The author details his acute awareness of the judgements congregants make about the moral signals a Minister sends when they visibly deploy their cash. The car one really wants and the car one should have are two very different cars. In the end, he drives up to church in a new Smart Car, to the rapturous approval of his flock. And a nagging sense that he's not so much their pastor as their poodle.
|Pre-ministry days with my precious--a 1980 Triumph TR7, loaded with a 3.5 litre V8. Off-the-charts power-to-weight ratio. A fond and guilty memory now...|
My more recent solutions to transport have involved public buses, taxis, a push-bike, my two big feet, and a 250 cc Vespa. Which method I use depends on the weather, distance, destination, and purpose of the trip. On the Vespa, you can conceivably tool about in a smart suit, like the Italians do. It is of course very energy efficient, but my partner worries every time I go out on it. I would like her not to worry about me, hence my thoughts turn to car ownership again.
|Chosen because it was available in ecclesiastical black...|
So the remaining vow of poverty stands as the last enforceable fossil of the old monastic tradition. My stipend is pegged to that of the Uniting Church scale, which I guess is broadly deemed a reasonable standard of living for clergy. Still, it can look like Croesus' bank account if you happen to be a modest pensioner. All relative, I guess, and really not often commented upon, probably more due to the customary bourgeois reticence toward talking about anything so vulgar as filthy lucre.
Still, there are occasions when outward signs of material comfort are commented upon. The subtext, whether approving or admonishing, is always: "How can he afford that on what we pay him?" Smart cloths, stylish eyewear, natty ties, quality shoes, what suburb I live in, and even good grooming all excite comment that assumes someone in the clergy must look poverty-stricken to maintain moral authority.
For the record, before Ministry, I used to make decent money, and invested it in property, and good shoes and suits that wouldn't go spectacularly out of fashion anytime soon. These still serve me well. Over the past six years I have naturally topped them up, but topped them up frugally, and I hardly ever pay retail. I buy:
- buy op-shop shirts and ties of often remarkable quality
- discontinued, seconds, or heavily marked-down suits
- second-hand electronics
The only thing I try not to skimp on is shoes, our primary connection to mother earth. "Look after your shoes, and your shoes will look after you" my father always said. Generally, this means the Florsheim clearance outlet.
|Dyed in the blood of the lamb.|
But here's the thing: I miss having a safe, fun, reliable car. You can keep it the way you want, play the music you love, have a little privacy on the roads, and stay warm, cool, dry in all weathers. Naturally, like the author of the article, I would want to have the car I want; no one should be able to tell me what to drive. But as soon as I roll up in my ultimate fantasy vehicle (this one)...
|1968 Jaguar E-Type. Perhaps the most beautiful and powerful English sports care ever made.|
then the JUDGING will commence.
And you know that's true. No, it's not environmentally friendly. Yes, it is a fetish object of conspicuous consumption. No, one does not imagine anyone in a dog collar emerging from it. Yes, it is an index of my shallowness to lust after a hunk of retro metal. I'm only human.
But God I want one. And I could buy one. Tomorrow. It might not be a smart purchase, just an expensive vanity, but what the hell? You're a long time dead...
But you know that ain't gonna happen. The cognitive dissonance will be too great. And worse, in a context where folks get judged for not travelling with a damn 'keeper-cup' absolutely everywhere, this would bring out the worst in UUs--the tendency to sanctimony--a force which no moral authority can withstand. (There's a rich irony for you...)
On the other hand nothing feels as good as judging others, especially by standards one doesn't need to maintain oneself.
For example, I don't use plastic straws, 'cos their bad for the planet. Not using them affords two pleasures: the pleasure in saving the planet, and the pleasure of judging those who do use them. The air on the moral high ground is always Alpine-pure. So maybe I SHOULD buy this car, and give everyone the opportunity to feel more righteous than the Minister.
But I'll probably settle for Prius...powered, as we know, by the inexhaustible fuel supply of one's own smug self-righteousness.