now playing: marty higgins, “driving her home”
one of the highlights of this past weekend was sitting around with simon apple drummer buzz saylor and having our customary post-“tommy” beers and talking about music. this past friday night, we ended up talking at length about religion, and what revealed itself to be our mutual distaste with organized religion and the politics of the church.
then, tonight, i’m clicking about in an endless series of links from one page to another and ended up on john flynn’s site, and found this entry in his journal. seems the catholic PR machine is working overtime, as usual:
I had arrived in Albany, New York about three o’clock on Saturday afternoon. Since I had a couple hours to kill before sound check, I decided to take a walk. With no particular destination in mind I was surprised to find myself, after a short amble, in front of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Desiring to go in and light a candle for the pope I was delighted to find that 4PM mass was soon to take place so I took a pew in the back of the church and began to meditate. It had been a difficult few days – life stuff -and my troubled mind quickly melted into the stillness of this holy place.
I was there a few minutes when a man with a high pitched voice roused me from prayer saying, “You can’t sit here!” Since the huge church had only twenty or thirty people in its two hundred long empty pews I was confused. The pew had no reserved seating indication so I asked, after the statement was repeated, “Why not?”. “This is the usher’s pew” said the balding middle aged man who did not choose to identify himself. My sleep deprived, road burned brain instantly sensed that caution was necessary as I was talking to an usher. With cunning and guile I masked my slight irritation at being rousted over a territorial dispute. I pointed the pew in front of me. “Can I pray here?” I asked in a volume calculated to be slightly louder than that necessary to span the 30 suddenly tension filled inches that separated me from the man’s white belt and combustible neck tie. “You need to sit somewhere else” said the man. “You can’t sit here! This is for ushers ONLY!” “Can I pray here?” I repeated. Anywhere but THIS pew” he said. “This is for ushers ONLY!” He was obviously becoming agitated, and no further fun could have been wrung from the absurdity of the moment so I stood, gathered my old felt hat and gloves, bowed to him and moved forward exactly one pew. I knelt down and began to pray again.
A few minutes passed and I heard another voice. This one deeper and more menacing than the last. “Hey Tex!” said the voice. Not being from Texas or dressed like a cowboy, I remember hoping dearly that I wasn’t being addressed. In any event I chose to ignore the salutation, although its proximity and tone suggested that I was indeed its target. “Hey Tex!” repeated the voice, loud enough to be heard by others in the church, I opened my eyes and looked up to find an older Italian looking man, his arms folded imperiously above an expansive middle. “Tex?” I asked trying to stifle a smile. “You can’t sit here!” said the man. “My name isn’t Tex” I said. “It doesn’t matter what your name is, you can’t sit here!” said the man. “Why not?” I asked becoming annoyed. “Because this pew is for ushers only” said the man in a voice that was clearly intended to convey a “We know how to handle trouble makers like you around here!” sort of impression. “Wait a minute, I thought THAT pew was for ushers only” I said gesturing dramatically at my former seat. How many of these trees had they peed on? “So’s this one!” said the man. “You have to move.” “But that guy told me I could sit here” I said pointing toward the first man who was standing nearby in obvious dismay. “You guys should get your story straight.” By now a dozen heads were turning around to see what all the commotion was about. “Look pal, you have to move somewhere else. Don’t give us a hard time!” said the bigger man. “You guys ought to put up signs so strangers can figure out where it’s okay to pray around here!” I said in an exasperated voice. I stood, picked up my stuff again and walked to an empty pew in the middle of the church. “Does anyone have a problem if I sit here?” I asked in a loud voice. Disapproving parishioners glared at me from all directions as the Italian looking man dismissed me with a disgusted waive of his hand and turned to admonish his colleague, apparently explaining yet again the complicate but ever so crucial “Two Pew Rule”. I knelt down and struggled unsuccessfully to reclaim a sense of the serenity I had come into St. Patrick’s to find.
At one point I looked back my shoulder to find that the balding usher had taken a seat directly behind the deep voiced one, each man commanding sole possession of an otherwise unoccupied back bench.
Eventually the mass began. We offered a prayer for the soul of John Paul and sang a hymn about triumphing over the grave. I got lost as I often do in the deeply mystical ritual of the mass and didn’t give another thought to the pew police until I saw them begin to go from person to person taking up a collection. I quickly took a piece of paper and pen from my pocket and scribbled out the following note which I deposited in the collection basket:
Nothing for the unwelcoming attitude and discourtesy
you showed a stranger in your midst.
I know what your thinking… I could have handled this one a little better. Maybe you’re right. But the thing is… There’s a lot wrong with the church. Much of it of it we have no control over. But some of it we do! Someone once asked the Dali Lama what his religion was. “Kindness” he answered. Wouldn’t it be nice if we each could respond the same way?
this would be the space where i’d normally add my thoughts, but there’s not much left to say…