One of my favorite scenes from the classic Chicken Run is when the two rats Nick and Fetcher are watching the chickens attempt to fly. Nick turns to Fetcher with concern saying, “They’re going to kill themselves!” He pauses then follows up with, “You want to watch?” What follows is a chicken flight training montage, interspersed with scenes of the rats in various states of relaxation cheering on the slapstick playing out before them.
While there are times for Christians to step in and, “speak truth.” I think more often than not our posture should be that of the clever rats from Chicken Run. If I may stretch my metaphor further. It is possible we are frequently like Mr. and Mrs. Tweedy respectively. Incompetently observing and panicking at what the hens of the world are up too. Or plotting and scheming for the pending destruction to come. To paraphrase Jesus, “The foolish you will always have with you.”
Foolishness can be tragic, sad might be the better way to state it. But frequently it is darkly humorous. If it is always seen as a grand tragedy the point is missed. Frequently Jesus rebuked fools with short sharp satirical rebukes. He sat back and mocked them for their foolishness, and some realized that they were like a chicken attempting independent flight. Sometimes sitting back and enjoying the show Mystery Science Theater style is exactly the correct approach.
At the time of this writing the past weekend bore witness to a sportsball extravaganza known as the Super Bowl. If you are hoping for incisive commentary on the event this is not the place. The extent of my knowledge of such things is to parrot the question, “Did you see that ludicrous display last night?” and to hope for the best. I am more interested in the immediate after. Where the fans of the victorious teams took to the streets of Tampa in a throng of mask-less rapture, a living display of love in the time of Covid. They congregated and congratulated one another on an achievement that they had only witnessed but somehow each felt he was owed his due for. Quickly fooling this came the denunciations, not form the adherents of the opposing team but the masked vogue who, sheltered in place, were appalled, APPALLED, that the laws of social distancing were so flagrantly disregarded and worse, WORSE I SAY, not a mask was in sight! Didn’t these covidiots know that they had blasphemed the great goddess Rona and her holy attire?
I chose this example because here are two opposing sides I hate. I genuinely dislike almost all sport (I enjoy fencing and curling. That is all). And I genuinely can not stand the mask police. The day I have a coherent conversation with either camp on the issues at hand is the day I will be pleased and proud. So here I stand watching two camps in their insular debauches, each ignoring the other, and yet… The commentary has begun to pour forth (I am actually surprised that TGC has not written on it yet).
It seems anytime there is a cultural kerfuffle deemed sizable enough by the twitterers that Christians must weigh in with some badly timed treacle. It feels proper and prophetic because it is said with the gravest of tones and given the most sepia toned of of Getty Images. But I maintain it is usually pablum. Trying to maintain some sort of centrist position while meekly mewing an alter call in the conclusion. It doesn’t even bother to offend the most offense driven troll coming the internet for his next outrage. Now less I be misunderstood I am not actually calling for either side in the example to have fire from heaven called down on their heads. But atlas that would be something. Instead what I wish to point out is we have two ridiculous groups, acting ridiculously, and the evangelical community has responded by putting on two jesters caps and doing their best Willy Loman impression. I propose an alternative course of action when it comes to opposing camps of absurdities, who are outside the church, and operating on obviously debatable issues.
“They’re going to kill themselves… Wanna watch?”
It is the grace of God that we get to prophetically stand to the side pointing and laughing as two opposing sides thrash it out amongst themselves. Rather like Elijah and the prophets of Bail. To often rather that assuming a wry since, raised eyebrows, suppressed giggles and all; the church jumps into the riot and joins the dance. Incarnational ministry I believe it is called.
Let us be honest, just the two of us, when a evangelical says, “speak the truth” what they really mean is, “sanitize and parrot the current popular pabulum.” This is heresy and we really should know better. There are times when the Gospel intersects with current events and approaches, but it rarely does so in the ways the world, the flesh, and the devil really wish. Ultimately it is heresy, but of a foolish kind. Sort of like Servetus.* It is the kind of foolishness that means speaking the truth means we should mock it. The way Paul did when he told the Judiazers to castrate themselves. We should not cower before the outrage mob that demands apologies all-round. Instead we should call an idol and idol and move on.
Speaking truth means hot Gospel. And lest I risk plagiarizing Wilson too often, it means Gospel that is Laphroaig straight from the cask. Hot knife through butter Gospel. If you misunderstand me I do not mean Billy Sunday shadow boxing the devil gospel. But a Gospel with immediate practical application. It calls all men to repent and be converted, to not put their faith in governments, health departments, race, or quarterbacks. It is a gospel that does not cherry pick. It lets those enthralled with the mask triple mask recognizing that it is the equivalent of a Judiazer who misunderstood Paul and took his joke literally too far. And then we get to snicker at them.**
Just as Nehemiah Cleansed the Temple
It used to be when I entered a church the landmines I was watching for were the traditional ones, long hair on men, the devils liquor, dancing, women in anything but homemade gingham gowns, and of course no smoking. But now the legalisms are determined by the culture outside the church that has oiled it’s way in oozing charm from every pore. And once the length of the snake has coiled itself round the pulpit it decrees a works based righteousness. The things you can’t do, the words you can’t say, the clothes you can’t wear are all different but the base is the same. Social Justice is simply works righteousness redux.*** The Pharisees are now a very diverse group or a very cowed white one. And they are most displeased with the state of your righteousness. If you really loved Jesus you would stop questioning our immigration ministry’s politically outspoken director.
Sometimes the best thing a churchman can do is mock the pompous and ridiculous. Ask any nun who teaches elementary age boys if you let the giggling go too far you have lost control. The censorious always have a bigger problem with the comedian than the speechifying noble martyr. If the church is taking part in an activity that will possibly cause the plane to go down, then pointing out that members of the flight crew are wearing oversized shoes and brightly colored wigs is a great place to start. I tend to think most churches suffer from an over abundance of flight attendants who are shouting orders toward the cockpit in a very authoritative tone.
A final note on not being an ass. This is not a fix all approach. As necessary it should be used but there are levels here. Sometimes the rebuke should be hollered from the back rimshot and all. Other times just standing at a distance and letting the idiocy self implode is the righteous thing to do. Much of Christian ministry is simply picking up the pieces later.
And there are times to be alternatively patient, earnest, aggressive. Different situations call for different tools. We don’t want to be the kind of carpenter that only possess a hammer and therefore everything looks like a nail. If mockery is only ever always used then it becomes a drone, and obnoxious whine in the background. Like Stephen Colbert during the Trump administration. But a well placed reductio ad absurdum can cause the wool to drop from peoples eyes.
Christians who are becoming more like Christ should have increasingly perfected senses of humor. Our comedic timing should rival Bob Hope. We should observe the world and the church around us better than Seinfeld ever could. And we should be just as picky about our delivery as he is. But mostly since we live in a world that was given to us as a good gift, we should see it in a wry way. Not everything is a life or death situation, some fools will not be parted from their folly, nor should they be answered accordingly. Take it all in stride and enjoy laughing up ones sleeve.
*The guy was kicked out of Geneva and came back… These were medieval ex-catholics, he got everything he deserved.
**And you thought my earlier comment was why I don’t ever show up on TGC.
***Sports can be just as much a religion too. A good thing that has become, for too many, a god thing. Uniforms are ecclesiastical garb, arms are raised in praise, affections are stirred, loyalty is declared and handed down generation to generation. I can remember my own father, a pastor at the time, ending sermon and church services early durning football season if his team was going to be playing. If that is not worship of a false god I don’t know what is.