Tag: #church

III. The Communion of Saints.

Mount Rushmore

Mount Rushmore

Past.  Present. And FUTURE.

Hit the rewind button.  Again.  Back to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore for a couple of nights at the beautiful State Game Lodge.  I stayed there as a kid with my mom and brother on two trips we made to visit her relatives in far southeast North Dakota.

The Lodge seemed huge then; small now.  One night, my brother and I sat out on the big front porch, watching a fierce storm, the lightning bolts turning the surrounding hills white before they were plunged into an even greater blackness.  Thunder claps coming from just over our heads and then tumbling down the valleys, the rain sluicing in curtains off the roof in front of where we, mesmerized, sat.  The show was over too quickly.

Those were lean times for our family; my dad had gone from driving big Cadillacs with those outrageous tail fins to a little VW bug with faded, orange paint.  But it did the trick, laboring up those long grades in Wyoming, getting us to mom’s relatives’ farms in southeast North Dakota.  Those farmers-those relations-are mostly gone now.

Angry hornets.

Custer State Park is something like a beekeeper’s veil:  it keeps at bay the annoying swarms of tourist traps that would otherwise overwhelm Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, and Badlands National Park.

Mount Rushmore in a driving rain, sleet mix is less than ideal.  But look on the bright side-I pretty much had the place to myself.  And the weather did nothing to deter those stoic, gray figures, their faces wreathed in mist, gazing out towards the horizon.

Crazy Horse Monument

Crazy Horse Memorial

Persistence and determination are alone omnipotent.

A few miles down the road, it was the same story at the Crazy Horse Memorial, where the massive sculpture pranced in and out of the clouds.

In 1939, Lakota Sioux Chief Henry Standing Bear wrote a letter to the well known Polish-American sculptor, Korczak Ziolkowski, asking him to create a monument so that “the white man would know that the red man has great heroes too.”  Although Ziolkowski answered in the affirmative, the start of the work was interrupted by the sculptor’s WWII Army service; he was wounded at the Omaha Beach landings.

The first blast on the sculpture didn’t come until June 3, 1948.  The work hasn’t stopped since.  Not by Ziolkowski’s death in 1982.  Nor his wife Ruth’s death in 2014.  It’s now carried on by their 10 children and even grandchildren.

When I first visited Crazy Horse with my mom and brother back in the early ’60’s, you had to have an active imagination to have any idea what was taking shape on that distant pile of rocks.  No longer.  Crazy Horse’s face is finished, even though it will be years, if not decades, before the entire sculpture is.  (This glacial pace of progress has been the object of some criticism and charges of family nepotism.)

Why has it gone so slowly?  It’s all been done with admission fees and private donations.  When federal aid was offered, Ziolkowski and the tribes he worked with refused.  When I asked one of the museum attendants, “Why?” he answered, “The federal government took our land.  We’re not going to take money from them.”

Past. Present. And future.

When Monique Ziolkowshi, Korczak’s daughter and now CEO of the undertaking, is asked when the sculpture will be finished, she replies, “I’ll be dead before it’s done.”

Is this monument, which this woman will never see completed, a strange project to devote one’s life to?  Maybe.

But isn’t it a sort of picture of how life should be lived?  Hopefully, our ancestors have bequeathed something to us we consider worth preserving.  A tradition, or, as Burke had it, a “prescription,” that we carry into the present.  And that we, in turn, live, move and have our being in such a way that makes “the Permanent Things,” as T.S. Eliot described them, beguiling to our descendants.

 

 

The Feast Of John The Baptist.

John the Baptist Head on a Platter

A Very Merry Unbirthday To You!

There are two requirements, I’ve learned, to successful blogging: quality and quantity.

So, how is yours truly doing about a year and a half into this blogging thing?  I hope you believe that the quality of what I put out is generally acceptable.  Usually understandable.  Mostly interesting.  Sometimes even provocative or entertaining .

My real problem is quantity.  I’ve put out about 45 posts over a span of over 75 weeks.  You gotta’ be kidding!  That’s not even one a week.  I hope the only way from here is up.

The Mad Hatter And Me.

My intent was to put out a post about John the Baptist in time for his “birthday”-which many Christians celebrate on June 24.  Which, to my chagrin, is now rapidly fading in the rear view mirror.

So, John, as they sang at the Mad Hatter’s party: a very merry UNbirthday to you!

John The Enigma.

There’s no question that John is a man to be reckoned with.  Jesus says of him, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.” (Lk 7:28).

For the longest time, however, John was an enigma to me.  But it wasn’t the strange stories of a wild man in the Judean desert, eating locusts and honey, clad in camel hair, that puzzled me.  Odd?  Yes.  But straight forward enough.

Nor, during his early ministry, did I have any trouble seeing John fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy:

“I will send my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way-
a voice of one calling in the desert,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.'”
(Mk 1:2-3)

During those few, shining moments John’s out front where he’s supposed to be.  Preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins to SRO crowds.  Telling of the One to come, “more powerful than I, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.”  Even baptizing Christ, seeing the heavens torn open, the Spirit descending on Jesus like a dove. And listening in as the voice of the Father tells Jesus, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk 1:7;11)

Yes, it’s easy to see John making those straight paths.

But thereafter, aside from some brief, apparently random glimpses, John is almost entirely eclipsed by the brilliance that is the eternal Word Himself.  How can John be the pathfinder, if the trail he leaves is so faint and uncertain?

Making Sense Of The Forerunner.

So what do we make of John’s other appearances?  His birth?  His brutal death?  Even the troubling scene where, from prison, he sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Mt 11:2)  Do we treat these events as mere surplus?

Definitely not.  The key is understanding John is just like what it says:  “I will send my messenger ahead of you . . .”  Wherever you see John, look for Christ to show up.  But later.  True, John’s story, by comparison with Christ’s, is writ small.  In some cases, barely a wisp.  But it’s there.

Count on it:  where John leads, Jesus follows.

Two Miraculous Births.  And In The Right Order.

The “Christmas Story” only shows up in two Gospels:  Matthew and Luke; Mark and John say nothing.  Matthew is silent with regards to how the Baptist’s birth interacted with Christ’s.

Luke, in contrast, more than makes up for what the others fail to say.

In Luke, it’s clear that John goes “ahead”-he was born before Jesus.  (Lk 1:57-66)

And, like that of Jesus’ birth, John’s nativity was replete with “signs and wonders.”  His parents, “well along in years,” were past the age of child bearing (Lk 1:7).  Elizabeth gets pregnant anyway (Lk 1:24).  Angels run wild (Lk 1:11).  His skeptical father is struck dumb (Lk 1:20).  And then speaks again (Lk 1:64).

No, John wasn’t born to a virgin.  But it’s also clear this was far from your run of the mill L&D.  And that what we see through a glass darkly in John’s birth, we see face to face in Christ’s.

Two Public Ministries.  And In The Right Order.

Saint John the Baptist preaching to crowd

I’ve already talked about John’s public ministry:  huge crowds, preaching repentance, baptism.  Very explicitly pointing to the One who is to soon come.  What else can be said?

Probably no more than this pithy summary in the Gospel of John at the close of the Pathfinder’s public ministry: “He (Jesus) must increase, I must decrease.”  (Jn 3:30).

Two Gethsemanes.  And In The Right Order.

As those paragons of Christian theology, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, put it, “I was ’round when Jesus Christ had his moment of doubt and pain.”  But, to our everlasting gain, Christ’s response to Lucifer in the garden was, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”  (Lk 22:42)

But Christ’s moment of doubt and pain was, again, foreshadowed by John.  His public ministry came crashing down when he told King Herod that “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” (Mk 6:18).  Herod was no doubt upset, but his wife, Herodias, was furious.  So she persuaded her husband to have John thrown in the slammer.  (BTW, if you’d like to get a sense of what prison conditions in the ancient Mideast may have been like for The Baptist, watch the gut wrenching movie, Midnight Express.)

From the inky depths of Herod’s prison, John is likewise in Satan’s icy grip.  Wondering how something that had begun so well could have gone so badly so quickly, he sends some of his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”  (Lk 7:19).  How ironic, but understandable, that The Pathfinder would have his own moment of doubt and pain right after his disciples had reported that Jesus had pulled back the centurion’s servant from the jaws of death.   And raised the widow of Nain’s son from the dead (Lk 7:1-15).  John’s anguished prayer can almost be heard: “Lord, you healed the centurion’s servant.  You raised the widow’s son from the dead.  Why don’t you get me out of Herod’s prison?”  

Two “Trials.”  And In The Right Order.

But Herodias wasn’t satisfied with John merely being held in a wretched dungeon.  She wanted his head.  But Herod resisted; for some reason he took a perverse pleasure in listening to John (Mk 6:20).

But that resistance melted away in the face of incestuous lust.  At a drunken birthday party, Herodias’ daughter’s dancing so pleased Herod that he promised her anything, even “up to half my kingdom.”  After consulting her mother, the daughter demanded “the head of John the Baptist on a platter.”  Unwilling to back down in the presence of his guests, Herod ordered it done.  He, in turn, “presented it to the girl, and she gave it to her mother.” (Mk 6:21-28)  Talk about a grizzly party favor.  And one that still lives in infamy.

Does this travesty rise to the level of a “trial?”  Obviously not.  But neither did Christ’s.  And, again, Jesus followed where John led.

A Coincidence?  You Decide.

To me, the most poignant account of John’s disciples telling Jesus of the beheading in Herod’s dungeon comes in Matthew:  “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.”  (Mt 14:13).  What was Jesus doing in that solitary place?  Praying?  No doubt.  Mourning?  Sure.

But let me suggest one more thing:  pondering his own fate.

It is only after John is murdered that Jesus begins predicting his own death.  (Mt 16:21; but also true in the other synoptic gospels).  A coincidence?  I doubt it.  Surely, by now, Jesus saw the pattern himself, as certain as night follows day:  where John leads, I must follow.

Two “Resurrections.”  And In The Right Order.

What more can possibly be said of Christ’s death and resurrection?  These events are the cornerstones of Christianity.  They’re the culmination of all four gospel accounts.  Who could miss them?

The same, most certainly, can’t be said of John’s “resurrection.”  By contrast with Christ’s, it’s the barest wisp.

Why?  Consider the source:  Herod.  That’s right, John’s murderer.  But it’s there:

“At that time Herod the tetrarch heard about the reports about Jesus, and he said to his attendants, ‘This is John the Baptist; he has risen from the dead!  That is why miraculous powers are at work in him.'” (Mt 14:1-2).

Is Herod a reliable source?  No.  He was more likely suffering from a guilty conscience.  Had John come back to life in Jesus and was he performing the miracles Herod heard about?  Again, no.

But it’s only after Herod’s delusional “prophesies” that Jesus begins predicting his own resurrection.  (Mt 16:21).  And if Herod’s ravings about John are good enough for Jesus, they’re plenty good enough to demonstrate to me that Christ was paying attention. And following where John was leading.

But that’s not really the point.  John wasn’t meant to be the highway, plain for all to see.  Jesus was.  John was the path.  For Jesus to see.  John’s “resurrection” is just the next paving stone in the path.

It’s Not If.  It’s Who.

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to  sympathize with our weaknesses,
but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin.”  (Heb 4:15).

This is an interesting, two edged passage of Scripture.  Sure, it means that Christ is just like us-except without sin.  But it also means that we are just like Christ-except with sin.  Granted, that’s a huge difference.  But, as I take it, there are also huge similarities.

In relation to The Baptist, consider what the author of Hebrews meant.  Did Jesus really need a leader?  Unless we are to conclude that the carefully woven skein between the lives of John and Jesus was just play acting, how can it be otherwise? And isn’t this just like the Lamb of God?  To humbly submit to the Pathfinder’s leadership. Even after John’s reckless enthusiasm was reduced to bitter ashes in the furnace of Herod’s prison.

And if Jesus needed a leader, how much more us?  But the difference?  While Jesus chose just the right leader and played the game flawlessly, we’re free to err in both regards.  And how often we do.

But our consolation?  If we, like Christ, humble ourselves and choose the right Leader, He has our backs.  Because, with even greater recklessness, the Lamb humbly stoops beneath even us, making

“. . . himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself and became obedient to death-
even death on a cross! (Php 2-7,8).

To what end?  To rise to heights of unimagined glory.  And, bearing on His broad shoulders all those who also humble themselves, climb aboard, and go along for the ride.

Your Neighbor As Yourself

spencer neighbor pic

My wife and I went to Spokane recently to visit our daughter, Jocelyn, and her family.     I’ve gotten to know the city pretty well over the last 10 years or so.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, our older daughter, Lauren, got a nursing degree from Eastern Washington State in Spokane.  Lauren met her husband, Haden, at Whitworth, another Spokane university.

At least in part because she wanted to be near her sister, Jocelyn got a degree from Whitworth.  Where she also met her husband, Aaron.  They were married there on a beautiful, but searing late summer evening at a vineyard overlooking the Spokane Valley.  They now have a year old daughter, Lucy.  Named after, you guessed it, Jocelyn’s favorite sitcom.

I can’t tell you how many times Marleen and I have flown back and forth from Denver to Spokane for all these doings. But it’s a lot.

I wish I could still say that Spokane reminds me of what Denver probably looked like back in the ’50’s.  But I don’t think I can.  The city seems to be in the throes of a development frenzy that is more like Denver’s than the Spokane I remember from even two or three years ago.  Cranes and construction everywhere.  Half the downtown streets closed for one reason or another.

But, enough whining.  There are still plenty of aspects of the town that will make many more trips there rewarding.  And, as is invariably the case, they deal primarily with people.  Since it has been years since my wife and daughter Lauren have been in Spokane, they now primarily ripple out from Jocelyn and the roots that her family has sunk into the city’s flinty, volcanic bedrock.  Near their fixer-upper home in the South Hill neighborhood, it appears that hideous, black monsters of the underworld are forcing their heads into lawns that are perfectly manicured around them.

Since they were in college, Aaron and Jocelyn have attended New Community Church.   At that time, the church met in what was a store front in a shopping center.  The ceiling of the dimly lit sanctuary pressed down from just over the heads of congregants. The music of the band on the stage careened wildly around the room, beyond the ability of the sound crew, including my son-in-law, to tame it.  Just the ticket, in other words, for the many college students who go to church there.

This year, however, the church bit the bullet and bought a large old church, steeples, stained glass, organ, and all, from an aging congregation that was ready to fold its tent downtown.  And now, after several weeks of scrubbing and painting, New Community has moved into it’s new home.  The acoustics are still unruly beneath the domed skylight over the sanctuary, but now the energetic singing is matched by the light that pours in through the rose windows.  And the Light that is defused, as it always has been, through the faithful preaching of the Word.

They might not like me to say so, but the congregation is pretty much white-bread.  Which is fine with me.   Lots of young, white couples with little kids.  A stubborn remnant of the historic American nation which, despite the efforts of our political elite to extirpate it by electing a new people through mass immigration, endures.

For ballast, there are also some older couples at the church-which is important.  Our daughter and her husband hit a pretty rough patch in their marriage a while back.  One of those older couples took Jocelyn in while she and Aaron worked things out.  As a small token of my appreciation, I was very pleased to be able to prepare dinner for them with a wild turkey I shot which we had frozen and brought along from Denver.

At the heart of New Community are the many small groups that get together in homes around town, often on a weekly basis.  Jocelyn and Aaron have been active in theirs for years.

Hope and Derrick have also been part of their small group since college days.  Hope is a labor and delivery nurse that was at Jocelyn’s side when she gave birth to Lucy.  Hope also gave birth to her first right around the same time.  Derrick is in medical school.  They, to put it mildly, have their hands full.

But despite their medical training, Derrick and Hope, don’t quite seem to have this baby thing figured out: surprise!  Kid number two came along about a year after the first one.  Did it make any difference that Hope was still nursing?  Evidently, not in God’s economy.

www.kcengland.com

A foot shot of Jocelyn, Lucy and Aaron

– – –

The second Great Commandment is “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  But to say that this is only a command doesn’t do full justice to Jesus’ words.  This is also an observation of a law of the universe that can’t be broken, pretty much like he law of gravity.   It might as well say, “You WILL love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

As young, white people Aaron and Jocelyn and Derrick and Hope face extraordinary challenges to living out the Second Commandment.  They are swimming upstream against a relentless barrage of leftist propaganda from the media, the political establishment of both parties, educational institutions, business, and, sadly, too often from the church itself, that merely because they are white, they should hate themselves.  You know, “white privilege.” and “black lives matter.”  In other words, the monotonous drum beat of the Left.

But assert that all lives matter, or even worse, that white lives matter, and the best you can hope for is the all purpose epithet, “Racist!”  And the worst?  A riot and a vicious beat down by thugs.  These racial crimes have been perpetrated all over the country.

The question is, of course, are white people willing to endure the slings and arrows that will come their way as they try to swim up stream to put themselves in a position to love themselves and, hence, their neighbor?    Not, of course, to claim that they are perfect.  Or that their forbearers were without fault.  But to claim that they, like everyone, are a mix of light and darkness, of good and bad.  And that they, like all humanity, are in need of grace.

And not to just wage this fight for themselves, but even more importantly, for their children.  It won’t be easy; there are already plenty of threats to the well being of their kids.  Affirmative action, which pretty much puts a target on their backs simply because they are white.  And, of course, particularly white boys.  Mass immigration, both legal and illegal, which, in only 30 years, threatens to make them strangers in their own land.  And if you think it’s easy to go against the grain to oppose either of these wildly politically correct orthodoxies, then you just haven’t been thinking.

This temptation for white people to, somehow, believe they are doing the world a favor by hating themselves plays itself out in a host of very practical ways.  But at it’s root, it is a spiritual question.  Do they believe the culture they represent, Western Civilization and their Judeo-Christian heritage, is worth preserving?  Or should it, along with themselves and their descendants, be consigned to the dust bin of history?

Charles Murray, the Harvard educated sociologist with the American Enterprise Institute, is, ahem, controversial.  His most inflammatory work, The Bell Curve, argues that there is a connection between race and intelligence.  It has caused the Left to lose its diminuitive, collective mind.  And helped trigger a riot at Middlebury College when Murray attempted to give a speech there this year that resulted in a left leaning female professor who was playing host for Murray being attacked by the college Brown Shirts.  For her thought crime of believing in academic freedom, she wound up in a neck brace.

Another of Murray’s books, Human Accomplishment, attempts to analyze and quantify human achievement world wide by quantifying the amount of space allocated to individuals in reference works.  It’s a fascinating book; you should read it.  But take care.  If you’re a leftist or a doctrinaire feminist it may drive you to another riot.  According to Murray, more than 80% of history’s highest achievers in the sciences, arts and philosophy are “dead white males.”

They are, in other words, representatives of Western Civilization and our Judeo-Christian heritage.

So what does all this mean for my Spokane daughter and her family and their church friends?  Just this: rather than apologizing for who they are, they should be proud of it.  In fact, they have every bit as much a right as anyone to be proud of who they are and what they represent.  And to ignore, if they can, the claptrap of the political elite, the liberal media, Hollywood, big business, the “white privilege” and “black lives matters” crowds.

And if they don’t?

Well, here are some dystopian, alternative futures they should ponder.  Especially if they believe their kids fall into the category of neighbors worth loving as themselves.

First, James Burnham’s, Suicide of the West: An Essay on the Meaning and Destiny of Liberalism.

Burnham identifies the World War I as the “seminal catastrophe” that marked the beginning of the West’s decline.  And World War II was nothing more than the continuation of the catastrophe: a brief intermission to allow the combatants to catch their breath before continuing what Churchill described as a conflict in which “torture and cannibalism were the only two expedients that the civilized, scientific, Christian States had been able to deny themselves.”

But, as Burnham goes on, the real disaster of these bloody cataclysms wasn’t some external event, it was spiritual.  They may have caused the West to lose its collective nerve, to commit suicide.

And what will be the weapon of choice for this civilizational suicide?   Who knows for sure?

But unlimited Third World immigration would probably do the trick.  There’s even been a dark novel on the subject, The Camp of the Saints, by award winning French author, Jean Raspail.  In it, impoverished Indians commandeer a hulk fleet, come around the Cape of Good Hope, and, like the volcanic outcroppings in Jocelyn’s neighborhood, force their way into the perfectly manicured environs of the French Rivera.  From there, they lay waste to the rest of Europe.  And then the world.  The West, having lost its nerve, lays down and allows itself to be overwhelmed.

Far fetched?  Not hardly.  Consider what some are calling The World’s Most Important Graph.  While it deals with the exploding population of Sub-Sarahan Africa rather than India, you have seen the images of illegal immigrants surging across the Mediterranean and pouring into Europe.  Pay particular attention to the U.N. produced Utube at the end of the graph that tries to persuade us that such immigration is not only inevitable, but desirable.

–     –    –

When my wife and I fly to Spokane, we invariably take Southwest-I’m not even sure there’s another choice.  The plane is always packed and prices have gone up commensurately.  But really, how much longer can they expect our super-sized populace to wedge themselves into their mini-sized seats?

But one compensation for Southwest passengers is that the airline doesn’t take itself too seriously; some of their attendants could make pretty good stand up comedians.  And the best opportunity for these frustrated comics to show their stuff? The inflight safety lecture.  I wonder, in fact, if Southwest has ever been sanctioned by the FAA for their light hearted approach to a procedure the other airlines seem to treat as an opportunity to anesthetise their passengers to the ordeal they’re about to endure.  Not sure.  But Southwest’s has even been considered newsworthy.

But there’s a lesson to be gleaned from the numbing repetition: you have to love yourself before you can love others.  What else is the significance of the direction to “put on your own mask before assisting others around you”?

Those who are heirs to the astonishing achievements of Western civilization need to realize that they serve no one, not themselves, not their children, not any other potential neighbor, by failing to put on their own mask first-before assisting those around them.