instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Ruminations of a Feisty Old Quaker

Abraham's Choice

Most people who will read this will undoubtedly know the tale of Abraham and Isaac. It is one of the foundational stories of all three of the major Abrahamaic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, and Islam - although Muslims will often argue that the child involved was Ishmael rather than Isaac). The Christian version is found in Genesis 22. God challenges Abraham to prove his devotion by sacrificing his firstborn son, Isaac, on a specific mountain top. Abraham journeys to the mountain with his son and carries out all the preparations, up to and including binding the child to the pyre and picking up the sacrificial blade. At that point, God interrupts in the form of an angel, who stays Abraham's hand and points to a ram caught in a nearby thicket. Abraham, the angel says, has adequately demonstrated his obedience, and should now save his son by sacrificing the ram instead. Which Abraham proceeds to do.

 

In all three faiths, The Binding - as it is known in Judaism - is held up as a premiere example of the rewards to be obtained by radical obedience to the love of God. But now comes along Wilfred Owen, writing from a battlefield in France in the summer of 1918, shortly before his own death in battle. Owen's version sticks close to the language of Genesis. But it has a different, much darker ending.

 

The Parable of the Old Man and the Young

 

So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt-offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
and builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretchèd forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

 

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.

 

I have been thinking a lot about this lately. Where does our current culture stand in relation to The Binding? We clearly still abhor child sacrifice: our battles over abortion relate to that, as does our focus on child sex trafficking, and the emphasis opponents of Trump's border wall have placed on the separation of children from their parents by immigration authorities. We are Bibically correct - as long as the children are concrete. But when they are abstract - children in the future, children as a whole in the present - we seem far more likely to embrace Wilfred Owen's dystopian version of the old tale than we do the original.

 

It's not just war that I am talking about.

 

We are faced - all of us, right here, right now - with Abraham's choice. We have bound our children, and our children's children, to the pyre of climate change. The angel has arrived, in the form of irrefutable scientific evidence that change is happening and that it is human-caused. The sacrificial ram - our addiction to fossil fuels - has been pointed to. We have been implored to switch. But the knife continues to descend.

 

There is another story of child sacrifice in the Bible: the tale of Jepthah, found in Judges 11-12. There, the sacrifice is actually carried out. Jepthah is not nearly so highly regarded today as is Abraham. But it is his example, rather than Abraham's, that we apparently choose to follow.

 

We still abhor child sacrifice. We particularly abhor mass child sacrifice. A story in the February 2019 issue of National Geographic recounts archaeologists' discovery of a site in Peru where hundreds of children and young llamas were slain in what was clearly a single large-scale ritualistic offering by the ancient Chimù culture to try to stave off the calamity that would soon end their civilization. Most Americans will properly recoil in horror at the idea of murdering that many children in a vain attempt to keep a dying culture alive, but we are worse than the Chimù. We are extending the life of our dying petroleum-based culture by sacrificing the future of every child on the planet. And our resemblance to the Chimù extends beyond the sacrifice itself. Available evidence points to an extended period of heavy rain as the primary cause of the Chimù's demise. They cut off their children's future in a failed attempt to continue business as usual in the face of climate change.

 

As do we.

 

Abraham made the proper choice. When the angel appeared, he listened. The child was liberated; the ram was sacrificed instead. Our time is short - it grows shorter every day - but we can still do the same. We can still turn from dismantling our children's future to dismantling our dependence on fossil fuels. Renewable energy is a viable alternative; taking Abraham's choice does not require the sacrifice of our comfort instead of our children. We should rejoice in the opportunity we have been given to shift victims. Will we be wise enough to take it? If not, the fire awaits.

 

1 Comments
Post a comment

No, Not Republicans

Warning: Rant.

I have been up since 5:30 this morning. I'm a night person, but I couldn't sleep for the anger. Anger at the travesty that currently passes for politics in Washington, D.C. Anger at the Kavanaugh "hearing" and "investigation" (quotes around both of those, please). Anger at party-line politicians who just "go along". Anger at Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.

Anger, mostly, at "Republicans".

No, NOT "anger at Republicans." I want to make this clear. Anger at "Republicans". Quotes around the name only. Those using that name in Washington right now are not really Read More 

1 Comments
Post a comment

Some Thoughts on Third-Party Movements

(NOTE: this was first published as a Facebook post two years ago, on September 2, 2016. Because it remains relevant - especially so with the 2018 mid-term elections just over two months away - I am republishing it here on my blog, where it will be easier to find and refer to.)

Those advocating for third-party presidential candidates are taking on a harder task than they know. The structure of the American government virtually guarantees the dominance of two major parties. I'm not talking about the political superstructure that's been built up over the last 240 years; I'm talking about the basic structure of the government, as spelled out in Read More 
Be the first to comment

What I learned in Washington, D.C.

This is a story from my long-past lobbying days. I'm telling it now because it has important implications for the current political season.

The story starts on a late April Monday in 1973, with a 6:00 AM phone call from Diane Meyer,  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Here, hold my beer

Five days ago - on June 2, 2018 - two rock climbers fell to their deaths from a pitch a thousand feet up the face of El Capitan, the 3000-foot-high granite wall that guards the entrance to Yosemite Valley. Most people may have skimmed right past that item, but as a former climber myself I tend to follow news like that, and this one grabbed my attention. Despite its impressive verticality - which draws climbers from all over the world - El Cap is really pretty safe. The standard routes all have fixed Read More 

1 Comments
Post a comment

Fructans and Me

I knew from the moment I took the first bite that I shouldn't eat that sandwich.

We were out with friends in a brewpub in a nearby town. The beer was good and the conversation was better. Because I have a food sensitivity, I looked the menu over carefully. Good - they had a BLT. BLTs are always safe. This one listed a couple of extra ingredients, but not the one that I have a problem with, so I ordered it. It came, scrumptiously prepared. I bit into it.

Onions?! Who puts onions in a BLT?

Maybe it's just a tiny amount in the sauce? I took another bite. Read More 

Be the first to comment

We are better people than this.

We are not so poor in material goods that we cannot share with others, nor so poor in spirit that we will refuse to share.

We are not so shallow that we care only for wealth, nor so short-sighted that we will destroy the only Earth we have to obtain it.

We are not so fearful that we must build walls against immigrants, nor so intolerant that we will shut our doors against neighbors who are not exactly like the rest of us. Read More 
Be the first to comment

I'm Sticking with NoteWorthy Composer. Here's Why.

(NOTE: if you are a non-musician, you may safely ignore this post.)
(ADDITIONAL NOTE: Noteworthy did not pay me to write this.)


If you are a musician in today's world, you use music notation software. That is a given. You may still use staff paper and a pencil to write down your ideas, or even to compose whole pieces; but if you are going to share them with the world, the world will expect the scores you produce to be computer-engraved. From this it follows that, when musicians gather, sooner or later the conversation will always get around to  Read More 
6 Comments
Post a comment

Of The People, By The People, and For The People

I am a former government worker.

That's not a confession, that's a point of pride. I was a librarian; I worked for a county library system. For eighteen years, I helped people find information they needed in a collection of books and journals and other documents which they owned but  Read More 
Be the first to comment

Wake-Up Call

Are we awake yet?

As I write this, there are 22 wildfires raging
- that word is accurate - raging through California's Sonoma and Napa valleys and the eastern part of the Central Valley, along the base of the Sierra. At least 3500 homes and businesses have been destroyed. Thousands of people have been evacuated, including the entire city of Calistoga. Much of Santa Rosa is in rubble. The official death toll currently stands at 23, and authorities expect that to rise "significantly" when they are able to go into areas that are currently quite literally too hot to enter.

Two days ago, the smoke from those fires briefly reached my home in Oregon, 400 miles to the north, driving air pollution counts into the "unhealthy for sensitive groups" range for  Read More 
Be the first to comment