Sunday, January 08, 2006

Righteous Sarcasm: Part 1

Some folks, either because of cultural backgrounds or societal folkways, have the crazy idea that Christians have to speak and socially behave in a certain way. Both sides of the aisle feel this way, both Christians and non-Christians. I'm not talking about true righteous living and talking - that's imperative. But I refer to those artificial rules that someone made up regarding the use of sarcasm and satire. According to these prudes, Christians must be absolutely inoffensive, never poking fun or belittling a person or idea, and never being sarcastic. But as we read Scripture, we see many occasions of righteous sarcasm, whether from the mouth of a prophet, Jesus, or the Father himself.

When I left my Italian-American/Boston context and entered the Anglo-Canadian world, I discovered that I was sometimes a mean person. But then I discovered that I am only "mean" in certain cultural contexts. A Mediterranean culture produces people less sensitive about people's comments. They don't think everything through before they say it, nor would it change anything if they did; they'd probably still say it all. Likewise, in Canada I was introduced to the fascinating phenomenon of one person talking at a time. What a culture shock! Where I live it's survival of the fittest in terms of the skill of conversation. I realized that when my Canadian wife barely spoke a word when first visiting my family. We don't wait. You have to fight for it. It's kind of like when I was walking through the cities in Italy where stopping for a red traffic light is optional (legally!). So if you plan on waiting for cars to LET you cross the street, forget about it, you have to boldly step out and the Fiats and Ferraris will slam on their brakes an inch from your kneecap and then gracefully allow you the privelege of crossing a Roman street. Actually it's the same with pedestrians. I remember when I turned from a gelateria window in Venice to hand a cone to my friend on the sidewalk and the obstruction of my arm extending was too long a wait for the old man walking in that direction and he knocked my arm out of his way. Yes he could have detoured around us, but that was his path and no gelato would keep him from following it at his rapid speed. Rudeness? Maybe. Uncalled for? No, after all, we were standing in his projected route. There's probably a law that allows Italians to fling tourists' extremities out of their way.

What's the point of all this rambling? Oh yes. When is it okay to be offensive. I seem to have spent a long time in piazzas and not in Bible references. That's why this will be part 1 of a two part series. I'll just go type "Part 1" in the title.