The coming global schism?

Pew Forums sponsored a conference on faith, politics and public life earlier this month. The featured speaker was Phillip Jenkins, a professor at Penn State University a distinguished professor of Religious Studies and History (who has been writing about the growing strength of the global south expression of Christianity).

The long article begins with an address by Jenkins and then continues with a number of questions for members of the media asking him and other panelists for clarification and insight about how the vital faith of the global south is changing the way Christianity interacts at numerous levels in the developed nations.

Here's just a bit of the initial statement:

"...I was once talking to some West Africans about the bits of the Bible that made sense to them in ways that could not make sense to Westerners. They said, 'We live in agricultural societies, so things like the Parable of the Sower made great sense.' Just talking about it, they started getting teary eyed. Then they mentioned Psalm 126. Psalm 126 is a psalm that is widely quoted, and it goes like this: 'The man who goes forth into the fields in tears weeping to sow the seed will bring the sheaves again in joy.' You understand perfectly well why a farmer would bring the sheaves again in joy; he's celebrating harvest time.

But why do you weep while you're sowing? 'It's obvious,' they said to me. 'Whoever wrote this psalm was writing at a time of famine, like we had a couple of years ago. You've got the corn that's left, and you can do one of two things with it. You can feed your family with it, but if you do that, you're not a farmer anymore [because you have no seeds left] and you have to migrate to the city and become a beggar, and what's going to happen to your children and so on. Or you can take the corn literally out of the hands of your hungry children and use it as seed corn and sow it. That's why a farmer weeps while sowing the corn. It's obvious.'

As I said, it wasn't obvious to me, but there are any number of examples like that where the Bible describes a world that makes immediate, intuitive, documentary sense in a way it can't for us. It's almost as if every passage comes with – (unintelligible) – at the end. You have texts like the Book of Ruth, for example. The Book of Ruth is all about a society destroyed by famine where the men have left because they can, and the women are left behind with the children, and the world is held together by people being loyal to clan ties. Can't think of why that would be relevant in large chunks of Africa."

Read the rest here.

Bias in Media

Media Matters reports that news of religion quotes conservative voices 2.7 times more often in the print and 3.8 times as often on major network television, including PBS.

"Left Behind: The Skewed Respresentation of Religion in Major News Media"
It would surprise few people, conservative or progressive, to learn that coverage of the intersection of religion and politics tends to oversimplify both. If this oversimplification occurred to the benefit or detriment of neither side of the political divide, then the weaknesses in coverage of religion would be of only academic interest. But as this study documents, coverage of religion not only overrepresents some voices and underrepresents others, it does so in a way that is consistently advantageous to conservatives.

As in many areas, the decisions journalists make when deciding which voices to include in their stories have serious consequences. What is the picture of religious opinion? Who is a religious leader? Whose views represent important groups of believers? Every time a journalist writes a story, he or she answers these questions by deciding whom to quote and how to characterize their views.

Religion is often depicted in the news media as a politically divisive force, with two sides roughly paralleling the broader political divide: On one side are cultural conservatives who ground their political values in religious beliefs; and on the other side are secular liberals, who have opted out of debates that center on religion-based values. The truth, however is far different: close to 90 percent of Americans today self-identify as religious, while only 22 percent belong to traditionalist sects. Yet in the cultural war depicted by news media as existing across religious lines, centrist and progressive voices are marginalized or absent altogether.

In order to begin to assess how the news media paint the picture of religion in America today, this study measured the extent to which religious leaders, both conservative and progressive, are quoted, mentioned, and interviewed in the news media.

Among the study's key findings:
Combining newspapers and television, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders.
On television news -- the three major television networks, the three major cable new channels, and PBS -- conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed almost 3.8 times as often as progressive leaders.
In major newspapers, conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed 2.7 times as often as progressive leaders.

Despite the fact most religious Americans are moderate or progressive, in the news media it is overwhelmingly conservative leaders who are presented as the voice of religion. This represents a particularly meaningful distortion since progressive religious leaders tend to focus on different issues and offer an entirely different perspective than their conservative counterparts.

For the complete report Click Here

UPDATE: bloggers Richard in Caught by the Light and Fr. Jake of Father Jake Stops the World have timelines to assist working with reporters. One in pdf.

Blogging the Bible

A little over a year ago, David Plotz of Slate set out to write blog entries on the entire Hebrew Bible. This week, some 39 books, 929 chapters and more than 600,000 words later he finished. Have a look.

An exception

Get Religion is a Web site devoted to analyzing the media's coverage of religion. It is bankrolled by Howard Ahmanson, who also bankrolls the Institute on Religion and Democracy, American Anglican Counci, and a variety of other outfits whose aims include having creationism taught in schools, obscuring the link between human activity and global warming and undermining mainline Protestants' ability to govern their denominations.

All that said, GR is now, once again, home to the astute and fair minded Doug LeBlanc. His analysis of the recent TIME magazine story on Rowan Williams, and of Williams' cagey deployment of invitations to the Lambeth Conference are well worth reading.

Goths and rockers go to church

CNN catches up with Goth Eucharists in England and the U2charist in the U.S. in this surprisingly snark-free three minute segment. For the record, it's our understanding at the Cafe that the U2charist is the brainchild of Sarah Dylan Breuer, though she seldom gets credit for it,

Red Meat

Deviancy! Immorality! Racism! If you read enough of the papers—not to mention the bloggers-- this is what one might think the Episcopal Church stands for. Have you heard? The Episcopal Church is swinging the door open to deviants! Also, six Anglican bishops want Canadian Anglicans want to approve immorality so they won't be distracted from global warming. And don't forget, when the Executive Council disagrees with African Archbishops, it's racism.

Dinesh D'Souza, a conservative columnist, Robert and Karen Rishwain Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and a popular public speaker for conservative causes, whose reputation as a race-baiter was established by his book, The End of Racism, trains his animus on gays, lesbians and the Episcopal Church in his most recent blog entry. Under the heading "Attention Social Deviants! The Episcopal Church Wants You," D'Souza likens the Church's acceptance of gays and lesbians to the acceptance of child molesters and serial killers.

“--Convicts Who Have Been Found Guilty of Violent Crimes (more marginalized now than ever before)
“--Child Molesters (marginalized even within the prison population!)
“--Serial Killers (admired in the movies, but otherwise very marginalized since at least the days of Jack the Ripper)
“--Pedophiles (so marginalized that even gays keep their distance, and all for holding that there's nothing magical about being "of age")
“--Polygamists (marginalized for holding the view, "Why Stop at Two?")
“--Skinheads (more marginalized today than the groups they seek to marginalize)
“This is hardly a complete list, and I'm sure I'll be hearing shortly from nudists, swingers, wife-swappers, Nazis, and other groups I've left off my list.”

So, in one swipe D'Souza includes a faithfully partnered gay man with child molesters and serial killers. Does this make any sense at all? Only if one's goal is to stir up rage. Keep in mind that D'Souza's career has been financed since his college days by the same foundations that keep the Institute on Religion and Democracy in business. Not only does this kind of thing make happy people who agree with D'Souza, he knows that it will illicit rage from some quarters of the people he opposes.

D'Souza is certainly not alone in this approach.

Washington Times columnist Mark Steyn claims that the plea of six Anglican bishops to this weeks General Synod to allow for some provision to bless same-sex couples is another fashionable stand along with their concerns for Global Warming, both of which lead to global moral depravity.

And just last week, Chris Sugden of the Anglican Maintream says disagreeing with certain African Archbishops is racist. It was all well and good, he tells us, for the 1998 Lambeth Conference to condemn genocide in Rwanda, but now the tables are turned when it comes to the ordination of openly gay bishops, Americans should be quiet and listen. “Now,” Sugden says, “something that was regarded as acceptable when dealing with Africans is not acceptable to the Americans. It sniffs of racism.”

To make this analysis work, one must equate the deaths of 800,000 Rwandans in the late 1990's—and what this horror did to the Church and the people of Rwanda-- to the ordination of one man in 2003 in New Hampshire.

By themselves, these statements seem irrational. Most faithful Episcopalians ignore them, perhaps with a sigh and a roll of the eyes. Small shots across the bow don't stop the vast majority of the faithful from going about the business of living faithfully. But taken together, these statements are 'red meat' for a loyal base—many of whom are not even Episcopalian—in a nasty war of words. And when ideas don't work, exaggeration, smear and outright lies will.

And the worst part is this: most of the time it's not about the Episcopal Church or the Anglican Communion per se. For most of these writers, it about using the Church as a symbol of all that is wrong with the world from their point of view. Which sure beats writing about what's right.

Global Voices Online

The world may be flat, as Thomas Friedman, argues, but much of the information we receive is filtered through a corporatized media, hierarchical institutions, and politically motivated interest groups. Americans receive little information about other countries directly from the people who live there. But that is changing.

Global Voices Online features firsthand reports from bloggers all around the world, including hot spots such as Iraq, Sri Lanka and Myanmar (Happy Birthday, Aung San Suu Kyi!).

Eddie Avila, senior manager for community youth programs at Washington National Cathedral, is the regional editor for Latin America. In an email to the Cafe, he wrote:

"I work to coordinate our team of volunteer authors from across the region, as well as search for daily links of interesting blog entries from across the region.

Our Goals:

To amplify the voices of bloggers and content creators often ignored by other media.

To help develop and refine tools and resources that encourage global dialogue and the freedom of online expression.

To advocate against censorship and promote the safety of bloggers who live under autocratic regimes.

To foster diversity and the emergence of new citizens’ voices through training and outreach."

To read what Avila calls the group's "manifesto"...

Read more »

How far is too far?

In the Anglican blogosphere, and in the media at large, the left is always calling upon the right to adopt a more civil tone. And vice versa. The most recent case in point involves a dispute between the conservative commentator Ann Coulter, and Elizabeth Edwards, wife of the Democratic presidential candidate.

Joan Walsh of Salon agrees with Edwards, who thinks that Coulter crossed the line in her comments about Edwards' husband. She writes:

On "Scarborough Country" last night I was forced to point out that Edwards didn't "pick a fight" with Coulter (Dan Abrams' words); Coulter picked the fight when she called Edwards a "faggot" at the Conservative Political Action Committee meeting in January and cruelly accused him four years ago of hyping his son Wade's death. Poor Pat Buchanan kept insisting Coulter was "a good debater" who hadn't said anything particularly outrageous. In the end, I was forced to repeat her gay slur against Edwards and toss in that she called Vice President Al Gore "a total fag." I don't use those words, but it was starting to get silly, debating whether what she said was out of bounds without being able to say what she said. So I did.


David Kuo of Beliefnet, a former member of the Bush administration says it is time for conservative Christians to denounce Coulter. He writes:

Christians involved in politics must do the hardest thing of all - they must push for their positions in such a way as to bring glory to God. If they don't do that, if they don't sublimate their politics to God something horrible happens - politics becomes their God.

History is replete with examples of how this works well - the Underground Railroad, abolition, the civil rights movement, women's suffrage - this is not one of those times. Too many conservative Christian activists are behaving as if God is subordinate to their political desires...or worse that he is simply a pawn to be used in their desires.

Is this a free speech issue? Are the Edwards' trying to squelch Coulter. Or is this a case of censuring, rather than censoring?

Today's NYT

The New York Times examines Hillary Clinton's faith, and offers a one-sided view of a parish conflict in Connecticut where, to read Alison Leigh Cowan, you would conclude that conservatives are the only ones who read Scripture, or have an emotional attachment to their faith. Her treatment of the legal issues is similarly uninformed.

A new blog on The Religion-Industrial Complex

Jacques Berlinerblau of Georgetown University has launched a new blog called The God Vote with an assist from the folks at the Washington Post's blog: On Faith. He writes:

My maxim is: when dealing with faith and politics few things do violence to our (already limited) powers of impartiality like our own faith and our own politics. Whether writing about a presidential aspirant’s latest play of the religion card, or an emerging issue being championed by a special interest group, or a poll showing that this community of faith supports that candidate, my goal is to write with an acute awareness of how religious and political passion can obscure and cloud the good judgment, moral reasoning, and analytical clarity of industry commentators (including myself) and those they comment on.

Have a look.

Sins of the Times

The Rev. Jan Nunley, the Episcopal Church's deputy for communications, has picked apart a sensationalistic story in The New York Times which would leave readers with the false impression that a man who left the adult film industry six months ago is on the fast track toward beoming a priest.

The story is similiar to the equally over-hyped story about former New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey's enrollment at the General Seminary in New York. He too was "ordained" by the media without ever even entering the discernment process of an Episcopal diocese.

Pod world and youtube

Catching up to the 21st century, Episcopal churches are making videos, podcasting sermons, and otherwise taking the initiative to broadcast the "good news" of life in the church using the internet.

Instead of waiting for news to be broadcast by others, often sensationalized and mostly about sex, members of The Episcopal Church are creating and posting their own stories, sermons, and educational pieces.

Trinity Wall Street has been a long time leader in web broadcasting with Trinity Institute and other productions. They provide studio space and professional assistance for their work and the work of others.

The Rev. Matthew Moretz in Yonkers, NY puts his own brand of humor and information on "youtube" with Fr. Matthew Presents.

Episcopal Life Online runs a multimedia presentation with various leaders speaking about life in the church and the work of the church. This week features The Rt. Rev. Trevor Mwamba, bishop of Botswana - who also appears in The Ladies #1 Detective Agency mysteries by Alexander McCall Smith.

Episcopal Cafe began a video section this week with assistance from Trinity Church Wall Street in New York. This week offers Thomas Keating on Consenting to the Presence of God.

All Saints Church Pasadena moved from audio only to video in recent months. This week they are broadcasting a sermon at All Saints by The Rt. Rev. Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire. All Saints also added the Franciscan Fourfold Blessing by Bishop Robinson on youtube

The Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori and her staff have been pro-active in the pod cast and video broadcast world. Shortly after the Primates meeting in Tanzania she held a nationwide live conference via streaming video. She appeared on The Bill Moyers Show discussing faith and science.

This past week Bishop-elect of the Diocese of Olympia (WA) the Rev. Greg Rickel did interviews for Soul Talk in Austin, TX. The first one is found at "The Mirror Doesn't Forget" and the other at "Soul Talk Interview with The Rev. Greg Rickel." He discusses what attracted him to The Episcopal Church, the current life of the church and his hopes for the Diocese of Olympia in Western Washington, where most people profess to belong to "none" when it comes to church affliliation. A memorable quote, he hopes we will not to get mired in our "willingness to be discontented all the time."

Some programs are more engaging than others. On audio casts, voice quality, approachability, and concise interesting answers work best. "Talking heads" are the least effective in video unless one is already interested in the subject. Quality of sound and video are essential and gentle humor makes a piece memorable. Photos and video clips help convey depth behind words and help viewers stay engaged.

What are your thoughts on the use of the internet to spread the message of The Episcopal Church?

Washington Cathedral, a nighttime tour

Your erstwhile Thursday editor has been besieged by lightning all afternoon and evening. With apologies for the technical difficulties, we give you this link to pass the night: The Washington Post's interactive panorama of the National Cathedral by night. QuickTime required.

Standing room only

It was standing room only for the students of Trinity Prepartory School of Winter Park, Florida, who put on their production of La Cage aux Folles at the Universal Orlando Theater. Adam Hetrik of Playbill News wrote:

La Cage aux Folles, which was not a part of Trinity Preparatory school's regular theatre schedule, was offered as a summer intensive open to all local high school students, not only those enrolled at Trinity Preparatory School. The program was designed to provide students with a credit for a fine arts requirement by bringing in local theatre professionals in order to allow students the experience of a professional rehearsal and production process.

When the show was publicized at the start of the school year, controversy erupted.

(The) parents and students were aware of the musical's content. Having previously produced A Chorus Line at Trinity Prep, a musical with many progressive central themes, (Department head Janine) Papin hoped audiences and the school were willing to go on the latest journey with her.

However, when Bishop John Howe, head of the Diocese of Central Florida, read of Trinity Preparatory's intended presentation of La Cage aux Folles in a local paper, a letter was sent "officially requesting" the school's headmaster to cancel the production.

The cancellation might have been the end, but news of the move brought forward both a flood of protest and offers from area theater companies and arts groups to put on the show. Playbill reported that the students received at least 15 offers to stage the production. After negotiations it was decided to hold the production at Universal Orlando, but without the official sponsorship of Trinity Prep. Read more here.

Tanya Caldwell of the Orlando Sentinel reported that over 300 people attended the performance on opening night.

The students took the show to Orlando Repertory Theatre after a week of debate about whether the bishop overstepped his bounds or held his moral ground. At least three other theaters also opened their doors to the group.

At least 300 parents, peers and neighbors arrived for the opening night, laughing at the jokes, smiling during the solos and whistling as grinning drag queens danced across the stage.

The Broadway musical has won several awards and was later tuned into an American movie called The Birdcage, which starred Robin Williams and Nathan Lane. La Cage features a gay couple in which one partner runs a French nightclub and the other performs there as a drag queen. The couple has been together for 20 years but make changes when their son bring home his fiancee and her conservative parents.

According to Playbill, Bishop Howe issued the following statement:

"We regret that the scheduling of this performance has been interpreted as a departure from our 40-year history as an Episcopal school. The students who worked hard to prepare for this play had neither a political nor social agenda."

Papin, who is unable to comment publicly on the production due to school administration restrictions, issued the following statement in an official Trinity Prep press release:

"I am quite proud of the students' tenacity and determination through this very difficult process. And I am thrilled that the students will get to perform the show on which they have worked so very hard. I am so grateful to all who supported our students' work."

Misfeasance? Malfeasance?

Another update: Stand Firm in Faith has an email that certainly looks like an apology from a NAN reporter who claims to be the one who wrote the report on Bishop Orama. It is a curious document, including a paragraph at the end in which the reporter says he did not act in bad faith, and that he is committed to evangelism-- which are unusual things for a reporter to say. But if NAN confirms that this is authentic, I think the matter is closed.

Update: The Church of Nigeria has also released the bishop's power point presentation, and published an article on its web site. The excerpt below on CANA is from that presentation. Still no response from the News Agency of Nigeria, and at least to this point, nothing from the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose previous statement is here. Discussion continues at Thinking Anglicans.

In an email to various bloggers and reporters, Archdeacon AkinTunde Popoola of the Church of Nigeria has provided additional information about the remarks attributed to--but denied by--the Rt. Rev. Isaac Orama of the Diocese of Uyo last week.

He writes that this excerpt is from a copy of the bishop's speech:

G. INAUGURATION OF CANA

The formal inauguration of CANA-Convocation of Anglicans in North America and the enthronement of its pioneer Bishop, Rt. Revd. Martyn Minns took place on 4th May, 2007, at a service presided over by the Primate and Metropolitan of Church of Nigeria, The Most Revd. Peter J. Akinola at Hylton Chapel woodbridge, Virginia in the United States of America.

CANA is the offshoot of the Church of Nigeria's response to the unbiblical agenda of the Episcopal Church of United States of America in supporting same sex marriage and consecrating in the year 2003 the publicly acknowledged gay priest V. Gene Robinson as bishop.

The aim of CANA, in the words of the Primate of Church of Nigeria, The Most Revd. Peter J. Akinola is “to provide a safe place for those who wish to remain faithful Anglicans but can no longer do so within the Episcopal Church. The Primate was assisted by the following bishops of Church of Nigeria, Rt. Revd. Emmanuel Chukwuma (Enugu); Rt. Revd. Benjamin Kwashi (Jos); Rt. Revd. Ignatius Kattey, (NDDN); Rt. Revd. Edafe Emamezi (Western Izon). The chairman of board of trustees of CANA, Barr. Abraham Yisa was also in attendance.

He also says that the reporter is asking for forgiveness, and the bishop is insisting on a retraction. I am not familiar enough with the ways of the Nigerian media to easily make sense of this. In the United States, the news agency, not the individual reporter, would be responsible for the decision to retract, and if the matter is cut and dried, would be made fairly quickly. This particular story has been out there since September 2 with no retraction. That would be significant here, but I don't know if it is significant there.

Then there is the nature of the mistake if indeed one was made. If this is all the bishop said, it is impossible to believe that he reporter just got it wrong. He would have had to make it up. Malfeasance rather than misfeasance.

It would be extremely helpful if the News Agency of Nigeria would chime in soon.

Watch 'Episcopal Life Focus' tonight

Episcopal Life Online is premiering a new monthly half-hour videocast tonight at 8 p.m. You can tune in at Episcopal Life Online to hear about church mission, ministries and news. The first episode features a piece on the New Orleans and the Gulf area, including the upcoming House of Bishops meeting. The show is also available in captioned format.

From an email release:


Episcopal Life Focus will remain available online for on-demand viewing, and for placement on local community access cable stations that make air time available free of charge. Mike Collins, director of video and multicast communication for the Episcopal Church, is the producer of Episcopal Life Focus. The Rev. Jan Nunley, executive editor of Episcopal Life Media, will anchor the show and serve as its executive editor.

Inquiries about programming, and requests regarding community access
cable placement, should be directed to Collins at mcollins@episcopalchurch.org , or 800-334-7626, ext. 6018.

For the Bible Tells Me So

Daniel Karslake has created a documentary telling the story of devout Christians who learn their child is gay and how that affected their belief that same-sex relationships are prohibited by Scripture.

The film is designed to reach beyond people who accept partnered gays and lesbians to reach what Karslake calls "the moveable middle." He spoke at a private screening Monday at New York's Marble Collegiate Church.

According to Rachel Zoll of the Associate Press,

Karslake, who is gay and a mainline Protestant, believes that ''sincere, honorable, compassionate people'' have been misled about how they should read the Bible.

The documentary features many pro-gay veterans of the theological debates.

Among them is the Rev. Mel White, the former ghost writer for the Rev. Jerry Falwell and founder of the gay and lesbian advocacy group Soulforce.

So is Jimmy Creech, the former United Methodist pastor who lost his clergy credentials in the late 1990s for conducting same-sex union ceremonies. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Rev. Peter Gomes, the prominent preacher and Harvard Divinity School professor, also make a case for acceptance.

But the movie largely focuses on the personal stories of some well-known -- and not-so-famous -- mothers and fathers of gays and lesbians.

The parents of New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson, the first openly gay Episcopal bishop, talk about how they knew nothing about homosexuality until Robinson came out to them. They bought some books about ''gay folks'' and decided that what they had been taught was wrong.

Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt, a Missouri Democrat, and his family talk about his daughter Chrissy, who is a lesbian.

A Bible-believing African-American couple from North Carolina, David and Brenda Poteat, told Karslake that while they still disapprove of homosexuality, they have found a way to build a good relationship with their lesbian daughter, Tonia.

And a woman who was raised to interpret the Bible literally tells of her daughter's suicide after her mother repeatedly said she would never accept the girl as a lesbian.

Read: A different approach: Documentary explores religion and homosexuality debate through Christian parents of gays

See also the web-site for the documentary: For the Bible Tells Me So.

New Episcopal Life Focus launches tonight

From Episcopal Life Online:

The October edition of "Episcopal Life Focus" -- a half-hour video "multicast" featuring church mission, ministries and news -- is now available here.

The program will remain available for on-demand viewing at Episcopal Life Online.

Produced by Episcopal Life Media, the program will feature coverage of the House of Bishops September meeting in New Orleans, the Archbishop of Canterbury's visit there, and the hands-on post-hurricane rebuilding and pastoral work offered by the bishops and spouses along the Gulf Coast.

Also featured is a profile of New Orleans Episcopalian Diana Meyers, who leads the Mobile Healthcare Ministry for St. Anna's Church, a historic parish in the city's Treme section.

The program covers the opening of the new Desmond Tutu Center for Reconciliation at New York's General Theological Seminary. The Focus program will conclude with a pastoral reflection.

The program is produced by Michael Collins and anchored by the Rev. Jan Nunley, executive editor of Episcopal Life Media.

This edition of Episcopal Life Focus is again sponsored by Episcopal Books and Resources, with online captioning for the hearing impaired provided by the Episcopal Church Women, Diocese of Los Angeles.

The program is also available for placement on community-access cable channels offering free air time.


Connecting believers and proclaiming the Gospel

Helen Thompson (one of our Daily Episcopalian essayists and a member of The Lead's news-team) was interviewed this week by Mark Brown, the CEO of the Bible Society of New Zealand. In the interview Helen discusses her work as a social media strategist and how Christian witness is adapting and using new tools online.

After a conversation about her background, there's a mention of the relatively new Anglican Cathedral in the online world of Second Life, Helen's tips for bloggers, and this observation:

"I’m starting to see social groups form as people realize how much they have in common, no matter where they are geographically. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate connecting with other people in my peer group through this medium, because there are so few of my peers at my actual church. All of these areas are places we can focus on as we figure out our own identity as Anglicans in Second Life, and I’m particularly gratified that we’re not worried so much about the politics of the Anglican Communion and more about the message of Christ’s Love."

Read the rest here.

The statute of limitations on "imminent"

Paul Majendie of Reuters has the latest "sky is falling/schism is imminent" article, this one pegged to the Diocese of Ottawa's decision to ask its bishop to authorize a rite for blessing same-sex unions.

Faced with a bid from Canadian clerics to bless gay weddings, the worldwide Anglican Communion now faces a real risk of breaking apart over differences between its liberal and conservative wings.

"The train and the buffers are getting closer," said religious journalist and commentator Clifford Longley.

The bishop has not yet decided how to respond, and if he authorizes a rite, it is unclear what the Church of Canada, or the Anglican Commuinion will do in response. It is also far from clear whether one can have a "schism" involving a single diocese. But no journalist covering this story has been held accountable for erroneous predictions of imminent schism.

We've explored the sky is falling/gap is widening problem that journalists succumb to on a regualr basis twice previously. For the key excerpts, click on the words in blue.

Read more »

Make your own Sunday

From the satirical site Lark News:

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Don Lawrence preaches three times a week to an appreciative congregation at Life Baptist church. His sermon tapes often sell out, and this year he is leading the people through a study of Matthew’s gospel.

But Lawrence is not a real person. He is a virtual, on-screen pastor whose sermon topics, personality, even mannerisms are chosen collectively by his congregation.

"We’ve never been happier," says head elder Louie Francesca. "We finally got the pastor we all want."

Read it all. It's funny. But it's not only funny.

Provoked

Provoke Radio is a new venture inspired by Catholic teaching on social justice. It's just getting off the ground, or, rather, on the air, but it is worth a look, or, rather, a listen..

Running the race

The 12th Season of CBS TV's Amazing Race was broadcast last night, Sunday, November 4th 2007. It starts with 11 teams traveling all over the world the last team standing wins a million dollars. There is a Female couple competing on it, a Priest and Deacon Couple from the Episcopal Church.

Melissa Evans of the LA Daily News writes:

There weren't any women ministers - much less lesbian ministers - when the Revs. Kate Lewis and Pat Hendrickson were young.

Although times have changed, role models are still hard to find, they say, even in the liberal-leaning Episcopal Church.

Lewis and Hendrickson, who have been in a relationship since meeting at a religious retreat in 1997, hope to change that with their appearance on "The Amazing Race," the CBS reality show that launches its 12th season tonight.

"We're happy to offer ourselves up to show people that Christians come in many different stripes," said Lewis, a minister at St. Cross Episcopal Church in Hermosa Beach. "Some of us are progressive and inclusive."

The potential for a $1 million prize, along with a globe-spanning adventure, didn't hurt, either.

"We are very serious about our relationship with God, and we are very serious about winning this race," said Hendrickson, a minister at St. Patrick's Episcopal Church in Thousand Oaks. "We're not afraid to have a good time, either. There's nothing wrong with having a little fun."

Amid the cast of brothers and sisters, co-workers and heterosexual couples, Lewis and Hendrickson are the only lesbian team ever to compete. The fact that they are both ordained ministers adds to their allure.

The teams travel nearly 50,000 miles by air, sea and land in a physically and mentally demanding race through several countries, including Ireland, Lithuania and Croatia. Eleven teams will compete this season to see who can master the geography, culture and climate of each country the fastest.

Here is the description of Kate and Pat's Team from the show's web site:

TEAM 11

Kate & Pat

Married Ministers

Kate: Thousand Oaks, CA, 49, Episcopal Priest

Pat: Thousand Oaks, CA, 65, Ordained Deacon

Kate & Pat dated for seven years before tying the knot three years ago. These well traveled Episcopal clergy are ready for the adventure of lifetime-but don't let the collars fool you-they can play dirty too.

Kate is an Episcopal priest and has one grown son. She claims that the biggest difference between herself and Pat is that she avoids conflict while Pat dives right in. Kate describes herself as passionate and sarcastic while Pat says she is persistent and dependable.

Pat is a vocational deacon in the Episcopal Church and her ministry in the community is to people with disabilities. She is also the mother of two sons and grandmother of three. Pat's biggest pet peeve about Kate is that she constantly misjudges her time, an issue that could surely cause problems on the Race.

Both are out to prove that they are not afraid to compete with anyone and they are extremely confident that their years of experience will help them combat the physical prowess of the younger Teams.

They already finished the first leg and survived.

Read more: epiScope: The race that is set before us and An Inch at a Time: How cool is THIS??????????.

Television Without Pity has a discussion board for each set of racers. Here is the link for Pat and Kate.

Religion journalism on the Web

If you follow religion news on the Web, you may already know about the Dallas Morning News' excellent blog (although you may not know that blogger Sam Hodges is the author of the hilarious novel B-4). Now Tom Henaghan and other Reuters reporters have launched a lively new blog called Faith World. We don't know if Tom has written a hilarious novel, but will give him equal time if he has.

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.

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

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.

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.

Buddhist monks in top ten of religious news stories

Religion writers recently named their top ten religious news stories of the year. Their list differs from Time Magazines' top ten. The Anglican Journal notes: For the top religion newsmaker of the year, the journalists chose the Buddhist monks in Myanmar who last September demonstrated in support of democracy but were squelched by the military-backed government. Here is a summary of their choices.

1. Evangelical voters undecided.

2. Democrats and faith and votes.

3. Role of lesbians and gays in faith groups.

4. Global warming and religion.

5. Illegal immigration.

6. Buddhist monks.

7. Episcopal re-alignment and court cases.

8. The Supreme Court votes with conservative religion.

9. Death of TV several prominent TV evangelists.

10. The cost of priestly sex-abuse to the Roman Catholic Church.

Read more about their list in the Anglican Journal

Peter Steinfels predicts the future

Peter Steinfels, the co-director of the Fordham Center for Religion and Culture, has a fun post on the Commenweal website that "predicts" the big religion stories in 2008. Here are some highlights:

January: Retooling his successful Iowa campaign for New Hampshire, former Baptist pastor Michael Huckabee expresses previously unnoticed interest in becoming a Congregationalist. Congregationalist Barack Obama, looking toward a tight race with Hillary Clinton in South Carolina, begins referring to his “inner Baptist.”

. . .

March: Two weeks before Easter, CNN broadcasts a special report on a newly unearthed “Gospel of Joseph” revealing that Jesus was a troublesome teenager. Princeton University expert on early Christianity, Elaine Pagels, hails the document for making Jesus appear more human. Other scholars complain that the ancient manuscript appears to be written with a ball-point pen.

. . .

May: Dismay fills the ranks of atheists at news that Richard Dawkins has been seen lighting votive candles and fingering a rosary at a small church near Cambridge. Witnesses challenge Mr. Dawkins’s initial protests that he was merely “doing research.” He promises to undergo therapy and later declares himself cured of belief.

. . .

July: Fears that the Episcopal Church’s consecration of an openly gay bishop might disrupt the world’s Anglican bishops at the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference in Canterbury are completely eclipsed by word that the Vancouver diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada intends to begin ordaining whales. Fierce debate breaks out over the meaning of five biblical passages about “the Leviathan.”

Read the entire post here. Hat tip to Melissa Rogers.

Neither right nor left, but a moral center

Last week evangelical activist Jim Wallis said that the dominance of the religious right in American politics has ended. He appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (and in other places) talking about his new book The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith and Politics in the Post-Religious Right America. He says:

The dominance of the religious right over our politics is finally finished…

But the even better news is that now a new generation has come of age and they’re applying their faith to the biggest issues each of us faces: the moral scandal of poverty, the degradation of the environment which we call God’s creation, climate change, Darfur, human rights…the exclusive use of war to fight evil and the cultural assault on your three year old and my four year old.

And:

The country isn’t hungry for a religious left to replace the religious right. They don’t want to go left or right. They want to go deeper. They want to go to a moral center.

Hat tip to: Revolution in Jesusland.

See also: The Comedy Central video.

PBS on Wilberforce

February 23, 2007 marked the 200th anniversary of the British Parliment's vote to ban the slave trade. But the recognition of William Wilberforce, who lead an often lonely campaign to end the slave trade is not over. This month PBS stations will air The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce.

Christianity Today gives it a favorable review:

A year ago, February 23, 2007, marked the 200th anniversary of the short Parliamentarian's tall triumph, with the passage of a bill banning the slave trade. That same day, the film Amazing Grace released to theaters, and there has been no shortage of Wilberforce-ian resources in the past year.

What has been missing is that middle-ground vehicle: the public television documentary. A biopic like Amazing Grace is an excellent medium to give audiences access to the emotions of great people and the most dramatic moments of their history. . . . But such films almost demand that the filmmakers play down the complexity of the history and rearrange the details in order to maximize the drama.

For those not yet ready to invest their time in reading a full-length biography, an hour-long documentary, airing throughout February on public television, is just the right bridge to better understanding.

The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce does well what television documentaries do. It presents the basic facts of Wilberforce's dramatic life in a calm and orderly fashion, illustrates them with historical images, fleshes out the story with interviews with experts, and grounds it with a basso profundo narration (provided by Avery Brooks, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Captain Benjamin Sisko).

The interviews feature the authors of popular Wilberforce biographies—Kevin Belmonte, Eric Metaxas, John Pollock—and other founts of Wilberforce lore, including Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury and David Isherwood, rector of the church in Clapham where Wilberforce and his friends found spiritual sustenance.

Unlike many accounts, this documentary emphasizes the importance of Wilberforce's circle of friends--and his Christian faith--in this battle:

Wilberforce's network of friends illustrates the complexity of his story. When people speak reverently of Wilberforce's legendary persistence, they create an image of a solitary hero standing against insuperable odds. But WW's perseverance and his multitude of other achievements were due in large part to his circle of intimates. The Better Hour points out his particular talent was for networking, an ability commonly found in effective politicians. Wilberforce's theater was the House of Commons, where he provided leadership to a group of about 30 members. There he acted his very public part in the drama of suppressing the slave trade. His friends were no less gifted, but many displayed their talents on other stages: Hannah More, the gifted playwright and poet, being a prime example.

. . .

Likewise, little reform would have happened without faith in God. The Better Hour makes this clear in many ways, from the role faith played in launching Wilberforce into the long struggle, to the supportive role it played for him and his network of friends, to the sustaining power of faith for the slaves themselves. This is one story in which religion—Christian faith—plays a natural and positive role throughout.

Read the full review here. The official website for the documentary is here.

Bishop Sisk responds to New Yorker's story on Paul Moore

Bishop Mark Sisk of New York has written to members of his diocese about a story in The New Yorker magazine by Honor Moore in which she revealed that her father, the late Bishop Paul Moore, had an affair with a man during his marraige. To read the letter click "Read more."

The key paragraph follows:

But there is more. It appears as well that Bishop Moore violated his ordination vows in another respect. The long term extra-marital relationship that his daughter describes was begun, according to her account, with a young man who had come to the Bishop for counseling. That inappropriate relationship is a fundamental violation of an ordained person’s vow to minister to the needs of those entrusted to his or her care; never is this more so than when working with the vulnerable who have come seeking pastoral care. Sadly the violation of trust that Ms Moore reports is consistent with behavior recorded in complaints about Bishop Moore’s exploitative behavior received by the office of the Bishop of New York. As Canon Law required, the concerns of those complainants (who wished their identities held in confidence) were duly conveyed to the then Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning for disposition.

Read more »

Tithing revisited

Since 1982, the tithe has been the minimum standard of giving in the Episcopal Church. We are not alone in that teaching. Americans donate $295 billion a year to charity, with just under a third of it - $97 billion - to religious organizations. But the typical American Christian gives about 2.5% of their income to church.

Now some Christians are beginning to question the centrality of the tithe. In an era when contributions to religious groups are growing more slowly than other charitable giving, and as Congress takes a closer look at the finances of some televangelists, CBS Eye on Religion Reporter Martha Teichner examines the controversy over tithing, and meets some inspiring people who strongly believe in the power of generosity.

From his home near Marietta, Georgia, Russell Kelly wages war against preachers who use the Bible to justify tithing. His Web site, shouldthechurchteachtithing, argues against the supporters of tithing.

"We believe if you look at those texts they quote," he says, "they are out of context."

But that's not his only objection.

"Almost every person I contact on the Internet, they tell me the same story, where they go to their pastor - no matter what kind of church it is, Baptist, Charismatic, Methodist, you name it - and start asking questions about tithing, they are told to shut up, to be quiet, to leave the church."

It happened to his own wife, when her first husband was dying.

"I had a $5 an hour job, a small child to raise, and my husband kept getting, sicker and sicker," Janice Kelly told Teichner. "It came to the point whether I buy insulin for him or whether I pay my tithes, so I went to the preacher."

Janice Kelly didn't expect his response.

"He just ... told me I would be cursed."

Americans have been trying to figure out how to support their churches ever since they severed themselves from the taxing power of the state and stopped charing pew rents and other forms of membership dues.

"Protestants, both mainline and evangelical, have since the 1870s, fixed upon the tithe and on this Malachi passage as a kind of law that has never been repealed," explains James Hudnut-Beumler, dean of the divinity school at Vanderbilt University.

Yes, only since the 1870s, as a way of making up lost revenue. The First Amendment in effect privatized religion in the United States, cutting off the tax money that once supported it in colonial America. The weekly collection didn't even exist until the middle of the 19th century, when churches gave up selling or renting pews.

"I'm somewhat suspicious of people who want to turn giving ten percent into virtually the only law that applies to people who are under a covenant of grace," says Hudnut-Beumler, "where God saves freely, not for ten percent down."

He says he's reminded of Martin Luther, father of the Protestant movement, who broke away from the Catholic church because it was selling indulgences: Promises of a quicker road to heaven in exchange for cash.

"Stripped down to its basics," he says, "I don't think it's different than indulgences. What we see today, though, is a return to 'this-for-that religion,' give God this and God will give you that."

Of course, the lavish lifestyles of some televangelists and other religious leaders has given the tithe a "black eye" according to some Christian financial planners, and has caused some to ask if donors are being exploited.

Iowa Senator Charles Grassley wants to know how God happened to give the trappings of a billionaire lifestyle to certain televangelists and whether donors, many of them tithers, are being exploited.

Grassley, a ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, has requested financial records from six highflying ministers' accounts of their spending on everything from houses to jets.

One evangelical Christian who works as financial planner says he advises his high-income clients to start with 10% as the minimum level of giving.

"Tithing is a matter of obedience," says financial planner Bruce Williams. "To start with, it is commanded by the Bible."

Williams counsels his clients to start at ten percent.

"I would say 75 percent of the people I work with are already tithing or well beyond that. They are a generous lot."

Williams manages the Nashville office of Ronald Blue & Co., a kind of faith-based Merrill Lynch, with fifteen offices around the U.S., that urges high net-worth believers to build giving into their financial planning, but with this caveat:

"Any giving should be done cheerfully and not under compulsion," says Williams. "It's a matter of the heart."

Read: CBS Sunday Morning: To tithe or not to tithe

See what the Episcopal Church has had to say about the tithe. Here is a list of General Convention actions since 1982 concerning stewardship and, specifically, the tithe.

Andrew Brown on Akinola and The Atlantic

Andrew Brown's article on the recent Atlantic cover story about religion in Nigeria is now out from behind the subscription wall at The Church Times. He writes:

I HAVE never been able to understand the attraction of Nigeria for English Anglicans: if this really is the future of religion, we can give up any attempt at defending Christianity on the basis that it promotes civilised values.

A long report in the magazine The Atlantic this month by Eliza Griswold (daughter of the previous Presiding Bishop in the US) casts some light on the situation in the belt where Muslims meet Christians, and the part played in this encounter by the Nigerian Primate, the Most Revd Peter Akinola.

Ms Griswold got to interview him after she had visited the town of Yelwa, the scene of some pretty vigorous interfaith exchanges that left 800 people dead in 2004.

Read it all.

BBC and The Passion

Dave Walker in Church Times blog reports on the BBC production of The Passion.
The program began Sunday 16th March 2008, 20:00, on BBC One and will continue for 4 episodes. It will be available on DVD later. BBC describes the series:

...the story is rooted in the chaotic world in which it took place - the city of Jerusalem during Passover week. Set in the political and religious context of the time, it combines both narrative tension and thematic power to convey the events that took place that week.

The Passion places the audience at the heart of the action by telling the story from three points of view - the religious authorities, the Romans and Jesus. For the first time, all the key players are intimately characterised, with Jesus (Joseph Mawle) at the centre. The drama begins with Jesus' prophetic entrance through the East Gate, following him to his crucifixion and its startling aftermath


Church Times reports on The Passion here.

Giles Fraser reviews The Passion here.

rejesus has lots of background links here.

Dave Walker's blog is here.

The God-o-Meter project

Beliefnet, in partnership with TIME, has created a God-o-Meter (pronounced gah-DOM-meter) for presidential candidates. Said to be a "scientific measure of God-talk in the election", the meter ranges from 0 (secularist) to 10 (theocrat).

Some current scores:

Hillary Clinton 8 (previous reading 9)

Barack Obama 8 (previous reading 8)

John McCain 3 (previous reading 3)

In the most recent post, on Hillary Clinton, the God-o-Meter reading of 8 at this statement by Clinton concerning Obama's former pastor: "You don't choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend." She criticized the Rev. Wright for what she called "hate speech."

Clinton's score hit 9 on Monday when Clinton operative Jim Carville called Governor Richardson "Judas" after he endorsed Obama. Carville has not backed off.

A former death row chaplain

The Dallas Morning News Religion Blog notes an interesting new film that was previewed at the South by Southwest Film Conference and Festival in Austin earlier this month, and that will air at 8 p.m. on May 29 on the Independent Film Channel. The film is called "At the Death House Door," and it focuses on the Rev. Carroll "Bud" Pickett's path from death-penalty supporter to opponent:

Cathleen Falsani, religion columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, calls it "the most spiritually important film you'll see this year."

The film traces the Rev. Carroll "Bud" Pickett's path from death-penalty supporter to opponent. From 1982 to 1995, Pickett, a Presbyterian minister in Huntsville, accompanied 95 Texas convicts to their executions.

One case that helped change his mind about capital punishment was that of Carlos De Luna, who was executed in 1989 for the murder of a Corpus Christi gas station attendant. De Luna went to his death maintaining his innocence, and Pickett to this day believes that the state killed the wrong man. A 2006 series by the Chicago Tribune found substantial evidence that someone else committed the murder.

. . .

At the Death House Door" is directed by Steve James and Peter Gilbert, the director and cinematographer, respectively, of the acclaimed 1994 basketball documentary "Hoop Dreams."

Read it all here. You can watch a preview here.

Webcasting funerals

In England, a Southampton funeral home has begun offering funeral services via webcast to mourners who cannot make the journey to funeral in person. The Guardian reports that funeral directors Henry Powell and Sons set up a digital camera in one corner of one of their funeral chapels and for a fee it can be broadcast over the internet over a password-protected link.

A new "pay-per-view funerals" service will enable bereaved friends and relatives to watch proceedings on their computer screens if they cannot pay their respects in person.

Critics believe the webcasting of ceremonies from a suburban crematorium in the UK to the world is macabre. But from tomorrow, Southampton crematorium will begin the £75-per-family service.

The crematorium manager's, Trevor Mathieson, said he was keen to lay to rest the pay-per-view label.

He said: "It's not as if we're Sky and broadcasting Premier League football. We're not putting the services on to the internet for anyone to watch. Security is very important. It's all about offering a better service to people who are bereaved."

A digital camera discreetly set up in a corner of the crematorium's east chapel captures the service. For £75 a family is given a user name and password.

These can be passed on to people who cannot get to the ceremony and they can watch the service as it takes place. DVDs of funerals are also being offered for £50 and audio recordings for £25.

"It's not everyone's cup of tea," said Mathieson. "Some people will think it's not the done thing. But we live in a world where family members live all over the place. A lot of people cannot make it to a crematorium."

There has been strong reaction locally, however.

The Rev Gary Philbrick, area dean for Southampton, said: "There are a lot of good things about it." But he had reservations and, personally, did not like the idea of being filmed during a funeral.

Read: The Guardian: Pay-per-view service at crematorium

Hat tip to Mad Priest.

Prepare for clichéd coverage of the Pope

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Steinfels warns readers to prepare for "breathless" coverage of the Pope during his US visit:

When Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States on April 15 there will surely be voices in the media apparently disconcerted to discover that, yes, the pope is Catholic.

Yes, he disagrees with Richard Dawkins that atheism is necessary for salvation. Yes, he believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God and the center of human history. Yes, he thinks that Catholic Christianity is truer than Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or even Protestant Christianity.

Just as the media has been surprised in previous Papal visits:
They are similarly surprised that many American Roman Catholics honor the pope yet disagree with papal positions, whether about using contraception, restricting legal access to abortion, ordaining married men or women to the priesthood, or recognizing same-sex relationships.

This kind of disagreement may signal, as some argue, a severe crisis in church authority. Or it may be more of a norm throughout Catholic history than is widely realized. But whatever it is, it is not new.

Steinfels issues a call for the media to do better in its coverage of religion:
part of the problem in getting a fix on Benedict is simply the feebleness of accepted categories for understanding any serious religious leaders — and hence the impulse to deal with them as celebrities or politicians. Of all the words he speaks during his trip here, the ones that will probably go least examined are no doubt the ones he treasures most, the words of the Mass.

But the pope is not just another spiritual guide or priest. He has enormous institutional powers and responsibilities. To what extent does Benedict conceive of his papacy as a work of prayer and teaching? To what extent does he conceive of it as a renewal of structures and institutions? How does he see those aspects interacting?

His trip to the United States will presumably provide some clues. But they will be missed if it is greeted and framed with all the ready-made reflexes.

Read it here.

Man down

Press watchers will want to know that Jonathan Petre has been fired as religion reporter for The Telegraph, an odd move so close to the Lambeth Conference. The Church Times blog has the story here.

UPDATE: April 15, 10:30 a.m. ET
The Guardian reports:

Staff at the Telegraph titles have been summoned to a crisis meeting amid rising tensions over a spate of sackings, including the dismissal of the entire reader relations department.

Insiders at the paper believe some staff could even call a vote for industrial action at a mandatory National Union of Journalists meeting tomorrow.

Last week, all eight members of the reader relations department, who deal with readers' inquiries about items in the newspaper, were made redundant, a move that staff fear will increase their workload.

Journalists have been told the paper will hire just one replacement to handle editorial inquiries, although the company said it was setting up a new unit based at its subscriptions centre in Chatham, Kent.

The atmosphere at the Telegraph's Victoria headquarters had already soured last week, after the paper dismissed specialist reporters Sarah Womack and Jonathan Petre, a couple with a young child, and told science correspondent Nic Fleming he was likely to go too.

In an email circulated to staff, John Carey, the father of the Telegraph NUJ chapel, told the Telegraph Media Group executive director, editorial, Richard Ellis that Womack and Petre had been treated in a "disgraceful" manner.

Read the rest here.

HT to epiScope.

Scam alert

Some readers have asked about a company called anglican films that advertises videos for churches. Be aware that it is a scam. The alert sent to all Episcopal Communicators follows:

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The Happy List

The Independent, a newspaper in the UK, has decided to counter the media's obsession with the rich and famous, with a list of those who are happy because they do good.

The Wealth List, Power List, Influence List, Celebrity List... almost every week some publication or other is worshipping at the shrine of the wealthy and famous. Today, 'The Sunday Times' produces its famous Rich List, an entire magazine devoted to the moneyed. About time, then, we thought, that someone produced an antidote. So here it is: the Happy List, celebrating those Britons who have given back, enhanced the lives of others and realised that in an acquisitive society there's a crying need for values other than mere materialism.

Deciding to do this – because it was needed and because we believe it reflects our readers' values – was the easy part. Choosing who to include, and the criteria they would have to satisfy, was a great deal harder. We'll spare you the pseudo-philosophical debates that ambushed the early days of this project and cut to the conclusions we reached: that the people on our list should be those who make the lives of strangers happier, that this is their prime motive in doing what they do (as opposed to a side-effect of it), and that their example deserves celebrating. And, after considering the conditions under which community happiness tends to flourish, we elected to look for candidates in 10 categories: philanthropy, charity, mental well-being, physical health, pleasure (ie those in the media and culture who make us feel better), environment, innovation, volunteers and time-givers, community activity, and entertainment.

It was obvious from the start, and indeed was quite deliberate, that many of those most worthy of inclusion would be unknown outside their areas, and therefore unsung.

Read all about it.

Faith on the Carrier

CARRIER Badge 125 x 40 Brown

This past week featured Carrier, a ten hour PBS miniseries that followed the men and women aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz during a cruise to the Persian Gulf in 2005. It was well worth watching. Fortunately, if you missed any episode, you can still watch entire episodes on the PBS website here.

Of particular interest to readers of The Lead is Episode 8, ("True Believers"), which focused on faith onboard the carrier:

This episode explores the many expressions of faith onboard the USS Nimitz: faith in self, faith in one’s shipmates, faith in the mission of the ship and the president’s call to arms. The major religious groups on board are Catholic and Protestant, but there also is a coven of Wiccans, as well as a Pentecostal group whose newest member is challenged by the duality of his beliefs and the temptations of liberty as the ship drops anchor in Perth, Australia.

(This editor was particularly fascinated by the coven of Wiccans on board. When I was up for Senate confirmation as General Counsel of the Army, Senator Strom Thurman indicated that he might hold up my nomination unless the Army ceased allowing a coven of Wiccans at Ft. Hood. Fortunately, the good Senator backed off, I was confrmed, and the First Amendment rights of the Wiccan soldiers at Fort Hood were respected).

Holy Apostle's Soup Kitchen

For 14 years, Ian Frazier of The New Yorker has taught a writing workshop at Holy Apostles Episcopal Church in the Chelsea section of New York City. In this issue of the magazine, he writes about the church, its wonderful soup kitchen and the many people he has met through the workshop. The story is not available online, but an interview with Frazier is.

Amazing Grace Project

The Anglican Church in Canada wants to have a video present wrapped and ready in time for Christmas. Anglican congregations all across Canada are being asked to sing "Amazing Grace" on Sunday, November 23rd and to record it on video. Gathered videos will be put together and posted on the web.

The idea behind the Amazing Grace Project is simple: all Canadian Anglican congregations are invited to sing the hymn “Amazing Grace” on Sunday November 23rd 2008. You can sing at a time that works for you, either within the regular service or at a separate event that day. This is a time to get creative! Why not host an Amazing Grace community party, or invite a harpist, a banjo player, or liturgical dancers to join in?

The best part about the Amazing Grace Project is that we’re doing it together. All parishes are encouraged to videotape their rendition of “Amazing Grace” and to send that video to the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada by December 1, 2008. The tapes will be edited together into one big, amazing “Amazing Grace” video and put up on the web for all to enjoy by Christmas.

Some groups have already been recorded, according to the Anglican Journal.

“While filming at native gatherings, I often feel the Holy Spirit right there,” said Anglican Video senior producer Lisa Barry. “It felt like that this time – that the Holy Spirit was lifting this project up.” After the meeting, a group of staff and committee members inspired by the idea started making plans.

Already, national indigenous Bishop Mark MacDonald and the Council of the North bishops have taped their renditions of the well-known hymn. These can be seen on the Amazing Grace Web site, which can be accessed via the Anglican Church of Canada Web site as of mid-May.

See The Amazing Grace Project.

Read more at the Anglican Journal: 'How sweet the sound' of Anglicans on YouTube'

Censorship in the name of religion

Ekklesia reports that the World Association of Newspapers and the World Editors Forum have condemned what they say are the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council's repeated efforts to undermine freedom of expression in the name of protecting religious sensibilities.

"WAN reminds the UN that the council's proper role is to defend freedom of expression and not to support the censorship of opinion at the request of autocracies," the WAN Board said in a resolution issued during the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum. The 1 to 4 June meetings of the world's newspapers and editors were held in Gothenburg.

In its resolution condemning actions by the UN Human Rights Council, WAN cited the council's approval of an amendment proposed by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, requiring the council's investigator to "report on instances where the abuse of the right to freedom of expression constitutes an act of racial or religious discrimination".

WAN said the amendment "goes against the spirit" of the work of the UN Special Rapporteur. It said that amendment will require the rapporteur to investigate abusive expression "rather than focusing on the endemic problem of abusive limits on expression imposed by governments, including many of those on the council".

Read more at Ekklesia and Ecumenical News International (ENI).

The "peace pastor" is extreme

Extreme Clergy is a reality-show on Canada's Vision TV that follows a member of the clergy (priest, pastor or rabbi) with extreme dedication to helping people in extraordinary, often dangerous circumstances. The Anglican Journal reports on an Anglican priest who is featured on the program.

“Are they foolhardy or are they brave?” This is but one of many questions explored about Rev. Bill Baldwin, a retired Anglican priest from the diocese of Ottawa, and his fellow Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) members on Vision TV’s series called Extreme Clergy.

The documentary on Mr. Baldwin and the CPT, Peace Pastor, takes viewers from “beautiful Jerusalem to the devastated West Bank city of Hebron,” and provides a “visual reminder of the ongoing tragedy that engulfs Palestinians and Israelis.”

The episode about Mr. Baldwin and the CPT, Peace Pastor, is being shown tonight, July 7, 3.30 p.m. ET/ 12:30 PT.

Peace Pastor is fast-paced, poignant and cinematographically beautiful; it makes viewers understand why Mr. Baldwin and his fellow CPT members “get in the way” to bring a message of peace. More importantly, one is transported to the heart of the conflict in the Middle East, and meets men, women and children, who are struggling to make the most of a very dire situation.

Read: Anglican Journal Vision TV features Anglican priest in Extreme Clergy series

Learn more about Extreme Clergy here.

T'graph creates controversy where none exists

This Telegraph story on Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori is a classic example of an ideologically-motivated newspaper writing conflict-mongering headlines that the text of the story cannot support.

The PB didn't "wade in" to anything; she was asked a question and she answered. She didn't say those who oppose having women as bishops "simply don't like them," she said that was among the issues for some opponents. And she doesn't "accuse" the English Church of going too slow, as writer Martin Beckford has it. She said that the English way of proceeding on this issue looks slow to Americans.

Strip away the T'graph's bluster. Read only the PB's quotes. Then decide if you would characterize the interview as they did.

Rhetoric can kill

Candace Chellew-Hodge, a former co-worker with Sean Hannity of Fox News, has written an open letter to him, and to all in the media, which reflects on the role that rhetoric has played in leading to the shootings in Tennessee this past Sunday.

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An American press flack at Lambeth

(Paul Handley of The Church Times kindly asked me to write the Press column for last week's issue while Andrew Brown was on vacation. In return, as you will see at the bottom of the column, they ordained me. I think this has certain implications involving my pension which my employers are unaware of -- Jim Naughton)

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Another rector in the YouTube racket

From the Winston-Salem Journal:

On YouTube, you can watch video of a chewing-gum sculptor from Romania and an office badminton match among cubicle dwellers.

And then there are the videos of the Rev. Steven Rice, who ponders such theological questions as why we pray and whether observing the pagan ritual of Halloween is OK for Christians.

Rice, 29, has been the rector at St. Timothy's Episcopal Church since June. He has been writing a blog for three years and creating videos and posting them to YouTube since January 2007. He said that he sees the blog and videos as a way to reach an audience that may not look for God in such traditional places as church.

The Rev. Rice is following in the footsteps of the Rev. Matthew Moretz of Christ Church in Rye, NY.

What's happening to religion reporting?

In his latest Sightings column, distinguished scholar Martin Marty takes a look at the decline in religion reporting:

Religion news is not unique. The thinning scythe cuts through all news departments, and much more. But this is occurring ironically in religion departments, we at Sightings say, during the decade(s) in which secular news organizations are at last recognizing the role and power of religion. True, there are some wonderful examples of religious comment on TV and radio. But most religious news in such media has to be sensational, sound-bite length, accessed by those who are lured by grabbing headlines, and less frequently attracting attention by those who now learn much about religion in news because it leaps out from or sneaks into pages in which other items, mainly non-religious, are also being treated.

MDG mania

Suddenly the world's media, which has been studiously ignoring the Millennium Development Goals to this point, has caught MDG fever, just in time for today's activities in New York City, in which the Episcopal Church will play a major role.

While Bono's blog for the Financial Times, (which is actually quite informative) and articles about Bono's blog for the Financial Times are generating some of the coverage, mainstream media outlets from around the world are weighing in on the political and economic nuts and bolts of the campaign to halve extreme poverty by 2015.

To wit:

Neil MacFarquhar of The New York Times explains why world leaders feel the U. S. financial meltdown may cripple the whole effort:

Wall Street and the Bush administration's record of financial oversight came under attack at the United Nations, with one world leader after another saying that market turmoil in the United States threatened the global economy.

"We must not allow the burden of the boundless greed of a few to be shouldered by all," President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil said in an opening speech Tuesday that reflected the tone of the gathering.

The Guardian has an excellent special section All Out on Poverty and an astute column by Leo Hickman which begins:

"We must do more – and we must do it now." This urgent call for action is being aired loudly in both New York and Washington DC this week. On Capitol Hill, Congress is being urged to accept Henry Paulson's $700bn bail-out for Wall Street's beleaguered banks, whereas just over 200 miles up Interstate 95 at the UN headquarters in Turtle Bay big wigs from around the world are pondering how the millennium development goals – this week marks the halfway point towards their 2015 target – are ever going to be met given the woeful progress to date.

It's at times like this where you really get to see the naked truth about where our worldly priorities lie. And it's pretty hard not to think about what $700bn would buy you if you were pushing the trolley around the Truly Worthy Causes supermarket.

Causes don't come much more worthy than the eight millennium development goals, which together form a panoply of unquestionably important aims: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop a global partnership for development. But as today's special Guardian supplement All Out On Poverty illustrates, we have a long, long way to go if we're ever to meet most of these goals, let alone by 2015 which seems as absurdly optimistic a deadline now as it did back in 2000 when it was first announced. In fact, with some goals we have arguably slipped into reverse gear rather than advance towards them.

For a brief overview of what the UN will be discussing this week, this AFP story isn't bad. The Age of Australia has a good overview of the entire MDG effort. Meanwhile, Washington Post has a helpful story about the contributions of Bill Gates and Howard and Warren Buffett in response to the world food crisis.

There are additional stories from Bangladesh, Nigeria, an editorial from Business Daily Africa (Kenya), a pessimistic appraisal of where the campaign stands from World Vision, India, and a personal vantage point provided by Queen Rania of Jordan on Slate.

So, I'm in NY this week wearing a couple of hats, shining a spotlight on the Millennium Development Goals and talking about the need for more sustainable development that will not only safeguard the environment, but also provide opportunity for the disenfranchised in society. It's something we're very interested in, in the Arab world.

I was invited to speak at Condé Nast's World Savers Awards conference amid the awesome and inspiring architecture of Gotham Hall. It was about the power of tourism to nurture our planet's precious resources while providing lasting economic opportunities for local communities.

I was there talking up the Middle East—not a region in conflict and turmoil, as many think, but a mosaic of cultures, stories, traditions, and warm, welcoming people.

Is the fact that Condé Nast has gotten into the act a good thing or a bad one?

Speak truth to power

The Anglican Journal reports that Nobel Peace Prize laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu has commended Christian communicators for support that helped liberate his country from minority white rule, and has appealed for their continued assistance in the post-apartheid era.

“We are free today because you supported us,” Archbishop Tutu said at the opening in Cape Town of an Oct. 6 to 10 congress of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC), as he highlighted the role that the group had played in sustaining independent media during the apartheid era.

WACC, whose headquarters are in Toronto, Canada, describes its mission as one in which it promotes communication for social change.

Earlier, the 300 participants at the WACC gathering heard the mayor of Cape Town, Helen Zille, who also leads South Africa’s official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, say that the Church and the media play an essential role in checking the misuse of power.


Read it all here.

CBN and the Democrats

David Brody, Washington correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, has interviewed many people during his coverage of campaign 2008. As keynote speaker at the Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism conference awards banquets last weekend, he made special note of how the climate has changed for Democrats at the network. Brody has interviewed Howard Dean, Harry Reid, and Hillary Clinton. He's done enough interviews with Barack Obama now that in their last meeting, Obama was downright chummy with him. All of this seems part of the "strategy" to address "values voters," says a Scripps Howard article, but Brody never questions their authenticity, he says.

After two decades in broadcasting, Brody has become a go-to commentator, primarily by gaining a reputation as a fair-minded sounding board for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Thus, Brody has started turning up on MSNBC, CNN and NBC's "Meet The Press."

Democrats turn to his occasionally goofy weblog, "The Brody File," for insights into the views of conservative, centrist and progressive evangelicals. Republicans do the same thing, often to see how Democrats answer his questions about hot-button social questions.

Brody stressed that he isn't interested in asking "gotcha questions" about faith in an attempt to trip them up. The journalist has heard his own share of loaded questions during his lifetime, since he was raised as a Jew in New York City before converting to Christianity while in college. Brody isn't fond of labels.

"I don't have an agenda, but I am going to ask questions about faith" during CBN news broadcasts, he said. "I am going to ask personal questions about how the candidates go about making their decisions. Still, I know that there are shades of gray when people start talking about faith. ... So much of our politics in the age of talk radio is totally back and white, but we really do try to avoid polarizing language."

Then there was the landmark Nevada trip to interview Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and his wife Landra at their home. Landing a face-to-face interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton for "The 700 Club?" Say no more.

Finally, after a year of negotiations, Sen. Barack Obama's staff scheduled an interview with the news team at the Rev. Pat Robertson's flagship network. Then Obama came back for another interview, then another and another.

Before that fourth interview, Brody expected to shake hands once again. But Obama caught him off guard by moving in for one of those "Hey, how are you doing?" shoulder-to-shoulder bumps that colleagues use when greeting one another.

"It was strange," said Brody, speaking at the annual Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference. "You really don't want to be chest-bumping White House candidates. It just doesn't look right."

Indeed, these are strange times. In the past year, Democrats have been talking more about their faith than the Republicans -- part of a strategic attempt to capture a slice of a voting bloc that was so crucial in the 2004 elections. But in the age of talk radio, 24-hour cable TV coverage, weblogs and other forms of niche news, politicos are learning that they need to talk to a wider array of journalists to reach these values voters.

All kinds of doors are opening and "you have to be ready for your close-up," Brody told student journalists in Nashville.

"Go after it hard. Be very, very aggressive. I can't tell you this enough," he said. "You need to make multiple phone calls a day to get your source to talk. You need to make sure that you are constantly really going after the story. Don't ever let up."

After two decades in broadcasting, Brody has become a go-to commentator, primarily by gaining a reputation as a fair-minded sounding board for politicians on both sides of the aisle. Thus, Brody has started turning up on MSNBC, CNN and NBC's "Meet The Press."

Democrats turn to his occasionally goofy weblog, "The Brody File," for insights into the views of conservative, centrist and progressive evangelicals. Republicans do the same thing, often to see how Democrats answer his questions about hot-button social questions.

Brody stressed that he isn't interested in asking "gotcha questions" about faith in an attempt to trip them up. The journalist has heard his own share of loaded questions during his lifetime, since he was raised as a Jew in New York City before converting to Christianity while in college. Brody isn't fond of labels.

"I don't have an agenda, but I am going to ask questions about faith" during CBN news broadcasts, he said. "I am going to ask personal questions about how the candidates go about making their decisions. Still, I know that there are shades of gray when people start talking about faith. ... So much of our politics in the age of talk radio is totally back and white, but we really do try to avoid polarizing language."

Take the Obama interviews, for example. It's one thing, said Brody, to ask Obama specific questions about his liberal approach to Christianity, his support for abortion rights and commitment to expanding civil rights of gays and lesbians. It's something else to "play judge and jury" and try to challenge the reality of Obama's faith.

"There is no question that his sincerity shines through when he's talking to you about his Christian beliefs and the role that his faith plays in his life," said Brody. "This man says what he believes and he believes what he says. Obama has said over and over that he has given his life to Jesus Christ and I think people need to take his word on that.

Read the whole story here.

When priests attack

A Catholic priest got exercised when a California reporter attempted to ask him about reports that he had expelled a woman from Mass "because her vehicle sported painted signs in support of president-elect Barack Obama." Violence ensued. Insidebayarea.com has the story.

Reporter Ryan Chalk did manage to return to his office and write up the incident involving the Obama signs.

Imagine the response among right wing bloggers and a few African Primates had the priest been an Episcopalian and the signs in support of John McCain.

Hat tip: Dallas Morning News.

Herod's Lost Tomb

Last April, biblical scholars were excited by the discovery of Herod's tomb. Tonight the National Geographic channel presents Herod's Lost Tomb about the discovery. Information about the program, include a video, photos and a game can be found here. The December issue of National Geographic includes an article about Herod's importance to Israel:

Eight miles south of Jerusalem, where the last stunted olive trees and stony cornfields fade into the naked badlands of the Judaean desert, a hill rises abruptly, a steep cone sliced off at the top like a small volcano. This is Herodium, one of the grand architectural creations of Herod the Great, King of Judaea, who raised a low knoll into a towering memorial of snowy stonework and surrounded it with pleasure palaces, splashing pools, and terraced gardens. An astute and generous ruler, a brilliant general, and one of the most imaginative and energetic builders of the ancient world, Herod guided his kingdom to new prosperity and power. Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew's Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews. During the Middle Ages he became an image of the Antichrist: Illuminated manuscripts and Gothic gargoyles show him tearing his beard in mad fury and brandishing his sword at the luckless infants, with Satan whispering in his ear. Herod is almost certainly innocent of this crime, of which there is no report apart from Matthew's account. But children he certainly slew, including three of his own sons, along with his wife, his mother-in-law, and numerous other members of his court. Throughout his life, he blended creativity and cruelty, harmony and chaos, in ways that challenge the modern imagination.

. . .

The precise location of Herod's tomb remained a mystery for nearly two millennia, until April 2007, when Netzer and his colleagues at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem unearthed it on the upper slopes of Herodium. The discovery provided new insights into one of the most enigmatic minds of the ancient world—and fresh evidence of the hatred that Herod excited among his contemporaries. It also became a political incident, with Palestinians arguing that the artifacts at the site belonged to them, and Jewish settlers saying that the tomb's presence strengthened their claim to the West Bank. To Netzer, whose work at various Herodian sites has for decades been interrupted by war, invasion, and uprisings, the controversy was hardly surprising. In the Holy Land, archaeology can be as political as kingship.

Read it all here.

TIME: Top 10 religion stories of 2008

4. The Canterbury non-Tale. ... the Lambeth Conference's planners turned the gathering into a non-binding conversation-only affair, many conservatives boycotted it, and the Communion staggered on ...
Read all ten.

Newsweek on "religious reaction" to cover story

Newsweek's Readback blog reports on "religious reaction" to its cover story on the biblical case for gay marriage. As you see, Readback's post captures the negative reaction from the religious right and overlooks our decidedly positive religious reaction (God Bless Newsweek).

Oh, and for the record, let's not forget that Get Religion -- quoted in the post -- is funded by Howard Ahmanson, who thinks it's ok to stone homosexuals.

English press reads Bishop Chane's letter to DC diocese

One of the peculiarities of life in the Anglican Communion is that the statements of American bishops often receive greater attention from London newspapers than from the bishop's hometown press. Jonathan Wynne-Jones of The Telegraph and Andrew Brown of The Guardian have both devoted space to Bishop John Bryson Chane's recent letter to the Diocese of Washington regarding the attempt to form a non-geographical province in North America.

Diana Butler Bass nails it

Diana Butler Bass (by way of Terry Martin):

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Top religion stories

A survey of more than 100 religion journalists has named President-elect Barack Obama Newsmaker of the Year for consciously seeking the support of the faith community on his way to winning election as president.

The Religion Newswriters Association chose the controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright as the No. 1 story, with Democratic outreach to faith communities and GOP vice presidential running mate Sarah Palin’s selection as the second and third top stories, respectively.

The poll was conducted among active members of the Religion Newswriters Association, ... RNA members are journalists who report on religion in non-religious media outlets. About 38 percent of the nearly 300 active members voted.

Read more here. Below are the Top Ten stories:

Read more »

The Bible and gay marriage

Monday, December 15, Talk of the Nation on NPR carried a program: What's the Word? The Bible on Gay Marriage:

Religious leaders often cite scripture as the basis for their opposition to gay marriage. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and host of the Albert Mohler Program, believes a strict reading of the text forbids gay marriage. But Lisa Miller, religion editor at Newsweek, contends the Bible's models of marriage are flawed, and its lessons about love actually argue for gay marriage.

Listen here.

Report on the Newsweek story from The Lead here.

Newsweek today followed up its original story with a debate between "Bill Wylie-Kellerman, a United Methodist serving as pastor at St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Detroit, [and] Dr. Barrett Duke, vice president for public policy and research at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention."

Leaps of faith

Malcolm Gladwell of The New Yorker writes:

"There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired. So how do we know whom to choose in cases like that?"

The article focuses on quarterbacks and teachers, but what of priests? How can you tell ahead of time whether a candidate will succeed?

Fox on the Warren pick

The Rev. Susan Russell will be among those on Fox News this morning discussing Barack Obama's decision to have Rick Warren offer the invocation at his inauguration. The discussion begins at 11:35 EST.

Small voice, big audience

The sixth-rated radio station in the Washington D. C. market is a tiny shop run by the Seventh Day Adventist Church. Is there a lesson in this for the Episcopal Church? Heck, is there a lesson in this for Episcopal Cafe? Read about WGTS in The Washington Post:

Read more »

Church Times: year in review

Church Times reviews the year of news from a Church of England point of view:

Read more »

In case you missed it here is what HBO did not carry

Updated.

Bishop Gene Robinson's prayer was passed over by HBO and MSNBC and even though one speaker tower broke down, the prayer was clearly heard as this YouTube video shows. Several papers carried his prayer in full or in part. A transcript is here. A note on the controversy over the bishop's exclusion from the HBO broadcast is here.


It is hard to know what is more surprising: that HBO passed over the invocation in both the live and rebroadcast versions or that it was posted on YouTube by Sarah Pulliam of Christianity Today. She also described her experience at the Lincoln Memorial event, and described the speaker tower breakdown near the Washington Monument area.

Gene Robinson, the divisive figure who was the first openly Episcopal gay bishop, led the invocation at today's inaugural kickoff.

Robinson prayed for God to "bless this nation with anger – anger at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people." He also prayed that God would bless us with "the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah."

Overall, his prayer was not especially surprising, since Robinson had told the Concord Monitor that it wouldn't be "especially Christian" and wouldn't use a Bible. Below is the video I took on my camera of Robinson's prayer....

The event was mostly focused on the celebrities, including Bono, Tiger Woods, Beyonce, and Bruce Springsteen. Several journalists clearly need a brush-up on People, In Style, and US magazines because people had to call out each celebrity for those of us who were clueless. My favorite moment was when it looked like Samuel L. Jackson peeked around the corner to take a picture on his phone. Even Malia Obama pulled out a small digital camera....

During the event, I stood close to the front and heard the prayer just fine, but my friend who stood closer to the Washington Monument said the sound of the prayer didn't reach the crowd until halfway finished.

USA Today's Faith and Reason blog:

Did you miss the invocation by the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Gene Robinson at today's star-studded concert at the Lincoln Memorial? The HBO broadcast started after Robinson's prayer but Episcopal Cafe fills us in with the full text here.

He began, "O God of our many understandings," and asked God to grant this nation seven distinct blessings including:

Bless us with tears -- for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.

Bless us with anger -- at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Robinson asked God to give Obama wisdom, a "quiet heart" and "stirring words" to inspire the nation in a time of challenge and sacrifice. He concluded by imploring a "good and great God" to keep Obama safe to do his work and "find joy in this impossible calling..."

Jeffrey Weiss at the Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News:

If you're keeping score, and we know you are, you know that Barack Obama has raised some eyebrows in his choices of preachers to pray at some of the inauguration ceremonies. First up: Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the Episcopal Church's first openly gay bishop. He offered an opening prayer before Sunday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial. The Episcopal Cafe blog (hosted by the diocese of Washington DC) has the text. Any hot-buttons pressed? None that you'd be surprised at. There was this:
Bless us with anger - at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

But it was mostly the kind of broadly spiritual civic prayer that usually (but not always) happens at such events. And no, it did not end "in Jesus name." Read it yourself here. (I'll betcha that Rick Warren ends on a different note in his invocation...)

Also:

Boston Globe.

Leah McElrath Renna writes for The Huffington Post about anti-gay protesters whose small presence were a startling contrast to the feeling of unity and hope that pervaded the crowd. The protesters were also a painful reminder of why it was important to have Bishop Robinson's prayer and presence covered responsibly and fully.

Appearing at the primary public entrance to the pre-Inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial, representatives from a group calling itself "Brother Ruben and the Official Street Preachers" protested openly-gay Episcopal Gene Robinson's participation in the event.

With a diverse and otherwise joyous crowd of adults and children of all ages streaming by, the three protest participants shouted about hate, hell and "homo-sex" - using a megaphone to assert that "homosexuals are eternally damned" and "Jesus doesn't love homosexuals."

On its website, the group claims to "preach a loving message to sodomites. We tell them the truth, that unless they repent they shall likewise perish in Hell Fire!"

Although widely denounced by the passing concert attendees, the protesters' message and ahistorical Biblical justifications for their bigotry differ in tone only from the beliefs espoused by the Saddleback Baptist Church and its Pastor Rick Warren. Rick Warren will be delivering the official Invocation at the Inauguration on Tuesday.

Updated Monday 9:30 am EST: HBO says they are not to blame.

Michael Jenson on the blog AfterElton contacted HBO about the omission of the invocation:

Sunday afternoon, HBO televised the Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial — a concert planned by the Presidential Inauguration Committee — to kick off the festivities surrounding Obama's inauguration on Tuesday.

Openly gay bishop Gene Robinson delivered the opening prayer before the start of the concert, but the prayer was not included as part of HBO's broadcast.

Contacted Sunday night by AfterElton.com concerning the exclusion of Robinson's prayer, HBO said via email, "The producer of the concert has said that the Presidential Inaugural Committee made the decision to keep the invocation as part of the pre-show."

Uncertain as to whether or not that meant that HBO was contractually prevented from airing the pre-show, we followed up, but none of the spokespeople available Sunday night could answer that question with absolute certainty.

However, it does seem that the network's position is that they had nothing to do with the decision.

We have also contacted a spokesperson from the Presidential Inauguration Committee (PIC) for their explanation and will post what we learn either from PIC or HBO .

Wherever the fault lies, this is yet another unfortunate turn involving GLBT concerns over Obama's selection of Rick Warren to deliver the prayer at Obama's inauguration. Many in the gay community saw Robinson's selection to deliver Sunday's prayer as an olive branch.

But given that most Americans could not attend the concert, instead having to watch it on television, the decision to not broadcast the prayer is being seen by many in the GLBT community as a slight.

The exclusion of Robinson, even if unintentional, does not reflect well on the Obama administration's ability thus far to think through these sorts of nuances.

Another update (11:45 am est):

The Kansas City Star has on it's tvbarn site the following by Aaron Barnhart:

As I see it, the Obama campaign has three options when the outcry (which has already started) comes to a boil later today:

1. Claim it was a technical glitch, jumping on the Times blog item. This would not only be a cowardly route, but it would be quickly disproven by one of several gay executives at HBO or a viewer who could point out that the show began precisely and glitch-free at 2:30 p.m. ET.

2. Come clean and admit that they never intended for Robinson to be seen on national TV. Which would mean admitting that Obama cooked up an extremely cynical ploy to pacify gays -- and straights like me who support gay marriage -- with a press release. Well, it failed. Perhaps Team Obama will claim it had no idea Robinson would not be seen giving the invocation. But then what does that say of Team Obama's vaunted preparation, planning, and chesslike working of all the angles?

3. Admit they screwed up and should've included Robinson on camera. If HBO had -- for some reason -- objected to having a gay bishop welcome all of America to "We Are One," then the invocation could have been pushed until after the entry of the presidential entourage. Well, it would not be the first time Team Obama had underestimated a controversial clergyman ... or the second. (How many presidents have gotten into hot water over their ministers three times before they even took the oath of office??)

Washington Monthly says:

I'm going to guess that this was the first invocation at an inaugural event to cover this specific ground. Good for Robinson.

As for his prayer to a "God of our many understandings," Robinson said that was entirely deliberate. He told the Union Leader that he'd researched previous inaugural invocations and prayers and found them to be "aggressively Christian." He preferred a more inclusive route: "All I could think about when I read them was, 'My goodness, what does a Jew think hearing this? What does a Muslim think? What does a Sikh or a Hindu think?' Having been not included, as a gay man, in so many instances, the last thing I want to do is exclude any American from this."

I didn't see it, but Digby added, "I just saw Obama hug Bishop Robinson at the Lincoln Memorial and it did my heart good." Indeed.

Integrity's press release is below the fold.

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Who muted Bishop Robinson?

Who made the decision to mute Bishop Robinson? HBO has blamed the Presidential Inauguration Committee (see coverage on After Elton). Politco's Ben Smith has this:

“We had always intended and planned for Rt. Rev. Robinson’s invocation to be included in the televised portion of yesterday’s program. We regret the error in executing this plan – but are gratified that hundreds of thousands of people who gathered on the mall heard his eloquent prayer for our nation that was a fitting start to our event," emails PIC communications director Josh Earnest.

The statement is inadequate to the offense and explains nothing. Bishop Robinson's invocation was moved forward in the program, and the effect of that move was most likely apparent to the people who made it. The PIC owes the bishop and his supporters an explanation.

Pam Spaulding has done a round-up of some reaction, and the Huffington Post is also on the case. Jason Linkins writes:

HBO comes to this controversy without any sort of significant reputation for being a network or a workplace hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. In fact, the network is responsible for airing the drama Six Feet Under, which depicted gays in complex relationships unflinchingly. The Obama camp, on the other hand, has courted controversy already with the decision to include in the inauguration Saddleback Church Pastor Rick Warren, a supporter of Proposition 8 in California. The appearance of a snub in the case of Bishop Robinson has successfully raised the temperature among Democratic activists and in the liberal blogosphere, where outrage is being pointed mostly at the incoming administration and the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

HBO to get right by Bishop Robinson tomorrow at 11:30 pm

The Washington Post reports:

HBO says it will telecast “an updated version” of Sunday’s inaugural-related concert tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:30 p.m. Eastern and Pacific time,

By “updated,” the premium cable network means it will include the invocation that had been delivered by the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal bishop, at the ceremony’s start.

Religious broadcasters feel the heat from new media

Just as booksellers, newspapers, the film and music industries are feeling the heat from ipods, video streaming and e-books, Christian broadcasters are finding their audiences going to new media sources for their inspiration. And Christian broadcasters are not getting the steady stream of donations that they used to get when Christian radio and TV was the only show in town. One thing you don't get from a downloaded video sermon is a pitch for donations.

The Religious News Service says:

The industry shows signs of contraction at a time when its future is fraught with uncertainty. And it’s not just the economic downturn that is causing turmoil: last year, a study found that the percentage of megachurches with a radio ministry dropped from 44 percent in 2000 to 24 percent in 2008. Likewise, the percentage with television ministries dropped from 38 percent to 23 percent.

For programs that are still on the air, the challenge is attracting younger audiences who will give as consistently as their parents and grandparents. Cracking that puzzle will require experimentation, but few feel they can take significant risks in today’s climate marked by razor-thin margins.

“The industry is at a crossroads,” says Paul Creasman, associate professor of communications at Southern Wesleyan University in Central, S.C., and a former Christian radio personality and producer. “The audience is dwindling, and they have to figure out what to do. But the Web is not the answer because older audiences don’t use the Internet… and younger audiences will go to the Web for content, but they’ll probably be less likely to donate.”

Moving content online may be broadcasting’s future, but it’s a nerve-wracking endeavor that doesn’t necessarily pay the bills of the present.

“Everyone (in religious broadcasting) is doing it,” Parshalls said. “And everyone is asking each other: `Are you making money at it? Because we’re not.“‘

Read it here.

Fred Barnes' unique brand of journalism

Fred Barnes, member of The Falls Church, Nigerian, board member of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, and perpetrator of smears against Bishop Gene Robinson continues to practice his unique brand of journalism. Check out Talking Points Memo:

Paging Obama's new environmental team: Fred Barnes has some crucial new information about global warming -- it's not man-made apparently!

Problem is, Barnes won't tell us how he knows that -- but maybe he'll tell you. ....

We hadn't heard anything lately about the case for man-made global warming falling apart. In fact, just the opposite. So we called Barnes and asked him what he was referring to.

At first, he cited the fact that it's been cold lately.

The real world of Slumdog Millionaire

With the new film Slumdog Millionaire currently grabbing headlines and awards, there is growing awareness of these slums of India. The Rev. Canon Pat Atkinson's dedication to helping some of the very poorest people in the world has led to her being called Norfolk's Mother Teresa. reports on the work of Church of England Deacon Atkinson.

...young beggar's life was transformed too - from a shack built on untreated sewage in the city of Mellawassal, he went on to take a university degree in botany, supported by the trust. And there have been many more like him since.

“I have watched a generation of children grow up but another generation has come on behind them, so it is impossible to ignore them,” she says.

“Some of our older children are now coming back as volunteers, and we have so much support from people in Norfolk. We are worried now because of the economic downturn which is certainly hitting all charitable giving, but in many ways we are not worried because people have shown us such loyalty and love."


Read about the work here.

Gay bloggers increase political influence

Pam's House Blend and other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender voices have gained influence in the public sphere through blogging and the internet. The Washington Post reports on this phenomenon:

Only the blogosphere, perhaps, has room for Pam Spaulding -- a black lesbian who lives in North Carolina, the only state in the South that has not banned same-sex marriage.

"California, Arizona and Florida all passed marriage amendments in November," says Spaulding, 44, an IT manager by day and a round-the-clock blogger. "All eyes are on North Carolina now." A few days ago, after reports that groups such as NC4Marriage and Christian Action League are organizing a rally in Raleigh to support "traditional marriage," Spaulding wrote on her blog, Pam's House Blend: "As predicted, the professional anti-gay forces plan to descend on NC." What she doesn't write is that, so long as she's blogging, what happens in North Carolina won't stay in the Tar Heel State.

Pam's House Blend is an influential voice in the gay political blogosphere, must-reads that include the Bilerico Project, Towleroad and AMERICAblog, each attracting a few hundred to a few thousand hits a day. Just as the liberal Net-roots and the conservative "rightroots" movements have affected traditional party structures, the still relatively small gay political presence online is rebooting the gay rights movement in a decentralized, spontaneous, bottom-up way. It's spreading news via blogs, Facebook and Twitter. Online, a story about two 16-year-old girls in a Lutheran private school in California being expelled for "conducting themselves in a manner consistent with being lesbians" -- as the school's lawyer describes it -- goes viral. And hits nerves.

Episcopal Cafe´experienced the power of LGBT bloggers when The Bilerico Project linked a Daily Episcopalian story and our reader stats when through the ceiling.

An afternoon blessing

Props to Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News, who offered this yesterday as the afternoon blessing at the paper's religion blog:

May you remember, in writing for publication about Episcopalians, not to use "Episcopalian" as an adjective. (The adjective is "Episcopal.")

We commend it to headline writers everywhere.

A one-minute story of reconciliation

An Argentinian bank created an ad that says that if a bank can change and be generous, then maybe we can too. Watch this video:

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Robert Wright and the Gospel of Mark

In his new book The Evolution of God, Robert Wright leans on the first gospel--that of Mark--to suggest that later gospels present a Jesus who is less historically authentic, but more palatable to modern tastes, especially on interfaith issues:

For many Christians, the life of Jesus signifies the birth of a new kind of God, a God of universal love. The Hebrew Bible—the “Old Testament”—chronicled a God who was sometimes belligerent (espousing the slaughter of infidels), unabashedly nationalist (pro-Israel, you might say), and often harsh toward even his most favored nation. Then Jesus came along and set a different tone. As depicted in the Gospels, Jesus exhorted followers to extend charity across ethnic bounds, as in the parable of the good Samaritan, and even to love their enemies. He told them to turn the other cheek, said the meek would inherit the Earth, and warned against self-righteousness (“let he who is without sin cast the first stone”). Even while on the cross, he found compassion for his persecutors: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

But there’s a funny thing about these admirable utterances: none of them appears in the book of Mark, which was written before the other Gospels and which most New Testament scholars now consider the most reliable (or, as some would put it, the least unreliable) Gospel guide to Jesus’ life. The Jesus in Mark, far from calmly forgiving his killers, seems surprised by the Crucifixion and hardly sanguine about it (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). In Mark, there is no Sermon on the Mount, and so no Beatitudes, and there is no good Samaritan; Jesus’ most salient comment on ethnic relations is to compare a woman to a dog because she isn’t from Israel.

He also argues that globalization will eventually promote interfaith understanding.

Sticks and stones

The Archbishop of Canterbury says that he is "delighted" that Archbishop Vincent Nichols is the new Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster. Well, he'd better be nice or else Nichols' press office might start calling him names.

The British religious press/blogs are telling of a confrontation that took place shortly after the April 3rd announcement of Nichols' appointment, where Peter Jennings told Jonathan Wynne Jones of the Telegraph that he was "a total s**t" for publishing leaked letters from other RC Bishops criticizing Nichols.

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Twittering the Passion

Trinity Church, Wall Street tried an interesting experiment this past Good Friday; twittering the Passion narrative. Twitter, a rapidly growing social microblogging service allowed the story to be posted in small chunks throughout the traditional three hour observance.

Religion Dispatches has an excellent account of the reporter's own reactions to the service:

"It all got going around 12:10 p.m. on Friday, ten minutes late, after some technical troubles. The first post: ‘via @ServingGirl: is so tired. Caiaphas and the priests have been up all night questioning a man who claims to be the Messiah. And I wait on them.’ Yes, the text itself was under 140 chars, but with the ‘via @ServingGirl:’ part it went a bit over. By 1:27, a few such posts prompted ‘@jgderuvo’ to shout out, for all watching twspassionplay’s Twitter page to see, ‘Guys, stay within the 140 character limit… it’s truncating, ruining the effect!’ It’s basically the equivalent of someone standing up in the theater and shouting that the script wasn’t in perfect iambic pentameter.

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Loosing the blogs of war

Ruth Gledhill, writing in The Times, UK, comments on blogging when passions run high:

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Krista Tippett visits Cleveland cathedral

Krista Tippett and the staff of Speaking of Faith visited Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland yesterday and tweeted all about it.

When the lobbyists become the reporters

Andrew Brown looks back at the recent Anglican Consultative Council and sees the future. It is a world of journalism without reporters and where the news-gatherers and the lobbyists are one in the same.

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Press turning eye to General Convention

The Los Angeles Times links the California Proposition 8 battles to Episcopal Church General Convention 2009 resolutions and Evangelical Lutheran decisions later this summer regarding the full inclusion of gay, lesbian,bisexual and transgender members.

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Transparency

Frank Lockwood of Bible Belt Blogger thinks there is something significant about the fact that language about governmental transparency has disappeared from the introductory copy on the IamEpiscopalian.org Web site. Mark Harris does not.

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Twitter: #IranElection

Religious Dispatches analyses the back story of Iran's elections. In the meantime, the world has suddenly become aware of the power of Twitter, youtube, and other new social media tools for something far greater than chit chat. Haroon Moghul writes on the hardliners trying to stop the move towards democracy:

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And that's the way it was

Washington Post:

Faced with the prospect of having Cronkite stalked by gay activists and bikers, CBS lawyers relented.

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Uninteresting enough to write about

Lisa Miller of Newsweek asks the question that's on everyone's mind, "Who cares about the arcane battles of Episcopal Church?" She gives two answers. Her first:

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How I became an agnostic covering the religion beat

Stephen Bates of the Guardian, responding to the question: How did you lose, or find, your faith? :

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Episcopal Café shout out to Doug LeBlanc

Congratulations and best wishes to Doug LeBlanc, well known and respected journalist in the Episcopal Church. Doug will be working for The Living Church. LeBlanc writes:

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From Adam to Joseph: R. Crumb's 'Genesis' imagines all 50 chapters

Over at bookforum.com, Jeet Heer has thoughtfully engaged The Book of Genesis Illustrated, due in mid-October, from illustrator/satirist/critic R. Crumb.

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Secret service investigates "kill Obama" poll on Facebook

The Huffington Post reports:

A poll was posted on Facebook asking users to vote "should Obama be killed?"
The responses include: "yes," "maybe," "if he cuts my health care," and "no."

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Defending Mother Teresa, or just picking a fight?

Spiked online:

You know how some cowardly muggers target little old ladies because they’re usually slow, frail and unlikely to fight back? Well, the exact same dynamic, though in intellectual rather than bag-grabbing terms, can be seen in the radical-atheist assaults on Mother Teresa.

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Report: technology doesn't limit face-to-face interaction

Until a few years ago, in choosing to forgo purchasing a cell phone or mobile computing device, it used to be popular to say something like, "I don't want to lose contact with the real world." Indeed, just sitting in the public square, we observe many who may appear lost in a technology cradled in their hands.

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Designers, writers offer alternatives to TEC's USA Today advertisement

Some have responded to the ad placed by The Episcopal Church in Friday's USA Today by providing options. Whether these were meant to address whatever correctives were deemed necessary, we'll leave to you.

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The Episcopal Church pushes back

Over the weekend Dr. Chuck Robertson, the Presiding Bishop's Canon, had an op-ed piece published in a Fort Worth newspaper. That, in of itself, isn't particularly remarkable. But the tone of his piece is.

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Get in the picture

With new technology, it's startlingly easy to insert oneself into a painting or photograph. Now from Big Ant International: a chance to climb onto Michelangelo's famous painting of the creation of Adam from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

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'It's a fight for their lives' -- NY Times on Uganda

The New York Times features original reporting by Jeffrey Gettlemen (together with some details that have been rehearsed both here and elsewhere) on the Ugandan kill-the-gays bill, paying special attention to the American ties that helped to stoke furor over homosexuals living there.

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CBS will take your money now

The decision by CBS to accept advocacy ads for this year's Super Bowl seems to be the weak demand for advertising. By accepting a Focus on the Family ad, CBS has broken with its past policy not to accept such ads. The ad will feature Tim Tebow and his mother. It is said the ad will touch on faith and abortion.

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How to report the news: TV version

We occasionally deconstruct news reports here at the Café, usually those that have appeared in major newspapers or on the wires. Charley Brooker does the same for television news reporting. Have a look at this meta masterpiece.

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Church of Doritos Super Bowl Ad

Megachurch competes for prizes in Super Bowl ad contest according to USA Today:

Pastors have long competed with the NFL on Sundays, but this season a hipster megachurch is turning the tables with a 30-second ad that could muscle its way into that all holiest of sporting events: the Super Bowl.

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Asking all the right questions

UPDATE: Episcopal Relief & Development has issued a 2/11/10 press release,

Although the storm has passed, reports indicate that some areas could be without power for up to a month while services are restored. With no heat, electricity or running water, these communities continue to face temperatures well below freezing. They are bracing for the possibility that this winter’s worst storms are yet to come. The most severe winter weather usually does not hit this area until March or April.

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Best Picture nominees speak volumes about God

UPDATE: and the winners ARE....

Here are thoughts from reviewers - some more theological, some less so - on the ten films selected as Best Picture nominees at tonight's 82nd Academy Awards.

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Glenn Beck (further) troubles the water

FOX News warbler and full-time fearmonger Glenn Beck may have completely lost it for good. Last week he urged viewers to flee from churches that preach and practice "social justice," for such was/is at the heart of Nazism and Communism.

Let that sit for just a second.

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I'm a social justice Christian

A PSA is going viral today on Facebook in reaction to a comment in the media about Christianity and Social Justice:

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Rebutting the pope's apologists

Mark Silk of Spiritual Politics comprehensivley and dispassionately rebuts the efforts of Michael Sean Winters, who has a longstanding habit of peering down his nose at journalists, to blame the most recent episode in the deepening, widening child rape scandal in the Catholic Church on journalists. He concludes:

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Is there a Vatican media strategy?

Why is the Vatican media strategy failing? The BBC online reports that "Gerard O'Connell of the British Catholic newspaper The Universe says the Church's attempts to defend itself often just cause more damage." Read on:

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Digital immigrants; how to move online

Most of the Café's readers are probably very comfortable online. You know the difference between a web-forum, a list-serv and a Facebook group. But many in the Episcopal Church's leadership don't. Given the economics and the need we have to be evangelists, being a luddite isn't really an option anymore.

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Why is 'The Shack' still selling?

The Shack is William P. Young's first novel - a book of theodicy wrapped in a hunt for a serial killer, and subject to much overly florid prose about the Trinity. It is, in many ways, a reflection of the "desperate grasping after grace and wholeness" which Young describes as his own life. In other ways, it refuses clear categorization; it is not straightforward autobiography, and is very much its own animal.

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YMCA drops last three letters. But Y?

At the National Press Club on July 12, the YMCA announced its new official name: "The Y."

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Contributing to violence by our silence?

Drummond Pike, writing in the San Francisco Chronicle asks:

When do people know they are contributing to intolerance that may lead to violence? When is silence complicity? When is it time to stand up to those voices and say, "Enough"?

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Cathedral of Second Life nuances a proposed constitution

The Anglican Cathedral of Second Life is getting its sea legs.

With a virtual cathedral (brick-and-mortar is still important even when it's only computerized), a regular set of services, and a ministry team, the Anglican presence in Second Life is very real.

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Sign up now to compete for the title 'Top Priest'

Okay, just kidding. But you looked, didn't you?

After all: can it be too far ahead? When we saw "The Real Housewives of Proverbs 31" as a headline to a fine meditation on the current moment in popular culture by Diana Butler Bass, it got us to thinking.

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75 years of "Day by Day"

Forward Movement, the publisher of "Day by Day" turns 75 years old:

Forward Movement turns 75 years old
Effort to re-invigorate publisher echoes its founders

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Jesus to get Bollywood treatment

Story of Jesus to get the Bollywood treatment
From The Independent (UK)

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The pastor, the stunt and the media frenzy

How did a disgraced pastor of a tiny congregation known for hateful rhetoric get to be the center of a world-wide media frenzy? Brian Stetler at the New York Times traces the evolution of a story gone wild.

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Religion, morality and the soap opera

Katy E. Shrout, over at Religion Dispatches, reflects on the role of morality and religion in the classic American soap opera, as one of the classic series comes to an end.

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Fred Rogers for sainthood

Fred Rogers knew his audience and his mission in life and, importantly, himself. Famous as a television educator of generations of children, he was also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian tradition.

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A visual poem from Radiolab

Andrew Sulllivan named this wonderful video from Radiolab and NPR as his "mental health break" of the year. What makes is so beautiful and so haunting?

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Obama speaks at Tucson Memorial Service

President Obama spoke on Wednesday night in Tucson. "Together we thrive; Tucson and America."

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Theocracy not so bad to Roberta Green Ahmanson

Julie Ingersoll of Religion Dispatches looks at a recent interview in Christianity Today of Roberta Green Ahmanson, wife of Howard. Ingersoll says that most reporters do not understand the depth and importance of the theology behind Ahmanson's support of religious right causes, including his support of the undermining of the Episcopal Church over the last decade, and so miss the impact on our culture and politics.

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Ugandan LGBT advocate murdered

Updated

Box Turtle Bulletin:

We have learned that Ugandan LGBT advocate David Kato Kisulle was murdered today at his home in Kampala. Frank Mugisha of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) has confirmed that the David’s body was identified at a hospital.

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The best of British journalism?

We generally hesitate to call attention to misinformation from those waving their arms for attention, particularly a journalist, but sometimes it's necessary to call BS.

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Religion news up 1% in 2010

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life counted up news stories in the US again in 2010 and found that that there were slightly more stories concerned religion in the secular media than in 2009. Religion stories were much fewer than politics, foreign affairs and the economy, but slightly more frequent than science and technology.

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Episcopal Church to launch web radio

ENS reports:

The Episcopal Church Office of Communication will launch Episcopal Web Radio Network during the summer of 2011.

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Anglican Kossacks

Daily KOS now has a page for Anglican Kossacks. Commonmass writes:

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Exodus 2.0

See what the Exodus from Egypt would have looked like if Moses had a laptop, Google Maps and Facebook.

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A religion stylebook for the secular media

The Religion Newswriters Association has updated and released a comprehensive style guide to religion terms for mainstream religion writers according to a news release. The new ReligionStylebook.com has expanded the previously existing search options and has increased its bank of entries to more than 650.

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Newspapers suing bloggers

Box Turtle Bulletin notes a new money raising scheme by some newspaper chains - suing bloggers:

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Is Sojourners afraid of the big bad backlash?

Intersections International has expended considerable resources creating Believe Out Loud, a campaign that's

... a collection of clergy and lay leaders, LGBT activists, and concerned individuals, working together to help the Protestant community become more welcoming to gays and lesbians.

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Big media events and the churches that make them

When you have a big event, lots of cameras and a global audience, what do you say...and what does your choice say about you and your church?

Bishop Pierre Whalon writes about what the big media events say about the churches that create them.

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'Father Albert' premieres Monday

A new talk show hosted by Father Alberto Cutié is about to premiere for a test run in some markets, perhaps trying to fill a void left by Oprah's departure from the airwaves. Here is the write up in the New York Daily News about "Father Albert":

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The social media imperative

Off the Agenda, a blog devoted to building church leaders presents an interview with Margaret Feinberg on why it is imperative for churches to develop strong presences in social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter. A key excerpt:

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To tweet or not to tweet

When Boston Herald reporter Ian Rapoport went to the funeral of Myra Kraft on Friday, July 22nd, his tweets from Temple Emmanuel in Newton, Massachusetts, set off a controversy. Kraft was the wife of New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft. His actions led others to ask, was appropriate for the reporter to tweet from the Temple?

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How churches can seize the day with media

In the Church Times, The Rev. George Pitcher, former Secretary for Public Affairs to the Archbishop of Canterbury, offers some practical advice for how religious institutions can reframe media reports about their activities and conflicts by how they deal with reporters.

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Thanks, Kermit.

Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, author of God and Harry Potter at Yale, has seen the new Muppet movie and wants to say thanks to Kermit and pals for lessons learned.

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Bishop Budde on Diane Rehm Show

From the site of the Diane Rehm Show on WAMU:

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Different takes on "Top Religion Stories" for 2011

As the year winds up, it is time when every editor in the land calls out for a round up of top religion stories of the past year. Here are some interesting takes on the religion scene in 2011.

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NY Times makes a fix

I'd like to thank The New York Times for printing the following correction this morning, and for the thoughtful exchanges of emails that led up to it.

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Coping continues in Jacksonville

The Florida Times-Union today offers continuing coverage of the aftermath of yesterday's violence at Episcopal School of Jacksonville that claimed two lives.

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The surest reason Kirk Cameron is wrong

File under Old News: Überevangelist Kirk Cameron has at last shown us his true colors, and they aren't pretty.

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Vatican and other church websites hacked

Religious websites have been the target of denial-of-service attacks or outright vandalism. Yesterday the official website for the Vatican was knocked off the air with other sites and tweet carrying messages claiming it was work of a loose-knit group known as "Anonymous."

The Catholic News Service wrote:

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How "Kony" went viral

News of The Lord's Resistance Army, its leader, Joseph Kony, and their brutal tactics, including using kidnapped children as soldiers have been around for years. This week a video and an intense social media campaign brought the story to life in a big way.

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Lent: the app?

Today, we have seen the good and the ugly at the intersection of the interwebs and the church. Now it's time for the silly...or is it?

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Hunger for Meaning: or, the Transcendence Games

Julie Clawson has a few thoughts about the Hunger Games trilogy whose first title in the series (of the same name) has spawned a film that's about to do boffo box office.

(Spoiler Alert, we suppose:)

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Humor or blasphemy?

Is a cartoon showing the resurrection by using Humpty Dumpty all together again on the third day, humor or blasphemy? The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the storm of opinion about the cartoon:

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The whole front page

The entire front page of the Sioux City (IA) Journal was devoted yesterday to an editorial against bullying.

Bravo.

link fixed - thanks Susan

Marks of Mission as Cosmo quiz?

The Episcopal Church has posted a quiz on Facebook to determine your "Mark of Mission." Intended to create a "buzz" about the Five Marks of Mission by using the popular internet quiz format often seen on Facebook and in blogs. Some think it is just good fun, some wonder what is the point? Who is the audience? What does it convey about the Episcopal Church? Does it say that we know how to have fun or are silly and self absorbed.

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Surprising "Truth Squad" takes down WSJ op-ed

An op-ed in the Wall Street Journal published yesterday was so filled with errors and misleading statements that it brought immediate rebuttal from across the Episcopal spectrum.

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Thumbs up for 'Rev.', available free on Hulu

Need some respite from head-banging debate over the future of the Anglican Communion? I have just the ticket: 'Rev.' -- a brilliant church-centric comedy that began airing on BBC a couple of years ago. The first season is now available to U.S. audiences for free at www.hulu.com/rev. The second season will begin airing on July 21. I LOVE this show.

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A sabbath from e-mail?

When technology means you can be working 24/7, how do we find the right balance of work and life? Some companies are instituting a "no e-mail after work hours" policy.

The Washington Post reports:

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A new era of big Bible pics?

In a world where movie theaters are hard to fill, studios are looking for a hero. Could their savior be found...in the Bible?

A slew of Bible-themed films are on the way which could make for the biggest era of Bible-based epics since the 1950s.

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"The Real Seminarians of Wales"

Camera crews and producers followed around ordinands at St. Michael's College, Cardiff, Wales, for a year recording what life is like for those preparing for the priesthood. The turned into a documentary called Vicar Academy, will appear on BBC One Wales starting on Monday October 15th.

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Who wants to help make sense of the South Carolina situation

Who is up for an assignment?

In the past, I believed that the way in which the tensions within the Episcopal Church were perceived by the people in our pews, by the general public, by the Church of England and within the larger Anglican Communion would play a significant role in the survival of our church.

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Christmas frames sexuality debate

Pope Benedict XVI used his Christmas message to assail same sex marriage and to attack "gender theory" as a distortion of human nature. Meanwhile, an Anglican Church in Auckland says that it's Christmas, it's time for Jesus to "come out."

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"Friending" a world wide flock

When Pope Benedict XVI sent his tweet before Christmas, he was joining a long line of churches and clerics who already explore ministry through social media.

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Is internet sloth the eighth deadly sin?

I recently had a conversation with a writer who said that she needs to cut off Internet access to her office so she can finish a book project. Cruising the Web is eating up way too much of her time, she can't meet her deadlines because of it, and she can't make herself stop.

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Does faith require a "closed information" system?

"Nones" are getting a lot of attention these days (so much so that I probably don't need those quote marks to describe people whose religious affiliation is "none"). Salon presents an interesting piece by Valerie Tarico (originally posted at Alternet) positing that the flood of information available on the Internet makes it near impossible to maintain one's religious beliefs-- there is just too much information out there that runs counter to anyone's ancient, tightly woven doctrine.This is bad news for organized religion:

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#Firstworldproblems

Business Insider says First world problems read by third world people might be the most effective ad of the year:

DDB New York has created an ad for the Haitian charity "Water Is Life" that humiliates whiners on Twitter who use the "#Firstworldproblems" hashtag to complain about life's trivial challenges.

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On being "for" instead of "against"

Giles Fraser is saying goodbye to being a columnist for the Church Times. After 9 years he says:

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More likely to be shared: good news or the bad news?

The New York Times analyses whether bad news or good news is more likely to spread on social media:

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Episcopalians in the spotlight this weekend

Lately Episcopalians have been the go to people for in-depth exploration of religion.

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"All the Archbishop's Men"

The production companies that brought us "The Help" and "Lincoln" have purchased the film rights to the story of the Boston Globe reporters who brought the Massachusetts child sex abuse scandal to light. Maybe this will be the next "All the President's Men?"

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Theology and the random comment

The Rev. Canon Susan Russell, All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA, reflects on the power of online comments at Huffington Post:

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Ira Glass thinks Christians get the "short end the media stick"

Ira Glass, the non-believing child of secular Jews does his tribe proud by volunteering the opinion that Christians get a bum rap in the national media. The portrayal of Christians as “doctrinaire crazy hothead people” doesn’t square with fond recollections of former public radio colleagues who kept Bibles on their desks and invited him to screenings of Rapture movies.
From Open Culture:

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Why 'Magic is Might' just isn't right

Over at Buzzfeed, Krystie Lee Yandoli has 13 notions about Harry Potter -- The Boy Who Lived and the Wizarding World he inhabits -- and how his story is connected to practices of social justice.

It's a list (never give up; avoid blind allegiance; check your privilege), so it doesn't reproduce too well in this venue, but there is this gem about why picking your buddies is at least as important as understanding what you're up against:

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First saint of the SBNR?

There is a whiff of transcendence in the new biopic about Steve Jobs and Jeffrey Weiss wonders what that says about how spirituality operates in our culture.

RNS:

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The reality of U.S. demographics

Univision offers a commercial that shows the reality of the U.S. today - is the Episcopal Church paying attention? ¿Habla usted español:

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A lighter note: Church Rescue reality show

A new reality show, Church Rescue “Church Rescue” debuted Monday (Nov. 11) on the National Geographic Channel, "featuring the most unlikely of reality TV stars: church consultants"

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How shalt thou tweet?

The Diocese of Bath & Wells in the Church of England released a list of nine commandments for Christians using Twitter and other social media. It boils down to this: don't be tempted by the illusion of privacy; everything you say is a public witness.

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Lent and Easter with Game of Thrones

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American University United Methodist-Protestant Community offered a sermon series using the Game of Thrones. Here is their final summation:

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