Daily Archives: August 26, 2008

Pastor focuses on monotheistic roots in aim to reduce violence

Brian McLaren, a leader in the “emergent church” movement, says the three Abrahamic religions ”” Christianity, Judaism and Islam ”” are very dangerous.

“Christians, Muslims and Jews are, in some ways, the most dangerous people on the planet, and probably Christians being the most dangerous because their fingers are closer to the most nuclear weapons,” he told an audience here at Baker Book House.

But a new series of books on ancient religious traditions ”” including an introductory tome by McLaren ”” seeks to find unity in the ancient practices these religions share.

“If (Muslims, Christians and Jews) can find points of contact, maybe it will help us avoid pressing these buttons,” he said.

McLaren, a pastor, speaker and activist, spoke last week about some of his books, including his latest, Finding Our Way Again, which explores a return to ancient practices held in common by these three religions, such as fixed hours for prayer and observance of the Sabbath.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Religion & Culture, Violence

Archbishop Rowan Williams' Pastoral Letter to Bishops of the Anglican Communion

Second, on the controversial issue of the day regarding human sexuality, there was a very widely-held conviction that premature or unilateral local change was risky and divisive, in spite of the diversity of opinion expressed on specific questions. There was no appetite for revising Resolution 1.10 of Lambeth 1998, though there was also a clear commitment to continue theological and pastoral discussion of the questions involved. In addition to a widespread support for moratoria in the areas already mentioned, there was much support for the idea of a ‘Pastoral Forum’ as a means of addressing present and future tensions, and as a clearing house for proposals concerning the care of groups at odds with dominant views within their Provinces, so as to avoid the confusing situation of violations of provincial boundaries and competing jurisdictions.

Importantly, it was recognized that all these matters involved serious reflection on the Christian doctrine of human nature and a continuing deepening of our understanding of Christian marriage. A joint session with bishops and spouses also reminded us that broader moral issues about power and violence in relations between men and women needed attention if we were to speak credibly to the tensions and sufferings of those we serve.

Third, there was a general desire to find better ways of managing our business as a Communion. Many participants believed that the indaba method, while not designed to achieve final decisions, was such a necessary aspect of understanding what the questions might be that they expressed the desire to see the method used more widely ”“ and to continue among themselves the conversations begun in Canterbury. This is an important steer for the meetings of the Primates and the ACC which will be taking place in the first half of next year, and I shall be seeking to identify the resources we shall need in order to take forward some of the proposals about our structures and methods.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Archbishop of Canterbury, Lambeth 2008

For a Congregation, a Church Out of Reach

Heading into the final week of August 2005, the Rev. Louis Adams had a verse from Nehemiah much in mind. In the passage, the prophet described Jerusalem in ruins, its gates burned by invaders. Then he declared, “Come, let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach.” Mr. Adams and his congregants in the Holy Ground Baptist Church here had spent three years and $125,000 buying and rebuilding a dilapidated church in the Lower Ninth Ward. Once their labors were done, they would no longer have to worship as weekend tenants of the Care Bear Daycare Center. They would no longer be sojourners.

The pews, the altar, the baptismal pool were already installed in their new home. The kitchen and the social hall were complete. All that was left was to lay the cedar planks of the floor, then tack down the carpet. On the third Sunday of September, Holy Ground’s members would march into a sanctuary of their own.

Before then, of course, Hurricane Katrina struck and Holy Ground sat deep in floodwater. A house across the street, which had been swept off its foundation, had smashed into one corner of the church.

And so began a story of destruction and dispossession, of natural disaster and human failure, that has yet to end, even as the third anniversary of the disaster approaches.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Baptists, Hurricane Katrina, Other Churches, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

Jeff Murph: What about being under the ”˜spiritual authority” of the Episcopal Church?

What does articulate doctrine for the Episcopal Church? Quite simply, the Book of Common Prayer. General Convention can approve a prayer book after a lengthy trial period and with two consecutive conventions voting affirmatively. The current Book of Common Prayer, approved in 1979, contains all the historic formularies usually recognized in the Anglican Communion: the three creeds, the Thirty-nine Articles, the Outline of the Faith (called the Catechism), and, of course, the liturgy.

Finally, Anglican Christians have always understood that the real spiritual authority of the Church is Jesus, of course, who is the actual Head of the Church. It is not really St. Peter who will determine who will enter heaven or not but the blood of Jesus Christ. Those congregations who place themselves squarely under the authority of Jesus have nothing ultimately to fear either from powers and principalities nor from unfaithful bishops. Over the centuries, there have unfortunately always been unworthy shepherds; sometimes the Church has been in great suffering because of their unfaithfulness. Yet Jesus the Head always has brought his Church back to the Truth by the power of his Holy Spirit, raising up obedient shepherds and leaders for his people. “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5: 23-24)

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

Chris Sugden Analyzes Lambeth 2008

The press asked who was running the conference. The Archbishop of Canterbury gave five retreat addresses, three presidential addresses, chaired the five evening plenary presentations from guest speakers, and preached the final sermon. The press were told he was the common figure in meetings of the Design Team, the Anglican Communion Office and Lambeth Palace Staff meetings.
He did not consult the primates before indicating at the final press conference that the future agenda was the moratoria and the pastoral forum. Some bishops noted that the pope always speaks with his bishops rather than to his bishops. There was much speaking of people’s respect, loyalty and affection for Archbishop Williams. If people say that of a primate in Africa, this is regarded as fawning on an autocratic tribal chief. The Lambeth Conference Network in the Anglican Communion seems to have have been overtaken by celebrity culture. Is this style a reaction to criticism of lack of leadership?

The Culture of Lambeth was of Inclusive Church. The opening service was on the theme of diversity in unity. Most self-select sessions were from the liberal perspective. The market place was dominated by gay organisations.

The Archbishop said in his second presidential address: ”And the answer, I hope, is that we speak from the centre. We should try to speak from the heart of our identity as Anglicans; and ultimately from that deepest centre which is our awareness of living in and as the Body of Christ.”

What is the centre which is the heart of our identity as Anglicans? Is it defined by the faith, or is it defined by inclusion?
Traditional Anglican liberalism was founded on core Christian truths and commitments. Secular liberalism denies that truth is possible and urges the equality of every person and their views. Therefore all views can contribute and must be at the table.

Secular liberalism places the value of inclusion over against faithfulness and faith. The claim to speak from the centre must face the challenge of whether the faith that defines the centre is the centre of faith, or the centre of the secular vision of inclusion?

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Lambeth 2008

Bishop John W. Howe of Central Florida: The ”˜Last” Lambeth Conference?

It is true that the Conference passed no Resolutions, offered no Teaching Statements, and took no votes ”“ on anything. But, on the final afternoon, in his Third Presidential Address, Archbishop Rowan Williams (in the words of one of the senior English Bishops) “decisively tipped the balance for the first time in the Conference.”

Another of the Bishops put it this way, “The Bible Studies and the Indaba groups provided the backdrop for the Archbishop to speak on behalf of the whole Conference. And he did so with remarkable clarity and forcefulness.” Unequivocally, he:

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Affirmed the uniqueness of Christ as “the Way, the Truth and the Life” (not “my way,” or “a way”!);
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Reaffirmed Resolution 1:10 (from the 1998 Conference)1 as the teaching of the Anglican Communion regarding sexual behavior;
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Reiterated the Primates’ call in the 2007 Communique from Dar es Salam for moratoria on the blessing of same-sex relationships, the consecration of priests in same-sex relationships, and the crossing of diocesan borders by Bishops of other jurisdictions; 2
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Endorsed once again the development of an Anglican Covenant as “the way forward”….

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lambeth 2008, TEC Bishops

AAC Releases Lambeth Summary Analysis

Take a look (pdf).

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lambeth 2008, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts

Gallup Daily: Race Tied as Democratic Convention Starts

The latest update includes two days of interviewing following Obama’s selection of Sen. Joe Biden as his vice presidential running mate, and neither day showed an improved performance for Obama. Thus, Obama does not appear to have gotten the same type of immediate “vice presidential bounce” as have presidential candidates in recent years. That could reflect a somewhat muted national response to the Biden selection, or competition for the nation’s attention with the Olympics. (The candidates who got vice presidential bounces in 1996, 2000, and 2004 announced their choices before or after the Olympics took place in those years.)

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

John Wilson reviews Frederick Buechner's The Yellow Leaves

In January of this year, King College in Bristol, Tennessee hosted the inauguration of the Buechner Institute, a faith-and-culture center directed by Dale Brown. Frederick Buechner himself was present, and when he addressed the audience, there was an expectant hush.

The guest of honor, without much preamble, told his listeners that for about ten years he had been unable to complete any substantial writing project. A very quiet auditorium became quieter still. Buechner went on to say that each day he goes out to his “Magic Kingdom,” the separate place””set apart from the house””where for decades he has done his writing. There he is surrounded by his magnificent collection of first editions and assorted objects of significance to him. He writes, yet nothing comes to fruition.

Recently, he said, he had sorted through the accumulated fragments of the last few years and found some bits that seemed to stand up on their own, enough to make up a small volume, a miscellany, to be published under the title The Yellow Leaves. He quoted the relevant lines from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 73:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang.

He then proposed to read a couple of the pieces he had salvaged, and did so, to great applause. And now, six months later, as promised, the book has been published by Westminster John Knox Press. “I can still write sentences and paragraphs,” Buechner says in the half-page introduction, “but for five or six years now [or ten, perhaps], I haven’t been able to write books. Maybe after more than thirty of them the well has at last run dry. Maybe, age eighty, I no longer have the right kind of energy. Maybe the time has simply come to stop. Whatever the reason, at least for the moment the sweet birds no longer sing.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Books, Religion & Culture

Benjamin M. Friedman Reviews "Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness"

Yes, there is such a thing as common sense ”” and thank goodness for that.

At least that’s this reader’s reaction to Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s “Nudge,” an engaging and insightful tour through the evidence that most human beings don’t make decisions in the way often characterized (some would say caricatured) in elementary economics textbooks, along with a rich array of suggestions for enabling many of us to make better choices, both for ourselves and for society.

Few people will be surprised to learn that the setting in which individuals make decisions often influences the choices they make. How much we eat depends on what’s served on our plate, what foods we pick from the cafeteria line depends on whether the salads or the desserts are placed at eye level, and what magazines we buy depends on which ones are on display at the supermarket checkout line. But the same tendency also affects decisions with more significant consequences: how much families save and how they invest; what kind of mortgage they take out; which medical insurance they choose; what cars they drive. Behavioral economics, a new area of research combining economics and psychology, has repeatedly documented how our apparently free choices are affected by the way options are presented to us.

The main insight from which Thaler and Sunstein proceed is that no decision setting is “neutral.” Whether it’s a restaurant laying out food or a business offering its employees a list of mutual funds in its 401(k) plan or the government presenting different Medicare options, whoever presents choices must frame them in some way. And the framing will affect the decisions. Even “small and apparently insignificant details can have major impacts on people’s behavior,” the authors write. Some ways of presenting the choices may give a gentler “nudge” than others, and we may think some settings are neutral only because we’re so used to them. But whoever is presenting the choices will inevitably bias decisions, in one direction or another.

As a result, Thaler and Sunstein argue, many of the familiar arguments for why people should simply be left to make choices on their own, and especially for why government should stay strictly out of the way, have little practical force. In many important areas of choice that matter both to the individual and to the rest of us (for example, when overuse of medical care drives up our insurance premiums and our taxes), the operative question is not whether to bias people’s decisions, but in which direction.

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

Literacy Debate: Online, R U Really Reading?

Books are not Nadia Konyk’s thing. Her mother, hoping to entice her, brings them home from the library, but Nadia rarely shows an interest.

Instead, like so many other teenagers, Nadia, 15, is addicted to the Internet. She regularly spends at least six hours a day in front of the computer here in this suburb southwest of Cleveland.

A slender, chatty blonde who wears black-framed plastic glasses, Nadia checks her e-mail and peruses myyearbook.com, a social networking site, reading messages or posting updates on her mood. She searches for music videos on YouTube and logs onto Gaia Online, a role-playing site where members fashion alternate identities as cutesy cartoon characters. But she spends most of her time on quizilla.com or fanfiction.net, reading and commenting on stories written by other users and based on books, television shows or movies.

Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A’s and B’s at school, read books for a change. But at this point, Ms. Konyk said, “I’m just pleased that she reads something anymore.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Blogging & the Internet, Books

Beijing swells dollar reserves through stealth

China has resorted to stealth intervention in the currency markets to amass US dollars, using indirect means to hold down the yuan and ease the pain for its struggling exporters as the global slowdown engulfs the economy.

A study by HSBC’s currency team in Asia has concluded that China’s central bank is in effect forcing commercial banks to build up large dollar reserves, using them as arms-length proxies in a renewed campaign of exchange rate intervention….

“China has used the pretext of reserve requirement hikes to help slow yuan appreciation. We estimate that the PBOC [central bank] intervened by about $49.6bn in June,” said Daniel Hui, the bank’s Asia strategist.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Asia, China, Economy, Globalization

After Glow of Games, What Next for China?

The elaborate closing ceremony that ended the Olympic Games on Sunday also ended nearly a decade in which the ruling Communist Party had made the Games an organizing principle in national life. Almost nothing has superseded the Olympics as a political priority in China.

For Chinese leaders, all that effort paid off. The Games were seen as an unparalleled success by most Chinese ”” a record medal count inspired nationwide excitement, and Beijing impressed foreign visitors with its hospitality and efficiency. And while the government’s uncompromising suppression of dissent drew criticism, China also demonstrated to a global audience that it is a rising economic and political power.

But a new, post-Olympic era has begun. The question now is whether a deepening self-confidence arising from the Olympic experience will lead China to further its engagement with the world and pursue deeper political reform, or whether the success of the Games and the muted Western response to repression will convince leaders that their current model is working.

“China was eager to present something that shows it is a new power that has its own might,” said Shen Dingli, a professor at Fudan University in Shanghai. “It has problems, but it is able to manage them. It has weaknesses in its institutions, but also strengths in those same institutions.”

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Posted in * International News & Commentary, Asia, China

LA Times: California churches plan a big push against same-sex marriage

Early on a late September morning, if all goes according to plan, 1 million Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, evangelical Christians, Sikhs and Hindus will open their doors, march down their front walks and plant “Yes on Proposition 8” signs in their yards to show they support repealing same-sex marriage in California.

It is a bold idea, one that may be difficult to pull off. But whether or not 1 million lawn signs are planted in unison, the plan underscores what some observers say is one of the most ambitious interfaith political organizing efforts ever attempted in the state. Moreover, political analysts say, the alliances across religious boundaries could herald new ways of building coalitions around political issues in California.

“Pan-religious, faith-based political action strategies . . . I think we are going to see a lot more of [this] in the future,” said Gaston Espinosa, a professor of religious studies at Claremont McKenna College.

The greatest involvement in the campaign has come from Mormons, Catholics and evangelical Christians, who say they are working together much more closely than they did eight years ago when a similar measure, Proposition 22, was on the ballot.

Mark Jansson, a Mormon who is a member of the Protect Marriage Coalition, said members of his group are also reaching out to Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus.

Organizers say the groups turned to each other because of the California Supreme Court’s ruling in May allowing same-sex marriages to be performed in the state. Thousands of gay couples have wed in the state since June 17, the first day same-sex marriages became legal.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Law & Legal Issues, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths)

In Colorado an Episcopal church Closes its Doors

A tradition of about 140 years ends next Sunday when the Trinity Episcopal Church of Trinidad officially closes its doors and disbands its congregation due to rising operating costs and declining attendance.

Trinity Church is currently located at 119 Colorado Ave., a space it has occupied for more than 120 years.

A statement put out by the church read, “Due to the decrease in the number of worshippers attending services, and the steadily increasing expense of operating and maintaining the building, the congregation and the Dioceses of Colorado have agreed that the Episcopal presence in Colorado must come to an end.”

Vicar Janet Rawlins estimated that the congregation had dwindled to less than 10 regularly attending members. “There’s no cut-off point,” Rawlins said. “No one is shutting us down. It’s just the circumstances as they are make it necessary to end over 120 years of the Episcopal presence in Trinidad.

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