Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Genesis 37) transports me to New York’s Majestic Theater, where Robert Goulet made his Broadway debut in December 1960, joining Richard Burton’s King Arthur and Julie Andrews’ Guenevere in Camelot. Maybe having a French-sounding name gave him an edge in the casting call, as they were looking for someone to portray that most insufferable arrogant Knight of the Roundtable, Lancelot. As Act I progresses, when the pretentious Frenchman hears that the King is gathering a group of exceptional Knights, Goulet’s Lancelot is confident of his place at the Roundtable, as we hear in C’est Moi, his introductory song: A knight of the Table Round should be invincible, succeed where a less fantastic man would fail. Climb a wall no one else can climb, cleave a dragon in record time, swim a moat in a coat of heavy iron mail. No matter the pain, he ought to be unwinceable, impossible deeds should be his daily fare. But where in the world is there in the world a man so extraordinaire? C’est moi! C’est moi, I’m forced to admit. ‘Tis I, I humbly reply. Several more verses of such self-promotion follow, and we know that he is not going to be well-received in the court. My favorite line of the song has him boasting, Had I been made the partner of Eve, we’d be in Eden still. As you might expect, Queen Guenevere instantly hates him, and tries to arrange his death, to no avail. And, as you might also expect, the plot thickens, the web gets tangled, and Lancelot’s chivalry winds up saving Guenevere’s life.
I’m wondering why no one thought to have Robert Goulet play the role of Joseph in this Camelot-like tangled story of family jealousy and hatred that begins in Genesis 37. Joseph introduces himself to the round table of Jacob’s family with his own C’est Moi song, expressing an insufferable superiority complex as the favored son whose dreams portray him as the center of the world, with his brothers bowing down in homage. As expected, the brothers immediately hate him and try to arrange his death, to no avail. The plot thickens as Joseph’s dreams are fulfilled and he finds himself thrust into a position of power in Pharaoh’s court during a time of global famine. His chivalry winds up saving the lives of his brothers and his father.
While the French often get the rap for an arrogant superiority complex, they really do take a back seat to America in this regard. It was Abraham Lincoln who gave a C’est Moi speech while running for Senate, saying We have all heard of Young America. He is the most current youth of the age. Some think him conceited, and arrogant; but has he not reason to entertain a rather extensive opinion of himself? Is he not the inventor and owner of the present, and sole hope of the future? Lincoln’s identification of America has the sole hope of the world’s future has led us to take our society, our culture, our principles, as the universal standard, evaluating the rest of the world’s progress by the extent that they become more like us. Exceptionality is the current euphemism for arrogant superiority. A century and a half past Lincoln, another Senator from Illinois turned President gave a speech, fittingly enough, in Strasbourg, France. President Obama said of America’s relationship with Europe: Instead of celebrating your dynamic union and seeking to partner with you to meet common challenges, there have been times where America has shown arrogance and been dismissive, even derisive. He went on to balance this repentant confession with a harsh critique of how the Europeans have too often fallen prey to an insidious anti-Americanism, but no one ever quotes that part of the speech. All attention went to his so-called “apology” for our arrogance. There’s a segment of our culture uncomfortable with humility in leadership, a segment that apparently prefers a Lancelot at the helm of our Roundtable, never singing the second verse to America the Beautiful (America, America, God mend thine every flaw), more content with another verse from Robert Goulet: I’ve never lost in battle or game; I’m simply the best by far. When swords are crossed ’tis always the same: One blow and au revoir! C’est moi! With all the ways we continue to blow our own horn of exceptionality, should we really be surprised when our brothers around the globe occasionally respond with the hatred of Joseph’s brothers? At least we can find hope and take comfort that the story doesn’t end there.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, email, etc.