The big house is gone

From James C. Schaap

It is no more, but for a 100 years in Zuni there was only one “big house.” 

To say it loomed over the pueblo risks understatement. Even in its declining years nothing in town could rival its massive triangular bulk. It was not just one-of-a-kind, it was defiantly so, as if some miscreant Kansas tornado dropped it in the middle of town.

The first buildings the Christian Reformed Church built at the Zuni pueblo were hardly spectacular, but the denomination hadn’t been in the mission business long. In fact, Rev. Herman Fryling and Andrew Vander Wagon were just about the first to leave west Michigan for mission fields teeming with what they called "the heathen." The CRC itself was only 50 years old; there wasn’t money for a mansion.

But the big mission house had to look like a mansion to Zunis, who lived in adobe homes of square-cut Zuni brick. When the big house sprouted up in 1914, nothing looked anything like it in the pueblo, nor has there been anything like it for the entire next century. Nobody else had colonial windows, a spacious front porch, or a peaked gable jutting from a huge, swooping roof line. 



What a Waste ...

From Thomas C. Goodhart

The Girls (whom I have written about before) as they are commonly referred to around here, Ila and Lisa, are five and one-half years old, which in chicken years is pretty up there. On average the typical laying hen lives one to three years before she is culled. For commercial/economic reasons they usually have one to two good seasons of egg laying before they are retired. In comparison to contemporary chickens bred and raised for meat who on average are slaughtered at six to eight weeks, one to three years is long. How long an average lifespan a chicken would have if it did not become dinner depends upon its breed and type and obviously overall health but they have been known to live into their mid to late teens. Nevertheless, nearing the six year mark, the Girls are certainly on the upper age range of the average chicken.

Many folks who have not had much contact with live poultry will often ask how many eggs they lay a day. Again this depends on breed and type but for the most part a hen in the prime of her laying years—one to two seasons—will often lay one egg a day which can add up quickly enough to nearly 300 eggs a year. As she ages she will continue to lay but will produce fewer eggs each season. For the Girls, Ila even as a five-year-old hen was laying an egg just about every other day since early February with only recently entering a molting stage or resting period where her energy is redirected and she replaces her old feathers with new ones. Not bad for an older bird. (Incidentally, Lisa has some reproductive health issue and is no longer laying but she does well with providing Ila company so she certainly earns her keep.)


The Earth Is the Lord's

From Jes Kast-Keat

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
    the world, and those who live in it. Psalm 24:1


Last week, like many others this autumn, I went to an apple orchard to pick apples. I was so happy to walk on dirt and not concrete that I went to the pumpkin patch and just laid on the ground watching the clouds in the sky. As I laid there I thought of a class I took in seminary called "The Earth is the Lord's" which Dr. Carol Bechtel taught. One of the texts for that class was written by Ellen Davis and it was called Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. The idea of the book was to help us read Scripture with the land as one of the main characters. I pay much more attention to how often the land is mentioned in Scripture now due to this class. I often find myself asking questions like: How is the land referenced in this passage? Who is talking about the land and in what way are they talking about the land? What is distinct about this land? What is God's relationship with the land in this passage? 



From Jeff Munroe

At different points in the D-Day movie The Longest Day, both a German officer and an American officer say, “It sure is hard to tell what side God is on.” I’ve been feeling that way this past week. 

I’ll start with baseball.  Although the essence of baseball is failure, I’ve always disliked those faux poet sportswriters who sit at word processors and type out odes to the old ball game as the key to unlocking the meaning of life.  And yet . . . as daylight fades and nature prepares for its winter’s sleep, we’re in the midst of the baseball playoffs and if your heart was set on Clayton Kershaw or Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera or Oakland or Washington or Detroit or Los Angeles (Dodgers and Angels) or Pittsburgh your heart has been broken.   My heart was set on Detroit, which, history shows again and again, is a lousy place to set your heart. 

Why isn’t Lent in the fall?  We are moving steadily into darkness and watching my beloved Tigers fail has turned out to be the least painful of all the bad news around me.  I guess Lent isn’t in the fall because Easter is at the end of it and the way I feel today is like everything is marching into failure, fear or death with no rebirth in sight. We’re heading into Good Friday and Easter feels a long way off.


A Crucifix in a bar, and the surprising good news of the Cross

On one episode of the irreverent sitcom It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Charlie, Frank, Mac, and Dennis are having a "managerial meeting" at Paddy's, their fictional Philly bar. As they haggle through items on their list, they come to "having a crucifix in the bar." Mac, surprised, wonders, "why wouldn't we have a crucifix in the bar?" Charlie, equally surprised, deadpans, ”Because we're a bar." Mac, in return, makes his case: "Yeah, but we're an Irish bar!” Arguments then ensue over size of the proposed crucifix, whether there should be blood, and its placement in the bar. They eventually compromise, and reach an agreement that there can be a crucifix in the bar, but only in the back, and only if it's "a tasteful crucifix."

The cross of Jesus of Nazareth is the most universally familiar symbol in the world, and is largely seen as a tasteful decoration in the 21st century: crosses decorate buildings, hang from necklaces, feature in oil paintings, and are tattooed into the collegiate flesh of spring breakers.  

This is deeply ironic, for the cross was also a universally-known symbol in the world of the 1st century—but not no one thought of crosses as tasteful, or thought anything religiously devout or uplifting. In the world of Jesus and his first followers, the cross was the Roman Empire’s most brutal kind of capital punishment. Everyone knew the sights, sounds, and smells of crucifixion. The Romans reserved crucifixion for the worst kind of criminals, and for insurrectionists, slaves, and enemies of the state. As they put it, a crucified person was “damnatio ad bestias”—damned to the death of a beast. In a word, the cross was obscene.   

Strangely, there was a fast-growing movement which sprung up in the 1st century which actually proclaimed that a degraded, condemned, crucified Person was the true King of the world, and in some way to be identified with God himself.  

All of the accounts of Jesus’ life in the New Testament, and 20 centuries of Christian tradition all insist with one voice that one cannot understand Jesus without the cross.  So, what do we see when we stand in the back of the angry mob on Skull Hill, and stomach a look at Jesus’ Cross?

First, we see what we are like. The accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion show humanity—us!—at our very worst: cruel mockery, faces twisted with hatred, hateful religious and political corruption. Jesus draws out, and pulls onto himself, everything in humanity that is dark, wrong, wicked.  

Now, this is a hard pill to swallow for many 21st-century Western people. Many today are unable to stomach Christianity precisely for this talk about human wrong and wickedness. And yet, an honest look in the mirror consistently reveals that the same base instincts let loose in the Golgotha mob live in us.   

Several years ago, I attended a Sufjan Stevens performance at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music. Most of the concert was psychedelic, goofy, playful. But when Stevens came back for an encore, he returned alone, with only an acoustic guitar. To close his show, he performed a rendition of his song “John Wayne Gacy, Jr,” a haunting meditation on the Illinois serial killer infamous for burying his victims in the crawlspace of his home. On the final verse, which he sang in an acapella near-whisper, he admitted,

“And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid.”

All of us, if we’re honest, have some secrets under our floorboards. Christians insist that God takes them seriously, not because God is serious about shame, but because God is serious about redemption.

As we look at Jesus, naked, bleeding, and nailed up to the rough wood of a Roman cross, Christians also tell us that this is what God is like. Down through the centuries, Christians have attempted to find words for the mystery of what God is doing to rescue us in various ways—the Nicene Creed simply and profoundly says that the Cross is “for us and for our salvation.”  

The earliest creedal articulation of Jesus’ cross unfolds that he “was crucified, died, and was buried,” and that Jesus “descended to hell.” Christians have also understood this in various ways, and I find myself taken with the wonderings of the Heidelberg Catechism, John Calvin, and 20th-century Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar, who all assert that it’s on the cross that Jesus is experiencing the essence of hell—ultimate, complete alienation from God. Jesus shows us a God who goes to hell and back to have us back.

In Puritan John Bunyan’s allegorical account of the Christian spiritual journey, Pilgrim’s Progress, his main character, Christian, is weighed down heavily in life. Upon seeing Jesus’ cross, we’re told that “it was very surprising to him, that the sight of the cross should ease him of his burden.”

Twenty centuries of people have looked at this obscene symbol and been surprised by the same.  

Jared Ayers is the founding and preaching pastor of Liberti Church in Philadelphia, PA. He is a graduate of Lancaster Bible College, and is currently finishing an M.Div. from Western Theological Seminary’s Newbigin House of Studies. Jared and his wife Monica have been married for 10 years, and love calling Philadelphia home. They’ve been graced with two sons (Brennan and Kuyper) and a daughter (Rae Ann).