Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Chiapas Story-part 3

The DVD kept playing. The semi-tropical rainstorm kept pounding on the tin roof. Kids in traditional woven indigenous clothing kept popping into the store, soaked to the bone from walking across town for a can of preserved jalapeños.

We all sat around the table on wooden chairs, staring at the television set. We were on our third DVD by now, this one the same as the first two: Evangelical Christian women from Mayan indigenous parts of Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador, singing cheesy praise songs. All Mayan Evangelical music videos, all the time.

The singer in this DVD had a deer-in-the-headlights expression on her face as she sang about God’s love. A sort of “oh, shit, am I really doing this” look in her eyes.

Much of the text was misspelled in the videos. The end credits invited other Evangelical musicians to come by the studio and record “gragaciones en estudio” (translation: “in-studio regordings”).

The DVD was titled “La Invasión de Dios”. The special features included an evangelistic campaign with a famous Guatemalan pastor.

I’ve heard that some communities in the Mayan highlands have gone to war with each other over the arrival of these new religions. A couple times in the past, people got chopped up with machetes for trying to start a new church. As I watched this video, I was starting to understand why.

The next song on the DVD was “El Tren del Evangelio” (The Gospel Train). Every three seconds, a computerized train sound effect would play, drowning out the singer and making it impossible to hear the lyrics. None of these singers sang in a Mayan language, even though most of their target audience didn’t speak Spanish as a first language.

I started to watch the expressions of my companions to see what their take on this whole evangelistic DVD thing was. They didn’t seem to be Evangelicals themselves; several of them wore Catholic crucifixes, scapulars and Virgin of Guadalupe medallions. Not even the shop owner seemed to be Evangelical. He had an image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus up in the corner of his store (this is what Evangelicals call “Satanic idolatry”.) As far as I could tell, nobody was into the whole praise music-thing. It seems that this store owner had just acquired a handful of these worship DVD’s and figured watching them was better than staring at the wall.

Every cut-away to a new scene in the music video was performed in the cheesiest of fashions. The screen would turn into a butterfly and flap its wings and fly away, or it would turn into an inner tube and float off into the distance.

But none of the men seemed to be making derisive comments either. They joked in a subdued, good-natured manner. And I thought, maybe these guys don’t care about how cheesy these types of church-people videos are. Maybe they actually were listening to the message of grace and forgiveness, and were able to totally look past the gaping holes in production value. Maybe this obsession with “production value” (a concept that is extremely relative) is foreign to a lot of these country folk.

The music video ended with a shot of the singer randomly staring at a rock in a field. She didn’t appear to realize she was being filmed.

And maybe, I thought, maybe a blanket condemnation of cheesy Christian music videos is just as Manichean and judgmental and over-simplistic as the Holy Rollers’ unquestioning acceptance of them.

Still, whatever their opinion of the “God’s Invasion of Guatemala” series was, the men were definitely not giving their full attention to this DVD crusade. And when the shopkeeper’s teenage son came in from the rain with a SmartPhone and started playing a California porno he had downloaded, all the men crowded around immediately.

This was definitely more interesting.

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