When I was a boy of perhaps twelve, the annual Snyder family reunion was held at Vestaburg High School. It was a warm and sunny, August afternoon and the high school cafeteria was filled with the rich smells of Anabaptist soul food being set out upon the many tables in the front of the room.
Now, a Mennonite potluck dinner is a feast like no other, as the women all participate and compete by bringing at least several of their favorite dishes. The concept of bringing a dish to pass (as in one) is completely unknown in this culture, and so there were not one but several varieties of meatloaf, chicken done in several different ways, Swiss steak, ham and scalloped potatoes, various other casseroles, meatballs in a variety of savory sauces, sweet deviled eggs, bean and cucumber salads in spiced vinaigrette, German slaw, German potato salad, sweet pickles, a selection of baked beans, fresh baked breads and rolls, preserves, jams and jellies, and on and on until the dessert table, which was filled with pies, cakes, puddings, cookies and other treats. And all homemade with the idea that anything store bought was heresy, and perhaps even bordered on the sinful. It is not hyperbole when I tell you that I have been to these gatherings when there were more tables of food than tables of family members.
On my dad's side of the family, the Snyders were my grandmother's kin. And, while many of those of her generation looked somewhat askance at the oddities of the Ropps, it may be said with a certain objectivity that our Snyder kin also had their peculiarities and an ample share of colorful characters. In fact, Grandma Ropp herself was one such colorful character, and belonged proudly to us Ropps as the much beloved and deeply respected matriarch of our clan. She was a jolly and kindly little lady who chuckled warmly in her Pennsylvania Dutch accent, and this often belied the fact that she was also no one to trifle with.
One hot, dry summer day when Grandma was babysitting us, my younger sister, Jan, was falsely accused of starting a brush fire by one of the neighbors, and ended up hiding behind Grandma as an Alma police officer arrived to investigate. When the policeman suggested that perhaps my sister (always the model child) might have been playing with matches, Grandma responded, "Ach, not my Channy!" and from this point launched into a tirade in her native tongue that no one present could understand, though the meaning was clear enough. And if the meaning of her words wasn't clear, the fact that she had raised the broom in her hand and was striking the officer about the head with it certainly made her point. As he retreated to his car, Grandma regained enough of her composure to speak English, of a sort, and ended her speech with the words, "Hellidy, bellidy, damn, damn, damn!" The beleaguered policeman started his car, looked at me in astonishment, and said, "I'll just come back when your folks are here." Chasing away a cop made a deep and lasting impression, and I made a mental note that from that day forward I would do whatever necessary to assure I didn't make Grandma mad at me.
Grandma's temper didn't show itself often but when it did, the results could be life changing. The most legendary story about her is also the one that explains why our branch of the Ropps ended up outside of the Mennonite Church and community, which in her day were very much one in the same thing.
As this story goes, my grandparents and their family were living and farming in community with our extended Mennonite kin in the area around Lapeer. My great grandfather, Peter Ropp, was a Mennonite bishop and a church planter, and after many years in the town of Pigeon, in Huron County at the tip of Michigan's Thumb, he moved his family to this community some 60 miles to the south in order to start a Mennonite Church here, which he did. My grandfather, David Ropp, was an excellent farmer and his brother, Moses Ropp, not so much. During a particularly bad year, which would have been sometime in the middle to late 1920's, Moses experienced a crop failure that put his farm in jeopardy, and the solution my great grandfather came up with was to have my grandfather give his brother his crop. This in turn put his farm in jeopardy, but the reasoning was that, as the better farmer, Grandpa would be more likely to recover and succeed than Uncle Moses would. When this subsequently resulted in Grandpa losing their farm, Grandma's temper flared, and she ended up letting my great grandfather have it in something akin to the way she defended my sister to the policeman. Raging at his Old Testament style of family and church management, she ended this diatribe by pulling her black skull cap from her head and stomping it into the dirt. And so I grew up in a family of expatriate Mennonites who eventually gravitated mostly into the Presbyterian and Methodist traditions.
During my childhood years, we had little or no contact with our Mennonite relatives in the Thumb, though my Aunt Edna and my Uncle Clayt did maintain a few acquaintances there. Our Ropp reunions were a simpler affair that included merely Grandma and my dad and his siblings and our families, and I grew up not knowing any Ropps beyond this rather limited and closed circle.
The Snyders, on the other hand, were more locally based around central Michigan, where our family had ended up after tenant farming and moving around during the early years of the Great Depression, and since Grandma hadn't burned the family bridges with her clan by leaving the Mennonite Church in the dramatic way that she had with the Ropps, we were more familiar with the Snyders and more accepted, though considered something of an oddity. In the years that have followed, many of the Snyders have also drifted out of the Mennonite tradition, and, as time went on, this all seemed to get less stressful and more comfortable, as everyone seemed to meld into the same secularism. The last Snyder function we went to was when my dad's youngest cousin,Virginia, had her 80th birthday party several years ago, and save for the vast spread of food as described above, one would hardly have known it was a Mennonite gathering. Times do indeed change.
On this day when I was twelve or so, which would have been in the mid 1960's, it was still a little more awkward whenever we gathered with the Snyders. And, speaking of awkward, among those present, which was a bit unusual because he didn't usually like these kind of gatherings, was my dad's Uncle Leroy. Seeing that he was uninvited anywhere else and looking for a place to sit, and being an oddity among much of the family as we were, it was natural that as everyone gathered for his cousin Royal to say grace, my dad ushered Uncle Leroy over to our table and insisted, with a wink, that he should sit right next to me. My mom quickly found him a place setting while neatly masking her irritation, and as Royal prayed one of those seemingly endless Mennonite prayers, I found myself standing next to the most unusual man in our most unusual family.
Uncle Leroy was Grandma Ropp's baby brother, some ten years her junior, and an odd duck in a flock of odd ducks. He was a true Renaissance man with little formal schooling, and was a self taught and true genius who dabbled in many different fields. For example, when the early rockets were being tested in the late 1950's, Uncle Leroy became fascinated with the whole idea of rocketry and decided to figure out why so many were failing. He ended up sending the fledgling NASA his calculations scratched out on the back of a paper bag, along with a crude hand written letter explaining his equations, and got a nice letter back from a rather amazed engineer who told him that they had come to the same conclusions, and who warmly thanked him for his interest in the space program and for his input. Though he could be tireless when pondering something like rocketry or electronics, he was a man who largely eschewed physical labor, and while this didn't sit well in the rural farming world he grew up in, Grandma had him come live with them, and his smarts came in very handy. Understanding how machinery worked by simply looking at it, he taught my dad and my Uncle Orv to be mechanics, and even Grandpa had to admit that this was very useful in the rapidly mechanizing agricultural world of the 1930's. Uncle Leroy was also an avid story teller; this got passed down to Uncle Clayt, and, through him, eventually found it's way down to yours truly, as these humble monthly efforts now give testimony to.
When dinner was completed, the various family factions gathered for conversation and other activities. When my cousins came by, I was sitting ready with my trusty Johnny Walker baseball glove on the table, and when they informed me that they were going to go over to Bass Lake and look for frogs and such, I declined. I was always up for baseball, and a facility blessed with several diamonds seemed ideal for this, and I admit I was disappointed when the cousins on this day opted for something more nature minded. Tables were pushed around into new configurations, and the older folks gathered by generation; my mother with my aunts and Virgina, Grandma with Aunt Lydia and Aunt Nila, my dad and my uncles with Royal and their other Snyder cousins, and Uncle Abram and the other old men took up their usual haunt in a far corner. The girl cousins went outside to do girl cousin things, and the boys had gone down to the lake, so our table ended up with Uncle Leroy and myself sitting in something of an awkward silence.
"You should go play with your cousins," Uncle Leroy said to me. "You don't have to sit here and keep an old man company."
To reciprocate, I said, "You could go sit and talk with Uncle Abram and your cousins. I can find something to do."
"Well," said Uncle Leroy, "I would just as soon not do that. It will be harder for them to talk about me if I'm sitting right there, but that won't keep them from doing it. I'd much rather sit here and visit with you."
Spying my baseball glove on the table, he said, "So, you like baseball, eh?" Pointing to my glove, he asked, "May I?" and when I nodded, he picked it up and admired it with a knowing eye. "Broken in very nicely. Well oiled. Pocket formed just right." He handed it back to me and in a rather nonchalant way said, "You know, when I was a lad of about your age, I used to go to Detroit and see the Great Cobb play."
To someone from the Kaline, Cash and Colavito generation, the name of Cobb was from the ancient history and golden age of baseball in Detroit, and I was truly and deeply impressed. "You saw Ty Cobb play baseball?" I asked in amazement. "In person?"
From this point on, Uncle Leroy began regaling me with story after story that had me awed at the legend of the Great Cobb. His keen mind applied to baseball functioned as it did when applied to other subjects, and he demonstrated this by ticking off Cobb's batting average for every season that he played, numbers one through twenty four. Even more impressive were his tales of Cobb's great feats: how he outsmarted other players, pitchers, managers and even umpires, and how he played the game at a level no one had ever approached before and with an intensity that none would ever come close to again. How he slashed line drives and dropped down bunts by wielding his bat as a precision instrument, and how he was a swashbuckling base runner, always cold and accurate in his calculations, yet throwing himself into the heat of the fray with a wild abandon. And God help any fielder who blocked his way to a bag that was rightfully his, for he would show his resolve in unrestrained effort and back it with the flashing steel of his spikes. Hated everywhere but in Detroit, he was hailed by true lovers of the game and of the Tigers as the greatest of them all, and as a hero and a friend uniquely our own. A true Tigers fan shows his stripes through his unbridled respect and affection for the Great Cobb. And the failings of the team, then, now and always, are the result of not living up to his example and to the high standard of excellence he set for baseball in Detroit.
From this point forward, Uncle Leroy deftly shifted his emphasis to the Biblical record and the true point of our conversation, and began telling me the story of ancient Israel, with the Detroit Tigers of Cobb's era employed in allegory. In this version of sacred history, Cobb becomes David to the Tigers' Israel, and through his cunning and daring defeats the Goliath Ruth of the Philistine Yankees. Tiger Stadium (or Navin Field as Uncle LeRoy still called it) became the Holy Temple of Jerusalem, and Cobb a type of Christ. Persecuted by Tiger owner and high priest, Frank Navin, he becomes a man despised and rejected by the many, who misunderstand his mission, his message and his person; a man who is crucified upon the cross of false accusation, and who has his once sterling reputation and his career destroyed through allegations that he gambled on games. Connie Mack, owner of the Athletics, emerges as a type of God the Father, who proves these allegations false and resurrects Cobb's career for two more glorious seasons in Philadelphia before he ascends to heaven, or in his case, The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Still despised by much of the baseball world, the resurrected Cobb reigns supreme in the hearts of those true and faithful fans of the Detroit Tigers, who know him as the greatest player who ever lived, and as the man who achieved perfection in his sport so as to set the standard by which all are judged either worthy or wanting.
This was great stuff and highly entertaining. The couple of hours or so I spent with Uncle Leroy turned out to be delightful, and my head was still buzzing with all of this as I rode home from Vestaburg in the back seat of our black, 1960 Buick Invicta.
"So, what did you think of Uncle LeRoy?" my dad asked, knowing I was deeply impressed. "He's an interesting old duffer, isn't he?"
"Boy, I'll say! He knows more about baseball and stuff than anybody I ever saw! And he saw Ty Cobb play and knows all about the Tigers from the olden days!" As my words tumbled out and my affection and enthusiasm for Uncle Leroy began to be apparent, my mother took on a pensive expression.
"You need to tell him more about Leroy, Irv," my mother said. "He isn't right in the head and talks all that crazy talk and mixes religion into everything. A kid doesn't know how to decipher all of that, and I don't know that it was a good idea to leave the two of them alone like that for such a long time."
"Oh, balls!" my dad exclaimed. "There isn't anything wrong with Leroy and I'm not going to treat him like the rest of them do. I was around him when I was a kid and it didn't hurt me any. I learned more from him than I ever did in school, and I'm glad they had the opportunity to spend some time together. I think it's good for both of them."
When we got home, I asked my dad about all of this, and so we sat out on the patio and, while he puffed on his corn cob pipe and sipped iced tea, he told me about Uncle Leroy.
I learned that Uncle Leroy had been a child prodigy, but that in the country schools he attended as a boy, there was no way to really cater to that and he ended up at odds with many of his teachers. "He was smarter than they were and they couldn't keep up with him, and it created problems," my dad explained.
Leroy dropped out for three years, and at the age of eighteen had gone back to finish high school when he was struck with what he later referred to as "the strange malady." To this day, no one knows exactly what caused it. There was speculation back in that day that he had been injured in a boxing match at about this same time, and had suffered what we would today call a closed head injury, but there is no certainty to this theory. Complicating this situation further was the fact that the young Leroy had a girlfriend whose father was the pastor at the local Church of Christ, and so Leroy had left the Mennonite Church to attend there with her.
It was during this time that World War I was raging in Europe, and young American men were being conscripted in the draft so as to go fight in this war that was much less popular in its own day than history tends to remember it. This was especially true among the Mennonites, who came into much conflict with the U.S. government, which had redefined the status of conscientious objector so that work related to the war effort was required as an alternative to military service. And this violated the Mennonite sacred doctrine of passive resistance, which has been at the heart of the Anabaptist tradition since the days when the followers of Menno Simon were persecuted by both the Catholics and the Lutherans, and so established this way of peace, even unto death, as their modus operandi.
Leroy was deeply shocked and dismayed to learn that so many churches outside of the Mennonite tradition were not only accepting of the war, but were actively supporting and promoting it, and this was further brought home to him when his girlfriend's father denounced him as an unpatriotic coward for not enlisting. Making an honest effort to reconcile his deeply engrained belief that Christianity, as defined by Christ himself at the cross, was characterized by love in the face of hate, and peace in the face of violence, Leroy came to believe that giving those who preached the righteousness of war a fair hearing resulted in a form of mental Lycanthropy in which the hearts of men were transformed from their higher human order into that of raging beasts. And he believed that concentrating his mental acuity on this had compromised his own faith and that this resulted in his insanity—that attempting to reconcile patriotism and Christianity had literally driven him crazy. "So the man went mad," he said.
Whatever the cause, the result was an ongoing mental illness that plagued him for some 40 years, and which resulted in Leroy spending most of his adult life in and out of asylums. The symptoms of this would come and go and leave and reappear. He would be proclaimed cured then relapse and be institutionalized again. This went on until, as he neared 60, the strange malady left him and disappeared forever as suddenly as it had emerged. And he lived the rest of his days in peace.
During his sane periods, and at the end of his life when he had attained a measure of peace that brought with it an ever deepening wisdom, Leroy was something of an itinerant preacher and made the circuit speaking and preaching in various churches. His photographic memory had allowed him to commit to memory the entirety of the Bible, and in the same easy way that he could quote baseball statistics like Ty Cobb's batting averages; he was also able to recall scripture. On more than one occasion he had risen from the pew to correct some hapless preacher who had misquoted the Word of God, or whose interpretation was so grossly off base that he felt it his duty to set matters straight, and while this did not sit well with those on the receiving end, in the world of the priesthood of all believers, this endeared him to many a sincere Christian seeking the truth of faith. And so, with an attitude of, "Let's hear what this brother has to say," Leroy was given the pulpit or the floor at church dinners and other gatherings, and it turned out that he did indeed have much to say.
When Uncle Leroy's life came to an end in 1976, he left behind a shelf full of handwritten volumes containing his sermon notes and thoughts on various topics. Upon his death, Royal, who served many years as a Mennonite missionary and who was a preacher in his own right, took possession of these books of rough-hewn scrawls and preserved them for safe keeping. I believe the number was something like fifteen books.
The overall message that comes through in Leroy's preaching is that faith is something that must never be compromised. "There is no compromise at the cross," he often said. Lose your girlfriend, lose your sanity, lose your life, but never lose your faith and never let anyone, for any reason, compromise it for you. That's Uncle Leroy in a nutshell, and many, like my mother, considered him a nut out of his shell. And to many, like my dad, this was something of an endearing quality. My mother was (and is) someone who believed the world should bend to her opinion, and those like Leroy, who don't care what those like my mother think, proved to be a particular irritant, better written off as crazy than listened to—and learned from.
In the early summer of 1977, I was coming back up out of a spiritual abyss that had been the result of compromising my own faith in any number of ways. It was during this period of coming back into the Light of Christ, and relearning how to have a relationship with God, that Aunt Edna appeared at my door one day with a special gift for me. While she was unaware of the specifics, and while she could be delightfully absent minded and eccentric in the tradition of the best of the Snyder characters, Aunt Edna didn't miss much spiritually, and she was well aware that I was emerging from a prolonged period of what St. John of the Cross called the "Dark Night of the Soul," and Leroy the "Dark Night of Satan."
"Ach, Flipper, I've got a leetle present for you," she said in the Pennsylvania Dutch accent she affectionately reserved for close family. It was one of Leroy's notebooks that she had talked Royal into parting with, and as she handed it to me she said, "Something tells me you could use a visit with your Uncle Leroy about now, and I know he would want you to have this."
I took the blue, tattered loose leaf notebook from her hand and began to get to know Uncle Leroy from the notes he wrote to himself and from which he produced his sermons and speeches. Much of this is disjointed and was intended only to spur his ample memory in the direction he wished it to go, but even in the midst of this there are jewels that stand alone as quotes that anticipate the message that must have followed. Some of his sermons were written out more fully and end abruptly, as he knew his text from this point and had restructured only the beginning. Or perhaps had he just lost the balance of his notes but knew how it went. The rest of some of these texts might be found misfiled in one of the many books that remained in Royal's possession. Leroy's mind was tightly organized in the way it stored and processed information, and this allowed him to be extremely sloppy in the way he stored things physically, and following through all of this is a challenge that is as frustrating as it is rewarding.
However, in the midst of these more chaotic notes and the bits and pieces that remain from his "speechifying," there was shoved a notebook that contains one of his later sermons. It is entitled, "The Madman," and represents Uncle Leroy's reflections on finding his way into and out of a great darkness, and into an inner peace that gave him the courage to more fully witness Christ as the uncompromising solution to the madness of war that still afflicts not only the nation, but the churches that compromise the cross to follow a more worldly agenda: Some old fashioned Mennonite preaching, and food for thought at this time of the year when we honor the dead who have fallen to the horror of this ongoing carnage.
This is the only complete work of his that I have, and it was clearly intended to be reproduced, which I do for you now. For you see, this story isn't actually about my visit with Uncle Leroy. It's about yours. So I suggest you enjoy a nice Mennonite dinner. Perhaps Swiss steak with all the trimmings, topped off with a big piece of homemade mincemeat pie. Then pour yourself a big, steaming cup of coffee and sit back down and have a visit with Uncle Leroy.
By Leroy Snyder
A minister of White Cloud some 30 years ago, after one of my garbled efforts of speechifying, gave me some fatherly advice. He said, "You had enough material for a dozen sermons: In our lifetime the sermons we remember had one sentence in them that we remember."
Among them, I remember a sermon of some 50 odd years ago, among a people always considered by us to be heretics. Its remembered sentence was: "The lawful captive shall go free; the prey taken from the mighty." For I was once the lawful captive. And also the prey of the mighty. The omnipotence and willingness of God to deliver they in unhappy circumstances is well remembered.
Another sentence remembered from a long ago sermon: "They have limited the Holy One of Israel." They limited God to the so called laws of nature. And to man's psychology, etc.. As Nebuchadnezzar had learned and told in Daniel 4:35, "The Lord doeth according to his will in the armies of the heavens and among the inhabitants of the earth." And nothing.
The author at age 18 was a high school senior who had missed three years of school as a drop out and was trying to make up for lost time when the strange malady overtook him. We will not say that he was without sin or human nature, whichever you want to call it, or that he was an angel—he wasn't. However, in view of the fact that one out of every twelve people the state or the land over goes to a mental hospital some time in his life would warrant more consideration being given the subject than the average "sloppy joe" remarks made by the average clergyman or lecturer such as, "Just for his sins."
I had a book once, the well known Pilgrim's Progress, which was written (so it was claimed) in words of one syllable. I don't claim to be able to duplicate it, but would like to be simple although we are dealing with a very sophisticated subject.
The poet [Emerson] said:
So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, 'Thou Must,'
The youth replies, 'I can.'
To separate man from his creator is to bring up from one to two hundred pounds of undecipherable beefsteak. Indeed, undecipherable and indiscernible. The 14th chapter of our beloved apostle John quotes: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." Without this divine inspiration, man's best efforts at deciphering this malady to which he seems prone would be worse than useless.
A famous case in history, well known old Nebuchadnezzar; the scripture spends one verse, Daniel 4:33, describing his seven years (times) as a madman as "...having the heart of a beast." Lycanthropy, the learned ones call it. Should I write a book on what the Holy Writ covers in one verse? Yet because the Lord's ways are as much higher than ours as the heavens are above the earth, I shall endeavor to.
The little twitches which come to our attention and require our tranquilizers, etc., we will not mention. As also the perversions of nature which have a deeper cause. The psalmist writes, "Great peace have they which love thy law..." It is recognized that peace and tranquility is the ground wherein therapy and good works flourish.
In Revelation 6:4, we read of one to whom power was given to take peace from the earth. In St. Luke, the Lord speaks of the things which belong unto thy peace. When peace is taken away from a soul, the state of the man is terrible. When peace is taken from the heart of man there are they who can go to the great comforter and call upon him to restore peace to the soul. And in his heart to sing, "Lead me safely on by the narrow way, from the shores of time to the realms of day."
But, alas, they say, "Old heads not too often grow on young shoulders." And the experience of 70 years is not too often with they of 16 or 18 to 30 and 40 or more years. So our lives are indited to any of those of tender years to whom the tribulation of mental troubles come. We like to quote the Psalmist David, who as a musician and poet is superb when he says:
I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures:
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul:
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
For thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
Thou anointest my head with oil;
My cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
All the days of my life:
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord
That the guardian angel of the Lord watched over even such a one as I in retrospect of 50 years we have to attest to. As a sister in law of mine wrote me when I was in the madhouse, "I love to think my savior knows, why I missed the path I chose." Also quoted to me she said, "I reckon that the sufferings of the present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Words of comfort she tried to leave with me, as she soon went to be with her Maker. Also she quoted faithfully, "He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all ways." Which same passage Satan quoted at the wrong time and the wrong place.
At the time this strange thing came (age 18, nearly 19) many speculations came my way, such as you ate too much, you worked too hard, you studied too much, etc., etc., etc.. A nephew of mine, who quite some years later was attending college, had his kith and kin (with all good intentions) advise him, "You must not go to school so much. It will go with you like it went with Leroy." I admonished him one day, "You go to school all you want to, but if a patriotic preacher comes your way, you go the other way as fast as what you can go! You will not go crazy."
We believe that so long as we are on the Lord's ground, the Lord is our shepherd and will keep us in perfect peace. And certainly disturbed madness is not perfect peace. The master of the winds and of the waves and of demons was, and is, the Prince of Peace. He is not the author of this madness, the murder, the lies, the theft and robbery, the destruction, the wholesale fornication and rape that is called "war." But how as Christians to cope with these gross sinners that have taken over our land, and into whose clutches we have fallen, and whose land is full of the foul spirits which their father, Satan, has planted, is one to stagger the imagination.
The author of Revelation, speaking of Babylon, who is fallen, is fallen, says, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues" (Revelation 18:4). Babylon the Great is the world power, of course. Once its capital was at Babylon. Then again it was at Rome. At present it seems to be at Washington D.C., from whence its fornication is being spread over the whole earth. Certainly Babylon, wherever situated, is the habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird. For proof thereof read or hear the snarling statements by any of the warmongers in Washington. And when any church becomes ensnared with the evil deeds of these hateful creatures, it becomes a dispenser also of foul spirits instead of the salvation of Christ Jesus. A not so good place for any man or woman to pick up a load of devils -- which will drive one to distraction.
So the solution in this case seems to be clean out these dens of iniquity: the churches which the devil has taken over to peddle his lies from. The rulers, in their iniquities, they go to hell anyhow. Maybe aside from warn them, there is little that we can do. But Babylon the Great, which certainly controls every flag worshiping, patriotic church, is, as St. John says, "The habitation of devils and the hold of every foul spirit, and the cage of every unclean and hateful bird" (Revelation 18:2).
What can a man or woman do that becomes possessed of some of these unclean spirits which some of these ungodly places dispense? At first, knowing he has been tricked and deceived of the devil, and knowing that his testimony has been destroyed, and that his pearls have been cast before swine and trampled underfoot, and, if he has wisdom, he knows that he himself will also be rent, and knowing that he no longer has any background or testimony to withstand the filthy work of these swine and dogs to whom he has fallen prey, the soul will seek relief in suicide to vainly expiate for what has befallen him. We look at it that the tragedy of this man or woman's life is extreme—it is! But reclaiming tragedies seems to be our Lord's business. And thank him! He will have no flesh to glory in his presence if the wrath of the Lord is upon the Christian who stumbles. How much more upon the bastards who caused his fall?
Israel went under to Babylon because of their own idolatry. But Babylon's day came one day also (Jeremiah 51:8). Factually, the prophet forecast her fall before she even became a power (Isaiah 21:9). We will not forecast the future of the Great Whore which sitteth upon the Potomac. The senators say well, "She is conducting an evil war," and are wishing an act of God upon the uncontrollable devils in the saddle.
"But," we say, "What has this got to do with madness?" We don't want to get dogmatic or long winded, but Deuteronomy 28:28 does say, "The Lord will smite thee with madness..." for this that and other things. So there are, and have been, cases of madness that came down out of the blue. Among well known cases was King Saul of Israel. Because of a conflict with the Deity, an evil spirit from the Lord afflicted him. And the well known case almost 500 years later of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. When he went nuts there probably were those who looked into his britches to see if here were not the cause of his aberration. But his visitor left his signature and the truth with his prophet, Daniel: This mighty scourge of the east was to be turned into a man with a man's heart (Daniel 7:3). And being made a madman with the heart of a beast was the means. It took seven years in this condition to break down his military complex and to make a man of peace out of him.
There are the determined ones who say this was a special case. But are we not all, differing one from another? And the stupid ones who say madness has its origin in sex. Stupid, ox-headed fellows who are too lazy or too ignorant to come up with anything reasonable. Nebuchadnezzar probably got this thrown at him too, if he was stupid enough to communicate with any of they who had exiled him. We notice that he stayed in exile until the Great Silversmith saw his image in the heart of the king. To attempt to help mental troubles apart from taking God into consideration is stupid and leads to confusion, consternation, and stupidity.
So, this being a matter for the watchers and the holy ones and not us mortals to reason out, let us proceed to the experiences of a journey through 40 years of madness which we more or less might understand.
When 17 years of age, one day I journeyed past our home for the feeble minded at Lapeer. "Must be just so many animals stigmatized—and hopeless propositions," I soliloquized. That I should one day have that same (only legally worse) status—oh no! Practically all A's in school work—oh no! Not to be thought of... But it came. Like the Charge of the Light Brigade, "It was not to reason why, it was but to do and die." After a thing has happened, what can you do to change it? Can you change the course of the stars in heaven? Is St. Paul's doctrine of predestination false? Was Nebuchadnezzar's seven years unnecessary? Could he have, by meticulous fore thought, prevented it? Daniel did say, "...show mercy to the poor that it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility." But altogether avoid it? Well not hardly.
They that walk in pride the Lord is able to abase (Daniel 4:37b).
The greater potter is able of the same piece of clay to make a vessel to honor or dishonor (Romans 9:21).
For we are the workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Ephesians 2:10).
To leave the Lord out of a man's psychiatry and without the powers of the world to come—to direct our efforts so is vanity.
So much for the philosophy of life. Now to get down to the facts of life.
This lad was in the last year of high school when the night descended. He got injured in a boxing match, which might or it might not have a bearing on the case, set the stage, etc.. But for between six months and a year nothing went wrong. But along toward the end of the year, he went to a revival meeting. The devil was there in all his eloquence. And how the hell that is war was glorified! Reason dictated not to return. But he did. Forty years he was to pay for his folly. As the author of Romans says, "...the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men..." (Roman 1:18). So this patriotic preachment had a curse set upon it by the Almighty, much as syphilis is called God's stamp upon immorality.
He went home in a fog, this duped lad did. In a few days, his personality changed. He thought he had gone morally wrong. His mind was out of order, in a fog. But he had fallen in with the great immorality: the patriotic—the warmongers upon whom rested the wrath of God. Forty years he was to groan in the darkness of Satan's night.
Groping for a shadow of light, he went to the clergy. They had a closed communion, anything out of order must be dug up. Most of them were as stupid as such men usually are; they that weren't said little. Finding no comfort and no solution here, he went for the shotgun. But as he pressed it to his head and reached for the trigger, hell from beneath came rolling up. If this hell were only 40 years long he still would have pushed the trigger.
In the mighty struggle he went through the succeeding day or two, his reason was shattered. And he collapsed into a state of nervous breakdown. The church would sing, "He knoweth the way that I take, I will not his covenant break." We will not go through all the dark struggles of a man in this night. It would be boring—or worse. But suffice it, not a sparrow falleth without the father. The very hairs of your head are all numbered. It is very evident that the Lord in heaven has made arrangement for all the trivial details of life.
This lad, now aged 20, went into a haze. His head went round in circles. And the observance of his conduct by others was, "He is strange." He was! His lady friends withdrew from him, which, of course, hurt his pride. To endeavor to rationalize any of his conduct would only bring grunts of disgust from the average reader—as it did from his associates at the time. But we have a shepherd on high who says, "Not a sparrow falleth without the Father. The very hairs of your head are all numbered." Would he not also look after the future of a madman? As the watcher said to Nebuchadnezzar, "This matter is by decree of the watchers. And the demand by the word of the holy ones." Would not providence indeed watch over this one bereft of his reason? And as one wrote him when he was in the madhouse 4 years later, "I love to think my savior knows why I missed the path I chose." An author once said, "What holds thee, death? No. In another aspect it is love." We do not care to boast of the deeds of a man evidently mad. Many of his deeds are evidently ambiguously understood. To justify them publicly might be 50 or 100 years premature.
We do know that more or less 3500 years ago, a law was handed down by Deity via Moses: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me." What is all this flag worship? Pledge of Allegiance to a heathen idol, whose bearers are bloody heathen to whom the name of Christ does not mean anything. And whose ultimate showdown is carnage.
But we would prefer at this time to give the positive aspects of the case.
The prophet Isaiah, 800 years before Christ, gives these prognostications, prophecies or predestinations, whichever you want to call them. Israel's warfare is described as accomplished with the voice of one crying in the wilderness (Isaiah 40:2). Israel as a great warring nation had accomplished its purpose. With the captivity, her career as a sovereign nation was ended. Any semblance of freedom henceforth was only by permission of other powers.
But Israel had a greater purpose ahead. The Kingdom of God. A great thing was to happen. A virgin should conceive and bring forth Emmanuel (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). This prince, the government was to be upon his shoulder. And the kingdom that will not serve him and his people shall perish (Isaiah 60:12). As Napoleon Bonaparte sadly said at St. Helena, "Julius Caesar, Charlemagne and I, we founded kingdoms on violence. They have fallen. Jesus of Nazareth founded one on love. Today millions fall at his feet and worship." And, as the prophet Daniel says, "It shall never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44).
Is there not some testimony against these warring warmongers and their cradle robbing for cannon fodder for their war machines? The promise of the prophet is, "When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him" (Isaiah 59:19). Where is it? The standard, of course, is the cross. But where is it? The churches in this land are built around the flag. Where is the cross? No longer in evidence. Thrown aside in favor of the battle rag. When the right standard, the cross, is our standard instead of a blood stained rag we can expect peace. And we pray: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want... And we trust in the Lord. How you mete, it shall be meted unto you. If you don't want to get stuck with a spear, don't be in the sticking business. And it would seem that St. John the Baptist's ax is laid to the root of the tree. Let the rulers quit their foolishness and there will be room for: On earth peace, goodwill to men.
To get the rulers to quit requires pressure first from the Church: The instrument of the Prince of Peace.
Phil is the owner of the news portal Radio New Jerusalem
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