It sounds like a bizarre concept for a tv show, perhaps concocted when someone was themselves actually blotto: a comedian gets good and liquored-up and then recounts a famous chapter of history as best he/she can remember, in his/her inebriated state. Celebrity actors then act out the narrator’s“drunk” version, lip-synching the exact dialogue provided, regardless of how wildly inaccurate it might now be, considering how much booze the narrator has consumed.
What results is for many people a hilarious parody of The History Channel; perhaps, as MAD Magazine might call it, “Historical Scenes We’d Like to See.” It’s the stuff of a very popular tv show on Comedy Central, before that a very popular web series, called “Drunk History.”
If you’ve never seen it before, here’s an example - this episode spells out (spills out?) the relationship of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas. Will Ferrell, Don Cheadle and Zoey Deschnel are among those playing out the drunken dictates of comedienne Jen Kirkman.
You have to admit, at least a little bit, that drunkenness can make for good comedy! The way names get mixed up, the inappropriate and inaccurate language that’s freely used, the often overly passionate nature of conversation, the unembarrassed embarrassing self-disclosures, the slurred, funny-sounding speech…. (Think also of Forest Brooks of "Dean Martin Celebrity Roast" fame, and dear Otis Campbell of "The Andy Griffith Show".) When Aristotle said two of the earmarks of comedy were "low characters" exhibiting "low speech," he could not have not been thinking to include the tipsy.
Of course, getting drunk isn't always funny. Not at all. If the inebriation presented leads to someone getting sick, getting killed, getting violent…if the ending of a drunken encounter is hurtful and/or tragic….then it’s nothing but pathetic and awful.
But when we know something good is to be found on the other side of the invariable hangover - true love, a happy new baby, significantly-improved-if-not-perfect race relations, etc - we tend not to get scared for, or (at least too!) judgmental about, the person who is presently carrying on three sheets to the wind (especially if they have a designated driver:)). We can even find it all hilarious.
Even when there’s actually no drinking going on!
I suggest there is considerable comedy to be found in the 1 Samuel passage that comprises this Sunday’s Old Testament lectionary reading. 1 Samuel 1:4-10
In this story, we’re introduced to Hannah, a good, loving woman who is painfully barren. She’s scorned and ridiculed by her husband’s other and very fertile wife, suffering for years with a womb “closed by God."
Because in the ancient world a woman’s pretty much sole purpose was to produce children, and having a family was the only evidence she had to show her husband and community that she was a blessed and not cursed person, Hannah was clearly stuck in a most nightmarish situation.
So it’s no surprise, and quite a courageously faithful thing, that she goes to the Temple to pray pray and pray, and very very very hard, that God will change His mind, open her womb, and bring her some peace.
We’re told her praying is sooo passionate, uninhibited, and intense, that Eli, the Temple High Priest, thinks she is drunk.
It’s not what she’s saying that leads Eli to this conclusion — she doesn’t start belting out a lot of blue language to or about God, she doesn’t sloppily slur her petitions or get her verbiage wrong (pleading, for example, for a “booby” that will ultimately fulfill her wifely role). She doesn’t mistake the Almighty for Richard Dreyfuss or anything like that (at least as far as we know….).
It’s the way Hannah moves her lips without speaking that alarms Eli and causes him to accuse her.
It’s something actually awesome to imagine: watching someone praying with “drunkenesque abandon” even and especially when silent. To be that into communicating with an invisible force, to be that uninhibited in movement and in expectation that the Almighty is listening to every silent word and silent groan, whether it makes sense or is appropriate or is wildly not.... From personal experience I can say praying at this level is something none of us should ever be afraid to let go and try....it could very well change everything!
And give us even more reason to find this Hannah's case of "mistaken identity" funny, charming, even entertaining, on a number of levels.
For one thing, because we know a wonderful child will be coming on the other side and as a result of this “drunken prayer,” we can find the over-the-top nature of Hannah’s deep beseeching a source of delightful laughter, not unlike our response when watching a young girl fuss and fret to the nth degree getting ready for a first date with a boy she really likes (and who really likes her!). The goings-on may be harrowing for the girl, but they're enchanting to us, because we know it will all be okay. More than okay.
In addition, from another but still comic perspective, we can find in this scene humor that’s a little more on the satirical side.
After all, we’re told at v. 11 that Hannah offers up to God (aloud, apparently before her supplications turn silent and inebriate-looking) a brazen bargain: If she is granted a child, a male child, she will dedicate him to the LORD, bringing her young son to the Temple to live out his life and as a nazarite. (Nazarites were an extra holy class of priests). We’re told Hannah then spells out to God, and all in hearing distance, what her nazarite son will hence never do “until the day of his death….he shall drink neither wine nor intoxicants.”
Next thing you know Eli is in a tizzy that she’s putting on nothing less than a “drunken spectacle” of herself.
What Eli might be doing here, with indignance, is calling out, albeit mistakenly, a version of "the pot calling the kettle black." Hannah is so intent on promising her son won't touch a drop while she's nothing but all sloshed! We enjoy the irony because we know it's all a big misunderstanding.
The other humorous aspect here - dark and arguably sad - (and noted in Scott Hoezee's blog for the Center for Biblical Excellence in Preaching) is that Eli’s quick assumptions of Hannah’s drunkenness may stem from the fact that he’s got two sons who we will soon learn are up to no good. Perhaps the High Priest has already witnessed so much deplorable behavior from the fruit of his loins (who, btw, are slated to one day take over the Temple reins) that he can’t help but produce snap judgments about what might be awry in others. Without overtly stating it, the story slyly conveys the unhappy fact that something is rotten in the state of Israel (as it were), great change in the leadership of God’s people is clearly needed, and it is forthcoming. Through, we will soon learn, the son that Hannah is now intoxicatingly praying for. Samuel.
There are several ways “drunk history” invites our laughter here as well as elucidation of God’s often wacky and always amazingly gracious ways. And how we often, actually, access them...letting down our guard as if we were...you know.
Enjoy it all with your beverage of choice. And level of desperation.
On a different-but-similar note, I'm part of a team launching a new ministry in Waverly - it's happening at the Fainting Goat Pub on Monday nights - a variety of fun adventures with God and one another (and liquids). It's called "Theology Pub" and if you're in the vicinity or know folks who are, please come and/or spread the word. Should be fun and feeding (as well as quixotic and quenching :) )