Dear Kids,
I’ve a suspicion that the lessons of nature that go unlearned end up being…well, unlearnable…period.

Let me try again: Our knowledge is metaphorical and imaginary….

Let me try again: We cannot appreciate a concept unless we have had an experience from which we can image it…
No, wait, wait, wait. This is what I mean, if I tell you that a Krag is a creature with wings like a Jorg and the teeth of a Mulph, how much have I told you? Maybe you’ve learned some new words, and if they’re Latin ones, they might be useful in sounding intimidating in a smart sort of way. But beyond that, not a lot has happened- not much was learned. No communication took place. But if I say a Krag has the thin skinned wings of a bat (only these wings are enormous) and that its head resembles a lion’s head, then you can begin to form some idea of what a Krag might be. Does that make sense? We cannot appreciate a concept unless we’ve had an experience from which we can image it.

When we are told by St. Paul that God’s attributes are evident from nature’s book, we should expect to find the creaturely finger that points to his power, beauty, justice etc. And they are very evident. Now, if I were to say that God is acertonastical. What does that mean? Maybe I’d add that it refers to an indefinable, completely and utterly unexperiencable state of acertonisty. “Oh” you say knowingly, “I see,” but you’re lying because there is nothing there to learn. If you’ve not experienced something analogous, there is nothing there to see.

How about the word holy? What does it mean? If Otto was right about The Numinous, then where do we go in our experience to fill up the meaning? More often than not we go to one of the other attributes- to things like power or justice. “Holiness is really one of these,” we say. We end up making God’s people speak in redundancies- “God is good and (good).” We might as well drop one of those “goods,” and it really ought to be the one that isn’t spelled g-o-o-d. Holiness disappears.

This is one of two possible outcomes, if what we are talking about is beyond our experience. Either the particular facet of God, to which the word Holiness is meant to refer becomes lost because mistaken for something else, or we are simply going around mouthing words that have no meaning at all. Either way, the practical molding influence that only an understanding of God’s Holiness can provide is lost. Is that a big deal? It depends on how important God’s holiness is. You tell me.

It seems to me (another suspicion) that there is more than coincidence involved in the fact that experiences of “Otherness” are “pooh-poohed” in both nature and in the worship of nature’s God. A disregard for the transcendent seems to lie at the heart of the whole business. Or worse, it’s the collapsing down of the transcendent into the mundane and immanent. Spooky moments are nothing but superstition and irrational fear. God is nothing more than Creation blown infinite. A lot of “Nothing mores” and “Nothing buts” going on there. But that is the great error of our time- “Nothingbutteryism.”

Modernity knows (for dissection has established it to be a fact) that one place is no different than another. Any desire to lower your voice in a cathedral, a graveyard or darkened forest is “nothing but”…and should be out grown. God’s holiness is nothing more than sheer power and majesty and so you should obey him simply because he can squish you like a bug if you resist. Just like Hitler or…wait. That can’t be right. Why do we follow/worship God?

Practically, I believe that a disregard for the mysterious and disturbingly “other” experiences of our world is both a symptom and a cause of the loss of reverence. That’s where the piper comes to be paid- in the loss of Reverence. We are taught that there is nothing in this world that is truly unnatural, uncanny…spooky- at least not for the educated. God is explicable in terms of human qualities- only ones blown up really big. And so we should approach him like we approach anyone else- only really loud. In our relationships there is no area, station or calling that can be considered “other.” There is nothing sacrosanct. Not the umpire overseeing the game- “punch the blind bastard,” not the King- “who does he think he is,” nor a woman’s honor.

The whole concept of Reverence seems as old fashioned and nonsensical in our culture as taking seriously a child’s fear of the night. But that is the point.

Thomas Howard tells of a group of students taken by a learned cultural anthropologist into the depths of an unmapped jungle. They wander into a village just in time to see a scantily clad witch doctor slicing the head off of a chicken. Violently flinging the warm blood across the altar in front of him, the old man repeatedly bows towards the image. The scientist turns towards the students and says “Here we have a perfect example of the earliest stages of religious evolution and a clear manifestation of the myth of the fertility god’s enacted death…” Obviously, the two men see something very different taking place.

If you had to choose, who would you side with? Are you with the Scientist or the Witch Doctor? Seems a clear choice to me: The witch doctor knows many things the Scientist does not- that there are some things before which we must bow, that sacrifice is required and that it must be made in blood, that there is more to reality than can be seen, etc, etc

The battle is decided when one side concedes the bedrock contention of the other. It seems to me that we need to be careful whose weapons we are using and what we are aiming at.

If there is “more than” to God, if he is truly “other,” then that otherness finds expression in the image of his creation. Those innocent, profound and radically molding places, times and encounters should be recognized and treasured- brought captive to the King to whom they rightfully belong. This is simply seeing them for what they are- facets of our God’s great glory. Since the garden, this has been man’s challenge- to properly name God’s creation. It’s always been that way. Modern men and women have the distinction of adding an additional challenge- they have set out to feel shame at the awareness of certain creatures (Spookiness wasn’t the first) or to deny that they exist at all. That’s a tough row to hoe…because they do.

One night you’ll be alone. The moon will be full, but ducking behind the gray stretched clouds, as if afraid to watch. A solitary dog will bark in the distance and a cold blast of air will send the dead leaves past your face and swirling upwards. A thought occurs to you. Not a thought really, more of an awareness; and you respond by glancing over your shoulder at the woods that lay behind. You’re looking for something in the almost perfect blackness that lies between the trees. Not sure what, just …something. You shudder and gather up the groceries as quickly as you can; trying to tell yourself that nothing is going on.

Is there? Anything going on, I mean. I hope you answer, “Yes, Indeed” and offer thanks for the visitation.


Dear Kids,

When y’all were small we taught you that “God is a spirit: infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” I regret it now- not because I think any of that stuff is wrong, but rather because taken together I think it gives the wrong impression. It’s too impersonal. Too…well, precise. I wouldn’t define any of you in that way. Maybe a tractor or a college course- but not a person. Instead I’d say “that one is charmed when it comes to animals. Why once she…” or “That one is too much like me; she…” You see, I’d tell a story.

Moderns (and I’m sure you know that’s not a category I want any of you to fall into) subscribe to the whole ‘reductionistic definition’ thing. They believe we understand something best when we’ve taken it apart and labeled all the innards. The problem with that approach is that you loose the thing you’re trying to get to know, and the sort of knowledge you end up with is of a rather limited kind.

If I were to gut your mother and analyze precisely her chemical makeup, I wouldn’t learn half as much about her as a trip to the beach would reveal…and I’d get to take her home afterwards, too. You can see the advantage. The definition of God up there can (I didn’t say must) give the impression that our God is a substance of some sort (maybe a giant glowing silly putty like blob of “BEING”) or simply the sum total of his various attributes. If it’s not possible to define your mother in that way, it’s surely not possible with your God.

You can see that there’s something else there- something beyond all the parts. Rudolph Otto has written the classic work on that “something.” His book is called The Idea of the Holy. C.S. Lewis listed it as one of the ten most important books in his life. In it Mr. Otto claims that the “something” is really the heart of our concept of the Divine. It, not the attributes listed above, is common to all the religions of man. He calls it the Numinous. I like that word. Numinous. Anyway, it refers to the mysterious, indefinable and overwhelming sense of power, unapproachability and raw energy of God. He is similar in some respects to his creation, because she was created to be so; but there is an unbridgeable chasm between the Creator and his creation. He is “Other”. He alone is God. People know they are in the presence of the Numinous by the effect it has on them. This effect has been called the mysterium tremendum . That’s a mouthful, so people have tried awe, dread and similar words to describe it. But they don’t quite do the trick either. When you’re in the presence of the Numinous you’re struck dumb in amazement because it is so different from what you expected to encounter, you shudder as this Absolute begins to touch the deepest points of your feelings, and there is a profound awareness of your creatureliness, our dependence, our vulnerability and sheer contingency before this Totally Other.

C.S Lewis illustrated it in the introduction to his Problem of Pain, “Suppose you were told that there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost. It is “uncanny” rather than dangerous, and the special kind of fear it excites may be called Dread. With the Uncanny one has reached the fringes of the Numinous. Now suppose that you were told simply “There is a mighty spirit in the room” and believed it. Your feelings would then be even less like the mere fear of danger: but the disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking–described as awe, and the object which excites it is the Numinous.”

Along with the mysterium tremendum comes an almost irresistible attraction. Otto called this the mysterium fascinosum. Here’s an observable distinction between animalistic fear and the mysterium tremendum. We long to get away from what we fear. We are drawn to that which fills our heart with terrifying awe. The traditional word for all of this is holiness. It’s not first and foremost about right behavior. Rather it’s about the “Otherness” that lies at the heart of our God. To be in the presence of the Holy is to be struck dumb, trembling and on our face. Witness St. John in his Revelation- the same John who laid his head on the Savior before- falling down speechless at the Holiness’ manifestation. It is terrifying to behold…and yet ecstatically beautiful and attractive. With sin, certainly, a new experience of fear began. But the mysterium tremendum is part of the Creator’s and his Creation’s relationship. It never depended on sin for its kindling. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” This was as true of unstained Adam as it was of David untold ages later.

If it’s true that Creation was meant to point towards it creator, if it’s true that we see his power in the sea, his care in a mother’s look, his beauty in a flower and taste his goodness in a nibble of stinky cheese, then where do we find creaturely images of his Numinance? This seems to me to be a very important question.

Lewis hinted towards my view in his comment about ghosts in the quote above. There are dark corridors that frighten and draw us, shadowy, solitary stands of trees that touch us to the point of shuddering as we contemplate passing through them. There’s Luna’s bright roundness flirting out the wolf’s lonely howl. We stop to look. We stop to listen and shiver at the thought. Could it be that certain creatures have been gifted with this particular “telling.” Is it coincidence that both Egyptian and Celt shuddered at the passing of a black cat? Or are there places and things that were “painted” just so to remind us that He is frightening because…well, like the face in the window He doesn’t belong- not to this world.

Creepy, Eerie, Uncanny, Disturbing, Awesome. Holy…Spooky. Amidst our overly familiar vision of a god who is little more than a “buddy from out of town,” don’t we need a better understanding of his untouchable otherness.

“You think that was something” we should say to our friends as we’re leaving this year’s most unsettling haunted house. “Wait till you meet my God.”

On Spookiness- Part I

Dear Kids,

He could have put us on a great, flat ping-pong table. God, I mean.

If naked, efficient existence was the point, then a ping-pong table would have been just the thing. Of course it would’ve needed to be big, really big…but “the world as table” is certainly imaginable. He could have painted it all white, too. Nothing fancy. He could have done without the whole beautiful, rolling, landscape thing. No poofy dandelions. No “wet” water. No sunsets or peacock feathers. He could have, but he didn’t. Do you ever wonder why?

Jesus’ people have always answered that a big white table just wouldn’t serve God’s end. You know, in the same way that sleeping in a wet bed or taking your brother or sister to the prom just doesn’t cut it. It’s imaginable, but not worth the trouble. There was more to food than fuel, more to legs than movement, more to love than reproduction. More! And that ‘more’ was wrapped up in all the unnecessary, impractical and seemingly superfluous stuff. The big white table isn’t sufficient, because our God envisioned creation as having something to say. Something to declare. And a big white table just isn’t up to saying it.

Creation was meant to state, “God is like this. God is like that.” He’s a rock, a father, an ocean and a lion. Not those things exactly. They’re creatures. He’s Creator. But each has something to say about him. Each declares his glory. The whole creation, all of it, pulls on our sleeve and points upward to her source when we give her our attention. The whole earth is full of the glory of God. That was the idea, anyway. Since men and women began mistaking the advertisement for the real thing, Creation had gone wrong. But twisted or not, she keeps on declaring, none the less. While the naked bodies of husband and wife have something wonderfully important to say about the God who first dreamed up such a thing, the bleating terror of the baby wildebeest being flayed by lion’s claws shows the reality of the same thing when love is removed. We’re surrounded by images. Some of them “were from the beginning”. Others came with the fall. Everything pulls at our sleeve.

I want you to think about a particular creature. Tell me if she was present in Eden before the damned serpent caused our parents to question the Fatherhood of their God. I’m speaking of Spookiness. Did she exist when our God declared all things good, or did she arrive only when the situation had changed and the new fallen reality required new ugly images? I believe she was always there. I think she will still be there at the very end, because she has something to say about God that needs saying. Finding what that might mean will require that we take a more direct look at our God. I hope to do that next.

“…..Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe. A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teaching in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge of experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context which gave them significance; parts of theories unrelated either to the other bits and pieces of theory which they possess or to experiment; instruments whose use has been forgotten; half-chapters from books, single pages from articles, not always fully legible because torn and charred. Nonetheless all these fragments are reembodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics, chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective merits of relativity theory, evolutionary theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving portions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably.”

At the end of the book MacIntyre returns to this chaotic vision of the future, dourly concluding that it isn’t of the future at all- it’s a description (of the intellectual and ethical reality) of today. Already, he says, we are living amid an intellectual and ethical apocalypse. Our arguments and rational forms are shallow tropes of an earlier, robust, rooted ethical dialogue. We have fragments and scraps from those times, but mostly we stumble on doing something we mistakenly call ethics, uprooted from telos- that is a sense of where we’re headed and why.”

– Joustra and Wilkinson

How to Survive the Apocalypse: Zombies, Cylons, Faith and Politics at the End of the World


Michaelmas is almost here, and this year it’s possible that some of my daughters will be celebrating in their own homes. I know its good- the way its supposed to be, but I don’t like it much.

Has me thinking back on Michaelmases past.  Hard to believe this was 9 years ago.

Alongside my ever simmering parental fear, the feast day brings not only nostalgia, but the comforting knowledge that for each of my children

…he shall give his angels charge over thee,

To keep thee in all thy ways.

They shall bear thee up in their hands,

Lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

Glory to you Lord Christ for precious children, angelic watchers and, yes, the passing of time that brings with it the gifts of maturity and……grandchildren.

The governing story at the heart of evangelicalism is the conversion narrative… For evangelicalism, the “gospel” is typically framed not as Scripture frames it—as the historical story of God’s salvation accomplished in his Son through the public events of Christ’s incarnation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost, and return in glory—but as the “story” of how the sinful individual can be saved in the present. It’s a story of how Christ can become an active part of my personal biography rather than a historical account that stands apart from my biography, which I must enter as I die to myself and my old biography and become a part of Christ’s life…

Evangelicalism’s foregrounding of the conversion narrative leads to a particular understanding of the formation of the Christian’s subjectivity. In a tradition that placed its primary accent on the objective, historical narrative of God’s work in Christ, Christians’ subjectivity would principally be formed as they entered into a larger story outside of themselves and as this story shaped and identified them. By contrast, within evangelicalism, Christian subjectivity is effected chiefly from within, through the immediacy of the “conversion experience.”

With this understanding of genuine Christian subjectivity as arising from within comes a suspicion of the place of the objective, external, and institutional dimensions of Christian faith—of creeds, confessions, theologies, liturgies, sacraments, rites, and churches. Rather than being valued as means of spiritual formation and incorporation into the life of Christ and his people, they are viewed as a sort of dead shell that surrounds the internal, living reality of Christian faith, residing purely in the believer’s heart. Their sole value arises as they serve as means by which we express the spiritual life within us. The sacraments and institutions of Christianity cease to be regarded as acting to form us into a living body and start to be seen as mere public expressions of our private faith. I am baptized, not so that I might participate in and be formed by the life and death of Christ and his body more fully, but in order publicly to declare my personal and private belief.

Evangelicalism places on all within it a responsibility to fashion a spiritual identity from out of their own divinely visited subjectivity. To be evangelical is to account for one’s identity from out of one’s own “born again” spiritual experience and not in terms of membership or participation in some external institution or ritual. The typical evangelical narrative of conversion begins by establishing an antithesis between genuine Christian identity and “external” identities—“I was raised in a Christian home and grew up attending a gospel-believing church, but. . . .” Rather than emphasizing an outward-looking affirmation of one’s belief in the truth and saving power of historical gospel events, and the reliability of God’s Word and promise in the “external” means of grace, the evangelical “personal testimony” is principally concerned with presenting a detailed account of one’s arrival at a believing subjectivity…

… the significance of these reflections becomes more apparent when we recognize that this evangelical account of Christian identity finds noteworthy analogies in LGBT communities…

…As we come to a realization of the faults in others, we may find we are seeing a mirror image of the faults in ourselves.


-Alastair Roberts

Gender Ideology Harms Children

March 21, 2016 – a temporary statement with references. A full statement will be published in summer 2016.

The American College of Pediatricians urges educators and legislators to reject all policies that condition children to accept as normal a life of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex. Facts – not ideology – determine reality.

1. Human sexuality is an objective biological binary trait: “XY” and “XX” are genetic markers of health – not genetic markers of a disorder. The norm for human design is to be conceived either male or female. Human sexuality is binary by design with the obvious purpose being the reproduction and flourishing of our species. This principle is self-evident. The exceedingly rare disorders of sex development (DSDs), including but not limited to testicular feminization and congenital adrenal hyperplasia, are all medically identifiable deviations from the sexual binary norm, and are rightly recognized as disorders of human design. Individuals with DSDs do not constitute a third sex.1

2. No one is born with a gender. Everyone is born with a biological sex. Gender (an awareness and sense of oneself as male or female) is a sociological and psychological concept; not an objective biological one. No one is born with an awareness of themselves as male or female; this awareness develops over time and, like all developmental processes, may be derailed by a child’s subjective perceptions, relationships, and adverse experiences from infancy forward. People who identify as “feeling like the opposite sex” or “somewhere in between” do not comprise a third sex. They remain biological men or biological women.2,3,4

3. A person’s belief that he or she is something they are not is, at best, a sign of confused thinking. When an otherwise healthy biological boy believes he is a girl, or an otherwise healthy biological girl believes she is a boy, an objective psychological problem exists that lies in the mind not the body, and it should be treated as such. These children suffer from gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria (GD), formerly listed as Gender Identity Disorder (GID), is a recognized mental disorder in the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association (DSM-V).5 The psychodynamic and social learning theories of GD/GID have never been disproved.2,4,5

4. Puberty is not a disease and puberty-blocking hormones can be dangerous. Reversible or not, puberty- blocking hormones induce a state of disease – the absence of puberty – and inhibit growth and fertility in a previously biologically healthy child.6

5. According to the DSM-V, as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.5

6. Children who use puberty blockers to impersonate the opposite sex will require cross-sex hormones in late adolescence. Cross-sex hormones (testosterone and estrogen) are associated with dangerous health risks including but not limited to high blood pressure, blood clots, stroke and cancer.7,8,9,10

7. Rates of suicide are twenty times greater among adults who use cross-sex hormones and undergo sex reassignment surgery, even in Sweden which is among the most LGBQT – affirming countries.11 What compassionate and reasonable person would condemn young children to this fate knowing that after puberty as many as 88% of girls and 98% of boys will eventually accept reality and achieve a state of mental and physical health?

8. Conditioning children into believing a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse. Endorsing gender discordance as normal via public education and legal policies will confuse children and parents, leading more children to present to “gender clinics” where they will be given puberty-blocking drugs. This, in turn, virtually ensures that they will “choose” a lifetime of carcinogenic and otherwise toxic cross-sex hormones, and likely consider unnecessary surgical mutilation of their healthy body parts as young adults.

Michelle A. Cretella, M.D.
President of the American College of Pediatricians

Quentin Van Meter, M.D.
Vice President of the American College of Pediatricians
Pediatric Endocrinologist

Paul McHugh, M.D.
University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist in chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital


1. Consortium on the Management of Disorders of Sex Development, “Clinical Guidelines for the Management of Disorders of Sex Development in Childhood.” Intersex Society of North America, March 25, 2006. Accessed 3/20/16 from

2. Zucker, Kenneth J. and Bradley Susan J. “Gender Identity and Psychosexual Disorders.”FOCUS: The Journal of Lifelong Learning in Psychiatry. Vol. III, No. 4, Fall 2005 (598-617).

3. Whitehead, Neil W. “Is Transsexuality biologically determined?” Triple Helix (UK), Autumn 2000, p6-8. accessed 3/20/16 from; see also Whitehead, Neil W. “Twin Studies of Transsexuals [Reveals Discordance]” accessed 3/20/16 from

4. Jeffreys, Sheila. Gender Hurts: A Feminist Analysis of the Politics of Transgenderism. Routledge, New York, 2014 (pp.1-35).

5. American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Association, 2013 (451-459). See page 455 re: rates of persistence of gender dysphoria.

6. Hembree, WC, et al. Endocrine treatment of transsexual persons: an Endocrine Society clinical practice guideline. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009;94:3132-3154.

7. Olson-Kennedy, J and Forcier, M. “Overview of the management of gender nonconformity in children and adolescents.” UpToDate November 4, 2015. Accessed 3.20.16 from

8. Moore, E., Wisniewski, & Dobs, A. “Endocrine treatment of transsexual people: A review of treatment regimens, outcomes, and adverse effects.” The Journal of Endocrinology & Metabolism, 2003; 88(9), pp3467-3473.

9. FDA Drug Safety Communication issued for Testosterone products accessed 3.20.16:

10. World Health Organization Classification of Estrogen as a Class I Carcinogen:

11. Dhejne, C, “Long-Term Follow-Up of Transsexual Persons Undergoing Sex Reassignment Surgery: Cohort Study in Sweden.” PLoS ONE, 2011; 6(2). Affiliation: Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Division of Psychiatry, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden. Accessed 3.20.16 from