Eat, drink and be merry – or not?

Funny how one passing thought leads to another, and another, until you end up with something completely divorced from the original thought. Especially now, with the internet. You can whisk through any number of random associations in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

I can’t believe I just typed ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’. I have never said that in my life.

I was thinking about my garage, and how it seems to be inhabited by tins nowadays, mostly cat food. This is because I am nervous about Brexit, or rather apprehensive as to the incompetence of civil servants in managing the transition from – oh, you daren’t even discuss this nowadays – from the way we were to the way we will be.

That lead me to think of an old episode of Alaska: The Last Frontier (before I gave up my TV licence) in which there was an earthquake. I have never been through an earthquake and it didn’t look much fun. The root cellar of one young couple had been badly shaken and much of the foodstuff they had worked so hard to gather/make over the short Alaskan summer had been thrown about and ruined. To please his wife the husband, ever practical, set about building shelves out of second-hand timber, with high boards at the front and sides. The idea was that in any future earthquake, supplies would be contained on the shelves rather than smashed on the floor.

And then I got onto, accidentally of course, the Parable of the Rich Fool. I knew there was a thing about a man smugly heaping grain up in his barn, then dying overnight, but I couldn’t remember what it was called or where to find it. There’s a bit in Matthew 6:19 which starts:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in…

The parable itself seems to be Luke 12: 13-21. A rich man has had a bumper harvest and is rejoicing over all the excess crops he has. There is so much, he hasn’t got room to store it all, yet he means to save it and be able to live the good life for many years, eating, drinking and being merry, which must be the origin of the saying Eat, Drink and be Merry, for tomorrow you die.

He makes a plan. He will tear down all his old barns and build much bigger ones in their place…

Now, here is one of those logic holes. I just love logic holes, which tend to leap out at me. Star Trek is an excellent source. If were the rich man, and didn’t yet know that God was about to thunder at me “You fool! This very night your soul is being demanded of you. And these things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

If I were that rich man, I would be saying at this point: what a waste of time and assets it would be to pull down all the barns I have already got. Why don’t I just build a number of additional barns? Then I can store my grain mountain and eat, drink and be merry etc till the cows come home.

I can’t believe I just typed ’till the cows come home’. I sound like my Nan.

But then of course God would commence his Thundering and I would realise that all my crops and possessions were of no use to me. I should have been concentrating on storing up ‘treasure in heaven’ instead.

I did come across a children’s bible ‘translation’ of this story, that began something like:

There was once a very rich man, and he grew fruit on his farm. We don’t know exactly what sort of fruit, children, but he grew so much of it he was beginning to wonder how he would store it all…

What was with all this mysterious fruit? There was no mention of fruit, surely. So I checked it back in the King James version. What it actually says is:

The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully:

And he thought within himself, saying. What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits and my goods.

And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods.

The writer of the children’s translation has taken this literally. What ‘fruits’ actually means is crops, ie ‘the fruits of his labour’. Fruits are crops, and goods are possessions, as in ‘all my worldly goods I thee bestow’. 

But to what extent was the parable itself mean to be taken literally? Should I not be storing cat food but trust in the lord not to let my nineteen cats starve. Should people not be saving some of their earnings, if they can afford to, because in the event of some financial crash Jesus will provide?

I am still thinking this one over. Where is the line between blind faith and fecklessness? Surely if you don’t worry a bit about the future and try to provide for yourself, you will end up in the gutter, or with other people having to take care of you, or unable to look after anybody yourself? Surely it is a person’s responsibility, as a member of society, to at least try not to be too much of a drain and a nuisance?

It all hinges on time, and predictability. The Rich Fool was called foolish because he decided to horde his excess crops (crops, not apples, pears, cumquats etc) against a future that, in the event, he was not destined to have. But he didn’t know that. If he had known it, maybe he would have made a different decision. If he had known it, maybe he would have given it all away to the poor and needy, and then sat down happily to await his transport to the next world.

Can we live as if there will be no tomorrow? What happens if there is a tomorrow after all?

Taken to its logical conclusion, if we brooded constantly on the thought that we might die at any moment, wouldn’t we all just curl up on the living room carpet and do nothing at all, ever again?  Isn’t everyday life only possible because the future is unknown?

Golden Emperor

Golden Emperor has declared that twenty citizens shall be sacrificed on the 20th day of each and every month, to mark the day of his Accession. By chance, Golden Emperor dies on the day and at the very hour of sacrifice.

It is the turn of Second Deputy Executioner to wield the blade this day. He is concealed behind a screen, already attired in the embroidered purple robe and the mask of ebony. With a soft cloth, he is polishing the implement of his trade. Second Deputy Executioner is sick to death of killing, and yet he will kill and kill. He has a wife and five young children to protect. They do not know his real job. He has told them he is an Assistant Armourer – a lowly functionary, but inconspicuous.  Inconspicuous is the safest thing to be: this they all know.

The citizen sacrifice begins the moment the sun’s turning shadow touches the golden sun engraved on the sundial plate.  Second Deputy Executioner puts down his polishing cloth and rises from his chair with a heavy heart. The twenty ragged men and women lined up in the market square catch the glint of the blade and attempt, in various ways, to prepare themselves for the unimaginable, the swift downward slash of the blade. A woman reaches bound hands behind her back for those of her teenage daughter, standing next to her in the line.

“Close your eyes,” she whispers. “Think of clouds in a stormy sky, or of rain drumming on paper walls. Think of cherry blossom. Make a strong, strong picture in your mind.”

And then the sound of horses hooves, a boy from the stable yard on a stolen horse. He stand up in the stirrups and yells:

“Golden Emperor is dead! Long May He Reign In Paradise.”

“Long May He Reign,” echoes Second Deputy Executioner, out of habit, dropping his sword onto the cobbles with a clatter. He falls to his knees, suddenly unable to remain standing, and behind the mask he weeps.

“Golden Emperor is dead!” cries the boy on the stolen horse, struggling to remain in control of it. “He is finally, finally dead!”

“Long May He Reign,” echoes the ragged crowd as it surges into the Square from all sides, laughing and crying, to free the sacrifices.

cherry

Kenshi sleeps well that night, behind closed screens, on the floor of his Grandmother’s house. He dreams of cherry blossom, slowly falling onto deep, green, silent ponds. He dreams of spring, and of the warm breeze that will soon begin to melt the snow on the mountaintop and in the lanes. When it is dawn he slips on his robe and goes out, meaning to walk just as far as the bridge over the stream, and bid good-day to a new world.

On the road, he passes a priest in a black robe and tall wooden pattens.

“Golden Emperor is dead,” he murmurs.

“Long May He Reign,” replies the priest, keeping his head down, taking care not to trip on the cobbles with their covering of snow.

Golden Emperor dislikes the idea of snow. He has therefore declared that snow does not exist. While he lives, he explains – and who knows, may even believe – the land cannot but be bathed in perpetual summer.

Golden Emperor is not very tall. He has therefore declared that no one shall be taller than he, and he has cut off the heads of all who have the temerity to grow taller, or who elevate themselves in any way as he passes in procession. Kenshi climbs a tree. He gazes up into the mountains and down into the valleys. He gazes all around, feasting his eyes on the view.

Golden Emperor has no liking for music, or indeed anything that might conceivably be more beautiful or interesting than he. He has therefore declared that he and he alone is the source of all music. Kenshi pauses by the stream and appreciates anew the song of a blackbird.

At the bridge, he meets an old man leading a donkey heavily laden with firewood.

“Golden Emperor is dead,” he says, by way of greeting, and in just case the old man has missed the news.

The old man smiles at Kenshi and continues on his way. His parting words trail backwards, almost buried in the noise of the birds and the babbling of the stream:

“And Long May He Remain So!”