Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Freaks Rule

A friend read this recently and brought it back to my memory. It was written quite a while ago, but I think there is still a message in it for our pitiful, corrupted culture.

Freaks Rule
Coleman Luck

I grew up in the Chicago area. In the mid-fifties I was in the sixth grade. During those years I had a paper route. Talk about anachronisms, the only guys who have paper routes these days are middle-aged immigrants from Cambodia who drive around in mini-trucks plastering two thousand driveways a morning. Anyway I had this paper route and it was a miserable job – dogs in the summer, freezing your tail off all winter long, and once a month I had to collect. That meant wandering up and down the streets on a Saturday trying to get jerks to cough up a couple of bucks to keep me in business. But I was good at it. In sixth grade I won an award. I’ve forgotten what it was for, but the prize I will never forget. It was an evening at Riverview.

Now anybody who grew up in Chicago during that period remembers Riverview. It was one of those great old sleazy amusement parks, a bloated carnival on a permanent location with a wooden roller coaster and a pot load of other dangerous rides that looked like they’d disintegrate the moment you sat down on them. All summer long Riverview advertised on the Chicago TV stations. Their main pitchman was a local personality named “Two-Ton” Baker, a really fat guy who did noonday programs for kids. (Another anachronism: kids coming home from school for lunch.) So all summer there’d be these commercials showing old “Two-Ton” taking up two seats on a roller coaster yelling to display his sheer joy and probably to prove that if the thing held him it’d hold anybody. Anyway, you get the picture.

Riverview was the last gasp of an era. It died with the coming of the giant Nazi-World theme parks that we have today where everything is perfect all the time even the plants which they change constantly to make sure everything is always blooming. Riverview was an honest straightforward temptation. It whispered to kids, “Come walk in my shadows. Come listen to my rats crawling around behind the boards. Come debauch.” We loved it.

So I won this trip to Riverview and the greatest part of it was that my parents wouldn’t be going along. I’d be with a group of paperboy “winners” just like me, young delinquents in training. (This was long before girls would stoop to do such nasty jobs as paper routes.) And, the peak of ecstasy? Our “chaperones” would be the paperboy “supervisors” from The Daily Journal. Now my parents didn’t know it but these guys were absolute losers, basically lazy drunks who had been promoted far beyond their level of competence. Going with them was like going alone. They gave us cash and went off to a bar. Oh joy from heaven. Sixth grade. Money. And Riverview without adults.

When I say this was an old style amusement park I’m not joking. On the boardwalk it had a freak show. Can you imagine such a thing today? Try to picture a freak show at Disney World. Aren’t we glad that we’ve matured as a culture to the place where such things would never be allowed? Of course one could argue that Riverview simply had an appreciation for diversity, but we won’t go there. So after you’ve gorged yourself on delicious little bags of dead meat euphemistically called “hot dogs” and braved all the dangerous rides at least six times, where’s an eleven-year-old boy who appreciates diversity gonna be found? THE FREAK SHOW.

So, I bought my ticket and walked in.

I found myself in a stark ugly little room standing with a small crowd in a roped-off area. There was nothing fancy about this. It was as down and dirty as you can get. Three feet beyond the rope sitting on wood pedestals and little chairs were seven or eight freaks. And they were the full Monty. Nothing fake here. It was a collection of poor sad human beings with bodies that looked like they’d been created in a Hollywood visual effects house. The instant you walked in, there was a seriousness about the place. Nobody laughed. Nobody talked. The freaks looked at you and you looked at them and then you left. But while I was there, something happened in that room that I will remember as long as I live.

One of the freaks was a little old woman, probably in her sixties. No more than three feet tall, her face was deformed beyond ugliness and all of her limbs bent in the wrong direction. She was just sitting there and you could imagine that she’d done this all her life.

Suddenly into the room walked a man carrying a little girl about three years old. Why this idiot had brought her there no one could imagine. I was eleven and I was appalled. Of course at the time there was no rating system on freak shows so how could you blame him? Anyway, the man with the little girl stopped in front of the little old woman. The instant the child saw this frightening creature she became terrified and started to sob. It was a horrible moment. Then, as I watched, that little deformed grandmotherly lady started to cry too. Quietly, without a sound, the tears ran down her face. After all the years of being stared at, all the years of loneliness and pain, the humanity in her eyes was overwhelming. And then she spoke. That little woman began to talk to the little girl. Softly, with a voice like your grandmother's and mine she tried to comfort her, to take away her fear, to reach out with words because her arms weren’t long enough and they bent in the wrong direction. It was one gentle heart whispering to another. Now eleven-year-old boys are not known for their deep sensitivity, but if I live to be a thousand I will never forget that scene.

Over forty years have passed since that night. Riverview is long gone and I was thinking about freaks the other day. We’ve heard a great deal over the past months about the idea that we are a nation ruled by law. Untrue. We are a nation ruled by stories. The stories we love reveal who we are and what we are becoming. Based on that fact, William Jefferson Clinton belongs in the White House. He has the moral right to remain there for the rest of his life. Why? Because he is the living embodiment of our collective story. And, if we were going to make that story into a film, it would be titled, “Freaks Rule.” Not the good honest freaks of Riverview, the true freaks. Us.

We are the freaks who stand inside the rope watching others wallow in degradation and pain and enjoying the view. We are the fathers who sit up late at night after our wives and children are in bed sucking cyberporn off the Internet. We are the mothers titillated by the human fecal matter that we chew and swallow dished up on so-called “reality shows.” We are the hip and cool young executives screwing each other’s brains out after hours on the conference table and then popping pills to stave off the effects of sexually transmitted disease. We are the teenagers, the generation of nightmares swimming in fake blood and gore loving vicarious mayhem and terror. Freaks all. Freaks who have managed to be born with the ability to hide our true ugliness.

What is the breadth and depth of our freakhood? Nothing less than this: As a nation, we are Monica Lewinsky. That poor young woman is simply our surrogate freak, our national daughter sent to spend her holy year of shrine prostitution in the temples of power. Monica knew the proper position of a worshiper. On her knees. And we worship with her falling down before the starry host of freaks that we have created in sports and politics and Hollywood, desperate for our own fifteen minutes of glory. We need a new Statue of Liberty and Monica could be the model. Coiffured and bereted, twenty stories tall, staring out at the world from New York Harbor, she could proclaim, “Give me your proud, your arrogant and your vain so that I can show them the pleasures of liberty.” As much as you hate to hear it, friends, that is our national story. And stories rule.

But in my heart I wish I could change our story and tell a new one so radical that everyone would freeze in shock. Maybe I could make it into a film. Here’s the basic outline: Let’s imagine that someone new was placed in the Oval Office. Maybe for just a month. Of course, the President’s chair would be too big for her. She’d need several phone books just to be seen. She wouldn’t be able to write very well. No rose-garden bill-signing parties jammed with the fatuous elite. After all, her arms would be short and they’d bend in the wrong directions. When the TV cameras focused on her many of us would be filled with anger and revulsion. We’d demand to know why such an aberration had been allowed to live, why her mother hadn’t ended her life in a merciful abortion.

But she wouldn’t listen to our raging. There’s nothing we could say that she hadn’t heard a thousand times. In fact she probably wouldn’t talk to us at all. Instead she’d talk to our terrified children. And with her soft words and tears maybe they’d be able to see beyond her ugliness into eyes filled with love, beautiful beyond comprehension, because in her suffering she had seen the Face of God.

If only we had a true, honest freak in the White House to begin a new national story. And, I think thirty days would be long enough. At that freak show in Riverview, it took only five minutes for an eleven-year-old boy.

© Copyright Coleman Luck 1998 Free to use with attribution.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Let's Get Rid of the Word "Sin"

It’s time to face reality. This word has lost all functional meaning in postmodern society. When people hear it now, it connotes one of several unintended definitions. For many it’s nothing more than irrelevant religious jargon flung about to promote judgmentalism as in, “You’re just tryin’ to guilt me, man. Who are you to tell me how I should live my life?” Then there is the titillating definition of sin. Sin is secret pleasure, something you enjoy and the fact that others think it’s wrong makes it all the sweeter. When you sin you’re cutting-edge and part of a secret club of cool, hip, sick (or whatever your cliché) people. I think for most postmoderns, especially those under thirty, the word “sin” doesn’t mean anything at all. It flies right over their heads.

I have heard countless preachers and Bible teachers try to define sin so that people could really understand the seriousness of it. They’ve gone back into the Hebrew and Greek of the Bible. They’ve used illustrations. I’ve done all of that myself. It isn’t working. There is no traction here. The sin tire is bald. So I suggest that we drop the word altogether and replace it with one that really communicates what sin is. Instead of sin, let’s use the word shit.

I know there are many sweetie-pie Christians who will cringe at this word. These are the nice people who think Jesus is just all about huggy relationships. Thomas Kinkade is their kind of artist. They love the gagging syrupy treacle of so-called Christian “worship” music. They want their religion full of positive, inspiring, feel-good language. And the word shit just doesn’t feel good. It’s ugly, filthy and offensive, right out of the gutter. Certainly, we wouldn’t want to offend people by using it in our lily-pure churches. We wouldn’t want to describe the actions of men like the Reverend Ted Haggard, the Reverend Eddie Long and a host of others as shit. Most of all, I don’t want to characterize my little harmless indiscretions as shit.

But let me tell you something, shit communicates. To see what I mean, let’s try it in some well-known Bible verses (with apologies to the New International Version):

How about the story of the woman caught in adultery and brought to Jesus? John 8:6-11 - But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, "If any one of you doesn’t have any moral and spiritual shit in his life let him be the first to throw a stone at her." Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she said. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared. "Go now and leave your life of moral and spiritual shit."

Romans 6:23 - For the end result of all our moral and spiritual shit is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8: 1-3 - Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of moral and spiritual shit and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by our shit-filled nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of shit-filled man to be an offering for all the moral and spiritual shit that we have committed.

1 John 1:5-10 - This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all our moral and spiritual shit. If we claim to be without moral and spiritual shit, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our filthy shit, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our moral and spiritual shit and purify us from all our filth. If we claim we have not committed such shit, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Did that offend you? I make no apology.

When I was a teenager I had a friend who worked part-time at our town’s sewage treatment plant. He gave me a tour. During the tour, he told me about a guy who fell into a huge vat full of shit. Probably the story is apocryphal, but as I stood in front of such a vat while he told it, I was impressed. Anyway, my friend said they pulled the guy out and cleaned him off, but it didn’t do any good. He died of infection.

Here’s the message of the Bible: Sin isn’t just some trite judgmental term or some titillating little secret pleasure. It really is deadly moral and spiritual shit and unless something is done about it it sticks on you forever killing you slowly with a thousand infections.

Just imagine walking around every day of your life covered with shit. You wreak to high heaven and you’re dying, but you refuse to accept that fact. You think everything is cool. If you do detect a slight odor you cover it up with the perfume of an occasional good deed or positive thought. All that does is make you smell like a two-dollar whore with dysentery. That’s how we look and smell to a totally clean and Holy God.

One of the reasons we ignore our shit is because the whole world is filled with shit-covered people and we think we smell better than most, so we’re fine. Do you disagree with that? If so, what planet are you living on? If we’re honest we know we’re not cleaner than anybody else. We fit right in because we’ve done lots of bad shit to ourselves and others. So no lazy-ass excuses!

Well, here’s a “duh” question: If you’re covered with shit what do you need? That’s right, A BATH. A good hot bath will wash away physical shit (assuming you haven’t sucked it into your body like the guy at the treatment plant), but it won’t do anything for moral and spiritual shit. That’s the amazing part of God’s story. He loved us so much that He sent His only Son Jesus into this shit-filled wreaking world. (Would you send your son to swim in one of those vats?) And why did He do it? To pull us out and wash us clean so we wouldn't have to die forever. Our soul-shit can be washed clean only by the blood that Jesus shed on the Cross.

But here’s the warning: If you don’t think you need that blood bath to wash the shit off your soul, if you think everything is cool and you smell great, you will never get into Heaven because shit-covered people aren’t allowed there. And it’s logical. Would you want a shit-covered person for a roommate?

The question is how honest are you? If you know that you’re covered with shit and you can’t stand your own wreaking smell (believe me, I’ve been there), if you’re sick of it and you long to be clean, God is waiting for you to tell Him that and ask for a clean new life. He can do it, He WILL do it, because He’s God and He loves you - even covered in a thick coat of nasty brown. So how long are you going to stay this way? Get a bath before you die, because then it’s too late.

© Coleman Luck 2011. www.colemanluck.com Free to be reproduced (if you dare) with proper attribution including website. (For pity’s sake, you don’t want anybody to think you wrote this.)