Thursday, 29 May 2008

On Arrogance and Awe and Dr. Suess

Dr. Suess's Yertle the Turtle is an ingeniously prophetic work. It is the tale of the modern Western man. Yertle is a turtle who has a yen for leadership. He wants to rule. As king of the pond of Sala-ma-Sond, he soon grows dissatisfied with the rock that serves as his throne. So he piles up all of the other turtles and steps on them, one by one, until he reaches the top. He styles himself king of all he sees:

I'm the king of a house! And a bush! And a cat!
But that isn't all. I'll do better than that!...

But, while he was shouting, he saw with surprise
That the moon of the evening was starting to rise
Up over his head in the darkening skies.

In the end, though, all it takes is a burp from one little turtle and Yertle finds himself king of the mud.

Aren't we Yertle? We've stepped on everything that can be put under us - nature, philosophy, history, humanity - exploited it and discarded it and climbed up on it until we really think we are the kings of all that we survey. We fancy ourselves infinitely more wise than any people groups who have failed to come, fawning, to buy and sell in our marketplace, and whose cultures have not yet been laid humbly before our own mass-mediated philosophies. Cultures throughout our world and throughout history have been aware of a world higher than the natural world - but WE alone are un-primitive and un-ignorant, so we can pity the poor sods who just didn't have our understanding of things. We can scoff at global warming and the energy crisis and the dearth of nutrients in our soils - because we are the greatest, and we frankly can't imagine a crisis that the omnipotent mix of our scientific forces and technological advances wouldn't be able to put to rights.

Like Yertle, one of the things we have lost is a sense of awe. Because science has allowed us to arm-wrestle nature into a kind of submission - at least for the time being - we think we can rule it. Because we can name scientific laws - some of them - we think we can control them. We toss around the bits we have learned about particle physics and black holes and we think we are the rulers of it all - because however little we actually understand, we can talk about it - a little. Just like Yertle, outraged at the moon, which dared ascend higher than him on his turtle-pile.

One little burp is all it's going to take for this pitiful little 100-year, several-country flash-in-the-pan to go Plunk! in the pond.

If only we had some inkling of the powers that are over us, and around us. We could see them, if only we could first admit our own weakness.

In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphim: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly.
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory.
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.
(Isaiah 6:1-5)

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

We have seen the enemy...

In the collective consciousness of at least Western society is a half-fantasy, half-fear of alien invasion. In our daydreams, the aliens are coming to destroy us. Their dark powers will spread throughout the universe unless they are put to death by charmingly innocent and grandly idealistic us. Sometimes they are robots; sometimes borgs; sometimes mind-forces. At all costs, they must be stopped before they destroy the whole universe.

We would like to believe that the darkness; the destruction, is something out there that may be met on the portals and finished off by the essential goodness of humanity. We need to face that fact that we are the the dark aliens. We are not the idealistic children we always let ourselves be in the sci-fi movies - we are the mutants, the devouring borgs who are systematically destroying every square inch we have the technology to reach. We have almost sucked this amazing planet dry. We are doing a thorough job of robbing it of its rich biodiversity and intricately balanced eco-systems. We have reached, as far as our technology allows us, into space.We pride ourselves on our scientific and technological achievements and our social sophistications. We forget the hideous and spreading corruption we have authored. We ignore the violence and oppression that run rampant despite our complicated societal codes.

The dark aliens aren't coming - they are here. They are us. And who is going to keep us from destroying the whole universe?

Oh, I am so disappointed in us. In people. In me.

We are so lovely, but for our wretched selfishness. That wicked, sucking heart of darkness reveals itself time after time, and we make excuse after excuse, but we know, if sometimes dimly, the truth.

There is only One who is lovely, trustworthy, pure. His name is Love and Jesus Christ. He doesn't hate us, the destroyers in a universe of beauty; he pities us. He comes without ray gun or flashing light sabre, but holds out his hand.

This is my body, which is broken for you... Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do...

When I am tired of the weakness, the lies, the unreliability of my own heart, I take refuge in One who is Truth. I am content to rest, then, at his dear feet. Somehow, though, he bids me come closer. If I will, he can set me free - free from that dark, clawing within that isolates me and eats away at all that is pure, making me something alien, to be feared and loathed.

He is not the God I have imagined, bending magnanimously to bless the humble penitent with his fingertips. Here is a Father and a Friend.

He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble... Psalm 91:15

I have sought in vain such a friend among humanity's hordes, but in Him alone my heart finds rest. He has given me pain, but never out of selfishness. He has let me cry and rage, but he has never deserted me.

Isn't this the One we need?

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

Wise Men on Wisdom

"There is no happiness where there is no wisdom;
No wisdom but in submission to the gods.
Big words are always punished,
And proud men in old age learn to be wise."
- Sophocles, Antigone

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding."
- Proverbs 9:10 (KJV)