Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Love One Another

A while back I did some coverage on the effort of some Pittsburgh Episcopalians to break away from the US Episcopal Church. In a way, covering the press conference was a weird thing to me, because I had covered a similar story for Reuters a few years back.
I got to the Episcopal press conference on time, and of course it didn’t start on time. The press conference was at Trinity Cathedral, in downtown Pittsburgh. But when I, a reporter from the Toronto Starr and other reporters and camera news people showed up on time for the press conference, an ongoing worship service wasn’t over yet. So we hung around the hallway outside the sanctuary, waiting for the service to end. Finally, the group of bishops solemnly filed out in their vestments, heading to an upper room, where they would make their announcement. Here’s the first part of the story:
Conservative bishops upset with U.S. Episcopal Church stands on gay issues said on Friday they will call a constitutional convention to form a new "Anglican union" in North America.
"This is a time of reformation," said Robert Duncan, Episcopal Church bishop of Pittsburgh who convened the group. "We hope to go through this in a way that brings honor and glory to God."

Bishop Duncan seemed like a fine fellow, but when he said that his group hoped to break away from its national church and bring glory to God while doing it, I was a bit incredulous. Not because I didn’t think Bishop Duncan was serious in his intent, but rather, because it seemed to me at the time that bringing glory to God was not the crux of the dispute. Reuters titled the story, “Conservative Episcopalians Plot Separate Church.”
The Episcopalian story reminded me of a story I did a few years back during the Methodist convention here in Pittsburgh. The story, of course, was about gay issues and the Methodists. Since I couldn’t find the piece online anymore, here’s part of it:
Methodists Fail to Heal Rift Over Clergy
Wed May 5, 2004 07:33 PM ET
By Jonathan Barnes
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - Supporters of gay clergy in the United Methodist Church complained bitterly on Wednesday over a refusal by the third-largest U.S. Christian denomination to soften its stance on homosexuality.
Delegates at the Methodist general conference this week rejected repeated attempts to change the church stance and reaffirmed a view of homosexuality as incompatible with Christian teaching. This came despite a church decision, upheld on Tuesday, to allow a lesbian minister to stay in her post.
The conference's position has left some liberal advocates contemplating their future within the church.
"As a gay man, I certainly don't feel very loved (in the church). As a part of this community, I have an obligation to push for greater acceptance," John Fletcher of Minneapolis told Reuters on the sidelines of the conference.

Here's what happened with that.
All of this stuff reminds me of a piece I wrote sometime back for this blog. I didn’t understand this gay Christian debate entirely then, and I still don’t now. But I don’t think it’s right to exclude gay people from communities, though I can understand how some people believe that being gay is incompatible with Christian theology. Still, why would anyone, gay or straight, want to join a church that wouldn’t have him as a member because of who he loves?
I don’t understand why the Episcopalians and the Methodists can’t simply form their own pro-gay or neigh-gay denominations. You could have the Free Gay Methodists, and the Gay-Free Episcopalians, kind of like the Free Will Baptists . I’m kidding, but I wish it were that simple.
Clearly, what these denominations’ brothers and sisters are fighting about is not only differing interpretations of the Bible, but also power and property. Trinity Cathedral, where I attended the Episcopal press conference, is a beautiful old stone structure with a historic cemetery next to it, where an Indian chief and Revolutionary War heroes are buried. On the other side of the small cemetery is First Presbyterian Church, home of many Tiffany stained glass windows and the former pulpit of evangelist Katherine Kuhlman. It also is the church I grew up attending. I hope I don’t end up there for a press conference in the future.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Resolutions for the Steelers Nation

I’m not happy about the Steelers loss to the Jaguars, but I am relieved. If they’d won we probably would have had to see them lose further into the playoffs, when it would’ve hurt even worse. Now that the season is behind us, I’ve been thinking of how to rebuild morale among fans of the team and among the Steelers themselves. The answer is, of course, outsourcing. We should outsource some of our Pittsburgh-ness to like-minded folks across the country.
There’s a lot of talk during football season about the Pittsburgh Steelers Nation—the widespread group of expatriate (and non-native) fans that don their Steelers-themed clothes and root for the hometown win. But once the football season ends for our team, we Pittsburghers tend to forget about our wide network of Steelers kinsmen. Similarly, those fans in San Diego, Seattle, Baltimore, and beyond tend to forget about the Steel City when the Steelers aren’t playing. Maybe it’s that aching that we feel when the Steelers don’t win the Super Bowl that keeps us from staying in closer touch. Or maybe it’s the painful nostalgia that expatriates feel when they think of being away from their homeland.
Whatever the reason for our distance from each other, we Steelers fans need to stick even closer together in the off-season than we do during the season. Those of us in the Promised Land of Pittsburgh take our hills, foods, sayings and ways for granted. But people who left, even if they left decades ago, still get a wistful look when they talk about our City of Champions. We know that oftentimes their love for the Steelers is wrapped up with their love for Pittsburgh, a place where they sometimes wish they were, but cannot be. To fight the ennui that falls like a winter freeze in the off-season, folks in the Greater Steelers Nation can do more than a few things to keep their Pittsburgh Spirit alive throughout the year:
1. When stopped at an intersection where you have the right-of-way, wave the opposing car ahead of you.
If you do this, I guarantee you’ll feel like you’re in the City of Bridges for just a moment—or at least until an irate driver behind you honks his car’s horn. We still do neighborly stuff for each other here, maybe because we all grew up near Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.
2. At least once a month, say something nice about Pittsburgh to someone who knows little about our town.
Resist the urge to say that you had to leave the city to get the job you wanted, and please do not mention our city’s politics, which are an easy target that can quickly lead to low blows. Think of something nice to say about our city, and work it into a conversation with a person who knows nothing about Pittsburgh or even better, one who hates the Steelers.
3. Give us a call.
We miss you, which is why we tend to turn our backs on you when you leave town. By giving us a call and wishing us well, you’ll provide a psychological boost to Pittsburghers, which could translate into more productivity, greater creativity and a better season next year for the Steelers.
4. Plan a trip to Pittsburgh, then come see us.
You talk a lot to your kids or spouse about the way things were in Pittsburgh, yet you never take them here. Engender a true love of the Steel City in their hearts by taking them to see the homeland. Whether historic architecture, cultural attractions or outdoor recreation is your bag, it’s here. If enough of you visit, the injection of money will have a real impact on the region’s economy.
5. Invest in a Pittsburgh-based business.
There are so many large and small companies here that you have a lot of choices for potential investments. You don’t even have to leave your home to do it.
6. If you have a child considering colleges or technical school, suggest that he consider a Pittsburgh school.
We have dozens of colleges, universities and technical and training schools in the Pittsburgh area. Many of these schools are among the best in the world in their fields. For expatriates, a secondary benefit of sending their children to school here is the chance for the kids to learn the mother tongue. With some practice, your child could be fluently asking “How yins doin?” by the time he graduates.
7. Buy a book or two produced by a Pittsburgh-based author or publisher.
Buying into our city’s literary scene will not only edify you, it will help to enhance Pittsburgh’s reputation as one of America’s most literary cities. And it will inch us closer to being named “One of America’s Most Writerly Cities.”
8. Read Pittsburgh publications, such as the local newspapers and magazines. Publications such as the local newspapers, magazines and journals are definitive sources of Pittsburgh culture. You might not like all of that culture, but it’s still easy to access, and reading it is a way to get a deeper look at the place that your favorite football players call home.