Sunday, June 26, 2005

Suspect Device

--Decided to re-post this after a friend announced the birth of his second daughter. From the wayback machine:

A Pastor's Notebook October 28, 1999
Suspect Device
Norm T., the domesticated engineer and mad tuba player, recently sent me an e-mail from the howling tundras of the St. Paul suburbs in response to my APN entry on meeting baby Celeste. He writes:
I don't disagree with a single thing you said, however as a father it goes beyond that, in that those same feelings of "total trust", "undying love", "Absolute awe" continue through their lives. Kelly, although 5 and very independent, still has moments where she wants nothing more than to be that little baby again, curled up in your arms being totally dependent on you. As long as you (as the adult) accept that this time decreases with age, but is still absolutely necessary (if not from her point of view, from mine) you too can have those same feelings throughout your child's life. (At least I hope it lasts that long.)

I still am in wonder every day at how she grows and changes and how she sees the world and people around her. I guess this has less to do with being a parent and more to do with just being there and seeing it happen each and every day.

To which I can only reply: I wonder if this is the way God sees us? We began our lives with God as wholly dependent, if you take the story of Genesis at face value. Over the years, we've become more and more independent, perhaps necessarily, perhaps not. Nowadays we hardly write home at all to let the old man know how we're doing. Things aren't going well, of course, despite the Clinton economic boom. There have been too many Kosovos, too many Rwandas, for us to believe seriously that the human race is ready to manage its own affairs without some timely parental intervention.

You’d think that we would turn to God more often than we do, given our state of affairs. It seems like an obvious statement, even a platitude. But how often does it really come true? Our ability to keep focussed on the God of love, mercy and peace gets more spotty every day. We distance ourselves with television, numb ourselves with the polite fiction of the stock market, and reassure ourselves with the outright lie that those countries have always been like that. Which is not to say that the good is entirely erased from us; there are still saints and angels who walk amongst us. Even the ordinary people of faith can accomplish something good once in a while. We did finally do something about both Kosovo and Rwanda, after all, though probably too little too late. But our hearts and minds remain our own, and as always, we remain erratic children, prone to saintliness one day, bestiality the next.

Fortunately, I have yet to meet a child given to devil worship, so I'll skip the discussion of "walking in the ways of the Lord" as compared to "walking in the ways of the devil." I will say this, however. Part of the pain, yet part of the joy, of being a parent is that you never know what the little monster is going to do next. Give you a hug or break your kneecap? Draw you a picture or smash your favorite vase? Sit in his room listening to punk rock, or become a pastor? And so on.

Again, I am only guessing at what that looks like from the perspective of a parent. But having been a "difficult" child myself—hell, let's not beat around the bush: I was nuts—I can extrapolate. One night when my oldest niece was turning two, she was so enthused about blowing out her birthday candles that she almost stuck her face into their flames. There were eight adults around the dinner table. Each one of us, seized by the same instinct, lunged forward, yelling and ready to pull her back by her overalls. She looked up, bewildered by all the commotion, and we had a good laugh. It occurred to me much later that that moment, played out more often than a Yankees world series must be what parenthood is like. That shouldn't take away from the awe and the joy and the pride of being a parent, but it does set it in a background of terror, something like seeing a diamond, then becoming aware of the sweat and sacrifice it took to bring it out of the earth. Labor was painful, some mother said, and after that, things only got worse.

My point in all this is two-fold and (mercifully) brief. The first is something along the lines of a lesser-to-greater argument. If it's ennervating for a human parent to watch their children grow, what must it be like for God to watch the entire human race come into their own? It's tempting to want to abstract the issue, to say that by and large, we get along okay, and God doesn't have much to worry about. But Jesus said that not a sparrow flew nor a hair fell that God didn't know about, which suggests to me at least that God is much more intimate with our ups and downs that we'd give a deity credit for being. It's hard to get a hold of, that idea. It's been gone over so many times before that it begins to look like that squirrel that got flattened on your street last Sunday. Think of it this way; God is like an extra family member to each of us. God's the brother we never had, or the sister; God’s like a third parent, a fifth grandparent, even a second cousin.

I won’t hyperbolize by saying that God loves us more than any of these could. Leave it at that God loves us as much as any of them. If we are struck by cancer, God knows. If we—or our wife—becomes pregnant, God knows. If we're feeling on top of the world, God knows that, too. The point is not so much that God knows each of us individually, however. It’s more that God knows all of us individually. The miracle of the divine is that God is able to laugh, shout, cry, weep and moan with the best of us—and with the rest.

More to the original point, the parental feelings of love, trust, and awe never leave God. For the divine being, we are an ever-unfolding act of wonder and beauty, children in the same way that we see our children grow and change. There are hard times with any kid, there's no denying that. But as Norm seems to be pointing out in his e-mail, the hard times are more than compensated for by the good times, and if you're lucky, the good times keep coming. Can you imagine that God is as proud of as your father? That God is as attached to you as much as your own mother? That God is as surprised, baffled and entertained by the continuing process of your life as you were when your children were babies? Seems outrageous, doesn’t it?

Which brings us to point two.

I love my God, but sometimes I wonder if "he" is not an anarchistic bomb-thrower. God has given us the gift of freedom, which sounds good in principal, but leads to a lot of chaos in practice. But for that matter, so does the birth of a child. We are each of us a suspect device, unpredictable and potentially quite dangerous little packages found tucked away under the benches in airports and railway terminals. The potential for mischief is enormous—Rwanda, Kosovo, Chechnya, the streets of New York City—but then, who said all mischief had to be bad? We could be high-explosives of love if we wanted to be, not violence or indifference. As the Northern Irish band Stiff Little Fingers once sang, "A suspect device/can score an own goal," a metaphor taken from soccer games, where a player accidentally punts a ball into his own goal. The Fingers were referring to the ability of Irish kids to subvert the structures that led to ever-increasing violence in their homeland, but the point is general. Each child is a suspect device, a love-bomb in the making, as it were. Why shouldn't we "blow up in their face," and refuse to take part in the dumb hurt and sadness that makes up our daily lives? I imagine that God looked at Jesus on the cross and said, "Well, I didn’t know he was going to do that, but he’s sure made me proud."

That may seem contradictory when stacked against my claim that God is intimate in our lives, but it's only an apparent contradiction. We all know—or at least hope—that our children will stand up and walk one day, but foresight doesn't privilege us with the exact time and date. Nor does God's awe and wonder at the progress of our lives mean necessarily that God knows exactly what's in store for each of us at a certain moment. Rather, God is Immanuel—God with us—as parent, friend, and comforter. God is being there, and God sees it all happen each and every day—and nothing could tickle the Eternal One more pink.


Monday, June 20, 2005

What're you looking at?

From Egarwaen at Booman Tribune:


Evangelism, Southern Baptist Style

Agape Press reports on a speaker at the recent Southern Baptist Convention in Nashville:
Baucham explained himself further. "What you do is like what we do in a courtroom; you [ask], 'Do we have any eyewitnesses? Do the eyewitnesses tell the same story?' Yep! 'Friday, dead -- Sunday, risen!'"

Baucham is co-author of a resolution that encourages Southern Baptist churches to investigate their local public school districts to determine if any homosexual influence exists. The resolution may come up for a vote on Wednesday during the SBC business meeting.

You let us know how this works out, okay?


Geekery upon geekery

This story has got it all, man: religion, pop science, historical intrigue...
The world's oldest monastery plans to use hi-tech cameras to shed new light on ancient Christian texts preserved for centuries within its fortress walls in the Sinai Desert.

Saint Catherine's Monastery hopes the technology will allow a fuller understanding of some of the world's earliest Christian texts, including pages from the Codex Sinaiticus -- the oldest surviving bible in the world.

The technique, known as hyperspectral imaging, will use a camera to photograph the parchments at different wavelengths of light, highlighting faded texts obscured by time and later overwritings.

It should allow scholars to understand corrections made to pages of the Greek Codex Sinaiticus, written between 330 and 350 and thought to be one of 50 copies of the scriptures commissioned by Roman Emperor Constantine.

I'm drooling, I tells ya...


This is how I want to go

What a moron I've been. All these years, I thought it would be some kind of comfort to be buried. Seems I could have been ushered out of this world with a whole lot more class:

The ashes of a Lutheran pastor who was a fireworks enthusiast will be shot into the sky over Marine on St. Croix during the town's July 4th celebration.

The canister that will include the ashes of the Rev. Gordon Bergin will display gold crosses, a traditional part of the town's fireworks show.

Bergin, the longtime pastor of Diamond Lake Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, died in February at age 93.


Sunday, June 19, 2005

Brothers and Sisters,

  • For our fathers, who have given us life and love,
    that we may show them respect and love,
    let us pray*...

  • For fathers who have lost a child through death,
    that their faith may give them hope,
    and their family and friends support and console them,
    let us pray*...

  • For men, though without children of their own,
    who like fathers have nurtured and cared for us,
    let us pray*...

  • For fathers, who have been unable to be a source of strength,
    who have not responded to their children,
    who have not sustained their families,
    who have actually injured their families,
    let us pray*...

    God, in your wisdom and love you made all things.
    Bless these men, that they may be strengthened.
    Let them set an example of love and decency.

    Grant that we, their sons and daughters,
    may honor them always in word and deed.

*meditate, hold in good and active thought



Please tell me this is a joke. Please.
A Romanian Orthodox priest, facing charges for ordering the crucifixion of a young nun because she was "possessed by the devil," was unrepentant as he celebrated a funeral ceremony for his alleged victim.

"God has performed a miracle for her, finally Irina is delivered from evil," Father Daniel, 29, the superior of the Holy Trinity monastery in north-eastern Romania, told an AFP reporter before celebrating a short liturgy "for the soul of the deceased", in the presence of 13 nuns who showed no visible emotion.

Oh, but that's not even the worst part. Here's the worst:
Vitalie Danciu, the superior of a nearby monastery at Golia, called the crucifixion "inexcusable," but a spokesman for the Orthodox patriarchate in Bucharest refused to condemn it.

"I don't know what this young woman did," Bogdan Teleanu said.


Now Screening

Six counties around Waco, Texas are implementing a new mental health screening system:
The program is part of a statewide effort to ensure mentally ill people who end up behind bars receive appropriate treatment. That could entail anything from their receiving medication to making sure their mental illness is considered as a factor in prosecution.

The system is referred to as the CARE match program. CARE is the acronym the state uses for its Client Assignment & Registration System, which tracks people's involvement with the public mental health system.

CARE has been around for decades. What's new is that regional mental health centers are beginning to cross-reference the database with lists of people booked into jail. The idea is to take some of the guesswork out of identifying inmates with special needs.

In itself, not something that particularly raises an eyebrow. But then you read something like this:
A universal screening program that would identify children with behavioral disorders before age 5 is being prepared in the county as a way to head off severe mental health problems among school-aged children.

Nothing else has worked, said Kent Paxton, an official with San Bernardino County's Children's Network, an agency that helps at-risk youngsters.

Both of these initiatives could potentially help at-risk individuals receive mental health services sooner and more efficiently. But they could also lead to people being labeled and stigmatized--in the case of San Bernadino, at an age far too young to escape.

And I wonder about the kind of information being collected on people. Here in Lancaster, there's a computer system in place that allows the local homeless shelters to track individuals--whether or not they've been kicked out of another shelter in the past few days, what kinds of services they've been receiving through county-funded programs--and it's only a short step from there to including Mental Health/Mental Retardation data, or arrest warrants, for that matter.

And yeah, you've got to worry that what's driving these things is not concern for those in need of services, but money.


The Word For the Week

Matthew 10:24-39

Last fall, my wife and I got a phone call from the children's home where our goddaughter lives. An alumna of their program, a good friend of the goddaughter's, had died. Would we come to the memorial service?

We would have anyway, but it didn't hurt that the goddaughter was singing at the service.

And not just singing, but singing. We didn't know until the kid opened up her mouth that she was going to do an a cappella rendition of "His Eye Is On the Sparrow." Wow! It wasn't technically perfect, but she sang it loud and clear. More important, she sang it with heart. There was no mistaking the message: His eye is on the sparrow, and so is mine.

I don't know how the kid made remembering a dead friend an act of defiance, but she did. Mrs. Pastor and I were dabbing away tears by the time she was done.

Remembering that story helps me put together the disparate parts of this morning's lesson. It's a collection of sayings stitched together to make a point, which is not unusual in the gospels. The first half of the reading is reassurance of God's love and protection; the second half an assurance that disciples are going to need that love and protection.

About that second half: it isn't so much that Jesus wants to run around blowing up families (quite a message for Father's Day). Instead, as one of my commentaries explains, disciples will inevitably have to make decisions about their priorities. To follow to Jesus' radical path leads inescapably to conflict, even within one's own family.

It's important to step back for a moment and remind ourselves that these words were not written for us. They were written for a group of people committed to beliefs that walked that fine line between "radical" and "insane." It was crazy--and contentious--enough to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. But on top of that, they added the completely insane idea that that reflected God's preference for the poor and dispossessed!

Early Christians, in other words, challenged the conventional wisdom in both religion and social priority. These folks were a menace to the status quo.

We can try to live out their faith, but I doubt we'll ever be pulled into the kind of conflict they must have experienced. Still, there are people who come close.

Norman Kansfield, for one:

SCHENECTADY, N.Y., June 17 - In the first trial of a minister in 100 years, the general assembly of the Reformed Church in America found Friday night that the Rev. Dr. Norman J. Kansfield, a leading Protestant theologian, had violated church law by officiating at the marriage of his daughter, Ann, to her partner, Jennifer Aull, a year ago.

The delegates also voted to suspend Dr. Kansfield, 65, from the ministry until he changes his views to fall in line with church doctrine, and to strip him of his standing as a professor of theology in the church.

Dr. Kansfield said the decision was "going to be very hard to deal with.

"My life," he said, "has been the ministry." But he was encouraged that at least one-third of the delegates - those who did not vote against him - were willing to consider a "far more open stance on the inclusion of gay people."

Dr. Kansfield's "family" here is not his own biological family, but the extended family of his church. One might fairly charge that he "loved his daughter more than Christ," but I don't believe so. Kansfield in fact acknowledged Christ before the world in testifying to his love and grace in uniting his daughter and her partner in a sacred bond.

You don't even have to claim that these two women face special challenges in the world, though of course they do. Any two lovers entering into matrimony face an uphill battle these days. Newlyweds are automatically qualified for sparrow status--especially, I think, when they get to their first arguments about who's going to balance the checkbook and who's going to make dinner after a long day at work.

My goddaughter would hate hearing this--she doesn't believe in same-sex marriage--but her example of fidelity, and Dr. Kansfield's, help to bolster my resolve when things get contentious. What she's too young to understand yet is how love for a friend or a family member is often a springboard for more abstract concern.

So it's her example, among others, that strengthens me when read about someone like Albert Mohler attacking the United Church of Christ again.

See, a few conservative churches in New Jersey have put up a resolution for the denomination's national gathering in July. It's a stalking horse; while on its face, there's nothing objectionable about it, if it is accepted, it will trap the denomination in the same kind of fundamentalist crap that overtook Mohler's Southern Baptist Convention twenty-five years ago. He says:

The resolution proceeds to remind the denomination that the UCC Constitution states that the body "claims as its own the faith of the historic Church expressed in the ancient creeds and reclaimed in the basic insights of the Protestant Reformers." Accordingly, the resolution "provides an opportunity for General Synod to unashamedly, unabashedly proclaim that the UCC is a Christian denomination where Jesus is Lord."

Believe it or not, the resolution has attracted significant opposition, and some observers do not expect it to pass. Consider this reaction from a New Jersey pastor: "Religiously speaking, it sounds like apple pie," commented Rev. Raymond Kostulias of the First Congregational Church of Park Ridge. Nevertheless, he's not a supporter of the statement. He described the resolution as having "a judgmental quality to it that implies very strongly that those who do not agree with us are condemned or damned or hopeless -- and that's exactly the thing that UCC is against."

Well, Rev. Kostulias, that's what the Apostles and the early chuch called the defining line between orthodoxy and heresy -- between genuine faith and a false gospel. A denomination that cannot stand together in affirming the Lordship and deity of Jesus Christ is a denomination that has set itself against Scripture and the faith of the Christian Church.

But as Chuck Currie explains,

Mohler's interpretation of the resolution is misleading. He bears false witness to the United Church of Christ. Why would we actually oppose such a resolution?

    The UCC respects freedom of individual conscience, and there are no "tests of faith" mandatory on our 1.4 million members, but we do honor the historic testimonies of our spiritual ancestors as they explored the Bible and applied its insights.

The resolution as worded would create a "test of faith" and in doing so would violate our church polity. In short, the resolution is an attempt (which I hope will fail) that seeks to make the UCC adopt a fundamentalist view of scripture that is common in Mohler's denomination. Click here to learn more.


The United Church of Christ is a denomination quite obviously committed to the Christian faith. We are not, however, a doctrinal church. Our members are not required to sign pledges that align us with one theological school or another. We trust our members to be faithful disciples and feel forcing dogma on them does nothing to further that discipleship. We put our faith in God before we put it in human tests of faith.

To which I can only add two things. First, that we also put our love in people before we put it in human tests of faith. Principles are no match in our church for the face of God in the face of a brother or sister.

Second, and more important, is this: in our very "Basis of Union," the agreement that brought the UCC into being, we declared that

denominations exist not for themselves but as parts of [the greater Church], within which each denomination is to live and labor and, if need be, die

It was originally meant as a commitment to the ecumenism that drove the formation of the UCC, but it is a reminder as well that the work we do is not our own, but Christ's.

And the last time I checked, Christ's eye was definitely on the sparrow, not theologically "sound" doctrine that happened to exclude whole categories of people from the grace and love of God in Christ Jesus.

So it's the sparrows I'm willing to take up my cross for, for whom I would lose my life and would be glad to lose my denomination's. I owe it to my goddaughter, and the memory of her friend.

Screw orthodoxy.


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.