December 4, 2020

The IM Saturday Brunch: September 16, 2017


”It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

• • •


I can see the marquee now: “Chainsaw Nun!”

NPR reports that Sister Margaret Ann was spotted at work by an off-duty officer of the Miami-Dade Police Department as she went out with her chainsaw to help clear away debris from Hurricane Irma.

Sister Margaret Ann is the principal of Archbishop Coleman F. Carroll High School, southwest of downtown Miami, which wrote on its Facebook page early Wednesday, “We are so blessed to have her and the Carmelite Sisters at our school. We are proud of the example they show for our students and other members of the community every day.”

Yeah, but there are a lot of grown-up Catholic boys who are having trouble sleeping, now that they’ve seen this story.

• • •


David Gushee became infamous among evangelicals for his outspoken support of LGBTQ+ folks and their issues. Now he has decided to bow out of writing about the culture wars for Religious News Service.

I have spilled considerable virtual ink in these (and other) pages writing about American evangelicalism. My 25-year identification with this community has ended, for reasons I have made clear in these posts and in the memoir.

My critics would say that I left evangelicalism behind through my own heterodoxy (on one issue, but one is enough). I would say that white evangelicalism in America has largely retreated back into its whiteness, its social conservatism, and the Calvinist-tinged fundamentalism out of which (neo-) evangelicalism was carved at mid-century.

But again, there are only so many ways to relitigate this issue, and only so much value in doing so. I pray that thoughtful younger evangelical leaders can find a better way forward, and that something creative and compelling can emerge in the post-evangelical landscape.

• • •


Writing of NASA’s Cassini mission, NPR reports:

Its 13-year mission to explore the strange world of Saturn went on nearly a decade longer than planned. It completed 293 orbits of the planet, snapped 400,000 photos, collected 600 gigabytes of data, discovered at least seven new moons, descended into the famed rings and sent its Huygenslander to a successful 2005 touchdown on the surface of yet another moon, Titan.

This week, that mission ended, when mission control sent the signal that put the craft into a suicidal swan dive, by which it plummeted into Saturn’s atmosphere and burned up in a blaze of glory.

Over the years, we have been treated to some spectacular images from Cassini. The New York Times has captured 100 of them, and here are a few:

Moon of Saturn: Enceladus

• •


Christianity Today reports that, although more than 30,000 churches in the U.S. closed their doors last year, the number of churches has increased by almost 50,000 since 1998, thanks in large part to new non-denominational churches.

According to a recent paper published by sociologist Simon Brauer in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, the number of religious congregations in the United States has increased by almost 50,000 since 1998. A key reason: growth in nondenominational churches.

Using the National Congregations Study (NCS) conducted in 2006 and 2012, he estimates the number of congregations in the US increased from 336,000 in 1998 to a peak of 414,000 in 2006, but then leveled off at 384,000 in 2012.

…Brauer notes that population growth is also likely boosting the number of congregations. America grew by 27 million people between 2000 and 2010, while a separate US Census Bureau report estimated that 14 to 16 million immigrants entered America.

Brauer’s study corroborates an earlier finding from a team of sociologists led by Shawna Anderson at Duke University, who estimated the average annual death rate of congregations between 1998 and 2005 to be only 1 percent, among the lowest of any type of organization.

So, while much noise has been made of the rise of the religiously unaffiliated (“nones”), their rise has not correlated with an equal rate of congregations closing.

• • •


Any of you ever in a high school play or musical? In my junior year, I was recruited to play Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls. It was your humble chaplain’s one and only moment in the spotlight on stage.

NPR has a database of the most popular high school plays and musicals in the U.S. that they developed in 2015 and updated this year. Here are some of the results:

• • •


It’s a photo that I wish didn’t exist but now that it does I want everyone to see it. What started as an opportunity to photograph a cute little sea horse turned into one of frustration and sadness as the incoming tide brought with it countless pieces of trash and sewage. This sea horse drifts long with the trash day in and day out as it rides the currents that flow along the Indonesian archipelago. This photo serves as an allegory for the current and future state of our oceans. What sort of future are we creating? How can your actions shape our planet?
thanks to @eyosexpeditions for getting me there and to @nhm_wpy and @sea_legacy for getting this photo in front of as many eyes as possible. Go to @sea_legacy to see how you can make a difference. . #plastic #seahorse #wpy53 #wildlifephotography #conservation @nhm_wpy @noaadebris

A post shared by Justin Hofman (@justinhofman) on

• • •


The defining event of my generation’s lifetime has been the Viet Nam War. This weekend PBS will air the first episode of the new Ken Burns series on the subject.

In anticipation, the New York Times just ran a piece on 20 “must-read” books about that conflict. Have you read any of them?

  1. The Quiet American, by Graham Greene
  2. The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh
  3. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
  4. The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam
  5. Bloods: An Oral History of the Viet Nam War by Black Veterans, by Wallace Terry
  6. Born on the Fourth of July, by Ron Kovic
  7. A Bright Shining Lie, by Neil Sheehan
  8. Dereliction of Duty, by H.R. McMaster
  9. Dispatches, by Michael Herr
  10. Embers of War, by Frederik Logevall
  11. Ending the Viet Nam War, by Henry Kissinger
  12. Father, Soldier, Son, by Nathaniel Tripp
  13. Fire in the Lake, by Frances Fitzgerald
  14. Hue: 1968, by Mark Bowden
  15. In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, by Robert S. McNamara
  16. Reporting Viet Nam, by the Library of America
  17. A Rumor of War, by Philip Caputo
  18. Viet Nam: A History, by Stanley Karnow
  19. We Were Soldiers Once … And Young, by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway
  20. When Heaven and Earth Changed Places, by Le Ly Hayslip

Here is the trailer for Ken Burns series. I will definitely be watching.

• • •


On September 17, 1931, RCA Victor unveiled a new invention — the 33 1/3 rpm long-playing or “LP” record, at the Savoy Plaza Hotel in New York. However, the company badly overpriced the record players on which to play these LPs. Because of this the new format remained dormant for years until Columbia revived it in 1948.

The first LP I owned was The Best of the Kingston Trio. I remember early Disney records like Pinocchio, that included booklets with pictures from the movie. My first movie musical record was The Music Man. I soon loved The Dave Clark Five and The Monkees and bought some of their albums. It took me a bit longer to really latch on to The Beatles, but The White Album and Sgt. Pepper came out when I was coming of age, and I was blown away.

I loved double albums. And I reveled in the magnificent artwork of those album covers — the Beatles crossing Abbey Road, the Hindenberg on Zeppelin I, the crazy psychedelia on so many of them.


This new age of digital sound and downloads is fantastic, but there was something wonderfully tactile and satisfying about playing an album. I know vinyl has been coming back these days and that’s great, but it’s still more of a rarity now, very expensive, and not nearly as representative of the cultural moments I recall back in the 1950’s, 60’s, and 70’s.

I got my son a record player last Christmas, along with some great standard jazz records. I’d love to have my own stereo set-up again someday. Hisses and scratches and all.


  1. NAME THAT ALBUM COVER: In the Court of the Crimson King.

  2. Morning all,

    Re plastic pollution: I have a friend whos deeply involved in an organisation called Exxpedition, and the whole question of how plastics are getting into the food chain is right at the heart of their work. It’s worth a look – they sailed round most of Britain this summer and I believe that they’ve taken a long hard look at the Great Lakes too.

    We’ve had some small successes on this side of the Atlantic – due to consumer pressure no-one is now selling Q-tips with plastic stems, they are all cardboard now – but my understanding is that the majority of the world’s plastic has been created since 2004. A sobering thought…

    • I have very bad feelings about plastic trash.

      I also wonder if there’s a better choice to keep food fresh. Especially for those of us in a household where food is not consumed very rapidly.

  3. Cassin provided so many thrills. My favorite pic of all:

  4. The Vietnam documentary is just the beginning. 1968 is considered a seminal year in the decade and since next year is the 50th anniversary I think we are about to get landed on with 60s cultural nostalgia like a ton of bricks. Rather ominously the local coffee shop I frequent, which usually provides a steady diet of indie pop over the PA, has recently switched to full blown 60s music. I’ve heard songs I haven’t heard in…well, a loooong time. Nothing against good music but the temptation to nostalgia is always to be resisted and unfortunately not everything recorded between 1966 and 1972 is classic or worth preserving.

    • However sentimental some of us might become, 1968 was perhaps the most frightening year in my lifetime. Somehow we survived it.

      • 68-72 sure looked like our world would come apart. Domestic terrorism was daily headlines. The “drop-out” cultural movement was in full swing. MLK and Bobby assassinated. Ohio State killings. The reactionary presidential campaign of George Wallace. The body-bag count from ‘Nam was on the national news every night. America could no longer make any claim to an age of innocence. Then, as if to be the cheery on the malt, the election of Tricky Dick.

        Have I missed anything??

      • That Other Jean says

        Very much this. 1968 was a year from Hell–the Vietnam War’s ongoing horrors, including the My Lai massacre; the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy and the riots that followed; the police action at the Democratic Convention in Chicago are just the worst among many of that year’s violent disruptions. I don’t think I’m up to watching Ken Burns’ documentary on the Viet Nam War: I lived through it, and have no desire to go there again. What we’re going through in this country is bad, but 1968 was worse.

        • Heather Angus says

          I agree, TOJ. I’m not up for, or up to, watching anything about the Vietnam War. Too raw even today.

          • Everyone should watch the first episode. I thought I knew the history somewhat better than most but they put out some much that I’d never heard or read before.

            The first episode covers the middle 1800s up to about 1961.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        One blogger (EjectEjectEject!) some years ago described 1968 as “The Year Sauron Got the Ring”.

        Because so much seemed to go south all at once that year.

    • “1968 is considered a seminal year in the decade”

      I agree 100%. But that’s probably because that’s the year I was born. 😉

      • Brianthegrandad says

        I was going to say that things began looking up the next year, since that was when I was born. The 60s seem like ancient, ancient history to the young people who work for me. I often tell them the moonshot and me were the last two good things to come from the 60s. That timescale doesn’t even seem to register with them, and it’s beginning to seem very distant to me as well.

        • For those of us who grew up in the 60s (born in 54) the war and NASA seem to exist in different memories. I keep wondering how were both of those happening at the same time?

    • senecagriggs says

      “Something happening here – what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

  5. Susan Dumbrell says

    planet’s mystery-
    Cassini’s work is complete
    Saturn shines and winks

  6. there are only so many ways to relitigate this issue, and only so much value in doing so.

    “If there’s one wee spark under all those ashes, we’ll blow it till the whole pile is red and clear. But if there’s nothing but ashes we’ll not go on blowing them in our own eyes forever. They must be swept up.” – C S Lewis, *The Great Divorce*

  7. Nuns are sexy.

  8. The first LP I bought was Fresh Cream, Clapton, Bruce, and Baker. Up to that point I was a Glenn Gould kid–2 and 3 part inventions “sent me”. When I heard Cream for the first time I heard Bach on steroids. Hooked.

  9. I saw John Stewart in concert ~1970. Had to take my dad with me because parents wouldn’t let me go to rock concerts alone–too much loud music, drugs, sex…hell, they just didn’t get it.

    • senecagriggs says

      John Stewart – R.I.P., he was 68 when he passed on

    • John Stewart was a greatly under-recognized giant of American songwriting. I even named my dog after one of my favorites of his songs (“Cody”).

  10. I had to register for the Draft in Oct. of ’72. Sure glad it ended in the next year.

  11. senecagriggs says

    2nd Salesman: No, the fellow sells bands, Boys bands. I don’t know how he does it but he lives like a king and he dallies and he gathers and he plucks and shines and when the man dances, certainly boys, what else? The piper pays him! Yes sir ,yes sir,yes sir, yes sir.

    When the man dances, certainly boys, what else? The piper pays him!

    All: Yessssir, Yessssir. – BUT HE DOESN’T KNOW THE TERRITORY


    Junior year of High School – I’m tell ya I rocked it.

  12. rolling fog
    spills into the road
    as if from a dream

  13. Cassini has become one with the universe.

  14. I was drafted in 1967. I was so opposed to the war I verbalized it everywhere. We had been generationally Lutheran, and not just Lutheran, but Holy Trinity Lutheran( and that in three different family shifts). So talk at home was with mostly Lutherans. In our circles being against the war was not popular. Eventually through tears I went off to avoid the draft. I was in Southern California in early 1968 living in Venice Beach. In September I went with my closest friend there and some others on a drug run to Tijuana. Many types pitched in money (Surfers, shop owners, ordinary, bikers, weight lifters) for the stops that would be in pharmacies and also a place we went for marijuana in keys( 2.2 kilo). So we get there to buy the grass and my friend( with quite a bit of the money) goes in the front door and out the back and we never see him again. Later I find out he ends up in Hawaii. Anyway, I can no longer stay in Venice beach. I was shared a very small amount of money and started hitchhiking back to Pennsylvania( that has many stories in itself) I got to Pennsylvania and was on the ramp at the Allegheny river outside Pittsburgh( just below the famous Oakmont country club) agonizing over whether to go north to Canada or back home. I went home and submitted to the draft. I thought I was going to jail because resisting put me past induction( and hadn’t had a haircut in a year and that wasn’t an east coast thing then). They just treated me like anybody else. Dog-tags always have reliigion at the bottom. Mine say “No Preference” I went to Viet-nam as a Helicopter ambulance pilot. Saw war up close. I have the air medal with a “V” for valor 22 times( Basically means our helicopter was hit by a round or more that many times). But let me say that the decision to participate in that war was more gut wrenching to me …..more personally changed me……made me lose my religion at that time.

  15. I’m happy to see that plays like “Our Town”, “The Crucible”, and “A Christmas Carol” are still on the top 10 high school theater list, but that musicals list really upset me. No “West Side Story”? No “Oklahoma” or “Music Man”? (((sigh)))

    I think my first album was the Rolling Stone’s “Got Live If You Want It”, their first live album. My first album that really upset my parents was the Stones’ “Beggars Banquet”. I didn’t really get into the Beatles until after they broke up; I was more into the rougher side of the British Invasion, like the Stones, The Kinks, Eric Burdon and the Animals, etc.

    Re: the plastic pollution issue. A very good friend of mine is a photojournalist in Rochester, NY, and she just finished a year-long artist-in-residency at a local institution there. The focus ended up on plastic pollution, and her documentation of it was eye-opening!

  16. Lots of nostalgia here. In my high school senior play, I was Miss Willie in “The Curious Savage” by John Patrick. One of the lines (not mine) has stuck with me all these years: “Freedom is the right to make the wrong choice.”

    My first LP was The Carpenters: A Song for You. Yes, it was the 70s! And I grew up on the Kingston Trio. My parents had almost all their LPs — “Live From the Hungry i” is a personal favorite. “The Merry Minuet” is still, unfortunately, applicable today.

    They’re rioting in Africa
    There’s strife in Iran
    What nature doesn’t do to us
    Will be done by our fellow man

    • Heather Angus says

      The whole world is festering
      With unhappy souls.
      The French hate the Germans.
      The Germans hate the Poles.
      Italians hate the Yugoslavs;
      South Africans hate the Dutch;
      And I don’t like anybody very much.

      • That Other Jean says

        it has been a long time, but I’m pretty sure my first album was by the Kingston Trio, although I’m no longer sure which one I bought. The one with “Scotch and Soda,” I think. Would that be “The Kingston Trio”?

        Re: The Merry Minuet: Things don’t change much in the world, do they?

        • My parents had the Kingston Trio, Brothers Four and Burl Ives…. at that time I was stuck on Cat Stevens and the Stones…

  17. Heather Angus says

    The list of Vietnam books should have included (IMNSHO) Bob Greene’s Homecoming and Myra McPherson’s Long Time Passing: Vietnam and the Haunted Generation.

  18. “So, while much noise has been made of the rise of the religiously unaffiliated (“nones”), their rise has not correlated with an equal rate of congregations closing.”

    So in other words, business as usual…..

  19. First LP: The Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night”.

    My town was so small that we bought our records at the hardware store. They had a limited number of Top 40 LPs and 45s in stock, but they could order you anything. Bought several albums on order from Kemppe’s Hardware.

    Funny story about a moment of still unexplained uncharacteristic semi-lunacy on the part of my then early-40s mother: She had to order the 45 of Dean Martin’s “Everybody Loves Somebody” because Kemppe’s was sold out. When it came, I went with her to pick it up; she paid for it as eagerly as a teenager, brought it home and put it on the record player with the support arm of the machine up and back, so it would play repeatedly. The child was the one who wished the parent would turn off that @#$%&* music!!!


  20. a few leaves scrape by
    they echo in the hollow
    autumn emptiness

  21. Jesus Christ Superstar (a double album) was the first LP I ever owned. I kid you not. My adult sister took me to see the musical on Broadway in the early seventies, and as a prelude gave the album to me as a gift. It was from many listens to this album that I developed a love for rock, which I had not liked before.

    • Jesus Christ Superstar had a big impact on me, too. It came along about as I hit high school. I think there are two copies in the house between my wife and me. A lot of the lyrics bring a human element to the old stories of the gospels.

      But for really good rock in a double album rock opera, it’s Tommy by The Who. Just don’t let Uncle Ernie creep you out like he did my mother when she read the lyrics on the album cover.

      Jethro Tull’s Aqualung is really good, too. “Spitting out pieces of his broken luck (hey, Aqualung).”

      First album, proud to say, was Bookends by Simon and Garfunkel when I was 12.

    • I put JCS on for the first time in a long time a couple years ago. Amazing how every single song and guitar lick and spoken word came back.

      I imagine “Hamilton” will be like that for people twenty, thirty years from now.

  22. Oh no, we’re going to have a rash of chainsaw wielding nun sightings!

  23. First LP was Chicago’s first, “Chicago Transit Authority,” quickly followed Ii, III, IV, V….

    Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and “Wish You Were Here” were in the mix, too.

  24. An interesting corollary to first LP bought might be “first Christian album bought.”

    Okay, maybe not…