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Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Just wanted to let folks know about an excellent e-mail I received from Pinhead Productions, Bill Griffith's outfit:

To receive a new Zippy strip every day----FREE---in your email, just go to:

and click on the "subscribe" link near the top of the Zippy Home Page.
The strip you will receive is on a one-day delay to avoid competition with newspapers.
Your address will not be sold or given to anyone.

To my mind, we need all the Zippy (and all the Clinton--George, that is) we can get to get us through the next four months.


Looked in my calendar today and discovered that I'd accidentally blown off a meeting with colleagues yesterday. Guess I was thinking it was next week.

Apologies, Alliance people.

House update: as Jen suggested in an e-mail she sent to many of you last night, it's time for "pain and paint" around the place.

The "paint" part is simple. There are a few rooms that could use a new coat: family room in the basement, kitchen, the two bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor. That's most of them, really.

It isn't that the colors are horrible; mostly it's a boring neutral off-white. But they obviously haven't been painted in a while, so it's time for a fresh coat. Jen's going to do a sage color in the kitchen, similar to what we had in our old living room, but lighter. Upstairs in Lisa's room, we're thinking about doing a deep blue or even a purple. The rest, who knows? We'll have to decide as we go along, I suppose.

The "pain" is fairly extensive. It's a lot of little stuff: there's a leak in the pipe that connects the sink to the ice maker in the fridge, and another one in the pipe that feeds the faucet outside. That one makes me particularly mad, since we asked the former owners to fix it, and even a cursory check would have shown it wasn't. The result: a mini-flood in the basement, and another wall that needs to be repainted. It goes on: the curtain rod in the shower upstairs needs to be replaced. We need some new blinds, curtains, a rug for the living room. The carpet on the second floor desperately needs to be replaced. The air ducts probably need to be cleaned, and the central air unit serviced. The stove needs to be replaced. We've already fixed the dishwasher, which had come out of its moorings to the countertop. Took me about ten minutes to do, and a lot of wondering what the former owners did with their time.

The outside is its own category: we weeded two flowerbeds, and came up with four big boxes of yard waste to be hauled away. Then we started in on a couple of overgrown bushes, and now we've got a parking space filled with more leafy trash. The tree in the front yard needs pruning, the bushes along the side of the house need to be trimmed, and there are shrubs around a raised square in the back yard that just plain need to come out. The lawn is filled with clover, dandelions and other weeds, and the sidewalks need to be edged something fierce. As much as I complain about this part of the work, though, I actually love it. I am now the proud owner of an old-fashioned reel mower (people-powered, I like to say), which is quiet and pleasant to use. And there's nothing I like more than puttering in the flowerbeds, pulling out weeds and making sure the plants have enough water. I swear I'm turning into my grandfather, minus the Kools and standoffish demeanor.

Maybe this is just something that happens when you hit thirty-five. The genes kick in; your hair gets thinner, your spare tire gets thicker, and you become obsessed with lawn care. My buddy John Cooper certainly is at his place down in Annapolis, though he has much better reason than I: his yard is covered by oaks and is in a low-lying, swampy area. Either he's going to be obsessed or he's not going to have a lawn.

As for me: my goal is simply perfection. I'm determined to have a great-looking yard, God knows why.

Well, in any case, the new place will keep us plenty busy for a while. As soon as we can get it into some kind of reasonable shape, we're going to throw a housewarming party. In September or so, the 'rents will be out to visit us. Pray that we can keep our eyes on the prize until then.

Less blogging, more stripping of wallpaper in the kitchen...

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

David Brooks is a tool. A fellow dkos poster noted in this diary David Brook's NYT column for today, entitled "A Matter of Faith."

Shorter version: Kerry needs to talk God if he's going to win the hearts and minds of the red states.

Longer version, gleefully stolen from my fellow poster:

A Matter of Faith

When Bill Clinton was 8, he started taking himself to church. When he was 10, he publicly committed himself to Jesus. As a boy, he begged his Sunday school teacher to take him to see Billy Graham. And as anybody watching his book rollout knows, he still exudes religiosity. He gave Dan Rather a tour of his Little Rock church, and talked about praying in good times and bad.

More than any other leading Democrat, Bill Clinton understands the role religion actually plays in modern politics. He knows Americans want to be able to see their leaders' faith. A recent Pew survey showed that for every American who thinks politicians should talk less about religion, there are two Americans who believe politicians should talk more.

And Clinton seems to understand, as many Democrats do not, that a politician's faith isn't just about litmus test issues like abortion or gay marriage. Many people just want to know that their leader, like them, is in the fellowship of believers. Their president doesn't have to be a saint, but he does have to be a pilgrim. He does have to be engaged, as they are, in a personal voyage toward God.

Clinton made this sort of faith-based connection, at least until he sullied himself with the Lewinsky affair. He won the evangelical vote in 1992, and won it again in 1996. He understood that if Democrats are not seen as religious, they will be seen as secular Ivy League liberals, and they will lose.

John Kerry doesn't seem to get this. Many of the people running the Democratic Party don't get it either.

A recent Time magazine survey revealed that only 7 percent of Americans feel that Kerry is a man of strong religious faith. That's a catastrophic number. That number should be the first thing Kerry strategists think about when they wake up in the morning and it should be the last thing on their lips when they go to sleep at night. They should be doing everything they can to change that perception, because unless more people get a sense of Kerry's faith, they will feel no bond with him and they will be loath to trust him with their vote.

Yet his campaign does nothing. Kerry talks about jobs one week and the minimum wage the next, going about his wonky way, each day as secular as the last.

It's mind-boggling. Can't the Democratic strategists read the data? Religious involvement is a much, much more powerful predictor of how someone will vote than income, education, gender or any other social and demographic category save race.

Can't the Democratic strategists feel it in their bones how important this is? After all, when you go out among the Democratic rank and file, you find millions of Democrats who are just as religious as Republicans. It's mostly in the land of Democratic elites that you are likely to find yourself among religious illiterates.

But of course this is the problem. Forests have been felled so people could publish articles and books on the religious right's influence on the Republican Party. But as the Baruch College political scientists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio have suggested, the real political story of the past decade has been the growing size and cohesion of the secular left, and its growing influence on the Democratic Party.

According to the American Religious Identification Survey, the number of Americans with no religious affiliation has more than doubled since 1990. There is now a surging but unself-conscious power bloc within the Democratic Party.

Like the religious right in the Republican Party, the members of the secular left are interested primarily in social issues. What unites them more than anything else is a strong antipathy to pro-lifers and fundamentalists. While 75 percent of Americans feel little or no hostility to fundamentalists, people in this group are far more hostile to them than to other traditional Democratic bête noires, the rich or big business. They don't like to see their politicians meddling with religion in any way.

Just as Republicans have to appeal to religious conservatives but move beyond them, Democrats have to appeal to the secular left but also build a bridge to religious moderates. Bill Clinton did this. John Kerry hasn't. If you want to know why Kerry is still roughly even with Bush in the polls, even though Bush has had the worst year of any president since Nixon in 1973 or L.B.J. in 1968, this is one big reason.

My fellow poster's take on this was essentially that he'd like to see Kerry reject Brooks' advice in favor of a high-integrity quietness on the subject of his faith.

I have a different reaction to Brooks' column, however. First, as I pointed out in a comment on the earlier story, Brooks is right when he says that the fast-growing secular contingent of the American populace skews Democratic. As I've said before, Ruy Teixeira picked on the same factoid. But unlike Brooks, Teixeira sees this as a net gain for the Dems: the pickup in secular constituents should offset any losses in the religious sector. [Update #1: Amy Sullivan of Political Aims criticizes the methodology that Brooks and Teixeira rely on, saying the surveyers "identified secularists within the ranks of Democratic convention delegates by looking at attitudes about fundamentalists. Anyone who held negative feelings about religious fundamentalists (I believe the Christian Coalition is specifically named) was considered to be a secularist. I don't know about you, but I know plenty of people -- and plenty of religious Republicans, for that matter -- who don't think terribly kindly of fundamentalists but who would never ever identify themselves as secularists."]

But there is another problem with Brooks' analysis. He assumes that the secular group is made up of chardonnay-sipping liberal snobs who have "outgrown" religion. In fact, this is not the case. Even in the reddest of red areas that Brooks has examined, such as mid-state Pennsylvania, the number of people who do not attend any particular church is growing.

These folks are not necessarily hostile to religion; in fact, they are often nominally or "culturally" Christian. Religious practice doesn't do much for them--they feel like they've got something better to do on Sunday morning--but they're generally not opposed to religion in principle. It'll be mighty hard to drive a cultural wedge between these folks and their more observant friends and relatives. "Wandering away" is not the same as "rejecting"; just one more example of Brooks' red/blue divide breaking down under further examination.

Besides, as a participant in the Center for American Progress's conference on Faith and Progressive Policy pointed out, "seats in the pew" is perhaps not the best way to measure the effect of religious institutions. Many liberal denominations have quite a moral/ethical effect, without significantly increasing their rates of participation. There may be a silent group of non-practicing voters who are in sympathy with the social outlook of liberal faith, if not its organized trappings.

As for that "7%" rating given Kerry by Time magazine? Likely, that's a reflection of voters' overall unfamiliarity with the candidate. Believe me, if Kerry goes to mass the Sunday after the convention, people will know he's a Catholic. [Update #2: Mother Jones says that by now 30% of the electorate knows that Kerry's a Catholic. Republican attacks on Kerry as a "bad Catholic" may have backfired.]

So could the Kerry campaign stand to do some more outreach among religious voters? Sure. They always could. But is the right way to do that by "wearing his religion on his sleeve?" Probably not. A better strategy is likely to be to let the voters get to know him, and know that his values are pretty much in sync with theirs.

Bonus for anyone who made it this far down: Picked up this undated item from PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly:

Atheist Group Sues Officials of White House Faith-Based Offices
(RNS) The Freedom from Religion Foundation has filed suit against officials of President Bush's faith-based initiative, saying their actions unconstitutionally favor religious organizations.

-- Adelle M. Banks

True story: the founder of FFRF, Annie Laurie Gaylor, and her husband lived just up the block from the parsonage I grew up in in Madison, Wisconsin. She never gave us any trouble, and we never gave her any, either. The Jehovah's Witnesses who came around from the local Kingdom Hall, on the other hand, were pretty obnoxious.

Friday, June 18, 2004

I'm outta here. Gotta go up to Selinsgrove for the Penn Central Conference Annual Meeting, where I'm helping to present a quilt to the incoming Conference Minister, and a seminar on "What Happened to the Mainline Denominations?". After Vacation Bible School, that makes for a long week. Even worse: I'll get home about midnight on Saturday, then get up and preach the next morning. No one to blame but myself; I neglected to find a replacement for myself.

But no rest for the wicked: I'll probably be painting the kitchen Sunday afternoon. I was supposed to take down a wallpaper border in there this week, so that Jen could do the painting herself, but I neglected to do so. Bad pastor, bad. Sunday night, we're going to see Los Lobos play a free show in the park. Cool. Monday morning, I will sleep until I can sleep no more. That's a promise.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

We live in one of the safest cities in the US. Good to know. Link here. This will no doubt cause a stir in Lancaster, since the perception lingers that it's nothing but a crime-ridden swamp. It does no good to show some people statistics. They've had their experiences, and nothing can shake them of the lessons they teach, even if it happened thirty years ago.

Oh, well. We haven't had a lick of trouble so far. More city for us, I suppose.

We've been getting out to walk the dogs and explore our new city fairly regularly in the past week or two. Every night brings a new block, a new house or restaurant tucked away in an alley. It's a commonplace in these parts, but it is true: if you want to get to know Lancaster, you need to walk it. You'll miss too much by car.

I like it all: the narrow streets, the brick alleys that run between the houses, with just a hint of green back yard peeking out. Occasionally, you'll bump into a house with a particularly beautiful front door, an inviting porch, perhaps a turret on one corner. But my favorite experience to date on our new walking paths has been passing by an older Puerto Rican man on his porch, two nights in a row. Each night, he's been out taking the air, watching a console television he keeps under a tarp by his living room window. On the porch, not in the house.


He's even got cable: we caught him watching the History Channel last night...

I'm on Blogger now! Yes, the Pastor's Notebook has gone mainstream. Sorry: found a "Blog This!" button on my Google Toolbar, and I couldn't resist. Stop me if this doesn't make sense.

In any case, I'm hoping that this will make it easier for me to write here, and thus for you to read more often. We'll see. More later.

Friday, June 04, 2004

I’m back. After a heckuva two weeks: packing, Nashville wedding, more packing, moving, unpacking, unpacking, unpacking, fixing, ordering & rearranging, I’m finally ready to start writing here again.

Below, you’ll find a mix of original stories and postings on dKos, which is where I seem to do my political writing these days. If you’ve really got too much time on your hands, you can check out some of the articles I’ve been writing for the dKosopedia, an "open-source" (collaborative) political dictionary that the community has been working on: Bible, Christians, Churches and Denominations, Homosexuality: Biblical References, Jesus, Just War Theory.

Yeah, I know. Jen refers to it as an "addiction." I prefer to think of it as an obsession.

It’s my birthday! (And Becky’s, and Dad’s.) Was yesterday, anyway. 36 and no wiser!! Birthday picture below:

Why I am a liberal: Our church participates in a meal program at the local soup kitchen. Every six weeks, on a Tuesday morning, we provide lunch with food donated by local citizens. Sometimes, the food is given away by the local supermarkets. Because of that, there is never a shortage of dessert. Any cakes, cookies or pies they haven't been able to sell--and that's usually a lot--wind up at the food pantry.

My job is to greet the people as they come through the line. I wouldn't have expected it, but you do get to know people, and they remember you too.

I talked to a guy today who seemed a bit out of it, so I asked him if he was okay. He was fine, it turned out. He was just taking an anti-psychotic medication that made him tired. As I watched him move on down the line, I noticed his telltale shuffle.

So it goes: behind him was a guy with developmental issues, and behind him was an older gentleman who lives in subsidized housing nearby. Granted, this is a fairly small town (10-15,000) but it does get to be sad, watching how poorly our social safety net is constructed. We have a few people who come to us because of drug or alcohol problems, I'm sure, a few who are truly shiftless.

But by and large, these are not homeless folks. Most of them live on some form of disability or other assistance; a smaller number are seasonally out of work (common in such a rural area). They have to stretch their resources by coming down to the lunch. Otherwise, they just might not eat.

Today I met the sweetest two- or three-year old you'd ever want to see, riding on her daddy's shoulders while Mom was getting the family trays of potatoes and sauerkraut. I asked her if she wanted some cake, and she said "Yeah" in that definite way only little children can manage. And I just thought: God bless this family. I hope they can stay together, and I hope this little girl doesn't have to struggle like her parents seem to be struggling.

It's not that I'm a bleeding heart.

Wait. Actually, I am a bleeding heart.

It's not that I think government is the answer, necessarily. It's just that I look at how lucky I am, how much money and surplus food is floating around out there, and how dire some of these people's situations are. And I have to ask myself, why can't we take better care of them?

We served 168 people today, a source of perverse pride, if you stop to think about it. We did right by these folks, but the fact remains that this is only one lunch on one day. The community serves lunch every day of the year, and is thinking about expanding to two meals a day. The same is true for the town I live in: you can get breakfast, lunch and dinner in a church basement every single day. On the one hand, it's fantastic that our little city has the resources to provide so generously. On the other hand, it's kinda depressing to realize that there's a need for these kinds of services.

And that, my friends, is why I am a liberal: because I believe that people can make a difference, and because I believe there is a need for difference to be made.

Heard this week about a Bush campaign plan to recruit representatives in 1600 "friendly" congregations in Pennsylvania. The story has been picked up by the wire services:

WASHINGTON (AP) - President Bush's re-election campaign is trying to recruit supporters from 1,600 religious congregations in Pennsylvania — a political push that critics said Wednesday could cost churches their tax breaks.

An e-mail from the campaign's Pennsylvania office, obtained by The Associated Press, urges churchgoers to help organize "Friendly Congregations" where supporters can meet regularly to sign up voters and spread the Bush word.

"I'd like to ask if you would like to serve as a coordinator in your place of worship," says the e-mail, adorned with the Bush-Cheney logo, from Luke Bernstein who runs the state campaign's coalitions operation and is a former staffer to Sen. Rick Santorum, the president's Pennsylvania chairman.

"We plan to undertake activities such as distributing general information/updates or voter registration materials in a place accessible to the congregation," the e-mail says.

The Internal Revenue Service prohibits political campaign activity, for or against any candidate, from taking place at all organizations that receive tax exempt status under a section of the federal tax code — including most churches and religious groups. Violators could lose their tax breaks and face excise taxes.

Bernstein refused comment. Bush-Cheney spokesman Kevin Madden said the campaign did not mean to imply that religious supporters should actually congregate for the president at their places of worship. But he would not say whether the campaign is taking steps to make sure they don't.

"People of faith feel strongly about the president, are people we want to be part of our campaign," Madden said.

"This message is intended to be from individual to individual," Madden said. "This is organizing with individuals who may be members of a church who we hope to identify as supporters and be part of our efforts."

Madden said the campaign is also targeting "Friendly Congregations" in other states, but he could not immediately specify where. Pennsylvania is a key political swing state that carries the nation's fifth-largest electoral votes. Bush lost the state in 2000 by a mere 204,000 votes.

The director of a nonpartisan watchdog group called the campaign's church appeal "a breathtakingly sad example of mixing religion and politics."

"I have never in my life seen such a direct campaign to politicize American churches — from any political party or from any candidate for public office," said Rev. Barry W. Lynn of the Americans United for Separation of Church and State in Washington. "By enrolling churches in an election scheme like this, I think the Bush-Cheney campaign is actually endangering those churches' tax exemptions without even the courtesy of telling them that they run a risk."

©2004 The Associated Press

The key paragraph here, I think, is that last one. Ouch. Remind me never to get Barry Lynn ticked off at me.

The saddest part for me is that this program was being run out of—where else?—the Lancaster County Republican party headquarters. What’s going on is that Bush has probably written off Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the two large population centers in Pennsylvania, both of which traditionally go Democratic. The only way for him to win the state is by running up his vote totals in conservative Central PA, where I’m sure he’ll find plenty of churches willing to help.

Full disclosure: the national office of the UCC is helping to organize a voter registration effort in swing states such as Pennsylvania. While the program is officially neutral, I have no doubt that they’re hoping to sign up as many left-leaning votes as they can. I took a pass on the program, thinking that it pushed the limits of appropriate activism. I suppose all this effort—on both sides of the fence—just goes to show how high the stakes are perceived to be in this election.

As promised, here are the incriminating photos from Nashville:

Folks who have known me (and my hoodlum friends) for a long time will no doubt recognize Charles Clover and John Cooper on the outside of this group of miscreants. On the inside are Kia Baskerville—John’s wife—and Abe Megahead, an old friend of David’s from high school, and new buddy to the rest of us.

Below: Dorene Sterne, whom Abe married on a mountaintop in Montana or Wyoming, and who took most of these pictures, with the inimitable Robert Skidmore:

Just to be fair, here’s a picture of me from brunch the day after:

That’s Arnold Miller, father of the groom, behind me.

And one last one of John and Kia, from the same brunch:

That’s Mrs. Pastor in the background, feeling puny. Behind her in the green shirt is David Miller, the groom himself.

A good time was had by all. A very good time.

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