theology and cars

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For whatever reason I’ve been basking in assorted versions of theology these days. Maybe it was because of my recent, and temporary, assertion of Protestant rights over at Mere Comments, which is really the home of assorted theologies gathering and uniting together in opposition against Evangelicalism. Most of the time it was a nice conversation, but then there were a few folks who felt it necessary to renew the Reformation debates and declare me and mine apostate for not being part of the True Church (the True Church being either the Catholic or the Orthodox depending on the debater of the moment, this wasn’t settled so I don’t know which it is). Curiously, in both contexts the person was a former Evangelical who found Truth in the Mother Church (which is either the Catholic or the Orthodox church depending on the debater of the moment).

Part of my doing this was to get at the heart of the conversation with people who really believe what they are arguing for. I have little interest in apologetics as commonly developed, partly because I don’t trust commentators who form the argument on both sides. Playing chess against oneself is a tricky business and rarely comes off with success.

That all being the case I woke up this morning (in the living room, on the couch) thinking about the complexities of the various historic churches and how their theology affects their ecclesiology. In other words, cars and churches seem to have a lot in common.

The Baptists own a chevy pickup. It’s not the full size version, and really can’t tow that much, but it’s practical, useful, can be beat up, and driven into the ground. You are popular with a pickup because you can move couches, and refrigerators, and haul sand. The baptists use their pickup and help out where they can. But it’s not a good looking vehicle, and doesn’t drive fast, and the handling isn’t very good, and it has a terrible turning radius. Plus, a pickup isn’t an expensive car, and so anyone can own one and start driving. They come in automatic and stick shift, with various other options making the pickup as complex or as bare bones as desired. Some even fill the back with a really good sound system and have the best music around. Some don’t have any stereo at all, cuz listening to music is for pansies.

The Catholics own a limousine. It is a long car, a very eminent car. It is a rich car, with a very, very well apportioned interior and tinted windows. There’s a mini bar, a dvd/tv, a very nice, if not very loud, stereo, and some of the bigger ones have a jacuzzi in the back. Nothing beats a limo for either celebrating a momentous occasion or for mourning a sad moment. Limos are just as appropriate at a prom as they are at a funeral, and that’s saying something. However, you can’t drive a limo. Your friends can’t drive a limo. No one you know is allowed behind the wheel. Limousines use chauffeurs. These are men wearing black suits, hats and gloves who take you right where you need to go, and worry about all the details of driving so you don’t have to. You are a passenger along for the ride, and it is a good ride indeed. The Chauffeurs fill up the tank, know the maps, fix the engine, and keep the chrome shiny. Limousines aren’t generally fast, and they’re very unmaneuverable but when they go, they go in style and comfort and luxury. Not as good for daily concerns but at those treasured times in life they can’t be beat.

The Presbyterians own a Mercedes SUV. They are stylish and popular, well apportioned and really safe. It’s a masterwork of fine engineering, and all your respectable friends own one or want one. It’s a wonderful car, if not particularly interesting to look at. It’s nice to own, nice to drive, safe in an accident, all without standing out.

The Eastern Orthodox own a 1961 Ferrari 250GT. It is a beautiful car, an amazing car, fast, stylish, and it makes your mouth water. It is a dream car really, and those who own it have what almost certainly is the best car in the neighborhood for all around dreaminess. It’s so nice, they keep it in a garage, and know exactly what the mileage is, and hardly ever drive it, let alone use it for day to day commuting. It’s a race car that never races, because it is so nice, it’s too precious for actual use, and thus no one really knows how amazing it would be if it were only allowed the freedom to really test its limits. Instead, it’s kept under lock and key, and those with the keys are very, very protective, saying some people have driven it and it’s even better than we can imagine, but we’re not allowed to talk to them.

The Methodists drive a Model T. It was originally made as the “everyman’s” car, and helped make car sales take off in this country. It could be adapted to all sorts of situations and built this country in a way. But, times have changed, and now the only running Model Ts are owned by old collectors who take great pains to keep their old car running and looking sharp for the occasional car show. They were great cars, life changing to countless folks, but there are not too many on the road today, and the ones still running likely won’t be around for too much longer.

Pentecostals drive a 1973 Volkswagen Van. It’s a great car, lots of fun, able to fit a lot of people who can have all sorts of wild adventures. You can paint it as wacky as you want, and take it to work, or camping, or out for a great road trip. It’s affordable, and has a reputation for being especially loved by hippies past and present. It’s a great vehicle, that is, unless you look at the engine. The great thing is anyone can work on a Volkswagen engine, and it’s a wonderful exercise to learn automotive skills, but it’s not really dependable now, and there’s just not that much to them. Own a Volkswagen Van and expect to get your hands dirty. But that paint job, it’s groovy.

Non-Denominational Churches drive a mini-van. There’s no flash, nothing really stylish, and anything good inside is really a feature nicer cars had five years ago. But, they hold a lot of people, are quite dependable for getting to the soccer game, and to work, and to the supermarket. They hold all the kids, and their friends, and their sports equipment, and the dog. They are affordable, and so if you don’t mind how bland they are, they are quite a good thing to settle on for their wonderful practicality. Lots of people make fun of mini-vans, but when they have two kids of their own, and a mortgage to pay each month, they generally will go out and buy a mini-van, even if they secretly wish to have a convertible Mustang. They learn to hide their disappointment by railing against the young bucks in the Emerging Church and their fancy red sports cars that go way too fast and are often the causes of accidents.

Quakers drive a Toyota Prius. It’s kinda boxy, and doesn’t look that interesting but despite all of that it’s also very trendy, because it reflects the kind of sensibilities we should all have in this era. It’s good for the environment, and it says, “I care.” Lots of other cars are influenced by the technology, so while Prius ownership itself will never be huge, they will have a great deal of respect and the key features will be copied by other manufacturers. You have to pay a little more for its features, but despite that it’s not really an exclusive car, just a car that reflects certain priorities and values. It also has carpool privileges in several states.

–This is all I can think of now. Feel free to add your own suggestions.

One Response to “theology and cars”

  1. punch drunk Says:

    I’ve been thinking in a parallel stream about denominations and congregations as parts of the body of Christ, like who’s the foot, eye, etc… I’ll just share with you a punchline: Megachurches are the breast implants, garish, unnecessary, often offensive and likely there for the wrong reasons, but still, at the end of the day, worth a look.