Somewhere beyond Antares, along the trajectory set by the tail of the Serpent, is a tiny group of stars, as yet unknown and unnamed by most on Earth. The effect of its cluster is blue, glowing and smoky, and its sector can sometimes be glimpsed as such on a clear summer night in the North.
Amongst them was one called Edmund. His light was yellowish, like a clear topaz, but warmer than the Sun, something like saffron. Edmund was hardly young, but he was among the newer stars in the group.
For reasons—still—known only to themselves, the elder stars had of late taken to running their courses in jars. Edmund had looked askance at them for some time, but went about his business of tracing the darkness of the universe. When a council of stars approached him, sometime after Aldebaran’s infamous holiday (after which, as we all know, that brilliant satellite was never the same), he began to understand.
‘We would like to speak with you, Edmund,’ Penda began.
‘Indeed!’ chimed in Offa, ‘Indeed, we want to know why–’
‘Ahem,’ Penda cut off his more abrupt colleague, ‘we would like you to know we have found you a jar. We hope you find it suits you.’ He offered up the object in question. Edmund looked at the jar with a mixed expression.
‘What is it for?’ he asked. Penda looked around at the others, then replied with a smile,
‘Why, it’s for you to be in.’
‘Yes, to be in, like all the rest of us,’ said Offa gruffly, moving the jar closer to Edmund as a sign of its obvious relevance.
‘Like all the rest of us,’ piped up Aeldred.
‘But surely it isn’t necessary?’
‘You see we’re all using them,’ said Raedwal, stepping in as apologist. ‘And we’re finding them very effective.’
Edmund gazed around silently, taking note of the different aspects of the group encased in glass. They’d been fogging up these shells with their own breath, and distorting the glass with their heat.
Edmund decided against pointing these things out. Instead, he asked,
‘Have the Great Shapes—the Pleiades, the Bears, Cassiopeia—have they been known and named by muting their light?’
The question was not granted the consideration he had intended. Almost immediately came a reply.
‘We aren’t interested in what they’ve been doing for their reknown,’ Offa said with a sniff. ‘Our purposes are here and now, and the other bodies may come closer and look harder, with the jars between them and us.’
‘Like a sort of shield,’ said Raedwal.
‘Yes, yes, a sort of shield,’ echoed Aeldred.
‘Yes, yes,’ said they all.
‘Surely you can see how this is helpful,’ Penda said, his tone unconsciously slipping into one of cajoling. Edmund looked at him hard while he thought.
‘But I was—we were—made to be stars,’ said he, ‘and see how the glass casts a shadow on you and makes your fire quiver. I have freedom to shine, to light my course, and burn unfailingly and to effect… And what’s more, we’ve never needed jars to do so before.’ Penda looked at him in dismay.
‘But before is not now,’ said Raedwal. ‘We don’t want to be so stellar now.’
‘I don’t want the jar.’
Offa seemed naturally to float to the front of the group.
‘You’ll take it like the rest of us,’ he said haughtily. ‘Besides you’re the only one without it, and people ask questions. It’s for the best, for everyone’s best.’ With this positive spin, Offa tried to smile.
‘Your insistence doesn’t make it true. It doesn’t seem right, somehow…’
‘Everything comes closer now,’ said Aeldred, proud that he’d taken advantage of the silence to say his piece. ‘Just in the last turn I’ve had a comet, a bit of an old Terran rocket, and even an asteroid pass very close indeed! The comet lingered to talk.’
‘Oh?’ Edmund prompted. Silence. ‘Where is the comet now?’
‘Er, um, well… the point is, she approached, and she didn’t have to squint.’
‘I see. All the same, I’ll pass on the jar. I’d rather anyone who came by know who and what I was, and to look, or not.’
There was a murmuring in the ranks, and a clinking as some of the jars knocked against each other. No one spoke to Edmund. Rather, all the stars in the front turned toward one another, whispering. Every now and again came strange hissing and growling sounds. Finally, Penda came back to Edmund.
‘Please, Edmund, just get in the jar.’
‘I told you why not.’
‘Then, then, I, I–’ But before he could finish, Edmund looked about him and saw that several stars had emerged from their glass shells, and quietly surrounded him. Offa, Aeldred and Raedwal led the charge, and it was only after he was swept up and slid through a circular opening that Edmund realized it had all been moot. The scraping sound above him was a lid being put in place and screwed tight, though it was barely audible above the clamour and mutual congratulation offered by the group that the outlier was finally ‘like them’, and they wouldn’t have to feel so awkward about it all now.
Edmund saw through the already distorting window that surrounded him that Penda, still in his own jar, was looking at him regretfully, but uselessly.
It was after a time of chatter and sighs of relief that the stars, having returned to their own jars, realized that something had happened. A sort of winking out. And when they looked, though there was not much amazement, some were indeed puzzled. Of course, there was found no one to blame, for they had all decided it was for the best.
In their haste and their zeal they’d turned the lid too tight, and put the fire out, extinguishing it like a candle. And Edmund’s light shone no more.
The radiance of essence, the radiance of truth. Labour to quench it, and you may do just that.
Well, we have had a hiatus of over a month—whoops! Today we’re continuing our list of issues, problems, and tendencies in the community which this experience has laid bare. We finish up the series with items 7-9:
Seventh, inconsistent application of biblical language and values: lots of talk about ‘love’ and ‘caring,’ but where is the evidence? James sounds like a sceptic when he asks the hypothetical interlocutor to show him his works, but it’s all because it’s simply too easy for someone to pay lip service to faith and godly living, and there’s no substance to it.
There’s an awful lot of excuses for someone like the Raisin, who’s a bit of a bully, and who is rude and passive-aggressively domineering because–get ready for it– people let her get away with it. And then they get indignant when someone notes that her trip to the woodshed is a bit overdue, and dares to do the unthinkable: tells her she shouldn’t treat people that way. Don’t say that! You just have to ‘love on her’, and everyone else too! I don’t suppose she gets told to ‘love on people.’ Different standards, even when it comes to biblical principles, you see.
It makes sense that people are too frightened or too lazy to scold a middle-aged child who’s been in the church her whole life, since she might throw a tantrum, and leave the church. And the person who confronted her would be to blame, not her immaturity.
But how about this? An apologetic for people in the church who thumb their noses at Divine Law and stab their brethren in the back, from none other than Pastor Wordsmith himself, who asserts that their worldview is at least as Christian as (it’s actually probably more than) that of those who respect the authority of God’s word and believe (they don’t just say it) all people should be treated with courtesy, and that Christians should conduct themselves with honesty. True, it was a very shallow apologetic, because 21 couldn’t explain how two contradictory positions could simultaneously be the same one. Mkay.
So, the above people get a free pass: pleasant, validating excuses ready-made for them. If you’re like Simon Templar, ‘guilty of no wrongdoing’, you get chastised, humiliated, gossiped about, fired, evicted, penalised for asking questions (I thought dissent was the highest form of patriotism, or something?), condescended to by the inexperienced, and treated like scum without ever being given a chance either to hear accusations against you, or to present a defense. People who try to come to your defense then get talked about behind their backs and made to look crazy.
Here’s the basic rule in Classis Northern Michigan: if you’re a jerk (as in, you don’t bear fruit in keeping with repentance) but have money, are a long-standing (maybe Dutch?) fixture in the community, and/or people are either intimidated by you or think they need your ass in the pew to survive, they’ll bend over backwards and compromise on scripture to keep you happy. If you’re the type of believer who thinks people who call themselves Christians should take Jesus seriously, and tells the brethren they shouldn’t be jerks, you should bend over forward, because you’re about to get kicked. You may have figured out that love has nothing to do with it.
Eighth, inconsistent application of protocol. They’re just trying to follow the rules. Well, they certainly want ST to follow them; but as you look at example after example, it becomes clear that it’s a bit of a magisterium thing: ST must follow their interpretation of the rules, or those rules that matter to committees at any given moment. Also, which rules were binding upon the A. church council in the first place?
What permitted them first to make ad hoc, drive-by demands on ST, then to suspend him, then to conduct a series of secret meetings, and then to terminate him? Hrm– and on the other hand, we have looked before at their oaths, which compel them to support a godly pastor. Those apparently don’t apply when 13 is in charge. Of course, certain aspects of the oaths haven’t applied over the years anyway, like holding to the confessions: one ‘elder’ dismissed them out of hand as unnecessary. He was duly reminded that he’d committed to defending them. Apparently he didn’t know this, because he wasn’t paying attention when he took his oath, or he didn’t take it seriously. Either way, not something to applaud in ‘leadership’, perhaps.
Even an official written agreement couldn’t manage to be honoured by them or their clever spokessalesman, er, I mean, ghostwriter. The statement to the congregation sent in mid December 2015 was supposed to be, if not a collaboration between the council and ST, at least agreed to in advance per the terms of the Termination Agreement. As was noted in the relevant post, who knows when ST would have heard about the statement, if not for the heads up from 42 & 43, and the returned copies which had been sent to the wrong addresses?
Sneaky, dishonest, or just couldn’t be bothered to read what they signed? Idiotic. But we found that rules don’t apply to some people in multiple contexts.
Then we moved on (up, haha!) to the level of classis committees, where the self-vaunting coupled with incompetence rose to soaringly stupid levels. And let’s not forget a sort of desperate, unmanly pride. If they had a proper, virtuous sort of pride that accompanies a concern for honour, well, perhaps the whole experience would have been different. At any rate, if they had pride in the duty and solemnity of the task to which they had been appointed, they’d have done a minimum of investigation to get the whole story; they wouldn’t have been comfortable with their own stonewalling, their lame excuses, their waste of time with mini projects outside of their mandate (while they neglected their obligations as laid out explicitly, in print, in the church order), their disorganised state, their inability to explain their own approach to the process, their adolescent refusal to take responsibility, and reasoning with past-contrary-to-facts, like ‘maybe if you’d been more submissive to the “process”, we wouldn’t have run you over with our fat tank.’
Anyway. They couldn’t think outside the box, unlike A. Council and the church visitors. See, when it came time for the classis interim committee to face ST’s request that the OC be dissolved so he could deal with men who could reason responsibly (sorry, I meant be objective), they didn’t know what to do, or even how to stall for time. They ended up punting to the whole of classis at the September 2016 meeting, a body to whom ST had not addressed the matter, and who didn’t have the necessary material before them even to understand what the decision was that had to be made (it was not to appoint a new committee made up of NM delegates), and thus to make the right one. All the classis had was the report written by the Wannabe, K-bar, and Pastor 3-‘s impugning of ST’s honesty (Christian professionalism and grace at its finest!). So I’m sure that helped them make an informed and compassionate decision.
We know what decision they made– ‘well, there’s nothing in the church order that provides for a change of oversight of an A-17’d pastor, and we can’t be bothered making up a new committee, so even though you say this isn’t working (we can’t say because we’re completely in the dark, really), you’ll just have to keep going, ST–church order, you know. Even though they haven’t behaved in a biblical manner to you, well, church order. They’ve lied to our faces about you and have ruined their own credibility in a church government context. Well… Church order.
‘And, well, afterward, since the OC couldn’t finish their job because of the evaluation you wouldn’t give them (oh, we do know you have an answer for that), well, we’ll have to defrock you, because, church order. They have to see the evaluation. Never mind that they shouldn’t even be associated with you anymore on ethical principle. Evaluation, church order, defrock– we can’t *think* of any sane, Spirit-led (Spirit? Who’s that?!) solution!!’
But there was no church order-specified support, no encouragement, no attempt to provide opportunities for ministry (there wasn’t even consultation of the relevant points of the church order in advance of ST’s meeting with the OC. in April 2016–they looked them up on someone’s phone right then and there, to figure out what their commission was). You want a demonstration of real respect for the church order? (Or the Bible, for that matter.) Full counsel-preaching pastors need not apply. Or rather, inconvenient portions of the church order need not be applied. And certainly biblical principles that should inform adherence to the spirit of the law (hrm, like love) need not be applied either.
They don’t know how to do their job, so falling back on the rules (see below) is a means by which to save face. They can’t lead or make qualified decisions; case in point, all of a sudden they’re willing to let ST go without further flogging from the classis. Are we supposed to cheer? It’s all so arbitrary!
When I heard they accepted (or mean to accept) the proposal by K esq., which is substantially the EXACT SAME THING proposed by Simon Templar back in September, it does make you wonder how they aren’t saying to themselves, ‘ST said this five months ago, and it was no good, there was nothing we could do, church order, you know, and who knows if he REALLY talked to those guys at the denomination? But now K esq. says it, and now it has merit. My, that’s strange.’
This lack of awareness brings us to our last revelation:
Ninth, people not only lack conviction and discernment, but also imagination…
I think we’ve already got plenty of examples of people parading their lack of conviction– my email exchange with Pastor 3- near the end of the last post is a good one. They don’t even believe enough in the wrong they do to try to justify it.
As for discernment, of both the natural and spiritual kinds, this also is hard to dig up in this excavation of the tar pits of believers behaving badly. We’ll perhaps look into this issue in a later post.
Let’s talk about imagination for a moment. Imagination perhaps is not easy to define, and in a post-Barney & Friends world, may have a plethora of connotations.
The rich uncle, interviewing a young woman for the post of governess for his niece and nephew in the 1961 film The Innocents (based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw), asks whether she has an imagination. He approves when she replies that she hasn’t much of one–the suggestion is, perhaps, that imagination, or certainly excess of it, can get you into trouble.
But imagination isn’t all about fancy. Our culture and our personal experiences form and inform our imaginary capacity and bent. I’ll pull something from my research as an example. In the myth about Jason and the Argonauts, the king of the Colchians, Aeetes, compels the hero Jason to complete a set of tasks: yoking the fire-breathing bulls made and gifted to Aeetes by the forge-god Hephaestus/Vulcan; defeating a set of earth-both men sprung from the teeth of a giant serpent; and, depending on the version, even killing the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece, which Aeetes has promised to give Jason if he survives, having overcome the monstrous obstacles. The fire-breathing bulls are described in various texts as having bronze hooves, bronze mouths, iron horns, nostrils of adamant. How did ancient readers of Pindar, Apollonius, Ovid and Valerius Flaccus conceive of such creatures?
The material record from antiquity is less extensive for the bulls than for the dragon, and pictures of the bulls in vase paintings do not provide any textural clues which might tell the viewer what they’re made of. But the second-century Roman Medea sarcophagus provides as least one ancient interpretation: they appear thoroughly organic, with hair and profuse folds of skin in their dewlaps. They are also ‘normal-sized.’
Modern renditions also suggest a reading of the bulls as naturalistic (if a bit large) in appearance, with nary a gleam of metal to be found, as in de Troy’s 18th century depiction:
In more recent media, however, a new possibility has been visualised: namely, that Vulcan fashioned a machine reminiscent of technology from a Jules Verne novel. Judging from the evidence we have, pre-20th century recipients of the myth did not seem to imagine the bulls as artificial, or even as sculptures which Vulcan had given life. The much-loved 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts omits the bulls altogether, and it wasn’t until the high-budget TV movie of 2000 that the (one) bull came forth envisioned like a bovine tank, its joints needing some oil. It should be noted that this film was nominated for several awards for sound, and visual effects.
At any rate, what’s the point? Our exposure to certain things and ideas (apologies to Mr Serling!) impacts how and what we are able to conceptualize. Who knows whether H.G. Wells could have dreamed up the time machine without having known the locomotive and the mechanical by-products of the industrial revolution?
Christians are to be as shaped by the Bible as they are by their culture and personal experience, even moreso. What does it mean when Christians can’t recognise and name something for what it is? I dunno, something like, evil? In many cases, it’s not just because they can’t believe it’s true. They can’t wrap their heads around the concept that there are sociopaths and hungry wolves, narcissists and treacherous snakes in the church (of course there are just plain weak and ignorant people in churches too–that’s not whom I’m talking about). They can’t recognise ‘it’ when they see ‘it’, because it hasn’t even occurred to them that ‘it’ exists to even be thought of.
This isn’t limited to human behaviour. It is completely outside of many Christians’ conceptual capability that the Holy Spirit actually does stuff, and on the other side of the spectrum, that demons actually do stuff, and that people and places can be influenced, oppressed, and even occupied as satanic strongholds. How can this be? It all goes back to how people receive and value the Word of God.
We are a religious people. Yes, we have minds, and the Bible itself encourages a healthy incredulity at certain points: test the spirits, James says. But that is not because there isn’t activity on the spiritual plane. It’s because we can be so easily deceived and led astray. That would seem to suggest that we should have a higher awareness of spiritual activity, not less, and be seeking to grow in discernment.
Dr Van Helsing says in Dracula that the strength of the vampire is that people don’t and won’t believe in him. In our case, what this whole blog is about, people couldn’t listen to our story long enough to disbelieve it–they had no frame of reference with which to begin to speak to them. Their Christian education has failed them. It’s been like trying to explain a ship to people who don’t know of the possibility of the existence of the sea, as they haven’t even seen a pond for themselves.
That’s bad enough. What’s worse is that when you try to tell them they don’t understand, they cling to their inadequate view of the universe and get defensive, even angry, that you would shake them up by telling them of the possibility of navigating a body whose miniature analogue they can’t imagine. Of course, they probably also can’t imagine that the land on the other side of the sea is much better than where they are.
‘It’s inconceivable that that little church could be experiencing demonic interference–after all, it’s a good and godly church! How could it be that the oversight committee are rude goofballs? It’s impossible for us to appoint people who can’t do the job perfectly.’ In these cases, evidence doesn’t really matter. People haven’t been exposed to enough ideas and accounts outside of their own experience. They can’t see past their own assumptions, and wouldn’t know how to categorise such truths in their brains. (It’s like the stunned speechlessness that overcame my boss when he was suddenly confronted with the notion that intelligent, educated people who deny Darwinian evolution actually exist, and he’d actually met one.)
I know this sounds over the top; how could people be that naive? How could Christians who believe in an invisible God, divine inspiration of Scripture, miracles, the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus, the reality of sin and salvation, and heaven and hell, be spiritual sceptics? You tell me–how else could this have happened?
All I can figure is that some people read the Bible very, very selectively, and don’t stop and think about what these things, if they’re as real as the Bible presumes, would look like. They see spotted hides, soft noses and keratin; they can’t envision a giant metal bovid with clicking gears inside.