21 May 2009

More questions than you require *

Can you buy decent bread from a Fred Meyers store in Newberg, Oregon?

One of the hardest things about waiting for our next visas, aside from missing our friends and students and cats, is missing the bread we could buy right across Yalagin Street from our apartment.

But we had guests over for lunch the other day and I was determined to find some decent bread. I went to the fancy bread section and bought the Fred Meyer pumpernickel rye. I thought I was allergic to pumpernickel, since my childhood memories include being force-fed the little square version, dry with swiss cheese. But this Fred Meyer bread was very good, and no more expensive than most commercial bread these days.

Where will I spend eternity?

This question makes me feel alternately bold and fragile. Assurance is as close as the nearest Bible, the next intimation of grace ... and yet "no one knows the thoughts of God but the spirit of God." (Full verse.)

The stakes are high--I really, really want to spend eternity with God!! This leads to an evangelistic puzzle in my mind. Not long ago, I was in a Sunday school class where James Kennedy's classic diagnostic questions were recommended as conversation starters.

I'm inside the community that sees the world through biblically-shaped windows, so I cherish the concept of salvation. But what good is using God's doomsday wrath as a rhetorical crowbar for evangelistic purposes. It's not that I don't get the difference between holiness and corruption, I do; I just balk at attributing to God the willingness to impose infinite agony if we get it wrong, while providing a doctrinal escape clause. ("But it's not doctrinal--it's heart-level!" the good evangelical side of me argues passionately. "Anything else would constitute earning our way into heaven, and salvation is a GIFT." The cynic within replies, "I totally get that 'nothing is required'; you can say 'yes' in your heart and still be statistically more likely to support torture than those bleeding-heart humanists on their way to hell." The postmodern mind has a thousand ways to argue around "four spiritual laws," evangelism explosions, and all other ultimate claims, but what argument is needed to resist a loving community that, in the name of God, rejects all coercion?

What keeps me out of the Christian universalist camp is a stubborn belief that it must be possible to say "no" to God; or else why would it be important to say "yes"? However, ultimately, I simply retreat to Psalm 131 and rest in God's promises. The only way I come to peace with the question of eternity is simple, primordial, preverbal trust.

By the way, what does it do to our eternal destiny to wish hell on others?

Whom would you invite to your front porch?

Lori at Sparkfly (who asked the question) answers "Maya Angelou" and provides a tantalizing quotation to help explain. The first person that came to mind, for me, was a name from the past: E. Stanley Jones. How I'd love the chance to compare notes with him. Look at what he wrote in 1930:
At the recent Jerusalem Conference we found certain questions becoming acute. We cold feel the tingle of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy in the air as we neared Jerusalem. We could also feel the coming clash between the German and the American outlooks on the kingdom of God--one said it was a supernatural gift from above, the other that it was a task. When the Conference was nearing its close we found that we hadn't settled the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy--we had simply transcended it. We saw that there was someting bigger than each--the gospel. In our quest to live and give that gospel, our questions seemed to solve themselves. Christ held us both! And as for the two views of the Kingdom, we saw, before the close, that the kingdom was both a gift and a task, that each needed the other to complete it and that there was far more in Christ than either had caught.

. . . At the Lausanne Conference [of 1927, on Faith and Order]--a Conference largely in the hands of the old and looking to precedent rather than to progress--a youth, aroused to action by the sheer conservatism of things, started down the aisle toward the platform and was declared by the chirman to be out of order. The youth came on with the significant words upon his lips, "It is my business to be out of order." It is the business of youth to be out of order, just as it is the business of old age to be in order. Betwen the clash of the two there may be seeming disorder, but in reality it is the birth-pangs of a higher order.
In the same book:
I sat on the floor in the Ashram of Gandhiji and listened to an address given to a small group of the International Fellowship. I listened with appreciation to the advice he gave, for it came from a great soul. But all the time he was speaking I could not keep my eyes from a little picture on the wall just above his head. I could scarcely make out its outlines, for it was turned toward the shadows,but I soon saw it was a picture of Christ upon the cross. Strange that the picture of the Crucified should be here in the Hindu Ashram. But why strange? The cross is written in the constitution of our universe--why shouldn't it be there in the Hindu Ashram?
Where will I go when I've finished this post?

Chapters Books and Coffee.

Who was the 30,000th visitor to this weblog, from when I began counting?

I have no idea. The statistical page doesn't say exactly where--just someone in the USA--and doesn't say what page referred them. That visitor was here for about 56 seconds this afternoon. *Waving* Thanks for the milestone!

More questions: How can we support President Obama's Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking? ~~ What did Carla Harding mean by "pimping my Bible"? ~~ Why do we weigh civilian casualties differently in Afghanistan than we did on June 6, 1944? (NOTE: I still stubbornly insist on knowing exactly how we define "civilian" and "enemy" so far from home. And by what wickedness do we keep turning those enemies into corpses despite centuries of evidence that this is no way to achieve peace?) ~~ Why are we nervous? ~~ "Why was Obama's Notre Dame visit 'eloquence incomplete'" ... and yet hopeful?

* With a nod to John Hodgman, whose recent book we gave one of our sons for emergency Christmas.

What is "that same thing"? Sue Foley, your turn:


Vail Palmer said...

But what is God's response if you or I (or Hitler) say no?

Is God's justice retributive justice?
Or is it restorative justice?


Johan Maurer said...

Vail--I don't know! It feels very important to me to leave this as a mystery. I also don't know whether or why God creates sociopaths, what happens to them in the end. This is even true of my feelings concerning the man who murdered my sister. I really have to surrender my curiosity, not to mention any possible role as God's advisor!

Carol said...

Job 42:3(NRSV) comes to my mind here.

"Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."

I find such consolation and peace resting in mystery. I love the book of Job so much.

Johan Maurer said...

Add another person to my front-porch-guest wish list: the author of Job.

Bill Samuel said...

I think actions are more important than words. I'm referring to the claim that Obama is somehow in favor of Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. I couldn't support the petition because I think it is a lie. In fact, his budget calls for billions to continue to support the unconscionable and illegal actions of the Israeli government. He is clearly a warmaker not a peacemaker, but like most warmakers he likes to sound like he favors peace.

If he really wants peace in the Middle East, he would stop arming any party there. His actual policy is to support assassinations, the dehumanization of a people, and illegal settlements.

Phil Anthony said...

Re: Carla Harding on "pimping my Bible" - pimp v. (street slang) To decorate, usu. in a flashy or garish manner, as a procurer advertising his wealth; often used ironically or sarcastically.