Coretta Scott King

Coretta Scott King has died, and her death has me thinking of her husband. Although he was not an Episcopalian, Martin Luther King, Jr.'s name is included in our Church's book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts. That means churches have the option of celebrating a Martin Luther King feast day, complete with its own designated Scripture readings. Some Episcopalians characterize those included in Lesser Feasts and Fasts as "saints," while other Episcopalians are uncomfortable with that term.

Last weekend, at our diocesan convention, we approved a resolution asking our General Convention--that's the governing body of the Church--to include Thurgood Marshall's name in the same book. Inclusion requires approval by two consecutive sessions of GC. The first would have to come in Columbus this June, and the second in 2009.

People who don't think Marshall should be included argue, among other things, that his candidacy is too political, that he may be a hero to liberal Americans, but that that doesn't mean he was a saint. You can accomplish great things, this argument runs, but if you don't accomplish them in the name of the Gospel it isn't necessarily holy work. Folks who argue against including Marshall in LFF also say that participation in a great moral movement does not necessarily indicate you were a moral person.

I have more sympathy with the second of these arguments than with the first. But it is the first argument I'd like to focus on.

To what extent has someone who accomplishes a great social good--such as school desegregation--done something holy? And to what extent does it matter if they did it in the name of Christ, or just because it seemed to them like the right thing to do? I think Thurgood Marshall was motivated by faith, at least in part, but supposing he wasn't, and he still made this extremely significant contribution to the lives of the people of God. Wouldn't we have to acknowledge the sacred nature of this achievment? Or am I missing something?

Can this work?

I’d like to begin this conversation on where I hope we are going with my account of where I think we have been.

The Diocese of Washington didn’t start the Blog of Daniel to promote the Book of Daniel. We started it because we thought people would want to talk about the Book of Daniel, and that it would be best for Episcopalians if they did it under our roof. Hosting the conversation gave us the opportunity to put our evangelism materials under the noses of hundreds of people who would otherwise not have seen them. The blog doubled traffic to our Web site (edow.org), and more people have accessed our evangelism materials this month than in the previous five months combined. Does this lead them through the doors of an Episcopal Church in any significant numbers? I hope so, but all we can manage on the Web is to capture someone’s attention and make our case.

As a person employed by the diocese, evangelism needs to remain among my primary concerns. That is why, at the very least, I think we will try to continue a blog in some form. I am in the process of trying to recruit moderating help, and hope to have news on that front by the end of this week or early next. But once people begin posting on a blog, you begin to develop some sense of them, especially if you are the moderator and may be engaged in personal correspondence about why you liked a post, or why you had to delete it, or why you can’t use it in its present form but would be able to use it if certain language or charges were removed. (It is a peculiar thing to find yourself, as an employee of the diocese explaining to someone why you would be happy to post a comment that says, “The Episcopal Church is going to hell in a hand basket,” but balk at posting one that says “The Episcopal Church is going to hell in a hand basket and the rector of St. Swithan’s in the Swamp is having an affair with the senior warden.”)

Within about ten days of launching the blog , I found that I was corresponding with some regularity with people I shared very little by way of opinion, but whose experiences of faith impressed and intrigued me. I hope “Kat” won’t mind if I mention her by name. She and I had a very public spat one day when I closed a thread for comment because I thought it was getting out of hand. (Someone—you know who you are—even emailed conservative Episcopalian bloggers about this and a couple posted entries about my censoring orthodox Christians.) She and I later began exchanging emails, she telling me how she came to believe in Jesus, and me telling her about my own background. In the time since that initial argument, she’s becoming probably the best news scout on the blog, and we’ve even considered doing some sort of cooperative blog together.

It was through my conversation with Kat and some other posters, who I don’t think I am labeling pejoratively when I call them conservative evangelicals that I began to sense some different possibilities for the blog. (I don’t doubt that someone has thought of these possibilities before, but this wasn’t a month in which I had much extra time for research—our diocesan conventions really require a month-long nights and weekends push from me and the two wonder workers in my department—so I haven’t had a chance to learn yet from other’s experiences.)

Since I was enjoying and benefiting from my email conversations with people of so many different theological stripes, it seemed to me—perhaps naively—that the rest of you might like to know one another better as well. In recent years, as our Church has struggled to determine where God is leading us on issues of human sexuality, Episcopalians have come to realize that good and faithful Christians will not always be in full agreement on what God is calling them to do. In that climate the work of reconciliation, of bearing with one another, of identifying and cultivating commonalities in Christ, is all the more important.

So on to my proposal, such as it is.

Would any of you be interested in participating in an intentional online community? What I have in mind is a group of people who sign a covenant committing themselves to certain levels of observance and standards of behavior aimed at cultivating relationships with other Christians (or those interested in Christianity) online.

My sense of how to create this community—by no means cast in stone—would go something like this: daily participation in common prayer (probably the psalms from that day’s liturgy of the hours, which are available online); commitment to pray daily for one another’s intentions (communicated in a passworded area of the site, perhaps?); commitment to refrain from asking anyone to pray for something they would find it impossible to pray for in good faith; sharing of one another’s faith stories—perhaps a different member would tell his or her tale every week; participation in a common outreach ministry (we don’t live near one another, but we can all donate to a mutually agreeable cause, or identify a common kind of work that we could perform in our own communities.) I am open to more ideas.

There are several issues we would need to work out, such as whether we would accept anyone into the community who wasn’t using his or her real name, and whether the entire enterprise should be conducted behind a password or with some other level of enhanced security. But before we explore the technical, I’d be interested in knowing whether people found this appealing.

In responding, please know that this is an either/or decision. I am really hoping to continue with a blog on faith in popular culture. The issue there is a simple one: can I get enough help to moderate the comments. The issues involved in the idea of an online community are more complex, and I’d really appreciate your help in thinking them through.

Peace,
Jim

Coming up for air

I've been occupied for most of this weekend by our diocesan convention, and haven't had much opportunity to post new entries. But I have continued to monitor your comments, and I'm aware that the temperature on the blog is rising. This has been instructive for me, and I want to preview briefly an idea I hope to develop more fully tomorrow.

Do you suppose that an online community could agree to focus on one another's welfare to the extent that civility would actually be the least that was expected? Would it be possible to have a group of people who decided that despite their differences they would meet online for discussion and prayer, a community that would be based on relationships rather than debate?

What I am describing, obviously, is not this blog as it is currently constituted. It would require a greater degree of accountability from everyone involved, It would mean a set of rules that would need to be enforced by both the moderator(s) and the community. And maybe it isn't possible. But the idea intrigues me, and I will try to flesh it out tomorrow. In the meantime, I'd be interested in your initial reactions.

If we were to move in that direction, I'd still pursue the possibility of having a blog on faith and popular culture. But that blog, even if it works extremely well, would be like any number of blogs that are already out there. So, at the moment, I have a bias toward developing this idea further.

Which "Daniel"?

Update Sunday 11:02
Tom in Arlington posted this a little while ago:
As for me, I won't be visiting this blog again. It's become a vexation to my spirit, with too much bickering and too little in the way of genuine argumentation, polite discourse or genuine effort at human engagement.

I hate to admit it, but I agree. If I wasn't the moderator, and didn't have some notions that I wanted to try out, I wouldn't come back to the conversation that has unfolded on this thread, either. This isn't to blame any individual, to suggest that none of the posts were worthwhile, or to assume that difficult issues can be discussed without passion, just to say that the thread has deteriorated in the manner that Tom suggests.

I hope to have a new rotation for moderating the blog worked up next week. But in the meantime, can I ask those of you whose comments consist entirely of attacks on other people's comments to visit the new thread above this one, give it some thought, and post something that might help us move forward.

Update Friday at 10:19

Folks, this was just a little squib of a thread about which Daniel was actually going to air tonight. Somehow it morphed into something else while I wasn't looking. If there were such a thing as times out on blogs, I'd call one.

I understand that people feel passionately about issues involving the media, the Supreme Court, the ACLU, etc. But I ask you to please take those converations elsewhere. We've got enough on our hands just trying ot figure out what it means to be a decent Christian without introducing a wider array of divisive issues to the blog.

I have had an email from Jack Kenny, creator of "Daniel", who thinks tha an episode called "Withdrawl" that will be Webcast tonight. In this episode Daniel tries to quit Vicodin. We'd previously thought it was an epsiode called "revelations" in which Jesus stops talking to Daniel.

So now I am confused about which episode will be on. Whichever episode makes the Web, it will begin at 8 p. m. eastern on nbc.com, and will, apparently, be available online for a week.

Who decides?

Yesterday we talked about "getting it right." Today I'd like to ask "Who decides?" In a Church community, how shoudl we best decide controversial matters? The Roman Catholics have a "magisterium" or teaching office. Authority is entrusted to the Pope, whom Catholics regard as the successor of Peter. Many Protestant denominations, including Episcopalians, have some form of representative government. Is voting the best way to get at the truth?

This question is very much on my mind today because we begin our diocesan convention this afternoon. I will be absorbed by convention business pretty much non-stop for the next 36 hours, and may not have time to add another post for a while. But I do hope to sneak away long enough to establish an open thread for reactions on tonight's Web cast of Daniel which begins at 8 eastern on nbc.com

Getting it right

A friend of mine, who is deeply involved in the current controversy about the place of gay Christians in the Church sometimes says, that despite the depth of his involvement, he doesn't see the issue as central to his salvation. To paraphrase him:

When I arive at the gates of heaven, I don't expect St. Peter to say, You are XXX and you were on the right side of the homosexuality controversy in the Episcopal Church circa 2003. Well donegood a faithful servant, you may enter the Kingdom of God.

His point, if I can put a few words in his mouth, is that arriving at one's position on a controversial issue is, at least in part, an act of one's intellect, and he doens't believe that God is not a schoolmaster who demands a passing grade on a test of doctrinal propositions. This, to his mind, would indicate that God rewards success, in this case intellectual success, rather than through fidelity.

So I guess my question for today is, given that we all make mistakes in judgement, given that some people are blessed with greater intellect than others, given that many people are born without the mental capacity to accept or reject factual claims of any sort, and given that many human beings die before they can reasonably be expected to make a serious declaration of faith:

How important is getting it right?

I have asked this question in a way that suggests I think it isn't important, and that actually isn't the case. I think it is important for the Church to sruggle with all sorts of issues because right teaching needs to be preserved and perpetuated. But is my friend going ot be kept out of heaven if he is on the wrong side of the debate? Am I? Does someone forefeit slavation in they have doubts about a line in the Nicene or Apostles Creed--the virginity of Mary for instance, or the descent into hell?

One request: if we could manage to discuss the importance of getting it right, rather than reprise earlier conversations about gay Christians, I'd really apprecite it.

Daniel on the Web

Kat and DirectorGuy pass along this news:

According to its website, NBC will be webcasting an unaired episode of "The Book Of Daniel" ("Revelations," which is the one that was skipped over last week) this Friday, January 26th at 8:00 PM. Please note this is a webcast and is only available online and not on regular television.

This is the episode in which Jesus stops talking to Daniel. My hunch is you probably begin th eprocess of hunting it down by going to nbc.com

Update from Kat: Here's the link: http://www.nbc.com/The_Book_of_Daniel/

Labyrinth, anyone?

I don't know how many of you practice the ancient tradition of walking the labyrinth as a form of prayer. But if you'd like to "walk" and don't have a labyrinth handy, take a look at this photo essay shot at Washington National Cathedral by my friend Walter P. Calahan. It is on our spirituality site.

"It's God's Will."

I am struck by how certain many of yesterday's commenters were regarding their knowledge of God's will. I would like to talk about that today.

If you believe Scripture is inerrant, and draw your conclusions accordingly, can you say a little bit about why you think Scripture is inerrant.

If you discern God's will in some other way, what is it?

This prayer by the American mystic Thomas Merton, informs my own thinking. The underlining is not in the original.

MY LORD GOD, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Saintly Thurgood?

Our diocesan convention is this weekend. Here is a press release regarding one of the issues we will be considering. It's received more play in the media than most of what we do:

Thurgood Marshall was a pioneer in the struggle against racial injustice. Now his friends and fellow parishioners in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are proposing that he be considered a saint.

Marhsall’s window, Cissy, a parishioner at St. Augustine’s Church in southwest Washington, D.C., will accompany Marshall’s former rector, the Rev. William Pregnall, and members of St. Augustine’s congregation to Washington National Cathedral on Friday January 27 at 3 p. m. when delegates to the diocesan convention will consider a resolution recommending that Marshall’s name be added to the Church’s Book of Lesser Feasts and Fasts.* (see definition below.)

If the resolution passes, and is approved by consecutive meetings of the Church’s national convention, Episcopal churches will have the opportunity to celebrate May 17 as Marshall’s feast day beginning in 2010. Marshall’s supporters chose May 17 because it is the anniversary of his victory in Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark school desegregation case.

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Book gone. Should Blog go on?

I asked this question below without inspiring much response, but I thought I would try it again. The "Book" is gone. Should the "Blog" go on?

"Daniel" has been cancelled

My thanks to Kat, who spotted this message from Jack Kenny on the NBC homepage.

Unfortunately, due to many reasons, "The Book of Daniel" will no longer be aired on NBC on Friday nights. I just wanted to say "thank you" to all of you who supported the show.

There were many wonderful, talented people who contributed to it's success - and I do mean success. Whatever the outcome, I feel that I accomplished what I set out to do: A solid family drama, with lots of humor, that honestly explored the lives of the Webster family. Good, flawed people, who loved each other no matter what... and there was always a lot of "what"!

I remain proud of our product, proud of my association with Sony, NBC Universal, and NBC, who all took a chance on a project that spoke to them, and proud to have made an impact on so many of your lives.

Thanks for watching.
Sincerely,
Jack Kenny
Creator, The Book of Daniel

Bonhoeffer

There is a converation about pacifism going on on the thread about the South African film about a black, revoluionary Jesus. I thought an excerpt from this piece, which will appear in the February issue of our diocesan newspaper might be food for thought.

Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran, is recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians. A German citizen, he was hanged by the Nazis after participating in a plot to kill Adolf Hitler.

“The compelling story of his life and what he did, and also the writing he left – the themes – much of it could have been written yesterday,” said Wayne W. Floyd, director of the Cathedral College Center for Christian Formation. Floyd is general editor of the complete English edition of Bonhoeffer’s writings, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works. (....)

The central paradox of Bonhoeffer’s life, Floyd said, is that “here you have someone who was a dedicated pacifist, participated in a plot to assassinate the legally elected leader of his country and preached some of the most profound sermons on loving your neighbor.”

This tension – between following Christ and conspiring to commit murder – is central to understanding Bonhoeffer, Floyd said.

“We would have liked him to be a nonviolent resister like Martin Luther King Jr. or give us a justification for killing our enemy,” Floyd said. Instead, Bonhoeffer always maintained that murder was wrong—yet he actively plotted, with the German military intelligence officers and others, to kill Hitler.

“This is a sinful proposition, and I become a sinner by taking this action, but I am called by God to take this action on behalf of other people,” said Lori Brandt Hale, assistant professor of religion at Augsburg College, Minn., in the first lecture of the series.

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So's your old man, 3

Gentle commentators of every opinion,

In recent hours, our conversation has been heated, and largely unenlightening. I realize that rhetorical self-indulgence is not enumerated among the seven deadly sins, but I'd rate it no lower than ninth. Can we resolve, together, to conduct our disagreements in a way that does not sin against charity?

Jim

NBC prez says...

From a Reuters story on Kevin Reilly, president of NBC who was speaking at the Television Critics Association Winter Press Tour in Pasadena, Calif. :

"And he said "The Book of Daniel," starring Aidan Quinn as a pill-popping Episcopal priest who talks to Jesus, might be yanked before running its full six-episode course. The show has drawn weak ratings and misgivings from some advertisers and affiliates."

And this from tvweek.com:

"Calls for an advertiser boycott by groups such as the American Family Association of NBC's Friday night drama "The Book of Daniel" did not have a direct impact on ad sales for the series, Mr. Reilly said. "You let the audience vote," he said, noting that if the show attracts more viewers, advertisers would be less likely to be concerned about controversy."

Blogs on the left fire back on AFA boycott

Americablog and Atrios, two of the more influential blogs on the political left, have taken up Daniel''s cause.

Snippet from the Americablog posting:

Gang, please do this action alert now.

NBC is under attack by the bigoted American Family Association for airing a new TV show that - God forbid - includes gay characters and Christian characters who aren't perfect in the eyes of the AFA. The AFA has called for a boycott of the show's advertisers, and we cannot afford to have them running around claiming yet another victory, even if this "victory" like far too many of their victories is an outright lie.

Hollywood and conservative Christians

Speaking of "Daniel" and The Da Vinci Code as I was in the entry below, here is a piece from the Chicago Tribune, via the Charlotte Observer's Web site: Conservative Christians take on Hollywood's portrayal of religion.

A snippet:

Another reason lies in the sophisticated use many conservative Christians make of new technologies, particularly as they relate to the Internet. For example, through a feature of its Internet server, the AFA said it can tell how many members responded to its "e-mail blast" earlier this month and sent e-mails to NBC protesting "The Book of Daniel," said Buddy Smith, who supervises the group's extensive online presence.

He said the server tracked 600,000 protest e-mails sent; NBC called that number "greatly exaggerated" and put the number at "a couple thousand." An unknown number of the group's members also called their local NBC affiliates to complain about the show.

Since "Daniel" debuted on Jan. 6, at least nine NBC affiliates, primarily in the South, have declined to run the show. It also has struggled to attract and keep advertisers. But it is difficult to know how much is due to the show's controversial content, its lukewarm ratings or the opposition by such groups as AFA and the American Decency Association, a Christian organization. In any event, the series always planned to end Feb. 3, but it doesn't signal the end of the cultural war it's embroiled in.

(Not sure that original Feb. 3 ending date is correct. There were eight scripts, not six.)

What's next?

First, a programming tease: if all goes well, we will have guest insta-bloggers for next Friday's show. Our diocesan convention takes place next weekend, and I may not be able to watch the show. So I'm recruting a pair of guest bloggers to offer instant reaction. Stay tuned for details.

Now a more pressing matter:

It seems likely that "Daniel" will not survive beyond Feb. 3--at least not on NBC. That has left me wondering whether to continue the blog or not. I like the idea of discussing issus of faith and spirituality as they present themselves in popular culture. And I am interested in sustaining the blog because it has a trickle down effect on the rest of our diocesan Web site, and has resulted in more people viewing the diocesan movie, visiting our spirituality site, and looking at our welcome materials.

But if we weren't discussing a single show, would people return? That's not a rhetorical question. I am asking for feedback. We could discuss Marilynne Robinson's brilliant novel Gilead, or the book and movie Millions--in which a little boy who has lost his mom receives visits from saints like Clare of Assisi, Francis, Peter and Jospeh, or the upcoming film based on The DaVinci Code (which is so stone-cold stupid about Scripture scholarship and Church history that I know it will make me want to scream. ) We could examine song lyrics (The Rising by Bruce Springsteen would have been great blog fodder if the blog had been around at that time.) and television programs like Lost that occassionaly offer something like the Mr.Eco episode of a two weeks ago, which dealt with themes of sin, redemption and rebirth. (One problem with the TV show approach is that, at the moment, Lost and "Daniel" represent the full extent of my regular televison viewing. Although I will keep on top of The Sopranos when that returns. )

There are many topics we could tackle that would broaden our conversation, making it less focused on The Episcopal Church and on what Scripture does or doesn't say about homosexuality. As moderator, I would find that a relief because people tend to say things to one another in the course of those debates that I would rather not have them say on a church Web site. But Scriptural disputation has been at the center of several of our conversations, and it may be that without it, the blog would lose so much energy that it might not be worth sustaining.

Just thinking out loud here. Feel free to chime in. If we were going to keep the blog open, where should we take it?

Jim

No ratings reversal

According to Zap2it, an overnight ratings Web site, "Daniel" finished third in its time slot with a 4.1 rating and 7 share. I don't know much about the television industry, but my hunch is the show will make it to the Olympics break, and then no further.

Film's black, revolutionary Jesus

Reuters has this story on a South African film with a black, revolutionary Jesus. This gets us back to our coversation about how Jesus should be portrayaed.

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) -- Billed as the world's first black Jesus movie, "Son of Man" portrays Christ as a modern African revolutionary and aims to shatter the Western image of a placid savior with fair hair and blue eyes.

The South African film, which premieres on Sunday at the Sundance festival in Utah, transports the life and death of Christ from first century Palestine to a contemporary African state racked by war and poverty.

Jesus is born in a shanty-town shed, a far cry from a manger in a Bethlehem stable. His mother Mary is a virgin, though feisty enough to argue with the angels. Gun-wielding authorities fear his message of equality and he ends up hanging on a cross.

"We wanted to look at the gospels as if they were written by spin doctors and to strip that away and look at the truth," director Mark Dornford-May told Reuters in an interview.

"The truth is that Christ was born in an occupied state and preached equality at a time when that wasn't very acceptable."

The rest of the show

The Alzheimers thing continues to be painfully poigniant.

How do we like Daniel being firm and angry with Adam, his truant son? I thought the scene in the diner was great. "Clearly you need more of a father than a friend."

Jesus, again

I haven't been offended by the characterization of Jesus as others have, but I did think the speechwriting encounter tonight was disappointing. We can argue about whether Jesus, as we perceive him, would be as understanding as Daniel's Jesus. But I think we can agree that Jesus didn't lack for gravity, as Daniel's Jesus did tonight.

Or no?

The Gay Mobster

I think we will be talking about Daniel's exchange with the gay mobster this week. Instant reactions welcome. But, I will try to find the script and reproduce it. By the way, I was wrong about this being the episode in which Daniel can't "find" Jesus.

ep 4, seg 1 and 2

The first segment introduced new plot complications without following through too much on balls that were already in the air. Adam is visiting his girlfriend, unbeknownst to all at her school. One of the mob contractors is gay. Daniel's wife Judith is looking to get back into politics and advocacy work and is trying to get a job with Daniel's brother, a state senator who is running for Congress, and who once asked Judith to marry him.

Segment 2: more intense complications, Daniel's dad shows up and he and the Ellen Burstyn bishop with whom he is having an affair are awkward with each other. Then, the Ellen Burstyn bishop's niece shows up, as does Daniel's gay son and somehow they end up having sex in the back of Ellen Burstyn's car. And at the ice cream shop where Daniel's daughter Grace is now working, a co-worker is enticing young customers into buying ice cream by leaning revealingly over the ice cream tubs.

I am just giving this to you straight wihout commentary. Not sure it needs any. Oh, yeah, they left a condom in the car. Some local ads in the DC market, so it isn't all NBC and Universal Studios.

Episcopal Schools

The school Daniel wants to build figures prominently tonight. This is interesting because the relationship between parishes and the schools they sponsor is sometimes difficult. The school can become the tail that wags the dog of the church, if only because parents' ties to the school their kids attend every day is often closer than the majority of congregants relationship to the church they attend once a week.

Something else I want to explore: if you are sitting in a a wealthy parish in the burbs is the best use of your money gospelwise a school to educate kids who probably come from local families that are well off? I don't mean to put too much edge on that. I have a child in an Episcopal school in a wealthy burb, and thanks be to God for the place. I adore it. But it isn't a parish school. It is self-supporting. Anyway, I am conflicted about the parish school thing and wonder what others think.

Be Your Own TV critic

This is the place for your personal reviews of Episode 4 of "The Book of Daniel", which airs tonight at 10. I'll have my own ramblings after the show.

Book of Daniel on NPR

Terry Gross interviewed Jack Kenny, the creator of "Daniel," on Fresh Air today. You can listen here.

NPR also had an earlier discussion on Talk of the Nation on whether Jesus should be portrayed on television.

I haven't heard either program and will be interested to hear what people think about them.

This Friday's episode

Update on Sunday night: turns out they skipped this episode to advance the plot and get to the episode regarding Jimmy's death before the Olympics.

Here are two questions prompted by the the episode of "Daniel" that will air this Friday night: Do you have experiences of prayer from which you feel that God is absent? If so, what do you do about it?

Some of the great mystics, I am thinking particularly of St. John of the Cross, have described the experience of losing the consolation that was once present in their prayer lives. If I am remembering right, that is what he was talking about when he first used the phrase "Dark night of the soul." John and others portray this feeling of absence as a phase in a person's spiritual growth, rather than a punishment. But it doesn't feel that way when you are mired in the middle of it.

Anybody care to share their experience? I talked a bit about mine in a column I wrote when I used to work for Beliefnet.

"the possibility that I was wrong"

Update: I now have the author's permission to tell you that the comment below, which has since been picked up on several other blogs, was written by Jeff Martinhauk.

If you've been reading the comments on the Interpreting Scripture thread, you may have noticed this particularly poigniant and honest post. I thought it deserved wider circulation:

After reading this thread last night I found this morning that I was praying for one of the members to "become enlightened" with my viewpoint, similar to what some have mentioned here. And then I realized that my viewpoint may be "incorrect" and remembered what someone earlier in the thread said, that we in the Anglican tradition allow room for ourselves to be wrong. I tried this morning praying instead to be open to God's "truth" even if it was different from what I currently believe, and I tried to approach God with an open mind, really trying to listen and let go of my preconceived beliefs around this topic so that I could meditate on this issue. I found it very difficult to contemplate, to really consider, the possibility that I was wrong. If I find it hard to set aside my beliefs even to talk to God no wonder it is difficult to set them aside in discussion-- how easy it is to get angry, hurt, or attack. I wonder how much of the theological divide is a result of our unwillingness to let go and listen? What is it that we lose by letting go, or what is it that we each hold on to preventing us from moving forward on our journey? I have never understood why this fear is so pervasive. I guess it is just the condition of being human.

Acceptance 2

Thre is some good conversation on the Acceptance thread about instances in which people felt a lack of acceptance. Many of these instances concern intereactions with co-religionists. It is obvious from some of these comments that conservative Christians feel disparaged by liberal Christians, and vice versa. I'd like to see if we can discuss that issue without disparaging one another in the process.

But before we start, I'd like to draw a distinction that I think is sometimes overlooked: Being disagreed with is not the same as being discriminated against--a point that I think cuts both ways in our ideological conversations. So if I think the way you read the Bible is naive, and you think the way I read the Bible is convuluted--we disagree. If either of us think the other should therefore be cast out of the Church, experience the wrath of God, etc. well, that's another matter.

A Word from our Sponsor

Peek through the windows of the Episcopal Church is one of my favorite sites for people who are exploring our faith. We are also proud of our diocesan welcome mat.

The Dioceses of Texas and Mississippi has good info on offer for newcomers.

And our Church's headquarters in New York City has a site that invites you to Come and Grow.

Acceptance

The title of last Friday's episode was Acceptance. Danile preached a sermon on the topic which you can find further down the blog uner the creative title "Daniel's sermon."

I was wondering what limits there are to acceptance in matters of faith. Sometimes I feel that liberal Christians--an appellation I'd apply to myself--are "accepting" of other faiths or other strains of Christianity to the point of simply practicing what Karen Armstrong has described as "freelance monotheism."

It is important, of course, to be respectful of other faiths, to be understanding of others faiths. It is essential for Christians to work in interfaith organizations and to defend the religious freedoms of those with whom they disagree.

With all that said, if you don't really affirm your own identity, you don't bring much "faith" to the interfaitih table. And if liberal Christians don't stick up for their beliefs within Christianity--how we read Scripture, how we follow Christ--don't we run the risk of being crowded off the stage by people who suffer from what I might characterize as excessive certainties?

Daniel's ratings down

Media Daily News has a report that begins:

NBC'S "THE BOOK OF DANIEL" may be off the air soon--more because of Nielsen issues than sins against a higher power.

Ratings for the controversial drama dropped 23 percent Friday among adults 18-49 versus its Jan. 6 premiere. With a 2.2 mark, the show lost 36 percent of its "Dateline" lead-in. (Viewers declined by two million, or 29 percent, compared to the week before.)

The Revealer on the Times on the blog

The Revealer, a Web site on religion and journalism based at NYU, offers this take on today's Washington Times story about the blog.

AFA: What you should watch, how you should think

According to this morning's Washington Times, the AFA has now decreed that Episcopalians should be "incensed" by the Book of Danielel. So they have branched out from telling us what we should watch to how we should think.

What I could really use is advice on how to dress. I hope they go there next.

Hard times ahead for Daniel?

Jack Kenny has sent this letter asking for help. I thought hard about whether to post it. While I've welcomed the evangelism opportunities the show has provided, I don't have a stake in its success. And lobbying for a television show isn't really up the Church's alley. So if Daniel just wasn't drawing much of an audience, well, I don't know that I'd have put Jack's post on the blog. But the show isn't being given the chance to succeed or fail on its own merits. And it deserves that much. So here it is.

Jack writes:

First, I want to THANK all of you for the myriad messages of SUPPORT I've seen on this and many other boards and sites. Most everyone seems to understand that this is NOT any kind of attack or mocking of Christianity, but rather simply a fictional story in which the characters happen to be Christian. And also, very good people - despite being distilled down to their one or two flaws, something I don't think any real person would care to have done to them either. So again, I thank you for your unwavering support and the fascinating discussion I've been witness to on these sites.

Second: HELP!!!! The American Family Association is using this show as a fundraising tool. Right next to the button to click to send a message to NBC or an advertiser is a button to click to "donate" money to their "cause." A cause that I can only view as unAmerican - the cause of censorship. Even though, as far as I can find, the AFA has actually NEVER had a successful boycott, it's the fear of one (and we all know how effectively fear has been used lately) that has advertisers slow to buy time on the show.

Click for more.

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My Bishop Rocks--literally

As this blog is made possible through the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, I hope no one will mind if I do a little business here. This piece ran on the Episcopal New Service last week. For more information on the Chane Gang, and its previous concerts, visit our Web site .

'Chane Gang': February 3 benefit will aid hurricane-hit dioceses

New York City to welcome a bishop, his band and the blues

[Episcopal News Service] On Sundays, you can find Bishop John Chane of Washington, D. C., dressed in ornate robes and a pointy hat, presiding over a church service, complete with organ and incense. But on February 3, at 6:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. you will find him sitting behind his drum kit banging out rhythm and blues at the Knitting Factory, one of New York City's hottest venues, with his old band, the Chane Gang.

In an appropriate kick-off to the Mardi Gras season, and to support ongoing relief and rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the band will perform two shows at the Knitting Factory, marking their New York City debut.

Chane, 60, spent five years in his 20s touring the country with a series of rock bands before leaving the road and eventually entering seminary. The last of those bands, the Music Explosion, cut its only hit, "A Little Bit of Soul," just weeks after Chane left.

Click for the rest.

Contributions from several private donors and a number of bishops from across the country will underwrite the concert expenses. All proceeds will benefit clergy salaries and institutional needs of the dioceses of Louisiana and Mississippi. Tickets are $30 per person and may be purchased online at: http://knittingfactory.com/kfny
or call the Knitting Factory at 212-219-3006.

The CD is available online at http://www.edow.org/youth/chanegang.html

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Interpreting Scripture

There is a distressing amount of "you aren't a real Christian" sort of commentary going on on the blog today, much of it centered on the interpretation of Scripture. I am wondering if this discussion might be more productive if people commented on a document, and explained their own method of interpreting Scripture, rather than continuing to question one another's character, motives, intellect, etc.

Several years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of New York published "Let the Reader Understand," which is one of the best concise statements of how (at least some} Episcopalians interpret Scripture.

Here is a sentence to whet your appetite from a commentary by our friend, the Rev. Tobias S. Haller, BSG, that was published in conjunction with the document:

"To attempt to turn the Scriptures themselves into an unchanging “thing” rather than approaching them as
the story and song and case history of which they largely consist, is to come very close to a form of idolatry."

By all means, read the whole thing.

Matt Roush of TV Guide: Can Daniel make it?

A tvguide.com reader asks journalist and critic Matt Roush whether Daniel has a chance to make it.

He says he is "hopeful that Daniel will at least get to play out its initial "limited" run, including two pivotal episodes set to air after the Olympics. Daniel's early ratings weren't great, though far from disastrous, but NBC has done the show few favors by scheduling it on Friday night, and advertisers weren't exactly clamoring to get aboard something with this much baggage. So let's acknowledge the risk NBC has taken by even putting this show on the air — albeit with a little too much hand-wringing in the viewer advisories.

And here is his review of the show.

Religion News Service on Daniel

Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service has a new piece out that I found in the Winston-Salem paper.

A snippet:

Bob Thompson, a television and pop-culture expert at Syracuse University, agrees. Thompson said that part of the show's controversy is that TV generally avoids religion like one of the seven deadly sins, but it can only succeed when people on both sides of the screen take it seriously.

"A show that deals with flawed human beings trying to come to grips with a relationship with God is worth doing on TV simply because it's not done very often," he said.

episode 3

If you'd never seen ""The Book of Daniel", but had heard all of the controversy and found your way to tonight's show, I think you would have had a hard time figuring out what all the fuss was about.

By my lights, there was nothing objectionable about anything Jesus said tonight.

I didn't think Daniel's sermon was literature, but if you accept that it takes place within the context of the show, and is meant as commentary on some of the plots in motion, I thought it was actually pretty good. By which I mean that I thought it was what Daniel's wife Judith needed to hear to help her keep loving her mother, and it was what the dueling Warwicks needed to hear to help set up the resolution of their problem.

As for the general morality of the Websters', let's note that Daniel's wife was willing to humiliate herself in front of her mother in a failed attempt to get the deed to the house, so she could then mortgage the house to help Daniel build a school. Put this in the balance with too many martinis, and get back to me. (But only after you've mortgaged your house to build a school.)

And yes, we've established that 16-year-old Adam has to learn to control his sexual impulses, but I think it is pretty clear at this point that his relationship with--I forget her name--is about more than sex.

Which reminds me, I have heard an earful from folks who proclaim themselves too Christian to soil themselves with this program--or with the Episcopal Church--about Adam's sexual activity. (And lots about the fact that the oldest Webster child is gay.) But none of those folks have said a word--really, not a single word from a single poster--about the racism of his girlfriend's parents. Let's weigh Adam's sin against that of the parents. Is A so much more egregious than B that B is therefore not even worth mentioning? If so, I need to be brought around to that point of view. If not, tell me why so many of you had so much to say about the sex stuff and nothing to say about race.

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Open thread for reax

I am establishing an open thread for folks who want to post immediate reactions to tonight's show. I may post an item or two while the show is in progress. Or I may wait until it is over.

1/20 update: I have deleted two comments from the end of this thread which contained some harsh words exchanged between a poster and myself. I have deleted them because she and I have had some really moving email conversation--no I will not post them--and we are both embarrassed by what we said. My thanks to Kat for the good conversatin and for coming back to the blog.
JN

NPR commentary by the real DW

Visitors to the blog probably know that there is a real live Rev. Daniel Webster. He is the director of communications for the Episcopal Diocese of Utah. Today he offered this commentary on the show on KCPW, the NPR affiliate in Salt Lake City:

Nine million people watched the debut episode of The Book of Daniel last Friday on NBC. Many friends, and even strangers, have been calling or emailing – How was your show, they ask.

They’re talking about the coincidences between my life and the TV series. The Book of Daniel is about an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Daniel Webster. That’s my name and I’m an Episcopal priest.

The character, played by Aidan Quinn, has a female bishop, played by Ellen Burstyn. My bishop in real life is the Right Reverend Carolyn Tanner Irish. She’s the bishop of Utah. So the coincidences are eerie.

I’ve been asked if The Book of Daniel is an accurate portrayal of my church, of clergy, clergy kids, of bishops and more. My answer is pretty matter-of-fact.

It’s not supposed to be accurate. It’s entertainment. It’s not a documentary produced by the news division. It’s a replacement series designed to increase ratings.

The Book of Daniel is filled with as much of society’s ills as possible. Some are calling it another nighttime soap opera. I’ve likened it to Peyton Place in clergy collars. That presumes you know of the 50s book and movie or the 60s TV series, Peyton Place.

Tom Shales – the Pulitzer Prize-winning TV critic at the Washington Post – hated the show.

Scott Pierce – the TV writer for the Mormon Church-owned Deseret Morning News – said it was the best series to hit TV this season. So I guess you either love it or hate it.

(click to continue)

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Jack Kenny has a blog

Jack Kenny, creator of The Book of Daniel, has a blog of his own on TV Guide's site.

Here is an excerpt:

I (apparently naively) thought that this show would be embraced by most Christians. It's ironic to me that the accusation has been that the show "demeans" and "mocks" Christianity when the intention was always the opposite: to treat the Christian beliefs of the Webster family as second nature. As a gay man (or "practicing homosexual," according to the AFA website — though I'm absolutely not practicing anymore, but have actually gotten quite good at it, thank you very much), I've always longed for gay characters for whom sexual orientation was not the defining feature but was simply... there. A policeman who happened also to be gay. A truck driver. A lawyer. Not the characteristic that informs their every line and movement, but second nature. Like their hair color or height or the fact that they don't like pastrami. And that's what I've tried to do with the Websters.

"I'll pray for you"

Recently, on the blog and in personal correspondence, I've noticed people tossing around the phrase, "I will pray for you," in a way that gives me pause. There are, of course, all kinds of good reasons to pray for someone, and, come to think of it, who needs a reason? But suppose all you are praying for is that a people will abandon what they believe and embrace what you believe? What if you are praying that somehow someone can be induced to do something that that someone really doesn't think is right?

Is this sort of prayer an end run around another person's conscience? Does it presume that the individual being prayed for has not prayed about the issue himself or herself? Or, supposing that he or she has prayed over the issue, does it assume that your prayer is superior to theirs?

It can be argued that all someone who says "I'll pray for you," in the heat of an argument is saying is, "I hope God will guide you." But it can also be argued that people who say "I'll pray for you," in the ways I've discussed is trying to enlist God's help in shaping other people not in God's image, but in their own.

(And if you don't think I'm right abuot this, don't worry, I'll pray for you.)

Preview: Daniel's sermon

There isn't a whole lot of Jesus in tomorrow night's episode, but we do get a longer than usual exposure to Daniel in the pulpit.

Here's an excerpt:

"The Episcopal Church Welcomes You." I don't know how many of you have noticed, but that's kind of our motto. How do we, as a church, as a community of faith, welcome our brethren? And what about people of other faiths? Muslims. Buddhists. Jews. How do we welcome people who think differently from us into our lives? Isn't it our job, as Christians, to welcome and accept everyone? Acceptance means not shutting our minds and hearts when we encounter differences in others. Different faiths, cultures, age, sex, race... all the "isms". And like charity, acceptance begins at home. "

Those of you who are Episcopalians, keep your eyes open for how the issue of membership is handled tomorrow night. Daniel's church seems to be much more formal about who belongs and who doesn't than churches I am aware of, but perhaps others have a different experience. Let's talk about it after the show.

A real encounter with Christ

Angus, a commenter, asks whether The Book of Daniel will ever depict “a REAL encounter with Christ, rather than a mere projection.”

I’d like to hear people’s thoughts on what constitutes a real encounter with Christ, and how we would know whether we’ve had one or not.

I am also curious about whether such an encounter with Christ requires external validation. Let’s say Daniel was a real person, and it was he who created this TV show. Let’s say he believed that it captured perfectly his encounters with Christ. How would we go about talking to Daniel about whether these encounters were real?

It would be essential to consult Scripture, but that gets us only so far. Scripture wasn’t intended to provide a specific answer to every difficult moral issue that might arise in our lives. For instance, I can’t imagine a Jesus who would condone selling drugs. But I am a lot less clear on how Jesus would want me to respond if I found out my child was selling drugs.

Let’s say then, that I brought the problem of my child selling drugs to Jesus in prayer. And let’s say I concluded (because I had a feeling, heard a voice, saw a sign, however the communication takes place) that Jesus was “saying” pretty much what he said to Daniel in the first two episodes. How would I know whether I had heard him right? How would I know that it was he who was speaking?

Another rector writes

This reflection is from the Rev. Frank Logue, the pastor at King of Peace Episcopal Church in Kingsland, Ga. It says in part:

I talk to Jesus all the time, so it is hard for me to be offended by a character who does so, even if the TV show resorts to the device of Jesus being physically present and talking out loud to Daniel, the priest who wants to take more Vicadin than his conversations with Jesus will allow. My main issue with the show is that it packs a LOT of problems into one family in a short period of time—perhaps that is the nature of a pilot episode in the sink or swim world of TV pilots.

PKs

If you've been reading the comments, you may have encountered the term "PK." It stands for preacher's kid. (I only learned this myself about a year ago, so I thought it was worth explaining.) "Daniel" features three preacher's kids, and during the season, all three will have or, perhaps more accurately, create their share of problems. Okay, maybe more than their share of problems.

This has gotten me thinking about a friend of mine who is an ordained Presbyterian minister. She has decided not to work in a congregation until her children--the youngest of whom has just started school--are a good bit older. (This isn't a thread about whether mothers should work outside the home, so if you feel the urge to go there, please don't.) It was her contention that the nature of a pastor's job made it very difficult to devote yourself to your kids. She was refering, in part, to all of the night meetings and weekend activities that come with the territory. But she also said it was very difficut to know with sufficient certainty that you could "be there" for your children when it was your job to "be there" for maybe a couple of hundred other families.

I am wondering what PKs (and Ps for that matter) think about this. Aside from the fact that you were expected to be the best behaved child in the world, was there enough of your Dad or Mom to go around? I'd also be interested in knowing whether there is an sociological or psychological reserch on this issue, or whether we have to be content to swap anecdotes.

Ed. note: the first two comments on this posting--both from parents of PKs--are among the most compelling we've had.

Jay Leno, Ad Week, National Review, etc.

Jay Leno had this to say:

"Tough year for Jesus. Last year, He was the superstar leading character of the biggest movie of the year, "The Passion of the Christ." Now, he's relegated to a recurring role in a dead show on the fourth-place network!"

Ad Week says the show has "tempted few sponsors":

"NBC aired just 23 commercials spanning 12.5 minutes during last Friday's two-hour premiere of its controversial new series Book of Daniel. That's just over six minutes of ads per hour, or about half the usual load of commercials for network prime time, according to network and agency sources."

Wednesday morning update: a similar piece in The New York Times.

The National Review Online has a critical piece by Louis Witting.

A Bishop Writes

Bishop Dean E. Wolfe of the Diocese of Kansas has written a reaction to "The Book of Daniel." Our thanks to Melodie Woerman, the diocese's director of communications for sharing it with us. Here are the key paragraphs:

"I trust no one believes this could be real life in the Episcopal Church! In short, “The Book of Daniel” is a sensationalized version of clergy family life, a sort of “Desperate Housewives” meets “Seventh Heaven.”

This series is intended as entertainment and not as a serious depiction of modern clergy life. However, as does all fiction, the show expresses truths Christian of all types will recognize. Clergy are real people who need to depend upon God and not their own piety or giftedness. The power of prayer is real. Jesus Christ is a present reality, and real life without God is extremely challenging. These realities are fairly portrayed, and I believe most people will be able to understand the difference between truth and sensationalized fiction or farce.

While some have sought to censor the show, I see no need to contribute to the publicity the show has already received through their efforts. The value of any art form, including television, is found in its ability to communicate deeper truth through drama or comedy. If “The Book of Daniel” is able to achieve this goal, it will make a contribution to its viewers. If it is unable to achieve this, I suspect it will remain on our television sets a very short while."

A Rector writes

The Rev. Andrew T. Gerns of Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pa. has posted this insight piece on the parish blog:

"The Book of Daniel" and the Spiritual Longing of our Culture

There is a new TV show out and it is about an Episcopal priest and how he seeks to keep faith in the face of a complex family and professional life. Even before The Book of Daniel aired it made news because the story revolves around The Rev. Daniel Webster whose life is complicated to say the least. His daughter has been arrested for dealing drugs; his son is gay and deciding to give up on going to medical school. His wife is grieving the loss of their oldest son to leukemia and he, the wife and the housekeeper are all addicted to drugs or alcohol. The priests parish has experienced an embezzlement and he is at odds with is bishop. In the middle of all this, Daniel meets Jesus in his car, his office, the hallway of his house who discusses Daniel's choices and responses with him.

Everything about this pilot is written big and because of that everything, especially early in the series, is in generalities and stereotype. For example, the local catholic priest who is Fr. Daniels close friend also covers for the mafia members in his parish. The Bishop is the cynical boss-think of the police chief trying to reign in the idealistic hero. The Episcopal Church in this show is still the church of the moneyed and powerful. Everyone in the cast stands in for some issue or role in society.

They get some technical things wrong. Fr. Daniel wears his chasuble backwards-try that with a firefighter on Third Watch!- the Bishop wears a miter at the wrong time. They don't have the technical language down at all. They don't even call Fr. Daniel "Father" but "Reverend!" It should have sent me out of the room screaming. And it would have, if the show was really about the Episcopal Church. But it isn't.

Read more...

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Dialog: Jesus and Daniel, 2

I think the show has gotten a bad rap on one particular point. I've read in any number of place that this TV Jesus is "winking at sin." Exhibit A is that he supposedly tells Daniel that "Kids will be kids," or words to that affect while they are discussing the sex life of Daniel's son, Adam.

That just isn't true. To read the dialog, click "continue reading." Remember that at this point in the show, Daniel doesn't know that his son is sexually active, and note that they aren't discussing Adam's sex life, but whether his new girlfriend will break his heart.

I think there is plenty of room for discussion about the ethics the Jesus of "Daniel" promotes. But on this oft-repeated point, I think he's clean.

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Dialog: Jesus and Daniel #1

Many of our posters have objected to the portrayal of Jesus in "Daniel." Some of these objections concern Jesus' appearance (to Eurocentric, too 1960s.) Some have concerned Jesus' sense of humor, which a number of posters regard as too flip. Some simply object to portraying Jesus as Daniel's sometime companion rather than "Lord and Savior," though I have to admit that I don't really understand why the two should be mutually exclusive.

What I'd like to discuss is whether what this Jesus says seems true to what visitors to the blog consider the teachings of Christ. Let's look at some dialog. This exchange comes early in the first episode. Click on Continue reading, have a look, and then check in with some thoughts if you are so moved.

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Overnight ratings for "Daniel"

From the New York TImes:

"New entries on the prime-time schedule did not upset CBS's dominance in the ratings on Friday night. CBS's "Ghost Whisperer" (11.35 million), "Close to Home" (11.47 million) and "Numbers" (13.59 million), starring Rob Morrow, won every hour in total viewers and adults 18 to 49, according to Nielsen's estimates. But ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" (12.88 million) - in which viewers bade goodbye to ESPN's Kenny Mayne, a hilariously bad dancer - and "In Justice" (9.17 million) made it closer than usual. The two-hour debut of NBC's "Book of Daniel," featuring Aidan Quinn as a put-upon, Vicodin-popping Episcopal minister, attracted an audience of 9.08 million in the first hour, and 8.86 million in the second. NBC placed third for the night."

Here is the Hollywood Reporter's take.

On a prayeful note

Before we begin a second week of discusing the show, I want to suggest that you visit the Diocese of Washington's spirituality site. On Mondays through Saturdays, Deacon Vicki Black, author of Welcome to the Church Year and Welcome to the Book of Common Prayer, selects a brief reading designed to give you something to think about. You can also read columns by the noted spiritual author the Rev. Martin Smith, and view a multi-media meditation on the Magnificat. Another multi-media meditation, this one on a beautiful poem, "Candlemas" by Denise Levertov, will be up soon. It is from her collection The Stream and the Sapphire, my favorite book of poetry.

The site also features a link to another site where you can pray the daily office. We designed this section of the site for folks who are chained to their computers, either through their own free will or that of their employer.

You've just missed our online Advent calendar, but you can visit it in the archives, and look for it again on December 1.

If you are interested in attending one of our churches, have a look at the diocese's welcome page. Or the visitors' center of the Episcopal Church.

Thoughtful piece in LA Times

There is a thoughtful piece in today's Los Angeles Times about "Daniel." It's by Diane Winston, the Knight chair in media and religion at USC. An excerpt:

"The Book of Daniel" doesn't disparage Bible-believing Christians. Instead, it demonstrates the difficulty of turning serious religion into entertainment. Religion can be played as sentimental, spooky or satire, but doing it straight — think "ER" repotted in a synagogue — is hard to pull off.

In large part, this is because we treat religion as a special case. Whether we're atheists, agnostics, secularists or believers, we all hold religious leaders to higher standards. Doctors, lawyers and politicians can be noble and flawed — isn't that why we love Jack Bauer ("24"), Gregory House ("House") and the late, great Leo McGarry ("The West Wing")? But imagine any of these characters with a collar or a kippa, and tell me it doesn't make you squirm.

Maybe because we see priests, rabbis and imams as stand-ins for the divine, we expect more of them. "

Daniel on the Web

Our friend The Salty Vicar blogged his way through "Daniel" last night, and his observations, as usual, are well worth a look.

And our thanks to the folks at Cross Left for their kind words.

Update: Karen B. has alerted us to another conversation about Daniel going on over on Kendall Harmon's popular blog.

Saturday update

The AP is reporting that so far, 4 NBC affiliates are refusing to air the show. NBC says these affiliates account for less than one percent of its potential audience.

Meanwhile, the blog gets a mention in this EOnline story .

It reads:

In an effort to encourage further discussion about Daniel, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington launched The Blog of Daniel, which has predictably inspired plenty of fervent comments both for and against the show.

Early media reviews of Daniel have been generally positive, with some critics suggesting the series might be what NBC needs to end its losing streak and reclaim its stake in the ratings battle.

The two-hour series premiere of The Book of Daniel is slated to begin at 9 p.m. Friday on NBC. In most markets, that is.

Apres Le Show

Picking up where we left off:

I look forward to more animation by he daugther about the family, and must disclose that she will be more fully developed in future episodes when she meets a 14-year-old geek who can help her make her animating dreams come true.

Like Jake, who has mentioned this in a comment, I have to point out that it is really unusual for a bishop to be at a church two Sundays in a row without being the preacher. Bishops in the real world visit a different parish each week or have hell to pay. This seems a dramatic convenience.

Having lived through a relative's long senility, I can say that "Daniel" gets this right--maybe more right than it gets anything else to this point. This is god in some ways, but in other ways, points out how far the show strays from what actually happens in families confronted with some of the issues it raises.

Other weird stuff:

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interval: to chew on

When Daniel asks Jesus abou his mom's Alzheimers and Jesus says he can't fix it, or won't fix it. and D. says: "Yeah, I know. I just don't know why." This for me is the most profound, and, so far unexplored, moment in the show.

Anybody?

obno 4 &5: the reward thing, etc.

The reward thing.

This has been a principle objection of some of you who thought that the show was soft-peddling repentence. So there I was feeling smug because when Daniel first sits down with Jesus, and Jesus first says that life is hard and that is why there is such a good reward at the end, they follow up on that with a long riff on how banal that statement is. So, cool. Reactionary critics lose round one. But.... then Daniel repeats this bromide at graveside (but is it graveside? Where is the body?). So what are we to make of that? Surely someone seemingly so intelligent can't have bought into this.

Or is he just seeking an end to a funeral homily? Either way. Yuck.

The Dad thing:
Can anybody not but be confused about the fact hat he has Bishop Ellen Bursytn, and then the bishop who is his dad? The deal is that his dad is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. That hasn't become clear yet, and heaven knows what sense non-Episcopalians will make of the double bishop thing once it is artculated.

At the end of this episode when Jesus says: "Didn't see that coming," leaving aside the whole ominiscient deal, it just isn't as funny as when the heavy-set guy whose name escapes me says the same thing on Lost when the Korean woman speaks English.

obnoxious insta-blog #3

As an Episcopalian who just recently started going to a church where rose gardens and golf games might be considered the norm (hey, the reigious ed. program is fabulous) I'd hate to think that after all these years of African and Carribean immigration this kind of parish would be considered the norm.

As a former Catholic I am probably the last person to defend the RC Church, but the idea that you go through an Italian priest ot reach the mob is insulting on any number of levels. Surely, this is obvious. God I hate to agree with the Catholic League on anything.

The nun thing: there are so few of them left outside the cloister that they deserve respect. This gets them all wrong.

Mandatory positive note: love the framing of the shots.

obno insta 2

9 holes? who plays 9 holes?

They are richer than I thought they would be. This is a common TV thing. People always have great apartments, that they couldn't possibly afford. Yet, he's a priest, and nobody in that house could tell me to work for the less fortunate with any credibility

I think the pacing is excellent. the dialog is good, but it is lost in the quick cuts to dull exposition. Could you establish the Mom with the martini any more obviously?

I love that they sing our their grace before meals. Kind of like the stained glass thing, too.

obnoxious insta-blogging 1

Did it really have to be a Volvo station wagon? Talk about perpetuating stereotypes.
Sermon number 1: would you come back? I might if I thought htis was a half sussed-thought. Otherwise, no.
The look is good, though. But what do you make of Ellen Bustyn's eye movments?

Comments on the Debut

Those of you who are familiar with the spiritual tradition of guided meditation... well, the heck with you. This is an unguided meditation. The Book of Daniel begins at 9 pm EST. This is a thread for comments on episode one. A bit later I will post a thread for comments on episode two, which begins at 10 pm. I haven't seen the show, so I don't know if the transition between 1 and 2 will be seamless, but please confine your comments to the first hour. I may post a few more specific quesions later as the Spirit, or the spirit--and isn't it always hell, so to speak, to work out which one it is?--moves me. But at the moment, I've got an interest in the following:

1. Does the show suffer from YAND (young adult novel disease). I have written a young adult novel. (It was called My Brother Stealing Second, and if it were still in print, I'd send you to Amazon) but the deal is: does every character embody a social problem to the extent that it blots out their individuality?

2. How is the script?

3. How is the acting?

4. What is the total affect?

5. The father of a Jewish friend of mine ued to ask after most news developments: Is this good news for Jews or bad for Jews? So, if you are an Episcopalian--granted you don't have the same historic worries--is this good for Episcopalians or bad for Episcopalians?

6. Jesus: as portrayed on ep. 1, does he make sense to you or not?

7. If you just feel you have to say something ,and say it somewhere, what, in, say 200 words or less, did you think about the first 60 minutes?

God Bless Our Posters, Everyone

Our humble thanks to the +350 people who have posted on the blog already today. In the future, we will be moving various posts--whether we agree with them or not (honest)-- up for front page display. In the meantime, give some thought to this comment by Jake that lurks one click away. And if you get a chance, visit some of the links in the left shoulder of this page before you pass judgment on, well, whomever it is you are inclined to pass judgment on.

P. S.: Liberal Christians and secular lefties (welcome), but this means you, too. "You reactionary jerks!" is no more civil (or Godly, if you are singing from my song sheet) than "Heathen scum!"

Agreed?

Click for Jake

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An Interlude

Good evening everyone. Let's take a break from a day of heavy posting and have a look at this short film about a few Episcopalians and how they have tried to live out their faith. I can't vouch for the authenticity of TV's Daniel until I've seen the show, but I know these folks are for real. The presentation is about eight minutes long, and divided into bite-sized chunks so that it won't crash you computer.

Afternoon Open Thread

One thing we have been noticing is how many posts in the comments section aren't really responsive either to the posting, or to the other comments. We've gotten the message loud and clear that some of you just have an opinion or reaction to express that is somehow connected to "Daniel."

What we propose then, is that if what you want to do is sound off in a general way about the show, about the Episcopal Church, the Christian Right, or other posters, that you do it here, on this open thread. Let's see if we can't manage to turn the more topic-oriented threads into something a bit more focused.

As always, please remember that we are trying to keep the conversation cordial.

The Depiction of Jesus

One of the most controversial elements of Daniel seems to be the depiction of Jesus. To that end, I wanted to ask a couple of questions in the hopes that we can stop just exchanging ideological broadsides and actually talk about some of the issues surrounding the show.

My first question I have no real answer for myself: Is "Jesus" in "Daniel" actually supposed to be Jesus, or is he better understood as the Rev. Daniel Webster's image of Jesus? Is Jack Kenny, the show's creator, saying, "This is how I believe Christ to be?" Or is he saying: "This is this how my character believes Christ to be?" You can't necessarily equate a character's beliefs with those of the author. So is the "Jesus" in "Daniel," Jack's Jesus, or Daniel's Jesus? Does it matter?

The second question is: Who gets to decide how Christ should be portrayed? You can argue that whatever else Jesus is (and I believe he is a lot else) he is an important historical figure, part of our common human heritage. From that point of view you can argue that Jesus is open to numerous interpretations and that any of these interpretations might merit a public airing. On the other hand, you can argue that Jesus is uniquely important to Christians and that our traditions and sensitivities deserve special consideration in any mass market treatment of Christ. And from that, I guess, it might follow that when we feel that something sacred to us is being debased, we have the right to attempt to supress the debasement.

Anybody care to chew on this a bit?

The News from Utah

The real Rev. Daniel Webster is quoted in this piece in the Salt Lake City Tribune.

"To Webster, what's at stake is a difference of opinion about the reality factor depicted in contemporary storytelling. "I'm hoping that when people watch this program they will see human beings portrayed as seekers, as imperfect human beings," the priest said. "We are all, by definition, sinners. I'm hoping that people will find just an example of down-to-earth human beings seeking to follow a kind and forgiving and loving God."

Meanwhile, the television critic for the Mormon-owned Deseret News checks in with a positive review.

So's Your Old Man, Part 2

I am always struck by how entirely those who claim to know Christ are betrayed by the self-indulgent quality of their rhetoric. Many of this morning's posts are far more offensive than anything you will encounter tonight on "Daniel"--not because of what they say, but because of they way they say it.

It is always bracing to be told one is going to hell, that one's Church is the tool of the devil, etc., and while I appreciate many of the poster's seeming concern for my soul, I wish they would show similar concern for other people's feelings. It is possible to tell someone you disagree with them strongly in a way that allows them to hear it. Give it a try, eh?

Daniel debuts tonight

The Book of Daniel has its debut tonight at 9 EST on NBC. I have to say I have mixed feelings as I await the first two episodes.

On the one hand, I would really like the show to succeed. As the Rev. Susan Russell says “How cool is it that a progressive Episcopal priest has a shot at being a prime-time drama protagonist. How surprising might it be to many who tune in to find out there actually is a church where women can be bishops – clergy can be human – and there’s enough good news around to extend to everybody?”

If that is what the show is going to accomplish, I am all for it. But, I'm not certain the show can pull this off. I haven't seen a single episode, but I've read eight scripts (Disclaimer: At one point a publisher had shown some interest in a study guide, and I was recruited as a possible writer. It didn't work out, but I did get to see the scripts.) and I have my doubts.

The characters are more a collection of foibles in the early episodes than they are fully fleshed out human beings. And the bad habits are of the sort already overrepresented on television. This changes some as the season progresses and we begin to learn more about the Websters, but there are so many pathologies packed into this family's life that there just isn't time to unpack them all with any sensitivity. This over-the-top approach to plotting could work if it is played with a kind of cockeyed brio, but it could end up seeming simply calculated to shock. And if that is the case, I think it will offend people (other than those who make thier living by taking offense. And we've already had an earful from them.)

My larger concern is that Daniel will damage the cause of progressive Christianity by perpetuating the myth that people become "progressives" because they do not take matters of faith and morality seriously enough: They can't live up to God's standards, and so they set about softening them. This is a pernicious myth. Most of the people whom I know on the religious left have come by their convictions through hard experience, serious study and deep prayer. They manifest this in lives of service and compassion. That doesn't necessarily mean their lives aren't a mess, or that they don't fail more often than they succeed, but these characteristics are not something on which liberals hold an exclusive franchise.

Reading "Daniel" as opposed to watching it, I couldn't be certain whether the characters' faith would seem essential to their existance, or simply idiosyncratic. And I couldn't tell if the notion that faith informs--indeed, impels--action was developed with sufficient depth.

With all that said, I am eager to see the first two episodes tonight, and eager to hear what people have to say about them here on the blog. I think I will simply post an open thread along abut 8:45 and people can chime in with their reactions.

A Passell of Reviews

Any moron who can use Google can find reviews of "Daniel." Here are some of the ones we found.

USA Today

The Denver Post

Newsday

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Orlando Sentinel

Reuters

The Chicago Tribune

Update on Friday morning: The Washington Post

Solid, comprehensive piece from the LA Times

This Los Angeles Times story is the best one-shot summary of the show and the controversy surrounding it that I have found. And not just because it mentions the blog. (Really.)

So's Your Old Man

An AP story published on Washingtonpost.com has brought the blog a bigger audience, and a somewhat more bumptious one. So just a reminder regarding etiquette: Comments like "Episcopalians stink." and "Burn in hell," while admirably concise, are not going to make the cut on this blog. Thanks for keeping it cordial.

Father Jake on Father Daniel

The estimable Father Jake checks in with this post on his popular blog:

A member of my congregation stepped into my office this week to ask if I had heard about the new show that makes a mockery of the Episcopal Church. She could not recall the name of the show, but I must assume that she was referring to The Book of Daniel, whose first episode will be aired Friday at 9:00 on NBC.

I must also assume that the notion that the show "makes a mockery of the Episcopal Church" comes from the American Family Association's campaign to get this show off the air. Most likely my member got an email from the AFA asking her to help "save Christianity" (and send in a donation, of course).

The whole thing.

A media storm over "Daniel"

At about 1 p. m. EST, there were more than 560 entries on "The Book of Daniel" on Google News . Have a look. Most of them deal with a handful of stations that so far have decided not to air the show. What is bothersome about some of the stories is that Christians of every stripe--except for Episcopalians--have been asked for reaction.

Keep your eyes open for an Associated Press story that might mention our blog.

The creator of "Daniel" drops by

Jack Kenny, creator of "The Book of Daniel," left a comment last night:

"Hi. I'm the creator of "The Book of Daniel." I just wanted to say thank you for your input and support. I hope we will continue to do you all proud. Our goal has always been to tell a specific story about a man and his family... a man and his flaws... a man and his own personal, private relationship with his faith - in the embodiment of Jesus... how anyone can be offended by this, and deny the opportunity of others to watch it and make up their own minds is a continual source of confusion for me... It was written with nothing but respect and love for the Episcopal church and it's members - a church that my life partner of 23 years belongs to, and a church that I am strongly considering joining. It was always our marching orders, as writers and producers, to never mock or satirize religion, Jesus, or the church in any way, but to treat them with the utmost respect. Yes, we look for humor wherever we can - that's the job of a TV show... Please give us a few chances, and I'm sure you'll be unable NOT to watch these loving, supportive family struggle with all their own flaws and foibles in life... and ultimately overcome them - only to find new ones... because that is, indeed, life! Thanks for your interest, and please stay tuned!"

And the Rev. Rob Hensley, spotting an opportunity, responded:

So Jack, what do we need to do to move you from "...a church that I am strongly considering joining" to taking the plunge (i.e., into the waters of Baptism)?

Beliefnet weighs in on "Daniel"

Michael Kress, entertainment editor at Beliefnet has this to say about "The Book of Daniel" and the American Family Association's campaign against it:

"After watching a couple of preview episodes, I can say definitively that many people will be offended by "Book of Daniel." Which is not the same as saying the show is insensitive, mean, or inherently offensive. There's no way around offending some people, whenever religion is portrayed in pop-culture. And "Book of Daniel" clearly isn't going for the "Seventh Heaven" or "Touched by an Angel" audience. Its characters--just about all of them, including the clergy members--engage in activities that are decidedly un-Christian. ....

So is "Book of Daniel" insensitive? Does it mock religion? I'm not a Christian, so you can take my opinions with whatever grain of salt you'd like, but I am a person of faith whose job, and passion, focuses on faith and pop-culture. That said, onto "Daniel": I liked it much more than I expected. If you go into it thinking, "Oh good, a show about Christians and a church," than yes, you will be offended. But that's not what the show is; the series may focus on a church community, but it's a soap opera, with all the raunchiness that entails. ....

I'm not trying to say it's a great or sophisticated show, though I do think it's a cut above most of what's out there. But mocking of Christianity? Hardly. "Book of Daniel" takes religion very seriously and treats it respectfully, in the context of soap opera conventions, at least. Its depiction of faith may not reflect how we all see ourselves in the mirror, and setting a soap-opera at a church may be too big of a hurdle for some people. So don't watch it. But let the rest of us enjoy it."

Beliefnet also has two stories on the new series, including one by the Rev. Barbara Cawthorne Crafton, whose name will be known to many Episcopalians.

Will the real Rev. Daniel Webster please stand up

Our friend from the Diocese of Utah writes:

I wish I looked like Aidan Quinn. His character in the series has my name. I'm an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Utah. My bishop is also a woman as is the Rev. Daniel Webster's in the TV show. It's a curious coincidence. The NBC press material calls the priest "unconventional" and someone who has conversations with Jesus. I call that prayer. As for being unconventional, I've been called worse. Jesus was more than unconventional, he was radical. He was constantly breaking the conventions of his society. I'm looking forward to the show and conversation it will undoubtedly create. Good for NBC. And in the interest of full disclosure, I must report that I was an employee of NBC News for 12 years in the 70s and 80s.

The Rev. Daniel Webster, Director of Communications, Episcopal Diocese of Utah

Book of Daniel is already controversial

The Book of Daniel hasn't aired yet, but it is already controversial. The American Family Association is asking people to contact their local NBC affiliates and ask them not to broadcast the show. They say it "demeans Christians." If you aren't familiar with the AFA, the fact that they are also considering a boycott of Ford Motor Company because of its support for the "homosexual agenda" might help you place them in the political landscape. One ironic element of the AFA's most recent campaign is that the Christians who are supposedly being demeaned are Episcopalians, members of a Church with whom the AFA finds itself almost enitrely at odds. The fact that the AFA is trying to rally people against a show that none of those being rallied have actually seen--that's a tad ironic, too.

NBC's "Book of Daniel" to air Jan. 6

The Book of Daniel, a new television series, debuts Friday, January 6 on NBC. The main character is an Episcopal priest played by Aidan Quinn. The Rev. Daniel Webster has an addiction to painkillers, a fractious family and a deep, if sometimes difficult, relationship with a Jesus who actually shows up to chat from time to time. Will the new show--scheduled for eight episodes this season--capture the reality of contemporary Episcopal life? Will it be good for the Church or bad? The Episcopal Diocese of Washington offers this blog as a place to discuss these and other issues raised by the show. We welcome you to this blog. And if you are interested in finding out more about the Episcopal Church, please visit some of the links on the left hand side of the page.

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