If, as the Comic Lens proposes, that the Bible is a comedy from beginning to end, and everything in it intends to be experienced as funny (or at the very least a build-up to a punch line), then it also follows that the Bible wants us to experience every incident in our lives as funny, or on its way to a laugh. I know that sounds absolutely audacious, but could that be true? Is that not the message of Easter, the ultimate biblical account?
It also means that we can ask ourselves, in the midst of every incident in our lives, how might the Bible be telling us to seek - and find - the humor in our midst?
And that includes what happened in and around September 11, 2001.
There are, I am sure, many great stories of surprising gifts of laughter and grace and perfectly timed silliness breaking through the tension, tears and tragedy of that horrible day and the days soon thereafter (for our present purposes, we’ll call that period of time “September 12.”) Many of Jesus’ parables tell us, in wonky, sometimes ridiculous fashion, that that is so often how God’s goodness is revealed in and around a time of crisis.
There is a grimmer humor that comes into focus when we look at the period of time after that, when a “new normal” set in. (For our present purposes, we’ll call it “September 13.”). Now the task was for US leadership to come up with strategies for effective retaliation against 9/11’s perpetrators.
A couple of articles I read earlier this week especially compelled some Comic Lens ponderings.
One article, from the LA Times, provided reportage on the state of Al-Qaeda today. This terrorist organization is stronger and more widespread than ever. Have the US efforts spectacularly manned and equipped efforts to snuff A-Q out not only failed but fueled its growth??
The second article is a very personal, haunting op-ed by Joe Quinn, a young man who lost his brother in the Twin Tower that came down when an American Airlines plane piloted by evil Al-Qaeda operative Mohamed Atta blew it up. Quinn instantly joined the army to assuage his rage and exact his revenge.
Quinn describes, in well-paced and dryly ironic fashion, the most important thing he learned from the whole experience: it’s not the discovery of beyond-language strength of heart that comes when you’re risking everything to defend and protect your brothers and sisters on the battlefield (and, sometimes, retrieve their dead bodies); it’s not the discovery of endlessly corrupt and exploitive behavior by the Afghan army and government to American offers of assistance; it’s not the discovery of Osama Ben Laden’s strategy of spending less than $20,000 to get a few fanatics trained to fly planes so, armed with box cutters, they can execute one almost perfectly-timed act of shock and awe to get the US forever entangled in Middle Eastern armed conflict and bleed it dry.
No, these of course have all very important things for him to realize, and yet they still aren’t as important as the most important thing: the target of his rage and retaliation - Mohamed Atta - was on that plane that exploded his brother’s Twin Tower. Atta was already dead.
Wow. Most bitter of ironies. Not at all “funny” per se, but still a clever take on reality, to be found on the far end of the humor spectrum. Eliciting an acrid snort both inwardly and out…
…and thoughts of scriptures that, in bitterly ironic fashion, speak to the situation.
One is the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” law mentioned a few times in the Old Testament, including at Exodus 21:23-25 and Leviticus 24:19-21. This sort of “tarnished Golden Rule” invites retribution equal to the crime. (Btw “an eye for an eye” comes not from Hebrew tradition but rather from the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi.)
Many (many Christians?) condemn this “Old Testament” dictate because of the violence it condones. They point to Jesus who, at Matthew 5:38, suggests the even better, Kingdom-creating response: “turn the other cheek. Fair enough. But consider what might have happened if American foreign policy had taken a nod from even Old Testament (and ancient Babylonian) thinking.
1) The war would have ended once 2,996 Al-Queda (or A-Q harborers) had been killed.
2) Hundreds of thousands of Middle Eastern civilian lives would have been spared.
3) Thousands of US soldiers’ lives would have been spared as well
4) Untold amounts of money would have been saved by both the US and Afghan nations.
5) Subsequent corruption in Afghanistan might have been minimized, as respect and adherence to honorable biblical law by Western liberators would have inspired a like response from Islamic opposition.
(Btw, the “eye for an eye” dictate was considered most civilized and progressive in its day, limiting responses of aggression and de-escalating conflict.)
I smile a bitter smile imagining what would have happened, if Washington had announced, at enemy casualty 2,996, things were now settled in the matter. I’m guessing Joe Quinn would, too
Another text that comes to mind is the beloved tale of David and Goliath, found in 1 Samuel 17. Of course we love it when we see ourselves as David, needing nothing but a stone, slingshot, crackerjack skill and God on your side to fell a sneering, lumbering giant. That’s a vibrant, rollicking adventure story!
It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re the Goliath, knowing the clever pipsqueak has/is continuing for any number of reasons to get the best of you. Maybe it’s time to for us to admit that in the biblical imagination, giants never win. And we can see, with a sacred fool’s anticipation, where God’s crazy imaginative grace takes things because we decided to put our faith in that instead
Finally, the Comic Lens wants to sends some focus upon the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse found in Revelation 6”, and especially Horsemen One and Two.
John of Patmos has a vision that the End of the World begins with a horseman on a white horse, with a bow and a command to “Conquer!".
The second rides a bright red horse and is commanded to take peace from the earth so all can slaughter one another.
i have written (and performed!) extensively on the satire of the Four Horsemen (er, Horse Feathers!) of the Apocalypse. All four mock the Roman Empire and its claims of moral superiority and military invincibility. Horseman One mocks the reality of a scrappy little army - the Parthians, who were expert bowmen - that, try as Rome might (pun intended), could not bring down no matter how it tried and expended countless resources to do so.
Horseman Two alludes to the great Pax Romana, a claim Rome made that if your far-off nation struggling with in-fighting and the like invited its great super-power in to take over and aright things, all would be well. This is how Rome ended up with control over so much of the globe. It was the reason Rome came to control Israel, and most unpopularly so, a couple of centuries before Jesus was born.
The satire in Revelation promises that Pax Romana leads to nothing but the opposite of its claims; rather it incites incredible increase of bloodshed. After all, there simply is no such thing as true peace coming from a military solution, especially when the military “soluting” is an imperial force. (No matter who that imperial force may be.)
It is easy (and depressing) to see in the pronouncements of the Revelation what it sees for the outcome of American imperial aggression in the Middle East. From the point of view of the little guy over there, it’s laughable. We’re nothing but a bunch of unenlightened, destructive suckers.
I, and the Comic Lens, are fully aware that the United States is a nation that separates Church and State, and that’s as it should be. The Bible should never be used to dictate US foreign policy.
Oh, but what, if at least in this situation, it did….
Besides, don’t all of us - even those of us who don’t adhere to the Bible - finally get over it when every April 2 rolls around and the pranks of April 1 are behind us??
I form one more bitter smile and smh as I prepare to enter, with the rest of us, into September 14….