Wednesday, September 22, 2010

poisoned bread

a few weeks ago I attended the church where a friend of mine is minister and was astonished to hear him preach a sermon that, in its supersessionism ("christians are jews who recognized jesus as the savior") and christianphilia ("christians are not necessarily right but we are the only saved ones"), was breathtakingly disturbing. I haven't blogged about it because I'm still reeling from a feeling I experienced as betrayal: here is a man I count as a friend and a religious liberal and with whom I've had more than one conversation about faiths outside xianity in which he was quick to acknowledge the rightness of their truths preaching a sermon that wouldn't have sounded much out of place coming from the most hidebound stereotypical tentshow.

the story with which he ended his sermon ran something like this: there was a town whose grain supply had been poisoned but the people were starving and needed to eat. the grainhouse manager came to the king and said, "your majesty, anyone eating the grain will become mad. but the people must eat." and the king said, "feed it to my people, but set aside some of us who won't eat the grain and will know the others are mad."

I found the original story in a book I'm reading for class. it comes from the tales of the hasidic rabbi nachman of breslov. "one day the prime minister came into the presence of the king and announced that the grain supply of the kingdom was mysteriously poisoned. all who ate of the crop would go mad. the king ordered that the grain be destroyed. 'but, your majesty,' said the minister, 'then all in your kingdom will starve.'

"'then let the people eat of the grain,' said the king. 'all save you and me. we will retain our sanity.' 'but, your majesty,' replied the minister. 'if all go mad save you and me then the people will think us mad and surely put us to death.'

"'then we too will eat of the grain,' said the king, 'but we will mark our foreheads with a sign so that when we see each other we will remember that we are mad.'"

note the difference between the two endings. in the version my friend told the emphasis is on some of us having the truth (about others) to the exclusion of others. in the original the emphasis is on knowing the truth about oneself.

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