Sunday, May 31, 2009

Kansas stories

I came home and learned about the murder of Dr. Tiller at his church in Kansas. Ayelet Waldman, whom I follow on Twitter, wrote "AHC members. Now is the time. We all come out of the closet NOW."

What is AHC? I looked it up; it's the organization A Heartbreaking Choice, "Lovingly dedicated to all AHC babies," a support group for parents who choose to end a pregnancy due to a severe prenatal diagnosis.

One section of the website is Kansas Stories with people writing their first-hand accounts of the circumstances that required them to travel to Kansas to have a late-term abortion. They really are heartbreaking, and they add so much to the often-theoretical discussion around abortion.

One woman wrote, "Everyone needs a little help. That is what I remember the doctor in Wichita, Kansas telling me."

Our hearts ache with sadness and no words can describe how much we miss him and how deeply we love him. He will always be close to our hearts, mind, body and soul. And if it was not for the Kansas doctor, giving us a little help, we are not sure what we would be writing … Death and life are the same mysteries.

These are amazing stories, all of them. And I imagine Dr. Tiller was part of most of them. They gave me a totally different perspective on what happened this morning, and on who this was who got killed.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Quote of the Day: On tolerance

This is from Ta-nehisi Coates' blog entry The Importance of Being Politically Correct.

Tolerance isn't just a value you hold, so much as it's something you do repeatedly. It's uncomfortable. You f*** up. You go to parties where they play music that you don't know how to dance to. You go to restaurants where the food is difference. You go to neighborhoods, where no one speaks English. The whole time people on the outside are laughing at you. The people you're trying to understand get pissed at you, and call you racist, homophobe, bigot, sexist etc.

But they ultimately respect you for trying. And you get better. You pick up bits of a second language. You learn to like the food, to enjoy the music. And then one day you look up, and lo and behold, it seems like the whole world is dancing to that same music, eating that same food.

Book review: Second Nature

I wish I had found Second Nature: A Gardener's Education by Michael Pollan before Earth Day. One of the thing that bothers me about Earth Day is the underlying feeling of "Nature, good; people, bad," and this book does an excellent job both of unearthing that philosophy (so to speak) and countering it.

I appreciate his trying to come to terms with woodchucks, weeds, and the morality of compost. I was intrigued by his explanation and exploration of the place of lawn in American democracy. Sometimes he gets carried away, and eventually I did feel, "I get the point," but the point is well made, well told, and worth hearing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Worst zombie ever

From the Onion.

Zombies! Zombies everywhere!

One of my daily alerts I get from Google is for blogs that mention saints. I learn a lot about Yves Saint Laurent that way. But I also recently learned about Lost Zombies, "a community generated zombie documentary," when this photo came up.

Then yesterday, Lorin, source of all things, pointed me towards the Stinque Zombie Bible, "Celebrating our Judeo-Christian-Zombie heritage." People with a lot more time on their hands than I have, have rewritten the Bible (most of it, anyway) to reflect a Zombie-centric worldview. Lorin notes that it's "funnier in concept than in actuality," and I'd have to agree. Even I am uncomfortable with a Zombie Jesus, as in Matthew 1:21 "And she shall bring forth an undead son, and thou shalt call his name ZOMBIE JESUS: for he shall doom his people to horrifying deaths at the hands of His zombie disciples." Hmmm...not going there.

Seems to me the Old Testament lends itself better to zombification. The Book of Jonah appears to be wide open for your revision. If you like that sort of thing.

Which leads me to ask: when did I become Zombie Central?

Baseball quote of the day

Very tricky! Good job, little running man.

Said by one of the two women behind me at the game yesterday as Ichiro stole third base.

I kept looking back to see if they had a small child with them because every time one of the Seattle players got a hit, they would say, "Good job!" in a sing-songy voice. My hypothesis: mothers of toddlers trying to escape for a bit and only partially succeeding.

Secondary quote of the day: "Did you go to yoga this morning?" said by the man to my left to the man to HIS left. I love California.

The picture is a view from my seat. Thank you, Wayne!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I don't care if I ever get back

Oh, I'm so excited! I'm going to my first A's game of the season. I can't wait!

On reacting

Two big items in the news yesterday, of course: the announcement of Sonia Sotomayor as President Obama's Supreme Court nominee, and the announcement of the California Supreme Court that Prop 8 would stand.

In both situations, it seems to me that the first reaction was simply that: reaction. But now after a day, a lot of people are settling down to respond rather than react.

The Lead at the Episcopal Cafe has an article entitled Reconsidering the initial response to the Prop 8 ruling. And the Times has an editorial from a conservative law professor who served as an intern with Sonia Sotomayor. And this, of course, is not even the tiniest tippiest tip of the iceberg of all of the virtual ink spilt on these two issues. But they both have the characteristic, it seems to me, of moving from reaction to response.

Reaction is an interesting thing. It seems to be instant and involuntary and yet, in both these cases, the "action" to which people are reacting is more or less anticipated, making the reaction seem a bit scripted.

The thing I hope is that we don't get stuck in our reactions. As Gerald Magliocca said in the Times column I mentioned above, "It is perfectly understandable for conservatives to say that they will not vote for anyone the president picks, but at that point the debate, if you can call it that, is over."

The Supreme Court's decision went on for 140 pages; that's a lot to digest and to consider. It's a lot more than a postcard that says NO. What's more it gives a lot of grist to consider what to do next. Reacting gives power to the actor; responding allows us to move ahead.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Homesick for Kampala

This post at Andrew Sullivan's blog took me right back. I was amazed at how it affected me. Powerfully, that's how, and viscerally. It took me by surprise, probably particularly because it showed up where I didn't expect it.

OK, I'm getting to work now.

Abdul-Raheem Tajudeen

It hasn’t shown up in the U.S. papers yet, but African news agencies are covering the death of Abdul-Raheem Tajudeen in great detail and with much mourning. I had not heard of him, but he was the general secretary of the Global Pan-African movement, a regular newspaper columnist, and the Deputy Director for the United Nations Millennium Campaign (UNMC), promoting the Millennium Development Goals within and all across Africa.

He died in a car accident as he was on his way to the airport early in the morning of May 25 as he was on his way to launch a maternal health campaign in Kigali, Rwanda, according to the UNMC's site.

The BBC noted

it was poignant that he died in the early hours of 25 May, designated Africa Day.
"He insisted it be called Africa Liberation Day, not just Africa Day, because that sounds like celebrating something in the past whereas Africa's liberation is a struggle still to be achieved."

He sounds like a remarkable man. Prayers for him and his family and all who are affected by his death.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day

I'm not so happy this Memorial Day, seeing as we're still fighting in two wars and all.

I went to the iCasualties website yesterday, hadn't been for a while, to find that 4,300 U.S. and coalition forces have died in Iraq, and God knows how many other Iraqis.

Meanwhile, as we step up our military action in Afghanistan, over 1100 people have died there.

Afghanistan leaves me ambivalent. Iraq I feel is an out-and-out farce. Those people should not have died, and it enrages me.

This morning, I learned about an amazing project called Map the Fallen. It uses Google Earth to mark and remember each of the some 5,000 people who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. The creator of the program writes,

I have created a map for Google Earth that will connect you with each of their stories—you can see photos, learn about how they died, visit memorial websites with comments from friends and families, and explore the places they called home and where they died.

It's an impressive thing. I downloaded it this morning and used it to find people who were from places where I've lived.

I'd like to wish you a happy Memorial Day, but today, I just can't.

Weary of all trumpeting, wearing of all killing,
weary of all songs that sing promise non-fulfilling,
we would raise, O Christ, one song; we would join in singing
that great music pure and strong, wherewith heaven is ringing.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Pride and Prejudice in social media form

Earlier, back when I bought Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I noted that P&P should have its own section of the bookstore for the P&P-themed cookbooks, self-help books, sci-fi rewrites, etc. But if you really need MORE ways to read Pride and Prejudice, here are a couple of tech specific forms.

Yesterday, I was directed to a rewrite of Pride and Prejudice in Twitter form. Called, of course, Pride and Twitterverse, the whole shebang is told in 140 character bursts with all the strange Twitter lingo and quirks with hyperlinks to relevant webpages. For example:

@LizzyB you will tweet to me, won't you? I don't think I could bear going if you didn't tweet to me.

@CharlotteL Of course. I’ll even visit you on Facebook but promise me I won’t have to read Mr Collins’ blog.

(twittery ha ha)

This, of course, reminds me of the Pride and Prejudice in Facebook form, aka Austenbook, which I believe I first heard about from Lorin yonks ago. I am completely dependent upon Lorin for interesting reading material. Thanks, Lorin! In it, P&P is presented in a completely different, Facebook-y way.

Pride and Prejudice! Will it never end? How many technological techniques will we find to say what Eliabeth and company are doing?

You may now go back to doing something practical.

Friday, May 22, 2009

On disagreement, still vague

Last Sunday, I wrote an entry On Protest in which I said, among other things, "Listening does not convey agreement."

Shortly thereafter, I listened to this podcast of Brian McLaren speaking about how we need to go beyond dualism (liberal vs. conservative, etc.). In this talk, among other things, he passionately reads from Romans 14, the passage about eating meat or not eating meat.

I'd heard that passage many times, and always used to refer to the most contentious of ideological conflicts. But a couple of new things stood out to me.

First was verse 4: "Who are you to pass judgement on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

The thing this seems to imply is that even if they are totally wrong, they (whoever "they" are) will be upheld. Which does two things: first, for those who are concerned about the souls of those with whom they disagree, it's the Lord who will uphold them, not you. So worry about people's salvation is not an issue. And second, an element of humility is required for all, because Paul doesn't presume to say who's right and who's wrong. Though of course Paul things he's right.

Which leads to the second thing that stood out to me, the second half of verse 5: "Let all be fully convinced in their own minds." The freeing thing in that for me is that there's nothing wrong in thinking that you are right and the other person in error. I think it also allows for new information, new facts to illuminate one's position, because this is a mind thing, not merely a "take it on faith" thing.

So the issue becomes, not who is right or who is wrong, but what helps or hurts people. And I'm not saying this is an easy thing to resolve. I'm not saying that's clear-cut. But it's a very different question from "Is this belief the correct one?" Or "How do we punish those who believe the wrong things?"

One of the thing that pains me about disagreements, not to say out-and-out wars, in the church is that so often they are power issues disguised as concern for one another's spiritual well-being and salvation. It seems to me that if we can be fully convinced that salvation is not at issue, then we can see the conflicts for what they are without all the spiritual fol-de-rols. And maybe, with God's grace, resolve them.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Quote of the Day

We are surrounded by remarkable people, and we don't know it. They're just people getting in our way when we want to get across the bridge, or get down the supermarket aisle, or when we're in a rush to get to a bank teller and do our business.

Jon Carroll, on why obituaries may be too little, too late. Or maybe on paying attention. Or maybe an elegy of sorts. Or maybe it's something else.

Another keeper: "I read his obituary, and I thought that somehow I had not kept my end of the bargain."

A column I need to ponder for a while.

Ascension Day

"Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven?" say two men in white robes as the disciples gape. Well, duh! Jesus just got lifted up and into a cloud; I'd look too.

But it occurred to me this morning that if you keep looking up, two things happen: first of all, you get a horrible crick in the neck. But secondly, you can't notice anything going on around you.

It seems to me that a whole lot of Jesus' followers are still looking up toward heaven, waiting for Jesus to come back in the clouds, instead of looking around us at the work Jesus has given us to do. You keep looking up, you run into a lot of stuff, trip, generally can't see where you're going. Maybe the message was, "Watch where you're going."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I love this photo!

Lorin posted this on Facebook. Then I posted it on Facebook. And now I'm posting it here, too.

Here's the caption: "President Barack Obama bends over so the son of a White House staff member can pat his head during a family visit to the Oval Office May 8, 2009. The youngster wanted to see if the President's haircut felt like his own."

I love this.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Saint Dunstan

I remember some of Dunstan's story from Robertson Davies' novel Fifth Business which describes the legend of St. Dunstan grabbing the devil's nose with a red-hot poker.

But I prefer the story that I presume to be more or less historical about Dunstan's time at court when the new king Eadwig was crowned and Dunstan was exiled.

The 16 year-old monarch had slipped away from his coronation banquet and was severely chastised by Abbot Dunstan--no respecter of persons--when he found him sequestered in a room with two women, mother and daughter, both making overtures with an eye to marriage. Resentful of such a reproof, Eadwig deprived Dunstan of his property and forced him out of the country, casting uncertainty over the future of England's monastic revival.

Making St. Dunstan the patron saint of youth groups, it seems to me.

I think he liked young people, and not in a creepy way. He later served as adviser to another teenage royal, Edward. And as an old man, retired as Archbishop of Canterbury, he taught at the Cathedral School for boys.

I'm sure it was different going through it, but at a remove of 10+ centuries, the thing that impresses me most about his varied and impressive career is that Dunstan seemed to take the vicissitudes of power and powerlessness, importance and unimportance with amazing grace. As if it didn't matter at all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

My adventures in Real Simple Syndication

A couple of new technological developments here at The Infusion. First of all, I changed the comment feature so that (I hope) people will be able to leave comments without having a Google account. I added a word verification jobber to keep spam down. I don't know how those word verification things work, but they come up with some of the most wonderful imaginary words.

Second, over on the left, there, I've finally figured out how to include a widget so you can add The Infusion to your RSS feed. Don't I sound like I know what I'm talking about? Why, it was just a week ago when I was so naive that I just put my favorite blogs under "favorites" and clicked on them daily to see if there was anything new there.

And then...I read this blogger, Matt Cleaver, who had an entry entitled, I won't read your blog if... One of his top reasons was if you don’t have an easy-to-find RSS feed.
If you have a good blog, I can subscribe to it and put it in it’s appropriate folder in my Google Reader with three clicks. If you have a link to your RSS feed it takes about 5 seconds... I am much less excited to follow your blog if I have to hunt for the RSS address. You should always have an easy-to-find RSS link above the fold. Always.

This of course assumed I knew what the heck an RSS feed was. I left a comment admitting as such ("Is that the orange button?"), and he was very nice at directing an old lady (each year of your age is like 22 in technology years) to a video that uses very simple words to explain what an RSS feed is.

This, to the right, is the universal symbol for "I know more than you do about computers." Also Real Simple Syndication, aka RSS, feeds.

(I felt much better when the blogger at Tremendous News! (where nerdy meets cool. and then cool ignores it until nerdy finally takes a hint and leaves) confessed that "I barely know what an “RSS feed” is. I have subscribed to hundreds of them but don’t know where they all went. One day, I will turn on my computer and check my email and thousands of articles from 1998 will affront me and I will go into cardiac arrest. It will be the first RSS-feed-related death in the world, and my friends and family will be embarrassed to attend my funeral." That would be me. I pressed the little orange button thing, and then I never found the blog again.)

But now I am uber-cool, because I have saved all my blogs to Google Reader and I don't have to go clicking around to all my blogs any more because I know EXACTLY which ones have just updated and I save all sorts of time to read more blogs. And now I have my own little orange RSS feed logo on my blog so you can do the same. Aren't you glad you know? We may all be smug together now.

Sid Laverents

And who is Sid Laverents, you ask? Someone who cheered up my morning with this 9-minute film he made back in 1970 (or was it 1970? It apparently took him four years). Made and starred in, playing all the instruments.

Really, I'm just tickled. And impressed as all get-out. It was a delightful way to start the day.

I'm also encouraged by the fact that Sid, there, only started making amateur films after he turned 50. Amateur in the best sense of the word, all for love of it.

I know I tend to skip long videos, but this is here in case you need a little pick-me-up.

"Save the ribbons!"

Sunday, May 17, 2009

On protest

So there were protests at Notre Dame over (and during) the President's commencement address and I thought, "Why are you doing this?" -- protesting, I mean. Of course, I thought the same about the protests over Rick Warren giving the prayer at the inauguration, so it's not just about one side or another.

I don't even think it's about protests, per se. Primarily I am uncomfortable that public protests with banners and marches and speeches seem to be the initial and default position. Surely if you start there, it leaves you nowhere else to go. It also seems to be a method that shuts down communication which is certainly not the way to resolve conflict.

I also wonder if we are spending too much of our energy trying to make everyone agree. I well believe that "disagreement" has real-world consequences; I'm not suggesting that we should all agree to disagree or stop working to bring about the policies and practices that we think are best. But I think we also need to recognize that people do disagree for a wide variety of reasons based on their philosophies and experiences and beliefs, and that inviting someone who disagrees with us to speak while we listen may not be the worst thing we could do.

Listening does not convey agreement. It is not passive. It is not weak. It is, in fact, very, very hard work.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Still more on the polling data

As I said below, I am still pondering the implications of the Pew Forum poll showing how many people leave whatever faith in which they were raised and go somewhere else, usually by the age of 24. The lovely post-modern-looking graph, there, shows the trends of movement from one group to another. (You can click on it to see it in detail.)

Michael Bell, guest blogger on the Internet Monk, said this means we need to UP THE YOUTH MINISTRY QUOTIENT, which didn't quite sit right with me, and I wasn't sure why. But this morning I have a couple more thoughts on the matter.

First of all, this hypothesis doesn't take into account all those people who haven't lost their faith at all, but simply switched their allegiance, denominationally. I hope we're not saying that we have FAILED in our youth ministry if someone, for example, grew up in the Presbyterian church then left to become an Episcopalian, eventually getting ordained.

Second, this doesn't explain why those raised in no faith join a church. Did they have bad agnostic youth groups?

Ultimately, I think a far simpler hypothesis makes sense: as children grow up, they make their own decisions about their faith.

OK, so color me obvious. But I think that our anxiety about losing people (we're losing! we're losing!) ignores the fact that people get to choose for themselves; we can't force people to stay if they don't want to.

And, yes, we should have good youth groups and vibrant worship and deep faith and all of that. But if we do and it still doesn't "succeed"...well, I personally think we shouldn't keep banging our heads against that wall. But that's just me.

Friday, May 15, 2009

More on church polling data

On Tuesday, I posted about one person's take on recent Pew Forum data showing people switching faiths and denominations all over the place and how he let the numbers do the talking without drawing any conclusions from it.

Today, he posted his follow-up and recommendations, which I didn't think were quite so illuminating as his initial post.

I think that's because his second post is all about, "How do we fix this?" without, I think, fully articulating the "this." What is the problem, exactly?

I suppose the problem seems obvious: churches are losing members. And his additional piece of data is well-taken: "Most religious life decisions, even among those who have been open to change, has been set by age 23."

Of those who were raised Protestant (Evangelical, Mainline, and Historical Black), and are now “unaffiliated with any religious group”, 85% left their childhood faith before the age of 24. Of those who were raised Catholic and were now unaffiliated, 79% left before the age of 24. The same holds true for those coming back the other way. Of those raised unaffiliated, but who are now affiliated with a religious group, 72% left the ranks of the unaffiliated before the age of 24.

And so his primary conclusion seems perfectly reasonable: "My point is that if we are not serious and intentional about engaging our young people before they hit their teens, then we may have left it too late." I guess my issue arises from wondering whether we are engaging young people in faith to make sure they make the "right" choice, or to give them the skills to choose wisely.

There's also something a little desperate in this statement, the "it's too late!" part. Is our message so uninspiring that anyone age 13 or above would have no interest?

I also wonder: Do we have the courage to let children grow up and choose for themselves? To do our best and still see them walk away?

I'm still pondering this one. No conclusions yet.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

How to pick a minister for your wedding

A few weeks ago, a church I know got a call from a groom-to-be asking if the church was available in a couple of weeks for a wedding. It wasn't. I've gotten those calls myself, from brides mostly, saying, "My wedding is a week from Saturday and we don't have a minister; could someone from your church do it?" Well, no.

One of the things that astonishes me about weddings is that people would spend so much more time and money picking a florist than picking the person who is the one legal requirement for the whole shebang. And that many times, people pick the minister who comes with the building rather than spend any time finding out if they will feel comfortable having their service performed by this person.

With that in mind, and because the blogosphere lives on forever, I'd like to add my 2 cents to the question of how to pick a minister for your wedding, and the care and feeding thereof.

1) Make your selection with as much advance planning as you do everything else. Do not assume that the church and/or minister will be available to perform your wedding on the date you have chosen. But before you call the church to ask about the minister's availability,

2) Go to a service where the minister is preaching and/or leading. I can't emphasize this strongly enough. You'll get a sense of their style of preaching and worship, theology, tone of voice, warmth, and general demeanor. Ministers are not interchangeable. A friend of mine stepped in as a wedding officiant at the last minute when the couple discovered that the minister they had invited planned to harangue the congregation with hellfire. I suspect you don't want that. If you live far from the church, send a trusted emissary to check things out.

3) Ask if there are premarital counseling or other requirements. If you like the minister and the church and have called far enough in advance, be prepared to schedule time to meet with the minister for several sessions in the weeks and months prior to the service. Different denominations have different requirements. Some require membership, financial support, etc. Know what will be asked of you. And, if you really want to be married in that church by that person, live up to these expectations.

4) About pre-marital counseling... A lot of couples I know worry about "what the minister's going to think" about them living together (as many do). Believe me, most ministers have heard it before. But again, this will be a good indicator of how comfortable you are going to feel with the minister in question. Most of the ministers I know simply try to help couples look at some questions that would be good to ask themselves and each other before the wedding: about expectations, money, child-rearing, communication and conflict resolution. Be up front and ask about what your premarital counseling will include. If you live far from the church, you may be doing premarital counseling with a different minister or counselor.

5) About the fees... Many churches have set fees for weddings. Please don't dicker. Did you negotiate the price with the caterer? And what did they say? We're generally talking a couple hundred bucks here. Don't be cheap. This is the person who actually ensures that you get married.

6) About the rehearsal dinner and reception... Honestly? You probably don't want to invite them and they probably don't want to go. Really. Saying something like, "We would of course be delighted to have you at the reception, but don't want you to feel obliged to attend" would be lovely to hear. Give your minister the opportunity to opt out.

7) Please accept with grace that your wedding may not be the minister's top priority. I'm sorry to break this to you, but the truth is many ministers hate doing weddings, especially for people they don't know. Despite what you may have read in wedding magazines, most churches do not have a special minister who performs weddings; church ministers are generally overworked and underpaid and do weddings on top of their full-time jobs. If they are also giving you time for pre-marital counseling and rehearsals and what-not, they are not getting paid a lot for their time. Your minister will be much happier if you make things as simple for them as you can. Be on time to appointments and rehearsals. Don't make a lot of last-minute changes. And understand that though it may seem like the minister is only working 20 minutes for the service itself, there's a lot more to leading a wedding service than meets the eye.

And finally, 8) Please know that ministers take your wedding seriously as a religious and spiritual experience and hope you do, too. Churches do weddings because they have significant religious meaning; be respectful of the seriousness with which the church takes its role. The minister will probably have rules about what can be done or not done in a wedding and they need to be honored. If you hate the religious part of the wedding, then for God's sake, don't get married in a church! As far as most ministers are concerned, this is actually not your day; this is a religious observance before God and your community of family and friends. A good minister can help you find the meaning in your wedding beyond the cake and flowers. May you be blessed in it.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

In the noooos

Stories like this make me look at my hamburger a little differently.

Molly the cow had big dreams — none of which involved buns or barbecues.

Last week, she successfully dodged her fate of being reincarnated as umpteen New York cheeseburgers when she bolted from a Queens slaughterhouse and proceeded to star in her very own wild west cattle drive up 109th Avenue.
Cops finally caught up with the hay-eating Houdini in Kahn's yard and tranquilized her. Still holding fast to her dreams, Molly rammed her head into a police horse trailer brought to the scene in a last ditch attempt to resist her capture. Witnesses told the News at least a dozen cops were needed to coax the cow into the trailer.

For a moment Molly's life hung in the balance. Would she be returned to the slaughterhouse or rewarded for her hutzpah? Whether as a nod to her new found fame or as an act of true altruism, her owner relinquished the 400-pound dairy queen to animal-care workers and the promise of greener pastures.

video of her new home below.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Quote of the day

Name the speaker:

...[T]here is no place for abuse in what must be considered the family of man. There is no place for torture and arbitrary detention. There is no place for forced confessions. There is no place for intolerance of dissent...the roots of American rule of law go back more than 700 years, to the signing of the Magna Carta. The foundation of American values, therefore, is not a passing priority or a temporary trend.

Why, that would be Newt Gingrich, back in 1997 when he was, in fact, Speaker.

This, along with other illuminating quotes from unexpected sources, can be found here.

Where are we going? Planet 10!

OK, who recognizes that quote? Hands in the air. Who knows the rest of the litany? Let's say it together, shall we?

When are we going?

I enjoyed the new Star Trek movie, as I mentioned before, but I did chortle a bit at the echoes of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Bruce Greenwood, who played Captain Pike (left), looks a bit like an aging Peter Weller to me (above).

Then of course there's the Romulan mining ship (left) that bears a startling resemblance to the Lectroid ship orbiting the earth in BB (right). I mean, Romulan ships are notoriously sleek. What are they doing with this pointy thing?

Full of water, too, like the Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems where Penny Pretty is threatened by a slimy space insect, similar to a slimy space insect used by the Romulan captain.

Coincidence? You be the judge.

Looking at data (with a personal anecdote at the end)

One thing that drives me crazy is when a poll comes out and people react without really analyzing the numbers. We look at the most superficial conclusions to be drawn, generally ones that reinforce our previously held assumptions, and post 'em on a headline and call it a day.

So I was really pleased when I saw that the Internet Monk invited a guest poster, Michael Bell, who actually took the trouble to parse the recent Pew poll on Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.

As opposed to the generalizations I had seen in a number of headlines (e.g. Modernize or Die (bad news!), Defecting to Faith (good news!), and Young Americans Losing Their Religion (bad news!)), he actually looks at the numbers without jumping to conclusions!

He did this fantastic chart showing the flow of people from their childhood religion to where they end up as adults, posted in a small form below, but you can see it up close and personal here. It's very cool. [Wow! I just found out you can just plain click on the image below and get the full-blown chart!]

Numbers that he highlights:

*The “None” group (in red), now makes up a total of 16.1% of American adults today, a huge increase from the 7.4% who were in this group in their childhood.

*Catholics (green) are experiencing huge outflows of 4.4% to the None group, 2.8% to the Evangelicals, and a smaller amount of 1.6% to the Mainline Protestants. This is without any real significant moves to Catholic from any other religious group.

*Evangelicals (yellow) and Mainline Protestants (orange) have been swapping members as 2.6% of Americans have moved from Evangelical to Mainline and 2.5% have moved back the other way.

*Historical Black Protestant (blue) are 6.9 % of the total; their largest influx, 1.1%, comes from the Evangelical group.

*Mainline Protestant have gained twice as many from the Catholics (1.6%) as they have lost (0.8%). On the other hand they have had 2.7% move to the None group, and only gained 1.0% from that same group. They have also lost 1.1% to the Other group, but only had 0.4% coming back the other way.

But What Does This Mean? He refuses to claim an answer before giving it some thought. "Clearly some serious introspection needs to occur within the Christian community," he says. Well, yes, thank you!

I'll be curious to see what his conclusions are.

There's one personal anecdote I'd like to point out. Last Sunday I skipped church in favor of having breakfast with my parents for Mother's Day. The thing that occurred to me as I sat in the sun eating an omelette was how lovely this was. It made me realize that a huge problem churches have is why on earth going to church should be worth people's precious time. I can see the temptation. What makes going to church worth it? I think a lot of us who are church professionals can't see it from that point of view.

Torture update

No response from my other emails to the Bishop and Presiding Bishop, and I think that's all the response I'm going to get, alas.

There's all sorts of stuff finally filtering out through the news, but one thing I wanted to highlight especially is the debate over whether or not torture is effective.

Actually, I want to point you to someone who says it better than I. Over at Obsidian Wings, there's a very good entry by Eric Martin about why this debate is a red herring.

Although many respected experts in the realm of interrogation best practices contend that building a relationship/rapport is a more effective of extracting reliable information (rather than false confession), the reason that we, as a nation, should abstain from torture is because torture is a morally reprehensible practice.

Full stop.

Finally, a reminder that June is Torture Awareness Month. Spread the word.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Venetia Phair

Isn't that a great name? She's the person who, as a girl, suggested the name Pluto for the heretofore unnamed Planet X. She died recently at the age of 90, having seen Pluto demoted to dwarf planet.

More vexing to Mrs. Phair was the persistent notion that she had taken the name from the Disney character. “It has now been satisfactorily proven that the dog was named after the planet, rather than the other way around,” she told the BBC. “So, one is vindicated.”

Her obituary appeared in the NY Times yesterday, but I prefer the write-up of the story in the British papers. Take it away, Daily Telegraph, with your elegant prose:

On the morning of March 14 1930 she was having breakfast at the house in Oxford in which she lived with her grandfather, Falconer Madan, the retired Librarian at the Bodleian, when he drew her attention to an article in The Times which noted that the newly found frozen planet had yet to be named.

Being keen on Greek and Roman myths, young Venetia suggested that Pluto, the Roman god of the underworld who could render himself invisible, would make a good name for the dark and remote world.

The idea so impressed her grandfather that he immediately promised to put it to his friend Herbert Hall Turner, Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University.

Go read the rest; it's really wonderful.

Quote of the day

If I had to choose in terms of being a Republican, I'd go with Rush Limbaugh. My take on it was Colin [Powell] had already left the party. I didn't know he was still a Republican.

said by former Vice President Dick Cheney.

This boggles my mind! It's the quote of a nutjob. Although those articles saying obituaries for the Republican party are premature may be accurate ("I'm not dead yet"), it's not at all well.

Small voice: "I feel happy! I feel happy!"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

In the obits

How can I not note the passing of Dom DiMaggio, the last of the amazing DiMaggio brothers.

The new Star Trek movie

So, yes, I enjoyed it in all its glorious inconsistencies. It was all about meeting these Star Trek characters as youngsters, so in some ways it reminded me most closely of Muppet Babies. And there's nothing wrong with that. Everybody was well-cast so you could see the characters you already knew in the people on the screen. I love McCoy and Scotty especially, fresh-faced and spouting their signature lines.

I love that Star Fleet Academy is in San Francisco, the center of the Federation universe. I love that there's a redshirt moment. I love the new phasers (set to stun) and the beaming up. I love that women are so liberated that they still wear those micro-mini outfits, because they are so practical, you know.

I love the completely implausible nature of the set-up whereby Kirk goes from being a cadet, not yet completing the academy, to the captain of the Enterprise. I love the completely irrational nature of all the Star Trek franchise whereby only the bridge officers (and a redshirt) venture forth on dangerous missions ("Sulu, you have the bridge"). I love the completely unrealistic suggestion that if you land on a pod on an alien planet covered with ice, you just say, "Oh, for God's sake!" and open the hatch and walk on out. And happen to run into someone. Someone...important.

Oh, it was completely ridiculous. There was a plot of some kind, I suppose. I ended the movie saying to myself, "Wait! Wasn't there supposed to be a plot of some kind?" But it was fun.

Friday, May 8, 2009

On the Judeo-Christian Tradition

I didn't realize yesterday was the National Day of Prayer until it was almost over. That was when I read that "Apparently, it's a big deal in some quarters that Barack Obama did not hold a ceremony for the National Day of Prayer, preferring instead to issue a proclamation and pray in private, 'something that the president does every day'."

At that point, I went to the National Day of Prayer website, which was very disturbing. God knows I have nothing against prayer, or even praying for the United States, "interced[ing]for America and its leadership in the seven centers of power: Government, Military, Media, Business, Education, Church and Family." Though that was a titch squirmy.

Where I had real trouble was its use of "Judeo-Christian tradition," a term that got hyperlinked over and over again.

First of all, the website made it clear that this was a day for "mobilizing the Christian community to intercede for America" (emphasis mine), which kind of takes the Judeo- out of "Judeo-Christian."

They have a special section on their "Official Policy Statement on Participation of 'Non-Judeo-Christian' groups in the National Day of Prayer." Ummm...why the quotation marks, first of all? Second, it's the National Day of Prayer, not the National Day of Christian Prayer, not that that seems to have sunk in.

But here's what they say:

The National Day of Prayer Task Force was a creation of the National Prayer Committee for the expressed purpose of organizing and promoting prayer observances conforming to a Judeo-Christian system of values. People with other theological and philosophical views are, of course, free to organize and participate in activities that are consistent with their own beliefs. This diversity is what Congress intended when it designated the Day of Prayer, not that every faith and creed would be homogenized, but that all who sought to pray for this nation would be encouraged to do so in any way deemed appropriate. It is that broad invitation to the American people that led, in our case, to the creation of the Task Force and the Judeo-Christian principles on which it is based.

Well! I'm glad to hear that people with other views are free to organize, given that that's their Constitutional right. Mighty big of them. Not that those other folks are consulted or included in the planning. That would just be silly, since this is a (judeo-)CHRISTIAN observance.

Each time in this paragraph, Judeo-Christian is hyperlinked. The hyperlink takes you to a specific page on their definition of Judeo-Christian.

We routinely use it with reference to that standard of morality and family values which is common to both the Old and New Testaments, and which has over the centuries formed the foundation for ethics and culture in Western society.

So their definition of Judeo-Christian is about moral and family values? Hmmm...

They also note that: a) "The meaning of the term like 'Judeo-Christian' depends much on the intention of the speaker or writer who uses it;" and b) the Encyclopedia definition is “Judeo-Christian is a term used to describe the body of concepts and values which are thought to be held in common by Judaism and Christianity, and typically considered a fundamental basis for Western legal codes and moral values.”

Again, I have no problem with a National Day of Prayer (though I feel for the atheists gnashing their teeth right now). But if it's a National Day of Prayer, it needs to include everyone who wants to pray in whatever way they wish. "Judeo-Christian tradition" has a lock neither on prayer nor on moral and family values.

(The Lutheran Zephyr has a nice post on why he doesn't like the National Day of Prayer which particularly focuses on the historical situation in which it arose. Hint: godless Communism.)


Since the A's are the worst team in baseball right now, and Manny Ramirez is embarrassing, I thought it might be good to hear about these two high school softball players who both appeared in this week's Sports Illustrated.

Exhibit A: Sammy Albanese

Sammy, a junior righthander at the Castilleja School [Palo Alto, CA], threw six no-hitters among 10 shutouts in the first 12 games she pitched this season; four of the no-hitters were perfect games. Through Sunday she had a 12-0 record, an 0.00 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 82 innings, including 37 in a 14-inning, 3-2 victory. She was also batting .486 with 18 RBIs.

Exhibit B: Rachele Rico

Check out the next Jennie Finch Patrick Schuster, the Florida high school pitcher who threw four straight no-hitters, had a nice run last month. But Rachele Fico has been on a better one for four years. The softball ace at Masuk High in Monroe, Conn., threw the 24th perfect game of her career last week, a national record. Her career ERA in 93 games is 0.06. Find videos of the LSU-bound star at

Here's a video:

You know, when they say someone is lobbing softballs, I don't think that means what they think that means.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

It's too beautiful a day to blog

I'm going to be out in the garden; hope you can get outside, too.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Church Fundraising: a question

After yesterday's rant about church fundraising, I thought I'd ask:

What do you think are good ways for churches to do fundraising?

I'm genuinely curious to know!

Shocking news! Amazing revelation!

Comments gathered from the online survey of 400 UK readers of the men's magazine Sorted also showed many did not like hugging, holding hands or sitting in circles discussing their feelings in church. Most were churchgoers.

From a Daily Mail article, headlined, Men want 'macho' hymns, fewer flowers and less dancing in church.

I'm with them.

h/t Ship of Fools

Cinematic obits

Two obituaries today in the Times, both movie-related. The first for Dom DeLuise, seen here in the fabulous French Mistake ("the scene before the big pie fight," as the poster notes).

The second for Alex Lees, one of the participants in The Great Escape of movie fame. He was one of the people who helped get rid of the dirt from the tunnels by spreading it around the camp. An entire synopsis of the plot is contained in the trailer below.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

But were they using organoleptic analysis?

Pâté or dog food? Either could be yummy.

That's because you probably wouldn't be able to differentiate which is which in a blind tasting, according to a study scheduled to be released today by the American Assn. of Wine Economists.

Story here.

Report from Fundraising Day

I had a grand and exhausting time yesterday at Fundraising Day, a conference held by the Golden Gate Chapter of the Association of Fundraising Professionals. You thought it was a churchy thing, didn't you? No sirree. It was a big-ass conference held at the Marriott ("with thanks to our corporate sponsors"). That kind of conference.

Which is fun every once in a while. Especially when it is well-run as this one was. How well-run? They approproated one of the men's restrooms and labeled it for women because the women outnumbered the men at the conference by I don't know how much. Now, that's a well-run conference.

Although some of it went over my head ("How many of you here know the difference between a theory of change and a logic model?") and my background is very small beer (woman asking question: "I come from a very small non-profit. We only have four paid staff and have a budget of less than $1 million"), I learned a ton.

One of the workshops I went to was on "Events and Big Picture Fundraising." The panellists pointed out that of all the fundraising an organization does, an event has the lowest return on investment. An event is useful if it moves your organization's mission forward. Over and over they said, "Don't do an event for the sake of an event."

Which reminded me so much of church. I'm thinking of the crab feed. You know what I'm talking about. How many hours are spent planning for the crab feed? Doing the set-up, procuring the material? And it's a huge fundraiser, yes. BUT THE MONEY COMES FROM THE SAME PEOPLE WHO GIVE MONEY TO THE CHURCH ANYWAY!

That's the thing I think is crazy. How many hours could we be spending doing other things, more mission-minded things, if we weren't spending our time trying to get more money from the same group of people that's already deeply involved in the parish? What's the return on investment? They're fun, they're social, they're fellowship...but aren't there other ways to do that?

The presenters made it clear that there's a time and a place for events and that events can be very effective. But they also made me wonder how much of our efforts in the church are spent on in-house fundraising through elaborately staged events. And what does that say about our priorities.

Monday, May 4, 2009

News from the World of Tea

I hope you recall that last weekend was the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas. I am here to inform you that the results of the World Tea Championships are in!

For your information, "The WTC is made up of two classes: Hot Tea and Iced Tea. Each class consists of its own categories and judging panel. The Hot Tea class will be evaluated April 30 and May 1, 2009. The Iced Tea class will be evaluated the morning of May 2, 2009 at the Expo. All submissions are evaluated blind and through organoleptic analysis."

This makes me happy for the sole reason that I can now use "organoleptic analysis" in daily conversation.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Feast of St. Monnica

May 4 is the feast of St. Monica, mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, but more notable for me because it is the anniversary of my ordination. I'll be celebrating by spending the day learning about fundraising, one of the many skills they didn't teach us in seminary.

Have a lovely Monday!

Good Shepherd Sunday

I noticed something today in the readings for Good Shepherd Sunday, a kind of distillation of the conflict between the Christianity that believes our primary call is to bring others to Christ and those that believe our primary call is to serve the poor and the needy.

In John's Gospel, Jesus says, "I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."

In John's epistle, we hear, "How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?"

Of course the argument can be made is that one of the needs is to hear the saving word of God. But the very next line in the Epistle is "Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." So I'm going for the caring for physical needs angle. Not that I'm doing too well on that front.

There's much more I could say about all of this, but I have to get ready for church.

And for some fabulous shepherds, check out the video below:

From the Arts and Crafts division

Mom sent me this photo of this little guy she made. I thought it was pretty cool and wanted to share. Hope you don't mind, Mom!

Note the wings on the back.

Goodness knows we could use a power-hitting angel right about now.

Update: Mom sent me an email saying, "I hang my new creations kind of hap hazardly on the wall. As I looked up today this configuration caught my eye. It kind of says it all somehow."

Saturday, May 2, 2009

St. Athanasius, formerly heretical father of orthodoxy

It’s the feast day of Athanasius, about whom I have written before. This morning, for kicks and giggles, I thought I’d read something he wrote and settled on his Defense of the Nicene Definition. As one does, you know.

Oh, his world is so familiar to me. Those who nowadays like to announce their orthodoxy might be interested to know the arguments used against the Nicene Creed by the Arians.

Athanasius wrote, “I marvelled at the effrontery which led the Arians, after all the past detection of unsoundness and futility in their arguments, …, still to complain…, ‘Why did the Fathers at Nicæa use terms not in Scripture.’”

Yes, indeedy. One of the big bugaboos for the Arians about the Nicene Creed was that it was unscriptural. Doesn’t that sound familiar? (If it doesn't, then you are blessedly free of the strife that comes from following too many Anglican blogs.)

And then when the supporters of the Nicene Creed made their arguments from Scriptures, “they invent excuses, ‘Why was this defined, and not that?’ Yet wonder not if now they practise thus; for in no long time they will turn to outrage, and next will threaten ‘the band and the captain.’” Yeah, that sounds way too familiar, too.

Tradition is, apparently, another big argument the Arians used: “But next that they did not invent them for themselves (since this is one of their excuses), but spoke what they had received from their predecessors.” Who knew Athanasius was such a revisionist?

And how many blogs have I seen that sounded like this: “And what is strange indeed, Eusebius of Cæsarea in Palestine…sent to his Church a letter, saying that this was the Church’s faith, and the tradition of the Fathers; and made a public profession that they were before in error, and were rashly contending against the truth.”

La plus ca change, eh? Oh, Athanasius. I bet you’re sighing in heaven. Keep us company, will you?, as we sort out this whole “orthodoxy” thing.

[The image is from the Daily Scriptorium which is far more geeky than I can aspire to be.]

Swine flu quote of the day

'People in the town of Chipping Sodbury were shocked to learn today that a member of their community had swine flu.' Guardian.

Nothing much happens in Chipping Sodbury, you see, they're easily shocked. When a Chipping Sod gets a mild form of flu, they're convulsed.

Meanwhile, the search for The Smoking Pig continues. He called me yesterday. His name is Ralph and he's on the lam in South Dakota. 'I'm with Willie Nelson,' he said, 'they can take me back to Texas but they won't take me back alive.' I invited him over to Palm Springs, it's pretty quiet here except for a closed school in Indio. But he likes seafood and, as my wife put it, 'You can't get a decent prawn in the desert.'

From Thought Experiments.

I promise I'll get over these Swine Flu quotes, but there's just something inherently delightful in a quote that involves pigs. No wonder they changed the name to H1N1.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Churchgoers and torture survey

Various news outlets were a-twitter yesterday with a new Pew Forum survey on The Religious Dimensions of Torture that suggested that the more often you went the church, the more likely you were to approve of torture.

This both was and was not accurate. The headlines could have also said that if you go to church at least once a week, you are as likely to think that torture can never be justified as the general population.

The thing that bothered me about this--well, a few things. First of all, it was that "churchgoer" does not mean one particular thing. And that "more often you go to church" magically and automatically equates with "religiously conservative." And "religious conservative" does not automatically equate with "approves of torture."

There was also the "tut tut, we secular types are more enlightened" nature of it when the NY Times is STILL not calling waterboarding torture.

There was the lack of critique of the survey itself which seemed, to my unpracticed eye, to use a very small sample size and to have a rather strange question; they asked, "Do you think the use of torture against suspected terrorists in order to gain important information can often be justified, sometimes be justified, rarely be justified, or never be justified?" But isn't "rarely" also "sometimes"? I don't know that I completely trust these results.

It's still mighty depressing, though, that what seems to me a fairly basic Christian tenet (i.e. Would you like others to waterboard you? Then you shouldn't waterboard others) is completely missed.

It reminds me of a great story my college roommate told on herself. She went on a retreat and was having a lovely time learning about God's love and forgiveness and kindness, praying and fellowshipping and generally getting all warm and fuzzy, when along came a spider and sat down beside her, and she jumped up and said, "Forget this mercy crap! Just kill it!"

At least she had the sense to recognize the difference between what she was learning and what she was saying. Unlike this guy. This one depressed the hell out of me.

Obit of the day

Irving D. Chais, Manhattan Doll Surgeon, dies at 83.

Irving D. Chais, who in his 45 years as the owner and chief surgeon of the New York Doll Hospital in Manhattan reattached thousands of heads, arms and legs; reimplanted fake hair shorn by scissor-wielding toddlers; and soothed the feelings of countless doll lovers, young and old, died on April 24 in Manhattan. He was 83 and lived in Manhattan.

You can read it all here.

Lysistrata, Kenyan-style

I apologize for the "Lysistrata" reference in the title when the real title ought to be, "Wasn't there a Greek play about women refusing sex to their husbands until they settled down?" But, really, it's more impressive to pretend I knew Lysistrata off the top of my head.

Yesterday, listening to my daily dose of African news, I learned that a group of women in Kenya is organizing a sex strike to protest the infighting in the government. They are paying prostitutes to take the week off and they have talked to the wives of the president and prime minister to get everybody to just calm down.

"Great decisions are made during pillow talk, so we are asking the two ladies at that intimate moment to ask their husbands: 'Darling can you do something for Kenya?'"