When I moved to the Appalachian Mountains, I briefly worried that it would be hard to write a national religion column based in this somewhat remote region.
Well, the experts are right when they say it matters less and less where you locate your mailbox, telephone, fax machine and computer modem. Last year, I marked this column's birthday by trying to dig out my desk. Now, I'll start year 10 by trying to thin my digital files. Some of these e-mail items are silly and some sobering. Some are both.
* In 1998, the national Southern Baptist Convention meets in (cue: drum roll) -- Salt Lake City. This raises all kinds of apocalyptic questions, such as: What happens if the Baptists do their traditional door-to-door evangelism blitz? That could get interesting on Mormon turf. Also, visitors often whine about Utah's shortage of bars. The Baptists will love its many, many ice cream parlors.
* The London Daily Telegraph reported -- under the headline, "The seed of the church" -- that the World Council of Churches has received assurances that Zimbabwe will not enforce its laws against homosexual acts when the council meets in Harare next year.
* The Protestant sex wars rage on. In her book "Our Selves, Our Souls and Bodies," the Episcopal Church's youth ministry leader offered this core doctrine: "You are holy. Sexuality is good. Sexuality is powerful. You are not alone. You must take responsibility." Some noted that Rev. Sheryl Kujawa's credo didn't mention virginity, marriage, sin or repentance.
* Out in California, the La Casa de La Luz center's offerings included this fusion of Druidic, Wiccan and Catholic themes: "Rekindling the Sacred Feminine: Come celebrate Beltane with us. This is a celebration of rebirth and cleansing, as we travel with Mother Earth, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Sophia and the collective sacred feminine." Oh, to have a travel budget.
* Some members of England's United Reformed Church believe that, instead of a cross, Christianity's symbol should be a fish, a candle, a flower or an egg. One church media specialist noted that "while crosses spell death, eggs betoken life."
* Reporters are used to religious liberals forming coalitions. Some of today's most interesting interfaith work is on the right. One Orthodox wit suggested this slogan: "Enemies of ecumenism unite."
* After 40 books and decades of research, the Rev. Lyle Schaller knows that churches' deeds often do not match their words. While the United Methodist Church has proclaimed its desire to grow, he recently wrote that its "operational'' policies have emphasized adding small churches, shrinking large churches, doubling the number of clergy, shrinking the number of missionaries, increasing the size of denominational bureaucracies and courting those born before 1945. The system, he said, assumes that "Christian people in general, and congregational leaders in particular, cannot be trusted."
* Readers passed along several Ebonics versions of "The Lord's Prayer." No, I do not what to share them.
* CNN czar Ted Turner upset many folks when he said the Heaven's Gate tragedy was "a good way to get rid of a few nuts." Few noted his theological commentary on the Hale-Bopp comet: "I've been looking at it. I would kinda like to go up there myself. I mean, is that much different from other religions that say you're going to heaven?"
* As each "Simpsons" episode begins, bad-boy Bart is shown writing a new phrase over and over on a school chalkboard. My all-time favorite: "I will not carve gods."
* As a pastor's son, the following anonymous piece rang true for me. "If a pastor preaches over 12 minutes, he's a windbag; if his sermon is short, he came unprepared. ... If he visits church members in their homes, he's nosy; if he doesn't, he's a snob and doesn't care. If he's young, he's not experienced; if he's old, he should retire. If he lives, the pastor at the church down the block is a better preacher and counselor than he is; if he dies, there was nobody like him and his equal will never be seen again."
And all the people said, "Amen."