Once upon a time, in a far away land, a wise man made a discovery. He discovered fire and with fire, he could be warm, cook his food and have light through the dark of night. He had heard of a people across the mountains; the people who lived on the plains and he wondered if they could benefit from this marvelous discovery. With that, he set out on his journey to bring fire with its warmth and light to the people of the plains.
After a month of travel, the fire maker arrived in the village of the plains dwellers. He walked to the center of town and began to make fire. As he was doing so, a crowd began to gather. The crowd grew and grew, and when the fire finally came to life the whole community was astonished and over-joyed. The wise man explained that the fire was not hard to make at all. In fact, anyone could do it and he proceeded to show them how.
Life changed very dramatically in the plains community. Fire was a welcomed friend and the community prospered. There was light in the night time and heat to cook food and for warmth.
However, the powers-that-be became threatened by the new independence fire provided people of the community. They also recognized that the community highly esteemed the fire maker, and they began to fear being displaced from the central place in the minds and hearts of the community. The leaders began their plot to assassinate the fire maker. With the fire maker out of the way, they were sure to keep the people from going astray. It was for the communities own good after all.
In an effort to cover their treachery, the powers bestowed great honor upon the fire maker after his untimely death. They created special liturgy, ceremonies, and celebrations. Institutes were founded to study fire, debate its nature and they began to rationalize that fire may be abused if not handled correctly. They began to legislate and license fire; where, when, how and by whom fire was made. It wasn't long before the powers-that-be decided that the average person couldn't handle fire with enough reverence. In their wisdom they established a special bureau of fire, complete with a glorious temple to honor fire, to venerate it and to pay homage to it, all adorned with a deep bureaucracy to manage it, enforce and protect it and promote it.
A funny thing though, while they were all busy talking, studying, celebrating and arguing about fire, no one made fire anymore.
(above is a reimagining of a story told by Tony DeMello, SJ)
Fast forward hundreds of years....
Many years have passed, and the plains dwellers were still struggling under the pall of darkness and cold of night and people of the community began to wonder about fire. They had grown up with stories of fire, they spent many hours learning about fire, celebrating fire and stories about the fire maker and yet there was no fire. They were not allowed to make fire themselves and they were taught to fear fire and found themselves enslaved to the powers-that-be; the self-appointed keepers of the fire who could decide who could get fire and who couldn't (even if no one was actually making fire).
People became more and more frustrated with the way in which fire was managed and controlled and they began to grumble amongst themselves. People who were feeling the same way began to meet each other and began assembling in small groups sharing their experiences with fire, with the fire bureaucracy, how they felt that fire was overly controlled and how they felt manipulated and oppressed because they felt like fire was being kept away from them.
Year after year these people gathered, here and there, to talk about fire but resisted anything that looked like what the fire bureaucracy did. Some wrote popular books about free fire and sold many copies. They waxed eloquently about the right each person has to fire, how to make fire better and with freedom - grander ideas there has never been.
A funny thing though, with such grand ideas and such deep conversation about fire, no one ever made fire.