December 22, 2014

How Should We Refer to God?

Yesterday’s sermon at my church referred to God a lot. Although the word “God” was frequently mentioned, no masculine pronoun was used to refer to the Christian deity. This was frankly annoying. A sentence like “God loves God’s people” sounds foreign to a native speaker of English. Moreover, the construction suggests to a “normal” person that two distinct entities, not one, are being talked about.

No masculine pronouns
The reluctance to use masculine pronouns to refer to God is feminist political correctness run amuck. It is part of a program to eliminate “sexist” language, not only in sermons and theological discussion, but even in the prayer book liturgy. Doubtless, many avoid the use of masculine pronouns for God with self-righteous satisfaction, but one does have to wonder if they’ve thought this affectation through.

The most obvious reason to use pronouns idiomatically, rather than repeating forms of “God,” is that the latter practice sounds very odd. A major innovation of the Reformation was the recitation of the liturgy in the vernacular. Avoiding pronouns where they would normally be expected runs counter to the objective of making liturgy accessible. Instead, it just sounds goofy. Linguistic conventions do change over time, and even liturgy must adapt to change, but using language that no one uses in ordinary speech isn’t helpful or welcoming.

For Episcopalians, there is a more significant matter at issue. Our prayer book is supposed to be a book of common prayer. When large numbers of people in a congregation regularly make a substitution like “God’s” for “his” (as in “And blessed be his kingdom, now and for ever,” on p. 355), it can be jarring to others. Some, particularly visitors, may feel like they didn’t get the secret memo. Others may feel that the congregation is violating the social contract that fixes the liturgy until such time as the church’s General Convention, through its laborious revision process, decides to change it. We have a set liturgy to avoid unnecessary fights between prayer book revisions. We should take advantage of the fact.

It is bad enough when individual members of a congregation substitute “God’s” for “his.” It is a more serious offense when, in a printed service, the church itself makes such a substitution, as my own church is wont to do.

One of the joys of The Episcopal Church is the ability to visit any congregation and feel at home with the familiar liturgy. Unexpected and unauthorized variation can be exceedingly off-putting. An experience is burned in my memory of visiting what was clearly a conservative, evangelical Episcopal church. The sermon was not to my liking, but I felt comfortable with the overall service. Then came the dismissal, to which the congregation responded with one voice (though without mine) “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” What followed “God” is hardly objectionable in the abstract—it comes from 1 Corinthians 15:57—but, not being in the prayer book, it was supremely alienating. I suddenly felt like an unwelcome intruder in the congregation. I can hardly complain about evangelical Episcopalians straying from the reservation, however, if liberals engage in similar practices.

Of course, the feminists would be right in arguing that God has no sex, in the human sense. And they even have a point in arguing that the portrayal of God as masculine is part and parcel of society’s patriarchal bias that regularly slights half the human species. The notion of God as father is deeply ingrained in the Bible, though, and it is difficult to ignore Jesus’ use of “my father.” The feminists are bucking a very strong trend.

The substitution of, say, “God’s” for “his,” hardly achieves gender neutrality. “God” naturally seems masculine, since there exists another word for a feminine analogue, namely “goddess.” A bit of modern theological education might lead one to think of God as sexless, but the reality is that the English language does not contain a specific word for a sexless deity. If “God” suggests masculinity in one’s mind, eschewing masculine pronouns and repeating forms of “God” really doesn’t accomplish much.

I’m not an anthropologist, but, for what it’s worth, my impression is that nearly all cultures attribute gender to their deities. That, too, seems deeply ingrained.

I really don’t see much of a solution to the feminist “problem.” If God is neither male nor female (or even male and female) and we want to acknowledge that in our speech, three not-completely-satisfactory approaches come to mind. It does seem to be true that masculine pronouns used with the word “God” tend to emphasize the maleness of the deity. One alternative would be to use feminine pronouns (“And blessed be her kingdom, now and for ever.”) This, perhaps, bends over backward a bit too far and seems slightly schizophrenic.

A second alternative would be use grammatically grating plural pronouns (“And blessed be their kingdom, now and for ever.”) This is akin to the use of the plural in cases where sex cannot be determined, as in “A pilot is in charge of their plane.” (Personally, I don’t like this construction, but saying “his or her” or “him or her” all the time is tiresome.) The doctrine of the Trinity both justifies this locution and operates against it. If we want to refer only to the first person of the Trinity, use of a plural pronoun is confusing.

Finally, there is the logical solution—use neuter pronouns (“And blessed be its kingdom, now and for ever.”) This makes sense at one level, but people—and not just feminists—will argue that it depersonalizes God. The point is well taken.

As I said earlier, I don’t see a fully satisfactory solution to the feminist “problem.” It may be a matter best left to the theologians and liturgists, however.

December 18, 2014

Episcopal Café Performance Improves

Episcopal Café logo
“Sluggish” was hardly adequate to characterize the abysmal performance of Episcopal Café when the new site was rolled out nearly three weeks ago. More than one friend expressed the view that continued reading of the blog was more trouble than it was worth. When I complained to editor Jon White about the interminable waits for stories to appear, he indicated that neither he nor members of the Episcopal Café team were encountering the same problem. I was concerned that the blog would never be as useful as it had been in its former incarnation.

Lately, however, performance has greatly improved. I again wrote to Jon and asked what had  changed, but I received no reply.

Anyway, because I complained so much about the poor performance of Episcopal Café, I thought it necessary to acknowledge the improvement, even if the Episcopal Café team never admitted that there was a problem to be solved.

Anyone who has given up on the blog, should give it another try. The user experience, though flashier than strictly necessary, is reasonably satisfying. And The Lead continues to provide news of the Episcopal/Anglican world that is not otherwise available in one place. My previous posts about Episcopal Café (here and here) can be helpful in learning how to navigate the new site.

Happy reading! It’s good to have a serviceable Episcopal Café back.

December 13, 2014

Curve-stitch Experiment 2

I posted a curve-stitch design a few days ago that I thought had interesting properties. A slight modification of the design yields the image below. I cannot decide which is more satisfying.

Click on image for a larger view.

December 8, 2014

Curve-stitch Experiment

New Curve-stitch design;

Click on image for a larger view.

Update, 12/15/2014: I posted a related design on 12/13/2014. You can view it here.

December 6, 2014

More Episcopal Café Mysteries

Episcopal Café logo
Although I have not been trying systematically to discover everything odd or simply wrong with the re-designed Episcopal Café, I do keep running into quirks. (See my last post “Probing the Mysteries of Episcopal Café” and my comments on the site’s welcome post.)

First, I should note that a couple of my early complaints have been addressed. The original background image, a purple field of a repeated geometric pattern, about which I was not the only person to complain, has been changed to a solid color. At first, it became a garish purple, but it has now been transformed to a demure, Episcopalian purple. Thanks for that. I do wonder if the new background is permanent or whether it is the background color of the Café for Advent.

Also, the Café logo now has the proper accent on the “e” of “Café.” (See image above.) I would have separated the two words in the logo with a bit more vertical space, but at least the spelling is correct now. The accent is missing in other places, however, most noticeably in the categories list and in the heading “Please support the Cafe” in the sidebar, and on the Support the Cafe page.

Now for some features I have not mentioned heretofore. As best as I can remember, all posts on the old site indicated who had posted it. The poster was not necessary the author, but it was useful to know who had thought the post worthy of attention. The new site is inconsistent in this regard. For example, “Church of England to push BP & Shell towards a low-carbon economy” carries no indication of authorship. “The Magazine: Not the Secret Gnosis—An interview with the leadership of St [sic] Gregory’s of Nyssa, San Francisco” indicates an author below the title, though it isn’t clear whether the author is the poster. “Formalizing a bad idea” shows both the poster and subsequent updater at the bottom of the post. It would be good if the new site consistently indicated who posted an item.

Another missing feature, sort of, is the ability to link to a particular comment. Well, one can do that, but how is something of a mystery. On many sites, the time stamp on a post or comment is a link to that item. This works on Facebook, for example, and on my own blog. Comments on Episcopal Café carry a date but not a time, and the date is not a link. “Reply” under the date is a link. It takes the reader to the desired comment, but with a reply form below it. This isn’t terrible—one can still see the comment in its original context—but it is odd. If, on a particular comment, the “Reply” button is a link to, the proper link to the comment in context but without the reply form is I doubt such a link will be used very often because it isn’t at all obvious what the proper form is.

It is oddly annoying that, on the home page of the site, the sidebar does not appear. One has to load a particular post for the sidebar to be shown.

Finally, as one commenter noted, the Subscribe to RSS Feed button works differently in Firefox, Chrome, and Internet Explorer, and, in Chrome, it is virtually unusable.

December 4, 2014

Probing the Mysteries of Episcopal Café

Episcopal Café logo
As many readers surely know, Episcopal Café has been redesigned. There were several reasons for updating the collection of Episcopal blogs, but the most pressing was probably that the software underlying the site was no longer being supported.

The new site is more attractive than the old, but, like any newly designed Web site, it has its teething problems that will take some time to work out. The first problem that I noticed, for example, was that “Café” had lost the acute accent on the “e.” (See logo above. I am told this problem is being fixed.) Other issues are more problematic. Additionally, the site is organized differently, and that organization can be confusing if you don’t understand it.

The most serious problem is one of performance. It can take a long time for a story to appear. This may be related to the animation that serves up one story at a time. This animation is cute, but the price paid for it may be too high. Anyway, when one clicks on a link—on a Continue link, say—to see a complete story, it may take a long time for the story to appear. I did this on a story last night, and, by morning, the story had still not shown up. Sometimes the story seems to appear and disappear in an instant. Sometimes a mouse click can reproduce this behavior. I tried viewing “Right Now Jesus Can’t Breathe” and clicked my mouse in a space that should have contained the story. To my amazement, a picture showed up. It was a picture in the (invisible) story, suggesting that the story was there but not there. (Can you say Schrödinger’s cat?) Anyway, I discovered that, if you are waiting for a story to appear, scrolling down a few lines can make it visible. This behavior is a serious bug, but knowing the workaround makes the site at least usable.

The old Episcopal Café presented as a collection of blogs. To the casual observer, the new site seems to have the same organization, with several blogs having been collected in something called “The Magazine.” If you were to think the new organization a minor variation of the old, however, you would be wrong. The old blogs have actually disappeared. All stories are now organized into categories (e.g., The Lead) and further characterized with tags (e.g., News reports or legal).

Even if you understand the use of categories and tags, navigation can be confusing. Clicking on “The Lead” in the banner or the sidebar (under “Categories”) will bring up only stories in that category. Scrolling down makes more and more stories appear until, at the bottom of the page, you can select the next page of older stories or go to the last page. The good news here is that all the stories from the old site are still available. (But see below.)

What is confusing is this: At the bottom of each story are arrows to take the reader to the previous or next story. What is not immediately obvious, however, is that clicking on one of these arrows may take you to a story in a different category. What would be helpful would be up and down arrows to take you to the next and previous stories in the same category.

Finally, there is the problem of finding a story if you only know the title or the old URL. There is no search function provided for the site, so searching by title is impossible. Eventually, Google will, no doubt, fully index the site, but this is unhelpful now. A Google search may yield an old URL, but, alas, the new page addresses are different. If you know the title (or something close to the title) but can’t remember whether it was in The Lead or Daily Episcopalian, good luck! Actually, if you can find the old URL through Google, you can narrow your search.

I am the principal editor of the news blog Pittsburgh Update, which summaries Anglican news of particular interest to people of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh Update has frequently linked to stories at the Café, usually stories in The Lead. Many of these links are now broken.

What I have discovered is that, if you have a link to the old site, it may actually work, or you may be able to figure out what the new link is. For example, here is an old link:

The title of the story is “It’s the end of the world as we know it.” On the new site, the blog name and the tag (in this case, “lead/anglican_communion/” are dropped. Also, the “.html” at the end gets stripped off. This actual URL is

but the old one works, too! I don’t know why some pages are redirected but others are not. In any case, the part of the old URL that derives from the story title is usually pretty similar, but often not identical, to the corresponding part of the new URL. Consider the story “Clergy call out Ft. Lauderdale mayor on false feeding site claims,” whose old URL is

Both this URL and the URL found by removing the blog, tag, and HTML suffix give a page-not-found error. The proper new URL is

Go figure.

One strategy that can be used to find a page is to filter by tag. From the old URL, we know that our Fort Lauderdale story has the tag “news reports.” This tag can be found under “Tags” in the sidebar, where individual tags are links. Clicking on “News reports” takes the reader to

which displays stories with that tag. Without a date, however, the reader may have to embark on a long linear search.Good luck with that.

Most of the problems of finding old stories could be solved by including a search box on the site. This would not be the most convenient way to find an old story from a title or URL, but it would work in a pinch.

I hope this has helped people navigate the new Episcopal Café. Stay tuned; I’m sure things will get better.

November 27, 2014


It’s time for the annual posting of my poem “Thanksgiving,” which I wrote in 2002. (Details can be found on my Web site here.) May all my readers have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving.
by Lionel Deimel

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 26, 2014

A Concise Summary of the GTS Debacle

Kim Bobo has written a concise summary of the disaster that is the situation at The General Seminary, a subject I have written about before. (See posts here, here, here, and here.) The title of the essay on the Religion Dispatches Web site is “GTS Situation Is Just a Typical Labor Dispute…But with Clergy,” which suggest the author’s viewpoint (with which I agree, by the way). I particularly appreciate this paragraph:
The Board of Directors [Trustees, actually]  had backed itself into a terrible corner and few of us like to admit we are wrong. This is especially true for many clergy and bishops who believe they are not only right but empowered by God in their rightness. (Ask any union organizer who has negotiated with a religious hospital.)
Anyway, I highly recommend the Bobo essay, which can be found here. The facts seem pretty much right, although there is no mention of the reconciliation process being managed by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.

November 12, 2014

Diocesan Convention 2014: An Outsider’s View

The annual convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh was held this past weekend, on November 7 & 8, at Trinity Cathedral. Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh (PEP) had a table in a room that hosted displays of many organizations with a connection to the diocese. PEP board member Beth Stifel attended the convention as a visitor. She was there primarily to talk to people who stopped by the PEP table, where we were promoting the November 14 screening of the documentary Inequality for All. In the essay below, Beth offers her thoughts as a non-deputy attendee.
This past weekend’s convention was the second over which Bishop Dorsey McConnell presided. There was no hype, no palpable anxiety, and little, if any, animosity in evidence. People were enjoying seeing one another. That’s what I noticed as an observer who was there to greet people at the PEP table, not to participate in the main business of the convention.

I spent most of my time in a room filled with displays from various organizations, and I felt as though I had been transported to a not-so-spiffy version of the mid-seventies. As I looked around, I thought about what a visitor would notice:
  • A lot of us were white-haired.
  • The exhibits seemed to be from the mid-seventies era and were not outstanding examples of the same.
  • The room in which a lot of gathering was happening felt dim and dreary.

Where were the younger members of our congregations, who were nowhere to be seen?

Neither computers nor evidence of their use was apparent. PEP’s table was the only one offering a PowerPoint presentation. This is the twenty-first century, people! High school students in Pittsburgh were required to be computer literate in the mid-eighties! We certainly should care enough about our organizations to produce current and relevant displays using commonly available technology.

Near and dear to my heart, the Neighborhood Youth Outreach Program had a fairly nice poster. Where was the technology-based presentation illustrating the incredible things they do with song and dance? They will have one next year!

Every organization that had an exhibit probably has someone who can put together compelling video to promote the group. This isn’t rocket science. Such a presentation lets the community see what you’re doing and helps you communicate important information to your audience. I suggested to cathedral parishioners that a history of the cathedral might be great, perhaps in the form of a did-you-know presentation. We need accessible displays that say that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh is committed, interested, welcoming, and really in the twenty-first century.

The room housing the displays was dirty. The carpet was filthy. The table covers had seen many better days. It felt a lot like the grandfather’s house where the furniture hasn’t changed in 40 years and dusting rarely happens.

I’m not sure that, if I didn’t know the people there, I’d even want to find out about the groups represented. I happened to know that the people at the displays were smart, interesting, and fun. Not knowing that, I could easily have walked in, looked around briefly, and left.

There are simple things we could choose to do that would make us feel better about ourselves and would let visitors know that we respect ourselves and want to be relevant.

The room itself needs some work to make it more pleasant. I’m not sure about the cost, but fresh and clean, with better table covers, would go a long way. A new floor covering would be wonderful. A paint job would change the whole feeling of the room. (The recent transformation of Brooks Hall at St. Andrew’s, Highland Park, shows how a little redecorating can work wonders.) Such changes would cost money, of course, but they would let visitors know that Trinity Cathedral is a friendly, welcoming place. It is, after all, the center of our diocese and the bishop’s seat. We can and need to do better.

I firmly believe the gospel is relevant in our time. Communicating with people under 45, however, demands that we demonstrate that we live in the twenty-first century. Otherwise, there will be no one for us to talk to.

November 5, 2014

Bill Maher Had It Right

Before yesterday’s elections, Bill Maher, on his HBO show Real Time with Bill Maher, excoriated Democratic candidates for not embracing Barack Obama and his real accomplishments. Sensing the unpopularity of the country’s first black president, Democratic candidates pretty much agreed with their Republican opponents that the Obama presidency has been a disaster.

No one can prove that adopting the strategy urged by Maher would have produced results more favorable to the Democratic Party on election day 2014, of course, but it is hard to imagine that things could have been any worse. At the very least, Democratic candidates standing up for the Democratic Party and a Democratic President could have played an educational role for the country: It is not a universally acknowledged fact that Barack Obama has been a terrible president. As played out on the ground, however, the notion that Obama is a feckless and incompetent president was reinforced not only by Republicans, but by Democrats as well.

With both Republicans and Democrats viewing a Democratic presidency as a failure, why would anyone vote for a Democrat? Why not give the other party a chance to govern? Did the logic of this really escape Democratic Party strategists?

Bill Maher had it right.

Bill Maher
Bill Maher (photo by Angela George)

Thoughts on the 2014 Elections

No one in this world, so far as I know—and I have researched the records for years, and employed agents to help me—has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.
—H.L. Mencken, 1926
In the run-up to yesterday’s elections, many voters complained  about the gridlock in Washington. So, of course, they voted in overwhelming numbers for the party that was responsible for the gridlock.

God help us!

File:The Scream.jpg


October 27, 2014

PEP to Screen Inequality for All

The Board of Directors of Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh is concerned about growing income inequality in America. To promote concern for this trend, PEP, along with the Social Justice and Outreach Committee and the Commission on Race and Reconciliation of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will be hosting a free screening of the Robert Reich documentary Inequality for All at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on November 14. A press release about the event is here. Click on the image below for the flyer for the event. Information about the documentary itself, including the movie trailer, can be found here.

PEP has a Facebook page for this event, from which the press release and flyer are also available. You can find that at
Inequality for All flyer

October 18, 2014

Completing the Michaelmas Massacre

The firing of the eight faculty members of the General Theological Seminary was a shock. (See The GTS 8 and the Michaelmas Massacre.) Yesterday, the Board of Trustees completed their dirty work by affirming their faith in the dean and president of the seminary and failing to reinstate the GTS 8. (See, for example, this piece on The Lead.) My faith in the competence and compassion of the seminary’s Board of Trustees is completely shattered. I believe The Episcopal Church should somehow undo the damage the board has done, but this does not really seem possible.

I had planned to write something today expressing my outrage, but I fear I am too upset and demoralized to do so. (Do read the observations of Crusty Old Dean and A.K.M. Adam, however.) Instead, I offer a collection of words that come to mind describing the Board of Trustees and their action that has completed the Michaelmas Massacre:

Word cloud

October 15, 2014

Letter to GTS Board of Trustees

Members of the Board of Trustees of the General Theological Seminary and the GTS 8 will meet tomorrow in a discussion facilitated by former presiding bishop Frank Griswold. (See my earlier post and yesterday’s story from Episcopal News Service.) I have not been hopeful regarding this meeting, but the late addition of Bishop Griswold suggests that all parties at least realize how much is at stake. Events at GTS are being followed closely by many Episcopalians, including those with no direct connections to our oldest seminary.

A post on the Facebook page of supporters of the GTS 8 pointed to a listing, albeit an incomplete one, of e-mail addresses of the Board of Trustees. Given the importance of tomorrow’s meeting to the future of GTS, and perhaps even to The Episcopal Church itself, I decided to write a letter to all those board members whose address I could find. My letter, sent today via e-mail, is below. I suspect that further comment is unnecessary.
Dear GTS Board Member,

Tomorrow is a critical day for the General Theological Seminary, and I hope that Episcopalians everywhere will receive good news emanating from the meeting with the eight dismissed GTS faculty members and members of the Board of Trustees.

For a dozen years, I have been fighting for and defending The Episcopal Church in a diocese that ultimately split, ostensibly over theological issues, but probably more over issues of power and control. I believed that my church was committed to the least in society, to justice, compassion, and to listening to all voices—in short, to following the path of Jesus.

When I heard of the work stoppage at GTS, I became concerned that something was terribly wrong at the church’s oldest and most revered seminary. My distress increased when the allegations against President Dunkle were disclosed. When I learned that the Board of Trustees had “accepted the resignations” of the eight faculty members, I was at first incredulous.

My attitude quickly turned to anger and frustration. Anger at a board that hired a dean and president with few appropriate credentials to head an academic institution, a board that seemed not to understand how institutions of higher learning operate, and a board that, on learning of a crisis at the institution they oversee, chose to deal with the situation by shooting the messengers. This is not following the lead of our Lord and Savior.

I am frustrated that a major institution associated with the church I love has been responsible for much bad press and for seemingly communicating the message that power and authority are more important that reconciliation and respect for every human being. The crisis at GTS and its inept handling has done immeasurable damage to the reputation of The Episcopal Church and, many are coming to believe, to the future prospects of the seminary.

I implore you, as a member of the Board of Trustees, to do everything you can to rescue GTS from what seems like certain disaster by immediately reinstating the “resigned” faculty members and relieving President Dunkle of his duties until such time as matters can be sorted out. No matter what you do, it will be difficult to convince bishops that they want to send seminarians to GTS any time soon. If the goal of the Board of Trustees is to shut down the school, declare that objective and pursue it in an orderly manner. If your intention is that GTS should survive this crisis, then the time for listening, understanding, and reconciliation is at hand.

My prayers are with you and with all the members of the GTS community.

Yours in Christ,
Lionel Deimel
etc., etc.

October 13, 2014

A Political Ad That Tells It as It Is

Political ads that shade the truth or pull punches are tiresome. Here’s an ad that does neither. It comes from the Agenda Project. (Details are here.)

October 11, 2014

Freedom of Speech at Yale and the Jewish State

Tablet Magazine has published a fascinating interview with the Rev. Bruce Shipman, the Episcopal Yale chaplain who was forced to resign after The New York Times printed a letter from him suggesting that Israel’s behavior toward Palestinians had encouraged attacks on Jewish assets in Europe. The Shipman incident reflects badly on freedom of speech at Yale, but that isn’t what I want to write about today. (Do read the interview, however, but remember that Tablet is a Jewish publication, and the interviewer has a conspicuous bias.)

Shipman explains that he visited the West Bank over spring break and was “deeply troubled” by the way Israelis favored settlers over Palestinians. I was struck by his conclusion: “It is almost too late for a two-state solution.”

Indeed, Israel continues to create facts on the ground that are slowly eating away at territory  Palestinians can call home. The current Israeli administration is clearly intent on claiming all of Palestine for the Jewish state. If it succeeds, however, it will have to abandon any notion that it is a democratic state if it is to remain a Jewish state.

The best outcome is probably a single, secular state in Palestine that guarantees religious freedom. If Jews want a safe haven, this may well be their best option.

(See also my earlier post, “Thoughts on the Future of Israel.”)

A Network Proposal (Is This What TREC Has in Mind?)

As readers will perhaps remember, I was unimpressed with the study paper on networks from the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). (See “Evaluating the TREC Study Paper on Networks.”) I was reminded of the incoherent treatment of the subject in TREC’s first study paper while reading an essay yesterday published by Marshall Scott. His blog post is “The Chaplain on the TREC: What I’d Like to Hear.” Apparently Scott couldn’t figure out what TREC was getting at, either. In his discussion, he points out that there are many kinds of networks, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and he argues that the church needs to have a discussion about networks before next year’s General Convention. “I do think, though,” he writes, “that if we don’t have the conversation about our expectations of networks we’ll discover that those concerns get shaped not by our ministries but by the needs of the tools themselves.”

Although networks can inspire and provoke, build and maintain relationships, and help develop leaders—see the recent TREC letter—their use is not free. Staying connected takes time and energy, and one can easily feel overwhelmed by information (or simply chatter).

Since I have no idea what TREC has in mind and am not confident that TREC even has a clear idea of how networks could serve the church, allow me to propose a possibly helpful mechanism. It would be useful for parishes to know what parishes elsewhere are doing, to know what seems to work to advance mission. Sometimes, Episcopal News Service is helpful here. Early news reports of “ashes to go,” imposing ashes on passing pedestrians on Ash Wednesday, seem to have inspired the proliferation of the practice throughout the church. Whatever the spiritual merits of this practice, it has certainly led to some very good publicity for The Episcopal Church.

What would be very helpful, I think, is a network that collected reports of the experience of individual parishes, not only their successes, but also their failures. Although it is helpful to try to reproduce the successful mission initiatives from elsewhere, it is equally important to avoid the mistakes of others or to at least find a way to turn failure into success.

A network of the sort I am suggesting has several requirements. First, churches have to be willing to describe their activities and their results. This includes admitting to abject failures. (Good batters fail at the plate two-thirds of the time. I doubt that churches do any better.) It will be necessary not only to describe big “programs,” but also small initiatives. (We put envelopes for Episcopal Relief and Development at the back of the nave and encouraged worshipers to pick on up and use it.) Fortunately, Episcopalians seem to be good at collecting and reporting statistics. (Consider our parochial reports.)  Entries should include:
  1. What was done and why
  2. What was expected
  3. What actually happened
  4. Whether the practice will continue
  5. Who to contact to learn more
  6. Keywords describing the activity
That last item, keywords, is critical. No one is going to read through thousands of entries to find out if anyone has tried something that a parish is considering doing. There must be a classification system and a database that can easily be queried to learn of related experiences and identify needed expertise.

I am not completely confident that such a network could become a significant asset to support the mission of The Episcopal Church. It would have a steep learning curve and might need people whose job it is to clarify and tweak keywords to make entered information useful. The idea does, I think, have potential to be a game changer.

Is there a diocese that would like to pilot such a network?

October 10, 2014

Voter ID Laws

Voter ID laws are again in the news today. This issue is becoming tiresome, since rational people know very well that the movement to require positive identification at the polls is nothing more than a Republican strategy to deny the vote to people assumed likely to favor Democrats. This becomes particularly obvious when one realizes that many voter ID laws severely restrict what identification is acceptable, disallowing student IDs, for example.

We have heard all too often the sanctimonious rationalizations of voter ID proponents to the effect that requiring IDs at the polls is necessary to preserve the integrity of our elections. This is nonsense.

It’s time to admit to ourselves that our elections are not perfect. Recounts seldom yield vote counts identical to the original tabulations. Voting machines malfunction. Ballots are poorly designed and mislead voters into casting votes other than as they intended. Ballots are marked ambiguously. And, although vote tampering is less prevalent than formerly, it is still possible through any number of mechanisms.

In-person voter fraud, the problem that voter ID laws are ostensibly intended to foil, is either exceedingly rare, or we are unbelievably bad at detecting it. It is difficult to document any instances at all, and it is incomprehensible that it has ever swung an election. If one really wanted to steal an election, having people cast votes on behalf of others is an incredibly inefficient and stupid way to go about it. It would be the equivalent of draining a lake one thimble at a time. The integrity of our elections would be better enhanced by developing better methods of voting (including better voting machines), better ways of reporting vote tallies, and stationing more election judges at the polls.

There is no reason to believe that a law requiring positive ID to vote will prevent fraudulent voting by more than a handful of people. On the other hand, many people who lack an approved ID will simply stay home on election day or will cast a provisional ballot that probably will never be counted. In a given state, there are likely to be tens of thousands of people—perhaps hundreds of thousands of people—disenfranchised thereby. These people are disproportionately poor, nonwhite, or elderly.  They represent a natural constituency of the Democratic Party.

It is helpful to think of voter ID laws by using an analogy to medical testing. When a person appears at a polling place, a test is performed to determine whether that person is qualified to vote. Usually, the test is simply a matter of comparing the person’s self-declared name against a voter list. Voter ID laws require particular forms of identification in order to establish a name that can be compared to the voter list. If we think of allowing a person to vote as a positive test, then voter ID laws seek to prevent false positives. Rejecting an otherwise qualified voter for lack of a specific form of identification becomes a false negative.

A voter ID law eliminates—tries to eliminate, at any rate—false positives at the cost of creating false negatives. No honest observer believes that there are now many false positive test—perhaps a handful in any election. How many false negatives—that is, how many fully qualified voters—have to be disenfranchised to present the handful of false positives? As an example, a judge has just ruled that Wisconsin cannot employ its new voter ID law in November’s election. It has been reported that this affects 300,000 Wisconsin voters who would otherwise be disenfranchised. Is it really worth taking the vote away from, say 60,000 citizens to stop one individual pretending to be someone else. If you’re a Republican, I suppose this does indeed seem like a reasonable tradeoff. In fact, voter ID laws are not really intended to present false positives. They are intended to create large numbers of false negatives.

Curve-stitch Cover Art

Much to my delight, I received a large envelope from Australia yesterday. It contained copies of the latest issue of Vinculum a journal of the Mathematical Association of Victoria  aimed at mathematics teachers. The cover art is my curve-stitch isometric cube design. I had lost track of the publican date, so the arrival of the envelope came as a pleasant surprise.

Journal editor Roger Walter requested permission to use my design, as his “From the Editor” column in the current issue is largely about curve stitching.

I suspect that most readers have no idea what a vinculum is, by the way. I certainly didn’t when I received my first e-mail message from Roger. ( notes that “[f]ew English speakers likely know this word.”) A vinculum can be a bond or tie. In mathematical notation, it is a horizontal line used to group expressions in some way. The horizontal line in a fraction, for example, is a vinculum. (See Wikipedia for more details.)

You can learn about curve stitching and see more of my curve-stitch designs on my Web site here.

The Vinculum cover is shown below. Click on the image for a larger view.

October 6, 2014

Prayer for GTS

Our prayer book is a wonderful source of prayers for almost any occasion. (Curiously, however, it includes no prayer for the celebration of a wedding anniversary.  Is there some theological point to that omission?) On the GTS8 Safe Space Facebook page, Sally Johnson, of Columbia, South Carolina, called attention to this prayer on page 824 of the Book of Common Prayer:
28. In Times of Conflict

O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us, in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is certainly appropriate for Episcopalians in light of the chaos at General Seminary and is particularly appropriate for the GTS community, including GTS graduates and the Board of Trustees. It is perhaps particularly relevant to the Board of Trustees, who, after all, are responsible for the Michaelmas Massacre.

October 2, 2014

Thoughts on the TREC Churchwide Meeting

I just finished watching the churchwide meeting held by the Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC). I had low expectations for this meeting, but, at the very least, I gained a better appreciation of what TREC is up to. I want to respond to the experience quickly, so this post will not be polished or expansive.

First, the quality of the Webcast was excellent. Kudos to whoever is responsible for that and to Trinity Wall Street for providing funds to make the meeting happen.

I was struck by how few people seemed to be in attendance at Washington National Cathedral. Was the attendance a disappointment? There was talk about balancing questions from the floor with questions from e-mail and Twitter. That didn’t happen. Most questions were from the floor. Had more questions been selected judiciously from those submitted from the hinterlands (where most of the church is), the questions would have been better.

My overall impression was that TREC does not now know what its recommendations are going to be. At one level, this is comforting, as some of their suggestions, for example, in their most recent letter, were ill-considered. On the other hand, I don’t know how much wisdom they are going to conjure up in the next two days. It was comforting that task force members acknowledged that they can only make a start at transforming the church. General Convention 2015 will only be able to make a few changes—one hopes, in a productive direction.

I came away with the impression that TREC had considered many important issues and had a better handle on the problems of the church than has been apparent from its past communications. So far, TREC has failed to effectively communicate the problems it thinks it is trying to solve. Its missives would have been much more helpful had the task force clearly stated the perceived problems and outlined possible ways of addressing those problems. That would have led to better questions tonight.

I was particularly impressed by some TREC members, though by no means all of them. Bishop Michael Curry, of course, knows how to fire up a crowd, though I don’t know that he has the temperament I would like to see in our next presiding bishop. (He would make a great Baptist preacher!)  I found Bishop Sean Rowe and the Rev. Leng Lim particularly thought-provoking.

TREC clearly is very concerned about the lines of authority and accountability among the general church staff, the presiding bishop, the president of the House of Deputies, and Executive Council. I am willing to believe there are problems here, but most of us who are far removed from 815 Second Avenue are unclear as to the nature of the ambiguities that the task force finds troubling. I wish that TREC would tell us the nature of the ambiguities and conflicts, so that we could evaluate proposed responses more effectively. As I understand it, a major issue here is the nature of Executive Council. At one level, I want Executive Council to be constrained by what the General Convention has said and not said. And yet, Executive Council needs a certain mandate to act between conventions in response to unanticipated developments. This is only one of the questions that needs to be clarified.

I am concerned about what TREC can reasonably suggest in its final report. I hope it will set modest goals for itself, address the most pressing issues, and not overreach. It should lay out the problems it wants to solve, describe possible approaches, and justify its final recommendations. I am not betting on its being able to pull this off.

Preparing to watch tonight’s meeting, I was reminded of a number of church polity matters of some concern. I will mention them here, even though they are only loosely related to anything written by TREC or said by its members.

TREC has suggested that the General Convention might be smaller, but they have not suggested how this might be done. I have some suggestions. Reduce the size of the House of Bishops by excluding retired bishops and bishops without jurisdiction. If we want to reduce the size of the House of Deputies, limit the number of clerical deputies to two. General Convention is too clergy-heavy. Laypeople should have more influence; they make up most of the church.

Having attended several General Conventions, I have been struck by how much it seems like a closed club. Many deputies proudly announce how many conventions they have attended. It is useful to have deputies with General Convention experience, but I do not think it helpful to have lifetime tenure for clergy or lay deputies. We should limit the number of consecutive conventions for which a deputy can serve. Give other people a chance to serve.

The hour is late, so I think it is time to wrap this up. I pray that TREC manages to do something useful. I have no idea what that will look like.

Update, 10/3/2014. The above was written around midnight, and I forgot about a question I had submitted myself to TREC. The duties of presiding bishop have grown far beyond just presiding over the House of Bishops, and TREC seems to be inclined to make the presiding bishop even more powerful. In light of this, isn’t it time to give clergy and laypeople a substantive role in selecting the presiding bishop? As it is now, bishops elect a presiding bishop and the House of Deputies simply ratifies the selection. It is hard to imagine the House of Deputies ever saying no to the choice of the junior house.

October 1, 2014

The GTS 8 and the Michaelmas Massacre

By now, many readers are aware of recent events at The Episcopal Church’s oldest seminary. For those who do not, I will recount a brief summary of what has been happening at the General Theological Seminary in New York City and follow that with a few personal observations.

GTS logo
GTS Logo
On Friday, September 26, 2014, eight faculty members of GTS told students via e-mail that “we will not be teaching, attending meetings, or attending common worship”  until the Board of Trustees responds to a “serious conflict” to which the professors were seeking resolution. Another message later in the day clarified the earlier, rather cryptic one. The distressed teachers—I will call them the GTS 8, a designation being used elsewhere, though not universally—wrote, in part,
Simply put, the working environment that the Dean and President has created has become unsustainable. Moreover, the good faith with which we have communicated these dire circumstances to the Board of Trustees has not, thus far, met with an equally serious response. For example our work stoppage could be ended immediately if the Board of Trustees would commit to meeting with us for a frank discussion of these serious matters, as previously requested.
The “Dean and President” is the Very Rev. Kurt H. Dunkle, a GTS graduate who has been on the job about a year.

What has become clear is that conflict between dean and faculty has been long simmering and finally reached the boiling point last week. The GTS 8 view the new dean as an autocrat who makes decisions without consulting with his faculty or taking their concerns seriously and who does not articulate the thinking behind those decisions.

The work stoppage of the GTS 8 did not have the desired effect. Neither the dean nor the Board of Trustees gave any indication that the request for a meeting with the trustees was given genuine consideration. Instead, on Monday, September 29, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, the GTS 8 were summarily fired, or as Dunkle described it, their resignations were accepted. No resignations were tendered, however, although the GTS 8 did call the working environment created by Dunkle “unsustainable.” Meanwhile, the Michaelmas Massacre—thanks to Paige Baker who help me come up with this name—shows no sign of being undone.

A more complete chronology, with appropriate links, can be found in the summary I wrote for Progressive Episcopalians of Pittsburgh’s news blog, Pittsburgh Update. You can find that here. The GTS 8 now have a Web site, Facebook page, and Twitter account, all of which are linked to in the Pittsburgh Update piece. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up with all that is being written about the situation at GTS and about the Michaelmas Massacre.


I was appalled when I learned of the firings at GTS. Not only did they seem like an overreaction, particularly in light of the failure of the Board of Trustees to even listen to the concerns of the GTS 8, but also they left the seminary with only three regular faculty members plus the dean and president. (The school does have a number of adjunct faculty.) Kunkle has suggested that provisions will be made for teaching all courses by this weekend, presumably be increasing the teaching load on the faculty who are left and bringing in additional adjuncts. As a friend of mine observed, however, would you want to begin teaching in the current GTS environment?

Admittedly, the work stoppage was a radical step, but it appears to be one taken out of frustration and desperation that had been building for a year. The action was taken with the advice of counsel, presumably someone well versed in labor law. The Board of Trustees seems to have been offended at the audacity shown by the GTS 8 in seeking an improved working environment by bypassing the dean and president.

Little of substance has been heard from either Kunkle or the Board of Trustees. No doubt, they realize that the less they say, the better, for, unless they change their tune, they will almost certainly be sued. Their silence is in contrast to the overwhelming support for the fired faculty on social media. Those who seemingly support the action of the Board of Trustees have advised that the rest of us do not know all the facts. That is surely true. On the other hand, when the majority of the faculty at a school is willing to go on strike without the benefit of a union, that very fact is prima facie evidence of serious problems at the school. That the faculty is so upset is a problem, irrespective of the reasons for their discontent, even if those reasons are unjustified.

Episcopalians might have expected that conflict at our most venerable seminary would be met with attempts at reconciliation. (Don’t we talk a lot about reconciliation?) Instead, the concerns of the GTS 8 were ignored and the professors were met with the naked power of the Board of Trustees. What a wonderful Christian witness!

Little has been heard from GTS students. No doubt many are thinking they came to the wrong seminary and are concerned about whether they will receive the education they signed up for. I suspect that they are also concerned that, if they protest the faculty firings or Kunkle’s management style, they, too, will be fired. Graduates of GTS are not so constrained, and the following letter from recent graduates that was posted on Facebook today:
Dear Bishop Sisk and the Board of Trustees:

We greet you from across the nation; we greet you in the midst of the good, good work God has called us to, but we greet you with heavy hearts as we read news from General. We know some of you well, but we know the faculty deeply, and our hearts break at this schism in the seminary. Having been students at other recent moments of crisis for General, we know well the potential this community has for finding common ground in the face of division. In our own time, the faculty supported us with great courage and love, and we hope to live into the example of our Lord, who is reconciling all things to God.

In the past four days we’ve seen accusations formal and informal thrown from one side to the other, and we are deeply worried that this division will have dramatic consequences for the future of General. We are looking for visible signs of Christian mediation in good faith, and have not found them. Each side seems to have taken an irreconcilable stance against the other, though they both profess their willingness to meet and be flexible. As the Trustees, you have the highest stature in the system at this point, and so, as loving alumni and alumnae of General, we urge you to find a way to mediate this conflict quickly. Meeting with all the faculty together – separate from the Dean – will show your intention to take steps in good faith, even if some of their demands seem untenable at first request. Meeting with the faculty together will also show your willingness to take responsibility for a situation that the two sides seem unwilling or unable to fix. We worry that letting this conflict entrench is leading to a loss of trust in the institution, and will further compromise the trust of current and future students.

We speak out of deep love, and we speak out of deep respect. We also speak out of Christian authority; as leaders of the Church, we need you to fulfill your obligation to the future of the seminary.

Matthew 18:15-17 seems to be brought out in every church conflict. We remember Jesus’ final words in the passage: “If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.” We understand that some of you feel your trust and good faith has been compromised. Yet even the Gentiles and tax-collectors found favor and reconciliation at the table with the Lord. We urge you towards a similarly-inspired charity. We urge you not to write off one side of this conflict for the other. We urge you to creatively and willingly engage this conflict in order to secure the future of the seminary.

With loving, broken hearts,

The Class of 2012

The Rev. Chris Ballard
The Rev. Rebecca Barnes
The Rev. Greg Brown
The Rev. Cathy Carpenter
The Rev. Colin Chapman
The Rev. Amy Cornell
The Rev. Jeff Evans
The Rev. Howard Gillette
The Rev. Jadon Hartsuff
The Rev. Jean Hite
The Rev. James Joiner
The Rev. Brad Jones
The Rev. Cathy Kerr
The Rev. Suzanne LeVesconte
The Rev. Renny Martin
The Rev. Sandra McLeod
Mr. Adam McCluskey
The Rev. Joe Mitchell
The Rev. Brandt Montgomery
The Rev. Jean Mornard
Mr. Michael Mornard
The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews
The Rev. Linda Racen
The Rev. Andrew Reinholz
The Rev. Sam Tallman
The Rev. Keith Voets
The Rev. Ben Wallis
There is no need for me to say more than that.

September 26, 2014


From time to time, I have mentioned  hymns I have written. I have also posted hymn parodies (e.g., “All Things Bright and Beautiful”) in my less serious moments.

To date, I have written four hymns, and I would really like to have them sung in church. (Priests and church musicians take note.) Most have been sung at my own church and have occasionally been used elsewhere, though too infrequently.

I thought it might be helpful to list all my hymns in one place, which I have done here.

Particularly notable, I think, is my hymn “Authorities,” which celebrates scripture, tradition, and reason, the so-called three-legged stool of Richard Hooker. I know of no other hymn that celebrates Hooker’s theology. The hymn is especially appropriate for use on November 3, when we celebrate Hooker, and for the Sunday closest to November 16, when we use Proper 28, whose collect celebrates scripture.

“Holy Eucharist” is inspired by Eucharist Prayer C and would be appropriate whenever that liturgy is used. “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation” is also written in the spirit of Eucharist Prayer C (“the vast expanse of interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses,” etc.) One caveat: “Heavens and Earth, All of Creation” uses the copyrighted tune “Earth and All Stars.” I have permission to use this on a trial basis, but further permission would be needed for publication or long-term use.

If you would like to use any of these hymns in your church, please write to me for permission, which I will be happy to give.

September 7, 2014

How Do I Hate the TREC Letter? Let Me Count the Ways.

When I learned of the latest communication from the Task Force for Reimagining the Church, I immediately planned to offer a comprehensive response to the “TREC Letter to the Church.” Then I read the letter. And I read it again. And I read what others were saying. And I concluded that my original plan would be a complete waste of time. Like the previous missives from this task force, the latest output is a pile of gobbledygook that hints of changes that, in my humble opinion, would be somewhere between counterproductive and disastrous.

TREC logo
So, this will not be a complete analysis of the TREC letter. Instead, I will try to offer some high-level criticism and raise objections I have not seen elsewhere.

Let me begin with a procedural concern. Ever since I read the “TREC Study Paper on Episcopal Networks,” I became concerned that the task force could not meet its November deadline for producing useful recommendations. I now have no doubt that the deadline will be met. And I have no doubt that the final report will be a disaster.

General Convention Resolution C095 required that TREC convene “a special gathering to receive responses to the proposed recommendations to be brought forward to the 78th General convention,.” That gathering will take place at Washington National Cathedral and on the World Wide Web on October 2. I assume that we now have all the work products of TREC we are going to have before that meeting. That, in itself, is scary. Scarier still is the fact that the task is convening its final meeting on October 3 and 4, with the intention of releasing its report by November 30. What if the work of the task force runs into a buzz saw, as seems possible, on October 2? It is a pretty fair guess that, even if the members of the task force want to, there simply will be no time to change the direction of the task force recommendation. The October 2 affair is a sham. There is time to pretty up the gobbledegook, but what we see on November 30 is going to look a lot like what we have seen already.

The task force might well have begun by building a picture of what it wants the future church to look like. Had it articulated such a vision early on, Episcopalians would have had a chance to either buy into the vision or to point the task force is a different direction. If the task force headed off in the wrong direction, a final course correction at the end of its journey is not going to land its recommendations at the right destination.

Rightly or wrongly, we can, infer the objectives of the task force from what it has written. It seeks a church that is less expensive to run, more authoritarian in its governance, less responsive to lay voices, indifferent to the needs of vast areas of the territory of the church, and which carries out its work of telling dioceses and parishes what to do using hired guns that can be hired and fired at will. This is not the church I signed on to.

A competent report for a group like TREC would:
  1. Articulate overall objectives against which its recommendations can be measured.
  2. Clearly identify each problem it intends to address.
  3. Analyze each problem and explain what the status quo is and how it contributes to the problem.
  4. Offer a plan to address the problem.
  5. Analyze advantages and disadvantages of the plan and how, on the whole, it ameliorates the problem and contributes to the overall goals.
Generally, TREC has not been clear about the problems it purports to be solving. Nor has it explained what improvements will be the product of the proffered solutions or how global objectives will be advanced.
Consider, for example, the idea of cutting the size of Executive Council and eliminating representatives from provinces. This will cut costs (good). It will make the group less representative (bad). It may or may not make Executive Council more efficient. Yes, it’s easier to make decisions in a smaller group—a group of one works best—but a larger Council brings greater diversity to the decision process and provides more bodies to carry on necessary committee work. Of course, if some of Executive Council’s responsibility is offloaded to, say, the Presiding Bishop, Executive Council will have less to do.

Consider now the job of the Presiding Bishop. If he or she becomes CEO with additional managerial responsibility—I’m uncertain about the lines of authority myself, and TREC has not clarified what the status quo is—should we be selecting Presiding Bishops for management expertise, rather than for spiritual gifts? It is unclear to me that we can find an adequate CEO and chief pastor in the same person. TREC says nothing about this concern.

Clearly, the office of Presiding Bishop has become more powerful as the church moved away from a bishop who simply convened the House of Bishops. If the Presiding Bishop has ultimate responsibility for both the spiritual and organizational health of The Episcopal Church, why is the office holder chosen only by bishops? Now, the House of Deputies merely rubber stamps the choice of the bishops. If we value a participatory church—it is unclear that democracy is a value of TREC—ordinary clergy and laypeople should have a real say in who becomes Presiding Bishop.

Perhaps what is most surprising are the problem that seem not to have come to the attention of TREC at all. Chief among these are
  1. The recent budget disasters in 2009 and 2012 (definitely not the fault of the General Convention)
  2. The failure to to discipline bishops in a timely fashion when it becomes clear that they are straying off the reservation
  3. The ambiguity, whether real or imagined, as to whether a diocese can leave the church (also, is the Dennis Canon strong enough?)
  4. The tendency of Presiding Bishops to attend meetings of the Anglican primates and leave the impression that they are in agreement with communiqués that are clearly hostile to The Episcopal Church
I could write an essay addressing each of these problems and more, but I leave that the the imagination of the reader.

Pray for our church. It surely needs your prayers.

Postscript. There is much commentary on the Web about the latest TREC letter. I do not intend to document it all here. My favorite essay so far is from the Rev. Tom Ferguson. I also have to mention Katie Sherrod’s post, coming as it does from another diocese that has experienced schism at the hands of a general church asleep at the switch. Read also what the Rev. Mark Harris has to say. The Lead has collected comments and links, including some I have recommended above. In any case, let your voice be heard before it is too late.

September 4, 2014

A Thought about Corporate Taxation

Let me begin by admitting that our system of corporate taxation is out of whack. It is not clear that corporations should be taxed at all. Our system taxes productivity and distorts the evaluation of costs and rewards. And it results in huge expenditures devoted to tax avoidance. Despite the notion that corporations are “people,” they are certainly not natural people who can enjoy profits. Only natural people—think stockholders—can ultimately enjoy the fruits of corporate earnings. It would make infinitely more sense than our present taxation method to drop corporate taxes and to tax all income at the same rate.

That said, it must be admitted that, in the current climate, major changes to the U.S. tax system—in anything important, actually—are impossible. Until the Republican Party regains its sanity or is destroyed—the latter eventuality seems preferable—we can make changes to our system of taxation only at the edges.

This brings me to the real subject of this post, but I want to begin with a disclaimer. I am not an economist, tax expert, or even a business person. I can, however, think logically. I’m sure that what I am about to propose would, in practice, have to be more complex than I can possibly imagine. I leave the pragmatic details to others.

There are untold billions of dollars, perhaps even trillions of dollars, being held by U.S. corporations overseas. The government would like this money to be repatriated, so it could be taxed. That is not happening because the corporations do not want to pay the 35% corporate tax on the money. Of course, these corporations virtually never pay the nominal rate, but, in any case, they would like to bring the money to the U.S., where it could be paid to stockholders, and pay as little tax as possible.

There are legislators who would like the government to allow corporate money held overseas to be brought to the U.S. and taxed at a rate lower than 35%, probably much lower (e.g., 3%). From one point of view, this looks like a win-win situation. From another point of view, it looks like a major corporate giveaway.

Those carrying water for corporate giants argue that corporations need an incentive to bring money into the U.S. I agree, but lowering the tax rate so that the government gets only a pittance out of the deal is not the only mechanism for providing incentive.

Here is another incentive idea: Increase the tax rate on monies brought into the country to, say 45%, beginning in perhaps six months. If corporations transfer the money to the U.S. promptly, the corporations would lose nothing—they wouldn’t gain anything, either—and the government would get the taxes to which it is morally entitled.

Random Language Notes

I’ve been accumulating several language issues I’ve wanted to write about, and I thought I’d just deal with all of them in one post.


My suspicion is that most people use sewage and may not even know sewerage. They may even think the latter term to be made up or a mispronunciation. As it happens, however, both terms originated around 1830. Sewage is waste carried through a system of pipes for disposal. Sewerage can mean the same thing. (That’s the confusing thing about these two words.) More commonly, however, sewerage refers either to the sewer infrastructure or the process of removing waste via such an infrastructure.

I grew up in New Orleans, where sewers were the responsibility of the Sewerage and Water Board of New Orleans, so, probably unlike most people, I learned sewerage before I learned sewage.


Both dissociate and disassociate are old words, having been invented around Shakespeare’s time. Again, people may know one term and not the other and think that the unfamiliar word is wrong. In practice, the terms are pretty much synonymous.

Probably because I am influenced by the use of the term dissociation in chemistry, to dissociate for me suggests splitting a union into more or less equal parts, whereas to disassociate suggests one part splitting from a larger body. (The partners decided to dissociate. Roger concluded that he had to disassociate from his club.) Others may be influenced in their choice of words by the psychological concept of dissociation. I’m not really sure how that idea affects one’s perception of the distinction, if any, between dissociate and disassociate.


In a currently running NPR underwriting announcement, social is being used to mean social media. I find this jarring, and I had to hear the announcement several times before convincing myself that I had understood it correctly.

I can think of a several instances where people have taken a multi-word substantive and dropped all but the first word. Microwave oven has universally become simply microwave. Less commonly, transistor radio was shortened to transistor. In some contexts, Social Security number (or Social Security account number, SSAN) has become social. In a related transformation, long-playing record has simply become LP.

Some of these contractions work better than others. Microwave, I think, works well because hardly anyone has occasion to refer to one microwave and because references to objects such as a microwave cavity are confined to highly technical contexts.

I have always been upset by transistor to mean transistor radio. I had a clear idea in my own mind of what a transistor was and knew that many devices other than small radios used them. I therefore found the shortened term confusing and imprecise. Others may not have been bothered in the same way I was.

I do strongly object to social as a noun standing in for a longer phrase. Too many commonly used terms begin with social: social graces, social disease, social science, social work, social contract, social climber, etc. Moreover, social already has a meaning; a social is a kind of gathering or party. Perhaps this usage began as a nineteenth-century phrase, but, if so, I don’t know what that phrase might have been. The most common use of social as a noun today is likely in the phrase ice cream social. Perhaps we should just call that an ice cream.

Update, 9/5/2014. I heard the NPR underwriting announcement again today and realized it was for Constant Contact. One of the links on the home page of the company is labeled SOCIAL. The page linked to is about social campaigns, which, of course, use social media. If Constant Contact is using social to mean social campaigns, the usage is even stranger than I thought.

September 1, 2014

Thoughts on the Future of Israel

I was driving home from Geneva, New York, today and heard an episode of the radio program “Democracy Now!” a public radio program I had never heard before. Today’s program featured an interview with long-time Jewish leader Henry Siegman, a critic of Israel’s policies regarding Palestinian. (The interview can be seen or read here.)

Flag of Israel
Siegman offered much to think about, but what I found most interesting were his thoughts on the future of Israel. Siegman argued that Israel’s present government has no real interest in a two-state solution—it wants all of Palestine. He asserted that Israeli settlements make that outcome nearly inevitable. Only two developments can derail that inevitability.

First, the U.S. could cut off financial and moral support for Israel. Our “special relationship,” he said, is based on common values, but, as things now stand, we are complicit in the “oppression and permanent disenfranchisement of an entire people.” At some point, America could say enough is enough and tell Israel that it is on its own. Of course, Israel cannot survive without American aid.

As much as I would like to see the U.S. cut Israel loose (or demand the complete dismantlement of all Jewish settlements intended to create facts on the ground), I am not going to hold my breath waiting for this to happen. The Israel lobby, after all, is even more powerful that the NRA. It owns Congress.

Siegman’s second possibility is a lot more interesting. Let the Palestinians surrender. Let them declare that Israel has won and can have all of Palestine. Then begin a civil-rights campaign demanding equal treatment by the Israeli government. (Siegman cautions that this move must be sincere, and the campaign must be non-violent.) Israelis will not stand for a democratic state that is no longer a Jewish one and will be forced to carve out a state for the Palestinians. (Or, better still, in my opinion, will be forced to dismantle the thinly disguised theocracy for a secular state.)

One more thought (this is my own): It is often said that Israel is our staunchest ally in the Middle East. Alas, Israel is also the reason we need such an ally.

Continuing a Labor Day Tradition

In 2011, I wrote a poem titled “Labor Day Lament, 2011.” Alas, the poem seems as relevant today as it did three years ago. This year, however, the American people have suffered yet another indignity at the hands of our corporate overlords, as Burger King moves to Canada to avoid U.S. taxes.

Today, I heard a report on the radio about another technique being used to rob American workers of their dignity and a decent wage. Apparently, in the restaurant industry, software is predicting the probable volume of customers minute by minute. Because of this, a server, rather than being hired for a reasonable shift, might be hired for 7:54 AM to 9:30 AM, then from 11:23 AM to 12:58 PM. It is easy to think that Adam Smith’s invisible hand is increasingly at the neck of American workers.

If the workers of America ever wake up and unite, things may get ugly. Anyway, my 2011 poem is below. It is also on my Web site, where it appears with an explanation of its construction and some of its references.

Labor Day Lament, 2011
by Lionel E. Deimel

With bosses making millions,
And millions unemployed,
Hapless workers, by the millions,
Have seen their dreams destroyed.

America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where oh where did you go wrong?

We look for Christian charity,
For pity toward the poor;
We find instead indifference
And the rich demanding more.

Pollution from their smokestacks
The breath of infants robs;
They say that regulations
Will only kill our jobs.

America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where oh where did you go wrong?

Our politicians ponder
How to fool the average Joe
Into thinking every problem
Can be solved by saying “no.”

For wrecking our prosperity,
No bankers went to jail;
They’d rather crush the middle class
Than let a big bank fail.

America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where oh where did you go wrong?

Corporations are just people
In somewhat different guise,
So judges gave them license
To feed us all their lies.

The unions are retreating;
Their time, it’s said, is gone;
Amidst our countless troubles,
Tell me, which side are you on?

America the beautiful,
America the strong,
New order of the ages,
Where oh where did you go wrong?

1956 Labor Day stamp

August 28, 2014

Would Less Representation Be More Representative?

There has been much commentary lately about how legislative districts have become less competitive. Districts have been gerrymandered to be more Democratic or, more frequently, more Republican. One party becomes unbeatable in these districts and, because of the primary system, the more passionate (and radical) party faithful tend to select people who go on to win the general election. The resulting legislators, secure in their seats and holding fringe views, resist compromise and paralyze the legislative process. If there are enough such legislators, they can pass crazy laws. This state of affairs is exacerbated by the tendency of people to sort themselves geographically, making it difficult to create diverse districts even through nonpartisan redistricting.

Less remarked upon but at least as distressing is the tendency of local school boards in homogeneous districts to make decisions based on philosophy or religion, rather than on science or the informed opinion of professional educators.

Is democracy failing America?

Perhaps part of the problem is that the House of Representatives and similar bodies at the state and local level have too many members, i.e., because there are too many districts. If the House were half the size, for examples, districts in the states would have to be twice as big. The obvious objection to this is that individuals would have less of a voice in government. On the positive side, however, larger districts would likely encompass a more diverse constituency, resulting in more competitive races and, one might hope, more centrist legislators interested in governing, rather than in flauting their ideological purity.

The benefits of having larger school districts could manifest themselves even more quickly than the benefits of larger legislative districts. Pennsylvania has 500 school districts, which is widely seen as too many. There are some very fine school districts, but many are small, insular, and are funded largely by the underclass. Larger districts could offer more diverse and better funded school boards.

So, would less representation be more representative of Americans generally? Could be.

August 27, 2014

Flags in Church

I read a piece by Mark Sandlin this morning, the title of which was “10 MORE Things Churches Can’t Do While Following Jesus.” Number 2 on the list was the following:
2) Place a U.S. Flag in the sanctuary.

For me, this one is unbelievably straightforward.

Sanctuary space is meant for signs, symbols and experiences which point us toward God.

A flag points us toward a government.

A government is not a god – at least, it’s not supposed to be.

Worse yet, a flag displayed in a space of worship seems to indicate a sense of “chosenness,” “specialness” – basically good old fashioned American exceptionalism.

But, God loves us all equally.

A flag in the sanctuary suggests that God loves some nations more than others.

And, that actually points us away from God.

Get the flag out of the sanctuary.

Put it on your truck, wear it on a shirt or hang it in your yard – but, unless you are going to display the flag of every nation on Earth in your sanctuary, you are creating a worship space that points away from God.

Make it go bye-bye.
U.S. flagThe idea of banning U.S. flags from our worship spaces is not a new idea. Some prominent Episcopalians have advocated this. Anyone who is a student of American history and who pays attention to current events recognizes that there are dangers in conflating Christianity and nationalism. That said, I think the case against having an American flag in church—in an Episcopal church certainly—is weaker than Sandlin suggests.

To begin with, I dispute the assertion that the flag “points us toward a government,” at least as “government” is understand in most of the world. Whatever the deficiencies of our Pledge of Allegiance—see my essay “The Pledge of Allegiance Revisited”—it is on the mark in stressing allegiance “to the Republic for which it [the flag] stands.” Oaths taken by public servants (e.g., the President and members of the military) are clearer on this point, stressing faithfulness to the Constitution, which is more of an abstraction that would be a pledge to, say, the Obama administration. Although our Constitution is decidedly not a “Christian” document, it is not difficult to see it embodying an aspiration for “justice and peace among all people and respect [for] the dignity of every human being.” Moreover, the First Amendment guarantees the freedom of religious bodies from government interference, a principle worth celebrating. These are ideals symbolized by the flag.

The stronger case for the flag in church, however, hinges on the nature of Anglicanism. At its best, Anglicanism does not identify church with state, but it acknowledges that church polity, ethics, and practice are not universals, but are best tailored to the society in which the church ministers. One hopes that the fundamental Good News preached in The Episcopal Church is the same as that preached in the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion). The cause of Christ would not be served by translating The Episcopal Church to Nigeria or the Church of Nigeria to the United States, however. The protestations of our presiding bishop notwithstanding, The Episcopal Church is very much an American church.

The American flag in an Episcopal church, then, is not equating God and country. Instead, it is acknowledging the mission field outside the doors of the church.

Note. Minor edits were made to this post 9/18/2014.