Tuesday, January 29, 2008

My Confessor, My Friend

Good article today in South Carolina's largest newspaper. Sounds like his new church is getting a great Priest. You can read the full article here. My favorite part:

I know Tim’s wise counsel helped me through my divorce and the subsequent years of injury and illness. He never cut me a break, though — he toed the official line on what is considered right and wrong — but he didn’t judge me. He pushed me to do more but to always be true to myself while improving my relationship with God.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Life as a Poll Worker

For the last several years, my father has worked as a poll worker on election days here in South Carolina. You know, the people who sign you in and take you to the booth on election days. This year they were short some people so Dad browbeat me into working. I worked the two presidential preference primaries, the Democratic Party yesterday and the Republicans the week before. It was a very interesting experience to be on the other side of the table on election day. Here are a few observations.

Be nice to the people working the polls. I now have a much greater appreciation for the folks who work at each election. The polls in our sate are open from 7 to 7. I had to be there by 6:30 AM, and the two ladies working with me were already there then. And of course one of them had picked up the machines the night before. We didn't finish closing the polls, tallying up cleaning up, etc. until about 7:45 PM. There was no real time for lunch, but the two ladies I worked with did bring snacks. For this over 13 hour day, we are going to receive the princely sum of $60. (I am told it just got bumped up from $50 to $60) Now I'm not arguing for a raise, because frankly, most of the people aren't working there for the money, but to do a service to their community, but I am saying that everybody should be real nice to the people working there, because they sure aren't paying them enough to put up with any grief.

People were mostly very nice. South Carolina has developed a reputation for nasty, ugly politics. And considering the Bush-McCain race in 2000 and the Clinton-Obama clash this year, it is understandable why this is so. But I think this nastiness is practiced mostly by the professional political class rather than by regular people. The people I dealt with were almost all very nice and friendly. This was true across party lines. People were patient and good natured with lines and other difficulties that arose, and generally seemed happy to be able to be there and participate in the democratic process. I think working these two elections made me a little less cynical about people and I'd recommend everyone try it sometime.

Republican wake up earlier than Democrats. My precinct ended up with over twice as many Democrats casting ballots than Republicans. (I think this is due to a combination of the demographics of my precinct and the fact the weather was much better yesterday than a week ago.) But I wouldn't have guessed that it was going to turn out that way by 8:30. Republicans also seemed to come by themselves or at most with their spouse. Democrats bought the whole family to vote at once, husband, wife, college age kid, cousin, etc. We did seem to have more voter issues out of the Democrats. Nothing serious, but people at the wrong precinct, address changes, etc. I think this was because we had a lot of new voters and voters who hadn't voted in a while among the Democrats. As someone who usually votes Democratic, let me tell you this is certainly understandable. It's been a long time since a Democratic candidate really excited people, especially in this state.

A perfect election is impossible. There is no way on earth to completely eliminate the possibility for human error or fraud in an election. At least not without a lot better technology, a lot more training for poll workers like me, or both. Like most Democrats, I was appalled by the Florida situation in 2000. Having worked an election now, I'm convinced that any vote put under the microscope afterwards would look screwed up. We did the best we could, but it wasn't like we were doing DNA exams on everybody that came up. There's a balance between making sure everyone is who they say they are and making the process so onerous that people just stay home. And you always will have human error. I had to fill in a bubble next to everyone's name when they came in. (Kind of like the SAT, complete with No. 2 pencils.) I think I did fine, but is it possible that I filled in the wrong bubble in the rush of people? Of course it is.

Local results don't guarantee statewide performance. Huckabee won my precinct on the Republican side, which was consistent with his performance in the county, but not statewide. In fact, Fred Thompson almost took second away from McCain, but not quite. Obama won for the Democrats. His margin was even bigger in my precinct than his statewide margin which was huge itself.

Everyone should do this sometime. It was two very long days, but I'm glad I did it. Anyone who can take the time off from work should try it some time. The two retired ladies I worked with were real sweet and I probably put on weight from the brownies and other snacks they brought. And as I said a little earlier, it made me less cynical about people. So try it if you can.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Political Orphans in 2008

There is an excellent piece in the Washington Post today that captures how I feel about the 2008 election. There's not an easy candidate for a liberal who is pro-life like me to support. Here is a quote:

During many elections we find ourselves facing the same dilemma: Which of
our values must take a back seat when we go to the voting booth? Do we let our
moral concern for peaceful resolutions of conflict, the environment, addressing
poverty and aggressive enforcement of civil rights guide our choices? Or do we
stand firm on another important issue of conscience and signal our hope for an
end to abortion? Often, both choices leave a bad taste in our mouths.

You can read the entire article here. Found the discussion of this article at Charlotte was Both.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Changing Pastors

I think I mentioned in an earlier post that my church was having some controversy over our current pastor. Well, things have finally come to a head and our minister is leaving. It's an unfortunate situation, and there is plenty of fault to go around. Several observations come to mind:

The job of a pastor (or priest, rector, minister) is a hard one. You have a lot of different people to please and it's almost impossible to keep everybody happy. (In fact, if you're not ruffling a few feathers, maybe you're not doing your job right.) Every congregation is different and some people might be a great match for one congregation and not for another. Whether the decision is made by one person like a bishop or by a committee from the congregation, it is a very important decision and one that needs serious thought and deliberation. One of our problems was that I think we rushed into the decision too quickly. I understand that we also got some pressure to call this person from our presbytery since he was one of the first graduates from a program they had started to encourage second career pastors. I think he's a good man, but I could tell from the beginning that he was very different from what most people expected and I wondered if he would be a good fit. Time has shown that he wasn't.

The job of pastor's spouse may be even harder. Quite unfairly, most people view the minister's wife as an unpaid member of the staff. If the spouse has a great personality and the patience of Job, she can be a great asset to the minister. However, if she has a prickly personality and not a lot of desire to spend all her free time at church functions, people will grumble. When you've already got people complaining about the pastor, the last thing you need is a lot of griping about his spouse. All theological arguments about celibacy aside, at least in a Catholic church, you don't get people complaining about the priest's wife.

The process leading to the decision for us to part ways went better than I expected. I grew up in the United Methodist Church. As expressed in this blog, I have some interest in Catholicism. I like the idea of a bishop ultimately being able to make a decision in a case like this. I was very skeptical going in of the process we went through. The Committee on Ministry of our presbytery sent "listening teams" to our church. People signed up for times to speak with them about the life of our church and our strengths and weaknesses. They then produced a report for our Session. (The committee of Elders that governs the church for you non-Presbyterians.) I bet my wife (who is on the Session) a nice dinner out that all we would get from them was some sort of touchy-feely report saying some of you like him and some of you don't and you should just try to get along.

Well, I owe her a meal. The report was a detailed and candid assessment of where we were and how we got there. Beyond the question of how the minister was doing, it offered a pretty realistic picture of our strengths and weaknesses as a congregation. Most surprisingly to me, it came right out and recommended that the situation between the minister and the majority of the congregation was beyond the hope of repair and that we should part ways. They offered to help to negotiate a severance package. There are many thing about the Presbyterian Church that drive me crazy, but this went better than I expected. I'd be interested in knowing how such disputes are handled in other denominations.

Anyway, prayers are needed for our our minister as he discerns his future and for my church as we embark on a time of uncertainty as we search for another pastor. Keep all of us in your prayers.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some pro-life news from the sports page

I saw a bit of good news on the pro-life front today in an unusual place, the sports page. The NCAA passed a rule saying you can't cut an athlete's scholarship due to a medical condition. This would include pregnancy. Apparently, some athletes (including some at my alma mater) were having abortions rather than risk the loss of an athletic scholarship. You can read the article here. It's hard to believe this wasn't already the rule, but better late than never.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

My Life with the Saints

I just finished reading My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ. I thought it was great. A couple of quick thoughts that reflect on my consideration of Catholicism:

First, we Protestants are really missing out by not talking about the saints. I understand that Protestants don't share the same beliefs about praying to saints or their intercessory power. However, I don't understand why we don't talk about them at all. For example, the story of Charles Lwanga and the other Ugandan martyrs should be held up to all Christians as an example of faith and courage. And yet, I had never even heard of the story until reading this book. And the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux should be a help to all Christians in our walk with Christ. The Protestant reluctance to discuss the saints reminds me of our fear of the Virgin Mary. We're so afraid of the Catholic practices concerning Mary that we decide we just won't talk about her at all. This is our loss.

Secondly, I was struck by the diversity of the Catholic Church. All the different religious orders. Jesuits, Franciscans, Dominicans, Missionaries of Charity, Poor Clares, etc. etc. And the very different personalities of their founders. St. Ignatius was so different from St. Francis. And he was different from Mother Teresa. It struck me that if they had been Protestants, they might have just started their own denomination. What a strength of the Catholic Church that these different groups with different strengths and weaknesses and points of emphasis are still in communion with one another. I think this is a better Christian witness to the world that the hundreds and hundreds of different Protestant denominations.

Anyway, I really like the book. I'm trying to find some other good reading materials on the lives of the saints. Any help would be greatly appreciated.