Girard and God the absent king

It’s been 11 years since I first read Rene Girard’s ‘Things Hidden’. I just finished rereading it for the first time yesterday. I certainly understood at least a little more of it this time than I did on the first pass. At the same time, there were huge chunks of the conversation that were hard to follow, mostly because I’m still not well acquainted with the thinkers he is constantly referencing and grappling with. In the past 11 years, despite reading several hundred books, I have still yet to read a single word of Freud, Levi-Straus, Nietzsche, Frazer, Dostoevsky, Proust, and a host of others. On the other hand, I have read a lot of secondary material, including the majority of Girard’s other major works in English, some of his colleague Oughourlian, and work by other people in Girard’s orbit like James Allison and Gil Bailie. So I’ve had the gaping holes somewhat filled in a bit, albeit from the downstream direction.

Probably the largest question I have currently is how to reconcile Girard’s “non-sacrificial reading” of scripture, which, at first glance seems obviously incompatible with orthodoxy. In fact, I’ve seen more than a few people dismiss Girard’s work out of hand as relying on Marcionite garbage. I think that even if it IS, there is still a lot of value to be found nonetheless. I am also somewhat more optimistic now that a better and more holistic reading of the OT can be articulated that still makes room for it traditional Christian thought. Sounds like a lot of work though. Oh well, for now.

Time to change the subject.

Upon rereading all this a few days ago, one passage struck me almost poetically:

JMO: They persist in believing that the concept of divinity is a ‘natural’ one; the sacred king is held to be a kind of reversal of divinity for the sake of political power which is supposedly independent of ritual.

RG: Everyone repeats that the king is a kind of ‘living god’ but no one says that the divinity is a kind of dead king, or at any rate an ‘absent’ king, which would be just as accurate. In the end, there is a persistent preference for viewing the sacrifice and sacredness of the king as a secondary and supplementary idea, for we must beware of rocking our little conceptual boat. Yet what guides our interpretation is only a conceptual system dominated by the idea of divinity, a theology. Skepticism about religion does not abolish this theological perspective. We are forced to reinterpret all religious schemata in terms of divinity because we are unaware of the surrogate victim. If one examines psychoanalysis and Marxism closely it becomes evident that this theology is indispensable for them.

We Christians earnestly looking forward to the second advent of Christ, we are in fact literally saying that “God is an absent king”. He really is the king. And everything good that was ever thought or imagined about an earthly king, that is what he is and more. And he really is absent. He’s not dead. He’s not imaginary. He’s just not here right now. He’s in heaven (wherever that is exactly) at the moment. But he’s only temporarily absent. There is a sense in which all men, and even all creation, are earnestly awaiting the king to come back. Our long deep-seated sociological and psychological urge to sacralize earthly kings (which Girard articulates particularly well) is rich evidence of this longing.

Atheists and secularists say that we try to project god onto our political rulers to give them more power, but in fact the opposite is true. We project earthly kingship onto God because it’s a valid and (more or less) true analogy. Those who despair then say that “the king is dead”, but we the faithful say “the king is absent”, and then add, more specifically, “come Lord Jesus!” (with the exclamation mark!).

The image is of Christ Enthroned, a icon commissioned by Ethiopian Emperor Iyasu I Yohannes, in the 17th century, for a church in Gondar.

Inktober 2019: Overgrown

Overgrown is what virtually every living thing becomes when it is not tended.
If the lawn isn’t mowed, it becomes a seeded prairie.
If the path isn’t kept trimmed and cleared of fallen trees, it is reclaimed by the forest.
A garden that isn’t regularly weeded will soon become nothing but large weeds and a few 7-foot long zucchini.
If you stop cutting your hair, it will cover your eyes.
None of this takes millennia or centuries to happen. Just a year or two or sometimes only a week is necessary.

Fortunately, by design our own bodies don’t grow too much. Something deep inside us says “stop!” at just the right time.
Medical professionals would say it’s the pituitary gland that does this, though that is just the mechanism. It doesn’t tell us why.
If the mechanism is broken though, one could end up like Andre the Giant – overgrown and in agony.
The 103rd psalmist tells us that our bodies are like grass, quickly withering and thrown into the fire.
But our bodies are also NOT like grass, which can thrive mown or unmown.
It is not right for us to be overgrown – either in body or especially in psychological stature – ego.
We are tended by a master gardener that keeps us pruned beautiful and pleasing and fruitful.
If he lets us go, we become overgrown, thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, before collapsing under our own leafy, tangled weight.
A good prayer may be to ask to grow to the right size in body, mind, and soul.

Moar new ingredients

I’ve had more adventures in cooking dinner from scratch these past two weeks. Some hits and misses ensued. I used the following new ingredients I never had before:

  • Fresh scallions
  • Frozen shrimp (on skewers)
  • Frozen uncooked tilapia fillets (broiled for fish tacos)
  • Whole Peeled San Marzano tomatoes
  • Whole minced leeks (I’ve used leeks for a soup once before but it was eons ago)
  • Whole chopped fennel
  • Sesame oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Red wine vinegar

The “whole” stuff was for a baked marinara sauce I tried out of a ridiculously heavy Thomas Keller cookbook that I found on clearance for $1 at the thrift store. It turned out to be very flavorful, but pretty time consuming and a bit on the chunky side, despite being pureed. This might work better as a double batch and then save half of it for way later.

The oils were for a couple different styles of stir fry. The verdict is still out on those. The sauce never turns out thick enough, even with corn starch and the prescribed proportions.

The tilapia smelled unpleasantly fishy when raw, but was surprisingly mild after cooked.

I need to take a break though and mix in some comfort food to help the kids not dread dinner so much. Muhahahaha!

Inktober 2019: Dragon

Many things, I can remember learning. I can roughly remember when I learned something and how I didn’t know what it was before then. I remember the first time I heard Dire Strait’s The Sultans of Swing, when I was about 13, while listening to the classic rock radio station while driving truck during the summer wheat harvest. I remember my father explaining some basic trigonometry to me with a pen and paper when I was about 10 years old. We were trying to calculate how high my model rocket had flown. I remember my mother reading the Chronicles of Narnia to me when I was about 6 years old and having to ask what a Centaur was. I was not familiar with the idea of a half horse/half man.

But somethings you learn so young or they are so ubiquitous, you can’t remember ever having learned them. Dragons are one of those things. I wasn’t born knowing anything about this legendary fiery beast, but I might as well have been. There is no time or place I can recall when and where I didn’t already know a great deal about these creatures. They were already old news when I heard about Eustace being turned into one in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. They were familiar when I saw one in an old episode of Duck Tales. Trogdor was at least the thousandth one I’d seen, though he stands out in the crowd for obvious reasons.

Was there ever a time without dragons? Nearly(?) every culture on earth has them. The serpent in Genesis sounds a bit more dragonish than a modern day danger noodle. Later in John’s Revelation there is no pretension. The original dragon has been around since before the first days of our race. Little wonder that we can’t remember a time without him. Someday we will though.

Inktober 2019: Snow

The Inuit’s have over 50 different words for snow they say. Actually that’s a completely bogus factoid. They don’t. Be we Americans really do have at least 50 different words that mean “good”. Or at least those words do now. Examples:

  • cool
  • awesome
  • dank
  • dope
  • wicked
  • tight
  • neat
  • groovy
  • on point
  • boss
  • nifty
  • keen
  • drippin’
  • swell
  • hunky-dory
  • gucci
  • 100
  • lit
  • goat
  • etc.

I believe it was Dorothy Sayers who lamented that all males are now called “gentlemen” with faux-respect in the public square. The word “gentleman” used to communicate something about the person’s class, occupation, and family. Now to say a man is a gentleman simple means that he is good. But we already have a word for good. Aaaaaand now we DON’T have a word for “gentleman”. Not helpful and it makes everything we say a little less true.

In a similar fasion and more recently, Finnish comedian Ismo expressed his confusion that if someting is “ass” it’s bad, but if it’s “bad ass” it’s good. Wait, what?

Meanwhile, we in the Pacific Northwest still only have one word for snow and it’s meaning hasn’t drifted much as far as I can tell. We may not be Eskimos, but we are no strangers to the fluffy white ice. We just had some just a few days ago, even though it’s only the second week of October. Time to put some totally boss snow tires on my minivan!

Inktober 2019: Husky

As an adult, video games have largely fallen by the wayside for me during the past twenty years. A few exceptions involved playing through an older Mario and Zelda game with my oldest son a few years ago. Another came with the long-awaited release of Starcraft II back in 2010. It felt strange to actually go purchase a game and then play it in the evenings. It was fun, for a few weeks, but then I discovered something new – that watching other people play it along with colorful commentary was even MORE fun. Of course, millions of other people discovered that as well during the same decade., the video streaming site dominated by this genre, was recently purchase by Amazon for $970 million.

When I think of “husky”, I can’t help but smile and think of “Husky Starcraft”, the show name of Mike Lamond, a young fellow Oregonian who daily recorded video commentary of Starcraft II eSports games and uploaded them to YouTube. I barely watched YouTube (still don’t), but my kids do and it’s use is ubiquitous by everyone in the next generation down. For a few months though in 2011, I DID watch it. Every single day. It was fabulous.

Throughout hundreds of “episodes”, who can forget the myriad of inside jokes Husky developed along the way like “Pylo” the Protoss Pylon or the “Drop the Double Forge” dubstep. Then there was the Hero Marine, “Don’t worry guys, I’ve got this…. AHHHHH!!!!!!!!” Who could forget this stuff? Well none of the half a million fans that followed his channel at it’s peak. Sadly, Husky began having serious medical problems with his voice and had to effectively retire from public yelling, errr, speaking rather abruptly. As the game waned in popularity, his star was on the decline as well. In more recent years, he’s been helping his girlfriend (Rosana Pansino) with her own YouTube channel and career. She has ended up being more successful in the long run, judging by the fact that I saw her cookbook for nerds on sale at Walmart not too long ago.

The world is a strange place. I don’t claim to understand much about the latest media trends and youth fads, but I think I would understand them EVEN LESS if I hadn’t (however briefly) indulged and been a devoted fan of an eSports commentator on YouTube. Thanks for the fun times Husky! (P.S. Why did you delete your channel archive!?)


Inktober 2019: Build

My oldest daughter is doing this drawing/writing prompt thing this month and my wife has joined in for some of the days. I figured I would toss in a few for fun too!


What an imperative! Since before Babel we have been stacking those bricks and placing boards. Nowadays it’s often more metaphorical. Businesses build their “brand”. Yesterday, I typed “build” into a computer’s command line interface to compile an XML validator too that I needed for a project. It didn’t work. Some of the dependencies were jacked up.

What if the builder of the tower woke up one day to lay the next layer of their ziggurat but found the pile of bricks had been inadvertently moved. That really happened once, but the hand of God. It repeats itself now every day, bu the hand of man. Some among us may not openly acknowledge our creator, but we imitate him nonetheless.

Today, I stared at the imperative “build” on my home to-do list. It declared we needed a covered and walled warm winter coop for the chickens and lone duck residing in the back yard. A trip to the lumber yard and four hours later and the coop is complete. My son held the boards in place as I screwed them together. The other son made me a cup of coffee partway through. It came together faster than the XML validator and will doubtless be more durable.

I hope we get the build the New Jerusalem. It would be more like our creator to give us a job to do. But then we’ll have perfect tools and all the right words. That would be more like Him than just plopping it down prefab from the sky, even though that’s what John the Revelator seemed to see the likeness of. Then with each rising, the command “build” would be heard with joy rather than cursing – each new task better than the one before, greeted by the crowing rooster and the quack of the duck, still kept around as comic relief for the builders, world without end.


The limited list of what we are

One of my youngest son’s notebooks from school contains this inspirational cover:

We are: Explorers, learners, artists, creative, writers, friends, kind, scientists, dreamers, musicians, athletes, thinkers, readers.

What’s missing from this list?

The things that will dominate proper adulthood: (future) husbands, (future) wives, (future) mothers, (future) fathers, citizens, employees, debtors, servants, soldiers (maybe).

Now I think it’s great to encourage kids. Everything on that notebook cover is good. But when do you break the news to them about all the stuff that isn’t on the cover? Not too soon to taint childhood with grown up worries, but soon enough to prepare them for those challenges, which require serious endurance.

It seems like we still need a much better popular theology of vocation in our churches here in the USA. The dominant voices continue to be either overly dewy-eyed or hyper-cynical. I know some wise people regularly take a stab at it, but it still needs work.

Brief notes on Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection

Is there anything useful in this Brene Brown self-help book or is it all just mental gymnastics? But what’s wrong with mental gymnastics anyway? I wrote down a few notes.

Let go of what other people think…

Having kids with special needs (mental, physical, etc.) will definitely force you to do this. Raising them requires different techniques that will look “wrong” to outsiders and they WILL in turn judge you as a bad parent. Oh well.

Be self-aware of your symptoms and triggers. Write them down.

This is probably some of the best advice I found in the book. Common sense self-awareness help. You have got to write this stuff down because your memory will fail you in the moment.

Ordinary courage vs. heroics (not the same thing)
Ordinary courage makes everyone around us a little braver and the world better.

There is no giving without receiving.

The less we talk about shame, the more control it has over our lives.
Name the shame. Talk about it.

There is no selective numbing.

If you numb one thing, you numb everything. (With drugs, booze, binding TV, whatever)

Deliberate lists of crap to do every day (Like the “AEIOUY” list in one of the chapters) drive my crazy. Stupid acrostics? Check. Impossible to-do list? Check.

Take something off your list and add “take a nap”.

Much better advice. Something I’ve only learned as I near 40.

Joyful people “practice” gratitude.

Daily prayers or journaling gratitude. Execution over intention.

Ordinary does not equal boring. Boring does NOT equal meaningless.

This is one lesson I feel I HAVE learned (more of less) over the last couple decades. A lot of my work really is ordinary and boring. But I’m certain it’s not meaningless. I wrestled with this a lot when I was in my young twenties though.

There is no such thing as creative and non-creative people. There are only people who use their creativity and people who don’t. As long as we’re creating, we are cultivating meaning.

The opposite of play is not work.
The opposite of play is depression.

I’m dying to freak out here! Do I have enough information to freak out! Will freaking out help? THe answer is always no.

Over-functioners try to rescue everyone and get in people’s business.

Not using our gifts leads to distress.

Don’t constrain “meaning” to a short list of acceptable things (like being rich and famous).

Near the end of the book, this classic self-help quote is unfurled:

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Howard Thurman

I’ve seen this quote lots of times. Sometimes it’s misattributed (like it is in Wild at Heart). I like it, but I also realize it’s a bit Disney-follow-your-heart. I like this guy’s analysis of it.

So overall, not a bad book, but very lightweight by design. I guess it reassured me that my own psychological hangups are not particularly unique or uncommon, which is good. The way forward is long and plodding though.

New ingredients

I’ve definitely been in a rut with cooking for… well the last decade at least. This week, due to a variety of factors, I decided to just bite the bullet and cook four completely new meals for dinner, all of them relatively healthy (lots of vegetables, low fat and low calorie). They all turned out OK, to my relief. It was fun to use new ingredients I had never touched before though. I’d seem them in the produce section of the store for years, but had always passed them by.

New ingredients used:

  • Poblano peppers
  • Frozen unprocessed salmon fillets
  • Tomato sauce completely from scratch (pureed fresh tomatoes and onions, etc.)
  • Hatch chili peppers
  • Ground Pasilla chili powder
  • Frozen riced cauliflower
  • Shiraki noodles