Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Matthew: On the Passion of Jesus Christ

What's the difference between Judas and Peter? goes the popular Bible-study question. "Peter repented' is the refrain. I'd forgotten it was a Matthean setup. And I have to say it gets at the heart of Matthew, in a way.

Like all the evangelists, Matthew's persuading people toward belief. But more than the other ones, Matthew is didactic in its persuasion. You believe in Jesus and in who Jesus is, like Peter, you're in the kingdom, like Peter, despite lapses of faith and serious human weakness.

You don't believe in Jesus and in who Jesus is, you side with the other side, then there's no going back for you, my friend, not if you don't want there to be. The centurions are going to mock Jesus? The joke's on them because everything they say is true. Look for what the wrong ones say, because incomprehension is a didactic theme.

In Matthew, we might learn as much from them as from the disciples. Listen to the crowds, as they chant for Jesus's triumph and soon demand for his crucifixion. If there ever was a direct address to the reader this must certainly be it.

But listen also to the ones who get it right: 'surely this man was the son of God,' or wherever the gospel is preached, this woman will be remembered for her faith'. Follow them, even, to the empty tomb. Don't follow the ones who leave Jesus behind and who must be gathered in again. Follow those who are faithful to Jesus in Matthew, and you follow them into history.

The mission to Jerusalem was a 'failure' not because the message has been changed beyond all recognition, but because the Temple had so corrupted God's people and its system had so embraced hypocrisy that they could not understand it. But the gospel happens anyway. Pay attention! says Matthew. This was all to have been expected.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XXII

Chapter Eight

October 6, 440 Y.A.

Grief is both unforgettable and unspeakable; words cannot purge its wounds of weight. And grief is wound, for both are loss, pieces of flesh torn from the body. Since Ryn Batyst died, my flesh has gone from me entirely. I sit here and write and know that my hands cannot be my own. I cannot be here, sitting at my table; I cannot feel myself doing the sitting. These must be someone else’s thighs, legs, arms and head, someone else’s chest and stomach.

It is someone else who accomplishes these things, who rises each morning to stare at himself in a cracked mirror – who broke it? when? – and scrape a blade across his face, wondering what would happen if he cut just a little lower. It must be someone else who does these things, who prepares himself one meal each day and hides, crouching in a corner, when the boys that Gurloes sends come to threaten to sell the booth right out from under him, the card of my damned Guild be damned.

It must be someone else who does those things, because I dwell in another place entirely. I dwell in a place where Ryn is not already dead, where I reenact my last few conversations with him without variance or success. They steer always toward the currents of the same arguments, grind to pieces against the rocks of my own obstinacy or of his. We always fight about the Blood of History. We always part and he always dies. Sometimes, I tie the noose around his neck myself.

It is too much, I know, that I would have such overdone fantasies, the stuff of which the Actor’s Guild would turn down with a sniff. Life may well be a play, but it must surely be a poorly written one. Its themes are far too obvious, its speeches far too subtle, to be conveyed by intentional humanity. For it is the unintentional that carries us, and the inhuman that conveys us home. It was inhumanity that carried me to Ryn or Ryn to me, and it is accident that sends me, like a man being ferried by someone whose oars he does not quite trust, back into the last days of Ryn Batyst again.

It is not that we were very close. It is, rather, that we were going the opposite direction, that I had long crossed paths with the man who would have been my father, if only I had allowed it. But I did not, and now that man is dead. Except that if I had allowed him, if I had said things quite differently, I would not have forsaken the Blood and he would not have listened so much to eager Adlasola and he would not then have moved before his time, and then he would not then have died. But I of course did allow it, so that we were like those Profusionist ships the rumors tell about, the ones who shipped out of their respective ports at the behest of no one anyone could see, toward ends no free human could fathom. And so now he is dead, though he would not be dead had I but allowed it...

It must surely be strange if the Profusion does come back to us from the void, because it is certainly to the void that we go, and the places between the stars must certainly be empty. What, then, will come back, when the universe refurls, when the far stars come near again, when all our dead come home? I’ll tell you about your mother, says Ryn Batyst. I believe she may have been extraordinary.

It was the last thing he said to me. At night, I curl around myself and cannot begin to weep.

At least she comes. In the evenings Adlasola brings me produce purchased from her small earnings, or, I suspect, pilfered by her even smaller hands. She once confessed to me that she simply cannot understand property as a concept. People must surely own themselves, she says, and spend their whole lives paying for it.

Everything else, she believes, is metaphor, and once carved a wooden fish to help me understand. “This fish,” she said, “doesn’t know that it was once a tree. But it will remember when it swims upstream.” I shook my head and laughed, but sometimes now wonder if I, perhaps, am wooden. I certainly feel as though I drown.

What she brings with her is not joy exactly. She is not pleased herself, though she did not know Ryn well enough to truly grieve. The Blood of History has not called her back, she says. She has never shared the memories of the ancient dead. I tell her that she brings to me her blankness, her bright and unassuming neutrality, and I cherish it later as relief. She tells me I remind her of the stevedores who work upon the docks, who carry such heavy bundles upon their backs that they look around surprised when they are gone. She promises me that mine someday will be. She still has not learned to knock.

Tonight she came and brought with her a bracing autumn chill, even after the warmth of afternoon. The little wind of her entrance caught up the finer tendrils of her red hair and shone them in the sunlight. Her plain clothes, brown shirt and shift, tumbled loosely around her as though astonished to find themselves there.

I believe she actually catches beauty by surprise. She’s no less fatalistic than I am, but her destiny is a series of happy and inevitable accidents, and though she wears mourning black, it is only because she has not yet understood Ryn’s death’s full import. When we finally see the whole, she says, I think we understand the parts for what they’ve been. The mistakes of a painting may be perhaps overshadowed or incorporated.

I want to kiss her when she talks like that, but I never know it until later.

She set a bottle of wine upon my table, as cheap as might be purchased, and still perhaps most of what she would have earned on any given day. When she moved, the rough open collar of her shirt showed more of her should and her neck, which then promptly disappeared as she sat back properly. She wore, just then, everything I did not know. Discovery is uncovering, Ryn Batyst had said, and revelation lays bare all that’s ever been. Mystery’s a shawl.

Sometimes I miss her when she’s in the very room. Adlasola, for her part, claims that she cannot describe herself. She lacks words for inner thoughts and feelings, and so must use her pictures. I often thought that I write and speak so much because I lack sufficient imagery – perhaps that is the remedy that my visions bring. Or perhaps we merely complement each other.

She poured out wine for both of us, when I’d set out the glasses. “How are you?” she asked.

I got up and closed the door she had left quite open. “The same,” I replied. “It’s never any better, and I don’t want it to be. But I am glad you came.”

She shook her head. “But you do not, I think, want it to get very much worse.” She started pouring, my glass and hers.

“It always gets worse. Don’t you know we live at dusk?”

She looked up at me. “I know the rituals. I think perhaps they are incorrect. This dusk, at least, must be very long.” I took her glass and mine, setting aside the fruit she’d also brought. I was not hungry, and thought she should at least be comfortable, rather than sitting in my scrapwood chair, she who cannot become accustomed to any furniture at all. In a stride, I was beside my fire, the open fireplace with which I also cook. There must have been a hundred thousand poor flames just like it, just then, all across the miserable city, but in that moment I thought it might be luxury.

She did not, in all her good graces, begin to disagree. Instead, she silently followed me, and sat down very close beside – mostly, I suspect, because there was very little other room.

I stared at the floor, shaking my head. “Gods, I miss him. Right or wrong, he always knew what to do. And I have no idea what to do at all. I’ll be out of the Guild by the end of the month, I’ll lose my stall next week. I don’t know how long I can keep the room. I depended on him, and so I of course didn’t realize everything he actually did.”

Adlasola folded her legs across each other. “You should not I think accuse yourself because Ryn Batyst abandoned you by dying. He chose you to succeed him.” I shook my head, raising my glass to drink, but she waved a hand that I should wait.

“Lead the Blooded,” she said. “He never wanted anything more perhaps than that.”

I sighed, because she suggests this every night. “It’s not my fight, Adlasola. I renounced the Blood of History for a reason. They’re insane – there’s no going back to that.”

She exhaled, making that sound that means either exasperation or disgust. “Why are you afraid, you men? Are you all afraid of becoming what you must be? Ryn understood this, and so he became that person even though it killed him. But that perhaps was the most that they could do. He was not humiliated, he was not shamed or shunned, he was not ground down. Are you so afraid to be like him, Del? I have always hoped that you would not be a coward.”

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XXI

“It was the Public of the Guilds,” he said. “They were almost all Blooded. Ryn worked for twenty years to see to that. I know because I was his man in the Miners Guild, only I never got up far enough to matter. People said I was careless with that cut-load that did me, and it cost me credibility. But when Batyst kept encouraging me to try and I saw one of the other Guild heads at a Blooding, the rest wasn’t too hard to figure out. He never did say, but he didn’t deny it, either.

“Anyway, the idea was to have the Historian mediate some dispute between the Guilds, late at night when they’d be the only ones in the Speaking Hall, right? I know because Batyst asked me to come, only I told him I’d be a real liability with this leg, and not being a Guild head anyway. Maybe I should have gone. I tell you I’ve never seen that man upset. But he was anxious. He was positively rattled.”

“It was too perhaps soon,” Adlasola offered. “I think he was not ready.”

The barkeep nodded. “Yeah, he mentioned something about maybe being infiltrated, and that he had to hurry to get ahead of them. But we know he didn’t. So he didn’t get the High Historian to the Speaking Hall alone. And by the number of armored suits that went clanking by here in the middle of that godsforsaken night, I suppose he probably didn’t come that close. None of the Guild heads did.”

“But they only executed Ryn today,” I said. “What about the others?”

Our compatriot shrugged. “They wanted Ryn Batyst because they knew who he was. They wanted information, probably still do. As for the rest...”

“Oh gods,” I said. “He offered the Public right into the Historians’ hands. Salaan got everything out of this he possibly could have wanted.”

Adlasola’s sharp intake of breath told me that she understood. “You mean he...murdered them? All of them? Even without arresting them?”

The barkeep looked at her. “Executions are the message, miss. They’re the letters the Historians send to the world. But all the meanwhile, they keep a secret journal, where their real power is. Anyone asks, it was a rivalry of the guilds escalated into outright assault. The High Historians Salaan, graciously accepting the responsibility of mediation at such an hour, arrived in time only to arrest the sole survivor and count the bodies where they lay.”

Adlasola looked as though she would be sick. “The Public of the Guild will be weak for years,” I said, because I thought it might distract her. “But you said the Temple probably still wanted information. Why? Ryn couldn’t have withstood the torture. No one does. Why haven’t we been taken, too?”

The barkeep met my eye. “By the time the Historians got to Ryn, it wouldn’t have mattered. The Blood of History wouldn’t let that happen. Information doesn’t get out. Ever. The minds of the ancient dead, he once told me, are deeply conservative machines.”

I shook my head, thinking I knew to what he was referring. “But the loyalty compulsions get overridden all the time. All you need is something to change the chemicals in your mind. If I had a coin for every time Ryn sent me to obfuscate something some drunk said in a place like this on too late a night...”

“No,” said the barkeep, shaking his head. “You don’t understand. What you think, it wasn’t going to happen. The Temple could have tortured him any way they wanted to, and Ryn could have told them everything he knew. But the Temple wouldn’t get names, wouldn’t get places, ever. Wouldn’t even get real words out of him. Ever, zero chance, and it’d be the same for you or I. You understand?”

I did, and was nearly sick myself. “So the Blood scrambled his brain,” I said. “That’s why he was quiet. There wasn’t anything left of him to talk. It was the Blood. It’s already inside us, all the time. So he didn’t say anything, because he wasn’t there to say. Ryn, the real Ryn, was already dead. The Temple was torturing a corpse. They were beating up a body. His mind was already gone.”

Adlasola sat very still. We all sat for a long time, staring into the darkness. There was one customer, an injured miner like the proprietor himself, whom he served while we two sat in silence, and whom he ushered quickly out. When the barkeep came back, Adlasola was more composed and I was halfway through drinking the pitcher of ale. I have no head for spirits, but thought it did not matter. Nothing did. I only dimly noted that the barkeep now held an index, one of those kind on which so many merchants keep their ledgers. I have never needed one.

“So what do we do?” she asked him, or quite possibly no one. “What perhaps would Ryn Batyst have wanted us to do?”

But the proprietor pointed to the ledger, with all its rows and columns. He slid it across the table toward me. I stared at it stupidly, as though I were some animal. “This is really what he came by for,” he said. “He knew I wouldn’t go. But he wanted someone else to know, and he made clear that you might come by and I was to give this to you if you did. I haven’t deciphered it, but I guess it’s the list. Every Blooded whose ever stepped inside the earth, their name, residence, age and occupation. What you were supposed to do with it, I have no idea. But he was damned clear what I was to be about.”

“Keep it,” I said. “I don’t want it.” I pushed it back across the table at him.

“Del,” said Adlasola, putting her hand on the page. “Don’t do this. The world has many frightened men. Don’t become another.”

“I won’t take it,” I said again. “I quit the Blooded. I forsook the Blood of History. The ancient dead are mad. They’re nothing to do with me.”

“It wasn’t a question, kid,” said the barkeep, pushing the index back. I did a quick reckoning and figured I might or might be able to overcome him. But nothing I did was going to make Adlasola happy.

“I’m done,” I said, closing my fist. “There’s nothing you can do that will make me take it back.”

“Del,” said Adlasola, “you I think are being idiotic. This is not the Blood of History. It is a paper only. It endangers this man while it is here. It endangers everyone. This man has connections to his guild, who they know had contacts with Ryn Batyst. They will be coming here.”

“Everything he did,” said the barkeep, “he did to protect the rest of us. If you don’t take it, the Blooded die as an organization here and now. I’ll burn it. It’s too much risk. Take it or the Historians win. Take it or our friend died for nothing!”

I sat still and did not move a millimeter, my eyes fixed on the edge of the table opposite. This time, I didn’t respond at all.

“Despite everything,” said Adlasola. “Despite everything you did and said toward the end, he still believed in you. This perhaps is his dying wish. Did you perhaps not believe in him at all?”

I shook my head. Adlasola took the paper and folded it inside her sleeve. “Then I will believe in you, until you perhaps are ready. I think it will be hard for me not to think somewhat less of you. I believe my own guild head, after all, may very well be dead. You are not the first person in the world to suffer, Del Tanich.”

When the barkeep started to protest her using names, she raised an arm to silence him. “You already know who he is,” she said. “We all know who he is, except for him. But he’s the only one who wishes he did not.”

I let my eyelids fall until they were almost closed. If I cried, I did not know it, but I heard the barkeep walk off to tend his glasses, before the evening crowd arrived.

“But still,” said Adlasola, “there are perhaps things which must be done. Neither of us I think has family. So I need to paint if I am going to eat tomorrow. And you need to go to the docks if you are going to work this week – this is the day your barge arrives, is it not?”

The proprietor must have overheard. “Oh, didn’t you hear that?” he said. “There’ll be no barge today. Maybe not ever. The war’s begun outright. Kasora’s taken Nesechia, too, as well as the Shuni Plateau before it. So they’ve got all Ostara now.

“So it’s the big one, the war between the continents. Historians always said that would be the last one, that the north would go one way and the south would go another, and in the end there’d be nothing left, and that was why we should all be loyal. But I never figured they’d start it up themselves.

Regardless, someone’s commandeered the ships. All our Profusionist ships slipped right out from their docks, whether there was anything or anyone aboard or not. And then they headed south. That’s true, I hear, for everywhere between here and the docks at Sepira by the sea. The Faith can’t do a thing about it. So no, there’ll be no barge this week, none of any kind, that’s certain.”

Adlasola dragged me toward the door. “We’ll find a way,” she said.

I could almost hear the barkeep shake his head. “Not if what they say is true,” he said. “Not if that was the work of them there spheres, those Orchids, as they call em. Not if this was all their doing, and they’re taking sides in our own war. Maybe it’s all bound up together. That much power against us, I don’t even want to think about.”

Adlasola shrugged, and steered me wavering through the door, and out into what had suddenly become a very steady rain. And I saw that we had spent the entire afternoon inside; dusk had dropped its great cloak, grayer even than my own, all across the city.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Christology: To An Abused Woman, Concerning Christ's Suffering

To the Mss. M. V. H*,

Life is suffering, but the Christian life is joy. Perhaps in this world you have confused the two, as one is often prone to do. Perhaps you think that the world is joyful, but that the Christian life is suffering, sobriety, and privation. Perhaps you feel that the believer, to be like Christ, must be apart from the world, and thus be afflicted by it.

The world, of course, wants you to think so, so that it will continue to have power over you, rather than you over it. But this is manifestly not so, as the Apostle Paul quite clearly says. And he suffered greatly, even as he found great joy. Indeed, what carried Paul through suffering was Paul’s own joy in Christ.

Please understand, it is not the opposite that happened. Paul’s suffering did not carry him through joy. Paul’s suffering did nothing for him, in the end. Endurances produces character, and character produces hope, but what I ask you is, hope for what? Paul certainly did not hope for more suffering, but rather for more of that joy of the kingdom of God of which we are all a part.

Is this not, then, the end of all our sufferings? If our highest purpose is joy, is it not on joy that we should fix our eye? If we are to be Christians, isn’t it so that our gaze should be transfixed by the One who gives us joy, and not by our own afflictions, whether they make us great or tear us down? I remind you that that which delights us has dangerous power over us. I fear you must ask yourself very carefully where the source of your delight must lie – is it in Christ? Or is it in your own suffering?

Notice that I say it is the Christian life that is joy, and not the life of Christ. The distinction is important, though seldom enough noted. The life of Christ is by its nature as different from the life of a Christian as the Christian life is distinct from the life of the world. And that is so because Christ must reign over all; take heart, for he has overcome the world! He must certainly be over the life of any Christian, and He must be beyond it.

You are too proud, I think, if you continue on your present course. Would you deprive Christ of his victory, by re-entering the lists? Would you summon the powers of darkness, and rise up against the Adversary himself? Would you take the Lord’s place, by climbing up upon His own cross? Would you defy the will of God, which Jesus Christ himself did not forsake? I know that you would not.

Life is suffering. From this no soul, however faithful, can be exempt. It is true of Christian and atheist, Buddhist and Jew. To be humble before our God is to confess that our life will be no different in its essence. You can do nothing to escape this groaning world. No one can. The question the Christian must ask is what he or she can add to it. What boon can we ourselves grant the world? How can one add the Christian life of joy unto the base life of suffering in the world?

A fierce atheist can be mistreated by her husband and be made harder by it. But it will be a true Christian indeed who can overcome the evil of her husband by so manifesting her love of Christ that he must certainly repent. You speak of enduring trouble, but can you overcome it? You say your husband would be lost without you, but when he is with you, what has he found? Does he – not will he, not could he possibly, for now is the time to speak very frankly of everyone involved – does he find the joy of the love of Christ in you, who he so mistreats?

If you would cast yourself as Him – and I pray that you would not – does your husband not then take the part of the pugilizing Romans, who know not what they do? If you think not of yourself and the goodness of your own pain – as, again, I know that you do not, lest you be presumptuous – but if you think not of yourself, but of your husband, I ask you, what boon do you grant him by allowing him to treat you so? Not all who are shown the truth repent, as Christ himself proclaims. The same Pharisees with whom He has so many conversations, and to whom He discloses so much truth, are those same Pharisees upon whom He pronounces woe.

Perhaps that is the best, sometimes, that even He can hope to do. And would we think that we would succeed, where He himself would not? If you stay with your husband, acting as he does, you accept his proposition that you make him a better person. Satan get behind you! Far be it from you to consider such a work! Far be it from anyone to attempt what only the Lord Himself can do!

But the Christian life is joy. Are your children happy, with a terror in their home and a mother who takes upon herself all the burdens of the world? What do they learn of Christ if their father only causes suffering, and their mother only silently endures it? How different is their home, then, from all the other homes of all the suffering mothers of the world? From the world one can certainly learn much about the law of God.

But from the world not one soul can learn God’s grace, the goodness that overcomes the world. And there is no goodness at the end of the road you are upon.
Men who abuse do so because of wounds and distortions within themselves. They abuse more than once. They abuse more than one woman, because the women in their lives are interchangeable. Your husband’s abuse has little to do with you. He learns nothing from it because marriage is not for instruction, but for delight. So I hope you understand what I mean when I say that what your husband does is sin and that the wages of sin is death, and that the road you are on ends with you and possibly your children dead and your husband a criminal at large or quite possibly arrested. What joy can you give your children in this way?

You see, the world would have you understand this backwards. It would have you think that suffering is a result of choice, and that joy comes to us by and large through chance, whether by love or wealth or pleasurable association. I am here to tell you that for the Christian it is suffering that is chance and joy that is our willful choice, because we choose whether or not to delight in our Lord and Savior. Yes, I say to you that suffering is chance, not because it is escapable, but because it is unnecessary.

God does not need pain. Our salvation, heaven forbid, does not require sin, either yours or your husband’s. God does not need any of our works, whether good or ill. What part, then, can human malice have in the ultimate will of God? The pain your husband inflicts on you and on your children – do not say to me that they are not in pain! – that pain is in no wise necessary. It is not necessary, and it is not helpful.

Please understand, you will not escape suffering no matter what you do. That is another lie the world would tell you. If you want pain, you will find it outside the confines of your home. If you want tribulation, you will find it in the world aplenty. If you want endurance, the world will burden you with concerns more than sufficient for the day. But I pray that it will be for the name of Jesus Christ. You say your husband harms your body and your heart, but does he do so because you are a Christian? Really and truly? We know that he does not.

Please understand, there is a large difference between enduring pain because you are human and receiving it for professing the name of Christ. Only the second is prescribed by Scripture. The first is warranted even by the world, because even survival warrants suffering. But to suffer something is only to allow it continue. And that yoke, as you and I both know, is neither easy nor light.

Life is suffering, but the Christian life is joy. The Christian is the one who is most truly lives, because true life is joy. But tell me, do you think more often of Christ, or of your husband? Have you added delight unto the suffering of your house? Of your community? I confess that I have missed you in the church. When you come, you are not here. You seem always so much distracted – distracted and afraid, as of course you surely must be! But again I tell you it is not necessary.

I think of all the great things you could do, you and your children, for the sake of the love of God in this community! I would have you commit your whole heart, the entirety of your being – forsaking mother and father for His name – rather than continuing a life divided. Surely you must feel it. Certainly you must know that you are split. You are sundered because you are secret. You cannot tell, or you have not been able to tell, very many people about your husband’s hard behavior. And you will not be able to if you continue, because the road you are on does not permit it.

So, yes, keep your eye on the cross by any means at your disposal. But keep your eye on the tomb as well, and most of all on He who has already filled up both. Such things cannot be done by you. But they were done for you. Unless he is an immediate threat to the safety of you and your children, I cannot tell you, in a letter, whether or not you must leave your husband; I would first have to meet with the both of you, and ask that you come as soon as it is possible. But I can tell you to look for Easter. Look for the resurrection, without which all even He has done is vain. Because that is what the cross was for.

Look to Christ, yes, but follow also the eyes of Christ, who looked not only to the cross, but also to the Father. “If it is your will, take this cup from me,” was not said for the sake of Jesus Christ, who did not seek to save or lose himself. Rather, it was said for your sake, because it was you He hoped to find. Neither He nor I would have you lost to the violence of your husband. You have a home quite beyond your own. You have a home in the kingdom of your Father, who promises good things for you.

What Jesus came to tell you is that that kingdom is already here. Heaven is coming now. You already have a Husband who will never harm you nor forsake you, who does not need you, but who loves you and only wants your love in turn. With one hand you’ve found Life that gives life, and with the other survival that merely suffers its own continuation. Which would you choose? And I tell you it is a choice, not because one can choose whether or not to suffer but because one certainly can choose how. Will you choose to suffer for yourself, thinking that you suffer for your family but helping them not at all? Would you continue to seek to find or lose yourself in pain? Or would you think of finding Jesus Christ in the body of His members?

Because you are not alone in this. You are not responsible only to yourself and to your husband. You are also bound to Him and to His church, neither of whom can be increased by the measure of your suffering. Indeed, we suffer with you. We weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn. We are one body, and we are of one mind . When you are struck, we are struck. When you are cursed, we are cursed. How horrible for your husband, to do this to the Lord! But for his sake, and for yours, I pray also that we would rejoice with your joy, and that come soon. It will not come while your husband hurts you, while your husband hurts us all.

Life is suffering, but the Christian life is joy. Without Christ there is no joy, but in Him that joy must come certainly. Bear your crosses patiently, but mind that crosses can only come from the will of the Father, which is love. Conversely, I tell you quite clearly that one can only bear the cross that one does not will upon oneself; the cross one chooses is only an arrangement. How is love increased, when your husband strikes you? How is love increased when he insults you? How is love increased in fear, if love drives out fear? Wherever two or more are gathered, there is He, but your husband does not strike you or your children for His name.

What, then, can you see when you look in your husband’s eyes, or he into yours? In the eyes of one another, we see Christ and love abounds, but how can you see Christ in the fists and curses that our Lord condemned? How can he see Christ in your eyes, when he cannot see you at all? In allowing your husband to continue as your adversary, do you not condemn him to his face? No, no, I pray that this cannot continue. Love bears all things, endures all things, but love must also be genuine, or it is not good. It must be without dissimulation. Love must be without its opposite, which is contempt. When your husband strikes you, he thinks less of you, as you must think, I know, a little less of him. I pray you both be freed.

In love there is freedom, because love is what releases us. Love cannot take our cross away, but the Spirit of love can take us up out of our own tombs. And you are not yet free; you are still bound. You do what you do not want to do, or you would not have written me. You may or may not want to die, but you certainly want to live, because to be His bridegroom is to want the water of His life, which never ends. You are on a road that ends. Suffering ends, just as the life of this world must one day end.

But the joy of Christ is that road which does not end, but only goes on forever into the kingdom of God’s own love. So this, and all of this, I pray that you will do: choose to live rather than to suffer; choose to enjoy rather than survive; choose to love rather than endure; choose to tell, rather than conceal; choose to join, rather than to separate; and choose to walk in freedom, rather than to stand in defiance and in fear.

Come, come quickly, and I know the Lord will show us by His Spirit that which we must do.

You servant,
Benjamin Shank

*both the name and the woman are ficticious

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XX

“Citizens of Ariel,” Marl’s voice boomed again, though I could not see him. He must have been speaking from inside the Temple. “Today, we do not killed a man. We kill a thief, a heretic, a disruptor and corrupter of the peace. An enemy of the people who disrupted the Profusion at the heart of all things.

“We kill not for retribution, but the health of Ariel. The Temple...kills no criminals. Instead, we kill crime. You see, evil does not exist until humans do it. Evil doesn’t enter this city, but evil does come out of it. Evil courses through it. So Ariel must be cleansed. And this city will be pure.

“The Jade Temple of the History of the Profusion has seen many wicked cities, and has purged all of them. Evil comes, and evil falls away. It does not endure, it does not triumph. But it threatens, it threatens us perpetually. But we will not be deterred. The laws of the Profusion live forever. They will endure when this city has long since turned to dust.

“May the lingering grace of the Profusion extend to this soul mercy in his next life, for he will not find it here. Amen.”

Great silence fell, marking the customary pause for reflection after any Historian has spoken. Then the procession started toward the scaffolding again. Two Greens had had to hold Batyst upright the entire time that Marl spoke.

Adlasola turned and buried her face in my embrace. “It’s so terrible,” she said. “I see but I cannot see this.” I gathered her in a muffling embrace. I wasn’t going to watch it either. I was too numb to take it in. In all my years of Temple service, I had never seen an execution before that day. I was reminded of nothing other than the night I held a beggar child of my own age, as he breathed out his rattling last. Suddenly, that seemed an execution, too; the boy had starved because Temple taxes had forced him outside of his own parents’ home. I hadn’t thought of him again until today.

Batyst and his guards reached at last the scaffold. The metal shoes the Temple had given Ryn thudded heavily against the wood. A workman shimmied up the beam to tie the rope in place, in accordance with the ceremony and so that spectators would see it was not tied too short or too long. I held Adlasola and shrank further inside myself. They would know our names by now. They had long known our faces, and would soon bring both together. And Batyst was going to die. No longer did I permit those electric shafts of hope that had pierced the morning, fierce fantasies that the Blooded would come storming the stage and carry Ryn Batyst away.

For there would be no riot. No one else knew enough of the Blooded to bring together. Whoever else had been with him had surely been killed or captured. There would be no rescue because there was no longer any Blooded movement. Ryn was going to die for nothing.

I stayed in the square because there was no place else to go to, no building the Green Guards could not eventually reach. If the Temple of History decides that at last it once you, there is no place in all Thaeron that will make you safe.

The workmen handed off the rope. The executioner placed it around Ryn’s neck and arranged him so that he stood squarely over the trap door. He asked the prisoner if he had any ultimate words. Ryn stood silently, weaving back and forth with weakness. I nearly screamed at him, rage that he would die without protest.

But I will remember. I’ll not forget the glint of sun on the spinters of the planks or the bored faces of the workmen or the feigned nonchalance of the guards. I’ll not forget the slap the trap door made against some support when it fell from beneath his feet. Ryn made a hoarse rattling sound, and after a while there came a shameful smell when his bowel and bladder voided. And then Ryn Batyst hung still at last, the horror of it caught like hoarseness in my throat. And the crowd, in bored satiation, broke up and walked distractedly away.

We of course could do no differently. “Del,” Adlasola said, “we perhaps must leave.” The great Temple doors were opening, even as two Greens dragged the body of Ryn Batyst back beneath the Temple where he will be, like all Thaeron’s dead, incinerated, so that his spirit can follow the traces of the grace of the Profusion to whatever place among the stars where it still abides in full.

It was time now, as well, for the noon rite, when Historians lead the faithful in prayerful contemplation of that moment when the Profusion fell, and ended the great morning of all human history. Indeed, it is the studied genius of the Temple to align the turns of history with the seasons of the day as well as the hours of the year. Thus we remember that History is in no wise past, but something to be contemplated in different modes – we are fast approaching that time of year that most marks the present, for example, when the dusk of autumn will doubly mark Thaeron’s certain place on the edge of future darkness, even as summer afternoons mark the long decline that we call the wars between the cities, when so much of the grace and wisdom of the Profusion did slowly wane, and so much machinery was slowly lost. All of it will soon be gone entirely – that is what dusk and autumn both must surely mean. Sunset, that time when the first Faith once again brings all the world together in colored beauty, is only a reprieve. Darkness soon shall come, however long the light might linger.

Dimly, I nodded. She took my hand and I took her wrist. We walked away together, supposing that the Historians would not think to find us both together into the Gates. She of course had to lead the way; only she knew the tavern to which she had referred, and I was too dispirited to ask. I kept watching the dust that the great river of pedestrians kicked up beneath its feet.

“Faster,” she said, and I did try. The Greens especially frown upon all lingering. But even keeping with the crowd, another two or three eternities oozed by. I kept contemplating the moment when Ryn Batyst hung still, and thinking that he had not said a thing. Why not? Why would one not even decry one’s own murderers? Thinking this, I could only be relieved that a great rank of clouds had come to blot out the sun. The sudden darkness seemed appropriate.

“In here,” Adlasola said, and led me off to the right and down a set of stairs. The oldest saloons were dug into the ground like cellars, to keep the merchandise chill. And it was cool, dark and dampened like a cave. “A miner’s bar,” Adlasola said, referring to those poor souls who cut Ariel’s white stone from its surrounding mountains, or from the riverbed whenever they redirected it.

“Yeah,” someone laughed from behind the bar, “you’d think they’d want to get away from it, wouldn’t you?” From the darkness emerged a man perhaps fifty years old, the crags and lines of his face exaggerated by light of the torch he carried, his back and shoulders firm but slumped, muscled but showing the accumulation of several years of well-earned accommodation.

“Course,” he said, “I shatter my leg, and what do I work with my Guild to get? This godsdamned miner’s bar, with all the same old faces. Should’ve took the payout.” His grin faded as he recognized Adlasola. “Corner booth, backs to the door. No names. I’m sorry.”

I looked around to find the bar around us empty; there are no other torches or candles in the darkness. “He needs to see if someone else walks in,” explained Adlasola. “At this time of day, I think it would not be a miner.” She placed a silver coin out on the table when we reached it. Her confederate joined us momentarily and slid a pitcher of ale between us precisely where the coin had been. He poured out three glasses and sat for a long time gazing at the darkness we all sat in. Neither I nor Adlasola hurried him.

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIX

Chapter Seven

September 42, 440 Y.A.

I’ll not forget that day. Because neither of us slept, dawn came tinged with that fatigue that distorts both perception and emotion – and anxiety only took us further. We only stopped standing in her doorway when the first troop of vendors shuffled east, glum and wordless in the dawn, their brown backs bent beneath loads and packs of flour and of yeast. Long ago, the Bakers Guild had realized that market vendors needed breakfast too, and negotiated a special dispensation from the Temple, which insists that selling without sun is sin. What the bakers eat, I suppose, no one has ever risen soon enough to know.

Such were my thoughts. The mind accelerates when worry finds no new information, expanding upon irrelevant detail. But the sound of the baker’s clogs on the stone had startled us inside. When you expect the guards to come for you, every sound brings them near.

“Do you know anyone?” she asked. “I mean, anyone who would know?”

“No one close,” I said, thinking of the aged farmers north of Ariel. “No one in the city. You?”

She nodded. “The owner of a saloon in the Gates, the man who inducted me. He bought a painting from me the very next day and was deliciously embarrassed. But,” she added sighing, “perhaps the square is all the further we’ll need to go.”

I could only nod in turn. Executions take place over the Healing Well, so that the condemned might hope that their souls, at least, will be restored as the First Faith’s once was.

“We should go, then,” I said. “We’ll learn nothing just waiting here.” The executions, if any, will not be announced. The first Faith’s edict that all executions shall be public doesn’t stop the Temple from holding them without announcement. Those who need to see, the Temple argues, will come. Those who would constitute the public eye must volunteer.

Adlasola looked at her paintings, nodding. “Truly, I make nothing today.” We turned out the door and left. Whether we closed it or not, I surely do not know. But I do recall that as we left the first beggar’s wail rang through the streets, their joint ululation an older timekeep than the first clock of the first guild that ever was. It is a song I myself remember participating in, precisely at the sunrise, and I doubt it will ever fail to haunt me. It is the song of hunger and of poverty, and of everything the Temple surely must continue. It is the song of human hopelessness, and I do not doubt that I shall hear it in my grave.

Adlasola shivered, and gathered my great gray cloak around her. I’d given it to her deep in the night, when even Ariel’s mild climes grow chill. Somehow, it felt even colder now, and I saw our breath mist upwards into the sharp sunshine that was just then climbing down into the streets. We walked swiftly as we could, brushing past bunches of jugglers and a brace of knife-makers gossiping about their trade. Every guard eyes us suspiciously, no matter the color of their armor. Both my name and hers would be prominent if they had him, and if Ryn Batyst broke under torture. But I had no doubt he would. The Temple always finds its answers. I have never paid as much attention to a crowd as I did that day, and counted eight eternities until we finally arrived.

The scaffold was huge and wooden and erect, constructed from the same planks the Temple always uses for such purposes. But it was built in the manner common to that of other instruments of its kind, a skeleton of lumber cut to raw planks and beams and weathered from its storage space behind the Temple. I remembered finding that pile many years ago, as a curious urchin child not yet tamed by Historian Staleph’s Rule for Building Productive and Harmonious Youth. Noting that the hired workmen for the most part had departed for the day, I felt little older standing there much later, my childhood quite behind me.

Salaan wasn’t going to dismantle it, of course. A mind as subtle as his would want to know how the populace reacted to the public threat of execution. Adlasola and I stopped cold.

“We don’t know,” she said. “We don’t know who it is.”

I nodded weakly. I had few doubts. It was too much coincidence.

“Ryn Batyst,” a voice behind us said. Adlasola’s face cracked like an egg, though she recovered in an instant. I turned to face the man, and found one of those with pale, plump faces and oversized, pouting lips who tend to populate such events. “Know who that is?” he asked, with repulsive eagerness. Those who volunteer to watch are seldom those who should. I shook my head. Many would not know, necessarily, the Head of the Smiths or a sitting member of the Public of the Guilds. I need not count myself among them. The man passed on, and Adlasola looked at me strangely. I looked at the ground and prayed that the lingering grace of the Profusion would return full flush in the next instant and I would not have to watch my friend die a hanging death.

“You don’t have to,” said Adlasola. “We could leave –”

I shook my head. “I never had a father. At least, I didn’t think I did.” I looked at the ground and thought. Another twelve eternities ground by, writhing and tangling together like worms in fresh-turned earth. The shadows of the scaffold shifted. It turned toward midmorning; noon, I remembered from my instruction, is the customary time for executions. They’re torturing him, I thought. Right now, they’re subjecting him to pain a thousand times greater than that I received in getting my scars. I redirected a second unhealthy man who thought I might have some acquaintance with the accused. A short while later, Adlasola restrained me from pummeling a third. The bakers set out the best of their morning work, and yeast and spices filled the air. A while later and all around us, the beggars wailed for their midday meal.

“It isn’t safe,” she said. “We might draw attention.” Her hand clenched my shoulder and it hurt. I think it took me a long time to answer. All morning long, I had watched only the guards and lingering workmen. There’d been no Historians to recognize us.

“It isn’t even unjust,” I said. “He was really going to try to kill them.” Four workmen were playing one last round of cards. A full squad of eight Green Guards lounged here and there against supporting struts – tired, I supposed, from their long night of excruciation. Had he even killed any of them? Had Batyst so much as gotten inside the Temple?

“It’s unjust,” she said, “that he is there and I am not.” Her voice was small and quiet, like a child’s. I shook my head but found nothing else to say.

When the sun came directly overhead they brought him out. The Temple has its own prison, of course, in the levels beneath its cellar, though it has often been too full of late to hold new arrests, and most of its prisoners end up in the care of the Whites regardless. But Ryn Batyst had been held there for questioning, and they brought him up through a gate in the western wall whose stairs, I knew, went three levels straight down.

First came his grand, proud head, covered in that same jade hood and mask that is worn by the Temple’s executor. The public cheered and I joined in, lest Adlasola and I appear suspicious. Adlasola only watched me anxiously. Then his broad shoulders rose above the earth, garbed in the burlap clothes of Temple prisoners and stooped with, I hoped, the fatigue of his efforts to escape. Then came the ample chest and stomach and hips. Ryn rose, sliding upwards from the earth like some earthen sun.

But he also lurched. He staggered and could barely stand. Two of the Green Guards supported him once he had reached the level of the street. I thought he must have been hot in the coarse burlap the Temple had provided. The cool of the morning had gone and I began to sweat beneath my clothes. I was holding my cloak again, though I could not remember when Adlasola handed it back to me. She looked at me strangely again, and I frowned.

“What – ” I began to ask. The procession toward the scaffolding had paused.

“Del, I –” she started again, then stopped.

“Citizens of Ariel!” boomed a voice from the electronic system that limns the Temple walls. I started not only at the sound, but also at the intonation. Adlasola gasped, though I knew she could not know the man. For she had killed Senre, and not Salaan, and this was not even that latter, whose authority is so supreme that even the urchins in Ariel know the cadences of his voice. No, the Temple had sent no grand official to speak condemnation over Ryn Batyst. They had sent instead the Apprentice Marl, the understudy of a dead and discredited official.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Matthew: On the Healing of the Paralytic

On the Healing of the Paralytic

I just finished reading about a woman who, in the wake of a series of illness-related deaths in her family, developed her own case of incurable cancer - without ever discussing her own reaction to the family tragedy. In order to help her prepare for her coming death, she started taking therapy and finally discussed what had happened to her sisters. Her cancer then went into full and complete remission and has not since returned. (it's from Edwin Friedman's From Generation to Generation).

Now that's not biblical exegesis per se, but if the Orthodox have been right for the last thousand years that sin is an illness in a very real sense of the term, reading the healing of the paralytic isn't all that difficult to understand. Sin is a cancer, sin is paralysis. The point is the forgiveness and the liberation. Forgiving heals. This is why the authority for forgiveness matters, particularly to Matthew: it is a very great power. Perhaps that is why Luke, in its focus on spiritual powers, jumps to the Pharisees so quickly - they don't, after all, even attempt to heal the man themselves. They can't. But Jesus can, says Matthew, and can because he has been given authority by God.

If indeed the Matthean community was an offshoot of Temple Judaism, there would indeed be the question of authority. That's probably the first question that comes up in 'alternative communities' - where does the authority to do these things come from? In this case, it comes from Jesus and we know that from stories like this one. In Jesus' case, it came from God.

The other differences between the gospel are perhaps less overtly significant. Luke doesn't place Jesus anywhere with this story, but says that the people had come from everywhere - from all Judea and Galille and Jerusalem - owing to Luke's theme of universal salvation. Only Matthew has Jesus, in response to the accusation of blasphemy, ask the Pharisees why they hold evil in their hearts - because Matthew is increasingly defining that community over against the Temple Judaism the Pharisees represent.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVIII

“You’re here,” she said, when I arrived. She stood with her arms crossed behind her back, hands touching their opposite elbows.

I realized then that I have never truly understood her. I find her graceful motion and postures as inevitable as they are surprising. I can’t understand the fine hair of her arms, or the strands that fall to her neck when she ties her hair above her head. Not her easy cracking laughter or her hands still carrying traces of whatever soil she’s been tending in her garden, or the oils she’s been using for her paints. I can’t understand her cooking or the way truth bursts astounded from her mouth.

“I am glad,” I finally said.

“You were not so glad I think a while ago. But perhaps I was glad for you.”

She motioned me inside. I could still hear the noises of the street, subdued through the walls. By day people can forget the siege and the war and briefly laugh or smile. By day the Orchids, it seems, are much less visible.

“I’m sorry if I was cruel. People aren’t fully themselves, I think, when they are ill.”

She frowned. “But then who are they? On the contrary, perhaps people are more themselves then than at any other time. I think illness strips away pretenses. But you don’t have to worry. You were only shy and silent, like a frightened child. You seemed terrified of what was happening to you, like you couldn’t control it? But of course it was your idea all along. But I only meant, of course, that you weren’t glad because you were sick.”

I stepped inside. “Well, I’m glad to be well.”

I looked around her rooms, of which I had not been cognizant either in my illness or in my enraged departure that morning. And her rooms...reflect her, seeming a constrained clutter of things intentionally placed. On her open windowsill, a piece of wood wraps around a bar of Profusionist metal, rocking softly in the wind. On her walls hang what I supposed to be her most recent art: Thaeron transformed into an Orchid, the Faith wearing a wakened white veil and a jade Historian cloak. In a third painting, a golden sun illuminates mastodons crowding the market in late afternoon. Beneath it on the floor sits a rock rounded by the Profuse river, and a particularly imaginative clay statue of a Profusionist exultant, with her wings extended. Against one wall leaned an oil painting of screaming men and mastodons charging a wall of golden light. And one still unfinished etching showed a Shuni heatwhip wrapped around a quicksword.

I started, remembering what I’d been saying. “I’m glad everywhere, now. I am grateful. Do you mind?”

“Your being grateful?” She laughed, waving toward a chair. She returned to the kitchen, where I smelt dinner stirring. “What for?” she asked.

“Everything I haven’t seen before. I meant: do you mind me here?”

“And I meant: what for? To who are you so indebted?”

Wreaths of flowers hang everywhere, petals not quite the colors of the paintings. Everything seems almost, but not quite, a pattern. I asked her how she makes these kinds of decisions.

“Who can tell?” she asked me back.

“Anyway,” I said, “I’m not grateful to anyone, specifically. Or glad for any particular thing. I feel I owe someone something I cannot give. And I’m even glad of that. I don’t understand.”

“I think perhaps you don’t have to understand. But you are welcome.”

I laughed. “But I didn’t thank you.”

She offered bread, cheese from the market. She still sells her paintings there. I ate, speaking between bites. “How are you?” I asked, when I belatedly remembered myself.

“Trying to decide something.”

“What?” I was of course truly curious, and not only feigning it.

She sat on a mat she’d unrolled on the floor, using her calf for a seat. At my puzzled expression, she explained that she didn’t understand beds or any other furniture. She kept chairs solely for her guests.

“I can’t say,” she said, “exactly what I’m deciding. But then who can?”

I reached out and wrapped my hand around not her hand, but her wrist, in that sort of accident of gesture which occasionally occurs. And found I did not want to let go. Beneath my fingertips stirred the rhythmic susurration of her pulse. I would feel that living hum forever, because it meant that I was not alone. But of course she moved with an odd laugh and said it felt odd, though she pulled away only slowly.

How long we ate and talked I cannot say, though when I finally looked out the windows again it was long past dark; both the moon and Orchids had fully risen. I finished the last of the bread, realizing that though I’d enjoyed the conversation, I could not possibly have remembered everything we’d talked about. But just then we must have been talking about intuition, or perhaps it was the unknown.

“Now mystery,” I said, “that I understand. Batyst is nothing but mystery. Do you know the Temple believes we’re actually some kind of heretical cult? But that’s reminded me of something he told me to tell you, when I saw him this morning. I wanted to right away, but forgot it because I was so glad to see you. At any rate, he says you don’t have to come to the Public of the Guilds tomorrow, because not everyone will be attending.”

I looked up at her gasp. She was putting down her bread with a quick emphatic motion.

“What?” I asked. “What’s wrong? Surely you weren’t so eager to paint a conference.”

She shook her head. “No,” she said. “I think there’s no meeting at all, if not everyone attends. But it’s a code that he arranged the last time we met. It means that he attacks the Temple tonight, Del. It means he’s been forced I think to move before he wanted to. It means perhaps that there is something wrong.”

I stood and bolted toward the door. And I would have run down the street and right into the Temple, were it not for Adlasola’s arresting hand; her grip was astoundingly strong upon my arm.

“Del,” she said, “Del! This a code for me, you understand? For me. It means there’s nothing I or you can do. He has been planning this for twenty years, but I do not know his plan. If we went we would only foul it or get arrested or killed ourselves. And you were his hope. Whatever he said, he did all of this for you. So perhaps we should just wait? We should stay and see what happens, then decide what to do, I think. Okay? Okay?”

I nodded, knowing she was right. I relented and slumped against the doorframe; she stepped out in front of me so that she could have the same perspective. And the Temple was visible, somehow, or at least its spire was, so I watched , we both watched, to see if Batyst had won, if he had accomplished that conflagration that he had promised for so many years would happen. I refused to move again.

But, dear reader, though we watched so long that Adlasola sweetly slumped against me and I held her while the stars wheeled overhead, and the dark spheres of the Orchids plied their courses, there was not a sound that was not entirely natural to a quiet summer night in Ariel. So incongruently pacific was the anxious, endless stretch we shared that it was not until the first pale light of dawn was creeping over the mountains that I realized that one sound, at least, that should have been there had not actually occurred.

“There are no patrols,” I told her. “No Whites or Greens have passed at all. That only happens when they’ve been recalled, when there’s been a real disturbance. But there’s been nothing. The Temple’s quiet. It means they’ve won. Whatever else has happened, the Temple surely has Ryn now.”

Friday, July 23, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVII

Batyst stood; I realized he was actually discomfited. “She took the knife, and she is a woman all her own. She is no more yours than mine. It is not my fault that she has not been for you as you might like.”

“But she’d never killed anyone! She was innocent. They’ll be after her. Gods, what if she had failed? What if she’d been seen? The Temple will be mad for vengeance.”

“The chief agent was the poison in his meal,” Run said, frowning. “He was blind and nearly paralyzed by the time she would have reached him. You should know by now, Del, that I am nothing if not cautious.”

I felt my features forming that expression that communicates disgust. “Do you mean she wasn’t even necessary? She killed the Head Historian as some kind of act of insurance? I had not realized it before, but you truly are a bastard.”

“She survived to care for you, and I know she did so sweetly. As you said, she truly was eager that the Blooded should do something.”

A tremor of fear shot through me; I had another moment’s intuition. “By the graces, what do you want? What do you intend to do with her?”

Ryn Batyst frowned again. “You’ve vanished from my dreams now, Del. The dead within the Blood of History no longer mention you.”

I swore. “I still hate the Temple! Just because I don’t –”

Ryn shook his head. “The plan is of the Blood, and it is for the Blooded. I do not know your place in what I’m building now. So I cannot use you. But I must use someone. Too much depends on me. The success of our freedom cannot depend on my victory because that is not guaranteed. Of all things, that is not guaranteed.”

“But I could – gods, you’ll kill her! You’ll be the death of her!”

“I do not know if you could go back now, Del. But would you?”

I slumped against the room’s central wooden post; I found myself looking out Ryn’s east window, which the day’s first sun was finding. I shook my head.

“No,” I said. “Strangely, I think, because of the very thing you’re fighting for. I know what freedom is. It feels like one does in late afternoon, when all the buildings glow. It’s all the small, trivial things you do without realizing, but which you’d miss dearly if they were taken away. But the Blood of History does take them away, because you used to enjoy those things without realizing it, but now you don’t enjoy them at all, because all that pleases you is the presence of the minds of the ancient dead. No, I wouldn’t go back if it killed all the Historians in the world.”

Ryn smiled. “I had not thought of that. Perhaps your presence in the kingdom is precisely what I’m fighting for. Every building must have its inhabitants. Freedom needs a denizen. Perhaps that is what the Blood of History meant. It’s never the builders, after all, who actually live inside.”

I started to protest, but Ryn waved me to silence. He started to pace the room. “Del, do you remember your mother?” he asked.

I believe I actually blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“You were orphaned as a child. But how far back do you remember? What color was her hair? Do you remember her?”

I nodded. “A little. Walking with her, down the street, my hand in hers. The buildings were white, like her dress. That’s how I know I was born here. But her hair was long and I think her eyes were green. That’s all I remember, walking.”

“Nothing other than that? Nothing earlier and by yourself?”

I shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

Ryn grinned in that way which men grin when they have pleasant secrets they are not yet ready to share. “Remember, Del, that we carry always our selves inside ourselves. We are our own containers, and when we break we meet ourselves inside.”

I laughed. “I know you don’t expect me to understand that.”

“The Temple must fall, Del. The Blooded must do it, and soon. This is no rebellion, and we are no mob. This is revolution, and we are a new society. So we depend on revelation, which is all the truth that’s ever been. Even if we have forgotten it.”

“I’ll admit that doesn’t sound very new to me.”

Ryn laughed now, too. “No, not new. But some truth you can’t see until it happens. Winter turns to spring. Illness gives up to health. Acquaintance becomes friendship or animosity. That’s what’s coming. An inevitable surprise. Something neither of us can see.”

“That’s how betrayals happen, too.” I did not know who I was referring to.

Ryn grinned again, and I could not help feeling more at ease. “You cannot come to Bloodings, Del. And I’ll not hear you critique the Blood again. You will not know our plans, because they are too dangerous. And they will be more so. But you yourself are free to come and go in whatever way you please. And I do like you, Del. I like you for your own merits and not because of the Blood or the Wells or the wishes of the dead. You must understand this. Please come – see me as your time allows.”

Reader, I nodded. What else could I do?

Ryn crossed his hands before his chest. “And now, because I like you, some advice – no more orders. But remember, Del: lovers cannot always be together. And it matters very much more what they do when they are apart than what they do together. It matters how you affect each other. So be clear. Live clearly. You have no time for hesitation.”

The guild clock rang the hour. It was time that I return to market.

“Be careful, Ryn,” I said. “Especially with her. Whoever you think she is, she is not that person.”

“I do not think that she is who anyone thinks she is. That is why you like her. And it is a significant mark in her favor. I did not misuse you. She will get no less of my regard. But which matters more, do you think: how we live, or the manner in which we die? Tell me, while you were ill, did you have another of those dreams?

I swallowed. “A white army, terrible and cruel. A woman wearing white, breathing whiter wind and wearing blood for hair.”

Batyst smiled one last time. “Come soon, Del, when we have more time. I may have met your mother. I’ll tell you what I know. And I believe she was extraordinary.”

I nodded and turned at last, but paused when Ryn’s great hand fell upon my shoulder. “Oh, and Del?” he said. “Tell Adlasola that she need not come to tomorrow’s meeting. I thought she could paint the Public of the Guilds in session, but it seems not everyone will be attending. Be sure to tell her that would, would you?”

I assured him that I would.

Afterwards, I made my much belated return to the place where I do commerce. Gurloes was furious, jabbing his arthritic finger at me in the already dusty lighting of his great canvas tent. The air inside was stuffy and hot; the canvas is taught and thick as possible lest his finest silks be exposed to dust. So I stood for a very long time sweating and watching his bald pate and his crooked-toothed mouth set within its wizened face all deliver to me a tirade concerning his long sufferings on my behalf.

Yes, he said, the master of that other guild had paid my dues, but no customer likes seeing empty stalls within the market. Business was down, he said, absolutely down, and if it hadn’t been for my foundering guild and their regulations he would have leased my stall right out from under me. He’d just been about on the verge of hiring some street punks to find me and demand a new accounting when I showed up. I was lucky he just hadn’t busted my little stall down with his sledgehammer.

While I was entertained by this – Gurloes is harmless, and confuses me occasionally with one of his grown grandsons – it was past noon again by the time I’d gotten my signs and sacks of seeds arranged. I was lucky to get half a day’s profit before the sun sank beyond the western mountains and the other vendors started packing up their things. And I did, only a little reluctantly, shove more than half my take into the hands of one of Gurloe’s scribes, in appreciation of his good graces. He’ll remember me well for that. And I had much to be thankful for.

I didn’t even need to return my sacks to my room – I’d sold everything, and tomorrow was Forday, thank the Profusion, when I would get a whole new array. Instead I went right away to Adlasola’s, because I wanted to demonstrate to her my gratitude, and of course because I enjoy her company.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Christology: On Luther's Simul Iustis et Peccator

Yes, I do believe you have the essence of it. And I think, at the risk of a brief aside, that it's funny we would ask about a potentially discouraging theology in Lutheranism in direct contrast to Barth's own kind of neo-Calvanism. Being pulled as a log out of a fire doesn't depend on what the log thinks about it.

So, no, comparatively, having to wonder whether or not one is a log on fire, having one's own answer to the question matter, is indeed comparatively more empowering. As an ecumenical student, I have to say it's not quite as good as Wesley, where the fire of sin is replaced by the fire of the Holy Spirit and we burn and are transformed in an entirely new way, a sort of upward spiral - that, that would be more empowering still.

But we mostly just read Reformed people here at Luther Seminary, so no, , the simul is not discouraging, because Luther's simul isn't a prescriptive theological move; he's just describing the way Christians human beings are in the world: saint and sinner. Everything we do is tinged by sin; doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. Indeed, if it's true even then we're freed from perfectionism and from hubris, we're free to act in fallen service to an unfallen God, and freed from our own expectations of success and anxieties of desire. It might be even said to be more empowering, in a perverse sort of way.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XVI

Chapter Six

September 26, 440 Y.A.

She locked me in her rooms. She has since said that Batyst told her it was the only way I would possibly resist the siren-song of the Wells of the Dead. After the first night I am not so certain, because if I did not die then it was not for lack of wanting to. I could not possibly have moved. I could not even think. I lay in her bed; if she slept anywhere I did not know it. I knew very little, save that I soon discovered that I would never leave the Blood of History. Rather, it abandoned me instead. If forsook me in spasms and vomitus and wrenching of the gut as well as in that action for which one needs accommodation. Whether the blood expelled was mine or the ancient dead did not matter at the time. I only wanted the pain to end. On the second day after the Blood of History next called me, I went entirely blind.

Occasionally I felt a kind presence, a perpetually warm embrace. Adlasola wept. On the third day she wore white. I saw only in some brief flashes. I thought in images, unable to articulate whole words. Pain etched sketches in my mind.

I walked in darkness absolute. The Blood of History flowed throughout my veins. In the center of the void, I stood alone. I found I stood atop a scaffold. The scaffold burned with black fire, but the dark flames did not consume it. Overhead, a noose dangled, still in the calmness of the void.

The noose was a heatwhip, and it wrapped around the world. Around the scaffold nine jade spheres circled, larger than the world or the scaffold that held it. In the center of each Sphere was an eye that never left the world.

Then the nine jade spheres opened, and from them came nine dark forms, one from each sphere. The demons wore nine jade cloaks over skin striped with intertwining black and red.

The light from the flames and the world and the spheres all streamed into them and did not come out. They had identical faces, the image of a man I had never seen before, gaunt and wasted with blackness crawling over it. Their horns were Profusionist metal. Their faces were human flesh. They had necks and chests of black metal and legs of rock and stone. Their feet were of soft and blackest earth.

Each of the demons had nine arms, and their arms were quickswords, curved and cruel, burning with the jade light they had gathered from the spheres.

The demons exhaled, and their breath blew across the scaffold as the wind of the void, cold and pitiless. As the nine neared the scaffold and the world, a woman rose beneath it, her hair red as the sun meeting the sea. In one hand she held the world. In the other she held a quicksword, burning white and wrapped in a vine from the swamps of Redmarak.

Then she no longer simply stood, but stood astride a mastodon, her skin glowing white as the streets of Ariel. “You will not have this world,” the woman said, white breath streaming from her mouth. When her breath met the demon’s mist, the dark wind retreated. Surrounding her, the white wind made a cloud that covered the world.

She defied the demons eight times. Each time she said, “You will not have this world,” and her voice shook the world and the scaffold and the demons, even the deepest of the darkness. And on the eighth saying, the whiteness covered all.

I woke and did not know what day it was. I grasped Adlasola’s hand until my breath fell in time with hers. She lay down beside me, wrapping me in her arms and cradling my head against her chest. Fever and tears blurred my vision until I could not tell her white dress from my white sheets or the white light that reflected from all the buildings of Ariel. I had not heard her before, but I distinguished her whispers now with that peculiar acuity that comes with illness. Each one lay like a lash against my ears.

“Wake,” she said, “to a freer world, Del Tanich of Ariel. Our Historian Senre lies dead. Kasora, I think, cannot replace him. You said I could earn Ryn’s trust another way.”

Hearing this, I passed into unconsciousness again. Yet by now my fever had broken and all the Blood of History had gone from me; the sleep was the rest of the recovering, and if I had further troubles I do not know them. The Blood of History had gone from me. I lived without its influence, as free as any other wretch of Ariel to live in destitution and relentless desperation.

Whether I would be the same under the rule of the ancient dead within the Blood of History does not matter. I will not serve them. I will not serve anyone, because if I have learned anything from the ancient dead, who lived during the Profusion, it is that service had no part of the grace of that age. They have never served; they will not serve now. Servitude is another construct of the Historians of our time, one which keeps the people docile, and serves the Historians to great effect. I will not further it.

I woke in a rage at dawn and did not go to market. Rather, I stood and found that I was strong and thought only of Batyst. Ryn Batyst, to whom I was no longer responsible. Ryn the master, Ryn the guide, Ryn who had been like my father, as father I had never had. Ryn whom I owe everything, whose expectations for me have been silently my own. For while I have never believed that I was meant to lead the Blooded and overthrow the Temple, I did once believe that I was special, that I was chosen, that I was in some valuable way unique. His errors have somehow become my own.

But if the Blood of History has taught me anything, it is that many other minds, even twisted by isolation and union and madness, are more profound and insightful and complicated than my own. My intelligence, which all concede to be my greatest virtue, has been surpassed and applied countless upon countless times, a number of iterations truly beyond measure. So that even if Batyst were correct about me, I would still be wrong about myself. I’ll not let him make her wrong as well.

I trotted across the Flats and the Market at a clip that pushed more timid pedestrians aside; I reached Smithstreet in half an hour. That is what the district of Ryn Batyst is called, though the chandlers and metallurgists also makes their shops and houses there, on the eastern edge of the plateau. Of all the Blooded, he’s the only one that everyone knows where he lives, a position which I now realize puts him in some vulnerability. Everyone knows his hours, too: the Public of Guilds never meets with the Faith before nine o’ clock, and Batyst, master of his own shop, considers smithing entirely an evening trade. At his level of expertise, he does only custom orders, and those entirely of his own choosing.

But I was no longer subject to such mastery; I threw open his door and burst into his chambers without so much as knocking. He was sitting at a great wooden desk, carved from one of the valley’s more ancient trees, working at some papers, doubtless for his guild. He turned his head at my commotion but did not appear surprised; this enraged me even more.

“You made her an assassin!” I spat, not caring whoever might have heard.

He removed his spectacles – I was surprised to find that he would need them, as physically vital as he otherwise appears to be – and laid them on the table, turning in his wooden chair to face me.

“She wanted to prove her loyalty,” he said. “She needed little prodding.”

I stepped toward him; I clenched my fist. “But she did need some.” Even my anger was an imitation of his own, and a pale remake at that. He only cradled his great chin on a greater fist and spoke in utterly confident tones.

“Did you notice the Orchids, Del, as you ran over here? They are still above. Kasora has taken the Shuni Plateau in a brutal, unprovoked and utterly unsanctioned attack. The land of faith will never be the same. The former High Historian Salaan has survived his illness, and arrived here yesterday. He’ll replace Senre now. On his advice the Faith sends ships to Nesechia to block what has now become the rebellion of the southern continent and likely the beginning of the next great war.”

I stepped toward him again. “That has nothing to do with her. I’m not certain it even has anything to do with us.”

“I did not finish. In the midst of all this furor, Del, the Historian Salaan found time to request a supplement of Whites to assist the Greens in their prosecutions of those who affront the Temple – and the Faith of Thaeron granted it. I have lived all my life with one eminent Historian in Ariel. I could not accept that there would soon be two.”

“You knew the High Historian would live?”

He leaned back in his chair, raising his hand in that manner that suggests equivocation. “No, but I know our Faith better than he knows himself. I knew what he would choose should Salaan survive. And I could not reach quietly outside this city. So, I pursued the one Historian that finally had come within our reach.”

“And got one who seems worse instead. Senre was weakened by his own problems. He never displayed that kind of energy. Salaan sounds like a whirlwind.”

Batyst dropped both hands to his lap. “He has the most self-command of any person I have ever met. He will be very hard to defeat. But for twenty years, I have been building the palace of our freedom. And there is only one way to do that, Del: one stone at a time. But the perpetual postponement of our perfect palace means only that it is already here. It is simply incomplete.”

I stepped toward him a third time. “So you went to her, a girl.”

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Matthew: On the Parable of the Wheat and Tares

The similarities and differences between Matthew’s parable, Matthew’s interpretation, and the parable of the weeds as present in the gospel of Thomas run roughly as follows:they all contain the central plot concerning a sown field corrupted by the weeds of an enemy ; they all contain the characters of a unnamed sower, some form a servant, and an enemy; and they all carry the basic theme of reserving judgment until the proper (end) time, when good and bad may be safely separated.

The three differ, however, in subtle but significant ways: only Matthew’s parable proper has servants/slaves, only the Thomas version eliminates the command to the servants to let both plants grow, and only the Matthean explanation identifies the sower as the Son of man.

This leads us to the signal emphasis of each of the three versions of the story: the Matthean parable proper clearly emphasizes the didactic, pragmatic nature of the parable as instruction to the early Jesus movement considering what to do with less than devout followers; the Thomas parable emphasizes the ultimate destruction of the weeds as the due judgment of the ‘weeds’ contaminating Gnostic communities; and the Matthean explanation of the parable emphasizes church teachings concerning Christology, world and church, and the eschatological nature of the kingdom of God.

As far as Peter’s confession and its significance, I would now assume that it would describe essentially describe what it seems to: Peter is to be the first new leader of the Jesus movement in light of Jesus’ impending and anticipated absence. This is so because he is the first one to unequivocally articulate Jesus’ identity as the one who brings salvation. He is rightly placed first in all the New Testament lists of all the apostles. That much, I think, is fairly clear.

What that means precisely, how that actually gets carried out in the world and in the church and how it is related to say, administrative functioning, seems to me a good deal more clouded. The blessings seem, shall we say, enigmatic, and I don’t think being first or being the foundation means being the greatest or the one of most hierarchical power (that goes for my own Episcopal bishops, too, so I’m not being anti-RC here). I would hope it would mean being first as in the least, and the foundation as in supportive, essential, and easily and perilously forgotten.

What I’m most interested in, of course, is Peter’s later position in regards to Paul, and their respective positions regarding Jewish culture and Gentile appropriation. In what sense is Peter first in that dispute? Are we grafted unto Peter? But that, perhaps, is outside the context of this class. What I mean is that while I do see a sense of Peter’s importance in the post-Easter community (before then he’s a pretty mixed bag) what I don’t see is a precise mechanism for the transmission of that authority from one person to another. Jesus just doesn’t say it here. We’ll have to muddle along with delegation as best we can, without a clear scriptural imperative.

Which is for me the benefit of this passage: Peter is clearly a massively ordinary person; in the next few verses he denies the death of the Messiah who he was just lined up to replace (as leader of the community); consequently, Jesus calls him Satan. I don’t know why, but I’ve always found it encouraging that he was the guy that got picked. It’s almost a Jewish/ Old Testament depiction of human frailty/inconsistency in leadership – because salvation’s not about the ethical aptitude of priest/kings anymore. It’s about belief and faith in the Messiah Jesus of Nazareth.

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XV

I was sorry. This wasn’t the Flats, to be sure, and these weren’t my people, but anyone who didn’t aid in the Green’s pursuit – and there would surely be a few by the time of night and the number of people in the district – anyone who defied the Greens would be subject to their harassment for weeks or months or years, depending upon how long the particular guards remembered it. All for not doing anything particularly respectful for a gang of mercenary thugs pursuing an anonymous trespasser through their rooftop gardens in the dead of the night.

Not that I was going to go turn myself in. This was not, to be sure, the first time I had eluded capture, though to be honest my opponents had more often been the Whites. They’re the ones who deal with most of the market business and tariffs there, and the ones who always war with the smugglers. It’s the Greens who deal with vice and addicts and courtesans, though tonight they weren’t about to give up a good detention.

We urchins always did say there was nothing more dangerous than a bored officer.
Fortunately I still wore the farmer’s dun-colored clothes and had almost immediately removed my shoes to avoid the unnecessary noise. I scampered across the rooftops like a nocturnal version of a monkey, some of whom I actually did pass, asleep in their rooftop cages. Most roofs, too, have a low barrier for pleasant sitting on those summer nights when a breeze is too cool, or for when some aspiring neighbor hires porters from the river to haul water up to build a rooftop pool – a real luxury in Ariel.

But such barriers hid my flight from the increasing number of guards, who fanned out in the blocks below. I heard them knock on several doors.
But there are shops and booths up where I was, too, of the personal kinds that wouldn’t operate if they had to pay market taxes. I flitted beneath their awnings and was gone. Urchins call the rooftops the city above the city for good reason. They always feel at home up there, and I am no different.

All the while I had angled my flight south and east, away from the soft-roofed market with its open and empty streets, where I would be caught for sure. This part of the city was called the Edge, and it was where the Temple’s endless supply of scribes and teachers kept quarter, a prosperous neighborhood of some education and much thwarted ambition. Everyone in Ariel has reason to distrust the Temple. Just as everyone has had their reasons to bow down and let its hindrance fall across their shoulders like a yoke. The Edge was Ariel in kind if not proportion, yet another smallish quadrant of the city taught to assume the Temple was the only option for their own continuation.

By the time I reached the actual edge of the plateau all sounds of my pursuit had stopped. I paced along the top, looking for a cache of that rope which smugglers find so necessary. I still hurried; Adlasola’s position among the Blooded was not yet necessarily guaranteed. It was from my perspective almost certain that the Well of the Dead would not open for her, who had not been called, and it would take much longer for the Blooded to decide to force the issue. It goes against everything the Blood of History itself stands for. Still, by the time I found the pertinent broken crate and tied off the end of the rope to its grommet hidden behind a nearby post, another quarter of an hour had passed and I was cursing myself and the fate that had sent me to her so late.

Most of all, I was cursing Ryn Batyst.

I reached the bottom and ran into wooded darkness. I knew of only three Wells of the Dead within the area, and if she was not at any of those I would never find her. The Blood of History itself was not calling me, and our valley is not so small that you can see a third of it in a day, let alone a section of it thick with copses of woods in the few short hours of darkness that remained. As it stood, the three potential Wells I had in mind were an hour’s walk apart, and in the darkness I could not run, but had to settle for an enraged and stumbling trot. Despite myself I shouted periodically.

I found her, lingering graces of the Profusion all be praised, at the last of the potential Wells within half an hour of the sunrise. It is then that the Wells of the Dead would close no matter where they were – at precisely the moment that the sun would rise in the valley were it not shadowed by the mountains, and allowing variance for the time of year. How the Wells of the Dead should know such complex information, Ryn Batyst has of course promised I will learn.

But she was standing quite alone in the middle of a clearing, though she was surrounded by the sprawled and mostly naked forms of the Blooded who had undergone the ritual. One or two still sat near the edge of the softer grass that marked the entrance to the Well, over toward the eastern trees. They pointed at her occasionally as I approached; or perhaps they pointed at me, I never of course will know.
She stood in the open as though she were the only tree in the middle of a field, in a kind of forlorn but stubborn way that endeared her to me instantly. She was wearing a long heavy shrift the color of evergreen so that her paler face and hands were thrown into sharp relief. She had been looking at the ground but glanced up as I approached, for all the world like a startled forest dryad about to sprint away into the nocturnal mist.

Unhappily, I was so taken with her appearance like something out of twilight reverie that I tangled my feet and fell. She cried out in that womanly sound that is both alarm and laughter, and I loved her all over again as she stepped quickly over to where I lay. She offered me her hand, standing over me illumined like some statue of an exultant clad in living moss.

“You do not have to bow to me, Del,” she said, and her voice flowed like the tributary stream that ran nearby, “I admit I am already flattered. ”

“Haven’t you heard the parable,” I said, my head swimming with the fatigue of healing and walking and running all through the night, “the young man, caught in hell with his beloved, offers himself up to eternal torment on her behalf, if only the demons will let her go. ‘Well now you have my attention,’ she says.”

Adlasola Oso laughed again, and there was no alarm this time, and I was glad that I had run. “But you I think are exhausted,” she said. “Ryn Batyst told me that you were sick, after the guards chased all of us into the river. He wouldn’t tell me where you were. Perhaps he told you where I was instead, and you ran all through the night to find me.”

I grabbed her hand at the wrist, and felt for a moment her pulse, that gentle throb that marks all our life. She helped me up. “Be serious,” I said, standing and brushing the dirt off of my clothes. “It’s more complicated. He told me they’re going to force you if the Well won’t let you in. They’re going to make you drink –”

“Ryn Batyst perhaps is concerned about my loyalty. I did lead the guard to your festival, though I do not think I knew it.”

“That doesn’t make it right. Adlasola, this is all wrong. The Blood of History is wrong. It’s broken or twisted, I don’t know. But it kills people! And the rest of us – there’s no going back because it makes you understand this world so differently. You can’t – it’s so sad, just unremitting, neverending grief. The ancient dead, Adlasola, what they don’t tell you about the Ancient dead is that they’re so pissed! They’re still mad about their dying and they still want control so they–”

She reached and took my cheeks in her hands I stopped talking. “Del,” she said, “I’m glad that you are here. But perhaps I do not know what you are talking about. You are I think still sick.”

Weakly, I shook my head. “No,” I said, “no, no. Those men over there are plotting. Batyst told them to take you if you didn’t do it yourself because the Blood of History assures your loyalty. No one ever goes back except –”

“Who, Del? Who goes back?”

“Come with me, Adlasola! The Blood is wrong and the Blooded will just, they’ll be just like the Historians. But not me, not me – I’m quitting the Blood. I’ll be sick. I might die. But anything, anything is better than going back in one of those Wells again. Don’t become like this, Adlasola. You’re better, I know you’re better. This will kill you, so don’t – they’ll make you drink.”

She shook her own head now, but her touch on my face was soft. “But Del,” she said. “Don’t you understand? They gave me a choice after the first few Blooded came back out. Perhaps they took it from someone’s throat. But then they held their vial out to me. It was why I came here anyway, so I took it. Del, I drank. I think I too am Blooded now.”

Friday, July 16, 2010

Christology: Jungel and the Righteousness of God

Jungel was hilarious for me, because for all the times that people have explained justification to me, and for all the different ways I've understood and internalized it, I've just never cared, and so, for this non-Lutheran at least, and for all the times I've complained about it in other classes, there was this place where Jungel used justification like five times in two sentences and it's like someone saying 'wastebasket' over and over.

Well, I guess I had that one coming.

At any rate, God is righteous, says Jungle. And God is righteous in such a way that the merciful righteousness of the cross is not a negation of God's just righteousness but an expression of it - indeed, maybe, a definition of it. This is so because God's righteousness is not legal righteousness but relational righteousness: the bringing of two into some alignment. In the case of Christ, this is gospel and faith: the words that God speaks in favor of human beings are those that pronounce and actually make them righteous. This is not a break between God's righteousness and God's justice because the very nature of God's righteousness is that it is merciful. In other words, yes, righteousness is proper to God, but only insofar as that righteousness takes two and the very definition of God's righteousness is to justify the sinner. 'God forfeits nothing by forgiving us.'

In other words, if we can verb words like Calvin and Hobbs, God righteous-es. It's a verb. Whenever God justifies a sinner, God is righteous. For Jungel, this reaches its epitome in Jesus Christ, the 'subject of the doctrine of justification.' In the same way that the righteousness of God is simultaneously righteousness from God and righteousness due to God proper, Jesus Christ is doubly righteous: 'in him God is righteous and in him we becomerighteous.' Or, God's being righteous is our becoming righteous, and in Jesus we become the righteousness of God. This is the nature, the shape of the bond, of our fellowship with God.

It is also disruptive justification in this world, because it is the removal of the unrighteousness from life and the death of the unjustifiable, much as truth comes in the context of lies and reveals and destroys them.

But it is not a disruptive event in God, as God is always and already righteous Father to Son and Son to Spirit and Spirit and Father to the Son, each person of the Trinity as righteous other to every other of the persons. What the redemption of creation is, is the reiteration of this event for that creation: "If God is already righteous because he affirms otherness within himself, then he is also and even more righteous by affirming in addition the creature, which is, in contrast to him, completely other...He does so out of grace."

While I didn't come across anything new, per se, in Jungel's elegant formulation, what I did realize is that it works just as well, and for me is much more exciting, if you replace every use of righteousness with holiness, the center of my own tradition of faith. I wonder what that says about the relationship of God's attributes as a whole with creation - and of course, what it says about our own understandings of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Serial Fiction: Whisper from the Dust XIV

Exhausted, I blew out the last coals of his torch and we stood there together in the ancient darkness. “You’re manipulative,” I said.

“We have all encountered forces more powerful than ourselves.” He did not sound surprised.

I quieted the scroll to sleep. “Whatever you want from me, it does not matter. I do not have it. And I will not give it.”

“Again and again I’ve told you: this is not about you. It certainly is not about me.”

“The Blood of History is broken, and the ancient dead are lunatics. They don’t have any wisdom; all they have is memory! I wish this world would remember that those are not the same.”

“I’ve been waiting the last twenty years for you to find a better way.”

I snorted. “I never, ever will! I’m just an orphan. There is no way. Adlasola is correct: we are a laughingstock. We cavort in the woods and abuse certain decaying substances and make plans and never accomplish anything. It’s ridiculous.”

“The Historians would not persecute a joke.”

“They’re the joke, but we’re the punchline. Here we are, the chosen one led by visions to a secret place and all we get is dust because dust is what we are. How can you not get it? Are you actually so pompous?” I laughed, a little cruelly. I realized I had been thinking about this for a very long time.

“Don’t you see: the Historians didn’t always satisfy themselves with little electric tablets. Do you think the ones whose cruelty destroyed half the world delighted in literature? No! They were doing what we are doing: being driven mad by the Blood of History! By the time the first Faith came around, it didn’t matter what skill he had – the Historians were such witless despairing cravens that a whole world of them couldn’t beat him. And now we want to take their place! That’s the punchline!”

If Batyst had any temper beyond his perpetual rage against the Temple, he did not show it now. Instead he reached out – how he found my right arm in the darkness I do not know – and closed my hand more tightly around the scroll. I felt it hum awake.

“I forget how young you are,” he said sadly. “You do not know that nothing can be accomplished unless you yourself decide to do it. Everything else is just denying the power that life has given you. And that is the worst manipulation at all. But I am waiting for you, Del. All the Blooded are.”

I swore. “I don’t have any powers. I don’t! So I can play with histories – any apprentice can!”

“And you open Wells and remember the Blood of History. And I suspect that if someone placed a quicksword in your hand it would sing to life. But I’m talking about more fundamental forces than those. I’m talking about your humanity.”

I stepped back. “Wait – what? You think I’m—that’s absurd. All that’s just speculation.”

Batyst nodded in the darkness. “An omnifex – yes, one who can wield all Profusionist technologies. The first since the first Faith himself ended the wars between the cities. And it does matter what powers he had. It matters what each of us carries. You do not know yourself because you do not let anyone else know you. And you do not even care for yourself because you have no care for others. But I will be waiting for you even after you say what you came with me to say.”

I willed the little scroll silent, watching its little letters fade like the torch before it had. “I’m forsaking the Blood of History,” I said.

“You risk torment and death.”

“But I already am! And you said we all do, if we are doing it right.”

He laughed a little in the darkness, and I was glad of it. “Well. I admit I did not anticipate that you would choose this way.”

I shook my head. “It’s not a direction. Do you know the parable? ‘Where do you want to go, they asked the young man. Away from here, he replied.’”

Ryn breathed deeply, inhaling the same great lungful of air he had inhaled before. “We will see, Del Tanich, we will see. You have my blessing. And now I must ask you to forgive me.”

A cold shiver passed over me: perhaps in the darkness the coldness of the Unknown Well had begun to seep through my clothes and skin, or perhaps the same intuition which had finally revealed to me the truth of the history of our own Historians was still working ahead of my logical mind. At any rate, it was with dread that I asked,

“Forgive you for what?” I asked.

There were several still moments stretching through the utter blackness, and I thought that I had never before known Batyst to find anything difficult to say.

“There is another Blooding tonight,” he began, “at a Well just at the bottom of the southeastern corner of the plateau. I know because the Wells of the Dead tell me the time and location of each Blooding the day before it will occur. But I did not trust the girl Adlasola and sent her to this one. If the Well of the Dead will open to her she is to be let inside; if it is not she is to administered some of the collected Blood – even if it must be forced upon her.”

I did not reply. Though Ryn waited for some response. Instead I frantically asked the Unknown and the Healing Well for exit, s Batyst must have known I would. “I’m sorry, Del,” he said. “I said I did not trust her, but in truth I did not trust you. I was wrong. Do as you see fit.”

If I ever managed to summon a reply, it was hidden and suffocated by the Profusionist metal through which I passed in my departure. I scrambled up the walls like a madman as soon as the sentiences returned their acquiescence. As for Ryn Batyst, he must have left those Wells of his own time, some moment before the dawn when the patrols were not scheduled to be near. I have not seen him since.

I was not myself so cautious. I nearly stumbled into the hands of a guard who was crossing the square on his patrol. He was so surprised to see someone scrambling up from the Healing Well beneath his feet that he nearly fell over backward trying to grab me and push me away simultaneously. By the time he opened his mouth to shout ‘Halt!’ I was three paces gone. An urchin such as I had been soon enough learns to run. Learns or gets beaten or gets arrested and then beaten by the Guards.

Green or White, they say the colors do not matter. But everyone knows the Whites don’t run after you unless you’re somebody special, some ganglord or sadist who can inflict real damage. The Whites have inherited from their Faith certain lackadaisical policies concerning petty crime. Ariel, after all, is the city of the people, and people are seldom anyone particularly upright. Whites also get paid the same no matter how many people they arrest.

The Greens, however, have their pay supplemented by fines and confiscations. They’ll chase you if you so much as look at them, never mind if they catch you emerging in the middle of the night from a sacred site that has been closed for a generation. Consequently, they’re in much better physical condition.

The guard who I tripped up, of course, wore armor the very shade of the jade the Temple’s cast in. His alarm brought the sound of three more footsteps as I turned north, then cut east back a connecting alley. I jumped atop some crates and scampered through a doorway I knew was always left open, the balcony of a goldsmith I’d once sold petunias to when I used to do deliveries.

Like I said, nearly everyone in Ariel’s a gardener. A set of stairs on the other side of the balcony led up toward the roof. I vaulted up them just as the cries of the Greens below took on certain confused tones. Their hue and cry woke half the neighborhood.