Particularity. It means accept no substitutes.
Case in point. I got an odd craving, that seemed to be in sync with the seasons. Fall here and leaves changing. The harvest in, and farmer’s markets booming everywhere. Get that fresh roadside produce while you can. The craving I got was for a very particular thing. My mother grew up gardening. Fall was her time to bloom, when everything that couldn’t last from the garden got pickled. The smell of pickling spice boiling on the stove is particular to this time of year, and specific to its function. It takes me back in time. We are sentient beings and aroma is the key to memory. We hear, see, smell, taste, touch, and we remember.
Apart from pickling which I am sure is hardly done in the home anymore, was the making of jams from berries and fruit that would not keep. And so you made preserves. The fruit was conserved and “canned” in mason jars with sealing wax poured on top when all was boiling hot. The jars were sealed, and the vacuum that ensued when the hot contents cooled down ensured that everything stayed fresh until opened. It was the real deal.
One of my favourites, if you could pick a favourite that reminded you of home and your mother’s cooking, was home-made grape jam. My mother would go to the Niagara region and pick up those baskets of blue-indigo grapes, the small ones that are very sour. You don’t really see those in the mainstream grocery stores. That produce would soon be boiling on the stove, and ended up as grape jelly. The natural pectin in fruits made for the jelly-like consistency. The jam was tart and tasty. If you wanted the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich, then this was the grape jelly to use.
And so it was that oddly, I got a craving. The craving turned into a must-have, like a pregnant lady might insist on. I looked up Welch’s grape jelly. Since my mother died, it might be the nearest substitute for my mother’s grape jelly. I looked at a few grocery stores. No grape jelly to be had anywhere. Lots of strawberry and blueberry jam, marlalade, and such. But no grape to save your soul. I looked online. Welch’s located a few outlets in Canada that supplied their product. I went to some of the stores. None to be found.
By the third store I was starting to feel ridiculous, and settled for an in-store brand of grape jelly that I reasoned must have been bulk-purchased from Welch’s in the first place. It was a substitute for my substitute, a two-tiered trade down from the real thing. Human beings are funny that way. We have many things we feel a need for, and in the name of convenience, Mr. Right Now will do when Mr. Right is nowhere to be found. We are a species that trades down.
And yet we know on another level, that in the world of particularity, we all have a few special items where nothing else will quite do. We know for example, that every human being is unique. Ask any mother about her children and see what answer you get. Particularity seems to be a thing that is dear, that people hold important.
There is also particularity of the Gospel. If we are looking for worldviews to lift you up and give you things of another plane to contemplate, we were born in the right times. The world is a virtual smorgasbord of religions. Oddly, in the west, the kids learn about religions in school, but generally not about their own religious heritage. My daughter was writing an essay on comparitive cultures for university and another student had remarked how one kid came to school on Ash Wednesday, annointed with ashes on her forehead. The kid was mocked. Oddly, nobody seemed to know what the ashes were for. The kids were culturally ignorant of their own culture. They had no idea.
And so it is that the ideas pushed out there, have a particular animus to Christianity. Christians on TV are often portrayed as unbalanced, narrow, a good candidate for a creepy neighbour you might suspect is an axe murderer. This stereotype often takes the form of a battle, where the “good” liberal minded people take on a cause du jour, and their opponents are the narrow-minded Christians who must be shown their place. Here is where life follows art, if you look to the trends within the Church. Our current offerings lean away from the verities the Christian west has depended on, to a shopping cart of items that look sexy primarily because we haven’t tried them before.
Hence, the emergent church. The church that is for those who are seeker-sensitive. Seeking because they don’t think Christianity is good enough, or good enough on its own. They have to improve it. Such people, like the university students I mentioned are culturally ignorant. They are missing the point of Christianity. The point that has been touched upon in books of apologetics, like “The Case for Christ” by Lee Strobel, who took the claims of the Gospel seriously enough to do an investigative report, which turned into a book.
One of his central findings was that Christianity is very specific. Its belief system is not loosey-goosey at all. The things Christ said about himself were declarative and unwavering. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the gate. Any man who enters by another way is a thief and a robber. I am the bread of life. I am the resurrection and the life.” Christ was either a raving madman, a master maniulator, or the real deal. There are no available in-betweens.
If you consider that Jesus was condemned by the state, by the religious authorities, by popular opinion and ended up as a public spectacle when he died, he is an unlikely candidate as a saviour. The claims Christ made, enter popular theology as the “Scandal of particularity”, referencing 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:5 where Paul talks about the scandal of the Cross, that a messiah would die as a criminal. The claims of the Bible are bold and outrageous. If true, they are scandalous. Tertullian, one of the Church Fathers, famously stated, “I believe because it absurd”. There comes a point of radical choice one way or another. No mixing and matching. And, if true, no substitutes, all things NOT being equal.
The particularity of the Gospel, when no other thing will do. Accept no substitutes.