Thursday, March 14, 2013

What a world

Having been brought up in the West, my perspective on efficiency and productivity are forever colored. While the U.S. has its many peculiarities, I'm still struggling with the boundary issues of a culture that is foreign to me. As the church in the western world wants to see great changes in social and doctrinal stances, the challenges for many Catholics in the Middle East are more fundamental.

Education is key for good behavior.

Many parishioners of the English-speaking parish have English as their second or third language. Their first language is often conversational and you don't see many people reading books. You also won't see people reading an English-speaking book because it is difficult for them. English is a language of commerce - a middle of the road language to convey basic thoughts and concepts, not to develop more complex thoughts. This poses a problem for the way they deal with church because many don't want to try to understand what the church is trying to do, they just want to get the minimal basics of what they need to do to be regularized.

With such lack of understanding, the most common way for people to respond is defeatist. Their default response is "you don't like me" if they don't get what they want right away.

For instance,

- a woman approaches me to have a baby baptized on behalf of the mother who is in a different country. The party date is arranged and they come to the church to tell me everything is all set. People from afar are visiting just for the occasion. I'm a strict priest if I say 'no' to them, even if I explain that the mother and father hasn't given consent.

 - All dates are arranged beforehand to make it a fait accompli. If I don't accept their date, their go to another church, most likely evangelical, to get their event done so the party can continue.

- A man comes up to me just as I'm walking down the aisle of the church to begin mass and he asks for absolution because there is no time for confessions. If I give it to him, which I never would, I would never see him again. If I don't give it to him, I am the one responsible for holding him out of communion and how could I dare be so mean to him! The confession is separate from absolution. While I won't do this, that he would ask gives me an indication that other priests may allow it.

- A man calls to talk about having a sacramental wedding ceremony in the church to validate his civil marriage. He is not confirmed, but his wife's family wants a sacramental marriage. Wonderful. He wonders if he can come into the office today to get his confirmation document so he can get married. He hasn't been confirmed yet, but seeing me is enough for him to be confirmed. A series of catechetical meetings is low priority for his interests.

- A man comes to see me with a hardship story of a mother with a newborn child. This is one of many stories he has brought forward. He just shows up and demands time and insists I believe his story. I have worked so hard to get him connected, but he never does his part of the bargain. He knows I won't give money directly to an individual, but will do it through the cooperation of the local church or government agency, but since I won't accept his hardship story, I am a mean man.

- A guide wants me to buy employ his services. He asks whether he can give me his business card and I say yes. He tells me to take out my phone so he can tell me his number so I can call him in the future to take advantage of his touring services. I reply, "Give me your card," but he insists if I am interested I will take out my phone and enter his information. He won't take my number. To respect him, I am asked to do everything in the transaction; if I don't it is because I don't respect him.

- I'm in the middle of a conversation with someone and a presence appears hovering closely over my shoulders. I am expected to stop in mid-sentence, turn to the person, greet him or her with open arms, and forget about the person to whom I am speaking.

- A woman comes to see me at the office, but I am out at an appointment. I ought to do everything in my power to address he concerns immediately because she went out of her way to see me. I owe it to her. If I ask to schedule a meeting, she replies, "but I already came to the office."

I can go on and on.

- One of our cleaners washes the floors every day, even when no one has been in the building the day before. She opens all the windows and never slides the screens into place. Therefore, house flies come  in and she spends the afternoons swatting at them. Also, the dust comes in, therefore, the next day she must wash the floor because they are dusty.

I can go on and on about boundary violations. I am to accept these violations because the person says, "I'm sorry," but never changes to behavior. If I don't accept, it is because I haven't accepted the culture.

I have found an achilles heal for Jordanian drivers.

This is a different world socially and culturally and it means it brings about a different understanding of the church and what they need from it and get from it. I do wish there was a way to have social etiquette classes, conferences to talk about boundary needs, and ways we can educate people more fundamentally.

With all this going on, I know I need to protect my times of replenishment well - just to get through a very unordinary week.

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