Ever since I can remember I have LOVED tricksters: think John Lennon in "A Hard Day's Night," Bart Simpson, Frank Zappa, Loki, the Jester in Don MacLean's "American Pie," Coyote in the Southwest, Br-er Rabbit in the Tar Baby stories of the American plantations, Reynard the fox in France, the Raven in the Pacific Northwest. But let's not stop there: think Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Charlie Chaplin, Eric Carmen of "South Park," Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, DC Comic's Joker and Riddler, Ferris Bueller, Chuck Berry, Big Momma Thorton, Janis Joplin (and sometimes Grace Slick). And let's not forget Groucho Marx, Richard Pryor, Dick Gregory, Gil Scott-Herron, countless rappers, Phylis Diller, Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, the whole "Office" and "Scrubs" crews, Robert Bly and Gil Grissom of "CSI nor Mr. Ed or Hawkeye Pierce either!
There is a Zen-like wisdom to these smart-ass, wise guys (and most are guys but not exclusively) that is sadly missing in most Western religion. Harvey Cox understood the prophetic nature of the trickster in The Feast of Fools and grasped how their absence in much of Western religion gives permission to an arrogant moral superiority that is unable to confess its own complicity in evil. Indeed, such a pathological blindness not only nurtures the necessity for scapegoats during hard and confusing times but let's otherwise smart people repeat half truths - think September 11th - over and over rather than bring healing to the beloved community.
He writes: As the true heirs of our Puritan forebears, we are taught to turn our backs on the world of fantasy - along with such accompaniments as mirth, intemperance and unseemly speculation - to labor diligently in the world of facts. That very Puritan man, Sigmund Freud, sternly warned us to respect the 'reality principle' and not to be tricked by illusion, future or otherwise. So we have obeyed... and are suspicious of any activity that appears to waste time or does not serve the concrete interests of the commonwealth.
Lord, have mercy: no wonder there is an atrophied imagination and mostly just a politics of fear in 2008! Which is why I give thanks to recently discovering "Dr. Who" on BBC America and the new TV show: "Fringe." They kick my butt when I take myself too seriously, help expand my worldview beyond the limits of my tired imagination and tease me with the consequences of limited thinking with all their apocalyptic mumbo jumbo. They are to this moment what Chuck Berry's "Too Much Monkey Business" was to 1955, Bob Dylan's "Subterranean Homesick Blues" was to 1965 or even what the Rolling Thunder Tour did 10 years later (check out Zimmy doing "Isis" in 1976 - btw the opening line was the inspiration of my wedding date!)
You don't see much of this in Christianity - a tiny lost remnant in John the Baptist and some of the Zen-like humor of Jesus - but we lost a lot when we gave up metaphorical thinking during the witch hunts and inquisition... thank God rock and roll helped us start to bring them back!
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