Posted by: Harold Knight | 03/31/2010

March Madness Beneath the Cross of Jesus: Chachi and the Five-Paragraph Essay (a hypergraphic wonderland).

All high school students (how’s that for a sweeping generalization?) learn from very dedicated teachers (teachers whose profession has been hijacked by “No Child Left Behind” and other programs designed to assign blame for the failure of society onto one hapless group of over-worked and underpaid servants) to write essays with five paragraphs.

You know the formula: an “introduction” with a thesis at the end that lays out three ideas to support the thesis (yes, the thesis of which they are a part—neat trick: use a rhetorical device to support itself), three “body” (as in dead, lying in the casket) paragraphs about the three supporting ideas, and then a “conclusion” that says once again what the three supporting ideas were as if to prove them true by repeating them.

Whew! What a tall order. Say something interesting or helpful or insightful or beautiful in that straight-jacket. I liken it to Paint-By-Numbers art. Think in threes, and don’t color outside the lines.

You will notice how many of my posts have three body paragraphs (you will also notice how many of them begin with a question to “hook” you, the reader). I don’t know if anything I write is interesting, helpful, insightful, beautiful, but at least my writing is seldom Trinitarian.

Nearly every morning I wake up at some ungodly hour knowing exactly what I’m supposed to be writing about—usually with the sense that, if I had been doing my job of trying to stay sane, I would have been up long ago knocking out some useless prose. This morning I woke up in a Trinitarian frame of mind. The three bodies were, however, not apparently related, and they would not fit in a five-paragraph essay.

1)  When I woke up, my little snowshoes cat was nestled beside my arm. This is not remarkable except that I’ve had Groucho, Chachi’s brother by another father in the same litter, Chachi, and Joanie, unrelated except by a lame reference to a ‘70s TV show, for over five years, and, until the last few weeks, none of them has ever snuggled beside me in bed (or anywhere else). They are one independent Trinitarian lot. Chachi has lately taken to being a cuddler, at least against my arm when I’m asleep.

2)  There’s a TV commercial in which this guy, one of those people who is obviously making piles of money having become the recognizable face for a company—like the Progressive Insurance girl—is telling about the phone company he hawks for (he either makes fun of AT&T for Verizon or makes fun of Verizon for AT&T; I forget which, demonstrating either how effective the commercial is or what kind of attention span I have).  He throws a basketball toward a hoop on his garage, and it lands on the roof. At the end of the commercial a very tall African American basketball player runs in, picks up the ball, jumps well above the hoop and lands a slam-dunk. As he walks off, the hawker says, “I guess I have an H.” This little scene is packed with allusions. Can you say “White Men Can’t Jump” (1992)? The “H” (I may have been hearing it wrong) I took for a week or two to allude to the driveway basketball game my brother played with his friends in the ‘50s, “Horse.” When your opponent made a basket, you were awarded with a letter of the word horse, and when he spelled out the entire word, you lost. Then, of course, I discovered there’s an electronic game called “Horse” which is, I suppose, based on the old real game. So the hawker is appealing not to old farts like me, but to those fast-thumbed kids I teach.

3)  Chachi was snuggled against my arm, the phone hawker was selling his wares, and in the front of my mind, crowding out everything else, played the old gospel hymn, “Beneath the Cross of Jesus.” This is Holy Week, after all. “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” is one of those gospel hymns that, once you’ve got it in your head, it will not go away. Lady Gaga and her ilk use the seductive harmonic vocabulary of this kind of gospel hymn to make their music memorable (I really ought to write a dissertation on the subject), and, of course, their adoringly servile minions lap the stuff up, and it gets into their heads forever, just the way gospel hymns become the musical (and intellectual) language of fundamentalist christians.  And the music floods those parts of the brain that Oliver Sacks has shown us light up and glow with happy colors when we make or hear music, and makes the rest of the brain feel so good it might as well be on Ecstasy. I have my own version of the drug: the constant flood of gospel hymnody I played as a child and a teenager instead of Beethoven piano sonatas.

But I’ll tell you this. “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” was doing me no favor this morning because the lines that would not leave me alone were

Content to let the world go by, to know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

Under normal circumstances, I would have thought, “How quaint. I wonder where that’s coming from.” However, yesterday I was reading a book (a very serious book) and came upon

. . . . translate these shame-based core beliefs in their behavior. . . .the involuntary feelings of shame manifests as resistance. . . They do not want to be that way, but that is their interior reality. The consequences. . . .[devalue] themselves. A deep, core resentment of self starts to affect everything in their lives. . . .self-hatred often expresses itself as anger. . . .

This is not a five-paragraph essay in which the thesis is obvious. Get over it! Don’t expect a recap of body paragraphs that make no sense together.

I woke up thinking that what goes on in my mind, even punctuated by the strange words of a shameful old gospel hymn, is just right: March Madness is a giant game of horse, a pleasant—and worthwhile—diversion that gives young men meaning in their lives. Chachi has become a cuddly cat in his middle age. Gospel hymns are quaint expressions of a religious understanding that is still meaningful to many people.

The five-paragraph essay might have been useful here. Probably no one can follow my strange logic to where it ended up:  It’s sad, but perhaps true, that the self-understanding of “my only shame” might lead to a kind of anger most people cannot understand.

Bond hearings are scheduled for the alleged ringleader, David Brian Stone, and other members of the Hutaree militia, a small group that was preparing to fight the Antichrist. (

I heard a neighbor of Stone’s say on the radio yesterday he was a normal nice guy; she would never have suspected.


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