Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Original Sin Or Amazing Grace?

The Eternal Fate of Those Unexposed to Christianity
(A Dream Transcribed From Areli Adva While Working in the Lumber Yards*)

The day had taken its toll on me.  My calloused hands and aching back served as subtle reminders of my day in the Yards.  Four rows of trees felled with the help of Nash and his unrelenting blade.  We were getting good.  Easing into my bunk, the dark quiet of Roosevelt Lodge rang in my ears, but not loud enough to overcome my extreme fatigue.  I welcomed the encroaching oblivion.     
Moments after succumbing to the bliss of sleep, my body began shaking violently.  I quickly recognized the familiar rumble of an E-Train, but this was of a different sort than I was used to. It's extremity was blanketed with a sickly yellow gloss, and its interior with the laughs and screams of mutinous school children.  I wasn’t sure how I had managed to doze on a school train, but I wasn’t surprised that my slumber was interrupted. 
“I hate kids.”
The statement was unintentional.  I don’t really hate kids.  I hate when thirty kids are stuffed in a highly acoustic, poorly supervised school train traveling at blinding speeds.  Regardless, as the sentence left my mouth, I was sure it wasn’t me that had actually said it, but the child sitting next to me.  He returned my puzzled gaze with a fully loaded spit wad pursed between his lips.  I turned forward again, curiously embarrassed.  Why had I said that, and why was I embarrassed?  Then I remembered.  It was because Cyrus, the jerk sitting next to me, had plastered a saliva-soaked wad of paper to the side of my face only seconds before.  I made a mental note to tell Mrs. Sayers of his abuses the following morning.  Reflecting on my day, I realized that my agitation went deeper than the spit wad incident, and I meant to take the matter up personally with my mother at the first opportunity.  I spent the remainder of my ride home outlining the main points of my case.
The train lurched to a stop and the doors slid silently open.  I shouted a farewell to my friends, purposely avoiding Cyrus, and hopped out.  The clank of heavy spring rain reverberated from the alloy roof overhead as my mother ran down the terminal steps with an umbrella in hand.  Her disgruntled face immediately brightened as she looked up at me.
“How was your day, Areli?”
“It was okay.”
“Well, what happened?”
“The usual.  We got a new kid.  His name’s Didi, and he’s from Africa.”
“That’s exciting.  Do you like him?”
“I guess, but when our teacher said we have a math test next week, she told him he didn’t have to take it.  It’s not fair.”
“Well, we can talk about it when we get home.  Come on, its getting worse outside.”
            After braving the downpour, we fell through the front door of my childhood home and peeled away our soaked layers.  As I sprawled in front of our electric fireplace, still steaming over my confusion, my mother handed me a cup of hot chocolate. 
“Now tell me why you think Didi should have to take that test.”
“Because he’s in our class,” I exclaimed, “I have to take the test, why shouldn’t he?”
“Well, honey, because he doesn’t know what its about.”
“Neither do I, but Mrs. Callahan isn’t helping me.”
“Areli,” mom said with a grin, “don’t you think it’s a little different?  You’ve been in class all year and Didi just got there.  He hasn’t even had the chance to learn.  Where he comes from, they might not even teach math.”
“But he’s as old as I am,” I reasoned, “When he was out there in the jungle, or desert, or whatever, and he put one stick with another stick, he would’ve still had two sticks.  If he could see that, couldn’t he have figured out the stuff we have to know now?  I mean, he’s had just as much time to learn as me, hasn’t he?”
“Okay,” mom said after a moment of surprise, “but just because he’s had the time, that doesn’t mean he’s had the opportunity.  Maybe his tribe hunted for survival, and no one ever told him to see how many groups of sticks he would get if he put four in each group.  So, even though he could eventually reason any aspect of math, he hasn’t had any motivation to move his mind in this direction.  You live in a country where everyone has heard of math, and English, and religion, and most know a lot about them, whether they like them or not.  Maybe Didi’s never even heard of math before, so how can he be responsible for a test over it?”
“But how does he expect to live here if he doesn’t know math?”
“He will know.  It’s just like anything.  Now that he has the opportunity to learn about it, he’ll eventually take the test, and then he’ll be just as educated on the subject as everyone else.”
“But what if he doesn’t pass it.  What if it’s too late to teach him, and we get all the way through school, and its time to graduate?  Will he still get more time, or will he get kicked out?  Shouldn’t they let him start over from the beginning instead of sticking him in our grade?”
“I don’t know, Honey.  That’s a hard question.  I Thank God that I’m not the teacher that has to make that decision,” my mother replied with a half-hearted smile.  She then gave me a big hug and turned decisively toward the kitchen,  “Now why don’t you go clean your room, unless you think Didi should do that with you also.”
            I sat thinking awhile about what my mother had said.  Who could possibly make the decision to fail someone if they never had the opportunity to learn the material?  But how could someone graduate if they hadn’t earned it?  I quietly thanked God, the great Teacher, for the chance to learn, so I didn’t have to worry about where I was going to end up.  I even started thinking maybe I should help Didi with his homework, so he would have a fair chance.  If I didn’t, wouldn’t I be partially to blame if he failed? 
            I awoke with a heavy guilt hanging over me.  I remember Didi vaguely from my childhood, but I’m not sure the events in my dream ever really happened.  Even now, when the rest of the dream has all but faded from memory, the questions of my responsibility for his well-being are vivid.  I'm not sure if someone should be condemned for something they've never heard of, but I can’t shake the feeling that I don't really need to know.  The idea, itself, instills in me a sense of urgency and accountability for others.  I think I would rather just take the time to tell someone about Christ than spend the rest of my life wondering.  We never know how much time someone will have before "graduation," and the fear of a challenging conversation is no excuse for failing to give someone a chance at eternal salvation.  I can never forget that.

*For more on the story of Areli Adva, read this post.