The word ridiculous may not essentially mean "worthy of ridicule" but that is how I will use it today. Be warned.
A few hardy working types of my acquaintance were reading the paper at the table next to me in my coffee hang-out. One leaned over to me to show the headline of the local paper.
"See this guy?" he asked, while he pointed to the lead story, complete with picture.
"Yes," I answered. The picture was of a young man arrested a few hours after his release on drug charges from the local jail. His latest arrest came less than 30 hours of his previous release.
"Is he stupid, or what?" my interrogator wanted to know.
"A creature of habit, at least," I replied mildly.
"D—ed fool, I say," he snorted and went back to his coffee.
There are a few dozen ways to reply to ridicule, I suppose. One is agreement in order to conform to local patterns of thinking. Another might be to agree with the inward relief you are not related to the person in the picture.
The point, however, is the witness to human folly often finds himself compelled to confront the senseless act and ridicule is one way to do it. We all indulge in the sad look and shaken head on occassion before we go back to our coffee.
Let’s think about some of the forces compelling behavior worthy of ridicule.
There is the genetic predisposition to chemical imbalance prompting behaviors. Some of us come out of the hatch with depressive tendencies, a proclivity for substance abuse or a disposition for adopting the line of least resistance.
"A lie," George Bernard Shaw is reputed to have said, "is an ever present help in times of trouble."
The paternal side of my family is prone to substance abuse. I get to see the finished product of the brewer’s art at every reunion.
I don’t drink alchohol. It is a conscious choice for me.
Genetic predispositions, if we have proper warning, do not necessarily have to make us choose the ridiculous.
There is poor upbringing. Abused children are more likely to abuse as adults, some 85% more likely than the general population, if they do not seek help.
A young lady came to chapel recently. She told her story of abuse by her stepfather as a child. She told of the pain it caused her to make the abuse stop.
Clearly, she has paid a price. Just as clearly she has made a choice to help.
There is the denial of opportunity. For two hundred years on this continent, an entire race of beings were denied the any profit for their efforts. They could not, by wishing, overcome force.
Out of this race has come Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, an array of artists and athletes, thinkers and politicians, writers, actors and directors and activists.
Obviously, once freed of restraints, this race proved its functionality in any culture. They did not take long to show.
There is the unique individual experience. My maternal great grandfather, Champ Clark, was an isolationist, thoroughly racist Senator from the midwest. Before the national election in which Woodrow Wilson was elected president, William Jennings Bryan interviewed both my great grandfather and Wilson to find out who would be most likely to compromise on a financial matter. Wilson proved more pliable.
Wilson got the support of Bryan and, with it, the Democratic nomination. Bryan, it is said, wanted Champ Clark but could not deal with him.
Into most lives fall some form of the unique, individual experience. For Churchill, who had embraced agnosticism, it was the first time he came under fire in South Africa and in Cuba. There he found himself, agnoticism and all, repeating the prayers and hymns his nanny taught him in his nursery.
Winston decided, after much reflection, he would believe what he believed about God. He would also open himself to any investigation of any matter he wished. In short, he became a post-modern Christian, for he chose to put his trust in the Christ.
Different impulses into ridiculous behavior open us up to just as many ways to choose the better path.
Hope, for instance.
Where does hope come into the picture?
In his speech at American University in 1963 the Cold Warrior John Kennedy said, "We all inhabit the same earth. We all treasure our children’s future." In so saying he offered some hope that nuclear weapons did not have to settle the world’s future.
In his speech to a group of black leaders in 1964, Lyndon Johnson said:
"From the time of the ancient Hebrew prophets and the dispersal of the money changers, men of God have taught us that social problems are moral problems on a huge scale. They have demonstrated that a religion which did not struggle to removed oppression from the world of men would not be abled to create the world of spirit."
In His first publicly recorded address, Jesus Christ said:
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Because He has annointed me to preach the gospel to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord."
In His first personal act after dying, it is recorded Jesus Christ descended into Hades to release souls held in prison there.
Hope releases captives. Jesus Christ gives hope.
To give hope to the captive you may have to swim against the current. If someone is captive, someone or something else is captor. Captors have power, approval, ability, riches and perhaps even armies.
Prophets of hope often receive the ridicule heaped on the captive. Indignity, humiliation, disgust; some of the emotional responses are these reserved for the hope giver.
Hope givers receive approbation quite because they must identify with the hopeless in order to set free. If you can go into Heaven, why spend any time in Hell? Well, the only reason is to deliver the captive because you have the power to release.
Often, to offer hope to the hopeless means to alternately walk the halls of power and roast in the fire, helpless even to save one’s self for the moment.
We all look for hope. We all want to leave our children in better stations than we occupy. We all want, sometimes, forlornly, to believe there is something more than we see.
In fact, we look often for the hope of rescue.
We want someone to notice our hard work and reward us.
We want someone to accept our love and love us back.
We want someone to rescue us from obscurity.
We want our break.
We want to achieve dignity.
We want to be beyond ridicule.
Is there anything more powerful than an idea whose time has come? Jesus Christ agrees with the Father that it is time for the personal God of the universe to come into this world, here to lift up the fallen, fix the broken, enrich the impoverished.
Do you remember the little baptist church you first attended? Mine was very small, white clapboard, air conditioned with funeral fans. We were the Holy Baptists, protected from being called Holy Rollers only by our total aversion to charismatic practices.
In our little baptist churches, poor people heard God loved them, Jesus died for them, there was a way out of this world through this life. Far from acting as an opiate our doctrine served as a stimulant.
We worked. No one could tell us our work was useless.
We studied. No one could hold us back from learning.
We progressed. No one could be barred from our hopeful upward movement.
We succeeded. We spread, built, held, grew wealthy and then forgot.
We forgot where we came from and what God offered us. We retreated into the sensible and so became senseless. We remembered the form but forgot the substance.
Our substance is in the Christ of the manger, of the wedding feast, of the Temptations, of the Cross, of the Empty Tomb, empty from the start because He is emptying Hell.
Sense from the senseless lifts people out of the ridiculous. Hope for later brings up meaning for now. The world makes sense if it comes from God and is going back to God.
There is a good reason to believe.