7/21/2011

Fluttering on the outskirts of religion


A mime performing his art in front of St. John's Cathedral, Warsaw, Poland.

Imagine a man, in his forties, dressed as a butterfly dancing playfully in a Corpus Christi procession just a few hundred meters from a cathedral in his hometown of Lodz in Poland. When the procession was passing by his house, he joined in, weaving in and out of it. As reported in Gazeta Wyborcza daily on July 21, he recollected that children found him as a pleasant surprise.

The priests did not see it as being funny and tried to catch him. After a few minutes he “gamboled” back inside the building. Someone called the police, they came, told him not to do it again and he thought that it was that.

Not so. A couple of weeks later Rev. Ireneusz Kulesza, reported Pawel Hajncel, a local artist and filmmaker, to a prosecutor’s office stating that he “hurt of religious feelings” of the procession participants.

It will depend what motivated the culprit to do such a happening, and was he intending to disrupt the procession, the prosecutor explained as he is reviewing the complaint.

The artist says that he was not aiming to disrupt anything, and “his” butterfly was an artistic happening. It meant to bring attention to a serious problem of the church’s omnipresence.

Priests and politicians have annexed public sphere. I tried to reclaim a portion of it, he was quoted in the daily. He wanted to show that he could walk or “gambol,” actually, dressed as a butterfly and just like other faithful manifest his religious ties, he explained.

The story reminded me of an encounter in Warsaw, Poland, several decades ago. A group of us - teenagers - heard words of admonition as we were hanging out in the church courtyard, that we should be found in worship, and not on the “outskirts of religion.” A church elder explained that religion is a serious matter and we should not be laughing and having fun whilst others, including our parents, were worshiping inside.

Perhaps to many who witness Mr. Hajncel he was fluttering on the outskirts of religious tradition. Yet, like a jester he pointed to an issue which disturbs him and many others in a pluralistic society.

In the words of Elizabeth-Anne Stewart, an American Catholic theologian, “It is infinitely safer to watch the clowns in the circus ring than to put on a clown's costume and all the license it represents. ... Though Jesus was a breaker of rules and taboos, an agent of chaos, his intent transcended the desire to be a catalyst of laughter and his behavior never degenerated into lewdness or cruelty."

In my view, if my religious life does not lead me to deal with my own sanctimonious hypocrisy, disrespect for those who are different than me, as well as pride and greed, consider the artist, the jester, the holy fool, a man dressed as a butterfly. They will point at you from the outskirts of your religion. If it happens in public, it is free and for all to observe.

For Mr. Hajncel, and many others, claims of religious exclusiveness in the public sphere deserve a human butterfly treatment. It has less to do with dignity of a religious tradition, and more to do with encroachment on a public sphere, where everyone must be regarded as equal, and valued.

Link to the article and photos in Człowiek przebrany za motyla a chrześcijańska godność

Corpus Christi is a traditionally festive event
on Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru,
is a mixture of religious devotion, pagan customs,
displays of art, and an abundance of merriment.

7/18/2011

Wearing a mask. For five minutes.


You had your five minutes, my mother told me over the phone. Now, others will have their five minutes also, and life will go on.

This was easy for her to say, as she is a 24/7 woman who is stronger and wiser than youngsters like me, I thought. [What a generous comment about my own age!] My mom is right.

On reflection, I had many five-minute-years of being accomplished in what I was doing. Now, those minutes are gone, and I find myself in a desert of bewilderment. So, someone’s decision took away a mask of my importance, and now I talk to my mom asking whether wearing a mask is important, even for five minutes?

What my mom was actually saying was positive. It was her way to welcome me into a life of ordinary people. You probably forgot how important we are, we the ordinary people, she was saying. Your job lasted five minutes. And probably you did well. Now, welcome back and let others enjoy their own five minutes. They will succeed or fail, loose of find, and their own five minutes will be quickly over, too.

Enter Darren Clarke, the now celebrated winner of the golf’s 2011 British Open Championship. As they say, watching golf is like watching the paint dry. My own cynicism about golf was given a conversion jolt as Mr. Clarke freely distributed abundant smiles, even when he just miscalculated a shot. He smiled with a permanent grin. If a heart has a set of bright teeth, Mr. Clarke owns one. His was a grin of joy. He entered into his five minutes of attention.

In a post-victory interview he selflessly admitted being an ordinary guy. But what ordinariness he presented. I tried 19 times before, but I never stopped trying. Now I did it. But I am an ordinary guy, he simply claimed.

Darren Clarke’s accomplishment was a bright moment in a week of the usual bad news on TV (the Rupert Murdoch’s media empire’s slow but riveting demise topping the bill). Some of us still love the media when it is honest, moral, and when it goes for and reports the character building news. So, here was Mr. Clarke, a winner finally, and if he was wearing a mask, it was one of authenticity. That’s how I feel.

So, I am dealing with my own bewilderment by re-entering a world of ordinary people where authenticity, integrity, compassion and generosity are lived with gusto! A tear got lost in my eye when I was watching Darren Clarke’s joy. He shared it with all of us and he wore it on his face.

It wasn’t a smile No. 17C with a spin.

Photographs: (top) Masked Women at Corpus Christi Festival
in Cuzco, Peru; (Middle & bottom) Mannequins
in Singapore's Chinatown.