Wednesday, May 19, 2004

There is just no escaping the culture wars, not even if you go back to live in the year 1628 like those hardy folk on the PBS series "Colonial House." The premise is that a colony will be established on 1000 acres where the participating colonists will live under 17th century laws using 17th century tools, methods, clothes, etc.

Last night, one couple (self-admitted atheists) decided that they would no longer attend the Sabbath. They took their near-teenage son skinny dipping with them instead (showing quite a bit more than I wanted to see, truth be told). The governor cracked down and made them wear a scarlet letter and he staked the wife (tied her feet to a stake) in the yard and made her sit there for a few hours. This didn't work. More couples decided the punishment was worth the crime, they wanted the Sabbath time for their own personal time, too. Soon, so many people were being punished the colony couldn't get their work done. The governor backed down and no longer enforced the Sabbath laws.

Immediately upon seeing this, a woman went to the governor and said she would no longer be covering her hair with a hat or a bonnet. She said she would bear the punishment (another scarlet letter) until he rescinded that law as well. Also, so many of the people were swearing (also against the law) that the scarlet letters they were all wearing became meaningless, many people had two or three scarlet letters pinned to their clothes and nobody seemed to notice or care. The governor found out that he really had no power over these people. They had signed on to the show saying they would submit to the governor's laws, but if they didn't, and if they had no shame... so what.

Soon a man decided to drop his work and go for a walkabout. He ended up off the 1000 acres having a beer in a nearby town. What could the governor do? Then a man, apparently so internally restricted and tethered to unhappiness by the fact that the other colonists didn't know he was gay, decided to announce that fact in church on Sunday. 1628: punishable by death. 2004: applause.

Many areas of the show are interesting and touching, you get a feel for the loneliness and distance and yearning our first settlers endured as well as the back-breaking work that went into staying alive. The early colonists lived on the edge, and no, of course I don't want to go back to staking people into the yard, making women where corsets, making it the law to go to church on Sunday or killing homosexuals. That's not at all what this is about. It's just, well maybe I'm starting to feel a little of that loneliness, distance and yearning myself. Christian periodicals are full of arguments about the liturgy, what to teach in the schools, how these Bishops aren't standing up, how these are standing up for the wrong things, how here we should kneel and here we shouldn't... it all ends in just wanting a little quiet and time alone with your thoughts.

I'm not one who hasn't read the Bible, so I know this type of strife has been with the Church its entire life, from day 1... from before day 1. Maybe one of the best purposes of prayer time is that a bubble grows around you, a cone of silence, where you are no longer part of it all.

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