Easter vs. irony

At the beginning of Lent, I was sent a moving account of the recent funeral procession of a young American soldier, which took place near his hometown in the South. The most striking section read as follows:

“…the most incredible thing happened following the service on the way to the cemetery. We went to our cars and drove to the cemetery escorted by at least ten police cars with lights flashing…Everyone on the road who was not in the procession pulled over, got out of their cars, and stood silently and respectfully, some with their hands over their hearts.

“When we turned off the highway, suddenly there were teenage boys along both sides of the street…all holding large American flags on long flag poles, and again with their hands on their hearts. We thought at first it was Boy Scouts on 4H Club or something, but it continued – for two and a half miles. Hundreds of young people, standing silently on the side of the road with flags. At one point we passed an elementary school and all the children were outside, shoulder to shoulder – kindergarteners, handicapped, teachers, staff, everyone. Some held signs of love and support…No one spoke, not even the very young children….The love and pride from this community [which] had lost one of their own was the most amazing thing I’ve ever been privileged to witness.”

I forwarded the message and the accompanying photos to a friend, who responded in a most thoughtful way:

“There you see a culture untainted by irony. That is exactly the environment in which I was born and lived for my first eighteen years; imagine my surprise when I reached Princeton and discovered higher criticism, debonair nihilism, and the enervating paralysis of irony.”

All of which, I suggest, is worth a Passiontide meditation.

The Jesus of the Gospels is a figure devoid of irony. Yes, he tells what scholars call “parables of inversion,” in which the worldly pecking order is turned upside down and inside out; but there is no irony in his teaching – and certainly no cynicism about the rich and the powerful getting theirs at last. In his Passion, Jesus confronts a supreme ironist, Pilate, who imagines the question, “What is truth?” to be both clever and a rhetorical show-stopper. The sign Pilate has affixed to the cross – “The King of the Jews” – reeks of irony, as so the taunts of those who wanted a messiah who better fit their understanding of power.

Perhaps the trouble so many highly educated people have in accepting the gift of faith today is that their spiritual faculties have been dulled by the irony in which modern and post-modern high culture abounds. Very little today is what it once was thought to be: what we once regarded as good, we are now taught was base; what we once honored as noble, we are now informed was merely self-serving; what we once thought to be self-sacrifice, we are now told was just self-delusion. Innocence is ignorance; only the ironic sensibility befits a well-educated modern. Or so we are told.

The Danish philosopher Kierkegaard had a rather different view: “Irony,” he wrote, “is an abnormal growth; like the abnormally enlarged liver of the Strasbourg goose, it ends by killing the individual.” Kills, that is spiritually: for irony is no part of that child-like openness with which, Jesus tells us, the Gospel’s invitation to faith must be received. If western culture is dying spiritually, perhaps the pathogen responsible is irony.

On the cross, Jesus is crushed by the weight of irony and cynicism. Easter, then, is God’s answer to the ironic: the New Life first manifest in the Risen Lord is God’s response to the ironic, God’s definitive proclamation that the ironist will not have the last word. In the Church, the Body of Christ which is the Risen Lord’s real presence extended in time and space, we encounter the truth and love than transcend the ironic and let us see things as they really are.

Irony no longer reigns. He is Risen!

COMING UP: Team Samaritan cyclist goes ‘Everesting’ for the homeless and hungry

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When it comes to the daily sufferings of those who are homeless, there’s nothing like a 29,029-foot bike ride to keep things in perspective.

That’s exactly what Corbin Clement will be doing this Saturday, June 19, with a couple of his riding buddies as they attempt an “Everesting” ride to raise money for the Samaritan House homeless shelter in Denver. Starting at Witter Gulch Road in Evergreen, the three riders will climb Squaw Pass Road to a point in Clear Creek County and ride back down the hill for over eight laps, which amounts to roughly 190 miles in distance and the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing – hence the name “Everesting.” Their goal is to complete the feat in 20 hours or less.

Oh, and they can’t sleep. It is, indeed, just as crazy as it sounds. Those who aren’t avid cyclists might be wondering, “How in the world do you train for something like this?” 
“For training, it’s been just more or less ride as much as possible,” Clement told the Denver Catholic. “The training is structured around endurance, and that’s of course what Everesting is. It’s just a lot of peddling. So, a lot of my training so far has just been trying to ride as much as possible and ride longer high elevation rides.” 

In March, an Irish cyclist set the world record for Everesting when he completed the feat in six hours and 40 minutes. Clement isn’t trying to set a record, but regardless, it’s quite a feat to undertake, even for a seasoned athlete like him, whose pedigree includes snowboarding and rock climbing. 

“Our ride will be the same thing, but it’ll be pretty different,” Clement said. “We don’t have any sort of special bikes or super focused diet or a really regimented plan or a crew that’s very well-instructed on how we’re going to tackle this. I’ve read a couple of things to just kind of make it into a party — have friends come out to support you, get people to join you on certain laps…that’s kind of the approach we’re taking.” 

Clement has already raised $5,200 for Samaritan House, with a current goal of $8,000. This is Clement’s first year riding for Team Samaritan, but his dad, Kevin, has ridden for the team for several years. When his dad offered to give him an extra kit and uniform, Clement accepted, but didn’t want to take it without doing something help the cause. He could’ve simply opted for a nice ride in the countryside, but he chose to do something a bit more challenging.  

Corbin Clement used to experience the challenges that homeless people face on a daily basis when commuting through downtown Denver to work on his bike. This Saturday, he will raise money for Samaritan House homeless shelter by “Everesting,” a 190-mile bike ride that is the equivalent of the elevation of Mt. Everest in terms of vertical climbing. (Photo provided)

“For some reason, the Everesting idea popped into my head,” he explained. “I think it’s one of those things that has a little bit of shock value for people who hear about it. It’s certainly something that’s gained more popularity and visibility in the last couple of years with endurance athletes. I wanted to choose something that would actually be a challenge for myself and something that I’d have to work towards.” 

Clement currently resides in Utah, but he used to live in Denver and commute by bike to work every day. During those rides to his office, which was located near Samaritan House, he would pass many homeless people and have conversations with them. This experience was also a motivating factor for his Everesting attempt for Team Samaritan. 

“It’s very different when you’re on a bike versus in a car because you’re right there,” Clement said. “If you stop at a stoplight and a homeless person is on the corner, whether or not they’re panhandling or something like that, you hear the conversations, or you’ll have a conversation with them. There are things you smell or you hear or you see that you just never would if you were in a car. So, it kind of made sense, too, with the biking aspect. It’s part of my community that I’ve lived and worked in for a very long time.” 

Clement’s Everesting attempt is one event in a series of endurance event’s he’s doing over the summer that culminates with the Leadville 100, a single-day mountain bike race across the Colorado Rockies. In that race, he will be riding to support young adults diagnosed with cancer by raising funds for First Descents.  

Both causes are near to Clement’s heart, and he said that while his Everesting attempt will be a form of “suffering,” it pales in comparison to what the homeless face day in and day out. This is ultimately why he’s riding and raising funds for Team Samaritan. 

“Any time we see a homeless person or people who have to live on the streets,” Clement said, “That is true suffering — true endurance — with no end in sight.” 

To learn more about Corbin’s fundraising efforts or to donate, click here.