Perhaps it may turn out a sang,
Perhaps turn out a sermon.

-- R. Burns Epistle to a Young Friend

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stop Putting Me On

But that is not the way you learned Christ! — assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.  — Ephesians 4:20-24

What does it mean to "put off your old self"?  We may call it the old man, the carnal nature, the adamic nature, the flesh, but the simplest description is just self — me.  We are born into the world with a self.  We are not blank slates.  Anyone who has a child, or more than one, will tell you they are born being different.  Self is not personality though the two are related.  The persona is our mask, our inter-face as opposed to our intra-face.  It is the template or the jig on which we build our relationships with others.  Self will be seen — or at least glimpsed from time to time through that template.  Some of us are simple and our interface reflects largely and accurately the underlying self.  Others of us, either because we are fearful of exposing our nature or perhaps because of the circumstances of our upbringing, have a mask that exposes much less of that nature. 

Religions and philosophies have long recognized that self is somehow at the root of many of our problems.  Though a Christian, I am rather sympathetic toward Zen, and I think zazen meditation can be practiced  by Christians without conflict.  I am not sure where this quote came from, but I like it:  To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.  I suspect generally that what most Zen practitioners are forgetting is a version of the persona rather than the actual self, but the point is still to perceive and experience as directly as possible the pure reality around us.  What the truly enlightened will realize is that self cannot be overcome by self. 

The key to understanding and ultimately freeing ourselves from self's bondage is to realize it is "corrupt through deceitful desires".  We are unable to see things clearly.  Our perception is clouded and corroded to the point that we misunderstand, misjudge, and miss the mark.  So much that we see in the world is deception.  People are drawn into all kinds of suffering because they are deceived.  The old nature has no resistance to corruption.  Let's go back to the Old Testament for an illustration: 

King Solomon made 200 large shields of beaten gold; 600 shekels of gold went into each shield. And he made 300 shields of beaten gold; three minas of gold went into each shield. And the king put them in the House of the Forest of Lebanon. ... In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem.  He took away the treasures of the house of the Lord and the treasures of the king's house. He took away everything. He also took away all the shields of gold that Solomon had made, and King Rehoboam made in their place shields of bronze, and committed them to the hands of the officers of the guard, who kept the door of the king's house.  (1 Kings 10:16-17, 14:25-27)

Gold is, of course, incorruptible.  Bronze, while quite strong and initially as shining and bright as gold, develops, over time, a patina of corrosion.  To keep the shields of Rehoboam looking like gold required a great deal of work, a lot of burnishing and polishing.   In the same way, the flesh is resilient and tough.  It, too, can be shined up to look pretty good, but it lacks the value, quality, and incorruptible nature of gold.  The bronze shields were a counterfeit of the gold shields.  Rehoboam, through disobedience, lost a great treasure to Shishak — as king of Egypt, a type of Satan.  To avoid being embarrassed by such a loss, he took what he had and made something that served the purpose and "looked just as good" as the shields he had lost. 

In Adam, humanity lost the intimate connection with the Father also through disobedience.  Like Rehoboam, we were plundered by Satan.  From the Fall until the Cross, most of us had little choice except to rely on the self, to do the best we could with what we had, to brush and polish the tarnished face of our old nature and make it as acceptable as we could.  The Law gave us the means to keep our shields bright and strong, but what God wanted was for us to have a new and incorruptible nature.  The death of Christ and the shedding of His blood provided us with a new covenant.  The Cross offered us a way to set aside self and take up a new nature, that of Christ Himself. 

The beauty of this new self is that the world is unable to tarnish it.  Those "deceitful desires" that assail us can longer cause corruption.  Instead of being confused, accused, and harassed, our minds are renewed and refreshed, able to perceive clearly.  Now, like those golden shields of Solomon, we reflect back to God His glory, undiminished and unclouded by the corrosion and dust of the world. 

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one — Ephesian 6:16

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A Hard Row to Hoe

For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem:  “Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns.  Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” — Jeremiah 4:3-4

The old-timers had a phrase that puzzled me as they spoke of "heart-felt religion".  On Sundays in church, the preacher would ask, so it seemed to me, if we believed in Jesus.  The historical reality of Jesus as a human is not debatable.  The same kinds of records attesting to the reality of most historical figures confirm that Jesus lived and walked the earth of Galilee and Judea during the first 30 years or so of the First Century.  Both the New Testament and documents from observers of the times such as Josephus agree that Jesus of Nazareth is not some cultish composite but a man with that name, lineage, and reputation.  You either believe that or you don't.  The other issue is whether one believes that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, as He appears in the Gospels to claim, or if He was merely an enlightened teacher who got caught up in a political struggle.  There are, again, ample reasons to believe that He was the Son of God, for otherwise, based on His claims as recorded, as Lewis has so deftly explained, we are forced to believe He was a mad man or an evil and deceptive charlatan.  It is possible to dispute the New Testament accounts, of course, but one is subsequently left wondering how a dozen ignorant peasants in a backwater province started the Church.

Intellectual belief was not hard for me, but the "heart-felt" part left me baffled.  I believed what was written in Scripture, but the call seemed to be demanding something else, something that would transform me into another person.  Agreeing with a confession of faith is good, but it's just like signing a contract.  Anybody can do that and adhere to the restrictions or requirements.  So I thought.  If I had been brought up in a more orthodox tradition, either Catholicism or Orthodoxy, I would have been baptized into the Church.  Eventually I would have been offered full communion via an initiation — a somewhat more mystical path.  But the Protestant tradition rejects this idea and calls upon those who can be accountable and responsible for themselves to, as individuals, enter into communion by a public confession, of which baptism is a part.  The closest a protestant comes to mysticism is the going under and coming up out of the water a new creation. 

Everyone generally agrees that being a Christian is more than mental acknowledgement of some fact — as James says, "Even the demons believe — and shudder."  Jesus Himself speaks of being born again or born from above then says, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

In another place, explaining the heart of the Law and what is pleasing to God, Jesus replied, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)  One of our favorite quotations is Micah 6:8, He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?

Love is not a mental assent but, we often say, an emotion, a feeling, or, to use Jonathan Edwards term, an affection.  We are to love the Lord, not merely follow His decrees.  Neither is doing kind or merciful things sufficient, but we are required to "love" mercy.   So, too, humility is not a mental state, but a state of the heart, as we might put it.  Holy affections are as necessary for our walk with God as our adherence to correct doctrine or our obedience.  In fact, obedience without love is nothing.  Does Jesus not say that many who call Him 'Lord' are unknown to Him?  My wife might be happy that I buy her flowers, but if I were to tell her that I only did it because it was the right thing to do and that I really could care less about her one way or the other, she would be much less impressed.

When we talk about feelings, a lot of us think of bodily responses to emotions.  Fear might cause us to sweat profusely.  Embarrassment causes the blood vessels in our faces to dilate.  Anger might cause our muscles to tense up.  Somatic reactions to emotions are not the emotions themselves.  We may cry when we are sad, but sometimes we don't.  We can be so stricken with grief that tears, if they come at all, will appear only after the shock of a sorrow has worn off.  I always said that aside from embarrassment and anger, I didn't have much range in my emotional responses.  It would be unwise, then, to base an assessment of anyone's affections on their emotional response. 

This was the reason Edwards wrote Religious Affections.  During the Great Awakening revivals that began, more or less, as a result of Edwards' preaching, there were often emotional manifestations, not unlike those that used to be seen frequently in "holy roller" meetings.  In the 1990s, in the so-called "Toronto Revival" at the Airport Vineyard Church, people had bizarre experiences, often "laughing in the Spirit".   Similar things occurred in the "Pensacola Revival" and in Steve Gray's church at Smithton, Missouri.  People flocked to these meetings, especially those with Pentecostal and Charismatic backgrounds, many of them ministers, in order "experience" revival.

In my opinion, most of it was and is a form of mass hysteria or pretense.  There are true holy affections that are part of a genuine conversion to Christian faith.  People may tremble.  They may sob.  They may faint.  They might become incoherent or experience glossolalia.  They may even laugh.  They may feel like dancing or running.  But in the end, as Paul says, the spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet.   Outbursts that are disruptive or distracting can be held in check.   I went to a few meetings — once intentionally and a few other times inadvertently — where this kind of behavior was exhibited.  I don't know that some people were not positively motivated by this manifestations.  I know a few people that were involved that I trust and respect who seemed to benefit from them.  I still think they were victims of a form of mob psychology, but it didn't hurt them. 

It did hurt me.  What I saw was the pretense, disgraceful displays of fleshly excess, willful stupidity masquerading as piety, arrogance, and foolishness.  I closed myself off to all of it when what I should have done was weep for the idiots and the suckers being pulled into it — even for the fools perpetrating their theater of the absurd.  Prior wounds in churches may have made me more defensive and less understanding.  The whoring after attention and self-promotion sickened me — which would have been fine.  What was not fine was that I hardened my heart against all things related to church and Christianity.  I mocked and ridiculed and unleashed my natural cynic. A hardened heart, like trampled ground, is unfruitful no matter how fertile the underlying soil might be.  My life became barren, and I became indifferent to everything that mattered. 

I cannot by an effort of will turn indifference into love.  I can, however, plow under the hard ground of my heart, through prayer and meditating on Scripture and focusing on the Cross.   A merciful God can then cause me to shed that indifference, to love what He loves and to hate what He hates.  Vulnerability means we get hurt easily, but it also allows us to be sensitive to what God is saying and doing, to be more susceptible to conviction, less hardened to the sinful and the vulgar.  The loss of vulnerability caused me to harbor attitudes and to build strongholds around thoughts that would before have been swept away  by an inflow of the Holy Spirit.  A lot of the time for the last several years, I have been no fun to be around.  I hope that is starting to change. 

I didn't realize I was turning this into a confession, but, since I have, I might as well add one more thing.  I think I started this blog about four years ago, and, over that time, because of those who visit me here, reading and commenting, I have been able open up and to shed some of my cynicism and lower my shields a little.  In the Book of Acts, you will read a lot about a man named Barnabas.  He was a Levite whose given name was Joseph, but he was such an encouragement to the believers that the Apostles called him Barnabas — the son of encouragement.  So consider yourself Barnabas.  Thanks.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Wills of God

Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. – Matthew 6:10

A few days ago I was reading a book by a fairly well-known modern evangelical minister.  The book has been around for nearly thirty years and widely read, if not taken too seriously.  It is not one I would recommend – which is why I’m not naming either it or its author – since it is merely a warmed-over rehash of better works from authors like C.S. Lewis, William Law, and, especially, the great American thinker, Jonathan Edwards.  Since he mentioned Edwards and his Treatise Concerning the Religious Affections so frequently, it occurred to me that I might better spend my time reading Edwards myself.  I don’t mean to imply that the contemporary author’s work is without value.  For some it may be a good starting point.  I found myself underlining phrases and writing in the margins, but the author sometimes seemed miss his own obvious points in favor of putting forth a homogenized, pasteurized version of the truth more in keeping with what is acceptable in modern Christianity.

Edwards’ original version of Religious Affections is heavier going than I have the time for at the moment, but, fortunately, I have an abridgement from an old Multnomah Press Classics version republished in 1996 by Bethany House.  This is one of those books that really can benefit by some thoughtful editing.  Edwards was a genius whose mind so overflowed with understanding and insight that he has a tendency to overwhelm the reader.  Even the abridgement deserves to be read slowly – which I’m doing. 

“Affections” are feelings (wo-oh-oh, feelings) in one sense, but they are intertwined with the will.  Edwards explained that we have the rational faculty which perceives and judges.  We also have the faculty of the soul by which it is inclined to one thing or another.  As he says, “The soul, because of this faculty, does not want to see things as an indifferent, unaffected spectator.  We like things or we dislike them.  When our affective inclination governs and determines our choices and our courses of action, we call that inclination “the will”.  It may also be called “the heart” when our mind is involved in consciously making the choice. 

I may put up some thoughts on the relationship of affections and religion as I work my way through the book.  I believe Edwards is correct in his assessment and gives a thorough, accurate treatment of the subject. 

Right now, though, I’m going off on a somewhat related subject regarding the sovereign will of God.  For a long time, I recited the Lord’s Prayer without giving too much thought to it.  Then one day, I realized that I was asking for God’s will to be done everywhere in the material universe as it was being done already in heaven.  In Matthew 18:18, echoing what He said in another context in Matthew 16:19, Jesus tells His disciples about their authority as believers, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Other translations or marginal readings give the idea a slightly different twist, saying, in effect, that we are able to bind on earth what is already bound in heaven and to loose what has already been loosed – in other words, to manifest the heavenly reality in the earthly realm.   It’s pretty heavy stuff in any case. 

The question I asked, though, is, if God is sovereign upon earth, why is His will not done on earth as it is in heaven?  Why would that even be an issue?  Is God in control or not? 

There is no power equal to God, not even a viable competing power:   

I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the Lord, and there is no other.  I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7)   

There is not much room for questioning such a statement.  I see little in Scripture that would offer an alternative view and much that reinforces this concept.  The devil looks more like a tool.  It is Milton more than the Bible that makes him look powerful -- God’s nemesis in a dark realm.  Satan’s kingdom and his influence are circumscribed and limited by the Lord.  The devil might be our nemesis, but he is not in God’s class. 

Consider that Jesus was betrayed by Judas and crucified in accordance with the Father’s will.  Jesus is the “Lamb slain from the foundation of the world”.  Every lamb offered from the Exodus the death of Christ prefigured, foreshadowed, and typified that crucifixion.  Yet there is no question that the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was an evil act, and those involved who did not repent of their part in it were held responsible and judged as guilty.  The will of man to do evil became a part of God’s overall plan to accomplish a good end. 

Edwards addresses the problem by saying that God has a “will of command” or a revealed will as well as a “will of decree” or His secret will.  Though worthwhile, this can be a little boggy:

When a distinction is made between God’s revealed will and his secret will, or his will of command and decree, will is certainly in that distinction taken in two senses. His will of decree, is not his will in the same sense as his will of command is. Therefore, it is no difficulty at all to suppose, that the one may be otherwise than the other: his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue, or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended, that virtue, or the creature’s happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature.

His will of decree is, his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things, that have been, are, or shall be. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things. Though he hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times. So, though he has no inclination to a creature’s misery, considered absolutely, yet he may will it, for the greater promotion of happiness in this universality.

Easy for you to say.  (Read more of this HERE, if so inclined.)  Sometimes people will refer to God’s “permissive will” – even those who are not as committed to the sovereignty of God as was Edwards.  Most Christians still believe that God is ultimately in control, and He will allow us to suffer temporally for a greater eternal purpose.  Thus you might look at the division as God’s eternal will – which is secret – versus His temporal will – which is revealed, or as absolute versus relative. 

For the Christian, suffering in this world makes sense only if there is another world.  As my grandmother used to say, “Just this world and one more.”  Or, as Paul said, “If in this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Fathers Teach the Children Well

Then his father Isaac said to him, “Come near and kiss me, my son.”  So he came near and kissed him.
And Isaac smelled the smell of his garments and blessed him and said,  “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the Lord has blessed!  May God give you of the dew of heaven and of the fatness of the earth and plenty of grain and wine.  Let peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you.  Be lord over your brothers, and may your mother's sons bow down to you.  Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!”  -- Genesis 27:26-29

Why would there be a relationship between fathers and the persistence and success of children?  Why did the patriarchs speak a blessing over their sons?  A good father gives his children the sense that he knows what is going on, that he knows what to do, that he can protect and defend them from any threat.  Men, unless it has been beaten out of them, are by nature confident creatures.  Only the confident, possibly only the over-confident, will go up against a wooly mammoth with a sharp stick.  Hollywood and the metrosexual elite can mock us for that all they want.  We are not going to change any time soon. 

Children listen to their mothers, of course, but there is always the sense that Mom is “on your side”.  Dad is more independent in his thinking, more analytical.  We are speaking here in general terms, of course.  Dad is the outward-looking while Mom is the inward-looking.  When our fathers tell us something, we tend to think it is the view of the world at large, perhaps even the view of God.  If our father tells us that we are going to be blessed and succeed in all that we do, we think he is basing that view at least partially on something more objective than mere emotion.

Children with the right attitude toward themselves, those in whom a father has instilled his own sense of confidence will more readily accept challenges and are far more likely to keep trying in the face of repeated failures and struggles.  I would venture to guess that nearly everyone who has succeeded in a tough field had a father or father-figure somewhere along the line say to them, “You can do it.”  Fathers, especially, should speak blessing over their children and encourage them to push themselves and persist in worthwhile efforts.  The Springfield Cardinals – the Double-A clubof the big league Cards – have a player from Hawaii named Kolten Wong.  He’s a five-foot, nine-inch infielder hoping to play second base in the Majors sometime soon.  Kolten believes he will succeed:    

If someone had the same talent as me, I knew I was smarter than them on the field, I knew what to do in any situation. It comes back to my dad and being a young kid and he drilling it into my brain all these things of what to do in different situations.

Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged.  -- Colossians 3:21

Some fathers find it all too easy to criticize, perhaps because they experienced too much criticism and not enough blessing themselves, but the cycle can be broken.  Those of us who no longer have younger children around can still encourage our adult children, grandchildren, and the children of family and friends, speaking positive words into their lives and giving them time and attention.  

I am sure my father did the best he could.  I know that he encouraged me in some things, discouraged me with regard to others.  For the most part, I listened to his implied assessment of my abilities and took it to heart, to my benefit, I believe.  In my own small way, I have fought through some difficulties and achieved a few things.   One of the happiest moments of my life was when Dad sat in the big leather recliner in our family room here, a few years before he passed on.  As he looked around the house, he smiled and said, "I'll bet you never thought you'd have a nice house like this when you were out there buckin' bales."  I laughed and agreed.  I wish I had told him more -- that all I had managed to gain was a result of the tenacity and the ability to endure he had instilled in me.  I think he knew that, but I should have told him in so many words.

Not everybody has been as blessed as I was to have an encouraging, wise and confident father.  Even if our earthly fathers fail us, though, we have a heavenly Father who will not.  He says to us, as He did to Jesus, we are His beloved children in whom He is well-pleased.  He reminds us that we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength.  We can endure, and we will endure.  

Remember your father this weekend, and remember your Father.  

Monday, June 11, 2012

I Can See Eternity from My House

And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing.  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God – 2 Corinthians 4:3-4

The Greek word transliterated “aion” appears frequently in the New Testament, something like 128 times in 102 verses, according to Strong’s Concordance.  For those playing along at home, aion has the Strong’s number of 165 or G165, G for Greek.  It is derived from another word that means perpetually, incessantly or always.  In the good old KJV, aion was most frequently translated as “ever” – as in the Lord’s Prayer:  And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.  Amen  (Matthew 6:13 KJV).  The second most popular translation in the Authorized Version is “world”:    And whosoever speaketh a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but whosoever speaketh against the Holy Ghost, it shall not be forgiven him, neither in this world, neither in the world to come  (Matthew 12:32 KJV).  In my ESV and other modern versions, the phrase reads:  either in this age or in the age to come, but the ESV uses "world" other places as in the verse at the top.

The basic definition is given as a) perpetuity of time, an eternity, or forever; b) the cosmos or “worlds”; c) an age or an indefinite period of time.  For those who are geeks rather than Greeks, one might think in terms of Tolkien’s ages of Middle Earth which vary in length of years but have marked beginning and endings usually involving cataclysmic events such as the destruction of the One Ring.   Beyond that, the idea of an age is somewhat similar to the useful German word zeitgeist, the spirit of the times.  An age denotes the way of thinking, perceiving, and understanding reality that dominates during a period of time.  On, I find a quote from Richard C. Trench that sums it nicely:    . . . all that floating mass of thought, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims and aspirations at any time current in the world, which is impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitutes a most real and effective power, being our moral or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably exhale.

Our “world” is in large part the way in which we interact with it.  It is a little like an operating system on a computer.  One OS may be more powerful in certain areas, another may be easier to use while another may make some otherwise difficult tasks trivial.  Each OS interacts and controls the same physical machine, yet the user of a given system is more or less oblivious to the underlying structure and functionality. 

Apart from the horror that was Vista, most of us as computer users are content with what our operating system gives us.  The same seems to be true of most people in the world.  We are either happy with our world, or we think we have no other option.  Would it not be sad to have Vista as our only choice?  Many have thought for a long time that Bill Gates was the devil.  He’s not, or he would have stopped after foisting such a demonic system on the masses. 

But there is a devil, and he is the god of this aion, that is, of the system of perceiving and interacting with the cosmos that blinds unbelievers and deceives them into thinking that the gospel of Christ is a delusion, that nothing exists except the seen.  As long as we use the devil’s OS, we are going to have a hard time getting to the truth.  The very first step is to understand that … we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen.  For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:18).  

My wife has a desktop that came with Vista installed on it.  She has been using it for several years while I told her repeatedly to spend a buck and get Windows 7 (which she runs on her laptop) or something else.  Finally, after the box had simply refused to boot for weeks, she let me install Ubuntu as a demo.  After she played with it a little, she allowed me to install it on a partition alongside Vista.  I am pretty sure, once she gets used to it, she will become an open-source Linux fan-girl.    

The old pagan world had us view ourselves as transient creatures created for and driven by the whims of a myriad of capricious, petty gods we might placate or enlist on our behalf with the appropriate sacrifice or service.  The modern, materialistic world has us viewing ourselves as slightly enlightened animals driven by instincts, trapped in a deterministic universe where we have no choice except to pretend we have a choice and no escape except death.  Our purpose is merely to survive and propagate our genetic material.  (I’m sure a materialist would object to “merely”, but there it is.)  

The gospel teaches us something very different -- that our purpose transcends the boundaries of our material existence on this planet, that we are the children of God, adopted in Christ Jesus, our lives filled with meaning and significance.  We learn that we are free to make good choices (and, by extension, bad ones), to live lives of holiness and righteousness filled with peace and joy.  We are more than our possessions and our achievements.  The marks that we make do not depend on length of life, the number of patents we hold, or the number of children we have.  We will be rewarded in eternity – a new age – based on our faithfulness and obedience. 

A couple of years ago, I wrote about a child who was born and lived for only a few hours.  In the view of this aion, his life was a waste and should have been terminated in the womb, for the parents knew his condition some weeks before his birth.  Nevertheless, I know his brief existence here was but a steppingstone, a poignant prelude to his real life.  During those few hours he did his job of wounding hearts – and do not ever doubt that there is such a needful calling, and a very high calling it is.  Those who can fulfill it are rare and wonderful.    

The zeitgeist is everywhere.  The pressure to conform, to fit into this world system, this aion, is very powerful at times.  Our jobs, our friends, our families, the aches and pains in our physical bodies, the television, the internet, shoot, sometimes even our churches all tell us:  this is it.  Get it while you can. 

But if I can just stop running, I might find out what is behind me.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life … And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God. *

* Some assembly language (also known as “revelation”) required.  Thank God for His grace. 

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Don't Ever Be a Rocket Man

While Fahrenheit 451 is probably Bradbury’s best-known work, my favorite volume is The Illustrated Man, a collection of eighteen classic short stories.   Bradbury deals with a range of subjects from time travel in “The Fox and the Forest” to work and family life in “The Rocket Man” to the projected results of an alien invasion in “The Concrete Mixer”, from racism in “The Other Foot” to Christianity in “The Man” and “The Fire Balloons”. 

A common description of Bradbury’s prose is that it is lyrical, and that is true enough.  It is also deceptively light and simple.  Rarely does he slap the reader’s face with a point or a mood or an emotion.  Here is an excerpt from “The Rocket Man”:  

“Let’s hear it,” he said at last.

And I know that now we would talk, as we always talked, for three hours straight.  All afternoon we would murmur back and forth in the lazy sun about my school grades, how high I could jump, how fast I could swim. 

Dad nodded each time I spoke and smiled and slapped my chest lightly in approval.  We talked.  We did not talk of rockets or space, but we talked of Mexico, where we had driven once in an ancient car, and of the butterflies we had caught in the rain forests of green warm Mexico at noon, seeing the hundred butterflies sucked into our radiator, dying there, beating their blue and crimson wings, twitching, beautiful and sad.  We talked of such things instead of the things I wanted to talk about.  And he listened to me.  That was the thing he did, as if he was trying to fill himself up with all the sound he could hear.  He listened to the wind and the falling ocean and my voice, always with rapt attention, a concentration that almost excluded physical bodies themselves and kept only the sounds.  He shut his eyes to listen.  I would see him listening to the lawn mower as he cut the grass by hand instead of using the remote-control device, and I would see him smelling the cut grass as it sprayed up at him behind the mower in a green fount. 

“Doug,” he said about five in the afternoon, as we were picking up our towels and heading back along the beach near the surf, “I want you to promise me something.”


“Don’t ever be a Rocket Man.”

That is the way it is done.  A father and son are together on the beach, talking, remembering, and a specific memory is drawn up and presented so lividly.  There is the bittersweet beauty of the butterflies and death, evoking and foreshadowing.  Anyone who ever had a parent whose job took them away, or any parent who ever had such an occupation can identify.  Son, don't ever be a pilot, a sailor, a commercial fisherman, a truck driver.  Don't let your work become your life and try to hold onto your family in bits and bites.  Don't become consumed by the road or the sea, the rails or even the keyboard.  It will end before you expect it, and it will all be gone, like the butterflies crossing the road. glimpsed only as it is lost, dying and fading away.  It may not end in physical death and separation.  Nevertheless, the lost youth of the parent, the lost childhood will vanish away.  Quality is good, but it only makes the missed time more poignant.