Monday, February 16, 2015

My Martyrdom, Booty Pics, and the Musée des Beaux Arts

Bear with me, and I will show you how these three things are related.

Let's begin with my possible (future, of course) martyrdom.  Everyone who cares already knows that the "Islamic State" just martyred 21 Coptic Christians in the name of Allah and of Islam.  I won't link to the video of the beheadings; I suppose that anyone who wanted to see that has already done so by now.

I used to read a magazine called Touchstone - A Journal of Ecumenical Orthodoxy.  I enjoyed it quite a lot until I realized that what some of the editors meant by "Ecumenical Orthodoxy" was that all Protestants and Catholics must convert to the Eastern church.  I even had several cartoons of mine published in this journal.

One time, perhaps 20 years ago, I attended a conference held by Touchstone in Chicago.  Nearly all the speakers predicted a coming wave of martyrdom for the church.  Triumphalist Reconstructionist that I was at the time, I thought to myself, "To hell with that!"  I rejected the notion.  But it is now clear that they were right and I was wrong.

So now I come to look at the martyrdom of these Coptic Christians, and to look forward to my own possible martyrdom.  In the past, I've always liked the quote from a Flannery O'Connor character (in A Temple of the Holy Ghost), who opined that, "she could be a martyr if they killed her quick."  But the martyr-makers don't always give us that luxury.  And so I picture myself at the moment of death, picked out for especially inhuman treatment because of the large and glowing Christ tattoo on my back.  I wonder if I'll go calmly.  But I also wonder what the world will think.

Or, anyhow, I used to wonder.  Now I know.  I know from watching the internet response to the brutal murders of the 21 Copts.  Most people of good will are shocked and saddened, of course.  But, we go on.  We get past it, and mostly pretty easily.  And I had reason to know this, even before watching the response to recent ISIS murders.  In the 1974-75 school year, I took AP English, and our teacher spent a day on W. H. Auden's poem, Musée des Beaux Arts.  It is a very important poem, as I am learning.  It has much to teach us, none of which I really comprehended back in 11th Grade.

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

In Breughel's Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

W. H. Auden

And so I know just how my martyrdom will go.  There will be a nice, high-definition video of the thing, and a lot of good people will post in on facebook and elsewhere on the internet.  And other well-intentioned people will click the "Like" button beneath the video, presumably not Like-ing the fact that I've been offed, but rather to thank the person who posted it.  And then, just as the figures in Breughel's Icaraus, they will move past it, to the next item in the facebook feed.  Maybe it will be a macaroni-and-cheese recipe.  Or possibly a meme about the opposite political party.

But I think it highly likely it will be a booty pic, a sexy female derriere, in tight yoga pants.  A most fitting stand-in for Auden's horse, scratching "its innocent behind on a tree."  And the soul who just recently mourned my passing at the hands of the jihadists shall click "Like" on this magnificent photo, and pass on.  It's what we humans do in the face of suffering.  And I'm kind of okay with that.