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Camels, planks, and Radio 4

Mr. W's had me watching the oh-so-disturbingly funny 'Inside No. 9', a series of disconnected black comedy shorts made by the men what done 'The League of Gentlemen'. It's all mindgames and murders, domestic intruders and sinister secrets and aargh. Tends to be that I enjoy it in the moment and regret it in the middle of the nightmare-riddled night...

So the other evening, I opted for the tried-and-tested 'Cabin Pressure' remedy, and drifted off to the dulcet, charmingly hi-lariously crafted tones of Douglas, Martin, Carolyn and Arthur. Indeed, my sleep was much the sweeter for this I'm-too-old-for-a-bedtime-story-but-radio-4-does-pretty-much-the-same-job stratagem. Except, part way through I was distracted by an onset of thoughtfulness, prompted by the following interlocution between the sharp-tongued Carolyn and her cheerfully be-leagured new-found love interest, Herc:
Carolyn: Oh, don't tell me you're a vegetarian. 
Herc: I will tell you that, because I am one. 
Carolyn: That's very disappointing. Why on earth? 
Herc: Carolyn, all through human history we've been wrong about equality, and we thought we were right. All men are equal -- except slaves, obviously. Oh -- no, wait -- all men are equal, except black ones, obviously. No, no, wait -- all people are equal, except women, obviously. Are you not at all curious about what we're still getting wrong? And don't you think there's a good chance it's "all lives are equal, except animals, obviously"? 
Carolyn: That's an eloquent argument. 
Herc: Thank you. 
Carolyn: I mean, it's childish, specious, and the bit where you compare animal rights with universal suffrage is frankly offensive, but it's superficially eloquent. 
Waitress: Shall i come back?
Carolyn: No no no… No, I'm ready. I'll have the rack of lamb. 
Waitress: And to start? 
Carolyn: The whitebait. 
Waitress: Certainly. 
Carolyn: Out of interest, about how many whitebait do you get in a serving? 
Waitress: About thirty, madam. 
Carolyn: Gosh, imagine that. Thirty little lives on a plate. Yum, yum.
(Cabin Pressure, written by John Finnemore, Series 3, Episode 4)
Now, with apologies to the herbivorously-inclined, I'm also not entirely convinced that Herc's rationale quite supports his particular conclusion -- though I assure you I do not share Carolyn's taunting delight in the idea of consuming living creatures. But I do very, very much think that the character has a point when it comes to human beings and their blindspots.

Wait, hang on a minute...blindspots? A pretty painfully pathetic word, really, for the types of grotesque oversights and injustices that I just described thereby. The odd blemish, perhaps...a minor smudge or two...on an otherwise 20/20 field of vision? Not according to Jesus' diagnosis. Far from letting us off the hook with comfortably bland euphemisms, he supplies us with some exquisitely crafted, excruciatingly humbling visual metaphors:
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:23-24)
Such absurd hyperbole would not be out of place in a stand-up comedy routine, or a satirical cartoon. "You know that thing where you persist in wilful ignorance and indifference to your own failings to love and bless the world that you have been blessed with and to serve the aching and obvious needs of the people you encounter? Well, that's as ridiculous as walking around with a PLANK in your EYE. Not a veil; not a fringe that's gotten a bit too long; not a pair of out-of-date prescription spectacles -- a PLANK. Actually inside and protruding from your eye. And that thing where you self-righteously attend to visible demonstrations of meticulous propriety whilst failing to be moved to compassion and action by real incidents of brokenness and injustice? Well, that's as unthinkable as SWALLOWING a three-quarter ton UNGULATE. Not butchering and freezing it and feeding day-to-day on camel-steaks and camel-burgers and camelmeat-lasagnes til you find you are a little sick of the "same-old, same-old" and start to crave the taste of good old British horse. Actually gulping it down alive and whole."

Uncomfortable stuff. I don't know what my personal planks and camels are, let alone the planks and camels of this present 'age'. Some cite materialism; some, our indifference to poverty and international debt; some, climate change and the environment; some, privacy and information security. Indeed, I for one have been too comfortable with these issues for too long; it is good that I am/we are waking up to them, and I/we need to continue to do so. But it's like Herc says; there seems to be this thing, with human history and that... Like...even while we're congratulating ourselves on extricating the specks (or even, sometimes, planks) of yesteryear, we're cheerfully plunging headlong into some new monstrosity or other which comes complete with its own custom-made timber-based eyewear. Is this inevitable, or can we hope to begin to pre-empt the stuff of our own future personal regrets, or (corporately) the shocked-and-appalled analysis of future historians? Prayerful self-examination probably a good place to start...
Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
And see if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

[Thumbnail image CC by MichaelTyler on flickr].


I do like reading these things even though I don't often have anything particularly eloquent to add, just thought I'd encourage you in that. :D