The Pope and the Pinch
I'll never forget the day I saw the Pope sitting on the toilet.
He was in full papal regalia, having a wonderful time throwing rolls of toilet paper to the crowd as he went by. Then, somebody made the mistake of pinching Red Death, no doubt emboldened by the distraction.
To be fair, Red Death remains very pinchable to this day, and a real redhead must have been irresitible among all the black-haired Sicilian girls, not that they lacked a certain monochromatic leggy charm. Things like a fake pope-on-a-float and getting pinched are just part of quaint Sicilian culture, just as having your arm broken in thee places is part of American culture.
That is what makes cultural exchange so rewarding.
That does not mean Sicily is not a religious place. Every week or two there would a religious procession through our little town on the knees of Mt. Etna, accompanied by the tiny uniformed municipal band from The Godfather. On those nights, there would be fireworks, which the family would watch from the back balcony (the one that overlooked the enclosed area inhabited by cats; not the one over the street where we would buy fresh mozzarella wrapped in green leaves by means of a bucket on a rope).
Among all the differences between Sicily (where we lived) and Bahrain (which I visited a couple of times, courtesy of the U.S. government) the one I remember most was that Sicily had church bells and Manama had muezzins.
Funny the things you remember. The proliferation of posters was another culture shock. No flat vertical surface in our Sicilian town was not layered with posters. Besides the pornographic movie posters our children passed on the way to the asilo, there were the ubiquitous black-lettered death announcements and sometimes political posters.
One had a cute, well-scrubbed girl in jeans. Another a smiling sun. There were Communist-red and Green-green posters. (Maybe the Greens had the smiling sun, now that I think of it, but there were probably the Greens and the Real Greens--50 shades of Green: that's Italy.)
There were way too many political parties by American standards. But since their government was proportional, everybody both got their say and didn't expect much. Not a bad system. Is your thing hunting and fishing? You got yourself a party. Neo-fascist? Make the trains run on time! (Bear in mind, this was in the early 90s, about the time the system was being overhauled.) There was even a famous porn starlet elected to the Italian parliament.
I'm not going to pretend to be an expert on Sicilian politics. However, the same people who can make fun of the pope one week and march in a solemn religious procession the next probably hold their beliefs in an easy balance. Perhaps it comes from having your country conquered by someone new every other decade for centuries. In any case, despite invasions, plagues, the Mafia, earthquakes and eruptions of Mt. Etna, Sicilians enjoy life.
Maybe living where you are so frequently reminded that you don't control much makes you focus on the simple pleasures. Everything shuts down for a nap in the afternoon. Everything closes during August for vacation.
You learn to give, so you can receive. We had a padrone--the mayor, who happened to be our landlord--which means we were golden. We were invited to his campanga and his lido. The Bear always suspected he might be asked to "do a small favor," but that day has not yet come. If the road was blocked by a herd of "geep" (we believed them to be an abominable mix of sheep and goats) a couple of cigarettes would get you on your way.
Every job would be done "domani." At first--don't laugh--we believed them. It wasn't that they were lying. That anxious American need to know a deadline probably just didn't compute. "Tomorrow," just meant, "Not today, not six months from now, what do you want from me? Got any cigarettes?"
American culture is all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it. A soccer game might end an a tie, but not a baseball game. Politically, we have our good candidate and the other guy's evil candidate. It's black and white, and thanks to social media, half the country would kill the other half and consider it a mitzvah. Thank God we're all geographically mixed up now, or every day a thousand Ft. Sumpters would bloom.
Which brings me to the real point.
American Binary Intensity
Americans hold opinions with a binary intensity one does not necessarily find in other places in the world, at least those not controlled by ISIS. It is part of our history. Since it also means no American is capable of being argued out of any opinion, the Bear shall not attempt to do so here. He will leave a testament, however, and continue to explore how the internet is making everyone stupid and wicked.
We see the same thing in the controversy over Pope Francis. Maybe if we could get a kick out of seeing a toilet-seated pope-on-a-float without having a stroke, we might have a different perspective.
This is the horrible, heretical truth the Bear believes.
Hierarchy versus Tradition
The Church is a hierarchy. The Church has changed many practices throughout history. There have been popes who were saintly, wicked, foolish and mediocre. We have even had more than one at a time. (Stop snickering.) Wherever we are today, for better or worse, it did not start with Pope Francis, but long ago.
If I believe that Pope Francis is foolish and wish he would isolate himself in a catacomb far from microphones and cameras, that's one thing. However, the establishment of a permanent internet papal opposition party (and there is zero doubt that is what is happening) is a negation of the concept of hierarchy and saps the foundation of the actual Church to replace it with a museum. That, I won't participate in, if this blog's audience dwindles to three people from its current nine.
There's already an Orthodox Church.
Between the concepts of hierarchy and tradition, many have decided the Church is to be found in the latter. In theory, one should not have to choose, and in practice, I suppose it depends on what one considers essential. Everything on this earth is pinched between a very Sicilian Scylla and Charybdis: the ideal and the real, so Bears are not overly troubled by such things.
This Bear believes the Church is not found apart from the hierarchy and the test of time is not always the acid test of truth--truths of the past sometimes being a little too much acid not to burn people.
The internet makes it so easy now. Americans are practical and see things in black and white. The internet has not opened us to infinite viewpoints, it has only further committed us to which of just two (never more!) sides we have already chosen. That is unfortunate in most things, but a clear and present danger to the Church and souls.