The Naked Truth

You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die…When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye…Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” – Genesis 2:16, 3:6-7

You have probably heard of Godiva chocolate. If you are fortunate, you have also tried one of their delectable treats. What you may not know is that the company was named Godiva (in 1926) after the Lady Godiva, a noblewoman who lived in Coventry, England during the start of the second millenia.

Legend has it that her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, had been oppressing his people through cruel taxation, and when the Lady Godiva confronted her husband and asked him to relieve his people, he scorned her request, advising her that he would only relieve their taxation if his wife, this noble woman, would ride a mare through the city streets, naked.

She agreed to his outlandish request, and sent a decree throughout the city that the people were to shutter themselves inside, thereby lessening the shame she was about to take on their behalf. Most of the populace acted honorably, but for one man, whom the legend identifies only as Tom, who peeped through his shutter to behold the Lady in her naked beauty. For his stolen glance he was stricken blind, and the world was given its first and greatest voyeuristic term, Peeping Tom.

There is a deep thread of what I call “the forbidden mystery” that lies at the heart of Western stories. This need to see the forbidden at any price. A thread that runs from the Garden through the Greeks, and whose echo finds its way even down to the chocolates we consume. Adam & Eve are the first, the Lady Godiva & her Peeping Tom may be one of the lesser known, but there are many more.

Lot’s Wife

With the coming of dawn, the angels urged Lot, saying, ‘Hurry! Take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or you will be swept away when the city is punished’…But Lot’s wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Genesis 19:17, 19:26

Moses & Yahweh

Then Moses said, ‘Now show me your glory.’ And the LORD said, ‘I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,’ he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.‘” Genesis 33:18-20

Actaeon & Artemis

Actaeon, the hunter, pursued the goddess Artemis (Diana), desirous to see the chaste beauty unveiled. He followed her into a woods where he saw the beautiful Artemis naked, bathing in a stream.

He was then punished for his sight by being transformed into a stag and torn apart by his own hounds.

Tiresias & Athena

Similar to Actaeon, the young Tiresias stumbled upon the goddess Athena as she was bathing, but instead of being killed, the boy Tiresias was blinded for this forbidden gaze.

The myth is a bit vague about the boy’s intentions, but because Athena felt guilty about the boy’s loss of sight (though unable to restore it), she gave him the gift of prophecy, and also the ability to understand the language of birds, which seems to hint that he was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time. He may not have meant to witness the forbidden mystery, but it cost him, nonetheless.

(There is another version of the myth, equally intriguing, that involves snakes &  sex changes, which we won’t discuss here).

Perseus & Medusa

Up to this point, the forbidden mystery has been beautiful. And I would argue that for most of the previous stories (Lady Godiva, Athena, and Artemis) it is because the crowning achievement of creation is man, and man’s co-equal, woman; because most of these stories were written by men, it is obvious that the greatest mystery, hidden beneath her veils and dresses (or the less sexy but modern achievement– pants), is woman. Any man can tell you the first time he saw a naked woman because it (sadly, often) has about it the aura of forbidden mystery.

But with Perseus and Medusa, the heart of the forbidden mystery is not beautiful at all, quite the opposite; at the heart of that gaze is a defilement onto death. When Medusa is forced to see her own visage, even she is rent to stone by the mystery of her own ugliness (contrast this to Moses & Yahweh, where death is also promised; in places like Psalm 27:4 we catch glimmers of Yahweh’s visage when the psalmist longs “to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD“).

Western stories are big enough to hold, at the heart of their forbidden mystery, both beauty and ugliness, with lethal consequences for both. Or, as the writer of the Wiki article said so well, “Even if Peeping Tom is a late addition [to the Lady Godiva legend], his being struck blind demonstrates the closely knit themes of the violated mystery and the punished intruder.

Cupid & Psyche *spoiler alert*

This is my favorite of the forbidden mysteries, mostly because of the wonderful remake that C.S. Lewis gave us with his book, Till We Have Faces.

The legend is that Psyche (a woman whose beauty rivaled that of Cupid’s mother, Venus) arouses the jealousy of the powerful goddess. Venus instructs Cupid to shoot Psyche with one of his enchanted arrows, forcing the woman to fall in love with a hideous serpent; but upon seeing her beauty, Cupid falls in love, and strikes himself with one of his arrows instead. The two are wed, but Cupid demands that Psyche not behold his face, for fear that she will recognize him as a god, and thereby arouse the attention of his mother, the still-vindictive Venus.

Lewis neglects most of this back story to focus instead upon the relationship between Psyche and her sister, Orual. Unlike Psyche, Orual is beyond ugly. And though she is jealous of her sister’s beauty, she is even more jealous of this unknown husband who has stolen the heart of her sister. So she, like Satan to Eve, plants a seed of doubt in Psyche’s heart: is your husband truly the man he says he is? maybe he is the ugly serpent you were supposed to marry? how will you know unless you look?

At the heart of the forbidden mystery lies a test. Some of these tests (Lot’s wife, Eve, Psyche) are explicit, while others (Artemis, Moses, Medusa) are implied. But the test is the same: look and receive your punishment, or avert and live. But why this test?

The most difficult to understand is the Garden of Eden story. Why, in the midst of paradise, would God place a test? It is my opinion that the test is for relationship. Without the chance to walk away, to forsake, there can be only robotic love. Also at the heart of the test is trust: will Adam & Eve trust that God is good and wants only good for them? Or will they heed Orual’s voice and steal away into the night, to peer into a mystery that their lover has forbidden? Will they trust their own curiosity, or the one who has “caused His goodness to pass before them”?

The deeper mystery of the Bible is that violators are pardoned. The forbidden mystery has, tragically, already been perceived; we received what we desired while gazing at the fruit, gorging ourselves on the knowledge of good and evil, until the nakedness of our deeds sent us hunting for cover, even willing to slaughter the remnants of truth, as creation itself groans for release from our futile attempts to cover ourselves with power, control, the building and crumbling of a thousand empires, while a guilt that defies pacifying holds us in its grip, however our noblest or most debased efforts.

There is an itch that lies behind the eyes of man that cannot be scratched. There is a darkness too deep even for our 20/20 vision to unveil; a riddle whose solution must be cut, like Alexander of old, by someone who wields the proper sword.

Thanks be to God that that darkness was finally lifted in Christ, who is the image of the invisible (dare I say, naked?) God, and whose life is the light of man.

Amen.

**

Netography

(What do you call this nowadays? it’s certainly not a bibliogaphy anymore, is it? webography? anyways, it’s a list of my sources for this post).

Lady Godiva

Godiva Chocolate History

Perseus & Medusa

Actaeon & Artemis

Till We Have Faces

Advertisements

Baseball Ballads & Biblical Battles: A Reflection on Big-Headedness

On June 3, 1888, Ernest “Phineas” Thayer published the poem “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in the Year 1888.” It was published in the San Francisco Examiner to critical acclaim.

Roughly 2,976 years earlier, in 1088 BC, a young man named Samuel was also using words to reach the audience of his day, the nation of Israel.

As I was reading 1 Samuel 4:1-10 this morning it dawned on me that there are some eery connections between this ancient text about a battle, and the more modern text about a ballad. Unfortunately, they both reveal that big-heads will be big-heads, whether in 1088, 1888, or 2088. Not particularly profound, I know, but if you will indulge me, I will show you what I noticed.

1 Samuel 4:1-10

1And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.

Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. 2 The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield.

3 When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the LORD bring defeat upon us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the LORD’s covenant from Shiloh, so that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”


So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the LORD Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5

When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. 6

Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?” When they learned that the ark of the LORD had come into the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. 8Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. 9 Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”

10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.”

Before we even get into “Casey at the Bat,” we have one connection: the unusual name of Phineas–the son of Eli killed during the Ark battle, and the author of the Baseball ballad.

If you will continue to indulge me, I will show you some others in “Casey at the Bat.” We’ll begin with the 1st stanza:

The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day;

The score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play,

And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,

A sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game

Here is the situation: the fictitious team of Mudville is down 2 runs in the 9th with 2 strikes already against them (yeah yeah, I know the died connection is weak, but stay with me). Continuing on,

A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest

Clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;

They thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –

We’d put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.

Now we see the hope that the Mudville fans hold onto: though they are in deep despair over their odds of winning this game, they know “if only” their mighty player Casey would just get to bat, they would win.

(We’ll skip down a bit to the part where Casey, miraculously, is up to bat).

Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell;

It rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;

It knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,

For Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.

This should sound familiar right?

“When the ark of the LORD’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook.” 1 Samuel 4:5

For the next several stanzas, Phineas is going to describe to us the haughty manner in which the Mudville’s champion Casey approaches this potentially crisis-turning moment. I will give you some of the highlights:

ease in his manner” , “pride in his bearing” , “defiance gleamed in his eye” , “a sneer curled his lip” , “stood…in haughty grandeur” , “scornful look

Over the course of seven stanzas, we discover that Casey is arrogant, puffed up on his own strength and talents. And with the casting of the final ball, his pride will have its fall.

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;

The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,

And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;

But there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.

There may be “laughing somewhere,” but it wasn’t in the city of Mudville, and it certainly wasn’t in the nation of Israel after the day of battle. We are told in 1 Samuel 4:13 that “When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.

Pride in the nation of Israel (particularly its leaders), and pride in the heart of Casey, resulted in sorrow for the people.  They took the good things that God had given them (talents, a visible sign of His presence, and a promise that He would be with them) for granted. They ignored opportunities to humble themselves until it was too late to prevent calamity.

It only takes two letters to describe big-headedness in our day.

BP.

**

If you liked (or disliked) this strange post connecting big-headedness, baseball, and biblical battles, please say so in the comments. I’m always trying to improve the site, and tying history together definitely interests me. If there is anyone else out there who finds it equally interesting, pipe up and say so. Thanks!

**

And as always, I like to give credit to the places that made this post possible.

“Casey at the Bat” – Wikipedia article

“On this Day” Wikipedia Main Page

Bible Gateway

Biblica.com

Death Tweets

dead_bird

“Someday soon, a celebrity will Twitter straight to the grave.” 

Farrah’s Stunning ‘Story’ EW

Mark Harris was on to something as he gave his opinion of Farrah Fawcett’s “Farrah’s Story,” which aired on NBC. A former sex-symbol, actress Farrah’s story is one of disappointment, despair, and the disillusionment of remission as recurrence settles in. It is the story of a glamorous life reduced to cancer and chemo, a sad reminder of the fall; death and dying aired for 9 million viewers’ pleasure. 

Mr. Harris’ article raises poignant questions about the blurring of lines between the public and the private life, between decency and humiliation, between full disclosure and sealed lips.

Would you blog your doctor’s diagnosis? 

Would you Facebook update your chemo treatment?

Would you vlog your funeral?

Would you  tweet your death?

         _________

Where is the line?

Published in: on June 19, 2009 at 7:23 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , , ,

Knaves and Knights and Dancing Goblin Kings

Today, I share some Magic Dance, courtesy of Labyrinth and David Bowie, while I puzzle you with riddles.

Knights and Knaves is a logic puzzle created by Raymond Smullyan. It is based on the idea that you are a visitor on a fantastic island inhabited entirely by two groups of people – knights who never lie, and knaves who never tell the truth, and your job is to figure out who is who. 

Riddles like these are something I loved growing up. I got 2 of the following 3 questions right, I thought it would be fun to see how my readers fared..

Up for the challenge? 

Here is the scenario:

John and Bill are residents of the island of knights and knaves.

Question 1

John says: We are both knaves. 

Who is what?

Question 2

John: If Bill is a knave then I am a knave.

Bill: We are of different kinds.

Who is who?

Question 3

John and Bill are standing at a fork in the road. You know that one of them is a knight and the other a knave, but you don’t know which. You also know that one road leads to Death, and the other leads to Freedom. By asking one yes/no question, can you determine the road to Freedom?

**

Readers who have watched the film Labyrinth have a distinct advantage with that last question. 

I answered the first 2 very quickly, and while my logic seemed ok with the 3rd question, it wasn’t the right answer. 

Be brave, and comment your answers!

**

Are the puzzles still puzzling? Get your solutions here?

Published in: on December 9, 2008 at 2:50 am  Comments (2)  
Tags: , , ,

Theology of the Joshua Generation

holy-spirit-dove

Today, I was conducting my usual Monday morning routine – a bowl of Irish oatmeal, a short devotional, deciding how best to use my day off – when I decided to continue a new trend of reading The New Yorker’s headline article.

This week it was The Joshua Generation by David Remnick.

Overall, I found Mr. Remnick’s article to be insightful, well written, and instructive regarding the history of our new President. His storytelling prose, weaving insights from key figures in Obama’s life, was thoroughly enjoyable. The tone of the article was jubilant – “it was about damned time,” Mr. Remnick said, referring to Obama as the prophetic realization of Doctor Martin Luther King’s dream. But the article was not without a marked hint of reticence:

Yet you also heard from many people a great wariness, a kind of defense against white self-congratulation or the impression that somehow Obama’s election would automatically transform the conditions of New Orleans and the country.”

He [Obama] is a man who can be accommodated by America, but he is not my hero, because a politician, by nature, has to surrender. Where the problems that afflict African-Americans are concerned, Obama can’t go for broke. And the white people—good, decent white people—who voted for him just can’t understand. They don’t have to walk through the same misery as our children do.” – Jerome Smith, resident of New Orleans

Also, the article was not without its errors.

As much as I enjoyed Mr. Remnick’s article, I must highlight a grossly mistaken theological statement:

In his view, despair, the Biblically unforgivable sin, was at the heart of Wright’s mistake.

This statement is found on page 9 of the article, talking about Obama’s reaction to some of Reverend Wright’s statements. Biblically, despair is not the unforgivable sin. The only Biblically unforgivable sin is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

“But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin” Mark 3:29.

What Mr. Remnick’s article does not answer is whether this is Obama’s theological misunderstanding, or a journalistic lapse.

(If someone does know, by the way, whether this is Obama’s misunderstanding, or the journalist’s, please post a comment with the answer.)

For a more accurate understanding of this “unforgivable sin,” I would highly recommend Christians and the Unpardonable Sin by Bob Wilkin.

And for a demonstration of the attitude behind this sin, I would direct you to The Blasphemy Challenge (a.k.a. “independence from the Stone Age”).

Of course, I remonstrate any readers who suggest that any particular individual in these blasphemy videos is unforgivable. Should they turn from public defiance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and accept the forgiveness of Christ, Christ would forgive them. But I believe their current attitudes are exactly what Christ is speaking of in Mark 3:29.