Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Jeremiah 19) transports me to a blistering rant from the Almighty in the Valley of Slaughter, a rant predicting the worst fates imaginable to the fallen people of faith. These who have forsaken God’s way will be crushed like a ceramic jar in the disaster brought on by their infidelity. The Spanish Bible translates Slaughter as Matanzas. Interesting. One of my favorite cities in Cuba happens to be Matanzas, a city filled with creativity, arts, music, theatre, and some of the most vibrant churches on the island. I remember one beautiful evening there when our friend Paco looked out over the bay and told us the story as to why the city was named Slaughter. During the early time of exploration, thirty Spanish soldiers were crossing one of the rivers to attack a camp of indigenous Cubans, known as the Taino, on the far shore. They didn’t have boats, so they enlisted the help of some native Taino fishermen. Once they reached the middle of the river, though, the Taino sabotaged the Spaniards’ plans, flipping the boats. The soldiers’ heavy armor caused them to drown. Slaughter. Matanzas.
The matanzas of Jerusalem, the slaughter described by Jeremiah, is a story with far more disturbing details. The fallen people of faith had filled the valley with the blood of the innocent, sacrificing their own children as offerings to Baal. The consequential ruin would bring disaster at the hands of their enemies, and their carcasses would become feast for the fowl scavenging the area. The survivors would then have to suffer the siege of their city, resulting in the most horrific of outcomes: they would eat the flesh of their children and then consume one another. Matanzas for sure. I couldn’t help but remember a short story by Harlan Ellison I read when I was in high school. It was called A Boy and His Dog, and it was quite a disturbing story, set in a post-nuclear war wasteland desert, where the survivors scavenged and raided for food. One of these survivors, Vic (played by Don Johnson in the film version), travels the wasteland with his beloved dog, Blood (played in the film by Tiger from the Brady Bunch). Blood is super-intelligent, able to communicate telepathically with Vic. As the story goes on, Vic finds love when a woman from the underground, Quilla June, enters his world. Vic and Quilla lose track of Blood, then reunite with him at the end of the story. Blood is suffering terribly; starving because he has not been able to find food without Vic. The last scene is Vic and a rejuvenated Blood eating barbecued flesh cooked over an open fire. The film closes with Blood telling Vic, Well, I’d say she certainly had marvelous judgment, if not particularly good taste.
Some time after I read that story, I threw the book away, not wanting to have something so disturbing at my disposal. And then I read Jeremiah. I can’t throw this story away. It is a cautionary tale for all who are tempted to pay tribute to the gods of culture. It is telling that in our political world, people of both parties participate in the current craze of “eating their own.” Perhaps it is a fitting image for what happens when core covenant principles are forgotten. Ultimately, though, the story reminds me of the horror Jesus suffered on the cross, bearing the sins of Matanzas and Jerusalem, the destruction of community and the desperation of cannibalism. All of these sins, and all other sins, including those of our contemporary culture, were crushed on the cross. And the resurrection means that the Cuban city of Matanzas can now be known for its creative arts rather than its slaughtering conquest. May such transformation happen to all of us and all of our communities. Until then, it’s time to go feed Charlene Darlin’ (our beloved dog).
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.