Of Cows, C.S. Lewis and BB Guns: March 25, 2010

The gravity that usually attends the Thursday gatherings of Brotherhood of the Briar was conspicuously absent this week, as you will see. A spirit of hilarity and amusement prevailed, and even the fire seemed in a mood for laughter and jokes as it merrily spat out large chunks of burning embers which we dodged all evening. The night seemed darker than usual, perhaps due to the absence of the ambient pink glow that lingers in our sky most nights.  But tonight the sky was dark and the stars clear, and I’m sure they laughed with us as they pursued their way across the heavens.

Thirteen of us were present this evening, trying to dodge not only sparks, but an uncommonly cold night that seemed sprung upon us as part of a joke. We warmed ourselves with a Bowmore Islay 15 year darkest scotch. Many expressed their distaste for the cold by saying such things as “This feels colder than January”or “That’s because it was the cold that you weren’t expecting.” But Greg summed it up succinctly by saying “I hate it more than my mom’s third husband.”

We began innocently enough, and with a degree of seriousness, when Nathanael was asked to describe the craziest thing he saw during his time in Chad. He explained that he didn’t see anything crazy, but he saw some beautiful things, one of which was the cattle-herding nomads known as the Fulani, a group that has spread all over central Africa. They are an old people group, and in their history have been mercenaries hired by local kingdoms for protection, slave-traders, merchants and nomads. They are quite conscious of their appearance, to the point that it is common for men to receive manicures, braid their hair, put ornamental dots on their faces and wear colorful clothing. A cross between Arab and African, they possess a syncretistic, animist, Muslim belief system. Their lives revolve around their cattle which are distinctive: long-horned, red and known as Fulani cows. Our resident psychologist Ben said that the Fulani were known in cognitive psychology for their ability to look out at a herd and count hundreds of animals very accurately with a quick glance.

Perhaps it was the Fulani cows that got us started, because the talk turned to the shooting of pest animals and people (it’s true) with BB and pellet guns.

Everyone seemed to have a story.  Some described the squirrels or rabbits they would shoot in their yards or the battles they would have when they donned plastic safety glasses with their friends and shot each other with copper pellets. It is entirely true that in the late seventies and eighties when I was a youngster, I used to wander through the neighbors’ backyards with my pellet gun shooting squirrels, rabbits and sparrows without eliciting any comment whatsoever. However, during my phase of practicing with a bow and arrow in my back yard, Mrs. Furie, the neighbor lady behind me, did get pretty upset when she found arrows buried in her yard that I had shot completely through her wooden fence.

Wheaton College students seemed to posses a special merit for being the objects of various projectiles. Tim had heard about a boy who used to shoot them with BB’s from the third story of his house as they walked by on Franklin Street. And Ben’s  former Young Life students would hide behind trees and pelt students with stale cupcakes. As Ben and I are both  former Wheaton students, I suppose we should be glad we were not made such targets.

Following protocol, we said our mantra in unison, and Justice, who was excited about the G.K. Chesterton books he had downloaded on his Palm Pilot, read to us from Heretics. He began reading, but almost immediately the backlight on his phone went dark and Nathanael laughingly asked, “What happened? Did your pages flip in the wind?” We pride ourselves on reading from “a book that’s not too new,” you see, and usually that means a physical book, not a virtual one.

During a silence punctuated only by the sound of lighter wheels clicking and matches striking, a large chunk of burning wood hurled itself gleefully out of the fire and landed on Ralph’s jacket. A member of our group who shall remain anonymous for reasons that will become abundantly clear, put out this fire by dumping his glass of scotch over the affected area. As we all know, scotch is extremely flammable and when thrown into a fire (as has been demonstrated many times at these gatherings) will create a large fireball that roars into the sky. However, this scotch was fire-retardant because it was mixed with diet Seven-Up (?!) and so was sufficiently diluted to do the trick. The upshot was a gaping hole about four inches square in the arm of Ralph’s jacket and an affronted amusement for the single malt purists among us.

“When we say a smoking jacket, Ralph,” said Justice, “we mean it as an adjective, not a verb.” We all laughed and someone said that the patch to cover the hole should be made of velvet.

Of course we talked about C.S. Lewis. There is rarely a week when his name is not mentioned. We talked about his eidetic memory, the discipline of his thinking, how one of things he was good at was spiritually addressing a philosophical issue and holding on to a biblical truth without letting go of either one.

Ben described the incongruous climate of this week’s gathering nicely. “This week we have animals getting shot and killed and we watched Ralph burn; last week we were discussing economics with Václav Havel’s chief economist.”

The Economics of Good and Evil, Part 1

The Economics of Good and Evil, Part 2

Continue the discussion. Ask questions. Give your version of what happened. Leave a comment. I’ll be reading and responding.