Monday, November 11, 2013
Letter to Lee Turjiste -- part 3
Letter to Lee Turjiste, continued.
I have pontificated at great length about weddings as sacramental travesty and blasphemous abuse. Today I want to talk about weddings as performance art. This absurdity requires wedding planners ($2,000) photographers ($2,400) and videographers ($1,500). I was recently at a First Communion that meant so much to the people involved that they actually forgot to take pictures until the event was almost over. Grandma took a few photos at the end with her camera. The young man (of 7 years) beamed with happiness at receiving his First Communion. There was no bevy of frenzied adults playing at paparazzi to distract him by snapping pictures. It was a rare and wonderful experience.
I am always competing at sacraments now with the photographers. I have actually been asked to “do it over again” at First Communions and weddings because the camera jammed, or the battery died, or they didn’t like the pose. Now photographers have opened up a whole new market: funerals. The funeral I mentioned earlier for which sake I ended up in the police station trying to keep the grieving family from being jailed was thoroughly video graphed by a rather large person invited for the purpose by the would be eulogist. I suspect that the clown who took the pulpit against my expressed prohibition was about to issue a broadside denouncing the family of the deceased. I further suspect that this masterpiece of oratory would then have been put on the web for the enjoyment of others. It was certainly intended to be used as evidence, should the need arise because, as the frustrated orator was escorted from the podium, he screamed “This is being filmed! This is being filmed!” It certainly was being filmed and when I and a few others managed to see the film, we got quite a laugh out of it, despite the sadness of the event.
Another funeral not long ago, I had to watch my step because some woman whose acquaintance I have never made, kept moving around up and down the aisles and up onto the altar with an I-pad. I think she was taking a video of the proceedings, so she kept getting in front of me. I guess I was in the way of the best view of the action.
There is a wonderful piece of wedding video on YouTube. I doubt that it was a Catholic wedding. The presiding minister has the kind of collar more favored by Lutheran or Episcopalian clergy, and it is a garden wedding, the poor fellow’s first mistake. The celebrant is bantering with the bride and groom (second mistake) when suddenly he turns to the videographer and, I assume, the photographer. The following dialogue ensues:
“Please, sirs. Leave.”
The photographer asks “Where do you want me to be?”
The celebrant says “Anywhere other than here. This is a solemn assembly, not a photography session. Please move or I will stop. I will stop this ceremony if you do not get out of the way. This is not about the photography. This is about God.” (Third mistake, it was not about God. It was about the photo shoot).
The celebrant (priest/minister/wearer of the backwards collar/whatever) looks like the most humorless and smug Ichabod Crane-esque practitioner of the religious arts you could ever hope to meet. He comes off as the jerk. The cameraman wasn’t bothering anyone.
When I watched the clip on YouTube I didn’t even notice the cameraman. (This is all snide sarcasm on my part). Of course one doesn’t notice the cameraman. The cameraman is the dispenser of reality. We live through our lenses now. Experience and truth is dispensed in video form on our thin screen TVs, on our phone on our I-pads. Our brains have relocated to that part of the body formerly reserved for sitting.
The new locus of our brains grows ever wider as life becomes a spectator sport. The fellow mentioned earlier whose eulogy summed up his life in two words, booze and sports did not actually play golf or football or baseball or basketball. By “being into sports” it was meant that he spent most of his free waking hours watching them on television. The life portrayed on television is much more interesting than my humdrum life. If I am lonely I can watch happy people on television enjoying friendships and laughter. There is always a rerun of Seinfeld or Friends or the Big Bang Theory to help me forget that my life is a bit dreary. And there is drama! All around me there is hunger, both spiritual and material. There is suffering and anguish, illness and death in my own neighborhood, but it is not nearly as thrilling as the drama on TV. TV somehow seems more real than the unexceptional suffering of those whom I can actually help. There is nothing I can do about the TV people expect to feel sorry for them, or feel interested in them. Perhaps you remember my telling you that, as CS Lewis says, the devil wants us to feel charitable. God wants us to be charitable. The devil has found quite an ally in the camera. When we turn a sacrament into photo event it becomes less real not more real. It is certainly not wrong to take pictures at a wedding. But to make the pictures the purpose for the wedding is wrong.
I should be more careful about bad mouthing weddings these days. No one is getting married anymore, except of course for homosexuals. We have only a few weddings every year. All the priests I talk to report the same phenomenon. When I was a boy being intimate (a euphemism for the more sensitive reader) outside of marriage was a cause for real shame. Now it’s a cause for housewarming gifts and congratulations. There is the old adage about the foolishness of purchasing a cow, when in fact dairy products have become widely available without any cost or commitment.
I suggest another video. (See, even I can’t get away from it.) It’s called Cohabiters Vows and is easy to find on the web. In it a minister/officiant stands before a couple seated in bed, half covered, she in a ratty robe, and he in an old white t-shirt (no nudity or indecency.) The minister stands alone. There are no witnesses or well wishers. The minister begins by saying, “Blank look into Blank’s eyes and with all the truth you can muster up, repeat after me: I, Blank, take you Blank to be my cohabiter, to have sex with you and hold you responsible for half the bills, to love and to take advantage of you from this day forward or as long as our arrangement works out. I will be more or less faithful to you as long as my needs are met and nothing better comes along. If we should break up, it does not mean that this wasn’t special because I love you almost as much as I love myself. I commit to live with you as long as it works out, so help me...Me. In the name of Sex, Selfishness and Options. Amen.” Then the minister says “Well, Blank and Blank, let me be the first to congratulate you both. You are now officially living together. I sincerely wish you the very best and I hope that this does work out. You may now... well, you know what to do.” And off walks the minister.
Why bother with all the legal encumbrances and expense if not for the photo event that will make all the bride’s friends drool with envy and the grooms friends look forward to a series of drunken parties at which they can exchange all the pledges of “bro-mance” such as the best man’s toast: “I like mean like I really love you man. I really mean it. Like not in a weird way or anything, but really, dude.” (Bro-mance: a new word describing a non “intimate” yet very romantic relationship between two men who never ever consider anything more, well... intimate. This relationship, not expressed intimately is expressed by the two traditional pillars of male friendship: sports and booze.)
There is simply no reason to go to all that rigmarole and not take $5,000 worth of pictures. What’s the point? Mommy and Daddy used to threaten to cut you out of the will. Now they try to be supportive, praying secretly that it breaks up before anyone gets pregnant. Not to worry. No one gets pregnant much anymore either, at least not until they have an established career that will at least pay for the day care. So what’s the point, if not pictures and a party (with more pictures)?
The sacrament is the point, the stability and safety ‘til death do us part covenant relationship that creates the environment in which a man and woman can work out their own salvation and bring children into the world in an environment that is safe and nurturing.
(More to follow)