Aliens in This World

An ordinary Catholic and a science fiction and fantasy fan.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Festival Time!

Yesterday after Mass we went downtown to the St. Ignatius Lebanese festival. St. Ignatius of Antioch is a Maronite parish here in town. This is their first year holding the festival at Riverscape on the shore of the Great Miami, mostly because their church grounds are tiny and hard to get to and the Polish Country Club could no longer hold them as an auxiliary site.

Even so, it was pretty crowded. Apparently the rest of Dayton agrees that Lebanese food is one of the good things of life, because they ran out of the dinners before we even got there! We stood in line for half an hour or more to get food. But it was worth the wait. Also, this year there was entertainment we could watch while we waited; a live singer with a synth sang Lebanese songs while anyone who wanted to could get up on the stage and dance. The children of the parish were having a great time. Many of them were wearing little dancing outfits or had spangled cloths tied over their shorts. Someone handed out big shawl-sized scarves, and the kids started dancing with them, too. In among the chaos, teenaged and adult dancers showed how it was done -- but without either denigrating the kids or using them for cuteness value. Everyone on the stage who was dancing had a legitimate place in their art.

After we got our food, the musician got a break and there was an organized dance presentation. Eight or so teenaged/college age girls and an older woman who looked like their teacher did some very elaborate numbers, which seemed to combine elements of different dances. They did one while carrying canes, which was a weird but fun blend of Lebanese dancing with Fred Astaire, and then segued into linking three cane heads and going in circles or two and making a sort of "cane arch"! Probably the most impressive dance was one which the older lady did on top of some glasses with a veil over her head. (I got the feeling it was some kind of bridal dance, but don't quote me.) Anyway, it was all very nicely done. Meanwhile, the kids down in the audience area danced along almost continuously, delighting my mom. I have to admit cracking up when one kindergartener executed a really nice backbend while doing lots of shoulder action. I have to admit to some jealousy, as I've never been able to do backbends. (That was my bane in gymnastics class when I was seven.)

Now, maybe I'm pessimistic, but I bet somebody out there is thinking, "Belly dancing has no place at a parish festival!" or "How dare they let children dance like that!" The thing I want to say here is that Middle Eastern dancing is not necessarily comprised of sexy dancing. Women (and men) and little toddler kids can shake and shimmy and have fun with the strength and flexibility of their bodies, without trying to sell themselves. In this case, the intent was simply to dance and have fun, and so the dancing was perfectly modest. (We weren't talking women in tight clingy costumes, either.) It's actually quite a flaw in our culture that women should never be allowed to shake their hips without it being an open invitation. (If you want to know why American women have problems with fat on their butts and thighs...there you go.)

Furthermore, I have to say that the few times I've gotten to see male Middle Eastern dancing, it's been similarly modest. (Although the guys definitely play to the women in the audience....) I'd like to see more of it, frankly. Like Russian and Greek male dancing, it requires strength, agility, and flexibility.

All in all, being able to dance is definitely a good reason to be Catholic. Too bad most Catholics don't do more with their freedom. (Me included.) I love to dance, but there's not really any way to go dancing by yourself. You can join a club for contra dancing or whatever, but then you're asking for a big investment in time and money and learning. I do miss the SCA, in which dancing a bransle or two was just part of normal socializing and didn't require a date.

Oh, and today we went to the new festival at Temple Beth Or. (This is the same congregation that my dad's Methodist church studied the Book of Ruth with. Nice folks.) There was a lot of good Jewish food, but I really didn't eat as much as I would have wanted. (Given all that I'd eaten on Saturday, I didn't have a lot of cash on me....) My mom was of course enthusiastic about everything, and my dad liked what he got, too. We are ecumenical on food.

Adventures in Cantoring

Oh, and I cantored yesterday again. We had the new priest, who is very nice. He had us all introduce ourselves to him again. Also, this time he asked everybody in the sacristy to pray with him before Mass. It was a good prayer. Mass went very well, even though it included that tricky reading from Ephesians about "wives, submit to your husbands" or whatever. I do think the second reader, being a guy, should probably have read the reading with a bit less booming. It's not really a "lay down the law" sort of reading, when you look at the analogies Paul's giving.

I thought it was most interesting in the context of the other two readings, which hadn't really occurred to me before. "As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord"..."God forbid we should leave the Lord and serve strange gods." And then, we move over to Ephesians, which is all about the relationship between Christ and His Church being the relationship we should have for each other. "The mystery is a profound one...." Then we get to the famous Gospel bit (coming right after last week's reading) where Jesus' disciples decide that this whole bit about eating and drinking their teacher was just too weird for them, but Peter and his crowd stick around because "You have the words of eternal life."

Father went really heavy on the hard saying bit and finished out the series of homilies on the Eucharist that our parish priests have been doing over the last few Gospel readings. But he also mentioned the Ephesian thing, and that the real point is the bit where we're all supposed to submit to one another. He made a nice point, which is that the only way out of the power struggle between the sexes is to love and serve each other.

Cantoring went fine. I had problems with the psalm again, though. Apparently, the practice in most of the parishes I've been in is to sing all the verses to one set of music, ignoring any other happy little melodies that the composer has given us per verse. Alas, we have the choral edition at my current parish, so I'm stuck learning new and complicated verses fifteen minutes before Mass. Ah, well. In the words of my new role model in the faith, Sharona Fleming of Monk, "Suck it up." (Okay, so "offer it up" sounds nicer....)

I did think of my compadres in the blogosphere, though, as they would have gone nutso. We have two part-time pianists for Masses as well as the normal music directors, and said music directors are down to one Mass per weekend now. Given this load, the ladies are also given a free hand to play what they like. What the pianist at my Mass liked was to change half the selections to something she could more easily play in her sleep. So it was back to the church of my childhood for me -- seventies/eighties church music! Bwahahaha! "Make Me a Channel of Your Peace", "Sing to the Mountains", and "Morning Has Broken"! Alas, she did not do her own nifty accompaniment to "We Come to Your Feast", which makes one of my least favorite Communion songs of all time a little less leaden.

My basic thoughts were that the golden oldies really weren't that bad. If you had to sing music off just printed lyrics, the music had to be fairly memorable. No, it wasn't until the late eighties when the really bad stuff hit. I was sorry not to sing "All People That on Earth Do Dwell", but I like "Morning Is Broken", too. (Though "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" is way better than both of them, and I don't know what the heck Mr. Weigel's problem is with Henry Van Dyke, one of our great American writers. Even gutted by the politically correct, that "chanting bird and flowing fountain" still roll trippingly off the tongue.)

But despite all the bad hymns we get subjected to, it's important not to let yourself get distracted by them. Given all the bad things that can happen in this world, Michael Joncas making me sing "the fabric of our lives" with a straight face is not exactly making me suffer for the Faith. If it's a good song, I'm happy. If it's not, I just don't think about it. People have to let these things go (when they don't have a chance to do something about them, anyway), or they're going to make themselves spiritually sick. As Sharona would say, "S.I.U. Do you know what S.I.U. means?"


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