bean dip in my house in Land Park. circa 1992.

many things. I think one of the best things was his utterly unpretentious approach to art and his unselfishness in it. It is why I often give mine away or look for inexpensive ways of doing iot because for people to have and own original art is incarnational!  It is the opposite of consumer art and a protest against bad art and all that commodifies it. It also debunks elitism. If I can do a masterpiece (which may cost me $400) and sell it for under a grnad – that is a success. If I can do a Kanji that is truly beautiful and meaningful – in a frame – and give it to someone who has no art – costing me less than a dollar – I am wealthy.  Rod taught me so much of that – and modeled it for me. 

Matisse Revisited

I came this time not really having any idea who Diebenkorn was or that I already knew his art. I do. It was like when I asked Camille recently (she was over to do art) if she listened to The Talking Heads. She said she didn’t know them until I put them on! Then of course – who doesn’t. Same with Diebenkorn. Inn fact a lot of his paintings I thought were Matisse’s. Now I get why they are bundled. And I have to kinda admit, now? I find Diebenkorn more, well…weighty. 

lakeIt was Diebenkorn whose painting really hit and inspired me in this upcoming collage I am working on for Oak Life Church. It has been forming ion me for over a month – in pieces. Long purple gladiolas with peach backgrounds/.//Kanji words….the BIG RED CHOP in the bottom right…and BLAM – in the middle an aerial somehow is part of Lake Merritt. It’s a collage with various media – and the mode is abstract expressionism – which is NOT my normal deal (but who cares – peh).  Then I saw this!

See now I don;t need anymore – and I don;t need to go and look at every one of his paintings and get over-saturated and waterlogged with Diebenkorn (there is a joke in there but I am passing it by).

People are way too derivative – or they steal outright. I don’t have to. I haven’t even asked anyone about reimbursement or anything. I just feel I am supposed to do this and have it – and a few others – hang in the foyer as people go into service on Sunday. I’m letting things influence me..but the ABSTRACTIONS are between me and God and the expressions come from within. 

16473347_10208062320811045_4063101416940112077_n (1)


One of the things I have always admired about my daughter is that she has always known to trust her own instincts. She still does. We enjoy doing art together. Occcasionally we assist one another when asked. I really like her art – always have.  She started at 3 pretty much. I started at 30 (if you do not count photography……I dunno). 

Dos it help “seeing it” in my mind’s eye? Yeah, sure. And that investment in the membership to SFMOMA was smart. I can go anytime – even if for 15 minutes. 

Last point – (and this kinda  proves it) After I did my research and fled the exhibit – I ent down a floor and saw Joan Mitchell’s work. I could have sat THERE all day long because it is not what I am doing. It was wonderful and lush and – oh I just loved it in its expansive playfulness. Wow. 


My Speech to the Fishes

cropped-spokefish12I have been working on a sermon on John 21 for a few weeks for both my Preaching class and also my Gospels class. I wanted to just be done with the Gospels’ class but our teacher is determined to find new ways to torture us to the very last.

Meanwhile, to lift my spirits, I started listening to other sermons today on John 21 – to get some “pointers” from the BIG BOYS – and one guy from a big church with a logo like a Super Bowl started in on the “153 fish” saying that it “represented the elect who had been chosen by God.” He forgot to mention that previously those fish were alive and well in the Sea of Tiberias and were now simply dead and tabulated.

I left a note to that effect on his Youtube channel. Just trying to “hep” a brother out.

macNPatThis text (John 21:1-17) is a funny one. My first mentor popularized it. He was a popular national speaker for Campus Crusade for Christ. It is noteworthy that he essentially skipped the harder parts of the text entirely (Peter’s failure) and made it all upbeat. I would break with him early over two incidents. One was his insistence that all of us leaders move with the movers.” While I had never been a popular kid and this was my one shot to be with the “In-Kids” this was not the Jesus who had barged into my existence** in Estes Park, Colorado months earlier or I had read in the Gospels. “Christopher, son of Fred, do you love me more than these?” had not been articulated yet; but it was true. I did. And I loved people more too. I wasn’t leaving anyone behind.

The second incident was when he ordered me to go and get all his love letters back from a local girl he was interested in. I was no moralist (and still am not). It didn’t bother me in the least that she was so much younger. It just wasn’t my deal. “Go get your own letters.”
“I’m ordering you as my disciple to go and get them.”
I nearly laughed my ass off. We we’re done. (Go sell that somewhere else Pal.)
simpson-university-83I learned Greek and had an awesome N.T. Professor: Dr. Leonard Wallmark. I had enrolled in a Fundamentalist Bible College simply because I had no idea Fundamentalism existed. They proved me wrong. I was there to study anyway. I did 40 units in one year, and survived by working out a lot and doing 200 practical jokes in one year. When we had both had enough I left inoculated for life. I had my exegetical heroes (like F.F. Bruce, Donald Guthrie, Gordon Fee and Joel B. Green (who was my Luke/Acts Prof in the 90s). I had an immediate distaste for anyone with an obvious agenda (still do). But they are all pretty conservative guys on the social spectrum and I have been very liberal socially for decades. Someone in the 90s called me the “Hunter Thompson of Christendom,” – I Maughamreadpretty sure it was not a compliment. Liberals hate my bedrock in Christology and Middle Eastern exegesis (which gets utterly away from the myopic issue-driven “eisogesis-of-the-month” club agenda). Conservatives hate my Boots-On activism (I was running a Homeless Tent City under the Nimitz freeway when I started seminary in 2015). In the Bush Jr. years I was on “The List” because I wrote funny editorials. It delayed me at airports – but that’s all. I write in secular publications a lot and use a lot of carnal words like “Beef” and “Chicken.”

As our professor will attest to, I don’t do well with systems, especially ones that change all the time in a long body of text where it’s like finding Waldo and you are not sure he is even missing or shown up. In my defense I read a LOT of Kierkegaard at 19 and 20. No one in power has ever liked me. They suspect I may respectfully speak my mind at any moment. They are all pretty smart.
If there is one trait that makes me odd, it is that I have an absolute fearlessness with the text. I call it (now) “passionate disinterest.” I go where the text goes come what may. Where it goes? I really DO NOT CARE. That is the FUN of it.

gruden systematics

Gruden trapped in systematic laminate.

I find that I am fairly solitary in this. I think “systematic theology” is a silly idea. Is God systemic? I tried ordering one systematic theological help from Amazon, but they sent me a laminated Wayne Grudem. He was not happy. I sent him back. Identifying with any fully worked out “theology” is a mistake. What did people do ten minutes before it was fully worked out? As is, I am free to move across all thinkers and exegetes. I have been reading Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant thinkers all along (and others). This has also given me a sense of the historical. I am not much impressed with current theology. It has some nice correctives. New advances? Peh.

Do I think the Word is revelation “from outside?” Yeah, I’ll own that. If you can buy God becoming flesh how hard is it to believe God’s Word has veracity? What kind? Who really cares? More than our words that is for certain. That should be enough (this reminds me of that textbook-ripping scene from Dead Poet’s Society which I have been tempted to re-enact with sections of Aymer, but it’s tough to tear things out of a Kindle.

If I put the Word up next to the best literature or poetry Eliot, Oliver, Rumi, Merton— it is comparing two things of a kind which are still different. It is why it is offensive when someone mishandles it. I was listening to sermons today on John 21 and one guy got on the “153 fish” saying that it “represented the elect who had been chosen by God.” He forgot to mention that previously those fish were alive and well in the sea and were now dead and tabulated. But I quibble…

Imagine a world without the Calvinist/Arminian argument wasting valuable air to no possible ends. There – I did it. Took four seconds. World peace didn’t happen but a lot more got done and James White had to get a real job. Why was I chosen to come up with the solution? Just predestined to be smarter. That and more poor. It all evens out.
Does John 21 happen to align with my current interests? Yes – for I feel that in a world that is grasping aimlessly for new programs and trying to build new anthropocentric systems (which are always doomed) the simple answer lays waiting as it always has: “Simon son of John do you love me more than these?”)

Initial trajectory is the essential problem.

If you launch your solution from the wrong place at the wrong trajectory…well, it really does not matter how well your rocket functions, does it? I mean, jolly good for you if it doesn’t explode..but you will still end up nowhere. And that is where every major theology that started from an anthropocentric center point has landed the last 40 years of my observing – dead in some field. Forgotten or adrift in some odd orbit somewhere. But worthless.

cropped-spokefish12The current ones (name any) so based? The same destiny.

Put more simply. If the Universe is Christocentric (i.e. made “in, through and for Christ” as Colossians 1:15-23 suggests) and our truest destiny is to be conformed to Christ’s image (which by the way – is beyond gender); then any and all anthropocentric models (theologies with their tiny human gravitational fields) and other destinations start from the wrong place (thus the wrong trajectories) aimed at the wrong target.

What a mess. And the Church is not helping that much arguing about numbering the fish as “elect” or making the passage into a new series called “Firestarters.” (Just club me to death right now like a baby seal*).

* My apologies to baby seals everywhere and those who love baby seals, and to Greenpeace and to the late Jacques Cousteau who filmed baby seals. One of the questions was about what mode of being aren’t you “using in this class,” and that would definitely be humor but unfortunately it has come out in utterly inappropriate baby seal-related ways, although in my own defense it was a metaphor, and I the intended victim).

** I did not “find Jesus.” In fact I had just “made a decision” to definitely pass on Christianity, it’s loser/hypocritical followers and all its accompanying “stuff” when, alone in a room the place was flooded with such a heaviness I thought I might drown without any water present.  Got my attention. Negotiations followed.

Him I love. The religious enterprise? Nope. Christendom? I’m Kierkegaard with a sense of humor. Seminary wasn’t my idea. I laughed at the suggestion – aloud. then said “sure, You’re deal.” No different than doing duty under a freeway (actually that is more straight up.)