Sacred Clowns and Cuss Words

Tony Hillerman writes about Native American culture, mostly about the Navajos. He writes mysteries. I learn a lot about cultures different from mine when I read his novels.

For example, in Sacred Clowns, a few folks are watching a Hopi festival when some clowns, known as koshares, interrupt the dance and the parade by doing silly things. For example, they climb down a ladder head first. A tourist asks why these clowns are allowed to disrupt the ceremony.

“Not disrupting,” is the reply. “It’s part of the ritual. It’s all symbolic. They represent humanity. Clowns. Doing everything wrong while the spirits do everything right.”

Other cultures express the same dilemma in different ways—coyotes, snakes, a red demon with horns and a pitchfork. Every society (as far as I know) acknowledges some sort of human failure or evil on the planet.

Many of us in the Southern part of the United States, and maybe all over Christendom, grew up with a very limited and unimaginative understanding of sin. It seemed to be restricted to a fairly predictable list of edicts which were not to be violated: stealing, murdering, disrespecting parents, greed, pride. Most of us could avoid the worst of those transgressions. We didn’t steal. We didn’t murder. We respected our parents. Sin was about other people more than it was about us.

Christian folks need a new way to think about human failure—new words and new images.

One year, during a continuing education event, my buddies and I decided that people sitting in the pews of our churches would understand preachers better if we could add a dozen “cuss” words to our sermons. Those listening might say, “Oh, so that’s what the preacher means?” instead of sleeping through the worship service.

Would people understand better if we said asshole instead of sinner? Instead of these vague prayers of Forgive us our sins, would being more specific help? Forgive me for being so pissy, so smug, so whiney, so damned stubborn.

In an AA meeting, you have to claim it: Hi, My name is… And I’m an alcoholic.

That would be my rule for admittance to church, to name a real and recent transgression of your own, not someone else’s shortcoming: Hi, My name is… And I’m manipulative. Or, I lack guts. Or, I’m full of self-pity. Or, I’ve been an asshole and a jerk to my family this week.

Lord, Have mercy.

Categories: addiction, Book Review, Faith/Spirituality, Humor, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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13 thoughts on “Sacred Clowns and Cuss Words

  1. Robert Oswalt

    Hi Marion, my name is Robert and i am snarky.

  2. Funny, Robert. I am too.

  3. Gerald Aldridge

    Lazy, prideful, pissy (what a greatly descriptive word!)–it would take me quite a while to get down the aisle! Marion, you scored with this one! What an idea!

  4. Ann Quattlebaum

    Love it and I dare you!

    • Ann, Lots of stories. Here’s one that someone just sent to me by email:

      A man who had made whiskey all his life joined the church one hot August night during a revival service. He was asked if he was going to stop making whiskey if the church voted him in. His reply, of course, was YES. A couple of months later, however, he was arrested for making whiskey so the good saints of the church brought him before the body and asked if it were true. He reply, of course, was YEA. So the church voted him “out” of fellowship. Asked if he had anything to say, the gentlemen responded in the affirmative and said, “This is the only organization I know of that accepts a person for lying and kicks him out for telling the truth.”

      Truth is, I suspected you were an asshole when I read your last article as director/coordinator (?) of the SC CBF titled “We were wrong.” Unfortunately, still are on a lot of issues. Thanks for verbalizing what I think …

      Enjoy your blogs.

  5. Yeah, If I’m gonna call other people out, I have to call myself out too. Pissy is who I become when I am unhappy.

  6. Gail

    Snarky…one of the terms of endearment Jake uses for me! I’m also occasionally pissy, though I know that’s hard to believe.

  7. Ultimately, in this scenario, you’ve got to self-describe. Your spouse and children and friends can’t do it for you.

  8. Here’s another comment that came to my email address:

    I like it….

    Remember Buechner’s The Clown in the Belfry? Thought of that when I read the blog…. Here’s a description. I always like the story about the clownish man in the belfry….

    “There are fourteen pieces here, six of them sermons which I preached at various times over the last five years or so…The remaining pieces are a real mishmash…’Faith and Fiction’ is a lecture I gave one winter at the New York Public Library where I tried to say something about what I think those two expressions of the human spirit have in common and along the way to tell a thing or two about my own involvement with them. It is bats that are supposed to be found in belfries, but for a few incandescent moments in 1831 a man named Lyman Woodard was to be found in one that is still higher than any other building in Rupert, Vermont. The event is described in its proper place. Suffice it to say here only that one day he climbed up and stood on his head in that belfry. Why did he do it? Was he drunk? Was he crazy? Who knows? Who even cares? The point is that it was a gorgeous, clownish, inspired, and inspiring thing to do. It was a radically new way of looking at the mysteries of earth and heaven. It is Saint Paul writing, ‘We are fools for Christ’s sake.’ It is David dancing naked before the ark. It is the rapturous shenanigans and holy abandon of faith kicking up its heels and considering the lilies of the field from an altogether different vantage. It is what virtually everything in this collection is trying to be about, and hence the title.” – Frederick Buechner in the Introduction to The Clown in the Belfry.

  9. Earl Herndon

    Marion, you hit this one out of the park. I am selfindulgent. Earl

  10. JEARL

    Not sure we are ready to put on our church signs:”All Assholes Welcome Here”.

  11. Earl, You might pick up a few visitors, but you would lose some members.

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