Posts Tagged With: perspective

German History in Modern Times: Four Lives of a Nation


Hagen


Hagen, William W.  German History in Modern Times:  Four Lives of a Nation.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Subject: 

Hagen’s work is meant to be a survey of German history from the Holy Roman Empire until the present.  It addresses the question of nationality, which is central to modern German history.  Additionally, the book is arranged more thematically than chronologically, thus perhaps avoiding a teleological impression of German history as leading to the foundation of a German nation in 1871.

Summary & Author’s Main Arguments:

Throughout the text, Hagen confronts a question that rests at the core of modern German history:  can one speak of a “German history” before a single entity known as “Germany” ever existed?  Indeed, this is a pertinent question for all historians.  Hagen concludes that one can actually speak of four German nations throughout history (which may stand in contrast to the book’s subtitle “Four lives of a Nation” which hints that he’s studying four epochs of the same nation).  His categorization of these four nations is also different than past historians’ categorization of the Germans’ past.

The first nation is the era of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation and runs right up to the outbreak of the French Revolution in 1789.  Hagen stops this period before the official end of the Holy Roman Empire because he feels that the French Revolution actually caused a new surge of self-understanding among the German peoples that predated the HRE’s official end in 1806.  Despite his assertion that the HRE was not a national monarchy (like that of England or France), Hagen justifies considering the HRE as one of Germany’s four national lives by claiming that “Premodern nations were political communities, not ethnic-linguistic or populist” as would define later, “modern” nation states (19).  Moreover, the polycentric entity came to called the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, and this expression of consciousness by the German peoples that they were living in a political nation is enough to justify considering this a “German nation.”

The second nation spans the years from 1789 to 1914.  Interestingly enough, this chronology glosses over several dates that historians have considered important in the formation of the German nation:  1806 – the end of the HRE and the formation of the Confederation of the Rhine, 1815 – the defeat of Napoleon, the consolidation of German principalities and the forging of the German Confederation, and perhaps most importantly, 1871 – the forging of the German Reich, the supposed “answer” to the German Question.  This, Hagen argues, signifies that the multiplicity of German peoples (and their ideas of what constituted “Germanness”) did not simply converge into one national identity in the face of Napoleon, nor by consolidating into the German Confederation (which was still dominated by the Prussian and Austrian monarchies), nor was it settled by the kleindeutsch that resulted in the first “official” German nation in 1871.  All saw nationalism as “the political mobilization and enfranchisement of the whole people (however defined) on the premise (however fictive) of their kinship through language, culture, and history,” and that nationalism was “the most indispensable and potentially the strongest, if also most explosive, social cement” (95).  But the question remained:  whose nationalism should ultimately prevail?  This “nation,” then, was one characterized by a multitude of “competing German nationalisms” (including conservative monarchists, social democrats, and Marxist working party movements).

The third “national life” consisted of an age of chaos, war, dictatorship and genocide (1914-1945).  During this stage, Germans are pitted in wars against each other and against most of the world.  Both the German Reich and imperial Austria-Hungary vanish as the harbingers of German national identity, thus revealing the inadequacy of the solution to the German question forged back in 1871.  Democratic republics are installed into the two largest German nations, but these fail and the world witnesses a resurgence of something resembling the Holy Roman Empire (a confederation of all German lands in Europe under one rule: Hitler).  This epoch ends in shattered identities and political maps that no longer showed “Germany” on them.  This national life, Hagen argues, shows that any story of German history cannot be a teleological one of nationalism’s triumph, but instead depicts a nationalism that destroyed all collective identities that previous Germans had pieced together.

The fourth nation is one of where a single German identity is impossible (even in name), for two German nations existed (three, if one includes Austria, which Hagen does).  1945-1989 was a period in which outside nations forced (or at least strongly pressured) particular identities onto a people who felt they had no nation of their own (which was official true, particularly in the years directly following the end of WWII).  East and West Germany were at first governed directly by the Allied Victors, and only as time went on were they able to assume more political sovereignty. German Austrians were forced to take on an identity that refuted Hitler’s National Socialism, which so many had welcomed with the Anschluss of 1938.

Hagen ends by suggesting the emergence of a new, fifth German nation: a (re)united Germany, beginning in 1990 (but, still separate from Austria, which, up until this point played a vital role in Hagen’s book – one wonders his thoughts on the fact that “the Germans” remain in two nations: Austria, and the Federal Republic of Germany – or would he argue that the Fed. Republic is now “the” German nation, the seat of German identity, while Austria has now produced a specific “Austrian” identity that trumps any ties to a larger “German” one?)

Concluding Comments & Questions:

Hagen’s work effectively steers readers away from a traditional national history of Germany, though questioning the concept of nation remains central to the study.  In fact, by questioning “nation” and offering a new understanding of the concept, I feel that Hagen makes good on his word to reveal a new understanding of the German past.   He avoids forcing our modern concept of “nation” onto the past peoples, and is therefore able to recreate four “nations” as they were viewed by their contemporaries.

In this sense, Hagen places a fair emphasis on the importance of consciousness, or awareness, in history.  What a people thinks it is, is more important than our technical definitions and classification system of today.  Through this realization, Hagen is able to explain why and how local identities (instead of national ones) remained prevalent through most of German history.  “Identities reflected local neighborhoods and dynasties, and political loyalties were dynastic, not ethnic” (36-39).   He also adds that “National identities remained in the realm of culture.”  This shows that in different spheres of life, different notions of identities and nationalism can reign simultaneously.

On a historiographical note, Hagen’s work resembles Sheehan’s German History, in that it 1) places emphasis on the multitude of German identities that existed at any given time; 2) constantly reminds readers of the contingency of historical processes.  Both Hagen and Sheehan caution readers against viewing German history as going inevitably towards unification in 1871, or towards National Socialist genocide of the Third Reich.  Though, they have to balance this need to show contingency with the need to explain why these processes produced the outcome that they did.

And lastly, Hagen situates himself against the notion of a Sonderweg.  A couple of points on the structure of the book:  Hagen doesn’t cite anything throughout the book which can be a little annoying, because it makes it hard to refute or confirm what he’s said.  Also, the inclusion of a large number of visual images is a strength of the book.

 

For more books on modern German history, see my full list of book reviews. 

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How the Maya of Today Are Marking December 21

Below is an article from National Geographic.  The original article can be found here.
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In the modern, future-focused Maya culture, there’s not a single “doomsday prepper” in sight as contemporary Maya celebrate December 21, 2012 – the arrival of a new calendar, bringing with it a New Age and a New World.

Merida, Mexico, 12/12/12:

As Mary and I checked into the Fiesta Americana Hotel and started to unpack for the JPAC (Commission Environmental Cooperation) meeting in Merida, we were drawn to our window by amplified voices coming from someplace outside. On the grand avenue below we could see a large, high-tech stage being fitted with lighting and sound equipment. Pickup trucks marked ‘Policia’ lined the boulevard and traffic was redirected as barricades were placed and giant digital screens set up on corners.

We high-tailed it down to the activity on the street to discover that huge, framed black and white photographs of Maya ruins as they appeared a century ago and as they appear today were dividing the wide walkways in front of the ornate mansions and thriving businesses along this lovely paseo.

Fireworks technicians buzzed about, clearly preparing for an extraordinary and illuminating display. Large shiny white moving vans packing brand new super-telescopes were unloaded by hordes of university students in black t-shirts emblazoned with OBSERVANDO EL UNIVERSO MAYA. Waiting to support the jumbo telescopic star viewers, tripods by the dozens filled the street for an entire block, ready to give the masses an astonishing look at the mysterious beauty, which visibly surrounds our planet at night.

Young girls in crisp white linen dresses with bright embroidery wore colorful flowers in their braided buns as they perfected their hair and make up around other stages appearing along the esplanade. A 3-story Christmas tree towered above the happenings on the street while hundreds of children in white shirts and bright red Santa hats waited patiently below it to be organized by choreographers for their performance in this mysterious extravaganza. Elderly women made beautiful baskets on the spot.

As we soon discovered, the event we were watching unfold was a once in a lifetime – actually a once in a hundred lifetimes – event… This was the 21 December 2012 Celebration, the week-long event that will officially mark a new start for the planet as the Maya calendar approaches the end of its 13th Baktun and the start of its 14th next week. (A baktun equals 394.26 tropical years.)

But! As it turns out, the Mayas of today are making no gloomy preparations for a Day of the Dead to end all Days of the Dead. No, this is a celebration of great hope, a welcoming festival for a bright and beautiful tomorrow, the passing of one era and the grand entrance of the next.

The Mayas know this to be and they bask in its promise.

Then why have countless other cultures around the globe so readily subscribed to the ‘end of the World’ theory? Is it simply human nature to look for the negative over the positive, even in the absence of hard proof? Have religious zealots used this opportunity to strike fear into the hearts of men (and women, and dogs and cats, for that matter), because that’s not really working for me. Clearly the Mayas want no part of that concept either. They laugh at it!

So what does a new beginning mean for the World? Well I, for one, am hopeful. I see potential for unparalleled change and enlightenment. I see access to more information than we could ever put our hands on before and with that access I believe will come amazing opportunities for the betterment of man and planet. I am convinced that future generations will be better stewards for life and environment and that ethical choices will prevail as younger generations start entering and taking over boardrooms.

What Mary and I witnessed on the streets of Merida seemed to be a look into the future of mankind, and from the spirit we saw there in the modern day Mayas, it’s so bright ya gotta wear shades!

The new Maya calendar begins with it a grand opportunity for the transformation of man’s consciousness.

One Maya message relays that we are making a choice regarding how we enter the future ahead. Our moving through with either resistance or acceptance will determine whether the transition will happen with cataclysmic changes or gradual peace and tranquility.

This is a time that the International Council of the 13 Indigenous Grandmothers view as a re-awakening of the feminine. Grandmother Flordemayo stated:

“A transfer of the staff of power from the masculine to the feminine is occurring now.” So we end a 26,000-year chunk of history to begin the next 26,000 years with the nurturing spirit of a feminine power overseeing us; a power that will graciously guide us to work with nature rather than against it.

It seems clear that rather than the end of the world we face a transition from an old World into a new; a World that we can create and cultivate in choosing to do the right things by our people and by our planet.

Strolling away from the 13 Baktun festivities, we soon found ourselves at the Plaza de la Indepencia in the heart of Old Merida, an area adorned with magnificent architecture, including dozens of cathedrals and centuries-old government buildings. Like many Central American cities, the colonial history of Merida reminds us that the concept of freedom should never be taken lightly. In the view of the modern Mayas, they know where they have come from and they know where they want to go. This is an opportunity to avoid the wrong methods and to achieve prosperity through healthier and wiser means.

Wedding parties lined up in front of cathedrals in Old Town Merida as a few blocks away fireworks filled the night sky in celebration of the new Maya calendar.

During this week of celebration, we were able to visit a remote area of Mexico and see flamingos wintering at the Celestun Biosphere Reserve. The village of Celestun, an indigenous subsistence fishing community, is now promoting Eco-tourism to provide for a sustainable future. Its location on the Gulf of Mexico is stunning and the people of this small community are preparing for pending prosperity – not pending doom.

In the most of simple terms, this time is solstice. December 21, 2012, marks the end of the 13th Baktun, and it marks the beginning of the 14th Baktun. The significance of 21 December, 2012, this calendar’s end, and this particular 13/14 Baktun transition, is that it marks the end of a 26,000 year galactic cycle, and begins the calendar of the next 26,000 years galactic cycle. By the very detailed prophecies of the Mayas, this means leaving the calendar of Night and beginning the calendar of Day.

After finding ourselves at the very epicenter of the Maya within just a few days of the ‘current’ Maya calendar’s end, this is what we learned: In another 395 years or so, the 15th Baktun will arrive, and then the 16th, and so on. There will be more Maya calendars and more celebrations clearing the path for change. One happy side note for me is that the last 26,000 years were considered by the Mayas to be the Night. The next 26,000 years they tell us will be the Day. And this, as I see it, is not the dawn of the dead – it’s the dawn of a new day! So let’s join the Mayas in creating a new age of positive, responsible and wise human advancement. We’re in! Are you?

Peace~

Jon

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In China, Buick’s for the Chic

An interesting article from the NY Times last year that I just found while cleaning off my desk.  It shows the power of perspective; in other words, how perceptions of things change depending on where you were born, how you were raised, your life experiences, etc.  

By ANDREW JACOBS and ADAM CENTURY
Published: November 14, 2011

BEIJING — Cars in the United States tend to come fully equipped with stereotypes. Ford Crown Victoria: law enforcement professional. Toyota Prius: upscale yuppie environmentalist. Hummer: gas-guzzling egotist.

In China, where the market for imported passenger cars dates back only about three decades, an entirely alternate set of stereotypes is taking root — and the stakes have never been higher for foreign carmakers.

Take, for example, Mercedes-Benz, a brand that in much of the world suggests moneyed respectability. In China, many people think Mercedes-Benz is the domain of the retiree.

The Buick, long associated in the United States with drivers who have a soft spot for the early-bird special, is by contrast one of the hottest luxury cars in China.

But no vehicle in China has developed as ironclad a reputation as the Audi A6, the semiofficial choice of Chinese bureaucrats. From the country’s southern reaches to its northern capital, the A6’s slick frame and invariably tinted windows exude an aura of state privilege, authority and, to many ordinary citizens, a whiff of corruption.

“Audi is still the de facto car for government officials,” said Wang Zhi, a Beijing taxi driver who has been plying the capital’s gridlocked streets for 18 years. “It’s always best to yield to an Audi — you never know who you’re messing with, but chances are it’s someone self-important.”

With annual growth hovering above 30 percent in recent years, the Chinese auto market is rapidly surpassing the United States’ as the world’s most lucrative and strategically important. Last year alone, the Chinese bought an estimated 13.8 million passenger vehicles, handily topping the 11.6 million units sold in the United States. Foreign-origin brands, most of which are manufactured in China through joint ventures, accounted for 64 percent of total sales in 2010, according to the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers.

Even if Chinese brand associations can seem remote and perhaps amusing to those outside the country, Zhang Yu, managing director of Automotive Foresight, a Shanghai industry consultancy, says they will prove decisive to sales in coming decades. “China is already the largest automobile market in the world. No car company can afford to overlook its Chinese brand,” he said.

The lower rungs of the Chinese market are still dominated by domestic brands like Chery, whose name and numerous models suggest more than a passing resemblance to Chevy. The affluent, however, are flocking to an increasingly diverse array of foreign luxury offerings. The rapid market expansion has presented some foreign carmakers with a chance for brand reinvention, while posing public relations challenges to others.

“Because the market is so young, brand perceptions and a car’s face” — an idiom meaning prestige or repute — “are both critical,” said Mr. Zhang, pointing out that 80 percent of car purchases are made by first-time buyers.

Audi’s party technocrat associations are a result partly of the car’s early market entry and its longstanding place on the government’s coveted purchasing list. Audi, the German automaker, gained access to the Chinese market in 1988 when its owner, Volkswagen, struck a joint venture with Yiqi, a Chinese carmaker. By contrast, BMW’s first domestic factory opened in 2003, giving Audi 15 years to establish itself as the premier vehicle for China’s elite.

This early advantage has helped Audi to dominate China’s lucrative government-car market, with 20 percent of its China revenue in 2009 drawn directly from government sales. Each year, the Procurement Center of the Central People’s Government releases a list of the cars and models acceptable for government purchase. While the A6 has long been a mainstay on the list, which had 38 brands in 2010, BMW made the cut only in 2009.

“When people see government officials in BMWs, they automatically suspect corruption or malfeasance — but Audis are to be expected,” said Jessica Wu, a public relations professional with almost a decade of experience in the Chinese car industry. A basic model Audi A6 costs 355,000 renminbi, or $56,000, while the BMW 5 series Li costs about 428,000 renminbi, or $67,520.

Such market positioning has brought significant financial results for Audi — in 2010, the company sold 227,938 vehicles in China, more than double the number in the United States.

The Munich-based automaker BMW, on the other hand, has found itself in a contrary position. Since entering the Chinese market, BMW has acquired a reputation as a vehicle for the arrogant and the rash, making it largely off-limits to wealthy officials who prefer a low-key public image.

Part of this stereotype is rooted in a 2003 incident in which a young female driver in the northeastern city of Harbin intentionally ran over and killed an impoverished man who had accidentally dented her BMW X5. Despite the transparent nature of the case — a clear motive and numerous eyewitnesses — the case was settled out of court for $11,000. The incident was seen as driving a wedge between China’s rich and poor, damaging BMW’s nascent image.

More recently, a driver in a BMW M6 struck and killed a pedestrian in May during an illegal street race in the city of Nanjing, setting off a public outcry.

“If it hadn’t been a BMW, I don’t think it would have been as big of a deal,” said a young man who had taken part in the race and spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was awaiting trial. “Had it been all Toyotas, Mitsubishis or even Audis, I don’t think it would have provoked as dire a reaction.”

Despite such public relations travails, BMW has posted strong sales in China, selling 121,614 units in the first two quarters of 2011, or 27 percent of the company’s total sales during that period.

The American carmaker General Motors has found the Chinese market to be a life-saving opportunity for the reinvention of the Buick brand. Since 2005, when Bob Lutz, the vice chairman of G.M., famously declared Buick a “damaged brand,” America’s oldest surviving automobile make has successfully positioned itself in China as a top-tier luxury carmaker.

Largely the result of effective marketing and remodeling, China’s romance with the Buick also has historical roots. The last Chinese emperor, Pu Yi, was the proud owner of two Buicks, as was the country’s first provisional president, Dr. Sun Yat-sen. The black Buick 8 driven by a onetime premier, Zhou Enlai, is still displayed at his former residence in Shanghai, now a museum.

In 2010, Buick sold over 550,000 cars in China, more than triple its sales in the United States.

“We joke that our market revived Buick from the dead — it’s only partly a joke,” said Liu Wen, a reporter for China Auto News.

On Sina Weibo, the country’s most popular microblogging service, a recent posting tried to sum up the car clichés. “A gathering of Mercedes indicates a get-together for old folks,” the writer said. “A group of BMWs means young nouveaux riches are about to run someone over and have a party; several Audis, and you know it’s a government meeting.”

 

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After the End

“What are you?” asked the woman.  She had caught a glimpse of my true form in my stolen eyes.

It had been one hundred lifetimes since I had seen a human being.  A thousand years ago exactly, judgment had been passed down from on high, and I, along with those like me, had been banished to a pit of flames and ash.  After the final battle, a new Earth had been established and a millennium had passed under his reign.  But now, that period was over and the Revelation, the final chapter of his Book had come to a close, and I was released from my fiery prison.  Nothing else was written in the Book, so the future lay before us all like blank pages.

“You cannot know,” I told the woman.  She looked deep into my eyes, searching for some type of answer.  I closed her eyes as she slid her hand down my bare chest, and in one fluid motion I entered her.  She cried out in ecstasy.  As I breathed out, she breathed in, and with that very breath – the carrier of life – she and I became one.  I could feel her body in its entirety, and I knew that she was the realization of perfection…pure and flawless.  From the moment of my liberation, I had searched for one like her.  Her dark skin, without blemish, set her apart, and I knew that she was the one.

After the deed was done, I withdrew and she fell back against the wall, panting.  Even I had trouble maintaining the image of my borrowed appearance.  She saw the shimmer in my persona and her hand fell instinctively to her abdomen.  I took a step forward and placed my own hand on her stomach.  As my hand met her skin, I felt the faint hint of movement.  It was the first new life created in a thousand years.

“What now grows inside you,” I told the woman without moving my mouth, “will assume the mastery of this world.”  I saw a trace of fear flash across her face.  But soon, it gave way to a content happiness, as she caressed her stomach.

“I do not understand,” she told me.

“You cannot,” I repeated.

For a thousand years after the victory of the great I Am, mankind lived in a world unlike any except that into which the original Pair was born.  The survivors of the great battle lived in a world with no pain, no misery, no sorrow.  He himself wiped away every tear of joy from their eyes.  Every instant of the millennium was spent in joy and in worship of he who created them.  However, though there was no death and no loss, there was also no creation of life.  That is why the sensation of life within her womb was new and alien to the woman standing before me.

During my imprisonment it became clear to me what this new kingdom on Earth was meant to do.  It was the only way that he could fix his creation’s flaws.  By removing all temptation, by removing all pain, all sorrow and by providing only one option, that is gladness, salvation, oneness with him, would mankind finally be what he wanted it to be.  Only on the straight and narrow path could humans achieve what he, the Lord of All Creation, deemed perfection.

For a thousand years, the embodiment of beauty standing before me worshiped her heavenly father without ceasing and sang his praises.  But now I saw that I had given her something that she had never experienced:  physical pleasure as well as the knowledge that there was indeed something alive inside her; it was the feeling of motherhood.  And yet, she could not understand.  She had not been created in this new kingdom to understand.

I reached out my hand to her and in my palm was a perfect apple.

“Eat this,” I told her, “and you will understand.  And then take the seeds from the Fruit and plant them in the garden.”

Before the woman could take the apple, a wind at my back blew my robes into small wisps of smoke.  And a hand, perfectly sculpted yet scarred grabbed my wrist.  Even before I turned my gaze I knew who held my arm, and I looked up into the grey-blue eyes of the Archangel.

“Ah, hello, Gabriel,” I greeted him.  The wounds on his left chest, the ones I inflicted on him a millennium before, still bled.

“You have been summoned,” he said to me in a voice more powerful than thunder, and he released my hand.  I nodded to him and looked back at the woman one last time.  I snarled as I noticed the Fruit rotting in my hand.  Fiery wings erupted from the flesh of my back and I spread them wide in the room.  I beat them once and leapt into the heavens.

In an instant I stood before eternal and never ending gates.  A saintly gatekeeper stood before us and acknowledged my guardian and me before gesturing that we should enter.  I stepped forward and Gabrielle led me into the throne room.  It was a room unchanged, perfect and bright.

I saw the feet of the Alpha sitting before me, and the throne to his right was occupied once again.  It was the Son, sitting, radiant and pure.  My eyes rose up from the feet set before me, those foundations of all things, and I met the face of the Alpha.  No man had seen that face and lived.  But then again, I was no man.

His face was not beautiful or flawless like his Son’s.  It was ever changing.  In one instant it was that of a wise old father; in the next, that of a fresh, newborn child.  In the blink of an eye the face would meld to that of a haggard woman before suddenly giving way to the wretched, repulsive face of Death.

I felt his piercing stare fall upon me, and when he spoke, his voice came not from his mouth, but radiated from his heart.  “You, oh Great Deceiver,” he addressed me, “dare come before me in guise?”

As he spoke, I felt as my body was forced to assume its true form.  My damnation and expulsion from heaven had scarred my figure.  Once the Lord of Luminescence had stolen all Light and kept it for himself, there was nothing left for me except Darkness.  And that Darkness devoured my being and left me forevermore hideous.  My wings were no longer beautiful and feathered, but instead shredded and leathery.  The fires of jealousy and greed had singed my skin and the envy, the desire for what had been taken from me, had consumed my angelic features.  Hatred – the hatred of those countless generations that came after me, and my own hatred at the injustices thrown upon me – had distorted my body into something repulsive.  My charred skin had become hard, as hard as my own heart.  Even my feet had taken the same shape as that worn by the lowest beasts that walked the Earth.

I, the Fallen One, shed my skin like a serpent and stood raw, naked and exposed before him.

“What is it you wish to accomplish in my new kingdom?” the Lord of Thrones asked me.

“I wish only to grant back to mankind that which you took away from them,” I told him.  For a moment, there was silence throughout the cosmos.

“You, the ruler of only one-third of the stars, those that fell, hope to advise me, creator of all that was, is, and all that shall be, on how to govern that which I have created and provided for?”

“Yes,” I answered him.

He gave a snort and then replied, “You have been released from your prison but for an instant and already attempt to blacken their salvaged hearts.”  Upon receiving no answer from me, he continued, “You seek a woman.”

“No,” I corrected him.  “Not a woman, but a mother.”

“And what do you desire from a mother?”

“A fresh beginning,” I told him.  “In the Beginning was the Word,” I continued, “and the Word provided for mankind, but kept from them one Fruit, the lush sustenance of Knowledge.  However, I offered them the Fruit and you punished them for wanting to become like me…and like you.  You had to begin again, washing away not only their sins, but everything of their past.  After that, you provided yet another beginning when the Word became flesh and your own Son sacrificed himself for your creation.  Yet again, you have wiped clean, through warfare and bloodshed, everything of their world, keeping it “pure” for a millennium.  And yet, as you said, I have been released for only an instant, and already, upon given a Choice, one of them has already chosen against your Will.”

“Why do you wish to steal happiness from them?” he asked me.

“It is not happiness that I wish to steal.  I wish to grant to them Choice.  Free choice in their lives.”

“I gave them free will!” he bellowed.  For a moment, the tides of time reversed, but soon proceeded normally once again.

“Free will indeed,” I told him.  “And yet, it enraged you when they chose to do that which would not be pleasing to you.  You have since cursed them for that, plagued them with disease, disaster, and eternal damnation.  If it were not for the Compassion of your Son, not a single of these souls would join you here after death.  I wish for them to have true free will.”

“You would have choice without consequences?” he demanded

“Consequences come naturally, my lord,” I replied.  And then there was silence as the Ancient One thought.

His head shifted to that of a great blue elephant and he asked, “You would have them indulge in the pleasures of the flesh?”

“Yes,” I told him.  “I would wish for them to know the intimate senses of the flesh, but I would also have them truly know the deeper pleasures of Life as well without fearing themselves or others.  I would have them enjoy pure happiness and jubilation, that which comes from themselves, not the shallow and hollow joy which is feigned by your ministers.”

“Explain yourself,” he demanded.  The sharp gaze of a falcon now stared down at me from above.

“Look below at your Creation,” I said, and turned to point at the small orb known as Earth below us.  “How can one truly know pleasure if one has never felt pain?  How can one actually appreciate the joy of love without ever experiencing the piercing pain of loss?  One cannot exist without the other.

“Look at your new kingdom, look deep within the city walls,” I told him, “You claim to have given them delight and merriment, and yet all you have done is taken away heartache and death.  In your quest to keep from them the Knowledge of Evil, you have kept from them true Knowledge of Good.  No loss has fallen upon mankind for a thousand years.  And here in heaven has it ever.  Yet the absence of Loss does not grant Joy and Contentment.  Eternal joy is not joy at all.”

The Son turned his gaze to Earth and then over to me as the Father stared down as well.

“Look around,” I told him.  There were humans and angels and all of his creations bowed and worshiping him without ceasing.

“This is not salvation,” I said to him, he who sat on the throne.  “It is bondage.”

Both Gabrielle and the Lamb looked to the King, anticipating his reaction.  But there was none, so I continued.  “To live in fear of your creator, to live in fear of those different from oneself and to live in fear of the unknown of an afterlife is to not live.  Particularly when the afterlife is not a life at all, but simply the fulfillment of a duty to the cosmic master.”

The Great One waved his hand and time itself stood still.  Only those in heaven continued unaffected.  “And what is it that you ultimately want, oh Lord of All Things Vile?”

I took a deep breath and exhaled.  I had waited for this moment since my expulsion.  My forked tongue slipped forth eagerly from my lips.  And then I spoke:

“I do not seek retribution, nor do I hope that you will clear my name from all of the wrongdoings and lies with which it has been falsely associated.  I am not here to ask forgiveness, for I know your forgiveness has limits.  I stand before you to ask for the World of Man.”

He who was, is and will be, suddenly was not in the throne, nor was he anywhere, but he was everywhere all at once.  Finally, a shape reappeared on the throne, and as I looked up, I stared into the eyes of every man, woman and child that had ever lived.

The Son now looked anxious.  His Father spoke:  “You ask for that which I created?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“What makes you think that I would grant such a request?”

“Because,” I told him, “the final chapter of your Book has closed.  There is nothing left.  Your millennial reign on Earth has ended.  And yet, you are not pleased with your creation.”

In the silence that followed, I realized that the Father strummed the cover of his Book.  As I continued, I wondered if he thought of the final pages:

“You are the Alpha, but you are also the Omega.  You created this world many lifetimes ago, and now you have ended it.  Go!  Begin anew!  Elsewhere,” I told him.  “But, leave this world to me.

“You remain angry and unsatisfied with the World of Man and blame them for their flaws, those decisions which are against your Will.  But, both you and I know, oh Exalted One, the real reason for your anger.  You wrote a book that limits your own power, and above all, a flawed creation means a flawed creator.”

Suddenly, the Son sat upright in anger.  Instinctively, my hand moved swiftly to the hilt of my sword.  Yet, I knew I had nothing to fear.  The Prince would not strike me; for, violence had been reserved for the Father, and the Son’s own Compassion was too great.  He felt it even towards me.  However, his Father’s silent contemplation only angered him further.

Moments would have passed if time had been allowed to run its course.  As it were, I could not tell if I waited for a second or an eternity, though I knew it was neither.

Finally, the Father spoke:  “So be it.”

The Son’s face fell.  That was understandable.  He had given his life, had given everything for the salvation of Mankind so that they may not be eternally damned by the Cosmic Judge.  And suddenly his Father had, with three words, delivered the entire fate of mankind into my hands.

And yet, when he looked at me, and our eyes met, I felt a sense, however small, of understanding.  For, he had stepped into the World of Man so that they could escape the strict and impersonal rules and commandments laid forth by the God of Gods and instead find Compassion and the personal connection with the Lamb.  A part of me expected the Prince to speak, but he remained silent.  I did not know if his silence stemmed from fear of his Father, or from his wordless consent.

Suddenly, I noticed a third throne, sitting to the King’s left.  In it sat a woman, more perfect than all creation.  Her dark skin set her apart and was pleasing to my eye.  She sat staring down at me, beautiful and frightening.

I felt the Father’s voice in my body once again, “She who carries your seed is yours.  Of her own free will.”

The woman stepped down from her throne to stand beside me.  She turned to face the Father and Son.  “Does this please thee?” the King of all Kings and the Lord of all Lords asked me.

“Yes,” I answered.  “I wish for nothing further.  I will not pursue you anywhere you may go.”  My gaze met with the Prince’s once more and I saw a twinkle in his eye before he looked sternly forward, glancing only momentarily down at Earth one last time.

“One final thing,” said a voice from the throne in the middle.  I was given a start as I looked up.  The Father’s eyes now peered down through a majestic and angelic figure, my original given body.  He was talking to the woman.  I saw how she gazed at the heavenly creature sitting before her, and anger flared up inside of me as I stared down at the distortion I had become.

In my body, the Father stepped down from his throne and extended his hand.  In his palm was a perfect apple, the Fruit.  “Take this,” he commanded her.  She obeyed.  His body, my body, suddenly shriveled like the desert sand and withered away.  He was back on his throne, faceless.

“Then I have spoken,” boomed the Lord, Creator of All Things.  “It is done.”

In the next instant, I stood on the wall of New Jerusalem, my talons digging deep into the stone.  A clap of thunder more profound than had ever before been known heralded my reentrance into this world.  People ceased their worshiping and then exited their dwellings to step out into the streets.  For the first time in a thousand years, a cloud drifted in front of the sun.  Many people below were afraid of its shadow, yet some found comfort in its shade.

Without warning, the sun was extinguished and the world was plunged into darkness as all of the stars fell from the sky.  Chaos reigned as the Creator and the Word left this world forever.  I wasted no time in replacing every star individually and I hung the moon tenderly myself.  My winged followers began dismantling the walls of the Golden City so that mankind could again inhabit the whole of the Earth.

However, I remained perched in the sky alongside the woman.  I silently folded my wings tight around me, cloaking myself to hide my scarred exterior.  “Eat, Mother,” I told her.  She bit deep into the Fruit, and then I set the world in motion once more.

I reached over and placed my hand on the woman’s stomach.  Feeling the life that I had created brought a smile to my now attractive, borrowed face.  The smile only widened as I watched the people below as they gulped up water and fed themselves for the first time since the Four Horsemen established the heavenly Reign on Earth.  Hunger had been a stranger for the past millennium, but so had the pleasure of food and a full stomach.

Yes, the humans went on with their new lives and they once again became the host of Age.  For now they were grateful for their gifts.  However, there would come a day when their Compassion and Patience with each other would come to an end.  Some would want Favor, others Riches and Power.  Others still would want Answers.  A segment of their kind would simply always feel unworthy and lost, seeking personal validation, satisfaction and Purpose.  And when these desires could not be fulfilled to their liking by Earthly means, they would turn their attention to the heavens.

This time, I and my son would be waiting to fill the empty thrones.

 

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“After the End” by W. J. Newsome is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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