Category Archives: Pop culture

Welcome to the club, Christians

In an article in Christianity Today titled “The Leavers,” author Drew Dyck informs the fairly conservative Christian readers of that periodical that young Christians are leaving religion behind:

At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, top political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their book American Grace, released last month. They reported that “young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago).”

There has been a corresponding drop in church involvement. According to Rainer Research, approximately 70 percent of American youth drop out of church between the age of 18 and 22. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29….

This is not a new trend for us Unitarian Universalists — at a rough estimate, only 15% of the people raised as Unitarian Universalists stay with it as adults. Welcome to the club, conservative Christians! (Oh, and by the way, could you please send the folks who leave your churches our way? — some of our best Unitarian Universalists are people who were born into conservative Christian churches, and left as young adults.)

A song

“Here we walk in the verdant groves…” — all afternoon I’d been humming a Shaker song, attributed to the Shaker community in Enfield, New Hampshire; I couldn’t get the tune out of my head. Suddenly I realized why the tune seemed so familiar: the first phrase was exactly the same as the first phrase of the theme song to the old television show “Gilligan’s Island”: “Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…” Even though the Shakers sang it first, that spoiled the song and made me want to stop singing it. But I couldn’t, and now hours later the tune is still running round and round in my head — “Sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…, Here we walk in the verdant groves…” — and I just can’t get rid of it. Maybe if I write about it, I can get it out of my head and make you start humming it instead.

Making your list and checking it twice

Church consultant Mike Durrall has proposed an interesting idea. Why not figure out how much money you’re going to spend on Christmas presents this year, and budget that same amount of money to give to your congregation’s social justice programs? Wouldn’t that be a great present to give to your congregation, and to the wider world?

This makes sense to me from a religious perspective. Christmas has not been completely secularized, and from my Unitarian Universalist perspective the Christmas story does have some interesting religious themes: the hospitality of the stable, and the lack of hospitality at the inn; and the magi giving expensive gifts to a family that is not particularly well off. And thinking about this gives me a specific idea of how we could donate money for social justice uses to our congregations at Christmas.

The minister’s discretionary fund in most congregations is used (at least in part) to provide confidential financial aid to people who need money right now. If, for example, a young couple were traveling and suddenly discovered that they had no money to rent a room at the Best Western Bethlehem, they could stop at the Bethlehem Unitarian Universalist Society and get money from the minister’s discretionary fund. However, in the present state of the economy, most minister’s discretionary funds have been sadly depleted. Often that money goes to members and friends of the congregation who are financially desperate, some of whom may have no other place to turn.

Why couldn’t we all budget some Christmas money to give to the minister’s discretionary fund of our local congregations? We can take a tax deduction, people who need it will receive confidential help, and we’ll feel good about giving one of the best Christmas presents ever. What do you think? Would a minister’s discretionary fund be a reasonable destination for this kind of Christmas giving?

P.S.: It occurs to me that if you don’t belong to a local congregation, or are a member of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, or if your local congregation doesn’t have a minister’s discretionary fund, you could give money to CLF’s prison ministry (PDF flier on how to sponsor a prisoner) as a sort of equivalent idea.

Baseball, Calvinism, and me

I am not watching the Giants game right now. I should be, but there’s no real point.

You see, if you grew up outside Boston as I did, baseball is all mixed up with Calvinism. I don’t have to watch today’s game, because the winner of this World Series was determined at the beginning of time, and nothing the players or fans do today can affect the final outcome. Just as Calvinists knew who the saints were (they were the ones who went to church), we know who the saints are in baseball (they wear pinstripe suits). However, a few baseball teams with long-haried weirdos — like this year’s Giants, and like the 2004 Red Sox — may occasionally win the Series because God likes to keep us mortals guessing.

So I am not going to watch today’s game. I mean, why bother watching if the outcome is predetermined?

Signs in Washington

The coverage of Jon Stewart’s sanity rally in Washington, D.C., has been decidedly spotty thus far. Thinking they were only providing some journalistic color, USA Today managed to touch on the real reason any of us reads coverage about such rallies: “The audience came prepared to play along. Many brought signs to underscore the message of reasonableness, or just to be funny.” And then USA Today actually quoted three signs:

I’m somewhat irritated about extreme outrage.
The only thing we have to fear is fear itself — and spiders.
Stand united against signs.

The New York Times, in order to prove they are more serious than USA Today, deigned to report on only two signs:

Shrinks for sanity.
I can see the real America from my house.

The Washington Post, trying to be just as serious as the New York Times, reported just two signs, except one of the signs was two-sided so they actually reported on three signs, proving they are not as serious as the Times: Continue reading

“I think it might be a crisis…”

Carol and I were talking about the ongoing trend of civic disengagement.

“I think it might be a crisis,” she said.

I think she’s right. There are fewer people than ever before who understand how to be good institutionalists. Most people don’t belong to more than one or two voluntary associations. There are many people who spend all their non-work hours doing nothing more than passively consuming entertainment.

We all know that civic disengagement has an adverse effect on democracy. But in a democracy, where religious organizations are voluntary associations, civic disengagement also has an adverse effect on organized religion. I’d be willing to say that of all the social factors that are pushing organized religion into decline, civic disengagement may be the most powerful such force.

Missed opportunity

This past Sunday, September 19, was International Talk Like a Pirate Day. And I forgot about it. What an opportunity I missed! I was teaching Sunday school, and I told the story about how Theodore Parker didn’t kill the turtle, and learned to listen to his Conscience. But I could have told the same story in pirate talk:

Arr, ye scurvy little swabs, listen to what I have t’ tell ye….

Once upon a time thar lived a little lad named Theodore Parker. He was born a landlubber who lived on a farm in Lexin’ton, Massachusetts. His granddaddy had been one o’ th’ rebels who started the Revolutionary War, by shootin’ at the Redcoats (the scurvy dogs) on Lexin’ton Green. Ev’ry mornin’ when he was drinkin’ his grog, he could look up at his grandaddy’s musket hangin’ over the fireplace.

One fine day, Theodore’s father took ‘im to a distant place on th’ farm, then sent ‘im back alone. The little lad saw a turtle sunnin’ itself, and like the good little pirate he was, he raised up his stick. “Ah me beauty,” says he, “you’re dead meat.” But then he heard a voice, sayin’ to him, “Avast there, ye little bilge rat! Belay that! Shiver me timbers! ‘Tis wrong to strike that turtle!”

“Aye aye, sir!” says Theodore, an’ put down his stick, an’ ran smartly home to his mother to tell her the story. “Mother,” says he, “a voice told me not to strike the little turtle. What was that voice?”

“Sink me!” she ejaculated. “”Tis a dangerous voice, that. Some call it th’ Conscience, and some call it th’ Voice of God in th’ Soul. ‘Twill try t’ hornswoggle ye out of bein’ a pirate. Next time ye hear that voice, heave to, come about, an’ run as fast as ye can down wind. Set yer topgallants if ye can, for if that voice gets alongside ye, ’twill fire a broadside that’ll clear your decks. Nay, my lad, if ’tis a pirate you’d like to be, if ’tis the booty ye’d like to take, if ye want to feel the doubloons and pieces o’ eight running through yer fingers some day, IGNORE THAT VOICE!”

“So if it comes agin,” said little Theodore, “I’m t’ give it th’ black spot?”

“Aye, me bucko,” said she, roarin’ with laughter, “that’s the spirit! Next time yer Conscience comes, send it t’ Davey Jones’ locker! Put it in a hempen halter an’ hang it from the yardarm!” Mrs. Pirate Parker gave her little lad a tankard o’ grog to buck him up, and then she gave him a stout belayin’ pin an’ sent him back to kill that turtle.

An’ that’s the story of how little Theodore learned t’ ignore his Conscience. When Theodore became a grown man, he had long since stopped listenin’ to his Conscience,an’ he became one o’ th’ Transcendentalist scallywags, scourge o’ th’ respectable Unitarians, terror of th’ liberal theologians. Ah, he was a fine one he was, you may lay to that!

An’ that’s me story, my little hearties. Be ye like Theodore Parker. Ignore yer Conscience, so ye can grow up t’ be a theological Pirate like him. Arrr!

A call for beauty tips for male ministers

Mr. Crankypants loooves Ms. Peacebang, who writes the blog Beauty Tips for Ministers — she is smart, snarky, funny, and calls people out for wearing those clunky hippy Birkenstock sandals in the pulpit. Anyone who can rid the world of even a few public displays of Birkenstocks gets Mr. Crankypants’ undying devotion.

However, Mr. Crankypants notes with sorrow that Beauty Tips for Ministers is basically a femme-blog. Those of us on the more masculine end of the gender spectrum worry about things like Windsor vs. four-in-hand, wingtips and Oxfords, three vs. two buttons, trouser breaks and cuffs, etc. Search Beauty Tips for Minister for any reference to “Windsor” and you will come up blank. Yet even slobs like Dan, Mr. C.’s stupid alter-ego, are forced to think about such matters when they go to get a new suit (which has happened twice in Dan’s whole life) and the tailor asks, “Cuffs or no cuffs?” Alas: there is no blog to which slobs like Dan can turn for answers to such questions.

The well-dressed gentleman actually does spend quite a bit of time thinking about such things, and he will make judgements about other men based on things like whether they have French cuffs or not. And the well-dressed gentleman sitting in the pews (a rare bird indeed in these dark days when so few men bother to dress well on Sunday morning) will look up at a male minister and say to himself, “Humph, a Windsor knot with a button-down collar. Good grief, cuffs on plain-front trousers! What’s up with this guy?!” By the end of the service, this well-dressed gentleman in the pews will have been so distracted by by the sad state of the minister’s attire, he will have heard not a word of the sermon.

Mr. Crankypants wishes that Peacebang would find a male collaborator to address such knotty problems as the perfectly-tied bow tie (and yes, the pun was deliberate, deal with it). The world desperately needs a blogger who can help those male ministers who grew up in the sad days of “business casual,” teach them whether the tie should touch the bottom or the top of the belt buckle, and let them know what to answer when the tailor asks, “Dress right or left?”

Here come the Assyrians

When we last left them, Batman, Robin, and Batgirl were about to be burned to death by the evil King Manasseh [cue dramatic music]….

Batman somehow gets one hand free,
Reaches his utility belt, presses
The Assyrian army activation device.
Soldiers appear on the streets of Jerusalem,
Commandoes cut Batman and the others free.
It’s another fighting free-for-all!
Crash! Ka-blam! Manasseh goes down!

Batman swoops over and jumps on Manasseh;
Batgirl and Robin put Bat-manacles on him.
“Time for Plan B,” Manasseh says to himself.
The Assyrians and Batman take Manasseh to Babylon.
Manasseh looks up, and calls on Elohim.
“Elohim,” he says, “I repent! I’ll be good!”
So Elohim lets him go back to Jerusalem.

The Assyrians groan, “Not again! Every time
We think we’ve won, the Judeans repent.
Then the guys writing the Bible badmouth us again!”
Batman just grinned : he’s got Batgirl and Robin.
Manasseh grinned too : the idols are gone;
Elohim gets bribed with burnt sacrifices;
And Manasseh still sits on the throne of David.

2 Chron 33.10-20