Friday, November 5, 2010

Ernie and the invisible ice cream

One of my friends posted this video on facebook today. It brought back so many memories. Sesame Street was one of my favourite tv shows growing up and this sketch with Ernie and Lefty is definitely one of the classics. I highly recommend watching it now if you haven't before, because in watching it today, after reliving those great Ernie reactions, I saw for the first time that religion is written all over it.

Yes, that invisible ice cream cone, the one that could help you get away unscathed if you were unfortunate enough to encounter Louis the Lip. Ernie in this case is ever the skeptic. "Why would I need an invisible ice cream cone?" he asks. For in spite of the sinister tones used by Lefty in describing this Louis, Ernie confesses he has no idea who he is and obviously has never encountered him and certainly previously lived with no fears of this demon. This is evangelist meets non believer, substitute invisible saviour for invisible ice cream cone and there you have it.

Whenever I watch a video like this I always read the comments below to see what people now get from it so many years later. It's interesting that in this case everyone is saying " Good for you Ernie!" Delighted that Ernie was able to see through Lefty's scam play along with him for a while and then hit him with that devastating come back," I'll pay you with an invisible nickel." Back in my school days in Barbados, we would have said that Lefty really "get kill off."

A curious thing happens though when we move the scenario in the adult world of invisible deities. Suddenly the roles become reversed. Ernie is no longer the hero in the piece. Indeed, Ernie now becomes the naive one. "Of course you can't see an invisible God, he's invisible, that's what invisible means!!" We can all hear the faithful responding exactly like Lefty in this clip. They will say that Ernie is the close minded naturalist, believing only in what he can see touch and feel, not being open to experiencing the metaphysical. Obviously incapable of enjoying the spiritual things of life like the arts, music or poetry. Living oblivious to powerful emotions such as love and devoid of the humility that comes with observing the grandeur of nature.

The response to the evangelising Lefty might be a bit more complicated. Many may still see him as con man, but not because there are no such things as "invisible ice cream cones." It would be argued in many circles that Lefty just hasn't got the real one or that his emphasis on money making has obscured his ability to recognise the "true pure invisible ice cream." I love the part of the clip where Lefty asks Ernie what his favourite ice cream flavour is and instantly produces the desired "Banana Royale Tootsie Frootsie." At that moment we see the liberal Christian breaking through, flexible enough to give the masses the God that they want. "No you don't have to be baptised if you don't want to. Yes, you can eat pork, you'll still get to heaven." Oh, things are just so easy to  manipulate when you are working in the world of the invisible.

Continuing with the adult evangelist parallel, there will be those that will clearly see that "invisible ice creams" are ridiculous but will not be cheering for the Ernie in the scenario. They will lambaste Ernie for mocking Lefty's faith with his insensitive joke about paying for the ice cream with invisible money. Some will call Ernie a militant and say that even though Lefty might be delusional he has a right to have his beliefs respected especially if selling his "ice cream" gives him a strong sense of purpose in life. There may be some who will go out of their way to present evidence to show that Lefty does a lot of good in the community from the money he collects from his invisible trade. Maybe he has helped to give shelter to the homeless or feed the poor. If he takes a cut to purchase a Mercedes Benz for himself or build a church altar made of gold he should not be admonished.

Oh, how things change when we lose the innocence of childhood. Back then we could so easily see "Lefty the con-man" for who he was. We learnt the lesson that skepticism beats credulity in coping with a world filled with scammers of all types. But, alas we become adults and we forget. We so badly want to trust in the invisible. And this week in the Caribbean, most markedly, the invisibility of our God was there for all to see. We didn't see him when we asked for the prime minister of Barbados to be healed. He once again failed to appear as Hurricane Tomas made its way through our islands leaving widespread destruction of homes and some loss of life in St. Lucia. His invisibility powers have continued to be especially strong in the island of Haiti where he has been unseen during a trinity of events; a devastating earthquake, a cholera outbreak and now the arrival of Tomas.

Yes, it seems God's invisibility endureth forever. After much thought I think I agree with Ernie. Invisible money is fair exchange for an invisible product. I wish I could be as bold as Ernie though. I could just imagine myself laughing like him as people stared at me blankly while I dropped my invisible dollar into the collection plate.

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