Thursday, 28 July 2011

Prayer FAIL

Speaking of automobiles...

Fail submitted by Aaron Ghiloni

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

On catechesis and catastrophe

The day my mother turned seventeen, she went to the local Canberra police station to apply for her driver’s license. When she walked through the door in a short summer dress with a ribbon in her hair, the driving instructor looked up with interest. When she flashed him a smile and said she would like to take the driving test, he thought she was very pretty. When she batted her long black eyelashes and said it was her birthday, he beamed at her and fumbled madly for his camera, then took her photo and, without further ado, issued her with an Australian driver’s license. It was, he told her with a confidential wink, a birthday present.

And so, without so much as turning a key or operating a windscreen wiper, my mother was authorised to pilot one of the most dangerous high-speed weapons ever devised by the dark mind of man: the automobile.

My mother’s older sister had saved up and bought a brand new gleaming white Mini Minor, the kind all the groovy kids were driving in those days. Soon after my mother’s seventeenth birthday, they went on a road trip together to Melbourne. Now the highway from Canberra to Melbourne, if you have never made that noble journey, is an easy eight-hour drive that takes you through the sprawling languid dairy country, down along the great Murray River, and up through the hills of the Great Dividing Range. My mother being a licensed driver, her sister gave her a turn at the wheel. On a long, perfectly straight road, without another vehicle in sight, my gleeful mother held the wheel and plunged down her accelerator foot. In the passenger seat beside her, her sister closed her eyes and began to dream. The little Mini Minor gathered speed. It began, ever so slightly, to wobble. My mother pushed harder on the accelerator, smiling at the charming dairy fields. When the poor little car began to shake violently, my mother did as any person driving for the first time might do: she accelerated a little more, and then, to compensate for all that wobbling, began to nudge the wheel from side to side – gently at first, then harder, with a playful jubilant vigour. Side to side, side to side: no doubt about it, it had been a splendid birthday. Dreamily she watched a flock of birds go by. The car was wobbling wildly now, so she swerved the wheel a little harder and felt the accelerator – at last! – go flat to the floor.

That was how it happened that, on a long stretch of straight flat road, with no vehicles or obstacles of any kind for miles around, the brilliant new hundred-mile-an-hour Mini Minor found itself toppling and rolling like a rugby ball, over and over, until at last it came to rest in a wide dusty ditch, bent and crumpled and crushed, while my mother, breathless with birthday exhilaration beneath a shower of glass confetti, still clasped the wheel with both hands – in fact, still rocked it back and forth with dazed but undiminished glee.

Though they now had no car and little money, the two sisters somehow made their way to Melbourne. A few nights later, at a party a friend’s place, my mother drank for a while, drank some more, talked loudly and laughingly about her marvellous birthday, and then, wandering alone through the house, noticed some keys on a table and idly picked them up. She twirled the keyring round her finger. She went out the front door and twirled the keys beneath the encouraging smiling winks of the stars. She found the car that fit the key, a lovely red sedan, and climbed into the driver’s seat.

It was such a cool clear evening, such a perfect night for driving my mother thought as she turned the next corner, windows down and engine blazing. By the time she made it back to the party twenty minutes later, she had reduced her second automobile to a twisted steaming wreck on the corner of a quiet backstreet three blocks away.

I often think about that good, sweet-natured Canberra policeman who had given my mother her license as a birthday present. On the night of her birthday, I imagine the policeman lounging happily in his favourite chair at home, thinking of the girl with the beautiful brown eyes, the long eyelashes and dimply smile, congratulating himself on his chivalry, never dreaming that he was, that night, the most dangerous man in the commonwealth of Australia. For it was he who had made my mother a Driver. It was he who had single-handedly turned every other person and every vehicle for hundreds of miles around into a prospective victim of my mother’s birthday joy.

Many of our church leaders today are very much like that innocent-hearted policeman. We would like to make it as easy as possible for people to become Christians. Catechesis is too demanding; education is a chore; deliberate instruction in the Christian faith will put people off. And so with a knowing wink, we waive all the requirements and hand out the baptism certificate. We are charming, gallant, spiritually magnanimous – and ruinously dangerous. In our eagerness to make sure everybody is included, to reassure inquirers that the Christian faith is indeed an easygoing undemanding thing, we are looking only at the dimples and batted eyelashes. We are forgetting the longer view, the screech of tyres and the shriek of twisted steel and the long split-second when a windscreen becomes a million tiny diamonds in the sky. We blame the new converts if after some time they make a wreck of their faith.

But after considering the matter carefully and objectively, I find I cannot blame my mother for the magnificent trail of automobiles left smoking in her wake: I blame the generous heart of a magnanimous policeman.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Call for papers: faith and atheism in Australia

I'm involved in organising a conference on Questioning God: Faith and Atheism in Australia, to be held in Sydney this October. There's a call for papers, and we're especially interested in interdisciplinary perspectives on contemporary faith and atheism.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Doodlings Redivivus

by Kim Fabricius

All serious theology begins with the question “Who gives a shit?”

Making room for God in your life is like making room for cold in the fridge.

Most wondrously, the longer I am married, the more of a mystery to me my wife becomes. I expect one morning to wake up, turn to my beloved, and say, “Who the hell are you?”

There is a certain kind of writing that may aptly be called “praying with your pen”. At the keyboard, however, one cannot pray, only conjure.

There are your daily ups and downs, and then there is your character. In the ecology of the self, the former is the weather, the latter the climate.

In our fiercely neoliberal economy, the heart (to contemporise Calvin) has relocated, going south (metaphorically as well as geographically): it is now a perpetual sweatshop of idols.

Cunning capitalism: in the SCM/Canterbury Press summer book sale, Theology of Money, RRP £30.00, is going for a song at £4.00.

I am shocked and outraged at the shock and outrage of the public reaction to the corruption and crime exposed in Murdochgate. Christ, even Pavlov’s dogs would bark, “Yuh think?”

Is it surprising that so many American Christians are obsessed with hell when mass incarceration and capital punishment are the way the nation does justice?

Ivan Karamazov declares that he would rather return the entrance ticket than remain in a world that requires hell for its harmony. There are many people, however, who would gladly pay extra for a better seat.

When Sartre said that hell is other people, he wasn’t wrong, just not specific enough. The Tea Party perhaps? Oops, wrong species.

As Karl Barth should have said: Nulla salus extra infernum.

I started believing in special providences of books after finishing the copy of Barth’s Romans that a friend gave to me as a birthday present. I started believing in angels at the same time.

Hollywood is making a comedy series on the Synod of Dort. But for copyright issues it would be called Will & Grace.

If you have ever been to the Big Apple, you will know that New Yorkers never needlessly give offence. They do it enthusiastically.

Après ski, two theologians were avidly discussing the phrase piste christou.

I’ve been closely following the pistis christou debates, and I can’t tell you how relieved I am that, according to some scholars, I am justified by an objective genitive. I’d been getting so worried that I might need some complex periphrastic or optative construction to get saved that I’ve been brushing up on my Metzger and Moule.

Theologians attack the New Atheists for shooting fish in a barrel. They should know.

As ministers approach retirement, the question many ask themselves is not which church they will attend, but, apart from the ones they occasionally preach in, whether they will attend any church at all.

Karl Rahner was trying to explain the Trinity to Bill Clinton, without much success. In exasperation he finally exclaimed, “It’s the economy, stupid!”

In Who Moved the Stone?, Frank Morison, the pseudonym of Albert Henry Ross, proved that Jesus rose from the dead. Ross was a lawyer and an advertising agent. Enough said.

After he had finished his PowerPoint Presentation on the Mount, Jesus said, “Now break into groups of no more than six and share.”

Jesus cell phones Mary from the Sea of Galilee just before he starts teaching in parables (Matthew 13): “Ma, I’m on the boat.”

Some Christian leaders seem to think that “The Lord is my helper” (Hebrews 13:6) means that he is their PA.

A junkie once told me that the only way to kick the habit is by falling in love. He was obviously an anonymous theologian.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Dreaming of tigers

Two nights ago, my wife dreamt of tigers. In the morning she told me. A tiger bounding through the house, big and terrible yet somehow innocent as a kitten, purring and growling with ferocious hungry joy.

I said, I suppose it is the dog.

She said, Yes, when he sleeps beside the bed I hear him breathing and stirring in his sleep.

I said, Like all dogs he dreams of hunting.

She said, The dreadful chase, the murderous lunge, the bloody feast and bones.

I said, He is never happier than in those dreams.

She said, And in my sleep I must have heard him dreaming, and so I dreamt of tigers.

The next night I went to sleep after a long sad day, and I dreamt I was standing outside on the lawn as a tiger came towards me, his great paws pounding the earth like drums. I looked into the tiger’s face and loved him, and I was seized by a sudden horror that I would be torn and eaten in one of his savage spasms of reckless unselfconscious joy.

When I awoke I told my wife. Had I dreamt of tigers because of the happy snarling sleeping dog beside the bed? Or was it my wife’s slow breathing that I heard as she lay beside me, naked and dreaming of tigers, a dark tendril of her imagination creeping across the bed into my mind, her quickening heartbeat echoing like dreadful footfalls in my dream? Was it my own dream tiger that I saw, or hers?


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