November 30, 2011

Rowan’s Advent Letter

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has again used a pastoral letter to argue for the adoption of the Anglican Covenant. His Advent letter is available on his Web site, which also links to a PDF scan of the letter. Anglican Communion News Service issued a story about the letter today, which includes both the letter and a summary of it. The letter was sent to Anglican primates and moderators of the United Churches.

I believe that just everything Archbishop Williams says about the Covenant in his letter is either false or wrongheaded, and I was about to set to the task of debunking the Lambeth Palace propaganda when I received a note from Andrew Gerns alerting me to a post he wrote on his own blog about the letter. He did not write what I would have written, but his post, “Communion does matter; The Covenant is not the same as Communion” is perhaps more interesting.

For example, referring to the archbishop’s comments about his travels and the support offered by the Anglican Communion to particular churches, Andrew writes
To make the argument, Dr. Williams begs the question: since he did all the visits and all these events happened without the Covenant in place, then is it possible to be a Communion without the Covenant? Would these connections cease if the Covenant were to not pass? Would Anglicans stop working together or would our voice be diluted in any way without the Covenant in place?

Put another way, would the voice of Anglicanism be any stronger in Zimbabwe and would it influence Mugabe any more if they had the Covenant in their back pockets? Would having the Covenant stop Polynesian islands from being any more submerged and would the urban parish be any more relevant to it’s [sic] neighborhood with a fully empowered Anglican Covenant?
Andrew’s full post deserves to be read.

After Andrew’s essay was posted, the Rev. Canon Alan T. Perry weighed in on the archbishop’s letter on his blog, Insert Catchy Blog Title Here. His essay is titled “Of Advent Letters and Archbishops.” Here is a sample observation:
Well, actually, it [the Covenant] outlines the rough idea of a procedure, which is so vague that it’s practically useless, to make arbitrary decisions based on unclear criteria whether a given decision or action of a given Province is or is not “incompatible with the Covenant.” And, although it threatens “relational consequences” it doesn’t define them, so the Archbishop is incorrect to say that it indicates any “sorts of consequences.” The process, such as it is, is a recipe for arbitrariness.
This is more in the spirit of what I intended to write. Under the circumstances, however, why should I bother? Read Alan’s post, and, along with Andrew’s observations, you will have gotten a pretty thorough and intelligent critique of Rowan’s advocacy of Covenant adoption.

Cute Corporate Addresses

I was opening a jar of pickles today and noticed that Mt. Olive Pickle Company, Inc., is located at Cucumber and Vine, Mt. Olive, North Carolina. Specifically, the firm is located at the intersection of Cucumber Boulevard and Vine Street. Nearby streets, whose names are, no doubt, connected to the pickle company, include Pickle Street, W. Dill Street, and Relish Street.

One of my favorite corporate addresses is 1 Checkerboard Square, St. Louis, MO 63102, the address of Nestlé Purina (formerly, of Ralston Purina). Both the old and the merged companies use a red and white checkerboard logo.

Microsoft’s address is One Microsoft Way, Redmond, WA 98052. (Incidentally, Google Maps does not identify Microsoft Way.) Apple has a more curious address, 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014. Many other “appropriate” corporate addresses could be cited.

Of course, in the fast-changing American corporate world, such cute addresses can be tricky. I recently had to pick up some cable boxes from the Comcast facility in Blairsville, Pennsylvania. The address given on the Comcast Web site was One Comcast Drive, Blairsville, PA 15717. Google Maps failed to find that location, although one of the other Web map services did—I don’t recall which one. The reason was that Comcast Drive used to be Adelphia Drive, named for a cable company absorbed by Comcast. Google has since updated its database.

November 24, 2011


Today, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, for which I offer the poem below. I wrote this poem for Thanksgiving 2002. You can find my poem and a bit more commentary about it on my Web site here.



So many holidays for this and that—
But most are just a time for recreation,
Not opportunities for celebration
Or contemplation of their origins.

Who gives a thought to Martin Luther King?
He’s on our minds his day like any other,
When seldom do we think who is our brother
Or bother reaching out to those in need.

We see a baseball game on 4 July—
We sing our anthem, watch the color guard;
But Revolutionary thoughts are hard
To mix with scorecard, chili dog, and beer.

The labor on our minds on Labor Day
Is but our own that we don’t have to do.
We must instead to summer bid adieu
With picnics for a special few, or bed.

Ah, Christmas is a special time of dread—
That deadline of the frantic shopping season
Through which we march for half-forgotten reason
That escapes us fully when the day has come.

Thanksgiving, though, is different from the rest—
We gather in our family and friends;
We stuff the turkey and each person who attends,
And, in the end, how can we not be thankful?


November 20, 2011

A Program for All Pennsylvanians

This American LifeDrilling for natural gas by means of hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale formation has been a controversial issue for some time in Pennsylvania. Gas drilling could create jobs in the commonwealth and make many landowners wealthy. It could— because of Republican control of the state government it probably won’t—solve Pennsylvania’s budget problems. Unfortunately, gas drilling will cause pollution, damage roads, and, in a variety of ways, negatively affect the quality of life of residents living near gas facilities. Natural gas may be a clean fuel to burn, but extracting it from the ground can be anything but clean.

I don’t claim to be an expert on hydraulic fracturing, and I am too busy doing other things to become a citizen advocate for dealing sensibly with Pennsylvania’s natural gas resources. I have seen the documentary Gasland, however, and it has me alarmed. I understand politics enough to know that the interests of the many are likely to be sacrificed for the benefit of gas companies and a small number of landowners in Pennsylvania.

In July, PRI’s This American Life devoted an entire radio program to issues around gas drilling in our state.What caught my attention when I first heard the program was the outrageous behavior of Range Resources, a major corporate player in the growing Pennsylvania natural gas drilling industry. At the time, Range Resources was running an aggressive TV advertising campaign portraying itself as a kind of savior of rural Pennsylvania. The campaign featured Pennsylvania landowners extolling the virtues of Range Resources, which was paying them buckets of money for the gas right to their land.

“Game Changer,” a 1-hour radio program from This American Life, offers a very different view of Range Resources from that portrayed in the TV ads. Every Pennsylvanian should listen to this program. Only the second half of the program deals with Range Resources, but the first 30 minutes, also about gas drilling in Pennsylvania, are equally fascinating. You can find both the radio program and a transcript of it here.

WARNING: This program will make you angry. (Republicans can ignore this warning.)

November 19, 2011

Farrago Updates

I’ve updated a couple of pages on my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago.

LIn response to various comments from readers, I have updated my page of words containing silent Ls. (There are more than you might suspect.) I have been maintaining this list since 2003 and am always looking for additional entries. I suspect that I have found most of the common words with silent Ls, but maybe not. You can read my list and not-very-scholarly commentary here.

Crazy person
In the Commentary section of Lionel Deimel’s Farrago, I have added to my list of original aphorisms. Admittedly, not all my compositions are equally clever, but I do think some of them bear repeating. “Aphorisms” also generates mail, but people seldom comment on particular aphorisms.

November 15, 2011

Does Anyone at WESA Know How to Run a Radio Station?

I had mixed feelings when WDUQ-FM was sold, changed its format, and morphed into WESA-FM. On the whole, however, I have been pleased with the new lineup. On the other hand, I do wish the station were more reliable.

This morning, for example, I was listening to a story on Morning Edition. In the middle of the story, WESA simply disappeared. Such broadcasting gaps have become commonplace. As I write this, WESA is still off the air. When the station returns after one of these incidents, I  never hear an apology or even an acknowledgement that a problem has occurred.

Having the station disappear is not the only common problem WESA experiences. Sometimes the scheduled programming disappears and is replaced by the BBC World Service. Of course, whenever I get interested in whatever is being broadcast by the BBC, it vanishes in favor of whatever was supposed to be on the air. It is also common for station announcements to interrupt programs or to be heard over the scheduled programming.

My favorite screwup to date has been a public service announcement warning listeners that daylight saving time would require them to turn their clocks back on the coming Sunday. Unfortunately, this announcement aired weeks after the time change occurred!

Does anyone at WESA know how to run a radio station?

Update, 11/17/2011: The station admitted on-air—it had been off the air for a while—that it is experiencing transmitter-related problems.

November 13, 2011

A Matter of Mottos

Earlier this month, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to reaffirm “In God we trust” as the official motto of the United States. Of course, the motto was not about to expire, so the vote and the half-hour of discussion that preceded it were a complete waste of time. President Obama had once mistakenly identified “E pluribus unum” as the nation’s motto in a speech, however, and the Republicans saw an opportunity to embarrass, however trivially, the leader for whom they have such little respect.

This pointless incident in Congressional legislative history nonetheless offers an opportunity to consider just what our national motto might say about us. In fact, “In God we trust” and “E pluribus unum” seem to represent two views of America competing for ascendency.


“E pluribus unum,” usually translated “out of many, one,” is one of three Latin phrases on the Great Seal of the United States, which was adopted by Congress in 1782. (The other two are “Annuit cœptis” and “Novus ordo seclorum.”) Though a prominent phrase, “E pluribus unum” seems never to have been declared the official U.S. motto.

Great Seal of the United States “In God we trust” first appeared on U.S. coins during the Civil War, a practice recommended by Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon Chase. In 1956, during the Cold War against “godless Communism,” it was declared by Congress to be the official national motto. The next year, it was added to paper currency. This was the same period during which the words “under God” were added to the Pledge of Allegiance, presumably to distinguish us from our cold war rival, the Soviet Union. (See “The Pledge of Allegiance Revisited” and “Out of Many, One.”)

In 2006, the Senate, celebrating the 50th anniversary of “In God we trust” having been declared our motto, passed a resolution reaffirming the choice. The recent action by the House of Representatives was, of course, simply celebrating the raw political power of the Republican Party and its Tea Party wing.

That said, the House vote did not seem especially partisan. The resolution was carried by a 396–9 majority, with two members voting “present.” Even in what is supposed to be a secular state, voting against God is a tough thing to do. (Only one Republican did so.)

One might think that having a seemingly religious motto would be a violation of the First Amendment’s prohibition of laws respecting “an establishment of religion,” but the Supreme Court has allowed the invocation of God in the public square as innocuous instances of “ceremonial deism,” a term coined by the late Yale Law School dean, Eugene Rostow. Apparently, judges are as reluctant to vote against God as are legislators.

A Tale of Two Mottos

A motto is intended to say something important about the entity adopting it. It can articulate a guiding principle, or it can, in some sense, characterize that entity. Finding a motto for a nation is a particularly daunting task, as even harmonious and homogeneous countries are complex communities possessed of diverse aspects. Mottos are not essays, however, and the need for brevity necessitates merciless culling of candidate principles or attributes. Curiously, neither “E pluribus unum” nor “In God we trust” alludes to concepts such as liberty, freedom, or democracy, any one of which might be considered an essential element of the American experiment.

Nevertheless, “E pluribus unum” would make a splendid motto for the United States. Its primary defect is that the phrase is in Latin, which is not seen as a particularly democratic language.

Though terse, “E pluribus unum” manages to convey two distinct meanings. Originally, it referred to a nation formed of 13 separate colonies. Today, the phrase is more likely to be seen as referring to a nation formed of many ethnic, racial, religious, and economic groups. In both senses, “E pluribus unum” captures significant aspects of what our country is and strives to be. It is difficult to imagine applying “E pluribus unum” to any other nation.

“In God we trust,” on the other hand, is rather non-specific. It could equally be applied—some might say it would be better applied—to Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, or the Vatican. In fact, its Spanish equivalent, “En Dios Confiamos,” is actually the motto of Nicaragua, a country with which, I suspect, most Americans feel limited affinity.

“E pluribus unum” fairly characterizes both the nation’s political organization and its population. Significantly, there is no such thing as native American stock—even “native Americans” are not intrinsically American, since being American is not an ethnicity, but a state of mind. We become Americans by leaving our ethnicity behind and becoming something new—a new one. The American nation truly is—to borrow another phrase from the Great Seal—“Novus ordo seclorum,” a new order of the ages.

By contrast, “In God we trust” seems not at all true at the corporate level. We put our trust in our political system, in our military, in our market economy. Not only does our nation corporately not trust in God for its strength and preservation, but, in fact, the First Amendment would make such an explicit trust unacceptable. Ironically, the constitutional dodge of “ceremonial deism” drains the motto of the meaning its most enthusiastic proponents would like to invest in it.

“In God we trust” is perhaps easier to justify as indicating that the nation’s citizens, rather than the nation itself, put their trust in God. It is generally accepted that religious faith is more widespread in the U.S. than in most other Western nations. But, here again, there are problems. Although Americans overwhelmingly tell pollsters that they believe in God, not everyone does so, not everyone believes in the same God, and many who declare a belief in God show little evidence of actually trusting the God whose existence they so readily affirm.

However one interprets it, as a description either of the United States or of its citizens, “In God we trust” is, logically, simply not true.

If we are willing to accept acknowledged belief in a God as having “faith in God,” and if we are willing to ignore the fact that belief in God is not universal, one can make a case for “In God we trust.” But such a motto is more personal than corporate, and it fails to capture any fundamental or unique aspect of the American nation. Should not a national motto be about the nation, not about the personal beliefs of only some of the nation’s people?

The Fight for the Nation’s Soul

Admittedly, choosing a motto for the United States is not now a burning political issue. It is unlikely to become a topic of conversation in the 2012 presidential race. The apparent substantial consensus in the House of Representatives notwithstanding, however, “In God we trust” and “E pluribus unum” can be seen as representing very different views of the country whose partisans are vying for the nation’s soul.

In the minds of its advocates, “In God we trust” does not now—nor has it ever—referred to an abstract God of ceremonial deism. It refers instead to the Christian God, not to the Jewish God, not to the Muslim God, not even to the Mormon God or to the God of any other religion. The strongest proponents of “In God we trust” are the same folks who insist that the United States is (and must be) a “Christian” country, a country whose laws reflect “Christian”—which is to say their—values, which may not at all be the values embraced by more mainstream churches.

Those who insist that ours is a Christian country are not only historically ignorant but also misunderstand the whole American system. For them, politics is not the art of the possible, not a process of give-and-take among competing interests, but a winner-take-all contest of good versus evil. Alas, all too easily does “In God we trust” become “God’s will, as we understand it, must prevail over those of our fellow citizens.” “In God we trust” justifies banning abortion and gay marriage, limiting speech and immigration, teaching creation “science” and not evolution, and insisting on state sovereignty whenever the federal government gets something “wrong.” In practice, “In God we trust” is not about “we” at all, unless “we” refers to those adhering to a narrow, conservative brand of Christianity.

“E pluribus unum” suggests a different view of America. Those who resonate to this motto see the country as a fundamentally secular state, albeit one whose citizens are predominately believers. In this America, religious views are taken into account but are accorded no special status in our legislative halls. Strength is seen in diversity, and compromise for the common good is viewed as both possible and necessary. Advocates of this motto want us to discover our common humanity and interests as a community, not fight for sectarian supremacy that will mean freedom for some and oppression for others.

Unfortunately, in the political realm, trust in God does not have a good record of promoting justice, finding truth, establishing peace, or preserving creation. Neither does the history of the United States suggest that our nation has found the sure path to creating a free, just, and prosperous society. We have experienced triumphs and failures, but our political system has shown a remarkable ability to be self-correcting. We have been at our best when we have tried to act as one, even if some of us have had grave doubts about our chosen direction. Above all, Americans have always been of a practical bent, willing to sacrifice abstract doctrine to achieve practical success.

Such is the spirit of “E pluribus unum,” not an absolute principle, but a guiding light for our political undertakings. This motto represents community, inclusion, practicality, and a willingness to compromise. “In God we trust” represents a very different spirit—one of individuality, self-righteousness, and inflexibility. These are the forces now contending for supremacy in the Republic. Whatever our formal motto, I pray that it will be the spirit of “E pluribus unum” that guides our nation into the future.

November 7, 2011

Convention Report

The Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh held its 146th annual convention Friday and Saturday, November 4–5, 2011. Ironically, the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh claimed to be doing the same thing this weekend. That diocese is only three years old, but it still claims to be conducting its 146th convention. Early Christians emphasized their continuity with ancient Judaism, however, which bolstered their credibility as a religion in the Roman world, so the Anglicans are following longstanding tradition. I hope this works for them.

The Episcopal convention was held at Christ Church, North Hills. The facilities, the planning, and the support services provided by that church were first rate. The convention ran very smoothly and provided few surprises. This, of course, is a good thing.

Unlike so many conventions in the years before the diocese split, there were no controversial (and usually gratuitous) resolutions. No one thought it useful to offer a resolution on the Anglican Covenant, for example, an important matter to be taken up by next year’s General Convention. The 2012 budget, as well as various constitutional and canonical changes passed without dissent or discussion. Proposed new rules of order for the election of a bishop did lead to some confusing discussion. In the end, the rules were amended to assure more open dialogue concerning episcopal candidates at the session to be held the day before the April election.

Bishop Ken Price acknowledged a number of people for their work. Perhaps most notable among these were the Rev. Dr. Harold Lewis, rector of Calvary Church, and his senior warden and chancellor for pursuing the lawsuit that resulted in diocesan assets being awarded by the courts to the Episcopal, rather than the Anglican, diocese. When it was filed, the Calvary lawsuit was roundly criticized by liberals and conservatives alike, but Bishop Price’s presentation triggered an enthusiastic (and seemingly universal) standing ovation.

Also notable were the briefings given by chancellor Andy Roman on negotiations over parish property. The chancellor gave a report in plenary session and held a workshop, along with Board of Trustees president Russ Ayres, on the same topic.

Although much of what was said was familiar, the chancellor did offer new information about the negotiation process itself. A number of agreements have been reached with the Episcopal diocese through direct negotiations with departed congregations. Two developments had halted negotiations, however. In conjunction with the return of the All Saints, Rosedale, property, the Anglican diocese had released information—not all true, apparently—about confidential discussions. Our side found this very distressing. (See “Pittsburgh Property Update.”) Additionally, although Bob Duncan, now Archbishop of the Anglican Church of North America and Anglican Bishop of Pittsburgh, had no role to play in property negotiations by virtue of the stipulation he signed in 2005, he was determined to insert himself into the process. Last February, he issued a godly directive to his clergy “not to engage in, conduct, or conclude negotiations without first discussing such actions with me, or with Canon Mary, and with our chancellor.”

To allow negotiations to proceed, the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh entered into an agreement which, apparently, neither will disclose. (In his workshop, the chancellor waved what looked like a two-page document purporting to be that agreement.) According to the agreement, nothing about negotiations over property is to be revealed publicly except that negotiations are taking place. In a private conversation, I expressed concern that an agreement with the Anglican diocese might be seen as conceding that parishes had validly left the Episcopal diocese. Andy assured me that the agreement  explicitly states that it does not prejudice the claims of either side.

As has been the tradition, a dinner was held in conjunction with the convention on Friday night. In the years before the departure of the “Anglicans,” many deputies skipped this event, as then Bishop Duncan selected conservative speakers critical of The Episcopal Church to provide the program for the banquet. This year’s dinner was quite different. Approximately 160 reservations were made for it, and the program was a humorous one. Kimberly Richards, aka Sister, dressed in a nun’s habit, discussed the history of Anglicanism. The satire was very clever and generally too complex for me to try to reproduce here. I very much appreciated how she characterized the Episcopalians who left the diocese and church in 2008, however—she called them the Angricans.

Update: After I wrote the above post, I remembered one other topic covered at the convention that deserves mention. The Nominating Committee, which is responsible for developing a slate of candidates for our next bishop, reported that about 500 Pittsburgh Episcopalians completed its survey intended to inform its decisions. One hundred twenty-three names of possible candidates were submitted to the committee. After these potential candidates were contacted, more than 60 remained in the process. The committee is now conducting telephone interviews. The committee is intending to present the diocese with four or five candidates by January 15, 2012.

Postscript: The Rev. David Wilson, although in the Anglican diocese, continues to be obsessed with the Episcopal diocese and with his conservative colleagues who chose not to leave The Episcopal Church as he did. You can read his latest thoughts here.