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Religious experience

April 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

On Q and A this week celebrity atheist Richard Dawkins and the Pope’s man in Sydney, Cardinal George Pell, faced off over religion. Or atheism. Or faith, or science, or something. I only saw the last ten minutes because Game of Thrones.

Folks have since complained that “the questions had no substance“. I thought the questions had every substance:

If there’s a benevolent God why is there so much suffering in the world?
Do you really believe the host is the body of Christ?
If all people are equal and deserve love, why don’t you support gay marriage?
Is there Hell?

There is if you watched all of it, apparently.

I thought it was a pretty good show, except that there seemed to be a concentrated bloc of over-enthusiastic Christians on one side who clapped vigorously anytime Cardinal Pell did a full stop.

I was raised a Catholic, and of the seven sacraments (Baptism, Communion, Confirmation, Reconciliation, Matrimony, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders) I’ve managed five. I haven’t been sick enough to be anointed, and I haven’t entered the priesthood. And I’m no longer married, but I think that doesn’t count.

Like many others, I stopped going to mass as soon as I stopped living with parents who did. Nowadays, I go when I visit them. I don’t feel this is especially hypocritical. Unless I’m mistaken, I have a lifetime membership and if that’s where my folks are heading then I’m fairly happy to join them in goodwill and companionship. But there is a personal sense of belonging, too. All those years of instruction and participation; the nuns and the brothers and the priests of my youth…there’s a bond there, however dysfunctional. Like when Julia Flyte in Brideshead Revisited finds her free will ultimately no match for the pull of the church.

So there I was, in Toowoomba Cathedral on Easter Sunday, trying to remember my lines and choreo like an under-performing actor who has missed too many rehearsals. The Creed is long and tricksy; the Liturgy a bobbing confusion of sit, kneel and stand.

At Easter, Catholics are invited to renew their baptismal promises (the ones they made as an infant). It’s a sort of call-and-answer system in which the priest goes: “Blah blah blah blah blah?” And you go: “I do”. So I was surprised when the priest said:

Do you renounce evil?
And I thought: I do. And when he said:

Do you believe in God?

I thought: Yeah, pretty much.

There is heaps more about Virgin births and resurrections from the dead and how Satan is the prince of sin and Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father – but that’s the guts of it.

For all its faults, and there are a lot, the decline of the church makes me sad. Even though I am – apparently – not prepared to make a personal effort to keep it going. (My bastard children languish unbaptized in a state school.) These days, the prayers for the recently deceased heavily feature the clergy themselves. But there were quite a lot of young people at this mass. Teenagers. Young couples. Young pregnant couples. Thirty-something couples with a toddler or two. Families with kids. Perhaps there is something there that is worth keeping alive.

I liked these people who cared enough – held enough faith – to make the effort. I liked the small, imperfect but energetic choir. I liked the priest whose diocese covers 490,000 square kilometres. Bigger than Germany.

I felt a sense of community with these people, with whom I share some past rituals and some future hopes. I felt thankful, for all of it and every thing.

So I showed my appreciation in the traditional way. I put twenty dollars on the offertory plate.

 

Afghanistan’s little cashflow problem

April 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

You know how, when you depart Australia, you have to fill in an outgoing passenger card? This one.

And the card goes:

Are you taking out of Australia AUD$10,000 or more in Australian or foreign currency equivalent? Yes or No.

And you go:

LOL, I WISH.

Well in Afghanistan it’s $20,000. Afghanistan’s central bank (which is now government owned because it’s complicated) recently capped cash-and-carry at $20,000. Anything over that, you have to do a bank transfer. Or be the Vice President, in which case it’s $52,000. Wait, no, $52 million.

That’s right. According to this leaked cable, in 2009 Afghanistan’s Vice-President was hauled up arriving in Dubai “with $52 million…a significant amount he was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.”

We can hazard a guess that its destination was the real estate office at the Palm Jumeirah.

Chatlog:
UAE Customs officer: Have you visited a farm, abattoir or zoo in the last 30 days, sir?
Vice-President: Have you seen Afghanistan lately?
UAE Customs officer: What’s in your bag, sir?
Vice-President: That’s my boogie board. Boards. They have a wave park at the Burj, you know.
UAE Customs officer: Sir, this looks like the $52 million dollars I was told about.
Vice-President: Is it? God.
UAE Customs officer: Take the greenback exit, sir.

Afghanistan has a cash flow problem. It’s flowing right out of the country, much of it to Dubai, whose customs motto seems to be Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

Declared cash physically flown out of Kabul International Airport in 2011 amounted to $4.5 billion – twice as much as the year before and equivalent to the whole Afghanistan government budget. Aircraft take off from Kabul creaking with suitcases literally full of cash. The estimate rises to $8 billion if you include private jets, cars, buses and donkeys.

Why the cash exodus? Because the date for withdrawal of foreign troops has been set (end of 2014) and the clock is ticking. Real estate prices are falling, the currency is losing value, businesses are pulling out and everyone’s getting ready for…what, exactly?

No one knows.

Reuters correspondent Rob Taylor says ‘Hardly any Afghans expect the Taliban to be strong enough to again rule the country by force, but memories of past brutality are enough to worry people about their influence’.

ANYWAY MY POINT IS

The NYT this week published a story and slideshow of Afghans going about their business which, since their business includes shifting huge piles of cash to anywhere else, it’s really worth seeing. House bricks of grubby cash, counted and sent on their way. Battle-scarred and dirt-covered Darulaman Palace (renovator’s dream!) abandoned on an earthen plinth. In a shop window’s reflection, a western-looking man in a well-cut blazer talks on a cell phone. Ground beef plops softly into a plastic tub, to be stamped into discs to soothe expat burger cravings. In a local store selling American leftovers an orphaned box of CLIF bars languishes on tins of peaches. CLIF bars. Made for a nation that both produces and consumes so much energy that they need to snack on it. A lot.

Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai said recently:

Curses be upon such businessmen that made tons of money here and now that the Americans are leaving they flee. They can leave right now. We don’t need them.

His problem is that they are quite happy to leave right now. And he does need them.

Last suppers

April 3, 2012 § Leave a comment

After eight years, I’m leaving Civic for the Parliamentary Triangle.

Before I left, I wanted to cross off a few places I hadn’t eaten at, or hadn’t eaten at enough. Between parenting and sporting commitments, I only have a couple of lunch hours per week. Here’s what I managed in my last couple of weeks in the city:

  1. Lonsdale Street Roasters. Outrageously hip cafe and coffee roasting joint. Can be smelled from down the street. Heavenly, even for someone who doesn’t drink coffee. Hard to get a seat. Even harder to get a table. I had a mushroom, Gorgonzola and rosemary panini. Hot off the press. The woman next to me had some kind of pulled meat panini that came with a little jar of onion jam and a spoon. I wanted JAM and SPOON. Ten bucks.
  2. Kindle Cafe. Hidden deeply inside and out the back of a completely forgettable office building. Squishy, dark and cosy decor reminiscent of the golden years of Aromas in Hoyts Brisbane. Sat at a bar facing out the window. Had to keep legs closed at all times. I had a pumpkin, sun-dried tomato and feta wrap and a cookie and read back issues of the food supplement. Ten bucks.
  3. Tasuke. Probably pretty authentic Japanese diner in the bus interchange. I’ve only been to Japan twice but it seems legit. My favourite Japanese place in the whole bus interchange (!), Iori is a bit too much of a commitment and Koo is a bit grotty. Usually I get okonomiyaki and a bowl of rice and tea, but this time I had tempura vegetable and udon soup. Umami. Fourteen bucks.
  4. Italian and Sons. Walked half way up Lonsdale Street before I figured out it was right next to Roasters. Impeccably stylish yet easygoing. The talk of the town. I sat on a little stool in the window, like a prostitute. One page menu with antipasti, pasta, piatto del giorno and a smallgoods section. I had whitebait fritters followed by buffalo milk ricotta ravioli, mint and basil pesto Genoese and a bottle of San Pellegrino. The fritters were divine: crisp spheres of chowdery filling served on a raw stone with half a lemon. Fifty bucks.
  5. Kudos Taste. Home-style Japanese plonked on an island in the middle of a nondescript arcade, sharing seating with a Subway. I have eaten there twenty or thirty times. Every single time I have ordered Iri Tama Tofu, eat in, and every single time the owner has asked me if I want take away. Once he even served it in a take away container. Colourful, fresh, delicious. Eight bucks.

I wanted to go to Soju Girl which is some sort of NEW trendy Korean cocktail bar and whatever-Koreans-call-tapas joint. For lunch! But it was shut. It’s shut Tuesdays.

Your call is important to us.

April 2, 2012 § 1 Comment

Over the weekend there was a story about how one abortion clinic landlord, Todd Stave, has turned the tables on protesters. The Washington Post story is here and the Jezebel take is here.

Basically, anti-abortion protestors went way too far, picketing his kid’s school, phoning up his house to abuse him and leaving graphic propaganda on his doorstep. They used personal information and private contact details to intimidate and threaten.

Stave’s response is to get pro-choice activists to phone them back – thousands of times – and do the same. It’s called Voice of Choice. The website says that he is ‘a parent on the periphery of the abortion debate’ which is a bit misleading. In his own words, he has ‘been a member of this fight since Roe vs Wade, since I was 5 years old’, his father having performed abortions in the very same building.

Pro-choice people are pretty amped about this, re-tweeting the story with ‘Genius’, ‘Excellent’ and ‘AWESOME!’ tacked on the front. I don’t get this.

Voice of Choice now have an ‘army’ of volunteers – up to 3000 – working the phone lines. Volunteers are allowed to be anonymous, but they are given personal information to use in the phone calls. Exactly the same sort of information – pro-choicer’s home addresses, their children’s names, where they attend child care. Their script starts out apologetic (Yes, thank you for your prayers. No, we aren’t quitting) but ends up in more personal territory. Like, maybe this territory:

By the way, you have a nice house up there on Church Street. And how is Mary-Pat enjoying St Barnibus? (She sure had a purty dress on today.)

Jezebel gleefully asks ‘Are you getting shivers up your spine yet?’  Why, yes. Yes I am!

How is this awesome? It was ugly and creepy when anti-abortion activists did it, and it’s ugly and creepy now.

Also, risky business. As anyone who has ever lost their temper at the injustices dealt out by an unsympathetic Customer Service Representative knows, we sometimes find ourselves diverting from the polite script that was Plan A.

An army of anonymous, passion-filled volunteers is a pretty big ship to turn around. What if one of those people, armed with a child’s name and whereabouts and who knows what else, decides to take direct action? (There has been too much of this already.)

People who want to stop abortion shouldn’t threaten other people’s kids, but neither should those who want to protect it. You don’t get to claim the moral high ground over your opponent while you are deep in the same trench, slinging mud.

 

 

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