Friday, June 30, 2006

Very Busy

We are swamped. The past two weeks we have been packing (well, Robyn's doing most of that) and recovering from my ankle injury. The three oldest kids are at camp all week. Sunday, it's my first sermon at Jefferson UMC. Thursday, July 6...our the day we move to the new parsonage. We ask for prayers!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Holiness Manifesto

In February of this year, several leaders of some of America's "Holiness movement" released what they called a "Holiness Manifesto". The Holiness movement is a revivalistic offshoot of Methodism, and is generally more focused on sanctification than most United Methodists. They claim (correctly) spiritual descent from John Wesley; many of the finest Wesleyan scholars and theologians in recent years have come not from United Methodism, but from Holiness denominations. Generally, they are part of the "conservative" wing of the Wesleyan movement, even as United Methodism is the "centrist" or "left" wing. Holiness groups include the Church of the Nazarene, the Free Methodist Church, and the Salvation Army.

Though The United Methodist Church was not a part of the "manifesto team", there is much in the document to give us reason to rejoice. The manifesto begins by recognizing the decline of the American Church and that many have grasped at the latest trends as potential ways to not only stop the decline but to more faithfully execute our mission. The document calls us to clarity, hoping that we might recommit to mission as opposed to maintenance, survival, or trendiness.

The manifesto is a declaration of the holiness of God and the fact that we are called to be a holy people. Through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are to strive for holiness...for sanctification...for perfection in love. The manifesto also briefly describes what holiness is and what it is not.

It's a good piece, and there is little in it that might find complaints from liberals or conservatives. In fact, we heard much the same message at our own Annual Conference last week, though professed in more "mainline" language.

We have at times forgotten the absolute holiness of God, concentrating instead on the "friendliness" of God, the lighter side of the Gospel. But the important concept of God's holy transcendence is a crucial part not only of the Wesleyan message, but the whole of the Christian Gospel. I would urge my sisters and brothers to reflect upon the brief mainifesto and use it as a prayer to recommit to the proclamation of the fullness of God's holy nature.

The manifesto can be found online here.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jesus Calms the Storm

The lectionary Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday...powerful stuff, and one of my favorite Gospel stories.

"On that day, when evening had come, Jesus said to his disciples, 'Let us go across to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.'
And leaving the crowd, they took Jesus with them in their boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him.
And a great storm of wind arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already filling.
Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a mat; and they woke him and said to him, 'Teacher, do you not care if we perish?'
And he awoke and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Peace! Be still!' And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Jesus said to them, 'Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?'
And they were terrified, and asked one another, 'What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?'"

- Mark 4:35-41 (RSV/HCSB/KJV, adapt.)

Jefferson UMC

With Conference behind us, and with our sad final Sunday in Dawson over, we are focusing on our new appointment at Jefferson United Methodist Church. We are excited about the opportunities for ministry God is bringing our way in the beautiful Jefferson Hills area, a southern suburb of Pittsburgh. To the right is an exterior view of the church. The lovely steeple is a relatively new addition. The church sits on the third highest elevation in Allegheny County. A few years ago, the Sprint telephone company asked to place a phone tower on the church, building a steeple around the tower. So, the steeple was built at no cost to the congregation! That's the way to do it!

I take very seriously our Bishop's call that we are appointed to communities and not just congregations. I look forward to getting to know Jefferson Hills Borough, Pleasant Hills Borough, and the surrounding South Hills area. I've already contacted the Greater Pittsburgh Food Bank to find out where their area pantries are located and how we as the people of God might help. The congregation also goes on an annual mission trip. While this has often been to Red Bird, a mission in which I have been interested for years, this year they are, ironically enough, heading to Connellsville, PA, to help with various projects sponsored by Connellsville Community Ministries.

To the left is a picture of the front of the church sanctuary. It has been completely remodeled in the last five years; it reminds me of a beautiful Episcopalian chapel. Relatively small, it seats only about 135 people, which means the church has had to move to two Sunday morning worship services and are looking to possibly add a Saturday evening service.

In terms of worship style, it is a traditional church, leaning in the direction of "high church" worship...but, at the same time, they have a retractable power point screen (look above the cross) and an area near the chancel (to the right) where they have various other instruments for a variety of uses; my guess is they will respond positively to a "blended" style.

It seems to be a wonderful congregation and a very good match, so we're looking forward to starting there.

My first Sunday preaching at JUMC will be July 2; we move on July 6 (our anniversary, incidentally). My first sermon text will be Acts 2:42-47...a vision of the Church.

Goodbyes are difficult and painful; hellos are difficult and wonderful!

AC 2006

The theme for Western PA Annual Conference this year was borrowed from Igniting Ministry campaign (which our Bishop heads and which was largely birthed in our Conference, under the leadership of Conference Steward Rev. Larry Homitsky) was "Believe Again". The Bishop opened Conference this year by urging us to be less pessimistic, more joyful (you can read a news article about this here). The idea that we Western PA United Methodists need to be more positive, more optimistic, has been a key feature of Bishop Bickerton's ministry here in our Conference...and it has been greatly needed. With his passion and optimism, our Bishop truly has "re-ignited" ministry for our Conference. I love our Bishop and deeply respect him; of all the Bishops of the Church, and many are wonderful, we have the best!

Among the highlights of our session in Grove City this year were a great worship service (in the "Emergent" style) led by the folks at Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community, a wonderful job all the way around by guest preacher Bishop Violet Fisher, and the passing of a very ambitious strategic plan, designed to "jump start" our ministry attempts here in western Pennsylvania. Of course, a personal highlight for me is always reconnecting with sisters and brothers in Christ, spending some time with them, catching up, and lovingly making fun of a few of them. One evening of Conference for me and a few friends was spent heading north to Edinboro, PA, where we had a great dinner at John's Wildwood Pizza and spent some time together away from the busy-ness of Annual Conference. There are times throughout the year when I cling to these "light" moments, when we can relax, exhale, and just be the family of God. We - certainly I - need more moments like this! This is what, for me, makes Conference a means of grace.

A true highlight of the week for me was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the granting of full clergy status to women in American Methodism. A few years ago, Rev. Sharon Schwab, a leader of our Conference, asked for volunteers to help plan this celebration. Shockingly, I was the only male who responded to her request...evidence that we still have a long way to go in terms of accepting women clergy. I believe wholeheartedly in the call of women to ordained ministry. Our celebration featured a powerful sermon by Bishop Fisher and a wonderful time of anointing and prayer to follow. Our female pastors deal with so much sexism - from parishioners, from our Conference, and from society at large - and I felt that this was a blessed night of rare affirmation for them, and a cause for joy for all of us.

On the last day of Conference (Sunday), while heading to the morning ordination service, I missed a step walking down the stairs outside my dorm, and really hurt my left ankle. By evening, it was quite swollen and painful. Monday, a visit to the local ER revealed that there were no broken bones but a severe sprain. So, here I am, walking around with crutches and an air splint, told to keep off my feet while we need to pack for our move. Life is like that sometimes...but praise God! We are not starving or living in a war-torn area or experiencing violence and oppression like many brethren in the world...just going through a minor setback! I have reason to rejoice! On top of that, at Wal-Mart the other day, I had a ton of fun in one of their electric wheelchairs, driving through the store and beeping the horn at people in my way...God is good!

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Home from Conference

I returned from Grove City College today, where the Western PA Conference was meeting. It was a fine Annual Conference...some headaches, sure...but overall very positive. Our Conference adopted a new strategic plan creating exciting opportunities, we were united in some quality worship, and, most importantly, Bishop Thomas Bickerton continued his joyful, forward-thinking leadership, inspiring and challenging us all. I'll give more details in the days ahead, as I am now quite tired. In the meantime, stories and pictures of Annual Conference 2006 can be enjoyed here.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

On this date in Beatles history...

"The Long and Winding Road" hit #1 on this date in 1970, becoming the 20th and last of the Beatles' #1 hit singles in America...a record which still stands.

Tomorrow: Annual Conference

We're leaving tomorrow morning for Annual Conference in Grove City, PA.

"And I lifted my eyes and saw, and behold, a man with a measuring line in his hand!
Then I said, 'Where are you going?' And he said to me, 'To measure Jerusalem, to see what is its width and what is its length.'
And behold, the angel who talked with me came forward, and another angel came forward to meet him
and said to him, 'Run, say to that young man, "Jerusalem shall be inhabited as villages without walls, because of the multitude of people and livestock in it.
And I will be to her a wall of fire all around, declares the Lord, and I will be the glory in her midst."'
Up! Up! Flee from the land of the north, declares the Lord. For I have spread you abroad as the four winds of the heavens, declares the Lord.
Up! Escape to Zion, you who dwell with the daughter of Babylon.
For thus said the Lord of hosts, after his glory sent me to the nations who plundered you, for he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:
'Behold, I will shake my hand over them, and they shall become plunder for those who served them. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me.
Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the Lord.
And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.
And the Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.'
Be silent, all flesh, before the Lord, for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling."

- Zechariah 2 (ESV)

Monday, June 12, 2006


Writer Michael Crichton challenges left wing orthodoxy...

Fear, Complexity, & Environmental Management in the 21st Century

Environmentalism as Religion

Aliens Cause Global Warming

State of Fear

Big Ben

The big news in the world of sports (other than Mexico's win over Iran and the USA's embarrassing loss to the Czech Republic in the World Cup) is that "Big Ben" Roethlisberger, starting quarterback for the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers, was seriously injured today in a motorcycle accident. The news is sketchy right now. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that Big Ben, "...lost most of his teeth, fractured his left sinus cavity bone, suffered a nine-inch laceration to the back of his head and a broken jaw, and injured both of his knees." It sounds pretty ugly.

Our primary prayers are, of course, for the health and safety of this gifted young man. He has brought a great deal of joy and hope to the people of western Pennsylvania and some wonderful victories to the Steelers, the greatest franchise in all of sports. May the Father be with Big Ben at this hour; may the Son comfort his family and friends; may the Spirit guide the hands of the doctors and nurses caring for him.

Secondarily, this could shatter not only the upcoming Steelers season (training camp is to start next month), but the future of the team. If Big Ben doesn't recover to his full abilities, the long-term plan built around him as the team's field general will need to be scrapped. The thought of repeating a Super Bowl victory without Big Ben on the team is almost unthinkable. Big Ben's back-up, Charlie Batch, is a fine quarterback, but does not possess the "intangibles" owned by Big Ben...intangibles which produce not only exciting wins but, more importantly, championships.

For Steelers fans, there is much to ponder these days.

Annual Conference

The Western PA Conference of The United Methodist Church meets this week at Grove City College in Grove City, PA. Tomorrow (Tuesday), I'll be taking our son Christian to Grove City, where he will enjoy the week as a youth delegate / page. Wednesday, my wife Robyn (a lay equalization member from our district) and I will head up for the day of prayer and preparation. I'm looking forward to connecting with friends and spending some time in worship and prayer. I'm really not very excited for the legislative end of things this year, but do hope that we give our proposed Strategic Plan a shot; I think Bishop Bickerton has earned the opportunity to make a go at transforming our Conference for Christ and God's mission.


Yesterday, I preached for the final time at Vanderbilt United Methodist Church. It was a joint service of the Dawson Charge. It was packed, everything went well, a very moving Eucharist celebrated, and there were lots of tears. It has been a blessing in these last few months to see some of the fruit of our ministry here. There are wonderful people here and I will miss them mightily. May God bless David Bell, their new pastor, who begins July 1.

I am now pretty much finished in Dawson in terms of ministry. I'll be at Annual Conference this week, then we're on vacation for the rest of June (a working vacation...packing). I begin at Jefferson UMC July 1, preach my first sermon there July 2, and we'll move to the parsonage in Jefferson Hills July 6 (our anniversary).

Friday, June 09, 2006

Two commentaries

This commentary from the United Methodist News Service has me steamed. Written by Rev. Bruce Robbins, senior pastor of Hennepin Avenue UMC in Minneapolis, it demonstrates an amazing lack of understanding of the United Methodist position on homosexuality, a serious misperception of Wesleyan theology, and a rebellious spirit which should gain the attention of the author's bishop.

In the commentary, Rev. Robbins proposes a new category of church membership..."anticipatory membership". The category, "...would create space for those who understand the gospel as insisting upon full inclusion of the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community in the church." Now, since The United Methodist Church already affirms that homosexual persons are persons of "sacred worth" and are to be welcomed in the Church, Rev. Robbins clearly misunderstands. He looks forward to the day (which he apparently feels is inevitable) when homosexual behavior is no longer viewed as "incompatible with Christiann teaching" (UM-speak for "sin"). It is an arrogant presumption.

Right on the money is this rebuttal commentary by Rev. Bruce Stover, Cincinnati District Superintendent and senior pastor of Armstrong Chapel UMC. Rev. Stover correctly points out the severe theological and connectional problems with the proposal made by Rev. Robbins, saying that, "...there is a future reality beyond homosexual practice that represents God's fullest measure of grace." Thank God for Rev. Stover's words.

I am not bothered by the fact that there are those in the Church who disagree with the Church's position on homosexual behavior. What bothers me is the monumental misunderstanding of folks like Rev. Robbins, who are not being completely truthful with their parishioners regarding our position or the connectional system.

More transition

The community held a farewell party for our family on Wednesday evening. What a wonderful night! Folks from the United Methodist churches I have served for four years, plus dear friends from the other area churches, and all the pastors of our ministerium, who are true brothers in Christ. After the party, we held a worship service and I preached for the final time at Cochran Memorial United Methodist Church, one of the three I have served in my current appointment. It is a beautiful Gothic-style cathedral, located on the National Registry of Historic Places. An emotional evening. This Sunday will be our final Sunday here.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Marriage and the Church

The U.S. Senate is currently debating a "Marriage Amendment Bill" which, if ultimately passed, would add an amendment to the U.S. Constitution declaring marriage to be legally between a man and a woman. While the bill likely will hit roadblocks long before it even comes close to becoming a part of the U.S. Constitution, the liberal lobby is understandably upset over the discussion.

What surprises me (and I guess it really shouldn't) is the monumental ignorance displayed by leaders of the Church regarding this debate. You can read about this in a UMNS article here. The United Methodist Church’s stand on marriage is found in Paragraph 161 C of the Book of Discipline, and states:

“We affirm the sanctity of the marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment and shared fidelity between a man and a woman. We believe that God's blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. We support laws in civil society that define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.”

Despite that clear position, James Winkler, chief executive of the General Board of Church and Society, insists that the idea that marriage is between one man and one woman is in conflict with our official position as a denomination. Mr. Winkler believes it to be an issue of "equal rights" for homosexuals.

First, let me say that I have never understood this argument. Any homosexual person is free to marry, as far as I know. If a homosexual man finds a woman whom he wishes to wed, and she feels the same, then they may certainly be married. If a homosexual woman finds a man whom she wishes to wed, and he feels the same, then they may certainly be married. Homosexuals are as free to get married as heterosexuals in the U.S., as far as I can tell.

Second, it bothers me that we as a denomination permit Mr. Winkler, as the head of one of our mission share-supported general agencies, to fail in his basic duty to support the position of the denomination. It seems to me that Mr. Winkler's job is to lobby for the UM stance in Washington and demonstrate how our beliefs can be lived out day-to-day. For Mr. Winkler to so blatantly ignore the will of the General Conference calls into question, in my view, his security in his current position. The same is true for any denominational leader: follow the rules or lovingly find a way to leave. Harsh, but true.

The article goes on to quote an Old Testament scholar from California named Kah-Jin Jeffrey Kuan. I've never heard of Rev. Kuan, but he teaches at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. A quick search on shows that he has published in the fields of Ancient Israel and Neo-Assyrian language. What his qualifications are regarding Biblical sexual ethics, I'm uncertain; we need to remember that not every Biblical scholar is an expert in every field. As a United Methodist, Rev. Kuan has every right to hold an opinion, providing that he doesn't violate the Discipline. But when he goes on to state that, "...Christian opposition to homosexuality is based often on selective biblical interpretation that takes the few verses of Scripture that may or may not refer to sexual intercourse between people (of the) same gender out of its socio-cultural and historical contexts. Moreover, such a stance often refuses to acknowledge that our modern understanding of sexuality is worlds apart from the understanding of sexuality in ancient times...", his opinion is no more valid than that of any UM pastor, since (again, as far as I know) he is no expert on Biblical sexual ethics and hasn't published any scholarly work in the field. So why quote him?

A few years ago, Robert Gagnon, a New Testament scholar at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, published The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. In the book, which is available here, Dr. Gagnon maintains that, "...there is clear, strong, and credible evidence that the Bible unequivocally defines same-sex intercourse as sin...", and, "...there exist no valid hermeneutical arguments, derived from either general principles of biblical interpretation or contemporary scientific knowledge and expierence, for overriding the Bible's authority on this matter." His book is not primarily a work of theology, but of Biblical scholarship, and is to date the definitive scholarly work on the issue, and is viewed as such by the academy, even those who dislike its findings. Sure, Dr, Gagnon is a Presbyterian, but shouldn't Mr. Winkler and (especially) Rev. Kuan at least be familiar with this work before ignoring its position, as well as the position of the UMC and the ecumenical consensus?

This is what bothers me about the left-wing of the Church. Often, they simply deny reality and refuse to deal honestly with issues. True, the right-wing is often guilty of the same thing, but, in this case, the left-wing, particularly Mr. Winkler and Rev. Kuan, ought to be ashamed of themselves...either for being ignorant of the issue or for deliberately misleading people regarding the issue.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Farewell Billy Preston

God bless Billy Preston. He died today after a long illness. Billy was a phenomenal musician who wrote great songs like "Nothing from Nothing" and "You Are So Beautiful" and played piano and/or organ with a multitude of great artists, including Eric Clapton, Joe Cocker, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, George Harrison, the Jackson 5, John Lennon, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Rolling Stones, Sly & the Family Stone, Ringo Starr, and, most notably, the Beatles; that's Billy playing organ on "Let It Be", "I Want You (She's So Heavy)", and "Something", and those great electric piano riffs on "Get Back". He has been long overdue for consideration as a sideman in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. A committed Christian, the world is a better place for his beautiful ministry of great music.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Two years ago on this date, Ronald Reagan passed away. Easily the greatest, most important U.S. president of my lifetime, Ronald Reagan changed the world as well as American life in several ways. Historians credit him with being the person primarily responsbile for Western victory in the Cold War (though Reagan himself surely would claim that communism was doomed from its inception) as well as being the onlt president since FDR to have a lasting impact on the American economy (Reagan favored "supply side" theory, which helped spur amazing economic growth during difficult world times; his economic policies are essentailly still the dominant force in the U.S. economy).

More importantly, Reagan was a model for leadership. How do you lead? Look at how Ronald Reagan did things. This has made him a hero for many in my generation. For him, leadership began with an optimistic attitude. In an age of cynicism and pessimism, this can make a huge difference. Be positive! Simple...yet very profound.

I'll include here some quotes from the eminently quotable Ronald Reagan...

"How do you tell a communist? Well, it's someone who reads Marx and Lenin. And how do you tell an anti-communist? It's someone who understands Marx and Lenin."

"All great change in America begins at the dinner table."

"I've noticed that everyone who is for abortion has already been born."

"Politics is supposed to be the second oldest profession. I have come to realize that it bears a very close resemblance to the first."

"The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"

"Before I refuse to take your questions, I have an opening statement."

"Life is one grand, sweet start the music."

"My philosophy of life is that if we make up our mind what we are going to make of our lives, then work hard toward that goal, we never lose - somehow we win out."

"Surround yourself with the best people you can find, delegate authority, and don't interfere as long as the policy you've decided upon is being carried out."

"They say the world has become too complex for simple answers. They are wrong."

"Thomas Jefferson once said, 'We should never judge a president by his age, only by his works.' And ever since he told me that, I stopped worrying."

"To sit back hoping that someday, some way, someone will make things right is to go on feeding the crocodile, hoping he will eat you last - but eat you he will."

"We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone."

"Whatever else history may say about me when I’m gone, I hope it will record that I appealed to your best hopes, not your worst fears; to your confidence rather than your doubts."

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Beginning of the Transition

This was a busy weekend for many reasons. Every year in Dawson, the area holds what's called the "Tri-Town Homecoming", aka "Dawson Days", a community festival that is lots of fun. We had a great time...tasty food, wonderful music, good friends. We were acutely aware that it was our final Homecoming, so everything felt bittersweet. Today, Pentecost...a great subject and a wonderful occasion. Communion was celebrated, of course. But the day was difficult because it was my last day at Bryan United Methodist Church, the "country" church I have served for four years. Some tears and some difficult goodbyes. Wednesday will be my final service at Cochran Memorial UMC, next Sunday my finale at Vanderbilt UMC. A very hard week wife Robyn and I covet your prayers!

Friday, June 02, 2006

"Lost" hymns

I love Methodist hymnody. One of the greatest strengths of the Methodist movement has been its hymns. Charles Wesley, the premiere poet of Methodism, is one of the finest hymn writers in the history of Christianity (many would say the finest).

The United Methodist Hymnal is the first official hymnal of The United Methodist Church, succeeding the hymnals produced by the Methodists and the Evangelical United Brethren. Published in 1989, it is an excellent worship tool. It is filled with wonderful songs, is rich in Methodist history, and contains some fine liturgical respources. Additionally, two outstanding United Methodists related to Western PA Conference participated in the creation of the hymnal...Hoyt Hickman, a (now) retired Elder/Full Member of our Conference, and George Bashore, a (now) retired former Bishop of our Conference.

Despite the fine qualities of the hymnal, it is not perfect. Recently, the worship team of our General Board of Discipleship conducted a survey to discover what hymns (and other resources) in our hymnal were rarely used. They called these "lost hymns". The results of the survey can be found here.

Some of the results surprised me. Several of these "lost" hymn texts are excellent. Some of the "new" tunes are fine.

But many aren't great. Either they are too difficult for congregational singing, too symbolic to have much meaning, or too international to gain much interest in a largely white English-speaking American denomination.

Then there's the famous "inclusive language" issue. I am normally a strong supporter of the use of inclusive language. But occasionally the hymnal editors go a bit overboard. The lovely "On Eagle's Wings", for example, #143 in the hymnal, has been edited for inclusive language and is now a grammatical nightmare, sure to give any English teacher fits, and is virtually unsingable in its presented form. Similar problems plague "Let There Be Peace on Earth", which is #431. These two songs might well become modern-day classics if presented in linguistically approachable forms.

All in all, I'd say about 3/4 of the hymnal is just great. If I had the influence and money, I'd take that 3/4 and put it together with about 1/2 of The Faith We Sing, the companion to the hymnal (published in 2000) featuring many new hymns and a few truly forgotten classics. While half of this new edition is fabulous, the other half is weak, at best.

We need to remember this when it comes time to produce the next generation of Methodist hymnals, likely in the next decade or so. While being inclusive in language and in musical form is a good thing, we can get carried away and end up with a product which contains serious deficiencies.

The United Methodist Hymnal can be ordered here.
A partial online edition of the hymnal can be found here.
The Faith We Sing can be ordered here.
Suggestions from the General Board of Discipleship concerning the reclaiming of the so-called "lost" hymns can be found here.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


The media seems distracted and a bit shocked at the recent announcement that DC Comics is reviving the long-defunct character Batwoman as a lesbian (see the story here). A silly character to begin with, the fact that she wasn't a functioning part of the DC Universe for decades was merciful. Now, as part of the year-long project 52, Batwoman is being revived and, apparently, will be a homosexual.

Why is this disturbing, much less newsworthy?

The best superhero comic books have always been story-driven and character-driven. Stan Lee's classic work on Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four (aided usually by the brilliant Jack Kirby, the god of comic book artists), Roy Thomas' mid-1970s sagas starring the Avengers, Marv Wolfman and George Perez's wonderful 1980s work on New Teen Titans, Chris Claremont's years on X-Men, Geoff Johns' work on JSA, and Grant Morrison's work on JLA all succeeded because they were driven by well-written stories, not for any peripheral reasons. This is especially true for Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, phenomenal pieces of work which demythologized the superhero genre and changed the way subsequent writers approached the medium.

My point is simply that if Batwoman's sexuality is driven by a well-written story, then great. Yes, if it's part of some "master plan" to push a particular political agenda, that's a real shame. But it seems to me that the writers handling the project have a real opportunity to do some quality work here. The media (and comic book fans especially) ought to give them a chance.

It was 39 years ago today...

On this date in 1967, EMI/Capitol Records released the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Without question, it is the most influential album of the rock and roll era, and arguably the most significant piece of Western music since Stravinsky's Rite of Spring.

If you've never listened to this masterwork by the twentieth century's most important musical artist, I urge you to do so posthaste.

The Beatles began recording the album near the end of 1966. Too tired from incessant touring to even think about hitting the road again, too burned out from controversies ranging from John Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" confusion to a disastrous stop in the Philippines which nearly cost the band their lives, and still by far the most popular musical act on the planet, the group decided to concentrate their efforts on recording an album of music which initially reflected their childhood memories from Liverpool, England.

The first fruits of these sessions were Paul McCartney's "Penny Lane" and Lennon's "Strawberry Fields Forever". Brilliant and far more complex than the pop music of the day, the songs were released as a 45 RPM single, quickly hitting #1 and still considered the greatest double-sided single in history.

Recording continued as the band felt free to experiment with new sounds and new approaches to pop songwriting (as well as popular drugs of the day, such as marijuana and LSD). While the Beatles toyed with their studio masterpiece, the Monkees took over the airwaves and Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (with the aid of the brilliant session band known as the "Wrecking Crew") released the stunning album Pet Sounds.

When Sgt. Pepper was released on June 1, 1967, it forever revolutionized popular culture, from the music to the artistic album cover to the thoughts, ideas, and freedom evident in the project. Music historians note that with Sgt. Pepper, popular music ceased to be music simply "to be danced to" and began to be music "to be listened to".

From the rocking intro of the title song (employing one of McCartney's all-time greatest "rock" vocals), to the brilliant simplicity of "With a Little Help from My Friends", to the psychedelic beauty of Lennon's "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", to George Harrison's mystical trip "Within You Without You", to the dance hall memories of "When I'm 64", to the jaw-dropping experience of "A Day in the Life" (considered by many critics to be the greatest single recording of the twentieth century, and featuring perhaps the finest, most creative drumwork in rock and roll history, courtesy of Ringo Starr), and every song in between, the album is an adventure for the ears and the intellect.

If you're not a Beatles fan, you should be. If you've never listened to Sgt. Pepper, do your ears a favor and listen to it. If you've listened to it before, listen again and experience again God's great gift of music.