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”!

One Day in the Life of a Creation-Loving Volunteer

2016 January 29. One Day in the Life of a Creation-Loving Volunteer. Today was a Friday though it felt like Saturday. After breakfast of the standard oatmeal porridge, OJ, and tea, but without the usual hard-boiled egg and slice of bread with jam, I filled up the tank of my VW Diesel. (I’ll write about VW diesels and their scandals later some day; my wife and I have two of them.) With prices so low, it only cost me 44 and a half bucks to fill up from really empty. Heading east, I came past the new Lowe’s building supply store—we need more building supply stores?—and onto the 403. Traffic was fine. I spent the morning with three friends from the Bruce Trail Iroquois Club on our newly-restored old barn. We spent the morning putting rock wool insulation in the walls and finished the job by noon. The barn belongs to the Bruce Trail Conservancy (BTC) and stands on land that was given to it. The BTC is the charitable organization that operates the Bruce Trail and raises funds to buy land, and it is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Bruce Trail (www.brucetrail.org).

Do you know the BT? It’s over 900 kilometres of trail along the Niagara Escarpment that runs from Niagara Falls in the southeast to Tobermory in the northwest. The escarpment is a cliff of limestone rock that is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. It contains many protected and endangered species of birds, reptiles, and plants. Why did I join and what do I do?

I joined many years ago and started volunteering about five years ago. I’m a Trail Captain for the section from Tiffany Falls to Sherman Falls, both in Ancaster. I’m to walk the trail about once a month, get reports from my Trail Monitors, keep the trail in good shape by fixing any small problems, report big problems to my Zone Captain, and file a report three times a year. I’m also a donor so the Conservancy can buy land. Most of the trail is on private property, but whenever sections come up for sale, we try to buy them, especially if they are ecologically significant. I joined the BTC to help protect this unique part of God’s creation. We’re all called to take care of God’s garden.

When my volunteering was done, I stopped in at the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) to check out the new Reptiles exhibit—it’ll be a great to show it to the grandkids! Again, Diane and I are members (and Diane volunteers their) to help take care of creation. Who did I run into, but Cindy, a student of mine when I was teaching back in the 1970s! She was there with her daughter (my grand-student, I call her) and her grandson (my great-grand student); that’s how I think of my teaching career heritage.

Home again! I cut wood to bring into the house for the woodstove. (Wood is okay to burn, I’ve read, as it is not fossil fuel.) Three loads ought to do us for a week if the weather doesn’t get too cold. I actually like the mild weather: It will be easier on our (electrical) heating bill. (My wood has all been free so far, since 1993!) Diane and I had a nice supper of potatoes, carrots, beef, and applesauce with fruit and yogurt for dessert. Sounds great, right? After supper we watched the movie The Young Victoria, the Queen Victoria from age seventeen until her much-loved husband Albert died after twenty years of marriage. A tender story and a fascinating glimpse into those times; it ties in with my course on modern Europe as well.

Life is good, ain’t it? Hope it is for you too. Shalom and sleep well.

Here’s Tiffany Falls.IMG_3951

Rootless No More

Rootless No More

You have to see where you came from to know where you are going.

–Movie A Wrinkle in Time

When I asked Scott to come and look at a few ailing beech trees on our wooded property, he came with an Internet print-out in hand. “Yes,” he said, “It’s as I suspected. These trees have Beech Bark Disease. It’s come from the east and is working its way westward. It’s getting more common here now.” I’d never heard of Beech Bark disease before but I saw the signs: tiny white spots from scale bugs; the real disease was caused by a fungus that inveigled its way into the tree through these tiny scars. The disease was migrating its way across Canada. Sort of like Dutch elm disease that had actually come from Europe and migrated across Canada destroying most elms.

Like my dad, I loved trees and treasured them. I once brought a walnut from Holland, from a tree my dad had planted, and protected the young sapling in the winter from the aristocratic appetites of native rabbits and deer for tender twigs. I had planted Carolinian forest trees such as the Cucumber Magnolia, the Kentucky Coffee-Bean, and several varieties of oaks. My one desire yet was to have a young red beech just like the enormous red beech that stood at the corner of my dad’s birthplace in Holland, a small 200-year old red brick farmhouse called—ironically from my point of view—the Steenderbult, the Stone Bulge.

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There was hardly a rock to be found in the soil, except for the two-foot “boulder” at the end of the short driveway with the name “Steenderbult” painted on it: the family boundary marker! On this rock, the family was built! In this sandy soil, its roots had been put down. Diane and I had tried to import a young red beech sapling from Holland but had it confiscated at Canada Customs because we had no certificate of health and no import permit. Can’t let just any foreigners into our country, you know.

I was three years old when I had been let into Canada, cut out of my family tree and my homeland and with no one with me but my parents and two siblings (a third was born in Canada). No longer rooted in the family tree, I grew up a stranger in the forest of Canadians. There was nothing under me, no ground on which to stand, no trunk to which I was attached and no roots to hold me in place. How could I move forward and find my roots here in this strange place? The new home also had aliens living in it: “Daddy, when are these people going out of our house,” I asked my father in that first week. Before our kist, our crate, came with all our furniture, we were living in with the farmer and his family. When the kist came, my Mom chose to live in the old clapboard farmhouse in the abandoned orchard, where we were welcomed by the friendly cows who came to eat our potato peels and watched us eat dinner through the windows.

I was a solitary child growing up, spending long summer days in the fields, fishing and looking at bugs. Through the years, my mother read us letters from Oma and from various aunts: Tante Mienje, Tante Driesje, Tante Ans, Tante Anna, and more. Who were these people, these strangers to me, who wrote my Mom letters? How did I belong to them? I had a restless longing to see them, to find them, to find my place back home. After all, “you have to see where you came from to know where you are going.[1]” After my third year of university, during the summer I would turn twenty-one, the age of adulthood, I decided to visit my family in Holland to get to know them and become an adult among them. I discovered that I had a past, that it was much older than I had thought, and that it was not past.

The way back to find the trunk of my family tree was to retrace my steps. We had come from Holland by ship so I decided to return by ship and—this time—experience the voyage and remember it and make it my own. Would I get sea-sick? Would I measure up? In some sense, the sea voyage was an analogy for my trip. Did I have sea legs and would I find family; would I learn to stand on my sea legs and on my own? During the voyage, whenever my stomach felt queasy, I would eat more at the next meal (It worked!); similarly, if I was unsure of who my family was, I would spend more time with them. Seven days later, my cousin and her boyfriend picked me up in Rotterdam and took me to the fabled garden Keukenhof. I learned to know the Holland world-famous for its tulips. That night they took me to my family at the Steenderbult where I was lodging. It was the family homestead where my Dad was born, built under squatter’s rights two hundred years ago by my ancestor Proper. It was now a thatched, red brick house set on the edge of a large beech forest.

On Monday, they took me by bicycle to see Tante Anna. When she saw me out of her kitchen window, her little brother’s oldest son whom she had not seen since he was a toddler, she flew outside and threw herself at me, knocking the bike between my legs to the ground. So it went that summer as I travelled from one family to the next. I came to know all my cousins and aunts and uncles. I threw cousin Hermien into the canal in front of their house with her Mom’s help. My step-Opa gave me a book dated 1763 of fifty-three sermons on the Heidelberg Catechism. I saw the gravesites of family. I traced my Dad’s family name in the records of community Epe and found a line of seven Propers before him in my family tree: a long and sturdy trunk. So I found a huge network of branches, trunks, and roots that I knew must have been there, but did not know before this trip. Now I knew. Now I know.

I flew back by air, a return much quicker than my leaving. It was time to go ahead to my last year of university studies. Now I knew who I was and where I was going—at least in a preliminary way. Someday I will know fully as I am fully known. Until then, I keep learning who I am, for that is not a state, but a journey, a pilgrimage. My cousin in Holland had a friend, Geertje, of whom I became quite fond, as did she of me. But I already had a Canadian girl (whose name in Dutch was also Geertje) and I returned to her. I came back carrying my family and my homeland in my heart, in my guts, and they are now a part of me that helps me know my place and my path. I know I was cut out of the family tree in Holland and planted here in Canada. Was I grafted into a trunk here? Was I planted in soil to become a brand new tree? In my beech woods, there are very large trunks, some still trees, others left as mere stumps. Around them lies a network of roots that spread out through all the woods. Among these roots, new saplings grow, some already quite large. Some saplings have grown from seeds; they are brand new trees. Some saplings have sprung up from the roots of big trees, some of them long gone. It’s impossible to tell which sapling is brand new and which is really a continuation of the life of the old. So it is with us. My family in both Holland and Canada contains members who are my full-blood relations, half-blood relations, and no-blood relations. They’re all family. I love trees and I love my family tree. Whether planted by seed or engrafted, I’m now part of the forest of Canada which has its roots around the world.

How a tree grows depends on its heredity and its environment: its future is determined by these two factors. Humans are different. We become mature by choice as well as genes and environment. A human has choices, a tree does not. Trees will become what they must; humans cannot know what they may become until they know who they are. Some people try desperately to leave their past behind;[2] others try to find the past they were cut out of, as did I. I have found my place in the tree that is my family and is Canada. My future is to work for the healing of the diseases that afflict us all. We all came from the one trunk long, long ago, and Lord willing we will at our end all be engrafted into the one vine, the first tree in the greenwood.

[1] From the Disney movie, A Wrinkle in Time, based on the book of the same title by Madeleine L’Engle.

[2] Adapted from a caption on a book review written by Tara Henley published in The Hamilton Spectator, January 25, 2016, page G9. The book was My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Trout.

Being a Witness for My Lord

January 22, 2016. 8 The Last Word on Witness. Today I had no classes at Redeemer but worked on my History course, summarizing Chapter 4 on the rise of ideologies and isms in the 1800s after the French Revolution. The western world was trying to figure out what had happened and why and where it ought to be going. In some ways, the world was getting to be a better place, but the improvements of the Industrial Revolution also brought great oppression and terrible hardship for many people and nations. What was the witness of Christians in that time? What should be my witness for the remainder of my life? Being a student at Redeemer is one form of witness and I can see some of the effect I’m having on fellow students. But is that the most responsible thing I can do in this moment to be a good witness for God and his gospel?

In the evening, I went to the women’s volleyball match, mostly to see Rebekah play. The Redeemer team won in three straight matches and was surrounded by a gaggle of young girls afterwards, getting their foam mini-soccer balls signed by the players. The game was a witness by the players to young girls coming after them. I also got to meet Rebekah’s parents and make that connection with the past. (I was a youth at church with Rebekah’s grandparents in Acton.) At home, Diane and I watched the movie Black Robe, the story of a Jesuit priest who travelled to St. Marie in mid-northern Ontario to witness to the Huron natives. Following that, I read the chapter “The Last Word on Witness” in Peterson’s Reversed Thunder. (It deals with Revelation 10 and 11.) What I read about witness brought the whole day into focus for me.

The word used in the first Christian century for telling the truth about God was martus, and now a martyr is one who loses their life for telling the truth. All of us are called to be truth-tellers throughout our lives. God spoke the truth to us, and we must listen and give answer. During the silence in heaven, God heard the prayers of his people—that is us Christians—and now he answers. His history-shaping answers are represented by trumpet blasts, the presentation of the gospel. When God’s Word to the world is so powerful, can our weak speech in daily life really be enough? “Yes!” says Revelation; We speak to God in prayer, he speaks his answers in trumpet blasts, and we witness as we speak of God’s work in daily conversations with fellow believers and all others we touch. Our problem is that we are too timid to speak very openly about our relationship with God and what God is doing in the world.

But God gives us angels to encourage us. Angels reveal the invisible. They are given to us to encourage us, not to entertain us; angels are not darling little cupids and we humans do not become angels after we die (despite what some country and pop songs may say). Angels come in two forms in the Bible: In visions such as those of John and Ezekiel and Isaiah, angels appear as mighty and fearsome figures that remind us that we are surrounded by God’s mighty armies. But we humans are called to ordinary witness in daily life and are more likely to meet angels as ordinary humans, such as the three visitors to Abraham. We may not recognize them at first and, says Hebrews 13:2, we may entertain them unawares.

John sees a “strong angel” (that appears three times in Revelation) who shows him a large book: open, unsealed; it represents the full intelligible revelation of God. John asks for and takes a “small booklet” that represents the witness he can bear; he does not have to tell everything, but only what he knows and has seen. John eats the book and it is sweet in his mouth—the Word of God is a delight when we take it in, but it is bitter in his stomach—when he shares that word, he will encounter opposition, rejection, and persecution as did all of God’s Old Testament prophets.

Revelation does not give us any more information or instruction, but imagination, so we can tell the work of God in a living way and courage so we will dare to face danger from the heavenly powers and human opponents. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who encourage us and who are strong and cannot be defeated. John sees two witnesses: Who are they? In the transfiguration of Jesus, there were two witnesses, Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the exemplar prophet; they testified that Jesus was the Messiah. When they returned to heaven, Jesus told Peter, James and John that they three were now the witnesses, though they were to wait until the right time. (Witnessing is not blabbing.) Later, on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, Jesus met two disciples and showed them from the law and the prophets that the Messiah had to suffer, die, and rise again; these two also became witnesses that Jesus was the Messiah. So the two witnesses in Revelation are the Law of God that tells us what reality is like, and Prophecy which is the application of God’s Word in current and personal history. The Law is revealed truth; Prophecy is the call to live that truth. God’s truth must be embraced in every detail of my life. As Peterson says, “Law tells us how God is involved in our lives. Prophecy tells us how we are involved in God’s life.” God’s truth is evident out there; it must be embraced as the truth in the details of my life.

The two witnesses are killed in the streets of the world and grossly mutilated, but after three and a half days they come to life again; nothing can stop God’s law and prophecy from being active and relevant in the world. May nothing stop my witness either as long as I live: God’s reality and the reality that I follow God must be evident until I die.

Technological Escalation or Human Reciprocity?

January 23 , 2016. Several decades ago, I was at a conference of the Computer Teachers of Ontario and heard a wonderful lecture by Dr. Ursula Franklin, an engineer who taught at the University of Toronto. She did not wear a microphone as everyone said they could hear her. However, we were in one-third of a ballroom divided by large moveable walls. Next door they started an audiovisual program and we could no longer here her. As she put on her microphone, she lamented that we could not go over and ask them to turn the sound down. She said, and I have remembered her exact words these many years: “It’s too bad that we solve problems by technological escalation instead of human reciprocity.”
Is that not the truth? Think of how this world would be better if we could use human relations, face-to-face, person-to-person, to deal with issues. Alas, we cannot replace our hate with love or even respect.
Lord, have mercy.

To Save Your Life, Give It Away

January 18, Monday. “Monday, Monday, Can’t trust that day,” sang the Mama’s and the Papa’s, but that’s not how my Mondays usually go. It was a day of getting things fixed and done. The dentist was first. I had a capped tooth that had come loose three or four times and that was loose again when I accidentally pulled it out with careless flossing. So I shoved it back in and it seemed to stay—loosely, if somewhat morosely—in place until Saturday night. We were baby-sitting for Andrew and Jessica, and Diane was reading the book Little Rabbit’s Loose Tooth to Ava and Brinley. Ava showed her loose tooth, so I told her I had one too. “In fact,” I said, “mine will come out!” and I pulled it out and showed them. They were not nearly as impressed as I had wished them to be. I shoved the tooth back in, but after that it refused to stay in place, falling out several times. (Pride goes before a falling out.) Finally Sunday morning, when it fell out on my way into church, I put it in my pocket. This morning, I went to the dentist (for a pre-scheduled appointment) and we agreed the tooth should stay out. The tooth that was refilled was preparatory to doing the work to get a partial upper denture anyway. Dentures could be way more cool anyway—pulling out a string of teeth all at one time. From the dentist, I went to my friend Dick’s place to take him swimming in the hot pool for therapy. While he got his exercise, I did my stretching exercises; the hot water was great for loosening muscles. I plan to do this every Monday morning this spring. From there to the thrift store as the coffee pot had quit working on Sunday evening. I found a new one for five bucks. Later I found a chip out of the glass carafe. I don’t know if it was there when I bought it or if I put it there myself when I brought it home. Anyway, I tweaked the carafe from the old pot and will use that. Cleaning the garage was next on the list, the idea being to put Diane’s car in for the winter. Once that was done, I cleaned up boxes in the basement and got stuff ready to bring away and to recycle.
The whole day seemed to be taken up with these little jobs, and to what end? What glory did I get and what recognition? I looked through the January issue of Snapd Hamilton, looking for my name—but it was nowhere. Where did I go wrong? Are fame and fortune not to come my way? As I thought that early this afternoon, I remembered Jesus saying that those who seek those kinds of rewards will get them here on earth and that will be the end of it; they’ll have their reward in full. But, if you do your daily deeds faithfully unseen, your Father in heaven will see and your reward will be one that is stored up for you where moth and rust and failing memories cannot rob you. Lose your life in everyone else’s and you will gain it.

To Get a Friend, Be a Friend

January 13, Wednesday. In English class last week, we read “The Editorial” from Maclean’s Magazine about friendship and loneliness. Contrary to what we might expect, old folks reported much lower levels of “feeling alone” than young adults who live in a more socially networked world. Yesterday, we shared in small groups a paragraph we had written in response. My group consisted of Mellina, a friend of Janelle’s, Vanessa, who appeared to be a very sharp young woman quite willing to give (good) leadership, and myself. Vanessa’s paragraph dealt with her own feelings and experiences, Mellina’s was more of an analysis of the editorial, and mine was a reflection on what it meant—not to have a friend—but to be a friend. This tied in with the thinking I have been doing about who I am and where I’m going at this stage in my life. Here’s my paragraph.

Ask not if you have a friend; ask rather if you are a friend. When I think this way of friendship, I no longer ask why I don’t have more friends, but I think of how much or how little I am a friend to those whom I know, or do not yet know. When I become interested in a person and invest time and effort in coming to know them, they may become friends. Strangely enough – actually, not strange at all, but a reversal of the kind that Jesus said the kingdom of God requires – I find that I learn more about a person when I share myself with them. Exposing some of my inner life to them may lead them to share something of their inner life with me. Perhaps the depth of a friendship increases with the vulnerability each person gives to the other. In short, the surest way to gain another as friend is to become one to them.

Today, I read chapter 3 in Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life in which she tries to wrestle to the ground what it is. Depressing! Who could ever be a writer if you have to go through such a painful process? But Annie Dillard does. Can I? As you know from an earlier entry, I too have written “My Writing Life” and wonder if it is possible to actually have, for myself, My Writing Life. Can I write my life? Is writing part of my life-to-come-yet? My optimism says “Yes!” because I want to share with my kids and grandkids what life has meant and still means to me and writing will help me to figure that out. My concern is whether I have the skills and determination to carry it out. This course on Expository Writing will help me, because I intend to write things that are part of my trajectory “Writing My Life.” Welcome to my journey. Read my life as I write it and share your thoughts. A journey with friends is better than a journey alone.

My Writing Life

January 7, Thursday. I wrote an essay “My Writing Life” for my English class on Expository Writing. This class will help me write more of my personal and family history, I hope, and this essay fits with what I have written so far in my journal. Enjoy!

My Writing Life

“Begin with the end in mind” is good advice for writing as it is for life, as Covey and Dillard and Scripture all tell us, but how can you know what your end is until you read what you’ve written? Your life and your writing, like “a wood-carver’s gouge,” will follow the grain and you must follow it or ruin your project. Follow this “epistemological tool” until you come to know, sometimes by a painful “inchworm’s” progress, what your end has been all along. So has been my writing; so has been my life.

Professionally, I wrote as a teacher, principal, or curriculum coordinator. As a teacher, I wrote course outlines, student reports, and lesson plans. As principal, I wrote reports for the school board and staff, statements of Christian perspectives in Science for teachers and parents, and presentations (generally written in full first), to staff, school board, and membership meetings. The professional writing has been fairly simple in that the form was well-defined by custom and the goal was to provide the expected information for the audience. Academically, I wrote as a student. In high school, I wrote exams and assignments and did well in all subjects. In university, it was exams and reports as I did my degree in Chemistry, but in my favourite subject, English literature, I wrote papers. I recall that writing these papers was hard work as I compared the religious views of three futuristic novels. Now at Redeemer I write papers for most of my courses in English, History, and Politics. The academic papers had defined forms and audiences, but the content and its goal had to be worked out by me, and it was demanding to pick the heart – the end – of the essay, and to stay focused on only that. Perhaps the hardest writing I did was during the year I took a sabbatical and earned my Master’s degree in Education. Writing my thesis Identifying World Views Projected by Teachers’ Classroom Discourse was challenging, though the form and sequence of chapters was well-defined and monitored by my faculty advisor. In writing my papers, I had to do lots of research and come to the point – the goal – of my essay. I usually did not start with the “end” in mind; instead, it gradually came to me as I worked through the main ideas I gleaned.

Personal writing has been more reflective of my perceived – and desired – strength to be an integrator, relater, and connector searching for meanings to share with an audience. I recall writing a long essay in green ink to read for our young people’s group on the meaning of the book of Joel, wondering whether the grasshoppers were real or symbolic: the commentators could not agree and I did not have the background to figure this out for myself. I wrote letters to my sister in Inuvik, one a 20-some page letter at guilt for having neglected her for so long, telling the stories of what had been going on in my life. I wrote a short story, “Starting the Tractor,” for Christian Courier to share that scary and humorous experience. I wrote a poem and a song to students in appreciation of their assignments. Starting in the 1980s, I wrote stories of my life for our annual family newsletter. I have written sermons for worship services in a nursing home and enjoy relating Scripture to people’s lives. In all of this personal writing, I start with an idea and the goal to share it with others, usually an audience personally known and met; the meaning I wish to draw out is the heart of what I want to write. Getting to it is not a matter of logically planning it before I write; it rather emerges as I write.

It has been the same in my life as in my writing, and still is. I have learned that all of life is to be, first of all and in all, seeking God’s kingdom and not my own; how well I have managed that and whether I have made the best choices will gradually unfold for me. I have now undertaken a new way of using writing to reconsider and share my search for the purpose and meaning of my life. I have started to write a journal and have posted segments of it on my Facebook page. This writing is intended to help me figure out the meaning and direction of my life and to decide on the focus for how I spend the rest of my days in ways that are profitable for God’s kingdom, for my children and grandchildren, and for my community from local to global. Annie Dillard says that “original work fashions a form the true shape of which it discovers only as it proceeds.” I believe this to be true of both writing and life. I cannot foresee the end result, but am content with that for I also know that all I do and will do is written in God’s book. That’s the writing that counts.

Revelation and the Last Word on Evil

January 5, Wednesday. Today was my first day of classes. The English Expository Writing should help me write better and my Journal postings may be part of my non-assigned work. The History Modern Europe promises to be very interesting in helping me understand my times. A possible topic for my paper is Guernica, the total destruction by bombing of a village in northern Spain by the dictator’s war machine, stamping out the rebellion for freedom. Then last night I read chapter 6 of Reversed Thunder called “The Last Word on Evil: Revelation 6 and 7.” It was as if scales fell off my eyes and I understood what these visions meant. Peterson comments that the Bible never tells us why God allows evil to exist, but it shows us what he is doing about it. He has sent Christ who is at work against evil. The human condition is warfare: actual war, conflict, competition, greed, control, environmental devastation – you name it. Christ unseals the scroll and shows us what God is doing about it.

Seal 1reveals Christ: The rider on the white horse is Christ. He has come to earth to battle evil, “ruling and conquering.” The preaching and worship of Christ and the daily lives of his people is how he accomplishes the victory. Then he calls forth his enemies – which already exist – to do battle against them.

Seals 2 to 6 expose the 5 kinds of evil to Christ’s actions.

Seal 2 calls out the red horse of warfare; Seal 3 calls out the black horse of famine; Seal 4 calls out the pale horse of pestilence and death. All three of these evils exist everywhere, but are disguised to such an extent that we think of them as “normal” or even good. “War is dressed up in the Sunday best of competition”; we covet, envy, and vilify as we engage in daily life, political campaigning, business acquisitions, sports, and job searches. Famine is “nature out of balance”; necessities are scarce and expensive (“a quart of wheat for a denarius”) but the luxuries are abundant and cheap (“do not harm the oil and the wine”) so the poor cannot afford food and we rich folk spend bundles on a “higher standard of living” while we exploit and pollute the earth to get our luxuries. At the Lord’s Supper, Christ teaches us to live by grace instead of greed. Pestilence and disease are rampant in our developed countries as our medical institutions treat us for the illnesses our way of life and pollution of the earth have caused. Seal 5 is religious persecution as we see the souls of God’s martyrs crying out under God’s altar, “How long?!” God tells these little ones that he will judge their persecutors. Seal 6 is the natural catastrophes that befall all people everywhere; the mighty ones on earth are finally defeated, no matter what their earthly power or status may be.

So we have an image of the battle against evil. Christ on the white horse faces all the evil powers that exist on earth: social strife, ecological disaster, sickness unto death, religious persecution, and natural catastrophes. All these evils are seen by God and exposed to battle by Christ. Faced with all this evil, “who can stand?” asks Revelation 6. The answer is given in Revelation 7: God’s angels can stand and so can God’s people, counted out to the full number and comprising a huge multitude as they stand in worship of God!) They are sealed so no harm can come to them from all this evil. In our daily lives, there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God which we receive in Christ Jesus. (See also Psalm 91:10 and 121:7.)

Seal 7 is opened in Chapter 8: Now there is silence in heaven as God hears the prayers of his people in worship. That is how God’s people carry out their part in the battle against evil: through worship, prayer, and deeds of renewal. So if I want to know what is going on and what God is doing and what I’m supposed to be doing – there’s my answer. May it be yours too.