House of Hangover

Today, August 15, is one of the absolutely biggest holidays in the entire Catholic world: the Feast of Assumption, commemorating the event when the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus, according to Roman Catholic doctrine was taken alive to Heaven and crowned Queen there.

Consequently, the village here in Belgium where we live decided to put on one of the highlights of the last week’s village fête yesterday, and there was much rejoicing and dancing to vehemently loud music all night long. (Well, at least until 2-3 in the morning when we finally fell asleep, I can’t vouch for when they wrapped the party up.)

Consequently, today has been eerily quiet. You could probably go to the village limits and put up large signs saying DO NOT DISTURB. HANGOVER IN PROGRESS without straying too far from the truth.

The local Catholic Church across the street had announced a Virgin Mary procession this morning from the largest local Virgin Mary shrine to the church building (last year I think they walked the other way; maybe they want some change every now and then), but I missed taking a look to see if they managed to gather any faithful. If they did, they certainly were a quiet lot, because there was no discernable commotion from them.

Louder, then, were the church bells, which rang once at the beginning of the event, and, in order to really wake the rest of the village up, once again now at what I understand was the end of the mass, at noon. And to further make sure that no partygoers from last night would remain unaware of their condition, there was a brass band marching off right now to the music of wind instruments and drums. (“Showtime!” exclaimed my four-year-old son at the sound of it. My boy!)

It’s on mornings like these I enjoy most waking up sober.

“Converts To Rasta”

This is getting worse and worse.

After writing yesterday’s blog post, today, what do I see? A press release about two companies who have decided to, quote, “convert to Rasta”.

Well, not quite. The full heading reads – translated from Swedish –  “Maritemi AB and Provobis Holding AB convert to Rasta shares.” And, for those of you who thought that our dreadlock friends have floated their faith on Nasdaq or so: Rasta, in this case, is actually the name of a Swedish roadside restaurant chain. (Which does not serve any Ital food, by the way; the name is derived from the Swedish word “rasta” meaning “to rest”.)

That’s probably a fine illustration of how you can derive a totally misleading message from a sentence, if you do not understand the context, the social and cultural setting, the background, and so on. As has happened, sorry to say, with many interpretations of the Bible, as a prime example.

Not least by Rastas, who have founded an entire religion on such misunderstandings.

Jah Provide De Bread

I started this day wallowing in my latest download from iTunes – “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley. (The version with the Wailers. Great tune. Full roots reggae at its best.)

And then came the most surrealistic SMS (text message) imaginable on my cell phone , just a minute ago: “JAH Pressbriefing on Monday 11 June 2007.”

Now, if I had been a Rastafari devotee (which, thank Goodness, I am not), I would have considered this above and beyond a sign from above; rather, something close to an invoked Second Coming.

Especially if I had been indulging in such substances that Rastafaris tend to indulge in (which, thank Goodness, I never have and certainly never will. Drugs are the devil’s work, period.)

However, it turned out to have a full terrestial explanation, rather than the Almighty meeting the press: JAH is an EU acronym for Justice And Home Affairs, the ministers of which are meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday. The sender, consequently, was the German EU Presidency, which thankfully bombards my cell phone with information on this and that every day.

An excellent service which I will not complain about, that is. But maybe the EU should consider revising some of its acronyms a bit.

Imagine this message reaching the wrong cell phone: Hordes of dreadlocked pot-smokers stampeeding towards the EU Council building, playing Marley at full blast, dancing and prancing in religious ecstasy about getting to meet their Maker in person. (And imagine the riots when they discover that all they meet are little middle-age men in grey suits. All the ganja in the world wouldn’t have convinced even the most liberal Haile Selassie worshippers that their god had incarnated as a German civil servant.)

I have a small suggestion: Justice And Home Affairs should actually be JAHA. That, in turn, would have been extra hilarious, as “Jaha” means “oh, really” or “so what” in Swedish.

Which, in turn, might have added the extra benefit of being a more accurate description.

The Teletubbies Cometh

Among yesterday’s most amusing moments in my microcosmos was when a Polish journalist asked the EU Commission’s press spokesmen at the daily press conference what comment the Commission had on Poland’s decision to investigate whether Teletubbies are propagating homosexuality.

“Does the Commission believe that the Teletubbies are of a bad influence on young children?”, the Polish journalist asked, audibly with her tounge firmly placed in her cheek.

“The Commission believes in the freedom of the media”, was the short answer, accompanied by roaring laughter from the press gallery.

Because, yes, this idea, which was first suggested by the late Rev. Jerry Falwell, has been revived in Poland, where child ombudsman Ewa Sowinska was to investigate Tinky Winky’s sexual orientation. The collected evidence for these allegations are:

1) Tinky Winky is purple.

2) Tinky Winky carries a handbag.

3) Tinky Winky’s head antenna is vaguely shaped like a triangle.

That’s it.

It may be laughable, especially when you start asking yourself in which ways any gender is associated with the Tubbies – for all I know, they could all be girls – or whether they are capable of having relationships with each other of such a nature that would make homosexuality, according to its biological definition, possible. But Ms. Sowinska took the whole thing very seriously and was to consult psychologists and their likes in order to reach at a verdict.

Today I heard that the whole investigation has been dropped. Congratulations, Polish taxpayers.

That leaves us Christians as the only ones still associated with this barmy statement. I do not know even where to begin being angry with all this.

Not only because of the very idea of having my faith connected with what is best named paranoid conspiracy theories, and not only because it attempts to curb free speech – even if this had turned out to be a gay lobby agenda, the rights for gays to promote their ideas is still my right to promote mine – but also because there is so much more worse garbage out there which is openly poisoning children’s minds, and where it is evident every day that the children copy what they see – in terms of violence and aggressive behaviour.

In fact, I have even had to remove a channel from or TV because our kids spent too much time watching cartoons that were clearly intended for an older audience, as they began learning violent behaviour from it. It took me about 45 seconds to exercise my right to choose in such a way, without having to call for government assistance. And another few minutes to explain to them why it is bad to hit people. Problem solved.

And therein lies probably the most ridiculous thing about all this. If you are uncomfortable with a flannel doll wearing pink, carrying a handbag, and having a triangle on its head, then, for crying out loud, switch to another channel or remove it from your dial. No-one is holding a gun to your head and forcing your kids to watch it.

Monday Sermon

Take some time off and listen to the full twentysomething minutes of this, won’t you:

(click to play… for those of you reading this via feed, you probably have to click yourself to this blog post on my site first)

Don’t Mention The C-Word

Still no name in sight concerning who held the pen when putting the Berlin declaration into text. Bah, I knew it! It was probably the product of a committee, or written by Frau Dr Merkel herself. Just when you thought it was going to get entertaining.

Anyway. As always, it’s a fun sport to sift through the layers of political science nonsense to see what is not in the text.

One such thing is to read the penultimate paragraph in the declaration and see how they wriggle around trying to avoid using the word “Constitution”. Germany wants one, the French, Dutch, British and other assorted people do not, and the general sentiment in most other countries seems to be “let’s not ask” for fear of getting the wrong answer.

Having a Constitution for the EU is the final nail in the coffin for national supremacy, and the cradle for a European superstate, the reasoning behind that goes. (I’m not quite sure how something can be both a nail and a cradle at the same time, but that’s beside the point.)

So, in order to make everyone happy, Ms-Dr-Merkel’s-secretary-or-whoever-the-unlucky-fellow-was-who-had-to-write-the-final-draft had to try to write “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009” without actually writing “let’s get us a Constitution before 2009”. The resulting euphemistic acrobacy can be enjoyed ->here<-.

Christianity was also deined access in the final round, in spite of heavy lobbying on its part by especially the Poles, at least for a mention.

I’m a Christian by choice and deepest convincement, but still quite divided on whether or not Christianity should be in such a declaration as this. True, Europe is founded on 2,000 years of Christian ethics. This is an historic fact and nothing to try to hide, and then Turkey can rant as much as it likes about the EU being a ‘Christian Club’ to divert attention from its chronic inability of learning to spell the legend h-u-m-a-n r-i-g-h-t-s.

On the other hand, throughout those last 2,000 years, every attempt to impose Christianity from the top in society has ended painfully. The simple reason is that true Christianity lies in the heart of the believer and cannot be commanded forth. And my freedom to advocate and exercise my faith can only be guaranteed in a society that also guarantees others the freedom to refrain from doing so. Freedom, by definition, involves the right to make one’s own choices.

“One Nation Under God” works in the US, where a large number of people voluntarily confess some sort of faith, and there is no history of religious oppression. But in Europe, I’m afraid a similar statement would only provoke a generally negative counter-response. And that is exactly what I, as a Christian, want to avoid.

In other words: If you want to reach Europeans with the Gospel, you’d better avoid conjuring up collective memories of state churches controlling all aspects of life, memories of which lie just beneath the surface.

Not to mention that the true Gospel includes the freedom of option for each individual to reject it.

Two Choices

Some time ago, I enjoyed a great sermon in my church along the lines of “You’ve Got Two Choices”.

Before saying anything else, I should add that my church is NOT into whacking people over their heads with simple fix-all solutions. (I would run for the door if that would ever happen, let me assure you.) Rather, its preachers usually draw upon their own experiences, pains, struggles and joys to help and encourage.

Anyway. I remembered this as I realised that I could choose to look at my life right now in two different ways.

Either:

1) Ten years ago this month, I was living in Brussels, I was cold and soaked, I was broke, I felt I had accomplished very little in life, I had no idea about the future, and I was driving an old automatic gearbox car that cost a lot of money in repairs. Today, I am living in Brussels, I am cold and sometimes soaked, I am broke, I feel I had accomplished very little in life, I have little idea about the future, and I am driving an old automatic gearbox car that costs a lot of money in repairs.

Or:

2) Ten years ago this month, I was living in a crummy, run-down shambolic useless excuse for an apartment, which my then girlfriend Y could hardly visit for fear of the neighbourhood, I had no job, no family, precious little food, and no education. Today, I am living in a beautiful apartment, my girlfriend Y now having become my wife, in a neighbourhood which is as safe as it gets, I have a great job, two wonderful children, food on the table, and a BA.

Both ways of looking at the last ten years are equally true factually speaking. The entire difference is in what we journalists would call “the angle”, or, to put it into the context where I started, which choice I make when thinking of things.