Last Sunday, a neighbor who organizes field day activities for senior citizen groups all over this part of Taiwan invited me to observe their croquet event in an adjacent township. I chatted with another neighbor who was there manning the sound system. Then I got into a conversation with a nurse on hand for the event. She asked me if I had been to many temples in Taiwan.
Among other things, I shared with the nurse that the initial reaction to the idols that many of us foreigners have when seeing them for the first time is that they scare us/leave us alittle horrified. She responded, in contrast, that she thought they looked cute.
CUTE? When I shared this comment with two neighbors one evening, including the one who is in fact a professional woodcarver crafting many of these things, they both emphatically responded that in no way are they cute! 莊嚴 (dignified, solemn, stately) was my woodcarver friend's response.
That leads me to today, almost a week later. An idol parade has just passed by my house involving a couple of hundred people. A few idols were paraded in their chairs, and lots of other people were dressed up as gods. The reverberating chaos of firecrackers nearly scared my birds to death.
Most of the men were chain-smoking cigarettes, betel-nut chewers spitting their betel-nut on the ground. More of them, including one man from NanTou who greeted me by the temple when I went out on a quick errand, had had a lot to drink. I saw a number of folks parading down the street with beers in hand.
Dignified? Solemn? Stately? This particular crowd may have been very different due to the nature of those down the street who were organizing (clarification:a number of "eels"- Taiwanese for Chinese gangs or hei1dao4, known for their prevalence in this part of the country) have moved in down the street inviting a number of youths to come over, with the neighbors telling me they they seek to avoid eye contact or interaction with them, and so should I in order to keep safe), , but those are certainly not the adjectives I'd use to describe the gods nor the events organized to worship them. When yet another neighbor two doors down lit firecrackers in their honor, my prayer from inside the house was that Jesus would be glorified on the street and in the lives of those who passed by. As for the gods themselves, "May the Lord rebuke you.... "(clarification: meaning being, it's for God and not for me to take care of!)