But my brain seems to be intent on bopping around like a chipmunk in a cage, so I’m going to write an entry instead, and try to get some of the thoughts, well, if not on paper, into the data stream.
I saw a chipmunk on Friday. I was walking with my conversation partner, and we passed a pet store that had a chipmunk in the window, running on a wheel. I never really considered the possibilities of chipmunks as pets. They’re cute, sure, but they’re wild animals. Of course, people in Mongolia probably don’t think of gerbils as pets. I tried to get my conversation partner to tell me how to say chipmunk in Spanish, but he told me that it was a squirrel (in English). I told him that no, squirrels had bigger tails and weren’t stripey, and he tried to convince me that it was a chinchilla. I told him that it wasn’t that, either, and we got to discussing rodents and I never did figure out how to say squirrel in Spanish. Or chipmunk.
I had another discussion with Pepi about religion today. We started because there were some more things I wanted to the talk we’d had about the Amish the other week, but Ana was here this time, and we ranged back onto Mennonites and what my church is like.
I may have more to say about that, but what’s particularly sticking out to me right now is the discussion we had about comunidad, community. I think that I’ve mentioned before that here (or to Pepi?) comunidad is synonymous to religious community. This caused some confusion originally. Tonight I gained a fuller understanding of comunidad. This came about because Ana said that she was a Catholic, and went to mass regularly, but didn’t belong to a comunidad, and didn’t particularly want to. It was at this point that I suspected that I was still missing something integral about the nature of comunidad, and asked for clarification. She told me that she was creyente, a believer (in Christ, Catholic), and that she and her group of friends got together to do something religious oriented during Holy Week (carrying something in the parade, maybe? I might perhaps have understood this better if I had a proper idea of what Semana Santa actually entails here), and that they go to mass, and discuss religious topics, and generally things that I analogous to what I consider to be the nature of religious community. So I was still confused. Then Pepi tried, and told me that a comunidad involves living one’s life in conformation with a set of religious rules, and that many young people, like Ana, don’t want comunidad because they find it confining. That many people are believers and go to mass and consider themselves religious, but don’t go to confession, have never gone to confession, because they don’t affiliate themselves with the priests. Which goes back to the whole reglion-but-not-priests thing which is quite strong here in Spain, stronger than I’ve ever encountered anything similar in the US, and which my History of 19th Century Spain prof claims ties back in to the program of desamortización (um, the English word looks similar, and if you don’t recognize the Spanish, the English won’t mean anything to you either; it has to do with taking lands away from the church, lands that were held by the church as a corporate entity rather than a physical person and hence were not bringing the state any income) of minister Mendizábal in eighteen twenty- or thirty-something. (The history of the church being supported by the state dates from the same time, which is really weird to me. And it continued that way until very recently; the church is still supported by taxpayer money; it sounds to me like you can make a tax-deductible donation the the Catholic church, only there may be like a check box on your tax forms rather than you having to do the legwork yourself. Or something like that.)
Thinking about this conversation later, I realized that we were not only dealing with the issue of community = religious community in the Spanish language, but also my own tendency to make religious community synonymous with church. Which I don’t think it is, here. So not only were we dealing with my feeling that my community is my neighbors and my library and my librarian and my food co-op and my schools and my teachers and my friends – and my church, whenever I said “iglesia”, I meant the religious community that for me is part and parcel of the building or the service.
I’m not entirely sure, but I’m inclined to believe that all (or at least, most) of the churches in the United States that hold regular services and have attendance on Sundays are based in some sort of community of people that holds the church together and makes it function. And many (perhaps most) of them may not look like what I consider to be church-community, but there is some kind of community there; families who come every week, and maybe a choir, and little old ladies who facilitate committees and sell pen-wipers at jumble sales, or whatever. But it’s not like that here. There are these churches that have services at whatever time, and people come in and sit for half an hour and get their daily or weekly or yearly dose of religion, and then they leave again. It occurs to me that maybe I should work the topic of church finances into one of these conversations; while I am aware that every church I know of in the US pays the pastor/preacher/whatever, and fixes the roof, and all the other church projects out of the offering plate (and other member giving), it may not occur to Pepi that my church is a financial unit because no one else is going to pay for it if we don’t.
Pepi’s comunidad, on the other hand, sounds somewhat more like what I think of as a church. Only she mentioned that she could go to services on Saturday or Sunday (these discussions are made rather more interesting by the fact that the only Spanish word I know for services is misa, mass, which my church’s services are blatantly not, but while their is an obvious cognate for services, I’m wary of using it in this context because it’s one of the more frequently used terms for a public restroom, and while it might also mean a religious service, I think that it would derail the conversation pretty badly if it doesn’t), and that going on Saturday was equivalent to going on Sunday. Which is perhaps like going to a church with multiple Sunday services; I don’t really know how community works in those instances. But I’m still a little hung up on this business of a comunidad being a religious community governed by rules. I don’t feel like my interaction with my church is one of rules. Perhaps they are there, and I simply don’t notice them, but I’m inclined to think not. There are principles, yes. Quite a number of principles. But rules? I behave as I do in a large part because of the way I was raised, yes. But many of the things that I do because I am a Christian are things that my parents taught me are the way a decent person behaves. In fact, there are very few of the things I do, the way I behave, the things that I believe that are, I think, strictly religious. Were I not religious, I think that I would still be the same person, or at least very similar, for a certain ethical and moral perspective of being the same person. That what the outward behavior of a Christian means to me is essentially “be a good person,” plus a few frills, but not many.
And I can’t think of any of these principles that I consider to have the character of rules. My church preaches pacifism, yes, but if I joined the army and headed to Iraq just as soon as I got back to the States, I would still be a child of the church, and they would still pray for my safety. We don’t have flags in church, but I don’t know how the congregation would react if I came in one day in a shirt with the stars and stripes – if, indeed, anyone would say or do anything at all. There would be things that I could do to leave members of the church feeling very hurt, but I would still remain a child of God in their eyes, although perhaps a child of God that they were pretty angry at right now and having trouble forgiving. None of this feels like rules to me.
Another thought on the Amish – we talked about shunning again, and forgiveness, and Pepi seemed to be having trouble with the concept; she kept going on about “what kind of sin . . . ?”, and somehow we wound up talking about how she is a forgiving person, and can’t harbor rancor. And it occurred to me afterwards that perhaps she is equating shunning with anger, and with punishment. Which I don’t think that it is. I mean, it is a punishment, but that’s not the purpose; the purpose is the purity of the community. I think. Just because I’m probably about the closest thing in Spain to a local expert on the Amish doesn’t mean that I’m actually an expert on the Amish.
I continued to have the difficulty that I’ve encountered before when asked about “my comunidad.” I don’t know how to answer this question. I don’t know how to answer it in English. To which community do they refer? My church, my personal experience of Mennonitism, or the Mennonite Church as a whole? And if it’s the latter, what defines the Mennonite Church as a whole, and how do I find a definition that includes my experience? How can I represent Mennonites, what is my responsibility to represent Mennonites, without giving a three-day lecture starting with the roots of Anabaptism to Menno Simons and so on and so on up through current issues, stances, and divisions within the Mennonite Church? And of course there’s the added difference that since we got here from discussing the Amish, the line between Amish and Mennonite is even blurrier than usual.
And in other quibbles on terminology, Pepi uses the words “Catholic” and “Christian” interchangeably. As in, to conclude this discussion, she’ll say, “At the end of the day, we’re all Catholic, and we can agree on that.” And I have to fight down my reaction to say, “No, I’m not Catholic!” Because I do know how she means it, even if I can’t agree with her phrasing, and I’m not sure that Catholic and Christian are different enough in her mind that I could explain the problem that I have with that statement. Or perhaps I could, and she would smile and nod, and tell me what a graciosa chica I am, and how she loves to have these discussions with me – and then, the next time that we talk about religion, she would say Catholic where I mean Christian.
Okay, that was a lot of religion, but it’s something that I find puzzling here. And perhaps I’ve tired the chipmunk out enough that I can sleep.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone; this week’s forecast includes a 90% chance of commentary on Thanksgiving in Spain.