Sunday, June 30, 2013

Under the Castor Oil Tree explained

I've been reading a lot of Ian Rankin's novels about a Scottish detective named John Rebus. One of the things I've noticed in all Rankin's novels is that Rebus' partner, whose name is Siobhan Clarke, always finds a way to tell someone how to pronounce her name. It is pronounced Shivon, but how would anyone know if she didn't find a way to tell them.

I recommend the series (and there are lots of them) because Rebus is tough and terribly ironic (and I love irony).

All that reminded me to tell people (maybe even some new readers) what "Under the Castor Oil Tree" it's pronounced, so to speak.

My favorite book of the Bible is the book of Jonah. Jonah, you might remember, is called by God to go to Nineveh and convert the people there. He agrees to go but then takes a ship in the other direction. When the ship is about to sink, he tells the crew he has disobeyed his God, Yahweh, and the crew throws him overboard and he is swallowed by a big fish--or a whale, if you prefer, though whales are fishes--who vomits him up on the shore of Nineveh.

He argues with God throughout the book and tells him he knows God will save the people of Nineveh, so why did he drag him half-way around the known world to do it? Sure enough, God saves Nineveh and Jonah finds himself on a hill overlooking that great city 'so angry he could die'. Plus, it's getting hot.

So got causes a plant to grow to give Jonah shade. Then, that night, God sends a worm to kill the plant.

Which just gives Jonah one more thing to whine about. "Why did you kill my plant?" he cries out to God, once again 'so angry he could die'.

So God tells him something like this: "Jonah, why are you so worried about your shade tree--that you didn't plant--when you weren't worried about all those people in Nineveh who I saved through your calling them to repent?" And something about all the animals in the city too.

And that's where the story ends. With Jonah on the hillside, sweating, pondering God's words....

Well, it so happens, some Biblical scholars think that plant, which God caused to grow to shade Jonah and then sent a worm to kill was a castor oil tree. Who knows why they think that? But nevertheless they do.

In a sense, I identify with Jonah. I never, ever intended to be an Episcopal priest. The fish (or whale) that swallowed me was the Viet Nam war. If I had gone to the University of Virginia to get a PhD in American Literature and taught that for all the years of my life like I wanted to...I would have been drafted and perhaps died in some rice patty half a world away. But I was given a 'Trial Year in Seminary' from the Rockefeller Foundation, was exempt from the draft and got hooked on Theology.

So, like Jonah, I sit under my dead Castor Oil Tree and ponder the mystery and mischievousness of God's ways.

That's why this blog is called that. In case  you wondered.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.