John Bennison Words and Ways | Fall Guy: Part II

Fall Guy: Part II

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O Goodness Infinite, Goodness immense,
That all this good of evil shall produce,
And evil turn to a good; more wonderful
That that which by creation first brought forth
Light out of Darkness!

Milton’s Paradise Lost, Book XII

 

Dateline: February 11, 2011

As the protests continued in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square this last week, demonstrators had set up camp for the long haul.

Supporters provided makeshift tents for some, while others took shelter from the cold nights by sleeping under army tanks that remained posted on sentry duty among the crowds.  Through the barbed wire perimeter at the state-controlled TV station and the presidential palace, soldiers laughed with protesters, tossing them biscuits.

Reporters on the ground had described an almost surreal, carnival-like atmosphere.  Burnt out hulks of vehicles, rubble and empty tear gas canisters still littered the streets, where entire families later strolled amidst the chanting crowds, wanting to witness firsthand history in the making.  Street vendors quickly set up shop, scrambling to replace lost tourist revenue.

Wherever two or more gather, it seems, commerce and community are never far behind.

Meanwhile, the old regime had continued its attempts to defy gravity, up until the very end.  But the laws of physics and the way of human nature are alike in at least one respect: once a tipping point has been reached by means of forward motion, there’s no turning back.  There is an inevitability that propels certain events to their eventual, unavoidable outcome.

Calls for a “rational and orderly transition of power,” with the newly hand picked vice-president offering unprecedented promises and assurances of change, in lieu of the president’s resignation, would prove futile.

Hosni Mubarak unavoidably found himself in the unhappy position of being the fall guy for a former regime of his own making; whose end had already been announced, and was only trying to delay the eventuality of it all for a few months.

It was no longer a matter of whether or not he’d take a dive, but merely when.  The steep descent played out in slow motion over the course of eighteen days might have appeared to soften the landing.  But it still remains to be seen what happens next.

While most observers seem to be concerned with everyone else’s socio-political future in a post-Mubarak Egypt, the more telling tale for me in this global news event has been about the back-story for which little seems to be known.  It’s the personal story of one more proud individual’s fall from his long-held position of power and prestige.

There’s plenty of uncertainty now about the shifting forces of power in that region of the world.   But what’s even more uncertain for Hosni Mubarak is the new role into which he’s now been cast.  It is, in fact, a bit part in a much more common, well-worn tale.  One only need look as far as countless Hollywood scripts, where the designated fall guy is a relatively faceless stock character.

The lingering question nevertheless remains, and is very real.  After the fall, what does the future hold for this man?  In the days ahead will he fade into oblivion and exile, the faint remembrance of his lofty former self?

Or is there a greater, as yet unforeseen good fortune of quite a different sort that may await him still?  Where once he was the great pharaoh of Egypt, he’s gotta be asking himself at this point, where does he go from here?

Or is there a greater, as yet unforeseen good fortune of quite a different sort that may await him still?  Where once he was the great pharaoh of Egypt, he’s gotta be asking himself at this point, where does he go from here?

In my own imagination last evening, I had pictured him sneaking off in the dead of night to the Giza plateau, to ask the inscrutable Sphinx for the answer to such a riddle.

In Egyptian and Greek mythology, however, it is the sphinx that poses the trick question.  And it’s up to us mere mortals to solve the riddle for ourselves.  So this morning, at last report, he’d been whisked off to his winter palace at Sharm el-Sheikh.

With dawn’s early light, there was one answer he could no longer ignore or defy.  And in response, other men dropped to their knees in prayer in the streets of his native country, while the crowds erupted with the cheer, “Egypt is free! Egypt is free!”

That may be so, but what of the fall guy?  What new, wondrous, even liberating thing could possibly come from such a downfall?

Take a leap.  In Milton’s Paradise Lost, the epic poem of Adam’s fall from grace, there is the proposition that something good can come as a result of humankind’s wretchedness, and our lost and wandering ways.  And paradoxically enough, it happens not merely in spite of, but as a consequence of, our own undoing:  “That all this good of evil shall produce, And evil turn to a good; more wonderful.”

The so-called paradox of the fortunate fall goes a little like this:  First, there is this “Goodness Infinite, Goodness Immense.”  It is that divine spark that dwells in all things, and beyond all things.  It seeks us out in a revelatory encounter we cannot conjure up for ourselves.   It is part and parcel of an original blessing, and the hope and promise of – by whatever term you choose to describe it – a redemptive new life, and an endless life and second chance.  That’s the good news.

The paradox?  If we don’t mess up, there’s nothing to clean up.  “Immense, infinite goodness” can’t pick you up and dust you off until you fall flat on your face.  Dis-grace – either conveniently, or inconveniently enough, depending on how you look at it — seems a prerequisite to grace.

If we don’t mess up, there’s nothing to clean up. … Not to worry, however.

Not to worry, however.  We mortals seem perfectly capable of tripping over just about anything and everything; from our own shoelaces, to reaping whatever we sow. We just can’t seem to save ourselves from ourselves.

Lord knows we try.  “What must I do to be saved?” was the question a rich (and therefore powerful and prestigious) young man once put to a 1st century Galilean peasant rabbi.  He’d presumably performed all that had been prescribed in his religious tradition.  He thought he was on sure footing, and quite comfortable with everything in his life; except this one nagging little question that threatened to trip him up.

The rabbi Jesus suggested he dis-possess himself of all that he had, which would have included the man’s own self-assurance he could do very well on his own.  When invited to take the leap to essentially fall into grace, he quickly back-peddled away from that precipice of uncertainty and abandonment, which we sometimes simply call faith.

When invited to take the leap to essentially fall into grace, he quickly back-peddled away from that precipice of uncertainty and abandonment, which we sometimes simply call faith.

Though I doubt it, I can’t say for sure whether there are those who can really traverse a life of any consequence, without stumbling and falling at least once or twice.

However, I am equally un-persuaded by the self-flagellating religious types who raise the bar of requirements and the steps one must take to be “saved” to such a height, that one can do nothing but trip and fall.

In the end, whether we’re pushed, or trip over ourselves, may be of little consequence.  The lesson to be learned and lived may be the same.  Sooner or later, one way or another, life shifts to recovery mode.

I have found it true for myself, as well in the lives of numerous other “fallen” folks I have come to value, admire and deeply love. If one lives long enough, the “package” – as I sometimes call it – seems to include an unwelcome gift in the form of a fortunate fall.  And, by the grace of God, it can come with the more abundant life to be lived, as well, after the fall.

Some further, concluding thoughts about that are to be found in: Fall Guy, Part III

 

© 2011 by John William Bennison, Rel.D.

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5 Comments

  1. Amen to that, John!

  2. John, …. an eloquent reminder that we are not “saved” from some unhappy fate after life on earth has ended, but invited to accept the grace that encourages us to live our lives in a continual process of transformation. We’ll never get to “perfection” (who would want to??). It is, as you say, the journey that requires us to fully invest ourselves. And it’s never too late.

  3. Katherine /

    Many years ago when I was falling…falling…falling from my self described role of wife, daughter, sister and career woman, a certain young preacher sold me on the idea that when you are falling one cannot fall further than the floor or ground as it were. The lesson I learned is that “life happens” and it behooved me to pick myself up and find God’s purpose in this experience and rejoin my journey.

  4. Robert /

    “In my own imagination last evening, I had pictured him sneaking off in the dead of night to the Giza plateau, to ask the inscrutable Sphinx for the answer to such a riddle.” A fine image for Mubarak.

  5. Can an old, ruthless strong man, driven into exile at a plush resort, come to terms with what has happened to him and turn his life around? I wonder. Blessed are those whose “fortunate fall” comes in their youth, when grace, time, and experience can more easily lead to redemption and new life.

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