Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Panem et circenses.

Roman satirist Juvenal (1st century A.D.) spoke of the blasé carelessness of the masses, who were happily trading in their democratic responsibilities and freedoms for comfort: panem et circenses. Bread and the Circuses. Food and entertainment.
“…these days we’ve no vote to sell, so their motto is ‘Couldn’t care less.’ Time was when their plebiscite elected Generals, Heads of State, commanders of legions: but now they’ve pulled in their horns. Only two things really concern them: bread and the Games. ‘I hear that many are to be purged.’ ‘That’s right, and the oven’s a big one, and no mistake.’”
Juvenal, Satires, X.77-82

The children of Israel, thinking Moses dead from forty days and forty nights lost in the darkness and glory of God, looked for another leader and another god.
Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play (Exodus 32:1-6).
How do you “make…a god”? Do we make gods from our “gold rings,” or our wealth? What kind of spiritual blindness and metaphysical smallness does it take to see a thing made before your eyes and call it “deliverer”? Isaiah 44:9-20 records similar idiocy. A man takes a log and cuts it up. With one part he makes a fire to bake bread. He makes another fire with another part to warm himself. With still another part he fashions a god and bows down before it, praying, “deliver me, for you are my god” (44:17). Here’s the thing about a god of your own making: you can give it whatever you want, and it doesn’t complain. You can live however you want, and it won’t complain. A God that makes you, however, can makes demands of you. They “sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” A party around a man-made god is a party without bounds.

Paul brings this story up to the Corinthians, who liked to live like those revelers in Exodus: For I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that our fathers were all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased; for they were laid low in the wilderness. Now these things happened as examples for us, so that we would not crave evil things as they also craved. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written, “THE PEOPLE SAT DOWN TO EAT AND DRINK, AND STOOD UP TO PLAY” (1 Corinthians 10:1-7). When we are given Christ, how do we desire bread and games? Craving “evil things” is paralleled with idolatry in Paul’s mind. “Craving” is not an outward act, yet it is still condemned.

We have to guard against this attitude, repeated over and over by the bitter-at-life Teacher:
“There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
“Here is what I have seen to be good and fitting: to eat, to drink and enjoy oneself in all one's labor in which he toils under the sun during the few years of his life which God has given him; for this is his reward” (Ecclesiastes 5:18)
“So I commended pleasure, for there is nothing good for a man under the sun except to eat and to drink and to be merry, and this will stand by him in his toils throughout the days of his life which God has given him under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 8:15).
“Go then, eat your bread in happiness and drink your wine with a cheerful heart; for God has already approved your works” (Ecclesiastes 9:7).
The book of Proverbs is a story of mother and father sending a young man into the world. In effort to get his attention, they describe God’s Wisdom in terms a young man can understand: she is a young lady, beautiful and wonderful, an object of great desire. Song of songs then describes the passions of choosing her. Ecclesiastes describes the cynical sorrow of rejecting her. Nothing but an eating, a drinking, and an enjoying that will be exhausting and emptied.

Jesus is asked to artibitrate an inheritance disbute between two brothers. He gives this warning and parable:
Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” And He told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man was very productive. And he began reasoning to himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘This is what I will do: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).
Bread and games, or rich toward God?

God gives 8th century B.C. Israel a call to repentance. They respond with bread and games:
Therefore in that day the Lord GOD of hosts called you to weeping, to wailing, to shaving the head and to wearing sackcloth. Instead, there is gaiety and gladness, killing of cattle and slaughtering of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we may die.” But the LORD of hosts revealed Himself to me, “Surely this iniquity shall not be forgiven you until you die,” says the Lord GOD of hosts (Isaiah 22:12-14). God does not take lightly a disregard for His patience and the opportunity He gives for repentance in our lives.

“If the dead are not raised, LET US EAT AND DRINK, FOR TOMORROW WE DIE” (1 Corinthians 15:32). The dead are raised, so be sober about where you find your satisfaction: “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. For just as the Father has life in Himself, even so He gave to the Son also to have life in Himself; and He gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment” (John 5:25-29).

Be fed, therefore, not on temporary satisfaction (bread and Circuses), but on these Two Preachings:
"You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” (Deuteronomy 8:2,3). These words were originally given to the sons of Israel on the verge of the Promised Land. Jesus (the true Israel) lived them in the desert, driven by the Spirit, tempted by the tempter (Matthew 4:1-4; Luke 4:1-4).
“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst…I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh…truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:35,51,53-58).

And, to show that the desert rat of Morgan never takes himself too seriously, i end it thus:

It is said that the Dragon Warrior
can survive for months at a time
on nothing but the dew of a single gingko leaf
and the energy of the universe.

I guess my body doesn’t know it’s the Dragon Warrior yet.
I’m gonna need a lot more than dew.
And, uh, universe…juice.

Kung Fu Panda (DreamWorks 2008), script by Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger