Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Joy of Sloth

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Two weeks ago, I promised to lay out for you, one week at a time, the "seven key areas of life where Jesus ruins our fun." By this I mean the categories of normal human experience that make up the bulk of our lives -- where our instincts, habits, and egos have patched together perfectly serviceable habits of schlepping through, day to day. We'd just as soon our coping strategies weren't disrupted by some fish-multiplying wonder-working God-Man who speaks in riddles. But hey, thanks for thinking of us . . .
This week, I'll look at the whole Christ thing from the standpoint of those whom moralists from that old, stale time some historians call "the past" would have labeled as suffering from Sloth.

First of all, that word is offensive. The polite term is Inerto-American or “inertful.” There are millions of them out there, and the only reason they haven't raised their voices up till now is . . . well, why attract attention? If you put up your hand you might just get called on. Then the teacher will know just how much of the reading you really did. No reason to ruin his day. In fact, it's uncharitable.
Studying -- okay, skimming -- the Gospels, the inertful man can appreciate that Jesus means well, but wonders just how well He appreciates human nature. When Christ says that the creator of the universe "numbers all the hairs on our heads," the natural response is: "Enough with the baldness jokes! I have a hard time just reading my Dish Network bill to figure out if they're ripping me off."
In matters religious, there are certain fundamental questions that vex each human soul. Each of us has a governing passion, a distinctive thorn in our spirit or flesh. Those of us who dwell in that mild, middle state we call inertia have our own question, which is asked not so much of God but of ourselves: "Is it really worth it?" This simple criterion can be applied to every area of life, and it nearly always serves to lighten the pressure. Try this at home: Is it really worth it . . .
  • to brown that sandwich in a skillet? The microwave would get it nice, hot, and spongy in under a minute -- with nothing left over to scrub.
  • to train the church choir to sing something difficult, something written before 1970? And those old songs are all so heavy.
  • to put on a tie for Mass? What is this, a funeral or something?
  • to iron out the last few details in that assignment they gave you at the last minute, as usual? What do people expect from you, perfection? Then they should be paying you more.
  • to repeat all those mind-numbing prayers? Once you've hailed Mary once, do you really have to keep on pestering? Doesn't that cross the line into stalking?
  • to go to Mass, fast, or pray a single time more than the absolute requirements you read about, 20 years ago, in that . . . Catholic book you had to read? As Jennifer Aniston said in your favorite movie, Office Space: "You want me to wear 37 pieces of Flair? Then why don't you say so?"
  • to get all enthused about the godforsaken sporting event/dance recital/drug intervention your wife insisted you attend? Your parents never went to your games. You had to go cold turkey from nasal spray all by yourself. Won't coddling your kids like this make them turn out soft?
For the inertful, it's a tough enough slog from the morning coffee to the nightly melatonin capsule without asking for one more thing to worry about. Introduce the (frankly creepy) idea of eternity, and you bring to mind a Monday that drags on for millions of years. Here's how the organizer on your celestial phone will read:
7 a.m. Praise to the Celestial Father and Creator of the Universe.
8:15 a.m. Praise to His Consubstantial and Coeternal Son.
9:45 a.m. Praise to His Holy and Life-Creating Spirit.
10:50 a.m. Praise, adoration, and thanksgiving to the Coeternal Majesty of the Three Divine Persons.
11:30 a.m. Ambrosia break.
12:05 p.m. Gratitude workshop with Patriarchs and Confessors. Optional: Break-out sessions with Victim Souls, Incorruptibles.
1:35 p.m. Exercise period; Sacro-Cardio sessions and Glorified Body-building.
And so on, ad aeternam.
I know it's intrinsically impossible to get across the kind of ecstatic something-or-other that holy people will enjoy in the next life, so I'll cut the saints some slack. But most of the descriptions I've read of beatitude in scriptures and devotional books lean pretty heavily on promises of golden streets connecting palaces made out of diamonds, and freakish animals performing amazing tricks, like opening scrolls and speaking. Frankly, the whole thing sounds to me a lot like Vegas -- without the showgirls. (Mohammed knew a thing or two about addressing Everyman.) No wonder most of us go through life thinking of Heaven as "the place that isn't Hell."
If you want a picture of paradise that will interest the inertful, it had better include fuzzy slippers. Nice, foamy baths, and radio comedy hours with sempiternal Lutherans like Garrison Keillor, who gently lob nice, simple jokes right over home plate. Or if we have to do some work, we'd appreciate a clearly labeled series of straightforward tasks that will keep our minds occupied, drowning out that drone of praise and adoration. And maybe a pair of shades to dim the glare you see in all those icons. Don't those painters know that candlelight is a heck of a lot more flattering?
How about a little soup? What would it hurt? Nothing too hot or cold. Serve it up Goldilocks-style . . . just right. John Zmirak, Inside Catholic






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