The newSpin newsletter
January 27, 2015
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• Trinity Institute: Creating Common Good … Trinity Institute took place Thursday, Jan. 22, through Sunday. Many videos of Trinity Institute as well as many other video offerings of Trinity Wall Street may be found here.
• First female Church of England bishop consecrated in York … [The Guardian, London] The Rt. Rev. Libby Lane has been made the bishop of Stockport. Read on. Also, at RNS. • Guardian Editorial: A hands-on approach … The consecration at York Minster of the Rev Libby Lane as the new bishop of Stockport shows that the Church of England has got at least one foot in the 21st century; the consecration next week of the Rev Philip North as bishop of Burnley shows that it still has a rump in the fifth. She will be the first female bishop in the church’s history; he has been chosen partly because he represents the irreconcilable opponents of women as priests or bishops. When she is consecrated, almost all the other bishops of the northern part of the Church of England will gather round to lay their hands on her, and on each other, as a sign and an enactment of the physical links that run back through the centuries to the disciples whom Jesus first touched; when he is consecrated, only three bishops will touch him, and they will be ones who have taken care never to touch a woman in the sacramental way that will welcome her as a bishop. Read on.
• Vaccine deniers stick together. And now they're ruining things for everyone … See below, under "HealthSpin"
• Environmental Journalism … [Poynter] Last week, The Washington Post kicked off its energy and environment section with a blog post by Chris Mooney, the section’s primary writer. In it, he stressed the importance of thoughtful and comprehensive coverage of the environment. He talked to us about The Post’s plans for tackling the environmental beat, the current gaps in environmental coverage and getting through to climate change skeptics. Read on.
• An Open Letter to Clergy and Families in the Diocese of Bethlehem … from the diocesan chaplains. Find it here.
•• Mission to Kajo Keji … Father Dennis Blauser, a rector from the Diocese of Northwestern PA, Mr. Charlie Barebo and Archdeacon Rick Cluett are home from a weeklong mission trip to Kajo Keji in South Sudan. Info and pics at Rick's Facebook page.
•• Diocesan Staff Structure, Roles and Responsibilities … [Bishop Sean, Progress Report] As we begin 2015, I am glad to report that we are making progress in reorganizing the diocese to align our staff, resources and structures with the work we need to do to become a more spiritually vital, financially healthy diocese. The staff has been restructured, the listening process led by Episcopal Moment has concluded and we will soon issue its report, and later this year, the diocese's governance bodies will consider strategic planning issues and possible improvements to the diocese's governance structures.
• Jubilate and Prayers of the People … Canon Cliff Carr, an assisting priest at Trinity Bethlehem, will be giving Trinity his Jubilate and Prayers of the People to post. They will be available at this link as Trinity receives them. If you have Gmail, they pop up automatically when you click on the appropriate file. (I'm not sure what that means, but I am sure that the person who provided this knows what she is talking about.) We are so grateful for Father Cliff's long service to us all, in creating Jubilate and the weekly Prayers. [h/t Canon Laura Howell]
•• Resources ... Here.
• Trinity West Pittston and St. Clement and St Peter Wilkes Barre … [John Major] will be "takin' it to the streets" with a winter project: The Episcopal Church: Warming The NEPA Region...One Cup of Soup at a Time. Look for our tent and free home-made soup at a location near you.
•• Resources ... Here.
Episcopal/Anglican – beyond DioBeth
• Debate about the theology of addiction … [WaPo, Michelle Boorstein] The case of a high-ranking Episcopal bishop accused of driving under the influence and texting when she fatally struck a bicyclist has raised questions about issues including church politics and bike lanes. But no debate about Bishop Heather Cook has been as intense as that about the theology of addiction. Read on.
• Inequality as a Religious Issue: A Conversation With the Archbishop of Canterbury … [Michael Paulson, NYTimes] Last week, Archbishop Welby was in New York for a conference on inequality at Trinity Wall Street.. On Thursday, he spoke with Michael Paulson, a religion reporter for The New York Times, about income inequality, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris, divisions in the Church of England and Pope Francis. Read on.
• Former Catholic priest and advocate for immigrants joins Episcopal Church … [NCR] Richard Estrada, 72, has made a name for himself in Los Angeles. He founded the first homeless shelter for immigrant youth in the city, planned the historic immigration march of 2006, and provided thousands of gallons of water to those crossing the border, dying of fatigue. Now a former Catholic priest, Estrada recently decided to join the Episcopal church. Estrada's concerns and motives fall with the 52 percent of Catholics who favor gay marriage and the 70 percent who favor ordination of women as clergy without special requirements. He told the Los Angeles Times that he felt "the pain of his gay and lesbian parishioners who were ashamed of their sexuality, and of women who he felt were treated as second-class citizens." Estrada joined the Episcopal church in August, partly because women, gays and lesbians are allowed to serve as priests and bishops. Read on. Also Episcopal Café/LATimes.
•• Report to the Episcopal Church 2015 … [Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs press release] An innovative online magazine detailing the mission and ministry, accomplishments and achievements of the Domestic and Missionary Society during the current triennium, had been unveiled at the Executive Council meeting on January 9. It is available here and can be downloaded at no charge. Read on.
•• The Task Force for Reimagining the Episcopal Church (TREC) TREC also released A Word to the Episcopal Church about its final report. Consider participating in the first of three free courses on reimagining church leadership produced by ChurchNext in partnership with TREC. The second and third free courses will be available during the coming weeks.
•• Reimagining the church with TREC ... Another free online course. Christlike Leadership with Dwight Zscheile. Leadership and Innovation with Dwight Zscheile. The Baptismal Covenant with Frederica Thompsett. Leadership and Truth Telling with Winnie Varghese. Learn about the essentials of church leadership in a changing landscape. In this first of three TREC courses on church leadership three seasoned leaders tell us what's needed to nurture and build healthy communities. For more info and to register.
• Going paperless in the Diocese of Texas … No printed documents will be provided for pre-Council meetings or at Council. [Note: The Diocese of Texas call their diocesan convention Diocesan Council.] Clergy and delegates who require a hard copy of nominees or proposed amendments and changes to the constitution and canons must print them from the website or download them to mobile devices. Read on.
• Trinity Institute: Creating Common Good … Trinity Institute took place Friday, Jan. 22, through Sunday. Many videos of Trinity Institute as well as many other video offerings of Trinity Wall Street may be found here.
OldSpin – Do you remember?
• Henry Male … [Diocesan Life, September 1993] announced his retirement as rector of the Church of the Epiphany early in 1993. He had served as rector there since 1967. "It's time to leave," he said. "I've been here long enough. I'm now marrying and baptizing the children of people I baptized. I think they need a break." Henry served the diocesan community in many ways, including 16 years as diocesan ecumenical officer.
• Don Knapp … [Diocesan Life, December 1993] retired after 24 years as rector of Grace Allentown. "I'm a forceful kind of person when I'm not totally a coward – and that comes and goes," he said in his sermon on the Sunday he announced his retirement. "We have done a lot here we can be proud of. Praise to God who gives us life and energy to do these things. I have pushed you to the limit – in ways that have been good, and at times not so good." Grace parishioner Dr. Headley White said, "Don Knapp fit well with Grace Church's needs – to remain a viable church that could minister to the inner city. His drive and fresh ideas have kept the church alive." Then Grace parishioner Bill Lewellis said at the time, "Monica and I found a home in the Episcopal Church 12 years ago (1981), but were it not for Don Knapp's creative, compassionate and venturesome concern, we might still be adrift in nondenominational space. We owe him – and we love him – as do so many. He has been for us a good and perfect gift from God."
• Hitchhiking the Word … A blog by Bishop Andy Doyle, Diocese of Texas, dedicated to finding meaning in the readings appointed for Sunday in the Episcopal Church. Including resources for going deeper in bible study. Here.
• Theology: It matters … [Patheos] I attended a fascinating panel discussion on “Writing about Religion in an Age of Polarization” at Boston College. During the talk, one panelist, New York Times religion columnist Mark Oppenheimer, offhandedly claimed that theology isn’t important. His reasoning? America is an experiment in theology not mattering – in getting along despite our private differences in faith. But what Oppenheimer didn’t reckon with is that everyone has a theology – a root idea of what they think the world is and why we’re here. These ideas profoundly influence the way we live our lives and the choices we make. This is why I’m pretty sure theology actually matters. And if we had intelligent, public theological discourse, it could make us more aware of our unspoken motivations and values – and less susceptible to the lousy theological reasoning (“God loves America, so we can wage holy war against our enemies!”) that permeates American public culture. Read on.
• Attics (or closets) … [Joseph Komonchak, dotCommonweal]I’m reading Marylynne Robinson’s “Home” and found this lovely description, which may evoke memories in others, too, or make them think of their own attics now, or closets.... "Glory went up to the attic, the limbo of things that had been displaced from current use but were not in the strict sense useless. If civilization were to collapse, for example, there might be every reason to be glad for this hoard of old shoes and bent umbrellas, all of which would be better than nothing, however badly they might fare in any other comparison. Other pious families gave away the things they did not need. Boughtons put them in the attic, as if to make an experiment of doing without them before they undertook some irreparable act of generosity. Then, what with the business of life and the passage of time, what with the pungency of mothballs and the inevitable creep of dowdiness through any stash of old clothes, however smart they might have been when new, it became impossible to give the things away. From time to time their mother would come down from the attic empty-handed, brushing dust off herself, and write a check for the orphans’ home." What's in your attic or closet?
• Christianity cannot survive the decline in worship … [FaithStreet, Kazimierz Bem] In one way or another, the refrain I constantly hear is: “The Church of the future is the Church of service.” It takes all shapes and forms, but it always boils down to the same thing: Don’t focus on worship — “do stuff” instead! … Service is important. I’m not saying it isn’t. But experience — and history — tells me church must be more than that. … When people sometimes tell me they don’t get anything from worship, I am happy to answer, “That’s great! Because its not about you.” Our culture needs a place — we need a place in our lives — to tell us that not everything is always about us, about our personal happiness, our convenience, our frantic timetables, or shrinking commitments.
Some things are bigger than us. There needs to be a place where we are told uncomfortable truths about ourselves, our world and even about God — where we ask the questions our pop culture ignores or caricatures, and where we can look for answers. Where we pause — and reflect theologically.Worship is a central act of proclamation of God’s grace to us — in preaching and in faithful administration of sacraments. It needs to be robust, faithful, engaging — but its focus must be the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, God’s free, abundant, deep grace and love shown for us on the cross. … I agree with Nicholas Wolterstorff that service is the part of worship after the assembly disperses into their daily lives. But unless our service is grounded in worship and an understanding that what we do is in gratitude for what God has done for us first, then we will end up as the all-too-familiar “Church of revolving doors.” The endless call for more volunteers, more mission projects, more social justice, more calls to action will sooner or later exhaust our members and us. They will come, join us for one project, and then burn out and leave us, never to return. That’s not a future — that’s self-destruction. As Richard Niebuhr once wrote, “If a church has no other plan of salvation than to offer men than one of deliverance by force, education, idealism … it really has no existence as a church and needs to resolve itself into a political party or school.”
My congregants do a lot of social justice and community projects through work, family, and friends. The role of the Church is not to guilt them into doing more and more. Rather, the role of the Church, through worship of God, is to ground them and refresh them in the faith and love of Jesus Christ so that, despite cranky bosses and annoying co-workers, they will continue in the service they are already doing. The church is not made holy by the work it does — Protestants should understand that better than anyone. Rather, it is Jesus Christ and his cross that make us holy. Our service can never replace it, copy it, or perfect it. Our service can only be our response in gratitude for what God has done for us. Read on.
•• Reflection on daily Lectionary readings … Bruce Marold of Trinity Bethlehem, email@example.com, has written comments and reflections on daily Lectionary readings for over 4 years, on and off, from before he started at the seminary. He discontinued them sometime in 2013. His faithful conscience, Mithril, the theological cat – don't let the cat get you, it's worth continuing on – insists that since we are now at the beginning of a new year, that he resume this practice. He does the New Testament reading for each of the seven days, plus the Gospel for Sunday. Depending on how that works, he may replace the Sunday epistle reading with the psalm for the week, and do the Gospel on Sunday. These reflections appear daily on Mithril's Facebook page, accompanied by an image suggested by the text. These are reflections, as they are less commentary and far more personal reaction to the reading, and anything from our culture, from ancient days to today, is fair game. When he started this, in 2009, he would pore over thick commentaries to get something readers may not have encountered. Now, he's burning that bridge and relying on his impressions, hoping that they may spark reflective impressions of your own.
• Bring on the snow. Just don't take away my Internet … [Wired] Short and sweet, this Wired essay by Emily Dreyfuss explains that being snowed in could be wonderful — unless her Internet service goes out. Then her connection to work is lost. The same goes for television, since cable cutters get Netflix and other entertainments from the web. She has just two DVDs in the house, and one of them is an X-rated movie featuring her father, Richard Dreyfuss, which she’s never watched “for obvious reasons.” (I’ve seen it. It’s actually pretty great.) Without Internet, she tells us, “all the things I’ve procrastinated for a year will be the only option short of sleeping.” Funny runs in that family. Read on. [h/t NYTimes, What We're Reading]
• The religious politics of abortion are more nuanced than we think … [RNS, Jacob Lupfer] Formulaic media reports about abortion politics rarely dig beneath the surface to reveal how people of faith defy the stereotypes and easy labels that persist about them.… The religious spectrum on abortion is much more nuanced than the media coverage or activists’ signs lead you to believe. Most Americans understand that a properly formed Christian conscience cannot countenance the destruction of human life at its most vulnerable. But not all are ready to criminalize the procedure and drive up demand for a dangerous black market and self-abortive devices and drugs. Read on.
• Pope Francis, Birth Control and American Catholics … See below, under "Roman Catholic"
• Ditch monuments in favor of messages … [Tom Ehrich, RNS] I was working with a historic church, whose majestic facility was built long ago by wealthy industrialists. The church needed to raise $3 million each year just for facilities maintenance and repairs, plus another $3 million to operate the church, do outreach and serve constituents. It was an impossible task. If all members — not the 50 percent who actually donate — gave at normal giving levels, they would need 3,000 pledges, three times their most optimistic count. Meanwhile, emergency repairs required a major capital campaign on top of the $3 million nut. Read on.
• Two Paths: Privilege and Internalized Oppression … [T. Scott Allen] February is Black History month and we have just observed Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a national holiday. But the news headlines betray that the state of race relations in this country is anything but harmonious. As one of the certified diocesan trainers (along with The Rev. Trula Hollywood) for Seeing the Face of God in Christ and One Another (the General Convention’s recommended anti-racism training program for the Episcopal Church) I heard a helpful thing at our last Province Three Anti-Racism Committee meeting in Martinsburg, WV. One of our leaders said that the challenged path for a white person is understanding White Privilege and for persons of color it was Internalized Oppression. Both People of Color and European-Americans have a learning curve on these topics. Read on.
• There’s nothing secular about Boko Haram … [Colbert King, Op-Ed, WaPo] A reader of last week’s column about Islamist extremism wrote, “It is not really about Islam. It is about things you understand all too well: poverty, alienation, disenfranchisement, and a search for meaning and identity. Identifying with Muslim extremist groups gives terrorists a package of support, doctrine, and legitimacy to draw on.” The writer commented that, while Boko Haram does not have “much to do with Islam,” through its militancy it is able to attract money and training from groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State. Read on.
• Jenifer Gamber … edited and contributed to the ERD 2015 Lenten Meditation booklet, now available here. This year’s devotional focuses on creating economic opportunities and strengthening communities, with a particular focus on empowering women. As usual, the booklets are available free.
•• Christ Episcopal Church Reading … [Reading Eagle, Bruce Posten] features prominently in a story, Church Pews Slowly Open Up for Diversity, that begins on the Dec. 26 front page. Rector John Francis says that when he was called to the church ten years ago, the nonwhite membership was five to ten percent at most – now 40%, mostly Latino and African American. Read on. [Note: the continuation link is at the top of the newspaper page.]
•• Resources ... Here.
•• Resources ... Here.
Rest in Peace
• James Stevenson … The Rev. James Stevenson died Sunday morning [Jan. 25] after a long illness. Jim was the retired former rector of Trinity, West Pittston, and an assisting priest at St. Stephen's Pro Cathedral in Wilkes-Barre. Please keep his wife, Judy, and their son, Ian, in your prayers. The funeral will be at St. Stephen's Pro Cathedral, Wilkes-Barre, 11:00 a.m., Thursday [Jan. 29]. You might find an obituary here on Wednesday. Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of comfort: deal graciously, we pray, with Judy and Ian and all who mourn; that casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
• Marcus J. Borg, 72 … [RNS] a prominent liberal theologian and Bible scholar who for a generation helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament, died on Wednesday (Jan. 21). He had been suffering from a prolonged illness, friends said. Read on at RNS and ENS. He was married to Episcopal priest Marianne Borg. Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will officiate at a March 22 memorial service honoring Borg’s life at Trinity Cathedral in Portland Oregon where Borg had been a member for years. In memoriam. And at NYTimes, Laurie Goodstein.
• Ruth C. Fleming, 87 … Ruth C. Fleming, 87, died Friday, January 23. Ruth was a member of Trinity Bethlehem. She volunteered for Episcopal Society for Ministry on Aging for 10 years and the Soup Kitchen at Trinity for 15 years. She is survived by a sister, Alice Hillman of Whippany, NJ; two nephews, George Hillman of San Diego, CA; John Hillman, his wife Ellen and three great nieces of Whippany, NJ. A funeral service will be held on Friday, January 30, 10:00 a.m. in Trinity Church, 44 East Market Street, Bethlehem. Interment will follow in Nisky Hill Cemetery. At Ruth's request, there will be no viewing. Online condolences may be left for the family at www.jamesfuneralhome.org. In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials in memory of Ruth be made to Trinity Bethlehem.
• Richard McBrien, 78 … [NCR] who as a scholar brought distinction to a university theology department and who as an author and often-interviewed popular expert explained the Catholic church to the wider world, died early Sunday morning [Jan. 25]. McBrien had been seriously ill for several years and had moved recently from South Bend, Ind., to his native Connecticut. It would be difficult to find a figure comparable in making understandable to a broad public the basic beliefs and traditions of the Roman Catholic church.
For more than three decades, he was the star of the theology faculty at the University of Notre Dame and the go-to voice on all matters Catholic in the popular press. His books, particularly Catholicism, Lives of the Popes and Lives of the Saints, were staples of libraries, Catholic and non-Catholic alike. At his peak in the 1980s and ’90s, it is arguable that McBrien had a higher media profile than anyone in the Catholic church other than Pope John Paul II. He was the ideal interview: knowledgeable, able to express complex ideas in digestible sound bites, and utterly unafraid of controversy.
Unabashedly on the progressive side of most Catholic debates, McBrien advocated the ordination of women priests, an end to mandatory celibacy for priests, moral approval of artificial birth control, and decentralization of power in the church. In so doing, he helped to define the battle lines within Catholicism over the legacy of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Read on. Find AP obituary here.
May their souls and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
His London-based agent, Barrie Marshall, said Cocker died Monday of lung cancer in Colorado, where he has lived for the past two decades. - See more at: http://www.legacy.com/ns/obituary.aspx?n=joe-cocker&pid=173558813#sthash.22Z9bcRa.dpuf
• Legalized Bribery … [NYTimes, Zephyr Teachout] Corruption exists when institutions and officials charged with serving the public serve their own ends. Under current law, campaign contributions are illegal if there is an explicit quid pro quo, and legal if there isn’t. But legal campaign contributions can be as bad as bribes in creating obligations. The corruption that hides in plain sight is the real threat to our democracy. Think of campaign contributions as the gateway drug to bribes. In our private financing system, candidates are trained to respond to campaign cash and serve donors’ interests. Politicians are expected to spend half their time talking to funders and to keep them happy. Given this context, it’s not hard to see how a bribery charge can feel like a technical argument instead of a moral one.
… The structure of private campaign finance has essentially pre-corrupted our politicians, so that they can’t even recognize explicit bribery because it feels the same as what they do every day. When you spend a lifetime serving campaign donors, it may seem easy to serve them when they come with an outright bribe, because it doesn’t seem that different. Read on.
• Thomas Merton: Centenary takes note of a mystic for the ages … [ReligionLink] Jan. 31, 2015, marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Catholic mystic, monk and spiritual writer Thomas Merton. Though Merton died almost 50 years ago, his life and legacy have continued to intrigue and inspire believers of many faiths. Throughout 2015, universities, colleges, meditation/retreat centers and other organizations will mark the centennial with conferences, lectures, art exhibits and dance and music performances expected to draw many thousands. Events are slated for the U.S., Ireland, Italy, Australia, France, England, Brazil and more. What, if anything, can Thomas Merton teach us today? Read on.
•• How Ebola Roared Back … [NYTimes] For a fleeting moment last spring, the epidemic sweeping West Africa might have been stopped. But the opportunity to control the virus, which has now caused more than 7,800 deaths, was lost. … "It's like if a plane crashes in the Hudson in the morning, and there's a snowstorm in the afternoon and floods in the subways in the evening. And then you have two planes hit the World Trade Center in the middle of the night." [Dr. Robert Fowler of the World Health Organization, on the organization's facing an Ebola breakout in West Africa, while also handling crises in Saudi Arabia, China and Syria.] Read on. This is an excellent, though lengthy, feature.
• Episcopal Positions (NYC/DC) ... Here.
Ecumenism, Interfaith, Pluralism – or Not
• How Franklin Graham transformed a debate about Duke Chapel into a culture war … [RNS, Aaron Griffith] The apple does not fall too far from the tree, because even though Franklin Graham seems to have departed from his father’s more gentle demeanor, there is commonality in their communication strategy. Like his father, the younger Graham is preaching to the choir. Read on.
•• Knowledge, religion and vitriol at Duke … [WaPo, Steven Petrow] I wear several Duke hats these days, as an alumnus, a director of the alumni association and the uncle of a Duke freshman. I know the school well. But none of my roles prepared me for the tsunami set off last week by evangelist Franklin Graham’s Facebook post calling on the university to reverse its plan to broadcast a Muslim call to prayer this past Friday from the top of Duke Chapel. I never would have anticipated how this issue would cleave the community at Duke — whose motto, after all, is “eruditio et religio,” or knowledge and religion — and prompt for me a crisis of identities.
At first I felt pride that Duke had taken such a powerfully symbolic step at a time of so much uncertainty, fear and violence in the world. This is the Duke I know and love. But Graham’s post brought national attention to the campus, much of it ugly. I was stunned not just by the volume of social media comments that followed but also by their vitriol. Many relied on name-calling; others included shadowy threats: “I’m sure in the future,” said one post on Duke’s Facebook page. “Muslim representatives will honor your support for them by killing some innocent Christians some place near your campus.” Things only got cloudier and rowdier when college officials reversed course Thursday. The turnabout topped home-pages and front pages, and social media again lit up with both sides of the argument. Read on.
•• A change of heart? Inside the evangelical war over gay marriage … [Time Magazine] This lengthy piece in the Jan. 26 issue of Time (cover: After Paris) includes a two-part graphic based on Pew Research 2014. The first part shows what churches support/do not support same-sex marriage. Support: Evangelical Lutheran Church, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church USA, United Church of Christ. Do not support: Southern Baptist Convention, Roman Catholic Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, National Association of Evangelicals, United Methodist Church, National Baptist Convention.
The second part is a graph that shows the evolution (from 2001 to 2014) of % of support for same-sex marriage by members of U.S. reigious groups. (1) Unaffiliated churches: 61% to 77%, (2) White Mainline Protestants: 38% to 60%, (3) Catholics: 40% to 57%, (4) Black Protestants: 30% to 41%, and (5) White evangelical Protestants: 13% to 21%. Note the small difference between Catholics and White Mainline Protestants.
Evangelical Lutheran Church
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United Methodist Church
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Presbyterian Church USA
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• Pope Francis, Birth Control and American Catholics … [Frank Bruni, Op-Ed, NYTimes] “Forgive me, Father,” my mother would say time and again, in church after church, to confessor after confessor. “I use contraception.”She never met a priest who didn’t respond with some version of the following, and I’m paraphrasing with abandon:“Of course you do. You’re sane. Ignore Rome. Forget about the pope. There’s La-La Land, and then there’s the real world, in which you are clearly living. Say three Hail Marys because it can never hurt, and be on your way.”I’m being cheeky. I’m also being honest. There is perhaps no church teaching more widely derided and disobeyed than the hoary prohibition against any birth control other than strategic abstinence, known more euphemistically (and musically!) as the rhythm method.
And there’s none that more squarely places the Catholic hierarchy in opposition to modernity, practicality and prudence, none that gives Catholics more reason to regard some of the church’s edicts as quaint anachronisms and to follow their consciences in lieu of any commands. It’s the gateway estrangement. So when Pope Francis broached the topic last week, he was bound to whip up a storm of attention, even without a choice of words that “set a new standard for the papal vernacular,” as The Times’s Elisabetta Povoledo observed. He was on the papal plane, en route from the Philippines back to Italy, and he was reflecting on the relationship between third-world poverty and extra-large families. He told reporters that Catholics needn’t feel compelled to breed “like rabbits,” a zoological simile that’s sure to have legs.
… The church came close to lifting its condemnation of contraception back in the 1960s, when a significant majority of theologians, bishops and cardinals who were asked to take a formal look at that teaching recommended such a swerve. Pope Paul VI overruled them — partly, it’s believed, out of fear that an admission of error on the birth-control front might prompt assaults on other teachings and open the fallibility floodgates.
… At my request, Gallup did a special breakdown of its “Values and Beliefs” survey from last May and looked at how the principles of people who identified themselves as Catholics diverged (or didn’t) from those of Americans on the whole. Catholics were only slightly less open to birth control, with 86 percent of them saying that it was “morally acceptable” in comparison with 90 percent of all respondents. But Catholics were more permissive than all respondents when it came to sex outside marriage (acceptable to 72 percent of Catholics versus 66 percent of Americans overall) and gay and lesbian relationships (70 percent versus 58). Read on.
• Under Pope Francis, American Catholics see the ‘pro-life’ label as broader than abortion … [WaPo, Michelle Boorstein] Nearly a year and a half after Pope Francis set off a firestorm by warning Catholics to stop “obsessing” about abortion, there are signs that they are following his advice — in a sense. Read on.
• To some in California, founder of church missions is far from saint … [NYTimes] For generations, fourth graders in California’s schools, often with a parent’s touch, built models of church missions out of poster board or sugar cubes to celebrate the Rev. Junipero Serra and the religious communities he established along the West Coast in the late 1700s. Last week, Pope Francis announced plans to canonize Father Serra, putting “the evangelizer of the West in the United States” closer to sainthood.
These days, the pious preacher who once walked much of what is now California, bringing Christianity to the American Indians, is viewed in less benevolent terms. Prominent Native Americans see Father Serra as far from saintly. Their reaction is as visceral as a dispute over occupied territory in the Middle East. Indian historians and authors blame Father Serra for the suppression of their culture and the premature deaths at the missions of thousands of their ancestors. Read on.
• As Vatican revisits divorce, many Catholics long for acceptance … [NYTimes] Mark Garren does not take communion when he goes to church. Sometimes he walks up to the priest, crosses his arms over his chest and touches his shoulders to signal that he is seeking a blessing. More often, mindful of his divorce years ago, Mr. Garren, a 64-year-old Illinoisan, remains in his pew, watching with slight embarrassment as the rest of the row moves to the front of the church. Pamela Crawford, 46, of Virginia, is having none of that. Twice divorced, she, too, feels judged by her church, but when she does go to Mass, she walks up with the rest of the congregation. “If God has a problem with me taking communion, we’ll sort it out,” she said.
Facing millions of divorced Catholics around the world, many of whom express frustration over their status in the church, the Vatican has begun a remarkable re-examination of the church’s treatment of worshipers whose marriages have broken apart. Pope Francis, who plans to make his first trip to the United States in September to attend a conference on families, has acknowledged the concerns of divorced Catholics. He has set in motion a high-level debate about whether and how the church could change its posture toward them without altering a doctrine that declares marriage to be permanent and indissoluble. Read on.
•• Resources ... Here.
•• The pope said what?!? … [CNN, Daniel Burke] Stunners from Francis. Here.
• Vaccine deniers stick together. And now they're ruining things for everyone … [WaPo, Jason Millman] The rash of measles cases that started in Disneyland last month has now become one of the worst outbreaks of the diseases in California in the past 15 years. What started with a handful of cases has now grown to 62 confirmed cases across the state — and other cases have been reported in Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Washington state and Mexico.California requires kids to get vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, but state law provides a loophole — parents can get a "personal belief waiver" if they think there's a link between vaccines and autism and other harmful effects. That's even though studies have continuously found vaccines to be safe.
Seth Mnookin, a journalist who's chronicled the anti-vaccination movement, observed a few years ago that you only had to go visit a Whole Foods to find anti-vaxxers.Now, it doesn't seem that anyone's actually done the science on that one, but Mnookin's point here is obvious — the anti-vaccination movement is fueled by an over-privileged group of rich people grouped together who swear they won't put any chemicals in their kids (food or vaccines or whatever else), either because it's trendy to be all-natural or they don't understand or accept the science of vaccinations. Their science denying has been propelled further by celebrities, like Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and actress Mayim Bialik, who is also a neuroscientist and even plays one on TV.
Of the 34 patients in the current measles outbreak whose vaccination status is known, only five were fully vaccinated, according to the Los Angeles Times. And the worst of the outbreak is centered in Orange County, ground zero for the anti-vaccination movement that's put children at risk over junk science. Read on.
•• Flu, other bugs hit Lehigh Valley hard … [The Morning Call] The flu's rampage through the Lehigh Valley has entered its fourth week with little sign of abating any time soon. "We're probably going to see a fair amount of flu for the next few weeks," warned Dr. Jeffrey Jahre, St. Luke's University Health Network's chief of infectious diseases. Both St. Luke's and Lehigh Valley Health Network, the region's two biggest health-care providers, reported sustained, heavy emergency room traffic. Circulating is a particularly nasty strain of the flu called A-H3N2 — against which the vaccine offers little protection. The government last week made clear how little protection: The vaccine is only 23 percent effective — one of the worst performances in the last decade — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. The vaccine is prepared months in advance of the flu season, based on health experts' forecast of what strains are likely to be prevalent. The forecast, however, can be off — sometimes a little, sometimes more so, as was the case this time. The CDC describes the flu as "widespread" — the agency's highest designation — throughout nearly the entire country, including Pennsylvania. Read on.
•• The flu and you: Tips … [The Morning Call] Here. It's not "just" the flu, but it's not too late to get a flu shot.
•• Flu shots ... Info from the CDC Here and Here. A lot of good info also at flu.gov.
• How Jesus became God … [ Commonweal] Luke Timothy Johnson reviews Bart D. Ehrman's new book, “The Exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee.” The greatest deficiency in Ehrman’s work is that he does not even seem aware of the language of religious experience that pervades Paul’s letters and that paradoxically provides us with the earliest historical evidence for the basis of Christian convictions. The deficiency is not his alone, to be sure. It characterizes all those who seek to secure or discredit the truth of the Gospel by means of merely verifiable facts. But the good news is not and never has been based in verifiable fact; from the beginning and still today, it is based in the experience of God’s power. Read on.
• Sundance documenary pulls back curtain on Scientology… [AP] "Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief" recently at the Sundance Film Festival to a packed house — not with a star-studded red carpet, but with police protection. A week before the premiere, the Church of Scientology took out full-page ads in the New York Times and Los Angeles Times claiming the documentary is filled with falsehoods.
Based on Lawrence Wright's 2013 book of the same name, Oscar winner Alex Gibney's film claims that the church routinely intimidates, manipulates and even tortures its members, tracing the rise of the religion and its founder, former science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, and his successor as head of the church, David Miscavige. Gibney also interviewed several former Scientology believers, including past executives. Paul Haggis, director of the Oscar-winning "Crash," left the church in 2009 after decades of membership. "I was really stupid. I was part of this for 30 years before I spoke out," he says in the film. "I was deeply ashamed." As Haggis climbed "the bridge" to the most enlightened levels of Scientology, he finally learned Hubbard's ultimate theory: That a tyrannical galactic overlord named Xenu dropped frozen bodies from millions of years ago into volcanoes, and those spirits attach themselves to modern people today. Scientology is the means of ridding the body and mind of those spirits to become "clear." Read on.
•• Resources ... Here
• The endlessly rolling ocean … [Kottke] If you'd like to relax for 80 minutes, watch this 4K video shot from the bow of a container ship navigating the South China Sea. Strangely compelling.
As soon as the newSpin newsletter is completed, usually by Tuesday, it is uploaded to the newSpin blog and posted on Bakery and on other diocesan lists of nearly 4,000 addresses. Many recipients often forward it to others. The newsletter comes, of course, with some spin from the editor. The views expressed, implied or inferred in items or links contained in the newsletter or the blog do not represent the official view of the Diocese of Bethlehem unless expressed by or forwarded from the Bishop, the Standing Committee or the Archdeacon as an official communication. If you're wondering why you haven't seen something related to your parish or agency here, it's likely that no one has sent relevant info. If you think something about your parish or agency merits inclusion, send email to Bill. Comments are welcome on Bakery (if you are subscribed to that interactive list) anf at the newSpin blog. Click at the newSpin blog in the right hand column on the title of the current newsletter. Then, make your comment below.
Bill Lewellis, Diocese of Bethlehem, retired
Communication Minister/Editor (1986-2010), Canon Theologian (1998-)
Blog , Email (c)610-393-1833
Be attentive. Be intelligent. Be reasonable. Be responsible.
Be in Love. And, if necessary, change. [Bernard Lonergan]