Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Coming to a veggie patch near you

So, I'm in Home Depot this weekend, looking for marigold seeds and plant lights for my son's science fair project, when I stumble across Veggie Tales vegetable seed packets. That's right, you can now grow Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber in your very own garden. Or at least their close relatives.

The big question is this: Will eating them once they ripen scar little children?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Children and Faith

Ah, the beauty of e-mail.

I got a lot of it regarding my "Like a Child" front-page story that ran Sunday.

Some were nice "atta-boys." Some took me to task for the story topic itself -- one writing that the upcoming series should really be called "Indoctrination and Children." Someone else said he thought the story was too Christian-centric, written with the helping hand of the youth pastors quoted. One writer thought the story belittled Christian faith.

But all were free of cuss words -- always a bonus -- and most were really quite thoughtful. Faith is a thought-provoking, touchy subject, littered with all kinds of pitfalls and perils. These are areas where facts and figures take the discussion only so far, after which it becomes a matter of -- well, belief. It can be tough to write about such things: Journalists, after all, dig facts -- concrete, provable reality: The abstract nature of faith makes it a weird, squishy beat to cover.

I'm very jazzed about the rest of the series. I'd like to talk about baptisms and bar mitzvahs, youth-group dynamics and pagan home-schooling clutches. The stories aren't set in stone yet, but I hope they'll be interesting and illustrative. Be looking for them the last Saturdays of every month. Let me know what you think.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Way out West

If you haven't seen it yet, take a look at this:

Yes, rapper Kanye West is stylizing himself as Jesus -- a calculated move designed to alienate lots of folks and get society talking.

He's succeeded on both counts. West is getting more attention now than when he said that President Bush doesn't care about black people; more attention than his two phenomenally successful (and critically acclaimed) albums garnered him.

But, in stylizing himself as Jesus, he's become a kind of antichrist to more than a few folks. Not that people who would be put off by the image would listen to a lot of rap music, anyway.

But one thing I haven't heard much about so far is the fact that West is one of the few mega-popular rappers willing to grapple with faith and religion in his lyrics. Granted, he's no Michael W. Smith or Bono. But his biggest single has been "Jesus Walks," which includes these lyrics:

The way Kathy Lee needed Regis that's the way I need Jesus
So here go my single dawg radio needs this
They said you can rap about anything except for Jesus
That means guns, sex, lies, video tape
But if I talk about God my record won't get played huh

West is a, shall we say, thorny fellow. I'd be interested to hear what you think about him.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

No end of the Spears

There are church shoppers. There are faith shoppers. And then there's Britney Spears.

Spears, the really attractive pop star who took up the Kabbalah around the same time Madonna did, was spotted at a Malibu Hindu temple, participating in a purification ritual.

I guess there's something to be said for diversification ...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

"Daniel" eaten by economic lions

NBC has apparently shelved its controversial "The Book of Daniel" in the wake of low ratings and dwindling advertising support. The show, which focused on a flawed Episcopal priest who has conversations with Jesus, never snagged an audience.

The American Family Association, a conservative Christian group based in Mississippi, crowed about the show's departure. It, like many other conservative Christian groups, had been wildly critical of the show, and a handful of stations refused to even air it.

“We want to thank the 678,394 individuals who sent emails to NBC and the thousands who called and e-mailed their local affiliates,” said the group's chairman Donald Wildmon in a press release yesterday.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Boycott? What Boycott?

Religion can be a strange beat.

Last Tuesday (that'd be Jan. 17), I ran across an Associated Press story that said the Rev. Ken Hutcherson, a conservative pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Redmond, Wash., would be launching a nationwide boycott against Microsoft, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard and others during Focus on the Family's Jan. 19 radio show. Why? Because the companies in question were supporting a gay rights bill being voted on in the Washington state legislature.

That's news, right? Well, I called up Focus, which told me that Hutcherson wasn't scheduled to appear on Focus' show May 19. Any additional information, representatives told me, would have to come from Hutcherson himself ... who was apparently presiding over a funeral when I called and didn't call me back.

Now, "The Stranger," an alternative weekly printed in the Seattle area, says that most of the initial information in the AP story was wrong, and now it's a he-said, it-said battle. Hutcherson said he was misunderstood in the story. AP stands by its reporting.

Hutcherson has been featured on Focus several times as a guest and is something of an up-and-comer in evangelical circles: A black conservative pastor preaching in one of the nation's most secular regions. Focus also has a history of supporting conservative boycotts. But Focus doesn't seem to be offering its support of this pseudo-boycott, at least for now, though Focus V.P. of Public Policy Tom Minnery apparently joined Hutcherson in denouncing the Washington gay rights bill.

I have a feeling we haven't heard the end of this yet.

Friday, January 20, 2006

St. Jake?

At least one area school is asking that its students dress in orange and blue in honor of our wildly successful Denver Broncos. Does this constitute a state endorsement of religion?

And don't forget what Freud said about spears ...

Most evangelical Christians are ga-ga over the movie "End of the Spear," which opened locally today. The story's about the rather up-and-down relationship between a group of missionaries and an Amazonian tribe -- the first face-to-face meeting involved a great deal of hacking and killing on the part of the tribe -- and the story's real-life narrator, Steve Saint, has become a traveling celebrity in many Christian circles.

But the American Family Association (who last made big noise in the wars over the word "Christmas") and a handful of other conservative groups are ticked because the movie's star, Chad Allen, is involved in (in the association's words) "homosexual activism."

"Given the publicity of Chad Allen's activism and the intensity of his mission to normalize homosexuality -- a mission clearly articulated on his Web site -- it is hard, if not impossible, to suspend belief and see him as a missionary martyr for the Gospel," wrote evangelical broadcaster Albert Mohler on his Web site.

Focus on the Family, who some gays and lesbians call a "hate group," appears to be staying well clear of this particular fray. They gave "Spear" a rave review on its entertainment Web site (

Secular reviewers haven't been quite as kind ... The Gazette's national film reviewer of choice, Roger Moore, gave the flick a "C-plus."

Thursday, January 19, 2006

The Good Books

Religion writers get books. Lots of books. My desk sags with books. I have an overflow bookshelf at home that runs the religious gamut, from what the heck George Bush actually believes to how Jesus (according to the author) was actually a compilation of five or six dudes.

I don't get to read every book that comes across my desk, but I'm reading a couple right now that are worth the time. Both deal with major religious figures in our community, and both provide insights as to what drives some of evangelicalism's most powerful men.

"Family Man" by Dale Buss focuses on, er, Focus on the Family chairman James Dobson. Dobson gave his own stamp of approval to the book and Focus officials rave about it, so you're obviously not going to get a critical expose on arguably the religious right's most powerful kingmaker. Still, it's not overtly fawning, and it's an interesting chronicle of Dobson's rise. Plus, it's fun to learn that Dobson, during his basketball-playing days, played with wild, aggressive abandon and camped in the lane a lot. The three-second rule apparently does not apply to major evangelical figures.

"Too Small to Ignore: Why Children are the Next Big Thing" is a different sort of book altogether. Written by Compassion International CEO Wess Stafford (with an assist from Dean Merrill), the book is more or less a plea to love kids and take them seriously. But the book has an autobiographical feel, because Stafford points to his own upbringing as examples of how to raise children -- and how not to. Stafford grew up in a small village in West Africa, an alternating heaven and hell. Heaven was vacation -- he hunted baboons, helped his missionary dad preach by scaring away noisy birds and became a crack shot with a slingshot. Hell was a mission-run boarding school, where teachers would beat him and others with little or no provocation. He's done OK for himself since that boarding school experience -- thanks, he says, to God -- but he still bears the scars. And, he told me, he's still a pretty good shot with the slingshot.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Winds of punishment

Man, it was windy last night. I wonder if God is mad at Colorado Springs?

Then again, the Denver Broncos are playing at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers .... does that mean that God is pleased with us?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Does this clash with my halo?

I picked up the latest issue of "Today's Christian Woman" and what did I see? An article titled "How to Dress for Spiritual Success: 6 Things God Wants You to Wear Every Day."

We'll leave aside for the moment why I'd be reading "Today's Christian Woman." The story, by Sheila Walsh, sounded pretty darn interesting.

Alas, Walsh is not telling Christian women that God has a "thing" for black dresses or colored panty-hose. The story's actually a contemporary nod to Ephesians, where the Apostle Paul talks about the "full armor of God:" The Belt of Truth, the Helmet of Salvation, that sort of thing. The article had precious little to do with fashion, except to say that high-heeled shoes aren't suitable footwear for overseas mission trips.

" .... how often do we show up in the lobby of our life in high-heeled pumps and pink capris?" Walsh writes.

Ah, well. Perhaps someday an ambitious writer will pen a story about the Scarf of Goodness, or the Handbag of Righteous Anger.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Hajj horror

Hundreds of people were trampled to death in Mina, Saudi Arabia Thursday, a tragic, often annual story in the spectacular Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca known as Hajj.

Deaths of these nature are, sadly, fairly common during hajj -- the byproduct of 2 million frenzied worshippers gathering in one place. I wrote a story about hajj last year, and the Muslims who I talked with admitted that parts of the pilgrimage are frightening.

During hajj, you’re going with the flow,” one former hajj participant told me. “It gets very crowded. Basically, people are stacked."

Mina, where worshippers throw stones at pillars representing the devil, is particularly dangerous: The year before I wrote my story, 200 people had been trampled to death there.

These deaths are horrific, but I think for many Muslims they do little to dispel the beauty and power of the pilgrimage. Most have prayed in the direction of Mecca five times a day for their whole lives. To see in person, the Kaaba, the city's ancient black shrine, is an overpowering experience for them, and almost everyone I talked with said they cried when they saw it. No other religion has a pilgrimage that comes close to hajj -- in size, scope or spiritual power.

Here's a link to the story I did last year on hajj:

Apology accepted?

It looks like Pat Robertson, the increasingly controversial faith-media guru, apologized to Israel for saying its stroke-stricken prime minister, Ariel Sharon, was being punished by God.

In a hand-written letter that Robertson sent to Sharon's son, Robertson wrote "my concern for the future safety of your nation led me to make remarks which I can now view in retrospect as inappropriate and insensitive in light of a national grief experienced because of your father's illness."

Might it be too little, too late? The Associated Press, which broke the story, says it's "doubtful" that Robertson will be a key player in the Christian Heritage Center, a planned evangelical outpost in Galilee. I kinda get the sense that evangelicals, too, would like to see an apology from "The 700 Club" anchor. Few Christian leaders lept up to defend Robertson following his latest pronouncement, and some condemned the remarks.

The Rev. Ted Haggard, one of our local evangelical leaders, didn't "apologize" for Robertson, as he did when Robertson said Venezualian dictator Hugo Chavez should be assassinated. But he did say that the "wrath of God" had nothing to do with Sharon's stroke.

"He's 77 years old, he's grossly overweight and he's been under pressure his entire life," Haggard said.

Evangelicals rarely criticize each other publicly. They're keen to present a united front. But I kinda wonder how much oomph Robertson really has anymore within the evangelical movement these days.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Allegiance to Alito

The judicial hearings over Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito are in full swing, and Focus on the Family, of course, has offered its own two cents on the matter with a series of targeted radio ads.

Funded by the Springs-based organization's lobbying arm, Focus on the Family Action, the ads target states where a handful of swing senators are based. The targeted states are Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Nebraska, West Virginia, Wisconsin and, of course, Colorado -- home of democratic Senator Ken Salazar, who last year called Focus "the anti-Christ."

Focus does not mention that whole "anti-Christ" episode during its ads (no hard feelings, apparently), but it does suggest that listeners call the senator and suggest he side with "the people of Colorado" rather than "Ted Kennedy."

"Our ads make it clear the disconnect between mainstream America and left-wing values," said Tom Minnery, Focus Action's vice president of government and public policy, in a recent press release. "Those values -- held by Massachusetts' Sen. Ted Kennedy and his cronies -- dictate the hysterical opposition to Judge Alito's nomination despite his overhwelming qualifications."

Take a right on Proby ...

It looks like Proby will get a street, after all. The city decided to name a planned expressway after the longtime Colorado Springs pastor -- a guy who had been one of the city's leading civil rights activists for more than four decades.

It's a cool honor, though still probably not ideal for many of Proby's supporters, who had wanted all of Fountain Boulevard named after Proby. Fountain runs right past Proby's old church. The city council rejected the proposal -- a move that some called racist, but others said was just a matter of logistics -- all those street signs, all those businesses ...

Regardless, I'm personally happy to see Proby honored. I had a chance to meet and interviewed him a few months before he died last year. Even then, when he was missing part of a leg and due to get more of it amputated, I was impressed with both his strength and optimism. I wasn't surprised at all that he continued preaching almost up to the day of his death.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Focus on Colorado Springs

Andy Wineke, The Gazette's media reporter, published a host of comments from folks who watched NBC's "The Book of Daniel." All were interesting, but one -- written by David Dahm -- particularly caught my eye:

"I'm glad KOAA had the courage to schedule and show "The Book of Daniel," Dahm writes. "Our viewing habits should not be dictated by the religious right. Again, it's nice to know at least one television station in our area has the moral courage to stand up to the likes of Focus on the Family and others of the extreme far right."

Focus is undoubtedly an influential organization. Its ability to mobilize its constituents is well-known in Washington, D.C., and it is arguably the most prominent evangelical player in national politics today. But Dahm brings up an interesting question: How much influence does this organization carry locally? Does James Dobson steer local politics? Sway local media?

Monday, January 09, 2006

Religion -- root of all evil?

Richard Dawkins, a British biology professor of some note, apparently spent some time in Colorado Springs this year to study the city's New Life Church and the evangelical movement for a documentary he was writing. Well, now the two-part documentary is out: It's titled "The Root of All Evil?" and is, if British press reports are to be believed, an anti-religious opus.

here's a link to the story I read: Dawkins' own Web site is

According to the Sunday Herald, Dawkins likens America's evangelical movement to "Christian fascism" and churches like New Life as part of "an American Taliban." As far as religion itself, Dawkins really does believe it's the root of all evil, going so far as to title the second part of his series "The Virus of Faith."


I have not seen this show and, since it's not being shown in the U.S., I probably won't have a chance to see it for a good long while. But I'd like to. Can the actual series be that polemic? Can it truly be that hostile to religion? Heck, faith has jump-started its share of wars and icky feelings, but it's often helped jump-start culture, too. Religion has inspired some of the world's greatest art, literature and social reforms. That's my take, anyway. What do you think?

Friday, January 06, 2006

Robertson, Sharon and judgement from God

Televangelist Pat Robertson thinks that God may be punishing Isreali Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for divvying up the Promised Land.

In case you hadn't heard, Sharon suffered a severe stroke this week. After teetering on the edge of death for a bit, seems to be making a comeback. Doctors apparently relieved some pressure on his brain today by draining away some blood that had been building up in Sharon's skull. He's in serious but stable condition, according to the press reports.

Robertson, when it looked as if Sharon might die, said on his television show "The 700 Club" that the Bible -- specifically, the book of Joel -- "makes it very clear that God has 'enmity against those who divide My land." Sharon, who's tried to broker a peace deal with the Palestinians by giving (or returning) land to them, has ticked God off, Robertson says; politicians and religious leaders are outraged, but Robertson's not backing down.

Now, I think it's important to keep in mind that Sharon is 77 -- an age at which it seems most people might be prone to health issues and hospital visits outside the realm of God's judgement.

But Robertson's reasoning didn't fly out of the left-field bleachers. In the Bible, God is constantly smiting sinners for one reason or another, and a good chunk of Americans are, in many respects, "fundamentalist" -- that is, they read the Bible as a literal, factual text. Heck, everyone knows that Robertson is a fundamentalist, and he is expected, in many respects, to comment on issues of the day.

So, the question is this: Is Robertson guilty of being insensitive? Are other religious leaders guilty by demanding Robertson to be more politically correct? Or is it a little bit of both?

Brokeback and the Book

The movie "Brokeback Mountain" and NBC's television show "The Book of Daniel" will both make their Colorado Springs debuts today -- a double-dip of culture-war worry for much of the city's evangelical population.

It's interesting, though, to see how conservative Christians are reacting to both.

"Brokeback," which chronicles a longterm homosexual love affair between two cowboys, has received overwhelming praise from secular critics and, at this point, has to be the odds-on favorite to take home loads of Academy Awards come this spring. Religious reviewers are more reserved in their praise, but most that I've seen admit that it's a skillful, powerful film. Christianity Today gave the movie three stars, while emphasizing to its readers that those stars shouldn't be taken as a stamp-of-approval for gay love. Perhaps a decade or two ago, this film would've been the target of Christian pickets: No more. Those who disapprove of the film's homosexual message seem willing to let the movie have its run. It's showing now at Kimball's Theater, by the way.

"The Book of Daniel" is another matter. Many Christians have blasted the NBC show (airing at 8 p.m. tonight), which follows the life of a drug-addicted Episcopalian priest and his dysfunctional family. The priest is sometimes visited by a laid-back Jesus, a character who has drawn the greatest ire.

Focus on the Family called the Jesus on "Daniel" as a "wimpy, white-robed visitor who cares little about evil, addictions and perversity. This Christ glosses over a teenager's sexual romps with a 'He's a kid, let him be a kid.'

"Jesus winks at the behaviors that the genuine Jesus was crucified to save us from," Focus continues.

Two NBC affiliates -- one in Little Rock, Ark., and the other in Terre Haute, Ind. -- aren't airing "Daniel." The American Family Association said the show is a sign of the network's "anti-Christian bigotry." But, according to the Associated Press, a California Episcopalian diocese is helping to guide the series.


Regardless, all that conservative attention has made "Daniel" the new year's most talked-about television show. It'll be interesting whether that attention will translate into high ratings or a quick dismissal from the airwaves.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Wommack and white powder

Andrew Wommack Ministries got some unwelcome visitors yesterday ... an envelope filled with white powder and a HAZMAT team.

One employee, according to The Gazette, wasn't surprised.

"Andrew has been in the ministry for like 37 years and he often gets threats," said the employee, Gabe Wexler.

But I guess I was a little surprised. With the number of high-profile and controversial ministries we have in Colorado Springs, Andrew Wommack Ministries seems pretty low-key. The organization takes in less than $10 million a year -- a pittance compared to the revenue of Focus on the Family or Compassion International. Wommack himself is essentially a televangelist. The ministry also runs Charis Bible College. The organization is one of dozens in town that do their business while keeping a pretty low profile.

The ministry's Web site is at, if you're interested.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Heartbreak in West Virginia

I went to bed last night thinking that 12 West Virginia miners had been discovered alive. A miracle.

That miracle was snatched away this morning when I opened the paper: Most of the miners were dead, killed by carbon monoxide. The miners' families and, to a lesser extent, America itself had been victimized by a horrible misunderstanding.

Our own Gazette got the news wrong at first: 30,000 papers were sent out bearing the "miracle" before wire services amended the story. It's a hard truth for a newspaper to own up to -- one that prides itself on getting the news right at least most of the time.

But that's a hangnail. What these miners' families are going through is infinitely worse ... perhaps riding the most terrible roller-coaster that a human being can ride. Before the miners' fate was known, the families gathered at a Baptist church to find some comfort in each other, to pray for a miracle. For a time, it looked as if their prayers had been answered.

Then, in the cold morning hours, the miracle was ripped away. Life was taken. Life was given. Life was taken again.

The whole thing brings up just a host of difficult theological, spiritual questions that a makeshift religion writer cannot answer and hesitates to ask. Where can God be found in this? Was He in the mineshaft? In the church with those families? Why did He not grant the miracle that so many were praying for?

It's tough stuff. Even the most educated of theologians, most fervent of believers, have difficulty in finding answers in situations like these. I wonder what these families are thinking and feeling right now. I wonder how many are cursing their God right now, and how many are clinging to Him even more desperately.

It's these times that horrify and fascinate me, as a religion writer. Where is faith in the darkest places? Where is God in the pit of a gas-choked mine? As these miners slipped away, did they fall into unconsciousness? Or were they simply called home?

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Lion-sized blockbuster

Peter Jackson's "King Kong" is big. It's got a big gorilla, big insects, big special effects and is doing relatively big box office nationwide. But in Colorado Springs, residents are thumbing their nose at Kong to see another furry King -- this one named Aslan -- again and again and again.

For the fourth straight week, "The Chronicles of Narnia: Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," a movie based on C.S. Lewis' classic children's story, has roared its way to box-office glory locally, leaving mighty Kong a chest-thumping runner-up. It's been the number one movie locally since its release -- a pretty remarkable run. Sure, it's been doing well nationally, too -- it looks as though it'll make $200 million without breaking stride, and reclaimed the top box-office spot nationally this week from "Kong," which had a two-week run on top. But still, it seems as though Springs residents have a special affection for "Narnia."

Why is this? Are our local evangelicals sending another economic message to Holllywood? Do Springs residents, statistically younger than the nation as a whole, just like the family-friendlier fare of "Narnia" better than the frenetic violence of "Kong"? Or do we just all have some rather disturbing obsession with talking beavers?