Winter Issue 12
LONGING FOR HOME:
GOODBYE, FRIENDS AND FELLOW PILGRIMS
by Matthew Nelson
is almost universally a melancholy, wistful, happy-sadness. “Home, that’s where the hurt is” (U2).
Though our culture’s impulse to find home in romantic love is sometimes distorted into idolatry, it also contains something of deep truth. Weddings manifest this truth, for they point to that feast with God and his children the world over in the restored heavens and earth, in which every tear of lovesickness and homesickness shall be wiped away. Apparently, as in weddings, we’ll also be drinking the good stuff then, that “well-aged wine” (Isaiah 25:6) that is the fruit of the true Vine, Jesus Christ (John 15:1). Presumably this will resemble Jesus’ first miracle, in which he transformed water into “the good wine” at a wedding (John 2:10). At this marriage supper of God and his people, then we shall truly be home. Then shall “the wine speak” as we delight ourselves in the one who is Love.
It turns out Jesus has at least one other interesting thing to say about love and home. He says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). For us who this week celebrate the God who died to free us from obedience to sin and evil for obedience to he who alone is Life, we should recall that God makes his home within us. And such homemaking is only possible because the Father sent us the Spirit after Jesus's resurrection and ascension; thereby did the God who calls us “friends” (John 15:15) not leave his friends behind, but rather Christ lives in us through his Spirit alive in us.
Thus, in God our friend we are already home, and in turn we yearn for God’s glory to fill and renew the whole earth as our home. What lofty thoughts! O for these glorious truths to inform the everyday moments of happy-sadness, that we may feel the pain yet also see goodbyes and sad departures by God’s light. Then shall we be energized to neighbor-oriented pilgrimage that seeks out new friends for life with God—though more goodbyes will surely follow.
As for me, I’m sticking around this sunlight-deprived town for a while longer. However, I am saying goodbye as Etc. editor. Thank you so much to everyone who has read or contributed! I appreciate all of you who have helped the Etc. in its mission to renew community as we’ve discussed—quick recap—dating, the women’s march, Bono, Donald Trump, dating, Luther, Silence, Marilynne Robinson, dating, Franklin Graham, Logan, churchaholism, dating, pornography, Seinfeld’s yearning, dating, Swiss bread, Dave Rubin, dating, and The Tree of Life. We also discussed dating, if I recall correctly.
About that art-science called dating, the most important thing to know is that people need you to exercise grace with them. And also to have fun. Godly fun, of course. Light and casual and easygoing and yet with an eye on possible lifelong commitment. Learn how to small talk and get comfortable with intense one-on-one conversation. Accept the Atriums you cannot change. Realize that everyone farts. Know that many of us need therapy. Love the person, not the ideal. Don't dismiss introverted extroverts.Learn to delight in all these miserable paradoxes! Sing in this ice-cold Vancouver rain!
I suppose that’s it. Goodbye y’all! It’s been good. May God’s wine speak in each of you lovely folks. Blessings to you this summer and onwards!
We’re already here. Can you believe it? Already we’ve arrived at the end—Holy Week and the end of term, both where we say goodbye to the old and hello to the new. This week we enter deepest mourning then celebrate with deepest joy as we remember the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and then, as Regent students or graduates, depart for whatever known or unknown destinations that the Lord is calling us. As we experience and reflect upon the “goodbye” pain and surpassing joy of this week, I’d also like to say my own goodbye as well, a goodbye to you fantastic Etc. readers, since this is my final issue as editor. And as a special bonus (tossing everything and the kitchen sink into this one), I’m also going to address a currently popular subject around here—romance and dating...
First, goodbyes. I really really don’t like goodbyes. They make me sad. Sad!, as a certain U.S. president would say. I get childish and inarticulate in this state—again similar to said president. Like a child, I’m tired of not getting my way, of being sad from always moving around and saying these farewells. I feel the sting of this transience both when I do a major move every 4-6 years (my life pattern so far, currently living in my 4th geographical “home”) and also in minor ways when changing classes each term. Why can’t things just stay the same? Why don’t people just stay in one place, all together?
I’ll be experiencing a partial version of such togetherness this summer, as I’ll be attending 5 weddings. 5!!! These wedding celebrations every year, oh man—I love them for all kinds of reasons, but one reason I love them is also tinged with great pain: They are incredible reunions of a bunch of people I love from one of my “homes,” everyone together in one place for a few hours—and then we all say goodbye again and that’s the last time we see each other for an indefinite amount of time—perhaps even until the very end of mortal life, for all we know.
Occasionally at these weddings I find myself drinking a glass or three of wine and feeling this emotional happy sadness. I feel like that character in the movie Sling Blade who, over dinner with friends, announces that “it may be the wine talking,” but “I just want to say that I love each and every person here.” When I feel this emotion at weddings, I think it probably begins less nobly as latent self-focused discontent with my singleness; however, at some point this is purified and transformed into something else entirely— it’s like this intense awareness of the love around me, of the people I love and who have (in the most true sense I believe, against all cynicism) come together out of love for the couple who are uniting out of love for one another. For many folks, a marriage and its celebration represents that longing for true home—joyfully (in pointing to an ideal) and painfully (in only partially meeting that ideal).
Side note: This longing for home (often related to romantic love) is reflected well in recent popular music. As I wrote this article, I actually made a playlist of songs that mention home. So far I’ve got: “Home” (Edwin Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes), "Home" (Nine Inch Nails), “Walk On” (U2), “Take Me Home Country Roads" (John Denver), “A Place Called Home” (PJ Harvey), “Lovesong” (The Cure), “Here in this House” (Depeche Mode), ”Homeward Bound” (Simon and Garfunkel), and “Sloop John B” (The Beach Boys). Perhaps not coincidentally, the mood of these songs
EVERYONE I KNOW IS EITHER
DEAD OR USED TO BE
by Dan Glover
strength and sit up. Jesus commanded a dead man to live. And because Jesus is YHWH’s fulness with flesh on, the Word who was with God in the beginning and who was God, the one in whom was the life and light of humanity (Jn. 1:1-4), who gives life to the dead and who speaks what does not exist into existence (Rom. 4:17), Lazarus stood up and walked out of the tomb.
When we preach, we assume there is a mixed crowd - some believers and some unbelievers…and not always along the dividing lines we might suspect. That means that everyone we preach to either is currently dead or used to be dead. What a daunting calling. Who would speak to dead people hoping for a response? What a foolish thing to do. Well, yes, preaching is foolish. The kind of foolish that shames this world’s wisdom (1 Cor. 1:18-2:5). The people already alive to the Word didn’t used to be. They are living proof of the resurrection power of the Word applied by the Spirit. God delights in the lost cause, in doing the impossible, in giving life to the dead. The message of redemption through the Son of God, applied by the Spirit of God, in the grand redemptive purpose and mission of God the Father—that is power enough to raise the dead. So, if I am faithfully declaring Scripture, I can preach with the humble confidence that the gospel I speak is not a prescription that I have concocted, hoping to convince dead people to try a new treatment for the terminal disease they already died from—its too late for that. The message I must bring to dry bones is the Word of the God who, in his glorious love and sovereign power, delights to raise the dead. Walking through that cemetery praying, I asked God to give life to spirits through the same resurrection power by which he will one day give life to the bodies planted in the soil around me.
As we disburse for the summer, whatever opportunities we get to share the gospel with people, in word or action, may we all remember that the gospel is the power of God for salvation, not the dynamism or eloquence of the one sharing it. We may run across people who seem like hopeless cases of unbelief. But every person who excitedly shares the gospel was once a pile of dry bones. Every preacher was a hearer first. That is both humbling, and emboldening.
"Jesus came to raise the dead. He did not come to teach the teachable; He did not come to improve the improvable; He did not come to reform the reformable. None of those things works." — Robert Farrar Capon
Back in the summer of 2011, I was privileged to preach for a couple Sundays in a quaint little country church in beautiful, rural Prince Edward Island. Our family was holidaying there, and I had no idea I would be preaching when we planned our trip. When we got there and attended the church that my wife’s grandfather goes to, finding out they had just lost their pastor, I offered. As a mentor and good friend used to say, “a Christian must be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” (He follows his own advice - he has faithfully preached and taught Scripture most of his adult life, and for the last several prayerful years he has battled terminal cancer.)
Before the service, I needed some quiet time to pray, prepare my heart and ask for God to speak through me. Right next to the tiny church was a cemetery. I hopped the fence and, in the bright sunshine of that Sunday morning, wandered amongst weathered slabs of stone and wooden crosses, praying for the service, the sermon, and the souls of all who would be there. Then a thought occurred to me. In a few minutes, I would be preaching to a group of people, at least some of whom were as spiritually dead as the people whose graves I was walking among were physically dead. Scripture says that in our natural state all people are dead in their trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1, 4-5). Not weak, not injured, not handicapped, not disadvantaged, not exhibiting concerning symptoms, but dead. What hope is there in preaching to dead people? I may as well preach my sermon right here in the cemetery. Most of the time I don’t feel competent even to speak to those who are merely snoozing in the pew. How much less those who are spiritually dead?
But the God who inspired the Scriptures I was about to preach is the same God who raises the dead (Eph. 2:5-9). Jesus called Lazarus to come forth from the tomb (Jn. 11) and Lazarus came. Jesus didn’t bargain with him, Jesus didn’t plead with him, Jesus didn’t ask a dying man to summon his last vestige of
by Ed Smith
The story is more true than the creeds.This has given a weight to the cosmos. It has a new depth of meaning. As I look out the window I see a cheery tree in full, vibrant blossom but it’s not just a tree anymore, but a piece of art. Creation is an artwork of beauty and harshness of the most extravagant scale. And after Regent gave me this deeper, richer world, it gave me the words to describe it. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God!”
In addition to a richer world, Regent has introduced me to a richer faith. I spent my life going to church so I thought I knew what Christianity was. It turns out that what I thought was a lake is actually an ocean. The bible is a far more complicated but interesting book than I realized. Just learning about genre and that “the hero of every bible story is God,” was enough to revolutionize my understanding of the biblical witness. The bible is not without difficulties, but as my good friend Chesterton once wrote, “The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.” Not only has Regent given me a richer bible, but it has introduced me to a far larger, deeper, and more satisfying conversation about faith from people around the world and across centuries.
Finally, I want to draw attention to one lecture in particular that stands out from all the rest. It was a weekend class with Gordon Smith. In some ways it seems a little bit unfair to highlight this one because in hindsight most, if not all of the lectures I went to, in some way touched upon what was explicit in this lecture. So, I’m not saying that Gordon Smith taught me something that nobody else did, because that’s not true. But there’s a difference between knowing something is true and feeling and believing that something is true; when he said it, I felt it and believed it. There’s a danger that you’re going to read the following without it registering what it actually means. It’s a cliché phrase in which hides the most astonishing truth in history. In that lecture, Dr. Smith stood in front of the class and told us, “You need to know that God loves you. He loves you and your sins are forgiven.” I’m not exactly sure how my time at Regent will affect the way I live my life. But if that lesson is the only thing that sticks with me, it will be enough. It makes all the difference. Thank you, Regent College. My time here has been a blessing.
But while I’ve still got the right niche audience for this, what do you get when you cross a Jehovah's Witness with a Universalist Unitarian? A: Someone who rings your doorbell for no reason.
I bookended each of my semesters at Regent with trips to the reception. In the first visit, I would pay tuition. I think Regent College is an excellent institution that provides world-class instruction on important subjects, but paying tuition hurt every time. In the second visit, I would hand in a final assignment. This is an experience of tremendous relief for having completed the course. So basically, a semester at Regent is framed by an experience of unhappily paying a ton of money for something, and then being overjoyed when it’s over. The most tangible personal changes that I’ve noticed between now and when I started at Regent is a growing proliferation of grey hairs around my temples, and knowledge that lets me in on the punchline of niche theological jokes (What did the Presbyterian say after he fell down the stairs? A: "Glad to have that out of the way”). It is doubtful that this will translate well into any meaningful benefits in the world at large. So perhaps, now that I have completed my final assignment and am getting ready to graduate, it’s unsurprising that my thoughts have occasionally led me down the track to the question, was it all worth it?
More than one professor has highlighted the difficulties associated with the western world’s capitalist obsession with putting a monetary value on everything. This is not too surprising since the “product” that Regent professors are peddling has a very poor financial dividend. Those tuition dollars I spent are gone forever. Maybe they’re hanging out with so much of the information that I laboriously internalized and have since forgotten. I don’t even want to think about all the information that was presented to me in books and lectures that I never even learned, let alone remembered. So, once again, in what way was this a good use of my time and resources? No professor has yet suggested that any of my papers are worth publishing, which is good since I always throw them into the recycling bin anyway. Agreeing with the difficulty of quantifying the benefits I’ve gained during my time here, I’ll merely state three of the things I’ve appreciated most.
The first is a new understanding of artistic creation. Art, music, aesthetics, and story used to be appreciated but superfluous. Oxygen was necessary, but storytelling a bonus. I now think in any discussion of human flourishing, art is as essential as oxygen. This has inevitably made art and creativity more important, but more critically, it has added depth to the gospel story. The story isn’t merely a vehicle to transmit the truth of the creeds.
THE HOPEFUL CRY OF A CHILD
by Andrew Headley
How can I claim to know anything anymore? I lost my sense of smell for no apparent reason and crumpled into a chair. Why does a loving God make weeping come first? Don't say it's the Fall. Don't cop out and miss this. Why must my beautiful child communicate solely in tears?
She is more than eight months old now, and I hesitantly understand. I know the outside edge of Him, our most Holy Creator. We do what we believe in. We can think and speak and write until the rapture, but if I believe the weather is screaming for rain, then I wear a jacket. If I believe it's summer, I trust the sun and wear my sandals. I know the seasons. I believe in them. I trust the time of day and walk in it. My daughter cries because she has been impregnated with hope. The first word out of her mouth was not dada or mama. It was a cry of hope in the hospital cold. She cried because she knew, woven within the fabric of her being, that someone was there to meet her. She hadn't even opened her eyes. She did this in the dark. The first cry of faith.
I have heard with deep anguish that the long rows of cribs in the world's all too many orphanages are often silent. Babies learn quickly. And I have heard that many of the slaves in Egypt stopped crying to their God for salvation.
A portion of them continued.
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
I listen to the sound of our cities in this early morning. There is too much silence, I fear. Like orphaned children we forget the pain in us is the space meant for his glory. Our cry to him is the paradox of our doubt and knowledge. Bid me come. It was Christ who gave himself that we might cry out, "holy holy holy." That we might approach Him, pure and blameless.
We are needy; comfort us. We long to see you. Wipe the blood from our eyes. Hear the cry of this city like a newborn child. Do not wait. Do not hide your face from us.
Impossibly, I hear the words "once for all" and I rest. Your hand touches my face. It is finished. You made a way for us. You are holy and blameless. The kingdom comes, to us, the petulant, the children. Thank you.
And David made a name for himself when he returned from striking down 18,000 Edomites in the Valley of Salt. (2 Samuel 8:13 ESV)
“The pure in heart…shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8 ESV)
I know a lot of things. Well, I know some things. How do I know when to step out? Motives are everything. Or they don't matter. They matter slightly, on certain days. On the Sabbath they are everything. It depends how you approach things. Awareness comes first, and then if you release it all to Jesus, you'll be safe to keep on doing what you were doing to begin with. Because the pure in heart will see God. Scholars maintain the meaning of that verse was lost under the wreckage of many thousands of websites. It must mean those who approach with singular focus, with a pure motive. Seek the kingdom, and all else will be added. And don't forget to seek holiness, whatever that means. Does it mean we are blameless? Pure and blameless before the throne?
You should be, you know. You should be holy by now. Or else you haven't gotten this figured out.
There is a good chance this article was written with some sin mixed in. I'm trying to make a name for myself. I'm furiously waving my arms in the air and tap dancing the scriptures, with bits of self-professed wisdom twisted in. There isn't any other way, as far as I can see. David killed all the Edomites for himself.
Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. (2 Corinthians 10:11 ESV)
I doubt myself. I doubt God. But I also know myself. I know something of God. How can we reconcile the two? Do we really want to know what we believe, down in the fog? How can we truly know? Is the knowledge we want to gain just another fact? Another piece of trivia armour I can use in a pub, or better yet, to win an apologetic debate? Can I google it to save some time? Madeleine L'Engle would warn us not to equate fact with truth. A fact ends the search. To know is something altogether deep and different. "Adam knew Eve." It is the glory of kings to search. Adam searched Eve. "To come to a doubt, and to a debatement of any religious duty, is the voice of God in our conscience: Would you know the truth? Doubt, and then you will inquire" (John Donne).
When my daughter was born, after those few eternal seconds of her gasping silently toward the heavens, she began to cry. We followed her. As we began to love her with physical comfort, with blood on our faces, I wrestled with that.
POEM OF THE WEEK:
Response to Response from a
Someday Woman Named Anonymous
by Tom Douce
AnonyMiss, thanks for our conversation.
Anon, Miss, we will be transformed!
And every hope that was made an oblation
shall know its true flesh and in daylight be warmed!
AnonyMiss, I am not yet true!
Like you I court fears and I fart like you too.
I suspect the same of my Someday Woman.
Perhaps so unreal, she’s just gas in the loo!
On this subject of gas, I wish to digress:
the sighs of the trillion that eat at my table
are known to our Maker before they egress.
Even these we ought not dismissively label!
AnonyMiss, I’ve also loved reals
and failed, as may be, or lost my appeals.
I claimed not to yet love you, for such love takes choosing
I too must be chosen before love’s bond seals.
AnonyMiss, I have doubts you would choose me,
for alas, you may find I am small-talk impaired!
In person I feel I may fail to amuse thee,
or try mining your heart while you’re still unprepared.
AnonyMiss, let us still take heart!
My dearest sis, right hope is an art.
May our prayers keep real and our hopes keep their keel,
for a steady God shall our journeys chart.