The Ballad Of Kat and Krista (Or, Why The Church Is Losing)

The city saw progress;
It’s moving, at last,
But the church remains stubbornly
Stuck in the past

When Kat married Krista
They first had to fight
Till the city agreed
To their benefits right

So health care was covered
Which only seems just
And the city agreed
That they certainly must

And Kat’s parents supported
Her fight all along
They were quite in the right—
Now their church says they’re wrong

The church has the parents
In hot (holy) water
Demanding the couple
Abandon their daughter!

Or at least, they must publicly
Fully repent
(“What? Supporting our daughter?
That’s not what we meant!”

“She’s sinful and evil,
Her marriage a fraud!
I denounce here right now
In the name of my God!”)

But the parents are better
Than God up above
Their daughter (now, daughters)
Get nothing but love.

For good, loving parents,
There’s but one way to choose:
If it’s church or your daughter
Then the church has to lose

From CNN’s belief blog, a couple on a bit of a nightmarish roller coaster ride. Kat and Krista are married (yay!); Krista’s parents have essentially disowned her (boo!). Kat’s parents love them both (yay!) and have supported them while they fought, successfully (yay!), for health benefits from the city where Kat is a police detective. Not all parents are so supportive (boo!)

So the family supported their daughters through the court battle (yay!) and their church wants to recognize that display of familial love… by kicking them out of the church (I’m gonna go with “boo!” here, even though I think being kicked out of church is cause for celebration).

Elders at Ridgedale Church of Christ told Linda Cooper and two relatives that their public support for Kat Cooper, Linda Cooper’s gay daughter, went against the church’s teachings, local media reported. In a private meeting, reports say, Linda Cooper was given a choice: publicly atone for their transgressions or leave the church.

Linda left the church.

More proof that morality is innate–clearly, in this case, the moral thing to do was to go against the wishes of the church.

When the Ridgedale congregation next updates its membership rolls, it will be crossing out the Coopers. The family told the local newspaper they were devastated to leave a church where they had been active for 60 years.

For now, both the Coopers and their former church are standing by their own convictions, and after six decades of traveling together, they are heading in different directions.

Those different directions are not equally valid; they are right and wrong. The Coopers have done right. The church is doubling down on wrong.

The Pronoun Game

The media say
Bradley Manning, today
Has decided he’s making a change
He’s making a stand
With his latest demand
But reactions have been a bit… strange.

Cos as far as I see,
It’s all “Bradley” and “he”
Like the networks are sharing one plan
But it’s Chelsea, you see,
(And the pronoun is “she”)
Who’s stopped living her life as a man

So… on Here and Now, on NPR, the hosts announced Manning’s request, and that they would be referring to her as Chelsea from now on. But the rest of NPR (at least while I was listening) was not on the same page. Most of the news sources that I have seen have struggled a bit, most often landing on “he” and “Bradley”.

This blog, unless I suffer some sharp blow to the head at some point, will speak of her as Chelsea. Comments, too, please. My house, my rules.

Ok, that’s done. The real reason for this post was to point you to Zinnia’s blog (I’m sure most of you are already readers), where Lauren simply rocks.

This Time, The Apocalypse Is For The Birds

Predictions of apocalypse
Are found in some religions
This week, for something different, it’s
The end of days… of pigeons

In Moscow, birds are dying—
Ah, but that is not the worst—
The pigeons don’t just die; they’ve been
Becoming zombies first!

They fall to earth as if possessed,
Their muscles strangely weak
They’re listless, twisted, twitching,
And they’re foaming at the beak

It’s probably a virus,
Or so the signs portend,
But others see a different sign:
The world’s about to end

So for the birds afflicted
With a tortured torticollis
Consider your predicament
And maybe take some solace:

Rasputin said the world would end
This August twenty-third…
You’ve only missed a little time,
You poor, infected bird

And if it is apocalypse,
And if it is the worst…
We’ll all be dead by Friday, but
The pigeons got there first

The video is in Russian, but the footage is very creepy indeed. Pigeons are falling from the skies in Moscow, twisting their necks around, seizing, foaming at the beak, and dying. It’s probably Newcastle Disease, according to researchers (viral, and contagious to humans), but it also turns out that the Mad Monk, Rasputin, predicted the end of the world… this Friday. So, clearly, it could be that.

Sure, we’ve seen end time predictions before–I think we’ve lived through 3 or 4 since the inception of this blog–but if you can’t believe Rasputin, who can you believe?

The Other Kind Of Blue Moon

So… I learned something new today. I had known for some time of the “second full moon in the same month” definition, but it turns out that is the second definition. Before it (and still, but less well known perhaps thanks to Nanci Griffith and Patrick Alger), it turns out that a Blue Moon is the third full moon in a four moon season–so tonight is this year’s summer Blue Moon. Or so says, anyway.

Back when I thought there was only one definition, in 2009, specifically, there was a Blue Moon on New Years Eve. Which was pretty cool, if you ask me. I saw it, as I so often do, as an occasion for a verse.

A bit of an explanation first. I realized, upon reading this, that my mom is strange. You see, she has her own way of pronouncing some words–not a regional accent, just her. “Bicycle” is pronounced as if you just put “bi” in front of the word “cycle”; nobody does that. “Aren’t” is pronounced with two syllables; nobody does that. And the phrase “once in a blue moon” has the accent on the word “blue”, like “once in a BLUE moon”. Again, nobody does that. But… the tag phrase to this verse came to me, unbidden, as such things do, and it was pronounced that way. So, no complaining about the meter; I already know.

As the calendar crawls toward the end of the year
And of course, as a brand new beginning draws near
I guess it’s just human to look to the past
At the things we have done; at the lot we’ve been cast,
At the friends we have gained, and the friends we have lost,
At the things we might change, had we just known the cost.
I’ll go quite a long time without thinking of you,
But, once in a blue moon, I do.

A year full of travel, of learning, of fun,
A year I’d have sworn had just only begun
Although it was tough, this was one of the best,
With the children all grown up and leaving the nest
They’re better than me, I’ll admit it with pride,
And I think I might burst, I’m so happy inside!
And my heart doesn’t feel like the thing it once was
But, once in a blue moon, it does.

It isn’t the same, but it never can be,
As time, and as life, moves too quickly for me,
The days—hell, the weeks—are a bit of a blur
And things are not ever the way that they were.
I guess I just mean that I want you to know
That I hope you are happy and well, even though
I may miss you much more than the law should allow,
Just once in a blue moon… like now.

So, happy Blue Moon to you all!

“If The First Amendment Means Anything…”

Can your town pray to Jesus?
The courts will decide;
A town in New York
Has a case being tried

At town council meetings
(And maybe at schools)
They argue “the Christian
Majority rules”

The supremes are the ones
Who interpret the laws–
So PLEASE… don’t neglect
The establishment clause!

I’ll stop here–I could go on, but the Los Angeles Times already said everything I want to. First, the case:

In what could be its most significant church-state case in decades, the Supreme Court will decide whether official prayers at government meetings that overwhelmingly favor one religion violate the 1st Amendment. Although the case involves a town in New York, not the federal government, the Obama administration has filed a “friend of the court” brief that is distinctly unfriendly to the separation of church and state.

Next, the pithy statement:

If the 1st Amendment’s ban on the “establishment of religion” by government means anything, it means that a Jewish, Muslim or atheist shouldn’t have to endure routine official prayers “in the name of Jesus” as the price of participating in local government.

And of course, the summation:

As a policy matter, we’d be happy if governments held no prayers at all at their official proceedings. After all, not every citizen attending such meetings will be a believer in any religion’s god. But if a government insists on sponsoring prayers, it should either keep them nonsectarian or make sure that it offers equal time to a range of voices, so as not to endorse one religious tradition over another. That’s what the 2nd Circuit required, and the Supreme Court should affirm its holding.

There is more there, and I agree with it all, but you need to read it there.

Unintended Consequences; or, Get Off Of My Lawn!

My parents worked through poverty,
Through hardship and through strife,
In part so we, their children, had
A better chance at life

And we, their sons and daughters,
With our parents’ words well heeded
Have worked so that our children, too
Have better lives than we did.

To make the world a better place
Each generation’s toiled…
And when it worked, our folks complained
That kids these days are spoiled.

So I’ve been helping, these past few days, my niece move into her new apartment, preparing for grad school. My parents were also visiting at the time, and helping as well.

And so it is that we know how much bigger this apartment is than the one they started out in, and how they got by with just two cooking pans, cracked plates, mismatched cutlery, and let’s not even get started on things like a TV. “The one thing we couldn’t give you is the one thing that did the most for us, and that’s poverty.”

I’m calling bullshit. This is the same romanticizing of the past that leads people to vaccine denialism–people were stronger back when they had to struggle with measles, polio, and whooping cough. Kids these days have it too easy, with their vaccines, their child labor laws, their health care, and an infrastructure that puts the accumulated knowledge of the world at their fingertips. We didn’t have computers back then, and we are better for it.

Back when my parents actually were poor (and even then, I suspect their own parents had a different view of it–my dad’s father built their house by hand, even digging the basement himself, so quit your complaining about a small apartment someone had already built)… where was I? Oh, yeah, back when my parents actually were poor, poverty was not a character builder, it was something to be escaped, or better yet, avoided. Any decent human being would work so that their children would not have to experience the poverty they did.

And it worked. Well, it worked for some, my privileged self included. My parents gave me a start that their parents could not give them. I tried, and mostly succeeded, to do the same thing for my children. As did my siblings. As did countless other parents, generations of people doing their best to change the world for the better. Our power grid is better (well, at present it is aging); our water and waste systems are better; our telecommunication structure, our food distribution, our information superstructure, all better (again, for the privileged, including my parents and my family).

It worked. Now, my kids and nieces and nephews, and their generation, can answer questions in seconds, that we had to find a library and look for appropriate sources and hope they were available and yadda yadda yadda… and which my parents’ generation might not have even attempted to answer, or asked in the first place. The world is different; it always is. It was not better to have to work for those particular answers, it was just more difficult. Now that the answers can be found easily, the newer generation can spend that effort pushing the envelope. Look at the astounding progress of science in recent decades; in part, that is possible because technology has made the difficult tasks easier, so that the hard work can be devoted to the hard tasks.

We should not romanticize poverty. If we do, it is too tempting to choose not to fight it. And just as childhood illnesses could have long-reaching consequences that last decades, poverty has long-reaching consequences, that can span decades and cultures. Vaccines can spare us much of the cost of these diseases. Education and health care are a good start at sparing us the costs of poverty.

And when it works, we should appreciate that success, not belittle it. It makes no sense at all to promote doing easy things the hard way, when we have enough hard problems to go around.

So, yes, my niece has a nice apartment. Congratulations, Grandma and Grandpa–you have succeeded in making the world a better place for your kids and theirs. Thank you, sincerely and from the bottom of my hearts. We couldn’t have done it without you. And think–if she were starting out as you started out, all your hard work would have been for nothing.

So hush now, and be proud–of her, and of yourselves. And watch, cos it’s her turn now to work on the hard problems. And because we have some real hard problems, aren’t you glad you gave her a running start?

“Atheists Believe In Nothing, Including You.”

It would be more amusing if it weren’t so common. This time, the source of the bad article of the day is the website for the Western Center For Journalism (“Informing And Equipping Americans Who Love Freedom”); the article, a commentary piece “Atheists Believe In Nothing, Including You“.

Atheism is the absence of a belief system.

There is no religion called Atheism. If atheists resided in the Middle East, they would be beheaded as non-believers, which they are. They have no belief in anything good in this world. All they can do is criticize people of faith and use the generous nature of the American people and the unabashed support of socialist groups like the ACLU to exploit the American culture.

They did get one sentence right, but other than that… and do I detect a bit of approval for the Middle East treatment of atheists?

I don’t understand why more people don’t just tell them to shut up. Where is the country’s backbone? Where have all the God-fearing men and women gone? Why do we have a government that is more interested in protecting the rights of people who try to murder our military than standing up for the religious beliefs of soldiers that are protected under the First Amendment?

You can tell it’s a journalism center. (Ok, you can tell because it says so on the label, but if you missed that, nothing about the writing would give you a clue.)

Anyway, I was going to deconstruct the whole thing, but it’s just so depressingly bad. Random talking points (e.g., the Judeo-Christian tradition our country was founded on) are hammered into a paragraph along with a Webster’s dictionary definition, an unsupported slur against atheists and “the people on the extreme left”. Traditional marriage, abortion, religious charities, and word salad in many different varieties. Christians can’t read bibles in public, radical Muslims want to kill our babies, and it’s all Obama’s fault. It’s just too much. A journalism center? Really?

But yeah, Atheists believe in nothing. Apparently. And it turns out I already have my response written. Maybe the author will actually find an opportunity to meet with a real flesh-and blood atheist, and reconsider his opinions on atheists’ beliefs.

Or, more probably, not.


I believe in love and kindness
I believe in helping hands
I believe in strong opinions
I believe in taking stands
I believe cooperation
Overcomes the steepest odds
I believe we have a fighting chance

I don’t believe in gods.

I believe in education
I believe in learning science
I believe we see much further
When we climb atop of giants
I believe in writing poetry
And verses praising love
I believe that there are mysteries

But not a god above.

I believe in art and music
And the power of a voice
I believe in nature’s beauty
I believe we have a choice
I believe we have a future—
We’re in charge of how it looks—
I believe in sharing knowledge, too

But not in holy books

I believe we came from nothing
And to nothing we’ll return
I believe we don’t know everything
But much of it, we’ll learn
I believe we’re all connected
I believe all sorts of stuff
I believe we are humanity

And isn’t that enough?

Ironic Hyperbole

A little bit of stretching
May not leave one’s readers kvetching,
But it really is a case of “less is more”
Don’t compare a man to Hitler
If his crimes are vastly littler
Just remember what comparisons are for
If your similes are ruthless
You’ll be widely known as truthless
And despite your every effort to resist
You’ll have earned a reputation
That you like exaggeration
And your arguments will largely be dismissed

Or as Ogden Nash might have said…

Avoid overusing hyperbole
Unless you can do it superbole

In an ironically smug and annoying article, “How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet” (which I had to read over three times because I really truly wanted it to be intentionally ironic–I would still love for that to be the case, but I do not think it is), Brendan O’Neill engages in a bit of hyperbole–and not just in the title.

These days, barely a week passes without the emergence of yet more evidence that atheists are the most irritating people on Earth. Last week we had the spectacle of Dawkins and his slavish Twitter followers (whose adherence to Dawkins’ diktats makes those Kool-Aid-drinking Jonestown folk seem level-headed in comparison) boring on about how stupid Muslims are. This week we’ve been treated to new scientific research claiming to show that atheists are cleverer than religious people. I say scientific. I say research. It is of course neither; it’s just a pre-existing belief dolled up in rags snatched from various reports and stories. Not unlike the Bible. But that hasn’t stopped the atheistic blogosphere and Twitterati from effectively saying, “See? Told you we were brainier than you Bible-reading numbskulls.”

Now, I don’t happen to follow Dawkins on twitter, so I can’t actually speak to that first bit. I suppose it is possible that 900+ people killing themselves is rational in comparison to defending an author. I don’t really know. But yeah, that bit about the atheist blogosphere getting all egotistical is dead on. Well, you know, except for the articles critically analyzing the report, including (but certainly not limited to) FtB’s contributions by PZ and by Stephanie. The newspapers, yes, have done a bang-up job oversimplifying the paper, but not so much the “teeth-gratingly annoying” atheists.

Anyway, the rest of the article is annoying, too, but probably not as irritating as mass suicide, let alone as irritating as Dawkins’s followers apparently are, but my question is this:

Have you seen worse use of hyperbole?

What We Have Here, Is A Failure Of Imagination

I pray that, if a soldier needs a chaplain
Cos his spirit needs some comfort and some peace
Cos his mortal soul is traumatized and troubled
And he’s looking for his suffering to cease

I pray that such a soldier finds that chaplain
Who will pray with him, exactly as he needs
Who will celebrate his miracles and triumphs
And give comfort when his mind or body bleeds

I pray that he should find a Christian chaplain
It’s important that he finds a kindred soul
Cos you need someone who really understands you
When you’re broken and you’re trying to get whole

I pray that God is working through our chaplains
And I know that He will listen to my prayer.
But supposing that this soldier is an atheist?
Well, then, fuck him, cos I frankly do not care.

Sorry to bang this drum yet one more time (and I do not promise that this will be the last), but the Christian Post has a dreadful opinion piece up, and I just couldn’t let it drop.

Counselor? Sure. Chaplain? No.

That has always been my thought about the debate around the appropriateness of atheist chaplains in the military.

Always, no matter what anyone says. Why?

Throughout the history of the nation, chaplains have played a vital role in our nation’s military. From the battlefront to the home front, chaplains have prayed with, worshiped with, counseled and consoled the men and women of our armed services. Their weapons are not guns but prayers and spiritual texts. During my 30 years as a chaplain, I relied on the “sword of the Spirit” – the Bible – to defeat the darkness of war. It was my passion for the Bible and its power in the hand of a trained military chaplain that led me to my current position with American Bible Society’s Armed Services Ministry.

Ah. That’s why. It’s a case of Christian privilege. 30 years of getting it your way can leave you hesitant to embrace change. 30 years of wearing Christian blinders can convince you that the narrow field you see is the whole picture.

The Bible has a myriad of stories and wise words to offer someone who is fighting for his or her country.

Let’s say I agree. I don’t, but let’s say I do. Does it follow that there is no other source of stories or wise words? We know that other chaplains carry the Qur’an–is that acceptable? Other chaplains carry other books. I, myself, have not found comfort in the bible for decades. Would you impose it on me?

Unless it has been experienced personally, it is difficult for anyone to imagine the countless emotions that envelop those heading into harm’s way. In these situations, above all others, service members discover the inadequacy of human wisdom and worldly aphorisms. I hold no disdain for those who have not found religious faith, but I pray there is never a time when a soldier, sailor, airman, marine or guardian asking for a word of spiritual comfort and peace is instead directed to chaplain who doesn’t believe in God.

(emphasis mine) This bit is, frankly, insulting. Just terrible. It is statistically highly unlikely that the author did not encounter any atheist soldiers in 30 years. With his attitude, I can see how he is able to (probably truthfully) make a global claim that “human wisdom and worldly aphorisms” are inadequate in his experience. (It will go nearly unremarked that the bible actually is human wisdom, despite its claims.) The bolded bit is particularly annoying. As some of you know, I lost my brother a couple of years ago. There was no shortage of Christian chaplains around… we kicked two of them out of the room, at different times. They were worthless–not only for the four of us who were atheists (me, my youngest brother, and the two daughters of my dying brother), but also for the three Christians there (my sister and parents), and for my sister-in-law (rarely-practicing Shinto).

Let us, very charitably, assume that the author has a point. That it is important for individuals to be comforted by people who understand them and share their values (see how I took his insulting screed and translated it to something positive?). The only question, then, is… are there atheists in the Armed Forces? Are they, as Christians apparently are, deserving of a sympathetic ear that shares their values?

Military chaplains are representatives of and for their faith community. They are also the government agent for the protection of the armed service members’ constitutional right to the free exercise of religion. Chaplains are the ones who make certain that each soldier has been given the opportunity, if so desired, to practice his or her faith while serving in the military. The existence of chaplains in no way negates the right of a service man or woman to choose not to practice or embrace faith. But the appointment of an atheist chaplain undermines the very nature of the chaplaincy itself.

According to the supreme court, “none of the above” is a faith community. Not a religion, but a relevant category. And the “very nature of the chaplaincy itself” is described very succinctly by the chaplain corps itself: to care for the living, comfort the wounded, and honor the dead. None of which is out of reach of atheists.

The Armed Forces Chaplains Board should clearly affirm that while there are many roles for atheists to play in the Armed Services, the role of chaplain isn’t one of them.

Fuck you.





(I should end there… but really… the supreme court has a test–the Lemon test–to see if something is constitutional. Do chaplains have a secular purpose? I believe they do–and since they do, atheists deserve the same benefits as any other citizens. It seems that some congressweasels, and perhaps some former chaplains, disagree, and think chaplains serve only a religious purpose. If that is the case, it’s time for the US government to get out of the chaplaincy business.

So that’s the question: is the religious nature of the chaplaincy important enough to divorce it from government oversight? Or is it a service our government supports to help all members of the armed forces, no matter what their faith community? And yes, for government purposes, “none of the above” is a community.

I know from experience that Christian chaplains are not worth a bucket of warm spit when it comes to comforting an atheist. We already know that Congress does not care about atheists. Now we know that at least one former Chaplain does not care about a significant percentage of his flock.)