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.)


Loose at the Chalkboard…uh oh…


So the same teacher (New Testament Gospels) who is so rigid with everyone on deadlines has gone AWOL. Also, I am starting to do some research via fellow classmates and I am far from alone. No one – so far – is at all happy. Others, including actual English teachers – are being criticized for not being able to “write” and no one is getting any comments on the content of their papers. The general synopsis is beginning to become that this guy is a wingnut.

He didn’t show with this week’s question even. How hard is that – to just ask a question once you have given a reading assignment? He still has not taught us a single thing – not all semester.

I had read the textbook, a collection of scholars that are hit and miss. One writer can be amazing with new insights and much to say; the next dodgy, fearful and so full of prevarication that one wonders if they actually get out of bed in the morning or if they just phone everything in.

There is a level of utter unreality to some biblical scholarship that slips by many under the phrase “most scholars believe…” which is a giant pile of horsepucky – a game of “publish or perish” where this elitist group writes journal articles to each other in a specialized language (which they call “good writing” (it sucks big time) in an ever-tightening devolving and smaller circle (endowment monies are running out) of self-concern . True, some of these scholars actually rise above the bullshit and do great work – SAYING SOMETHING (wow), but most toe a party line and push whatever new Postmodern agenda is en vogue. Forget about exploring biblical texts at all. They are simply to be nullified. Inoculation is the order of the day.

This doesn’t bother me as the problem is self-cleaning. The seminaries these guys teach in? Dying at their own hands. Their issues? So myopic and self-referential they curl in on themselves. There is no life in any of it. “He who saves his life loses it.”

So anyway…I show up and no teacher…there is the virtual chalkboard…hmnnn…

I get up and scrawl:

“Of course we are all suitably appalled by his off-screen antics (life) but his early literary forays into farce were notable. I speak of Woody Allen and as I was reading Michal Beth Dinkler prevaricate at length on how scholars had possibly managed (behind the scenes mind you) to dismantle any sure footing for approaching the “Acts of the Apostles” with anything less than a long tentative stick I thought of his very funny essay called “The Scrolls.”

While not naming Form criticism I think we can infer some connection when he wrote “The writing is a mixture of Sumerian, Aramaic and Babylonian and seems to have been done by either one man over a long period of time, or several men who shared the same suit. The authenticity of the scrolls is currently in great doubt, particularly since the word Oldsmobile appears several times in the text…”

I always try to remind myself that much of what we call “scholarship” nowadays is the direct product of Post-Enlightenment Modernity. Even our current text is swift to try and gloss over the reality that Christianity is not “Western” at all. Oh sure, it gets corrupted and used by empires in the Wast from Constantine on— but it was, and is, decidedly Middle Eastern. Any time a current commentator attempts to place all this mess back to anything prior to say – well to be safe, 250 AD (plenty of martyrdom still going on-a sure sign that that Christian faith was not on good terms with the powerful) it is just nonsense, as is “transporting” our current issues/agendas.

We might as well put Luke’s back against the wall about carbon emissions while we are at it.

Gender Readings: “Co-habitating the Texts”

genderstuiesCiting the concurrent flow of feminist literary criticism with feminist biblical criticism, Janice Capel Anderson sets forth a clear and concise vision for how gender filters readings of essentially androcentric texts.

This far-reaching essay  (The Gospels and Acts: Fortress Press Bible Commentaries Aymer & Kittredge editors. Fortress Press, 2016.) has much to offer amidst this tedious and rambling collection of agendized essays not worth your trouble.

Anderson argues that texts may be invisible to both sexes in significant ways (necessitating what she calls a “revisionist rereading” but one very much unlike many under that general banner (this is not an imaginative re-writing.) Hers is simply an acknowledgment of “cohabitation” of contexts. A richer understanding can be gained by comparing notes between gender-readings.

“when presented with a certain type of story (Kolodny) the men were unable to discern the motives for the wives murdering their husbands but women were – as they were clued into “arenas” of meaning not known or perceived by the men.”

Building a very strong case (that goes beyond what I can summarize here), Anderson argues that men and women are able to perceive or read different things from the texts as they occupy the space as the “implied reader.”  Some of her examples are even funny, as in how when presented with a certain type of story (Kolodny) the men were unable to discern the motives for the wives murdering their husbands but women were – as they were clued into “arenas” of meaning not known or perceived by the men.

Many men are red/green color-blind (as an example). A Feminist hermeneutic that bringings forward colors latent in the text could be pretty amazing. I appreciated Anderson’s “revisionism” not as a re-write in some “wishful thinking” recasting of scripture that does violence to the texts; but rather as one with a true eye for greater accuracy. Those women in Kolodny’s study  really did know who the murderers were and the men were clueless (just as the woman in Luke 7 knew who Jesus was but the men were clueless.)

It is the implied reader that Matthew is presenting Jesus to. Anderson sets this at odds with the “normal” audience of the day:

 The Jewish leaders, the story world’s male establishment, are judged negatively; the male disciples positively and negatively, and so on. While it is true that the disciples become the new establishment with special teaching and governance responsibilities (16.18-19; 18.15-20; 28.19-20), their strengths and weaknesses are revealed. This reinforces anti-hierarchical aspects of Jesus’ teachings on discipleship such as 20.25-28 and 23.8-12. Marginal characters including women receive fairly positive evaluations. (p.47)

I am often critical of Modern and Postmodern impositions on biblical texts because they strait-jacket them and impose currently en vogue agendas that in ten years will mysteriously shift to new ones.* But this seems exactly the opposite—a literary approach that opens things up for further exploration that is not transitory. In fact, what it promises is a whole new set of lenses – a truly Feminist biblical set of lenses that might act positively – not seeing scripture as adversarial or pro-patriarchal (especially where it is decidedly not), but rather seeing, as Anderson clearly does, as having been prepared for an “implied reader.”

How else do we explain the Gospel writers choosing to include the witness accounts of the women to Jesus’ resurrection? In the day it was of little or no value in that society. Yet there those accounts are— front and center. Sure, we can argue they were included simply because that is what happened (I agree with this) but also, along with so many other subversive factors found in scripture, perhaps it’s meant for the implied audience. Anderson would argue that. A superb article,  I found Anderson’s argument profound and it will be of lasting value. 

If this were not enough, Postmodern interpreters who insist they are escaping a Postcolonial interpretation demonstrate the very same spirit of domination in their hermeneutic (one of conquest) when they impose current notions of Western “identity” and Post-Enlightenment “advances” on 1st and very early 2nd Century Middle Eastern texts – essentially “colonizing” them to their own views rather than struggling with organic meanings in fresh situations. 

four gospels mako

My first thought was that I am a very blessed man to be paired up with a brilliant interpreter and long-time student of scripture. My girlfriend Laura brings areas of prowess I do not possess, and I the same. Add to that this new revelation of being clued into different “arenas of meaning” and our vast experience now (over 100 years between us, yet are we not spry?) and we have the makings of something of an interpretative juggernaut— well, if not a juggarnaut, at least something that laughs loudly and can rip open a text and explore.

Which is good. For Christmas I purchased Laura Fujimura’s “illuminated”  (illustrated) Bible – which is amazing. GET a copy while you can via Amazon. The Four Holy Gospels, Originally $100, it is now $150 – but you can actually now get for less. Later, (a decade from now) they will be worth a few grand) – but they are worth their weight in gold now.

 The rest of the Fortress book? So far…meh. Don;t bother. If you want the Anderson essay, write me or IM.

*What’s wrong with what is en vogue?  You run the serious risk of your theology wearing a 1970’s lime green polyester leisure suit and having to defend it.  It is best to seriously example the roots (tools and a priori assumptions) of your approach to scripture and reality..otherwise? Well…you get what you pay for. It’s not instant karma – but pretty close. 

We Are Legion, Are We Not?


A swift and angled review of FX’s new LEGION: a truly off-beat (in a good way) Marvel mutant X-Men spin-off  that one reporter aptly named a “terrifying funhouse.” It’s not for the squeamish or those who want a simple storyline. Often a single episode may ask the viewer to entertain not two, but 3 or 4 realities all at once. I often find myself thinking “Oh wha-tha heck!!? Aw..I’ll figure that out on a re-watch.”

So what’s it about? We start with tortured-soulish mental patient David Baller (Downton Abbey fans will barely recognize a resurrected Matthew Crawley, who oddly, looks younger five years later). David is a schizophrenic who can also apparently move matter with his mind. In fact, as time rolls on, it would seem David is not so crazy after all and that line between deeper perception and reality begins to move closer and closer together — a theme the series will often blatantly explore.


“Aw MAN…now I can’t get to my KEYS…”

Like all X-men related series, we have the Government in the backdrop seeking to either control or eradicate the mutants with typical inefficiency (in on episode, an encounter with David leaves them all dead, most in various states of partial “oneness” with the pavement, the walls, the ceilings…you get the idea). But that motif (so far, and only seven episodes have aired) is about as far as the similarities with the classic X-Men story-line goes. This is a far more personal, relational, psychological and even spiritual story.

The true enemy (so far), resides within David himself. It is discovered that a mutant parasite has invaded him – a true Monster who wishes to take over and use his incredible powers over matter for evil. In this matter the very fabrics (plural) or the Universe and Reality will be challenged (as one might expect if things like E²=(mc²)²+(pc)² are so.)

One supposes this is why the name is “Legion” – hailing back to the story in Mark 5 (1-17) of the Geresene Demoniac who Jesus confronted – sending them all into a herd of nearby pigs who immediately committed mass swine-a-side.

zztop.jpgHere, there is a lot of jumping around and chess-playing with realities between David, and the Monster (alternately portrayed by his boyhood best friend Lenny (played by Aubrey Plaza) and a huge glowing-eyed freak who looks like the T-Shirt sales-table guy on the ZZ Top Tour who has been pounding McDonalds quarter-pounders for 40 years and last saw the sun in 1984 (played by utter super-newcomer Quinton Boisclair in his first screen role). Truly grotesque and scary appearances.

Which brings us to David’s unique relationship with his girlfriend Syd (played by relative newcomer Rachael Keller). Keller, acting like a seasoned pro, has amazing presence in this unique role as a young woman with powers something akin to Rogue’s (if she touches someone they change bodies for a time…so she simply avoids this unless needed).

Syd and David fall in love even though they cannot touch. I watched in amazement as the writers actually made this utterly believable. Their love was built strong in all other areas (of the “four loves, they get to “phelio (friendship); “storge” (family love); and “agape” (selfless) love first) – yet retain a definite eroticism and desire – just not consummated.  Later in the series, with the other loves established, David is able to create a place with his mind where they are able to touch with abandon as they have wished. When they return to the actual reality they are “sated,” having been intimate.
legion2That is worth a discussion all on its own, no?

I got the feeling early that either would take a bullet for the other — and this bears itself out fully in the series in a way that defies both film and most television. For just this alone I recommend Legion as somewhat subversive, or at least, refreshingly novel…while it is going all wonky and batshit crazy around you.

Syd is truly the anchor for really everyone in the series. She is the calmest under fire, the smartest and quickest to see through the deceptions, and she is the bravest. Syd utterly rocks.

How does it relate us us —none mutants? Well deep down we all have questions about ultimate reality, sanity and how we perceive the world — most especially anyone who is asking any spiritual questions or making any spiritual assumptions— wich means everyone. Eve the person who flatly denies all spirituality exists is functioning on spiritual assumptions which require a kind of faith.

It’s interesting —what anchors our core sense of reality, most especially in a Postmodern context where realities are supposedly legion.

This series, which airs weekly on Wednesdays at 10 on FX, is dope. I really think it’s prolly best to watch it with others and then discussed because it is so multi-layered. It is a bit like Fringe on acid (not that I speak from experience, but I have a vivid imagination).

Best of all? In these days where I pretty much always know where a show is headed next (tired old formulas) or worse – they are just badly written and performed – Legion is truly surprising. I have NO IDEA what is coming next week (they are surrounded by Government agents and the head guy has ordered everyone killed but David).

Well I know that isn’t gonna fly…but nothing beyond that. Meanwhile…the Monster chained in a “mind coffin” has kicked part of it open…All good fun.

Please leave comments at this review. More to come (episodes 1-7 seem to form a natural sort of “Part 1”). I am planning a free local showing/discussion group event of all 7 episodes here at The Vulcan in Oakland in late March/early April.


“The Vulcan” 4401 San Leandro Ave. Oakland, CA.

Lost & Found


In isolation,

If we allow it,

We story down tale by tale

Image by image

Until we are

What we have only always been

Undone, empty, naked

and lost.


It is a terrifying moment

Unending and sustaining

Lost and all our images burned

Our tale not so interesting

Our isolation seemingly



But Dear One

When you are Lost

And the fire smolders out

Leaving only your quiet empty lot

The only movement the Wind blowing

Some rag tag papers in a scatter

Then may come the quiet Word of One

Who Loves and Seeks the Lost.

Now you can be found.


Wait now

Wait in the silence

of your vacant lot to be found

He is not afar.


When He comes

You will know your life

Was always isolation

Always lostness and a howl

But now in Him

Finding and being found,

And someday soon the Oneness

You have been seeking

In all the wrong places

Will find and embrace you

And you alone.




Biblical Feminism in Action: Luke 7



Biblical Feminism:

Two Visions of the Woman Who Loved Much

Luke 7:36-50)

By Christopher MacDonald /NT-8165 Paper One.

Thesis: That the recounting of this incident provides both a startling witness of  bold love and devotion, and a reversal of the cultural and religious notions of “righteousness” (here defined in its root meaning of “right relationship in every sphere of life” –Vincent)— all with the live dramatic backdrop of human sexuality (overt female demonstration, amid male dominance) and the table fellowship at Simon the Pharisee’s house. The story presents two radically opposed epistemologies: Simon’s initial vision which supposes Jesus to be blinded (when in fact Simon is blinded); and Jesus and the woman’s who “see” and must reveal a greater reality to Simon.

The Text:

“One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.

When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”

Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”

“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.

Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver[ to one and 50 pieces to the other.  But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”

Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”

“That’s right,” Jesus said. Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”

The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”

And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50  NLT

The Trap is Laid for Jesus

The trap is not the woman. It seems plain that she has come of her own accord with her own agenda. But this seems to only play into Simon’s plans all the more for prior to her actions he has skipped the customs appropriate to a visiting Rabbi: water for the feet, a greeting with a kiss, and olive oil to anoint his head (v.44-46).

Simon calls Jesus “Teacher” – a form of respect that still allows for his inward speech to himself “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” (v.39). It is this question which has allowed him to show disrespect to Jesus from his arrival on. Jesus is there to be watched and evaluated it would seem.

The alabaster jar is beautiful and costly, as is the perfume that it houses. The scent of perfumes of that period did not last long, adding to their expense and the need to seal them tightly.[1]

It says she knelt behind him at his feet. Before we re-orient the room from our Western sensibilities it is worth noting with Moule that:

“She had not of course received permission to enter, but the prominence of hospitality as the chief of Eastern virtues led to all houses being left open, so that during a meal any one who wished could enter and look on. “To sit down to eat with common people” was one of the six things which no Rabbi or Pupil of the Wise might do; another was “to speak with a woman.” Our Lord freely did both.[2]

For the last number of centuries such incidents have been depicted by such artists as Peter Paul Rueben’s. Like Leonardo’s The Last Supper, it falsely depicts the Middle Eastern meal as taking place at Western European table sitting up right.

Instead, we would start with very low “triclinium” table or just three very low long tables set in a horse-shoe fashion in Simon’s house. It seems fairly safe to assume that Jesus, in his “dissed” state, is far away from Simon, or at the least across from him where Simon can get a good view.  Jesus has been invited, but is decidedly not welcome.

Candles, Visuals, Action

The woman presents what Simon presupposes to be an immediate dilemma for Jesus if he truly is a prophet (which he does not believe for a second).  Luke says that “she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Charles H. Cosgrove summarizes the view of a great many leading scholars on just how scandalous this was as follows:

“…commentators give the traditional interpretation of the woman’s unbound hair as immodest a more intense coloring. They see the unbound hair as part of a cluster of sexually provocative gestures by the woman. Joel Green describes her behavior as “erotic” and therefore “outrageous.” Letting down her hair “would have been on a par with appearing topless in public.” Likewise, her touching of Jesus’ feet is like the fondling that slave girls performed on guests at dinner parties as a prelude to sexual favors.[3]

The woman takes the oily perfume meant to mask the smell of her trade (the smell of many men) and instead pours it on the feet of Jesus mingled with her tears. She also kisses his feet, which Luke will later (chapter 23) say are crucified at a place called “the Skull.”.

Reversal Number 1: The Woman

The woman’s move is a bold one. This woman has quite possibly been “known” by many of the men present at the dinner. It is possible that very scent which is wafting potently from the feet of Jesus (the whole amount having lavishly been poured out like her heart) is not new to many of them.

But they are powerful men in an utterly male dominated society — who have a rightful place in Simon the Pharisee’s house. Have they not comlucas-7-36-50e out to see and evaluate this new Rabbi; this prophet?

Many a Bible interpreter has tried to “clean up” this passage; to remove its sexuality. But why? Let it be what it is. As Kenneth Bailey points out, in Middle Eastern culture, to let down the hair in this fashion would be like exposing a breast [4]– a scandal at the feet of a Rabbi. And then to soak his feet with tears and break open the alabaster vial of perfume used to mask the smell of sex with other men. It is a colorful scene.

 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!” [5]

But this is her power and this is her love and devotion. I am not saying she necessarily intends to turn the tables (that seems a stretch); but in reality she uses both the power of her sexuality – of being created in the image of God –female – and the power that it has over men, alongside the power of the deepest humility— of repentance, adoration and unfettered love — to utterly reverse the who will be indicted and what will be at stake.

I say “repentance;” for once the oil is gone (and it was quite expensive) there can be no more business-as-usual. And Jesus clearly recognizes this (v.47) and pronounces her sins have already been forgiven (v.48) at a prior time.[6]

Reversal Number 2: Jesus Tells a Parable

The text says Jesus knows Simon’s inner thoughts, and He cleanly and directly addresses them, “I have something to say to you.”

“Teacher tell me.” Simon replies.

Then Jesus tells the parable. At the end (verses 41-43) Jesus asks Simon who loved more and Simon gives his answer. Jesus says “You have answered rightly.” The one who owed the most would be filled with the most love for the forgiving banker.

Dressing-down the Host

What happens right after is easy to miss in its initial literary subtlety. In v. 44 it says, “and Jesus turned toward  the woman and said to Simon…” It is far too easy to miss that Jesus is looking at the woman the entire time he is addressing Simon. He is not looking at, or confronting Simon directly. This, as Kenneth Bailey notes, most probably changes the demeanor of how the message was delivered:

…it takes on a tone of gentleness and gratitude, expressed to a daring woman in desperate need of a kind word. The entire speech concludes with a climax addressed to her, in which she is reminded that her sins have been forgiven.[7]


“Turned to the Woman” C. MacDonald. c 2002 Azotus Arts. 

Jesus does the two most scandalous things a Rabbi could do in this, a Middle Eastern,   cultural setting: 1) he turns his back on the host (and a religious); and 2) he directly addresses a woman (and a known sinner) whom they would condemn.

But Jesus is far from done. As we read his telling of the simple parable, Jesus then publically dismantles Simon in front of the whole room, all the while lauding the love and actions of the woman while continuing to look directly at her.

“Do you see this woman? When I came into your house, you gave me no water for my feet, but she washed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss of greeting, but she has been kissing my feet since I came in. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. I tell you that her many sins are forgiven, so she showed great love. But the person who is forgiven only a little will love only a little.” (Verses 44-47)

Contrasting Visions of the Woman

Simon thought he saw the woman (a sinner who defined the Rabbi as no prophet—v.39), but after positing the parable and the question to Simon, Jesus says to him “Do you see this woman?” It sems obvious Simon does not see her at all.

Then in a devastating and poetic series of three Hebrew parallelisms, Jesus contrasts the difference between what was utterly lacking in Simon as a Middle Eastern host and the woman. Put simply, he withheld the water for foot washing, gave Jesus no customary kiss of greeting, and ignored the option of anointing a visiting Rabbi’s head with olive oil. As we shall see, the brave woman provided for all three in ways which were humble, heartfelt —yet bold and demonstrative.

Bailey defers to world traveller H.D. Tristram’s summary here:

Besides omitting the water for his feet, Simon had given Jesus no kiss. To receive a guest at the present day without kissing him on either cheek as he enters, is a marked sign of contempt, or at least a claim to a much higher social position.[8]

Bailey notes that the omission of the anointing with oil is a common feature, but not as glaring an offence as the other two – which are obvious.

Jesus contrasted each with the “better” actions of the woman in order:

you didn’t offer me water                she has washed them with her tears and

                                                                  wiped them with her hair.

You didn’t greet me with a kiss,   she has not stopped kissing my feet. 

You neglected the courtesy of

olive oil to anoint my head,               but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.

Bailey summarizes:

In three clear actions the woman has demonstrated her superiority to Simon. And Simon has it pointed out to him publically in poetic speech that will be remembered.[9]


Simon thought he “saw” both Jesus and the woman, but through the process of the parable; the actions of the woman (in contrast with his own reveal lack and shame); and then Jesus’ public confrontation, he has the option of perceiving who Jesus is and loving him as the woman does. We do not know how things end for Simon; only the woman (who may have ended up under the care of the women who are mentioned in the next chapter as supporting Jesus’ ministry and traveling with him.)

It is noteworthy, that while she rid herself of the perfume associated with her past life (and anointed Jesus feet as that greater replacement for what Simon had failed to do), she did not divorce herself from her innate sexuality and its power. I would put this woman forward as an example of empowered and advanced Feminism (even now though she is a First Century woman) — full of love, humility — yet bold in action and not afraid to use her sexuality in an utterly positive and love/life affirming way.

It is beyond the tiny scope of this paper for me to explore any further than this [NOTE:but in this forum I will get back to this!].

But, in closing I wish to add that inclusion of such a narrative flies in the face of many Modernist presuppositions about the Gospel accounts themselves (that materials were heavily edited and overly “produced”). Such a narrative puts forward testimony so worthless in the day in which it was produced (testimony of a woman/ prostitute) as holds forth no real value other than the fact that it may have actually happened.


[1] Citing Pliny the Younger’s Natural History (1st Century)

[2] Moule, H.C.G., Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges (Oxford: Bibliolife, 2009).

[3] Cosgrove, Charles H., “A Woman’s Unbound Hair in the Greco-Roman World, with Special Reference to the Story of the ‘Sinful Woman’ in Luke 7:36-50,”  Journal of Biblical Literature, Winter 2005 (Atlanta: SBL Press, 2005)

[4] Bailey, Kenneth Through Peasant Eyes, (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980)  p. 9.

[5] Luke 7:40 NLT.

[6] In the Greek, this is in the perfect passive, denoting a past action with present benefits. This has not just happened. “Jesus announces what God has done and confirms that action to the woman.” (Bailey).

[7] Bailey, Kenneth Through Peasant Eyes, (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980) p.16

[8] Tristram, H.B. Eastern Customs in Bible Lands (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1894) p.34-36

[9] Bailey, Kenneth Through Peasant Eyes, (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1980) p. 17.

The Embedded: The City Loved



The Embedded III, Oil, acrylic, pens and virtual on canvas. 2017. MacDonald. Azotus Arts.

Jacques Ellul: Meaning in the City & The Embedded

It is the desire to exclude God from his creation. And it is this solidarity in a name, this unity in separation from God, which was to keep men ever again being separated on earth. And the sign and symbol of this this, man’s environment, built by man for man, with any other intervention or power excluded, that man could make a name for himself. It was there that this pretension of becoming a subject, never again to be an object, could be realized. The cities of our time are most certainly that place where man can with impunity declaure himself master of nature. It is only in an urban civilization that man has the metaphysical possibility of saying ‘I killed God.’ [1]


The Embedded I, (partial section). 1989. Oil on canvas 36 x 48. 

But we will need help to round-out and fill in some of the blanks that Ellul’s dialectical schematic provides. With this direct goal in mind, I am bringing in key thinkers from the last Century from a variety of angles such as Anders Nygren (theologian), Ernest Becker (cultural anthropologist), Johan Huizinga (historian and cultural theorist) and Andre Malraux (art theorist and novelist) to explain some of the City’s inner workings and motivations. These are meant to expand and explicate Ellul’s essential thesis, even as the painting seeks to illustrate various aspects of it.

This is followed by a brief look at artists Natalie Jeremijenko, and Patricia Johanson,  whose current works in urban settings fall into categories like “visionary/subversive” (Jeremijenko) and“visionary/restorative” (Johanson) .

Greek Words in The Embedded

Of the Greek words in the painting, I will only have space to comment on one with any depth: Eros (acquisitive love) as the raw harnessing/acquisitive power of the City which has not the means to power, provide materials to house, feed or sustain its inhabitants. It also does not have the inherent materials to build its towers, walls  and massive structures – both external and internal which will incase, transport,  and make its world-view, ambitions and agendas take form and move from policy to reality. That must all be supplied from the surrounding country on a daily basis, or now, shipped in via a global scenario, from the world.[2]  And the great example is Babylon for as Ellul summarizes:

Each city has one aspect of the leprosy of the cities, but she has them all. Everything said about Babylon is in fact to be understood for the cities as a whole. As all the other cities, Babylon (representative of all the others) is at the hub of civilization. Business operates for the city, industry is developed for the city, ships ply the seas for the city, luxury and beauty blossoms forth in the city, power rises and becomes great in the city. There is everything for sale, the bodies and souls of men. She is the very home of civilization and when the great city vanishes, there is no more civilization, a world disappears. She is the one struck in war, and she is the first to be struck in the war between the Lord and the powers of the world. A city greater than a simple city — the finishing of a work that can in no wise be finished, which man starts over indefinitely with every the same purpose and the same access. Babylon, Venice, Paris, New York — they are all the same city, only one Babel always reappearing, a city form the beginning mortally wounded: ‘and they left off building the city.’[3]

The other Greek words (for “mind, body and spirit” are simply the channels by which humanity usually try to work out their existential dilemma — often within a Appolonian/Dionysian tension.[4]

Ellul on the Meaning of the City: the Origins via Cain

Ellul notes that after his expulsion from the Garden of Eden for killing his brother Abel, Cain travels to the land of Nod (which is East of Eden and means “land of wandering” in Hebrew) where he has a son and also builds a city.[5]


The Embedded II, 2009. Oil on canvas 20″ x 30″. MacDonald Azotus Arts.

In a straight-forward, but fairly lengthy argument, Ellul takes us from Cain on the run, through the birth of his son Enoch (whose name means “Initiation”) and how it connects with Cain building the first city named Enoch. One significant aspect of his conclusion is that:

with Enoch we now have a sure starting place for all of civilization. Paradise becomes a legend and creation a myth. Now we have to which we can fasten our history, and the ramparts of the Canaanite or Peruvian give us a sure material knowledge of homo faber.”[6] 

Later, Ellul will summarize Cain saying he  “bends all of creation to his will. He knows full well that by God’s order he has received dominion over creation, and he assumes control. He forces creation to follow his destiny, his destiny of slavery and sin, and his revolt to escape from it. From this taking possession, from this revolution, the city is born.”[7]

Ernest Becker on the Causa-Sui Project: Individual ”Self-creators” who Inhabit the City

If Cain is the original builder of the City, then Cain adequately embodies many of the dynamics involved for as Frederich Buechner once said “In popular usage, a myth has come to mean a story that is not true. Historically speaking, that may well be so. Humanly speaking, a myth is a story that is always true.”[8]

Becker’s use of the “causa-sui project” is largely within his analysis of Freud, but it applies far beyond it. Put simply, “causa-sui” (literally, “cause of itself”) is about each person’s “immortality”or “meaning” project. And it is the City which both helps create, house and fuel these dreams (or “life-lies”) within each and every culture.

We can righty ask questions about subcultures within the City like Wall Street and phenomena like “Too Big to Fail.” Is that not actually a question about perception and not economics; about “agreed and shared madness” as Becker would say[9] and not at all about accounting, responsibility or justice?

A good Beckerian summary of the dilemma is this:

“civilized” society is a hopeful belief and protest that science, money and goods make man count for more than any other animal. In this sense everything that man does is religious and heroic, and yet in danger of being fictitious and fallible.[10]

Anders Nygren on Agape and Eros


Figure 1: Agape & Eros contrasted. 

Theologian Anders Nygren, in his seminal work, Agape and Eros, compares and contrasts these two types of “love” (for both Greek words translate “love” into English. See Figure 1.) One of the core difference between the two is that Eros-love” recognizes value in the person or thing loved and then seeks to possess it;” whereas Agape-love fixes its gaze on that which has no inherent value and “creates value in the person or thing loved.” [12]Cities are known for love – but loves of two types, the prevailing love being “Eros” or passion. This is matched within the City with a great and pervasive existential hunger which Eros seeks to feed. Agape is the “other love” – which is always present as well. I would suggest that, in San Francisco, it is found most readily in hospitals, soup kitchens and at places like Glide Memorial Church.[11]    

In the painting, the City rises up like Babel seeking to “make a name” for itself – in this case, ironically in evoking the name of the humble monk of nature: St. Francis whose famous prayer is the antithesis of the City and its acquisitive love/lust for power and a redefining of that “name.” Speaking of Nimrod, Ellul notes that all the cities “he constructed were marked with the stamp — power.”[13] These two common characteristics are always present: “making a name,” and power.

In the midst of this, the viewer of The Embedded, may (or may not) discern a crucifixion taking place throughout the City itself – a sunken cross deeply embedded in it – for St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans (the seat of City power at the time):

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.  And not only this, but we also exult in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. [14] (italics mine)

Like the art at its center (and the City itself is often made art). the City rises up driven – at least in some regard – also by the fear of death.  We will return to this later.

Huizinga on Homo Faber and Homo Ludens:

How the City works and Plays

It is an irony that San Francisco has a prominent SOMA district (for the Greek word “Soma”=body is in the painting along with “Pneuma” (spirit), and “Nous” (mind)) that includes features like AT&T Park, SFMOMA , South Beach and the Moscone Center. Thus, it is this area that plays host to World Series games, some of the world’s greatest art, the invitation to play at a beach or walk the Piers and attend conventions and events like gaming conferences and food exhibitions. It is also this area — South of Market — that is best known for being open to beginners who want to learn about BDSM (Bondage/Detainment and Sado/Masochism). This is all set forth under the innocent notion of “play” by media as demonstrated in the short film-report: Vice: San Francisco. [15] On the other side of Market to the North is the Tenderloin, known for its world-famous strip clubs, brothels and adult entertainment stores.

Without a shred of moralization it should simply be noted that a severe objectification and even commoditization of persons is often a essential part of this playful scene. Agape is a foreigner here and the actual meaning of the words speak a certain unfreedom (“bondage,” “detainment,” sadism,” “masochism”) no matter how much there is nervous giggling about “toys.”

Johan Huizinga’s book Homo Ludens (“Man at Play”) is significant in that he does not leave humanity locked in Ellul’s earlier summary that ended solely in Homo Faber (“Working Man,”  or “Man the Maker.”) As Huizinga says:

“In play there is something “at play” which transcends the immediate needs of life and imparts meaning to the action. All play means something. If we call the active principle that makes up the essence of play, “instinct” , we explain nothing; if we call it “mind” or “will” we say too much . However we may regard it, the very fact that play has a meaning implies a non­ materialistic quality in the nature of the thing itself.”[16]

San Francisco, perhaps more than any City in America (nicknamed “Babylon by the Bay” has sought to free itself from any constraints and “self-create.”) It is no accident that both the “Summer of Love” in 1967 [17] and the sexual revolution at the heart of that movement and Gay Pride found a natural place of safety (after a time)  in “the City” (another nickname).[18]

Art and the City: The Last Revolt Amidst the Towers

The City itself houses the greatest works of art, as it is the locus of regional wealth and power; and is itself often a work of art itself in various areas (shown by its varieties of “tourism” alone). San Francisco, for example, has vast repositories of art at various locations. Save perhaps one day a month, it is fairly expensive to gain admission and view these works (SFMOMA is $25 a visit). The new wing at the SFMOMA is itself an architectural wonder and a careful and deliberate large-scale piece of art itself. [19]

But if we have noted the connection between Eros (acquisitive love) and the City – and this certainly extends to the art associated within it which is representational of both its periodic self-creation and its endowed power and wealth – then we should not miss Andre Malraux’s equally appropriate and stunning reflection that “All art is a revolt against man’s fate.”[20] This simply hails us back to Becker’s work for the individual via causa-sui and Ellul’s notions concerning the City as a collective God –replacement. It is all an “immortality project.” Or as Becker says:

The real world is simply too terrible to admit; it tells man that he is a small, trembling animal who will decay and die. Illusion changes all this, makes man seem important, vital to the universe, immortal in some way. Who transmits this illusion, if not the parents by imparting the macro-lie of the cultural causa sui?[21]


Figure 2 ANTIMASS by Cornelia Parker,  The deYoung Museum. San Francisco C 2005

Of course I am over-simplifying in order to make the larger point. Within that point Becker will distinguish between the the Artist and the Neurotic (via Otto Rank) saying basically that the difference between the two is “essentially talent,”  — the artist being able to take all that floods in and refashion and process/respond in some way via their art. In this regard the artist does act as a catharsis agent for society (and the City) as a whole.

   I think of ANTI-MASS by Cornelia Parker at the de Young Museum , where she took the “charred remains of a Southern Baptist church, burned down by a racist,” to construct her installation.[22] This type of art is in a category all its own, seemingly drawing the audience far past the artist’s ego into far larger social and ethical considerations.

Art like this is “subversive” in the literal sense that it provides a “sub-text” or “sub-version” of reality alongside or against the dominant metanarrative.

God Comes to the City that would Replace Him.

Ellul’s historical interpretation of the City covers the various attempts at autonomy in the Old Testament and Jerusalem’s symbolism as the City of God , but also a city which seems constantly in the grip of idolatry. The future “New Jerusalem” promises true transcendence.

Andrew Goddard, writing for the International Jacques Ellul Society says:

…one of the best guides to Ellul’s theology as a whole, showing how God’s purposes of communion in creation are rejected by us in the Fall (which Ellul called the Rupture) leading to the building of cities as a counter-creation (Cain, Babel) but how in redemption God embraces and adopts this human work of rebellion and ultimately makes it – in the New Jerusalem – the heart of his gift in the new creation.[23]

The Painting: The Embedded


Figure  3: “Dark City” (1999) oil on canvas by Wayne Thiebaud 72″ x 55″

The influence of Wayne Thiebaud and his famous cityscapes is noticeable, although there is not the exaggerated elongation that makes his paintings so visually exciting. In addition, Thiebaud’s coloration (from his whole catalog — including his infamous desserts) bear down on this artist. The slight ornamentation is a clear influence from another San Joaquin Valley painter,  J. Rod Swenson, who was my teacher in the 90s (who now lives and paints in China).


Figure  4: “A Little Night Music” Acrylic on canvas 36″ x 42″ J. Rod Swenson 1998.

I also suffer from macular degeneration – and like some painter friends who have the same – we all tend to paint more “brightly and boldly”  as a natural consequence.

Philosophically, there is a clear juxtaposition between the sheer amount of pavement and skyscrapers with the lack of nature which has been covered up. The human eye’s hunger for mountains or the motion of the ocean is replaced artificially by the great outstretching height of the Towers that house the scattered languages which are now unified most solely by the electronic transfer of money to “make a name.” We are met with a dizzing array of diversions in the City which actual nature will not afford. More directly:

 Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. 

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.[24]

The exception, in the painting,  is the relocation of Golden Gate Park from behind the St. Mary’s Cathedral , the Fillmore District/and the Haight, and alongside the Inner Sunset changed into a miniaturized version up on the rooftops near the St. Francis (fitting) off Union Square;  replete with the historic windmill at the far end of the park for the chivalrous imaginative few needing to joust with giant perceived beasts in Quixotic fashion.

The Park, the Cathedral of Mary and the pulsating Pacific in the distance are the only clues left that much that the City pretends to be might all be an elaborate ruse.  

Oh, and in The Embedded, some will see a crucifixion which takes in the City as a whole – in love.

A counter-view of reality was cleanly presented by C.S. Lewis in his sermon The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.[25]

 This is the true dilemma of the City in our time, as it is filling with multi-colored tent cities along many of its main arteries. It envisions itself as “progressive” and advanced, yet it cannot take care of its own people who are immortal, and it feeds that which is passing away.[26]

Artists in Response to the City: Jeremijenko

In her brief but breathtaking TED talk (online)[27]  Natalie Jeremijenko  demonstrates various projects within Urban settings where “Mutualism” is promoted noting that 95% of the world’s biomass is based on this “Mutualism” (where organisms thrive in connection with other organisms verses our assumed predator and prey models which are the exception statistically, not the norm).

Her first example is the “Moth Cinema.” A summary from Jeremijenko’s TEDx Talks lecture: Her team at xDedign has created a moth-friendly intensified pollinator habitat  where the images of the moths are cast up on a large silver screen as they gather at night. This attracts both a moth and human audience each evening. They provide a “nocturnal soundtrack” for human visitors and this is also played simultaneous in the ultrasonic spectrum so the moths can enjoy them as well. The moths co-exist with bats. By playing the music in the ultrasonic, this temporarily blinds the bats giving the moths safe cover for the evening. The moths, who have short lives, are able to lay a larger number of eggs safely producing more catapillars and improving the overall strength of the ecosystem. [28]

I call Jeremijenko a “visionary/subversive” in the most positive and healthy light as she does not seem to belabor or decry the “evils” of the Postmodern world or urbanization, but rather just comes up with a plethora of creative, useful and artistic solutions. She states that the 21st Century’s “Space Race” is “reimagining and redesigning our relationship to natural systems.”[29] And in re-introducing the concept of mutualism which already predominantly exists on the planet as a reality regardless of interpretive grids.

Artists in Response to the City: Johanson  

Patricia Johanson is a wonderful example of someone who deals with “what is” when t comes to the City and urbanization. Working in collaboration with local schools, ecology groups and interested government officials, she was able to take a modest tunnel project and expand it not only into a pervasive piece of landscape art, but also a functional tool for flood control and water purification adding a huge boon for the public good.

It is in light of this that I view Johanson as a “Visonary/Restorer,” who, like Jeremijenko, is not really included in the City’s agenda at all – but is, in fact, trying to either redeem it, or at the very ;east, to improve the lives f its inhabitants through creative and artistic means.

In both vases, it should be noted that what Nygren called for in “agape” (“creating value where none exists”) and Huizinga’s Homo Ludens (“humanity at play”) are central.

Johanson, and outsider and well established artist, seemed to take quickly to the vision of of the locals who wrre richly steeped in Mormon lore. Two symbols:  the Sego Lilly and the Snake from a story recounted by Mormon settler Erastus Snow embodied the area [30] . This rich history was infused into the design of the project including miniature versions of the larger historical topographical features like the oil  springs where oil-rich shale provided lubricants that the early Mormons would use to lubricate their wagon wheels and guns; the end of the waterway that has a repository for flood waters in the form of giant lily’s ( the Sego Lily which had  a particularly large digestible bulb which warded off possible starvation through initial harsh winters) and the snaking trail of the waters, reminiscent of Erastus Snow’s encounter with the rattlesnake — who warned him off with a rattle, and instead of trying to kill it, he simply thanked it for the warning and left. [31]

Johansen, initially stalled from doing anything beyond a swift tunnel under I-80, was able to later construct a much more elaborate dam, rainwater purification system, historical art renderings through the tunnel and a complete artistic  narrative journey via nature right through a part of the city of Salt Lake itself due to a flood that demonstrated the need for a more drastic design, solutions and construction of the entire area. [32]

The other major piece of the art project is a planned Sego Lily sculpture, where tidbits of early Utah history will be etched into its three 30-foot-high petals at the East end of the tunnel. The creation would act as a flood basin for Parleys Creek at Sugar House Park. When completed, it would be the only public art in the nation that acts as part of a flood-control system, said Mary Kay Lazarus, who represents Johanson. [33]


“It’s a win for history and a win for beauty,” she said. “It’s also a win that solves a city problem, and we have a win for education because kids can come and see this.”[34]


Given the breadth of this paper, but its immediate constraints, I have been careful to draw my conclusions along the way in most cases. The exception would be a candid and direct application of what is uncovered chiefly by Ellul (and then augmented by considering  Nygren, Becker, Huizinda, and Malraux) as regards artists and visionaries like Parker, Johanson and Jeremijenko who do not seem to really “fit” either the power motif of the City, or of cause-sui or seem interested at all in God-replacement.

In fact, there is a restorative “come to your senses” aspect to in both Jeremijenko and Johanson’s work that is made practical, life-affirming and pro-nature in contrast with the City’s tendency to “pave-over ” and all but silence nature. Jeremijenko, asks in her TED Talkx presentation, about using our acquired knowledge of ecosystems and technology to build systems to improve the soil, air, the environment and overall health of human life on the planet, then simply asks, “why wouldn’t we?”

There are, unfortunately, real answers why human beings stand in the way of such clear and clean logic. For better or worse, these do often fit within some narratives which many understand to be “biblical,” not the least of which is Ellul’s 20th Century interpretation of both the City and Technology (more accurately “technique”) [35] Call it “the Fall” or “The Rupture” humanity’s continual turning from using its adequate resources and technology to provide and sustain all life in favor of dominance, war, violence, and pollution — with the City most often as the thriving locus of such activity — and the biblical narrative seems less and less mythical.

My own view is “incarnational” in the most literal sense — that God became flesh, gestated in a womb for nine months and then spilled out a birth canal into our riot.

It was (is) just that serious and required that level of direct engagement. In an age of “technique” and efficiency driving the planet to ruin we need Jeremijenko’s reminder that 95% of the biomass was created and lives in Mutualism in a wildly relational and colorfully fecund (Ellul would add) Christo-centric universe.

The Embedded
is a depiction of both the various aspects of the lostness of the City and its constructs and fictions as well as how deeply the love of God and Christ death engages that lostness with the promise of a transformative non-fiction narrative named “New Jerusalem,” that includes a wedding feast with the New Heavens and a New Earth of Revelation 21. [37]‘The ecological disaster that awaits us is not,’ he argues ‘is not only belief in the technological system, but it follows…from the fact that man no longer believes in the Creator God, who is the God of Jesus Christ’…It is the absence of a Christo-centric collectivity assumed theological belief in creation which Ellul sees as being at the heart of the heart of the present ecological malaise.”[36]

In my earlier remarks on art within the City I denoted the relationship between power, wealth, art and advancement. But this does not always involve the artists themselves, who often come off as true “anti-heroes” in a way that aligns with Malraux’s views of art as possibly “anti-destiny.” Recently attending Bruce Conner’s “It’s All True” exhibit at SFMOMA I was faced with a true iconoclast from the late 50s. One wondered if his ironic films (taken from cuttings from the floor of Duck Soup and other films) and collage/installations were not a bit of what Walker Percy spoke of when he said we get a little giddy when we “speak the unspeakable.”

You cannot really rush a painting – or I cannot — especially when new variations are coming mid-stream. I can tell you that various new figures will show up. The Homeless casting shadows high on the building walls in one place to the North (like the prototype in 1989 shown at the very beginning of this paper, or other elements in the 2009 version 20 years later). I sense other figures…shadowy ones in various corners. A few people may appear in windows…I am not sure.

The current paining, The Embedded, really began in 1989, with a stopover in 2009.  Also, somewhere along the way I abandoned making this a strict oil painting and began to open up to other media. At first this was simply permanent markers and acrylic paints, but I am expanding this now (or will be, to the addition of fabrics (100% cotton pre-washed tee shirt swatches) with iron-on images) to be fabric-glued onto the surface. This allows for more and different “texts” within the painting.

As I initially informed the instructor of the class, I am an “Explorer” who is constantly pushing that exploration as well as documenting my finding. I can foresee (in this painting) along one roadside a line of fabric tents not only like the ones in San Francisco, but also like the Tent City I lived in and ran under the Nimitz freeway near the Webster Tube in West Oakland during my first semester in 2015. The City has a full cast of characters that help keep its fictions alive, or to quote the sing-song line from Chariots of Fire, at one point we hear a quartet of men sing:

 “If everybody’s some-bod- ee

              Then no one’s any-bod-ee!”

Additional paintings in the series may have more of this mixed media – including an ironic use of Ellul calls “technique” to “play” with photographic images I have taken manipulated by computers then printed onto transfers to cloth in large, planned pieces. A “Christocentric Prayer Flag” is already in the mix as well which will be steeped in the tradition of the five elements, but call them back into context to their vibrant Christocentric nexus, even as it does humanity as self-reflective agents created with the Imago Dei, the gift of language (of “naming” and thus symbolization) and the freedom to choose what to do with these gifts.

The City in flight from God and in a desperate attempt to replace the One who cannot be replaced; the never-ending drama played out upon the stage of the City — the actors and actresses falling one by one into the inevitable pit (“for naked we enter and naked we leave”[38]) — the City continues to refurbish and re-invent itself (we just broke new ground on a basketball arena of rhe “San Francisco Warriors”).  I believe Ellul, Becker, Nygren, Huizinga and Malraux help us unpack the meaning of the City, many of its motivational forces, and much of its core modus operendi. Far from kaing the City the “enemy of God” (even if it wishes to be) Jesus laments over the lost Jerusalem and then sets his gaze on establishing the New Jerusalem having conquered the true enemies: alienation and death.

Annotated Bibliography

Becker, Ernest  The Denial of Death, New York: Free Press, 1974.

Becker, who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for this book in 1975, presents a vision that is too wide to summarize here.  I introduce this book for one point only, the entire argument of his work follows from the causi sui project as a response to death. Becker expects the reader to know what it is, but it is not clear that it is each individual’s task at “self-creating” a fictitious “Self” – a “life-lie” using the cultural hero-systems which are available to construct meaning and purpose to deny the reality of death and meaninglessness. This has direct bearing on what drives the City itself, for it is a collective conglomerate of cultural hero-systems highly divorced from nature and more heavily invested symbolically.

Ellul, Jacques  The Meaning of the City. Trans. Dennis Pardee. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970. Carlisle, England: Paternoster, 1997.

Ellul starts with the rebellion in the Garden but his real concern is with the first City builder: Cain. From there Ellul will make his detailed case that the City is humanity’s replacement for God.

Huizinga, Johan  Homo Ludens, London: Routledge and Kegan, 1949.

Huizinga is best known for this work which posited that ”play” is a primary aspect of human development and culture. That we are not only “homo faber” (“working humanity,” or “humans: the makers,”)  but also embody this whole element of “play” (ludens). I would be remise to not have that somewhere in both the painting and in this paper — for it is surely true developmentally and also played out in the City itself — in both dark ways and in ways most innocent.

Jeremijenko, Natalie  “Radical Design For Environmental Health” TEDx Talks as found at on January 8, 2017.

“Natalie Jeremijenko is an artist, engineer, inventor and academic. She’s never subscribed to the idea that art and science don’t mix. Her many extraordinary experiments have a serious intent – to improve the health of the planet. She believes that the great challenge of the 21st century is to reimagine and redesign our relationship to natural systems…[h]er experimental design — hence xDesign — explores the opportunities new technologies present for social change. It centers on structures of participation in the production of knowledge, information, and the political and social possibilities—and limitations—of information and emerging technologies. Much of it involves biochemistry, physics, neuroscience and precision engineering, and almost all of it is carried out through public experiments.” (Summary by TEDx Talks).

Johanson , Patricia Patricia Johanson as found at   on January 18, 2017

During the last six decades, Ms. Johanson has brought an multi-disciplinary understanding to bear on her work  which includes art, ecology, landscaping and design. Starting off working under Georgia O’Keeffe and Joseph Cornell on a large number of gardens of House & Garden, she then moved on to “site plans for Mitchell/Giurgola buildings at Yale University, Columbus, Indiana, and Con Edison’s Indian Point Generating Facility,” according to the Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. The last decades she has been taking on major artistic/restorative projects like the one discussed in this paper in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah..

Malraux, André Voices of Silence (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

I chose this book over the one I briefly quoted in the paper because this 661 page masterpiece is really Malraux’s opus magnum on art. It contains his idea of art books as a “museum without walls” and all of his other main contributions in full detail — including the absurdity of culture and how art can be “anti-destiny” — an act of freedom in the face of a kind of determinism and death (humanity’s fate.)

Nygren, Anders Agape and Eros, Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1953.

Anders Nygren, Bishop of Lund and a Swedish Lutheran theologian, was best known for this work, Agape and Eros. Originally in two volumes, it is broken into two parts with part one explicating the contrasting ideas between these two Greek words for “love.” Part Two traces various attempt to synthesize these competing “motifs” from the time that Agape rose from simply being a casual and rather weak synonym prior to the cross of Christ, through the clashes in the Middle Ages and finally through the Renaissance and the Reformation. Dr. David Gill (president of IJES (International Jacques Ellul Society) noted n a private conversation how Nygren’s application of Eros and Agape mirrors Augustine’s depiction of the “City of Man and the City of God.” (as discussed January 18, 2017 at Crepevine, Oakland, ca).


Tyson, Paul and Tan, Matthew John Paul (2012) “Ecological Disaster & Jacques Ellul’s Theological Vision,” Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 3. Available at: on January 7, 2017.

A deeply complex journal article, it is used here to give some simple guidance in defining Ellul’s use of the word “technology” when he really means “technique” – the drive for efficiency which became the overriding concern against all other considerations, and thus, enslaving and leading to “ecological disaster.”  Ellul’s deeply Christian vision is also explored — one which is outside the usual superficial attempts, partly due ot the dialectical nature of Ellul’s biblical and sociological approaches.

[1] Ellul, Jacques The Meaning of the City (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970) p. 16

[2] We have only to note that the major cities which set the agenda for California do so now for the world’s 6th largest economy as California, according to Fortune,  just past France in that category. as found on January 10, 2017. 

[3] Ellul, Ibid., 20-21.

[4] Note: I have written about this and even done art pieces (notably a large sculpture) depicting just these tensions, but it is well beyond the immediate scope and limitations of this paper to go farther.

[5] Ellul, Ibid., P. 3.

[6] Ibid., p.6

[7] Ibid., p. 7.

[8] Buechner, Frederick Wishful Thinking (New York: Random House, 1993)  p. 54

[9] Becker, Ernest The Denial of Death (New York: Free Press, 1973) p.27

[10] Ibid., p. 5

[11] Glide Memorial website home a found on January 14, 2017.

[12] Nygren, Anders Agape and Eros (Philadelphia: Wstminster, 1953) p.210

[13] Ellul, Ibid., p. 13

[14] Romans 5:10-11 (NASB).

[15]  Sciortino, Karley  Streets by Vice: San Francisco, Documentary published April 13, 2016. Special note: 16:55- End. As viewed on January 8, 2017.

[16] Huizinga, Johan Homo Ludens: Study of the Play Element in Culture  (London: Routledge and Kegan, 1949)

[17] Wikipedia, “Summer of Love,” as found at on January 14, 2017.

[18] I personally enjoy the fruits that the Bay Area and its freedoms and inclusivity afford. My observations are of a more sociological, theological, and existential nature.  It should also be noted that the quotations themselves always referring to “Man” are time/culture bound and refer to “humanity.” I have no attempted to tamper with them, but the reader should understand their universal meaning.

[19] Chun, Rene “The Secrets of the New SFMOMA,” WIRED magazine (May, 2016)  as found at on January 14, 2017.

[20] Malraux, Andre as cited from on January 15, 2017. It should be noted that Malraux’s usage should not be viewed as necessarily negative, and he saw art as “anti-destiny,” a sort of choosing of absurdity and freedom of expression over a passive determinism. See “Art as Anti-Destiny: Foundations of Andre Malraux’s Theory of Art” ( by Derek Allan as found on January 15, 2017.

[21] Becker, Ibid., p. 133

[22]   Parker,  Cornelia ANTIMASS (De Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, California.) “The materials used are the charred remains of a Southern Baptist church, burned down by a racist.” – placard next to exhibit.

[23] Goddard, Andrew “Ellul and Theological Writings” (IJES: International Jacques Ellul Society, as found at on January 14, 2017. )

[24] Psalm 96:11-12 (NASB)

[25] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory (New York: Harper Collins, 2001) p.15.

[26] Note: This is not angry judgment. This is observation is line with many I simply do not have the space to cover: Pascal, Kierkegaard, William Law, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Walker Percy – to name a few who easily come to mind.) I am not of the mind that the City-Builders have any idea of their motivations or the outcomes. Nor do I discount any or all aspects of nobility, goodness or true benefit in any category. Surely the creativity of the City is a reflection of the Imago Dei being expressed.  As with many things, it is not simple.

[27]  Jeremijenko, Natalie  “Radical Design For Environmental Health” TEDx Talks as found at on January 8, 2017.

[28] Ibid., 3:12-5:20.

[29] Jeremijenko, Ibid., at 1:05.

[30] Johanson, Patricia, “The Draw at Sugar House” as found at on January 7, 2017.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Smart, Christopher “Elaborate canyon wall art dresses up tunnel from Sugar House Park, provides flood barrier” The Salt Lake City Tribune (online: last updated July 7, 2015) as found at  on January 9, 2017.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Tyson, Paul and Tan, Matthew John Paul (2012) “Ecological Disaster & Jacques Ellul’s Theological Vision,” Solidarity: The Journal of Catholic Social Thought and Secular Ethics: Vol. 2: Iss. 1, Article 3. Available at:  on January 10, 2017. P. 2.

[36] Ibid., p. 7

[37] Revelation 21:1 (NASB).

[38] Job 1:21 (NASB)

The Seeds of Art in Childhood


The Eichler I lived in, Sunnyvale, California, circa 1969

I was utterly in the dark on this until yesterday, some 48 years later.

I came across a picture of an “Eichler” (houses designed by Joseph Eichler, mostly in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas like one of two we lived in when I was in the 3rd-6th grades in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale (the Peninsula). 


Atrium and bedroom off of it.

It w the house in Sunnyvale that was striking, and I realized yesterday looking at floor plans and old photos that it was this house that gave me my sensibilities about designing space, use of space, clean lines and the introduction of nature within living space, as well as a very strong Japanese minimalism that has always attracted me in a very strong and visceral way.

 Having lived for a time in a house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Eichler set out to make California Modern homes available for he masses — and he succeeded. These homes were incredibly well constructed and their design holds up today like true art. 


Visionary backside of an Eichler

My being in grades 5-6, this was a very formative time in all areas. But I had no idea until yeasterday that my design and artistic sensibilities were being formed in that little room off the atrium (it was magical having a sliding glass door into that protected outside space). The backyard was beautiful as well with a long line of windows floor to ceiling and a giant tree in the corner of the yard which, at the top, gave a long view of the entire area all the way to the Bay.

Star Wars: The Alternate Endings


So we have come full circle. In 1977 we watched in amazement having never seen anything like Star Wars: A New Hope — as that ship carrying Princess Leia flew over our heads in the theater and we gasped having no idea that a ship 400 times as large was in hot pursuit.

That, of course, is how Rogue One ends— with that ship escaping it’s ship of origin and being hunted as the Princess looks for a place to hide the stolen Death Star plans.

Ah the miracles of CGI. There she is, Carrie Fisher, not only not dead, but young and beautiful like circa 1977.

And there are a host of other characters who return from the dead as well —the most significant being Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) who has significant screen time (actually more than when he was alive; I mean, how do they work out a contract for that? How does he get paid and how much?)

But before we go THERE, can I just mention that the whole premise is a bit silly? I mean these are the plans for the entire Death Star. Did they not make back-ups on a USB hard drive? And if so (and we know they did because they built another one after the first one blew up — do you think they did that from memory? “Say Bill, after we laid down the titanium girders in sections 18.876 through 23,064 do you remember how we wired those 4500 different leads through 7 miles of conduit?”) — If it takes the rebellion 35 minutes to evaluate the plans and find the weakness of the Death Star don’t you think someone ON the Death Star might look at the plans once they have been stolen and look for a weakness?

Or is it just me?


Previous Attempts

I hate sequels. I assume they are fun for the reunited cast and lucrative for the producers, but they are generally awful for the audience.

Just mentioning City Slickers 2 or Highlander 2: The Quickening, evokes that sickening feeling of being duped by a dreadful second production.

The problem with sequels is that there is usually no more story to tell. The original film had a beginning, a middle and a definitive end. But as quick as you can say “box office grosses,” writers are being hired to resurrect dead characters and figure out ways of doing the same successful story over again…yet…um…differently.

Where will it end? Can we be saved from the eventual Gump 2: Forrest Through the Trees ?gump2

We can.

Before he started recycling characters, George Lucas figured out how to give people more of what originally delighted them. He started this in 1997 with Star Wars: The Special Edition. Opening on January 31, this re-mastered version of the 20-year-old hit had added scenes, improved visual effects, and better sound. Scenes with Jabba the Hut, Boba Fett and a more “scummy and tyrannical” Mos Eisley space port promise to greatly enhance the ground-breaking original. What fun!

We need a new cinematic saying: “What goes around comes around in the director’s digital re-master with additional scenes,” (DDRAS). The rule should be: If the story isn’t truly over, do the sequel; but if it’s over, do a DDRAS.

And who says it has to stop with just one re-mastering of the original? The eight Star Wars films invite a host of possible “alternate versions” for re-release.

Part two of this series will start with a few “Alternate Versions” working off the original Star Wars trilogy.

More to come!


Spiderman & the Death of RFK

1000509261001_2041130020001_robert-kennedy-the-assassination-of-rfkI have few enduring memories from my West Coast childhood. I was not a bright child. I graduated High School in Contra Costa having written one paper: a one page response to a film written in pencil. As Vonnegut said, “So it goes.”

But one indelible memory was June 6, 1968 when I awoke – at age 12 – in our Eichler in Palo Alto California and I trotted into the family room to watch my favorite Spiderman  cartoon but was instead confronted with the news that Robert F. Kennedy had been assassinated at midnight the night before in Los Angelas.

I was confused.

I was six years old and in the second grade when his brother was assassinated in Dallas.

I went to my parent’s bedroom and knocked. I do not think I had ever done that before but my Dad said I could come in. I was always a shy kid. I sat near him and told him what had happened and he got up and sat next to me and wept hard.

Only years later would I realize that a part of America died that day with Bobby.

My father had a tremendous sense of justice and the need for equality. I know that the reason he forgot to console me that day was because his personal grief was insurmountable. He had gone to sleep with such hope…as so many in America had…only to have it snatched away with an assassin’s bullets.

Next it was 1969 and the “Summer of Love” (which was all hype by the way – months later all the styles were at Macy’s at Sun Valley in Concord…wise up people.)

Personally, it is my best guess that it was then that “Old School” Liberalism that really had a moral center died. You can argue (and it might hold) that James Earl Carter retained some of that. But since then – this new brand on Neo-Liberalism is toxic and bought-off and has no moral center at all.

Bobby Kennedy had an amazing capacity to reverse field – then hit hard for justice. Originally a part of Joe McCarthy’s team, he took issue and went elsewhere. On Civil Rights he was – at first a tad slow (by our reckoning…geez ) but massively aggressive once he was convinced.

Review his legacy for yourselves as we move into new waters.

What do you really want with your freedoms? And what does “justice” mean to you?