Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Comforting Light

It is 1am.

The sky is clear and bright with stars. I find in this illuminating light a comfort I’ve never known before. Let me briefly explain.

Just a few nights ago, at this same time, we were visited by a light so brilliant and so terrible, we knew we would die. The flock scatters violently. And I realize there are no wolves chasing them. Our faces are swiftly buried in the dirt, arms curled over our heads, concealing anything we can. My eyes burn with light, even though they are closed and covered. We are a shivering mass of fear and trepidation.

Finally, a voice speaks. It is not the voice of a man. But its tone assures us that we will not die. This voice is clear and unmistakable. It is also powerful. Unapproachable, the light becomes discernible. Yet, its beauty is no less radiant. We look and listen but cannot move. Then, it is gone.

How we arrive there, I am unsure. We startle them initially. She tries to hide, and he prepares to fight. We all speak at once, and point in different directions. We are animated. They are confused.

Then suddenly, a glowing reflection from her arms catches our eye. Light from the stars shines upon this thing she holds. I see His eyes. He blinks but does not cry. We are all moved to silence. His forming features are clearly seen as well. It is beautiful. He is brilliant. We all gaze, unable to speak…

Not much has been spoken amongst us since that night.  I mostly gaze, looking up above in wonder. What had we seen? Why had I seen it? A gentle breeze blows the tall grass as our sheep feed there in the meadow. My mind is racing. But my soul is comforted by the thought of Light.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Tear Down the Lighthouse

Two citizens gazed out from the rocky shore onto the tumultuous sea before them, waves raging and winds roaring with the sudden storm's siren song, hauntingly intoned with the howling shrieks of errant travelers who now faced imminent death. They had ignored the lighthouse.

Opponere: I think we should tear it down at once!

Avocat: Tear it down? Why would you tear it down?

Opponere: Well, sir, are you blind? The tragedy before your very eyes should convince you. Do you not see that the lighthouse does no good as these dying souls attest. Its light was insufficient to warn them of the danger they faced, and now they perish. We should tear down the lighthouse.

Avocat: Sir, that is a fool's bargain.

Opponere: Call me a fool if you will, Avocat, but the vivid proof and sad truth lie before us: the lighthouse did not deter these poor souls from their own destruction.

Avocat: I call you not a fool sir, but a friend with a foolish notion. Just because we see these souls drowning by their own neglect of the radiant beam, to say that we should tear down the lighthouse is to forget one thing.

Opponere: Prithee, and what would that be?

Avocat: It is this, sir. When a shipwrecked sailor perishes, it is a frightful but spectacular event that alarms and saddens our whole village, and we think, "How terrible! The lighthouse neither deterred that captain's ill-fated choice nor prevailed to save his ship." But, Opponere, do you not see this truth? That while we sleep through many dark nights of storm or still and then awaken to a new dawn, and no cargo is washed ashore, no broken hull lies upon the craggy rocks, no heartbroken mother weeps, and no body floats lifelessly upon the briny deep, we never hear that noiseless testimony to the lighthouse as a radiant deterrent. For, you see, the sailor who sees the lighthouse and heeds its warning is always silent and unknown. I am quite sure, sir, that for every ship crushed upon those rocks, a thousand have turned the rudder and set the sail aright, cautiously passing by this rugged shoreline. Tear the lighthouse down, Opponere? No, sir, for it has guided many a soul to a safe haven.

Author's note: Now read the parable again, understanding that the lighthouse is a symbol for capital punishment. The two names, Opponere and Avocat, are Latin derivatives that respectfully mean "opponent" and "advocate." I am indebted to the vilified J. Edgar Hoover for the original metaphor.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Solomon's Sixty-four Characteristics of a Fool

In Proverbs, a fool

  1. despises wisdom and instruction: 1:7
  2. hates knowledge. 1:22
  3. is complacent about Divine warnings of God’s vengeance against him. 1:24-32
  4. exalts himself. 3:35
  5. by his words invites and brings about his own ruin. 10:8, 10, 14
  6. spreads slander. 10:18
  7. dies from (because of - hb) a lack of understanding. 10:21
  8. derives pleasure from sinful behavior. 10:23
  9. will eventually be subject to the wise person. 11:29
  10. thinks that his sinful actions are justifiable. 12:15
  11. wears his feelings on his sleeve and is easy to read. 12:16
  12. advertises his foolishness. 12:23; 13:16
  13. considers it "an abomination" to repent of his folly. 13:19
  14. deserves to see the back of a wise person. 14:7
  15. deceives others. 14:8
  16. mocks at sin. 14:9
  17. is arrogant. 14:16
  18. is reckless. 14:16
  19. increasingly produces more and more foolishness. 14:24
  20. is exposed as a fool by wisdom. 14:33
  21. rejects parental authority and discipline. 15:5
  22. speaks so as to spread his ignorance to others. 15:7
  23. brings punishment upon himself. 16:22
  24. is one in whose mouth eloquence is inappropriate. 17:7
  25. will not listen to wise rebuke even if it’s pounded in him a hundred times. 17:10, 27:22
  26. is more dangerous in his sin than a mama bear who has lost her cubs. 17:12
  27. is one whose money is useless when it comes to buying wisdom. 17:16
  28. brings sorrow and perhaps even ruin to his parents. 17:21, 25; 19:13
  29. has eyes only for worldly things. 17:24
  30. can appear to be wise if he keeps his mouth shut. 17:28
  31. finds no pleasure in true understanding but loves to express his opinion. 18:2
  32. is destroyed by his own mouth. 18:7
  33. is argumentative. 18:16; 20:3
  34. speaks perversely. 19:1
  35. doesn’t really fit in a place of luxury. 19:10
  36. despises the words of the wise. 23:9
  37. cannot intellectually transcend to a contemplation of wisdom. 24:7
  38. does not deserve to be honored. 26:1, 8
  39. deserves to be whipped like a mule. 26:3
  40. should not be answered in a manner like unto his own foolish words. 26:4
  41. should be answered as a fool deserves to be answered, in such a way as to show the fool his foolishness. 26:5
  42. should not be entrusted with important information to communicate to others. 26:6
  43. should not be hired by a wise person. 26:10
  44. repeats and repeats foolish behavior. 26:11
  45. dangerously provokes others. 27:3
  46. trusts his own heart. 28:26
  47. easily loses his temper. 29:11; Eccl. 7:9
  48. is often gluttonous. 30:22
In Ecclesiastes, a fool

  1. walks in darkness. 2:14
  2. folds his hands and ruins himself. 4:5
  3. offends Deity and sacredness by speaking rather than listening. Eccl. 5:1
  4. speaks troublesome and trouble-filled words like an anxiety-driven dream. 5:3
  5. breaks vows and promises. 5:5
  6. loves to party. 7:4
  7. sings silly songs. 7:5
  8. laughs annoyingly about meaningless things. 7:6
  9. often dies "before his time." 7:17
  10. is not to be taken seriously by a wise person even if the fool is a king. 9:17
  11. holds his heart in his left hand. 10:2
  12. shows everyone how stupid he really is. 10:3
  13. often occupies a place of authority. 10:6
  14. is eaten up by his own foolish words. 10:12
  15. talks way too much. 10:14
  16. often gets bored with work. 10:15

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Immorality of Bad Grammar

Some people are just ignorant. I get that. Sad to say, some people are just stupid. We don't mean intellectually stupid necessarily, but stupid in the sense of what the Bible calls "a fool." But are ignorance and stupidity in themselves immoral? Not broadly immoral as in encompassing all transgressions, but much more narrowly immoral in terms of language: Is it immoral to speak so as to articulate one's ignorance and stupidity? We think "yes." Forest Gump was only partially right when he said, "Stupid is, is stupid does." He should have added, "Stupid is, is stupid does and says." All fools are double fools, behaviorally and rhetorically.
One of my favorite topics to address in composition, literature, or theology classes is the trinitarianism of language. It goes like this:
"Every word is a trinity."
One of the first things we learn about God in Holy Scripture, after the very invocation of His name "Elohim" awakens our inability to contemplate infinite majesty, is that God is a God of language. Yes, the Deity is magisterial and creatorial - "Elohim created" - but we would not know smithers about the magisterial and creatorial nature of God if it were not for this:

"Elohim said."

What follows that declaration is illumination -

"Elohim said, 'Let there be light.'"

If the emanation of light from the spoken word is the Divine prototype for that species created ad imaginem quippe Dei, then to what depths of darkness has our species fallen, for there is little light shining from the mouths of mortals. Perhaps that's why Paul describes the human throat as "an open tomb," and thus a place of dark emptiness and empty darkness. 
It began in the Garden.
Perversion of language, that is. The Old Serpent was "a liar from the beginning" - "God hath not said" - and wobbly Eve soon followed suit - "God hath said, 'Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it" - the "do not touch" clause being the first human prevarication. But we digress.
Every word is a trinity.
Ideation, inspiration, incarnation - thought, breath, flesh. The mind conceives an idea and the breath inspires the flesh to incarnate that idea. More pragmatically stated, an intellectual concept is communicated when breath stirs the vocal chord and, voila, ho logos! - the word.
If Jesus Christ really meant what He said, "Every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment, for by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned" - if the Son of God really meant that, then humanity is in a black hole.
Look at it this way.
Imagine that you're strolling through the Museum of Fine Art, viewing beautiful expressions of artistic imagination - Monet, Renoir, Seurat, Raphael - and suddenly you come upon a priceless sculpture comprised of gold and silver, specifically, apples of solid gold creatively set in the purest silver, untarnished and shining brilliantly.
That's the picture Solomon paints for us about the right and proper use of even a single word: "A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver."
But if we stroll over to the Museum of Modern Art, we would find quite different renditions of the same theme: golden apples in jars of urine, and silver slop jars filled with . . . well, you get the picture.
Ignorance and stupidity.
So what's my point? - Be careful little mouth what you say.
If every word we speak inherently replicates the very nature of the Divine as trinitarian, let us be careful not to pervert the image of God when we speak ignorantly or stupidly, much less falsely or blasphemously.
When we speak, "let there be light."

Or at least "let there be quiet," for "even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise."
After all, when the Almighty wanted to designate the apple of His eye in one word, He said it like this:

"In the beginning was the Word,

and the Word was with God,

and the Word was God."