Anarchism

Uncrowning the Bramble

I wrote this reflection for Presbyterians for Earth Care.

The trees once went out
to anoint a king over themselves.
So they said to the olive tree,
‘Reign over us.’
The olive tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my rich oil
by which gods and mortals are honored,
and go to sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the fig tree,
‘You come and reign over us.’
But the fig tree answered them,
‘Shall I stop producing my sweetness
and my delicious fruit,
and go to sway over the trees?’

Then the trees said to the vine,
‘You come and reign over us.’
But the vine said to them,
‘Shall I stop producing my wine
that cheers gods and mortals,
and go to sway over the trees?’

So all the trees said to the bramble,
‘You come and reign over us.’
And the bramble said to the trees,
‘If in good faith you are anointing me king over you,
then come and take refuge in my shade;
but if not, let fire come out of the bramble
and devour the cedars of Lebanon.'”

Judges 9:8-15 (NRSV)

One of the unluckiest lectionary-forgotten texts is the Parable of the Trees, found in Judges. This was the first parable in all of the Hebrew Bible. It has a strange and ecological edge to it. The trees are looking to be reigned over. The text does not share why the trees are looking for a ruler, but it is assumed that they are foolish in their pursuit. The trees speak to an olive tree, fig tree, and vine. They each respond that they are too busy providing vital nourishment and support for ‘gods and mortals.’ When the trees eventually speak with the bramble, it seems to mock their aspirations, saying: “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade.” Trees, as we know, offer more shade than any bramble bush could. The next line though is even starker: “but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.” The parable ends abruptly. I can imagine that after the bramble bush said that, the trees anxiously gulped.

What might this parable mean for us? First, God is enough. The Book of Judges and the first chapters of First Samuel spell out to the Hebrew people that God is their king and they do not need human overlords. God speaks out of love and justice, not out of domination. Second, there’s a beautiful ecological meaning to it. The Earth is enough. It provides what we need when we need it. When we push the Earth to its limits, all suffer. Lastly, we are enough. We do not need to look for controlling and strong leaders. God has given us the abilities and the Scriptures to discern how to act justly and live out compassion. May we do so. 

Prayer: O Loving God, through this Lent help us to trust you, knowing that you are enough. Direct us in treating the Earth as our sibling and not as something to be controlled. And guide us as we follow you, reading your Scriptures, and loving our neighbors. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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#BlackLivesMatter, Philosophy, Scripture

adventure time as a postmodern book of judges

If you haven’t watched Adventure Time, you’re missing out on a delightful, fun,  philosophical, and always zany cartoon. Finn and Jake, a young blonde boy and a mustard colored stretching dog, maintain the roles as the heroes in the Land of Ooo. They battle against creatures and kingdoms that harm. And uniquely, there are many kingdoms: Flame, Ice, Candy, Lumpy Space, and the list just gets stranger. Yet, Jake and Finn do not inhabit any of these kingdoms.

Finn and Jake

The connection to the biblical book of Judges did not seem obvious to me at first. It was an episode from the current season titled “Walnuts & Rain” that tipped me off. Finn and Jake fall into separate holes somewhere in a forest. At the bottom of the hole, Finn finds himself in the Kingdom of Huge. King Huge eats constantly, fed by the Food Boys. Finn asks politely to leave, but the King has the Food Boys bind him. Finn breaks free with some trickery of his own, but was caught by the King. In the nick of time, Jake falls into the same space. With Finn in the King’s giant hands, he asks Jake, “What are you going to do about it?” He said this unassuming of Jake’s stretching abilities. Jakes makes a fist and stretches it across the King’s face. Finally, Jake and Finn make their way out of the hole and travel back to the Tree House.

Finn’s hole adventure parallels the story of Judge Ehud (Judges 3:12-30). In the story, Ehud makes his way to pay tribute (taxes imposed by another empire) to King Eglon of Moab. The writer notes that Ehud is left-handed. He hides a knife on the opposite side, his right leg. (I guess this was not a place where the Ancient TSA patted). He gives the tribute to King Eglon, who also is a huge man, and then asks if he might speak with him privately. In the room alone, Ehud stabs the King, his guts fall out, and Ehud exits through the bathroom into the sewer.

Ehud

In this medieval painting, Ehud’s garb resembles Finn’s. Coincidence? I think not.

Captivity, plan-making, and King-hurting are present in both stories. While Ehud as a judge identifies and fights for the Hebrews, Jake and Finn represent wandering judges, not bound by place. As well, in the Book of Judges, God raises up Ehud. Finn and Jake have a calling, but no caller. Even Grob Gob Glob Grod, who Ooo deems as a deity, does not call creatures to a purpose. When Finn and Jake embark on their adventures and face disruptors, harmers, and just plain evil (The Lich), they perform justice without a telos other than making sure others are unharmed.

Jake and Finn are postmodern characters because they know no boundaries, walls, or patriotism. They are, in a way, part of every kingdom. Sure, they are called upon by Princess Bubblegum of the Candy Kingdom. And Ice King tries to pry himself into their lives, but it’s not as if they are private contractors for the Candy Kingdom. They are outsiders fighting for a just world. 

 

P.S. I believe the biblical tradition of judges continues with such people as Vandana Shiva, Cheryl Clarke, Cornel West, Naim Ateek, the leaderful movement of #BlackLivesMatter, Evo Morales, Gustavo Gutierrez, and Bill Wylie-Kellermann

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