The road to hell, it is said, is paved with good intentions.
In my case, the road to hellish — or at least boorish — behavior was paved with the intention to be funny. Unfortunately, my intent went awry, and in the process I inadvertently caused offense and unintentionally leveled insult at a place and a group of people who deserved none of it. In other words, I tried to be funny and I wasn’t, and in the process, I hurt a lot of people whom I shouldn’t have hurt and disparaged a lot of people whom I didn’t intend to disparage. It was a stupid mistake on my part. For that, I am truly sorry and I apologize.
What happened was this: In the Lifestyle section of each Weekend Edition we run a feature that we call Mystery Shot, a feature we have been running since 2008. In the feature, we show part of a fairly well known structure in Steele County and ask our readers to identify the place pictured — something which our readers are very good at doing. Then, the next week, we identify the place pictured and tell which of our readers correctly identified the place. Occasionally, a couple dozen ID the place, sometimes only a few.
The place pictured in the Mystery Shot for Aug. 15 was one of those rare occasions when we stumped all of our readers with a picture of a flat stone with the word “Peace” etched in it and a statue of a dove sitting atop it. The stone and statue sit outside St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Owatonna at a rear entrance that evidently is rarely used by parishioners. And, as I say, no one was able to identify it.
Those who do participate in our weekly game seem to enjoy it and have taken the game to a whole new level beyond what we ever imagined. Some will even research the place pictured and tell us more about that place than we ever knew. It’s great fun and always teaches me a thing or two about Steele County. What’s more many of our regular participants will stop me on the street — or, in the case of last week, on the Steele County Fairgrounds — and talk to me about the Mystery Shot.
Then there was the case of the one that no one could identify. One of our reader-participants, who also is a superintendent at the Steele County Free Fair, brought a photocopy of the Aug. 15th Mystery Shot to the fair’s Volunteer Appreciation Dinner held Aug. 16 on the fairgrounds. He was looking for some help from someone, anyone, who could identify that flat stone with the dove statue on top, but to no avail. No one could identify it.
The man and I laughed about his attempt to find the right answer, so I was determined to tell our other readers about what happened. And that’s where I made my mistake.
Instead of focusing the story on his quest for the answer, which was funny enough, I twisted the joke just a little and in so doing I left the impression that the parishioners of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church don’t do any volunteer work at the Steele County Free Fair, around the county or anywhere else for that matter.
It was a foolish thing to suggest, and I am sorry.
Let me say again that it was an attempt — though clearly a failed attempt on my part — to interject humor.
There is a difference between the written word and the spoken word. One major difference is that with the spoken word, you can hear the tone of voice that often conveys the attitude of the speaker and, therefore, what the speaker meant. That’s especially true when it comes to humor. With the written word, tone is often lost, and with it attitude and meaning.
In the case of the Mystery Shot, the humor that I was trying to convey and what I was trying to say and do were completely lost. As one member of St. Paul’s pointed out, what I wrote simply sounded snarky, and she was right. So, the fault was not with the readers for not getting what I was trying to say. The fault was with the writer.
In other words, the fault was mine.
As a professional who deals with the written word on a daily basis, I know that one must be very careful with tone to make certain that intent and interpretation coalesce. I failed to do that, so instead of coming out funny as I intended, it came out snarky in a place where being snarky was inappropriate.
I had a number of church members write me emails on Monday to take me to task — and rightfully so — for the Mystery Shot. As I said to them, I say to the community: My sarcasm was not meant to be a reflection of my attitude toward the St. Paul congregation. I have the utmost respect for the Anglican/Episcopal tradition in general and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in particular.
In the 12th article of the Articles of Religion of the Protestant Episcopal Church, published in 1801, good works are spoken of as the “fruits of faith” that “spring out necessarily of a true and lively faith.”
Then in 1984, the Anglican Consultative Council defined the “Five Marks of Mission,” the last three of which are “to respond to human need by loving service,” “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation,” and “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
In other words, part of the mission of the Episcopal Church is to do good works.
St. Paul’s has clearly done that and continues to do that in more ways than can be mentioned here. But, just to mention a few, Episcopalians in Steele County helped to establish the Crisis Resource Center, the Steele County Food Shelf and the Cultural Diversity Network. From a personal standpoint, I have worked with many parishioners in productions at Little Theatre of Owatonna and count many of them as very dear friends. And yes, many do volunteer at the Steele County Free Fair. They weren’t at the Volunteer Appreciation Dinner that evening because, as one member told us, they were busy that day “preparing and serving food for migrant workers who travel from Texas each year to staff the vegetable canning plant in Montgomery.”
The good folks at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church show daily the fruits of faith, and if I have done anything to suggest otherwise, I am truly sorry.