mardi, décembre 23, 2014

"Christ Actually": a palatable God for an age of skepticism


My review of  "Christ Actually", James Carroll's ambitious attempt to make Jesus palatable to modern skeptics.

samedi, décembre 06, 2014

When police came to my rescue

There's been a lot of cop-bashing  in recent weeks.  People are quick to draw general conclusions from specific incidences.

Clearly, various police departments need reform and some officers need to be reined in - put a gun in someone's holster, and they run the risk of becoming a different person entirely when they feel under threat.

In addition, I'm not, it need hardly be said, African-American.  Last night at my gym I spent some time chatting with the fitness supervisor, who is an African-American male. He's been stopped by local police more than a few times.

 It was painful to listen to his story,  but educational for me.

That said, being female still carries its own particular vulnerability. Generally, I wouldn't be stopped by a policeman unless I was doing something wrong - but I am now and then the target for the mentally unstable, oversensitive to the strange coincidence, or put in the spotlight because of my public persona.

 In some of those situations, having a good relationship with local police has meant a lot to me.

A year or two after I moved in here, I came home to music blaring from the basement. Grabbing my car keys, I hustled out to the car, and called the police. Within minutes they were here, to investigate what turned out to be a mysterious case of alarm clock radio. Silly, I know - but to a female coming back to a house alone (a rare ocurrence), their search was reassuring in the extreme.

A few years ago, a professional on the western Main Line began to write me angry and frankly bizarre emails after I politely said "no thanks" to his advances.  A visit to the police in the borough where he lived was actually most illuminating - and he hasn't tried to reach me since.

More recently, departments worked together in collaboration with my editors,  on the case of a man in the Lancaster area who had become obsessed with me and was sending me strange messages.

There have been other times when I've felt concerned, but haven't called the local gendarmes - and other times when the safety of my children was involved, and I did.  It's wonderful just to know that they are available, 24/7, though I'm careful about involving them.

For this single mom, it does take a village - neighbors, friends, family,  all keeping an eye out. And for those police, part of the network, I am and will always be, grateful.

American rabbi's message to Israel: for the love of Zion, don't pass that bill!

For the love of Zion, Israel, don’t pass this bill, says American Rabbi - LancasterOnline: Faith Values


samedi, novembre 29, 2014

jeudi, novembre 20, 2014

Dumb and dumber: why we have surrendered to the Internet, and what we can do about it

Welcome to USA online.

You can check out any time you like (we might be checked out a lot of the time),but honey, you can never leave.

We are a nation of clickers, tweeters, bloggers, uploaders, video surfers and social media addicts.

What's it done for us lately?

Are we smarter?  Rocking those deeper friendships? Using our time more efficiently?

Retaining information (useful information, that is)?

Or do we, as author Nicholas Carr suggests in his book The Shallows , spend our time skimming the surface instead of digging deep - always on the prowl, never at rest?

Here's  the acid test:  do you find yourself checking your phone during the movies, in the car, at the grocery store, or, God forbid, in church? Weddings? FUNERALS?

Thought so.

The electronic revolution of the past few decades has done us a lot of good. No argument there.

Information we might once have spent hours searching for in some dusty library back alley is now at our fingertips.

High school friends we once hid in janitor's closets to avoid can find us on Facebook and great-aunt Mabel knows what we had for breakfast.

We can work across cultural, linguistic, and sometimes, even political boundaries.

The trove of riches seems endless: access to movies, first-run t.v. series, gardening tools. imported chocolate (a fetish of mine).

But in our virtually bloated world it is becoming increasingly possible that we have surrendered, without even noticing, the traits that make us different from other species - the capacity for reflection, for judgment, and even, perhaps for moral choice.

Because lists are all the thing, I created one for you - a short summary of five ways the virtual world has invaded, and in some cases hijacked our capacity to make wise choices.

Too much distraction.

As I'm writing, a story from my social media network pops up on the right side of my screen.  Five, four, three, two... if I don't click on it, right now, it will be gone. So I hustle on over.

Honestly, two hours later, I can't tell you what I was reading. I think it was about President Obama, and the Republicans - or something. Know what I mean?

How many times a day are you moved to laughter, or tears by a moving picture or story you see online? A seemingly unending parade of tragedies and facts, funny vignettes and passionate rants ceases after a while to inspire.  Eventually, it begins to overwhelm, to paralyze, to create a feeling of cynicism or inertia.

And that's not even to mention the dangerous power of online media in the wrong hands.

Too much access to our precious personal information.

My line of thinking generally goes something like; "I'm not doing anything illegal, so what do I have to worry about if the government, my cell phone provider and my main email link to the outside world know that I'm sitting in a Wegman's with a bottle of Aquazero waiting for my son to finish up his meeting?

But don't take my word for it.

Take that of Washington Post writer Caitlin Dewey:

"According to Google, I am a woman between the ages of 25 and 34 who speaks English as her primary language and has accumulated an unwieldy 74,486 e-mails in her life. I like cooking, dictionaries and Washington, D.C. I own a Mac computer that I last accessed at 10:04 p.m. last night, at which time I had 46 open Chrome tabs. And of the thousands and thousands of YouTube videos I have watched in my lifetime, a truly embarrassing number of them concern (a) funny pets or (b) Taylor Swift."

I doubt Ms. Dewey leads a secret life.

And I truly hope that you don't.  Because if you do, it's very possible that someone knows exactly where you were last night.

That would be Uber, the service you call for a ride and a spy. You pay for the ride. The spying is free.

Too much snark.  I have a great group of Facebook friends (in fact, I never see updates from at least half of them, so I suspect they are off living their lives).  

All of them, as far as a I know (and, as middle-aged woman with a medium to low public profile, I don't have thousands) are kind, polite men, women and teenagers who are a positive influence on others. I hope that's the way they think  of me, too.

Except when we hustle over to the dark side, that is.  Would you have the kind of (excuse me) dumbass argument with a friend over a cup of coffee or a dinner table?

I can't imagine how many friendships have been ruined because someone lifted a curtain on what they were really thinking - and we saw way too much.

Even if you are an innocent bystander to someone else's train wreck, it's hard to scrub away the gore.

Let's not even talk about Twitter: more carnage, less filling.

Too much sharing. 

Promise you.  Before I saw Kim Kardashian's rear end, I never once thought about it.  Now it's everywhere (Ellen, what WERE you thinking?).

And do I really care what Ashton Kutcher thinks about Uber?

 The Daily Beast is betting that I do. 

A lot of what is tweeted and retweeted, shared on FB and downloaded from internet sites of all sorts is fast food for the mind that often leaves bad taste behind.

The real damage occurs when someone shares (we are naturally social people) something sensitive, like childhood sexual abuse or a struggle with addiction - and then finds him or herself the object of online vitriol.

Your heart is precious,   So are your relationships. Think hard before you open them up to comment, because you never know how a pathological stranger might ruin your day - or someone else's life.

Finally: isn't it possible that perhaps there are too many lists, charts, and explainers?

Ten things you really need to know about mowing the grass.  Five key facts about stink bugs.  Relativity theory,  explained in one chart.

In the spirit of full disclosure (only not too full, I don't want you to be horrified): I write listicles. I probably will continue to do so.

People read them.  Readers share them.  The universe of explainer sites has exploded over the past five or so years.

But does this motley assortment of arbitrary ideas plucked from the mind of a geek stuck behind his monitor in Duluth, or even that of a near and dear friend, mirror what's important in real life?

On that, the jury is still very much out.

What can you do to a. reduce temptation and b. reclaim your mind and soul?

 A short, and totally arbitrary list from this geek in southeastern Pennsylvania:

1.  Take a hike.  Really.   Escape from the barrage.  You'll be surprised at how capable you are of original, unmediated thoughts.

2.  Read a book with real pages.

3.  Pick up your phone and call a friend, instead of messaging them.

4.  Exercise your eyes by going to a museum, or the local park.  The world is both bigger and smaller than what we see online.

5. Focus.  Appreciate.

6. Be present to your life.

It's short. It goes by fast. You know this. Why are you sitting here, reading this? Get going. I am.

vendredi, octobre 24, 2014

Whose life is it anyway?

It's time, I thought as I trod up and down on the Stairmaster.  Time to talk to the superintendent, or the headmaster.

But that's crazy, another voice said. Nothing like mass murder by a depressed or an enraged student would ever happen at my son's high school.

I'm pretty sure that the teachers, the administrators, the kids at Marysville-Pilchuck High School never thought that their homecoming prince would stride into the cafeteria, kill a fellow student, wound four other students, and turn the gun on himself.

We don't know where he got the gun.  Given that he was probably not more than 15, he might have taken it out of his father's closet, or known where dad (or mom) kept the key. 

I have neighbors who have guns for target-shooting and hunting.   I suspect that other people in our quiet exurban community have them. But I also know that the percentage of people who own these lethal weapons continues to decline.  

Yet, paradoxically, we live in a country where it has become easier and easier to carry guns in public, to take them into grocery stores and national parks, to buy as many as we can stuff into our closet - to let nine year old girls onto target ranges.

And there are enough people who believe that President Obama (timorous about the gun lobby) and the Democrats (many of whom are huge gun-rights advocates wholly owned by the NRA) want to take their guns away (abject stupidity) so that, massacre after massacre, nothing seems to change.

But it's not just guns. Guns are a symptom of a much larger problem. From video games to movies to the abuse that goes on behind closed doors, we marinate in violence.  In colleges, hazing rituals can kill. .

Some call it freedom.  But is a nine-year old who accidentally kills her instructor on a rifle range free?  Are the students of Marysville free? Is my family free when we have to game the odds that the irate driver behind us or the guy in the movie theater arguing with the usher might have a handgun holstered under his shirt?

Perhaps we need to rethink our definitions of freedom.

I'll tell you one thing.

I'm darned tired of seeing weeping children on a playground, clutching the hands of their parents. The pain in their faces sears my soul, as it perhaps does yours, too. 

Sick of hearing about policemen and sheriff's deputies mowed down by madmen (good men with guns who never had a chance). 

What's perhaps most frightening is what it says about us - sheepish and angry, defiant or ashamed, divided between those who want to be the biggest bully on the block and those who are sick of being bullied.

I don't want our kids to think we have to live like this. 

Or that they might, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time, have the terrible misfortune to die that way. 

mardi, septembre 30, 2014

Time to stop failing our girls

Charlottesville, Virginia.

The very name conjures up gentility, history, marble columns, and educational ideals that can be traced back to one of the nation's founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson.

When you think about Charlottesville, you don't imagine young women barely out of high school being abducted, assaulted and disappearing.

But that what seems to have happened to as many as five women, including one Virginia Tech student, Morgan Harrington, whose remains were found in a farm field in 2009 several months after she had disappeared while leaving a Metallica concert.

Now police apparently have found forensic evidence that connects Jesse Matthew, a suspect in the disappearance of UVA student Hannah Graham, with Morgan Harrington. 

Five young adults disappear, possibly all victims of one pathological killer, and no one thinks to connect the dots until now?  No wonder, as a commentator said on CNN this evening, that the people of Charlottesville are outraged.

Why isn't anyone educating young women that it's not safe to go wandering around town at night? Why isn't there more aggressive education about the dangers of too much alcohol (though it's not clear that Hannah Graham had been drinking, she did appear "disoriented") and enforcement of underage drinking laws?

God knows, I'm not blaming her desperate parents.  It seems to me that underneath this latest string of tragedies lies a cold truth - as a society, we are still lousy at protecting our girls.

One in five girls is the victim of sexual abuse.  Sexual coercion is probably under-reported for many reasons, from shame to the fear that if they tell someone in authority what happened, they may not be believed.

We tell a  young girl that she can be whatever she wants to be - as long as she  follows a path that doesn't get in the way of the aspirations of the man she may marry.

On the other hand, our young men often grow up in households in which it is tacitly assumed that because mom does the laundry and cooks dinner, that's the way it should be.  If they don't have a male role model demonstrates that it's just as manly to change a diaper as it is to coach Little League,  that gentleness can also be strength, that women are just as valuable as men, then they may take the easy way out when it is offered - wouldn't you?

Instead of teaching flexibility, compromise, complexity, and the ability to think on their feet, we buy into, or rebel against, outmoded gender roles that don't give our girls the tools they need to navigate a society in which violence against females is still shockingly common.

Meanwhile, we feud over so much that really doesn't matter, bask in the achievements of our children, or, conversely, compare ourselves to other parents and constantly find ourselves wanting.

And behind our anxieties, the ceaseless thrum of middle-class concern over grades and daycare, breastfeeding and lunches, soccer and math grades, is the constant background of violence, both specific and random.

As a culture, we are sending out our babies, the girls we want to be confident and strong, vulnerable and kind, compassionate and brilliant, into a world in which, too often, they are at risk.

Talk about a war on women.

Until, as a society, we can figure out how to support each other and stand up against the insidious voices that still dictate how girls and women should behave, until we raise them to be as strong (mentally if not always physically), as their brothers, until we create a society in which there are no excuses for rape and abuse, then there will be more heartbroken families, more disappearances and more tears.

In a society in which young girls were truly valued someone would have been around to help 18-year-old Hannah Graham get home safely that night - or better yet, not have ventured out there at all.

The work of raising our daughter has only just begun. God help us if we become complacent.  

lundi, septembre 15, 2014

The fractured soul of the Episcopal Church

To catch my train back to the exurbs, I had to leave the  rollicking service early.

Candidly, I didn't mind. 

 I hadn't had such a large dose of Wisdom (a female figure that sometimes seems to stand beside, sometimes compete with the Trinity in alternative liturgies) in a long time - and she didn't seem to be working her magic on me.  

The music was lovely. The choir was exuberant. The preacher was novel. The congregation was enthusiastic. 

I just wasn't sure what, or who, it was meant to celebrate.

Leaving, I couldn't help feeling that those who had crafted the service wanted a liturgy that echoed their own vision of a different sort of church - but were stuck with the skeleton of the church they were forced to inhabit. 

As are we, torn in the 21st-century between doubt and faith, cynicism and belief, the imagined security of the past and the scary questions of the future.

As I slipped out of the front doors of the large 19th-century Gothic structure, I stopped and muttered, in a most curmudgeonly fashion to a friend: "What is going on with the Episcopal Church? Is this what we have become"?

My friend, a long-time diocesan priest, didn't seem to be rattled at all. "We'll find our way back" he assured me.  He's a lot more seasoned than I am. And he doesn't freak out easily.

I'm not optimistic.  And it's not because I want a church that puts the chants and penitential prayers of the 1920's, or even the 1970's on speed dial until they become rote and empty. As someone who attends a contemporary service, I am aware that these songs, once so fresh, can also become rote and empty unless touched by the Holy Spirit. Anything once new can become trite if we don't commit ourselves.

But this wasn't the only recent service I have attended in which the Episcopal liturgy was altered to suit the predilections of the people who designed it.

It made me wonder how many clergy we have left in the Episcopal Church who can say the Nicene Creed with an open heart to much, if not most. of the statement of faith for which so much blood was shed (most of it probably quite wastefully - killing someone with a sword or a few arrows is not the way to convince them they are wrong). 

Perhaps I too can be accused of treating the creed a bit arbitrarily. It doesn't matter to me personally whether Jesus was born of a virgin or not. In other words, it's not essential to my faith that I believe that particular assertion or don't. And I don't really care whether you believe it or not.

 I'll happily share in a Rite I service now and then. The language is gorgeous, and the faith of the parishioners who attend inspiring. But I confess that a steady dose of 1928, with its heavy penitence and 'mankinds' would chafe. Using "mankind" all the time, as some Christians do represents a very particular kind of cultural perspective.  In our denomination, it would be like calling a black person a Negro after they had asked you for decades not to do so. 

Yet it troubles me considerably to think that priests and laypeople frustrated (to some extent, justifiably) at a certain lingering reluctance to find ways to be open to a God beyond gender strive to remedy this by creating a fourth member of the Trinity, reducing the unique nature of Christ's incarnation, or turning the Resurrection into a lovely bedtime story for frightened children.

Clergy, in particular, have a lot of room in which to wander.  

Like faculty in a university, they are often way out ahead, or perhaps to the side, of the men, women and children they are serving. And if they doubt, they have more freedom to let these questions play out in their professional lives, using the authority of their office to bring laypeople along with them. 

"So many clergy are remaking the church in their own image - and I have to confess, that scares me. It's one thing to help laypeople think (feel, pray) through their own beliefs, and quite another to make it an environment in which pastors/shepherds can stand at the altar, mutter the words, and fake it until they make it. I worry that our church is becoming an empty temple to whatever conventional wisdom espouses" I wrote an acquaintance recently.

I am not at all sure that we know who we are. Which is not to say that I think any denomination has a hammerlock on righteousness. Au contraire --there are none so smug as those who are sure they have a direct line to the Almighty. 

But before we try to remake the church in our own image, we might want to ask ourselves whether what we will end up with when we are done is what would have drawn us in, all those years ago, when our faith was young and fresh - and the world full of wonder.

Somehow, I doubt it.  

samedi, septembre 13, 2014

Into the mouths of babes

As the theological perspective on childhood has shifted, many churches have changed their policies on when children can receive communion.In some denominations, infants may be fed at the altar rail. Has anyone been paying attention?

When may young saints commune? - LancasterOnline: Faith And Values

samedi, août 16, 2014

samedi, août 02, 2014

Amid disagreement, they find integrity in Christ

Meet the Rev. Dave Wood, who pastors a church in the town of Lincoln VT.  Nestled below the rugged Green Mountains, the community that includes a few B&B's and a general story is a place where porches are gathering places - and community counts.

Column: In Lincoln, an old friend and a renewed faith - LancasterOnline: Faith And Values

mercredi, juillet 30, 2014

My commentary on 40th anniversary of the ordination of the Philadelphia 11

samedi, juillet 12, 2014

The frayed tie that binds

I put down the phone on the table.

Then the tears begin to fall.

I've held them in over the past few days.

Nothing epic has happened.  There is no HBO-sized tragedy.

It is a series of moments, over the past few days, that has stretched me to almost a breaking point.

Wednesday night one of our cats, a black and white fireball called Inky, started to cough.

"Do you think there's something wrong with Inky?" I asked my son.

"No" he said, wandering from the kitchen to the living room couch, where he was watching episode #934 of "The Wire."

The next day, instead of switching his tail at a chipmunk on the deck, or waiting for me to anoint his body with water from the hose in the downstairs tub, Inky lay heavy-lidded on the bed.

When I called his name, he stared listlessly at me.

That afternoon I took him to the vet.  Cats don't normally like cars - and they know how to let you know that. Often.

 Dr. Levin wasn't sure what the diagnosis was, bur gave him an intravenous antibiotic, fluids and "kitty tylenol" ( the real stuff is toxic for cats, by the way), and sent me home with instructions: call if he isn't getting better.

I came home to an empty house (save for our other cat, a sweet and shy blind orange short-hair), and fell asleep on the couch.  When I awoke, Inky was snuggled against me, white paws resting on my arms.

Friday he seemed a little less lethargic, but still not his usual 'living large' feline self.

Give it another day, the vet advised.

Friday night, one side of his face was swollen.

Should I go to the animal hospital? Should I wait until morning?  I dithered.  For a few years, I have avoided yearly check ups because it's so tough to get this guy into a cat carrier.

We've lived alongside cats for years.  But like England and the U.S., Inky and I have a "special relationship."  By far the brightest of the felines who have peopled our houses, he is a challenging, energetic, and affectionate household companion - it's hard  not to be exasperated by his chutzpah, even harder not to love him without reserve.

The kid's dad had asked me how Inky was doing the day before, and he's not even an animal lover...but no word from my son (our daughter was away, and didn't know he was sick).


Finally, around ten last night, I picked up the phone and called my son at his dad's house, confessing my confusion and exhaustion.

Do you want me to come up there? he asked me.

I could use your help tomorrow, I said.  But you might be busy tomorrow morning. Yes, I am, he said.

Nothing more.

I'll let you know if I have to put Inky down, I told him, and said goodbye.


I managed.  Crammed the cat into his carrier, discussed possibilities with the vet,  get instructions for medications I'm not sure I can administer, then drove home with Inky's condition still ambiguous.


Then the phone rang.

Was i free to bring his sneakers down to his father's house today? He needs to take them to Philadelphia, where he will be working with severely disadvantaged kids this week on a team from our church.

Yes, I said.

After all, what else was there to say?

mardi, juillet 01, 2014

The great, shadowy, shadowed Thomas Eakins and his clergy friends

samedi, juin 07, 2014

Why I'm not a "feminist"

Labels distract. Provocative labels distract absolutely. 

Though they are sometimes necessary for the sake of brevity,  descriptors like "feminist," "evangelical" or "civil rights movement" are susceptible to some many interpretations that, however they began (someone's proud appropriation), they all too often become either generic or cudgels with which to beat your ideological foe.

I prefer to see myself, whether I'm delusional or not, as an advocate for human rights.

One of the most toxic effects of the debate over language (and yes, I know, naming reveals a lot about what we think about ideas, people or beliefs), is how it distracts us from the work at hand.

After all, trying to change abuse and violence is much harder than debating what to call it. Tossing words like virtual grenades back and forth is sometimes a way of avoiding have to confront the challenges in front of us.

There are multiple places around the world where women are denied even the most basic human rights.

Anyone with a soul was stunned by the murder of a young Muslim married woman by her relatives in Pakistan in front of her father and husband a few weeks ago. In the Sudan, a woman who won't renounce her faith as a Christian convert has been sentenced to die for "apostasy."

(A measure of our humanity is whether we can speak out on behalf of ALL women who are considered chattel, subject not only to warped family "honor' codes but to institutionalized discrimination by governments who find it more expedient to look the other way).

Ireland recently has been grappling with a dark and frightening past, not all that long ago, in which the children of unmarried mothers were termed "illegitimate" - and apparently left to starve, fall ill, and, often to die.

Even here in the United States, sexual violence against women is shockingly common.  If it takes a national movement to get colleges to pay attention to what's going on under trees, in student centers and in the dormitories, so be it.  About time.

As someone who has done some online dating (and as cautious as I am, which is very), I've had times when I was worried about my own safety. As a journalist, I've also felt vulnerable and afraid when faced with rage, both real and virtual, in a way that I think many men probably don't (though they, too, are often the target of basement crazies).

A few days ago, in what might be charitably be called an impish mood, I thought I'd post a quote on Facebook...just to see what happened, ya know. "It's better not to argue with women" was the quote. And, sure enough, a few people took the bait, innocent of the fact that the originator of said aphorism was Vladimir Putin.  My FB friends, male and female, wouldn't mistreat or stereotype women in real life.

Putin's attitude toward women would be irrelevant if he wasn't the leader of a country in which discrimination and violence against women is common.  

A month or so ago, on the NPR show "Tell Me More," I heard an African American male defend Donald Sterling's right to say the stuff  that landed him in a world of trouble with his NBA-owner colleagues and the rest of the world.

"Why can't a 100-year-old white man (Sterling is 80) have a private conversation with his jump-off?" asked the commentator (I paraphrase).

It will be a great day for the Clippers, and a better day for all of us, when someone else owns the team and when racism isn't endorsed, even (perhaps especially) in private.

But it will be an even better day when we actually treat African-Americans as equal in public and in private, when all women don't have to fear violence or discrimination, when naming and shaming aren't media fads.

Then perhaps we can finally get to the point of addressing the societal problems we have, the ones that hold us back as men AND women - because fixing what is broken is a much tougher job than fighting over it.

mardi, mai 13, 2014

Changing Catholic schools in America's poorest city

This is my article in the Catholic Global Sister's Project, which is a project of the National Catholic Reporter.

Sr. Karen is unbelievably inspiring...being around those who do such great work is contagious, even for a jaded journalist.

Let me know what you think after you've read her story, and that of the team she works with, giving some of the children of Camden, NJ a fighting chance at the life many of us take for granted.

vendredi, avril 25, 2014

samedi, avril 05, 2014

"Rip the bandaid off"

It wasn't until this week, after a rather delicate conversation with a local funeral director, that I realized that, (at least from his point of view), there was such a thing as asking too many questions (this query concerned embalming fluid).

The death industry, like many others, has been changed by our new emphasis on disclosure. That's good, probably in most ways, though there is a lot out there in questionable taste.

For instance -- a video om embalming might be educational (though I didn't feel the need to watch to much).  Frankly, however, I think a demonstration of "embalming grandpa" may be TMI.  I stopped clicking when "are you 18 or older" came up on the screen.

But as Josh Slocum, a consumer advocate for people like us suggests, it's easier to plan ahead when the event doesn't seem imminent - much tougher when you are a grieving family, and you have to decide right now.

What do you talk about, when you talk about death?

Column: Confronting death in this day and age - LancasterOnline: Faith And Values

mercredi, mars 26, 2014

An open letter to World Vision

Dear Mr. Stearns and World Vision Board --

I don't think I can trust you anymore.

To be honest, I never paid much attention to your policy on marriage and abstinence before marriage. I'm still confused about why you decided to open employment possibilities to those in same-sex marriages (before your board reversed that decision).

I have my own opinions and beliefs about that.

But I was supporting a child because you are  a reputable Christian organization who put the welfare of poor kids first.

Don't worry, I'm not going to stop.

I was appalled by the idea that people would cancel their monthly credit card or check deductions because your organization was no longer "pure."

It wasn't you that was going to suffer -- it was the desperately poor kids you help.

I have no idea why you made the first decision. I haven't paid much heed, but I'm sure that there are conspiracy theorists who think the government made you do it.

I''ll be honest with you.  I really don't believe what you said when you reversed it because people came to you in the spirit of Matthew 18.  I saw some of the tweets.  Most likely, you did the math, realized how much you would lose by allowing a broader definition of marriage for employment purposes, and reversed your course.

I'm in no position to criticize the pious married who stormed your doors in outrage, or even in humility.

I made a hash of my own marriage, walked away from my vows -- mostly, couldn't find a way to make it work. So who am I, then, to criticize you, those who are so clear about right and wrong, good and evil, judgment and mercy?

But I'm not alone - the pews of evangelical churches are teeming with people like me.  Probably many of them are your supporters.  We're so quick to focus on other people's perceived sins that we don't even notice that some people are given a free pass, while others are sent to prison.

I saw the effect of the sexuality wars in my denomination. While I struggle to define biblical marriage as anything other than that between a man and a woman,  I'm not a culture warrior. Like Pope Francis said -- who am I to judge?

Who am I to judge, knowing how much of a sinner I am? Who am I to judge, given the fact that churches so often serve their own at the expense of the world? Who am I to judge, given that there is so much self-righteousness and blame around already? Y'all don't need me.

What of those outside the evangelical bubble?

As a journalist, I've been spending a fair amount of time talking to non-Christians (or former believers) recently.  Some are alienated from the church. Some simply don't think the church matters. It literally has no part in forming how they make moral judgments.

And that's a shame.

Because when organizations like yours behave the way you just did, they are a scandal to the world. And Christian organizations don't need to be tainted by any more scandal.

I won't stop supporting my child, now a teen. But I'm going to stop supporting you.

P.S. The quote below is from the prophet Amos, and there's plenty more material in the Hebrew and Christian Scripture on the same theme. God didn't say much about homosexuality -- but He seems pretty consistent about hypocrisy.

Go to Bethel and sin;
    go to Gilgal and sin yet more.
Bring your sacrifices every morning,
    your tithes every three years.
Burn leavened bread as a thank offering
    and brag about your freewill offerings
boast about them, you Israelites,
    for this is what you love to do,”
declares the Sovereign Lord.

vendredi, mars 21, 2014

mardi, mars 18, 2014

Death rituals and the war that changed America

samedi, mars 08, 2014


Forgive me while I have an existential moment here.

I'm a slow learner.  Perhaps it's because I spent a day bookended by nuns that I realized that something in the way I am living a good chunk of my life has gone seriously awry.

Friday morning I spent time traveling around the nation's poorest and most violent city with a sister who is making a huge impact on it because of her visionary and committed work heading a corporation that oversees five parochial schools.

Friday night, adventitiously, I stumbled across this wonderful book review on the website of the New Yorker. The topic? The lives of cloistered sisters and what impels them to leave society, including the world of social media, behind.

  I'm still reflecting on what I saw and read (to be shared in the next blog post), but it was a powerful day.

Yet at the end of it, I realized: there is just too much freaking noise in my head.  

Sounds crazy, right? Like that old Joni Mitchell song, "Twisted"?

But I don't think I'm nuts about the internal racket.  I'm a  social media addict, way too liable to be distracted by the shiny paper and the bright wrappings of another FB post, or clickbait on Twitter.

At the risk of being blunt, sometimes I don't like what I see revealed in the funhouse mirror (though by far the majority of my friends are temperate and wise in what they post).  There is just so much hating, particularly on Twitter, that it sucks the joy out of my heart.  

Social media has democratized conversation, but it's also given us a platform in which to share the debris in our cluttered minds and hearts.

Sometimes I have to take a deep breath and pull myself back from the verge of irritation or "righteous" anger.

I can't decide whether I think we are more true to ourselves online, or if a lot of the attytood we bring to the virtual water cooler is due to what we had for breakfast or drank the night before.

But I am vulnerable.

I know that I'm also a player. I wonder whose day I have ruined with my prating and prejudices, stuck in the same old grooves. 

I'm not sure what to do about the noise. It would be really hard to be a writer and not pay attention to the conversation.

For the moment, it would be good to keep in mind the simple and challenging precept: "in all things, charity." 

Even online. 

Less noise, more love. 

I have a long way to go. 

samedi, mars 01, 2014

Can we have a little gateaux with that skull?

Suddenly (or not), it's cool to talk about death.

Death cafes. Death-themed tweets.  Funeral directors who blog and YouTube...conversations and questions  about mortality seem to have sprung up in lots of places you might not expect.

Some of the movement is consumer-oriented, but some of the conversations appear to be impelled by sheer curiosity, or a desire to make some decisions about life's end before it is too late to choose.

This is the first part of a series on death and faith, or unfaith.

In the course of it you will meet an undertaker who has outraged many of his fellow funeral directors. A compassionate advocate for consumer rights.  A former crematory worker who produces videos that explain what happens when people pass on. Clergy who approach death from a faith perspective, and non-religious ritualists who don't.

And academicians, of course to put it all in context and ask more questions.

Because, au fond, when we talk about death, we are still grappling with mystery, anxiety and fear.

Even when we do bring cake.

samedi, février 22, 2014

Brian McLaren isn't going to stop thinking because you say he should

Brian McLaren never seems to stop thinking.  He's a man in search of questions, answers, and even solutions.

Lots of people can't seem to stop blaming him for not staying in one place -- the one where he began. To be fair, he's been tough on evangelical culture.  Perhaps some people feel betrayed.

Yet wherever you find yourself on the love, dislike, or be troubled by Brian spectrum -- the guy will force you to figure out where you stand.

Here's my interview with him.  He's going to be in Lancaster in a few weeks.  Consider attending!

dimanche, février 09, 2014

My review of Roland Merullo's "Vatican Waltz"

Roland Merullo's newest novel attempts something daring and fairly unusual for modern fiction: delineating the interior spiritual life of a young woman as she comes to believe she is called to do something extraordinary. Here's my review for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

samedi, février 01, 2014

What do those old scriptures have to say about our new snark?

Why do people feel as if they can say derogatory, cruel, and often very personal things about people whose only offense has been to say  something with which they disagree?

What happens to our communities, particularly our faith communities, when we attack and bite and wound each other?

Why do so many "people of faith" jump in there up to their knees in the mud?

And I wonder...would God approve?

I do believe that God is also One of ordinary things. Do you ?

samedi, janvier 25, 2014

With a heavy heart...

Have you been to a Zumiez?

We have one locally, at the Exton Mall.  About 20 minutes from where we live, it's cleverly constructed to appeal to hipsters and rebels (or those who like to think of themselves as rebels).  Zumiez advertises itself as offering clothing for those part of the snowboarding, skateboarding, and surfer "lifestyle."

Nice stuff.  And expensive.

My daughter used to hang out at Zumiez.  She had a friend who worked in the Mall store.  Remarkable to me chiefly because of the gauges that had pulled his earlobes down so far that they would require surgery to repair, he was also a sweet young man.

So I can imagine the Zumiez at the Columbia Mall before the shooting.  I have a lot of trouble imagining it afterwards.

Brianna Beniolo and Tyler Johnson died in the Zumiez today.  They were both on their twenties. I know lots of parents with kids around that age.  Sometimes you are an adult at that age -- sometimes you aspire.

But most times, you still have optimism, and dreams.  Today a gunman took away Brianna and Tyler's dreams. 

This is a country in which those who favor an unfettered access to guns control the shots, as it were, though, as this Pew survey shows, when it comes to gun control, we are a divided country. 

(A majority still favor more restrictions).

There will be inevitably, conversation about how strict Maryland gun laws didn't prevent gun violence. But that's kind of a bogus argument. Who knows where the guns came from? Who knows how safely they were kept? Who knows the mental status of the gunman (though I think we'll find out)?

The alleged shooter, who killed himself after he killed Brianna and Tyler, was 19.  Old enough to buy a gun, but not yet old enough to legally buy beer.

What troubles me more, this evening, as I grieve from a distance for Brianna and Tyler, is how much violence we are willing to tolerate in our culture.

How many other nations not engaged in war with other hostile nations or in civil war with each other have kids shot on college campuses (at least two this week) and at shopping malls?  How many have the rates of homicide and suicide we do?

Look in the freaking mirror, America. 

How many are as complacent as we seem about the terrible toll of this violence?

There is evidence that "gun safe" zones are actually safer (I know the gun lobby will busy themselves with that argument, too, saying one more gun would have saved them).

When "your" right to own a gun, under almost any and all conditions impinges on our sons and daughter's right to feel safe on a college campus (or a kindergarten or a middle school), then I have to wonder a whether many Americans have made an idol out of "freedom." What about life and the pursuit of happiness? Brianna and Tyler won't get to do that, either.

Tonight that idol has a face.  Or several faces.  You'll be seeing them in your newspaper tomorrow. 

vendredi, janvier 24, 2014

It's all about the punishing the cover-up bishops, say Catholic child-abuse activists

Will Pope Francis be as tough on erring bishops as Benedict was on predator priests?

Will brother bishops disciple their colleagues?

Catholic activists say it needs to happen for the church to heal.

samedi, janvier 18, 2014

Lies, damned lies, and....

The older I get, the more I realize that I need to question my assumptions.

I'm not talking about the fundamentals of  faith (though I have learned to live with, and to accept doubt as my shadowy companion).

Rather, I often question the nature of knowing itself.

Fear not, I'm not going all epistemological on you.

Instead, I am learning to question what is proffered, 24/7, as knowledge, via scientific certainties,  statistics, studies, and surveys.

A few weeks ago, the Pew Research Center for Religion & Public Life came out with the results of a poll it had done last spring, revealing an apparent growing discrepancy between what Republicans and Democrats think about the scientific theory of evolution (Darwin and all that).

The media,  including me, leapt all over it. I solicited comments on my FB page to explain the results. Some saw them as predictable. Others questioned the results.  Still others queried the way the poll was done.

Fortunately for me, I got sidetracked, and didn't end up writing about the Pew poll until this past week.  By then, experts on statistics had time to take apart the results, and to argue that much of the media frenzy was a tempest in a teapot.

What do you think? Feel free to comment, either here or at

mercredi, janvier 15, 2014

Defrocked pastor Frank Schaefer: a lighting rod and a storyteller

Because I didn't attend the denominational trial and hear his testimony, I haven't spent a lot of time sorting out my impressions of Frank Schaefer, defrocked by United Methodist Church leaders for officiating at his son's same-sex wedding (and then refusing to promise he would abide by denominational proscriptions) .

But after speaking with him, I had one clear impression -- this is a man without guile.

That's a pretty remarkable trait in any professional environment.  Yes, even in the church.  Perhaps especially in the church.

He's preaching at three services this Sunday in Lancaster's First United Methodist Church.
Go listen, and judge for yourself. Whatever you think of Schaefer's choices, his story is still compelling. And whether the context is a lecture, a book or a sermon, the story is often what we remember, isn't it?

samedi, janvier 11, 2014

The real world, and those who live in it

It would be too easy to dismiss the two writers here as self-satisfied polemicists. But, as exasperated as I am by their rhetoric, I can't quite do so. Sadly, I think their "top-down," often patronizing tone is typical of the kind of spiritual leadership we often see in public life (the fact that the two concerned are men doesn't make this easier to swallow).

Don't you think we need sages who will talk WITH us...not AT each other?

Who will treat us as adults trying to make difficult decisions, not think of us as pawns on a chessboard?

Where are the leaders who have inhabited the difficult places in which we often find ourselves?

Where are the women and men who help find solutions...instead of signing on with the problem?

Feel free to comment, please.

dimanche, janvier 05, 2014

Kindness (and manners) matter

Last week my son invited a few school friends over to his dad's home for movie night.

He had the menu all planned out.  He was pumped, looking forward to an enjoyable evening with his pals.

A few hours before I was to drive him down to his dad's house, one of the students canceled.

Then, in quite succession, so did the other.

Looking at his dejected face, my heart ached for him.

It's one of those parenting moments when you want so much to comfort your child, but the words just don't come.

Instead, thinking it might make him stronger, I told him that many adults were just as commitment-phobic.

But it doesn't mean, I said, that you should respond in kind. Courtesy in small things makes a big difference.

I still believe, in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary around me, that the small courtesies matter.

A few years ago I started having a small open house to mark the new year.

It's relaxed, not at all fancy, and, I hope, enjoyable.

Yesterday's event was lovely, and I thoroughly enjoyed my guests. It was a really nice afternoon, at least for this hostess.

But getting to the afternoon was aggravating, to say the least.

A few people say "yes" and "no" to my invite, almost as soon as I created and posted the Evite. Gold stars for being so conscientious.

A few said "maybe" (I couldn't figure out how to eliminate this term from the invitation).

From the rest? Crickets.

Descending to passive-aggressive plaintiveness, I posted a carefully worded reminder on Facebook for those on the site.  In addition, I sent the invitation again to those who hadn't yet replied.

That elicited a few more responses, which was very helpful.

I never heard from roughly half of those invited.

And some of those who responded with a "yes' never showed up, the majority without any explanation (though Facebook is useful in this regard).

As Emily Yoffe points out in this post from Slate,  people generally know whether or not they can make an event when they get the invitation. A minority may actually have a conflict (a friend of mine was recovering from major surgery).  But the rest? It does, as the columnist suggests, make the host or hostess wonder whether they are social pariahs.

I found Yoffe's reflections both helpful and straightforward.

Yet I keep feeling like I'm missing something. Am I too uptight? Should I just feel positive about having had such a lovely time with those who did show up?

I don't know. As usual, I live in the grey zone.  Some of these folks are friends of long standing, and I'd like to remain friends with them. Others? Well, probably, it's better to just strike them from next year's invitation list.

I just wish that some of the people who never bothered to answer from the git-go would ask themselves how they would want to be treated in such a situation -- and then act accordingly.

mercredi, janvier 01, 2014

Between "law" and justice is a great gulf fix'd

So often we go to secular courts seeking answers, endings, panaceas, reconciliation or fulfillment.

Why then,  when a verdict is handed up or down (or reversed, as in the case of Msgr. Lynn) do we often end up feeling so empty?

Perhaps we are looking for justice in the wrong places.