Journal Express, Knoxville, IA

August 9, 2012

Another View: Back Scratcher

Charlotte Shivvers

Knoxville —  

Sometimes these days are almost too discouraging to write about.  What was it?  Seven people of the Sikh faith murdered in their temple on Sunday?  And how many killed or injured while out for the latest Batman movie?  There have been over 100 school shootings since Columbine.  

What kind of creatures are we, this intent on killing, and not even able to choose leaders and laws that might protect us from each other and the weapons we’ve created?

We are strange, we humans, so much talent, gifts, and possibility – yet we not only kill each other at great speed but allow other millions to die from lack of food or clean water.  We are so gifted that we have found healing responses to vast varieties of human disease and injury; meanwhile we systematically invent and  build intricate new machines to kill even more of us.  Are we basically insane?  Was there ever a basic human instinct for good?  An awareness that we are connected?

Sometimes it’s wise to lean back and take in another theory as to why we are the way we are.  Here is one of my favorites.  It’s by the Reverend David Bumbaugh.  

  “The fall from grace, the great disruption of primordial order, the original sin, had nothing to do with eating apples or talking to snakes.  The instrument of our fall was a wooden back-scratcher, that piece of wood, bent at the end so one can reach the unreachable spot – there, there, between the shoulder blades, down a little bit lower, now up a little bit, there where the most persistent itch always takes up residence.

“Before the back-scratcher, before that simple, infernal device, we, like all our primate kin, depended on others to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: ‘You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.’

“Before the back-scratcher, before that simple, infernal tool, we needed each other to scratch the unreachable itch. The wooden back-scratcher dissolved the bonds of reciprocity, unloosed the ties of community, and tempted us to believe in our own godlike self-sufficiency.

“And God walked in the cool of the garden, and saw a primate standing alone.  ‘What have you done,’ God asked, ‘that you stand alone?’

“‘I have found a back-scratcher,’ said the beast, ‘and now I need no one.’

“‘Poor beast,’ said God, ‘now you must leave this garden; in Eden, no one stands alone; each depends on the others.’

“And thus began our wandering, our pacing up and down the earth, scratching our own itches, pretending self-sufficiency, trying to ignore the persistent sense of loss, the vague yearning for a primordial order, a world where you scratched my back and I scratched yours.  A wooden back-scratcher is poor compensation for the gentle touch of a living hand.”

That’s “another view” to inspire us all.  Thank you, David Bumbaugh.