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Name Above All Names

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Almost everybody likes Jesus, even folks who hate God. Everybody wants Jesus on their side. Jesus saves. Jesus has a million friends on Facebook. Everybody loves Jesus as long as he stays in his place, doesn’t get too preachy, doesn’t try to reach anyone, doesn’t remind you of his Father. We still all would like Jesus to be king as long as he’s the kind of king who will do everything we want him to do.

Jesus is also a swear word, and somehow he acquired a middle initial: Jesus H. Christ. What’s the ‘H’ for? How should I know? Jesus means damn, means hell, means ouch. Jesus gets shortened to geez or even gee. He’s a gee whiz kid from the Land of Iz.

Jesus is the answer, but no one knows the question. Is it that question, where the answer’s 42? Or is it that question, “What am I to do?” We like Jesus ’cause he’s friendly and he heals us and he feeds us and he tells us funny stories like the one about the camel going through the needle’s eye. And he doesn’t give a damn about the pundits and the princes and the people with the power and the portly politicians who bedevil all the rest of us.

He’s a nice guy, Jesus. Sort of like you and sort of like me. He’s such a nice guy that he even lets us kill him, and he does it all to save us from the dreadful power of sin. And it’s awfully decent of him ’cause the taste of sin is sweet, and we love to feel its texture and we love it’s spicy scent. And we take a big swallow, and it goes down smooth, and it makes us warm and fuzzy—until suddenly it doesn’t. We love it to death, and it’s so hard to quit it, so it’s nice to have Jesus come and make it all better. He takes the bitter and leaves us the sweet. Oh, sweet Jesus!

What’s this we hear about every knee bowing? Every tongue confessing that Jesus is king? Oh, that comes later, so we don’t care about it. It might not even happen for all we know. So let’s eat and drink and party, for tomorrow we may die. And you don’t want to die without getting all you can. Jesus, what a life!

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Secrecy, Mystery, and Privacy

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Men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.

Every year one of the highlights of Winter Carnival here in Saint Paul is the search for the medallion. It’s a winter tradition, a treasure hunt for folks well-versed in Saint Paul history and folklore. There is something in each of us that loves discovering and likewise something in each of us that dreads being discovered. In fact, I think fear of being discovered is one of the fundamental fears of human nature, so deeply ingrained in the human psyche that most of us barely notice how powerful and pervasive it is. We also rarely contemplate how foreign it is to the nature of God.

God has no secrets. He never dreads discovery, never fears being found out. He has no secret plans and no hidden agenda. Yet this is not to say that the truth about God is readily available or easily obtained. God has no secrets, but he does have mysteries. “It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings” (Prov 25:2). When God conceals, it is to reward, not frustrate, the searcher. Searching out God’s mysteries is not easy. It is a fit matter for kings, requiring all their resourcefulness. God is like those who hide the medallion for Winter Carnival. He wants to reward the persistent and resourceful, those who make use of every clue and every tool available to them to discover what he has hidden. God plays a cosmic game of hide-and-seek with his children. Those who are not his children refuse to play and never find him.

Human beings have secrets. There are things they want to keep hidden from everyone, especially God. One of the devil’s most powerful lies is to tell us that we are alone in our guilt and shame, that anyone who knows our deepest secrets would be utterly repulsed by them. We dread being found out, being exposed. Perhaps this is why the story tells us that Adam and Eve realized they were naked and hid themselves from God. They dreaded his all-seeing gaze. They were ashamed of having disobeyed and preferred concealment to the open communion they had enjoyed before.

Taken to an extreme, secrecy—the dread of discovery—can itself produce terrible evils. People lie and allow others to be blamed for what they themselves have done. They become hypocrites, condemning in others what they secretly practice. Secrecy is appropriate for dark deeds, but God’s light eventually shines everywhere. The darkness is light to him, and every secret will ultimately be revealed.

It is symptomatic of our day that we confuse secrecy and privacy. Privacy is a kind of public modesty. It covers what is well-known in general but inappropriate for specific, public discourse. Privacy makes no attempt to hide but rather to be discreet. For example, my bank account number is hardly secret; it’s printed on every one of my checks. But it is private, no one’s business but mine and my bank’s. To varying degrees the same could be said of my address, phone number, email address, and Social Security number. These are all bits of information about me that could be used by someone wanting to pose as me, but I make no extraordinary effort to conceal them from those closest to me. However, if I were cheating on my wife or running a Ponzi scheme, I would make every effort to conceal such things from those who know me best. I would do so not because I have a right to privacy in sexual or financial matters but because I would be doing something I know to be wrong, and I would dread discovery and its consequences.

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Good Book

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My 11th-grade daughter will be reading The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende this year. I decided to read it for myself, in part because she told me there was a lot of sex in it. I wasn’t sure a book with “a lot of sex” was appropriate  for 11th-grade girls. I’m still not sure.

Nevertheless, The House of the Spirits is a spectacular achievement, a book epic in its scope, full of tragic romance, love, and magic. It is one of the best books I have ever read. I highly recommend it. Sometimes it seems to be about the 1973 coup in Chile that led to the death of President Allende and government by a military junta. But it is really about the women of the Trueba family. Allende herself said of her fictional family that she needed no imagination to tell the story of the Truebas. Her own grandmother was clairvoyant; her grandfather was the model for Esteban Trueba. Indeed, the book feels too true to be merely fiction, which is the mark of the best fiction.

Now, I know my daughter will not suffer any harm from reading The House of the Spirits. She’s a sensible girl with a strong and independent sense of self. I don’t worry about her being influenced by it. But I don’t think she will like it much. I expect she will find the casual immorality, spiritism, and political oppression equally offensive. I’m not sure she will like the main characters much: Clara, Blanca, Alba. She’s a good student, so she will dutifully read it. Will it awaken in her a taste for great modern literature? I don’t honestly know. She has already read nearly all the Jane Austen novels and Jane Eyre, none of which have been required for class. She even read Gone With The Wind, even though she hated Scarlett O’Hara. I think she read it only because I bought it for her.

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