Unctuous—Characterized by a smug, smooth pretense of spiritual feeling, fervor, or earnestness, as in seeking to persuade; too suave, or oily in speech or manner.
Last Sunday morning, as I weeded in the backyard garden, I heard the congregation singing hymns in the church up the block. For a moment I flattered myself, thinking maybe they were singing just a bit louder that Sunday to try to convince me of their rectitude. At least some of them had read my piece, "How I Became A NIMBY," which ran in the Post-Gazette’s Sunday Forum section last week. My regular readers will know of the piece by its first title, “Love Thy NIMBY,” which ran here in Barnestormin a while back.
I know members of the congregation read my piece because one of them gave it to the minister, who sent me an email. I didn’t dignify his note with a response, because his note was, as my friend Juandy Don aptly put it, “unctuous.” I am not so much surprised by the tone of the letter as I was of the audacity of him sending it, after he completely disregarded me when I called him a few weeks back.
“He didn’t care about what you thought until you burned him in the newspaper,” Juandy said.
A lot of good it did, anyway. The church still has its ugly new parking lot, which is good, since now they won’t be inconvenienced the day a week that they get together to worship the Lord. Not having to walk that extra 100 feet will no doubt give them more energy for praise and worship.
Last Sunday, I didn’t hear them sing “For All The Saints,” which was probably my favorite hymn when I was growing up in First Presbyterian Church in Downtown. I can only remember the beginning:
For all the saints, who from their labors rest
But I remember well the sort of marching beat of the hymn, which sounded like it might have been one of those hymns that borrowed the tune of an old English drinking song. It also had a neat organ riff in the middle of the hymn, which pulled the whole tune together well.
I’ll admit that part of me wanted to respond to the minister, but I just don’t feel that he deserved a response. I wanted to quote one of the Bible passages that was drummed into my head in my evangelical upbringing, such as:
Love vaunteth not itself; it is not puffed up;
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked;
Rejoiceth not iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things;
Love never faileth.
One of the things I learned from my NIMBY experience is that churches throughout the Pittsburgh area are treating their neighbors in ways those neighbors view as unkind and thoughtless. I received a few letters regarding this church parking lot issue after my story ran in the P-G, including one from a gal I’ll call “Kris,” who jumped the gun and thought the church might be building a garage on their property. She has taken an interest in this issue, because she has found that nonprofits in lower Wilkinsburg, where she lives, are buying up more and more property and taking it off of the tax rolls, which she finds problematic. She also has been fighting to ensure that thoughtless property owners in Wilkinsburg aren’t allowed to buy empty lots in neighborhoods, simply to build a garage on the lot, to store their cars. She is fighting against people who she perceives as wantonly bringing down property values in Wilkinsburg, and now, our neighbor the church is on her list.
I also received a letter from a fellow I’ll call “Gabe,” who lives in Moon and who has an Episcopal church as his next-door neighbor, since the church bought eight acres next door several years back. Gabe’s first problem with his neighbor was the floodlights that were installed high on the church and left on all night, illuminating every blade of grass in Gabe’s yard. Then came the basketball hoop in the church parking lot, and basketballs bouncing into his garden and smashing Gabe’s plants. The kids who go to the church even ski through Gabe’s yard in wintertime, he wrote.
And in Juandy’s old neighborhood in the North Hills, the parishioners of the Catholic church across the street from his neighborhood insist on parking in the neighborhood, though it is illegal to park on the street in that municipality. The churchgoing folks park up there in that Franklin Park neighborhood so that they don’t have to wait in line to exit the church parking lot. Breaking the law makes things more convenient for them. But in the meantime, they forgot about the neighbors.