Category : America/U.S.A.

(WSJ) Michael Helfand–Discrimination Without Discriminating? The Supreme Court next week will hear another challenge to an anti-Catholic law

In Trinity Lutheran v. Comer (2017), the justices took aim at Missouri’s Blaine amendment, which the state had invoked to withhold funding for a church-run school. By 7-2, the justices deemed Missouri’s denial a First Amendment violation because “Trinity Lutheran was denied a grant simply because of what it is—a church.” But the court focused on the discriminatory impact of the specific case, rather than the discriminatory intent of the Blaine amendment.

Espinoza involves a scholarship program the Montana Legislature created in 2015 to promote school choice. The state offered a $150 tax credit for donations to nonprofits that award scholarships to students attending any private ‘“qualified education provider,” a definition that initially included religious schools. But the law conflicted with Montana’s Blaine amendment, which bars “any direct or indirect” funding to religious schools. The state Department of Revenue redefined “qualified education provider” to exclude religious schools. That exclusion triggered a set of lawsuits arguing that the modified rule violated the First Amendment—a strong argument given Trinity Lutheran.

Then the legal fight took a strange turn. The Montana Supreme Court held that the program could not support institutions providing scholarships to religious schools. But it also found that the Department of Revenue lacked the authority to modify the program to exclude religious schools. Because the law authorized what the state constitution prohibited—funding religious schools—the entire law had to be struck down. That meant no private school received funding.

As a result, the law that discriminated against religious schools is off the books. Thus the most natural application of U.S. Supreme Court precedent—that a state may not exclude a religious institution simply because of “what it is”—does not easily apply. Given this peculiar posture, how might the justices decide the case?

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Letter from a Birmingham Jail

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.

There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Prison/Prison Ministry, Race/Race Relations

Richard John Neuhaus: Remembering, and Misremembering, Martin Luther King Jr.

As Abernathy tells it—and I believe he is right—he and King were first of all Christians, then Southerners, and then blacks living under an oppressive segregationist regime. King of course came from the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta in which his father, “Daddy King,” had succeeded in establishing himself as a king. Abernathy came from much more modest circumstances, but he was proud of his heritage and, as he writes, wanted nothing more than that whites would address his father as Mr. Abernathy. He and Martin loved the South, and envisioned its coming into its own once the sin of segregation had been expunged.

“Years later,” Abernathy writes that, “after the civil rights movement had peaked and I had taken over [after Martin’s death] as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference,” he met with Governor George Wallace. “Governor Wallace, by then restricted to a wheel chair after having been paralyzed by a would-be assassin’s bullet, shook hands with me and welcomed me to the State of Alabama. I smiled, realizing that he had forgotten all about Montgomery and Birmingham, and particularly Selma. ‘This is not my first visit,’ I said. ‘I was born in Alabama—in Marengo County.’ ‘Good,’ said Governor Wallace, ‘then welcome back.’ I really believe he meant it. In his later years he had become one of the greatest friends the blacks had ever had in Montgomery. Where once he had stood in the doorway and barred federal marshals from entering, he now made certain that our people were first in line for jobs, new schools, and other benefits of state government.” Abernathy concludes, “It was a time for reconciliations.”

Read it all (my emphasis).

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr: I Have a Dream

You can find the full text here.

I find it always is really worth the time to listen to and read and ponder it all on this day–KSH.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Language, Race/Race Relations

(Sightings) Martin Marty–Are traditional holy days still something more than just any other day?

“Sunday Is Not the New Monday” shouted the headline of the “Success” section in a recent edition of our Chicago Tribune (Monday, December 30, 2019). Having many reasons—cultural, theological, traditional, personal, etc.—to care about Sunday (or analogues to it in Judaism, Adventism, Islam, and more) I took the bait and read on. Author John Boitnott opens the article with a description of what Sunday used to mean—or what he thinks it used to mean—and how it served: “Sunday used to be for relaxing, spending time with family and friends and catching up on personal tasks.” Boitnott says that he associates with “entrepreneurs” and authors of advice columns who encourage their readers to “stay available for work outside traditional business hours.”

Boitnott offers four clusters of advice in settings where “work” casts its shadow on Sundays: “Stop the guilt,” “Remove yourself from the work environment,” “Set limits and retrain those around you,” and “Plan for Monday on Friday.” So far, so good, if “workism” or “workaholism” is your problem. But is that all that is at stake and all that is to be offered to face the problem? We Sightings columnists are charged to notice those overlookable stories wherein religion or the religious may in fact be significant. Reread the Boitnott sentence again, the one about how “Sunday used to be for relaxing, spending time with family and friends and catching up on personal tasks.” Yes, but for tens of millions of North Americans, among others, Sundays (for Christians; Fridays for Muslims; Shabbat for Jews; etc.) were also for helping people tend to general and specific matters of the spirit and the soulful flourishing of life….

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Media, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NYT) Is the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scheme the apex of the cheating era? Or is it acknowledgement that it is just the way things are now in sports.

But the rules are there, and F. Clark Power worries that by flouting them, more is being lost than a sense of fair play. Power is the founder of the Play Like a Champion program, which promotes character education through sports and focuses on proper coaching instruction in youth sports, especially for at-risk children.

He likes to reference what he sees when he witnesses the joy of 7-year-olds playing hide-and-seek.

“Every one of them knows that to have a fair game, you’ve got to keep your eyes closed while you count,” said Power, who has taught at the University of Notre Dame since 1982.

“We need to understand, if we are going to endorse cheating as a means to an end, the children are watching,” he said. “So it becomes a question of how do you want to raise your kids? We can’t get much lower as a culture if cheating is no longer a moral issue but a form of coping. We need to change the conversation.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Sports

(CC) China’s attack on the Uighurs and their Muslim faith

To coerce behavior in Xinjiang, the Chinese government has employed thousands of security agents along with high-tech forms of surveillance, in­cluding security cameras and facial recognition software. Because the Chinese press is censored by the government, news of these abuses has filtered out of the region largely through foreign journalists and independent researchers. China denied the existence of the internment camps until classified government documents were leaked last year; since then, government officials have described the camps as “vocational centers.”

China’s role as scheduled host of the 2022 Winter Olympics offers the world a chance to speak up for the Uighurs and apply pressure on the government to relent. So far, China’s economic clout on the world stage has rendered many nations hesitant to respond. The US shows no signs of making religious freedom for the Uighurs a key issue in trade negotiations.

The US Congress is, however, considering a bill that would direct the Trump administration to identify Chinese officials involved in the abuses and to deny them entry to the US and freeze their financial assets. The bill would also impose sanctions on tech firms that supply China with equipment used in repression and surveillance. The bill passed the House of Representatives and awaits a vote in the Senate. As modest as it is, such a law would be one of the more significant international efforts to hold Chinese leaders accountable for their brutal and systematic assault on a religious community.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, America/U.S.A., China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Islam, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Violence

(WBUR) Can Spirituality Exist Without God? A Growing Number Of Americans Say Yes

Tippett also talks about those who use nature to experience the spiritual. One of those she interviewed was former priest John O’Donohue, who spoke about the abstract aesthetics of the landscape he grew up in, which he said were “all laid down by some wild surrealistic kind of deity like a wild invitation to extend your imagination.”

She says that this plays into the notion of “awe” and the work of Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

“And not only is an awe a real thing,” Tippett says, “awe is a life-giving, health-giving thing.”

While “awe” has been historically connected to religion and belief in God, she says Keltner’s research shows humans can experience awe through the natural world.

To her, part of the key is that mind, body and spirit are not separate — she says the spiritually she pursues is about connecting your inner and outer self, making space for discernment and authenticity. It’s about “constantly coming back, looking inward, getting re-centered, looking beyond ourselves,” she says.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(AP) US drinking more now than just before Prohibition

Americans are drinking more now than when Prohibition was enacted. What’s more, it’s been rising for two decades, and it’s not clear when it will fall again.

That’s the picture painted by federal health statistics, which show a rise in per-person consumption and increases in emergency room visits, hospitalizations and deaths tied to drinking.

The stats aren’t all bad. Drinking among teenagers is down. And there are signs that some people are taking alcohol seriously — such as the “Dry January” movement making the rounds on social media.

But overall, public health experts say America still has a drinking problem.

“Consumption has been going up. Harms (from alcohol) have been going up,” said Dr. Tim Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University. “And there’s not been a policy response to match it.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Alcohol/Drinking, America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine

Stephen Freeman–Hidden from the Eyes of Modernity

The modern world is dominated by the cult of politics. There is no better way to describe how we imagine things to work. Regardless of our protests to the contrary, contemporary people believe in a secular world – a world that operates according to its own laws and principles (cause and effect) – and where those with power are those who are able to “make things happen.” Power is understood to be identical with coercion (or the “authority” to coerce) and wealth (the ability to pay people to do your bidding). The apex of this power is identified with governments. As such, we understand “politics” to be the primary means of controlling and shaping the world. This is life as cult. We are told (and agree) that the thing we call “government” controls and shapes the world, and that it is its legitimate role. Every protest to the contrary is met either with perhaps two verses of Scripture (if you’re a Christian) or dismissal as some sort of nut (perhaps an Amish nut of sorts).

Much of this cult has been created in the crucible of modernity itself. At its heart, modernity (and all of its political forms) teaches that the shaping and control of history is the proper role of government. It is the agent of change. If anyone resists this claim or refuses to participate, then they are charged with failing to take up their responsibilities. It is a cult that demands our participation (the very nature of a cult).

Malick’s film concludes with a quote from George Elliot’s Middlemarch:

“..for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

I would go further than Elliot. The hidden life is the only true life, and what is deemed “historic” is little more than propaganda. The propaganda does not serve the moment-by-moment reality that each of us necessarily inhabits. Rather, it serves to empower those who most want to do violence without the distraction of a conscience.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Theology

(Rod Dreher) When A Bishop Does Right

Whenever you read about bishops here, it’s usually to complain about their failings. I’m delighted to be able to write about something good a bishop has done. In this case, it’s the Antiochian Orthodox Bishop Basil Essey, of Wichita, who corrected one of his priests, Father Aaron Warwick. As I wrote here, Father Aaron published an essay in a dissenting Orthodox online journal in which he called for a strong revision in Orthodox pastoral care for LGBT people — including encouraging same-sex couples to pair off and keep their sex lives within the pairing. Father Aaron insisted that he wasn’t challenging Church teaching, only pastoral practice, but this is a Jesuitical distinction without a difference (no, it really is: this is the tactic the Catholic LGBT activist priest James Martin, SJ, uses).

Father Aaron was scheduled to be elevated to archpriest (sort of like “monsignor” in the Catholic Church) this month, but now, that’s not going to happen quite yet. This went out yesterday:

I don’t know what, exactly, Bishop Basil did, but Father Aaron issued a public apology, and a retraction of his essay….

There is no more difficult stance in contemporary American culture for a cleric, bishop or not, to take than the one Bishop Basil has taken here. When our priests, pastors, and bishops do take those stands, we need to praise them, and praise them publicly. A senior church leader who doesn’t temporize or surrender to the culture — imagine that! God, send us more!

Read it all (cited by yours truly in the morning sermon).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Marriage & Family, Orthodox Church, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Theology: Scripture

(HLT) Bryan Stevenson –Bringing Slavery’s Legacy to Light, One Story at a Time

Last January, Johnson and his family stood with Stevenson where it happened. Beside them was Oprah Winfrey with a camera crew, filming for a “60 Minutes” segment. Stevenson said a few words in Wes’ honor, then handed a small shovel to Johnson to dig the soil that would make its way to the Legacy Museum.

After all these years, Wes’ story would finally be heard; Johnson could share it with the world. But it meant just as much to him to share the story with the people of Abbeville. In the days after the segment aired, a county employee, a young white woman, approached Johnson to say she was sorry for what had happened. That she had no idea.

“It just gives you some closure,” Johnson says.

When his former students got in touch to apologize, Johnson reassured them it wasn’t their fault. Don’t hate your grandparents, he added; they got caught up in the frenzy of things.

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” It’s something Stevenson often says, and Johnson believes it.

But for the sake of the future, Johnson had something else to say to his former students. Now you know better, he told them. And it’s up to you to pass that on—to your children, and to everyone else you know.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Law & Legal Issues, Race/Race Relations, Violence

(NYT Op-ed) David Brooks–Has President Trump Made Us All Stupid?

Donald Trump is impulse-driven, ignorant, narcissistic and intellectually dishonest. So you’d think that those of us in the anti-Trump camp would go out of our way to show we’re not like him — that we are judicious, informed, mature and reasonable.

But the events of the past week have shown that the anti-Trump echo chamber is becoming a mirror image of Trump himself — overwrought, uncalibrated and incapable of having an intelligent conversation about any complex policy problem.

But in the anti-Trump echo chamber, that’s not how most people were thinking. Led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they avoided the hard, complex problem of how to set boundaries around militias. Instead, they pontificated on the easy question not actually on the table: Should we have a massive invasion of Iran?

A great cry went up from the echo chamber. We’re on the brink of war! Trump is leading us to more endless wars in the Middle East! We’re on the precipice of total chaos! This was not the calibrated language of risk and reward. It was fear-stoking apocalyptic language. By being so overwrought and exaggerated, the echo chamber drowned out any practical conversation about how to stabilize the Middle East so we could have another righteous chorus of “Donald Trump is a monster!”

This is Trump’s ultimate victory. Every argument on every topic is now all about him.

Read it all.

I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, President Donald Trump

(WSJ) As Jobs Cap 10 Years of Gains, Women Are Workforce Majority

Women overtook men to hold the majority of U.S. jobs for the first time in a decade, while employers added positions for a record 10th straight year, pointing to a growing and dynamic economy heading into 2020.

The number of women on nonfarm payrolls exceeded men in December for the first time since mid-2010, the Labor Department said Friday. Women held 50.04% of jobs last month, surpassing men on payrolls by 109,000.

“Increasingly, the fortunes of women in the labor market will determine the overall outcomes of the labor market because they will be the predominant share,” said Marianne Wanamaker, a labor economist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and former adviser to President Trump.

Overall, the economy added a seasonally adjusted 145,000 jobs last month, and unemployment stayed at a 50-year low of 3.5%. In one dark spot, wages advanced 2.9% from a year earlier, the smallest annual gain since July 2018. Stock-market indexes finished lower Friday after rising earlier in the day, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly crossing the 29000 mark.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market

(WSJ) U.S. Cancer Death Rate Drops by Largest Amount on Record

The cancer death rate in the U.S. dropped 2.2% from 2016 to 2017, the largest single-year drop ever recorded, according to the latest report from the American Cancer Society, continuing a longstanding decline that began a quarter-century ago.

The drop is largely driven by progress against lung cancer, though the most rapid declines in the report occurred in melanoma. Advances in treatment are helping improve survival rates in the two cancers, experts say.

Falling smoking rates have played a big role in the decline in lung-cancer deaths, cancer doctors say, as well as improvements in detection and treatment. For melanoma, the report singles out the emergence of drugs like Roche Holding AG ’s Zelboraf that target the molecular roots of tumors and therapies like Yervoy from Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., which enlist a patient’s own immune system in the cancer fight.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine

(Post-Gazette) Buck Henry, ‘Graduate’ screenwriter who co-created ‘Get Smart,’ RIP

“The Graduate,” based on Charles Webb’s 1963 novella, remained their most enduring project. The film made a star of Dustin Hoffman, who played Benjamin Braddock, a college graduate who has an affair with his parents’ friend Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft). Mixing wry comedy, sexual drama and a soundtrack by Simon & Garfunkel, the film captured the alienation and rebelliousness of the era and was later ranked No. 7 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best American movies.

Much to his frustration, Henry shared his Oscar nomination for “The Graduate” with Calder Willingham, who had worked on previous attempts to adapt the novel and sued to receive partial credit for the screenplay.

The book provided much of the film’s dialogue — including the oft-quoted line “Mrs. Robinson, you are trying to seduce me. Aren’t you?” — but it was Henry who devised the “plastics” exchange, in which a business associate of Benjamin’s parents offers career advice to the lost young man.

“I just want to say one word to you, just one word,” the businessman declares. “Plastics. … There’s a great future in plastics. Think about it. Will you think about it?”

The suggestion neatly encapsulated what some viewers saw as the artificiality and materialism of older generations.

“I was trying to find a word that summed up a kind of stultifying, silly, conversation-closing effort of one generation to talk to another. Plastics was the obvious one,” Henry told the Orlando Sentinel in 1992. “I was embarrassed some years later. I got to know some people in the plastics business, and they were really nice.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Movies & Television

(NR) Yuval Levin–The Historian as Moralist: The remarkable life’s work of Gertrude Himmelfarb

The passing of Gertrude Himmelfarb, who died on December 30th at the age of 97, is a loss felt keenly by all who had the good fortune to know her.

To family and friends, she was known as Bea Kristol, and embodied character and decency, good humor, and good sense. To Americans with an interest in our country’s intellectual life, she might have been best known as the wife of Irving Kristol. This always suited her humility (let alone her pride in Irving), and you would surely gain some real insight into the aims of the original neoconservatives by reflecting on the fact that Irving Kristol’s wife was a scholar of Victorian England.

But as such a scholar — one whose life’s work spanned an amazing seven decades of wise, independent-minded, reliably fascinating, and brilliantly expressed historical analysis — Himmelfarb has never been sufficiently appreciated. There will no doubt be many remembrances of her unique mix of personal warmth and dignity in the days to come, from many who knew her far better than I did. But a reflection on the ambitions and significance of her work is very much in order too.

She was among the most important American historians of the last century. Her path-breaking work illuminating the intellectual life of 19th-century Britain not only helped transform our understanding of what the Victorians were up to but also provided a rich vocabulary for describing the place of the moral in the social and political lives of liberal societies. And in the process, she helped several generations of politically minded intellectuals in her own day understand themselves, their roles, and their goals more profoundly.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Books, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Philosophy, Politics in General, Theology

Iran Fires Missiles at Two U.S. Bases in Iraq: Live Updates

Read it carefully and read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Iran, Iraq, Military / Armed Forces

(FA) Will Iran’s Response to the Soleimani Strike Lead to War?

Perhaps the most provocative thing Iran could do is carry out a terrorist attack on the U.S. homeland or attempt to kill a senior U.S. official of Soleimani’s stature. This would be much more challenging for Iran to pull off than an attack on U.S. interests or personnel overseas but may be deemed by Iran as appropriately proportional. The last time Iran is known to have attempted an attack in the United States was in 2011, when American law enforcement and intelligence agencies foiled a plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington by blowing up a restaurant. In that case, the plot was detected early on and easily foiled because of poor Iranian tradecraft. The episode suggested that Iran is much less capable outside the Middle East than inside it, an assessment that is buttressed by foiled Iranian bombing attempts in Denmark and France this year. So while Iran may try to conduct an attack inside the United States, it would need to get lucky to succeed.

If the Trump administration is smart, it will do all that it can to harden U.S. facilities and protect Americans while absorbing some of the inevitable blows to come. It should also reach out to Iran through U.S. partners that have good relations with the country, such as Oman, to try to de-escalate while also setting clear redlines in private to avoid an Iranian miscalculation. Finally, Trump should be satisfied to declare victory and boast that he got the upper hand on Iran by killing Soleimani—not take further military actions. But this type of restraint appears to run counter to Trump’s very nature. And even if he shows uncharacteristic self-restraint in the coming weeks, the desire for revenge in Iran, and the political momentum that desire is already beginning to generate, may inevitably draw the United States and Iran into a major conflict.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Iran, Iraq, Middle East, Military / Armed Forces, Office of the President, Politics in General, President Donald Trump

The story behind the Longfellow poem that became a Hymn–I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day, A Carol for the Despairing

Like we do every year, my parents took my brother and me to see “A Christmas Carol” on stage to get everyone into the Christmas spirit (which is no small feat at the end of November). The story is familiar and heartwarming, but the song they ended their production with struck me: “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.” Set to music a few decades later, this poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was written over Christmas of either 1863 or 1864, in the middle of the bloodiest war in American history.

The carol is not cotton candy; it is a beating heart, laid bare in seven stanzas with simple language. At the second-to-last verse, I noticed dimly that I had begun to cry; by the end of the song, my face was wet with tears.

“And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’”

It isn’t quite right to call this a cynic’s carol, but in this verse it is a desperate and bitter one. It’s a carol from a man who has had the nature of the world uncovered before him. It’s one of the only carols that still rings true to me in 2018.

Like all good poets, with “Christmas Bells” Longfellow reached out across almost 155 years of history to take my hand.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Christmas, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces, Poetry & Literature

(NYT) Intruder in Monsey Screamed ‘I’ll Get You’ in Machete Attack on Jews

When he was caught, the intruder was still covered in the blood of his victims — five Hasidic Jews he had stabbed wildly with a machete at a rabbi’s home while candles on the Hanukkah menorah still burned.

He had concealed his face with a scarf when he burst into the home in this Hasidic community in the New York suburbs at about 10 p.m. on Saturday, the police and witnesses said.

“At the beginning, he started wielding his machete back and forth, trying to hit everyone around,” said Josef Gluck, 32, who was at the home of the Hasidic rabbi, Chaim Rottenberg, for the celebration of the seventh night of Hanukkah.

Mr. Gluck said the assailant screamed at him, “Hey you, I’ll get you” during the attack.

In terror, people fled the living room. Mr. Gluck recalled dashing into the kitchen, picking up a small child and then going down a back porch. Mr. Gluck returned, saw an older victim bleeding heavily and then tried to confront the attacker.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Judaism, Terrorism, Violence

The Flag in the Whirlwind: An Update from CT’s President Why our editor in chief spoke out against Trump, and why the conversation must continue

First, then, the flag. Numerous reporters have asked whether the ministry supports what was stated in the editorial. Was Mark Galli speaking on behalf of the institution? CT does not have an editorial board. Editors publish under their own names. Yet Galli has stood in the trenches for men and women of faith for over three decades. He has been an outstanding editor in chief. While he does not speak for everyone in the ministry—our board and our staff hold a range of opinions—he carries the editorial voice of the magazine. We support CT’s editorial independence and believe it’s vital to our mission for the editor in chief to speak out on the issues of the day.

As an institution, Christianity Today has no interest in partisan politics. It does not endorse candidates. We aim to bring biblical wisdom and beautiful storytelling both to the church and from the church to the world. Politics matter, but they do not bring the dead back to life. We are far more committed to the glory of God, the witness of the church, and the life of the world than we care about the fortunes of any party. Political parties come and go, but the witness of the church is the hope of the world, and the integrity of that witness is paramount.

Out of love for Jesus and his church, not for political partisanship or intellectual elitism, this is why we feel compelled to say that the alliance of [some of] American evangelicalism with this presidency has wrought enormous damage to Christian witness. It has alienated many of our children and grandchildren. It has harmed African American, Hispanic American, and Asian American brothers and sisters. And it has undercut the efforts of countless missionaries who labor in the far fields of the Lord. While the Trump administration may be well regarded in some countries, in many more the perception of wholesale evangelical support for the administration has made toxic the reputation of the Bride of Christ.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Evangelicals, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Religion & Culture, Theology

(PRC FactTank) U.S. has changed in key ways in the past decade, from tech use to demographics

From smartphones to social media, tech use has become the norm. As of 2019, nine-in-ten U.S. adults say they go online, 81% say they own a smartphone and 72% say they use social media. Growth in adoption of some technologies has slowed in recent years, in some instances because there just aren’t many non-users left, especially among younger generations. For example, 93% of Millennials (ages 23 to 38 in 2019) own smartphones, and nearly 100% say they use the internet.

Social media is now a key pathway to news for Americans. In 2018, for the first time, social media sites surpassed print newspapers as a news source for Americans. One-in-five adults said they often get news from social media, slightly higher than the share who often did so from print newspapers (16%). Among social media sites, Facebook dominates in terms of news consumption: Around half of all U.S. adults (52%) now say they get news there.

Millennials have surpassed Generation Xers as the largest generation in the U.S. labor force. There were 57 million Millennials (born 1981 to 1996) working or looking for work in 2018. That was more than the 53 million Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1980) and well ahead of the 38 million Baby Boomers (born 1946 to 1964).

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A.

(CLJ) Tim Kelleher–A Divided Society Is Already Conquered

There is an insight that would seem to get us fairly close to the heart of things. It goes like this: in the philosophy of the East, what needs to be proved is the existence of the self. In the West, it is the reverse; a la Descartes, with Berkeley doubling down, the self is the reality outside of which all else, including the world and other beings, is dubious till proven otherwise.

At this point, we’re painfully aware of the cultural snare, oddly dubbed, identity politics. Like Penny Lane, it is very much in our ears, and in our eyes. And, with barely a squint, the connection between it, and that Western view of self, racks to revealing focus. Identity politics, it turns out, is a sad irony. For what passes as identity here is, in fact, inherently, radically, self-insistent. With each new grievance a new sub-identity emerges, indicting enemies from a pool of usual suspects, as well as those amazed to be cast, suddenly, in the part. Indeed, yesterday’s confederate becomes today’s foe with dizzying regularity. To the less inflamed eye, the syndrome is, in truth, a hunger. One that grows ravenous on its present fare — and in a pattern similar to cancer, whose cells, unlike their healthy counterparts, divide without stopping.

In this case, the agents of division are human. The insistence may be confused, but it is willful, and as potentially hazardous. No stardust here. With little to build on, or with, it is, rather, a race to a dead-end of identity, shrunk beyond meaning. More benevolently: Wile E. Coyote, the moment he realizes he has overshot the cliff. Less benevolently: he is taking us with him. Nothing that has been said should be mistaken for a dismissal of injustice, the individuals and groups burdened by it, or the need for genuine remedy.

I do suggest that, if remedy is what we are really after, the modus operandi of identity politics is not just the wrong way to it, it is no way to it at all. What it lacks is gaping, and fatally flawed, namely, acknowledgement of personal culpability, in the first instance, on the part of everyone, in every social wound. It is the default position of authentic humility, upon which noble things can be built.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Philosophy, Politics in General, Psychology

(PRC) The Digital Pulpit: A Nationwide Analysis of Online Sermons

In addition to calculating the most common terms across Christian traditions, researchers also identified the words and phrases that congregations of each major Christian tradition were disproportionately likely to hear in sermons, compared with congregations in the other traditions. Researchers identified these “most distinctive” terms by calculating the share of all churches in a Christian group with sermons that used a given word or phrase over the study period, as well as the share of all churches not in that group where the word or phrase was used, and then dividing the former by the latter to establish a ratio. In addition to converting each word to its stem, as in the preceding analysis, researchers removed any words used in sermons at fewer than 250 churches (4%) or at more than 95% of all churches (6,109).

Some of the findings are commonsensical. For instance, Catholic congregations were 21 times more likely than others to hear the term “homily” at least once during the study period, and they were 15 times more likely to hear “diocese” and “Eucharist.”9

In other cases, a tradition’s most distinctive terms may reflect some aspect of its teachings or its lectionary (a calendar of weekly readings). For example, Catholic sermons from the study period are more likely than others to contain the word “paschal,” which refers to Easter and to what the Catholic Catechism calls the “paschal mystery” of the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Certain expressions may be distinctive to the sermons of a particular Christian tradition but not especially common even within that tradition. Evangelical sermons are an especially notable example of this phenomenon.

Evangelical sermons contain a number of distinctive words and phrases relating to sin, punishment and redemption. But most of these terms were used in sermons at fewer than 10% of all evangelical churches across the study period. For instance, sermons from evangelical churches were three times more likely than those from other traditions to include the phrase “eternal hell” (or variations such as “eternity in hell). However, a congregant who attended every service at a given evangelical church in the dataset had a roughly one-in-ten chance of hearing one of those terms at least once during the study period. By comparison, that same congregant had a 99% chance of hearing the word “love.”

In addition to being less common overall, the most distinctively evangelical terms also are less distinctive than those of other Christian traditions. For example, evangelical congregations were only three times more likely than others to hear the phrase “eternal hell” in a sermon during the study period, while Catholic congregations were 12 times more likely than others to hear the word “paschal.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture, Sociology, Theology

(Post-Gazette) A new Pittsburgh area Roman Catholic parish merger is ‘managing growth rather than decline’

At a packed 11 a.m. Mass at Holy Child Church in Bridgeville, the Rev. Dennis Yurochko explained he was wearing rose-colored vestments to mark Gaudete Sunday — the third Sunday in the Advent season that signifies a time to rejoice as Christ’s birth approaches.

Another reason for celebration, he told the Roman Catholic congregation, is that Holy Child will officially merge on Jan. 6 with nearby St. Barbara and St. Mary churches to create the new Corpus Christi Parish.

Unlike many parishes in the Diocese of Pittsburgh grappling with empty pews and uncertain futures, Corpus Christi “is thankfully managing growth rather than decline,” Father Yurochko said.

About 10,000 individuals are registered in what will be the new parish, he said, including about 6,600 at Holy Child; 2,700 at St. Barbara, also in Bridgeville; and about 1,500 at St. Mary in Cecil, Washington County.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

(USA Today) Is marijuana linked to psychosis, schizophrenia? It’s contentious but doctors, feds say yes

Early one morning in March, Madison McIntosh showed up on his day off at the Scottsdale, Arizona, driving range and restaurant where he worked. The 24-year-old sat in his car until the place opened, then wandered around all day, alternating between gibberish and talk of suicide as co-workers tried to keep him away from customers.

When he was still there 12 hours later, the manager contacted McIntosh’s father in Las Vegas, who called police and rallied other family members states away to converge at the young man’s side.

They found a shell of the once-star baseball player. For months he’d been spending his days vaping a potent form of THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes people feel high, and staying up all night. Now, he was wildly swinging between depression and euphoria.

The family rushed McIntosh to Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, where staff psychiatrist Dr. Divya Jot Singh diagnosed him with cannabis use disorder and a “psychotic disorder unspecified….”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Drugs/Drug Addiction, Health & Medicine

(Atlantic) The Christian Withdrawal Experiment

Half an hour down the highway from Topeka, Kansas, not far from the geographic center of the United States, sits the town of St. Marys. Like many towns in the region, it is small, quiet, and conservative. Unlike many towns in the region, it is growing. As waves of young people have abandoned the Great Plains in search of economic opportunity, St. Marys has managed to attract families from across the nation. The newcomers have made the radical choice to uproot their lives in pursuit of an ideological sanctuary, a place where they can raise their children according to values no longer common in mainstream America.

St. Marys is home to a chapter of the Society of St. Pius X, or SSPX. Named for the early-20th-century pope who railed against the forces of modernism, the international order of priests was formed in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church’s attempt, in the 1960s, to meet the challenges of contemporary life. Though not fully recognized by the Vatican, the priests of SSPX see themselves as defenders of the true practices of Roman Catholicism, including the traditional Latin Mass, celebrated each day in St. Marys. Perfumed with incense and filled with majestic Latin hymns, the service has an air of formality and grandeur. To most American Catholics under the age of 50, it would be unrecognizable.

Throughout American history, religious groups have walled themselves off from the rhythms and mores of society. St. Marys isn’t nearly as cut off from modern life as, say, the Amish communities that still abjure all modern technology, be it tractor or cellphone. Residents watch prestige television on Hulu and catch Sunday-afternoon football games; moms drive to Topeka to shop at Sam’s Club. Yet hints of the town’s utopian project are everywhere. On a recent afternoon, I visited the general store, where polite teens played bluegrass music beside rows of dried goods. Women in long, modest skirts loaded vans that had enough seats to accommodate eight or nine kids—unlike most American Catholics, SSPX members abide by the Vatican’s prohibition on birth control. At housewarming parties and potluck dinners, children huddle around pianos for sing-alongs.

In their four decades in St. Marys, the followers of SSPX have more than doubled the town’s size….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture

(Gallup) More Americans Delaying Medical Treatment Due to Cost

A record 25% of Americans say they or a family member put off treatment for a serious medical condition in the past year because of the cost, up from 19% a year ago and the highest in Gallup’s trend. Another 8% said they or a family member put off treatment for a less serious condition, bringing the total percentage of households delaying care due to costs to 33%, tying the high from 2014.

Gallup first asked this question in 1991, at which time 22% reported that they or a family member delayed care for any kind of condition, including 11% for a serious condition. The figures were similar in the next update in 2001, and Gallup has since asked this question annually as part of its Health and Healthcare poll. This year’s survey was conducted Nov. 1-14.

Americans’ reports of family members delaying any sort of medical treatment for cost reasons were lower in the early to mid-2000s when closer to a quarter reported the problem. Since 2006, the rate has averaged 30%.

The pattern is similar for the subset of Americans postponing medical treatment for a serious condition. The rate rose from 12% in 2001 to an average of 19% since 2006. However, the current 25% is the highest yet, exceeding the prior high-point of 22% recorded in 2014.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Health & Medicine, Personal Finance & Investing, Theology

(AL.com) Greg Garrison–That Old-Time Religion: Heyday of the rural church slips away as country church gets swallowed by the suburbs

It used to be a country church. Now it’s in the middle of the suburbs, on two of the busiest roads in the state.

Oak Grove Baptist Church sits on Highway 119 near the intersection of U.S. 280. In the eighties it drew attendance of dozens weekly. That’s dwindled. “Now there are more people in the cemetery than the church,” said Rob Langford, who grew up on the other side of the woods behind the church and started walking to attend services at age 11….

The Rev. John Killian, former pastor of Maytown Baptist Church in Sylvan Springs and former president of the Alabama Baptist Convention, has seen the heyday of the rural church slip away.

“That’s what I deal with all the time,” said Killian, now director of missions for Fayette County. “Some of them are barely hanging on. Some seem to be doing okay.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Rural/Town Life