April 20, 2014

Saturday Ramblings 11.2.13

RamblerGreetings, my sugar-amped iMonks. As you sneak another Snickers bar from your kids’ trick-or-treat bag, why don’t we discuss the sin of gluttony? Or the greater sin of you not sending me a big bag of Snickers. (Jeff Dunn, Tulsa, Oklahoma) Wait! Belay that bag of Snickers. I am trying to lose weight. And I’ve heard I will soon be able to get a KitKat bar on my cell phone. How great is that? So as you dig for that toothbrush, and look sheepishly into your children’s angelic faces, shall we ramble?

Ramblings is made up of the leftovers from the previous week, and so we have a couple of tricks yet to play on you. Here is one about how you, too, can have your very own “hell house.” Don’t forget the add-on modules. Mother’s womb abortion? Gay wedding? Yep, nothing says “you, too, can become a Christian” like showing the horrors of a gay wedding.

And then there are others who don’t like the way Halloween is marketed—those who say they are “real witches.” Sigh …

Each year I get more and more fed up with evangelicals trying to demonize Halloween (pun definitely intended). So here is a story to wash your brain out with. If you don’t read anything else this week, read this. Could you have done what these two men did?

Congrats, I suppose, to the Boston Red Sox for winning the World Series. I love baseball, and was rooting for a seven game series (the BoSox won in six), but I’m a National League guy. Still, it was some really good baseball. And then remember: Spring Training is only four months away.

The NSA says they absolutely, positively, did not spy on the conclave to elect the new pope. That settles it. Of course they did. (More on the NSA in tomorrow’s homily.)

Giving in Protestant churches continue to decline, with no good news in sight. I think the last sentence in this piece is very telling. Very telling indeed.

And then there’s Doug Wilson, a preacher in Idaho, who says any pastor or elder who voted for Obama should resign. Yep, I’m sure Jesus is standing by his side, encouraging him on in this campaign.

Tara Burton encourages the study of theology, even if you don’t believe in God. But doesn’t “theology” mean how we think about God? So how can one think about something that one doesn’t even believe exists? Oh my head …

Billy Graham will celebrate his 95th birthday this coming week. Can you believe there are those who are studying theology who don’t know who Billy Graham is? Isn’t that like studying pop culture, but not knowing who the Beatles are? Bless me, what do they teach them in school these days?

If you don’t recognize that line from Professor Kirk, or don’t even know who Professor Kirk is, you might be British. Seems the Brits are not as infatuated with C.S. Lewis (creator of the world of Narnia and Professor Kirk) as those of us in the United States are. But as we approach the 50th anniversary of Lewis’s death, he is getting more play in the UK. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is a fan.

Forbes has put out its list of the most important people in the world for 2013. Pope Francis comes in at number four. But what kind of list is it that does not include Chaplain Mike as one of the most important people in the world? Useless, I say.

Happy birthday greetings went out last week to Mahalia Jackson; Pat Sajak; Felix the Cat; Hillary Clinton; Bootsy Collins; Cary (“As you wish”) Elwes; Jon Heder; Theodore Roosevelt; Dylan Thomas; John Cleese; Charlie Daniels; Peter Green; Leon Redbone; Henry Winkler; Timothy B. Schmit; Dan Rather; John Candy; and Lyle Lovett.

Bonus Saturday Rambling Tip: Don’t forget to set your clocks back tonight, or you will be really early for church tomorrow. On second thought …

I think we all need a bit of a laugh this morning, don’t you? And what is funnier than a dead parrot? Enjoy.

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Comments

  1. Anonymously Yours says:

    Having lived through two boom-and-bust cycles now (the dot.com boom and bust and the real estate boom and bust), I have learned the sales pitch for giving:

    1. When times are good, we should give more because God has blessed us with more.

    2. When times are bad, we need to give more now than ever, because the need is greater than it has ever been.

    In other words, there never is a time to give less, even if you have been demoted, laid off, had a cut in pay, or had your necessary expenses (like gasoline, which was 85 cents a gallon in 1996 where I lived) skyrocket.

    Even so, I can understand ministers getting irritated because people hint, if not outright say, they can’t give more, yet they’re driving new cars, buying new furniture, sporting new clothes, toting new gadgets, going out to eat, going to the movies, and going on trips. At the same time, sometimes I don’t give because I feel like my money would be wasted. Why (in a real example) should I empty my wallet into such-and-such church’s offering plate because they’re hurting for cash when they decide, hey, they need a $5,000 Powerpoint projector?

    • Even so, I can understand ministers getting irritated because people hint, if not outright say, they can’t give more, yet they’re driving new cars, buying new furniture, sporting new clothes, toting new gadgets, going out to eat, going to the movies, and going on trips. At the same time, sometimes I don’t give because I feel like my money would be wasted. Why (in a real example) should I empty my wallet into such-and-such church’s offering plate because they’re hurting for cash when they decide, hey, they need a $5,000 Powerpoint projector?

      Yeah, but the ministers deserve these things. Oh, you mean the congregation, sorry.

    • That’s the thing that has started to really bother me. Even in that linked article, once again it’s the same finger-pointing you usually hear. Oh, the people in the pews just have a “consumerist mindset.” Well, don’t get me wrong, I am plenty willing to criticize consumerism when I see it, and to point to the ways it has eroded our relationships and institutions in this society. No problem. But it takes two sides to make a good church-parishioner “stewardship” dance, and we only ever hear about one side of that equation. As the mainline bleeds out money and members, those who remain are supposed to step up and write more checks, bigger checks, and are shamed if they fail to do so. But where is the call for the church to streamline and make wiser use of its resources, and a brutally honest assessment of whether it might have to adjust to a new, lower standard of living? I don’t mean the usual passive aggression, “we might have to lay off dear Jerry the janitor because you Scrooges won’t pay enough to cover his salary.” I mean, “honestly, should we be spending money on a new carpet when we realistically won’t be able to keep this building another ten years unless something radical changes?” and “what does Synod spend our contributions on, exactly, and how many guys in suits do they really need in the main office?” and “how did we come to expect that being a pastor would pay on par with going into law?”

      The article quotes someone saying if only Christians gave $50 more per year, children’s lives would be saved. But is the $50 I give to a mainline church going to save lives? How much of that $50 will make it to a hunger program or malaria program or disaster relief? And how much of it goes to paying layer after layer of administrators, and vanity touch-up projects around the place? My old pastor complained that too many people give money only to their favorite projects in the church ie, meals for the homeless or the music program. Well, I wanted to say, maybe that’s because they know if they don’t specify, y’all will find a creatively silly way to waste their hard earned dollars!

      I will be frank: even though we only just this week made the final move to leave our church, we stopped contributing months ago when we got involved with Council and saw how ridiculous the prioritization of spending was, and how completely unwilling the whole power structure is to take a fresh look at it. The most recent stewardship campaign is particularly aggressive and particularly lame. Acting as though it is urgent and pulling out all the guilt trip stops to do the carpets and pretty up some windows, while Sunday school sits all but empty and the congregation is less than half the size it was 10 years ago. Spending thousands of dollars rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic while raging with all their might against anyone who dares to ask “uh, what’s our long term survival plan going to look like without young families on board?” And the leadership taking a mean, accusatory, judgmental attitude towards all those naughty people “not giving enough,” while not giving a care as to why, whether they are in hardship, etc.

      Sometimes, however heartbreaking it is for those who have thrown themselves in heart and soul, an institution reaps what it sows.

      • Josh in FW says:

        It’s sad to witness the slow death of so many once great congregations of many of the “mainline” denominations.

        • Indeed it is incredibly sad. And I feel like my heart has been broken in the process of this decision, and the inevitable aftermath.

          Those who remain are too apt to see the pain and frustration from those who leave and dismiss us as “haters” but that could not possibly be farther from the truth. :(

      • Katharina,
        It sounds like you may be entering the post-mainline wilderness. From some of your posted comments recently, I wouldn’t be surprised it your ultimate church-home destination turns out to be Rome.

        God be with you and your family on your journey, wherever it leads.

        • My own experience in the ELCA church my wife works for as musician is that they are quite fiscally responsible, and inordinate pressure is not put on members to support the church. There is no annual stewardship drive, and appeals are made to the congregation for support as needs arise, with appropriate congregational input and meetings where necessary. The senior pastor has given back proposed pay raises in the name of balancing the budget, and projects are undertaken soberly and realistically.

          This church, however, is not in decline, but slowly growing in membership.

          • True where I am as well, Robert F.

          • I believe there is probably a link between being fiscally responsible and not putting inordinate pressure on members for support.

          • I am very glad that your wife’s parish is in better shape. I think the issues that lead to decay aren’t primarily financial in nature at all, but the financial symptoms are often the first to really get anyone’s attention. And then, there’s the trouble of figuring out that while you may not have enough money, that’s not the main problem…a lot of institutions don’t get there, it seems. :\

        • Or Kiev, but yes. Thank you, Robert. It hasn’t been easy at all so far.

    • Anonymously Yours says:

      Also: People will go into debt to pay for houses, cars, education, furniture, appliances, trips, medical expenses, even everyday expenses, like groceries (which is a danger sign that one’s lifestyle may be becoming unsustainable). But by and large, I think, people will not go into debt to give to anyone other than close family members or extremely dear friends (i.e., taking out a second mortgage to pay for a grandson’s surgery).

      And: Fewer people, esp. among the young, use checks or carry cash anymore. How many churches even have the ability set up to take a donation from a credit or debit card? I have seen forms for taking donations from cards, but I’ve had it drummed into my head enough to be careful with my credit card information that I never want to use a form like that.

      • Well if your hypothetical young folks are like me (32), we use the “Bill Pay” section of our banking website to send a check each month that way. Paying on your end is much better than letting anyone bill you.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Even so, I can understand ministers getting irritated because people hint, if not outright say, they can’t give more, yet they’re driving new cars, buying new furniture, sporting new clothes, toting new gadgets, going out to eat, going to the movies, and going on trips.

      Don’t forget the 16,000 sq ft cottage on 10 acres of land in the ritziest part of town…

      (TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!)

      Or the new rotor blades for pastor’s private helicopter….

      (TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!)

      Or the new private jet…

      (TITHE! TITHE! TITHE!)

      Right after the Reformation Day sermon on the corruption of the Filthy Rich Romanist Catholic Religious Organization…

  2. I had to smile at the “Comments” section of the story of Witches. It looks like they too have their denominational squabbles” “We’re more Wicca than you, so nyah.”

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      Years ago, a Wiccan told me why covens are limited to 13 members.

      Because if it gets larger than 13, a coven becomes unstable. Two factions form, they fight, and the coven splits in a schism. Kind of like a house church. “Ten guys in socks chanting in someone’s living room” Syndrome.

      • On the other hand: I have an acquaintance at work who is a witch (though she doesn’t publicize the fact, because of fear of persecution by the good people of the heavily churched area I live in). The other day I asked her if and how she celebrated Samhain.

        In the course of the discussion, I asked if she belonged to a coven. She said no, she’s never belonged to a one, but she thought it might be a good idea to join one. “I think it would be good to have guidance. I probably do things I shouldn’t just because I have no feedback from other people in the craft, and no accountability.”

        Ironically, the parallels with my own experience as a Christian unsettle me.

  3. cermak_rd says:

    I will confess it. I’m part of the problem. I’ve already started to play Christmas songs on my clarinet family. And I’m not even Christian.

    But I love those old songs. “The Holly and the Ivy”,”The First Noel”, “Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella”, “I saw Three Ships”… And they sound awesome on my contra alto, … and alto, … and Bb bass, … and Bb soprano, and they’ll probably sound great on my Eb sopranino when it gets out of the shop, too.

    Fortunately, my instrumental acquisitiveness only extends to clarinets, and not, say saxophones or sousaphones.And, other than the altissimo range (very high notes), the fingerings are the same throughout the clarinet family.

    So if your in the near West burbs of Chicago and you drive down a street and hear “O Little Town of Bethlehem” on a clarinet of some kind, in early November, it’s probably me. Sorry.

    • Wish I could hear this! I love the sound of clarinet – guess I should say “the clarinet family” – and wish that the alto, contralto and bass got more use in contemporary music of all kinds.

      Enjoy!

      • Me too! I love the sound of my contra alto, and the alto has such a pretty voice to be so ignored by so many.

        I’m planning on using track layering to play some clarinet choir Christmas repertoire on all my clarinets. If I make anything tolerable, I’ll put it on soundcloud and post a notice about it on a Saturday Ramblings.

    • See THESE three ships here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ySOS7S_BKY
      Sting owns any carol he touches, imo.
      My problem with people playing Christmas music before Halloween is that if it’s really that awesome (and it is), why the hell did you stop playing it for over half a year? Christmas music is appropriate year round (and Lent music too, for that matter :P ). What’s worse than a Joy to the World in July is a silent night on January 3. I keep threatening to take my choir caroling on January 5th just to make a liturgical point. :P

  4. Hmmm, I wonder what President Obama thinks about Putin being considered more powerful than he is? At least by Forbes, anyway.

    Halloween is over…on to hunting season in Maine!

    • And wear blaze orange while out walking! Your dog, too.

    • I thought it was leaf season in Maine. And it’s always Pat’s Pizza season up there, isn’t it?

      • The leaves are pretty much on the ground, especially after this last blow. And Pat’s is expanding (they just opened one in Bar Harbor), but would you believe I haven’t been to one in about 15 years? So much to eat, so little time.

      • Jeff, it’s rumored that Pat’s Pizza is coming to Farmington, Maine where I have an office. They will have to compete with a number of other pizza places though.

  5. “Voting for Barack Obama, Wilson said, “exhibits a fundamental condition of cluelessness” because the President is pro-choice.”

    This from pro-slavery Doug Wilson? How am I supposed to take this seriously? How can I take anything coming out of the neo-reformed community seriously, when they simply refuse to reign in members of their own, like Wilson or Driscoll?

  6. Couple last week’s revelation of Driscoll’s infatuation with killing with Wilson’s opinions regarding capital punishment for homosexuality, and suddenly the revelation of the sinister, barbarous movement comes to light. These guys are making radical, terroristic Islam look mainstream. They need to be stopped before their minions actually act out this bizarre propaganda used by its leaders to hold their little collective together.

    • While I’m no supporter of the opinions that you cite against Driscoll and Wilson, how should they be stopped? Have they actually threatened anyone’s life or attempted to physically harm someone? Have they done anything illegal?

      Or would you like to see hate-speech legislation enacted to prevent them from saying what they do? They have such legislation in places in Western Europe, but all it does is seem to push the radicals underground into the dark, where they fester and multiply, only to eventually re-emerge as political parties that have frightening influence in elections and public life.

      I say, let the asses bray, and respond to them in kind, with words and arguments, in daylight; satire and ridicule are appropriate in this context, since the devil loathes being made fun of.

      Whatever you do, don’t push them underground with hate-speech legislation, because they do their best/worst work in the dark. And if they begin to prevail, they will use that very legislation against you and others that oppose them.

      • Thank you, Robert. I think we have found a new category for some of our iMonk posts when we cite these guys: “Let the asses bray!”

      • Freedom of speech shouldn’t protect them from being fired. (Or does their church structure make them basically their own bosses?)

        • I think they basically are their own bosses, in a way similar to the way Jim Jones was his own boss; call it the “Stray Cult Strut.” Their followers treat them as if they were gurus rather than pastors.

          Which is very disturbing, in the case of someone like Doug “Southern Man” Wilson. I followed the links to his apologia for Antebellum slavery. This is really appalling stuff, in the same family of tripe as Holocaust denying revisionism. It’s just morally repugnant. It stinks. It’s shameful. It’s ugly. It has nothing, nothing to do with Jesus Christ.

        • Wilson is a Presbyterian of sorts. So while he has accountability and doesn’t “own the business,” he has both a cult of personality going for him and ironclad groupthink going on. He won’t be called on any of his opinions because by the time you’re an elder in his church, you likely share them already. If his sentiments are repugnant to you, then you probably don’t even attend his church.

  7. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    And then there’s Doug Wilson, a preacher in Idaho, who says any pastor or elder who voted for Obama should resign. Yep, I’m sure Jesus is standing by his side, encouraging him on in this campaign.

    This the same Doug with the cult compound in Moscow, Idaho who’s on record as praising the Godly Confederate States of America and their Peculiar Institution regarding Animate Property?

  8. Josh in FW says:

    I loved the article about the two WWII chaplains. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

  9. It’s a great article, and the comments after it are interesting. The first comment pretty much denies the whole point of forgiveness or hope in Christ, and vilifies the chaplains’ efforts. Later comments explain the enormous significance of the World Series in 1946, with the world getting back to normal after the war, Ted Williams and Stan Musial back in the game after serving in the military. Good to put history in other perspectives. The TV show MASH does that for me too.

  10. Jeff, Joni Mitchell’s 70th birthday will be on November 7. Don’t miss it or I shall be cross.

  11. Wow. My comments were censored, while comment no. 105 on last weeks ramblings appears to be uncensored spam. I must REALLY be in the dog house!

  12. Marcus Johnson says:

    I was really involved in the comments section on the Merritt article, especially with one guy who was trying to defend Wilson’s logic. I cannot comprehend how it’s okay for the average parishioner to vote along his or her political affiliation, but if a pastor does it–and votes for the “wrong” guy–it’s cause enough for him to resign. Double standard much?

    The comments section wasn’t really even pro-life vs. pro-choice. It was more pro-life vs. “Obama is a baby-killer, and all who support him are enablers in his evil regime!”

    • If I were to apply classical Catholic social teachings to my vote, and not just single issue concern for the evil of abortion, I couldn’t vote for anyone in the mainstream of American politics. Abortion is a terrible sin. So is depriving a worker of his wages, or unjust war, or oppression of the poor. These are all grave matters. Neither party is righteous down the line.

      If enough Christians put our feet down about this, we could leverage some real change in society, but instead there’s this tunnel vision single issue focus, and it’s sad.

      • I fear that the outcome of “Christians put[ting our] feet down” would be a *lot* more troubling than anything we see today in the 2-party system.

      • Katharina — That was exactly the position I was in last election. I voted only for local candidates I knew or knew of personally and left the other choices blank. I’m sorry for my dereliction of responsibility, but I did as you said — applied Catholic social teachings to my vote — and concluded in the voter’s booth that Hier stehe ich; ich kann nicht anders.

      • Marcus Johnson says:

        Thanks, Katharina. Now try telling some of the folks in that forum what you just wrote here. Good luck getting any farther than I did.

      • Well said.