Rich Mullins: a Ragamuffin Remembered

“The angels worship God in heaven, but we cast up our prayers from the gravity and stone of earth. This is the land of our Sojourn. We are Americans, and our Legacy is the stone and weight of this place, this collection of ideas and dreams, of strip malls, and civil war. From here we form our Liturgy, our service of worship to the living Christ. Hear this Liturgy, this Common Prayer through the eyes of America. Worship and Place….Liturgy, and Legacy . . . .” — Rich Mullins

He was known as “Christian music’s restless poet.”  Rich Mullins was almost 42 years old when he was tragically killed in a car accident on southbound Interstate 39 north of Bloomington (IL) on Sept. 19, 1997.  He and his musician friend Mitch McVicker were heading from suburban Chicago to do a concert in Wichita (KS) when Rich lost control of his Jeep.  The Jeep rolled, both Rich and Mitch were thrown out of the vehicle, and Rich was struck by a passing semi-truck.  McVicker was severely injured, but he lived.

CCM magazine published a tribute titled, “Requiem for a Ragamuffin” which reported that at memorial services in Nashville and Wichita, “Friends recalled a man who was equal parts sinner and saint, a man who had no children of his own yet was responsible for feeding thousands around the world.”

Dr. Steven Hooks, a favorite professor of Mullins’ at Cincinnati Bible College, perhaps summed the evening up best: “The bandstand is dark, and the liturgy has been silenced–forever some are saying–by the demon we call death. Do you really believe that? Let me tell you a little secret. Rich knew it well. He sang it often. It was the truth. It stood at the heart of his ‘Creed,’ and it stands at the heart of the gospel: ‘The dead in Christ shall rise.’ …As we gather tonight to honor Rich’s passing over Jordan, some would seek to console us by reminding us that he will live on in his music and in our memories. But I’m here to tell you, he lives on.”

Read this piece at http://www.audiori.net/richmullins/articles/requiem.html, where it is posted on a Rich Mullins Tribute website.  You’ll be able to learn more about Rich’s background and ministry here.  Browse through the timeline and discography tabs, and click on the “Kid Brothers” tab and take a look there (In 1989, Rich and his musician partner David “Beaker” Strasser founded The Kid Brothers of St. Frank. The goal of Kid Brothers was to preach, live and model for others the teachings of St. Francis [St. Frank] of Assisi. Other young men joined them to be in a discipleship community with each other, following Francis’ vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.)

 

“I am a Christian because I have seen the love of God lived out in the lives of people who know Him.  The Word has become flesh, and i have encountered God in the people who have manifested (in many “unreasonable” ways) His Presence; a Presence that is more than convincing, it is a Presence that is compelling.” — Rich

In the spring of 1991, Rich began to publish a regular column in RELEASE Magazine that was part devotional, part memoir, part . . . Rich.  This arrangement, the editors recalled after Rich’s death, “become a very special relationship – a relationship that would enable not only editors and staff members to learn more about this mysterious artist, but one that would also allow people across the country to draw closer to him. One learned quickly from his columns (just as with his songs) that Rich not only had a lot to say, but a unique way of saying it. He challenged us. He comforted us. He taught us.”

A selection of these columns can be found online here:  http://www.kidbrothers.net/release/dec97jan98art.html

(The quote above comes from the first article posted, “Telling the Joke.”)

For most of his early music career, Rich was a solo act or worked with some back-up musicians.  In 1993 he formed “The Ragamuffin Band,” which took its name from a book by Rich’s friend and sometime mentor Brennan Manning.  A promotional blurb for Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel explains,

Brennan Manning’s bestseller reminded us that Jesus did not come for the pretty, pious and powerful. Instead, he came for the “bedraggled, beat-up and burnt-out” ragamuffins who desperately need his grace. Dispelling the myth that you must work to receive God’s gift of grace and joy, Manning, a fellow ragamuffin, reveals the true nature of a freely-given and unrelenting grace that’s available to all. Drop the burden of never measuring up and revel in the comfort of a God who loves you for who you are – not for who you think you should be.

Manning, who died in 2013, was the subject of a 2004 Christianity Today cover story you can find at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/june/22.42.html.  The article opens with this paragraph:

The first time the late singer-songwriter Rich Mullins heard former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning on tape as he drove through the edge of the Flint Hills in Kansas, his eyes filled with tears. He steered the truck to the side of the road. There, as he later wrote, the message “broke the power of mere ‘moralistic religiosity’ in my life, and revived a deeper acceptance that had long ago withered in me.”

Manning appears several times in video tribute to Rich’s life, Homeless Man, where he notes that the strength of Rich’s ministry was deeply connected to his own brokenness:

Rich wrote an opening “Testimony” for Manning’s book that included these remarks:

In our society, we tend to swear unyielding allegiance to a rigid position, confusing that action with finding an authentic connection to a life-giving Spirit. We miss the gospel of Christ:  the good news that, although the holy and all-powerful God knows we are dust, He still stoops to breathe into us the breath of life—to bring to our wounds the balm of acceptance and love. No other author has articulated this message more simply or beautifully than Brennan Manning.

I owe Brennan Manning thirty dollars, and I expect to get it to him soon. But I owe him an even bigger debt for the freedom he helped me find through this book . . . and the greatest debt of all to the God whose grace extends to—and especially for—the ragamuffins of this world.

Brennan Manning may have written and proclaimed “The Ragamuffin Gospel,” but Rich Mullins embodied it.

The videos below come from a 2004 project, Pursuit of a Legacy.  Watching these, and letting Rich have the last word, has been a Worldviews tradition for almost 20 years.  The thing about “leaving a legacy” is . . . well . . . you have to leave.  Hopefully some of the things Rich has to say here will stick with you as you make transitions in “worship and place” and begin shaping a new “liturgy and legacy” for the Kingdom of God.  I’ll be praying for God’s blessings to go with you.

Here In America
Saints and children we have gathered here to hear the sacred story
And I’m glad to bring it to you with my best rhyming and rhythm
‘Cause I know the thirsty listen and down to the waters come
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America
And if you listen to my songs I hope you hear the water falling
I hope you feel the oceans crashing on the coast of north New England
I wish I could be there just to see them, two summers past I was
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America
And if I were a painter I do not know which I’d paint
The calling of the ancient stars or assembling of the saints
And there’s so much beauty around us for just two eyes to see
But everywhere I go I’m looking
And once I went to Appalachia for my father he was born there
And I saw the mountains waking with the innocence of children
And my soul is still there with them wrapped in the songs they brought
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America
And I’ve seen by the highways on a million exit ramps
Those two-legged memorials to the laws of happenstance
Waiting for four-wheeled messiahs to take them home again
But I am home anywhere if You are where I am
And if you listen to my songs I hope you hear the water falling
I hope you feel the oceans crashing on the coast of north New England
I wish I could be there just to see them, two summers past I was
And the Holy King of Israel loves me here in America

Hold Me Jesus
Well sometimes my life just don’t make sense at all
When the mountains look so big
And my faith just seems so small
So hold me Jesus ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace
And I wake up in the night and feel the dark
It’s so hot inside my soul
I swear there must be blisters on my heart
So hold me Jesus ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace
Surrender don’t come natural to me
I’d rather fight You for something I don’t really want
Than to take what You give that I need
And I’ve beat my head against so many walls
Now I’m falling down I’m falling on my knees
And this Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And Your grace rings out so deep
It makes my resistance seem so thin.
So hold me Jesus ’cause I’m shaking like a leaf
You have been King of my glory
Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

Creed
I believe in God the Father
Almighty maker of heaven and maker of earth
And in Jesus Christ his only begotten son, our lord
He was conceived by the holy spirit
Born of the virgin Mary
Suffered under Pontius Pilate
He was crucified and dead and buried
And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of god and not the invention of any man
I believe that he who suffered was crucified, buried, and dead
He descended into hell and on the third day, rose again
He ascended into heaven where he sits at god’s mighty right hand
I believe that he’s returning
To judge the quick and the dead of the sons of men
And I believe what I believe is what makes me what I am
I did not make it, no it is making me
It is the very truth of god and not the invention of any man
I believe in God the Father
Almighty maker of heaven and maker of earth
And in Jesus Christ his only begotten son, our Lord
I believe in the the Holy Spirit, one holy Church, The communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins; I believe in the resurrection; I believe in life that never ends . . .

When I leave I want to go out like Elijah
With a whirlwind to fuel my chariot of fire
And when I look back on the stars
It’ll be like a candlelight in Central Park
And it won’t break my heart to say goodbye . . .

C&Hlast

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New Kinds of Christians? (pt. 3)

“The concept of seeker-sensitivity, properly understood, is not new and not controversial — because it’s biblical. In fact, the apostle Paul said, ‘Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity’ (Col. 4:5). He also said, “’ have become all things to all people . . . for the sake of the gospel’ (1 Cor. 9:22-23).” — Mark Mittelberg, Associate Director of the Willow Creek Association

“In their zeal for converts, seeker-sensitive churches may convert God’s message into a form more likely to impress but less likely to save the unbeliever. If cultural relevance is our guiding principle for evangelism and church growth, we can become irrelevant to God’s agenda, for the gospel will always contest, subvert, and make foolish ‘the wisdom of the world’ (1 Cor. 1:20).” — Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D., Denver Seminary

These two quotes capture the essence of the opposing viewpoints that surround the seeker-sensitive model for “doing church” in contemporary culture (the topic of part 2).  Funny how the proponent of each perspective provides a scriptural basis for their point of view.  There are interesting ways in which these seemingly opposing perspectives demonstrate, in different ways, the same reality of “an evangelical church [that] is steeped in and shaped by the modernist mindset” (Glen Stanton’s review of A New Kind of Christian, CT June 10, 2002; which we previously considered).  Stanton (drawing from McLaren’s book) described characteristics of “Christ molded by modernity” that find both sides of the “seeker-sensitive” model wanting:

We run our churches with the efficiency o fthe industrial age.  We make ourselves and conduct our services in the spirit of capitalist consumerism.  In the modernist exaltation of knowledge, we teeter on a biblicism that sees the Christian faith as a religon of the book rather than a relationship with the Triune God and our neighbors.  We often make the Bible the foundation and center of our faith.  But, as Neo tells Dan [again, from McLaren], “the Bible never speaks of itself this way.'” It speaks of Christ as the foundation of the church; thus we are historically known as Christ-ones.

Before we turn to what McLaren and the “emerging church” have to say about becoming “new kinds of Christians,” read the essays by Mittleberg and Groothuis (quoted above) from “Pro and Con: the Seeker-Sensitive Church Movement” posted on the Christian Research Institute’s website http://www.equip.org/article/pro-and-con-the-seeker-sensitive-church-movement/

Emerging Christians

“It is said that emerging Christians confess their faith like mainliners—meaning they say things publicly they don’t really believe. They drink like Southern Baptists—meaning, to adapt some words from Mark Twain, they are teetotalers when it is judicious. They talk like Catholics—meaning they cuss and use naughty words. They evangelize and theologize like the Reformed—meaning they rarely evangelize, yet theologize all the time. They worship like charismatics—meaning with their whole bodies, some parts tattooed. They vote like Episcopalians—meaning they eat, drink, and sleep on their left side. And, they deny the truth—meaning they’ve got a latte-soaked copy of Derrida in their smoke- and beer-stained backpacks.” — Scot McKnight

According to a recent “topics” post in Christianity Today online, the “emergent movement” that was the source of so much evangelical buzz in the late ’90s and early 2000s “has seemingly dropped off the map as of late.” CT assigns some of the blame to “the difficulty in defining just what the Emergent Movement is.”  Led by authors and pastors like Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christian) and Tony Jones (The Church is Flat, 2011), emergent churches “sought to reshape how to ‘do church’ in the postmodern culture, often challenging traditional Christian understandings of faith and practice” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/topics/e/emergent-movement/)

CT first took note of the movement in a 2004 article by Andy Crouch, “The Emergent Mystique” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2004/november/12.36.html?order=&start=1).  Crouch wrote, “not since the Jesus Movement of the early 1970s has a Christian phenomenon been so closely entangled with the self-conscious cutting edge of U.S. culture.”  He described the movements at “frequently urban, disproportionately young, overwhelmingly white, and very new,” noting that few of the churches that identify with the movement “have been in existence for more than five years.”  Crouch’s article focused particularly on the Mars Hill church (established in 1999), pastored by Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren, whose book A New Kind of Christian provided inspiration to Bell.

At the time McLaren was hesitant to to call the “emerging church” a movement (the term “Emergent” is usually used to describe the loose network of churches that identify as “emerging” as a new way to “do church” in postmodern culture).  He considered it more of a mindset–a mindset that grew from conversations about what a “post-evangelical” church would look like.  Crouch describes McLaren sketching “a big circle labeled ‘self,’ a smaller circle next to it labeled ‘church,’ and a tiny circle off to the side labeled ‘world.'”

“This has been evangelicalism’s model, [McLaren] says. Fundamentally it’s about getting yourself ‘saved’—in old-style evangelicalism—or improving your life in the new style. Either way, the Christian life is really about you and your needs. Once your needs are met, then we think about how you can serve the church. And then, if there’s anything left over, we ask how the church might serve the world.”

He starts drawing again. “But what if it went the other way? This big circle is the world—the world God loved so much that he sent his Son. Inside that circle is another one, the church, God’s people chosen to demonstrate his love to the world. And inside that is a small circle, which is your self. It’s not about the church meeting your needs, it’s about you joining the mission of God’s people to meet the world’s needs.”

The video below comes from a report done by a local PBS station in 2009.  The quality isn’t the best, but it does a good job of looking at the “emerging” phenomenon from all angles.  You’ll see Brian McLaren interviewed, as well as Scot McKnight (quoted above).  We’ll come back to McKnight (now at Northern Baptist Seminary), who will tell us more about “Five Streams of the Emerging Church.”

Emerging churches are communities that practice the way of Jesus within postmodern cultures. This definition encompasses nine practices. Emerging churches (1) identify with the life of Jesus, (2) transform the secular realm, and (3) live highly communal lives. Because of these three activities, they (4) welcome the stranger, (5) serve with generosity, (6) participate as producers, (7) create as created beings, (8) lead as a body, and (9) take part in spiritual activities. — Eddie Gibbs and Ryan Bolger, Emerging Churches: Creating Christian Community in Postmodern Cultures (Baker Academic, 2005)

Scot McKnight cites the definition quoted above in his 2007 CT article, “Five Streams of the Emerging Church” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2007/february/11.35.html?start=1).  McKnight’s piece presents “five themes” in the emerging church which he describes as “streams flowing into the emerging lake. No one says the emerging movement is the only group of Christians doing these things, but together they crystallize into the emerging movement.”  Here are the key points of his “five themes” (his elaborations on each are worth reading if you are interested!):

  • Prophetic (or at least provocative):  One of the streams flowing into the emerging lake is prophetic rhetoric. The emerging movement is consciously and deliberately provocative. Emerging Christians believe the church needs to change, and they are beginning to live as if that change had already occurred.
  • Postmodern:  When the evangelical world prohibited postmodernity, as if it were fruit from the forbidden tree, [some of us] chose to eat it to see what it might taste like. We found that it tasted good, even if at times we found ourselves spitting out hard chunks of nonsense.  Postmodernity cannot be reduced to the denial of truth. Instead, it is the collapse of inherited metanarratives (overarching explanations of life) . . . because of the impossibility of getting outside their assumptions.
  • Praxis-oriented:  The emerging movement’s connection to postmodernity may grab attention and garner criticism, but what most characterizes emerging is the stream best called praxis—how the faith is lived out.  [he lists some specific sub-categories:  worship, mission, and orthopraxy (right living).  “The contention is that how a person lives is more important than what he or she believes.”
  • Post-evangelical:  The emerging movement is a protest against much of evangelicalism as currently practiced. It is post-evangelical in the way that neo-evangelicalism (in the 1950s) was post-fundamentalist. [he offers a particular emphasis here on “post-systematic theology”]
  • Political:  Put directly, they are Democrats. And that spells “post” for conservative-evangelical-politics-as-usual.

McKnight’s conclusion:  “If I were a prophet, I’d say that it will influence most of evangelicalism in its chastened epistemology (if it hasn’t already), its emphasis on praxis, and its missional orientation. I see the emerging movement much like the Jesus and charismatic movements of the 1960s, which undoubtedly have found a place in the quilt called evangelicalism.”

My wife is a quilter, so I know something of how the process unfolds from having watched her work over the years.  The finished product we call a “quilt” it is comprised of myriad sections of colorful cloths, sewn together in beautiful patterns, then laid over a sturdier piece of single fabric that acts as a foundation.  In between is sandwiched the “batting,” which makes the whole finished piece much more comfortable.  The three parts are then “quilted” together into what we call a quilt, the delicate stitching being what holds it all together.

If modern evangelicalism is indeed a “quilt,” then perhaps what’s most important is not just the variety of colorful contemporary expressions by themselves; nor simply the plain, sturdy backing of historic Christian orthodoxy; nor even the fluffy batting of cultural relevance that makes everything comfortable.  What is most important is the thread of faith that holds everything together:  one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.

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New Kinds of Christians? (pt. 2)

Old religious factions are volcanoes burned out; on the lava and ashes and squalid scoriæ of old eruptions grow the peaceful olive, the cheering vine, and the sustaining corn. — Edmund Burke

In part one of this consideration of Christianity in post-Christian culture, we looked at a couple of new Christian movements (Calvary Chapel and Vineyard) that grew out of the “Jesus Movement” of the late 60s counter-culture.  Next we’ll look at the late 20th-century emergence of influential “non-denominational” churches.  Before we go there, a brief review of the idea of “denominations” seems in order . . . .

Ever since the Reformation, Protestantism has been partly defined by denominational divisions.  First there were the various Protestant “traditions” (Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Anabaptists) with their particular theological, doctrinal, and national distinctions.  Then there were the next-generation denominational identities which grew out even more specifically defined differences in doctrine, polity, even ethnicity (Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Brethren, Mennonites, Methodists; and ultimately multiple “flavors” of each!).  Then a series of revivals–the Great Awakening, Cane Ridge, Azusa Street--and the unpenetrable racial divide created further sectarian distinctions within the existing denominations (particularly in America) and spawned even more sub-groups (such as Holiness and Pentecostal denominations)

As a result, the “most churched” country in the world was also the most “fractured” in appearance.  Nearly every American community has the classic “church on every corner” are near downtown where the classic steeples of the old mainline denominations still stand tall (while the congregations inside age and dwindle).  Yes, the 20th C. did bring about ecumenical efforts toward institutional unity:  Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans in particular gradually brought together many disparate groups withing their denominational ranks into single organizations.  The United Church of Christ even brought unrelated groups such as Congregational, German Reformed, and independent Christian churches (and worked to build broader alliances with other mainline groups).  But Baptists and Pentecostals remained divided by geography and race, and even the newer “Third Wave” fellowships such as Calvary Chapel and Vineyard were unable to resolve some of their theological differences and went their own ways.

The “Non-Denominational” Shift

Enter another “new kind of Christian” development:  the intentionally non-denominational church.  While this phenomenon is generally seen as a recent development, and often associated with the “seeker-sensitive” approach of places like Willow Creek in the Chicago suburbs, it, too, has historic roots.  During America’s Early National Period, something of an “American Reformation” took place as congregations began leaving Baptist, Presbyterian, and Methodist denominations to become known simply as Christian Churches, Churches of Christ, or Disciples of Christ.  Some of these “non-denominational” churches (the Disciples in particular) later developed very denominational-like institutional structures, but congregations generally retained a high degree of independence.  And even Willow Creek, which we’ll turn to next, was not as much of a new phenomenon in American religion as it might seem (read this article at Christianity today to learn more http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2000/november13/5.62.html)

As the church struggles to find relevance in a post-Christian culture, how far is it willing to go? Or is the answer not to try to “adapt” at all?  In the mid-90s, as the real-life Church was wrestling with these issues, Gary Trudeau’s popular Doonesbury strip ran an on-going series featuring “Rev. Scott Sloane” (a regular over the years), who has turned the old house where all the main characters lived during college into “The Little Church of Walden” (Walden was the name of their college).  Here’s a sampling . . .

WaldenChurch1 WaldenChurch2 WaldenChurch3

Seeker-Sensitivity

“When I left [the] classroom that day, I went out to my car, put my head on the steering wheel, and cried. The dream of being part of such a church had taken root in my soul.” — Bill Hybels

In 1972, 20-year-old Bill Hybels (quoted above) was a student at Trinity College.  The class he refers to in the quote, taught by professor Dr. Gilbert Bilezikian, was looking at the Church in the context of Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:18 (“I will build my Church”) and the description of the New Testament Church in Acts chapter 2.  This kind of Church, Hybels decides, was exactly what the world needed today.

By the 1970s, more people than ever in modern history (including me!) were completely disconnected from the Church.  Hybels and others, rather than seeing this as an obstacle, considered it an opportunity.  This generation of maturing baby-boomers could play a part in creating a new kind of Church, one that played the same role in their lives as the NT Church had played in the lives of early believers.  It would not be encumbered by the denominational baggage and formal traditions of the institutions they’d left behind in childhood.  It would be a real community of believers; one that would be relevant to the real lives and the real needs of its congregants.  Here’s how the online Encyclopedia of Chicago describes what happened (R. Jonathan Moore, http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/2382.html):

In 1975 leaders of Son City, a successful youth program at Park Ridge’s South Park Church, decided to create a new ministry for unchurched adults. A door-to-door survey of the local community taught them why people stayed away from church. Incorporating contemporary music, drama, and multimedia technology, the new congregation first met on October 12, 1975, in Palatine’s Willow Creek Theater. Within two years worship services grew from 125 to 2,000 people. In 1981 the evangelical church moved to its current location in South Barrington and continued to increase in numbers and size on its sprawling campus. By 2000, it drew 15,000 for weekly services.

Led by Pastor Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Community Church became famous as the prototypical “megachurch,” widely imitated—and criticized—for its entertaining worship style and use of modern marketing strategies. “Seeker services” deliberately target the curious and the unchurched, while members worship at believer-oriented New Community services. To connect people to the church, Willow Creek has hundreds of small groups, devoted to everything from Bible study to singles’ fellowship to car repair. The affiliated Willow Creek Association publishes curriculum materials, runs leadership seminars, and encourages thousands of affiliated churches, extending its influence nationwide.

The Willow Creek phenomenon was indeed “widely imitated–and criticized.”  Notice how it was using the most influential elements of popular culture–contemporary music, drama, media, technology–to create “entertaining worship styles” (as did churches in the Calvary Chapel and Vineyard movements, countless other “non-denominational fellowships.” and eventually almost any church which desired to remain “relevant” to contemporary culture.”  It became known as the start of the “seeker-sensitive” approach to church, with services specifically aimed at “the curious and the unchurched” and separate meeting for believers (also “widely imitated–and criticized”!.  By the mid-90s, the phenomenon was culturally significant enough to warrant continued scrutiny in Doonesbury:

WaldenChurch5 WaldenChurch6 WaldenChurch7

Next:  From “Seekers” to “Emergents” . . . .

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New Kinds of Christians? (pt. 1)

“What if the Christian faith is supposed to exist in a variety of forms rather than just one imperial one? What if it is both more stable and more agile—more responsive to the Holy Spirit—when it exists in these many forms? And what if, instead of arguing about which form is correct and legitimate, we were to honor, appreciate, and validate one another and see ourselves as servants of one grander mission, apostles of one greater message, seekers on one ultimate quest?” — Brian McLaren

The quote above comes from Brian McLaren’s 2002 book, A New Kind of Christian.  We met him a couple of weeks ago when we were looking at Christian responses to the postmodern “shift.”  McLaren has continued to press the Church to reconsider its place in postmodern culture with subsequent books like A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic/Contemplative, Fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Green, Incarnational, Depressed-yet-Hopeful, Emergent, Unfinished CHRISTIAN (2004; how’s that for a title?!) and Everything Must Change (2007).  He’s generally recognized among the leaders of what came to be known as the “emerging church” movement (we’ll come back to that after covering some background).

McLaren would be a good representative of Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture in Paradox” type.  Perhaps, as John Stackhouse wrote, Niebuhr “had the most trouble making clear” this perspective because when he was writing, the other four types were predominate in culture:  the fundamentalists and liberals had laid claim to their separate corners the Protestant landscape; Catholic sacramentalism held sway among its own faithful; and “transforming” evangelicalism was just gaining steam.  This ‘paradoxical” fifth type had not yet really emerged; Niebuhr could imagine it, but he’d not really experienced it.  By the time McLaren is writing, both fundamentalism and liberalism had faded; transformational evangelicalism had surged and then plateaued; and Catholic sacramentalism was inspiring new interest among more thoughtful and contemplative Protestants.  In the midst of all this, a “new kind of Christian” had begun to emerge.

An unlikely catalyst for the Church in “paradoxical tension” was, of all things, the cultural transformations wrought in and by “the sixties.”  Young people turned in droves away from institutionalized religion of all types and fled to “New Age” spirituality, both Eastern and Western mysticism, Native American shamanism, Transcendental Meditation, and a host of other alternative “spiritual experiences.”  Church-going Americans began drifting away as well as affluence, leisure, and popular culture provide more interesting things to do with one’s Sunday morning.  And then an amazing thing happened.  On the West Coast, a new wave of hippy-culture flower children who were looking for love and meaning found it in Jesus.  The American Church would never be the same.

Jesus People

What came to be known as the “Jesus People Movement” began in the late 1960s in California, particularly in the Haight-Ashbury District of San Francisco and along the coastal towns of southern Californnia.  The Gospel was spread through dozens of small-press Christian newspapers distributed in the streets and on the beaches.  In Christian coffeehouses and a growing number of independent Christian fellowships, long-haired and shoeless youth gathered to be discipled and sent out to bring more.  A new kind of Christian music, at first more “folky” in style, but increasingly more like rock and roll, was the driving force of the movement.  There was also a hightened sensitivity to “the moving of the holy spirit” to bring healing to the broken, break bondages to drug addiction, and empower believers through “signs and wonders” and “prophetic words.”

Some “traditional” churches, like Chuck Smith’s Calvary Chapel, responded to the need by accepting all who would come to services just as they were and recruiting staff from among the movement to reach out to their peers.  Other congregations were shaken by the challenge of exhuberent praise, rejection of formality, and new music styles the “Jesus People” brought to worship.  Another influential church fellowship to grow out of this time was the Vineyard, which began as a loose network of independent fellowships, sometimes with connections with Calvary Chapel, but ultimately gathering under John Wimber into a distinct movement (more on that to come).

Read more about the “Jesus People” movement here http://www.allsavedfreakband.com/jesus_movement.htm
Key people/groups to look for:  Chuck Smith, Calvary Chapel, Lonnie Frisbee, John Wimber, Jesus People USA

“Our passion is to imitate the ministry of Jesus in the power of the Spirit. This requires we must follow Jesus out of baptismal waters, through our personal deserts, and into the harvest. We want to take the ammunition of the balanced evangelical theology with the fire power of Pentecostal practice, loading & readying the best of both worlds to hit the target of making & nurturing disciples…” — John Wimber

John Wimber’s influence profoundly shaped the theology and practice of Vineyard churches from their earliest days until his death in 1997. When he was “conscripted by God” he was, in the words of Christianity Today, a “beer-guzzling, drug-abusing pop musician, who was converted at the age of 29 while chain-smoking his way through a Quaker-led Bible study” (CT editorial, Feb. 9 1998).  By 1970 he was leading 11 Bible studies that involved more than 500 people.

Wimber became so fruitful as an evangelical pastor he was asked to lead the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth. He also later became an adjunct instructor at Fuller Theological Seminary re-entered pastoral ministry to plant Calvary Chapel of Yorba Linda.  Throughout this time, John’s conservative evangelical paradigm for understanding the ministry of the church began to grow. George Eldon Ladd’s theological writings on the kingdom of God convinced John intellectually that all the biblical gifts of the Holy Spirit should be active in the church.

Encounters with Fuller missiologists Donald McGavaran and C. Peter Wagner and seasoned missionaries and international students gave him credible evidence for combining evangelism with healing and prophecy. As he became more convinced of God’s desire to be active in the world through all the biblical gifts of the Spirit, John began to teach and train his church to imitate Jesus’ full-orbed kingdom ministry. He set out to “do the stuff” of the Bible, about which he had formerly only read, and teaching others to do the same.

Another major way the Vineyard movement has shaped the contemporary Church is through a particular style of worship music that stresses intimacy with God and present reality of His Kingdom.  Vineyard music has transformed worship not only in the movement itself, but also through the spread of “contemporary worship” in churches across the evangelical (and even mainline) spectrum.  (much of the above adapted from the VinyeardUSA website, http://www.vineyardusa.org/site/about/vineyard-history).

Next:  Dumping Denominationalism . . . .

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Captain America: Alternate Visions and Versions

In the12-issue series, Avengers Forever (1998-99, Kurt Busiek), Captain America and several fellow Avengers past, present, and future are drawn through time by perenial foe Kang the Conqueror to help him fight his own future self, Immortus. Brought from just after the “Secret Empire” storyline in 1975 (between #175-176), after which he gave up the CA role for a brief time, Cap is shown throughout the story to have lost the resolve and confidence that has made him such an iconic hero.

Avengers_Forever_Vol_1_6

(cover art by Carlos Pacheco, Jesus Merino, Steve Oliff, Tony Kelly, John Roshell)

In the midst of an early battle (#1), the unusual assembly of Avengers “turn to Captain America for some sign, some decision . . .” only to find confusion and inaction. In this time-and-space spanning epic, Cap & Co. encounter alternate universes (and alternate versions of Avengers) in which the team’s “evolution” has had a negative impact on human history. These anomalous time streams are the result of Kang’s meddling, and a mysterious group of three “Time Keepers” are determined to eliminate them (and Kang). This group of Avengers has been assembled by Kang to help keep this from happening.

Among the alternate “versions” of Cap that appear in Avengers Forever are the “Shieldsmen” of the Galactic Avenger Battalion (#1); a shield-wielding Kilraven (#4, with Cap’s then-new photonic shield); and a great host of alternate Avengers who appear in the climactic battle of #12:

  • Captain Assyria from Earth-9105, where Egypt rose to world dominance after Moses’ death, ultimately founding “The United States of Assyria.” (New Warriors #11-13, 1991)
  • A Kree CA from the Avengers of Earth-31955, a future where the Kree and Brood have conquered Earth. (FF vol. 3 #16, April 1999)
  • American Dream from Earth-982 (a.k.a. “MC2”; see more below)

Avengers_Forever_Vol_1_11

Throughout the history of the Marvel Universe (and beyond), dozens of variant visions and versions of the Living Legend have appeared.  The following list is a work-in-progress; it does not include those from Earth-616 who have actually served as Captain America (William Naslund, Jeff Mace, William Burnside, Bucky Barnes, Sam Wilson); nor does it include others who have been transformed by the Super-Soldier Serum such as Isaiah Bradley and Clint McIntyre, since all have been subjects of previous posts.  More details (and visuals) of all these characters can be found at http://marvel.wikia.com/wiki/Marvel_Database

  • Unnamed rebel leader on Earth-8862 modeled after Cap in CA Annual #6 (1982)
  • Vance Astro/Major Victory of Earth-691’s 31st C. Guardians of the Galaxy uses Cap’s surviving shield as a symbol to rally resistance to Badoon domination (GofG vol. 1, beginning in 1990). He ultimately adopts a Cap-esque costume in GofG #20 (1992).
  • Commander America of Earth-90110, one of the “Cosmic Avengers” of a reality in which the Vision conquered Earth. (What If? vol. 2 #19, 1990 and #36, 1992)
  • Earth-355’s CA from the Gatherers story in Avengers #355 (1992)
  • Infinity War doppleganger from CA #408 (1992)
  • On Earth-928 of the future (depicted in the “2099” series of comics), a cloned version of Captain America becomes president after Doom’s fall (Doom 2099 #33-35 and 2099 Apocalypse, both 1995). This reality’s “real” CA/Steve Rogers was discovered in suspended animation in 3099 and was given Thor’s hammer, turning him into something of a CA/Thor amalgam (2099 Manifest Destiny, 1998)
  • “Super-Soldier,” a CA/Superman fusion, is featured in Almagam Comics Super-Soldier #1 (April 1996) and Super Soldier, Man of War #1 (June 1997), both published by DC in the aftermath of the famed 4-issue 1996 Marvel vs. DC crossover event.
  • Young Peter Parker imagined himself as Cap on the cover of ASM -1 (1997)
  • A “Nazi Cap” (and Bucky) appear in one panel in Ultraverse/Avengers #1 (1995)
  • Captain America, Jr. appears in one panel of Unlimited Access #4 (1998)
  • “Old Cap” from the Earth-X, Universe X, Pardise X series (1999-2002). In a future where all of humanity had been given super powers by a release of Terrigen Mists, “Old Cap” is on a quest to restore humanity. He wears a flag toga-style and is bald with creases (or scars) on his forehead that resemble the letter “A.” Ultimately he was transformed into a member of the Avenging Host, with feathered wings growing his back, his skin turned blue and white, and his face was marked with the letter “A.”
  • Primax, or “Jaromel,” who takes the lead of a resistance movement initiated by Cap against the tyranny of Korvak in the 31st Century (CA vol. 3 #18, 1999)
  • Shannon Carter (niece of Sharon) is the CA of Earth-982 (MC2), where Marvel heroes emerged decades earlier than on Earth-616. The original Avengers (including this reality’s Cap) have all either died or retired by the mid-1990s and are being replaced by younger versions of the original members.  Shannon first appeared as American Dream in A-Next #4-12 (1999). Along with others of the “A-Next” team, she is transported into yet another alternate Earth, where she finds the original Captain America (see more below) of her world. He and his fellow Avengers had traveled there years before to stop an invasion, a mission that cost many team members’ lives. That Earth’s version of Cap has been killed, and Earth-982 Cap stayed behind to take his place. At the end of this story, Earth-982 Cap gives the shield of the deceased Cap of that world to Shannon, who takes it back with her to her own alternate Earth. American Dream appears in many subsequent “MC2” comics, including several issues of Spider-Girl, Avengers Next, and her own American Dream title (2008). She also appears in Captain America Corps (5 issues, 2011).

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  • The U.N. “Bannermen” that appear in Marvel Boy vol 2 #2 (2000) seem to be modeled on Captain America but augmented to display Hulk-like powers.
  • A robotic version of Cap is depicted on the cover of The Ultron Imperative (2001), but it does not appear in the story.
  • Steve Rogers of Earth-1610 became Captain America in 1942 and was lost on a mission in Iceland in 1945. In this universe Bucky, who was a childhood buddy of Steve’s, is a U.S. Army propaganda journalist who follows Cap on his missions to promote “the symbol.” Cap is found “on ice” in “the present” and integrated into SHIELD’s “Ultimates” team (along with Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, and later Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch; led by Nick Fury). At the time of Steve’s revival, Bruce Banner has been working recreating the super-soldier serum for 8 years, which resulted in his becoming the Hulk of this universe. Steve finds his parents have died (father in 1954, mother in 1967), as well as both of his brothers. Bucky, still alive, is married to Steve’s wartime sweetheart Gail. (Ultimates #1-6, 2002). This version of Cap will over time be a much rougher, darker version of the Living Legend (but he’s seen as such a resolute leader he is elected President during a time of national crisis!). Ironically, the “Ultimates” universe eventually became a major influence on the look and feel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (particularly with its black Nick Fury), but Steve Rogers of the MCU is more like that of the original MU.
  • Josiah X is the son of “Black Captain America” Isaiah Bradley. He is a minister of the Nation of Islam and is enhanced due his having been conceived after Isaiah received a version of the Super-Soldier Serum. He wears the top of Bradley’s stolen CA uniform under his clothes; the chain mail acts as a protective vest (Crew 1-6, 2003-04).
  • Earth-982 CA returned to his home world in Spider-Girl #58 (May 2003) and also is featured prominently in Last Hero Standing (5 issues, 2005, DeFalco).   This reality’s Steve Rogers is in character very much like our own, but seems to have not experienced the same “lost years” in suspended animation after WWII (“a twist of fate transported him into the modern age of heroes”). He’s much older and is dealing with slowed reflexes and loss of stamina. Much of this series focuses on his reluctant acceptance of the inevitable need to stand down, but not, of course, until he himself is “the last hero standing.” Joining forces with the young Next Avengers and his old friend, Thor, to battle Loki’s attempt to destroy this Earth, he confesses before the final battle, “That’s why I have decided this will be my last mission.  I intend to surrender my shield and retire as soon as it’s over.” Instead, he falls in the final issue, and memorialized by Thor by being transformed into a new constellation with a familiar shield-shaped aura around the central star.
  • Steve Rogers of Earth-460 is from an alternate future in which the Purple Man has become “President for Life” and has hunted down and killed most super-humans.       Unable to be killed, the captured Rogers is sent to late 16th Virginia of Earth-616, where he assumes the guise of native-American “Rojhaz.” As such, he becomes the protector of the struggling Roanoke Colony and young Virginia Dare. He is sent back to his own future because his presence in the past is causing multiversal destruction (Marvel 1602, 2003-04).
  • What If . . . Jessica Jones had joined the Avengers?  (Feb. 2005) diverges from a point when Nick Fury offered Jessica a job as Avengers liason to SHIELD (Alias 26, 2003, which she declined). In this alternate world, she accepted the offer and ultimately became romantically involved with and married that world’s Steve Rogers.
  • “House of M” Steve Rogers became CA, survived WW II, gave up the uniform when Senate Hearings on Mutant Activity violated his commitment to civil rights. He became an astronaut (1st man on the moon) and is an old man in H of M. (CA #10, Oct. 2005).
  • Elijah Bradley, grandson of “Black Captain America” Isaiah Bradley, follows in his grandfather’s footsteps as the Patriot (beginning in Young Avengers #1, 2005) Patriot_002
  • Colonel America of Earth-2149 (throughout various Marvel Zombies titles, 2006-09)
  • What If? (2007) Civil-War era Steve Rogers becomes a CA-type hero after being brought back from near death by a Native American healer (his look reflects native themes)
  • In What If? Avengers Disassembled (2006), Captain America assisted the Scarlet Witch in the “disassembling” of the Avengers. Their love affair in the “real” world serves as a catalyst for their combining her power and his idealism to remake the world. It is also inferred that his time “on ice” left him mentally unstable.
  • Captain America: the Chosen (6 issues, 2007, David Morrell) takes place in an alternate reality (Earth-7116), which in most respects is identical to Earth-616 continuity. But in this world, the super soldier serum has been breaking down in Cap’s system over the years since “Operation Rebirth,” bringing him “now” (sometime after the events of Sept. 11, 2001) near death. Cap volunteers for a secret project that allows him to psychically project his image into the field and connect with particular individuals to help them in time of great need.       A soldier in Afghanistan wonders how long he can sustain the strength, courage and determination needed . . . . Cap appears: “To fight the enemies of freedom? To fight hate? You want to know how long we can keep doing this? As long as we’re able to lift a finger. As long as we can draw breath.”
  • In What If? Civil War (Feb. 2008) there are two alternate-world versions of CA. One revisioning has Cap leading the resistence to the Registration Act in opposition to Henry Gyrich, rather than Tony Stark, who had been killed by his Extremis injection. In this world, Cap wears a suit of armor crafted by his old friend.       A second story has Cap and Iron Man coming together to fight the Thor clone, which prevents the death of Bill Foster. Sobered, Stark asks Cap to lead an Avengers Initiative that will monitor and train registered super-humans.
  • In What If? Fallen Son (Feb. 2009) Steve Rogers is not assassinated after the Civil War, is convicted of treason, and sent to the “Project 42” Prison in the negative zone.
  • A Skrull imposter Cap appears in the Secret Invasion series (2008-09), as well as a Cap-themed Super-Skrull warrior.
  • “Old Soldier” in Squadron Supreme #1-4 (2008, Ultimate Comics)
  • Mark Millar’s Image Comics series, War Heroes (3 issues, 2008), echoes super-soldier themes in a “War on Terror” context where volunteers are given super-power through drug enhancement. Dialogue in this story makes reference to a volunteer being thought of as “Captain Fucking America” by his brother. Perhaps in this “world” there are fictional Captain America comics that lead to the reference?
  • On Earth-9904 the Avengers were formed in the 1950s under the leadership of Jimmy Woo (What If? #9, June 1978). The five-issue Atlas series (2010) revisited this reality, uncovering a world in which the “Atlas” Avengers became the foundation of Avengers for decades to come (including a version of Cap, depicted in Atlas #4).
  • In What If #200 (Siege, 2011) Norman Osborn’s forces prevail during the Siege of Asgard and the Sentry decapitates Captain America (Steve Rogers), leading the remaining heroes to lose hope and ultimately into a world that is consumed by the Void.
  • A Red Skull imposter stopped by the “1959 Avengers” had created “his own Captain America” by combining versions of the Infinity Formula and S-S Serum (NAv 11-12, 2011); in the present, Nick Fury uses the same serum to save the life of Mockingbird
  • Mark Waid’s wonderful 5-issue limited series, CA: Man Out Of Time (2011) reinterprets the basic elements of Cap’s modern-day revival as if it happened in contemporary times.  After setting up the basic scenario of Cap & Bucky serving in WWII, seemingly dying near its end. The original Avengers (in their original uniforms!) discover Cap and bring him to NYC, where the same basic story as Avengers # 4 begins to unfold—until Cap is shot trying to stop a mugging. Hopes that Doom’s time machine (now in FF hands) can return him are dashed when President (Obama?) refuses to let Cap go back.       An encounter with Kang, who recognizes he’s from a different time, results in Cap’s being sent back anyway, only to discover he no longer fits in there, either. He ultimately returns to the “present” and makes peace with his situation.
  • E-61112 Commander Rogers (and all other Assembled Avengers) exist in an alternate dystopian version of E-616 created by the Age of Ultron event (Avengers 12.1, 2011)
  • Commander A (Kiyoshi Morales) is the CA of 25th-C Earth-11831, where a Fascist state uses the CA legend to control the population. In this future, the “Anti-Cap” from the 2004-05 CA&F series has become “Major America.” (Captain America Corps, 5-issues, 2011)
  • E-11051 CA is Elijah Bradley, who, along with many of the original Young Avengers, serves Kang as older adults in an alternate future Earth. He is apparently married to Samantha Wilson Bradley (Sam Wilson’s daughter?) who is now the Falcon. Their son, Steve Wilson Bradley, is now Bucky. (Av:ChildCru YA, 2011)
  • E-11080 CA is Steve Rogers in an alternate near future where a pandemic infection has turned most humans into canibals. This reality has the same history and characters as E-616 but diverges at some point in the not-too-distant “contemporary past.” This CA leads the Avengers’ efforts to stop the infection’s spread, but when he “turns” himself, he is killed by the Punisher.  (Marvel Universe vs. the Punisher; MU vs. Wolverine; MU vs. The Avengers (2011-13).
  • Earth-TRN193 Steve Rogers becomes a Cap-esque Deathlok (X-Factor 231, 2012)
  • Major Liberty appears (and dies) in a memory of an WW II scene experienced by the Human Torch in All-New Invaders #1 (March 2014). The cover of #4 features a Kree warrior-styled version of Cap (not in the story; the image is yet to be given context).
  • An alternate reality Frank Castle is convinced by that world’s Illuminati to don the suit in an “Age of Ultron” What If? story (WI? AofU #4, June 2014). In this world, Cap is dead when found by the original Avengers.  “The hero America expected to save it was officially gone. And those heroes they did have betrayed them. At a certain point, the American spirit was deflated. Who did they aspire toward with their heroes gone?” The final panel of this story depicts a post-Castle “Captain AmeriCorps” with an American Dream-styled leader and members who appear spider-manish, alien, and other variations.
  • All-New Invaders #9 (Oct. 2014) features “every Deathlok in the MU” including one which is a version of CA
  • General America of Earth-14235, which was destroyed by multiversal incursions. He was brought by A.I.M with his fellow Avengers to Earth-616 (Avengers #25, 2014), then later sent by A.I.M. (#28) to another Earth and presumably died in a subsequent incursion.
  • Roberta Mendez is the CA of Battleworld’s 2099 domain. When subject to certain control words by her Alchemax handlers, she shifts from her civilian identity to CA without being aware of the distinction between personas (Secret Wars 2099, 2015)
  • Samantha Wilson is the CA of Earth-65, an alternate world where Gwen Stacy was bitten by a radioactive spider instead of Peter Parker. Being an African-American woman, she was denied the chance to serve in WW II but became a pilot in the U.S. Civil Air Patrol. She was given her chance “to make a difference when Peggy Carter, an agent of the newly-formed SSR, offered her the opportunity as a Project: Rebirth candidate. During a battle with that Earth’s Baron Zemo, she was trapped in an alternate dimension for 75 years, finally returning to resume her career. (Spider-Gwen vol 2 #1-6, 2015-16)
  • Danielle Cage, daughter of Jessica Drew and Luke Cage, is the CA of Earth-15061 (20XX; mid-21st C) in the 3-issue Utron Forever Series (2015) and New Avengers vol. 4 #5-6 (2016)
  • New_Avengers_Vol_4_5

(cover by Oscar Jimenez)

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Other Super-Soldiers?

Before we move on to beginning of Steve Rogers’ career as Captain America, let’s take a  brief aside to consider the consequences of Prof. Erskine’s demise.  The presumption that the serum, if it could be recreated, would work on anyone has led to a number of attempts to recover Erskine’s lost process (including one that was used to explain the “Commie-smashing Captain America” of the mid-1950s; more on that to come). A 2000 story arc revealed the story of an effort to test the serum even before Rogers was chosen for the procedure.  An impatient U.S. military officer grew tired of Erskine’s determination to perfect the serum and process before using it on a human subject. He stole a sample and administered it to a disgruntled soldier, Clint McIntyre, in exchange for arranging his release from military prison.[1]

CAAn2000 Cover by Dan Jurgens, Art Thibert, Chris Sotomayor

More famously, in the Truth: Red, White, and Black series, one black soldier involved in a secret government program, Isaiah Bradley, survived the process and served one mission as a fabled “Black Captain America.” In Roy Thomas’s Invaders series, a popular Golden-Age hero called the Destroyer was revived and said to have received a “derivative of the super-soldier serum” recreated by one of Erskine’s original assistants when the men were together in a Nazi prison camp. Later in his modern career, Cap found himself at times facing “enhanced” enemies who owed their superior abilities to procedures that attempted to duplicate Erskine’s formula.[2]

IsaiahBradley

Each of these attempts to recreate the original super-soldier serum managed to replicate the physical enhancements of the original, but in every case, the recipient developed mental and eventual physical dysfunctions, leading to erratic, unpredictable behavior. Isaiah Bradley was court-martialed by the Army for acting on his on initiative (and stealing a costume meant for Steve Rogers) and sent to prison, where he languished for 17 years while reverting to the mental capacity of a child. A couple of different storylines have men identified as the Destroyer either becoming a revenge-obsessed Nazi hunter who thinks himself above moral judgment or an outright, murderous sociopath. Clint McIntyre (as well as later “enhanced” soldiers such as “Nuke”) became an uncontrollable berserker whose body simply gave out under the extreme physical stress. In these instances, at least, it seems the idea finally given voice in the recent Captain America film—that the super-soldier serum somehow amplifies its recipient’s inner nature—is valid.[3]

The film version emphasizes the importance of Steve Rogers’ moral sensibilities and strength of character in creating the only successful super-soldier. Dr. Erskine knows that the super-soldier serum, in some mysterious way, enhances the natural traits of the recipient. Erskine carefully measures Rogers’ motivations, then probes more deeply into the nature of the man himself. Pop culture critic Anthony R Mills notes,

         Erskine also has moral and philosophical reasons for preferring Steve. He is not looking for a killer or even an expert soldier . . . .   Instead, Erskine is drawn to Steve because he is selfless, determined, honest, courageous, and considerate of the weak. When Steve asks before the procedure why Erskine chose him, he responds, ‘Because the strong man who has known power all his life may lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength and knows compassion. Whatever happens tomorrow you must promise me one thing: that you will stay who you are, not a perfect soldier, but a good man.’[4]

Only Isaiah Bradley was a match for Steve Rogers’ character, and even in his case the rushed and incomplete process, along with his own rage and bitterness at having been the victim of racism and manipulation, resulted in physical and mental disability.[5]

The Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special features a story that sums all this up. Cap’s WW II teen sidekick, Bucky Barnes, recalls a story Steve has told him about the days leading up to his volunteering for the procedure. In this story, frail, despondent Steve Rogers finds himself thrust into an unexpected crises in which he’s shown to inherently possess many of the character qualities—and even nascent skills—that later define Captain America. “The thing that makes Captain America great,” Bucky reflects, “is Steve Rogers.”[6]

[1] The Clint McIntyre story appears in CA vol. 3, 33-39 (2000) and the CA 2000 Annual.  He was later revived and manipulated into thinking Rogers had taken his rightful place as America’s super-soldier and set out to kill him (more on that story later).

[2] Isaiah Bradley appeared as “the Black Captain America” in Truth: Red, White & Black 4-5 (2003). The Destroyer character originally appeared in a number of Timely’s Golden Age publications, but the story of his having received a variant of the super-soldier serum was retconned in Marvel’s Invaders (1975-79), Citizen V and the V-Batallion (2001-02), Destroyer (2009), and The Marvels Project series. Cap had encounters with two of these “enhanced” government agents—“Nuke” in Daredevil #233 and “G.I. Max” in CA #331. John Walker, who would take over as Captain America when Rogers resigned in the 1970s and Cap’s long-time friend and some-times partner Dennis Dunphy (D-Man) were also products of human enhancement programs.

[3] Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), directed by Joe Johnston.

[4] Anthony R. Mills, American Theology, Superhero Comics, and the Cinema: The Marvel of Stan Lee and the Revolution of a Genre (Routledge, 2014), p. 183-84 (quoting the CA film).

[5] Revealed in Truth: Red, White, & Black #7 (July 2003), Morales. In this story, “present day” Steve Rogers visits the still-living Bradley, giving him back the stolen WW II costume that led to all of his troubles.

[6] CAC 70th Anniversary Special (2009), written by James Robinson.

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Becoming Captain America (part 2): “Rebirth” Narrative

This narrative attempts to bring together in a seamless account all the diverse elements depicted in the comics listed in Part 1.  The base story line is that of CAC #1 (March 1941), with later additions and embellishments as documented.

After watching a newsreel of Hitler’s advances in Europe, Steve Rogers immediately attempts to enlist but designated 4-F: “You’re much too frail for military duty!” A distraught Rogers protests, “But there must be something I can do—a place for me!” His plea is overhead by an officer (“General Phillips” in ToS #63, but addressed as “Colonel” in CA #109). “If you’re really serious about wanting to play a part in all this,” the officer says, “Would you become a human guinea pig—in a deadly experiment?” (CA #176, #255, AdvCA #1; in the latter, General Phillips is accompanied by an Erskine-like doctor who repeats, “perfect, absolutely perfect,” while sizing up the frail young man).

Rebirthfile
Rogers is taken by young, dark-haired woman (Lt. Cynthia Glass) to secret training center in Washington, D. C. area. He and three other potential Rebirth candidates undergo weeks of intensive training prior to the Rebirth procedure.[1] Rogers’ training is overseen by Lt. Col. James Fletcher, a.k.a. “The American Eagle” (perhaps the “Colonel” in CA #109?). The project leader (identified only as “Abraham” at first) is a German scientist. Rogers, selected by a process of elimination as the best candidate, writes a letter that night dated Jan. 13, 1941. Fletcher and “Abe” meet on Jan. 28 to discuss fears of infiltration; Abe relates the importance of “vita-rays” to the process and gives his “formula” to Fletcher for safekeeping (all AdvCA #1)

Dressed in civilian attire, two military officers and Rogers drive to a “sinister looking curio shop” in “a shabby tenement district” of Washington, D.C. The “old shop keeper” at first draws a hidden gun, then, satisfied with their identities, leads them “up a musty stairway” (depicted in new panel) to a secret room. The old woman pulls off a mask, revealing herself to be a young woman (dark hair; Lt. Glass?) whom “Grover” identifies as “Agent X-13” (CAC #1, agent not identified in ToS #63; in CA #109, Rogers makes the same trip to the curio shop, but meets “Reinstein, the world’s greatest physicist” upon entering the shop.  Describing the moment years later, Rogers recalls, “that day in 1941 when a skinny youth heard a voice behind a sliding door and walked with nervous steps through it to face a famous scientist the whole world thought was dead!” (CA #215).
Rogers follows the Professor upstairs, while the undisguised young woman remains downstairs “on guard.” Confusion over Reinstein/Erskine is resolved (CA #255), when Rogers meets “Dr. Anderson, Director of Projects” and “Head Scientist, Professor Reinstein.” Rogers exclaims, “Reinstein? Why, that’s Dr. Abraham Erskine, the famous biochemist. But I thought he’d died last spring in an auto crash!” “That’s what we wanted the world to believe, my boy,” Erskine replies, noting “Reinstein” was a code name.

The military officers (and Dr. Anderson) are seated in an observation room with others already there. In a laboratory outside a large glass window, they see a frail young man. “It has taken us months to find the proper 4F specimen whose body will react properly to our new tissue-building chemical!” The scientist in the room (as yet unidentified here and in the original story) says, “Step forward, Rogers.” Next panel elaborates, “Steve Rogers! Too puny, too sickly to be accepted by the Army! Steve Rogers! Chosen from hundreds of similar volunteers because of his courage, his intelligence, and his willingness to risk death for his country if the experiment should fail!” (ToS #63). In the original 1941 story, the as-yet unidentified young man is injected with a “strange seething liquid.” In ToS #62, Rogers is handed a large vial of “chemicals” and drinks.

RebirthToS
“Gentlemen,” the scientist informs the observers, “This distinguished young volunteer has already been injected with my secret serum. Next you shall see how I speed up its process—and how it will affect his body cells.” To complete the process, Rogers is “bombarded . . . potent, invisible vita-rays” (CA #109).

Rebirthvitarays

Rogers changes before their eyes into a perfect human specimen, to be “The first of a corps of super-agents whose mental and physical ability will make them a terror to spies and saboteurs.” “We shall call you Captain America, son!” the scientist proclaims. “Because, like you—America shall gain the strength and the will to safeguard our shores” (CAC #1; CA #176). “Project Rebirth is a resounding success! Through biochemical and radioacteeve means, ve haff created ze next step in human evolution . . . . I give you ze American Super-Soldier!” (AdvCA #1).

Rebirthresults

BUT . . . one of the army observers (not seemingly one of the men who came with “Grover”) “is in the pay of Hitler’s Gestapo!” The infiltrator, later identified as “Heinz Kruger, who was smuggled ashore from a submarine by “loyal Fifth Columnists” (CA #109), pulls a gun and shoots the scientist. A vial of serum (not a syringe) is also shattered, and “Grover” (Col. Fletcher in AdvCa #1) is shot as well. Rogers reaches through the observation window, pulls the gunman through it, and dispatches him with two punches. In his “frantic effort to escape” the spy becomes entangled in equipment and is electrocuted. Recalling the event later, Cap admits to more aggressive response than intended: “I didn’t mean to hit him so hard—but I didn’t know my own strength! And I wasn’t sorry! Nothing left of him but charred ashes . . . a fate he well deserved!” (CA #176).

Afterward, in a brief scene switch to “the Wermacht headquarters of Third Reich in Berlin,” where “evil forces have received word of Project: Rebirth’s initial success,” the Red Skull makes a cryptic appearance and is identified as the mastermind behind the plot (AdvCA #1).

Marvels_Project_Vol_1_4

[1] The Super-Soldier program is variously referred to in stories as “Operation Rebirth” or “Project Rebirth.” The Marvels Project #4 (Feb. 2010, Brubaker and Epting) also depicts Rogers going through two months of extensive testing in preparation to become “America’s first Super-Soldier.” As he does so, Heinz Kruger, under his alias of Frederick Clemson, Special Agent for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, prepares to attend “the big day—the Game Changer.”

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The Presidential Election of 2017 (?)

Donald Trump appears to be on his way to the Republican nomination, but fear not; this may wind up being, if nothing else, an excellent chance for a Civics lesson! Welcome to class.

Most folks have forgotten (or never knew) this, but the U. S. Constitution does not provide any role for political parties in the Presidential election process. The Electoral College was specifically established to give the States, not the people, the predominant role in electing the President. (Article II, Sect. 1).

Sure, parties can pick their candidates however they choose, but there were not even conventions until the 1830s, and long after that convention delegates were selected by State caucuses. There were no primaries until the early 20th century. In the General Election, the people can vote for their party’s choice (or anyone else on the ballot), but that just decides which candidate “gets” their State’s electoral votes.

Here’s where it could get fun this year. If no candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes in the November General Election, the House of Representatives is empowered by the Constitution by the 12th Amendment to choose the President. And they do this voting by State delegations, not as individual representatives. So it doesn’t matter which party holds the majority in the House, but which party holds the majority in each of the State delegations (we’ll come back to this).

The last (and only) time this happened was in the infamous 1824 Presidential election (which did not get decided until 1825). The four candidates who finished with the highest number of electoral votes in that election were Andrew Jackson (99), John Quincy Adams (84), Henry Crawford (41), and Henry Clay (37). The 12th Amendment directed the House, voting by States, to choose from among the top three, leaving Clay, the sitting Speaker of the House, out of the picture.

At that time, near the end of the “Era of Good Feelings,” Democratic-Republicans dominated national politics. The four Presidential candidates were all from this party, so each was defined more by personality and region than by party affiliation. While Clay may have no longer been in the running, his position as Speaker kept him closely involved in the process. Clay detested Jackson, and while he was not allowed to vote (having been a candidate himself), he encouraged his supporters to back Adams, who was elected. So poor Andrew Jackson, while winning the most electoral votes in the election, was denied the Presidency (he came back to win big in the next election, though).

So there’s our precedent for a potential Presidential fracas this fall (and perhaps beyond). It is quite possible that if Trump is the Republican candidate, a more moderate Republican “establishment” candidate would mount a third-party run. Romney has said no (so far), but who knows what happens when it comes down to it? Or perhaps a Kasich/Rubio ticket? And in the current volatile political climate, there’s a good chance the electoral votes could fall so that no single candidate wins an electoral majority.

Granted, third-party runs for President –even in potentially propitious times—have been notorious for garnering popular support without scoring the needed States to make an electoral impact. But just for the sake of possibility let’s imagine how this year’s election could shake out. Three candidates; none receives a majority of the State’s electoral votes. The House exercises its Constitutional prerogative to choose the next President. As Speaker, Republican Paul Ryan (VP candidate last time around!) presides over the proceedings. We know the Republicans have the majority of members in the House, but how do the State delegations line up?

In the current 114th Congress, House Republicans hold a strong majority (over 60% of the state’s delegation) in 31 States; Democrats only dominate in 13 states. Three states’ delegations are evenly split, two have slight Republican majorities, and one (Illinois!) is slightly Democratic. With these numbers, it seems fairly likely that the Republican Representatives in a majority of states—most of whom are not Trump fans—would easily be in a position to give the election to a potential third party Republican challenger.

Who would that person be? Time will tell, but there is still something else to consider: the 115th Congress is being elected in November as well. No one knows for certain what the make-up of the new House membership will be. After the November election, results are certified by each State, then each State’s Governor officially declares the electors for the winner in a document that must be sent to the sitting 114th Congress by Dec. 13. The Presidential Electors must cast their votes by Dec. 19.   Generally (but not yet officially) the results are known, and everyone goes home for Christmas. But what if there is no clear electoral majority?

Unless some creative manipulation takes place, it will be the members of the new 115th Congress, who take office on Jan. 3, 2017, who will officially count the votes (as the Constitution requires) and declare a President (or not, as the case might be) when Congress meets in joint session on Jan. 6, 2017. So there we have it: the potential for a “Presidential Election of 2017.”

This situation would not exactly be a repeat of 1825, because back then the newly-elected Congress did not meet until March 4 (this date was changed by the 22nd Amendment to Jan. 3). So in 1825, it was the still-sitting 18th Congress who selected J. Q. Adams as President on Feb. 9.  This time around, things have changed a bit.

Still, it would be a fun exercise in Civic education. And hopefully it would bring an end this ridiculous notion of a Trump presidency.

 

 

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Becoming Captain America (part 1)

Captain America’s initial origin story is told in his first published appearance in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941; hereafter CAC). Over the years numerous Timely/Marvel writers have enhanced, embellished (and sometimes confused!) his story. Two significant “modern” story arcs have added additional depth and context to the background behind “Operation Rebirth,” the program that created Captain America.  Truth:  Red, White and Black (7 issues, 2003) linked the program to a joint German-American eugenics venture initiated after WW I.  Then during Marvel’s 70th Anniversary year, Ed Brubaker (who was also writing Captain America at the time) introduced the idea of a “Race for the Super-Human,” with Germany and the U. S. turning earlier eugenics findings toward more advanced “meta-human” experimentation (see The Marvels Project, 8 issues, 2009-10).

Following is a brief overview of the most significant interpretations of how Steve Rogers became America’s first Super-Soldier (with events unique to each rendition noted in bold type).  In our next post, we’ll try to piece together a more cohesive narrative.[1]

CAC #1 (March 1941) “Meet Captain America,” Joe Simon and Jack Kirby
Captain America 001_01

Cover shows Cap punching Hitler; splash page text reads, “1941–As the ruthless war-mongers of Europe focus their eyes on a peace-loving America . . . the youth of our country heed the call to arm for defense. But great as the dangers of foreign attack is the threat of invasion from within–the dreaded fifth column.” President Roosevelt meets with two “high-ranking military officials” (he refers to one as, “General”) in the White House. “What would you suggest, gentlemen . . . a character out of the comic books? Perhaps the Human Torch in the Army would solve our problem!” (this is an interesting early reference that indicates Cap not only will inhabit the same “universe” at the Original Human Torch, but that this “universe” also has its own version of “Marvel Comics”!).  FDR then introduces J. Arthur Grover, “head of the FBI, who has a plan.

 

Tales of Suspense #63 (Mar. 1965; hereafter ToS), “The Origin of Captain America,” by Stan Lee (cover art by Jack Kirby & Syd Shores):

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_63

Large 1941 on opening splash w/caption: “Out of the dark, dramatic danger-packed years of World War II . . . out of the still-smoldering ashes of the fateful past . . . the Mighty Marvel Comics Group dares to revive, with glowing passion, and pride!” The artwork is very similar to original 1941 panels; some almost identical. Roosevelt speaks of “Operation Rebirth” (first reference) with the military officials. “Grover” is now “Dr. Anderson,” no longer with FBI. Most significantly, “Reinstein” is now identified as Prof. Erskine.  Rogers is handed a large vial of “chemicals” and drinks the “Super-Soldier Serum.”

 

Captain America #109 (Jan. 1969; hereafter CA) “The Hero Who Was,” Stan Lee (cover art by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, Don Heck, Dick Ayers)

Captain_America_Vol_1_109

Cover banner proclaims, “The Origin of Captain America.” Cap recalls his origin story for Nick Fury. It follows the ToS #63 story with some elaborations and different perspectives. Rogers is shown for the first time volunteering for service but being turned away after his physical.  After he is injected with  secret serum. Next you shall see how I speed up its process—and how it will affect his body cells.” To complete the process, Rogers is “bombarded . . . potent, invisible vita-rays” (1st reference).

 

CA #176 (Aug. 1974) “Captain America Must Die” by Steve Englehart (cover art by John Romita)

Captain_America_Vol_1_176

Opens with a multi-page review of Cap’s origin story. “Once I was a boy, a skinny, gawky kid, just out of high school—born and raised in Manhattan, so I know all about the world. Went to the movies a lot, and never missed the newsreel. I knew the Nazis were rotten, from the minute I set eyes on them . . . . I knew where my duty lay! Steve Rogers, all of 18 (first age reference) had to become a soldier! I hit Whitehall Street the next morning, but . . . .” From there the now-familiar “Operation Rebirth” story is reviewed.

 

CA #215 (Nov. 1977) “The Way it Really Was” by Roy Thomas” summarizes the same “rebirth” story from ToS #63 over several panels (cover art by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott, John Costanza, Gaspar Saladino).

Captain_America_Vol_1_215

 

CA #255 (Mar. 1981)— 40th anniversary, “The Living Legend,” by Roger Stern & John Byrne (cover art by Frank Miller, Joe Rubenstein, Rick Parker).

Captain_America_Vol_1_255

Pres. Roosevelt reviews the file on “Operation Rebirth.” This is the first published story that shows Rogers viewing the newsreel of “the Nazi war machine in its relentless march across a war-torn Europe!” “It’s as if half the world has gone mad,” Steve reflects as he leaves the theater. “If the Nazis aren’t stopped soon, there won’t be a free man left alive anywhere!”
CA Annual #10 (May 1991) opens with a 2-page “The Origin of Captain America” by D.G. Chichester. Basic “Rebirth” elements are shown with single-panel summaries of Cap’s WWII career, death, and “modern” recovery by the Avengers. Earlier confusion about how the super-soldier serum was administered is resolved: “Carefully screened and chosen as an ideal subject for the highly experimental process, Rogers underwent a grueling battery of oral, intravenous, and radiation treatments.”

 

The Adventures of Captain America, Sentinel of Liberty (4 issues, 1991-92) by Fabian Nicieza (cover art by Kevin Maguire & Joe Rubenstein).

Adventures_of_Captain_America_Vol_1_1
This is the most extensive retelling of Cap’s origin ever, developing a much more elaborate pre-rebirth scenario and recounting early adventures not depicted anywhere else. It also provides more “back story for the young Rogers.”[2]

[1] The Official Index to the Marvel Universe, Avengers, Thor, and Captain America #1 (2010) notes that although many vesions of the “Operation Rebirth” story highlight the 1941 date, “subsequent chronological analysis places its events from Fall 1940 to March 1941.”

[2] While this is an ambitious, creative, and quite entertaining version of the story, the Official Index to the Marvel Universe asserts, “much of its telling is not in continuity.” Yet the 2010 limited series Steve Rogers, Super-Soldier has a direct tie-in with this series, featuring Lt. Cynthia Glass from this series, referring to her as Rogers’ first love. And flashbacks in She-Hulk #10 (Jan. 2015) depict young Steve’s encounter with the German villain Saurespritze, who also appears in Adventures #1-3.

Next up:  Crafting a cohesive origin story . . .

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Glory and Stone

What follows is the text of the Commencement Address given to the class of 2014 at Judah Christian School, Champaign, Illinois.  These graduating Seniors were all in my Worldviews class, and I sincerely thank them for the opportunity to spend this wonderful year learning and growing together.

It is a great honor and a pleasure to spend a few more moments with you, on this special day, in the company of your families, friends, and my fellow faculty of this wonderful school. We are happy to share this moment with you. Believe it or not, we are genuinely sad to see you go.  But go you must.

When we began this year together, we started with a few “Big Questions” about the human condition:   “Who Are We?”   “Why We Here?”                    “What Is Our Purpose?”

By the time we reached the end of our journey, we’d heard a variety of responses to these questions from a wide range of people, from “Great Thinkers” to “Pop Culture Gurus.” Here’s what some had to say:

Who Are We?

  • Socrates told us we were born to wonder and to find meaning in a rightly-lived life
  • Confucius told us that respect, reverence, and reflection distinguish us from the beasts
  • The Cynics told us it’s all up to us; the Stoics said to accept what fate makes of us; the Epicureans encouraged us to have just have a good time
  • Augustine insisted that “our hearts [would be] restless until they found their rest in [God]”
  • Aquinas assured us that through “reason & revelation” we would find ourselves in Christ
  • Descartes claimed that “thinking” (cogito) was the key to our rational “being” (sum)
  • Pascal said our hearts knew more about who we are than reason could ever fully reveal
  • Hume said it was best to remain skeptical about answers to such questions; Rousseau said to be radicals & challenge the status quo; Kant thought that intellectuals would show us the way
  • Kierkegaard called us to look beyond aesthetics or ethics and “leap into the abyss” of faith
  • Marx reduced us to economics; Darwin to mere biology; Freud to our libidos
  • Sartre said there was no “essence” in our “existence” (this moment is all there is)
  • Kuyper declared there was not one square inch of existence Christ does not claim as his
  • Martin Buber said “we are” because God needs us; Will Herberg said we’d figure out who we all are together
  • Chesterton, Tolkien, and Lewis showed us we are part of The Great Story
  • Bonhoeffer, John Paul II, and Solzhenitsyn called us to speak Truth to the Lies about ourselves
  • Hannah Arendt warned us of the banality of evil
  • DuBois, Ellison, and Malcolm X challenged us to understand who we are from the other side
  • Marshall McLuhan said media was making us; Niel Postman warned us we’re amusing ourselves to death
  • Elvis said “we’re all shook up”; Dylan said everything was a’ changing
  • Derrida took everything apart for us; Shaffer helped us put things back together
  • Carl Sagan pointed us to “The Cosmos”; where Walker Percy told us we were already lost
  • Ray Kurzwiel said we’d soon be “transhumans”; Oprah said we were already “divine”
  • And Rich Mullins reminded us that what we believe is what makes us who we are

(Well, there’s the whole school year in 4 minutes!!)

So, what do you believe? Who are you?

Are you merely “an ugly bag of mostly water,” as described the silicon creatures in Star Trek proclaimed?  A divine spirit or perhaps a reincarnated Thetan, desperate to be free of your physical body?

Or are you, as Chesterton said, the great “exception” among all of God’s creation? Will you rise to Lewis’s challenge to be a “Man,” not a “Rabbit”? From these two Great Souls we learned about the paradox of “True Humanity”: we are created from the same material as this world, but as a creature uniquely shaped by God in his very own image and likeness.

 What does it mean to be “Truly Human”?

  • You must recognize the human need to be redeemed from a fallen condition in which this image is tarnished and diminished from its original, intended glory.
  • You must know the difference between God and man and understand the effects of sin not just in your own life, but in all God’s good creation
  • You must see through the illusion of human progress which promises perfection attained through our own achievements, cleverness, and good intentions. Rejoice in common grace, pursue common good through mercy and charity, but do not ever expect that paradise is ours to make.
  • You must cultivate habits of virtue in order to live rightly in this world, looking to God’s truth, goodness, and beauty to help you transcend its limitations and avoid being of it.

I read something recently by our friend Prof. Donald T. Williams, from whom we learned about the “Mere Humanity” of Chesterton, Lewis and Tolkien. He writes,

From the best Christian philosophers . . . one can learn this wisdom: confidence that Truth, Goodness, and Beauty are real things, objectively rooted in the nature of the God of creation, and objectively imprinted by him onto the world he has made. [These Transcendentals] are supremely valuable and are their own justification precisely because Truth is the reflection of God’s mind, Goodness of his character, and Beauty of his glory. (“Hagia Sophia,” in Touchstone, Sept/Oct 2013)

Williams further admonishes: “If Christians do not gain confidence and boldness and indeed joy in their pursuit of these transcendental values from thinking philosophically, then they are . . . profoundly and colossally missing the point” of who they really are.

Part of the reason it seems so difficult to remember who we really are is due to the paradox of being “Truly Human.” We know from Genesis that God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.” We know from the Psalms that God “crowns us with glory and honor.” And yet, Rich Mullins reminded us, we are also “forged in the flames of human passion; choking of the fumes of selfish rage”; and “we cast our prayers from the gravity and stone of earth.”

It is in the crux of this paradox that the broad philosophical question, “Who Are We?” becomes more pointed and personal: “Who Are You?” In the midst of glory and stone, who will you be?

My son, Wes, showed me something not too ago in the Book of Revelation I’d never noticed before. It’s in Ch. 2, which begins the so-called “letters to the seven churches.” John sees a vision of our Lord, who encourages or chastises (sometimes both) each church for their faithful witness (or lack thereof). Each of these discourses ends with an exhortation: “Anyone who has an ear should listen to what the Spirit says.”

To those who listen and walk in faithfulness, Jesus promises “eternal life” beyond this world and “fullness of life” in this world. And then there is one more promise to the faithful; a bit more mysterious:  “I will also give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name is inscribed that no one knows except the one who receives it.”

white stone

What, do you suppose, is this name that God has written on a white stone that only you know? As Wes and I pondered this question, we came to this conclusion: the name on the stone is “who you really are.” All the glory, all the likeness, all that God made and intended when He knit you together in your mother’s womb. No one knows this name but you—and God (he wrote it there!).

Think about it. If someone asks “who you are,” your most likely first response would be to say your name. But is that who you really are? How many others have your name? Your parents gave you that name; they probably know you pretty well, but do they really know who you are?

You have lots of friends, and they call you by that name, but do they really know who you are?  In just a little while your name will be read, and you will receive a diploma with that name written on it. But is that who you really are?

No, only you and God know the “essence” of who you really are. If you are like me—like most of us here, I imagine—you would be mortified if everyone here suddenly knew what you know about who you really are. But even that is not really who you are; it is an image of you tarnished and diminished by trials and temptations; by selfishness and apathy.

The name written by God on that white stone is the real you. It is the name of your True Humanity. God is always “Calling out your name,” but it is up to you to listen. He’s been calling since you were born, He’s calling to you now, He will call out to you always. You will always be tempted to settle for being less than who this name says you really are; perhaps you’ll be tempted to forget there even is such a name. I pray not.

Whose voice will you listen to as you search for your true identity through life? The world’s? Your own? If so, then the stone you hold in your hand, which represents who you really are, will never become the “white stone” God intends for you. It will forever be transparent, reflecting whatever identity the world’s designs and your own desires make of you.

But if you listen and respond faithfully to God’s call, through His Grace you will be rewarded with “fullness of life” in this world and “eternal life” beyond it. With each day’s listening and faithfulness, your name will become His Name. Stone will become glory. And one day, He promises, you will know your Name.

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