KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 2: Winter 2015
Essay: 830 words [R]
Commentary: 597 words [R]

Imaginary Friends: Divine Humor

by Skip Eisiminger
 
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”
—Carl Sagan
“Tornadoes prove that God’s a drive-by killer.”
—Anonymous

Some call it the Promised Land; others regard it as a Harp Convention. But somewhere off in the wild blue yonder, there’s an ornamental wrought-iron fence with signs reading, “Beware of the god,” and, “Cubs fans, wait here.” At the gate sits a bearded man in wire-rim glasses holding a quill pen. Two large keys dangle from his belt while two shallow boxes, one marked “Save,” the other “Shit List,” clutter the desk. It is soon apparent that the gate-tenders (variously a black woman with an Afro, a heavy smoker, and a homosexual) do not accept bribes. Inside the gates, the spoken language is Aramaic, neutered dogs find their testicles restored, and molting angels lie about in a swirl of loose feathers wishing they’d brought something to read. At the center is a hole in the ozone, and overhead, as if seen through a glass darkly, a host of celebrities gaze from their skyboxes.

The composite I’ve sketched above comes from a lifetime of jokes and cartoons: everything from G. O. D.’s trucks (“Guaranteed Overnight Delivery”) to erudite analyses of Billy Graham’s 1,600 square-mile “Kingdom come.” If the right reverend is correct, the saved will spend eternity sitting around a fireplace waited on by angels or going to parties in “yellow Cadillac convertibles” on streets paved with gold. As a Democrat and secular humanist, I question Graham’s use of heavenly resources when so many terrestrials could use an IRA.

God-satirists do not have to travel far for material especially since Google has given everyone with an iPhone access to everything from Washington’s Library of Congress to Tokyo’s National Diet Library. A friend of my father’s, who was stationed in Japan on the first of January 1946, listened in amazement to Emperor Shōwa (Hirohito) as he told his Shinto adherents via radio that he was not, as he had previously claimed, a god. While he had entered a large sphere and waited for the sun to rise on December 25, 1926, as his spokesman later claimed, he had not been transformed into a woman, copulated with a male deity, and been reborn from his own womb as a male. American occupation troops snickered under their breath while the Japanese mourned the death of another god. Most deities like Baal and Isis just retire to the crosswords.

From the outsiders’ perspective, all religions are comic, which leads them to wonder, “Who makes this stuff up?” In the case above, I suspect ancient Shinto priests, who perhaps felt that the more tortured the common sense, the more sustainable the credibility. Virgin births, walking on water, raising the dead, and a host of other hyperbolic occurrences kept my friends and me chuckling through our adolescence as we scoured illustrated texts searching for God’s anthropomorphized navel, Adam’s uncircumcised penis, and Abraham’s “bosom.”

The Christian and Jewish deity has over seven hundred names and nick-names, not counting modern slang references like “Gee,” “Gad,” “Gosh,” “Jerkhovah,” “the Infinite Orgasm,” “the Cosmic Bellhop,” and “God All-Smitey.” Most of these later terms have no attribution, but given their extra-Biblical appearance, I assume they have human pedigrees. When it comes to the deity, humans are a lot like a dog sniffing a sealed can of Alpo. Our exquisitely tuned senses tell us He’s in there, but our paws cannot operate the can opener.

It is, of course, human nature to poke fun at what we do not believe. Having created a hell on Earth, as George Steiner observed, we refuse to believe that it exists elsewhere. Indeed, in 2007, Pope Benedict declared that Limbo is no longer in limbo; it is history. Could purgatory be next? I could have saved the Vatican cardinals a lot of trouble, for any belief insisting that undying pain is the punishment for questioning everlasting love is destined to fail.

John Kane’s captionless zinger was on the mark when he drew Adam, à la Michelangelo, reaching for the Creator’s hand, but what our ancestor cannot see is an electric buzzer, which the almighty clown has palmed. Kane’s vision should remind us that the earthquake that leveled San Francisco, including most of its churches (“Bazinga!”), left Hotaling’s Distillery standing. That was in 1906, but in 2005 following Hurricane Katrina, some God-inspired wag posted this sign on a church, “God welcomes His victims.” As I have written elsewhere, “Even if you’re black-clad orthodox, God sometimes sends you the chicken pox.” And as my father used to say, “Amen, goddamn it!”

Nevertheless, though love is my currency, the invisible clockmaker still winds the sundial in the backyard. Though some may think of Him as remote, perhaps they haven’t heard his patter on a tin roof. Through a foggy silence comes a voice, and somehow I know a nod from a shake. So, whether you are Christian, Muslim, or Jew, the God in me greets the God in you. No joke.

—From Letters to the Grandchildren (Clemson University Press, 2014); republished here by author’s permission

Commentary by Skip Eisiminger

Though I’ve long been what Rilke called an “internal gardener,” I acquired the habit of keeping a commonplace book quite by accident. In the 1970s, I often taught one interdisciplinary humanities class, one composition class, and two literature classes each semester. The paintings in the humanities, the essays in the composition, and the fiction in the literature often had broadly overlapping themes like love and death. To prevent myself from sounding like a scratched CD, I started keeping a journal containing insights from Cicero to Erma Bombeck. These I copied out or cut and pasted into a bound notebook. The books, however, quickly grew so voluminous it took hours to locate the two-inch item I was searching for. I, therefore, shifted to an eight-and-a-half by eleven-inch vertical-file format, but by 1975 BC (Before Computers) my “Love” file was three inches thick; “Death” was four. Clearly I needed an information system that would better serve my classroom and research needs. That was when I recalled a professor at Auburn who had casually mentioned that he kept summaries of every scholarly article he read on one or more three-by-five-inch cards.

Eventually the twenty big-theme files like “Love” and “Death” were refined and subdivided into 2200 card-file categories. I kept the vertical files, but beginning about 1980, I began funneling most of my clippings (which my German wife calls schnippels) into the card file.

After retiring in 2007, I often questioned the momentum that kept me maintaining the card file until I was contacted by a former Clemson colleague. Elizabeth Boleman-Herring, now living in New Jersey, asked if I’d be interested in writing a weekly column for OfficialWire, an online magazine that featured articles on everything from politics to the arts. I wrote for OW until late 2009, when the British-American-Greek owner cashiered several of us before being arrested by Scotland Yard on fraud charges. Those charges remain a mystery because neither Elizabeth nor I were ever paid for any work we did for OW. On the rebound, Elizabeth asked a half dozen of us if we would like to join her in another idealistic, online enterprise, Weekly Hubris. Over the next three years, I wrote more than two hundred, 1000-word personal essays, each based on one of the topics in my card file. To date, I’m two thousand short of completion.

While [I was] writing these essays, both of my parents died. When I read that Cicero had left his son a series of brief personal “letters,” I was disappointed that my parents had not done something similar. That’s when I decided to learn from the “sin” of their omission and salt away some of my essays in a book.

Arthur Schopenhauer said that given our “three score and ten” allotment, a wise division would be forty years devoted to the “text” and thirty to the “commentary.” My division thus far has been rather less balanced—sixty-five for the text and six for the commentary, but at least I’ve managed to get a few things in print before shuffling off to Buffalo dragging my mortal coil. To switch the metaphor, I’ve spent the last six years unpeeling a very large onion. In the process, I’ve cut my fingers numerous times and occasionally brought tears to my eyes; but once sautéed with a little butter, the result, I think, is a palatable dish. Guten Appetit!

—Introduction from Letters to the Grandchildren (Clemson University Press, 2014); republished here by author’s permission

Skip Eisiminger
Issue 2, Winter 2015

is the son of Dorothy and Sterling Eisiminger. In 1959, he graduated from Mt. Vernon High School (his tenth school in twelve years). In 1963 while serving three and a half years in the Army Security Agency, he married Ingrid Barmwater of Helmstedt, West Germany. With her committed assistance, he graduated from Auburn University in 1967 (BS) and 1968 (MA). The same year, he settled his family in Clemson, South Carolina after taking a job teaching English and interdisciplinary humanities at Clemson University. After his son Shane was born in 1964 and his daughter Anja in 1969, he returned to graduate school in 1970. In 1974, he graduated from the University of South Carolina with a PhD in English after which he returned to Clemson. His only move after his return was across town.

Over forty-two years in academe, he published a book of verse, a book of word games, a children’s book, and two collections of essays. In forty-two years as a teacher at Clemson, he taught over nine thousand students in twenty-nine different courses.

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Nano Lit: Concision, 1220-word essay in Weekly Hubris (22 November 2014); includes an entertaining, must-read list of 32 “flash genres” contrived by Eisiminger, with a sample of each

Letters to the Grandchildren, Eisiminger’s collection of essays (Clemson University Press, 2014)

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