Friday, March 4, 2011

'I saw something
equally clear
and fearful.
I saw myself'

This, from a Brooklyn Jew who came to Minnesota not knowing which end of a shovel to dig with! Stretching barbed wire?! A profound mystery!
The simple caring for animals, if different from maintaining a rooftop pigeon coop or a cat in a Brooklyn apartment, was a foreign concept...

Well, at one of our convocations, we wanted to experience something of what it was like to slaughter a lamb, Passover-style, and a pig – supposedly in the way the Temple was desecrated in the Second Century by Antiochus Epiphanes, who ordered the same kind of sacrifice in every village and city in Israel.
And then, we were going to skewer them on a spit and roast them – primarily because we had to feed three-hundred people who were attending the convocation that summer.
What a ghoulish, horrific experience that turned out to be for someone who only saw raw meat in the display cases with assorted cuts that were always cleanly packaged in the supermarket. But, isn’t this our condition today? Our life is nicely pre-packaged and wrapped in cellophane, a life of excess and ease. Well, God is bringing us into ruthlessly honest kinds of experience as part of the process in producing Joseph’s and Paul’s and Elijah’s. And, it’s authentically messy, as we learned that day up in Minnesota.
I’ll never forget how that lamb, meek and submissive, never resisted right up until the fatal moment, and was hung by its legs from a tree limb with the blood pouring out of it. And, a Jewish girl among the shocked bystanders blurted out: ‘It’s not fair!’

Everyone else was thinking it, but the Lord had her in his sights as she was confronted with a new kind of intimacy with him. She and everybody else were brought to a deep acknowledgement of the reality of the Lamb of God’s own sacrifice that was long avoided by her. When she blurted out that it wasn’t ‘fair,’ it was an admission that she and everyone else have distanced themselves from the whole notion of sacrifice, the shedding of innocent blood, and death. Without those components, there can be no ‘life’ because the life is in the blood.
But, we weren’t through yet. The killing of the pig was next – and it was MY turn!
There are no pigs in Brooklyn, and when we got to Minnesota I finally understood what disgusting creatures they are when it’s feeding time. What an object lesson in appreciating what it is to be kosher. Pigs stink! They’re repulsive with their shrill squealing and filthy grunts – and such a clear picture of greediness. At feeding time, when you bring them their food, you can’t even get close to the trough. They practically knock you over, and if you slip and fall into the mud and excrement, you’re in more danger of being killed yourself. They stand in the trough with their filthy feet, jostling and knocking each other around. What a picture that never gets across as you peer into the butcher’s meat case with everything packaged perfectly.
And, I used to think to myself that the pig was the perfect container for the maximum amount of protein wrapped up and having the minimum of brains and muscle. But, an Iowa farmer took me aside one time and showed me different. They can be very intelligent animals, making their behavior at feeding-time the more repugnant.
I often stand before congregations that show these very same unseemly, barnyard characteristics.
There are many lessons I learned from that pig. The first one was so primal, so desperate in its all-out tenacity for survival. There were four men wrestling that animal to the ground, each one of them finally gripping a leg as it fought and squealed in terror.
How different from the lamb in that the pig refused to lay down its life. Even with a foot on its neck, it writhed and struggled. Then, one of the men gave me the knife, and showed me where to plunge it in.
But I couldn’t. Suddenly, I could see something else as it fought those men. Such desperation. Every ounce of strength focused on surviving, kicking ferociously with its legs, trying to get its neck out from under that boot.

I saw something equally clear and fearful. I saw myself. I saw Art Katz. As plain and as recognizable as could be.
When they finished butchering and took out the heart and all its intestines, I saw where that knife was perfectly inserted into the heart. But still, I remember how that pig took a long time to die, fighting until it seemed all its blood had drained out, squealing in panic right up until the end.
And, I saw myself – and the rest of us – smug, complacent Christians, sitting in our pews with self-confident smiles on our faces, tithing, giving token offerings to support our missionaries, diligently taking our tape-recorders to Bible studies, racking up perfect church attendance.

But, how much like that pig we all are, dedicated to our own lives, our own survival, feeding and fighting greedily to sustain our flesh, and God with his foot on our necks. And even then – we will not cease to struggle!
Are you ready to stand by the spirit in front of your mirrors? Are you ready to see what is looking back at you? Will it be the pig? Or the lamb?

- Palm Springs, California (1976)

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