Writer's Relief: the Laughable Complexity of Legalism
Steve Martin. A good Bill Bryson book. Craver or Dave. The words of my younger daughter on any given day.
These are the places I generally expect amusement. Morality, on the other hand, particularly legalistic morality, well... that wouldn't be the first place I'd go for a laugh. That is, until I opened up Alan J. Jacobs. Wow, that guy can really rollick with Leviticus.
If you don't know who Jacobs is, then you probably haven't read The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. I highly recommend it to anyone needing laughter therapy. In fact, I purposely read it on a regular basis, for comic relief in my writing life (which tends to get far too serious).
My favorite part of Jacobs' book isn't the pictures... he morphs from clean cut collegiate-looking secular Jewish guy to hairy hippie-looking bible-following guy. (Though this in itself is worth taking the book from the library.) Nor is my favorite part the obvious dedication and research he undertook (any writer could totally admire the incredible work involved in such a project). Nope. My favorite part of Jacobs' book is what I'm affectionately calling his encounter with the laughable complexity of legalism.
For instance, writer that Jacobs is, he logs onto his computer but then thinks,
But wait— am I even allowed to use the computer? The Bible, as you might have guessed, doesn't address the issue specifically, so I give it a tentative yes. Maybe sometime down the road I could try stone tablets.
And then I stumble. Within a half hour of waking, I check the Amazon.com sales ranking of my last book. How many sins does that comprise? Pride? Envy? Greed? I can't even count.
Then Jacobs really heats up, and I must take the liberty to type this long excerpt. He writes...
I don't do much better on my errand to Mail Boxes Etc. I want to xerox a half dozen copies of the Ten Commandments so I can Scotch tape them up all over the apartment, figuring it'd be a good memory aid.
The Bible says, those with good sense are 'slow to anger' (Proverbs 19:11). So when I get there at the same time as this wiry fortyish woman and she practically sprints to the counter to beat me in line, I try not to be annoyed.
And when she tells the Mail Boxes Etc. employee to copy something on the one and only functioning Xerox machine, I try to shrug it off. And when she pulls out a stack of pages that looks like the collected works of J.K. Rowling and plunks it on the counter, I say to myself, 'Slow to anger, slow to anger.'
After which she asks come complicated question involving paper stock...
I remind myself: Remember what happened when the Israelites were waiting for Moses while he was up on the mountaintop for forty days? They got impatient, lost faith, and were struck with the plague.
Oh, and she pays by check. And asks for a receipt. And asks to get the receipt initialed. The Proverbs— a collection of wisdom in the Old Testament— say that smiling makes you happy. Which is actually backed up by psychological studies. So I stand there with a flight attendant-like grin frozen on my face. But inside, I am full of wrath.
I don't have time for this. I have a seventy-two-page-list of other biblical tasks to do.
I finally make it to the counter and give the cashier a dollar. She scoops my thirty-eight cents of change from the register and holds it out for me to take.
'Could you, uh, put the change on the counter?' I ask.
She glares at me. I'm not supposed to touch women— more on that later— so I am simply trying to avoid unnecessary finger-to-finger contact.
'I have a cold,' I say. 'I don't want to give it to you.'
A complete lie. In trying to avoid one sin, I committed another.
And that is why I recommend Alan J Jacobs for Writer's Relief. Just typing this, I've been laughing once again about the laughable complexity of legalism— dished up A. J. Jacobs style.
Year of Living Biblically photo, by L.L. Barkat.
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