Archive for August 6th, 2006

Paying the Price

I’ve been indulging a guilty pleasure for a few weeks: watching my way through the DVDs of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer‘. I’m trying to spin it out now that I’m closing in on the final episodes so maybe some theological reflection on the topic will help delay me.

‘Buffy’ is full of insights that jog my theologian’s elbow but one in particular has me pondering now. This last series raises lots of issues about power and where it comes from and how it can be used and abused. It seems the Slayer’s power is bought at a price. Power doesn’t come for free. In the Slayer’s case it is at root achieved by the infusion of evil, of the demonic, and ultimately against the will of the Slayer, imposed by men who want to use her. Even the brightest power for the good (‘she saved the world … a lot’) involves a hidden pact with darkness. A pact Buffy herself refuses.

The same theme emerges in two other writers of fantasy. Sheri Tepper’s stories unfold strange worlds where the truly extraordinary lies right under everyone’s nose clothed in the everyday. What often drives her novels is the unmasking of the nastiness under the normalcy. And often enough its a pact or a bargain struck by some at the expense of others. The big question is what you do with the power once its origin is revealed.

Ursula LeGuin’s latest Earthsea stories also raise the question of power and its price. Earthsea runs on magic — it’s the everyday technology of life — but in the later stories it’s running awry and the difficulty is linked with death. The dead are troubling the living. It turns out that the Mages’ power was bought once long ago by a bargain. In return for magical power they would renounce the power to truly die and instead accept the fate of the shadowy world of the dry lands where all meaning and purpose disappear but existence goes on. What can be done when this is finally understood? LeGuin’s solution is to tear down the wall that divides life from this false death. To accept true death. And we are left at the end not truly knowing if magic will survive or how.

Buffy’s solution? Well, I still have several episodes to go…

It has me wondering what our own world’s bargain might be. What our power is and what pact have we made to gain it and at what price. And what would we do if the price turned out to be too great? I have some ideas.

To be continued…

1 comment August 6th, 2006

Feast of the Transfiguration Year B

Readings: Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; 2 Peter 1:16-19; Mark 9:2-10 

We’ve reached here the highpoint of Jesus ministry. Literally. In recent weeks he’s raised the dead, he’s made a meal for a multitude out of scraps and gleanings, he’s walked on water … and everywhere the crowds are following him in droves. These are his glory days. And here on this mountain top his glory is unwrapped for a moment in light and shadow for us to glimpse what he is and what he will become. Metamorphosis, the Greek calls it. He speaks here as equal—and more—with Moses and Elijah. And the voice that at his baptism had whispered in his ear, ‘Beloved’, now roars it out from the cloud of glory, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him’.

But this is the high point of his ministry and from here on there’s no way but down. And downhill it will go, into opposition and misunderstanding and failure and fear and pain and death. So much for glory.

But it seems God wants us to listen to what we have heard here and understand the glory we have glimpsed. Not as consolation prize but as promise. Somehow God is putting the stamp of approval on all that will unfold. God is saying, downhill isn’t the disaster it seems.

There is glory here and now with shock and awe and special effects but there will be too, all the way through, even when the light is extinguished and we can’t see it all.

We are wrong about glory. This is to teach us that glory isn’t what we thought it was.

‘Whatever happens, listen to him’. Jesus takes up the baton from Moses and Elijah and takes up with it their ministry of liberation, a ministry only ever carried out by bearing the glory of God vulnerably among the world’s violence.

We thought glory was shiny. We were wrong.

There are ironies here. The original feast of the transfiguration was a local affair in Armenia and thereabouts until it was made universal in 1456. Why? To mark a victory over Islam at the Battle of Belgrade 550 years ago today. Glory?

And you can’t remember August 6th without the scouring light and mushroom cloud of Hiroshima 61 years ago today. Glory?

And who knows what violence and victory August 6th will be remembered for this year?

But it’s also about what we remember and what we value in ourselves. About what we think is up or down, high or low, glory or shame, and about which way we will travel, and how, and with whom.

5 comments August 6th, 2006


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