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Maria & Jesus

Maria & Jesus Salt & Pepper Grinders
Maria & Jesus Salt & Pepper Grinders

I was in a gift shop with a cafe, having a coffee, when I spotted the above Maria & Jesus salt & pepper grinders for sale. I went over to the counter with “Maria” and asked the young woman working there:
“Who is this?”
She paused, hesitated, looked at the box (“Maria”, it says). “Mary Magdalene?” she ventured. Immediately I sensed that her knowledge of Christianity clearly had one source: Dan Brown.
“Well, Mary Magdalene isn’t normally shown holding a crucifix, is she?” I suggested.
Blank look.
“Do you know the Christian story?” I asked with, I hope, a friendly smile.
She admitted, a little – translation: not much, not really.
It’s not her fault.
It’s illegal in New Zealand State primary schools to present religious instruction. Some primary state schools allow their premises to be used once a week for a half hour of religious education prior to the school being legally open, and parents give permission for their children to attend such classes. It’s run by volunteers – and you are lucky if your school has it.
In State secondary schools religious education is legal. But I only know of one school in the country that has it as an option.
Only about 15% of Kiwis receive their education in faith-based schools with religious education. So Jesus’ mum’s name can be as difficult a question for some people in NZ as Siddhartha Gautama’s mum’s name might be elsewhere.
And identifying the “Maria” statue above can be a real struggle.
Clearly it was for the creator of this grinder.

Faith and meaning aside, it must be such a struggle to make sense of Western art, history, religious allusions in literature, music, films, etc. When it comes to encountering the Christian story for the first time some might argue that such people arrive without prejudice, presumptions, or particular baggage. It’s another interesting option for a thesis research.

[ps. my closest guess – I think “Maria” looks like a poor representation of Thérèse of Lisieux – any better guesses?]

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15 thoughts on “Maria & Jesus”

  1. My husband describes his experience being guided through the amazing Tretyakov Museum in Moscow by someone who had had essentially no religious instruction, growing up. My husband, seizing on a popular icon image, told him the story of the Transfiguration. Thereafter, the guide proudly identified every instance of the Transfiguration in the rest of the museum. People yearn for knowledge of the Lord and His works.

  2. You know, education ABOUT religion and religious education are two different things, and I believe that learning about religions, not limited to Christianity, is an important part of education. Not only is it difficult to read history, literature etc. without the context of a certain basic knowledge of the Bible–but in this pluralistic world we live in, it’s of value to know the basic ways in which the world’s major faiths are similar–and divergent–for all of our youth.

    One of my friends is married to a man who left the Catholic Church a long time ago and chose to raise his children non-religiously. However, he is very glad that his children go to a public high school that has a class about Biblical literacy for understanding literature. The first day, they asked the kids “so are you studying the Old Testament or the New Testament” and got blank looks. Her husband was horrified–he didn’t want them to believe, but he did want them to have basic knowledge about the Bible. I don’t think such classes are commonplace, however–they attend a top public high school that is college preparatory in nature.

    I do think “Maria” looks like St. Therese of Lisieux, who is one of my favorite saints. Off topic-ly, as you know I live in the US and attend an Episcopal Church. I always thought it a shame that the Episcopal Church excluded the Catholic saints post-breakaway from inclusion in our sanctoral cycle…. to me, Christians are Christians. And if we’re going to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, a Baptist, as an Episcopal saint due to his following the Spirit in terms of his civil rights work and martyrdom, who was known to be less than exemplary in being holy in terms of his physical expression outside of marriage, then I believe we should honor those whose faith and holiness makes them exemplary in the Catholic Church and other denominations.

    1. Thanks for the helpful comments so far.

      Lucy, Episcopalians/Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox and others have a strong tradition of reading lots of the Bible whenever we meet and alone. We read it without commenting on every part we read. So I am not surprised when we know our Bible well. It’s a good subject for another blog post 🙂

      Sue, I agree with you. I would use the term “Religious Education” to mean what you call “education about religion” (and also add what we can learn from religion). Religious education normally would mean the great world religions: Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism – and often Sikhism. Evangelism, catechesis, religious instruction are not disconnected – but they are different. I have no idea where you get that “the Episcopal Church excluded the Catholic saints post-breakaway from inclusion in our sanctoral cycle.” The Episcopal Church’s Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints which replaces your Lesser Feasts and Fasts. It includes Roman Catholics like Thomas Merton (but not Therese of Lisieux – so there’s a project for you to get her onto your calendar 🙂 )

  3. I once took an architectural tour of the major houses of Christian worship in the City of Houston. Four of the tours ranged from really good to decent, but the fifth tour was of First Baptist and was given my the youth minister. After our tour of the sanctuary – which is really just a concert hall – we got a tour of everyone’s offices. Believe me, that was not interesting until we got to the music director’s office. He had just brought back a piece of stained glass and my friend asked him to explain the story in the window. He couldn’t so my friend looked at me and I said, “Well, that looks like Moses, Elijah &nd Jesus – looks like the Transfiguration to me.” How is it an Episcopalian knew her bible better than the Baptists??

  4. (red faced) I didn’t notice the addition of some Roman Catholic saints in the new sanctoral cycle. But I’ll definitely have to inquire about including St. Therese. I have always found her autobiography inspiring, and her “little way” so pure of heart.

    “I can demand nothing with fervor, except the perfect accomplishment of God’s will in my soul.”
    -St. Therese

  5. Regarding the Transfiguration…I believe the term is used more by Catholic and Episcopal Churches. I am a Methodist and I don’t remember hearing that term very much.

  6. We were lucky in the UK, when I was at school: there was Religious Studies on the national curriculum, mandatory to GCSE level and optional at A-level. IIRC we spent about a term studying each of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and maybe a bit extra on Hinduism and Sikhism. The teacher was an atheist, which probably helped.

    It’s only fair & courteous to know what other people might believe in advance.

  7. Im counting small mercies here …as tacky as Maria&Jesus condiment vessels may be, the shop assistant was not totally bereft of a biblical name, bless her cotton socks ‘made in China’:)

    In defence of the Treaty of Waitangi 🙂 …We only have prayer in Parliament because the Maori Party insist upon it. Prayer is and will always be intrinsic in Maori education. Hey, its better than the legalistic, nothing!
    The halls of the NZ Parliament are close resembling long dark alleys down which constituent votes are craftily lured and quietly strangled!
    When the church recognises that humanity is seeking spirituality and not religion – there wont be a law this side of (insert appropriate geographical location here) to stop expressions of worship, praise and thanksgiving.

    BTW Bosco? …Did you have your clerical garb on at the time? There may be a young shop assistant out having drinkies with her mates, telling stories about the Priest who didn’t know who Maria was! 😉 Surely that would give points to the other side 🙂

  8. Hmm these grinders remind me on the alabaster-green statues of Mary and Jesus which I have seen in the Old City of Jerusalem. Mostly sold by salespeople who sell Christian, Muslim and Jewish “Holy Kitsh”.

    I am very thankful that we do have religious education in Germany. Not only at secondary schools but also at primary schools. Most clergy do even teach at public schools and its a great chance to reach kids with some basic knowledge (and practices) about Christianity.

  9. I remember being in a large and popular American department store one day in early November. I was walking through the toy section and saw a collection of Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer dolls. The sales clerk was telling another shopper that if you pressed the button in Rudolf’s front left paw, Rudolf would tell you the Christmas story. I couldn’t resist such an opportunity so I went over picked one up and pressed the button. Of course for the sales clerk the Christmas story was the story of Rudolf, not the story of Jesus. It was a long few weeks to Advent to explain to the congregations I was serving why I came back from that trip in such a foul mood.

    1. Nicole, it’s a well-known Christchurch shop, but since then I’ve seen these elsewhere, so I don’t want to dob in that particular shop, nor do I think that bears on the thrust of the post, do you?

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