The “Straight Man”

The "Straight Man" (CaD Gen 26) Wayfarer

Stay in this land for a while, and I will be with you and will bless you. For to you and your descendants I will give all these lands and will confirm the oath I swore to your father Abraham.
Genesis 26:3 (NIV)

When I was a kid growing up in Des Moines, one of the local television stations showed a movie every weekday afternoon. There would be a fifteen-minute news segment at noon, followed by the Floppy Show which would show two Looney Tunes cartoons, followed by a movie. I rarely watched the movies because they didn’t appeal to me, but every once in a while they would show a Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin movie and it was like hitting the jackpot.

For those who are unaware, Jerry Lews and Dean Martin were a blockbuster comedy duo back in the fifties during the early days of Las Vegas and the Rat Pack. Jerry Lewis was the geeky, manic, physical comedian and Dean Martin was the gorgeous hunk who could croon and make the ladies swoon. Between 1949 and 1956 they made sixteen successful movies together. Together with their Vegas act, they were the biggest thing in show business for about ten years. Then the dynamic duo suddenly split forever.

One of the reasons for the split was that Dean Martin got tired of playing the “straight man” to Jerry’s kinetic comedic talent and energy. Every great story has characters who could be labeled the “straight person.” They hold the story together, they are the conduit through which the story flows, but they aren’t the star and don’t get the good bits. Show business is full of actors who have successfully appeared in countless films and television shows. You know the faces but you don’t know the names.

This came to mind this morning as I mulled over the person of Isaac. I noticed in yesterday’s chapter that while Abraham’s story took 13 chapters, and Isaac didn’t show up until the ninth chapter. Isaac only has a couple of chapters as the patriarch before he’s old and weak in the eyes. From the perspective of story-telling, Issac is a “straight man.” He almost gets sacrificed by his dad. He gets married. He fathers twins. He wanders around Canaan digging wells. Suddenly he’s old and the story has completely shifted to his sons.

This resonates with me because as an Enneagram Four, my core motivation is to feel a special sense of purpose and significance. That lends itself to desiring the starring roles, and I confess to enjoying those opportunities. It also lends itself to a core pain in which any purpose or significance is “never enough.” Along my life journey, however, I’ve struggled to embrace the truth about human systems. Every one has a role to play to make the system healthy and successful. There are nine Enneagram Types and we need everything that every Type brings to the table of life. Followers of Jesus are considered “the body of Christ” and Paul makes it clear that every member of the body is necessary whether you’re a vital organ or a nail on the little toe.

Isaac’s part in the Great Story is minor compared to his father and his son. He’s a straight man. He’s the conduit through which the story flows from Abraham to Jacob. But to this day, God is regularly named “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” Isaac nailed his part in the greatest story ever told.

So, in the quiet this morning, I find myself with what is a much-needed reminder given the core motivations of my heart. “There are no small parts,” they say, “only small actors.” It’s true. Some of my favorite roles have been the smallest of roles. Nevertheless, I confess that it’s good for me to be reminded of this on a regular basis.

By the way, the end of today’s chapter states that Esau married two Hittite women who “were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.” Ironically, another reason for the split between Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis is that their wives didn’t get along.

There’s nothing new under the sun.

If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.

4 thoughts on “The “Straight Man””

  1. Thanks for sharing memories of Martin and Lewis. I’ve watched a few of their films. In both the Bible and in our own lives, we experience the witness of the so-called character actors who come into our midst. Without them, the story just doesn’t work.

    Liked by 1 person

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