25 June 2011

Women's Driving Protest May Signal Changes in Saudi Arabia

Women's Driving Protest May Signal Changes in Saudi Arabia, by Isobel Coleman (Washington Post, 24 June 2011)

Saudi restrictions on women are not going to melt away. More likely, a growing middle-class acceptance of women’s rights, promoted by activists, business leaders, educators, journalists and even moderate religious leaders, will exacerbate the long-simmering tensions between tradition and modernity, between fundamentalist and moderate Islam, that have gripped Saudi society for decades. Why? Because control over women is at the heart of the harsh version of Islam that Saudi theocracy imposes on the country.
Link: Women's Driving Protest May Signal Changes in Saudi Arabia

Social Media Rebooting Religion

Social Media Rebooting Religion, by Elizabeth Drescher (San Francisco Chronicle, 5 June 2011, p. F4)

Are Facebook and Twitter changing religion? It seems clearer and clearer that the ever-growing dominance of social media - especially on mobile computing devices like smart phones and tablets - is bringing religion back into the daily lives of many, while challenging religious institutions to revise notions of spiritual identity and community in both online and face-to-face worship.
Link: Social Media Rebooting Religion

24 June 2011

Encinitas removes mosaic of Surfing Madonna from railroad bridge

Encinitas removes mosaic of Surfing Madonna from railroad bridge, by Mike Anton (Los Angeles Times, 24 June 2011)

Our Lady of Guadalupe mysteriously appeared in Encinitas a few days before Easter, not on a piece of toast, but riding a surfboard with her palms joined in prayer and an enigmatic Mona Lisa smile. She arrived seemingly out of thin air — beautifully rendered in a 10-foot-square mosaic of stained glass and stone that had been attached to a concrete railroad bridge without anyone noticing. Mother Mary's stance in the tube of a Tahitian-sized wave indicated she was no amateur. Her right foot forward on the board made her a goofy foot. Who knew?

"Save the Ocean" was spelled out down the artwork's left side. Locals in this funky San Diego County beach town called her the Surfing Madonna. Pilgrims paid tribute, taking photos and leaving flowers and the occasional votive candle. City officials, though, labeled the work graffiti and began the process of having it removed. The affair was reported on locally and eventually went viral, with Facebook and Twitter pages rallying to save the Surfing Madonna.
Link: Encinitas removes mosaic of Surfing Madonna from railroad bridge

A Rock Odyssey Featuring Stephen Colbert and Jack White - Catholic Throwdown

In this unedited, extended yet hilarious clip, Stephen Colbert and Jack White try to out-Catholic each other.

See how much you know about Catholic beliefs and practices that Stephen and Jack White are throwing at each other:

23 June 2011

What The Bible Really Says About Slavery

What The Bible Really Says About Slavery, by Greg Carey (Huffington Post, 22 June 2011)

Slavery stands as the single most contested issue in the history of biblical interpretation in the United States. Not only did the nation fracture over slavery, denominations did too. Northern and Southern Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists remained divided until well into the twentieth century; in fact, Southern Baptists still represent the nation's largest Protestant denomination. What did slavery mean in the biblical world, and how did biblical authors respond to it?

Don't let anybody tell you that biblical slavery was somehow less brutal than slavery in the United States. Without exception, biblical societies were slaveholding societies. The Bible engages remarkably diverse cultures -- Ethiopian, Egyptian, Canaanite, Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman -- but in every one of them some people owned the rights to others. Slaveowners possessed not only the slaves' labor but also their sexual and reproductive capacities. When the Bible refers to female slaves who do not "please" their masters, we're talking about the sexual use of slaves. Likewise when the Bible spells out the conditions for marrying a slave (see Exodus 21:7-11).
Link: What The Bible Really Says About Slavery

Jihad Against Islam

Jihad Against Islam, by Robert Steinback. Southern Poverty Law Center Intelligence Report (Summer 2011), issue number 142.

Rarely has the United States seen a more reckless and bare-knuckled campaign to vilify a distinct class of people and compromise their fundamental civil and human rights than the recent rhetoric against Muslims.

It would also be hard to imagine a more successful campaign. In the span of the two years since the start of Barack Obama's presidency in early 2009, an astonishing number of people have turned into a kind of political wolf pack, convinced that 0.6% of the U.S. population is on the verge of trampling the Constitution and imposing an Islamic, Shariah-guided caliphate in its place. Like the communists that an earlier generation believed to be hiding behind every rock, infiltrated "Islamist" operatives today are said to be diabolically preparing for a forcible takeover.
Link: Jihad Against Islam

10 Problems of a Dying Church (and How to Fix Them)

10 Problems of a Dying Church (and How to Fix Them), by Theresa Cho (God's Politics Blog, 13 June 2011)

I recently wrote a blog about how to kill a dying church, asking questions about what to do with so many churches dying. I think the challenge is recognizing the signs that a church is dying. The problem is that churches tend to wither, which is a slow, gradual, and often subtle process. It is difficult to pinpoint when in the withering process it is time to take action, to make changes, and to make some vital decisions. While there are many reasons for a church dying, here are some practical observations that I have noticed in my experience. This list is certainly not exhaustive. It is also a list that my congregation has personally had to face, so I give examples of how my congregation has addressed these issues.
Link: 10 Problems of a Dying Church (and How to Fix Them)

Articles Roundup: American Universities in African Farming Land Grab

Articles Roundup: American Universities in African Farming Land Grab:

  • Special Investigation: Understanding Land Investment Deals in Africa (Oakland Institute) [This is the main Report]

  • US Universities in Africa 'Land Grab' by John Vidal and Claire Provost (The Guardian [UK], 8 June 2011)
    "Harvard and other major American universities are working through British hedge funds and European financial speculators to buy or lease vast areas of African farmland in deals, some of which may force many thousands of people off their land, according to a new study."

  • Western Investors Buying Up African Farming Properties in "Land Grab": Report (International Business Times, 8 June 2011)
  • Excerpts:
    "Some prominent American universities and pension funds, among other wealthy foreign investors, are allegedly purchasing huge tracts of land in Africa -- acts that may lead to the eviction of thousands of local farmers, according to a study by the Oakland Institute (Oakland Institute), a California-based think tank. U.S. educational institutions, including Harvard University, as well as pension funds, are using UK hedge funds and European financial speculators to acquire large agricultural properties thousands of miles away on the African continent. Many of these lands are being taken in order to develop biofuel production, in place of normal food production."

  • Comment by Patrick Hayes on H-Net Online

Nation's Largest Protestant Group Faces 'Decline'

Nation's Largest Protestant Group Faces 'Decline', by Bob Smietana (USA Today, 12 June 2011)

Baptisms fell to their lowest number in 60 years among Southern Baptists, the nation's largest Protestant denomination. The new numbers are a sign that the denomination is in trouble, Baptist leaders say. "This is not a blip," said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay. "This is a trend. And the trend is one of decline."

In 2010, Southern Baptists baptized 332,321 people, or 17,416 fewer than in 2009, according to a report released by Nashville-based LifeWay Research. This marks the eighth time in 10 years that baptisms have declined and the lowest number of baptisms since the 1950s.
Link: Nation's Largest Protestant Group Faces 'Decline'

Arabic for Right Wingers

Arabic for Right Wingers, by Justin Elliott (Salon, 16 June 2011)

In ominous tones, Islamophobes toss around terms like "taqiyya" and "Shariah." Do they even know what they mean?

In a now infamous column, the writer Eliana Benador argued this week that Anthony Weiner (who is a Jew) may have converted to Islam but was hiding it from the world in accordance with the practice of "taqiyya."

"It is also important, when looking at this situation, to remember that observant Muslims practice taqiyya, an element of sharia that states there is a legal right and duty to distort the truth to promote the cause of Islam," Benador wrote.

In invoking the Arabic term "taqiyya," Benador exemplified a practice we've noticed in the past few years. It's become common for right-wing writers and even politicians to matter-of-factly toss around Arabic terminology when warning of the Muslim threat to America. These references, often made in ominous tones, are almost always without context.

So we thought it would be useful to hear explanations of terms like "taqiyya" from an expert. John Esposito, university professor at Georgetown and author of "What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam," was kind enough to explain six of the more common Islamic terms we've been hearing. Esposito wrote the "What it actually means" items below, following my introductions.
Link: Arabic for Right Wingers

Female Priests Defy Catholic Church at the Altar

Female Priests Defy Catholic Church at the Altar, by Lily Percy (NPR All Things Considered, 12 June 2011)

In 2002, seven women were secretly ordained as priests by two Roman Catholic bishops in Germany. After their ordination, a kind of domino effect ensued.

Those seven women went on to ordain other women, and a movement to ordain female priests all around the world was born. The movement, named Roman Catholic Womenpriests, says more than a hundred women have been ordained since 2002, and two-thirds of them are in the U.S.

On a recent June day in Maryland, four more women were ordained as priests. The gallery at St. John's United Church of Christ was filled with Catholic priests and nuns, there to support the women and the ordination movement — though visitors were asked not to photograph them. Witnessing the ceremony was enough to risk excommunication.
Link: Female Priests Defy Catholic Church at the Altar

07 June 2011

Generous Love: The Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue

Generous Love: The Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue

The truth of the Gospel and the call to dialogue. An Anglican theology of inter faith relations. A report from the Anglican Communion Network for Inter Faith Concerns.
Link: Generous Love: The Truth of the Gospel and the Call to Dialogue

Harvey Cox discusses people who are Spiritual But Not Religious

Harvey Cox discusses people who are Spiritual But Not Religious (Boston Globe, 3 June 2011)

Sam Allis interviews Harvey Cox on his views of people who are spiritual but not religious (SBNRs).

Link: Harvey Cox discusses people who are Spiritual But Not Religious

JTS Ordains Its First Openly Gay Rabbi

JTS Ordains Its First Openly Gay Rabbi, by Debra Nussbaum Cohen (Forward, 25 May 2011)

Rachel Isaacs has known, for as long as she can remember, that she wanted to be a rabbi. But Isaacs, who on May 19 became the first openly gay rabbi of either sex to be ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary, knew by the time she was in college that she wouldn’t be able to become a Conservative rabbi because JTS, at the time, did not ordain gay clergy.

When the Conservative movement changed its policy five years ago, after nearly two decades of painful and divisive debate, Isaacs was in her first year of rabbinical school at the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion — and deeply immersed in her studies there. “I loved my teachers and classmates and couldn’t imagine being someplace else. I was happy for the [Conservative] movement but was unsure what it meant for me personally,” she said.
Link: JTS Ordains Its First Openly Gay Rabbi

Why Interfaith Dialogue Doesn't Work -- And What We Can Do About It

Why Interfaith Dialogue Doesn't Work -- And What We Can Do About It, by Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie (Huffington Post, 29 May 2011)

I have been participating in interfaith dialogue as a rabbi and Jewish leader for more than 30 years, and most of the time it just doesn't work.

Most of the time -- and it is painful for me to admit this -- it is terribly boring. Most of the time there is a tendency to manufacture consensus, whether it exists or not. Most of the time we go to great lengths to avoid conflict. Most of the time we cover the same ground that we covered last month or the month before. And far too often we finish our session without really knowing the people across the table and what makes them tick religiously.

And most of we time we are satisfied with mouthing a few noble, often-repeated sentiments. Thus, we affirm the importance of mutual understanding, tolerance and dialogue; we assert that all human beings are created in the image of God; we proclaim that despite our differences, all of our traditions preach love of humankind and service to humanity. Nothing is wrong with these sentiments, of course; in conceptual terms, I believe in them all. But if we don't dig beneath the surface and focus on substance rather than rhetoric, they mean very little.

The result is that most of the time, interfaith discussions are simply excruciating, irrelevant to me and to the world around me. Why then have I been so involved for so many years?
Link: Why Interfaith Dialogue Doesn't Work -- And What We Can Do About It

The New Roman Missal: Challenge & Opportunity (John F. Baldovin, SJ)

The New Roman Missal: Challenge and Opportunity (Presentation by John F. Baldovin, SJ)

Part I: History of a Translation

The Roman Missal is the book containing the prescribed prayers, chants and instructions for the celebration of Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Published first in Latin under the title Missale Romanum, the text is then translated and is published in modern languages for use in local churches throughout the world. In this video, Fr. John Baldovin, SJ, gives a background on the history of the translations, their implications and how we got to the latest translation of the Missale Romanum soon to be implemented in United States parishes in November 2011.

Part II: Exploring the New Translation

In this video, Fr. John Baldovin, SJ, explains some of the most important changes occurring in this new translation of the Roman Missal including some of the well-known responses and acclamations of the people and updated translations of existing prayers.

Part III: Examination of Conscience

In this video, Fr. John Baldovin, SJ, encourages Jesuits to consider their own habits as they preside and celebrate the Sacred Liturgy with this new translation and to consider an examination of conscience as they prepare to use and engage with this new text.

Married Couples in Less Than Half of US Households

Married Couples in Less Than Half of US Households, by Nigel Duara, AP (ABC News, 28 May 2011)

Data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau shows married couples have found themselves in a new position: They're no longer the majority. It's a trend that's been creeping along for decades, but in the 2010 Census, married couples represent 48 percent of all households. That's down from 52 percent in the last Census and, for the first time in U.S. history, puts households led by married couples as a plurality.
Link: Married Couples in Less Than Half of US Households

Studies Finds Brain Differences Based On Faith

Studies Finds Brain Differences Based On Faith, by Yonat Shimron, Religious News Service (USA Today, 25 May 2011)

For decades, mainline Protestants have been beset by bad news: declining numbers, aging membership, waning cultural influence.A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated.

The study, which examined the hippocampus region of the brain, found that Protestants who did not have a "born again" experience had significantly more gray matter than either those who reported a life-changing religious experience, Catholics, or unaffiliated older adults.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Templeton Foundation, included at least two MRI measurements of the hippocampus region of 268 adults between 1994 and 2005.
Link: Studies Finds Brain Differences Based On Faith

Congregations Gone Wild

Congregations Gone Wild, by G. Jeffrey MacDonald (New York Times, 7 August 2010)

THE American clergy is suffering from burnout, several new studies show. And part of the problem, as researchers have observed, is that pastors work too much. Many of them need vacations, it’s true. But there’s a more fundamental problem that no amount of rest and relaxation can help solve: congregational pressure to forsake one’s highest calling.

The pastoral vocation is to help people grow spiritually, resist their lowest impulses and adopt higher, more compassionate ways. But churchgoers increasingly want pastors to soothe and entertain them. It’s apparent in the theater-style seating and giant projection screens in churches and in mission trips that involve more sightseeing than listening to the local people.
Link: Congregations Gone Wild

White Feminist Privilege in Organizations

White Privilege Diary Series #1 - White Feminist Privilege in Organizations, by Kali Tal (hepshiba) (Daily Kos, 22 May 2011)

Over the last thirty years I've worked with a variety of white-dominated feminist organizations that have expressed a wish to "diversify." While feminist organizations differ in structure and intent, the reasons these various organizations gave for bringing me in as a consultant or to hold workshops were strikingly similar. "Why," they wanted to know, "can't we attract women of color to our organization? And when they do show up, why don't they stay?" Sometimes I worked alone, but often I worked with an African American feminist partner. We found, over time, a depressing similarity of pattern as, one after another, the organizations we counseled decided that our suggestions would be "too difficult" to implement. This diary describes my experiences in the world of white feminist organizations and NGOs, and offers an analysis of the key problems of white privilege and the investment of many white feminist institutions in racist practices.
Link: White Privilege Diary Series #1 - White Feminist Privilege in Organizations

Malta's Referendum on Liberalising Divorce Laws

  • Malta Reacts to Historic Vote to Introduce Divorce, by Mario Cacciottolo (BBC News, 29 May 2011)

    Malta's history has begun a new chapter after its citizens voted to introduce divorce to the island. Apart from a brief period when the island fell under Napoleon's rule for about two years, divorce has never existed legally there. The referendum outcome, its repercussions for society and the message sent to the island's Catholic Church authorities make the result as significant a moment as when Malta joined the European Union in 2004.

  • Malta's Bitter Divorce Debate Comes to a Head, by Peter Popham (The Independent [UK], 29 May 2011)

    Malta, the world's last bastion of Catholic domination outside the Vatican, is today riven by bitter hostility as it awaits the results of a fiercely contested referendum on divorce. The crowded little archipelago halfway across the Mediterranean was left as the last European country to forbid divorce when the Irish Republic reformed its marriage law in 1995; today it is the last in the world except for the Philippines. Divorce has been a burning issue on Malta for decades. Supporters of reform say that 30 per cent of marriages in the country end in separation, and that great and unnecessary suffering is caused when couples are unable to marry again because their previous, failed marriages cannot be dissolved. Nearly one-third of children are born out of wedlock.

06 June 2011

John Dominic Crossan: The Dangers of Christian Fundamentalism (YouTube)

John Dominic Crossan discusses the dangers inherent in Christian fundamentalism:

Anerica's First Mormon President?

America's First Mormon President? By Guy Adams (The Independent [UK], 2 June 2011)

A statue of the angel Moroni gazes triumphantly over Salt Lake City. Covered in gold leaf and clutching a bugle, he glistens amid an identikit cluster of skyscrapers and fast-food outlets of Utah's largest metropolis. His celestial perch is atop the 68-metre-tall spire of a vast temple built to glorify a God who is worshiped by 60 per cent of the state's almost three million residents, about 2 per cent of Americans and a total of more than 14 million devout men and women in about 170 countries.

Salt Lake City is the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, whose worshippers are better known as Mormons. It is one of the world's wealthiest and fastest-growing religions, baptising new members in scores of countries at a rate of 400,000 a year. Moroni's vantage point, the Salt Lake Temple, is the Church's equivalent of Mecca or the Vatican. At night, bathed in floodlight, the building's pale granite walls become luminescent, turning the 160-year-old landmark into a beacon of unbending faith that can be seen for miles.

But a better-known white building could soon flicker on this angel's horizon: the big one, in Washington DC, which is home to the most powerful man in the world. With 18 months until the United States selects its next president, two of the top three contenders for the Republican nomination also happen to be Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Link: America's First Mormon President?

You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus, by Stephen Prothero (USa Today, 5 June 2011)

The new darling of the Republican Party is pro-choice and anti-religion. She once wrote that, since "an embryo has no rights," abortion "should be left to the sole discretion of the woman involved." And when asked by Playboy magazine whether religion "ever offered anything of constructive value to human life" she answered "no," adding that "faith, as such, is extremely detrimental to human life."

Her name is Ayn Rand, and though she died in 1982 this novelist, philosopher and anti-communist crusader is the hot new thing in the GOP. The American public may have met the April opening Atlas Shrugged, a film based on her novel of the same name, with a collective shrug, but Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh tout her books, and her genius. And the opening line of "Atlas Shrugged" ("Who is John Galt?") pops up regularly on handmade signs at Tea Party rallies.
Link: You can't reconcile Ayn Rand and Jesus

05 June 2011

Actually, that's not in the Bible

Actually, that's not in the Bible by John Blake (CNN, 5 June 2011)

NFL legend Mike Ditka was giving a news conference one day after being fired as the coach of the Chicago Bears when he decided to quote the Bible. “Scripture tells you that all things shall pass,” a choked-up Ditka said after leading his team to only five wins during the previous season. “This, too, shall pass.”

Ditka fumbled his biblical citation, though. The phrase “This, too, shall pass” doesn’t appear in the Bible. Ditka was quoting a phantom scripture that sounds like it belongs in the Bible, but look closer and it’s not there.

Ditka’s biblical blunder is as common as preachers delivering long-winded public prayers. The Bible may be the most revered book in America, but it’s also one of the most misquoted. Politicians, motivational speakers, coaches - all types of people - quote passages that actually have no place in the Bible, religious scholars say.
Link: Actually, that's not in the Bible