Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Poet, a Preacher and Me

First posted Dec 27, 2004.
Tonight this came up via a search for Philip Britts. After reviewing it and fixing the broken link -- the Bruderhof are no longer online-- I am reposting. It seems suitable for Veteran's Day.

Philip Britts, Bruderhof poet, died at the age of 32 (1917-1949). This stanza appears in The Eternal People.
It awakens in me some distant memory...

The war of the eternal people is a hard war,
And to be one of them is a hard undertaking.
For the enemy attacks each one in his own heart,
And must be fought continually, each in his own blood.
And the hardness of the fight is that the enemy attacks in disguise.
He comes as a friend or a champion,
And is beautiful or desirable,
But he is a traitor, and his beauty turns to hideousness.
And the problem of the eternal people is to recognise the enemy,
For when he is revealed his power is broken.
This is the victory of the invisible King,
That he unmasks the enemy, and overcomes him.
When the enemy seeks to divide them,
When the enemy tries to deceive them,
He is stronger than the enemy.
And with his burning love he drives him out.

My maternal grandfather, C.M. Chumbley, was a Presbyterian minister. His only book, The Man Invincible (1939), is unknown and out of print, but it is a vital part of my development. In the manner of Clarance Jordan's Cotton Patch Gospels, he retells Bible stories in the vernacular, by way of reaching those who might not otherwise be reading a Bible. This was for him an expression of evangelism.

In this excerpt he describes the first temptation of Christ...

After the baptism, under the direction of the Spirit, Jesus went forth to meet the Tempter - Satan, the Prince of the Earth in this present "evil age." Here, as in the Eden attack, Satan doubtless appeared in some visible form, as some creature that would appeal to Jesus as appropriate to the particular role he undertook for the time. Most certainly he did not apprear as a serpent upon this occasion. That would be out of the reckoning. Had he so appeared he would have been recognized at once and have had his trouble for nothing. He is entirely too shrewd for that.

Here, in the first effort, he is appealing to a hungry man - one who has not tasted food for forty days. He must arouse interest and sympathy as well as appeal to the bodily needs of the Man. To this end he probably assumed the form of a beggar, one of the most familiar objects to be encountered in that country. What an appeal the needy made to His compassionate heart we know from many Scriptures.

The beggar, approaching, said, "I know what was done yonder by the Jordan. I was
there and saw you baptised, and witnessed what seemed to happen: how the heavens seemed to open and the dove to come down upon you; and I know you thought you heard a voice saying, 'Thou are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.' But are you sure that all these things happened? Do you know you are the Son of God? No. You do not! That's the very question that's been worrying you these last forty days. Now, I'll tell you what you can do to prove it for yourself and me. and if you are really the Son of God you can feed yourself and me. Here's the way. if you are the Son of God turn this stone into bread; then we'll both know and we can both eat of the bread."

The Man of Galilee looked the Tempter straight in the eyes and said with quiet emphasis, "No need to argue that point, for it is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone.' That applies to you and to me. Both are hungry, but what God says is the end of all controversy. The Book says, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.' When God tells me to make bread, then I will; but not till then. And if it is His will that I starve, I starve. Get out."

Methinks there were smiles in heaven as the beggar shuffled away with a woe-begone expression on his dissapointed countenance; not because a hungry man was turned away unfed but because Satan was detected and rebuked. We feel pretty sure that old Solomon was highly elated over the wit of his far-off descendant.

These two writings both date from the thirties. They could have been written simultaneously, because dates of publication are only a couple of years apart. World War Two would happen within a decade. The questions they raise have to do with discernment.
Identifying an enemy who looks and acts like an enemy is easy.
It is more difficult to detect an enemy who looks and acts like a friend.
And sometimes what seems to be the most obvious course of action is not what it appears.

Those of us who have the temerity to ask discerning questions about war, or read the words of those labeled enemies, are not being disloyal, just careful that if we err, we do so on the side of the angels. There is no danger that America is on the brink of becoming a model of pacifism. Should that unlikely scenario come to pass, then it might be wise to examine the virtues of war.

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