You were keeper to me
Now your animal is free
And you're free to die
You're old and your hands are gray
Your old go home and
We've all heard you dirty stories
Two thousand years
Two thousand years
Two thousand years
This is the lyric of the song ‘Sunrise’ by the group Jefferson Starship, off their 1970 album Blows Against the Empire which was and always has been one of my favorites, even though my personal vocabulary doesn’t include expletives like the ‘God damn’ in this song, or even worse ones heard in some of the other songs. There is a stark, stringent, defiant energy here, the essence of pure rebellion. The makers of this album knew it. They were proud of it. They were caught up in the net of such subtle deception that they could feel themselves entirely justified in their hatred and rejection of ‘Dick Nixon’ and his ‘empire.’ At the age of nineteen, I too was caught up in the same net, parroting the slogans and bywords of the lost generation whose motto was ‘turn on, tune in, drop out’ even though inside I knew myself to be outside their league.
parable of the Prodigal Son—no, actually there were two of us, two brothers who were both that good son, who both obeyed and honored their parents as was expected. In that family, it was the daughters who were the prodigals, at least in the first part of the story. But the fact is, I was a dutiful and respectful son, not openly questioning or challenging my elders. I never smoked (though they did and ordered me not to), I never drank (on the sly as teens often do), I didn’t do dope (my brother and I promised our Mom we wouldn’t, I wonder if he remembers). But in our case, the parable that became our story morphed, a little at first, then a lot. I gradually turned into the bad son, first by going away to college and leaving my younger brother to cope with our disintegrating family all alone.
I’d better stop, because this isn’t supposed to be an autobiographical sketch. Suffice it to say that my absence from the family locale turned me into the prodigal son, regardless of my behavior, good or bad. What I am thinking of is the value of rebellion. Yes, you heard me right. The value of rebellion, even of, no, especially of defiance. I am a Christian, in fact, an Orthodox Christian, you know, the ones who never change anything, never argue or disagree, are always submissive to one another as we live out our lives as an ikon of the life of the Holy Trinity on earth. What used to be said of the Chinese race could equally be said of us, ‘of all peoples the least revolutionary, but the most rebellious’—uh oh, maybe I have it backwards. We do make a habit of speaking of the past of our Church and Faith as if it were a golden age, and the late Roman and Byzantine empires which percolated our traditions as heroic and glorious.
Hagia Sophia, the great Gothic masterpieces of western Europe, and to have had such a uniform mastery over society that everyone in sight was a church-going Christian (except for that mysterious race, the Jews). We obviously don’t build such things, or dominate society so completely, today, so they must’ve been better than us, and more of them. Something like those days of Christian imperial glory actually survived into modern times. The Orthodox know it as ‘Holy Russia’ and because it is still very close to us in time, we can’t idealize it as much as we do the earlier Christian empires. Well, there's that painting…
‘Whose picture is this?’ We all know whose. It’s Caesar’s. It’s the world ruler’s. Yes, it’s the empire’s. We work to live, and yet what we earn is still the property of the ‘empire.’ It’s got the empire’s names and faces all over it, like the pennies we pass without plucking off the pavement.
road to Emmaus, and now I still sometimes join in, knowing that with Him I can, and sometimes, must go anywhere.
Hóng Xiùquán, who was the 天王Tiānwáng, ‘heavenly king’ of the ‘rebel’ state 太平天国 Tàipíng Tiānguó, ‘heavenly kingdom of great peace’ did not accept the title of ‘emperor’ nor call his regime an ‘empire’ because, he declared, no one can be called 皇帝 Huángdì, ‘emperor’ but the Lord on high, and all the Chinese emperors in history were nothing more than usurpers. This man and his movement were self-evangelized Christians, having none to teach them, missing even the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, yet he knew the place of man in creation.
‘a holy race of priests and kings.’ This is not just a nicety, a bit of bragging up to encourage us to be good boys and girls. Scripture doesn’t taunt or tantalize us, so let’s give the Word of God our fullest attention. Back to the Chinese ‘rebel’ I mentioned, the天王 Tiānwáng always ended his decrees with ‘Respect this!’ In other words, don’t just be hearers of the Word, be doers also.
‘unto everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.’ Rebellion may be a defining characteristic of the evil one, yet rebellion is not itself an evil. There is a time for it ‘under heaven.’ Jesus was not a rebel, nor should His followers be. What is Jesus, then? He is the King, yes, and that makes us, His earthly younger siblings, at least princes. At least, that’s what we start out as, in fact, as crown princes. We don’t have to wait for the King to die, though, before we can become kings. He has died, and He has risen, trampling down death by death. He has inaugurated a Kingdom greater than any empire, peopled by kings, all of the lineage of David. We no more rebel than He did. We defy, and not by violence, but by the Truth.
He always found.