Archive for July, 2010

Four Trucks, Four Drivers, And A Fire — A Parable

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

This is adapted from a parable I developed some years ago for a sermon to the Spanish-speaking church I co-pastored in Duvall, Washington:

There once was a terrible fire that burned through a family’s home, and as flames shot high into the night and smoke poured from the shattered windows, the mother, father, and their small children were frantically watching the destruction and waiting for someone, anyone, to help. Their cries rang through the neighborhood, occasionally drowned by the roar of the inferno behind them.

A woman drove by and was startled to see the blaze, and she knew it was a bad one. The house was clearly in danger; the family obviously distraught. But after praying about it, she didn’t feel personally led to try to help, and in fact had a real check in her heart about getting involved. Yet she rejoiced that her personal Lord and Savior Jesus Christ would send others — she believed they were called “men” — to put out the flames and minister to the family. God just would not let the family lose everything! Still, it was important to operate in one’s calling, kind following kind and people remaining in the roles the Lord had assigned to them at creation. After all, she reflected, the Apostle Paul warns us that in the Body, not everyone can be an ear, or a hand, or a knee; some people had some gifts, and others were gifted in other ways. The Spirit distributes His gifts as He wills, and her particular gifts certainly kept her DayTimer full. She knew what she was called to do, and that night, she was called to continue on her way to the Ladies Holiday Craft Fair. Her heart was comforted by the glorious truth that everyone had their own part to play in the sovereign will of God, and she knew the Lord would send someone to help. So she drove off, marveling out how God used each of His children in different ways to accomplish His divine purposes.

A second truck came upon the scene, and the driver immediately jumped out. He could see that it was, indeed, an emergency, and, unlike the first passerby, he knew he had a part to play. He was ready, was always ready; the world was awash in sin and evil, and he wouldn’t slink away from confronting it. Fire was bad — he knew that, he’d seen its destruction before — and it was clear that the family’s home was being consumed. Fires don’t just erupt, he reasoned, and as he took in the shabbiness and disrepair of the surrounding houses, it appeared more than likely to him that some sort of carelessness, some kind of irresponsibility, was responsible for the inferno. He knew what was right; they clearly didn’t. So he jumped out of his truck, went over to the heartsick couple and their sobbing children, and ripped into them for being victims of something so evil, so hideous, as a household inferno. He berated the father. He lectured the mother. He yelled at the children, hoping they, at least, would be properly chastened by his anger and maybe learn something. This sort of thing happened all too often, that he knew; he wasn’t about to fall behind on his duty to confront the evil around him, and after a good, long scolding, he drove away, certain that these folks were now well aware of how dangerous fire was. He had taken a stand, by God, not like some of the feminized, sentimental syncretists in his congregation.

A third truck pulled up to the scene, driven by a woman in a beautiful, expensive coat and fabulous suede boots. Yes, they were extravagant, and she was often more than a little frustrated by the sheer impracticality of high-heeled boots. And her coat! It was perhaps a little too nice, she occasionally thought, embarrassed by its cost and well aware that it was nicer — and quite a bit so — than the coats of most of the folks in her fellowship. She had just gotten it back from the dry cleaners (she had “redeemed” it, she thought, remembering Pastor Will’s recent sermon on “redemption”), and she was a good steward of the good things her Lord had gifted her with, never careless or impulsive. Outside, the fire was blazing. The thick, belching smoke that hung over the scene would ruin, absolutely RUIN, her parka, and the soot and ash dusting the ground would singe and stain her mahogany suede boots. A shudder of guilt ran through her; after all, these people (she didn’t know if they were Christians or not) were losing their home, and she was maybe just a tad bit convicted of her concern for her coat and her boots. Still, she thought, it’s not just the clothing — if she went up to offer help, the smell of smoke would cling to her long after she kicked off her boots and slid out of her coat, and people who didn’t know her would wonder why she smelled that way. Maybe, she thought with a start, they’d think she smoked! That would be bad for witnessing. And she didn’t know what kind of people they were, really. There could be swearing, she thought; pagans used language that just made her sick, and yet, under the right circumstances, she understood how some people could resort to that sort of thing. It was because they were around others who were lost and going to hell; sin begets sin, and you had to be careful who you allowed yourself to be exposed to. Satan prowls around like a lion, looking to devour the saints, she remembered, and a smoke-saturated parka would be, in more ways than one, a stench that lingered. Best not to risk it, she concluded, brushing the lint off the velvety lapel of the “Princess Parka” her Daddy, the King, had brought her. And she pulled away, grateful that her clothes and her truck still smelled fresh and clean.

Finally, a fourth truck arrived on the scene. Immediately, a man jumped out, ran to the back, unwound a thick, worn-looking hose, attached it to the pumper tank, and began to spray the house with a surge of water, training the tremendous force toward the roof, spraying the walls and windows with a flood of fire-drenching hope, and scouring the stagnant, foul air with the refreshing, powerful flow he controlled in his hands. The flames began to die down, and he soon turned his attention to the family. He wrapped the children in blankets, poured cold water for the father and mother, called for help, and comforted them. He had good news — the house, he said, wasn’t completely ruined; he was a man who knew about fire and water, destruction and debris, and with the authority of one who knows and the warmth of one who cares, he repeated to the exhausted and bewildered couple that the fire was conquered, succumbing to the one thing it could not devour.

The couple had needed water to stanch the onslaught of flames threatening to take everything they had ever had, everything they had worked for and put their hope in. The man brought water, because he had some. He was a firefighter, equipped with water, pumps, and hoses and trained in how best to use them. It was what he was in this world for; it was only his job, but it was never just a job. Still, he felt grieved. Because the other three people in the other three trucks — the woman too busy to stop, the man who hated fire and those who were involved in it, and the woman afraid of the stench of smoke — were firefighters as well.

They drove right by a burning house and the terrified family who owned it, equipped with tanks brimming with the one single thing that would put it all right. And they didn’t stop, each certain that while possessing themselves everything the family needed and being fully able to deliver it, they had nonetheless gotten it right. In their worlds, that was of much greater value, and certainly less risky, than being righteous. They had chapter, verse, sermon notes and study Bibles, after all; the fourth man only had water . . .

(Copyright 1997, Keely Emerine-Mix. All rights reserved).

Pledging Not To Pledge

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

In almost 500 Prevailing Winds posts, I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s something I’d like to discuss again — at the risk of incurring the wrath of my conservative Christian friends and family members.

(Believe me, I don’t try to incur wrath. It just sort of happens; my only standard is that the subject that makes me an object of anger must be something of significance; I’m not real interested in having dear Aunt Clara angry with me because I dislike Southern Gospel . . . )

Anyway, it was probably 30-something years ago when I first decided not to recite, nor stand for the recitation of, the Pledge of Allegiance. I was “Christian-ish,” not Christian, then, but I had an instinctive belief that the three reasons given us in school for why we ought to recite the Pledge were illegitimate. I didn’t care that “everyone was supposed to,” I was offended at the idea that something called “a Pledge” was dismissed as “just words,” a rote mumbling of a chain of words without meaning or conviction, and I knew then that while I love my country, there might come a time some day when I possibly would have to go against something it required of me. This was during Watergate, when it was clear that government was not only terribly fallible, but much more corrupt than most of us had believed possible.

After becoming a Christian in 1981, though, it became clear to me that I could never pledge allegiance to anything or anyone other than the Lord Jesus, and I was more dismayed than puzzled at the enthusiasm with which other Christians embraced the Pledge — and surprised at the anger my refusal to do so engendered in them. We all, as Christians, pledge “allegiance” to all sorts of things in life, they explained, like promising to obey traffic laws when we get our drivers’ licenses, or pledging fidelity to our spouses in our marriage ceremonies. The Pledge of Allegiance was no different, they argued, and was at least as important as any other civic promises we make, because the U.S. is clearly a nation “founded by God,” a sovereign entity unlike any other in history. I hear those same arguments today. They’re just as hollow now as they were then.

When I obtain my drivers’ license, I indicate that I receive the license, and the permission to drive it gives me, under the condition that I obey traffic laws and meet certain criteria — things involving age, eyesight, and ability. That’s not only a reasonable, but an absolutely necessary, aspect of living in society; we don’t want people to get drivers’ licenses with the same ease with which they buy a pack of gum, because the danger of gum “in the wrong hands” is far less than that of a car “in the wrong hands.” The State, then, is not asking for, and certainly not requiring, any allegiance from me other than my allegiance to law and order — in other words, my appropriate intention to obey the laws set before me, as long as they don’t contradict with the law of God. But God requires of me that I obey the law, and my announced intention to do so when I get my license is entirely consistent with my ultimate and final allegiance to God.

It’s the same idea in marriage. When Jeff and I got married almost 26 years ago, we pledged to one another our faithfulness, and any break from that would demonstrate a break from my intention to fulfill my marital vows — vows that come to us from God, and vows whose fulfillment, again, is part of my allegiance to my God. But my “I do” doesn’t in any way allow me to blindly and without regard follow my husband, even if acquiescing to his wishes would violate God’s law or will for my life. So I pledge fidelity to my marriage as part of my unwavering devotion to God and my unwavering devotion to living with my husband in ways that honor the Divine intent for marriage. Where following Jeff would cause me to sin, or vice-versa, I must turn away. My allegiance to my marriage is always in accord to God’s plan for marriage, and always submitted to my commitment to God.

But “pledging allegiance” to this or any other country, or any organization, community, church, or society, is entirely inappropriate for the believer. First, it requires, if the words are taken seriously, a promise of fidelity no one nor anything can ever rightfully extract from me; it gives the State carte blanche to demand of me things that I can’t do in righteousness, and God’s insistence that we respect government is not, cannot be, the same thing as pledging allegiance to that government. (And if the words aren’t taken seriously, shame on those who recite them anyway. Words mean something, and if your “yes” should mean “yes” and your “no” is to mean “no,” then your utterance of the Pledge better be as conscious and serious than your simple “yes” and “no.”)

“Allegiance” is not “preference for,” “probable obedience to,” or “reasonable certainty of” the State. The word means turning my heart toward, proclaiming obedience to, and placing the country above competing interests. God is a competing interest; everything has to fall in place below my relationship with my Savior.

Second, the idea of pledging allegiance to the U.S. is an idea so vague that abuse on the part of the State isn’t only possible, but probable. A gullible, fearful people can be made to believe anything the State asks them to believe, and people will then act on what they believe to be true in the ways those who convinced them in the first place prescribe. It’s happened before — witness the re-election of George W. Bush — and it continues every time the people demonstrate mindless patriotism and unthinking embrace of what “the experts” and “the leaders” say. It’s a wide-open invitation to abuse of power and sin against the Omnipotent One, and it’s as dangerous to say it without really thinking about it as it is to say the words and vehemently believe that every one of them is right — and righteous.

There are those who have and will continue to cast their lot with the State, or with their race, or with their money. They’ve pledged their allegiance to all but God. I’ve chosen, though, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to cast my lot with Christ. He is not the State and the State is not him. Therefore, the Pledge of Allegiance from my lips would be a lie. God forbids me to lie, and so regarding the Pledge, I can’t. And so I haven’t, and I won’t. I wish that were a conviction the sincere Pledge-reciting believers I know were guided into.