11/30/2004

Stupid Human Tricks

There's so much wrong with this story i don't even know where to start. (Note the story is from Australia and FYI, a P-plate license is "provisional".) Thanks to Tim Blair for this one...

Quick synopsis: 20 year old drives dad's forbidden car 200 km/h in a 50 km/h zone with two passengers (one a 7 month pregnant 15 year old), hits telephone pole and kills them all.

But how about we start with this?
"along with passengers Carl Homer, 33, and Mr Homer's 15-year-old, seven-month pregnant, girlfriend Natasha Schyf"
The mind boggles. A bit more when you read this:
"Miss Schyf and Mr Homer, who met two years ago through friends..."
But not as much as when the dead 15 year old girl's father says:
"Carl and Natasha were perfect for each other, inseparable," Mr Schyf said.

"He was a lovely guy, everything for my daughter, and we were all looking forward to the baby."
Hang on a mo'. Your 15 year old daughter is pregnant by a 33 year old man who's been boffing her for two years SINCE SHE WAS THIRTEEN!!! and you're just fine with it? And you're a Jehovah's Witness? That Bible sure must read different upside down. And I guess they can't spell "statutory rape" in Oz.

On a lighter note, it was good to find that the following story (supposedly the winner of the 2004 Stella Award), doing the rounds on the net right now, is indeed a fabrication.
"In November 2000, Mr. Grazinski purchased a brand new 32 foot Winnebago motor home. On his first trip home, having joined the freeway, he set the cruise control at 70 mph and calmly left the drivers seat to go into the back and make himself a cup of coffee. Not surprisingly, the Winnie left the freeway, crashed and overturned. Mr. Grazinski sued Winnebago for not advising him in the handbook that he could not actually do this. He was awarded $1,750,000 plus a new Winnebago."
Eh, thank goodness for small mercies.

11/28/2004

Mo' Pomo Mojo

Continuing on from the previous post

After mentioning the first characteristic of the post-Modern age (it’s a transition phase out of Modernism, not an age in and of itself, hence not a finished product), let me digress a little before getting to point two (or maybe this is point two…).

Pretty much none of the work I’ve read on postmodernism and the church mentions the scientific side of the equation at all. This is probably because the debate is driven by philosophers and theologians. Once upon a time those same fields would have been closely linked to science, but the Modern era divorced the two and I think that’s yet another unfortunate development of Modernism.

Scientifically, the modern era was triggered by the work of Copernicus and the realization that the earth was not the center of the universe. From Wikipedia:
Copernicus’ theory about the Sun as the centre of the solar system, turning over the traditional geocentric theory (that placed Earth at the centre of the Universe), is considered one of the most important discoveries ever, and is the fundamental starting point of modern astronomy and modern science itself (it inaugurated the scientific revolution).

Remember people were burned at the stake for believing and teaching Copernicus’ theory, and Galileo was tried and convicted by the Inquisition (however, he was expecting it) and only evaded being burned at the stake by essentially recanting. Old and frail he spent the rest of his life under house arrest. The parallels with today’s Fundagelical church and creationism are, um, interesting and instructive. It’s a good thing it’s just not that easy to pull together an Inquisition these days (although the religious right gives it a shot once in a while...)

The second characteristic is the questioning of authority (hmm, which I guess does go nicely with the digression above). Much authority is wrapped up in knowing “the answer”. If we don’t think there are absolute answers (or, more accurately, that we won’t be able to understand or articulate them purely and accurately), then authority is undermined. This also helps to explain why those that hold authority in the Modern era (in fact any era, as seen above for instance) are extremely threatened by the transition away from it. We can generalize this to say that change is bad for any authority, because it undermines the foundation upon which the authority is built. This may be a "Well, duh!" statement on the surface, but it bears repeating and remembering, especially when we see said Authority lashing out.

These characteristics (allied to some of the new scientific principles like relativity) create secondary effects. One of these is relativism. If mystery is back, certainty is gone, and authority is to be questioned, then everything is relative. Taken to extreme, objectivity is out, subjectivity is in. My opinion is no worse or better than yours, no matter how much it may appear to be. Even if there is something like absolute truth out there (which we might describe as God in some way shape or form), we question our ability to discern it accurately. Again, at the extreme, (what Brian McLaren calls absurd postmodernism – the bogeyman of today’s conservative church establishment) this looks like anything goes. But looked at more realistically, that’s not true, it’s simply an acknowledgment that life’s a lot more complicated than the Modern era supposed. It makes our lives harder, not easier, as the desperate adherents of Modernism suggest.

This drives some people crazy. That’s too bad, because this is a cat that can’t be put be put back in the bag. Postmodernism is not (just) a philosophical school or construct. Scientific discoveries have shown us that the certainty of the Scientific Modern era are not as certain as we believed. Modernism has been done in by science even more surely and certainly than it has been strangled by philosophy. Change is happening, there is no going back, and it serves us best to acknowledge it and deal with it. Sure, there is going to be kicking, screaming and footdragging. After all, it took centuries to convince the church world that the Earth was not flat, and that it wasn’t at the center of the universe. And that kicking, screaming and footdragging? That was some poor people being hauled off to their deaths.

So what are the implications for the church?

The early years of the church were characterized by the mystery of God. The Modern era killed off a lot of that and brought an implicit faith that God could somehow eventually be understood and codified by logic and science. While this is an attractive notion on some levels it is patently absurd. God doesn’t fit in a box of human making. Not that anyone was saying this explicitly, of course, it just seemed in the Modern era that scientific advances would eventually reveal God. All of this was in parallel with the blossoming of secular humanism which was pretty much intent on debunking religion as outdated superstition. Religion was intent on proving God exists, Q.E.D., just as the secularists were aiming to prove that there was no God at all.

As we move forward, there will be challenges to hierarchical authority. This doesn’t mean that existing church structures will disappear. Some will, especially the ones that can’t adapt. Some will manage to preserve their current structures and beliefs, but they will be the 21st century Amish - quaint and isolated, living in a kind of absurd church zoo.

The fact is that most people like structure (especially, for instance, Myers-Briggs ESTJs - and there are a lot of them) and so structure will arise or adapt, but it won’t necessarily look like it does now. Change is driven by the creative types - but they are in reality a small fraction of the population at large. To be implemented, change needs to be accepted by a much larger group.

Think of this in marketing terms. You have the innovators, who will support new ideas at any price. In product marketing this can be faddish, but in terms of ideas this can be very powerful. Small in number they will respond positively to innovation (in fact, in emergent church terms, these are probably the people driving it). Then there will be the early adopters who see value in the new ideas. If not actively involved these people will certainly be interested and supportive. The early majority will follow when the ideas have been proven somewhat, and the late majority when it seems everyone is doing it (whatever “it” is.) Finally, there are the laggards – those who may never adopt the new idea, and if they do it is long after the fact.

Now, the correspondence with marketing terms is imprecise, and may even be distasteful to some in the church, but human nature is, well, human nature, and how people respond to a new type of carpet cleaner has a lot of parallels to how they respond to philosophical and theological innovation.

More later...

11/25/2004

So how was that again?




In all the hoo-ha fuss over the recent election, one vote map I remember seeing that struck me was one where the states were colored blue/red in a vertical stripe arrangement with the stripe width/area proportional to the vote in each state. It took me forever to track it down again (bookmark 'em when you see 'em people!), but I finally found it on the political blog Wonkette.

Now, please note that there are no "red states" or "blue states" - there's a healthy sprinkling of everybody everywhere. Even the most extreme states were maybe 60/40, which is a big victory in political terms, but hardly monolithic.

One thing to note: vertical red and blue stripes would still make for a horrible, I mean seriously nasty, dress or shirt. I'm sure Clinton and Stacy (or Trinny and Susannah) would agree...

11/24/2004

Waiting in the Starlight

After spending the last few months being intrigued by the myriad facets of alternative worship (thanks Adam Cleaveland) and experimenting with a few things here and there, we (myself and our youth director) decided we should go for it and put together an alt worship Advent event. We've roped in a few other people to help with stuff and this is what we came up with...

First, reading the Advent section of Jonny Baker and Doug Gay's Alternative Worship book (awesome, by the way - buy it now!) the theme of starlight struck me. I mentioned it to D (she's the artsy one, I'm the musical one) and she married it to the waiting theme of Advent. So we had a title.

From there it quickly morphed to the notion of a star labyrinth - 8 points/stations, with an empty manger in the center. One of the creeds from the Alt Worship book seemed like a natural, so I set that to a background of 50 NASA pictures from space - various parts of the earth, planets, moons, solar flares, so that's one station. Another station will be "light" prayers (with candle lighting, of course) - a lot of them from Evening Prayer. Throw in a Jesse tree, a scripture station and you're almost set. One other station will be a set of 24 black and white photos to ponder and meditate and the last station will be a payer wall prompted by the question "what are you waiting for?".

Musically we'll start with about 20 minutes of live music. So far I've got Tim Hughes' Here I Am To Worship (which could be an official Advent song with a different bridge...), O Come Emmanuel, Come Thou Long Expected Jesus, and maybe (if I can get the music in time) a Maggi Dawn song Into the Darkness and some other stuff I'll figure out this weekend. Once that's over I've put together a mostly instrumental mix while people interact with the stations. Now, having lots of Enya and Vangelis CDs I'll confess to a weakness for going with what I've got. I also resisted the temptation to use some of my more favorite tracks that are just too overpowering for this. I did, however, stick with Delerium/Sarah McLachlan, even though it gets fairly intense and the vocals are potentially intrusive. But whatever... sometimes you just have to put in stuff you think works. All this stuff just feels right for "starlight"...

Here's the track listing (all nicely cross-faded with Nero - I love their software...) (let's see how the formatting works - not, I bet)

Name - Artist - Album
A Day Without Rain - Enya - A Day Without Rain
The Oracle Of Apollo - Vangelis - Direct
Shepherd Moons - Enya - Shepherd Moons
Raincry (Submerged) - God Within - Plastic Compilation Volume 1
First Approach - Vangelis - Direct
'S fagaim mo bhaile - Enya - Oíche Chiún [EP]
Silence (Michael Woods Remix) - Delerium/Sarah McLachlan - Chillout/A Nettwerk Escape
To The Unknown Man - Vangelis - Portraits
No Holly for Miss Quinn - Enya - Shepherd Moons
Alpha - Vangelis - Portraits
Pulstar - Vangelis - Portraits
Storms In Africa - Enya - Watermark
Sauvage Et Beau - Vangelis - Portraits
The Memory of Trees - Enya - The Memory Of Trees
Hymn - Vangelis - Portraits
Oíche Chiún (Silent Night) - Enya - Oíche Chiún [EP]

The goal is to start quiet, crank up the intensity in the middle a bit (Alpha & Pulstar) and then wind it back down, starting with the driving but lighter Storms in Africa. Oh, and it's all a nice 75 minute track on my iPod now, too.

So I'm pretty psyched about this. I can't wait (hah!) to see how it works out. And for once, the musicians can actually participate...




11/23/2004

Random Travel Musings

This last weekend my wife and I went back to Philadelphia for the weekend. We lived there from 1985 to 1990 and have some great friends who we haven't seen in their natural habitat since we left (they have visited us in Seattle.)

Anyway, even ten years ago the notion of taking a four day weekend trip to visit friends 2500 miles away was unlikely - insanely costly even, but now, there we were. I guess the older we get money means less and friendship means more. Disposable income is a wonderful thing...

Our flight out was delayed by three hours. Oh, not all at once, of course. First it was ninety minutes, then two and a half hours. Then we were late boarding, so it all added up to three hours. Why, you ask? Well, the contractors hired to change the engine oil the night before put THE WRONG KIND IN! So they figured this out somehow, and the wrong oil must be really, really bad, because it wasn't a "we''ll fix it later" kind of deal. No, they (US Airways) had to fly a special tech team up from Los Angeles to drain, flush and refill the engines with the right kind.

Regular readers will remember that I am an airplane guy (more design than maintenance, but you get the idea). I'm not freaked out easily, but you could have knocked me over with a feather when the pilot volunteered this story of gross incompetence. Well, technically you would have had to pry me from my jammed in seat next to the window first, then you could have knocked me over with a feather. You can bet I was paying close attention to engine noises on take off all the way up to cruising altitude. I can't imagine how badly freaked out the flyingophobic passengers were. On top of this US Ariways (trying to stave off bankruptcy) has given up providing meals (even on a five hour flight) but they will sell you a meal for $7. Oh, except they ran out halfway through the cabin. How do you do that when you had THREE EXTRA HOURS? Really...

When we got to Philly it was remarkable how 14 years can change a place. There's a new highway that makes it a snap to get to our friends house. What used to be a 40 minute wind through suburban stripmall hell is now a ten minute blast up the Blue Route. And that's now the only highway not under construction apparently.

For a rental car we ended up with a Chevy Impala, an old school full size behemoth, with typical spongy Chevy handling, underpowered gutless engine and squishy seats. Bleah. Made me long for my little Subaru WRX at home.

We didn't really do much out there - just sit and talk with our friends like we used to when we lived there. And why not? There may have been a small temptation to cram more stuff in, but why? We went there to see our friends and that's what we did. Their kids are 14 years older, and New Kids On The Block are no longer all the rage (thank you God for small mercies) but there are new challenges, like the first grandchild due in January.

Flying back wasn't a lot of fun, cramped into too little space for over six hours, but at least they didn't screw up a simple oil change this time.

All I have now is two quiet days at work then the four day Thanksgiving weekend. Yay.

11/22/2004

What does post-Modern mean to you?

Given that the emerging church, emerging culture and a whole host of things are based on postmodernism it might be a good idea to figure out exactly what it is. The trouble with defining what it means is that it has mostly been defined by philosophers. And gosh darn it, those guys converse in a language that bears no relation to English (or even American).

Just to underscore the point I’d like to bring in Noam Chomsky. Now nobody could be further from a Chomsky fan than I am. My opinion of him to this point is that he’s a classic academic liberal who hides behind the skirts of the very society he condemns. So color me shocked when I read this in Chomsky’s entry in Wikipedia:

Chomsky has written strong refutations of deconstructionist and postmodern criticisms of science:
"I have spent a lot of my life working on questions such as these, using the only methods I know of; those condemned here as 'science,' 'rationality,' 'logic,' and so on. I therefore read the papers with some hope that they would help me 'transcend' these limitations, or perhaps suggest an entirely different course. I'm afraid I was disappointed. Admittedly, that may be my own limitation. Quite regularly, 'my eyes glaze over' when I read polysyllabic discourse on the themes of poststructuralism and postmodernism; what I understand is largely truism or error, but that is only a fraction of the total word count. True, there are lots of other things I don't understand: the articles in the current issues of math and physics journals, for example. But there is a difference. In the latter case, I know how to get to understand them, and have done so, in cases of particular interest to me; and I also know that people in these fields can explain the contents to me at my level, so that I can gain what (partial) understanding I may want. In contrast, no one seems to be able to explain to me why the latest post-this-and-that is (for the most part) other than truism, error, or gibberish, and I do not know how to proceed."
Chomsky notes that critiques of "white male science" are much like the anti-Semitic and politically motivated attacks against "Jewish physics" used by the Nazis to denigrate research done by Jewish scientists during the Deutsche Physik movement:

This simply underscores for me the fact that the postmodern conversation is one that is not accessible to the casual observer, so I decided to embark on a Dave’s Cliff Notes version for enlightened lay people. I realize that for the literary academics postmodernism has some kind of precise definition, but I haven’t seen a single one that manages to integrate the scientific perspective, and for me, above all else, it is science that is the final nail in the coffin of Modernity. Who knew?

And in other news, a friend of mine told me was talking with an architect about postmodernity and she insisted that the only field where “real” postmodernity lies is architecture. In some ways this underscores the meta-postmodernity of the term. People can’t agree objectively on what post-Modern is.

One key thing for me is that post-Modernism (and I deliberately use the hyphen and capital to underscore the meaning of the term) is not something you can accept or reject – it’s here whether you like it or not. The Modern era is going, going, gone (eventually). Dead era walking.

The world of the Middle Ages didn’t ask for the Modern era, it wasn’t designed or planned by anyone, it just happened as a result of the Renaissance, the Reformation and perhaps the crowning glory, the Scientific Revolution. None of them were planned by anyone, they just happened. Not only that, but the change took place over at least two centuries, in reality more like four. I’m sure if I’d lived through that transition I wouldn’t have been able to make much sense of it and there’s nobody then who did either, probably not even Sir Isaac Newton.

The Modern era brought us the scientific method, a vast improvement on primitive superstition. We discovered the earth wasn’t flat and that it revolved around the sun, not vice versa. These earth-shattering revelations shook civilization to its core. The fact that they were actually true and verifiable didn’t make them any easier to swallow. On the positive side it appeared that by diligently exploring and experimenting humankind could eventually solve the mysteries of the universe. However, even the great Isaac Newton (and I hate how people diss him because he wasn't another 300 years ahead of his time) cautioned thus:

"Gravity explains the motions of the planets, but it cannot explain who set the planets in motion. God governs all things and knows all that is or can be done."


The peak of the modern era may well have been the 1920s. Why then? Because in the 1930’s Einstein’s Theory of Relativity finally gained acceptance and the world began to change again. Newtonian mechanics explained a lot that happened on the macro scale, but the atomic scale proved to be quite different.

It took three hundred years or so for humankind to come around to agree with Newton's quote above. After three centuries of scientific discovery we are no closer to solving the meaning of life. If anything, the more we have discovered, the more we have found there is yet more to know. When every question answered raised two more, the belief that we humans can figure out God, the universe and everything dissipated rather quickly in the latter end of the 20th century.

However, just like five hundred years ago, the realization that the end of an era is upon us isn’t as obvious while we are in the middle of it. I don’t know when the term “Modern era” was coined, but I’ll bet it wasn’t until long after the “Modern era” was upon us. By the same token, I doubt the Middle Ages were known as the Middle Ages to middle-agers. So while we know we are in an era that comes after the Modern era, the only thing we know right now is that it is the era after the Modern age, that is, post-Modern.

One distinction of the current transition is that it will happen much quicker than the Middle age to Modern era transition. Just as the printing press was the technology that drove the Modern age, the computer, recently augmented by the internet, is the technology that is now driving the post-Modern era. Electrons travel a lot faster than paper and it’s ideas that turn eras. The faster the ideas travel, the faster the change. Even so, the post-Modern transition has been upon us for seventy years or so, and will probably take several more decades to complete. Another facet of the speed of change is that we now have a world of scholars, with learning being almost universal now, rather than the prerogative of the privileged few in all of history prior to the 19th century.

So what are we to make of all this?

First, “post-Modern” is a transition phase, not the end point of the transition. Whatever the historians call the subsequent era, it won’t be “post-Modern”. What will it be called? I’ve seen a proposal for the “Creative Age” which I think fits with the likely outcome of ever-expanding universal education and discretionary time.

And here I'm going to take a short break, with part 2 coming soon, looking to the implications for the future.

11/17/2004

Um, not quite yet...

Sure, I should be dropping off to sleep right now, but I felt I had to give major props to Bob & Deb, a couple in my church who decided to take a leap and produce an amateur play at church this year. It all comes to fruition this weekend. The play is Cheaper By The Dozen based on the 1950 movie with a plot set in the 1920s, not the recent Steve Martin dreck.

Although the three official performances will all take place while Sue and I are gone, we did get to see the dress rehearsal tonight. So many of the kids in our church are in it, from 7 years old and up and wow, it was so much fun to watch. Way better than sitting home watching TV...

The funniest part was with the oldest sister of the family and her boyfriend. They are played by brother and sister, although it's ok because the most they do is hold hands. The rest of the youth group (most of whom came to see the rehearsal) were totally freaking out at the sibling ick factor. Hilarious ;)

Time for some Brotherly Love

No really, off to see our friends in Philly for the weekend - yes the same ones that came for a week and never saw Mt Rainier. That's 2378 miles each way FOR THE WEEKEND, people!

We lived there from 85 to 90, and believe me, it really lives up to its reputation as the town that booed Santa Claus...

Back Monday night, all being well.

11/16/2004

Mt Rainier - no really, it's there...




One of the most majestic sights I've ever seen is Mt Rainier, up here in the great Pacific Northwest. Rainier is about 50 miles south of Seattle and despite being 14,000 ft. high, is invisible a lot of the time (you know, rain and cloud and such). This shot was taken a week ago from the ferry dock at Kingston (across Puget Sound from Seattle) when Sue and I were away for a fabulous quiet weekend. Rainier is the fuzzy triangle just right of center.

This shot reminds me of our friends in Philadelphia because they came out to Seattle for a week one time and never saw the mountain once. Even though we drove them 7,000 ft. up one side of it.

One of these days I'll post a really good shot so you all can see it properly too.

Something really cool

It's an interesting feeling to open up you RSS reader, check your favorite blogs and find something like this post. What a great compliment... and responsibility.

It made me wonder why I started blogging a mere four months ago. Up to a point I'm not really sure why. Oh, it's the cool new hip thing to do, and I do like to blather on. Like a lot of extroverts, I think while I'm talking, and the way I blog is a lot like that. That's kind of why a lot of my posts have no serious logical flow to them (well at least until I go back and force something in...) It's more thinking out loud than anything else.

Often I end up somewhere unexpected, which is half the fun. Sometimes an even tempered or humorous piece turns into a rant and I wonder where it came from. Just putting your thoughts out for the world to see is a bit scary, too. Writing about difficult topics like gay church issues and abortion is tricky, because it's so easy to feel like you're going to alienate half your readership whatever you say. But I've always found that progress is made when we can disagree and talk through those disagreements rather than calling each other stupid. So I'd rather write about stuff like that than pretend I don't have strong opinions or don't care.

And that's one reason I appreciate Maggi's comment so much - I feel she writes in the same spirit (and way better than I do, btw...)

May God bless bloggers everywhere :)

11/14/2004

I Got Saved For Ten Bucks!

Yeah, really. It wasn't even a blue light special on the Trinity Broadcast Network! No, the local Blockbuster Video had the movie Saved in the used rack today (finally) and with the 2 for $20 deal that's how I got Saved for $10.

The movie has interested me for a while, since I saw it mentioned on Adam Cleaveland's blog and the TV ads. I was especially looking forward to the lampooning of the typical US fundagelicals. Given the alleged fundagelical conspiracy that swayed the recent election it seemed like waiting until now makes it even more relevant.

With movies these days I usually check out Rotten Tomatoes for a thorough rundown of the spectrum of reviews. At 59% it just marginally fails the "fresh" test (60% positive reviews) but it's certainly not putrescent like, say, Seed of Chucky (25%). Based on the range of reviews, it seems like it really requires some knowledge of the Christian faith to "get" the movie. The hip, secular reviewers seem completely bemused by the movie.

Most reviews love the first half of the movie, which is the more delicious skewering of the fundagelical mindset. Pastor Skip, the school principal, is a dead on composite of all the fundagelical youth pastors I've met and seen in action. The wannabe hip talk is particularly cringeworthy: "Alright! Alright! Who's down with G-O-D?", "Let's get our Christ on, let's kick it Jesus-style!" (that last one is pronounced Jaaay-zus, by the way).

The second half, according to a lot of reviewers, particularly the ones that didn't like the movie, is something of a letdown. I think this is because, rather than piling on, the movie shows how the caricatured fundagelicals (mostly Pastor Skip and Mandy Moore's character) have their own problems and humanizes them a great deal. While this makes for a less dark movie (this ain't Heathers, people) it brings us around to the point that all our lives are grey, not black or white.

p.s. I was thinking Eva Amurri (Cassandra, the very cute "bad" Jewish girl) looked familiar. Check out the IMDB entry, and there it is: she's Susan Sarandon's daughter. Yeah, it's not what you know, it's who you know...

11/12/2004

On the other hand...

With the other big election issue being gay marriage/union/whatever, this interview with Ellen Degeneres is timely and interesting.

I've always like Ellen, and I'm surprised that apparently so few people knew she was gay before she officially came out. Same with Rosie O'Donnell. Of course, Rosie O'Donnell instantly became the world's worst caricature of a lesbian when she came out, while Ellen has continued to be her laid back, pleasant, engaging self.

Phillips: "Are you surprised by the sexual orientation, gay marriage, that these are such hot buttons issues in American in 2004?"

DeGeneres: "Am I surprised? No. No. You know, I wish that I wasn't seen differently. I wish that people looked at me and just saw that I was a good person with a good heart. And that wants to make people laugh. And that's who I am. I also happen to be gay. And I would love to have the same rights as everybody else. I would love, I don't care if it's called marriage. I don't care if it's called, you know, domestic partnership. I don't care what it's called.
...
And at the same time I know there are people watching right now saying, you know, it's sick it's wrong, it's this. And it's like, I can't convince them that I'm not sick or wrong, that there's nothing wrong with me.

This is interesting because while there are some people who think gays are sick or wrong, but they aren't the majority (if the polls are to be believed). The world always seems to break roughly into thirds, and this issue is the same. One third of people will resist gay unions to the end, another third will push for it for all they are worth, and the middle third could swing either way (pun intended).

In the election I don't think the proponents of civil unions really understood what the middle third is looking for. And the rush to gay marriages earlier in the year was, in hindsight, a public relations disaster. If not even fairly liberal Oregon can be persuaded then there is still a long way to go.

Amazingly enough, I stumbled across Andrew Sullivan's website where there is an article way back to 1989 that is quite interesting. The one major problem with his argument is that the word "marriage" is such a hot button item that "gay marriage" as a term and concept is DOA.

My own thoughts are that the first thing that needs to happen is that church and state must be separated. The marriage process is the last remaining unholy alliance, with the church deeply entangled in the legal process of creating marriages. If we separate the legal from the religious, life would be much simpler.

The government is then only in the business of recording legal relationships between people and the religious institutions are then only in the business of blessing those relationships in whatever way they choose.

Or maybe that's just too simple.

11/11/2004

How convenient...

One of the big issues in this past election was abortion. Big issue - little common ground.

I had a conversation with a friend the other day wondering why the two extremes can't meet somewhere. Personally I think abortion is a horrible, terrible thing, but I can see how, once someone is in the terrible position of being pregnant in an unplanned way, that there are few good choices. The thing that really pisses me off about abortion proponents (and let's not kid ourselves, they are very pro) is their relentless defense of abortion under any circumstances. State funded, no less.

As someone conceived "out of wedlock" in the fifties I'm lucky to even exist. In the same circumstances today I'd have a 40% chance of existing at all, a 60% chance of ending up as blob of lifeless medical waste. Probably on a New Jersey beach.

It was, um, interesting to find that out at the age of 25. While my family wasn't exactly textbook, I had no idea my origins were so, well, illegitimate. Then I found out that my favorite aunt had been pregnant at 16 years old and gave her baby up for adoption. After being thrown out of the house by her father (my dad's dad) no less.

Not only that, I discovered at the age of 42 that my grandfather was the illegitimate son of some local landowner and a maid, and that he had only acquired the family name in his thirties, while my dad was a mere 7 years old at the time.

Ah, good times...

What's the point? I don't know, except maybe to indicate that you don't ever really know what's going to happen down the road. And that there's no such thing as a "normal" family.

But on to our fun topic of the day...

The Alan Guttmacher Institute is an interesting entity. Its goal is:

to protect the reproductive choices of all women and men in the United States and throughout the world. It is to support their ability to obtain the information and services needed to achieve their full human rights, safeguard their health and exercise their individual responsibilities in regard to sexual behavior and relationships, reproduction and family formation.

The description for pro-abortion of late has been "pro-choice". Well, I'm pro-choice, but maybe not in the commonly perceived way. AGI's goal includes the phrase "exercise their individual responsibilities in regard to sexual behavior".

Interesting, because the first exercising of such responsibilities is whether or not to have sex in the first place. That, my friends, is the ultimate choice (barring rape, of course, which as we see later is really a minor factor). After that it's all a case of natural consequences. Let me illustrate with one of my favorite stories:

A man is talking to a woman at a party.

He asks, "Would you have sex with me for a million dollars?".

She replies, "Well, I guess so."

He counters, "What about $20?".

"What kind of girl do you think I am?" she retorts.

"We've already figured that out," he says, "now we're just haggling over the price."


The AGI is so good at providing statistics about abortion. In the US, 52% of pregnancies are planned, so obviously 48% are unplanned. Hmmm...

They do assume that all abortions are the result of unplanned pregnancies which is fair enough I guess. Maybe there's the odd exception, but probably very few.

Of those 48% of unplanned pregnancies, 47% end in abortion, 40% in a birth and 13% in a miscarriage. So roughly 1 in 4 pregnancies in the US ends in abortion. That's 1.31 million a year. 2% of the female population between 15 and 44 has an abortion every year. That's one in fifty for the mathematically challenged. As the AGI proudly proclaims, abortion is one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures performed in the US.

Reasons for abortions vary, but "not ready financially", "not ready for the responsibility", "woman's life would change too much", "problems with relationship" and "too immature to have a baby" add up to 79% of the reasons. Apparently nobody checked the "too stupid to have unprotected sex when I don't want a baby" category, although I'm sure that would be a Vegas bookie favorite.

By the way, health problems with the fetus, mother or cases of rape and/or incest account for a measly 7% in total.

You might think abortions are mostly performed on teenagers. And you would be wrong. Less than 20% are performed on women younger than 20. Almost 50% are performed on women 25 and up. 67% are performed on women who have never been married, 17% on women who are currently married and the remaining 16% on the widowed or divorced.

Abortions are mostly for the poor, right? Wrong. Only 27% are performed on women at or below the poverty level. Admittedly that's higher than the incidence of women overall in that category, but it's hardly overwhelming. 25% are performed on women earning more than 3 times the poverty level.

Perhaps most telling is the fact that almost half of abortions (48%) are performed on women who have had a previous abortion. As Oscar Wilde may have written, to have one abortion is unfortunate, to have two is sheer carelessness. Yet these multi-abortion candidates are often seen as folk heroines of the abortion movement.

One thing the AGI decries is 87% of US counties have no abortion provider. Now these counties account for only 27% of the female population, so these are mostly rural counties. And let's face it, who wants to be known in a tight community as the local abortionist? It's hardly the kind of thing that endears oneself to neighbors. They're about as popular as the local porno director or oil company CEO, and it's much harder to blend socially into the background in close rural neighborhoods than in the big city.

Well, that was a fun and interesting tour through the world of abortion. I'm sure nobody goes looking for an abortion for kicks, but by the time a couple is faced with an unplanned pregnancy a bunch of bad decisions (aka choices) have already been made and have turned out badly. Are people really willing to deal with the harsh reality that their (lack of) plans have now gone wrong? Or is it really about "whatever is convenient for me"? I think it's this latter perception (and one borne out by AGI stats) that fuels the opposition to abortion as a throwaway means of after the fact contraception.

You can bend a lot of statistics to look any way you want. The pro-choice mantra used to be that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Pity they've never really worked on the last one, huh?

So where do we go from here? The only way to make abortion rare without making women carry unwanted pregnancies to term is to have less unwanted pregnancies. There are several approaches to that:

1) Don't have sex (as much) if you can't stand to get pregnant. This requires education and self control, so this would also imply fewer drunken parties, etc.

2) Use a reliable means (or two or three) of pregnancy control (why do we still call it birth control anyway?) Given the incidence of STDs condoms should be used routinely with anyone not trusted. And as condoms aren't reliable enough as a sole means of pregnancy control, then other means should be used too. However, those drunken parties are also not conducive to remembering to use protection...

3) Morning after pill. This is an interesting one. Philosophically it's no different than an abortion, but if you don't know for sure you're pregnant, it's more like the don't ask/don't tell deal. It's also the only really good counter to those drunken parties... Of course, there's the risk of hemorrhaging and overuse no doubt leads to some nasty effects on the body. I guess we'll find out from the French eventually. And then there's the problem of using it as a primary means of pregnancy control rather than a "next to last resort".

Complicated stuff...

11/04/2004

Fear and Loathing, Winners and Whiners...

As I've mentioned before, I didn't have a vote in the election, not being a citizen and all. That made me more like a spectator at a football game where I don't have a vested interest in either team. However, even when I watch a game like that I inevitably gravitate to one side or the other. I don't even know why I end up favoring one side or the other. So it was with the election and to my own surprise I found myself pulling for George Bush. I think that was mostly fueled by the sheer snobbery, elitism and arrogance of most of the Democratic pundits.

There's plenty of analysis of the election out there, of course, and it basically says that the Kerry campaign failed to connect with heartland America. The US is really two nations, the hip, urban, liberal coasts and the unhip, down to earth, rural(ish) conservative heartland. They are roughly equal in size and basically, they despise each other's beliefs. Liberals in particular love to write off the Deep South as stupid interbred hicks. Well, guess what? Even if that were true they vote, so get over it. Not only did Kerry not win, Bush made significant gains in the popular vote, making races close where they weren't last time around.

The fact that Bush won by 3% of the popular vote is hardly a mandate by any stretch of the imagination. On the other hand, it's about as good as it ever gets in this two party nation.

So what's my point? Well, the democrats are sitting here stunned and they're all kind of mad. And that whole "we despise those heartland hicks" vibe is throbbing with a million volts of electricity. Apparently when you're all pissed off it's OK to be rude and intolerant of people who disagree with you. It's one of those "I'm tolerant of everyone. Eell, everyone who agrees with me, anyway", kind of deals. Some examples:

People apparently aren't thinking about these issues in anything like a defensible, logical fashion. Oh really?


Never have I felt such anger, bitterness, and loathing not just for Republicans but for half of this country.
Nice, there's that "tolerance" I was looking for.

And the condescending "they voted out of fear" excuse:
There there are those Americans voted on other kinds of fears--the ones that we're less likely to admit that we have. Guess what people "fear"?

And the foreign vote:
The people of America have failed us today

This last one prompted a lot of outraged responses, too (many of them Kerry voters).

Yeah, really. Don't any dem voters think that maybe Kerry wasn't exactly the most scintillating of candidates? Better than Michael Dukakis, but then a half dead squid would also have been a vast improvement.

As for the gay marriage measures, maybe this is a wake up call to the gay lobby that calling your opposition "stupid hicks who just don't get it" (I paraphrase) is not a good strategy. The gay marriage wave this year obviously fueled a heavy backlash (even in Oregon, for crying out loud), and was another serious misstep.

As an example of missing the point, the Episcopal Church gay organization Integrity had the following to say:
Integrity is deeply concerned that voters in 11 states last Tuesday passed constitutional amendments limiting the definition of marriage to between a man and a woman. (A half dozen other states already have such language in their constitutions.) Instead of protecting the American family, such amendments legally discriminate against loving, committed same-sex couples-many of whom are members of Episcopal congregations.

<...>

Integrity challenges the national, diocesan, and congregational levels of the Episcopal Church to redouble their efforts to protect the civil rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

Rough translation: "The floggings will continue until morale improves". Heads up Integrity: You win this kind of battle by making friends and influencing people, not by pandering to your own choir.

One last reaction calls for a response. I work a lot with youth. I help run a youth group, I do Junior Achievement in a local high school teaching economics. Basically, I see a lot of teenagers, and nobody appreciates their potential more than I do. And then you get a pathetic effort like this. Man, what a bunch of dweebs.

11/02/2004

Sunset Over Mexico




Culiacan Mexico, Summer 2004

This was the view from the roof of our apartment on a Sunday night after a rainstorm. It was the night before we started building the house, so in some ways it was the calm before the storm as well as the calm after.

Maybe it's fitting as the sun sets on John Kerry's run at the presidency. As of 10 pm PST it looks like Ohio is the new Florida, but that it is inching inexorably George Bush's way and that makes it just about impossible for Kerry to pull this out. Guess that will piss off those folks at moveon.org, huh? May be time to move on...

Honestly I think we'll look back on this election and realize that Kerry and Edwards' "Cheney's gay daughter" gambit might well be their "Dukakis in a tank" moment. There's no doubt in my mind that this election was winnable from a Democratic point of view, but they weren't bold enough to break away from the typical political cat and mouse game.

Overall, though, this election, like all of them, will demonstrate the usual annoying propensity for winners to act like asses and losers to be whiny criers. So what's new?

On the local front it looks like Christine Gregoire , a very successful state Attorney General, will squeak out a narrow win as Washington governor, which should be a good thing. And the Seattle Monorail recall is failing (which means the Seattle monorail will go ahead) so everyone, let's celebrate the legacy of Phil Hartman, sorry, I mean Lyle Lanley...

Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
Like a genuine, bona fide, electrified, six-car monorail!

What'd I say? Monorail!

What's it called? Monorail!

That's right! Monorail!

monorail, monorail, monorail, monorail,

I hear those things are awfully loud...
It glides as softly as a cloud.

Is there a chance the track could bend?
Not on your life, my Hindu friend.

What about us brain-dead slobs?
You'll be given cushy jobs.

Were you sent here by the devil?
No, good sir, I'm on the level.

The ring came off my pudding can.
Take my pen knife, my good man.

I swear it's Springfield's only choice...
Throw up your hands and raise your voice!

Monorail!

What's it called? Monorail!

Once again... Monorail!

But Main Street's still all cracked and broken...
Sorry, Mom, the mob has spoken!

Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!
Monorail!

Mono... D'oh!
And the sun will still rise tomorrow... (too early for some, of course... hope the hangover's manageable Jen ;)

11/01/2004

More on CotA

This ended up much longer than I anticipated, so be warned ;)

Church of the Apostles (CotA) is an urban pomo church plant born out of the Lutheran Church and, since the ELCA and the Episcopal Church are now in full communion, both support it. Episcopal Life magazine wrote up an article on CotA recently.

I actually heard about CotA a long time before I got really interested in the emerging church and the postmodern expression of church. I was on a Diocesan commission when I first heard that a Lutheran pastor, Karen Ward, was looking to start some kind of ministry in the Seattle area. If I recall correctly, it was going to be some kind of ministry to young adults, probably on the East side (the ritzy suburbs). Now I have no idea if what I heard was accurate, but we did grant a few thousand dollars to help Karen get under way. I heard nothing more for a while and in the interim the vision apparently crystallized and ended up as a new church plant in funky, pagan, independent-minded Fremont, a Seattle suburb tucked between downtown and the University of Washington (also an Adobe campus).

Somewhere in there, my own parish donated some money (from the tithe of our capital campaign) to help them get started. I believe our money bought a computer projector and was much appreciated.

The first time I met Karen in person was October 2003 at our Diocesan Convention where she spoke. For many people she was the highlight of the convention. CotA had a table in the exhibits and so I got to talk to a few members as well as Karen. I was really looking forward to extending the relationship between our churches, including keeping some financial support going. Unfortunately, the aftermath of General Convention 2003 (the Gene Robinson story) began to make itself felt. People had already left our church and the financial reality started to become clear - and it wasn't pretty. We were running somewhere around 15-20% down on giving. Pledges for the coming year weren't looking any better. This is a a whole other story in itself, but it's a very important backdrop to the CotA story the past year.

Meanwhile, our Senior High youth group had attended a CotA service earlier in the year and in January 2004 our Junior High mission team, who were working in homeless shelters for a long weekend, also went there to worship. Of course, it's not like CotA is a million miles away from us anyway - maybe 25-30 miles so we can visit just about any time.

With all of this contact a few of us at my middle of the road Episcopal Church have hazy visions of doing something emergent within our own context. Who knows what it might be yet, but we're very interested in understanding what CotA is doing. CotA's big dream is to buy the old, disused Lutheran church across the street from their current Living:Room space. This property acquisition might seem very un-pomo in some ways, but their vision of it as a community center/coffee shop/worship space is very organic and in many ways also very Fremont.

There's the little matter of $400K to buy it and about the same amount to kit it out... Then I heard that a property the Episcopal Church had bought for a suburban church plant was not going to be used after all and that we are considering selling it. Of course, given our dire financial position there are those who want to shore up the operating budget with it. That's a bad idea. If we aren't going to invest it in a suburban church plant in Vancouver WA, why not invest it in a radical church plant that could be a model for a whole new way of doing church? And oh, by the way, the property to be sold is worth about $400K. Hmm, sometimes you have to pay attention when God whispers.

So, a word here and there (including emailing people from Hawaii while on vacation) and it looks like CotA may well get a decent chunk (but probably not all) of that money which, combined with other sources, will hopefully be enough to get the ball rolling. So that brings us up to this week. Karen and Ryan Marsh (the curate)introduced their video of CotA and the vision at convention. It's mostly short clips of interviews with CotA members and others, sometimes with Lacey Brown's (I presume it's her anyway - very cool) music overlaid. It starts by showing what they're up to today, showed a bit of a bit of the Quest story (a different but similar pomo hurch) at Interbay Covenant Church a few miles away, and finished with the vision for the church building, including clips with the architects.

With all the other preoccupations (like a 20% income shortfall) I don't think the convention was quite in the right place to hear about grand visions but it was still well received.

Through all this I'm continually amazed at Karen's energy and persistence. While the monetary situation doesn't look great right now, I think this past year has been the worst of it (that's the optimist in me :-) I'll be praying and helping wherever I can as the situation develops. Won't you pray for them too?

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