Monday, June 7, 2010

Graduation Party of Nine

This weekend, I went to a graduation party for my nephew Daniel.  After much hard work, sweat and toil, he graduated from… 5th grade.  They had a big to-do during a church service for the entire graduating class of nine students; they got diplomas, gave speeches and offered gifts back to their school.  For passing the 5th grade. 

You know what I got to do after passing 5th grade?  I got to go to 6th grade.  Whooptee freakin’ do!  Maybe I’m just a bitter old man now, but I got along just fine with only two graduations… high school and college.  What’s with the increments?

Is it really necessary that every minor or non-accomplishment that our children make requires a plaque or trophy?  Dammit, we were supposed to keep out eyes on the big prize… you graduate high school, you got the ceremony, the party, and got to be King for a Day, and tried to get laid.

It’s the same with Little League… I played a half dozen years of Little League and I was pretty good.  You know how many trophies I have?  Zero.  Nada.  Zippo.  Only the players on a team that won some kind of championship or made an all-star team got a trophy.

Now everyone gets a trophy just for playing, because we don’t want The Children to suffer from low self-esteem.  This prepares The Children for the future how?  God forbid one day they successfully make a photocopy at the office and there’s not a framed certificate waiting for them when they return.

But I didn’t really even want to talk about this.  I actually wanted to talk about the graduation itself, because I’m really proud of my nephew and he’s an amazing kid.  This was his last year at this school.  It’s a Lutheran school that only goes up to 5th grade, so next year he’s going to a Catholic school.  My parents came into town for the occasion and we all went to the service on Sunday.

That’s right… Mr. Darwinfish had to go to church.  I don’t know how the rafters didn’t come tumbling down. 

Unfortunately I got stuck sitting next to my brother’s mother-in-law… his very churchy mother-in-law.  In fact, she is often referred to as “The Church Lady,” not only because she resembles the Dana Carvey SNL character physically, but in demeanor as well.

She’s always going on about the Lord or the Bible or how good things would be if only it could be like it was back in 1949.  And she’s always trying to stick me with the Jesus needle, usually with others around.  I don’t make a big deal about what I think of religion around my nephews.  Their parents put them in private schools and it’s their call.  I stay out of it.  But that doesn’t mean I’m going to let the Church Lady use me for a punching bag.

A couple years ago, she was nattering to Daniel about the Bible while the poor kid was trying to watch cartoons or something, when she turns to me and goes, “Bluz, do YOU know what happened at Mt. Sinai?

I said, “Yeah, I had my heart procedure done there.”

That shut her up for a minute or two.  I knew the answer she wanted, but I really didn’t want to play.  Which brings me to yesterday.

When she sat down beside me, she tried to give me the bulletin that had all the songs and prayers and stuff.  I said “no thanks, I don’t need one.”  Silly me, I thought that would be it. 

Ten minutes later, she hands it to me again.  I thought she wanted me to pass it down to my mom so I started to do so, then she says, “No, that’s for you.”

Again, I said, “I don’t want one.”

She said, “Well how will you know what the responses are?

I said, “I’m not responding.”

That stopped the interrogation for the day.  Unfortunately, all I really did was give her something new to cluck about at Bridge Club this week.  Not that I give a shit…

I’m sorry but there’s zero chance of me standing up there and mouthing a bunch of crap that not only do I not believe in, but things with which I actively disagree.  Even when I was still marginally in the Catholic Church, I never felt comfortable speaking the group prayers.  And forget singing.  I don’t sing… ever.  And if I did, it would be drunken karaoke, not these church dirges.

My brother always calls Lutheranism “Catholic Lite”, now with less guilt.  What he didn’t say was that they do tend to go on…  I swear, every song they did, they had to go through five freakin’ verses.  At least the Catholics know how to burn through a service in an hour… They keep the songs short.

Next, I got to sit through the most offensive sermon I’ve heard since the one where they denounced “Monty Python’s Life of Brian” because it dared to suggest people think for themselves.  The point of this spiel was that in the entire world, there are only two religions and two Gods:  one that comes straight from God (Christianity, of course) and one that is man-made (everything else). 

I’d guess the Jews and Muslims might have something to say about that… quite possibly it might even be similar, but the two labels would be switched around.  I just couldn’t get over the audacity to presume that only those in their little Christianity Club, this Jesus-Come-Lately group that is a fraction as old as many other ancient religions, can claim divinity. 

They really do the hard-sell there, especially to the children, and they use all the psychological tricks to boot.  All the children were right up front, directly in front of the pulpit.  The pastor was way up high, looming over their head, speaking from on high.  And of course he was mic’d, so his voice would boom.  What child would dare question anything he says? 

Another thing that I keyed in on was when the Pastor went on about thanking the parents, saying how they must have felt it was vital to their children’s interest to attend this Lutheran school and hear his message.

I think I’d make room for the notion that maybe a few parents were just trying to keep their kids out of the zoo that is the Baltimore Public School system.  But that’s just me.  Even I might choose a little religion for my kids over the daily beatings, drugs and criminal activity that take place in the local public schools.  So don’t get ahead of yourself, eh, padre?

After a solid hour and twenty, the service finally came to an end.  Daniel was chosen to go up and read the statement describing the class gift to the school, and the boy nailed it.  Then after much picture-taking, we all retired to the basement area for lunch, where the kids could finally relax and be kids again.

They began rolling a slide show that covered the kids’ years together that culminated in the pictures from this spring’s trip to New York City.  They spent three days there, and got to go up in the Empire State Building, ride the Staten Island Ferry, go to the Natural History Museum and Central Park, and many other cool things.

Later, the kids got to go up and read a thing about what their favorite memories from the school were.  Most prominently mentioned the New York trip, and almost everyone emphasized how much they liked going there with their friends.

What really struck me was how much these kids like each other.  I don’t know if it’s the byproduct of the religious curriculum or of having only nine in the class, but it was quite remarkable.  There were five girls and four boys; one of each was African-American.  As their teacher gave out the class awards, they huddled together at the side of the makeshift stage.  Boys and girls, black and white, they talked together, had their arms around each other, laughing all together for the last time they’d have the chance.

I actually choked up a little.  If only more kids got to have this experience, maybe there would be a lot less hate in the world.  And when hate did raise its ugly head, there would be more kids prepared to smack it back down because they knew better than to believe it.

Maybe the Lutherans are onto something after all.
 Congratulations to the 5th Grade Class of 2010.  (My nephew is on the far left.)

Eventually we escaped back to my brother’s place, where the party began in earnest and we could concentrate on the other important things in life.

14 comments:

  1. You are absolutely right about the love among these kids. Awe inspiring and RARE. St. Paul's does something right. Or children together for five years will form a bond that no sect can dictate or regulate.

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  2. Fella asked me the other day. Said, "Dog, are you a religious minded man?"

    I said, "Hell yes, buddy! I certainly am. But I have my own faith and I follow it all the way. I religiously eats some of them BBQ chickens each and every day."

    I stay in touch with dudes I've known since I was 4. I guess we really cared about each other too. But public school ain't what it used to be. And in Baltimore City, it's not really an option.

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  3. Any excuse to barbeque, right?

    I'm still in therapy for not being given a nursery school graduation ceremony. I worked damn hard to accomplish that, too!

    Nobody came to my junior high ceremony, either. I think there was one sometime in the middle of the afternoon. My parents were like: "We're only coming to one graduation ceremony... and this ain't it!"

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  4. "I swear, every song they did, they had to go through five freakin’ verses. At least the Catholics know how to burn through a service in an hour…"

    NO JOKE. I've been going to a Methodist church with The Guy, and Bluz!

    THEY SING.

    SO MUCH.

    Like, probably 10 songs total! And they have, like, not just a choir, but a whole BAND! It's crazy! And the services last FOREVER! WHY, BLUZ? WHY?

    Get in, cross yourself a bunch, kneel some, sing a couple songs, take communion and get the hell out. How hard is that?!

    (I kid, I kid. I actually like the church a lot.)

    (But seriously, enough with the singing.)

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  5. Mary Ann,
    Probably the latter, but I’m willing to give the school the benefit of the doubt.

    But is it naïve to hope that they might actually teach the kids how to think and question? (As opposed to treating them like sponges for the dogma.) It would be nice to think so, but they’ll probably have to wait for college

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  6. Dog,
    See, you’re a prophet I can believe in. The Gospel according to Weber.

    Bagger,
    We should start a therapy group for unrecognized graduates!

    I totally should have had a graduation ceremony when I went from 6th to 7th grade, because that meant going to a separate Junior High School, and then again after 9th grade when I left the Junior High. I figure I would have cleared at least $150 for each event…

    Someone owes me $300 and a “Pong” game.

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  7. Bachelor Girl,
    At least the Methodists have a band... that's something to watch.

    Church hymns are just so slow and lifeless (except the ones with the Baptist choirs... they rock)

    I always thought the Catholics should embrace the Metal Mass! Hire some young priest with a great set of pipes and let him wail like Ian Gillian (of Deep Purple) did in Jesus Christ Superstar. (I know, before your time.)

    I'm thinking like the Quiet Riot song...
    "Break that Bread!
    Jesus Christ'll heal yer head..."

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  8. I love the phrase, "poke with the Jesus needle." I'ma stealing that one!

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  9. You didn't have a . . . preschool graduation?!

    Your parents didn't love you.

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  10. How sweet. They were leaving their school!

    And, I must respectfully disagree with you about Hymns. Some of the language is just beautiful. It's a part of my childhood that I miss sometimes. I still break out in song during thunderstorms. Yes, people stare.

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  11. Vange,
    Ya ever know someone that loves to slip you the dagger, but always in pleasant, well-modulated tones? That’s the Church Lady, wielding the Jesus Needle.

    Mundane,
    I never went to preschool, just straight to kindergarten, where I majored in napping. I don’t know if pre-school was even invented yet.

    But I at least should have had a kindergarten graduation. Final exam: write your name without stabbing yourself in the head.

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  12. DG,
    Have at it, buddy! I'd still rather wear earbuds. I don't see why they can't put the beautiful words to something snappy.

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  13. I don't understand any grad ceremonies besides high school or college, either. Even though I was a good student and didn't have any worries about finishing, I was DAMN PROUD to graduate high school. Neither my mom nor grandma had, and I was my mom's oldest, so it MEANT something.

    I love the Jesus needle thing, too. Feels like it, yeah?

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  14. Cristy,
    Sounds like we’re both from the “You’ll Get Nothing, and Like It” school of thought.

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