The Sad Clown

August 12, 2014

Reblogged from: I'm Just Saying

“The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things” (Doctor Who, Season 5, Episode 10).

The Doctor flew his TARDIS to meet Vincent Van Gogh. After battling demons, figurative and real, the doctor invited the saddened and depressed Van Gogh to fly to the future with him in order to see just how important was his life. Standing in the British National Gallery Vincent wept as he sees his “Sunflowers” under the soft, white light of importance while the curator says, “Not only was he the most important artist in the world, he was one of the most important people in the world.” Vincent is overcome with an emotional flood, which a struggling soul rarely feels in the apathetic nothingness of depression. They fly back to to 1889 Arles, France thinking that knowing of his greatness, Vincent’s self-demise would have been stayed. The Doctor and his companion, Amy, return to the National Gallery where they learn that Vincent’s fate was unchanged.

Vincent“How can this be?” Amy asks the Doctor. I often find grand theological themes in Doctor Who, namely the nature of salvation in terms of time, identity, and ethics, but the message is a bit different this time. The Doctor sometimes talks about “fixed points” in time, unchangeable events impossible to alter. I’m not saying that John Calvin would lean in this direction, but if he did, Wesley would have leaned an equal measure in the opposite direction. That’s another article. In this case, the story is less about what can or cannot be changed as it is a humbling reflection on the depth of depression, and how we, the living, are to hold one another in times of unexplainable tragedy.

harpoI usually don’t get emotional when tragedy strikes celebrities, but hearing that Robin Williams has died due to an apparent suicide gave me pause. The art of comedy is just as mystifying and life giving as is composition
or oil painting or athleticism or poetry. I would argue that answering “Why do we laugh?” is a harder question to answer than most, which is why one of the few pictures hanging on my office wall is that of Harpo Marx. There’s something essential and mysterious about laughter and its cause.

I wish I were laughing more. It’s sad news, and there’s so much of it–the seemingly senseless murder of Michael Brown (which I fear will quickly be forgotten), the desperate mountain-top existence of refugees escaping violence in Iraq, the burrows and bombs of Israel and Palestine, and the tension and hate close to home which we’d prefer to hide away.

JesusMaybe more than ever we are in need of the sad clown. Maybe that’s why I’m so drawn to the musical, Godspell. Jesus appears in white-face and oversized shoes, but is deeply grieved over the brokenness of the world. After all, “Joy,” is what we call the peace of God that continues within us during times of tragedy. It’s not happiness, nor is it void of pain. Jesus said to the crowd, “Blessed are you when you are reviled. Leap for joy for great is your reward in heaven.” Maybe he had Psalm 30:5 in mind–“Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” Or is it “Joy comes with the mourning.” I forget…