Friends: Please pardon my absence last week. It embarrasses me to admit to you the circumstances that kept me from my flock. I was stranded in Manila, where I was the victim of a hideous misunderstanding with the local constabulary.
Indeed, last Sunday when I should have been in my pulpit, I was in a different kind of pit altogether. And instead of celibately mastering my weekly message for my loyal members, I was in a cell, weakly massaging -- well, you can imagine how lonely it was!
The story starts in the confessional of the Manila Cathedral, a magnificent building with pineapple finials. In my defense, I have to say that when I found myself in the confessional of the Manila Cathedral, it was simply to do what every man of the cloth uses confessionals for, which is catch up on sleep. This is a fact unknown to most laymen, that much of the reason we clergymen travel in our uniforms, as it were, is that if we look something close to the part of a preacher, we can always slip into one of these “Comfort Inns of the Soul” and spend the night. Every city has a set of confessionals, and although they are cramped, you can’t argue with the low rates.
I was startled to wake up to a shuffling in the neighboring stall, connected through a thin mesh screen. A young man was asking me if I had any sins that I wanted to confess.
Well, the voice sounded familiar to me! It sounded very much to me like an old friend of mine from Idaho, and so I asked if it was he. Unfortunately, in Tagalog slang, I was later informed, my old friend’s name sounds like an invitation to engage in a practice that the Lord shuns so much that he does not even bother to prohibit it in the Bible.
I got no response, so I tried to peer through the grate and see if it really was my friend. Having gotten a mote of dust in my eye, it perhaps did look like I was winking.
When I said that I would like to meet the clergyman behind the Cathedral, I meant that in the sense of wishing to bask in the company of one whose hard work resulted in the construction of the cathedral. Like one would look at Mount Rushmore and say: “I would really like to meet the man behind this Monument!” I did not mean it literally, as if Phillip Vandamm really lived on the other side of Mount Rushmore and I wished to meet him!
Furthermore, I thought that Jaime Cardinal Sin was still the Archbishop of Manila, not realizing he died in 2003. So my reference to Sin actually had an upper case “S,” and the police were entirely wrong about what I meant when I expressed my desire to get to know said Cardinal.
Of course, in these fallen times is quite common to misunderstand things. Which just shows why my innocent explanations were not believed.
Today’s reading comes from Filipina pop star Yasmien Kurdi’s “Love Is All I Need,” which is a song I had not heard before Rodel, my cellmate and a convicted pimp, sang it at least four times each and every hour.
Take me to a place I’ve never been.
Sail me a ship I haven’t seen.
Here, I asked Rodel what “a ship I haven’t seen” meant. I assumed it was perhaps a type of ice-breaking ship full of jaunty but firm Russian sailors – the kind that would rarely come to a warm-weather port like Manila. Rodel replied that such a ship represented the opening up of a level of experience that surpasses the ordinary one based on the language of sensation. It is the promise of gnosis, of wisdom through direct communion with the transcendent. Ha! (I didn’t bother telling him that surely a tower crane would have been a more suitable metaphor than a ship if that was truly her intention!)
On the rainbow like a hill in the sky
Love is all I need I don't know why.
Here, too, Rodel completely misinterpreted the lyrics. Reasoning that love may refer both to eros and agape, Rodel argued that the singer expressed a longing for deeper meaning in both senses of the word. Ha! I reminded him that in these troubled times, songs that are not explicitly “Christian” are most assuredly about nothing more than fornication.
These differences illustrate that one’s person’s innocent remark may be another person’s salacious innuendo or prurient slander, and I am afraid that I am the one who suffered for the Manila Police Department’s failure to appreciate that fact.
Happily, the week passed without incident, except of course for the one in the Laundry (my lawyer advised me not to mention further details for legal reasons).
Of course, I did lose the trail of the Beast in a crowded cabana in Phuket. But I am grateful for your support, and am enormously happy to be home with you once more!
Labels: Sunday Sermon