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Pastor's Monthly Newsletter Message

November 2012

~Embracing Your Inner Calvinist~


“Out of Zion,

the perfection of beauty,

God shines forth”

~Psalm 50:2

Dear Friends,

The fall season awakens My Inner Calvinist…and that’s no small feat.  Oh, he was an active fellow in his youth, self-assured and mildly haughty toward anyone who dared to disagree with him.  But for the better part of the last decade, My Inner Calvinist has spent most days dozing in a sunny window seat, like an aging lapdog.  He rouses himself when times are very good or unexpectedly bad.  On dire occasions, My Inner Calvinist rises from his long nap to assure me that, whatever happens, it’s all part of God’s good plan.  He whispers in my ear, “Whatever God ordains is right.”  Sometimes I find his words reassuring, sometimes not.  His worldview is orderly and symmetrical.  His philosophy of life has a stately kind of beauty to it, like some majestic fugue by J.S. Bach.

My Inner Calvinist insists that everything in the world—and in our private lives—is God’s doing.  His God’s splendor comes from absolute control over all living creatures.  Tragedy and happiness alike come according to God’s plan.  But that’s where My Inner Calvinist and I part ways.  Issues of divine “power” and “control” are less important to me nowadays than divine “relationship,” and “kindness,” and “love.”  That’s to say, I still believe that God has a plan, and I still believe that God’s plan is good.  I’m just not certain that everything I see in this world is a part of that plan.  And so, in recent times, My Inner Calvinist has contented himself to lie in a sunny window, nodding off, dreaming back over the Africa years.  He’s mostly dormant.

Still, when chilly autumn breezes rattle the rippled glass in the our old windowpanes, and when golden sunlight filters through russet-tinted leaves, and when the days grow shorter and shorter, My Inner Calvinist stretches, and yawns, and draws himself up to full height.  It’s at these times that he regains some of his former vigor, swaggering through my daily life again, like old times, telling me how all the living world is a demonstration of God’s beauty, how in the end, what really matters is to “glorify God and enjoy God forever.”

There are really two things that send me scurrying back to My Inner Calvinist: beauty and transitions.  Fall is a lovely season, and he’s deeply moved by beauty.  Fall is a transitional season, too, and (like many of our early belief systems) he always shows up for transitions.  Transitions speak to our lack of power over the world.  They speak of impermanence.  In fact, I admit that I’ve occasionally been known to seek out the company of My Inner Calvinist whenever I find myself confronted with scary things like powerlessness and impermanence.  But truly, isn’t there a hint of impermanence at the heart of all beauty?  Isn’t the season all the lovelier because it is so brief?  Think of the many things that are made all the more beautiful because they are short-lived: a child’s infancy, a sunrise, a perfect dream.  We can cling and try to hold them tight, but if we do, we’re missing the point.  Beauty is forever reincarnating.  It fades here, only to reappear there.

My Outer Calvinist, Jonathan Edwards, believed that the first characteristic of God is beauty.  God discloses Godself in beauty.  To create beauty, to protect and preserve it, is to participate in the very life of God.  Beautifying acts are holy because they make the reality of God more visible in the world.  That’s a pretty good philosophy…for a guy who’s mostly only remembered for one bad sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”  (Please don’t let me be remembered for my worst sermon!)  My Inner Calvinist wants a God of raw, ultimate control.  But when he doesn’t get that, he’ll settle for a God who comes in beauty.  And in the end, why would God need to control the world like a puppetmaster, if instead God suffuses the world with beauty, and meaning, and ever-renewing life?  Happy All Saints Day.  Happy Thanksgiving.  Happy stewardship season.  I hope that you’ll find the presence of God in the beauty of these days.

Christ’s peace,