If We Could Play, Who Is Priest?

My fellow blogger, treasured commenter and correspondent, Louis, submitted a comment in response to my coverage of the launch of the Catholic Church's Carnival Band. I thought I'd kill two birds with one stone by replying to his comment while producing a new blog post.

Louis, Thanks for your comment. I cannot defend many of the pronouncements of the Catholic Church and I am also not a diehard Carnival supporter so this provides me with some welcome detachment in approaching this issue. From your comment I am assuming that you are against this latest move by the Church? Or is it that you are against what you perceive to be the inconsistencies in Archbishop Gilbert's battle against "secularism"?

I use that word secular myself with the realization that it can carry a connotation of something earthbound and therefore not quite as lofty as the "higher" pursuits encouraged by religious institutions. Often, I wonder though if we do this to our own disadvantage in that we maintain this illusion that the church is somehow above it all and that the secular world is something that stands perpetually in need of elevation. This works to the Church's advantage where as we have seen, under this cloak of "superiority" or otherworldliness they often get away with activities for which lesser mortals would be made to walk the plank. I see the Church as being very much a secular organisation, this is why talking about the "secularisation" of the Church or a "post-secular" Church is problematic. Like the rest of the sinners it hopes to "save", while the Church aims for higher, its feet are also planted firmly in the mire.

So although I do understand why some people would find this Roman Catholic Carnival Band idea so objectionable, I cannot agree that the move is any great departure from what I was taught by this Church during my formative years. While I recall their constant admonition to separate myself from the sin of the world, I do not remember one occasion where the Church told me to separate myself from the world. In fact there was this one song with which we often ended services and the following sentiments apply:

"The Mass is ended, all go in peace,
We must diminish and Christ increase.
We take Him with us wherever we go,
That through our actions His light may show.

"We take Him with us wherever we go, that through our actions His light may show." The Catholic Church is telling us now that we can and should take The Christ to the Carnival and to lead the way, it is taking back a space for the faithful in the heart of the festival. It is not saying that since it cannot break Carnival, it will join it, because during my time I had never heard it denouncing the existence of the Carnival but rather the manner in which it was being observed. It is not now intending that its band members should conduct themselves in any fashion that goes against its teachings and what it considers decent behaviour.

There are persons, Roman Catholics included , who have always participated in the Carnival without the "indecency" or over-consumption of alcohol. To allow the "wassy" apples [not making any judgment] to represent the entire festival and to define how every single individual enjoys the Carnival is erroneous. It does not follow logically that the Church and all other participants just by virtue of their also being present, should be tarred with the same brush. Carnival is what you make of it or what you allow it to make of you. Life is what you make it or what you allow it to make of you and the Church is very much immersed in LIFE.

If some people, because of their experiences, feel that release is to be had from jooking frenetically, drinking to excess and letting the Creator's sunshine reach body parts which it previously had not, then as long as they are consenting adults and are not breaking any laws, to do so is THEIR choice and THEIR Carnival. If we are shocked by the fact that they take it to the streets then we have to admit that we are being hypocritical because I can assure you that the bacchanal in this country continues behind closed doors all year through.

What I am interested to see will be how many citizens who because of their age, their religious beliefs [whether Christian or otherwise] their tastes in music and companionship will gravitate towards this oasis that the RC Church will provide. What I am interested in seeing is if the availability of a "friendlier" alternative will temper the unchecked escalation of behaviours which sometimes threaten to spoil the Carnival for some participants. What I am interested in seeing is if there will be people who having never participated in Carnival before will now choose to do so because the Church has provided for them a safe and shallow end in the sometimes overwhelming and dangerous pool that Carnival can be.

But there is a complaint that I would find interesting and which I am not hearing. It should be that coming from the people who had found in the Carnival a sanctuary from the Church and other finger-waggers, a temporary rupture of hegemony, an inviolate bacchanalian arena in which to fling themselves into the salivating jaws of the lions of complete abandonment to pleasure, a place where Three Kings incense should have had no place in the cocktail of earthier scents that perfume our Carnival. These are the people whose views are not being expressed and people like these are the ones who invented carnivals long before they became associated with religions or nations.

Could it be that no complaint will be forthcoming because that same spirit of "anything goes" that went into the genesis of carnival is also a spirit that is non-judgmental and ALL embracing, a "leh we go and let go" that welcomes ALL comers to the dance, the polite chippers as well as the big dollar winers?

If we could play, who is priest?

How Beautiful Are the Feet. Sung by Jeffrey Osborne

Roman Catholic Church, Carnival, Catholic Masquerade, Christianity, Church-sanctioned Carnival band, What Would Jesus Do?, Trinidad and Tobago, Genesis I - Creation
"Patria est communis omnium parens" - Our native land is the common parent of us all. Keep it beautiful, make it even more so.

Blessed is all of creation
Blessed be my beautiful people
Blessed be the day of our awakening
Blessed is my country
Blessed are her patient hills.

Mweh ka allay!


louis said...

I appreciate your taking your time and putting so much intellectual energy into responding to my comment, Guanaguanare.

My comment was indeed directed more at what I see as a rather curious position of the Archbishop towards secularism. As you correctly point out the church itself is a secular organization, yet the Archbishop seems to admonish his flock to reject the "secular world" and sees no role for "secular" input into the conduct of any aspect of life. That of course is not only impossible but dangerous in that for many that could be interpreted as relieving them of any personal responsibility for their lives.They abdicate their reason and their decisions to the Church's pronouncements. Of course that's not what the Church intends or explicitly promotes but that is what happens, especially among the less well educated, the submissive. The Archbishop must surely be aware of that.

I agree entirely with what you say about Carnival, even your provocative point at the end. In fact I had mentally conceived a letter examining the phenomenon of carnival in terms of things that are Caesar's and things that are God's, coming to the conclusion that since carnival seems clearly to belong to Caesar, he, not the Church, has jurisdiction over it:)

Guanaguanare said...

I have to confess that I had not been paying attention to Archbishop Gilbert's thoughts on anything before this so you'd have a much better sense of whether or not there are incongruities. As I said, I never saw it as any departure and I believe that it is actually Church policy all over to world to try to incorporate local culture, as far as it can be accommodated by the Gospel. Seeing our own reflections in the presentation/interpretation of the Good News of The Christ, we are more likely to identify with it and less likely to reject it as an imposition, or a negation of our cultures.

Prior to university I attended only Roman Catholic schools so I can testify that they never backed away from our culture. We had calypso and parang competitions, we sang folk songs in the choir, we were taught bhajans at Divali which I can sing to this day. There was a pan player among the instrumentalists in the church choir and at the Primary School the children celebrated Carnival on the school grounds.

I am interested in your last point about God and Caesar and the Carnival. I have a feeling that carnival [the bacchanalian variety] longs to be an escape from both, unless of course Dionysus is the God or any other deity with Dionysian proclivities.

But Carnival manifests itself in different ways and covers a wide spectrum from donkey rides and cotton candy, to the pulsating leggo beast junction which it has come to represent for many in Trinidad and Tobago.

Thanks so much for the discussion, Louis! Please continue if you think of anything else.