Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Lessons from the Whorehouse to the Church House

I know a sacrilege to put the two "houses" in the same breath.

I've said many times that I'm not very superstitious. A Calvinist at heart, but not a believer in "all things happen for a reason." However, if I were superstitious I would have thought that God was behind this thought. I will not incriminate Him though, as I take the blame for this unholy "marriage."

But it started yesterday when I was on a 4.5 (have to add the .5 to gloat) mile run. I used my cell phone to play my lame music "Play list." When I wear earphones I hear things in music that I don't normally hear. I like to focus on what I'm listening to to distract myself from the pain in my knees and ankles and the heart within me, which is about to burst.

I listened carefully to a few tracts by Leonard Cohen. One of those songs was his Sisters of Mercy. I've listened to that song many times. The first time I was certain he was singing of nuns. Then, last winter when I was out in the cold rain building my wife's greenhouse, I listened with earphones. Then it became clear he was talking of prostitutes. If I can figure out how to do it, I will post a link below to the performance of the song and one to the lyrics.

As I listened yesterday, I appreciated his playful use of words (he is a poet in his night job) to created an intended ambiguity.

So, I spent the rest of my run meditating on this odd topic, how are nuns like or dislike prostitutes (I mean this respectfully). They each are "angels of mercy" in their own right.

Later in the evening I was still thinking about this juxtaposition of the celestial and the fleshy, or the saintly and the sinful. I looked up the lyrics and watch another performance of Leonard of the same song.

This is where things become a little more strange. I got up early this morning and started my commute, first to our island's fishing village to where I was to have coffee. During the commute I had my radio tuned to NPR. I catch the very end of a story about a farm (Magdalene/Thistle Farm) to help whores get a new life. See the story here. It of course reviewed the horrors of prostitution from which they indeed needed to be saved. It goes without saying that these women are exploited to the full degree, abused and often killed or left for dead. So, I want to make it clear here that there is no "good side" of prostitution, while there are plenty of "good things" about a prostitute, just like everyone has value and brings God's gifts to the table.

The third thing was the book I'm reading. As I continue (once again, now that I have time) to work my way through the top 100 English novels. Right now it is Steinbeck's East of Eden.

I had no clue to the narrative's direction with my last reading, which I like about Steinbeck. So, I was blown away when I got to the coffee shop and picked up where I had left off reading yesterday. In this section (beginning of chapter 19) he makes a very deliberate discussion of prostitution and how it is similar to churches. You have to listen before you make judgement of what I'm trying to say. I'm not implying (nor did he) some type of discrediting of the church, calling Christians whores. My eventual point is how similar their role is within society and what the Church can learn from the prostitute.

So here I will quote what I read from Steinbeck this morning and then pick up on my thoughts in the next post:

Setting: Salinas Valley, California cir 1915.

A new country seems to follow a pattern. First come the openers, strong and brave and rather childlike. They can take care of themselves in a wilderness, but they are naive and helpless against men, and perhaps that is whey they went out in the first place . . .

The church and the whorehouse arrived in the Far West simultaneously. And each would have been horrified to think it was a different facet of the same thing. But surely they were both intended to accomplish the same thing; the singing, the devotion, the poetry of the churches took a moan out of his bleakness for a time, and so did the brothels . . . (several paragraphs here worth reading but too long to quote) . . . While the churches, bringing the sweet smell of piety for he soul, came in prancing and farting like brewery horses in bock-beer time, the sister evangelism, with release and joy for the body, crept in silently and grayly, with its head bowed an its face covered.
So, I will try to make it more clear tomorrow the point I'm trying to make. But please don't misread this as me justifying prostitution or trying to speak evil of the Church. There is a more healthy point to be made.


Jaimie said...

I heard that NPR broadcast too. Really touching how the Episcopalian minister is helping them.

jmj said...

I missed most of it. Heard a bit more today on Talk of the Nation. I don't know who the woman is who started it, but she sounds incredible. She said today they have a waiting list of 100.