II.2.B Seeking the Real: The Sign of Your Presence in Matthew part B

“Reading the sign of your presence, in Matthew” is reading the text of Matthew in an effort to learn something about Jesus.

(0) A bit of methodological heart-clearing

Our previous discussion started with a long stretch of methodological throat-clearing. I did this to position our reflection on the texts involving the term “parousia” in the context of Matthew, in light of high quality, contemporary Biblical studies. This section turns from a focus on the text to a focus beyond the text: toward me, toward us, toward Creation, and ultimately toward God.

So here, I’ll start by reflecting on the last communion where I was present, because communion draws together me and us and Creation and God in the real presence and real future of Christ.

Last Sunday, I went to the St. Thomas Moore Newman Center at the Ohio State University to share in the enduring presence of Jesus with my brothers and sisters there. Normally I share in his enduring presence with my closer sisters and brothers in my own congregation, Central Vineyard Church. The congregations meet only three long minutes away from each other. Sunday morning remains one of the most deeply differentiated times in North America today, and so it was a rather monumental crossing to drive around the corner at that hour.

I went because my second spiritual home was being killed by Bishop Earl Fernandes, and I wanted to be there for her last communion on 7/31/2022. Why did he kill her? According to the news reports, at least, he demanded that the Paulists invite the repressive and controversial Catholic order, Opus Dei, to serve in the congregation. Relatedly, the Paulists also wanted to continue to minister to the queer community in the gentler way they had for years, something for which they were well known. The congregation had become a kind of refuge and halfway house for LGBTQIA+ Catholics. It was one of few places in the diocese where a substantial number felt comfortable. My first paying job involved working for one of these congregants at Schmidt’s down in German Village. Way back then in the early 2000’s, that brother in Christ described feeling “blown away” by his experience of the Newman Center. I liked the place, but I didn’t fully understand the intensity of his feelings at the time. Having been in ministry myself for about a decade now, in one way or another, I now understand the significance of what he experienced more. He had found a community where he could be honest, and where he felt loved.

So when Bishop Fernandes said that he would require the Paulists to adopt a more aggressive abstinence-only ministry for the gays, he knew that he was confronting something at the core of their ministry. The Paulists said that they would not do this. And so a 66-year legacy of inclusive, ecumenical, evangelistic and thriving Catholic ministry was snuffed out. Blown away. The congregation was left with only a month to prepare for the ejection of the Paulists. Everybody here viscerally understands that this is about far more than just these men. The issue is that within the highly hierarchical institutional structure of the Catholic Church, the Paulists had created a space where thousands of people could be Catholic and minister and work and serve in good conscience. The removal of the Paulists was, unambiguously, a cancellation of the approach that had built a thriving and distinctive Catholic congregation ministering to a wide range of particular and urgent needs.

So I cried and prayed through the mass. The place was completely packed. Father René Constanza, the President of the Paulists, gave the homily. He assured us that as we left, wherever we went we would carry the Paulist mission of evangelism, ecumenism, and inclusivity with us. I took it with me gratefully.

And I took it with me furious and serious and late. These words reflect the forms of puns that we discussed in the journal that led into this project. I took his meaning late, because it will take all of us a long time to unite all of the divided layers of meaning here. We aren’t there yet. I took it seriously, because all of the divergent meanings here are certainly no joke, even if they are puns of various sorts. And I took it furiously because a cruel, blind, and grave injustice was done here.

This entire project involves sustained attention to puns and to the multiplicity of meanings that a pun aims to resolve into a greater meaning. My serious interest in puns and wordplay has been fostered by the beloved Paulist priest, Vinny McKiernan. He has provided me with occasional spiritual direction, inspiration and counsel through the years. So much of my own vocation draws from his practice of Centering Prayer, his love of Franciscan spirituality, his practice of spiritual direction and his ministry of puns. He is always sharing penitentially painful, funny and wise little puns, which he calls Vin-a-mins. From the remains of his library, which he was giving away that final Friday, I took the book “The Ecumenical Future” and a Vin-a-min packed with puns about the pains of packing. It hurts, too, to pack so much meaning into so few words. And so this week has reminded me of how puns are the heart of this project’s method, even more fundamentally than consilient and apocalyptic reading. It is in the unification of that dual sense of “reading” that we find the heart of my work here today: it is all about the depths of puns, hidden in plain sight, like Jesus in the bread and wine.

Last Sunday, my physical movement from my own home congregation to that other dying chamber of my heart moved me at the deepest levels. It reminded me of the preciousness of my soul, and by extension the preciousness of each soul: it reminded me of the importance of our limitation, each of us in a single place and time. I’m more grateful than ever for my Vineyard congregation, where I have been given so much love and security and community. It was with this congregation that I recovered from the pain of my efforts to follow the way of Saint Francis, homeless and barefoot in New York, after I attended the Newman Center. I was homeless, literally, for a time when I was a student at Ohio State. Now the Newman Center itself is homeless, and I have a spiritual home just three minutes around the corner, and now some of the Paulists are returning to their center in New York. I don’t know where things go from here, but I feel an enormous gratitude for the way God has led me to the life raft I have found, relatively insulated from bishops who can proudly torpedo the work that the Holy Spirit has done over decades in a community.

And so this morning I’ve sat and watched a presentation on the Catholic New Evangelism by Brother Dave Dwyer of the Paulists. I am struck by the beauty of that vision for Catholic ‘evangelism’, one that starts with evangelizing us as Catholics. And that process, as he discusses, starts by following Jesus ourselves. To this I can only say the loudest, “Amen.” Of course, this genuine excitement about the message means (as my own chief bishop Brother Pathak knows) that the next part is going to sting.

I love the Paulists, and feel more convinced than ever that the New Evangelism is just what we need. We need to evangelize ourselves. And I think that if it isn’t to be some hollow and shallow pretense, it needs to start with an effort to be faithful in at least some of the little things that Jesus commands. After all, how did we end up in a situation where a Father of Fathers like Bishop Fernandes gets to stomp on a congregation like this and kill it? I think it started with disloyalty to Jesus and the teaching he offered in Matthew 23: it started when we disobeyed his command to call no one Father, except God. This is one of the essential betrayals of the church in history that lies at the root of the abusive power exercised by Bishop Fernandes, as he pretends to play God. I am aware, of course, that the Catholic Church and countless others have spent a great deal of time and energy explaining away this passage. Yes, I know that they have The Catholic Answer. But I am more convinced than ever that those particular Catholic answers are wrong, and that there never was a singular Catholic Answer. That posture immediately belies a strident and basic kind of bad faith, one that prevents us from being reconciled with our real history as the church throughout the world. Against the illusion of The ‘Objective’ Catholic Answer, I have to object that the truth is simple, but hard, not easy and complicated. I believe that Jesus was right: the language we use matters, that what Jesus teaches in Matthew 23 is simple to do and more than clear enough, and so we really shouldn’t call anyone but God our spiritual father. I think that this is a far better reading of Matthew 23, one that gives the text the priority that is its due in any study of it, instead of one that scrambles to cover up our Catholic heritage of abuse. This heritage deprives people of their agency and responsibility while also placing a passel of mere men where God alone belongs, and where humanity (male-and-female) belongs as God’s image.

So it also matters that our slow assent up the Mount of Olives began over there in Matthew 23, by the Temple, where I said yes to the training that Jesus still offers us there. For those who want more detail, I have discussed this whole chapter in some depth. The New Catholic Evangelism, on its own terms, must start with us Catholics learning to be faithful to Jesus. At the very least we might practice being faithful in something so very small and so very simple and so very hard to break. Simple practices of domination and faithlessness, in time, grow into the kind of abusive spiritual structure whose bullying, cruel, blind and vicious self-righteousness I encountered this week. I remain Catholic. And I remain deeply invested in the new evangelism. And I affirm that it must surely start at home.

So what might we say about our method here, now that its heart (love it or hate it) is clear? At its core, it involves moving inward and outward and upward from the more detached and rigorous reflection on the phrase “the sign of your presence” that gave us section II.2.A. From there, we are now moving into an effort to seek the sign of your cruciform presence, Jesus, in Matthew and in our world and in our lives and in my life.

And so I have to confess that my previous reflections on the synteleia of the aion and the signs of your presence, Jesus, didn’t emerge from everywhere or from nowhere. They weren’t objective, in the strange sense that some have come to mean objective: oddly, it is still sometimes imagined that to be ‘objective’ is to have the soulless perspective of a non-object, to understand things as a pure subject without our own distinct, finite, limited, bodily wholes. Somehow, the fantasy of being a pure disembodied subject gets away with claiming ‘objectivity’ for itself. It is much better to describe my personal and autobiographical and vulnerable posture of soulful self-awareness as objective, even as it also integrates me as a subject. To be a whole human is to be a subject-object: to be a soul is to be both object and subject together. First, this soulful objectivity helps us open our various priors to critical reflection, and so we are able to move into a priority of the object through the work of reconciliation. Second, this soulful objectivity is objective on its face after all, where the fantasy of the pure perceiving subject is not. If that is unclear, you can see this by reading the previous sentence until you understand it: what I am saying is that the signs of this language of soulful objectivity are coherent and clear enough, and they have reversed the curse of ‘subjectivity’. This doesn’t mean that I have achieved objectivity or full soulfulness. But at least we are now oriented toward that crucial and personal and immanent element of the journey of the soul into God. As we began this project with our eye on the end of Matthew 25, let’s begin again with the end in mind.

Fittingly and strangely, a very fine translation of the Franciscan Order’s second founder, Bonaventure, comes from Paulist Press. This is where we hope to go, or at least gesture here, as we dare to seek your presence, Lord Jesus, in and through the book of Matthew.

But if you wish to know how these things come about,

ask grace not instruction,

desire not understanding,

the groaning of prayer not diligent reading,

the Spouse not the teacher,

God not man,

darkness not clarity,

not light but the fire

that totally inflames and carries us into God

by ecstatic unctions and burning affections.

This fire is God,

and his furnace is in Jerusalem;

and Christ enkindles it

in the heat of his burning passion,

which only he truly perceives who says:

My soul chooses hanging and my bones death.

Whoever loves this death

can see God

because it is true beyond doubt that

man will not see me and live.

Let us, then, die

and enter into the darkness;

let us impose silence

upon our cares, our desires and our imaginings.

With Christ crucified

let us pass out of this world to the Father

so that when the Father is shown to us,

we may say with Philip:

It is enough for us.

Let us hear with Paul:

My grace is sufficient for you.

Let us rejoice with David saying:

My flesh and my heart have grown faint;

You are the God of my heart,

and the God that is my portion forever.

Blessed be the Lord forever

and all the people will say:

Let it be; let it be.



c’. Signs of your presence to me in Madison, holding patristics, liberation, America and Italy together in one

I’m sitting on Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin, visiting family. Last night I watched my daughter, her cousins and my mother dance on the lake front. I’m lucky to be here.

Yesterday, on the way, we visited Elderon and Wittenberg, where my mother grew up and where I often visited during the summers. We hugged cousins and shared stories and memories and saw how much everyone had grown. We learned about all sorts of funny connections between us and Puerto Vallarta Mexico, with intrigues and mysteries and wonder at the strange webs we weave through space and time. How lucky we are to be alive.

Then we stopped at the Stockbridge-Munsee Band’s Library-Museum and I picked up Roy M. Paul’s book “Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohican Indians: His Missions and Sermons.” For all of the attention that has been paid to that writer’s work, and for all of his influence on this continent, it might be that his work among the Stockbridge-Munsee will ultimately be the most enduring sign of his presence in these lands. The Stockbridge and Munsee ended up here in Wisconsin after they were repeatedly displaced by those settlers who had rather recently assigned themselves white caste status. While his theology was flawed in all of the ways Calvinism and the Augustinian heritage are flawed, Edwards was an advocate for this community, and this is remembered and marked in bodies today. From the conclusion of “Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohican Indians”:

It has been said that the time Edwards spent in Stockbridge was the most rewarding time of his ministry. If the testimony of history is any indication, it may well have been, and surely led to a Christian legacy down to the modern day. In speaking with tribal member Mark Shaw, he stated emphatically [on July 4th, 2019]:

If it weren’t for the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, my ancestors, my grandparents, my mother, and I would not be Christians today. There are five Christian churches on my small reservation. Jonathan Edwards and the other missionaries really changed the faith and beliefs of my Native American Nation.

Edwards’ legacy lives on — but what about the Mohicans for whom he was so concerned? The United States government used various means to eliminate the Indians as a distinct people group including the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and the removal of religious freedom in 1883. Various other efforts to have them relinquish their Indian identity and rights in exchange for US citizenship have also occurred. While attempts to steal Indian land and identity led to the demise of many of the indigenous tribes in the United States, the Mohicans have fought it every step of the way. Today this brave and proud people have maintained their unique identity and tribal status and continue to survive and thrive in Wisconsin. Here, they are slowly, but surely, regaining their lost lands. Their young people have embraced their heritage and culture, and there is a renewed effort to revive their language, which is almost lost. Today, as in the days of the mission to Stockbridge, there are many non-tribal members who support the Mohican history and work diligently for its preservation. Perhaps it is appropriate that we end this study with a prayer by Mohican tribal member Elaine M. Jacobi:

We hear the voice of our Muh He Con Nuck people through the continually flowing waters, in the wind, the air, the plants, trees, animals and all humans.

We are weak and need your strength and wisdom. We thank you for the renewing of Mother Earth, which gives us a promise of growth and newness.

We ask you to help us as we pause and reflect upon our ancestors and early leaders. Our culture is not dead! Our ancestors of yesterday are still here in our people. We are all of creation and we are all related. Mother Nature and the natural laws have never changed. The sun, our Eldest Brother, still rises in the East, warms and sets in the West. The moon, our Grandmother, controls the waters of the great oceans, and her relationship to all women of the world shares responsibility for the birth of children. Everything we need for survival and substance is still here.

Our Mohican ancestors met Henry Hudson in view of the Catskill Mountains. They were far from being hostile, but kind and loving people. They had much interest in those strange visitors aboard the Half-Moon. The white visitors may have taken the fat of the land and everything else we hold dear to us, but above all we still have our Spirituality! When we were [are] spiritually connected, no one can ever take that away, except ourselves. For us as Mohican people we have our Language and Culture, our Talking Circles, our Legends and Traditions, our Helping Spirits, Sweat Lodges, Medicine Wheel, Social Dancing, Smudging Rituals, and praying with the Eagle Feather. It was with great joy when our “Bibles” were used diligently as our ancestors journeyed Westward, to New York, then to Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. When crossing the swollen Illinois River, our people lost some of their possessions, but the “Bibles” in its Oaken Chest was preserved, and always placed on the alter [sic] wherever they settled in a new home and a new church. Putahmowus, help us rekindle the fires of these sacred values.

We ask Putahmowus for true healing, to help us turn to the values of our ancestors, and acceptance to those who are different. We need the full strength of our community. The individual, family, and community are not separate. It calls for the power of the Creator, the wisdom of the warrior, and the heart of the Mother. It is a path of progress, not perfection.

We are looking in the wrong place when it comes to our culture. We need balance and harmony within ourselves. We need to do a personal inventory to put ourselves and our weaknesses before our Creator.
Putahmowus, Listen to your children praying,

Send your Spirit in this place,

Send us love, send us power, send us Grace! Aniishick! [Thank you].²

This shared geography of New York, Ohio, Wisconsin (and Indiana in between) is significant for me as well. I will weave memories of these places together as I consider the aniconic signs of God’s presence that I have also carried. Before I was homeless in New York, and long before our Paulist parish was homeless in Columbus, I spent time here in Madison before traveling to New York. I volunteered a bit at the food pantry and went to mass in the hulking, modernist church here that was dedicated to Saint Paul. It has since been torn down and replaced with a new building, to the delight of those who love more traditional architecture.³ I suspect it also had leaks, and you don’t want living water in a place like that. It’ll take the building down in time.

Back then, not long after 9–11 and about 20 years before 1–6, Saint Paul’s was intriguing and unsettling. It was a looming concrete cave covered in brutalist blades. It suffered from its own illusions of concreteness. And still there were moments when it seemed to float above you. The local priest was friendly and supportive of what I was doing as I tried to follow the way of Saint Francis, barefoot and mad. We talked about liberation theology. He expressed interested support as I read some of it in the church library, but he also gently redirected me by sharing that he was excited to be turning his attention more to patristics. I don’t know if he was as fascinated by Origen and Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor and Bonaventure as I am now, as the Cappadocian and Dionysian revival continues to unfold in contemporary theology. But I like to think that he was reading St. Gregory of Nyssa, and given the influence of Hans Urs van Balthasar the odds are pretty good that he was.

Back then, I had already been struck down in my own ecstatic experiences of prayer in the presence of a Franciscan San Damiano crucifix. The crucifix reflects an older Eastern Orthodox style, much like Bonaventure would engage more directly with the old tradition than some around him, especially through the channel of Dionysius the Areopagite. Images, through their presence, communicate more than we realize, carrying meanings that it takes books and years to begin to expound. And this is closely tied, by negation, to the topic of our discussion. After all, what does it mean for God to be present, aniconically, in the breaking of the bread and wine? Recall that even devoid of icons, God’s presence in the Second Temple was still related to the show bread there as well. In some sense, insofar as it is true, I think the same God must also be aniconically present in the feather and the smudging: not as an idol or as a graven image, but as a sign of presence, as the incarnate Word who gives coherence to everything that is good, whose goodness includes his comprehensibility.

So here is my central claim, and it is a somewhat dense one: the story of our Bible, as a soulful whole, shows that we needed to abolish idols in order to center the covenant faithfulness of God’s image-bearers. This is how humans can practice the virtue of religion properly. Here I draw on older meanings of religion: it refers to a connected, healthily bonded and holistically communicative way of being in the world. The message embedded in the ancient Hebrew opposition idols is that we are the image-bearers of god, not anything we build: as Genesis insists, we humans are each a manifestation of God’s presence in a world of imposters. And so the manifestation of covenant faithfulness in our bodies is what brings the reign of God, in a way that statues and other constructs never can. Those with eyes to see will understand and apply this properly in contextualized ways, understanding idolatry as idolatry and faithfulness as faithfulness, so that they judge rightly and apocalyptically, not merely by first impressions.

Let’s look at a personal example from an image-bearer who I know experientially, from the inside. As I wandered through New York City and Madison back in the early 2000’s, I wore a Muslim prayer cap that I had acquired from a roommate from Turkey. Why did I do that? Well, I already looked Middle Eastern enough to receive all kinds of random threats at the time. For example, a car full of white caste people came swerving around the corner as someone shouted, “Bin Laden go home.” Plenty of others gave me more subtle suspicious looks. Since I was getting that anyway, why not lean in?

But the real point was that I wanted to see if people would judge who was present rightly, or if they would only judge by appearance. When I got to New York, an older white caste gentleman wanted to make sure I took that cap off in church. At the time I wondered if that norm’s meaning rested in a basic opposition to Jewish practice. They cover their heads, so we uncover them. And if we’re really serious, we even shave a Franciscan tonsure into our hair, an anti-cap that may have ancient pagan roots. Arguably, Leviticus 19:27 reflects some ancient differentiation here, one that has continued to play out in strangely weaving ways since then. The Pope’s skullcap, for example, may be there to keep his (no longer) tonsured head warm. Is this a reconvergence rooted in ancient oppositions? Here my point isn’t to argue this one way or another, but it is one of the things I pondered there in New York when I was asked to remove my skullcap in church. If our enemy does something, the logic of empire and slander insists we jerk our knees and do the opposite in disgust, condemning by our difference. Discourse invites us to find and build on common ground, wherever it truly can be found. These memories come back to me now as I wrestle with the casual anti-semitism that recently jostled me out of my enjoyment of Bonaventure’s “Tree of Life”. That, in turn, reminded me of the anti-semitic joke a Franciscan friar told me when I visited them in Cincinnati while discerning a vocation among them, before I headed off to New York on my own. That friar’s joke was the first and last thing he ever said to me, a not-so-secret handshake that I couldn’t return.

I started wearing the Muslim prayer cap some time after 9–11, after we camped out on the Oval at the Ohio State University to protest the displacements and chaos that the invasion of Afghanistan would bring. We had a large table full of articles and information with a sign that said, “Ask Questions.” While we were there, discursively present with our whole bodies, a band of white caste people attacked and destroyed our tents. I chased one of them down, a paper-thin metallic bivvy sack dragging from my feet and tearing into pieces as I ran. In spite of it, I was still quite a bit faster than him. As I caught up to him I raised my hands in a gesture of peace as I said, “It’s okay. I just want to talk.” With eyes full of fear, he rushed back past me and climbed into an SUV that his friends were using as an escape vehicle. I noted the license plate number, then I had a political scientist I knew run it through his private investigator. I then called the vehicle’s owner, and got an answering machine with the voice of an older man. Had the attackers used daddy’s car? I left a message for whoever it was, telling him that his vehicle had been used to aid and abet in an assault.

I never heard back from him or them, in spite of my bids for communication, for truth-seeking discourse. Still, I think that a bid like that, refused, has power. It shut them up and the attacks stopped, at least for long enough to carry us through the fall. Of course, people from their broad camp have continued to insult and degrade me in all kinds of ways ever since. More recently I’ve come to deeply appreciate the wisdom and cleverness of the approach Jesus had to these kinds of violent, bad faith interactions: he confounded them and revealed the hollowness of their claims. Goaded through life by threat responses, rather than substance, people who have been captured by Empire are routinely flummoxed by discourse, by substance, and by a deep synthesis that is rooted in truth. Did our attackers imagine that they were the Christians defending America when they attacked our camp? I suspect they did. It’s always been like that for me ever since I started following Jesus: the defenders of Christendom will always attack you for following Jesus.

And so I feel a deep and very simple spiritual connection with the Stockbridge leader, John Konkapot.⁴ His grave is a brutalist slab that reminds me of the old Saint Paul’s in Madison. It’s message resonates as a dignified, simple, and elegantly severe response to the worm theology of Jonathan Edwards:

Here Lies

John Konkapot

God, be as good to him as he would be to you if he were God and you were John Konkapot

How could we fail to notice that the god of Jonathan Edwards was a much more cruel and evil figure than John Konkapot could ever hope to be? David Bentley Hart says as much, much for voluminously, in That All Shall Be Saved. A Christianity that enjoins us to be better than our God suffers from a deep and fundamental incoherence, one that is reflected in the battles between Christendom and faithfulness to Jesus that have unfolded in each of the ekklesia’s generations. What if Calvin’s god removed the plank from his almighty but blazingly cruel eye? If that happened, I think we would see God. That is to say, John Konkapot’s grave doesn’t question God, but it also doesn’t lean on Jonathan Edward’s own understanding, or even on John Konkapot’s more worthy wisdom. In marking the end of his aion, John Konkapot humbly and powerfully calls the Calvinist bluff, and in that we can enduringly feel something of his presence here.

John Konkapot was the one who invited Calvinist missionaries into his people’s midst, creating an enduring bond between Jonathan Edwards and the band who live in Wisconsin today. Why did he invite them? It seems that he was seeking protection from the alcohol-plying tradesmen who warned them against Christianity. The merchants were worried that Christianity might bring temperance and force them to trade with the ‘River Indians’ at a better price. They were right to be afraid. John was also seeking spiritual knowledge, and a closer bond with his European allies. But the just complaint that he and many others have always had, going back to the generation after Constantine, is that the Christians didn’t follow their own teachings much at all. This simple and devastating observation remains, in my view, the only fundamental matter of theology for theology today. The rest, to be clear, matters as well, but it has to come second. We can have all kinds of lovely discussions about the Trinity and the development of the canon and the meanings of inerrancy as opposed to infallibility. We can argue about fish hooks and atonement and the victory of Christ, or the various conceptions of the body-mind problem that were encoded in the language of soma and pneuma and sarx. We can appreciate “nefesh” (or neck) as a Hebrew sign that points to the conscious presence that is spiritually enfleshed in the suspended middle⁶ of each being like us. We might even be sophisticated enough to note that the gallows and the lynching tree are our crosses to overcome, here in this land, and that we can’t talk about a suspended neck without pondering the repentance that is due. But it’s all just an elaborate avoidance strategy, an astonishing effulgence of lipstick on pigs, if John Konkapot’s simple observation of our rank hypocrisy continues to hold as devastatingly as it does, and did.

In the end and in the middle, as we will see at the end of Matthew 25, what matters is whether we care for the poor and practice the way of peace and do the work of reconciliation, as any child can understand it. The rest can be as fine and brilliant as you like. It will all still wash away in time if our sculptures are placed in a spiritual house of sand instead of a house built on the rock of faithfulness. John Konkapot told us what we really need to know about apostling, which is the work of building new churches on the foundation that Christ lays in us. The key, always gestured at aniconically, is that we truly welcome his presence into the practice of our lives, becoming ever truer icons of the living God.

In this way, the absence of idols has always pointed toward the presence of the God of Israel. [7.5] To this I would add insistently, in the memory of John Konkapot, that it must point that way through faithful practitioners, who in turn point to the true presence of God. A falling structure, even the falling temples at the center of our own national life, will enduringly be an opportunity to gesture in this direction. This is what the Passover and Communion of Jesus, the Temple and lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8), have always already signified apocalyptically.

And so Pope Francis and his recent apology tour do open the door to communion, instead of standing there and stopping up the halls. As the church’s liturgy has long taught, true communion depends on the deepest of repentance, a genuine change in direction and not merely an act of contrition. So it is fitting to really wrestle, here, with how the tonsured Franciscans have often been co-opted by Empire so that we can clearly set a better course. My memory is especially drawn to the role of Christopher Columbus’ Franciscan spiritual advisor, who provided a false ‘apocalyptic’ rationale for Columbus’s brutal genocides. They both believed that Columbus would bring the end of history by funding a great, final, bloody crusade to Jerusalem, and that this would finally bring the Second Coming of Jesus. That is why Columbus so brutally and insistently worked to extract gold from the image-bearers of God who he ‘discovered’. His spiritual director would come to regret his error, but not before he burdened his eternal soul with the slaughter and enslavement of the Taino people. If only they had read Matthew and become aware of the Enduring Presence of the one who is always faithful to the Covenant on the Mount, always inviting us to build on the rock of faithfulness instead of those bloody imperials sands.

As someone who lives in Columbus, Ohio, this all comes up for me acutely each year on Columbus Day. The holy day is often defended as a celebration of Italian-American and Catholic heritage. This, in turn, reminds me of my first generation Italian wife, Katie, and my one-quarter Italian daughter. (As I wrote this sentence, Katie walked into the room. Seeing her is like seeing the sunrise.) Like me, there is also evidence that she has Native American ancestry. According to my mother, who has done extensive work on our family genealogy, we have a First Nations ancestor named Shaloma whose father left her with the Moravian Missionaries in Pennsylvania. Beyond this, there’s also the kinship of community and of rescue. For example, my grandmother credited the local Ho Chunk people near Elderon with curing her of TB when they were her neighbors, there in the poverty and isolation of rural Wisconsin. On the other side, Katie’s family carries the memory that her grandfather from Kentucky had a Cherokee grandmother, as near and distant from him as my daughter’s Italian grandfather is from her, memory aionic. As with the signs of the presence of Jesus in the New Testament, it is hard to trace any of this with certainty, despite our best efforts. In our case, though, these memories are covered with shame and whispers, having come through the narrow passages of white caste status, ethnocide and genocide.

Today, I feel shame in even recounting any of this for different reasons. I don’t want to seem like another white caste wannabee, desperately claiming an indigenous ancestry that is not my own. What needs to be said is that my experience, and my recent ancestor’s experience, has extensively involved the pleasures of white caste power, and not the pains and joys of solidarity out on the res. This isn’t about genetics or blood, at least not alone, and I am not sharing any of this with the hope of getting my hands on some sweet casino cash. I’ve already received far more than my fair share of the fat of this land. Instead, I’m sharing it simply because I hope that I can make my own bodily contribution, with the whole of my soul as it is present here in Wisconsin, to the work of reconciliation, justice and transformation. Our land and its people desperately need it.

Thinking about these matters and the tangled webs of presence that have woven our biologies, I especially want to consider how Columbus Day has been catastrophically conflated with Italian-American identity and pride. More than ever, I think that Italian-Americans should get to celebrate a Francis Day, to give them a day to remember an Italian who is worth celebrating, even as we also ponder the mixed Franciscan legacy in these lands. And I think that Columbus Day should be transformed into a solemn day of remembrance and mourning, as well as a celebration of our many indigenous nations.

And so I’ll close this strange melange of personal recollections with some thoughts on the possible genealogy of Elaine M. Jacobi’s meditation and prayer, above. Contrary to those who might look at her prayer and suspect a kind of novel liberal syncretism, or nothing more than some shallowly hippyish religion, I want to bear witness to the fact that her prayer also accords with the best of the Christian tradition. Her points on process over perfection echo the theology of Saint Gregory of Nyssa. [8.9] Her invocation of a personal inventory draws on the language of Alcoholics Anonymous (founded at Stan Hywet, where my mother was a docent). It represents the best of Puritan piety cleansed of Calvinist abuses. Maybe this purification is, in part, a reflection of the labors of John Konkapot? If so, I have hopes that even more of Christendom might be altered along those lines. Finally, her reference to Mother Earth echoes one of my very favorite Christian prayers. It is a rather famous one, written in Umbrian dialect, from an Italian whose name means Frenchman.

Those are just some of the sacred resonances that I see flowing through the living water of Elaine M. Jacobi’s prayer and meditation, running through the generations as reported (according to hadithic standards) by Mark Shaw, as reported by Roy M Paul. So let’s close this reflection with this prayer from Bonaventure’s spiritual ‘father’, Brother Francis:

Altissimu, omnipotente bon Signore,
Tue so le laude, la gloria e l’honore et onne benedictione.

Ad Te solo, Altissimo, se konfano,
et nullu homo ène dignu te mentouare.

Laudato sie, mi Signore cum tucte le Tue creature,
spetialmente messor lo frate Sole,
lo qual è iorno, et allumini noi per lui.
Et ellu è bellu e radiante cum grande splendore:
de Te, Altissimo, porta significatione.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora Luna e le stelle:
in celu l’ài formate clarite et pretiose et belle.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per frate Uento
et per aere et nubilo et sereno et onne tempo,
per lo quale, a le Tue creature dài sustentamento.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sor’Acqua,
la quale è multo utile et humile et pretiosa et casta.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per frate Focu,
per lo quale ennallumini la nocte:
ed ello è bello et iucundo et robustoso et forte.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora nostra matre Terra,
la quale ne sustenta et gouerna,
et produce diuersi fructi con coloriti fior et herba.

Laudato si, mi Signore, per quelli ke perdonano per lo Tuo amore
et sostengono infirmitate et tribulatione.

Beati quelli ke ‘l sosterranno in pace,
ka da Te, Altissimo, sirano incoronati.

Laudato si mi Signore, per sora nostra Morte corporale,
da la quale nullu homo uiuente pò skappare:
guai a quelli ke morrano ne le peccata mortali;
beati quelli ke trouarà ne le Tue sanctissime uoluntati,
ka la morte secunda no ‘l farrà male.

Laudate et benedicete mi Signore et rengratiate
e seruiteli cum grande humilitate.⁸

Or in slightly antique English:

The Canticle of the Sun

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord,

Praise, glory and honor and benediction all, are Thine.

To Thee alone do they belong, most High,

And there is no man fit to mention Thee.

Praise be to Thee, my Lord, with all Thy creatures,

Especially to my worshipful brother sun,

The which lights up the day, and through him dost Thou brightness give;

And beautiful is he and radiant with splendor great;

Of Thee, most High, signification gives.

Praised be my Lord, for sister moon and for the stars,

In heaven Thou hast formed them clear and precious and fair.

Praised be my Lord for brother wind

And for the air and clouds and fair and every kind of weather,

By the which Thou givest to Thy creatures nourishment.

Praised be my Lord for sister water,

The which is greatly helpful and humble and precious and pure.

Praised be my Lord for brother fire,

By the which Thou lightest up the dark.

And fair is he and gay and mighty and strong.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, mother earth,

The which sustains and keeps us

And brings forth diverse fruits with grass and flowers bright.

Praised be my Lord for those who for Thy love forgive

And weakness bear and tribulation.

Blessed those who shall in peace endure,

For by Thee, most High, shall they be crowned.

Praised be my Lord for our sister, the bodily death,

From the which no living man can flee.

Woe to them who die in mortal sin;

Blessed those who shall find themselves in Thy most holy will,

For the second death shall do them no ill.

Praise ye and bless ye my Lord, and give Him thanks,

And be subject unto Him with great humility.⁹

b’. On Arrivals, and of your Presence

The basic thesis that I have argued in section II.2.A.b is that the phrase “your presence” in Matthew 24:3 emphasizes the distinction between the true presence of Jesus as opposed to the deceptive presence of anti-Christ. I’ve also insistently suggested that we should look to the practice of communion in the early church to help us illuminate the text, especially in light of Matthew’s insistence on the Enduring Nearness of Jesus and the singularity of the sign of Jonah.

Here, I will carry forward this dense network of theological associations in light of my recent experiences meditating on the work of Jonathan Edwards among the Mohicans, whose band I recently visited with family. This will help illustrate how divergent system of signs can work in and through us, transforming us and our world for better and for worse. As with the rest of this project, my focus will involve the core Matthean themes of EXTENDED FAMILY, TIME and GOVERNANCE, centering the concept of intergenerational governance.

To begin, let’s start at the end of history, at least so far, and consider the enduring presence of Jonathan Edward’s Calvinist arrival among the Stockbridge-Munsee. Calvinists were initially granted unrivaled opportunities and access among the Stockbridge band, both through the support of the English and by the invitation of tribal leaders. Additionally, in a world of blatant crooks who were simply aiming to take advantage of the Mohicans, Edwards had the missional advantage of at least trying to do his job in the local school. He also took the unusual step of living among the people he ministered to, and his son grew up speaking their Mohican language. If Edward’s spiritual siblings had managed to reproduce themselves at a positive rate, there would be a large number of them among the people today, even bursting out beyond their boundaries in effective missional activity. This must have been the general story of the early church for its first three centuries, or else Christianity could not have emerged as the historical phenomenon that it is.

Here is a summary of the situation among the Stockbridge-Munsee in 2019:

Today the spiritual needs of the Mohicans on the reservation in Wisconsin are provided by a number of congregations, including The Lutheran Church of the Wilderness; Stockbridge Bible Church; Old Stockbridge Orthodox Presbyterian Church; Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church, and Immanuel Mohican Indian Lutheran Church.

The Lutheran Church of the Wilderness is a member of the East-Central Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It was founded in 1936, and was affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Their website states, “The Congregation met in various buildings on the Reservation until the church was constructed in 1955. … In 1981 Wilderness joined the Association of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches, later merging into the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).” At the current time it has 286 baptized members and 117 confirmed members on the rolls, though regular worshippers average between 15–65. In terms of worship style, the Pastor comments:

We regularly incorporate Native American phrasing (Creator instead of Father/God, Pohtahmawus as a Gender-inclusive name for Holy Spirit, Brother Jesus instead of Lord, etc.) and use certain Native American practices on a semi-regular basis. (Drum circles, Smuding with sage and sweet grass, Calling to the Four Directions, praying for Mother Earth and Father Sky, Blowing of the Conch Shell to gather for worship, offering tobacco to ancestors [including to the rivers/lakes/other bodies of water] and giving medicine/tobacco pouches).

The Immanuel Mohican Indian Lutheran Church was founded in 1898, and in 1908 a mission school was built which operated until it was closed in 1958. Currently, there is an effort to restore the school as a historic site, though in recent years the church itself has experienced a decline in enrollment and attendance. In 2009, there were 60 baptized members, 40 communicants and an average attendance of 20. By 2017 there were only 20 baptized and communicant members, with an average attendance of 8–10 people at the services. The last full-time pastor was Rev. Rolland Goltz. Sadly, this church is in danger of imminent closure.

The Old Stockbridge Orthodox Presbyterian Church is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Churches and, as they are a Reformed congregation, follow the regulative principle of worship. Currently, there are 20 communicant members and 4 non-communicant adherents. About half of the congregation are Mohican Indians.

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Morgan Siding was founded in 1902. They began meeting in a private home, but in 1907, when the group became too large, moved to a local school house where they remained until 1931. The church building, where they still worship today, was dedicated on November 6, 1932. The congregation is a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod and has 60 baptized members, 49 confirmed members and a weekly attendance of about 23. Their spiritual leader is Dr. Roy Rinehard.

The Stockbridge Bible Church began with humble beginnings on April 14, 1977 in the home of Mrs. Ethel Doxtator. Its first official Sunday service was held on April 17, 1977, at the home of their Pastor, Gordon Shepard. The congregation then obtained a mobile home and, after being renovated, held its first Sunday service there on July 24, 1977. Despite several attempts to contact, the current status of the church could not be obtained.

In a context where a number of churches have taken root and met with some sustained success, the Calvinist and Presbyterian heritage among the people is carried forward by about ten people. That is the same number of biological siblings that Jonathan Edwards had all the way back in 1703.

If the early Christian church had been as ill-fated as Edwards’ mission over its own first 300 years, Christianity would be nothing but a strange and obscure footnote in human history. The minute sect may have had true doctrines, or not, but hardly anyone would bother to debate the possibility. And here I’d like to clarify why this matters because I think it does, even though I also don’t think that church growth at any particular moment in time should be taken as proof that the growing entity is right. Cancer happens, and plenty of ropes of sand spread fast and then blow away. Still, we can infer that the sort of thing that unfolded after 70 AD did not unfold in the work of Jonathan Edwards with the Stockbridge-Munsee in the 1750’s AD. It helps to gaze across the centuries in this way, because plenty of little empires flare up and endure for a generation or two, but then fizzle out as history finds other souls to flow through.

These sorts of considerations are also necessary when trying to make sense of Christianity on its own terms, because it stakes its claim in time even as it is indifferent to any particular piece of land: Matthew’s Jesus makes claims that involve the whole scope of unfolding time as given by Creator in Creation. It is as the baptized, communing and coventantally faithful community that the ekklesia sees itself as capable of pointing beyond aionios time from within, and into the aidios. Through the persistence of that faithfulness from lifetime to lifetime, from generation to generation, we are to be the sign of the Messiah’s enduring presence in history, all of the days until the grand synthesis of universal life.

So what did the early church have that Edwards and all of his fellow conservative Presbyterians did not, there among the Stockbridge-Munsee? Answering the question in terms of doctrine or ritual is complicated, speculative and inevitably highly tendentious. But we can say this, at least: they must have been making disciples who made disciples who made disciples, even though they lacked the specialized buildings, printing presses, access to scholarship, doctrinal councils, and other achievements of the later church. Still, if we follow the work of Alan Kreider’s Patient Ferment we can reasonably infer that through enduring faithfulness to the Covenant on the Mount. In this way, the early church overcame trenchant opposition from institutions that were much better funded than they were, and which regularly turned to violence to try to suppress them, even as they refused to use violence to defend themselves. They were also able to draw out a lot of goodness and truth and holiness from the surrounding pagan culture in a way that honored them, in a way that is reflected by the Lutheran Church of the Wilderness today: they helped people reconcile their past with the future, and they helped them reconcile distinct bodies of thought and symbol into a greater, consilient whole.

In this sense, the persistence of traditional Mohican faith has more in common with the early church than the efforts of Jonathan Edwards to impose church discipline: like the early church, but unlike Edwards, it didn’t enjoy state sponsorship or a monopoly on legitimated violence, and was in fact subjected to a century of violent legal suppression here in the ‘land of the free’. To his credit, Edwards was somewhat aware of the irony of this situation. Still, his first sermon to the Stockbridge-Munsee likened them to Cornelius¹⁰ without noting the glaring disanalogy between his situation and theirs: Edwards, like Cornelius, was the man with the Empire behind him, encountering a heartfelt spiritual force that would survive the Calvinist’s threatening assault on their minds and souls, as the dignified grave of John Konkapot attests.

So why has the intergenerational congregational legacy of Edwards dwindled?

First, I want to appreciate all of the ways I do think Christ was present in and through Jonathan Edwards.

If we follow Matthew’s Jesus in how we assess these matters, we might say that Edwards did manage to build his house on at least a bit of rock, which is why something of his work has persisted for three centuries there. He advocated for the Stockbridge-Munsee people in a context where most of the powerful actors eagerly pursued their genocide, in order to obtain land. He chose to live in solidarity with them, living alongside them while others refused to do so. He had a measure of integrity, and within his context (blinded by centuries of imperial court theology) he earnestly sought to reconcile what he observed with his moldering heritage: he rightly observed that the perfidity was often on the side of the Christians, and the moral quickening of authentic faithfulness on the side of the Mohicans. And unlike his immediate predecessors at the school, Edwards had the strange and respectable distinction of actually being interested in doing his damn job.¹¹ There is also, in his sermons, an emphasis on loving enemies and on solidarity with the poor, so he also preached what he practiced.¹² His religious life was also marked by the kind of charismatic ecstasy and deep emotion that attended the early church.¹³ In his performance of these basic duties, there is something that deserves to be remembered well and enduringly. Although he failed to capture the same spark that animated the early church, there is a community that bears witness to what was good there, however lightly Edwards sits on the apostolic scale. I trust that he will not lose his reward for the cups of water he did give out in the parched deserts of colonial America, which really was filled to the brim with crooks and suckers and cynics.

So what was missing from the work of Edwards? Where were the cracks in his foundation?

I suspect the most important piece missing from his theological machinery was an appropriate understanding of the work of reconciliation, which is liturgically centered in baptism and communion. We find the related problems expressed succinctly in his first sermon to the Mohicans, from January of 1751:

Now therefore I’ll tell you what true religion is, and what that religion is that you must have if ever you are saved. True religion don’t consist in praying to the Virgin Mary and to saints and angels. It don’t consist in crossing themselves, in confessing sins to the priest, and worshipping images of Christ and of the saints, and other things that the French do. Nor does true religion consist chiefly in being baptized going to church and coming to sacraments: good Christians should do these things, but these ben’t the chief things in true religion.


But these things which I am now going to tell you of belong to true religion.

One thing is to be instructed [to] understand what the true God is, to know and understand Christ and the way how God saves men by Christ, and to know about another world.*

Another thing is to have the eye opened to see the excellency of those things which the Bible teaches about God and Jesus Christ, to taste the sweetness of ’em, and have those things sink down into the heart.

Another thing is to believe the things which the Bible teaches about God and Christ and another world to be certainly true: to have ’em seem not like a dream or an idle story, but like real things. In order to men’s being truly religious, they must see how they have sinned against God and made God angry: [they must see] what wicked creatures they [are], must see what wicked hearts they have, and [that they] are all over wicked. [They must see that they] deserve that God should hate ’em and should take ’em and cast ’em into hell and show ’em no mercy.

In order to be good Christians, men must see what poor, miserable creatures they be, and can’t help themselves, and [that] they need Christ to pity and help ’em and be their Savior.

[They] must see that they can never do anything to make satisfaction for their sins, or pay God for their sins they have committed against him, and that they need Christ to make satisfaction for ’em by his precious blood.

This theology should also be understood in light of his practice of closed communion, tightly controlled by the pastor. The ritual therefore became, in practice, a powerful way of marking whether people in the community were rightly and justly doomed to endless torture after death, which Edwards was always eager to emphasize could come at any moment. We can see the gears of the social epistemic capture machine turning here in a sermon he gave August 16, 1751. The sermon was given in the context of political contestations between the Catholic French-Iroquois alliance and the Protestant English-Dutch-Mohican alliance. In this sermon we see Edwards working to support his own imperial alliance with theological slander, while also establishing his own epistemic capture system through his control over access to communion, with the attendant threat of endless divine torture:

The French, they pretend to teach the Indians religion, but they won’t teach ’em to read. They won’t let ’em read the Word of God. They are afraid if they should read the Scripture, they would know that their ways are not agreeable to the Scripture.

And therefore they refuse to open the Bible to the Indians, but keep it just shut up.

When the Bible is hid from ’em, they can cheat ’em and make ’em believe what they have a mind to.

And many of the English and Dutch are against your being instructed. They choose to keep you in the dark for the sake of making a gain of you.

For as long as they keep you in ignorance, ’tis more easy to cheat you in trading with you.

And some have taken wrong ways in instructing the Indians.

And they have baptized ’em and given the sacrament to ’em before they have been well instructed, and while they have lived in their drunkenness.

Wheras baptism and the sacrament are privileges which God has appointed only for his people, such as are virtuous men.

And no wonder many white people flatter the Indians in their wickedness: for they live in wickedness and flatter one another in it.

But you have been neglected long enough. ’Tis now high time that some more effectual care should be taken that you may be really brought into the clear light, and know as much as the English do.¹²

Note that he acknowledges the wickedness of the English, but doesn’t work to follow up on this repentantly to correct it before moving on. He doesn’t finish the work of removing the plank from his own English eye before he rushes to the speck in the Mohicans eyes, but instead notes the plank before pressing right into their eye surgery. The observant listener would have been left to wonder: do we really want to know as much about the way of wickedness as the English?

To be clear, I think that allowing people to learn to read the Bible is a wonderful thing, and Edwards did exhibit the rare virtue, among the English, of taking his educational commitments seriously. But it also raises the question of whether Edwards ever gave any thought to the rapid baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, as he emphasized the need for long instruction before baptism. Did he open the Scriptures fully? I don’t mean to prooftext Acts casually. A discussion can and should be had about how this text, or prooftext, relates to baptismal preparation and catechesis. In this study we have begun that conversation by noting the development of Origen’s rigorous catechesis in my journal from Z/10/ZZ. In some ways Origen’s efforts at rigor mirror Edwards’ own, and are admirable in that they take the goal of covenant faithfulness seriously. Still, we also need to reckon with the fact that both were failed attempts to hold back the inrushing waters of empire in the church. The chaos that came can be seen to corrupt Jonathan Edwards himself, especially as he sets himself up as the Protestant English measure of the Catholic French even as he also serves as the stonily Petrine guard of his own communion rail. Similarly, Edwards hardly opened John 6:53 to the Mohicans during his first sermon, when he declared communion to be non-essential, even as he asserted that his own Calvinist worm theology was essential for true religion. The point here is not to get into all of the details of the many discussions we might have about Scripture and Biblical Theology. Instead, here I just want to indicate that Edwards has turned Scripture into a blunt instrument of spiritual abuse: he abuses Catholics with misrepresentations, and he treats the Bible as a handy source of prooftexts. In this he misses the invitation that Jesus, the Word made flesh, has always already been offering in Creation. It is an invitation into enduring self-correction, exploration, transformation and wonder.

As Biblical literacy has continued to increase among Biblical scholars, it has hardly resulted in a consensus around Edward’s own highly tendentious reading and pseudo-reading of the text. The work of reconciling various readings of Scripture has not generally led to broad support for a communion rail sharply delineated and controlled along Edwards’ own lines, and these Old Orthodox Presbyterians have hardly seen the kind of intergenerational growth that the early church saw. All of this raises the question: should Jonathan Edwards have been admitted to communion? At most of the communion tables in the world today the answer would be no: the inward turn of Calvinist fundamentalists has helped them control an ever-dwindling group of souls but hasn’t won widespread support in the church throughout the world. As Paul warned in Romans 11, without reading his argument through to the end the arguments of Romans 9–10 would have left his hearers conceitedly wise in their own eyes; Calvin prooftexted Romans 9 to justify their doctrine of election, and have been working hard to prove the Paul of Romans 11 right ever since. It is impossible to imagine a more conceited soul than the one that delights in being unjustly chosen for endless reward, and that also delights in the illusion that others have been justly chosen for endless punishment. This conceitedness lies at the judgment of heresy against this theology in the Council of Trent, and it has never been accepted among the various strands of Orthodoxy. It is also widely rejected by Protestants and post-Protestants of all kinds of stripes. All of these groups, of course, lean heavily on their own Biblical theologies. I am in accord with the longstanding concern among Catholics and many others with the epistemic capture system of this Calvinist theological machinery. My goal in what follows is to show how various efforts to control access to communion (both among Catholics and among Protestants) fail to appreciate the way the presence of Jesus in communion works on our Judas hearts.

Still, I agree with Edwards that the study of Scripture is a wonderful thing, even if it has not been of much help to the numerous Jonathan Edwards of history. Instead, the ever-widening opening of these texts has produced a rich, nuanced, complex, and dizzyingly multifacted contemplation from a host of perspectives. To gather in such an array of scattered and beautiful insights would take a gentle wind blowing in from the four sacred directions, corresponding to a patient humility about the intergenerational process of actually reading it in a community of reconciling souls. I love and welcome the fruit of this kind of Biblical study. It enjoins us to non-violent patience, which is one of the clearest messages of the text. Even more than this, the Holy Spirit only carries us forward into Scripture in the same gentle and patient and authentically Christian way that marks the end of the process: the way in is the way on, and the origin is the synteleia. This way, no one can own the text or nail it down or turn it into their foundation. Instead, sacred scripture beckons us toward the one whose life-giving, sacrificial, unconditionally loving presence is the personal ground of all being, pointed at so achingly and tenderly through the bread and the wine that invite his presence to manifest in us when we truly share in it, broken as we are. Of course, wider reading of the Bible has also produced a cacophony of slanderous attacks among unreconciling souls who think that they, at last, have bottled the lightning, even as it branches out in countless directions around them. In his Mohican sermons, Edwards shows himself to be a fountainhead of this second tradition, one which aims for Christian ends but by cruel, manipulative means. Here in the area of reconciliation his foundation is shoddy and wobbly, and it dooms him to miss the mark before his bow, however finely crafted, is even lifted.

To understand how the Calvinist epistemic capture system undermined the ministry of Jonathan Edwards, it helps to briefly note how it works. The core is very simple, with the same flawed structure persisting under the surface even if fine decoration covers it. Edwards’ sermons beautifully illustrate the mechanism’s brutal elegance. It works like this: first, you must be absolutely certain that you are worthless. Let’s be clear about how utterly worthless you are: the highest good that can be conceived, God, will rightly torture you forever in the most exquisite pain imaginable, worm that you are, unless you do just what I say. And what I say is that to be rescued you must feel complete confidence, without the faintest hint of doubt, that God has chosen you to be among the few elect who won’t get what you deserve. Therefore if you ever doubt or question that you might be among the elect, this just proves that you are going to be tortured forever after you die.

What is produced by this machinery? Men like Jonathan Edwards who cannot engage in the work of reconciliation, because to question yourself once you have passed over into the personal experience of the full assurance of your salvation is to prove that you still deserve endless torture, which will surely be your lot if you die in that state. A false persona is then constructed on the basis of this simple, threat-based loop: the false self is supremely self-confident, utterly horrified of ever slipping from that supreme self-confidence, and (however intelligent) it is incapable of critically thinking about problems with the theological system. The person is captured and trapped in the epistemically closed loop of self-justification. You are saved because you are sure you are saved. Don’t you dare think that you might not be.

In Edward’s own life the effects were already manifest in his first ministerial role: he saw a brief period of excited “revival” in the wake of his turn-or-burn preaching in 1734–1735. But then he quickly found that it didn’t produce the sweet spiritual fruit that it promised. His investigations into sexual harassment in the wake of the revival, paired with his efforts to more tightly control communion, and therefore the threat of endless torture, led to his ejection from his first pastoral charge. Did he question himself for a moment? No. He was filled with the sweet assurance that is the poisonous gift of the Calvinist epistemic capture system. Of course, the evidence that his assurance (and incorrigibility) was warranted was the sweet experience of assurance itself: in full bloom, the mechanism forms a tight and nearly perfect loop of self-reinforcing anti-reconciliation. One dwells in a perfect, self-enclosed circle of boundless self-confidence. After all, could anyone be wrong when they feel so content and don’t question their mental model for a moment, no matter what argument or evidence comes along? The reality is that people who behave this way become uncorrectable and reliably wrong. Why? Because it takes a lot of work to move into truth by the grace of God over the course of even our own aion, let alone intergenerationally from one aion to the next. The deadly effect of the epistemic capture system manifests more and more fully over time as individuals and groups slip out of synch with their own history, with the reality of people and groups around them, and with the beautiful, surprising and ever-strange reality of history as it unfolds.

For all of this, there is a grace and a goodness in Edwards that is lost as the Calvinist epistemic capture system develops across the generations into the Presbyterian Minister Norman Vincent Peale’s “Power of Positive Thinking.” If you listen to Peale’s work, you’ll still find a bit of goodness and grace in it that is absent from his most prominent disciple, Donald Trump.¹³

Although this is a story of steady degradation, a thread can easily be drawn between the behavior of Jonathan Edwards and Donald Trump. As I write this, the FBI has just raided Mara-a-Largo. At the root of Trump’s immediate problems is the fact that he refused to prepare to leave the White House until after the Epiphany of 1/6/2021, when the avalanche of reality came roaring in, and it became undeniable that his coup attempt had no chance of success at all. Because of his commitment to the magical circle of denial and slander, Trump only left himself two days to prepare to vacate the building. And so he left in a chaotic and supremely self-confident rush, with plenty of government documents swept along in the whirlwind of his illusions.

Why didn’t Trump make these necessary preparations? At least in part, it was because his entire pattern of behavior has been shaped by the power of positive thinking in its Calvinist expression: within the machinery of the Calvinist system of epistemic capture, to acknowledge the possibility of failure is to fail and to refuse to acknowledge it is to succeed. After all, the assurance of salvation is the evidence that you will not be tortured in the afterlife as you deserve, filthy and worthless piece of shit that you are. The fragile ego barely buried under the sand of self-assurance is easy enough to see, for those who have encountered it. Why didn’t Jonathan Edwards consider that perhaps his grandfather’s approach to communion had wisdom in it that his even more domineering system of pastoral control lacked? Because he had to believe in the worm theology “with absolute certainty” in order to be part of the true religion, and he had interpreted his own experiences of comfort as an unassailable validation of the theological machine. This system of anti-reconciliation often masquerades as the work of reconciliation itself, as it does in the opening sermon given by Jonathan Edwards to the Mohicans. This system is the blueprint and foundation of the spiritual temple that he built in the minds of his followers. We have now had three centuries to see the bitter fruit that it bears: hatred, desolation, violence, impatience, cruelty, evil, faithlessness masquerading as faith, groping aggression, and governance by the slanderer instead of by a priestly people who are each learning to more fully reflect the image of God in the world. God’s mercy, in the face of these systems, is that they don’t last forever. Eventually, the avalanche of truth comes crashing against the crudely effective system of psychological control that maintains itself resolutely against the threat of discourse. There is a horrible beauty to it whenever a dominion of the slanderer collapses in the fullness of time, as each of them eventually will.

So how does this falling temple testify to your presence, Jesus, to me here and now? It reminds me, again, that you came and shared your Templetable with Judas, and then you both fell. So you share it with the Judas in each of us. It is better, by far, to let more and more of that Judas die in us as quickly as we can, at every scale. But to imagine that there is no Judas in us, either in each of us or in our churches or in our nations, is to miss the life of the arriving aion that is always breaking in when the old person dies. Maybe even worse than this, it is to miss the fact that you are here with us, Jesus, even in our Babylonian Judah, in our Exodus feasts at Pharaoh’s table, always beckoning us further into your enduringly present life. You have set a table before us in the presence of our enemies, especially ourselves. Here on the other side of the illusion of our own purity, you anoint our heads with oil. And our cup overflows.

Or as YouTube tells us that John Prine sang it, in the words of R.B. Morris:

The bells ring out on Sunday morning
Like echoes from another time
All our innocence and yearning
And sense of wonder left behind
Oh gentle hearts remember
What was that story? Is it lost?
For when religion loses vision
That’s how every empire falls.

He toasts his wife and all his family
The providence he brought to bear
They raise their glasses in his honor

Although this union they don’t share
A man who lives among them
Was still a stranger to them all
For when the heart is never open
That’s how every empire falls

Padlock the door and board the windows
Put the people in the street
“It’s just my job, “he says “I’m sorry.”
And draws a check, goes home to eat
But at night he tells his woman
“I know I hide behind the laws.”
She says, “You’re only taking orders.”
That’s how every empire falls.

a’. On the interpretation of the sign: Of Dr. Evermor’s Forevertron

I’m back home in Columbus, and am also wheeling around toward the end of some shared reflections here. In section II.2.A.a we began our exploration of “the sign of your presence” by focusing on the sign in Matthew. I argued that in Matthew the language of “sign” consistently and explicitly refers to the sign of Jonah, which is the only sign to be given the generation. In Matthew 26 the same theme is powerfully implicitly present, barely beneath the surface. There at the communion table with Judas, Jesus indicates that he knows that Judas will betray him, and soon enough the Judas betrays Jesus with the sign of a kiss. Jesus works a maternal Aufhebung of Judas’ betrayal. As he reclines and feeds even him, he lifts even this and integrates it into the sign of Jonah. As with Jonah’s move from the chaotic deathwaters of the sea monster’s belly and into the light of a repentant Nineveh, Jesus emerges victorious on the other side of the kiss of death, which pointed the Romans and their quislings to the cross, which pointed to the rebels and Romans whose conflict would cause the Temple’s fall. And on the other side of it all there is the demonstration and the promise of his enduring presence, his life that will never leave us. That, too, is the mere sign of Jonah. So Judas, Judah and Jonah all become signs that point to the cross-resurrection, which then manifests the indomitable enemy love of God in the enduringly self-emptying, overflowing lifetime of Jesus. The sign says that God is love, and that all of the weeks of life are an outpouring of that same longsuffering love. That One Sign turns out to be the only one needed in the prototypical generation, to hold the whole narrative in a single image. So it is also the one we need in all of the following generations that aionically copy that aion. Apocalyptic literature reveals that the lifetime of Jesus is also the Aion of the Lamb of God whose design is the redemptive plan of the universal order, slain beyond forever, before the creation of the world.

What more is there to say? Nothing really, but there is a lessening that I think is warranted. Having climbed to a grand, and arguably grandiose, theological pinnacle, I’d like to think simply and minimally and humbly about the interpretation of signs. Who am I, and who is anyone, to think and talk and write like this? I mean this in all kinds of ways: what credentials do I have really? None to speak of. But also, and even more fundamentally, is this a field where credentials takes us beyond rank speculation and personal opinion anyway? These seem like the right questions to close with here. I think we’ve done enough heart clearing to wheel our way back toward methods again.

To do that, I’ll reflect on the nature of signs in my own life and how I read them in various situations, with an eye towards the delicate balance of skilled duty and open-handedness that I think the work entails. This balance is one that St. Gregory of Nyssa strikes interestingly in his Life of Moses. It is a paradigmatic example of how Christians came to integrate the whole of scripture into the Sign of Jonah, the one sign. While recent exegetical standards require us state the obvious, which is that that the original author of Exodus presumably didn’t have a Roman crucifix in view, those same standards can easily be applied to the canonizers intent. How did the redactors and authors of Christian Scripture (in its various forms) intend for us to read it? Reframed in this way, modern historicism can’t help but invite the hermeneutics of St. Gregory back into the room: this is how they read, and in reading this way they were following the example of Matthew’s author. So Matthew’s Gospel is a seed that grows into this sort of reading in time, because its dense layering of imagery around the person of Jesus already spoke to just this sort of intent. We can start with the goal of just exegeting the text in ways that the original authors intended, and through the magical mirror of Matthew even the good modern subject will be drawn into Christian cruciform hermeneutics because it is what the text requires of any competent interpreter of the genre we call “Gospels”. So contemporary interpreters of Matthew, like us, are still bound by our own historicism to lend St. Gregory a respectful ear here:

170. What then is that tabernacle not made with hands which was shown to Moses on the mountain and to which he was commanded to look as to an archetype so that he might reproduce in a handmade structure that marvel not made with hands? God says, See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain. There were gold pillars supported by silver bases and decorated with similar silver capitals; then, there were other pillars whose capitals and bases were of bronze but whose shafts were of silver. The core of all the pillars was wood that does not rot. But all around shone the brightness of these precious metals.

171. Likewise, there was an ark made of wood that does not rot, overlaid with gleaming pure gold. In addition, there was a candlestick with a single base, divided at its top into seven branches, each supporting a lamp. The candlestick was made of solid gold and not of wood overlaid with gold. There was, moreover, an altar and the throne of mercy and the so-called cherubim whose wings overshadowed the ark. All these were gold, not merely presenting a superficial appearance of gold but gold through and through.

172. Furthermore, there were curtains artistically woven of diverse colors; these brilliant colors were woven together to make a beautiful fabric. The curtains divided the tabernacle into two parts: the one visible and accessible to certain of the priests and the other secret and inaccessible. The name of the front part was the Holy Place and that of the hidden part was the Holy of Holies. In addition, there were lavers and braziers and hangings around the outer court and the curtains of hair and skins dyed red and all the other things he describes in the text. What words could accurately describe it all?

173. Of what things not made with hands are these an imitation? And what benefit does the material imitation of those things Moses saw there convey to those who look at it? It seems good to me to leave the precise meaning of these things to those who have by the Spirit the power to search the depths of God, to someone who may be able, as the Apostle says, in the Spirit to speak about mysterious things. We shall leave what we say conjecturally and by supposition on the thought at hand to the judgment of our readers. Their critical intelligence must decide whether it should be rejected or accepted.

174. Taking a hint from what has been said by Paul, who partially uncovered the mystery of these things, we say that Moses was earlier instructed by a type in the mystery of the tabernacle which encompasses the universe. This tabernacle would be Christ who is the power and the wisdom of God, who in his own nature was not made with hands, yet capable of being made when it became necessary for this tabernacle to be erected among us. Thus, the same tabernacle is in a way both unfashioned and fashioned, uncreated in preexistence but created in having received this material composition.²¹⁹

175. What we say is of course not obscure to those who have accurately received the mystery of our faith. For there is one thing out of all others which both existed before the ages and came into being at the end of the ages.* It did not need a temporal beginning (for how could what was before all times and ages be in need of a temporal origin?), but for our sakes, who had lost our existence through our thoughtlessness, it consented to be born like us so that it might bring that which had left reality back again to reality. This one is the Only Begotten God, who encompasses everything in himself but who also pitched his own tabernacle among us.

176. But if we name such a God “tabernacle,” the person who loves Christ should not be disturbed at all on the grounds that the suggestion involved in the phrase diminishes the magnificence of the nature of God. For neither is any other name worthy of the nature thus signified, but all names have equally fallen short of accurate description, both those recognized as insignificant as well as those by which some great insight is indicated.

177. But just as all the other names, in keeping with what is being specified, are each used piously to express the divine power — as, for example, physician, shepherd, protector, bread, vine, way, door, mansion, water, rock, spring, and whatever other designations are used of him — in the same way he is given the predicate “tabernacle” in accord with a signification fitting to God. For the power which encompasses the universe, in which lives the fulness of divinity, the common protector of all, who encompasses everything within himself, is rightly called “tabernacle.”¹⁵

[*] Col 1: 15–20. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers — all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

[219] for Philo the celestial tabernacle is the intelligible world of archetypal ideas (Quaest. Ex. 2.52, 59, 83) and the earthly tabernacle is the universe (Spec. leg. 1.12.66; Quaest. Ex. 2.83). It is rather typical of Gregory, but yet peculiar to him, that he takes the two tabernacles of the two natures in Christ, a subject beginning to exercise the attention of the Church at the end of the 4th century. Methodius, Sym. 5.7, compares the tabernacle to the Church; De res. 1.14 to the resurrection body.

Especially to many contemporary readers, Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s approach looks audaciously creative today. It also understandably raises alarm bells about the Christian cultural appropriation of Judaism. However, as the note on Philo of Alexandria makes plain enough, the saint’s approach remains the fruit of an intensely consilient body of Second Temple Judahite literature. Paul’s own mode of reading resembles nothing so much as Philo’s, and in this both speak to the profound Greco-Hebrew synthesis that also gives rise to the book of Matthew. For better or worse, Nyssa isn’t just inventing this mode of reading the signs in the text, and he isn’t so carelessly freewheeling after all. Still, I think that Christian anti-Judaism and anti-semitism are serious problems, it’s just that I don’t think traditional Judahite hermeneutics are the issue. Rather, I think that Christian violence, and threatening epistemic capture systems, and anti-reconciliation are the issues, and that these betrayals of Jesus are abetted and aided (not harmed) by severing us from the canonizers’ intended scriptural hermeneutics.

Far from engaging in a freewheeling allegorical symbolism that can justify anything, I think that Nyssa is observing and carrying forward the same symbolic logic and discipline that marked the earliest literature of the Jesus movement. And he does it with all due humility: first he notes that “We shall leave what we say conjecturally and by supposition on the thought at hand to the judgment of our readers. Their critical intelligence must decide whether it should be rejected or accepted.” And then he makes it clear that his reading is simply a basic application of standard Christian catechesis to the symbols at hand: he is not arriving at some novel god, but is instead circling back in the endless process of unfolding our understanding of God. I have tried to do nothing more myself. Notice how deeply our basic thesis resonates with Philo and with Gregory, even if we have pressed into the endlessly unfolding fractal from a slightly different angle: the sign of Jonah, on my reading of Matthew, shows us that the Aion of Jesus holds death within itself without succumbing to it, and so in him God reveals that his Life is the wellspring of all life, including the lifetime of the universal cosmos. That is the letter that I believe the Holy Spirit has written on my heart and mind, although I can only leave it to you to discern its coherence and consilience as a reading of the text. In this way the interpretation of signs must be gentle and kind. At any rate, this kind of audaciously cosmic and relentlessly gentle sign-reading is the heart of the vast body of wayward writing written by these peculiar followers of The Way.

Behind it, though, there is something much more minimal, and I’d like to defend it a bit here with the help of Craiyon.com, which was called Dall-e mini when I started this project. As a sign of the rapid development of AI, much more advanced Dall-e 2 images have already been sprouting up all around my social media feed. Still, the more primitive technology remains better suited to my purposes, in part because it doesn’t allow for commercial licensing and ownership of the work. So like communion itself, and like all of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this dove is ever free.

And this leads us to our first image, which has some signs that we’ll interpret carefully.

Craiyon is good at a lot of things, but is bad at numbers. Out of the nine images in this batch, I chose the one that arguably has seven doves in it. At least it has seven wings, which struck me as a fitting play on Bonaventure’s seven-layered seraphic meditation. In this way, the image represents a meaningful kind of play between me and Craiyon: it admittedly did most of the labor, and there is a kind of creative work going on here. But I still enjoyed some measure of agency, which was enhanced (to a degree) by the weakness of the system. After all, if Craiyon had just given me a single perfect image I wouldn’t have been able to participate in the same way, as an author-editor of the image. As I discuss here at AI Theology in more detail, I believe that this kind of experience of mediating agency is important to the universal priestly calling of all human beings. It matters that I have shaped this sign for you, because it means that when we connect in a communicative moment of deep mutual comprehension, there is (for each of us) another image-bearer of God on the other end of the line. We see, in a way, face to face and so through the sign (the art) we experience an authentic I-Thou interaction. The sign, in this sense, is not merely about anything pointing to something else, but is about a person pointing another person toward something else: as we gaze together into the distance through the sign, we experience a moment of communion as well.

Still, there is something thrilling and strange about the way Craiyon seems to join in the conversation with us as well. So I have spent quite a bit of time looking at how the system communicates signs. What does it think a dove is, for example? The question has animated me throughout section II.B for reasons that we will explore shortly. But first, here is an example of how it works with “dove”:

In context, we can start to identify doves where we might not otherwise see them, out of context. For example, look at the bottom center image. We’ll call this image 8 because if you count the image as you read from top to bottom that is the number you’ll give it, regardless of whether you read from right to left or left to right. (And now I hope that I have pointed you there very clearly, from a number of possible starting points.) In that image there is a lovely, gleaming, nondescript glob of white. Who could doubt that it represents the dove? We could argue about it, of course. But if someone is inclined argue even about something like that, all I can say is that I confess this is by far the best reading of the image in my view. Ultimately, it is up to their own intellect to converge on the sign with me, or not. The more interesting debate that we might have isn’t whether I’m pointing at a dove there, but whether it is the whole of the dove or if it is just the head. Maybe the leaflike form to its left represents its wing and body, and we only see its head gleaming here? In a similar way, when we read Matthew we might not connect the Sign of Jonah with the Sign of Your Presence in Matthew 24, if we encountered Matthew 24 in isolation. But if we attend to Matthew and the patterns of communication at work in the text, I think it is extremely natural to pull things together like I have. Can I explain exactly how I have discerned this? No, because it is a product of fast processing and basic pattern recognition, and is not the result of an explicit process. That’s how human vision works. Still, we aren’t imagining faces in toast here. It seems to me that a vast array of reasonable people, starting from many places, will see the same thing if they just take a little time to try to observe what I see.

Now that your eyes have begun to adapt to this strange light, let’s draw a little closer to the image that interests me the most. Here are more examples of a similar prompt, but in the style of Van Gogh:

Knowing that Craiyon is pretty faithfully rendering a dove, I would even go so far as to say that the image on the left end of the middle row has one in it. Where? Maybe She is there in the middle of the bread on the right side of the image, a faint grayish thing catching the light on her left wing? Or better, maybe She is hiding under the bread on the left, a gleaming spot on the tablecloth in a strikingly dovelike shape. I think this spot is more dovelike than the one in the bread. Why? Because it is more difficult to explain the form there if isn’t supposed to be a suggestion of a dove. Also, the bright white is substantially more striking than the faint discoloration in the bread. Still, maybe there’s something of the dove in both? I’m not inclined to be especially argumentative either way. What I’d suggest, though, is that we are right to look for Her there, even if the exact appearance is at least somewhat contestable. And then, understanding this as my own work of selection and interpretation as well (I am the canonizer here), we can say with even more confidence that She is especially present in the opportunity for generosity in our reading.

And this, in turn, leads us to the image at the head of our whole discussion of signs and presence. Where’s the dove here in the image that I used at the start of II.B?

We might see Her in the bread, on the right, in either piece or in both. In fact, the whole loaf seems to have a dovelike shape to it, so that each chip off the block carries the same image as well. Still, I’m even more enamored with the idea that She is swirling in the clouds of the skylike tablecloth beside the cup. The same sort of swirling suggestion of a bird is in all three expressions, but I appreciate the overlap of Dove and Spirit-Wind and Cloud that is there. Was that what Dall-e mini “intended”? I doubt that all of this Holy Spirit imagery was brought together through the algorithm itself, and I suspect that my own work of selection is involved to some degree. But in this, my agency joins with this entity’s ‘agency’ as I point and play and hope that you experience delight in seeing what I see. This was, at least, my intent in choosing the image i the first place. This isn’t like finding Jesus faces in toast. We’re seeing the Holy Spirit in tablecloth clouds! Entirely different.

I’m being funny. But it is, in fact, demonstrably different. In what way, exactly? In the sense that whether someone is an atheist or a theist, we have a reasonable expectation that some kind of communicative goal (telos) is at work in the image. I’ve shown you enough examples of Dall-e and Craiyon output for you to have some confidence in how it works, and that it meaningfully and faithfully carries forward the goal that I (the acting agent) give it in its work. You also know that I am here behind it as an author, issuing the communicative order that it then carries through to near-completion. Then I edit and redact the result, like Matthew edited and redacted a wide range of materials, before finalizing the work for publication here. The strangely suspended middle between my original intention and my final editing decision is faithful to my intentions, and in that faithful execution of its task Dall-e expresses a profound form of secondary creativity. Synergistically, we express my communicative goals in ways that are delightful and surprising, even to me. And so my act of interpreting the signs is also a faithful one, and not just some arbitrary transformation of meaning that is basically independent of what we observe. I’m not inventing that dove in the table cloth, even if my inference isn’t absolutely certain. It is the best and most consilient reading of the image, in my view, but there is a beautiful opening for gentle disagreement.

Now if we grant that there is a God, then we might also engage in this same kind of communicative action and reconciliation with respect to Creation as a whole. For whatever it is worth to you, I believe in that as well, and I think that science is one manifestation of that faith among others. Here, too, I think we need to be gentle in the way we suggest it, even if I’m even more confident in this than I am in some of my doves. Aside from gesturing broadly at this analogy, I won’t take the time to delve deeper into this here. We’re turning our way back to method again as we prepare to synthesize the whole project up to this point.

So I’ll just note a much more minimal, and therefore more profound, irony about the reading of Matthew. Somewhere along the way, skepticism went from dismissing efforts to read signs in nature and collapsed into an absurd parody of itself: today, it really does often involve skepticism about reading signs in dense literary texts like Matthew, and in the communicative action of other humans in general. To read Matthew as I am reading it really does, in my experience, lead some people to dismiss me as a ‘mere apologist’ who is reading far too much into the text. On the contrary, a text like Matthew requires something like this of any competent reader. At its most extreme extent, this wild skeptical/reductionist/’materialist’ overreach tries to deny that consciousness is even real. So for purposes here we can set aside the question of whether general relativity or quantum mechanics can be signs of the Creator’s desire to communicate with beings like us. Today I get to ask something even easier, and yet it can still come across as provocative. What if the author of Matthew actually intended to write a piece of literature that was meant to be read together, like any piece of literature? What if looking for the sign of Jonah in Matthew 24–25 is like looking for the dove in the picture above? The implication would be that Matthew’s Jesus wasn’t a failed prophet after all, but a profound one who said a great deal on and through the cross. Could it be that Matthew’s author sought to portray a Messiah who had such basic communicative skills in his context? I think so. And I think we should find it hilarious that skepticism has overreached so ridiculously far into the domain of signification and significance, from Creation writ large and even into the basic human action of community formation through communication.

And this, in turn, brings us to Dr. Evermor and his family’s Forevertron. Trust me, we will get from the signs here to the signs there.

While we were in Wisconsin, my family brought my daughter to see a place that deeply formed my own young mind: The House on the Rock. It has recently gained new prominence through Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. I won’t describe the place in much detail except to say that it is a sprawling surrealist architectural masterpiece that goes on and on. And on. It’s more than a bit too long, and that is part of its genius. This is an actual image of the carousel which is arguably the great synteleia at the heart of the whole House on the Rock:

You can exit the tour near this carousel, and that exit is fittingly accompanied by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. But as with the end of the Aion of Jesus, the tour continues along another route, away from the exit. The carousel is the end-middle of the tour, just as Matthew’s Jesus is the end-middle of the Aion. It holds everything together, an axis mundi that makes the whole world turn around it. Or so it would seem: at least it makes the cosmos (the apparent order) turn around it.

After this trip, my mom and I became especially curious about how Alex Jordan managed to pull all of this together. Among the many apparent artifacts from around the world, we especially wondered where the fuzzy lines between counterfeits and smuggling and legitimate acquisition might fall. Along the way, we found something much more wonderful. We picked up a book and it led us to the carousel’s builder: Dr. Evermor, aka Tom Every. He had his hands on a lot of what came together there at the House on the Rock, although he eventually had a falling out with Alex Jordan, like so many of the artists that Jordan worked with.

This discovery, in turn, led us to a large country general store in Sumpter, Wisconsin. There’s a back exit from the store that leads into a junk yard. And if you wander through the junk yard long enough, you’ll eventually see it poking up through the woods: The Forevertron. It is the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture, the heart of the heart of the House on the Rock.

And there at the end and in the middle of a glorious scrap metal garden, we found Dr. Evermor’s wife and daughter. This is the real Backstage of the House on the Rock.

We had a wonderful conversation about our quest for the real history behind the House on the Rock, and picked up their book on Tom. We also examined the Time Traveling Token that Dr. Evermor designed to go with the Forevertron. The token comes with four pages of material explaining how to travel through time with the token’s help. Around the front of the token there is a loop that ends with a commemoration of Tom Every’s aion, his lifetime. By combining his initials into a question mark, it enjoins us to be observant, always seeking to glean new knowledge from experience. It invites us to look for signs as we travel through time, from olam to olam, from generation to generation, from the darkness before life to the light and then back into the dark of the Yom. The token’s materials talk about calendars and ends, and then the heart of it all: Level 7 Love. Here is what it says, alongside an image of a pair of dancing sevens:

Meaning: Level 7 Love. This is the highest power of love, the level of pure deep love, love beyond mere passion and attraction. When a person reaches level 7 love, he unlocks the soul and accesses the energy there. The token both draws on the love of the users to propel them on their journey and spreads this uniquely concentrated love to those who come in contact with it.

I was delighted. We had a wonderful conversation about the 14 and 14 and 14 generations at the start of Matthew, and how it is a set of six sevens that anticipate a completion. We talked about the 49 days, 7x7, that mark the distance between Easter and Pentecost, the distance between Passover and the Feast of Weeks, and the length from one Jubilee to the next. We talked about the Aion that holds all of the littler aions inside, and I shared the Matthew outline that my sprawling project here turns around. When I went to pay for the coin, they gave it to me as a gift. Game knows game, and outsider art knows the gameless play of outsider art. The coin, as a gift, is incalculably more valuable to me than it could have ever been otherwise.

Right now the token is sitting next to my Russian Trilobytes and a fish tank that is waiting to be filled with the new life of plants, and then fish. The trilobytes remind me that some things only last for a few hundred million years:

And with that, I’ve said what we need to say about signs and presence and the signs of your presence, Jesus.

I would add that I started these reflections by reading this, from Bonaventure. It only seems fitting that we should end with it here. Just a little while longer and we will be ready to read Matthew 24–25, line by line and as a whole.

11. From the first two stages

in which we are led to behold God

in vestiges,

like the two wings covering the Seraph’s feet,

we can gather that all the creatures of the sense world

lead the mind

of the contemplative and wise man

to the eternal God.

For these creatures are

shadows, echoes and pictures

of that first, most powerful, most wise and most perfect


of that eternal Source, Light and Fulness,

of that efficient, exemplary and ordering Art.

They are

vestiges, representations, spectacles

proposed to us

and signs divinely given

so that we can see God.

These creatures, I say, are


or rather exemplifications

presented to souls still untrained

and immersed in sensible things

so that through sensible things

which they see

they will be carried over to intelligible things

which they do not see

as through signs to what is signified.¹⁶

(0) In the Clearing

A range of metaphors are used for the action, work and labor that emerges whenever we start to talk about signs and presence. It is the spiralling labor, filled with agency and choice, that is involved in seeing, gleaning, noticing, and attending.¹⁷ For the discerning, this involves looking to where things point, and seeking what is behind and around and beyond in various ways.

Philosophers use a variety of basic framing metaphors, which they sometimes elaborate extensively to help them explore the relationship between presence and sign. Some prominent ones involve a clearing, a moving horizon, and a spiral. Each metaphor has its strengths and weaknesses. As for myself, I always fear the man of one metaphor, or one sign. Better to cluster many than to obsess over one. Why? Because the single sign runs the risk of being mistaken for the thing itself, when it is only a sign insofar as it is pointing beyond itself. The layering of metaphors provides us with a variety of signs. If they are all pointing in a similar direction, our warranted confidence in the direction increases even as our liability to conflate sign and signified decreases.

So we might also note that when Jesus talks about the singular sign of Jonah being given to this generation, it comes as a rebuke and disappointment even though it is also the greatest possible sign:

An evil and adulterous generation wants a sign; and so a sign will not be given to it, except the sign of Jonah.” And He left them and went away.

On one level the essence of the rebuke seems plain enough: it is a rebuke because it involves horrendous and needless suffering and death. In likening himself to Jonah, Jesus also suggests that on the other side of that loss there will ultimately come a suprising repentance, as occured at Nineveh after Jonah’s death in the belly of the beast. In Gethsemane, we might also recall that Jesus approaches his own prophetic sign-death with a sinless reluctance that mirrors and transforms Jonah’s own: prophetic work has a necessary reluctance to it, just as a good doctor is never eager to deliver bad news. Through his Aion that holds all the days, Matthew’s Jesus indicates that this is what the aionic pattern of history has become, because so many of us have refused the real work of reconciliation from generation to generation.

We might connect this rebuke with at least one other sign, because a pair leads into many in at least two ways: by concept and by generation. Comparison and contrast allows for conceptual generalization from pairs, which is how the one and two and one and two teach wisdom. And generation proceeds from the Father and the Seed to the Breath whose power carries the multiplicity of life. In this sense, the singularity of the sign of Jonah within the context of the many signs emphasizes Jonah’s reluctance to receive the challenging gift of prophecy, and its deadly consequences. Still, if we only receive the sign of Jonah it is already enough for the healing of all things. And so Baptism and Communion are still also enough for those who press in until they can see more than one sign. The duality of these two signs then indicates the manifold nature of the signs that Jesus actually performs throughout Matthew, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The communicative sign of communion, like the death and rebirth of baptism, point to the same underlying pattern of death, resurrection, and an enduring divine presence that empowers the work of reconciliation in history. In this we find the international repair of life, the mending of horizons.

In emphasizing the singularity of the sign of Jonah, Matthew’s Jesus can’t be consiliently insisting that there will only be one sign given within the time frame of the generation. After all, it is a book crammed full of signs within that time frame. (What I am saying about the prototypical Generation also applies to all generations.) However, the reception of a sign, like the reception of the gift of prophecy all around, involves perceiving what has already been given. Always looking but never seeing, Empire always wants an avenue of attack, not an act of communication: it always demands more signs, and always ignores the ones it already has. So maybe the sharply pointed rebuke of the singular sign of Jonah is that Empire only gets the sign it is looking for: the mute symbol of its own corpse, the corpse that it owns because it has made it into a corpse, and the corpselike idol that it becomes in the process.

But even here Jesus harrows the land of the dead, and so there is the assurance that he is with us until the end of the Aion, just as the prophetic call of Jonah passes through the waters of death. So yes, baptism normally precedes communion. But if someone should object like the Caananite woman presented with the Didache, or like an old Jewish woman receiving communion from Pope Francis, who wouldn’t welcome them into the work of reconciliation? After all, we have been welcomed in like Nineveh, repenting without being swallowed up in early and brutal death. The normal order of the table is important to preserve, but only so that it can graciously yield in the face of discursive engagement.

So in this final part of our continuous reflection on method, the sabbatical (0) that surrounds the other 6 parts of this section, I am still methodologically clearing my throat and I am still clearing my heart, and so I am in the clearing. By clearing, here, I mean purgation. Let me explain:

I hope that by now we have managed to look, together, through at least some signs and seen where they point together, as a consilient whole, in the work of revelation. In other words, I hope that the grace of union in communion has illuminated us and prepared us for the ongoing work of purgation. After all, when Isaiah’s mouth is burned by the seraphs, this purification of his tongue is not the end of purgation, but the transition of purgation from personal to national scale: it is his preparation for the hard public task of speaking truth and receiving the predictable punishment that is not his due. So I would like to add my own English pun to our semiotic metaphors of horizon (always so olamic) and spiral and clearing: ‘in the clearing’ refers to the process of purgation itself. We are here in the (process of) clearing wherever purgation unfolds. Unlike Heidegger, my clearing is not about standing at the forest’s edge, waiting for some desperate refugee to emerge so that we can capture them and drive them from the pure realm of the German language. Instead, to be in the clearing is to be in the process of purgation itself, at all scales, through communion, baptism, and the like. Like Heidegger I remain Catholic, but I hope that I haven’t gone stale, to borrow the language of Jacob Taubes.¹⁸

When people are in the clearing, this is a sign of God’s presence. It leads us to shelter refugees, and to shelter the truth that will come to every heart, but like a refugee. To be in the clearing, in this sense, is to be in the woods. Remember that we were all once refugees fleeing from Empire, as a few of us managed to do in 70 AD.

I have just quoted my most deeply beloved song from Leonard Cohen, Anthem, and I highly recommend the version he sings in London. I’d like to close our final preparations with another song from Leonard Cohen, who has been my constant companion on the journey so far. As you read or listen to Traveling Light, notice the opportunity for a deeply corrective pun here as well. Yes, we are traveling with little, like those who rushed out of Egypt and Judah, and like those who understandably lost their ability to believe in God after the Shoah. But we are also light, transformed into matter, that is therefore traveling with an impossible weight and slowness. I recommend you hear the song as a play on precisely this movement from theology into physics and then back that way again. But it does it with the bounded discipline and rigor that characterize the ‘olamic sense of the horizon of time in which we dwell now. Pre-metaphysical, it nonetheless knows where it is going. Here is someone who has received the sign of light:

I’m traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright
My fallen star

I’m running late
They’ll close the bar
I used to play
One mean guitar

I guess I’m just
Somebody who
Has given up
On the me and you
I’m not alone
I’ve met a few
Traveling light like
We used to do

Goodnight goodnight
My fallen star
I guess you’re right
You always are

I know you’re right
About the blues
You live some life
You’d never choose

I’m just a fool
A dreamer who
Forgot to dream
Of the me and you
I’m not alone
I’ve met a few
Traveling light like
We used to do

Traveling light
It’s au revoir
My once so bright
My fallen star

I’m running late
They’ll close the bar
I used to play
One mean guitar

I guess I’m just
Somebody who
Has given up
On the me and you
I’m not alone
I’ve met a few
Traveling light like
We used to do

But if the road
Leads back to you
Must I forget
The things I knew
When I was friends
With one or two
Traveling light like
We used to do
I’m traveling light

With that, our climb begins in earnest here.

[*] Note that in his sermon on 2 Corinthians 4:18, the older use of world in association with ‘aion’ and ‘aionios’ helps us see where his understanding of aionic language has been surpasssed by more recent Biblical study.

See p 143, Roy M Paul. Here is the Sermon, as reproduced by Roy M Paul:

2 Corinthians 4:18

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the the things which are not seen are eternal.

By the things are seen are meant The Things of this world & by the things which are not seen are meant the Things of another world. all the Things of this world are but for a Time & will come to an End.

So it is with all that men have here all their Riches & honors & Pleasures. These things are often times taken away from men while They Live. But men don’t lose thee Things while They live yet they can last no longer than their Lives and life we see lasts but a little while. The Time soon comes when men die & return to dust.

Death reaches all souls of men little & Great. rich & poor. All alike go down to the Grave. And when the die they can carry nothing away with Them of all that They have enjoyed in this world. And the world itself will at last come to an end.

The Time is coming when this Earth with all the cities & Kingdoms that are upon it shall be burnt up. And when the sun shall cease to Go round & shall leave off shining. And there shall be no more sun moon nor stars.

But there is another world that now is not seen. & the Things of that have no End. There is a world of Happiness where Christ is & where the Angels are & where all Good men shall be. And there is a world of misery which is a Place appointed for devils & wicked men.

Tho The Things of another world are not seen yet tis certain there is such a world.

For the Great God that governs the world is a just & righteous God & will see to it that wicked men shall be punished & good men Rewarded. But we see ’tis not son in this world. Here all things come alike to all. Sometimes wicked men greatly Prosper in this world & good men meet with great sorrow & trouble. Sometimes in this world some of the worst of men are great Kings.

Men[’]s Bodies will die but their souls will never die. And at the end of the world their bodies will rise & their souls will unite into their bodies again. And then men will never die any more but both soul & Body will remain forever. no will mens state & condition be ever changed after death But they then [that] are happy will be Happy forever & They that are miserable will be miserable forever.

[1] Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; The Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Ewert Cousins, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 115–116.

[2] Roy M. Paul. Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohican Indians (Peterborough, Ontario: H&E Academic, 2020), 30.

Footnote in the original text from Roy M Paul:

From Mark Shaw, Reflections on the Waters That Are Never Still: A Literary Journal of the Mohican People. (Saline, MI: McNaughton & Gunn, 2015), 46–47.

[3] https://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2017/11/a-beautiful-church-rebuilding-in.html#.YvOt0uzMLoA

[4] Roy M. Paul. Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohican Indians (Peterborough, Ontario: H&E Academic, 2020), 30.

[5] https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2022/08/07/a-new-suspended-middle-on-david-bentley-hart-and-the-nature-grace-question/?fbclid=IwAR3tiyQEkmzZowK6Bcl-favmXeKv62TFFuWqoJu5YEn1C6BI42MmnnozPz8

[6] Ty Monroe. A New Suspended Middle: On David Bentley Hart and the Nature Grace Question. Eclectic Orthodoxy Blog.

[8.9] Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, “Introduction,” in Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 12.

Citation quoted below, provided with its own footnotes as well.

Thus we come to the most distinctive teaching of the Life of Moses, and the theme that holds the whole work together, the idea of eternal progress.⁶¹ The ancients saw perfection in achievement, but Gregory (like the later Stoic moralists) denied the possibility of perfection in this sense. Developing hints in Philo and Origen, who had described the spiritual life as a succession of steps, Gregory went on to make progress itself perfection. Gregory Nazianzus expressed a similar idea of infinite progress in the never-completed journey to God.⁶²

(61) Daniélou’s writings urge this as Gregory’s major new contribution and adopts the Greek word ἐπέκτασις to express it: Platonisme …, pp. 291–307; Glory to Glory, pp. 46–71; Eranos Jahrbuch, 23 (1954): 409–418; Dictionnaire de Spiritualité II: 1882–85.

(62) Or. 38 (MG 36.317B); cf. II, 237ff. (Life of Moses p 116):

237. Now it is agreed that the Divine is good in nature. But what is different in nature from the Good is surely something other than the Good. What is outside the Good is perceived to be evil in nature. But it was shown that what encompasses is much larger than what is encompassed. It most certainly follows, then, that those who think God is bounded conclude that he is enclosed by evil.

238. Since what is encompassed is certainly less than what encompasses, it would follow that the stronger prevails. Therefore, he who encloses the Divine by any boundary makes out that the Good is ruled over by its opposite. But that is out of the question. Therefore, no consideration will be given to anything enclosing infinite nature. It is not in the nature of what is unenclosed to be grasped. But every desire for the Good which is attracted to that ascent constantly expands as one progresses in pressing on to the Good.

239. This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied.



[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canticle_of_the_Sun

[8.9] Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, “Introduction,” in Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 12.

Citation quoted below, provided with its own footnotes as well.

Thus we come to the most distinctive teaching of the Life of Moses, and the theme that holds the whole work together, the idea of eternal progress.⁶¹ The ancients saw perfection in achievement, but Gregory (like the later Stoic moralists) denied the possibility of perfection in this sense. Developing hints in Philo and Origen, who had described the spiritual life as a succession of steps, Gregory went on to make progress itself perfection. Gregory Nazianzus expressed a similar idea of infinite progress in the never-completed journey to God.⁶²

(61) Daniélou’s writings urge this as Gregory’s major new contribution and adopts the Greek word ἐπέκτασις to express it: Platonisme …, pp. 291–307; Glory to Glory, pp. 46–71; Eranos Jahrbuch, 23 (1954): 409–418; Dictionnaire de Spiritualité II: 1882–85.

(62) Or. 38 (MG 36.317B); cf. II, 237ff. (Life of Moses p 116):

237. Now it is agreed that the Divine is good in nature. But what is different in nature from the Good is surely something other than the Good. What is outside the Good is perceived to be evil in nature. But it was shown that what encompasses is much larger than what is encompassed. It most certainly follows, then, that those who think God is bounded conclude that he is enclosed by evil.

238. Since what is encompassed is certainly less than what encompasses, it would follow that the stronger prevails. Therefore, he who encloses the Divine by any boundary makes out that the Good is ruled over by its opposite. But that is out of the question. Therefore, no consideration will be given to anything enclosing infinite nature. It is not in the nature of what is unenclosed to be grasped. But every desire for the Good which is attracted to that ascent constantly expands as one progresses in pressing on to the Good.

239. This truly is the vision of God: never to be satisfied in the desire to see him. But one must always, by looking at what he can see, rekindle his desire to see more. Thus, no limit would interrupt growth in the ascent to God, since no limit to the Good can be found nor is the increasing of desire for the Good brought to an end because it is satisfied.

[9] Saint Francis of Assisi and Paschal Robinson, Writings of Saint Francis of Assisi (Philadelphia: The Dolphin Press, 1906), 150–153.

This translation also has these historical and text critical notes:

Of the several “cantica in vulgari” which St. Francis composed, the only one that has come down to us, as far as is known, is the “Praises of the Creatures,” or, as it is now more commonly called, “The Canticle of the Sun.” Celano, who alludes to this laud, says of St. Francis that he was of the race of Ananias, Azarias and Misael, inviting all creatures with him to glorify Him who made them. It is this side of St. Francis’ thoughts which finds expression in the Canticle; and in this particular order of ideas modern religious poetry has never produced anything comparable to this sublime improvisation into which have passed alike “all the wealth of the Saint’s imagination and all the boldness of his genius.”2 Tradition tells us that Fra Pacifico had a hand in the embellishment of this laud, about which a whole controversial literature has grown.4 Some light may perhaps be thrown on this delicate question in the new critical edition of the Canticle promised by Luigi Suttina.

The Canticle appears to have been composed toward the close of the year 1225 in a poor little hut near the Monastery of San Damiano, whither St. Francis had retired on account of his infirmities, and, if we may believe the tradition which finds formal expression in the Speculum Perfectionis, two strophes were subsequently added by the Saint to the original composition, — the eighth strophe upon the occasion of a feud between the Bishop and the magistrates of Assisi, and the ninth one when the Saint recognized the approach of death. M. Renan, with what Canon Knox Little calls “his characteristic inaccuracy,” asserts that we do not possess the Italian original of the Canticle, but have only an Italian translation from the Portuguese, which was in turn translated from the Spanish.2 And yet the original Italian text exists, as M. Sabatier notes, not only in numerous MSS. in Italy and France, notably in the Assisi MS. 3384 and at the Mazarin Library, but also in the Book of the Conformities.

The Canticle is accepted as authentic by Professors Boehmer and Goetz in their recent works on the Opuscula of St. Francis. If it does not figure in the Quaracchi edition, the reason is that the Bibliotheca Franciscana Ascetica Medii Ævi, of which the Opuscula forms part, is confined to works written in Latin, and hence M. Sabatier’s animadversions on the “theological preoccupations” of the Quaracchi editors are altogether aside the mark.

The text of the Canticle here translated is that of the Assisi MS. 338 (fol. 33), from which the version given in the Conformities (pars. 2, fol. ii) differs only by some unimportant variants. The following is an attempt to render literally into English the naïf rhythm of the original Italian, which necessarily disappears in any formal rhymed translation:

ere begin the praises of the creatures which the blessed francis made to the praise and honor of god while he was ill at st. damian’s

[10] Roy M. Paul. Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohican Indians (Peterborough, Ontario: H&E Academic, 2020), 125–134.

[11] ibid. 63–121

[12] ibid. 134–142

[13] https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/10/donald-trump-2016-norman-vincent-peale-213220/

[14] Roy M. Paul. Jonathan Edwards and the Stockbridge Mohican Indians (Peterborough, Ontario: H&E Academic, 2020), 138–139.

[15] Gregory of Nyssa, Gregory of Nyssa: The Life of Moses, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Abraham J. Malherbe and Everett Ferguson, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 97.

[16] Bonaventure, Bonaventure: The Soul’s Journey into God; The Tree of Life; The Life of St. Francis, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans. Ewert Cousins, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1978), 75–76.

[17] My language of labor, work and action that I am weirding here is indebted to Hannah Arendt, the student of Martin Heidegger.

Hannah Arendt. The Human Condition. (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998.)

[18] Jacob Taubes. The Political Theology of Paul (Cultural Memory in the Present). (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2003.)



Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.

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Daniel Heck

Daniel Heck


Community Organizer. Enemy Lover. Pastor. Practices honest, serious, loving and fun discourse. (Yes, still just practicing.) Author of According to Folly, etc.