The Gray Net of Abstraction


(A slightly modified sharing of today’s post from my personal journal-type blog)

An intense thunderstorm rolled through late yesterday afternoon, changing my evening plans. My youngest daughter emerged from her colorful room, wanting to be with me, and I wondered again if we Gulf Coast citizens are a wee bit more sensitive to the weather than folks in other places. Maybe not, but I wonder…

Anyway, after the storm settled down, my change in plans allowed me some time to do a little more reading in The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson. I finished an interesting chapter on “Isaiah of the Exile,” and at its conclusion the author shared a quote from famed novelist, Saul Bellow.The quote is a bit heady for me, but after sorting through it I realize that it reflects a theme with Peterson, one that I’ve been buying into for some time now. Here’s the quote from Bellow:

“…the gray net of abstraction covering the world in order to simplify and explain it . . . that must be countered . . . by insisting on the particularity of detail and the immediacy of place, giving us access to life firsthand so that we are not ‘bossed by ideas.'”

Like Gomer Pyle, I had to put a bucket on my head and “have a think” on this for a while, but I think I get what Bellow is proposing: that the tendency to simplify the world into concepts can keep us from participating in life.

I’m afraid this betrays a church scandal. We’re big into concepts at church (the gray net of abstraction): we talk a LOT about things like love and mercy and justice and salvation. And yet, I’m afraid we may end up so “bossed by ideas” that we may miss out on participating in these very ideas – loving the person in line at the grocery store, showing mercy to the waitress at lunch, seeking justice for the lonely nursing home resident, experiencing salvation from our personal addictions.

It is becoming an increasingly important aspect of my life to spend less time dwelling on ideas and concepts and more time in “the particularity of detail and the immediacy of place.”

Maybe even today.

2 Responses to “The Gray Net of Abstraction”

  1. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Terrific post, Al.

  2. Michael Lasley Says:

    Indeed. Great thoughts.

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