The Firebird LV



“Now loose the dipper from its golden chain!” cried the small gray bird.  “It is no longer needed here, for the last draught has been drunk.  A place awaits it in the sky.”

As if fully understanding what was to be done, the boy unhooked the cup from its leash and raised it over his head.  For a moment he held it there, flashing and sparkling in the shift and play of the mottled light.  Then without a word he reached back and hurled the dipper into the sky.  I watched it go like a streak of lightning through the morning air, surprised to see its speed apparently increasing the further and higher it flew.  Straight through a gap in the ranks of marching clouds it passed, out to a place where the sky was of a particularly clear and deep blue color.  There it stopped and affixed itself to the ceiling of the world.  From where we stood we could see it twinkling down on us serenely from its seat in that pure and lofty dome, glowing with an ever greater intensity, a bright new morning star.

As this star passed momentarily behind an advancing line of fleecy clouds the small gray bird leapt suddenly upward from his perch at the margin of the well.  In the air above our heads he burst into flame and became the terrible Firebird once more.  I heard his voice as I had heard it long ago, like the roar of many waters, calling me to follow his leading.  Turning, I saw the red and flickering light of his blazing wings reflected in the smooth, calm, expectant face of my young companion.  I slipped my hand into his and together we began to walk up the slope, toward the dark eaves of the outermost trees, never taking our eyes off the fiery figure in the sky.

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Books 001

“My political opinions lean more and more to Anarchy (philosophically understood, meaning abolition of control, not whiskered men with bombs) – or to ‘unconstitutional’ Monarchy.  I would arrest anybody who uses the word State (in any sense other than the inanimate realm of England and its inhabitants, a thing that has neither power, rights, nor mind); and after a chance of recantation, execute them if they remained obstinate!  If we could get back to personal names, it would do a lot of good.  Government is an abstract noun meaning the art and process of governing and it should be an offence to write it with a capital G or so as to refer to people.  If people were in the habit of referring to ‘King George’s council, Winston and his gang,’ it would go a long way to clearing thought, and reducing the frightful landslide into Theyoacracy.”

—  J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters, #52

The Firebird LIV



In response to her call my friend sloshed away through the shallow ripples and went running up the beach toward the well.  When he had gone, the golden-haired girl, who still held me in her arms, turned and laid me down in the water at the foot of the cradle.  Feeling impotent, abandoned, and helpless, I burst into a tearful wail.  But in the same moment I realized that I could not remain in that condition long.  At another time – before reaching this place beyond the sunset – I would certainly have surrendered myself wholly to it.  But everything was different now.

So strong was the draw of the well and the wood, so sweet the children’s song, so great the promise of things to come, that I was compelled, quite apart from conscious thought or will, to reach the shore somehow.  With a great cry, I heaved myself up on hands and knees and began to crawl forward, discovering in the process that it cost me surprisingly little effort to do so.  I went slowly at first, splashing and gurgling in the salt water; then faster and faster and with greater assurance until, upon reaching the point where the wavelets lapped the shimmering strand, I found myself rising to my feet and taking off at a run toward the stone well.

The small gray bird blinked at my approach, greeting me with a solemn nod of his head.  Hands outstretched, I ran to the well’s edge and fell laughing against its cool stones just as the boy lowered the silver dipper down into the mossy darkness.  Astounded at my own strength, I pulled myself up over the ledge and peered down into the shaft.  As if in reply, the well breathed its airs of dewy freshness up into my flushed and heated face.  At the smell of the pure spring water a burning thirst awoke within me.  Keen with the desire to taste its cold sweetness, I threw back my head and shouted with joy as my friend, smiling down at me, drew the dipper up by its golden chain and held it to my lips.

What a draught that was!  Transcending all identifiable flavors, yet containing within itself the savor of flower and fruit, of sand and stone, of sharp little blades of grass; pure, clear, and radiant as distilled white light; the essence of heaven in liquid form.  Even before it touched my lips or tongue, its fresh and heady odor, redolent of both the pines on the beach and the tang of the sea, struck itself into my nostrils with such force that it seemed to pierce my brain.  Scales fell from my eyes.  My whole body filled with light.  I felt as if I had begun to see for the first time.

The boy dipped again and drank from the cup himself.  As I watched, a change passed over him such as I had never witnessed before and cannot rightly describe.  His physical form assumed an appearance reminiscent of the vibrant, shimmering bodies of the Watchers in the valley of blue glass at the edge of the sea.  While remaining solid to the touch – this I tested by reaching out and laying a hand on his arm – he grew gradually luminous and transparent.  His face began to shine so that I was tempted to fall down before him in adoration.  But before I could carry out my intention I saw his eyes grow round and suddenly knew that he was beholding the very same changes in me!

I stepped away from the well, holding one pulsing and shimmering hand up before my face as the effects of that draught of well-water swept over me.  Inside and out, from head to toe, I felt myself growing lighter and stronger.  Trembling, I turned and looked off toward the wood above the beach.  I shook myself, scattering splinters of light across the ground and over the gray stones of the well.

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The Pilgrim and the State

Pilgrim 2 001

          “Render to all what is due them:  tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor.

           ”Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law.”

                                           – Romans 13:7, 8


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Those who have closely followed the exposition of Pilgrim values set forth in these pages over the past couple of years (not that the author presumes anybody would do such a thing, of course!) will understand that the most recent installment – “My President or My King?” – is entirely consistent with everything else that has been said here.  It contains nothing new.  The theme it briefly attempts to apply to current events has been examined time and time again, and from a variety of angles, under such headings as “Apatheia,” “Allegiance,” “Death,” “Defeat,” “Defenselessness,” “Failure,” “Indifference,” “Irrelevance,” “Impracticality,” “Kenosis,” “Madness,” “Meekness,” “Martyrdom,” and, in particular, “Anarchy.”  Readers who want know more are referred to these entries.

The last-mentioned post followed author Vernard Eller, late Professor of Religion at the University of La Verne, in describing “Christian Anarchy” as “a Christ-centered disregard for the claims of ‘government’ in all its forms.”  It went on to say that “because he owes allegiance to one Master, and one only, the Pilgrim’s attitude toward every other so-called authority is necessarily ‘disinterested, skeptical, and nonchalant.’”[i]  This provides the background for our assertion that the Pilgrim, as a subject of the One King, “owes no allegiance whatsoever to any earthly president or temporal authority.”

Romans 13:1-7 is often cited in contradiction of this view.  This text is generally understood as bestowing a kind of unqualified divine legitimacy upon the state.[ii]  It’s worth noting what Eller has to say about this.  He makes the highly sensible and rather obvious point that Paul’s instructions to Christians have to be read against the background of the Old Testament perspective on humanly instituted authorities:  that from Babel onward God has never been a “fan” of the state; that in asking Samuel for a king, the people of Israel were in effect rejecting the rule of Yahweh; that God, after warning them they’d be sorry, went ahead and gave them their druthers, determining in the meantime to go on working with them in and through the state despite the setback; that He continues to use rulers of all kinds, both “bad” and “good,” to accomplish His purposes in history without necessarily lending them His stamp of approval; and that, in view of all this, Christians should follow His divine example by cooperating and getting along with (“submitting to”) human authorities so far as it is possible to do so without violating the law of God.

Taking his cues from Karl Barth, Eller insists that the phrase “be subject to” (Romans 13:1) “has absolutely no overtones of ‘recognize the legitimacy of,’ ‘own allegiance to,’ ‘bow down before,’ or anything of the sort.  It is a sheerly neutral and anarchical counsel of ‘not-doing’ – not doing resistance, anger, assault, power play, or anything contrary to the ‘loving the enemy,’ which is, of course, Paul’s main theme.”  He concludes:


           This interpretation of Romans 13 reads as anarchically as all get out.  It carefully declines to legitimize either Rome or resistance against Rome.  It will give neither recognition nor honor to any political entity whatever – nation, party, ideology, or cause group.  There is only one Lord of history – and that is God.[iii]


It’s crucial to underscore Eller’s point that Romans 13:1-7 has to be read in conjunction with Romans 13:8.  This is often conveniently overlooked.  We are to pay what we owe, says Paul, but he qualifies his statement by adding, “Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another.”  And that casts the subject in an entirely different light.

Bottom line:  the Law of God – that law which must never be violated at the behest of any human ruler – can be summed up in a single word:  love.  It is out of love that we “submit” whenever and wherever we can; but it is also in response to love that we say “no thank you” when invited to adopt attitudes, embrace policies, or engage in actions that contradict the very meaning of the word.


[i] See Vernard Eller, Christian Anarchy, 1-2.

[ii] “The support for this reading falls into a most interesting alignment.  Of course, the Christian Right (along with conservative evangelicalism in general) welcomes this theological view of Romans 13 as confirmation of its own politically conservative commitment to political establishment as being God’s chosen means for governing the world … Yet curiously enough, the Christian Left also accepts, if not welcomes, the legitimizing interpretation – although under an entirely different rationale and for a totally different purpose.”  Christian Anarchy, 196.

[iii] Ibid., 204.


Peace and Safety

Poet's Corner 001

Peace and Safety


When we saw him we cried,  

          “Peace and safety!”

But that was before

We knew.


Standing in the checkout line

At the reading of the law,

The law concerning those who buy,

Who bid and barter, buy and sell,

We took the mark

And bought the farm;

We cleaned the clock

And swallowed the camel.

We cried, “All clear!”

And cleared the deck.

We battened down the hatches.


We built the wall,

Secured the line,

Bolstered the brand,

Bettered the business;

Ate and drank,

Secured the bank,

Banked the profit

Lived and laughed.


We laughed and lived

And looked aside

And seized the long

Awaited prize

And so survived;

With foreheads to the fore,

And man against man against man,

While the dark stranger

Goes under the ban.


“And that’ll be

Ten and four and six

And six and six and six,”

And straw and mud for bricks

While the dark stranger

Goes under the ban.


So in the end,

Our purchased provender bought and bagged,

We bent and spent and went  

Each to his own way

In safety and in peace;

Backwards to the back,

Foreheads to the fore,

Never been here before.


Hoping to be spared


The Firebird LIII



She fell silent again, but not for long.  I saw her studying me intently and knew that she could see the question in my face.  I needed – or wanted – to know more.  So did my companion, the boy who had been the man on the raft so many long ages ago.  It was he who put my thoughts into words.

“Please,” he said, his face turned up to hers.  “Why the scar over the place of his heart?  What does it mean?”

“More than I can say,” she answered.  “And far more than you are prepared to hear or understand.  But among other things, it means what all scars mean – that he was wounded.  More:  that the wounding, though past and healed, has left its mark.  It means, as I have already told you, that he has become like you.  And in so doing he has opened up the way for you to become what you are now – in other words, like him.  This wound, this drink from the well, this loss of one eye to enhance the power of the other – all of it has made him a tiny child, here beyond the sun, here at the meeting place of sky and sea and land.  Here and everywhere it is Christmas morning.  See!  He is in the cradle!”

With that she smiled, touched one hand to my cheek, and laid the other on the boy’s shoulder.  “Now up the beach!” she said.  “To the well and the wood!  There’s no time to lose!  The others are already far ahead of you!”

Indeed they were.  As if from a great distance I could hear their voices drifting to us from the forested bank:


Hush!  Hush!  See how the child is sleeping!

                      Hush!  Hush!  See how he smiles in dreams!


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My President or My King?

Pilgrim 2 001

         “… The biblical view is not just apolitical but antipolitical in the sense that it refuses to confer any value on political power, or in the sense that it regards political power as idolatrous, inevitably entailing idolatry.  Christianity offers no justification for political power; on the contrary, it radically questions it.”

                                                 Jacques Ellul, The Subversion of Christianity

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“Not my president.”

For the moment this has become the rallying cry of millions of disgruntled Americans, but it’s nothing new to the Pilgrim.  That’s because the Pilgrim has no president under any circumstances.  Never has had, never will.  The Pilgrim serves a King.  And as a subject of the kingdom of that King he owes no allegiance whatsoever to any earthly president or temporal authority.     

The Master of all Pilgrims, when asked to comment on this sensitive subject, replied with this sorely misunderstood maxim:  Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar, and unto God that which belongs to God.

This statement has been commonly misinterpreted as implying that the Pilgrim is a person of divided loyalties:  that he owes so much to the State and the civil authority, and so much to God.  Case closed.  But this is not what the Master intended.  On the contrary, in making this enigmatic pronouncement He was actually posing an open-ended question.  He was tossing the conundrum back into the laps of those who hoped to trap Him in His own words.  In effect, He was placing the responsibility squarely on their shoulders and asking:  “How much do you think is owed to Caesar?  How much do you think is owed to God?  How far, if at all, do the two overlap?  To what extent do they cancel one another out?  What will you do when it’s impossible to reconcile or harmonize their conflicting demands?”

We, too, must answer the question:  What happens when the claims of the president run counter to the claims of the King?

What do you do when the King is the embodiment of gentleness and meekness but the president is Arrogance Incarnate?

How do you respond:

  • When the King says, “Love your neighbor as yourself;” but the president says, “These aren’t people, they’re animals”?
  • When the King says, “Put away your sword. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword;” but the president says, “I will get rid of gun-free zones in schools”?
  • When the King says, “He who loses his life for My sake will gain it;” but the president says, “I’m the toughest guy. We’re gonna start winning so much that you’re going to be sick and tired of winning”?
  • When the King says, “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself;” but the president says, “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists”?
  • When the King says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy;” but the president says, “As far as I’m concerned, you can go a lot stronger than water-boarding if you’d like.”
  •  When the King says, “Love your enemies, do good to them that persecute you;” but the president says, “I would bomb the sh– out of ‘em”?
  • When the King says, “Blessed are the peacemakers;” but the president says, “I’m really good at war, I love war in a certain way”?
  • When the King says, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations;” but the president says, “Make America Great Again”?
  • When it is said of the King, “He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall;” but the president says, “Nobody builds walls better than I do”?

What do you do in a situation like this?  The Pilgrim knows.  You don’t say, as evangelist Franklin Graham and others of a similar mindset have said, “that prayer – and God’s answer to it – helped Donald Trump and Mike Pence pull off ‘the biggest political upset of our lifetime.'”  On the contrary, like Peter, James, and John, you stand firm and declare, “We must obey God rather than man.”

The Firebird LII



Within the canopy, under a coverlet of purest white wool edged with red satin, upon a downy pillow embroidered with thread of gold, lay a child of unearthly beauty.  I saw his single eye, as it were a lucent cerulean orb, no bigger than a marble yet deeper than the sky, a little world within itself, cunningly and marvelously made.  Where the other eye should have been was no empty socket or sunken lid, but rather something I cannot quite express – something like a star, a point of light of such intensity that I could not look directly into it, a flower of pure luminescence blossoming and unfolding gently outward.  It was as if I saw again, compressed, miniaturized, and refined within the apple of that eye, the circle of the sun-gate at the edge of the western sea.  The skin of the child’s face was like ivory or marble divinely infused with the suppleness of living flesh, solid and real yet somehow bordering on the immaterial, pellucid and radiant and warm in every pore and cell.

This child lay gazing up at me, his lips parted in the hint of a laughing smile, his little arms stretched out upon the coverlet, his tiny hands open as if in a welcoming gesture.  His gown of white linen was unlaced at the throat, and where the garment stood open I saw the scar of deep wound just above the place of his heart.

Seeing that scar, I turned to the three ladies, my eyes filling with tears.  The dark one knew my thoughts.

“He is much changed since you last saw him,” she said in reply.  “And yet he is the same.  His promise, too, remains and has been kept, and your calling fulfilled.  For look!  Here are the two of you, met together against all hope in this place beyond the setting and the rising of the sun!  You have seen him with your own eyes!  Christmas morning has come in at last!”

At this I smiled, yet still I pointed persistently at the scar.  The lady nodded.

“Yes.  He has been wounded to the heart.  He has also suffered the loss of his eye.  Such is the price he paid for a drink from the well at the edge of the wood.  But mark this!  His loss has not become the cause of darkness, but rather a perpetual spring of near insufferable light.  And if you will accept it, this light is the same light that you and so many others have sought after and followed your whole lives long, whether knowingly or unknowingly.  It is the light by which you have made your way to this place.  That eye – or lack of an eye – is the star before the dawn.  It is the sun-gate at the edge of the sea through which you passed so recently and yet so many ages ago.”

She bent to caress the child’s forehead, then looked up at me and continued.

“That drink from the well, the cost of which was so great, has made him what you see him now to be.  He gave his eye and drank the draught that you and all these others might drink it too.  He drank it long before coming to your window and enticing you to come out.  Indeed, he took that cup before the foundations of this or any other world were laid.

“And now that you have seen and heard these things, there is one thing more you must know:  what you have lived, suffered, seen, and felt in following him to this place has been none of your own doing.  It is only the outbranching and effoliation of the root that was planted when he gave his eye and chose to take that drink.”

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The Firebird LI

Three Ladies 001


Holding me in his arms, the boy splashed forward a few steps, the cloak of heaven-blue trailing behind him through the rippling wavelets.  After handing me to the girl with the circlet of spring flowers in her golden hair, he knelt in the water and bowed his head before the three ladies.  In answer, the dark one stooped to kiss him.  But she of the auburn hair – the dove – raised his face to her own and spoke:

“What gift do you bring?”

Without hesitating, the boy stretched forth his hands.  In one he held the red clay lamp.  In the other was the basket of golden apples.  These the lady received from him with a gracious nod.  Then he got to his feet and, unfastening the shining brooch at his throat, took off the cloak of heaven-blue and held it out to her.  She smiled.

“Rich and precious gifts,” said she, laying the lamp and basket inside the cradle and draping the cloak over the canopy.  “Ashes to ashes and dust to dust.  And all good gifts to the Giver at last.”

Then she turned and looked at me where I lay waiting in the girl’s arms.

“And you, my child,” she said.  “What gift do you bring?”

Though my peace had been so deep and my repose so complete, I was shaken to the core at the sound of her voice.  My thoughts and feelings fell into disarray, and I was stricken with the unbearable realization that, of all that unnumbered multitude, I alone had been left, the last and the least, with nothing to give.

I opened my mouth to give expression to my distress, but nothing came out.  This was no great wonder, of course, for I was well aware by now that I had been reduced at last to the condition of a true infant; that is to say, a non-speaker.  I had come to that place where one is left with only the truest means of communication – the eye and the cry – and I understood that words could no longer avail me.  Looking straight into the lady’s face, I let out a desperate wail, straining with all my might to tell her that I had nothing to offer, but that I wished to be given myself.

She silenced my cry with an upraised hand.  Beaming pleasure and approval at me out of her opal eyes, she nodded to the golden-haired girl, who immediately carried me to the cradle.  With a single sweeping motion she drew the curtain aside as the girl, still holding me close, knelt in the water beside the little bed.  Then she crooked a finger and beckoned me closer.

“Your wish is granted,” she said.  “Come and see.”

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Books 001

“… The right way to requite evil, according to Jesus, is not to resist it.

“This saying of Christ removes the Church from the sphere of politics and law.  The Church is not to be a national community like the old Israel, but a community of believers without political or national ties.  The old Israel had been both – the chosen people of God and a national community, and it was therefore his will that they should meet force with force.  But with the Church it is different:  it has abandoned political and national status, and therefore it must patiently endure aggression …

“The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for.  Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames …

“There is no deed on earth so outrageous as to justify a different attitude.  The worse the evil, the readier must the Christian be to suffer; he must let the evil person fall into Jesus’ hands.”

                         — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship