Bluebonnets, bullets, bombs & balloons -- Year 14

In their visions, key supporters of the U.S. Prayer Center kept seeing fields of bluebonnets, the state flower of Texas.

But that was not all they reporting seeing.

"In the past three weeks, six intercessors, who do not know each other, have reported to us written descriptions of dreams that they have had in which President George W. Bush appeared to have been assassinated," said an email from the Houston-based ministry ( about this time last year.

There were more visions in the weeks that followed, said Carol Pauwels, the center's prayer coordinator. These "prayer warriors" kept seeing planes in the air and images of warfare and terror. The calls and emails came from around the world and the ministry went on "red alert" prayer status.

"We pulled all of these dreams and visions apart and looked at the common themes," she said. "We finally decided that the threat was real and filed a report with the Secret Service."

That sound you hear is many readers -- secular and devout -- laughing out loud. But if you listen carefully, you will also hear sincere murmurs of concern and affirmation. That's the way things have been going for the past 12 months or so.

It has been a time of tears. Yet, as always, the religion beat has a way of making people shake their heads for a wide variety of reasons. I bring this up, because this is the time of year when I mark this column's anniversary -- this is No. 14 -- by weaving together a few of the mysterious, bizarre, amusing and even poignant items that show up in my mail. Proceed with caution.

* I am pleased to report that appears to have gone out of business.

* A former student passed along an item from Chapel Hill, N.C., about the opening of a nightclub called "NV." A manager said the name stands for "envy," one of the "seven deadly sins" in the hit movie "Seven." Actually, Hollywood didn't create that list.

* A nondenominational radio station in London has set up an online confession site -- Believe it or not, someone beat the Church of England to this innovation.

* This could be a bad setback for user-friendly, Baby Boomer Buddhism. The Dalai Lama has decreed that masturbation, oral and gay sex are wrong and against the Buddhist way of life. Has anyone told Richard Gere?

* Hold the mascara! Tammy Faye Bakker Messner of PTL infamy is reported to have cut a duet with shock-rocker Marilyn Manson. The song? "Silent Night."

* All kinds of religious folk visit the pluralistic domain called -- from angels to Zoroastrians. A friend noticed this striking lament by one writer: "I am a werewolf ... and also Catholic. ... But too progressive for some Catholics." Wait! Did he say "some" Catholics?

* I was not surprised when psychic John Edward announced that he would try to communicate with Sept. 11 victims during several episodes of his show "Crossing Over." But I was surprised when producers scrapped these plans, rather than offend viewers. Does this retreat imply that there is some concept of right and wrong in cable television?

* This confession appeared in the ombudsman's column in the Washington Post: "Religion doesn't seem to play much of a role in a large newsroom, although it plays a big part in the lives of many readers. This is one of the larger disconnects between journalists and their audience." What does this say about efforts to promote diversity in the news business?

* How nervous is Palm Beach County, Fla., these days? Waves of citizens called police when skywriter Jerry Stevens celebrated the arrival of 2002 by writing "God is Great" in the sky. They feared it was an act of terrorism.

* Can news reports from the Middle East get any worse? However, I did receive this touching report from loved ones who live in Nablus. They were eating breakfast a few days ago as the sound of gunfire and cannons echoed off the surrounding hills. The parents realized that their 3-year-old son, Malachi, was gazing off into space. The father asked what he was doing.

"I'm listening to all the balloons," he said.