Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Not without cause

The place where I come from is a small town
They think so small, they use small words
But not me, I'm smarter than that,
I worked it out
I'll be stretching my mouth
to let those big words come right out
I've had enough, I'm getting out
to the city, the big big city
I'll be a big noise
with all the big boys,
so much stuff I will own

And I will pray to a big god,
as I kneel in the big church

My parties have all the big names
and I greet them with the widest smile
Tell them how my life is one big adventure
and always they're amazed
when I show them 'round my house to my bed
I had it made like a mountain range
with snow white pillows for my big fat head
And my heaven will be a big heaven,
and I will walk through the front door

— Peter Gabriel, Big Time

How sad it is, to know the truth about something and, with a gleam in your eye and a tight smile on your lips, to enunciate that truth to an audience that you think probably doesn’t have or know that truth. They may be visitors to your church, to whom you are giving a ‘tour.’ They may be students or auditors in your class or seminar to whom you are revealing the truth. In either case you feel quite justified. They came here. They asked for it. Now, you’re going to let them have it. Always, however, with that gleam in your eye, that tight smile, those controlled, well-rehearsed words. How often you’ve practiced them, over and over in your mind, so that when you had the opportunity, they could come pouring out.

Any questioning, however slight, you accept as a challenge to your—oops! I mean, the Church’s authority—and you grasp the handle bars of your wingèd intellectual vehicle even more tightly, as you careen into your opponent with astonishing precision and speed, knocking them off their high horse—splat! face-down on the pavement where they belong. Of course, the gleam in your eye and the tight smiling lips are consistent all the way. You do not betray the slightest lack of nerve. You know that you’re right. You know that they know that you know you are right. That’s all that matters, really. They invited themselves here. It’s your forum. They are your guests. Like the heaven that treats the myriad creatures as straw dogs, you have shown your mettle.

We all want to be right. We all want recognition somehow, for whatever it is we think we’re proud of, whether it’s something as mundane as our good looks (is that really mundane?) or something as sublime as the creed we hold, whether it is Godly or the opposite. Our own brains are a fertile field for the sowing of our thoughts and desires, and we make them come up the way we want them to, or so we think. We get our house in order and we receive our guests with contingent hospitality, to show off our treasures, humbly laying them at their feet, so they may worship us with a clear conscience, and we can be self-effacing as we pass them another refreshment, more chunks of our own flesh, or our blue blood to drink.

I am a Christian. I belong to an ancient church. I confess and try to practice an ancient faith. I keep my door unlocked to the stranger, but there are some to whom I cannot unlock it, because I am just a man, and what they might require of me is that I give as God gives. Perish the thought. I am just a man, Lord, just a stupid man! Ask my wife, my friends, they’ll tell you. I am worthless. Yet I keep pretending to be someone I am not. I escape one trap of conceit to fall headlong into another, and while I am burning my neighbor’s house down to save him from his worldliness, I find that my bridges have been burned. Who was it working behind my back? Was it that ancient One, the only Lover of mankind? He is so unfair. Why can’t He leave me alone, so that I can make myself out to be the Solomon of the thousand lusty love chants, at once wise and voluptuous?

A spectacled older gentleman standing surrounded by his admiring students, almost three generations of them, never having learned the lesson that love conquers all, even our own vain hearts, our useless, suffocating knowledge, or our pretended wisdom, and instead, promotes himself under a thousand masks, hoping to brand his greatness on yet another generation’s unmarked hide, so they will remember him with awe, how he vanquished the infidels, the antagonists of the truth, and established once again the triumph of Orthodoxy. Now, we don’t need to pray as we sing the words, ‘Soson, Kyrie, ton laón Sou…’ Save, O Lord, Your people, because his invincible wisdom, his teaching, has secured the faith and those confessing it against all its enemies. We can sing now, just to follow the tradition, to live in the luxury of the world-conquering faith. Nothing more to do.

Man has closed the door on God, so he can be heard better as he talks about Him. Once they made Him out to be a great Craftsman working on a gigantic clockwork, and having assembled it, and wound it up, gave Him permission to go away and leave it to continue ticking forever. Now they were free to not talk about Him anymore, for what was the need? This time around, we bring Him back to animate our discussions, tying Him hand and foot by our ease, gagging Him with our mouthsome words, deafening ourselves from the voice of many waters heard by the eager ears of John the Revelator, so that we can hear ourselves better, and glorify Him by our works, so that men, seeing them, will glorify us in return. Not without cause does the tree-bound Lord cry out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ and, though we no longer tremble at it, pant His parting prayer, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

No comments: