Daily Archives: May 15, 2015
At least eight people were killed in Tuesday’s Amtrak train derailment, and each victim has now been identified. The details of their remarkable lives revealed the depth of this catastrophe: a college dean who, after overcoming an impoverished childhood, was working toward his doctorate; a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy who aspired to become a Navy SEAL; a woman who, at just 39, had become the chief executive officer of an education tech firm in Philadelphia; an Associated Press software architect who was known for his composure, kindness and frequent hugs; a Wells Fargo executive who was an avid cyclist and a constant optimist; a technology company vice president who lived in Maryland and had a wry sense of humor.
The seventh and eighth victims were identified Thursday afternoon: Laura Finamore, 47, a New Yorker who worked in corporate real estate; and Giuseppe Piras, 41, an Italian who sold olive oil and wine and was in the United States on business.
Read all of their profiles….
Let’s be honest, most sermons today are terrible. They are boring. They ramble. They sound like bad imitations of high school book reports. Listening to a sermon today is often like listening to the teacher from the old Charlie Brown cartoons. And I believe the reason why preaching has gotten so bad, particularly in liturgical churches, is rather obvious. We do not have good preachers because we do not understand what preaching is for.
Like being a great cello player or a great center fielder, a great preacher is born with a certain degree of raw talent that then must be honed and trained in order for the preacher to reach his or her full potential. But in liturgical churches in the contemporary West, we see preaching as less important than other aspects of ministry. We assume that anyone can be a great preacher and that the honing of preaching skills ought to be relatively low on the clergy’s priority list, something to tend to once all the other fires are put out. We reap what we sow. We treat preaching like it is nothing, and thus it becomes nothing.
What I offer here are a few maxims on what makes great preaching. They are culled from my own experience both as a preacher and as someone who listens to sermons. I am no expert, and this list is nowhere near exhaustive, but it is a start. I hope that others will build on this. “Faith comes through hearing,” Paul says (Romans 10:17). It is no secret that the Church in the West is in decline, and I see no scenario for its revival that does not include a renewal of great preaching.
In my previous post, I detailed the sordid story by which the Episcopal Church (USA) has gotten into the debt collection business. Refugees designated to migrate to the United States are advanced travel money by an arm of the U.S. State Department. They land here, and are placed in the hands of (among other agencies) Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM), which helps them relocate into specific communities, find jobs, and settle in. Then EMM sees that they repay their travel advances to the Government, and pockets one-quarter of its debt collection proceeds for its trouble.
It’s a nifty racket, and ensures that annually over $300,000 comes into the Episcopal Church’s coffers, to help with its bottom line. Meanwhile, the U.S. Government reimburses EMM for all of its other refugee relocation expenses, to the tune of some $14 million annually.
Now thanks to our good friend and frequent commenter El Gringo Viejo, your Curmudgeon has been pointed to this illuminating video message, which tells “the rest of the story,” so to speak. It turns out that a good portion of the refugees EMM is assisting are not just any refugees, but are Muslims from some of the countries to which America has sent troops, bombs or both: Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq and (soon) Syria. Listen to Ann Corcoran as she explains what she discovered…
On 22 May 2015 Ireland will go to the polls to vote on a constitutional amendment put forward by the Fine Gael-Labour government that would mandate the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Roman Catholic Bishops of Ireland have urged the defeat of the bill, but two former Archbishops of Dublin and two current Church of Ireland bishops have said they will vote “yes”.
The Most Rev. John Neill, the archbishop of Dublin from 2002 to 2011, told The Irish Times “we now recognise that there are many different types of unions and I don’t see why they cannot have the protection and status of marriage”. “The understanding of marriage in the church has evolved, putting partnership first before procreation”, in which context “there is less of a problem about same-sex marriage”. The Most Rev. Walton Empey, archbishop from 1996 to 2002 said “I certainly have no hesitation in calling for a Yes vote.”
The Bishop of Cork, the Rt. Rev. Paul Colton told the BBC last year he supported the introduction of gay marriage, while the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, the Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows last month told a conference at Trinity College, Dublin that gay rights was the “great justice issue of our time just as the abolition of slavery and the emancipation of women were in the past.”
The average human’s attention span is… oh look, a bird!
According to scientists, the age of smartphones has left humans with such a short attention span even a goldfish can hold a thought for longer.
Researchers surveyed 2,000 participants in Canada and studied the brain activity of 112 others using electroencephalograms.
The results showed the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds. ”
…a new report from the Thomas Fordham Institute, a think-tank, may encourage future closures of bad schools, because it suggests that they are good for students. Researchers looked at 23,000 displaced pupils from shut-down district and charter schools in eight Ohio cities between 2006 and 2012. Ohio’s urban public schools have long struggled with competition from charter schools and declining populations (the state’s eight largest cities have lost more than 50,000 students in the past eight years). Those who stayed found themselves in empty or failing schools.
Critics argue that shutting schools destabilises and, in some cases, derails the academic progress of pupils. Not so: the Fordham study found that closures ultimately benefit pupils from wretched schools. Once a school had closed, most of the children ended up in better ones, where they eventually got higher grades. Three years after the closure, children were found to have gained the equivalent of at least an extra month of learning in their new schools. Those who went from a failing charter school to a high-performing one did even better, gaining 58 more days of learning in reading and 88 days in maths.
Most of the closed district schools were in deprived areas. Nearly three-quarters of the children were black and more than 90% were poor. The report concluded that “though fraught with controversy and political peril, shuttering bad schools might just be a saving grace for students who need the best education they can get.”
The power that comes is to be given away not hung onto; Jesus was no Mugabe clinging to power. There would be no public glory or acclaim, merely hard work and sacrifice, like most of those who serve the church round the world today. I spoke to someone yesterday working for reconciliation in a civil war, whose name will never be known outside the circles of his own friends ”“ yet he carries a cross of suffering for Christ.
Put like that it makes the worst of any recent party manifesto looks like words of gold, to which people would flock by contrast. Few would be elected on the manifesto of Jesus, surely?
Yet the church grew at such a rate, despite opposition and suffering, that 300 years later the Empire that had casually swiped away the life of Jesus with the sort of attention we might give to a mosquito, found itself honouring and converting to the faith. The same disciples who beforehand seem foolish and act only in their own interests, were willing to lay down their lives, confident in the promises of God, the Kingdom of God and the triumph of Christ.
Followers of Christ recall their savior’s warning that they will face persecution, and they recall St. Paul’s teaching that suffering produces endurance and character. Most Christians in the Middle East retain their spiritual hope, but they are losing their temporal hope: They fear that they will never return to their ancestral lands, and that the Christian presence in the region might disappear.
Iraq is home to one of the oldest continuous Christian communities in the world, some of whose members still speak Aramaic, the language of Jesus. But their numbers have plummeted to around 200,000 from 1.5 million before the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. A Christian exodus, if it isn’t reversed, would be a devastating loss for Iraq. Iraqi Christians are well-organized, and for years they’ve tended to the educational, cultural and social needs of the wider society.
Christians have also historically helped stabilize the volatile region. “Christians have always played a key role in building our societies and defending our nations,” Jordan’s King Abdullah has said. “There is no Iraq without Christians,” says Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi.
The Prime Minister, fresh from his election victory, has been warned not to listen to “harsh, strident voices”, but to lighten burdens and “build one nation”.
Last Friday, David Cameron celebrated the “sweetest victory of all”, defying the polls by securing an outright majority in a General Election that had been widely predicted to be inconclusive.
The Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, in a blog post written at the start of this week, counsels him to “reach out to the whole nation, to connect with the disaffected, to listen to the people and to be their servant”.
The Bishop warns: “There will be those who see the Conservative majority as a mandate to fulfil and go beyond the manifesto commitments, blind to the risk of increasing the burdens of those who already bear the heavy load (of sickness, disability or the struggle to find sustainable employment).”
O Glorious Christ, who in thy ascension didst enter into thy kingdom: Remember, we pray thee, the countless millions who have not heard of the redemption which thou hast won for them. Grant that they may learn, through thy Church, of the new and living way which thou hast opened for them. Let them draw near in fullness of faith, to enter with thee into the holy place of the Father’s presence, and receive forgiveness and peace. So may they worship, with the innumerable company of angels and with the spirits of just men made perfect, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, blessed for evermore.
Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people,
to his saints, to those who turn to him in their hearts.
Surely his salvation is at hand for those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.
Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.
Yea, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
Righteousness will go before him,
and make his footsteps a way.
An update from the Archbishop of Canterbury ”“ Chair of the Commission
You will be aware that the Crown Nominations Commission met on the 11th and 12th May to consider the nomination of the next Bishop of Oxford and to meet with possible candidates.
I am writing to advise that the Commission has been unable to discern the candidate whom God is calling at this stage to be the next Bishop of Oxford. Under the election rules under which we operate, no candidate received the required number of votes for nomination.
The Crown Nominations Commission already has a number of meetings in place for the rest of this year. The Oxford CNC will reconvene on the 4th February 2016…
…There are several factors, and some lessons to be learned from some of our overseas partners who are actually increasing the percentage of convinced Christians in their societies…
While there are certainly differences of style and emphasis, there is a clear and unmistakable call for repentance from sin, and turning to Jesus Christ as Lord in the fellowship of the Church. There is little talk about denomination in the areas where the church is growing. It is a focus on Christ. There is even a celebration of the fruit that is being born through the lives of other Christians.
In areas like Northern Nigeria where Boko Haram is killing Christians, there are still people choosing to go out and seek to lead others to Christ. Even at the risk of their lives, they choose the difficult course because the alternative is unacceptable to them. They do not want anyone to be lost to Christ. Many are willing, like the seeds Jesus spoke of in John 12, “to fall into the ground and die that they might bear much fruit.” They do not seek to live lives devoid of painful circumstances. They choose lives of purpose and commitment regardless of the circumstances.
We have a lot to learn.
The meeting includes reflections on questions such as: is there a radicalisation of Muslims in Europe? How is this issue tackled within Muslim communities? How is it possible to promote a culture of dialogue between Christians and Muslims? What is the cultural and religious vitality of the Muslims on the continent?
Speakers include Prof. Olivier Roy from the European University Institute in Florence; Dr. Omero Marongiu-Perria, an expert in the sociology of religions and member of CISMOC (Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Islam in the Contemporary World ”“ University of Louvain, Belgium); Bishops Michel Dubost (France), Juan Antonio MartÃnez Camino (Spain) and Charles Morerod (Switzerland). Practical experiences in relations with Muslims are being shared by Fr. Christophe Roucou (France: dialogue between priests and imams); Helmut Wiesmann (Germany: co-operation in charitable work); and Bisho