Good Friday 2017 in light of 1553

In his Ten Rules for Writing author Elmore Leonard advised,

“Try to leave out the parts that readers tend to skip.”

Good Friday is one of those parts in the Christian story. Who wouldn’t want to skip over betrayal, denial, abandonment, and brutality, the opposite of happiness? But we don’t get to joy without going through them. Steve Martin’s Happy Feet offers a memorable parody of faux happiness. You don’t get to Easter with happy feet.

In a sermon preached on Good Friday, 1553, the Rev. John Bradford asked his hearers to draw close to the cross, inviting them to look upon the death of Christ as the very presence of God, the part “that we people want to skip”.

As the very pledge of God’s love toward thee,
whosoever thou art, how deep so ever thou hast sinned,
See, God’s hands are nailed, they cannot strike thee;
his feet also, he cannot run from thee.
His arms are wide open to embrace thee.

Happy feet are no remedy for sore feet. Whatever view one takes of the classical Christian formula of Christ’s full humanity and divinity, John Bradford, Elmore Leonard, and Steve Martin’s Happy Feet invite the imagination to stop and pay attention to the God who embraces humankind in the very darkness we deny.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Good Friday, April 14, 2017.

The Lonely Blogger and Steve Martin

It’s been lonely. Traffic is down on Views from the Edge. I ask myself why. But I suspect I know the answer. I’ve broken blogging rule #1. Blogs are mostly about entertainment, not serious stuff . People go to blogs to get away from serious stuff. Not that this one is all that serious, but it’s hardly a rendition of Steve Martin’s happy feet.

Then two comments arrive. The first is from Gary who shares the experience of being influenced early on by Ernest Becker’s seminal work, The Denial of Death.  The second comes from Jim, a former classmate. Both Gary and Jim went on to become teachers.

Gary wrote:

The book title Amusing Ourselves To Death by educator Neil Postman comes to mind. Postman believes we have reduced most values to equate with entertainment. Education he says has to be entertaining. We demand constant amusement through sports, films, travel etc. There is a constant search for entertaining experiences to make us feel alive. It is as though our existence is so fraught with escaping death that the only antidote to dying is amusement. Just as everyone uses humor to take the edge off of awkward social encounters, humor has become the background context of existence. Humor is used as a cover for what human nature really is about and that is “Real Politic” or the feeling that what needs to be done is whatever is practical to survive.

Two other books by Peter Gay and Karl Marx come to mind: Gay’s The Enlightenment: The New Paganism and Marx’s The Communist Manifesto. Gay suggests the Enlightenment led to a loss of traditional religious metaphors to live by, resulting in new forms of paganism arising to supplant the old worldviews. These include everything from “consumerism” to “new age” religions like Scientology. Karl Marx says in his “Manifesto” that “capitalism will destroy all that is permanent”. I think we can say Groucho Marxism seems to be the preferred way to analyze our culture’s ills. Everything has to be couched in humor or it is considered boring. At best we can say humor functions as the sigh of the oppressed as we try to take the edge off of everyday existence that seems to be all about a belief in human society as a survival of the fittest existence. We all want something better but science has been hijacked by capitalism for its own need to constantly revolutionize production to keep novel products arriving to allow us to feel alive when we no longer can see loving people as the real antidote to a preoccupation with fending off death. That was Christ’s reason for sacrificing himself in the face of a pagan Roman Empire. We have come full circle. Hopefully the Coliseum isn’t next as we escalate the need to amuse ourselves to death.

Jim wrote:

Folks get twisted in knots over things which they have neither read nor understood. Back in the days of teaching I had students read a writer who argued that under pure capitalism if profits are to be maximised there are several alternatives: Raise prices; Lower Wages. Then you have a product your workers cannot afford to buy. Because there are more workers than capitalists they will soon suffer. They liked the argument until they learned its author was Lenin.

Thanks, Steve Martin. Thanks, Gary. Thanks, Jim. I feel better.

The O.D.D. Waiter

The following is a dialogue from dinner last night with the oppositional waiter.

Can I get you something to drink?

Yes, two Mojitos, please.

A Mojito for the gentleman?

Yes. Two Mojitos, please.

You both want a Mojito.

Yes.

We have a very nice strawberry drink…a strawberry basil lemonade – very nice for the lady.

Well… (Kay is hesitant…)

Or maybe the Hibiscus…very nice: Absolut Pear, St. Germain, and Lunetta sparkling wine with a sugared hibiscus flower. I think you’ll really like it. It’s very nice…

No… I don’t think so. I’ll have the Mojito.

(Waiter stares and frowns at “the Lady”)

And we’d like the spicy shrimp appetizer and the calamari.

Sure. One spicy-shrimp. Good choice. Do you like Sushi?

Yes.

May I suggest the crunchy crab roll? I think you’ll really like it. It’s one of my favorites.

Hmmm… Is it soft-shell crab?

Yes. It’s really good. Very nice.

Okay.  Okay with you, honey?

Sure.

One spicy shrimp and the crunchy crab roll.

Very good, and I’ll leave you with the menus.

(Waiter departs.  Kay and I – each incredulous –  turn to each other with wide-eyed smiles.)

What just happened? Who is this guy?

He’s oppositional defiant (Kay works in the mental health field, she knows about Oppositional Defiant Disorder [ODD] where I say it’s green, he says it’s red.). Can you believe that? Everything we said we wanted, he opposed. It was weird. Have you ever seen anything like that?

What was even weirder is that we did what he said! How crazy is that! Reminds me of the old Steve Martin waiter routine, except that this guy’s on top of it. He got us to change our order!

Why did we do that? At least I got my Mojito. I didn’t want something with strawberries.

(Waiter returns)

And what can I get you for an entrée?

We’ll have the Macadamia chicken to share.

(Waiter makes a face.)

And we’d like the garlic mashed potatoes.

The best thing on the menu – my favorite – is the sea bass. Really special.

(Kay and I hesitate … look at each other)

I don’t know.  Is it Chilean Sea Bass? There’s a lot of bad press about Chilean sea bass and mercury.

Hmmm. I don’t know. I can find out if you really want to know. But there are 13 different kinds of sea bass. (Kay, who’s not hard of hearing, tells me later that he had told us that this is a very rare endangered sea bass! If I’d have know that…)

What’s it come with?

A very nice rice pilaf. But if you like, I can substitute the garlic mashed potatoes. This is very special. My favorite.

Okay. We’ll go with the sea bass.

Very good choice. You’ll really like it.

(ODD Waiter leaves. We’re alone again.)

Did you really want the sea bass?

No, I wanted the Macadamia Chicken.

(Laughter again.)

Why did we do that?

I don’t know. He’s a terrorist!

I can’t believe it.  We did whatever he said. What’s wrong with us?

It’s like he’s the ODD Waiter – the ODD junior-high waiter. And we were the parents who buckled ‘cause we didn’t want to make him mad. We’re afraid of the junior high terrorist.

(The sea bass arrives….. With rice pilaf. No garlic mashed potatoes. The rice pilaf is fabulous. So was the sea bass.)

We say nothing.