It Looked Like a Button to Me

A socially distanced class, nine of us altogether, each with a six- or seven-foot table to him or herself, arranged in an oval: we had to speak up a bit but we could actually hear and see each other and the conversation was going swimmingly when I noticed some laughter on the side.
    One student apologized, but I missed his words. On the floor across from him, I saw a button. I figured it had popped off a jacket and rolled there; maybe he was embarrassed.
    Then I noticed that the button had thin, long, hinged back legs. “O, I see; a grasshopper.”
    Wrong again. Another student, Saint Francis, rose and with cupped hands took the critter out the door. A frog. A miniature frog, the size of a quarter. Saint Francis returned and pumped the hand sanitizer.
    What had we been talking about? Something about human nature, I think, maybe the difference between human beings and animals. Only a day or two before we had been talking about Genesis 2, where the original human named the beings God brought to him. “Frog,” he must have said. And here we were.
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    The original human must have had good eyes. Can you imagine God bringing him a frog and him calling it a button?
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    God made those creatures in Genesis 2—the birds and the land animals (and yes, I know a frog is only ambiguously a land animal)—God made them all because he saw it was not good for that human to be alone. They were not made to be lesser beings, but rather to be companions, “helpmeets.” God seems to have thought they might have made good fellows for us, in the sense of beings that could answer our aloneness. God seems to have thought they might be our friends.
    It didn’t turn out that way. I imagine the parade of new critters coming past Adam, and him saying, “giraffe ... cockroach ... pelican ... starling ... otter ...” What I don’t know how to imagine, however, is the process by which he determined none of them would be a fit companion. Did they go out on dates? “I say, pelican, you sure swallowed that soup fast.” Maybe the cockroach communicated with him by typewriter (as does Archy in Archy and Mehitabel). Each date ended, Adam came home. God asked him how it went. “Well, actually, I’m sorry—maybe it was my fault—but we just couldn’t get much conversation going.”
    So it didn’t work out. Nevertheless, we do seem to bear with us a bit of that old longing, the wonderment that just possibly we might be friends with other creatures, and friends in the fullest sense, sharers in a common enterprise. I loved the Doctor Dolittle books when I was a boy: a doctor who learns animal languages and forms around himself a household where an extensive menagerie dwells as a family. And it seems important that, in the Lord of the Rings, some animals are peers with Gandalf, and their cooperation is needed for the defeat of wickedness.
    Poor fallen man that I am, I only had an eye for a button.
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    On the web. I have been recommending this article to friends since it first came out in June, and I judge it to be a Virus-related thought-piece of lasting value. The author’s question is: Why has science become politically weaponized in this matter? He has an interesting parallel with the 1986 Chernobyl radioactive fallout on sheep farmers in Cumbria. In these long-haul situations, we need to recognize that people on the ground have their own expertise that must be engaged. Experts’ trust “is gained in drops and lost in buckets.” https://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/radiation-politics-in-a-pandemic

 

Mosquitoes

I was up north at our beloved seminary in Wisconsin. Daily we met, maybe 25 of us, for Morning and Evening Prayer. It was on the grass, with graceful tall trees around us. The authorities had done well: putting out plastic markers and chairs in a grid, “socially distant” from each other. We wore masks. We sometimes chanted and sang. Students led the liturgies.

They were from Rite Two, done with dignity. Two lessons both morning and evening, each time Old Testament and New, were read.

The sunlight is longer up there, the orb rising at 5:30 and setting about 8:30. (Here in Dallas, it’s about 6:30 to 8:30.) By the time of Morning Prayer, we had already had more than two hours of sunlight.

Despite being outside, the services were slightly formal, proper and plain. We had a booklet for the week (which we were asked to keep and bring with us, rather than risk the paper becoming a locus of transmission of the Nasty V) (no, the Nasty V was not yours truly). The booklet laid out the services. A cork bulletin board, resting against the lectern, had Psalm and hymn numbers. So there were no announcements about sitting or standing or which page to turn to. Without oral instructions, we just did what we did, simply. When I didn’t know what to do, I looked around. All was well.

Simplicity was the key. Nothing fussy. Nothing to draw attention to oneself. God’s Word, spoken prayers, a slight breeze, sky, no stained glass, no musty church smell, the beauty of nature, the occasional bird cry . . .
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    . . . and mosquitoes.

I had forgotten how that part of our country is full of them. I think I must have faced the blood suckers on a childhood vacation, but if so it was followed by a diagnosable Suppression of Memory. All of which came back. We would be at a place in the service where it was time to cross oneself, and one’s hand slapped one’s neck, reached to the middle forehead, strayed over the left forearm for a quick brush, circled around one’s hair, returned to one’s chest, went down to brush one’s leg, and returned for the two points of the cross. There was a sign of the cross in there, honest.

Garrison Keillor once spoke of the ferocity of summer mosquitoes in Lake Wobegon. “Sometimes a crucifix helps,” he said, “but you have to hit them hard with it.”
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People at times ask me if there will be animals in heaven. I try to cover my bets on that one, saying something vague like, if your own being has been tied up with your pets, then we might think of your resurrection as bringing them along with you.

No one has ever asked me if there will be mosquitoes in heaven.
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I suppose, to be honest, I do think they might be there (perhaps along with cats). The Bible pictures the consummation of God’s rule as being marked by the lion lying down with the lamb. This seems to indicate that blood will not be shed in the world to come.

So: why not mosquitoes? Just remember, guys: no digging in my flesh for blood.
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Out & about without going out yet. My book Friendship: The Heart of Being Human is now available. Amazon (a.k.a. Behemoth) has it and lists the author, helpfully, as “Austin.” You can get it other places too, for instance ChristianBook.com (which knows my Christian name, and where a new copy of Losing Susan is a dollar).

I’m eager to talk about friendship (or any other theological topic) to church groups and so forth, and glad to do so Zoomily during this time of the Nasty V. Just drop me a line if you’d like to schedule something.

 

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The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."