This is an age in which news of a tragedy garners a response such as this: “Well, our thoughts are with you.”  Happy thoughts full of Pelagian grace.  It is therefore with some reservation that I now examine Rocky Twyman’s direct and public prayer to the Almighty, a supplication he no doubt offers with full confidence that the Good Lord hath the power to accomplish all that he asketh and more.

“God, deliver us from these high gas prices.”

So what’s wrong with that?  You some kinda tree-huggin’ liberal?  You think high gas prices’ll save us from global warming?  Or don’t you believe in prayer?

Mr. Twyman is a p.r. consultant and a Seventh-Day Adventist from Rockville, Maryland.  A long-time community activist, he has worked hard to register minorities as bone-marrow donors.  That did not garner him national media attention, however.  But his Pray at the Pump “movement,” as it has been termed by the San Francisco Gate, the Chicago Tribune, and the St. Louis Post-Gazette, has.

“O God, here we are again at Thy mercy.  Oh, our hearts are full; but our pockets are empty, Lord.  Bring down these gas prices for us, Lord.”

That’s the scene FOX News paints for us, Mr. Twyman and friends holding hands at a Chevron station, after which a stout blonde anchor not even barely contains her chortles.  Simpering, she turns to Mr. Twyman: “A Washington congregation actually prays for lower gas prices.” 

It’s almost enough to make you want to side with Rocky—that same heartburn that fires up NASCAR America for John McCain whenever Barack Obama browbeats us for being white.  Nearly all of the media attention paid Mr. Twyman resonates with snickering.  Hey, you want to counter, at least this guy believes in prayer. 

“Why pray for cheaper gas?” she wants to know.

“Well, because so many people are being impacted—particularly in the churches, people that want to volunteer and do outreach things are not able to do it.”

Yes, high gas prices are affecting all of our lives, and if James Howard Kunstler, T. Boone Pickens, and a host of others are right when they say that we’ve reached Peak Oil (when daily world demand exceeds daily barrel output), the fun has only just begun.  Today, some folks in Mr. Twyman’s congregation are hard-pressed to drive in to church during the week to serve at the soup kitchen.  Tomorrow, they may be walking to church on Sunday.

American life revolves around the automobile.  Carbon-copied suburbs encircle our eviscerated cities, gutted by an Interstate Highway System that expedited white flight.  Always-large Wal-Marts with enormous parking lots flank the suburbs and are filled with goods motored over from China and warehoused on 18 wheelers.  And sprawling strip malls and megamalls surrounded by fast-food chains with drive-thru windows outflank them.  No one would dream of walking to the supermarket; it’s too far away, and besides, you’d have to run an eight-lane highway and hurdle a berm to get there.

Back when folks could and did walk to the grocery store, the hardware store, the greasy spoon, they were most often in the company of other folks who could and did walk to those places.  Of course, they also knew the proprietors of those establishments—their neighbors—warts and all.  They had to exercise a bit more patience in the check-out line, at the repair counter, with the attendant.  A young punk might be more inclined to watch his mouth.  A friend of his dad’s might be around the corner in the next aisle.  He might run into you at church.

In Rockford, the most talked-about church is the one that bought the dying Colonial Village Mall from the Southeast Asians.  On Saturday nights and Sunday mornings, the parking lot is filled with cars, and the sign reads “A Different Way to Do Church.”  Inside the former J.C. Penney’s is now a stage, theater lighting, and large video projectors.  This megachurch, like most of the others, is built on the principle of anonymity.  The lights dim over the audience to focus their attention.  Nobody walks there.

Then again, nobody walks to Holy Family, St. Paul, or First Baptist, either.  Old St. Paul is across from the projects, so nobody lives by it.  And Holy Family and First Baptist are in the suburbs, so nobody lives by them either, no matter what the parish lines say.  And with that distance comes a certain degree of anonymity.  Sure, we know people at church.  How’re you doing, Bob.  Good to see you.  Have a good week.  All right.  For this reason—because of the fact that parishioner and neighbor have become antonyms—churches have myriad social activities, all in an attempt to replace irreplaceable community.

Russell Kirk called the automobile a “mechanical Jacobin.”  It certainly did rev up a cultural revolution.  The Jacobins made it easy for neighbors to rat out neighbors.  Our mechanical one makes it easier to be a jackass at the church voters’ assembly.  (See you later, Bob.)  It also greases the skids of the individualist, “seeker-sensitive,” Pelagian theology that has parked itself in the carports of so many of our churches.

Rocky Twyman has the right inclination; his petition just needs a tune-up.  Lord, deliver us from the high price of gas.