Sunday, December 29, 2013

On the Unity of Christ - (Books, Part 2)

You know the drill. Top 10 books. List at the bottom. Part 1 here. Whatevs.

We read Cyril's On the Unity of Christ during my second semester at college. It blew my mind. Let me tell you a little about it.

It starts off with a statement that was true when he wrote it, and remains true today: "People of true and good sense, who have intellectually gathered that knowledge which gives life, are never jaded by the sacred sciences. Indeed it is written that 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' The word of God is food for the mind and a spiritual 'bread that strengthens the heart of man,' as the Book of Psalms sings (Ps. 104:15)."

He centers his discussion on one thing: The word of God. That is where the discussion must start, and no matter where the discussion goes, it must end there as well.

Cyril wrote this treatise because of a heresy that was gaining ground in the church. Nestorius (a bishop) had denied that Mary, mother of Jesus, should be called theotokos: "Mother of God." Instead, he favored "Mother of Christ," seeing the Christ as a sort of team-up between God and Man: The eternal, divine Son of God, entering into a "conjunction" with the man Jesus, which, in turn, would mean that the man Jesus was never actually God.

This is, as Cyril points out, a fairly large problem. He goes on to explain this problem and the solution in Christian Orthodoxy in great detail, but not without getting in a few good jabs along the way. Which brings me to...

The structure of the argument

What first struck me about this book, before I got to any of the awesome theology, was the style of argumentation. It's structured as a "conversation" between Speaker A and Speaker B. Speaker A is the master (presumably Cyril himself), while Speaker B is the hapless apprentice, unable to determine between orthodoxy and heresy. A typical exchange goes something like this:

Speaker B: Hey Master, those guys say this about Jesus and the Word. What do you think?

Speaker A: [Sighs, closes eyes and rubs temples] I'm going to level with you, buddy: If a nation composed entirely of idiots decided to find the five biggest idiots in the entire country, and fused those idiots together to form Idiot Voltron, and then Idiot Voltron said the absolute dumbest thing he could think of, it still would not be anywhere close to being as dumb as what you just said. Seriously, it is the worst."

And so on. Actual quotes include, "Away with such a horrid and vile opinion! These are the teachings of a wanderer, of a sick mind," and "My goodness. I cannot imagine how stupid and intellectually superficial they must be who hold to such  a conception."

It's a wonderful style of argument: it consists in a 50-50 split between claiming that his opponents are the kind of idiots that idiots look down on, and absolutely fantastic theology.

Absolutely Fantastic Theology

This book changed everything about everything. My mind was blown several times reading this book (as evidenced by the near frantic underlining and highlighting that mars about 3/4's of the overall book). This happened for two reasons:

1: The whole issue of the Incarnation, and what it means for God to be man while still being God, is way more complicated than I had ever imagined. And...

2: Cyril does a freaking awesome job of explaining it anyway.

A "summary" would do this book an incredible injustice. Cyril pulls from Scripture after Scripture to demonstrate that the Christ was no mere "conjunction" between God and man. Indeed, such a conjunction would do us no good at all, for the birth and death of Jesus would have been nothing more than the birth and death of a man.

No: For us to be saved, the Christ must be something more than that. Cyril sums up this "something more" incredibly well: "Godhead is one thing, and manhood is another thing, considered in the perspective of their respective and intrinsic beings, but in the case of Christ they came together in a mysterious and incomprehensible union without confusion or change."

And this union is, as he says, "entirely beyond conception." In fact, in describing it, Cyril at times almost seems to agree with those who would split the Christ into two:  Saying things like "He remained Lord of all things even when he came in the form of a slave", and "Both he who exists in lordly glories, and he who took the form of a slave as his own, calls God his Father." But these phrases are, in fact, expressions of a much deeper and more mysterious truth: That of an eternal and infinite God entering a finite and temporal world. It's not going to be neat. It's not going to be understandable. There's always going to be something to wonder about, because our minds are finite and cannot understand infinity.

And Cyril, despite his love of theology (the "sacred sciences")--or rather, because of his love of theology--marvels at that mystery. He loves it, and he never loses that crucial sense of awe and wonder. He remains forever conscious that what he is discussing is no mere academic phenomenon, no theoretical problem to be worked out, but something that happened, the happening of which is indescribably important. That's why he often ends particularly complicated or technical passages with phrases like "And that is why the mystery of Christ is truly wonderful."

And he ends it with a passage to top everything off: Here it is.

This is why we believe that there is only one Son of God the Father. This is why we must understand Our Lord Jesus Christ in one person. As the Word he is born divinely before all ages and times, but in these last times of this age the same one was born of a woman according to the flesh. To the same one we attribute both the divine and  human characteristics, and we also say that to the same one belongs the birth and the suffering on the cross, since he appropriated everything that belonged to his own flesh, while ever remaining impassible in the nature of the Godhead. This is why 'every knee shall bend before him, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."
This book forever changed the way I think about the Incarnation. It was the subject of two of my Torrey papers (one embarrassingly bad) and figured heavily in a third paper, which I am still proud of. I would go on to read many, many books on the Incarnation and the Word, all the way from Augustine's The Trinity to Barth's The Way of the Son of God to The (absolutely horrible) Shack, and Cyril's Unity impacted my reading of every single one. It is the epitome of Incarnational orthodoxy, and you should definitely read it.

Btw, here's an Amazon link to the edition I have: it's got a nice preface that includes the historical and theological background for all of this. Very cool.

1: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

2: (Everything else by Chesterton: Manalive, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross)

3: On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

4: The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country by Karl Barth

5: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

6: CS Lewis section (Space Trilogy, Chron. of Narnia, Abolition of Man, Till We Have Faces)

7: The book of Job

8: The book of Ecclesiastes

9: The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

10: The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Monday, December 23, 2013

Really Real, and Truly True

"That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us."
1 John 1:1-2
Without delving into the debates of authorship that constantly surround this book, we can see even in the opening sentence that the author is speaking from personal experience.

And what did he personally experience? "That which was from the beginning."

And in what does this personal experience consist? "Which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands."

This is not the language of a mystic.

This is not the language of one whose visions evaporate in the morning light, whose dreams remain firmly in the realm of sleep. This is not a truth that seeks refuge in metaphors and symbolism, which hides in shadows and refuses to be nailed down. This is not a "spiritual" truth that lacks the substance of regular, everyday truth.

This is not the lukewarm spirituality of the "spiritual, but not religious." This not the inconsistency of the "progressive" Christian, who finds joy in questions but has forgotten what they are for. These are not the words of those who claim that truth is fundamentally unknowable. This is not the language of a mystic.

Or more correctly, this is not just the language of a mystic. The topic is, indeed, mystical. "That which was from the beginning." This is the core, the bedrock, the Truth that all self-professed spiritualists and wanderers and "progressives" claim to be seeking (but never finding).

But John is not content to leave it mystical. John is not content to leave it undiscovered, undisturbed, unconfirmed.

John claims to have found it. And not a metaphorical finding, but a true one: A finding confirmed not just by hearing it, but by seeing and even by touching it. 

John says in no uncertain terms, "Here it is. Here is the truth that you have been searching for. We have found it. We have heard it...we have seen it with our eyes... we have touched it with our hands! We have found it."

The truth is no longer mere mysticism. It no longer exists merely "out there," in the realm of the spiritual. It is still there, but now it is also HERE.

That is what Christmas represents. It represents an end to that part of the mystery. It represents an end to the myth that God is fundamentally unknowable, because Jesus came to make Him known. It represents an end to seeking without finding.

It is true what Eliot wrote, that "Here the impossible union/ Of spheres of existence is actual." This is the meeting of the physical and the spiritual, the eternal and the temporal. This is the moment that God entered our reality not as an interloper, not with his finger to inscribe commandments and not as a Spirit to empower, but as a man to walk and live and breath (and die).

Christmas is the moment that Truth was proclaimed not as something high and unknowable, not as something elusive and ethereal, but as something wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The "Conversation" continues

EDIT EDIT: I want to take this post down. There are cowards and poor thinkers and angry arguers on both sides (and I fall into the last category far too often). After a while, this issue is no longer worth getting excited about.

The people who believe in the inherent sinfulness of Christian Rap (and, more broadly, Contemporary Christian Music as a whole) are wrong. But thankfully, they have so little influence in the larger body of believers that had they not been so unbearably offensive in the first place, nobody would have even noticed (and by far the most offensive comments have been recanted).

For the first several days, I was heavily involved in the debate. I had some really good exchanges with some good thinkers on both sides (and, I believe, one person who was genuinely undecided). But I'm done. It's just not worth it. It's possible that one, maybe two people will be convinced, but the lines were drawn before the debate even began, which is why Scott can get away with re-defining rap on a whim to keep his ludicrous blanket statement.

I'm done. But I'm leaving this up, to keep myself accountable and to remind myself to be more careful before being drawn into something like this again.


I want to acknowledge the apparently sincere apology by Geoffrey Botkins, which I was unaware of when I wrote this post ( I was, however, aware of an earlier apology which was much less clear and a little less apologetic). His comments ("disobedient cowards") were the most egregious, but he has publicly apologized and repented for them. He speaks to Reformed/Christian rappers as brothers, and he admits that there is a "legitimate question" about whether he is even qualified to speak on this topic. He goes on to praise their "modeling of mature and responsible manhood in your lives and words," as well as their "strategic decision to work with local churches and church government [which] shows uncommon wisdom." He goes on to note that, "All this is heroism, not the fruit of disobedient cowardice."

To all of this, I say amen. If he follows through on his stated intentions to fight the disunity his comments created, he proves himself to be a man of honor and integrity. I applaud him, and I wished more in this debate shared his sentiments.

Joel Beeke, whose comments were tame in comparison to the others (although he did affirm the previous arguments "with the intensity that they've been spoken," has also apologized, admitting that he "spoke unadvisedly on an area of music that I know little about. It would have been far wiser for me to say nothing than to speak unwisely. Please forgive me. I also wish to publicly disassociate myself from comments that judged the musicians’ character and motives."

He, too, has proven his honor and integrity, and I applaud that.

This post is directed at those who have not apologized, and at those who would like to ignore the apologies already made. It is directed at those who feel they can judge a culture that they know nothing about, at those who feel that any stick is good enough to beat Christian rap with. It is directed at those who refuse to listen, and who refuse to engage.


At the end of this week, the first full week of the "discussion" that I referenced earlier, I have to say, from the bottom of my heart:

I am disappointed.

I don't know what I really expected. I don't think I was unreasonable, though. I expected compelling arguments from both sides. I expected actual engagement. I expected Scott to, at the very least, present a single falsifiable argument, a single argument that made claims that could be addressed.

Instead, I got Shai asking good questions, and Scott explaining why he couldn't answer Shai's questions, because if his daughter was being rude, how is he supposed to explain that to her?

Instead, I got Shai asking for an example of sinful music without lyrics, and Scott answering with a clip of Christian Metal with lyrics and explaining that 1) yeah I know I said no lyrics, but I can't even understand them and they're part of the music anyway so whatever, and 2) Metal totally expresses orgies. Yes, orgies. Oh, and don't forget the closer, the pinnacle of his rhetoric, the foundation of his argument: "No, I won't explain myself, because it totally sounds like that, how can you not hear it?"

But I guess in hindsight, I kinda did expect that, a little: That's the uncharitable part I removed from my earlier post. When your first argument is "the beat of rap is inherently evil and makes you want to fornicate and punch somebody," you don't have a whole lot of momentum working for you. It's going to be hard to get off the ground at that point.

But do you know what I didn't expect?

The cowardice.

I didn't expect the cowardice of those who seem to have developed these arguments after accidentally hearing 30 seconds of a song that was probably rap (or Metal, or Rock), and are unwilling to listen to a song chosen by supporters of the genre. And it is cowardice, though they dress it up and act as though doing so would sully the dignity of their arguments. It is the cowardice of the Pharisees, who assumed that interacting with tax collectors was sinful because they had heard one talk once and the language was filthy, just filthy, and who could imagine that Jesus character ever hanging out with disgusting people like that? He's compromising the gospel, that's what he's doing!

Of course, it doesn't begin as cowardice. No, it begins with arrogance. It begins with knowing that THEY are the cowards, that the rappers are the ones taking the easy way out and conforming to the world. And to be fair, such a belief is easy to come by when you surround yourself only with those who agree with you.

After that comes the confusion: Come on, guys, everyone knows that rap music... expresses...lust? And rage? I mean, just listen to it! Metaphorically, of course: Don't actually listen to it (I know I don't!).

There is the sneaking suspicion that maybe, just maybe, listening to 30 seconds of one song might not be enough to develop a theory of the inherent sinfulness of the entire ever-expanding genre.

And then comes the panic. Then comes the frantic scrabbling, the clutching at any and all sins and throwing it at the music and praying that something--anything!--sticks. Then come the strange appeals to authority--not to the authority of scripture, but the authority of secular rock musicians. Then comes the death-rattle, the "WELL IT'S ON YOU TO PROVE IT I DON'T HAVE TO PROVE ANYTHING."

And then comes the time to close up shop, to bar the gates, because holy crap if I listen to a song that they picked out then I'm not sure I could show the sin in it! The doctor is out, rap is sinful, just... ok? . Scott isn't guilty of this, but some of the secondary blogs that Scott links to, and several of the comments, most certainly are.

That's what I didn't expect, and that's what angers me the most. That these men who surround themselves solely with those who agree with them, who retreat from the world and withdraw into their own little circle, dared to name as "cowards" those who do not retreat. That they dared to name as cowards those men who advance into a culture that is hostile to them, who expose themselves to shame and ridicule from Christian and non-Christian alike, so that they might share the riches of the Gospel, so that by all possible means they might save some.

Scott is guilty of much of this, but not all. He hasn't closed up shop, he continues the discussion...but I wonder if all we can expect is more semantics, more evasion, more arguments that can't be argued with because they don't actually argue anything. Because that's really all that we've seen so far.

I am disappointed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Thief (Books, Part 1)

Two people explicitly requested this post, making it my most popularly demanded post by a factor of infinity. Not bad, Kyle and Daniel. Not bad at all.

Anyway: "10 Books That Have Stuck With You." The list itself is down at the bottom. Go on, you can look.

Some of those--Thursday, other Chesterton stuff, LOTR, Lewis stuff, Job--won't surprise anyone who knows me even a little bit.

And a few of my Torrey friends probably anticipated On the Unity of Christ, maybe even The Idea of a University. I've even talked a lot about Barth and his awesomely phrased theology.

So I thought the first post would be about the one NONE of you saw coming (except maybe Anna): Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief.

I've had this book for a long, long time. I remember reading it for the first time, but I don't remember when that was. I was young: it must have been before I was even in high school. I would estimate that I've read it 20 times, at least.

It's not amazingly well-written, grammatically speaking. Many of the sentences are unwieldy monsters, and reading it out loud, you find yourself regularly substituting one word for another to improve the flow. That said, the story still captivates me.

The story takes place in a rough imitation of ancient Greece. It centers around a thief (Gen), who is released from prison to steal a mythical stone. It is a stone of legend, rumored to have been dipped in the waters of immortality and to grant whoever holds it eternal life--but that's not why he's stealing it. Few people believe in that stuff anymore.

The actual reason is much more pragmatic. It's the ancient law of a neighboring country, Eddis, that whoever holds the stone rules the country: The king of Sounis wants to rule Eddis as well, so the stone (if it exists) must be stolen from its rumored secret temple (if it can be found).

There are a lot of things I love about this book. The lighthearted humor, the vivid detail, the stunningly well-done 1st-person perspective, the constant misdirection...but everything that I love most about it comes at the end.


For the entire journey, nobody is under any illusions that the stone is anything more than a stone. Although almost everybody is religious, Gen declares that, "It's just religion. They like to go up to the temple on feast days and pretend that there is some god who wants the worthless sacrificial bits of a cow, and the people get to eat the rest. It's just an excuse to kill a cow." Nobody objects. It's just religion.

This is a story entirely devoid of the supernatural, right up until the last few chapters. Because it turns out that the gods are real. Really real. Gen has a conversation with the god of thieves, he steals the Stone from the chief goddess herself, and the Stone keeps him alive when he should have died.

The gods are real. 

But the best thing about this book is this one passage. This one, solitary passage. I'm going to show it to you, spoilers be damned. Gen is recovering from being stabbed, and in the throws of a fever, he is visited by Eugenides, the god of thieves, who had once lived life as a mortal, and even had a brother named Lyopidus. Lyopidus had burned in a forest fire as Eugenides tried to carry him to safety.

"I said that if only I could have died when the soldier pulled the sword out, I wouldn't be bothered by my conscience. The god beside me was silent, and the silence stretched out from my bedside through the castle and, it seemed, throughout the world as I remembered that Lyopidus had burned and died, while Eugenides had not.  
After countless empty heartbeats, Eugenides spoke again from a  distance. 'His wife died in the winter. His three children live with their aunt in Ela.'"

I read this before high school, before Biola, before Torrey. I read this before I read Cyril's On the Unity of Christ, or Barth's The Way of the Son of God. I read it before I understood what made Christmas and Easter so totally insane.

Before all of that, this book showed me that there is something strange and terrible about the grief of a god. The strangeness of a god in the flesh, of a god who understands what it is to be human...these were things I had not yet realized. The grief of the gods can silence the world...and one gets the feeling that the world should be silent while the god ponders his grief.

And now, probably a dozen years later, I can look at it as Lewis does in Till We Have Faces:
"Only this I know. This age of ours will one day be the distant past. And the Divine Nature can change the past. Nothing is yet in its true form."

Even though it is but recent fiction, it reads like myth: The kind of myth that Lewis imagines as being changed, renewed, and redeemed into its true form. A form reflecting and glorifying the God who became man, and was acquainted with grief.

That is why The Thief has stuck with me. If you get the opportunity, you should definitely read it.

This was fun. I'll probably be doing more of this for other books: Let me know if you have requests!

The List:

1: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

2: (Everything else by Chesterton: Manalive, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross)

3: On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

4: The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country by Karl Barth

5: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

6: CS Lewis section (Space Trilogy, Chron. of Narnia, Abolition of Man, Till We Have Faces)

7: The book of Job

8: The book of Ecclesiastes

9: The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

10: The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

Thursday, December 5, 2013

So... this happened. And continues to happen.

There was recently a conference hosted by the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC), a sort of "meta-denomination" (my term, not theirs) which focuses on the role of the family in all areas of life (notably including the necessity of homeschooling). The panel at said conference was asked what they thought about "Reformed Rap." Also known as Christian Rap, Holy Hip Hop, etc.

The results were... horrifying. Each speaker took turns explaining why rap was absolutely, undeniably, irredeemably opposed to Christianity. The first speaker makes the relatively tame claim that hip-hop is invariably "about drawing attention to the rapper, drawing attention to how his skill is different than anybody else’s skill." And after that, it gets nuts.

It really is hard to pick one particular high (or low?) point in this panel. It might be the second speaker claiming that because of where hip-hop came from (which he doesn't really explain), it's irredeemable (which he also doesn't explain). Or it might be the fifth speaker's strange and irrational attack on Toby Mac, who has the gall to be a "50-year-old man with wrinkles on his face - got that backwards cap, and he's ready to rap." But in hindsight, it's probably-definitely-holycrapisthisreal Speaker #3's characterization of all Christian rappers as "disobedient cowards" who are "serving their own flesh... caving into the world."

But wait! It gets better! Following two apologies which weren't really apologies from the head of the panel, Speaker #2, Scott Aniol, decided to host a discussion on his own blog with leading Christian Rapper Shai Linne (here's a sample: it's pretty great). And he begins the discussion by making one colossally strange claim: That music, in and of itself, apart from any lyrics, context, or intent, can be sinful. In a follow-up post, he clarifies that music is "human communication, and human communication is always moral." He compares it to "sentences" and "tones of voice," saying that these things are also human communication, and thus moral. 

This is, to put it bluntly, a claim so mindbogglingly indefensible that I am astonished that he dared to make it. Tone of voice cannot be moral. Nor can a sentence. If they were, it would follow that certain sentences were always evil, or always good, which is absurd. 

[Let's not even touch the fact that different tones mean different things in different cultures: That speaking fast and in a high-pitched tone might be respectful in one culture and disrespectful in another culture. This fact alone blows his argument out of the water, because it shows that everything he's saying is inherently subjective opinion, while he tries to mask it as objective fact. We could stop it right here, and his argument would be dead in the water. But there's so many ways you can destroy this thing, it's like a Death Star covered in exhaust ports.]

It's evident, both from every-day experience and from the Bible, that it's impossible to ascribe morality to things like tones of voice, or sentences. 

If I lose my temper over something inconsequential and yell at my wife in a loud, angry tone with the intent of hurting her, then I am sinning. 

However, it does not follow in the slightest that a loud, angry tone is in and of itself evil, because Jesus likely used the exact same tone when clearing the temple of the money-changers. Jesus was legitimately angry: he shouted at them, he used a harsh tone, combined with harsh words, and he did not sin. 

If tone were moral in and of itself, then Jesus would be sinning by using it. Therefore, it seems clear that the morality has to do with the communication as a whole, and not with any one part of it.

Neither can individual sentences be considered as moral or immoral by themselves.

Because when a Westboro Baptist screams at a homosexual, asking him how he can expect not to burn in hell, he is sinning. And yet Jesus asked the Pharisees the same question, without sinning.

Scott Aniol claims that certain words, sentences, or tones of voice can be inherently moral or immoral. This is obviously not the case, as they are only pieces from which communication is constructed. To call an individual piece of that communication sinful in and of itself is like calling screws evil because they can be used to build gas chambers. It's absurd. It's indefensible. 

EDIT: I'm removing a part of the post that was uncharitable. My apologies. In closing, I sincerely hope Aniol addresses the gaping holes in his argument.

I wrote this mainly to get it out of my system. If you actually made it to the end, congrats! Mackenzie out. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

My Friend the Cat

Those of you who know me, know that I love my cat Rory. Without Rory, I surely would have gone crazy working from home while Anna was finishing up grad school, and during the week I still spend more of my waking time with him than with Anna.

Before, I had scoffed (literally, at times) at the concern other people showed for their pets. But now, cuddling and playing with him, taking care of him and watching him grow from a tiny kitty to a larger kitty, I understand. He is my friend, as much as an irrational animal can be called that.

And I wonder whether he is so irrational after all. I wonder whether animals have souls: After all, since we do not believe that human consciousness is confined to the physical phenomena, there is no reason to make that move with animal consciousness. And I wonder what will happen to Rory. I wonder what will happen to this mischievous cat, full of personality, who loves to look through windows, who will seek me out for nap time, whose eyes seem to laugh during play time. I wonder what will happen to my friend when the consequence of human failure and sin catches up to him.

But that is not really what this post is about. Because during Thanksgiving weekend we lost him, and we almost Lost him.

We have to keep him at my parents' house when we visit Shafter for more than a day or two. Anna's parents own a dog, who would almost certainly kill Rory out of mere curiosity. However, my parents' house is full of people coming and going, and all it took was one door opened for a half-second too long, one window left open by accident, and Rory was gone.

We don't even know when he left. All we know is that we left him napping under a spare bed, before we went to spend the night at Anna's parents'...and when we returned to the house at lunchtime the next day, he was gone and no one could remember seeing him that day at all.

We live in the country. We own an acre or two of garden, which houses 3 dogs, 2 puppies, and several cats of varying degrees of domestication, all of which absolutely terrify Rory. And the house is surrounded by almond orchards for miles around on every side.

As soon as he left the house, whenever that was, he would have smelled the dogs and cats. And it would have been mere seconds before one of them approached him, drowning him in terror. We don't know when that happened, or the exact circumstances.

We just know that he ran, and we could not find him for over an hour. I prayed constantly, that God would protect Rory and return him to us. My parents prayed with us, as did my friend Monica, recalling the time of Noah and God's call to the animals, and asking him to do the same with Rory.

Then, as the last thing we felt we could do, Anna and I walked to the nearest cross street, about a quarter of a mile away. We passed our dogs, barking from the pen we'd placed them in. We passed two obnoxiously vicious dogs behind a fence, who followed us as much as they could, barking the entire time. We looked ahead to the next house, also guarded by a barking dog (this one without any kind of restraint at all). And I wondered what had become of Rory, surrounded by so many barking, teeth-filled, scary-smelling monstrosities.

We reached the cross street, and we looked down the road, and there was no roadkill, no bodies on the side of the road as far was we could see. And we slowly turned and began to head back to the house.

I continued to pray as we walked. Ahead of us was the home of the two obnoxious dogs, and I was about to suggest to Anna that we cross to the other side of the street to avoid them. Before I could say anything, however, I heard something. Half a meow. A sound barely indistinguishable from the background.

I stopped, and Anna did too. "What?" She asked.

"I heard something. A meow."

"Are you sure it wasn't a bird?"

I don't know if I answered. I walked into the orchard, scanning the trees, stepping softly. One row in. Two rows in. And--


Unmistakable. Anna heard it too, and we continued. And then--


There he was. Sweet, merciful God in heaven, there he was: Seven feet up, in a three-way fork in the tree, looking the saddest and most frightened we had ever seen him.

We got him down. We took him back to the house, and put him in a separate building where he wouldn't be let out by mistake. And even though it's been a few days, I still look at him and marvel at the evidence of God's grace.

How many hundreds of trees in that orchard? How many thousands of trees within just a half-mile of our house? How many thousands more beyond the road? And he was in one of the few where we would be able to hear him. He meowed at exactly the right time: A moment earlier or later and we would have missed it, and he would never have found his way back. He would never have gathered the nerve to brave the dogs again, to go past them and endure their barking.

If he had crossed the road, or gone in the other direction, or chosen one of the other hundreds of trees, we would even now would be anxiously hoping for news that would never come. Rory would have died out there, sad and alone. But he didn't, because the Creator of the universe and everything in it chose to hear our prayers and return my friend to me.