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I continue my quest to find Reformed love in pop culture, in quick, accessible quips, in ways that don’t seem arcane or cumbersome. Pop culture swoons about love so much. Every once in a while they can’t help but veer into Reformed love.

I wonder if unknowingly I’m trying to undermine the Reformed theology of the grim obscurantists, as well as the no-longer-so-young, restless, and Reformed crowd — recently dubbed here as bros with beards and flannel.

Here’s some of my more recent finds:

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Invisible String” from Taylor Swift’s 2020 Folklore album: this is a song about improbable connections, retrospective gratitude, and fate. It is a bright celebration of destiny — dare I say providence? “Hell was the journey, but it brought me heaven.”

Haven’t we all played “What if?” or “Just think…” — those silly thoughts about close calls and coincidences? It is sweet fun to reminisce about the circuitous route that brought us together with our beloved, as well as imagining near-misses and other possibilities.

  • Imagine! We were both at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. What if we had bumped into each other when you were three and I was five?
  • Just think, I used to ride right by your house on the way to the lake when I was a kid. All those times, but I never knew you were right there.
  • How weird that we were at the same party as freshmen. We must not have made much of an impression on each other. Neither of us remembers anything.
  • Don’t you ever wonder what our lives would be like if my flight hadn’t been cancelled? Would we have ever met?

Swift delightfully posits that all along there was an invisible string connecting us. We couldn’t see it. But it was there, even at our farthest apart and worst moments. That string kept us tethered. And while we couldn’t tell, it was pulling us closer and closer until the fateful day we met. Now looking back we claim, mysteriously and wonderfully, that we were connected before then.

Couldn’t we say the same thing about our connection with God? All along we were connected. Somehow, somewhere, sometime we were drawn in. We see in retrospect our brushes with the divine, encounters and flukes and events that were little tugs on that invisible string, finally drawing us toward love and light.

One single thread of gold tied me to you.

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Stephen G. Ray

Stephen G. Ray is the recently retired President of Chicago Theological Seminary. Not too long ago he posted: “The difference a single word can make. People who found Jesus are often intolerable because they believe him to be a personal possession only provisionally available to others. Meanwhile, people who are found BY Jesus are so grateful that God has not forgotten them that policing the lives of others is far from their minds.”

I don’t know if Dr. Ray’s primary point was to elucidate Reformed theology, but doesn’t his quip really do so? Finding is about possessing, policing, and protecting. Being found is about gratitude.

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Jim Bouton was a maverick, a smarter-than-average professional baseball player, in the 1960s. His book, Ball Four, broke all kinds of taboos back in the day — exposing the rather ribald underbelly of professional baseball. For me, it was a coming-of-age milestone. I discovered that the whole world, and especially pro baseball, wasn’t like my prim and reverent home. A few years ago at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, I saw this quote of Bouton: “You spend a good piece of your life gripping a baseball and in the end it turns out that it was the other way around all the time.”

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I don’t think I was the target demographic for the musical Dear Evan Hansen. But if you liked it — good for you. Either way, its trademark song, “You Will Be Found,” conveys the sense that there are times when we simply aren’t able to seek; we’re too crushed to strive, too tired to pursue, or too dazed to find. Our deepest and best hope is that we will be found.

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A long-lost voice from seminary once stated, “In the best theological statements, God is the noun or subject and we are the direct object.” That feels like the sentence structure of Reformed love. I sometimes use this as a rule of thumb when I’m evaluating my own preaching, wondering about a song I’m singing, or even listening to the preaching of others. That’s not to say it’s a strict rule, never to be reversed. There is also a certain sort of Christian talk where we (or all people or creation) are the subject and God is the direct object. Some of that is alright. Too much? Probably not. The bulk and bulwark statements begin with God and are directed toward us.

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Finally, a couple weeks ago I preached on the healing of blind Bartimaeus, as recorded in Mark’s Gospel. You may recall that Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus loudly, relentlessly. Jesus then instructs the shushing bystanders, “Call him here.” Somewhere I read this beautiful summary of that exchange, “The one you are calling for, is calling for you. The one that you are seeking, is seeking you.”

It’s become a bit of a mantra for me. “The one that I am seeking, is seeking me.”

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

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