Cows, car bingo and catolicism

I find it amazing how technology has reduced families to collections of people living under a single roof. Between HD TV in every room, cable boxes that stream four different shows to four different TVs, desktop computers, laptop computers, iPads, iPhones and iPods we never need to talk to each other.

Don’t get me wrong. I love technology. Carol and I hardly ever argue anymore because we’re too busy online to talk. Even when we’re driving, when Carol used to tell me everything I’m doing wrong, she now spends all her time on her iPhone talking to her Siamese Rescue
buddies. She never notices when I speed through a yellow anymore, drive too close to the curb or slow down to piss off tailgaters.

Gary and my sister Aimee have a DVD player in the back of their minivan and each of my nephews has his own Nintendo DS. You would think that would keep them from interacting with Gary and Aimee when they drive.

It doesn’t work, of course. As soon as they pop a DVD in, the kids argue about which DVD they should really be watching. Hopefully that will be solved when savvy car dealers decide to offer a separate DVD player for every kid in the back seat. Give each of the kids his own iPad too, and they should be able to make it from Dallas to Waco before the fighting starts.

Or maybe, at least, from North Dallas to the center of town.

I thought of this because I had been looking at car bingo apps for my column

Car bingo involved spotting objects on a list. If you saw one you could cross if off your bingo card. Just like bingo. You held your bingo card in your lap (think cheap piece of paper with cars, stop signs, planes, gas stations and mailboxes printed in different places on a five-by-five grid) and the cheapest possible pencil in your hand.

Only we didn’t play actually car bingo. My family played “cows” instead. Bingo was Catholic and gambling and Baptist Preacher’s Kids (BPKs) were’t allowed to associate with either. By extension, car bingo was just as shade below dancing on a very long list of sins.

In “Cows” the first passenger who spotted 25 cows won, but black cows wiped your count back to zero. You could only count the cows on your side of the car and you couldn’t make them up because you had to announce right away so mother could check (even BPKs cheat).

The other advantage of cows over car bingo was that you didn’t need bingo cards or pencils, which meant Dad wouldn’t get pissed when we lost yet another (and here his voice would lower so we couldn’t hear the adjectives) pencil under the back seat. You could start a game of cows with no preparation at all.

Of course, once Beth and I turned ten, we were on to their trick. The whole game was a ruse to shut us up. And even when we were younger, the game ended as soon as one of us decided the other was cheating or had the better side of the car and leaped across the cooler with a fistful of hair already firmly grasped.

Most games lasted fifteen minutes and ended, not with a win but with one of us (okay, me) climbing across the barrier. But even fifteen minutes rest between bouts must have seemed like heaven.

If my dad had been smart he would have let me pile all my books in the back of the car and read. But dad didn’t believe in reading on vacation. He would rhapsodize on the purism of vacationing in the car. “Just take in this vast panorama of nature,” he would say. “God’s beauty on display everywhere you look.” (He didn’t say this when we drove through cities.) “Just relax and enjoy the view.”

So we would sit back and enjoy the view, which meant that within five minutes I was climbing over the ice chest barrier to defend my honor over something Beth said under her breath, she would be punching back, I would have a fistful of hair in my hand and mother would have to start another game of cows.

It’s a shame my sister Aimee was too young to travel with us. She came along when I was in high school. And her husband Gary was an only child, so neither of them were prepared for life with two children in the back of the car. That’s why they installed a DVD player and gave my nephews Nintendo games.

I’m sure mother still tells them how much more fun it is to play cows whenever she takes long trips with them. And even though Aimee is her third child, I imagine she still hasn’t figured out that her children are no more likely to take her advice about childrearing than she was.

My version of cows for children was the quiet game. It was much more effective than cows. In the quiet game children had to stay quiet as long as possible and the first one to speak was the shameful loser. As soon as I heard a peep coming from the back of the car, I would remind Bryan and his cousins, “We’re still playing the quiet game. Do you really mean to tell me you can’t win a simple game like that?”

Of course there was a token reward for the winner and the game started over as soon as someone lost. And it usually worked for half an hour or more.

It should be no surprise to readers that when my first Catholic girlfriend (who my parents didn’t know about) took me to mass I was astounded to learn that Catholics had footrests and ash trays right there in the sanctuary. She knuckled my arm as soon as I propped my heels on that prayer pew. I figured out right away that the ash trays must serve another purpose.

Ironically, it’s okay for BPKs to play car bingo now because conservative Baptists have made up with conservative Catholics. The ice chest between them—a big box of indigestible theological cocktails that included Papal infallibility, transubstantiation, birth control, purgatory, limbo and thousands of Catholic and Protestant martyrs killed in hundreds of years of war (and gambling/Bingo)—has been set aside to protect unborn babies.

This is the modern political version of cows. Conservative Christians pretend to get along in order to play the game. The problem is, neither group has really made the effort to resolve hundreds of years of theological divide. The issues are still there.

While liberal churches (read “secular heathen churches”) tried to create true ecumenicalism, they were forced to tackle some really important questions. They are building bridges that will allow them to worship in peace even though some worship Christ, some pray to Allah, some still believe the only God is the God of Israel and some practice in the belief that the the eightfold path (and others) requires no God at all.

These are tough obstacles to overcome, but the objective has always been to overcome them. The tenuous alliance between conservative evangelicals and Catholics, however, is not forged with a desire to bring the two closer to God, but to pursue a political agenda. The upside of this alliance is that both may come to soften their stance on other issues and embrace a broader vision of God after all.

There is, however, a real possibility that when they’ve driven the last liberal from office, they will have to face the fact that they never resolved the far more important questions that divided them for all but a decade or two. And when they do, the holy catholic church of the Apostle’s Creed will become as fragmented as before.

So my advice to both conservative evangelicals and Catholics is to stop dwelling on politics and start addressing the many Christian beliefs you have in common. Try to build bridges past the issues that still divide you. I say this in the hope that once you resolve those questions among yourselves, it will become easier to accept that Jesus embraced a larger church than you previously recognized.


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