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)


joeyanne said...

This is one of my favorites of all your posts. I completely agree. I want to discover the hidden joys that other more "undeveloped" cultures have learned. I so want to travel. It is difficult to live in this culture/society and not be affected by Yertle's attitude, but I think it is possible; and very necessary! I need to be reminded every day of the "One, high and lifted up"!!!

Becky; said...

We instill it in our children from a young age, revolving our lives around them and their activities instead of Him.....what a lie we've bought into....

Bobble said...

Amen. If only, in our consumer-driven, you-deserve-it, I-want-it-now culture, we could understand what "holy" really means.

Jim Jordan said...

A simply awesome post. A great lesson for today and a good lead-in for Isaiah 6!

Brandon said...

I really like this post, Jennypo. What you say is so true. We can all be scrambling to get to the top, stepping on others to get there, and priding in what we call our own accomplishments, only to see ourselves falling back to the bottom. Like Yertle, I think we can all be somewhat arrogant sometimes, and very self-centered, when what we need to be thinking about is the well-being of others and putting our focus on Jesus.

Anyway, good post. Hope you're doing well. :)