Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Something More Positive

After my possibly over-long catalogue of quotes in which people give the church a caning, here's something more positive to warm your heart.  It comes from one of Australia's most celebrated alcoholics and writers, Henry Lawson.

Several of the stories in his collection Joe Wilson's Mates feature the outback parson and missionary Peter M'Laughlan.  This is how he is introduced in "Shall We Gather at the River".

I once heard a woman say that he had a beard like you see in some pictures of Christ. Peter M’Laughlan seldom smiled; there was something in his big dark brown eyes that was scarcely misery, not yet sadness – a sort of haunted sympathy….

Towards the end of his life if he went into a “rough” shed or shanty west of the Darling River- and some of them were rough – there would be a rest in the language and drinking, even a fight would be interrupted, and there would be more than one who would lift their hats to Peter M’Laughlan. A bushman very rarely lifts his hat to a man, yet the worst characters in the West have listened bareheaded to Peter when he preached.

In “His Brother’s Keeper” Peter rescues the alcoholic Jack from the clutches of an unscrupulous barman, and rides home with him and Joe.

Peter didn’t preach. He just jogged along and camped with us as if he were an ordinary, every-day mate. He yarned about all sorts of things….Peter never preached except when he was asked to hold a service…but in a case like ours he had a way of telling a little life story, with something in it that hit the young man he wanted to reform, and hit him hard.

Jack Mitchell’s verdict on Peter?

Now I know that Peter would do anything for a woman or a child, or an honest, straight, hard-up chap, but I can’t quite understand his being so partial to drunken scamps and vagabonds, black sheep and ne’er-do-wells. He’s got such a tremendous sympathy for drunks. He’ll do anything to help a drunken man.

Who does this remind you of?  Lawson wasn't a religious man himself and he was happy to lampoon religion in a relatively gentle way, with jokes played on the Salvation Army in particular.  Yet he didn't have the hatred or bitterness against the church that many of my earlier quotes reveal.  He imagines a Christ-like pastor who loves alcoholics, acts as their mate, doesn't preach to them but helps them to reform nonetheless.  He appears to hope, deeply and ferevently, that this is the way Christ himself will be.  I think he would have got a pleasant surprise.

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