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St Johns Southgate

09 Mar 2017

Dreaming to ascend

Since 1955, Melbourne’s Moomba Festival (March 10 to 13 in 2017) has been a staple on the family fun in the sun calendar.

The labour day long weekend wouldn’t be the same without St Kilda Road, Birrarung Marr and the Yarra river playing host to the parade, the carnival rides, the fireworks and the water-skiing. But as iconic as those attractions are, there is one event on the Moomba schedule that in my opinion eclipses the rest. The Birdman Rally.      

For the uninitiated, the Birdman Rally is a contest of engineering, aerodynamics, bravery and silly costumes. Participants bear self-made “flying” contraptions designed to carry them further out over the Yarra than any other contestant. It’s a daggy but heart-warming event that brings out the best in people and raises money for charity.

Some of my earliest memories of the Melbourne summer are of the ridiculousness and hilarity of the Birdman. It’s the kind of thing that captures the imagination of the pre-schooler because it’s the perfect combination of dress-ups and bravery with slapstick comedy thrown in.

The young mind wants to believe that the guy in the astronaut costume standing inside a polystyrene rocket can and will fly. But it’s perfectly satisfying when he doesn’t quite make it to the moon and back and rather splashes headlong into the murky waters of the Yarra.

The Birdman taps into the universal dream of being able to fly while reminding us of just how grounded we really are. Ever since humans have gazed up at clouds or watched a bird in flight they’ve pondered what it would be like to soar. But soon after flight was achieved and then industrialised, the romance of it quickly deflated.

Today we look up and see contrails lining the skies and think nothing of them. We hop on a flight to Sydney without any more thought than we’d give a bus trip. The dream come true that is human flight has somehow clipped the birdman’s wings.

And yet, just this month in the news it was announced that Californian company SpaceX would fly paying customers on joyrides around the moon in 2018. All of a sudden the excitement returned. The twitter-sphere went into meltdown and people were wide eyed about flight once again.

Perhaps this shows us that being the birdman is not so much about flying, but about ascending to a higher plain, seeing a new horizon and crossing its threshold into the unknown.

As well as taking tourists to the moon, SpaceX aspires to reach Mars and build the first human colony. This goal, which no longer seems completely out of reach, would most certainly break through a barrier previously thought impassable.

As we gaze through the clouds to the stars and imagine another home, we are sharing in the spiritual imaginings of all ages. Wanting to spread one’s wings and ascend to some kind of eternal otherness is perfectly natural and beautiful. I would argue that having the dream is not just pleasant, but that it’s a basic human need.

Where do you dream of ascending to?

Tom Hoffmann

Pastor - St Johns Southgate

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