Everyone’s talking about Elvis today, the 30th anniversary of his death.
I have nothing particular against Elvis, except that his stuff never did much for me.
I never got Rock ‘n Roll. Rock ‘n Roll is for adolescents, and I never really was one. I was a kid forced to act like a grownup before he was ready. I didn’t actually become a grownup, I just got stuck at the “kid playing adult” stage for the rest of my life, which is how it works when you do that. So I think I lacked some emotional components necessary to appreciate the genre.
Also, of course, R&R is about sex. Teenagers are excited about maturing, and their music expresses that. Me, I was terrified of what was going on in my body. I was pretty certain that I’d never get a lawful outlet for it (I was right), and I tried to deny the whole thing as long as I could.
I liked soaring, symphonic music that raised my spirit to eternal things, and causes worth dying for. “The Theme from Exodus” was my favorite song.
I think Mel Brooks is overrated, but I appreciated one running gag in his “2,000 Year Old Man” act. Carl Reiner would ask him where something—pretty much anything—got started, and Brooks would say, “Fear!”
Fear controls us more than we like to admit (even I, who admit it all the time). Writing a story? Want to know how to motivate your characters?
Ask two questions—“What does he want?” and “What is he afraid of?”
The answer to the first question will tell you what the character will do. The answer to the second question will tell you how he will do it.
Another thing that impressed me in my reading of Hans Nielsen Hauge’s autobiography (see yesterday’s post) was the fearless way he went about his ministry, doing stuff that nobody in his country had ever dared to do before.
It’s a measure of the depth of his Christian conversion that he became a man almost without fear—or at least a man whose faith conquered his fear.
Hauge was the first man in Norwegian history—one of the first in Europe—to decide that he wasn’t obligated to obey his rulers all the time. The principle that “we must obey God rather than men” is a biblical one, but it was taken for granted in those days that the king ruled by God’s authority, and so there could be no conflict. The law (a very sensible one in many ways) said that all religious preaching and instruction had to come from an authorized representative of the state church. Otherwise, you’ll get nuts running around preaching heresy and nature worship and reincarnation and witchcraft and a lot of other nonsense. Which did, in fact, happen in the end, so you can’t say their concern was unreasonable.
Hauge harkened back to a principle of Luther’s—that a plowboy with his Bible had more authority than all the popes and councils that ever met. Convinced of this authority, Hauge went out to do whatever good he could—spiritual or material—for his neighbors.
He was warned. He was arrested. He was beaten. He was thrown out of towns. But the conviction of his heart and his study of the Bible weighed more in his eyes than any intimidation or violence.
There was a Danish/Norwegian author named Axel Sandemo who invented what he called “janteloven,” the Law of Jante (which is a fictional city, based on his Danish birthplace, in his stories). It’s a series of rules that would be familiar to many people, Scandinavian or not. It’s sort of a Lake Woebegone thing. Some of the janteloven rules are:
You shall not think you are anybody.
You shall not think you are as good as we.
You shall not do anything to give the impression that you are better than we.
You shall not think you are worth anything.
You shall not think you can teach us anything.
Hauge fell to the janteloven in the end. They put him in a cell, where it was dark and cold, and they gave him nothing to do, and nothing to read (except the works of Voltaire), and they kept him from his friends. Year after year. Finally they let him go, sick and old before his time, but not before they’d gotten him to confess that he’d gone too far. He’d taken things to extremes. He’d been a bad Lutheran and a bad citizen.
He never recanted his faith (they didn’t want him to), but he recanted a part of his vocation. He wanted to walk under the sun again, to see things growing in the soil, to talk with fellow believers.
But the thing that really broke his heart, according to what I’ve read, was that they convinced him (it was hard, but they did it at last) that the king was against him.
It’s hard for us to understand today what the king meant to the peasants through most of European history. The king was not an oppressor. The king was their friend. The common people loved the king. Every man who suffered injustice knew in his heart, “If I could just get to the king’s ear, I’d get justice.”
“If the king thinks I was wrong, then I must be wrong,” Hauge thought.
And yet he won in the end. That bent, white-haired, toothless old man of fifty was nevertheless the future of the country.
Kind of like Elvis, I guess.