Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Reading

Radically Inclusive — A Denver evangelical church welcomes gays and lesbians.

The auditorium lights turned low, the service begins with the familiar rhythms of church: children singing, hugs and handshakes of greeting, a plea for donations to fix the boiler.

Then the 55-year-old pastor with spiked gray hair and blue jeans launches into his weekly welcome, a poem-like litany that includes the line “queer or straight here, there’s no hate here.”

The Rev. Mark Tidd initially used the word “gay.” But he changed it to “queer” because it’s the preferred term of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people invited to participate fully at Highlands Church.

Tidd is an outlaw pastor of sorts. His community, less than a year old, is an evangelical Christian church guided both by the Apostle’s Creed and the belief that gay people can embrace their sexual orientation as God-given and seek fulfillment in committed same-sex relationships.

Disagreements over homosexuality and the Bible have divided mainline Protestant churches for years. In evangelical churches, though, the majority view has held firm — the Bible clearly condemns homosexual acts. The common refrain at evangelical churches: “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

But with younger evangelicals and broader society showing greater acceptance of homosexuality, many evangelical churches can expect, at the least, a deeper exploration of the issue.

“Highlands Church represents a breakout position, where you have a gay-affirming stance that moves beyond the traditional kind of liberal-conservative divide,” said Mark Achtemeier, an associate professor at University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). “I’m finding lots of moderate conservatives just think there’s something wrong with a default position of excluding gays from the life of the church.”

That’s what I call the Christmas spirit.

More below the fold.

Frank Rich chooses his person of the year.

AS we say farewell to a dreadful year and decade, this much we can agree upon: The person of the year is not Ben Bernanke, no matter how insistently Time magazine tries to hype him into its pantheon. The Fed chairman was just as big a schnook as every other magical thinker in Washington and on Wall Street who believed that housing prices would go up in perpetuity to support an economy leveraged past the hilt. Unlike most of the others, it was Bernanke’s job to be ahead of the curve. Yet as recently as June of last year he could be found minimizing the possibility of a substantial economic downturn. And now we’re supposed to applaud him for putting his finger in the dike after disaster struck? This is defining American leadership down.

If there’s been a consistent narrative to this year and every other in this decade, it’s that most of us, Bernanke included, have been so easily bamboozled. The men who played us for suckers, whether at Citigroup or Fannie Mae, at the White House or Ted Haggard’s megachurch, are the real movers and shakers of this century’s history so far. That’s why the obvious person of the year is Tiger Woods. His sham beatific image, questioned by almost no one until it collapsed, is nothing if not the farcical reductio ad absurdum of the decade’s flimflams, from the cancerous (the subprime mortgage) to the inane (balloon boy).

Remembering Bunkie Knudsen and Pontiac.

Semon E. Knudsen was born to be president of General Motors.

Known to all by his nickname of Bunkie, he was car-obsessed, held an engineering degree from M.I.T. and was industry royalty. His father, William, had been president of G.M. in 1937-40.

On July 1, 1956, at the age of 43, Bunkie became one of the youngest general managers of a car division in G.M.’s history. All he would have to do was turn Pontiac around, then make an obligatory pit stop running Chevrolet and, based on the corporate pattern, he would ascend to the presidency.

It turned out, though, that Knudsen’s achievements peaked at Pontiac. During his tenure, he and his team developed the big, confident cars that defined the division through the 1960s. Bonneville, Catalina, Grand Prix and 2+2: the names still resonate with collectors as cars that projected an unlimited future, certainly not one that anticipated the division’s shutdown last month.

Pontiac, which built its first car in 1926 but traced its roots to the 1890s, was G.M.’s also-ran division in the mid-1950s. Its cars were indistinct and boring, fussier than Chevrolets and less substantial than Buicks or Oldsmobiles. Pontiac was sixth in sales — and stuck there, with its buyers growing older.

“It was unbelievable, everything was so old-fashioned,” the late John Z. DeLorean told Sports Illustrated in 1969 about how he was recruited to Pontiac from Packard to work alongside the newly installed Knudsen.

“Bunkie persuaded me to interview for the job, and I drove out to Pontiac and talked with the man who was going to be my boss,” DeLorean told the magazine. “There he was sitting behind the desk, wearing a pair of those old high-top leather shoes and packing a big wad of cigars in his shirt pocket — the prototype old-fashioned auto man. I called Bunkie back and said, ‘No, thanks.’”

Knudsen told DeLorean that changes were coming and talked him into taking the job. “When I went to work, the old guy in the high shoes was gone,” DeLorean said.

In 1968 Time magazine reported that the first thing Knudsen did at Pontiac was head to the design studio to review the 1957 models that were weeks away from production. According to Time, he knew that Pontiac’s problem was its “grandma image.” What he wanted was an image so that “teenagers would shout, ‘Cool man, real cool.’”

Knudsen told the designers to remove silver streaks of chrome trim from the cars’ hoods, ending a tired tradition. It was about as much as he could do on short notice.

With the 31-year old DeLorean as his assistant and 40-year-old Elliot M. Estes, known as Pete, as his chief engineer, Knudsen concentrated on high style and high performance. Before the end of the ’57 model year that focus paid off with a run of 630 Star Chief Custom Bonneville convertibles equipped with Rochester fuel injection atop their 315-horsepower V-8s. The car was a rush job, but its co-mingling of power and glamour was what Knudsen wanted for all of Pontiac.

The 1959 Pontiacs were the first developed under Knudsen — and they were sensational. With a distinctive new split grille and tailfins that were subdued for the era, the Pontiacs were arguably the best looking of G.M.’s products in that flamboyant year.

The genius, however, lay under the car. Knudsen pushed the wheels nearly five inches farther apart, compared with the ’58 models, for a broader, sportier stance — the track, in industry lingo.

The Wide Track Pontiacs were born.

The last Pontiac was built on November 25, 2009. I still have one in my garage.

— Figuring it out.