Category : * International News & Commentary

R S Thomas “The Answer” for Easter

From there:

Not darkness but twilight
In which even the best
of minds must make its way
now. And slowly the questions
occur, vague but formidable
for all that. We pass our hands
over their surface like blind
men feeling for the mechanism
that will swing them aside. They
yield, but only to re-form
as new problems; and one
does not even do that
but towers immovable
before us.

Is there no way
of other thought of answering
its challenge? There is an anticipation
of it to the point of
dying. There have been times
when, after long on my knees
in a cold chancel, a stone has rolled
from my mind, and I have looked
in and seen the old questions lie
folded and in a place
by themselves, like the piled
graveclothes of love’s risen body.

Posted in --Wales, Easter, Poetry & Literature

(PS) Kenneth Rogoff–The Dollar’s Fragile Hegemony

The mighty US dollar continues to reign supreme in global markets. But the greenback’s dominance may well be more fragile than it appears, because expected future changes in China’s exchange-rate regime are likely to trigger a significant shift in the international monetary order.

For many reasons, the Chinese authorities will probably someday stop pegging the renminbi to a basket of currencies, and shift to a modern inflation-targeting regime under which they allow the exchange rate to fluctuate much more freely, especially against the dollar. When that happens, expect most of Asia to follow China. In due time, the dollar, currently the anchor currency for roughly two-thirds of world GDP, could lose nearly half its weight.

Considering how much the United States relies on the dollar’s special status – or what then-French Finance Minister Valéry Giscard d’Estaing famously called America’s “exorbitant privilege” – to fund massive public and private borrowing, the impact of such a shift could be significant. Given that the US has been aggressively using deficit financing to combat the economic ravages of COVID-19, the sustainability of its debt might be called into question.

The long-standing argument for a more flexible Chinese currency is that China is simply too big to let its economy dance to the US Federal Reserve’s tune, even if Chinese capital controls provide some measure of insulation. China’s GDP (measured at international prices) surpassed that of the US back in 2014 and is still growing far faster than the US and Europe, making the case for greater exchange-rate flexibility increasingly compelling.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Currency Markets, Foreign Relations, Globalization, Politics in General

(CEN) Paul Richardson reviews Steve Bruce’s new book ‘British Gods: Religion in Modern Britain’

Steve Bruce, Professor of Sociology at the University of Aberdeen, is a leading proponent of the secularisation thesis. Religion has been in decline in Britain for 150 years, he argues, and there is little reason to think this process is going to be halted. Religious believers will not find his new book a comforting read but it does have lessons to teach us. Members of the Church of England concerned with evangelism and church growth would do well to read it.

Bruce is adept at dismissing those who have argued in defence of the persistence of religion. Grace Davie has spoken of vicarious religion in which a small proportion of the population are seen as carrying out religious activities on behalf of a larger number of people who are not directly involved. The role clergy often play when disaster strikes could be seen as an example of vicarious religion but Bruce argues clergy are candidates to act as honest brokers because they no longer have religious significance. ‘Like eunuchs working in a harem,’ he writes, ‘the clergy are invited to play significant social roles because they are impotent’.

For many Christians the charismatic movement is an important sign of renewal. Bruce argues this has not brought many new members into the churches. Most of those who have been at attracted were already Christian. Only 1 per cent of those who attend Alpha courses have not at some time been regular church goers. Bruce sees dangers for Christianity in the way the charismatic movement prefers feelings over doctrine and moves away from a distinctive culture of church architecture, liturgy, dress, ritual and hymns. In some ways it represents a secularisation of Christianity. Examining New Age beliefs and practices Bruce, correctly argues, they are not widespread enough to take the place of Christianity.

When it comes to new African or West Indian churches, Bruce maintains that their language and style is too alien to enable them to be effective carriers of the gospel to the white, British population. He may have a point here but he is mistaken in arguing that church growth in London is only fuelled by the immigration. The Diocese of London has seen significant growth and John Wolfe has analysed why this has happened. David Goodhew has also written of growing churches in London and elsewhere but Bruce nowhere refers to his work.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism

(NYT) Building a Mosque in France, Never Easy, May Get Even Harder

As the temperature hovered around freezing, hundreds of men trickled into a former slaughterhouse on a recent Friday. In the overflow crowd outside, scores more unfurled their prayer mats on the asphalt as the imam’s voice intoned through loudspeakers.

The old slaughterhouse has served as a temporary mosque for the past 21 years for many Muslims in Angers, a city in western France. Construction on a permanent home has stalled since last fall when the City Council unanimously rejected a proposal by Muslim leaders to hand ownership of their unfinished mosque to the government of Morocco in return for its completion. Local members, after donating more than $2.8 million, were tapped out.

Building a mosque in France is a tortuous endeavor at the best of times. Members tend to be poorer than other French people. Turning to foreign donors raises a host of concerns — both inside and outside Muslim communities — that are coming under intensifying scrutiny with President Emmanuel Macron’s new law against Islamism, which is expected to get final approval in the Senate in coming weeks.

Complicating matters for Muslims has been France’s principle of secularism, called laïcité, which established a firewall between state and church. While the government regards itself as strictly neutral before all faiths, the law effectively made the state the biggest landlord of Roman Catholic churches in France and the guardian of cultural Roman Catholicism.

Read it all.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Islam, Religion & Culture, Secularism

Canon J John on the death of Argentinian evangelist Luis Palau

Let me share with you three things about the life of Luis that I celebrate.

First, there was Luis’ energy. He was a man who, astonishingly, preached as an evangelist for nearly seventy years. In 2015, at the age of eighty-one, he held an outdoor service for 60,000 people in New York’s Central Park and lamented that planning laws hadn’t allowed more attendees. Indeed, when he received news that he had lung cancer, one of his main regrets was that he might have to cancel some of his preaching events. In part, that energy came from his own natural strength but I’m sure a lot of it was asked of God and given by him. Theodore Roosevelt once wrote,

There wasn’t much rust on Luis.

Second, there was Luis’ enthusiasm. One reason that Luis was so good as an evangelist was that he was so openly and wonderfully enthusiastic about the gospel. As anyone who heard Luis will testify, there was joy in what he said. With him the good news sounded good news!

Third, Luis was effective in his evangelism.

Read it all.

Posted in Argentina, Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelism and Church Growth, Theology: Evangelism & Mission

(NYT front page) Taliban Believe The War’s Over And They Won

The Taliban’s swagger is unmistakable. From the recent bellicose speech of their deputy leader, boasting of “conquests,” to sneering references to the “foreign masters” of the “illegitimate” Kabul government, to the Taliban’s own website tally of “puppets” killed — Afghan soldiers — they are promoting a bold message:

We have already won the war.

And that belief, grounded in military and political reality, is shaping Afghanistan’s volatile present. On the eve of talks in Turkey next month over the country’s future, it is the elephant in the room: the half-acknowledged truth that the Taliban have the upper hand and are thus showing little outward interest in compromise, or of going along with the dominant American idea, power-sharing.

While the Taliban’s current rhetoric is also propaganda, the grim sense of Taliban supremacy is dictating the response of a desperate Afghan government and influencing Afghanistan’s anxious foreign interlocutors. It contributes to the abandonment of dozens of checkpoints and falling morale among the Afghan security forces, already hammered by a “not sustainable” casualty rate of perhaps 3,000 a month, a senior Western diplomat in Kabul said.

Read it all.

Posted in Afghanistan, America/U.S.A., Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Politics in General, War in Afghanistan

([London] Times) China is guilty of genocide against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang, says US report

The state department report included new details about China’s use of forced labour in Xinjiang, the source of a growing trade dispute with the West over the past year. The report noted Xinjiang government documents had revealed a large-scale government plan, known as the “mutual pairing assistance” programme, where 19 cities and provinces, mostly in eastern China, have established factories in Xinjiang and were using forced labour.

It said the labour was provided by detainees in the internment camps who were subjected to forced labour in the factories “producing garments, hair accessories, and electronics and in agricultural production, notably picking and processing cotton and tomatoes”.

The report said there was credible evidence of the forced transfer of Uighur detainees to work in technology, clothing, and automotive factories and in the production of personal protective equipment. It noted reports that transfer schemes led to forced labour of nearly half a million people in the Xinjiang cotton harvest.

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Islam, Religion & Culture

(GR) Richard Ostling–Inspiring feature idea on Christianity near Holy Week sent aloft by (what are the odds?) producers at MSNBC

This got The Guy to thinking about how much we’re missing on TV and religion. Leave aside fictional entertainment, which when religion turns up in the plot too often causes anybody who knows anything about religion to cringe. And let’s not get into the fare transmitted by paid-time preachers.

Eastertide or Christmas may bring seasonal documentaries, often over the years sensationalized attempts to debunk the church or the Bible. David Gibson’s 2015 archaeology series on CNN, “Finding Jesus,” was an exception.

But what about intelligent treatment throughout the year of news and ideas in the world of religion, which interests masses of today’s viewers just as it has gripped imaginations across human history?

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Death / Burial / Funerals, Evangelicals, Holy Week, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Reuters) ISIS claims deadly attack on northern Mozambique town

Islamic State said on Monday its fighters had carried out an attack on the northern Mozambique town of Palma, where dozens were killed, thousands displaced and some remain missing.

Islamist insurgents hit the town, adjacent to gas projects worth $60 billion, with a three-pronged attack on Wednesday. Fighting continued on Monday, according to a security source directly involved in efforts to secure the town.

The government confirmed on Sunday that dozens of people had died, including seven when their convoy of cars was ambushed during an escape attempt.

Islamic State claimed the attack via its Amaq news agency, saying its fighters had taken control of the town after days of clashes with security forces.

Read it all.

Posted in Mozambique, Terrorism

A [London] Times Article on the Aftermath of the IICSA report–Independent watchdog to police abusive priests

Bishops’ powers will be passed to trained “diocesan safeguarding officers”, who will be able to make decisions “independently of clergy” and will be supervised centrally.

The church said that bishops still have an “important role to play” in promoting the importance of child protection policies, but added that they “should not hold operational responsibility” for decisions about abuse cases.

The church also gave its backing to the creation of an independent body to oversee the work of its national safeguarding team, which will be the first time that an external watchdog has been set up to police abusive priests.

It will consist of a board with a “majority of entirely independent members” to provide “independent scrutiny and feedback”.

Read it all.

Posted in Children, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Parish Ministry, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) What Do Dogs Really Think? Pet Psychics Are Standing By

Once or twice a year, Terri O’Hara visits a ranch in Littleton, Colo., to talk with the animals.

Ms. O’Hara strolls through the barn, mingles with the herd and sits down with the poultry. She says she drinks in telepathic images that reveal animals’ inner thoughts, be they profound or mundane.

On a typical visit, Ms. O’Hara will report that a gelding is concerned that human staff members get dangerously underfoot around the feeding stations. The miniature steer is miffed that the male pig has a female companion and he doesn’t. The alpacas divulge that cliques are forming among the volunteer ranch hands. The hens complain that the rooster is abusive.

Ranch owner Bernadette Spillane takes these reports into account when managing the 53-acre property. The ranch is a sanctuary for rescued horses, and Ms. Spillane says they line up to unburden themselves on Ms. O’Hara’s visits. “There were horses we didn’t realize were having an issue,” says Ms. Spillane, 65 years old. “Or they knew other horses were having an issue, and they wanted to talk about it.”

In humans’ long quest to communicate with their beloved pets, some are casting doubts aside and turning to animal communicators—sometimes called pet psychics—to try to learn what’s on Fido’s mind.

“Just because I don’t understand it doesn’t mean it’s not real,” says former Manhattan restaurateur Alex von Bidder, whose daughter brought an animal communicator to her horse farm in Aiken, S.C.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Animals, Religion & Culture, Religious Freedom / Persecution

([London] Times) New Yorkers sweep away bad vibes at home with a spiritual spring clean

As a spiritual guru chants in my bathroom and sprays holy water into the lavatory, I awkwardly loiter in the hallway. In small apartments with no attics or basements “nonphysical beings” can often lurk in the bathrooms, warns Sondra Shaye.

I am witnessing a so-called space clearing in which Shaye removes all the negative vibes from my flat before channelling in a “divine, blessed, sacred energy”.

After a year of being largely trapped indoors by the pandemic, hiring a healer to give your home a spiritual spring clean is increasingly popular, according to my bohemian friends and wealthy acquaintances in New York.

The couple who shelled out $51 million to buy the paedophile billionaire Jeffrey Epstein’s Manhattan mansion have ordered “a full makeover – physically and spiritually”, reported the New York Times last week.

I first came across the concept of space clearing in New Yorkers, a new book by Craig Taylor,,,,

Read it all (subscription).

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Wicca / paganism

(Gallup) U.S. Church Membership Falls Below Majority for First Time

Americans’ membership in houses of worship continued to decline last year, dropping below 50% for the first time in Gallup’s eight-decade trend. In 2020, 47% of Americans said they belonged to a church, synagogue or mosque, down from 50% in 2018 and 70% in 1999.

U.S. church membership was 73% when Gallup first measured it in 1937 and remained near 70% for the next six decades, before beginning a steady decline around the turn of the 21st century.

As many Americans celebrate Easter and Passover this week, Gallup updates a 2019 analysis that examined the decline in church membership over the past 20 years.

Gallup asks Americans a battery of questions on their religious attitudes and practices twice each year. The following analysis of declines in church membership relies on three-year aggregates from 1998-2000 (when church membership averaged 69%), 2008-2010 (62%), and 2018-2020 (49%). The aggregates allow for reliable estimates by subgroup, with each three-year period consisting of data from more than 6,000 U.S. adults.

Read it all.

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

(NPR) Indonesia Church Bombing Wounds 20 On Palm Sunday

Two suicide bombers attacked a Roman Catholic church compound in Makassar, Indonesia, on Sunday morning, injuring at least 20 people, according to state officials. While no deaths among the churchgoers have been reported, police say both attackers died in the blast.

The attack happened at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral around 10:30 a.m., as a round of mass was wrapping up at the church. The bombers attempted to enter the church compound on motorbike and detonated at least one bomb by an entrance to the compound, according to news reports.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo condemned the attack as an “act of terrorism,” and said he had ordered the police “to thoroughly investigate the perpetrators’ networks and tear down the networks to their roots.”

The attacks happened on Palm Sunday, the beginning of the Holy Week leading up to Easter. In a televised address, Joko called on people to remain calm and said “the state guarantees the safety of religious people to worship without fear.”

Read it all.

Posted in Indonesia, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Terrorism

(JEC) Michael Snape–‘Anglicanism and interventionism : Bishop Brent, the United States, and the British Empire in the First World War’

Brent himself stands as perhaps the ultimate example of these successful clerical migrants to the United States. Born in Newcastle, Ontario, in April 1862, Brent’s father was an Anglican
clergyman and a first-generation immigrant from England, his mother a descendant of Loyalist refugees from New York.20 Although the infusion of immigrants from Canada was smaller than the stream from Great Britain around the turn of the twentieth century, it was still considerable, as around 450,000 Canadians entered the United States in the quarter century prior to the First World War.21 While Anglicans represented a smaller proportion of the Canadian population, comprising around 15 per cent of all Canadians in 1914 as opposed to two-thirds of all Britons,22 there was already a well-established tradition of Anglican clergymen moving across the porous border between Canada and the United States in search of employment,23 a situation that brought Brent to the State of New York in 1886 while still in deacon’s orders. As Alexander C. Zabriskie emphasised in his concise biography of 1947, Brent’s move to St. Paul’s Church, Buffalo, was entirely pragmatic: with no opportunities available in the diocese of Toronto, ‘it was circumstance rather than conscience or preference that sent [Brent] there. He had not the least intention of remaining permanently under the American flag; rather he looked forward to returning to a Canadian country parish within a few years.’24 In fact, it took a further appointment, as associate rector of St. Stephen’s Mission in the slums of Boston, to persuade Brent to take out his naturalisation papers in 1891, and even then he
appears to have maintained dual citizenship.25 In the event, his years in Boston served to reinforce Brent’s links with Great Britain, for there he developed a formative relationship with the Society of St. John the Evangelist, or Cowley Fathers, a connection that would take him to England on his very first overseas trip in November 1891.26

Read it all (numbers are to footnotes in the original).

Posted in America/U.S.A., Canada, Church History, History, Military / Armed Forces, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, TEC Bishops

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Charles Henry Brent

Heavenly Father, whose Son did pray that we all might be one: deliver us, we beseech thee, from arrogance and prejudice, and give us wisdom and forbearance, that, following thy servant Charles Henry Brent, we may be united in one family with all who confess the Name of thy Son Jesus Christ: who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Canada, Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A look Back to 2012–Walter Russell Mead: The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore, what comes next?

Writing about the onset of the Great Depression, John Kenneth Galbraith famously said that the end had come but was not yet in sight. The past was crumbling under their feet, but people could not imagine how the future would play out. Their social imagination had hit a wall.

The same thing is happening today: The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them. But even as the failures of the old system become more inescapable and more damaging, our national discourse remains stuck in a bygone age. The end is here, but we can’t quite take it in.

In the old system, most blue-collar and white-collar workers held stable, lifetime jobs with defined benefit pensions, and a career civil service administered a growing state as living standards for all social classes steadily rose. Gaps between the classes remained fairly consistent in an industrial economy characterized by strong unions in stable, government-brokered arrangements with large corporations—what Galbraith and others referred to as the Iron Triangle. High school graduates were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that provided a comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle; college graduates could expect a better paid and equally secure future. An increasing “social dividend”, meanwhile, accrued in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks, more social and literal mobility, and more diverse forms of affordable entertainment. Call all this, taken together, the blue model.

In the heyday of the blue model, economists and social scientists assumed that from generation to generation Americans would live a life of incremental improvements. The details of life would keep getting better even as the broad outlines of society stayed the same. The advanced industrial democracies, of which the United States was the largest, wealthiest and strongest, had reached the apex of social achievement. It had, in other words, defined and was in the process of perfecting political and social “best practice.” America was what “developed” human society looked like and no more radical changes were in the offing. Amid the hubris that such conceptions encouraged, Professor (later Ambassador) Galbraith was moved to state, in 1952, that “most of the cheap and simple inventions have been made.” If only the United States and its allies could best the Soviet Union and its counter-model, then indeed—as a later writer would put it—History would end in the philosophical sense that only one set of universally acknowledged best practices would be left standing.

Life isn’t this simple anymore. The blue social model is in the process of breaking down, and the chief question in American politics today is what should come next.

Read it all.

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

(WSJ) U.S. Households Primed to Boost Spending After Brief Lull

Cold weather—including storms that shut down sections of Texas and other states—prevented many people from dining out, ordering food online or going to stores last month. Household incomes also likely fell from abnormally high levels in January, when the government distributed stimulus checks of up to $600 a person in most households under a $900 billion economic-relief plan approved by Congress late last year. That law also provided enhanced employment benefits of $300 a week for jobless workers.

A spending surge is likely in the offing. Millions of people each day are getting a Covid-19 vaccine, and many are starting to venture out in public and shop and travel. Meanwhile, the federal government this month is sending out yet another round of stimulus money—this time checks of up to $1,400, a part of another Covid-19 relief package worth $1.9 trillion signed by President Biden. The aid—along with other measures by lenders and landlords to suspend consumers’ monthly payments on debt during the pandemic—has left many households sitting on a pile of cash.

That combo—higher incomes and a rising number of people shielded from the worse effects of the deadly virus—is expected to unleash a burst of economic activity in coming weeks, as many Americans resume activities they have put off for a year.

“When they’re let out of the house, there is some pent-up demand, and they’re going to go out into the restaurants” as well as travel and shop, said Lindsey Piegza, chief economist at Stifel Nicolaus & Co.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Consumer/consumer spending, Economy, Health & Medicine

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Harriet Monsell

Gracious God, who didst lead thy servant Harriet Monsell through grief to a new vocation; grant that we, inspired by her example, may grow in the life of prayer and the work of service, so that in all our sorrows and in all our joys, thy presence may evermore increase among us, and that our lives may be so ordered as to reveal the mind of Christ, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be honor and glory, world without end. Amen.

Posted in --Ireland, Church History, England / UK, Spirituality/Prayer

(PD) Can We Still Reason Together? A Conversation with Robert P. George

SS: In a discussion about advocacy for traditional marriage, one Princeton graduate student told me that she was uncomfortable with the idea of trying to convince others to oppose same-sex marriage by appealing to social science or the kind of arguments you have articulated in What Is Marriage. Although she herself is Catholic, to this student, such an approach felt deceptive—like smuggling in religious precepts under the guise of neutrality and disinterested intellectual inquiry.

How would you respond to her? Is it intellectually honest to make arguments based on natural law or social science for positions you only hold because of your own religious faith?

RG: From your description of her, it sounds like the graduate student you were talking to doesn’t understand the teachings of her own Catholic faith when it comes to the nature of morality, moral questions, and moral judgments, including those concerning marriage. Catholicism self-consciously embraces and proposes a certain understanding of marriage and the norms shaping and protecting it for reasons—reasons that are in principle accessible to anyone, Catholic or not. The point of What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense was to articulate, explain, and defend those reasons.

Catholicism is not a fideistic religion. Quite the opposite. Its basic view of marriage as conjugal union (and not a mere form of sexual-romantic companionship or domestic partnership), for example, is not a matter of “religious precepts” that we (or the pope, or the Church) know because God has communicated them to us only by special revelation. Your friend may happen to believe what she believes about marriage because that is what the Church believes and teaches; but the Church herself believes and teaches what she believes and teaches on the subject for reasons that by the Church’s own lights—and her teachings—are available to be understood by “disinterested intellectual inquiry.” These reasons are matters of natural law.

Read it all.

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

(CNBC) Amsterdam bet its post-Covid recovery on ‘doughnut’ economics — more cities are now following suit

More and more cities are embracing a doughnut-shaped economic model to help recover from the coronavirus crisis and reduce exposure to future shocks.

British economist and author of “Doughnut Economics” Kate Raworth believes it is simply a matter of time before the concept is adopted at a national level.

The Dutch capital of Amsterdam became the first city worldwide to formally implement doughnut economics in early April last year, choosing to launch the initiative at a time when the country had one of the world’s highest mortality rates from the coronavirus pandemic.

Amsterdam’s city government said at the time that it hoped to recover from the crisis and avoid future crises by embracing a city portrait of the doughnut theory.

As outlined in Raworth’s 2017 book, doughnut economics aims to “act as a compass for human progress,” turning last century’s degenerative economy into this century’s regenerative one.

“The compass is a doughnut, the kind with a hole in the middle. Ridiculous though that sounds, it is the only doughnut that actually turns out to be good for us,” Raworth told CNBC via telephone.

Read it all.

Posted in City Government, Ecology, Economy, Ethics / Moral Theology, The Netherlands, Urban/City Life and Issues

(CC) Peter Marty–Six predictions for the post-pandemic church

….as social gathering places (at least ones where people can meet without paying) get put on the endangered species list and remote work opportunities cocoon more and more people, as anchoring institutions of society move their activities online and plenty of us shift our purchasing, learning, and even medical care to the internet, the gathered church becomes an ever more precious entity.

Thirst will increase for authentic community where moral formation and relationships of meaning can prosper. In social isolation, we have learned the truth of Frederick Buechner’s words: “You can survive on your own; you can grow strong on your own; you can prevail on your own; but you cannot become human on your own.” Congregations will play a heightened role in providing thick human community.

Second, worship during the pandemic has taught us that churches can be liberated from a fixation on counting. Church leaders have worked feverishly over the last year to try to calculate their church rolls and virtual attendance figures. But faith at its center is a transcendent mystery that refuses to be measured. Numbers depersonalize. If denominations and congregations can catch the spirit, there’s refreshing new freedom to be found in leaving religious bean counting behind.

Third, the ability to conduct worthwhile ministry online throughout the pandemic has upended some of our obsessiveness over our church buildings. We’ve learned to live rich lives of faith independent of them. By the same token, we’ve also seen scores of people moved to tears just reentering sacred spaces that have shaped their spiritual and emotional being. Our extended experience with virtual church may allow us to appreciate our buildings as hubs for mission without idolizing them—a healthy reset.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(Atlantic) Shadi Hamid–America Without God: As religious faith has declined, ideological intensity has risen. Will the quest for secular redemption through politics doom the American idea?

Conflicting narratives are more likely to coexist uneasily than to resolve themselves; the threat of disintegration will always lurk nearby.

On January 6, the threat became all too real when insurrectionary violence came to the Capitol. What was once in the realm of “dreampolitik now had physical force. What can “unity” possibly mean after that?

Can religiosity be effectively channeled into political belief without the structures of actual religion to temper and postpone judgment? There is little sign, so far, that it can. If matters of good and evil are not to be resolved by an omniscient God in the future, then Americans will judge and render punishment now. We are a nation of believers. If only Americans could begin believing in politics less fervently, realizing instead that life is elsewhere. But this would come at a cost—because to believe in politics also means believing we can, and probably should, be better.

In History Has Begun, the author, Bruno Maçães—Portugal’s former Europe minister—marvels that “perhaps alone among all contemporary civilizations, America regards reality as an enemy to be defeated.” This can obviously be a bad thing (consider our ineffectual fight against the coronavirus), but it can also be an engine of rejuvenation and creativity; it may not always be a good idea to accept the world as it is. Fantasy, like belief, is something that humans desire and need. A distinctive American innovation is to insist on believing even as our fantasies and dreams drift further out of reach.

This may mean that the United States will remain unique, torn between this world and the alternative worlds that secular and religious Americans alike seem to long for. If America is a creed, then as long as enough citizens say they believe, the civic faith can survive. Like all other faiths, America’s will continue to fragment and divide. Still, the American creed remains worth believing in, and that may be enough. If it isn’t, then the only hope might be to get down on our knees and pray.

Read it all and also see the article by Mark Tooley there.

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

(Archbishop of York) Stephen Cottrell: Covid-19 has brought us to our knees – now I pray we rise up

Even though our poorest communities have suffered disproportionally, there can be no ‘me and you’ or ‘them and us’ with Covid. It must be we. Covid will not be dealt with anywhere until it is dealt with everywhere.

The most obvious sign of this is the vaccine programme itself. It is wonderful that our country is taking the lead. But we won’t get beyond Covid until the whole world is vaccinated.

This rediscovery of a most basic human truth, that my well-being is tied up with my neighbour’s well-being, should now be the guiding principle for all public policy as we move forward.

Secondly, and flowing from the realisation that we belong to each other, we have learned to appreciate the real dignity and value of people’s labour: especially those whose jobs we may have considered menial and unimportant a year ago.

Who would have thought that alongside the heroes of the National Health Service’s inspiring example of selfless care, we would have also come to value those who stock the supermarket shelves or drive the delivery vans or volunteer in food banks?

We used to measure each other’s worth by the size of their salary. Now it must be the size of their heart.

Read it all.

Posted in Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture

Archbishop Justin Welby’s reflection on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day on the first anniversary of the UK’s national lockdown

One of the great songs of lament to God in the bible begins “by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept.”. An anniversary is a time to lament, to mourn, to sit and weep for what could have been and is not. Pause for a while today, remember what has been lost, above all who has been lost. Lament – for to do so is to honour and treasure. As a Christian I follow and love Jesus Christ who loved and mourned his friends, his country, suffering.

Anniversaries are also moments of new beginnings. It is just a day. But it is also a moment. And one of the signs of being human – of being spiritual as well as material – is that we make moments that pass into moments of significance. The anniversary calls on us to ask where we are going?

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Health & Medicine, History, Religion & Culture

A Rowan Williams sermon on the life and ministry of Oscar Romero on Archbishop Romero’s Feast Day–‘Life has the last word’

And so his question to all those who have the freedom to speak in the Church and for the Church is ‘who do you really speak for?’ But if we take seriously the underlying theme of his words and witness, that question is also, ‘who do you really feel with?’ Are you immersed in the real life of the Body, or is your life in Christ seen only as having the same sentiments as the powerful? Sentir con la Iglesia in the sense in which the mature Romero learned those words is what will teach you how to speak on behalf of the Body. And we must make no mistake about what this can entail: Romero knew that this kind of ‘feeling with the Church’ could only mean taking risks with and for the Body of Christ – so that, as he later put it, in words that are still shocking and sobering, it would be ‘sad’ if priests in such a context were not being killed alongside their flock. As of course they were in El Salvador, again and again in those nightmare years.

But he never suggests that speaking on behalf of the Body is the responsibility of a spiritual elite. He never dramatised the role of the priest so as to play down the responsibility of the people. If every priest and bishop were silenced, he said, ‘each of you will have to be God’s microphone. Each of you will have to be a messenger, a prophet. The Church will always exist as long as even one baptized person is alive.’ Each part of the Body, because it shares the sufferings of the whole – and the hope and radiance of the whole – has authority to speak out of that common life in the crucified and risen Jesus.

So Romero’s question and challenge is addressed to all of us, not only those who have the privilege of some sort of public megaphone for their voices. The Church is maintained in truth; and the whole Church has to be a community where truth is told about the abuses of power and the cries of the vulnerable. Once again, if we are serious about sentir con la Iglesia, we ask not only who we are speaking for but whose voice still needs to be heard, in the Church and in society at large. The questions here are as grave as they were thirty years ago. In Salvador itself, the methods of repression familiar in Romero’s day were still common until very recently. We can at least celebrate the fact that the present head of state there has not only apologized for government collusion in Romero’s murder but has also spoken boldly on behalf of those whose environment and livelihood are threatened by the rapacity of the mining companies, who are set on a new round of exploitation in Salvador and whose critics have been abducted and butchered just as so many were three decades back. The skies are not clear: our own Anglican bishop in Salvador was attacked ten days ago by unknown enemies; but the signs of hope are there, and the will to defend the poor and heal the wounds.

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Posted in --El Salvador, --Rowan Williams, Church History, Death / Burial / Funerals, Preaching / Homiletics

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Oscar Romero

Almighty God, who didst call thy servant Oscar Romero to be a voice for the voiceless poor, and to give his life as a seed of freedom and a sign of hope: Grant that, inspired by his sacrifice and the example of the martyrs of El Salvador, we may without fear or favor witness to thy Word who abideth, thy Word who is Life, even Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, be praise and glory now and for ever. Amen.

Posted in --El Salvador, Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

(C of E) Bells to toll and thousands of candles to be lit for National Day of Reflection today

The words Reflect, Support and Hope will be projected in yellow on the front of Lichfield Cathedral, while Blackburn and Leicester cathedrals will light thousands of candles to mark lives lost, to mark the National Day of Reflection.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral will suspend two hundred tear drops above the altar and Chelmsford Cathedral will be transformed into a vibrant space of colour and light.

In Portsmouth churches will deliver more than 50 boxes of chocolates along with cards to GP surgeries, care homes and schools in the area as a gesture of thanks to key workers for their contribution during the pandemic.

Area Dean of Portsmouth, Revd Canon Bob White, said: “We are very aware of the stresses and pressures they have faced over the past year and want to thank them and let them know that they are in our prayers.”

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Health & Medicine, History, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer

(War on the Rocks) Robert D. Blackwill+Philip Zelikow: Can The United States Prevent A War Over Taiwan?

If China’s window of advantage does shrink over time as the defense of Taiwan improves, what, then, is the right U.S. strategy in the meantime? If time is on the eventual side of those defending peace and freedom, our strategy is designed to buy more of it.

This option that we recommend supports the planning that we describe in the second approach, the status quo, in which the United States has contingency plans to share in the direct defense of Taiwan but will not commit in advance to do so. But in our view, that is not an adequate U.S. strategy to deter war. We believe the United States should, in addition, rehearse — at least with Japan and Taiwan — a parallel plan to challenge any Chinese denial of international access to Taiwan and prepare, including with pre-positioned U.S. supplies, including war reserve stocks, shipments of vitally needed supplies to help Taiwan defend itself.

The United States and its allies, like Japan, should plan to challenge a Chinese quarantine or siege of Taiwan enough to place the burden on China to decide whether to widen the conflict by attacking U.S. or allied forces that were endeavoring to deliver such supplies. If such plans exist now, they are not evident, either in exercises choreographed with allies, in pre-positioned supplies, or in the shipping capacity to carry them out. These plans would probably require significant changes in the character and deployment of U.S. and other allied forces. But these changes, oriented more to helping Taiwan defend itself and less reliant on a rapid build-up of U.S. striking power inside the first island chain, would not menace the People’s Republic of China as much as the strategy envisioned in the third approach.

In this fourth approach, if China did choose to widen the war, the United States and its allies would plan to defend themselves and continue to do what was possible to help Taiwan defend itself. But the United States would not assume that such a war needs to extend to the Chinese, Japanese, or American homelands.

Instead, in another revision to the second approach, the United States and its allies would credibly and visibly plan to react to the attack on their forces by breaking all financial relations with China, freezing or seizing Chinese assets, leading to a severe rupture of the world economy and a likely global financial crisis. Also, the United States and Japan would prepare, visibly and in advance, the massive remilitarization and mobilization measures that they, and perhaps others, would take as the logical consequence of the increased danger of general war. Some critics assert this already is U.S. strategy, but we have seen no such allied economic, political, and military plans on this scale, that would strengthen deterrence.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., China, Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Military / Armed Forces, Taiwan

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Gregory the Illuminator

Almighty God, who willest to be glorified in thy saints, and didst raise up thy servant Gregory the Illuminator to be a light in the world, and to preach the Gospel to the people of Armenia: Shine, we pray thee, in our hearts, that we also in our generation may show forth thy praise, who hast called us out of darkness into thy marvelous light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Posted in Armenia, Church History, Spirituality/Prayer