Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Thing About Deer Hunting: November 21, 2007

Here’s the thing about deer hunting.

After seventeen buckless deer seasons, I was in the right place, at the right time. A buck appeared in gathering dusk, 30 feet away and framed unmistakably against a dusting of new snow. I raised my rifle, took aim through the telescopic sight, and fired. The deer bounded away unhurt.

There has to be a lesson, a meaning to this. Had I not put in a seventeen year novitiate, cultivating the thin strand of hopefulness that endures through hours of staring into empty woods? Had I not humbled myself, purified myself, emptied myself of haste and envy? Had I not trained myself to focus on the experience of being in the woods, at peace with myself and in communion with the deer? I can think of no reason why I should have missed that deer. If I had failed to get my gun up before being noticed, or if the buck had come from some unanticipated direction; if I had been dozing, or crinkling a gum wrapper, or any one of a thousand deer-hunting sins I have committed at crucial moments in the past, then I could reproach myself in all the familiar ways.

But this time I did everything right, at least as “right” as I am capable of doing them. So there has to be a meaning here, or else there is no “rightness” to be had.

Meaning 1) There is no meaning. Shit happens. Comment: And that’s not a meaning?

Meaning 2) Jonathan cannot shoot a gun any better than he can shoot a basketball. If it’s such a big deal, take some lessons! Comment: the only lessons that would help would be real-life scenarios with real deer looming out of the dimness, which, at seventeen-year intervals, would not provide much opportunity to practice.

Meaning 3) God is teaching you humility. Comment: I already learned that. In 1988. Ask Bill Moulton. He even wrote an unsolicited letter to the then-Bishop of Vermont to this effect. Can you top that? So don’t be telling me about humility.

Meaning 4) What’s the big deal about deer hunting? It’s not as if something really tragic happened. Comment: When a man who has not had a decent shot at a buck in seventeen years misses a buck standing 30 feet away, it doesn’t seem tragic, it seems stupid. At least tragedy is cathartic. Things like this are… boring? It feels bad enough to ponder, but not so bad as to break him to pieces. So it’s NOT such a big deal, and that relative insignificance is precisely why it has to have a meaning. Get it?

Meaning 5) maybe it was a ghost deer. Maybe the bullet went through him, just to show how the wild things are going to survive the death-dealing blows of technology and urbanization. Maybe, David says, it wasn’t a deer but a person-in-transition, a Webelow maybe, messing with my head on its way to the spirit-world. Comment: what person? It couldn’t be just any Webelow. It would have to be someone who has an agenda for me. I can’t think of who that might be… The former Bishop of Vermont? I doubt it. He never even answered Bill’s letter.

Meaning 6) came to me as I was sitting in the same place the next morning, the first day of the next phase in this long novitiate. “Live gracefully in a world that often seems graceless.” Comment: “That’s what everything means,” says David. Maybe so.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Unwrapping The Rapture: November 8,2007

With Advent impending, the church’s attention turns to somber thoughts of the End-Time, of Death and Judgment, and of the “Second Coming.” With Commercial Christmas upon us, no one else is thinking about such grim matters, but who cares? The church observes Advent anyway.

Well, maybe not “no one else,” as the vast popularity of the Left Behind novels attest. These books, written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins, claim the Book of Revelation as their authority for their version of an Apocalypse in which, according to New Testament Scholar Barbara Rossing, “the heroes are an elite band of born-again Christians called the ‘tribulation force’ who drive gas-guzzling Hummers and carry Uzis.’

I have not read these books, but I did read an enlightening article in the Fall, 2007 Anglican Theological Review by the afore-mentioned Barbara Rossing, a Professor at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. “The so-called Rapture that forms the basis for the Left Behind novels is not traditional bible teaching,” she writes, “but was rather a nineteenth-century invention of the British pastor John Nelson Darby, founder of the Plymouth Brethren.” (p.555)

Yet The Book of Revelation can speak just as powerfully for Christians today as it did to the early church, claims Professor Rossing, “as a diagnosis of the illness of the imperial world, and as an urgent wake-up call about the future.” “What may be ending”, she continues, “is our unsustainable view of life [and]…our task must be to help people envision a way of life beyond empire, articulating God’s joyful and compelling vision for the future.” (p.553)

Rossing agrees that Revelation unveils the “end of the world,” but not in the sense of a destruction of the physical world (kosmos or ge in Greek), but the world as oikoumene, or “world order.” This Greek term is the one used in the New Testament in passages such as Luke 2:1, “…a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” It is that “imperial” world order that will be destroyed, not because God is a blood-thirsty avenger, but “through the logic of natural consequences,” (p.559). The heedless exploitation of people and environments has tragic consequences. “It is axiomatic (axios estin).” (Revelation 16:5) But “God wills not to destroy our world but to heal it.” (p.561)

According to Rossing, the Roman Empire represented a “toxic political economy” that “was built on deforestation, mining, slavery, [and] unjust globalized trade…” as colorfully described in Revelation 18:11-19. In contrast, Revelation “leads up to the wondrous vision of New Jerusalem…a vision… not of people being ‘raptured’ away to heaven, but rather, if anything, of God being ‘raptured’ down to earth (Rev. 21) to dwell with us… .” (p.560) “How can we reclaim our vision for planet earth?” asks Rossing. For her, it is “a vision of Jerusalem and all cities as places of justice and beauty, with a river of life flowing through the middle, welcoming all.” (p.561)