Fish n' Chips
All hail fish n' chips!
by Mike Arnold
I really enjoy Anthony Bourdain’s books and travel shows. In fact, I would love for him to read these lines and send me autographed copies of all his books… for free. I would cherish them, and I would show them to all my friends, and I would probably even suggest to all who would listen that I know him intimately. I would accomplish this by sighing, rolling my eyes, and then stating with an affectionate tone “Well, you know that Tony. He can be a rascal, but ya gotta love ‘im!”
But, in a past show, Tony finally stepped over the line. It wasn’t his derogatory remarks about PETA or vegetarians. It wasn’t his chain-smoking, or his amazingly detailed description of another completely disgusting toilet. Nope, he shocked, horrified and infuriated me by insulting something that ranks just below God and family in what I consider most precious. He denigrated a very special food. (Or at least he seemed to denigrate this food. It’s sort of hard to tell with him because it appears that, like me, he believes that if irony is worth doing, it is worth over-doing.)
He slammed a food that speaks to me of spending warm days sipping cold beer near an Australian cricket pitch with my wife, kids and friends. He trampled on a food that reminds me what it means to be British (I’m not British by the way, but that isn’t the point). He laughed at a food that is so delicious and at the same time resilient that the ink from the newspaper in which it is oft-times wrapped can’t damage the flavor. The sustenance of which I speak is of course that paradigm of seafood – fish and chips. Or, as affectionately known by the clan who love to dress up in kilts, “fush ‘n chups.”
So what hyperbole did Mr. Bourdain employ that was so debasing for this gastronomic wonder- of-wonders? Sadly, he made it perfectly clear that fish ‘n chips were not even close to the same league as that occupied by stinky, un-fried morsels like razor clams and periwinkles.
Once again you are probably asking what, in the name of Buddha, the above has to do with the ‘us-versus-them’ topic of these essays. Well, to explain I have to admit yet another painful, dark, shameful secret concerning my life as a Christian. Putting it mildly, it makes me cringe to see some of the ‘Christian’ graffiti that is slapped onto bumpers. It really seems that this practice is just asking for ridicule when non-Christians read the messages, see the poor grammar, realize the lack of logic, and finally, and most importantly, watch the behavior of the “Godly” people behind the wheel. Case-in-point is the fish symbol. How is it useful, or edifying to one not believing in God, etc when the proudly-displayed ichthus (or ichthys, or icthus, or ikhthus) disappears in a cloud of angry fumes just after it has cut off a car full of smiling, happy non-Christians? That’s why I don’t have a fish on my truck – so that I can practice road rage anonymously.
However, none of the above is the confession of which I spoke. You see, as much as I find some of the religious bumper stickers distasteful, I am even more attracted to the irreverent, even slightly profane versions. That my fancy could possibly be tickled by such playful takeoffs of subjects taken so seriously by my fellow Christians is, I know, wrong in the extreme. But there you have it. Returning to the ichthus, I really adore the fish with “Darwin” inside them, and the fish with “Darwin” inside them that also sports legs. I even appreciate greatly those that show the various transitions from the “Darwin” fish to the “Darwin” fish with legs.
But, not one of these thinly disguised plagiarisms comes close to the clever perfection of the ichthus emblem that is always capable of drawing a huge smile across my face. The first time I saw this particular aquatic symbol, it took me a few seconds to get the message. I was looking at the normal Christian-esque outline, but this time it encircled the phrase “‘n chips.” “Ichthus ‘n chips?” That didn’t make any sense. Maybe, “Christians ‘n chips?” Nope, still not logical. The light bulb finally exploded in a million shards because it came on so fast and hard! “Fish ‘n Chips!!!” I nearly had an aneurism from laughing so hard, and then almost a high-speed wreck because I forgot I was driving down the interstate.
After coming to my senses, my first thought was that whoever came up with that particular spin on this newest of Christian adornments (the car sticker, not the ancient design itself) should be working for both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Imagine how humorous and likeable they could make politicians appear. My second thought was that it would be great if it were actually a Christian who had provided this new twist on an old adage. But, even if this humorous version of the ichthus is not a Christian production, I could take a stab at an explanation of why Christians might benefit from embracing this and other attempts to poke fun at our treasured trappings.
First, and most importantly, we must, must, must recognize the ichthus and any other Christian-ese as what they are – idols in waiting. What makes the ichthus a sacred, Christian sign anyway? Let’s face it, just like Christmas trees; it was a pagan symbol first. We kinda stole it from the other camp for our own use. On top of that, the Bible is full of warnings about not getting all mushy for things of this world. You know, like cute drawings and pictures, or a particular brand of politician, or singing artists, or preachers etc etc. In fact, this whole idea of created things (including us) being “untouchable” is not defensible from a Christian perspective.
Why shouldn’t Christians spend some time and effort embracing the variants of the ichthus theme? At least most of these are cleverer than the fish with “Jesus” inside. When I saw that one for the first time, I assumed that some Christian had confused Jesus with Jonah – both names begin with “J,” both persons spent a good bit of time near seas, they both got caught multiple times on wind-tossed bodies of water, and they both, apparently, ended up inside a fish?
But let’s see if we can land this plane. What have we learned – other than that the author doesn’t care for Christian-esee slogans? Well, maybe we should apply C.S. Lewis’ suggestion as to what should have been done to ‘Drab Age’ poets and scholars to writers of Christian slogans:
“It has, of course, been suggested that Henry VIII...was responsible for the Drab Age by cutting off the heads of scholars and poets. But who...were the promising poets that he killed? It is not clear that our poetry would be much the poorer if he had beheaded nearly every writer mentioned in this chapter.” (Lewis, C.S. 1954. English Literature in the Sixteenth Century)
Then again, maybe this should be applied to people like me.