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Mar. 6th, 2007

God, the Springs, and Cooking Oil

This past December 31, the Colorado Springs Gazette published an article that so infuriated local Evangelicals that the paper eventually pulled the article from its archive. You can still find the article in Google's cache, but that will go away eventually, so read it now if you're interested. It's a history of how Ted Haggard had a vision on the side of Pike's Peak that Colorado Springs would become a sort of City of God, and how, for a long time, everything went his way. Haggard's fall made national news, but that's not what irritates a lot of the local Evangelicals. The part that bothers them is this, quoted from the article:


In 1984, a nobody pastor named Ted Haggard had what he described as a vision after three days of fasting and praying on the side of Pikes Peak.

Colorado Springs was already a conservative town. But its political coloration was dictated by its large contingent of active and retired military, not its churches.

Haggard saw a city transformed: There was “a huge, lifegiving church” on a hill. Christian organizations poured into the city like crazy, creating “a fountain with young people coming in, having positive spiritual experiences, and going to the darkest places in the world.”

Part of his teachings focused on Colorado Springs being a chosen place that needed to be claimed for the Lord. The New Lifers walked the sidewalks, praying and blessing, block by block, business by business, all over the city.

One evening in the mid-1980s, Haggard found a handful of congregants praying over a 5-gallon bucket of cooking oil. They said God had told them to anoint the city, and so they did, block by block — using a garden sprayer.

“It’s a little unusual,” Haggard wrote of the oil in his book Primary Purpose, “but so is Colorado Springs.”

The Evangelicals complained that the paper was trying to make them look silly. Assuming that this actually happened (and it's taken from Haggard's book, so I suspect it did) the paper wasn't doing any "making." I doubt that "Saturday Night Live" could have come up with a better parody of Evangelical Christianity. Holy canola oil, Batman!

It's actually kind of sad. This is not how sacramental anointing works, any more than you can baptize downtown crowds by hooking a firehose to a tanker of holy water and dousing anybody within reach. It's not about the water, and it's not about the oil. To think otherwise is to descend to a kind of ceremonial magick, and that's what the incident suggests to me—and, ironically, what Evangelicals sometimes accuse Catholics of doing. I've sometimes wondered why the rest of Evangelical America doesn't disown them.

Ah, well. At least those guys are all on the north side of town.

Feb. 24th, 2007

Living in the Cross Hares

Pete Albrecht has been razzing me for years now about moving to a location in the database of every Russian nuclear-armed submarine. I can walk to within a few hundred feet or so of the legendary NORAD entrance, which is a hair over a mile from my house here in Colorado Springs. (I could probably get closer but they'd shoot me.)

So Pete decided to make me a coat of arms. (Left.) Two hares rampant with a Greek cross on a field of green and gold, which I suspect Pete chose because they were our high school colors at Lane Tech.

I wish I could find the sketch of the arms that Yale hacker Larry Stone drew up for me in 1983, which starred Mr. Byte as "frise rampant" and included a linked list 'o sausages (as he put it) and a hot fudge sundae. I had used a string of sausages as a metaphor in explaining linked lists in Complete Turbo Pascal, but the significance of the sundae escapes me now.

I moved to Colorado Springs fully aware of the conceptual hazards, and actually relish them a little. I worry a lot less about the Russians these days than most of us used to, and as I've said before, our coastal cities are the ones where terrorists could buy an old tugboat, fit it out with a crude nuclear weapon, and take out the city without a lot of trouble. Getting that tugboat to the Springs would be a problem.

Besides, NORAD's HQ under the mountain has been mostly mothballed; its real work is now being done on an air force base somewhere. It's unclear that the Russians will be updating their submarine databases any time soon, but MAD works well enough to suit me. The air and water are clean, street crime far lower than in most comparable cities (living among many retired military officers will do that) and damn, I have this great mountain right outside my front door. Not a lot of hares here (and maybe a few too many crosses) but for the most part, life in the cross hares is good.

Jul. 19th, 2006

The Dog That Goes "Moo!"

I love this city for many reasons, but when I announced our move here, a number of our more liberal friends were very unhappy. Beyond a slightly creaky Cold War assumption that NORAD (from whose iron door I am less than one mile) is on the Russians' first strike list, the objection they raise has never bothered me that much: Focus on the Family is there. I doubt that any organization is anywhere near as abhorred on the left as FOTF, whose massive complex lies about fourteen miles north of us, at the other extreme of the city.

I am increasingly uncomfortable with FOTF's brand of Evangelicalism (and there's a separate story in this that I'm working up the nerve to tell) but mostly I cordially ignore them, as I cordially ignore most individuals and groups with whom I differ but who are unlikely to hit me on the head and run off with my wallet. Ideology is not my thing. On the other hand, Colorado Springs has become so unshakably linked with the Christian Right that I have a suspicion many tech startups are unwilling to locate here or expand here. I say that because it comes up again and again as I chat over Skype or email with people in tech: "Oh, you're in Colorado Springs. Christian country. Focus is there." Everybody seems to know, and the unspoken objection is deafening.

The tension between Focus and the culture that it loathes erupts now and then, and we're currently in the thick of another round here. For several weeks now, an advocacy group called Public Interest has been funding TV commercials and banners on street lights featuring a peculiar icon: A dog saying "Moo!" in a speech balloon. Norman, the dog, was born different. He doesn't bark. He moos. He didn't choose to moo. That's just the way he is.

It's a clever, nonconfrontational, slightly light-hearted campaign to get people talking about why gays and lesbians are what they are. Focus on the Family, however, is incensed. They see targets on their own foreheads, since the Norman campaign was created for and is currently running only in Colorado Springs. (It may be launched elsewhere in the future.) Angry letters are going back and forth in the newspapers. Conservative churches here are preaching against the campaign. City officials are catching hell for accepting the campaign's banner dollars. I'm not sure if the affair has made national news (has it?) but around here we're starting to get a little tired of it all. Focus is now launching a counter-campaign starring a dog named Sherman that asks the question: When did you last hear a dog moo? Alas, Norman is a metaphor, and not an especially strong one. (I've never heard a dog moo, but basenjis make a sound that is unlike any other noise I've heard out of any other dog. Public Interest should have done a little more research and made Norman a basenji rather than a springer spaniel—but nobody asked me.)

In conversations with people here, I get a sense that in a lot of people's minds, Focus used to be on firmer ground. For a long time they were mostly concerned with stabilizing shaky marriages and opposing abortion, but the surprising influence of the gay marriage issue in the 2004 elections caused them to shift a lot of their energy to pushing a state consitutional amendment forbidding gay marriage. (The amendment will be on the Colorado ballot this November.) So what had been considered a city only moderately hostile to gays is now considered a city extremely hostile to gays. Enter Norman. And Sherman.

Alas, the discussion Norman and Sherman have fomented has been broad but shallow. Nearly all research I have seen so far indicates that human sexual identity is entirely genetic and unchangeable. Focus claims that homosexuality is treatable and can be reversed. Neither side seems willing to confront what I see ever more clearly in the studies: That human sexual identity is a spectrum, and between those who are clearly born gay and those who are clearly born straight are people whose sexual identities drift across the boundaries for reasons that are still completely obscure. Focus presents case studies that look like they have persuaded male bisexuals to give up sexual contacts with other males, but that's not the same thing as reversing genuine homosexuality.

None of this bothers me directly. In a democracy, different sides of an issue should make their cases before the public. What bothers me is that the presence of an assertive conservative Christian organization seems to be affecting job growth here, which I admit may be speculation, but I see job creation happening all over the place, just not here—and it makes me wonder. The town is beautiful, culture-rich, and inexpensive. Gays and lesbians are not being lynched. The animus against gays runs very a few people. Most citizens of Colorado Springs are open-hearted and willing to let Norman—as well as Sherman and everybody else—just be what they are and go on with their lives.

Jan. 20th, 2006

Got Snow?

We got another good snowfall yesterday, and this morning when I went out to shovel (I'll get a snowblower someday...but not yet) the clouds were breaking up along the summit of Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD is off to the left a little and behind that house you see) and it made me catch my breath. Above is the view from my front porch as I saw it this morning. 8 inches took a while to clear, but it was superb exercise, and by 3 PM, the sun had melted and dried whatever had been left on the sidewalks and driveway.

But the most fun today was introducing QBit to deep snow. This may seem odd (and it is, looking back) but each time we've had a significant snowfall here this winter, QBit was fresh out of the groomer's, and we know from our previous bichons that five minutes in the snow will utterly scrag $50 worth of washing and brushing. At best we've let him out on the back deck when we've had a dusting. (See photo at left.) So this morning, with his hairdo already two weeks old and pretty scruffy, we took him out to see what he would make of it.

It was hilarious. He literally dove into the deepest drift he could find (which was most of his height deep) bounding through it with gusto, stopping now and then to eat some snow. If he isn't leaping around in the thick of it, he's eating it. (Note the snow mustache he has above; eating snow isn't entirely new for him.) He refuses to walk on the cleared sidewalk if he can charge through snow. I have a QuickTime clip (taken with my new Kodak V530 camera) showing him on a "walk" (if you could call it that) but the .mov file is 26 MB, and that's a little much for downloading.

Colorado Springs is by far the most beautiful place we've ever lived. I never thought I would love snow, especially after spending 18 years in places that virtually never get it. (We had measurable snow in Scottsdale once.) But with the right climate, the right mountain, and the right dog (along with a very short driveway) I realize that I'm completely fine with it. Go figger.