Being Mortal. Feb. 10 on PBS

Death is something we will all one day face. So why is it so hard for doctors to talk about dying with their patients? And how can the medical profession better help people navigate the final chapters of their lives with confidence, direction and purpose? Renowned surgeon and New Yorker writer Atul Gawande explored those questions in his #1 New York Times bestselling book, Being Mortal. Now, Gawande teams with FRONTLINE on a Feb. 10 [check local TV listings] documentary that challenges us all to reexamine how we think about death and dying. Three years in the making, Being Mortal is a provocative, powerful, and deeply personal look at how and why, in Gawande’s words, “medicine fails the people it’s supposed to help” at the end of life. Read on.

Oprah meets Dr. Phil meets Bishop Sheen

From Share the Bread, the evangelism blog of DioBeth:

The Hollywood Reporter says that Fr. Alberto Cutie, aka "Father Oprah," is starting a weekday syndicated daytime talk show. It will show up in the New York City and Los Angeles markets on local Fox-owned stations, and maybe in other markets.

Father Alberto Cutie, a bestselling author of self-help books and radio talk show host as well as a former Roman Catholic priest, will join the ranks of gabbers and host a daily syndie strip devoted to life matters.

"It'll be everything from sex to salvation," Father Alberto told The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday in Miami during the NATPE TV trade show.

Hopefully it'll invite "greater dialog" with the audience, he added. Sorta Oprah meets Dr. Phil meets Bishop Sheen, the only other religious personnage who ever fronted a national TV show. (And that was in the 1950s!)

The show is being licensed by Debmar-Mercury and the first station group to step up for a launch test is Fox.

The show will preview on a number of as yet unspecified Fox stations this summer. The Fox test markets will include N.Y. and L.A., the country's top two markets. Other non-Fox outlets may be invited to join the test as well.

Jack Abernethy, CEO of the Fox TV station group, said there has been a crying need for an inspirational show for stations for many years. "Something not dogmatic or rigid but uplifting and helpful to viewers. Such things are big business in other media like book publishing and the radio but not on television," he pointed out.

Father Cutie is not new to this kind of of work. He developed a huge following on Telemundo and in syndication in Latin America when, as a Roman Catholic, and became known as "Father Oprah."

The fact that an Episcopal priest has snagged a syndicated television project like this for a mass market audience (in two languages, no less!) is a very big deal. If it passes the test markets--mainly to see how well Cutie is received among non-Hispanic viewers who did not know him when he was on Telemundo--this will be a huge entry for the Episcopal Church in an audience that we do not often reach out to, in a forum that is new to us.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

Lost Horizons on TV and in Life

A column by Bishop Paul Marshall

[Published in the Opinion section of Episcopal Life Online and in the July/August issue of Diocesan Life]

From the old joke department, I told a colleague that I had a new heart medicine (I do), and that I was having some trouble following its directions. The first was easy: Do not drink alcohol while taking this medication. The second was harder: Keep away from children.

I was hoping for a quick chuckle, which I got. My colleague was more playful -- and thoughtful -- than I. He added, "It's an odd sort of medicine that thinks keeping away from children is good for your heart." Touché.

Children bring us so many gifts. Everybody has their favorite. Mine is that children bring out my imagination and sense of play. When I visit with children during a Sunday service, it's the time in the week I feel most free, most safe. It's good for my heart.

It was a great step in evolution when the Romantic movement discovered childhood. I found myself wishing I had a platoon of children to send in when the bloggers starting arguing after the final episode of "Lost" aired on television.

The series was about plane crash survivors who work out their personal issues and relationship problems on a Pacific island. The jungle island has polar bears, lost colonies, archaeological remains, and nuclear weapons. There are flash-forwards, backwards and sideways. And there is time travel.

In other words, it is all dreamlike and slightly mind-bending fun. Everything is imaginable, and in six seasons just about everything happens. People are born and people die. They have issues with their parents. They love and hate. They change.

The writers had a lark, but something else was happening in the audience. Some viewers, known as "Losties," were attaching Deep Meaning to the show just as Trekkies did to "Star Trek."

I think that is basically good news. Think about the themes of "Lost." Characters work out their own issues at the same time that they participate in a community not of their choosing.  They can decide to help save the world. Life defeats death. That an audience would be committed to these themes is strong evidence that a yearning for meaning and connectedness still thrives amidst the quirks in our culture.

The twist was obvious before the end of the first season: these characters are dead and are being given a last chance to develop as human beings. It's not a new plot, but here it is wonderfully done. Sort of "groundhog day of the dead." That this twist was "revealed" in the last episode can have shocked only literary innocents.

So whether you use the word "purgatory" or not, the idea played with in "Lost" is the yearning each of us has to get it right. Through many a struggle the characters basically do get it right, are reconciled, and go on to a pleasant afterlife. The story is fuzzy and imprecise. It also fits the "basic story" that C. S. Lewis says is at the bottom of most the great stories worldwide. Life has a goal, and attaining it is sometimes very hard work. Life defeats death.

On the child's make-believe level, where all equations do not need to balance, "Lost" is a wonderful playground for the mind, and I am happy to let it go at that. But what are we to make of the Lostie "theologians" who need the series to have a consistent and finely defined philosophy where everything makes precise sense? Some indignantly hate the ending, others gleefully shout that they told us so, others triumphantly see their own religion's catechism writ large in the script. Some patently cannot handle the ambiguities presented. And they argue. For them, the fun is gone amidst the arguing.

When we overinvest data in symbols or rituals, which do their work by evocation and ambiguity, we kill them. All too often the human desire for security and control takes over, and living symbols become inanimate objects. Imagination dies. This is why most explanations of the alleged meaning of church ritual and hardware are not only wrong but also damaging.

On the other hand, for instance, the genius of having four gospels is that we can never get the story down pat, so we have to hold their different reports and points of view in a tension that makes our sense of balance better. We understand them as we live them. There is a great gift here. Arguing about the details destroys the sweep of the narrative, and keeps people from entering into the drama personally. The debate about "Lost" teaches us something about the temptations that come to all religions: the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor 3:6). 

Children are fascinated by stories and love to play them. They get meanings they could never define with precision by doing them. They would know to leave "Lost" alone and just enjoy it.

Interfaith Community Service Week in Allentown

Canon Maria Tjeltveit, rector of Mediator Allentown and Ecumenical and Interfaith Officer for the Diocese of Bethlehem, taped a section of the Nuestro Valle show that airs on Sundays at 8:00 p.m. on RCN TV4. She was on with Ismael Arcelay, Special Assistant to Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, Head to the Office of Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships, and Pastor Pedro Torres, of the Iglesia De Dios, to discuss an upcoming Interfaith Community Service Week, April 25-May 2. The show will air on April 11, and will be rebroadcast on April 14 at 3:30 p.m. She appeared also on a Channel 69 news clip last week for the same event.

Episcopal priest on "What Not to Wear."

The Rev. Emily Bloemker thought she was going to Christ Church Cathedral in St. Louis to talk about their dioceses partnership with the diocese of Lui in the Episcopal Church of the Sudan. Surprise! Instead of leading an adult forum, she ended up being the subject of her favorite television show, TLC's "What Not to Wear."

According to Lisa Fox blogging on "My Manner of Life,"

Emily is a smart, passionate, joyful, no-B$ priest. As I hear it, she is a fan of the What Not To Wear show and expressed a wish they could do a wardrobe make-over for her. Apparently, some of her friends contacted the show. And the show decided to take her on.

Then Mike Kinman invited Emily to deliver a presentation on Sudan early this year at Christ Church Cathedral. Except it wasn’t really a Sudan session. It was a set-up … into which the What Not to Wear Duo sprang. My St. Louis friends tell me it was a very pleasant evening. Apparently, Mike had warned the crew that they were filming in a church, and a certain decorum must be obeyed. From all I have heard, it was a delightful evening with much good-natured banter between the show’s crew and the gathered Episcopalians.

The promo reads: "Emily is your typical single girl with one divine difference... she's an Episcopal priest. She may have been called by a higher power but her friends and family called Stacy and Clinton. Can Emily find a feminine style that balances her youthful energy?"

The episode will be broadcast on TLC at Friday, February 5th at 9 pm.

--Posted by Andrew Gerns

Imagine yourself in the Episcopal Church

By Bill Lewellis

Three 30-second television spots have been giving northeastern and central Pennsylvania viewers of WNEP, channel 16, visual clues of the Episcopal Church as sacramental and of its members as diverse, involved and caring for neighbors in need.

The spots for this groundbreaking project began to air on April 1 during the Good Morning America show and the 5:30 and 11:00 p.m. newscasts, introduced by WNEP’s Good Things are Happening music.

A tagline on two of the spots asks viewers to “imagine yourself in the Episcopal Church.” That continues with slight variations of “where your questions are respected as much as anyone’s answers,” All three spots – a fourth still to be developed – then conclude on the note that viewers can find an Episcopal church or more information about the Episcopal Church by visiting the WNEP website.

TEC NEPA The WNEP website includes a link on a prominent new Episcopal Church in Northeast PA logo that will continuously display there and take interested viewers to a new Episcopal Church in Northeast PA website,, developed specifically for the ad campaign. There, viewers will find information about the Episcopal Church or links to the 42 Episcopal churches in the WNEP coverage area. The spots may also be replayed at the site.

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On Marketing the Episcopal Church in Northeast PA –The Resolution that Could

A resolution on Marketing the Episcopal Churches of Northeast PA was approved by a virtually unanimous vote at last October's Diocesan Convention: "This Convention applauds the efforts made by parishes to evangelize their communities using local media outlets. Furthermore, we encourage those efforts by calling upon the parishes in the northern and central parts of the diocese to participate for one year in a televised evangelism campaign by contributing to the cost of a commercial advertising program to run under the title The Episcopal Churches of Northeastern Pennsylvania on a local television station.”

Continue reading "On Marketing the Episcopal Church in Northeast PA –The Resolution that Could" »