Archive for May, 2023

Fewer folks at the altar

Author: admin

Since our return to the upper Willamette Valley a year ago, we’ve been searching for a new church “home.”

We’ve attended all the mainline denominations in a 15 mile radius. And, what we’ve found in each is the same story: reduced attendance to the point that several seemed about to close.

We’ve been to a nearby United Methodist church. The sanctuary built to accommodate about 300 people, but at our visit, had attendance of less than 50. The church was built on a whole block for future growth. The main building had a wing for classrooms and offices plus a full basement. Obviously planned for what appeared to be a future increase in membership. Growth that hasn’t materialized. Presbyterian, Lutheran or similar faiths. All.

Some other mainline houses of worship we visited weren’t even meeting in their sanctuaries, opting for classrooms or cafeterias. Smaller meeting areas for smaller attendance, cheaper upkeep and lower utility bills.

It’s no secret many mainline churches have been seeing reduced membership for several years. Some have closed.

There are several basic factors here. One is the next several generations doesn’t seem attracted to either religion as a whole or the strictures associated with traditional worship. Another is the rise of what could be called “modern thinking” churches with sanctuaries built more like concert arenas. They often have small bands. They encourage informality of dress and demeanor. Some would say there’s a more “entertainment-like” factor involved with less reliance on traditional religious services.

Whatever the case, church attendance is way down from the ’50’s and ’60’s. So, too, are the necessary financial underpinnings. Some churches even rent space during the week for outside events just to keep support the budget. And keep the lights on.

Look around mainline church congregations today and you’ll find lots of gray hair. We haven’t been to one recently where the average age was less than the late ’60’s or early ’70’s. In a few years, we’ll be gone. What then?

Seminaries that turn out ministers for these traditional churches are obviously feeling the cutback.

These same churches with declining congregations got hit a couple years ago with a real hammer: COVID. Many scrambled to serve their home-bound congregants needs in a new way: television. Some were limited with a one-set camera shot. Some turned to TV techs for more professional setups with several cameras and more than one voice pickup.

Now, some of those same churches are faced with fewer folks in the pews and more at home, wearing pajamas and sitting in their favorite recliners. They like it. Such folks are hard to measure for attendance purposes. Or, continued giving in some cases. But, it seems, a goodly number of those at home won’t be returning to the sanctuary. At least for awhile.

Some of the new, more “freestyle” movements have also drawn folks from traditional churches. Some even advertise “We’ve got answers to all your questions.” Editors note: Not hardly.

Our society is experiencing momentous changes in nearly everything. It’s been going on for sometime but COVID served to speed things up a bit. Everything from the way we buy cars to how we shop to the way we bank and pay our bills. And how we worship.

All of this I-Net stuff, Amazon and similar outfits, have lured millions of shoppers “online.” “Buy today. Delivered tomorrow.”

Sorry, but none of that works for me. I have to drive the car. Gotta feel the shirt material. Gotta touch the sheets. Want to go face-to-face with a salesman. Got to try on the pants. Have to attend to worship with others. Feel their closeness. Join their voices to sing the hymns.

Us older folks are still shopping at the mall or downtown. We’re still buying cars and other goods from local retailers we know. Our health care is face-to-face local. We still sit in the same pews to worship.

I’m not “down” for all that new stuff. We’ll still be doing things the way we’ve always done. Our choice.

You can almost smell it

Author: admin

There’s a whiff of something in the air. Just a whiff. Not fully smoke yet. Just a whiff.

(NOTE: For purposes of this column, the term “progressive” is used to convey someone (or more than one someone’s) open to change, willing to accept new ideas/concepts and is generally someone on the positive side of things. But, not necessarily a Democrat.)

Now, back to “whiffing.”

Watching elections from school boards to governorships across the country, in recent weeks, there’s a whiff of change in the air. Not monumental. Not sweeping. Just a whiff.

Progressives appear to be slowly coming back into favor with voters.
In our little Oregon burg, for example, last week’s school board elections saw all local incumbents – progressives in nature – returned for new terms. In a county usually described as “conservative” politically. Similar outcomes in elections in other Oregon locales.

Higher up the political food chain, voters in Jacksonville, FL, elected a woman in the mayoralty race. A registered Democrat. First woman in history. First Dem in a long, long time. Ousted a Republican incumbent.

While hopeful, there’s not enough evidence yet to indicate a trend. But, it’s – well – hopeful. Just a whiff.

Our little school board contest, for example. Yep. The “good guys” won – the more “progressives.” The slate of “bad guys” was defeated. Challengers appeared to have some outside dollars behind them. Professional advertising and full color campaign materials.

Considerable spending. But, to no avail. Turns out voters weren’t “buying” what the three were “selling.”

If you’ve been paying attention nationally, over the last several months, progressives have been getting their noses under the right wing’s tent. Just a bit. Here and there.

Those of us with gray hair – and long memories – harken back to the early to mid-fifties. Conservatism was in the air. Republicans were “in the saddle” most places and – while rejecting Barry Goldwater for President – the GOP was pretty much in charge.

Then, something happened. At a time when the ship-of-state was listing to the right, a guy named John Kennedy arrived on the scene. In fact, a whole bunch of Kennedys were making news.

And, with them, the nation began tilting to port. (Left, for you landlubbers.)

Things loosened considerably. Make that, a whole lot! The 60’s were upon us. Woodstock, “joints,” “free” love and tie-died shirts. Hippies were making news. And, America was having a real good time. Voters were saying, “Barry who?”

The nation we call our “homeland” has always tipped this way and that. Over the long haul, our progress has usually been more “steady-by-jerks” than smooth sailing. From our revolutionary beginnings to the 21st Century, we’ve always been shifting.

In our politics, we’ve slid from John-Birch-right to the Obama-left. And, back again. But always, over the long haul, we’ve rejected most national extremes, to find more comfort in the middle.

Now, elective offices in our country are under attack from the far right. At the moment, having given up on taking control of the nation from the top down, the hard right is trying to make inroads from the bottom up. They’re attempting to get a foothold locally to begin a political climb to power.

But, it’s not working in a lot of places.

Take Southwest Idaho, for example. Meridian-Caldwell-Nampa. From the western outskirts of Boise to the Oregon line, it’s very conservative country. Very.

But, in those same communities, local governance is a lot more progressive than you might think. Conservative to progressive-lite more aptly describes the local office-holders rather than Republican or Democrat. While there are hard-right folks in some slots, there’s also a progressive or two. Maybe even three or more.

As I said, it’s a “whiff” at the moment. Not real “smoke.” But, something’s afoot.

Keep your nose in the air. And, as Radar used to say, “Wait for it.”

Verbal overkill

Author: admin

The nearly universal condemnation of CNN for allowing Donald Trump more than an hour of prime time to spew his oft-repeated lies is well-deserved.

Criticism ranged from “an evening of B.S.” to “Fox Lite.”

Just because the guy who’s been a most-vocal critic of your network now wants to talk to you doesn’t mean it’s necessary to broadcast the verbal slime for which he’s so well-known.

What possessed the “powers-that-be” at CNN to give unfettered license to flood their network with a torrent of lies we’ll never know.  Ratings?  Sponsorships?

Then – offering a fig leaf of an apology – the despicable mess was followed the next day with Anderson Cooper being sent out with a meaningless mea culpa and an impossible attempt to explain a bad decision.

A professional co-hort of mine – now reporting from that great newsroom in the sky – often reminded me “It’s not the reporter’s job to judge the veracity of the interviewee.  That’s up to your audience.”

Under normal conditions in a normal interview, that’s all well and good.  But, that co-hort never faced an interviewee like DJT.

One thing is certain.  Those of us who watch CNN will never look at the network the same way.  Founder Ted Turner envisioned his creation as a straight-up journalistic broadcasting company with no underlying message – unlike his competitors.  The evening with Trump earned CNN the brickbats has received.  It also betrayed Turner’s goals.

In general terms, there’s a large whiff of distrust and anger in the unending criticism directed at nearly all media these days.  Much of such anger is well-founded.  CNN’s escapade with Trump just added fuel to that argument.

The CNN venture only served one purpose as far as Trump is concerned: his love and lust for publicity.  Good, bad or sideways.  He doesn’t seem to care.  Just get his disgusting mug on the tube.

I don’t know why that guy isn’t wearing an orange jumpsuit in someone’s crossbar hotel.  His culpability in one crime or another is well-known.  So far, his less-than-honest conduct has resulted in him simply writing sizeable checks.  Surely some of the current legal activity will result in his presence in one or more courtrooms on criminal charges.  In courtrooms where writing a check won’t do.

National media would be well-advised at this time to stop putting this guy on the front page or on the nightly news.  If the rumors emanating from Georgia to New York City to New York State that indictments are coming, keeping him out of the spotlight is even more important.  To us as consumers.  To Trump as the star.

The CNN outing must have been watched by some of those prosecutors.  Watched and recorded.  Recorded for use as some of those legal eagles are building their various cases for prosecution.

Trump is his own worst enemy.   He suffers from verbal diarrhea in the first degree.  It’s apparent some of the things he says – often words volunteered – are self-incriminating.

The $5-million verdict in the E. Jean Carroll case came after her legal team played a video of Trump running off at the mouth in what is described as the “Access Hollywood” tape.  The one in which he said “You grab ’em by the p – – – y.”

In the long run, the corporate team at CNN did themselves no favor by letting a relative lightweight reporter be run over by DJT.  By giving him a platform.  By dousing the viewing audience in verbal doses of lies, upon lies, upon lies.  The young reporter was outgunned from the git-go.

The national media seems unable to deal with Trump from any position of control.  He’s simply given a microphone and everyone stands back.

At our house, the mute button on the remote control is getting a lot more use recently.  A lot.  CNN would have been well-advised to do the same.



Author: admin

America was attacked by Japan on December 7, 1941.  Just 32 hours later, President Franklin Roosevelt and Congress declared war in response.

The nation became instantly focused on the business of war.  Industry turned on a dime and began producing armaments of all descriptions. Commerce quickly set up a war footing and became part of the massive effort.  Young men and women signed up for military duty.  Civilians of all stripes were either in uniform or became part of the campaign in hundreds of ways at home.

It was war!  Two, actually.  We won.  Both.

We are now under attack again.  For those who are repulsed and sickened by the massacres flowing from guns in this country, we are at war again!  War!

This is not something politicians can solve with new laws.  Even if they had the backbone to write ’em.  We’ve already got more laws dealing with guns than we can prosecute.  Laws aren’t the answer.

Think about Sandy Hook.  El Paso.  Dayton.  Las Vegas.  Orlando.  Parkland.  Columbine.  Allan, Texas.  Do you think for a second that the shooters in all these massacres loaded their long guns, stopped at the door and thought about laws they were about to break?  Were any of them stopped by legislation?

Banning violent video games – ala Walmart – isn’t the answer.  All developed nations on earth have violent video games.  Are they having as many massacres per capita as us?  Any?

Psychiatric or mental treatment won’t stop the shooting.  As far as we know, only one shooter in all the tragedies listed above had any contact with mental health professionals – Sandy Hook.  Medical professionals can’t find ’em all before they kill.

We are at war!  None of these “answers” being proffered can stop the killing and, taken together, they’ll still fail. In wars, there’s the battlefield and there’s the home front.  Not now.  We are currently living on the battlefield.  Schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, temples, concerts, nightclubs, streets, stores.  Where we live, shop, play, worship.  We’re living on the battlefield.

It’s the guns, damn it.  It’s the guns.  You got unlimited and free access to guns?  You got killers.

In our state, when arrested for DUI, the state takes the car.  Period.  That takes care of that.  One by one.  Separate the driver from the car.

When someone is convicted of a crime while on drugs, our state – and many others – not only lock ’em up but also enters them into a program to separate ’em from drugs.  Separate.

But, also in our state, sorry to say, we have open carry laws.  More than that, you can carry concealed without any classes, no permit, no training.  You can carry in stores, libraries, restaurants, churches and bars.  Now, there’s a great idea.  Bullets and booze.  What could go wrong?  It’s the guns, damn it!

We have a war on our hands.  Nothing short of it.  All these damned piecemeal approaches will not work if, somewhere out there in this nation of 330-million souls, there are hundreds or even many hundreds of people with mass murder on their minds.  They can’t be found before they kill.  They don’t wear tags.  They all look like the rest of us.  There’s absolutely no way to cut ’em all out of the herd before they act.

Politicians don’t have the guts to take on the NRA.  But, that’s one piece of the larger puzzle that has to be solved.  The NRA is a cancer on our society that’s paid out more than $24-million bucks to members of Congress in the last decade.  It’s bought them and it’s bought their silence and inaction.  We’re currently successfully bankrupting some hate groups by getting large, court-ordered civil damages for their wrongdoing.  It’s time the NRA paid up.  Seems New York State A.G. is working on that.

If we’re to stop the killing – stop the massacres – stop the killers – we have to look at this as a war.  Nothing less.  It requires us to temporarily turn from other issues  and concentrate every resource we own directly on this one murderous problem.  We have to go back to December, 1941, and put this nation on a war footing.  Focus directly on who’s killing us and stop it.  Nothing less will end the tragedies that have cost so many innocent lives.

I don’t know all the answers, if answers there be.  But, I do know this nation (1941-1945) waged massive wars on two fronts and won both.  We dedicated ourselves to a single purpose – winning – and we did.  If we could stop ’em “over there,” we can damn-well stop ’em here.  America can still walk and chew gum at the same time.

We’ve got the money, the brains, the technology.  But, so far, we’ve lacked the will to take this head-on.  We’re at war.  Our streets and homes have become the battlefield.  We are living in the midst of the killing.  We are safe nowhere.

If that’s not war, what the hell is it?

Where are the rules

Author: admin

When I was just a young pup – a long, L-O-N-G – time ago, there were community and other assorted standards you could believe in.

Rock solid.  Steady.  Never changing.  You could count on ‘ em being just what they were and what they stood for.

Banks.  Insurance companies.  Certain retailers like J.C. Penney, Sears-Roebuck and Co., Woolworth’s and “Monkey” Ward.  Our Congress in Washington.  They were what they said and they were to be trusted.

And, the courts.  Whether the local magistrate or the U.S. Supreme Court.  These were the standards of trust, honesty and law that were held out to you as people and institutions that would last forever.

So, I was taught.  So were you.

Now, 60 or 70 years later, here we are.  Most of those retailers are long gone.  Congress is filled with politicians more concerned with keeping their place at the public trough than representing constituents.  And the courts?  What the Hell happened?

Look at banks.  Feeding dollars into investor pockets while those same banks are going under – being driven into insolvency by the same people.  The real pain, of course, is being felt by depositors who likely will never see any sizeable recapture.

We’ve got SCOTUS justices “on-the-take.”  Worldwide travel and “free” vacations in far-off places.  Real estate deals putting money in their pockets with not a word to the public.  The wife of one receiving  over $10-million in attorney “headhunting” fees.  With some of the “recruited” having much business before the court.

Much of this hush-hush SCOTUS business is because there is no defined code of conduct or other public requirement for such conduct or honest reporting of the activities of Justices.  Nearly all other jurists in all other courts have ’em.  Not SCOTUS.

But, suppose there was an effort by Congress to create restrictions and reporting responsibilities for the court.  Creating written rules for openness and transparency by those nine members.

The present Congress writing rules for honesty by others?  Congress being the author of rules for transparency and conduct?  Congress?  Our Congress?

Surely, you jest, Sir.

If not Congress to set the guidelines, then whom?  Who would we turn to for such an arduous task?

There may be one body that could be charged with such an undertaking.  The National Bar Association.  Possibly a “blue ribbon” committee composed of senior members, some jurists from lower courts and maybe a couple of folks from Congress with law backgrounds.  Possibly.

But, what do we do with the less-than-honest SCOTUS characters we’ve got?  Neil Gorsuch and his million-dollar-plus real estate dealings.  The wife of another who’s made over $10-million “headhunting” in the legal field.  And Thomas.  And his wife.

Clarence’s unreported activities – and in some areas questionable activities – are being disclosed nearly every day.  Like peeling an onion.  Just a bit more disclosure by investigative reporters as they dig around in banking, travel and real estate records.

Truly, Thomas is being shown to be someone who needs a code of conduct.  Rules.  Written rules enforced by others, either on the bench or in the legal business.   Or, just in the “honesty” business.

I keep wondering, given all the details of how Thomas has wallowed in free gifts so far, how much more is there to uncover?

The institutions we were raised to trust don’t seem all that trustworthy, do they?  Like monumental buildings of success built on foundations of sand.

There’s not much we public can do about banks and insurance companies failing.  Their operations are private. Without more strictures, placed on them by those who make up their membership, more will succumb to bad actors.

But, courts are public.  Maybe our most important edifices of public trust and honor.  Transparency and openness are absolute requirements in their conduct of our affairs in the legal system.

Without those qualities – without absolutely honest conduct by the occupants of our court system – you get a Clarence Thomas.  A man who seems to enjoy living lavishly with the cost being picked up by others.  Others who, someday, may have business before the court on which Justice Thomas sits.  With no requirement for his recusal.

Maybe if we did away with lifetime appointments.  Maybe if we developed codes of conduct with tough, legal teeth to put some “bite” in ’em.  Maybe if we required annual reporting of the previous year’s activities – both public and private.

Thomas – and a couple of others on that same exalted bench – apparently can’t be trusted to conduct themselves in accordance with what should be expected by their appointments.

We need some rules.  Some legal requirements for transparent conduct.  And we need ’em now!