In considering our current signifier, geography, while reading Tales of the Tikongs and "Our Sea of Islands," one major recurring theme seemed to shape the geography of Oceania. This theme is religion which also is something that has shaped my life, past and present. Living here, in a city for nearly nine years that is filled with churches and synagogues and numerous religious schools to choose from, has served as a constant reminder that religion is something that adds shape, meaning, and dimension to the geography of the area.
One semi-local sight that is particularly noteworthy, is that of the Masonic Temple, soaring out above the trees as one drives around the Capital Beltway. The Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, the Baltimore Basilica, Beth-El and many others, even including less pictoresque edifices like the huge "Grace" warehouse in Timonium on Deerco Road, add shape and meaning to the geography of our area. The number of cars parked outside that warehouse on any given Sunday, with membership supposedly in the thousands, is evidence alone of it's impact on the area.
As a former teacher at an Episcopalian, yet extremely liberal independent area school, Grace and St. Peter's School, I can claim without hesitation that churches and other religious structures in Baltimore are among the most visited, including Poe's grave which is even an off route destination of the ever-popular "Duck Boat Tours." Grace and St. Peter's Church, as well as others in the Mount Vernon section of Baltimore, are often photographed and frequented by locals and tourists alike. It shows that religion, though perhaps not practised by all, is alive and very much a part of our culture and geography. The religious buildings beckon for attendance and the abundance and diverse selection facilitates attendance in this area, where more rural areas are perhaps more restrictive as far as choice and location.
Having been raised Roman-Catholic, I remained a Catholic in adulthood, despite differences I had had with specific aspects of this organized religion. When I was divorced in my late twenties, I was dissappointed with the way the church deals with divorce and felt that such issues should be dealt with differently. At that time, other differences I had had with my first religion seemed exacerbated and it was time for a change, particularly since I had a child to consider. I did not want to appear hypocritical, or to be it, and I wanted my son to be a part of a church with values and teachings, which I was, at least mostly, in agreement. This provoked me to research more religions and attempt to discover if being a part of organized religion was in fact a good spiritual fit for me and my family. Luckily, there were many churches and other religious venues in the area to accomodate and facilitate my quest.
After significant research, I began to attend a moderate Episcoplian church, which was sort of a taste of Catholic "lite." This church was said to have a fabulous Sunday School which I thought would be beneficial to my son. Defining, welcoming aspects which made me feel at home there were lacking at this church, but in retrospect, it could have been the largeness of the congregation, or even the unfamiliarity of music and lack of signals/gestures that I was so accustomed to, like the sign of the cross and the smell of incense. Nevertheless, in my research, I had read much about the importance of religion for children and the benefits of feeling a part of such a group, if you will.
So, I continued my quest and found what is referred to as a "low" Episcopalian church, meaning I would say, liberal. This church shares my many, even most, of my beliefs and values, such as supporting homosexual unions in whatever form they choose, women being preists, and priests being able to marry and have families. These are things that were important to me and I want them presented to my children as normal parts of life, not as something that is even worth writing down as a difference. As with any church or religion, there are certain things which are not perfect, such as the consistent and persistent attempt to gain donations, particularly in this economic downturn, but there is nothing glaring to dissuade me from enjoying being a part of this church and having my family participate there. We are proud to have found such a good fit for our family that we can be comfortable calling ourselves a part of.
Our church has shaped our town for us and it is a major focal point in the way we view the geography of our area. Though many may choose not to participate in religion, it is a part of life here, it's in our culture. It is hard to avoid the thoughts it evokes as we are constantly exposed, at least to the buildings of worship, let alone the exposure, however brief, surfing past radio and T.V. programs on the topic.
The recent readings show that religion has a major impact on the signifier of geography, as well as the lives and customs in Oceania. Certainly, it is mentioned in each of Hau'ofa's short stories in Tales of the Tikongs, with quite a bit of emphasis on Christianity and "the Good Book," but also on other local religions. Despite the author's attempt to present the area as capable of being self-sufficient and successful, so to speak, on it's own, the people are undoubtedly drawn to Christianity in various forms.
Perhaps Hau'ofa feels comfortable focusing much of his writing on the strong impact of Christianity in the region, because the local people have encorporated such teachings into their own religions and therefore, took knowledge and personlized it to their landscape and needs or thoughts, which is commendable.
Maybe, his goal was to use Christianity, something from another culture which was imposed on the people of his native area, and display the humorous side of it. Here are all these characters, acting or even believeing themselves to be pious all the while, but really just behaving in self serving ways. Whether it be with poor Noeli, who was changing religions repeatedly and singing the songs and dancing the dances of each particular religion in his quest for the right one, while he was really just looking for a bit of loving, or with Ti Pilo Simini, who was going to great lengths to make sure he wouldn't end up in Hell for accidentally smoking a page of the Bible, the reader can see that humor is present at the expense of religion.
Certainly humor is present when characters of the area are presented as clever business people, under the guise of religious servants. On page 79, Epeli Hua'ofa writes in "Bopeep's Bells," "Thus endowed with Divine Perfection the Bopeep can do anything he wants, for his decisions and actions are spotless in the eyes of the Lord. It also follows that the Holy Bopeep has the sole say in the Financial Affairs of the Golden Bell." Teehee.
Do the stories mock the teachings of Christinaity with its humor? Maybe. Is it because of the way that Christianity was introduced or forced on the area, thus changing the local geography and people and their customs? Maybe, as there is perhaps some bitterness there, and rightfully so. Surely the feelings of Hau'ofa which reflect his allegiance to Oceania are evident in "Our Sea of Islands."