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World Enough and Time: Sunday thoughts

Bill Hagen
Contribuitng writer

I selected the title so those of you who don’t feel particularly religious or don’t read religious columns can skip this.  

On the plus side, I will try to make my remarks inoffensive to any denomination.

I should start by saying I want to be Christian, but realize how imperfect I am.  My Calvinist background, even watered down, makes me aware that however strong my faith, I don’t always show it in my actions—thoughts, words, or deeds.

So, imperfect, sinful. “Once saved, always saved” only makes sense to me as a truth about God’s relationship to individuals.  It matters not whether you believe in predestination; God either has determined or will determine whether you are saved.  No earthly ceremony or revival experience gives you absolute certainty in this matter.  Only God knows.

Your choices determine who you are.  And however good you have been, you are still not worthy, on your own.

Do I offend?  I hope not.  As I get older, I simplify.  

Churches Matter

No, no, I am not going to insist.  Going to church will not insure your salvation.

Even as an employee, church should not be your totality.  It should not be who you are, but help support what you are.  

In our present state of sheltering, I miss the fellowship, the service with the people who help remind me what I should want to be.

It’s that simple.

Neighborhoods Matter

The pandemic and staying home have made me appreciate my neighborhood.

The view from the front window

I am blessed by the view from the front windows: across my variegated lawn (that needs mowing), across the street, I see a wonderful green lawn, shade trees, and a beautiful display of flowers and flowering bushes surrounding my neighbors’ house. Surely one of the best views in town.

I enjoy seeing the children of neighbors on two sides of me, riding their bikes, skating, running, excited to be out and active.  I worry about the traffic, those who run stop signs, those who like to see how fast they can go within the two blocks between stop signs.  

In the two-block street where I grew up, we used to have an Old Timer who would yell at such drivers.  Some days, I am tempted to be that guy.  Slow down for the kids!  (Dark thoughts sometimes follow.)

Sometimes view from the back window

As shown in my recent columns, the backyard, with its bird feeders and bath, has afforded me a great deal of pleasure.  The birds and squirrels, the two cats that wander through, the beautiful hawk that bathes twice a week, even the quartet of young skunks scarfing down the French fries l thoughtlessly tossed out.  Thanks for the entertainment!

Neighbors Matter

In the most immediate sense, our neighbors are those who live around us, those we encounter regularly, those we recognize as being from our town.  Okay.  That part’s easy.

How about those we encounter that we don’t recognize, some not from our town?  How about those we don’t encounter, except maybe through news accounts?  

My faith tells me those are my neighbors too.

Okay, here’s where I go “Christian,” though such ideas can be found in other faiths: “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, and all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This the first and great commandment.”  (And, boy, is it a hard one, if you think about it.). “And the second is like unto it: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”  (Harder and harder.)  “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”  

Selection of masks

For me, as an imperfect Christian, the whole argument about whether it infringes on your freedoms to be told or required to wear a mask is beside the point!  If you are Christian or simply moral, there is a higher law: Act to benefit your neighbor as much as you act to benefit yourself!

Is there any doubt that masks help protect you from a strong dose of sprayed infected droplets, especially from people who don’t know they are infected?  Is there any doubt, masks are even more important in protecting your neighbors from your droplets if you are asymptomatic yourself?

Follow the Higher Law!  If you are a believing Christian, quit violating the second great commandment!

You tell me the Constitution is the highest law, and that’s it?  The original Constitution didn’t outlaw slavery.  In running for the Republican nomination for president, Frederick Seward argued for a Higher Law to oppose slavery.  

Many evangelicals oppose the Law of the Land regarding abortion, appealing to a Higher Law, based on their understanding of the Bible.

So belief in a Higher Law or a general moral imperative is common enough.

Conscience, Friends, Conscience!  Have you got one?

A Communion Muddle

Communion or the Eucharist in most Christian churches is a matter of fellowship.  You partake with your fellow congregants, you partake in communion or fellowship with all Christians, past and present, and you partake either in remembrance or commemoration (symbolic) or in actual participation with the Lord Jesus at his last supper (trans- or con-substantiation).

In theory at least, sharing the bread and the wine or juice should be the high point of any service.  As such, it is sorely missed by those of us who must worship from afar, through television or a computer link.

Many churches practice “open communion”; believers of any Christian denomination are welcome to partake the elements.

I went with a friend to such a church that has started in-house worship.  I was ready to participate in communion, but faced a dilemma.

The prayer leading to distribution of the elements made it quite clear that the members of this church believed they were receiving the body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation).  

As someone who believes the ceremony represents a symbolic commemoration, should I go forward?  Should I have a “separate communion”?

I elected to remain seated, thinking a kind of hypocrisy would be involved if I participated with a different, hidden understanding of what the sacrament represented.  

But I am uncertain.  I am open to arguments.  

Perhaps I need to talk to Baptist friends who have been attending this church.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at