Ships, Castles, and Sojouring Thus Far

Image

I was about halfway between the grey port from which I had embarked and the warm, crackling tongues of my fireside. The ship I had booked passage on paused at a desolate port, stopping only to dry the sails and offload some simple folk, no doubt shuffling off to wherever they called home. I stepped down to visit with them and stretch my legs, which I felt had become stiff and unsure on the old wooden vessel I was on. It was a sturdy boat, but it appeared as if it was thousands of years old; cracked paint streaked across the hull like so many scars on a soldier’s face, and the sails—strong as they were—always seemed about to tear.

I stood on the dock and shared a pipe with a fellow passenger; I was puzzled, for he had one of those faces that I was sure I knew, but could not place.  We had both had set out from the same port, intent on making our destination as quickly as possible, but he mentioned now that he fancied stopping off for a while. I told him that I didn’t know when the ship was coming back. He smiled through the smoke twisting around his eyes and said in a deep German accent, “Friend, I’m not sure whether or not I wanted to go where it was taking me. The men defer to the captain’s guidance too much, and I do not trust him.”

“Where will you go?” I replied.

“I think I’ll go for a walk. If I like what I see, maybe I’ll stay. If not, I’ll wait for the ship to come back.”

“What if it never comes back?”

“It will. I’m told it always does.”

At first, I thought I would let him go on his way, and I would continue on mine. I started to jog back up the gangplank, but seeing the German disappearing amongst the trees, I stopped halfway up and turned around, almost knocking a heavy, mustached man into the water as he walked up behind me. If I hadn’t been in a hurry, I would have thought it curious that he smelled of pine and had streaks of earth on his clothes. As it was, I apologized, and he acknowledged me by removing his hat with such a ridiculous solemnity that I almost thought to follow him up the ramp instead of the German, who was by now almost swallowed up in the crossing arms of the trees. But the wind made the ramp rock, and dreading another bout at sea, I hurried down the decline, my momentum carrying me after the receding figure.

I caught up with him after a moment, short of breath, cold air nipping at my throat and eyes as I sucked it in through my mouth and nostrils. I asked where we were going; I received no answer—my guide merely glanced around as if everything around him was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He looked as if he was seeing things he had never seen before. All I could see were dark trees and thin mist.

“German, where are we going?” I finally asked, tapping him on the shoulder.

“I’m not sure, but I feel it is somewhere worth being.”

“How do you know?” I asked incredulously.

He paused, as if he was tasting the air. “Because of the air—the way the wind moves amongst the trees and through my hair. That is how I know.”

I stared at him, beginning to think I had followed a lunatic.

We walked on for a while, amidst the deep wood. My guide seemed to be moving with a sense of purpose, following the tickle of the wind. Soon enough, the trees began to thin. Looming stone caught my eye over the reaching tips of the wooden towers, and we emerged into a relative clear field, upon which a large stone fortress had been erected. Golden stalks of wheat buttressed the castle on every said, and these waved and tossed their heads to and fro. The German walked towards the building without hesitation, hands running over the ends of the stems.

I followed behind him tentatively, curiously.

“German,” I called out from a pace or two behind, “Why are we going towards that castle? We don’t know what type of men are inside.”

“They are decent men.” He replied with the same conviction. “The wind blows here as it once did on the decks of the ship.”

I became more and more convinced to the man’s mental health.

However, after a moment, I noticed what he had said; the air had grown stale during moments on the ship, and also during certain places amongst the wood. Now, it flowed with the same surety as it had amidst the waves and out over the deep. The same wind that filled the sails of the ship swirled around the fortresses walls and seemed to hold them up.

We approached the gate through a path worn into the grass from countless feet. The wooden gate looked strong and weathered—not as weathered as the timbers of the ship, but old nonetheless. My guide walked up to the gates with that same curious certainty he had displayed since we had disembarked. He laid his hand on the heavy wood, and it swung upon to the soft touch, as if on perfectly balanced hinges.

He took two steps in, and looked around as a knowing smile played across his face.

“I’ve been here before.” he said. “If I did not know any better, I would say I was born here.”

I wanted to ask him how he knew, but a man in a flowing scholar’s robe strode up to the two of us; my guide—the German—in front of me, and I lingering a pace or two behind.

“Welcome,” the academic spoke from behind a long beard that reached down to his collar, and with deep eyes that showed a lifetime of listening and learning “Will you be staying long?”

“I believe I will be, but I cannot speak for my companion,” my guide responded.

“It is as well either way,” the bearded man said, “That sturdy old boat is as good a refuge as this fort. We just had a gentleman leave us for a life at sea; it is all the same in the end. Each must follow where the wind leads him.”

I noticed then that our host had a depiction of a large ship—the very ship I had departed—stitched into the fabric of his cloth; it seemed to twist and toss amongst the flowing fabrics at the slightest movement. Around me, things began to show that the fort had been built from pieces of the ship I had left. The crank to the gate was an old ship’s wheel; iron-banded barrels, caulked with pitch and salty brine, lay stacked off in one corner. A couple paces off, a man and a woman were laughing together—one wore water-tight boots; the other leaned on a staff fashioned from an old oar.

“In some way or another, we all came from that ancient ship,” my guide continued, “And we have no qualms if they should return, although some may have grown overly found of our home.”

“That’s quite alright,” the German responded, grinning, “Some have grown overly fond of the ship.”

I stared at the man with gaping eyes and slack jaw. I now knew him—not from my journeys or my old life, but from my reading—the German was none other than Martin Luther. I marveled at him, bewildered at what sort of providence had crossed our paths.

Just then, a man walked up and was warmly greeted by our host.

“John Calvin, it is good to see you!” he remarked warmly, “You have done wonders with the place.”

Calvin grinned and extended his hand in greeting, which was firmly grasped and shook, causing the ship on his cloak to pitch and toss. He looked around at the high stone walls, a nostalgic sweep of those contemplative eyes. I noticed then that the stones seemed to have been chosen, not for their homogeny, but for their impurity and color, which created a kaleidoscope of mineral color and spark.

“Ah, Jonathan, I did not build it, as you well know. Yes, when I arrived, there were not as many residents, but this castle was standing long before I ever arrived, and it will stand after I am forgotten.”

“Well, me and Wesley simply love it here. We weren’t raised to sailors.” I picked up on the name Calvin had used—this man speaking could be none other than Jonathan Edwards.

“Ay, but we must never forget that some are,” said Calvin, “And we must never forget that the old boat is what delivered us here, even those among us who have never seen it.”

I looked around me in wonder. I wondered to myself, “Just how old is this place?”

I must have spoken aloud, for the man called Calvin turned to me and said, “As old as time itself.” He smiled, “As old as the ship we rode in on.”

“Who could make such strongholds as these?” I managed to choke out, finding everything around me so new, and yet so familiar, as if I was recalling a distant memory or a forgotten dream.

John Calvin leaned forward, as if he was sharing some mystery with me, “The craftsman is one and the same. He entrusted the ship to a captain—I believe the current one is an Argentinian man named Francis. The fort is led by many men, though the wind holds it together, just as the wind drives the ship.” When he had said this, he smiled knowingly and winked at me.

The wind stirred the air around us. It filled the ship’s sails, and it held fast the walls of the fort; it danced and twisted across the wild sea and through the dark wood. I suddenly felt compelled to leave my companions, and strode out of the gate, pausing to marvel at the strong walls and shimmering rock. The wind pushed at my back and played with my hair and I strode back through the forest, following the still, small breeze.

Advertisements

The Bookshelf God

Image

It’s interesting how small God is to some people.

Recently, a biology professor from my former high school named Eric Kretschmer wrote an article outlining his journey of reconciling what he had studied in the scientific field and what he knew as a follower of Jesus Christ. You can find the article here. It’s worth reading. Specifically, Kretschmer does a thorough job of balancing an Old-Earth perspective with a Christian God. If you have any questions, leave a statement in the comment section, and I’m sure he will do his utmost to respond to you in a timely and courteous manner.

In response to this article, a certain gentleman named Ken Ham wrote another article. You can find that here. It is also worth a quick read, if for no other reason than understanding what prompted me to write this. Ken Ham is a very ardent Young-Earth Creationist, and this becomes immediately evident in his critique. However, unlike Kretschmer’s article, there is no comment section, no room for dialogue, and no way for the Eric Kretschmer to defend himself.

Behind this curtain, Ham lambasts Kretschmer for daring to introduce evolutionary theory into a Biblical interpretation of the Bible. He concludes this exceptional rant with an exceptional closing paragraph:

Teachers like Kretschmer will be held accountable for the many students they lead astray with their compromise regarding biblical authority and undermining teaching.  How very sad.  And the board/administrators of such Christian schools will also be held accountable.  What they are doing in essence is helping the secularists capture the hearts and minds of generations of children!

Just marvelous.

Teachers like Kretschmer.

Teachers that devoted a good portion of their lives to pursuing a MD in Theology so they could better equip young minds to defend their faith. Teachers like Kretschmer that venture into the public forum in order to help strengthen the Christian body through dialogue and conversation.  Teachers like Kretschmer who are more focused on rooting and growing the Christian body than being a divisive voice in an already divided Church.

I shudder to think of the horrors that befall the Christian body when men like this are teaching our children science—I’m shocked we haven’t been consumed in fire and brimstone already.

Ken Ham is a textbook case of a man who has crafted God in his own image—a bookshelf God—and refuses to let it go. I don’t know Ken Ham from Adam. For all I know, he is a decent man with decent values who follows the same Christ that all Christians worship. But what can be seen from his brief, yet scathingly bitter article, is that this man has a very small God. If a man cannot admit an infinite God, how can he admit infinite grace? If a man cannot admit the possibility of a system outside his own frail understanding, how can he throw himself blindly onto a Divine system that no man can comprehend? As GK Chesterton writes in Orthodoxy, “A personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside of time.”

Ken Ham says that “we have abandoned the authority of God’s Word.” Yet where has Kretschmer abandoned the authority of God’s Word? He is a man that believes in Jesus Christ resurrected, in the Holy Trinity, in a Divine God who is returning to judge the living and the dead—and who happened to manifest himself through evolution. Nowhere in the Apostle’s Creed is evolutionary theory mentioned, yet Ken Ham seeks to discredit and defame a Christian brother over a couple million years. What is a million years to the power of God? What is a hundred million years to the love of Christ?

Titus 3:9-11 declares, with no light tone, “Avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

My issue is not so much with intelligent design vs. evolutionary theory—nor are the two entirely incompatible. My issue is with a self-proclaimed Christian who deems it a profitable use of his time to attack another member of the Church. The Church is persecuted on every side; do we really need to tear at each other from within?

Christ didn’t come to preach a message of Young-Earth creation; he came to preach love. I’m angry with Ham, not because of his views (which are entirely legitimate), but because of a glaring lack of grace and his confinement of God to fallen man’s rationale. He is a man given some measure of authority and recognition and, instead of furthering the call of Christ, he is furthering his own idol of Young-Earth creationism—a clanging gong and a resounding symbol.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. Love your neighbor as yourself. Against such things there is no law.

When we stand before Heaven’s gates, Christ will not ask us how old the earth is—the concept seems laughable. He will not have a gate marked “Calvinist” and another marked “Armenianist.” He will not differentiate between the Catholic, the Orthodox, and the Protestant.

No, we will stand before the Judgment Seat, and Christ will look down, and he will ask, “Did you know I loved you?” And if we answer “yes”, there will be no more questions. For if we truly trust that the risen Christ loves us, we will have loved others. Instead of defaming our Christian family, we will love them. We will pick and choose our battles, allowing foolish controversy little attention and saving our breath for the message of Christ. Love the Lord your God. Love your neighbor as yourself.

In the words of John the Apostle: little children, love one another.

A Black Martin Guitar

Guitar

The only thing notable about my guitar, which is named Martin, and which conveniently happens to be of Martin manufacturing, is that it is one of a very few of its kind whose base color is entirely, unequivocally, black. The body and the fret-board absorb light, and, with the exception of when it is being played, they hoard it greedily, as if every ray was the last ray of light that was ever going to fall on it and there simply wasn’t enough to go around. It is a beautiful instrument, unique in its own brutal simplicity and starkness; as it stands, propped up against the guest bed and surrounded by a sea of papers, albums, and books, it looks almost contented, which I suppose is because it expects to be tuned and strummed by an obscure, 5th rate musician later this evening. But for now it sits upright with evening’s cool breath wafting over it; and it swallows light.

Mind you, it is not always on the take, because a startling, yet not wholly unexpected thing happens in the hands of its master; when played, the guitar will seem to glow as it fills with the sound, and instead of drowning the light cast upon it, it returns it to the world with open hands. People who see my guitar when I am playing it remark that it is unique and lovely; when they see it propped in the corner they get the feeling that it’s sneaking away to do something illicit. Obviously I relate well to my guitar, or rather, it relates well to me; for a guitar is nothing more than the hands that hold it, and it doesn’t have to the ability to think for itself (at least, not that I’m aware of, though I wouldn’t be too surprised). It seems to have an advantage on me in this regard; for while I stubbornly reject my Master when called upon to play, Martin doesn’t have much of a say in the matter. If I want to perform a minor surgery on my guitar and am forced to use pliers and oaths to rend broken, decrepit strings from it, there is no weeping and gnashing of teeth; there is merely compliance, if not often reluctant. I define my guitar, with all my flaws, and short fingers, and weak hands that keep me from forming difficult chords, and it is accepting of that–it has no choice. And yet people, when placed in the hands of their Master–with hands perfectly suited to produce majesty and beauty from within an exquisitely crafted lump of dust–they wriggle and squirm and jump about in a whole-hearted attempt to escape. Should I ever pick up my guitar, only to have it twist about and bite my hand and then make a bolt for the door, I suppose I couldn’t blame it, but I would still grab it around the neck and dash it to pieces against the coffee table.

The better the musician, the more right there is to check the disobedience of the instrument, and yet there is a perfect Musician, who directs the orchestra of sparrows outside of my window and the sound of a boot crunching through frozen snow on its way to the hearth, and we are disagreeable. It is not our role to be disagreeable, and we have a poorly refined capacity for it to begin with; we are supposed to be instruments. When Timothy says, “those who cleanse themselves… will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master” there is an implication that they are gloriously useful and magnificent in nature, but only in the hands of a glorious and magnificent Master.

I suppose too, that in the divine knowledge of my guitar, it allows itself to be played because it that is why it was made; to be filled full of melody and tune, discordant notes mystically blending together and ringing through its very soul. If one reflected upon my guitar, they should be surprised that it must be empty before it can be filled, for that does not make sense by the means of our world. The businessman should say that it must be filled with money and precious metals, for then it can be secure and stable and prosperous; the philosopher would say it should be filled with books, and then it can be learned and discern the truth of life; the cynic and the sarcastic would suggest never playing at all. Filled with its money and books, stability and security, and just a touch of cryptic bitterness, my guitar could be comfortable and learned. But it would not be a guitar anymore, for it could no longer makes children’s mouth wrinkle upward in pleasure, or sing the praises of the Kansas plains; it would be a dusty trunk, ill-equipped to hold its perishable cargo. My guitar’s soul would be stuffed to the brim and no longer would it thrum and vibrate with the ecstasy and revelation of its existence in the hands of its master. The key to its existence necessitates an emptying, such as it was empty at the point of its creation; to sing the songs of the Divine soul, my guitar must become like a little child and be cleansed of all but itself, in the hands of its master. If it had the capacity to, I’m sure Martin could make plenty of arguments against this emptying; it could ask about the future and bring up the fact that it has children on the way, that they are being hewn from rough timber by the same creator who made itself. It could plead: what happens if the master goes away and I am left all alone; how will I support myself? It could justify that with all its books and papers, it is the most knowledgeable and intelligent guitar of its class.

But it would still not make music, and music was what it was made for.

If I was the guitar, I’m sure I would object to this; I would flinch and squirm and twist as I’m tuned to be in line with my Master’s ear. It’s an uncomfortable process, with cracking strings and tension curving my neck endlessly (guitar’s necks must necessarily be curved, or strings won’t lay straight, yet I still often think that I could be the exception to that rule). I suppose that I would like to slip out of tune and would disdain it when my Master’s hands reapplied the pressure necessary to correct my laziness or account for the change in humidity. And that’s just minor correction; if it came to being shipped, or put in a case for a time, or used as a means to show grace: well! then I would feel downright surly.

But my guitar is the better in that aspect; it meekly takes its correction with the resistance only inherent to its nature, and because it does, I can make music. Should my guitar ever decide to quit its existence, and finally succumb to old age and mildew, use and strain, I will be greatly saddened; not so much for myself, but for the fact that my faithful servant can no longer sing and hum with the sheer, brutal pleasure of existence. But I will hold it in my heart and remember it for what it was; an instrument that could speak in words that my soul could understand; a wonderfully crafted dead piece of wood.