The City

There once was a great and good city.

It was built upon the message of forerunners and the resources of ambassadors from a wonderful kingdom across the sea.  Although the city was small at first, over time it grew.  It developed a culture.  This culture included art, and music, and all forms of literature.  And it developed governments, and all kinds of institutions.  It created schools, hospitals, universities and all kinds of guilds and fellowships to care for every human need.  It was a great and good city.

Like all things that grow, over time the city began to show signs of wear.  Just like old plants in the garden, there were parts of the city that needed to be trimmed back, torn down and rebuilt.  The great old Cathedral in the city was dark and dirty after many years of service.  The schools, hospitals, and universities were cluttered after many generations of service.  Even the streets themselves were cluttered and dirty.  And like all things that grow, the city was being tended by men who could only think of the glory of the past, and not consider the health of the current city, because cities are living things.  And even though it was old, dirty, and buried under clutter, it was still a great and good city.

One day a teacher in the university was digging under all the papers in his library trying to find something that was lost.  In the bottom of the pile of clutter, he found a large book!  And the book contained the original plans for the city.  He was overjoyed, and also a little shocked.  As he read the book he discovered things that were underneath the city.  He was also shocked that the city around him looked nothing like the city that was described in the old book.  “How could this city be the city in the book?” he asked.  He called others in the university and told them to read the book too.  They too began to ask questions.  Some thought that the city might need a cleaning.  Others thought that the city should be blown up and that they should go back and start rebuilding the city from the foundations.  After some discussion (and a vote) they bought some dynamite.

They made a plan that they would blow up everything that they didn’t see in the book.  But they had a problem.  It was an old book, and it was written in a different language.  Some of them understood the book better than others.  And most of them didn’t know all the details and context of the old book, so they misunderstood the book. The ones who had the greatest knowledge were in the minority, and slower and more careful when they spoke.  They warned the others of great danger, but they were the minority, and were quickly outvoted.  The majority rejoiced and they made a plan to blow up the city on Halloween night.  As the time arrived for the explosion, the crowds of costumed revelers joined in the frenzy of preparing for the explosion.  And when the first bomb went off, there were cheers in the crowd!  But soon it became clear things would never be the same.  The mob that shouted for change now shifted to shocked silence.  Although it had been a great and good city, it was now a heap of rubble, and they would have to begin rebuilding.

Those first men had a good intention, but it soon became clear that rebuilding the city was a big job, and no one was sure how to do it.  You see, they were scholars, not builders.  They also discovered that many details about the city were not answered by the book.  Because of this, sections of the city began to develop strange and odd characteristics.  Roads went nowhere.  Houses had doors on the second floor.  Chimneys went down and sewers went up.  And worst of all, the first men had passed a law.  No one could build anything that wasn’t in the old book, and a group of overseers were elected to protect the new building.  Anything they thought did not reflect the book would be blown up.  Over time it was clear that the old city would not regain it’s former glory.  Overseers took their dynamite and blew up each new thing.  The city was always going back to the foundation and rebuilding.  Gone was the culture, gone was the art, gone were institutions.  In each new generation they would have to go back to the old book, try to figure out what it said, and then start rebuilding.  And eventually the overseers would come and blow up the new building and the process would start all over again.

What was once a great and good city, had become a futile project in rebuilding.  And those most able to rebuild were not allowed to help—the overseers did not allow artists and artisans to be involved in the process.  “Artists caused all the clutter in the old city,” the overseers said.  So in every generation, the memory of how beautiful the great and good city was became more and more dim.  No one remembered the beautiful city, and so each rebuilding became more plain and more ugly.  After five hundred years no one could tell a barn from a house from a box.  They were all the same, and they were all white.  And since the buildings might be blown up at any moment, no one built for another generation.  And the lives of the people in the city were as bad as the buildings.  No one could tell a whore from a prince from a priest. The city had ceased to be great, and the city ceased to be good.

One day a ship arrived from across the sea.  The kingdom that started the city was still there.  On the ship was a fresh group of ambassadors, and a group of forerunners.  They went into the city and began to look around.  They were very excited, because they knew it was time for a visit from the King across the sea, and they began to tell everyone it was time to rebuild the city.  After some difficult moments with the few remaining overseers (They tried to blow up the boat from across the sea, since it wasn’t in their interpretation of the book!)  These new faces convinced the people that there was something great and good in the air.  Soon, many people joined together to rebuild the city.  They were really tired of seeing things blow up.

And the first thing the men from across the sea did was call the artists, the craftsmen, the designers, and the storytellers.  “We need you!” the men said.  “We need you, because all of this dynamite has destroyed the foundation, and it is time to rebuild and keep building.  We can only rebuild on the foundation of the story from across the sea.”

That day they began to rebuild.  And instead of destroying what the previous generation built, the next generation of men built upon it.  With help from across the sea they rebuilt the city, and once again it was great and it was good.

And after they had rebuilt, another ship came across the sea, and in it came the King.  And when he came into the city he was amazed.   There were schools and hospitals and institutions.  There were guilds and fellowships that cared for every human need. And it was full of music, beauty, and excellence.  The people were kind, and loving, and gracious.  “Very good,” the King said.  “ I think I will stay here and not return to the Kingdom across the sea.  Well done!  You have succeeded at building a very great and good city.” And the city was very good, and it was very great.

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