Marveling At Nick Offerman

My son went to a birthday party at Marvel Live today. In case you’re not in the target market for that event (i.e. you’re a grown-up) Marvel Live is an acrobatic, pyrotechnic arena show complete with, “motorcycles and stuff blowing up” which, if you’re marketing to nine-year-old boys, are the five most powerful words in the universe. On the way to drop him off at his friend’s house for the party, I asked my son if he even knew any Marvel superheroes. I don’t remember him ever bringing home a Marvel comic book, and he hasn’t seen any of the movies. I wasn’t sure he would know any of the characters he was going to see. He quickly listed five or six superhero names.

I asked, “How do you know all that?”

He replied, “Dad. I’m a little boy.”

Indeed, superheroes are part and parcel with boyhood. They are just part of the cultural water my son swims in, so much so that he thought my question was silly.

Last night, I watched part of Nick Offerman’s comedy special “American Ham” wherein the player of possibly my favorite television character of all time spent segment after offensive segment ridiculing sacred texts and the people who value them. He took particularly sardonic aim at ancient Jewish law whose punishments and precautions seem harsh to modern sensibilities.

I dig Nick Offerman. I dig his whole woodworking / crazy about his wife / man’s man / modern virtue schtick. I think I could have him over for beers by the fire pit and have a splendid time. But he and I don’t swim in the same cultural waters.

In one of his most pointed attacks on Christians, Offerman read one of the most antiquated commands of the Old Testament and then said, “That sh!t’s really in the f@ck!ing Bible!” His audience seemed simultaneous amused and aghast. But of course, no Christian would be. We know what the Old Testament says. We aren’t shocked, embarrassed, or incensed at Levitical law. It is part of our culture. It’s in the air we breath, the stories we pass down, the history we study, the college courses we take, the books we read.

Offerman quoting Moses to his audience as a punchline and then saying, “Can you believe it says that?” seems like my dad standing in front of a Jackson Pollock painting and saying, “Can you believe people pay for this?”

This, of course, is the problem with anyone who scoffs at what they don’t understand. It’s good for a cheap laugh but it’s not good. It’s a chump move that announces closed-mindedness.

But before I get on my high horse about Offerman’s anti-Christian rant, let me own its counterpoint. Christians do the same thing all too often. We mock unbelievers as intellectually inferior or morally stunted. We blame unbelievers for social ills, and celebrate all too heartily any secularist’s downfall. We don’t understand people of other faiths — or no faith — because we haven’t tried to.

This is a lesson we all should have learned in middle school. Before we make fun of someone, perhaps we should make friends with them. Before we ridicule someone’s beliefs, political affiliations, or sexual orientation, perhaps we should walk a mile in their shoes, take them to lunch, or — I don’t know — read a book.

My son is in tune with superheroes and completely out of touch with grown-up culture. I won’t shame him for that. But I will love him, have a relationship with him, and pray that he outgrows comic books someday. (Even though I have to admit “motorcycles and stuff blowing up” sounds pretty cool.) I pray the same for Nick Offerman.