Over the last week I’ve a few ideas. Though not exactly profound in themselves, I’ve thought perhaps as notions they could be developed into full-blooded animals, if I had the time. One came to me while listening to Kentucky’s Poet Laureate Gurney Norman this past weekend. There was something he said about the way Americans used to craft quilts — how just about anything could be saved and called to noble quilthood. Then I thought about all the trash we produce in a single day in this great land. In fact, I think about it every day when I buy lunch at the one of the many dispensers of food on campus. At some of these are positioned receptacles with signs that read: “Don’t be trashy. Please recycle.” The receptacles themselves don’t seem to be specifically for recyclables. They contain all manner of waste, save perhaps feces. Every time I use such a bin, I drop something in there I think could’ve been recycled, yet now I’ve thrown away the opportunity. Obviously, the sign is meant to make me feel bad, because beside the general trash bin no recycling bin is provided.
This all came to mind while listening to Gurney Norman. And in those few seconds of firing synapses I realized something: we’ve thrown away everything. So often in our nation’s history, past and present, we’ve crafted an image of ourselves as the best the world has to offer. We used to do this principally in religious terms. We thought we had found the Promised Land. We strove to possess it once and for all. We raped and murdered for it, revolted and cast our benefactors in an unseemly light. We performed forced baptisms in golden streams and shot the newly baptized on the other side. We were like Jacob: we took by strength and cunning something not rightfully ours, claimed a glorious inheritance and went on to do tremendous things with it, wrestling with God and seeming to win. And like with Jacob’s descendants, generations have passed and we’ve accomplished things unfathomable to our forebears.
But where has it gotten us? Now, we take everything we’re given and throw it in a trash bin telling us to recycle. We’d rather saunter over square miles of pavement than tread acres of wilderness. We choose virtual realities over living souls, and unwittingly feed our young to carnivorous industries of all permutations. And even when we’re made aware of our deleterious choices, we continue sipping from the same broken cisterns, feigning remorse and best efforts. Have we gotten so cozy in this death trap that we simply don’t want to break free? Are we more content to drink the syrup of Coca-Cola than the blood of Christ?
Unsavory a fellow as Jacob was, God had use for the ignoble vessel. Likewise, the Union of Old committed grievous sin, trampled down human dignity and set itself up as the New Jerusalem, but the clay was still worth shaping. Our ancestors, stained with all manner of corruption, could still marvel in their struggle with the Divine.
But things are different now. We no longer marvel. We can’t even concentrate long enough to stand and stare into His beauty. We must be entertained; we seek satisfaction. Less now like Jacob, we’ve been refasioned as Esau. The robust, ruddy Esau had a terrible hunger, and he casually forsook his birthright to be fed. He gave up hope in eternity for a Happy Meal.
You can see it everywhere now: how we spend our time, what we eat, how we house ourselves. You can see it in the buildings in which we do business. Pass through a sprawling neighborhood, rich or poor, recently built. Do you like what you see? Inspect the tawdry design, the plastic houses. What can the stripmall teach us about wonder? How does Halo, Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto, Motorstorm or Mario Party train us up in the Way we should go, or bestow the life-preserving virtue we all love to miss in our young ones? What does Second Life have to do with life eternal? Somehow we’ve convened — faithful and faithless alike — around the mythic Pursuit of Happiness, and in so doing we’ve cast Mythos far off. We’ve “paved over paradise and put up a parking lot,” because this is where we intend to stay, ever and always rooted simultaneously in boredom and the dread of being bored.
Undeniably we are Esau: We have sold our birthright for a full belly. We too have supplanted hope — an expectation distinctly and divinely human — with a Happy Meal at the Happiest Place on Earth. We crave and demand the toys that gorge our febrile fantasy, and we’ll let men, women and children overseas work 15 hour days for 20 cents an hour if it means we’ll have them cheap. Occasionally we’re alerted to the truth of the matter, that all is not right in the world, and much due to our own design, and we’re indignant. But the veneer of moral indignation does nothing to destroy the construct, because, ultimately, to be unplugged is to be in darkness. And who wants to crusade on an empty stomach; who would rather be foolhardy than full?