Sunday, July 10, 2011

Eternal Damnation, Po apo Jo?

You know you are in trouble (I’m talking about After-Life trouble) when you find yourself asking… Now, this John the Baptist guy…what was he known for? I kid, I kid/Shaka Shaka. In fact, I remember a thing or two about him and his bad-ass baptizing ways. Isn’t it ironic that when you get dunked in a pool now the guy is considered a bully, but back then he absolved you of original sin? Anyway, I was knocked down a few pegs, dumb-founded even, on a recent visit to Voskopoja, a small tourist town in southeaster Albania. Voskopoja is known for its mountain views, Orthodox frescos and beautiful historic monasteries.

Each year on June 24th, this sleepy little village’s population explodes as Albanians, Greeks and tourists from all over (like a few PCV Americans) attend an annual festival for John the Baptist. I can’t tell you much more about the history of the festival because 1) my Shqip skills have not extended into faith-based vocabulary and 2) I feared that speaking with the priest would only illuminate my cavalier opinions on organized religion. But I was just taken aback by how much I either didn’t remember from my days at Sunday school or that I just never learned. As I looked upon all the incredible, ancient, hand-painted frescos of the monastery, I realized… I don’t know Jack. (OK, the 9584th time I’ve come to that realization). Essentially, in the monastery, my bumbling idiot ass went something like this:

“Ok, so that one, beard, great abs, kind eyes….that’s Jesus.”

“Oh, here’s one! Woman with a baby and skin like porcelain…that’s Mary.”
“And who do we have here, Father Time? No? Hmpf. Errrr… you guys wanna hit the beer garden?”

As I write, I imagine my more devout Christian friends are cringing. And for that I apologize, but also request… pray for me? ;) I don’t intend to be disrespectful. I do value Christianity and believe that my up-bringing associated with the church provided the guiding principles for my life choices. But the thing is, I just wonder… when the time comes for salvation…what’s more important, being able to identify the characters in the stories, or to have lived a life of humility, honor and grace? (hey…we are all works in progress!) Since we’ll likely never truly know the answer to that, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.

Oh shit… luck associated with the Devil, isn’t it? Well, then I’ll go with Hope…there’s that Faith, Hope and Love trifecta that sounds pretty significant! Regardless of my understanding of the scriptures, I still found our visit to Voskopoja to be absolutely amazing. Drinking in the experience, there was evidence of the Divine everywhere. Every mountain top, stream and tree. Every smile from a stranger. Every warm embrace among friends. Every time a child erupted in laughter. Now that’s where I find faith.

Peace, Love and Hope that Salvation is graded on a Curve

PS. Although I have to wonder… in a place where faith weighs so heavily, how is it that the kebab vendor charged me $150 Leke when he charged all my friends only $100 Leke. That’s a 50% mark-up. Judas!

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