The "Compass" and the Catholic League

The Catholic League is warning parents against the film The Golden Compass, based on the first book in Phillip Pullman's brilliant "His Dark Materials" trilogy, and Mark Mordford of the San Francisco Chronicle thinks he knows why--and it has less to do with defending the faith, than defending itself:

While the books have as their evil antagonist a sinister cabal called the Magisterium (obvious parallel: Catholic Church), they also have a slew of dark characters in service of the Magisterium, various assassins and double-agents and robot drones running around trying to annihilate the children's spirit and destroy magic and lock down faith forever. Let us call these robotic drones, oh, say, the Catholic League. Or Focus on the Family. Gosh, no wonder they're a little peeved.

Read it all.

Then have a look at Maev Kennedy's profile of Pullman in the Guardian, which includes this:

His editor of 25 years, David Fickling, says: "He is one of the greatest storytellers of all time, and he's right here among us, writing now. It's like having Thomas Hardy about to write Far From the Madding Crowd. It's just thrilling to be around."

The Year in God

Kevin Eckstrom of Religion News Service surveys the religious landscape and discerns recent developments.

History books are full of dates that mark seminal events: 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door and launched the Protestant Reformation; or 1973, when the Supreme Court legalized abortion.

Those boldface dates are preceded by less prominent but nonetheless decisive times: 1516, when a Dominican named Johann Tetzel led the sale of indulgences that deeply angered Luther; and 1970, when a young Texas woman named Norma McCorvey (Jane Roe) filed suit to obtain an abortion.

2007 may be recorded as such a pivotal year for religion and politics -- relatively quiet, unremarkable at first glance, but nonetheless significant as a harbinger of things to come.

"There are a lot of discrete things, but if you put them all together, you get the sense that change is in the air," said John Green, a senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

The realignment of the religious right is perhaps the biggest religion story of 2007 and the one most likely to affect 2008. The religious right is far from dead, but leaves the year significantly altered.

Read it all.

Every word is true?

Mark Silva of The Baltimore Sun writes:

For a presidential contest in which religion – and indeed the religious faith of at least one candidate – will play a certain role in the choices which many voters make, two questions loom large here: Is every word in the Bible true, and “what would Jesus do’’ about capital punishment.

Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani and Mike Huckabee all took a crack at responding. Read the rest.

Growing in faith

Manya Brachear of The Chicago Tribune has written a story that should be read by everyone who thinks about church growth, whether in numerical or spiritual terms.

For more than three decades, Willow Creek Community Church has defined its success by tallying the throngs who walk through its doors.

But a survey recently revealed something the South Barrington mega-church hadn't realized: Some of its members had become unsatisfied, saying they felt abandoned on their spiritual journeys.

The research yielding this uncomfortable revelation came from the business world. Using a model originally designed to find what emotionally drives consumers to buy perfume, running shoes and insurance, each of Willow's members was placed on a spectrum of belief, ranging from curious about Christ to seeing Christ at the center of their lives.

Read it all.

Brachear keeps a SAS (short and simple) blog, as well.

Church 2.0: Father Matthew on the Sacraments

This video is the first in a series of eight videos that Father Matthew Moritz, the Curate at Christ's Church in Rye, New York plans to do on the sacraments. Each of the seven sacraments will be featured in a video, with a wrap-up video at rhe end. This first video is on Baptism.

Father Matthew has over forty videos at YouTube, which can be found here,

Father Matthew, by the way, is not the only young Episcopal clergy on YouTube. Rev, Peter Carey, a transitional deacon who will be ordained as a priest later this month, and who is the Chaplain at St. Catherine's School, Richmond, Virginia, has started his own series of videos, the most recent of which can be found here.

Spe Salvi: a new Papal encyclical

On Friday, Pope Benedict XVI released his second encyclical, Spe Salvi, or “Saved in Hope.” The bibical reference is to St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans 8:24, “For in hope we were saved.”

John Allen offers an analysis in the National Catholic Reporter:

If one were to compile a list of the core concerns of Joseph Ratzinger, his idees fixes over almost sixty years now of theological reflection, it might look something like this:

• Truth is not a limit upon freedom, but the condition of freedom reaching its true potential;
• Reason and faith need one another – faith without reason becomes extremism, while reason without faith leads to despair;
• The dangers of the modern myth of progress, born in the new science of the 16th century and applied to politics through the French Revolution and Marxism;
• The impossibility of constructing a just social order without reference to God;
• The urgency of separating eschatology, the longing for a “new Heaven and a new earth,” from this-worldly politics;
• Objective truth as the only real limit to ideology and the blind will to power.

All those themes take center stage once again in the encyclical Spe Salvi, released today in Rome. In that sense, one could argue that the text represents a sort of “Greatest Hits” collection of Ratzinger’s most important ideas, developed over a lifetime, and now presented in the form of an encyclical in his role as Pope Benedict XVI.

. . .

In essence, the message of Spe Salvi can be expressed this way: If human beings place their hopes for justice, redemption and a better life exclusively in this-worldly forces, whether it’s science, politics, or anything else, they’re lost. The carnage of the 20th century, the pope suggests, illustrates the folly of investing human ideology and technology with messianic expectations.

Instead, ultimate hope – what the pope describes as “the great hope” – lies only in God, because only through the moral and spiritual wisdom acquired through faith can technology and political structures be directed towards ends which are truly human.

Read it all here. The text of Spe Salvi can be found here.

Did evolution lead to ouster of state official?

Chris Comer, the Texas director of science curriculum claims that she was forced to resign from her position because of she had expressed views contrary to Intelligent Design:

The Texas Education Agency put the director, Chris Comer, on 30 days’ paid administrative leave in late October, resulting in what Ms. Comer called a forced resignation.

The move came shortly after she forwarded an e-mail message announcing a presentation by Barbara Forrest, an author of “Creationism’s Trojan Horse.” The book argues that creationist politics are behind the movement to get intelligent design theory taught in public schools. Ms. Comer sent the message to several people and a few online communities.

Ms. Comer, who held her position for nine years, said she believed evolution politics were behind her ousting. “None of the other reasons they gave are, in and of themselves, firing offenses,” she said.

Education agency officials declined to comment Wednesday on the matter. But they explained their recommendation to fire Ms. Comer in documents obtained by The Austin American-Statesman through the Texas Public Information Act.

“Ms. Comer’s e-mail implies endorsement of the speaker and implies that T.E.A. endorses the speaker’s position on a subject on which the agency must remain neutral,” the officials said.

Read it all here.

Here is the question for all of you: Is it really the case that the Texas Department of Education should remain neutral on whether Intelligent Design is science?

The truth about the Gospel of Judas

Last year the National Geographic announced a new second century manuscript, Gospel of Judas Iscariot, that reportedly claimed that Judas didn’t betray Jesus. Instead, Jesus asked Judas, his most trusted and beloved disciple, to hand him over to be killed.

In yesterday's New York Times, April D. DeConick, a professor of Biblical studies at Rice University, and the author of The Thirteenth Apostle: What the Gospel of Judas Really Says, has an op-ed that argues that the translation of the Gospel was wrong:

Unfortunately, after re-translating the society’s transcription of the Coptic text, I have found that the actual meaning is vastly different. While National Geographic’s translation supported the provocative interpretation of Judas as a hero, a more careful reading makes clear that Judas is not only no hero, he is a demon.

Several of the translation choices made by the society’s scholars fall well outside the commonly accepted practices in the field. For example, in one instance the National Geographic transcription refers to Judas as a “daimon,” which the society’s experts have translated as “spirit.” Actually, the universally accepted word for “spirit” is “pneuma ” — in Gnostic literature “daimon” is always taken to mean “demon.”

Likewise, Judas is not set apart “for” the holy generation, as the National Geographic translation says, he is separated “from” it. He does not receive the mysteries of the kingdom because “it is possible for him to go there.” He receives them because Jesus tells him that he can’t go there, and Jesus doesn’t want Judas to betray him out of ignorance. Jesus wants him informed, so that the demonic Judas can suffer all that he deserves.

Perhaps the most egregious mistake I found was a single alteration made to the original Coptic. According to the National Geographic translation, Judas’s ascent to the holy generation would be cursed. But it’s clear from the transcription that the scholars altered the Coptic original, which eliminated a negative from the original sentence. In fact, the original states that Judas will “not ascend to the holy generation.” To its credit, National Geographic has acknowledged this mistake, albeit far too late to change the public misconception.

So what does the Gospel of Judas really say? It says that Judas is a specific demon called the “Thirteenth.” In certain Gnostic traditions, this is the given name of the king of demons — an entity known as Ialdabaoth who lives in the 13th realm above the earth. Judas is his human alter ego, his undercover agent in the world. These Gnostics equated Ialdabaoth with the Hebrew Yahweh, whom they saw as a jealous and wrathful deity and an opponent of the supreme God whom Jesus came to earth to reveal.

Whoever wrote the Gospel of Judas was a harsh critic of mainstream Christianity and its rituals. Because Judas is a demon working for Ialdabaoth, the author believed, when Judas sacrifices Jesus he does so to the demons, not to the supreme God. This mocks mainstream Christians’ belief in the atoning value of Jesus’ death and in the effectiveness of the Eucharist.

How could these serious mistakes have been made? Were they genuine errors or was something more deliberate going on? This is the question of the hour, and I do not have a satisfactory answer.

Read it all here. Dr. DeConink's website has a great deal of material on the issue here.
The National Geographic materials on the Gospel of Judas can be found here.

Facebook Christmas cards

The Church of England has created free virtual greeting cards which can be sent on with a personalized message to any of the seven million active users in the UK registered on Facebook. Recipients will be able to follow web links from the ‘application’ homepage to find information about their local churches and explore more about the Christian faith.

Created by a leading London web design company, the "designs feature colorful animations representing key elements of the nativity story, including the journey of the wise men to see the ‘new born King’."

The Rt Revd Pete Broadbent, Bishop of Willesden, comments: “I think this is a brilliant idea. Like a number of my clergy and hundreds of their parishioners, I’ve got a page on Facebook. It’s a quick and easy way for people to stay in touch and the Church needs to use websites like this to reach out to as many people as possible.

“Christmas gives us the perfect opportunity to get the Christian message across even to those who think religion is scary, outmoded or pointless. These virtual cards are a simple idea but I hope they capture the imaginations of Christians across the country who want to spread the life-changing message of their faith among their friends.”

The idea for the Facebook application follows last year’s Church of England online Advent calendar, which received wide media coverage and around 1,000 unique visitors each day during December. The virtual calendar, also developed by Rechord, shared real life stories behind each window of what Christmas means to people across the country - from a paramedic in Carlisle, to an expectant mum in Wigan, to an estate agent in Tunbridge Wells.

Dave Walker over at Cartoon Church says:

The good thing about this is that Facebook is a good place for the church to be, as it is where a lot of the people are. It will also provide a means by which people can find out about going to their local church via the A Church Near You site, which is a splendid idea (by the way, if your church isn’t on there it is worth adding it if you can).

The slightly not so good thing is that receivers of cards will need to add the application, which they may not wish to do. Adding Facebook applications is of course a bit of a privacy risk as you are giving your information to a third party (the creator of the application) about whom you know nothing. I am of course willing to give the Church of England my information, but not everyone will be.

The result is that not all of the people you send these Christmas cards to will get them, whereas if you send them a wall post or a message they will get them. Of course if you are a real luddite you could send them an actual card made out of card in the style of yesteryear.

Facebook users can access the application (when logged in to the site) here or can search for 'Real Christmas Cards' within the Facebook website.

Read: The Church of England: Church hands out virtual cards for Facebook friends to share Christmas message

Hat tip to Cartoon Church.

Advent in a time of AIDS

Here is another cool on-line Advent calendar. The Ecumenical Advisory Alliance, a worldwide ecumenical network of denominations, church relief agencies and ecumenical organizations, have developed a web-based Advent calendar featuring daily meditations, readings and photographs. Many of the reflections are written by people living with AIDS.

Todays meditation is found here. It is written by Kay Warren, Executive Director of the HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. Here is a sample:

People whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS are desperately in need of hope. Hope for access to good medical treatment and life-saving medication. Hope for being surrounded by a caring community who will offer support. But most of all, hope that this life is not all there is - that there is a better world waiting for all who have put their trust in God's gift of salvation.

Each day that passes brings us one step closer to finally receiving all that has been promised to us. Even in our brokenness, we know that one day all sorrow, sadness, and sickness will be over. These bodies that are so weak now will be restored to full health, and joy will return. That's a hope to hold onto!
God of all hope, help us to hold on to the promise of your salvation. Amen.

The Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance describes itself as "a broad ecumenical network for international cooperation in advocacy on global trade and HIV and AIDS."

More than 100 churches and church-related organizations have joined the Alliance by committing themselves to "speak out with one voice against injustice, to confront structures of power, practices and attitudes which deprive human beings of dignity and to offer alternative visions based on the Gospel." This commitment to joint action brings with it enormous strength and responsibility.

The Alliance has identified the HIV and AIDS pandemic as one of the gravest challenges to health and also to the prospects of social and economic development and global security. The campaign, "Keep the Promise." holds individuals, religious leaders, faith organizations, governments and intergovernmental organizations accountable for the commitments they have made and advocates for further efforts and resources to fight HIV and AIDS. The campaign works to protect the rights of people living with HIV and AIDS, promote an attitude of care and solidarity which rejects all forms of stigmatization and discrimination, and advocates for access to necessary forms of treatment as well as expand efforts for education and prevention.

Here is a PDF list of the organizations that make up the Alliance and here is their home page.

Teacher pardoned for bear gaffe

In September 2007, Gillian Gibbons, a teacher at Unity High School in Khartoum, Sudan, was teaching her class about animals and their habitats so allowed her class of primary school pupils to choose the name of the class teddy bear. The class of seven year olds chose "Muhammad" and for that Ms. Gibbons spent 15 days in jail and was deported.

Ms. Gibbons was arrested for insulting Islam, after another school staffmember complained to the Ministry of Education.

According to the New York Times:

Under Sudanese law, the teacher, Gillian Gibbons, could have spent six months in jail and been lashed 40 times.

“She got a very light punishment,” said Rabie A. Atti, a government spokesman. “Actually, it’s not much of a punishment at all. It should be considered a warning that such acts should not be repeated.”

Gibbons, a British subject, who teaches at a private school, began a project on animals and asked her class to suggest a name for a teddy bear. The class voted resoundingly for Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim world and the name of Islam’s holy prophet.

As part of the exercise, Ms. Gibbons told her students to take the bear home, photograph it and write a diary entry about it. The entries were collected in a book called “My Name Is Muhammad.” Most of her students were Muslim children from wealthy Sudanese families.

The government said that when some parents saw the book, they complained to the authorities. In Islam, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is a grave offense, and in northern Sudan, where Khartoum is, it is a crime. The government said it was insulting to name an animal or toy Muhammad.

Hard-line Muslim groups picked up on the incident and responded with protests. Several thousand Muslims marched in Sudan's capital Khartoum on Sunday, calling for a rough sentence.

According to news agencies, some of the protesters chanted: "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance - execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad".

The hardline Khartoum protesters gathered in Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace in the capital, many of them carrying knives and sticks.

But, Ekklesia reports, other Muslim groups were horrified at the calls for violence.

But Muslims elsewhere expressed horror and sadness at the treatment of Ms Gibbons, condemning also some sensationalist reporting in the tabloids.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in Britain and Ireland, had said it was "deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

The federation's president, Ali Alhadithi, said: "What we have here is a case of cultural misunderstandings, and the delicacies of the matter demonstrate that it was not the intention of Gillian Gibbons to imply any offence against Islam or Muslims. We hope that the Sudanese authorities will take immediate action to secure a safe release for Gillian Gibbons."

Not many Sudanese, though, took part in the protests outside of those mobilized by the groups, according to the Times:

Despite the attempts by Islamic clerics to mobilize the masses against Ms. Gibbons, many Sudanese did not take to the streets.

Najla Hussein, who works at a mobile phone company in Khartoum, said she thought Ms. Gibbons should have been set free.

“Our government creates such problems to divert the eyes of the world community from our domestic problems,” Ms. Hussein said. “I am sure that the case of the British teacher is politically motivated and has got nothing to do with our prophet.”

The Times says that the arrest may have been in response to criticism of Sudanese government by British representatives to the United Nations.

Sudan’s relations with the West — especially Britain — are as strained as ever. Many developed countries are increasingly frustrated with what they consider stalling tactics by the Sudanese to delay the deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur, the troubled region of western Sudan.

Sudan, meanwhile, has accused the West of being anti-Islamic.

Beyond that, on Tuesday, Sir John Sawers, the British representative to the United Nations, criticized the Sudanese government on a number of issues, including the languishing international arrest warrants for a Sudanese official and a militia leader in Darfur.

The next day, the Sudanese government decided to press charges against Ms. Gibbons.

Read the Eklessia story here , the New York Times coverage here, and other press coverage here and here.

A softer, gentler Golden Compass

(Updated) A movie based on the first book of a trilogy whose author says "My books are about killing God" is about to hit the big screen. In the His Dark Materials series, author Philip Pullman sets out a complex treatise against organized religion in the context of a textured and believable alternative universe.

The Atlantic Monthly and the New York Times both say that Pullman disdains "The Lord of the Rings" and detests "The Chronicles of Narnia."

The Pullman trilogy is, among other things, a carefully argued brief against organized religion, and aims at nothing less than to reimagine the story of the Fall in a way that does away with the notion of original sin. God eventually turns out to be a pathetic imposter, not unlike the Wizard of Oz.

Pullman says, when his work is compared to C.S. Lewis', that "Narnia" is the Christian one and "mine is the non-Christian."

So a funny thing happened on the way to the silver screen, Hollywood couldn't commit. They softened the edges. Previously, marketers worried that The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with its overtly Christian message would "drive away moviegoers who preferred to see wicked witches and talking lions." Now, they are worried about marketing a movie with a sham, weakling God.

Writes Hanna Rosin in the Atlantic Monthly:

In the end, the religious meaning of the book was obscured so thoroughly as to be essentially indecipherable. The studio settled on villains that, as Emmerich put it, “feel vaguely kind of like a fascistic, totalitarian dictatorship, Russian/KGB/SS” stew. The movie’s main theme became, in one producer’s summary, “One small child can save the world.” With $180 million at stake, the studio opted to kidnap the book’s body and leave behind its soul.

Pullman response to these changes has been relatively placid. He has had some control over portions of the production, yet his controversial writings and anti-religious beliefs has made the producers and other in Hollywood nervous.

In the past, Pullman has defended the “good faith of the film-makers” and denied any “betrayal.” On the surface, his relationship with the studio has remained “cordial,” as he put it. The director, Chris Weitz, has made several pilgrimages to Oxford, and the two men exchange e-mails. Pullman got to review a video of the final 50 candidates for the part of Lyra, and he has made script suggestions. Still, the studio publicist seemed nervous when she heard I was going to visit him. All things being equal, Pullman told me, New Line would prefer he were, well, the late author of The Golden Compass. Dead? “Yes! Absolutely!” If something happened to him, there “would be expressions of the most heartfelt regrets, yet privately they would be saying, ‘Thank God.’”

Pullman writes in the Times of London that he had no interest in micro-managing the production, believing that the story could survive the transformation into a film.

There were fans of the book – many of them – who let me know they expected me to watch over the process with a beady eye and pounce at once to correct any errors, omissions or general backsliding on the part of the film makers. But I wasn’t interested in doing that. In the first place, I judged that the people in charge of making the film were men and women of integrity and intelligence and I was happy to let them get on with it without my interference. In the second place I had plenty of other things to do. And in the third place it’s neither productive nor interesting to nag, fret and fuss over something that you haven’t got very much influence over anyway.

Besides, I thought the story was robust enough to survive its transfer from book to screen. It ought to be robust: it has been told many times already, starting with chapter three of the Book of Genesis and continuing with Paradise Lost. And although my version of it started as a novel, and it was as good a novel as I could make it, I’ve never regarded it as being so precious and exquisite that it would shatter at a touch.

At the same time, Pullman is aware that if he discusses his theology too much, he might "talk the next two films of the trilogy out of existence."

But in his writing, Pullman tries to use the grandeur of religious imagery and spiritual themes to re-frame religious belief from he thinks is fundamentally destructive into something essentially creative, but non-theistic.

Pullman has expressed admiration for Richard Dawkins, a fellow British atheist. Like him, Pullman views the prevailing forms of religion as destructive and oppressive forces in history. “Every single religion that has a monotheistic god ends up by persecuting other people and killing them because they don’t accept him,” he once said. But his views are not as coldly antiseptic as Dawkins’s. He grew up going to Sunday school and has only fond memories of serving as a choirboy in his grandfather’s rural Anglican parish. One of Pullman’s favorite subjects is the moral power of stories, and he can sound preacher-like when he addresses it. “‘Thou shalt not’ might reach the head, but it takes ‘Once upon a time’ to reach the heart,” he once wrote. Pullman’s own books are full of the mysticism and grandeur often associated with religion, which is no doubt part of their appeal. “We need joy, we need a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives, we need a connection with the universe, we need all the things the Kingdom of Heaven used to promise us but failed to deliver,” he said in a 2000 speech.

When pressed, Pullman grants that he’s not really trying to kill God, but rather the outdated idea of God as an old guy with a beard in the sky. In his novels, he replaces the idea of God with “Dust,” made up of invisible particles that begin to cluster around people when they hit puberty. The Church believes Dust to be the physical evidence of original sin and hopes to eradicate it. But over the course of the series, Pullman reveals it to be the opposite: evidence of human consciousness, a kind of godlike energy that surrounds everyone. People accumulate Dust by “thinking and feeling and reflecting, by gaining wisdom and passing it on.” It starts to build up around puberty because, for Pullman, sexual awakening triggers the beginning of self-knowledge and intellectual curiosity. To him, the loss of sexual innocence is not a tragedy; it’s the springboard to a productive and virtuous adulthood.

The question for Christians is how to at once respond to and understand the films. The "Dark Materials" trilogy is not as well known in the United States and it is in Great Britain, so the films will be the first introduction to Pullman's writings and thinking. To boycott the films sight unseen, something that the Catholic League has already organized, seems to draw attention to the films. Besides, a boycott will not engage the content of the film.

The task may be for Christians to at once acknowledge the historic symptoms of abuse and violence that has plagued organized religion, while moving the conversation into the deeper points of contact.

What do you think?

Read more:
Times OnLine: My Golden Compass sets a true course

The Atlantic.com: How Hollywood Saved God.

The New York Times: The Golden Compass-Unholy Production With a Fairy-Tale Ending

Bishop of San Joaquin asked to draw back from schism

Episcopal Life Online reports that the Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has written to The Rt. Rev. John David Schofield asking that he withdraw from his quest to remove the Diocese of San Joaquin from The Episcopal Church. The Diocese meets this weekend to take a second vote and final changing their diocesan canons.

The Rev. Jan Nunley writes for Episcopal Life:

Expressing concern for his health and "evident sense of isolation," Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori urged Bishop John-David M. Schofield of the Diocese of San Joaquin to "reconsider and draw back" from efforts to withdraw his diocese from the Episcopal Church.

As with previous letters to other disaffected bishops, the correspondence with Schofield notified him that such a step would force Jefferts Schori to act to bring the diocese and its leadership into line with the mandates of the national Church.

"You have been clear that you feel your views are dismissed or ignored within the Episcopal Church, yet you have ceased to participate in the councils of the Church. It is difficult to have dialogue with one who is absent," Jefferts Schori wrote. "…The Church will never change if dissenters withdraw from the table. There is an ancient and honored tradition of loyal opposition, and many would welcome your participation."

Read it all here

The letter from the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori follows:

Read more »

Church leaders call for climate justice

As the Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change is being held Dec. 3-14 in Bali, Indonesia, The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of the Church of Sweden and the Bishop of the Evangelical Church in Germany are calling for climate justice in a joint letter according to The Christian Post.

In the letter, the church heads claim that “[s]ubstantially reducing global emissions of greenhouse gasses will not avoid the serious impacts of climate change already experienced by many of the world’s most vulnerable communities."

The church leaders called on world governments and the European Commission to “strengthen their commitment to addressing the challenge of climate change.”

Reiterating the concerns of numerous Christian humanitarian agencies including World Vision, Tearfund and Christian Aid, the leaders noted that the impact of climate change is being felt most severely by those who have done the least to cause it.

The letter was sent to the president of the European Commission and the president of the Council of the European Union ahead of the Intergovernmental Conference on Climate Change being held Dec. 3-14 in Bali, Indonesia.

Read the article here.

Dave Walker comments here

Virgin belles ring at purity dances

In an age of "sex buddies," "friends with benefits" and "sexual friendships," father-daughter purity balls have become an increasingly popular trend among conservative Christians in the campaign for abstinence instead of condoms. Since the first event was held in Colorado Springs in 1998, the concept -- that holding on to one's virginity until marriage is ordered by God -- has spread to 48 states according to the Chicago Tribune.

The debate about this movement is whether it promotes abstinence or gives girls the message that they are property belonging to the male head of household until turned over to a husband. Is this a positive or negative image of female sexuality?

A report commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services and released this year found that four federally funded abstinence-education programs offered in public schools and by faith-based community groups have had no effect on sexual activity. The study found that youth in the programs were no more likely to abstain from sex in four to six years after they began participating than those who were not in the programs.

But on the other hand,

Studies by sociologists have shown that girls who spend more time with their fathers are more likely to have higher self-esteem, go to college and get better jobs than those who do not. According to Wilson, if a young woman can go to her father to get answers for core questions, such as "Am I beautiful?" she won't need to seek confirmation of her worth from other males.

During some purity balls, fathers present their daughters with gold purity bands. In Peoria, the daughters presented their fathers with gold keys and the fathers signed forms pledging to live a pure life and protect their daughters' purity.

*This is a suggested vow for the girls to say as they hand over a key to their fathers:

Dad, this is the key to my heart. Please hold it for me until my wedding day and give it to my husband.

*Fathers are asked to sign a Purity Covering and Covenant that states:

I (daughter's name) father (or mentor) choose before God to cover her as her authority and protection in the area of purity. I will be pure in my own life as a man, husband and Father. I will be a man of integrity and accountability as I lead, guide and pray over her and my family as the High priest in my home. This covering will be used by God to influence generations to come.

(The daughter then signs it as a witness)

Read the article here.

Beliefnet.com now a Fox property

The DallasNews Religion Blog brings our attention to Fox Entertainment Group's successful acquisition of Beliefnet.com, which is generally regarded as providing "interesting, multi-faith religion content," as DallasNews blogger Jeffrey Weiss puts it. From the blog:


Fox Entertainment Group (FEG) today announced its acquisition of Beliefnet, a Web site that enables consumers to better understand their faith and build diverse spiritual communities by providing content and tools for a broad range of religions and spiritual approaches. Beliefnet, the largest online faith and spirituality destination, will become part of Fox Digital Media, spearheaded by President Dan Fawcett, which takes on an expanded role to support FEG’s vast cable, TV and film brands online, and drive FEG’s continued growth in the online market.

Though we weren't able to locate this press release on the Beliefnet.com site, it bears noting that they have not made any press releases available on their site since early 2006. They may just be behind? But you can read what they sent to Weiss here. Be sure to read the comments, as well, which include an observation that Fox Entertainment Group has a wide tent that includes both the Fox News channel as well as the Simpsons.

P.S. Don't forget to sign your comments with your full name, folks! (Here's the official word on that.)

The Great Emergence

Phyllis Tickle is featured in this week's article from syndicated columnist Terry Mattingly. Citing the "500 year wall," he summarizes Tickle's recent discussion of all the capital-letter, civilization-rearranging events in history and their tendency to happen about every half-millennium or so: The Reformation, the Great Schism, the Fall of the Roman Empire.

And, she continues, we're on the verge of another: The Great Emergence.

Church leaders who can do the math should be looking over their shoulders about now, argued Tickle, speaking to clergy, educators and lay leaders at the recent National Youth Workers Convention in Atlanta.

After all, seismic changes have been rolling through Western culture for a century or more -- from Charles Darwin to the World Wide Web and all points in between. The result is a whirlwind of spiritual trends and blends, with churches splintering into a dizzying variety of networks and affinity groups to create what scholars call the post-denominational age.

Tickle is ready to call this the "Great Emergence," with a tip of her hat to the edgy flocks in the postmodern "emerging church movement."

"Emerging or emergent Christianity is the new form of Christianity that will serve the whole of the Great Emergence in the same way that Protestantism served the Great Reformation," she said, in a speech that mixed doses of academic content with the wit of a proud Episcopalian from the deeply Southern culture of Western Tennessee.

Read his entire column here.

Multi-city music event heralds new Hanukkah trend

A Jewish record label (JDub Records) is putting on a multi-city music festival featuring acts performing "klezmer-punk, hip-hop in Arabic and folk-rock tunes" this weekend for Hanukkah, which starts today at sundown. The event is expected to draw some 7,000 people in nine cities, according to a Washington Post article about the event:

The Jewish music industry has flourished over the past decade and uses Hanukkah, a minor religious holiday that begins tonight at sundown, as a time to party.

While still tiny in the grand scheme of the overall music business, the movement that some call "new Jewish music" is seen by musicians and fans as thriving. It uses sounds and lyrics and language from the Jewish world present and past. Three labels have started since 1995, including JDub, which opened in 2002 and produced Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu as well as the rock band LeeVees, which is made up of Jewish members of better-known bands and has sold over 10,000 copies of its 2006 album, "Hannukah Rocks."

While the industry and shows go on all year for such bands, the Hanukkah is a key time in the United States because of the Christmas-driven party season. Last year, XM Radio launched a Hannukah station (which runs for the holiday's eight days), and with the increase in contemporary Jewish bands, more concert halls and bars are hosting Hannukah music parties each year.

The proliferation of music has raised a broader question: What is Jewish music? Unlike the Christian music world, most of what's coming out is not God-worshiping. Some bands have Jewish members. In other cases, musicians may be non-Jews, but the words, sounds or performance styles are inspired by Jewish history. Much of it is a blend.

Read the whole thing here.

Keillor teaches Sunday School

Garrison Keillor writing in Salon:

I got to teach Episcopal Sunday school last week, a rare privilege, and it was in a New York church so the kids had plenty to say. Teenagers, and if you expect them to sit in rapt silence as you tick off points of theology, you're in the wrong place.
,,,
They let me say my piece -- God prefers honest doubt to false piety -- and then they said their pieces, and what shone through was a sensible anxiety about the future and the fact that they care a lot about each other. You could imagine a confirmed agnostic hanging out here just for the warmth and conversation.

Canterbury Cross II

As was noted in The Lead back in August, there's an ironically named image on the homepage of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It's been there since the image of the TIME magazine cover of the archbishop went up on his homepage. Follow the link to the homepage above and hover your mouse over the image. Or, if that doesn't work for you, follow this link to a static popup image of the homepage.

The subliminal message? It could be that the Archbishop of Canterbury is cross with his flock. Or it could be that his homepage needs some sprucing up and updating; notice that if you follow the link titled "Archbishop Williams and current events" you get information from events in 2004, 2003, and 2002 but nothing more recent.

And is anyone else bothered by the way the left margin on some of the pages follows you as scroll down? I find it a distracting gadget. Here's an example:
http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/releases/index.html.
Click and scroll to see the dizzying effect.

Papal Bull over Red Bull ad

The Telegraph today has a pair of stories about what some view as blasphemous commercialism:

Red Bull withdraws 'blasphemous' advert in Italy of all places.

'Saints by phone' service condemned by Vatican

The Italian bishops' conference last night accused McKay & Sisters, a Milan-based communications company, of offending Catholics by "exploiting" their faith. "This is a poor show and has nothing to do with faith."

Meanwhile, as The Lead noted on Monday, the Church of England is offering Facebook Christmas cards.

Duin joins beliefblogscape

Updated Washington Times religion correspondent, Julia Duin, joins the field of religion journalists with blogs. Here's how she describes her Belief Blog:

I plan to make this stand out amongst many of the current faith blogs, many of which are little more than daily religion digests with uplinks. Not here. I'm aiming at something closer to Ruth Gledhill's Articles of Faith blog in the London Times that has juicy details not in the dead tree version. I plan to go behind the scenes, add more details and do some original reporting. I hope to spread a wide net and touch on a non-Christian religion at least once a week.

Clarification: The blog "BabyBlueOnline" says that Ms. Duin is a member of The Falls Church which is part of CANA, a church in a property dispute with the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia. In an earlier version of this post, we repeated that she was a member of The Falls Church. Ms. Duin herself has written to us to tell us: "I am not a member of the Falls Church. Nor am I a member of Truro. I don't belong to any church at present." We regret the error.

Archbishop in Singapore

Remarks of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams at the opening session of the 6th Building Bridges Seminar in Singapore, National University of Singapore, 4th December 2007

One of the most distinctive things about these seminars has been the experience of sharing the study of each other’s sacred text. Because when that happens, I meet the other person not as a scholar, not as the representative of some alien set of commitments, but as someone seeking to open their mind and their heart to the self communication of God. And to meet another person in that light and in that way is to meet them at a very deep level. That is how we have sought to approach our business and that has been, I am sure participants in the seminar would agree, a distinctive aspect of how we work together. We’ve not sought to issue communiqués or come to conclusions but to inform ourselves and to ask God to help us grow through the experience of meeting, in trust – and perhaps a very ambitious trust – that as we seek to grow and to learn and to open our minds and hearts to God then something around us will begin to shift and develop as well in the various contexts in which we work.

YouTube video is expected later.

See, also, the transcript of his press conference. An excerpt:

Reporter: I personally don’t see the link; how does religion come in with the environment? What are you expecting to hear?

Archbishop Oh, very much so; religious people believe that our physical environment is created by God and therefore deserves respect. The question is ‘how do we relate to our material environment in such a way that we display justice and reverence towards it?’ That’s a profoundly religious issue and without that dimension then our dealing with the ecological crisis will be thinner and much less adequate.

On the environment, there also this separate story: European Church leaders deplore missed environmental opportunities‏.

Former bishop of Harare resorts to forgery

Last Friday the Church Times reported the latest in the mendacious antics of the former bishop of Harare:

The disgraced former Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, reportedly resorted to forgery last week, in an attempt to block the appointment of Dr Sebastian Bakare as the diocese’s interim Bishop, and to blacken his name.
...
The disgraced former Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Nolbert Kunonga, reportedly resorted to forgery last week, in an attempt to block the appointment of Dr Sebastian Bakare as the diocese’s interim Bishop, and to blacken his name.

Bishop Kunonga, whose attempts to withdraw Harare from the Province of Central Africa resulted in his own dismissal from the province, told the Harare Herald, a Mugabe-friendly newspaper, that Dr Bakare, retired Bishop of Manicaland, had turned down the appointment because the money was not good enough.
...
It went on to quote “correspondence” between Bishop Albert Chama, Dean of the Province of Central Africa, and the “Anglican Church Harare Diocese”, allegedly sent to all the clergy and laity in the diocese.
...
The Bishop of Botswana, the Rt Revd Trevor Mwamba, said that the letter, supposedly signed by Bishop Chama, was a forgery. “It is a propaganda warfare. Kunonga realises his time is finished, and is using the system because he is part of the system. It is lies upon lies — it is amazing how they have spun it out,” he said. “We wait to see what he will dream up next.”

Dr Bakare dismissed the report as a “complete fabrication and blatantly mischievous and misleading”.
...
Bishop Kunonga travelled last week to Kampala, reportedly in at attempt to ally his breakaway group with the Church of Uganda.

Read more about the bishop's machinations here.

Meanwhile, truly important news: Zimbabwean orphans of AIDS have made a recording of Christmas song available for download beginning December 10. Ekklesia reports

The single - Makandifira/Silent Night - features a 30-strong Zimbabwean children's choir, all of them residents of Makumbi Children's Home and either orphaned by AIDS or HIV positive, singing with the London Oratory School Schola (choir).
...
Many of the children have come to stay at the Home having been found abandoned by the side of the road, left there by grandparents or other members of their extended family no longer able to cope with the burden of caring for these young orphans.

Parishioner asks, "What is this business about Uganda?”

The New York Times reports:

“I just feel a tremendous loyalty to this church, and I am confused about this situation,” said Frances R. Maclean, 85, a member of Christ Church for 55 years who saw her children baptized and then married in its century-old chapel. “What is this business about Uganda?”
...
“As a state body we have to abstain from any involvement in religious disputes,” said John Witte Jr., director of the study of law and religion at Emory University in Atlanta, and “every property dispute has a doctrinal dimension that a court can’t touch.”

Judges must decide if individual parishes own the buildings where the members worship, or if those parishes are holding their property in trust for the larger church hierarchy, an arrangement many denominations have codified in their canons.

At Christ Church, the split has created two congregations, both of which are claiming the name and assets of the parish.

Bishop of San Joaquin responds to Presiding Bishop

The Lead recently reported on a letter from the Presiding Bishop to the Bishop of San Joaquin asking him to draw back from his attempts to remove the Diocese of San Joaquin from the Episcopal Church. His reply has now been published by Episcopal Life Online.

Responding to a letter from Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Bishop John-David Schofield of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin said the House of Bishops has "ignored my views for nearly twenty years" and blamed the wider Episcopal Church for any decision by the diocese to sever its ties and attempt affiliation with another province of the Anglican Communion.

"The decision to be made by our Annual Convention [December 8] is the culmination of The Episcopal Church's failure to heed the repeated calls for repentance issued by the Primates of the Anglican Communion and for the cessation of false teaching and sacramental actions explicitly contrary to Scripture," Schofield wrote in a December 5 letter responding to a letter Jefferts Schori sent him earlier in the week.


Read it all here.

An Episcopal church makes local giving easier

St. Gabriel's Episcopal Church in Leesburg, Virginia earns some attention from the Washington Post

The church's annual alternative gift fair opened last weekend with two days of shopping at the Founders Building in downtown Leesburg, and the campaign will continue by phone and on the Internet through Dec. 31. Since its inception in 2004, the event has raised more than $47,000 for Loudoun County charities.

The concept is simple. Shoppers browse a list of 13 local charities and the services each one can provide for a donation of $10, $25 or $50. Then the shopper makes a donation in the name of a friend or family member, either for one of those amounts or an amount of their choosing.

Details about the donation are written on small certificates printed on card stock. The gift-giver tucks the certificate into a holiday card, and the alternative gift is ready for giving.

Leesburg resident Christine Andary and her husband, John, came across the alternative gift fair by chance.

"We had gone down to the [Leesburg holiday] parade and weren't even aware of the gift fair beforehand," Christine Andary said Saturday. "We're really big on trying to do business locally and to try to do donations locally . . . so we thought it was great."
...
The fair generated more than $14,000 over the weekend, and organizers hope to reach $30,000 by the end of the month.

Read it all here.

Read more about the concept at the St. Gabriel's homepage.

Saint Nicholas Day, December 6

Saint Nicholas died on this day in 343 A.D. His biography is told here. There are many legends surrounding the saint. If you leave your shoes outside your bedroom door you'll a find treat in them in the morning.

Saint Nicholas, AKA Rev. Canon James M. Rosenthal II, long-time director of communication for the Anglican Communion, made an appearance in New York City yesterday. He said,

It is important to bring St. Nicholas' Christmas cheer to New York because of the saint's historic significance in the city -- the first church in Fort Washington was called St. Nicholas and St. Nicholas Avenue is a main thoroughfare. "One of New York's great hotels was St. Nicholas on Broadway and the Russian Orthodox has its glorious St Nicholas Cathedral on 97th," he said. "St. Nicholas, of course, is the name of the church destroyed at 9/11, and whose return as a church many eagerly await."
JIm's book (co-authored with Joe Wheeler ) "St. Nicholas: A Closer Look at Christmas" is available here.

Rowan Williams on why social cohesion needs religion

Press release from Canterbury. An excerpt:

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams has given a wide-ranging lecture today in Singapore, at the Building Bridges Conference. In his lecture Dr Williams discusses the position of the “absolute truths” of faith over and above political power, and how this plays out in a society where several faiths co-exist.... Dr Williams argues strongly against the idea that religious diversity is at odds with social cohesion, but conversely, that it can help strengthen social harmony – if governments are willing to listen to the views of the faith communities....

The full text of the lecture can be found here.

For some excerpts from his address click "read more."

The British press has largely ignored the Building Bridges Conference. Ironically a major story today involves the death threats against a British Imam's daughter because she converted to Christianity.

One wonders whether the analysis can be turned and applied upon the Anglican Communion. Can those who hold what they believe are irreconcilable truth claims to others co-exist in the communion? Can that diversity create cohesion in the communion? Are those who hold conflicting beliefs about the truth secure enough in their beliefs to stay in communion with the other? And can our perception of truth change or must it stay the same as what someone says has always been the mind of God?

Read more »

Teenage birth rate up for first time since ’91

The New York Times reports

Teenage birth rates are driven by rates of sex, contraception and abortion. In the 1990s, teenage sex rates dropped and condom use rose because teenagers were scared of AIDS, said Dr. John S. Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University.

But recent advances in AIDS treatments have lowered concerns about the disease, and AIDS education efforts, which emphasized abstinence and condom use, have flagged.

Perhaps as a result, teenage sex rates have risen since 2001 and condom use has dropped since 2003. Abortion rates have held steady for a decade, although numbers from 2005 and 2006 are not available.

Kristin A. Moore, a senior scholar at Child Trends, a nonprofit children’s research organization, said the increase in the teenage birth rate was particularly alarming because even the 2005 rate was far higher than that in other industrialized countries.

And yet the US has the highest level of religiousity of any industrialized industry.

The Washington Post observes

The increase was greatest among black teens, whose birth rate rose 5 percent between 2005 and 2006, reaching 63.7 per 1,000 teens. That was particularly disappointing because black teens had previously made the greatest gains, with the rate among 15-to-17-year-olds dropping by more than half.

"There had been dramatic, dramatic improvement in that community," said [Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy]. "All of us had hoped it would continue to decline."

The rate rose 2 percent, to 83 births per 1,000, for Hispanic teens, and 3 percent, to 26.6 per 1,000, for white teens.

On a related topic, a recent study does find a positive association between (self-reported) fidelity in marriage and church-going.

Commenters at The Lead rather soundly rejected ideas like father-daughter purity balls to reduce teen sex. What do readers recommend to address the problem of teenage pregnancy in America?

Bishop of London: Follow the style of the Great Communicator

HWJC? How would Jesus communicate today?

On Tuesday, the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, delivered a lecture at what is known as the journalists' church, St Bride. His theme was church communications in today's environment. Here is some of what he had to say:

Too much of the education of ministers of religion is dominated by learning the communications techniques of the day before yesterday in yesterday’s world. We may be able to write treatises to confute Cardinal Bellarmine but the ability to put a message on a blackberry; to enter the nous-sphere of 18-30 year olds; to produce a two minute video artfully shot with consummate professionalism to simulate the naivety and the believability of a home movie; to deliver a “mighty atom,” a message or a story which gets under the radar and reverberates in the inner spaces of people who are programmed to turn off as soon as you say “I take my text from the Prophet Haggai”; to develop the capacity to interpret the signs of the times through art – all these things should be part of the formation of Christian communicators today.
...
At a national level the Church with its 1950’s polity and style is constantly convicted of fidgeting and dithering with an in-house ecclesiastical agenda while the real battle is raging elsewhere. We have invested a huge amount of time and effort in elaborating defensive committee based structures which confuse and inhibit communication.
...
We continue to teach and communicate our position as a church by producing reports whose precise level of authority is rarely clear; which read as if they were high table conversations overheard; which treat things on the one hand and one the other at considerable length with the inevitable consequence that even church people in a culture in which pictures and jingles are more eloquent than treatises gather the drift of what the Church is teaching from the tiny gobbet which some journalist is able to smuggle past the sub editors. Almost always there is disappointment on the part of the authors at what they see as the distortion of their work but why do we keep on doing business this way?

There is room on the web for genuine growing conversations at considerable length and depth but formal Church pronouncements need a rather different style and one not so different from the communications of Jesus himself.

Read it all here.

For more about the bishop explore from the link above, and check out the London Internet Church.

Diocese of San Joaquin meets to decide

San Joaquin, one of the dioceses associated with the theologically conservative Network within the Episcopal Church, is meeting in annual convention this weekend. One of the orders of business it has will be to consider taking the final actions that could attempt to take itself of the Episcopal Church and join it with another Anglican Province.

The LA Times has a good explanation of the situation as of today:

"The bishop of a Central California diocese that is poised to become the first in the country to secede from the Episcopal Church has brushed aside a warning from the national church's leader and likened the church to an 'apostate institution.'

Bishop John-David M. Schofield, whose Fresno-based Diocese of San Joaquin is expected to decide Saturday whether to finalize a split with the national church over gay-related issues, complained in a letter released Wednesday that his conservative views had been ignored by church leaders for two decades.

In his letter to Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Schofield also stated that he had long sought to shield his diocese of about 9,000 members from what he called the 'false teaching' of the Episcopal Church. He said the vote expected at the diocese's annual convention, which begins today, was the result of the national church's failure to heed repeated calls by Anglican leaders that it repent for its actions."

Read the rest here.

UPDATE: Julia Duin, writing in the Washington Times has some additional information from the diocese:

Five parishes: Holy Family in Fresno, St. John the Baptist in Lodi, St. Anne's in Stockton, St. Matthew's in San Andreas and Church of the Savior in Hanford do not want to leave, according to the Rev. Keith Axberg, rector of the 200-member Holy Family.

Saturday's outcome is not "cut and dried," he said, adding there is a "growing hesitancy" about leaving.

"Several congregations are struggling about the matter," he said. "I've been an Episcopal priest for 23 years and many of the things the Episcopal Church stands for, I appreciate. We can hold a lot of theological positions in tension and still stay together.

"But I think the bishop has been the driving force behind the way this diocese has been going for the past four years."

Her full article can be found here.

Ecumenism in a time of controversy

Bishop Christopher Epting is the chief ecumenical officer of the Episcopal Church. In a recent post on his blog, he talks about how the recent actions of the Episcopal Church's General Convention have effected the conversations the denomination has with other denominations:

"While it is no secret that I support the full inclusion of faithful gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the Church, let there be no mistake about the costly nature of such decisions in the life of The Episcopal Church and beyond.

I write this post from Cairo, Egypt where I am attending the annual meeting of the Inter Anglican Standing Commission on Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations. This is a body which reports to the Anglican Consultative Council and monitors the activity and progress of the various Provinces of the Anglican Communion in matters ecumenical.

Since our General Convention decisions of 2003, these have been difficult meetings for The Episcopal Church’s representatives as well as our colleagues from the Anglican Church in Canada. Despite warm personal relations with our Church of England, Asian, African, South and West Indian colleagues, we are roundly criticised as Episcopalians for putting major stumbling blocks in the way of Anglican ecumenical relations.

Often cited are the writings of Bishop Spong, the confirmation of the Bishop of New Hamshire by General Convention 2003, and some bishops’ permission for the blessing of same sex unions in their dioceses despite the lack of an official liturgical rite in our church for such an event.

We were received by Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Orthodox Church here in Egypt one morning and subjected to nearly an hour of lecturing by His Holiness on the sins of the Anglican Communion and especially The Episcopal Church. This venerable monk and leader of his ancient church noted all the concerns I have mentioned above. He has actually read at least one of Bishop Spong’s books. And, is not impressed!

It would, of course, have been possible to take exception to much of Pope Shenouda’s hermeneutics, but ‘state occasions’ like this are hardly the place for that. Particularly in a country where Christians are in the huge minority and undergo scrutiny and often severe criticism from their Muslim neighbors. We heard him out, acknowledged the difficulties we face, and asked for his prayers.

What would have been possible, however, had not the official dialogue with the Oriental Orthodox Churches been suspended over our actions, would have been to engage these issues together in a serious dialogue where our perspectives could be given a fair hearing rather than caricatured by the press or by voices from within our own church who wish the world to think that we are teaching some kind of ‘new faith.’

This is why I believe the Lambeth Conference must happen. No matter who is, or is not, invited and who chooses to come or not to come. Those of us who will be there must sit together, face to face, in the context of prayer, and both share and listen to one another deeply.

Only in this way can the wounds in our particular expression of the Body of Christ begin to be healed and a contribution perhaps made, by Anglicans, for healing the very Body of Christ of which we are a part."

From here.

For those who remain

Bonnie Anderson, the President of the House of Deputies (a body of the General Convention), has issued a statement today after a long consultation with her Council of Advice. Part of her statement concerned the care of Episcopalians in dioceses that are attempting to affiliate with different Provinces of the Anglican Communion.

In her statement she said:

"'I have learned during my travels throughout our church that there are Episcopalians in every one of those disaffected dioceses who need our prayers and our support,' Anderson said in her statement. 'I was very moved by the conversations I have had this year with such Episcopalians in the dioceses of Fort Worth, Pittsburgh and San Joaquin.'

We also considered how the church can best create the safest space possible for the largest number of Episcopalians to remain in our church and continue to use their gifts to further God's mission in our world."

There were no details in her statement about what this support might look like.

The remainder of the statement spoke to the details of the organization of the next General Convention which will meet in the summer of 2009.

Her full statement can be found here.

Apologies all around

"I would never denigrate any civilized response of anyone for harm he may have done or misbehavior he may have engaged in," writes Gorman Beauchamp in The American Scholar. "But apologies offered by people to their contemporaries for actions taken long before any of them were born strike me as vacuous and more than a little exhibitionistic."

He asks:

[W]ho are we to apologize? We assume, as I suggested, something like absolute validity for our current values, which gives us a sense of moral superiority to the benighted past. Is it justified? Charles Sanders Pierce, the American pragmatist philosopher, once defined a belief as a disposition to act. That is, you believe what you do. And what have we done, we apologizers? The 20th century, argued the poet Louise Bogan, was the worst century so far. Isaiah Berlin likewise regarded it as “the most terrible century in Western history.” Even if, like most of my students, we relegated the first half of the 20th century, with the mass carnage and destruction of its two world wars, to the realm of ancient history, the evils of the last half century, well within the lifetime of most of us, appear quite sufficient unto the day. “Never again!” became the resolve after the revelation of the Nazi genocide, but the world has since witnessed, more or less passively, appalling crimes against humanity again and again: in China’s Cultural Revolution, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the genocidal ethnic cleansing in Rwanda and Bosnia, and today in Darfur.

Read it all. The section on reparations for slavery is probably the most controversial.

Religious freedom and 'pious cruelty'

Ethan Fishman in The American Scholar:

For much of its history, the United States has largely avoided the religious conflicts that have cost other nations countless lives. Our ability to escape such conflicts is grounded in the Constitution’s First Amendment, which requires government to maintain as neutral an attitude as possible toward religion. Fortunately for Americans, past presidents as a rule have sought to honor this neutrality. Today, however, the Bush administration, working with certain religious denominations, seeks to repudiate it.

Drawing on the thinking of Roger Williams, who was exiled from Puritan Massachusetts and founded the Rhode Island colony, he writes:

The Bush administration has ignored Roger Williams’s warning about the corrosive effects on both church and state of the lethal combination of national arrogance and religious self-righteousness. That contrasts with the reactions of Presidents Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison at the turn of the 19th century when North African Muslim pirates were seizing American ships and capturing their crews. The pirates were fond of using quotes from the Koran to justify their criminal activities, and the United States responded in a variety of ways to protect its political and commercial interests in the Mediterranean: they sent in the Navy and the Marines, paid protection money, and ransomed the crews. But these presidents never considered their war against the Muslim pirates to be religiously motivated or to have any religious significance at all.

Since the attacks of September 2001, Bush has insisted on calling America’s reaction a war on terror, and his statements have contained religious imagery comparable to that used by Osama bin Laden. University of Chicago religion professor Bruce Lincoln observes in Holy Terrors: Thinking About Religion After September 11 that both Bush and bin Laden use language that refers to “a Manichean struggle, where Sons of Light confront Sons of Darkness, and all must enlist on one side or the other, without possibility of neutrality, hesitation or middle ground.” The implication of both leaders’ rhetoric is that God supports what may be called a war of “pious cruelty.”

Read it all.

Bishop Schofield explains it all

Bishop John-David Schofield of the Diocese of San Joaquin has apparenlty been consulting the same lawyers as the Bush-Cheney administration and has received the same advice: the constitution allows you to claim whatever powers you desire. How else to explain the curious argument he presented to delegates at his convention today in urging them to vote to secede from the Episcopal Church?

The Living Church reports:

Legally there is nothing to prevent the Diocese of San Joaquin seeking primatial oversight outside The Episcopal Church, Bishop Schofield said. In all likelihood, General Convention will amend its constitution and canons to prevent dioceses from breaking union with it. Since changes to the San Joaquin diocesan constitution require approval by two consecutive diocesan conventions, there will probably not be time to try again before the window of opportunity is closed, he said.

We should know some time today whether the remainder of the diocese is as unaware of what the constitution actually says: which is that all power in these matters resides with the General Convention. The window the bishop speaks of does not exist.

San Joaquin heads south

Reuters writes the story as follows:

An entire California diocese of the U.S. Episcopal Church voted to secede on Saturday in a historic split following years of disagreement over the church's expanding support for gay and women's rights

You can read it all here.

But the fact is that dioceses can't leave the Church because it is the Church which creates dioceses, and not dioceses which create the Church. What happened today is that somewhere in the vicinity of 7,500 members decided to leave the 2.2 million member Episcopal Church. That they chose to make their decision collectively does not alter the fact that they leave as individuals. At least five congregations remain, and it will be up to the Church to reconstitute the diocese.

Next the delegates will decide whether to align themselves with the tiny province of the Southern Cone, which is based in Argentina. The Southern Cone has previously laid claim to the Diocese of Recife in Brazil, but its claim is not recognized by the Anglican Communion,

Faithful remnant

Updated: Father Jake has weighed in.
Updated again: Other news sources (see end of post)
And again: Tobias Haller writes of The Immaculate Deception and the Vacant See.

Episcopal News Service carries reaction to the vote by delegates to the Diocese of San Joaquin's annual convention to leave the Episcopal Church.

"The Episcopal Church receives with sadness the news that some members of this church have made a decision to leave this church," said Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. "We deeply regret their unwillingness or inability to live within the historical Anglican understanding of comprehensiveness. We wish them to know of our prayers for them and their journey. The Episcopal Church will continue in the Diocese of San Joaquin, albeit with new leadership."

And

Nancy Key, a co-founder of 'Remain Episcopal,' said those who wished to remain in the Episcopal Church have felt marginalized and maligned.

"It feels like spiritual violence," said Key, a parishioner at Holy Family Church in Fresno, which has chosen to remain within the Episcopal Church. "All we want to do is be in the Episcopal Church that actively ordains women and is inclusive," she said. San Joaquin is among three dioceses that refuse to ordain or deploy women priests. The others are Fort Worth and the Peoria, Illinois-based Diocese of Quincy.

Read it all.

UPDATE:
Diocese splits - Sacramento Bee

Organizers decided on an unusual method for taking the vote. They sent delegates who favored the split to one side of the room, and opponents to the other side. ... Delegates also approved constitutional amendments, including an expansion of the diocese's 14-county boundaries to enable other parishes on the fringes to join in the split.

US Church splits over gay rights - BBC
Diocese Breaks With Episcopal Church - AP
Episcopal Diocese Votes to Secede From Church - NYT
Church votes to secede - Stockton Record
Episcopal diocese secedes in rift over gays - Los Angeles Times
Episcopal fold loses 1st diocese - in valley - San Francisco Chronicle

Marc Andrus, bishop of the Diocese of California, a 27,000-member group in the Bay Area, said it plans to help the national church rebuild in San Joaquin. "This is a small group of Episcopalians who have chosen to align themselves in a different way," Andrus said. "It's a choice that saddens me but it is not tragic in light of things we as a church and the world address....

See, also, this article in the Living Church prior to the vote.

The Chicago Consultation

Updated with Chicago Public Radio's brief report on the consultation.

Readers of the Café are going to be hearing a lot about The Chicago Consultation in the days ahead. The Consultation, held at Seabury-Western Seminary, Dec. 5 thru 7, was a meeting of some 50 Anglicans from around the world committed to advancing the full inclusion of gays and lesbains within the Communion and to resisting those who seek to split the Communion by setting one group of marginalized people against another.

Mark Harris, Susan Russell and Tobias Haller were on hand, and they have the first reports.

Just in time for Christmas

The editors of Christian Century have announced their selections for the best books (and music) of 2007 in several categories, including theology, spirituality, fiction, children's literature, classical music and pop Christmas music.

Find them all here.

Jeff Sharlet, a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and Harper's, and a creator of the Revealer, daily review of religion in the news and the news about religion, has his own list of the best religion books here.

David Brooks on Mitt Romney's speech on faith

While there has been a great deal of commentary about Mitt Romney's speech on faith in America, there is growing concern by some that the most disturbing aspect of the speech was that it expressly excludes the so-called faithless. David Brooks captured these concerns well in his New York Times column on Friday:

When this country was founded, James Madison envisioned a noisy public square with different religious denominations arguing, competing and balancing each other’s passions. But now the landscape of religious life has changed. Now its most prominent feature is the supposed war between the faithful and the faithless. Mitt Romney didn’t start this war, but speeches like his both exploit and solidify this divide in people’s minds. The supposed war between the faithful and the faithless has exacted casualties.

The first casualty is the national community. Romney described a community yesterday. Observant Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, Jews and Muslims are inside that community. The nonobservant are not. There was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious. I’m assuming that Romney left that out in order to generate howls of outrage in the liberal press.

The second casualty of the faith war is theology itself. In rallying the armies of faith against their supposed enemies, Romney waved away any theological distinctions among them with the brush of his hand. In this calculus, the faithful become a tribe, marked by ethnic pride, a shared sense of victimization and all the other markers of identity politics.

In Romney’s account, faith ends up as wishy-washy as the most New Age-y secularism. In arguing that the faithful are brothers in a common struggle, Romney insisted that all religions share an equal devotion to all good things. Really? Then why not choose the one with the prettiest buildings?

Read it all here. Do you agree?

The original war on Christmas

Rabbi Rami Shapiro has a wonderful post on his blog that has been reposted at EthicsDaily.com that reminds us that the orignal "War on Christmas" was waged by our Puritan forefothers:


In 1645 Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan brethren took over jolly old England. Deciding that anything jolly was probably of the devil, they vowed to rid England of such decadent conceits as Christmas. Cromwell and Company banned Christmas and any festivities having to do with it.


Not to be bested by their colleagues across the pond, Massachusetts Puritans criminalized Christmas (take that, Bill O'Reilly!), and, in 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts passed the Five-Shilling Anti-Christmas Law:

"Whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas, or the like, either by forbearing labor, feasting, or any other way upon such account as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for each offense five shillings as a fine to the country."

. . .

Even though the Five-Shilling Anti-Christmas Law was repealed in 1681, our founders must have seen some value in banishing Christmas seeing as Congress was in session on Dec. 25, 1789, the first Christmas under America's new constitution, and Christmas didn't become a federal holiday until June 26, 1870.

Anyway, I think a country whose original illegal aliens were Puritans who hated Christmas, and whose descendents believe that a return to Christian values would be a good thing, cannot but benefit from outlawing Christmas once again.

It will take us a while to get the country back on its Christian track, but in the meantime, if you insist upon celebrating Christmas and thus disrespecting this great country, you should fine yourself five shillings (which in today's fallen dollar is equal to about 89 cents).

Read it here. Hat Tip to EthicsDaily.com.

Here is an idea--next time you go shopping for Christmas, or put up lights, or say "Merry Christmas", fine yourself 89 cents and donate the fine to Episcopal Relief and Development or some similar charity of your choice. I, for one, already owe a large fine!

Sentamu challenges Mugabe

(Updated) Saying that Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe has "taken people's identity" and "cut it to pieces," the Most Rev. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, has cut up his dog collar and said he will not replace it until Mugabe is out of office.

Dr John Sentamu made the symbolic protest gesture live on BBC One's Andrew Marr Show. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has boycotted an EU-Africa summit taking place in Portugal because of Mr Mugabe's presence. The BBC says that while Mr Mugabe is banned from the EU, African leaders demanded the Zimbabwean leader be invited to attend the event in Portugal.

In the interview on the Andrew Marr Show, the Archbishop had this exchange:

ANDREW MARR: So what in concrete terms should be happening now? We've had this, this sort of dialogue of the deaf as you called it, Angela Merkel's said her thing, but what should actually be happening now to get Mugabe out?

DR JOHN SENTAMU: We need the world to unite against Mugabe really and his regime.

Why, what I don't understand - they did it against Ian Smith, the world did it against apartheid South Africa.

Two black leaders are actually carrying out quite a lot of killing, very bad management, you know. Zimbabwe one time was a bread basket, has now become a basket, a basket case itself.

I can't understand why the same pressure on sanctions doesn't apply. You see when Mugabe says the economy has gone down simply because of what the West has done to his - no.

The sanctions are purely on travel and financial assistance to a hundred and thirty of his clique. That's all it is. And Britain also is the second largest donor of humanitarian aid.

So when he talks about because of this has happened - no. He's actually taken a country really into sheer chaos. And has been so brutal that in the long run the world has got to say if the South African people won't do it and the leaders of Africa have actually become sycophantic hero worshipers, something has got to happen.

And:

DR JOHN SENTAMU: I suspect, because you see his, his card is, we are negotiating for the elections next year. But you and I know that those re-elections, whatever happens, are going to be rigged like they've been since Mugabe came to power. So South Africa's got to actually wake up to the fact that people there are starving. A lot of people are traumatised.

You know ... you see as an Anglican, this is what I wear to identify myself that I'm a clergyman. Do you know what Mugabe has done? He's taken people's identity and literally if you don't mind, cut it to pieces. This is what he's actually done, to a lot of - and in the end there's nothing. So as far as I'm concerned from now on I'm not going to wear a dog collar until Mugabe's gone.

Sentamu chastised African leaders for defending Mugabe and insisting on his presence at the EU-Africa summit:

People don't know where their next meals are going to come from. But of course Mugabe and his clique are living ... wonderfully.

I've said yes to the prime minister, I don't understand why Britain doesn't have an intra-section instead of having an embassy. Why all the world don't do the same thing what they did to Libya at one point. Is it because this happens to be a black person? Because what is going on for me, there is this pernicious, self destructing racism. A white man does it the whole world cries. A black person does it, there is a certain sense oh this is colonialism. I'm sorry I don't buy this. Africa and all the world have got to liberate Africa from this mental slavery and this colonial mentality - whenever there's anything you blame somebody else instead of yourself.

While the Archbishop does not expect other clergy to take scissors to their own dog collars, he does call for Christians to take action against the injustices of the Mugabe regime:

I think what I want to say is what happened to, during the time of Ian Smith in this country and apartheid South Africa. We prayed. We marched, protested. We collected money. As Christmas comes around spare a pound, spare a pound for child starving in Darfur and in Zimbabwe.

Let this money be collected so that when a time comes people can actually have their houses and their homes rebuilt. And to me that's the greatest thing we can actually do as a nation.

Dave Walker over at The Cartoon Blog says: "I for one applaud the Archbishop. May his example inspire us all to stand up to injustice in our various ways."

Read: BBC- Archbishop makes Zimbabwe protest.

Here is the transcript of the interview.

Dave Walker's The Cartoon Church on this story.

The Diocese of York put out this news release.

(New) The Guardian has this item.

ABC did not endorse actions of Southern Cone

Just in:

"Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has not in any way endorsed the actions of the Primate of the Southern Cone, Bishop Gregory Venables, in his welcoming of dioceses, such as San Joaquin in the Episcopal Church, to become part of his province in South America," a spokesman for the Anglican Communion said.
(Via email from The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. Rosenthal, Anglican Communion Office, Director of Communications.)

An update: Apparently Archbishop Venables may soon issue a clarification of his own saying that he was never under the impression that he had the Archbishop of Canterbury's blessing to act as he did.

It isn't clear where that leaves the claims of Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London and Bishop Frank Lyons of Bolivia, both of whom have said that Williams characterized Venables' actions as "sensible."

Worshipping God in uncertain times

UPDATE: See below for news of the letter from Bonnie Anderson, President of the House of Deputies.

At least five congregations of 47 parishes in the Diocese of San Joaquin, including Holy Family and others in Lodi, Stockton and Hanford, have distanced themselves from the decisions and said they planned to remain affiliated with the Episcopal Church. Here is a report from the LA Times describing what it was like in those places this past Sunday.

One day after the Diocese of San Joaquin became the first in the country to break ties with the Episcopal Church, the Rev. Keith Axberg sought to reassure and cheer up his congregation, the only one in this city that is expected to remain with the national church.

"There are things that are going to take time and much we don't know," said Axberg, rector of Holy Family Episcopal Church in northeast Fresno. "But our purpose is to gather here to worship God . . . and I'm thankful you are here."

And:

At Holy Family, a simple, modern church with white walls and a peaked roof, a larger-than-typical crowd attended Sunday morning services, including visitors and newcomers who said they were drawn by the congregation's loyalist stance.

"I felt I needed to be here today to support Episcopalians," said Joan Pitcock, a former professional golfer who said she usually attended another Fresno Episcopal church, St. Columba, but was considering switching to Holy Family. "It's nice to have this church to go to."

Elly Row, whose Episcopal church in Madera was closed by the diocese in 2004, has attended Holy Family ever since. She said she was saddened by the split, but glad her new church would remain with the national body.

"I can't believe all the churches that are going the other way," Row said.

"We all believe in God and I can't believe that he would look down on people who aren't just exactly alike. This church welcomes everyone," she said.

Richard Jennings, a vestry board member at Holy Family, said he knew many in the parish were anxious about the future. But he said he found himself surprisingly relieved Sunday that the vote, after months of anticipation, had been taken, even though he and others had deeply opposed its outcome.

"It's like a boil that's been there a long time and you have to lance it to heal," said Jennings, a dentist. "Now we can do that."

Another parishioner, George Wade, agreed. "The Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin is very much alive, despite what everyone thinks," Wade said. "We're going to be growing in fertile ground now that the weeds are gone."


And, last,
Axberg, Holy Family's rector since 2003, urged his congregation Sunday not to worry about the future. He told them about the convention votes and answered a few questions about steps likely to be taken by the national church.

Finally, he asked them to pray for all involved in the diocese's continuing struggle, including for Schofield.

First one, then all, rose to applaud their priest.

Read the rest: LA Times- Some parishes won't secede.

UPDATE:
President of the House of Deputies Bonnie Anderson writes following the voting in the Diocese of San Joaquin to assure the Diocese and its faithful members that they are still supported by the leadership of the Episcopal Church. She highlights the need for prayer and safe space for those who remain in the Episcopal Church. Read it all here

I am a runner

For Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori running is a form of body prayer and a time of reflection according to an interview in this month's issue of Runner's World. From the interview:

Why did you start running?

I'd been a competitive swimmer, played water polo in college, and was active. In the fall of 1978 I met the man [Richard Schori] I eventually married and he was an avid runner, and he got me started. I started running probably in November of '78 and ran a marathon in February of '79 [in Seaside, Oregon, with a time of 3:54:55].

That must have been pretty tough.

It was an adventure.

How do you feel running helps with your work? Do you like to use the time to brainstorm or solve issues?

Absolutely. It's focusing for me. In my tradition we might talk about it as body prayer. It's a meditative experience at its best. It's a sort of emptying of the mind. That's probably why I prefer running in the wilds rather than in the middle of the city.

Now that you've been elected presiding bishop, do you think your weekly runs will become more necessary or more fulfilling?

Well, it's an essential part of my health. I don't function as well in any part of my life if I'm not exercising regularly, and running is probably the easiest and most enjoyable way I've found to do that.

Do you have a favorite Bible passage that inspires you to get out and run?

There's a wonderful passage in the Psalms that says, "Beautiful are the feet of one who brings good news."

Read the interview here.

All Saints Pasadena vindicated in IRS case

All Saints Church announced today that the IRS has confirmed that it has closed its investigation of the Church, and the Church will not be subject to excise tax in connection with any alleged political campaign intervention. All Saints also reported that, in light of its experience in defending against its own examination, and to support all churches, synagogues and mosques who speak truth to power in the prophetic tradition, it plans to work through federal legislative channels to increase the legal protections available for freedom of the pulpit from ill-founded or politically motivated tax investigations.

Read it all here

Episcopal Life Online reports here

Talking Jesus nearly sold out

The Dallas Morning News reports that stores are almost out of a best selling Talking Jesus Messenger of Faith doll. The 12-inch doll is made by one2believe of Valencia, Calif., which also sells Nativity scenes and other Bible action figures such as Samson and Goliath Spirit Warriors.

The toys were sold at about 600 Wal-Mart stores and online at Target.com, and almost 20 percent of the Wal-Mart stores that sell Talking Jesus are in Texas.

"We sold out at Wal-Mart, and the toys are still available in a very limited supply at Target.com," said spokesman Joshua Livingston. The company won't restock again before Christmas.

Read all about it here

Christmas message from the Presiding Bishop

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has released her Christmas message calling us to "[find] Immanuel as immigrant, wanderer, child." Many make an extra effort to reach out to others in need at this time of year. The Presiding Bishop asks us to allow our seasonal "seeing" become a year 'round challenge.

The complete text in English and Spanish is here.

San Joaquin Episcopalians receive letters of support

Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin are receiving letters of support from around The Episcopal Church. Remain Episcopal is organized to continue The Episcopal Church's presence as the former leadership voted to leave the church.

The Rt. Rev. Stacy Sauls, bishop of the Diocese of Lexington, an attorney and Chair of the House of Bishops' Committee on Property Disputes has written to reassure San Joaquin Episcopalians of the "rightness and justice of their position" that the Committee will meet next week to assess the situation and implement a plan of action.

Bishops Sauls letter is here.

Other letters are here as well as a place to write a letter of support to Remain Episcopal.

Rowan Williams quits work at 6 p.m. to be with family

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, stops work at 6pm so he can watch The Simpsons with his family. He is more afraid of what his wife Jane thinks than he is of the editor of The Daily Mail according to an interview in Oi Magazine which will be out on December 16. Update: The full interview is here.

A preview of the interview is found in the Times Online UK.

And he confessed that although at £60,000 a year he earns less than a headteacher, he enjoys his job - “at least the non-political side of things.” This is because he is passionate about the environment and likes meeting people.

Holly Mounter, 15, described the teenage fear of not being good enough and asked Dr Williams if he ever felt the same.

Dr Williams replied: “Yes often. It’s not an easy job. I have everyone judging me and many people thinking that the decisions I make are stupid. My teenage daughter thinks I’m every kind of idiot there is.

“There are two things that keep me going though and my family are one of them. Having support and love from those closest to me is hugely important. God is my other source of strength. He’s always there for me, even if he thinks I’m an idiot too.

Mylie Veitch, 18, asked him his views on a gay friend of hers who is considering adopting with his partner.

Dr Williams said: “This is a big one. I have questions as to whether same sex couples can provide the same stability as ‘normal parents’. I have no answers really, just questions.

“Many would argue that we need a balance of men and women to bring a child up. However, I have seen one fantastic example of same sex parenting first hand and I suppose stability is another key consideration.”

Asked about his support for gay clergy, he replied: “I have no problem with gay clergy who aren’t in relationships, although there are savage arguments about the issue you might have heard about. Our jobs mean we have to adhere to the Bible, gay clergy who don’t act upon their sexual preferences do, clergy in practicing homosexual relationships don’t. This major question doesn’t have a quick fix solution and I imagine will be debated for many years to come.”


Read about the interview here.

San Joaquin clergy threatened it is alleged

Episcopal Life

Michael Glass, a San Rafael, California-based attorney who represents congregations and individual Episcopalians who wish to remain in the Episcopal Church, told Episcopal News Service (ENS) December 11 that he, local leaders, Chancellor to the Presiding Bishop David Booth Beers, and leaders from Episcopal dioceses surrounding San Joaquin "are coming together very soon to finalize our coordinated efforts to provide for the leadership needs, the legal and pastoral issues, and the financial concerns of our brothers and sisters in San Joaquin, and to provide for the continuation of the diocese."

The Rev. Robert Moore will meet with the group as well. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori appointed Moore "to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the Diocese of San Joaquin," said the Rev. Charles Robertson, canon to the Presiding Bishop.

Moore is the husband of Bishop Suffragan Bavi Edna "Nedi" Rivera of Olympia, the daughter of San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield's predecessor, Bishop Victor Rivera.


Threats are alleged
Glass and another person who requested not to be identified told ENS that Schofield threatened the personal livelihoods and congregational finances of priests who opposed his efforts to lead the diocese out of the Episcopal Church.

The unnamed person said Schofield told him during a break in the convention that diocesan support of his mission congregation will stop at the end of December because he abstained in the December 8 vote. Glass confirmed Schofield's threat.

A spokesperson for Schofield denied the allegation.

More: 'San Joaquin's canon to the ordinary says parishes in the diocese can go through a "period of discernment" to "determine whether or not they are comfortable with the decisions made by their delegates."' Missions are given no such option.

As noted in an earlier post, the secession vote was not by secret ballot: 'Organizers decided on an unusual method for taking the vote. They sent delegates who favored the split to one side of the room, and opponents to the other side.'

Read it all here.

Lodi church did not vote

Lodi News

Andee Zetterbaum, Ejae Brown, Richard Cress and Jim "Corky" Kuykendall were scheduled to represent St. John's as delegates in the diocese's vote on whether to leave Episcopal Church USA, but they were forbidden from voting because St. John's vestry decided last week to not pay its dues to the diocese [of San Joaquin], Zetterbaum said. St. John's owed about $22,000, she added.

The vestry voted to not pay its dues to the diocese, Zetterbaum said, because "we didn't want the money going to some group other than the Episcopal Church."

Not only were St. John's delegates ineligible to vote on Saturday, they weren't allowed to sit with the delegates or speak from the floor, Zetterbaum said.

Meanwhile, although the Union-Democrat headline reads "Episcopal church members mixed on split" the article is mostly about the seccessionists. It does say "Many have decided, especially those opposed to the realignment, to stay quiet until the situation unfolds over the next few weeks."

The Bakersfield Californian manages to get viewpoints from both sides:

Amanda Gaona, 62, a social worker and an All Saints parishioner for the past six years, said Jefferts Schori is "biblically sound." She said San Joaquin diocesan bishop the Rt. Rev. John-David Schofield and Riebe "misquote her, they mislead people, they give half-truths."

But she knows she is in the minority at All Saints.

"We've had bishops within the Episcopal Church who have said Jesus was not the son of God and he did not rise from the dead," said John Cavanagh, 50, an air traffic controller and an All Saints parishioner since 1987.
...
Gaona called Schofield judgmental and divisive. His obesity, she said, opens him up to charges of hypocrisy.

"He role models gluttony and points his finger at someone who's a homosexual," she said. "I have said that before to the bishop himself and to my priest."

Gaona is a member of Remain Episcopal.

Update. Via Media press release follows (read more):

Read more »

The Chicago Consultation

"Anglicans from around the world met near Chicago December 5-7 to build international coalitions and develop a strategy for the full inclusion of gay and lesbian Christians in the life of the church." So begins the ENS report today.

More:

Meeting at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, the 50-member group known as the Chicago Consultation urged leaders of the Episcopal Church to permit the blessing of same-gender relationships and to remove barriers that keep gay candidates from being elected as bishops, according to a news release from the group.
...
Participants from Africa, England and New Zealand joined Anglicans from Central, North and South America in "pledging to work against schismatic leaders who have sought to gain power in the Communion by turning marginalized groups against one another," the release said.

"Homophobia is a sin whose end time is now," said the Rev. Canon Marilyn McCord Adams, Regius Professor of Divinity at Christ Church, Oxford University, in a paper opening the Consultation.


Adams' is running today on the Daily Episcopalian.
In addition to discussions the group made plans.
"There was tremendous energy in the plenary sessions, and even more in the breakout groups," the Rev. Ruth Meyers, academic dean at Seabury-Western, and co-convener of the Consultation, said in the release. "It was such a talented and committed group that eventually we abandoned some of the formal presentations and started identifying our priorities and making plans."
...
Before adjourning, the release said, the group made plans to:
  • publish several of the papers it received on the website Episcopal Café;
  • establish its own website;
  • hire a part-time coordinator; and
  • support working groups on communications, fundraising and organizational strategy, as well as a group to identify and produce theological resources.
Read it all here.

More of papers from the Chicago Consultation will be appearing in the coming days on the Daily Episcopalian.

Church of England publishes protocol on child protection

Ekklesia:

The full guidelines will now be made available to dioceses for implementation over the next 18 months. They are available at:
http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr10007.html

The full protocol, which forms part of what the Church of England describes as its "commitment continually to develop best practice in this area", can be found on the C of E website:
http://www.cofe.anglican.org/info/childprotect/cpreviewprotocol.pdf

It's not just good for you, it makes you good

Newsweek reports on the latest in bottled water:

Observant Muslims wash hands and feet before they pray, orthodox Jewish women take ritual baths once a month—and every Christian denomination still uses water as part of its sacred rites. Mormons, when they take the weekly sacrament, drink water instead of wine.

So it's not surprising that a few savvy marketers would seize on this universal symbol of purity for financial gain. Inspired, perhaps, by vitamin and energy waters, a number of new companies have begun making more explicit claims: their water doesn't just promote good health, it actually makes you good. Holy Drinking Water, produced by a California-based company called Wayne Enterprises, is blessed in the warehouse by an Anglican or Roman Catholic priest (after a thorough background check). Like a crucifix or a rosary, a bottle of Holy Drinking Water is a daily reminder to be kind to others, says Brian Germann, Wayne's CEO.

What, no Episcopal priests?

Rowan Williams on the message of Christmas

From the website of the Archbishop of Canterbury:

Archbishop's Christmas words of wisdom

12th December 2007

The Archbishop gave the following message today on the Chris Evans show on BBC Radio 2:

“One of the main things that Christmas means to me is that God actually likes the company of human beings, God starts living a human life in the middle of the world when the life of Jesus begins, and that suggests that as the Bible says - God actually loves the world, he likes to be with us, he likes us to be with him. And what flows from that for Christians, is the sense that human beings are just colossally worthwhile. God thought they were worth spending a lifetime with and all that spills over into how we see all kinds of human beings; the ones we don’t like or the ones we don’t reckon very much, the ones we don’t take very seriously. But they are all to be taken very seriously, they are all to be loved. And so Christmas, as I see it, is the very beginning of that sense of huge human dignity in all the people around us, and that’s what I think we are celebrating, that is the most important thing. I hope everyone listening has a very happy Christmas.”

What you *can* learn from the Golden Compass

Beliefnet's "Top Ten" feature this week spotlights some spiritual lessons that the Golden Compass offers, a nice moment of peace in all the furor over whether the film is "anti-Christian" or not.

Donna Frietas writes:

The upcoming release of "The Golden Compass," based on the first book in Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy, has been met with intense criticism from many Christians who see these books as an overtly anti-Christian tale intended to "sell atheism to kids." But in my view such accusations are a misunderstanding of Pullman's story.

In our book "Killing the Imposter God," my co-author Jason King and I, theologians and Catholics ourselves, argue that "The Golden Compass" is a magnificent epic, filled with spiritual themes, Christian virtues, and a glorious vision of God. Click through this gallery to read the top 10 spiritual lessons from Pullman's "The Golden Compass."

The gallery is here.

Escaping the SBC Shadow

While we wrestle with schism, some 30 different Baptist denominations are talking about uniting, according to an Associated Press report:

ATLANTA (AP) -- A conference organized by former President Carter and others that aims to unite Baptists from more than 30 denominations says major political figures from both parties are tentatively planning to come.

Former Vice President Al Gore, former President Clinton and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Charles Grassley of Iowa, are slated to appear at the event in Atlanta. Among the conference topics are evangelism, criminal justice, preaching, interfaith relations, racism, HIV/AIDS and religious liberty. The meeting is scheduled for Jan. 30-Feb. 1.

The gathering is part of an effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, that's meant to pool the resources of the many Baptist groups and escape the shadow of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention.

"For the first time in more than 160 years, we will have a major convocation of Baptists in America with neither our unity nor freedom threatened by differences of race, politics, geography, or legalistic interpretations of the Scriptures," Carter said in a statement Monday.

From AP Religion News Briefs, here.

Family of 'Lost Boy' priest attacked in Kenya

The Rev. Zachariah Jok Char is no stranger to the strife in his home country, Sudan—in fact, he's spoken eloquently about his ordeal (and we covered some of that, here).

Now, however, he fears that his year-old son (whom he's never met) may have to go through it as well. Char's wife, Tanya, and their son are still in Kenya, caught up in bureaucratic red tape that prevents them from immigrating to the United States. And last week, she was attacked by nomadic gang members in a Kenyan refugee camp:

They spared her life but stole money, clothes and documents she needs to emigrate from Kenya and join her husband in America.

Tabitha suffered injuries to her arms and back and was hospitalized for about a day. Their son was not hurt.

Sitting outside the Kuyper library, Char found it hard to concentrate.

"I'm thinking a lot about what happened to my family, and I'm really worried about my son," said Char, 25, pastor of Sudanese Grace Episcopal Church in East Grand Rapids. "He's really scared at the sound of guns, which is the same thing that happened to me when I was 5 years old when the war broke out in Sudan."

Read more about how Grace is trying to help the young priest here.

The Advent Letter we've all been awaiting

Anglican Communion News Service
Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent Letter

Posted On : December 14, 2007 12:05 PM | Posted By : Webmaster
Related Categories: Lambeth
To: Primates of the Anglican Communion & Moderators of the United Churches

Greetings in the name of the One 'who is and was and is to come, the Almighty', as we prepare in this Advent season to celebrate once more his first coming and pray for the grace to greet him when he comes in glory.

You will by now, I hope, have received my earlier letter summarising the responses from Primates to the Joint Standing Committee's analysis of the New Orleans statement from the House of Bishops of The Episcopal Church. In that letter, I promised to write with some further reflections and proposals, and this is the purpose of the present communication. Although I am writing in the first instance to my fellow-primates, I hope you will share this letter widely with your bishops and people.

As I said in that earlier letter, the responses received from primates differed in their assessment of the situation. Slightly more than half of the replies received signalled a willingness to accept the Joint Standing Committee's analysis of the New Orleans statement, but the rest regarded both the statement and the Standing Committee's comments as an inadequate response to what had been requested by the primates in Dar-es-Salaam.

So we have no consensus about the New Orleans statement. It is also the case that some of the more negative assessments from primates were clearly influenced by the reported remarks of individual bishops in The Episcopal Church who either declared their unwillingness to abide by the terms of the statement or argued that it did not imply any change in current policies. It should be noted too that some of the positive responses reflected a deep desire to put the question decisively behind us as a Communion; some of these also expressed dissatisfaction with our present channels of discussion and communication.

2.

Where does this leave us as a Communion? Because we have no single central executive authority, the answer to this is not a simple one. However, it is important to try and state what common ground there is before we attempt to move forward; and it is historically an aspect of the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury to 'articulate the mind of the Communion' in moments of tension and controversy, as the Windsor Report puts it (para. 109). I do so out of the profound conviction that the existence of our Communion is truly a gift of God to the wholeness of Christ's Church and that all of us will be seriously wounded and diminished if our Communion fractures any further; but also out of the no less profound conviction that our identity as Anglicans is not something without boundaries. What I am writing here is an attempt to set out where some of those boundaries lie and why they matter for our witness to the world as well as for our own integrity and mutual respect.

The Communion is a voluntary association of provinces and dioceses; and so its unity depends not on a canon law that can be enforced but on the ability of each part of the family to recognise that other local churches have received the same faith from the apostles and are faithfully holding to it in loyalty to the One Lord incarnate who speaks in Scripture and bestows his grace in the sacraments. To put it in slightly different terms, local churches acknowledge the same 'constitutive elements' in one another. This means in turn that each local church receives from others and recognises in others the same good news and the same structure of ministry, and seeks to engage in mutual service for the sake of our common mission.


Read it all here. Or click read more.

The archbishop also has a Christmas Letter to the Anglican Communion found here. An excerpt:

So at Christmas, God shows that he is not ashamed to be with us. He has heard our cries of weakness and self-doubt and unhappy longing, he has seen our wanderings and anxieties, and he is not ashamed to be alongside us in this world, walking with us in our pilgrimage. And because he is content to walk with us, we are challenged about whose company we might be ashamed to share.

Read more »

Reactions to the Archbishop's letter

As the day has gone on various people have begun to weigh in with their reactions to the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent letter, in which he lays out his thinking about the next steps for the Communion.

The Episcopal News Service coverage of the letter includes a reaction from the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church:

"Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori welcomed Williams' Advent Letter. 'In this season, as we focus on hope and preparation, I am glad to hear of the Archbishop's interest in facilitating further conversations,' she said. 'While I have repeatedly offered to engage in dialogue with those who are most unhappy, the offer has not yet been seriously engaged. Perhaps a personal call from the Archbishop will bring to the table those who have thus far been unwilling to talk. Advent is both a time to ready our eyes to see God in unlikely guises, and to put our hope in God's ultimate graciousness.'"

Mark Harris, who blogs at Preludium, and who served on the Special Commission which dealt with the Episcopal Church's response to the Windsor Report writes in part:

"The message to the Primates continues the Archbishop's slow dance around the issues troubling the Anglican Communion. It is a difficult document in that it leaves us with little to go on except that: (i) he thinks the Episcopal Church (TEC) has gone about as far as it can go at the moment, (ii) he is puzzled why bishops in TEC can't just make decisions concerning ordinations and blessings on their own, (iii) that Bishop Robinson (who the ABC calls Gene Robinson, finding it difficult to acknowledge that Gene is indeed a bishop) is still not invited as a diocesan to Lambeth, and (iv) there may be bishops uninvited to Lambeth still, as well as bishops uninvited to engage in the life of the Communion, on the basis of their enthusiasm for the Windsor and Covenant process. The letter is something of a mess and a disappointment.

The message to the Communion is much the better letter. It soars. At its close he asks, "Let us ask ourselves honestly whose company we are ashamed to be seen in – and then ask where God would be. If he has embraced the failing and fragile world of human beings who know their needs, then we must be there with him." Meditations like this is why so many of us have had such hopes in the ABC."

The steering committee of the Chicago Consultation, which met recently to begin to coordinate Communion-wide efforts for the full inclusion of Gay and Lesbian Christians, has released a statement (via email):

“The archbishop’s lengthy letter contains not a word of comfort to gay and lesbian Christians. In asserting the Communion’s opposition to homophobia, he gives political cover to Archbishop Peter Akinola and other Primates whose anti-gay activities are a matter of public record. We are especially troubled by the absence of openly gay members on the bodies that may ultimately resolve the issues at hand. The archbishop’s unwillingness to include gay and lesbian Christians in this process perpetuates the bigotry he purports to deplore.”

BabyBlueOnline has her reaction here.

Terry Martin, who blogs at Father Jake's has this analysis.

Julian Long, one of our commenters here on the Episcopal Cafe posted his reactions and analysis here.

Tobias Haller's analysis is here.

Kendall Harmon has posted his initial response.

Integrity has released a statement.

Bishop Epting, Ecumenical Officer of the Episcopal Church has his reactions and thoughts here.

Craig Uffman, Dale Rye and others have posted their thoughts here.

"The Pluralist" comments on what he calls a "Bad Anglican Day"

Bill Coats sees something hopeful for the Episcopal Church in the Archbishop's message.

The "Byzigenous Buddhapalian" is rather pessimistic after reading the letter and some of the online commentary.

Recently consecrated CANA bishop David Anderson says the Advent Letter is proof that Archbishop and a Lambeth-centered Communion has failed and should be replaced.

Michael Hopkins has also added his analysis. He is all for "being at the table," but:

What if the table is in itself so distorted that nothing good can come of it? What if the table is, by design, not credible. And it is clearly not given that despite three previous Conference’s promise to listen to the experience of lesbian and gay persons, there is no evidence whatsoever that the next Conference intends to do so.
The Ugley Vicar, John Richardson, does a careful dissection of the letter from a conservatives' perspective. Peter Kirk has similar thoughts.

Marshall Scott, a regular contributor to the Daily Episcopalian, asks 'does the Archbishop of Canterbury believe that the Episcopal Church is not sufficiently “Episcopal?”' as in bishop led.

Anglican Centrist says "thanks to Williams' moderate approach, slow-going, and obvious love of the core Christian faith and life, and his broadly Anglican chops, the radical Right will leave the Communion long before that Windsor process is finished -- and those who remain will be increasingly less polarized."

Changing Attitude England has issued a response.

Marshall Hopkins wonders if Lambeth isn't being setup to be juridical.

Commenters at Thinking Anglicans have much to say.

Fulcrum is happy.

Bishop Iker has a writes, "The best assistance that the Archbishop can offer to address the situation in TEC is to host a mediation that seeks a negotiated settlement for separation, without rancor or litigation".

Do also check out the comments made on the original story.

(We'll be updating this post with additional reactions as they are posted around the web.)

Bishop Schofield asked to clarify

The Presiding Bishop has written the following letter to Bishop John-David Schofield:

"My dear brother,   I was deeply saddened to hear of the actions of the Diocesan Convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin this past weekend, particularly the declaration that you are no longer part of The Episcopal Church, but are now under the authority of the Province of the Southern Cone.  I assume that this means you understand yourself to have departed the Episcopal Church and are no longer functioning as a member of the clergy in this Church.

I would like to have confirmation from you of this understanding of your status.  Many interrelated matters depend on that status – for example, your membership in the House of Bishops and the acceptability of pension contributions on your behalf."

The Episcopal News service article then states that:

If Schofield is considered to have abandoned the communion of the church, he would have two months to recant his position. Failing to do so, the matter would be referred to the full House of Bishops. If the House were to concur, the Presiding Bishop would depose the bishop and declare the episcopates of those dioceses vacant. Those remaining in the Episcopal Church would be gathered to organize a new diocesan convention and elect a replacement Standing Committee, if necessary.

An assisting bishop would be appointed to provide episcopal ministry until a new diocesan bishop search process could be initiated and a new bishop elected and consecrated.

A lawsuit would be filed against the departed leadership and a representative sample of departing congregations if they attempted to retain Episcopal Church property.

Read the rest here.

The press reads The Letter

Reporters had their hands full yesterday trying to figure out how to pull a "lede" out of the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter about the state of the Anglican Communion. He dumped cold water on everybody, so how to determine which side was wetter?

Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times played it this way:

The archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams, sent a lengthy letter to the members of his warring Anglican Communion on Friday, saying that both sides had violated the Communion’s boundaries and put the church in crisis.

He criticized the American branch, the Episcopal Church, for departing from the Communion’s consensus on Scripture by ordaining an openly gay bishop and blessing same-sex unions, “in the name of the church.”

But the archbishop faulted conservative prelates in Africa, Asia and Latin America for annexing American parishes and an entire California diocese that have recently left the Episcopal Church, and for ordaining conservative Americans as bishops and priests.

Read it all.

Tom Heneghan of Reuters took a similar tack in his story headlined "No Anglican consensus."

Steve Bates of the Guardian, filling in for his successor, emphasized Williams' criticism of conservatives, while Ruth Gledhill looked at the other side of the coin. [Added: The unabridged version of Bates' article is here.]

Robert Barr of the Associated Press, meanwhile, focused on Williams' reiteration of his decision not to invite Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to the Lambeth Conference.

Jonathan Petre of the Telegraph began with the warning that bishops who boycott the Lambeth conference could be excluded from senior counsels of the church.

Rebecca Trounson of the Los Angeles Times focused on the archbishop's call for mediation in view of the lack of consensus in the communion.

One thing I've picked up in conversations with reporters is how weary they are of covering this story, and what a difficult time they have in determining the significance of any given event. Many of them fervently wish the story would go away.

Give!

"'At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, 'it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. ... We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices."

Each day on its Advent calendar, the Diocese of Washington presents giving opportunities, many of them drawn from Episcopal Relief and Development's Gifts for Life Catalog.

Elsewhere, Mad Priest and Elizabeth Kaeton have teamed up to raise money for Christ the King Anglican Church in the impoverished Cidade de Deus section of Rio de Janeiro where seminarian Luiz Coelho, known to many in the Anglican blogosphere, had a placement.

I have to mention my own favorite charity, Beisbol y Libros, a sports-related outreach effort in the Dominican Republic, run by my friend John McCarthy of the Home Run Baseball Camp in D. C. They accept donations here.

And if you are feeling especially generous, you might also consider an end of the year gift to support the Cafe. You can contribute to our annual Bishop's Appeal here.

Feel free to add your own causes in the comments section.

"I made a difference"

Angela Hill writes in the Anglican Journal:

Hilda Shilliday is no typical overseas volunteer; she is 77 years old, but like many others she has always wanted to help people abroad.

“When I was 16, I wanted to be either a medical missionary or a Shakespearean actress. Now I am wondering how old Lady Macbeth was,” said Ms. Shilliday, a retired public health nurse.

After being told she was too old to work in Africa, Ms. Shilliday met a Friends of Mengo Hospital (FOMH) volunteer who had just returned from Uganda. The people behind this Victoria-based, non-profit organization had just the place for the upbeat and energetic Ms. Shilliday: the Mengo Hospital HIV/AIDS clinic.

The clinic, referred to as the counselling department, is one of the programs supported by FOMH donations and volunteers.

On Sept. 28, Ms. Shilliday arrived for a two-month stint in Kampala, and got down to work, easing pressure on the overworked staff. On busy days, the clinic can see over 125 patients, with only three clinicians, six nurses, and five counsellors.

Read it all.

Church shopping

"Church shopping has been rightfully attacked as a consumerist, individualistic approach to faith—as a shopper, I do what 'works for me' on a Sunday morning, and I can change churches as fast as my preferences change. All the same, we’ve nearly all done it to some degree or another," writes Amy Frykholm on Theolog, the blog of The Christian Century.

Read about her recent experience.

Media aversion

Peter Akinola is afraid of Julia Duin of The Washington Times.

Since his disastrous interview with The NewYork Times last year, in which he described recoiling the only time he knowingly shook a gay person's hand, Akinola has not spoken to the Western media. The only exception is a conversation he had with Ruth Gledhill of the Times of London, whose assistant is the daughter of Chris Sugden, leader of the conservative lobbying group Anglican Mainstream.

Duin asks:

What is it about us journalists that Archbishop Akinola is so afraid of? Does he not trust himself with us? Or don't his subordinates trust him?

Management skills for ministry

Recognizing that management challenges face the church and church-run charities, the Roman Catholic Church sponsors a program on management at Boston College. The New York Times had an interesting profile of this program yesterday:

For the last four years, Wendy Samuels has worked in a remote village in Jamaica for Mustard Seed Communities, a Roman Catholic nonprofit group that helps disabled children.

The work is both rewarding and heartbreaking. But some of the most difficult moments came as she managed well-meaning staff members who did not always do their jobs properly.

“If someone is not performing their job, how do you deal with it when there is still so much to be done?” Ms. Samuels said. “I kept wondering, How do you manage persons in a third-world country who work for a charitable organization?”

The quest for an answer led Ms. Samuels to Boston College, a Jesuit institution here, where she is one of seven students in a new graduate program intended to teach management principles to leaders of churches and religious nonprofit agencies.

The program was born out of the idea that the Roman Catholic Church needs employees who can both minister to the faithful and ensure that organizations and churches are managed well.

“This is not about turning the church into a business, or making sure it’s managed like any other institution in corporate America,” said Thomas H. Groome, a theology professor at Boston College who founded the program. “It’s about employing good business practices that enhance the mission of the church.”

Professor Groome, who is also director of the Institute of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at the college, added, “We want to train people to manage with sensitivity and a commitment to the values of our faith community.”

The program offers a master’s degree in business administration combined with a master’s in pastoral ministry. Students can also obtain the pastoral ministry degree with a concentration in church management.

Jeffrey L. Ringuest, associate dean of graduate management programs at the college, said, “If you think of the size of some religious organizations and their total value, they cry out, I think, for professional management skills.” Professor Ringuest said the program would “help charities and churches advance their mission without having them be worried about their finances and ensure the organization is running smoothly.”

Read it all here.


Ten propositions on Richard Dawkins and the new atheists

Ken Fabricius is famous on the web for his "Ten Propositions" series on various theological topics. They are always illuminating and often quite entertaining. Ken's most recent list of propositions on the "New Atheism" is no exception.

After arguing that the New Atheist display a lack of understanding of theology, Ken than wars against two common responses:

8. There are two reactions to this sort of illiteracy that must be avoided. The first is the response of the right, which, when not hysterical, simply confirms the unquestioned assumption of the New Atheists that God is a huge and powerful supernatural being whose ways with the world are, in principle, open to empirical discovery and verification. This is the God of Intelligent Design. If ID is science, it is either bad science or dead science. “Bring it on!” cries Professor Dawkins, gleefully rubbing his hands together. But even if it were good science (and, by the way, weren’t driven by a political agenda), it would be dreadful, indeed suicidal theology, for the god of ID is but a version of the “god of the gaps”, a god deployed as an explanation of natural phenomena, a hostage to scientific fortune, in short, an idol. The operation of ID can be successful only at the cost of the patient.

9. The second response is the response of the left, the liberals. On this Enlightenment view, science is given its due in the realm of “facts”, while religion is cordoned off from the New Atheists in the realm of “values”. There is a superficial attractiveness to this division of territory – Stephen Jay Gould called it “NOMA”, or Non-Overlapping Magisteria, separate but equal – but in the end it amounts to theological appeasement. For the realm of “facts” includes not only the empirical, natural world but also the embodied, public, political world, while religion becomes the sphere of the “spiritual”, the interior, and the private. The church cannot accept this partition for Leviathan, the nation state, is a violent and voracious beast. Nor, however, is the church called to become the state: theocracies are inevitably gross distortions of power, whether the flag bears a cross or a crescent. Rather the church is called to be a distinctive polis forming citizens for the kingdom of God and sending them into the kingdoms of the world as truth-tellers and peacemakers.

And Ken highly recommends that we read two atheist authors: Phillip Pullman and Ian McEwan:

10. The New Atheists don’t only have a dashing if reckless officer leading an army of grunts, they also have their aesthetes, a brilliant novelist in Ian McEwan, a master fantasist in Philip Pullman. Are they dangerous? Of course! Yet if the Russian expressionist painter Alexei Jawlensky was right that “all art is nostalgia for God”, there is nothing to fear and something to gain from them, their didacticism notwithstanding. Unlike atheist writers such as Camus or Beckett who (if you like) have been to the altar but cannot kneel, McEwan and Pullman are unacquainted with the God of Jesus. Nevertheless, McEwan, in novels like Enduring Love, Atonement, and Saturday (titles freighted with theological irony), so elegantly probes the human shadows, and Pullman, in the His Dark Materials trilogy (the title drawn from Paradise Lost), so imaginatively narrates the themes of innocence and experience and exposes the corruptions of false religion, that we feel at least that we have been in the outer courts of the temple. It is certainly better to read this outstanding literature and be disturbed by it than not to read it at all.

Read it all here. Hat tip to Nicholas Knisely.

Children's Bible storybooks

As any parent who has shopped for religious books for a child can tell you, the theological divides that rock the adult world also affect the choice of an appropriate Bible storybook for a child. USA Today had a very interesting story on the issue earlier this week:

Christmas is peak season for sales of children's Bible storybooks.

The lavishly illustrated collections vary from literal booklets that don't hesitate to lay down the line against sin, to imaginative variations such as one where a butterfly hovers by Christ at the Crucifixion.

. . .

Each collection reflects the spiritual outlook of the parents and grandparents who do the writing — and the shopping, says Brenda Lugannani, head of merchandising for Family Christian Stores, the nation's largest Christian retail chain at 310 stores nationwide.

And every Bible storybook reflects a certain theology, says Ted Olsen, managing editor of Christianity Today. He and his wife, Alexis, searched carefully for the one they read to their 18-month-old son, Leif.

"Most Bible stories are told like Aesop's fables, refitted to a moral lesson that is almost always, 'Obey! Obey your parents! Obey God! Oh, look how good Noah is — he obeyed God!' " Olsen says.

"Sure, we want Leif to understand obedience, repentance and forgiveness. But we're more concerned that he get to know Jesus is the grand arc of the Bible story. We're like a lot of young parents who don't want to be talked down to. We're not afraid of encountering theology. We want to be intellectually and spiritually engaged when we read to Leif."

Their choice is one of the newest collections, The Jesus Storybook Bible:Every Story Whispers His Name. Author Sally Lloyd-Jones presents Bible stories back to Adam and Eve as foreshadowing the coming of Jesus Christ — the way many Christians read the Bible as adults.

Lloyd-Jones says her writing is shaped by "a strong Sunday school memory of the Bible as all about rules and coloring in the lines. There was no sense of the joy, freedom and wonder of the Bible story.

"Yes, there are rules in the Bible to show us how life works best. But rules don't change your heart. Stories change you. I'm in the business of telling stories."

Her book is highly popular, Lugannani says, but some parents turn away from it "because they think such symbolic language is confusing to young children."

"It's all part of the decision: Do they want a Bible storybook that's literally true to the text or are they willing to accept that a vegetable illustrates Moses or a butterfly appears in the Gospel?"

The butterfly is featured in one of Roberta Simpson's Nana's Bible Stories. It's another hot seller this season for publisher Thomas Nelson, where Bible stories are almost one-third of the children's books offered, says Troy Johnson, head of marketing.

Simpson tells stories "the way I told stories to my children and grandchildren."

Indeed, she has woven their names and ideas into the collection. Granddaughter Alexandra rebuffed an offer to be written in as "Queen Esther's best friend" because the 6-year-old said, " 'No, I want to be a butterfly at the Crucifixion.' I always listen to kids' crazy ideas," says Simpson, who has the endangered butterfly saved by the blood of Christ.

That innovative approach doesn't fly with the Rev. Paul McCain, publisher for Concordia Publishing House, established in 1869 by the deeply conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, a 2.5-million-member denomination.

"The more seriously a church body regards the Bible, the more seriously they will present it, in a child-friendly way, but not water the content. We don't throw the King James Bible at them, but we don't turn it into Mother Goose, either. We don't avoid the s-word, for sin; the G-word, for God; or the J-word, for Jesus," McCain says.

Read it all here. What storybooks do you use?

A Spong primer

The Toledo Blade describes a visit by retired bishop John Shelby Spong, who, though his views are controversial, sees himself as an apologist for the Christian faith for whom Jesus is at the center of his being. The paper offers an interesting primer to his thinking, which may surprise people who have only heard about him from other people

The 76-year-old retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark is a theologian who believes the Bible is "time-bound and time-warped" by the first-century Jewish culture in which it was written. He is on a mission to change the way people look at the Bible and at Jesus, stating that he wants to "break Jesus out of the boundaries of antiquity and explain it in the 21st century."

The paper offers Spong's basic views on a variety of areas:

On religious intolerence:

Religion is a funny thing. Religion seems to give people permission to be rude and angry, as long as they can cover it with some sort of religious veneer. They can be rude and angry and think they can get away with it.

On Biblical interpretation:
The Bible was written between about 1,000 B.C. and about 135 A.D. You can debate the edges of that, but that's about the scope, and that means the Bible was written during a period of history in which people believed the Earth was the center of the universe and that God lived above the sky and that he was keeping record books up to date and that God was sending lightning bolts down....

...You have to learn to read the Gospels, and in the world of New Testament scholarship, nobody - nobody - treats the biblical story as if it's literal history. It's all an interpretive process. And there's nothing wrong with it being an interpretive process. But the idea that you'd even have to debate whether anything in the Bible is literally true is really a strange debate.
I love the Bible as much as anybody. I spend my life studying it. I've read it from cover to cover at least 25 times.

On the divinity of Jesus:

[Is Jesus divine?] Well, if that's a 'yes or no' question, that's not the way the question … the answer is yes. But I'd say it's a nonsensical question because before I could answer it I'd need to define what it means to be divine. Do I think that God is a being that lives above the sky that can have a baby boy? No, that's a very strange understanding of God. I don't know why any human being thinks they understand God at all.

And how could I, with my human mind, tell you who God is?

On salvation:

When people quote John 14, "Nobody comes to the Father but by me," which is a regular quotation, for me I'd say that's true. That's true to my experience. The only way I know to come to God is through Jesus of Nazareth. But if I then say, "therefore the only way God can draw people to God is through my way, I've put my boundaries on God. I don't think that's appropriate. I think that's idolatry.

God is not my servant. It's up to me to conform to God's understanding. It's not up to God to conform to my understanding.

On homosexuality:

I don't think it's a genetic choice or a personal choice. I think it's more profound than that. The reason we're having this debate [in the Episcopal Church] is the old definition of homosexuality is dying. And it's dying in the light of new scientific data.

Personally, I believe Spong does two things well: he articulate theological questions that are appropriate for our time very well and he offers an approach through those questions that has kept many Christians within the church. Many of his solutions are grounded in well-known theological traditions of the Church. Agree with his outcomes or not, he raises important questions that every thoughtful Christian should contemplate and discuss. Most of all, especially in hard theological times, it is well to listen to the person instead of relying solely on what people say about him.

Read: Toledoblade.com: Retired theologian rattles roots of religion

Integrating medicine and ministry

A priest, a rabbi and Muslim were all practicing medicine one day.... It sounds like a joke, but it isn't. The American Medical News describes how an Episcopal priest, a rabbinical student and the president of a mosque integrate their faith, their ministries and their medical practices.

Spirituality and medicine frequently meet, often in unexpected places. Medicine puts us in touch with the limits and possibilities of our mortality, and how we make sense of life puts us in touch with our deepest spiritual longings. Many physicians are also in some way religious or spiritual, and anecdotal evidence suggests that this helps them in their care of patients.

Some take the next step and bring together their practice of medicine with ordained or lay ministry with intriguing results. Here are three stories:

Priest and surgeon:

Daniel Hall, MD, MDiv, MHSc, finished residency this year and is an assistant surgery professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

He is also ordained in the Episcopal faith and is a priest in residence at First Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh. The Episcopal and Lutheran churches recognize each other's ordained clergy. He preaches every fifth Sunday, and on other Sundays he reads Scriptures or leads prayers. He also is involved in adult education there.

Dr. Hall sees his pastoral and theological training as assets and wants to integrate them into his medical practice. He is conscious of the ethical issues raised by offering to pray with patients or to discuss their spiritual beliefs. But his goal is to help patients come to terms with serious illness, not to convert them.

"There are appropriate concerns," Dr. Hall said. "With the unequal power in a patient-physician relationship, it could be a coercive situation."

Rabbi and medical student:

Eleanor Smith finished five years of rabbinical training and was a rabbi for seven years before becoming a student at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine. On schedule to graduate this spring, she is going through the matching process for an internal medicine position and then hopes to specialize in oncology. Ideally, she would like to split her time between the synagogue and academic medicine.

"My experience in the rabbinate prompted me to go to medical school," Smith said. "I see it as an enhancement of my rabbinate."

While working as a rabbi, Smith said she had "crazy thoughts about going back to school. I had an increasing conviction that what clergy do and what doctors do are intimately related, though their body of knowledge is so disparate."

Mosque president and pediatrician:

Hafizur Rehman, MD, studied medicine in Pakistan, did a residency back home in Kenya, then did a pediatric residency in the United States before opening a practice in Bay Shore, N.Y. He also is a senior pediatric attending physician at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center and Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, and an active leader in the Muslim community. Dr. Rehman is president-elect of the Islamic Medical Assn. of North America, president of the Council of Mosques and Islamic Organizations of Nassau and Suffolk counties and president of the Masjid Darul Quran in Bay Shore, the largest Muslim congregation on Long Island with 1,000 members.

As a pediatrician he appreciates the Koran's references to a child's birth and conception.

"The Koran goes into quite a bit of embryology," Dr. Rehman said. "It talks of that in spiritual depth -- God's way of continuing life and the existence of humanity. How a single sperm and egg grows into a fertile piece of flesh. How the bones are covered with muscle. As a pediatrician, that is fulfilling to me."

Read: American Medical News: Body and soul: When faith guides a doctor's vocation.

Tutu apologizes to gay people for church's persecution

(Updated) Archbishop Desmond Tutu has apologized to gay people all around the world for the way they have been treated by the Church.

The Archbishop and Nobel Peace Prize winner says “sorry” to the worldwide LGBT community in an exclusive recorded interview with Ashley Byrne, presenter of Gay Hour, the only LGBT program on the BBC, which was broadcast today on BBC Radio Manchester.

The Archbishop has said that the Church is ‘obsessed’ with homosexuality. He goes further here, saying:

“I want to apologise to you and to all those who we in the church have persecuted,” Archbishop Tutu says in the interview.

“I’m sorry that we have been part of the persecution of a particular group. For me that is quite un-Christ like and, for that reason, it is unacceptable.

“May be, even as a retired Archbishop, I probably have, to some extent, a kind of authority but apart from anything let me say for myself and anyone who might want to align themselves with me, I’m sorry.

“I’m sorry for the hurt, for the rejection, for the anguish that we have caused to such as yourselves.”

The program may be heard here for one week from today. Starting tomorrow, you may hear the program here.

Read more: The UK Gay News: Tutu Aplogizes for Persecution of Gays on BBC Radio Tonight

On joining the rat-race

For those of us used to stories of people giving up the rat race to save their souls, Melissa Hirshon's story reflects on the opposite. She talks about what she gained and lost in moving from the non-profit, charitable sector into the private, corporate sector.

It all started when she grew up in a progressive Episcopal Church....

Having been raised in 1970s Cambridge, and in a "progressive" Episcopal church to boot, I was determined to make a difference from day one.

No imperialist, soulless job for me. From the moment I graduated from college, I worked to save the world or, at least, people with vision impairments.

For 15 years, I transcribed braille books and magazines at a braille printing and publishing house in Boston.

But it couldn't last. Something was happening that posed a painful choice:

After 15 years, I knew it had to end. It was a hard choice. Didn't I want to save the world? But while the company was not a Dilbert-ian hell, any job has its aggravations, and I was starting to go batty over the company's penny-pinching and their slow pace in dealing with growing pains....

...But the worst problem was that the raises were not keeping up with any sort of cost of living increases in the Boston area; when I threatened to leave without a decent raise and was told, "we'll miss you," I knew that I had to stop saving the world, but save myself instead.

Attitude at the workplace was one issue--how are employees cared for and how is work managed so that even good work does not become overwhelming?--are questions that are often not considered in the non-profit world because of the importance of the "cause." So she made the change to the for-profit world and discovered some surprising things.

Having known no other work life other than the nonprofit one, I was absolutely dumbfounded at some of the basic perks of the rat race.

The improved salary was only the tip of the iceberg.

She found that in her company, allowances were made for--and the company actually has the money to afford--the things that employees need to work more efficiently and feel supported.

She concludes:

Whether you want to save the world or take care of yourself, it's important to do both.

And it really doesn't matter what order you do it in.

Read: The Boston Globe: Time to make a difference - join the rat race.

Christianity and climate change

Two weeks of international climate talks in Bali marked by bitter disagreements and angry accusations culminated Saturday in last-minute compromises and an agreement to adopt a plan by 2009 to fight global warming. What role will churches, synagogues and mosques play in this crisis?

"This is the beginning, not the end," United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Associated Press (AP) following the contentious climate conference, which went a day longer than scheduled. "We will have to engage in more complex, long, and difficult negotiations," reports National Geographic

The New York Times reports disappointment with the outcome of the talks especially with the United States role:

The news from Bali was particularly disheartening. The delegates agreed to negotiate by 2009 a new and more comprehensive global treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol. (Kyoto expires in 2012 and requires that only industrialized nations reduce their production of greenhouse gases.) They pledged for the first time to address deforestation, which accounts for one-fifth of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. And they received vague assurances from China — which will soon overtake the United States as the biggest emitter of greenhouse gases — and other emerging powers that they would seek “measurable, reportable and verifiable” emissions cuts.

From the United States the delegates got nothing, except a promise to participate in the forthcoming negotiations. Even prying that out of the Bush administration required enormous effort.

Can religious groups play a part in saving the planet?

The World Council of Churches weighed in at the Bali meeting with a call to address climate change with concern for the poorest and weakest - least able to cope with disasters.

On Tuesday, 11 December, conference participants and locals were invited to an ecumenical celebration followed by a panel discussion that featured a video-message from the archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams. Giving proof of the intention to work not only ecumenically but also closely with people of other faiths, the celebration took place at a Protestant church which is surrounded by a Roman Catholic church, a Hindu temple, a Buddhist sanctuary and a mosque. The delegation lead by Elias Abramides, a Greek Orthodox layman (Ecumenical Patriarchate) from Argentina, monitors the discussions at the governmental level. On Friday, it will present a statement to the plenary of high-level government representatives calling for a "paradigm change" towards the principle of precaution and priority for the poorest and weakest. The WCC also hosted a workshop on greenhouse development rights on Monday.

AlterNet sees a change among Christian denominations across the spectrum.

...despite the differences within and between religious communities in the United States, we are also aware of what joins us together. We share, among other things, a desire and most importantly a religious call to protect all of God's creation. And increasingly, because of its severe, sweeping potential impacts, we have seen the need to come together to address global climate change.

From a religious perspective, global climate change is a moral crisis. Not only because it affects future generations and those around the globe, but because it will hit hardest among the "least of us," the vulnerable communities and people in poverty across the globe. As a community that strives for justice, then, it becomes doubly important that we put our concerted efforts into addressing global climate change.


Blogger Byron Smith writes: Many people think of spirituality as downplaying the importance of the physical in favour of the ‘spiritual’. For Christian spirituality, the physical and what we do with it is spiritual, because it is God’s Spirit that brings life to all that lives. Or put another way, matter matters. He quotes Archbishop Rowan Williams:
“In order fully to access, enjoy and profit from our environment, we need to see it as something that does not exist just to serve our needs. Or, to put it another way, we are best served by our environment when we stop thinking of it as there to serve us. When we can imagine what is materially around us as existing in relation to something other than our own purposes, we are free to be surprised, educated and enlarged by it. When we obsessively seek to guarantee that the environment will always be there for us as a storehouse of raw materials, we in fact shrink our own humanity by shrinking what is there to surprise and enlarge, by reducing our capacity for contemplation of what is really other to us.”
- Rowan Williams, Ecology and Economy lecture (2005)

Ekklesia reports here.

And Dave Walker comments here

UPDATE: Archbishop of Canterbury on youtube about the imperative of action as moral justice. Watch the video here.

Artist as theologian

Aritist Allan Rohan Crite, featured on Episcopal Cafe's Art Blog, is memorialized by The National Catholic Reporter as a man who was "keenly aware of the presence of Christ in the world."
Rachelle Linner of NCR writes of Crite:

Allan Rohan Crite, a painter of everyday African-American life and the granddaddy of the Boston arts scene, died Sept. 6 at the age of 97. At his funeral in Boston’s Trinity Church, the Rev. Edward Rodman, a professor at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, eulogized Mr. Crite as a “lay theologian.” It is a particularly apt description of this generous, gentle and gracious artist whose works are suffused with a profound incarnational sensibility and informed by a vocabulary of worship that draws from the sacramental life of the Anglican communion.

In his introduction to Three Spirituals from Earth to Heaven, a book of pen and ink drawings on Negro spirituals published in 1948 by Harvard University Press, Mr. Crite wrote that spirituals are a “religious musical literature dedicated to the adoration and worship of almighty God.” Mr. Crite’s work as a storyteller, liturgical artist and illustrator of the spirituals reveals a similar genius, a religious visual literature that moves the viewer to gratitude and praise.

Allan Crite’s contribution to American art is unfortunately underappreciated. This was due, in no small part, to his adamant refusal to engage in self-promotion. His importance is difficult to gauge because his work is scattered throughout 105 public collections, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Chicago Art Institute and Washington’s Phillips Collection.

About his sense of the community of humanity:

Allan Crite had a profound sense of our common humanity, a lived philosophy that evokes the Pauline language of the Mystical Body of Christ. “We are part of each other. So anything that happens to any part of us, we all feel. But the thing is, we think that we’re doing something to somebody ‘over there’ who’s different from me,” he said. “Actually what we’re doing is doing something to ourselves through that person. So if we do an injury to that particular person, we’re hurting. And if something happens to that particular person, we feel it. That probably accounts for, you might say, the extreme and sharp pain that a lot of us feel. We’re thinking we’re doing to somebody else, but it’s happening to us. That, in my opinion, is the real tragedy.

Read the article and see more paintings here and here.

Beijing Circles promote change

The Beijing Circles movement will meet February 25-29, 2008 in the Chapel of Christ the Lord at the Episcopal Church Center in New York City as part of a series of regional gatherings to introduce the Beijing Circles Resource and allow practice using it. According to Episcopal Life Online:

The gathering, which coincides with the annual session of the United Nations for the Commission on the Status of Women (UNCSW) that brings together thousands of women from all over the world, will include reflection time, introduction to and practice with the resource, as well as presentations and interactive work.

"This is an opportunity to take advantage of the many side events being held in conjunction with the UN meeting, while providing the opportunity for us to practice using the Beijing Circles process to build solidarity with others and see appropriate solutions to issues women face around the world," said Susanne Watson Epting, editor of the Beijing Circles Resource.

Beijing Circles are a tool which can help us educate ourselves and one another about the issues affecting women globally and then to advocate within our church and the world to bring about positive change.

To find out more and to register for the meeting click here.

Science and religion

Ekklesia publishes an essay by Savitri Hensman on the history of the use of scientific evidence within Anglicanism and the way the current issues are pulling the church away from the traditional Anglican understanding.

In 1958, the Lambeth Conference gratefully acknowledged ‘our debt to the host of devoted scholars who, worshipping the God of Truth, have enriched and deepened our understanding of the Bible, not least by facing with intellectual integrity the questions raised by modern knowledge and modern criticism’, and ‘the work of scientists in increasing man's knowledge of the universe, wherein is seen the majesty of God in his creative activity. It therefore calls upon Christian people both to learn reverently from every new disclosure of truth, and at the same time to bear witness to the biblical message of a God and Saviour apart from whom no gift can be rightly used.’

At that time, scientific knowledge and theological reflection on human sexuality, including close reading of the Old and New Testament, were developing rapidly. Attitudes among Anglicans to contraception had changed radically, and theologians were beginning to question whether the Bible had been correctly interpreted and whether same-sex partnerships were always wrong. The growing visibility of lesbian, gay and bisexual people in many urban centres throughout the world made it harder to ignore their concerns and the issues for faith communities as they prayed, worshipped, cared for those in need and sought to discern God’s will

.
Read it all here.

William Blake liberates Bible for the people

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of William Blake, author and artist, who believed that there was too much use of the Bible and theology to beat people around the head, and to keep them in their place, rather than to liberate them and enable them to know their worth.

Ekklesia, in an essay on Blake by Chris Rowland, the Dean Ireland's Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford, notes:

Blake loved the Bible because it acted as a stimulus to an imaginative engagement with society and also with the nature of God. Blake wrote that what he wanted to do in his art and poetry was "rouze the faculties to act". That meant empowering the readers and hearers of texts and pictures to have the courage of their convictions and not be dependent on the experts to tell them what a text or picture meant. The Bible fulfilled this function as well as any other text, because it was "addressed to the Imagination ... and but mediately to the understanding or reason".

Too much study of the Bible is either completely dismissive of it, or excessively reverential. It doesn't allow for creative, imaginative engagement with it, recognising its limitations and delighting in it as a resource through which to stimulate understanding, rather than a book of moral precepts. Blake is as indignant as anyone about those elements in the Bible which have been used to condone injustice, oppression and preoccupation with tradition.

Read the rest here.

An example of an image by William Blake is here.

Try this if the link does not work:
http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/blake/abel.jpg

Foreclosure Sunday

At a time of year when we hear of Mary and Joseph not finding room in the inn for the birth of Jesus - many are learning the hard reality of being cast out of their homes due to mortgage foreclosures. One church in Chicago is calling on churches and legislators to solve this housing crisis.

The Chicago Tribune reports:

"We have a foreclosure crisis across this country," Acree said. "But we came here today to tell you there is hope."

Acree's sermon came as U.S. Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.) launched Foreclosure Sunday, an effort to get churches and other spiritual organizations involved to solve what the Greater St. John Bible Church pastor called a "pandemic that has taken over our country."

Davis, whose district includes Austin, stepped to Acree's pulpit to encourage people having trouble meeting their ballooning mortgage payments to seek help from the local, state and federal programs working on the problem.

"Do not just suffer in silence," Davis told the churchgoers. "We have to have faith, but we also have to know that there are things that we can do."


Bills are being sponsored in Congress to extend the time for homeowners to work out mortgage issues and there is help in many states. People are often embarrassed to say they are having difficulties until it is too late. Pastor Acree challenges churches to get involved in supporting people to find the resources available and to lobby congress to take action.

Stories of more churches taking action here

More on the lending crisis in the NYTimes here

Lunch for homeless teens

St. Benedict's Episcopal Church in Olympia, Washington is offering free lunches everyday to homeless teens in the capitol city. During Christmas vacation teens who live on the streets or bunk in with friends don't have the school lunch program for a daily meal. Deacon Zula Johnston says the teens do not want to ask for food from those who help them during the year.

"There are high-schoolers out there who, when school is closed, they're not able to get anything to eat. So we're going to try to fill that gap," she said.

She got the idea after meeting with Debby Gaffney, a liaison to homeless children in North Thurston Public Schools.

Gaffney said winter break can be a challenge for the district's homeless and "couch surfer" teens who live with friends and don't like to burden their hosts for food.

In 2006, there were 97 homeless high school students and 24 homeless middle school students in the district, Gaffney said. She said circumstances vary for each student — some have run away to escape domestic violence or substance abuse at home; others might have been kicked out at 18 or might have stayed in Lacey when parents moved to another city or state.

Read it all here.

100 Ladybugs for Rachel Carson

Children of Episcopal Church in Everett, Massachusetts released 100 ladybugs in tribute to Rachel Carson, one for each year since the pioneering environmentalist’s birth in 1907, as part of the ceremony of blessing for their churchyard garden.

"To our knowledge, this is the first church in the country to honor Ms. Carson in this way,” said Rev. Barbara Smith-Moran, priest-in-residence.

An American marine biologist and nature writer who died in 1964, Ms. Carson’s books are often credited with launching the global environmental movement.

When Ms. Smith-Moran preached a sermon in the spring about prophets, using Ms. Carson as an example from recent times, parishioners who had contributed plants and effort over the years decided to call their labour of love “Rachel’s Garden,” now a serene spot inviting meditation.

For more on Rachel Carson and the 100th anniversary of her birth click here

Read more of this article here.

Jewish-Muslim interfaith dialogue curriculum

Two major Jewish and Muslim organizations unveiled an interfaith dialogue curriculum yesterday and are urging their hundreds of thousands of members to use it. Both sides say it is the broadest Jewish-Muslim interfaith effort in the continent's history.

As reported in the Washington Post:

The manual and video are built around five sessions that touch on topics including the place of Jerusalem in Jewish and Muslim tradition and history. The toughest potential sticking points will probably be related to Israel and to stereotypes both groups carry about the other, Mark Pelavin, director of interreligious affairs for the Jewish group, said in an interview. "Jews want to know how Muslims feel about terrorism in the name of Islam, and Muslims want to know how Jews feel about Palestinian suffering.

According to Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, North America's largest Jewish movement, "As a once-persecuted minority in countries where anti-Semitism is still a force, we understand the plight of Muslims in North America today," Yoffie said yesterday. "We live in a world in which religion is manipulated to justify the most horrific acts, a world in which -- make no mistake -- Islamic extremists constitute a profound threat. For some, this is a reason to flee from dialogue, but in fact the opposite is true. When we are killing each other in the name of God, sensible religious people have an obligation to do something about it."

Read it all here.

God's Basic Training

The warriors pose for the camera in a group shot - some holding their weapons in one hand and their holy book in another. Elsewhere, a poster bears a quotation calling for the killing of enemy leaders and forcing the defeated people to convert. If you think the images come from Islamic fundamentalist training camps in remote regions of the Middle East you'd be wrong according to an article in Military.com.

The photo depicts Army trainees at Fort Jackson, S.C., where in addition to basic combat training recruits may also attend "God's Basic Training," while the poster -- boasting a quotation from conservative author Ann Coulter -- adorns the door of a Military Police office at Fort Riley, Kansas.

"These are startling and disgusting revelations of further unconstitutional behavior by technologically the most lethal organization ever created by humankind -- the U.S. military," said Mikey Weinstein, whose group, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, discovered the evangelical-oriented program at Fort Jackson and the Coulter poster at Fort Riley.

The group also has found at the Fort Riley exchange the Muslim-critical "Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam" on display right next to The Holy Bible. And at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont., a new "Enabled By Christ" Christian men's store operates at the base exchange, Weinstein said.

Officials with the bases in question and the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, however, deny there is any deliberate intent to impose a religious belief on troops, and a Fort Riley spokesman told Military.com command would look into Weinstein's allegations there.

Read is all here

Highway of Holiness I-35

If you turn to the Bible -- Isaiah Chapter 35, Verse 8 -- you will see a passage that in part says, "A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness."

Now, is it possible that this "highway" mentioned in Chapter 35 is actually Interstate 35 that runs through six U.S. states, from southern Texas to northern Minnesota? Some Christians have faith that is indeed the case.

It was with that interesting belief in mind that we decided to head to Texas, the southernmost state in the I-35 corridor, to do a story about a prayer campaign called "Light the Highway."

Read it all here

No ordination of women in CANA

...the new so-called Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), described as a “mission” of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, held a ceremony in Herndon, Virginia, last week to consecrate four new bishops, all male and two from Nigeria. The ceremony was led by CANA head Rev. Martyn Minns of Fairfax’s Truro Church, another defecting congregation. In his remarks at the ceremony, Minns said, “At this time, the Church of Nigeria, to which we owe canonical obedience, has no provision for the ordination of women,” according to reports in the Falls Church News-Press.

Read it all here

Katharine Jefferts Schori for President

We never asked Episcopalians to take up our fight. Rather, it seems, their spiritual path has led them to believe that we aren’t any less deserving of ministry or recognition or even consecration simply because we happen to be unpopular sexual minorities. I wish that weren’t an extraordinary concept in 2007, but it is. And Bishop Jefferts Schori has hardly blinked in a year of denominational strife that has seen her character and her commitment to her religious office questioned, challenged, dismissed, and maligned.

Teresa Morrison writing in The Advocate praises the difficult path that the Episcopal Church has taken standing in solidarity with gays and lesbians.

Read it all here.

Fr. Jake comments here

Katie Sherrod comments here.

The legend of the Magi

Feeds are abuzz with reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury dismissed the tale of the gifts of the Magi as being mere legend. "Three wise men leading us astray" writes the Australian. Heck, the Telegraph heads the story with "Archbishop says nativity 'a legend'"—the whole nativity?

Fortunately, the Telegraph also makes available an (edited) transcript of the conversation Williams had with BBC Radio 5's Simon Mayo. When you read these comments, understand that they are in the context of the Archbishop explaining religious-themed Christmas cards—and indeed, the holiday itself—to people who "don't know where Bethlehem is ... have never heard of Mary and so on."

Mayo seems to be going through all the characters in the creche, with Williams responding with what he believes about each of those characters, and they get to the three wise men, and the following exchange takes place:

Mayo: And the wise men with the gold, frankincense, and Myrrh - with one of the wise men normally being black and the other two being white, for some reason?

ABC: Well Matthew's gospel doesn't tell us that there were three of them, doesn't tell us they were kings, doesn't tell us where they came from, it says they're astrologers, wise men, priests from somewhere outside the Roman Empire. That's all we're really told so, yes, 'the three kings with the one from Africa' - that's legend; it works quite well as legend.

Not the whole nativity; not even the bit about the wise men—just pointing out that the bible doesn't say "three kings with the one from Africa."

You can read the whole (edited) transcript here.

We three bishops

According to the Living Church:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has appointed three bishops to “consult” with the Archbishop of Canterbury about extending an invitation for Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire to attend the Lambeth Conference next summer in England.

Those three bishops are:

  • The Rt. Rev. Edward S. Little II, Bishop of Northern Indiana
  • The Rt. Rev. Thomas C. Ely, Bishop of Vermont
  • The Rt. Rev. Bruce Caldwell, Bishop of Wyoming
  • The bishops are being tight-lipped about details, with Little noting that he felt this was to be a "private conversation. "

    You can read the newsreport here.

Church on the street

The Washington Post has video features now, and yesterday they featured the Rev. Deborah Little-Wyman, founder and missioner of Ecclesia Ministries and Common cathedral (sic) in Boston, talking about her call:

"There was a woman there who I'm sure I would have described at the time as a bag lady with her bags around her, I had this instant desire.. to have a life in which I could go and sit down next to that lady and stay with her until she got whatever it was she felt she needed."


Star of the East

It's practically the theme today, even though Epiphany is still a couple of weeks off, but the Associated Press' weekly faith feature, Religion Today, just happens to be on the latest astronomical explanation for the Star of Bethlehem:

As a theoretical astrophysicist, Grant Mathews had hoped the answer would be spectacular - something like a supernova. But two years of research have led him to a more ordinary conclusion. The heavenly sign around the time of the birth of Jesus Christ was likely an unusual alignment of planets, the sun and the moon.

The star, though, has long been immortalized in Christmas songs, plays and movies. Astronomers, theologians and historians for hundreds of years have been trying to determine exactly which star might have inspired the biblical writing. German astronomer Johannes Kepler proposed in 1604 that the star was a conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in 7 B.C.

The advantage Mathews has over Kepler and others who have pondered the question is that he had access to NASA's databases.

"In principle, we can see any star that was ever made from the beginning of time if we knew where to look. So the question is, could we find a star that could be a good candidate for what showed up then?" he said.

...

Mathews found two possible supernovas in the right period, but said one was probably too low on the horizon to be seen. The other supernova is known as Kes 75. But it was 60,000 light years away and may not have been particularly spectacular.

"There's no real convincing evidence this happened right at 2000 years ago, but it could be in the range of being right because it's in the right location," he said.

He also found a number of nova that also could have been the Christmas star. The one he thinks is the most likely candidate is known as Nova Aquilae V603. The problem with novas and comets, though, is that they were believed in ancient times to be a sign of disaster, not a portent of good things to come.

For that reason, Mathews believes the Christmas star is most likely an alignment of planets. He said there are three likely times for this:

-Feb. 20, 6 B.C., when Mars, Jupiter and Saturn aligned in the constellation Pisces.

-April 17, 6 B.C., when the sun, Jupiter, the moon and Saturn aligned in the constellation Aries while Venus and Mars were in neighboring constellations.

-June 17, 2 B.C., when Jupiter and Venus were closely aligned in Leo.

Mathews believes the April 17, 6 B.C., alignment is the most likely candidate. It makes sense because he believes the wise men were Zoroastrian astrologers who would have recognized the planetary alignment in Aries as a sign a powerful leader was born.

Read it all here.

Food around the world

Time Magazine is running a photo essay that shines a spotlight on affluence vs. hunger. In each photo, a family stands before a table spread with all its food for the week. Each family comes from a different country, and the essay illuminates the differences among the haves, the have-somes and the have nots. You can see which cultures lean most heavily on convenience foods; which face the most arduous preparation, and which don't have much to work with in the first place.

Captions on the photos reveal how much each family spends on their weekly meals as well as their favorite foods or family recipe. For instance, in Japan, the family spends about $317 a week. In Chad, the family spends about $1.23 a week.

But the numbers only begin to tell the story. The photo essay is excerpted from Peter Menzel's 2005 book Hungry Planet, and you can view the Time excerpt here.

Is you is or is you ain't my bishop?

(Updated) The Rev. Fred Risard, vicar of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Atwater, California, Diocese of San Joaquin wrote a letter to Bishop John-David Schofield asking for clarification about his status as a bishop in the Episcopal Church when he heard that the Bishop was planning to come to his church this weekend.

The Episcopal News Service reported that Risard noted in his December 20 letter to Schofield that St. Nicholas had "already had the pleasure of your annual visitation for 2007." So the need for this second, unannounced visit was unclear.

Bishop Schofield said that, as of the last diocesan convention on December 8th where a vote was made for the diocese to join the Province of the Southern Cone, he is no longer a Bishop of the Episcopal Church but now a bishop of the Province of the Southern Cone.

St. Nicholas is one of the churches in the diocese that has chosen to remain in the Episcopal Church, and they have purchased advertising in the local press to reassure the community that "the Episcopal Church is still present in the Merced area, where ALL are welcome to worship and do the work of the Mission."

Risard wrote:

We would like you to state to us your pastoral and canonical relationship with St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, and myself. You publicly stated at our diocesan convention that you no longer are the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin, and instead you are a Bishop within the Province of the Southern Cone.

The Vicar welcomes Bishop Schofield either as a worshiper sitting in the pews, as a visiting foreign prelate with no liturgical function or as a diocesan bishop ready to repent and reconcile with his congregation. He was also asked if he would join in the work of the mission to distribute groceries to the poor in advance of Christmas.

"Will you be coming as our Episcopal Bishop, having repented of your actions at Diocesan Convention, seeking forgiveness and reconciliation? Or will you be coming to worship as a visiting foreign Bishop seeking to reconcile with your former congregation and Vicar, and, following the Mass, to join us as we take groceries and coats to the poor?"

There is some concern that purpose of the sudden visit is for the Bishop to attempt to remove Father Risard from his role as vicar or perhaps to close the mission.

"Is it his intention to support the mission congregations in their call to worship and to serve the poor or does he want to close it? He needs to go on record about what he's doing."

Attorney Mike Glass, an attorney representing the congregations and individual members who desire to remain Episcopalian says "in all fairness, if the Presiding Bishop has asked for a clarification and hasn't received one, I think that the priests in the Diocese of San Joaquin are entitled to know, too." Glass added that priests may be rightly concerned about violating church canons by allowing Schofield to preside in their congregations.

As a mission, the Bishop of the diocese is the rector of the congregation, but if Schofield has, as he has said publicly, now withdrawn from the Episcopal Church and is a Bishop of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, then it appears to be the case that the mission is without a rector at the moment. The situation is at best ambiguous. Glass said "Until...clarification comes from either the Episcopal Church's canonical processes or from the bishop himself, perhaps the bishop ought to refrain from attempting to exercise any episcopal authority."

According to ENS, Father Risard sent copies of his letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, House of Deputies President Bonnie Anderson, and the Rev. Canon Robert Moore (whom Jefferts Schori appointed to provide an ongoing pastoral presence to the continuing Episcopalians in the diocese).

The Episcopal Majority says:

We join the The Rev. Fred Risard in his puzzlement. The former Episcopal Bishop of San Joaquin has made it clear that he is no longer a part of the Episcopal Church. Now that he is a bishop in a Latin American diocese, we are perplexed that he would want to exercise episcopal jurisdiction in an Episcopal church.

Kudos to Father Risard for asking the pertinent question.

Read the rest: ENS: SAN JOAQUIN: Atwater vicar asks bishop to clarify planned visit

College student seekers

A new report indicates that a surprising number of college students are seeking spiritual answers to the questions in their lives.

The key results according to an article in USA Today are that students are increasingly looking for ways that help them discover their own beliefs, help them to become more caring to others and "develop an ecumenical worldview".

The article reports:

"The findings surprised and delighted the study's authors, Alexander and Helen Astin, retired UCLA professors who are engaged in a multi-year study of how the college experience influences spiritual development. It is funded by the John Templeton Foundation.

The Astins argue that higher education has been neglecting the 'inner' development of students, such as their emotional maturity, self-understanding and spirituality.

Now, their most recent study, based on a survey of more than 14,000 college students on 136 campuses at the start of their freshman year in fall 2004 and again at the end of their junior year in spring 2007, appears to challenge some common assumptions."

Apparently very few of the faculty at the colleges and universities where the students are studying will invite the sorts of discussions the students are seeking. Only twenty percent of the faculty encourage the desired discussions according to student reports.

Read the rest here.

Downtown Churches

Many Episcopal Church buildings are found in urban or downtown settings. A century ago this was were their parishioners lived. But that's not the case today. St. Bartholomew's parish on Park Avenue in New York City is one of the premier examples of how congregations need to transform the way they function in order to survive and flourish.

An article in the New York Times today profiles the congregation and their rector, The Rev. Bill Tully.

Speaking about why Tully accepted the call to St. Bart's:

"“I came here for the risk of it,” he says. His job as rector of St. Columba’s, the largest parish in Washington, “was getting too cushy after 14 years.”

And after 14 years at St. Bartholomew’s? Cushy address, certainly, Park Avenue at East 50th, but the luster stops there. “There was a question of whether we should even be here, of whether it is too costly to be running a world-class landmark in the middle of New York City, a place where real estate is one of the religions,” he says. “We exist in a city where it takes a lot of trouble and expense — $8 million a year — to keep the door open.”

But open it is. As is Café St. Bart’s, an upscale restaurant in the church’s community house with a menu more sybaritic than ecclesiastical. Mr. Tully introduced it in 1995, and even performed waiter duties on Day 1. “As I told our board, ‘If you think running a church in New York City is hard, you should try running a restaurant!’” The cafe is bustling, as is the 10-bed shelter, the food pantry and the soup kitchen, which served 80,000 meals to the needy this year."

The article lists the challenges facing the congregation today now that it has rebuilt a healthy congregational life. Specifically it details the costs of maintaining the historic building and fundraising efforts that are just beginning.

You can read the rest here.

Good reads

Two items, plucked from the blogosphere to help you contemplate the Christmas season: At Telling Secrets, Elizabeth Kaeton has written about a deeply moving moment in her ministry, and from our own back pages, comes a clear-eyed poem on the Incarnation from the late Denise Levertov.

Kitsch? Cute? Blasphemous?

This four-piece S'mores nativity set includes S'more Mary wearing a blue head piece with her arms outstretched welcoming the new S'more King lying in the manger. Joseph stands back observing the scene before him traditionally dressed in a green head piece and holding his staff. The 5.5” S'mores nativity crèche makes a magnificent backdrop for this display.

Have a look. Then, visit some truly creative creche figures at Washington National Cathedral's annual creche exhibit. There's a magi made of cornhusks from Nepal, a shepherdess made of bread dough from Ecuador, a Christ Child carved from the root of a Costa Rican coffee plant, and a sheep made of a discarded soda can from Kenya.

All this and more, right here.

Worst Christmas movies, ever

The Slate staff has chosen its least favorite Christmas movies of all time. The list includes Fred Claus (which the New York Post said had less plot than your average Geico commercial), Jim Carrey's The Grinch, Jingle All the Way and holiday slasher fare like Jack Frost.

Have a look, then nominate your own candidates in the comments section.

Pullman's art of darkness

The 12-year-old in our house thought the filmed version of The Golden Compass was a crime against the author of one of his favorite books, whereas his father thought it was a slightly better than average movie that rushed through necessary exposition, thereby decreasing viewers' understanding of what is at stake in the final showdown.

Meanwhile, Philip Pullman continues to be, in his own words "attended by crazy people." This profile in More Intelligent Life magazine doesn't add much to our understanding of the theological controversy Pullman's popularity has created, but it does an excellent job in tracing the roots of his understanding of adolescents.

Attention, Anglican/Episcopal bloggers

Cass Sunstein in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

“When people end up in enclaves of like-minded people, they usually move toward a more extreme point in the direction to which the group's members were originally inclined. Enclave extremism is a special case of the broader phenomenon of group polarization, which extends well beyond politics and occurs as groups adopt a more extreme version of whatever view is antecedently favored by their members.”

Read it all, with particular attention to the "Colorado experiment."

Hat tip, Arts and Letters Daily.

Tony Blair converts to Roman Catholicism

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair has left the Church of England and converted to Catholicism, the faith of his wife and children. Blair converted during a Mass Friday night at the private London chapel of Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, the church said.

"I'm very glad to welcome Tony Blair into the Catholic Church," Murphy-O'Connor said.

Read it all.

Clergy family confidential

Tim Schenck, priest, dad and FOTB (Friend of this blog) has begun a blog of his own. Even if we'd never met Tim, we'd drop by his blog hoping for more nuggets like this lovely little item about reading the Grinch to his son's first-grade class.

To me The Grinch is really a Christian parable — it’s a story of conversion, repentance, and forgiveness. Or at least I started seeing these themes the year I had to read it every night for three months. Pitchers and catchers had reported for Spring Training and I was still reading about all the Whos down in Who-ville.

It's hard not to like a guy who tells time by the liturgial calendar, and the start of spring training.

Gerson on evolution, naturalism and faith

Michael Gerson, who worships at Falls Church, offers some very thoughtful observations in his Washington Post column on the conflict over evolution. First, he offers reasons why the faithful should not be afraid of the scientific evidence of evolution:

But whatever the scientific objections, it is the theological objections to evolution that are weakest. Critics seem to argue that the laws of nature are somehow less miraculous than their divine suspension. But the elegant formulas of physics, and the complex mechanisms of evolution, strike me as an equal tribute to the Creator.

Critics also assume that humble evolutionary origins undermine human dignity. But the Bible's description -- creation from the "dust of the earth" -- is no less humiliating than descent from primates. Men and women have an elevated value because they are known and loved by God, not because of their genetic pedigree.

Historically, it is usually an error for religious people to fill scientific holes with supernatural explanations, because those holes often are filled eventually by the progress of knowledge. A "god of the gaps" is weaker and less compelling than the God of all creation.

And there is little need for such explanations, even for those who take the Bible seriously. Leon Kass, in his masterful work "The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis," observes, "The biblical account is perfectly compatible with the fact of a slowly evolving cosmos, with life arriving late, beginning in the sea and only later emerging on earth, progressively distinguished into a variety of separated kinds."

But Gerson also warns us not to accept the view that evolution and other science supports a belief that God does not exist:

Some scientists claim that a belief in evolution and orderly material laws somehow disproves the existence of immaterial things such as God and the soul -- as if biology or physics could refute concepts they don't even examine. There is no telescope that reveals the absence of the divine; no MRI that yields a negative test for the soul. G.K. Chesterton summarizes this naive theory as follows: "Because science has not found something which obviously it could not find, therefore something entirely different . . . is untrue. . . . To me it is all wild and whirling; as if a man said -- 'The plumber can find nothing wrong with our piano; so I suppose that my wife does love me.' "

There is a large distinction between the scientific theory of evolution and naturalism. Naturalism -- the belief that the material world is all that is or ever will be -- is a philosophy, and a dangerous one. As C.S. Lewis points out, this belief system begins by denying the existence of God, but it cannot end there. "The masters of the method soon announce that we were just as mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed 'souls' or 'selves' or 'minds' to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. . . . Man is indeed akin to the gods: that is, he is no less phantasmal than they."

. . .

The belief in an orderly universe does not require belief in an empty universe. And science does not even address the most important questions about human destiny.

"Let us assume that creation is evolution," argues Leon Kass, "and proceeds solely by natural processes. What is responsible for this natural process? . . . Can a dumb process, ruled by strict necessity and chance mutation, having no rhyme or reason, ultimately answer sufficiently for life, for man, for the whole? . . . And when we finally allow ourselves to come face-to-face with the mystery that there is anything at all rather than nothing, can we evolutionists confidently reject the first claim of the Bible -- 'In [the] beginning, God created the heavens and the earth'?"

Read it all here.

One stop Christmas blogging

With all the furor about the Archbishop of Canterbury's statements (or lack thereof) about the Gospel accounts of the birth of Christ, we thought it might be useful to offer a host of Christmas related blog posts. But blogging religion professor James McGrath beat us to to. As he explains:

We've all heard of one-stop Christmas shopping, so I thought with the frenetic pace of holiday shopping, finding all the relevant holiday blogging experiences that are available might be a bit much to bear. Hence below are included links to many of the last couple of weeks' worth of blog entries on Christmas-related topics.

Read his full list of Christmas blog posts here. And his updated list here.

Feel free to list your own favorite Christmas blog posts in the comments.

Time's Top 10 religion stories

Time Magazine has released its list of the top ten religion stories in 2007. Topping the list is Mother Teresa's crisis of faith. The Anglican Communion's conflict comes in at a solid number 5.

Read the entire list here.

Preparing a Christmas sermon

So you thought American Idol contestants were under a lot of pressure. How would you like to be in the pulpit on Christmas Eve?

Hundreds of ministers in the Washington region will face packed churches tonight when they preach one of their most important, and challenging, sermons of the year as Christians gather to celebrate Christmas.

"I think it's one of the hardest services to preach," said Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, who will face a standing-room-only crowd of 3,800 -- many of whom rarely step into a church except at Christmastime -- at the 6 p.m. Christmas Eve service at Washington National Cathedral.

Read it all in The Washington Post.

Christmas wishes from around the Anglican Communion

The leaders of the Anglican Communion are releasing Christmas messages, and you can read them here.

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church writes:

In what form will you find the Christ child this year? The fact of the Incarnation in a weak and helpless babe says something significant about where we focus our search. I am convinced that it is part of our call to exercise a "preferential option" on behalf of the poor, weak, sick, and marginalized. The long arc of biblical thinking and theologizing has to do with seeing God's care for those who have no other helper. Indeed, Jesus is understood as that helper for all who fail, by the world's terms, to save themselves. More accurately, we understand that Jesus is that helper for all.

One of the great gifts of the way in which those in our cultural surroundings celebrate Christmas is the focus on children and on those who have few human helpers. We delight in the wonder of children as Christmas approaches, and many of us make an extra effort to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and care for the needy. The challenge is to let our seasonal "seeing" transform the way we meet our neighbours through the rest of the year, and through all the coming years. How might we begin to see that child in those around us: strangers and aliens (both Immanuel and Immigrants); wanderers (Homeless, like Mary and Joseph, for whom there was no room); widows and orphans (Social Outcasts); babe born in Bethlehem (Palestinian and Israeli alike; or the boy babies whom both Pharaoh and Herod sought to kill); divine feeder of thousands (Soup Kitchen worker); and savior of the world (Peacemaker, Bringer of Justice for All, Reconciler, Just and Gracious Lawgiver...). If God comes among us as a helpless child, then the divine presence is truly all around us. Where will you meet Jesus this Christmas?

The original St. Nick

Canon Jim Rosenthal's alter ego is the star of this You Tube video filmed on Saint Nicholas Day in Canterbury. Rowan Williams has a supporting role.

When St. Nick isn't crawling down chimneys, he is director of communications for the Anglican Communion.

You can learn more about the St. Nicholas Center here. Children's activities are here.

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Sermon

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Christmas Sermon can be found by clicking: Read more.

Read more »

Top 10 carols

Christmas wouldn't be Christmas without singing a few carols, but what are the origins of the familiar words and tunes we sing every year? Read on to find out the history of the Christmas Carol and the top ten tunes that churches across the UK will be singing this year.

The Times Online reports that the top 10 carols of the Church of England are:
Church of England are:

O Come All Ye Faithful
Hark the Herald Angels Sing
Silent Night
O Little Town of Bethlehem
Once in Royal David's City
In the Bleak Midwinter
Joy to the World
Away in a Manger
The First Nowell
Angels from the Realms of Glory
The article lists the top 10 for other denominations and gives the history of the carols and some of the myths that surround them:
O Come All Ye Faithful, is popularly thought to have been written by a 13th-century saint. But the crescendoing carol, originally in Latin and entitled Adeste Fidelis, dates instead to 1743. It was written by John Francis Wade, a Roman Catholic who fled France during the Jacobean rebellion and worked as a music teacher in England. The carol was first translated into English in 1789 for use in the Protestant Church. There are almost 50 different English versions, the most well known was translated in 1841 by Frederick Oakeley an Anglican priest who wrote “Ye faithful, approach ye”. But after his conversion to Catholicism in 1845 Oakeley rewrote the opening lines as ‘O come all ye faithful / Joyfully triumphant.
Read it here.

HT to Thinking Anglicans.

What is your favorite?

Crocodile outside stable?

Ever wonder what children are learning about the Christmas story? The Daily Mail interviewed four year olds to nine year olds to find out.

What gifts did the three wise men bring?

Rashneet, six, from Broad Oak Primary School, Manchester: "The wise men brought coconut oil which was made of coconut, some sweets and some gold."

Jay, five, from Broomhill Infant School, Bristol: "The three wise men brought Jesus presents of gold, frankincense, smurr (sic) and silver. But I think he would have preferred wrestling toys."

Daniel, seven, from Stanfield Merchant Taylors' Junior School, Merseyside: "I know for his birthday he got money and gold from the wise men but I would have given him a Liverpool kit."

Dominic, six, Merchant Taylors: "I don't know what the three wise men brought Jesus but I would have given him a tin of biscuits. I think Mary, Joseph and Jesus would have all liked a biscuit."

Read the rest of the answers here.

HT to Thinking Anglicans.

What have you heard this Christmas?

A brief history of Christmas

Christmas famously "comes but once a year." In fact, however, it comes twice. The Christmas of the Nativity, the manger and Christ child, the wise men and the star of Bethlehem, "Silent Night" and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" is one holiday. The Christmas of parties, Santa Claus, evergreens, presents, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Jingle Bells" is quite another.

But because both celebrations fall on Dec. 25, the two are constantly confused.

The Wall Street Journal tells all here.

The History Channel has more here.

And a letter from those internet chains follows:

Read more »

People ignore the noble aims of festivals

(Updated)

The movement of the Muslim lunar calendar placed the festival of Eid al Adha (عيد الأضحى) in the week before Christmas this year. In the multi-ethnic land of the United Arab Emirates (e.g., Dubai and Abu Dhabi) this meant a prominent coincidence of these celebrations. Although the country is more than 90 percent Muslim, malls and hotel lobbies are trimmed for Christmas.

Clerics speak out, and are on the same page regardless of faith:

Dr Mohammad Mattar Al Ka’abi, Director-General of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Auqaf (GAIAA), has called upon people, with no bias towards any nationality or religion, to realise the actual meaning and real goals of the holy celebrations.

He pointed out that nowadays most people simply ignore the noble aims of the festivals.

“Extravagance and over-spending on some aspects of these celebrations, like eating, drinking, and clothing, in order to express pleasure is something unacceptable by God Almighty. Dedicating some of this money to charitable activities is much better than spending on useless ways,” said Dr Al Kaabi.

He also pointed out that this type of materialism might cause a community gap. “The revealed religions, whether Islam or Christianity, are aimed at remembering Allah (God) and spreading love, peace, happiness, and kindness among all people, not only the rich, but also the poor, the needy and the ill,” stressed Dr Al Kaabi.

As for the Eid itself, it is an opportunity for litigants to bury their hatchet, to forget and forgive.

Muslims should become more cooperative, tolerant, charitable and forgiving in such happy occasions, he stated.

Monsignor Paul Hinder, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia, based in Abu Dhabi, explained that religious holidays are celebrated by two types of people: the pious ones, who are still deeply marked by their faith; and the people who practise little, if at all, their religion.

Update: I will be ending my six year stay in the United Arab Emirates in a few days, and joining the rest of the Cafe newsteam in working from a US time zone. Here's some of the things I'll miss.
- A roundup of
Christmas photos
taken by Gulf News photographers.
- The 40 year tradition of Christmas in UAE. (Actually Christianity predates Islam here.)

Mystery worshippers coming to a church near you

The Sunday Telegraph this week reported that measured by regular attendance, Catholics now outnumber Anglicans in England. Church of England representatives disputed the figures, but even by their numbers it's close and average Sunday attendance is less than 1 million. (In a touch of irony, in the same issue the Telegraph ran lists of suggestions for Midnite masses.)

Why don't people attend church? Is it bad memories from childhood? Ruth Gledhill of The Times reports that,

The research organisation Christian Research has commissioned the company Retail Maxim to send mystery worshippers in unannounced to judge the sermon, welcome, atmosphere, warmth, comfort and appearance of churches around the country.

First to be assessed were churches in Telford, subject to a recent pilot. Early next year, mystery worshippers will visit churches in the West Midlands.

The scheme mirrors that run by the satirical Christian website ShipofFools, the main difference being that ShipofFools uses volunteers who are Christian. [Retail Maxim will be paying its worship/shoppers £30]

Christian Research wants non-Christians to assess the churches because, in common with increasing numbers of church leaders, the organisation wishes to find out what does and does not work for the reluctant churchgoer. Christian Research is working with ShipofFools to promote the project.
...

The non-church goers will be experienced mystery shoppers who are used to assessing the service offered by hotels, shops and restaurants.


Based on the pilot, there's anecdotal evidence that nonchurch goers don't know what they're missing.
The Telford pilot involved a range of denominations and styles of service from Anglo-Catholic to a service involving a “lot of people lying on the floor and being healed.”

The results had been “amazingly positive”, she said.

Mrs Hewitt, whose background is in commercial research, said it was essential that the churches gained an insight into how they were viewed from the “outside-in” by non-churchgoers.

She said: “We have had some of our mystery worshippers saying that they were really amazed by what they found - by the atmosphere and the welcome before the service, when they went in and after the service and the fellowship.

“It was all so far from their expectations that they had before they came in - often based on childhood when they saw the church as a boring experience where you were made to feel guilty.”

See also the Church Research (UK) press release here.

Pay that latte forward

People like to give. Example:

At the Starbucks on 116th Street NE in Marysville, Washington, a chain of more than 350 people bought coffee for the people in line behind them -- either in the drive-through or inside -- starting with a woman who first came in about 8 a.m.
...
During the holidays, it's not uncommon for customers to occasionally buy coffee for whomever is next in line, said Nix, who used to work at the Starbucks in Lake Stevens.

But she's never seen anything like this.

"I'm really shocked," Nix said. "This makes Christmas so much nicer, knowing people care."

Some customers went above and beyond paying for the next person, giving $15 or $20 to the coffee shop. Any extra money that isn't used to pay for drinks is planned to be used for Starbucks' holiday toy drive, Nix said.

But it didn't stop there: "By Thursday afternoon, a chain of more than 813 customers had bought drinks for the next person in line at the Starbucks on 116th Street NE. The woman started the chain when she bought her regular iced tea Wednesday morning."

YouTube, WeTube and ?

If you missed it, the Queen's Christmas message is available at the Royal Channel on YouTube, also known as WeTube.

YouTube has also become a platform for spreading the word that there are some advantages to having beliefs that are orthogonal to the predominant faith. Matt Yglesias has the pointer. Here's another along the same lines.

No doubt, Episcopalians (and other Christians) also need to make a little more fun of themselves, too.

And the Anglican of the Year award goes to ...

...the Archbishop of York, John Sentamu. He was selected by more than 100 synod members in the Church of England, beating out the Archbishop of Canterbury and former Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who placed second and third respectively. The "award" was published in the Church of England newspaper and reported in The Times, which makes the observation that Sentamu's more charismatic approach complements the ABC's more intellectual approach:

Christina Rees, a synod member for Oxford and chairman of the lobby group Women and the Church, said: “I have great admiration for both our archbishops and I think they’re both wonderful men. But I [named] John Sentamu because of his very bold gestures in response to news items and examples of injustice around the world, which have communicated something very important about what it means to be Christian and have made it immediately accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise have paid attention to the Church.”

In August, in a protest that captured headlines around the world, Dr Sentamu shaved his head, moved into a tent inside York Minster and began a fast in an act of “public witness” to call for peace in the Middle East. He also carried out outdoor full-immersion baptisms of new Anglican converts at Easter.

The whole thing is here.

St. Nicholas on Christmas morning

Update: The Anglican Scotist

Father Jake points us to developments at St. Nicholas in Atwater, Calif., a mission in the Diocese of San Joaquin (previous coverage here), that transpired on Christmas morning:

The following email was received by St. Nicholas Episcopal Church on Christmas morning:

Dear Jo and Deacon Buck,

The attached document is the letter notifying Fr. Risard that his deployment at St. Nicholas is now over. We wish you to know that the Bishop and the Diocese are fully behind the continuation of your church in Atwater and will do all that we are able to support you during this transition.

Read it here.

What's up with GAFCON?

Another announcement that broke over the holiday was that of conservative Anglicans organizing their own global event, as reported in a press release (which you can read here):

GLOBAL ANGLICAN FUTURE CONFERENCE IN HOLY LAND
ANNOUNCED BY ORTHODOX PRIMATES

Orthodox Primates with other leading bishops from across the globe are to invite fellow Bishops, senior clergy and laity from every province of the Anglican Communion to a unique eight-day event, to be known as the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) 2008.

The event, which was agreed at a meeting of Primates in Nairobi last week, will be in the form of a pilgrimage back to the roots of the Church’s faith. The Holy Land is the planned venue. From 15-22 June 2008, Anglicans from both the Evangelical and Anglo-catholic wings of the church will make pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where Christ was born, ministered, died, rose again, ascended into heaven, sent his Holy Spirit, and where the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out, to strengthen them for what they believe will be difficult days ahead.

And what does the blogosphere make of it? Plenty, by our feeds both leftish and rightish. There's Mark Harris' link to the GAFCON website, and some highlights from the FAQ at his blog. His first commenter makes note of some observations from Stand Firm (most notably from Baby Blue) that there are no women among the top planners of the conference.

It's also interesting to note that some folks didn't pay much heed to rumors floating around before Christmas about a Lambeth alternative, as reported here. But according to a brief in the Washington Post, it's not meant to replace Lambeth:

Theological conservatives and liberals have threatened to boycott the Lambeth Conference because of who was and wasn't invited. Organizers of the conservative meeting insist their gathering is not an alternative to Lambeth.

We will update this post as more links become available, and feel free to refer your own in the comments.

Friday Update:

Marshall has some interesting thoughts here.

Mark Harris shares some additional thoughts about the makeup of the leadership team.

Thinking outside the box

The Associated Baptist Press is reporting on an architectural revival, of sorts, among Christians trying to get away from sterile, stadium-like box-shaped megachurches. Tim Blonkvist, an Episcopalian and one of the architects profiled in the piece, says that church buildings are "God's calling card," and, as the article continues:

Almost everybody who commutes to work or school drives by one or a dozen churches every day. Those structures either grab the attention of passersby - and, like the Gothic cathedrals of old, perhaps steer their thoughts heavenward - or they blend into an increasingly nondescript urban landscape.

Christian architects like Blonkvist and Cook are passionate about their work with churches. But they are troubled by what many congregations have been building lately - "big box" churches that look like warehouses or office buildings, denominational cookie-cutter models, and prefabricated buildings built as fast and cheaply as possible.

But after 300 years of mostly plain, utilitarian buildings - capped by three decades of what Cook calls megachurch "monster barns" devoid of Christian symbols - American Christians are poised for a revival in their church architecture. The architects say there is a hunger for spiritually expressive buildings that recapture a sense of sacred space, are rooted in a congregation's specific location and lifestyle, use indigenous artwork and symbolism, and are environmentally sensitive.

The architects agreed the tide is turning - both in the church and culture - toward more overt spiritual values, and the days of spiritually neutral churches may be ending.

Read the whole thing here.

Clergy giving more to Democrats

With a week to go before the Iowa caucuses, clergy and other religious organizations are donating more to Democratic campaigns than they are to Republican ones, according to an article from Religion News Service distributed on the Pew Forum site. Four years ago, the opposite was true. Barack Obama seems to have garnered the most financial support, according to the article, and:

Contributions to candidates, parties and committees from clergy and other individuals affiliated with religious groups has totaled $655,250, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign donations.

Fifty-six percent of that money went to Democrats, based on the center's analysis of Federal Election Commission data on giving in the first three quarters of 2007.

By contrast, at the same point in 2003, clergy and religious staffers had given a total of $461,600 in contributions to candidates, parties and committees, with 59 percent going to Republicans.

The whole thing is here.

Wealth Gospel foundering?

For many years people have suggested that if there is a uniquely American contribution to heresy, it is that of the "Health and Wealth" gospel. The basic idea is that God showers (material) blessings on believers. Thus the more material goods one has, it follows, the more faithful a believer one is. Proponents of the message would challenge this simplified version and would point to many passages in the bible that support their claims.

Over recent years a large group of preachers in America (and in Africa) have begun though to teach this prosperity gospel as a central theme of their message. It follows that the preacher must live out what she or he preaches. So many of the most popular and influential preachers point to their affluent life styles as proof of the depth of their faith.

But their wealth is coming from gifts given by their followers, often given as "seeds of hope" with the expectation that God will reward the giver many times more. And the wealth has not always been properly accounted for in the mind of federal and state tax authorities.

So today, the AP has news describing a move by these authorities to examine the books of the various preachers and ministries:

"Proponents call it a biblically sound message of hope. Others say it is a distortion that makes evangelists rich and preys on the vulnerable. They say it has evolved from 'it's all right to make money' to it's all right for the pastor to drive a Bentley, live in an oceanside home and travel by private jet.

'More and more people are desperate and grasping at straws and want something that will alleviate their pain or financial crisis,' said Michael Palmer, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson. 'It's a growing problem.'

The modern-day prosperity movement can largely be traced back to evangelist Oral Roberts' teachings. Roberts' disciples have spread his theology and vocabulary (Roberts and other evangelists, such as Meyer, call their donors 'partners.') And several popular prosperity preachers, including some now under investigation, have served on the Oral Roberts University board.
Grassley is asking the ministries for financial records on salaries, spending practices, private jets and other perks. The investigation, coupled with a financial scandal at ORU that forced out Roberts' son and heir, Richard, has some wondering whether the prosperity gospel is facing a day of reckoning."

Read the rest here.

Heschel Centennial

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Rabbi Abraham Heschel. There is a new biography which tries to present him in the context of the times in which he lived. The New York Times has an article that reports on the biography and some of the other observances surrounding the celebration of his life.

From the article:

"Admittedly there are times when Heschel can seem sentimental or, as in his early book ‘The Earth Is the Lord’s,’ can romanticize the past. He turns the lost world of his fathers — the communities of Eastern European Hasidim and their rabbis — into an almost utopian realm. The scholarly skepticism of his colleagues at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, where close textual analysis was more eagerly embraced than Heschel’s inspirational philosophy, does not always seem unmerited.

But no modern Jewish thinker has had as profound an effect on other faiths as Heschel has; the Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said he was ‘an authoritative voice not only in the Jewish community but in the religious life of America.’ Nor has any Jewish theologian since Heschel succeeded in speaking to such a wide range of readers while rigorously attending to the nuances of Judaism.

Some of this uniqueness can be felt in the way Heschel approached the woman in the airport. Her mockery is defused, the interaction shifted to the mundane. It is as if Heschel were saying: ‘I understand I’m not what you’re used to. But I’m prepared to meet you casually, accepting your comparison to a make-believe figure. But surely you can see that your anger is not justified?’"

Read the rest here.

Too many british bishops?

According to a news article in the Telegraph, there are plans on file to reduce the number of bishop but not the number of dioceses in an attempt to reduce the operating costs of the Church of England. The primary targets are dioceses that have more than three bishops serving them.

Jonathan Petre writes:

"More than a fifth of the Church of England's bishops could face the axe under new proposals being drawn up by its leaders.

Secret documents discovered by The Daily Telegraph reveal that the Church Commissioners - the financial wing of the Church of England - are considering reducing traditional funding for the hierarchy.

The proposals come in the wake of criticism that the Church is top heavy and the bishops too costly, while congregations are shrinking and parishes are strapped for cash."

Read the rest here.

Homeless people's stories

A new book published in Canada presents the experience of the homeless in that country in their own words. The collection was the brainchild of Cathy Crowe:

"Crowe is a street nurse and homeless activist who has worked with Toronto’s homeless population for the past 18 years. She also co-founded the Toronto Disaster Relief Committee (TDRC) in 1998, which promptly declared homelessness in Canada a national disaster. Most recently she has received the Atkinson Charitable Foundation Economic Justice Award, and works from a base at Sherbourne Health Centre in downtown Toronto.

Crowe had an epiphany while watching the reports on television of the ‘Ice Storm Disaster’ of January of 1998. She describes quite poignantly how she decided to take a leave from her job as a street nurse to go and help out with the disaster. And then the light dawned: ‘I realized that the images on television that had moved me were the daily, hellish circumstances of homeless people’s lives. . . . Homelessness is a man-made disaster.’ What Crowe also realized was that people did not respond to the homelessness disaster in the same way they do to a natural disaster.

Dying for a Home is an anthology of the stories of 10 (11 including Crowe) homeless activists many of whom resided in Tent City – a squat on a piece of land near the Toronto waterfront from 1998 to 2002. Tent City existed for almost five years and at its peak there were almost 100 people living there.

The contributors to this anthology talk about their lives and the trajectory that brought them to Toronto and then homelessness. They also share their hopes and dreams of having a home and the frustration they feel with governments who remain blind to their plight."

Read the rest here.

The limits of celebrity activism

Daniel Drenzer explains why celebrities have acquired the power to help set the political agenda and what they have done with it.

The goal of most social activism is to bring greater attention to a problem. The assumption is that once people become aware of the problem, there will be a groundswell of support for direct action. This is not how politics necessarily works, particularly in the global realm. Any solution to a problem like global warming, for example, involves significant costs. As people become more aware of the policy problem, it is far from guaranteed that a consensus will emerge about the best way to solve it. It is therefore not surprising that celebs have had their greatest successes in touting humanitarian causes and almost no effect on ending militarized conflicts.
The article is critical, but, to his credit, Drenzer doesn't succumb to too-easy celebrity-bashing. Read it all.

Hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily.

Update on reactions to news from San Joaquin

In early December the convention of the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to leave The Episcopal Church and join the Province of the Southern Cone. The Lead covered this story as it developed. Although dioceses and churches cannot leave The Episcopal Church, Bishop Schofield has been steadily taking actions to close churches and consolidate his base, as the Church follows the canonical procedures for halting his actions. The latest event transpired on Christmas Day with the firing of the vicar of St. Nicholas. The blog Fr. Jake Stops the World reports:

Bishop John-David Schofield, who abandoned the Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin and joined the Province of the Southern Cone, made a visit to St. Nicholas Church, Atwater on December 23. The Vicar, Fred Risard, had made it clear in a letter to his former bishop that since St. Nicholas was remaining Episcopalian, it was inappropriate for Bp. Schofield to visit in the capacity of their diocesan bishop. On December 23, Bp. Schofield showed up anyway, with bodyguards. In what is being reported as an "unpleasant scene" before worship, Bp. Schofield apparently insisted that St. Nicholas was his church, and demanded the right to celebrate and preach.

Two days later, on Christmas morning, the people of St. Nicholas were informed by letter that Fr. Risard had been removed, and the locks were to be changed and all important documents confiscated.

Jake collects the reactions from the blogs here.

Other Lead stories here and here

UPDATE: Report from Modesto Bee is here.

A helpful timeline and outline of this story with links can be found at The Episcopal Majority.

One last pitch

If you could see your way clear to making a year-end contribution to the Episcopal Café, we'd appreciate it. Even $20 would make a difference if enough of our daily visitors chip in.

To donate online, visit the Episcopal Diocese of Washington's Bishop's Appeal.

Juno, Jamie Lynn and the rules of engagement

This item was prompted primarily by a desire to tell as many people as possible what a wonderful movie Juno is, but to give it a little more intellectual respectability, we included a link to Ruth Marcus' recent column on talking to her daughters about sex. And that's when things got complicated.

She writes:

This is the conundrum that modern parents, boomers and beyond, confront when matters of sex arise. The bright-line rules that our parents laid down, with varying degrees of conviction and rather low rates of success, aren't -- for most of us, anyway -- either relevant or plausible. When mommy and daddy didn't get married until they were 35, abstinence until marriage isn't an especially tenable claim.

Nor is it one I'd care to make. Would I prefer -- as if my preference much matters -- that my daughters abstain until marriage? No; in fact, I think that would be a mistake. But I'm not especially comfortable saying that, quite so directly, to my children, partly because that conversation gets so complicated, so quickly.

She moves on to the pregnancy of Jamie Lynn Spears, and then concludes:

And so the message I choose from Spears's pregnancy--and the one, once I recovered my composure, I ultimately delivered, is this: It could happen to you--even if you're the kind of "conscientious" girl who, as Jamie Lynn's mother described her, is never late for curfew. And so, whenever you choose to have sex, unless you are ready to have a baby, don't do it without contraception.

This is not only good advice, but probably all of the good advice one can manage in a 700 word op-ed piece. Still, there is protection and there is protection. Sexual relationship go awry in any number of ways less dire than an unwanted pregnancy, and young people need to be prepared for potential emotional as well as physical reprecussions. Such conversations are even more difficult to conduct with the necessary honesty and delicacy than The Talk. Yet they are so important, so worth having, that parents must be willing to have them badly.

Global Anglican Future fracturing

Dr. Michael Poon has posted some hard questions for the organizers of the Global Anglican Future Conference at the Global South Anglican web site. He states:

I am saddened and shocked by the Statement on “The Global Anglican Future Conference, June 15-22, The Holy Land”, issued on December 26, 2007. Perhaps the Primates responsible need to clarify their views on the matter.

His first two questions seem to indicate that the organizing primates have gone too far without consultation with others:
1. On what basis was the Statement “announced by Orthodox Primates”? What is the basis of orthodoxy? Historically, the Communion takes Canon A5 “Doctrine of the Church of England” and C15 “On the Preface to the Declaration of Assent” of the Church of England as the basis of its belief. This underpins Section 2 (“The Faith we share”) of the proposed Anglican Covenant. On what basis did the Primates of Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Southern Cone, and Tanzania declare themselves as orthodox primates?

2. Did the Primates at Nairobi act on their personal capacity or as primates of their respective churches that “represent over 30 million of the 55 million active Anglicans in the world”? It would be helpful if the Primates and bishops are able to have their Statement ratified through due process by their Provincial/National/Diocesan Synods.


Other questions are here.

Mark Harris comments at his blog Preludium.

Kendall Harmon comments at TitusOneNine.

Dr. Michael Poon is the Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity Theological College, Singapore, and convenor of the Global South Anglican theological formation and education task force.

UPDATE: More questions from Dr. Poon here including:

At the same time, can the Conference realistically discuss issues “such as Anglican identity, fellowship, theological education and mission” at a global level? I am unsure. First, some may say: “Primates, heal yourselves. If you cannot sort yourselves out in North America, are you merely spreading your mess and divisions to Anglican churches worldwide?” Second, can we in practice talk about an Anglican future for the global Communion if the Primates of all the Communion are not present? Or are you thinking of devising strategies for crossing boundaries to the churches worldwide that are deemed not to be orthodox?

ANOTHER UPDATE: More questions and a letter seemingly written in the US but sent out as a primate's letter here.

About that letter

The recent rush of events in the Anglican Communion brought a premature end to discussion of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Advent letter, but not before the Anglican Scotist weighed in. He finds it "good enough to work with," yet his essay is filled with cogent criticism:

Going over the Archbishop's latest missives, I found myself reading not with the expectation of cogency, but with respect for--even fear of--his power. Who reads or listens to the Archbishop with the expectation of finding a convincing line of reasoning or a persuasive articulation of some as-yet largley unseen picture?

What is important is rather that he wields an enormous amount of power with regard to both left and right, and whichever way the wind happens to tumble him about, he will end up having enormous influence. Whole provinces stand or fall, form or are finished off on the basis of what he says and does not say--and it seems his style of communicating has only intensified the spectacle of Communion-wide focus on his every nod and arched eyebrow.

What does the habit of such a focus do to a community? It is not as if there are principles to be found underneath the words that guide what he asserts with some formal argumentative force. The power of this office is wielded without a set of discernible reasons, but with great reliance on the relevance of the person of Williams and his contingencies, as well as a rhetoric of persuasion based on fear.

Read it all.

Reconsidering Dante's Paradiso

Robert Baird, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago and the co-editor of Chicago Review has an interesting essay at Slate about the most ignored part of Dante's Divine Comedy--Paradiso. He argues that the book is ignored laregely because we find Hell far more interesting than Heaven:

Dante's Paradiso is the least read and least admired part of his Divine Comedy. The Inferno's nine circles of extravagant tortures have long captured the popular imagination, while Purgatorio is often the connoisseur's choice. But as Robert Hollander writes in his new edition of the Paradiso, "One finds few who will claim (or admit) that it is their favorite cantica." (A cantica, or canticle, is one of the three titled parts of the poem.) The time is ripe to reconsider Paradiso's neglect, however, since three major new translations of the poem we know as the Divine Comedy are coming to completion. . . .

When it comes down to it, though, the real problem modern readers have with the Paradiso is the idea of heaven itself. T.S. Eliot noted almost 80 years ago that "we have (whether we know it or not) a prejudice against beatitude as material for poetry." As the quote suggests, our trouble with heaven is less a problem of belief than it is a problem of imagination. From the opening lines of Anna Karenina on down, all our best literature teaches us that narrative thrives on adversity, and so heaven presents itself as little more than a blank screen of beatific blandness, eternal sunshine of the spotless mind. (Consider, by contrast, how successfully hell has been deployed as a metaphor for modern life: Under the Volcano, The Invisible Man, The Descent of Alette, not to mention "The Waste Land.")

Baird goes on to argue, however, that Dante's Heaven is anything but boring:

In fact, one of the major achievements of the Paradiso is that Dante is able to create drama out of people getting along. Contrary to the individualist slant of many contemporary visions of the afterlife, Dante's heaven is insistently social, and the souls of the blessed take great pains to show what a happy society they have up there, even to the point of performing stunning audiovisual choreographies . . .

But the real drama of the canticle is literally cosmic: It develops out of the tension between a perfect heaven above and a very imperfect world here below. After more than 10 years in exile, Dante was an expert on human imperfection. And even though he'd seen one after another of his political hopes crushed under the steel toe of history, he never gave up on the ideal of earthly justice. (In the Monarchia, written around the same time as the Paradiso, he argued that "the world is ordered in the best possible way when justice is at its most potent.") This is why, despite all their professed camaraderie and contentment, the souls of the blessed can't stop talking about what's happening on earth. The folly of the living brings them repeatedly to rage, as when St. Peter says of Pope Boniface VIII: "He … has made my tomb a sewer of blood and filth." Dante himself is not shy about joining in the general indignation. Looking down from the eighth sphere of heaven, he sees only "the little patch of earth that makes us so fierce."

Read it all here. Hat tip to Thinking Christian.

New Gallup poll on faith in America

Gallup released the results of a poll on faith in America done earlier this month, and has a useful analysis of the importance of faith in the United States over the last few decades:

The percentage of Americans who identify with a Christian religion is down some over the decades. This is not so much because Americans have shifted to other religions, but because a significantly higher percentage of Americans today say they don't have a religious identity. In the late 1940s, when Gallup began summarizing these data, a very small percentage explicitly told interviewers they did not identify with any religion. But of those who did have a religion, Gallup classified -- in 1948, for example -- 69% as Protestant and 22% as Roman Catholic, or about 91% Christian.

. . .

Sixty-two percent of Americans in Gallup's latest poll, conducted in December, say they are members of a "church or synagogue," a question Gallup has been asking since 1937.

It's down in the recent years of this decade and down a little more compared to the time period prior to the late 1970s. In the 1937 Gallup Poll, for example, 73% of Americans said they were church members. That number stayed in the 70% range in polls conducted in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. By the 1970s, however, the number began to slip below 70% in some polls, although as recently as 1999, 70% said they were church members. Since 2002, self-reported church membership has been between 63% and 65%.

. . .

One measure Gallup has tracked over time asks respondents to indicate how important religion is in their own lives -- very, fairly, or not very important.

This year, 56% of Americans have said religion is very important. Only 17% say religion is not very important.

. . . A couple of measures of this question from the 1950s and 1960s indicated that at that time, over 70% of Americans said religion was very important in their daily lives. That percentage dropped into the 50% range by the 1970s, and since then it has fluctuated somewhat, but has generally been in the 55% to 65% range.


. . .

[S]ince 1957 Gallup has periodically asked this question: "At the present time, do you think religion as a whole is increasing its influence on American life or losing its influence?"

In December of this year, 32% said religion was increasing its influence, and 61% losing its influence, with the rest volunteering that it was staying the same or not giving an answer.

There's been a lot of variance in these responses over the decades. Back in 1957 -- during the halcyon days of the Eisenhower administration -- 69% of Americans said religion was increasing its influence. And in December 2001 -- just months after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States -- 71% said religion was increasing its influence in American life, which is the highest reading on that measure in Gallup Poll history. But by 2003, the percentage saying religion was increasing its influence had dropped back into the 30% range and though it has been as high as 50% since then, it is just 32% today.

On the other hand, in a couple of polls conducted in 1969 and 1970, only 14% said religion was increasing its influence -- the lowest readings on record. That of course was during an era replete with hippies, protests, Woodstock, drug use, and other indications of a less than devout, religious population. Another time period with a low "increasing its influence" percentage was in the early 1990s.

Read it all here.

Faith on the campaign trail

Presidential candidates of both parties this year are talking much more about their faith than in previous years. Is this good for the country? And does it even help the candidates? The Christian Science Monitor talks to analysts who say that it is not doing much good for anybody:

Presidential candidates of both parties have talked more openly about their religious beliefs this year than in elections past, lifting a window on some of the values that could shape their decisions in the Oval Office. But the political benefits of such candor are not always clear in a country where most Republicans and Democrats believe in separation of church and state.

. . .

Republicans have shown off their spiritual side on the hustings in part to cement their standing with evangelical Christians, a potent voting bloc in the early-voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. The Democrats, particularly Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, have also spoken of their journeys of faith, in part to win over Protestants and Catholics who have soured on President Bush.

Scott Keeter, survey director at the Pew Research Center, says Americans want their presidential candidates to be religious – but not necessarily too religious.

Recent surveys of voters have found that beyond a basic perception that a presidential candidate has faith, "there isn't necessarily any particular benefit," Mr. Keeter said in a phone interview. "Indeed, there could potentially be a downside, with more secular people reacting negatively to what they see as excessive displays of faith" calculated for political gain.

A Pew survey in August found that the national front-runners for both parties – former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York – were viewed by Americans as the least religious of their parties' candidates. But with Huckabee and Mr. Romney in a fierce fight in Iowa, the bid for evangelical voters has intensified – and at times, critics say, crossed a line.

Several commentators singled out Romney's remark, in his Dec. 6 "Faith in America Speech," that "freedom requires religion." A Suffolk University survey of likely GOP voters in New Hampshire, where Romney leads in most polls, found that just 34 percent agreed.

"The candidates are confusing two arguments," Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist, wrote after Romney's speech. "The first, which conservatives are winning, is defending the legitimacy of religion in the public square. The second, which conservatives are bound to lose, is proclaiming the privileged status of religion in political life."

Read it all here.

What do you think?

Archbishop's New Year message on YouTube

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams will broadcast his New Year's message on You Tube and on the BBC later today, following the lead of Queen Elizabeth II who released her Christmas message the same way.

Williams says that a sustainable approach to the environment also demonstrates important truths about God and the world. In his message, filmed in Canterbury Cathedral and in a nearby recycling center, Dr Williams links the exploitation of the environment with the abuse and waste of human relationships.

"In a society where we think of so many things as disposable; where we expect to be constantly discarding last year's gadget and replacing it with this year's model - do we end up tempted to think of people and relationships as disposable? Are we so fixated on keeping up with change that we lose any sense of our need for stability?"

"A lot of the time, we just don't let ourselves think about the future with realism. A culture of vast material waste and emotional short-termism is a culture that is a lot more fragile than it knows. How much investment are we going to put in towards a safer and more balanced future?"

God, he says, 'does not do waste' and does not regard human life as disposable:
"He doesn't regard anyone as a 'waste of space', as not worth his time - from the very beginnings of life to its end, whether they are successful, articulate, productive or not. And so a life that communicates a bit of what God is like, is a life that doesn't give up - that doesn't settle down with a culture of waste and disposability - whether with people, or with things."

The message will be seen on BBC 2 at 2030 GMT (3:30 pm EST) on New Year's eve and again on BBC 1 at midday (7 am, EST) on New Year's Day.

Read: Ekklesia: Williams' New Year message warns of a throwaway society

Pakistani Christians mourn Bhutto's death

Ekklesia reports that church leaders in Pakistan have joined the widespread strong condemnation of the recent assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, who they saw as a voice for greater equality and freedom - including religious freedom.

In a statement issued yesterday, the president of the Pakistan Christian Congress (PCC), Mr Nazir S. Bhatti, recalled a meeting with Ms Bhutto - who held office twice, but was removed on both occasions following accusations of corruption which mired her attempst to be a political spokesperson for social justice.

Bhatti said Ms Bhutto had expressed concern about Pakistani Christians and vowed to “pull them into mainstream politics” in terms of rights and responsibilities for both minority and majority communities.

He also pointed out that Benazir Bhutto had a Catholic nun as a home teacher in Pakistan. She was also a friend of Anglican Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali, a former Bishop of Raiwind.

“Benazir Bhutto was a great leader, a symbol of moderate Islam and a challenge for the militants,” declared Mr Bhatti following her murder on Thursday 27 December 2007.

He added: “Pakistani Christians express [their] grief concerning the death of Benazir Bhutto and demand the immediate arrest of culprits and justice.”

Also:

Bishop Michael Nazir Ali told Times Online in the UK: "Benazir Bhutto has been a personal friend for many years. Her murder by extremists is a body blow for freedom and democracy in Pakistan. It raises serious questions about the government's ability to provide security for its citizens when even one as eminent as she can be killed in this way."

He continued: "I do hope the general elections can still be held and that the cause of democracy can survive this catastrophe."

The Bishop added: "My prayers are for her husband, children and family that they will be comforted at this time of grief. She will always be remembered for her commitment to Pakistan and her courage in public life."

Read: Ekklesia- Christians in Pakistan mourn the loss of Benazir Bhutto

Who is behind GAFCON?

Updated:

More news is emerging about the backers of the Global Anglican Future meeting planned to be held prior to Lambeth 2008.

As reported by The Lead December 29, Dr. Michael Poon, a respected voice of the Global Anglican South leadership, publicly questioned the organization, communication and purposes of the meeting. Now he has responded to a letter from a "leading primate" which rebuked Dr. Poon. The trail of editing seems to indicate that the rebuke came from Archbishop Akinola in Nigeria, but was written in large part by an American-based bishop connected with CANA (as reported on Thinking Anglicans) Suggestions as to the American bishop's identity include Bishops Minns or Bishop Anderson.

There are also questions beginning to emerge about whether or not the conference site (the Holy Land) was chosen with the full knowledge and support of either the local Anglican bishop or the primate responsible for that region. Additionally, Archbishop Anis (who is the primate of the Anglican province which contains the Holy Land) has apparently written to Archbishop Akinola asking that the date of the conference be changed to one following the Lambeth meeting this summer.

Finally, according to the WHOIS database of domain registration, the GAFCON website was registered by Canon Chris Sugden's organization, Anglican Mainstream an evangelical group based in England which has close ties to Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali (of the Church of England Diocese of Rochester) and Archbishop Akinola.

Read the account of the published rebuke to Dr. Poon here.

The Pluralist comments on the metadata and the letters here.

Added January 1: An article on GAFCON at The Guardian.

Make peace for everyone

Thirteen senior Christian leaders in the region - representing the Eastern, Catholic, Anglican and Protestant traditions - have written a letter that calls on Christians and other faithful people to redirect their energies away from territory and towards compassion and respect.

The compassionate actions of human beings, not their claims against each other, reflect the will of God and the transforming power of Jesus the Prince of Peace, the leaders say. Their letter highlight the division brought about by violence, injustice and communal separation - including the Wall dividing Palestinians from Jews and from each other.

"If peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as political leaders", they write. "Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Druze."

Many Christians in the area say that talk of a Holy Land must give way to the quest for a Land of the Holy One, where the focus is on behaviour among the religions that truly reflects the life-giving of God, rather than the mystification of territory and its exclusive association with one kind of people.

They say it is vital to recognise biblical promises about land as a call for responsibility towards growing liberation not selfish expropriation.

The full letter says:

Dear Sisters and Brothers,

"He came to his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the [offspring] of God, even to them that believe on his name; which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of human will, but of God." (St John 1.11-13)

Greetings.

1. Another Christmas is upon us and still we seek Peace for this Holy Land amidst continuing hardships. At the sane time it is important for us to reflect carefully on what the Evangelist is trying to put before us about God's gift to us of Jesus, born in Bethlehem's manger, together with the clear response God asks of each one of us.

Amidst our difficulties, we need to meditate upon what links us in the same time to God and this land. In this Land, we ask for our freedom, for the end of the Occupation. We mention the difficulties coming from "the Wall of Separation" that has transformed our cities into big prisons. With God, we are linked because our dignity comes from His dignity, and we are His children and the work of His hands. And we must keep in mind that it is not fleshly descent or human effort which makes us the children of God, and it is not human strength alone that makes us strong. Rather it is faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word of God. Christmas reminds us that our faith is not only a human belonging to a group, or to a community different from the others by its religion, We are called to make a personal commitment to Jesus. Such a commitment tells the world and particularly those around us that we are prepared to witness and live by our reliance on Jesus the Word of God, born in Bethlehem, and who brought to us durable and firm peace in our hearts.

2. So often human beings believe they are capable of making peace through their own efforts; demanding conditions of their own choosing. However, when God gave us His Son to be born of a human mother and to experience all aspects of human life He did so in order that we might discern the way to resolve our difficulties from His example and teaching. Therefore we pray for ourselves in order to understand the strength God gave us when He gave us His Eternal Word born in Bethlehem. So we pray for our political leaders that God may inspire them and make them examine their conduct and demands in the light of God's commandments always remembering their own accountability to Him, in this very life and in the process of the conflict itself..

So dear Sisters and Brothers whilst we are truly conscious of the many problems of unemployment, poverty and frustration which many of you continue to face each day, we would still urge you to remember the words of the Apostle:

May "the peace of God rule in your hearts ..." and "the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom." (Colossians 3. 15,16)

We as Christians must continue to offer our prayers to God for all those around us who are struggling to care for their families, not least the young children and the elderly. We rejoice with those families now enjoying the company of those recently released from prison whilst persisting in our efforts to encourage the release of thousands more who have the same right to have back their freedom and return to the joy of their families and children.

Amidst our sufferings, we share the sufferings of the others. We have a particular thought for the countless thousands across the world who have endured great disasters as a result of the devastating cyclones and subsequent floods of recent months. We pray for them. And for all of us we repeat the verse of the Gospel:

"God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (St John 3.16)

3. To our Sisters and Brothers across the world: we are greatly encouraged by your continuing pilgrimages to this Land: we thank you for your presence with us. During your pilgrimage as well you learn at first hand of the difficulties of your fellow Christians here as well as following in the footsteps of our Blessed Lord. Thank you for your prayers and the many expressions of your love and care for everyone here.

If Peace is to come to this Land it needs even greater effort from all concerned - ordinary citizens as well as Political leaders. Christmas reminds us that God gave us the Prince of Peace to be born in Bethlehem so we must all seek that peace for everyone in this Holy Land, be they Palestinian or Israeli, Christian, Muslim, Jew or Druze. He tells us that we are able to make peace and overcome all obstacles with the power which the Prince of peace, born in Bethlehem, brought us.

We wish everyone a truly Happy Christmas and God's richest blessings on their homes and families.

Jerusalem, December 2007, Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem

signatories

Patriarch Theophilos III of Jerusalem
Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Roman Catholic Latin
Patriarch Torkom I Manooghian, Armenian Orthodox
Fr Pierbattista Pizziballa, ofm, Custos of the Holy Land
Archbishop Anba Abraham, Coptic Orthodox
Archbishop Swerios Malki Murad, Syrian-Orthodox
Archbishop Abouna Matthias, Ethiopian Orthodox
Archbishop Paul Sayyah, Maronite
Bishop Suhail Dawani, Anglican
Bishop Mounib Younan, Lutheran
Bishop Pierre Malki, Syrian-Catholic
Bishop George Baker, Greek Catholic
Fr Rafael Minassian , Armenian Catholic

Read: Ekklesia: Make peace not division, say Jerusalem church heads

Bishops in the church of baseball

(Updated.) Bishop Jack McKelvey of the Episcopal Diocese of Rochester and his friend and colleague, Roman Catholic Bishop Matthew Clark of the Catholic Diocese of Rochester are serious baseball fans. The scandal of steroids have not discouraged their love of the game. Both grew up playing the game, appreciating the skill it takes, and loving the rhythms of the season and the drama the players bring to the game. "It's in my bones," McKelvey says.

McKelvey says that the steroid scandal points to the frailty of human nature.

"If you are already better than 99.9 percent of all the people who have ever played the game, why is that not good enough?" he asks. "That's the pathetic part about this."

Bishop Clark is a Yankees fan.

McKelvey has followed a winding road, stopping for a while to root for "any team that would beat the Yankees," to being a fan of the Minnesota Twins and their Rochester farm team, the Red Wings. He admits he was almost as excited to be elected to the Red Wings board of directors as to be elected bishop.

"People do strange things to prove they're No. 1," he says of steroids use.

But the same could be said of athletes for whom the fattest contract is really important, or CEO's or performers who look for ever higher pay.

"It's all part of the same desire," McKelvey says. "Can I be happy as No. 2? Many of them cannot."

You cannot make sense of steroids in baseball except as, in part, a reflection of the wider culture. Baseball players are like the rest of us: good, bad, and in between.

Read the rest: Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bishops see human frailty in baseball's steroids scandal.

In fifty days players may report for Spring Training.

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