It brought a wide, chortling smile to my dad’s old face once more as we today sat together in the nursing home reminiscing about the segment of our family vacation back East in 1968 that began in Gettysburg. Dad is a passionate fan of the Civil War. This would be the first of many a Civil War Battlefields we would subsequently visit over the years whilst on “family vacation.”
I was 10 and my little sister was 8. We were quite excited with the anticipation of discovering old bullet casings and dried blood in the grass. It didn’t take long upon arrival, however, before we realized there were no such souvenirs to be found. Dad, oblivious to our disappointment, wanted to make sure my 13-year old deaf brother got the full “Gettysburg experience," and his detailed lectures directed to my brother left my sister and me frustrated and bored.
We stayed at Gettysburg for a whole day and a half; by the time Dad finished reliving that last thwarted Confederate cavalry advance the rest of us were fit to be tied. Thanks be to God our next stop would be Dutch Wonderland, a cheesy amusement park in nearby Lancaster.
The Wonderland had a monorail, a “Turtle Whirl” (a tilt-o-whirl that was green), a cool house that spun around you as you stood still making you feel like you were spinning, and great bump cars. Heaven!
Unfortunately, my parents also decided an hour at Dutch Wonderland was sufficient. We were carted, kicking and whining, back to our car. As we drove away, Dad was still grieving leaving Gettysburg, my sister and I were now mad we had to leave Dutch Wonderland, Dad was mad that we were mad, and my mom got it into her craw we HAD to stop somewhere so she could try some shoo-fly pie, THE local delicacy. Maybe that’s because she'd gotten little-to-no attention recently. My brother was lost in Mad magazines.
Our car became a pressure cooker of most-odd-sounding phrases of anger and despair: “But we loved Dutch Wonderland!” “We’re not staying at Dutch Wonderland!” “We’re going for shoo-fly pie!” “We’re not getting shoe fly pie!” “Ychh I hate shoe fly pie” “And you couldn’t want Gettysburg….” “Waa! Dutch Wonderland!” “Hey, hey STOP! Here’s shoo-fly….”
Dad furiously gunned the accelerator into some diner parking lot, screeched to a halt, and, completely undone, screamed, “GO GET YOUR #8$*&# SHOO-FLY PIE!” I can’t believe we weren’t killed. What a way to go….
The story of the Exodus is FILLED with such scenes. All along the way, despite the joyous hope and romance of a journey to liberation and a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey, the only thing the Israelites, Moses and God seem to be able to do is complain, argue and yell at one another, in a most ridiculous over-the-top manner. Really, they might as well have been struggling across southwestern Pennsylvania making themselves vulnerable to annihilation over a missed log ride and shoo-fly pie.
That’s at least what the comic lens brings into focus, I believe.
Take for example the segment that begins in Exodus Chapter 19, as Moses with much pomp and circumstance heads up Mt. Sinai to receive God’s instructions for living with Him and one another. It’s but 10 succinct statements that cleverly lay out the whole of proper, peaceful behavior.
Oh, if only God had been able to stop there. But no, then He goes on to announcing a gadjillion ordinances explicating the commandments. After a brief break Moses is up the mountain again, now to receive two gadjillion instructions on building the Ark that will carry all the commandments and ordinances.
We’re told the people begin worrying if Moses will ever come down; they begin losing patience. Luckily, they have the booty from their escape from Egypt to melt down and create a golden calf they can pray to. Of course how foolish for them to think and do this, especially because God could not make it more clear at every previous juncture He was more than able and willing to move them onward and with whatever they’d need.
God sees the people dancing around the calf and has a major MAJOR melt-down; He wants to do away with all His people! (Where’s that rainbow when He needs it?) Yes, this seems a little over-the-top, since if He does away with His people He’ll be left without companionship (since in the biblical universe there are no other gods to pal around with).
Moses talks God down (thank God!) by telling Him destroying His people will make Him look really stupid to the Egyptians. But this is a ridiculous exchange! When has God EVER worried about what the Egyptians think? God squished them like bugs with plagues and the Red Sea but a couple of chapters before.
Let’s face it; anger makes fools of us all, God included. Especially when we're traveling. At home, crazy anger doesn't strike us as foolish so much as contemptible. But out on the road, away from the things that anchor us (whether they be healthy anchoring things or no), we're so much more vulnerable to every surprise, which come to us all the time, and it's more understandable (and, hence, amusing) how intensely snippy, whiny and over-reactive we can become.
Moses comes down the mountain and now it’s his turn to become unglued. He smashes the commandment tablets upon seeing the Israelites' idolatrous revelry, makes the people burn the calf and eat the ashes. (That’s worse than soap for bad words!) Punishment also includes the creation of the Levite priestly caste to reign in the Israelites’ religious life; priesthood is granted upon slaughtering a brother, friend or neighbor. (That’s worse than writing ordination papers!) Plus God inflicts a plague.
Fortunately, this seems to cool tempers, for now, but all sorts of other angry scream-fests await, as they always do when traveling with one’s beloved family. Until we reach our destination and/or make it home. And remember it all as a wonderful trip!
Maybe the reason we make sure to recall our incidents of ridiculous anger in past “special travels” (besides eliciting a hearty laugh, always good for the system), is it reminds us how ridiculous is our angry response (God's, too) most of the time. Maybe next time this memory will help keep us from getting quite so mad, for quite so long. Maybe we’ll be able to stop in the middle of our next step (especially if it's to gun the accelerator) and instead start laughing already.