Janelle’s Birthday, Red, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and My Impact in the World

February 6, 2016. Janelle’s Birthday, Red, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and My Impact in the World. Today my oldest granddaughter Janelle turned twenty—two decades! When I was twenty, I went back to Holland to rediscover my past and my future (see my post of January 28, Rootless No More). So I thought about “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” Last night, I went to see the play Red by John Logan at Theatre Aquarius in downtown Hamilton. I read the review “Red: It’s about more than art,” by Gary Smith in the Hamilton Spectator (The Spec) and decided to go because he said that this play “makes you question why we’re here.”

As we engage the play, we witness the anguish of the artist Mark Rothko as he harangues and rails at his assistant, an artist-wannabe. Rothko is painting a set of canvases for a trendy and expensive new Four Seasons restaurant in New York and getting paid handsomely for it. But he is fearful for the future. Will his paintings still move the viewers when he’s gone, or will rich people buy a painting because it “goes with their couch”? Will they think about his art in the restaurant or use its presence as an affirmation of their own riches and importance and snobbishness? Has he as an artist sold out as Picasso did, signing menus in restaurants, and as Warhol did painting soup cans? Will future artists sniff at his kind of abstract impressionist art? Will his “red” be eventually swallowed up by his “black”? The play did what Gary Smith said it would: it made me look inside myself to see what I’m living for. Well, I’m not living for the kind of fame or recognition that Picasso got. No-one has yet asked me for my signature (if want it, bring your own pen) nor am I producing art to make a deep impression. But I do want a legacy, the kind that Jesus told us we should be working for: Don’t store up treasures for yourself on earth but in heaven, for where your treasure is, there will be your heart. You could turn that around and say that “where your heart is, there is your treasure.” My heart—totally, I pray—is set on God and then on my family, wife, children, grandchildren and with all the other roots and branches. Daily faithfulness in our ongoing relationships and tasks is what we need; daily faithfulness in the small ordinary stuff of every day.

But what we do daily is really part of something bigger (see my summary of February 3, “The Last Word on Politics”). That’s what I took from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This past week, I watched both the 1981 BBC version (194 minutes) and the 2005 Touchstone-Disney version (109 minutes). I read the book years ago. A very ordinary British man, Arthur Dent, lies down in front of a bulldozer to save his house from being razed to the ground to build an expressway. His friend Ford Prefect comes to take him to the pub while the bulldozer crew’s foreman takes his place on the ground. Fortunately, Ford Prefect is not really British; he is actually an alien from the vicinity of Betelgeuse and has been pretending to be an out-of-work actor. Ford has come to save Arthur from the destruction of earth that is to happen in about twelve minutes because someone in the galaxy—who turns out to be Zaphod Beeblebrox—has ordered the destruction of earth’s galaxy for the building of a hyperspace express route. Arthur and Ford hitch a ride on a Volgon spaceship and travel throughout the universe using the Hitchhiker’s Guide and a Babelfish in their ears that automatically translates all brain waves it gets into human language. They have a snack in the Restaurant at the End of the Universe as they search for “the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.” They finally hear this question asked of the smartest computer ever built. After thinking for seven million years, the computer tells them the answer is 42. When they want to know what the question really meant, the computer confesses it does not know but will construct an even smarter computer that will figure out the answer. They visit the computer-building workshop and see planets under construction. At the end of their journey, they find themselves on this new planet and discover that it is the reconstructed earth—given a second chance, as I see it, to figure out the meaning of life and the meaning of our own lives.

What do I take from all of this? I need to use the wisdom God has given me and the rest of his people to figure out what the real question is and what the right answer is. As Ecclesiastes puts it, “Of making many books and movies there is no end, and it can weary your body and your soul. But here is the conclusion of the whole matter: Honour God and do his will, which is to love God and love your neighbours; that is what it means to be human.”

Shape your thoughts and your deeds by that invitation and experience joy!


The Last Word on Politics – or: The Cosmic Version of the Christmas Story in Revelation 12

The Last Word on Politics, or—the Cosmic Version of the Christmas Story in Revelation 12

Politics always competes with religion (joining it, tolerating it when it must, and absorbing it when it can) in order to promise, if not a life beyond, then a new deal on this earth, and a Leader smiling charismatically from the placards.” Erik Erikson, quoted in Reversed Thunder, page 117.

In John’s vision, the believers saw when the seventh trumpet blew that their work of prayer was confirmed. They heard that “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ.” But when we walk out into the world, we see that the kingdoms of this world don’t seem to have changed. Now we are reminded that the gospel is more political than we have imagined, but in a way that we would not have guessed. Jesus constantly proclaimed that the kingdom of God was at hand and that’s what the early martyrs were persecuted for—they would not say that Caesar is Lord because Christ is Lord and God is sovereign and there is nothing that does not fall under his rule. Talk about a huge political claim!

But we misunderstand how that political power is exercised. The kingdoms of this world exert power through militarism and propaganda; they use coercion. We are called to exercise the power of God’s kingdom, yes, but the means we are to use are radically different; we exercise power through worship, preaching, and holy living. We face two temptations: one is to take up the power of the kingdom and use the world’s political means of force; the other is to retreat into our comfortable little fellowships, ignore the workings of the world, and work only to save a few souls. John in Revelation gives us a defence to resist these temptations by showing us in cosmic images what is really going on.

Revelation 12 tells the Christmas story in a cosmic vision. God’s temple in heaven opens and the ark of the covenant appears. Then we, the audience, see a woman appear in cosmic radiance, clothed with the sun, moon, and stars. Then suddenly she is pregnant and in childbirth. A great dragon appears, powerful enough to sweep a third of the stars from the sky. The dragon stands in front of the woman, waiting to devour her child. She has a baby boy “who is going to rule all nations with a rod of iron” (in other words, the Messiah prophesied in Psalm 2). The child is snatched away from the dragon up to heaven and—instead of Christmas carols—war begins against the dragon and his hosts. Michael and his angels throw them out of heaven down to earth: God’s salvation and power have come! But woe to us on earth who love the Lord, for the dragon is coming after us. The dragon pursues the woman but she is protected by the earth, so he turns to wage war against “those who keep God’s commands and the testimony of Jesus.” The devil, Satan, is out to get us. But we are fortified because we have seen in the vision that Satan has been cast out of heaven and knows that “he only has a short time.”

The dragon is failing in his attacks, so he calls out two monsters to help him in his battle against us. They will attack our social behaviour using the militaristic power of the state and our religious belief using propaganda. Both our social behaviour and religious belief are political; both criminals and dissenters are dangerous to the state! The sea beast will make war on us to frighten us into disobedience; the land beast will deceive us into illusions and false religions and loyalties. Our response, says John, must be to endure and keep the faith. We may die, but that is not defeat. Defeat would be to disobey God and fail in our faith.

How are we to wage war on Satan? When we are attacked by the land beast with violence, we must not respond with violence, for—as Jesus said and John repeats—“all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” Our weapons are endurance and faith.

When we are attacked by the sea beast with propaganda, we must use our minds. The land beast imitates Christ in that it is “like a lamb” but it is a parody. It uses religious means to get us to worship it rather than God and to become materialistic for its religion is consumption. It wants us to get its mark on our forehead rather than God’s Word—the shema—that the Old Testament Israelites were commanded to wear on their foreheads and their right hands. But we can overcome this beast because its number—666–is a human number and not a divine mystery; we can use God’s wisdom to figure out when we are being deceived. We are able to resist the dragon, sea beast, and land beast, that trinity of evil; John has shown us the real nature of this evil. Now he shows us three visions that show how God supports us in our fight.

The first vision (Rev. 14:1-5) shows the Lamb leading worship on Mount Zion. The worship we do on earth is part of this cosmic worship that Christ himself leads. Our worship is a witness that we are saved by God’s grace and do not depend on our own strength in the battle against evil.

The second vision (14:6-13) shows three angels preaching. The first preaches the gospel to all peoples on earth. The second announces the fall of Babylon, the great deceiver of all humanity. The third warns God’s people not to accept the mark of the beast but to endure and remain faithful. We on earth need to hear all three of these messages so we are strengthened for our battle and encouraged to bring the gospel everywhere. We participate in the work of the three angels, mostly by listening to the Word.

The third vision (14:14-20) shows us the Son of Man (Christ) harvesting the fields that are “white unto harvest.” We are to lives of holiness as wheat in a weed-filled society. When we do this faithfully, our speech and behaviour show that Christ is real and lives in us and affects everything we do and say. At the end, our words and deeds can result in holy wheat to be harvested by Christ.

We cannot avoid politics because it is the management of power in every relationship, not just in government. As soon as you have two people, you have politics. We live in a community where both the politics of the Lamb and of the dragon are active. “The politics of the Lamb,” says Peterson, “takes the ordinary and basic elements of our obedience (offering our adoration in worship, listening to the proclaimed word, practicing a holy life) and develops them into the ultimate and eternal.” On the other hand, the politics of the dragon takes superficial things and inflates them into domination and pride, wish and fantasy. We daily choose one or the other; we cannot sit on the fence. God blesses those who remain faithful; they will “die in the Lord” and “the deeds they have done follow after them” (14:13).

So exercise the power of the Kingdom of God using the means of his Kingdom and be blessed.

So that’s the perspective I try to bring to my involvement to government politics in Ontario and Canada. God’s kingdom rules over that as well, and his means are the ones I try to use in my involvement. My purpose is not to try to force my way of thinking on issues on other people or the party or riding association, but to persuade and speak in political terms. The influence of Christian faith and thought can have a healing effect on our practices and policies. What I am trying to sort out now is what other avenues I should try to have an influence for good.

O Canada for Our Daughters!

February 2 Tuesday. O Canada! Today the Hamilton Spectator published my letter to the editor about singing O Canada! I did not read it in the Spec but learned of it in late afternoon when I got an email from my friend Alfie:

“Hi HERMAN, Was very pleased to read your editorial in today’s  SPEC!!! Am VERY jealous of your 15 G children!!!! I have only 4! But you omitted mention your Wood ducks, eh! wish you wellness, Alfie.”

 Thanks Alfie. You would be even more jealous about my 15 grandchildren if you knew how wonderful they all are. And yes, I’ll write about the Wood Ducks (the most beautiful ducks in North America, I think) in some future blog. For today, it’s O Canada!

The Spec article ran under the heading “Let’s change the way we sing our national anthem” and here is what I wrote:

Dear Editor,

I support the attempt by MP Mauril Belanger to have the words of “O Canada” (English version) changed to read: “True patriot love in all of us command” (instead of just “our sons”). But let’s not wait for Parliament to act! I for one, have been singing this version for many decades, particularly as I have two sons and three daughters, and two grandsons and thirteen granddaughters. And a wife! Come on Canadians! Don’t wait for the slow machinery of government to act. Let’s all change the anthem every time we sing “O Canada”!