vendredi, juin 30, 2006

Opinion piece in today's Inquirer by EEE

Posted on Fri, Jun. 30, 2006
In summer, taking time away - from church
Almost always late for church, my family usually has to park in the overflow lot, situated somewhere between Minnesota and Siberia. But when we pulled in one Sunday just after school had let out, it was easy to nab a choice spot, one usually owned by the virtuous and the early.
On this unseasonably hot June day, the sun beat at the sanctuary windows at St. Matthew's Lutheran Church in Chester Springs, prompting thoughts of cool ocean breezes, icy mountain lakes, and chilled spirituous concoctions best not mentioned by a member of the clergy. With barely acknowledged envy, I wondered if fellow congregants had the means and the motives to yield to similar fantasies, for many of them were nowhere in sight.
Our pastor, Chad Brekke, chose that day to give a cogent and well-reasoned sermon on the top 10 reasons to worship year round. It was an act of brave, one might even say quixotic, defiance.
In case you are curious, Brekke made an excellent case. But he wasn't even preaching to the choir: They, too, had disbanded for the summer.
Brekke diagnosed "low-grade spiritual apathy" and suburban affluenza as part of the reason why church attendance drops so precipitously during the summer.
As a former parish minister, I've worked in churches that spanned the economic spectrum from working-class urban to affluent suburban. One thing they share: Once Sunday school is over for the year, many congregants apparently decide that summer worship can be consigned to the realm of a leisure-time option. There, it occupies a priority somewhere between weeding the vegetable garden and checking out the novels on the remainder table at Barnes & Noble.
Asked about this curious phenomenon, the Rev. Michael Pearson, rector of St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Wayne, mentioned a theory promulgated by his colleague, the Rev. Jane Cornman. She contends that because our culture has lost the sense of Sabbath rest, Sunday worship has become another obligation to be crammed into an already overcrowded schedule. Cornman urged that parishioners instead consider worship as an opportunity for restoration, an opportunity to rest from obligations and worship God.
On this subject, Pearson seemed a little ambivalent, to say the least. "If I had a house at the beach," he confessed, "I'd go away for the summer, too."
Truth be told, some clergy, particularly those in large, wealthy parishes, are thrilled to join the well-heeled swells in Kennebunkport or Provence for the summer break. Developing a network of old-boy contacts not only nets them a month in a chapel of ease but allows them to leave it to their assistants to cope with the prospect of preaching to half-empty churches.
My daughter's Catholic fifth-grade teacher, Margaret Brady, said that even if she was not the church organist, she would still attend church each Sunday. Friends and parishioners have told her, however, that they don't need to attend church when on vacation because when they are in the Grand Canyon or snorkeling near a barrier reef, God is present with them.
Try this common excuse - excuse me, rationale - out on a member of the clergy, and you are almost guaranteed a roll of the eyes and a skeptical grin.
"I don't see many people out there worshiping; I see them relaxing," Pearson said, asking mischievously why people get so upset about certain commandments' being broken and find it so easy to break the one about keeping the Sabbath day holy.
A chaplain from Oregon who contributes to a blog I write told me that in the summer the ranks of congregants in her local parish swell rather than drop. Many of the tourists lured to Oregon by skiing (apparently even during the summer), fishing, hiking, rock climbing, the annual Tour de Oregon, kayaking, and rafting still seem to find time to worship.
Could it be that they are so exhausted by their exertions that they are desperate to sit down for an hour?
Meanwhile, in this less spectacularly scenic area, clergy are still scratching their heads over how to bring the prodigals home for the summer. "A few weeks ago at our Fun Fair, I noticed the long lines of kids with their parents waiting for a pony ride out on the church lawn," Brekke said ruefully. "I wonder if you can rent a pony for the whole summer."
But even faithful clergy aren't immune to the urge to roam. You won't find Brekke at St. Matthew's for the next couple of weeks. He and a team of parishioners are on an annual mission trip in which they will both help out at an AIDS orphanage/school in Tanzania and experience the beauty of an African safari, wherein lies the seeds of a possible solution. Perhaps the summer pew drought would not be seen as a problem if all of the clergy simply got out of town, too.

jeudi, juin 29, 2006

Two or three dimensions of a tragedy

It took me a long time to stop brooding about Andrea Yates. Four years ago, when she drowned her five children, I wrote an editorial about the Yates case for the Inquirer. Writing about her was, in one sense, a very selfish act... it was my exorcism, an attempt to cope with a crime that I still find beyond belief. In one sense (perhaps because I have the luxury of being far from the scene) I still can't believe the Yates children are really dead. Yet as Andrea Yates is re-tried, those of us who are parents are forced to envision, again and again, what it would take to want to kill our kids. I can't go there. I've gotten angry at my children. I've yelled at them. I've even thrown a plate of food across the room when I was on overload. But take the life of my child? It is totally beyond my power to imagine. Perhaps now it is beyond Andrea Yates power to imagine too, now that she is medicated and sane. On one level, and I admit that this is failure of compassion on my part, I am repulsed by Andrea Yates. Reading the accounts of her weeping in the court, and of the photos of drowned children brings back an anger so primal that it has nothing to do with Christ. In the depth of my unforgiving rage (who am I to forgive her?) I see my own failure to love. Thank God that there are those who have a broader and perhaps deeper love than I do. Perhaps underneath my hatred lies fear...there but for the grace of God... I wonder , as I have wondered before, about the emotional life of her ex-husband, Rusty Yates. He was not charged in the murders. What could he have been like to leave those kids with a mother in the grip of profound depression? There are no answers in the Yates case. Only the knowledge that these babies are beyond the power of anyone to hurt them now. And the face of a tormented mother, who must live, until the day she passes to the greater judgement we all must face, with memories beyond my power or desire to understand. I suppose that is punishment enough.

mercredi, juin 28, 2006

Twice in a row

Hmmm...Apparently it has finally come to the attention of some Republican Senators that if President Bush doesn't like a law, he simply says it means something else. Why can't we get away with that? Officer, I thought that the 65 mile an hour level was discretionary. Freedom of religion...doesn't that mean we can smoke dope in our churches? I don't approve of the income tax, and I'm not going to pay it. Imagine...would that we could all live in Bush world!
Bush's Use of Authority Riles Senator
WASHINGTON, June 27 — Senators on the Judiciary Committee accused President Bush of an "unprecedented" and "astonishing" power grab on Tuesday for making use of a device that gave him the authority to revise or ignore more than 750 laws enacted since he became president.
By using what are known as signing statements, memorandums issued with legislation as he signs it, the president has reserved the right to not enforce any laws he thinks violate the Constitution or national security, or that impair foreign relations.
A lawyer for the White House said that Mr. Bush was only doing his duty to uphold the Constitution. But Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, characterized the president's actions as a declaration that he "will do as he pleases," without regard to the laws passed by Congress.
"There's a real issue here as to whether the president may, in effect, cherry-pick the provisions he likes and exclude the ones he doesn't like," Mr. Specter said at a hearing.
"Wouldn't it be better, as a matter of comity," he said, "for the president to have come to the Congress and said, 'I'd like to have this in the bill; I'd like to have these exceptions in the bill,' so that we could have considered that?"
Mr. Specter and others are particularly upset that Mr. Bush reserved the right to interpret the torture ban passed overwhelmingly by Congress, as well as Congressional oversight powers in the renewal of the Patriot Act.
Michelle Boardman, a deputy assistant attorney general, said the statements were "not an abuse of power."
Rather, Ms. Boardman said, the president has the responsibility to make sure the Constitution is upheld. He uses signing statements, she argued, to "save" statutes from being found unconstitutional. And he reserves the right, she said, only to raise questions about a law "that could in some unknown future application" be declared unconstitutional.
"It is often not at all the situation that the president doesn't intend to enact the bill," Ms. Boardman said. (What exactly is she saying?)
The fight over signing statements is part of a continuing battle between Congress and the White House. Mr. Specter and many Democrats have raised objections to the administration's wiretapping of phones without warrants from the court set up to oversee surveillance.
Last month, Mr. Specter accused Vice President Dick Cheney of going behind his back to avoid the Judiciary Committee's oversight of surveillance programs.
"Where will it end?" asked Senator Edward M. Kennedy, Democrat of Massachusetts. "Where does it stop?"
The bills Mr. Bush has reserved the right to revise or ignore include provisions that govern affirmative action programs, protect corporate whistle-blowers, require executive agencies to collect certain statistics, and establish qualifications for executive appointees.
Senators and two law professors before the panel said that if the president objected to a bill, he should use his power to veto it — something he has not done in his six years in office.
Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, said the expansion of executive power would be the "lasting legacy" of the Bush administration. "This new use of signing statements is a means to undermine and weaken the law," she said.
What the president is saying, she added, is "Congress, what you do isn't really important; I'm going to do what I want to do."
Ms. Boardman said the president had inserted 110 statements, which senators said applied to 750 statutes, compared with 30 by President Jimmy Carter. The number has increased, she said, but only marginally, and only because national security concerns have increased since the attacks of Sept. 11 and more laws have been passed. She acknowledged that the increase might be construed as "a lack of good communication" with Congress.
But Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, said the committee was making too much of the statements. "It is precedented," he said, "and it's not new."
Senators said they had been expecting a higher-ranking official from the office of legal policy, and Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on the committee, chastised the White House for not sending "anybody who would have authority to speak on this."
"But then, considering the fact that they're using basically an extra-constitutional, extra-judicial step to enhance the power of the president, it's not unusual," he said.
Apparently the White House assumes (presumes) that they are the sole interpreters of the Constitution. With a sycophatic Congress, wobbly Democrats, and the Roberts court, they may be correct.

mardi, juin 27, 2006

At war with liberty

WASHINGTON, June 26 — President Bush on Monday condemned as "disgraceful" the disclosure last week by The New York Times and other newspapers of a secret program to investigate and track terrorists that relies on a vast international database that includes Americans' banking transactions.
The remarks were the first in public by Mr. Bush on the issue, and they came as the administration intensified its attacks on newspapers' handling of it. In a speech in Nebraska on Monday, Vice President Dick Cheney repeatedly criticized The Times by name, while Treasury Secretary John W. Snow dismissed as "incorrect and offensive" the rationale offered by the newspaper's executive editor for the decision to publish.
"Congress was briefed," Mr. Bush said. "And what we did was fully authorized under the law. And the disclosure of this program is disgraceful. We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America."
The New York Times, followed by The Wall Street Journal and The Los Angeles Times, began publishing accounts of the program on Thursday evening. New York Times

Remember Henry II's famous words about his former friend and Archbishop, the soon to be martyred Thomas Becket- "will nobody rid me of this turbulent priest"? As far as I can tell, nobody at the New York Times qualifies for martyrdom (yet), but if the Administration succeeds in its attack upon the "Grey Lady" then the editors and reporters who broke this story do deserve a special place in pantheon of First Amendment champions. In a democratic system, there is a tendency, when one element is completely out of whack, to try to find homeostasis, or balance. In prosecuting a "war on terror" (with no end), the Bush Administration apparently thinks that it is completely above the law. There are legitimate legal questions about the NSA eavesdropping program. That's probably the more frightening one. Given that the details are only now emerging, who knows if the program to survey the banking records of millions of Americans was legal? George and Dick and their colleagues have tried, with an activist way of governing that puts the Warren Court to shame, to create new legal fictions that allow them unquestioned freedom. What seems most infuriating to them is that they were discovered. One delicious irony in the banking case is that the Wall Street Journal, the bastion of conservative editorial thought, also broke the story. If the Times goes down, the Journal will be up there in the dock with it. Apparently some legal scholars don't think the administration, and its fanatical cronies on Capitol Hill, can make a good case for prosecution under the Espionage Act. It would almost be worth it to see them try, so that we can begin strengthening the boundaries around a group of compulsive men who act as though they were despots, not democrats.

lundi, juin 26, 2006

On the road with somebody's baby

It's been a crazy week here on the Wet Coast. Some strange weather system stalled over us has meant that we've gotten rain for three days straight (or maybe four, it feels more like a week). Our basements are flooded, our septic systems runneth over, and our roads are wet on one block and impassable two streets down. I have a feeling that others are feeling my sense of paranoia about global warming, rising seas, Biblical floods and changing weather patterns. I envision most Mid-Atlantic state residents glued to their computers, emailing one another about the forecast and watching the Weather Channel. In seach of comfort, they make frequent trips to the freezer for more ice cream. Occasionally, they fearfully check the basement floor to see if water is seeping in. Earlier this evening, I'd had enough of feeling cooped up, and I drove down to the Park for a run. I'm not insane enough to run in the park in a storm. The street, however, was just fine. As one would expect everyone else was home behaving themselves. The only residents out in the rain were the songbirds, swooping and singing and finding branches on which to perch and observe any traffic below As I ran up the hill, I noticed something on the road. As I came upon it, I realized a tiny black bird with an orange breast and an orange hat sat right smack in the center of Chalfant Road. Of course, I stopped. Call me a follower of St. Francis, or just a crazy dame, but I asked the bird what it was doing in the road. Was it hurt? One silvery foot lay splayed out in front of its bony little body, while the other was approximately where it was supposed to be. Sweat pouring down my face in the humid air, I ran through my choices. None of them were good. I only knew that I could not abandon it on to the brutality of some oblivious SUV hog. Driving a little too fast the evening before, I had killed a squirrel-could it be that I was being given a chance to do something differently? The little songbird stared at my with its bright black eyes. Why would it have let me get so close if it wasn't injured? Above us the other members of its family swooped, twittering and talking. The rain outlined the bones on its back, drenching its furry neck, running down its tail. But as I took out my cell phone to call friends a couple of houses away, the little bird gathered its feet under it and soared, joining its family in the green branches, leaving me alone on the road. I have no idea why this lovely wild singer let me get so close-perhaps it was a baby who didn't know any better. But I was happy for the opportunity to see it gloriously clad on the tarmac-and much more thrilled to see it fly home.

dimanche, juin 25, 2006

Dating games

(I apologize to those of you who tried to move from my blog to Pontifications, ended up in never never land and didn't get your diet of conservative Catholicism today. I have no clue as to what I did, because the code looks fine, but I will eventually go back and see if I can fix it.)

WARNING: SOME of you will consider this frivolous. You may ignore it and wait for me to regain my sense of propriety. You might want to come back in a year or two. For the others- to the subject at hand: I am now at the point where I am actually considering eventually dating. Men. Not just my kids at the Exton Mall on a Saturday night (if we get really creative, we go to the Indian vegetarian restaurant in another shopping center).

Having surveyed the online dating scene (because most of my married friends apparently only have married friends and divorced or single women ones, like me) I have come to a couple of tentative conclusions.

What are you seeing out there, Elizabeth? As a writer, I've noticed that there's an awful lot of flowery language out in the cyberworld. I don't know what women say in their profiles (I've tried to snoop, but I don't want to freak them out by appearing in their "viewed" list) but guys my age seem to have an amazingly romantic view of relationships.

Apparently their perspective is unsullied by divorce, years of single bliss, or any of the curve balls life throws at them. My sense is that we Americans are good, too good, at romanticizing marriage, and then getting horribly disillusioned when we fall out of "love." Remember what they said about the Bourbon dynasty in France? They learned nothing and forgot nothing.

So, Elizabeth-would you date a younger guy? I would prefer to date a younger guy. And it's not because they make me look good (though that's a nice idea). Although younger guys are also romantic, they seem more at ease around women in general. Some have lots of energy and imagination. In addition, they are not as likely to be embittered by a previous marital relationship. Which isn't to say that there aren't lots of great middle-aged fellows around...I'm open to persuasion!

Any other words of wisdom, Elizabeth, or are you saving them for the p.m. talk shows? I'd make a lousy dominatrix (but give me time). I hate to hurt people's feelings. But rejection is part of the dating game, a part that has not changed through the years. It's a wonderful thing when people connect, but it can't be forced. Judging from some of the interesting permutations of relationship possible on such sites as Craigslist, I've got a feeling that I'm also a little on the old-fashioned side when it comes to the dating scene out there. The fact that there is no screening on some of these sites allows for some folks with tastes that are slightly off the beaten path to indulge their fantasies.

I'll keep you posted as time goes by. Do I sound too practical? Maybe a little sprinkling of stardust wouldn't hurt!