The streets swallowed in the dark and carried a load of weariness. The hour was late. A warm breeze shuffled lazily around the walls of Jerusalem and through its dusty summer houses. Why was this night different from any other?
by Zach Kincaid
I never liked coming here. It’s something about the mood in the streets. There’s a wandering caution, a guarded angst. I always hear a careful whisper that plots through marketplace and dinner table until some sign confirms its truth. It happened not so long ago when those Eastern stargazers aroused worry about a usurper-king. The gods know I don’t ever want to awaken these people and have Rome question my leadership...
...Maybe I can go unnoticed by Caiaphus and his priestly cohorts. No. I see him winding through the streets even now. His letters have assaulted the carriers with their frequency, talking of some man, some problem they tried first throwing off a cliff. And then they attempted to lose his scent by slicing a prophet’s head.
Oh, over-confident Caiaphus - is he the man who ransacked your temple and let loose your golden purse? You walk with great determination. I suppose there is no escaping your plans, your claws, your posturing lest Rome find out how loud you can whine.
I can’t cut clear of this place, its customs that stop suns and destroy whole cities by trumpets.
So this is the man, a king to the Jews, a god that wears human feet! Ha! Their god has jumped from that temple box to a walking man. What next? A pillar of fire? Bread and wine? Look at him! I see nothing of his threats or his guilt. But the people, their chants may bear wings to Rome. Well, this clown has begun this bazaar. I will not be the conductor.
My wife brings warning? Her dreams demand I have no dealings with this man. (Why? Could it be…) I will allow the people to decide. That is most wise. I have heard of this people’s Solomon, his wisdom that found the baby’s mother. This is their king! Let them cut him in half or embrace him with their freedom. Barabbas or Jesus, yes, that’s a fix. Barabbas has killed and has stolen. Surely, if this be their king, they will override these holy priests and demand justice.
I wash my hands. I am innocent. This is one man, one death that will pass with the coming of tomorrow. I will take no comment on his injuries and no place in his pitiful plight. I wash my hands. I am innocent of this blood.
Three words, I am innocent, mocked the I AM, the God of Moses, and charmed all the devils of hell. Three words struck the wrists and ankles of the Almighty. These three words keep most of humanity at bay while this man, this king, this god whispers, “I am the way, truth, and life. You need not perish.”
Wash your hands if you’d like, but until this Jesus washes your feet you will not be clean.
“Son,” a voice says. A shadowy figure rustles the darkness in the damp corner and steps forward. Nearby is the lifeless body of Jesus. A few days ago his body was plucked off its crucified perch and given over to Joseph and into an empty crypt under a sky crawling with angels - a church unseen. Now this earthen cavity is swollen with two godheads inside.
“Son, it’s time,” the voice repeats. An outstretched arm reaches across the space, a tender father awakening his son. He begins to gently unwrap him. “Oh, my son, dear son,” he cries. “What have they done to you? ... Look what they did!”
The spit and blood, the sweat and tears had painted Jesus’ skin with the struggle that began in Gethsemane. Dripping with tears, God traded water for the caked on blood. Kisses left the bite of hate, roosters marked the edge of night, and humanity hurled back its borrowed breath at the trampling travesty of a worn out messiah.
“What have they done? ...This is the end.” His voice shakes. “They have butchered my son, my very son and I'm finished with it.”
He steps away in pain and places the burial clothes on the shelf. Knelling down beside a naked, lifeless Jesus, God weeps. After what seems a thousand years, he repeats his soft voice. It no longer has the boom of promised land songs, the swirl of death angels, or the fiery fingers of Jezebeled prophets. He simply says again, “Son, my dear son, who anchored the oceans and built up the mountains, it’s time.”
With that he breathes into the dead mouth of Jesus. He wants to restore affection to its rightful place.
And after a stir and a stretch that calmed waves only weeks earlier, Jesus awakes from the hellish curse that broke their garden and sent them hunting for a cure.
“Dad?” He rubs his eyes. “Dad, is that you?”
“It is, Jesus.”
“DAD!” he exclaims as he hobbles forward and catches a huge embrace. “I have journeyed to great ends these last days. First to the gut of our holy city and then into Hades itself. Inside the pit, I told them what was to come, what is now here and what our followers will do. I told them that hell has seen its last crowds, I hope. I hope it has. I know it hasn’t. The curse rides long into the night of thieves, and many won’t care it’s been lifted. They won’t believe.”
“They never have.”
“There are some who do.”
“Only a few; only a small few.”
“I will tell them to go and tell others.”
“Yes. Mary is on her way. That will start your exodus. Whisper to her and tell her to not fear. How are you feeling? Are you ready for this final leg?”
“Here, I brought you some clothes.”
“Thank you. What happened to Judas?”
“He took his life. He went madly the other way.”
“Judas. My Judas. He was closer than a brother and so often too far away.”
“When that stone rolls away, it will rebirth the promise. This is a good day. This is a very good day. Now, you’re body is caught between what it has passed through and the shackles it still wears from the crucifixion.”
“I feel it. My hands ache a little, and my side acts as if it’s carrying a heavy load.”
“Well, they stabbed you dead in the heart. Soon you can relinquish the pain when the pillar of cloud takes you home. You should be okay?”
“Jacob made it.” Jesus' face lights up.
“But he still limps to this day,” God pokes back.
“It’s the dust stirred up in the soul.”
“You never get it out, even when you’re free.”
Jesus cautiously stands up. He slowly bounces on his toes as if he were a boxer ready to take the ring. “I’m ready.”
God leans into the stone and whispers. After some moments he looks back at Jesus.
“He’s an old friend,” God says. “I brought him here to make sure you were tightly held in until I could come and raise you up.”
“I remember. Inside his belly boasts streams of water.”
“That’s the one.”
“Horeb, old friend, open up. The time has come. Our work draws to an end and a long wait is dawning a new day.”
With these words and a gentle nudge, God opens the world to a savior, reborn from out of the grave in the city of Jerusalem, Christ the Lord.
It’s heavy; I don’t know if I can bear it; the whips are driving into my back; my feet are sore; beneath me the riveting rocks press in; my eyes sting from the sweat; I am hot; I am cold. “Why don’t you save yourself?” jeers someone close to me from the lynch mob that has surrounded me. Father even now forgive them.
What if the earth used up its shadows? Gone would be these empty selves that follow us in ones, twos, and threes. Buildings could stand straight up with no morning and afternoon penitence.
Imagine it. It would be like moonless nights which cast an arrogance, wrapped up in no reminders of any ground below us. It would mean freedom. No need to ask Wendy for help if our shadow becomes dislodged and needs mending.
We would not have to account for any shortcomings. God is light and in him is no darkness. Our shadow tells us who we are: dark holes and on the verge of falling into our own abysses.
Artificial light creates shadows that we turn off or on, but the heavenly bodies cast these subtle reminders that dance across earth’s creation without our doing. It suggests that we are not our own.
But aren’t we the instigator of our actions? Doesn’t our shadow follow us; we do not follow it?
In some respect, our shadow mimics our behavior. If we end here this analysis is drunk and stumbling. But...
Can we rid ourselves of our shadow? Must we attempt to keep it stuck to us?
Of course we’re glued to it. And we often echo Pan’s cockiness - “How clever I am... oh the cleverness of me,” forgetting that we are knit together by God and cast into the makings and trappings of his world.
Follow Solomon’s lead: everything under the sun is meaningless for, “God made humanity upright, but we have gone in search of many schemes.” In the valley of the shadow of death, the mountain is transfigured to something accessible to us, we think, with no upward climb and without the irritant of Moses’s gleam.
We never really wander far from our own thinned-out selves. We are shifting shadows, without the contours of faith and love, with no scars that speak devotion and no mass that knells to the unknown saga of an escaping soul. We become general and easily adapted into a tolerant world that expects no judgment and asks for no definition.
The escape into substance revolves around admission of emptiness and then falling into it. Where do we land? Nothing lasts except the grace of God by which we stand. That’s not solid ground the way we know it. But the confidence is that there is no shadow of turning with Jesus. Heaven has nothing lingering and our soul will finally outrun our earthly baggage - including its shadowy tail.
(Perhaps the Apostle Peter holds an exception to our discussion since his magic shadow healed the desperately sick when they hopped into it.)
Ansul, Mari and Abe. Three dueling friends who knew well what defined them as different. Before the annals of history, they lived alone, not used up nor found useless. They nourished each other in most natural ways. Since Mari had plenty of water to spare, he shared it with Abe and in turn he would receive warmth from his older, wiser brother. Ansul kept a bit more to himself, although he would often enjoy Mari’s company at his kingdom’s border and share a cup of tea with Abe at the high seats of his landmass. Despite such nice gestures, there was a growing resentment at the gluttony of Ansul.
Over time their names were lost inside the caves and corridors of their separate lives. The little that is known suggests that Abe lived on the sun. He decided to throw a rope down close in on the earth one roaring hot day. In so doing, he discovered the great seas that Mari kept. Abe soon realized he had no place to sit. Quickly retreating with a bucket of water in hand, Mari promised to find a place to accommodate his new friend.
He poked and prodded, banged and scrapped inside the belly of the seas. Finally, the earth gave way. Mari opened her guts and shoveled out rock and dirt. Hunting deep down, he found the beady-eyed Ansul who lived in a tomblike dwelling under the darkest part of Mari’s watered down world. A pale figure, Ansul immediately responded to the site of the sun with great angst. As for the doer of such grave digging deeds, Ansul squinted into Mari’s blue eyes: “You best find a way to make this right,” he said.
Tinged with a bit of anger and fear, Mari hastily layered up the sediments and formed great peaks and ranges. He also carved a network of tunnels underneath the towering mountains that might mirror the ones he dug up. Perhaps Ansul would find a home here and sparingly visit the shores.
After many days, Abe swung off the sun and landed on the fresh soil. He found Mari. Hours would pass as they talked about the oldest heavenly lights and the deepest dungeons of earth. Mari spoke of Ansul, the pale monster-like creature he found. Abe seemed curious but unimpressed. He would later find Ansul and share a number of drinks atop the mightiest cliffs, but Ansul had a dark way about him. Mari and Abe often saw him in the distance robbing the seas of more rock, building on and building on more and more and more.
The world seemed to rise and sleep this way for ten times ten thousand years. Mari and Abe were forgotten and Ansul soon was ignored. Then, swirling waters began their whispers in the wells of the sea. The sun paled. The land, stagnant and gradually melting back to where it came, turned vulnerable. It became the crude enemy that kept raping the sea and attempting to harness the sun.
Today, the whispers have grown to spurts of shouting. Mari and Abe may have terrorized too deeply the kingdom of Ansul. Grow you Indian Ocean. Expand you Gulf of Mexico. Take back what was abused and stolen. Roast you trapped roosters on the tops of your barns. Wash away your recliners and deadbeat oldtimers. You tired, you poor, you huddled masses. You wretched refuse of this false shore. We inflict you in this tossed tempest. Be beaten. Be beaten down by heavy clouds and sideways rain. Where is your keeper now? Ansul has locked himself in a deep cave. The keeper of the stars twinkles too far away.
All we know is this. When the sun touches down into the sea, there is a soft laughter heard (for those who have ears) exchanged between two old friends that the world has long since forgotten.
Tolerance is king today. Coexist. Harmonize your habitat. Shake it, shake it, Salome... but not too much. We want to avoid filling platters with our own necks. And to avoid such ends, we exchange statements from "I know" to "I think I know." Why? Because the arch enemy of tolerance is arrogance, and who wants to be a bastard child to that cold word?
The triune manifesto of grace, love, and truth binds itself in divisive knots while tolerance alone forms enough space between apathy and indifference to string together a code. The code is a subjective attitude that is disguised in objectivity. Your world is yours and mine is mine, but I'll be objective about your subjectivity and you pass along the same to me... because we are all products of our own upbringings and our opinions stem from controls that are not our own, until we define them in our own circumference. Once they stick to your person, who am I to say my ideas are better than yours... that your ideas stick like disposed gum underneath some forgotten table waiting for a vulnerable hand to discover. Juicy Fruit. Yuck. Who am I to say that your dogma cannot hold a rightness that makes sense in your own head. Am I judge? Can I call down some mandate from heaven and proclaim that what is making me is not something or someone I made up with demands that you need to follow as well?
It doesn't help my criticism in being a member of a university and attending a church that sometimes mistakes piety as academic prowess and kisses tolerance with great affection. There is nothing "higher" about higher education these days because they've leveled everything like the snow in Withering Heights which makes a certain sameness to all the contours that once made landscape scape. And churches, like the one I attend, often soften Jesus to be something less than a bleeding Messiah who spoke into the world - all our worlds - with the very truths of God.
Churches have a variety of ways they get around the absolutes that Jesus speaks about. These are not new and the first of them is a plain lie spoken by a forked tongue of some three-points-to-happiness asshole pastor who mixes truth with some digestible batter that is only banter - drivel from the likes of Andy Stanley church malls.
Other ways are of a more reserved critique, the kind that forces a thinking cap to cover one's head (male and female alike). The Gospels get ripped apart and dissected like some frog in the hands of that bully in your junior high school biology class. The creature is hardly recognizable in the end and you're likely wearing his guts on your shoulder the rest of the day. Evangelism that calls for conversion is also taken to task either with words that make it less abrasive or chucking it altogether. And then, there's the Apostle Paul. He's liked less and less by academic Christian types - those who build out an NPR Jesus. Paul concludes too many issues as black and white, and everybody knows that tolerance has a favorite color in gray. Old and New Testaments often get a divorce. This is done by ways of making the Old speak to the New in metaphors alone or dismissing it wholesale in delivering any intrinsic value to one's faith. There are a great number of sensitivities, you see, that the Old Testament skips over for the sake of and in the defense of God's chosen people. Chosen? What do you mean? Chosen above and outside of other civilizations and peoples? That cannot be tolerated.
I should admit that I'm no ideologue for a narrow view of Scripture or God. That is to say, I don't set up camp with fundamentalists or even evangelicals exclusively. It may sound like that's the road I'm navigating toward, but it's not. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, right?) I grew up with some of that fare and I'm not a fan of it, at least not the ways it's developed - Southern Baptist making Scripture the fourth rung of the Trinity or Falwell's disciples embellishing politics with particular calls for morality or Dobson's whines for social behavior to mimic a strict code. I don't see much salvation in such maneuvering.
Rather, my latest beef is with a theological slack that is not a companion with traditional Christianity. It is a child of humanism and modernity gone post(al). It wants to love everyone to the point of stripping Jesus of not only his flesh and blood, but his bones as well. It sees Jesus as a dividing personality and someone it invites into its closet as a skeleton of old. Dead? Maybe, but not for remission of sins because how can we qualify sin? Risen? No, bury it. We'll have to explain magic clouds and the brouhaha of afterlife myths and that alarming idea of... HELL. It's not good. Instead, tack up general hope and talk about fixing the ills of society. Now that helps the, "if you have eyes, see; if ears, hear" message. It's solid and identifiable. We can set goals and meet them. We can see heaven as a place on earth (with or without Belinda Carlisle... preferably without).
A week or so ago, our church hosted a Muslim Fullbright scholar from Egypt. She was visiting the Mercer campus and the chaplain set up an interview to replace the normal "prayer meeting" that normally follows Wednesday night supper. I think shriveled up fried fish and broccoli casserole made the menu that night so Ramadan fasting felt just right. (I passed on the meal.)
Now, I love Muhammad. I especially like the tale of the big spider's web that hid him from all those cats that thought he went loony with his monotheism invasion of the giant black alien rock in Mecca. My other favorite is Joseph Smith, which is seemingly way out of order with Muhammad given his name and the Wild West gun fights and such, but they each had delightful revelations from God and his angels... one allowed for four wives and the other as many as your afterlife planet and contemporary wallet could afford. And neither carry that frivolous arrogance about Jesus as Son of God, only way, zeusified, all that baggage. There's not that distinction from other prophets so you are free and open to wander and have revelations that place you (and your penis, no doubt) at the center of the world, inside the cavities of the earth, where you uncover new ways to reach the heavens and experience God. It's so open and grace-filled compared to that ol' backwards Jesus who put on all the antics - supposedly even rising from the dead - to demonstrate some special status and make him the only get-up to the divine. Foolishness. Especially, as I've said, in today's world where tolerance is seen as the highest form of love, and love by way of truth is defamed as sinister and divisive... the stuff of knights with spandex and swords aimed at Jews and Muslims. That's the image of truth-wearing love -- code words for crusade times... And best yet, you don't have to make all these martyring plans if you strip Jesus down to the bone and tolerate everyone for the sake of this new Sinai... no objectivity, no subjection of death by what you believe, no love of one's neighbor the way Philip went about it. Screw Isaiah and conversion. Love ought not to attach itself to anything other than my soul to yours. No strings into the heavens and no strings to bounce back earth-filled blessings. It's a great thing. Imagine it... no heaven... no earth... all the people... harmony.
Hell? Bastard. You would bring that up. Satan? Damn it. Sin? Now what are you fishing for? That I need a particular something outside of my own psyche to fulfill the common guilt that humanity has always experienced? That I need some sacrifice like all peoples everywhere have performed since the onset of humanity - an aroma that beckons divinity to enter our space and enact some redemptive peace by way of flood control or harvest or clothing our nakedness? And on top of that, are you suggesting that there may be a right above and beyond my ideas of right that I can embrace as a guide to afterlife provisions and correct living as preparation for what will come? If you are Christian the last question is answered with a emphatic, YES.
So, that makes Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Mormonism, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Unitarian-Universalism, Judaism, Sikhism, and all those systems in between, insufficient means to rally the divine. That's code for wrongness. Here's the couch: that doesn't mean that they aren't reflective of getting at the need for purity and hope, for peace and love. However, in the end, they are wrong and that's the thing that makes Christianity stick out like a sore thumb and the reason some of the intellectual-cats have cut off the thumb entirely.
In a world where tolerance of king, Christianity will increase its martyr count if we are honest with the means and ends of our faith - through a virgin comes the breath of God himself - fleshed out- to seek and save that which is lost. He invites all to lean in and hear the riddles of God and decide if they are true or simply tricks to help us cope or cross the ultimate bridge if we answer them correctly. Lewis says that Jesus is either a liar, lunatic, or lord. Christianity must proclaim him as lord and call out he alone as begotten of the father for the love of the world and for our salvation - the only way, truth, and life.
No wonder Jesus liked children. Their naivety allows questions that carry no inhibition.
I was telling our children the story about David finding Saul in a cave and he...
“Pulls out his big sword and slices his head off...” interrupted our seven-year-old.
“No, no,” I responded. “Do you know what happens?” I asked with no response. “Most of us would take advantage of the moment especially because Saul was chasing David so he could kill him. But David doesn’t do that. He only cuts off a piece of the king’s cloak and leaves him to his dreaming.”
We talked about Samuel and God’s anointing of Saul as well as David a little bit later. I mentioned too how Saul hopelessly died in the end by falling on his sword in battle. They seemed satisfied with this demise and modeled it with their light sabers.
Then I shifted to Jesus.
“If someone knocks your eye out or breaks a few teeth, Jesus says we should let the person have our other eye and a few more teeth.”
“No way,” said Micah.
“Yes,” I said. “Just like David cutting Saul’s robe and not his head.”
“Why?” Caleb asked.
I kept the why dangling. I sang some songs and scratched their backs as is our custom to attempt to charm them to sleep. All three share the same room so the charm usually doesn’t work right away.
I started to close the door. Most nights, that’s when our five-year-old has a question.
“Yes, Caleb,” I said with a small amount of patience.
“Why did people invent war? All they do is kill each other. Is it so the bad guys don’t come to our house?”
Oh boy. This ranked with several of their other questions like, If God loves everyone - even the bad people - does that mean the bad people go to hell? and, Why did Jesus have to die?
I thought about the story of the piece of rice that fell from the Great Khan’s plate. The insect tries to carry it off. A lizard eats the insect. A mouse eats the lizard. A cat eats the mouse. A dog chases the cat. The dog owner runs after his pet. The cat owner runs into the dog owner. There’s a tizzy between the two. Then their families get involved. Soon there’s a war between both clans and no one remembers the dog and cat.
The question of inventing war sounds childish. Perhaps no one invented war; it just happens because of a grain of rice or a lot of land or pieces of silver and gold. Khan-sized egos rub against like minds, and a kingdom can’t contain them both.
Why did people invent war? Maybe it’s a default because certainly the biblical narrative suggests love runs deeper. Could the Hebrews take possession of the land without fighting. The Egypt getaway makes a place for signs that hold to the "vengeance is mine" premise. And the Nile red mimics the crumbling walls of Jericho. No one lifted a hand, like the later episode with Gideon’s jars and torches (skipping over the violent stake-in-the-eye treachery... no doubt).
Then Israel clamors for a king. And a king demands a kingdom and kingdoms need defenders and defenders need weapons and weapons need victims and victims need conquerors.
We invented war to nullify help from the divine. Sure, we want the Constantine cross to manipulate our victory and rightness as much as the Olympian gods bouncing down to defend a side in Grecian battles. But, when a deity says he owns the land no matter the kingdom that sits on its top, then what? We are not satisfied to get milk and honey alone. We want blood. For, like Cain, we crave dominance in some falsely placed sacrificial way, turning inward the letting as our own reward.
We invented war to carry our wishes outside the bounds of love. It is built off the paranoia of the other. Perhaps the other will show up at my door, so it’s better to kill him on the battlefield and stage safety in the shire. Right? And then we can beat our chests, enter caves with shadows dancing by and pretend that there are no windows in the sky.
In the end, I told our boy I didn't know... that it sounds like a bad invention... and tucked him tighter in his warm, safe bed.
Where does the Earth sit in light of itself and in the scheme of what we think of the skies? The biblical narrative threw sand to the stars as it compared them to Abraham's projected prodigy. The Greeks bent the heavens to birth their gods and eternally connected struggle with heroism. Early shipmen routed themselves with starry nights to place what water wet where in concordance with both vessel and the shores they hoped to find again. (We know too of the star that stumbled over some rocky cloud and sunk low, marking out the old place for the wise to aim: god on foot.)
So, does the Earth run around the Sun or the Sun the Earth? It’s an ancient question that traipses back to Archimedes (Eureka!). The response is huge - or was - because the first claims the Earth as center of the cosmos and the second suffers it to one of several planets hinged onto the sun's blessings and curses. When these new hypotheses entered the discussion, they hurled expletives on Aristotelean tradition. What did the Church do? She didn't move. “Damn both Copernicus and Galileo as they pay lip service to ignorant popes and then roll around in the heather of their high science.”
How deadly it was to anchor the Sun and free the Earth. And along with it, to free the Scripture from being strapped down like some Shellifed beast trying to give life where it never intended.
But Joshua made the Sun stand still? Doesn't it say that the Lord's name will be praised from the rising to the setting of the Sun? How can these things be if the Sun is the superstar and not the Earth?
Nevertheless, with the help of Kepler, Galileo threw physics into the heavens and made it stick as truth. Now, there was not only a shift in planetary motion but even in religion, as Kepler held Jesus at heaven's gates four years longer than originally thought (he corrected the calendar). Meanwhile, the pope and his newly founded Jesuit order concerned themselves with retrieving what Martin Luther unwound. And whether you reform or counter the reform, it has always been the work of the Church to look into starry mountains and war-torn valleys and redeem everything she touches to God's side. Worship rots when rationality debunks mystery.
So, tripping onto a dispute with Galileo proved a lesson to the Church: she cannot strong-arm her god into scientific realms by pontifical decree or arguments concerning biblical accuracy. Yes, the papalized man was slow to stoop down in contrition, but Pope John Paul II in the latter part of last century sent apologies to kneel at Galileo's memory:
"Another lesson which we can draw is that the different branches of knowledge call for different methods. Thanks to his intuition as a brilliant physicist and by relying on different arguments, Galileo, who practically invented the experimental method, understood why only the sun could function as the centre of the world, as it was then known, that is to say, as a planetary system. The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world's structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of Sacred Scripture. ...In fact, the Bible does not concern itself with the details of the physical world, the understanding of which is the competence of human experience and reasoning. There exist two realms of knowledge, one which has its source in Revelation and one which reason can discover by its own power. To the latter belong especially the experimental sciences and philosophy. The distinction between the two realms of knowledge ought not to be understood as opposition. The two realms are not altogether foreign to each other, they have points of contact. The methodologies proper to each make it possible to bring out different aspects of reality."
These episodes are based in reason and facts. Should Scripture mark out the skies and its laws? In their enlightened state, could mathematicians chart out planetary rotations and distances? Can hypotheses reach conclusions with sheer evidences divorced from any faith? Does that make the Church hunter-gatherer, not of divinity but of tangible remains and proofs to substantiate their faith?
Today, most everyone trusts science to call the shots on planets and comets and trips to the Moon. Most of us frequent the doctor and take in diagnoses much easier than church discipline... if that even exists anymore. We fertilize, filterize, and standardize based on the scientific measures and warnings of chemists and biologists or medics or pharmacists. Some would even give up the fight for or against Evolution. And many more are holding their cell phones far from their heads given the recent FDA report. None of these things are necessarily wrong, but the effects might ripple into errors. Because in general religion gets robbed of its mythology while science injects every step we take and every flame-retardant pillow we lay our heads on.
To some degree, the Church works against qualifying every answer with the gravity of reason. She hosts feasts for dead saints and makes the body and blood of Jesus substantive to the flesh and spirit of her congregants. Monastic communities do nothing else but pray for the world (and brew beer). Her parishes are decorated to alarm the senses to what's beyond and above. She believes in the devil and his angels and the unseen fight that rages with Gabriels and Michaels right in front of our noses. And, centrally, she believes in the bodily resurrection of Jesus who was born of a virgin and held magic in his hands.
Now, the Church believes in the possibility of aliens. (What! Startled?) It seems far-fetched considering the suspicious proof in the science community and the fact that nothing is supported in the Scriptures for life forms set in other planets. In fact, no mainstream discussion has ever occurred in the Church on the subject. The Scriptures talk about a new Heaven and a new Earth, but there is no accounting for new stars. The sun does go black and the moon turns red at some point and the stars do drop to earth like figs in a strong wind (they may also be hit by a dragon's tail), but all that is a little desperate to site.
But we know that galaxies upon galaxies sit just beyond the visible stars. Were they made only for humanity to play under and send rovers to explore? Is an aftereffect of Galileo dislodging the Earth the knowledge that maybe humans fight wars and find love in a more finite space than once perceived?
And Reverend José Gabriel Funes, head of the Vatican Observatory, has given us more to think about. "How can we exclude that life has developed elsewhere," he said in a recent interview. Even further, these potential space creatures may be more powerful than humans according to Funes.
"Just as there is a multiplicity of creatures on earth, there can be other beings, even intelligent, created by God. This is not in contrast with our faith because we can't put limits on God's creative freedom," he said.
I guess if a Wells-like invasion materializes, the Pope will cross himself while wearing his big hat and bless his extraterrestrial brothers. Maybe... yes, possibly... he even received that gauntlet as an abduction gift and... his task is to seed the world for the coming of the mother craft!
Whatever the reasoning for inviting aliens into the Christian imagination we can be sure that it's more about the belief of God as creator. Perhaps he has never stopped his six days on-one day off routine. The Church holds to an omnipotent Lord and King of all creation, both what we see and what we don't, both what we know and what we can only imagine in a galaxy far, far away.
(I just hope these aliens don't wear red shoes.)
(To read the article and Funes and extraterrestrials go to: www.iht.com/articles/2008/05/14/news/vat.php)
Who started looking up anyhow? If gods are to be found, wouldn’t they be closer in? Sustenance makes leveled sense. Survival is intimate with what the winds bring in or what they keep away. And who moves these winds? Who strings up the clouds and thickens their skins to hold in the sun’s greed? Is the sky’s vastness reason for our inferiority? Is it reason to poke it with questions about our measured dirt? Given the beasts that hunt and hike our concrete spaces, the sky seems a more predictable giant.
And maybe that’s why. The gods up there, somewhere, must be avoiding the messy entanglements that gravity brings. Throw down seasons and let the trees and gales conspire together to empty themselves on the heads and dwellings of the two-legged mini-gods.
“They walk here and there with an air of confidence,” said the wind as she circled her husky friend.
“As if their roads anchor them to some definition of place,” answered the aged tree. “No doubts, their land is magical. It raises high my arms and its contours and curves gives you back those old songs.”
“But those two-leggers carry disease and redemption. I am muzzled and you turn barren each year because they’re avarice took what it did not own, the mysteries of naivety,” said the wind. “Now they romp and rape each other and the countryside they claim as home for they need to know - want to know - what makes things tick.”
The old tree knew what was coming next. The wind took a needed breath. “And, they are slow to realize that no tick exists except the one deep inside their balmy souls.”
And then the two pushed out. The trees played charades in the light of a full moon and the wind whipped through vinyled houses. Inside the mini-gods watched through cancerous peek holes - between their manicured shrubs - fearing the footsteps of a giant they once knew.
Collisions between the firmament and the prickles of rooted beings frequently occur. Fog, for example, is simply a cloud that a pine tree has amusingly popped for sinking too far below the equinoctial line in another one of its celestial games of covering up the sun.
And it works the other way too. With spears rocketed at the moon, we invade the earth’s upper skin and create a new word: moonmen. Why? Because the origins are original somewhere, and with ingenuity we can find what has never been found before.(?) The search continues.
But people who knew nothing of modernity (and modernity knows nothing of them since it’s defined by the emptying out all the unreasonables gone before it) and the solidity of rationalism, thought it possible to meet the gods. They put it deep within their histories.
Mesopotamia spoke of clay humans turning into flesh by way of a god, killed for that purpose. The blood of the slain god dripped into the humans to bring forth life where there was none. And so a piece of god was sewn into every person. But when life passed into death, the breath extinguished into a threat. Mesopotamia believed that if afterlife’s door did not remain locked and secured, the dead may very well return and eat the living.
Egypt created pageantry in the desert with its afterlife spells and mummified cities. Those great points that aim to hit the sky have wide footprints soaking up the underworld, where Osiris, judge and redeemer, waited to take the grain-soul, planted and cocooned, and bring it into a new harvest.
China tried to harmonize yins and yangs with philosophies and rules. Confucius kept his head far from the clouds and said humanity could fix its problems with moral codes. Even so, death was a mystery that interrupted the tangible. Emperors were secretly buried with every suspected provision for the afterlife, including the entombment of thousands of grave builders (and likely military personnel) while still alive.
India fashioned the god Agni who acted as an intermediary, delivering the sacred fires and aromas of burnt offerings to the halls of the gods. Casted securely, the heavens only opened when the Brahman priests made proper appeals. But slowly, faith developed a new set of wheels. Karma, samsara, moksha. Reincarnate, reincarnate, reincarnate again. Until a person became good enough to fall off the wheel (or becomes tired of standing on their head and finds a new religion), they were stuck in a cycle of sacrifice and re-sacrifice, birth and death, again and again.
Sacrifices link most cultures to the gods. They ask the heavens to name the name of the deity who keeps throwing down fishing lines in hopes to catch these tasty feasts.
The Greeks made insipid every earthly aroma, cutting off the gods’ noses and gifting humanity with logical devotion instead. Years later, even as Rome captures this platonic fire and funnels it through bureaucracy, they don't win. Vesta’s fire was soon baptized out.
Unbeknownst to Tiberius, Rome wedges a certain Jesus into the criminal punishment shoot. Sold out by his friends and countrymen, Jesus identifies himself as a lamb led to the slaughter, the son of god, god himself. As a bludgeoned sacrifice he is the conclusion of all the gestures that tried to elevate humanity into a knowledge of god.
The difference, this time, is that God has struck himself dead for the sake of his creation... to give safe passage to the netherworld. He becomes the pyramids of Egypt and the butchered Chinese grave slaves. He is the reincarnation wheel spun off into settled karma. He is the hemlock that stopped Socrates short of answering his questions. He carries tribal totems on his back and gets nailed into them. Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin; without God dying, there is no resurrection. For, what you sow does not come to life until it dies.
Jesus clears the way. He breathes in life where there was none, makes a way where there was none. He pastes immortality around the fickle frame of mere mortals. He completes the quest and brings God down from starry skies, off of lofty mountains, away from priestly pockets, and into the rebel hearts of humanity, just as you are... just as I am.
8 March 2008)
The carnival has forgotten its barricade. The telephone poles tilt back to their native forests and gorilla suits hang inside every wardrobe. I guess Flannery O’Connor was right. We are animal without the reach toward divinity grabbing at our soul. Once caught between birth and death, in a tension of belief and unbelief between Christmas and Lent, the carnival is now liberated from any lewd caution and the outlandishly sublime. Subliminal intention is now run-of-course…
The medicine man is expected to deliver moods.
Money travels in the coffers of drug dealers who cram thousands of hospitals with doctor incentives that bend diagnoses to meet and create brand strength.
Marriage no longer dances in the romance of first touches.
The pat thesis “We’re Seeing Whether It Works” rapes morality every time and kisses off what’s unseen by sheer exposure.
Politicians never emerge from under their train-wrecked campaigns.
24-hour so-called news is the immortal beast demanding tons of flesh.
Churches dangle pop mosaics as a disguised bait and switch.
On one hand the broadminded congregation has adapted to a guilt free mode that is not reflective of Jesus’ power. They serve the poor and talk about working hard, but they neither believe Jesus is preparing a place for them (or much in his miracles at all) nor hear any gnashing of teeth associated with judgement. As a result, their compassion is leveled and they educate themselves out of true theology. On the other hand, movie and popcorn churches bring interested people in by the droves with their sweet eye candy and goatee pastors who swim in applause for their three step applications. Both dangle strange fruit not reflective of the fig tree Jesus withered and raised up to be a sign... to be a testimony...
Entertainment has redesigned the couch renaming the family room.
Who are our neighbors next door? That magic window with its big “T” and “V” keeps at bay dysfunction and relationship and invites us to that groovy middle that demands only passive passion (and another CSI no doubt).
Libraries are now media centers.
Consumption has replaced knowledge; it’s far quicker. And these days, who has time to imagine and learn?
Definitions for peace include preventive war.
That Jesus needs his head on a platter like his cousin. Dance Salome. Dance for me here in America. And we’ll spark goodwill with explosives and hide the clamorous woes of others by way of the Atlantic.
On April 12, 2007, Kurt Vonnegut fell onto gravity.
So it goes.
It was coined by the church for that decadent time at the end of Ordinary Days just before Lent beats down its pious feet and points the pilgrim’s way to Jerusalem. Carnival is about manipulation – about putting the mask of life on the face of death. It’s about dipping our feet in the devil’s water never thinking we will drown. Its introduction into church life held it bound to time, but when the calendar is now equalized by mere remnants of sacramental definition, anything can fill it up. There is no boundary (not that bounding in rather than ridding of sin invokes holiness).
If this is the case inside the church, that we’ve created moments to binge on our depravity and bend morality sideways, then why should we be surprised when those with little or no frame of holy reference shift ethics and contexts to meet their own conclusions?
Should our response be Vonnegut’s?
Should our response be similar to the horror related to the Virginia Tech saga?
Maybe we sit in the middle, recognizing the true nature of humanity and hopeful in the life reconciled to its creator, the keeper of daylight and its end.
Perhaps we need contrition and prayer to be resurrected in our stony hearts. We need the prophetic to rouse us away from the sensuality that covers the streets and keeps house in the church malls that we’ve erected. Maybe now all the prophets are commentators or musicians who live too long to make their message desperate, who fear the big fish in the ocean so they live in St Louis or Kazan. Maybe. Or maybe we just like the merry-go-round and don’t care anymore.