In The Picture: An Applehead Siamese Cat Shows Off

Everyone wants family pictures. To get past the usual studio shots, my mother brought out Bernice Ransom, portrait photographer of socialites, to make some of my brother and myself at our home.In her advertisements, Ransom claimed that “children…pets…home sittings…our special ‘cup of tea’!” What she didn’t tell everyone was that, with a cat, the first challenge was to get them to sit! As you can see below, it went downhill from there.

Right: Buff in the foreground, expressing his mood perfectly. In the background is Valentine, the stray Siamese we found on February 14. Even the stray cats are a cut above in Palm Beach.

Valentine can’t tell the difference between the grass in the yard and the fringe on the rug.  Buff is already tired of this photo shoot.
Getting your subject to look in the right direction is one of the challenges of successful portrait photography.  Looks here like Bernice Ransom has met her match.

Valentine still can’t figure out what the fringe in the carpet is all about.  This time though Buff looks on from the other direction.

Bernice Ransom tries yet another pose.  Buff shows yet another direction to look in.

Don’t call me late for dinner: Buff shows how to tough adversity out for the important things in life. Just before Christmas he tore a claw in his left rear paw. The vet (not Buff’s favourite person) fixed him up a “cast” (actually a bandage wrap) on his paw while it healed. In the meanwhile, he continued life with his two favourite activities: travelling (this shot was taken while he was “on the road” at Ocean Reef, down the coast from Palm Beach) and eating.Buff didn’t always like what we fed him, and to express his displeasure he turned 180ø from the pose you see, shook his back leg in rapid succession against the bowl, and walked away without turning back. In this regard he was Biblical:

  • “If no one welcomes you, or listens to what you say, as you leave that house or that town, shake off its dust from your feet.” (Matthew 10:14)
  • “But Jesus answered: ‘No one who looks back, after putting his hand to the plough, is fitted for the Kingdom of God.'” (Luke 9:62)

About our Siamese Cat

Cat breeds are like most anything else; they come and go in fashion.  Although they’re not as popular as they used to be, in the 1960’s Siamese cats were the breed to have.  Applehead Siamese cats were almost a lost breed but they’ve come back in the last few years.

But for two boys who needed a playmate who had enough personality to be fun but wasn’t smart enough to win, Buff was perfect.  (Photo at right illustrates what we’re talking about.) He brought love and warmth into an environment that sometimes came up short of both.

In a sense, he defined a home as much as he brought joy to it.  The year he died, my parents began their divorce, my brother got married and I graduated from college; our home as we knew it was at an end.

Before his departure, Buff taught us many interesting life lessons: some of these are as follows:

Let the Laity Arise: “People are starving, and you want us to wait for a meeting of the Standing Committee?”

This from Anglican Mainstream, showing that ecclesiastical bureaucracies are frequently part of the problem and not the solution:

So, the following Tuesday, the Women of Purpose met for a fund-raising. From within their Fellowship they raised 2.6 million shillings. When they approached one of the clergy at All Saints’ Cathedral, Kampala, about making an appeal in church, they were told that such an appeal would need the approval of the Standing Committee.

Nevertheless, the following Sunday, on 12th July, between the 7.30 a.m. and 9.30 a.m. Sunday worship services, the Vicar of the Cathedral, Rev. Diana Nkesiga, prevailed upon the Provost to allow the Women of Purpose to stand outside the Cathedral doors to collect funds from those who wanted to contribute. She implored, “People are starving, and you want us to wait for a meeting of the Standing Committee?”

That Sunday, the Women of Purpose collected 3.1 million shillings from members of All Saints Cathedral.  The following Sunday, 19th July, they added another 3 million shillings. Vivian Igundura, Chairperson of the Women of Purpose Kampala Fellowship said, “It really brought to life the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The contributions from members of All Saints more than doubled the contributions from the Women of Purpose. God did a miracle; He multiplied the little that we had.”

And note, Pentecostals, that the miraculous isn’t confined to our churches.  Let the laity arise indeed!

George Bush, the Gothard Man

Originally posted 26 April 2006.  I’m reposting it as it’s relevant not only for evaluating George Bush’s legacy, but Bill Gothard’s as well.

George Bush is in a tight place these days, with poll numbers falling as fast as gas prices are rising (the two, unfortunately, are related.) So how did this come about, especially after his post-9/11 strong showing? There are several explanations to this.

The liberals, of course, first claim that he is provincial and stupid. But then again they say that about anybody that doesn’t agree with them. If they are right, they need to close the Ivy League schools and restore educational democracy to this country again, as not a little of their legitimacy comes from having gone to the “right school.” (The conservatives need to get off this bandwagon, too.)

When they can’t make that charge stick, they then say that he is a liar and got us into war through lies and deceit. This makes no sense either; if he were that, he would have taken a far more Machiavellian view of the Middle East and not “done it the hard way” by trying to bring democracy there. And that would have gotten us out of Iraq—or wherever else we were trying to be—a lot sooner. People who take that tack are trying to make him into another Richard Nixon, but he is anything but. Nixon drew up plans to trash the left for good; Bush can’t bring himself beyond sicking Karl Rove on them from one election to the next.

To get at the weaknesses of George Bush in a meaningful way—and thus to suggest meaningful solutions—we need to stop and consider how he organises his staff, which is in a state of flux. In a recent Wall Street Journal editorial, Peggy Noonan—herself a Reagan White House veteran—noted the following:


To an extraordinary degree this is George W. Bush’s presidency. Its strengths are his strengths and its weaknesses his weakness. This White House is him. The decisions it makes are him.

This is true to some degree in all presidencies–all presidents set direction or, at the very least, a certain mood, certain administration tendencies. But I’ve never seen a president who controlled the facts and personality of his White House as Mr. Bush has.

But Mr. Bush’s feelings, assumptions and convictions set theme, direction and mood. All decisions as to declared destination go to him. He seeks a sense of control by making and sticking to the decision. When he won’t budge, the White House won’t budge. When it clings to an idea beyond evidence and history, it is Mr. Bush who is doing the clinging. When he stands firm, it stands firm.

And this is true of this president to an unusual degree, and makes him different from his recent predecessors…

George W. Bush, on the other hand, does not tolerate dissent, argument, bitter internal battles. He is the decider. He decides, and the White House carries through. He is loyal to his aides, who carry out his wishes. (It is unclear whether this is a loyalty born of emotional connection or one born of calculation: Do it my way and the tong protects you.) His loyalty means they will most likely not be fired or leaked against, no matter what heat they take from the outside. And so his aides move forward with the sharpness and edge of those who know their livelihoods and status are secure. Bruce Bartlett has written of how, as a conservative economist, he was treated with courtesy by the Clinton White House, which occasionally sought out his views. But once he’d offered mild criticisms of the Bush White House he was shut out, and rudely, by Bush staffers. Why would they be like that? Because they believe that as a conservative, Mr. Bartlett owes his loyalty to the president. He thought his loyalty was to principles.

There are many stories like this, from many others. It leaves friends on the outside having to self-censor or accept designation as The Enemy. It leaves a distinguished former government official and prominent Republican saying, in conversation, “Those people aren’t drinking the Kool-Aid, they’re sucking it from a spigot!”

Anyone who has been around evangelical Christianity since the 1970’s and who remembers what he or she experienced more than fifteen minutes ago—and that’s becoming a rarity in our fast-moving world—will recognise and understand what is going on here. George Bush is a Gothard man.

Bill Gothard is unarguably one of the most influential teachers of evangelical Boomers that has ever lived. Had he not been eclipsed by “happier faces” such as James Dobson and the innumerable Charismatic preachers and teachers, he would still be pre-eminent—and remembered—today. However, his influence is still considerable. There is no telling how many young people who attended his Institute of Basic Youth Conflicts in the 1970’s are now pastors, teachers, and influential leaders in evangelical Christianity today.

The leitmotif of Gothard’s teaching was and is authority—starting with God, and working down through the family, church and state. Gothard hammered into his students the importance of both finding a place in the authority structure as one’s “umbrella” of protection and in exercising one’s authority as a father, husband and pastor. He rightly observed that the Bible was written in an era when top-down hierarchical authority was the only way of life and basically translated this into the concept that, if we’re going to be truly Biblical, we must return to this authoritarian structure of life, family, church and nation.

His impact was immediate. Many of the significant movements of American Christianity in the 1970’s—the “headship” or “covering” movements, the covenant communities of the Catholic Charismatics, and even many of the communal movements had Gothard as their inspiration, either direct or indirect. It was the obvious response in an era of barely controlled anarchy. It was also a recipe for failure, as most of these ended up dying out or going into permanent retreat, to be replaced by a more traditional American church model which itself has slid into consumerism.

It is unlikely that George Bush ever attended an Institute; if he had, Laura wouldn’t have had to put up with a drunk for so long. But his White House organisation looks like it was taken straight out of Gothard’s handbook—no dissent, blind and rigid obedience to authority, etc. It’s easy to dismiss all of this as a failure. But before we do we need to first look at the plus side.

George Bush came to power in adverse circumstances, without a clear electoral victory and without a clear majority in both houses of Congress. The left was itching to trash his presidency from the start, and may have well done so without 9/11. Having good group cohesion in his staff was indeed an “umbrella of protection” for him and those around him in a hostile environment.

That became even more evident after 9/11 and the beginning of the “war on terrorism.” His staff’s ability to stick together, stay under their President’s authority and move the war the way they wanted to is really remarkable in the face of a political system that is very centripetal (centre-fleeing) in nature.

But time revealed the weaknesses in the Bush/Gothard system. The first weakness was ignoring the fact that “top-down” systems are inevitably patronage-driven, not just loyalty-based, as Gothard has advocated and Bush has practised. The Romans understood that better than anyone else; their whole system was based on patron-client relationships, and it can be shown that even the early church drew some of its organisation from this dynamic. The closest thing that Bush has even done in this regard is to let Congressional Republicans run wild with spending, because they certainly understand the importance of patronage. But in the end it has worked against the G.O.P., not only because it has compromised the principles of the party but because it has been diffused to solely benefit individual members rather than advance the party as a whole and Bush himself.

The second weakness is that top-down systems inevitably create a “power holder/power challenger” dialectic. We have beaten this theme to death on this site, but it bears repeating. Gothard’s concept of an authoritarian system is an idealisation, and George Bush’s implementation of same is certainly that. Bush should have taken more time and effort not only to neutralise the terrorists/careerists in the Middle East but those careerists on the left as well. His failure to do so will be the epitaph of his presidency. Bush cannot understand that, just because people are duly elected or appointed Americans, that they are not as great a threat to the country’s survival as those from outside. His attitude also leads him to underestimate the power challengers he faces every day in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And this leads us to a point where Gothard may have it over Bush. With his love of authoritarian structures, Gothard might not consider democratising the Middle East a worthy goal. That certainly draws an interesting parallel between Gothard and his Islamic counterparts. As we noted above, skipping that goal would have both been more consistent with Bush’s internal practice and easier to implement.

But Bush’s concept of democracy and Gothard’s ideal world may not be as far apart as one would like to admit. Gothard reached out to a generation which had thrown its own world into the sea with student revolts, and found fertile soil. We have had two Boomer presidents, one of which ruled through chaos by turning the White House into Animal House, and the other who popped open the umbrella of protection through rigid authoritarianism. Both of these extremes are Boomer hallmarks, characteristics of a generation which careens between revolt and tyranny, even sometimes using the former to achieve the latter. It’s frankly hard to know how a functioning, representative democracy is going to work with such extremists constantly jockeying for dominance, giving us only the choices of blind obedience and security or endless anarchy.

Gothard’s system, for its strengths, is a system for bureaucrats, not leaders. Gothard emphasised headship when the world cried for leadership. Fortunately for the U.S., real leaders such as Ronald Reagan came forth to deflect our course from left wing nirvana, saving the legal status of Christianity in the bargain. Leadership requires a much more flexible approach to things. We only need to look at the life of David, the man after God’s own heart, to see that.

We think the George Bush is capable of such leadership. To get there, he too is going to have to follow the example of a David rather than a Bill Gothard. He’s going to have to read his Bible for himself, both as guide to greatness in general and as a guide to the Middle East in particular. But he’s going to have to hurry: his opponents are moving to finish the job once again, and, if they play their cards right and Bush lets them slip through, they might just pull it off.

Katharine Jefferts Schori Needs to Take the Money and Run

In a recent address on this subject, TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori reveals the biggest problem in her position on the property:

I will continue to uphold two basic principles in the work some of us face in dealing with former Episcopalians who claim rights to church property or assets. Our participation in God’s mission as leaders and stewards of The Episcopal Church means that we expect a reasonable and fair financial arrangement in any property settlement, and that we do not make settlements that encourage religious bodies who seek to replace The Episcopal Church.

Pragmatically, the latter means property settlements need to include a clause that forbids, for a period of at least five years, the presence of bishops on the property who are not members of this House, unless they are invited by the diocesan bishop for purposes which do not subvert mission and ministry in the name of this Church.

The second reason is, IMHO, one of the stupidest things I have ever seen a centralised church do regarding its property.  (And I work for a centralised church.)

TEC has a declining membership on account of its demographics.  TEC’s strategy of attracting the more secularised segments of our society through a message that is indistinguishable from that secularised segment (the LGBT community comes to mind first) is an unproven method of church growth.  (I think it’s a recipe for failure, but I digress.)

With both of these facts on the table, TEC needs to build a war chest, even with the substantial amounts of endowed money it has at its disposal.  Although most seceding Anglican parishes would find buying out their own church distasteful, chances are a good number would do it rather than go through litigation.  Both sides would be saved much acrimony and legal fees and TEC would end up the richer financially.

KJS’ insistence on the first condition has legal justification in most jurisdictions.  Her second condition is a petty, short-sighted control freak’s idea of victory.  Given the reality of the situation, it’s a luxury that TEC can’t afford, especially as several of their officials dedicated to the development of the church (evangelism, lay ministries, etc.) are now redundant.

Besides, she’s admitting that a bunch of “bigots” and “homophobes” have more appeal and viability than her own “enlightened” organisation does.  And that’s quite an admission.