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Friday, July 30, 2004

My sermon for August 1st: No, I'm not going to endorse John Kerry. I've got a tax exemption to worry about, for one thing. For another, I'd rather avoid having my head handed back to me on a platter. Jen hates politics in church, and she's not the only one.

Well, in any case. Warning: even a short sermon is rather long on the Web. Just saying.

The text is Luke 12:13-21:

Someone in the crowd said to him, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me." But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?" And he said to them, "Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." Then he told them a parable: "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, `What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?'

Then he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, `You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God."

I want to throw a couple of economic concepts at you this morning. That is to say, a couple of ideas from the study of economics. They may sound complicated at first, but really, they're not as difficult to get a hold of as they might seem at first.

The first of these concepts is what's known as the "crisis of rising expectations." You may not have heard of the idea, but I'm pretty sure most of you have lived the reality. It works like this: today's luxury is tomorrow's necessity, and eventually, you reach a point where rising expectations exceed our ability to pay for that "necessity."

Believe it or not, air conditioning--of all things--is the best example. Some of you are old enough to remember when air conditioning was something you found only in movie theaters, perhaps office buildings or a hospital. Well, next came wall units for home use, and in cars, then there was central air, and by today, we're all sweltering in church and crabbing because we don't have this "necessity." There aren't many people my age who would go without air conditioning at home if we could possibly afford it, and we certainly wouldn't think of buying a car without it.

There are any number of consumer goods this works with. Owning a car used to be a luxury, then it was owning two cars. By now, there are more cars than people in the United States. Same thing with television, radio, microwave ovens, cell phones. Do we need all this stuff? Strictly speaking, no. But we think we do, and the result is that Americans are working harder than ever to get the things they think they need. We are prisoners of a rat race we have made for ourselves.

Which is perfectly natural. One of the reasons we're attracted to fatty foods in our diet, after all, is a biological urge to store up some reserves for leaner times. So it is with other material surpluses, I think. We want to enjoy them while we can, because who knows what may come tomorrow?

When the nameless man in the crowd calls out to Jesus: "Tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me," he's not making an unreasonable request. As a teacher, Jesus could be expected to interpret the laws concerning inheritance, for one thing. For another, we're probably not talking about a great deal of money here. More than likely, what this person wants is a plot of land with which to support himself and his family.

But Jesus, sharp-eyed as ever, quickly spots the underlying issues. First of all, his mission is to bring people closer to God, not to divide from one another. He has no interest in intervening in a financial dispute.

Second--and more important--he doesn't want to encourage greed. Now, when you and I think of greed, we tend to think of avarice or cupidity: the desire to have more than our fair share in life, or the desire for wealth at the expense of others. This is a problem in our world, no doubt about it.

But the kind of greed Jesus is talking about here is a more subtle kind, one that nearly all of us are guilty of. It's not the desire to have "more," but the desire to have "enough." Look at the story Jesus tells the crowd. Do you see any indication that the rich fool has hurt anyone to get his wealth? Any indication that he wants more than what is rightfully his? Well, no. He has been blessed with enough and more than enough, through no fault of his own.

It's here that our second economic concept comes in. Some economists have made a distinction between "material wealth" and "social wealth." Basically, it's the difference between measuring how rich you are by what you have in the bank versus how many people you can help. You may have heard the story about the king with an empty treasury? A visiting prince questions him about it, and the king in response declares himself the richest man in the world. He has loaned or given away everything he had, he says, but if he called in all his favors, he'd get back five times what he'd given, so eager would his friends be to repay his generosity.

This is almost--but not quite--the standard Jesus proposes to the crowd. The fool's mistake is not to be rich, but to be rich without regard for God and neighbor. He ought to be thanking God for his success, not congratulating himself on his self-sufficiency. And he ought to be spreading his wealth around, not squirreling it away in his barns. "Where your treasure is, there also your heart will be."

Now, doesn't that sound like you or me? It's so easy to get caught up in material rewards that we sometimes forget how fortunate we are to have what we do. That's what tithing is all about: a way to say "Thank you, God."

I said that Jesus' idea is "almost" the same as social wealth, but not quite. Here's why. Wealth, in most of worldviews, is a finite resource. But Jesus calls us into a world where God's resources are without end. We are free to live without "enough," because God provides plenty for all. In turn, we are free to use our souls to love God and one another as much as we can, which is to say as much as Christ gave of himself to us. We need not worry.

Or, as Robert F. Morneau writes:

Jesus give his [disciples] a simple, clear example of what discipleship is all about: service. Washing one another's feet, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked--here is the core of the Eucharist, our great miracle of love. God's table is large, as large as creation. All are invited, all are to have access to the necessity of food and the miracle of love. Both are essential to the fullness of life. Without food, the body languishes and dies; without love, our souls wither and are filled with despair. The leftovers in our lives? What are they and who will get them? So many people can live off our leavings, if we would only share. This is hardly sufficient. Disciples of Christ give abundantly in imitation of the Master who gave his very self.

As we come to the table this morning, then, let us give God our thanks and praise for what Jesus has given us and what he continues to give us. And let us pray for the strength to move beyond the desire to have "more," the desire to have even "enough," to the recognition of the "plenty" God has given us to share among all our brothers and sisters. And let us pray to God for the strength he bestows upon us to be wise and generous givers of our very souls. To God be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

I've just come in from a little over an hour spent weeding the yard. I've been pulling up a mixture of clover, thistle, and wild strawberries mostly, with a bit of crabgrass and miscellaneous weeds thrown in. I even came across two maple trees taking surprisingly deep root under our bushes. I wasn't able to pull either one out; I may have to resort to more drastic measures.

The lawn is in atrocious shape. It's been neglected for so long that the dandelions own most of it. No kidding: I pulled up a test patch to see what a thorough weeding would do. There's only a few blades of grass, and dirt. My long term plan had been to put down some corn germ and grass seed this fall, but I may have to rethink that. Sodding the entire yard would be too expensive; perhaps I'll rent a tiller and just grind the thing up, start all over from scratch. I don't know if Jen will go for a yard covered with hay for the winter, though.

So I'm hot and sweaty and stinky, I'm sure. Jen will be home in half an hour, wondering where her dinner is.

I regret nothing.

You see, while I was out there the shape of this week's sermon came to me. I'd waited on it all day, but it never came around until I gave up on it and went outside. It's peaceful out in the yard, meditative. I leave the phone inside, and if it's not too hot, bring the dogs out on their leashes. Then we attack the weeds with gusto. It's a way of coming closer to God, and the exercise doesn't hurt either. I wouldn't exactly call it prayer, but it does clear the mind and the heart for a different kind of work.

So what can you do? Say "amen," and bring a trash bag for the weeds you've ripped up.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

About time we had an update on the household expenses. Since July 5th, we've dropped $30.70 at K-Mart, $90.90 at Lowe's, another $38.18 at Lowe's, $92.30 at Ikea, $64.48 at Target, and another $11.28 at Lowe's. We should own stock in that last one.

Offsetting these expenses were returns to Lowe's of $4.50 and $69.31.

So, the grand total was: 30.70+90.90+38.18+92.30+64.48+11.28-4.50-69.31=$314.03, minus whatever we get back from Ikea when we return the kickass Roman shades that were the wrong size for the windows.

For this, I get a house with a purple bedroom, pictures on the wall, and some semblance of functionality. Also rugs on the kitchen floor and a shaving mirror in the bathroom. Damn practical Swedes and their irresistable merchandise!

We have yet to contract with a landscaper to rip out our overgrown trees and bushes. Nor have we contacted a plumber or electrician about the work they need to do around the house.

However, I have successfully installed a new ceiling light fixture without burning down the house. On the other hand, that was only this afternoon. Give me some time.

But lest you think this has all been Jen's fault, or that I've gotten nothing out of the deal, allow me to say this. I am the proud owner of five hammers, including the mallet I bought Jen while we were engaged; three saws (one electric), a lawn mower, weed whacker, and hedgetrimmer, and my personal favorite, the branch lopper. Let Armageddon come: I have enough tools to see my lawn through to the kingdom!

Monday, July 26, 2004

Back in May, I wrote about a queer friend who was going before an "ecclesiastical council" to be approved for ordination in the United Church of Christ. Several folks asked for updates as the process went along.

Well, I'm happy to say that David Stiffler was approved for ordination, which took place yesterday afternoon.

It was, by David's own admission, the "gayest ordination ever." I countered that I would appear in my flame-red chasuble so he wouldn't have to be the gayest man in the room. He threatened to up the ante by wearing a tiara, but it never materialized.

I counted 40 people involved in the worship service, including the ordinand, myself, and Mrs. Pastor. And that's not even counting the bell choir!

We had ten musical offerings; we had three congregational hymns. We had two liturgical dances; we had one presentation by a sign language interpreter and one message recorded beforehand by David because he couldn't trust himself not to cry while presenting it. We had prayers, we had scripture and a sermon, we had a laying on of hands, we had communion and a ritual presentation of gifts. Finally, we had a dinner with fried chicken, two kinds of cold salad, fruit and ice cream. Everyone kept commenting on how this was like a wedding, and it really was.

The service took about two hours, which is somewhere between thirty and sixty minutes longer than average.

If you've never been to one of these affairs, allow me a long description. First all the pastors put on their robes and process into the sanctuary. In our case, that was about thirty people, only about half of whom were counted in the participants' list above. For a while, the worship service more or less follows the basic Sunday morning pattern: there's a greeting and a call to worship, prayer of confession, scripture and a sermon. We read together the UCC Statement of Faith.

It's at this point that the service begins to differ. There are some boring prayers and liturgy, then the ordinand (unlike Catholics and Methodists, we typically ordain people one at a time) is given a ritual examination, in which he or she promises to uphold the duties of being a pastor. Then the congregation, the assembled people of God, are asked what their will is: do we ordain this person or not.

The response is typically joyful: "By the grace of God, he is worthy! Let us ordain him. Come, Holy Spirit!" The congregation did not disappoint.

Following this comes the "laying on of hands." There are many ways of doing this, but typically in the UCC, the ordinand kneels and is surrounded by members of the clergy and/or the entire congregation, who...ah...lay hands on him or her, and pray that the Holy Spirit might come upon him. This is an emotionally powerful moment, both for those participating, and especially for the ordinand. I've been through this myself; it feels as though the prayers and love of the whole people of God have been transformed into an immense crushing weight on your head and shoulders. It is both awe-ful and awesome, love come to life in a tangible way.

A few more prayers, and the ordinand is presented with the symbols of office: a Bible, a traveling communion set, a certificate of ordination. When I was ordained, the Association (the ordaining body) gave me a framed copy of the Rights and Responsibilities of an Ordained Minister. I guess they don't do that anymore.

Ah, but the best was yet to come. The new minister is presented with a stole, representing Christ's yoke. In this case, David's partner Tom hung the stole on David's shoulders, and they exchanged a very chaste hug. David tried to stifle a sob or two, and I don't think there was a dry eye or throat unchoked in the house as he did so.

In this case, David was "installed" into his office, which means formally received into his job. Following the installation, he celebrated communion with one of his seminary professors. Mrs. Pastor held a glass of wine next to David as they distributed the elements. She told me later she had a hard time not crying as she stood there, she was so proud of him. She wasn't at my ordination.

Well, the whole thing was wonderful. There were something like 125-150 people there, above average for such an affair. There were black folks and white, Asians (dunno about Hispanics), gay, straight, babies and grandmothers, at least three or four denominations (including the MCC), just about everything under the sun.

What there weren't: protestors. If anybody knew where this was taking place, they shouldn't didn't seem to care. Nobody said "boo" the entire time. David, as I said when I wrote back in May, will make a wonderful pastor for the right congregation, and everybody in the room that day agreed. To paraphrase our Area Conference Minister (the "boss," such as it is, of us pastors), David was trailblazing history by his ordination, and there was no better time or place for him to do that than right now and with us.

To which I can only add: Amen.

Friday, July 23, 2004

As promised, here's my latest column for the Lancaster Sunday News. Bush supporters may want to skip over this one.

President as Prophet? July 25, 2004

It may not be true that Pres. Bush said to a group of Amish farmers "I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job", as was reported by the Lancaster New Era. It's an unconfirmed report, and the White House denies that the President said it.

But assume for a moment that it is true.

Should we doubt the president’s sanity? I don't believe so. He probably didn't mean that he was given the spiritual gift of prophecy, whereby God takes over a believer's voice to communicate a message.

More likely, he meant that he receives guidance from the Lord, that his actions reflect what he interprets as God's will. This is a mainstream belief; my own denomination claims to listen for the "still speaking" God.

So, he's on fairly firm theological ground. Reasonable people can—and do—dispute his interpretation of what God calls us to do. But what faithful person would admit that we do not seek God’s guidance in some way?

Should we doubt the sincerity of Bush's faith when he says such a thing? Probably not. It's true that he doesn’t attend church much—apparently only when he's at Camp David—but there are plenty people of faith who seldom, if ever, darken the door of a house of worship. No reason to criticize him there.

And while it's true that a picture of a president with a group of Amish farmers is worth its weight in gold, especially for one so concerned to portray himself as the representative of American values, if the White House had wanted to play up this angle, we would have seen it by now. In fact, largely because of the quote attributed to Pres. Bush, they’re doing everything they can to downplay the meeting.

Should we be concerned that the president speaks in such overtly religious tones? Well perhaps, and here's why. Max Weber, the German organizational theorist, talked about three kinds of authority: traditional, rational-legal, and charismatic. Traditional authority was invested in the president during his inauguration. For the "sanctity of the order," we respect the office of the president, if not the person occupying that office.

Rational-legal authority comes about as a result of laws. Because Pres. Bush was declared the winner of the 2000 election, he now serves as Chief Executive and Commander-in-Chief of our nation.

Charismatic authority is given to leaders who are able to inspire their followers. Pres. Bush’s frequent use of religious language is meant to—does—inspire voters to back his policies and vote for him. It is also why values-talk is so important in this election: the president and John Kerry are duking it out to lay claim to the mantle of "most inspiring leader."

But it's charismatic authority that gives me pause about Pres. Bush's quote, if indeed it is true.

As a pastor, I want my religious leaders to be charismatic; they should be able to inspire their followers with their firm commitment to the gospel. But as a voter, I want my political leaders to derive their authority from the rule of law. We are after all a nation of laws, not men, no matter how fervent those men's beliefs may be.

What has made me queasy all along about Pres. Bush's administration is the sense that he uses his great reservoir of charismatic authority to undermine the authority of the rational-legal systems of checks and balances that protect our government—indeed, our way of life—from disaster.

And I get the idea that he does this in the name of a faith that has more to do with conservative ideology than with a God who could proclaim through his prophet: let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

This supposed quote from the president just adds fuel to the fires of my suspicion. I hope to God I'm wrong about it.

Update: In May, I wrote about a friend and soon-to-be colleague who was going before an ecclesiastical council. I am pleased to say that the council approved David Stiffler, and he will be ordained this afternoon. Best of luck and God's grace be with him.

I've started a new blog. This is (a little) to the dismay of my long-suffering wife Jen, but I decided it was time to split off the commentary on politics and religion into its own little box. I will continue to post personal reflections here, with the occasional cross-post (for example, my latest column, above). In the meantime, if you're really hungry to read Dan as he plays pundit, you can check here.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

A couple of notes on mental illness: I met today with a representative of NAMI, the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill.  This grandfatherly gentleman runs a support group down in Hanover, the biggest town in my church's neck of the woods.  We got together for lunch at a local diner so I could pick his brains about starting a group.  I'd toyed with the idea of starting one at Emmanuel; they've been looking to do some support groups or small group ministry, and I've been looking for ways to be an advocate for the mentally ill.  In the end I decided that I wouldn't be here long enough to get such a project off the ground, but I was interested in learning more about it, so I kept the date.
We spent most of our time talking off-thread, as they say on the internet:  his service as a bomber pilot in World War II; his furniture factory down in Hanover; his daughter, who has schizophrenia.  Turns out that one of the people on my Transition Team was supposed to be the flower girl at his wedding sixty years ago.  But then he got stuck in Nebraska, and the wedding had to be shifted.
But that we wandered didn't mean that I didn't get anything out of the conversation.  He had very practical knowledge of how to get a group started, and how to keep it afloat.  Find two or three people who will be core members, he said, and let them invite other folks who need the help.  Parents and other relatives of the mentally ill will form the backbone of the group, while the "consumers" (the preferred term for those with mental illness) will float in and out of the group.  Even schizophrenics can benefit from such a group, however--though their presence can be a bit dicey at times.
He invited me to the Hanover meeting in September, and I think I'm going to go.  If nothing else, I'll learn something about how these groups work, and who knows?  Perhaps it'll lead to something else, some new form of ministry.
My other note:  when you are a "consumer," structure is your friend.  Those who have not experienced mental illness have a hard time, I think, understanding how it can scramble the circuits that keep most of us awake and organized from day to day.  Obviously, if you're schizophrenic, your major preoccupation is going to be your voices and what they tell you to do.  But even someone such as me, with a relatively minor case of bipolar, can get pretty far out on a limb, if you know what I mean. 
This comes about for a couple of reasons.  First of all, let's face it, my brain doesn't fire on all cylinders.  Who knew my brothers and sisters were right, after all this time?  As I've noted before, the bipolar affects the part of my brain that sifts through the normal, humdrum details of life and decides what's important and what's not.  It's the mental equivalent of tossing everything in the circular filing cabinet.  On the better days, my wife can tell me to take care of something over breakfast, and if I'm lucky, I'll remember it at dinnertime.  Most days, it's "gone."  Not that I don't remember the conversation; I don't remember (or notice) its relevance to my continued existence.  For this reason, Jen has threatened to beat my brains in on more than one occasion.  The death threats seem to work; perhaps having underlined for me the connection between forgetting & drastic consequences completes a circuit I wouldn't normally close on my own.
In any case, it makes me a pretty poor candidate for the gene pool.  The odds are even at best that my mate will rip me to shreds in frustration before I can reproduce.
But a more serious point is this:  the mentally ill walk around with more pain in their heads than a non-consumer might suspect.  Again, schizophrenics are obvious:  the auditory and sometimes visual hallucinations are terrifying and all-encompassing.  So, too, the pain of depression is obvious.  My own is a bit more subtle.  I walk around wondering what I've screwed up this week, and if I've pissed anybody off recently, or why it is that I can never seem to get any writing done.  Mind you, I'm not complaining:  this is only to say that thoughts such as these take up a lot of energy, and they can distract you pretty easily.
The answer to these problems is structure.  It's incredibly important for a shizophrenic to take their medication at regular intervals.  Depressives often find it beneficial to stick to a schedule to distract them from the emptiness within; bipolars soon find that their mood swings are not so pronounced when they set a rhthym to their life and stick to it.
In my case, I've found that writing things down helps tremendously.  Every entry in my "to do" list is one less thing that I have to carry around in my head.  Not only does that help compensate for my memory problems:  it helps my moods.  I don't have to worry so much about what I'm forgetting, because I have it written down, or I should.  Now I worry about whether or not it's in my book, but that's much less of a concern.  So having the to-do list takes a weight off my shoulders.  Having more of a structured schedule to my day frees me up to get more done.  Here's my ideal day:  wake up at 6:30 or 7:00, get ready for the day, spend some time working in the yard, split the rest of the day writing and crossing off things on my to-do list; perhaps some visits or a meeting late in the day, come home, walk the dogs, spend an hour or so reading before I fall asleep.  So far, I haven't hit a perfect day, but I've come pretty close.  More important, I have been getting more productive.  I've been writing more (even if it's just crappy blog entries), and for the first time in who knows how long, I've begun to read as voraciously as I used to.  I got through I, Claudius in about a week-and-a-half, and I'm currently working on Ha Jin's Waiting and Molly Ivin's Bushwacked.  That's pretty good for a guy who read nothing but magazines and comic books for the better part of two years.
That things are going better starts a better cycle.  For one thing, I don't have to be worried about what I've screwed up, so I don't have to spend as much time either hiding from or anesthetizing my problems.  For another, it opens up some spiritual energy that I've been needing for far too long.  Those of you who have experienced this kind of renewal will understand what I mean when I say it's the difference between reacting and responding.  Having admitted my illness in public gives me the grace to be who I am; having established some structures to compensate for the illness has allowed me to do better in my life, if not exactly "be the best person I can."  I wouldn't want to go that far.  The two combined--identity and structure--allow me to be more fully centered than I have been in a long, long time.
Now, if I could only get to bed at a decent hour, I'd feel more energetic, and wouldn't have to write long, rambling, nonsensical blog entries...

Monday, July 19, 2004

Religious News Update:

Three items taken from the July 27th edition of the Christian Century.

Baptismal Politics: When author Jimmy Breslin went with a friend to the baptism of an infant in a Catholic church on Long Island, the priest said that this young male would one day bring Christ to the world. And then, speaking directly to the baby, the priest said: "You must go out and stand up against abortions in the name of Christ and your church. You must stand up to these politicians who talk crap about abortions, stand up against this John Kerry who talks crap." Later, Breslin's friend challenged the priest on the propriety of making a statement against a politician during the baptism. "Oh, no, it was proper," the priest said. "We have been ordered that at every liturgical ceremony, we must make a statement against abortion." (The Church That Forgot Christ, Free Press).

Let Us Part in Peace: The evangelical magazine Christianity Today has added its voice to those saying it is time for the mainline denominations to amicably split, presumably over homosexuality. In a July editorial, CT said "a proactive separation involving leadership of both the left and right, would keep anger to a minimum, minimize ugly property disputes and, in a perverse way, demonstrate to the world that Christians can act civilly toward each other even in the midst of profound disagreements. Then each church can get on with its own version of the faith, and, to paraphrase Gamaliel (Acts 5), see if one or both will prosper." With an apparent twinkle in the eye, the unsigned editorial concluded that such a proposed split "is, in the tradition of the mainline, at least an idea worth dialogue and study."

Enemy Within: When Rabbi Arnold E. Resnicoff served with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam, his commander warned that they faced two enemies--an external one (the Vietcong) and an internal one (what the war could unleash). War, says Resnicoff, is not only a danger to our lives; it is a danger to our humanity. "The problem isn't that we don't have good people in uniform. The problem is that war can turn even the best into different people." True, there are no atheists in foxholes, "but foxholes can breed atheists, when those who see war's nightmares lose all faith..." (Christian Science Monitor, June 28).

And one last bit, just as a bribe for your tolerance:

Introducing a new feature on the Pastor's Notebook!  It's called "The Religion News Roundup," and I'll try to do it at least weekly, but I make no promises. I won't be including little tidbits like this, which are more like "News of the Weird" than anything else.

Instead, I'll be concentrating on religion and politics, specifically from a Christian perspective since that's obviously what I come out of. Readers are invited to add such information as I may have missed or neglected.

Last part of the intro: the stories come with commentary, free of charge.

W.'s quote to the effect of "I trust that God speaks through me" has gotten a lot of play around the blogosphere. Brief notes on this: it's from Lancaster, PA, which is both my current spider-hole and one of the most "burned over" evangelical districts in the nation. The quote has also not been independently verified, so take it with a grain of salt. (Though it would fit Bush's MO, particularly with a group of good conservative Christians like the Amish.)

And, you may not have seen this commentary on the quote:

From Chuck Currie's Blog.)

More from Lancaster County: a fascinating piece on sexual and domestic abuse in the local Mennonite and Amish communities. Though it's focused on the Anabaptists, it goes a long way to explaining how this can happen in any closed church (or really any) community.

Slactivist has a great post on that bane of legalist believers everywhere, "The Abominable Shellfish"

Worldwide Faith News reports a Church of the Brethren call for peace essays.  Along with the Amish, Mennonites, and Quakers, the CoB are a traditional pacifist denomination. Submissions go to: You can also help choose stories by emailing the same address.

Yeah, it's from the "Chicken Soup" series. But who better to subvert this paradigm than you good people? has an interesting tidbit: apparently, the Bush administration is allowing the "predominantly gay and lesbian" Metropolitan Community Church to be among the groups that advise on adoption policy. While this fits with Tommy Thompson's usually tolerant behavior (IIRC, don't flame me if I'm wrong!), it may also be a fake-out designed to protect the administration from being labeled "haters." You decide.

PBS' Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has a typically well-researched and thoughtful story on gay marriage within the black church.

Many folks have already commented on this piece from the NYT describing Jerry Falwell's apparent flameout in endorsing the Bush campaign on church (or at least non-profit) letterhead. I have only these two things to add: #1 Three cheers to the Rev. Barry Lynn, of my own United Church of Christ for once more leading the charge for separation of church and state. #2: Worst. Pastor. Ever.

And last but not least, the promised report from the Madison, Wisconsin Pride Parade, via my Pops, also a UCC minister. I've broken up his message into smaller paragraphs:

Whooeeee! Here it is 4:20 in the afternoon and I am just now sitting down at the computer to whip off a Sunday Greeting. I'm just back from the Gay Pride Parade, and what a parade it was! There were the shamrock girls all in green and the green (as in save the environment) pink party and the Rural Dykes Association and the gays on motorcycles and the gays on horses and, of course the drag queens. But mostly there were lots and lots of people who look and act like plain old run of the mill ordinary people you meet on the street or at the office on down on the farm every day.

And then there were the haters. Actually, I think, fewer this year than last year. It takes a lot of time and energy to hate with the vitriol with which these really pathetic people hate. According to them, my fate is sealed. I would agree. By the grace of God in Jesus Christ, I am liberated from sin to abide in God's love for ever. According to the haters, I am doomed to stand before God's judgment and be condemned to the fires of hell. It is just beyond me how people can be so frightened and filled with such malice. The vituperation just pours out of them like bile.  But, you know what, the people in the parade simply dismiss the haters as irrelevant, a joke.

You know what else, the people lining the parade route cheer loudly, enthusiastically when the church contingent marches past. So, the anti-gays stand there with their condemning scriptural quotations on their placards and are regarded as ridiculous. The church folks march along with banners flying and are cheered.

How's this for irony? Last Sunday there was a letter in the bulletin encouraging the congregation to write their senators in support of the constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriages. Caught me completely by surprise. The congregation, too. Gently, I responded letting the congregation know that I could not in good conscience support the intent of the letter. Surprisingly, six or eight people expressed their support for my response, if for no other reason than their feeling that this kind of political announcement has no place in the bulletin.

And with that, 'nuff said.

Friday, July 16, 2004

See what I mean about this being a rich day? First there's this piece from PBS' Religion and Ethics Weekly:

`Godless Americans' Endorse Kerry-Edwards Ticket
(RNS) The Godless Americans Political Action Committee has endorsed Sen. John Kerry for president and Sen. John Edwards for vice president in the upcoming 2004 election.
-- Adelle M. Banks

And then there's this Op-Ed from USA Today, of all places, explaining the "religion gap" between Democrats and Republicans may not be all that large.

On a less happy note, there's this story from CNN on a serial rapist and child molestor caught in Madison, Wisconsin. This guy may have assaulted up to two dozen adults and five kids. Yeesh. Why is it that my hometown used to be in the news for being a great place to live, but recently only gets mentioned in connection with crime stories?

And now I've got to go and get a life.

Sheesh Lewis. I am just en fuego today. And I haven't even checked my "religious news" sources today. Here's another link, this one to a story from Ekklesia concerning a potential "ad war" between Protestant denominations.

I found the article interesting for two reasons. First of all, it gave quite a bit of play to the UCC's "God Is Still Speaking" campaign:

The UCC's ads are especially edgy. One shows a pair of bouncers manning a rope line outside a church, admitting a white heterosexual couple but barring gays and racial minorities. "Jesus didn't turn people away. Neither do we," the ad says.
So far, the GISS program has been fairly productive for the UCC; I'll say more when the nationwide ad campaign starts in the fall.

The article also points to the competiveness of evangelism these days. Ekklesia contrasts the UCC approach with that of the Southern Baptists:
The 16 million-member Southern Baptist Convention, which opposes gay marriage and has urged wives to "submit" to their husbands, is laying plans for an ad blitz starting in late 2005. Baptist leaders said it probably would be much larger than any of the campaigns they have run every five years since 1985.

Although the Southern Baptist Convention has not decided on the content for its ads, "we will stand on what we understand the Scripture to teach," said Martin King, spokesman for the Baptists' North American Mission Board. "We're proud of the fact that we're not going to shy away or try to make it an easy message."

One of the dirty little secrets about American Christianity is that it's thoroughly failing to win new converts. That is to say, the church has done a pretty miserable job of taking people from "no belief" or "no affiliation" and turning them into Christians. This leaves the church to essentially recycle the same population through various denominations, hence the ad wars. Given that the Southern Baptists have lately realized that they're not growing, we should be in for an interesting couple of years here.

Geez, it's just an embarrassment of riches this morning.

You get three for the price of one in today's Washington Post: Howard Kurtz reviews Bush's latest negative ad on Kerry's abortion stance here, and E.J. Dionne gets it right as usual here. (Sorry, subscription only.)

Dionne says the Republicans are "Doing an Atwater on Kerry," and he has a point:

Republican pollster David Winston's helpful definition of the two types of "values" arguments is a good guide to which Atwateresque moves might work this year. There are "values you default to that are appealing to your base, which tend to reinforce an existing belief." And "there are values that are oriented to the middle which tend to be fundamentally optimistic and designed to solve a problem."

Bush risks pushing too hard on the first kind of values issues, as he did on the gay marriage amendment. But in trying to paint Kerry as weak, vacillating and unprepared to lead the country in the war on terrorism, Bush is reaching for a much broader audience. Atwater and his excellent nerds would happily put that argument on a 3-by-5 card. That should be enough to make Kerry's campaign take it seriously.

He even manages to get a nice slap in at W.'s "values":
On the central issue of the campaign, Bush is understandably pushing the Iraq debate away from the specific -- the failure to find weapons of mass destruction, poor postwar planning, etc. -- to the general plane of character and toughness. Bush is using a zinger aimed at all soft and elitist believers in psychobabble. "You can't negotiate with terrorists," Bush says. "You can't sit back and hope that somehow therapy will work and they will change their ways."

Bush even suggests subtly that if the voters toss him from office, they will fail the values test by breaking the country's commitments. The reformist leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush says, "need to hear from America that they can count on the American people. You see, when we give our word, we keep our word." Message: Keep your country's promise. Vote for Bush.

I'm of the opinion that Bush can flail around all he wants on values. What's going to determine the election is a referendum on his management of the economy and the war in Iraq/on terror. If he can't come up with better results than what we've seen so far, he's going to be toast come November. Still, as I say, Dionne has a point.

I was a little more irked at this story about how Kerry keeps his faith private. The middle of the piece is a pretty fine description of Kerry's faith, which is apparently pretty strong. But the writers feel a need to turn it into a campaign issue by citing insiders (including Amy Sullivan, who's in danger of turning into a one-note writer) to the effect that Kerry's got to talk more about religion, or risk losing the election.

While I agree that it wouldn't kill Kerry to give a speech or an interview about his faith, or to bring the kind of talk he made at the AME convention last week to white audiences, I have at least a couple of problems with this line of thought. Number 1: that 7% of the population knows Kerry is deeply religious comes from a poll taken back in May. Surely that's stale information by now.

Number 2: as noted above, this election is going to be a referendum on the incumbent. Unless there's much harder evidence that Kerry's reticence is costing him support, I wouldn't worry about it. So far, the polls seem to be running in his favor.

Number 3: come on. What you're saying is that you'd like Kerry to become somebody he's not? The man does not like to talk about his faith in public. That's a personal stance, and a cultural one. As EJ Dionne points out above, he's already susceptible to attacks as being a "flip-flopper." Why risk making him out to be a phony?

Enough. I need another cup of coffee and to cut the grass. One more link, with thanks to Aaron Gillies for passing it on: Bill Moyers giving the keynote at Call To Renewal's 2004 Pentecost Conference. As I told Aaron, it's just one more reason I need to subscribe to Sojourners.

[Update]: Amy Sullivan has her own take on her quote here. The most relevant paragraphs:
When I talked to Jim VandeHei for the Washington Post article linked above, my message was that Kerry has correctly placed the focus on works instead of rhetoric. I will always value the individual who walks the walks over someone who merely talks the talk. If you just listen to rhetoric, I said, you might think that Bush is incredibly religious and Kerry is not. But what's more important is to look at what they do.

And that's where my advice to Democrats comes in. Because sometimes voters are going to need some help connecting the dots between their values and the things that John Kerry stands for -- heck, the things nearly the entire Democratic Party stands for. It would be nice if it was all implicit and people simply made the connections for themselves. But sometimes they need someone to say, hey, your religious principles are reflected in our political priorities and policies.

Which leads us to my comments about why Democrats shouldn't just talk about religion in black churches. In my mind, Republicans far too often use religion as a political tool, wielding religious language and appeals in a way that comes across as blatant pandering. Democrats can -- and should -- do better than that. The instinct to keep faith private is, by and large, a correct one. But Democrats who only talk about religion in black churches look just as guilty of pandering as Republicans who wield faith to ply votes.

No one is saying -- and I certainly have not said -- that John Kerry should start talking like an evangelical, that he needs to give testimonials about how much his experience as an altar boy has shaped his life, or that he should start spouting religious language that he doesn't believe just to make voters happy. Drawing on religious principles to explain to some voters why they should support him and his policies, however, is an entirely different matter and one that he and his campaign are starting to pursue in an extremely effective manner.

If what she says about being misunderstood in this article is true, it means that Jim VandeHei is a surprisingly lazy reporter. I've already not been impressed with his coverage of Howard Dean's faith, and this doesn't help any.

I was a bit ambivalent when I first saw the National Council of Churches' "Christian Election Year Principles." After the Bush campaign's church outreach, I'm a bit leery of denominations getting involved in politics.

On the other hand, this seems fairly non-partisan, if left-leaning, and it's certainly better than whatever fundagelical crap the Christian Right will throw up there. Full text below.

Forgive the long quote:

Christian Principles in an Election Year

Our Christian faith compels us to address the world through the lens of our relationship to God and to one another. Public discourse is enhanced as we engage civic leaders on the values and ethics affirmed by our faith. At the same time, religious liberty and the integrity of our democracy will be protected as candidates refrain from using faith-based organizations and institutions for partisan gain. We offer these ten principles to those seeking to accept the responsibility that comes with holding public office.

1. War is contrary to the will of God. While the use of violent force may, at times, be a necessity of last resort, Christ pronounces his blessing on the peacemakers. We look for political leaders who will make peace with justice a top priority and who will actively seek nonviolent solutions to conflict.

2. God calls us to live in communities shaped by peace and cooperation. We reject policies that abandon large segments of our inner city and rural populations to hopelessness. We look for political leaders who will re-build our communities and bring an end to the cycles of violence and killing.

3. God created us for each other, and thus our security depends on the well-being of our global neighbors. We look for political leaders for whom a foreign policy based on cooperation and global justice is an urgent concern.

4. God calls us to be advocates for those who are most vulnerable in our society. We look for political leaders who yearn for economic justice and who will seek to reduce the growing disparity between rich and poor.

5. Each human being is created in the image of God and is of infinite worth. We look for political leaders who actively promote racial justice and equal opportunity for everyone.

6. The earth belongs to God and is intrinsically good. We look for political leaders who recognize the earth's goodness, champion environmental justice, and uphold our responsibility to be stewards of God's creation.

7. Christians have a biblical mandate to welcome strangers. We look for political leaders who will pursue fair immigration policies and speak out against xenophobia.

8. Those who follow Christ are called to heal the sick. We look for political leaders who will support adequate, affordable and accessible health care for all.

9. Because of the transforming power of God's grace, all humans are called to be in right relationship with each other. We look for political leaders who seek a restorative, not retributive, approach to the criminal justice system and the individuals within it.

10. Providing enriched learning environments for all of God’s children is a moral imperative. We look for political leaders who will advocate for equal educational opportunity and abundant funding for children's services.

Finally, our religious tradition admonishes us not to bear false witness against our neighbor and to love our enemies. We ask that the campaigns of political candidates and the coverage of the media in this election season be conducted according to principles of fairness, honesty and integrity.

If you're surprised that there's nothing in here about abortion or homosexuality, don't be. That the NCC doesn't take a stand on these issues reflects their liberal bent. It's why the Catholics and the Evangelicals have pulled out (or never joined in the first place.) It also reflects that many of the member communions have internal divisions on these matters. Rather than risk division, the Council simply sidesteps it here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

After I posted on coming out to my congregation about my bipolar the other day, a couple of folks asked me to talk about how I was diagnosed with the disorder, and what symptoms to be on the lookout for in friends and loved ones.  Per their request, here's a follow-up diary entry.

My diagnosis was fairly easily made.  First of all, my wife is a counselor, and could spot the symptoms.  I am told that this is not unusual.  For whatever reason, the "highs" of bipolarity are pretty hard to spot for those who suffer from them.  It's common for people to be treated for depression without the manic side being noticed.  That was case with me, until one night I came home and in a fit of rage spent half an hour screaming, swearing and disassembling some moving boxes in our basement.

I maintain I had good cause:  a parishioner had just accused me of causing his wife's heart problems, after I'd spent the better part of a week with them in the hospital.  But more level-headed people tell me that I was exhibiting classic bipolar symptoms.

In any case, I'm reluctant to speak about how to diagnose bipolar.  First of all, I'm not a doctor.  Let me be very clear about this:  there is no substitute for a psychiatric evaluation with major mood disorders.  Do not diagnose yourself or somebody else, and don't let your family physician or counselor do it either.  Have it confirmed with a psychiatrist.

That being said, here's what the National Institute for Mental Health lists as common symptoms of bipolar disease:

Signs and symptoms of mania (or a manic episode) include:

    * Increased energy, activity, and restlessness

    * Excessively "high," overly good, euphoric mood

    * Extreme irritability

    * Racing thoughts and talking very fast, jumping from one idea to another

    * Distractibility, can't concentrate well

    * Little sleep needed

    * Unrealistic beliefs in one's abilities and powers

    * Poor judgment

    * Spending sprees

    * A lasting period of behavior that is different from usual

    * Increased sexual drive

    * Abuse of drugs, particularly cocaine, alcohol, and sleeping medications

    * Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior

    * Denial that anything is wrong

A manic episode is diagnosed if elevated mood occurs with three or more of the other symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for 1 week or longer. If the mood is irritable, four additional symptoms must be present.

Signs and symptoms of depression (or a depressive episode) include:

    * Lasting sad, anxious, or empty mood

    * Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism

    * Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness

    * Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, including sex

    * Decreased energy, a feeling of fatigue or of being "slowed down"

    * Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

    * Restlessness or irritability

    * Sleeping too much, or can't sleep

    * Change in appetite and/or unintended weight loss or gain

    * Chronic pain or other persistent bodily symptoms that are not caused by physical illness or injury

    * Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

A depressive episode is diagnosed if five or more of these symptoms last most of the day, nearly every day, for a period of 2 weeks or longer.

More information here and, in a longer (pdf) version, here, from the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI).  

You may hear me talk more about NAMI at some point, as they are an advocacy as well as support group.  (For example, they back the Wellstone Mental Health Parity Act.)  NAMI also supports a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, whose website contains links for confidential screenings for bipolar and depression.

Fellow Kossite "Helen in MD" also recommends this site, which has a Mood Disorder Questionnaire, as well as some more in-depth articles.

Whew, is that enough information for you?

From today's Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal, an article on Pres. Bush's recent visit to the county, entitled "The Bush Bus: Some Onboard, Some Just Bored" by Larry Alexander, the humor columnist:

...I was astounded by the number of protestors who greeted the president.  So was Bush, who saw so many anti-Bush signs that he asked his driver how on Earth they missed the exit for Pennsylvania and ended up in France.

The Prez hoped to take in a movie between his gathering here and a rally in York, but decided against it when he learned the most popular film playing locally is "Fahrenheit 9/11."


In closing [remarks], Bush offered, "I'm going to spend a lot of time in Pennsylvania, because I want to carry Pennsylvannia this time."

No need to worry if he doesn't, as long as he carries the Supreme Court.

NB:  I'm pretty sure Alexander made up those quotes.  Pretty sure.

The F9/11 factoid, I wouldn't rule out.

In any case, I'm proud to say I was among those protestors. I even made it into the next day's paper by bellowing "I BELIEVE IN GOD, AND I'M VOTING FOR JOHN KERRY." Jen screamed when she saw it.

Monday, July 12, 2004

John Kerry spoke to the African Methodist Episcopal Church annual convention last Tuesday.

Sweet spots:

Scripture teaches us: "It is not enough, my brother, to say you have faith, when there are no deeds... Faith without works is dead."

Your faith is alive, but when I look around this city - when I look around neighborhoods and towns and cities all across this country, I see what so many of you see everyday.

We see jobs to be created.

We see families to house.

We see violence to stop.

We see children to teach - and children to care for.

We see too many people without health care and too many people of color suffering and dying from preventable diseases like cancer and AIDS and diabetes.

We look at what is happening in America today and we say:  Where are the deeds?  For the last four years all we have heard is empty words.

Well, let me tell you something.  I am running for president because it's time to turn the words into deeds, and faith into action.  I believe that talk is cheap.  It is time to back up our words with action.  And, as president, that is just what I am going to do.


Several months ago, President Clinton quoted the prophet Isaiah in support of my candidacy.  "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying...Whom shall I send.  And who will go for us.  And I said, `Here I am.  Send me.'"

President Clinton paid me the compliment of telling that audience whenever there was a call to service in war or in peace, I have always answered that call.

Today I say, when we look at the problems of this present age, we must all answer, "Send me."

With one clear voice, we must all say: Send me to fight for good-paying jobs that let American families actually get ahead - an America where the middle class is doing better, not being squeezed.

Send me to make it clear that health care is a right, not a privilege in America, reserved only for the wealthy or the elected or the connected.

Send me to fight for a good education for all our children with funding that truly leaves no child behind.

Send me to alleviate poverty and hopelessness wherever they exist in America.

Send me to make this nation energy independent so that no young American in uniform is ever held hostage to our dependence on Mideast oil.

Send me to build a strong military, and lead strong alliances, so young Americans are never put in harm's way because we needlessly insisted on going it alone.

My friends, we can create an America stronger at home and respected in the world if we put aside our divisions and come together in common purpose.  If we all answer the call by saying, "Send me."  If we remember the words of your founder, Richard Allen, who said, "Skin may differ but ability dwells in black and white the same."

Full text here.

Even if you don't care for religious language in political speeches--this one is well worth the read.  If nothing else, it should put to rest the notion that Kerry has no positive vision for the country.

A pastor comes out of the closet: No, not as a gay man. (Sorry for the teaser.) Lord willing and the creek don't rise, I'll remain happily married to Jen for many years to come. Instead, I came out as someone with mental illness. (Bipolar 2, as many of you already know.)

Still, it feels at least roughly analogous to the public announcement of a sexual orientation, though I'd be the first to say that the judgment encountered is much, much less.

The principle point of contact, I think, is that I simply feel much more free to be who I am. Like many "closeted" gays, I haven't exactly kept my mental illness a secret; it's just been something that I have not shared very widely. My family knew, of course. Jen in fact diagnosed me about four years ago. My closest friends in and outside the church also knew, but we hadn't spent much time talking about it, mostly because I was still learning about my disease and how it affects me. Now, having named the "problem" in public, I feel like I am much more able to talk about how I struggle with it sometimes, how it affects who I am. In that way, I am becoming more fully myself, a feeling that is surely familiar to anyone who has stepped out of the closet. "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free:" even routine discretion and a non-confrontational quietness can do invisible damage to the soul.

Why come out now? In this particular case, because I'd made a couple of mistakes in my professional life that needed to be explained. They weren't high-profile, nor did they do serious damage to the life of the church, but they irritated and disappointed some people who deserved an explanation of what had happened. In the course of trying to understand just what had happened, I began to realize that the bipolar was having a greater affect on my memory and judgment than I'd realized.

So I took aside the committee that I'd offended and explained the situation, and what I intended to do to offset my limitations. As I did so, it became clear to me that what I was saying to them needed to be taken up with a wider audience. Again, like many closeted gays and lesbians, I came out a little bit at a time, with progressively larger groups of people.

Unlike many of my queer friends, however, I did this fairly rapidly: Wednesday night with this committee, Thursday with the Consistory (our Church Council), Sunday morning with the congregation at large.

The response has been positive for the most part. Some folks slipped out the other door without saying anything, which is their right. A couple of them looked absolutely baffled as I spoke, which I had expected. Several people mentioned a friend or relative who was also bipolar, or had some other diagnosable condition.

The reactions I appreciated the most were a bear hug from the big gruff fundamentalist boyfriend of one our members, who's ordinarily difficult to connect with, and the quiet ability to commiserate with a man who's fought his way back from two devastating aneurysms, and is missing about a quarter of his skull as a result of his experiences. I'm sure I'll receive a few cards and "thinking of you" phone calls in the next few weeks.

One or two people wished that I had told the congregation when I arrived a little less than two years ago; they felt that it would have gotten me a little more slack from some of the more judgmental types in the church. How to tell them that we shouldn't be judging one another, even without a label? How to say to those who told me, "Well this explains a lot" that not all my troubles can be laid to rest at the feet of bipolar disorder? Sometimes, I'm just a dumbass, and sometimes I just plain screw up. Other times, there have been interpersonal conflicts in the church that have had nothing to do with me and my busted brain. You'd like to think that the bipolar pastor is the sickest person in the church, wouldn't you? Yet there are emotional illnesses and maladaptations more devastating than any chemical imbalance I've ever been privy to.

The point is that I don't want my disease to become a convenient crutch for us to lean on, an unspoken third party onto which all the blame and difficulty of our relationship can be transferred. I like being able to joke that I'm crazy, and I like the freedom to ask for some assistance when I need it. But life together is irreducible and unending in its difficulty--and therefore its reward. To simplify it down to the level of saying "Oh, the pastor just needs to adjust his meds again" would be to take away some of the sweetness, some of the mystery, of a group reconciling itself to reality and a new kind of relationship.

Well, I'll keep you posted as this story unfolds. In the meantime, I wish you all the best and the most accepting and tolerant of communities around you, whatever closet you may be in or have stepped out of.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Yup.  It's true.  I saw Pres. Bush for about 15 seconds as his campaign bus tooled by in downtown Lancaster.  As much as I hate to admit it, he looked good:  happy, trim and relaxed.  He was plainly enjoying himself as he ignored our signs and waved to the other side of the street.

Had no problems standing on the sidewalk waiting for the Golden Boy to come along.  A cop on a handsome spotted horse named Duke stopped by to let us know that when the motorcade passed, they'd need us to remain on the curb.

By the time that rolled around, nearly an hour later, we'd collected perhaps 30 or 35 protestors on our corner, with perhaps another 15 or 20 down the block on the other side of the street.  We thoroughly drowned out the 15 or 20 pro-Bush demonstrators who held good-natured slogan chanting contests with us.  

Likewise, our signs thoroughly outnumbered and outwitted them.  Some of us dweebs held up simple John Kerry bumper stickers (the local Dem. council is out of yard signs), but others got a little more creative:  "Bush Administration:  Moral Bankruptcy," "No billionaires left behind," or my favorite:  "Bush:  Lies, Lies, Unnecessary War, More Lies."

There was only one truly obnoxious Bushita, a mid-50s black Pentecostal who held a sign saying on the one side "We love you, George W. Bush!!  God loves you!!" and on the other, "COME TO THE CHURCH OF THE FATHER, SON AND HOLY GHOST."  She ranted for almost twenty minutes about how much God wanted us all to vote Republican, practically dancing with excitement.  She yelled the Lord's Prayer and read from the Bible, much to the consternation of two other black ladies about her age on our side of the street.  "Shut the hell up!" one of them muttered.  "Hey lady!" the other one called.  "It's Friday!  Save your church for Sunday!!"  I got a big laugh by yelling "I BELIEVE IN GOD, AND I'M VOTING FOR JOHN KERRY!!!  CAN I GET AN AMEN?"

A reporter for some paper or another floated over to ask me my name and why I was protesting.  I responded that Bush had led us into an unnecessary war, lied to the American public more times than we could count, and oppressed the poor and helpless.  That seemed to satisfy her.

Between then and the arrival of the motorcade, the only excitement was bumping into the head of the Lancaster Young Democrats, and having to admit sheepishly that I don't have time to come to their meetings anymore.

But then a state police chopper drifted into position, and a couple of minutes later, about 20 motorcycles roared down the street.  Next was five or seven patrol cars, three police vans, a few escort cars, and finally, three campaign buses, a bus for local dignitaries, another for press and a smaller one for the local pool, about five black marias, a bomb unit, the White House communications van, another bomb squad, and at least a dozen chase vehicles.  

The cops held us on the sidewalk until the last straggling domestic sedan zipped by with its lights flashing, then waved us on.  I went over and gave Duke a couple of pats and told him he'd been a good boy.  He didn't seem to care.

All in all, it was a pretty good time.  You couldn't have asked for better weather:  highs in the upper 70s, low humidity.  You couldn't have asked for nicer people to hang out with:  one kid was handing out Lois Herr leaflets; a woman told me she'd been a life-long Republican up until W. came along. 

The only annoyance was a guy who wanted me to sign nominating papers for Jim Clymer.  I'd be happy to see him help defeat Arlen Specter, but I'll be damned if I'll help him to do it.

And on the way home, an unexpected bonus.  As I walked by the main park downtown, I saw a little goshawk swoop up into its hiding place under the branches of a tree.

Now if only we'd been welcoming John Kerry instead of booing George W....

[UPDATE:] I just thunk of something. It really does do a heart good to see W. I walked about 20 minutes down and back to the protest, and of course your heart always gets racing when you hear the police hogs rumbling down the street. Almost works off that burrito I had for dinner.


From this morning's Lancaster Intelligencer-Journal:

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Walking in a crowd of about 130 mostly black-clad, flag-waving anti-Bush protesters Thursday, Joyce Crawford reflected on the president's 2003 comment that antiwar protests are "a beautiful thing" that reflect the glory of democracy.

"He's right, this really is beautiful. It's too bad Bush never actually sees democracy to appreciate it," said Crawford, a Lancaster resident.

130 people turning out the night before W. visits isn't bad, especially in this neck of the woods, which doesn't exactly have a long tradition of protest.

But wait, it gets better:

The protest was made up of anti-Bush groups including Lancaster Peace and Justice Coalition, Women in Black, Democracy for America and the Lois Herr for Congress campaign. Women outnumbered men 3-to-1.


"We're very happy with the turnout, especially considering the short notice given," said Lynn Paules of Lancaster. "This could not have happened in this county a year ago. You can feel a groundswell of committed people who are determined to rid us of Bush."

Mel Lucht, 60, who once protested against nuclear weapons, said he was compelled to bring his 16-year-old daughter, Elisa Gould-Lucht, to the Lancaster protest. The son of Lucht's best friend in Nebraska died when his U.S. Marine unit was ambushed in Iraq.

"I just can't stay quiet any longer. I needed something like this to vent," Lucht said.

Elisa said she was inspired to protest after watching director Michael Moore's film "Fahrenheit 9/11," a documentary critical of Bush's war policy.

"'Fahrenheit 9/11' showed me the truth and compelled me to do what I can to stop the killing of innocent people," she said.

Protest signs also alluded to Moore's film, but most messages were aimed directly at Bush. A colorful sign carried by Sarah Bertola, a Franklin & Marshall University senior, read "Stop the Mad Cowboy Disease."


Some protest signs criticized Bush's record on environmental protection - "More Trees, Less Bush" - while others trashed Bush and his father - "Like Father, Like Son, One Term You're Done."

I couldn't make it--meeting with the church council--and I may not be able to make the campaign stops today.  (Bush's appearance in Lancaster is a private, twenty-minute speech at a local electrical company owned by a former Amishman!)

But this indeed warms the heart.

Tell me your sense of the direction in your part of the country.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

From the July 13 edition of The Christian Century:

Not in our name:  In an ad appearing on several Arab television networks, American religious leaders condemned the prisoner abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison and apologized to the Iraqis and Arab peoples for the scandal.  Donald Shriver, president emeritus of Union Theological Seminary in New York, was one of the spokespersons, who also included a Catholic, Jew and Muslim (see  Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation have a Web site where Americans can sign an apology to the Iraqi people for the prisoner abuse scandal.  The statement reads in part:  "We as Christians and/or Americans want to tell the people of Iraq and others that we are shocked and deeply ashamed to hear of the torture and humiliation inflicted on Iraqi and other prisoners in the custody of our government....We apologize to victims of this abuse and their families, and to all the people of Iraq....This should never have happened in our name.  We pledge to work together so this never happens again."  (see

If you haven't already, sign the letter today.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004

New information on the Catholic Bishops' communion vote. Turns out Cardinal Ratzinger may not have been advocating such caution from the bishops after all.  Or perhaps that's what some American conservatives would like you to think.

A link from the Sun Myung-Moon owned Washington Time Times, (via onReligion) argues that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington left out some of Ratzinger's instructions to the bishops.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger sent his letter in early June to Cardinal McCarrick and Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, in the context of dealing with Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry, a Catholic whose positions on several issues, including abortion, contradict church teachings.

But its full text, which was published Saturday in the Italian newspaper L'Expresso, [sic] contains much stronger language than Cardinal McCarrick used last month at a meeting of the country's Catholic bishops near Denver.

Cardinal McCarrick's nuanced speech during the meeting from June 14 to 19 paraphrased the Ratzinger letter to say that the Vatican had left the issue of Communion in the hands of the U.S. bishops.

As the chairman of a task force on Catholic Bishops and Catholic Politicians, it was his job to convey what Vatican officials had told him during meetings in Rome.

"I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders WHETHER to pursue this path" of denying Communion, Cardinal McCarrick told the bishops in his speech, the text of which is posted at the U.S. bishops' Web site, on

"The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent," the cardinal said.


However, the Ratzinger letter says that denial of Communion is obligatory "regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia."

Cardinal Ratzinger also says a priest should warn "the person in question" of the consequences, including the denial of Communion.

If "the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it," Cardinal Ratzinger wrote.

The letter's last paragraph also takes on Catholics who vote for candidates because of their pro-choice stance.

"If he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate's permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia," that Catholic too "would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion," it reads.

That statement supports Colorado Springs Bishop Michael Sheridan, who on May 1 sent out a letter to his diocese saying Catholics who vote for candidates who support abortion, stem-cell research or euthanasia also should not take Communion.

But Catholics who vote for that politician on other grounds should not be penalized, the Ratzinger letter adds.

"Ratzinger's letter was stronger and firmer than we were led to believe," said Michael Novak, a Catholic theologian and author of many books on the church, who is in Italy this week. "It's pretty dynamite stuff."

The quote from Michael Novak ought to be a dead giveaway.  And in fact, the story is likely to be typical Washington Times spin.  Catholic News Service has a different take on the story.  For one thing, Cardinal McCarrick claims that Ratzinger's memo is not the whole story, and CNS seems to back him up:

The text of Cardinal Ratzinger's memorandum was published online July 3 by the Italian magazine L'Espresso, and a Vatican official said it was authentic. But it apparently was accompanied by a cover letter that has not been published.

Cardinal McCarrick said in a statement July 6 that L'Espresso's story was the result of an "incomplete and partial leak" that did not reflect Cardinal Ratzinger's full advice to the U.S. bishops.

The cardinal said he would not release Cardinal Ratzinger's "written materials" because the cardinal asked him not to.

CNS also reports that Vatican insiders don't seem to feel betrayed by the American bishops' vote:

After discussing the issue in Colorado, U.S. bishops overwhelmingly passed a statement that sharply criticized Catholic politicians who support legal abortion. The bishops also said denying Communion to those politicians is a complex question involving "prudential judgment" in each case.

The report in L'Espresso and some other media have characterized that as a rejection of Cardinal Ratzinger's advice. But Vatican sources said the Vatican was generally pleased with the U.S. bishops' statement, and that Cardinal Ratzinger was not trying to dictate a policy to the bishops.

"It is right to leave a margin for prudential judgment in these cases," said one Vatican source.

"Cardinal Ratzinger's point was not that bishops have to use (denial of Communion) in every circumstance, but that there are principles that would allow for this to happen," the source said.

In other words, bishops are allowed to set rules for the reception of communion in their own diocese, which has always been their prerogative in Catholic theology.  Or as McCarrick put it in his speech to the bishops, quoted in another CNS story:

In his report to the bishops, Cardinal McCarrick said, "I would emphasize that Cardinal Ratzinger clearly leaves to us as teachers, pastors and leaders whether to pursue this path. The Holy See has repeatedly expressed its confidence in our roles as bishops and pastors. The question for us is not simply whether denial of Communion is possible, but whether it is pastorally wise and prudent.

"It is not surprising that difficult and differing circumstances on these matters can lead to different practices," he added. "Every bishop is acting in accord with his own understanding of his duties and the law."

I have to admit, as an outsider to the Catholic church, I'm not sure what to make of this.  Did McCarrick misrepresent Ratzinger's instructions?  Did Ratzinger sell McCarrick out?  Is L'Espresso just another Berlusconi rag that allows itself to be used for cheap political points?  You tell me.

[Update]:Cardinal Ratzinger has confirmed that the Bishops were in basic agreement with his instructions in their vote. This leads me to believe that this story was--and always has been--more about a Conservative Catholic attempt to dominate the American church.

Monday, July 05, 2004

I really should start keeping a tab for all the stuff we've bought for our new house.

Between a lawnmower, weed whacker/edger, saw, hedge trimmers, paint, lamps, stove, and assorted other things, we must have close to a thousand bucks sunk into this place. (In case you're wondering where we're getting all this cash, it's mostly from the rebate on our escrow account.)

And it continues: 26.49 for an antenna for our new stereo. 9.98 for a curtain for the upstairs bathroom. That's going back as too short. 18.23 for switch plates covers, less 6.33 for a telephone wall mount we returned comes to 11.90. But then we promptly spent another 48.49 for mini-fluorescent lightbulbs, a plastic bag saver, a new handle for the shower spigot, an upgraded shower head. And I don't even have all the receipts in front of me.


Next week, we might repaint Lisa's room.

Oy gevult.

We took advantage of our new location over the weekend, walking downtown to see the city fireworks on Friday night, and again the next morning to go to Market.

Took the dogs and some cold drinks with us on Friday night. Ten or fifteen minutes of straightforward, but hardly brisk, walking brought us to Musser Park, within a block or so of where the city was setting off its show. (Thanks to the advanced boyhood of our mayor, the city does its fireworks shows over the downtown. This pleases nearly everyone, aside from the usual local cranks. They can be found out on their roofs with brooms and garden hoses ready for whatever stray piece of ash may come floating down their way.)

We discovered, much to our delight and to the dogs' distress, that fireworks in a downtown area make a hell of a racket. As soon as the first blasts went off, the beagle was up in Jen's lap, and the cocker spaniel was trying to run under a bush. This from dogs who routinely try to take on pit bulls twice their size. We gave it a few minutes, thinking they might adjust, but Rusty was still scrambling and pulling at his leash, and Watson by this time had found my lap, and was busily trying to burrow his head under my arm.

So we backed up about a block, stood in the street in front of Molly's Pub and watched most of the show from there, or as we slowly walked backwards down Chestnut Street. This was evidently more satisfactory to the dogs. The cocker was his usual obnoxious self, pulling this way and that. The beagle faced away from the display, sitting with his tail between his legs, as though he'd been scolded by one of us.

Next year, we go alone.

On Saturday, we walked down to Market, as I said before. It was hot and bright and sticky, but a breeze was blowing, which made it bearable.

We dropped ten bucks on fruits and vegetables in the first five minutes, then wandered the stalls for the next half hour, maybe spent another dollar. Our big joke now is that we're going to have to start taking book bags along with our market totes, because we stopped at Chestnut Street Books, our favorite used bookstore, on the way home. There was another fifteen or twenty bucks down the drain. We regret nothing. I picked up Robert Graves' I, Claudius, which so far lives up to its reputation, and also the collected sayings of Dorotheos of Gaza, which I've been meaning to get for a while now. Jen bought two Barbara Kingsolvers and a John Irving. It's all good.

We took a breather in Musser Park again, drank some sodas, then faced up to the longer walk home through the oppressive mid-afternoon sun. Later on, we took the boys for an evening constitutional, and went out a third time to the supermarket down the street for fixings for a barbecue at some friends' house on Sunday. After all this walking, we're feeling nice and trim. It almost balances out all the crap we eat. Almost.

I just received e-mail from the buddy whose house we were at on Sunday. He and another friend, a cool Mennonite publicist/photographer, went to hear the Fountains of Wayne downtown on Sunday night. Apparently I am a wuss for not going. This disturbs me not at all. After all the walking on Saturday, and all the sitting out in the pea soup Sunday afternoon, I was ready to crash that night. I'm sure we'll have plenty of other opportunities to catch a show downtown. After all, this is one happening city these days.

Friday, July 02, 2004

From the "How Low Will They Go?" department:  heard on the 6 o'clock news and read again in the morning paper about an invitation recently extended by the White House:

LANCASTER COUNTY, PA - Twelve-year-old Jonathan Ferguson of Neffsville has played Little League Challenger Division baseball for five years and loved every minute of it. Now, he and his Yankees teammates will play a game that none of them or their families will ever forget.

Ferguson and his 14 teammates, all of whom are physically or mentally disabled, found out Thursday they will be playing tee ball in front of President George W. Bush July 11 on the South Lawn of the White House.

The Yankees are only the second Pennsylvania Challenger team to be invited to play for the president since he initiated the Tee Ball on the South Lawn games in 2001.

So, hmm...they're only the second Pennsylvania team to play in the tournament in three years.  And Pennsylvania just happens to be a crucical state for the Bush-Satan campaign.  In fact, it's the state that Pres. Bush has visited more often than any other (with the exception of Texas, perhaps) in the past couple of years.

Really?  You don't say.

We've only been in this house for a little more than a month, but already, it's provided me with a larder full of memories.

Some are pleasant, such as sleeping with our headboard under an open window, feeling the cool breeze blowing over us. Or sleeping there, listening to a thunderstorm booming its way into the city. Or seeing the roses bloom after the weeds around them were cleared away and they were fertilized.

Some are a little less pleasant, such as turning on the garden hose to water a flower bed, then coming inside to discover that the exterior faucet's interior shut-off valve has leaked, sending water streaming down the basement wall. This was compounded by the realization that the previous owner had tried to fix the problem, but hadn't bothered to check it thoroughly to make sure it actually was resolved. Or taping up what seemed like a minor problem with the water line to the automatic ice maker in the freezer, only to discover that the problem lay elsewhere, and will require a plumber to fix.

Some are just plain hard work, such as clearing out overgrown flower beds and hedges, and creating a pile of clippings and rakings as big as a car. Or painting the kitchen, and next the guest bedroom, and after that the upstairs bathroom, and maybe the basement...

And some are just plain odd, magical, at the intersection of dreams and waking life, such as hearing the clicking of horse hooves below my office window as an Amish buggy rolls into town, and as I type away on my computer. Or coming downstairs very early one morning to let the dogs out, and hearing from down the block the quiet salsa music of our Puerto Rican neighbors while across the alley the patriarch of the Southeast Asian family that lives behind us does a stange, shuffling jog, almost a linear dance, without his cane in the morning fog...

Well, here's hoping that we'll accumulate many more along the same lines. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Today's Washington Post is reporting that a Democratic operative has forwarded to them a copy of directions the Bush-Cheney campaign has sent to activists in Christian congregations around the country. Isn't it nice that they start reporting the spin attempts starting with a Democrat?

In any case, if what's being reported is accurate, it represents a real acceleration of BC04 to politicize churches.

Quoting from the story:

The instruction sheet circulated by the Bush-Cheney campaign to religious volunteers lists 22 "duties" to be performed by specific dates. By July 31, for example, volunteers are to "send your Church Directory to your State Bush-Cheney '04 Headquarters or give [it] to a BC04 Field Rep" and "Talk to your Pastor about holding a Citizenship Sunday and Voter Registration Drive."

By Aug. 15, they are to "talk to your Church's seniors or 20-30 something group about Bush/Cheney '04" and "recruit 5 more people in your church to volunteer for the Bush Cheney campaign."

By Sept. 17, they are to host at least two campaign-related potluck dinners with church members, and in October they are to "finish calling all Pro-Bush members of your church," "finish distributing Voter Guides in your church" and place notices on church bulletin boards or in Sunday programs "about all Christian citizens needing to vote."

I have to say as a pastor that these instructions make me terribly uncomfortable. The church directory is not exactly confidential information, but I would never allow it to be forwarded to a junk-mail list operator, let alone a political campaign. Parishioners have a right to expect more privacy than that.

Having to fend off a parishioner wanting to hold a "Citizenship Sunday" could put me in a terribly awkward position, particularly if my definition of a politically-neutral event didn't match theirs. Lest you think this is a hypothetical dilemma, I did have up until very recently a Republican committewoman in my congregation, who would have been all over this idea. And lest you think this would be a problem with me only in regards to conservative activism, I wrote a couple of weeks back about being uncomfortable with a similar drive by the United Church of Christ.

I wonder now if they'd gotten wind of the Bush-Cheney program, and decided they needed to offset it with one of their own?

As for organizing groups in the congregation, using the bulletin boards, etc.; it makes me wonder what they think the purpose of the church is. Are we here to develop a spiritual life centered on Jesus Christ, our are we worshiping at the altar of St. George? It smacks of idolatry, and a creepy Maoist/Saddamist cult of personality. Those of you up on your church history will remember that Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Confessing Church movement came out of a crisis involving the question of hanging the Fuhrer's picture beside Jesus' in the German churches. We're not quite there yet, but it's a little too close to that path for my comfort.

Besides, as someone pointed out to me, it looks like the campaign is trying to reach its, ah, "faithful" in these congregations, not sparking conversation that might lead to, ah, "conversion." That in turn leads to two thoughts. One is that they're willing to risk dividing American congregations for the sake of a slim electoral lead. This is not a program that's going to reap huge benefits, but it doesn't have to. All they need is to sway a few people in swing states, particularly in the Big Three this year: Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania.

The other is that that cynical a maneuver probably isn't coming from someone who respects the life of congregations. So not only is the campaign willing to damage churches in search of re-election, but it's not even Christians (or at least good ones) coming up with this strategy.

In any case, I will probably be sending a letter to BC04--and to the UCC--explaining how offensive this is. I won't take the topic up directly with my leaders (they'll need something immediate to see it as a problem), but I damn sure won't let this stuff get off the ground in my congregation.

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