Daily Archives: December 24, 2008

Pittsburgh: Churches plan Christmas message of enduring hope in uncertain times

This week, pastors throughout the South Hills plan to remind, in their holiday sermons, of the Christian faith’s belief in expectation and aspiration in times of financial and other uncertainties.

Most ministers and priests we talked to said they are praying that their holiday sermons result in small gestures of kindness, generosity and mutual respect that will spread throughout today’s troubled world.

“We are each a point of light in a circle of hope, and each of us needs to pass this hope along to others,” is the message the Rev. Dennis Molnar said he has offered his congregation this Advent season at Wallace Memorial Presbyterian Church, 1146 Green Tree Road in Green Tree.

His Christmas message tonight and tomorrow will remind his congregants to take the light of hope into shadowy places.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Parish Ministry

South Florida: Dark economic times shine a light on the true meaning of Christmas

Usually, Cristina Perez’s students at St. Agatha Catholic School begin penning their wish lists as soon as Christmas decorations pop up at nearby International Mall. This year, Perez wants her sixth- and seventh-graders to think about gifts a little differently.

”We have discussed ways in which they can help around the house,” says the West Miami-Dade special education teacher. “We’ve also discussed service projects. If you don’t have money, you can give of your time. Everybody can do something for someone else.”

The idea is to emphasize giving of a different sort — and gratitude. ”I tell them that no matter how bad they have it,” Perez says, “someone else is worse off.”

Read it all.

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

Jordanian Students Rebel, Embracing Conservative Islam

Muhammad Fawaz is a very serious college junior with a stern gaze and a reluctant smile that barely cloaks suppressed anger. He never wanted to attend Jordan University. He hates spending hours each day commuting.

As a high school student, Mr. Fawaz, 20, had dreamed of earning a scholarship to study abroad. But that was impossible, he said, because he did not have a “wasta,” or connection. In Jordan, connections are seen as essential for advancement and the wasta system is routinely cited by young people as their primary grievance with their country.

So Mr. Fawaz decided to rebel. He adopted the serene, disciplined demeanor of an Islamic activist. In his sophomore year he was accepted into the student group affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest, most influential religious, social and political movement, one that would ultimately like to see the state governed by Islamic law, or Shariah. Now he works to recruit other students to the cause.

“I find there is justice in the Islamic movement,” Mr. Fawaz said one day as he walked beneath the towering cypress trees at Jordan University. “I can express myself. There is no wasta needed.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Education, Islam, Middle East, Other Faiths, Teens / Youth, Young Adults

Young Muslims Build a Subculture on an Underground Book

Five years ago, young Muslims across the United States began reading and passing along a blurry, photocopied novel called “The Taqwacores,” about imaginary punk rock Muslims in Buffalo.

“This book helped me create my identity,” said Naina Syed, 14, a high school freshman in Coventry, Conn.

A Muslim born in Pakistan, Naina said she spent hours on the phone listening to her older sister read the novel to her. “When I finally read the book for myself,” she said, “it was an amazing experience.”

The novel is “The Catcher in the Rye” for young Muslims, said Carl W. Ernst, a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Springing from the imagination of Michael Muhammad Knight, it inspired disaffected young Muslims in the United States to form real Muslim punk bands and build their own subculture.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Islam, Other Faiths, Young Adults

A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

It starts just after 10 a.m. EST for those of you who enjoy this kind of thing.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Christmas, Church of England (CoE), Church Year / Liturgical Seasons

Nonprofit Groups Help Disabled Vet Make Ends Meet

The Veterans Administration says [Jason] Brunson is 70 percent disabled. He has post-traumatic stress disorder, among other medical problems. He and his wife, Ellen, live with their two children and their son’s fiancee in St. Augustine, Fla.

When Jason was in the Army, he earned $3,600 a month. Now, the family lives on less than half of that. After they pay for Jason’s medical costs, the bills and the rent, they have about $9 left. Jason’s wife, Ellen, said she considered moving the family in with her mother before she found help from nonprofit organizations that help veterans and their families. So far, the family says, it has received about $7,000 in financial assistance from the groups. They don’t usually get cash, though ”” the checks go directly to the Brunsons’ creditors.

Listen to it all from NPR.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Iraq War, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces

More in middle class using payday lenders

With its quaint downtown and tree-lined streets, the unpretentious city of Cleveland, Tenn., in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains seems an unlikely epicenter for a $50-billion-a-year financial industry.

But this is where W. Allan Jones founded Check Into Cash, the granddaddy of modern payday lenders, which cater to millions of financially strapped working people with short-term loans — at annualized interest rates of 459%.

“It’s the craziest business,” said Jones, 55, a genial homegrown tycoon who founded his privately held company in 1993. “Consumers love us, but consumer groups hate us.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Personal Finance, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

LA Times: Obama economic team tries to allay worries about stimulus plan

Amid a drumbeat of grim economic reports, President-elect Barack Obama’s top economic advisors met Tuesday to refine plans for a massive stimulus proposal, promising the money would not go toward dubious pork-barrel projects.

Vice President-elect Joe Biden met with seven advisors for an hour here as Obama vacationed in Hawaii. With the incoming administration acknowledging the stimulus plan could cost as much as $775 billion over two years, Biden seemed intent on reassuring Americans the money would not be wasted.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--, US Presidential Election 2008

Ted Gup: Hard Times, a Helping Hand

In the weeks just before Christmas of 1933 ”” 75 years ago ”” a mysterious offer appeared in The Repository, the daily newspaper here. It was addressed to all who were suffering in that other winter of discontent known as the Great Depression. The bleakest of holiday seasons was upon them, and the offer promised modest relief to those willing to write in and speak of their struggles. In return, the donor, a “Mr. B. Virdot,” pledged to provide a check to the neediest to tide them over the holidays.

Not surprisingly, hundreds of letters for Mr. B. Virdot poured into general delivery in Canton ”” even though there was no person of that name in the city of 105,000. A week later, checks, most for as little as $5, started to arrive at homes around Canton. They were signed by “B. Virdot.”

The gift made The Repository’s front page on Dec. 18, 1933. The headline read: “Man Who Felt Depression’s Sting to Help 75 Unfortunate Families: Anonymous Giver, Known Only as ”˜B. Virdot,’ Posts $750 to Spread Christmas Cheer.” The story said the faceless donor was “a Canton man who was toppled from a large fortune to practically nothing” but who had returned to prosperity and now wanted to give a Christmas present to “75 deserving fellow townsmen.” The gifts were to go to men and women who might otherwise “hesitate to knock at charity’s door for aid.”

I can’t say enough good things about this wonderful piece. It moved me so much I shared it with the whole family at dinner. Read it all–KSH.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, History, Poverty

A Fantastic Rick Reilly Story About a Highly Unusual Football Game in Texas

They played the oddest game in high school football history last month down in Grapevine, Texas.

It was Grapevine Faith vs. Gainesville State School and everything about it was upside down. For instance, when Gainesville came out to take the field, the Faith fans made a 40-yard spirit line for them to run through.

Did you hear that? The other team’s fans?….

“I never in my life thought I’d hear people cheering for us to hit their kids,” recalls Gainesville’s QB and middle linebacker, Isaiah. “I wouldn’t expect another parent to tell somebody to hit their kids. But they wanted us to!”

Makes the heart very glad–read it all (Hat tip: TCW).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Education, Sports, Teens / Youth

Fry's Electronics executive accused of embezzling

A Ferrari-driving vice president of Fry’s Electronics Inc. who was allegedly such a heavyweight gambler that casinos chartered private planes to fly him to Las Vegas has been arrested on charges he embezzled more than $65 million from the retailer to fuel his lavish lifestyle and pay off debts.

Ausaf Umar Siddiqui is accused by the IRS of concocting a scheme in which he cut side deals with some of Fry’s suppliers, buying their goods at higher prices and in greater quantities than normal in exchange for kickbacks of up to 31 percent of the sales price.

Yuck. Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

Today's WSJ: Insurance Deals Spread Pain of U.S. Defaults World-Wide

To better understand how investors found themselves in their predicament, it helps to take a look at a synthetic CDO called Torquay — named after a small town in Australia’s Victoria state, famed for its surfing. Torquay was born during the credit boom in 2006.

Torquay belongs to the most popular type of synthetic CDO, known as a mezzanine deal. Morgan Stanley estimates as much as $400 billion in mezzanine securities are outstanding. Bankers engineered them to provide the highest possible return while still garnering gold-standard credit ratings. But one feature made them a lot riskier than a similar portfolio of corporate bonds: If losses to defaults rose above a certain threshold — typically between 3% and 6% of the underlying pool of debt — investors would lose all their money.

An arm of J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. won a mandate from an Australian bank called Grange Securities to put together Torquay. J.P. Morgan pioneered the use of credit derivatives in the early 1990s. People close to the bank say J.P. Morgan had revenues of $400 million to $500 million from synthetic CDOs in 2006.

J.P. Morgan and other investment banks typically paired with local financial institutions to market synthetic CDOs in Australia, where small investors such as the town of Parkes make up a large part of the market.

The mind boggles. A town in Australia bought a higher yielding instrument with their money, which, if certain conditions were met, would result in them losing all their money. The collateral damage of these pernicious CDO’s and CDS’s continues apace worldwide. Read it all–KSH.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Australia / NZ, Credit Markets, Economy, Globalization, The Credit Freeze Crisis of Fall 2008/The Recession of 2007--

In California Anglican Community Pushes For Church Property

“We really just want the status quo to exist which is leave us alone, let us follow Christ as we have been doing and do that in the building that we’re in right now,” said Anglican priest, Father Carlos Raines.

Last December the Diocese of San Joaquin split from the Episcopal Church over the issue of homosexuality.

Read it all.

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

Rewriting The Bible One Verse, One Mile At A Time

Long ago, it was considered revolutionary to have a copy of the Bible written in the common language of the people. The world’s leading Bible publisher is taking that idea further. Representatives of the publisher are travelling across the country in a big bus, inviting people to help write a new edition of the Bible, one verse at a time.

Listen to it all from NPR.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Scripture