Faith at Altitude

Religion and spirituality in the shadow of Pikes Peak

Friday, April 28, 2006

Early-day saints

At 5:55 a.m. -- about 20 minutes before I got up this morning -- 600 Colorado Springs high-school students were already in class, learning more about their Mormon faith.

It's pretty remarkable, really. When I was in high school, I hated mornings. Even now I'm not overly fond of them. Attending a Latter-day Saints class for this story was -- outside of this Easter's sunrise service in America the Beautiful Park -- the earliest I've gotten up to cover a story.

These folks seem to be doing something right. A study from the University of North Carolina suggests Mormon teens are less prone to use alcohol or drugs, engage in premarital sex and tend to be just -- well, happier than teens from other faiths. And I gotta admit, the teens I saw seemed happy -- they were smiling, engaged, willing to talk and laugh. The teacher later told me they were a little more quiet than usual, perhaps intimidated by the strangers in their midst.

Maybe I'd be happier if I got up earlier. Maybe I'll try it.

Maybe tomorrow. Or the next day. Or better yet, the day after that. Or ...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Fill 'er up

Today -- a week before the National Day of Prayer -- clergy will pray in the nation's capital for something we'd all be grateful for: lower gas prices.

The pastors are expected to pray from noon to 2 p.m. on Washington, D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue for God to lower the price of oil. Pastors elsewhere can participate through a dial-in prayer service called Pray Live --

"It is our hope that seeing and hearing some of the nation's most powerful preachers gathered around a gas station ... will remind everyone who is really in charge of our world: God," said Wenda Royster, founder of Pray Live.

If it works, Hummer owners all over the nation will rejoice.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Waxing and waning

It looks like a Maryland outpost of the Christian Coalition, an organization founded by religious media mogul Pat Robertson, wants to switch its allegiance to Focus on the Family. The Christian Coalition of Maryland wants to make the switch to Focus because it believes Focus can better support it in local initiatives.

Local organizations like this are important parts of both the Christian Coalition and Focus. Both rely on grassroots support, and these groups provide a local contact point between local supporters and the national organizations.The groups affiliated with Focus are actually fairly autonomous, often starting out as free-standing organizations that then tap into Focus for advice and support.

The move, which is being resisted by the Christian Coalition's national headquarters, was made in the wake of a decade-long dispute with the IRS, according to the Frederick News-Post. But it seems like it's another pretty clear sign of who's rising and who's falling in the politically-charge world of evangelicalism.

Robertson reached his zenith nearly two decades ago, when he was influential and respected enough to make a run at the United States presidency in 1988. But in recent years, some evangelicals feel he's been more of an embarrassment. Most recently, he suggested that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's recent stroke was a judgment from God, and he also appeared to suggest that Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez should be assassinated.

Focus on the Family has its own bevy of critics, of course. Its founder James Dobson has defended himself on a variety of fronts in recent years. But these days, at least when it comes to politically active evangelicalism, Dobson's the man. As the influence of Robertson and Jerry Falwell wane, and with up-and-coming leaders seemingly less willing to adhere solely to the Religious Right's party line, I have a feeling we'll be hearing a lot from Dobson in the months to come. And lots of conservative Christians will be listening.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Old Europe looks at New Life

A Gazette reporter here sent me a pretty interesting link to the Web site of a Belgian photographer. Johann Rousselot spent time at our city's largest church, the 14,000-member New Life Church, to examine the evangelical movement. He's thrown some of his shots together in a slide show.

He notes how young all these folks pictured are. It's like a faith-filled GAP ad.

He also has a slide show on a 25,000-member church in Kiev, Ukraine -- a church that New Life's pastor, Ted Haggard, has visited on occasion -- most recently this spring.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Divine dialogue

The Gazette's Letters to the Editor section has been awash recently in Christian-Islamic banter. The entries in this morning's paper are from Richard Curran Trussell and Ann Pattinari, both of whom say Islam is being unfairly painted as extremist.

"I implore ... Christian groups to invite Yousufi or Chaudry (two Colorado Springs Islamic leaders) to their congregations to discuss Islam and Christianity," Trussell writes. "I know they are willing."

As fate would have it, such a discussion is being planned.

Vanguard Church, a non-denominational congregation of about 1,150 folks, will hold "A Community Discussion on Religious Tensions: Muslims, Jews and Christians" at 7 p.m. May 15 at their place, 3950 N. Academy Blvd. This isn't a debate, the Rev. Kelly Williams of Vanguard stresses, but an opportunity for faith leaders to chat a bit and teach the crowd something about their own religious perspectives.

"Religion seems to have become so political in this city that there's no place for relations," Williams told me.

I'll write more about this event in an upcoming story, which will probably run about a week before the event. We'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Haggard listed as a top Pentacostal

The Rev. Ted Haggard, senior pastor for the 14,000-member New Life Church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was listed by the online faith information clearinghouse Beliefnet as part of a "Who's Who in Pentacostalism," pegged to the movement's 100th anniversary.

OK, so it's maybe not too surprising. The 49-year-old pastor was listed last year as one of the evangelical movement's top 25 most influential figures, so the fact that he'd land on a list of the top 15 Pentacostal leaders -- a list taken from a smaller pool -- may be a little anticlimactic. And it's important to note that the author of the piece -- Patton Dodd -- has known Haggard for years and is a New Life employee.

Still, appearing on the list reminds us that Haggard is a died-in-the-wool charismatic Christian, one who believes in prophetic visions, holy warfare and speaking in tongues. Yet he's also become a booming voice of mainstream evangelicalism, representing some folks who might look at some of Haggard's beliefs as -- well, a wee bit out there.

Haggard's a pretty fascinating figure in religion today precisely for this reason: His ability to be both extreme and mainstream at the same time. He's been able to transform charismatic New Life into the city's biggest spiritual tent -- a multidenominational stew that somehow stays true to its charismatic ways.

It'll be interesting to see what the next couple of years hold for Haggard and, perhaps, New Life. His star, many say, is still rising.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dobson pushes pastors

According to an e-mail blast from Focus on the Family's political advocacy arm CitizenLink, Focus founder James Dobson will send a letter to "thousands of pastors," encouraging them to rally their congregations behind the national Marriage Protection Amendment.

Dobson's letter is part of a broad Christian effort to push the Amendment into law, which would define marriage as between a man and woman nationwide. The letter will encourage supporters to send pre-printed postcards to their senators.

Focus also is behind a similar, statewide amendment -- one of several state amendments likely to be on the ballot this November. Focus officials worry that if such an amendment passes in Colorado and other states, it could be overturned, so the ministry is pushing for a national Constitutional amendment to seal the deal.

According to Amanda Banks, Focus' federal issues analyst, 53 senators could be expected to vote for such an amendment -- a majority. Constitutional amendments require support from 2/3 of the governmental body -- 67 senators. Focus and other faith leaders are pinning high hopes on this faith-based blitz.

"Obviously, that is a steep hill to climb," Banks was quoted in the release.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Save those eggs!

Sad that Easter's over? Have no fear. Celebrate the holiday again with your Christian Orthodox friends.

OK, so the local Orthodox community isn't exactly huge -- it numbers in the hundreds -- which might explain why few people know that Orthodox Christians (an ancient strain of Christianity stemming from the Byzantine Empire and now centered in Greece and Russia) will celebrate Jesus' resurrection April 23, a week after most Americans have recovered from their Peep-scarfing stomachaches.

Why is this? Well, have no fear, dear blog reader. I'll tell you.

The reason Easter jumps around so much -- for every Easter celebrant -- is because the holiday's hooked to the solar, lunar and kitchen calendar: It's the first Sunday AFTER the first full moon AFTER the spring equinox (March 21). You follow?

For centuries, the Orthodox and Roman Catholic church agreed on this complicated little formula to determine Easter. But these two Christian strains have always had their differences, and when the Catholic church reformed its calendar in 1582 (to the one we're all familiar with, with a leap day added to February every fourth year), Catholic Europe suddenly found itself celebrating Easter on a different timetable than the Orthodox east. The Orthodox church has resisted altering its own timetable, so the Orthodox Easter typically falls after the Catholic/Protestant Easter, sometimes by as much as five weeks.

There: A little trivia with which to impress your friends.

Friday, April 14, 2006


On Saturday, The Gazette will run a story on the Stations of the Cross -- a predominantly Roman Catholic rite in which believers pray and meditate on 14 episodes that take place during Jesus' last hours. Most parishes have these stations.

I spent a lot of time in parishes over the last month, checking out various stations. I was struck by how different each was from the next. Most were obviously unique, crafted specifically for the parish. For Catholics, I'm sure these representations are very moving -- particularly viewed today, on Good Friday. It's somber art for a somber holy day.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Soulforced bussing

Soulforce, a religious group made up mostly of gays and lesbians, is coming to town again this week -- this time to draw attention the U.S. Air Force Academy's "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

The group, which picketed Focus on the Family last year, is sponsoring a bus trip across the United States called the "Equality Ride," stopping at 19 colleges and universities it says discriminate against gays and lesbians. Thirty-three young adults are taking part in the ride, participating in rallies, non-violent confrontations and Bible studies.

The Air Force Academy qualifies as a stop because of the U.S. military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy: Gay and lesbian cadets could be kicked out of school if their sexual preferences are revealed. Because of the AFA's restrictions on protesters, Equality Ride participants plan to keep their appearance pretty low-key, engaging students on campus in conversation. Essentially, they'll be asking cadets "would you serve with me?"

The bus rolls into town April 13, where participants will take part in a 7 p.m. community meeting at All Souls Unitarian-Universalist Church downtown, 730 N. Tejon St. A press conference will be held outside the AFA's north gate at 10:30 a.m. April 14, after which the participants will enter the campus.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Davey and Goliath, it's not.

Cartoon Network's Adult Swim will unveil a show called "Lucy, the Daughter of the Devil" late this year. Apparently Satan, Lucy's paterfamilias, is upset that his daughter might be dating the Second Coming. Wacky hijinks ensue.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Thorn returneth

I went to New Life Church's preview showing of "The Thorn" last night. The only characters missing were the lions and tigers New Life plans to have on hand for the show's opening gladiator scene. The play opens Thursday (April 6).

Whenever I go (this is my third time), I'm always a bit amazed at how slick the thing is. Some of the singers could kick some "American Idol" butt, and the special effects are outrageous. It's not everyone's cup o' tea, though. I'm interested: Have you gone in the past? What'd you think?

A full review of the Passion play -- celebrating its 10th anniversary this year -- will be in this weekend's Go! section.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The natives are restless

Politically minded evangelicals are getting a bit grumpy with folks on Capital Hill.

An article in CitizenLink from Focus on the Family outlined a number of "pro-family" legislative agenda items that have been languishing in Congress despite the fact that a healthy number of social conservatives populate its halls.

And late last month, a group of evangelical Christians (including Tom Minnery from Focus on the Family) and conservative Jews created what they call a "Values Voters' Contract with Congress" -- an effort to make politicians more responsive to the conservative religious agenda: Among other things, they want a marriage protection constitutional amendement, legislation restricting pornography and assurance that "under God" will stay in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Religious conservatives vote for like-minded politicians (almost always Republican) in droves, but don't get as much satisfaction as they'd like when it comes to legislation. When the next election cycle rolls around again, they vote Republican again. Who else are they going to vote for?

Evangelicals may feel they have a little more heft after the 2004 elections, in which evangelicals played a pivotal role. Religious leaders are trying to send a message before anyone gets to the ballot machine in 2006 or 2008.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Mississippi mission

On March 25, The Gazette ran a story about spring break mission trips, focusing on one high school group from Sunnyside Christian Church. About 40 students from the church have spent the last week in the Gulf Coast region, helping residents still reeling from the aftermath of hurricane Katrina reconstruct their lives.

Kim Smith, 15-, submitted a short summary of her trip to The Gazette. Here's what she wrote:

March 25: Jesus laid down his life for us. Now it's my turn to dedicate my time for the lives of others. As I look around at the faces of my teammates, aglow with early morning crankiness, I realize how much I trust these friends. I trust them to let me sleep comfortably all night (though the sleeping quarters on the bus could use some improvement). I trust them to save me from the giant mosquitoes. Most of all, I trust my fellow mission-seekers to support me on this journey. In a few hours we'll arrive at Waveland, Miss. Who knows what we'll find? It's a whole other world out there, and I'm ready to jump in head first.

March 26: Today we experienced all the "firsts" of our expedition. We glimpsed the first damaged house of many; its light-blue paint stood out against the opaque colors of a ditch. We touched our first wave on the bruised beaches of Mississippi. The cool water ran gingerly through our eager fingers. We captured the first sunset in our minds. Streaks of pink decorated the sky - the same sky I'm familiar with back home in Colorado. No matter how much devastation litters this land, no matter how far this place is from the rest of the world, we're all under the same sky, right?

March 27: At our camp, we tread on the fragments of fury. Seashells, deposited by hurricane Katrina, are now half-buried in the dirt. They serve as a reminder of what happened here. Here in Waveland, I look down a busy road and life seems almost ordinary. And yet, the scattered trees, the piles of garbage, the ruined homes all tell the truth. But these aren't the reminders that bring me the reality of it all. I can actually feel what happened here in August of 2005 as I walk over the scattered fragments of thousands of seashells. In awe of such fury, I tread softly.

March 28: Today, as the busses rumbled over the rutted beach roads; I saw the beautiful and the horrible, the recent and the ancient, and the natural and the artificial. The broken trees in Waveland are blotched with ruin. Instead of doing the "dirty work," I painted a preschool. I came to Mississippi expecting to be used as a laborer. Instead of gutting a house or clearing debris, I manipulated a brush to bring hope to the world of thirty children who attend the Small Blessings Preschool. With my yellow and blue, I manage to brighten a place of hardship.

March 29: One of my group leaders said today, "We are using destruction to rebuild the destroyed." In order to begin anew, we must demolish the ruin. Each day this week, groups from our camp depart to individual sites in Waveland or Bay Saint Louis and clear away the massacre. Once the damaged is gone, there is room for new. Even now, seven months after the storm, destruction is still involved down in Mississippi. Even though the demolition of Katrina is long gone, its legacy still exists as dilapidated houses and shattered trees. The victims of Katrina are still tearing down the heartache and the pain. The ruins are being erased and rebuilt. Waveland is begining anew.

March 30: Today I had the pain and pleasure of clearing an area of tree debris. At the site, I eagerly dove into the toil of dragging shattered trees down a road to a field to dispose of them. To think, these towering giants now lay crippled on the war-torn earth. To drag great pieces of the past in the dust takes a lot of guts. The branches fought valiantly, constantly clawing at my arms and legs with broken fingers. After enduring raw feet and blistered hands for a day, our team had erected a pile of tree debris that extended across the small field with a height of nearly seven feet. The wooded area we worked in, once cluttered with the remnants of timber, now lay bare. Though it may be painful to clear treasured things away, the process enables the new to populate.

March 31: The yards of many homes in Waveland are marred by intrusive debris. However, the concealed beauty of Mississippi exists beyond what ordinary volunteers see. A few of my teammates and I stumbled upon three sheltered ponds at our worksite. The still water of each reflected the emerald trees, only broken by two friendly ducks.A chair and table, as well as many fallen trees, littered the surrounding dirt. And yet, the beauty of each liquid mirror remained undisturbed by the fury of Katrina. The true beauty of Mississippi lives on.