Monday, June 2, 2014

Money, Guns and God

Nothing is ever done in this world until men are prepared to kill one another if it is not done. - George Bernard Shaw, Major Barbara.

UNDERSHAFT. ... there are two things necessary to Salvation.
CUSINS [disappointed, but polite] Ah, the Church Catechism. Charles Lomax also belongs to the Established Church.
UNDERSHAFT. The two things are--
CUSINS. Baptism and--
UNDERSHAFT. No. Money and gunpowder. -
 - Shaw, Major Barbara.

One of the things Shaw is saying here is that there are two indications that people are serious: money and guns.  If someone is serious enough to pay for something or to kill for something, he's serious.  In fact, everything up to the point of the flash of cash or the flash of gunpowder is a kind of game.

Those of us in show business see this game a lot.  "Oh, we love what you do!" our prospects tell us.  "Would you perform for us?  Here?"

When you say, "Gladly, and here's what it will cost," they smile at you and walk away.  My response: If you love me so much, pay me.

It's also been our experience that there's one foolproof way to make sure a client promotes a show he's booked with us.  Charge him a non-refundable deposit - one that's enough to cause some pain if he forfeits it.  And if you're taking a cut of the door, always insist upon a sizable guaranteed minimum - otherwise half the time, the client will get lazy, neglect any promotion (except maybe putting a flyer up in the men's room), and then blame you for a low turnout the night of the show.

I am not making this up.  The flyer to the left of the urinal is advertising that night's murder mystery dinner theater show - for which almost no one bought tickets.  This has happened to us more than once.  And it always happens when we've charged a low guarantee or taken no deposit.

But what does God have to do with all of this?


I have known three women whose lives were marked by a great devotion to Unreality.  They were all three particularly intelligent and sensitive young women, and prone to heights of imaginative intensity.  You could know these women for years and never think they had anything real in their lives - that everything they did was all a kind of elaborate fantasy.

But they all three had something real they cared for.  You just had to find it, usually by stumbling upon it.  You never knew where you stood with them from day to day on any subject, as their heads were in the clouds and their hearts were chasing unicorns.  Until you stepped on the thing that mattered.  Then the guns came out and the money came out.

I have changed the names to protect their identities - but what follows is fairly accurate.

  • AMBER lived with her parents and siblings long into her adulthood.  She loved certain books and romantic movies and make-believe.  She appeared to be living a life of chastity, not even dating much.  She was a kind, sensitive creature who was very adept at keeping up an artificial courtesy even with friends she didn't like.  Her life appeared to be a kind of gauzy dream.
Then she heard the clicking of her biological clock, picked out her man and made up her mind to marry him.  If anyone would have stood in her way, she would have loaded a gun and killed that person.  The entire focus of her existence was matrimony, come hell or high water.  We finally saw the thing she was Real about.  When it came to the focus of her life, she had no patience with Unreality or with games.  Damn the torpedoes, full wedding bells ahead.

  • MONICA, by contrast, loved the Unreality of her sexual escapades.  She was mostly a tease, but she also engaged in a surprising number of consummated encounters, which she had with either gender, behind her live-in boyfriend's back.  As to the boyfriend (who was usually depressed), she was more or less comfortable with him.  They seemed to have an odd but Unreal bond.  They even had their own language they spoke with one another - a kind of baby talk.  But neither had the slightest intention of staying with the other past the relationship's expiration date, whenever that might come.  This was all a game to Monica.  All of her relationships were Unreal.
But she took her job seriously.  Mess with the career, and Monica would mess with you.  Her boyfriend moving out was one thing; looking bad in front of her boss or coworkers was another.  Had you somehow threatened this lady's career, she would have become a pistol packin' mamma, unwilling to lay that pistol down.  The sexual adventures were Unreal; the career was Real enough to kill for.

  • ARTEMIS was a girl I dated many years ago.  She was into a number of bizarre things, mostly Ayn Rand and the conviction that she (Artemis) was one of the chosen elite, far above the ignorant masses who were not well-read and fond of Nietzsche as she was.  Nothing was real about Artemis' intellectual pursuits, and certainly her Catholic upbringing meant nothing to her.  Like Monica, she even invented her own language, though only she used it, often when she was casting spells - which seemed to be prayers of hatred, accompanied by weird hand gestures.  Yeah, her magic and her faux spirituality and her insipid philosophies were great big giant games.  
But she managed to make contact with a published author.  I once asked what the two of them talked about the one time they met.  She turned on me with fire in her eyes and told me it was none of my damn business.  She got out her bazooka and loaded it.  I realized I had touched the nerve - the one thing Real in her particularly Unreal life.


Now we all do this to one degree or another.  We all play games.  We all mess around and once the guns come out or somebody asks us to put our money where our mouths are, we quietly back out and go and play somewhere else.

But what would you call this thing - this One Thing that motivates us, the One Thing that is real and worth paying for or dying for, this one transcendental thing?

It is the Pearl of Great Price.

The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it. (Mat. 13:45-46)

Joseph Campbell once relayed this tale ...

There is a charming story told of the great nineteenth-century Indian saint Ramakrishna. A lady came to him in some distress because she had realized that she did not actually love and truly worship God. 'Is there, then, nothing you love?' he asked her; and when she replied that she loved her baby nephew, 'There,' said he, 'there is your Kṛṣṇa, your Beloved. In your service to him, you are serving God.'

It's sad when our Pearl of Great Price, when our god, is a mere idol, something ultimately passing and worldly, like a career or a drug.

And it's even sadder when our Catholic Faith is taken as lightly as the other Unrealities we indulge in.  Many Catholics I know would never think of shedding blood or paying cash for something as Unreal as the make-believe they see on display at their suburban parishes.

But as long as we have something Real we are heading in the right direction.  As long as we have something Real we will lose patience with that great artifice Sin, we will lose patience with ourselves and our contrived Unrealites, and we will commit ourselves toward becoming more and more Real.

And this growing devotion to Reality is ultimately a way of seeking God.  It is a kind of Incarnation - the inevitable result of which will always be a kind of crucifixion.  The Cross is always inevitable, always the result of love and loss.

To live any other way is Unreal.

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