Saturday, January 07, 2006

Preacher's Corner

Since I always get so much great help from PeaceBangers, I hope this is a little bit of "giving back:"

I just came up with the idea to include a little column called "Preacher's Corner" in my church newsletter, which says:

"The following works of art, literature, contemporary non-fiction, film and Scripture are likely to be referenced at length in upcoming sermons."
And then I list them. They include Amadeus, Equus, "Brokeback Mountain," Antigone, the Gospel of Matthew, the book of Genesis (4:1-16), King Lear, The Cambridge Platform, of 1648 Picasso's "Guernica" and Michaelangelo's "Pieta." I think, gee, this is kind of cool. I might like to hear these sermons myself.

Now, I can do this because I actually have planned a bunch of sermons for the spring. I don't know how far in advance I'll be able to do this in the future. But I think my church will dig it for a few reasons: first, it might get a few more people reading the newsletter, second, it gives them a chance to think about things before I use them in sermons, and third, it shows in black & white that there's a whole world out there for your serious religious reflection, so go ye and theologize!


Blogger SteveDooner said...

Orson Welles had one of the best insights into King Lear ever. He asked, "Where is Mrs. Lear?" If there had been a Mrs. Lear, he opined, the whole play would be over in five minutes.

King Lear would come in and say, "I'm going to divide my kingdom in three," and Queen Lear would reply, "Oh, no you're not, you silly old fool. Now you go back in the kitchen and have some of the lentil soup I just made."

The play shows how even the mightiest of men men will fade. Women, just like Ma Joad took over for Pa Joad, will often wind up running even the most patriarchal of homes when the twilight years finally do come, but alas, there is no Queen in this play and nobody to or instruct or restrain these daughters.

Lear has no wife, and mothers are never even mentioned in the play, so Shakespeare clearly wants us to notice this glaring omission To represent the female, Lear only has three, profoundly different daughters (They may be the progeny of several diffeent wives and/or concubines) and therefore, the play has no strong matriarchal image to seek out for a countering view--no crone to look to for wisdom.

There's Lear, alone, like Jehova without Hagia Sophia, like Solomon without his bride, and worse, he has lost his ability to listen to others in his dotage. He insists that he is God on earth and that he is wise like Solomon poised to divide the baby (Solomon, of course, was wise enough not to divide the baby, but his reign did lead to the divsion of anotehr kingdom, Israel).

For contrast, remember King Henry-Peter O'Toole and Queen Eleanor-Katherine Hepburn? It's the same story with a strong mother figure present. At every turn, Henry is forced to consider what will happen when these three sons divide up his kingdom (and Prince John is no Cordelia!). The play ends with no decision being made at all and Eleanor sailing back to her tower.

What is Goneril and Regan's passing off Lear from one to another but the medieval echo of those modern children who refuse to visit an invalid parent in the nursing home. What is the the stripping of Lear's knights but a medieval echo of how children strip their aging parents of their dignity when they take their car keys away. The play is chilling in this respect.

And did you ever see predatory relatives come in and cut up a dead person's belongings? I've seen it happen. It's ugly, and it helps me approach the horror that's in Lear.

Lastly, keep in mid that Lear is both Jehovah and Job. He is at once the whirlwind and the sufferer.

More on this later.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Rock on with your professor self, Dooner! Great stuff, except that my Lear references happen in a sermon about the Fool archetype (a sermon I wrote in 1999).

But everything can stand revision and augmentation, so have at it!

Blogger SteveDooner said...

On the Cain and Abel thing:

The only way this story makes any sense is if it is an older culture not being able to come to grips with new ideas and abstract thinking.

The idea that Jehovah really likes yummy meat sacrifice or that Cain's vegetable sacrifice is somehow insufficiently given are both hollow concepts for me. I don't believe God needs our barbecue sauce, nor do I believe that Cain gave a lousy sacrifice of Goldenrod and Sage Brush (He in fact gave the "fruit of the earth").

I've heard many trundle out the explantion that Abel's sacrifice is somehow properly given from the heart, where Cain's is not (sounds Lutheran to me). This may be true, but remember also that the game is fixed in the story. Cain is named for the ancient land of Canaan (Pagan and bad), while Abel has the god-name, "El," smack-dab in his name. It seems that Abel is meant to win the contest because his sacrifice represents something that Bible people value.

For me, the story seems to point out the differences between shepherds and agrarians. Yahweh's early followers seem to hold with shepherds--Abel.

Cain's murder also reminds us that ancient planters, on occasion, did shed blood of a different sort to fertilize their crops. The horror of Abel's blood crying from the fields intimates that he has been sacrificed according to the vegetable fertility rites of ancient peoples.

If I were to guess, I would say this story really stands as the converse of the Abraham/Isaac story, but we are still meant to draw the same point: Jehovah is moving his people away from the practices of older cultures and introducing substitute sacrifices--"scapegoats." The new faith of Abel and Abraham is less literal/more symbolic than older practices and demands more abstract thinking and a greater intimacy with God.

Cain is painfully self-centered and petty, and he uses God's favoring Abel as an excuse to kill his brother. I would then see Cain as a literal-minded fundamentalist who cannot move forward into abstract/symbolic thinking, and to me, that's why Abel wins the contest.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Hmmm, Professor. I don't buy the idea that Abel is more attuned to abstract thinking. After all, by offering a sacrifice of bloody meat, he's much closer to the primitive way of honoring the gods than is his brother, and since we're not even close to the scapegoat story in Genesis yet, I think you're jumping the gun, or maybe getting prematurely deep with it.

The names, of course, were assigned intentionally to say something about these boys. I think it's a story about primal jealousy and competition, and to prepare us for an epic of human spiritual development that is characterized by great brutality. To me, Cain and Abel says, "Okay humans... here's your species, in a few lines. Watch what happens."
"What happens," is that a chosen population of this species undergoes a painful teaching process under the direction of their new God, YHVH, and emerges a People.

The sermon is on the spiritually crippling nature of jealousy.

Blogger SteveDooner said...

Okay, Okay, I may be guilty of premature depth. I actually love your high literary take on Genesis--seeing it as book that is unsparing in its recognition of the dark and brutal side of humanity.

Remember mine are the ravings of a very twisted and lunatic mind, but because so much of Genesis seems wholly indifferent to individual moral character, I often wind up reading these stories as cultural allegories. Just too many of the patriarchs are rewarded for theft, lying and trickery for me to read their adventures as anything other than very troubling mysteries.

Cain's jealousy is certainly the cause of Abel's murder. Yet, I tend to see this as the Bible's attempt at saying the pagan Canaanites were envious of the folks who worshipped Yahweh.

But leave this aside.

Here are my real questions for you: what's the complicity of Jehovah as instigator here? He/She seems to be functioning exactly like a Nigerian trickster god. Does Yahweh have insight into the evil in the heart of Cain or is the Lord just makin' mischief?

Blogger PeaceBang said...

No doubt that YHVH is a stink pot throughout much of Genesis. He's a great kind of tribal warlord/mafia don character, but I think what works about it from a modern sensibility is that this god wants (and seems to need) to be in relationship with this clay thing (a-dam) he's made in his image, so he agitates them to get it going on. Goin' ON, if you know what I mean.
I see most of Genesis as a kind of primer of human behavior. Because after all, if Genesis wasn't full of depravity and struggle and sin, why would we need to get the Ten Commandments later on? It's like YHVH brings it on full force in the Genesis accounts so that later He can say, "Here's why all ya'll really need me and my law."

Too bad I'm so busy this week because we obviously need some B&N face time, hombre! By the time I get back from Spain will you be insanely busy again?

Blogger SteveDooner said...

No, not too busy. But I will be insanely jealous (of your trip to Spain, that is, not your blessings from Jehovah).

Have a great trip! May it awaken all sorts of hot-blooded, St. Theresa stuff in you.


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