Br. Jerrold Thompson of the Priory of the Incarnation in Omaha sent the following comments after watching the our You Tube video A Brief Introduction to the Meaning of Katherine Tanner for  the Local Congregation.

We are most grateful of them and pleased that he agreed to share them with you.    Michael

I just watched your talk on Tanner and find it thought-provoking on two - well, really, three - levels. I have two degrees in English literature and language and have always been fascinated with language. So the discussion around first-level and second-level God talk is especially engaging. I've often thought, although in other terms, that parish priests live in that odd and (hopefully in our best moments) creative place of combining the two. I also think that many of the problems in American Christianity arise from a lack of respect for the two levels and combining them in a creative way. Your observation about average Christian people being engaged with sound theology not so long ago is spot on and is a very real loss to the quality of theological talk. 
I was also taken by your brief story about the monk who runs from the room during the talk about the transcendence of God. Both the immanence and the transcendence have to be held in a creative tension. It's one of the great gifts of the Christian faith from my perspective, although it's very much found in Judaism as well. Again, we get into trouble when we leave one to the side, or when we are not explicit about our emphasis of one over the other in a given context. This discussion also relates back to language, and language's ability to point us in the direction of God, even reveal God, and yet never capture the entirety of God. Which also relates deeply to the subject of prayer. Interesting how prayer and language are so deeply connected. 
And finally, your unanswered question at the end. How is Tanner specifically an Anglican theologian?  You know her way better than I. I'll be interested to hear what you think!
Watch on You Tube and add comments or questions.  


This is the new poetry referred to in First Thursday October and it would have fit nicely in the chapter Fragments of a Natural Narrative.  I rather thought with the publication of On Giving My Word I would be cured to writing poetry.  Alas it keeps coming.  The first is out of my childhood memories and the latter is from my interest in English Romanticism which I think is undervalued as a source for understanding Christianity.


Fireflies and Skippers


As children, my brother and I

were given rock collections and chemistry sets

before we were given Bibles.

With them we quietly competed with each other,                                                                                 

and together we marveled at summer’s fireflies in the empty lot,

at skippers who walked on the pellucid water of a Vermont brook,

and pondered if one might turn milkweed sap into rubber

and spin cottonwood down into silk.

When we did receive our Bibles, we read them

as part of the same continuing story that we had begun,

with little sense of discontinuity between the sources

and have kept them in our own way well into our old age

continuing to serve that little church that gave them. 



When Poets


When the poet Wordsworth

               declared that nature was the anchor of his soul,

he was quickly charged with blasphemy,

not so much against an Almighty God,

but, as against the purity of the idea.

That charge overlooked the fact that nature has an unseen door,

which opens on a landscape that is not open to eyesight,

but which imagination can explore with insight.

Through that door, threads of story out pour,

giving rise to the realm of ideas,

as though it, Almighty God entered in

and became man.


When the poet Coleridge

saw sea snakes in the moonlight,

he saw what he could not see in the sunlight,

and frost that came at midnight wrote him a poem,

on the window of his Devon country home.

His sins appear to having been a denier,

of the greatest good for the greatest number

and of eating opium off in the land of Kublai Khan.

which overlooks that good is not a number,

and that nature is not simply a calculation,

but a continuing story.                                                                                                                    


When the poet Seamus Haeney

saw light in a raindrop

on a December day in county Wicklow,

despite the mutters in his head

of let down and erosion,

he said, “each drop recalls the diamond absolute.”

His sins appear to have been politic,

as in the time of Troubles, he was neither

an informer nor an internee, merely a writer.

which overlooks no one walks out of troubles                                                                         

which does not have a story that

gives others room to walk as well.



 A Book Review

I have just read Joseph Blenkinsopp’s A History of Prophecy in Israel, published in 1983 and revised and enlarged in 1996 as a means of updating my understand of state of Biblical scholarship.  In my early formation I was trained to read it through the eye of “form criticism,” notable Von Rad, Noth and Cross .  I was aware of the succeeding “redaction criticism” and I have had a positive attitude toward its intent, but never has the occasion to test its results.  My current project which consists of a critical reading of the Isaish Scholl, directed me to the work of Joseph Blenkinsopp.  Blenkinsopp is the author of the Anchor Bible volumes on Isaiah.  My first pass was with the help of Brevard S. Childs Isaiah in the Old Testament Library.  It occurred to me that before l launched this next read, I ought to look at Blenkinsopp’s survey of prophecy and it has proved more that worthwhile. In his introduction he notes that one hesitates to take on such a broad survey, close to a thousand years, rather than staying within the confines of one’s own specialty. But his dare has resulted in an import aid to the student of prophesy in Israel. In his course through almost 1,000 years, he shows a detailed mastery of the material.   What he argues is that there is a dynamic unity to prophesy in the life of Israel.  While it successively changes with the challenge Israel face, it continues to contribute to the life of Israel, even to its to latter day siblings, Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity.

I highly recommend this book and look forward and I am excited to think about what Blenkinsopp will read to my next read of the Isaiah Scroll.  

 First Thursday August; Out Through the Garden.  You can find some reflections on poems that about gardening in my life taken from On Giving My Word.  It includes a brief history of gardens from Eden to my back yard.  You can view this on my You Tube channel.  Here's the link:


On a National Narrative.

This is a follow up to the Video “First Thursday in July:  Fragments of a National Narrative” available on You Tube

The opinion was offered in that video that absence or brokenness of a national narrative in American life better explains the difficulty in motivation that appear to plague all but in a particular way younger people, the Z generation.  Blaming that on character faults seems to be a mistake. My take is that absence of national narrative provides with a better understanding of what we are experiencing and how that could be changed.  In a subsequent conversation prompted by the video, has lead to the following thoughts which might be useful in extending this discussion.

A national narrative in the best of times is a work in progress.  So, if someone my age looks back and speaks of the national narrative of his or her youth, they must be wary of nostalgia and fantasy.  Still, I am looking at the fifties in the US, there was a project shaping a narrative which provided me and my contemporaries with a sense that what we were about was meaningful and that the effort it took was worthwhile.  It did so in spite of internal contradictions and misinformation, which were by no means small, and maybe not so different as now.  The question is what sustained it then and what is failing it now in our present American life?

            I would suggest that there was a sub-narrative to carry it forward.  Here is where I get religious, the sub-narrative was the Biblical narrative.  The Abraham out of Ur of Chaldea, Moses out of Egypt, David out of the sheepfold into the kingdom and finally the one that begins “on the night in which he was betrayed.”

            This is the central thesis of my book, On Giving My Word.  That may appear to be a wild and unsubstantiated claim, but where else, I would ask, the does the narrative process begin?  It is often claimed that it began with the Greeks and the Romans.  But the Greek classics, the Iliad and Odessey, are about a return home, a closing the circle by means of a restoration of wht was before.  That is myth, not narrative.  The Romans on the verge of a new age, tettered and reimagined themselves as the new Ilium, see Virgil’s “Aeneid.”  Both Greece and Roman contributed substance to the West, they did not provide it with direction.  That happened when the narrative stream of Christianity passed through them. 

            It is a new question now, to ask if it can continue to do so in our present American life.  The link is suggested by the fact that decline in the belief in God coincides with the floundering American narrative.  The decline in belief is related to a rise in doctrine, whether liberal or conservative or dismissive.  So, a liberal Christianity and a Conservative Christian seem certain that they are opposites, but viewed from the outside they look pretty much alike!  As do I dare say, the atheist!  Doctrine has risen and fallen in the course of history as a replacement for narrative. 

             So, if I was in the pastorate today, I would say to Gen Z, help me. Gen X thought that they did not need the narrative.  They thought that being American was being self-reliant and pragmatic. 

            As has happened before in American life, they find themselves in the end caught it a static reality with nowhere to go.  If you are not to be caught in this quagmire, you need to find a narrative that clarifies from where we have come and illuminates the possibilities of where we might go.  The pattern of this narrative lies in a living Christianity, as opposed to a doctrinal Christianity, which we can, together, launch in the heart of American life.   

Footnote: "living Christianity" is in fact traditional Christianity, a doing it in order to understand it. 

A Representation of the Trinity 

In the resent post on You Tube, reflecting on the Holy Spirit, I found myself wishing for a whiteboard, the kind you have in a classroom, on which I could represent the three actions of divinity, forming a kind of dynamic triangle.  In the days when I held forth in a classroom, I was forever filling one, whether it was for the edification of my students or as a lubricant for my thoughts was never clear.  What is clear is that such a project is problematic.  Nevertheless I attempted an experiment with MS Whiteboard which I would share with you, with, of course, comes the disclaimer: like but not like.  

On the left I have drawn an arrow to represent the Father whose motion of withdrawal, stepping back, is into a deeper silence and darkness. In its wake is space-time and a lead, an invitation.  On the right is an arrow to represent the Son whose motion of extension results in an ever more revealing word and light.  In it is the movement of a sower, who seeds reality with an internal meaning. Beneath these two outward arrows, I have drawn a back-and-forth arrow to represent the Holy Spirit that comes the Father and returns from the Son, whose ambivalent motion is union and communion.

 Lastly note the blue line in the center branching and folding which represents the creation, our reality, tumbling into space-time.  The Spirit moves across it on its eternal movement between Father and Son.   The passage of the Spirit results in union on all levels or reality.  At the level at which it crosses the human spirit it sounds a note, a bow drawn across and returning does on a cello.  

Visit First Thursday June on the You Tube channel for further discussion.  

It is import, however, not to focus on the lines and objects on the whiteboard, but to catch sight of the movement. This I take it is cause with whiteboards filled with mathematical formulas.  You have not understood it as long as you are seeing symbol and numbers.  It is only when you see the flow passing through them that they mean something mathematical.  Otherwise, you have a mere abstraction which would justly cause you to ask: “Why do I need to know this?” 

What I would like to suggest to you is that this movement implied in this graphic is part of our experience.  You can and should seek to experience it in your prayer.  It is what makes communion possible.


  Isaiah Project: An Annotated Bibliography   For those following the Isaiah project this is a current list of my reading.     Josep...