Friday, November 26, 2010

Giving thanks

We spent Thanksgiving this week at the home of Canadian friends who were trying their hand at their first American Thanksgiving meal ever. The cooking was superb and I loved simply driving there and relaxing and not having to cook myself. Quelle relief.
Every Thanksgiving morning I take out a certain blue notebook that I only write in one day a year. It's an informal Thanksgiving diary where I note all that went on the past year and what happened to give thanks for. Like, not getting laid off last December when 110 other Washington Times staffers were getting the boot. The five-month reprieve I got was vital in that I got a three-part series into the paper (in April) that I'm hoping will be a contest winner.
This is not the first time I've lost a job over the years and each time the switch has ultimately proved to my benefit which is how I hope this experience will work out. This time is the first time, however, that massive amounts of people have also been without work alongside me, plus I am quite a bit older than I was last time I jobhunted. Which is not helpful in today's job climate.
Pictured here is a photo of Veeka and I at Sun Mountain Lodge, a gorgeous resort in Winthrop, Wash. Which was one of our nicer experiences of 2010.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Requiem for St. Luke's

In the last day or so, news has come out that the venerable St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Seattle is splitting and that 3/4 of the parish is leaving to form a new congregation that will join up with CANA, one of the new Anglican jurisdictions hoping to supplant the US Episcopal Church. I knew of this six weeks ago when I spoke at St. Luke's one Sunday morning, then had lunch with the rector and his wife: John and Holly Roddam, at a local Thai restaurant.
It was a most enlightening repast for we compared notes about all sorts of things. I found it really odd that when I was in high school in the early 70s, St. Luke's was packed with people. John said 700 were members back then; nearly a megachurch by Episcopal standards. When I showed up there Oct. 3, there were less than 50 people there. It was a sad contrast to Mars Hill, a church barely a mile away, which has multiple branches and last I heard was at about 7,000 people. It's probably larger than that now. But 30 years ago, St. Luke's was packing them in.
St. Lukes, for those of you who do not know it, was one of three major charismatic Episcopal parishes in the country. The other two were Redeemer in Houston and St. Paul's Darien in Connecticut. I've been at 2 of the 3 churches this year. Redeemer had barely 60 people at a Sunday morning service and their rector left at the end of the summer. The parish is barely able to pay its bills much less afford a new priest. In fact, St. Luke's will revert to mission status to serve the handful of people left there. John told me he guesses the financially strapped Diocese of Olympia will soon sell it. The real estate in downtown Ballard is just worth too much money.
I have not visited St. Paul's, but a friend who knows the place well says it too has reverted to barely-making-it status although at least it -unlike the other 2 churches - at least has a rector. I can't help but wonder if there is a sign in all this; that 3 of the liveliest parishes in the denomination have been or are being snuffed out.
Not much personal news; jobhunting has been fruitless and I just finished doing the WPost magazine article after the deadline was moved up one month. Am including a photo of Veeka at her new gym class. My little Olga Korbut just loves to flip about.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Covering the HuffPost bus tour

"A half moon is shining over a crowd of 20-somethings, clumped together like so many penguins in a futile effort to avoid the chilly wind. Clad in all manner of Halloween costumes, hoodies, jeans and woolen scarves and clasping signs, they stand in a long line at the vast parking lot surrounding Citi Field, home of the New York Mets just south of LaGuardia Airport in Queens. But nothing is too big a sacrifice for the cause: in this case a massive meeting 209 miles away on the Mall in Washington with the odd title of “Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” starring Comedy Central’s Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart, most known for their late-night antics on “The Daily Show.”

To add to the drama, internet diva Arianna Huffington had announced Sept. 28 on The Daily Show she personally would fund “as many buses as people to fill them” from New York to help fans get to the Oct. 30 rally. After well over 10,000 people enlisted, her web site,, closed registrations Oct. 24. And so here we are, about 10,000 strong in pre-dawn 42-degree weather. ....

That is the beginning of a Washington Post Sunday magazine piece I am writing about one of the weirder adventures I've had recently. The night of Oct. 27, one of the editors messaged me via Facebook, asking if I'd care to take an unusual assignment. They'd had a liberal journalist follow some Tea Partiers around at the August Glenn Beck rally. The Post was looking for a conservative journalist (me!) to follow tons of left-of-center folks as they boarded one of 200 free buses - courtesy of Huffington Post - at the crack of dawn in Queens. The only problem is I had to be up in New York Friday night to do this thing.

Now I was spending all day Friday in Baltimore as a panelist at the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion pushing the "Fire and Glory" book. Plus there was the small detail of who'd take care of Veeka. But on Thursday I decided to take the assignment after I found friends willing to watch her (bless you!) until I could get back home late Saturday afternoon. And thus began the strangest adventure beginning with my catching a train to New York from Baltimore, then taking another train to Queens and staying in the same hotel I did when covering the 2005 Billy Graham crusade.

The next morning, I was up at 4 and within an hour, I was in Citi Field interviewing tons of shivering people who were waiting for these free buses to Washington. It was 42 degrees, I later learned and my hands were so cold, I could barely write. A nice photographer called Robert Woudenberg took this photo of me interviewing some college students who were dressed up as - and spoofing - the Chilean miners. It's about 5:15 a.m. at this point. I ended up on the same bus as the "miners" and when we pulled into RFK Stadium around noon, a Post photographer was there to meet us. Together we followed the "miners" about this huge rally which we saw almost nothing of. The organizers didn't know that actual attendance would be quadruple their projections; there were far too few jumbotrons and the speaker system was totally inadequate. All those wonderful HuffPost buses ended up bringing some 10,000 New Yorkers there hours too late. All the good seats were taken hours before.

But the signs! So many people were hoisting about the most clever signs and the weather was gorgeous. I was being paid for being there but I felt sorry for the poor folks - some who'd flown in from California - who were crowded out of the rally. As a local resident for almost 15 years now, I've learned one does not attend rallies on the Mall because of the sheer misery of getting there and standing there so chances are I would have never been there on my own. So it was a real kick to see this close up.

When does the article run? Either December or January, so stay tuned.