The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard

The Cafe is still developing its pop music chops. So we are four months late in noticing Rickie Lee Jones' spooky, fascinating new album The Sermon on Exposition Boulevard. The songs on the disc are informed by The Words, a modern re-working of the gospels by Jones' friend Lee Cantelon.

Writes Leah Greenblatt of EW: "The onetime Tom Waits paramour and self-dubbed Duchess of Coolsville is definitely still cool, but she's also with Christ — transferring the folk L.A. aesthetic of her 1970s prime onto a Bible-centric narrative. These tracks are the antithesis of church-camp sing-alongs, enriched by roadhouse rhythms and her distinctive whiskey-soaked voice."

Reviewing a recent concert, Jonathan Perry of the Boston Globe wrote: "Musically speaking, "Sermon" is a noir-ish universe of spooky, swirling grooves cut with minimalist, diamond-hard riffs that recall the Velvet Underground, reined in by Jones's street-poetry meditations and lamentations on faith, doubt, and the state of the world. It's also the 52-year-old singer-songwriter's best work in years, and she knows it."

In her profile of Jones for The Telegraph, Helen Brown wrote: "Musically, it's a desert-like mixture of percussive stones and blinding guitar sky, with her voice a hermit's meditations.

And it takes a good devotee's listening. Listen too quickly and you may be bored. I played the album six times before I found the wonder in its humanist grace. Since then it hasn't been off my stereo."

Show me the way

By Melodie Woerman
Editor, The Harvest

You know it, but you can hardly believe it. The guy playing bass guitar, right in front of your eyes, in church, is a rock star, a real one, with the platinum albums to prove it.

Stan Sheldon played on the 1976 iconic “Frampton Comes Alive!” album that sold more than six million copies, and he recently reconnected with his old colleague Peter Frampton on a new album that won a Grammy.

He’s toured the world with Frampton and Warren Zevon and has added his bass beat to recordings with famous artists for more than 30 years.

So why would he spend his Sunday mornings playing for about three dozen people at a contemporary service at St. Margaret’s in Lawrence?

Because it’s music. Because he loves to play.

Read it all.

Hatin' on Harry

St. Dunstan's Episcopal Church in Bethesda, Md., is offering a vacation Bible School with a Harry Potter theme. Last night a banner advertising the camp was defaced by vandals, who spray-painted the words "Church endorsed witchcraft / That's irony." on it.

I am counting on a certain influential members of the Church of Nigeria, whom I know loves Harry, to track these people down and talk sense to them.

The sequel to the U2charist, NOT

And now a note from the lighter side of the Anglican Communion. Sarah Dylan Breuer notes "A lot of people have been asking me ... what other liturgical developments are in the pike. What I can say is that, having carefully pondered cultural and liturgical trends, I've decided that the Next Big Thing is most definitely NOT:"

Her top ten list of rejected ideas includes such gems as the R2D2charist (sure to be a hit at science fiction conventions), the Chattanooga Choo-Choocharist, and the Kazoocharist.

Now, it should be noted that I'm the Episcopal Cafe's resident DJ and about fell over myself to defend the one-hit wonder who put out a certain single in the 80s (and the 90s) when Dylan couldn't find theological grounds to put forward an "I Melt With You"-charist.

But I think the challenge is clear. We have to help her find the next big thing!

NBC saves civilization as we know it

Friday Night Lights, the outstanding drama about Texas high school football, the people who play it, coach it and watch it, has been renewed for a second season. Reruns of the first season will air on Sundays at 8 p. m., beginning tomorrow. Critics have praised the show, but it has struggled to find an audience.

In its previous incarnation, Daily Episcopalian lauded the show to pieces. Frequently.

Sex & Religion & Teenagers

Slate Magazine has a discussion of a new book by Mark Regnerus. The book, Forbidden Fruit: Sex & Religion in the Lives of American Teenagers, is a sociological study of the ways that personal faith influences young people's choices regarding their choices to be sexually active or not.

The effect of faith is not nearly what parents hope it would be:

Teenagers who identify as 'evangelical' or 'born again' are highly likely to sound like the girl at the bar; 80 percent think sex should be saved for marriage. But thinking is not the same as doing. Evangelical teens are actually more likely to have lost their virginity than either mainline Protestants or Catholics. They tend to lose their virginity at a slightly younger age—16.3, compared with 16.7 for the other two faiths. And they are much more likely to have had three or more sexual partners by age 17: Regnerus reports that 13.7 percent of evangelicals have, compared with 8.9 percent for mainline Protestants.

The complex reasons behind this are discussed in the article. The good news is that the situation is not true for young people who are really committed to their faith rather than just self-identifying themselves as faithful.

Read the rest here.

Belief or Evolution?

There's been a number of articles in the media this week talking about the apparent dichotomy between holding to the Christian faith and a scientific view of the Cosmos.

NPR had a story this morning about the Creation Museum's opening. Here's a bit from Salon.com's coverage.

At the ribbon cutting [for the museum], Ken Ham, the rugged-faced CEO and president of Answers in Genesis, the nonprofit ministry that built the museum, tells an enthusiastic crowd that the Creation Museum will undo the damage done 82 years ago when Clarence Darrow put William Jennings Bryan on the stand in the famous Scopes trial in Dayton, Tenn. "It was the first time the Bible was ridiculed by the media in America, and that was a downward turning point for Christendom," Ham says. "We are going to undo all of that here at the Creation Museum. We are going to answer the questions Bryan wasn't prepared to, and show that belief in every word of the Bible can be defended by modern science."

Senator Sam Brownbeck had an op-ed piece in the New York Times earlier this week in which he shares his frustration with the sense that Science and Faith must be at odds:
The heart of the issue is that we cannot drive a wedge between faith and reason. I believe wholeheartedly that there cannot be any contradiction between the two. The scientific method, based on reason, seeks to discover truths about the nature of the created order and how it operates, whereas faith deals with spiritual truths. The truths of science and faith are complementary: they deal with very different questions, but they do not contradict each other because the spiritual order and the material order were created by the same God.

People of faith should be rational, using the gift of reason that God has given us. At the same time, reason itself cannot answer every question. Faith seeks to purify reason so that we might be able to see more clearly, not less. Faith supplements the scientific method by providing an understanding of values, meaning and purpose. More than that, faith — not science — can help us understand the breadth of human suffering or the depth of human love. Faith and science should go together, not be driven apart.

He attempts to distinguish between micro-evolution (trasformation within biological species) versus macro-evolution (transitions between species or leading to new species) as way of defusing the controversy.

Chuck Blanchard has a discussion of this entire controversy on his site.

As a resource, you might want to check of the work of the Episcopal Church's committee on Science, Faith and Techonology to find out something about how the Episcopal Church discusses this issue. And more specifically their Catechism of Creation.

Criticizing Conspicuous Clerical Consumption

Should clergy live according to their means, just like the rest of us? Or do they have a special responsibility to live more simply, and to give more away? David Briggs of Religion News Service reports:

As the new bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America for the Northeastern Ohio Synod, Eaton wants a house closer to her new office and to the church where her husband, the Rev. Conrad Selnick, serves as pastor.
...
And they want a home that makes the right impression for someone whose role is considered, in theological terms, as a servant of servants. Her lifestyle as the spiritual leader of a region that includes Cleveland, America's poorest big city, according to the Census Bureau, is part of the church's witness to the world, she said.

So Eaton doesn't expect to buy anything too lavish. She said her new house may not even be as big as her current four-bedroom, 2 1/2 -bath home, valued at $140,000.

"I hope we don't get into conspicuous consumption," she said.

For clergy, choosing a residence can be an inexact balancing act between biblical and theological emphases on a simple lifestyle on the one hand and personal and practical considerations on the other.

"It doesn't do anyone any good to live in a shack," Eaton noted.
...
Cleveland's Catholic bishop, Richard Lennon, lives with four priests in a downtown rectory.

Episcopal Bishop Mark Hollingsworth Jr. owns a suburban home on 2.4 acres that he bought for $1.66 million in 2004.

Lennon said he tries to follow church teachings that encourage clerics "to set aside every appearance of vanity in their possessions." Hollingsworth said he wants a place where he can entertain and host events for the diocese.
...
When Hollingsworth was elected an Episcopal bishop in 2003, he, his wife and four children were offered housing by the diocese. Hollingsworth chose instead to buy a $1.66 million home with seven bedrooms, seven full and two partial bathrooms and five fireplaces across from a park in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The bishop bought the house with what he would only describe as his "personal resources." No church money was used, the diocese said.

"The elements that went into deciding where to live were primarily personal and had to do with finding a home for our young family that had access to schools and proximity to my office and also a place where we could offer hospitality to the diocese," he said.


Read it all here.

Sex, meaning, consequences

Come Sunday, and one's thoughts turn to sex. At least if one has been reading the "Week in Review" section of The New York Times. "Lately," writes Randy Kennedy, "it seems that a slight virginal breeze has been blowing through the worlds of publishing, theater and Hollywood.'

Not a moment too soon, say those of us rasining children. While your reading Kennedy's essay, consider whether this observation doesn't speak in a broader way to some of the intellectual struggles currenlty undreway in the mainline Protestant churches.

The sociologist Alan Wolfe, who has conducted hundreds of interviews over the last two decades for books about the country’s beliefs and politics, said he saw a reflection in such works of the way people seem to struggle now for a greater sense of societal structure. “They do want to go back to a more conventional sexuality, morality, whatever,” said Mr. Wolfe, director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College. “But they do not want to go back to an era of repression. So a kind of muddled, middle position is where it seems to me that most Americans are these days.”

God given gifts

From north of the border comes this story:

Parishioners at the Holy Cross Catholic Church have twice received notes in their weekly newsletter promoting more conservative clothing for Sunday Mass. The note, titled "Dressing for Church," asks women to "dress in a 'modest' way -- a way that does not draw undue attention to your beauty or physique, so that you will not be upstaging God, who gave you these gifts."

"When we get distracted by the female figure, we're going to be less likely to be praying than noticing who's sitting nearby," Father William Swift, the church's pastor, said yesterday in an interview.

Fr. Swift said strapless dresses, tight shirts, short skirts and "dresses that expose too much skin" were in question, but added he thought people should come to their own conclusions about what is appropriate and what is not.

"Mostly, clothes designed to draw attention to oneself," he said. "In church, to be modest means to give way to another point of view, without being centre stage."
...
St. Paul used to request women cover their heads in church in order to avoid distraction, Fr. Swift said.

"The only way women were to draw attention to themselves in biblical times was to show off their hair because their dress was modest. So St. Paul cut them off at the pass there," he said.

It's all here in The National Post.

Not surprising, we have the Mad Priest to thank for this pointer.

More love for FNL

Friday Night Lights, beloved of this blog, its predecessor and the redoubtable Katie Sherrod, has been nominated for five Television Critics Association Awards, including program of the year. Lead actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, who, together, deliver the best portrayal of a good marriage on television, were nominated for individaul achievement in drama. The Los Angeles Times has the story.

Digital Images, Real Controversy

Is it ethical to digitally scan a private space open to the public and then use it to make a video game or a movie without the permission of the owners? Especially when the use of those images is antithetical to the mission and values of the owners? Is it ethical for a company to make buckets of money on these images? And how should the church react when popular culture uses, comments or intrudes on the church's sacred spaces? These are the questions at the core of a controversy brewing over the use of digital images of the interior of Manchester Cathedral in a video game called “Resistance: Fall of Man.”

Ruth Gledhill, in her blog, Articles of Faith, first broke the story last week. Now the clergy and leadership of Manchester Cathedral are hitting back. Sony, the maker of the Playstation 3 system for which the game was produced, has become the focus of protests.

The Dean and Canons of the Cathedral have written a letter to Sony protesting the inclusion of their Cathedral in the game.

During the game players are asked to assume the role of an army sergeant and win a battle in the Cathedral. We have seen screenshots of the game in play showing the interior of the Cathedral with the player's gun ready to fight; soldiers can be seen elsewhere in the nave taking aim. The video footage of the Cathedral battle on 'YouTube' has shocked and dismayed us beyond words and can only be described as virtual desecration.

We are shocked to see a place of worship, prayer, learning and heritage being presented to the youth of today as a location where guns can be fired.

We were sickened to discover that millions of people who play the game have a choice of weaponry to use within the Cathedral including the Rossmore 236 close-quarter combat shotgun, the L23 Fareye sniper rifle and the XR-005 Hailstorm chaingun.

The Cathedral works with victims of gun violence in their city, including counseling, special worship, and work with teenagers to find other ways to deal with conflict beside violence.

...it is a shame to have a game like this undermining such important work. It is well know that Manchester has serious gun-crime problems, as can be testified by the sad shooting of three youths in the past 72 hours, and, for many young people, these games offer a different sort of reality. Seeing guns in Manchester Cathedral is not the sort of connection we want them or anyone to make.

The Bishop of Manchester, the Right Rev Nigel McCulloch, is calling on Sony to withdraw the game, which is on sale globally. He said: “For a global manufacturer to recreate one of our great cathedrals with photo-realistic quality and then encourage people to have gun battles in the building is beyond belief and highly irresponsible.”

Spokeman for Sony believes that game users will differentiate the digital images from the real thing.

David Wilson, a Sony spokesman, told The Times: “It is game-created footage, it is not video or photography. It is entertainment, like Doctor Who or any other science fiction. It is not based on reality at all. Throughout the whole process we have sought permission where necessary.”

A statement from Sony says

Sony Computer Entertainment Europe is aware of the concerns expressed by the Bishop of Manchester and the cathedral authorities... and we naturally take the concerns very seriously. "Resistance: Fall of Man is a fantasy science fiction game and is not based on reality."

The spokesman also said that permission was not necessary because the Cathedral is public space. Just as people may take snapshots, they say, an environmental artist can digitize what people can routinely see, including historic landmarks like the Cathedral. Even so, Sony says they will would contact the cathedral on Monday "to understand their concerns in more detail".

Ted Price, President and CEO of Insomniac, the creator of the game says on the Playstation web site that “one of our Environment Artists went over to Great Britain with his camera and researched all the towns that the game takes place in, and that was important because we wanted to get it right.”

The legal implications of the row are unclear. Matt Wardman on The Wardman Wire describes the questions of law that the situations raises.

The initial response has been from the news media has been one of some bemusement.

Sony may have a risk, but they may not. However, they have an exposure of 10s of millions in revenue from this game - so they face a large downside.

Similarly, for Church of England cathedrals, there is a potential risk and a large potential downside. The income from commercial photography and film is probably in the millions.

It may be that Manchester Cathedral (and they will have consulted with other Cathedrals and the Church legal advisers before taking this action) want to stop this before it becomes open season on English Cathedrals.

It may be an attempt to establish legally that video games are in the same category as films, and avoid losing the income that comes from rental of cathedrals by film crews.

Income from set piece filming (such as the weddings in Four Weddings and a Funeral) are not at risk, but with the rapid increase in small producers and guerilla filming at least one category of income is potentially at risk in the future. Broadcast and HD quality footage can now be shot on prosumer level video cameras.

It may in fact turn out that Sony obtained freelance footage, and are only potentially liable for “reproduction” and “publication” (which would be violations of copyright if copyright exists) rather than filming without permission.

Gamers themselves seem more upset by the blowback than by the game itself. A quick search of Digg turned up comments about the row from gamers.

A commenter going by 'vx69' wrote said, “Some people really need to understand the concept of reality and fantasy.”

Another, called 'maoa' said,

I don't think it's just that they used the Church's interior without permission - it's a whole game genre that goes against the Church's beliefs. It's a bit like a game using Jack Thompson's house as a location for a violent shoot-out - the main difference being that Manchester Cathedral is a public place. I agree that legal action would be overkill, but you can understand the Church getting a bit upset. Furthermore, the article does specifically say they are "considering" legal action rather than "pursuing", so we perhaps Sony will apologise over the phone and we'll hear no more about it.

But 'maoa' also said, "I'd have expected this kind of reaction from Manchester Cathedral, anyway. I live in Manchester and know the Canon's son, and I remember they held a faith-affirming "Da Vinci Mass" in reaction to Dan Brown's film... they advertised through parody billboard posters and the works. It's not the first time they've overreacted to popular culture."

Other gamers commented that churches have been used in scenes in other video games, such as the Call of Duty or Medal of Honor series. The difference in this case is that these seem to be digital images of fictional churches. Commenters wonder if it made a difference though the scenes in these games accurartely portray the fact that in wartime churches have been used in a variety of ways including hospitals, headquarter and gun emplacements.

There is a similar row brewing over the upcoming release of Grand Theft Auto IV and the use of actual New York City locales in a game that is at once violent and portrays criminal behavior. There have been statements of protest but no lawsuits. Since the game has not been released, no one knows if actual churches were used in the production of this game.

The controversy points up what can happen when popular culture clashes with the traditions and sensibilities of the faithful. Should the church push back? Was it "digital desecration" and "virtual vandalism?" Or is it an opportunity to use the fantasy to speak to real life? The Bishop, Dean and leadership of Manchester Cathedral are hopping mad and ready to fight back at what they see as a violation of their mission and ministry.

Adolescence is a bad invention

Is there another way to do teenhood? In today's society education lasts longer, we live longer, we delay marriage. We teach delay of sex until marriage. Yet biologically hormones still kick in when they've always kicked in. Are "kids" growing up too soon or not soon enough?

Psychology Today recently interviewed Robert Epstein about his new book, "The Case Against Adolescence." PT states the premise of the book: "teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them."

Some extracts from the interview:

The whole culture collaborates in artificially extending childhood, primarily through the school system and restrictions on labor. The two systems evolved together in the late 19th-century; the advocates of compulsory-education laws also pushed for child-labor laws, restricting the ways young people could work, in part to protect them from the abuses of the new factories. The juvenile justice system came into being at the same time. All of these systems isolate teens from adults, often in problematic ways.
...
Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you're an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you're a child. This infantilization makes many young people angry or depressed.
...
We have completely isolated young people from adults and created a peer culture. We stick them in school and keep them from working in any meaningful way, and if they do something wrong we put them in a pen with other "children." In most nonindustrialized societies, young people are integrated into adult society as soon as they are capable, and there is no sign of teen turmoil. Many cultures do not even have a term for adolescence. But we not only created this stage of life: We declared it inevitable.
...
There are now massive industries—music, clothing, makeup—that revolve around this artificial segment of society and keep it going, with teens spending upward of $200 billion a year almost entirely on trivia.
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In recent surveys I've found that American teens are subjected to more than 10 times as many restrictions as mainstream adults, twice as many restrictions as active-duty U.S. Marines, and even twice as many as incarcerated felons. .... The more young people are infantilized, the more psychopathology they show. What's more, since 1960, restrictions on teens have been accelerating.
...
Teens in America are in touch with their peers on average 65 hours a week, compared to about four hours a week in preindustrial cultures. In this country, teens learn virtually everything they know from other teens, who are in turn highly influenced by certain aggressive industries. This makes no sense. Teens should be learning from the people they are about to become. When young people exit the education system and are dumped into the real world, which is not the world of Britney Spears, they have no idea what's going on and have to spend considerable time figuring it out.
...
According to census data, the divorce rate of males marrying in their teens is lower than that of males marrying in their 20s. Overall the divorce rate of people marrying in their teens is a little higher. Does that mean we should prohibit them from marrying? That's absurd. We should aim to reverse that, telling young people the truth: that they are capable of creating long-term stable relationships. They might fail—but adults do every day, too.

The "friends with benefits" phenomenon is a by-product of isolating adolescents, warehousing them together, and delivering messages that they are incapable of long-term relationships. Obviously they have strong sexual urges and act on them in ways that are irresponsible. We can change that by letting them know they are capable of having more than a hookup.

Studies show that we reach the highest levels of moral reasoning while we're still in our teens.
...
It's a simple matter to develop competency tests to determine what rights a young person should be given, just as we now have competency tests for driving. When you offer significant rights for passing such a test, it's highly motivating; people who can't pass a high-school history test will never give up trying to pass the written test at the DMV, and they'll virtually always succeed. ... When we dangle significant rewards in front of our young people—including the right to be treated like an adult—many will set aside the trivia of teen culture and work hard to join the adult world.
...
Are you saying that teens should have more freedom?

No, they already have too much freedom—they are free to spend, to be disrespectful, to stay out all night, to have sex and take drugs. But they're not free to join the adult world, and that's what needs to change.

Unfortunately, the current systems are so entrenched that parents can do little to counter infantilization. No one parent can confer property rights, even though they would be highly motivating.

Read it all here. Questions for reflection:

1. Do you buy the premise?

2. Has the church followed culture and infantilized teenagers?

3. What can the church do different?

Thanks to Marginal Revolution for the pointer; see MR's wisdom on the subject here.

Resistance: Fall of Man

Prime Minister Tony Blair and Parliament weigh in on the use of scenes in Manchester Cathedral in Sony's new video game, Resistance: Fall of Man.

Covered by Episcopal Cafe in Digital Images, Real Controversy, the issue of property rights, virtual and real, has become a hot topic in the blogosphere. Gamers, the church, and now the UK government are debating the issue with surprising alliances across groups.

Tech Shout reports:

During the Prime Minister’s Questions, Tony Lloyd, MP for Manchester Central, started asking his question by observing, “When large organisations like Sony find their copyright has been breached, they’re very quick to use the law.”

He added, “Would the Prime Minister agree with me then that when Sony used images of Manchester Cathedral as part a game which extols gun violence, this was not only in bad taste but also very, very insulting to not simply the Church of England, but people across the land who think it’s inappropriate that big corporations behave in this way?”

Blair replied, “I agree with my honourable friend. I think it’s important that any of the companies engaged in promoting these types of goods have some sense of responsibility and also some sensitivity to the feelings of others. I think this is an immensely difficult area, the relationship between what happens with these games and its impact on young people,” the prime minister went on.

“I’ve no doubt this debate will go on for a significant period of time, but I do agree. I think it is important that people understand there is a wider social responsibility as well as an interior responsibility for profits.


Read the rest here.

Meanwhile, Dave Walker at Cartoon Church has his own view of the controversy, links to more opinions, and a lively discussion: Stop Shooting Things in Manchester Cathedral.

Is The Web Dangerous For Teens?

As any one under 30 can tell you, the most important trend in Internet culture has been the rise of the so-called Web 2.0, which is the use of the Internet for social networking through such sites as Face Book and MySpace.

The most recent article of Atlantic features an often frightening exploration of the implications of the rise of the Web 2.0 for parents of American teenagers. First, Flanagan notes that these sites expose our children to the world--and the world to them--at a much younger age than before:

The history of civilization is the history of sending children out into the world. The child of a 17th-century weaver would have been raised and educated at home, prey to the diseases and domestic accidents of his time, but protected from strangers who meant him harm. As the spheres of home and work began to separate, cleaving parents from their sons and daughters, children faced dangers of an altogether different kind. The world is not, nor has it ever been, full of people who prey upon children. But it has always had more than enough of them, and it always will. . . . With the Internet, children are marching out into the world every second of every day. They’re sitting in their bedrooms—wearing their retainers, topped up with multivitamins, radiating the good care and safekeeping that is their lot in life in America at the beginning of the new century—and they’re posting photographs of themselves, typing private sentiments, unthinkingly laying down a trail of bread crumbs leading straight to their dance recitals and Six Flags trips and Justin Timberlake concerts, places where anyone with an interest in retainer-wearing 13-year-olds is free to follow them. All that remains to be seen is whether anyone will follow them, and herein lies a terrifying uncertainty, which neither skeptics nor doomsayers can deny: The Internet has opened a portal into what used to be the inviolable space of the home, through which anything, harmful or harmless, can pass. It won’t be closing anytime soon—or ever—and all that parents can do is hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

And the incidence of predation appears to be more prevalent than parents seem to realize:

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children maintains that one out of five kids who use the Internet has been propositioned for sex. It’s hard to know just how accurately such events can be quantified, and when I first read the statistic, I found it hard to believe that, if indeed so many children were being propositioned, more parents weren’t uniting in outrage, rather than wiring up their kids at a blistering pace. My friends with teenagers were very open with them and were well-informed about the dangers of the Internet; I couldn’t imagine one out of five of those kids being propositioned by a stranger and not telling their parents.

But Hansen provides a second bit of information that made me wonder if that statistic wasn’t in fact on the low side. As part of the first episode of his show, Hansen convened a panel of tweens and teens, among them children of some of his colleagues at NBC, and asked how many of them had been “approached online by someone in a sexual way that made you feel uncomfortable.” Almost all the kids raised their hands. Then he asked how many had told their parents. Not a hand went up. And when he asked why they hadn’t told their parents, all the kids in the room said they didn’t tell because they didn’t want their parents to take away their Internet connections.

Suddenly, it all made sense to me: Teenagers don’t tell their parents that someone nasty got through to them for the same reason I didn’t tell my parents that kids were dropping acid at a party—because they wouldn’t let me go to those parties anymore. That’s the horrible, inescapable fact of coming of age: The moment you choose the world over your parents, you’ve chosen to make your own decisions about what’s safe and what’s not, with only your own wits to protect you.


Yet, perhaps the most troubling aspect of these social networking sites is not the obvious dangers of predation, but rather that this technology amphlifies the worst features of teen culture:
Most parents of teenage girls with Internet connections will tell you that their daughters’ physical safety isn’t in jeopardy—they’ve taken all kinds of precautions they think ensure this—but that the online experience is doing nothing for the girls’ peace of mind. Not many people are as ill-served by having their natterings subjected to instantaneous, global transmission as adolescent girls. In the first place, these girls’ feelings can be hurt by even a well-intentioned comment or question, and having a caustic remark that would have been bad enough if kept between two people suddenly unleashed to the whole clique, team, or school can be a wretched experience. Furthermore, because this new technology can make the old girl standbys of gossip and social exclusion and taunting more efficient—and therefore more cruel—many girls arrive at school each morning having experienced the equivalent of a public hazing in the privacy of their own rooms. While Johnny’s upstairs happily sneaking hard-core pornography past his Internet filter, poor Judy is next door weeping into her pillow because everyone in the eighth grade now knows that she still uses pads, not tampons. (Meanwhile, in a galaxy far, far away, Mom and Dad are trying to figure out how to watch Dancing With the Stars now that the remote’s on the fritz again.)
. . .
Some of the most harmless aspects of MySpace would have crushed me at 14. Members get to list their “Top 8” friends, a list they can change at whim. It’s an ingenious number, because it’s just large enough to make exclusion really hurt—eight people, and there wasn’t any room at all for me?

One of the great paradoxes of our age is that at the exact moment when a huge number of teachers, parents, and school administrators have dedicated themselves to the emotional well-being and self-confidence of adolescent girls, a technology has come along that’s virtually guaranteed to undermine that confidence. A girl can go to school and happily discover that it’s possible for her to become a scientist when she grows up, but that may be cold comfort when she comes home to discover that five people just dropped her from their Top 8.


Read the entire essay here (subscription required).

These sites are here to stay--and are already an important part of teen culture. What can parents, educators and youth leaders do in response? Should our congregations address the implications of this new social trend in their youth programs?

The Gospel message of JK Rowling

The Washington Post Religion page has a long article discussing the various Christian themes found in the Harry Potter books by JK Rowling:

"By the second Harry Potter book, I began to think the relationship of Harry and Dumbledore was underpinning the narrative in a supernatural, and distinctly Christian, way.

That author J.K. Rowling's series is based on a battle between good and evil is so obvious it's hardly worth mentioning. There's Harry and Dumbledore against Voldemort; the House of Gryffindor against that of Slytherin; even, symbolically, Fawkes the phoenix against Nagini the snake.

A more profound, if subtle, moral interplay is found between Harry and Dumbledore, who effectively lead the joint forces of good. Harry is a boy wonder, revered and reviled for his special powers by the respective forces of good and evil at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Headmaster Dumbledore is the best wizard there is, a seemingly omniscient force for good who rarely reveals his powers in full and who closely observes others' courses of action.

Dumbledore knows Harry plays a unique and indispensable role in the battle against evil, and outwardly helps him from time to time. Yet for most of the series, Dumbledore keeps Harry unaware of the goings-on known or orchestrated by Dumbledore involving the bigger picture. In the course of his young life, Harry often feels Dumbledore is ignoring his personal needs.

A well-known, heart-wrenching passage in the Bible, from an anguished Jesus on the cross, captures their relationship well: 'My God! My God! Why have you forsaken me?' When Jesus says that, he feels abandoned by God. We know from earlier in the Gospels that he understands the special role he is afforded by God the Father. But at that moment, it's as if he feels separated from God or doesn't comprehend the metaphysics of God's plan to redeem the world through his sacrifice."

I personally have been fascinated reading the books as they've come into print by the obvious and not so obvious Christian themes that are woven into the narratives.

What have the rest of you thought about the Potter books? Are you ready for the release of the final volume? (I've already pre-ordered our families two copies.) How about the next movie? (We're buying our tickets to the midnight showing today...)

Read the rest here: 'Harry Potter' and the Gospel of J.K. Rowling

I totally see where they are coming from

Eager to preserve the English language against a rising tide of nonsense, The Telegraph asked readers to compose a piece of prose crammed with as many infuriating phrases as possible.

Here's a sampling of what they received:

I hear what you're saying but, with all due respect, it's not exactly rocket science. Basically, at the end of the day, the fact of the matter is you have got to be able to tick all the boxes. It's not the end of the world, but, to be perfectly honest with you, when push comes to shove, you don't want to be literally stuck between a rock and a hard place.

And:

Let’s stop obsessing and get down to the nitty gritty of fleshing out the gender issues. John. I’m wanting to hear inclusiveness and ethnicity here. A raft of blue sky thinking to challenge accepted orthodoxies. The bottom line is about empowerment and at the end of the day getting up to speed working 24/7 towards a coalition of understanding through best practice. This can only be fully achieved if the glass ceiling, in inverted commas, is transformed into a level playing field where the goal posts cannot be moved without leaving a substantial carbon footprint which inevitably would consign us all to the expediency of existing between a rock and a hard place. We must pick up the ball and run because we can no longer wait for the smoking gun of the next denial of service attack to consign us all to the wheely bin of history.

Read them all. Then write your own.

The politics of moral purpose

Conventional wisdom is that Democrats learned about the importance of talking about faith after the election of 2004. Madeline Bunting, writing in The Guardian, says that Gordon Brown is the third Prime Minister in a row in Great Britain to “do God.” The son of a Church of Scotland minister, he says he will bring “competence and serious moral purpose” to government.

It's a curious phenomenon that at a time when Christianity continues its steady decline in this country, religion has re-emerged as a central inspiration of political rhetoric - not as the flash-in-the-pan aberration of one individual but now well established as a convention of the centre ground, acknowledged by the Cameroons as much as by Labour. This strange afterlife of religious belief must be pretty galling to secularists and humanists.

But even as Brown talks about “moral purpose,” and is comfortable with integrating his faith into his political talk, there are differences between him and his predecessor, Tony Blair.

It's very hard to imagine Brown praying with anyone, let alone George Bush, nor is he likely to make references to God's judgment on his Iraq policy, and least likely of all is his being tempted down the path to Rome. Blair found God in emotionally charged prayer meetings in Oxford hosted by a gregarious Australian vicar. In contrast, Brown saw faith sustaining communities through hardship in his father's ministry - he describes it as "social Christianity". He was not interested in theology and personal salvation in the hereafter, the hellfire and damnation side of Presbyterianism, but in how religion inspires bonds that help individuals and communities through hard times, how it provides solidarity and ensures resilience - and that still fascinates him.

She continues:

Brown's faith bears the hallmarks of his origins. He may have done away with hellfire but he's replaced it with a dour if noble vision of endless duty, effort and obligation - his school motto of "I will try my utmost" - without even the promise of celestial reward. Self-restraint and self-discipline are principles written into the Brown DNA but to a consumer-obsessed, debt-ridden electorate, they are as foreign as Mars.

Read the rest: Madeline Bunting: The church may be struggling, but in politics its rhetoric is on the rise.

Meanwhile politicians in the U.S. continue to play the God card. Recent evidence:
-Stump Speeches Taking a Page from the Bible
-Op-Ed: The Gospel Of Obama
-Faith Has Role in Politics, Obama Tells Church

Casting the net on the net

The Church's presence on the internet is varied and growing. Church-on-the-net is a new internet church site that targets people who not in the Church in a gentle but clearly evangelistic approach. David Walker in his blog, Cartoon Church, interviews Nicola, one of the founders of Church-on-the-net. She says:

We’ve seen a lot of models of online services/worship/community/even ‘church’, but not much particularly evangelistic. Some sites which purport to be evangelistic ask you to sign a statement of faith before you enter! How many ‘bricks’ churches do this? Some ask for donations right up-front (very very common!) and on one I saw, when you click on the question ‘What if I don’t believe in this stuff?’, you get a web page with scary music and the following text in a fiery font: ‘You will most likely go to hell.’ Encouraging!

As for Christian communities online attracting existing churchgoers, both St Pixels and i-church are made up of predominantly Christian members, although I hear i-church is going to be launching a renewed and more evangelistic site soon.

In this country, many congregations are using the internet to extend their reach, most notably but not certainly not limited to Trinity Church, New York, and Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, and Mission St. Clare has become a kind of daily chapel for many Episcopalians. The news blog epiScope and this i-magazine The Episcopal Cafe have their own followings. Certainly Barbara Crafton's Geranium Farm is a varied and interesting internet community, especially anchored by her gentle wisdom and appreciation for the daily foibles of the average parish, cat and garden.

There are even churches in the virtual world Second Life.

Walker concludes in his post:

One thing that I sometimes wonder is whether there are places online that function as ‘church’ even though they do not carry that name and probably did not set out to become such a thing. Communities of blogs, bulletin boards and even the comments sections of individual blogs come to mind. I have to say that that has sometimes been my experience. That said I still remain a fan of the old fashioned style ‘bricks and mortar’ real life church. You should go along one time - you might like it.

Which raises an interesting question. For all the variety of resources and experiences that the Church offers on-line, is an internet Church really a community? Back when virtual churches happened mainly over the television airwaves, a Church Ad Project ad once asked a question that is still relevant today. “With all due respect to tele-evangelists,” the banner headline read. “Have you ever seen a Sony give Communion?”

What do you think? How much community is a virtual community? How do brick-and-mortar churches and i-churches relate to one another?

Sinead O'Connor on "Theology"

Sinead O'Connor made headlines in the early '90s when she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on national television. So it might surprise readers to learn that she was featured in Christian Music Today, a sister publication to Christianity Today, recently. Her new album is called Theology, and from interviews it becomes clear that she hasn't left her "girl rebel" attitude behind, but her faith is real. Christianity Today writes:

It's not the kind of thing you hear on a typical Christian album, even one focusing on Scripture. Nor is it the kind of verse you hear taken seriously in liberal pulpits. O'Connor told Christianity Today sister publication Christian Music Today, "I don't think God judges anybody," but her music specifically says otherwise. The songs here are full of both the pain of sin and forgiveness from it.

O'Connor says Jeremiah is her favorite book of the Bible—not usually something said by those who believe God doesn't judge. Still, she knows the message of Jeremiah and the prophets is not "God will hunt you down," but "God is coming for you."

"I hope this record would make someone think that perhaps God is not an angry, punishing, warmaking God and is in fact a gentle and compassionate God who actually is upset at the loss of us," she said.

In the end, because it is so drenched in Scripture, Theology offers anything but a tragic God. It offers an active God who is tearing down kingdoms to bring people to him. He seems to be chasing Sinead O'Connor down, too.

Interviews with O'Connor:
Christian Music Today
Orange County Register
BeliefNet

Responding to objectification

Fuller Seminary's Youth Ministry Resource page has an article that discusses what sort of response Youth Ministers might make to a recent study that shows how profoundly a young girl's internalized decision to see being attractive as more important than being competent can become.

"Researchers studying the influence of self-objectification, meaning the tendency to view our own bodies as ‘objects,’ have found that the way a girl feels about her body predicts how she’ll throw a softball. If she has learned that her body is an object and she needs to be concerned about her appearance at all times, she is far more likely to 'throw like a girl.'

Most of us probably don’t include softball throwing in our list of youth ministry goals. But if it’s true that the way girls feel about their bodies affects the way they toss a ball, then it’s all the more true that the way they feel about their bodies impacts the way they view the One who created them in His image. As youth workers who seek to create space for this Holy One to work, recent research and media reports can help us respond to three ‘mores’ that bring new twists to not-so-new issues for our girls."

Instead of just dismissing this as a funny little bit of news, consider this quote from the article:

Over 77,000 invasive surgical procedures were performed on teens 18 and younger in 2005, representing a 15% increase since 2000. While that in and of itself is shocking, consider this: minors cannot undergo these surgeries unless their parents consent. In most cases, since these procedures are not covered by medical insurance, the parents pay for the surgery as well.

The article goes on to list some action points that Youth leaders and clergy might consider as a way to respond to these pressures.

There's no mention of how the same sorts of societal pressures are affecting young men in this article, though there have been a number of articles and books recently that have pointed out that some young boys are struggling in an "overly-feminized" classroom paradigm.

Read the rest here: Fuller's Center for Youth and Family Ministry | Youth Ministry Resources

Care to share any strategies that have worked for you?

Harry Potter and the Church

Since your news-team here at the Episcopal Cafe felt left out not being able to find a connection between the iPhone and the Episcopal Church a few weeks ago, we were very relieved to find this article on the Times website which allows us to have something about Harry Potter up on our site today just like everyone else...

"To coincide with the publication of J K Rowling’s final book about the boy wizard on Saturday, the Church of England is publishing a guide showing how to evangelise using the stories from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Evangelicals have been critical of the Harry Potter books and films on the ground that they glamourize the occult and attract children to the idea of witchcraft. Sensitivity to this issue led Canterbury Cathedral to reject a request to become a location for the first film, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. But in recent years, the Harry Potter phenomenon has received backing from church figures, including the former Archbishop of Canterbury Dr George Carey, who described the film as ‘great fun’ and a serious examination of good and evil.

Designed for use by youth groups, the guide, ‘Mixing it up with Harry Potter, 12 Sessions on Faith for 9-13s’ is written by 24-year old youth worker Owen Smith, who has also written one based on the Simpsons cartoon series. Scenes from the books are used to illustrate how Christian children may be called to stand out, like Harry, from their peers.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Rev John Pritchard, today described Harry Potter author JK Rowling as a ‘great storyteller’. ‘Although the fictional world of Harry Potter is very different from our own,’ he said, ‘Harry and his friends face struggles and dilemmas that are familiar to us all. Jesus used storytelling to engage and challenge his listeners.' The Bishop said the Harry Potter books made young people think about the choices they make and their place in the world."

There have been similar programs in diocese of the Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Bethlehem in particular.

There's an article that discusses the relationship and possible conflicts between the Potter-universe and the religious world view over on the Washington Post today as well.

Read the rest here: Use Harry Potter to spread Christianity says Church -Times Online

(NB: Your humble reporter has read the articles linked above and can report that there are no spoilers that need to be avoided. The Cafe wouldn't do anything like that. Unlike the New York Times... no spoilers at link.)

James Dobson rejects all of Harry Potter

The Christian Post has news that Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family has officially renounced Harry Potter and all the associated "Harry Potter products."

"‘In a story about Christians' views on the Harry Potter books and films, reporter Jacqueline Salmon wrote that ‘Christian parenting guru James Dobson has praised the Potter books,’’ the statement read. ‘This is the exact opposite of Dr. Dobson's opinion – in fact, he said a few years ago on his daily radio broadcast that ‘We have spoken out strongly against all of the Harry Potter products.’’

The reason the ministry leader is against the material is obvious given the presence of magical characters (witches, wizards, ghosts, goblins, werewolves, poltergeists and so on) in the Harry Potter stories.

‘[A]nd given the trend toward witchcraft and New Age ideology in the larger culture,’ FOTF added, ‘it's difficult to ignore the effects such stories (albeit imaginary) might have on young, impressionable minds.’"

Your humble news editor-of-the-day, having spent all night Friday in line with his family for the last book of the series, wonders if Dr. Dobson has actually read them...

Without giving too much away, the final book makes it clear to most that JK Rowling is writing within the model set by the Oxford "Inklings" of the last century. The works as a whole seem very much in the tradition of Pilgrim's Progress. The final work has images of christian morality, teaching and theology that rival the works of C.S. Lewis in the Narnia books in terms of their explicitness.

It seems to us here at the Cafe, that Rowling is writing in a style that follows much of the traditions of great Anglican writing by both clergy and lay people with particular examples being Gulliver's Travels by The Very Rev. Jonathan Swift, Alice in Wonderland by "Lewis Carroll" aka The Rev Deacon Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, and Prof. C.S. Lewis and Prof. Charles Williams of the Inklings themselves. It is in keeping with the instructions of St. Gregory the Great to St. Augustine of Canterbury (the first archbishop) who was instructed to make use of the common culture he found in England to teach the Christian faith to the nation he was sent to evangelize.

Read the rest here: Dobson Officially Renounces 'Harry Potter' | Christianpost.com

Mmmmm, religion

In the tradition of Saturday morning cartoons, we go from Harry to Homer. The PBS television news magazine Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly examines the new movie with an eye toward how it portrays—and satirizes—faith in America today.

During the 18 years it's been on the air, "The Simpsons" has become a true cultural phenomenon. It's the longest running TV sitcom in history and reaches an estimated audience of 60 million people every week in more than 70 nations. But while the series' brand of humor may not appeal to all people of faith, it may be one of the most interesting examinations of religion in pop culture today, tackling a host of complex theological issues, including salvation, divine omnipotence, the end times, miracles, heaven and hell, cults, religious exclusivity, and the nature of the soul.

Mark Pinsky, author of "The Gospel According to the Simpsons," discusses religious themes in the show and the movie in an interview.

LAWTON: The Simpson family and most of their neighbors attend the First Church of Springfield.

Mr. PINSKY: It's kind of a mainline Protestant church. They don't define what it is, but they call it the "Presbylutheran" church. The theology is kind of lowest common denominator. The pastor is Reverend Lovejoy, who incidentally does not love joy. He's kind of a venal character. He suffers from preacher burnout. His wife is a shrew. He has money problems. His daughter is a typical preacher's kid, sort of a demon seed. It puts him through an awful lot. So he's an object of satire and ridicule, but underneath there's a lot of profound material about the ministry today.

LAWTON: In fact, The Simpsons has tackled a host of complex theological issues, including salvation, divine omnipotence, the end times, miracles, heaven and hell, cults, religious exclusivity, and the nature of the soul.

Mr. PINSKY: It's hard to remind yourself that a discussion at this level is happening in a cartoon comedy.

You can read a transcript, watch the video clip, or listen to the entire show here. The bottom of the page has a host of related links. Christianity Today has a review, also, here.

See also this story from The Telegraph. An excerpt:

Let the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, a long-time fan explain: "Goodness is taken very seriously in The Simpsons. Not in a solemn or moralising way, but the values of honesty and generosity and forgiveness are ones that, quite clearly, the programme endorses."

Ingmar Bergman, RIP

"It is my opinion that art lost its basic creative drive the moment it was separated from worship. In former days the artist remained unknown and his work was to the glory of God... Today the individual has become the highest form and the greatest bane of artistic creation." So said Ingmar Bergmann, who died today at 89.

Kris Rasmussen of Beliefnet has a brief appreciation of the Swedish film director.

The Guardian has a special report. And you can watch the famous chess match with Death here.

Airport chaplains

Howie Aiden, an Anglican priest and airport chaplain at Schiphol airport, Amsterdam describes his airport ministry in the Times:

The work of an airport chaplain is a never-ending stream of intense personal encounters followed by silence, the void being filled with hopeful prayer that each individual will continue to find the help and support they need once they have moved on from here. Only twice in my time at Schiphol have those whom I have helped written or returned to let me know how they are doing.

Initially it surprised me how much death and bereavement are part of the chaplaincy’s work. Airports are not keen to advertise it, but there are a good number of passengers who die on inbound flights or at the terminal. Travel is stressful; heart problems are commonplace. Accidents and suicides, though not frequent, do occur. And on average two Dutch citizens a day die while abroad, their remains often being repatriated in the company of family or friends. At Schiphol the chaplains are authorised to take up to five meeters and greeters through the security checks to the arriving airplane, so that the bereaved can be met away from the busy arrivals hall.

There is a brighter side, too. Sunday services are an enjoyable mix of nations and denominations, the Church drawn together from the four corners of the Earth, only to be scattered again within hours. People who would otherwise never enter each other’s churches share the Peace, and mean it. They also learn that they can share space with people of other faiths, praying or worshipping as they do in the one interfaith meditation centre.

Read it all here.

I have noticed chapels at various airports across thw world, but have never met an airport chaplain. Have you?

CoE and Facebook

The Church Times has the story:

"Members of the General Synod are signing up to the social-networking website Facebook, after a new informal group was set up for them last week. Anthony Archer, a lay member for St Albans diocese, set up his own account in May, before embarking on the General Synod project. ‘This caused some anxiety among my student children and their friends that the parents’ set were now going to eavesdrop on their kids’ lifestyles,’ he said. To test the water, Mr Archer’s posting on his own page of the site was headed: ‘Can old farts do Facebook?’

Speaking this week, he said the response on the site to his initiative was ‘a resounding yes’. He believes that it is important for the Church to use this type of media tool. ‘Networking is a natural desire, and ought to be at the heart of what the Church is doing in a ministry and mission sense.’ For the first years of its existence, Facebook was restricted to students and their friends, but last year it was opened to anyone with an email address.

...Elsewhere on the site, fans of the Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, have created a profile entitled ‘N T Wright Bishop Extraordinaire’. This contains regularly updated postings and discussions on theological questions."

The article points out that only one member of the clergy has actually created an account as of this writing.

Read the rest here.

Games with a conscience

As you read in the last post, there are some serious philisophers who think that we are part of a virtual reality simulation. Following that theme, we thought that it would be interesting to look at some of the simulations and games that we could play. More importantly, are there games that can help our children and us to better understand the needs of the world?

Fortunately, Chris Marlin-Warefield of Faithfully Liberal has compiled a list of "games with a conscience":

A game with a conscience, in my book, is a game that teaches a lesson about social responsibility, one that lets us know what the world is really like. While such games aren’t always happy-fun-time sorts of diversions, they teach valuable lessons and give one insight into how the world works, which can give one better ideas (or at least an interest in finding better ideas) about how to solve those problems that we often spend time just carping about.

So, here are some games with a conscience. Some are hard, some are easy, and all of them teach a lesson:

Ayati: The Cost of Life

In Ayati, you manage a poor Haitian family. You send them to work, manage their finances, try to get them an education, try to keep them healthy, etc. The game is hard, and the the tide can turn (to the worse) quickly, but it’s well worth playing. Hint: this game is about education, which is the road to a better life… that’s kind of the message.

ElectroCity

Build a city, keeping its energy production within the limits set by electricity needs, environmental protection, economic needs, and so forth. At the end (you get 150 turns) you receive “grades” in several areas, as well as an overall grade. The only real goal, though, is building the city you want to build, though getting high grades ain’t so bad.

Climate Challenge

Manage… Europe. Play the president of Europe, trying to reduce carbon emissions while remaining popular enough to stay in office. It’s really not terribly difficult to reduce emissions and stay popular, but it’s so very hard to do those two things and keep the economy in shape.

Now, go play!

Read it all here.

If you know of other games with a conscience, please let us know! And if you play one of these games, let us know what you think.

Eating our way to holiness

There's a growing movement in the farming and grocery industry to consider the religious teachings about food when consumers are deciding what to purchase. This isn't simply a matter of more farmers growing food according to kosher principles or more butchers becoming more sensitive to scriptural injunctions about how animals should be slaughtered. There's also a focus on questions about the treatment of migrant workers by the producers, organic techniques and sustainable agriculture. The New York Times reports:

"Christians, Jews and Muslims who see food through a moral lens are increasingly organized and focused on showing their strength. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a national coalition of more than a dozen religious organizations, is lobbying Congress for legislation to help small farms. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is helping congregations and universities in the Midwest buy local produce from family farmers.

Environment-minded Jews are asking the leaders of Conservative Judaism to rewrite their kosher certification rules to incorporate ethical concerns about workers, animals and the land. Hazon, the Jewish environmental organization, has set up community-supported agriculture programs, or C.S.A.’s, in which customers purchase shares of a farm’s harvest.

‘This is the first time I have seen such a deep and growing involvement of the faith community,’ said Brother David Andrews, who is on sabbatical from his job as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has followed these kinds of issues for 30 years.

If this nascent cause was taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound. ‘The religious movement is a huge force,’ said Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture. ‘Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher, and institutional buying.

‘Religious leaders have been giving dietary advice for decades and centuries, telling us to eat fish on Friday or to keep kosher in your home. What we are seeing now are contemporary concerns like the fair treatment of farm workers, humane treatment of animals and respect for the environment being integrated into the dietary advice given by the churches.’"

Read the rest here: Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul

How about the readership of the Cafe? Are you seeing something like this movement in your local congregations or communities?

Teens against popular culture

From CNN:

At one point in Jared Hutchins' young life, the Beatles were a big problem.

"I had to stop listening to them for a while," said Hutchins, who lives in Cumming, Georgia, and plays the piano, guitar and harmonica. He said the group's world view "had a negative effect on me," and made him irritable and angry.

"God owns my life, not the Beatles," he said simply. Although Hutchins said he enjoys a wide range of music -- from Pink Floyd and Arcade Fire to Christian bands such as Hillsong United -- he said he has to be careful of what music he listens to, for the same reason he temporarily turned off the Beatles.

Hutchins, a 16-year-old graced with poise and thoughtfulness, is one of many teenagers who say that some part of popular culture, with its ubiquitous references to sex, drugs and violence, has harmed him.

Last year, Hutchins and his Christian youth group attended an Acquire the Fire rally in Atlanta, Georgia, he said. Acquire the Fire -- regional rallies held across the country -- and BattleCry -- the larger rallies held this year in only three cities -- are the products of the evangelical Christian organization Teen Mania.


Read it all.

Using economics to improve your faith life

Economist Tyler Cowen offers strategies for overcoming the boredom that often accompanies events that one thinks one should enjoy. In his new book, Discover Your Inner Economist: Use Incentives to Fall in Love, Survive Your Next Meeting, and Motivate Your Dentist, considers the following scenario:

You are about to walk into an art museum. You aspire to appreciate the many works of art you will see, in part because valuing high art is part of your self-image: You consider yourself a person who would enjoy spending an afternoon at an art museum.

But here’s the problem: In spite of your plans and aspirations, you get tired after an hour or so of walking around, and all the paintings, no matter how wonderful, begin to blur together.

To resolve the tension between the fact that you want to enjoy the art museum and yet it eventually bores you, Cowen, a professor at George Mason University and co-founder of the popular blog MarginalRevolution.com, poses an economic question: “What is the relevant scarcity hindering a better outcome?”

The answer: Your attention span is the scarcity. And the solution? Make it fun for yourself. In his words, give yourself incentives to reach your goal of enjoying the museum. Cowen offers several ways to trick yourself into paying more attention.

Religion Writer asks: So how can Cowen’s approach be applied to questions of faith?

We want to enjoy the experience, and it’s part our self-image to believe we find going to the church or synagogue or mosque meaningful and fulfilling. Yet who has not yawned their way through a sermon or prayer at one time or another? How do you keep your mind from wandering from the divine service to thoughts about grocery shopping later in the day or your next work assignment?

Applying Cowen’s logic, the first and probably most difficult step is admitting that we don’t always enjoy religious services and observances as much as we would like to think we do. There should be no shame in this admission. Cowen himself, a voracious consumer of culture and appreciator of art, reports that after a few hours in an art museum he gets “museum legs” and begins to whine.

So church/mosque/synagogue/temple/fill-in-the-religious-blank is sometimes boring — accept that as a given. How can we apply Cowen’s concept of incentives to make the experience more enjoyable?

Read it all here

Tyler Cowen's blog, Marginal Revolution is here. In this post Cowen promises to "I'll write more soon about the implicit theology in Discover Your Inner Economist."

What are your strategies for having a meaningful church experience?

David Aikman on the attack dogs of Christendom

David Aikman writing in Christianity Today

What disturbs me ... is the extent to which some Christians have turned themselves into the self-appointed attack dogs of Christendom. They seem determined to savage not only opponents of Christianity, but also fellow believers of whose doctrinal positions they disapprove.

A troll through the Internet reveals websites so drenched in sarcasm and animosity that an agnostic, or a follower of another faith tradition interested in what it means to become a Christian, might be permanently disillusioned.

None of the major figures of American Protestantism in the past quarter-century have been spared from attack, from Billy Graham to Rick Warren, from Tim LaHaye to Robert Schuller. The attacks, moreover, are not reasoned or modestly couched criticism, but blasts of ire determined to discredit beyond redemption the targets of the criticism.
...
Then there is Pat Robertson, "one of the greatest deceivers in the church world today," and that hand-clasper with "Romanists" and "modernists," Elizabeth Elliot, widow of the martyred missionary in Ecuador, Jim Elliot. Elliot's great offense? Refusing "to separate from heretics." Oh, I forgot to mention: Elizabeth Elliot has compounded her sin by being a life-long Episcopalian.
...
By all means criticize fellow Christians if necessary, but do so with grace.

Read it all here.

Thanks to Kendall Harmon for drawing this to our attention.

The spirituality of The Simpsons Movie

By Kim Lawton

[Episcopal News Service] They're silly, often irreverent and sometimes downright wicked. But The Simpsons may also be one of the most interesting examinations of religion in contemporary pop culture.

The release of The Simpsons Movie is grabbing new attention for the popular animated television series that has an often surprising take on spirituality.

"The Simpsons say grace at meals. They attend church on Sundays. They read and refer to the Bible; and they pray out loud -- although sometimes only under desperate circumstances," said Mark Pinsky, author of The Gospel According to the Simpsons.

"It's about a family in which religion plays a part," Pinsky said. "And in that sense, it's really reflective of what most Americans do and feel about religion."

Read it all.

Spiritual memoirs are best sellers

Among American readers religion is a best seller. There's the flurry of books by committed atheists. But did you also know that three of the books on the lastest New York Times list of best-selling nonfiction are spiritual memoirs?

Lisa Miller makes the observation in the September 10 issue of Newsweek

One is by the wife of country preacher [#4 - It's All About Him, by Denise Jackson with Ellen Vaughn]. One is by a divorcée who traveled the world in search of transcendence [#1 (paperback) - Eat, Love Pray, by Elizabeth Gilbert]. One is by a preacher who says he was hit by a truck, saw heaven and came back to life [#2 (paper) 90 Minutes in Heaven, by Don Piper].

(There's a fourth one one ranked #21 on the hardback list.)

Is there anything different about these spiritual memoirs and the spiritual memoirs of earlier times?

As a genre, the spiritual memoir has been around since at least 397, when St. Augustine wrote his "Confessions," the first real autobiography in Western history. In an astonishingly modern way, Augustine describes his early life and his conversion in terms that are as passionate and self-aware as anything you would read today. What is new, suggests Donna Freitas, who teaches a class in spiritual memoir at Boston University, is that the memoirists are no longer using writing as a way to reach out to God. The new breed are using their belief in God (or lack thereof) to reach out to everyone else.
Professor Freitas is author of Sex and the Soul: The Sexual and Spiritual Lives of America's College Students (Oxford, 2008).

Some questions.

1. What is your favorite spiritual memoir?

2. Do you agree there has been a shift from "reaching out to God" to "reach out to everyone else" and, if so, is it for the better? Is there a paradox? Which is more effective in reaching out to others?

3. What spiritual memoir would you recommend to the young adult alienated from the church?

The envelope please...

The Cafe's editor regularly expresses his unstinting affection for the NBC drama Friday Night Lights. Now another voice joins the chorus.

Salon's annual "Buffy" award goes to the most underappreciated show on television. In bestowing this year's award, Heather Havrilesky wrote:

You'd think that if you trotted out the most original depiction of the modern American family since Tony and Carmela bickered over an open refrigerator, you'd reel in countless viewers and a big sack full of Emmys to boot. Not so for "Friday Night Lights." Despite developing into the most dynamic and heart-rending drama on the small screen and garnering glowing praise from swooning critics and passionate fans alike, this prime-time gem still hasn't attracted the ratings or the little golden statues that it so rightfully deserves.

Sure, we've sung its praises, more than once before. Together we prayed for a Hail Mary pass from NBC, which demonstrated its faith in this promising rookie by renewing its contract despite low ratings. Will a solid sophomore season secure "Friday Night Lights'" position in the family drama hall of fame? Only if you get off your sorry ass and watch it! (The second season premieres 9 p.m. EDT Friday, Oct. 5, on NBC.)

But don't take our word for it. Ask anyone who watches regularly, and you'll see in their eyes how madly in love with this show they are. Something in the small-town, pesky but lovable, in-your-business, regular-folks flavor of "Friday Night Lights" feels like home. While so many sitcoms and dramas alike have mutated into the realm of perky, overstyled, bantering professionals, a shiny, idealized picture that either feels too giddily happy or too heavy, "Friday Night Lights" shows us real Americans living regular lives, enduring the indignities of frustrating, dead-end jobs, grappling with narrow-minded co-workers or neighbors, ushering up laughter in spite of family arguments, and doing the best with what they have. While the football team wins or loses, the heart of this story lingers, like life so often does, somewhere in between: Whether it's Tyra, a teenager battling her own low expectations, even as she sees what that did for her bitter single mom, or Jason, a handicapped former quarterback trying to find a life that makes sense now that his biggest dreams have died, the characters of "Friday Night Lights" are challenged to face their weaknesses and dig deep. Sometimes they frustrate or anger us, but we always find ourselves cheering them on in the end.

And of course Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler are absolutely mesmerizing in their embodiment of the eye-rolling annoyances and gentle teasing of the modern marriage. Those two bring so much warmth, humor and realism to every interaction that you can't pry your eyes away from them.

Read it all.

Jesus is no punchline

Jesus and comedy are a tricky mix. Comedian Kathy Griffin's Emmy acceptance speech was censored because of a punchline that the Academy of Arts and Sciences recognized as potentially offensive. Griffin, on the other hand, is loving the fact that she was censored, because, as she put it on Larry King, "I just am loving it. "It's in the newspapers around the world, and every article starts with, 'Emmy winner Kathy Griffin,' and then the letters all just blur after that." (Thanks to bringing that to my attention so I could edit this write-up accordingly, Ms. Griffin.)

As reported in the Washington Post:

Comedian Kathy Griffin has built her D-list career on telling A-list Hollywood celebrities -- Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, Ryan Seacrest -- to "suck it." So when she told Jesus to "suck it" after winning an Emmy for her reality show, "My Life on the D-List," it was meant as another swipe at someone who gets invited to better parties than she does.

But as she quickly learned, dissing Jesus, even in left-leaning Hollywood, carries more risk than poking fun at the Lindsay Lohans of the world.

Griffin's remarks -- "I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus. . . . So all I can say is, suck it, Jesus. This reward is my god now!" -- were censored when the E! Network broadcast the Creative Arts Emmy Awards show last Saturday.

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said the remarks were struck because they were "offensive." It wasn't clear whether they disliked the vulgar "suck it" part or the blasphemous "this reward is my god now" part.

Whether she was deliberately trying to insult Christians is debatable, the article continues, "The larger question, and the one that probably hits closest to home for many people, is whether Griffin was taking a swipe at religion generally or Jesus in particular. And that, observers say, is not an insignificant distinction." It goes on to give an explanation of who Jesus of Nazareth is, in case you hadn't heard about him, which we hope isn't offered ironically.

The article also makes a reference to NBC's short-lived series about fictional Episcopal priest Daniel Webster, The Book of Daniel.

The whole thing is here.

Let's get the God on in here

Your erstwhile editor was noting with interest this tale of a church-in-a-nightclub, seeing as she isn't so recently retired as a Philadelphia DJ and music critic, that appeared on NPR today as part of its News and Notes feature:

A California pastor has found a way to take his sermons to young people in Los Angeles without waiting for them to come to him.

He's set up a church inside an L.A. nightclub.

The venue may be a little unorthodox, but the message seems to be connecting with a Hollywood crowd that knows a lot more about partying than praying.

On a typical Saturday night at the Mayan nightclub, it's hard to get from one side to the other without being bumped or ground. Downstairs in the basement hot, sweaty bodies gyrate in a way that does not inspire godliness.

But everything changes on Sunday, when groups of 20-somethings swoop in to scrub away the debris from the night before and prep for a different kind of gathering.

The article underscores the semantic ambiguity of the term "nondenominational" as a descriptor to imply that a church lies outside mainline Christianity:


The church is officially non-denominational, but the doctrine is Southern Baptist. Those traditional values may seem a far cry from this trendy club scene, but McManus doesn't see a conflict.

"We focus, in some ways, on how to disengage Jesus and the Bible from everything people know about Christianity as a religion," McManus says. "[We] just strip it down to the human, and raw, kind of conversations."

The church is called Mosaic, to symbolize diversity. And every Sunday, McManus welcomes new guests.

But this is the line that made your editor sit up and go, "Say What?

One of the most famous attendees is apl.de.ap, a founding member of the hip-hop band the Black Eyed Peas.

He helped the band win a Grammy with "Let's Get it Started," a song that is sometimes played during Mosaic's services. He says that when he thinks of his band's name, Black Eyed Peas, he associates it with the spiritual soul food that he gets from coming to church. He heard about the church from a friend, but he already knew of the nightclub.

OK. For the record, that award-winning single's album version is "Let's Get Retarded." The Wikipedia entry sums up the background of how the radio version came into existence:

The phrase "Let's Get Retarded" is an offensive term used throughout the United States that means to go crazy on the dance floor, synonymous with "Go Dumb" (another insulting word for people who are mute) and "Get Stupid" (a term used to insult individuals with low IQ's). The colloquial meaning of "retarded", as used in this song, refers to being very carefree and having a good time at the expense of others - and more often meaning intoxicated or high, similar to the colloquial use of getting "blind", "wasted", or "smashed". The phrase is chanted at clubs and dances and used in everyday slang, but the word "Retarded" is offensive to people who see it as put-down of those who are mentally challenged. It was edited because many people find this usage offensive, making the song unsuitable for play on some radio stations and at sports games.

The article is here, and audio will be available after 4 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the world...

While we were focused on the House of Bishops meeting in New Orleans and its aftermath, sane people everywhere were spending their time in other pursuits, such as listening to Magic, the new Bruce Springsteen album, watching last night's season premier episode of Friday Night Lights, and finding other soul nourishing fare in the sometimes toxic stew of our popular culture.

Here is EW on the album, and the The New Yorker on FNL. Please leave a comment if you believe that God is a Red Sox fan. Those who hold a differing view are invited to contemplate it in the silence of thier prayer closets.

And for an old column of mine on the theological implications of the Subway Series of 2000, pay a visit here.

Using Wiki power to translate the Bible

1. Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat waz invisible, & he maded the skiez & da earths, but he did not eated it. 2. The earths wus witout shapez & wus dark & scary & stufs, & he rode invisible bike over teh waterz. 3. & Ceiling Cat sayz, i can has light? & light wuz.

A project has been launched to reach the mission field in the LOLCat language community. LOLCat missionaries are translating the Bible. To read about it, and contribute, check it out here.

Thanks to Gallycat for the pointer.

Pushing Daisies

It's a romantic comedy. About death. And the romantic leads can't actually touch one another, or else she dies. This cute--maybe too cute, whimsical--maybe too whimsical ABC offering has become appointment television in one Café-related household. Not least because it features the voice of Jim Dale, who did such a brilliant job reading the Harry Potter series. Any thoughts about the show, and do you think the fact that the lovers can't ever become physically intimate will lead to any insights about the nature of intimacy?

Here is the EW oeuvre on Pushing Daisies. 1, 2, 3, 4. The articles by Leah Greenblatt are worth reading even if you never intend to watch the show.

Meanwhile, TV watchers, do we think Friday Night Lights has jumped the shark with the sub-plot about the stalker killing/cover-up? (Phrased like that, I can't help but answer yes, although I wasn't bothered much when I watched it.)

The new death

Baby boomers are changing everything--including death and funerals, apparently. The Wall Street Journal reports on an emerging trend of designer funerals:

In funeral rites, venerability once provided solace (the community's traditions live on even as individuals die) as well as caution (your day will come too, buster). For many Americans now, by contrast, ancient rituals are intolerably old-fashioned and rigid, at once crusty and procrustean. "In an era where options surround us everywhere from the toothpaste selection at the grocery store to a hundred versions of white paint at the hardware store," Amy Meyerson writes in Obit, the Web site of a soon-to-be-launched death-centric magazine, "it's natural that our choices regarding the dead be equally complete and equally reflective of the individual consumer."

A stroll through the exhibit floor of the National Funeral Directors Association convention, in Las Vegas earlier this month, suggests that death options are indeed as plentiful as toothpaste brands. You can get a casket that's biodegradable wicker, or big-and-tall, or cowboy-style ("rustic pine" with "hand-forged iron hinges"--and it "can be personalized with a brand"). Coming soon: a casket modeled on "the popular 'Photon Torpedo' design seen in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan." Even hair reliquaries have a distinctive 21st-century look. Trifac Inc. markets shapely models called the Lotus, the Lumen, and, um, the Hymen.

. . .

The funeral association's neo-necro products represent only part of the new mortality. "Deathcare," as it's called, is abuzz with change. Some folks get buried with their BlackBerrys--survivors can text their sorrows away. A developer in Las Vegas has proposed a "stylized version of the Coliseum in Rome," featuring a mausoleum, a gift shop, a "virtual casino"--whatever that is--and, balm for bereavement's sting, a tavern. In The Threepenny Review earlier this year, Bert Keizer described one frolicsome funeral: A woman biked to the grave, pulling a cart that bore the colorful casket. The dead man's young son sat atop the casket and pretended to drive. To Mr. Keizer, it seemed like "a desperate attempt at saying 'Howdy!' to Death."

According to anthropologist Nigel Barley, a family in Lancashire, England, a few years ago, wanted "Dad" chiseled on the churchyard tombstone, but the vicar insisted on "Father." If "Dad" were permitted, he said, "it will not be long before we have Cuddles, Squidgy and Ginger, which would make the last resting place sound like a pets' cemetery." Such a dispute is unimaginable in the U.S., chummy yet individualistic, and, it should be said, increasingly fond of burying its pets, a lucrative sideline at the funeral directors' convention. Hidebound tradition is the grimmest reaper of all.

Is there something wrong about this? Some think there is much lost by the loss of tradition:

What's wrong with all this? At the individual level, funerary frivolity trivializes both the death and the life that preceded it. At the social level, tradition and ritual, passed from generation to generation, create a common framework for discussing life's ultimate questions. When we choose customized, individualized, let-it-be-me funerals, we start slipping from lingua franca to tabula rasa. Soon, we're talking only to ourselves.

Read it all here.

The out-sourced brain

David Brooks has a provocative column this week on the effect of technology on human memory. Are we outsourcing our own thinking? Brooks seems to think so:

I have melded my mind with the heavens, communed with the universal consciousness, and experienced the inner calm that externalization brings, and it all started because I bought a car with a G.P.S.

Like many men, I quickly established a romantic attachment to my G.P.S. I found comfort in her tranquil and slightly Anglophilic voice. I felt warm and safe following her thin blue line. More than once I experienced her mercy, for each of my transgressions would be greeted by nothing worse than a gentle, “Make a U-turn if possible.”

. . .

My G.P.S. goddess liberated me from this drudgery. She enabled me to externalize geographic information from my own brain to a satellite brain, and you know how it felt? It felt like nirvana.

Through that experience I discovered the Sacred Order of the External Mind. I realized I could outsource those mental tasks I didn’t want to perform. Life is a math problem, and I had a calculator.

Until that moment, I had thought that the magic of the information age was that it allowed us to know more, but then I realized the magic of the information age is that it allows us to know less. It provides us with external cognitive servants — silicon memory systems, collaborative online filters, consumer preference algorithms and networked knowledge. We can burden these servants and liberate ourselves.

Musical taste? I have externalized it. Now I just log on to iTunes and it tells me what I like.

. . .

Memory? I’ve externalized it. I am one of those baby boomers who are making this the “It’s on the Tip of My Tongue Decade.” But now I no longer need to have a memory, for I have Google, Yahoo and Wikipedia. Now if I need to know some fact about the world, I tap a few keys and reap the blessings of the external mind.

Personal information? I’ve externalized it. I’m no longer clear on where I end and my BlackBerry begins. When I want to look up my passwords or contact my friends I just hit a name on my directory. I read in a piece by Clive Thompson in Wired that a third of the people under 30 can’t remember their own phone number. Their smartphones are smart, so they don’t need to be. Today’s young people are forgoing memory before they even have a chance to lose it.

Now, you may wonder if in the process of outsourcing my thinking I am losing my individuality. Not so. My preferences are more narrow and individualistic than ever. It’s merely my autonomy that I’m losing.

I have relinquished control over my decisions to the universal mind. I have fused with the knowledge of the cybersphere, and entered the bliss of a higher metaphysic. As John Steinbeck nearly wrote, a fella ain’t got a mind of his own, just a little piece of the big mind — one mind that belongs to everybody. Then it don’t matter, Ma. I’ll be everywhere, around in the dark. Wherever there is a network, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a TiVo machine making a sitcom recommendation based on past preferences, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a Times reader selecting articles based on the most e-mailed list, I’ll be there. I’ll be in the way Amazon links purchasing Dostoyevsky to purchasing garden furniture. And when memes are spreading, and humiliation videos are shared on Facebook — I’ll be there, too.

I am one with the external mind. Om.

Read it all here.

Where is the Christian in Halloween?

Trinity Wall Street offers us the real story behind Halloween.

Here are the ways in which Trinity Wall Street will be celebrating Halloween.

The Portage Daily Register suggests not all Christians understand the true meaning of Halloween.

Drop us a comment about how other congregations in The Episcopal Church celebrate All-hallow-even.

A lovely outing

We've been waiting to enter the fray over J. K. Rowlng's outing of her character Albus Dumbledore until we could point toward an article with a positive ISR (insight-to-snark ratio.) Mark Harris of EW stepped up to the plate.

It's often said that if every gay person in the world were to turn purple overnight, homophobia would disappear: In other words, fewer people would be inclined to vilify other human beings if they woke up one day and discovered that they'd been aiming stones at their college roommate, their aunt, their grocer, or their grandson. Statistics bear this out: People who have a gay family member or friend have more enlightened attitudes about homosexuality than those who don't. What Rowling has done, brilliantly, is to turn Dumbledore purple. She didn't reveal his sexuality in order to unlock a new way of reading the books, or as a provocation. She simply told the world that a main character in the best-loved books of the last 10 years is homosexual, and asked her audience to contend with it — and with the fact that it shouldn't matter. And her choice to make a beloved professor-mentor gay in a world where gay teachers are still routinely slandered as malign influences was, I am certain, no accident.

A new, more spiritual SimCity?

This Sunday editor must admit that he has spent (my wife would say wasted) many an hour becoming the master of the universe by building the cities of my dreams on the Sim City computer game. While the game can be addicting, it is certainly true that the Sim City designers have assumed a particular set of largely materialistic values into the game. That will now change with the introduction of Sim City Societies that will allow the game players to choose from a wider assortment of value systems:

Since its debut nearly two decades ago, Electronic Arts's (EA) SimCity has allowed its players to become the masters of their own mini-domains. But there was always a nagging feeling that the game judged their moves based on some preset moral compass. No more: in the new version of the game SimCity Societies, set to hit stores on November 15, zoning and infrastructure planning requirements designed to keep city planners on the right track have been replaced with a much broader definition of success.

SimCity Societies encourages its virtual architects to design cities that maximize any one of a number of different values, including authority, creativity, knowledge, productivity, prosperity and spirituality. Players determine whether their cities turn out to be capitalist meccas or artistic hippie societies based on criteria such as the power source, types of buildings and the proximity of those buildings to one another.

The goal is to produce a high level of "societal energy," by developing a city with one or more of the game's six values. Societal energy is a fairly intangible force, but players know they have it when their cities grow and their citizens are happy and productive. "If you put the city together right, it has the right energy," says Rachel Bernstein, producer of SimCity Societies. Players place buildings within their cities in order to maximize the values most important to them, whether they are productivity and prosperity or creativity and spirituality.

Read it all here.

Just in time for Christmas

A gift for the religious geek who has everything:

leather hymn book cover for your iPod

iPod, it's a new religion!
...
The tough leather case will help you cherish your music.

Click to see photo.

iPiety anyone?

Amazing Race ends for Kate and Pat

AP:

"I admit I was out of shape," says Hendrickson, who's lost 40 pounds since filming. "I could do much better now."

During the race's first Detour challenge, Lewis and Hendrickson opted to search through a parking garage full of bikes. Looking back, Lewis and Hendrickson wished they would've chosen to hoist furniture up the side of the building.

"We definitely could've done that," says Lewis. "I've done macrame, too."

Lewis, 49, and Hendrickson, 65, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., tied the knot three years ago. The "married ministers" team are the oldest duo featured in the 12th edition of the Emmy-winning competitive reality series, and the show's first lesbian couple.
...
The pair asked permission from their church to participate in the around-the-world race.

"We've been supported 100 percent by our bishop," says Lewis. "We did have to ask permission to do this because we are under vows to our bishop. He didn't even think twice. He was 100 percent supportive."


It's all here.

Here's BuddyTV's exclusive interview with the couple who are both Episcopal ministers.

Amazing Race ends for Kate and Pat

AP:

"I admit I was out of shape," says Hendrickson, who's lost 40 pounds since filming. "I could do much better now."

During the race's first Detour challenge, Lewis and Hendrickson opted to search through a parking garage full of bikes. Looking back, Lewis and Hendrickson wished they would've chosen to hoist furniture up the side of the building.

"We definitely could've done that," says Lewis. "I've done macrame, too."

Lewis, 49, and Hendrickson, 65, from Thousand Oaks, Calif., tied the knot three years ago. The "married ministers" team are the oldest duo featured in the 12th edition of the Emmy-winning competitive reality series, and the show's first lesbian couple.
...
The pair asked permission from their church to participate in the around-the-world race.

"We've been supported 100 percent by our bishop," says Lewis. "We did have to ask permission to do this because we are under vows to our bishop. He didn't even think twice. He was 100 percent supportive."


It's all here.

Here's BuddyTV's exclusive interview with the couple who are both Episcopal ministers.

For the Bible Tells Me So shortlisted for Oscar

Cinematical reports that the Documentary For the Bible Tells Me So is on the shortllist for an Oscar from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. There are currenly 15 films on the list. The final five will be announced on January 22.

According to the For the Bible Tells Me So website:

Through the experiences of five very normal, very Christian, very American families -- including those of former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt and Episcopalian Bishop Gene Robinson -- we discover how insightful people of faith handle the realization of having a gay child. Informed by such respected voices as Bishop Desmond Tutu, Harvard's Peter Gomes, Orthodox Rabbi Steve Greenberg and Reverend Jimmy Creech, FOR THE BIBLE TELLS ME SO offers healing, clarity and understanding to anyone caught in the crosshairs of scripture and sexual identity.

'Tis the season...

...to despair for the future of Western civilization. Check out the Gucci baby carrier, a steal at $850. Hat tip Matthew Yglesias.

The Golden Compass

The first instalment of Philip Pullman's hugely successful trilogy of fantasy books, His Dark Materials, has had a troubled transition to the screen. The adaptation has managed to upset both Christians and atheists, the former because of the book's anti-religious themes and the latter because those very themes have been watered down and virtually excised from the film, writes John Hiscock of the Telegraph, adding that the film "lacks the impact or charm of The Chronicles of Narnia, the special effects are extraordinary and the film is sure to be a success with young audiences."

Read it all.

And here's a side of controversy.

The Onion strikes again

Panelists discuss the tragic lack of media access in Darfur and how we can help Darfurians realize how much we're helping them.

Is it Christmas?

There is now an entire website devoted to the question, "Is it Christmas?" Check out the answer here.

In a similar vein, click here to find out more about the movie Santa Claus doesn't want you to see.

And don't miss Merry Kitschmas.

The "Compass" and the Catholic League

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

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

Read it all.

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

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

Papal Bull over Red Bull ad

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

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

'Saints by phone' service condemned by Vatican

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

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

What you *can* learn from the Golden Compass

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

Donna Frietas writes:

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

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

The gallery is here.

College student seekers

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

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

The article reports:

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

Worst Christmas movies, ever

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

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

Pullman's art of darkness

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

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

The limits of celebrity activism

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

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

Hat tip: Arts and Letters Daily.

Juno, Jamie Lynn and the rules of engagement

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

She writes:

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

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

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

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

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

The Wire returns

The best show on television returns tomorrow night at 9 p. m. on HBO. The Wire is the most honest, the most searching, the most moving examination of life in an American city that has ever been written or performed. It is the kind of work Charles Dickens would be doing were he alive today.

Here is a collection of recent stories to get you in the mood for the first episode of season five.

"Charm City’s Cops and Robbers, Schoolboys and Stevedores" in The New York Times recounts the first four seasons.

Bittersweet Work of Wrapping ‘Wire’ in The Times is a profile of director/actor Clark Johnson.

"One Last Case to Solve For Detective on 'The Wire'" from Reuters is a profile of actor Wendall Pierce.

Tom Shales review of the final season is already online along with a slideshow, and a brief video on the shooting of the final episode.

Our previous paens to this brilliant program are here, here, here and here.

The lost art of cooperation

In a delightfully incisive essay in The Wilson Quarterly, Benjamin R. Barber writes:

Whatever we make of it, today competition dominates our ideology, shapes our cultural attitudes, and sanctifies our market economy as never before. We are living in an age that prizes competition and demeans cooperation, an era more narcissistic than the Gilded Age, more hubristic than the age of Jackson. Competition ­rules.

We need only look at America’s favorite ­activities—­sports, entertainment, and ­politics—­to notice the distorting effect of the obsession with competition. Sports would seem to define competition, as competition defines sports. But beginning with the ancient Olympics, sports have also been about performance, about excelling (hence, excellence), and about the cultivation of athletic virtue. It is not victory but a “personal best” that counts. In the United States, however, athletics is about beating others. About how one performs in comparison with others. Ancient and modern philosophers alike associate comparison with pride and vanity (amour-propre), and have shown how vanity corrupts virtue and excellence. When Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar protests, “Such men as he be never at heart’s ease/While they behold a greater than themselves,” he captures what has become the chief hazard of a ­hyper-­competitive culture. No wonder ours is often an ­outer-­directed culture, unreflective, grasping, aggressive, and ­cutthroat.

It is, ironically, a culture that tries to pin on the animal world responsibility for human viciousness. Michael Vick, one of our great gladiatorial football competitors, recently admitted to sponsoring brutal dogfights. The real dogfights, of course, are the football games he played in, where injury and even death are not unavoidable costs but covertly attractive features of the sport. Where steroid use is forgivable, or at least understandable, on the way to a winning record. And where dogfighting itself (like bullfighting and cockfighting) is justified by an appeal to the “laws of nature,” though it is men who articulate those laws to rationalize their own warlike ­disposition.

It is much the same with entertainment. Our most successful shows, themselves in a competition for survival with one another (sweeps week!), pit ­on-­camera competitors against one another in contests only one can win. The eponymous show Survivor is the Darwinian prototype, but the principle rules on all the “reality” shows. On American Idol, singing is the excuse but winning the real aim. In the winners’ world of television, nothing is what it seems. Top Chef is not about excellence or variety in cooking, but about winning and losing. Project Runway turns a pluralistic fashion industry that caters to many tastes into a race (with clocks and time limits) in which there is but one winner. The competitive culture hypes winners but is equally (more?) fascinated with losers. “It is not enough that I win,” proclaims the ­hubris-­driven American competitor, “others must lose.” And Americans have shown themselves ready to become big losers in order to be eligible to become big ­winners—­however remote the odds. We are a nation of gamblers willing to tolerate radical income inequality and a large class of losers (into which we willingly risk being shunted) for the chance to ­win.

American politics too is founded on competition. Contrast electoral politics in our representative democracy with citizen politics in a participatory democracy, where the aim is not to win but to achieve common ground and secure public goods—a model of politics in which no one wins unless everyone wins, and a loss for some is seen as a loss for all. The very meanings of the terms “commonweal” and “the public interest” (the “res publica” from which our term “republic” is derived) suggest a system without losers. How different from this the American system has become. As each election rolls around, we complain that ideas and policy are shoved to the background and personality and the horse race it engenders are placed front and center.

What’s gone wrong here? Why, as a nation, are we so obsessed with competition, so indifferent to cooperation?

Read it all.

Hat tip: Arts & Letters Daily.

Some purpose-driven humor

Devout Christians--especially evangelicals--are dull, and have no sense of humor. Right? In a daily effort to prove this assumption wrong, LarkNews is the Onion for the Christian faithful. The current edition, for example, includes "news" that Pastor Rick Warren has bought the Saints:

Pastor and author Rick Warren has signed a deal to purchase the New Orleans Saints football franchise for $320 million from current owner Tom Benson, and has pledged to pour his time and energy into helping the city and team rebuild.

"This is the start of the Saints' turnaround," a Warren spokesman said. "America is going to see what a purpose-driven team can accomplish."


Read it all here.

Other headlines this month include "Holy Spirit neglects to show up at revival" (in local news), "Blessing the iPod: Churches sanctify music devices", and "Wal-Mart rejects 'racy' worship CD" ( a CD that features such hits as "My Lover, My God," "Touch Me All Over," "Naked Before You," "I'll Do Anything You Want," "Deeper" and "You Make Me Hot with Desire").

Christianity Today has a good profile of Joel Kirkpatrick, the creator of The Lark.


An economist takes on modern marriage

The New York Times Freakonomics blog is always provocative, and a guest post by economist Justin Wolfers on the history and economics of marriage is no exception.

Quoting from an earlier essay by himself and Betsy Stevenson, Wolfers argues that the history of family life has been a move from shared production to shared consumption--and that marriage has bcome an "hedonistic" institution as a result:

Here is how they describe tradtional marriage:

[F]amilies have always played a role in “filling in” where incomplete market institutions would otherwise have hindered economic development. For example, even in the absence of well-functioning contract law, families found ways to enforce agreements among kin. This naturally gave the family a role as an organizing device for economic activity, and the limits of the firm often coincided with the limits of the family. … Similarly, prior to the expansion of the welfare state, the family had been a key provider of insurance, as spouses agreed not only to support each other “through richer, through poorer, in sickness and in health,” but also extended this guarantee to parents, children, and siblings. Before modern credit markets arrived, access to capital was often facilitated through family ties. … A number of goods and services, such as freshly-cooked meals or childcare, were historically not sold in the market sector. Thus, the family became the firm producing these household services.

But, as they note, things have changed:

The forces shaping family life have changed with the development of the market economy. An increasingly sophisticated system of contract law has made possible enormous economic benefits, but in the process the modern corporation has come to supplant the family firm as the key unit of production. The development of social insurance has spread greater security to many but has reduced the role of the family as a provider of insurance. Most recently, technological, social and legal changes have reduced the value of specialization within households.

. . .

So what drives modern marriage? We believe that the answer lies in a shift from the family as a forum for shared production to shared consumption. In case the language of economic lacks romance, let’s be clearer: modern marriage is about love and companionship. Most things in life are simply better shared with another. … The key today is consumption complementarities — activities that are not only enjoyable, but are more enjoyable when shared with a spouse. We call this new model of sharing our lives “hedonic marriage.”

The Freakonomics post can be found here. The original essay can be found here.

As we said at the outset, this is provocative stuff. Clearly, this is the view of marriage from an economic perspective, and does not purport to fully explain modern marriage. Still, what do you think?

NFL says no big screen Superbowl parties in churches

The NFL has moved this year to stop church congregations from showing the game in their sanctuaries. The Washington Post has an article that describes the effect the enforcement is having in local congregations.

From the article:

"The Super Bowl, the most secular of American holidays, has long been popular among churches. With parties, prayer and Christian DVDs replacing the occasionally racy halftime shows, churches use the event as a way to reach members, and potential new members, in a non-churchlike atmosphere.

'It takes people who are not coming frequently, or who have fallen away, and shows them that the church can still have some fun,' said the Rev. Thomas Omholt, senior pastor of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in the District. Omholt has hosted a Super Bowl party for young adults in his home for 20 years. 'We can be a little less formal.'

The NFL said, however, that the copyright law on its games is long-standing and the language read at the end of each game is well known: 'This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL's consent is prohibited.'

The league bans public exhibitions of its games on TV sets or screens larger than 55 inches because smaller sets limit the audience size. The section of federal copyright law giving the NFL protection over the content of its programming exempts sports bars, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said.

[...]Large Super Bowl gatherings around big-screen sets outside of homes shrink TV ratings and can affect advertising revenue, McCarthy said. "We have no objection to churches and others hosting Super Bowl parties as long as they . . . show the game on a television of the type commonly used at home," he said. "It is a matter of copyright law."

The same policy applies to all NFL games and to movie theaters, large halls and other venues with big-screen TVs, he said."

Read the rest here.

Super Fun Stoles!

It's Friday night and fans everywhere are getting ready for the big event this weekend. While most of us understand that event to be the Last Sunday in Epiphany, some people here in the United States seem to think that there's a football game that might overshadow our Sunday worship.

But, not be willing to give ground, some of our clergy have taken matters into their own hands and have tried to find a way to make via media statement of their own this weekend.

Ann Fontaine's blog has more information, and some interesting reasons for these particular vestments.

Is "Lost" spiritual?

The folks at Beliefnet have created a gallery to Lost's twelve most "spiritual" moments. But does the show have an identifiable spiritual stance, or do its writers, in true post-modern fashion, use whatever motifs are out there to keep their narrative humming along? The character John Locke, for instance, is frequently described as a man of faith. But what exactly is it that he believes in?

It is possible to be a fan of the show without buying into its New Age-y spiritual vibe.

Meanwhile, for those who haven't followed the show in the past, but are roaming the television wasteland during the writers' strike, Entertainment Weekly proves quick summaries of previous episodes.

Savvy evangelism or sign of the Apocalypse?

(It isn't every day that we get to link to pages with headlines like: Another day, another showstopping hairstyle from chameleon Kylie Minogue.)

From the Daily Mail:

Given that they have been marrying people for centuries, the clergy ought to know a thing or two about weddings.

So it may come as a surprise to learn the Scottish Episcopal Church will be represented for the first time at the country's biggest wedding show.

In an age when couples seek bizarre places to tie the knot, the church wants to remind people of the original venue where generations have said their vows.

Read it all.

Bishop Wright on Heaven

Bishop NT Wright, of the Diocese of Durham is interviewed this week in Time Magazine on the topic of the Christian view of heaven. Wright takes issue with much of the imagery used to describe the location and experience of heaven in popular culture.

From the article:

"TIME: At one point you call the common view of heaven a 'distortion and serious diminution of Christian hope.'

Wright: It really is. I've often heard people say, 'I'm going to heaven soon, and I won't need this stupid body there, thank goodness.' That's a very damaging distortion, all the more so for being unintentional.

TIME: How so? It seems like a typical sentiment.

Wright: There are several important respects in which it's unsupported by the New Testament. First, the timing. In the Bible we are told that you die, and enter an intermediate state. St. Paul is very clear that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead already, but that nobody else has yet. Secondly, our physical state. The New Testament says that when Christ does return, the dead will experience a whole new life: not just our soul, but our bodies. And finally, the location. At no point do the resurrection narratives in the four Gospels say, 'Jesus has been raised, therefore we are all going to heaven.' It says that Christ is coming here, to join together the heavens and the Earth in an act of new creation."

Wright points out the way that popular literature and ideas over the ages has influenced our expectation of the heavenly reality.

He takes on the question of the Rapture and Armageddon later on in the interview, pointing out the slim scriptural support for these ideas.

Read the rest here.

Church tat

Café essayist Heidi Shott of the Diocese of Maine wonders whether she has sited the first-ever "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" tattoo. If so, the Canadian's beat us to it.

The Angriest Man in Television

Mark Bowden, one of the best narrative journalists at work today, offers an insightful profile of David Simon, the man behind The Wire, the best show on television.

He writes:

[Simon] has done something that many reporters only dream about. He has created his own Baltimore. With the help of his chief collaborator, Ed Burns, a former Baltimore cop and schoolteacher; a stable of novelists and playwrights with a feel for urban drama (including George Pelecanos, Richard Price, and Dennis Lehane); a huge cast of master actors; and a small army of film professionals shooting on location—in the city’s blighted row-house neighborhoods and housing projects, in City Hall, nightclubs, police headquarters, in the suburbs, the snazzy Inner Harbor, the working docks—he has, over four seasons, conjured the city onscreen with a verisimilitude that’s astonishing. Marylanders scrutinize the plot for its allusions to real people and real events. Parallels with recent local political history abound, and the details of life in housing projects and on street corners seem spookily authentic. (A New York City narcotics detective who loves the show told me a few years ago that street gangs in Brooklyn were watching it to learn tactics for avoiding cell-phone intercepts.)

Read it all.

Faith and Values Movie Awards

Earlier this week, Hollywood held its 16th annual "Faith and Values Gala." The Gala, a project of Movieguide®, with the support of The John Templeton Foundation, aims to recognize "films and television with a positive values message."

The winners were:

Epiphany Prize for Film: Amazing Grace (Nominees had been Amazing Grace, Bella, I am Legend, In the Shadow of the Moon, Spider-Man 3, The Ten Commandments, The Ultimate Gift)

Epiphany Prize for Television: The Valley of Light (Nominees had been Friends and Heroes “False Heroes” (BBC), Lost Holiday: The Jim & Suzanne Shemwell Story (Lifetime), Saving Sarah Cain (Lifetime), The Valley of Light (CBS) )

Top Family Film of the Year: Ratatouille (nominees had been Alvin and The Chipmunks, Bella, Bridge to Terabithia, Enchanted, The Game Plan, In The Shadow Of The Moon, Nancy Drew, Ratatouille, Shrek the Third, The Ultimate Gift )

Top Movie for Mature Audiences: Amazing Grace (nominees had been Amazing Grace, The Astronaut Farmer, August Rush, The Great Debaters, I am Legend, Live Free Or Die Hard, Pride, Spider-Man 3, Strike, The Transformers)

For more information about the Gala and the awards go here. Hat to to Sam Hodges at the Dallas Morning News Religion Blog.

Amazing Grace was certainly a worthy choice, but what happened to Juno? Was it not even worthy of a nomination?

And the award for best picture goes to . . .

The editors of the Lead include several movie fans and we are eagerly awaiting tonight's Academy Awards. In the meantime, we thought that you would enjoy the winners of the Beliefnet Film Awards.

For each category, separate awards were given for the "Judges' Award" and the "People's Award"

Best Spiritual Film: Amazing Grace was the choice of both the Judges and the People

Best Spiritual Performance: Emile Hersch for Into the Wild (Judges' Award); Will Smith for I am Legend (People's Award)

Best Spirtual Documentary: Into Great Silence (Judges' Award); For the Bible Tells Me So (People's Award)

You can learn more here, which includes the list of all the nominees, comments from the judges, and even film clips!

Archbishops on blogs and blogging

Maggie Dawn, an English priest, theologian and blogger had a chance to sit down with the Archbishops of York and Canterbury. During the opening of the discussion the question of the emerging role of the blogger was broached.

According to the report on her blog:

"‘[Blogs] are clearly part of the whole knowledge economy’, said Archbishop Rowan. ‘They have encouraged people not to take in passively what’s produced – it has opened up a more interactive environment for the sharing of knowledge – a democratisation of knowledge. And clearly that is bound to affect the Church at every level.’

Is the democratisation of knowledge always a good thing, though, I asked him? Does it flatten a desirable level of expertise?

‘It can certainly flatten expertise,’ he replied. ‘But perhaps the more worrying issue is that in can in some ways encourage unreflective expression – it’s possible simply to think it, and say it, without any thought.  When that happens in personal conversation, there is a humanising effect. But on the screen, it’s less human.’

The conversation continues:

[...]the Archbishop of York chipped in: ‘On the other hand, people have found real friendships through blogs, who would never have otherwise met each other – it’s a worldwide connection, people really do ‘meet’ you on your blog.  When I cut up my collar the response online was enormous – that’s when I realised just how many boundaries can be crossed with blogs.’

He thought for a minute, and then added, ‘But you know, when people write without thinking, it can get very difficult; it can be offensive and troublesome.  The best of what’s there on the blogs is from those who take a little time to reflect before they publish. But there is no choice about whether we engage with this new media. It’s the world we are in – the Church has to engage with it!’"

Read the full interview here. It's the first in a series of posts, so check back every now and then.

Farewell to The Wire; Welcome back FNL

The Wire, television's best drama, concludes a five-year run tomorrow night on HBO. Some of its writers have marked the occassion with an op-ed piece, in Time, arguing that the war on drugs is so counter productive, that juries should simply refuse to convict defendants of drug offenses.

In lighter news, our other favorite television show, Friday Night Lights has been renewed despite low ratings.

Online Confessional

Just in time for Holy Week, there's an article on CNN today that discusses the increasingly common practice of unburdening one's soul online rather than in a face-to-face meeting with a spiritual confessor.

Most of the confessions are being anonymously posted to sites that are set up for just that purpose. The sites make the confessions publicly available for others to read, and in many cases to comment upon. It's the voyeuristic attraction of readers of the sites among other issues that raise concerns.

According to the article:

"Confession 2.0 is a place where anonymity is a substitute for privacy and the intimacy traditionally experienced by talking to a priest, therapist or friend is replaced by a virtual community of strangers. Among the Web site managers CNN spoke with, none has professional counselors monitoring confessions.

'This is a new genre of confession,' said Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Sherry Turkle, who has researched cyber relationships and interviewed people who post confessions online.

'They have said to me, 'This is where hope is for me.' They think they can find on these sites some kind of goodness that eludes them in real life.'

But people who seek something more than their words on a Web site are often disappointed, said Turkle, who's also a psychologist. Most sites do not invite or allow responses to messages, although grouphug.com allows posters to vote 'hug' or 'shrug' in response to confessions.

'Some responses are empathetic and kind; others aren't so nice,' Turkle said. 'The expectation of what you can get out of these sites far exceeds what some ultimately get, and that, in its own way, can be harmful.'

'What these sites say to me is what are we are increasingly missing in our lives: a sense of community and real, tangible connection with other people,' Turkle said."

Additionally the sites do not offer sacramental absolution for those persons seeking it; and there's no chance for the penitent to receive helpful counsel from his or her confessor.

Read the rest here.

Earth Hour

Many people around the world are planning on observing an hour of "darkness" tomorrow night as a way of participating in a global earth hour. The event was created by the World Wildlife Fund in 2007.

From the Earth Hour Website:

"Earth Hour was created by WWF in Sydney, Australia in 2007, and in one year has grown from an event in one city to a global movement. In 2008, millions of people, businesses, governments and civic organizations in nearly 200 cities around the globe will turn out for Earth Hour. More than 100 cities across North America will participate, including the US flagships–Atlanta, Chicago, Phoenix and San Francisco and Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

We invite everyone throughout North America and around the world to turn off the lights for an hour starting at 8 p.m. (your own local time)–whether at home or at work, with friends and family or solo, in a big city or a small town."

Get the full story on Earth Hour here.

The Christian Science Monitor has the "local" angle from Chicago here:

"Chicago is Earth Hour's US flagship city, with Atlanta, San Francisco, Phoenix, and a dozen more joining in.

In Chicago, Mayor Richard Daley has long been on a quest to make the city the greenest in the nation, and officials say this event can help individuals and businesses engage. Local McDonald's restaurants will dim their golden arches, theaters will darken their marquees, and Chicagoans have planned events from ghost stories in the dark to a candlelight bachelorette party.

"We've improved a lot of our own practices," says Sadhu Johnston, Chicago's chief environmental officer, noting that the city has switched to greener power sources and was the first in the world to join the Climate Exchange. "But ultimately we need homeowners and businesses and Chicago residents to take the lead on this."

The Diocese of Arizona's Nature and Spirituality Program is calling on the people of Phoenix and the state to observe the Hour in their own way. (The Arizona Republic has their version of the "local" angle too.)

Any religious organizations you know of planning on doing something to mark the event?

Episcopal Church named "official denomination" of Major League Baseball

Here's some exciting news that's breaking this first day in April:
baseball

(by email)

As a part of opening week festivities, Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori announced today that the Episcopal Church has been designated the Official Denomination of Major League Baseball. The move was announced today in a teleconference with reporters.

"Faith oriented promotions have increasingly become a part of many minor league team," Selig said. "We felt that it was time to tap into this important demographic."

"We also want to reinforce our family friendly image while at the same time reaching out to a wide cross section of life-styles, incomes and tastes," Selig said. "We are pleased that the Episcopal Church will join us in this first partnership between a major sport and a church."

Many denominations were considered for the endorsement. Some traditions did not make bids for theological reasons, but unnamed sources described the behind the scenes competition as intense.

"The Baptists and Catholics both made strong bids," said a baseball official familiar with the negotiations. "And it is true that both traditions brought strong numbers to the table." Few commentators expected the Episcopal Church's bid to be as strong as it was.

Selig said that Episcopalians bring the right mix of arcane tradition, an appreciation of minutiae and a tolerance for long stretches of relative inaction that make them "a good fit for us."

"We believe that Episcopalians understand the nuances of the game and won't meddle with our traditions too much."

As part of the agreement, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori said that a Suffragan Bishop for Baseball will be appointed. A name will be presented at a special House of Bishops meeting called for the purpose in May. The ministry of the Suffragan Bishop for Baseball will be to coordinate the ministries of the church in the baseball environment.

"The designation of Official Denomination will be a boon to our evangelism," said the Rev. Jan Nunley. "Reflective MLB logos will soon appear as a part of the well known Episcopal Church Welcomes You signs in front of every Episcopal Church and along many streets in towns and cities across the US."

Observers also noted that the designation will also help the public differentiate Episcopal Churches from other churches that have recently appropriated the Anglican "brand" for their own use.

"The Episcopal Church encompasses many nations that differ along language and cultural lines—from the Dominican Republic to Taiwan--but we all share a love for Baseball," Nunley said.

"Theologians and poets have long described how the rhythms and traditions of baseball speak to us on many levels," Jefferts Schori told reporters. "Baseball shows us the presence of God in everyday things, that sublime combination of individual and team effort which reminds us of the Body of Christ and in the end God wants us all to come home."

Saying only that the marketing possibilities have "yet to be worked out" neither Selig nor Jefferts Schori would comment on rumors that pre-packaged Holy Communion and box-score editions of the Book of Common Prayer would be offered at kiosks at major league parks.

While some religious and sports commentators expressed skepticism at the move, and some wondered if the Presiding Bishop had the canonical authority to establish such a relationship, others were more forgiving.

"Baseball and Jesus." Nunley said. "They go together like peanuts and Cracker Jack."

Great news for a great day.

The latest on FNL's survival

Michael Learmonth of Silicon Alley Insider writes:

Good news for "Friday Night Lights" fans: NBC didn't cancel it! Bad news: Fans of the show without DirecTV have to wait until February to see the season when it airs on NBC.

Wait-- did someone say filesharing?

The backstory: NBC sold first-run rights for the third season to DirectTV, which will put the show on the air next fall. NBC did that to help finance the show, which has plenty of buzz, but low ratings. NBC gets to air the show (which it also owns) in February after the Super Bowl, six months after it starts on DirecTV.

The show won't be on the Web legitimately until February, when it will be released to NBC.com and Hulu after the first airing on the network.

So here's the conondrum for rabid "Friday Night Lights" fans (we know at least one) this fall: Wait until February while the privileged few DirecTV subscribers get to go back to Dillon, Texas (a non-starter); subscribe to DirecTV (a hassle, and costly); or familiarize themselves with Bittorrent (cheap and free.) Predictions?

Good questions, but the real questions are how to handle the "graduation" of key cast members who should be off to college, and what to do when some of the actors, who are pushing 30, start to look their ages?

Lord, Save Us From Your Followers

USA Today reports on how conversation about God is changing on college campuses.

Filmmaker Dan Merchant stood before an auditorium of students assembled for the first campus screening of his forthcoming movie, Lord Save Us From Your Followers. Merchant, a Christian, was at Lewis & Clark College, a school in Portland, Ore., deemed by the Princeton Review college guide to be one of the least religious in the USA.

Yet one conspicuous reality defied a key premise of the event from the moment the college chaplain brought Merchant to the stage: Students packed the good-sized hall, overflowing into the aisles and entry ways, for a chance to see what most knew was a Christian-themed movie with a Gospel message.

And by the time they had finished watching the film — a humorous and heartfelt examination of the culture wars featuring a Michael Moore-meets-Monty Python style — those students could not wait to talk to Merchant about his movie and his faith.

"What struck me," Merchant said later, "was their openness to this conversation."

Students open to a conversation about Christianity, even on a campus with an ultrasecular reputation? Such is the state of affairs at the nation's colleges and universities, where religion is experiencing something of a renaissance, although not necessarily in the shapes and forms older generations are used to seeing.

Lewis and Clark College, Portland OR, reports:

In February, Lewis & Clark hosted the first college-campus screening of a forthcoming documentary exploring the collision of faith and culture in America, titled “Lord, Save Us from Your Followers.” Sponsored by the chapel office and the Christian student group Agape, the special event welcomed secular and religious students to a discussion with producer-director Dan Merchant about the issues raised by the film.

About 300 students filled Council Chambers to be among the first viewers of the documentary, which opens nationwide in June. A short film about the Lewis & Clark event captures the students’ emotional and intellectual responses to the film’s message of compassion and cooperation.

USA Today article is here.

Lewis and Clark College report is here.

More on the film here.

You Tube video of Lewis and Clark event follows:

Read more »

Return to Narnia

The second book in the C.S. Lewis Narnia series is coming to a movie theater near you in the coming month. Mark Earley has a good introduction to the religious themes in this second book:

While you will not find the spiritual lessons in Prince Caspian quite as obvious as those you remember from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, you will find plenty of profound truths about the Christian faith—delivered in a way that only the master, C. S. Lewis, could do.

The saga of Prince Caspian unfolds in a world hundreds of years removed from the Narnia of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In this age into which the Pevensie children are suddenly thrust, the evil King Miraz reigns and only a remnant of people actually believe those childish stories of Aslan, the Stone Table, and a time when animals talked.

Like Lucy, Edmund, Susan, and Peter, we enter a world of skepticism that is very much like our own. Let’s just say that the best-selling books in Miraz’s kingdom could easily have been titled The Aslan Delusion and Aslan Is Not Great. Like our children, young Caspian grows up in an age when most people say, “Who actually believes in Aslan nowadays?”

As in the previous stories of Narnia, a cosmic battle between good and evil continues to rage. But unlike the direct head-to-head conflict between Aslan and the White Witch, the conflict in Prince Caspian is being waged between the followers of the opposing powers. On this cosmic stage, individual faith is tested. Will Prince Caspian believe in the stories of Narnia? Will Lucy follow what she believes to be Aslan?

Here is something with which Christians today can certainly relate. It is one thing to be among the first witnesses who exult in the risen Christ. It is quite another to act out of faith when the stories of His witnesses are so many centuries removed from our world. As Jesus told doubting Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). This is our world, and this is the world of Caspian, as well.

In this tale, as much as we learn about faith and doubt, there is also much to learn about the nature of Jesus. As Leland Ryken and Marjorie Mead put in the newly released, A Reader’s Guide to Caspian, what Aslan is like is the “primary theological question of Prince Caspian.” And in it we find several answers that apply to our own Christian walk.

Read it all here.

The Visitor

Immigration is certainly the hot political issue of our time. A new film, The Visitor, attempts to give the issue a human face. Christianty Today offers this positive review:

The Visitor centers upon Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins), a crotchety economics professor who masks his loneliness (he's a widower) with a veneer of "cell phone in hand" self-importance. Appropriately for what is to come in the story, Walter is about as white as you can get. He lives in a pristine Connecticut house but also maintains a Manhattan apartment. He drives a Volvo, is never without a glass of fine wine (even at the breakfast table), and takes piano lessons from an old white lady named Barbara Watson. Wherever he goes, Walter seems surrounded by white walls and an antiseptic aura.

On a trip to New York for a conference where he reluctantly must present a paper, Walter's boring, hyper-white life takes a decidedly colorful turn. Upon entering his Manhattan apartment, Walter discovers that two undocumented immigrants have made themselves at home. A predictably dicey confrontation ensues (but is quickly ameliorated) as the foreign intruders try to explain themselves to an understandably shocked Walter. Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Jekesai Gurira) are the pair in question—two "invisible" immigrants from, respectively, Syria and Senegal. What could have been a violent interaction turns out to be the unlikely first step toward a deep friendship—albeit a tentative step. The lonely Walter feels pity on the couple and—as they gather their belongings to quietly leave Walter's apartment—he invites them to stay as long as they need to.

Soon the oddly paired trio becomes something of a family—especially Walter and Tarek. Tarek is a djembe drummer and makes a living playing gigs with jazz bands throughout New York City. For whatever reason, Tarek takes it upon himself to teach the rhythm-challenged Walter to play as well—a process that provides many of the film's funniest moments (including some hilarious scenes of Walter in a suit, banging away in a Central Park drum circle). It also provides the means for some serious cross-cultural bonding, which is ultimately what The Visitor is all about.

Of course, just as things are working out so swimmingly for our ethnically-diverse threesome, the whole immigration issue comes barging in to spoil the multicultural party. Tarek is nabbed on a bogus charge and locked up in a mysterious Homeland Security holding facility in Queens. Since Zainab is also an illegal, she cannot visit Tarek in jail (as she would be apprehended as well). Thus it is up to Walter to be the liaison and lone advocate for Tarek as he tries to fight his way out of deportation. Walter hires an immigration lawyer on Tarek's behalf and prepares to do everything in his power to get Tarek on the path to legal residency.

. . .

As the film goes on, the title—The Visitor—becomes ever more meaningful. Each of the four main characters is at some point in the film an "outsider"—stepping into a world that is not comfortable, and certainly not "home." But in spite of the "fish out of water" motif, the film finds plenty of occasions for deeply felt connection, even if tainted by a pervasive sense of temporality (as the title implies). Ultimately the film is about impermanence, both in its beauty (sharing moments and memories, growing, changing) and ugliness (leaving things behind).

Far from a downer, though, The Visitor is a cheerful bit of comedy-drama with some great acting performances from its four leads. Jenkins is especially brilliant in his first starring role. He's one of those "familiar face" supporting actors who makes an impact in almost every scene he's in. And despite his stoic face and unremarkable countenance, Jenkins exudes more than enough charisma and "everyman" empathy to carry the film. The other actors are equally empathetic, imbuing their characters with emotional range and a complexity that eschews simplistic stereotypes.

Though The Visitor tackles a weighty issue and—ultimately—provides no easy answers, it is a thoroughly satisfying film. It oozes goodness and humanity and—especially in the "love story" portion—a classy reverence for dignity and trans-cultural decorum. The film reminded me of another NYC-based film that tackles a "big issue" with goodness and grace—Bella. Both of these films revel in the good of their characters, offering the audience a glimpse of the joy that comes when people truly care for one another and uphold the value and beauty of life.

During an election year in which immigration is sure to play a significant role, a film like The Visitor is utterly refreshing. Far from a heavy-handed, agit-prop polemic, this is a film that asks us simply to humanize the issue. In the sometimes-harsh post-9/11 climate (and the constant shots of a WTC-less Manhattan skyline remind us that this is what the film is about), humanity sometimes takes a beating by the various "isms" (nationalism, terrorism, patriotism) that swirl around the ashes of 9/11. Christians have long preached (but not always practiced) the importance of loving people, first and foremost—despite their race or culture or religion. The Visitor shows us just how lovely and healing this idea—in practice—can be.

Read it all here.

Slate appreciates the classics

Slate is carrying hymns of praise to Café favorites Bull Durham, and Friday Night Lights. Perhaps it is only coincidence, but we prefer to think it is a manifestation of our vast influence over public discourse.

Sara Mosle's piece is the best yet written on FNL, and includes this perceptive paragraph:

Friday Night Lights is also America as it's seldom been seen. It's astounding how few dramas depict ordinary, working-class life in the so-called red states—without, say, first giving several of the inhabitants supernatural powers. Also, on television, the country's lower classes seem to consist entirely of prison inmates, gang members, drug dealers, and the cops who arrest them, and they all live exclusively on the coasts. Dillon, by contrast, is Thomas Frank country. No one here is enjoying the Bush-Cheney tax cuts. People live in modest homes or, if they're particularly poor, in shotgun shacks. Most of the teenagers don't have cars—quite a statement in rural Texas—and must work after-school jobs. They don't have iPods or sport the latest fashions; they shop at the Salvation Army family store. When one football player lands a date with the coach's daughter and springs for a used Members Only jacket, it quickly gets ridiculed as pretentious. Once you start noticing the absence of consumer goods, it's a shock. Friday Night Lights may be the most radical show ever marketed to teenagers.

God and Battlestar Galatica

We have previously noted the religious and spiritual themes on Lost. As any viewer of the SciFi Channel's Battlestar Galatica will note, it too is exploring some pretty interesting religious themes. Carmen Andres, who blogs on religion in popular culture at in the open space explores the themes in some depth:

Battlestar Galatica is no stranger to the exploration of faith and religion in the human (and Cylon) experience. The original series supposedly built itself around Mormon theology, but the current incarnation plays fast and free with elements of monotheism (hints at Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths), polytheism (Greek mythology in particular) and elements of Eastern religions (in particular, reincarnation). But in the promotional campaign leading up to this fourth and final season, BSG got a little more direct with . . . an intentional allusion to Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper.

With the central characters placed in an intentional pose of the painting, the writers are more or less inviting the series’ fans and viewers to consider the characters and the story, at the very least, in the context of this biblical allusion if not within a fuller biblical context. The series’ executive producer alluded to its biblical symbolism when he discussed this promotional photo, and the commercials running during the breaks in last week’s episode used the photo and language related to its biblical context (in particular, the word “savior”).

Where are they going with all this? Heh, that’s anyone’s guess (and, believe me, folks are guessing). But it does lead to some interesting speculation and rumination.

Read it all here. Professor James McGrath offers some interesting observations on "reading Bart Ehrman's book, God's Problem nearly simultaneously with the premiere of season 4 of Battlestar Galactica" here.

Anne Lamott meets Stephen Colbert

Two Sunday school teachers meet to discuss God and faith from the Protestant and Catholic perspectives. Hilarity ensues.

Anne gives as good as she gets, and gets her message across.

Ostensibly, their meeting is to discuss Lamott's book, Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith.

Alan Jones on Wright and Obama

Alan Jones, the Dean of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, has written a commentary on the controversy surrounding the statements of The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright and those of his parishioner, Barack Obama about him.

In the op-ed piece published in the San Francisco Chronicle, Dean Jones writes that the underlying reason for the nation's reaction to the controversy is due to our inability to place the events into historical context:

"As a people, we are in great danger because of our poor short-term memories; our state of perpetual amnesia puts our fragile democracy at risk. Imagine, for example, what it was like for the parents and grandparents of Rev. Wright growing up in the 1920s. The worry then, among some white 'intellectuals,' was why America was growing stupid! There must, they thought, be a 'scientific' explanation.

Pseudo-scientific racism became very popular. Why were we so stupid as a country? Immigration, of course! Despite the evidence that the longer immigrants were in the United States, the better they performed on IQ tests, the aim of Princeton psychologist C.C. Brigham's 'A Study of American Intelligence' was to show that the southern and eastern peoples of Europe, and Negroes, were of inferior intelligence.

[...] In the late 1980s, American Enterprise Institute Fellow Ben Wattenberg created a firestorm with his book, 'The Birth Dearth,' which forecast the dilution - even destruction - of Western culture by comparatively greater birth rates among non-white peoples of the world. Wattenberg, reflecting fear and disdain, wrote, 'Will we worship cows? ... Will the world backslide?'

It would be a great exercise in patriotism to place the Rev. Wright's possibly-intemperate remarks in the context of history. Obama was right to comment on his pastor's 'memories of humiliation and doubt and fear.'

It's hard to imagine now that many TV commentators or journalists have read any history. We don't expect it of political strategists. It's their job to exploit our ignorance, but journalists have no excuse. We need to know our history because the present is what the past is doing now."

Read the full op-ed piece here.

Anglicanism transcends cultures

At least one critic has claimed that Anglicanism and other forms of Western Christianity in their present form are doomed to fail because they are too tightly bound to the West and its culture. But a recent event in Missouri gives another writer hope.

Pamela Dolan, writing in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, says:

"Last weekend I had the opportunity to worship at Christ Church Cathedral as part of the Flower Festival weekend. As the celebration of the Holy Eucharist came to a close, the presider, the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith, Bishop of Missouri, turned to the Most Rev. Daniel Deng Bul Yak, Archbishop of Sudan, and invited him to impart the final blessing on the congregation. The words he used to extend this invitation were something like, ‘Archbishop, my brother, would you bless us in the language of your birth?’

It was, for me, a powerful moment. The Archbishop spoke in what I am told was Dinka, an African language utterly unfamiliar to me (and, I would guess, to nearly everyone else in the Cathedral). And yet, at the moment when he raised his hand high to begin making the sign of the cross over us, every person in that church knew that we were being blessed ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,’ and it made no difference to us in what language the words were spoken. This was Anglicanism at its best: generous and welcoming, respectful of both liturgical tradition and cultural difference, joyfully making room at the table for all who feel called to respond to Christ’s invitation to reconciliation, fellowship, and transformation.

It was also a show of mutual respect and Christian charity between an American bishop and an African archbishop, something that news reports about the current state of the Anglican Communion might lead one to think would be impossible."

Her take-away point from this event to the people who would argue that Anglicanism is too "western" to survive is

What needs to be made clear is that Anglicanism and the Church of England are not synonymous. This is not in any way intend to belittle the importance of the Church of England, but rather to explain that Anglicanism’s boundaries are not co-terminous with those of the British Isles.

Episcopalians, in the United States and elsewhere, are also Anglicans, both by virtue of our heritage (religious, not ethnic) and by the simple fact of being members of a church that is itself part of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is comprised of “over 80 million members in 44 regional and national member churches around the globe in over 160 countries,” according to its website. All of us who worship within this tradition are, in some sense, engaging in and with Anglicanism.

In other words, denominations like Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism have already demonstrated their ability to thrive in different cultures. The issue is less a question of whether or not the faith can be adapted but, at least today in Anglicanism, what are the proper limits of that adaption.

Read the full article here.

Prince Caspian

The film adaptation of C.S. Lewis' Prince Caspian, part of the Narnia series of children's books, was released to somewhat mixed but largely positive reviews. Here is Christianity Today's take:

Lewis wanted to give his readers—including Christians who had unthinkingly bought into modernity—a taste of the spiritual realm that animates our physical world. And since he believed that the pagan, pre-Christian man had a greater aptitude for the spiritual realm, and was thus easier to convert, than the secular, post-Christian man, Lewis wrote the Narnia books to introduce his readers to a "baptized" form of paganism. Nowhere is this more explicit than in the original book version of Prince Caspian, in which the Christ-figure Aslan literally dances with the Greco-Roman god Bacchus.

But Adamson and his co-writers, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, show no interest in that particular theme. Gone from this film are any and all references to Bacchus, Silenus or the Maenads—figures as important to this story as Father Christmas was to Wardrobe—and gone too are the scenes in which Aslan and his followers trash the schools that teach Narnian children not to believe in myths and fairy tales. And because those scenes are missing, the divine lion Aslan (voice of Liam Neeson) has very little to do. Indeed, Aslan is almost entirely written out of the movie altogether. His first appearance—an actual encounter with Lucy in the book—is here heavily abbreviated, and quickly revealed to be a dream. It is only in the film's final reels that Aslan indisputably steps onto the stage and takes action.

Read it all here.

Slate was disappointed:

Andrew Adamson's "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" is a much more elaborate, ambitious picture than the 2005 "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," and it adds up to far less. The earlier picture, based on the first book in C.S. Lewis' well-loved Narnia series (although some Lewis fans insist the series begins with a later book, "The Magician's Nephew"), was graceful and sturdy, and Adamson didn't seem to feel the need to wring a sense of wonder out of us. Most of the effects -- including the image of the talking lion, Aslan, with his lush, wind-rippled mane -- dazzled quietly. As beautiful as the movie was to look at, it also felt a little rough around the edges, giving the sense, at least, of an object that had been hand-made with care. And it presented us with a haunting villain in Tilda Swinton's White Witch, whose bluish-pale skin looked like nothing that could possibly be found in the human world.

But in this latest Narnia installment Adamson has lost his way. "Prince Caspian," which is based on Lewis' "Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia," published in 1951, features a few inspired touches, and the four principal child and young-adult actors of the earlier picture -- just a little older now -- reprise their roles here. Yet the human characters come off as afterthoughts, figures that are moved around clumsily in the thicket of the movie's sprawling narrative. They barely exist in the context of the movie's battle sequences, which are designed to be elaborate and dazzling but instead feel simply overworked. There's very little real magic in "Prince Caspian," unless you're talking about the desperate kind of wizardry that chiefly involves waving around a checkbook.

Read it all here. Jim West calls the movie "theologically profound" on his blog. The New York Times Review is here. Terry Mattingly explores the theological underpinnings of the story here.

Having just finished the entire Narnia series for the first time this month (I am in my 40's), I plan on seeing the movie. If you have seen the movie, let us know what you thought.

God is a bloke

A survey of over a thousand people in Britain says that while most people still see a place for religion in modern life, as many as 73% of Christians surveyed said they considered God to be male.

George Pitcher on the blog Faithbook at the Telegraph website reports:

A survey of 1,050 people carried out on behalf of the Movement for Reform Judaism in Britain, which speaks for around a quarter of Britain’s 266,740 Jews, found 62 per cent considered God to be male, with only 1 per cent thinking of God as female.

Christians are even more patriarchal - 73 per cent of those who classified themselves as Christian in the survey considered God to be male.

Unsurprisingly for such an alpha-male God, just under half of respondents said they thought that all religions “fundamentally discriminate on grounds of gender”, while 56 per cent thought all religions discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.

But in a blow to secularists who claim that Britain is a post-religious society, when asked whether religion has “no place” in modern life, only 29 per cent agreed while 62 per cent disagreed.

Also:

The poll was commissioned to coincide with the launch of the MRJB’s new daily and Sabbath prayer book, or Siddur.

The prayer book removes male descriptions of God such as King, Father and Lord, in favour of “gender neutral” expressions such as Eternal One and living God.

It includes mentions of prominent women from the Old Testament for the first time in prayers such as the Amidah, the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy.

It also provides prayers for 21st century problems such as environmental and natural disasters and prayers for depression, miscarriage and the death of a child.

The new prayer book was drawn up after eight years of consultation and is the first new Reform liturgy for 30 years.

Read: The Telegraph blog "Faithbook:" God is a bloke: Official

Ad removed because of terrorist charges

According to news reports, Dunkin Donuts has pulled an ad that featured spokesperson Rachel Ray, a Food Network personality, because of concerns that her outfit was communicating a message of sympathy or support for Islamic terrorists.

The primary voice raising these concerns has been Fox News commentator Michelle Malkin.

According to news reports:

"Dunkin' Donuts has pulled [the] ad featuring the Food Network star after concerns grew about a scarf she wears during the commercial, the pattern of which bears resemblance to a keffiyeh, the traditional headdress that Arab men wear. The scarf has enraged conservative Fox News pundit Michelle Malkin and some others. [The keffiyeh], popularized by Yasser Arafat and a regular adornment of Muslim terrorists appearing in beheading and hostage-taking videos, the apparel has been mainstreamed by both ignorant and not-so-ignorant fashion designers, celebrities, and left-wing icons,' Malkin wrote in a column, claiming the keffiyeh 'has come to symbolize murderous Palestinian jihad.'

[...]Malkin took the removal of the ad as a chest-thumping victory for herself, and terrorist-hating Americans. 'It's refreshing to see an American company show sensitivity to the concerns of Americans opposed to Islamic jihad and its apologists.'"

According to Dunkin Donuts, the scarf pictured in the ad was a black and white paisley design that unintentionally appeared to be a keffiyeh.

Read the full report here.

Decline in teen sex levels off

From The Washington Post

The nation's campaign to get more teenagers to delay sex and to use condoms is faltering, threatening to undermine the highly successful effort to reduce teen pregnancy and protect young people from sexually transmitted diseases, federal officials reported yesterday.
And:
The new figures renewed the heated debate about sex-education classes that focus on abstinence until marriage, which began receiving federal funding during the period covered by the latest survey and have come under increasing criticism that they are ineffective.

"Since we've started pushing abstinence, we have seen no change in the numbers on sexual activity," said John Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University. "The other piece of it is: Abstinence education spends a good amount of time bashing condoms. So it's not surprising, if that's the message young people are getting, that we're seeing condom use start to decrease."

Proponents of abstinence programs dismissed the criticism, blaming "comprehensive" sex education that emphasizes contraceptive use.

"Contraceptive sex education does not provide practical skills for maintaining or regaining abstinence but typically gives teens a green light to activity that puts them at great risk for acquiring STDs or which serve as gateway-to-intercourse activities," said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association.

Others blamed the onslaught of movies, books, advertising and cultural messages that they say glamorize sex.

"The No. 1 movie that all teenage girls want to see right now is 'Sex and the City,' " said Charmaine Yoest, a spokesman for the Family Research Council. "Our culture continues to tell them the way to be cool is to dress provocatively and to consider nonmarital sexual activity to be normative."


This would seem to be an issue where a position on one issue, say the efficacy of abstinence education, would not determine, or even influence one's position on another issue: whether out cultural gatekeepers should use greater restraint in depictions of sexual behavior. No?

Comic books and religion

Washington Post: An author looks to the Koran for 99 Superheroes

To go back to writing after all that education, it would have to be something big, something with the potential of Pokémon, the Japanese cartoon that was briefly banned by Saudi religious authorities. God would have been disappointed by that, he thought; God has 99 attributes, or names, including tolerance.

"And then the idea formed in my mind," Mutawa said. "Heroes with the 99 attributes."

He mixed his deep religious faith, business acumen and firsthand experience with other cultures -- his childhood summers were spent at a predominantly Jewish camp in New Hampshire -- to create The 99, a comic-book series about superheroes imbued with the 99 attributes of God. Those traits represent one of Islam's most recognizable concepts.

Mutawa's superheroes are modern, secular and spiritual, moving seamlessly between East and West. They come from 99 countries and are split between males and females.

On a less edifying note, you can check out the religion of comic heroes at comicbookreligion.com. Anglican/Episcopalian heroes are listed here. Did you know that Elastigirl (aka Mrs. Incredible) is am Episcopalian? Hmmm. Besides her strength and stretching superpowers she is "an accomplished pilot and displays deduction skills and cunning."

Some clergy seek sanctuary from weddings

It won't be news to you, but many clergy are irritated about being pressured to do weddings for couples who want a church wedding, but have little or no further interest in church. The Sacramento Bee looks at the issue in light of the same-sex marriage developments in California. The recommendations of Bishop Andrus come in for special examination.

Of Messages and Flags

Tonight in the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, the flag of the United States will be carried by one of the nation's newest citizens, Lopez Lomong. Lomong has only been a US citizen for 13 months, having immigrated as child from the Sudan where he was one of the "lost boys", a forced migration of children caused by war and the persecution of christians and their communities in that nation.

Read more »

15 Moments from The Wire

We interrupt our coverage of all things Angican to direct you to this photographic tribute to The Wire from EW.

Don't You Forget About ...

'80s nostalgia is everywhere these days, but one American Baptist preacher has taken it to another level. Tripp Hudgins, the 37-year-old pastor of the Community Church of Wilmette near Chicago, was looking for a way to help boost summer attendance. So he created a sermon series in which he discusses the spiritual themes that are woven into the films of John Hughes.

Hughes' oeuvre includes the now-classic teen movies Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Weird Science—and many others, but these four were the focus of the series. Hudgins, who blogs as the Anglobaptist, screened the movies on Wednesdays and then discussed them on Sundays. Then on Monday, he'd videoblog on the sermon. He describes how this was an attempt to help people see that sermons aren't something delivered from on high but rather something that happens in a congregation's midst.

In a write-up for the Chicago Sun Times that was also picked up by the Huffington Post, Cathleen Falsani provides an overview of what Hudgins and his congregation discovered during the series. These observations, for instance, tie in with my personal favorite, The Breakfast Club.

In that 1985 film, which follows five teens -- a jock, a burnout, a geek, a Goth girl, and a prissy rich chick -- imprisoned in the school library for a Saturday detention, Hudgins found parallels to a story from the New Testament. In the Book of Galatians, St. Paul writes to the church in Galatia, which is struggling with infighting about whether new converts had to first become Jews before they could become Christians.

St. Paul says, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Likewise, in the letter Brian (Anthony Michael Hall) writes to the detention master on behalf of the group, he says, "We are all a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal."

Here's the accompanying videoblog:

You can find additional "Monday Videoblogs" on the other movies at Hudgins' YouTube Channel.

Blame Buffy (er, uh, actually, that would be Willow)

It's a bit funny that the Telegraph picks a downright smoldering picture of Sarah Michelle Gellar—cropped in a fashion that shows her bare-shouldered—in a report that says the decline in young women's attendance at church has to do with the church not being relevant to them. On the upsurge, they note, is their attraction to Wicca, glamorized in pop culture such programs as Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Now, *this* Cafe editor is to Buffy the Vampire Slayer what Jim Naughton is to Friday Night Lights, but despite my insider knowledge of the series and all its DVD extras, the money quote that gave Telegraph editors its handy story frame is partly accurate. Buffy was a show about female empowerment, and that is something that spoke to the people who watched the show when it ran for seven years in the waning years of the 90s until 2004.

Saving that commentary for the comments, but the study notes some reasons why women have been leaving the church. It underscores that the recent brouhaha over women bishops' in the Church of England may drive some people out for theological reasons, but it may help address why people have been leaving all along:

Her research, published in a new book called Women and Religion in the West, cites an English Church Census which found more than a million women worshippers have left churches since 1989.

Over the past decade, it claims, women have been leaving churches at twice the rate of men.

In addition, the census is said to show that teenage boys now outnumber girls in the pews for the first time.

Dr Aune says the church must adapt to the needs of modern women if it is to stop them leaving in their droves.

She believes many women have been put off going to church in recent years because of the influence of feminism, which challenged the traditional Christian view of women's roles and raised their aspirations.

Her report claims they feel forced out of the church because of its "silence" about sexual desire and activity, and because of its hostility to single-parent families and unmarried couples which are now a reality for many women.

But it also says changes in women's working lives, with many more now pursuing careers as well as raising children, mean they have less time to attend church.

The story is here. And remember, kids, Willow wound up in a 12-step program to kick the magic habit. Don't try this at home.

The 2008 Mindset List

Each August, Beloit College releases the "Mindset List" that reflects the very different mindset and cultural assumptions of every incoming class of college freshmen. Here are some highlights from this year's list:

The class of 2012 has grown up in an era where computers and rapid communication are the norm, and colleges no longer trumpet the fact that residence halls are “wired” and equipped with the latest hardware. These students will hardly recognize the availability of telephones in their rooms since they have seldom utilized landlines during their adolescence. They will continue to live on their cell phones and communicate via texting. Roommates, few of whom have ever shared a bedroom, have already checked out each other on Facebook where they have shared their most personal thoughts with the whole world.

It is a multicultural, politically correct and “green” generation that has hardly noticed the threats to their privacy and has never feared the Russians and the Warsaw Pact.

. . .

Students entering college for the first time this fall were generally born in 1990.

For these students, Sammy Davis Jr., Jim Henson, Ryan White, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddy Krueger have always been dead.

. . .

2. Since they were in diapers, karaoke machines have been annoying people at parties.

3. They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego.

4. GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available.

5. Coke and Pepsi have always used recycled plastic bottles.

. . .

20. The Warsaw Pact is as hazy for them as the League of Nations was for their parents.

. . .

28. IBM has never made typewriters

Read it all here.

Greenbelt: what exactly is it?

We've done a little bit of reading and searched through various sections of the Web site, but we still don't quite get this Greenbelt business. The festival (if that's the right word) drew more than 20,000 people to a race track in Cheltenham, England, for three days of what seems to have been innovative worship and intriguing conversation--and the Church Times takes is seriously!--so we feel we should understand it better than we do.

Is it a good thing? Do we want one in America?

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.

"90210" mom now a priest

The Associated Press has the story:

"Beverly Hills 90210" fans discover in Tuesday's episode of the "90210" sequel that Kelly Taylor's troubled mother, Jackie, hasn't changed much.

The same can't be said for Ann Gillespie, who plays Jackie: She's gone from actress to Episcopal priest.

Between sermons, weddings and funerals at Christ Church in Alexandria, Va., the Rev. Gillespie squeezed in an appearance on "90210," CW's follow-up to the hit Fox series that aired from 1990-2000.

Read more »

Priests in film

Cinematical points us to an indie film (also featuring Peter O'Toole, in addition to those in the excerpt below) that premiered at the Toronto Independent Film Festival earlier this week: "...Dean Spanley, a wonderfully charming and whimsical comedy about an Anglican priest who believes he is the reincarnation of a dog."

A New Zealand production, the film is set in England near the turn of the last century, a time when manners and social graces were all-important, and when a man could say "Poppycock!" and truly mean it. A well-to-do bachelor named Fisk (Jeremy Northam) is more open-minded than most of his contemporaries, and he finds that a local minister, Dean Spanley (Sam Neill), when plied with a certain rare and expensive brandy, will speak freely of his memories of being a canine before he was born into his current existence.

What will those wacky New Zealanders think of next? Read the rest of the review (witty! lovely! oscar-wilde-ish!) here -- it is the second film reviewed on the page. There is also a podcasted interview with Bill Maher, whose "docu-comedy" "Religulous" also premiered at the event, here.

And for those on the other end of the obscure film spectrum of taste (or who want to see Hercules in a dog collar), there's always Kevin Sorbo, playing an Episcopal priest/action hero in the Sci-Fi Channel B-eco-horror flop "Something Beneath," which apparently came out on DVD this week.

Playing with creation

Spore is a new video game, created by the same fellow behind the virtual world phenom "The Sims." This time, he's taken that virtual world experience to a new level--one that begins when a virtual comet slams into a primordial virtual world, giving a player the virtual building blocks to start from single-celled scratch.

Time Magazine makes note of the game in last week's issue:

God rested after he created life, but you're just getting started. Next you shepherd your fledgling life-form through its single-celled stage until it's ready to crawl onto land, at which time you decide where its various eyes and ears and limbs and less easily identifiable appendages go. Then it must learn to feed itself and reproduce. Eventually, it forms tribes and builds cities. Finally it achieves spaceflight, whereupon you guide it off into the galaxy to meet other sentient species.

You can't turn the entire history of life into a video game without wrestling with some heavy philosophical questions, but Wright seems to have steered a middle course that avoids both religious and evolutionary blasphemy. You could read Spore equally easily as a model of evolution or of intelligent design, with you in the role of Intelligent Designer. (O.K., it's a bit blasphemous.) "A game like this can actually generate interesting, meaningful conversations between people," Wright says. "I think that's the best thing it can do."

That's an interesting point on its own, but wait! There's more! First on the conversation block? Antispore.com, a site run by a segment of Christians who object not to the blasphemy (O.K., perhaps a bit) but more to the notion that it "teaches" evolutionary theory and undermines creationism, whatever it represents as a potential metaphor for intelligent design.

(It bears noting an interesting potential sidebar conversation, there: can video games make great teaching tools?)

PC News points to the review calling it "well good" entertainment in icily wry fashion. A short excerpt shows the real problem they have with the games creator, though, whom Time says describes himself as "definitely an atheist. Well, agnostic atheist maybe." It's not even that he didn't immediately condemn the new art movement of "Spore-nography"—new "species" that physically resemble genitalia. Rather:

"I used to like Will Wright," continues Anti-Spore.com. "He created Sim City, a fantastic game that celebrated the earth that God created for us and allowed you to use all your God given abilities to make an ideal society. But if you ever felt like you had too much power, God would come in with a tornado or an earthquake and put you back in place.

"You would think that as a member of the Episcopal Church, a smart man like Will Wright would not be capable of creating Spore. However, we must be reminded that the Episcopal Church is the only church in america that ordains homosexuals on a regular basis.

The Time story is here, and the PC News story with a link to the Antispore site is here.

Dark knight and the dark night

Nathan Brockman of Trinity Church, Wall Street, reviews The Dark Knight and wonders what it takes to hold the center when the world is going dark.

I’ve never forgotten what a 110 story building falling to earth nearby sounds like, the way it shakes you. Nor have I forgotten what came next: how a priest said the Beatitudes before a congregation that had just, essentially, been attacked by terrorists. It may sound fanciful, but this sentiment is true in my heart: the first strike in our country’s war on terror was a spiritual one, an act of peace in Trinity Church, and the war will not truly be won without many more.

While most critics see the new Batman movie as political allegory, I see it through this lens: The Dark Knight is about the sustainability of the spirit in dark times. And make no mistake: this is a dark movie, and (say it with me now) these are dark times. The joke about the old Batman films was that they were depressing – cloaked in night and shadow. The darkness of those first films is pale in comparison. What deepens the opacity is realism, the nagging, bold, references to our current war on terrorism. The smoke and fire, the use of media as a terrorist’s messenger, the absurd creativity of some forms of destruction (and surveillance) – we are seeing ourselves through a movie glass, darkly, and repeatedly.

In the movie, the center is not holding. Batman has become a scapegoat – in the public’s eyes the very reason for the Joker’s wicked reign. He is no longer a hero, or, in the movie’s lexicon, no longer “the hero we need.” The Joker, on the other hand, is evil personified.

Read the rest.

Café contributor on Jeopardy

The Rev. Kit Carlson of East Lansing, MI, a Café contributor, "asked the questions" on Jeopardy this week as she follows a family tradition of joining the TV gameshow.

WILX television reports:

You could say being on "Jeopardy!" is in Pastor Kit Carlson's DNA.

"My cousin did this in the '80s and he won five days in a row. My mother used to tell me 'You should go on that show, you should go on that show, you're just as smart as your cousin," Carlson, known to her congregation as "Pastor Kit" tells News10.

Well, that game-show family tree is growing Monday night, as the pastor from All Saints Episcopal Church in East Lansing makes her TV debut.

"The game was great," she says. "The game had categories I really, really knew, but the worst one was Ancient Greek Writers where I knew every answer and could not buzz in, it was making me crazy! I kept saying, 'I know that! I know that one too!!'"

Read it all here.

Religulous: fish, barrel, bang! bang! bang!

Damon Linker, author of The Theocons, reviewed Bill Maher's film Religulous for The New Republic:

Maher and director Larry Charles are highly adept at ridiculing their fellow citizens. Anyone who has seen Charles' last film (Borat) is familiar with his directorial style: put ordinary Americans on camera, ask them a few questions about their beliefs, and then stand back as they reveal their vapidity. The technique is simple, but the psychological response it provokes in viewers is anything but. We laugh as we shake our heads in disgust, squirming with a mixture of pity and repugnance for the pious fools on screen. But we also enjoy a rush of pride for getting the joke, since every laugh confirms that we in the audience are smarter and more sophisticated than the ignoramuses ignorantly and ineptly defending their convictions. Maher is our surrogate here, posing the questions, smirking at the idiocy of the responses, and sometimes explicitly ridiculing the interviewee to his face. And not only to his face. Maher and Charles have been kind enough to include some of their banter as they travel from one interview to another, cracking a few extra jokes at the expense of the last inarticulate boob.
See, also, Deidre Good's review in The Daily Episcopalian.

Friday Rap

Not too long ago the Episcopal Church entered into a full communion relationship with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We're working out the implications of this growing partnership, but in spite of many successes the central common themes of the Reformation are still unknown to many of us. But now, thanks to Bulldog Productions we can start to learn about our Lutheran sisters and brothers through rap...

If you're interested in the lyrics, you can find them printed out here.

Ghostbusters go to church

An Episcopal parish in Staten Island has been the site of some ghostly investigations according to news reports. St. Andrew's on Staten Island allowed a organization to come in to look for evidence of "paranormal" activity and the report of the investigations is to be released just in time of Halloween.

From an article in the NY Daily News:

"The ghost busters, who are based in Staten Island, requested a probe last year after hearing about strange goings-on at the church and asked to do a second investigation last week, according to Delaney. Their last findings were convincing, he said.

A DVD of what they taped during their night at the church showed heavy chimes that are difficult to move ringing on their own.

'All of a sudden the chimes were ringing. The candle over the tabernacle was dancing like there was a major wind. But there was no wind. And we heard what sounded like a tin dish hitting the floor,' recalled Delaney [the rector of St. Andrew's]."

Read the full article here.

The changing nature of ritual

Alina Tugend has a must-read essay in yesterday's New York Times that discusses the importance of ritual in our lives and the difficulty of balancing tradition with consumerism. She begins by noting the changing nature of even our most cherished traditions:

But while most of us think of rituals as time-honored, they are constantly changing.

Professor Pleck, author of “Celebrating the Family: Ethnicity, Consumer Culture and Family Rituals,” (Harvard University Press, 2000), noted that even a tradition that seems as standardized as a Thanksgiving dinner really isn’t.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, celebrations often consisted primarily of shooting off guns and athletic competitions. I don’t know about your family, but our Thanksgiving tradition does not involve firearms.

In the 1700s, “there may or may not have been an important family feast,” Professor Pleck said. “Until the 19th century, it certainly did not have the element of homecoming that we have now” — that is, of families coming together for a holiday meal.

In fact, in the 19th-century South, she said, Thanksgiving became associated with New England and abolitionism, and many Southerners chose not to celebrate it.

. . .

And while many of us bemoan the loss of the old-fashioned Christmas, that may be more myth than reality. Until the 1820s, said Stephen Nissenbaum, professor emeritus of history at the University of Massachusetts, Christmas “took the form of relations between classes rather than between generations.” The rich, he said, “were obliged to give to the poor rather than take from them. It involved the entire community rather than an insular family.”

. . .

But after one particularly raucous Christmas season street parade in 1827 — which helped lead to the creation of a professionalized New York City police force — and with the increased geographical divide between rich and poor, Christmas became a much more family-oriented affair behind closed doors, said Professor Nissenbaum. He is the author of “The Battle for Christmas” (Knopf, 1996).

Read it all here.

GPS finds fugitive figurines

Not long ago, someone took the baby Jesus from a public nativity display and replaced him with a pumpkin. NPR says that "a fair number of purloined baby Jesuses and misappropriated menorahs make it onto police blotters every year." Instead of tying the Christ child's wrist to a manger with a bicycle chain, churches and synagogues are using GPS chips to track down stolen religious ornaments.

Read more »

The invention of Christmas

"Age-old" Christmas traditions that we take for granted grew out the invention of rapid and reliable transportation, improvements in printing and postal technologies, mass marketing, the rise of the middle class. It also had the help of some inventive writers like Charles Dickens, Washington Irving and Clement Clarke Moore.

Diedre Goode, professor of New Testament at General Theological Seminary writes:

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Is the Narnia franchise dead?

Sad news for fans of the C.S. Lewis Narnia series: Disney is pulling the plug after making movies based on just two of the books:

Fans of the Narnia movies had the wind taken out of their sails over the holidays when it was announced that Disney has taken leave of the franchise, opting out of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Though Disney helped finance and distribute the first two films in the series, the third movie will have to move forward without their involvement. Walden Media, the company that made the first two movies, had planned to begin filming Dawn Treader this spring for a May 2010 release, but is now shopping for a new business partner—possibly Fox, with whom it partners for all its other films.

According to the UK's Independent, Disney cited budgetary concerns as chief among their reasons for withdrawing from the film, leading to further speculation about the future of big-budget fantasy films amidst the receding economy—including, possibly, the Harry Potter franchise.

Dawn Treader, like Prince Caspian, was slated for an estimated $200 million budget—which makes Walden's task of finding a new distributor difficult. The Los Angeles Times, however, reports that the film would likely have come in well under the $200 million mark, and quotes an anonymous source who says that Disney and Walden experienced "creative differences" and a disagreement over when to release the film. Meanwhile, Jim Hill lists a third possible motivation: Slow DVD sales for Caspian.

Some industry insiders don't quite see Disney's logic. LA Times Critic Mary McNamara says Disney is jumping ship too soon, dismissing the entire franchise because of Caspian's disappointing sales; she argues that Caspian is generally regarded as a weak link in the series anyway, and says the fact that the film did as well as it did is a miracle, while Dawn Treader is a much more cinematic and appealing story to begin with. Naomi Creason, meanwhile, says Disney is just being practical, and senses little future for Dawn Treader.

Read it all here.

Friday Night Lights is back

As longtime visitors will recall, the Cafe's editor in chief is crazy about the NBC's drama Friday Night Lights. (See previous effusions.) The show returns for its third season tomorrow night at 9. Here's a sneak preview.

Switching Religions

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 44 percent of Americans profess a different religious affiliation from the one they had as children. Newsweek puts a human face on this statistic--Episcopal priest Albert Scariato of St. John's Episcopal Church in Georgetown:

Like most of his congregants at St. John's Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C.'s Georgetown, Father Albert wasn't born an Episcopalian. In fact, he first walked into St. John's almost 20 years ago as a Jewish physician. He had done a lot of searching to find a spiritual home since his high-school days, when he attended Hebrew classes. "I wasn't very religious, but I always read everything I could get my hands on about religion, regardless of tradition," he says. Peering through round, owlish glasses, he is subdued when discussing his decision to enter the priesthood. The choice is still "very painful" to some members of his family, he says, but to him it was a change of profession more than of faith.

. . .

Father Albert says he is most comfortable in a place of worship where people with doubts and questions are welcome. He is candid about the fact that his sexual orientation was and probably still is an issue for some in the church. On the morning of his ordination to the priesthood at St. John's in 1997, someone nailed an objection to the church door à la Martin Luther. The church was packed and the officiating priest, a woman, had planned that the congregation would sing the longest hymn in the hymnal while the lay leadership and the bishop heard the protest in the parish hall. Midway through the verses, the bishop returned to declare Father Albert had been fully and fairly evaluated and that the ordination would proceed. His words received a thunderous, 10-minute ovation.

The church has grown since then, and Father Albert says he is "hard-pressed to name a whole slew of cradle Episcopalians" among the congregants. He's known for biblically based sermons that can be applied to daily life and that convey a message of social justice. He spends much of his time ministering to the sick and dying, and reaching out to the poor. Does he miss his old profession? "I feel I never left it."

Read it all here.

An Oscar for spiritual literacy?

To greet the announcement of Oscar nominations, the Spirituality and Practice Web site has compiled a list of the 10 most spiritually literate films of 2008, a list that includes Slumdog Millionaire and Milk. Did they miss any good ones?

(Commentor Dennis Bosley mentions In Bruges. Anybody else?)

Hat tip Religion News Service.

Mr. President, have we got a church for you

If there were Emmy awards for playing along with an interviewer who needs you to act silly, the Rev. Randolph Charles, rector of Church of the Epiphany in Washington D. C. would win it for his performance in this segment from The Daily Show about President Barack Obama's search for a new church.


Super Bowl parties allowed in churches

In previous years the NFL has frowned on congregations getting together to watch the Super Bowl together on a large screen - and especially so if the "getting together" is held as a fund-raiser. In addition, the licensing agreements that govern the broadcast used to ban "public" showings on wide-screen televisions. Many churches were using their projection equipment to show the game on wall sized screens.

But good news! Last year in response to congressional pressure, the league changed the terms of its broadcast usage policy to clarify the second restriction:

"'As long as they follow the basic guidelines set forth by the NFL, churches can now rest assured that they are free to have football parties and show the Super Bowl game,' said John W Whitehead, president of the Charlottesville, Va.-based civil liberties organization.

...NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the modified policy eliminated past rules regarding the size of the screens on which the game is shown.

'The only thing we do ask is that these organizations not charge admission -- the game's on TV for free -- and that they hold the parties at locations they regularly use for other large gatherings,' he said Tuesday (Jan. 27)."

Read a full description here in Ethics Daily.

Narnia franchise saved

As we previously reported, Disney has decided to abandon filming the Narnia serier after making only two films. Good news this week for fans of the C.S. Lewis series: Fox has taken over the franchise, albeit at a lower budget:

When Disney unceremoniously pulled out of co-financing the Chronicles Of Narnia franchise just before the New Year, shock waves of doubt and remorse echoed through the Vulture comment section. However, thanks to the good graces of the people over at Fox, fans of the dream world of magic can spark up a celebratory jay and hit the Magnolia Bakery tonight, because the franchise is back on! Yes, that's right, Variety is reporting that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader looks to have pulled an Aslan and come back from what appeared at first glance to be certain death. But, as we learned in Pet Sematary, resurrection comes with a price.

While it looks like both the film's principle cast and director will be clearing some time on their calendars this summer to shoot the picture, some sacrifices had to be made on the budget front to make the project viable. According to the Los Angeles Times, Disney spent some $215 million producing Prince Caspian, and another $175 million on marketing it (the film ended up grossing roughly $419 million worldwide). So, in order to lessen the risk on Dawn Treader, Walden Media and Fox have decided to go halfsies on the third film's slated budget of $140 million.

Read it all here.

The Atlantic's Ross Douthat, however, believes that the lower budget could result in a much better film:

That sounds like bad news at first. But artistically speaking, at least, a smaller budget may be exactly what the Narnia movies need. I liked Caspian, in certain respects, but it felt like it was made more in self-conscious imitation of Peter Jackson's appropriately-humongous Lord of the Rings films than in the more intimate spirit of C.S. Lewis's novels.

. . .

Spending $140 million instead of $215 million isn't quite halving the budget, but it's pretty close. With luck, the result will be richer storytelling, instead of just lousier special effects.

Read it all here.

The theology of Slumdog Millionaire

Paul Courtright, a professor of religious studies at Emory University, who specializes in Hinduism, offers an interesting perspective on Slum Millionaire, one of the nominees for best picture:

Religion—explicit religion, that is—has only a cameo with Jamal, Salim, and Latika’s Muslim identities being only incidental to the story. Only once, late in the film, do we see Salim in prayer asking divine forgiveness for a sin he is about to commit; earlier, when a gang of Hindu thugs overrun a group of women washing clothes, a young boy appears dressed as the Hindu god Rama.

There does seem to be a theology to the film, however. Embedded in the opening question, as noted above regarding the Slumdog’s success, is the question: “How did he do it?“ Throughout the movie we are left wondering whether Jamal is a cheat—the police assume that initially; lucky—seems plausible; a genius, probably not; or whether “it is written.“

As we work our way to the fade-to-white-light finish and the final answer, we become less and less persuaded that randomness, cheating, or even his personal brilliance drives Jamal's story. Dev Patel plays Jamal as a fairly modest, ordinary guy: street-smart and resilient, but not a genius.

Despite the presence of primarily Muslims main characters, there doesn't appear to be a particularly Islamic vision of divine mercy and inscrutability amidst the squalor, terror, and glitz of Jamal's life in global Mumbai. Rather, the film evokes the Hindu idea of divine play (lila); Hindu literature is filled with stories of the devotee who triumphs over adversity through unwavering devotion to his or her deity, while the notion of one's life being written or in the hands of destiny is a broadly shared Indian cultural perspective.

Read it all here.

Religion Dispatches also has interesting reviews of nominees Milk and The Wrestler.

Are you a Christian hipster?

We assume, of course, that Cafe visitors are, by definition, Christian hipsters. But if you are uncertain whether you belong to this group, contemplate this item from Brett McCracken at the blog Still Searching:

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Two new seasons for Friday Night Lights?

Western Civilization is on the verge of acquiring a new two-year lease on life according to a report in Entertainment Weekly:

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Science fiction does not always "get" religion

Anyone who loves science fiction as a literary genre soon discovers that there's typically little respect for authority and less for religious beliefs in most author's works. It's not surprising therefore that religion, organized or not, gets pretty beat-up in most science fiction novels and films.

Charlie Jane Anders has collected seven examples of this and posted them in a self described rant online:

Read more »

Friday Night Lights remain lit

Variety:

"Friday Night Lights" fans were handed the equivalent of a Super Bowl victory on Monday as NBC and DirecTV confirmed that the ensembler has been renewed for two seasons. The new pact covers the show's fourth and fifth seasons, which will consist of 13 segs apiece. It continues the innovative partnership between the Peacock and the satcaster that saved "FNL" from cancellation this season, the third for the Peabody-winning series revolving around a high school football team in a small Texas town. Series, shot in Austin, Texas, hails from Brian Grazer's Imagine TV, Peter Berg's Film 44 shingle and Universal Media Studios.

The Cafe's previous effusions about FNL.


Star Trek: sign of our times or out of touch?

Nathan Schneider of Religion Dispatches reviewing the new Star Trek movie says, "I liked the new Star Trek, I really did. Despite earlier concerns that it might ravage my Trekkie childhood, ... But, having read this week’s proclamations that this was a Star Trek for the brave new age of Obama (in Slate and the Huffington Post), I found the film a political downer. If this is Obama’s Trek, it’s the Obama that makes me wish I’d voted write-in for Jean-Luc Picard."

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HBO series shines flattering light on Botswana

The HBO miniseries The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency has been a boon toward helping the people of Botswana launch a fledging film industry in that southern Africa country, the Anglican bishop of Botswana says.

The series, based on Alexander McCall Smith's book of the same title and nine subsequent novels, is being shown Sunday nights on HBO. All episodes are available on HBO on Demand.

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Bruce Springsteen and the seventh Sunday after Easter

Jumping the gun a bit to bring you a vision of Pentecost from E Street.

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Straight Outta Compline

With apologies to N. W. A., the BCP Boys offer Straight Outta Compline.

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Christianity free Cathedrals

During a recent tour of Salisbury Cathedral a blogger noticed that not once was there any mention of Christianity or of Jesus as the motivation behind the creation of the extraordinary edifice. That noticeable lack of conversation about religion and about Christianity in England is suggested as part of a much larger problem that is contributing to a sea-change in morality in England.

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What have the Noughties done for us?

BBC Newsnight kicks off its series What Have the Noughties Done for Us? with a look back at religion here:

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Young Muslims and punk music

CNN continues its series Generation Islam with a piece on punk rocker young Muslims.

The guitarist stands in front of a mirror messing with his mohawk. The drummer strikes a wild tempo. drummer strikes a wild tempo. The singer rips off his T-shirt and begins to scream the lyrics.

They're young. They're punk. And they're rocking both their Muslim and American worlds with their music, lyrics and style.

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Theology of Gaming

Ruth Gledhill comments on the interest in "gaming" at Greenbelt, an annual Christian festival in the UK.

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Apocalypse: Top Ten

Paul Asay at Beliefnet offers his top 10 apocalyptic movies. He writes:

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Padre Oprah on Oprah

Alberto Cutie talks with Oprah about the experience that led him to the Episcopal Church.

No such thing as bad publicity

You can hear someone named Jim Naughton discuss the importance of using the opportunities that popular culture provides us to speak about our faith in this podcast from the Alban Institute. The peg is the publication of Dan Brown's new book about the Freemasons.

The name (Broderick) is familiar; the face is new

The Rev. Janet Broderick will be installed this Thursday as the next Rector of St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Morristown, New Jersey, Kevin Coughlin reports in the Morristown Green at nj.com.

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What makes for an acceptable public apology?

Joe Wilson, Serena Williams, and Kanye West -- from the trifecta of politics, sports, and entertainment -- have all suffered lately for their public outbursts, then attempted to soothe over the ire they kicked up by apologizing for what they'd done. These expressions of regret ran the gamut from genuine to lukewarm.

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'We get to carry each other': U2 as theologians

Everyone covering popular culture seems to want a piece of the "gospel according to ___" business on any available topic where people are willing to use the name of God. And of course, anytime you cast a net that wide, you find varying levels of success.

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Who are the Episcopalians?

UPDATE: Video 2.0 see below.

One of the great features of the Internet is that it lowers the cost of mass distribution of media enough that some very interesting voices get heard who might otherwise not. King of Peace parish is one of a new breed of congregations taking good advantage of this capability.

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A better way to discern in community

Lately civic and religious discourse in America has taken on a certain road-rage quality according to Katherine Marshall. Recently she was able to observe an ethics consult at the Chicago Medical School. She came away believing that perhaps there is a more excellent way for us to engage one another:

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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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Christianity and The Blind Side

From The Washington Post:

The Blind Side is based on the true story of the then-homeless black teenager Michael Oher and the Tuohys, the wealthy, white evangelical Tennessee family who adopted him. As football fans know, during his time with the Tuohys, Oher developed not only into a confident young man but also into a football sensation.

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'You can't say "I love you" ironically': Nashville and the new earnestness

David Dark has seen into something emerging out of popular culture - the end of this age of bitter irony.

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Current spate of films has a spiritual bent

Several movies - either in theaters or soon to be available on DVD - have lessons drawn from the life of the spirit, Robert W. Butler writes in The Washington Post.

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Avatar: religious reflections

Bloggers and theologians have taken on the popular movie, Avatar, as the topic du jour. From theologian Kwok Pui-lan, professor at Episcopal Divinity School to a wide variety of religion writers and bloggers - many are fascinated by the themes that seem to touch on religion, race, and environmentalism. Have you seen it - what do you think?

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Mechanics (and pitfalls) of text-based giving

In the wake of relief efforts coming to the fore in Haiti, you have probably heard over the past week about the option to donate by sending a text message, or through social media channels. Such options are now available due to organizations like the Mobile Giving Foundation.

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'Oh, when the Saints come processing in'

On the verge of the Super Bowl, football fever got liturgical today.

South Louisiana resident June Butler, known to readers of her blog as Grandmère Mimi, had church today with a sanctuary filled with Saints fans and a priest bedecked in a specially themed chasuble.

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Elton John and Jesus and Homosexuality

Music legend Elton John recently talked to Parade Magazine about a number of things. In what apparently constituted a sidebar conversation (is anything ever off-the-record anymore?), he said something about Jesus.

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Religion and the Oscars

Tomorrow night brings the annual celebration of Hollywood's work. There are any number of movies that have religious themes, but the one that seems to have captured people's attention is the top grossing film of all time: Avatar.

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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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Episcopal blogger makes good

Dan Porter, the Blogspotting Episcopalian plays a key role in the History Channel's upcoming documentary on the Shroud of Turin. He's enthused about the show. Find out more.

Barbie the Episcopal priest also comes in Jewish, atheist versions

Is there anything Barbie can't do? Of course not.

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There's Jesus and then there are those Christians

Bishop Alan points us to a video that highlights the difference in popular perception between Jesus and Christians. This person-on-the-street interview says that people both like Jesus and, to a surprising degree, get at least parts of his message and significance. When asked what people think and feel about Christians...well...we don't fare so well.

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The gay stars of Christian pop music

Douglas Harrison, writing on Religion Dispatches, reflects on the gay artists in the Christian pop music scene and what their coming out has to say about the Church, the culture and seeking after God.

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As 'LOST' winds down, redemption abounds

Lorne Manly recently got a peek inside the heads of the executive producers of television's LOST - a deeply mythological show concerned with the big questions of life.

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'Lost' -- a religious text read in the public square

The ABC drama "Lost" ends tonight. If you're among its regular viewership, are you, like me, a little sad, a little overanxious ... primed, perhaps, for the weeks or months of theological speculation that it will invite in its trailing wake? Or, if you don't watch, are you just baffled by all the love lavished upon one television show by its millions of fans?

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Theologically, a Lost cause

Am I the only one who though that Lost came nowhere near delivering on its theological and philosophical pretensions? Did the character John Locke behave according to the writings of John Locke? Or did the creators of the show just drop his name to cultivate a little intellectual cachet?

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Two weddings, a divorce and Glee

Frank Rich writes in today's New York Times:

June is America’s month for weddings, and were we so inclined, we could bemoan [Rush] Limbaugh, an idol to the family-values crowd, for marrying [for the fourth time] a woman barely half his age. Alternatively, we could lament Al and Tipper Gore’s divorce, which has produced so many cries of shock you’d think they were the toy bride and groom atop a wedding cake rather than actual flesh-and-blood people capable of free will.

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Is Batman an Episcopalian?

Adherents.com fills you in on the religious preference of your favorite comic book hero.

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Comedy Central's JC

This Reuters article provides a synopsis of a controversy brewing over an animated program about Jesus that may or may not air on Comedy Central:

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"Christian character" added to Glee cast

USAToday wonders if the new so called "Christian character" added to the popular TV show, Glee, will assume that no one else in the cast is religious or perpetuate the stereotypical anti-gay Christian?

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BBC's 'Rev' bows

BBC Two has recently introduced "Rev," a comedy about a modern Anglican inner-city church. U.S. viewers can't see full episodes yet, but here are some previews.

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Torey makes the Newsteam proud

Torey.jpgApparently one of the members of the Episcopal Cafe Newsteam has a special talent that the rest of the team didn't know about. When it comes to mastering the arcane details of the Simpson's TV series, Torey is the best of the best in Sioux City.

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Bingo wedding canceled by parish priest

A couple in England who won a contest to have their wedding sponsored by a Bingo company in exchange for product placement on the happy couple, has been denied the use of their parish church. The deal with the Bingo company included displaying the company's bright orange and blue logo on the bride's wedding dress.

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Messy God, messy science

Mark Vernon, a former Anglican priest and now popular author and scholar of philosophy in Britain reports on a recent conference held at the Physics Department Oxford hard by the storied halls of Keble College. (Keble is still one of main centers of Anglo-catholic learning in the Church of England.) The conference "celebrated and focused" on the work of John Polkinghorne, former Cambridge professor of Physics and now Anglican priest, and his work connecting the thinking of science and the thinking of theology.

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Plastic Luther statues swarm Wittenberg

We are growing close to the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of theses to door of the Wittenberg church. And as Wittenberg prepares to observe the event, an artist has created a quirky way to mark the occasion:

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Berenstain Bears get religion, in parallel universe

The Berenstain Bears, once known for promoting family values sans religion, have broken their self imposed moratorium on declaring whether they are people of faith or no faith. Actually, it's more complicated than that. Their sans religion titles will continue to be published by Random House. Their overtly Christian titles are being published by Zondervan. Just why Random House is not also publishing the Christian titles isn't explained, but it could be the Berenstains (the humans who author and illustrate the books) want to avoid sending mixed messages to their secular audience.

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Powered by 'dominion' theology, Christian film fest steers rightward

File under A Truly Frightening Halloween: Writing for Religion Dispatches, Julie Ingersoll tells you everything you wanted to know, and then a little more, about the not-so-very veiled cultural threat innocuously billed as the San Antonio Christian Film Festival, a five-day event for cinephiles of faith that ended yesterday.

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Pop culture talks to the Bible; the Bible talks back; we listen in

Here's the majority of the table of contents for The Bible in/and Popular Culture: A Creative Encounter, Philip Culbertson and Elaine M. Wainwright, editors. The book was published last month by the Society of Biblical Literature.

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Singing 'Hallelujah' in the mall: unlikely, yet sensible

Witnessing flash mobs has become a bit of a thing lately, hasn't it? Nonparticipants smile, nod, take photographs or video with their phones. Often they sport looks of stupefaction. They stop and watch because they feel they must, whatever the quality of talent on display.

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Harry Potter and the use/abuse of power

The release of the latest Harry Potter film has evoked reflections on power - the power of individuals and the power of story to change the world.

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Christmas Wars spread to commuters in NYC

Commuters into New York City, as they make the journey into the city, are being invited to take a stand about the meaning of Christmas:

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A Christmas buffet

A wandering soul with an internet connection looking for spiritual sustenance in this holy season can find all matter of wonders.

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Resolutions for 2011?

Kathleen Parker lists her resolutions for the coming year, but instead of listing ones specifically for 2011, she lists her timeless ones. She calls it a sort of "Eat, Pray, Love 2.0".

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'King's Speech' and the 'radical loneliness' of the stutterer

Charles McNulty is an LA Times theater critic, as well as a stutterer who has been to see "The King's Speech" (trailer, reviews, and IMDB record). He confesses:

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In Orthodox churches, Christmas means pierogies

This story isn't especially newsworthy, but you can't pass up an opportunity to use the word pierogies in a headline.

Just one more 'best of' list

A list recapping anything from 2010 may seem so outré on January 9th, but ... last one, we promise, and a goodie. Baylor English prof and Episcopal lay preacher Greg Garrett has abstracted seven popular-culture properties from 2010 that made a real difference in the world of publicly lived theology.

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Sacrilegious? Or just nacho cheesy?

This advertisement, in which a church reverses its declining membership and solves its budget problems by offering communion-goers Doritos and Pepsi Max, was yanked from the Doritos Crash the Super Bowl ad contest.

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Super Bowl weekend bishop bets

America's great liturgical gridiron weekend is upon us, and as is customary, community leaders from Wisconsin and Western Pennsylvania are placing friendly wagers on this year's game. Bishop Jacobus of Fond du Lac and Bishop Price of Pittsburgh have stepped up this year on behalf of the Episcopal Church:

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Competitive theism

Drawing on interviews with Lady Gaga, Snoop Dog, Christina Aguilera and others, Neil Strauss of the Wall Street Journal reaches at tantalizing conclusion:

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Theologically all gaga over 'Born This Way'

There've been plenty of anthems celebrating the self. Lady Gaga is only the latest in a string of persons and personas to propound the doctrine of the self: that self-expression, self-worth, and the love of oneself is the highest possible good. Gaga is clearly, indistinguishably, both person and persona, and her own brand, as well as the high chief of her own school of acolytes. In other words, she's free to propound whatever doctrine she likes. She's a small-scale Oprah with less restraint whose contributions to pop culture are far from final.

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Unease with the postmodern condition: Oscars edition

What do this year's Best Picture nominees have to say about homo sapiens? S. Brent Plate says (a) plenty and (b) it ain't simple.

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Bono on Jesus: either the Messiah or a complete nutcase

It's been nearly six years since U2's frontman was interviewed for Bono: In Conversation with Michka Assayas, but Bono's description of Jesus still has the capacity to addle.

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Millenials next big thing

CNN notes that 2011 marks the rise of the Millenial generation and asked what will they bring to the cultural table:

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Prayers for Wiiliam and Kate

As anticipation builds for the William-and-Kate wedding on April 29, the Church of England has published some special prayers.

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A royal wedding miscellany

Updated: If you have gotten up at oh-dark-thirty to watch Prince William and Katherine Middleton tie the knot, here is a collection of useful and trivial links.

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Oprahfied spirituality

In The New York Times, Mark Oppenheimer says that now that we live in a post-Oprah world (or, more accurately, a world in which Oprah has transitioned from daytime talk star to hands-on manager of her cable enterprise, OWN), we're free to begin the assessment of her contribution. Oppenheimer says that spiritually speaking, Oprah's contribution was at least partly Christian, partly New Age in origin.

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Bad theology leads to bad art

Writing for the blog of the Image journal, Tony Woodlief says:

I’m convinced that bad art derives, like bad literary theory, from bad theology. To know God falsely is to write and paint and sculpt and cook and dance Him falsely. Perhaps it’s not poor artistic skill that yields bad Christian art, in other words, but poor Christianity.

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Beauty queen terror

Cathy Grossman in USAToday reports on the fears of beauty pageant contestants:

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Theology and 'The Boy Who Lived'

Danielle Tumminio describes her course "Christian Theology and Harry Potter."

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Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose.

Over at The Awl, Sarah Blackwood has written a perceptive ode to Friday Night Lights, which veteran Cafe readers know is a favorite of ours. The show signs off tonight, after five under-appreciated seasons as the best show on network television.

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Lady Gaga: Kierkegaard in fishnet stockings

"Lady Gaga is a Kierkegaard in fishnet stockings, who can play piano and guitar," according to Rodney Clapp writing in The Christian Century.

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Faith based side of Harry Potter novels

The Seattle Times discusses the faith based side of the Harry Potter books and Ann Ditzler at ECFVP talks about Episcopal young adults:

The "Harry Potter" culture warriors surged into action one last time, adding their familiar notes of discord to the fanfares greeting the release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2."

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Sci-Fi is picking up the ball the Church is dropping?

The best science fiction (and fantasy) stories are often essentially an examination of moral actions and associated conversations about what is the right thing to do in a given moment. The author has the freedom to tweak the setting and situation in a way that allows the moral conflict to be both heightened and focused in ways that typical fiction doesn't.

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Bringing bullying to light (even inside the church)

Bullying continues to be a major issue in our society today.

Most recent in the news is the sad death of Jamey Rodemeyer, who killed himself after being bullied relentlessly. The story made national news when Lady Gaga dedicated her song "Hair" to him at the iHeart Music Festival (chronicled by many, including the website Bullying Stories)

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Vampires and zombies and Jesus. Oh, my.

Gary Hall, rector of Christ Church, Cranbrook in the Diocese of Michigan, has written a learned and entertaining disquistion on horror movies, what they tell us about our culture, and the questions they pose for the church.

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BBC show "Rev" a hit

Vicar Adam Smallbone, the lead character in the BBC2 show "Rev", is described as quite normal, and even a bit cool: something that real clergy strive for.

So says Tom Hollander, the actor who plays him in a recent interview in The Mirror:

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More Tebow time

Perhaps as long as he team keeps winning, people will keep talking about Denver quarterback Tim Tebow and his rather open religious faith.

Here on Episcopal Cafe, we already have three entries on him, all due to many people writing on him:

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Lessons from Luther, social media and the reformation

Social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, is seen as the vehicle which is making the Arab Spring and the #Occupy movement possible. The sense is that ideas being expressed online are going "viral", being shared and re-shared in exponentially explosive fashion, and leaping into our collective consciousness. The massive street protests and the regimes being toppled are the result.

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The prevalence and perils of Jesus comedy

Two trending videos on the web concerning Jesus comedy:

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New Years Eve food traditions

The Daily Meal offers 15 New Year's Eve food traditions. What are your family traditions?

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"Love Free or Die" premieres at Sundance Film Festival

Macky Alston's documentary focusing on Bishop Gene Robinson opened last night at the Sundance Film Festival.

Macky wrote in expectation of the premiere in an article published yesterday in Filmmaker, remembering the beginning of the journey:

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"How people use facebook"

Facebook, which went public on the Stock Market this week, is well known as the largest of all the social media sites. And because of that the Church needs to figure out how to use engage it, and the people using it, effectively. So the first question to ask is probably "how do people use Facebook"?

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Ellen DeGeneres, JC Penney's, and traditional values

In her show's opening monologue yesterday, Ellen DeGeneres touched on the Prop 8 ruling before moving to the demand that JC Penney's fire her as their spokesperson because of her "lifestyle".

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Valentine's Day reprise

Now abideth faith, hope, love, these three.... Laura Sykes at Lay Anglicana explores how love of God and love of one another overlap:

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Better to laugh now: a ‘Simpsons’ appreciation

A note of gratitude to the writers and producers of “The Simpsons,” whose 500th episode airs tonight.

Each episode takes a minimum of six months to produce. Stacked end-to-end, that’s 250 years’ worth of work.

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Nun picks her Oscar winners

From Odyssey Networks:

Sister Rose Pacatte, FSP, an enthusiastic film critic, is excited about the Academy Awards coming up. Discover what she says about this year's movies and how faith and film are connected. Sister Pacatte is currently the Director at the Pauline Center for Media Studies.

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Happy Leap Day

February 29 is an extra day in the calendar that comes around once every four years to fix the problem of 365 days not being quite enough. People born on this day can celebrate their birthday today! In paraphrase of Mary Oliver:

What are you doing with your one wild and precious day?

Punk drummer turns priest

Edward Guthman of the San Francisco Chronicle has the story of a former punk rock drummer who became an priest:

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J.K. Rowling's giving drops her from billionaires list

J.K. Rowling, creator of the 15 billion dollar Harry Potter franchise was for a time one of the wealthiest authors in the world. But she's given so much of her wealth away to charity over the past few years that she's dropped off the list that Forbes keeps of the world's richest people.

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Lent Madness mentioned in Sports Illustrated

Congratulations to the folks behind the Lent Madness program. This week Sports Illustrated mentions their work in an article on how brackets are going mainstream.

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Hunger Games: Losing the moral center

The Rev. Torey Lightcap, one of the Lead's news editors, reviews The Hunger Games at his blog Irreducible Minimums. He wonders if the moral lessons of the books are lost in the films:

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Oh Sacred Head/American Tune

From St. Matthew Passion by J. S. Bach.

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'Blue Like Jazz' and other pressures of Christian entertainment

Have you read Don Miller's Blue Like Jazz? If so, did you like it? Did you know it's been adapted into a movie project whose funding was crowd-sourced by Christians eager to see it committed to film?

I read the book after I heard The (now) Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia quote from it at a TENS conference a few years ago. Bishop Rickel, whom I then knew as Greg from Austin, talked about the quote on the first page of the book as illustrative of the Christian stewardship journey:

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Happy Mothers' Day

Last year, the Rev. Greg Syler,rector of St. George's Episcopal Church in Valley Lee, Maryland, wrote a thoughtful piece about the historical origins of Mothers' Day, and we thought you might like to read it again. It does not conclude in a warm and fuzzy fashion, but that is its strength:

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TV, children, and self-esteem

Since the beginnings of television, there have been concerns as to the its affect on children. Does TV lead children to violence? Sexual promiscuity? Brain rot?

The results remain mixed, according to research and an article by Cassie Murdoch for Jezebel. But a study shows that TV does indeed have an affect on self-esteem:

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Horror novelist Stephen King: Divinely inspired?

The Rev. Paul F.M. Zahl, a retired Episcopal priest, believes the work of Stephen King contains a measure of divine inspiration. From CNN's Belief Blog:

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How do we use Twitter to advance God's kingdom?

Twitter is apparently a powerful platform for preachers. The New York Times reported this weeked that the inspirational tweets of evangelical Christian leaders such as Joyce Meyer, Max Lucado and Andy Stanley "perform about 30 times as well as Twitter messages from pop culture powerhouses like Lady Gaga." Twitter senior executive Claire Díaz-Ortiz says "Twitter is just made for the Bible." The Times points out:

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Want to be ordained? There's an app for that...

Ordination process taking to long? Had it with prying discernment committees and distracted diocesan bishops?

Well, now you can Ordain Thyself!

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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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Another reason to love The Muppets

News from the website Tough Pigs: Muppet Fans who Grew Up

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The religious spirit of the Olympic Games

USA Today as a multimedia slideshow entitled "The Religious Spirit of the Olympic Games."

The introduction says:

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Gabby Douglas historic win (and why some focus on her hair)

Gabby Douglas is the first African American to win the women's gymnastics all-around gold medal, which she won in addition to her women's team gold medal.

Yet the talk of many has been on her hair.

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"Stars Earn Stripes" misses on every level

From The Rev. Susan Russell's own admission in the Huffington Post, watching Olympic commercials with her must not have been fun...

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"Best hope against the zombies"

Rachel Mann has a provocative article in The Guardian claiming that zombies are an apt metaphor for those who feel the emptiness of consumerism.

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Introducing: The Theology Jukebox

Giving something a try tonight. Below is a video of Tom Waits signing his song Come On Up to the House (lyrics). I heard it last week at the Bluegrass Mass at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland. I don't know what I make of the theology of the song, but I love the line: Come down off the cross, we can use the wood. And it isn't every songwriter who can gracefully work a quote from Thomas Hobbes into his work.

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What does the church have to offer on Black Friday?

On Black Friday I came across a tweet from Rev. David L. Hansen (@rev_david), a Lutheran pastor--and social media kingpin--in rural Texas noting that people who actually benefit from the deeply discounted prices offered by retailers on the day after Thanksgiving were "caught in the crossfire" of criticism emanating from those who find the 24-hour orgy of shopping crassly commercial.

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Local atheist joins battle against Jesus status on ski slope

A court case over a decades-old Jesus statue at Big Mountain ski resort in Montana will continue, thanks to a local atheist who has joined the fight. (As a former Montanan, I have skied past this Jesus a few times myself, and don't find the sculpture at all inspiring as religious art. However, it is a quirky and somewhat endearing part of the landscape, IMHO.) Associated Press reports:

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Spiritual wisdom of 'Les Miserables'

Whether you have seen or plan to see the new movie "Les Miserables," whether you loved the movie or hated it, Victor Hugo's classic has spiritual implications worth pondering. At CNN's religion blog, the Rev. Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio, Episcopal priest and author of "God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom," offers this wisdom about a bishop's act of generosity toward the thief who has stolen his candlesticks, Jean Valjean:

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James Taylor issues FB plea for 'Fire & Rain' church

A little Episcopal church that dubs itself "The James Taylor Church" because it's been damaged by fire and rain has garnered attention from the singer himself, who is using his Facebook page to help raise money to restore its historic pipe organ. Taylor posted this week, "St Paul's Episcopal Church in Jeffersonville IN is now known as the "James Taylor church," since it's been hit by both fire and rain! St Paul's is trying to raise money to restore their pipe organ after several floods and a fire. Click here to find out more: http://cjky.it/WKFGjg"

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Beyoncé and the Super Bowl: significant conversation

Beyoncé's show during half-time of the Super Bowl has sparked numerous reactions and critiques that even today are still rolling out.

On the blog patheos, David R. Henson called the show "A defiant dance of power":

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Is Pope's future financially secure? SNL says yes

In case you missed this on Saturday Night Live:

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Why are Episcopalians so fond of Downton Abbey?

Anecdotal evidence, and my twitter stream, suggests that Episcopalians are disproportionately fond of Downton Abbey, which ended its third season last night. Why is that?

Does the show appeal to Episcopalians in a particular way? Or does it appeal not so much to Episcopalians, but to the social classes to which most Episcopalians belong?

How valuable is the "family dinner"

Allison Aubrey reports on "Family Dinner: Treasured Tradition Or Bygone Ideal?" on NPR's All Things Considered. Here's an excerpt:

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The Bible: the miniseries

A miniseries called The Bible, which was about the book of the same name, appeared on the History Channel and had a significant impact on my Twitter stream. Did you watch it? What did you think of it?

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Dropped: "illegal immigrant"

The Associated Press has announced extensive reasoning in the dropping of the phrase "illegal immigrant". A brief excerpt from Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll:

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Roman Catholic diocese touts Jesus as the 'Original Hipster'

From the New York Daily News:

The Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn is spending $60,000 on a new ad campaign billing the Son of God as “The Original Hipster” — an ad that features Christ in a pair of red (and untied!) Converse sneakers poking out from under his robes.

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What is the true measure of faithful generosity?

You may have seen this meme making the rounds on Facebook, Reddit or Imgur in the last couple of days. It's a photo of a bearded man sitting cross-legged on a sidewalk, holding a cardboard sign reading: "Which religion cares the most about the homeless?" He's surrounded by eight small bowls and a hat, each labelled with different religions. Which bowl has the most spare change? Turns out "atheists" and "agnostic" appear to be winning this competition.

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Class warfare comes to the multiplex

Reviewing some summer movies for Salon, Andrew O'Hehir makes offers this intriguing analysis of the role of movies, comic books and other popular art forms in keeping alive ideals of equality and economic justice that are largely absent from our politics:

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Jesus as 'Man of Steel?'

MinistryResources.org (billed as "The stuff you use - to fill the pews!") is encouraging churches to tap into excitement over this summer's "Man of Steel" movie release, and has a created a "pastor resource site" to help with that. After all, they say:

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"Who let the girl in here?" (Churches, take note!)

Corrigan Vaughan's fantastic reply to those questioning her Star Trek fandom at the premiere of the new movie "Star Trek: Into Darkness" included this gem:

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Tony Soprano and God

R.I.P James Gandolfini. At my house, we recently rewatched "The Sopranos" from start to finish. What a brilliant series. What a brilliant actor. Gandolfini's nuanced, often comical portrayal of Tony Soprano, the brutal mobster next door, offered us a compelling depiction of evil in the modern age. God and church were certainly woven into the narrative. Was Tony beyond redemption? In this clip, Tony aims to help his son snap out of an existential funk:

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American Tune, a hymn for the Fourth

Also for your listening pleasure this Fourth of July, Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel join forces to cover Simon's classic, "American Tune." Episcopalians of course recognize the melody as hymn 168 in the 1982 Hymnal, "O sacred head, sore wounded," written originally as part of Hans Leo Hassler's "Passion Chorale" and adapted and harmonized later by Johann Sebastian Bach. God bless America.

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What can the church learn from these Apple ads?

I saw the first of these two Apple ads before a movie this weekend and thought immediately that Apple is thinking about the experience of the people whom it is trying to engage and the nature of the relationship it wants to have with those people in ways that might be useful for the church to consider.

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Your portrait of Pope Francis could be a winner

Religion News Service has launched a Pope Francis Art Contest. First prize is a $100 Visa gift card:

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Faith in fiction

Randy Boyagoda expresses dismay with the recent state of faith in fiction:

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Addicted to prayer

In an op-ed in the New York Times, T. M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford questions the value of prayer to society.

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Serpent handlers land a reality TV show

It's a slow summer news day here at the Episcopal Cafe, so this story from USA Today about a couple of serpent handlers kind of jumped out at me:

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Amid Miley Cyrus VMA flap, let's talk to our sons about Robin Thicke

Lutheran pastor Eric Clapp notes on his blog that Robin Thicke is getting off easy while Miley Cyrus is being slammed for their duet performance of Thicke's hit song "Blurred Lines" at the Video Music Awards. He writes:

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Takes more than guns to kill a man, says Joe, and I ain't dead

There are many versions of I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill Last Night (words by Alfred Hayes and music by Earl Robinson) online.

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The theological implications of 'Breaking Bad'

I love AMC's "Breaking Bad," I am distraught that this amazing series will end on Sunday, though I gotta say, I am completely wrung out by the intensity of it all. I don't remember when a TV show has explored more thoroughly the complicated and all encompassing nature of a man's descent into evil.

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Restaurant creates burger topped with communion wafer & wine sauce

Are you offended that a trendy restaurant would create a burger of the month served with a communion wafer and red wine sauce? From NPR blogger Mark Memmott:

Kuma's Corner, a Chicago restaurant that's built a reputation with foodies for its venturesome dishes, "has cooked up a controversial burger of the month for October, garnishing it with an unconsecrated communion wafer and a red wine reduction sauce," The Associated Press says.

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Filmmaker, studio spar over final edits to Noah's Ark movie

Reacting to feedback from Jewish, Christian, and general audiences who have previewed a Hollywood epic in production about Noah's Ark, the filmmaker and studio are reportedly at odds about edits to the film. From Hollywood Reporter:

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Coming soon to a cineplex near you: The Bible

From Religion News Service:

Nearly 10 years after the blockbuster success of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” which earned $611.9 million worldwide, studios are looking to the Good Book for good material.

Future films include:

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At home funerals and death doulas

A common practice in many parts of the world and among Native Americans, WBUR's Common Health reports on a new trend among United States "boomers" at home rites during dying and death:

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The Hunger Games and the limits of white imagination

Olivia Cole writes in Huffington Post on the negative reaction to the brilliant and kind character of Beetee, portrayed by African American actor Jeffrey Wright:

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Need a little nudge?

The New York Times yesterday published a story on how nudging is saving the United Kingdom.

Okay, a bit of an overstatement. The story is actually about a group of British officials who fan out across the country

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Jesus, Mother Teresa, Gandhi & the guy who clicked a banner

A new ad campaign for UNICEF Sweden features Jesus, Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi having dinner with a guy named Hugo who, it turns out, has done as much good in the world as any of them by simply "clicking a banner." Hugo advises an awe-struck Jesus to be careful, however, when cruising the Internet because after all, "not all banners save lives." The campaign was created by Forsman & Bodenfors. What do you think?

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The spiritual lessons of Sundance 2014

Dick Staub at Religion News Service shares the theological truths he gleaned from this year's Sundance Film Festival:

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Feast day of Olympian Eric Liddell, missionary to China

Today is the feast day of Scotsman Eric Liddell, Olympic athlete and missionary to China. In this clip from "Chariots of Fire," Liddell, portrayed by Ian Charleson, explains what it takes to run a great race.

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Alcoholics Anonymous without Religion

As America becomes more pluralistic, organized religion is not the only institution that is changing. Alcoholics Anonymous, influenced by co-founder Bill Wilson's religious experience in the Oxford Group, is beginning to change as secular humanists gain a voice within the organization through the We Agnostics and Freethinkers International A.A. Convention:

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BBC's "Rev." is Back

The BBC 2 comedy show "Rev." is coming back for a third season and it will air during Eastertide. There will be some changes to the show but co-stars Tom Hollander and Olivia Colman return for what promises to be a lot of laughs:

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LentTracker lists 100 most popular Lenten sacrifices

Ever thought about giving up religion for Lent? Religion has made the list of the most popular things to give up this year for Lent, though barely (it's listed as 25th out of 100). School, chocolate and Twitter are highest on the Lent Tracker list, compiled by OpenBible. The Washington Post reports:

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Holistic response: prayer, thought, and generosity

Miguel Angel Escobar short Episcopal Relief and Development blog entry revisited the response by a few celebrities who offered their thoughts and prayers to the victims of the Oklahoma tornado last May, only to have the comedian Ricky Gervais tweet “I feel like an idiot now… I only sent money.”

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Grief online

The growing adoption of social media affects even the way we deal with death, asserts an article in the NY Times.  

The article examines how a generation, raised online, has defined rituals of mourning for themselves, staking out places on the Internet to build community around grief and loss.   These sites serve not just to build community, but to answer questions that haven't really been asked before.  

One such place is the website Modern Loss:

Modern Loss is a repository of essays, resources and advice that the founders try to edit so that it doesn’t sound glib, overly religious or trite. For instance, you’ll never hear, “At least they are in a better place.” (“Our least favorite line ever,” Ms. Soffer said.) The website also examines decidedly 21st century topics like what to do when Gmail keeps suggesting someone who has died as a contact, a topic that Esther D. Kustanowitz, the founder of the blog My Urban Kvetch, explored in a post called “Deleting My Mother.” Befitting the target audience, it is not overly earnest. “Stay tuned for upcoming Modern Loss events in real life,” the site’s “about us” page says. “Because misery loves company, and nachos. And margaritas.”

The whole article is here

How have you seen mourning change, or have you?

On missing the point: God’s Not Dead

Ryan Bell, writing from his Patheos blog "Year Without God", on the low-budget Christian movie "God is Not Dead", which finished a surprising 5th at the box office this past weekend, mostly due to pre-sale:

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God on the Tonight Show

David L, Henson finds Jimmy Fallon and the new incarnation of the Tonight Show to be an inspiration for how we do church. He started a hashtag (#ordainjimmyfallon) which got a fair amount of play on Twitter, and condensed the results here.

He writes:

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Flashback: Stephen Colbert on Jesus with a wife

In the news this week, a scrap of papyrus suggesting that Jesus had a wife turns out to be not a forgery. And Stephen Colbert, "America's most famous Catholic," lands a new job as David Letterman's replacement. The Huffington Post offers a roundup of religious highlights from "The Colbert Report," including this clip from a couple of years ago, when the scrap of papyrus in question first came to light:

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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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Satan calls in to The Colbert Report

A statue of Satan may be coming to a spot outside the Oklahoma State Capitol. Stephen Colbert has the story, and an interview with Satan.

God, sex, and the romance novel

Amber Belldene (Episcopal priest, romance writer) recaps the "God and Sex" panel she was part of at the Romantic Times Convention in New Orleans.

Here are the broad topics covered, along with a quote from each:

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If Jesus lived today, he'd be a beer drinker, says priest

Episcopal priest and bar owner William Miller has a new book out, "The Beer Drinker's Guide to God, The Whole and Holy Truth About Lager, Loving, and Living." He contends that if Jesus had not lived in Palestine, his first miracle might well have been turning water into beer. From thedrinksbusiness.com:

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#YesAllWomen

Discussion of the Santa Barbara man who killed his roommates and then went out shooting sorority women is dominating online space. People are expressing sadness, shock, and outrage concerning a number of various aspects from this tragic event.

Yes, there are issues concerning mental illness and gun control, but the realities of misogynist culture must not be downplayed in this story, especially after the shooter left a video about why he did it: blaming women for denying him what he wanted (sexual response).

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A doctor responds to George Will rape column

Dr. Jen Gunter, OB/GYN, responds to George Will's column on "rape hysteria." Talking Points has the letter:

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Friends don't let friends read Rand

Based on the perhaps mistaken assumption that some of our readers will care what Flannery O'Connor, whose Catholicism deeply influenced her writing, thought of Ayn Rand, whose writing is currently in favor with conservative Catholic politicians, we offer the following from Open Culture:

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Are modern detectives our new priests?

Giles Fraser, a big fan of the HBO series "True Detective," muses in the Guardian about whether the heroes of modern detective fiction play a theological role in society.

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Some Christian groups decry new comedy 'Black Jesus'

Huffington Post reports:

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Humans of New York

Blake I. Collier writes in Christ & Pop Culture on a group attempting to transcend the tendency to "demonize and dehumanize" the other. From the article Humans of New York: Reclaiming the Image of God:

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Restaurant gives 15% off for saying grace

A restaurant receives praise and anger for its policy of giving 15% off if your table says grace.

NPR:

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Robin Williams has died

The comedian Robin Williams has died.

He was celebrated for stand-up routines as well as television and movie roles. Episcopalians may particularly remember his list of the Top 10 Reasons to be an Episcopalian.

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