The Enduring Context

 

It was about this time of the year back in 2000 when I took my two oldest to Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History (the Field Museum today). What did we go to see?

CHICAGO — For the first time in 50 years, the Dead Sea Scrolls will visit Chicago in a special exhibition at The Field Museum March 10 through June 11.

Written on parchment and papyrus more than 2,000 years ago, the scrolls contain what are believed to be the oldest surviving copies of the books of the Old Testament…

Portions of 15 difference scrolls will be on display in The Field Museum’s exhibition, including five that have never traveled outside of Israel. One of those five is a segment from the book Deuteronomy, which includes the Ten Commandments; the other four contain language and concepts similar to those in the Gospels of the New Testament — written more than 100 years later.

The exhibition will also feature 80 artifacts from Qumran, the archeological site near which the scrolls were discovered;

Dead Sea Scrolls to be displayed in Chicago

 

I was enthralled by the exhibit. Parchment that is over 2000 years old containing Jewish manuscripts gave witness to the community of the “sons of light”. These “men of the covenant” cursed Belial and his unclean spirits, worshiped with angels and preserved the understanding of those who set themselves apart from the Second Temple they believed to be corrupted by sinful leadership.

The almost nine-hundred manuscripts found in eleven caves at Qumran provide us with the context for the time of Jesus. They record the Qumran community’s messianic hopes for salvation in the very near future. They speak of the resurrection, of angels and demons, of the Law and Prophets and of secular matters at the time.

The gap between the Protestant Testaments, with the exception of the book of Daniel, is about four-hundred years. The Old Testament doesn’t provide context for the time of Jesus other than in large broad strokes of God’s dealing with beastly kingdoms and the hope of God intervening to save His people. The Old Testament established the narrative that leads us to the fullness of time when Jesus was born and his kingdom on earth announced. The scrolls continue the narrative and connect the Old and New Testament times. And, more importantly, they help us understand the thinking of the first century Jew. They explain the words and phrases Jesus uses in conjunction with contemporary Jewish thought and theology. They explain Jesus as a Jew.

Though I was fascinated by the scrolls, my two boys would show more interest in another exhibit a few months later. In a sense the two exhibits ran parallel – discoveries reveling context.

 

SUE finally made a dramatic debut in Stanley Field Hall on May 17, 2000

 

In 2000 Sue the T. rex, a 67-million-year-old fossilized skeleton, was put on display. It is said to be the most complete specimen of its kind.  This display became the starting point to my accepting evolutionary creation.

I met up with more dinosaurs a few years ago. The company I work for held its one-hundred-and-twenty-fiftieth anniversary celebration in the great hall of the Field Museum. (Job-keeping disclaimer: the dinosaurs are not the people I work with!) The anniversary celebration was another reminder of the Enduring Context. Men and women have been working together for 125 years within an engineering company providing solutions that help mankind.

Just a few weeks ago I visited my mother. She is almost ninety and in hospice care. Once again, I was reminded of the Enduring Context. Mom’s and dad’s steadfast faith in God, which they received from their parents, has been passed down to their children, to their grandchildren and to a multitude of great-grandchildren.

We will do well to remember the past, its fragments and as it is fragmented before us, for we are not without its context. Whether it be dinosaur bones attesting to God’s evolutionary creation or scroll fragments attesting to a community that wanted to keep God’s narrative alive over 2000 years ago the presence of testimony from the past shouldn’t be discounted. The Enduring Context which began in God before the Big Bang is God’s desire for the universe He created. The Enduring Context can be summed up in the words of the Lord’s prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

jacopo-tintoretto-crucifixion-1500s

There is art, music, literature, and architecture created with the Enduring Context in mind. And, there is art, music, literature, and architecture which knows knowing of the Enduring Context. The Progressive Element, eschewing the past, deems itself the only context that matters every time it rewrites history. Unless you are God or a Progressive demi-god, there is no present without the past for the likes of us. And if, as the English metaphysical poet John Donne wrote, “No man is an island entire of itself” then certainly no man is a context entirely to himself. A modern philosopher had this to say about context:

 

“We must strive to be worthy of an inheritance that we did not create, and to amend it only when we have first understood it” Roger Scruton Rousseau and the Origins of Liberalism

 

And though it seems to us in our daily struggles that sickness, death, injustice and evil are the Enduring Context, these are temporary. The resurrection of Jesus made sure of that. Our resurrection will continue the Enduring Context.

As followers of Jesus we imitate the One and the ones who are the Enduring Context. Our Lord’s context becomes our context as we walk in the Enduring Context of our citizenship:

So, my dear family, I want you, all together, to watch what I do and copy me. You’ve got us as a pattern of behavior; pay careful attention to people who follow it.

You see, there are several people who behave as enemies of the cross of the Messiah. I told you about them often enough, and now I am weeping as I say it again. They are on the road to destruction; their stomach is their god, and they find glory in their own shame. All they ever think about is what’s on the earth.

We are citizens of heaven, you see, and we’re eagerly waiting for the savior, the Lord Jesus, who is going to come from there.

Not All Roads Lead Home

 

In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown.

Beside the Technicolor fantasy of a quartet of characters leaving their homes and going into a foreboding forest to gain what they think they are lacking from a wizard (see my previous post), there is another tale of a young man doing just the same. And though there is no wizard or fear of lions and tigers and bears in this tale, there is, “What if the devil himself should be at my very elbow!”. Both stories, it seems to me, are about journeys into the dark side, the nocturnal forest in this tale, looking for an esoteric mystical experience that will supply what they are missing out on. But those who covenant to journey into the forest, and the deepest darkest part of it, end up disillusioned and faithless.

Often, especially in our youth, we begin to question the religious beliefs and worldviews of our families, of our mentors and of those around us. We see hypocrisy around us and despise it and yet become two-faced in our own sought out experiences wrought in the dark. We then begin to take on ambivalence about evil, giving ourselves the ‘grace’ to operate in both good and evil ways. Moral relativism is that form of grace.

We tell ourselves that there are people who are restrictive, conservative and Puritanical. We tell ourselves that we have become too worldly-wise to be like them: “I have Jesus so I am above all that out-of-date fundamentalism”. So, we journey in the dark forest and into the deepest darkest part of the forest and think ourselves to be impervious to its ills.

We give ourselves permission to investigate the dark side. We say to ourselves “I will do it just one time. Why be left out?  Why not join the “communion of our race””? Thus, we journey into the night and encounter evil. And like Goodman Brown, we come home disillusioned, our faith destroyed.

Young Goodman Brown sets out one night to gain existential insight into who (or what) is good and evil in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1835 short story by the same name. The story, set in 17th century Puritan New England, operates within the Puritan context of sin, grace and unconditional salvific election. I consider the tale an allegory, as it employs symbols starting with the names Goodman and Faith.

In the tale before us, Goodman Brown leaves his saintly wife Faith at the threshold of their home. She is wearing a pink ribbon on her cap. The pink ribbon, mentioned throughout, I read as a symbol of the admixture of purity (white) and sin (red). The color speaks to Goodman Brown’s spiritual understanding based on his Puritan beliefs and also to his rose-colored romance-based naiveté about the nature of evil.

“Poor little Faith!” thought he, for his heart smote him. “What a wretch am I to leave her on such an errand! She talks of dreams, too. Methought as she spoke there was trouble in her face, as if a dream had warned her what work is to be done tonight. But no, no; ‘t would kill her to think it. Well, she’s a blessed angel on earth; and after this one night I’ll cling to her skirts and follow her to heaven.”

With this excellent resolve for the future, Goodman Brown felt himself justified in making more haste on his present evil purpose. He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

As Goodman sets out, he does so under the cover of night and the cover of assumption: as a Puritan, Goodman Brown considers himself one of the elect. He carries with him a Puritan/Calvinist ‘good hands’ insurance card – the doctrine of predestination. He doesn’t leave home without it. And, as you read above, Goodman assumes that his association with the right people – his wife Faith in particular and the town’s good church folk in general – that he will follow them to the heavenly home. Goodman Brown goes out into the portentous night feeling safe and secure from all alarms. But his predetermined confidence quickly melts away as soon as he steps into the mysterious dark woods.

He had taken a dreary road, darkened by all the gloomiest trees of the forest, which barely stood aside to let the narrow path creep through, and closed immediately behind. It was all as lonely as could be; and there is this peculiarity in such a solitude, that the traveller knows not who may be concealed by the innumerable trunks and the thick boughs overhead; so that with lonely footsteps he may yet be passing through an unseen multitude.

Goodman’s first encounter in the woods is an old man who reminds him of his goodly grandfather. The old man appears to be waiting for Goodman. He says, “You are late, Goodman Brown.” Goodman replies “Faith kept me back awhile”.

Though the old man appears similar to Brown in many pedestrian ways the old man also appears to have “an indescribable air of one who knew the world”. And there’s something else Goodman notices and tries to explain away.

But the only thing about him that could be fixed upon as remarkable was his staff, which bore the likeness of a great black snake, so curiously wrought that it might almost be seen to twist and wriggle itself like a living serpent. This, of course, must have been an ocular deception, assisted by the uncertain light.

It is clear to the reader that the old man is the devil who is supported by the serpent staff, He does his best to entice Goodman Brown down the road to what is later called “the communion of your race” where he will learn of the “secret deeds” of his fellow townsfolk and see hypocrisy countenanced.

Goodman balks, claiming to be one of a breed of men who is above the riff-raff.

“Too far! too far!” exclaimed the goodman, unconsciously resuming his walk. “My father never went into the woods on such an errand, nor his father before him. We have been a race of honest men and good Christians since the days of the martyrs; and shall I be the first of the name of Brown that ever took this path and kept—”

Goodman’s journey away from faith is stop and go as wrestles with the temptation of going on. He encounters something he initially resists and uses the honor of his good name and of those before him as a reason to rethink things before giving on to going on. But, he doesn’t use his faith as a shield and so bends in to temptation. He continues his journey with the old man’s urging.

The old man tries to persuade Goodman to get up and continue. He does so by using Goodman’s own argument. The old man conjures up a kinship with men like Goodman. He lies about having personal knowledge and acquaintance of Goodman’s family. He then speaks of townsfolk – deacons and those in power – as personal references. He cajoles Goodman to continue their ‘association’ by journeying on.

Goodman Brown once considered himself impervious to all the devil’s wiles. After all he was one of the elect and associated with the right people. But each step he took in the wrong direction away from faith weakened his resolve. His compromises were reinforced by his inordinate curiosity. He continues his journey into the deepest darkest part of the forest and sees what the “communion of our race” so desires, “that the good shrank not from the wicked, nor were sinners abashed”.

 

There are several interpretations and critiques of the story. Some will say that Hawthorne is pointing out the hypocrisy of a society that prides itself on its high moral and civic standing and makes outcasts of those who do not live up to its standards. Other interpreters go out on a dark forest limb with their construal:

Modern critics have interpreted “Young Goodman Brown” in many ways. The story as a critique of society stands out to some. To psychologically inclined readers, Brown journeys into the psyche. The village represents the superego, whereas the forest and darkness become equivalents of the Freudian id. The entire story becomes a portrait of one human mind that discovers the usually suppressed and disquieting reality of animal instinct

The story’s symbols lend its meaning to a wide audience and to many interpretations. As you read it you will have your own takeaway. I consider it an allegory or parable about assumptions, hypocrisy and the lure of evil to pull one away from one’s home base of faith toward the “reality of animal instincts”.

The story doesn’t tell us Brown’s motives other than “present evil purpose” Conjecture would lead us to think that young Goodman Brown had become questioning about evil and the devil even though he lived surrounded by strict warnings against both in Puritan village. One gets the sense that Brown goes out by himself to just stick his nose in on evil for the sake of understanding the world he lives in and perhaps the fear of evil inculcated in him by his upbringing.

 

I have provided some of my take on Young Goodman Brown and some excerpts from the story with the hope that you will read the short story (it should take about fifteen minutes). I invite you to consider what road you are taking when you want to stick your nose in on evil. Consider where it leads and what you will encounter. And, where it will lead you. This road does not lead home.

We are told in Scripture to “test the spirits” so that we may know what is good and true and from God. That is not what is going on in Young Goodman Brown. Rather, this a young man who leaves faith behind and takes a walk on the wild side and ends up at a satanic ritual. His road did not lead back home to faith. It led to nihilism and despair and the resolve to no longer exist.

In truth, all through the haunted forest there could be nothing more frightful than the figure of Goodman Brown. On he flew among the black pines, brandishing his staff with frenzied gestures, now giving vent to an inspiration of horrid blasphemy, and now shouting forth such laughter as set all the echoes of the forest laughing like demons around him. The fiend in his own shape is less hideous than when he rages in the breast of man. Thus sped the demoniac on his course, until…

 

 

 

Here is a link to the story: Young Goodman Brown

We’ve Been Down This Road Before

 

One does not need a degree in cultural studies to see that our culture is charmed by and suffused with charismatic self-knowledge, self-love, self-esteem, and self-awareness. The powerful, the glamorous, the ministers of inclusion, and the gurus of self-help each promote their version of snake oil which, by application, would lift the unenlightened feeble off of terra firma to the heights of self-dom. Their special tonic is said to awaken consciousness, to liberate from conditioning and to provide relief from suffering. Mystical, intuitive, subjective, inward, and emotional approaches to truth are everywhere promoted as leading to a higher plane of existence where self-knowledge is knowledge of the divine. The self and the divine are to be perceived and experienced as identical.

One quote from a gnostic teaching website is sufficient to reveal the ‘higher road’ many are taking:

“Yet to know oneself, at the deepest level, is simultaneously to know God; this is the secret of gnosis. Another gnostic teacher, Monoimus, says:

Abandon the search for God and the creation and other matters of a similar sort. Look for him by taking yourself as the starting point. Learn who it is within you who makes everything his own and says,” My God, my mind, my thought, my soul, my body.” Learn the sources of sorrow:, joy, love, hate … If you carefully investigate these matters you will find him in yourself.”

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent asked, “Did God really say…?” And, based on what I am seeing today, I can imagine that It also whispered “What does the god within you say?” The choice Adam and Eve made put them on the road leading out of the garden. This is the road most travelled.

As I was considering this topic the Technicolor image of the cowardly lion wringing his hands came to mind. I had the misfortune of seeing the musical fantasy Wizard of Oz in my youth.

Why the misfortune? While it made fantasy-tale sense that characters made of straw and tin needed something to be humanish, what was a humanish animal requiring courage about? What was it about this movie that disturbed me? It took me some time to sort out – discern – why I do not like the movie: it’s promotion of Gnosticism in the morally vacuous Land of Oz and the wimpy withering lion.

The lion in the Wizard of Oz is the anthropomorphic personification of presumably silly and timid humans lacking self-awareness. The lion comes into the story like a bleating lamb and leaves as a roaring lion. How did the transformation happen? Through gnosis. The lion is told by a wizard (a professor; a spiritual guide and self-help guru of sorts) that the lion must acknowledge the courage he already possesses inside. The same self-knowledge mirror is held up for the Straw Man and the Tin Man.

And what is the purpose of the new found-in-self brain, heart and courage in the moral vacuum of Oz? To “awaken their consciousness and liberate them from conditioning”? And the reason for courage? Courage to not be afraid of what? Of things that go “Boo” in the night? Courage to be yourself?

Lest anyone think that I am being picayune about a now beloved child’s fantasy they should pull back the curtain and see what’s lurks there in light of the above and with today’s culture in view.

In the moral vacuum of the Land of Oz, does gnosis-courage mean one bravely acts to be one’s self at all costs? If the only moral reference points are yourself and someone telling you have what it takes within, are you prone to then embrace your base desires to be one’s self? Are we to believe ‘wizards’ that through self-knowledge we change from baaing sheep into roaring lions? See for yourself what’s come out from behind the curtain in the Land of Oz:

Actress Judy Garland (1922–1969) is widely considered a gay icon. The Advocate has called Garland “The Elvis of homosexuals”. The reasons frequently given for her standing as an icon among gay men are admiration of her ability as a performer, the way her personal struggles seemed to mirror those of gay men in America during the height of her fame, and her value as a camp figure. Garland’s role as Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz is particularly noted for contributing to this status. – Judy Garland as gay icon

Has Western culture has followed the Yellow Brick Road? Besides the ubiquitous adverts by wizards of enlightenment coming out with their brand of snake oil, we hear almost every day in the media of someone coming out (via self-knowledge) as gay. This gnostic way of understanding has been confirmed by Pope Francis when he said “God made you this way.”

It is no secret that Progressive elements in our culture promote being oneself as one walks along on their wide Yellow Brick Road of self-discovery. This way is touted as the higher, more “universal” and thus “neutral” perspective and that the meta-narrative of Christianity is the narrow road which must be avoided and declared the wrong way. Progressivism doesn’t see its own meta-narrative of identity politics and of reducing the moral universe to the god within. Progressivism isn’t self-aware.

Universities, under the thrall of Progressivism and of course benefactors, are incubators of gnosis. They seek to awaken a new vision and to stir up dormant impulses in cowardly lions. Pseudo-disciplines like women’s studies, black studies, LGBTQ studies, etc., offer Woke gnosis.

The Land of Oz campus admins create physical safe spaces so that self-realization is safely tucked in and away from things that go “Boo!” in the day. For Land of Oz sustainability, Marxism and socialism are taught as the means to create financial safe space. The idea is to make others pay so the disciples of self don’t have to concern themselves with material concerns. This, so one can continue to grow in self-awareness and be an SJW with a moral center carefully crafted around gnosis.

At graduation, participation trophies are presented to the brave – those who stood inside safe spaces against outside knowledge, and to the compassionate (for others like themselves). A diploma, a medal and a ticking heart-shaped watch are passed onto to another generation. These trinkets of gnosis are bestowed under a ceremonial banner, which reads: “Know thyself, Be Thyself. We are here for our own sake”.

There is a Yellow Brick way that seems right to a man who seeks to find what it takes to be one’s self, but the ends thereof are the ways of self.

 

 

~~~

Of course, not all self-reflection is be rejected. Proper introspection is to occur in the prayer closet. There, in the Light of the Lord, sin is exposed and named. You learn to see yourself as the Lord sees you. You confess your sin and ask for forgiveness. Then the Lord returns you to the road before you to walk in his resurrection power.

Now, it takes no courage whatsoever to tell others how to live to make them comfortable for you to be around. That is social justice for the woke generation. It does take considerable courage to look into one’s soul and see the darkness within, to repent and to cast out any unclean spirits in the name of the Jesus.

The absolutions of the Woke World humanist religion are self-justification and self-righteousness. Both are repulsed by the Lord. Prayer-closet courage is required to resist both.

The Serpent’s Apprentice(s)

The Fall of the Damned, Peter Paul Rubens

Spiritual reality surrounds us. This fact is attested to at the very least by the numerous TV programs about the paranormal. Shown are ‘investigations’ of the dead, and of ghosts and of supposed haunting spirits. But what are those fascinated and even obsessed about the spirit world connecting with? What do we know about the unclean spirits, the ones Jesus cast out of humans (See my previous post Deliver Us from Evil)?

Genesis opens with God and His temple building creation of earth. We learn of light and darkness. And we soon learn of the spiritual forces of darkness that want control of the temple where God is to dwell with man.

Right from the start of man’s existence another voice interprets God’s word for its own purposes: “Did God really say you couldn’t?”; “You will not certainly die if you do eat the fruit.”; “God has held back nothing from you but the fruit of this tree. Eat it and know what He knows.” Humans fall into sin by willfully accepting the Serpent’s interpretation of becoming like God. Adam and Eve took the bait (an apple leading to God-like knowledge) into their hands. The enmity between humans and the serpent begins.

Prior to the fall of man, the Satan had a falling out with God. What happened is explained in detail in Ezekiel 28. A description of ascendant pride, whether of the Satan or of man’s, is recorded in Isaiah 14. The fallout of enmity between God and the red dragon, an emblem of the Satan, is described in Daniel 8 and here, in Revelation 12: 3-4:

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads.  Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth.

Proverbs 16:18 sums the result of pride and opposition to God: “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall”.

The fallen angels were booted from Heaven and were no longer able to return. Where did the fallen angels go after being kicked out of heaven? Genesis 6: 1-7 tells us indirectly.

When human beings began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of humans were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Then the LORD said, “My Spirit will not contend with humans forever, for they are mortal; their days will be a hundred and twenty years.”

The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.

The LORD saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.

The LORD regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled.

So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”

 

In Scripture the “sons of God” typically refer to angels. Above are fallen angels. This passage infers that the first incarnation and sacrilege took place – fallen angels impregnated humans.  They had illicit intercourse with women thereby creating a super race of warriors. Then, as now, the fallen angels mean to deface the image of God in humans. They seek to undo what God has created and to ‘create’ a race of Un-men*.

The cast-out angels did what they apprenticed to do by their father, the serpent or the “Bent One” as so described in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. They came to down earth to create chaos and to gain the power and favor they lost. As agents of evil they come under the description of evil as provided in N.T. Wright’s book Evil and the Justice of God:

Evil is the force of anti-creation, anti-life, the force which opposes and seeks to deface and destroy God’s good world of space, time and matter, and above all God’s image-bearing human creatures.

As we read above, the fallen angels deface Gods’ image bearing humans in the temple of their bodies. Using human sexuality and man’s willful acceptance they debase that image. Does any of this collusion with evil leading to self-imposed temple defilement look familiar today?

Fallen angels multiplied what happened in the garden of Eden. Mankind’s wickedness grew with the earth’s population. Until the flood. Then, except for Noah and his family and selected animals, the human race was wiped from the face of the earth along with the Nephilim (“giants” in the Septuagint), the offspring of the intercourse of fallen angels with women. It may be assumed that with the decimating flood the hosts of the unclean spirits died and the unclean spirits were released into, for a lack of a better word, the ether.

Intertestamental Jewish writings provide the context of Jesus’ ministry including the existence of unclean spirits. These writing fill in roughly four-hundred years of information about Jewish thought and theology between the Old and New Testament. Topics include angels, demons, the messiah, the resurrection and the law of Moses. Each of these topics, which were on the minds of the Jews, is addressed in the gospels. Jesus responds to each topic, each question, and each confrontation with authority.

Adding to the context of Jesus’ day, synagogues, mentioned in the gospels but not mentioned in the Pentateuch, likely originated in exile and in Babylonia. The opening chapter of Mark’s gospel finds Jesus in a synagogue casting out an unclean spirit.

What about written context beyond Genesis chapter 6? Other than the reference in Genesis, there is nothing written about fallen angels/unclean spirits until the intertestamental books. The topic of demons in these books may have been due to Babylonian interest in lesser gods and demons and their writing about them. Here is a passage from the Book of the Watchers (15: 6-12), written around 300 BCE:

And though ye were holy, spiritual, living the eternal life, you have defiled yourselves with the blood of women, and have begotten (children) with the blood of flesh, and, as the children of men, have lusted after flesh and blood as those also do who die and perish. Therefore have I given them wives also that they might impregnate them, and beget children by them, that thus nothing might be wanting to them on earth. But you were formerly spiritual, living the eternal life, and immortal for all generations of the world. And therefore I have not appointed wives for you; for as for the spiritual ones of the heaven, in heaven is their dwelling.
And now, the giants, who are produced from the spirits and flesh, shall be called evil spirits upon
the earth, and on the earth shall be their dwelling. Evil spirits have proceeded from their bodies; because they are born from men and from the holy Watchers is their beginning and primal origin; they shall be evil spirits on earth, and evil spirits shall they be called. [As for the spirits of heaven, in heaven shall be their dwelling, but as for the spirits of the earth which were born upon the earth, on the earth shall be their dwelling.]
And the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble: they take no food, but nevertheless hunger and thirst, and cause offences. And these spirits shall rise up against the children of men and against the women, because they have proceeded from them.

The “Watchers” designation tells us that these spirits are restless and never sleep. These disembodied spirits are able to dwell in humans and animals. We learn that they cause havoc: “the spirits of the giants afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. They are the ones Jesus casts out (again and again) as he begins His kingdom on earth.

 

In a previous post, See Him as He Is, I posited that followers of Jesus must see Jesus as He is as recorded in all of Scripture’s narrative and as revealed to them by the Holy Spirit. They are not to view him through a tainted by evil rose-colored glass worldview. Absolute clarity requires the Lord’s followers to remove their hands from their eyes and their fingers from their ears and to take in the reality of Jesus and the world around us. In my last post I noted that the unclean spirit in Mark chapter one knew exactly who Jesus is. The unclean spirit saw with absolute clarity. And, like Jesus, we are to see enemy as he is and then cast him out.

Now, the Evil One and his apprentices don’t care about your politics. They don’t care if you are Republican or Democrat. They don’t care about the color of your skin or about the colors of your flag. They don’t care if you are rich or poor or male or female. Here is what they care about: to “afflict, oppress, destroy, attack, do battle, and work destruction on the earth, and cause trouble”. The Evil One’s apprentices seek to deface creation and the image of God in each human. Throughout cultures and nations and throughout time, the apprentices entice, lie and pervert humans, turning them into beasts which live to satisfy animal urges.

In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape (the Evil One), apprentices Wormwood. In the quote below note Screwtape’s frustration with how things were created by God and how that which has been created must be perverted:

”He [God] has a bourgeois mind. He has filled His world full of pleasures. There are things for humans to do all day long without His minding in the least – sleeping, washing, eating, drinking, making love, playing, praying, working. Everything has to be twisted before it’s any use to us. We fight under cruel disadvantages. Nothing is naturally on our side.”

 

Don’t let twisted pleasure and appetites define you. Abhor evil. Cling to good. Don’t become an apprentice of the Evil One. Don’t give the enemy advantage. Don’t toy with evil. Stay away from mediums, Tarot cards, Ouija Boards, astrology, séances, pornography, drugs and …entertainment, the devil’s playground.

Disney’s Fantasia is one example of how entertainment downplays the forces of darkness. Consider the animated short wherein Mickey Mouse portrays a sorcerer’s apprentice. The popular cartoon character plays with magic and conjures up all kinds of out-of-control havoc. The ‘approving’ adult background music is Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Watching this, a child is lured into relating to and empathizing with evil’s apprentice, an endearing cutesy child-like character in a wizard hat who experiments with magic and gets into ‘innocent’ trouble. On the surface, the animated short comes across as cautionary tale against disobeying the rules. But it actually encourages a child to try again and to avoid the consequences next time.

The twaddle of Harry Potter books and movies is meant to entertain and to make a huge profit for its creator and producers. Yet, the fantasy series has nothing good to offer the partaker. The series is just diversion, a distraction from reality. And worse. Like Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, its main characters engage with magic arts. Entertainment, like all temptations including the ones posed to the Lord, are, in essence, about denying reality and obtaining power to control reality. Once your child partakes of this ‘amusement’, he or she is hooked. See your enemy as he is. He wants your child to experiment with evil to obtain power. If you think I am kidding, look around at the pagan invasion of children’s culture. (A book I highly recommend: A Landscape with Dragons: The Battle for Your Child’s Mind by Michael O’Brien)

Unclean spirits promote fantasy. Their temptations come in the form of fantasy. Just as in the Garden they want you to entertain notions of unrestricted freedom and narcissistic god-like power (e.g., R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”). The temptation to convert fantasy into reality – more money and notoriety – is behind the Jussie Smollett hoax. There is a vast difference between a healthy imagination in which good and evil and outcomes are considered and fantasy which projects into reality.

“… we need to make a distinction between fantasy and imagination. Both fantasy and imagination concern unrealities; but while the unrealities of fantasy penetrate and pollute the world, those of the imagination exist in a world of their own, in which we wander freely and in full knowledge of the really real…Fantasy covets the gross, the explicit, the no-holds-barred display of the unobtainable; and in the crisis of display the unobtainable is vicariously obtained.”

-Roger Scruton, Chapter 6, Fantasy, Imagination and the Salesman, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture

Spiritual reality surrounds us. This fact is substantially attested to by the influences of the perverse paranormal on humans. Look around at the effects of unclean spirits on humans. You find cynicism and sentimentality promoted. You find projection and scapegoating. You find a culture embracing victimhood instead of personal responsibility. You find unexplained mental illness and depression. You read reports of suicide. Evil, promoted day and night, afflicts, oppresses, and destroys the good.

Turn on the radio and you will hear music from the bowels of hell. Art and architecture are increasingly de-humanized. As you sit in front of any media outlet you come across daily headlines and a continuous stream of entertainment filled with accounts of murder, violence, sex abuse, revenge, racism, and all manner of evil. The dark web is a “malignant outgrowth of evil – a sub-culture collective of hive-minded individuals wreaking havoc today, even now as you read your computer screen”. The spirit of lawlessness surrounds us and encounters us everywhere we are, even in our beds.

This world, until Jesus returns to reign on earth, is under attack by the agents, apprentices, and accusers of the Evil One. These spiritual entities will do all they can with your permission to diminish the glory of God in the temples where the image of God dwells. And, just as unclean spirits impregnated women, these same unclean spirits want to impregnate and defile your temple – your body, mind and spirit – with inordinate desires with and for the proliferation of pornography obsession, homosexuality, promiscuity, pedophilia and all manner of sexual perversion.

We are told in Scripture to test the spirits. Test the spirits in your church. If you are hearing spiritual platitudes or prosperity gospel or that “God made you that way” or social justice and rights and political power promotions but you are not hearing evil being addressed and cast out and “Jesus is Lord” every Sunday then there is something very, very wrong. The apprentices have done their work by creating the “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ” (Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor) with the blessing of those in the pews.

Just as in the coliseum of Rome, Christians today are surrounded by roaring lions that seek to devour us. Some of us will be martyred. Others will deny or ignore or even try to placate the lions with compromise and then be consumed by them when a comprise is reached. Some will deny the Lord. Others of us will stand our ground and use the word of God to fell them.

Stay in control of yourselves; stay awake. Your enemy, the devil, is stalking around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, staying resolute in your faith, and knowing that other family members in the rest of the world are facing identical sufferings. Then, after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you in the Messiah Jesus to the glory of his new age, will himself put you in good order, and will establish and strengthen you and set you on firm foundations. To him be the power forever. Amen. 1 Peter 5: 8-11

What are those fascinated with and even obsessed about the spirt world connecting with? They are connecting with the unclean spirits that left the bodies of giants during the Flood and the spirits that left the bodies of pigs when they rushed into the water and all of the unclean demonic host cast out of heaven and unable to return. We must heed the Apostle Paul. Paul saw the enemy as he is. So, he warned the church at Ephesus, a church surrounded by sex cults and idolatry and inundated with unclean spirits, (Eph. 6:12):

The warfare we’re engaged in, you see, isn’t against flesh and blood. It’s against the leaders, against the authorities, against the powers that rule the world in this dark age, against the wicked spiritual elements in the heavenly places.

See your enemy as he is. Your enemy sees you as you are – the image-bearing creation of the One who cast them out of His Presence.

 

And though this world, with devils filled,
should threaten to undo us,
we will not fear, for God hath willed
his truth to triumph through us.
The Prince of Darkness grim,
we tremble not for him;
his rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure;
one little word shall fell him.

–        “A Mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther

 

 

Lord, the whole of your creation, including me, groans waiting for your return to put things right, to finally cast out the red dragon and his apprentices, the unclean spirits. Help me as I wait to see the enemy as It is and to cast It out. Give me discernment from your Holy Spirit to be able to test the spirits in your church. If You are not declared Lord in the church we attend then help us, by your Spirit, to test the spirits of that church and to put things right.

Help me to overcome my resistance to being different than the Dark World. I am born of you, the Light of the world. That is why I find no pleasure in the media or the politics of power. I want to dwell in your Light all of my days and in the age to come.

Father, your beloved and begotten son Jesus is Lord of the Universe. Amen.

 

~~~

Lord willing, I’ll have a future post about dealing with evil.

(*) In C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy novel Perelandra, Ransom the protagonist names Weston, the evil antagonist, the Un-man. Weston becomes less human and eviler as the story progresses.

Deliver Us from Evil

Evil and its enforcer, power, has been around long before man employed both to consolidate empires. Cain killed Abel to gain power over the living reminder of his own disobedience. Joseph’s brothers sold Joseph into slavery to gain power over the living reminder of their supposed unfair treatment and over their father’s love and estate. Evil and its enforcer, power, have always worked together with ruthless abandon to take truth hostage.

 “Violence finds its only refuge in falsehood, falsehood its only support in violence.”

-Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

An astute student of world history would discern that seeking and holding absolute power is valued as far superior to seeking and holding absolute truth. Those who hold power believe they can generate a ‘regime of truth’ by virtue of their position: “truth is what I say it is.”. Anyone attuned to current world affairs can readily see that culture and politics, including our democratic Republic in the U.S., revolve around who holds what power and therefore controls what is and what has been. For, as Winston repeated over and over in George Orwell’s 1984, “who controls the past, controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.” A student of Scripture will see that the regimes of power and truth, beastly kingdoms, are made subject to Absolute Power and Absolute Truth.

It has been said that the gospel crafted by Mark, an ace narrator, was written to a Roman audience. Certainly, there is a “just then” immediacy to his gospel. A sense of action is invoked which would peek a centurion’s ‘man of action’ curiosity. Of more importance to a Roman though, and to any earthly authority and to those under authority, is the theme of who holds power. On earth, regimes of power control regimes of truth. The spiritual world of unclean spirits requires a human habitation to control truth incarnate (Rom. 1:21). Mark’s gospel is the proclamation of a new regime of power and has nothing to do with a justice league of super-heroes with super powers.

In terms similar to announcing a new emperor who claimed to be a son of god, Mark begins his gospel by proclaiming Jesus’ title:

“This is where the good news starts – the good news of Jesus the Messiah, God’s son.”

With this proclamation a new regime is declared. The title acknowledges Jesus’ authority and connotes his power. The title announces what Israel had so hoped for — a Messiah, one who is anointed by God and therefore God’s representative. The Hebrew scriptures chronicled anointed kings, priests and prophets who represented God to Israel. The book of Daniel and writings between the Testaments, in particular the Messianic Apocalypse and the Son of God text from the Dead Sea Scrolls, record Jewish Messianic beliefs in ancient Judaism. In these texts, “Son of Man” is the title given to the one who will reign and hold dominion over all things and offer blessings to those under him.

The new regime, anticipated in Psalm 146 and the Messianic Apocalypse, comes with four blessings:

-The hungry are fed

-the prisoner is set free

-the blind receive their sight

– all things are put right.

Mark’s opening statement declares Jesus to be the anointed One of God. And, of vast more import to the Jews and to the regimes of power and truth, Jesus is declared to be not just another mere mortal claiming to be a son of god, but the One God’s own Son. Human and spirit and citizen and centurion encounter Jesus in Mark’s account. They soon come to this realization.

In the first paragraphs of Mark, Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist is recorded. Here is the anointing of Jesus by water, by the spirit and by The Voice from the realm of heaven: “You are my son! You are the one I love! You make me very glad!”

Next, Jesus is tested by the Satan. The temptation is for Jesus to accept the realm of power and authority that the Satan offers to him.

A few paragraphs later we read of Jesus and his new disciples going to Capernaum. There Jesus encounters a force from the realm of darkness, the same realm offered to him by the Satan:

They went to Capernaum. At once, on the sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue and taught. They were astonished at his teaching. He wasn’t like the legal teachers; he said things on his own authority.

All at once, in the synagogue, there was a man with an unclean spirit.

“What business have you got with us, Jesus of Nazareth?” he yelled. “Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: you’re God’s Holy One!”

“Be quiet!” ordered Jesus “And come out of him!”

The unclean spirt convulsed the man, gave a great shout, and came out of him. Everyone was astonished.

“What’s this?” they started to say to each other. “New teaching – with real authority! He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!”

Mark’s gospel account goes on to detail events which show the authority and power of Jesus. Over and over we read of Jesus’ power over demons, the unclean spirits which roam the earth seeking whom they may inhabit. Realms of power are juxtaposed – heaven’s and the dark forces of the Satan which control men. They are shown in direct conflict. And note above: the unclean spirt knows who Jesus is and by whose authority he works before anyone else in the story. But why does Jesus stop the demon from declaring his identity? Mark’s beginning narrative imposes a tension that is resolved at the end of his gospel.

Before the end of the gospel we read of exorcisms. The realms of darkness are dealt with in these passages:

Mark 1:21-28 – shown above

Mark 5:1-20 – a wild untamed man with inhuman strength is possessed by an unclean spirit. He lives in a graveyard. We read that “No one had the strength to tame him”. This demon possessed man sees Jesus and throws himself in front of Jesus and shouts at the top of his voice…

“Why you and me, Jesus?”  “Why you and me, son of the High God?” By God stop torturing me!”  this last, because Jesus was saying to him “Unclean spirit, come out of him!”

Jesus cast The Legion of demons into a herd of pigs. The pigs then rush to the sea where they drowned. (The unclean spirits leave the dead pigs and go on searching for someone to inhabit.)

Mark 7:24-30 – a Greek woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet. She pleads with Jesus to cast an unclean spirit out of her daughter. After hearing the gentile woman’s “even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that the children drop” Jesus affirms her words and sends her on her way. Her demon-possessed daughter back at home was rid of the unclean spirit.

Mark 9:14-29 – a father brings his demon possessed son to Jesus. The disciples could not cast out the demon. Jesus is notably angry at the unbelief in the power of God, especially when the father hedges, “…if you can do anything…” Jesus reprimands the father. “What do you mean, ‘If you can?” “Everything is possible to someone who believes.” The father shouts “I do believe! “Help me in my unbelief!” Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the boy. The boy convulses and the unclean spirit comes out. The disciples go to question why they were ineffective. Jesus responds, “This sort can only be cast out by prayer.”

In Mark 3:15, 6:7 & 13 and 9:38-39 Jesus gives his followers the authority to cast out unclean spirits.

Mark is an excellent story-teller. As you read above, tension was imposed by Mark in the beginning paragraphs – the silence imposed on the unclean spirit who disclosed Jesus’ identity. This was done to pique the reader’s curiosity. Mark wanted the reader to discover for themselves who Jesus is. Like those involved with Jesus, the reader would question “Is Jesus really the Messiah?” and “Is Jesus really God’s son?” Each encounter and event would provoke questioning and amazement in the reader: “What’s this?”; “New teaching – with real authority! “He even tells unclean spirits what to do, and they do it!” And then the crucifixion appears to give the regime in power – the Romans- the final word about Jesus. But Mark gives us the final word through the mouth of a centurion:

When the centurion who was standing facing him saw that he died in this way, he said, “This fellow really was God’s son.”

The tension is resolved by an onlooker.

 

Lest anyone think that Jesus’ sole purpose on earth was to promote social justice and to have his words later passed on as “all you need is love” sixties-style bromides, Mark’s gospel declares to us that Jesus came to deal with evil and its enforcer, power, and with the agents of corruption possessing a will.

Mark declares that there is a new Lord in power, one with all authority in heaven and on earth. As shown by Mark, no power-enforced “regime of truth” on earth or under the earth can take Jesus’ truth hostage. Truth is what Jesus says it is and his truth can set a person free from power-and will-enforced bondage. No regime of power on earth or under the earth can keep his creation hostage. The world of men is to be set free and blessed by his reign. He chose his followers to make that happen.

Jesus has conferred his authority and power to his followers so that the blind will receive their sight and the hungry are fed and the prisoners are set free and unclean spirits are cast out. The world is to be put right under his Lordship.

To sum Mark’s gospel into today’s media parlance, Jesus slammed, crushed and owned the enemy of our souls. To sum Mark’s gospel in Scriptural phrasing…

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our LORD and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever. -The Revelation of Jesus Christ 11:15

Somewhere Over and Under the Rainbow

The Evil One and his minions never rest. Unclean spirits roam the earth looking for someone to inhabit. We are told in Scripture (1 Peter 5:8) that the enemy of our souls, Satan, walks about like a roaring lion seeking whom he will devour. He will use enticements to lure his prey. And a when human is devoured by the Satan they become devoid of humanness and thus a puppet-disciple of the Evil One. In the novel Perelandra we find a depiction of such a one. His name is Weston.

In Perelandra, the second novel in C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy (see my last two posts for background), we find Ransom the invitee arriving on Perelandra (Venus) and meeting the Green Lady. Ransom finds her to be childlike, innocent, and unspoiled by that which despoiled earth. Upon meeting her, Ransom thinks…

What overwhelmed him was not in the least the fact that she, like himself, was totally naked. Embarrassment and desire were both a thousand miles away from his experience: and if he was a little ashamed of his own body, that shame had nothing to do with the difference of sex and turned only on the fact that he knew his body to be a little ugly and a little ridiculous.

Ransom and the Green Lady converse, trying understand each other and their unique worlds. At one point they both see an object fall from heavy into the sea. Later, Ransom sees Weston (introduced in the previous post) emerge from a spacecraft. Ransom is filled with horror. Why did Weston come to Perealndra? His last encounter with Weston on Malandra was anything but good. Weston was sent back to earth because of his behavior.

Ransom’s initial conversation with the newly arrived Weston, the uninvited, was philosophical and rather benign. It appears that Weston meant to soften Ransom’s attitude toward himself. But Weston soon changes from humanist-philosopher-scientist to an inhuman creature – the Un-man.

Following a night of sleep Ransom awakens and begins walking to find Weston who vanished the day before. As Ransom walks, he comes across a horrible sight – a mutilated frog. As he goes further, he finds a trial of mutilated frogs, unthinkable in the unspoiled teeming world of Perelandra. At the end of the trial he finds Weston mutilating a frog with his long sharp nails.

Here’s what Ransom thought when he encountered the figure of Weston:

If Ransom said nothing, it was because he could not speak. He saw a man who was certainly not ill, to judge from his easy stance and the powerful use he had just been making with his fingers. He saw a man who was certainly Weston, to judge from his height and build and coloring and features. In that sense he was quite recognizable. But the terror was that he was also unrecognizable. He did not look like a sick man: but looked like a very dead one. The face which he raised from torturing the frog had that terrible power which the face of a corpse sometimes has of simply rebuffing every conceivable human attitude one can adopt towards it. The expressionless mouth, the unwinking stare of the eyes, something heavy and inorganic in the very folds of the cheek, said clearly: “I have features as you have, but there is nothing in common between you and me.’ It was this that kept Ransom speechless…the conviction [came] that this, in fact, was not a man: that Weston’s body was kept, walking and undecaying, in Perelandra by some wholly different kind of life, and that Weston himself was gone…

Weston’ body, traveling in a space-ship, had been the bridge by which something else had invaded Perealndra – whether that supreme and original evil whom they call the Bent One, or one of his lesser followers, made no difference.

 

As you read on you see that evil has devoured Weston. He is not content to keep it to himself. Evil is isolating. Weston or It must corrupt those around It for company in hell. And so, Weston begins to ply the Green Lady with words. He tells her that Maledil, The Lord of the universe, wouldn’t mind if she went to the Fixed Land (forbidden to her). He tells her that good will come of it and that Maledil desires for her to break His word to her.

With endless words and cajoling Weston entices the Green Lady. Ransom tries to refute Weston’s untruth and the confusion he is invoking in the Green Lady. At one point he says, “In our world to be older is not always to be wiser.”.

Going back to Ransom’s and Weston’s initial conversation occurring when Weston arrived on Perelandra and the one before Weston was de-humanized into the walking dead, we learn of the synthetic gnostic thinking which had enticed him and reduced him to his low estate. Here’s Weston, the Tempter, responding to Ransom:

“Now your mentioning the Devil is very interesting, “said Weston, who had by this time quite recovered his normal manner. “It is a most interesting thing in popular religion, this tendency to fissiparate, to breed pairs of opposites: heaven and hell, God and Devil. I need hardly say that in my view no real dualism in the universe is admissible; to reject these pairs of doublets as pure mythology. It would have been a profound error. The cause of this universal religious tendency is to be sought much deeper. The doublets are really portraits of Spirit., of cosmic energy – self-portraits, indeed, for it is the Life-Force itself which has been deposited in our brains.” …

“Your Devil and your God, “said Weston, “are both pictures of the same Force.”

(Regarding aspects of dualism, see my previous post Don’t Adjust the Contrast. Regarding the dehumanizing aspects of evil read Perelandra.)

What are the characteristics of evil shown on Perelandra and about us in various measure on earth?

Evil is grandiose. Weston boasted of all the benefits the Green Lady would obtain by doing things his way.

Evil is manipulative. Evil will use good attributes (beauty, older and wiser, etc.) to ensnare a person to do evil.

Evil holds up a self-gratifying mirror for the headstrong: “Malignant narcissism is characterized by an unsubmitted will.” Scott Peck, M.D. People of the Lie*

Evil people lack the motivation to be good but want to appear good. The will consistently lie to protect their appearance and to deceive themselves.

Conversations with evil people will always create confusion.

Nothing is ever fair for those in the thrall of evil. The evil live in an unsatisfied state.

Evil people are chronic scapegoaters. The evil lash out at others who don’t affirm them. The evil project their own perverted emotional state onto others. They have no problem calling people some form of phobic.

Evil people are consistent with their sins. Evil is known by its rotten fruits.

Evil people are destructive. They do not forgive others. And they do not forgive themselves because they do not acknowledge their sin or guilt.

Evil people refuse to have any sense of their sinfulness. They refuse self-examination. They deaden their conscience. They become very defensive against any personal responsibility and guilt.

 

Now, no one is born evil. (I don’t accept the premise of original sin whereby sin is somehow transmitted via the parents to a newborn child. Each person is born a tabula rasa regarding sin.) A person can become evil by continuing to deceive themselves. Out of that self-deception they will make a series of choices which degrade the truth. They will compound lies and compartmentalize them into their evil self so as to look normal on the outside. They must maintain their outward moral purity at all costs. They are the people of the lie*. Evil parents maintain a perverse environment which breeds the mental illness of evil in their children. The evil work to inhibit the spiritual growth of others.

The embrace of evil doesn’t happen overnight. As Ransom listens to Weston drone on in endless babble, he thinks…

If the remains of Weston were, at such a moments, speaking through the lips of the Un-man, then Weston was not a man at all. The forces which had begun, perhaps years ago, to eat away his humanity had now been slowly poisoning the intelligence and the affectation had now at last poisoned itself and the whole psychic organism had fallen to pieces. Only a ghost was left – and everlasting unrest, a crumbling, a ruin, an odour of decay. “And this, “thought Ransom, “might be my destination; or hers [the Green Lady].

 

As Followers of the Lord of the Universe it is important for to understand evil. But we should not focus on evil or be overcome by evil or call others evil. We are to recognize the dynamics of evil so that we can discern when we are being tempted to synthesize what God calls good with what God has called sinful. There is much of this Gnostic synthesis going on churches today in their effort to be inclusive.

“Inclusive” is the popular political word that on the surface sounds wonderful. Yet, it hides the dreadful desire to purge the dualism God has put in place and to replace it with New Age pluralism. God’s dualism is deemed too harsh and too exclusive. Remember, there is territorial spiritual warfare going on all around us. This warfare affects our culture and our politics. The forces for good battle the forces for evil. As C.S. Lewis put it, “There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” Weston’s efforts to entice the Green Lady reveal the extent to which the forces of evil will go to persuade one to come over to the dark side:

It was on those lines that the enemy now worked almost exclusively. Though the [Green] Lady had no word for Duty he [Weston] made it appear to her in light of a Duty that she should continue to fondle the idea of disobedience, and convinced her that it would be a cowardice if she repulsed him. The ideas of the Great Deed, of the Great Risk, of a kind of martyrdom, were presented to her every day, varied in a thousand forms.

The Tempter goes on to entice the Green lady into disobedience with feminism.

 

 

As recounted in part above, what Weston embraced leading to his mental illness and dehumanized state is common to modern man under the rainbow. Weston proceeded to take his poisoned soul over the rainbow to another planet where he began to sow seeds of deception with the likes of “Did Maledil really say that?”. Don’t be deceived or devoured by evil. For now, the Followers of Jesus are to be the people of the tension – choosing the good and abhorring the evil all around us.

“See here,” Jesus continued, “I’m sending you out like sheep surrounded by wolves. So be shrewd as snakes and as innocent of doves.” Matthew10:16

 

 

~~~

I recommend C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. The above passages are only a small selection from a trio of novels which depict good and evil and more spiritual realities via fiction. You’ll be better for it.

*I recommend M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, The Hope for Healing Human Evil, quoted above. Peck, a psychiatrist, provides eye-opening accounts and descriptions of human evil.

Don’t Adjust the Contrast

 

From a humanities perspective, God’s word to us is a study in contrasts. Distinctions of people, places and things are noted on page after page. The Creator, who dwells in unapproachable light, provided those created in His image with eyes to see and ears to hear so as to discern the dissimilarities with a handbook of juxtapositions as a guide. And so, we read of light and darkness, good and evil, love and hatred and much, much more. Let’s take a look. 

At the beginning of the God and human narrative one can read of a void and then a creation, of night and day, of sea and dry land, of heaven and earth, of human and animal, of male and female, of right and wrong choices, and of the garden and not the garden.

Later we learn of Egypt and the Promised Land and of leeks and garlic and of milk and honey.

Israel is given the Ten Commandments to contrast right from wrong behavior towards God and others.

Slavery or freedom are predominant alternatives posed to Israel.

Israel must choose between serving idols or serving the One True God.

The Torah provides Godly practices to do and unclean pagan practices to avoid.

The Psalms of Solomon (eighteen psalms) serve a didactic role as they describe the ways of sinners and their end and the way of the righteous and their end.

The wisdom literature of Proverbs encourages us to consider the ways of the wise and the foolish.

Ecclesiastes talks about contrasting seasons and perspectives.

The prophets reminded Israel of the alienating contrast between seeking God’s hometown blessing through obedience and exile from the City of Peace because of disobedience. Isaiah contrasts the fate of the Babylonians and Israel (Is. 26).

Daniel the scribe presents us his account of dreams and visions which contrast beastly rulers and beastly empires with the coming righteous and just reign of the Son of Man.

The intertestamental Jewish writings repeat and augment the differences found in the Old Testament:

Unrighteous rulers and the Messiah; Antiochus IV Epiphanes and The King of the Universe (2 Maccabees)

Fallen angels and holy ones of God (1 Enoch 15)

The fate of the unrighteous and the righteous at the time of the resurrection and judgment (4 Ezra 7).

 

The Gospels record the polarizing life and teaching of Jesus. Here, briefly, are some of the dichotomies Jesus presents through parables and encounters:

Sand and rock.

Lost and found.

Blind and seeing.

Out of your mind and in your right mind.

Pride and humility.

Wheat and chaff.

Sheep and goats.

Water and wine and the best wine.

Blessings (Matthew 5) and woes (Matthew 23).

Virtue signaling righteousness and honest to goodness righteousness.

Truth and untruth.

The world and the kingdom of God.

The self-righteous and the humble.

The wide way and the narrow way.

Faith and sight.

Life and death.

First and last.

There is a contrast within no contrast: the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

The fierceness of Jesus’ gaze and his tears over Jerusalem and at a funeral.

(Jesus does not contrast the rich and poor as do Progressives based on their power-gathering political ideology. Instead, Jesus contrasted the poverty of material mindedness with the richness of righteousness mindedness.)

 

The Epistles continue the contrast narrative begun in the Old Testament and reiterated in the Jewish writings between the testaments. With this univocal background and the unequivocal words of Jesus, the writers of the epistles provide the theology and practical application of the Kingdom of God on earth using opposites. Here is a list of some those:

The righteous and the unrighteous.

The justified and the unjust.

The reprobate and the rescued

Those who have exchanged truth for a lie and those who dwell in truth.

Those who do not acknowledge God and those who

Those with a stubborn and unrepentant heart and those who “by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life”.

The glorious inheritance in Christ and the minimum wage of death

There are those who say you may have faith but I have works and those who show their faith by their works.

Those who live by faith and those who live by sight.

Those who say one thing and do another and those who love in word and deed.

False teaching and teaching that has been handed down.

The physical body and the spiritual body.

The body used for immorality and the body as the temple of God.

Saints and sinners.

The Levitical priesthood and Melchizedek’s priesthood.

Light and darkness.

Throughout Scripture we read of the people of God and the enemies of God. The opposing forces clash in the last days. They and the whole universe reach a summing point in Jesus.

 

The Apostle John, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, testifies that mankind’s entrenched polar opposites come together for the Lord of the Universe’s final division:

The letter begins with a heart-stopping contrast: “I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

Seven letters to churches delineate “well done” times and sharp warnings about dysfunctional times.

John’s apocalyptic letter details…

Those written in the book of life and those not written in the book of life.

Hades and Heaven.

The lake of fire and the river of the water of life.

Demonic forces and angels.

Satan and the Son of Man.

The Beast and the Lamb.

A war to end all wars and a peace to end all wars.

The lion and the lamb.

 

Despite all the bally-hoo touting rainbow-colored “diversity, in the end all of the temporary social constructs will be torn down to reveal the definer of persons and groups to be result of choices each has made with black and white alternatives. Note, Jesus did not say, “I am for your way and your truth and your lifestyle”. Even Jesus did not choose his own way but the Father’s. Had Jesus chosen that which was offered to him by the Satan in the desert and later by Pontius Pilate where would mankind be?

With all of the contrasts, binaries, dichotomies and lack of ambiguities in the God and human narrative that are re-voiced from start to finish, it’s as if God wanted us to “choose this day whom we will serve”.

~~~~

In C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra novel, Ransom questions the Green Lady. He is trying to understand why he was invited to Perelandra and about its world and its ways. At one point the Green Lady responds:

“Since our Beloved became a man, how can reason in any world take another form? Do you not understand? That is all over. Among times there is a time that turns a corner and everything this side of it is new. Times do not go backward.”

See Him as He Is

 

Ears that hear and eyes that see– the LORD has made them both. Proverbs 20:12

Poor homeless beggar in despair

Over time my eyes have weakened. In my fifties I began to wear glasses. Last year before I turned sixty-six, I had my eyes checked again. I came out with a stronger prescription. The change was necessary for my job. Engineering drawings contain words and details that matter.

Not long ago I had another eye exam. I was asked if I see the world differently as a Follower of Jesus. I responded “Yes!”

Over time my vision of God, Jesus, Heaven, the Bible, the Eucharist, and prophecy had to be corrected. The stronger prescriptions came about through challenges in my life. Some of the challenges were brought on by circumstances beyond my control. Other challenges came about by my own will – the desire to know God and the meaning of life amidst the material concerns of day-to-day life. Some challenges came about because I had to change my ways. Some background information is required to help you see where I am coming from and what has changed my perspectives.

Like most kids, my early vision was through the eyes of others. The Bible churches I attended with my parents taught that heaven is my final home, that a rapture would take me away from the spoiled and messy world, and that creation occurred in six days. In my youth Bible prophecy was bound up in all kinds of adamant theories about the end times. Some of you will remember Hal Lindsey and his book The Late Great Planet Earth.

I attended Moody Bible Institute early in the seventies. Though I entered a Christian Education-Music program I ultimately became interested in the classes that taught Old Testament, New Testament and koine Greek. I have since pursued Biblical studies and added science texts and good fiction. Because of my studies I began to see things differently. Much differently. My eyes were opened and new realities appeared before me:

Heaven is a way station, a temporary place and not my final resting place. The version of heaven taught for so many years has been a great disservice to the kingdom of God on earth where Jesus will return to reign. Heaven and earth will be joined. All of Scripture’s references to the Temple reveal that God’s dwelling place is to be with man, his creation, on his creation. The good that God saw “in the beginning” will be seen again.

I see any pronouncement of a rapture as a misinterpretation of a Scripture metaphor. There will be no rapture. Again, not a literal passage.

I fully accept evolutionary creationism. God created the universe some 4 billion years ago with a Big Bang. At some point God breathed his spirit into evolved mankind so that man would begin to see God as He is. Genesis chapters 1 and 2 are true myth about what God wants us to know about our cosmic origin. These poetic chapters were not meant to be literal scientific texts.

Though physical reality surrounds us, science was never discussed in the churches I have attended throughout my life. Spiritual realities took center stage and those were often reduced to formula: believe, repent, go to heaven and before you leave this vale of tears go into ministry.

The six-day creation meme was considered de facto truth and therefore one was obliged to agree to the premise or your Christianity was in doubt. Put to the congregation, if you didn’t accept six-day creation then you didn’t believe the Bible to be God’s word. Science was considered a down-to-earth field and therefore had nothing to do with your heavenly home. Had science, as a means for searching for truth, been promoted in the churches I attended I may have chosen to be a physicist early on. I am fascinated by the God-created elements and forces that mankind is able to use. And, the mystery of quantum physics. There is no mystery to six-day creation. Without the mystery and wonder of science we might as well turn off the lights.

As science was characterized as a secular necessity and not a stairway to heaven, so was most anything else that wasn’t considered “ministry” related. Early on, the “ministry” was hammered into me via countless sermons and calls to dedication. Yet, I now see that my work as an electrical engineer is just as important as going to the “mission field”. The “harvest”, in cubicles, surrounds me.

After years of feeling guilty that I had revoked “God’s plan for your life”, I began to see that work in all forms is good, profitable, and sustains me, my family and the Kingdom of God on earth. My work as an engineer provides electricity to millions of homes. I add to the Kingdom of God by providing comfort, security and …light to my Lord’s world. And, my fellow engineers know that I am a not a light under a bushel.

The next change to my eyesight came from years of reflection. The churches I attended practiced communion Sundays. They offered symbols and remembrance. The sober times were like a memorial service for someone who had died. I was taught through sermons and schooling that transubstantiation doesn’t exist, that the bread and wine are representations and nothing more. Yet, at the same time, the corporate understanding was that the Holy Spirit indwelt believers. I reflected on this. If the Holy Spirit can dwell in believers then why can’t the True Presence of the Lord exist in the bread and wine?

I also considered that Jesus turned water into wine. That is transubstantiation. I came to see that the indwelling Holy Spirt and the risen Lord and the Father come together at the Eucharist as we celebrate with thanksgiving.

When I was asked if I see the world differently as a Follower of Jesus I responded “Yes! And, because of that, I also see the world differently.

The world does not accept spiritual realities. Instead, it accepts “red in tooth and claw” power struggles. The current world system is based on obtaining power over one’s circumstances by gaining and consolidating power over others. The tower of Babel and Pontius Pilate are two examples from history of man’s will to power. Climate change hysteria, LGBT activism, socialism crusading, feminist stridency, and the surge of occultism are modern-day examples of people trying to use power through force to subject others to their will.

Though I am not worried by the constant political hype pushing data-generated climate change, I am concerned about the media-generated moral climate change. There is a huge power struggle going on. The forces of darkness want control of humanity.

Many churches, under the banner of Christianity, have turned their backs on the precepts God set in place. Their members believe that they are more enlightened than God. They will tell you that Jesus abolished the Law and the Prophets. They have marched beyond the whole narrative of Scripture to an anything goes morality under the banner of love without judgement. As such, humans are reduced to bodily functions. Good and evil are reduced to “Likes” on social media. PC ear plugs and blindfolds block ears and eyes to anything that would expose physical and spiritual reality. The sad truth of such behavior is that one doesn’t see much inside a cave except one’s own eerie shadow flicker on the cave walls. Others are blamed for the self-imposed deafness and blindness. Jesus put it this way regarding Israel:

“Isaiah’s prophecy is coming true in them:

‘You will listen and listen but won’t understand

You will look and look and not see.

This people’s heart has gone flabby and fat

Their ears are muffled and dull,

Their eyes are darkened and shut;

In order that they won’t see with their eyes

Or hear with their ears, or know in their heart,

Or turn back again for me to restore them.’

-Matt. 13: 14-15

Look around. Beauty is being replaced by art and architecture that could have been created by objectivist Ayn Rand. The human element is removed and stark drab utilitarian buildings are erected. My church is redoing the 1800 built and rehabbed rectory into classrooms. The rectory is on the church grounds. The church was required by the village to redo the building so as to fit in with the neighborhood – older classic-styled houses. Three blocks away, in the same type of neighborhood, a monstrosity is being erected. The new public library is a modernist blech that doesn’t fit in at all. For sale signs are going up all around the construction site. The same debasing also applies to the sacred.

“In the presence of sacred things our lives are judged, and in order to escape that judgement we destroy the thing that seems to accuse us. And because beauty is a reminder of the sacred – and indeed a special form of it – beauty must be desecrated too” -philosopher Roger Scruton

Popular music, a noise produced by hormone-driven over-the-edge-of-seventeen generators, pounds with the annoying energy of a 3-year-old kicking the booth behind you in a restaurant. The lyrics of rap, hip hop, popular music, and rock promote animal urges to the nth degree. Unclean spirits roam the earth looking for a song to inhabit.

The vision held by the world is one of utopia. And, according to the world, power and control begets utopia. And so the world seeks power at all costs to others to acquire the long-sought utopia. Accordingly, you and society are to blame for the lack of utopia. Post-modern Progressives seek power to break up society and the communities that sustain them and to remake both in their image. For them, most of what happened before they came on the scene is of no value. This includes art, architecture, and male-female marriage. The foundations of cultural permanence are to be replaced with the shifting sands of Whim-Progressivism.

Humans require beauty. Beauty provides hope. What is being created today reflects the despair of the alienated worldview. Creative outrage is still outrage and does not produce beauty. Humility producing beauty and wonder have been co-opted by know-it-all outrage.

How does one correct one’s vision? Holding an almost cartoonish Sunday School vision of Jesus is not good enough. Reading good theology helps. Reading science texts challenges your mind and your worldview. A healthy imagination is a powerful means to regain your sight. Good fiction causes one to contemplate life whereas TV briefly entertains with its canned product. The ritual of sitting in front of the TV with your spouse needs to be re-examined. Exotic stimulation, violence and touchy-feely programs do not equate to the reality you need to live. Good fiction helps one see beyond one’s circumstances.

In C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, a response-in-kind to H.G. Wells’ progressive humanist fantasies, one can read about Ransom, a philologist and the protagonist. He is forcibly taken out of this world via a spaceship by two men. One of the men is a humanist scientist intent on gaining control of Malacandra for mankind’s future. This is the pair’s second trip to Malacandra. On this return trip, the kidnapped Ransom is to be offered to the Sorns as a sacrificial offering to appease the natives.

Briefly, Ransom arrives on Malacandra (Mars), escapes the clutches of the two men and meets all kinds of celestial beings. His stay on Malacandra opens his eyes to a new reality. When he later returns to earth he learns that he has been invited back to the heavens. But this time it is to Perelandra (Venus). Once there, Ransom’s eyes are once again opened:

“At Ransom’s waking something happened to him which perhaps never happens to a man until he is put out of his own world: he saw reality, and thought it was a dream.”

The intent of C.S. Lewis space trilogy was to open eyes to realities greater than themselves. I recommend reading this trilogy.

Just as there are many accounts of people finding things in the Gospels, Scripture contains many eye-opening moments. In particular, I am reminded of Stephen before the Sanhedrin. Stephen sees Jesus sitting at the right hand of the Father. Later, Stephen’s stoning witness Paul has his eyes opened to see the glorified Jesus on the Damascus road. Reality broke in for both.

When the blind beggar’s sight was restored, he saw Jesus as he was, in human form. The Apostle John tells us that when Jesus appears again in his glorified human form as Lord of the Universe we will be like him “for we will see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). Every twinkling eye will be opened then. The blindfolds will be pulled off. Wisdom, who was with God before the Big Bang, will be revealed in all her beauty.

 

With this post I am confirming what I know to be true as I have let the Holy Spirit be the optometrist for my eyes of understanding. The Holy Spirit has prompted me over and over: “take another look” and “see Him as he is”. As I have responded I have been able to see the Lord and the world with his eyes.

The way I figure it, if a person stops growing in the Lord and they stop trying to see Him as he is, they have effectively closed their ears and eyes. They are saying, “I can feel my way ahead.”  Who knows where they will end up?

~~~

On Perelandra, The Green Lady speaks to Ransom:

“Your world has no roof. You look right into the high place and see the great dance with your own eyes. You live always in that terror and that delight, and what we must only believe you can behold…”

The Thicket

The boy ran as fast he could. The old man chasing him kept pace with longer strides. The boy ran down a gully and through a shallow creek. He soaked his feet. Running up the hill he saw a fence. Just a few more paces and he would be free. The old man won’t jump he fence, he thought.

Near the fence the boy took one last look and saw the old man standing on the other side of the stream. He was cursing with his fist in the air. The boy’s heart pounded faster. He ran toward the fence hoping to grab the post and throw himself over. He leapt and his leg was caught. Barbed wire. He held tightly to the cigar box and tried to pulled himself free. The barbed wire ripped into his leg. The slice of burning pain he felt in his leg turned to ice-cold fear in his face. The old man was now closing in.

“What possessed you boy to take my box? The old man came up and grabbed the boy’s leg. “I should whoop you to within an inch of your life.”

Taking his pocket knife, the old man cut the boy’s pants leg free from the barbed wire. He held the bleeding leg tightly and looked him in the eye. He remembered what his father had said as he lay dying, “They can’t take anything away from you Lloyd. I promised I would provide for you.”

The old man pulled the boy down from the fence. The boy wanted to run but the old man had a firm grasp on his neck. “You are coming with me.”

Back at the barn the old man let go of the boy in a stall. The boy, writhing in pain, fell back into the straw.

“You need to know somethings,” the old man spoke bent over, trying to catch his breath. After a minute he grabbed the cigar box off the straw and stood erect.

The old man opened the cigar box and looked through it. Everything was there including the farm’s deed at the bottom of the box. The old man pulled it out.

“I’m real sorry sir. That old box looked like it had old stuff in it and…”

“That ring was my wife’s wedding band and that piece of paper right thar is a promise from my father.”

The boy blinked away a gathering tear. He waved away a shock of hair from his eyes. “A promise?”

“Yes, a promise. My daddy promised to give me the farm when I was your age. This is a deed to the farm.“ The old man waved the deed in front of the boy’s wide eyes.

“I didn’t think an old piece of paper mattered to anyone.”

“Promises do, son. Promises do.”

“My daddy left me the land when he died. It was in his will, just like he said.  “Keep it in the family, he said. You take my promise away boy and I have nothing.”

The boy, recovered from running, looked outside where the moonlight offered passage to escape.

“I have a mind to talk to your parents,” the old man pointed his finger at the boy.

“That’s not possible, sir.”

“What do you mean, boy?”

“I mean that my parents are… they are dead, sir.”

“C’mon kid. Tell me their name.”

“There are Hawkins, sir. Tom and Betty Hawkins.”

“I know that name Hawkins. Your mom works at Mare’s Diner.”

“Yes, sir. She did.”

“Well, tell me what you mean that they are dead.”

“They were killed in a car accident on highway 27. A big ole truck hit their car.”

“Geez, son. I’m sorry.”

“It happened last Christmas Eve. They were driving home from… Geez, sir, I better git home. My aunt will be worried.”

The boy took off past the old man. Forgetting the pain in his leg he ran with all his might across the old man’s field toward the fence. The old man, still breathing heavy, didn’t give chase. He watched as the boy struggled to get over the barbed wire. The boy gave out yelp as he fell to the ground on the other side. He ran off to where no moonlight could trace him.

 

A month or so later the old man came to Mare’s Diner for his breakfast. Sally, the waitress, poured him a cup of coffee while taking in the old man.

“I don’t see you here much.” Sally wiped up split coffee with her apron.

“I’m not much to see,” the old man replied.

“C’mon now, you old geezer, you tryin’ to make me feel sorry for you?”

“No ma’am. Life does that all on its own without any help.”

Sally wiped more coffee from the table.

“Say, didn’t I see you here a while back with a young man.”

“That was my son Seth. He was saying goodbye. He was moving out to California to go live with his mom. I was with her years before I married Ruth.”

“He didn’t want to work the farm?”

“Hell no. He doesn’t care about soy beans and corn. He’s into data farming, whatever that is. Say, scramble me up some eggs with some dry wheat toast before I die of starvation.”

“I’ll go do that right now. I don’t want to anything to happen to that sunny disposition of yours.”

Sally headed off to the kitchen.

Five minutes later she returned with the old man’s breakfast.

“Do you know that boy?” The old man pointed out the window.

“Yeah, that’s Archie. His folks died a while back. Sad for a ten-year old boy to lose both parents. What’s he doin’?”

“He’s got his thumb out. O, my lord, he’s hitchhiking.” The old man got up and went outside.

“Hey boy! Hey Archie!” The boy turned and started running.

“Hey Archie! I’m not gonna chase you. C’mere and talk to me for a minute. The old man’s cracking voice carried out to the road.

The boy stopped. He turned and saw the old man standing at the door of the diner. The boy stood by the side of the road kicking gravel. A car passed and then a truck.

“What is it you want?”

“I’ll tell you over breakfast. C’mon my eggs are getting cold.”

The boy, hungry because he left home before his aunt woke, slowly walked toward the restaurant kicking stones as he walked.

“Where you off to boy? Sally says your name is Archie. Where you off to Archie?”

“Anywhere but here.” The boy brushed back a shock of brown hair from his face.

“I see. You better have some breakfast before you go. It’s on me.”

The boy shrugged his shoulders and followed the old man to the booth.

“Sally what have you got for this young man?”

“I’ve got eggs, hash browns, bacon, toast, flap jacks…”

“Go ahead and get what you want.” The old man nodded at the boy.

“I’ll have that.”

“OK. And some orange juice, too?” Sally added.

“Yes, ma’am.”

Morning sunlight coursed through the window making the boy squint. The old man pulled the shade down and the boy relaxed his face. His hands fiddled with the silverware.

“You don’t like here?”

“No, sir, I don’t like here. There’s nothing for me here… just like that field across the street. Ain’t nothing but dirt.”

“Son, you ain’t seen nothing yet. That field of dirt has got life in it…below the surface… you have to look longer than today.”

“I’ve seen all I want to see.”

Sally returned with the boy’s breakfast and placed several plates before him. She then leaned over to the old man and whispered, “I called the boy’s aunt so she ain’t worried. She’ll be comin’ for him.”

The boy heard. “Ah, noooo.” The boy started up from his seat but the old man grabbed his arm and held down.

“Sit down. Son, Archie, you’ve got man impulses but boy resources. You best stay with your aunt ‘til you grow you own.”

“My aunt knows nothing except yarn. She’s knitting all the time.”

“Some folks knit when they are lonely and bored and some hitchhike. I understand that your uncle passed away last year. Terrible sad time for your aunt and now for you with your parent’s gone.”

The boy didn’t look up. He kept eating, filling his cheeks like a squirrel’s.

“When my Ruth died, I was terrible sad and lonely. She …I ain’t gonna bother you with the details of my life.”

“You’ve bothered me already. But I’m here, ain’t I?”

“Ruth was good woman. I’d sit with her at night and we’d listen to our music on the radio. She’d knit and rock in her chair. And she made the best pies around. Even sold them here in the diner.”

“I could use some pie.” The boy spoke as he swallowed the last cheek-load. He wiped his face with his sleeve.

“Sally, what kind of pie you got today? This boy has another leg to fill.”

“Strawberry rhubarb and cinnamon apple.” Sally called out from behind the counter.

“Apple.” The boy had no doubt.

Sally returned with the boy’s pie. The boy started in on the pie.

“You ain’t havin’ any?” Sally set the pie before the old man.

“No. I’ll eat some after supper. It’ll slow me down. Pie has a way of catching up with you …”

The boy finished the pie and fell back against the booth cushion. He closed his eyes. “I’m full.”

As Sally cleared the plates the boy’s aunt, frantic, rushed into the diner and over to the booth.

“There you are! My lord, I thought I lost you!”

“He’s OK. He just had a silo-fill of breakfast. He ain’t goin’ nowhere.” The old man spoke as he stood.

“Thank you! I’ll take charge of him now. Land sakes, boys are…”

“Ma’am, he’s a boy lookin’ after himself. He just doesn’t know how to look ahead of himself.”

“Well, I sure don’t. I raised girls and they occupy themselves with books and flowers and…”

“Yes ma’am they do. Boys occupy themselves with a world of things like pocket knives and sling shots and chewing gum. And things that get them head-to-toe covered with the earth.

The boy’s aunt pulled the old man away from the table.

“Lord, I don’t know what to do with that boy. I was given charge over him when his folks died. I don’t know how to …I’m afraid he’ll run away again.” The old man looked out the window as if the past was passing by.

“Listen,” the old man stood between the aunt and the boy, “I’ll take him home with me. My farm’s over on Route 25. I have a bedroom where he can sleep. You can come over anytime to check on him. Would that work for you?”

“I…I guess, yes. You’re …you’re not a young man anymore to be chasing boys, Lloyd.”

“You are right about that. I’ll have him help me with the farm and see that he gets fed and man-folk things to do.”

“I guess it will be alright. I don’t know how to raise a boy without Howard around.”

“Then let’s do this and let’s see how it goes for the boy.”

“OK. Let’s. Call me if there is an ounce of trouble.”

“Oh, there will be plenty of trouble comin’ my way but that’s nothing compared to hitchhiking trouble the boy will encounter.”

“Yes, thank God you showed up at the right time.”

“I’ll take the boy with me, kicking and screaming if I have to. I’ll make sure he’s taken care of. How about you make a fresh pie for us every week and you bring it over on Sundays after church?”

“That works for me! OK Lloyd I’ll be by this Sunday.”

The boy’s aunt went over to the booth. She kissed the boy’s forehead and left a red lipstick smear. She told the boy, “Lloyd here is gonna take you to his home.”

“I don’t want to go to his home!”

“He’s taking you to his farm. You’ll stay with him.

“What?! Nooooo!”

The old man came back to the booth and sat down.

“Archie, I’ve talked with your aunt. She and I thought it would be a good idea for you to stay with me for a time, nothing permanent… just a spell, so you can do the things that guys like to do.” The old man winked at the aunt.

“Like what?”

“Well, I’ve got a fishing hole on my property. A boy could go swimming. I could show you how to shoot a .22 and how to forge your own knife.”

“Swimming?” The boy put his face into his hands. “I guess. Just for a short time until I get some money for a bus ticket.”

The old man offered his hand to the boy. After a minute the boy took his face out of his hands, reached across and shook the old man’s hand. The old man drove them to the farm.

 

A month had gone by. The boy settled into a routine. He followed the old man around as the old man did his daily routine on the farm. He watched the old man as he repaired broken equipment. And, he watched him as he made their meals. The whole time the boy stood at distance with his hands firmly shoved into his front pockets.

In the afternoon, after the chores had been done, the old man told the boy to go to the fishing hole for a swim to clean off the sweat and dirt. As the boy swam the old man sat on the porch smoking a cigar and reading the newspaper and ag reports.

The evenings were spent eating dinner, cleaning up dishes and then taking a long walk. The old man told the boy that he and Ruth had spent many twilights walking and just being quiet together. The boy had no problem being the old man’s quiet hands-in-pockets companion. The conversation of crickets sufficed for both of them.

Back at the house the old man would read to the boy. He read books borrowed from the library. The old man read from the newly published set of Master and Commander novels. He told the boy that ever since he was a kid and saw tall ships on his trip out east to see his dying aunt that he wanted to be on the open see. But, being raised a farmer and inheriting the farm kept him landlocked. The boy took it in as he lay on the floor with his head perched in his hands.

On Sundays the boy’s aunt came over with a fresh baked pie and a set of folded laundry. She had offered to do their laundry on her first visit. The boy would bury his face into his clean clothes. They smelled of summer and buttery pie crust.

It wasn’t long before the boy’s aunt noticed that the boy’s eyes had brightened from their once desperate and unanimated gaze. It was if sense had been poured into him. She noticed, too, that the boy loved to run. A mention of the swimming hole had him remove his hands from his pockets and take off his tee shirt. He would run out the door like he was shot from a gun. “My lord, that boy can run!”

The old man agreed. “I wonder if he’ll be another Jim Ryun the sub-four-minute miler. He’ll make the half-mile to the hole in no time flat. The aunt looked puzzled but nodded. The old man continued. “Nothing can catch him except barb-wire.” The aunt looked puzzled again. The old man smiled. “I’ll let him tell that story when he’s ready.”

On Sunday they attended church. The old man was not a spiritual man. He believed in the elements and what his hands worked and sometimes the Farmer’s Almanac. He had taken his son Seth to church to let him decide for himself. But Seth later declared himself an atheist and said that the good life and the good weather was to be found in California.

One Sunday the preacher gave a sermon on Abraham’s faith: God commanded the sacrifice of Abram’s son. Abram proceeded to offer his son as a offering. As Abram raised his dagger an angel stopped him from slaughtering his son. A lamb was provided to take the place of the boy.

That night, during their evening walk, the boy asked, “How can a father kill his own son?”

“I wonder that myself. I guess Abram decided that God knew what he was doing, with his promise and all – descendants as many as the stars.”

The boy flinched. “You don’t have descendants if you kill them. If I was Isaac I would have run.”

“I guess Isaac decided that his dad knew what he was doing.”

The old man looked up at the night sky. “I read something a while back. All the elements on earth were forged under great pressure in stars – I’ll show you some rocks when we get back to the house. What do you think about that?”

The boy shrugged his shoulders and said, “I think rocks make more sense than killing your kid.”

They walked on to their turnaround point and then headed back to the house. There the old man showed the rocks he had collected when he was a boy: copper ore, iron ore, jasper, cobalto calcite fushite, citrine and many more specimens that his father brought home to him from his travels. The old man told the boy he could keep them in his room. The boy kept them on the stand next to his bed.

 

The next summer the boy spent his time at the fishing hole after completing his chores. It was there that he met two boys – brothers – about his age. They came over from a neighboring farm. The boys spent their time in the water and building a fort in string of trees along the old man’s field. When they became bored they decided to steal cigarettes off of old man Jacobs dresser. They smoked them in their fort.

The brothers, Jake and Riley, later decided that they would have more fun. They would steal a transistor radio from old lady Miller. The boy came along. He didn’t want to be on the outside, except as a lookout. As it happened old lady Miller hung out the laundry on Mondays. As she did, she listened to the radio perched on a nearby chair. The boys moved in when she entered the house. They snatched the radio and took off back to their fort.

Days later the local paper reported things disappearing from local houses: a radio, a watch, a bicycle, and issues of National Geographic. Per the account, no suspects had been determined. So, the boys continued to steal. The impulse to steal even bigger things and make a getaway was behind Jake’s and Riley’s decision to steal old man Jenkins car. They reasoned: the old man rarely drove it anyway; it was just sitting in his yard waiting to be used; besides, they would only take it for a ride to the next town twenty miles away where the five and dime carried comic books. They told themselves that they would bring the car right back as if nothing happened.

“I don’t know.” The boy voiced his resistance to taking the car and went on to say that they should stick to little things. But he soon changed his mind, the lure of friendship had been cast and the bait taken.

With a stolen pack of cigarettes, the boys made their getaway. Jake, the oldest of the three, knew how to drive. They left the farm down a back road and zig-zagged over to Hastings in the next county. They left a cloud of dust hanging over the fields they raced passed. Cigarette smoke added to the plume.

The car’s radio played loud, so loud in fact, that they couldn’t hear the siren of the police car behind them. Jake slowed up to make a turn. As he did the dust trailed off on the road left behind. Looking right the boys could see the police car’s mars light flashing red. They shut off the radio and pulled to the side of the road. The cigarettes were tossed. In the seconds before the officer reached the car, they tried to devise a reason for being in old man Jenkins car. A medical prescription emergency? They were gonna buy it from old man Jenkins and they wanted to test drive it? It was just for an hour, that’s all?

The officer would have none of it. He placed the three boys into the back of his car and radioed the station. He told the dispatcher to call Mr. Jenkins and let him know his car was found.

Back at the station the officer put the boys in a cell and proceeded to call their parents. Jake and Riley’s parents came right over. They were visibly shaken. Lloyd walked in minutes later and together they asked, “What’s the charge?’

The officer told them that stealing a car is a felony. He also said that he had good reason to believe that the three boys were involved in other things being stolen incurring possible misdemeanor charges. After admitting what they had done the boys were released to the custody of their guardians. A hearing date was set.

The silent ride home with the old man didn’t improve the boy’s outlook. The old man looked heartbroken. At supper that night they ate in silence. The boy didn’t want to catch the man’s gaze. The boy ate with his left hand spanned across his brow. The old man chewed his food as if he was chewing his thoughts.

The boy offered to wash the dishes. He left the room and came back with a cigar box. The old man picked one out and went to the porch.

The boy went to bed early that night. There would be no walk with the old man. There would only be an overwhelming sadness that pervaded his being. Events of isolation converged as he lay in bed: the loss of his parents and the loss of the old man’s trust and losing himself to the law. Sleep came after the boy, crying and clenching his teeth, beat his pillow with his fist.

The next day was Sunday. The boy’s aunt would make her weekly visit. When she arrived, the old man greeted her and put the pie she made for them on the rail of the porch. “Let’s go for a walk.”

The two set down the road the boy and the old man walked. The old man told the boy’s aunt about the day before. The aunt nearly fainted. “My lord!” she kept saying after each of the old man’s disclosures.

When they returned the old man called for the boy to come out to the porch. The boy, pensive, obeyed.

“Your aunt and I have been talking. We both think it best that I adopt you. I don’t know if you’ll be entering junior high this fall but whatever happens we will go through it together.”

The boy tried to look accepting. Fear of the unknown was now taking over. He shuffled over to his aunt and offered her a hug. The aunt, who had been wringing her hands, opened her arms and smothered the boy in a hug. With that something stirred in the boy. His fear encountered embrace.

That night, the boy, at the insistence of the old man resumed their nightly walk. The old man again told the boy that he was adopting him.

“Adopting? What’s that mean exactly?”

“It means that I promise to take care of you as your father would if he were here.”

The boy looked up at the old man. “Does it mean I have to take care of you?”

“Only if you have a mind to.” The old man smiled.

The boy didn’t speak until the turnaround point.

“I guess you know what you are doing, with your promise and all.” As the boy spoke, he felt a rush of tears gush up and pool in his eyes. He turned toward home and began walking ahead of the old man, snapping his leg with a twig he found.

 

The day of the hearing arrived. The old man had the boy take a shower, clean his face and comb his har. He had bought a tie for the boy to wear before the judge. “The judge has to see that you are trying to clean up our act. This is a start.”

Jake, Riley and the boy stood before Judge Gibbons as the charge of felony was read. Jake and Riley’s parents had retained an attorney. The old man had asked for a public defender. The boys were asked how they pled. They each responded “Guilty”. The anvil word was met with a hammer rap.

Before setting a sentencing date, the judge asked the boy’s parents and their attorneys to come into his chamber.

“Between us folks, these boys were behaving like boys. Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child, as Proverbs says. From experience I know that foolish pranks can turn into foul play. Your boys are on the cusp of that. Though I could send them to a juvenile home, this is their first offence. I would rather they learn from this experience here and now. I would rather their foolishness be put away forever. Any thoughts?

Jake and Riley’s attorney spoke first. “As you honor said, this is the boy’s first offense, first major offense, that is. I have had a talk with them about the possible consequences including what having a criminal record would do to their lives. I ask for leniency and probation for the boys so they can turn their lives around. Their parents will keep strict attention on their behavior.

“And you sir”, the judge turned to the old man.

The old man, agitated in his chair began to speak slowly, aware of his racing heartbeat:

“Your honor…” the old man told the judge how he came across the boy one night and how he learned of the boy’s parent’s death and about the boy’s hitchhiking. He told the judge about their walks and their time together. He told the judge that the farm takes a lot of work so he let the boy run free after his chores. And that he now has a hired hand to help him with the farm so that he could spend more time with the boy. Lastly, he told the judge that he was the adopting the boy as his own. He showed the judge the adoption papers.

The boy’s public defender also asked for leniency and for probation and for the means to have their record expunged at a later time.

The judge having heard their statements gave his ruling when they returned to the courtroom:

“I sentence you to three years of probation – you will report to a probation officer every week and give account of your yourselves. You must not drink or smoke. You must also return what you have stolen. You must do 90 hours of community service. Your probation officer will tell you what that is. And, you must wash Mr. Jenkins’ car every weekend for the next three years. Mr. Jenkins will report your efforts to your probation officer. You will work to build trust again with those you have acted against or I will see you back here and send you where you can be trusted to behave.” The gavel came down and sighs of relief filled the courtroom.

 

The boy’s summer ended not as it started: in a routine chosen for him. He reported to the probation officer every week. He washed Mr. Jenkins car every week. He picked up litter along the highways two days a week. And he attended Willmans Junior High School five days a week. His walks and the reading time with the old man continued as before. Though his chores increased, the boy added to his routine.

The boy’s natural inclination was to run. When he could he ran down the highways he picked clean. The junior high had no program for runners, but the old man set him distance goals. The old man knew the high school had a cross-country team.

The summer after his junior high graduation the boy ran with the high school’s summer cross-country squad. The coach noted the boy’s endurance and speed. That fall the boy joined the cross-country team- the Harris Harriers. With the training, his schedule was now so packed, that the old man lifted some of the farm chores from the boy’s to-do list. To fuel the carbs being burned off during the boy’s distance runs, the old man was now in the habit of feeding the boy spaghetti as a side dish at every meal. The boy didn’t see any problem with that.

As the season progressed the boy won most of his distance events. He placed his ribbons and trophies on a shelf in the living room, a shelf the old man set apart for the boy. The team entered sectionals in the next county. The boy had to get permission from his probation officer to travel there with his team.

Near the end of the boy’s freshman year the boy completed his probationary period. He stood once more before Judge Gibbons. The probation officer gave his report concluding that the boy had fulfilled the judge’s requirements. The officer read a letter from Mr. Jenkins, which stated that the boy had “cleaned his car faithfully. The boy redeemed himself in my eyes.”

Judge Gibbons was pleased to hear these reports. He discharged the boy saying that he could petition the court to expunge his record. He was free to go.

Outside the courtroom Mr. Jenkins took the boy and the old man aside. He spoke to the boy. “You cleaned that car like it was yours. You can have it. Here are the keys. I’m told I’m too old to be driving it anyway.” The boy was taken back. He apologized for the trouble he had caused him. And, he thanked him for such a gift. The old man pulled the boy close and whispered, “The sowing and reaping have come full circle. C’mon, let’s go the Mare’s diner. I’ll meet you there.”

 

Over time, freshman year through senior year, the boy became the fastest miler in six counties. Because of his time in the state trial meets, the boy was sent to the state meet. There, the boy ran his best mile time: 04: 10.08 to win the state meet. When it happened the old man came out of his stadium seat and ran out to the track where the boy, flushed red, was holding his side and taking in big gulps of air. The old man hugged the boy, sweat and all.

That night, during their walk in the state capital, the boy told the old man that he was enlisting in the Navy. The old man said, “You, you can’t run on a battleship.”

The boy replied, “You told me once that I should spend my life growing. That’s what I intend to do.”

The old man, not able to argue with his own words, began to walk a step ahead of the boy back to the hotel.

When the time came the old man drove the boy to the bus station. He sent him on his way with some stationery and his copper ore specimen to remind him of home.

After basic training the boy was assigned as a mechanic on the Seventh Fleet aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. The Big “E” was the world’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. “READY POWER FOR PEACE” was the motto on his arm patch. The carrier operated in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of northern Vietnam and southern China.

Early December 1966 the Big “E” tied up at U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay, Zambales, Philippines for supplies and repairs. It was then that the boy received two messages. The one from his aunt read, “Your father is dying. Come home.” The one from the preacher read, “You father asks for you.” The boy immediately took the message to his CO. The boy was granted two weeks leave.

It was two days travel to New Burrow. The boy’s aunt met him at the bus station. As they drove to the farm she told the boy about the old man’s condition: “The doctor says his heart is failing. His eyesight is almost gone. Your father doesn’t want to go to the hospital. He wants to die on his farm.”

The boy, dressed in his service uniform, entered the farmhouse and went straight to the old man’s room. He found him there asleep, his breathing heavy and rasping. The boy sat next to his bed and waited for him to stir.

Without opening his eyes the old man reached over and felt the arm of the boy. He spoke.

“Bless your aunt. She has cared for me. She read me your letters.” The old man stopped, taking in more air. After minute, his eyes still closed, he said, “The preacher was here. He told me to pray believing God knew what he was doing. I prayed and prayed and …his chest swelled and then he let out a choking cough. “And here you are.” The old man returned to sleep.

Two days later the boy entered the room with some water. The old man was awake. The boy could see that the old man’s eyes, struggling to stay open, did not respond to movement. Afternoon light coming through the window revealed the reddish-orange copper ore coloring and deep furrows the sun had worked into the old man’s face from years of working in the field.

“I’m glad you are here, Archie.” The old man made every effort to speak.

The boy leaned over to the man’s ear, “I’m here, dad. I’m not going anywhere.”

The old man gestured his withered hand over to the nightstand. “Don’t run off. That box is yours now and all it contains.”

“It is safe with me,” the boy replied putting his hand on its lid.

The old man, wheezing and gasping trying to respond, let out a long airy sigh and let go of the earth.

The boy sat with the old man. The aunt and the hired hand came by the old man’s bed. The aunt spoke wiping tears from her cheeks. “He made his peace with God when he prayed for you, Archie. He loved you. He made me promise that you would get that box. He said promises are only as good as those who hold on to them.”

After a time, the boy, now a young man, walked with the cigar box over to the fence where he first met the old man. He remembered the absolute terror he felt getting caught in the barbed wire and the old man freeing him and wondering what would happen next. And what happened next couldn’t be contained in the old man’s cigar box. The old man knew what he was doing.

After a time, he walked back to the house. He changed his clothes and went for a run down the road they walked together. At the turning point he wept.

Two days later the preacher gave the eulogy. He spoke of the resurrection of the dead. He spoke about a promise freed out of Egypt and out of a fiery furnace and out of the mouth of lions and finally out of the tomb.

By the graveside Archie read the 23rd Psalm. Seth, who arrived the day of the funeral, remained silent as the gathered sang “Amazing Grace”.

The boy, now a young man, laid the old man to rest. He read the words on the tombstone: “Lloyd Harold Long, June 7, 1880-December 14, 1966, Husband to Ruth, Father to Seth and Archie”.

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2019, All Rights Reserved

AKA, Lena Lindberg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Tis the Season to Celebrate Your Findings

 

Throughout the gospel accounts there are people who are finding things. Some of the things found were totally unexpected. And some things were lost and then found. Jesus lets us know that there are things meant to be found. We also learn from him that heaven is tuned into the findings. Joyous celebration all around is the natural response.

Early on we read of shepherds who find “Mary and Joseph, and the babe lying in a feeding trough.” (Luke 2:16) And later, of wise men who find Mary and the child and of King Herod who finds out about their finding out.

We hear of a man who finds a treasure hidden in a field and a trader who finds a spectacularly valuable pearl and of fishermen who find a bountiful fishing spot. (Matt 13:44-50). With these parables Jesus relates the discovery of the mysterious kingdom of God.

We learn of Jesus finding faith in a Roman Centurion (Matt. 8:5-13; Luke 7:1-10)

In John’s gospel we read of cascading finds:

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee, where he found Philip.

“Follow me,” he said to him.

Philip came from Bethsaida, the town Peter and Andrew hailed from. Philip found Nathanael.

“We’ve found him!” “The one Moses wrote about in the law!” And the prophets, too! We’ve found him! Its Jesus, Joseph’s son, from Nazareth!”

At the end of Luke’s gospel, we read a report of a most excellent find that isn’t there:

…some of the women have astonished us. They went to the tomb very early this morning, and didn’t find his body. They came back saying they’d seen a vision of angels, who said he is alive. Some of the folk with us went off to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn’t see him.

The gospel of Luke chapter 15 is the party chapter. Each of the three lost and found parables relate how what has been lost and then found triggers a reason to celebrate: a lost sheep is found; a lost coin is found; a lost son is found on the horizon. Let’s look at the second parable.

“Or supposing a woman has ten drachmas and loses one of them. What will she do? Why, she’ll light a lamp, and sweep the house, and hunt carefully until she finds it! And when she finds it she’ll call her friends and neighbors in. ‘Come and have a party!’ she’ll say: celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost coin!”

Well, let me tell you: that’s how God’s angels feel when a single sinner repents.”

-Jesus in Luke 15:8-10

As we read this parable, we typically focus on the end result: the sinner’s repentance and heaven’s joy at the sinner’s response. Now take a look at the effort involved in restoring what was lost before the celebration takes place.

Notice that the woman turns on the light to see into the corners. She cleans her house and clears out the clutter. She makes every effort to reclaim what she lost. She didn’t have much to begin with (ten drachmas) and now a portion of it is lost (15 cents).

Here is what I think the parable also emphasizes: we come to a point in our lives when we realize that we have lost something of great value – our identity, the image of God, a piece of our soul. We can’t go on without it. We held on to so little for so long. So, we shed direct light on the situation. We remove all of the extraneous stuff in the way. We search like Oak Island treasure hunters burrowing deep into the dark places of our being. We make every effort to find what we lost.

Success! We find what we’ve lost in a dark corner. It was covered with dust and dirt and dog hair. We rejoice and tell others using the language of joy: “I have found it!” “I have found it!”

Remember the inside of Scrooge’s house via the 1951 black and white movie version of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol ? It is grey and gloomy and tomb-like. It is lifeless and foreboding. Furniture is covered with tarps and dust covers the tarps. Scrooge seems buried alive in the house. A candle is used to move about his dark domain but it is not used to look for what he lost. That illumination comes from four night time specters.

Now, I imagine that past, present and future scenarios flash before the eyes of anyone who has lost something of value. I imagine that for the woman in the parable. In Scrooge’s account those scenarios are personified by three ghosts who are involved in the Scrooge’s rescue operation after the ghost of Marley gives account of his own final hellish state. The ghosts illuminate Scrooge’s life: his losses, his dealing with losses, his hard heart, his isolation, and his future state. All done right where he sleeps.

The scenarios the trinity of spirits impose on Scrooge help him to see what was lost– himself–in a house full of shrouded past.

Scrooge and the woman in the lost coin parable reclaim what was lost where they lived. They both had to look and look hard for what they had lost, Scrooge in his past present and future and the woman in her dwelling place. And when they find what they’ve lost they throw open the shutters, they go out into the streets, and they let the world know.

Let me entwine this post with a scarlet ribbon…

For the prodigal, for the repentant, there is rejoicing and a celebration. They had found themselves wanting. They had found what they lost – the reason to live. When it happened the Search Party was delighted.

“The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which is lost” …and when you find him…

You love him, even though you’ve never seen him. And even though you’ve never seen him, you believe in him, and celebrate with a glorious joy that goes beyond words can say, since you are receiving the proper goal of your faith – namely, the rescue of your lives. 1 Peter 1:8-9

 “I found it!” is the language of joy. And glorious joy is the spirit of Christmas.