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.

When All is Not Bright

 

… a personal reflection

Tampa (AFP) – Life expectancy in the United States dropped yet again as drug overdose deaths continued to climb — taking more than 70,000 lives in 2017 — and suicides rose, a US government report said Thursday.

The drug overdose rate rose 9.6 percent compared to 2016, while suicides climbed 3.7 percent, said the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Center for Health Statistics.

-from Kerry SHERIDAN’s article US life expectancy drops again as overdoses climb

 

As confusion and losses stack up in a person’s life many, now more than ever, begin to seek a way out of their humanness wherein the pain is acutely felt. They will take drugs and medicate in hopes of stopping the screaming in their heads. It is the pain that tells us that we are alive and human.

I can relate. At one point in my life years ago I carried with me the same hurt locker. I had experienced losses caused by my own doing and losses beyond my control. Having been married and divorced, I then lost closeness with my children and years of my life. I lost a son in a tragic car accident. I lost a job when the company I was working for no longer had orders coming in. A truck rear-ended my car as I was on my way to a new job. I received a herniated disc in my neck and a concussion and many painful nerve-affected nights and tons of medical bills. That block of time was crushing. It was also confusing.

Trying to sort out the events, trying to make sense while inside the hurt locker, is well nigh impossible. I tried to mitigate the pain through medication, but the pains in my body and in my heart were overwhelming. There was screaming in my head that would not stop. Couple that pain with the need to continue making ends meet and trying to keep your head above water is…well-nigh impossible. And so, Impossible was the name on my hurt locker. I desperately wanted to remove myself from the locker and go to a place where I didn’t have to think anymore. When you are crying at your desk you know that something had to give. But it wasn’t going to be me. It had to be despair’s grip.

I came to the realization out of my relationship with the Lord that all of my presuppositions where being up ended. The first one to go was that I believed I was strong and could handle whatever came my way. In that dark hour I understood that the Lord had broken into my self-composed life and was making all things new. This all happened the weekend of Easter. And though I had heard the words of Easter proclamations all of my life, I finally understood that the Lord’s resurrection was the means for me to be resurrected to new life here and now. Nothing was impossible. The stone in front of the hurt locker had been removed. I was freed to be human once again. What I had endured became “I do exist, by the grace of God”.

 

It is easy for a Christian, I believe, to think that any bad thing that happens to them is a result of judgment for past sins. With all of the talk of heaven and hell in many churches it is easy to frame events in terms of reward or punishment, in almost Pavlovian ways. And, onlooking Christians are eager to point that out. Read the oldest book of Scripture, Job.

To be sure there are ways in which we dehumanize ourselves and come to believe that there can be no resurrection day and if it happened it would look like today. We live in a culture of dehumanization: abortion, drugs, ‘free’ sex, rife consumerism, and words, rites and traditions emptied of meaning. Christian holidays are paganized. Individual rights that are demanded cut people off from a community of shared human values. When body parts and their redaction become cause célèbre you know the culture is in trouble. When any thought of joy is replaced by the fatuous roose of commercialized store-bought happiness, then you know you are in trouble.

One can drink their reason for life to death. One can sit in isolation and loneliness on the internet arguing points of nihilistic bent. Social media is anything but social. Those who pattern their life after media come up empty and as impersonal as the data bytes that transfer the images to their screen.

To be sure, there are consequences that are derived from one’s sinful behavior. And, that is good to know. One needs to bump up against the wall of one’s own doing to know that there is cause and effect, a principle that even rationalists and atheists embrace.

To finally be sure, we must frame our understanding with redemption. That was the revelation that occurred to me. Resurrection and redemption. The impossible is beyond me and is only doable by the Son of Man Who loved me and gave himself for me.

 

The intent of this post is not to put a happy face on any one’s suffering or losses or pain. You do not see the sunny side of life inside the hurt locker. Rather, this post has been written to provide hope. And it is hope which brings about true-life expectancy – abundant life in this age and the age to come. Hope is born of resurrection and continues with redemption. Suicide says” All is lost. There is no hope if I can’t produce it with within myself”.  You can’t.  Hope is beyond you.

Here is hope: you are known by God. Consider that the announcement of the birth of the Son of Man was to lowly shepherds tending sheep in a field. The announcement they received wasn’t “We bring you tidings of great minimum wage!” No, the angelic message was…

And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. “This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

 “Glory to God in the highest,

    And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Some life-saving suggestions. When I was in high school, I walked many nights through the neighborhoods after supper with my family. I doubt that my siblings knew this. I walked because I needed to resolve all the inputs into my life: my personhood, and the mental, emotional and social goings on around me, including all that the sixties dropped on me, including the Vietnam war. I walked to find resolve to go on.

Some of us have pets. I currently have Henry, my parrolet, to keep me company. I am considering adding finches to my home. I relate to birds.  I placed a bird feeder on my patio. I’ve noticed that birds are flighty when they sense imminent danger but return when they feel safe. Birds remind me of life in the moment. They are fragile beings. They, like me, have open mouths to feed and so they return to the one who feeds them.  I had to return to the One who feeds me daily, in the moment.

 

We are right to cry “Lord have mercy!” And, we also right to cry “I must have mercy on myself and not do those things which bring judgment on me by their very nature! I have sinned, O God, have mercy upon me a sinner!”

 

A prayer:

Father of all mercy, have mercy on me. I am distressed. My heart is like wax. It melts before every fear. I am depressed. I am confused. I am not able to exist except at your pleasure. I am at the bottom of my life. Restore to me humanness. Return to me with Thy salvation. I’ve heard that my Redeemer lives. Redeem my life from destruction. Redeem me from all my transgressions. Restore my soul. Amen.

 

The Interpreters

A knock. Then two more. Peter opened his front door. There stood his neighbor Dimitri stomping the slush off of his Oxford shoes. Peter had invited his neighbor Dimitri over for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Come in”, Peter gestured. “Let me take your coat. Welcome. Make yourself comfortable.”

Dimitri eyes glanced around the room until he saw the bookcase. “Ah.” He walked over to the bookcase.

After a minute he muttered under his breath, “You might as well read coffee grounds, Peter.” Dimitri put the Bible back on the shelf and walked into the living room shaking his head.

“Is everything OK, Dimitri?” Peter queried.

“Ah, yes, ahem, yes. Have you read Voltaire’s Candide?…say, what is that wonderful smell?

“Roast carrots from our garden. Didn’t Candide say, “We must cultivate our garden.”?

“Ah. Ahem. Yes. My cultivated garden is right here.” Dimitri tapped his forehead with his index finger.

“Any head carrots ready to be pulled up?”

“Ah. You make fun. But I take my intellectual cultivation very seriously. Everyone must make rational and practical choices from a well-cultivated garden. You can’t rely on superstition and dubious dogmas.”

“Smell that. That’s the smell of the dubious dogma is in the air. Man cannot live by carrots alone. There is roast turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn and…”

“Ah. I discovered good food by the operation of my reason.”

“Was each mouth-watering experience an eye-opener?”

“It wasn’t a spiritual experience, if that’s what you are after. I tasted the food and found it to be reasonably good.”

“I see. You’ll get to operate your reason again when I cut into the turkey.”

“Is your mother-in-law joining us today?’ Dimitri asked.

“Yes. She is out on the patio smoking a cigar and reading Chekov.”

“Ah, Chekov, a doctor after my own heart. You said your mother-in-law is smoking a cigar?

“Yes. She likes Dominicans. She says it reminds her of her husband who passed away three years ago.”

“Ah, but smoking is bad for your health.”

“So is living with a woman who is miserable, my friend. Have a seat next to me.” Peter pointed to a chair at the dining room table.

Mary set the turkey in the center of the dining room table. The large bird was surrounded by hot dishes. Mouthwatering aromas spiraled upward. The kids were called from upstairs to “come and eat!” Mary knocked on the patio door and summoned Constance to the table.

When grandma entered the dining room, Todd, the family’s youngest exclaimed, “Grandma, whew! you smell like Grandpa!” Grandma smiled at Todd. “Grandpa liked his cigars. I miss grandpa.”

“And, I love my grandma!” Todd gave grandma a hug holding his nose.

When all were seated Peter gave the blessing over the food. Dimitri watched with arched brows and bared whited teeth as the family closed their eyes and bowed their heads. “Amen!”. Dimitri’s white brows recoiled.  Sounds of wine and water being poured. Clanking dishes being passed. Then the clash of forks and knives.

Peter set his napkin down on the table. He stood up with his wine glass.

“I want to toast another year of God’s blessings…

Everyone raised a glass. Dimitri lifted his glass just off the table.

“To the One Who holds all thing together and to my family – Mary, Todd, Charis, and my mother-in-law…

Constance looked up from her plate to see if Peter had winked at Mary. He hadn’t.

“…and to my neighbor Dimitri. Cheers!”

Dimitri bolted up. “I would like to make a toast, too.”

“To science and technology and reason that hold all things together and…to a well-cultivated garden. Cheers!”

Everyone gulped and then downed their drinks.

 

 

“I had a dream last night.” Peter passed the sweet potatoes to Dimitri. “I think it’s about being held back at my job. I want to do the project work the electrical engineers are doing.”

Dimitri put his forked carrots down, straightened up and arched his right eye brow. “Tell me about it.”

Peter proceeded to describe the dream:

“I entered a large mall-like area. It looked like my high school and the inside of a large mall at the same time. There were escalators and lots of people walking around in front of stores.

To my left I saw a stairway that went down to a lower level. I walked over to the stairs and went down.

The next moment I saw myself as a prisoner inside a prison. There were lockers like a locker room. And, prisoners walking around.

I looked up above me and saw a funnel-like duct work going up. I went up the ductwork thinking I was escaping.

The next moment there were guards catching escapees in the duct work. The escapees were forced to return. I was among them.

What do you think that means, Dimitri?”

“I think it means that you should have gotten your degrees like I did. Then you can show them you are like them – university educated. I have something to show for all of my time studying climate. If you had a degree then you would have status like I enjoy at the university. I am well regarded and have full tenure.”

Peter responded. “I can do the work. The thing is…I’ve been interested in so many things I could never settle on one course of study. I teach myself what I am interested in and in what I need to know. The way I figure it, if I can understand electrical theory and physics and economics and can paint and write stories, then all the better. When they said I couldn’t be given those projects I felt I was being pulled back down to my ‘place’.

“Ah. If you are looking for a way to be at their level. You need a degree to show that you have a background of knowledge equal to the status you’ll receive. One must become knowledgeable and proficient in one area and then… and then you can apply your well-cultivated mind to all areas of your life. They call me doctor at the university and for good reason. I am looked up to as someone who has achieved superior knowledge above theirs in a certain area. They respect my well-cultivated mind and seek my opinions in all areas of life.”

Dimitri went on.

“They know me as a man of science.  I see things as they are – objects, data – and not as I wish them to be. I write papers and they are peer reviewed and well-accepted. I am published in the Journal of Climate Consensus.”

The dinner progressed. Second helpings were passed

“I was sorry to hear about your father’s death this summer.” Peter looked over at Dimitri. Charis, Peter’s daughter, came and put her arms around her father’s shoulders.

“Ah. That. Yes. He took his own life by…”

“Little ears, Dimitri, little ears.”

“Ah, yes. I see…. My father decided that there was no reason to live after mom died. Sad business. I was never an optimist or a sentimentalist so I knew it was inevitable. He said he drank to deal with the loss. His drinking and thinking of her drove him to the loss of himself.” Dimitris gulped down his glass of wine.

Charis came over and rubbed Dimitri’s shoulder.

“May I offer you some more wine, Dimitri? Constance held the bottle of wine in the air. Dimitri accepted.

“So, you have never married, Dimitri?” Constance asked as she poured the wine.

“I don’t think any woman could live with me. My standards are very high.”

Looking back into the kitchen, Mary wondered if this man of letters would put two and two together and offer to wash dishes later.

“Constance, you read Chekov? And, you smoke cigars?” Dimitri looked over at Constance.

“Yes.”

“I find it surprising that a woman…”

“That a woman likes Chekov?”

“No, I mean…”

“That I read Chekov outside on the cold patio?”

“No, I mean…”

“That I like Dominicans?”

“Ah. Yes. Cigars?”

“My husband would read Chekov and smoke cigars. Memories, really. Both are a revelation about his life.”

Holding up a carrot with his fork, Dimitri looked over at Constance. “It was Chekov who said to his wife, ‘You ask what is life? This is the same as asking: What is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot and nothing more is known about it.’ Dispassionate and clinical observance is what I require for my life.” Dmitri ate the carrot.

Constance whispered to Mary, “I see the carrot served its purpose well.”

Dimitri wiped his white goatee with his napkin. “Mary, for all practical purposes, that meal was a gastronomic revelation!” Dried mashed potato flecks fell from his beard as he spoke.

Mary thanked Dimitri and offered him some pumpkin pie. Through an extended yawn, Dimitri said “Yes” to pie and coffee. After dessert, Dimitri fell back in his chair, yawned like a lion and looked at his watch.

“I must be going. Tomorrow is a long day for me. Computer models to program. Algorithms. Tomorrow night I am attending a cocktail party with my colleagues after an award ceremony.”

Mary handed Dimitri a bag with the dinner’s leftovers. Peter helped Dimitri on with his coat.

Peter opened the door. “It would have been unreasonable of me to let you spend Thanksgiving alone.”

Dimitri stepped across the threshold and paused.

“Ah. Damn! It is snowing again! Not the best of all possible days.”

As Dimitri headed down the sidewalk Peter warned, “Be careful my friend. There’s a layer of ice under that snow!”

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, All Rights Reserved

 

Leech or Lizard?

 

 When you think of Thanksgiving you of think family, food and football. Let me suggest a fourth focus: creature features.

 

The Book of Proverbs, found in the wisdom literature of the Bible, offers insight into the human condition. From my youth on I have asked God for wisdom, knowledge and a good understanding. I have not always used the wisdom, knowledge and understanding given me. Much of my younger life can attest to Proverb’s description of fools and folly.

Proverbs contrasts fools and folly with those who gain wisdom and avoid imprudence. Proverbs gives us examples of what one should not be like and what one should be like. Leeches and lizards are among the examples. Let’s start with leeches.

The leech has two daughters. ‘Give! Give!’ they cry. Prov. 3:15 

How would you characterize a leech? The picture that first comes to mind is that of a bloodsucker that extracts what it wants and then goes on to the next source to extract again. Personified as above, do you see them as never satisfied? As never contented? As always craving more?  Are they greedy and covetous? Are they insatiable in their appetite? Do they see themselves as deserving and therefore warranted in entering your space and presenting their unending demands? What about another space intruder, the lizard?

a lizard can be caught with the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces. Prov. 30:28

Lizards, the proverb says, can be easily controlled but they show up in highly respectable places, places like lavish Caribbean hotels. Lizards like to come indoors for a meal. They are attracted by an insect infestation. Due to their small size, tiny gaps or cracks around doors and windows can be enough for geckos to let themselves in. Some owners may allow a few innocuous lizards to come and take care of the greater insect problem. And, insects are not as ‘cute’ as Geckos. The GEICO commercials invite us to let them into our lives to solve insurance problems.

The creeping and crawling Lizards can be held in check but they show up anyway in king’s palaces looking for insects hiding in dark places and likely feasting on the crumbs dropped from the royal table.

The Gospels provide with us with human examples of these creature’s features:

A recent review of a first century survey (Luke 17) found that nine out ten lepers do not give thanks. Apparently, nine lepers saw Jesus, latched on to his presence and demanded ‘Give! Give! And one leper, the out of place Samaritan, saw Jesus, creeped up slowly and waited for the crumbs to fall from the Master’s table. When Jesus healed all ten of the lepers, the nine leeches went on their way feeling they got what they deserved. But the once dried, scaling, atrophic, depigmented-skinned lizard returned and gave thanks for being allowed into the royal court and receiving a new skin on life.

As we learned, one can live their life as a leech: show up, latch on, cry ‘Give! Give!’, take and feel deserving and ungrateful. Or, one can live life as the lowly out of place lizard who shows up in our King’s palace looking for the means to go on.  The latter provides us with a prime example of grace – that easily controlled lowly lizards like us are even allowed a notice and a few bread crumbs that fall from the King’s table. Thanks be to God.

 

‘Tis the Season to Rethink Equal Outcomes

 

The Progressive’s notion of equal outcomes: “income equality” realized through redistribution; test results based on tests revised so that certain people could pass the test; participation-trophy type merit; laws that ‘fix’ opportunity for certain people; verdicts and sentencing of activist judges who rule based on a defendant’s social circumstances rather than by the crime committed upon another; homosexual ‘marriage’ as marriage equality; “equal pay for equal work” which dismisses the resultant quality of what each worker produces; a state in which people have approximately the same material wealth and achieve equal levels of income; equating equal opportunities with equal results…

Economist Thomas Sowell gives us some insight into Progressive thinking:

Equal opportunity does not mean equal results, despite how many laws and policies proceed as if it does, or how much fashionable rhetoric equates the two.

An example of that rhetoric was the title of a recent New York Times column: “A Ticket to Bias.” That column recalled bitterly the experience of a woman in a wheelchair who bought a $300 ticket to a rock concert but was unable to see when other people around her stood up. This was equated with “bias” on the part of those who ran the arena.

The woman in the wheel chair declared, “true equality remains a dream out of reach.” Apparently only equality of results is “true’ equality….

…Confusion between equal opportunity and equal results is a dangerous confusion behind many kinds of spoiled brat politics. -Thomas Sowell from Spoiled Brat Politics, The Thomas Sowell Reader

To put us in the proper reflective mood for the Season to Rethink Equal Outcomes, below are three accounts from Scripture which reveal to us God’s concept of equal outcomes.

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:24

The first thing I notice about the above account is that forms of capitalism have been around for a long time. That is, capitalism, simply defined, as an economic and social system in which property, business, and industry are privately owned and directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people, especially as contrasted to cooperatively or state-owned means of wealth.

In the above account there was a cooperative exchange of private property between two individuals. Both were satisfied with the outcome. And, apparently God was satisfied with the outcome. David’s desire was to not give God the impression that he was doing something good for God, a.k.a. virtue signal or tokenism, but to pay proper respect and attribute worth to God through his offering.

David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered his prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped. 2 Samuel 24:25

The second thing I notice is restraint. Though Araunah offered his property freely to king David (2 Sam. 24:23) the king did not accept it without paying Araunah its worth to Araunah  and perhaps more. That cost David. The king could have just taken the property to begin with. Beastly kings and rulers throughout history have seized property for themselves and for “the masses”. David was not about to disrespect his neighbor Araunuh or his God by stiffing either. The king did not exploit Araunuh for righteous ends.

Worth had to be accounted for with regard to Araunah’s property and with regard to a show of respect to God. “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” That is what David said and that is what the widow thought.

Then Jesus sat down opposite the offering box, and watched the crowd putting coins into it. Many rich people were throwing in large amounts. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. He called his disciples and said to them, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the offering box than all the others. For they all gave out of their wealth. But she, out of her poverty, put in what she had to live on, everything she had.”  Mark 12:41-44

The first thing we notice in this account is the virtue signaling and tokenism of cha-ching-ers who want to appear to profit God while incurring little or no cost to themselves. In kingdom contrast, the unassuming widow, like king David, gave an offering that cost her appreciably and was God’s Temple worthy. The widow gave her financial security. The Lord was pleased to acknowledge her gift acknowledging the God Who is Faithful (Psalm 146: 8). She loved God more than life itself. Now, did you notice in these two stories that taking into account the worth of each party and their property creates equal outcomes – both parties being satisfied and even pleased with what is exchanged? This method of accounting, making sure the ‘other’ is considered and is valued as at least equal with ourselves, can be applied to all interactions.

In a previous post I wrote:

We are told by Jesus to “love your neighbors as yourself”. To do this we must consider our own self-interest and then apply the same measure of self-interest toward our neighbors. This parity of accounting is not unlike the Lord’s accounting of forgiveness: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive others their trespasses.” […,] the resentment worldview has a perverted accounting system: the self is to be credited and others must be debited for there to be parity in their world. If the word “fairness” is ever to be applied socially and economically to our culture then these two commands of our Lord define its limited and personal application.

As shown from Scripture, God endorsed equal outcomes are marriages of opportunities with offerings. The outcomes are not forced or determined by a higher power or the state. The individuals involved come to an agreement about the outcome. A marriage of a man and woman is the archetype of this union of opportunity and offering.

The man and woman exchange vows and rings and, over time, their lives. The opportunity: they met and each determined that an exchange of their life for the other would make both happy. The offering: they give themselves which costs everything. They do so freely. The exchange is not coerced as in a shot-gun wedding or when those in power decide to take your property by force. When things are forced and a person is acted upon without it being offered it is called rape. It is called stealing when a person’s property is forcibly taken.

The equal outcome of marriage is that the two become one. The transaction creates a greater good (including little ones) and both parties equally, with God’s help, continue to be satisfied with the outcome.

One more illustration from Scripture regarding the marriage of opportunity and offering. Remember this woman?

While Jesus was at Bethany, in the house of Simon (known as “the Leper’), a woman came to him who had an alabaster vase of extremely valuable ointment. She poured it on his head as he was reclining at the table.

When the disciples saw it, they were furious.

“What’s the point of all this waste?” they said. “This could have been sold for a fortune, and the money could have been given to the poor!”

Jesus knew what they were thinking.

“Why make life difficult for the woman?” he said. “It’s a lovely thing, what she’s done for me. You always have the poor with you, don’t you? But you won’t always have me. When she poured this ointment on my body, you see, she did it to prepare me for burial. “I’m telling you the truth: where this gospel is announced in all the world, what she has done will be told, and people will remember her.”

Matthew 26: 6-13

 

 

What do we learn about opportunity and offering from this account of a woman pouring a very expensive offering onto Jesus’ head? We learn that the Progressives around Jesus were highly offended when they couldn’t control the outcome of the “alabaster vase of extremely valuable ointment”. We also learn from Jesus about the opportunity that brought them together: “… you won’t always have me”. The woman’s offering was what she could have lavished on herself. Maybe she applied David’s words to her head: “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.”

The extravagant and expensive offering given freely was freely accepted by Jesus in preparation for his burial. In fact, he tells us that the equally shared outcome of what she had done was worth proclaiming: the marriage of opportunity and sacrificial offering as an act of love.