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Right From the Hip | Observations & Opinions | Politics, Law & Current Events In which our Vagabond Seeks a City in Motion. It is early Saturday evening, the doors are open, the coffee house beckons. I enter into a crowd – young and old, in pairs, groups and singles, are standing in line, checking their phones, reviewing the menu board, sitting astride chairs, leaning on counters, stirring their mugs, contemplating their next move, and conversing with animation and verve. After securing a mug of herbal orange blossom tea and plain pound cake (something different and contemplative), no booths are available. I occupy a seat at a long, central bench and table with the other patrons. Immediately next to me sits a young couple, face to face, wearing various shades of blue denim (she also sports a floppy, soft-brim robin egg blue hat), who have stopped talking to enjoy one of the house's calorie-generous desserts. Their desserts are laden with strawberries, fresh, fragrant, jumbo-sized, strawberries, tumbling generously, abundantly, off the dessert cakes which shyly peek out underneath. These are six-dollar desserts, suitable for serious courtship. The whipped cream had disappeared already. Their strawberries are not shy - they flaunt their bright deep red strawberry color, their inviting texture, they flirt their white edges. These strawberries profligately cast about their unmistakable ripe fragrance. Indeed, the fragrance demands attention. For an unmeasured moment, these strawberries own the bench and my perceptions – my other senses have quietly stepped down and wait for the strawberry fragrance to master the stage, to take its bows, to aromatically speak for strawberries everywhere. Each strawberry is joined with all strawberries - connected in a web of genetic code, agricultural pedigree, sense perception and idea. The smell, the fragrance and appearance of these strawberries, and for a distinct slice of time, the connected picture, the taste, the idea of many strawberries, all strawberries, as an adjective as well as a noun, occupy my thoughts. If there had been no name for strawberries ever given, I would have conjured a name for them, then and there. Strawberries are versatile. We can give Latin names to their various genus, Fragaria. We may note that each apparent achene, or seed, on the outside is actually one of the ovaries of the flower, with a seed inside it, perhaps explaining why the couple beside me ordered them for dessert. Philosophers might debate whether or not there exists a non-physical essence of strawberry, an ideal Platonic form of strawberry, or be skeptical that we could ever be sure that what we perceive as strawberry was reliable. Mischievous children have picked them to throw at each other. We can observe them on wild vines, clip, transplant and cultivate them in our gardens, study what combination of sun and water gives them the greatest growth and sweetest flavor, pick them gingerly to set at our breakfast table, eat them singly or in groups in little morning fruit bowls. We have financed agri-businesses to grow them in vast number, might someday sell strawberry futures on a commodities exchange, have hired agricultural workers to pick them in mass quantity. Graduate students in economics might measure the economic impact of establishing a minimum wage for strawberry pickers, while employers make certain their immigration papers are in order. We can contest the right of strawberry pickers to go on strike, and use courtrooms to enjoin secondary strikes by other fruit pickers. Independent truck drivers can transport them in refrigerated, insured freight carriers at free-on-board rates. District managers of supermarket chains can offer them for retail sale in little green baskets at trendy supergrocers which have memorable advertising logos and trained-to-be-friendly checkout people, and serve them in coffee houses at upscale prices. In laboratories we can measure their molecular carbon chains, forensically identify them with gas and mass chromatography, and fit them into biochemical schema of study. We can mash them into lipstick or cream for purposes of skin and beauty enhancement, advertised by slender, photogenic models. We can handwash our dirty dishes in our neglected kitchen sinks, or shampoo our thinning hair with liquid soaps flavored with them. No small series of achievements, for an aggregate accessory fruit. But we have strawberries as descriptors also, as concepts and additions to the language in which we think and speak and describe, in which we write poetry and love sonnets. They act as triggers or stimulants, to remind us of things, things we may want to remember. I bend my head over my tea and soak a piece of my cake into my orange-blossom tea. But these strawberries are not yet done their work. The fragrances of my coffee-house neighbors' strawberries trigger vivid memories. A series of pictures is summoned up, interior miniatures composing a sequenced event in my life, a road trip of an altogether different sort. Gently unfaded, affectionately insistent, parading in silence one at a time yet making a whole, a set of gliding images from the past paints over my vision. ____________________ My wife, Erma, and I were dating, and engaged. I was just 32. At the time, she was just 23 years of age, not quite 5'2" unless she stood on her tiptoes (she was generous in describing her height on various health and application forms), slender, lithe, with quick, athletic reflexes, light brown hair never allowed to grow long, a bright upturned face full of energy, green-grey eyes that were never quite the same shade from day to day, and a stand-your-ground manner suitable for the youngest child who had five older brothers. Erma had been a Christian since her experiences as a teenager in church youth group, and had been well taught by a beloved senior pastor, Reverend Pusey. She could field a ground ball or steal third base, tell every player on the Philadelphia Flyers in 1977 (she still had a Bobby Clark doll) or quote scripture by memory, intelligently and to the point under discussion. She was a secretary at DuPont, a job she had held since the day after she graduated from high school. There was emotional trauma in her childhood, including a miserable relationship with her father (the misery shared by her brothers and sister), and a tragic gun accident which took the life of one of her brothers, after her father irresponsibly brought home a rifle and gave it to his children without supervision or safety instruction. The collapse of the family unit brought economic difficulties. Erma bubbled over with hope and energy – she was ready to wrestle wildcats, hid her fears, counted her pennies, and laughed loudly and easily. Erma pooled shock, grief, loss and anger in reservoirs of her soul. She introduced herself to a pair of young men attending a Christian singles conference in Sandy Cove, Maryland, one of whom was me, because she recognized the church my friend Dave had announced at the beginning of the conference, and that was enough of a conversational opening for her. We took a trip to North Carolina, to visit her brother Noel, the only one of her family to graduate from college. Noel was a marketing manager for a large agricultural chemicals company, and he was moved about the country every few years. For several years he had lived near Research Triangle Park outside Raleigh. Our trip was a happy one; we packed up Erma's silver Honda Civic, years old but running like a Swiss watch, and toodled down the highway one Monday in the early summer. Life was opening up. My disorderly life, spread across two coasts, was moving in a good direction. Erma, deeply emotionally cautious, was hoping that the world held good things as well. After staying the first night with friends in Virginia, we arrived after a day of easy driving at Noel's, still single. As always, he was a gracious host, owner of a sensible but well-maintained home. His practice of buying and selling homes as he was transferred around the company proved to be economically rewarding. I don't know whether he liked his job in its own right, but years later when he was offered a retirement package at the age of 50, he took it, and to my knowledge, has never worked 9-5 job since. Noel was working 9-5 when we arrived though, so during the day we were left to our own devices around Raleigh, Chapel Hill, Durham and the surrounding areas. Open to guidebook suggestions, we went to the North Carolina Botanical Gardens in Chapel HiIl. We walked the displays of native plants, violet-purple iris, milkweed, wood anemone, maidenhair ferns, wild indigo, water-plaintains, bluestars. The Gardens have a display of carnivorous plants, pitcher plants, Venus fly traps, along with their orchids and lilies. I found a very tiny spider among the carnivorous plant displays, picked him up with a leaf, and deposited him into a Venus fly-trap, which promptly, as advertised, closed its tender petals. The wispy trigger hairs of the plant quite quickly formed a bars-of-a-jail cell effect as the plant's leaves closed reflexively – I could see the tiny spider, looking out, as forlorn and puzzled as any prisoner would be. At the time, I had nothing to say to him, and regretted somewhat causing his fate. With the advantages of hindsight and advancing years, today, I might encourage him with words of sympathy – "you and me both, brother," a final salute, issued nunc pro tunc. Erma and I went to see a movie in the evening. Mr. Hulot's Holiday. Monsier Hulot, the French actor Jacques Tati, "decides to vacation at a beautiful seaside, resort. Rest and relaxation don't last long, given the gangly gent's penchant for ridiculous antics." Released in 1954, you have to be in the right mood to see this slapstick farce. Erma and I were nearly alone in the theater, it was a Tuesday evening. We were in the mood – I laughed hard. Erma laughed uproariously, full volume. I never heard anyone laugh so hard – her cackles filled the theater – no nook or cranny escaped the piercing volume of her laughter. Many times. How can you not fall in love with a girl like that? If anyone else was in the theater at all (maybe one other couple), they certainly knew they weren't alone. The next day, we visited Duke University in Durham. The lawns and grounds were green, immaculate, carefully maintained; the buildings, the Chapel, all were elite-college campus beautiful. I daresay visiting parents longed to expend vast sums of money to send their children there. After walking around for several hours, near the end of the day, we found a small restaurant/coffee-shop. Because of the day and hour we were again nearly alone. The shop featured a strawberry desert, loaded with whipped cream. They were the freshest, sweetest, most flagrantly-and-fragrantly-delicious strawberries imaginable. It was a lifetime trophy desert. The taste, the aroma of the strawberries filled our noses, our palates, our tongues – our sweet, ripe taste buds went off like bells. Erma was just swooning with joy. It seemed as if we just sat and ate for hours (which could not possibly be true), as if the strawberry dessert stopped local time to go on forever. These strawberries had royal, domestic, South American and continental antecedents. According to Wikipedia, the garden strawberry was first grown or bred in Brittany, France in the 1750s by crossing Fragaria Virginia from eastern North America with Fragaria Chiloenses, brought from Chile. The French began harvesting wild strawberries in the 14th century. Strawberries were added to cream in the Court of King Henry VIII. What can I add to that? World production of strawberries is in excess of nine million tons, and not a strawberry too many. After we had spent a few days at Noel's, we drove east to go to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Outer Banks are a resort area, but wilder, less cultivated than the homogenized resort areas one sometimes visits. We rented two separate hotel rooms to stay in the area around Kitty Hawk. I had sexual relationships prior to becoming a Christian. Erma had many dating relationships, but had learned her sexual ethics as a teenager at a conservative, evangelical church and drew a line she believed in. We did not sleep together on that trip. It helped to make our dating relationship simple, clean, pure, uncomplicated. (Our physical relationship began on our honeymoon - when Erma exited the bathroom and entered our bedroom the evening of our 11 a.m. wedding in Bear, Delaware. We had driven to a bed and breakfast in Milford, New Jersey, Linda and Rob Castagna's Chestnut Hill on the Delaware River. Looking at the teddy-bear decorated bed and room in the honeymoon suite and at me, Erma asked, "do you think we should pray?" I answered, "I already have.") But that wedding ceremony day was still in our distance, like a beckoning city on a hill. The next day on our excursion to North Carolina, we traipsed about on the Kitty Hawk beach. It was not yet warm enough for swimming; the beaches were nearly empty. I discovered that small fish, mullets or small kingfish, filled some of the deeper surf pools and beach ponds left by retreating waves. There is a picture of me taken by Erma, bending over at the waist, looking down, with my pants rolled up as I stood in the middle of one of these surf pools, wearing a plaid shirt with the sleeves rolled up, trying to catch little silver fish with my bared, cupped hands. Trying to catch small fish by hand was a predictably unsuccessful effort, but loads of fun to try. I looked perfectly ridiculous, and we were perfectly happy. On our trip back in the silver Honda Civic from North Carolina, driving north to Wilmington and Phoenixville, we sang hymns on the road. Neither Erma or I have any musical talent at all - neither of us can carry a melody. But there was no music critic in the car, no one to be distressed. We sang "Fairest Lord Jesus," in toneless acapella - it fit our mood and excursion well. _______________________ I was interrupted in my coffee-house reveries by a young man, of Asian background, whose face I recognized, but whose name I didn't know. He had been listening to me a previous week, when I was proclaiming out loud verses from the Book of Revelation, the lake of fire verses, the judgment verses, on a previous morning when the coffee house was much emptier than it was that Saturday evening. His interruption lead into quite an extended discussion, carried out over three locations in the coffee house. "Hello," he said. I responded with my own 'hello.' "I saw you here the other week. You were reading out loud. I was standing over there" – he indicated where he had been standing when I had my brief confrontation with the coffee house manager, Jen, over reading Bible verses out loud. I nodded 'yes' and offered my hand and introduced myself. "My name is Qi," he introduced himself with a small but perceptible bob of the head. His English was good, with a slight British accent. Qi looked to be in his early twenties, fifty years younger than I. His hair was black parted on one side, his chin and cheeks clean-shaven, his eyes brown, his lashes somewhat long, his build slim, probably 5' 10" in height and weighing 140 or 150 pounds, wearing blue jeans and a neat maroon pullover jersey. His facial expression was respectful, intelligent and friendly. "I wanted to ask you. Why were you reading out loud? And why did you choose those verses?" I had to think to recreate my thoughts and mood the previous week. "I can't answer that easily. God moves inside me without giving me explanations. Why those verses? I felt like I wanted to get somewhere - we ought to get somewhere. I saw those verses on the path." "I heard what you said to the manager. The owner doesn't mind?" His expression suggested that people reading out loud in a coffee house crossed a line in the culture he came from. "No," I told him, "the owner doesn't mind." We paused our conversation for a moment, so Qi could find a way around the bench and people to squeeze in opposite me. He was sitting right next to the strawberry-eating couple, also seated across each other on the bench, as I was. "Do you work, or are you a student?" I asked. Qi explained his background to me, responding to my questions. He was 23 years old, a graduate student seeking a Master's degree in statistics from the graduate department of a nearby university. He was an exchange student, a resident of China, whose family came from near Beijing. Much of his life was not spent in China however. His father was an investment banker, and they spent a number of years in different countries and cities, including London, where he learned as a teenager to speak English well, and learned his slight but discernible British accent. He was one of three children, and had two sisters, one older, who was married and living near Shanghai, and one considerably younger sister, who was living at home near Beijing, where his parents had returned. I asked him about China's one-child policy and he explained that his father had sufficient resources to obtain relief from the rule. Since the first child in the family was a daughter, apparently this exception was not difficult to obtain with respect to Qi. Having official sanction for having a third child was more difficult, but by then his father had political and economic connections. By this time the strawberry dessert-eating couple had left. Their seats were taken by others so it wasn't always easy to conduct our conversation. The coffee house was noisy, there was music in the background and people were sliding behind us at times to reach seats further down the long benches on which Qi and I were seated. When I paused my deposition-like questions, I asked if he attended any local church. He did, he explained, and had been for about a year. "What did you think when I read those verses out loud?" I asked. "How did you react?" "I like hearing the Book of Revelation read aloud. It doesn't often get read out loud. When you hear a sermon, somebody tells you what to think about it. There's always a doctrine or a system. Everything has to be explained." He thought for a few moments. "There's more in the words, than there is in the explanations." He said, and I quietly nodded in agreement. "Well, if you just listen to the words, read by somebody else, you wouldn't have a system," I offered. "You might have a language, though. A set of mutual symbols. Even if we didn't agree on what they meant." He listened to what I said and we talked about language, and symbols. His criticisms of symbolic language were well-thought out; a person whose native tongue is Chinese understands well the strengths and weaknesses of symbols to communicate. I suggested that symbols and graphic pictures cut through many language systems. The phrase "a woman clothed with the sun," eludes precise rational understanding, but it's an accessible image everywhere. We had the mutual and considerable pleasure of two people speaking thoughtfully to each other. "You don't agree with any systems about it?" I asked, meaning the Book of Revelation. "I don't know. My church teaches a system." "Which one is that? Dispensationalism? Premillennialism?" "Yes." "The Rapture, any minute. The Jews left to face the anti-Christ." "Yes. Yes." "You're not defending it very hard," I suggested. His facial expression indicated that I had discerned his feelings accurately. "Is that what you believe?" Qi asked me. "No. I'm a Postmillennialist. I believe in the Great Commission. Christ gave us an order. Go into the far reaches of the world. Convert the nations. So we will succeed. It's the prayer he taught us. 'Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.'" "How does reading about the burning lake of fire out loud, help that?" Qi queried. "I'm not sure. Does the Spirit have to explain everything to me? I respond as I'm called. But I think everybody wants good news. Ask them, and they'll tell you the world is a mess. But then they want good news - warm and reassuring. God's judgment in a burning lake of fire is a very unpopular topic. But it wakes people up. It made you ask me questions." "Do you think bad news is more likely to win converts?" Qi was looking at me with a certain amount of respectful skepticism. "I think telling people the truth helps people see the truth." "But you, too. You didn't recite the burning lake of fire verses with a big smile on your face." "Perhaps so. Me too," I admitted. "Maybe there's enough bad news already," Qi suggested. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. That's true too. You're right. But why are all those burning lake of fire verses there? Fierce warnings, aren't they?" I asked rhetorically. "Maybe it's the bad news that already exists. Maybe the world loves judging. Maybe the world needs judging. There's a lot of judging inside of us already." As he said this, I thought I detected some personal history in Qi – perhaps his father was a judgmental person. "I think it's a warning - a guide and a look to the future. But I'll be careful about trying to interpret it, with you around. I'll let the words be the words. Burning lake of fire and all." I raised my hands slightly to indicate surrender – the acknowledgment of my limitations. "Don't some people believe the whole book was just meant for the 1st century Christians? They think it all relates to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Roman armies. That's it – nothing else." Qi's knowledge suggested some study; his tone suggested questions, perhaps questions deeper than interpreting the Book of Revelation. "Are you a preterist?" I asked him. I wasn't sure whether his question was a narrow, specialized question over eschatology, or rather a deeper question that any young person might have, about whether the whole structure of religion is connected to anything real at all. "I'm not sure what that means," he admitted. "About what you said. Preterists believe most of the Book of Revelation has already been fulfilled. It was a warning for the 1st century, for the early church. A tract for the times. Now it's done – it has no future significance," I explained. "If that's what you're asking." "No, I haven't thought about it much, but don't think I think that. How about you?" Qi asked. There were questions in this young man, but I didn't know quite what they were. "I think it's prophecy. The Word of God to us. It's no more fulfilled and done than the Sermon on the Mount is fulfilled and done. Does that answer your question?" I returned. "I guess we'll never know, this side of Final Judgment," he offered. "Maybe we just wait for the Rapture?" "It makes a difference now. It changes how we act, because of what we expect. If all you're doing is sitting around here, waiting for the Rapture, that's one kind of answer. But I'll buy you a cup of coffee, and we can wait together." As I was about to get up to buy coffee, a young woman, talking to her friend following behind her, was trying to make her way behind the bench to a seat. She was holding a sandwich on a plate and a glass. Someone moved on the crowded bench, not knowing anyone was behind him, and bumped directly into her. Her sandwich spilled and tumbled across the back of an unshaven but pleasant-looking blonde young man and onto the floor. There, visible for the world, near Qi's feet, were the ingredients for her sandwich, two slices of multi-grain bread, two chunks of avocado, two generous slices of tomato, and a large stack of bean sprouts, scattered across the floor along with a slice of dill pickle. She moved back apologetically, waving the now-empty sandwich plate in her hand, obviously embarrassed. The young man stood up, rather mildly and saw who had spilled sandwich fixings on him. He didn't seem angry - he was apologetic and rather embarrassed himself. No one quite knew what to do. For a few moments the two of them milled about each other in rather disorganized fashion. The coffee house manager was nearby. She saw what had happened and signaled for a staff person to assist. Qi and I both stood up to move out of the way and sidestepped our way to leave the benches and table. As we were moving, I made brief eye contact with the manager and we mutually and quickly nodded. I didn't want her to think I had been a problem again, but she saw I was an innocent bystander, not an repeat instigator of disturbances. While the clean-up was being accomplished, Qi, seeing our mutual nod, asked if I knew the coffee house manager. "Yes, her name is Jen Geddes. She's a Christian. She's nice – a calm person." We watched the cleanup. I thought I would share a bit more, thinking still about what Qi's questions might be. "Years ago, she was in the newspaper, picture and all. She had a bit of a temper. I think she came from a very fundamental background. She was in a church, and for whatever reason, something was going with a visiting pastor she definitely didn't agree with. She expressed her theological disagreement by shouting out loud, picking up a stool, and heaving it at this visiting pastor. She actually hit him with it and there were disturbances in the church. The police had to be called. As a sentence I think she got what is called ARD, a non-trial diversion. It usually means she had to do some community service and get some counseling. I was practicing as a lawyer at the time, so I paid attention. Some years later, she got the job here. I recognized her when she started. Very calm - very welcoming to everybody these days. I never talked with her about it. I always wanted to ask her what it was about. Part of it was reported in the newspaper – apparently, whatever it was the visiting pastor was saying, her response was along the lines of "are you really going to say that, in my ear?" The cleanup was over, but Qi and I found a different place to sit and resumed our conversation. He wanted to know more about the type of law I had practiced, which was a general community practice. We started talking about the law and about the U.S. Constitution and some well-known constitutional principles, which were not, as Qi described, the rule or norm in China. He described a culture and circumstance in China which might be characterized as intense and ubiquitous favoritism. "We have those problems here - in a big way," I acknowledged. "You have laws about it, though. In China, there is no law to appeal to, to correct such things. The party is the law, and the party officials who operate without needing any approval." "We do have laws," I acknowledged. I narrated for Qi a United States Supreme Court case, which is a staple of the Constitutional Law curriculum in law school. "In San Francisco, around 1880, most of the laundry workers were Chinese. Laundries used heat in wooden buildings. There was a statute that said you couldn't operate a laundry without a permit. The statute itself wasn't crazy - there was a genuine fire risk with boiling water used in the laundries – not a joke in San Francisco. But Yick Wo had been operating his laundry for years, when he was told he couldn't operate his laundry anymore without a permit. Unfortunately, if you were Chinese, you didn't get a permit. If you weren't Chinese, then you got one. Yick Wo was fined for operating without the permit, and he couldn't or wouldn't pay the fine, so he was put in jail. The Supreme Court ruled that the administration of that permit law was unconstitutional – even if the laundry owners weren't citizens. Even if the law itself made sense considered in isolation. The Chinese laundry owners still had a right under equal protection, under the equal protection laws of the 14th Amendment." "You would not find such laws in China," Qi lamented. "Well, it took us years to take the legal principle serious," I told him. "Taking your principles seriously takes time." Our conversation continued. We talked about Chinese coolies and how they worked. We talked about Christianity in China. We talked about the beginning of the movie Crazy Rich Asians where they're having a Bible study. We talked about missionaries and Hudson Taylor and the Chinese Inland Mission, and when Qi's family had become Christians. We talked about wars in Asia – in the Pacific against Japan. Qi had a very distinct opinion about the treatment of the Chinese by the Japanese in WWII, which flowed over to his opinion over disputed islands in the South China sea. We talked about the wars in Korea and Vietnam. We talked about Mao, and Communism and the treatment of Christians in China during the cultural revolution. Qi's family had suffered and practiced their faith in secret, but had emerged. We talked about the Three-Self Church in China. "Sanzi Jiaohui" Qi explained, trying to help me to pronounce it correctly. "But my family has spent so much time overseas, it was not critical to us. We didn't argue about religion, we argued about how many hours my father worked." He looked not as happy making this last statement. I decided to change gears altogether. "You'll be married someday. You'll have a wife and probably children. Do you have a girlfriend?" I asked. "Yes. But she is in graduate school in Michigan now. So I only get to see her on vacations. Sometimes we meet in Chicago. We are making some plans, but they have to wait. We text. She likes it, but she thinks it's cold there." We talked about the weather in China, and in the U.S. We moved our location one more time, when a booth opened up. Time passed, but the Rapture still lay in the future. In the meandering talk and silence of our time together, we made friends. The Holy Spirit, as known to coffee houses as He is to great cathedrals, entered somewhere. Eventually Qi said it was time for him to get back home, and we parted company with the idea that he would be back in the coffee house, and we would have a chance to talk again. Perhaps further, on the Book of Revelation, he suggested. ___________________ And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. Revelation 21:10. Those trained in theology and ministry should present the bulk of the inspired message of Rom. Ch. 12-15. But there is an element of those passages I want to address. I have a law degree, was valedictorian at law school, have practiced law for many years, and have held elected office. I serve as a volunteer on various boards with legal and executive authority over substantial matters. The business of law and government is something with which I am familiar. Although words like "law and government" don't sound San Francisco hippy-ish, don't seem to blend into a coffee-house or a road trip to the last chapters of Revelation, that is my direction now. Rom. 13:1-10 is my topic. Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. Rom13:1a. The passage is central. It does not stand for, nor should it be understood, to be a command to political authoritarianism. It is an invitation to law, to legitimacy, to ascertaining the will of the people in a democracy, enacting that will within the confines of a constitutional system, and then respecting the laws that flow therefrom. Within the world at large, we may be subject to, or may become the governing authorities – but we are always Christians. The Apostle Paul had multiple purposes in so writing – he had a concern with the relationship of Christians to the outside world and to the political authority of the Roman empire. Paul was also concerned about how Christians relate among ourselves. Christian religious/political conflict among ourselves has been a challenge for Christian theology. Theological disagreement may be the reason or the excuse for the ecclesiastical, political or social separation of Christians. Once reasons develop, theological disagreement, leading to differing communions and groupings, becomes the vehicle for separation. As the Reformation commenced and continued through the 16th and 17th centuries, it appeared the immovable object had met the irresistible force. When Christian conscience met Christian government in vehement disagreement, the results were tragically unacceptable in individual cases. Theologically, the issues have never been resolved. One person wishes to pray to the saints, another does not, one expects an early Rapture with no warning, another does not, one thinks the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, another does not. There are innumerable such differences. The continuing disagreements demonstrate that we have no recognized method of either resolving the dispute, or even a recognized method of staying in communication with each other. The argument continues unresolved. The fallback position for various Christian disputants is spiritual distance and intentional distancing, and attrition over time. Politically, we have addressed the most negative consequences of those 16th and 17th century conflicts by privatizing religious conscience. The results of privatizing Christian conscience are only partially satisfactory, as the 21st century is demonstrating. Organizing a better society is problematic, if each Christian has no greater loyalty than to his or her conscience. Conscience slides into self-will. Beyond denominational or theological boundaries, no one is able to present, to debate, to respond, to adjudicate, to give, or to obey an order issued by a recognized body of Christians, on any issue – not just very large important issues. All issues are 'off the table,' as it were, beyond joint resolution. No one could today post 95 theses on the door of a church and have an audience. We are stalled on Christian conscience-autonomy. No one says 'my conscience is God' but that is the net result. Each spider sits on her own web. The Old Testament analogue is the Book of Judges. The civil and political theory and authority that God has established pertinent to us, and to all, has been two thousand years in the making. The development of this theory is an argument for and an example of common grace, extended by God to all, who makes his sun to shine on the good and on the evil, and sends his rain on the just and on the unjust. "All peaceful beginnings of government have been laid in the consent of the people," John Locke, the British philosopher wrote in his Second Treatise on Government, Sect. 112. His work was instrumental in the framing of American constitutional ideas. Within the United States, we are both the governed, and the governing authorities. Perhaps odd, perhaps obvious to say, but if we as Christians want to reach the heavenly city of God, we have to be capable of governing and being governed by each other. This does not suggest extinguishing the ordinary and necessary debate and contentions that accompany civil and religious life. But at some point, a methodology of decision-making has to be established. Decisions are to be made, and they have to be respected. These 'decisions' are Christian decisions, critical to the communications and communal life of all Christians. That is not intended as a challenge to fundamental theological positions. When our government formed, Maryland did not become Pennsylvania – each state assigned certain powers to a federal government, and retained the rest. Lawful is not lawless, even where there is hard questioning and debate over what is really or ought to be 'lawful.' There are many different ways to connect with each other in the exercise of our Christian faith. Our movement toward the Jerusalem from above is obstructed, if we are situated like a collection of hermit crabs, each communion barricaded in its own shell of theological position, ecclesiastical organization and personal conscience. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom. 13:1 b. God created and enables all things, in providing the motive power for all events, outside of whose permissive will nothing ever can happen or could happen. Such establishment includes "the authorities that exist." As Jesus said to Pilate, "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above." God is the source of lawful authority. The present state of world and national affairs, including our legal and political structures, is not accidental. It may be temporary, or cause us to pray "How long, O Lord, will the wicked by jubilant?" But if we cannot obey our own lawful authority, exercising decisions derived from faith, there is no possibility of building a genuinely lawful structure. If we cannot debate our Christian statements, decrees, findings or laws, enable and enact our Christian decrees, respect or obey our Christian laws, because they come from the authority already announced and ordained by our God and Savior, we're not going to move. We are stranded in the valley of stasis. I am postmillennial, a believer in the Kingdom of God that comes into this world. The extension of Rom. 13:1 b is necessary. This verse sends us forward, makes us look to the future. The current set of authorities have been established by God. The next set of authorities will be established by God - and the next set, after that. We want this set of authorities, each set of authorities, to be better, more Christ-like. When we say more 'Christ-like,' it is not reasonable to expect that denominational and theological differences are going to evaporate. We want to be Christ-like as we assume, or obey, or exchange, this developing authority which expresses itself in constitutional forms among us - not because it results in theocracy or theonomy (or any other system of being ruled by the laws of the Old Testament). Rather, we remember that the "authorities that exist" may be us, or may not be; and if we're not holding office at the moment, we may retain our theological positions or political differences. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, has special significance when we are talking about different groups of Christians contending over beliefs, ideas, or courses of conduct which may be supported and advanced by force of decree, statement or law. If we are going to move toward a more complete Christian community, theological convictions count, inspiration counts, but also, impartiality counts. We want the debate (and the penalties for losing the debate on whatever topic is at hand) to be just and impartial. The rules, the conduct, the doctrine, whatsoever it is under discussion, and the statement or law that issues from them, or us, are to be impartial. The means and procedure of discussing, debating, challenging or appealing the decision regarding the resolution of Christian issues, have to be impartial. Due Process is a legal term but it paves a spiritual road. It means notice of the issue at hand, before the time and place of decision, and the opportunity to be heard on the point by the decision-makers. We hope valued impartiality flows into our political and national lives. But whether it does or does not flow nationally, we have to communicate these exchanges and accord this due process among ourselves in an impartial manner – and then voluntarily respect the outcome. The amorality of the present state of our national political life is not ultimately acceptable, but neither it is acceptable to go back to the political situation, rife with religious persecutions, that characterized Great Britain (and here in New England) in the 17th century. We do not criminalize people with whom we disagree. We will not move toward a golden, millennial age until we capture solutions to both sets of problems – spiritual unity which enables voluntary association and cooperation, and spiritual dissent. Our risen Lord Jesus has set us a mid-term examination. God has graciously provided us guidance. As explained by Locke in his Second Treatise, sect. 131: And so whoever has the legislative or supreme power of any commonwealth, is bound to govern by established standing laws, promulgated and known to the people, and not by extemporary decrees; by indifferent [impartial] and upright judges, who are to decide controversies by those law; and to employ the force of the community at home, only in the execution of such laws; or abroad to prevent or redress foreign injuries, and secure the community from inroads and invasion. And all this to be directed to no other end but the peace, safety, and public good of the people. The peace that Jesus confers - "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you" (John 14:27), connects to this Lockean peace, safety and the public good. The kingdom of God ("Thy kingdom come," Jesus taught us to pray, Mat. 6:10, "on earth as it is in heaven.") and "the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations," Rev. 22:2, converge on this peace. They are intended for this-world Christian implementation, and this implementation and obedience to God's will is not beyond us. John Locke described the "peace, safety and public good of the people" in terms that were attainable. He presented his solution at the time of intense religious persecution that frequently was the excuse, rather than the reason, for political persecution. The experience of the Amish community in self-regulation provides some useful guidance. The Nashville Statement, signed initially by more than 150 evangelical leaders, affirming what is set forth or implied in Scripture about sexuality, particularly Romans ch. 1, is a productive step toward our self-regulation and our movement toward a Holy City. The Nashville Statement engendered disagreement and resentment. Nor do I endorse all views, on all issues, of those Christians who developed the Nashville Statement. The point is to cooperate as actively and as far as we can, but no further. Theological statements and decisions are presented to address conflicting positions. The resentment within large elements of our national society, of the Christian position on the sexual issues addressed in the Nashville Statement, is intense – but that is acceptable. Disregard of God's Word engenders its own consequences. We want to be frog-marched off the Titanic of modern secular culture and nominal Christianity - thrown unceremoniously into a little lifeboat named Jesus and the Bible. We expect to be marginalized with the world's imprecations following, as the Titanic leaves us behind. We may bob in the ocean of broad societal disapproval for a short season. It's not hard to see the iceberg coming. After the iceberg has done its work, we, the Christian community, build a better world. We may communicate our own internal understandings and direction without surrendering those theological positions which are essentially non-negotiable. John Locke calls out the following elements in the above-recited passage: legislative power, established law, impartial judges, a judicious use of 'force' to execute such laws, directed to peace, safety and public good – and we would add, for the community of our faith. The challenge is to connect that political peace, of which we are clearly capable, with Jesus' spiritual peace. The alternative, the Valley of Christian Stasis, is incapable of being characterized as good faith. That is not how the Book of Revelation ends. To disconnect the two kinds of peace, to say that the peace that Jesus provides is always and forever not of this world, is to take a position on eschatology. That is to take the position that the Kingdom of God is not coming (despite praying "thy Kingdom come") in this world except by the visible return of Christ but in no other way. It is to take the position that the Great Commission does not fully succeed (apparently, then, a command to partial failure?). It is to take the position that the ending of Romans ch. 16 ("so that all nations might believe and obey him") doesn't count. If the Kingdom of God is coming in this world, then those good ends that John Locke asserted - peace, safety, the public good - have to be realized in the context of a multitude of Christian expressions (the 'Seven Churches' of Revelation), giving rise to our City in Motion. The political events of the last two thousand years include what has politically taken place in this country in the last 250 years. We may begin with the Deist-influenced proclamation of the Declaration of Independence (which, despite its Deist influences, repeatedly and insistently invokes God, the Creator, the Supreme Judge, and Divine Providence), which is also directly of God. The Declaration of Independence, like all other expressions of common grace, is directed by and under the authority of our risen Lord, Jesus. Pilate's authority derived from Roman military and civil power gets the benefit of God's imprimatur, as spoken by Jesus. Then surely also so does the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers. We have political tools. We need to use them. We don't want to supplant the state, we want to create a miniature of a Constitutional and legislative system, for ourselves, entered into by three gates: by Christian faith, by subscription to the doctrine of Scriptural inerrancy, and by a commitment to a forward-looking eschatology. Beyond that, once through those gates 'of the outer courtyard,' we acknowledge a diversity of views, a gathering of seven churches, a lively exchange of ideas. We will make and find our city and move toward peace, joy, and the enjoyment of the presence of God, characterized by our love for God, and our love for each other. There, we will be in a position to lead useful and interesting lives and have enjoyable and interesting discourse. We do not resurrect the past, look to the past, long for the days of ancient Israel, look for theocratical forms of government, or long for the days when our particular theology will be adopted by everyone. Christianity is just beginning. "By calling this covenant new, he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." Heb. 8:13. The orchestra is just tuning up - we're barely getting started. I have no use at all for nostalgia. To quote a modern theologian, Greg Bahnsen: Postmillennialists believe, therefore, that the kingdom of God will gradually grow on earth, visibly, publicly, and externally. . . It will grow through the gradual conversion of the nations – through the preaching of the Word of God. . . . This salvation of many people must have visible expression and influence and be seen in an outward culture in society. (Victory in Jesus, Bahnsen, CMP 1999, p. 27). (See also, Postmillennialism, an Eschatology of Hope, Keith A. Mattison, P&R Publishing, 1999; The Victory of Christ's Kingdom, John Jefferson Davis, Canon Press, 1996; Prophecy and the Church, Oswald Allis, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1978 (critique of dispensationalism); He Shall Have Dominion, Kenneth Gentry, Apologetics Group Media, 2009 (thorough defense of postmillennialism); and An Eschatology of Victory, J. Marcellus Kik, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1971) ("the Holy City is situated in time and history . . . " p. 245). (Noting also with all these authors, that their theology is learned, their eschatology is inspiring, their legal and political theory needs better direction.) Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves." Rom:13:2. Paul instructed Christians in the Roman Empire, where we began as a tiny minority. Stay out of trouble, direct your energy away from rebellion, stay away from political revolt or disobedience. Move in our spiritual life and the witness to the growing faith. Paul was concerned about building the church locally and across geographical distances and cultural groups. It was the Holy Spirit saying, "it's okay to obey the Roman authorities – in fact, you should, this is part of your obedience to me, unless (as is clear from the Book of Revelation), you are being asked to deny Christ or otherwise blaspheme." Christ warned his disciples to stay clear of the military and political disaster coming because of the Jewish rebellion brewing against Roman authority in his pointed discourse at the Mount of Olives. In whatever direction we decide to move, it must meet the fundamental standards enunciated by Paul. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment, but also because of conscience. That is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give to everyone what you owe him; if you owe taxes, pay taxes, if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Rom. 13:3-7. Christian, don't do the crime, if you can't do the time. The bearing of the sword is intended for punishment. The state has a monopoly on the use of force, for a good reason. Generally, Christian conscience acts in conjunction with the state (but not always, see, e.g., Martin Luther King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail). In his Letter to the Romans, Paul meant a number of different things by 'the Law,' understood by context: the Ten Commandments, the Law of Moses implying a special revelation of God's will to the Jews, natural law available to and applicable to all people, spiritual law to be followed by Christians out of obedience to the gospel, the law of love, Roman civil or criminal law to be obeyed at the risk of punishment, the law of conscience, including accusations or defenses of conscience, the law of interior struggle with sin, sin and death itself, and the new life of the Spirit - all are referenced in Paul's letter, all characterized in his writing as or associated with the Law. The Law shows us our sins by holding up a mirror to our conduct in the light of God's Law, sending us to call on Christ's atoning mercy. The Law protects the weak from wrongdoing at the hands of those stronger and is essential to a civil society. The Law in all its forms and expressions is surely the great chain, wielded by an angel, which binds Satan in Rev. 20:1 and 2. As the Holy City comes down out of heaven as described in the 21st Chapter of Revelation, it is not described as the City of Law. By implication, the City may be protected by Law. Law may reinforce its walls and its gate. Spiritual law may flow from and through the Church to separate those who may enter the City of God from those who may not. But the Holy City's light, foundations, jewels, gates, streets, river, fountains, or its Tree of Life are not described in terms of Law. In the Sacred City of divine and human joy, where Christ reigns by acclamation, by love and by power, the purposes of the Law have been fulfilled. Lawlessness has no place in the City as it can never enter in. The Abyss may be escaped, only to give rise to further battle and fire, but the Holy City is prepared as a bride. The description of the Millennial City calls us to something higher, further and more perfect than Law as a goal and end of human society. The Law has a purpose and an end, and it reaches fulfillment in Christ's work on the Cross. In a more perfect society, where equity is done everywhere, there is no need to petition a court of equity for relief. Where love and trust are more perfect among people, no judge is needed to assert jurisdiction, hear argument or rule for one party or the other. In a meeting with our beloved, we who love fold our papers, close our law books and put our contracts aside. Their purpose has been served. Love keeps no record of wrong, so we may leave the courtroom. We go to meet for a wedding ceremony and a feast. The beauty of the meeting calls us to travel the road. Questions arise about doing right, what obedience means, in a Constitutional democracy where we are asked to play a part. The part we play nationally, whatever it is, to which we are also called and from which we refuse to be disenfranchised, is not the same as the spiritual movement we pursue among ourselves. We are called to something higher than the surrounding political confrontation and factionalism (not an easy problem to solve; see Federalist No. 10 – Madison thought the danger of factionalism would be solved by the new Constitution, and clearly that has not been the case). John Locke thought the solution was self-evident. "[F]or nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life or property of another. . . Thus the law of nature stands as an eternal rule to all men, legislators as well as others. The rules that they make . . . must be conformable to the law of nature, i.e., to the will of God . . ." 2nd Treatise, sect. 135. To say something must be conformable to the will of God, or the law of nature or an eternal rule, has proved to be guidance not so obvious, beyond the first application, of not destroying life. Many Christians are united on this point at least. Given the number of abortions being performed annually in the United States and western world generally, even Locke's standard of 'not taking away life' appears to have given way to a notion of personal rights that is practically unlimited in its scope or application. In the case of abortion on demand, the notion is tragic on a massive scale, leads to infanticide (and the purposeful abortion of Downs' syndrome babies), is contrary to God's will, is destructive of our national political fabric, and presents an irresistible temptation to federal courts to exceed their Constitutional jurisdiction and intended scope of authority. Next to the Dred Scott decision, Roe v. Wade is the worst decision ever made by the U.S. Supreme Court, and its consequences have been destructive. The decision raises political problems regardless of religious faith – there is no serious legal question of any type that cannot be formulated into a query about individual rights and then answered in such a way as to make individual rights (defined to assure the preferred outcome) preempt and supersede any other type of right. In the case of abortion, all that is necessary is to deny the definition of human life to children in the womb. The definitions decide the outcome. When we now use the term 'civil rights' the meaning is – rights of the individual. In current judicial reasoning, advancing individual rights is always expansive of the good, as long as the individuals are out of the womb. In current judicial reasoning, the rights of the group are nearly always oppressive, subtracting from the net benefit of civil society. My civil rights cannot be added to the civil rights of my fellow citizens, in such a way as to develop a society promoting religiously-based ethical views. One hundred thousand people may not be lead in prayer at a government-sponsored or funded event, if one objects. If it is necessary to justify protecting children in the womb from destruction by making a religious argument, because the definition of the beginning of life implies theological and ethical reasoning, then the destructive consequences of advancing individual rights above other rights are wrongly justified as compelled by the implied language of the Constitution. An intellectual shell game has been played by our federal judiciary, of which Roe v. Wade is the most notorious example – get the definitions right, set up the conflict as the individual vs. the group (included in 'the group' is any assembly of state legislators) – and the desired judicial result will pop out like candy from a dispenser. From this Christian's viewpoint, and I am also a citizen of this nation, this is unacceptable. As an individual, my name is not "Congress," as in the 1st Amendment ("Congress shall make no law"). The idea that ethical decisions, which result in law, may not have religious foundations, is to be rejected. The idea that I may not join with others to vote for or to pass laws which at some point in their chain of reasoning, rely on religious belief or revelation, is to be rejected. A method of judicial reasoning which relies on carefully-crafted initial definitions and nomenclature to avoid the obvious, observable acts of medically terminating life, with the resulting infant body parts available for marketing, is to be rejected. Political acts which have ethical foundations, which themselves have religious foundations, are ordinary acts of Constitutional self-rule, not the establishment of a theocracy. We will do better, because God will compel a better result. The City of God is a promise to seven churches, standing for a society of communities engaged in the voluntary worship of God and obedience to Christ. Discovering the will of God, in our own relations with other Christians, raises harder questions than challenging bad national law or opposing abortion on demand. Discovering God's will mean moving forward to our own better self-governing society, even if we construct a model first on a 'table-top,' as it were. I quote a passage from Locke which will have a familiar sound to any reader familiar with the Declaration of Independence: Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavor to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected . . . 2nd Treatise, sect. 225. Locke observed that the people may "rouse themselves." Indeed, 'rousing ourselves' is essential. But in what way did the Apostle Paul view 'rousing ourselves?' The difficulty with Paul's passage in Romans ch. 13:3-7, is its static nature. Those admonitions made sense then, for a small religious minority in a vast pagan empire. The Roman authorities were there, and the Roman Christians submitted to them, and were grateful to God for the opportunity to worship him in peace. There was no political development implied; it was intentional separation from Roman interference, by giving no cause for offence, for purposes of Christian religious practice. A difficulty with the passage of Locke cited above is that it takes the matter one, but only one, drastic step forward. If the authorities are inflicting a "long train of abuses . . . all tending the same way" then the people ought to put "the rule into such hands as may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected." Locke's concepts are binary, but they also will become static – either the people accept the "great mistakes and wrong laws without mutiny or murmer" – or, as the American people did in 177 6, they "rouse themselves" to "put the rule into such hands, etc.," in other words, to put governmental rule into American hands in the legislatures of the American states. Continuing, aspirational movement was not contemplated by John Locke either. The wasn't the problem he was facing 320 years ago, but it is a problem we are facing now. There is much the Book of Revelation does not do. There is one thing it does do, beyond its powerful encouragement in the face of persecution – it says, 'look, there's a goal here, a destination, and we want to get to it.' The Book has an end, and the end is a City. The Great Commission is equally dynamic – Jesus telling us "Go, make disciples." There's a goal here, a command, something we are supposed to be doing – and disciples, discipling and discipline has to extend to more than personal conscience, to the exclusion of Christian community. The argument against amillennialism is parallel to the argument against premillennialism (whether in its dispensational presentation or classical presentation) – those doctrines don't go anywhere. When it comes to Revelation ch. 21 and 22, these doctrines 'sit on their hands.' Rather, our doctrine of eschatology is postmillennial (Christ comes after ("post") the millennium) by our voluntary choice, by Revelation's destination, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit to reach a millennium in this world. Jesus is awaited at the end of the golden, millennial period, however long and wonderful that period may be, a thousand years or a ten times a thousand years – and we have acted in obedience to him in making or moving to such a society and such a world. (For the Kingdom of God will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property - one to receive five talents, one to receive two, another, to receive one). Our goal is forward. Neither John Lock or the Apostle Paul, or Jesus, say: "let's go back to an Old Testament theocracy as soon as we have a chance." Hence, my profound disagreement with all forms of political theocracy, theonomy, etc. We move to the future here, in terms of our political understanding – our Lord Jesus has not been asleep for the last 2000 years. For that matter, if you need open-heart CABG surgery as I did, you will not seek out a doctor who applies the methods of healthcare available in the days of Moses – there are no instructions in the Old Testament for a triple-bypass procedure. Common grace has done something with respect to medical care, as it has done something with respect to political theory which the churches may apply. After the passage quoted above about obeying the authorities, the Apostle Paul moved directly, with no further transition, to a society characterized by love that has already internalized the Law. The movement is sudden between Rom. 13:7, extolling obedience to external Roman authority, sharing neither political power or a faith with us, to Rom. 13:8. Here is our endpoint: Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. If we wish to go On the Road now (and we find ourselves On the Road whether we wish it or not) – static conceptions will not do. We construct with the law in the manner of a homebuilder, using our tools to lay on progressively wiser and more effective structural elements, until we reach the fulfillment of home-building, a home where we may love. That is the postmillennial vision – a millennial world, a golden age of faith, love and peace, before Christ returns. The thousand years of the millennium in Ch. 20 is both a reality and a symbol for that vision. The reality of God's ordaining will is a driving movement. Growth through the Holy Spirit is neither limited to or circumscribed by the symbol of a thousand year time period. We travel to an end and a society good beyond words. Our driving force and our destination comes from God. Golden ages are hard to come by, but not only can we get there, we will. Christ has called us to this, and his sobriety and his power in doing so is beyond question. ____________________________________
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