Sunday 15 November 2015

Hot diggidy doodlings

One Word is worth a thousand strictures.

As quarks and gluons are to matter, so Word and Sacrament are to the church – its two elementary constituents.

The church has too many ministers who use prayer as a form of preaching, and too few who practice preaching as a form of prayer.

All the best things happen in the dark. Observing the evening star or the silver sliver of the moon. Watching fireflies or fireworks. Roasting marshmallows by a campfire. Sleepovers. Canoodling in bed. Dreaming that dream, old man, you’ve been dreaming since you were a child. Oh yes – and Christ’s death (Mark 15:33) and resurrection (John 20:1). There are, of course, exceptions. For example, Dracula and Ann Coulter are nocturnal creatures.

“The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson, in New Zealand, the Very Revd Nick Kirk, has refused to host a concert that includes Karl Jenkins’s Mass for Peace, because the work refers to the Muslim call to prayer” (Church Times, 18 September). Hang on a minute. The Mass is, er, a Mass, and incorporates texts from the Psalms and Revelation. It was dedicated to victims of the Kosovo War (1998-99), most of whom were Muslims – Muslim civilians – wounded, raped, killed by Christians. It has been performed in cathedrals all over the world – including Christ Church Cathedral itself (in 2007). Not to mention that the composer was born and raised in the Swansea village of Penclawdd! In defending his decision, the Dean insisted: “Jesus said there is no other way to salvation except through him. If we start to say any other way is OK, that’s not true.” Well, as a Kiwi might translate Proverbs 26:9: “To ask a drongo to cite a saying of Jesus is like handing an axe to a pisshead.”

We call works of fiction “great” insofar as they save us from the self-fictionalisations that constitute the ego. Thus great drama delivers us from self-dramatisation, great comedy delivers us from self-seriousness, and so on. Reading great literature is a spiritual exercise, an askesis, an assault on the self-deceit with which even prayer can collude. Were I a Catholic taking the sacrament of penance, to the question “When did you make your last confession?” I would reply, “First, tell me, Father, when did you read your last novel?”

After the service, I thanked the minister, particularly for his fine sense of irony in giving a PowerPoint presentation of the Sermon on the Mount – particularly the Beatitudes in bullet points. All that was missing were Like/Don’t-Like thumbs.

At a recent Sunday service, the visiting minister (“I’m keen on interactive worship”) had us break into groups and share our “faith experiences” with each other, i.e., engage in autobiographical idolatry. At such times I think bringing firearms to church isn’t such a bad idea.

And then there is the worship screen, with the words “Prayer Time” and an image of folded hands on a pale blue background. What a godsend! Ten seconds into praying I often forget what I’m doing; now, however, I can look up and say to myself, “Oh yeah …”, and then close my eyes again.

Imagine a Calvinist, hyper,
more pity you’ll find in a viper,
so full of elation
at hell and damnation –
no need to imagine – it’s Piper!

How do you answer the idiotic question, “What car would Jesus drive?” You roll your eyes and sigh, “Christ on a bike!”

It is not that people today are more stupid than they used to be, but we are, I’m sure, less patient, more slow-averse, and so less likely to take the time to make sure that our thinking is joined-up and our arguments are coherent, and more likely to break the speed limits of reason and crash our cogitations into unwarranted conclusions. Which I guess is pretty stupid of us after all.

As an expat, here, in acronyms, is what I miss about the US: NRA, GOP, KKK, SBC, NYPD, ADX, CIA, and NHS (oops, sorry, the US doesn’t have an NHS).

What is a Republican-controlled Congress but a form of Capitol punishment?

Why does the Right persist in climate change denial? Because it is in the interests of big business, of course. But also because climate change is the perfect weapon of mass destruction, as it not only makes no demands on the defence budget, it also targets the enemy, i.e., the poor, with the precision of a drone.

If you had actors speaking the lines of the Republican candidates at the presidential debates, you’d think it was political satire, wouldn’t you? They make the blah, blah, blah of inebriants sound like intelligent speech.

So who does one support as the Republican presidential candidate? Throw in Cheney as Carson’s VP and I’d go for the Ben-and-Dick Option. It’s the perfect combination of buffoonery and barbarity.

Another suggestion for a First Things name-change after its intellectually and morally cringe-worthy Buycott blitzkrieg in the first skirmish in this year’s Christmas kulturkampf, the Battle of Starbucks: The Exceedingly Light Brigade.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
                   Someone had blundered.

I used to have immense respect for the theological acumen of William Stringfellow and Marilynne Robinson, but no longer. After all, neither has a degree in theology.

A recent report in the journal Current Biology, based on the research of 7 universities which studied almost 1200 children in countries including the US, Turkey, and China, concludes: “Children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions – Christianity and Islam – were less altruistic than children from non-religious households.” Which I should think is neither surprising nor unsurprising, nor is the consistency with which religious parents overestimate how nice their children are. Book dedications like “… and to my awesome kids Deodatus and Dorcas ...” – what a chortle they bring to the cynical reader.

What’s the difference between Fort Hood, Texas, the largest US military installation in the world, and AT&T Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys?  On any given game-day, you will find a greater military presence at AT&T Stadium.

I suffer terribly from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and it’s just begun to kick in: from November until April, no baseball. Apathy, lethargy, tearfulness – it’s time to re-read Smith, Giamatti, and Will, and to re-watch Bull Durham, Major League, and Field of Dreams.  That, and with Rogers Hornsby, “stare out the window and wait for spring.” Easter gives you some idea of the joy of Opening Day.

The human is a bewilderedbeast. What faith does is to transform bewilderment from a burden into a blessing.

“It is the problem of our age: hatred against Germans poisons everyone’s mind…. To sum up, this is what I really want to say: Nazi barbarism evokes the same kind of barbarism in ourselves.… We have to reject that barbarism within us, we must not fan the hatred within us, because if we do, the world will not be able to pull itself one inch further out of the mire” (Etty Hillesum, from Etty: The Letters and Diaries of Etty Hillesum, 2002). For “Germans” and “Nazi”, read “ISIS”, and after the sorrow and the sense of helplessness bordering on hopelessness, you have my reaction to the Paris massacre.

The Sermon on the Mount is an ethical promissory note addressed to people who would only begin to exist after Easter.


Bruce Hamill said...

"drongo", what's that. I think I better ask an Australian (Bruce Hamill, New Zealand)

Unknown said...

Sorry, Bruce. I blame Wiktionary, which informed me that while "drongo" is Australian in origin -- "From an Australian racehorse named Drongo, apparently after the bird (specifically, after the spangled drongo,Dicrurus bracteatus) -- it is used by New Zealanders too. But evidently not!

brian said...

Of course, it's just as easy to bash the Left, to dehumanize them and ridicule them as foolish. I've read and admired Etty Hillesum, as well. The struggle to show compassion and live with courage and humor transcends ideological attachments. As if no one could possibly read poetry and love art, tell a decent joke, have a feel for complexity and paradox, or the perplexity of living in this fallen world -- and also be an American or vote Republican . . . as if the only intellectual possibilities were to be a gun-toting, Tea Party Cowboy fan or a sensitive, liberal intellectual.

Alan K said...

These have made me late to my next meeting. Thank you!

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