When A Presbyterian Decorates Her Coffee Table

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Two weekends ago after we put away our holiday decorations the coffee table in the living room was looking a bit puny— despite the fact that I keep a crystal bowl filled with jingle bells on this table all year round.  [The jingle bells are from my childhood.  Remind me sometime to tell you the story of how they came to mean so much to me.]  Clearly the table needed something more on it, but I was all out of ideas.

Then a few days ago while I was shopping at the grocery store I saw a small houseplant of ivy for sale.  It looked very healthy so I bought it, brought it home and transplanted it into the first pot that I found in the garage.  However, once I got the pot inside the house I realized that it was too small for this table and that it needed some height.  So I pulled some gardening books from the adjacent bookshelves and placed the potted ivy on top of the books.

Still I wanted something more on the table, so I took the plain vanilla candle that had been in the screened-in porch all summer/fall, brought it inside and put it on the table.  Suddenly, I had a pretty look for the coffee table.  Very coordinated & cheerful.

Or so I thought at first….

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It wasn’t until the next day when I lighted the candle and sat down in the living room to read a book that it dawned on me that I’d set up a tableau that amounted to the Roman Catholic Church’s time-honored excommunication ceremony.

“The bell represented the public character of the act, the book the authority of the words spoken by the presiding bishop.  The candle was believed to symbolize the possibility that the ban might be lifted by the repentance and amendment of its victim.  The ceremony was performed in some conspicuous place….”

~ Encyclopedia Britannica

After I stopped laughing at myself I got worried that maybe I’d really offended Someone– or some System– or some Being.  You know how I like to live a harmonious life.  So I did a bit of research about how one gets himself or herself excommunicated, and discovered to my relief that:

“The purpose of excommunication isn’t to allow you to quit or make a political statement or pursue some other private agenda. It’s to allow the church to throw you out. If you’re already out — that is, if you don’t partake of the sacraments or otherwise participate in Catholic activities… — excommunication is likely to strike church authorities as a waste of good holy water.”

~ Cecil Adams, The Straight Dope

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Finding out that I couldn’t excommunicate myself while decorating a coffee table has set my mind to rest about this situation.  Also, considering that I’m not Catholic I figure that the authorities won’t want to waste holy water on me either.

Of course, I have to admit that upon closer self-examination during this situation, I’ve come to realize that as a [lapsed] Presbyterian I really need not worry about how I’ve inadvertently offended the Roman Catholic Church, as much as the fact that I rarely go to church.  Which I suspect is going to reflect more poorly on my character when I reach the Pearly Gates– than my accidental excommunication-themed decorating tableau.  🙂

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Ally Bean

Observant. Creative. Humorous. Adaptable. Happy enough. Midwestern by chance. Kindhearted most days.

18 thoughts on “When A Presbyterian Decorates Her Coffee Table”

  1. I wouldn’t have had a clue if I’d done that! But it seems that that’s OK, as I’m not Catholic either, and if I was, I probably would have known about this. Pretty set up on your table. I would love to hear the story of the jingle bells, I hope you get inspired to write it up soon. Polly x

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  2. So, tell me about the jingle bells… There also must be some story for how you happened to know that you set the stage for an excommunication ritual. Still, it’s good that you can’t accidentally excommunicate yourself from a religion to which you don’t belong. =) I love the story!

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  3. Zazzy, I knew about this excommunication ritual because of the movie titled: Bell, Book and Candle. Plus as an English major we learned all about RC in the course of reading English Lit.

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  4. I’m so impressed, but not surprised that you remembered all of this from your studies! I’m so ashamed of myself when I can’t answer all the art history questions on Jepardy! The set up on your table is beautiful, and very balalnced. I would never associate it with an excommunication ritual. And I agree with everyone else….I’d love to hear the jingle bell story please!

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  5. Beth, for some reason all that “how-to excommunicate someone” info stuck in my brain. Maybe it was on a test! Thanks for the compliment about the coffee table. I try to decorate with a bit of flair– and using all the principles I learned while creating retail displays years ago!

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  6. Becky, you were part of that jingle bell scam, so don’t try to pawn all of this off on my Dad!! And if I start talking about the bells, who’s to say I won’t start babbling about the whole duck nightmare situation. Huh?

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  7. Okay just your title got me here! And I love that you started with one thing (the bowl with bells) and then starting building (in three piles, with height) to decorate the table. Now that’s good design! Of course the whole meaning is quite unfortunate, but on the other hand, I have a very large bed placed so close to the wall (in a little nook!) that I have to practically springboard myself over it in order to reach my side of the bed. So I say does it matter what it means/whether it’s practical…it’s good design! (Ha, said tongue-in-cheek from someone who writes about design)! 🙂

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  8. Margaret, the ivy isn’t part of the ceremony. Perhaps it is that piece of the coffee table tableau that keeps me safe from a true excommunication! Or the fact that I’m not RC.

    Kristen, “the whole meaning is quite unfortunate” is a good summation of what I did. I’m an active amateur when it comes to interior design, so every time I succeed in doing something good I’m pleased with myself. Regardless of what it might mean!

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