Curmudgeon's Corner

Sherwood Scroll, January-February, 1978

It was not me (or rather I) who thought up the title of "Curmudgeon's Corner" for this column. It was the housewives and mothers of school children who put this paper together, who gave me this title, who set me in this Corner.* I had to run to the dictionary myself to find out was a curmudgeon was. "A surly, ill-mannered, bad tempered person; cantankerous person." Well why shouldn't I be cantankerous? Don't interrupt when we're talking, sit up straight, stop pouting, wipe those cooky crumbs off your chin, is all I hear at our Scroll meetings. This gives me plenty of time to brood-- not about the business at hand, but about curmudgeons in general.

There are many kinds of curmudgeons, and there is also in this field, as in many other fields, a leader. In whose shadow all others must pale in significance. The curmudgeon of curmudgeons. The curmudgeon for all seasons. The Arch-curmudgeon. His birthday was celebrated all over the world only last December. Not only that, but His birth date is the basis for all our calendars. That would seem to indicate that He was very successful indeed. Napoleon tried that and never got anywhere. And yet there is something about this achievement that is not quite on center. It is a well-known fact that He wasn't actually born on that day or the month advertised. Which might suggest that a lot of other things we supposedly know about Him are slightly short of the mark as well. The record of His brief tenure in the public eye supports this suspicion. He survived three years as a Rabbi in Israel while managing to break every law set down for Rabbis to follow. In time He was done away with. After He was done away with, everything He said and did was approved of. A fate which so often befalls curmudgeons. Now, 2000 years later, He is said to be "Alive in our hearts." He is followed after, emulated, held up as an architect of good behavior and polite table manners. He was said to be a worker of miracles. The greatest of them being that He should have been allowed to walk this earth as long as He did. Part of the answer must be that He was thought to be crazy. When people think you are crazy, you can say anything. There is also a good chance that you will become famous. Once you have been exposed as being both crazy and dangerous, however, there is no saving you. Dammasch Mental Hospital here we come. The treatment our Miracle Worker received toward the end is fairly typical of the treatment handed out to the insane (Matthew 27:27-30). Bedlam was the name of an insane asylum in London where you could take your family on a Sunday afternoon to watch the guards beat up the inmates. Even as late as the mid-40's a Hollywood actress reported her ordeal "At the Oregon State Mental Hospital where the women were chained and beaten, where rats were caught and torn apart and eaten raw." (from Going Crazy by Otto Friedrich)

But there is something else about the world 2,000 years ago which is not widely known today. Everybody was crazy. Not only the Romans, who were poisoning themselves with the lead in their drinking cups, but everybody. In order to restore some degree of sanity, scores of philosophies were made up and preached like Pentecostal sermons in the market place. Philosophy was big business. According to observers of the time, two groups in particular "stressed the need for realizing the nature and value of one's soul, of disregarding all external circumstances to pursue virtue, of being born again." These were not the twelve Apostles but the Stoics and the Cynics of Athens. What was all the commotion about? Well, according to another observer: "There was a widespread and well attested belief that the great cycle of the ages was about to complete its revolution... all things would dissolve in an overwhelming deluge or be burned.... Then the cycle would begin again; a new world would be brought to birth." It was believed that a comet was going to attack the earth (Revelation 8:7 to 9:3) and that very soon after that everything would be all over for everybody. Unless, of course, you had no stain of corruption on you. Against this background of insanity our Hero stood as a pillar of sanity, just as a dark spot on the Sun represents a burning place a few degrees cooler than the surrounding surface. But why has His name lasted so long? Was it because of his compassion? His miracles? His sermons? His claim to have died and come back to life again? Perhaps, but other philosophers had done these things, or claimed they had (Pythagoras claimed to have been dead for three years before coming back again!)

No, it was because He was a curmudgeon. He was the One who walked into the center of these crowds of hysterical people and claimed responsibility for what was happening to them. "I came to cast fire on the earth." (Luke 12:49) The people welcomed Him into their arms and hanged him from a cross, as was the custom in Roman Times.

President Truman, a most unpopular man while in office, made a similar gesture (though it pales in significance) with his "The Buck Stops Here" sign. We all felt somehow "reborn" when President Nixon resigned in mid term, especially with born-again Carter taking his place. Which all goes to show, I suppose, that bad vibrations aren't all bad. Even if you have to chalk up a lost curmudgeon from time to time.

* Ahem: A word from the editors is warranted here. We are not just housewives. We are landscape designers, civil engineers, Army Reservists, lace makers, tree trimmers, authors and feminists, all of whom cannot only bake 'em, we can spell 'em. -Judy Joyce Sherwood Scroll Editor
Copyright 2005 by Clyde List

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