Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Faith Works 1-07-06
Jeff Gill

Breaking News Excess For Faith-Related Stories

Some weeks there is more faith and religion news popping up than can be spread usefully over a few weeks, so here’s a bunch of stuff on my radar screen which has probably already been resolved or burst onto the wider scene by the time you read this on Saturday.

*Sago Baptist Church in Tallmanville, West Virginia has found itself in the news for reasons that any church should want but no congregation would pursue.
They are serving as a refuge, a safe place, a gathering point, and a source of renewal for hurting, frightened people.
While the cable news networks and satellite trucks line the gravel road outside, families of the coal miners caught in an underground disaster have come together in a little white siding frame church, with a fellowship hall next door. The media have agreed to stay off the property, where relatives and neighbors all come and eat and talk and pray.
"So are all these people members of this church?" asked one reporter in a live stand-up with a Red Cross official from nearby Buckhannon. No, he carefully replied, but the church is kind of a community center in these parts, and everyone knows they are welcome there. His explanation clearly left some questions for the puzzled journalist, who went on to ask about how his work here compared to Katrina. Behind them, the golden rectangle of light flashed on and off as the door opened and closed with people coming and going.
Our prayers are with all of them, and with those that dig the coal that still powers most of our electricity; say thank you the next time you flip a switch.

*Last Wednesday a four week series began on PBS, based on the book "Walking the Bible" by Bruce Feiler. I’ve been reading and admiring his work in immersion journalism (circus clowns, country music, Japan) for twenty years, and he has emphasized faith in his last three books. Sorry about the first episode, but you should check out the next three Wed’s.

*Does the whole "sons inheriting pulpits" thing give you the creeps? Somehow it just doesn’t pass the "ick" test for me, which has no theological standing whatsoever, but really. Franklin Graham doesn’t provoke me quite as badly since he built his own ministry from scratch, Samaritan’s Purse, before taking over dad’s shop, but the Oral Roberts deal (what’s his son’s name?) and now Robert Schuller . . . hmmm.
Last Sunday Robert Schuller announced in his New Year’s sermon at the Crystal Cathedral that his son Robert A. would take over as senior pastor Jan. 22. Father Robert will still preach occasionally at the church and on the "Hour of Power," but focus on raising an endowment to support their church "for a thousand years." Hmmm.

*Brian Bosma is Indiana’s speaker of their House of Representatives. When I was involved in politics and lobbying for higher ed in the Hoosier State, I knew him as a new state rep and good guy, with relatives who lived in my college dorm.
He’s been put in quite a spot by a judge who has ruled that no prayer in the Statehouse can include the words Jesus, Christ, or I would presume the letter H. (If you don’t get the joke, you’re a better person than me.)
Apparently a Christian layman who runs a ministry that got legislator attention enough to garner an invite to pray at a session opening got a bit carried away, including prayer for the conversion of all present, and the state for good measure, then led a song to drive the point home, featuring the man from Nazareth’s name in the refrain.
I would quite understand that the fellow would not get invited back, nor receive the traditional state seal embossed pen. Yes, I’ve done it, and lost the pen.
Fuller disclosure than that: when I am asked to do public prayer at civic events, school functions, or Scouting activities, I generally don’t end "in the name of Jesus we pray, Amen." First, I don’t even use that ending exclusively in Christian churches, so why is it obligatory in public? Second, when I am not praying in an exclusively Christian setting, it just seems courteous to not talk like everyone listening believes as I do, but to seek common ground. Which does mean I speak the Boss’ name and all, but not as the mandatory sign-off.
Having said all that, I think the judge in Indiana is an idiot. This is the kind of motion that gives people cause to be more disrespectful and downright fearful of the judicial branch of our government than they ought to be. His precedents are specious, his reasoning incoherent, and his conclusion downright insulting. I would have much more respect for a judicial ruling that said "no prayer at all" than "go ahead and pray, but never mention Jesus and other names to be added later as their movements get big enough to bother me."
I’d disagree with him, but I would respect him enough to have a good disagreement. As it is, the ruling is too silly to even argue with. Which is where the Hon. Mr. Bosma’s dilemma comes in: while they wait on an appeal to a higher court (no, not that one), last Wed. was the first session of the Indiana House since the judge sputtered. He doesn’t want to encourage lawlessness, but hates to encourage the inane. What will happen?

*And for Moslems (can you mention Mohammed, PBUH, in Indiana prayers?), the Hajj or "Great Pilgrimage" to Mecca begins this weekend. Believe it or not, I’ve got even more left over for next week!

Feedback is welcome, write Jeff at disciple@voyager.net.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Notes From My Knapsack 1-08-06
Jeff Gill

What’s the Shelf Life of Football?

Having established that Ohio State gets home field advantage whenever playing in Arizona, my interest in football has largely just dropped to academic, if that.
As I write this, there are at least three more bowl games in the college football cosmos to play, and then the elongated pro football playoff season, extending now to February.
Stop it, please.
Baseball now goes to November, with flurries obscuring infield fly balls, and hockey is apparently a summer sport. Now I plan to watch far too much of the Winter Olympics, even if LeeAnn Parsley isn’t riding the skeleton down the mountain, and I love aspects of baseball enough to be able to name for you the entire 1969 Chicago Cubs starting lineup. Sport is fun, and fun to watch, in all manner of forms and year round, but . . .
You may know the phrase about "killing the goose that lays the golden eggs" from the fable of the greedy old soul who cut open said fowl to see how to maximize the production of precious metals. Wordsworth said in one of his poems "we murder to dissect," reminding us that some mysteries are best enjoyed mysteriously, and not broken down into constituent parts for profit analysis.
The whole bowl game, BCS, stretch the ratings out approach leaves me wanting to ask: can they actually be so clever as to drive away sports fans? I see the goal of stretching out big games over enough nights to draw more eyeballs, additional ratings points, and beaucoup dollars from advertisers, but could they outsmart themselves at some point, a point we may already have passed?
Wednesday, now past for you but still a Rose Bowl fantasy, is so far beyond the parade, Times Square, and all the little bowl cousins. Part of the mystique of New Year’s Eve and Day was the spectacle of more football in the channel guide than you could ever watch. The games you weren’t seeing were part of the thrill of the game you were watching; no more.
The program is similar to the shelf space Monopoly that goes on in groceries and retail outlets. Thingummy, a product sold for fifty years, becomes Thingummy with Mint, No Wax Thingummy, and Thingummy Classic. Sales staff sees that the amount of linear feet devoted to product has increased, and start to gin up items that don’t really sell well, but help to maintain a visually dominant place in front of the consumer. Thingummy Menthol, Whitening Thingummy on Casters, Thingummy To Go in a tube, and Kosher Thingummy for Goyim join Thingummy By the Foot and Industrial-Strength Thingummy. Ten products, of which eight are likely not only unnecessary, but unwanted (not that they aren’t supported by a nationwide ad campaign). All are needed, though, to maintain a goodly foot of shelf space.
That same kind of illogic seems to be at work with sports seasons. Even with a few less viewers or spectators per event, the total comes out higher, or so goes the reasoning. Add longer rents for the profit centers called sky boxes ("Jack Abramoff, call your office; Mr. Abramoff") and more sales of logo-ed items year ‘round, then you can even be insouciant about lower attendance figures.
For a while.
What happens when we get jaded with the manipulation? When Thingummy just becomes another brand, and no longer a vital part of our lives, which it actually never was anyhow? If we start to see sporting options as another consumer choice, and find jai lai just as compelling, followed a few years later by full contact mah jongg? (Quidditch, anyone?)
This is likely wishful thinking: that the tastemakers and media moguls could outsmart themselves. Mencken famously suggested that no one ever went broke underestimating the tastes of the American public, but doesn’t everyone hate condescension, especially when it’s obvious?
On the other hand, I held off watching "American Idol" until last year, and now the Lovely Wife and I are thoroughly hooked. I thought it was all about the Bo, while she saw Carrie coming from way back. Maybe someone will sing "She Bangs" again this year in the audition episodes.
So I guess this is Idol season now, isn’t it?

Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio who is also a not-so-secret American Idol fan of recent vintage; explain Clay Aiken’s attraction to disciple@voyager.net.