Friday, January 28, 2005

Posting Again

Now that I've finally caught my breath, maybe I can start posting a few tidbits again. I have a variety of thoughts I need to put on paper. Right at the end of the old year and the start of the new, I was running (or driving) all across the country (well at least the Southeast). We went to Charlotte for Reggie White's funeral which was profoundly moving and hopefully I can write about it soon; then I headed down to Louisianna for a few days of NT Wright. Splendid fellow. Great thinker and nice person to boot! Then I came back just in time for a co-hort at the New City Community.

I was a bit drained and didn't feel well but Darrell Johnson warmed me with his grace-filled pastor's heart. Along the way, I've been thumbsucking Maximas the Confessor's On The Cosmic Mystery of Jesus Christ. What a treasure! I think the modern church misses so much when we ignore so many Christian writers simply because they are no longer living. Chesterton reminds us that tradition is teh democracy of the dead. If we really are democratic thinkers, we'll listen to the dead as well as the living.

Finally. I finally discovered Czelaw Milosz. Where have I been? As usual, probably wasting time on the Internet instead of reading grand writers and thinkers. He is a delight. I want to insert of few of his poems in this blog, but here's a little today:

Veni Creator

Come, Holy Spirit,
bending or not bending the grasses,
appearing or not above our heads in a tongue of flame,
at hay harvest or when they plough in the orchards or when snow
covers crippled firs in the Sierra Nevada.
I am only a man: I need visible signs.
I tire easily, building the staircase of abstraction.
Many a time I asked, you know it well, that the statue in church
lift its hand, only once, just once, for me.
But I understand that signs must be human,
therefore call one man, anywhere on earth,
not me--after all I have some decency--
and allow me, when I look at him, to marvel at you.

Berkeley 1961

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Cain and Abel

Our church is currently telling the stories of the Old Testament. Today I wrote up a fictionalized account of Cain and Abel. While I tried to remain true to the spirit of the tale, I did fill places with my imagination. If anyone is interested, I thought I'd post something from it:

In the shadows, evil lurks. Watching. Simmering. Waiting for the right moment to pounce.

It started out as a day among days. A light autumn breeze stirred through the orchards and sweet apple scents surrounded the morning travelers. Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were climbing the mountain for their annual feast of thanksgiving. The late harvest sun shined through the trees and the red seemed more red, the greens seemed more green: everything pulsated with life and possibility.

Atop the mountain they set up camp and each person prepared for their part in the feast. This year was to be special. It was the first year that Cain and Abel would approach Abba as young men. Before they had always watched Adam as he set up an altar of worship. They had listened as Adam retold the story of Creation and the wondrous stories of and from Abba. They grieved with Adam as he told of his own profound rebellion and failure, but rejoiced as he told of Abba’s loving-kindness. Then he would pause in the story and explain that every breath is but a gift from Abba. And though he had nothing of value to offer Abba, he would express his profound gratefulness for Abba’s love in gifts of worship. Cain and Abel would watch in amazement as Adam place the gifts on the altar and fire from heaven consumed them. It was as though Abba had kissed the earth in his love.

But this year Cain and Abel would approach the altar as young men. Instead of approaching through Adam, they would bring their own gifts of thanksgiving.

Cain worked the soil and this year his harvest was particularly grand. The orchards overflowed with apples and pears and peaches and cherries. The ground produced a stunning spread of tomatoes and corn and carrots and onions and more. This exceeding harvest pleased Cain. He had worked the fields day and night, and his efforts had paid off. He harvested more than enough food to meet his obligation for the great feast. Cain chose a sample fruits and vegetables to offer Abba and prepared to display his wares at the great feast.

Abel cared for the flocks. Like a father, he came to love each of the animals like his own children. Many a night, Abel would sit alone on the hilltop making up songs for his flocks. Abel was grateful to Abba for allowing him to care for the animals and when time came for the feast, Abel choose the finest, firstborn from his flock. Abel loved this sheep more than any man has loved his pet. And in some sense by offering this sheep, he could express how much more how loved and was thankful to Abba for his loving-kindness.

When time came for Cain and Abel to approach the altar, Cain led the way. He proudly displayed this fine bounty. “I am thankful that you have given me such ingenuity. For I have worked long and worked late and have produced a most glorious harvest of fruits and vegetables. The selection before you today is just a sample of the fine harvest I’ve produced in the orchards and fields below.” After his speech, Cain sat down and awaited Abel.

But Abel didn’t say much. Abel simply said, “I give the best but it is still not good enough. You are greater than all I can imagine and I am grateful for your love and kindness. Please have mercy and accept this precious lamb as a token of my unending love for you.”

Before Abel could even sit down, fire shot down from heaven and kissed the gift he brought. Abba delighted in such faith and readily expressed his pleasure.

But Cain was puzzled. His fruits and vegetables were more glorious than anything Abel brought but Abba almost seemed to snub him.

From the shadows, a cloud descended on him and he stumbled off the mountain in frustration and anger.

He had been humiliated in front of Abel and Adam and Eve. His fine selection of fruits and vegetables had been virtually ignored. Shamed and alone, dark thoughts began to torture Cain. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that Abel was always the favored. Adam and Even had always praised everything Abel did while virtually ignoring his own efforts. Cain was a victim. He had been rejected all his life and this latest rejection was just a very public demonstration of what everyone thought. No one, not even Abba, realized his worth. No one, not even Abba, realized how hard he worked to benefit everyone else.

Deep into the night, Cain stared up into the dark sky and wondered if Abba was really that good after all. Maybe he had duped everyone. Cain was frustrated, confused and angry. In the middle of his torments, a voice. Abba comes to comfort and confront. “Cain, Cain. Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? The shadow of darkness is waiting to take you. But it doesn’t have you. You can still do right and your joy will return.”

In his shame, Cain cried, “Oh God. Forgive me. You are right. I allowed the darkness to choke me, but when I arise tomorrow things will be different.”

But they weren’t different. When Cain awoke, the conversation with Abba had slipped into the stream of forgotten dreams. A cloud covered his heart and mind. And all he could think about was how he had been wronged.

Stumbling from bed, he went to face the day and instead found Abel. Anger simmered and yet hid. Abel said, “Come with me and let us return to the mountain.” For Abel was deeply concerned for Cain. Yet Cain interpreted this as Abel seeking to embarrass him yet once again. He followed quietly behind as Abel described the events of the previous day.

Suddenly the darkness came out of the shadows. Cain leaped. Abel fell. And the blood cried out. In a terrified stupor, Cain realized what he had done and ran. He ran and ran and ran. He tried to run from himself. But could not escape the dark terror of his deed.

In the shadows the voice called, “Where is your brother Abel?”

“I’m not my brother’s keeper. How should I know?”

“Even now your brother’s blood is crying. Calling out from the ground. You’ve planted curses and you’ll reap curses. Your field of plenty will rot on the vine as blood cries out for vengeance. Wherever you go, the land will recognize and reject you. From now on you’ll wander the earth without a home, without a place.”

Even as the Lord God spoke, Cain was coming undone. “It’s too much. I cannot bear it. I cannot bear it. The angry world knows my name and will consume me.”
“No Cain. Anyone who kills you will be repaid 7 times.” And with that promise Abba marked him for protection and left him to wander the world alone.
Traveling east, Cain stumbled into the waiting darkness. He married. Had a family. Built a city. And his son had sons. And they had sons. And they had sons. From his people came nomads, musicians, and blacksmiths. They were a people marked in blood. One day, his great grandson Lamech, with blood on his hands, proclaimed to his wives:
I killed a man for wounding me, a young man who attacked me. If Cain is avenged seven times, for Lamech it's seventy-seven!
And the seeds of destruction continued to fall on the ground.