School bells ring again this month, signaling the happy or unhappy return of young matriculators – depending upon your point of view.
There’s a rhythm to the school year we all set our clocks by. Even gray-headed, lifelong learners feel the hope beat afresh in our breasts that this will be our year, finally.
The late theologian, Lewis Smedes, recalled his first year at Calvin College and the life-changing class taught by Jacob Vandenbosch. It wasn’t a religion class that transformed him; it was freshman English, of all things. He learned things about a God in there, the likes of which he had never heard:
“This God liked elegant sentences and was offended by dangling modifiers. Once you believe this, where can you stop? If the Maker of the Universe admired words well put together, think how he must love sound thought well put together, and if he loved sound thinking, how he must love a Bach concerto, and if he loved a Bach concerto, think how he prized any human effort to bring a foretaste, be it ever so small, of his Kingdom of Justice and peace and happiness to the victimized people of the world. In short, I met the Maker of the Universe who loved the world he made and was dedicated to its redemption. I found the joy of the Lord, not at a prayer meeting, but in English Composition 101.”
Now, preachers like me hope that now and then people would find the joy of the Lord in prayer meeting, too. But the fact that God freelances outside our sanctuaries is good news for the Good News crowd.
Before there was a church, there was a world. Before there was religion, there was creation. People of God, gathered in communities of faith, are living reminders to the world of God’s truth, goodness and beauty; they are not sole possessors of them.
God sneaks up on us everywhere. Truth beckons to us – admire a carpenter’s plumb line, marvel at the elegant simplicity of E=MC(squared), or recite again the creed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Goodness assures us – see a child offer his mother a dandelion bouquet, cheer an elected official voting for the common good against special interests, or celebrate a random act of kindness. Beauty draws us – walk among the flowers at the Arboretum or eye the paintings at the Dallas Museum of Art or give ear to a concert at the Meyerson.
God will not be confined. Our senses need to be refined, in order to pick up the fine points along the way that point the way to God.
It may even happen in English class this year.