Monday, May 07, 2007

why the "eat your brains" song appealed to me...a story of excommunication

So over the weekend I found and posted on this blog a video with the song by Jonathan Coulton: re: Your brains, which I found ... evocative.

What did it evoke? Well, it took me a little while to realize that. It evoked a memory for the way in which my lovely wife and I were ... excommunicated from Logos II. How did that happen, pray tell? Well it was like this ....

(no names have been changed to protect anyone)

... so I spent two years working for a huge international missions organization called Operation Mobilization as a volunteer on board their (lovely, although somewhat trashed, from a technical point of view) (actually I could digress here and point out that when we were in West African ports, Logos II was generally the most beautiful looking ship in the harbor of any given major port city in which we happened to be moored. However, in Italy, she was generally the ugliest and dingiest looking one) 5000 ton (now I know I've really gone ... native, in the sense of speaking English rather than American, because in looking back over this paragraph, that "z" in "Mobilization" is really annoying me, and very much seems to want to be changed to an "s". Ah well....)

Okay, I see I must begin again. Now where was I? Ah yes, aboard the 5000 ton motor vessel M.V. Logos II. She has an all volunteer crew of 200 from approximately 40 different nations, all committed Christians (well, almost all. sometimes one or two slipped through the screening process and ended up serving onboard as a non-believer, like, for instance the very personable and brilliant Martin, a plumber from Holland, who often couldn't be bothered to go to all the trouble of signing all the paperwork and getting all the permissions to get the smoke alarms turned off in a cabin where he needed to do hot work (welding, for instance). So instead, he would simply carry around a plastic bag and two rubber bands, and nonchalantly cover the smoke detector in the cabin with them. Then after he was done with his hot work, he would nonchalantly have a smoke in the same cabin. My god, the "leadership", both technical and personnel, would have *freaked*. This makes me smile enormously just thinking about it (actually, I have another funny story about Martin I could tell you sometime)).

Alas, I must again begin again. Where was I? Ah yes. These volunteers have generally committed to serve onboard for two years and have raised the monthly support from friends, family, and church to help offset the costs of Logos II's operation during that two years.

Logos II is a very ... rule oriented community. That is, there are just lots and lots of rules about community life. One rule, for instance, which I and my lovely wife Megan (along with our delightful friends Matt and Laurel) found almost impossible to keep was the curfew. This rule required that everyone be back on board by 11PM (unless you had a signed curfew extension from your department head, in which case you could be back as late as, but no later than, 12:30), and in the cabins with lights out by 12:30. This was of course unless you were one of the "special" people, the "leaders", who could (but generally didn't) stay up as late as they wanted. There were various ... punishments assigned for breaking this rule, along with a rather wiggly system of warnings, demerits, etc. (or some such). A couple of the punishments (they kept changing, in an attempt, I suppose, to more or less rigorously see the rule kept) during the time we were on board, for instance, included spending time cleaning the bilges, doing an extra shift of work in some department other than one's own (for instance, in the pantry or galley, in my case), or being "grounded" to the ship for a week (this last was a stupid-ass idea in the extreme, as one of the psychological difficulties of living on board a ship is a waxing and waning sense that one is ... kind of trapped inside or on board.)

Another rule that was a real biggie was called "SP", which stood for, at various times, either "Social Policy" or "Social Permission" (or, perhaps, "Stupid-Ass Pain"). The way it worked was this: People who were not romantically connected when they came onboard made a promise to not begin a new romantic relationship during their first year on board. And social policy also required that a romantic couple not be engaged to be married during their first *two* years on board (some people serve *longer* than two years). Furthermore, if after having been on board for one year, you wanted to begin a romantic relationship with someone else on the ship (who would also have to have been on board for at least one year), then permissions were required. Permissions were required from onboard leadership, specifically from the personnel director, as well as from the home offices of Operation Mobilisation in the countries of both potential partners, as well as, depending on the culture of the potential parties of the potential relationship, of their immediate families and/or their home churches. No, I'm not joking. All this was involved. And of course all of it was to some degree or other warranted. That is to say that during 30 years of "ships ministry", this organization has learned a little bit about what works and what doesn't. They say relationship time is multiplied on Logos II, so that 2 years onboard is equivalent to 5 years in the so called "real world". This is because you are living and working in close proximity to a relatively small group of people who are all there with relatively similar religious beliefs, and relatively similar goals. And the average *age* of these people is quite young--I'm guessing ... 21/22? So they are ... for lack of a better term, generally horny, generally single, generally available, generally outgoing ... etc. etc. All the ingredients are very much in place for the beginning of lots of romantic relationships. And yet this is complicated by the fact that they are from very different backgrounds, very different cultures, very different languages. So any marriages that result are going to have all the stressors of .... "normal" marriages (whatever that means) plus, plus, plus. So it seems to me that it is entirely reasonable to take precautions.

On the other hand, the introduction of such a complex set of rules very much sets a community up for an enormous ... lack of reality--that is, a huge dichotomy between "what the rules say we are like and want to be like" and "what actually happens". So for instance while I was onboard, at least one couple (he from Sudan, she from Mexico) were caught having sex and then, in a sense, publicly shamed, after which *she* was sent "home" (that is, back to Mexico where she came from), while *he* got to stay onboard. Some claimed this indicated sexism, others ... a sort of racism--that she was blamed and shamed more somehow, both because she was a woman, and because there were *so* many latinoamericans onboard, and only 2 persons from sudan, and it was important to maintain our racial diversity quota. I think that while such claims didn't really get at the whole picture of the reality of the situation, they certainly touched on some portion of that reality. Rumors abounded, as well, of people (confidentially, one hopes, although I know of at least one case on board where such confidentiality was horribly violated) going to the ship's doctor to be tested for sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancies.

I hope this isn't getting way too wordy already.

So anyway, I met lovely Megan, journalist, photographer midwife, nurse, australian. I met her in Argentina, when she joined Logos II in January '99. And I found out later she fell more or less in love with me, and knew it, during our 5 ports in brazil, or perhaps even earlier, in Uruguay. It took me a lot longer to figure out that I reciprocated. I mean I think I was reciprocating quite a while before I *realized* that I was. It took me until Ghana, in West Africa. Yes, the passage of time starts to be measured in ports when one is onboard--each port visit lasting approximately 1 to 3 weeks. Neither of us had been on board a year yet, and we both (I think) obeyed the spirit, if not the letter, of SP admirably well. We never talked about our relationship, or made romantic overtures (okay, well, not exactly never, but at least never overtly and consciously) etc. until after the one year date had passed.

Then (and this is another separate long story), we jumped the hoops, got the permissions, talked about it, and ended up with "Social Permission". The way it worked was this. When a couple got Social Permission, a notice got posted on the bulletin board in the kiosk, which was kind of the living room/central interior passage point of the ship. The notice simply announced that "Benjamin Ady and Megan Jones have received social permission". (Well, actually, ours was a bit more artsy and literary than that, but that's part of the separate long story). At that time there were, I think, .... perhaps 7 other SP couples on board. What this meant was that we were allowed to hang out alone together, allowed to be physically affectionate, and so forth, and that the rest of the ship's company could relax if they saw us doing that and not feel guilty for not turning us in (yes, this *was* part of the psyche of ship life). because we officially had social permission (Megan and I were apparently a bit *more* physically affectionate than some people were comfortable with. I know this because not too long after we got SP, a meeting was called for all the SP couples in which we were informed of a change in the social permission which meant that SP couples were no longer allowed to sit or lie in such a way that their head was resting on their partners lap. It wasn't acknowledged as such, but this was certainly directed at us, as none of the other SP couples had been spotted reclining anywhere in such a position. But I digress.)

I see that this has gotten rather lengthy. I'm almost up to the beginning of the part where we get excommunicated. More tomorrow... =)

12 comments:

Megs said...

i love that you've told this part of my story bens darling. my life is very compartmentalised, and so i appreciate you making accessible to others that which i've not often been able to share - details exhaust me in a way they don't you - i think we well complement each other, you the detailer, me the big picturer

Anonymous said...

hi ben and megs! love excapades on board Christian aid vessel ...
How does 'normal' living compare to such adventures? Rhea

Anonymous said...

escapades ... oops Rh

mec said...

I was with OM for 2 years, and we got to host the Logos for a 2 week stint one summer.....wow! I am so very glad my experience with OM was not on a ship because two weeks was enough to show me how obnoxious (for lack of a better word) it was. M.E.T.A.L....need I say more. I don't even remember what it stands for, but I just remember being embarrassed for OM. Also, there was the very amatuerish "evangelism training" that went on for the native volunteers...most of whom were much more experienced in reaching out to their compatriots than the ship-bound trainers.

I linked here from your Facebook OM security comment. Good for you!

Anonymous said...

Hey dude, i was on board the L2 for almost 3 years and let me tell ya ; Im agree with you 75% of what you are saying here. Well done!
Speak it out bro.

Well,there is another thing. Things has changed on board the new ship , NO MORE RULES ! I think they realized how stupid some rules were...
But again. Well done !
Shalom !

Anonymous said...

Hey dude, i was on board the L2 for almost 3 years and let me tell ya ; Im agree with you 75% of what you are saying here. Well done!
Speak it out bro.

Well,there is another thing. Things has changed on board the new ship , NO MORE RULES ! I think they realized how stupid some rules were...
But again. Well done !
Shalom !

Anonymous said...

LOL

Brings back meories of Doulos when whilst on an 'A' Team in Australia I met a loverly young lady and fell head over heals for.

Since I had early on in my Doulos time discovered it was easier to ask forgiveness then get permission I met up with her at Freemantle, a later port and spent loads of time alone in her company off the ship.

Even bumped into the Capt and introduced her to him whilst in Kings Park, Perth.

All my friends were aware of the fact and no one saw the need to 'rat me out' so it worked out quite well.

Just goes to show what a great bunch of friends I had made, and no to my knowledge the leadership team did not have a clue.

I eventually had three different 'SP' relationshhips and ended up marrying a none OM'er whilst serving in OM.

Paul

Benjamin Ady said...

Anon, Mec, Paul,

thanks for dropping by and the shout out. Always nice to have kindred souls around =)

Anonymous said...

OMG, my dear friends Ben and Megs, it was a horrible time for you both and I am pleased you were able to leave the ship and express your true selves to each other in the way you found most fitting. It brings me back to being forced into a 'leaders meeting' re: what they judged as an 'inappropriate' friendship with a married friend of the same sex??? I was livid to say the least and told them where to stuff it and left the ship pretty much soon after ( a few months before my 2 year 'contract' was up, and was told I had broken my contract with God. Ha ha Laughable.

Benjamin Ady said...

anonymous--glad you had the werewithal to stand up for yourself. I was so young vulnerable back then, myself.

By the way--what's your name? Who is this? =)

Anonymous said...

Oh and the main leader in this was Coleman Tyler!! He had a warped way of believing the worst in people hey? Sorry forgot to put my name haven't got a google account so just clicked anonymous. Hey how do I follow your blog?

Benjamin Ady said...

you still haven't put your name, silly! Don't follow my blog--this is my old blog, and I hardly ever write on the new one anyway. friend me on facebook. facebook.com/oxymoron that's where I reside on the web these days.

and what is your name?