catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 48, Num 2 :: 2008.12.15 — 2009.03.15


A (psychotic) mime is a terrible thing to wast

Or ... I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear my (lime green) trousers rolled

It was at the end of morning devotions at Bedlam Christian School, when Rex Kane, the high school PE teacher, walked in the door. Shop teacher Gord Winkle looked up from his object lesson (which had started out as an even dozen doughnuts, but, as Gord had illustrated, each of the ways the larger world eats away at people’s Christian convictions, he had also been consuming the doughnuts at an alarming rate. There were now two and a half left). Everyone else in the staff room turned toward the door as well, and their eyes stayed there.

Rex Kane was  resplendent  in lime  green  sweat pants and a t-shirt from last night’s Mega-Metal Concert at the Hummer-Dome. Rex was wearing a t-shirt advertising the band “Psychotic Mimes Consortium” and a headband that bore the words “Spoiled Meat,” and over one shoulder had draped a tea-towel that said “Lacerated Underwear” in fancy gothic script, with an umlaut over the r in the word lacerated. The powdered sugar doughnut in Gordon’s mouth slid quietly to the floor and the room fell silent.

Principal Bentley VanderHaar, was the first to recover. He cleared his throat. “It’s not Halloween. It’s not Spirit Week. It’s not National Freak-Out-Your-Principal Day. I give up, Rex. Why are you dressed like this?”

Jane VanderAsch leaned toward Jon Kleinhut and muttered beneath her breath, “That outfit is breaking the student dress code in at least three different ways.” Nodding in agreement, Kleinhut pulled his tie a bit tighter about his neck, hoping that VanderHaar would notice and remember his conservative dress later that night when he had to appear before the tenure committee.

Rex drew his head back and cocked it sideways, staring at his principal as if he were speaking another language. “Why am I dressed how?”

VanderHaar stammered, “Dressed how?  I. . . I don’t know. How about we start with the t-shirt?”

Rex smiled and nodded. “Pretty cool, huh?  I got it at the PMC concert last Saturday. They were awesome!  And hey, if you like the front, check out the back.” Rex spun toward the door. His colleagues stared in a mix of shock and disbelief. The picture showed three mimes with menacing makeup and rakish berets wrestling over a meat cleaver while a frightened dachshund tried to sneak away. Over the top of this image, a font that looked liked bullet holes said, “Who Let the Dogs Out Tour-2008.” Rex looked over his shoulder at the whitening face of Bentley. “Awesome, isn’t it?”

“More like deranged,” VanderAsch said. She stood to face Rex. “How can you dare to wear a shirt like that to school or anywhere else? I read about that so-called band in the paper. Their so-called music encourages violence and sexual promiscuity.”

Rex snapped around to face her, and he looked angry, a rare look for him. “Well, maybe your ‘so-called’ information is misinformation, and maybe you are too quick to make up your ‘so-called’ mind. The Psychotic Mimes Consortium neither encourages nor condones violence. Their music is a wickedly clever satire that exposes both the moral degradation of mainline rock bands and the narrow-minded, hyper-religious convictions of such bands’ critics.”

“Rex,” said Cal Vander Meer, "I just had a student in Bible 4 turn in a paper on the worldview of the Psychotic Mimes Consortium. The student gave some lyrics from a song titled “Oral Obsessions.” In her paper, my student rightly pointed out that the lyrics represent a hedonistic celebration of oral sex with multiple partners."

Rex turned to Cal, and he shrugged. "Well, yeah, “Oral Obsessions” is a bad song. But did this girl write about “The Pious and the Pilloried.” Cal shook his head, no. “She should have. That song gives a scathing attack on both the sinners and the saints. At one point, Ned Toady, the lead singer, belts out, ‘…The monkeys jump/ the monkeys dance/ the monkey preacher’s got no pants!/ We need to be wilder. /We need to be clearer. / We all need to pal around with Reinhold Niebuhr.”

Cal smiled. “But Rex, it isn’t like that song tells students anything about Niebuhr’s philosophy. I doubt the lead singer even knows who Niebuhr is.”

Then everyone seemed to speak at once. Head Counselor Maxwell Prentiss-Hall jumped in. “Yeah, but maybe a song like that would get kids to read Niebuhr!” Gordon Winkle, unmindful of the half doughnut in his mouth, tried to speak: “Whooff’s Rwhineholf Neeborff?”  Rex said, “I own all PMC’s albums. On the third one, they give thanks to ‘the God who knows and loves us even when we don’t know him’ in the liner notes.” Art teacher Gregg “Rigor” Mortiss wondered aloud whether it might not be a good way to reach students and start conversations.

Principal VanderHaar asked for silence twice with no response. The color crept up his jowls toward his temples, as it was wont to do when he grew angry. Finally, he had to shout to get everyone’s attention.  “Thank you,” he said to his surprised colleagues. “I don’t know about the ‘psychotic’ part, but I could sure go for a bunch of mimes right about now. We have several issues here. First of all, there’s the matter of professional dress. Rex, we can talk about bands and music and culture, but no teacher who works  for me is  going to  enter a classroom  in a  rock concert t-shirt. The same goes for the headband and tea towel, and I don’t even know what those items are supposed to be about.”

Rex raised one finger in admonishment as he prepared to defend himself, but a withering glance from his principal took the starch out of him. He sighed heavily and ripped the headband from his head, crumpling it up with the towel. He mumbled, “I’ll change shirts when I go back to the PE office.”

Seeing that he’d have to fight no further for compliance, VanderHaar softened. He said, “The second issue is how, as a faculty, we are going to lead our students to approach the secular culture that surrounds us.”

Rex rolled his eyes dismissively, but it was Jane who spoke. “I teach trigonometry and calculus. I don’t have time to ponder filthy songs in my class. Apparently, that’s a good use of time for Bible class.”

Rex couldn’t contain himself. “I told you, the Mimes are not all filth. Geez! Don’t be so narrow-minded.”

Christina Lopez cleared her throat to get everyone’s attention. “You know, Christians often approach culture in predictable ways. Some of us,” and here she glanced toward Jane, “think that we can withdraw from the culture around us. We remove ourselves from anything distasteful, but the problem is that when we withdraw, we tend to give over all the tools and treasures of culture to a people who will likely grow increasingly alienating without the presence and influence of God’s people in their lives.”

Now she turned toward Rex. “Other Christians, however, embrace the umbrella culture that surrounds them. These Christians recognize culture as a human exploration of God’s good earth, but they fail to account for human sin. They forget that total depravity is, well, so total. They show a lack of discernment as they embrace a secular culture, willfully justifying their cozying up with wickedness with the flimsiest of rationales.”

Cal spoke up. “We should teach discernment, so our kids can tell the good from the bad. That’s why I have my Bible 4 students write papers on the worldview of various secular artists.”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” said Lopez. “Discernment. We’ve talked that word to death in the last five years. I think we can do more. We should be training our students to make culture. We don’t need Christians discerning films by secular directors as much as we need Christian filmmakers. We don’t need a Christian critique of politics as much as we need Christian politicians creating a Christian politics. We need to thoughtfully engage how we eat, how we design homes and communities and infrastructure. If our culture is less than godly, we’d better get busy. The only way to change culture is to create it. I highly recommend we as a faculty read the book Culture Making by Andy Crouch. It’s high time for contemporary Christians to get off the sidelines and into the game.”

A moment of silence hung in the air before the bell calling them to begin the day pierced the silence. Rex left to change clothes, Gord crossed to the sink to wipe powdered sugar from his mustache, and Bedlam’s other teachers scurried off to class with thoughtful looks on their faces. VanderHaar, however, went straight to his office. He had to visit an on-line bookstore. He figured he would see about getting that Andy Crouch book   and then it occurred to him that if he also bought the Pathological Mime Comrades, or whatever they were called, (just to give it a listen and see what all the fuss was about) he might be able to get the super-saver discount to boot!

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