Cafe Witness

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The One-Two Punch of Surprises

Another day, another sudden downpour on the South Side. Crazy Mocha-gopers were sent scrambling indoors, bags over heads and dogs prancing on leashes. One basic human tenet: personal space takes a backseat to staying dry, something we all probably picked up as cavemen.

Among the relocated is a group of 5 young women, all white, all in their early twenties. The mere concept of relocating their tabletop discussion indoors seemed to throw them for a loop, but their ringleader, after discerning that they couldn't take over the TV room because someone in there is watching CNN, decided to commandeer the two tables beside mine up here on the balcony. She even dispatched one of the girls to find herself a chair with the suggestion of, "Why don't you go over there and get one of those chairs for yourself?"

Common sense, you'd think. But evidently this group needs a leader. Moments later, I discovered why.

Having paid no attention to them since they moved indoors, I gradually noticed the leader reading poetry aloud to the others. "Ah," I said to myself, "a writer's group has been forced indoors and is self-conscious about sharing their innermost feelings with the prying ears of strangers around." Fortunately for them, I'm the nearest human being within earshot and I have headphones on, so I can't hear them clearly.

Then I glanced over to see what she was reading from and I noticed I was wrong again.

Their ringleader was reading a psalm from the Bible.

"Ahh," I said to myself again. "Now this makes even more sense."

Having paid a little more attention to them now, I'm struck by the uniform body language: all conservative in their movements, all a little hunched in, all very uncertain of themselves. That, in itself, doesn't surprise me; I would expect it from a pack of virginal women in a Bible study group. In that sense, it's natural.

What surprises me is that a Bible study group exists among women in their 20s in modern Pittsburgh.

The reasons this surprises me are myriad and deeply-seeded in my subconscious, but the easiest summary I can offer is: I wonder what background each of these young women comes from, in an era of limitless potential provided by a global economy, worldwide communications and unheard-of equality in comparison to most recorded history, that they would choose, voluntarily, to utilize an analysis of the Bible as the solution to whatever problems they're facing in their current lives.

I'm sure each of them is intelligent, compassionate, concerned and empathetic. I'm sure they all have dreams and aspirations. And I'm sure they've all been exposed to the multitude of distractions, opportunities and strict logic that comes with being a modern woman in 2006. And yet, despite these various well-traveled roads presented to them, they've chosen to invest a large amount of their time and energy into a discussion of a book that was written over 2000 years ago, a book that -- in my own personal estimation, as well as the estimation of millions of others around the globe -- is, at best, a parable for mankind and at worst a form of sociological control.

Perhaps they're debating the merits of the book. Perhaps they're finding modern allegories for the stories. Perhaps they're debunking it from top to bottom, gingerly, one page at a time. Or perhaps they're each in agreement with the spirit of the lessons and are trying to find a mutual language to discuss their opinions and, in doing so, discuss themselves.

Regardless of what they gain from this experience, I find a personal irony in the snapshot I see when I look at them: five young, attractive, middle-class daughters of America, huddled uncertainly in conversation around the Bible while, beyond them, through the dividing glass and into the next room, CNN is showing video and photos from the Holy War taking place between Israel and Lebanon -- and, always, Palestine.

2000 years later and some things never change.


  • Rain... five women... and Bible study? Jeez man, I had this going somewhere TOTALLY different.

    By Blogger Chris, at 9:35 PM  

  • There is a remote possibility that the psalm they were reading was Psalm 122 which talks about Jerusalem, and contains the command, "pray for the peace of Jerusalem." It could be that they were actually seeking to do something about the holy war that was playing over their a way that made sense to them.

    Thanks for the snapshot

    By Blogger jon swanson, at 12:12 PM  

  • The why the Bible thing... it boils down to "Word of God". They (and I) feel that it's more than a book. If you believe God exists & that the Bible is his book, there you have it. If you don't believe, it won't make sense to you. You gotta be part of the secret handshake club, so to speak. And anyone can join.

    By Blogger Nairobi Paul, at 4:59 AM  

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