I know that the title is grammatically unsound, but I figure after the last rather intense blog, it’s time for a lighter theme. And what poet speaks to that better than Horace, who really knew how to write a party ode? Indeed, when he penned the words nunc est bibendum, he had in mind a celebration.
Life is full of parties and celebrations. There are some normal celebrations, like New Year’s Eve or one’s birthday—and I am pretty good at throwing a nice birthday party—and then there are those that are religious or at least quasi-religious, such as baptisms, confirmation days, weddings, and funerals. And then there are the big celebrations—holidays, such as Christmas, Easter, and in the U.S. and Canada (though in different months), the quasi-religious Thanksgiving Day (the hint is in the name).
Funerals? A celebration? Well, yes, and I think I generally prefer funerals to weddings, especially if the person who has passed has lived to a ripe old age. For it really is a celebration of life, a life, whose pages have turned like those in a book. Of course, when I am at the funeral I don’t know the whole story. We get to hear only the greatest moments, the best chapters; rarely are the sour and sad pages talked about. But the point is that that person lived, had a life, and their life had real significance. Their life touched others and shared, with us all, in this fantastic, most amazing thing we call capital-L “Life.”
Yet when I was watching a classic film the other evening, “Letter to Three Wives” starring Jeanne Crain, Ann Southern, Paul Douglas and a very dapper Kirk Douglas, among others, I saw that one of the couples, really two of them, had a less than ideal life. The husband of that couple, played by Paul Douglas, is a wealthy businessman, only married his wife (Jeanne Crain) because it would be “a good deal.” Their relationship was essentially transactional, and that showed up very clearly in the film even though it was made in a time (1949) when saying as much might have been seen as somewhat subversive.
But real love is not and should never be transactional, and at one point in the film Jeanne Crain’s character exclaims that very thing. If there is a give-to-get aspect to it—what the Romans called do ut des—it’s not real love, for real love is self-sacrificing. It cares about the whole person, both in the short term, when one person is enjoying the other, and chronologically, who the other person is on the inside, who they will be when they are old, ugly, and maybe even disabled. The other kind might look like love at first blush, but it will prove in the end to have been a transaction. The film does a good job of pointing out how unromantic and unpalatable such a relationship is.
But back to parties. It seems like the parties and celebrations listed above are mostly “religious” affairs. But religion is so dour, so prune-faced, isn’t it? Yet, paradoxically, I suppose, for thousands of kids, maybe even millions of them, every year Christmas is the happiest of days. And Easter and even Thanksgiving are celebrated by many folks with at least a modicum of joy; by some, who really grasp the meaning, with great joy. And how many times have I seen people in church crying tears of joy at a wedding or expressing heartfelt sadness at a funeral, even for those who know they will see that person again on the far side of Jordan?
You see, at least in its origins or somewhere along the way, Christianity in particular seems to have picked up on Jesus’ words that he came eating and drinking, and somewhere along that same way, someone noticed that his first miracle was the transformation of water into wine. Some of my atheist and even agnostic friends won’t marry, don’t attend religious services of any kind, and avoid funerals because they offer, they say, a false hope of an “afterlife”, and they hate weddings. They don’t celebrate Christmas—but of course not—nor Easter (even of-courser not), and they reluctantly sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner mostly because it has a “bad history.” So they have deholidayized their lives. But in doing so, it seems to me at least, they’ve also made their lives pretty boring. Practically no parties, except those in a mad dash after pleasure, and virtually no real celebrations… bummer!
And what about mere Christianity? That’s where the party’s at. And I didn’t make that up. Christianity is like a party, and you might be surprised to find that the homeless, the forgotten, the despised, and bullied will be the principal guests! To wit I offer my own translation of Luke 14:15ff.:
Jesus said to them: A certain man was preparing a large party and he invited many guests. When the time for the party arrived, he sent his servant to announce to those invited, “Come, because verything is prepared.”
But they all began at once to make excuses. One said, “I have recently bought a field, and I have to go to inspect it. Please excuse me.”
Another said, “I just bought five oxen and I am about to test them. Please excuse me.”
Yet another said, “I just got married; I cannot come.”
The servant returned and told this to the master. Then the owner of the house was angered and enjoined his servant: “Quickly, go out into the streets and alleys of the town and summon the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.”
“Sir,” the servant said, “I have done already what you ordered and there is still room.”
Then the master told his servant, “Go out to the lanes and country roads and compel those there to come, that my house may be full. Not one of those invited, I say to you, will enjoy my party.”
Those who actually come to the party that Jesus describes aren’t the smart set. These aren’t necessarily the physically attractive people either. They are the ones who have been used and abused, have felt inadequate and unloved. Maybe they have spent their life feeling like outsiders. But when they heed the invitation, they are the ones who get to enjoy the real party. Hope to see you there!