Yesterday I heard something that captured my imagination in many different ways.  One way it captured my thoughts was regarding church life.  Here is what I heard.

I was listening to a piece on the radio about the Elwha River restoration, or also known as the Elwha dam removal.  The National Parks Service in the Olympic National Park has a nice blog about the process (click here).

The suddenly release of sediment slowed the project down

The piece I heard by a woman named Ashley Ahearn from KUOW, was so well done that my mind created the landscape for me, but the actual photographs of the area are amazing.

What is being attempted is the restoration of the habitat for the Elwha River.  Of particular concern are the salmon.  Salmon are a big deal and for the past 100 years or so their habitat has been systematically destroyed by continual population growth and development.  The project was delayed for a while because of the large volume of sediment that was suddenly released when the dam was removed.  It will take much longer than our lifetime to restore the ecosystem.

The overall scope of the project was fascinating to me and I can easily see visiting the area for the purpose of describing a setting in a story or novel.  More than that, though, there was one particular line in the story that caught my attention.  The debate, as presented by the various personalities in the piece, centered around the return of salmon.  Some wild salmon are beginning to return, but in very small numbers, and some experts want to supplement this with hatchery salmon.  This is apparently very controversial.  The fish expert was pointing out the differences between wild salmon and hatchery salmon and he called the reporter’s attention to the fins and showed how they were distressed and added what I am sure to him was a throwaway line but to me was substantial.  He said, “the fish chew each others fins in the hatchery.”


Wow–what a thought.  When something meant to swim in open waters is confined, aggressive behavior emerges.  We might expect that among tigers or perhaps a bear, but fish?  Yes, apparently even fish have pent up energy that just has to get out somewhere.  As you might imagine, that was when my thoughts turned toward church.  Most of the conflict I’ve ever seen at church could be described as fin chewing–fin chewing by fish who have spent too much time ‘captive’ in the church’s narcissistic programs and not enough time out in the open waters engaging the sea of life God has designed us to swim and live in.

Church doesn’t work right when it keeps all the fish busy and bundled up in the ‘hatchery’ all the time.  The greatest help to conflict, when it emerges, would be to consider which dams need removing to get the flow of fish and water moving in the right direction again.

Don’t be surprised if this idea or concept ends up in a sermon somewhere.


In the wee hours of the morning well before the sun crept over the eastern horizon and illuminated the snow capped Cascade Mountains and glistened off the shimmering waters of Puget Sound I heard something interesting come through my iPhone via the earphones covering my ears.  (okay–before  I get back to my subject, can you tell that I”ve been wordsmithing my new novel?  Anyway . . . ) What I heard was an interview on our local NPR station, KUOW, with six people who claimed themselves as having no religious affiliation.  I heard its companion story yesterday, which featured an interview with Robert Putnam and some pollster I had never heard of.  The radio segment is investigating the growth of the “Nones.”  Nones are people who say or mark “none” when asked about religious affiliation.  Apparently this number has grown to 20% of the population, and is even higher amongst people under the age of 30.

That is where this particular segment focused.  The interview was with six people, under the age of 30, who claimed no religious affiliation.   Here is a little excerpt from the Morning Edition program.  I recommend you listen to the whole piece and hear these voices or you can read highlights:  CLICK HERE.

Lizz Reeves, 23, raised by a Jewish mother and a Christian father. She lost a brother to cancer.

“I wanted so badly to believe in God and in heaven, and that’s where he was going. I wanted to have some sort of purpose and meaning associated with his passing. And ultimately the more time I spent thinking about it, I realized the purpose and meaning of his life had nothing to do with heaven, but it had to do with how I could make choices in my life that give his life meaning. And that had a lot more weight with me than any kind of faith in anything else.”

Some of my first thoughts as I listened was that I would like to play this for our church leadership to hear.  I often think that church leadership, especially older leadership, too easily discounts anything young people say and don’t hear it with their heart.  I believe these six people are good folks who want to do good and maybe even want to have faith; but it eludes them.  I also had the following reactions.

1.  It is fascinating that these people came out of a strong institution–Roman Catholic, Jewish,  Seventh Day Adventist, or Islam.  None of them were raised secularist or materialists, and, none of them came from a classic free-church tradition or a mainline Protestant church.

2.  All six of them were the victims of  a consumeristic approach to faith.  They had been taught, at some point, that “If I pray then I should get what I want or asked for” and then, when that didn’t happen each one came to a conclusion that God wasn’t real.

3.  I didn’t feel bothered by these people or their comments.  They sound and look like people I know or those in my family.  Lack of faith amongst the nones is not a sign of problems, but a sign of honesty.  In the past these people might have ‘faked it’ but now they don’t.  I believe that is good for those of us who truly believe in Christ for it gives us a real glimpse at the world, not a sugar-coated “We are a Christian Nation” delusion.

4.  Authoritarian institutions either breed loyal and devoted followers or it breeds rebels.  These six, all from rigid institutional religious structures  are the rebels.  For balance, it would have been nice to have six who were still in each of these faith traditions.

5.  The greatest thought I had was that much of what I’ve read the past decade regarding church life has been, essentially, about how to reach these “nones.”  I don’t think that is how to fix it.  All of these had formative experiences as children or youth.  The only way to fix it is to approach our youth and children, in our churches, right now, with care, sensitivity, and with authentic communal honesty and integrity–not mood lighting and awesome camps.

6.  One more thought.  I sure would like to have a cup of coffee with each of these people.  I really would.


As a man who grew up in Tornado Alley and now lives in Northwest Washington—home of slate gray and high winds, I found a lot of interest in the way the media covered the recent earthquake/hurricane situation on the East Coast.  For starters, had either of these events occurred anywhere else, neither would have received very much attention at all.  The only reason these seemed to matter so much is because ALL THE MEDIA LIVE ON THE EAST COAST AND THINK THEY ARE ALL THAT MATTERS.

Okay, I wrote that in all caps, and that was a little too strong.  I apologize.  I am actually not that convinced the issue is East Coast bias as much as  the media’s need for the next big story.  But for most of the time in which the “historical” category one hurricane was moving along the seaboard, I was busy with life.  I took Mrs. Greenbean away to celebrate our 18th Anniversary (horray—our marriage is old enough to vote!)  We spent two nights in beautiful Leavenworth and stayed at the best Bed & Breakfast ever.  I did keep tabs on my iPhone and Sunday afternoon after I returned from church I watched some of the coverage and I have searched the internets.  Here are some interesting things I noticed.

1.  The only voice of reason during the earthquake was coming from Shephard Smith.  Amazing—as he is usually the one who gets so super excited about things.  It is interesting to me that had this earthquake happened on the West Coast, or anywhere else for that matter, it would have made the “crawl” at the bottom but that’d be about it.

2.  What is this lunatic reporter doing?  Apparently the ‘toxic sea’ foam is actually raw sewage.


3.  Michele Bachmann just flat-out makes me laugh.  I don’t think she meant anything spiritual or evil about this; but you can’t be saying things like this and expect to be understood or elected!

4.  Cliff Mass is the best weatherman ever.  I love his blog and I think he is very cool because he got fired from public radio (KUOW) for protesting weak math education here in Washington.  His weekend blog seems to have put things in to perspective nicely.

5.  It is curious that the name of the hurricane was Irene, when the word Irene in Greek means peaceful.  In English it is very common to refer to the “irenic sea” when the waters were calm.  I guess the people who named it either didn’t know that or, are highly ironic.

I am certain that to the people who live in these zones it was all very frightening and troubling.  However, things must be put into proportion and the overreaction of the media to things that happen all the time is very troubling.  The 24/7 news cycle is ruining our ability as a society to be anything.