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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

By a twist of cyber fate, I happened to come across this dystopian fever dream on my way to ponder the lections for yesterday:

Verily, verily, I trust you got through the entire video, because I have several thoughts. The first is that whoever is writing these wondrous works has a narrow, blighted view of the world and what it means to be a person. That Cinderella would be made happy not by falling in love, but by making sports shoes betrays a bitter lack of imagination. That Sleeping Beauty would wake up from sleep to the deep enchantment of finding a hundred years of savings in her bank is dumb enough to make me want to give up on life. And for Rupunzal to cut her own hair so that she looks like a disaffected mid-level queer theorist is beyond tone-deaf. Honestly, I don’t want to hear another thing about human “flourishing” from any person who has made the consumption of material goods the only reason for being alive and is therefore ready to repent in dust and ash. What a horror show.

Second, the person who wrote this “book” should go watch more of those TikToks of Zoomers weeping over the bleak realization that working a 9-5 job is soulless and existentially crushing and that there’s no way out because they are saddled with piles of school debt because the culture, as one, lied to them from the time they were born about what they were made for and what would make them happy. How miserable to have your fairy godmother appear only to unload a sewing machine on you, or, when faced with Prince Charming, to think, not that he’s awfully cute and maybe you could build a comfortable life together and have a bunch of squishy babies, but how much money you can get in a hundred years? Has Satan taken to writing children’s books? Or has HSBC hired him to be Director of Children’s Marketing?

The question, of course, is what does it mean to be a person? Setting aside whether we are talking about impressionable young girls, or soulless, grasping bureaucrats in back offices trying to find a reason to keep on living, to be human means something particular. Your body, soul, and mind are directed toward some end. They have a source. They come with certain proclivities and inclinations that can’t be ignored or deconstructed without grave eternal consequences.

Not to be pedantic or anything, but one might say, especially if one were a Christian, that to be human is to be created to be in a relationship with God, first, and then other people. To be human is to be a spiritual and material creature, dependent on the Creator and, out of that constraining, and yet enlivening, relational dependence, to reflect his nature and character. Anyone who hates God, like the Devil and whoever wants young women to live lives devoid of familial affection, has to work hard to keep delivering up cheap, plastic lies at an intense rate because they are so easily uncovered by just one nice young man buying Cinderella a cup of coffee.

Lying is mainly the Devil’s game, but anyone can play it with him. Take the texts we had yesterday in Church–if you were able to go.* The very oldest lie, the first, shiny lie that was ever told by any creature of God appears in the story that Jesus tells, and in the prophecy of Zephaniah. Let’s see what shape it takes:

For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ [emphasis mine]

I’ve always intuitively believed several wrong things about this parable. For example, especially when I was a child, I felt in my heart that the talents were human talents, like being a brilliant singer or an accomplished baker or, in the case of Cinderella, saddled with the desire and ability to make sports shoes. Moreover, I “knew” that God gives more of those “talents” to some people than others and that if you hide your light under a bushel, he’ll get mad at you later on. Go and do thou likewise and the dogs licked up the blood for the Bible told me so.

Not that God doesn’t give each person gifts and abilities according to his inscrutable will, but that’s not what’s going on here. The point is that the master in the story possesses considerable capital and for whatever reason puts some of it under the stewardship of some of his servants. The expectations he has for his servants are not inherently wicked, like he’s Pharoah and they are having to make bricks without straw. Rather, what he commands is perfectly reasonable. Two of the servants get the point and go busily to work for a master they understand. He didn’t give, and didn’t feel that he needed to give, them any parameters. He trusted that they were clever enough to figure it out. I suppose one could have gotten into real estate, and one into banking, and another into shoes, who knows. Implied in the conferring of the capital and the instruction to make money is liberty of invention, is industry, is some kind of enjoyment. The little vignette, so neatly told by our Lord, is reflective of that time in the garden when the man was made to live in a wide open, verdant space. There was one condition, but it shouldn’t have been onerous given that he knew the Master. He was even given help–another person to enjoy the work, to think with, to plan, to build castles, to ponder over the wide assortment of interesting pets.

But the third one is hunched over in some dark post soviet office block feeling angry. That line, “I knew you to be a hard man,” is so haunting. How did he know? Is that even true? Is the master “hard?” Does he really reap where he doesn’t sow? Doesn’t he literally give money to the servant, enough to do something that will then earn more money? It’s not magical thinking. It’s not some sort of unicorn sparkle dust. He doesn’t wave his wand and make a sewing machine out of a pumpkin and promise happiness through immiserating tedium. He gives cold, hard cash to get started.

In other words, that bit has always hung me up, until I paused to mull over the bit from Zephaniah:

Be silent before the Lord God! For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests.

At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
    and I will punish the men
who are complacent,
    those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do good,
    nor will he do ill.’

Their goods shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses, they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.”

The great day of the Lord is near, near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter; the mighty man cries aloud there.
A day of wrath is that day, a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation, a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness, a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.

I will bring distress on mankind, so that they shall walk like the blind,
    because they have sinned against the Lord; their blood shall be poured out like dust,
    and their flesh like dung.
Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth. [emphasis mine]

In the Kingdom of Fairness, the girl boss is convinced she gets to have her opinion about who God is, and what he is going on about. Fair’s fair. Agree to disagree…..And yet, the ugly lie, which didn’t just spring, fully formed, onto YouTube last month, is rather the ancient, ruinous belief that God, because he doesn’t want us to have everything all at once, isn’t good. Indeed, he is a bad god, who doesn’t want you to be happy or have nice things. He is the sort of god who won’t let you eat the fruit of that one tree or who locks you in a tower or makes you scrub the floors or promises that a prince will come and save you when all you wanted was to design ugly sports shoes for men or become a slum mistress for other naive, lonely, girl-boss young ladies.

Is it any wonder that God is so angry? He is the source, the font, the spring of all good. He gives everything good that can be given–including redemption, including a way back into that beautiful world where you don’t have to be alone, striving for one more percent in your bottom line. You can work. You are invited to work. But the work that you do is derivative of his good pleasure. It is the kind of work that will re-entangle you in the lives of other people, but more importantly, your Maker.

So anyway, have a nice day, and find me on Substack for more Happiness Tips.

*I meant to post this yesterday, of course, but I’m in charge of the Christmas Pageant this year, and so everyone is going to just have to take what comes to them, as it were.

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