One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Watching that movie on cable last night (it's been a long time. Danny DeVito NOT playing "Danny DeVito"? "Introducing" Brad Dourif? Christopher Lloyd? Scatman Crothers? Who wasn't in that movie?), and thinking about this article by Adam Gopnik (on which much more later, I hope), and I realized a central truth of the teachings of Jesus, one Gopnik touches on but doesn't quite put his finger on. That central truth is this:
Nurse Ratched, in the film, is all about the idea of order. The poor inmates of the hospital, all of whom save perhaps the "Chief" and certainly McMurphy, are there voluntarily (and we would today diagnose them as having emotional problems, at worst, and not confine any of them, even if they begged us to), are all about "normal," which they are convinced they are not (as McMurphy tells them, they're no worse off than the average "assh*le" on the street). The Chief is obsessed with the idea of survival (he tells the story of his father, a "big man", and he doesn't mean physical size, who was beaten down because of his "bigness". The Chief will avoid that outcome in his life at all costs.). All of them make the mistake of thinking ideas matter. In this very odd and neo-Fryean sense, McMurphy is the Christ figure, the one who challenges the doctrines of the Pharisees, represented here by Nurse Ratched and her systems of control (to quote The Matrix; and I promise never to do that again. Well, until next time....). If you think I'm wrong, compare Nurse Ratched's shaming of Billy for sleeping with a woman, a shaming that leads directly to his suicide, to the reaction of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery in the Gospel of John. The Christ figure (if not "the Christ") is all about people, not ideas. People matter. Ideas he resolutely tears to shreds.
"Do you see this woman?," he asks Simon the Pharisee. She matters; not Simon's ideas of propriety, purity, cleanliness, or even hospitality (or lack thereof). What about the Prodigal Son? The woman with the lost coin? The unjust steward? The vineyard owner? The pearl of great price? What are those parables except lessons in what matters, and what matters is not ideas of order, or propriety, or honoring parents. What matters is people. Every time, what matters is people. The kingdom of heaven is like the daily loaf of bread, made by a woman's hands, using yeast (a symbol of uncleanness; the unleavened bread isn't unleavened only because the Israelites had to bake in haste. Unleavened bread is "clean".) . The kingdom of heaven is like the shepherd who leaves 99 sheep untended to find the one lost sheep.
People matter. Individuals matter. Lives matter. The community cannot have "life into the ages." Only individuals can. The community can deny the sanctity of beggars, whores, and tax collectors. But the ideas of sanctity espoused by the community don't matter. People matter. So Jesus eats with people. Not with whores or beggars or tax collectors. Those are ideas. Jesus eats with people.
2000 years later, we're still coming to grips with that fact. Or, as in Gopnik's case, in an otherwise fine article, missing the point altogether.
"And O-U-T spells 'out'!"