Shows the Famiily Can Watch

[Religion News Service, September 3, 1996] A recent television awards ceremony sought to honor so‑called “family” shows; advertising for the program proclaimed that it would celebrate “shows the whole family can watch together.” The tone was both defensive and opportunistic. The show's producers read their demographics correctly: There are a lot of parents out there who are just plain peeved.

Church Fires, Contagious Hatred

[Religion News Service, July 23, 1996] At the beginning of a summer expected to be long and hot, a shocking charge was made: Racists are burning black churches. In a June 8 address, President Clinton cited the burning of Murkland Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, N.C., which he described as the 30th such fire in 18 months.

Smiling Conservatives

[Religion News Service, April 25, 1995}Smile and the world doesn't always smile with you. When Verlyn Klinkenborg reports on a pro-life protest outside a Milwaukee abortion clinic (Harper's, January 1995), the first thing he tells us about the participants is:  “They were smiling.  'They smile all the time,' said a woman named Catey Doyle...in the room with me.” Likewise, when Julie A. Wortman writes in The Witness about her reluctance to attend a meeting on evangelism, her first complaint is, “Most of the people I've encountered who enjoy talking about and doing evangelism have seemed unnaturally smiley and friendly.” When liberals peer across the barricades, they don't only see their opponents thinking wrong thoughts. They see them smiling about it, which is even more unsettling.

From Agnostic to Christian

A little church on Sunday morning is a negligible thing. It may be the meekest, and least conspicuous, thing in America. Someone zipping between Baltimore's airport and beltway might pass this one, a little stone church drowsing like a hen at the corner of Maple and Camp Meade Road. At dawn all is silent, except for the click every thirty seconds as the oblivious traffic light rotates through its cycle. The building's bell tower out of proportion, too large and squat and short to match. Other than that, there's nothing much to catch the eye. In a few hours heaven will strike earth like lightning on this spot. The worshipers in this little building will be swept into a divine worship that proceeds eternally, grand with seraphim and incense and God enthroned, ”high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple“ (Isaiah 6:1). The foundations of that temple shake with the voice of angels calling ”Holy" to each other, and we will be there, lifting fallible voices in the refrain, an outpost of eternity. If this is true, it is the most astonishing thing that will happen in our city today.

Where is the Church for People with AIDS?

[Religion News Service, June 13, 1995] Where is the church for people with AIDS? Today the church is chugging up five flights of stairs in a downtown Baltimore nursing home. Gary Carr, sales manager for a Christian radio station and a member of First Baptist Church of Pimlico, first began visiting AIDS patients here in 1988.

Too Much Togetherness

[Religion News Service, December 24, 1996] This season of togetherness pushes people together, and in the process they find sometimes that the fit isn't so easy. Family members who see each other once a year do so now, over the turkey or New Year's Day ham; co‑workers from other departments share cookies and a paper cup of soda (or something stronger) and try to make conversation. In this season more than ever we are being appraised and often find ourselves fretting about how to dress or behave to suit different occasions. It's a tense and giddy time, so full of fun that we're quite relieved when it's over.

Fraternizing with the Enemy

[World, October 23, 1993] I arrived a little early to pick up my 11-year-old son at church camp. It was dinnertime in the long wooden hall, 263 kids noisily banging the cups and wolfing down cherry cobbler. Suddenly a table of boys burst into incoherent song--the words a blur, but the tone tauntingly playful. It was greeted with a mixture of applause and boos. “That's Cabin 44,” Stephen grinned. “Every night they have a battle with Cabin 5. They make up rhymes about each other.” When a few minutes had lapsed another song struck up, this one all in girls' voices. “That's Cabin 5,” Stephen told me. When they finished, I joined the yays (Go, team!) while Stephen went “Boo!” “I had to go 'boo,'” he explained to me, sincerely. “I knew they were making fun of men. I knew it was a sexist joke.”

Lenten Sacrifice

[NPR, “All Things Considered,” March 4, 1997] Scattered among your friends and neighbors are those now living a shadow life: people observing Lent. For them Easter waits at the end of March, but preparing for Easter takes time; time for reflection, time for repentance and reordering a life. The Church counts backward seven weeks to allow this breathing space, and begins the season with Ash Wednesday.

What Does Blood Tell?

 [World, February 4, 1995] The handwritten letter was three pages long and dated “Savannah 24th May 1848.” It was signed by my husband's great-great-great grandmother, Antoinette Girard. It began dramatically. “Prompted by the desire to leave to my children some record of their ancestors, I try to write down as much as I can remember, but must request that no use whatever should be made of this paper as long as their father lives. He bound himself by a solemn promise never to reveal it.”

Deconstructing the AAR

As late fall slides to winter, across the country Christians are winding up another year of living the religious life. Late fall, and across the country members of the American Academy of Religion are winding up another year of studying the religious life. The distinction between living it and studying it may seem artificial; most Christians study scripture, as well as theology and devotional works. But the study based in faith is not like the study of religion per se. In the halls of academe, religion is just one more sociological phenomenon, to be appraised from a safe distance (after all, He may not be a tame lion). Not that all the members of the Academy are religious abstainers; there are mainliners, goddess-worshippers, Buddhists, and the odd evangelical or two. But the AAR meets in the ivory tower, not the church.