Friday, June 17, 2005

They hate you too...

From Atrios, My Cat Hates You.


Church Growth Lite

The Gutless Pacifist on the religious right chimera that people are leaving liberal churches in droves:
So the notion that people are fleeing liberal churches in favor of conservative ones is simply false. Nevermind the strange contradiction that usually comes with such arguments, where "ear tickling liberalism" is supposedly appealing to the masses with the "broad way" while at the same time conservatives are congratulating themselves for their huge church growth. However, as we have seen, that church growth is actually an illusion... It's a matter of growth in the population and mobility, not a growth in membership. For mainline churches, people remain extremely loyal to them or to their denominational families, and though they may leave for a brief spell, they almost inevitably return. In urban centres, these churches are trending towards growth as well.


Bob Mutton

Jonathan is writing about his teen years in a UCC congregation in Webster Groves, Missouri.

The youth pastor of that congregation, Robert Mutton, is a longtime friend and colleague of my parents. Good to see a decent guy getting his due.


4.3 Percent

New research:
An estimated 4.3 percent of Americans suffer from bipolar disorder or its milder forms, far more than previous estimates which placed the number at about 1 percent, a new study finds.

"When the entire spectrum [of bipolar disorder] is taken into account, the percent affected by that syndrome is higher than was recognized," said Ronald C. Kessler, professor of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. He presented the findings Friday at the Sixth International Conference on Bipolar Disorder, in Pittsburgh.

The new estimate finds that 4.3 percent of adults suffer from a bipolar disorder or a "sub-threshold" bipolar disorder, Kessler said. The latter group includes persons who don't fit the precise clinical criteria for bipolar disorder but who have symptoms nearly as bad that severely affect their ability to perform their daily routine.


Making Baby Jesus Cry, Again

Another one I can't add to, this one from Chuck Currie:

In the coming weeks you’ll read a lot about the United Church of Christ in the media. Our General Synod begins July 1st in Atlanta and many of the issues considered will be difficult and controversial. I’ve written about several of those issues – including gay marriage and divestment from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine. But there are other issues that will also cause a stir in the media and among critics of the UCC in the religious right.



Basically ripping off Armando's front-page post on the Daily Kos:

Republican Former Senator John Danforth says no
to the Dobson/Bush/Frist Extreme Agenda

Moderate Christians are less certain about when and how our beliefs can be
translated into statutory form, not because of a lack of faith in God but
because of a healthy acknowledgement of the limitations of human beings. Like
conservative Christians, we attend church, read the Bible and say our prayers.

But for us, the only absolute standard of behavior is the commandment to love
our neighbors as ourselves. Repeatedly in the Gospels, we find that the
Love Commandment takes precedence when it conflicts with laws. We struggle to
follow that commandment as we face the realities of everyday living, and we do not agree that our responsibility to live as Christians can be
codified by legislators.

When, on television, we see a person in a persistent vegetative state,
one who will never recover, we believe that allowing the natural and merciful end to her ordeal is more loving than imposing government power to keep her hooked up to a feeding tube.

When we see an opportunity to save our neighbors' lives through stem cell research, we believe that it is our duty to pursue that research, and to oppose legislation that would impede us from doing so.

We think that efforts to haul references of God into the public square, into schools and courthouses, are far more apt to divide Americans than to advance faith.

Following a Lord who reached out in compassion to all human beings, we oppose amending the Constitution in a way that would humiliate homosexuals.

For us, living the Love Commandment may be at odds with efforts to
encapsulate Christianity in a political agenda. We strongly support the
separation of church and state, both because that principle is essential to
holding together a diverse country, and because the policies of the state always fall short of the demands of faith. Aware that even our most passionate ventures into politics are efforts to carry the treasure of religion in the earthen vessel of government, we proceed in a spirit of humility lacking in our conservative colleagues.

Well done Sen. Danforth.

I'll add an amen to that.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Operation Yellow Elephant

Don't forget to ask them in which gospel Jesus says "Go forth into the world, kicking Muslim ass as you go."


More beds in South Carolina

Back on Sunday, I mentioned that South Carolina was selling its state mental hospital. Now comes word that they're adding beds:
The state Mental Health Department plans to open 26 new long-term, psychiatric-care hospital beds in Columbia and Spartanburg.

The new beds are intended to relieve backlogs of mentally ill patients now being treated in hospital emergency rooms.

It's not all hunky dory:
The department's critics say 40 to 60 long-term-care beds are needed to address shortages created by years of downsizing. Some also say the department should be focusing on opening acute-care beds for patients needing emergency — not long-term — help.

"Right now, the state mental health system has no emergency system," said Gregory B. Gattman, vice president of Palmetto Health, which operates Palmetto Health Richland and Palmetto Health Baptist hospitals in Columbia.

"They’re addressing it from the back end of the system, but any kind of beds that are opened by the state to offer more options for folks to get to the proper kind of treatment they need is an improvement."

Still, not as bad as simply closing the place down.


Watch Out! United Methodist Women!!

Beyond idiocy from Crosswalk:
By now, we've all heard the pejoratives leveled against the so-called religious right and its alleged role in the confirmation of what the Democrats like to call "extremist judges."

But what role has the religious left played in all of this?

According to the Institute on Religion and Democracy, the United Methodist Women's organization launched a "Save the Filibuster" campaign.

The head of The National Council of Churches sent a letter to Senator Majority leader Bill Frist trying to protect the filibuster against judges they don't like, while the bishop in charge of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America accused Frist of "political manipulation" on the issue of judges.

The United Church of Christ in D.C. lobbied in support of the filibuster.

And, the clerk of the Presbyterian Church, USA was part of a media conference call that complained about the role religious conservatives played in the opposition to the filibuster.

You know, I've always thought there was something sinister about those Methodist ladies...



Trial balloons in the Anglican world:

A draft of a constitution detailing a proposed realignment of the worldwide Anglican Communion became public this week, outlining for the first time how divisions over homosexuality may change the face of the more than 70-million-member church.

The unsourced and undated four-page document, named "The Organizing Constitution of the Anglican Global Initiative," has been circulating among some executive members of the Episcopal Church since January, after it was brought to the church's New York headquarters following a meeting of African bishops in Nairobi.

Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh, a group of clergy and lay people, made the document available on its Web site. Its existence was first reported this week by the Guardian newspaper in Great Britain.


We do?

Raw Story, quoting Sen. Nancy Pelosi:
"Religious denominations also support legal access to medical marijuana, including the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church, the National Council of Churches, the National Progressive Baptist Convention, the Presbyterian Church, the Union for Reform Judaism, the United Church of Christ, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and the United Methodist Church."

Dude, my denomination's cooler than I thought!


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Jazz, Schizophrenia, & Side Effects
NEW YORK - Side effects have taken center stage in the $14 billion market for schizophrenia drugs.

To understand why, take the case of Tom Harrell, a renowned jazz musician and composer. Harrell, dubbed "the greatest trumpeter of his generation" by Entertainment Weekly, is also schizophrenic. For years, he has fought not only his disease, but also the crippling side effects of the drugs used to treat it.

Compare that $14 billion to the $690 million Lilly is paying to settle claims against its Zyprexa brand, and you begin to get a sense of the scales involved here.


God and money

At first, I thought this article from would be just a puff piece on faith and/in the market, but it turns out to have an interesting point:
religious participation is highest in those places where there is a high density of people sharing the same religious preferences; and second, that for those who are part of it, this 'higher market density' leads to all sorts of good things according to key economic indicators such as income, levels of education, dependence on welfare, and marriage and divorce statistics.

So when people live around people who are members of the same Christian denomination, for example, economic indicators rise. That ought to be good news for somewhere like North Dakota or Utah, where overwhelming majorities belong to the same faith.

Ah, but there's a twist:
The positive effects of living around a lot of people who share your religion are offset if most of those people belong to the same ethnic group. In other words, Italian Catholics go to church more often and do better economically if they live in an area where there are not just Italians but other ethnic groups—Poles or Irish, say—that share the Catholic faith.

What that suggests about the ties bind us—and the ones that boost us—is provocative indeed.



Monday, June 13, 2005

A Pastor's Heart

Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer is apparently also posting at dKos these days.

He links there to an excellent set of stories from the Colorado Springs, CO blog Non-Prophet. The piece that really caught my eye concerned an e-mail exchange between Pastor Ted Haggard of New Life Church (the US' largest) and a new member put off by Haggard's apparent desire to tidy the place up for national television crews.

It's so damn easy to make a mistake as a pastor, to react angrily when you should be listening. And Lord knows I wouldn't want my e-mail with a parishioner to be published. But it's hard to see anything pastoral in an exchange like this:
Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 18:44:56 -0400
From: [removed]
To: [removed]
Subject: Re: Think Clearly

Pastor Ted,

Thank you for your response, I will tell you that I first emailed you based more on emotion than really giving thought to what I wanted to really say, for that I apologize. We have only attended New Life for 2 months and have really enjoyed your teaching. I do know that emails do not always convey what we really want to say.
If possible, perhaps we could meet some time in the near future just so we can clear the air and I can have a good understanding of your vision for New Life church. Please know that I in no way want to disrespect you as a Pastor or person.
I just want to know without any doubt that we are in the right church.
Hope to hear from you soon.

God bless

[name removed]


> From: [removed]
> Date: Fri, 13 May 2005 23:16:26 EDT
> Subject: Re: Think Clearly
> To: [removed]
[name removed],

I didn't like your note at all. New Life doesn't operate that way. My guess is that you are not in the right church. I think you need to look on.


Read the full exchange.


They write columns, too

Well, if George Michael says it's okay...


UCC 1, Rupert 0

The U.S. Supreme Court, rejecting bids from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. and other media businesses, refused to question federal limits on the number of broadcast stations and newspapers that companies can own.

The justices made no comment today in turning away five industry appeals that said the Federal Communications Commission isn't allowing enough consolidation in the media business. The Bush administration urged the court not to grant a hearing.

The rejection is a victory for consumer groups, which say the ownership limits help ensure diversity of local news and programming. It's a setback for News Corp., Viacom Inc., Gannett Co., Clear Channel Communications Inc. and General Electric Co.'s NBC Universal Inc. in their bid for more freedom to acquire new radio and television stations and newspapers.

The UCC has a long history of media advocacy, going back to the fight against a Jim Crow television station in the 1960s.

Now if we can only get those damn commercials on the Big Three networks...



Lake Wobegone Lutherans can't come through for gays and lesbians, though it's interesting to see how sympathetic the press coverage is, almost apologetic that the synod voted for the ELCA's bans on gay clergy and same-sex marriage.

Meanwhile, in the City of Big Shoulders, the Rainbow Sash folks won't go quietly.


Sunday, June 12, 2005

It's not just Pennsylvania

South Carolina is selling its state hospital for the mentally ill:
The sale of the 178-acre State Hospital grounds could bring as much as $14 million to the Mental Health Department for one-time building improvements.

A temporary law approved last month allows most state agencies to keep half of what they make from the sale of property.

The agency has considered spending $2 million to renovate the now-closed Crafts-Farrow State Hospital on near Interstate 20 and moving the few patients remaining at the downtown Columbia facility there.

About 70 of the most severely mentally ill children in the state remain hospitalized at the downtown facility, but patients are supposed to be moved in the coming year.



From an editorial in the Poughkeepsie Journal:
Unlike 36 other states, New York does not require insurance carriers to provide mental health coverage. Deep differences have divided Assembly and Senate versions of a bill to require insurance carriers to treat mental illness in the same way it treats physical illnesses. The Assembly has resoundly supported the effort for the past two years, while the Senate continues to have concerns about its effect on the business community, particularly small companies.


But how will they play in Peoria?

Pretty good, apparently:
One man from Canton stood up to tell his story. He opened by stating he was gay and that he and his partner have adopted two boys, ages 4 and 6.

"My partner came running out after seeing the [God Is Still Speaking] commercial," the man said, "and said that there was a church that would accept us for who we are. . . . This church has completed my family."


Brothers and Sisters,

Love is patient and kind,

    O God, help us to be patient with people,

    even when they are foolish and annoying;

    and help us to be as kind to others

    as we would wish them to be to us.

Love is not jealous or boastful.

    O God, help us never to grudge other people

    their possessions or successes,

    and keep us from all pride and conceit,

    that we may never boast of what we are,

    or have, or have achieved.

Love is not arrogant or rude.

    O God, make us at all times courteous,

    and no matter who the other person is,

    help us never to look on anyone with contempt.

Love does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.

    O God, help us never to find pleasure in any wrong thing,

    but to find happiness only in doing the right,

    and in helping others to do it.

Love bears all things.

    O God, help us to bear insults and slights,

    and never to grow bitter.

Love believes all things.

    O God, help us never to lose faith

    in you or in one another.

Love hopes all things.

    O God, help us never to despair,

    however dark and difficult and discouraging life may be.

Love endures all things.

    O God, help us to stick it out the end,

    and never to give in.

Love never ends. For faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

    O God you are love;

    help us to show your love to others each day of our lives.

    This we ask for your love's sake.

(From William Barcaly's Epilogues and Prayers.)


The Word For the Week

Romans 5:1-8

It's been an interesting couple of weeks over at Daily Kos. For what it's worth at this late date, I have no real position on the pie fights. I thought everybody had good points, and I think those points got overplayed on all sides.

It's the nature of an open-source community: the strength is being open to many perspectives, many contributions from many different sources. The downfall is that that same openness means that it's hard to put the brakes on a destructive cycle of argument. It just grows and grows until it burns itself out. Call it the "wildfire principle" if you will.

As many people have pointed out, the place has been through these meshugas before. I wasn't around but for the very tail-end of the Kerry vs. Dean vs. Nader vs. everybody fights, but I understand they got pretty bad. There were the Shut Your Fucking Piehole diaries, the rolling recriminations after the November elections, Schiavo, NARAL, the Pope, the Pastor Dan diaries.

I'm not very interested in rehashing any of these debates. Most of them were silly, and needless.

Needless, that is, in the sense that they got misdirected into personal territory. Once the insults--real or perceived--start flying, the useful discussion comes to an end. The underlying perspectives were often valid, and I for one learned much from them.

It's also true that conflict is a normal part of life together. People build up friction whenever they rub elbows; it happens in virtual communities just like in meatspace. When the friction goes away, you've got real problems, because it means that people have stopped taking one another seriously, stopped talking to one another.

In this sense, then, the opposite of conflict is not so much peace (the absence of conflict), as it is reconciliation, a productive balance that allows the creative sparks to fly all over again.

As Paul notes in his letter to the Romans, reconciliation is something hard-won:

...We also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us...

For Paul, of course, the process of reconciliation begins and ends in Christ's atoning sacrifice on the cross. It's that sacrifice that reconciles us with God the Father, and that allows us to be reconciled one to another.

But you need not be a Christian to find the insight here. Follow the chain in slightly different terms: we can be proud of the conflicts we've been through, because conflict makes us stronger, and that strength forges a common identity, and the common identity enables us to believe that we are doing will make a difference in the long run. And that will indeed not disappoint us, because we are making a difference, if only in how we are changing ourselves.

It works for the grizzled veterans who stick with the community: Well, I was here when we went after one another tooth-and-nail over Ginger and Maryann, and here's what we learned... But interestingly enough, it also works for the folks who have left. Many of them have ended up together in new communities (this time, at Booman Tribune or Women Kossacks), and their departure is suffering enough to create a common identity.

Can the various parties be reconciled to one another? I don't know. It might take some kind of divine intervention. The online communities I've taken part in have a tendency to attract strong personalities with stronger opinions.

We'll see.

But here's something that I hope all sides can take away from this. It's the end of Paul's chain of logic: "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that was given to us."

I'll leave it up to you to decide if it's necessary to have the Holy Spirit to receive God's love. My point is simply this: that hope doesn't arrive from hurt and anger and conflict. Not by themselves.

Instead, it comes about by the way in which those things remind us of the attachments that motivate us, and lead us to new ones. If the Pie Fights lead us to understand better who and what we love, and why we fight for them, if the conflicts and the crazy-making we go through widen the circle of our compassion, then as idiotic as they may seem, they will have been worthwhile.

Amen, and pass the lemon meringue.