The Sacramone mystery solved

The Lutheran blogosphere has been in a state of disturbance since the disappearance of Anthony Sacramone.  When you go to his blog site, Strange Herring, a window comes up that says that it is available by invitation only.  Since no one has an invitation, that has provoked outrage and hurt feelings, with an inchoate fear that Mr. Sacramone has been murdered.  (Sorry, I’ve been reading Swedish mysteries.)  So it comes as something of a scoop for this blog that Mr. Sacramone in a comment came out of his self-imposed exile and explained himself.  In case you missed it, here is what he had to say:

Herr Veith:
The attention you have shown my online wares over the years is both undeserved…and much appreciated. As for Strange Herring, as you have noted, my enthusiasm waxes and wanes for it, as I question its value, even entertainment value, over the long haul. I have also mulled the possibility of re-jiggering it, making it more focused, perhaps strictly on film. In any event, I found myself inundated with some editing work and just didn’t want to think about it anymore, so I took it offline, which I now recognize was a mistake, as it seems to have offended some who thought I had made it for members only, when in fact not even I go on it (LARS! IT WAS NOTHING PERSONAL!). Also, I have been informed that FIRST THINGS is looking for a more “moderate tone,” and since I don’t do moderate, I have probably blogged my last over there. So, as soon as I can figure out how best to peddle my limited talents, I promise to reemerge.

So the message about the blog being by invitation only is just a quirk of the software, nothing personal!  So thank you, Mr. Sacramone, and we understand.  Take all the time you need, but just realize that you have lots of fans and you have an obligation to the public good.

Do what you please, of course, but I implore you in your new re-jiggering to BRING BACK LUTHER AT THE MOVIES, at least sometimes, at least as a special guest.  Your portrayal of him as if he came back to live today as a movie critic, as unlikely as that might seem, just nails the personality, the earthy spirituality, and the gusto of the great man.   That is a literary achievement of great note.

UPDATE:  Oh, man. Strange Herring is back, and Mr. Sacramone is on another roll.  He says some kind things about us here, so thanks for that, but there is much more good stuff.  I’m glad we shamed him so effectively.

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.

How did the animals know?

Shortly before the earthquake hit Washington, D.C., the animals in the National Zoo started freaking out.   So did lots of people’s housepets, with sleepy cats suddenly jumping up and heading for the hills just prior to the quake.  Scientists can’t figure out how they knew:

Orangutans, gorillas, flamingos and red-ruffed lemurs acted strangely before humans detected the historic magnitude-5.8 earthquake. Now the question hovering over the zoo is: What did the animals know, and when did they know it?

Therein lies a scientific mystery, one in which hard facts and solid observations are entangled with lore and legend. There has been talk over the years about mysterious electromagnetic fields generated by rupturing faults. There has been speculation about sounds inaudible to humans, and subtle tilting in rock formations, and the release of vapors that people can’t smell.But there also may be less to the mystery than meets the eye, with Tuesday’s zoo weirdness merely serving as a reminder that many wild animals are paying close attention to nature while humans are doing whatever it is that humans do.

The zoo documented a broad range of animal behavior before, during and after the tremor that began in central Virginia and shook much of the eastern United States. For example, a gorilla, Mandara, shrieked and grabbed her baby, Kibibi, racing to the top of a climbing structure just seconds before the ground began to shake dramatically. Two other apes — an orangutan, Kyle, and a gorilla, Kojo — already had dropped their food and skedaddled to higher turf.

The 64 flamingos seemed to sense the tumult a number of seconds in advance as well, clustering together in a nervous huddle before the quake hit. One of the zoo’s elephants made a low-pitched noise as if to communicate with two other elephants.

And red-ruffed lemurs emitted an alarm cry a full 15 minutes before the temblor, the zoo said.

During the quake, the zoo grounds were filled with howls and cries. The snakes, normally inert in the middle of the day, writhed and slithered. Beavers stood on their hind legs and then jumped into a pond. Murphy the Komodo dragon ran for cover. Lions resting outside suddenly stood up and stared at their building as the walls shook.

Damai, a Sumatran tiger, leaped as if startled but quickly settled down. Some animals remained agitated for the rest of the day, wouldn’t eat and didn’t go to sleep on their usual schedule. . . .

The belief that strange animal behavior is a precursor to earthquakes goes back to antiquity. A recent scientific study suggested that toads fled to higher ground days before the 2009 earthquake in L’Aquila, Italy. In the most famous case of modern times, snakes and frogs emerged from their holes in 1975 in the dead of winter several weeks before a magnitude-7.3 earthquake in Haicheng, China (the odd animal behavior helped persuade officials to evacuate the city just before the tremor).

via Zoo mystery: How did apes and birds know quake was coming? – The Washington Post.

One explanation has to do with the so-called p-wave, a faint foreshock that precedes the big s-wave in an earthquake.  This is imperceptible to human beings, but maybe animals can pick it up.  The p-wave hit 15 seconds before the big 5.8-on-the-Richter-scale shock.  That would explain some of the animal behavior.  But some of the zoo animals started panicking a full 15 minutes before the quake.

Tax breaks as ‘Tax expenditures’

A major proposal to address the deficit is to eliminate various tax deductions–such as for home mortgages and charitable (such as church) giving.  Those tax breaks are being interpreted as the same as government spending.  Eliminating them would increase government revenue by billions of dollars, or even, according to some estimates, a trillion.  Glenn Kessler, the Washington Post “Fact Checker,” takes a look at these claims and finds that things are not so simple.  Actually, he shows, cutting out the tax breaks may not raise so much money after all.

His evidence and reasoning resists simple summary, so I urge you to read what he has to say:   Warning to budget mavens: ‘Tax expenditures’ may yield less than expected – The Fact Checker – The Washington Post.

He also mentions a simpler variation that might have a better chance of passage:

One interesting proposal, advanced by Martin Feldstein, Daniel Feenberg and Maya MacGuineas, would cap the total value of tax reductions that a person could take to just 2 percent of adjusted gross income. Their research suggests that such a cap would raise $278 billion in 2011, and it would encourage 35 million Americans to shift from itemized deductions to the standard deduction, thus simplifying their taxes. It might also be easier to implement than trying to eliminate or scale back some of these popular provisions.

We conservatives hate tax increases, and the notion that the government deigning to let us keep our money is the same as a government expenditure–as if everything we have rightly belongs to the government–is noxious on multiple levels.

And yet, addressing the deficit in a bipartisan plan will almost certainly call for increasing revenues.   Setting aside the question of whether that should be the case, what means of increasing government revenue would you find most, if only minimally, acceptable?  What tradeoffs would you be OK with?

For example, I would want to preserve the housing deduction (since to do otherwise would damage the housing market even more, which is where our economic woes hurt lots of ordinary Americans, as well as contributing to high unemployment).  I would also want to preserve deductions for charitable giving (since churches and other non-profit organizations depend on those).  But to preserve those, I might grudgingly accept a cap on deductions or an increase in other taxes.

HT:  FWS

Glenn Beck and his allies in Israel

Glenn Beck is in Israel, holding a big rally supporting that country against its Islamic enemies and calling for solidarity with the Jewish people.  What’s interesting, as Sarah Pulliam Bailey shows, is the way certain media outlets are confounding Beck, a Mormon, with “Christian fundamentalists” and “evangelicals” who believe that Israel is playing a role in Christ’s second coming.  See Israel a la Glenn Beck » GetReligion.

On the other hand, some ostensibly conservative Christians are indeed embracing Beck and his cause.   These include David Barton, the revisionist historian who claims that America was founded as  a distinctly Christian nation and who maintains that Beck is a Christian on the basis of his “fruits.”  And also TV Bible-prophecy preacher John Hagee.

I think what we can conclude from this is that certain “fundamentalists” are not necessarily conservative theologically at all, that they can be very ecumenical and tolerant of other religions, to the point of theological relativism.

More important to them than theological conservatism is political conservatism.  But to have politics trump theology is a characteristic of liberal theology.  Theirs is a social gospel of the right, rather than the left, but it’s still a social gospel.

 

I believe in the “holy Catholic church” or “holy Christian church”?

The great Lutheran blogger Anthony Sacramone–remember Luther at the Movies?–goes from posting whole handfuls of entries a day at Strange Herring to going months without posting a thing (and now to keeping the public from reading it, for some reason).  But he sometimes puts something up at the First Things site.   He has a characteristically humorous, provocative, and instructive post there now:  What’s in a Name? Plenty. » First Thoughts | A First Things Blog.

After riffing on how Campus Crusade has changed its name to “Cru,” he complains about how his fellow Lutherans in the Missouri Synod and other confessional churches translate the Apostle’s and Nicene Creeds as “I believe in the Holy Christian Church,” instead of the more direct rendition of the Latin, “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church” like everybody else does (only sometimes with an asterix).

He does cite the fact that this comes from the German translation that predates even the Reformation, but he makes the case that today in English we should  show that we are “catholic” in the sense that we claim to be by using “catholic” like the rest of the universal church.   He points out that all kinds of sects and heretics claim to be “Christian.”  We need to affirm that we part of the historical universal Body of Christ, which is what “catholic” does.

In the course of the discussion, he gives some interesting biographical tidbits about his own spiritual pilgrimage  that I have always wondered about. But doesn’t he have a good point?  In the Athanasian Creed, which I’d be glad to confess every week, we do use “catholic.”   It’s a good word, like “evangelical,” and we shouldn’t cede it just to the Church of Rome.  Or are there reasons to change it?


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