The Steampunk Vicar

A Presbyterian Pastor on Neo-Victoriana and American Faith

Tag: scripture

In caedem

I suppose that, after a Fashion, I might be considered a Faith Leader. Lacking a Community of which I stand in Leadership – excepting you, of course, dear Reader – I sometimes neglect the Fact. Nevertheless, I am a Teaching Elder of the American Church of Scotland, duly ordained by the Presbytery of Olympia on behalf of Christ’s Church. Thus it falls to me, unpulpited though I am, to speak in the Silence of the Unspeakable – to claim the digital Pulpit which is, I begin to suspect, my present Calling, and to use it in the Service of the One who ultimately called me.

Thus, today, I offer up an imperative Sermon to you, gentle Reader, to those persons of the Christian Faith to whom  I am privileged to preach. This Sermon is taken from the simplest, clearest, and most pointed Texts that I can locate.

First, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Fifth Chapter, starting at the Fourty-Third Verse*:

43 Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.

44 But I say unto you, Love your enemies: bless them that curse you: do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which hurt you, and persecute you,

45 That ye may be the children of your father that is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to arise on the evil and the good, and sendeth rain on the just and unjust.

46 For if ye love them, which love you, what reward shall you have? Do not the Publicans even the same?

47 And if ye be friendly to your brethren only, what singular thing do ye? do not even the Publicans likewise?

48 Ye shall therefore be perfect, as your Father which is in heaven, is perfect.

And then, my central Text, from the Hebrew Bible, the Book of the Exodus, the Twentieth Chapter, the Thirteenth Verse. Listen for God’s Word to you.

13 Thou shalt not kill.

Let us pray.

God of heaven, add unto us Understanding of your Word and Will for us. Even as your Children mistake and trample your Word, guide us in the Way that you would have us go.

Amen.

Do not kill People.

I am stunned, as ever, that I must specify this to you, gentle Reader. Whenever once again I am forced to address Murder on a massive Scale, I feel that my Kindred and I in the Clergy have, somehow, signally failed to impart even the most basic, simple Commandments. Thus, in the Wake of the Mass Shooting in Orlando, Florida, with fourty-nine Persons dead, a further fifty-three injured, in the Wake of this depraved Act of domestic Terror, in the Wake of this wanton Assault on the Lives of Revelers in a Space of Safety for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Communities, many of whom were persons of Latino or Latina descent, in the Wake of Murder most foul, once again, I fear that we, as a Priesthood, as a Community, as a Nation, as a Church, as a World, must reconsider, once more, this Commandment of the God of Israel, and its Implications for our Behaviour – to wit:

Do not kill People.

Do not kill People because you dislike how they are dressed.

Do not kill People because you dislike how they looked at you.

Do not kill People if you disagree with their public Behavior.

Do not kill People for Money, or Possessions, or Glory, or Honor.

Do not kill People because you do not like the Grade or Performance Review that they gave you.

Do not kill People because they break up with you, or will not yield to your romantic Ministrations.

Do not kill People because you regard them as impure.

Do not kill People because you believe them to be irreverent.

Do not kill People because you see them as unjust.

Do not kill People because you think them insufficiently compassionate.

Do not kill People because you feel that they are disloyal.

Do not kill People because they are gay. Or lesbian. Or bisexual. Or transgender. Or queer. Or intersex. Or asexual. For all of these identities and more, do not kill people.

Do not kill People because their Skin Color differs from your own.

Do not kill People to try and start a War.

Do not kill People because they do not worship your God.

Do not kill People because they do worship your God, but incorrectly, you feel.

Do not kill People because they hate you.

Do not kill People because you hate them.

Do not kill People because they have committed, or intend to commit, a Crime. Do not feel absolved from this – if it is in your Power to resist the Commission of a Crime, by all Means you should do so. But do, I beg, try not to kill People in the Process.

If it is possible to avoid doing so, do not kill People who are trying to kill you. Likewise, if avoidable, do not kill People who are trying to kill other People.

Do not purchase Weapons, place them in your Car, and drive somewhere for the express Purpose of killing People. If you do the first three things, neglect, please, the fourth, and do not kill the People.

Just, simply, and I know this might be rather difficult…do not kill People.

 

I know that this will, for some of you, present a burdensome Commandment. “Ah!” I hear you cry, “But what if I really must kill this Person, or this enormous Group of People, for the following excellent Reason!”

“No,” I shall reply. “Do not kill People.”I shall then point to the Passage in the Scriptures that commands you not to kill. Then I shall point at the Words of Jesus, the ways in which He lifts up not hating our Enemies, but blessing and praying for them. I shall note that we are to be different – better – than the ones who harass and persecute us. We are to be more good than our Foes.

This necessitates not killing them.

In short, Brothers and Sisters, Children of God, Daughters and Sons, Kindred of one another, in all your Ways and Walkings, in all the Turnings Life yields unto you, to the very best of your Ability…

…do not kill People.

The Word of the Lord.

Amen.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+5&version=CEB
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Exodus+20&version=CEB

De Hospitibus

I rather cannot believe that I feel obliged to say this aloud. The Point seems so elemental, so obvious to me from where I stand, that I cannot envision any Person imagining I could have any other Perspective. Certainly, likewise, I have great Difficulty in interpreting the perspectives of others on this Issue. Still and all, I must speak, lest I should keep an unholy Silence on one of this Nation’s greatest Trials. Thus, say I:

I condemn the Words of Mr. Donald Trump of New York, and the Attitudes and Fears that lie behind them. I declare myself opposed to any Abridgement of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America, notably the Establishment of Religion and the Right to Peaceable Assembly. I, as an ordained Teaching Elder of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, as a Christian living in this Nation, yea, even as a human Being, I refuse to bow to Terror and the political Pressures of Thugs and Murderers from Abroad or Domestically. As Pastor, Christian, and Man, I declare that I support and endorse my Muslim Sisters and Brothers, their Right to worship as they choose, their Right to live and work in this Country, yea, their Right to live.

In support of this Standpoint, considered almost not at all by myself before its Composition, I offer the following Verses of Scripture.

First, from the Exodus of Israel, the Twenty-second Chapter, the Twenty-first through the Twenty-third verses:

21 Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. 22 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. 23 If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry;

And then, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew, the Twenty-fifth Chapter.

35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

Friends, this is the Gospel of our Lord. Not a Gospel of secured Borders and backgrounds Checked. Not a Gospel of watch Lists and Visas denied. Not a Gospel that says “No, not you.” The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ promises us no Safety, no Security, no Shelter, and no Succor. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ promises us Christ alone…and eternal Life. And this promise it makes to Everyone, especially to Strangers, regardless Color or Nation.

And thus I say, to the estimable Mr. Trump – sir, you are wrong, and you do not speak for me. I speak for myself, when I say that I welcome Refugees, Immigrants, Muslims, and Persons of every Stripe and Kind to my Table. I so speak in the Name of Jesus the Christ, and I welcome these and more than these in His Name.

For my fearful Neighbors and Friends, I can say only this – if you believe on Jesus, then Anything you suffer in the Name of the Peace of Christ Jesus is a Martyrdom in His Witness. I should rather die a Victim of Terror than live a Victor because of it.

 

Post Scriptum

I considered linking to Mr. Trump’s Remarks, but shall choose instead to deny him further air Time. He must be taken seriously, as he currently leads the Polling for the Republican Party’s presidential Nomination. As with any communicable Illness, I shall choose hereafter to quarantine his Thinking, the better to prevent its Spread.

The Prophet Jonah Ammitson and the Marble Messenger

The story that follows was first told me by a fellow-traveler – a merchant and trader in the Levant who, in latter days, has returned quite wealthy to Brittania. She related it to me in the words I share with you, as they were addressed to her. She tells me that she met this man, nearly dead and half-mad with thirst in the desert outside Damascus. She nursed him to some semblance of health, and when he was somewhat recovered, was coaxed into telling her of his travails. This, then, is her rendering of his account, the story of a Prophet in the desert.

*   *   *

On the night that the Word of the Lord came to me, I was dreaming.

It seemed to me that I shaded my eyes against the glare of a terrible desert sun. The vision of my dream shimmered like the haze of a summer’s day, but I could feel what I could not see – the dryness of mouth, the shortness of breath, and the unbelievable thrumming, the sound of a thousand pistons crashing and straining. The vibrations approached me through the rock and sand, screaming to a fever pitch…

…and thus I awoke, sweating, in my bedclothes. It was a cool night in late spring in God’s country. I sought the familiar features of my spare, clerical bedchamber picked out in the moonlight, when I became aware that I was not alone in my domain.

Seated rather immodestly on my chest of drawers was one of the strangest creatures I had ever beheld. The occupant of a vicarage, even an older bachelor such as myself, has ample opportunity to meet flowers of Society just as they bloom. Indeed, in the months leading up to the events I now relate, I had presided over a number of Services of Christian Marriage, uniting the belles of the county to a series of anxious squires. In my years of parish ministry, I had encountered beauties fair and dark, tall and short, slim and buxom, but never before had I faced such elegance personified. She was dainty and trim, perched on the edge of my furniture. A rather puckish smile dwelt around her lips, and the curls of her hair cascaded springily past her face. Her ankles showed with a decided want of propriety beneath her gown, and were neatly turned – likewise her wrists, poised above her hands on the edge of the walnut were dimpled and slender.

Having, at a glance ascertained these various excellences of her person, I shook my head abruptly, for a number of peculiar circumstances obtruded on my notice all at a stroke. Firstly – and I can find no other word to describe the wonder of this revelation – she was not made of flesh. Her skin was of fair marble, not so pale as to repulse, but clearly gleaming stone. Her hair, on whose bounce I had earlier remarked, was indeed springy, as it seemed to be composed exclusively of springs, tiny coils of a glossy black metal. Even in the dim moonlight, I could see rivets and joints, markers of her construction, I supposed.

Most shocking of all, however, were the eyes. They were clearly jewels, or made of jewels, perhaps. Diamonds for whites, irises of emerald, and onyx pupils, broad in the evening dimness. And the GLOWED…not as the eyes of mortals, but with an inner light, nearly golden in quality, they brightened the whole of my bedchamber.

I hope that you will forgive me, dear friend, for the foolishness of the conclusion to which I immediately came. I see by the incredulity of your expression that you, like me, would not have credited your senses with honesty at such a vision. So, too, did I. The lunacy of the moonlight, the lucidity of those brilliant, gemstone eyes, and the remaining anxieties of the dream that had but lately departed led me to believe the whole a fantasy, and I waited to see what new wonders my fevered brain would lay before me.

Thus I was not unprepared when she opened her mouth – a lovely rosebud it was – and spoke. “Don’t be afraid,” she said, and I at once realized that her command was also prophetic – I had been on the edge of terror, despite my confidence of physical safety. Now was I more settled, and I nodded to her.

She spoke again. “Jonah,” said she, “Son of Emmett?”

“I am,” said I, maintaining my somnolent composure. “And who, precisely, are you?”

“I am,” she said, her marble cheeks somehow dimpling as she smiled at me, “a Word from the Lord.”

To my shame, dear friend, I responded only with laughter. In too many biblical readings from my pulpit I had read just those words as they appeared in the books of Moses and the scrolls of the prophets. I could imagine no place, time, or situation further from my snug, dark pulpit and the scent of my church’s ancient Bible than in my bedchamber, wearing only my nightgown and confronting a young woman who seemed to be composed entirely from the bones of the earth.

There may, also, have been more than a little nervousness in that laugh. The words of the Bible had always been to me composed purely of comfort. I took solace in the gentleness of Christ as shepherd, and, though trite, the 23rd had ever been my favorite psalm. The words of the Law, though stern, were concerned with the care of my own soul, and there was an ordered quality to my favorite passages of scripture that preserved the society and realities which undergirded my universe.

This apparent young woman, this clockwork beauty, fit no place in my concept of religion or faith. I could cry for wishing this was still the case, but at that hour, I had no inkling of the trials or revolutions to come. And so I laughed, in what must have been derision, and at the sound, her smile grew wider.

“I am delighted to hear you greet my arrival wish such joy,” said she, as she alighted from the chest of drawers. In her bare feet, she stood an average height, and her white linen gown flowed around her smoothly. “I have a message for you, if you are prepared to hear it.”

“Of course,” I said, “you beautiful phantasm. Whatever wonders you have to share with me, share them now, before I wake and your beauty fades.”

She smiled even more broadly. “Ah, a dreamer, are you? You dreamers are some of my favourites. I love the romance of your visions, and your willingness to accept the imagination of your own minds.” The more I beheld that smile, the more it was disconcerting me. It tugged at memories and emotions deeply buried. There was an edge to it that brought to mind my mother’s apron, sunlight on a grassy lawn, lemon ices and the sounds of village cricket.

“At any rate,” she said, briskly. “Are you prepared to hear me?”

I felt, suddenly, as though lucidity and clarity had abandoned me. The import of the question staggered me – I heard it as though with new ears, wholly unprepared for the weight of this compelling dream. A crashing wave of anxious fear and nervous terror swept over me, but I gulped and nodded in silence.

When once again her mouth parted, she spoke in a new and alarming voice. Terrible like a winter storm and powerful like the command of a beloved woman, she spoke to me saying, “ARISE, GO TO NINEVEH, THAT GREAT CITY, AND CRY AGAINST IT; FOR THEIR WICKEDNESS IS COME UP BEFORE ME.”

*   *   *

When I awoke again, it was with confusing slowness. I seemed unaccountably tangled in my bedclothes, my head was hot and pounding powerfully, and the sunlight through the window was uncomfortably bright.

Slowly, as though the gears of my mind began to grind their way to activity, I began to perceive the import of the rising sun. The dawning day was a Sunday. The hour was much advanced – a swift glance of alarm at my bedside clock revealed that it wanted mere minutes to nine o’clock, and my services – my brain now spun its engine to  a groaning, frantic pitch – commenced at ten.

In a flurry of maddened linens I leapt to my feet and began to pull vigorously at the bell. Why my valet had not roused me sooner I could not say, and the stricken expression on his countenance as he entered clearly revealed his spirits to be as much disturbed by the lapse as my own. I wasted no time on his censure, devoting myself instead to the task of preparing for the Eucharist service.

It was as I was engaged in the last flourishes of my toilette, the final tasks before I left my vicarage in haste to the waiting congregation, that I chanced to look upon my chest of drawers, and saw its only ornament. A tiny statuette of delicate marble and painted twists of metal sat upon the varnished wood. I had never before seen this trinket, and was so much arrested by its appearance that I stood quite still for a full handful of breaths.

To my valet’s astonishment, I walked to the chest of drawers and picked up the figurine. It was the visitor of my last night’s rest, there could be no doubt. The whole of the piece was no longer than a hand’s breadth, but the delicacy of the workmanship was unbelievable – I could discern, even, the young woman’s marble dimple as she impishly smirked at me.

Dear friend, you can read in my hands, in the cast of my countenance, in the very set of my shoulders the sense of my horror and terror. Crashing wave upon wave swept over me, alarm, dismay, and consternation, each, in its turn, conquering my soul. Even as I turned the figure over in my hands, they trembled, and I could feel my jaw working involuntarily.

Even so, I could as soon have crossed the Galilee afoot as have laid by that lovely piece.  My minute examination of this sculpture was time-consuming – I recall hearing my man’s polite cough behind me at least three times before I could drag myself from my focused contemplation.  At last, though, I stormed unwary into the corridor, casting the figurine into the topmost drawer of my bureau, with my man hovering anxious behind me.

*   *   *

 I was fully through the Collect before I felt myself more fully settled in worship. The opening of the Service had been some five minutes delayed, and all throughout the liturgy of call and procession I had felt myself to be scrambling to catch up. In the familiar and timely breath of the Collect, however, I felt myself shouldering once again the burden of my clerical authority. As that comfortable friend of a thought settled upon my shoulders once again, I subconsciously fingered my stole, the ancient symbol of my blessed right and grave purpose. The fabric slid tensely beneath my fingers, but the sanctioned prayers and signs of the church poured unabated from my lips and hands, a pleasant stream of institutional grace and comfort.

I have sensed, dear friend, that you are not a churchgoer – and so I fear that much of what has been shattered in these last few weeks will not seem to you a loss. The destruction of all that I had treasured up would, to an outsider’s eye, seem no great tragedy, I fear, but I cannot let that opinion pass without a token effort to express the hideous grief of my comforts dashed to oblivion.

Even now the words, I know, will not compare to my inner sense of aching loss, but all that had surrounded my life had been, heretofore, pure beauty. The polished sheen of the oaken beams, waxed to gleaming light, the intricate and careful carving of stone and yew, massaged by masters’ hands and tools, the heartwarm glow of a hundred taper lights, reflected in the ornaments and instruments of gold, the snowy brilliance of the altar, the reliable and unchanging sounds and signs of scripture and sacrament in the service of worship, the rapt and grateful adulation of my snug parish…all these and a thousand other details of my life and work conspired to comfort and reassure me of the universe, and of my place in it. The steady rhythm of my life and days ticked endlessly on, unchanging and mechanical, like the God to whom I had devoted my life.

And it was then, during the liturgy of that final service of Sunday worship, that I last believed without doubt in the God of my mind. As the readings of the Psalm tripped from my tongue, I had settled deeply into all the solace of a service of worship – so little attention did I pay in the midst of my prayers and oblations that I scarcely noted the text of the Prophets until the page was open before me.

Consulting my notes and the markers in the Bible, I was stunned to see before me words of alarm and terror such as I had never before met in God’s Holy Word. I was seized by a sudden bout of coughing, alarming in its scope and duration. In desperation, I raised my gaze over the pulpit’s edge to catch the eye of the sexton, of someone, anyone, rather than speak aloud the horror printed on the page.

Despite the warmth and succor of mere moments before, as I searched the curious eyes in the nave, all that met my regard was a trim young woman in garments of white, her jewel-bright eyes overflowing with passionate intensity, seated on the central rafter of the sanctuary. Her hand curled around the supporting beams, and her expression was dire and terrible as she stared mercilessly into my helpless face. Her lips parted – I thought that I heard the tiniest squeal of metal on stone as she drew in a useless breath.

Struck to my very core with elemental terror, I dove with my eyes back into the text. Caught beneath an angel and the deep blue sea, I cleared my suddenly parched throat, and did the best that I could. To my ears, as my mouth gave voice to the letters on the page, the voice of the pitiless angel overlay my halting words, driving me forward to speak the brutal, prophetic truth.

“Now the word of the LORD came unto Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry against it; for their wickedness is come up before me.”

No further could I speak – no more would the words come. At once I let forth a great cry, and stripping my robe, stole, and cross from around my neck, I ran, shouting down the aisle and out the great oak doors into the winter sunlight. Heedless of dignity and station, heedless of position and prestige, heedless of anything but that messenger’s dreadful purpose, I summoned a waiting hansom cab, my whole frame shaking with fright. His dense accent was nearly impenetrable, but I simply shouted, “Portsmouth!” casting a quantity of gold into his waiting hand, and leaned back on the leather seats to weep and flee my destiny.

The Twenty-third Psalm

The Lord is my Engineer, I shall not break down.
He shuts me off in well-stocked workshops.
He runs me beside full refineries.
he repairs my soul.
He leads me on straight rails
for his Name’s sake.
Even though I chug up the darkest mountain,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your wrench and your driver –
they comfort me.
You prepare a workbench before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my gears with oil;
my tank overflows.
Surely I shall pull goodness and mercy
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the garage of the Lord
my whole life long.

De Divortio, v. I

I must say that one of the moments I am most looking forward to on a return to my own Time Line is the conversation I intend to have with Mechano-Lord Byron and Mr. O. Wilde (who has become much Wilde-er, apparently, since that nasty were-badger-bite). I think both gentlemen will be frankly astounded at where modern society, both British and American, has come to in the past few decades – and don’t get me started on how Shakespeare’s Brain-in-a-Jar will feel on the subject. Most particularly I highlight those gentlemen because of historical links on the issue of homo-sexuality.

I will admit, I was frankly shocked when I first arrived by such Radiovisual comedies as “Will and Grace,” and by the populations of “Project: Runway.” among other things. But I’ve had a chance, since I arrived in this Land of the free, to explore their social and theological thinking. I will not say that it has been always a particularly EASY process, but I am coming to terms with the license of this age – and, in fact, coming to embrace it.

Over the next few postings from the Aether, I will be exploring the following topics:

I. The Scriptural Arguments for Accepting Gays, Lesbians, Transsexuals and Transgendered Persons, and the Queer Community
II. A Brief History of This Acceptance in the American Churches of the Reformation
III. The Good News for the Proclamation of the Gospel and My Connexion Thereto

I may, due to erudition, take more than one post for each of these topics, and those whose interest is more in my neo-Victorian pursuits may be disappointed for some weeks to come. Rest assured – I will return to the subjects most dear to your hearts, but as a portion of this weblogue’s purpose is the freedom to speak out on topics otherwise taboo, I must share what is on my Mechanical Heart first.

Walk with me, first, then,on a Journey to the Centre of the Word of God…