Daily Archives: April 4, 2008

Report: Security in Iraq is improving

A new classified intelligence assessment on Iraq says there has been significant progress in security since the last assessment was delivered in August, a senior military official said.

In most ways the new National Intelligence Estimate hews closely to the one delivered nine months ago. That document spoke of security gains since the increase in troop levels began in January 2007, the continued high rate of violence and uneven progress on the part of Iraqi security forces.

“It does not differ significantly from August’s NIE,” a congressional official said in describing the document.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the report is classified. They noted that many of the conclusions of the report are already reflected in public statements and press reports.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Iraq War

Martyn Minns: Good News Is No News in Nnewi

A funny thing happened in Nnewi, Nigeria, last week. (Nnewi is a bustling city in southeast Nigeria.) Archbishop Peter Akinola presided over a remarkable meeting of the Standing Committee of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), but nobody from the world media noticed. It wasn’t that it was a closed or secret meeting ”“ it’s hard to keep a gathering of a thousand church leaders quiet, and preparations had been public for months. So why didn’t any of them care? For one thing, he didn’t talk about anything that would make a good headline; instead he focused on a call to personal and corporate holiness. He told all those present that they were too attached to the ways of the world and they needed to change. He reminded them that they have been called to “live in the world but not of the world.” Nobody blinked when he challenged his listeners to look inward and deal with their own sin instead of looking at everyone else. But it didn’t make news.

He talked about the Global Anglican Future Conference (affectionately known as GAFCON) that he is leading in Jerusalem later this year. He carefully explained the long history behind the decision to gather with other provinces of the Anglican Communion that refuse to spend any more time agonizing about sex but instead want to get on with the work of the Gospel and celebrate transformed lives. He announced that everyone going from Nigeria has already been paid for ”“ and here’s another funny thing ”“ paid for by generous Godly people in Nigeria! They have raised all the money from inside their own country!

During the meeting they also took time to dedicate a brand new marble-lined church that seats more than a thousand people, debt free thanks to a local benefactor who wanted to do something beautiful for God. Everyone was pleased but no one seemed surprised.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, CANA, Church of Nigeria

A Pastoral Letter from the Church of Nigeria Standing Committee

The Most Revd Peter J. Akinola

My Dear People of God,

Alleluia, Christ is risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia. May the power that raised Christ from the grave continue to empower and inspire our witness for Him as we daily identify with His death and resurrection in our lives.

The Bishops and their wives, Clergy and Laity, representing all our dioceses, with the Mothers Union and Women Guild delegates came together for the Standing Committee meeting of our Church which was hosted by the Diocese of Nnewi. The Bishop, Rt. Revd Godwin Okpala and his dear wife, led the clergy and people of the diocese to give a warm welcome to us all. We are grateful for their generosity demonstrated in so many ways, and pray for God continual blessing upon the Diocese.

Our theme for the meeting was: Being in the World but not of the World, taken from our Lord high priestly prayer in John 17 (focusing on verses 14-19). The sermons and Bible Studies were drawn from the passage with penetrating insights and heart-searching applications.

We came under the conviction that our identity has been compromised in that our witness for Christ has suffered so much embarrassment and indictment from the watching world. We acknowledged that if our Lord should be physically present in the in the world to see the Church today, He would be shocked and utterly disappointed by the extent to which His Church has lost its identity. Hardly anyone in the Church is free from this serious spiritual sickness.

Leadership in the Church has often reflected the leadership style of the gentile rulers who lord it over their subjects rather than the standard of servant leadership commended and modelled by our Lord Himself. We have become so obsessed with an endless multiplicity of titles and positions without a corresponding passion for Kingdom values to advance the course of Christ. We reminded ourselves afresh that we are called to exemplify godliness in every sphere of life and teach others in society to do what is right before God. We must extol the dignity of honest work and legal enterprise as the means to acquire wealth in a way that honours God. We must beware of celebrating those who have acquired wealth through unwholesome means or those who have stolen positions through illegal processes. If we fail to condemn these serious issues we will lose credibility before those who should take our leadership seriously.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of Nigeria

Time Magazine: The American Pope

In 1984, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger dropped by New York City. He was heading home to the Vatican from a conference in Dallas and had saved a day to tour what was then still regularly called the Big Apple. According to Father James O’Connor, who was acting as his chauffeur, Ratzinger sat in the front seat, the better to take in the hustle and buzz of the city. They visited the (Episcopal) Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the medievally furnished Cloisters museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On the way to Kennedy Airport, the car stalled halfway through the Midtown Tunnel, between Manhattan and Queens. O’Connor trudged to the Queens side, where he found a mechanic–who happened to be a Jordanian Catholic, recognized the Cardinal and rushed to his aid. O’Connor recalls Ratzinger, up and running again, saying “There is every sort of person in New York, and they’re all helpful.” A few minutes later, just after he stepped out onto the curb at J.F.K., someone rear-ended the car, shattering the back window.

Despite such sweet and sour experiences (including one in 1988 that produced the memorable tabloid headline GAYS PROTEST VATICAN BIGGY), the Pope likes New York and what it stands for. “I think he’s really fascinated by the city and what it represents,” says Raphaela Schmid, a Rome-based German with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who knows him. “It’s about people being two things at once, like Italian Americans or Chinese Americans. He’s interested in that idea of coexistence.”

That observation captures an often ignored side of the German-born Pope Benedict XVI, 80, on the eve of his first pontifical visit to the U.S. The trip, which begins in Washington on April 15 and ends in New York City on April 20, will present most Americans with their first opportunity to take the “new” Pope’s measure. Some American Catholics already feel they are familiar with Benedict and his values and coexistence is not an association that immediately crops up. Benedict clearly lacks his predecessor’s charismatic affability and sense of the dramatic gesture. His conservative writings suggest a divergence from a large part of the U.S. laity, whom he regards as victims of the moral relativism he feels pervades Western culture. Given his past role as the Vatican’s enforcer of orthodoxy, he might not seem to have any particular affinity for the democratic, pluralistic values that constitute (on our good days) the American brand.

And yet that last perception is particularly flawed. A survey of the 80-year-old Pontiff’s writings over the decades and testimonies from those who know him suggests that Benedict has a soft spot for Americans and finds considerable value in his U.S. church, the third largest Catholic congregation in the world. Most intriguing, he entertains a recurring vision of an America we sometimes lose sight of: an optimistic and diverse but essentially pious society in which faiths and a faith-based conversation on social issues are kept vital by the Founding Fathers’ decision to separate church and state. It’s not a stretch to say the Pope sees in the U.S.–or in some kind of idealized version of it–a civic model and even an inspiration to his native Europe, whose Muslim immigrants raise the question of religious and political coexistence in the starkest terms. Says David Gibson, author of The Rule of Benedict: Pope Benedict XVI and His Battle with the Modern World: “As he tours the U.S., it’s important to underscore that his philosophy has more consonances with our culture than meet the eye–some very profound.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Pope Benedict XVI, Roman Catholic

Trinity United Church of Christ leaders, worshipers struggle with the spotlight

Deacon Carole Carter has sought healing at Trinity United Church of Christ nearly every Sunday since her chemotherapy began. If she’s not there, members call to check on her, thanks to a list of the ailing and homebound published in the church bulletin.

But when reporters and curiosity-seekers descended upon the church last month, Carter got a new kind of call. A producer who plucked her name and number from the prayer list wanted to interview her about Sen. Barack Obama’s church.”First of all, it’s not ‘Obama’s church.’ It’s God’s church,” said Carter, 47, who is being treated for a second bout of breast cancer. “It’s not a good situation to be in. I fear for my pastor. I fear for my church.”

It has been three weeks since incendiary snippets from sermons delivered by Trinity’s longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., surfaced on the Internet and turned Obama’s 20-year membership at the South Side church into a potential political liability. Obama denounced the pastor’s remarks but did not disown Wright, who has remained silent on the subject since the controversy erupted.

Trinity’s leaders say media attention and threats have forced them to confront the question of how to keep the doors open to preach the gospel while comforting Trinity’s members and protecting its ministry.

Striking that balance is a challenge for any pastor, said Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, the denomination to which Trinity belongs.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Religion News & Commentary, Other Churches, Parish Ministry

Teens Take Advantage of Online Privacy Tools

Many younger people have very nuanced ideas about Internet privacy. They post deeply personal information on social networking sites, but understand and use various privacy locks so only certain people can see their profiles.

Listen to it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Blogging & the Internet, Teens / Youth

81% in Poll Say Nation Is Headed on the Wrong Track

Americans are more dissatisfied with the country’s direction than at any time since the New York Times/CBS News poll began asking about the subject in the early 1990s, according to the latest poll.

In the poll, 81 percent of respondents said they believed “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track,” up from 69 percent a year ago and 35 percent in early 2002.

Although the public mood has been darkening since the early days of the war in Iraq, it has taken a new turn for the worse in the last few months, as the economy has seemed to slip into recession. There is now nearly a national consensus that the country faces significant problems.

A majority of nearly every demographic and political group ”” Democrats and Republicans, men and women, residents of cities and rural areas, college graduates and those who finished only high school ”” say the United States is headed in the wrong direction. Seventy-eight percent of respondents said the country was worse off than five years ago; just 4 percent said it was better off.

Read it all.

Posted in * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A.

Burned by the Condo Market in Florida

For more than a decade, Scott and Lori Pustizzi did everything right. They have two happy children, a good marriage and a beautiful house that they got with a manageable mortgage.

They also have good jobs. He is a human resources director; she’s a pharmaceutical sales representative.

The couple earned their comfortable life through hard work. They met 15 years ago at a local Publix Grocery store, where he was stocking shelves and she was working the cash register. They paid for their own college education and their own wedding. Now they’re both in their 30s, and they figured this was the time to start doing some wise investing.

So back in 2004, when Florida was seized with condo fever, Scott and Lori wanted a piece of the action.

Watch the video or read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market

U.S. economy sheds 80,000 jobs in March

The U.S. employers cut payrolls for a third month in a row in March, slashing 80,000 jobs for the biggest monthly job decline in five years as the economy headed into a downturn, government data on Friday showed.

The Labor Department revised the first two months of the year’s job losses to a total of 152,000 from a previous estimate of 85,000. The March unemployment rate jumped to 5.1 percent from 4.8 percent, the highest since a matching rate in September 2005.

The March job report was more bleak than expected. Economists polled ahead of the report forecast a decline of 60,000 in non-farm payrolls and a rise in the unemployment rate to 5 percent.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy

Washington Times: Virginia Anglican parishes awarded property, assets

A Fairfax circuit judge has awarded a favorable judgment to a group of 11 Anglican churches that were taken to court last fall after breaking away from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia in late 2006.

In an 83-page opinion released late last night, Judge Randy Bellows ruled that Virginia”s Civil War-era “division statute” granting property to departing congregations applies to the Northern Virginia congregations, which are now part of the Nigerian-administered Convocation of Anglicans in North America.

“The court finds that a division has occurred in the diocese,” the judge wrote. “Over 7 percent of the churches in the diocese, 11 percent of its baptized membership and 18 percent of the diocesan average attendance of 32,000 [per Sunday] have left in the past two years.”

Read it all.

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

Virginia Judge Rules in Favor of Anglican Parishes

ECUSA Diocese argue that the historical evidence demonstrates that it is only the “major” or “great” divisions within 19th-century churches that prompted the passage of 57-9, such as those within the Presbyterian andMethodist Churches. ECUSAjDiocese argue that the current “dispute” beforethis Court is not such a “great” division, and, therefore, this is yet another reason why 57-9(A) should not apply. The Court agrees that it was major divisions such as those within the Methodist and Presbyterian churches that prompted the passage of 57-9. However, it blinks at reality to characterize the ongoing division within the Diocese, ECUSA, and the Anglican Communion as anything but a division of the first magnitude, especially given the involvement of numerous churches in states across the country, the participation of hundreds of church leaders, both lay and pastoral, who have found themselves “taking sides” against their brethren, the determination by thousands of church members in Virginia and elsewhere to “walk apart” in the language of the Church, the creation of new and substantial religious entities, such as CANA, with their own structures and disciplines, the rapidity with which the ECUSA’s problems became that of the Anglican Communion, and the consequent impact-in some cases the extraordinary impact-on its provinces around the world, and, perhaps most importantly, the creation of a level of distress among many church members so profound and wrenching as to lead them to cast votes in an attempt to disaffiliate from a church which has been their home and heritage throughout their lives, and often back for generations.

Whatever may be the precise threshold for a dispute to constitute a division under 57-9(A), what occurred here qualifies. For the foregoing reasons, this Court finds that the CANA Congregations have properly invoked 57-9(A). Further proceedings will take place in accordance with the Order issued today.

Read it carefully and read it all (over 80 pages).

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

Music gives at-risk kids more than rhythm Video

Watch it all-wonderful stuff.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education, Music

Mona Siddiqui: Religion is not weakened but strengthened by humour

Naom Chomsky said that “if you believe in freedom of speech you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like”. But many of faith often complain that freedom of speech and expression shouldn’t mean freedom to deliberately offend. Yet how does one avoid offending when the freedom to exchange ideas is seen as the very pillar of a tolerant society?

In out current climate, debates on faith and society have become so polarised that one can almost imagine the two armies of secularism and religion engaged in a bloody ideological war. Yet I expect most of us who have faith do not recognise ourselves in such battles. For me, religion is not weakened but strengthened by humour. The ability to see the bad with the good, the problems as well as the gifts of faith demands that we be honest and reflective, able to engage with a wide array of cultural and social perspectives. The ability to see ourselves as others might see us is a sign of humility. The ability to laugh at ourselves is a sign of confidence and maturity, that we take neither ourselves nor what we believe to be the only moral arbiters of society. Laughter not only connects us to each other but lifts the soul – as e.e. cummings said, the most wasted of all days is one without laughter.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Religion & Culture

Ruth Gledhill: Women bishops fail in Wales

The Church in Wales … voted not to consecrate women bishops. The motion, proposed by Archbishop Dr Barry Morgan, fell by three votes. In the laity it was 52-19, in the clergy 27-18. It fell after the amendments that would have offered alternative oversight for the clergy opponents also failed. Canon Mary Stallard, chaplain to the bishop of St Asaph and pictured on the far right of this picture, said: ‘The moment will come back. We are very disappointed. It is not totally unexpected. But we are looking forward to bringing it back. This issue will not be ignored.’

Read it all and Archbishop Barry Morgan’s piece in the Guardian is here also.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of Wales

Police Raid Opposition Offices In Zimbabwe

President Robert Mugabe’s government raided the offices of the main opposition movement and rounded up foreign journalists Thursday in an ominous indication that he may use intimidation and violence to keep his grip on power.

Police raided a hotel used by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and ransacked some of the rooms. Riot police also surrounded another hotel housing foreign journalists, and took away several of them, according to a man who answered the phone there.

“Mugabe has started a crackdown,” Movement for Democratic Change general secretary Tendai Biti told The Associated Press. “It is quite clear he has unleashed a war.”

Biti said the raid at the Meikles Hotel targeted “certain people … including myself.” Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was “safe” but had canceled plans for a news conference, he said.

Biti said that Thursday’s clampdown was a sign of worse to follow but that the opposition would not go into hiding.

Predictable but sad-read it all.

Posted in * International News & Commentary, Africa