(This begins Part 3 of the saga of Angie and Preston in the Benelux.)
It was time for a bit more mundane work.
Besides, Preston had not been this close to the old POMCUS site since coming back to the Netherlands. It was a short ride east across Heerlen, through Landgraaf and then Abdissenbosch. They turned left along the primary northerly route, which offered fine bike paths. The entrance to the golf course was just visible down the road where they turned off into the woods. This took them to a road running right along the Dutch-German border.
Preston wanted to see the site from the backside first. While he never was sure what the company was doing digging into the old slag heap from the ancient coal mining days, he saw how a great mound had been reduced from his military days.
They followed the route around to the north side of the complex, and then turned left along the main road. In large cities like this, bike paths were everywhere, and very well maintained with their own traffic lights. The road curved around back south and they could see the large metal warehouses up on the high flat ground. From what he could tell, Preston realized this particular site had been expanded considerably, and reasoned some of the equipment from the sites that they closed had been brought here.
They turned left again and climbed up to follow the street along the fence line. Preston had heard the entire operation throughout the Netherlands had been turned over to Dutch contractors. There was not an American uniform anywhere, just armed Dutch guards and other functionaries.
The administrative offices had been moved, but the main gate was in the same place. There was an old guard sitting there just outside the door of the shack enjoying the breeze. Preston rolled up as close as he dared.
“Hallo!” He waved at the guard.
The man waved back with the typical Dutch friendliness, but said nothing.
“I used to work here!”
The guard perked up and stood, moving to the corner of the gatehouse. His accent was very thick. “That would be a long time ago. The Americans left it to us ten years ago.”
“So I heard. A lot of things have changed.” Preston agreed.
“Ja. Do you know they finally closed the old Schinnen Camp?”
Preston was a little surprised. “I knew they had reduced its status, but I wasn’t aware they were closing it. They had spent so very much money fixing the place up.” He pushed his bike a meter or two closer.
“Ja. DSM is trying to find someone else to rent it. But the other NATO allies would not let the Americans just walk away from this area. So the made them keep a reduce section up at old Bruggen — Javelin Barracks, I think they call it now.” The old man was enjoying the conversation.
“That would be just over on the German side. I remember we used to use a firing range up there in the woods near Herkenbosch.”
The old man nodded. “Ja, I worked here long enough to remember that. Now the few American troops could almost walk there from the airbase. It’s just a few American MPs and some civilians. The Brits offered them some space when they deactivated some units. Pretty soon there won’t be nearly so many NATO folks around. Ah, we don’t worry about no Ruskies. We trade with them now.” The old man laughed heartily.
“Thanks for your time, sir. We have some other places to visit.” Preston waved. The old man seemed just a bit disappointed it was over so soon.
They rode back down the street to the main road and turned left. As they approached the high plateau, Preston noticed there was not a trace of the old mining buildings at the JHQ, formerly called AFCENT HQ. The old AFCENT International School, previously a collection of single-story prefab buildings strung together, was now a huge multi-story building and a sign said AFNORTH.
They had been stopping to take photos all morning, but carefully avoided aiming the cameras at any of the military structures. There was plenty of other interesting shots. That included the ancient cable wheel removed from the top of the mine shaft and mounted as a monument in a small park right beside the main gate.
Angie was curious. “I don’t remember what happened. Did the mines just play out?”
Preston snorted. “No. The Americans and their ultra-cheap strip mining put the Dutch State Mines out of business. With the unions here and all those safety regulations against our terribly unsafe operations and hideous earth scars, we undercut you guys and put thousands of people out of work. Those were bad times in the Benelux.”
She pursed her lips. “So that’s why DSM does no mining at all, just chemicals and stuff.”
“Yeah. They still own all those mine camps and NATO was a good paying renter. Those days are about gone, it seems. We had a huge number of supporting operations all over the Netherlands, not just the POMCUS sites. It was extravagant for a long time — missile sites, life support services, all sorts of secret communications bunkers. I only heard about the places we had people. About all that’s left now are the places directly involved in NATO coordination activity itself.”
Preston pointed out how the original coal train path was now a bike path. They decided to follow it around to Schinnen. It was a long quiet ride through Hoensbroek. At some places the route was simply gone, at other places it was an actual street, but there weren’t that many detours. It wound down around the picturesque village of Terschuren with its beautifully kept ancient stone cottages. They took lots of pictures there.
Eventually they got back on the route which went through some woods, then alongside a sand and gravel operation used by Dutch Rail, very close to the tracks. Then the path turned and required they run alongside the built up highway where it bridged over the rail line, cross over the top, and dove through some foliage. It closely paralleled the railroad. On the other side, the trail continued. By that time, the landscape had been changed so much that the original route disappeared. However, a fine wooded path remained along much of it, and they took what was available.
Part of it was elevated above the surrounding terrain. The last section running along the backside of Schinnen Mine was inaccessible, thickly grown over with trees and shrubs. It had been just barely possible to crawl through it twenty years before, but was impassable altogether now. They turned and followed the main route toward what had been the one gate into the old complex. While a bike path on the left ran along between the fence and train tracks on the south side of the site, they stopped at the gate and gazed into the now abandoned facility.
Except for the original headquarters building and one or two other structures, the place was all new buildings, now vacant. The duck pond was overgrown with weeds, but the ducks were still there. It was actually the first sediment pond from the water treatment system. The water passed from there back under the roadway to a wooded fish pond. Preston decided he’d seen enough and they turned to go back.
The road south out of Saint Vith ran more or less parallel with an autobahn. However, the autobahn was born aloft on very high pylons, while the lesser route Perston and Angie took dropped rapidly down to the valley floor of the Our River.
Because of the complexity of the route, Angie wanted Preston to lead. He had the measure of her pace and was able to back off just enough for her to keep up. At the bottom of the valley, there was a sharp right onto a gravel version of the Venn Bahn, very well packed and smooth. Preston intended to follow the river as closely as possible. For the first portion of their journey, that meant mostly following similar tracks and trails, winding over nearly level ground on one bank or the other.
After a few kilometers of lovely quiet travel through mostly wooded trails, they were forced onto the main road for a short bit. The river made a series of hair pin switch backs and there were twin villages straddling this river. Oddly, the one farther west was on the German side, the eastern was Belgian. Preston slowed, turned and pointed out the campground had first hoped they could reach. It was packed, so they agreed things had turned out for the best. A short way farther, the paved road ran out into gravel track, which in turn became a narrow woodland trail. Still, it was firm and they had no trouble. They simply enjoyed the picturesque rapid switch backs in the water’s course, stopping now and then to use the camera.
Eventually they ran onto a substantial highway. “That’s the end of the trails,” Preston yelled back. The highway offered a bike lane, which they shared with a surprising amount of hikers and other cyclists. As they rolled along, the wide flat valley turned into a steep draw as the land on either side shot up into hills and mountains.
At about mid-morning they reached a place called Biven where the river nearly bent back on itself. Only a high ridge prevented it forming an island. The ridge jutted northward from the surrounding land, around which the river made this tight loop. Meanwhile, the water course was quite a bit wider, almost a narrow lake. Then they saw the damn which made it so. A short time later found them stopping to admire Vianden Castle. They took their time rolling slowly through the area, as both the natural and man-made scenery were thrilling to behold. The camera simply could not capture what they saw. Eventually the Our River joined the Sûre tumbling down out of the central Luxembourg highlands.
Below Vianden, the river valley broadened again in a few places. At one point they crossed back over to the German side and followed a road which stuck closer to the river bank. Just before lunch, they rolled into the German side of Echternach. Roughly eighty kilometers in less than six hours; it wasn’t so much the workout of cycling, because they were riding a gentle down slope the whole way. It was the saddle soreness of new bike seats which hadn’t yet been worn into the shapes of their bottoms.
At the front desk of the campground, the old woman pointed to a spot on the map that she said in German was reserved especially for them. It was right up against the old bridge below the pizzeria they passed on the way to the entrance of the campground. The camp ground was packed, but when they rode back up to the driveway of the pizza house and were able to find a way down and around to the graveled bank. There were no tents there at the time, so they chose a spot close to the retaining wall.
By the time their tent and other gear was all set up, the smell of fresh pizza was driving them crazy, so it was back up the same way for lunch.
When they returned, there were three new tents not far from theirs. The occupants were all younger. After an initial greeting, the youngsters chattered excitedly about their plans for rock climbing in Berdorf, a short distance back upriver. This part of Luxembourg is known as Little Switzerland because of the many high rocky crags. When the kids wandered off for their own lunch, Preston and Angie lay back on the grassy slope near their tent.
The must have dozed off because someone was asking for them by their alternative names. Preston vaguely remembered only using any names at all with the camp registry. When he opened his eyes, it was a fellow in rather expensive cycling gear, standing back a bit holding his even more expensive racing bike upright against his hip. They sat up and Preston said, “Hello.” The man leaned his bike against the wall nearby, then sat next to them, removing his helmet and gloves. Anyone would have thought him a dashing manly fellow, rather handsome and tall.
“I’m so glad you made it. No one had any idea if you could ride that far, but I was told you two were rather fit, so it seemed a good bet.” He held out his hand and shook each in turn. “You can call me Gary.”
He turned and glanced at their bikes. “I believe you two made good choices for the kind of riding you do. Money well spent.” He turned and regarded them with a benign smile.
“We liked your paper, Gary,” Angie offered.
“Good, good. Can we take a stroll?” He pointed under the old bridge.
They rose and began walking slowly alongside. Gary clasped his hands behind his back. “I did contribute to that paper, and I’m hoping to get translations made soon. I was told one of you could handle French, and apparently it is so. I take it you’re on board with this?”
Preston spoke up, “If I understand things correctly, it would be hard to imagine work we would enjoy more. We guessed it is something rather like investigative photographers plus a little more.”
“Good way of putting it,” Gary said. They were under the bridge, in the shadow and out of earshot from any other people, so Gary stopped and faced them. “I work in an international law firm, and part of my responsibilities include banking law, treaties and publishing. We are private partners sharing the management of several businesses. On paper, you are contracted to the publishing house.” He pulled out a business card with his name, the company name and yet another address in Luxembourg City.
It was then Preston first noticed the man wore rather large a fanny pack. He had slipped it around to one side where he could reach it easily. He pulled out another object in a dark plastic wrapper. “This is a lawyer’s type of cellphone that we use. Some numbers are pre-programmed. In the bag are two extra SIM cards. I’m sure you are be able to figure out when to use them. When it’s off, it’s really off. The encryption is very powerful. No one can track you without special permission. You’ll use it to call us more than us calling you.”
He reached into the bag again and produced yet another darkly wrapped bundle somewhat larger. “This should take care of your camera problems. It’s got a fat hard drive and can hold two extra memory cards. The battery is pretty long life and you’ll have more extensive controls, better lens and better zoom. The lights can be turned off and the screen muted to the point only someone right next to you can see it, yet it can obtain fairly sharp images in the very lowest light conditions. I’m sure you can figure it out.”
He glanced around a bit, and then touched his finger to his lips. “The man you sprayed was partly involved in this awful trade in human flesh. The dead body on the barge was going to blow the whistle. You already know they play for keeps. Had the whistle blower called us first, she might still be alive to talk. Your assailant’s death puts some of their business on hold. Meanwhile, the children are still being brought into the area and sold off to pimps. The bus you saw was a load of them. They clone the names of real travel agencies, but with a slightly different spelling. Thanks to your sharp eye, we know where to look for the latest distribution point.”
Gary paused a moment. “We work though all sorts of various agencies; that’s not your concern. Just get us the info and things will happen. Try to avoid contact with anyone but our people. Fighting for your life is fine, but we have no heroes.”
Preston nodded, “Amen to that.”
Gary chuckled. “One more thing. I need to you spend a day or two hanging out with the climbers in Berdorf. Among them is an American who pretends to be Belgian. He is a new recruit for the bad guys and we need a picture if you can identify him.”
Gary glanced at his watch. Then he grabbed them each by the hand, shaking in the same manner as Mr. Venkman. “Thank you so much. Your hosts back in Valkenburg will cashier your pay.” He abruptly turned and nearly ran back to his bike. In seconds he had his riding gear back on and was walking his bike up to the pavement.
Preston looked at the two packages. “Wow. This is more work than I ever thought I could do.”
Preston swallowed a sip of tea and put his cup down. “So, Baby. Here’s Saint Vith. Was it what you expected?”
“Oh, yes. It’s beautiful. It’s one of the showcases of Belgian government subsidies and historical preservation. I still think it’s odd how often we run across ugly sights within meters of so much beauty. It’s part of what makes Belgium what it is.”
Preston cocked one eyebrow. “I’ve already shared some of my thoughts. Tell me what your experiences have taught you about the Belgians.”
Angie sipped her tea and thought for a moment. “You know if I say someone is Dutch, you generally know what to expect. If I say Belgian, you have no idea what that means. In a sense, there is no such thing as a Belgian. When you have a government-recognized lobbying group called the Catholic Goat Herders Society, you get a feel for how fragmented they are. And the moment you identify with any of their various interest groups, you become the enemy of everyone who belongs to another. If you tell a Walloon you speak Flemish, you get an dirty look. If you say Dutch, which is almost word for word the same language, they’ll do their best to stumble along in Flemish and treat you as a friend.”
Preston said, “I remember reading about the Benelux Treaty. It seems the Dutch are all progressive, dragging the Belgians into that and the EU and UN kicking and screaming the whole way. Placing NATO headquarters here seemed almost a means of keeping an eye on them. Meanwhile, the Luxembourgs actually get much the work done behind the scenes, providing tons of lawyers and banking expertise.”
Nodding, she added, “Do you know the TV tax scheme here in Europe?” Preston nodded once. “Yes, we have vans and cars rolling through the streets picking up on the signals to see who has a TV or radio and charging a small tax accordingly because there are almost no private broadcasters. So in the Netherlands, we have maybe a couple hundred drivers and vehicles with an office staff of maybe forty. In Belgium, they have maybe forty or fifty drivers but it takes over a hundred office staff to process. That’s not efficient.”
She went on. “The perfect example of Belgian inconsistency: Ronquières. That inclined slope for the canal. You have seen it? Two giant rolling bathtubs that slide up and down the slope carrying barges from one part of the canal to the other. It replaces over a dozen locks from old times. You see this marvel of engineering, look down at your feet, and a smelly open sewer runs by.”
They were quiet for a moment. Then Preston said, “The map shows a nice camping ground down the hill from here. I was hoping we might get farther down toward the Luxembourg border on the Our River, but I think we’d better stay here tonight.”
Angie nodded her agreement.
“Besides which, I have a feeling we need to check our mail again.” With that, Preston reached into his backpack and pulled out the laptop. There were several good signals, but all were locked. He finally snagged a rather weak signal from an open node that was good enough.
Angie scooted around to see, and Preston angled it just a bit her way. Then he had her take control and run through the passwords. First was the email account. The third message:
Lucky find; not a regular tour charter. Camping reservation for you in Echternach, German side on the river, under the name Forttensie. Meet you there tomorrow. Need you to read our position on something in the dropbox.
She looked over at Preston. “Let me guess: That bus has something to do with our new assignment. And maybe that barge thing, too.”
Preston shrugged. She turned to log into the dropbox. The script pulled up a PDF and asked if it should be saved. She pressed Y and let it delete everything else. Preston talked her through the PDF displayer.
“Oh, joy,” he said sarcastically. “It’s in French. That’s your department, Babe.”
Angie looked at the title, then read the first paragraph, which looked to Preston like an executive summary. She looked up and said, “Not here. I’ll translate it for you where we won’t be overheard.”
They loaded up and mounted their bikes. The main route out of Saint Vith ran southeasterly. It was mostly downhill. A short time later they spotted the campground in the valley on the left. They took a narrow lane down to the entrance. The reception office told them there should be space, and pointed out a lane that ran across the creek and out the backside of the campground to another area with an open field. After riding around to see, they realized it was perfect. The field was virtually empty, and they walked through the grass to a far corner.
After setting up the tent and securing things, Preston suggested Angie read the document while he went to do laundry and scout for dinner. After getting their clothes washed and wrung out, he placed them in a plastic bag. Their tent was close to the fence, which would make a good clothesline. He found someone selling small baskets of local fruit and decided it would be a good supplement to the canned food they had packed just in case. He refilled all their empty water bottles.
When he got back, Angie was standing along the fence, staring out across the open fields. He started hanging the laundry to dry in the breeze.
“Angie! Hold up a minute,” Preston called.
She slowed, stopped and put her feet on the ground, half turned to look back at him. He was looking off to left along one of the straight logging cuts through the trees, pulling the camera out. He took a few shots, then quickly unfolded the map.
Angie turned around and pedaled back to where he stood.
“Darnedest thing I ever saw,” he said, shaking his head as he gazed at the map. He passed the camera to her. She understood and rolled back the last few shots on the view-screen. Her eyes widened just a bit.
“We’ve got tour buses all over the place around here during this time of year.” He chuckled as he went on, “But I’ve never seen one pulled that far off into the woods. The map shows a limited paved surface in there and what looks like a camping spot cleared. But a tour bus?”
“Well, it looks like a German charter. A little older than most you see these days. Looks like it lists a handful of cities down by the Swiss and Austrian borders.” She looked up and handed the camera back. “I can’t imagine what they would want to see here.”
“I suppose it could be history buffs. The Hürtgenwald Battlefield is just a few kilometers that way,” Preston said pointing ahead and off to the left a bit. Technically these trees are part of the same woodland. Plus, we are on the far northern tip of the Battle of the Bulge area. It wasn’t all just Bastogne; that was simply where the war correspondents were hanging out. Those were two of the nastiest battles in World War II.”
Angie shurgged. “That would mean old people, because my generation hardly knows anything or cares about that stuff. Younger folks even less. What kind of camping do old people do?” She was itching to get going again.
Preston put his camera away and prepared to ride off. “Big tents and lots of equipment, I’m guessing. I don’t intend to stay around and find out. Let’s go. Monschau awaits us.”
The route swung around the countryside and it was almost distracting in beauty. Preston didn’t want Angie to feel pushed; he wanted her to feel that in full control of riding. She was quite surprised at herself how quickly they reached Monschau. While the Venn Bahn led around the picturesque city, they decided to take the main street down into the busy town center for an early lunch. Preston also wanted to find a wifi hot spot.
He managed to get a good connection and checked the dropbox. The script found a short message. It contained an email address on a service with the Luxembourg TLD. The message told him it was his new address, that he was to create a password and check his mail ASAP.
So he logged into the server with his new account name. The system demanded that he create a new password and had a couple other hoops to jump through. The service was essentially a plain text operation with no pretty graphics at all. There was a message waiting for him and the subject was simply the numeral one with a couple of leading zeros. The message was brief:
Welcome, Mr. and Mrs. Forttensie. Got any pictures of your travels yet? I assume you are making your way here.
Preston had left his previous camera chip with their hosts near Valkenburg and started with a fresh blank. Up to that point, all he had were shots of himself and Angie in a few picturesque places. Plus he had the shots of that tour bus completely out of place in the woods. He doubted his boss had any interest in that. Still, he would offer them. He typed a reply:
We guessed the PO showed our new business address. So far, all we have are some honeymoon shots and something I thought strange: an aging tour bus out in the woods between Roetgen and Lammersdorf. What would you like to see?
He sent the message, and then poked around the interface a bit. Very Spartan, indeed. He was about to log out when a new message arrived. Naturally, the subject was zero-zero-two.
Very interested in the bus shots. Upload to the dropbox ASAP.
Hm. That was odd. Still, this was presumably the people paying the bills, so Preston complied. But first he removed the camera ID information from each of the images before encrypting them.
“Do you suppose there is something spooky to do with buses out here in the Ardennes?” She had a puzzled smile.
Preston chuckled. “In this, our new career field, nothing surprises me any more.”
We are not wired for sedentary living.
Rome fell long before the Danube River froze over and the German hordes sacked the city. Whatever she might have been in the past was long gone before Christ was born. That’s because Rome forgot everything she learned on her way up.
While there is a broad general pattern of imperial failure, it would be foolish to nail down precise turning points. Too many factors overlap and the timing of events can easily get out of sequence. However, the failures are pretty much the same in principle, if not in fact, or every empire in human history. The same failures apply on the smaller scale, so it won’t matter what you call the particular human organization that is coming apart.
Even if you forget the entire matter of the Two Realms, there is something painfully obvious for everyone to see: Never wallow in luxury; comfort is a liar. All the decisions you make will suddenly become reactive because you imagine that you have something to protect. All the negative human emotions start coming out and controlling your choices. You will no longer see your world truthfully. You can no longer afford to pursue what you really believe in, because you won’t believe in anything in particular.
God has made us capable of doing an awful lot of things He doesn’t like. He gives us enough rope to hang ourselves, but every civilization we know about carries the same truth in her ancient lore. Once we are no longer starving, but simply hungry, we are at our very best. It’s not as if anyone can simply create a permanent culture of utilitarianism and Spartan self-denial. It requires sharing and giving generously so that you never have more than you can protect by yourself. We can all work together, but the root of human power to advance is having just enough for the immediate future, just enough to give confidence. Technology and cultural passion are the two greatest variables, but the underlying formula doesn’t change. There comes a point when our concern for tomorrow — whatever that means in relative terms — stops us from moving forward today.
That’s where we are in the West now, America in particular. It won’t matter what you imagine is the cause that brought us to this, who you want to blame, because there is nothing we can do to fix it. We have passed the point of no return. We are rotten to the core; there are no seeds to plant for the next season. We have lost that sacred balance point between having too little and too much, and now we really have nothing.
It’s not necessary to be a literal nomad, but so far, no one has come up with a cultural context that maintains the ethics and morals to give us that proper balance between stability and reckless abandon. Not a single civilization in the past has been able to capture the spirit of the nomad and keep it alive. In other words, you can’t build it — that spirit has to come as a gift from the God who made us.
The New Testament is loaded with imagery pulled up from Israel’s better past. We are always in the Conquest, always on rise and never past the days of David. We cannot afford to ever think we’ve come to the times of Solomon, because Israel began to die with him. Solomon managed to write a book warning himself about it, then promptly failed to walk in his own teaching. We don’t talk about returning to the days of Solomon, but we have an awful lot of “Davidic” this and that. Yes, David was a complete fool about some things, but every time someone chased him out of town, he was in his element. He did just fine as long as he was on the run.
Whatever it is God calls us to do has to be the sort of thing we can engage fully on the run.
The Spirit of Christ is sacrifice. Nail it to the Cross.
John notes in his Apocalypse that Believers overcome by not clinging to his life (Revelation 12:11). Read between the lines and those three items all amount to the same thing: Living the Spirit of the Cross. I am relentless about this. If you cling to the things of this world, even to the point of making a religion out of what your mind can conceive, then you have fallen short of the Cross.
In our local news monopoly today here in OKC, there is a story about the Clear Creek Abbey up near Hulbert, OK. That’s a few miles west of Tahlequah, the old Cherokee capitol of Indian Territory. The abbey stands out in the country northwest of Hulbert on property once hosting a serious moonshine bootlegger operation. We’re talking remote woodlands, a rough hill and draw country with few open pastures — perfect for their Benedictine isolation. It’s all about reciting the Latin rituals and manual labor, and is connected to some French monastic houses.
Sounds like a very pleasant existence, in some ways. I have no quarrel with any choice of rituals or theology, so long as people remember not to take it all too seriously. The whole teaching on this blog starts with you and the Holy Spirit, working out how you are supposed to bring glory to the Lord Jesus. While my particular expression of faith is quite radical and spare, having made the choice to minimize ritual and theology, that’s not a rejection of the opposite end of the scale in terms of Christian religion. It’s a rejection of how important those things are on the grand scale of God’s mission and calling on humans. I can worship with those monks, if they can put up with me, and hit the local dirt-floor Pentecostal Holiness tent meeting the same day and worship with them, too. The problem is more often the case that they take their thing too seriously as a universal requirement.
Jesus declared from the Cross, “It is finished!” At that moment, an earthquake shook the entire region, knocking loose some masonry in Herod’s Temple. Something shifted and that fat felt curtain in the Temple got ripped open. That kinda ruined the Day of Atonement observance the next day. That was God’s way of saying it was finished, indeed. The final ritual sacrifice was made and the rituals were from that day forward only rituals. Christ was the meaning of them in the first place. It’s not necessary to observe the full Seder meal any more, just the abbreviated Lord’s Supper. That and baptism (let’s not argue what that has to look like) are the only two rituals actually commanded. Reading between the lines again, as good Hebrew thinkers, we see any combination of bread and juice would suffice. Folks in Iowa can have cornbread and cider and Jesus will be there in Spirit, smiling and enjoying the glory of His Name.
The discipline of the Cross is not confined to carrying one around like Arthur Blessitt. It includes that but is both far wider and far narrower. Blessitt is doing what he was called to do; are you doing what you were called to do? That’s the whole question; that’s the discipline of the Cross. What does it take for you to keep your head oriented on the glory of Jesus? Whatever that is, you need to be doing it. Write your own creeds and confessions, your own liturgy, your own rules and costumes. Draw pictures or don’t; build huge facilities or refuse them all. As long as you think that stuff really matters, it will always be wrong. As soon as you realize it’s simply your calling and your obedience, then you are holy and right.
Nothing you can do, touch or name is sacred in itself. As the song by Paxton says, “If you think my mind’s in another dimension, then brother you’re right!” It’s right to belong to the Spirit Realm and let your life express whatever is necessary to implement that. We are committed to the Person of Jesus Christ; nothing else matters, certainly nothing in the world — not all the property, plans or even your kids.
Nail it all to the Cross.
I’m hardly the first to run through this; some of this comes from others who seemed to understand it well.
The texts are Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24 and John 20. We have a problem with Mark because it is painfully obvious, even in English translations, that starting in verse 9 the narrative was clearly not the same as the rest. Even if Mark suddenly went to college after he wrote the rest, it wouldn’t change the style that much. Thus, we include it in our Bibles, but keep in mind it’s not as authoritative as the rest. In general, we struggle just a bit with harmonizing because each of the Gospel writers emphasize things differently.
I offer this outline for your consideration.
The context is Passover, a major Jewish celebration commemorating the Exodus, particularly the angel of death sparing the Children of Israel because they obeyed the ritual commands. I’ve noted in my commentaries on the Gospels that I believe Jesus ate the Last Supper the day before Passover, as I find it was a common practice. On the day before, one could celebrate with associates and non-family, because on Passover it was strictly blood kin all in one place according to the ritual law. Jesus died on Passover and took away the Day of Atonement, which followed the next day after that. Many people stayed in town the whole two months running through Pentecost.
Everyone central to the Gospel narratives had been staying in houses in or near the city. It’s probable most of them in the large and expensive home which included the Upper Room. We think that was near one of the eastern gates of the city. However, it would appear Peter and John (cousins) at least were somewhat closer to the tomb than the rest, likely only a few hundred meters. No one was permitted to wander around town on the Sabbath until Sunday morning at dawn. That would be around 6:30 AM local time. The women go to the tomb with spices because they assumed nothing had been done for the body. None of them witnessed Joseph of Arimathea taking the body, preparing it; they only saw him putting it in his own tomb. They don’t seem to know that soldiers had been posted and the door had been sealed because that happened on the Sabbath.
On the way a powerful earthquake hits. The women learn later it heralded the appearance of an angel who opens the tomb. Upon arriving, the door was open and an angel sits on the rounded stone slab some few meters from the tomb. The guards are cowering in fear off to one side, watching the whole thing. The group of women check out the tomb and find more angels inside. The angels explain this was all promised, and that they should tell everyone to leave town for Galilee if they wanted to see Jesus. The other ladies hang around a bit, but Mary Magdalene goes running back to where Peter and John are staying and tells them about it. The other ladies hang around a bit, then depart at a more leisurely pace, probably on a different route.
Peter and John come running back, Mary somewhere behind. John stops at the entrance and bends over to look inside. Peter blunders on in, then John follows. Peter examines the scene closely — the wrappings mixed with gummy spices had collapsed inward, empty of any body. The head covering was folded neatly where the head had been.
After the guys depart, Mary has her encounter with Jesus in the Garden. This is where He explains to her that things are not as they were before His arrest. He would be around for awhile, but He is not exactly the same old Jesus. The other group of women then have their encounter with Jesus on their longer trip back to the eastern side of town. Eventually John, Peter and Mary Magdalene catch up with everyone in the larger meeting place.
They puzzle over this and discuss it all day that Sunday. Two of them head off to Emmaus (7 miles or 11km northwest) late in the afternoon and meet Jesus on the way, but He changes His appearance so they don’t recognize Him. He explains the prophecies. Upon arriving at Emmaus, they persuade Him to stay for dinner; He reveals Himself and then disappears. They go running off in the darkness back to Jerusalem. While explaining their encounter, Jesus shows up again where this discussion takes place.
Then comes the meeting with Thomas eight days later (Monday evening). For another four weeks Jesus is around, mostly meeting with everyone in Galilee. Immediately after the group obeys and heads back to Galilee, nothing happens for a few days and it’s kind of spooky. The guys decide to go fishing one night. They encounter Jesus on the shore after a fruitless night of fishing. Peter dives in the water and swims to shore while everyone else drags the heavy net of fish ashore. Jesus helps Peter to understand things, then rehabilitates him to the place of leadership. This is also where the myth gets started suggesting John will live until Jesus returns. There are lots more meeting and some 500 people see Jesus alive in His risen form.
Then they all meet one last time in Jerusalem. Jesus leads them out to Bethany and ascends into the sky. It’s near this time when they were worshiping in the Upper Room at Pentecost.
Fundamental issue: Social stability — God’s Laws demand it and are aimed at producing it. This is the thing on which we focus as we attempt to understand how to do justice and bring Him glory.
The primary means to producing this social stability is hidden in plain sight. Yes, it requires you read between the lines; that’s how Hebrew writing works. In Genesis 6-9 we find the Noah narrative. The climax is the Rainbow Covenant — AKA Law of Noah. Notice what is described as the situation prior to the Flood. First, there is the mixing between the two primary tribes or nations of humanity. That is, we have those who worship God and live a pastoral primitive life. Then we have those who ignore God and follow the inclinations of their human desires and imaginations. The latter built cities, developed technology, etc. The former had no business messing with the latter. One of the symptoms was the rise of domineering warlords, oppressive rulers — bad government and social instability.
Part of the problem was the family elders were refusing to restrain their families. That goes back the Adam, too lazy to keep Eve away from things she didn’t understand properly. In the Covenant of Noah, God instructed mankind to raise up strong elders to lead their families. We are supposed to be a little clannish and not mix too freely with folks who are too different. All the more so if your clan takes seriously the revelation of God and the others don’t. Demonstrate the difference of obeying God’s Laws and claiming the blessings. The uniqueness of holiness was dissolving in free mixing, forgetting God’s ways.
The proper model of government has always been that of the shepherd. This was the tribal elder, not necessarily the oldest grandfather, but the most able and wise of those available. If he was really wise, he would just about have to be forced into the job, because good moral people don’t like to rule the lives of others. People eager to rule are always bad at it; that was the point of describing oppressive “great men” in the narrative, people who were looking out for their own comfort and fame. So true government is a burden on those ruling. Critical was the element of family, living in an extended family household. The elder was your government, the one who used his influence to keep peace within and with the neighbors. Nobody outside the family had any business poking into the details of your daily existence; no laws were permitted to usurp the authority of the elder.
Yes, there are a hundred problems going this route. Not everyone who rises to the eldership is all that nice. Still, the model is based on the best possible life for fallen humanity. Nothing man has devised has been better; instead, it has always turned out uniformly worse. That has never hindered men of power from destroying the clan and tribal unity of folks for the purpose of exploiting them. Today we live in a world where it is virtually illegal to live under biblical laws.
Any society, any civilization, any philosophy that defies this model is wrong. End of discussion. It also happens to be fundamental to the entirety of our Western Civilization. We have to moderate between what we know God requires and whatever it takes to remain relatively unmolested under whatever human government we live. Sure, do what God says, but do so knowing what the consequences will be. We aren’t here to demand and force human government to obey God’s Laws. We are here as living proof His Laws are wise, and our mission is to live them as much as we can. This is what worship and prayer are for, helping us discern where God wants each of us to draw the line, to lay the path between the conflicting demands. What can I do to glorify His name in this particular context?
The West in general, and America in particular, lives in a fundamental defiance of Noah’s Laws. Fundamental to our mission here is pointing that out. Use whatever talents, abilities and gifts you have from God. Seek your calling with an eye to this one basic fact: The only reason we are still on this earth is to make Him look good. The main way we do that is living in the Land of Repentance, always seeking to turn from sin. Turning from sin is doing your best to discern how God’s Laws protect you from being suckered at every turn.
You can study the Laws of God here and here. Yes, that’s a tall order, a lot to bite off and chew. Don’t follow me; follow the drawing of the Spirit. If this calls to you, find your own path in it. Whatever you do, don’t keep on living in defiance of God’s Laws.
If not Jeremiah, these five poems have be the work of a friend. They are too obviously written by an eyewitness to the Siege of Jerusalem in 586 BC. This is a common form of Hebrew literature, where the chapters and verses are acrostic, each beginning with a different Hebrew character in alphabetical order (except chapter 5). The rhythm is Hebrew elegy, also called threnody in English. The title of the book comes from various translations. In Hebrew, it would be more like “Alas!”
Jerusalem was the symbol of God’s revelation to mankind. After the Fall, man’s only hope was to seek God’s redemption. The path to redemption was bringing glory to His name, honoring Him as Creator and Lord. In typical Ancient Near Eastern fashion, this was a personal matter. Each living human is personally responsible to Him for not embarrassing, but building up His reputation. While the requirements were somewhat fuzzy for most of humanity, God chose this one nation as the recipients of a more precise and accurate revelation of what He requires of everyone. He held them to a higher standard, but reaped a far greater reward. They were given His personally edited version of revelatory legends, a precise code of ritual and community standards, along with His personal divine Presence. Jerusalem was built to accommodate the center of God’s earthly manifestation; it was the home of Jehovah’s glory. If there was any place in human space to get the real truth, it was Jerusalem.
Israel was more of a mission than a people; they rejected that identity. In the end, they served more to obfuscate than reveal the truth. His Chosen People had let it go to their heads, not their hearts. These five poems indicate the depth of loss and sorrow from a highly prophetic and literate soul, fully aware of what the people had thrown away.
Chapter 1: The desolate city mourns, now empty and in ruins. This is no mere anthropomorphism, but a functional image of how things work. Intellectual facts won’t help much if you get everything morally wrong. The Hebrew concept of Creation is a living thing. While the level of consciousness is debatable, the thread of intelligence is clearly the moral fabric by which all things in this universe operate. Modern man rejects this concept and the universe responds appropriately with God’s curses on sin. We lack the grand sense of scale of human history the ancients took for granted; our modern sensibilities are entirely too immediate. This blinds us to the moral truth exposed in God’s Word: Creation suffers when we sin, but will outlast our petty concerns as we are crushed under God’s wrath.
While the poet blends here the image of the city and occupants, it is more in the sense of corporate consciousness. The mission was her reason for standing on that ancient stone ridge. Too late the people of Judah become conscious of their sin, crying out to God for a salvation no longer available to them. It was bad enough when the glory of the Lord left some time before, but with her people gone, the city has little reason left to live. Now empty, she cannot die; she is left weeping alone.
Chapter 2:The imagery shifts a bit to emphasize the whole Kingdom of Judah. The futile defense of the land itself brought a massive slaughter. The long siege saw children ravaged by starvation, people eating those children and any number of horrific scenes. None of this was necessary. How often had Israel defeated her enemies, even when vastly outnumbered in the field? God destroyed everyone opposed to His revelation. Now that Judah has become the enemy of that truth, she is the one destroyed while her enemies stand by taunting without lifting a finger. It’s too late to weep for sin; all that’s left is sorrow for the loss of what might have been.
Chapter 3: This is more like some of the better Psalms. Each letter of the alphabet gets three short verses in order. This is the complaint of a righteous individual, rare among the Judeans in that time. The man first unloads the sorrow about his dire situation. Then he notes that God is faithful and will carry through everything He promises. However, only those who live a penitent awareness can survive to see those promises come true. So this symbolic man calls on God for a chance to repent and renew the covenant. In due time, the door of Heaven will open again. The duty of man is to wait on God in His own time to decide what and when things shall be.
Chapter 4: You can’t eat gold. Precious metals and jewels aren’t worth much during a siege. Instead, there is an endless feast of misery, gorging on sorrow. How silly it is for people to worry about someone ritually unclean when the whole city is damned in her sins! So the poet describes graphically what he sees during the siege, the shocking images of starvation and disease. Worst of all is the petty competition over anything edible when there truly is nothing left life for but perhaps the spite of one’s enemies. Thus, the last few lines note how Edom watches from the sidelines, but she is next.
Chapter 5: Terse but loaded with deep imagery, this last poem is the most depressing. The poet notes they had sold themselves into moral slavery long ago, mentioning both Assyria and Egypt. In each case, the rampaging empires could not have touched God’s People had they not abandoned the mission. Now it’s all over except falling into the grave; survivors are abused until they drop into the dust. The poet ends with one final call for the only possible answer: If God does not call us out of death, we cannot hope to live.