(originally told 10/9-1994)
"…and with your blood you purchased humanity for God."
Revelations sat in Howell Park, as he did just about every afternoon nowadays, reading The West End Newletter. As his gaze drifted north he caught site of the belfry of the Ralph David Abernathy All Kindreds Cathedral. "How long has it been?" he thought to himself.
His mind drifted back across the decades to once upon a time when he was leader of that very same church. His paper drooped as he began to stare. From where he sat he imagined that, if it were not for the cut stone pillars and iron rod fencing around the yard of the funeral parlor next to the park, he might be able to see the orange and white billboard in the left-most portion of the front yard of the church. It detailed all the recreational pursuits that were available at the church: basketball, baseball, volleyball, karate, dance, cooking, etc. Thirty-some-odd he believed he’d counted. He chuckled to himself; then, repented.
He shouldn’t be so cynical he told himself. It was a good thing that they were offering these pastime opportunities to the community. There was a time when no one but church members could be involved in church sponsored activities. Perhaps things had changed. Perhaps this wasn’t just an ad for why RDA All Kindreds was better than the next guys. Perhaps they had changed over the years while he’d been gone. He certainly had. Still, it seemed to Revelations that institutions evolved more slowly, less intentionally, than people.
It was there at RDA All Kindreds that he had started telling stories. He had always loved them, especially the ones his grandfather, Baba, use to tell. At the church they had become particularly useful as a way to broach difficult subjects, allowing people to see themselves as opposed to having to hear about themselves all the time.
The first such time had come up when a young woman in the congregation, Aliya (pronounced |’ä·le·ä|), announced to her parents that she was leaving Christianity for Islam. As Revelations put it, “Her parents were like to hit the roof!”
Her mother, a true Southern lady with hopes of cotillions and big fancy weddings for her daughters, just couldn’t understand why Aliya would choose to cover her beautiful hair and wear funny clothes. What hurt even more was her daughter’s refusal to eat just anything she cooked. The mother was a wonder in the kitchen, no doubt, and cooking was one of the ways she loved. The father, an elder in the church, was overcome by the sheer embarrassment of it all. They, the mother and father, had brought Aliya to Revelations, Rev. Sent St. Common, as a last ditch effort to talk some sense into her. They knew she respected him.
Revelations remembered the conversation as if it were happening in that very moment. “So tell me why, Aliya. What draws you to Islam—the way of submission to Allah—outside of your Arabic (and, strangely, Hebrew as well) name, of course?” he inquired and jested.
“Because I love the strength I saw in my friend Hagar and her family during the West Bank incursion. Kids at school would give her a hard time, particularly when they began to notice the uniqueness of her head scarf and diet and the fact she’d stop to pray twice everyday while we were at school. They would call her “raghead” and “terrorist” and other kinds of evil things. And it wasn’t the Jewish kids. It was the so-called Christians. Still Hagar kept right on doing her thing.
“Hagar’s mom really impresses me too. Not only has she raised 5 children of her own (Hagar being the youngest), but she has made a home for countless numbers of children from the community at a moment’s notice, just because they needed help. You can’t beat that.
“Mr. Abdul, Hagar’s father, is a community organizer, but after the last intifada began, he lost his job because some foundation pulled his organization’s funding for his specific position. He could have been bitter and angry, but he wasn’t. When Malik Johnson was falsely accused of raping that white college student down at State, while his former employer was organizing rallies and marches, which Mr. Abdul participated in, he also made sure Malik’s family had food and rent until Malik was released and able to find a new job.
“I remember asking my dad, who’s a judge, about the Malik Johnson case and he gave me some crap about ‘we all have our cross and we must learn to bear it with patience’ and something about ‘dying to self’ and ‘suffering as a Christian,’ which is easy to say when one’s suffering never jeopardizes his own or his family’s ‘basic human dignities’ (to use one of your phrases, Pastor Revelations). When I pressed him, he gave me some colonial BS about letting the system do its job. I can’t stand it!
“I just don’t get Christianity. It’s not that I don’t know or believe the stories; I do. It’s just that the majority of Christianity seems to be about thinking the right things and not about doing what’s right. And don’t get me started on the role of Christianity in every major atrocity throughout modern history.
“Islam just resonates with me. I have no problem with Jesus. ‘I find no fault in him,’ you might say,” she giggled, “but I don’t see how Christianity does his message much of a service. It seems to me that, if Christians were at all interested in the way of Jesus, they would live as if he were reason enough to channel as much good as they can into the world before their time is up.”
How could Revelations disagree…
“You read the scripture, chapter 22 of Genesis verse 1, ‘And it came to pass that God did tempt Abraham,’ Rev. St. Common said as he took center stage and got into character preparing to teach that Sunday morning in church. “Strong words! Real strong words: ‘God did tempt.’ But we know right off the bat that God’s temptations must be as different from the Enemy’s temptations as their characters are opposite of each other. They just must be because, you see, I do not believe God is concerned with tempting us to see if we’ll fail, but rather, I know, God is quick to test us so that He might clarify our conception of who He is and who He wants to be for us. I’ve seen Him do it time and time again from eternity past.
“My name is Jhishayon. I am what you might call an angel. Now don’t let my dress fool you, styles have changed since biblical times. Nonetheless, I am an angel. And, in fact, I was the guardian that was assigned to Isaac—second son of Abraham, first son of Sarah, brother of Ishmael and threat to Hagar—when he was born.
I was excited about it. I knew that there was something special about the child. I had heard all the promises God had made regarding Isaac to Abraham. ‘Through your family, all the families of the earth will be blessed.’ This was one of the children of those promises, and I knew that this child was to be important in the redemption of man. So I was excited about the assignment. And being the person that I am (I grow attached very quickly) from the moment I saw him I loved him. I loved Isaac as if he were my own son. That is why I was quite bewildered, even upset, when God told me they planned to ask Abraham to kill Isaac.
“Now let me not get ahead of myself. Let me explain to you how things unfolded. I’ll even share with you some of what I learned in the process.
“As I said, before God went to Abraham, God came to me (you do know that everyone’s story is connected to many others; we’re all interdependent like that). Well, God came to me and said, ‘Now, Jhishayon, I’m about to request something of Abraham. However, I wanted to come to you first because when you hear it you will more than likely be angry. I’m not going to hold that against you. All I ask of you as you work through your anger is that you trust me. Whatever happens know that my good intentions towards you, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac and all the rest of creation have not changed, even though your feelings will have.’
“Being the faithful servant I thought I was, I responded, ‘Of course I trust you. And be angry towards you—never! What is it? What are you going to ask him?’
“‘I’m going to ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac on an altar to me.’
“I was dumb-struck. ‘How in Heaven’s name could they—’ But there was a determination in the eyes that I knew could not be argued with. Still I had to ask the question, ‘Why… why?’
“‘I know it hurts right now,’ God replied, ‘and I know you don’t really understand. Please trust in me.’
“I threw up.
“I was literally sick as I took my usual post beside Isaac’s bed that night and overheard God outside the tent asking Abraham to cut the throat of his and Sarah’s only son—the one it had taken so long to have, even after the promise—over 30 years trying. It didn’t sit with me any better to hear it a second time…
“That evening Abraham began preparing for his trip to the place where the murder (as
far as I was concerned) was to take place, telling his family that he and the boy were going into the wilderness to perform sacrifice unto to Lord. However, because of the sadness of his countenance everyone in the camp suspected more, yet no one asked. Everyone knew the special connection Abraham had with Yahweh.
“The next day Abraham got up and left early, long before the sun woke. The journey seemed like it would never end. I walked with them every step of the way. Although the Lord endured every question Abraham posed those three days as we journeyed through the land of Moriah, all God would offer in explanation was, ‘Trust in me.’
“Finally we came to the base of a particular mountain in the region. It was there that Abraham asked his servants to stay while he and the boy went on alone.
“I must say that it wasn’t until the whole episode was over that Abraham’s words to his servants began to mean anything to me. He said, ‘I and the boy will go on and worship, and then come back.’ ‘I and the boy.’ It didn’t mean anything to me at the time. In fact, I thought poorly of Abraham that he would even hint at deception.
“Then he and his son walked on, and for the first time, as they trudged up the side of the mountain, Isaac questioned his father. Isaac said, ‘Abba, I’m carrying the hot coals and the wood, but we forgot the lamb for the offering.’
“I will never, ever forget Abraham’s response, ‘God will provide Godself a lamb, son.’
“‘Son?’ I said to myself, ‘What! How dare you lie to that boy? You know what you have to do at the top of that hill!’
“I couldn’t take anymore. I had to leave. I had to get as far away from them as possible. How could Abraham stand there gazing into those innocent, unsuspecting eyes and say, ‘God will provide Godself a lamb,’ knowing what God had asked him to do.
“When I came to my senses, I found myself in a place in the Nephesh realm that I often go when I want to be alone. To get there you follow the great river out of the city of God as it burrows through the Delectable Mountains. The river ultimately spills over a ridge on the backside of the range where it forms several lesser waterfalls whose waters converge to form The Great Waterfall. There are many caves in those mountains. But there is one cave in particular right behind the spill of the first of the Lessers where I like to sit away lonely. It was there that he found me.
“‘Hello, Jhishayon. You probably didn’t know I knew of this place.’
“I looked at him and rolled my eyes.
“He chuckled. ‘Perhaps I deserve that. What’s on your mind?’
“‘You know already.’
“‘But you didn’t stay to see what happened.’
“‘How could I stay and watch him die?’
“‘Don’t you remember. I asked you to trust me, to have faith in me, and promised that if you would stick with me it would begin to make better sense to you.’
“‘I couldn’t! I couldn’t stay and watch him die!’ I shouted.
“‘Okay, okay,’ he sighed with compassion. ‘Look, I know you don’t understand much, but indulge me for a moment. Share with me what you have seen and what you do understand. Maybe I can help you make sense of it.’
“I must confess I unloaded with both guns. ‘I’ll never understand why you would ask Abraham to murder Isaac, knowing he would obey you! That’s right, it’s murder, and it’s sick! You know how much he loves you, yet you ask him to do this evil. What kind of love is that?
“‘At the same time, I find it hard to believe that you are the type to just toy with Abraham’s devotion, one who would push him just to see how far he would go. I’ve never known you to do something like that. And if that is who you really are, then maybe I’m on the wrong team.’
“At that moment there was a strange, reflective pause, and he kind of looked at me as if he had heard that accusation before. Then he replied shaking his head, ‘I would hope that no one would ever get that impression. That’s just not me.’
“‘Then why, Lord? Why would you do it? Help me understand. You’ve always told how one day you would give your life to live in radical solidarity with humanity so humanity might find life once again, might be reconciled to you, despite their having chosen to disconnect and, thus, wane. You told me you would go after them and create new possibilities even in the mist of the impossibility, the death, they had chosen. So why is it that you would take from Isaac the very life you plan to make possible for him? Couldn’t it be enough for them to learn from you how to reconnect, how to live fully human, how to love well and then, in faith that you would resource their efforts, do just that? Or will man eternally have to prove himself in penance to you—for disconnecting in the first place—looking for more and more to give up, even unto to death, to prove how much he loves and needs you? That’s narcissistic and doesn’t make any sense. That can’t be the great Plan of Redemption. It would seem to me that you, being the author of life, would be more concerned with humanity finding ways to live in you, rather than looking for ways to die for you.’
“He looked at me in that strangely unassuming way that he has, and he smiled. Then he shrugged as he commented, ‘Now you see that, but how do you know that Abraham does?’
“I puzzled over that for a brief moment before I had to smile back at him.
“Then he continued, ‘I indulged Abraham’s ancestors’ practice of sacrificing lambs, first, to show them that being divorced (separated, exiled, isolated, apart, distant, aloof, disconnected) from life by choice was a serious thing with real consequences and, secondly, to signify that I would one day come and fall victim to their shame in order to reconcile them to me. I wanted it to always be clear that death is necessary, but only as a means, not an end. They should never get caught up in the sacrifice or dying because that’s my part. What I do want them to focus on is making the most of the life that my act of sacrifice, solidarity and eternal embrace makes possible for them. Unfortunately, you have some of them so caught up in judgment and blood-letting, thinking that’s what I would have of them, not seeing it as just further degradation, that they even sacrifice their own children in what they think is my honor. Even among Abraham’s clan some only understand the killing of the lamb, but I want to make sure Abraham knows the life beyond the death. I’m not Death; I find no pleasure in it. I’m Resurrection and Life.’
“I was blown away. ‘So that means that Abraham never really had to sacrifice Isaac.’
“‘Of course he would, if I were a Lord who desired it, but I’ve already paid that price. Whether or not he has to do it is, perhaps, the wrong question. Maybe a better question is, “What am I after?” because I’ll always be after that which promotes life.’
“‘Okay, Lord. But I have one more question. If that is the case, why would you put Abraham through such mental anguish over the thought that he would have to give up his son.’
“‘So his faith in me might grow. Is it cruel to ask of one’s child what one knows he does not have, in order to cultivate in him what one knows he needs? You know as well as I do that the only way one can live is through faith. The just have always lived by faith. And if my goal is for Abraham to embrace life, I have to strengthen his faith in me.’
“I couldn’t believe it. It was all for faith—for Abraham’s and for mine. I briefly got caught up in the moment of revelation, but then I remembered—Abraham was about to take Isaac’s life!
“Then the Teacher looked at me, and I looked at him, and he said, ‘Don’t you have something to do?’
“I shot up out of there, following the river back to the city, flew past the constellations, slid down the Milky Way almost knocking the outer planets out of orbit as I came careening to earth. ‘Abraham, no!'”
“But he didn’t hear me. Before I even got there, there was the Provider, and I heard him saying, ‘Abraham, don’t take your son’s life.’ At which point I smiled and wiped my forehead. He continued, ‘I can see your faith. By not keeping your son from me, you have demonstrated your trust in me above all else.’
“It was now time for Abraham to express his confusion, ‘Now, wait a minute. Even I know it’s not enough to want to obey. One must follow through. You asked me for my son’s life. I must follow through.’
Having had this conversation already, I stood by grinning the most cheesy grin you ever did see.
“‘I knew from the beginning that you would. I know who you want to be for me, but I wanted you to see… I needed you to see who I am for you.’
“It was then that Abraham noticed the ram stuck in a thicket not too far from where he stood, and he sacrificed it to God that day, instead of Isaac.
“Abraham named that place Jehovah-jireh (interpreted ‘The Lord Will Provide’) to remind himself and his children of what he saw of the Lord in that place. And it is said of that place even today that ‘in the Mount of God it shall be seen.'”
“…So I have to give my life in faith to something that I believe counts, not just for me, but for others as well,” Aliya concluded. “The Imam at the Abduls’ mosque told me that, if I could not get my father’s permission, I must, at least, seek my pastor’s blessing. Otherwise, he would not welcome me. That’s the reason I let my parents drag me here. I wanted to know what you had to say, but I also needed your support.”
Revelations thought long and hard about what was being asked of him. He had spoken with her parents prior to this meeting. Her father had made it abundantly clear that he would not have any “rag-wearing, Mecca-claiming, Arabic-speaking, Allah-praying, swine-condemning, potential terrorist Muslims” in his family. He would probably disown her. At the same time, in the way of “submission to Allah” Aliyah had found a vision of life that was worthy of the kingdom of God.
“Welcome to the family of faith, little sister,” Revelations said, as he stood up to embrace her. “Who am I to deny you the path Allah has for you? But don’t fool yourself. Nothing about this is going to be easy. And you’ll only have my blessing if you are steadfast in your embrace of all those among your family and friends who will think it their Christian duty to exclude you from their company—do you hear me? If you can ‘turn the other cheek,’ and keep coming back at them with love, then my blessing is eternally yours. And know that I am always here for you and willing to walk this path in friendship with you wherever your journey may lead you.”
“Oh, and for what it’s worth, if you truly find no fault with him, I am certain that one can be a follower in the way of Jesus and a practitioner of Islam, all at the same time,” he smiled.