Onward Christian Fortresses?

 

Viewed from the six lane highway, the structure appears to be a brick fortress surrounded by acres of treeless grass and a vast moonscape of parking lot. The function without form building inspires no awe, no upward glance and no transcendent thought. The surrounding barren landscape contains no greenhouse, no food or flower gardens, no observatory and no animal shelter. There is nothing of nature’s bounty in my view, only the requisite shrubs to offset the stark landscape. Behold, another mega-church built to feed the souls of six thousand; another unadorned mega-church in a far western suburb of architecturally savvy Chicago.

Every other Saturday I visit someone several towns away. As I do I pass this mega-church going and coming, typically between 10 and 11:30 am. This Saturday, like all the other times before, I saw, again to my astonishment, that there were no cars in the parking lot. There was no activity whatsoever. I wondered at a stewardship that builds a Scripture fort surrounded by acres of asphalt parking that is to be filled only periodically by the six thousand. The transmutation of creation into an austere block complex hurt my soul to see. And, what about the transmutation of the six thousand?

As a child, I first attended a Baptist church and later, Bible/Free churches. Beauty was a no show at these churches. There were, of course, colorful Sunday school materials – what is considered Christian education resources – for the kids. And with a constant pamphlet diet – a three point sermon with alliteration – there was no hunger for intellectual activity. I observed, as did Mark Noll in his book “The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind“: The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” I saw extreme resistance to obtaining knowledge. The pews were there to be used, but scholarly books, not so much. It would not be too far off to say that understanding was gained by and strictly limited to what the Bible ‘teachers’, self-help pablum and popular seminars say the Bible says.

Over some fifty years I have heard the same bad theology passed down from generation to generation. Not once in the Bible church did I ever hear a sermon or a class talk about the Kingdom of God being here and now – a major thrust of the four Gospels. The sermons, to an Amen, were, “You need to get saved so you can get to heaven. If you are saved then you need to come forward to rededicate your life. Then you must think seriously about becoming a missionary. Everyone must get to heaven because this world will be judged harshly.” Imagine how our world would change if we prayed for and practiced “on earth as it is in heaven”, and prepared for the return of our King? He will be bringing heaven down to earth to join them together.

There was and is also the highly profitable Rapture fantasy series based on a mis-reading of the Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians. And, of course, there is the teaching of a literal six-day creationism. Science must be eschewed as being antagonistic toward God and His Word. I learned otherwise on my own.

And, there is the constant reiteration of the mis-understanding of Paul’s letter to the Romans. Sadly, Romans, since the Reformation and the Enlightenment, has been reduced to a quirky systematic theology – all about us. Paul’s circular letter to the Christians in and around Rome speaks of God’s plan to redeem his creation. The letter is a well thought out dissertation reminding Jewish and gentile Christians in Rome of God’s covenantal faithfulness, his righteousness. It was meant to reinforce an Old Testament understanding of God’s plan for redeeming his creation that was in place all along.

I never heard this at church. Instead, I heard the four spiritual laws imposed onto Romans. And with this I was taught that God imputes – gives – his righteousness to me, sinner that I am. But, this thinking has no basis in Romans given its Scriptural context of Genesis 15 and the Abrahamic covenant. Regarding my righteousness: I am made righteous in the law court of God by God’s exercise of His covenant faithfulness and his desire to put the world to right.

I don’t recall anyone over those years, except for a few visiting professors, who seriously studied theology, N.T. Greek or Hebrew to understand the context of what was written. Often, the visiting seminary professors would reassert the same bad theology using highfalutin terms and out-of-context proof texts.

I have heard countless sermons based on poached verses to create a ‘relevant” topic to preach on Sunday mornings. Relevance and accommodation are apparently key to mega-ness. The mega-church I’ve mentioned offers two services: traditional and contemporary worship. As such, this church divides the Body of Christ into sects for mega-accommodation.

Am I jaded about the Evangelical church? After many years of being involved with these Bible churches, in some sense I am. That is perhaps why I can see the six thousand continuing to come back to the mega-church because it looks… bigly: “There has to be something for me inside this Yuge Assembly of Bricks Church.”

If the election of Donald Trump, supported by the many Evangelicals who voted for him tells you anything, and if the existence of the mega-church tells you anything it is that the Evangelical assembly line approach to Christianity must go onward. And, Bible fortresses must be built.

~~~

A coincidence? I found this audio link on Twitter this morning:

Reflections on horrible preaching

~~~

“The day-to-day services of the Christian churches are embarrassing reminders of the fact that religion is losing its sublime godwardness, and turning instead towards the world of mass production.”

― Roger Scruton, An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture

“Beauty is vanishing from our world because we live as though it did not matter.” ―Roger Scruton, Beauty

What is revealed to me in the experience of beauty is a fundamental truth about being – the truth that being is a gift, and receiving it is a task. This is a truth of theology that demands exposition as such.” ― Roger Scruton, Face of God: the Gifford Lectures

“The point of Christian scholarship is not recognition by standards established in the wider culture. The point is to praise God with the mind. Such efforts will lead to the kind of intellectual integrity that sometimes receives recognition. But for the Christian that recognition is only a fairly inconsequential by-product. The real point is valuing what God has made, believing that the creation is as “good” as he said it was, and exploring the fullest dimensions of what it meant for the Son of God to “become flesh and dwell among us.” Ultimately, intellectual work of this sort is its own reward, because it is focused on the only One whose recognition is important, the One before whom all hearts are open.” ― Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind

Your Personal Populism

 

golden-calf-syndrome-golden-calf

I will deliver

You know I’m a forgiver

Reach out and touch faith

Reach out and touch faith

Your own personal Jesus

Someone to hear your prayers

Someone who cares

Your own personal Jesus

Someone to hear your prayers

Someone who’s there…

-Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode

~~~

When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him (Exodus 32:1).

~~~

Does any of this ring a cow bell? redhandpointingdown

Malignant populism…

…is impatient, short-tempered. “You shall know them by their outrage.”

…is self-referring.

…demands tokens of assurance, of victory, of winning.

…uses fear mongering to gain and remain in power.

…avoids all risk to obtain security and protectionism.

…believes that draining the swamp removes lethargy and guilt.

…is a left-brain big government solution and a right-brain protest of big government.

…seeks to replace the timeless with the temporal; throws the baby out with the swamp water.

…obtains identity from sympatico sources and by denigrating and mocking all others

…is self-centered and narcissistic in its demand for self-preservation.

…makes everything personal, including its self-protected version (SPV) of Jesus.

…has no problem inflicting pain on others; “You’ll get yours now because we won”.

…shuts down discussion and debate with, “Grow up.”

…makes graven images (“Come, make us gods who will go before us”) to obtain instant gratification and to mollify their anger at not being “represented”.

…is “here and now or else”.

…as social justice: “We won. Accept it. Get over it”. (Other than using the remote, they have changed nothing.)

…uses words like “smashed”, “owned” “destroyed” and “crushed” to describe another “win” for the team.

…lives and dies by its icons: a flag, a cap, a brand, a golden representative.

…becomes what it worships: hollow, static, lifeless.

…says, “I’m the bully, now. I’m the elite. I’m the ruling class, now. The last is first, now, you’ll see.”

…has acolyte exculpatory messaging: “we are not represented…” (“As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”) …so give us what we want here and now. Make us feel great about ourselves again.”

And last, for this post…such populism defines itself as a direct rebellion against the powers that be – powers they say have not represented them and their concerns. So, they will repeal and replace with whatever is handy. Enter the Replacement.

Feeling unknown

And you’re all alone

Flesh and bone

By the telephone

Lift up the receiver

I’ll make you a believer…

-Personal Jesus, Depeche Mode

~~~

The idea behind our republic (we are not a democracy) was for the public to be well-informed and for the well-informed public to inform the directions and decisions of our representatives. But, information gathering today is decidedly myopic in scope and typically occurs via a highly partisan media, a media whose main concern is to be profitable (to “win”) at any cost. As such, anger and outrage is coaxed on by a very ‘sympathetic’ media’ who want you to come back for more. Hence, the seemingly ‘righteous’ anger directed toward the powers that be the many unabashedly express: “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

There is also, it seems to me, a rejection of the printed word, including Scripture and our Constitution. In its place: an obstinate presumption of black and white rightness. Well, one does not have to become a malignant populist screaming out of his Twitter window at passersby.

Not all populism is bad.  The Convention of States (C.O.S.), as one example, represents a more thoughtful and orderly populism. Issues are debated to create informed and orderly change.

Regarding national issues, there should be a Convention of Churches so that Spirit-informed-“on earth as it is in heaven” Kingdom of God matters are discussed, debated and then direct our national polities…as we wait for God’s Representative to return.

Don’t Go Changing

 

“Where have you been?” Jess opened the door for Chad.

“On my way home from work I stopped at Replete Christian Bookstore. I bought a bunch of books that are going to change everything.” Chad set the bag on the dining room table.

“Wow, a lot of books. I hope the change pays for everything.”

“Look at these titles.” Chad read them off: 

“Divine Masculinity on a Dime”

“Practicing the Presence of Masculinity”

“The Thrust of Biblical Manhood: a Guide for the Closet Masculine”

“Broken Manhood:  A Guide in Feminine Times”

“Not Content to Be Just a Man: One Man’s Struggle to be Masculine”

“Courage in the ManCave of Doubt”

“’Christianity Feels Masculine’ and other Manly Quotes”

“The Miracle of Masculinity”

“If Only: Thoughts on Ideal Manliness”

“The Ancient Art of Manliness and the Warrior Man: Losing is Not an Option”

“When the Church is Not Masculine Enough, Bring It!”

“If Grace Matters, So Does Larry.”

Chad pulled the last book out of the bag. “I got this one free because I spent $50.00 – “Shall we Gather at the Urinal?  A Comic Graphic Novel for the Seeker Church Male”.  You won’t recognize me after I read these books, Jess.”

“Truer words have never been spoken.”

 “I think I’ll buy a pickup truck this weekend.”

“No you won’t.”

“But how can I be seen as masculine if I don’t have a truck? They say women think men are masculine when they drive pickups”

“They also say that women don’t like men who drive them to distraction.” Jess countered.

“It is written… right here in this article.” Chad picked up a copy of Christian Men that Matter Magazine. “Women like a guy who has a job and who drives a pickup truck and who pees standing up and who eats meat and is willing to carry them out of a burning building.”

“Four out of five isn’t bad. I guess I’ll keep you.” Jess broke a wry smile.

“If I have a pickup you will think more highly of me, you’ll respect me. I just know it.”

“I know that I will think more highly of you because I will be sitting so high up in that cab.”

“Aw shucks, all the guys at church, …some of the guys at church, traded in their vans for a pickup.”

“I’m going to trade you in for a man who drives a family van and is content.”

“Look what I got in the mail.” Chad waved the envelope. “It is an invite to “Your Call to the Wild: Unleash Your Masculine Anima – a Week-Long Seminar to Reclaim Your Masculinity. It is only $300.00 for the entire week. We bring sleeping bags and shoot BB guns and stuff. Sounds like fun!”

“Let me see.” Jess looked at the invite. She handed it back to Chad, “Return to sender. There is no one by that need here.”

“Oh, Jess. You’re not pooh-poohing the seminar, too, are you? I need to find my belly fire, my inner noble savage. I need to map my masculinity.”

“I’ll trace out a map of your masculinity later. It’s time for the kids to go to bed. Chad, can you take care of that?”

“Sure, Jess.” Chad put the envelope down without opening it. “All right kids.” Chad looked at Kim and Kevin, “It’s time to brush and flush.”

But now, though, Chad could tell that the ice cream –infused kids were not ready for bed. So, that night, Chad’s stomp ritual began.  Chad stood at the end of dining room table and then stomped his right leg down onto the wood floor. The stomp vibrated the piano’s wires. A raucous dissonance followed.

The kids looked at dad wide-eyed. They saw the playfulness in his eyes. Kim and Kevin slowly got off their chairs. And when they did, Chad started stomping after them. The piano prattled and the china chattered as the three of them circled the table. Kim and Kevin squealed.  Maggie, the Sheltie, joined the pandemonium. She barked trying to herd Kim and Kevin. The bedlam went on for ten minutes until Chad was out of breath.

Dad looked at Kim and Kevin. He knew from their red cheeks and their glowing glee that his tour de force would become a nightly ritual. So be it.

One look from dad and the kids knew what was what. Still breathing hard, the kids bounded up the stairs to brush and flush and await their bedtime story from dad.

Jess came out of the kitchen and over to Chad. She put her arms around him and said, “My, how you’ve changed – your face is beet red.”

“I heard you’re a cartographer.” Chad lifted his right eyebrow as he said this.

“A good man is not hard to find.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Give Birth to the Promise of Living

 

 

And all God’s people said…

“All of God’s promises, you see, find their yes in Jesus; and that’s why we say the yes, the “Amen,” through Jesus when we pray to God and give him glory.” II Corinthians 1:20

How Can I Be Sure?

 

Thomas found Harking Café and went in. He found Julia at a table eating a salad as big as her head. He sat down and, as usual, waited for her to begin the conversation. Two hours before Julia had called wanting to talk to her childhood friend Thomas about her Jeffery.

Julia, her mouth full, waved to Thomas with her fork. After several bites she started. “You know,”…,”Jeffery hasn’t said anything but I think he doesn’t love me.”

“And, what makes you think that?” Thomas asked.

“I have a feeling that he wants out of our relationship.”

“What gives you that impression?” Thomas looked puzzled.

“He’s avoiding me.” Julia tapped the air with her fork.

“Avoiding you as in not being with you? You two are married.”

“He’s avoiding me by not seeing what I need before I have to ask.”

“Mind reading is not easy. See.” Thomas cupped his hands around her salad bowl and closed his eyes. “I got nothing.”

“Jeffery should at least know how I feel. I don’t feel loved. Aren’t I supposed to feel loved in a marriage.” Julia took another bite.

“Maybe you have never been loved like this before.” Thomas put the menu in front of his face.

Julia stopped chewing, raised her brows and looked at Thomas.

“Oh, I know what love is and what I feel isn’t love. It is more like Jeffery puts up with me.”

When the waitress came, Thomas ordered a sandwich and then winced. High-pitched screams had come from across the room. Two young girls were fighting over the syrup bottle.

The waitress snarled, “Its Kids Eat Free day at Harking.” She put her hand on her hip and looked around. “We supply the food, you supply the environment. This is what I put up with every Tuesday.” She grabbed the menu from the table and was off.

“Have you talked to Jeffery about all this?” Thomas continued where Julia left off.

“Oh, yeah. He says he doesn’t understand what I am talking about. He says he loves me. He says he goes to work every day to provide for us and then comes home to me. It’s nice that he takes care of things but that isn’t what I mean by being loved. I need more.

And, when I ask Jeffery, he says he isn’t thinking of someone else when we make love. But, how can I be sure?”

Thomas looked out the window and thought. “I really don’t want to go there, do I?”  After some long slow chewing he looked at Julia and asked. “Do you think of someone else when you make love with Jeffery?”

“Sometimes. I mean, it’s just women’s fantasy stuff, you know? Paperback novel chick flick stuff, not real guys.”

Thomas pressed her.  “But, do you think of Jeffery when, you know…?”

After a long silence between bites, Julia said, “In a way I guess. It’s hard for me to visualize him when I’m not sure he’s thinking of me.

“You say that as if you know what Jeffery thinks.”

“Jeffery’s a guy. You know how guys are.”

“Tell me.

“Did I tell you that my father was never around because of his sales job?”

“Yes, the last time we talked.”

“Mom told me countless times that she couldn’t count on dad except for his paycheck.”

“Jeff is home for you at night. Do you take advantage of that?”

“I want him to sit with me and watch TV. He likes to go into the garage and work on his car.”

“Maybe, you two should find something you enjoy together. Take a mind reading class together.”

“Yeah, right. It wouldn’t take a mind reader to see that I like certain things a certain way. Isn’t that why he married me – to take care of me? In any case I don’t see him changing. Talking with him hasn’t changed anything. I don’t think he listens to me.”

“Why do you say that?”

“He’s distant, like he doesn’t know how to respond. Maybe he just doesn’t want to be bothered.”

Julia grabbed her purse and got up from the table.

“I’m going to grab a smoke. I’ll be right back.”

Thomas looked down at his half-eaten sandwich. He wondered if this conversation would finish him off.

After several minutes, Julia returned.

“There’s this guy outside,…Bill. He is having the same thing going on in his marriage. He doesn’t feel loved by his wife. He says his wife doesn’t understand him. We have a lot in common.”

Thomas, hoping to change the subject, asked Julia how her telemarketing job was going.

Julia was quick to reply. “Try selling something that people don’t want over the phone. They don’t know you and you are trying to get them to take a credit card offer and one with a 26 percent finance charge. I don’t like manipulating people.”

Thomas choked on his ice tea and covered his mouth with his napkin. He set the glass down on the table.

Julia continued. “Maybe Jeffery thinks he is better than me. Maybe he is better than me. Maybe that is why he doesn’t love me. He must think that I am not worthy of his love.”

“Didn’t you say he brought you flowers the other day?”

“He did. The flowers…I need more than the thought behind it, you know? So, I have a weekend planned for us. I made a reservation at a resort for this weekend.”

“Jeff never mentioned that to me when I saw him yesterday.”

“Oh, he doesn’t know yet. I’ll tell him tonight and see how he responds. If he balks, well…that will tell me everything.”

The waitress came with the check.

“Here”, Thomas offered, “let me pay. I read your mind.” Thomas grabbed her check off the table.

“Thanks.”

Julia’s phone rang. “Hi Liz. Yeah, let’s get together and talk. See you at Lou’s in about an hour.” Julia ended the call.

“Oh, before I go Thomas, I have to tell you about my dream last night.”

“There’s no sense holding anything back at this point,” Thomas said with a wink.

“I was on the platform at the Metra station. There was a large clock above me. Jeffery was somewhere inside the station paying for our tickets. A conductor leaned out the door of the train and asked me, “How can you be sure?” I looked around for Jeffery and then saw my mother. She told me, “You can’t count on tickets, kiddo.

Then the train started moving, I looked backed for Jeffery and saw my dad. He was the conductor. Then I went through a turnstile and boarded the train alone. I sat down next to a fortune-teller and I asked, “Where are we going?”  She said, “If you don’t know where you are going any train will take you there.” And then I woke up.”

“Someone is reading your mind.” Thomas put his tongue in his cheek.

Julia pulled her compact from her purse and checked her look. She then got up from the table.

“Thanks Thomas for…” Julia pointed a swirling finger at the table. “Gotta go.”

Thomas stood up. “You know where I can be found.” But, Julia had already walked out the door.

“Or, maybe not.”

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

A Gravity Situation

 

Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!

Psalm 148:3

earth-rotation-time-lapse

Did you wake up today wondering why the planets and moons are round? For some reason, I wondered this while working out on the elliptical machine at the health club this AM.

OK. So, you didn’t wake up and wonder why all the planets and moons in billions of galaxies are round.  But I’m going to tell you anyway.

planetsmvmt

Better, I will let Tega Jessa explain. From Jessa’s web article, “Why Are Planets Round”:

You may have wondered why are planets round. I mean why aren’t the cubes or pyramids? The answers can be found in how gravity works and the formation of our solar system. Our solar system was formed like many other star systems from a nebula. A nebula is a concentrated area of gases and cosmic dust in what is the called the ISM or Interstellar Medium. These gases and dust are spread through space and when enough of it gathers it gains suitable gravity to establish a gravitational field. This clumping creates nebulas and started the process for star formation.

The next step in a star’s birth would be the rotation of the nebula. As matter is drawn in and organized by the nebulas increasing gravitational field it start to gain angular momentum and start to rotate. This is just like how an ice skater spins faster when they pull in their arms. As the matter is pulled into the nebula’s center of mass, it spins faster making it easier for more matter to be pulled in. This process will happen until under the increasing gravity until the gases go under nuclear fusion and a star is born.

After the birth of a star there are now two sources of gravity whose tides fight over the remaining gases and dust. The first gravitational field is that of the nebula and the other is the gravity of the new star. The tidal forces of these two fields bunch the remaining gases and dust together. Heavier element will clump together faster to make the beginnings of rocky planets. It is important to note that gas giants are planets that were close to becoming stars but did not reach critical mass for fusion. In the end, even as these planets are forming they still carry over the angular momentum and spin as well drawing more matter.

This process works like a carpenter’s lath. The new gravitational field pulls matter towards the center of the planet’s mass. The rotation helps to round out the rough edges. As time passes and the planet cools the planet settles into its final shape depending on its own rotation and the gravitic influence of its star. This is what makes a planet round.

 gravity-earth-and-moomgravity-newton

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OK. Now we both know why planets and moons are round. Next question:

“What is shaping your world?” nebula-forming

Never My Love

 

The first day of Junior High School Darren left his house and found the end of the “stand quietly” line waiting for him. That is where he put the French horn case down. On the walk to school the bell of the case had banged his left leg. The pain in his shin reminded him that his band director, who liked to tap out tempo on his head, had decided that Darren would play French horn and not his trumpet. “We need French horn players,” said Mr. Palmer, the Jr. High band director. And, when Darren sat second chair behind first chair Diane in the horn section he became aware of his loss.

As Darren walked from class to class that first day he looked around and began to wonder: “What am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to wear or even say? What are troll dolls?” Juan, who was in most of the same classes as Darren, would fill him.

“Look, if you are a greaser you wear all black.” Juan fell back into his chair so that Darren could see. Sure enough. Juan wore black pants, a black shirt, a black leather jacket that never came off, black pointed shoes and the telltale sign of all greaserhood – black socks.

“Look.” Juan pointed to Bill across the room. “That is a climber. He wears white socks and does sports. Sometimes climbers wear paisley shirts. They are freakin’ flowery.”

Darren now knew the social code but wasn’t sure what he was. With Juan being in most of the same classes he decided that day that he should be a greaser. So, that night he told his mom he needed lots of black socks and plain “No flowers” shirts. He wanted Juan and one teacher to like him.

Darren’s seventh-grade Spanish teacher was a larger than life blonde who, Darren thought, must have noticed that Darren was in her class. After all, someone with shocking red-orange hair stood out. Newly purchased hair goop would put in check his cowlick.

Darren learned his Spanish verbs and infinitives. He learned Spanish adjectives as fast as he could. He needed no incentive. To speak the Romance language in class invoked a passion he had never felt before. “Señorita, eres hermosa!” Darren would daydream his devotion to her.

Geography class offered a different topology. Mrs. Foley contained significant geography on her person. Unmercifully, the kids would snicker, “Fatty Foley,” under their breaths. Then uncontrollable giggling would ensue until the yard stick smacked the bulletin board.

In the halls, between periods, notes were passed and looks connected. If you received a note from a third party that meant that someone wanted to go steady with you. That is what Juan told Darren. So, when Darren received his first note he was at once terrified and curious. He did not know what “going steady” meant. He wasn’t going to ask Juan and look stupid. The black socks kept Darren from doing any such thing.

It wasn’t till lunch period that day that Darren unraveled the note and read it. Therein, he found out that Mary K liked him and wanted to go steady. Mary K played first chair flute in the band. Darren became filled with dread as he thought about going to band rehearsal after lunch. He had no response or “going steady” in him. When the bell rang he went to rehearsal pretending that he hadn’t gotten the note. But the pretense didn’t last long.

Mary stared at Darren from her chair. The girls around her were giggling. Darren felt his face become lobster red. He could do nothing about it except hide behind the music stand and empty the spit out of his horn tubes.

After practice Mary waited for Darren at the bottom of the risers. As she waited Darren took every single tube off his French horn and blew through each one slowly. Then he began to polish the horn never looking up. When the next period bell rang he looked up over the stand and there was Mary.

“Will you walk me home after school? Mary asked.

“Sure, I guess, sure.” Darren then rushed off to shop class leaving Mary and her gaggle of friends.

Later, not sure of what was coming next, Darren gathered up his homework, shut his locker and picked up his horn. He waited at the main entrance not knowing when Mary was done with her classes. She appeared twenty minutes later.

“Hey, I’m ready.” Mary looked at Darren and the two left the building.

Darren had no idea where Mary lived. He had no idea if this walk meant that he was “going steady.” He didn’t say anything in case her liking him would change. The walk took them across town.

“If you have a ring I will wear it,” Mary said as they neared her house. Darren had no ring. He had black socks.

“Yeah, OK, right,” Darren replied and said, “See you tomorrow.”

By now Darren’s arm shoulders and arms were aching. Carrying the horn across town had worn them out. He took his time getting home. At home, he reassured himself, no one was to know about this. He couldn’t explain it anyway. And, there was his hunger to take care of.

The next day, Darren found his way to his first period English class and to his seat. Juan was already there in the seat behind him.

“Hey, are you going steady with a climber girl?”

“What?”

“Mary is a cheerleader, man.”

“How would I know that?” With that Darren turned to the front of the class and hoped he never had to go steady again. But then again, he did like it, in a greaser kind of way.

 

Between second and third period class Darren received another note. This time it was a direct note from another Mary – Mary E.  Mary E was also in the band. She played clarinet.

Band rehearsal loomed on the horizon, 12:30 that day. There was no escaping this “going steady” business. And now there was a decision to be made – Mary or Mary or feign strep throat coming on.

At 12:30 Darren walked into the band room and over to his chair. There was another note. It was right on his stand. “Now what?”, he quietly muttered. When he did, Diane looked over at him. The note was from Diane. She wanted to go steady.

The “going steady” madness continued for Darren throughout seventh and eighth grade. His arms never stopped aching. It was no relief to learn that girls in Junior High School were fickle and flighty, especially if you didn’t give them a ring. No matter. The black socks remained a social staple for Darren.

During the summer after eighth grade graduation, Darren tried out for the High School Concert Band. He played all the major and minor scales so flawlessly on his new B Bach trumpet that Mr. Gies awarded him first chair. The trumpet had been a graduation gift from Darren’s father who must have known what “going steady” meant.

 

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved

What is Faith?

 

“Let all things be done decently and in order” I Corinthians 14:40

 

The above verse was repeated so often by my father that it became a joking family rejoinder to whatever was askew at the moment.

My Dutch grandparents epitomized the verse. Their tiny two-bedroom bungalow in Bellwood, Illinois was immaculate. The bungalow’s smaller yard was well-manicured and well-guarded by a chain link fence against intruders of all kinds including rabbits that munched on Marigolds.

My father, before I was born, left the Dutch Christian Reformed church and what he considered its old-country austerity, an austerity that seemed to be reinforced by his hot-tempered foul-mouthed truck-driving father, who “cleaned up” for the Sunday Morning service.

My Swedish grandparents and my mother belonged to a Swedish Evangelical Covenant Church in the Andersonville area of Chicago were they also lived. Like Dutch immigrants, Swedish immigrants were very concerned about cleanliness and presenting a proper and well-kept image to their neighbors. These two immigrant groups were thrilled to be in the New World. The Old World had become too unyielding to make a decent living.

At one point my parents met (in a decent and orderly fashion, of course) and my father aligned himself for a time with the church my mom attended. They would soon marry and later attend the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. That is when and where I was born. The word became flesh and was placed in a crib over a Chinese take-out restaurant.

Fast forward to eleven years after my birth and I am sitting in a Bible church hearing the Four Spiritual Laws for the thousandth time, during a Vacation Bible School assembly. I decided then and there that I would ask Jesus into my heart. My friend did so at the same time. We both received a new Bible after we came forward. The New Bible was the draw for me at the time. A kid will take anything that is free, except peas and carrots.

 

Now, why am I telling you this? Everything in life emerges from relationship. Everything!

 

When someone considers God, they view God through a lens of their worldview or weltanschauung. Most, I suspect, view God through the relationship they have or have had with their parents. The parental relationship may be one of ‘happily ever after’ or one of rancor, division and divorce. A child’s view of God may become skewed when only one parent cares for him or her and the other parent is out of the picture most of the time or all of the time.

The person considering God may also have their view of God reinforced by whatever authority is in their lives, whether it be benevolent or malevolent. He or she may further view God as distant or absent or a non-issue. He or she may view God, as I believe most do, as himself or herself projected. Much of what is called social justice today is a projection of “what would Jesus as me do?” And, he or she may view God as “values-adjusted-God” to reflect one’s compromised ‘ethical’ life, as many Christians do.

But, what about God external to all rational thought and emotional bonding? Our limited minds, our limited reasoning can only summon the past to outline what it is we think we know in the present. And then such determination is a matter of interpretation, whether affixed on atheism or on theism. I suggest that relationship is key to knowing what it is you know and to what you don’t know. And yes, not knowing (meekness, teachableness) is a matter of acquiring humility in today’s Post-Enlightenment world. For a Christian worldview, holding rational thought, paradox and mystery in tension is, I believe, essential. Truth-seekers require both left and right brain hemispheres to be put to work. Why?

The Left-brain does not know what it does not know. The right-brain looks at the big picture and sees that there is mystery. It receives the paradox and supplies the left brain with context the Left-brain doesn’t see. The left brain sees detail and seeks certainty to manipulate the world. The right brain sees the big picture and hands off the context to the left brain for processing.

The Enlightenment has pushed thinking including the consideration of God, into the realm of black and white “certainty” and away from paradox and mystery, away from big questions. The media’s constant barrage of images, of ad-hoc fantasy overwhelms the right-brain, hindering its imagining of a cosmos greater than a tweet or 1440 x 2560 pixels.

Truly, the medium is a message evangelist. The perverse rapid-fire images that we view daily in anonymity enjoin us to paganism.

And as reflected, today’s Epicureans say the gods are distant and so I’ll surround myself with friends who will let say what my truth is and I’ll find sensate pleasure to offset any questions or concerns.

The many atheists (they call themselves “atheists”) I have engaged in conversations all at some point demand certainty. They will ask, “How can any rational mind accept that there is a God?” Well, a purely rational mind cannot know that there is a God. The Left-brain hemisphere will always seek certainty and never find it. The Left-brain hemisphere will always see fragmented pieces of data that mean nothing in themselves. The right-brain ‘sees’ the whole picture including what it doesn’t know and is OK with what it doesn’t know. The right-brain intuits that there is more that can be known while the left-brain balks at such ambiguity.

In my debates with atheists I say that I cannot prove that there is a God but that there is a very high probability that there is a God based on the design of Creation and the extreme fine-tuning of the universe. I mention the strong nuclear force, the weak nuclear force, the electromagnetic force, and gravity. All four finely adjusted constants make life on earth possible.

I go on to say that we only are aware of 5% of the universe and there is 95% of it that we don’t know about, including dark energy and dark matter.  I ask them that “if they can accept the mystery that light is both a wave and a particle why can’t they accept the mystery of a God beyond their understanding?” They are held in check for a moment. They expected me to “blather on about what the Bible says”.  I go on then to tell them that I have a personal relationship with the Infinite-Personal God that is reinforced by my reading of Scripture and my knowledge of the universe and prayer. (This is experiential knowledge that is at least equal to any atheist experiential knowledge). At this point, the atheist will often resort to calling me names and dismissing me out of hand. Out of these many conversations I have come to see that these same folks reject any notion of a relationship with God. Their worldview blocks all other light. So, I try to present a reasonable doubt for the case an atheist presents to me

 

I didn’t know it at the time but my eleven-year-old acceptance of Jesus would become an intimate relationship with Jesus. The big thrust in those days was to get saved and get your ticket to heaven and be ready to get raptured out of here. Sure, there was mention of Jesus as your personal Savior, but the personal part seemed to be that “Jesus died for you and you better behave before you leave this earth on the day of rejoicing”.

As I recall those days, the rigmarole surrounding being “saved” seemed artificial and trite. I heard the same salvation message week after week after week. I was starving for more than the reduction of the get-saved-and-get-the-hell-out-of-here salvation-gospel into 140 characters. As an eleven-year old the only big-ticket ‘certainty’ I had was the intuition that there was a Creator God who loved me. And, my intuition told me that the Eucharist was where to find the immediate reality of Jesus. After all of the twists and turns and sinful trajectories of my life I found a church where the Eucharist provided me the True Reality I sought.

Years later, I have learned to trust the Lord’s covenant faithfulness, which is the righteousness of (not from) God:

God’s covenant justice comes into operation through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah, for the benefit of all who have faith.” Romans 3:22

What is faith then?

I observe God working in my life daily and in the lives of others I pray for. I see and wonder at the intelligent design of the universe as unfolded over 14.8 billion years. Prayer, mediation and contemplation through music, art and literature informs and strengthens my relationship with the Lord. I hear God speaking to me. My worldview, once colored by projections, has become less opaque, less cloudy, as I am led by the Spirit.

You see, faith is an eye-opening relationship in the absence of logical certainty.

 

“I pray that the God of King Jesus our Lord, the father of glory, would give you, in your spirt, the gift of being wise, of seeing things people can’t normally see, because you are coming to know him, and to have the eyes of your inmost self opened to God’s light.” -the Apostle Paul writing to the churches around Ephesus, 1: 17

~~~

My parent’s life verse speaks of relationship, of covenantal faithfulness, of things working out decently and in order in God’s purview:

“We know in fact, that God works all things together for good to those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.”  Romans 8:28

~~~

Open thou mine eyes

Open thou mine eyes and I shall see, Incline my heart and I shall desire, Order my steps and I shall walk In the ways of thy commandments.

Open thou mine eyes and I shall see, Incline my heart and I shall desire, Order my steps and I shall walk In the ways of thy commandments.

O Lord God, be thou to me a God And beside thee let there be none else, No other, nought else with thee. Vouchsafe to me to worship thee and serve thee According to thy commandments In truth of spirit, In reverence of body, In blessing of lips, In private and in public.

 

Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626)

Born to Walk Around on Crucifixion Ground

 

jacopo-tintoretto-crucifixion-1500s

“Two particular details about Roman crucifixion are of special interest to us in this book. First, it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that Jesus of Nazareth grew up under the shadow of the cross…The Galilee of Jesus’ boyhood, then, all knew about Roman crosses (Antiquities 17.286-98; War 2.66-79)…When he told his followers to pick up their crosses and follow him, they would not have heard this as a metaphor…The second point of special interest for us is the way in which the Romans sometimes used crucifixion as a way of mocking a victim with social or political pretensions. “You want to be high and lifted up?” they said in effect. “All right, we’ll give you ‘high and lifted up.’” Crucifixion thus meant not only killing by slow torture, not only shaming, not only issuing a warning, but also parodying the ambitions of the uppity rebels. They wanted to be move up the social scale?  Let them be lifted up above the common herd…”

– from the chapter The Cross in Its First-Century Setting, N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began

 

Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594) – The Crucifixion of Christ

(In the public domain)

The Dreamer

 

Charles pulled open the door to the Gravity Pub and went in. The near campus bar was dark and full of conversation coming from TVs and crowded tables. Charles found Dimitri and sat down next to him at the bar. The bartender placed two beers and two shot glasses in front of Dmitri and Charles. The bartender returned to fill the shot glasses with vodka. Dimitri placed a twenty on the bar and the bartender made change. “To respect!” Charles toasted. The two drank down the shots.

“Congratulations Charles.” Dimitri gave Charles a slap on the back. “Now that you have a master’s degree in social justice, the world is your oyster, as they say.

“So far the world is my headache.  I have received no job offers since graduating.”

“Give it time.  Here, let’s have another shot”, Dimitri offered and threw a twenty-dollar bill on the bar.

After two beers and several shots of vodka, Charles stood up next to Dimitri and pointed a finger in the air above him.

“My friend, for too long the one perthent have exploited tax loopholes making them richer. The rich are taking their wealth and all of the income and moving their profits overseas making the poor pay the bills. Their gain is our sthruggle!”

Conversations in the room stopped.

“Sit down tiger”, Dimitri pulled on Charles jacket, “These jokers already heard all this stuff.”

“I’ll not sleep until income inequality is error…radicated.”

“Give it time.  Here, let’s have another shot”, Dimitri placed two twenty-dollar bills on the bar. He told the bartender that he was ready to settle their bill.

Charles sat down again. He looked despondent. After an hour he said goodnight to Dimitri.

Charles pushed open the door to the Gravity Pub and went out. The brisk night air in his lungs made him yawn. Looking up at a sodium streetlight he proclaimed, ” A mather’s dugree…now maybe I’ll get some re…thpect …Joe …he rethpects me… I gave him a two dollar thip!” Charles stood colorless under the yellow light proclaiming to passing cars his grand achievement.

After some time, Charles made his way home. He plunked down on the futon in the basement. He tried to remember how he got home. His thoughts were not working in any order. He lay down. His eyes, heavy with sleep, closed. The room settled down, became dark and then a large room opened before him. A room with chandeliers. A room with a large audience. The audience was looking at him. There were cries of “Speech! Speech!”

“Friends, today is a good day for the world. You have recognized my worth. I want to eradicate inequality…for too long the rich have stuffed their mattresses with wealth. The rich have the entire world’s money and their trickle down has never worked. When the rich get richer, the middle-class doesn’t benefit. No, the rich stash their cash. They buy trinkets. Their money was made on the backs of underpaid workers. Automation technology destroys the working class…Save the …”

In the next moment, a man in a tux looped a medal around Charles neck. It was the Nobel Prize. The audience stood to their feet applauding. And then a white figure with a halo came toward him. Inga was bringing him roses. As he reached for them he found himself in a ballroom dancing with Inga. She asked him, “What are you going to do with all that money?”

“I will buy a drum set. Yes, I will buy a drum set!”

“Charles, wake up.” Mick, Charles’ younger brother, thumped Charles on the head with his forefinger.

“Ow! Wh…what do you want?”

“You were talking in sleep. Hey, can I borrow a dollar?  I will pay you back with my allowance.

“Aw, go away. My head hurts. Bring me aspirin and some water.”

“Aw, go away.

 

A week later Charles met Dimitri at Gravity.

“We’ll have another beer, Joe.”

Joe the bartender set the beer in front of Charles and Dimitri. Charles looked at him and asked, “Joe, how much do you make?’

“I make enough to take care of my wife and two daughters.”

“I mean how much do you make?

“I make minimum wage plus tips. This is a second job.”

“See what I am saying Dmitri? The greedy one percent has drained this man of his humanity.”

Joe gave Charles a puzzled look and walked away.

“Those rich greedy bastards. Those fat cats hoard money in Swiss banks.  Wait till the world sees what I can do to make things right! I have no patience for the rich. Who are they to have so much when Joe has so little?

“See that framed dollar on the wall”. Leon pointed to a 4 x 6” frame above the liquor bottles, “I will frame the first dollar I take from a rich man.”

At that moment Charles phone rattled on the bar. He picked up the phone and saw that this mother had called. He pushed 1 and his mom’s number was dialed.

“Mom, what is it?”

“Several boxes arrived today for you. What are they?”

“It’s a drum set. I’m gonna play drums in a band.”

“You are also going to start paying rent to stay here.”

“Mom, not this again. I need to pay off my student loan. I have no job. The rich have made it almost impossible for people like me.  And why should I work for minimum wage when I have a Master’s Degree? Look how much I have invested in myself.”

“You have to start somewhere. Your dear departed father worked for fifty years so that you and I had a roof over our head. He wouldn’t want you to be a leech. Now, either you pay rent or you are out. Get home now and get these boxes out of the living room.”

“Mom, I’ll talk to you later.”  Charles ended the call.

“Dmitri, can you buy me one more beer and shot?’

“Sure. Trouble at home?”

“Ah, my mother wants me to pay rent. As if I was made of money.”

The bartender placed two beers and two shot glasses in front of Dmitri and Charles. He returned to fill the shot glasses with vodka. Dimitri placed a twenty on the bar and the bartender made change.

The two raised their shot glasses. Charles toasted to the end of the oppression and they drank. When the beer was gone Charles stood up.

“I better get going before my mother has a conniption fit. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Charles walked out. Pushing open the door to the Gravity Pub he went into the night air yawing.

At home Charles moved the boxes down to the basement. He opened them and checked the contents. When he couldn’t stop yawning he lay down on the futon and closed his eyes.

In the descending blackness he came upon daylight. He saw himself outside his mother’s car in front of a store.  The car was running and the car keys were locked inside. His Nobel medal hung around the rear view mirror. Frantic, he looked around for help. His professor came by and said, “You shouldn’t have done that”. A politician walked by and said “Someone will come along to help, trust me”. A man in a Mercedes pulled up and said. ”Hey I’ve got just the thing you need.” The man opened his trunk and pulled out a Slim Jim. The man proceeded to unlock the door through the car window’s weather stripping. When the door opened the radio blurted out, ”Mama may have, papa may have, But God bless the child that’s got his own, That’s got his own.”

Charles opened his eyes, winced and held his head. “Damn”, he moaned, his mother was playing her music again.

As years went by, Charles went on to become a respected professor of Social Justice at his alma mater. After tenure Charles received a six-figure salary. He summers in Costa Rica where he gives lectures about the one percent and income inequality. He went on to write “Structural Marginalization, Social Justice and Solidarity Action for the Education Challenged”. The book was well-received by his peers but did not sell in the open market. Soon after the book release Charles became the owner of Gravity Pub. Dimitri went on to start a hedge fund that gave away fifty percent of its profits. Charles’ mother died in her home with an unused drum set.

 

 

 

 

© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved