Month: March 2011

Sometimes…

“Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…”

Satchel Paige, US baseball player (1906 – 1982)
Sometimes…
Sitting is productive. Thinking gets you tied up in knots.
thanks to intlxpatr for the pelican
Images ebb and flow in the consciousness. They don’t necessarily have to always have a meaning or a thread which links them all together. 

God is, whether or not I choose at this moment to say ‘yes’.

I am not a human being in search of a spiritual experience, I am a spiritual being immersed in a human experience 

(para: Teilhard de Chardin)

The more (a man) simplifies his life, the more the laws of the Universe will appear less complex 

(Henry Thoreau)

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Two Churches

Walking along the Boulevard St Germain this afternoon, in the shadow of the Sorbonne’s Faculty of Medicine building, it occurred to me that probably nobody in the world had done what I had done that day. it’s been a long time since I attended church twice (or even once, truth be told) on a Sunday, and even longer since I went to two rather different ones on the same day.

Hillsong Paris is a Sydney transplant, in most respects, it would seem, similar to its parent church. It meets in a large rented theatre in chic Montparnasse, flanked by a sex shop and a couple of Japanese restaurants. The building is modern, seats almost a thousand and the church is able to make best use of a fully equipped light and sound system. Because of the hour change, we were late, but the greeter in the teddy bear costume didn’t seem to mind and someone escorted us to a couple of balcony ringside seats. Worship accompanied prayer and preaching, nothing was over the top or out of place, with the possible exception of myself who must have raised the average age in the room by a couple of months at least. I really enjoyed myself, it was joyous, upbeat and grace-filled but it was clear that there were quite a lot of spectators – it’s France, after all –  and much like anywhere else, energy, drive and enthusiasm, although available in abundance, was being generated by comparatively few. The service was bilingual, the Australian pastor was being expertly and simultaneously translated shotgun-style – it’s rare to see it done so well – while the band slipped effortlessly in and out of the preaching. They weren’t restricted to the usual drummer in a cage with lead, rhythm and keyboards – a string quartet put in an appearance who clearly were soloist standard and it was quite nice that nobody seemed to have a musical axe to grind. Bought the newest CD which might come in useful.

I asked who the pastor was and in fact the people I spoke to had trouble recalling his name, so whatever else he was he certainly wasn’t in the business of developing a cult of personality. He was young, smart, street-savvy and ate, anonymously, at the same restaurant as we did afterwards. 


The Left Bank has a reputation as the cradle of the Revolution and something of its stubbornly rebellious nature hangs in the air like a half-smoked Gauloise. It is crammed with bookish types with earnest expressions, as well as large numbers of Orientals, probably educational tourists who attempt to copy Parisian languor which combines sang-froid and boredom.

L’Eglise de St Nicolas du Chardonnet on the corner of the rue Saint-Victor was the second spiritual oasis of the day. The Archbishop of Paris has served an eviction order on the building, since it is used by an heretical, right-wing Catholic sect, who conduct Mass in Latin, perform Gregorian chants and refuse to acknowledge the authority of any Pope elected after Vatican II. They call themselves the Society of St. Pius X, founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1970. It is their only church in Paris and although many others exist in France and it’s not their official French headquarters, it is seen as their de facto national centre. We hit the scene just in time for Vespers. Beautifully choreographed, bowing, chanting, ten steps, sharp right, hold the book up, bow some more, genuflect, censer swinging – you get the idea. The priest, dressed in Lenten purple unsmilingly intoning the prepared Latin script with various cantors doing the backing track. There then followed some kind of homily delivered by a vulpine looking individual from a pulpit positioned in such a way as to discourage the faithful from actually looking at him, the gist of which appeared to be something of a diatribe on the evils of not following Church teaching during Lent, at which point I had had enough and slithered out under a hundred condemnatory eyes, mostly elderly and female. I probably didn’t bow in the right places either.

Smokin’ Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor died today. She was twenty years older than me which didn’t seem to prevent me at eleven from suffering all kinds of pre-adolescent fantasies. It must have been those smoky eyes, or perhaps lingerie manufacturers in the sixties were trained differently, but nobody seems to have quite the knack of making what the Germans call Büstenhalterin quite the same way these days. The Germanic capitalisation confers a certain, well, insurance I find. London lingerie shop Rigby& Peller used to sell a flesh-coloured object which resembled a surgical appliance with nose cones. I’m certain she must have bought some.
‘Cleopatra’ might have been a spectacular box-office flop but the memory of Richard Burton as a brooding, aggressive Mark Antony representing the rise of Roman power alongside the smouldering Taylor as the waning glory of Egypt can still be brought to mind after all these years, later surpassed only by the much more sophisticated ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf”.
Married eight times, twice to Burton, she was undeniably a boy’s girl. What is it about the Welsh warrior poets?

There are whispers that yet another version – the twelfth, or even the thirteenth – is in plan, almost certainly with Angelina Jolie and perhaps – inevitably – Brad Pitt.
Side by side…? No contest.

Waves of Unrest

It’s becoming hard to keep up. Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya and now, apparently Syria. Placards and flags burned or waved, people discharging weaponry either into the air in supposed jubilation, or at their enemies in a viral infection of discontent against usually dictatorial, authoritarian or otherwise unacceptable power structures. Even a timid little squeak of protest, easily squashed, in Saudi. It might be over-optimistic to suggest that the pressure wave of civil disobedience might just decay away quietly and exponentially as undisturbed ripples with the threat of sanction and reward, much as this optimistic and hopeful-looking little graph suggests.

A graph is a mathematical representation of a physical reality – this one was originally created to demonstrate how sound waves die away – would that politics could be so simply described. The Arab world appears to have suddenly developed a micro-organic life of its own with frightening rapidity and a single political lacewing, landing on an already unstable leaf, might bring a very large tree crashing down into the forest, where the rest of us are condemned to pick up the pieces. ‘Coalition forces’ have unleashed firepower not seen since the Americans sent a routed rabble home to Baghdad. The British, with their often inconveniently sensitive notion of fair play are leading the way. Intervention has consequences.

One of these images above is of a mad dictator, the other is of a felt puppet.

Twitter, Schmitter

Various pundits have commented recently about the influence of mass communication technology on the recent unrest in the Arab world. Twitter is now five years old and has grown into a dangly (or is it gangly) adolescent. Personally, I don’t get it, thus have little of value to add to an already overcrowded debate. Why does the entire online population have to be informed that one’s socks are not dry or one has just missed the number 27 bus?
Tech-savvy yoof however has allegedly used social media to generate foment, unrest and what used to be quaintly called treason by sheer volume of 140 character comment, most of which has as much political weight as the arrival or not of public transport and it’s worrying to reflect on the notion that if enough people tweet about something the subject matter acquires respectability, veracity and authority in consequence – the ad populum fallacy. I myself, on the other hand, find 140 characters not nearly enough and use a different logical fallacy, proof by verbosity, to prove a point. This is sometimes referred to as argumentum verbosium, a rhetorical technique that tries to persuade by overwhelming those considering an argument with such a volume of material that the argument sounds plausible, superficially appears to be well-researched, and it is so laborious to untangle and check any supporting facts – there may very well be none at all –  that the argument might be allowed to slide by unchallenged. I find that burying the listener, or perhaps, the reader, in $50 words is equally, if not more effective.
I think I’m the only person I know who has used the word ‘moreover’ in a text message since I find the rape of my mother tongue in whatever context by illiterate spamheads, flatheads, pinheads and crackheads a little bit perturbing. Additionally, when texting, one does needs to be quite sure about the recipient’s identity. Caveat lector, with apologies for the missing full stops, also comma after ‘ex’.

1973 or 22

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The exiled poor in the Libyan conflict are the voiceless ones most to be pitied. Many of them are illegal immigrants from Ghana and Nigeria – an impoverished underclass in Libyan society – living amidst piles of garbage, sleeping in makeshift, blanketed tents haphazardly strung from fences and trees and breathing fumes from an open sewer which divides their camp from the parking lot of Tripoli’s main airport. All of them are desperate to escape and many report they had seen deaths from hunger and disease almost every night. Scrawny babies are born with a feeble grasp on life and without proper medical attention for either themselves or their mothers. Without sufficient money, papers or the wherewithal to escape, tragically, over a million illegals from sub-Saharan Africa are caught in the middle. But, worse follows. These are the ones in a classic Catch 22, most particularly dark-skinned Africans who are routinely robbed for money and valuables by loyalist guards at the checkpoints and attacked on sight by the rebels who believe them to be sub-Saharan mercenaries hired by the Gaddafi regime. Streets remain uncleaned, construction projects halted and people are dying. Their own governments have, it seems, left them to fend for themselves and the security stranglehold around Tripoli has prevented aid from reaching them in the makeshift squalor of their camps.
Led by the French, the Americans and the British, air strikes have begun in response to UN Resolution 1973, ostensibly to enforce a no-fly zone. The reality may be somewhat different as may the outcome, since crippling Gaddafi’s airpower is a fairly straightforward objective and preventing ordnance being emptied indiscriminately on the civilian populations in rebel held strongholds like Benghazi is achievable. But, what then? Gaddafi is still at the controls, his tribal allegiances are undiminished and his willingness to slaughter unabated. How then should the operation proceed after these primary objectives are met? Coalition forces have picked a fight. It remains to be seen whether they can finish it or not. I wonder if the sea of human misery encamped around Tripoli airport cares very much who wins, since it will inevitably be the loser.

Flying Ashtrays

I sometimes blunder into other people’s theological reflections, almost by mistake and thoughts from someone’s study often contain quite a few little gems.
Came across these the other day…
‘Here is a curious thing. Liberal Christians find it impossible to believe that God raised the dead Jesus, yet accept without difficulty that God created the world. After the latter, you’d think the former would be a piece of cake.’
‘The New Atheists have come to their senses. Having finally realised that hurling abuse at believers is strategically incompetent, they are now trying flattery. For example, last year Christopher Hitchens called Rowan Williams a “sheep-faced loon”.’
‘I would like to help Christians in the UK who say they suffer from persecution substantiate their case – by feeding them to the lions.’
‘Preachers who are universalists are just hanging around for the paycheck.’
‘WWJD? Ask Oprah.’
‘If due to deforestation bears no longer shit in the woods, will the pope still be Catholic?’
‘My wife once threw an ashtray at me. It whizzed by my head and took a chunk out of a brick wall. That is what grace is like – except God doesn’t miss.’
‘If your faith doesn’t make you both kinder and angrier, you’ve lost it.’
‘Were we ever to reach unanimous agreement on issues of faith and order, the age of ecumenism would come to an end. So would the church.’
‘Are people who pray happier and healthier than those who don’t? Only if they are not doing it right.’
‘Bartimaeus said to Jesus, “Take it from me, Lord, blind people actually walk along together quite safely. It’s when twenty-twenty twits try to help us that ditches become dangerous.” And Jesus said, “Oh.”’
‘Recently, a minister in the United Reformed Church wrote an article in which he admitted that while he didn’t understand Paul’s theology, he was quite sure that the apostle was an entrepreneur. Well, he was half right.’

Oy!

‘Experience has taught me that prayer is often a way to be narcissistic with both a good conscience and public approval.’

‘Prosperity Gospel Jesus: “I am the Alpha and the Romeo.”’
I used to think that Christians who put the fish symbol on their cars were looney tunes. Now I think they are simply being considerate – by letting people know that there is a crap driver at the wheel.
The upper image is of a ‘flying ashtray’ bullet, so named because it fragments on impact, causing maximum damage. The lower is Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel depiction of Jeremiah. H’m.