November 28, 2005

Chapter 33

Isaac knocked on the side of Caleb's wagon, seeing a light inside.

"Yes? Come in."

Isaac climbed into the wagon and into the back. Caleb was sitting on stool, carving saw handles on a table.

"What do you need, Isaac?"

"I - well, I'm angry," said Isaac. "First the raiders attack us, and then their beliefs are so strange, and then we find out Jerusalem's been destroyed, and -"

"It's difficult," said Caleb, never stopping his carving a delicate decoration into the handle. "We aren't used to hearing different views, especially views so passionately held. And you've really never heard anything this different, have you?"

Isaac shook his head.

"Maybe I'm lucky," said Caleb, "because I have. Less charged than the raiders, but maybe stranger."

"What do you mean?" asked Isaac.

Caleb shook his head. "I guess you haven't heard much about the lake dwellers. They were mostly before your time, though we still hear from them occasionally and do a bit of trading. I used to live with them."

"Live with them? In all their filth?"

"It wasn't that bad," said Caleb. "I looked around here and didn't think it suited me. I know my parents had tried their best to make me a proper farmer, but when they died, I wandered a bit. I followed one of our trading parties down the path to the lake, and stayed there for a long while before the lake dwellers realized they had company. I caught fish in the creeks, and foraged for food."

Isaac's eyes were wide.

"It's not that unusual, Isaac. I think I was the last person who left our community and returned later, but it used to happen all the time. People wandered. Most of them didn't come back, and a few came back terrified, but some of us had a good time.

"Anyway, the lake dwellers eventually figured out I was down there, and wondered what kind of strange farmer was living on fish. They stopped by one night when I was asleep, and collapsed my tent on me so I couldn't resist. They tied me up and put me in a boat."

"And then what?" asked Isaac.

"They pushed the boat out into the lake, and let it float out. They meant for the lake to have me as a sacrifice, and to consume me whenever it felt hungry."

"Those murderous -" began Isaac.

"No, not really," replied Caleb. "I knew that they worshipped the lake, but hadn't thought through that they might not be as nice to a mere trespasser as they are to our trading parties."

"How did you escape?"

"I thought I was lucky," said Caleb, "or just very good at untying knots. A few hours after dark I managed to wriggle free and paddle to shore."

"And you came home?"

"No, not exactly. I was on the other side of the lake and had to walk back around. I ran into the same group of lake dwellers a few days later. I thought about hiding, but they're good trackers, so I just braved it out. Some of them seemed to think I'd come back from the lake god, and no one felt like sacrificing me again. They gave me some food, and eventually I joined their boats for a couple of years."

"Did they keep worshipping you? Did you worship the lake?"

"They didn't worship me for long, and one of them confessed that he'd tied my bonds pretty loosely since he didn't think I was meant for sacrifice. Everyone had a good laugh, fortunately. Did I worship the lake? No, not really. They didn't expect that. I was at their ceremonies, though, and helped make a lot of their ritual tools and boats."

"They weren't like the raiders, though."

"No, they weren't. They weren't nearly as convinced they understood the world, for one thing, and they were very curious about our customs. The lake dwellers thought we were very strange, though they liked the things we traded with them. And they were definitely afraid of the city people."

"Caleb, I - I worry. I don't think I can convince the raiders of our truths."

"Maybe you can't, Isaac. It's only our job to try."

"They seem to have very different truths."

"People have always been that way. We're blessed here by the choices we've made, and that's why I eventually thanked the lake dwellers for their kindness and walked back up here. I don't think the lake dwellers were right about the god of the waters, but they were just as convinced of that as we are of our God."

"But how -"

"We don't know, Isaac. Ask the elders to prove to you that God exists in the way we expect and to demonstrate that what we do is precisely what God ordered, and you'll be waiting a long long time for an answer. The lake dwellers would give you a similar response."

"But the raiders seem so certain."

"They have to be certain, to behave the way they do. I haven't heard any of them question the beliefs they were raised with, nor do they seem to doubt the huge transformation they've seen over the past few years."

"A week ago, I was as certain as they were."

"No doubt you were, and most of our younger readers. You haven't had anything to test yourselves against."

"But temptation -"

"Temptation lurks behind every bush, in the most respectable houses. Temptation is everywhere, but it doesn't affect the way we believe. Sin for us means doing wrong despite knowing all too well what's right. That's not the same as questioning what's right." Caleb finished the decoration on one handle and started on another.

"I know what's right," said Isaac. "Or at least I did."

"That's a normal response in this situation. I thought the lake dwellers were mad when I first learned how they worshipped. Of course, there was something personal to that, being a sacrifice and all." He paused for a moment, focusing on a difficult corner of carving, while Isaac waited.

"But they weren't mad, or at least they were partly sane. They weren't anything like our raiders, though they were perfectly willing to use violence when they thought it was necessary. Not much room for a broader perspective on the world, but they fit well with the place they had."

"Kind of like us, you're saying?"

"Yes, very much like us. They lost track of older traditions completely, while we still had the Bible. They can't read or write down there, either. I told them some stories, and they especially liked the one about Jonah, but I was depressed that they didn't seem to pick up on any higher meaning."

Isaac nodded. "I think I see what you mean, but it doesn't help me deal with the raiders at all."

"It can't help you directly," said Caleb. "It's not just a matter of convincing them that we're right and they're wrong. First we have to convince them that other possibilities exist, something even most of us don't realize. I don't see that in any of the raider men I've talked with, and we certainly can't send them to live with the lake dwellers. The most I think we can do is to show them a bit of how we live and hope they see the good."

"They see a different good," said Isaac, "and I don't know if ours can stand against it."

"It'll be hard to convince them, no doubt," replied Caleb. "They have incredible faith, even if they've taken a strange direction. They can quote my own Bible at me all day, and I still don't see how it adds up the way they think it does."

Isaac looked down at his Bible as if it was a trusted friend who had begun to waver. He shook his head.

"I think I need to read a lot more of this tonight," Isaac said. "I need a response to their claims."

Caleb thought for a moment. "That's probably a wise idea, but focus on what you believe, not just on what they believe."

"I'm mostly looking for overlap," said Isaac.

"There isn't much overlap between our beliefs and their beliefs apart from the book itself," offered Caleb, "but if you can find a starting place for a conversation with them that will bring them closer to God, I'd be happy to hear it."

Posted by simon at November 28, 2005 09:09 PM
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