Daily Archives: August 29, 2007

Helmsley dog gets $12 million

Leona Helmsley’s dog will continue to live an opulent life, and then be buried alongside her in a mausoleum. But two of Helmsley’s grandchildren got nothing from the late luxury hotelier and real estate billionaire’s estate.

Helmsley left her beloved white Maltese, named Trouble, a $12 million trust fund, according to her will, which was made public Tuesday in surrogate court.

She also left millions for her brother, Alvin Rosenthal, who was named to care for Trouble in her absence, as well as two of four grandchildren from her late son Jay Panzirer — so long as they visit their father’s grave site once each calendar year.

Otherwise, she wrote, neither will get a penny of the $5 million she left for each.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch

David Aikman: Is this how to bring grace and savor to a crumbling civilization?

When atheist Sam Harris wrote his 2004 bestseller The End of Faith, a radical attack on religious belief in any form, he was prepared for strong rebuttals from Christians.

What may have surprised him was the vitriol in which many of the emails and letters were couched. The most hostile messages came from Christians (not Muslims or Hindus). “The truth is,” he explained in the forward to his latest bestseller, Letter to a Christian Nation, “that many who claim to be transformed by God’s love are deeply, even murderously, intolerant of criticism.”

“How do I know this?” he asked rhetorically. “The most disturbed of my correspondents always cite chapter and verse.” Indeed, Letter to a Christian Nation is his response to those vituperative critics and yet another weapon in the armory of people hostile to Christianity.

I am not surprised that Harris attracted negative feedback. What disturbs me, however, 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.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

James B. Twitchell: Luxury spending and the Voice of the American People

Well, okay, so Marie Antoinette never said, “Let them eat cake.” When Rousseau wrote those words, Marie was just 11 years old and living in Austria. But Americans used to like the story that, when the French queen was told by an official that the people were angry because they had no bread, she responded, “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche.” We liked to imagine her saying it with a snarl and a curled lip. She was a luxury bimbo whose ­out-­of-­control spending grated on the poor and unfortunate French people. We fought a revolution to separate ourselves from exactly that kind of uppercrustiness. She got her just “­desserts.”

But that was 200 years ago. Now cake is one of our favorite foods, part of the fifth food group, totally unnecessary luxury consumption. We’re not talking about a few crumbs, but the real stuff. Brioche by the loaf. Not for nothing has Marie become a favorite subject for current infotainment. Novelists, historians, biographers, and even hip young filmmaker Sofia Coppola are telling her story, not because we want her reviled but because we want to be like ­her.

And we’re doing a pretty good job. Luxury spending in the United States has been growing more than four times as fast as overall spending, and the rest of the West is not far behind. You might think that modern wannabe Maries are grayhairs with poodles. Not so. This spending is being done by younger and younger consumers. Take a walk up Fifth Avenue, and then, at 58th, cross over and continue up Madison. You’ll see who is swarming through the stores with names we all recognize: Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Dior, Coach. . . . Or cruise Worth Avenue or Rodeo Drive, and you’ll see the same furious down-marketing and up-crusting. This is the Twinkiefication of ­deluxe.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch

Ken Howard Chimes In

A related and largely unreported phenomenon is the growing number of churches — our own congregation being one of them — who reject the old conservative vs. liberal storyline. These congregations consider themselves neither liberal nor conservative (though their individual members represent a wide spectrum of theological views). Recognizing that human understanding of the mind of Christ is imperfect at best they choose to make the love of Christ — experienced in their common worship of the Living God — the basis of Christian community, rather than agreement on a broad spectrum of doctrinal principles (unity, rather than uniformity). Not that doctrine is unimportant, only that it is secondary to the love of Christ, and that God is more than capable of sorting us out on these issues over the long haul. This emerging concept of Church is not limited to the Episcopal Church, but is springing up across almost all denominational boundaries. And these churches are growing.

I have friends — brothers and sisters in Christ — from across the theological continuum: conservative and liberal and all points in between. They all have a story to tell about the transforming love of Christ. They are all working in their own ways to bring about the reign of God. And as a previous seminary professor of mine once said, “I always agree with my friends.” I just think is always better when we try to speak the truth to each other — the whole truth — and to do it with love.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts

Living Church: San Joaquin Pushes Back Convention to December

The Rev. Van McCalister, public relations officer for the diocese, said the change in date was primarily made to give the voting members of convention time for prayer and careful consideration of the unusually large number of important events scheduled this fall. These include the fall meeting of the House of Bishops, at which the bishops are expected to consider requests made of The Episcopal Church by the primates of the Anglican Communion.

“We are very aware of the fact that this is a very important transitional moment, no matter how the vote goes,” Fr. McCalister said. “We’re just in a ”˜wait-and-see’ mode right now, however.”

Last year diocesan clergy and lay delegates approved the first reading of controversial changes to remove language acknowledging the diocese as a constituent part of The Episcopal Church from its constitution and canons. In order to be approved, the changes must pass at two consecutive conventions. If approved it is possible that the diocese would face a legal challenge.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: San Joaquin, TEC Polity & Canons

The Economist: Does America need a recession?

THE late Rudi Dornbusch, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, once remarked: “None of the post-war expansions died of old age. They were all murdered by the Fed.” Every recession since 1945, with the exception of the one in 2001, was preceded by a sharp rise in inflation that forced the central bank to raise interest rates. But today’s Federal Reserve is no serial killer. It seems keener on blood transfusions than on bloodletting.

When the Fed cut its discount rate on August 17th, it admitted for the first time that the credit crunch could hurt the economy. The markets are betting it will soon cut its main federal funds rate. Economists are arguing vigorously about how much damage falling house prices and the subprime mortgage crisis will do. But there is one question that is rarely asked: even if a downturn is in the offing, should the Fed try to prevent it?

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy

Timothy Fountain: Stay or Go

I don’t have a conclusion. What’s next is in God’s hands.

I’m reasonably certain that institutional TEC will not rejoin Christianity any time soon. That means a) I will be out of TEC altogether or b) I will remain in it under some kind of dhimmitude. I have made preparation either way, and will walk through whatever door God opens. I am blessed by my family’s courage and support in this ”“ they will endure whatever sufferings or sacrifices come.

A few weeks ago, as we prayed together, my wife and I were drawn to Romans 5:8 ”“ “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The seemingly trivial word “while” is what caught us. We are in Dr. Seuss’ “Waiting Place”; or sitting like explorers on a becalmed sea. “While” we wait, “while” God’s plan unfolds, we’ve done all that we can to argue points, explore options, and make choices. We’ve done all we can to warn Good Shepherd about TEC’s corruption (and we’ve been clear and emphatic about this). We’ve knocked on other doors. “While” the conclusion remains open, there’s no more to do.

“While” we wait for what’s next, we rely on what Scripture tells us: God does not need us to force a particular outcome. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And it is on the cross ”“ the one that TEC rejects but that still “towers over the wrecks of time”- where God will always show his love for us, wherever we are.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, TEC Conflicts

Eve Troeh–Dear New Orleans: I'm Leaving You

I’ve taken fierce pride in being a local. When I travel I’m a junky for talk about the city. Someone will ask “So, how is it down there?” I launch into a litany. There are busted traffic lights, leaky sewer lines, mountains of debris, the skyrocketing murder rate, miles of desolation, and the levees still aren’t fixed. But you should come, I say. It’s like a battered beauty queen. Hard to look at, and messed up even more on the inside, but still so regal and charming. This is where the listener I’ve taken hostage turns away slowly to engage someone less insane.

They don’t understand that I’m in love. I talk to friends about New Orleans like a dysfunctional romance. I gush over it one day, then call up bawling and heartbroken the next. Why can’t it change? Stop being self-destructive and violent? It has so much potential.

Recently, my blinders started to come off. It was building for awhile. My friend Helen Hill was murdered in her home;other friends have been mugged. We don’t go out much any more…

But then there was this hot Friday night last month. I went on the perfect date with New Orleans . Saw live, local music, danced with friends on the stage, then headed home through my neighborhood of craftsman cottages and angel trumpet trees.

A block from my door, I was attacked from behind by a stranger. I escaped, with the help of my roommate. The case is moving forward, so I can’t say much more than that.

Now I’m a jilted lover of the city. I’m angry and confused. Which is the real New Orleans? The one that’s violent and desperate? Or the one that coos softly, and caresses me? The answer, of course, is both.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Hurricane Katrina, Violence

Chicago Tribune: Partnered Lesbian priest makes final list of Chicago bishop Nominees

Gay rights advocates lauded the Chicago nominations as a sign of progress and greater equality in church leadership.

“The big news today is that discernment has trumped discrimination in the Diocese of Chicago,” said Susan Russell, president of Integrity, an advocacy group for gay Episcopalians.

Meanwhile, conservatives rolled their eyes.

“Chicago’s action is simply flying in the face of the desire of the Anglican Communion,” said Springfield Bishop Peter Beckwith. “It’s a slap in the face.”

Rev. Kendall Harmon, a conservative theologian from South Carolina, said …”I think it represents a steely determination on the part of the Episcopal Church leadership to pursue its new theology no matter what,…It’s injecting more difficult dynamics in an already deeply frayed family fracas and that’s a shame.”

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts

Maia Szalavitz: So, What Made Me an Addict?

Many people think they know what addiction is, but despite non-experts’ willingness to opine on its treatment and whether Britney or Lindsay’s rehab was tough enough, the term is still a battleground. Is addiction a disease? A moral weakness? A disorder caused by drug or alcohol use, or a compulsive behavior that can also occur in relation to sex, food and maybe even video games?

As a former cocaine and heroin addict, these questions have long fascinated me. I want to know why, in three years, I went from being an Ivy League student to a daily IV drug user who weighed 80 pounds. I want to know why I got hooked, when many of my fellow drug users did not.

A bill was introduced in Congress this spring to change the name of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to the National Institute on Diseases of Addiction, and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse (NIAAA) to the National Institute on Alcohol Disorders and Health. In a press release introducing the legislation, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said, “By changing the way we talk about addiction, we change the way people think about addiction, both of which are critical steps in getting past the social stigma too often associated with the disease.”

But opinion polls find weak support for the concept of addiction as a disease, despite years of advocacy by such agencies as NIDA and NIAAA and by recovery groups. A 2002 Hart poll found that most people thought alcoholism was about half disease, half weakness; just 9 percent viewed it wholly as a disease.

So what does science have to say?

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Pastoral Theology, Theology

U.S. poverty rate dips 0.3 percentage points

The nation’s poverty rate dropped last year, the first significant decline since President Bush took office.

The Census Bureau reported Tuesday that 36.5 million Americans, or 12.3 percent ”” were living in poverty last year. That’s down from 12.6 percent in 2005.

The median household income was $48,200, a slight increase from the previous year. But the number of people without health insurance also increased, to 47 million.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch