Fox Byte 5775 #44: D’varim (Words)

דְּבָרִים

"The King and Queen inspecting the tarts", by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).
The King and Queen inspecting the tarts”, by Sir John Tenniel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865).

One wonders whether Lewis Carroll required chemical substances to help him create the absurd worlds of his literature.  Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audiences of the screen and stage adaptations thereof often conclude that the author – whose real name was Charles Dodgson – must have been on opium or some other sort of mind-altering substance fashionable in Victorian England.  If we are to believe the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other authoritative sources, there is no truth in such allegations.  How, then, could a rational man come up with such outrageous fiction, creating characters and situations that defy logic and even sanity?  Most likely Carroll would have explained in the same way C.S. Lewis explained how he could create the diabolical correspondence of the demon Screwtape a generation later:

Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology.  They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.”  (C.S. Lewis, 1961.  The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast.  New York:  MacMillan.)

What Professor Lewis tells us is that all humans have the capacity to imagine evil, and to act upon it once it is imagined.  Evil is abnormal; the opposite of good and right and true.  If our hearts are inclined toward evil, they are also inclined toward everything else that is contrary to good and right and true – things which are unsuitable, wrong, and illogical.  That is why Carroll can depict an absurd criminal trial with such success.  The King and Queen of Hearts sit as judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knave, who stands accused of having stolen the Queen’s tarts.  As judge, the King has trouble getting beyond his instructions to the jury to consider the verdict before any evidence has been given.  As witnesses, the Mad Hatter and the Knave say nothing of substance, and throughout the trial no one seems to care that the stolen tarts are there in the courtroom, presumably having been returned by the thief.  The trial ends with a mockery of due process of law as the Queen says, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, and then pronounces summary judgment on Alice:  “Off with her head!”

The sad thing about this trial is that it is not far removed from reality.  For much, perhaps most, of history unjust judges have made people’s lives miserable and shorter than they should be.  This is true even for judges among the people of God, which is why in promising to restore His nation of Israel, YHVH delivers this glowing promise:

“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.”  Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.  (Isaiah 1:26-27 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #39: Chukat (Decree Of)

חֻקַּת

Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) instructs Daniel (Ralph Macchio) in the art of karate in the 1984 movie, The Karate Kid.  (Photo from a review by Roger Ebert, January 1, 1984)
Mr. Miyagi (Pat Morita) instructs Daniel (Ralph Macchio) in the art of karate in the 1984 movie, The Karate Kid. (Photo from a review by Roger Ebert, January 1, 1984)

Is it possible to be a hero without paying a price?  A hero is one who does something worthy of esteem on behalf of someone else, and that requires sacrifice.  Sometimes it requires the sacrifice of a life, and sometimes merely the sacrifice of time and attention.  Sometimes heroes save nations, and sometimes they save little children from tears of embarrassment, pain, or grief.  Every act of salvation, no matter how small, entails a sacrifice that someone offers willingly.  And that is what makes a hero.

We learn about heroes in The Karate Kid, a 1984 film starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel Larusso, a fatherless teenager very much in need of a hero.  Daniel suffers a vicious beating by boys from a local martial arts school.  He is saved by a humble janitor, Mr. Miyagi (played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita), who drives off the attackers with a masterful display of karate skills.  Before long Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach karate to Daniel.  The instruction begins when Miyagi assigns Daniel a number of hard tasks.  First he must wash and wax Miyagi’s antique automobiles, using special hand motions to “wax on” and “wax off”.  Then he must sand the walkway around Miyagi’s house, paint the fence around the property, and finally paint the house itself.  Each task features a specific set of hand motions.  After days of arduous labor, Daniel complains that he has learned nothing about karate while working like a slave.  Miyagi responds by having Daniel perform the hand motions for each task.  He then throws punches and kicks at Daniel, demonstrating that “wax on, wax off”, “sand the floor”, “paint the fence”, and “paint the house” have trained the boy to defend against attacks from many angles.  As he blocks Miyagi’s attacks, Daniel realizes the truth:  his faithfulness in seemingly unconnected menial tasks has made him ready for further instruction and greater responsibility in the art of karate.

In time Daniel becomes competent at karate and confident in himself as Miyagi’s training transforms him from a self-absorbed braggart into a self-controlled warrior.  In the concluding scenes he enters a martial arts tournament where he faces the boys who first attacked him.  Each is a formidable opponent, yet while Daniel learned karate as a means of disciplining himself in service of others, they had learned it as a means to exalt themselves over the weak.  They do not realize that the humble attitude Miyagi cultivated in Daniel has made him stronger and better able to withstand pain and suffering.  Their combined efforts at wounding and weakening Daniel only help him discover deeper wells of strength which in the end bring him victory.

This is a life lesson few are willing to learn.  Either we walk humbly in the confidence of our King, or we get eaten by our adversary.  As the Apostle Peter says:

You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.  Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.  Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  (I Peter 5:5-8 NASB)

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