Monday, April 18, 2011

Attack of the five-foot-five heathen woman

Dear Readers,

This post is in essence a prequel to the last one, and helps explain what set me off on that particular rant. Recently, my mother-in-law ambushed my husband over a plate of pasta and told him how she was so very disappointed and sad that our children were not attending Catechism, and that--by obvious extension--were not going to become good Roman Catholics and would probably wind up flame-licked in Hell (a place apparently brimming over with liberal-minded American wives). Well, as you know by now, my dear discerning Readers, nothing gives my hackles rise so much as a meddlesome old lady.

This latest family drama was set off by--get this--my knick-knacks...and is otherwise known as the Great Tchotchke Rebellion of 2011.

Of course, I know the Family has always looked at me askance because 1) I'm foreign and 2) I was raised (in decidedly lukewarm fashion) Armenian Orthodox--and fed hefty doses of mom's Presbyterianism to boot. Once, my father-in-law actually asked me if Armenians believe in Christ. I said, "No, we worship a swarthy, hairy-backed guy named Garabed, former rug-dealer and the God of Stuffed Grapeleaves." My ever-resilient husband has always been regarded as a black sheep because he habitually questioned the status quo: he visited the Hare Krishnas at Villa Vrindavan and read up on Scientology as a teenager, while his mother wailed and rent her garments. (The fact that he also insisted on doing his own laundry was, to her, further proof that he had come under the influence of Satan). So, on this particular day, she also expressed concern over the "heathen images" and "oriental gods" I have around my house (i.e. my serene Buddhas and lovely, carved teak Ganesh, etc.) and that we have no inanimate Jesuses or Marys to bring the Lord's Light into our home. Naturally, if I were to point out to her that, compared to ancient faiths such as Buddhism or Hinduism, Christianity is a mere upstart religon with a renegade recruiter as its point man, she would choke in righteous horror. Her repeated attempts to counteract my iniquitous knick-knacks and insinuate the One True Faith into our home by gifting us things like a watermelon-sized Holy Family musical snow globe have met with failure. Every year at Eastertime she tries to bring a priest into our house to bless it (or perhaps exorcise it)--doubtless believing that if he flings enough holy water on us we'll repent our heathen ways and return to the tractable fold.

But her cardinal beef with us is that we are breaking with tradition. She implored my husband that they are of good, old, upright and long-standing Catholic c├ęppo [stock] and we, in following our own mutinous minds, are an unsightly blemish on the Family's clear complexion.


"Bennett looked at him [a Buddhist lama] with the triple-ringed uninterest of the creed that lumps nine-tenths of the world under the title of 'heathen.'"

Shortly after this latest example of my mother-in-laws' mosquito-like intrusiveness, I happened upon the above sentence in Kipling's Kim. Why is it that so many pious jackasses, in the name of religion, are willing--indeed happy--to succumb to the evils of ignorance and bigotry? As many of you know, my in-laws are slavishly Catholic--if the Pope told them to smear themselves with goat droppings and light their hair on fire, they'd do it. To them--and many like them, Catholic and otherwise--their faith is an exclusive club to which only an enlightened few are admitted, leaving the rest of us primordial slugs roiling in an ooze of sin and godlessness. The audacity of the institutions of men in asserting their proprietorship over God continues to astonish me.

A piece of the devil's own bric-a-brac

To tell the truth, I've never been much interested in a God that doesn't allow questioning, doubting, exploring, and seeing the good in all faiths. I am of the firm conviction that firm convictions based on untested experience and unentrained thought--a path never struck with tentative footsteps--are but pontifical pinpoints somewhere on the continuum of fanaticism. And, I must say, I'm not much interested in placating a mother-in-law (or anybody else) who thinks I'm only as good as my creed.

I've always admired people of quiet conviction, whatever their individual faith--those undetected souls among us who strive simply and compassionately to be an example merely by the life they lead, as individual drops of water lie peacefully within a vast pond, feeling no compulsion to evangelize the other drops of water. If only my mother-in-law--that nosy, thick-stockinged, champion of Christ--had a martyrs' mettle to speak her mind to my face, I would ask her, in all earnestness: "I may be an American Armenian Orthodox Protestant semi-Buddhist truth-seeking feminist heathen decorator--but if you prick me, do I not bleed?"

Alas, I have a hunch that any such appeal to reason and intelligence would fall on deaf--and unwaveringly parochial--ears.

Yours, quietly,


Monday, April 04, 2011

Pious envy

Dear Readers,

My mother-in-law wishes hers was bigger. Her piousness, that is. She does all sorts of things to cultivate it, to make it grow, to nurture it into a veritable Godzilla of godliness.

She goes to Mass every single day. She eats communion wafers like they're Wheat Thins. She has so much tacky, light-up religious paraphernalia that her house looks like a Bible Belt Las Vegas. And without a doubt the most privileged object of her frenzied devotion is the Holy Virgin Mary--the Lady Gaga of her sanctimonious little world.

Motivational poster, MIL-style

And as is fitting with any obsession, Mary is everywhere around here: her chipped, plastic, made-in-the-People's-Republic-of-China form encircled with grimy seashells and enshrined among the geraniums; her flourescent visage flickering spasmodically in a faded sconce above the wool-shrouded marital bed; countless tarnished medals and frayed santini with her beatific likeness scattered around like confetti after Mardi Gras--I could go on. And on.

For my mother-in-law, the notion that any woman could conceive children without having to have sex is like saying that you can have your cake and eat it too. (Or that you can win the lottery without ever buying a ticket, or that you can actually lose weight by scarfing fried calamari and pistachio-studded cannoli). It's such stuff as dreams are made on, and all the powers of her puny imagination fix on the notion of immaculate conception as a kind of wishful-thinking holy grail. She heartily envies Mary her immaculate status; she would give anything to have remained a virgin herself. (Of course, she's happy to have given birth to four children--in less than four years--thereby increasing exponentially her opportunities for self-sacrifice and matriarchal flagellation). I know this because, in her rare vulnerable moments--when a few stiff swigs of orzo bimbo loosens her tongue and lulls her into a confessional mood--she has told me how distasteful the whole rapporto sessuale is to her, etc. etc. (Too much information, and pass the gin, thank you very much!!!) Particularly--I would imagine--with a boneheaded brute such as my father-in-law playing the bumpkinish, carnal yang to her snake-blooded, ethereal yin.

It is the way of fanatics such as my mother-in-law--a woman as cold and unyielding as a pickled herring--to regard being an unsullied virgin mamma (however ludicrous and improbable) as the glittering apex of human evolution, a kind of vestal Elton-Johnhood of mega-galactic proportions, and the holiest of holies, indeed. And of course, equally important for this thick-stockinged, sensible-shoe-wearing, deflowered flower and sacramental junkie, every day is a blessed opportunity to be present at a kind of mind-blowing metaphysical Marypalooza--and to rock out in full unfettered fever as her absolute number one fan.

Lady Gaga wishes she had that kind of star power.

Yours--immaculately and otherwise,