“Twiddly bits” –in case you did not catch this Sunday’s NPR story on the Orthodox Easter—is the technical term the founding artistic director of Capella Romana uses to describe the extra something in the way his group sings the music that connects the various Christian cultures. Singing “Alleluia” the Western way, then again with a little Eastern warble, Dr. Alexander Lingas pointed out that “it’s the same notes but with a few added little twiddly bits in between.”
“Christianity is an Eastern religion, which we tend to forget sometimes,” he said. He’s right. We appear to have an epidemic of amnesia and ignorance judging by the contortions of pretzel politicians about who is Christian and who is not. No shortage of Crusaders but fewer responders to the Gospel’s radical call to put the Golden rule before ROI. (What would Mr. Romney say to that, I wonder?)
Expanding the “Western map of the known Christian universe,” Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault makes the same point as Dr. Lingas that Christianity, despite the proprietary posture of evangelicals in particular, is not some American or European construct. Urging us to get over our collective over-simplification and appropriation of Christianity, she describes Jesus as “a Near Eastern event. . . . When the meteor of his being tumbled into time and space it landed in Palestine, not in Elizabethan England.” In her book, The Wisdom Jesus, she reminds us that Jesus comes from a Near Eastern tradition of wisdom teachers. Jesus spoke in the “language of story rather than law.”
From song, to scholarship, to dance: the lessons are similar. This week story was everywhere in the dress, the adornments, the mele and the movements of the Merrie Monarch festival on Hawaii Island. Every dance was an affirmation of a reverential connection to the past in order to discern the future.
That perhaps is what is missing from our public conversation today. We deny the twiddly bits that unite us. We deny the past that brought us to our present. Like poor Peter, perhaps it is fear that makes us disavow those who expect us to stand by them. Fear that in tending to the poor, we might have less of a surplus for ourselves even if we could never consume that surplus in one lifetime — or two. Fear that in respecting women’s hard-won rights, men might never regain lost ground as Masters of the Universe. (Mr. Ryan: How exactly is your budget “Catholic?”)
From sports to religion to politics, the desire to win has devolved into a willingness to lose sight of the truth. There appears to be no price to pay for fact-free speech. What a teacher would not tolerate in the classroom we appear to tolerate from people with power, money or a big megaphone: the parroting of nonsense, the failure to actually read and study the subject matter, false labeling, hyperbole, omission of the facts, the twisting of arguments, the failure to own up to mistakes, to respect others. . .the list grows. We show our children what we don’t want them to do by doing it ourselves with impunity on very public platforms? Things we would not tolerate in the people we hire, we entertain from those who seek our permission to trust them with public policy. Why are we not as tough-minded with would-be public officials as we are with our children and our employees? Serial “mis-speakers” do not deserve repeat appearances in the civic space. If repetition fortifies a lie, and it is patently obvious that lies are being dispensed, why become accessories to the lie by providing a platform for it to be aired repeatedly?
Bill Cosby recently questioned our failure to acknowledge the legacy of the past. He compared President Obama in his first term to a kind of Sisyphus figure. “And nobody would speak about the size of the rock or the elevation of the hill.” They lie, said the comedian, to their great shame. Then addressing all those Americans who say they do not want this President to succeed, Cosby asked as only Cosby can: “Well, why, said the brown fly?” Why indeed.