Sherrylee and I lived in West Germany from 1971-1979. Our years outside of American culture meant that we missed out on some of the cultural changes that took place during the tumultuous seventies. By the time we returned to the States in 1979, a quite apparent cynicism toward government had set in, likely the result of Viet Nam and Watergate. The sexual revolution of the sixties was pretty mainstream by the end of the 70s. Women had been liberated; African Americans were much more prominent in television and movies; and the extreme individualism of what some called the “Me Generation” had been legitimized in conservative politics.
Shortly after our return to the States, I accepted a position on the faculty of Oklahoma Christian University—a dream job for me. Not only did I love the classroom, but the comradery of the faculty and staff, such a wonderful, intelligent, interesting group of people, filled a deep need that we had for friends and fellowship in our new home.
Every day after chapel, many faculty members would gather in the little room set aside as the faculty lounge on the backside of the Learning Center. After a while, I realized that one of the aspects of American culture that had changed was the way colleagues and friends discussed ideas, especially when they disagreed. I had never been around people who obviously liked each other, but who poked at each other so sarcastically or at the ideas of a third party quite so cynically! Often it was disguised in humor, but, in fact, to me it was barbed!
As a new and very junior member of the faculty, I usually just listened and tried to keep my mouth shut, especially when the more vocal ones pontificated and sarcastically dismissed those who tried to take them on.
One day a couple of months into my first semester, however, one of the leaders of the conversation started saying something about socialism in Europe, something which I knew to be completely absurd from our experiences in Germany, so I responded to him. Well, in his own pompous way, he acknowledged my existence, but sarcastically dismissed my uninvited contribution. He was not mean spirited; he was just humorously . . . dismissive. I did not respond.
One of the other faculty members picked up on the fact that I might not be up to that kind of verbal combat, so he tried to draw me back into the conversation with a respectful query as to whether I wanted to respond to the One.
I don’t know where it came from, but I remembered something my Dad had said once, so I offered it as my own attempt at humor:
“Well,” I said, “I don’t think I do. My dad taught me once that you can’t outpuke a buzzard!”
I don’t know whether it was the unexpected response or the outlandish idea that this young nobody just off the boat from Germany might actually join the skirmish, but the whole room burst into appreciative laughter—even the One who had dismissed me–and from that day on, I never felt on the outside of the faculty again. I had won a place in the room.
In spite of my minor victory, I really never became comfortable with this mocking kind of conversation that had surfaced in the seventies. I called it M*A*S*H humor because it seemed to be the predominant mode of Hawkeye and BJ. Their irreverence, their disregard of authority, their cynical and self-serving approach to most relationships had first entertained Americans, then became American.
Thirty-five years later, now much of what was humorously sarcastic and cynical has become vicious and uncivil. We do not make fun of our opponents with respect; we demonize them. Even worse, we mock them.
Let me conclude with some biblical wisdom about mockery and mockers. I will let you draw your own political and cultural conclusions from these God-inspired words:
Proverbs 21:24 The proud and arrogant person—“Mocker” is his name— behaves with insolent fury
Proverbs 21:24 Mockers are proud and haughty; they act with boundless arrogance.
Proverbs 9:7 Whoever corrects a mocker invites insults . . . .
Proverbs 15:12 Mockers resent correction, so they avoid the wise.
Proverbs 29:8 Mockers stir up a city, but the wise turn away anger.
Proverbs 22:10 Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended.
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the one who does not . . . sit in the company of mockers