Gilead, Part 2, Baptism and Blessing

Part 2, Baptism and Blessing

I still remember how those warm little brows felt under the palm of my hand. Everyone has petted a cat, but to touch one like that, with the pure intention of blessing it, is a very different thing. It stays in the mind. For years we would wonder what, from a cosmic viewpoint, we had done to them. It still seems to me to be a real question. There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that. I have felt it pass through me, so to speak. The sensation is of really knowing a creature, I mean really feeling its mysterious life and your own mysterious life at the same time.

(p. 23)

That mention of Feuerbach and joy reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years ago, as I was walking up to the church. There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance, I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.

(p. 27-8)

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Christian Wiman, Once in the West, Sungone Noon, We Lived

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Currently, I am reading a book of poems written by contemporary poet Christian Wiman. He has titled the collection, Once in the West. This is my first real experience with contemporary poetry, and I am glad I have entrusted myself to Wiman. The book of poems, with the exception of the introductory poem entitle “Prayer,” is separated into three parts: “Sungone Noon,” “My Stop is Grand,” and “More Like the Stars.” I have just finished the first part, and I wish to quote one poem from this group of poems:

We Lived

We lived in the long intolerable called God.

We seemed happy.

I don’t mean content I mean heroin happy

donkey dentures,

I mean drycleaned deacons expunging suffering

from Calcutta with the cut of their jaws

I mean the always alto and surely anusless angels

divvying up the deviled eggs and jello salad in the after-rapture

I mean

to be mean.

Dear Lord forgive the love I have

for you and your fervent servants.

I have so long sojourned Lord

among the mild ironies and tolerable gods

that what comes first to mind

when I’m of a mind to witness

is muriatic acid

eating through the veins

of one whose pains were so great

she wanted only out, Lord, out.

She too worshipped you

She too popped her little pill of soul.

Lord if I implore you please just please leave me alone

is that a prayer that’s every instant answered?

I remember one Wednesday witness told of a time

his smack-freaked friends lashed him

to the back of a Brahman bull that bucked and shook

until the great bleeding wings the man’s collarbones

exploded out of his skin.

Long pause.

“It was then,” the man said, “right then…”

Yes. And how long before that man-

turned-deacon-turned-scourge-of-sin

began his ruinous and (one would guess) Holy Spirit-less affair?

At what point did this poem abandon

even the pretense of prayer?

Imagine a man alive in the long intolerable time

made of nothing but rut and rot,

a wormward gaze

even to his days’ sudden heavens.

There is the suffering existence answers:

it carves from cheeks and choices the faces

we in fact are,

and there is the suffering of primal silence,

which seeps and drifts like a long fog

that when it lifts

leaves nothing

but the same poor sod.

Dear God –

Calvinism and Arminianism

I recently finished reading For Calvinism by Michael Horton and Against Calvinism by Roger E. Olson.

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Before I get into the “five points,” I want to begin with this. First, I think that Calvinism is way more than the five points (TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints). Second, I think that Arminianism is way more than just a negation of those five points. Third, I want to say that I find it decently unhelpful, at least for myself, to claim that I’m one or the other. I might lean towards Calvinism, but I wrestling with a lot of questions. Quite frankly, I could care less whether Calvin said X or Y, or Jacob Arminius said X or Y. I care whether Scripture says X or Y.

Nevertheless, I will go into at least describing the five points that Calvinists claim about salvation:

T (Total Depravity): Every part of every human being is affected by sin from birth. This is not saying that each of us is as bad as we could be.

U (Unconditional Election): God elected certain individuals that he would save from the foundation of the world. (There are typically two views on election: double predestination – the idea that God elected some people to salvation and some to damnation – and single predestination – the idea that God elected some people to salvation without electing others to damnation.)

L (Limited Atonement): Christ’s death on the cross forgave the sins of the elect and secured their salvation. (It should be added that even if the cross did only save the elect, the effects that the cross had on the world are still too vast and far reaching for us to even comprehend.)

I (Irresistible Grace): Since we all will naturally resist God, He must put in us the spirit of belief. Irresistible Grace usually refers to the “effectual call” as opposed to the “general call.” (Arminians tend to say that regeneration comes after faith and Calvinists tend to say that regeneration comes before faith). What irresistible grace says is that it is God who is the author of our faith.

P (Perseverance of the Saints): This doctrine claims that once someone is called by God, he cannot be “unsaved.” Once someone truly comes to Christ, God will never lose him/her.


The few nuances I have come from people like Michael Horton (who wrote For Calvinism) and from James K.A. Smith (Letters to a Young Calvinist). First, I find the term “Particular Redemption” preferable instead of “Unconditional Election.” Similarly, I find the term “Effectual Calling” more helpful of a term than “Irresistible Grace.” People like Roger E. Olson (who wrote Against Calvinism) have objections with regards to changing the names of these doctrines (he claims that the doctrines are the same no matter what you call them).

I tend to side with the Calvinist view, but I think there is room to nuance and to ask questions, especially since Scripture is not the easiest thing to pinpoint. I actually have questions for both Calvinists and Arminians:

Questions for Calvinists:

  1. How is a person assured of salvation?
  2. What is the nature of God’s love?
  3. Is God free? Are we free?
  4. Is God the author of sin, evil, suffering, and unbelief?
  5. Did God plan redemption before (causally, not temporally) sin entered the world?
  6. Can we think that evil things are bad? Or, is it just that all things are part of the plan, and therefore all things that happen are “good?”
  7. What does it mean that all is for God’s glory?
  8. Is God’s plan of redemption an end to justify the means? Is the future glory worth the suffering that happens on earth?

Questions for Arminians:

  1. How is a person assured of salvation?
  2. What is the nature of God’s love?
  3. Is God free? Are we free?
  4. Is salvation by grace through faith?
  5. Is God not in control?
  6. If the cross only made possible the salvation of human beings, did the cross actually do anything?