Fellow Passengers: This week’s Pastoral Passage* (Acts 13:1-12) transports me to one of my favorite cartoons from childhood, the lovable Mr. Magoo. Having Jim Backus’ voice for the bumbling blind fool made the show; it’s like listening to an animated Thurston Howell III. I would have had no way of knowing as a kid the origins of the show. Millard Kauffman and John Hubley conceived the character of Quincy Magoo in 1949 for the UPA short film, The Ragtime Bear. Far from being the lovable buffoon of the 60s tv show, the original Mr. Magoo was a parody of the mean-spirited demagogue Joseph McCarthy. Kauffman had been investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee and blacklisted during McCarthy’s reckless witch hunts, and Hubley was tainted by his participation in the Disney’s animators’ strike early in the decade. The two couldn’t resist seeing how much reactionary rambling and mean-spirited resemblance to McCarthy they could get past the studio censors. The blindness of Magoo was an obvious reference to how McCarthy and his fellow anti-communists were blinded by their hysteria and paranoia. When the two animators handed the series over to the studio’s creative director Pete Burness, the hateful character morphed from rabid political intolerance to senility and innocent lunacy. The change mirrored the transformation of the real life McCarthy, who eventually fell from his status as the feared powermonger to a pathetic old fool, broken by alcoholism. It took one of his fellow Republicans, Vermont Senator Ralph Flanders, to publicly and officially rebuke him as the fraud that he was. Flanders virtually demonized the Senator from Wisconsin, likening him to Adolph Hitler, as he introduced the motion for the Senate to officially censure him, which they overwhelmingly voted to do.
The Apostle Paul encountered more than his share of House Un-Jewish Activities Committee investigations during his missionary journeys. Here, as he and Barnabus traveled across Cyprus, they met resistance again, this time from a savvy Jewish sorcerer named Elymas, a mean-spirited blowhard who had worked his magic to gain the confidence of the island’s governor, Sergius Paulus. Elymas sought to undermine the work of Paul and discredit his work, to essentially get him blacklisted. As the Message puts it, the demagogue stirred up a ruckus. Paul apparently had had enough of this foolishness; he wasted no time in pulling a Ralph Flanders on Elymas, exposing him for the fraud that he was, calling him a child of the devil, full of deceit, perverting the Way of the Lord. Paul then pulled a Millard Kauffman on the wizard, animating his with a curse of blindness. The curse had an immediate effect, as mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
We have our fair share of Mr. Magoos groping around our world today, modern day religious sorcerers desperately trying to work their theological magic to discredit the Way of Jesus. Like the young Joseph McCarthy and Elymas, they seem to be able to squirm their way into denominational and political power and create paranoia and hysteria around supposed heresies abounding in our land. There are all sorts of folks who want to set themselves up as the House Un-Christian Activities Committee, declaring who’s in and who’s out. At the end of the day, though, the teachings of Jesus expose them as fraudulent fools, blind guides having a devil of a time trying to lead people away from the simple Way of radical love, material contentment and welcome for the stranger. Next time you encounter such a demagogue, try imagining them speaking with the voice of Jim Backus. You can respond with the tag line from the old cartoon, Oh Magoo, you’ve done it again.
How about you? Where does this Pastoral Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, etc.