Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage (Isaiah 42:14-25) transports me to a Winn Dixie parking lot in Birmingham, Alabama, where Evelyn Couch is patiently waiting in her big old Buick for a parking space, only to have a couple of teenage girls whip in ahead of her in their red convertible VW Beetle. When Evelyn politely explains to the girls that she was waiting for the space, they pop their bubblegum and get sassy with her, Face it lady, we’re younger and faster. After a moment of seething, an idea pops into Evelyn’s head. She channels the spirit of Towanda the Avenger, puts the pedal to the metal, and rams the Bug, slams it into reverse and does it again, several times, laughing hysterically the whole time. When the girls run back to the spot, protesting severely, and ask, What are you doing? Are you crazy? Evelyn has the last laugh, Face it, girls, I’m older and I have more insurance. And she burns rubber on her way out of the lot.
It’s one of the classic scenes in the movie, Fried Green Tomatoes. Evelyn recounts the story to her friend, Ninny Threadgoode, at the nursing home where she regularly visits. I never get mad, Mrs Threadgoode. Never. The way I was raised, it was bad manners. Well, I got mad and it felt terrific. I felt like I could beat the shit out of all those punks. Excuse my language. Just beat ‘em to a pulp. beat ‘em till they begged for mercy. Towanda the avenger. And after I wipe out all the punks of this world, I’ll take on the wife-beaters, like Frank Bennett, and machine-gun their genitals! Towanda will go on the rampage. I’ll put tiny little bombs in Penthouse and Playboy so they’ll explode when you open them. And I’ll ban all fashion models who weigh less than 130 pounds. And I’ll give half the military budget to people of 65 and declare wrinkles sexually desirable. Towanda, righter of wrongs, queen beyond compare! Ninny responds to Evelyn’s overly enthusiastic fantasy, How many of them hormones are you taking, honey?
The prophet Isaiah paints a vivid picture of God going on a hormonal rant in today’s passage. Like Evelyn Crouch, God in this passage is portrayed as minding manners and suppressing anger for far too long. For a long time I have kept silent, I have been quiet and held myself back, the prophet has God saying. But now, God continues, like a woman in childbirth, I cry out, I gasp and pant. I will lay waste the mountains and hills and dry up all their vegetation; I will turn rivers into islands and dry up the pools. The passage concludes with a fantasy as disturbing as Evelyn Couch’s, with God pouring out burning anger, violence of war, enveloping the sassy punks of the world in flames. I think there’s a lesson for us to learn here from the fantasies and life experiences of Evelyn Couch and of Isaiah’s laboring and ranting God. It’s a lesson of balance. Evelyn and God are both portrayed as having been “nice” and “mannerly” for a long time, in the face of growing injustice and abuse of power. The internal rage had to find an outlet, and the intensity of the pent up anger found its balance in an intensely violent outlet. But then, in the movie, as Evelyn grew in wisdom, she learned to deal with the injustice and to vent in smaller and more productive ways on a daily basis. She became a different person, a balanced person; she quit eating junky food, tore out a wall of her house to let in light, quit pampering her neglectful husband, and began a successful career selling Mary Kay. Maybe this is the biblical story as well, as God grew into the incarnation, ultimately balancing out the world’s injustice and justice, sin and salvation, internal rage and external action, by giving birth to the pain of the cross and the hope of the resurrection. When the story tells us that Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, maybe this is part of that growth, learning little by little to deal constructively with inner rage and outer injustice. Maybe it means going from bashing VWs with your Buick to cruising in your pink Cadillac with a Mary Kay sticker on the back windshield.
As always, your feedback and comments are welcome.