Letters to Peregrinus #54 - On Innovation

James J. Tissot (1836-1902) – The Merchants Chased from the Temple (between 1886-1894)[1],
located in the Brooklyn Museum. See John 2:12-25. From St. Augustine, Confessions, X – “You called, shouted, broke through my deafness; you flared, blazed, banished my blindness….”
Peter Ferdinand Drucker (b. 1909 in Vienna; d. 2005 in Claremont, CA): “Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right thing.” And, “Results are obtained by exploiting opportunities, not by solving problems.” And, “Your first and foremost job as a leader is to take charge of your own energy and then help to orchestrate the energy of those around you.”[2]
Rumi[3] – “Story Water” (translated by Coleman Barks[4])

The body itself is a screen / to shield and partially to reveal / the light that’s blazing / inside your presence.[5]

St. Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, X –
27, 38. Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new,
late have I loved you!
Lo, you were within,
but I outside, seeking there for you,
and upon the shapely things you have made I rushed headlong,
I, misshapen.
You were with me, but I was not with you.
They held me back far from you,
those things which would have no being
were they not in you.
You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;
you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;
you lavished your fragrance, I gasped, and now I pant for you;
I tasted you, and I hunger and thirst;
you touched me, and I burned for your peace.82 [6]

Hafez (1310-1390 CE)[7] – “The Beloved sometimes wants / To do us a great favor; / Hold us upside down / and shake all the nonsense out.”
Dear Peregrinus (Saturday AM):
We have this very day started to emerge from a national calamity, a political one. What I mean is our breaking the hold of (if we wish it) an intense perturbation, a toxic peevishness[8] not in the realm of ideas or arguments (so few ideas; rarely a well-constructed argument!)[9] but in the realm of the emotions. We live in an intemperate Age.
This national election cycle has caused me to recognize, viscerally[10], why temperance[11] is among the four Cardinal[12] Virtues.[13] I have noticed what happens to us human beings when, on the one hand, our emotions overpower our reasonableness, or, on the other hand, when our emotions are tepid[14], listless[15], or vague. I like how Paul J. Waddell puts this:
Like courage, the focus of temperance is the emotions, particularly when they obstruct virtuous behavior.[16] This can happen in two ways. Sometimes the emotions can grow so powerful that they make one rash or careless, but at other times a person can feel so listless as to lack the energy to act at all. As its name suggests, temperance “tempers” the emotions either up or down. If the emotions are too strong, they need to be “tempered down,” or subdued; if they are too weak, they need to be “tempered up,” or aroused. Virtue depends on well-ordered affections, and this is what temperance achieves; it gives the proper expression of feeling to actions. Thus temperance does not suppress the emotions but shapes them into their most appropriate expression, using them to empower virtuous behavior instead of obstructing it. In this sense temperance is like courage inasmuch as both virtues come into play whenever human beings are confronted with something that could “render them unreasonable” (ST II-II, q. 141, a. 2). [17]
I got to thinking about the famous moment (possibly two moments[18]) in the life of Jesus when he “cleansed” the Temple at Jerusalem. In light of the way Jesus normally acted[19], it is perhaps not a surprise[20] that this story is one of those rare few recorded in all four Gospels.[21] Its vividness and its shock appears to have continued to require explanation,[22] or to worry Christians into what eventually was a greater insight into the heart and mind of Jesus.
In other words, Jesus appears to have been intemperate, anger blazing, tables flipped over. We see the coinage of different nations flung into the air; we hear them dropping noisily down onto the stone floor and rolling and spinning in all directions. A bad day for Him? Something ticking Him off? Did He just “lose it” that day? Was Jesus intemperate? – “Of persons, their actions, or habits: Without temperance or moderation; going beyond due bounds; immoderate, unbridled; violent.”[23]
Or was Jesus innovating?
What does it mean “to innovate”? The Oxford English Dictionary defines this 16th century verb: “To renew or alter; to change (a thing) into something new … to make changes to something already established.” What I find particularly important to emphasize here is that innovation builds on a foundation, has its “newness” in “oldness” if you will. In other words, true innovation recognizes a debt it has to something that existed before it. It also articulates that connection – between old and new – as an essential part of the explanation of the nature and significance of the innovation. An “innovation” without strong ties to what has gone before it is not “innovation”; it is “novelty”[24] only.[25]

One of the most characteristic qualities of an Innovator is his or her capacity for an enormous and sustained output of energy. An Innovator has to be able to summon such energy in himself or herself, and in his or her confederates, and then to know how to guide and focus it ... often for years. Jesus in the Temple courtyard that day began to unleash the divine and human energy in Him (He would do it in a different way on the mount of His transfiguration).
John 1:

14 And the Word became flesh
 and made his dwelling among us,
 and we saw his glory,
 the glory as of the Father’s only Son,
 full of grace and truth.
And now, old friend, I am suddenly distracted by a sound. Listen to the voice of the 8-days old child Jesus, transported by his parents into the Temple to receive His name, crying out at His circumcision (Luke 2:22ff). That child-voice was heard by the elders Simeon and Anna, who moved towards Him with arms open and eyes bright. Now listen to that same voice, sounding in the Temple courtyard (John 2:13ff). It is a voice deeper and stronger with more music in it. It is the voice of the 30-years old Jesus of Nazareth, the Lion of Judah roaring: “It is time! I am here! Awaken!”
Hosea 11:

For I am God and not a man,g
     the Holy One present among you;
     I will not come in wrath.
10 They shall follow the Lord,
     who roars like a lion;h
 When he roars,
     his children shall come frightened from the west… [27]
But now, let me return to the “innovation” of the God-Man. I have yet to read a commentator, or find a painter, who captures the thrill in at least some of those who experienced Jesus that day in the Temple, so bright and fiercely alive was He, unbound, ready, nay more than ready, to do what He had come to do! “The Kingdom of God is among you!”
Why does nearly everyone commenting on this scene assume that Jesus was angry … but that He had good reasons to be angry, and so forth? Why have they overlooked what was a far more likely emotion burning in Jesus that day? Why do we overlook all the people who felt awe that day, who felt kindled within them – and finally! - their own dormant energy, summoned and awakened. They, as if from a long sleep into which their religion had led them long ago, opened their eyes and began to stretch. I think of how the tremendous heat of a flame will cause dark metal lying too near it to begin to glow red- and then white-hot.[28]
Ephesians 5:

“Awake, O sleeper,
     and arise from the dead,
 and Christ will give you light.”* [29]

For long I have wished that the Christian Baptismal Rite had far more of Jesus’ Temple fierceness burning in it – “Awaken, children of God!” – God’s own fierceness felt at the fount, and we all trembling with holy fear (awe). I wonder about the overriding sweetness that saturates all aspects of that Rite, and with the cameras clicking. All of it is far too tame! A new child of God on earth certainly asks more of us than sweetness and sighs (even though such comes from hearts deeply grateful).
O Peregrinus, I have wanted Baptism – the claiming of a child for Christ - to make demands on everyone there, shaking them out of their spiritual sluggishness. I have wanted parents and godparents and everyone else there kindled “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” the glory bright again in them - the Light that shone in us in Paradise back when the world began.

I recall with admiration Gandalf the White, and how forcefully he struck at the spiritual dullness and the somnolence of the reigning King of Rohan. It was not about whom or what Gandalf overturned, overthrew, or drove away (i.e., the Wormtongue);[30] it was about him whom Gandalf awakened that day, caused to rise up, whom he re-kindled in his ashen torpor[31] – it was Théoden, a King awakened.
Slowly Théoden stretched forth his hand. As his fingers took the hilt, it seemed to the watchers that firmness and strength returned to his thin arm. Suddenly he lifted the blade and swung it shimmering and whistling in the air. Then he gave a great cry. His voice rang clear as he chanted in the tongue of Rohan a call to arms.

Arise now, arise, Riders of Théoden!
Dire deeds awake, dark is it eastward.
Let horse be bridled, horn be sounded!
Forth Eorlingas!

The guards, thinking that they were summoned, sprang up the stair. They looked at their lord in amazement, and then as one man they drew their swords and laid them at his feet. ‘Command us!’ they said.[32]

Now this is far closer, Peregrinus, to what Jesus was doing that day in the Temple. He was calling out, awakening those able to bear being woken up – “Now is the acceptable time!” Who were they who could trust what suddenly they felt burning within them: renewed purpose, nobility of spirit, humility and courage? It was that day the summoning of their Great Shepherd, the Lion of Judah, the God-Man suddenly in the Temple. And those happy few stepped forward and cried out, “Command us!”
The God-Man had begun to innovate, that which came to be called “the Kingdom of God.”
In the painting by Tissot, he does not get it quite right. But he gets one thing right. Notice that beautiful dove powerfully poised, boiling with divine energy, hovering just above Jesus’ up-raised right hand. It is that Dove, an traditional symbol of the Holy Spirit, which interprets for us what Jesus was doing, the grace He was becoming, the LIFE that He was summoning. This was the same Holy Spirit Who was at the beginning, when the still uncreated universe was about to be created!

Genesis 1: In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth— 2 Nowthe earth was formless and empty, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. [33]

Happy Thanksgiving to you, old friend. The next time I will be able to write to you might be in Advent (though I have a very large project that I am working on for The Faber Sessions – the first three Tuesday evenings in December). So it may be that I will write to you in Christmastide. It is all so close now to happening!

Remember me, Peregrinus. I certainly remember you.

Your old friend in Christ,



[1] See: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Brooklyn_Museum_-_The_Merchants_Chased_from_the_Temple_(Les_vendeurs_chassés_du_Temple)_-_James_Tissot.jpg.

[2] Britannica online: Peter F. Drucker, in full Peter Ferdinand Drucker, (born November 19, 1909, Vienna, Austria—died November 11, 2005, Claremont, California, U.S.), Austrian-born American management consultant, educator, and author, whose writings contributed to the philosophical and practical foundations of the modern business corporation. He was also a leader in the development of management education, and he invented the concept known as management by objectives…. Drucker, who received a doctoral degree in international and public law at the University of Frankfurt (1931), worked as a journalist in Germany but fled to England when Adolf Hitler rose to power in 1933. He remained in England until 1937, when he moved to the United States to work as an adviser to British banks and as a foreign correspondent for several British newspapers; he became a U.S. citizen in 1943. Drucker later taught at New York University (1950–71) and at Claremont Graduate University (1971–2005)…. Although Drucker was known to shun the term “consultant”, it was through consulting that he wielded the greatest influence, starting with his 1943 invitation to analyze the organizational structure of the General Motors Corporation. The resulting book, Concept of the Corporation, offered the first complete assessment of a large corporation as a social institution. Drucker later served as a consultant to a number of corporations, organizations, and governments.
[3] Britannica online: Rūmī, in full Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, also called by the honorific Mawlānā, (born c. September 30, 1207, Balkh [now in Afghanistan]—died December 17, 1273, Konya [now in Turkey]), the greatest Sufi mystic and poet in the Persian language, famous for his lyrics and for his didactic epic Mas̄navī-yi Maʿnavī (“Spiritual Couplets”), which widely influenced mystical thought and literature throughout the Muslim world. After his death, his disciples were organized as the Mawlawiyyah order.”
[4] Coleman Barks - https://www.colemanbarks.com. “Born and raised in Chattanooga, Tennessee, poet and translator Coleman Barks received a BA from the University of North Carolina and an MA from the University of California, Berkeley, before returning to the University of North Carolina to earn a PhD. In 1976, poet Robert Bly introduced Barks to the work of 13th-century Sufi mystic poet Jalaluddin Rumi. Barks has since translated more than a dozen volumes of Rumi’s poetry….”

[5] I am grateful to my sister Catey Ganz Hagelin, who found this poem and brought it to my attention several days ago. It was a poem of Rumi that I had not found and read before.
*82 The idea of a beauty which the soul recognizes as from an ancient knowledge is found in Plotinus’ Tractate on Beauty (Enneads I,6,2). Augustine has enumerated the five senses several times before; it may be significant that this time the usual order is changed, with hearing being mentioned first. He has listened to the Word, and so his eyes are opened to beauty; contrast IV,13,20; for tasting the sweetness, see Ps 33:9(34:8); 1 Pt 2:3; for hungering and thirsting, Mt 5:6.

[6] Saint Augustine, The Confessions, Part I, ed. John E. Rotelle, trans. Maria Boulding, vol. 1, Second Edition., The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2012), 262.

[7] See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/hafez - “Persian lyric poet Hafez (born Khwāja Šamsu d-Dīn Muḥammad Hāfez-e Šīrāzī) grew up in Shiraz. Very little is known about his life, but it is thought that he may have memorized the Qur’an after hearing his father recite passages. When his father died, he left school to work at a bakery and as a copyist. Hafiz became a poet at the court of Abu Ishak and also taught at a religious college. He is one of the most celebrated of the Persian poets, and his influence can be felt to this day.” These lines are taken from the Daniel Ladinsky translation of the poem he calls, “Tired of Speaking Sweetly”.

[8] The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective and adverb “peevish” – “Perverse, refractory; headstrong, obstinate; capricious, skittish.”
[9] Something was lost when we Americans, for example, began to operate from the assumption that “having an argument” was primarily about the venting of intense emotions with another, or with others. We have confused passionate outburst with argument, such that most often people imagine that they are arguing when really they are just blasting emotions towards someone, at anyone usefully available. An argument is about reasons; it is the hard work of a careful mind able, while feeling passionate, to offer reasons for consideration and grounding those reasons in evidence: in a reasonable explanation of the evidence. The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun “argument”: “Proof, evidence” or “A statement or fact advanced for the purpose of influencing the mind; a reason urged in support of a proposition.” And, to make a point concerning recent political culture, name-calling is not arguing; it is an intemperate use of language to mock or destroy someone, a group, etc.
[10] The Oxford English Dictionary at “visceral” – “Affecting the viscera or bowels regarded as the seat of emotion; pertaining to, or touching deeply, inward feelings. Obsolete after 17th cent. and revived in the 20th.” The “viscera”, a Latin noun in the plural meaning: “Anatomy. The soft contents of the principal cavities of the body; esp. the internal organs of the trunk; the entrails or bowels together with the heart, liver, lungs, etc.”
[11] Temperance as I am using it here is not referring to the overconsumption of alcohol embraced by a nation desiring to dull the pain of raging political hate-speech coming at us from all sides! The Temperance Reform Movement was about this: “Maurice, the landgrave of Hesse, founded an order of temperance, Dec. 25, 1600; a total-abstinence society existed at Skibbereen, Ireland, in 1817; the Sober Society was formed at Allentown, N. J., in 1805, and this was followed by temperance societies organized, one at Moreau, Saratoga co., N. Y., April 30, 1808; another at Greenfleld, N. Y., in 1809; and another at Hector, N. Y., April 3, 1818. The Massachusetts Society for the Suppression of Intemperance was instituted at Boston, Feb. 5, 1813; but temperance reform as an organized movement began Feb. 13, 1826, when the American Society for the Promotion of Temperance was organized at the Park Street Church, Boston, Mass. Drs. Justin Edwards, Woods, Jenks, and Wayland, and Messrs. John Tappan and S. V. S. Wilder were prominent in it.” [Benson Lossing, ed., Harper’s Encyclopedia of United States History (Medford, MA: Perseus Digital Library, n.d.), 4316.]
[12] The four “Cardinal (or “hinge”) Virtues” are four essential human strengths “baked into us at birth”, and as active potentials, they must be taught, trained by adults who themselves are embodiments of these essential strengths of character. The Cardinal Virtues make us real, make us grown-ups if you will; the Theological or Supernatural Virtues make us Christ-like, or to use the ancient language, they deify us (i.e., “makes us God-like”) through this sharing of God’s own strengths with us through the Holy Spirit.
[13] “A virtue is a characteristic way of behavior which makes both actions and persons good and which also enables one to fulfill the purpose of life. When anyone both possesses and exercises the virtues, that person is brought to the wholeness proper to human nature; conversely, a lack of virtue constitutes a deprived nature and a diminished self.” [Michael Downey, The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 998. This article on “Virtue” by Paul J. Waddell, CP.]
[14] The Oxford English Dictionary at “tepid” – “Moderately or slightly warm; lukewarm.”
[15] The Oxford English Dictionary at “listless” – “Of persons, their actions, etc.: †(a) destitute of relish or inclination for some specified object or pursuit; const. of (obsolete); (b) characterized by unwillingness to move, act, or make any exertion; marked by languid indifference as to what goes on around one, or as to what one has to do.”
[16] St. Thomas Aquinas has an interesting thing to articulate about how a “cardinal virtue” is interwoven with other natural and supernatural gifts. Watch here how he sees the “weave”: “Reply Obj. 3. - Temperance also has a corresponding gift, namely, fear, whereby man is withheld from the pleasures of the flesh, according to Ps. 118:120: ‘Pierce Thou my flesh with Thy fear’. The gift of fear has for its principal object God, Whom it avoids offending, and in this respect it corresponds to the virtue of hope, as stated above (Q. XIX., A. 9, ad 1). But it may have for its secondary object whatever a man shuns in order to avoid offending God. Now man stands in the greatest need of the fear of God in order to shun those things which are most seductive, and these are the matter of temperance: wherefore the gift of fear corresponds to temperance also. [Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne, n.d.). This is in his Treatise on Temperance, Question CXLI “of Temperance”, First Article – “Whether Temperance is a Virtue”, the reply to Objection 3.]
ST Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas

[17] Michael Downey, The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 1006. The author of this particular article, “Virtue”, is by Paul J. Waddell, C.P.

[18] There is no way to resolve whether the “cleansing” of the Temple narrated in John 2, and therefore at the very beginning of His public life (right after “the first of His signs” at the wedding feast at Cana), is the same story that the “synoptic” Gospels place at the end of Jesus’ public life, where it serves as a “last straw” in a gathering decision by the Jewish religious power players to eliminate Jesus permanently. We just do not know whether Jesus “cleansed” the Temple twice – once at the beginning of His public ministry and then repeating that action at the ending of His public ministry – or just once, with John for theological reasons choosing to relocate the story to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.
[19] I believe that there are serious problems when trying to settle the way Jesus “normally” was or acted or felt about things. We readers of the Gospels, and lovers of Jesus, notoriously can want Jesus to be as we want or prefer Him to be. But so often the biblical text reveals that Jesus often was “not normal” in the eyes and experiences of those among whom He lived and worked. There is even a “difficult” text in Mark’s Gospel when it mentions that Jesus’ family thought Him “out of his mind” – “When his relatives heard of this they set out to seize him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’” [New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Mk 3:21.

[20] For us Americans, and in the modes and styles of Christianity that we have experienced, we seem resistant to acknowledging that Jesus, the God-Man, had a full range of human emotions, including anger! I have asked people to tell me what they notice about Jesus in a particular Gospel scene (biblical scholars call these discrete units of text “pericopes” (sounded puh-RIK-ah-peez). And what I notice is how they have not “read”, or sufficiently “read”, the emotions of Jesus. In a master communicator as was Jesus, His emotions were essential in how He communicated what He meant. “To put on the mind of Christ” as St. Paul enjoins refers not just to His intellect but also to His rich inner life and the affections that revealed it.

[21] The “outlier” here is the Gospel of John, in which we find stories, conversations, discourses, and timelines that are not found in the other three Gospels; that is, in Mark and Matthew and Luke. These three Gospels are referred to by scholars as the “synoptic” Gospels, because of how many stories they have in common with each other, even though each discrete story is narrated in a way distinctive of each Gospel author.

[22] The point is not that Jesus gets really angry! (Remember how the virtue of Temperance expects anger to kindle when things precious are about to be, and are being, wrecked.) The point is where Jesus got angry (if that is really what His emotion was that day) – in the Great Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, at God’s own dwelling place on Earth, in the Courtyard of the Gentiles in what Jesus calls, and prefers to call it, “my Father’s house.”

[23] The Oxford English Dictionary at the adjective “intemperate.”
[24] The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun “novelty” – “Something new, not previously experienced, unusual, or unfamiliar.” Alfred North Whitehead in his project to reconstitute “substance” Philosophies in light of contemporary Science’s “energy” or electron “configurations” – a world seen as complex structures of energy and “valences” rather than as one of “substances” and “accidents.” In his philosophy – referred to as “Process Philosophy”, the category of “novelty” plays big. It was his way of trying to account for “genius” or the astonishing human “creativity” of human inquirers. On Whitehead see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: “Alfred North Whitehead (1861–1947) was a British mathematician and philosopher best known for his work in mathematical logic and the philosophy of science. In collaboration with Bertrand Russell, he co- authored the landmark three-volume Principia Mathematica (1910, 1912, 1913). Later, he was instrumental in pioneering the approach to metaphysics now known as process philosophy.”

[25] Not all are likely to agree with my point here, because they like “novelty.” And those who introduce “novelty” prefer the antinomian quality of a “newness,” the coming into existence of something that has never before existed, that is “fresh” and with no debt to anything other than the “genius” of the maker of that novel thing. But I take my cue about “innovation” from God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who created the universe as an integrated structure of mutual dependence, where “innovations” have profound debts to the lower (or precedent) orders of being that make the higher orders of being able to exist! In God’s world, it is not about “novelty” but about the emergence of newness “hidden” within the potentialities of what already exists.

[26] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Jn 1:14.

g Nm 23:19; Is 31:3; Ez 28:2.

h Jl 4:16; Am 1:2; Jer 25:30.

[27] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Ho 11:9–10.

[28] The Oxford English Dictionary at the verb “to incandesce” – “To glow with heat.” Perhaps many there that day felt the “heat” of His inner holiness as it burned so fiercely … and made the mistake of assuming that it was anger. It is not unexpected that they would if they were complicit in sustaining, and benefitting financially from, a badly broken understanding of Who God is and what God asks of us.
* An early Christian hymn, possibly from a baptismal liturgy. For the content compare Eph 2:5–6; 3:9 and Is 60:1.

[29] New American Bible, Revised Edition. (Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011), Eph 5:14.

[30] Wikipedia - Gríma, called (the) Wormtongue, is a fictional character in J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. He appears in the second and third volumes of the work, The Two Towers and The Return of the King, and his role is expanded in Unfinished Tales. He is introduced in The Two Towers as the chief advisor to King Théoden of Rohan and henchman of Saruman. To some psychologists, Wormtongue serves as an archetypal sycophant. Tolkien scholars note that Tolkien based Wormtongue on the untrustworthy character Unferth in Beowulf. He is presumptive, behaving as if he already rules Rohan, and exemplifies lechery, as correctly guessed by Gandalf; he hopes to become rich, and to take Éowyn as the woman he desires.”
[31] The Oxford English Dictionary at the noun “torpor” – “Absence or suspension of motive power, activity, or feeling; †inertia (obsolete); suspended animation or development; in Pathology morbid inertia or insensibility, stupor.”
[32] Tolkien, J.R.R. The Two Towers: Being the Second Part of The Lord of the Rings (p. 130). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
a Or “And”

[33] W. Hall Harris III et al., eds., The Lexham English Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012), Ge 1:1–2.

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