The past few days have been for rest, a final polish of my latest book and exploration of the land on which I live. The masthead image above is my little farmhouse, set as it is on a beautiful farm. Kai seems to love the nearby canal and I never cease to be amazed at stepping out for a five minute break from writing to take a few peaches or apples off the trees nearby in the orchards for a snack – warm and juicy from the summer sun.
I am reading about George MacDonald, the great Christian writer and thinker whose work influenced C. S. Lewis and Thomas Merton and who was himself influenced and inspired by Alexander Scott an ordained minister de-frocked for heresy because he would not sign the church’s statements about hell and substitutional salvation. Scott inspired, among others, John Philip Newell, who, in turn, inspires me.
George MacDonald was called a heretic by his deacon (a position in the Scottish Congregational Church like a warden in ours) and was run out of his church by a few wealthy people whose dinner parties were little more than kangaroo courts for spreading lies about him. Of the 100 congregants, only three were set at this task, but they influenced 20 and so George left parish ministry to write books and teach. he was told by many that if he would simply keep his head down, flatter leadership and mind his tongue, he would be assured of elevation, titles and increased income. He chose poverty instead and left a body of writings which stun theologians and delight families to this day. He was beloved of the people who experienced him as a pastor and that seemed to be enough for him to leave, knowing he had been a good minister.
MacDonald would not accept the notion that Jesus died to restore us to God. He believed in sin, well enough, since he saw it play out in his church’s leadership every day. But he was unwilling to say that a life of pain and torment would follow this human life – not even as a possibility. This theology ran contrary to his experience of God as loving and kind.
This horse pokes his head over my hedgerow whenever Kai and I sit on our porch to read or to watch a sunset. Not knowing his name, I have decided on “Fred.” He stares at us as if wanting to be friends, and whenever he arrives to watch us, Kai thumps his tail for a few minutes as if welcoming him. Like the elephants I spent time with in Northern Thailand, the horse’s eyes seem to me as pools of great love – almost as if God is the one watching through them. Hummingbirds frequent my feeders and bees wander the massive rows of Russian Sage bordering the fields of wheat and alfalfa. Roosters crow. It is as I imagine heaven.
This little house, locked behind its gates, far from any roads and well beyond a canal, feels a good place to rest and take stock. Perhaps I am finally the monk I had always wished to be but never achieved. Yesterday I spoke with two friends who called to check on me. Each are men I deeply respect – fine theologians and priests – but not quiet ones. Each has decided to leave parish ministry and slip out from beneath the power which, in such an anxious church, is being so terribly misused. As the churches begin to finally feel the pressure of the end of pledging generations, the anxiety is causing the church’s natural tendency to act like an alcoholic family to worsen and to seek scapegoats. And it is finding them. But George and Fred hang out with me these days on my porch and they assure me that all will be well for me and for Kai.