Saturday, January 15, 2011
WHEN THE WINE TURNS TO WATER CAN WE USE THE CHURCH TOILET?
For my Balokole clan mates there is one proposed miracle of Jesus that causes us to read our bibles with a paper shredder and black marker. We have a moment in which we consider labeling this Jesus’ story “classified,” and simply black it off the book. For the Ollie North’s in our pastoral community this one proposed miracle seems best approached with a quick rip of the pages and shred of the paper. In this absurd proposed miracle Jesus’ family and followers are invited to an underfunded and inadequately planned wedding. Jesus’ mom feels the social pressure of the extended family. In typical mom fashion she asks her son to help. Though she had met an angel and experienced a miraculous birth Jesus had yet to reach his potential. His response of “Woman, what have I to do with thee?” may be a moment of a boy realizing his call to become a man of purpose. Then he turns water to wine (John 2:1-11).
My Balokole clan mates have traditions of rules and rituals of religion. We have our own specialized language of Kilokole that only we can properly speak. Our grandfather’s profound experiences left us with empty rules devoid of meaning. One of these Kilokole rules prohibits the consumption of alcohol. In the midst of our greetings of “Imana ishimwe” we find one proposed Jesus’ story that will not fit with our rules. Maybe even Jesus is not a Kilokole speaker? After all he does not follow our Kilokole traditions. Why did he change water to wine? Was he one of these boys who trouble our peaceful Kigali with the noises of late loud parties?
Our Kilokole traditions meet another absurd moment in the weekly rhythms of Kigali. When the wine changes to water, can we use the church toilet?
Our Balokole churches are in some of Kigali’s most prestigious neighborhoods. Our halls are only used for church functions a few hours per week. Thus many of us Balokole open our halls for Kigali’s rhythm of weekend introductions, weddings, and receptions. Our Balokole clan mates know better than to ask to bring alcohol into our holy sanctuaries in the land of Bulokole. However, the foreign non-Kilokole speakers have the audacity to ask. We write our policies and present the documents. “No. You cannot bring alcohol into Bulokole. Kilokole tradition prohibits it.”
The foreign non-Kilokole speakers are quite clever. Just across from Bulokole is a no man’s land where law and order is a bit more flexible. The foreigners pitch their tents in the no man’s land and plan their alcohol inclusive parties. Then the awkward moment begins. For all our Kilokole rhetoric about the purity of our heritage we are an inter-mingled people. Our Balokole sons and daughters have married foreigners. The foreigners are many times influential and our liberal Balokole cousins dare to call them friends. Thus the foreigners invite us to their alcohol inclusive parties and the social obligations of our free market economy obligate us to venture into this foreign land and culture.
The wine and beer freely flows in the foreigner’s tents. The foreigners are gracious to our Kilokole traditions and offer us sodas and water. With each speech and toast beverages are consumed. Then biology catches up to our awkward traditions. The visitor from Kenya whispers, “Iko wapi cho?” The foreigner with whom we share citizenship whispers, “Wese iri hehe?” Finally, a Muzungu has the audacity to shout, “Where is the toilet?” Even the deaf understand the message. Eyes shift. Bodies wiggle. Legs cross tightly. Kitoleti is a reflection of our biological function. No matter what mother tongue we speak we instinctively know when it is time to find a cho. Kitoleti is heard, seen, and spoken by all.
The land of foreign tents is immaculately planned and groomed. Yet it has one large design flaw. The foreign tents have no toilet. Across the way in Bulokole rests the most treasured possession – a toilet with running water and a door to preserve our dignity. Kitoleti proclaims, “When the wine changes to water, can we use the church toilets?”
Among the Balokole lives a wise mzee. He speaks all the dialects, stories, and proverbs of Kilokole. He knows the inconsistencies and even hypocrisies of Kilokole. His conscience has never been at peace in Bulokole. The proposed miracle of Jesus changing water to wine provides mzee the answer. Scholars call this miracle a luxury miracle. After all, there were no blind, sick, or handicapped to be healed. The problem was simply the social awkwardness of a poorly planned feast. Yet, mzee knows that the pressures of an extended family. Jesus saw the socially awkward moment and responded. At that moment Jesus took the mantle of his life purpose. His followers put their trust in him. His fame began to spread.
With Jesus in mind, mzee hears Kitoleti. He walks across the boundary to Bulokole. He opens the church doors, turns on the lights, and rolls out the red carpet to the toilet. His answer is, “Yes, when the wine turns to water you can use the church toilet.”