Saturday morning and the wet putty-looking sky appeared ready to ooze. The drive to Urbana from Chicago would take Daniel about three hours, three monotonous hours, he decided. Driving Fear and Trembling, his ’74 Toyota Corolla past the 200,000-mile odometer reading might provide an unwanted distraction. But then again, Daniel pushed himself and everything around him.
An automation engineer for a major utility, Daniel spent his week days programming relays and SCADA systems. Today’s trip would be a welcome break from the uncompromising detail of parameters and protocols. The Preacher would be speaking at three that afternoon. If all went well, Daniel would make Kankakee, the halfway point between Chicago and Urbana for a quick lunch and then head out to find the location of the tent meeting. He hoped there would be some signs along the way.
Heading south on I-57 the FM reception became intermittent and garbled after several miles. Daniel poked the AM button. The AM reception offered farm reports – corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock futures. He rolled up the window. The smell of hog farms was overpowering. “No wonder the prodigal son came to his senses,” Daniel chuckled trying not to gag.
Daniel recalled his early church years. They seemed no different from driving in this morning’s grey sanctuary. Every service was a font of recycled baptismal water. Sing a hymn. Listen to the choir or a soloist. Sing another hymn. Welcome and announcements. Then, pass the offering to the organ’s melodramatic droning. Sing another hymn and then settle in on a hardwood pew for evangelistic preaching. At the coda of the sermon there would be the invitation from the pulpit to come forward. You were told your options beforehand: one could receive Jesus; one could rededicate their life to Jesus or; one could choose missionary service in the name of Jesus. A trifecta of submission was sure to put smiles on the faces of those still sitting in the pews. Not unlike those folks Daniel had imagined who, at the end of a prescription commercial on TV, had received their medicine and were now brimming with wellness. It seemed to Daniel that placebos were being doled out by the Great Physician’s assistants.
Daniel cringed at the thought of the same words, the same preaching and the same altar calls week after week – a stagnant pond that never saw fresh water. Wash, rinse and repeat with the same water, the same people, Sunday after Sunday. Come thou Fount of Every Blessing!
But in the Bible Church the Lord’s Supper, a Remembrance only, was thrown in at monthly intervals. The hiatuses were necessary, as Daniel was admonished from the pulpit by Rev. W.E. Staputis, so as to not make the congregation too familiar with the Lord’s Body and Blood. But it must have been OK that the rest of the hidebound dog-eared script would be acted out week after week until “we all get to heaven.”
Later, when Daniel began to attend an Anglican church, the irony of attendance to ritual wasn’t lost on Daniel. But inside the liturgical tradition he found sacred beauty, a beauty that had been stripped from the Free Church. And he found at its center the Eucharistic Feast.
Multiple times each week the Eucharist was provided. The rector had told him that he could meet the Real Presence of the Lord in the Body and Blood. This resonated with Daniel like nothing else had. The search for the Real Presence was how Daniel had begun his pilgrimage to wholeness. The journey would end at the feet of Jesus.
When Daniel told his family about his new church, they wondered about his Christianity. “Just so long as they preach the gospel and sola scriptura,” Daniel’s father said.
Daniel told his father that there were Scripture readings. He told his mother that he benefitted greatly from The Book of Common Prayer. And he told everyone who would listen that The Great Feast was the pinnacle of the service and not the sermon. And he told them about the altar call – Christians who wanted to meet the Lord in the Body and Blood.
Rain splattered in waves onto the windshield. The wipers were squeaked into service with a twist of the steering column arm. Bored, Daniel turned the AM dial. He tuned in a commercial.
“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at 3:00. The Preacher will be speaking: “Many of you have been raised under a nuts-and-bolts systematic post-enlightenment dispensational theology or Classical Mechanics. And with those Mechanics your theologians have built a large palace surrounded by high walls. But they live in the guard house! They want you to live in the guard house, too! The church’s Classical Mechanics are ever vigilant against non-rational elements, against non-mechanical elements. But you, if all you are under the microscope is DNA, then you are of all men most pitiable!
Mystery and paradox have been turned away from the gates of your theologian’s Rational Mansions. Newtonian preaching does not allow for uncertainty and mystery in such a clockwork universe. Wonder and beauty have been scrapped. Instead, canned Post-Enlightenment theology feeds the church’s ennui and anti-intellectualism. And did God create the world in seven days? No! Was creation recorded in seven cartoon strip panels so as to satisfy idle Sunday minds? No!
Now many of you who are world-weary have made a leap toward Epicureanism. You avoid pain of thought and persecution of the sensate by seeking pleasure and positive reinforcement from mega-church preachers who demand nothing of you but your time and dollars. My work among you is to be a corrective to your loss of passion and the subjective, to help you discover something thought cannot think – a Quantum Theology, if you will. I will be making difficulties everywhere. I will not be talking theological niceties!”
Daniel tried to make sense of The Preacher’s words. Daniel tried to make sense of The Preacher – Mary Nard, formerly Mark Climacus. What was a woman like Mary doing in the same man space as Jesus?
By now, though, such absurdities were welcomed by Daniel. They posed a mystery outside of the color-inside-the-lines Bible Church. And, the radio sound bites of The Preacher had pinged his very soul. This presented another mystery that Daniel hadn’t made sense of: the fact that he felt like crying at odd times.
It wasn’t the aloneness. Daniel had lived alone for many years. He had come to see this peculiarity as a blessing. Why, even some of his best friends had once talked of living as ascetics and becoming monks. And, in the solitude Daniel’s imagination had come alive and with it a desire to seek revelation.
Daniel thought of his past church life as having been served within the cinder blocks of reason and the mortar of sentimentality. Beauty and extra-Biblical anything had been “Calvanized” for fear of idol worship, of worshipping the creature and not the Creator. Worship of the Bible was considered OK, though, as were the Sunday School’s coloring pages of Jesus. And how could he forget the huge sign above the choir loft: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.” Maybe that was why he felt like crying at odd times.
Or, was his sadness due to anticipating getting what he deserved or the dread of what he desired? He was convinced there was something to his inopportune melancholy. It had him dragging his feet but never to work.
Daniel embraced the complexity of automation engineering. He had coded SCADA systems which captured and controlled information. The system’s end process would conduct electricity from place to place. It was honest and rewarding work. Still, something had found his soul’s cyberspace address and was pinging.
Daniel pushed the radio buttons looking for another AM station. Finding a signal, he tuned the station and out came Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It had been years since he had played trumpet in the university orchestra. He pursed his lips and began to buzz them. Then suddenly the steering felt light and loose. He tightened his grip on the wheel, eased off the gas and muttered, “God help me.” The car came under control but the pavement’s accumulated rain continued to slosh up under his car. The force created a loud “scrusssh” that every few seconds wheezed up through the passenger side floor board sounding like cardboard tearing. He had been divorced because of his snoring.
And since the divorce it seemed to Daniel that his life had been remanded over to purgatory, his ex-wife signing the decree. His children had weathered the excommunication trial but held their judgment inside parsed sentiments to their father who was to remain in exile.
“Classical hour’s programming has been brought to by Illinois Generational Farming. See their website for more on centennial and sesquicentennial farms, agriculture and Illinois family farm history.”
“I screwed up, God. I know. You needed to remind me today?”
“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at 3:00. Here is The Preacher: “And if your right hand trips you up, cut it off and throw it away. Yes: it’s better for you to have one part of your body destroyed than your whole body to go into Gehenna. And there are some of us who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. If anyone can receive this, let them do so.”
“Hear The Preacher today at three. Now back to our program.”
“Well, that will be an interesting. Now back to the classics. Here for you now is Dmitri Shostakovich’s Festive Overture led by Dmitri Shostakovich.”
“Ah, something I played in high school. Daniel wiped off the fog from the windshield. The Toyota’s defogger wasn’t keeping up.
“Kankakee” the sign read. “Gas and Guzzlin’” the next sign read. Daniel pulled into the service station. While the gas tank was filling Daniel checked the dipstick. It was down a quart. He looked under the Toyota to see if there was any oil on the wet pavement. There was an oil and water mix that reflected a spectrum of colors. A promise? Of what? Daniel walked into Gas and Guzzlin’, paid for gas and bought a quart of 30W. Outside he pulled some paper towels from the holder, removed the oil cap and poured the oil. Daniel figured that at 200,00 miles his old friend had a right to be incontinent. Rain began to pound the canopy over his car.
Inside the Guzzlin’ part of the service station Daniel pulled a bottle of water from the cooler and paid the cashier. He reckoned that he didn’t have time for a sit-down lunch. The rain wasn’t letting up. And now there was wind. The rain was slashing through the air sideways. Reports coming out of the TV above the counter warned of a hail storm in the next county. “Swell.” Daniel wasn’t worried about the Toyota other than more rusted parts detaching. But he was worried that he would miss the tent meeting.
He opened the station door and looked around. To his left folks were scurrying from their cars toward the door. To his right was a row of potted Petunia’s. The rain was pummeling the blossoms. At the end of the row and next to the door was a pot of defiant-looking cigarette butts. He ran under the pump canopy and then got into his car. Once inside he noticed a sharp smell that reminded him of the time he spent working near a paper mill. He looked over to the passenger side floor. The red placemat from Lom’s Garden restaurant had become stuck to the cardboard. The cardboard covered the softball size hole in the floor where the floor board had rusted through. The placemat’s red ink had leached onto the cardboard creating a blood-red mishmash of running words and figures. The semi-pulp smelled like rotten eggs.
Daniel carefully lifted the cardboard. He took one last look at the placemat before tossing it. He read out loud: “1952. You are a Dragon: You are eccentric and your life complex. You have a very passionate nature and abundant health. Marry a Monkey or a Rat late in life. Avoid the Dog.”
The torrential rain meant he had to drive slowly. He turned the headlights on and the AM station and began driving.
“Today, the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church will hold a tent meeting near the Urbana campus at three o’clock. The Preacher will be speaking. Here is a short clip of The Preacher from yesterday’s meeting: “Wonder and beauty have been sieved from the living waters of the church. Many of you have joined the Church of the Four Newtonian Spiritual Laws and the Church of the Distant Shore. Many of you have joined the Church of Cheap Grace. What of your lampstands?
There are those in the church today who are mirroring and abetting a deist, an agnostic and an atheistic culture. They offer nothing of the Kingdom of God and the New Creation. The Kingdom of God is here and now. This is the age to come.
The threadbare intellect of many Christian is alarming! And where are the Christian artists, the composers, the writers, the playwrights and poets? God’s recreation of his cosmos is taking place here and now.
Forget the “We’re-Gonna-leave-this-screwed-up-world-behind” Manichaeism of the paperback novels. The world must know that we are here as God’s recreated recreators. We are to bring God’s restorative justice to His cosmos here and now! As it says, “God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.”
Now, someone once told me that I would never be beautiful. But it was God who looked at my heart. And it was God who created me in his image and is now recreating me to conform to the image of his Son, to fit into His vestments, since I have clothed myself in Christ. So, how could I not be beautiful? Or, accepted by God?
And it was in the law courts of God where I was declared righteous. This was not because I was assigned or imputed righteousness. Rather, I was declared righteous when I trusted in God’s covenant faithfulness! God keeping His word from ages past is all the predestination you need to know about. God’s covenant faithfulness has been recorded in Scripture for all to see. Yet many theologians today have systemically parsed Scripture imputing Post-Enlightenment meaning onto Scripture. The whole of Scripture must be read in its context to begin to see the whole plan of God for renewing his cosmos.
Now, we must learn to be Kingdom people who walk in synchronicity with the Spirit. The flesh must not have its way. That is how all of us used to behave, conditioned by physical desires. We used to do what our flesh and our minds were urging us to do. What was the result? We were subject to wrath in our natural state just like everyone else.
We are to put off the flesh and become whole. And the church – the body of Christ – is to be the composite of each individual’s wholeness in Christ. With our differences and backgrounds, we must come together to glorify God with one mind and one mouth and tell all creatures the good news.
The church is not for itself. It is for the mission of bringing God’s Kingdom restoration to His creation. The church is not a supper club or a country club or a club of positivism thinkers. It is for equipping the saints to do this mission. It is to send us unto all creation to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” That is the gospel.
“Today, The Preacher will be holding a churchyard tent meeting at the Covenant Faithfulness of God Church, Urbana, at three o’clock.” The AM station then returned to music.
The rain never let up until Daniel crossed Urbana’s city limits.
It was past 4 o’clock. Daniel asked for directions to the tent meeting. Within minutes he was on the church grounds looking for The Preacher. The meeting had ended. The assembly was dispersing, heading to their cars. A woman holding a young child noticed Daniel craning his neck outside the car window. “If you are looking for her, she’s over there,” pointing to The Preacher standing in the far corner of the church yard.
Before he had a chance to shut it off the car’s engine shuttered to a stop. Then the car produced what sounded like a gassy sigh. Daniel bolted out of the car and had to leap over a large puddle outside the car door. As he did there was a loud popping noise under the hood and then a hissing sound. Turning toward The Preacher he began taking long zigzagging strides over the slick ground. He reached The Preacher.
““Hi, I’m Daniel. From Chicago.”
“You have been listening to me on your way down here, Daniel.”
“How did you know that?”
The Preacher laughed, “I paid for a ton of air time on the AM stations and you are late. What can I do for you?”
“Well, yeah, I missed the meeting so I just wanted to give you thanks and a hug. You seem so down to earth now that I see you in paradox. I mean… in person.”
“Come here.” The Preacher and Daniel hugged.
“Have you found what you were looking for? The Preacher asked.
“Well, I need to find another car.” Daniel pointed across the yard to a cloud of steam and the onlookers.
© Jennifer A. Johnson, 2016, All Rights Reserved