I said to her, “But if he asks you how, you can tell him that I told you, it’s the Lord.”
“He thinks it’s coincidence.”
“What we call coincidence is just another way for God to remain anonymous.”
We two sat on a bench beside the church parking lot. People were coming and going. It was midweek, but there were church programs going on.
The woman’s husband had just been hired for the job he needed—really needed and really wanted—against stiff competition and at the last moment.
I knew he was tolerant of his wife’s Christian commitment, this woman with whom I was sitting, but they were unevenly yoked, the two of them, and that was troublesome for her.
Perhaps it was troublesome for him, too, as I thought of it. I wondered whether he realized the uneven yoke was galling him, too. They were eight years into their marriage. I suspected that the glow was wearing off. They had the two daughters, and not much money. Yesterday, when she had called and asked to speak with me, she had a clutch in her voice when she confessed that she might be pregnant. This new job was a god-send.
But did he understand that the uneven yoke was the reason for their trouble, as I suspected that it was? Or did he attribute the trouble to the glow wearing off?
Her former prettiness had a scrim across it nowadays of doubt.
“What am I going to tell him about the job miracle?” she asked. “I can’t tell him I know it's that.”
“It won’t make any sense to him.”
It was early in my deaconate. I was unsure of myself. I wished it were the pastor who was sitting next to her, and not me. But it was me—she was one of our congregants who had been assigned to my spiritual care.
“He’s a good worker,” I said, not knowing what to say but desiring to probe her feelings.
She nodded. “He’s a good man. Good with our girls, I never worry about him fooling around.”
“Yet you sound sad.”
She smiled a little. “Not about that. He is a good man.”
She looked away. It was warm in the parking lot, this early spring. “I feel lonely.” She glanced at me shyly. She looked away. “Oh, maybe I should just grow up.”
A line from a hymn came into my head. When sorrows like sea billows roll….
“I think you should tell him that, for your heart. Tell him that the job—coming as it did, right now, just when you need it most, with maybe a new baby—that the job actually is a miracle, from the Lord.”
“He’ll laugh at me.”
“Tell him I think it’s from the Lord.”
She looked straightly at me. “He’s not going to want to hear that coming from you.”
“He knows you’re talking to me?”
She shook her head. Looked away.
“That’s not a good idea.”
She shrugged. I was glad that people were going in and out of the church. I identified a few of them who might see us, out in the open, just to remember.
“Look, he needs to know what you think about this. You need to press on past his laughing at you.”
“Draw him in.”
“He doesn’t want to come in.”
“Does he want to keep a barrier between you?”
Again, she shrugged. “He’s a guy.”
“He’s in charge. He’ll work it out. It’s okay. We’ll be fine.”
“But you’re not fine.”
“Maybe I should just grow up.”
She sat back with her hands crossed in her lap, looking elsewhere. I sat back also and looked elsewhere, too. Then I looked back at her. “You know, the Holy Spirit knows your situation. The Holy Spirit intercedes with Jesus. Anything might happen, and whatever does happen is for the purposes of the Lord.”
“I recognize that it’s a hard concept for those who don’t know the Lord.”
“What you said about coincidence?”
“He’ll say, why should your God desire to remain anonymous? How do I answer that?”
“God’s purpose is to save us, to have us with Him. His purpose is for us to be able to glorify Him. But He didn’t create us as slaves. It only counts when we come to Him by our free will. That’s why He desires to be anonymous. Miracles are His intervention, but we need to figure that out—that they are His, and that they are for us—by ourselves.”
She thought a minute and then touched my arm lightly. “That might intrigue him. He likes figuring things out, how things work.” Then she smiled, brightly this time. “He is, after all, a guy.”
I smiled back at her. “Keep pressing.”
Then she startled me. “No,” she said, “enticing.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Then we prayed together, beside the church parking lot in the early spring. I was early in my deaconate. I was unsure of myself. But I liked that she had said enticing.
Really—at least I knew this much, even that early in my deaconate—really enticement is the way of the Holy Spirit.
[Circumstance changed to protect the still seeking.]
I’m reading TOUCHING HEAVEN, by cardiologist Dr. Chauncey Crandall, which chronicles his discovery of Christian faith over many years, particularly focusing on the fact that all of our lives are accessible to Heaven’s touching us and therefore, in return, that we have an avenue open to us along which we may travel to touch Heaven.
Dr. Crandall is a man of medical science who might be understood, for that reason, to be unlikely to believe in the existence of a two-way thoroughfare between earth and Heaven. Yet, as his book attests, he has experienced many medical healings and demonic exorcisms that are inexplicable by mere medical science.
His book is engaging; I recommend it.
But the reason I write about Dr. Crandall’s book is that I was struck by a quote he includes, on page 68. The quote hit me in the head. The quote hit me in the head because of a struggle I encountered recently. The struggle relates to the struggle my wife Channa and I grappled with during 2016—a profound change of life and of denominational orientation.
Within the past year, we moved not only 860 miles from the Maine coast to the Blue Ridge of SW Virginia, not only from a community we had known for almost 20 years to one we had known only for 6 weeks, but also—and most importantly—from the Baptist Christianity through which we became Christians, after our many years as Jews, to orthodox Lutheran Christianity.
Consequently, our daily Christian experience changed. Among other changes, the theology by which our new belief system interprets Jesus’ earthly existence differs. Baptist theology arises from the Reform movement, whereas Lutheran theology arises from Luther.
The presentation by which our new belief system offers Jesus’ earthly function differs as well—non-liturgical to liturgical.
There are other areas of difference which are circumstantial--small church to large church, tiny staff who do everything, to large, departmental staff each responsible for a single thing, leadership in a deaconate by which I was assigned as deacon to my pastor and therefore had exhortatory authority in his regard, to friendly relations with my Lutheran pastor without any formal responsibility concerning his own Christian witness.
Channa’s and my fundamental faith as Christians
remains the same as it was when we came to Christ eleven years ago. However, the changes we have recently experienced make a significant difference regarding our Christian daily walks.
To accustom myself with grace and humility to this new reality has been my struggle in 2016. Here’s Dr. Crandall’s head-hitting quote.
The quote is used in a paragraph when the doctor is recounting his and his wife’s experience of suffering through the death, from leukemia, of one of their twin sons, aged nine. What was at that time Dr. Crandall’s relatively new and enthusiastically evangelical Christian faith sustained him both as a father and as a husband during this family crisis. In earlier pages of his book, he has demonstrated how, in both his professional and his family life, his Christianity has become for him a rewarding faith system.
The head-hitting quote is used to nuance his term “faith system.”
Dr. Crandall quotes evangelist Reinhard Bonnke, who states that faith is “always the instrument of new resources. Christianity is the release of the Holy Spirit into the world. Faith itself is not power, but the link to power.”
Christianity is the release of the Holy Spirit into the world.
What an assertion!
What a comfort for me!
Christianity is the gateway. It’s not the destination.
Grappling as I have been between the form of Baptist Christianity and the form of Lutheran Christianity, I have been confused. Which form seems right to me, and why? Which should I adopt? And, more pointedly, who am I even to believe that I have the right to make such a choice? Am I blasphemous to think so?
Here’s my basic prayer: I desire the Holy Spirit to empower the world.
In order to cause this to happen, which cloak of Christianity shall I wrap myself in, Baptist or Lutheran—or in any of the others, for that matter? I want my vote to count toward the victory I pray for. Which cloak shall I wear?
Bonnke’s quote does not say “Christianity allows for the release of the Holy Spirit into the world.”
If it said that, then one or another of the denominations within Christianity would need to be judged by a Christian as the right one, and then my struggle to ally myself with one or the other would be worth my time. Also, having aligned myself with one or the other, I would be membering-up with one of the teams, as though my assignment of my faith conviction might give my team new power.
No. Bonnke’s line says “Christianity is the release of the Holy Spirit into the world.”
This means something different. It means that the very existence of Christianity at all, in the first place—as it stands now, including its various factions, including their fractious relations—is the thing in itself that releases the Holy Spirit into the world.
I want the Holy Spirit to empower the world.
My requirement therefore is to strengthen my faith commitment to Christianity, first. It's the gateway.
Intellectually, there are fascinating differences between Reform theology and Lutheran theology. Experientially, there are deliberate differences in terms of gorgeousness between non-liturgical and liturgical presentations of the Gospel. Each of these areas of difference are to be explored for their value.
But Christianity comes first.
Do you agree?
Click on the comment button and tell me what you think. I’d like to know.
We have enjoyed bright days in early spring here on the coast of Maine. The sun delivers a punch for the first time in six months. But the wind has its power, too.
Yesterday, a cold, cold wind blew fiercely in from the northeast. My daffodils bent sideways and whipped back and forth, as though they were buffeted by a very Euroclydon from our antique past, by the levanter that shipwrecked St. Paul.
I took yesterday off from writing my book about my past, about my poet father and how his lyricism contributed to Channa’s and my conversions from Judaism to Christianity, and I drove the three miles to Popham Beach.
Popham Beach is a swath of sand, miles long in both directions, rare for rocky-beach Maine. Far out, rock ledges caused the wind-whipped seas to blast up in white furies. Two-and-a-half miles out from the beach is Sequin Island, topped by Maine’s tallest and second commissioned lighthouse, commissioned by George Washington back in the past, in 1795.
For beach-goers, at least when the tide is dead low, there is a rocky islet, called Fox Island, which one can reach by foot, but you had better watch the tide carefully for it comes in fast, and people have been arrested by its sweep and then have been trapped on Fox Island.
You had better watch your own past carefully, too, otherwise you may be arrested in the past and trapped by a crime you wish to deny.
As I drove to the beach, I put into the CD player the original cast disk of The Fantastiks, which my college had done the year before I arrived as a freshman actor, and which Dad and I had seen there together several nights in a row. I opened my roof for the first time since winter, and I cranked up the music very loud. I sang along with Try to Remember—I am not a skillful singer—and when we got to It Depends on What You Pay, sung by Jerry Orbach as El Gallo, I sang that, too.
At the last note of that clever song, there is a rousing cheer by the two fathers and by El Gallo, who has sold the fathers on the idea of the abduction, for which he uses the word rape…"It’s short and businesslike.” Stirred, like El Gallo and the two fathers, I punched the air and cheered. Yes!
In that instant, suddenly, I was my father.
That song had tickled my father’s fancy, and he had punched the air and cheered, too, with exactly the gesture and the intonation I used.
My cheer was so much his, I was him.
When I arrived at the beach, I shut down the music and sat quivering in my car. Far from getting a break from Dad, I was still at least half him. This thought blasted through me. I had just been my father, because of a gesture…and he, long dead.
Then another thought blasted in. Perhaps Dad had used that gesture and intonation because he had seen his father use it, too, back in his father’s day. And I wondered—had Dad’s father used that same gesture and intonation because he had seen his father use it, too, in the even farther-back day?
Then I was slammed by a really big thought-blast.
If a gesture can be so evocative as to take me, in an instant, back a generation, or even back several generations, then might a gesture take me back even farther than that? Might a gesture take me back to my deepest known ancestor?
Could I trace that same gesture all the way back to Eberhart the Noble in 1281?
Might Eberhart the Noble have gestured in that same way when he rose from his knees before the Holy Roman Emperor, and stepped backwards away from the throne and then through the throne room door? Then might he have looked at the new ducal seal in his hand, which had just been granted to him by the Emperor and which had made him the first Duke of Württemberg, at his age of fifteen? Might he have pumped his fist in the air in the same way as I had pumped mine, and used that same expression…Yes!
As I sat in my car before walking out onto the beach, my emotional inhabitation of my father diminished, and so my mind came more into play than my heart. Here’s what I pondered: if a mere gesture can do this, then what about sin? Can sin, too, do a snap-back?
I sin today. I sin in a way that copies my father’s sin. Did my father sin in a way that copied his father’s sin…and so on backwards in time?
Forefather Adam lied to God, and he accused Eve, thereby disrespecting his wife. I disrespect my wife sometimes, accusing her of faults which—truly—are my own, not hers. I duck my responsibility to love and to touch her, as I am enjoined by God to do, with a chrism of sacramental grace. When I disrespect her this way, I do not honor her need for true, straight-forward, and timely communication, along with direction, during our spiritual passage.
Does this--my sin--snap me back, in an instant, all the way to Adam, and to his hiding in the Garden, and to his lie?
Could I be responsible for the Fall?
My defense attorney stands up and places himself before the judge. “No, no,” is what he says. His strategy has been to use the SODDI defense.
“Some Other Dude Did It.”
That’s his strategy.
“No, no. Not he.”
[“The SODDI Defense” was originally posted in April 2013.]
I encountered a sentence this morning that made me stop reading and think.
I’m reading Francine du Plessix Gray’s memoir of her life with her Russian émigré parents, Them.
Francine’s mother was an icon of fashion in New York in the middle years of the 20th century—and before that, famously she was the Paris muse of the intense Russian poet Mayakovsky. Francine’s step-father was the inspiration and the controlling authority behind the Conde Nast magazine publishing empire.
Channa and I met the cordial Francine through New York art-and-academic friends, and it has been informative to learn more about her in her book.
At one point in Francine’s book (page 352), she refers to a certain woman in the 1950s as “one of those British dilettante expatriates to whom lightly learned wanderings—be it in Afghanistan, Tibet, or North Africa—was an essential part of their identities.”
“Lightly learned.” Juxtaposed with “essential part of their identities.”
That’s what got me thinking…and not happily.
Correctly, Francine cites the existence of a sophisticated mannerism which serves the dilettantish in place of wisdom. Remembering my youth and dinner table conversations at our houses, I recall their swell talk. They didn’t know much about Afghanistan, Tibet, or North Africa, but they had trekked on through.
This provided them with conversational self-satisfaction, with offhand stories to tell, and with an air of world-weariness to adopt when their point was, “Oh, yes, everything is just the same.”
Even as a youth, I preferred world-enthusiasm and not world-weariness.
As I say, I read Francine’s sentence, and stopped reading, to think. Channa and I do know the sort of person Francine describes, however from a different world than hers. Our world is the world of religious faith.
One can display world-weariness within the world of religious faith just as well as within other worlds.
Formerly, when we were Jews, Channa and I knew that sort of person. Latterly, now that we are Christians, probably we know that sort of person again.
That sort of person is lightly learned about the religious landscapes through which he or she treks. He or she is content with wandering. The more sophisticated of them may even impute to their wanderlust the existence of an aesthetic. They may say of themselves, while traipsing among religions, that theirs is a higher, a wiser perspective.
Now, to be fair, let it be admitted that Channa and I are recent converts to Christianity from Judaism (ten years in), and converts are sometimes over-intense. If Channa and I suffer from over-intensity ourselves it is due to the conviction that we have been led to truth, and that orthodox Christian truth calls out to us to be studied with passionate urgency.
That being said, what puts my teeth on edge is the notion that light learning might be accepted by any religious wanderer as essential to identity.
Be convicted at least of the existence of truth; not a dismissive wanderer be.
You are free to wander lightly, of course.
You are free that such wandering should be essential to your own identity, of course.
Despite today’s popular stance that human interactions must be based merely on niceness, and not on anything more demanding than that, nevertheless there is a hard, cutting, uncongenial, and implacable wall which stands between skepticism which is light learning and piety which is not.
That is because the powerful interaction to which we should turn our attention is not the interaction of human to human but the interaction of human to God.
Those lightly-learned wanderer’s souls are at stake.
A lightly-learned wanderer in the religious landscape might come right back at me with the statement that he doesn’t believe he has a soul, so what difference does any of this make?
Well, he might be right. Perhaps we don’t have souls.
He’s free to believe that we don’t have souls, despite the thousands of years of evidence that we do.
But what if he’s wrong, and we do?
What then, oh, wise one?
Well, alas, indeed.