Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas, summertime, and cognitive dissonance

  This December has been my third Christmas season since moving to Oz in December 2009. I think for the first time since we moved here, I'm feeling settled enough to allow myself to notice the extraordinarily bizarre way in which Australians adopt all the practices and customs of the Northern hemisphere holiday in blatant disregard of the fact that we are approaching summer solstice.

  I spoke to a mum from our kids' primary school today, and she confessed to having a surface sense of the strangeness of decorating with snowflakes.  I believe, however, that most Australians are unable, and will always be unable, to appreciate the deep meaningfulness of all these customs in the same way as those of us who grew up north of the 45th parallel.

  Some Melbournites spend a lot of hours affixing thousands and thousands of Christmas lights to their houses.  I  imagine having this conversation with any one of them:

You realize, don't you, that the POINT of putting up Christmas lights is to lift everyone's spirits in the coldest, darkest, most horrible time of year--when everyone is feeling suicidal because they're half frozen and and haven't seen the sun in 10 weeks?
Huh?  Oh--I think I know what you mean.  I remember once back in the winter of '79, there were like 3 days when the temperature dropped below 10 degrees (Celsius--that's 50 degrees Fahrenheit), in July.  I wasn't old enough to really remember, but my parents were traumatized for years.

  The other evening, about 6:30 PM, I was walking along past the coffee shop near my home. The sun was still high in the sky, and it was about 79 degrees F outside (that's 26 C). Blaring over the sound system from the coffee shop was some Christmas song the lyrics of which were about "frosty air".  Most Melbournites, I assume, have never actually experienced frosty air.  I certainly haven't seen any since moving here 25 months ago.  Maybe when they fly for ski vacations to New Zealand or something.

  The Australian church fathers, whoever they might be, should have done us all a favo(u)r and, having consulted with their magi/scientists, when they arrived they should have flipped the church calender about a 6 month axis.  Then, even though it never gets cold and never actually gets properly seasonally dark either, and even though the days are still longer than they're meant to be at winter solstice, at least there'd be SOME sort of reasoning behind trying to cheer yourself up a little in June/July, using festive sparkly tinsel and bulbs and lights and feasts and so forth.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

How I got off the fundamentalist ride, Exhibit A.

     Megs and I were wed in November 2000, in Port Macquarie, NSW, on the beach. It rocked. During the 3 months I spent in Australia in late 2000, a couple different things happened. On our honeymoon, we stopped in some little town and I got my ear pierced and a small earring. Also, during that time, I spent about 30 hours reading, trying to sort something out that I knew I needed to sort before we returned to my home church near Seattle. During my two years on LOGOS II, for very practical reasons, I had given up on the King James Version Onlyism of my home church (now Lifepoint Church NW). This because the small groups in which I participated, while operating in English, were composed mostly of folks from lots of nations who were operating in English as their second language. I quickly noticed that there was no way they could deal with the King James translation of the Bible. I suspected that this explanation wasn't going to fly with my home church, so I did some reading to figure out some better explanation. Also, I spent a few hours conversing with my wife and her two lovely sisters, and without quite realizing it my politics, which had already largely shifted anyway, were more or less cemented over to very left, while when I left Seattle they were very very right.

     When we flew back to Seattle in early January 2001, it was with the understanding that I was probably going to be offered a staff position at that church. However, that first Sunday, I completely and utterly failed to appreciate the politics of the situation. Pastor Tom welcomed me back and asked me to share a bit. I came up to the pulpit with my new ear ring. I'm sure he and everyone were shocked, but I had no clue at the time. I'd been away for 2 and a half years, and didn't quite realize how much I'd changed and how much they'd stayed the same. In fact, I shared with them that I wanted to become a Bible translator, and read a longish section from The Preface to the Readers (that's actually a bit of a delicious read which I recommend) which was originally contained with the King James translation. In it, the translators do a rather deliciously excellent job of dismantling all the arguments of the King James Onlyists--arguments which they themselves were of course having to deal with because there were those at the time making similar arguments about earlier English translations. Again, I think I had no clue how deeply closed they were. I'm told that my pastor was sitting there in the front row obviously displaying barely controlled fury. I didn't notice it at the time.

     After that, for a number of weeks, I had several meetings with Pastor Tom, during which we discussed various things, and he gave me lots of books to read which he believed supported his KJV only position, although it seemed to me that the books, written from very much inside the KJV only camp, instead made rather a spectacular case for the outright silliness of that entire camp (I think Revision Revised may have been among them). I was muddling along thinking/hoping that they would change/open enough to accommodate my views. My poor wife was muddling along feeling very very dismissed and ignored and generally shut out. No one at the church would talk to her. I think perhaps the guys were all a bit terrified of a gorgeous powerful women, and the women were all a bit cowed. No person had ever long been a member of that church who was not very much a white, right wing, fundamentalist American, and now here was this Australian, left wing, Anglican feminist Christian.

     Anyway, after the it's a small world story I told you earlier, I decided, all of sudden, that they were never going to change, and I asked Pastor Tom for a meeting to share with him about why we were leaving. He took the liberty of inviting the entire board of elders--four middle age white guys. The same pastor who'd asked me the small world question, upon hearing of this meeting, suggested to us that we schedule something else for about an hour after the meeting in case we needed an escape excuse, which turned out to be very handy.

     So one Sunday afternoon sometime in February 2001, Megan and I found ourselves sitting in the church office around a table with four rather serious looking middle age white guys. We spent about an hour beating around the bush. I explained that I'd realized that two and a half years earlier, my path and their path had diverged at perhaps a 10 degree angle. Not much of an angle, but over two years, we'd gotten further and further apart, so that now they were on path A, and I was on Path B, and I certainly wasn't going to come back over to their path, and it had become clear to me that they weren't going to come over to my path, so I thought we should just leave it at that, and part as friends. They were very dissatisfied with this explanation, and wanted to know about the exact nature of the stuff in between our two paths. I think they wanted to argue about it--to try to convince me to come back over to their path. I was extremely disinterested in doing this, and pretty much refused. We went back and forth for a long time. I felt very sad. At the end I was crying. It represented a big loss for me--they'd been my entire community from 87 to 98. They seemed angry rather than sad. I think they perhaps felt they'd made a big investment in me, and perhaps even had high hopes that I'd be a big cog in the machinery of their church which would help it grow and so forth.

     Near the end of an hour, Megs, who had been very very quiet, finally spoke up and said "Look, Benjamin has realized that this church is never ever going to accept me, and he decided he loves and values his relationship with me more than his relationship with this church." At that point, Tom became visibly furious. He is about 6 feet 2 inches tall, and is a very muscular and heavy man, with bright red hair. He leaned over the table, right into Megs' face, and, slamming his fist down on the table right in front of her, he shouted "You should NEVER have put him in that position."

     After that, I spoke up and said that alas we had another meeting we had scheduled and we didn't want to be late, so we'd have to be going. The youngest of the elders, Mark, then in his early 30's, I'd guess, found this outrageous, and said several times rather loudly "HOW CONVENIENT!!!". And of course he was right, it was incredibly convenient. Tom and the others strongly requested that we cancel the other meeting and stay until we could finish sorting everything out (to their satisfaction). We of course declined, and off we went.

     After that we had relatively little interaction with anyone from that church--some of whom I'd known for years and been very good friends with. It wasn't the best parting. I'd do it somewhat differently now, but I think at the time, it was really the only way I could leave. It has seemed to me, in the past, looking at that church, that in some sense the leaders act in the role of parents, and the parishioners act in the role of children, and the only way for the parishioners to leave in a growing up sort of way is the way in which I left. Or something like that. I remember from when I was inside the church all those years--that others would leave in such a way---that somehow they'd just be gone, and the general sense was that they had fallen away out into the big dangerous world, where people believed things other than the safe prescribed beliefs of our church. The hope was always that someday maybe they'd come back into our safe little fold and be okay again. But they rarely did. In fact there was a very tiny core of long termers, and other than that the membership was mostly medium term revolving door type people.