A Day’s Journey

Lord, You lead like a drunken man.

The dust picked up again under the crunch of sweat-soaked feet. Carolina Snibbs was walking. Outside the city gate and up toward the hills; his mouth was dry again. Another city turned away. Another dry day. And comes the wind.

You always tell me step one and step ten. Never mind that step five is West and step seven is North when my path is heading South. Never mind that. I’m following Your rhythms. And You lead like a drunken man.

Preach to the City Where No One Gets Saved; then up the hills of barrenness: “Lord, send Your rain.” And all this because You said I would go to the land beside a lake, and build with a people who know Your name. No small wonder they called Abraham crazed.

Behind Snibbs’ left shoulder stood a great city, and getting greater. Everyone there was happy; everyone was full of ambition and purpose. And Snibbs was walking away.

It’s a good thing I don’t carry a literal cross, just a weight on my back and this burning burden in my heart.

On his right shoulder lay a knapsack: a night’s shelter, a change of clothes, enough money for a week, or a day.

It’s a wonder I still follow, but I’m afraid I trust You. Why did You send me there, Lord? Nobody needed me; nobody wanted me. There was nothing I could do. Like climbing sheer walls with nothing but the strength of my fingernails. And now, here I am, going, when all the world is coming. But for Your glory, Lord. But for Your glory.

Snibbs stopped, set down his bag and stretched. He was ten miles outside the city. A little further and he would rest for the night.

“Good morning, old man.”

Snibbs started, and looked. There on the other side of the path was a boy, about ten, sitting on a fallen tree. Old man? he thought. So I’m an old man today.

“Good day, little boy. How are you today?”

“Pretty good. Why are you coming out of the city, when everyone else is going in?”

“I’m not sure I know. The Lord’s timing is a strange thing. But it’s time for me to go. Walk with me a ways.”

The boy jumped up. I must be old today, thought Snibbs. Such youth he has. Such vigor!

They had walked for a few minutes before the boy asked, “Old man, what is your name?”

“Carolina. Carolina Snibbs,” he answered.

The boy laughed. “What a funny name!”

He smiled. “It means ‘King of Songs.'” And then he let a sad chuckle. “But I couldn’t sing very well in that city. What is your name, little boy?”

“My name’s Treader. It means ‘Bright and Swift.”

“And an appropriate name it is. I’ve never seen anyone so eager and so quick as you.”

“My brother Cleveland’s stronger,” Treader said.

“I’m sure he is. But strength isn’t always everything.”

Treader grinned and ran up the path a hundred yards ahead.

“I think,” said Snibbs, when he had caught up again, “That this…would be a good place…to camp.” He sat down his bag, got on his knees, pulled out his tent makings: the cloth and poles, the ropes, the hammer and nails, and set to work. Treader pulled up the sack and sat on it.

“Did you finish all the stories you started in the city?”

“No, I didn’t,” answered Snibbs. “There was an old woman whose cupboard was bare and I meant to fill it. But it was time to go. And there was a boy who was lonely and afraid. I meant to find him a home, but it was time to go. And another: a family that had everything it needed, but had forgotten how to give it all away. I had to go. The Lord was calling. It was time. Could you hand me that hammer?”

Treader stood up and grabbed the hammer. “Someone will finish all your stories,” he said.

“I’m sure they will. Thank you.”

Treader stood there, one hand holding up the half-built tent as Carolina hammered. When he glanced up from his work, he saw Treader had the look of quietly disturbed concern that only a child could have. “What looks like a broken swagger to us is so often the greatest dance to God,” Carolina said.

In a whisper, almost like a prayer, Treader said, “Don’t be old, Song-King. Be young, and full of light.”

Carolina crinkled a smile. I’d love to.

The boy walked back to the bag slowly, shoulders stooped. Then suddenly, he jumped and turned around. “I will finish your stories for you, Song-King! I can do it!”

Carolina stopped his hammering. Looking up, he said, “Well, Treader, that’s a very nice– Gesture…of you…” The boy was gone.

Carolina stood up. Tent was finished, and he leaned on it.

“Well, Lord, You give your servants many different forms. I won’t even bother to ask if that one was born on this side or the other.” There was no sign of the boy. He must have been very fast.

The sun had barely set. It was almost dark. And out from the tent-folds shone a white and golden gleam of light that had no visible source. Without hesitation, Carolina Snibbs crawled inside. As he lay down, the burning inside him grew, reaching out until it joined forces with the glow inside the tent. He could feel the gray of his hair fading back to brown. Eyes closed, he could feel his vision clearing. Tears flowed down his cheeks and past his ears.

Oh! To see the city made with no human hands, standing by the crystal sea. But for Your glory, Lord. But for Your Glory.

Against Daily Bible Reading

OK. This sort of thing annoys me. It’s not Dan Phillips’ fault. His just happens to be the most recent salvo that I’ve heard, and I’m really feeling like I’m the odd man out. I don’t think people need a Bible reading plan. I don’t think your spiritual life can be evaluated by the sheer volume of scripture you consume.

Ok. Step back. Caveats: I’m sure nobody said that, did they? Nobody said that people who know stuff are de facto more spiritual.

But why, oh why don’t the people who tell us in these superlative ways about the importance of Scripture actually do what it says? We pass on the doctrine that scripture teaches everything that pertains to life and godliness,* and then fail to see what scripture actually says about itself. It never ceases to amaze me how often, or how thoroughly people are able to devalue the actual text in favor of a doctrine about the text.

I’m afraid I don’t have the time to write a balanced dissertation that carefully navigates all the rocks of misunderstanding that come from forcefully disagreeing with what everybody thinks. But here’s a challenge for you: Take up your Bible and find the reading plan actually outlined in scripture. No? Ok. Find me a model in scripture for regular Bible reading exampled by some of the giants of faith: David, Daniel, Jesus, Paul – Somebody like that. No? Maybe we’d better go back to the Bible and see how people actually used the Bible. What I see are instances of public teaching, public debate, and intense study when confronted with a question. Never once does a disciple come to Jesus and say, “Lord teach us to read our Bibles.” Instead, in the middle of a confrontation, Jesus says, “Have you never read?” Maybe knowing and following the scriptures is something else again from reading a little each morning like a daily vitamin.

Now, just for kicks, let’s take the same approach to see what the Bible says about prayer. Let’s see: “Seven times a day.” “I will awaken the dawn.” “About the time of the evening sacrifice.” “Early in the morning, he went up…” “Lord, teach us to…”

Yeah, that one’s there.

Now, that said, I do have a Bible reading plan, and I submit it for your consideration: For starters, I read a lot. A lotter than that. Sometimes I read with an agenda, and sometimes I don’t follow that agenda very well. I tend to prefer fiction (and I can read more of it without getting tired), so I have to make a bit of extra effort to include some non-fiction in my diet. Occasionally, the non-fiction book that I read is a book of the Bible. When that Bible book comes up, I read it with the same level of intensity that I read everything else. I take notes if something interesting or insightful stands out to me (which is a lot oftener than with, say “The Lexus and the Olive Tree“. Generally speaking, after reading the Bible all day for a week or so, I’m pretty much burnt out on the Bible for a while, the same as the day after a PT test, or the day after Thanksgiving. It may be a while before I can do something like that again.


* As it turns out, 2 Peter 1:3 doesn’t even mention the scriptures, or Bible reading, or anything like that, so why do people use it that way?

Sproul goes down a notch

The Unholy Pursuit of God in Moby Dick by R.C. Sproul | Reformed Theology Articles at Ligonier.org.

It seems that every time a writer picks up a pen or turns on his word processor to compose a literary work of fiction, deep in his bosom resides the hope that somehow he will create the Great American Novel. Too late. That feat has already been accomplished and is as far out of reach for new novelists as is Joe DiMaggio’s fifty-six-game hitting streak or Pete Rose’s record of cumulative career hits for a rookie baseball player. The Great American Novel was written more than a hundred and fifty years ago by Herman Melville. This novel, the one that has been unsurpassed by any other, is Moby Dick.

My opinion of RC Sproul just went down a notch. Obviously, he doesn’t know a thing about fiction. Moby Dick is an awful novel, and doesn’t shine a candle to Robinson Crusoe, let alone truly great works of fiction, like The Lord of the Rings, or Pride and Prejudice. Moby Dick, like all of Melville’s work, is boring and pretentious.

Actually, now that I think about it, searching for the great *American* novel is setting the bar pretty low. Outside of genre fiction (historical, SF, Mystery, etc.), there’s hardly any good American fiction left. They’re all boring and pretentious.

Maybe Little Women?

Book Rotation

I am trying a new campaign of reading (we’ll see how well it goes) where I cycle through the kinds of books I read. The problem is that there are so many books I think I ought to read, but they keep getting pushed out by books that are actually readable.

Non-fiction is the culprit. So many non-fiction writers seem to be operating under the misguided notion that, because what they have to say is true and important, people ought to read it out of a pure regard for the content of the book. They hold to this concept with a firm conviction that allows them to thereby insult the reader with a style that is so blindingly dull, the only way you can get through all that True and Important stuff is by a sheer act of will. And the more seriously the author takes his work, the more likely it is to be devoid of the kind of rhetorical sway that pulls you from one concept to the next. Nobody cares about the reader anymore.

The importance of non-fiction reading resembles nothing to me so much as the importance of bran in the diet. And I’m the kind of guy who likes to start his day with grape nuts.

The fact that there are voracious readers out there who never touch a page of fiction truly disturbs me. Tim Challies really disturbs me. Iain Murray, who may be one of the greatest Christian historians alive, wrote a book in 2009 called The Undercover Revolution, in which he argues that novels revolutionized the English speaking world in the 19th century (unfortunately, in his opinion, for the worse). In an interview with Mark Dever, when he was asked “how should we be thinking about novels today,” Murray responded, “I’m not sure we should be thinking about them all; we’ve got so much better things to do. And it amazes me that Christians who are called to redeem the time have got time to read novels.” Fiction changes the world, but we haven’t got time to read any. Astounding.

Maybe a better metaphor is those people whose diet consists of steak and protein shakes, as though they’ve never heard of fruit and bread and candy.

Anyway, I have to force myself to read non-fiction, especially the really important stuff that’s clogging up all the space on my shelves. So here’s the system: I read a fiction book, and then a non-fiction. Hopefully, the future joy of fiction will spur me on through the slough of brute facts. The jury’s still out.

So far, I finished up 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by M. Dever, and then tossed back (quickly quaffed?) a cheap paperback by R.A. Heinlein. Now I’m stuck in The Death of Socrates.”

3 Stories

I’ve always been the sort of person who is profoundly affected by fiction. When I hear people talk about the importance of reading, only to discover that every book they ever read falls in the category of non-fiction, I get a little testy. Okay, I get mad. Non-fiction isn’t reading; it’s being lectured at.

Recently, it’s come to mind that there are three stories that have profoundly affected the direction of my life, and under the guise of being brief, I’ll tell you their titles and authors without explaining wherefore:

  1. Emma by Jane Austen
  2. Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
  3. The Vorkossigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold
  4. The last one’s a cheat, I know, since it’s a series of some 20 books, instead of a single volume like the others, but you have to read most of them to get the full effect.

Physical

Jeff stared: Surrounded by the usual crusty slop of a school nurse’s office was a fish tank, populated with 3-inch poodles, their gray-green hair wafting in the water. The nurse laughed.

“Soto’s poodles. Gotta love ‘em. Those Bolivians did some crazy things before the war, didn’t they?” She leaned in conspiratorially. “He bred these at the beginning, before they got really good at it. They say he drowned 10,000 poodles before he found one that could breathe water.”

“But… That’s not how you do…”

“Oh lay off. It’s a legend. It doesn’t have to be true. Now let’s have a look at you. Have a seat. Unbutton your shirt”

Jeff sighed. Fifty years ago, the medical profession was a highly respected industry, like telepathy, or blacksmiths in ancient times. Now, who knew where this bimbo got her certification? Anybody could do this stuff.

As the nurse stared at his various parts and waved her wand over him, Jeff looked around. In the three years he’d been in college, he’d never actually come in for his physical. He wasn’t sure exactly how he’d managed to avoid it. The place was a mess, covered in dirt and old food wrappers, half-eaten meals, all evidence of the anti-microbial field in effect. Worst machine ever invented: it sterilized without cleaning. He sniffed. An engineer would never work in such clutter.

“Now let’s have a look at those reflexes,” the nurse said. She pulled out a small metal hammer and tapped his knee.

Instantly, his kneecap shot up six inches from his knee, the skin ripping away in searing pain. At the same time, an electric twinge went up his spine as he fell back in a spasm. Reflexively, he tried to straighten his legs, but the malfunctioning knee refused to let him, grinding against the femur.

“Whoa! Kinda twitchy, aren’t we? Let’s see what we’ve got going on here.” chuckled the nurse. She pressed a hypo to his thigh, and the pain stopped. As he sat up, she gripped the tattered skin on the underside of his knee and ripped, pulling it down his leg to reveal a complex piece of metal. The skin sagged around his ankle like a sock.

Jeff wanted to vomit. “When did I get that?”

“Few years ago. Freak accident. You said you didn’t want to remember. There we are! I thought that was getting a little flaky last year.” She tweaked something, then shoved the kneecap back into place, rolled the skin back up the leg, and waved her wand over the wound. The skin healed over. “All done!”

Gingerly, Jeff stepped off the mat. Everything felt… normal. Slowly he walked to the door.

“Here. Have one on me.” The nurse tossed a packet to him. The label said, Forget me shots: instant amnesia. Jeff suddenly realized why he couldn’t remember his other physicals.

“You know,” said the voice behind him. “You really shouldn’t take those. You miss all the best parts. Last year after looking you over, we had a great time, right in this room…”

He ran out, slamming the door to muffle her cackling.

Justice and Mercy

This story is a repost from August 7, 2002. But I was thinking of it today, and made a few stylistic changes. Happy reading!
* * *

This is a story about two sisters who were the same age, and lived alone in a big house in the middle of a great field. Their names (if you’ll believe me) were Justice and Mercy, and they were (of course) as different as night and day. They divided the chores pretty evenly between themselves, each according to her taste: Mercy liked to stay inside and take care of domestic things, like cleaning and mending and making meals. She had a particular passion for sewing and made all of the clothes herself. This was a source of contention between the girls because, while Mercy liked cute frilly things with pale colors and lots of lace, Justice wanted (she said she needed) more hardy clothes with tough stitching and solid, sturdy colors. Justice found dresses useless, since she was always outside minding the farm: the planting, the animals, the building projects. Continue reading Justice and Mercy

Depressed

“Well Jon, it sounds like you’re depressed.”

“No kidding.”

“Well, it’s important to say it. When I was a kid, I used to get 2-3 colds a year, but I was raised to insist that my sinuses were just sensitive to air pressure changes. But you know, colds have a set of typical symptoms, things like a runny nose and a stuffy head, and they typically last 7-10 days. My air pressure reactions were remarkably similar to colds. It was really helpful for me when I realized I had a cold and not some bizarre genetic maladaption.”

“Well, that’s nice about your cold and all, but what does that have to do with me?”

“Depression is a lot like the common cold. It has a definable set of symptoms, tends to last a certain period of time, and it happens to a lot of people. Most importantly, though, it’s something that happens to you, not who you are.”

“Um, ‘kay…”

“The good news is that while you can’t cure the common cold, it is possible to cure depression.” Continue reading Depressed