Monthly Archives: April 2013

The False Understanding of Romans 9: We’ve had our fun, now let’s look at what Romans 9 REALLY says

Okay, two new posts in a row today.  What can I say…it’s warm, quiet, kids are playing nice, so, time to get to it! 🙂

The Bible IS a tool for man’s use.  God is not a tool for man’s use.  God does not exist in service to man.  God is not obligated to man, but man is wholly subject to His own will.  Man cannot coerce or bait or demand of God anything, including salvation, based on any idea that is separate from God’s volitional prerogative as THE preeminent free-willed Creator.

Sounds pretty much like arbitrary election, doesn’t it.  And that is Romans 9, right?

Not so fast.

You see, this is the point of Romans 9…but it is also a point which Christian teachers epidemically misunderstand and misstate. The whole point of Roman’s 9 is not a diatribe on man’s free volition and willful choice being meaningless to his salvation; it is an argument against the Jewish idea that God is OWES man his salvation, apart from His will, choice, and graces; that is, God is merely man’s tool to be used in service to justification.  Because the Jews did the right things by the Law, and claimed lineage to Abraham, they falsely thought that God was obligated to “elect” them.  Paul’s point is that this is an affront to God’s sovereign Will. We cannot hold God’s feet to the fire, either based on “works of the law” or by the collective we belong to (we are “the elect”, we are “the Jews”, thus, God OWES us salvation).  But this does not mean that man is not ABLE to freely choose Christ; that is a total, and yet ubiquitous, misrepresentation of Paul’s argument. 

In fact, I would argue that when Christians appeal to “predestined election” or “unconditional election”–their typical interpretation of Romans 9–they adopt precisely the same argument as the Jews, which Paul was denying.  We cannot demand that God save us based on some claim we have, some philosophy, work, lineage, OR idea of “unconditional election” because this in fact nullifies God’s will as a sovereign consciousness.  God is NEVER obligated on the basis of some external-to-himself concept or idea to save ANYONE.  His free will demands that He will exercise His sovereign right to extend salvation to those who may either not know about a particular idea, or work, or heritage, or do not accept it/belong to it.  God will save those HE CHOOSES (but this is NOT an argument that He saves them outside their will; for to do this is the same violation of an individual consciousness that Paul, in Romans 9, is arguing the Jews are doing by appealing to Law or Abraham…in order to force God to action against His WILL, claiming an external-from-God “authority”…i.e., the Law/heritage).  And why would He choose them?  Because, as we know because we are Christians, they appeal to CHRIST as their salvation, to God, Himself, not some heritage, tradition, or idea (like, for example, unconditional election).

A closer look at Roman’s 9, using reason as a guide, and Christ, meaning GOD, as His freely chosen will and burden-free avenue to justification, quickly dispels the false notion that believing in Christ, and wanting His free gift is somehow “works” salvation.

(PART 2, CH. 1)–The Boy Stranger: A free novel (Can you spot the allegory…er, metaphor…er, both?)

HINT:  The primary purpose of this novel is to highlight my philosophical belief that all reality and truth is fundamentally and singularly bound within the physical world.  That beyond the physical, the visceral, and the natural, all other “truth” is abstract, and thus, the driving force of all real morality, as well as our justification before God is our very created selves.  Furthermore, I believe the consciousness to be an inexorable part of the biological, though capable of putting one outside of their own physical existence theoretically, based on quantifiable observations.  Nevertheless, this unique ability of man’s consciousness does NOT change the reality that all that exists and is truth is actual, objective physical “things”, of which man is preeminent…and thus, the material universe IS the source of all spirits and souls.  And of course, as a Christian, I consider God to be the very definition of the perfect, visceral, utterly real IT, or, as He puts it better, I AM.  If He is not physically REAL, by very essence, then what is?  I am not suggesting that GOD is an abstraction, is what I mean to say.  If nothing else, the PERSON of Jesus Christ obviously proves that.  On the contrary, there can in fact be no abstract attribute ascribed to God within his own existential framework.  He is utterly ALL He is and all He thinks and all He does…all of that IS God.  And that is why God is One.

The secondary purpose of this novel is to show the destructive pitfalls which result from seeing reality through the lens of abstract constructs; that is, basing one’s assumption of “truth” (moral or otherwise) on a figment of man’s ability to think OUTSIDE his physical environment.  One one hand, we have the practical, uber here-and-now thinking “Jason”; on the other, his sister, Lucy.  The persistent dreamer, almost to the point of madness. And still to come, Leonard, the “faceless man”…the physical embodiment (as he seems to think) of the all powerful abstraction:  “god”…but not the true God.  No, “god”, but devoid of the boundaries of man’s existential–though certainly no less true–reality…that is, reason, logic, metaphysical and moral consistency.  He, that is Leonard, of course, could thus be consider the symbolism for mystic despotism, or, as John Immel puts is, spiritual tyranny.  And if you consider him thus, you will not be wrong.  That is part of it. 

Er…I also hope the novel is , you know, fun to read and a good story.

And now, on we go, with our heroes, long suffering Credence family:

On the platform were two men in wool pants and white shirts with the sleeves rolled up.  They were standing next to the Credence family’s great trunks discussing and something in loud voices, not paying much attention to anything but their own conversation. The boy sniffed the air and there was just a hint of coldness on it; just an aftertaste of a chill. It was getting on early autumn, and though it was still very warm in Richmond this time of year, it was much cooler in South Dakota.  Here the boy understood that the chill came early and stayed late, and already there was something cold under the surface of the season.

The boy looked at the men standing next to the great trunks and noticed that they were wearing hats.  They did not look like father’s hats, though, but more like the hats that the horse handlers wore back in Richmond.  The boy recognized something familiar in the uncaring, lazy way about these men.

Father gestured toward the great trunks and told the men that he and the family were ready to go.  The men didn’t seem to pay any attention to father, but the boy knew that they must have heard him because they turned and, still talking to themselves, lifted the great trunks into the air and began to walk with them.

Lucy was still smiling as the men loaded the trunks onto the wagon, which was hitched to one white horse, with splashes of gray on its back and near its hooves.  The boy noticed that mother was smiling too, but he thought there was something different about the way she was smiling. There was something not real about mother’s smile.  It was like during the War when the boy would sometimes see certain gray soldiers back in Richmond salute their officers, but he could tell that there was no meaning behind it; or that the meaning had somehow changed.

“Jason, you must come now,” mother said.  “Get on the wagon and stop thinking so much.  Get out of your mind and see this new place around you.  You seem very slow today, and I feel like a cat tugging on a snagged string.”

The boy said, “And I am that string, caught in the splinter of a door.” He smiled.

“You are the string, Jason. Always dragged along this way or that way, by some whim or thought, or another,” mother said.

“And I am a fuse,” Lucy said with a giggle.  “We are both strings, Jason, just not the same kind.”

They all climbed into the wagon and were soon underway.

“Jason,” mother said as they bumped along the dirt road.  “What do you think of South Dakota?”

“Do you think they will like father’s hats?” the boy replied.

“I don’t know what they will think of them.  I don’t know enough about this place, same as you.  Same as Lucy, except she pretends she knows, which is fine because it’s the way she is and it suits her.  But I don’t know. I agree they do not have many hats here like the kind your father wants to sell.  But then, this could be a good thing.  Maybe something of the East out here in the West will suit them.”

“Mother, have you noticed the way their boots are so dirty?” the boy said.  “Where are the cobblestones?”

Mother shrugged.  “It’s just the streets here, Jason.”

“They are just dirt,” he said.

“Oh, you two,” Lucy said.  “I just don’t understand you.  You see only dirty boots and dead cows on tracks and dirty streets.  I saw your face, Jason, when the man was talking about the cows.  Father and I do not see it like this.  We see lovely people who need what we have brought here.  We see that it is bright in South Dakota—at least today it is bright.  And so why should we not think it will be bright every day?  And I know that you see it’s bright, too, Jason, but when you see the brightness all you can think about is the moon and your burning candle by your bed in Richmond.  You loved that burning candle.  Even when all of Richmond was burning down around you, you lit that silly candle, and so I think you are a very strange boy.  So what if they have dirt on their streets and on their boots?  Father has purchased a beautiful ranch house out on the edge of Shadow.  It will probably have dirty floors and a dirty chimney, but does all that dirt mean that it’s not beautiful?”

Mother said, “Lucy, you are my very sweet daughter.  I think it’s indeed bright in South Dakota, but I don’t think it was bright until the cheerful Lucy arrived here.”

The horse looked very uninterested as she pulled the wagon up the very long, very narrow dirt road to the ranch house on the outskirts of Shadow.  There were two men on the wagon sitting on the front bench with father.  Father seemed very impatient, even more impatient than the men, and he was snapping his fingers at his family, who were in the back of the wagon between the trunks.  Father was sitting on the bench, up at the front of the wagon, between the two men who had come along to drive the wagon and to help unload the trunks.

“When we arrive, you must hurry with the trunks, and help these men, and get them unloaded quickly,” Father said.  “You see that these are very busy men and they are in a hurry, so we must also be in a hurry.  This is what you do when you come to a new place.  If you do what you’ve always done, then you are very silly and you should never have bothered leaving the place you came from.”

“Father, if that’s true, then why do you intend to set up your shop here in South Dakota?  Isn’t that what we’ve always done?  The only difference is that we’ll do it here, now.  Something of the East here in the West, as mother said.  What’s wrong with that?” the boy said.

Father replied, “Lucy is right about the hats.  We’ll sell them, but we’ll just have to do it quickly, and catch the people as fast as they are moving.  Things move very quickly in South Dakota.”

Father turned away from the family and said something to the men driving the wagon, but the boy could not hear it.  Father was blinking quickly and his cheeks were twitching.  The horse, on the other hand, hardly ever blinked, and her tail swished lazily as she pulled the wagon with slow and deliberate clomps of her feet.

***

 

The ranch house was low and had a faded, gray-tan hue like the land around it, and was crooked and sagging at the ends.  The boards of the house bowed and curled as half-hearted and bent nails protruded from them.  The windows were closed securely and were colorless and bland and seemed to reflect nothing at all.  The curtains behind them were old and bunched and knotted.

The curtains and the tightly closed windows reminded the boy of an aunt he had back in Richmond who wore her hair in a motionless braid and pursed her wrinkled lips sharply and almost never blinked. As the boy stared at the old ranch house, he thought of this aunt and something that happened to him a long time ago:

When he was nine, the boy walked into a room in the family’s row house in Richmond to find that his aunt was dead.  She was sitting in a chair next to a window, where the afternoon sun fell upon her body, and he stood just a few feet behind her, a little off to the side.  A little while later the boy’s mother walked up behind him and asked him how long he’d been there. The boy couldn’t remember exactly, but it had been quite some time.  There was still sun upon the body of his dead aunt, but the sun was the golden color of a late afternoon at that point, not the bright sun of the morning it had been when he walked in.

When the boy walked into the room it had not taken long for him to discover that his aunt was dead.  But the strange thing was that this fact didn’t seem to have any practical effect on him.  It didn’t keep him from talking to her for a time, and moving the hair gently from her eyes, and placing her tea delicately on the window sill, and reading a little of her favorite book out loud to her, as was his daily custom when she came to stay with the family.  He didn’t do anything particularly different than he normally would have, except that when he was finished with his routine, he went back to standing behind her, a little off to the side.  Perhaps this strange behavior was due  to his youth.  Or perhaps it was that his aunt had always a certain look about her that was the same in death as it was in life.

When mother came in the room she looked at the dead aunt in a way that one would look at a dead bird in the yard.  She told the boy that it was just as well and then quickly made him promise to never tell anyone she said this.

Then she said something about how death has a way of bringing out the personality of someone like this aunt. Then she made the boy promise to never tell anyone she said this, either.

The boy asked mother what she meant by this, and she replied that she meant more than one thing.  She then told him that if he really wanted to understand he needed only to go to the funeral.  So the boy went to the funeral a few days later with the family, and he found out that mother was right.

The preacher gave a speech and said many nice things about this dead aunt, and the boy understood that the things he said just didn’t fit.  The coffin fit, that is to say it fit around her like it had been there all her life.  But the words of the preacher did not make sense to him.  And also his aunt’s eyes were closed and her lips were turned up into a peaceful smile, and this didn’t make sense to the boy either because he had never seen her smile before.

***

The back of the ranch house was set towards the snow covered mountain in the distance.  The snow looked like a noose around the neck of the mountain, and there was a dark, gray curtain of clouds above and behind it that reminded the boy of the hoods they put on men’s heads just before they dropped them through the gallows in Richmond during the War.  The boy shuddered at this thought and drove it from his mind.  He needed to be more like Lucy, he thought.  He’d probably sleep better at night if he were, especially in South Dakota.

The windows of the house reflected no sunlight, and the boy wondered if anything at all could give a reflection way out there by the ranch house.  Did rivers and lakes give off a reflection, or did they just look like big holes in the ground?  He didn’t know of any rivers or lakes nearby, but he supposed that there must be some.  The melting snow from the mountain had to go somewhere.  If it ever melted, that is.  It was much colder there than it was in Richmond this time of year, the boy thought.  Colder in South Dakota and even colder out there in the lonely plains where the ranch house stood.

The land was very flat and hard around the ranch house, for the most part.  At irregular intervals there were crops of brush and some holes in the ground made by some animal or other, and there were three or four trees standing huddled together several meters away that looked to the boy like they had wandered out too far and gotten lost.  There was also a deep well in the front yard that was dry and dusty-looking on the outside.  A bucket hung lifelessly askew from an old rope underneath the small roof of the well housing.

The boy went to the well and put his head down into it.  There was a very strong, unpleasant odor.  For a moment he was afraid that perhaps it was not a well, but a grave.  He jerked his head back in disgust and banged it on the bucket.  It hurt, but he was relieved because the bucket reminded him that, yes, it was a well, not a tomb.  But the smell was still not good, and the boy thought that if he ever fell down into that well he’d die from the smell before he hit the bottom.

Dead bones.  That’s what it smelled like to him.  Dead bones piled high in the blackness.  And he knew very well what that smelled like; he remembered from the war in Richmond.  The bones smelled and they were all the same; blue or gray or black or white, they all smelled the same.  All the skulls were the same skull, and all the legs were the same leg, there was no difference.

Mother said, “Jason, the trunks are unloaded off the wagon, no thanks to you.  Truly you’re a foolish boy, and a dullard, with an imagination as empty as that bucket that you just cracked your head on.  But I don’t blame you completely, for the men moved very fast, as they tend to do here in South Dakota.  I hope that things will not move too fast for us like that all the time, because then where will we be?”

“I’m not sure, mother,” the boy said.  “I suppose nowhere.”

Mother nodded, and looked up at the mountain in the distance.

“Anyway,” she said. “They have left us the wagon and the horse, which will be helpful.”

Father picked up one end of a trunk and began to drag it inside the ranch house

“We should get these inside and unpacked quickly,” he said. “Then we need to unload the hats and go to town and set up our new shop there.  If South Dakota moves quickly, then we better move quickly, as well.  I am much too old and too tired to go any further west, where the ocean is; which is the other place that some men from the East are going.  Anyway, we don’t have the money for that even if we wanted to.”

“The ocean is very far away,” the boy said.  “I don’t even think I could pretend to see the ocean from my bedroom window here, like I could in Richmond.”

Lucy said, “Jason, I fear for you because you’re so dull.  South Dakota is a full half way to the ocean.  It was my dream too, once, to see the ocean at both ends.  But at least I am halfway there.  And that’s how it goes with dreams sometimes.  You are lucky to get them at a half if you can.  You should understand this and not think so much about Richmond.”

Then Lucy turned to father. “Oh, father, it is so lovely here!  So bright and such land!  How I have dreamed of such land!  Land that is a great open and laughing mouth that breaths in and out and sends the cool wind over us to refresh us and not to hinder us. Such wonderful openness and no houses around for our own house to lean upon.  Not like in Richmond.  Can this be anything but freedom?”

Father grunted and jerked the trunk over a loose board near the door.

“Until the war,” he muttered.

“What did you say, Holland?” mother said.

“When the war came, there were no houses for ours to lean on,” father said. “I don’t see much difference here when it comes to that, Lucy.”

The boy looked around and he could not imagine the land laughing, like Lucy had said.  Like the ocean, it was too far for his imagination to reach.  But if it was an open mouth, he thought, it was not laughing.  It was snoring, or worse.  And the only freedom he felt was the kind of freedom one feels when he is lost in the desert.  But then, he was the dull boy, and Lucy was the one mother said was born with all the lightning and imagination.

Yes, he really needed to be more like Lucy, the boy thought.  Lucy saw much.  Much more than anyone else saw, and if this made her happy then he needed to be more like her.  He was so amazed that his sister had such a gift to see so many things, even things that were not even there. She saw laughing. He saw snoring, or worse. He was a dullard and she was lighting, so he decided that he would try to believe her and not listen to his own thoughts so much.

The boy also decided that he needed to be more like father.  He was a boy that thought too much, but father was a man who just did what needed to be done, like move his family from Richmond to South Dakota to sell hats, without thinking much about it.  There were so many people he needed to be like in his family he thought, and he began to wonder why he was even there.  But this was an unpleasant thought, like the noose of snow around the neck of the mountain, and he tried to put it out of his mind.

Mother said, “Children, obey your father and help him get those trunks inside.  Move quickly.  I feel a wind blowing, like a storm is coming.  If the trunks are stuck outside in the rain then they will be ruined, and if they are ruined then the only place we will have to put our things is this house, which I don’t believe is quite big enough.  And be especially careful of the latches and the hinges on the trunks because they are so delicate.”

Lucy skipped towards the front door of the ranch house, patting her brother playfully on the shoulder as she went by.

“Do what mother says, Jason, and help father bring in the trunks.  I am going to pick out my room,” she said, and disappeared inside the house with her braided hair bouncing behind her.

The boy picked up the other great trunk and dragged it towards the door and inside the house.

“Where should I put this trunk, mother?” he asked.

“Anywhere it will fit,” she said.

The boy stood in the doorway with one hand still holding one end of the great trunk and looked around.  It was dim and hard to see, but he could tell that the house was small.  He heard the latches on one of the trunks pop, and then he heard rummaging.  A moment later father began to light some candles and a lantern.

“Suppose it does not fit anywhere, mother,” the boy asked.

“Then force it,” mother said.

“But what about the delicate locks and hinges?”

“Who cares,” mother said. “Break them.  It’s selfish of me to wish them well.  I’m a good wife, Jason.  I have always thought it important to be a good wife ever since my mother taught me this.  I shouldn’t care about those trunks, and you and I should both stop thinking of Richmond.”

“Yes, mother,” the boy said, and went to find a place for the trunk.  He dropped it in the corner, then knelt down and popped the hinges.  He opened the trunk and began to unpack, but then he thought about what mother said, and about his decision to try to be more like Lucy, and he left the trunk and went to look around the house.

He came to a room toward the back of the house and noticed that there was a hole in the roof, large enough for a man to fit through.  It was a jagged hole, and it looked like it had been a weak spot in the wood, and that something heavy had been dropped through it.  It reminded him of the cannonball holes he’d seen in the homes in Richmond.  He looked at the hole curiously for a moment.

“Oh, my!  Jason!”  Lucy said, startling him as she appeared out of thin air behind him. “There is a hole in this roof!  And now I can see the beautiful day outside and the sun coming through.  Now I never even have to look out of the windows, which I have noticed are not so good for looking out of anyway.  What a wonderful place South Dakota is, to have such ways to see the brightness of the sky!”

The boy looked down and saw that there was an erratic stain from the water that had rained in through the hole in the roof and warped and discolored the wood of the floor.  Lucy looked at her brother, and saw that there was no expression on his face. He saw the hole and the stain, and there was nothing more in his face than that.  It was such a blank face, she thought, simply reflecting back what was right in front of him.  Or it was worse, she thought.  He was thinking about Richmond again.

Lucy said, “Oh, Jason.  I see that you’re a very silly boy, and a dullard, with an imagination like a dusty jar.  I don’t know why you are missing Richmond so. Why is it so hard for you to change?  Why can’t you appreciate the freedom we have here?  Are you so used to our row house, with its four walls and floors and roof, and people on all sides of us?  Why can’t you appreciate the freedom we have here in South Dakota, where the walls and roof are unattached, and the neighbors are few?  And what is so wrong with the wind and the rain coming in?”

Lucy began to cry.  Her lips trembled, and she wiped frantically at her eyes.

“I know you have bright memories of your burning candle by your bed, and of Richmond, and I have bright memories, too!” she said.  “But my brightest memory is when the general brought his blue fire to the city!  I was so afraid of the fire reaching our walls because the walls were so thick and tight and I knew that they would burn for a long, long time, and so we would also burn that way!  But I do not fear that here!  Here our walls are thin and the fire will burn them up quickly, if it comes, and so we won’t have to suffer long, not like in Richmond!  And perhaps we might even escape, and if we do there will be no throngs in the streets to block our way!  So don’t you see, Jason, you silly boy, that South Dakota is a good place where everything moves quickly, even the fire.  Now you must go and tell mother about this wonderful hole in your roof!  You will go and tell her of the brightness of the sky and the wind on your face, right in this room!  Go!  Go now!”

She screamed at the boy to leave, but instead of waiting for him to move, she turned and ran from him, sobbing heavily.

After a moment the boy turned and looked one more time at the hole in the roof.  He wondered how many of father’s fancy hats it would take to cover it up.

Reconciling Free Will and Predestination Rationally: Consider–“Pre” or “fore” are constructs created by MAN; in Himself (in His frame of reference), God cannot do anything “before” or “after” any moment.

I invite all (four) of my readers to consider this:

How is it possible for God, who is, by definition, outside of time, able to predestine, foreknow, or elect anything? By definition, it is impossible to ascribe ANY ATTRIBUTE (place, name, action, will, thought, force, etc.) to that which does not exist. Thus, if God “foreknows”, how is that reconciled outside of the abstract construct of “time”? What I mean is, God cannot foreknow, but simply “know”, because there is no future with God (He is the I AM, not I was or will be) anything He declares IS already. Thus, all ideas of “pre” or “fore”, can only be rationally explained via the reference of man’s temporal existence. Thus, “FOREknowledge”, PREordinating” is a doctrine that is unique to MAN’S understanding of his reality. Since there is no “when” to God’s actions outside of man’s particular frame of reference, it is impossible to argue that God determined ANYTHING before it was brought to pass by CREATION’S own actions. The point being that since you cannot reconcile the meaning of “when” to GOD’S existential reality, we must reassess exactly what we mean by “God preordained”, and I would argue, we cannot logically conclude a certain specific “moment” or “when” to God’s actions. From God’s frame of reference, He cannot do anything before or after anything, and his knowledge is also not bound by a linear “arrow of time”.

The point of this is to say that God’s foreknowledge has nothing to do with the free volition of man. Man is free (and MUST) do and choose and act on his own behalf, and he is not constrained in his will by the idea that God knows (read: DETERMINES) the “future”.  There is no future for God to know UNTIL it is brought to pass by the willful actions of man.

Only You Can Be You: The irrelevancy of the arguments of God’s ownership and Will to the practical and functional engagement of life and action.

The argument that God owns man is a metaphysical point; a theological idea meant to convince man that the sum of LOVE is a refusal to violate the life and property of other human beings, and this also–as a fully recognized creation of God, encapsulating physical and moral perfection of such a designation, through Christ–must include himself.  This is why we as Christians are not permitted to use our pure righteousness in Christ as a license to “sin against our own bodies” by sleeping with prostitutes, for example, or consorting with demons. In other words, it is contradictory to the law of LOVE–which says that the greatest (and only objective moral good) is to esteem the whole person, be it another OR yourself–to whore yourself out to destruction and depravity in the name of freedom in Christ.

Okay.  Good.  So where do we take this idea from here?  Where does the doctrine inexorably lead us from this point:  freedom in Christ does not permit you to hate yourself by acting contrary to the ways of love in the name of “it’s MY body”?  What does this mean beyond this point?

We are led absolutely nowhere and it means absolutely nothing besides.

God owns man in the spiritual sense, in the Creator/Redeemer hierarchy, which is meant to serve as a hedge against the false and irrational claim that sin against oneself is not actually sin.  This of course, is false logic.  But in the practical sense, man certainly DOES own himself…because culpability and judgment/blessing is impossible apart from man’s whole access to his own volition.  And if man is the operator of his own will, which he is and must be in order for God to be just and to judge rightly, and for a moral dichotomy to exist, and man bears all responsibility accordingly, then it is impossible to declare that man is not the sole and complete owner of his LIFE.  Thus, God may own the man, but man owns the sum and total of his own life.  For man lives according to his own ability to BE which IS DOING, and this is of himself, not of God, because if it IS of God, God is a redundant hypocrite.  For God’s ability can never be man’s ability to ACT as a human.  And all of life, for all of Creation, is action.

It is also impossible to declare man merely a steward .  Man is not FOR GOD, because this is an impossible metaphysical idea–God is perfect, man can offer Him nothing, and man can never conform himself to that which is his impeccable Creator.  On the contrary, man must be for man.  And this being the case, man must be not the steward of his life, but the owner of it.  God has no use for man’s life…that is, He cannot BE man for man.  Man must BE himself.  And thus, stewardship is out of the question. God cannot own man’s life because God has no functional use for man’s life.  Either man’s life is his own, or life does not exist.  Man’s life can only be for man, never for God, is the point, and thus stewardship is a false metaphor.

Because man is not the product of himself, he cannot claim absolute ownership of himself.  But this idea does not lead to the conclusion that man has no right to dictate the terms of his own will, which effectively grants him the responsibility and moral obligation to engage the world as HE sees fit, so long as this does not violate the very distinct and very specific terms of divine “ownership”.  And that ownership can be summed up in this statement:  You MUST love yourself.  And in order to love yourself you have to have full and complete control of your own will and person.  THIS is the functional distinction between “God’s ownership”, which is merely the breadth of the law of love, and man’s ownership of himself, which is the functional, practical, and metaphysically logical truth of man’s life.

This is literally as far as you can take that idea, practically and empirically speaking.  There is no further argument one can make that isn’t immediately impossibly contradictory and mutually exclusive to the existential realities of both man and God.  It is little wonder then that reformed Christians have used this idea for centuries to garner tremendous amounts of influence and power over the masses they pretend to shepherd.  If we have learned nothing else from the Heidelberg Catechism, we’ve learned that you not owning your life is license for state sanctioned oppression in service to an ecclesiastical autocracy.  They love to take a simple metaphysical point and use it as a hammer with which to bludgeon the totally depraved into “right moral action” (e.g. commit the sum of their life and property to the leadership).   But make no mistake.  Any attempt to take this idea of God’s ownership any further into the metaphysical hinterland will only and ever lead towards a path of human disaffection, denigration, and destruction.

The fact that God owns you by virtue of creating you and by virtue of your regained status of moral and physical perfection apart from the Law has absolutely nothing to do with the philosophy of actually being human.  In other words, this does NOT mean that you are God’s slave…and as far as being “slaves to Christ”, the same premise is true:  you cannot take this any further that to acknowledge that each human being is obligated to commit themselves to a life of refusing to violate other human beings, their life, mind and property, and this includes ONES SELF; for this is the ONLY objective definition of love.  Any further “objectification” of Christian morality is ultimately subjective, and thus, should some tyrant decide that it should become the purview of the ecclesiastical brown shirts to enforce such, the compassionate truth of slavery to Christ in the metaphysical sense quickly becomes capricious judgment, and sinister injustice.

The idea that somehow man is responsible for the utterly intentional subversion of his will (which is a total contradiction in terms…you cannot willingly forfeit your will; that which is a function of the will cannot be, by definition, also a function of denying one’s will; the one controlling the will simply becomes the functional extension of he who “relinquished” his will).  This constitutes a divine redundancy—for God needs nothing, by definition—and thus, such a notion is impossibly contradictory to the reality of God, Himself.  To suggest that you can become the functional slave of God, by somehow relinquishing your will in service to a position of divine servitude is impossibly irrational.  As I have already said, it is impossible to both have a will and not have a will.  You cannot willfully forfeit your will.  If you were, for example, able to choose to forfeit your own volition to God, God’s acting on your behalf through you would STILL perpetually be a FUNCTION of YOUR will by allowing Him to subvert your will in the first place.  For example, if you gave your car to a friend, every action your friend took in the car would be directly the result of you giving your car to him or her.  Thus, though you would bear no legal culpability for his actions according to his own choices, the fact still remains that every action by your friend through the car you gave him is perpetually and directly related to YOU; to you giving the car to your friend.  You, and YOUR choice, is perpetually related to the car, no matter who has it.  Thus, though you may not directly possess the car, you are constantly and perpetually an integral component of that car.  In a sense, as long as you and the car exist, you “have” that car.  It is impossible for you to divorce yourself entirely from the reality of that car.  You bought it, and you gave it away.  Your choice to give it away is always a function of what happens to the car from then on out.

This is what I mean, in this example, of “you cannot have a will and not have one”.  If everything God does on your behalf is done through a will you gave him, then YOU are always and perpetually a function of whatever God does.  His doing is always a function of your will to give up your will.  Thus, it is impossible to divorce yourself from your will entirely for as long as you live.  But, alas…this is not even a great example, because, as we shall see, the very idea of you gifting your will for God’s utter use is fraught with impossible, insane, inane, and laughable contradictions.

You see, God doesn’t need your car.  God has a bad ass car all his own.  And really,  if God used your car, it would be at the expense of His own perfect ability to do and act apart from Creation, and thus, He would not be God; for He cannot contradict Himself.  And anyway, why street race with an ’87 Civic when you can street race with, er…God?  Giving your will to God, from any perspective but especially God’s, is just silly and naive.

In other words, it isn’t like if you give your will to God, God could actually USE your will.  This is clearly unnecessary and redundant, of course, because God has His own perfect Will, and does not need yours.  God would have to destroy your will and then exercise His will through your person…which, again, constitutes an impossibly contradictory and redundant existential position for God because, God, being God, doesn’t NEED you at all to do anything, by definition.  Thus, if God becomes YOUR will, then YOUR will is still in effect, and you are still culpable.  Of course, it is impossible for you to have a will and yet not have a will, because volition is control.  You cannot, by definition, have a will and yet not control it.  You cannot set aside your will, so that God may be your will, because again, we have the logical contradiction to contend with, namely, God cannot be YOUR will, and you cannot set aside your will, because, again, there is no such thing as a will that is beyond control.  You can OBEY God…but this is decidedly a direct function of your will, not a denial of it, but a purposeful embracing of it.

Thus, the only solution to truly denying your will, by neo-Reformed standards—that is, denying your will and perpetually letting “God’s will be done”—is to suggest that God steals your will and then replaces it with his own.  This is, of course, larceny of the divine sort, and metaphysically impossible for One who is divine Perfection, and thus, is a laughably ridiculous doctrine to hold.  Nevertheless…there it is, right there in black and white, in my copy of the  Heidelberg Catechism.

You either have a will or you do not. There IS no middle ground.  Any argument that runs some kind of middle-of-the-road plumb line between your will and God’s will as a functional aspect of your existential reality is merely an abstraction; an idea based on a presupposition; that is, an opinion by some dark ages European about what the Bible says.  And that interpretive assumption simply does not compute with the nature of not only man’s reality, but G0d’s as well.

In this day and age, we’ve had time to learn things…to know things.  We operate at a distinct advantage over the 16th century Dutch and German oligarchs.  We have an educated populace that they never could have dreamed of (and would have declared “the cauldron of Satan” anyway…oh wait, some fundamentalists still do); we have access to countless resources literally at our fingertips…via our phones for crying out loud.  Most if not all of the peeps in “my circle” have a college degree…and many of them hold advanced degrees.  And it isn’t like a degree is even a prerequisite to having an educated idea.  We ALL have access to public libraries, within which are practically all the resources one needs to acquire a functional grasp of almost any subject.

My point in saying this is:  it’s GOOD to have ideas that aren’t “orthodox”.  We SHOULD have learned a few things about a few things since Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Knox.  The fact that most if not all neo-Reformed “leaders” have not learned anything beyond that of those who had no access to indoor plumbing, antibiotics, or regular bathing should be a poignant cause for concern among those who are supposed to have the monopoly on TRUE love.

We as a human race have had a common history since the dark ages of Calvin’s reign of terror which has included, among other things, two world wars, the rise communism, socialism, fascism and all of their fallout, as well as literally hundreds of examples of mass murders…all in the name of the “will of the “people”, the “will of God”, or the “will of (fill in the blank)”; all in service to this idea that mass consciousness is and can be ONE singular literal object.  We have had the horrors of black chattel slavery, child slave labor, child sex slave harems, over and over and over again in the world since the time of Calvin.  ALL of these abominations can be traced, if not directly, at the very least tangentially, back to the false mystic idea that man’s will can be possessed and abdicated by and to another consciousness; either willingly or by force.

It never, ever works.

At some point, we as Christians are simply going to HAVE to see the line between what is functionally REAL, and what is merely subjective abstraction.  And we either learn to conform our doctrines to the reality of the universe we live in and the flesh and blood that we both occupy and spend our lives touching, seeing, feeling, hearing, smelling, and BEING, or we consign ourselves to the idea that humans cannot be both Christian and engaged mercifully.  We either learn to conform our theology to the logic that is the only thing that can be called objective truth, or we resign ourselves to the fact that, as I have agonizingly declared, degrees of “truth” can only be directly measured by degrees of pain and misery.

And if this is the case, then we as Christians will have resolved to accept the greatest contradiction of all as the root of our faith:

That the good news of Christ is anything but.

The Sickening Fear Which Passes for Faith…(Square Peg in a Round Holy Bible: Part 3)

The neo-Reformed…

No, it’s not even simply neo-Reformed.  It is something that is ubiquitous among Christians in general these days…just look at the common “statements of faith” (every church has to have their own “apostles” creed, I guess…or is it the Nicene creed? …you know what, I just don’t care…this creed, that creed, none of them look to the individual first, and that is the crux of the problem)…so look at the statements of faith.  Look at the mountain of verses they use to “prove” the “infallibility” of their doctrines.  Each verse, stacked upon another, from an entirely different book of the Bible, from an entirely different author, neither occupying even the same generation, necessarily, as the other, fit together grotesquely, ripped away from their respective historical and applicable contexts as an infant is ripped from his mother’s arms, and bolted and welded and tortured into place, as if THAT is the sum of reason.

Oh yes…look at the impressive exercises that pass for intellectualism in Christianity these days.  Oh yes, let’s pretend that that the more random verses we can pile on and pound and weld and force and push and shove into the gnarled and twisted sculpture of our “sound doctrine” means that eventually we can effectively obfuscate the real point so that no one can comprehend what the real point actually is.

And what is the real point?

Simple:  To use intellectual sleight of hand in order to convince people that our subjective interpretive opinions of what the bible “says” is actually the “infallible truth” of the matter.  Yes, let us pretend that we are able to mystically conjure up some divine “logic” that says  that “All your good deeds are as filthy rags” is, other than mere trite semantics, the EXACT SAME THING as “You were once children of wrath”.  So exactly the same thing, in fact, that they may be lifted, without the slightest bit of shame–nary a coy glance to the right or left–from the pages of the “inerrant” “Word”and put upon their own two legs so that they may roam too and fro from statement of faith to statement of faith, from pulpit to pulpit, “care group” to “care group”.  (A startlingly ironical title, for those of you who have actually been expelled from SGM churches for not towing the partly line…you quickly find out how little they actually care about human beings.  I haven’t heard from my “care group” leader since I was invited to get out over a year and a half ago.  Not.  Once.).  They may run around without the corners of reason to bind them together…free, free to be whatever, whoever and wherever the divinely inspired Christian leaders of your altruistic local church need them to be.  They, removed from the fetters of logic and critical analysis, reason, context, setting, or author’s perspective or intent, may play the part of mystic chameleon.  A cloak of many colors, under which the masses may be compelled to this behavior or that in the name of “objective, biblically infallible truth”.

Have so many people at any other time fallen for so great an OBVIOUS trick as that of “biblical inerrancy”?  I wrack and wrack my brain, but I find no other example.

I submit that virtually ALL of neo-Reformed despotism can be tied to this most impressive of mystic talents:  to take a flagrant and rank twisting of metaphysical reason and dictate that many accept it without as much as a blink of protest.  To dupe so many into slavishly agreeing to become that which is abstract; that which is merely a figment of man’s conscious and creative brain.  To convince the masses of actual flesh and blood, numbering in the millions upon millions, that THAT figment, that wisp of man’s fantastical ability to quantify his surroundings, must accept that it is to that UNREAL idea they must conform.  To almost hypnotically dictate so many people accept that the only path to TRUTH and righteousness is one that is utterly impossible for them to travel.

But it’s not hypnotism.  It’s fear.  Plain and simple.  To disagree with your divinely appointed “authority”  is to disagree with God.  The logical conclusion of this farce is that, to you, these men ARE God.  That is the functional truth they have successfully convinced you of.  And, as an aside, once you declare that the words of Paul, or Peter, or Moses, or the writer of Hebrews are, in fact, God’s very words–which is precisely the core premise of the argument of biblical infallibility–it is only a very short hop, skip and jump to the idea that the words of your Pastor are also God’s very words (Sovereign Grace Ministries has already taught this very thing).  Let me ask:  Where is the objective plumb line?  Who gets to decide which man is speaking or writing God’s very words and who isn’t?  Do you know how the “canon” of scripture became the canon?  And, if so, what in this criteria indicates that only God’s very words are to be included; and then, again, what becomes the objective plumb line for THAT?  I would love  be convinced that there can be one, but other than “only the words written that are in quotes and preceded by “God said” “, I’m not sure how you get from God, to Jesus, to Paul BECOMING Jesus/God, effectively in the Bible context, so that his words ARE God’s words.  I think this is a gnostic premise that even Paul and the other apostles would recoil at.

At any rate, this idea of religious leaders functioning as “God in the stead” is a threat and deception that has shown itself to be an almost foolproof way to assure mass compliance for thousands of years.  Substitute whatever religion you like, they have all seen their fair share of this simple formula.  And obviously Christianity is no different.  Agree with the “authority which speaks for God” or go to hell.

The moral of this story is: Never underestimate the power of mystic despots to instill fear.  You see, I have come to the conclusion that people do not debate me on biblical inerrancy and other “orthodox” doctrines because they have a better argument.  They do not debate me because they are terrified that they may have to concede me the point.  And this, subconsciously or consciously, means hell for them.  Or at the very least, God’s punishment.  And this is a fear that is as much a part of them as their own eyes.  They would no sooner agree with my argument, no matter how rational or consistent, than they would sear their eyelids shut with a glue gun.  That, dear reader, is fear.  Fear, I submit, is the ONLY emotion capable of cajoling so many otherwise rational people to shutting their ears and eyes to a world full of human destruction implemented at the hands and in the name of their very own religious assumptions

People don’t want to think not because they cannot, but because they believe that God hates thinking…because to think means that conclusions can be reached that might be mutually exclusive to what they already believe by “faith”.  Thinking can only get in the way of their salvation, which God is already reluctant to give.  Oh, sure, they have no problem crying out against rank and obvious injustice, hypocritical ideas used in service to human abuse.  But turn these doctrines against them–that is, the doctrines by which they judge these rank abusers–and see how quickly the run from you.  Shine the light, and they cover their eyes.  In the end, they are no better than the abusers.  But twisting tried and true doctrinal abominations to serve their own subjective sense of judgement…this is FEAR, not faith.

Try to show them their own hypocrisy, and some will stop responding to your comments on their blogs.  Some will leave a baiting and heavily opinionated post on your blog, which, in any rational world demands an opportunity to respond, and end it with “I do not wish to debate this any further”.  Still others will declare that “this topic is unimportant to me”; or “my paradox (contradictory doctrine) leads to truth, but theirs clearly does not“.

Sigh.

So much fear.  So much abuse.  The two sides of the same coin.  And so what have we left?

One or two voices, maybe three or four at the most, crying out from the blank, dimensionless world of the internet?  One, maybe two courageous thinkers speaking to a handful of folks in a tiny church upstate somewhere while gnostic overlords sell their destructive wares and pitch their heresy to arenas full of thousands of young/restless/reformed sycophants because the speakers are “orthodox” (i.e. Categorically affirm the gospel book of the Westminster Confessions, which is no more than a brilliant example of a reformed propaganda piece…you think they mean CATHOLIC “orthodoxy”?  Don’t make me laugh.).  Because they quote a bunch of dead white Europeans in stove pipe hats or leggings, and this passes for theological brilliance?

To what end?

A black hole of Christian zombie minds.  An empty well that reaches to the depths of the earth.  Truly it is discouraging.  And as you can tell, I am discouraged tonight.

People see human beings being abused and destroyed.  But they think that change means they can no longer be Christians.  And this is what they sleep with every night.  How can they continue to believe if THIS is what passes for TRUTH in their religion?  Can it be merely fear?  Is that the root of their faith; is THAT what they equate their own election to?  Their pure, white, cold-yet-burning fear?

Total depravity is a wicked, evil lie.  We should all say it.  But we won’t.  We  KNOW that when a human being is reduced to a pithy abstraction, then ANY horror can be perpetrated on them to a given “divine” end.  But still, we won’t say it.

The idea of biblical inerrancy is a wicked lie.  Say it.

But we won’t.  Because we think that somehow, if someone else just “taught it right”, it would be proven true.  And somehow, poof! the logically impossible would become utterly and empirically possible.  Poof!  Something which can never be true in this world or the next magically becomes true.

But you we won”t say it because, after all…

“All things are possible with God.”

Sigh.

(PART 1, CH. 1)–The Boy Stranger: A free novel (Can you spot the allegory…er, metaphor…er, both?)

Draw

 

 

 

Jason Credence told his sister, “I don’t recall ever having a dream like that, Lucy.  If I did, I’m sure I would not recognize it.” But he was a dullard, she said, and a fool, with an imagination like the eyes of a fish.

“Well, it was a lovely dream, Jason. Simply lovely.  I suppose you wouldn’t have fancied it, though.”  But all Lucy’s dreams were lovely, Jason knew. There was no difference between one and the next.  For it made no difference.  All was lovely with Lucy.  And all the time.

Jason was seventeen years old when the Civil War came to an end in 1865, and though Jason was considered to be a fool by his sister, and others, he was certainly not a coward.  During the last months of the war, he rode with some older boys who went off on their own sometimes, having no leader (for they were dead),  leaving Richmond in the darkness of night to go fight against the blue soldiers until dawn. One time he managed to kill a Yankee soldier with only a knife.

Several days after the war ended, the boy told Lucy about the soldier he’d killed.  She just smiled and stared out the window and spoke about how lovely the uniforms of the marching blue soldiers were, as the serpentine column wound through the city streets, eyes straight ahead…arrogant, proud, and yet, dignified, and this last thing heated the watching pedestrians to no end.  Lucy was imagining them all with lovely flowers on their lapels, and this she imagined simply because she thought that this would look nice.  When she drew a picture of them later—for she was a talented artist—she showed it to her brother, and he noticed that all the soldiers in the picture were wearing flowers.  Jason said that the flowers did not match the uniforms, or the death that the soldiers wore like a gray, opaque cloak around their shoulders.  His sister replied that it did not matter; she drew them as they marched, and when they marched, they were wearing flowers.  If they did not match…well, they were still so very lovely at any rate.

The boy’s father’s was from Richmond, Virginia, where he was from and where he raised his family.  The boy had a mother, of course, and then his one sibling, Lucy, of whom it has already been spoken.  Lucy was two years younger but several years wiser.  Yes, much wiser even than he was, was Jason’s thinking.

After the Civil War ended, father lost his job.  He had been a bookkeeper for a little shop in Richmond that sold fancy hats.  After the war there were very few people left who could afford them.  Those who could afford father’s hats had no place to wear them, and so they wouldn’t have wasted their money anyway.

The boy always remembered the white visage of the store, and the way the name of the store was written on the front in fancy, black calligraphy.  Father said that one day there would be fancy hats in Richmond again.  One day, when Richmond was born again new, and the streets clean and the glass from the windows shining gold from the sun.  But for now there was nothing left of the shop, and the money was running low, and what was left was practically worthless anyway.

Father began to speak to mother about moving West.  At night the boy would eavesdrop on their long discussions. The boy would press his ear to the cracks in the walls of their two-story row house, and to the undersides and key holes of the bedroom doors, and just listen and listen for what seemed like the entire night as father talked on and on in muffled tones about all the possibilities and opportunities out in the West.

Father suggested that perhaps they should move to South Dakota.  There, father said, he could open his own shop and sell his own fancy hats.  It would be wonderful, he said.  Mother sat quietly on the bed and listened, and when father was done speaking, she asked him about his playwriting.  He’d loved to write plays, and wrote many of them.  Whether they were good or not…this he had never bothered to find out.  And, so what mother was suggesting–that he stay in Richmond and write–had not crossed his mind.

Back before the war, when he was not working in the shop, father was writing plays.  Stacks and stacks of printed dialog would pour out from father’s little office upstairs. When he closed the door to the office, tattered and dog-eared scraps of yellowing and torn paper—some of it even bits of peeling shelf paper—would protrude out from underneath, clogging the space between the floor and the bottom of the door as leaves clog a gutter.  Perhaps he could try to sell these plays.  What a dream that would be, he thought.

Unfortunately the Richmond critics, those few remaining who had not fled north before the war, anyway, were not impressed.  And even though plays were hard to come by since the war ended, there was still the art of the thing to consider.  Dime store novels are better suited out West, they told him, which Father understood was their way of encouraging him to go.  One night while eavesdropping upstairs through a crack in the floor of the house, the boy heard father and the critics talking in the living room. He heard the critics telling his father that it would be hard to make money from a play that was less interesting than a person’s everyday life; and that these days plays had to be especially interesting, as the people of Richmond were coming off the heels of the great and terrible War of the States.  There needed to be something of progress and worldliness to the scripts; new plays for a new time, as it were, they told him.  It was now a very large country, and it was no longer acceptable to simply write about the things of Richmond.

Father seemed insulted, for the men had shown themselves rigid. As he escorted them out of the house, he told them, “The next time you see me, I will bring with me a great play, a new play, and even you stiff necks will then see.  And it will not be about the things of Richmond, but about the things of the West.  But I wonder if you two will be able to understand the difference, even in a country that is now as large as this one.”

“We are leaving,” he told mother and the boy…as they sat together on the bed in father and mother’s bedroom.

“But why so soon?” mother asked.

“Because it is no longer acceptable to write only the things of Richmond,” father said.

“But what else is there, father?” the boy asked.

“There is South Dakota. That should be different enough from this city, though I hear the Yankees have gone from here to there in the past months.  Another war, another rebellion, it seems,” he said with a sigh and shaking his head and carefully folding a shirt.  “But the blue soldiers are everywhere these days, so what can you do?  Richmond, South Dakota…we are all one nation now.”

The next night at dinner, before the candle which sat in the middle of the table, father told his family that they would not be waiting any longer, but that he had made arrangements for them all to leave the very next morning for South Dakota.  He’d bought the tickets, and the train would be waiting for them at the station and it would be leaving on time, and they would damn well be on it.  Lucy seemed excited, and she laughed with affection as father spoke of long train rides and all of the great open wide spaces.

“The West is indeed a good wide space,” father said calmly.  “Wide open spaces like that are sure to need some hats, and maybe even a play or two.” He stopped, smiled at Lucy, and then pushed his fork into his food.  “Fancy hats,” he added, just before taking a bite.

The next morning a coach came to take them to the station where all of them and everything was loaded on to the train.  Its nose pointed towards South Dakota, and soon they were underway.  Slowly at first, as trains do, and then faster, up to speed, then steady, chugging along with no thoughts of Richmond in the steam that rose towards the sky.  Steam…like empty cartoon balloons to be filled with the words of their new life.  The day gave way to the darkness, and the expanses of tracts of land and forest outside gave way to the claustrophobic blankness of black windows.  The boy fell asleep staring at the moon, and he dreamed about the moon rolling down a bright beach near the ocean.

 

***

 

It was many long days on the train before they arrived in South Dakota, in the town of Shadow.  Lucy leaned over and asked the boy if he thought it was a wonderful thing to be in the West.  It was rhetorical, of course.  For she already knew what her foolish brother thought, and she certainly knew without asking him that all of South Dakota was simply lovely.  She had a big smile on her face, and she stared out the window of the train at the people and the platform and all the newness.  Her eyes enthusiastically greeted everything they saw.

“Oh, Jason, do you not think it’s such a wonderful thing to be here in the West?” Another rhetorical question.  Asking questions was how Lucy spoke to herself and others, and sometimes one was not sure to whom her words were directed at any given moment.  Jason understood this, and did not care.  He still always answered her because he loved her.

“Why do you ask me that?” he said, giving her a strange look.

“Because it’s good to think of a place as being wonderful when you first arrive, Jason.  It shows you have manners.”

The boy said he was sorry for not having better manners.  He apologized to her even though she was younger.  He loved her.  And she was smarter, with a much better imagination.

“But I don’t know if it’s wonderful or not, Lucy.  I have never been here. This is the West, and I have never been in the West,” the boy said.  “But do you think it matters if it’s wonderful or not?  I think all that matters is how many hats they have here. I hope they don’t have too many.”

“Oh, Jason,” Lucy said with some pity behind her smile. She slapped him gently on his knee.  She never took her eyes off of the window and all that was beyond it.  After a minute she clasped one hand over her mouth and pointed with her other hand.

“Look, Jason! They have no fancy hats here!” she said.

The boy looked out the window to where her sister was pointing and saw all the people on the platform.  They all wore hats, even the ladies.  He could not tell how fancy the hats were, but he saw that they were not like the hats that father sold.  But this was South Dakota, and he knew the things would be different.

“Do you think father was right?” he asked.

“Father knew enough to get us this far, Jason, and through the War, and you have eaten this morning and all your life.  I think father knows what he needs to know.  The war has ended and we are still alive.”

The boy looked around the train with a curious expression on his face.  “Where is father?”

Lucy tilted her head and frowned.  “He has gone to get our trunks, I think,” she said, looking up and down the aisle and not seeing him.

The boy nodded and turned and looked out the window again. On the platform, through some steam rising from the tracks, he saw many strong men in black suits walking this way and that, with long, slender women walking behind them, as close as they could, with their legs moving gracefully beneath their dresses.  The women moved so gracefully that it almost looked as though they were gliding on air.

The men did not glide, but strode confidently, with long, powerful, purposeful steps, and puffed big cigars.  The men reminded the boy of the train he was on; big and strong and blowing smoke, with airs of confidence, and unwavering forward motion, like they were on tracks; and only ever stopping to let people on or off.

The boy looked again at the women who were walking behind the confident men.  They were the passengers, of course.  Some were clearly getting on, and others looked like they were waiting for a new station to arrive, and hoping it was coming soon. They cast knowing and coy glances at some of the other men walking past them.

The boy said, “I hope he can sell them here, Lucy.  His hats.  I’d rather sell them than hold them out.”

“Oh, Jason, you need to look a little more closely at the West, and use your imagination.  You are a very silly boy, only ever seeing what is right in front of you. But don’t you ever want to know more?  Don’t you ever want to see more?  Perhaps they don’t have fancy hats here, and perhaps they don’t even need them.  But can you not see that fancy hats are what they want?  I can see, Jason.”

She looked out the window and her eyes rose up the glass as she looked at the platform, then to the station house and past it, to the unobstructed expanse beyond.

“I can see, Jason,” she said.  “But I know what I see.  What do you see?”

Jason shrugged.  “I see big, strong men out there in black suits and heavy boots. I don’t know if it’s fanciness they are after, though.  But I can see that they want something and that they are always moving to get it.”

Father came up to Lucy and the boy and told them that the great trunks had been taken off the train and that they were now down on the platform.  There were two men with the trunks, and mother was there, too.  The men were getting impatient, father told them, and the boy noticed that father seemed impatient, too.  He waved his hand at his children with quick movements so that they looked like a hummingbirds at the end of his arms, and he flicked his head left and right, as if he were trying to use his large nose to prod them down the aisle.

They boy stood and took his sister by the hand.  They walked to the door of the train and down the very steep steps onto the platform. As they walked to the place where the two impatient men and mother were waiting with the trunks the boy heard a man behind him say that the train would be late arriving to its next stop.  The boy did not know who the man was speaking to, so he paid close attention, just in case it was him.

The man explained that there were many cows on the tracks in front of the train.  There were too many for the train to push off, and so there would be a delay until the cows decided to move or someone came along and led them away. The train dared not try to push so many cows off the track, the man said; too much damage and too much money.

The boy was not sure if the man was talking about damage to the train or damage to the cows.  He then thought to himself that he had only been in South Dakota a few minutes and already there were so many things for him to think about.  There were so many things to ask about.  What did people care about here?  Was it like it was in Richmond?  Richmond didn’t have many cows, but they did have many horses, and the boy knew that if some train tried to run down a bunch of horses, well, then they would hang that train driver.  But he didn’t know if it was the same thing with the cows in South Dakota.

The boy looked next to him and saw his sister laughing.  This made him feel good…that, and also the fact that it was very bright out in South Dakota that day.  It was brighter than it ever seemed in Richmond.

The boy thought that surely nighttime never fell in South Dakota.  Or maybe it did, but maybe the moon was bigger in the West than it was in Richmond.  Bigger and closer, and so bright that night was day and day was night and there wasn’t any difference.  Day and night…yes, he thought.  What would that be like, if there were no difference at all?