A big far whoa funanza (with a dash of heresy)

GForce has coined many phrases that PW and I use all the time.  Once when GForce was three, I was holding her upside down by her legs, swinging her back and forth and then flinging her onto my bed.  Each time she landed, she’d yell, “WHOA!!!”  One of the times I tossed her, she went higher than all the other times and when she stood up on the bed to jump into my arms so that we could do it all over again, she said, “Mom, THAT was a big FAR whoa!”

Another time, when GForce came home from spending the day at a friend’s house, I asked her how her day had been, and she gushed, “It was awesome. It was a complete FUNANZA!”

So when I say that Sunday was a big far whoa funanza, you’ll know that it was such a great day that normal phraseology wouldn’t do it justice.

Some of the seeds of Sunday’s big far whoa funanza were planted several months ago. PW returned home from one of her countless meetings and told me that the group that was planning the summer church events that we call “Chapel Camp” had decided not to have a talent show this year. I respectfully, and indignantly, disagreed. PW has a rule that anyone who wants to organize something at church has to find someone else to work with, and no one on the committee was willing to work on pulling together the talent show. I was sure I could find someone who’d be willing to work on it with me, so I said, “We ARE having a talent show.”

Once we got it on the calendar, my co-conspirator E and I set about asking people if they’d perform. A core group of people who performed last year were happy to sign on again:  the juggling drag queen, the platinum-blonde-wig-aided country and western singer, the piano soloist, several singers, and a poetry reader/storyteller (yours truly.) We also scored several new acts this year: a duet of accordion and whistling, a guy who sang — by himself — a Zen Gospel quartet, and a math happening. Yes, we did Math at our talent show. That’s how fearless we are!

The results of BYOJS!

A couple of weeks ago at the church picnic, several of us were wondering out loud what talents we would offer. One thing led to another and the next thing I knew, we had turned the event into a Bring Your Own Jell-O Salad event as well, heretofore known as BYOJS.

Fast forward to this past week, when some of us Emmanuelites were volunteering to cook and serve lunch for a day camp at an Episcopal church in Dorchester. On Thursday, some of us were standing in the church’s kitchen taking a breather before the onslaught of 75 hungry children and staff, and someone brought up how excited she was about the talent show and BYOJS.  Y, a volunteer who grew up in the tropics asked innocently enough, “What is a Jell-O Salad?”  It was like taking the lid off while the popcorn’s still cooking:  everyone started excitedly shouting out a sampling of the bizarre ingredients that people put in Jell-O. Initially, Y looked disgusted, but as the list of Jell-O additives got weirder, a look of relief passed over her face and she said, “Ohhhh.  So you don’t actually EAT it!”  A chorus of responders replied, “Yes, you DO!”

The Gay Jell-O!

Through the wonders of Facebook, this past Thursday I received a link (thanks Lass!) to a recipe for the 12-layer Jell-O concoction pictured at right, which I dubbed Gay Jell-O, because of its rainbowy-ness and because, well, why not?! It took me three hours to make it, as the recipe said it would, and it was worth every minute. All told, we had six very different Jell-O salads to sustain folks through the nearly 90-minute talent show. Most of the show was gut-bustingly funny, with a few sweet, thoughtful acts thrown in for good measure.  45 people showed up for it, in an un-air-conditioned parish hall on a very hot and humid day, and we had 12 different acts, plus group singalongs at the beginning (for the chorus of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles) and at the end (the entirety of “The Roses of Success” from the musical “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”)

It turned out that PW’s sermon on the Mary & Martha story from the Gospel of Luke was a perfect warm-up act for the talent show. From my seat in the choir stalls, I could see that the congregation (approximately 80-90 people, which is a lot for a summer service in the hot, stuffy chapel) was really engaged in the sermon, laughing — sometimes guffawing — as PW walked us through the value of coming together in community to engage with scripture in ways that expand our perceptions, and “thicken” our experience of the Divine. So it would have been a great church day even without the BYOJS/Talent Show. As it was, I felt like we had spent most of the morning and early afternoon in some sort of extended belly laugh exercise class, with intermittent breaks of singing and wondering.

The rhythm of the week was, for me, a microcosm of what it means to be part of a church community.  We cooked for and fed the day campers and staff during the week, and then we came together on Sunday to feed and to be fed by singing, eating, wondering, and laughing together. Different people are fed and rejuvenated by different things, so it’s quite likely that other people who came to church on Sunday would have a different list of things that fed and rejuvenated them. It’s also quite likely that at least a few people didn’t feel fed at all on Sunday, given how hard it is to satisfy everyone at the same time, in any community. The list above is an incomplete version of the spiritual nutrients that are vital for my particular (even peculiar) needs.

For me, the whole reason to practice being in community together is so that we can go out and practice being in community with people who have been marginalized in one way or another by our social structures and/or by the world at large. One of my many heresies is that I have never believed that the purpose of being a Christian is to go out and create more Christians. I think the purpose of being a Christian is to go out and feed people who are hungry, to clothe people who are naked, to visit people who are isolated, to shelter people who are vulnerable, to offer some kind of freedom to people who are stuck or imprisoned, to assist people who are sick, and to offer drink to people who are thirsty. Period. If, in the act of doing these things, we inspire others who want to help us do these things — whether they want to call themselves Christians or not — that’s fine by me. I don’t think you have to be a Christian to do any of these things. I just think that if you’re going to bother signing on for the hard work of Christianity, doing the things on that list should be your highest priority, which is part of what makes being a Christian such hard work. [Note: people who use their Christianity to condemn and bully people who don’t adhere to their particular belief systems ALSO make being a Christian hard work for me, but that’s a post for another day.] In short, Christianity for me is first and foremost about beloving, not believing, and beloving is MUCH more challenging than believing.

The 11th century Spanish Rabbi Bahya ben Joseph ibn Paquda wrote: “Days are scrolls: write on them only what you want remembered.” What I want remembered about this past Sunday is what a feast Emmanuel Church made of laughing, of singing, of wondering, of re-considering assumptions many of us have made about familiar stories, and of taking the opportunity to look at ancient texts from different angles, through different lenses. And did I mention the laughing and laughing and laughing and singing and laughing? Oh, and also the feast of Jell-O.

I couldn’t choose one song over another, so we’ll go out with two beauties. The first is a song that one of our Jell-O salad chefs sang at the talent show. C (and N, who accompanied), you girls really nailed it!

And then there’s this classic, which we all sang together to close the talent show, again with N’s perfect accompaniment. Warning: this song is a perfect example of what’s called an ear worm or a tune wedgie. So have another song at the ready so this one doesn’t get stuck in your head for days on end.

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9 responses to “A big far whoa funanza (with a dash of heresy)

  1. Your church is way better than any church I have ever attended.

  2. Heather Kohout

    Hey!!! Where’s the dang heresy in this? I expect more from you, young lady… and someone will HAVE to create an icon for Our Lady of Jell-O Creations to bless next year’s talent show, don’t you think? Keep beloving! I sure belove you right back!

  3. Love the Jell-o Fest, especially the Rainbow Jell-o! Also, love your explanation of what it means to be a Christian. Love the word
    “beloving,” and plan to start using “that was a big far WHOA”
    on a daily basis.

    Can’t wait for your book . . . (you know me–I won’t shut up about it until I’m at one of your readings!)

  4. “In short, Christianity for me is first and foremost about beloving, not believing, and loving is MUCH more challenging than believing.” Yes, and YES!

    Also, my eldest charge once coined the word “humontic” to describe something that was both huge and gigantic. We use it liberally to this day.

    Also, I think the horror one often finds in a jello salad transcends language and cultural barriers – one need only to cast his/her eyes upon said salad to know that there is something very wrong on the dessert table.

    And I feel compelled to tell you that I eat Jello every day – nothing as exciting as the molds – just the pedestrian, store-brand cups but…yum! Jello!

  5. The “dash of heresy” holds the most appeal for me! But the rest of your post, taken together, provides an almost perfect balance of joyful service and celebration; so, who’s got time for nit-picking beliefs? LIfe’s too short…

  6. barbara howard

    Every day I talk to my roses. I tell them how beautiful they are, what a privilege to have them, I tell them they make me laugh and sometimes I’m so happy with their beauty that they make me weep with delight. I cherish their resilience, their determination, their complete and total beauty. They respond by blooming. Joy you are a KNOCKOUT (rose).

  7. This is such a wonderful post. I am so happy to have a new word which describes my view of religion/philosophy and what life is all about. BELOVING!! I’ll remember it.

  8. Cathy McHenry Bien

    Friend from long ago…
    (much better salutation than “old friend”),

    So happy to happen upon your blog. I knew you were a great writer 30+ years ago! I appreciate your thoughts on what Christianity really is about. Reminds me of John Wesley’s rules for living (paraphrased in a little book by Rueben Job)
    1. Do no harm
    2. Do good always
    3. Stay in love with God

  9. Pingback: Update from Heretic School | The Crooked Line

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