Once upon a time, the immortal god Prometheus stole fire from the other immortal gods and goddesses, and gave it to mortal human beings.
Zeus, who had just become the new ruler over all the other gods and goddesses, was very angry. To punish Prometheus, Zeus commanded him to be nailed to a cliff in Scythia, a distant place at the end of the world. Zeus told two of his henchmen, a demon named Might and another demon named Violence, to take Prometheus to Scythia. Prometheus had taken the fire from Hephaestus, who was the god who made things out of metal for the other gods and goddesses at his forge, so Hephaestus had to go along to make shackles of bronze to hold Prometheus tightly against the rocks.
After traveling many miles, at last they came at last to a high and lonely cliff. Hephaestus began working while Might and Violence watched to make sure Prometheus didn’t get away.
“I don’t have the heart to bind another god in this desolate place,” said Hephaestus to Prometheus, as he hammered bronze nails into the cliff face. “Yet I have to do it because it’s dangerous to ignore the commands of Zeus. Prometheus, I don’t want to do this to you. The sun will scorch you during the day, and the cold will freeze you at night. This is what has happened because you opposed the will of Zeus. This is what you get for giving fire to the human beings.” Hephaestus paused to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “Zeus is a new ruler, and new rulers are harsh.”
“Why are you delaying?” said the demon named Might. “Why do you pity this god who has betrayed all other gods and goddesses by giving such power to mortal beings?” Continue reading →
We’ve tentatively identified four big educational goals for the religious education programs in our church, and one of those goals is to make sure children have basic religious literacy compatible with the society they’re living in. More specifically, we want children who have gone through our program to know: (a) the main Bible stories they’re likely to encounter in Western culture (in literature, film, painting, etc.); (b) stories and facts about the main world religions they will encounter both in their immediate environment and in current events; (c) a basic knowledge of the history of Western religion (primarily Western Christianity), and in particular the history that led to the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism; and (d) the main characters and stories of Unitarianism and Universalism in North America.
Yesterday I had lunch with three of the lay leaders in the children’s religious education program to talk about assessment strategies for our religious education program. I suggested that part of our assessment strategy for this educational goal of religious literacy should be a list of the specific things we want to teach our kids; i.e., which Bible stories should kids know? which famous Unitarians and Universalists should they know? etc.
Below is my first attempt at generating such a list, with material to be covered from ages 3 to 18. I would love to have your comments on, suggestions for, corrections to, and additions to this list.
This Sunday, my sermon title is “Greedy Guts,” in honor of the biggest shopping weekend of the year here in the United States. While searching for appropriate readings, I came across this summary of the King Midas story, in Robert Graves’s Greek Myths:
Midas, son of the Great Goddess of Ida, by a satyr whose name is not remembered, was a pleasure-loving King of Macedonian Bromium, where he ruled over the Brigians and planted his celebrated rose gardens. In his infancy, a procession of ants was observed carrying grains of wheat up the side of his cradle and placing them between his lips as he slept — a prodigy which the soothsayers read as an omen of the great wealth that would accrue to him….
One day, the debauched old satyr Silenus, Dionysus’s former pedagogue, happened to straggle from the main body of the riotous Dionysian army as it marched out of Thrace into Boeotia, and was found sleeping off his drunken fit in [Midas’s] rose gardens. The gardeners bound him with garlands of flowers and led his before Midas, to whom he told wonderful tales of an immense continent lying beyond the Ocean stream — altogether separate from the conjoined mass of Europe, Asia, or Africa — where splendid cities abound, peopled by gigantic, happy, and long-lived inhabitants, and enjoying a remarkable legal system. A great expedition — at least ten million strong — once set out [from] thence across the Ocean in ships to visit the Hyperboreans; but on learning that theirs was the best land that the old world had to offer, retired in disgust…. Midas, enchanted by Silenus’s fictions, entertained him for five days and nights, and then ordered a guide to escort him [back] to Dionysus’s headquarters.
Dionysus, who had been anxious on Silenus’s account, sent to ask how Midas wished to be rewarded. He replied without hesitation: ‘Pray grant that all I touch be turned into gold.’ However, not only stones, flowers, and the furnishing of his house turned to gold but, when he sat down to table, so did the food he ate and the water he drank. Midas soon begged to be released from his wish, because he was fast dying of hunger and thirst; whereupon Dionysus, highly entertained, told him to visit the source of the river Pactolus, near Mount Tmolus, and there wash himself. He obeyed, and was at once freed from the golden touch, but the sand of the river Pactolus are bright with gold to this day…. [pp. 281-282]
That the Midas legend is herein tied to a tale told by a drunken debauched satyr of a fabulous land of plenty lying westward across the Atlantic Ocean makes a kind of mythic sense for my purposes, don’t you think?