Monday, 26 October 2009

Stilton, blessings, teenagers, and Ezekiel... a mixed pottage...

Yes, I'm even more disassociated this week than usual. :) Weather beginning to turn cold is never my best time. My 'regulars' know my jokes (however true!) about goblins from the past, but, since I had some (very pleasant) visitors a week or so ago who happen to practise Faerie Wicca, I'm wondering what they brought in with them. (You undoubtedly are wondering why a Mediterranean is concerned about the wee folk... so am I, since I normally confine my superstitions to such things as the mal occhio . But the influences from Cork never die..) My front doorbell never did work, and the strictly 'no frills' doorbell in the rear normally makes only a 'ping.' Since the friends of the elves visited, the doorbell still 'pings' if anyone actually presses it, but at any time, without warning and when there is no human there, said doorbell is going off with a resounding chorus of the Westminster chimes. (These goblins undoubtedly are not only Irish but Catholic - giving off in disapproval of my kinship with Canterbury.)

As it happens, I (gladly) heard from two people whom I knew when I was a teenager during the past few weeks. This naturally stimulated my "no, those are not the best years of anyone's life... in fact, they are times when one tends to be close to certifiable..." memories. Ah, yes, those 'carefree' days! (Irony tag on - but subtract the generalisation and admit it's the truth.) The young are non conformists as far as parents' ways go, but loathe any deviation from the local trends - and you heard this from someone who came to maturity in a time when not wearing knee socks (which I thought then, and think now, are horrible - and would make the best of legs look bad) was sufficient reason for the raised eyebrows, giggling, 'advice' and criticism characteristic of the age. One's 'best friends' are laughing at one's jokes on Tuesday, indulging in the raised eyebrows fest with others on Thursday. We are angry with someone - usually out of the blue - for any reason or no reason (often because, for example, she's going out with the guy we hope will notice us... and who, being the 'boy one likes' becomes tagged with the 'boyfriend' label even if he's never asked one out, but who we think is 'ours' because we think of him 24/7 and talk about him about 33% of that time.) I mention this only because I've had decades to notice that some adults never grow out of this stage...

Of course, at that age I would never have admitted the lengths to which I would go to get slices of smoked salmon and Stilton, as I did on Sunday morning. I attended a church at which the liturgy is utterly superb, but, with its being a day to recruit pledges for the coming year, the guilt trip mode was highly irritating. I somehow remembered not only my own childhood but a delicious line from Maeve Binchy's "Echoes." Children in a village (who are lucky to have a decent change of clothing) are 'guilted' into donating Christmas toys for the poor, and one perceptive and happily tactless child says, "But we are the poor!" Still, since the fund raising campaign involved a 'coffee hour' with all sorts of cakes (which I don't eat), fresh fruit, first quality cheeses, and smoked salmon, I endured it all just so I could eat better than I have in months.

(Why didn't I title this entry "Blog of a Nobody Revisited"? I just felt I should list something having been 'away' for a month.)

I've been attending a series of presentations on Ezekiel - focussed mainly on a commentary which is so glum that it bores me. I have never studied that book in great depth (nor am I so inclined), but I think Ezekiel goes from sounding as if he were high on drugs to being an illustrator of the worst of human nature (and attributing traits mankind has at our worst to God.) I had a few thoughts at the presentations during these past few weeks - but, though obviously theological discussions are nothing new to me, I don't want to fall into the trap (which I can sense in a few who attend) of just loving the sound of my own voice. That's never my intention, but it's always a potential problem because, deep down, I'd rather be lecturing than observing.

In my own Old Testament studies (which did not include any focus on Ezekiel), I found it quite enriching to study the Jewish commentaries. I also was amazed at how much of Exodus (just as one example) is really about worship and covenant. Studying Genesis in depth was fascinating, the more because the Jewish scholars have no concept of 'the fall' such as developed in Christianity. It always is an effort, I believe, for a Christian to avoid the flavour of 2,000 years of Christian interpretation, which can slant views. Jews focus on God as transcendent - and, at least in some of the scholarship I've seen, see us (created in His image) as icons in a way - the way in which the transcendent God can be immanent.

The treatment a week earlier was dismal. It focused on God's commanding evil, such as sacrifice of the first-born, in order to instil horror at the actions later and lead Israelites to repentance. Much in Ezekiel, even if there is some excellent poetry, seems more about Zeus or Odin than Yahweh - the 'old gods' are projections of our own violence and jealousy, blown out of proportion into humans at their worst with boundless power. I couldn't help but wonder (and I've no idea if this is so) whether prophets of Ezekiel's time were writing more of mankind (the more considering that, if we make God immanent, at our worst that's a gloomy picture...) than of the nature of God, which is beyond our comprehension. Christianity is unique in that, even without consciously thinking of 'mankind is in God's image and therefore the icon,' we had the ultimate demonstration of this in Christ! There certainly is nothing of wickedness, vengeance, or violence in the message of Jesus of Nazareth. As well, in the New Testament, unlike many books of the Old, there is no indication that God is 'making Romans the conquerors,' where, earlier, there were many senses in which the Persians, Babylonians, or Egyptians were (however unknowingly) God's instruments.

I was wondering, again in relation to Ezekiel, if the talk of destruction (and mention of Babylon) had another meaning than was discussed in class. I know that, when paganism was the norm, many gods were territorial - those living around the Israelites would have had that viewpoint. If Babylon conquered, it indeed could seem that they had the more powerful gods. I think it is possible (though I do not know) that Ezekiel's speaking of destruction and Babylon can have another dimension - Yahweh isn't territorial, but is lord of creation - so, even if it seems a Babylonian god had the upper hand, Yahweh remains at work - somehow, He uses even the conquerors for His purposes.

But I'm not interested enough to go to the library's Jewish division and study this...

Last of all, I wanted to share a lovely blessing I heard yesterday:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in the world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

And the Blessing of God, the Eternal Majesty, the Incarnate Word, and the Abiding Spirit, be upon you and all you love and pray for, this day and for evermore.

And now to bed...

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