26 July, 2007

The Holy War - 1972

John Bunyan wrote a book a few centuries ago called, "The Holy War." In it, he likened the battle for the human soul to the defense of a walled city. The city had an ear gate, eye gate and mouth gate, and the town leaders made all sorts of debatable decisions. I don't remember much about the book, except the metaphor. I don't even remember whether Mr. Bunyan made the key point, the point I want to make below.

I would invite you to travel back in your mind, and picture your own salvation story as a secret struggle for your soul. What was it like for you? Here's mine. I won't kid you, this is kind of long and definitely "unique." My only defense is that it's all true.

I was 7 years old at the time.

Part I
The city of Codepoke was only beginning to have commerce with the rest of the world, and recently it wasn't doing very well. It had fallen from grace in the eyes of its peers, and was trying to cope with suddenly being one of the unpopular cities. Stock in Codepoke was low and dropping, and the town Lairds were trying to set new policies for what kind of imports and exports would define its economy.

A young city trades in simple goods. Insults and compliments, laughter and games, hurts and withdrawals had been traded through the ear and eye gates as recently as a mere year ago. Now, the little town was under embargo from all its neighbors. Not knowing what else to do, Codepoke began gathering all its resources for an extended siege. Life was no longer idyllic.

One day an emissary arrived from a whole new land called, "Church," with which to trade. It was new and different, and any trade beat a siege, so the Lairds of Codepoke agreed to try out some of their imports.

Facts about God and Christ flooded the ear gate.

Packages of divine Truth were stirring up the Emos in the emotional quarter of the city, challenging the Brainiacs of the intellectual borrough, and firing up the Willies of Park and Gymnasium of the Will. The Lairds sat at council and considered the new goods and their options. Trading with this new land was really trading with God, and that was a tough decision.

That God Himself might be willing to open commerce with Codepoke was highly flattering. In return, Codepoke would have to restrict trade in certain "bad" things forever. Nobody knew what Codepoke would be missing if they blocked all forbidden trade so young, so giving up those options seemed like a pretty steep price to pay. All in all, though, it looked like a good deal in the long term. Also, there was destruction by fire promised to those who did not trade with God, and that head to be considered. Mix in the instant increase in societal standing, and the deal looked like a sure winner. It probably beat everything else Codepoke had a chance at, and it would be a welcome relief from the siege.

Still, the eternal nature of the contract gave the Lairds pause. One did not contract with the Almighty God and then renege; it was a good deal, but it seemed possibly better to wait a while. God declared an irreversible curse on those who contracted and turned back, and the Lairds did not want to have to answer for that. So, the decision waited.

Sensing an opportunity, the enemy came in those days. The city was young and the walls were weak, so the enemy crept up to them with their sapper tools. Wielding lies like drills and threats as dynamite, the enemy began its work. "God is merciless," they said. "God punishes everyone who fails Him." "Most of his economic partners break their contracts before they die, and end up consumed by raging fire anyway." "Nobody can live under His law for long." Threat after lie after threat chipped away all night long.

And it was always night in Codepoke.

The wall collapsed.

The enemy entered Codepoke, and began ferreting out all the recently placed packages of Truth filling the city.

The guards rushed to the breach, and stood there wondering what to do. Three carts of goods flowed in through the crumbled defense for every one that left. Filled to the brim with packages, these carts brought popular and exciting hopes, and the guards just could not find it in themselves to turn them away. The city that traded in these goods would have no trouble setting up trade. People would beat a path to its gates.

But the Lairds had been warned that this would happen.

The breach had happened in the emotional quarter. The Emos there were quickly taken in by the shiny baubles of the enemy, and had started a party in the streets to celebrate their new toys. Maybe if Codepoke started trading in the nasty pranks and cruel insults filling the city, the other cities would reopen trade. Or maybe Codepoke could intimidate them with the threats so cheaply being traded for the packages from Church, and gain status again.

The Lairds issued a quick (and quickly ignored) order that all the new goods be burned. When that didn't happen, they brought in some of the more willing Willies from their exercises in the park to force all the Emos back into their homes. Then they called in a few of the Brainiacs from the intellectual borough, and had them disassemble all the chintzy faux gifts of the enemy. Once broken in pieces, even the Emos could see that they had been deceived.

The fact that the attack had come exactly as predicted convinced the Lairds that they had best throw their lot in with God, and sooner rather than later. The Lairds of Codepoke signed the eternal contract with God.

Codepoke joined Christianity.

Part II

At first, Codepoke imported goods from God as quickly as they would fit. The ear gate was only so big, though [and Codepoke could not really read yet, so the eye gate was not much use beyond flannel-graph Moses.] And eventually, more important matters came to the fore. There were football games to watch, football scores to memorize, football players to idolize, football moves to perfect; you get the idea. The town was mad about Franco Harris, and the Lairds of Codepoke were feeling it.

Two or three months later, a smaller than usual package arrived from God. It was delivered by a preacher, and it was different from all the other packages before it. The Lairds had distributed the other packages as they saw fit. Some they sent to the Willies, some to the Brainiacs, and some to the Emos, but all at the direction of the Lairds. This one burst its wrappings, lifted itself into a sudden wind, and glided off down the largest avenue.

It looked like a blood-red watermelon with smoke wafting off its "head." This smoke was like no other, though, because when the wind caught it, it didn't blow away. Instead, the odd smoke pulled the watermelon along like a sail pulls its boat. The breeze from nowhere sped the melon down the avenue directly to the Borough of Intellect. It flew wildly, like some dandelion seed in a March wind, but directly to the burough. In the dark of night, before a firm wind, the burning melon left an edgy fear in its wake.

Upon arriving in the Intellect Burough, it stopped in the middle of the central square and smoked some more. People began to whisper about it, and then to talk, and finally to grab their neighbors and friends. When enough of a crowd was near, the melon shouted in a loud voice:
It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

The Brainiacs of the borough mulled this one over and could find no hole in its logic. The conclusion was irrefutable. Over the last months, the contract with God had been broken. The city had traded without regard to its heavenly agreement, and stood in breach. The penalty was clearly stated, and would be justlyperformed.

A delegation to the Lairds was assembled to carry to them the message of their doom, but that plan never came to fruit. No sooner were they gathered than the wind kicked up again, pushing the flaming watermelon toward the Emotional Quarter. The delegation glanced at each other, then hoofed it after the flaming melon for all they were worth.

A party was brewing in the happy quarter, but had not yet really caught hold. The evening news would ignite the real revelry when they rushed through the scores of all the games played that day. Then there would be football to consider and replay and learn from. Until then, everyone was priming themselves to giggle with glee at the fates of all lesser teams.

The arrival of the flaming watermelon was a welcome distraction from the waiting, at first. With a crowd already gathered, though, the melon did not wait before dropping its bomb. Again, it shouted in a loud voice:
It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

Silence proclaimed the depth of the buzzkill.

Someone tried asking about the Oakland Raiders' chances, but no one answered.

None of the Emos knew what to feel.

Suddenly, someone had a stunning idea. "Let's ask the Brainiacs!"

A murmur, and then a general agreement passed through the crowd. A delegation had just been selected when the Brainiac delegation came panting into the center of the square. "Save your breath," they said as they tried to catch their own. "We've already heard it's message, and it's bulletproof. We're damned."

When that last word hit the mob of emotion, a single voice shrieked ... just before every last pair of lungs went to wailing. In moments, the entire quarter was swimming in tears, and a certain watermelon was lofted again into the wind toward the North. The delegations from the Brainiacs and the Emos both looked once at each other, then charged off right behind the melon.

When the melon arrived in the Park of the Will, the buff (if pasty - it was always night, after all) bodies of the gym dwellers were pumping iron and running laps as usual. The Willies were always prepared to handle anything, and they barely deigned to notice a puny flaming watermelon or a little breeze. The melon waited. When the requisite quorum of hardbodies had gathered, the melon shouted in a loud voice:
It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.

A general laughter ensued.

An over-achieving watermelon was damning them all. Sweet!

The closest he-man sneered, "Hulk smash," grasped the little fruit in a not-so-friendly bear-hug, and constricted a pectoral bulk that could bench 400 pounds. The little melon waited quietly in his arms as in the comfiest of feather beds. The squeeze didn't discomfit the melon at all.

The he-man's questioning gaze was priceless, but he was not flummoxed. He raised the offensive melon high over his statuesque head, and cast it to the cobblestones. Eerily, the melon neither shattered nor bounced. It hit the ground and just stopped perfectly still. It then waited as if it had never moved before and never would again.

The crowd stared in nervous wonder. This little melon was starting to worry them.

From the shadows came another man of steel and darkness. Dressed in black from head to toe, and quiet as a zephyr on a starry night, the man silently slid a razor sharp sword from the scabbard on his back. From behind the unmoving melon, the ninja began his patient stalk of death. At the perfect moment, with his chi centered in a kundalini node, he struck a perfect blow from right to left through the heart of the melon. With perfect efficiency, exactly one melon-width of the blade touched the melon. You could tell, because when he was done exactly one melon-width of the blade lay smoking on the ground next to the unperturbed melon. Apparently, the melon was sharper than the sword.

The he-man and the ninja were joined by a marathon runner. The melon could be picked up. Maybe he could carry it back outside the walls, he suggested.

That's when the Emos arrived. They took in the scene, and commenced to wailing their awful wail all over again. The Willies tried to shut them up, of course, but this time the emotions were entirely too overwrought, and they'd have none of it. If all the strongest strength of the will couldn't do anything about this melon, then they truly were damned.

The Brainiacs arrived a little later (already exhausted from their trip to the Emo Quarter) and confirmed the worst. The Emos were right. The melon was ironclad.

Codepoke would burn.

Part III

The Lairds arrived at the park late and breathless. From the moment the flaming messenger blew away, they had been arriving at each place just after the action had ended. Finally, on their third stop, they laid eyes for a second time on the melon of doom.

Around them, everything was in chaos.

The Willies were listless. They could not find the heart to do anything, since it would all just be consumed by flames in the end. The Emos were beside themselves, and useless for all decision making purposes. Only the Brainiacs could come up with anything useful to do. They rehearsed to the Lairds everything that had happened since the melon had escaped them.

The Lairds listened in silence, asking only the briefest of questions. Did it ever say anything else? Did it respond to anyone who spoke to it? Their probing came up empty, though. The melon was inscrutable.

The Lairds quaked, but with a depth unmatched in any of the townfolk. They grasped eternity, and they grasped the import of the flames. They knew the depths of the terror that engulfed them now was of far more risk than merely the end of a city. Mostly, they knew they had to do something. Lairds could not sit still, and wait to see destruction fall on the heads of all in the city. They needed to try to find an answer.

As one, they turned to the messenger melon from God and crossed the park to meet him.

Before they were half way there, though, they were intercepted by a delegation from all three of the city ghettoes. They argued amongst themselves, and seemed at first to ignore the Lairds. The Willies in the group wanted to get drunk, and tear up the town. Since there was nothing to build for, why not spend the last of their days tearing everything down? The Emos made their peace with their grief, and wanted to hold a giant, really cool wake to mourn their coming demise. And the Brainiacs were powerless to decide between the arguments. Logic seemed to tell them that either answer was equally good.

The Lairds had no patience for such gibberish at this moment, and they started to press past the nuisance.

That steeled the city-folk, and the Brainiacs spoke, "Ignore the melon," they said. The Emos grew silent (for once) and nodded, and the Willies gave a sneering smile of agreement. Whatever happened, the Lairds should just go back up the hill to their tower and ignore the pesky melon. It would go away on its own.

None of these men were unknown to the Laird's, and none of their reasonings were hidden. These men had all profited from trade with the enemy, and one of them was even harboring an emissary of the enemy in his own home. Somehow, the opposition even made them stronger in their resolve. They looked at each other, and wordlessly fortified their resolve. Their only hope against the doom lay with the melon that brought it. Leaving was no option. They dismissed the gathering, and resumed their journey to meet this messenger themselves.

The melon met them with the same indifference it had shown to every other inhabitant of Codepoke. The Lairds encircled the smoking gourd, and then they bowed. In the presence of every inhabitant of Codepoke, they bowed their heads to the cobblestones of the street, and one of them produced the selfsame contract that doomed them, the one that bore each of their signatures.

And they waited.

The pronouncement of the messenger of God was true. Their guilt was sealed. So, they humbled themselves before the word of God and waited. Around them the pandemonium increased. The tears and wailing of the Emos swelled. The Brainiacs kept mulling over the possibilities and opposing each other about whether this would work. The Willies just threw themselves on the ground in apathetic disgust. And the Lairds of Codepoke waited with their heads on the ground, hoping against hope that there might be something they could do to avoid damnation.

Other messengers from other towns came and went, offering their advice as they passed through. They had all heard this message before, and they spouted their recommendations as gospel, "Just resume normal trade in godly goods again. Everything will go back to normal," they said. "Just pencil in an addendum to the contract apologizing for your forgetfullness, then start importing from God. Trade will pick up again, and you'll forget this ever happened."

If the Lairds heard them, they showed no sign. They kept their heads planted on the cobblestones. No one was sure that the melon could hear at all, and it betrayed nothing while these emissaries droned on. It sat immovable, unmoving, and ominous, smoking in quiet confidence.

It was all the Lairds could do to keep hoping.

In the middle of the chief park in the city sat a smoking watermelon surrounded by the highest ranking members of the city, all with their heads on the ground and holding out before them a copy of a damning contract. It was a little much to believe.

Everyone startled when then the wind blew the contract out of the Laird's hand, and up against the melon. In one brief flash, the Laird's cursed contract was reduced to ash. And the melon lifted up in the breeze and lofted away again - this time up the hill to the tower of the Lairds.

The Lairds leapt to their feet and raced to catch up with the melon again. All the city surged behind them, everyone pressing to learn what the melon would do next. Hope seemed a little too distant to grasp, but maybe there would be a little up on that hill after the melon did whatever it planned to do.

The melon grew brighter and brighter as it careened toward the tower. By the time the melon hit the summit, everyone in town was able to see it from a rooftop, or even just by standing in an avenue. The mysterious messenger did not disappoint. It was blown straight into the air, and then driven straight into the ground, embedding its bottom in the soil of that hill. Just near the tower, it was half-buried in the land and began to beam a burning white light that illumined everyone.

The Lairds and all the city stopped running.

Blinded by the brilliance of this little melon, they stopped and looked around. For the first time, they learned that they had never been able to see before. It was always night, until now. For the first time it was day in Codepoke. They were suddenly able to see the rags everyone had called called tuxedos and the filth clogging all the gutters, but nobody looked. Instead, every eye focused on the amazing purity of this Light. God had sent pure Light, and in it they would finally, fully, gloriously, vibrantly live.

Life was in the air, and the whole city of Codepoke knew that it could never distrust God again.

The Lairds resumed their charge up the hill with renewed vigor. Upon arriving at the melon, they found the top had stopped smoking. Instead, a little vine was spouting, and a little stream was trickling. One by one, each of the Lairds took a taste from that stream, and was transformed. The Life of the Water opened their eyes even wider than had the Light. They looked up, to find the Lord their God at the door of the tower, waiting for their return. Jesus Himself waited to welcome them home.

How long He had been there, they did not know. They only knew that it was He Who had sent the messenger, He Who had first allowed them to fail, and He Who had placed this Well of Life in their hearts.

... because it was He Who had loved them; it was He Who had done everything while they contrived pointless solutions to the wrong problems. Everything was new now, because of the Love of the One God.

And they fell again on their faces.

He raised them up with a warm and delighted smile, then led them back to the tower.

The surprises of this morning were not quite finished yet.

The Lord of the Universe deferred to His hosts. He insisted that they enter the tower first, and invite Him in. No service to God had ever been more quickly or joyfully rendered. Soon they all stood in the vestibule, wondering what would happen next.

The now-familiar wind blew again. It seemed to trail beneath one of the doors of the east wall and whisper, "Come." Shock arrested the Lairds, because this door had never been here before. This was not just a door, though. This was the Door. And it had only just been installed. At Jesus' glance, the nearest Laird opened it and all beheld the Father sitting upon His throne, and His train filled the temple.

Jesus waved them in, explaining that He had washed them by the Word, and that they were welcome before His Father. In the madness of new love and joy, they did not hesitate, but advanced to love and worship the Father Who had saved them.

Codepoke was reborn, and this was the first morning of forever.

1 comment:

Milly said...

You always find interesting was to tell us about yourself.
I wrote about how we have to live through stuff to know God and you wrote how you did.