The Fourth of July is one of the days we traditionally look back in history to reflect on and appreciate where we are today. The following was something I wrote 14 or 15 years ago (except for a couple of judicious edits). The allusions are dated, but the tendencies are still with us, though when I say ‘dated’ I realize that in a technology-driven age of accelerating obsolescence, what I wrote two weeks ago might be the equivalent of a floppy disk in the eyes of some.
Martin Luther once asked why the devil should get all the good music. Well, aside from the fact that he might have belonged to a CD club or had a hand in starting Napster, I don’t have a good answer for that.
Which is why I have decided to develop a new cable television series about a biblical archeologist who travels the world in search of valuable artifacts when he is not teaching undergraduates at a Midwestern college.
Some of my more astute readers, not to mention the ones who, ten million years from now, will be found in a piece of shale with a fossilized television set eighteen inches away (and it will still be on), probably detect another lame Christian knockoff of popular culture.
I’m asking you to withhold judgment, however, because my Mr. Bible Archeologist is completely different from the other guy that you might be thinking of if you were having some knee-jerk reaction to what I’ve been saying.
For one thing, Mr. Bible Archeologist is a Bible-believing Christian. Unlike that other guy to which you shouldn’t compare him, he is not afraid of handling snakes. (But let’s not even think of going there, OK?)
Second, that other guy is, shall we say, a bit of a ladies’ man, and Mr. Bible Archeologist is a perfect gentleman. He does not leer at attractive women, holds the door for them while they are fleeing for their lives from a 20-foot-high ball that could flatten them like a pancake and, when he’s stateside, never yells at his wife except when she makes too much noise cleaning out the garage while he’s trying to watch The Sopranos. Make that The 700 Club.
You can’t say that about the guy to whom you shouldn’t be comparing him, can you?
And Mr. Bible Archeologist is a man with a mission, the right kind of mission. He isn’t about swooping into some remote region like a hawk to snatch valuable artifacts which he trades for things indigenous peoples really don’t need, like cheap glass beads or blank books that, when you print Prayer Journal on the cover, are suddenly worth $14.95.
No, before Mr. Bible Archeologist climbs into his single-engine plane that skims down the river before roaring out of sight, he leaves a boatload of gospel tracts on the river bank. That’s just before he calls his broker to buy a boatload of stock in the athletic shoe company that’s opening a plant on the other side of the river.
You must have read my mind. Mr. Bible Archeologist believes in practicing good financial stewardship.
I recognize that action and adventure, within certain bounds, are what the viewing public demands these days. And I am aware that some Christian forays into popular entertainment have the same soporific effect as the teachers in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off ( Anyone . . . anyone?).
I know, for example, that the first time Mr. Bible Archeologist turns his back to his students to write something on the blackboard, the whole audience is going to see that his hair is blocked in the back and they will immediately switch to HBO or Showtime. I wasn’t born yesterday you know.
But at the same time, I am not about to make every accommodation to current mores just to draw viewers in. So you needn’t worry about casual, flirty relationships such as the one suggested by the girl with the handwritten message on her eyelids in the movie to which you shouldn’t be comparing this.
Not to worry. You see, Mr. Bible Archeologist teaches at Your Daughter’s Safe Here University, which is a Christian college (as if I needed to tell you) with a small marketing budget whose main campus is in the continental United States but the girls’ dorms are located in northern Canada. As long as your account’s current, the college pays for a rent-a-cop to patrol the grounds, assuming he hasn’t frozen to death since his last cup of coffee.
And besides, I forgot to mention that Mr. Bible Archeologist is actually a graduate student (more budget constraints). And as anyone who’s been to college knows, you’ve got to be pretty desperate to make eyes at some of the graduate students. Unless their last name is Kennedy or something else you’re accustomed to seeing splashed across the front page of the tabloids in the checkout line, that is. And if it is, why aren’t they out doing bizarre things like normal dysfunctional rich people? Why are they in college at all?
Also, I feel that some action sequences are just a little too intense for the audience I want to reach. So, for example, I won’t be showing any hair-raising chases that involve Mr. Bible Archeologist running away from angry aborigines with what looks like the remote control tucked under his arm while they shoot poison darts at him between imprecations of A & E, A & E, A & E . . . !
Instead, I will substitute more edifying scenes. For example, whenever Mr. Bible Archeologist stumbles onto another valuable addition to his collection, he will raise both arms heavenward and say earnestly, “Praise the Lord, hallelujah, amen” two or three times. Unless, of course, the minister or the church deacons aren’t around to notice. In which case he will act like a normal human being.
If a dozen or so fierce-looking warriors chase him into a clearing brandishing long spears, not to mention a summons and complaint from the nearest ACLU office, he will drop to his knees, snap open his flip phone and hold it aloft while, through the magic of digital technology, his wife transmits an image of the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. The superstitious warriors will immediately prostrate themselves, sobbing and pleading for mercy, muttering A & E, A & E, A & E, Zee leetle gray cells, and Ah, Inspector Japp!
Of course, I know that many of you are probably waiting with bated breath to learn the name of Mr. Bible Archeologist. So I won’t prolong the suspense. It’s Gary Indiana.
And I already know what you’re thinking. So I may as well explain the origin of the name Gary Indiana. I know that there’s a series of movies whose main character just happens to have the same state in his name. That is pure coincidence.
No, by resorting to the recognized biblical practice of closing my eyes and believing as special revelation wherever my finger lands on the page, I took out my Rand McNally map of Indiana, looked under the heading “Cities and Towns,” and the first man’s name I saw highlighted in fluorescent yellow was “Gary.” Honest.
But it gets better. Later that same day I was watching The Music Man on DVD and Robert Preston began to sing “Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana, Gary Indiana . . . ” I could hardly believe my ears. I thought for a moment I heard a rumbling, like the sound of an earthquake. But I was soon on my face, my eyes filled with tears, so overcome I was barely able to move, groaning over and over, A & E, A & E, A & E . . .
Photo illustration by the author