Yearly Archives: 2007

A Doctor Confronts the Human Drama’s Inevitable Finale

When it comes to confronting death, doctors are as much at a loss as the rest of us. They are in the business of saving lives, not ending them. By instinct and by training, they avoid what Pauline W. Chen calls “the final exam,” the emotional challenges posed by terminally ill patients. Death represents failure. It asks unanswerable questions. Perhaps most vexingly, it threatens to crack the hard professional shell of detachment that medical training puts in place. In modern American medicine, death is everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Dr. Chen, a surgeon specializing in liver transplants, is her own patient in “Final Exam,” a series of thoughtful, moving essays on the troubled relationship between modern medical practice and the emotional events surrounding death. She recalls episodes from her own medical training, and cases in which she was involved, to dramatize her misgivings about the “lessons in denial and depersonalization” that help doctors achieve a high level of technical competence but can also prevent them from expressing empathy or confronting their own fears about death.

In the current system, she writes, “few of us ever adequately learn how to care for patients at the end of life.” Among other things, “Final Exam” is a crash course in the specifics of human mortality. Dr. Chen begins with her first dead body, the dissecting-room cadaver that she disassembles over a period of many weeks, sometimes sawing and flaying, at other times gently separating minute muscle fibers and veins, as she learns to itemize every muscle and bone.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, Death / Burial / Funerals, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry

One Soldier recalls best, worst times of past year of deployment

Maj. Jimmy Brownlee of Charleston is stationed in Iraq as a public affairs officer but is home for the holidays until Jan. 7 at his base at Fort Stewart, Ga. In the space of a week he has gone from his highest point, that of surprising his wife and two children by dressing as Santa Claus and showing up at home unexpectedly six days before Christmas, to his lowest point four days later. His 80-year-old stepfather, Vernon Mason, a World War II Navy veteran from West Ashley, died two days before Christmas. These are Brownlee’s reflections on the ups and downs of the past year…

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Iraq War, Military / Armed Forces

Finding a lesson in a local South Carolina tragedy

Charleston’s deadly Sofa Super Store blaze already is one of the most studied fires in recent history, and experts hope its lessons will help reverse a steady parade of firefighter deaths across the nation.

Despite improvements in training, equipment and tactics, about 100 firefighters die on duty each year in the United States.

South Carolina leads the country in firefighter deaths this year, accounting for nearly 10 percent of the nation’s 114 on-duty fatalities. Nine men died in the June 18 fire in Charleston; two more died in vehicle crashes in other communities.

Chief Ron Siarnicki, executive director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, said heart attacks traditionally have been the leading cause of on-duty deaths. But the fire service has seen a noticeable increase this year in the number of firefighters killed while battling blazes.

Also disturbing is an increase in fires that claim multiple lives, like the sofa store blaze, he said. Texas, California, New York and Massachusetts also recorded multiple deaths in single incidents.

Gordon Routley, who leads a panel of consultants studying the sofa store blaze and the Charleston Fire Department, said firefighting will always carry inherent risks, but many of these deaths are preventable. “These are particularly frustrating. We are not inventing new ways to kill firefighters. We keep doing it the same way,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina

Oliver "Buzz" Thomas: Bridge this religious divide

If we are to win the so-called war on terror, it will not be because we killed all of our enemies. For one thing, there are too many of them, and besides, it only takes one fanatic to detonate a nuclear or biological weapon. No, if we win this war, it will be because we regained the moral high ground.

To do that, we have to win the hearts and minds of Muslims on the street. That takes us back to Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush or back further to Mr. Lincoln or, if you prefer, all the way back to Mr. Jesus. Turning our enemies into friends. That’s the only long-term strategy that makes any sense.

Ultimately, it is Muslims who must excise the scourge of radicalism from Islam. From within. We can help by behaving like the generous, just and benevolent society moderate Muslims once considered us to be.

Sorry, doves, but that doesn’t mean getting out of Iraq tomorrow. The military mission must be completed. But hawks must realize that there can be no lasting victory without a humanitarian mission as well. Not just in Iraq. In Bangladesh, the West Bank, anywhere in the Muslim world where there is suffering. Do that and who knows? Maybe by next Christmas we can start beating our swords into plowshares.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Iraq War, Islam, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

Niall Ferguson reviews Walter Russell Mead's God and Gold

The resurgence of China and India, to say nothing of the “energy empires’’ of Iran and Russia, means that, in relative terms, Anglo-American hegemony is already on the wane. Above all, Mead overlooks the extent to which the very un-Weberian culture of consumption, which has become the motive force of the Anglophone economies, has rendered them as dependent on foreign capital as were the moribund empires of the Ottomans, Qing and Romanovs a century ago.

Meanwhile, over Iraq, fissures have opened within the English-speaking world. There is abundant evidence, not discussed here, that other Anglophone peoples feel a diminished affinity with their US counterparts. Mead is quite wrong to assume, for example, that religion is as “persistent’’ in the rest of the Anglosphere as it is in the US.

Though there’s no harm in celebrating what we have in common ”“ and Mead does it well ”“ the differences between Anglos and Americans are much greater than he implies. Divided by much more than just a common language, it will take much more than a hyphen to reunite us.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., England / UK, Foreign Relations

Financial Times Prediction for 2008

President Clinton, Google grows, $100 oil, but no US recession.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Media

From the morning Scripture readings

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

–Psalm 46: 1-2, a very good Psalm to end the year with; here is the Message version of this passage extended by one verse:

God is a safe place to hide, ready to help when we need him.
We stand fearless at the cliff-edge of doom,
courageous in seastorm and earthquake,
Before the rush and roar of oceans,
the tremors that shift mountains.
Jacob-wrestling God fights for us,
God-of-Angel-Armies protects us.

Posted in Theology, Theology: Scripture

The Economist–The battle of the books

In many parts of the world, battle seems to be in progress. The Saudis will not allow the Bible to be distributed on their soil. Many Evangelical Christians are fixated on what they call the 10/40 window””the vast swathe of the Islamic world in Africa and Asia that lies between latitudes 10 and 40 north of the equator. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas has even created a masters degree to train missionaries in the art of converting Muslims. Some Evangelicals produce counterfeit Korans that are designed to plant doubt in Muslim minds.

And the battle of the books is certainly at the heart of the battle between the two religions. People who get hold of Bibles or Korans may not read them or understand them. Unless they are introduced to the books they will certainly remain heathens. Even an imperfect report on the state of the battle tells us a lot about the world’s two great missionary religions.

The Christians entered the 21st century with a big head start. There are 2 billion of them in the world compared with 1.5 billion Muslims. But Islam had a better 20th century than Christianity. The world’s Muslim population grew from 200m in 1900 to its current levels. Christianity has shrivelled in Christendom’s European heart. Islam is resurgent across the Arab world. Many Christian scholars predict that Islam will overtake Christianity as the world’s largest religion by 2050.

More recently, though, Muslims complain that the “war on terror” is making it much more difficult to spread the Koran. Contributions to Muslim charities have fallen since September 11th 2001. Several charities have had their funding disrupted. Missionary organisations such as the Tablighi Jamaat are under investigation by Western intelligence services, on the grounds that they may be way-stations to jihadism. And Muslims confront much bigger long-term problems in the battle of the books.

Read it all.

Posted in * Religion News & Commentary, Islam, Muslim-Christian relations, Other Faiths, Theology, Theology: Scripture

Top economist says America could plunge into recession

Losses arising from America’s housing recession could triple over the next few years and they represent the greatest threat to growth in the United States, one of the world’s leading economists has told The Times.

Robert Shiller, Professor of Economics at Yale University, predicted that there was a very real possibility that the US would be plunged into a Japan-style slump, with house prices declining for years.

Professor Shiller, co-founder of the respected S&P Case/Shiller house-price index, said: “American real estate values have already lost around $1 trillion [£503 billion]. That could easily increase threefold over the next few years. This is a much bigger issue than sub-prime. We are talking trillions of dollars’ worth of losses.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market

Bishop of London left in dark over secret service led by Rowan Williams

The Archbishop of Canterbury kept a special communion service for gays so secret that he failed to tell the Bishop of London it was happening in his diocese, The Times has learnt.

Dr Rowan Williams inflamed the row over homosexuality which is tearing apart the Anglican Church when it was reported that he had agreed to hold a eucharist for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clergy.

But even his critics have been taken aback to learn that he did so by making an incursion on to the patch of the Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, without giving notice or seeking permission.

Dr Williams now risks being seen as, at best, discourteous and at worst, in breach of canon law, for sneaking into a church near the Tower of London under the Bishop’s nose. Canon law says that only a bishop can authorise services in his own diocese and infringements may result in an intruder being removed from office.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion)

Notable and Quotable

Lying at your feet is your dog. Imagine, for the moment, that your dog and every dog is in deep distress. Some of us love dogs very much. If it would help all the dogs in the world to become like men, would you be willing to become a dog? Would you put down your human nature, leave your loved ones, your job, hobbies, your art and literature and music, and choose instead of the intimate communion with your beloved, the poor substitute of looking into the beloved’s face and wagging your tail, unable to smile or speak? Christ by becoming man limited the thing which to Him was the most precious thing in the world; his unhampered, unhindered communion with the Father.

–C.S. Lewis

Posted in Christology, Theology

Eric Foner: A forgotten step toward freedom

We Americans live in a society awash in historical celebrations. The last few years have witnessed commemorations of the bicentennial of the Louisiana Purchase (2003) and the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II (2005). But one significant milestone has gone strangely unnoticed: the 200th anniversary of Jan. 1, 1808, when the importation of slaves into the United States was prohibited.

This neglect stands in striking contrast to the many scholarly and public events in Britain that marked the 2007 bicentennial of that country’s banning of the slave trade. There were historical conferences, museum exhibits, even a high-budget film, “Amazing Grace,” about William Wilberforce, the leader of the parliamentary crusade that resulted in abolition.

What explains this divergence? Throughout the 1780s, the horrors of the Middle Passage were widely publicized on both sides of the Atlantic, and by 1792 the British Parliament stood on the verge of banning the trade. But when war broke out with revolutionary France, the idea was shelved. Final prohibition came in 1807, and it proved a major step toward the abolition of slavery in the empire.

The British campaign against the African slave trade not only launched the modern concern for human rights as an international principle, but today offers a usable past for a society increasingly aware of its multiracial character. It remains a historic chapter of which Britons of all origins can be proud.

In the United States, however, slavery not only survived the end of the African trade but embarked on an era of unprecedented expansion.

Read the whole article.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Race/Race Relations

David Broder: What Presidents Must Know

But I have found myself thinking about something I was told many years ago by Bill Bradley, the former senator from New Jersey, before he ran for the Democratic presidential nomination against Al Gore in 2000. Bradley was explaining one day in his office why he had taken himself out of consideration as a running mate for Michael Dukakis in 1988. You shouldn’t run for vice president, he said, unless you thought you were ready to be president, and he didn’t consider himself ready.

Why not? He said he thought a president of the United States needed to know several other major countries “from the inside,” not just at a briefing-book level but from firsthand observation, so you understand the pressures on their leaders when you sit down to negotiate with them. Bradley had begun such studies in the Soviet Union, Japan, Germany and Mexico, he said, but had more to do in all four places, and China beckoned.

Then, he said, a president should know the leadership elites in this country — not just in politics but in business, the professions, academia, labor — well enough that he would know where to go to staff his administration. And, he said, you needed to know the policy community well enough to be able to navigate for useful advice.

I thought then — and I still believe — that that was as insightful a description of the desirable background for a president as I had ever heard. Bradley turned out to have his shortcomings as a campaigner, but his prescription for a president still seems right.

When all the fun and games are finished, Americans will be choosing a president for a dangerous time in a world that has more shocks to administer. I hope that some of the folks in Iowa and New Hampshire are thinking about that.

Read the whole piece.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Andrew Sullivan–America has a clear-cut choice: the candidates of hope or fear

This leaves one viable candidate on either side. They are the least afraid and the most hopeful. They are Obama and John McCain, the Republican senator and Vietnam war hero. Yes, McCain’s experience has emerged as a great strength in an unstable world. But what remains impressive about his candidacy is that he has taken positions that are more forward-looking than many of his younger rivals.

McCain is the only Republican eager to address climate change. Faced with a Republican base furious about illegal immigration, he stuck to his view that illegal immigrants needed to be assimilated and even defended a bill that he authored with Ted Kennedy, the Democrat senator, to achieve this. He also bravely said that America does not need to torture prisoners and that the war in Iraq can be won. As the candidate of honour, he also became a candidate of hope ”“ especially in Iraq. He has seen his numbers surge recently in New Hampshire and, if he can prevent Romney getting momentum, he still has a chance to pull it off.

Obama, of course, based his entire candidacy on the title of his campaign book, The Audacity of Hope. The fearful have every reason to look elsewhere. If you do not believe that a black man can be president; if you do not believe that America can risk talking to Iran’s leadership or withdrawing from Iraq without losing the wider war; if you think it’s naive to hope that the polarising culture war of the past 40 years can ever end; if you doubt that a man with a name like Obama who once attended a secular madrasah in Indonesia can ever win a majority of US votes, you really should vote for Clinton.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, US Presidential Election 2008

Michael Poon asks Archbishop Peter Jensen for clarification on several crucial points

I read with interest your 27 December 2007 Statement on the proposed Global Anglican Future Conference. Thank you for unpacking the background, and for your reassurance to your faithful in Sydney that the Conference “is not designed to take the place of Lambeth”. I appreciate your conviction in upholding orthodoxy. I also share you passion in standing together with those Anglicans in North America who are courageously contending for the faith that was once delivered to the saints. I hope we can work together for the good of the Communion in the time to come, to the glory of God.

Your Statement at the same time leaves me, and perhaps others in the Southern Hemisphere, unclear on several crucial points. I look to you, as an archbishop charged with huge responsibility under God, for your further clarification, that your actions can lead to the strengthening of the faithful across the worldwide Communion at this time of deep crisis and uncertainty.

1. What is the particular nature of the crisis before the Communion today? You mentioned several times in your Statement that the issue is over “biblical standards”, especially “in the biblical view of sexual ethics”. I wonder if that depiction adequately reflects the crux of the matter. After all, some other churches and congregations from different traditions have also departed from the “biblical views”. I wonder if the issue before the Anglican Communion is rather this: How do we see ourselves keeping the faith and witnessing together as part of the “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church” across the ages and across the oceans? Perhaps at the heart is an ecclesiological issue. So the contention has never been simply on biblical view of sex, but on the particular issues of episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and on the rites of blessing for same-sex unions. The process of discerning the Word and on keeping faith to what is revealed as a community go hand in hand. I suggest this interpretation may perhaps be fundamental, and determines how we respond and map the way forward.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * International News & Commentary, - Anglican: Analysis, Asia, Global South Churches & Primates

The Ethicist Chimes In

Here is the dilemma:

My fiancé received a letter at his office from a woman claiming to be the product of his sperm donation nearly 20 years ago. Her stated intention was to receive medical information, something he would willingly provide, but she strongly implied that she desired more, and he does not wish further contact. Was it ethical of her to obtain his name and business address? Must he reply? ”” name withheld, Portland, Ore.

Think about what you would say before you click to see his response.

Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Theology

Vicki Woods: Going to church when you have no faith

Anyway, my neighbour the churchwarden’s letter sparked our rector into a cracking good sermon on the theme of Christmas being absolutely not RIP, no way, not in his church – or any other of his churches – not while he was rector, anyway.

He retold the endlessly retold story as we grew misty-eyed while clinging to the (few) working radiators; he expanded into how the Puritan Parliament had abolished Christmas services, but they would not be abolished while two or three were gathered together.

He became quite exercised about parliaments abolishing things – including this parliament, including foxhunting (“or tried to!”) – while we mouthed silent Hurrahs to each other. It was stirring stuff from a village pulpit.

“Very rousing, David,” we said as we filed out. “You were getting quite political there.” He said he didn’t use the term “nanny state” himself. But you do sometimes, especially here in the countryside, get a bit sick of everything being banned. He hoped we’d got his message about the spirit of Christmas though? We had, we had.

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, England / UK, Religion & Culture

The Story of the Man and the Birds for Christmas

Now the man to whom I’m going to introduce you was not a scrooge, he was a kind, decent, mostly good man. Generous to his family, upright in his dealings with other men. But he just didn’t believe all that incarnation stuff which the churches proclaim at Christmas Time. It just didn’t make sense and he was too honest to pretend otherwise. He just couldn’t swallow the Jesus Story, about God coming to Earth as a man. “I’m truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, “but I’m not going with you to church this Christmas Eve.” He said he’d feel like a hypocrite. That he’d much rather just stay at home, but that he would wait up for them. And so he stayed and they went to the midnight service.

Shortly after the family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window to watch the flurries getting heavier and heavier and then went back to his fireside chair and began to read his newspaper. Minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. Then another, and then another. Sort of a thump or a thud. At first he thought someone must be throwing snowballs against his living room window. But when he went to the front door to investigate he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the snow. They’d been caught in the storm and, in a desperate search for shelter, had tried to fly through his large landscape window.

Well, he couldn’t let the poor creatures lie there and freeze, so he remembered the barn where his children stabled their pony. That would provide a warm shelter, if he could direct the birds to it. Quickly he put on a coat, galoshes, tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the doors wide and turned on a light, but the birds did not come in. He figured food would entice them in. So he hurried back to the house, fetched bread crumbs, sprinkled them on the snow, making a trail to the yellow-lighted wide open doorway of the stable. But to his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs, and continued to flap around helplessly in the snow. He tried catching them. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around them waving his arms. Instead, they scattered in every direction, except into the warm, lighted barn.

And then, he realized, that they were afraid of him. To them, he reasoned, I am a strange and terrifying creature. If only I could think of some way to let them know that they can trust me. That I am not trying to hurt them, but to help them. But how? Because any move he made tended to frighten them, confuse them. They just would not follow. They would not be led or shooed because they feared him. “If only I could be a bird,” he thought to himself, “and mingle with them and speak their language. Then I could tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to safety … to the safe warm barn. But I would have to be one of them so they could see, and hear and understand.”

At that moment the church bells began to ring. The sound reached his ears above the sounds of the wind. And he stood there listening to the bells – Adeste Fidelis – listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. And he sank to his knees in the snow.

–I believe the author of this remains unknown

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

An Important Reporting Religion Program on the Anglican Communion Struggle

Dan Damon looks ahead to some of the likely key religious stories of 2008.What role is religion likely to play in global politics and human relations? What effect are radical atheists having on religion? As Anglican bishops and archbishops meet for the ten yearly Lambeth Conference how will tensions over differing attitudes towards homosexuality play out; and in the Middle East how is religion likely to influence conflict and alliances in the region, and beyond?

Dan Damon is joined by Bruce Clark from the newspaper The Economist, Dr. Ghada Karmi, Research Fellow at the Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Exeter in England, and Dr. Philip Jenkins Distinguished Professor of History and Religious Studies at Pennsylvania State University in the United States.

Listen to it all and note the comments from Archbishop Pete Akinola of Nigeria and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of the Episcopal Church (26 1/2 minutes).

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, - Anglican: Analysis, - Anglican: Commentary, Episcopal Church (TEC), Lambeth 2008, Law & Legal Issues, Same-sex blessings, Sexuality Debate (in Anglican Communion), TEC Conflicts

A look back: The top stories of 2007 in the Lowcountry of South Carolina

A lot happened. And the year gave us much to think about: The growing numbers of Protestant Latinos, the nature of Christian schism, what it means to be a person of faith and gay, how we should interpret the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, what the faith community can do about the corrosive effects of poverty, the significance of our historic churches, and the meaning of tradition and change.

These and many other issues ”” concerning race, charity, the supernatural, religious pluralism, health disparities, Lowcountry history and Middle East conflict ”” have been presented in the pages of Faith & Values during 2007.

We hope the reading has raised questions, piqued curiosity, provoked ideas and encouraged debate.

In the interest of having one last look at the events and issues that captivated us, the newspaper staff unscientifically selected the year’s top 10 stories that appeared in Faith & Values. Here they are.

#1-Episcopal schism

A newly elected bishop, a growing community, disagreements over social and theological issues ”” These are what have affected the Episcopal Church parishes in the Diocese of South Carolina. The diocese, mostly critical of the direction taken by the Episcopal Church, secured its next bishop in October. It took two elections, but The Very Rev. Mark Lawrence will come from California to lead the diocese during a time of theological disagreement. More than 50 parishes nationwide have taken steps to sever ties with the Episcopal Church. Lawrence has said he has no plans to leave the church. Nationally, the coming months may bring some kind of resolution of the issues.

Read the whole article.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * South Carolina, Religion & Culture

Conflicts, art dominate Fort Worth religious landscape in '07

This year I witnessed a sacred foot-washing service at Indian Oaks Primitive Baptist Church. I met interesting people, such as Ed Mahan of Burleson, a born-again biker who is national chaplain of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club and a student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

But, as usual, controversy caught the most attention as I looked at local religious news of the past 12 months. Here are some of the top local stories of 2007:

Episcopal conflict: Conservatives in the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth who have long claimed the national church is straying from biblical authority by, among other things, electing a gay bishop, voted in November to secede from the U.S. Episcopal Church. The proposal urges that the 24-county diocese be aligned with a more conservative province of the 79-million-member Anglican Communion. It was a first step. Delegates must again approve it at next year’s convention. Fort Worth Episcopalians who voted against the change say there is no way their diocese can legally walk away from the national church. The matter likely will end up in court.

Read the whole article.

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

Down Under Traditional churches turn to advertising

MAINSTREAM churches should use the same public relations methods as their evangelical counterparts to stop members defecting to more modern congregations or leaving the faith altogether, analysts believe.

Edward Butler, of industry analysts IBISWorld, said young people in particular were accustomed to being marketed to and traditional methods of religious promotion would no longer work.

“Young people tend to be much more media savvy,” Mr Butler said. “They tend to view things in a much more marketing-based manner.”

But Mr Butler warned against direct-marketing campaigns, saying a more subtle message, similar to those used by Pentecostal churches like Hillsong, were more effective.

Read the whole article.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Australia / NZ, Evangelism and Church Growth, Media, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

Terry Mattingly–2007's top religious story: 'values voters'

It was a simple commercial, with Mike Huckabee posed in front of a set of scandalously empty white bookshelves that, when framed just right beside a Christmas tree, formed a glowing cross behind the candidate.

And, lo, the former Southern Baptist pastor told the voters: “Are you about worn out by all the television commercials you’ve been seeing, mostly about politics? I don’t blame you. At this time of year, sometimes it’s nice to pull aside from all of that and just remember that what really matters is a celebration of the birth of Christ and being with our family and our friends. I hope that you and your family will have a magnificent Christmas season. And on behalf of all of us, God bless and Merry Christmas.”

This caused a firestorm among the political elites who symbolized the year’s biggest trend in religion news ”” the revenge of the infamous “values voters” who, apparently, remain alive and well in church pews across the heartland.

But will the Republican Party win this “pew gap” contest again? That was the question that dominated the Religion Newswriters Association poll to determine the Top 10 religion news stories in 2007. There were plenty of new signs that the so-called religious right exists, but that it isn’t a monolith after all.

Read it all.

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

CofE unity threatened by conference split

The Bishop of Rochester could be heading for a confrontation with the Archbishop of Canterbury over the ordination of gay bishops.

The issue has threatened to cause the biggest split in the Anglican Church’s history, which the archbishop has so far managed to narrowly avoid.

Dr Rowan Williams flew out to New Orleans in September for last-ditch talks to persuade the American Episcopal Church to abandon its decision to ordain gay bishops, as it had done in 2003 with the ordination of Gene Robinson in New Hampshire.

Several diocese split from the American church as a result of the ordination, which also prompted some conservative clergymen, particularly in Africa, to call for the Americans to be cast out of its international body, the Anglican Communion.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Lambeth 2008

David Meara: Anglican Church tradition still has its place

But if these spiritual needs are to be properly nurtured, then Anglicanism needs to rediscover its quiet, understated confidence in the balance between Scripture, reason and tradition, and to assert this in the face of an increasingly intolerant fundamentalism.

One feature that drew me into the Church of England was its generous tolerance of diverse opinions held together by the beauty of Cranmer’s liturgy.

“Thou hast set my feet, O Lord, in a large room,” says the psalmist, and I give thanks for the large room that is the Church of England, in which those who seek meaning and purpose can be welcomed, whatever stage of belief or unbelief they have reached.

My own church has endeavoured to embody this.

As the journalists’ church, our doors are open to all of the Fourth Estate, and we have hosted debates on such subjects as Islamophobia, capital punishment, the City, religion and the media.

We attempt to look outwards, raising issues for debate rather than peddling dogmatic certainties.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

Mark Hadley Reviews the Golden Compass

Having finally seen The Golden Compass, it’s easy to see why this film is likely to point anywhere but towards profit. The story revolves around street-scamp Lyra Belacqua coming into the possession of a fabled Golden Compass and setting off to rescue her friends from a laboratory in the frozen north run by some decidedly religious tyrants. In [Philip] Pullman’s books the bad guys are clearly presented as ”˜The Church’ through all ages and worlds. New Line Cinema has rather bizarrely acted to preserve its market share in the Christian heart-land of America by removing all mention of ”˜The Church’ and substituting the Roman Catholic term ”˜The Magesterium’. However the religious symbology remains, right down to one head quarters of the evil organization looking decidedly like an Orthodox church.

As a film The Golden Compass has significant problems. The script is unlikely to satisfy fans of the series or newcomers. Director and screenwriter Chris Weitz clearly lacked confidence in his audience, constantly feeling the need to repeat dialogue and hammer in plot points. Little effort has been made though to pair down the complexity of Pullman’s original tale so that paradoxically, while much is reiterated, other plot developments are skipped over so quickly that an understanding of the plot line before you see the film is about the only way you will follow what is happening. The result is a colour-by-numbers piece that will still leave people whispering to each other, “But I thought he was the bad guy”¦?”

Read it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

Blogging’s a Low-Cost, High Return Marketing Tool

To its true believers at small businesses, it is a low-cost, high-return tool that can handle marketing and public relations, raise the company profile and build the brand.

That tool is blogging, though small businesses with blogs are still a distinct minority. A recent American Express survey found that only 5 percent of businesses with fewer than 100 employees have blogs. Other experts put the number slightly higher.

But while blogs may be useful to many more small businesses, even blogging experts do not recommend it for the majority.

Guy Kawasaki, a serial entrepreneur, managing partner of Garage Technology Ventures and a prolific blogger, put it this way: “If you’re a clothing manufacturer or a restaurant, blogging is probably not as high on your list as making good food or good clothes.”

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Blogging & the Internet, Economy

Calvin and Hobbes for the Season

What a lot of fun.

Posted in * General Interest, Humor / Trivia

Connecticut Begins Offering Online High School Classes

Connecticut high school students can now enroll in online courses taught by state teachers.

The pilot program offers courses in basic subjects for students who need credits to graduate. It also offers other electives, such as Mandarin Chinese and “Shakespeare in Film.”

The idea is to allow students who have fallen behind to catch up online rather than in summer school and also to provide interesting electives that are not widely available.

“We want to use online courses to increase access to high-quality content so that every student in Connecticut will have access to the courses they need when they need them,” said Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

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

Officials Falling Behind on Mortgage Fraud Cases

The number of mortgage fraud cases has grown so fast that government agencies that investigate and prosecute them cannot keep up, lenders and law enforcement officials have said.

Reports of suspected mortgage fraud have doubled since 2005 and increased eightfold since 2002. Banks filed 47,717 reports this year, up from 21,994 two years ago, according to statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network of the Treasury Department. In 2002, banks filed 5,623 reports.

“I don’t think any law enforcement agency can keep up with mortgage fraud, because it’s such a growth industry,” said Chuck Cross, vice president of mortgage regulatory policy for the conference of state bank supervisors, an organization of regulators and bankers. “There’s too many cases, not enough agents.”

Mortgage fraud covers crimes like false statements on mortgage applications and elaborate “flipping” schemes that involve multiple properties and corrupt appraisers, title companies and straw buyers.

In one common flipping plot, someone buys a house, has it appraised for more than its true value and sells it to a straw buyer for the inflated price, pocketing the difference. The straw buyer lets the house fall into foreclosure, leaving the bank with the loss.

The cases coming into view reflect the recent boom in mortgages with limited borrower documentation and lax scrutiny.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market