Saturday of Book Reviewing – Moore’s Lamb

See also: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal
See also: Read awhile ago, reviewing now in honor of Jesus’ bday celebration last sunday! Hurray for Christmas.

From the first subtitle alone, I’m sure you can guess this novel will be stored under ‘irreverent comedy’. This guess is correct, but incomplete. Christopher Moore, our author du jour, is fairly well known for his absurdist fiction and Douglas Adamsesque style of writing. He likes recurring jokes, making even his villains fully sympathetic characters, and playing with history, so if you lose track of one liners, prefer your bad guys in black hats with swirly mustaches, and only enjoy historical fact: this is not the book for you.
Lamb follows Biff’s story, from resurrection to remembrance to residence in a swanky hotel, from his perspective. Biff is a lovable clown and he ‘invents’ many a thing, from coffee to matches, in his adventures as Jesus’ sidekick, but mostly he provides a human view into some decidedly superhuman beliefs. On Jesus’ quest to become the Messiah of prophecy, Biff loyally learns with his best friend about eastern wisdom, Buddhism, Confucianism, plus in the years not covered by the Bible. It’s definitely worth a read in entirety, but for those in a hurry, I picked out some good bits to share with you.

“…You think too much. Thinking will bring you nothing but suffering. Be simple.”
“What?” It was the most coherent thing I’d ever heard him say.
“Do you ever see me cry? I have nothing, so I am slave to nothing. I have nothing to do, so nothing makes me its slave.”
pg. 39 the village idiot to Biff

Funny that the 1st passage I find relatable in a silly book about Jesus’ youth is spoken by the village idiot. It reminds me not just of Bible verses about rich men, camels, and needles, but of Hemingway; Hemingway, big drinking optimist that he was, once said, “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know. ” So that’s the first bit, right? Contradicting Siddhartha‘s utter belief in the power of his ability to think, here we’re told to stay away from too much thought, it only leads to badness. I rather think the wisdom here lies somewhere in the middle: too much anxious thinking is effort lost, but productive thinking is virtuous. It’s interesting to contemplate where exactly that line falls, isn’t it? As for the last half? The noteworthy part for me is the speaker; this sets us up early to expect wisdom in unexpected places. While I’m quoting dead men, I may as well throw in one more, Galileo: “I have never met a man so ignorant that I could not learn something from him.”

“What does the Tao value above all else?”
“Compassion? Those other two jewel things?”
“No, inaction. Contemplation. Steadiness. Conservatism. A wall is the defense of a country that values inaction. But a wall imprisons the people of a country as much as it protects them. That’s why Balthasar had us go this way. He wanted me to see the error in the Tao. One can’t be free without action.”
“So he spent all that time teaching us the Tao so we could see that it was wrong.”
“No, not wrong. Not all of it. The compassion, the humility, and moderation of the Tao, these are the qualities of a righteous man, but not inaction. These people are slaves to inaction.”
“You worked as a stonecutter, Josh,” I said, nodding toward the massive wall. “You think this wall was built through inaction?”
“The magus wasn’t teaching us about action as in work, it was action as in change. That’s why we learned Confucius first – everything having to do with the order of our fathers, the law, manners. Confucius is like the Torah, rules to follow. And Lao-tzu is even more conservative, saying that if you do nothing you won’t break any rules. You have to let tradition fall sometime, you have to take action…”
pg. 201, 202 Joshua (Jesus) & Biff

Now this was a long passage to type down, but it gave me a new perspective on Trump’s border wall and I wanted to share it with you. Take it as a late Christmas gift, ’tis the season and all. It could be said that for all America’s willingness to fight, to ostensibly act, because of our overwhelming desire to stay the course, we too are guilty of Lao-Tzu’s prioritizing inaction. We get caught up in thoughts about this sort of idealized past, this nostalgic ‘way it once was’, and refuse to move forward, to change. This wall isn’t about change, it’s about reverting, and the comfort of staying exactly as we used to be, exactly as we haven’t ever really been. Embarrassing. I get it, I do. The future is all kinds of scary, it is so much easier pretend the past was perfect and keep on that way. It’s so much easier to blame everyone else, every new invention, everything but ourselves. We wish to hide behind these walls, but they won’t just keep people out, they’ll trap us in place. And that’s not a good place to be.
Speaking of the future, I’ll bother you with this one last quote:

“It’s hard for me, a Jew, to stay in the moment. Without the past, where is the guilt? And without the future, where is the dread? And without guilt and dread, who am I?”
pg. 219 Biff

Chances are, given the source material, that this was supposed to be funny. Unfortunately, I find it terribly relatable as a Catholic. Former Catholic. …Recovering Catholic? How is it that even as an atheist, the wounds that religion burned into me years ago still sting so often and so fiercely? I fear I will never find sanctuary from the guilt and the dread enough to appreciate the present as I am in it.
….yeah, ok this review got dark rather suddenly and out of left field, didn’t it? Right! Back on track: This book was witty and silly and I hope you read it and think deep thoughts amongst the laughter!

Jessie Gutierrez

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