“People talk a lot about individual freedom, but you show ’em a free individual and they get scared.” – George Hanson, Easy Rider
I don’t like Jack Nicholson, as an actor or a human being, but he did a pretty decent job in Easy Rider. As you may recall, his character, George Hanson, was killed not too long after delivering the above line, head bashed in by rednecks with bats. I first saw Easy Rider when I was seventeen or so – I was a redneck/punk mash-up with some inclinations toward what I thought at the time was hippie ideology – environmental, anti-authoritarian, some commitment to racial and gender equality. I later realized that hippies don’t care about that shit. I cared, but was hobbled by my addictions, mental illnesses and was purty fuckin’ ignorant, if’n I do say so meself. I aspired to be Wyatt/Captain America, the pure ideologue, but was really more like Billy, the everyman who just wants to get wasted and get laid. When I watched Easy Rider more recently, I was amazed at what an arrogant asshole Wyatt actually is. I missed that the first time.
Nevertheless, the observation is true – people, Americans, hate free individuals. Sure, radical, wild iconoclasts are among Americans’ favorite characters in fiction, but ain’t nobody wants to deal with that shite in real life. Get yer bat, Elmer, we got us a nonconformist to bash. It’s bizarre and tragic. And I run into all the furgin’ time. Sometimes it’s almost comical – like when the local Pastor started gushing at me about Nadia Bolz-Weber, the foul-mouthed, tattooed, recovering alcoholic with depression issues who is the Lutheran Pastor celebrity at the moment, and then wished me luck and stopped responding to my emails because she doesn’t have time for a foul-mouthed, tattooed, recovering alcoholic with depression issues who wants to be a Lutheran Pastor. I mean, that’s just funny. Bolz-Weber is all about welcoming the stranger – well, ya can’t get much stranger than me.
Martin Luther wrote three major reforming treatises in 1520, the third of which was titled De Libertate Christiana or Von der Freiheit eines Christenmenschen or A Treatise on Christian Liberty, depending on your language. My copy is titled On the Freedom of a Christian. Luther’s premise is that Christ wiped out the old covenant and therefore the old laws – the 613 mitzvot or commandments in the Torah. These include the familiar Ten Commandments, as well as a buncha stuff about what you can eat, how you should do your hair and how long you have to wait after menstruation before you can get jiggy. The prohibition against homosexuality is in there, along with the prohibition against doing anything on the Sabbath, which would be Saturday. According to Luther, none of that applies to Christians. Eat all the ham hocks and bloody poon ya wanna, ’cause it ain’t a sin no mo’. Luther, of course, assumed that if the Bible was translated into the vernacular, people would read it and understand complicated theological abstractions like “Love your neighbor”, which is giving the average person a little more credit than they deserve, from what I can see. He thought that if people were able to read the teachings of Jesus for themselves, they would give their hearts and minds to Him and make some attempt to live accordingly; that there would be no need to tell people not to do murder, because they would understand that as a given. The Christenmenschen would naturally behave lovingly toward all people because the Holy Spirit would move them to behave so. So that shows you what Luther knew about people. Of course, he never met an American, so he didn’t know how fucking stupid people are capable of being if they put their minds to it.
As I get my ducks in rows to start slogging away at a Bachelor’s in Some Token Bullshit, I’ma havta submit a sample of my writing. Have you read my writing? Clearly, I’ma havta look up some examples of academic writing – that dull formulaic style that college papers have to conform to. The thought of it kinda turns my stomach. I’ve done it before – when I got my Associates – and it sucks. I can do it, of course – I have the ability to plug sentences into the pattern – but I hate it because it’s boring and stifling and designed to force peoples’ brains into very narrow boxes so they lose their ability to think and become drones. That makes it easier for the assistant professors to grade papers and avoid having to think about the spontaneity and creativity they sacrificed to get their jobs. Sad fucks. But I’ll get used to it. Writing college papers is really about getting the pattern down, sticking in dead facts in the correct order and then forgetting it as quickly as possible. The reason college students drink so much is they pretty much have to to deal with the soul-crushing tedium of getting what passes for an education. Won’t be fun, but I can do it.
I was reading the devotion in the booklet my church handed out for Lent. It was something about how God surprises us with crazy plot twists in our life stories and we always gotta be ready for those curve balls. Made me think about taking acid – when the giants grubs start coming outta your arm, ya just gotta remind yourself you took acid. Don’t freak out – just enjoy the show. I had the same idea when I was newly sober – everything seemed fucking insane. Colors and sounds and emotions were all more than I knew how to handle with a raft of chemicals blanketing my neural receptors, so I just kept reminding myself that the absence of drugs was a drug in itself and plowed on ahead.
God likes wild, whacky shit. That seems pretty much self-evident. If He’s looking for some crazy weirdo to rock the boat, He did a good enough job tapping me on the shoulder. I can handle that assignment. Don’t tell the selection committee at the Virginia Synod, but I am very much a wolf pretending to be a sheep (see my left forearm for wolf and sheep tattoos). I will be quite happy to rock the fuggin’ boat. Actually, there’s somethin’ in the Bible about a boat rockin’ – https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Mark+4%3A35-41&version=NRSV. Notice that Jesus ain’t bothered by the storm. He’s so okay with the rockin’ boat, He’s asleep in the stern on the cushion. (“Stern” is a nautical term – it means the part of the boat where the cushion is.) The text doesn’t say which disciples were so freaked out that they had to go wake up the Lord, but Peter was prob’ly one of ’em. Peter was kinduva bonehead. Maybe “rockhead” is more apropos. Point being, Jesus doesn’t mind it a bit when somebody rocks the boat – people do.
I ain’t in this to make people happy. I take the whole “imitation of Christ” thing pretty literally – because that’s what Christianity is, fer fuck’s sake. Jesus didn’t mind shaking up the establishment of His time, so I’ma do the best I can to shake up the establishment in mine.
But to do that, I gotta play the game for a while. Well, I guess I don’t “gotta”. Ain’t nothing stopping me from starting my own church and being the Pastor. I could even call it a Lutheran Church. As long as I don’t have the letters “ELCA” on the sign, they can’t do shit about it. I could also wear a tinfoil hat. Better to play the game for a while, jump through the hoops until I get through seminary, get my certification or whatever, and then drop the facade and go rogue.
In conclusion, wolf in sheep’s clothes, stern, heretic. Also, Easy Rider is a scathing indictment of the whole ’60s hippie shitshow. That’s what it’s about. Hippies failed. Also, On the Freedom of a Christian is a dang fine read. It doesn’t quite go far enough, though. As Christenmenschen, we are freed from the 613 mitzvot, sure, but we are also freed from conformity to whatever stupid fashions, trends and norms the lumpen masses are being suckered into at any given moment. We are freed from participation in the rigged game of capitalism. We are freed from the obligation to share the bigotries of our neighbors. We are freed from guilt, shame and remorse. We are freed from our own shitty sinfulness.
That’s about as free as ya gonna get.