No Pussyfooting in Cock Tales

 

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It takes a lot of spunk to call your play Cock Tales. And then to tack on “Shame on Me!” Exclamation mark! This clearly shows you’re not ashamed at all. You’re brazening it out. That’s Debra Ehrhardt for you. This cocky Jamaican playwright and actress is certainly not afraid to talk up di tings. After the spectacular success of her brilliant one-woman play, Jamaica Farewell, Debra’s back with another winner.

Cock Tales is about penises and the men attached to them. It’s also about how one woman deals with the penises she unexpectedly comes upon. From childhood to adulthood! But, as Debra coyly admitted on ‘CVM at Sunrise’ last Thursday, it’s not all that many penises.

In the programme notes, Debra reveals her husband’s reaction to Cock Tales: “When my husband heard the name of my new show, he about lost his mind. I gently explained that his penis was not the first I’d encountered in my life, and that Cock Tales and all my one-woman shows have come from my own life experiences.”

Debra’s play addresses serious social issues such as sexual abuse of girls and sexual repression in Christian families. But there’s also lots of humour. When a well-dressed man on a train in New York invites Debra to view his penis, she raucously exposes him, much to the delight of the audience on the train and in the theatre. Debra skilfully seduces us to laugh even when she’s dealing with trauma. It’s a subtle art. Laughter often masks pain. And it also helps us cope with pain.

PASTOR COULDA NEVER DO DAT!

th-1Debra grew up in a Seventh-day Adventist home. The church doesn’t come off so well in the play. Pastor White offers the young girl a ride home. In the seclusion of the car, he grabs her hand and places it on his penis. She knows it’s a sin and puts up loud resistance. And she tells her mother.

Fortunately for Debra, her mother believes her. They dash off to the pastor’s home to confront him. Many abused girls aren’t so lucky. Their mothers refuse to even consider the possibility that the child is a victim of abuse. Not if the predator is an upstanding member of the community. And certainly not if he brings groceries regularly! No sah! Pastor coulda never do dat!

Cock Tales makes us contemplate the shame that victims of abuse often endure. That’s the other meaning of “Shame on Me!” It’s the victim who feels shame. Not the heartless attacker. And no matter how innocent the child, she is tainted by abuse. And it can mark her for life. Yu never hear what happen to her? Poor thing! Her life mash up now. She done fah. And the perpetrator of the crime often gets off scot-free.

Of course, I’m not going to tell you all the tales in Debra’s play. You have to go and see for yourself. The play opened last Wednesday at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre, formerly Green Gables, on Cargill Avenue. It’s on from Wednesday to Sunday until the 19th of February. Seventh-day Adventists should turn out in large numbers to look in Debra’s mirror. It’s an opportunity for reflection. I hope it’s not still a sin to go to the theatre.

FOUR CAN’T PLAY

Cock Tales isn’t the only play in town that’s dealing with men out of control. Basil Dawkins’ Four Can’t Play is on at the Little Little Theatre. It stars Oliver Samuels. He’s not the bad guy. His only problem is a very bad case of snoring. The villain is an irrationally jealous man who attacks anyone he thinks is attracted to his wife. He ends up in prison. Again, the play’s serious message is delivered with much humour.

Then there’s Tek Yuh Han Off A Mi, written by Michael Dawson, the local producer of Cock Tales. He also wrote the song of the same name that’s performed by Queen Ifrica. The play deals with domestic violence. And it attempts to free men and women trapped in co-dependence. It’s on today at 6 o’clock at the Jamaican Shopping Club Theatre.

blow-the-whistle-for-truth-t-shirts-mens-premium-t-shirtDebra Ehrhardt’s Cock Tales couldn’t have come to Jamaica at a better time. The constant abuse of girls by powerful men in and out of the Church has now provoked national condemnation. I hope it’s not a nine-day wonder. The abuse of children really isn’t news. We’ve long known about it. But it’s often hushed up. Debra has certainly blown the whistle on this nasty issue. Very loudly!

The Bible says, “A whistling woman and a crowing hen are an abomination to the Lord.” Actually, no! That sentence does not appear anywhere in the Bible. It sounds like it should be in the Book of Proverbs. But it’s not.

Donald Trump’s right-hand woman, Kellyanne Conway, might very well insist that it’s there in the Bible. But that would be an ‘alternative fact’ – a downright lie from a shameless con artist.

Even though the Bible doesn’t condemn whistling women or crowing hens, supposedly holy men of God have used the ancient book for centuries to silence women and keep us in our subservient place. But women keep on putting up resistance fearlessly. In Cock Tales, Debra doesn’t pussyfoot around. She stamps on abusers and shamelessly crows down deviant men: Cock-a-doodle don’t!

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Those Backward Adventists

Backward-Forward-web-695x463As a born and bred Seventh-Day Adventist, I’m thoroughly ashamed of the church of my youth. To think that in the 21st century Adventists cannot agree that women are eligible for ordination as ministers! It’s completely incomprehensible in this day and age.

Admittedly, I’m no longer a member ‘in good and regular standing’, as they say. I go to church irregularly for weddings and funerals. As a child, I got enough church to last me for the rest of my life. I’m a post-Adventist but I do pay sceptical attention to what’s happening in the church: Let’s see what they’re up to now!

On some issues, the Adventist church is reasonably progressive. Education and health are top priorities. In many countries, it is the educational system that attracts members. At the elementary and secondary level, Adventist education is quite respectable. But, to be frank, at the tertiary level, it can be decidedly anti-intellectual. No questions asked.

Adventists confidently know ‘the truth’. And this is non-negotiable. If, as a young adult with an inquiring mind, you ask difficult questions, you get into trouble. Take, for instance, the problem of the ‘mission story’. Each Sabbath, we were told the story of someone from an ‘unenlightened’ culture who was dissatisfied with his or her religion.

That unhappy individual would explore other religions, seeking ‘the truth’. Inevitably, they would find it in the Adventist church. So I wondered aloud if Adventists shouldn’t also question their own religion and go searching for something better. That, of course, was a sacrilegious proposition. Adventists already had the truth so there was no point in looking further.

AN UNGODLY PLACE

As a graduate student at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, I was fortunate to be offered a job at a Seventh-Day Adventist college. Those days, teaching jobs were scarce, particularly in the humanities. So I was tempted. But I wondered how I would manage in an intellectually conservative culture.

images-1I was reassured when the head of department conspiratorially told me that I didn’t need to wear anything ‘special’ for the interview. She’d anticipated that I would have been carefully considering the appropriate costume for my role as a prospective teacher at an Adventist college. As it turned out, she was pleased to have a new member of staff who had not been inbred at an Adventist institution.

But it was a challenge. One of my students from deep rural Maine refused to read fiction because it was a lie. Then there were Caribbean students from New York who had a hard time adjusting to rural life. They were happy to have a teacher who understood their culture. I once took some of them into the city to see The Harder They Come.

I was summoned by the Dean of Academic Affairs and reprimanded. It didn’t matter that I had screened the same movie on campus in a course on Caribbean culture. The issue was that students had gone to an ungodly place – a movie theatre. That was four decades ago. Things must have changed.

FALLEN BY THE WAYSIDE

Gender politics is still very conservative in the Adventist church. True, women can now be ministers. But they can only be ‘commissioned’, not ‘ordained’. The distinction between commissioning and ordination is at the heart of the current debate in the church about the role of women.

It seems as if ordination requires a higher level of sanctity than mere commissioning. And women are, apparently, unable to achieve this level of holiness. Men are genetically disposed to piety, it would seem. But the evidence is disputable. I can recall whispered stories of late-night re-baptisms of ordained ministers who had fallen by the wayside.

Usually, it was a very attractive female member of the flock who magnetically drew the man of God from the path of righteousness. Of course, in some instances, the ordained minister actively put himself in the path of the attractive woman. And suffered the pleasurable consequences. Man is human and flesh is frail – especially when you have a substantial lot of it in your arms.

Seriously, though, the issue of ordaining women is not about the spiritual inferiority of women. It’s just another version of the age-old story of discrimination against women based purely on gender. But there’s a twist to the tale. North American Adventists are, in general, quite liberal about ordaining women. In fact, in 2012, church leaders in two regions voted in support of the proposal. This was seen as divisive.

Status-Quo-432x320It is Adventists in the global South who are most committed to keeping women in their place. In the Caribbean, even women believe that God does not sanction the ordination of female ministers. And young people are no less backward. A male student at a secular university quoted 1 Timothy 2:12 to make his case to me: “But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.”

The Adventist church started in the US. But the growth rate there is relatively slow. It is in the global South that the Adventist church continues to grow rapidly. So the vexing issue of the ordination of women will only be resolved when Adventists outside North America are good and ready. Until then, dedicated commissioned female ministers will simply have to submit to the status quo, whether or not it’s divinely ordained.