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Pardon (Tuesday, 2010 May 31)

June 1st, 2011

My last post provoked an email from Suzanne, which is what I was hoping for, but it was an offended email, which was decidedly not what I wanted. She called me on a couple of important things:

  1. Some of the stuff I made up is probably legitimately offensive to someone of the appropriate faith. She cites the example of the firehose full of holy water. Holy water is serious business.
  2. The fact that I made up a satirical Church visit but used things that actually happened obscures the cultural differences that led me to be so puzzled and shocked. This isn’t like with the other fiction where I’m just obscuring my own personal drama — as an Organization volunteer I should be working to facilitate the exchange of cultures, not sidestepping the issue with misdirection. (And Gus would probably say: not judging, but that’s another argument.)

I’m terribly sorry for any offense my writing may have caused. I’m not religious but I balk at causing offense to my friends who are, because they provide me a view on a side of humanhood that I fundamentally don’t understand. And perhaps joking through my ignorance is not the wisest thing.

The fundamental grain of truth in this piece is the sensation of being present at a variety show. This isn’t necessarily the fault of the service or the congregation; if I were more familiar with Christian and Catholic traditions, I’d probably feel a lot less "lost at sea". But between not understanding the ceremony and the tendency of random sections of the audience to burst into choral song, I found the experience not unlike a Saturday morning cartoon, turned sideways.

As for the rest:

  • There really were ushers of some kind helping people find seats and quieting down the occasional private conversation. I really did see one wearing a Bluetooth earpiece and a Ché wristband, though he didn’t seat us and I doubt the Bluetooth was connected to anything.
  • There really was a teenage boy named Donald selling Bibles and crucifixes analogously to a hot dog vendor at a baseball game.
  • The organist ended up abandoning his keyboard and using instead a traditional wooden instrument similar to a xylophone.
  • The vows during the baptism really did include one to abandon vampirism and sorcery. The priest had to explain what vampirism was, and explained that it wasn’t his personal vow that he had stuck in there, but part of a Church-mandated set of vows (he even showed us a little pamphlet). I’m guessing this isn’t done in the States?
  • There really was a strange march thing that may have been ceremonial. I have no idea.
  • There was also a dance number which I got pulled into. It involved horse’s tails, which are traditional ceremonial objects. I don’t know the significance.
  • There really was a sermon/lecture about the emptiness of the happiness of the children dancing, or something like that. I have a hard time following along at Church because of the language and cultural barriers, so I have no idea what was really happening here. I came away with the impression that maybe he was saying that without being baptized, their joy was hollow because the presence of God in their lives was insufficient, but again, no idea. The priest really did admonish us to not play "Petit Pays" ("Little Country") and another well-known popular musician that night (but I forget which one).
  • There really were two lines for communion, one of which being manned by a priest from a neighboring village. I added "For your convenience"; originally they just said that the newly baptized were to take communion up front, and that "les anciens chrêtiens" ("former Christians" — i.e. those who weren’t newly baptized) were to take theirs with the other priest in back.
  • I really was informed that the priest’s son was among those baptized. I didn’t ask for clarification. There was a small boy wearing a bright white suit but I have no idea if he was the child in question.
  • There definitely wasn’t an M.C.
  • There definitely wasn’t stand-up comedy.
  • There definitely wasn’t a firehose of holy water. Holy water was applied appropriately as far as I could tell.
  • There definitely wasn’t a game show.
  • There definitely isn’t a "Christ-Vault", although they do keep the communion supplies in a wall that shows a portrait of Jesus [pictured], and they actually lock the compartment with a key. Apart from that, the communion was treated with respect and not at all like the highlight of a variety hour.
  • The line "covered in the blood of Christ" is occasionally seen on Anglophone bumper stickers and the like — I think the original wording is "I am covered in the blood of Jesus". I thought it would be a good fit here. Apparently the reasoning is that if the blood of Jesus cleans you of your sins and is holy and good, more of it would be better. At least one Westerner said that it sounded to her like "I have the blood of Jesus on my hands" — like the speaker was guilty of something.
  • The hottest woman at that party really was Hervé’s girlfriend of three years and she really did look a little like Carmen Sandiego.

Once again, I’m sorry about any offense I gave or misunderstanding I caused.


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