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Along the Way
Everything has a beginning...
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This story is the first chapter in The Strangers Tales is a writing project I undertook during fall 1999 and spring 2000. It was written as part of my regular series, Along the Way, published by the Diocese of Chalan Kanoa (CNMI) in its weekly newspaper, North Star. The articles I write for Along the Way are normally brief reflections on Christian spirituality, morality, or current events.

I love stories. I wanted to do a series of stories as a break from the normal content of the column. Having recently seen Bill Moyers PBS series, Genesis, I thought it might be fun to take another look at the traditional Scripture stories from a contemporary perspective. The discussion from the Moyers series was a great source of ideas. As I began writing, the stories took on a life of their own. What began as a short diversion from the usual content of my weekly column became a series that continued for the better part of a year .

The Bible is not only a book sacred to a large part of the worlds population but it also provides us with stories that are the foundation for Western civilization and culture for the past three thousand years. We have heard its stories dozens of times from childhood onward. Sometimes the stories almost become rote and loose their ability to surprise or even instruct us.

I have retold some of the Bible stories simply as stories. In a sense, the way they were handed down from generation to generation before they were written and became part of a sacred text. I attempt to be faithful to the heart of each story, respecting its sacred source and not doing damage to the best biblical scholarship. My goal is to tell a story however, and do it in a way that might offer a little insight into tales that may have become opaque to us over the years. I hope you enjoy the stories and are patient with my retelling of them.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth. He filled the heavens with stars, comets, and every type of beautiful and shiny object. God filled the Earth with life. Plants and animals were found everywhere on the planet, bringing beauty and warmth to what had been a cold and barren planet. Having worked hard the first five days of creation, God thought that he would take the weekend off. Funny thing was that no matter how he tried to sleep in the next morning, he could not. Something was nagging at the back of his mind and wouldnt go away.

As God sat drinking his morning coffee, he listened to the gentle breezes, the babbling brooks of Eden, and the chirping of the birds (newspapers hadnt been invented yet). It was so peaceful! Perhaps a little too peaceful! It would be nice to have someone to talk with, who could enjoy the beauty and peace of His creation.

So, God invited the angels to visit his new creation. They came from every corner of the universe and beyond, filling the Garden of Eden with the fluttering of angelic wings. There were more than enough visitors to admire His handiwork and to offer their own suggestions, as all intelligent creatures are in the habit of doing. They suggested deeper hues of blue and red for some flowers, larger fruit by several centimeters for various trees, and shorter grass of a different texture in the meadows and clearings.

However, the angels were spirits. Even if the Garden was filled to overflowing with angels, the Garden seemed to remain empty. Their suggestions had a certain intellectual appeal but seemed to miss the overall effect that He was trying to achieve.

God realized that for anyone to truly appreciate his creation, they had to be part of it. The animals with which he had populated the Earth were so focused on the here and now that they missed the broader picture as well. God realized that he would need a creature that was similar to angels in their intellect and freedom, yet able to appreciate material reality as an intimate part of their nature. So, God created Adam and Eve.

Now, some folks say that God created them at the same time--man and woman, woman and man. Other folks say that God created Adam first and then, when he worked out the kinks in the design, made the final version, Eve. Whichever way God did it, before long he had his creatures that were somewhere between the animals and the angels.

They were strange creatures. Not only did they appreciate the wonder and beauty of God creation but they were curious! Only a parent with small children can appreciate the curiosity of Adam and Eve. They had to understand everything. They couldnt leave anything alone. They were touching, prodding, taking things apart, trying to figure out how they worked. At first God thought it was cute and admired the intelligence that such curiosity revealed. However, as any parent of curious young children quickly learns, you have to teach them to leave certain things alone for their own safety. You dont want toddlers playing with household chemicals or sharp objects. There were certain things God didnt want Adam and Eve playing with just yet. So, God sat the two of them down and carefully explained the rules to them. They could continue with their games but one tree was off-limits. They were not to touch that tree under any circumstances.

Now the tree that God set off limits for Adam and Eve was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. It was the ethics tree. The fruit of that tree was an acquired taste. God knew that youngsters would find the fruit bitter and difficult to swallow. However, as people would come to maturity they would find the taste of the fruit of that tree strangely satisfying. Adam and Eve were little more than toddlers, given the recent date of their creation, and God felt they had a good deal more learning and developing to experience before tasting that particular fruit. However, as God soon realized, you dont tell curious youngsters not to touch something. As soon as your back is turned, it is the first thing they rush to touch!

Lucifer was one of Gods better known angels, a famous theologian who specialized in ethics. He was of the belief that freedom was real only if you were able to exercise it. God had given the angels freedom and intelligence. They were smart enough to know that the best thing for you was to do Gods will. They felt that they were exercising their intelligence and freedom more than enough by deciding to do what God wanted of them. However, Lucifer was not satisfied with this. He felt that true freedom came only when you did something other than Gods will. So, he decided that the only way to prove his point would be to go against Gods will.

We are not sure just what it was that Lucifer did but we do know that he went against Gods will. Since God wanted only what was best for Lucifer, when Lucifer went against Gods will he did damage to himself. He had been known as a very handsome angel previously, afterwards his beauty seemed to diminish. He was so caught up in exercising his supposed freedom that before long his once fabled beauty was entirely gone. He isolated himself from all his old friends and associates. I guess the easiest thing we can compare this to is a human who is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Some people have a wonderful fire in them when they are young, but alcohol or drugs puts the fire out and leaves them empty. That is the way it was with Lucifer, in fact, he turned mean as well.

Getting back to Adam and Eve, they were taking an afternoon nap after a busy morning of counting the fish in the stream. Adam was sound asleep but Eve was curious and wanted to take a better look at the fruit that God told them to leave alone. Before long she was standing at the foot of the forbidden tree looking up, trying to figure out how the fruit of this tree was so different from the other trees. It looked similar. She heard a voice, yet the only creature within listening range was a snake that slithered in the branches of the tree. This was most curious, as it was the first time she had ever heard a snake talk--to her or anyone! She thought that God had either created a new type of snake or some angel was visiting the Garden. When angels came to visit, they often spoke through the other creatures in the Garden. It didnt take much for the talking snake to prod Eves natural curiosity into trying one of the fruit. It had a strange taste and made her feel different inside, she felt a chill in the pit of her stomach and wanted to be sick.

As she sat on the ground trying to get her bearings, Adam came along. He saw the fruit lying next to Eve and being hungry, picked it up and finished it off. Only then did Eve realize what Adam was doing but it was too late. He had slumped to the ground and was turning a sickening shade of green.

As she sat on the ground the thought came into her mind, "I shouldnt have done that. It was wrong." The fruit had done its work. She realized that her actions had consequences and that depending on what actions she chose, good or bad things would result. She realized that God loved her and Adam and had their best interests at heart. She felt ashamed that she had acted contrary to Gods explicit instructions. Adam had a strange look on his face, which Eve took to be shame as well.

Now, one of the effects of a toxin in the fruit was that the two of them became color blind. Everything was either black or white, the range of colors were no longer accessible to them. They became obsessed with dos and dont. They decided that it was wrong to go around naked, so they made clothes for themselves. They decided that it was better to work than to play, so they got busy building and farming. Before long the Garden of Eden disappeared, chopped down for the timber and cleared for farm land. Eventually, it was paved over and used for a parking lot at a mall in suburban Bagdad. The child-like awe and wonder of their pre-tree days was gone. Since they had broken the only rule that God had given them, they considered themselves sinners and thought that God was angry at them. As a result they became afraid of God and tried to avoid Him, which of course only made matters worse, exaggerating even more their fears and feelings of guilt.

God was getting a bit frustrated Adam and Eve. Since they ate that fruit they were so busy that they never had time for Him. It used to be that he could count on a leisurely walk with Adam in the cool of the evening or long, wonderful conversations over cappuccino with Eve. Now they were too busy working on their projects. Adam was busy inventing different types of work; very quickly he had come up with shepherding, farming, and lawyering. Eve was busy developing the fashion industry and figured out ways to improve the taste of the food they ate. Adam had quickly discovered that being a lawyer wasnt much fun by yourself, so Eve also took up the profession. At least then it was more fun to argue. It got so bad that God was actually surprised that they found the time to have a couple of boys. Did they ever visit God to introduce the boys? No, they were too busy! But we had better stop here for now, since we are already beginning another story.

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Cain, and his younger brother Able, grew up in a dysfunctional family. Mom and dad both had careers. This meant that they could afford the "good things" in life and provided their boys with every thing, from computers, to Nintendos, to a great set of wheels when they were old enough. The problem was that growing up what they really wanted was to spend more time with mom and dad.

God liked the boys. He particularly admired their fierce loyalty and love for each other. Though, they had their faults as well. Cain and Able were very competitive. As toddlers, if one was receiving attention from his parents, the other did everything he could to switch the focus of attention to himself. As their parents became more focused on their careers, the competition between the boys became more intense. Yet, even when they were most competitive, they still valued each other as brothers and best friends.

When the two boys hit their teen years, mom and dad decided that they should be exposed to the various career options that were open to them. So the boys spent time herding sheep, working a farm, helping their parents invent things, and studying law. After graduation, Able decided that he wanted to be a shepherd. Before long he was doing quite well in the meat-packing and wool businesses, which he invented as side lines to shepherding. Cain had a much more difficult time settling on a career. He eventually went into farming but wasnt satisfied with his decision, always wondering if he should have gone into something else ... perhaps the practice of law or inventing!

Cain had always been taken with the stories about God that he heard from mom and dad. Cain used to think about God a lot. After the fields were planted there were months when he had very little farm work to do until harvest time. He would spend a lot of time thinking about God during those months. He understood that God created everything, based on the stories his parents told. He figured that it must be God who was making the crops grow, so that all he needed to do was harvest them when the time was right. Having learned manners as a youth, he thought to himself how good it would be to say thank you to God for the help. So, he said, "Thank you, God." God was quite pleased at the young mans good manners and said, "Your welcome."

Now , God frequently spoke with Adam and Eve back in the days of the Garden. They heard his voice in their hearts. Since tearing up the Garden, Adam and Eve didnt spend much time listening to God. Sadly, they never explained to the boys how to listen to God and hear his voice in their hearts. So, Cain didnt hear Gods most gracious "Your welcome", when it echoed in his heart.

Expecting God to respond to him in some way that he could perceive, Cain made it his personal project to figure out why God had failed to respond to his good manners. He thought and thought, then wrote a book about the dark night of the soul. That satisfied him for awhile. Then he got the idea that maybe God misunderstood his show of appreciation. If it was an act of appreciation that God could not miss, then maybe God would respond.

So, he thought and thought again and eventually came up with the idea of liturgy. He was so taken with the idea that he ran to tell Able about it and enlisted him in the project. Since liturgy was a public act, it needed more than one person to participate. It would be Abels job to stand up and tell stories about their parents encounter with God. Then Cain would get up and offer something in sacrifice, maybe some produce and meat from their respective businesses. They would burn the sacrifices, so if God missed the nice words, He could not miss the smoke.

The next day Cain and Able gathered for the first church service. Cain called them to order and after a brief but impressive prayer invited Able to tell the family story. Able felt a bit foolish, since the only other person in the congregation was Cain. However, he humored his brother and recounted the wonderful days of creation and the family heritage. Since so little time had passed since the time of creation, Abels presentation was very short. Then Cain got up with great flourish and placed the items to be offered up on the barbecue grill. He said a heart felt prayer of appreciation and even before he was finished God was echoing in their hearts his appreciation for the good intention of the boys. The problem was that Cain was distracted. The grill was acting up. Something was wrong with the flue. Instead of pulling the smoke up through the chimney and off to God, it was spreading out in their makeshift church and making them cough. Cain was never good with mechanical things and could not get the flue to work properly. Finally, Able offered his help, being more mechanically inclined, and got the flue to work. Before long the smoke was pouring out the chimney and the air in the church was once again breathable.

Needless to say, Cain was embarrassed by the whole episode. He had messed up his great liturgy and failed to honor God, at least that is what he thought! Given the competition between the two brothers, he was also stinging from the fact that he had been upstaged by Able. Cain tried to forget about the incident but it kept haunting him. God grew concerned for Cain and spoke as plainly as he could to the young man.

"Let it go. If you keep stewing over this thing, it will cause you nothing but trouble. I understand. You were really trying to do something good and I appreciate it. If it didnt come off very well, dont worry."

Finally, Cain began to hear Gods voice in his heart and did his best to let go of the incident.

One day a few weeks later the boys got talking and came up with the idea of starting civilization. Cain wanted some way to make it easier to remember all the laws they came up with, so he invented writing. Able enjoyed designing and constructing buildings and had shown Cain his most recent design. It was a whole bunch of buildings of different sizes and shapes all pushed together and surrounded by a wall. He called it a city.

Not too many years before their parents had found time to make one more boy, Seth. So, they put him in charge of their flocks and farm and the two of them set off to found civilization.

As they walked, they talked about their plans for civilization. It was clear that any civilization worth its salt would have a powerful and respected leader. Able offered himself as the perfect king. He made the mistake of suggesting that since Cain was interested in theology he might make a wonderful Chief Priest. Not only had Cain thought that he was the natural choice for king, being the older of the brothers, but the pain of his embarrassment at the recent liturgical fiasco was still fresh. Needless to say, their march toward civilization was halted while they took a few moments to invent war.

Their argument degenerated into a pushing and shoving match, with neither making much progress and both quickly loosing their breath. They had reached the point of realizing the foolishness of their actions and were just about to call the war to an end, when Able slipped and fell. Cain was not sure what happened but realized something was wrong when Able did not scramble to his feet right away. He reached down to help his brother up and was surprised to find that Able was limp, like one in a deep sleep. He moved his brother and found that he had fallen on a rock. Blood was oozing from a deep gash on his brothers head. Since they had not yet invented medicine or emergency rooms, there was nothing that Cain could do except stare at his brother. He didnt realize it at the time but the two brothers had just invented death, some would even claim that Cain had invented crime and homicide as well.

Once Cain realized what happened, his first reaction was to be angry with God. After all, no one had died up until Abels accident. God had kept everyone alive, why couldnt he keep Able alive as well? Why did God let Able die?

By this time Cain had begun to get the hang of listening to God with his heart. So, he was not surprised a short time later to hear the voice of God echo in his heart.

"Wheres Able? I thought the two of you were off to found civilization."

Cain was offended by the question, after all God was the "all knowing", shouldnt he know what happened to Able? In his anger, Cain impatiently replied, "How should I know? Am I my brothers keeper?"

The obvious implication was that Cain felt that the only keeper in that conversation was God and that he had failed to protect Able.

It took a good deal of talking to convince Cain that Abels death was a direct result of human freedom. The boys accomplished a great deal of good in inventing all the things they had come up with so far. However, actions have consequences. If you invent herding sheep, then the consequence is wool suits, lamb chops, and a quick denuding of the foliage. That was an easy lesson because Cain had seen what the sheep did to Eden. Well, the boys had invented war. It may have felt good to jump around, yelling at each other, and wrestling but one of the usual consequences of war is death. So, by inventing war they had also invented death, grieving, and funerals.

Cain always carried the pain in his heart that he was guilty, in part, for his brothers death. It was a mark on his spirit that haunted him all his days. However, he dedicated himself to fulfilling the work that he and Able had begun together. So, he went on to found civilization and in the process discovered unmarried young women, in-laws, two a.m. feedings, and a renewed appreciation for his own parents.

Also read A Course in Christian Spirituality by Deacon Shewman that is available through this link.

(c) 1997-2008. Richard Shewman. All stories, articles, reflections and other written material contained in this website are the creative fruit and property of Richard Shewman. All rights are reserved. The written material contained in this website may not be reproduced or published in any form, except for the individual and personal use of the reader, without the express consent of the author.