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([London] Times) France gets baby blues as birthrate falls another 2.1% last year

A three-year fall in the birth rate in France is threatening its title as Europe’s most fertile nation and government policies are being blamed.

France has prided itself on policies promoting a high level of childbirth since the 1960s, and particularly in the past 20 years when populations in Europe have aged and shrunk.

The statistics office said the numbers were a delayed reaction to the financial crisis in 2008 because generous social and family benefits had cushioned a demographic impact noticed far earlier elsewhere in Europe. France has taken longer to recover than its neighbours.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, France, Marriage & Family

CS Spurgeon–‘the gospel which Christ preached was, very plainly, a command’

I shall commence by remarking that the gospel which Christ preached was, very plainly, a command. “Repent and believe the gospel.” Our Lord does condescend to reason. Often His ministry graciously acted out the old text, “Come, now, and let us reason together; though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be as wool.” He does persuade men by telling and forcible arguments, which should lead them to seek the salvation of their souls. He does invite men and oh, how lovingly He woos them to be wise! “Come unto Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He does entreat men. He condescends to become, as it were, a beggar to His own sinful creatures, beseeching them to come to Him. Indeed, He makes this to be the duty of His ministers, “As though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ’s place, be you reconciled to God.” Yet, remember, though He condescends to reason, to persuade, to invite, and to beseech, still His gospel has in it all the dignity and force of a command; and if we would preach it in these days as Christ did, we must proclaim it as a command from God, attended with a divine sanction, and not to be neglected except at the infinite peril of the soul! When the feast was spread upon the table for the marriage supper, there was an invitation—but it had all the obligation of a command—since those who rejected it were utterly destroyed as despisers of their king! When the builders reject Christ, He becomes a stone of stumbling to “the disobedient.” But how could they disobey if there were no command? The gospel contemplates, I say, invitations, entreaties, and beseeching—but it also takes the higher ground of authority. “Repent and believe,” is as much a command of God as, “You shall not steal.” “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” has as fully a divine Authority
as, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Think not, O man, that the gospel is a thing left to your option to choose or not! Dream not, O sinners that you may despise the Word from heaven and incur no guilt! Think not that you may neglect it, and no ill consequences shall follow! It is just this neglect and despising of yours which shall fill up the measure of your iniquity. It is this concern for which we cry aloud, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?” God commands you to repent! The same God before whom Sinai was moved, and was altogether on a smoke—that same God who proclaimed the law with sound of trumpet, with lightning, and with thunder, speaks to us more gently, but still as divinely, through His only begottenSon, when He says to us, “Repent and believe the gospel.”

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

Posted in Church History, Preaching / Homiletics, Soteriology, Theology: Scripture

(Wash Post) Michael Gerson–Abortion rights go against the spirit of civil rights

Why does this issue refuse to fade from our politics? One reason concerns Roe itself, which was (as Justice Byron White put it in his dissent) “an exercise in raw judicial power.” Blackmun’s ruling does not hold up well on rereading. His system of trimesters and viability was (and is) arbitrary and medically rootless, a fig leaf covering an almost limitless abortion right. Blackmun’s weak argument largely substituted for the democratic process in 50 states. Fiat replaced deliberation and democratic legitimacy. This was a recipe for resentment and reaction.

But judicial fiat can’t be a sufficient explanation. The Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage in every state was also sweeping. It has produced almost no political reaction. The contrast to Roe could hardly be starker. And the explanation is rather simple: All the great civil rights movements have been movements of inclusion. The first modern civil rights campaign — militating for the end of the British slave trade — set the pattern with its slogan: “Am I not a man and a brother?” Susan B. Anthony asked: “Are women persons?” In the most rapidly successful civil rights movement of our time, gays and lesbians came out to show their communities that LGBT people were their friends and family members. All these efforts expanded the circle of social welcome and protection.

The abortion rights movement, in contrast, is a movement of autonomy. Its primary appeal is to individual choice, not social inclusion. And the choice it elevates seems (to some people) in tension with the principle of inclusion. A fetus is genetically distinct from the mother, is biologically human and has the inherent capacity to develop into a child. This makes it different from a hangnail or a tumor. At what point does this developing human life deserve our sympathy and protection? When neurological activity develops? When the fetus can feel pain? When a child is born? When an infant can think and reason? All these “achievements” are, in fact, scientifically and ethically arbitrary. They don’t mark the start of a new life, just the development of an existing life.

It is the antiabortion movement that appeals to inclusion. It argues for a more expansive definition of the human community. It opposes ending or exploiting one human life for the benefit of another. There are heart-rending stories that prevent the simplistic application of this approach. But most of the antiabortion men and women I know have the genuine and selfless motivation of trying to save innocent lives.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Children, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Sexuality, Theology

(Telegraph) Peal for England! Church bells to be protected in planning rules from noise complaints

Church bells are to win protection under new planning rules to stop people who move into towns and villages forcing councils to silence them, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Ministers said official planning guidance in England would be changed for new homes to show that the Government is now “standing up for churches”.

Churches have repeatedly had to comply with noise abatement orders to silence church bells after complaints from often only a handful of homeowners despite the fact that they have tolled for decades.

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry

(BBC) Meet the religious social media stars–Their Instagrams are all about god and spirituality

Official religious bodies have long been making the most of technology. Last Easter, the Church of England encouraged followers to share “photos of baptisms, dawn services, church celebrations and more using the hashtag #EasterJoy” on all forms of social media. On Facebook, the page ‘Ask a Catholic Nun’ has almost 270,000 followers, while a Christian-based ad agency found more than 30% of churches said they updated Facebook each day. The Dalai Lama is arguably the leader in this field; he has had a Twitter account since 2008, now with 17.3 million followers.

Now, ordinary individuals are following suit. In the same way as people interested in particular diets or exercise regimes use social media to promote the lifestyles they espouse, social networks such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube are providing a platform for spiritual influencers to spread the word. These individuals can have virtual congregations of thousands, who often follow them with passionate loyalty. In many ways, they’re the digital successors to American TV preachers who used to reach their audiences in their living rooms.

In the UK and America, Christian believers appear to be those accruing the largest fanbases. One of the most prominent Christian influencers in the UK is the fashion and textiles student Dephne Madyara, with 100k subscribers on YouTube and 20k followers on Instagram. In America, influencers such as Sadie Robertson (5m followers, across Instagram and Twitter), Heather Lindsey (350,000 followers) and Emma Mae Jenkins (130,000 followers) amass thousands of likes on their videos extolling the benefits of their faith.

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, England / UK, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

A Prayer to Begin the Day from the Pastor’s Prayerbook

Almighty God, who hast given us powers which our fathers never knew, to probe thine ancient mysteries, and to discover thy hidden treasures: Quicken our conscience, we beseech thee, as thou dost enlighten our understanding; lest, having tasted the fruits of knowledge, we perish through our own pride and disobedience. We ask it for Jesus Christ’s sake

–Robert W. Rodenmayer, ed., The Pastor’s Prayerbook: Selected and arranged for various occasions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960)

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

(LARB) Multiculturalism and Mental Illness: An Interview With Mira T. Lee

ELEANOR J. BADER: Lucia, the younger sister in Everything Here Is Beautiful, suffers from schizoaffective disorder, and the novel tracks her many psychotic breaks with compassion, terrifying realism, and multilayered complexity. Did you know about this disorder from personal experience?

MIRA T. LEE: There is a lot of mental illness in my family, with multiple family members with schizophrenia. I’ve seen breaks from reality, psychotic behavior where people believe the TV is talking to them or that the FBI is bugging their computers. I’ve seen people stop making sense and become unable to string words together to form a sentence.

I’ve dealt with doctors, hospitals, and social workers, and I am very familiar with the frustrations involved in trying to help someone with this kind of illness, so a lot of the emotions I include in the book are emotions I’ve felt. I know what it’s like to walk on eggshells because someone is disoriented and you don’t want to make the situation worse. Manuel, the undocumented Ecuadoran immigrant Lucia lives with after she leaves her first husband, consistently tries to appease Lucia. Through him, I was able to show how scary it is to see the person you love all but disappear.

But I didn’t just rely on my own experiences. I read many memoirs and blogs about mental illness. There are so many! Just Google first-person accounts of schizophrenia and you’ll see tons of stuff written by people who’ve been there. For a while I also researched post-partum psychosis because after Lucia gives birth to daughter Esperanza she is unable to care for either herself or her newborn.

Read it all.

Posted in Books, Children, Health & Medicine, Marriage & Family, Mental Illness, Psychology

Church of England General Synod papers released

People with Down’s Syndrome should be welcomed, celebrated and treated with dignity and respect, members of the Church of England’s General Synod will hear next month.
A motion affirming the dignity and humanity of people born with Down’s Syndrome is to be discussed by the General Synod at its February sessions in London. It comes as a new form of prenatal screening, Non-Invasive Prenatal Testing (NIPT), is set to be rolled out in the NHS to women deemed to be at ‘high-risk’ of having a child with Down’s syndrome.

The motion welcomes medical advances and calls for the Government and health professionals to ensure that women who have been told that their unborn child has Down’s Syndrome are given comprehensive, unbiased information on the condition.

A background paper, Valuing People with Down’s Syndrome, produced by the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council is among documents released today.

Read it all and follow the links.

Posted in Church of England (CoE)

(CEN) Zambian churches in call for peace and justice amid violence

The Council of Churches in Zambia (CCZ), the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia (EFZ) and Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB), have said that despite the public pronouncements that Zambia is a peaceful country, ‘the reality on the ground is different due to many acts of injustice, a growing culture of corruption, incidences of violence and utterances out of deep-seated hatred’.

They have appealed to the region’s political leaders ‘to stop insulting each other or anyone who does not agree with their political opinion’ and to ‘start genuinely to respect fellow political players as legitimate opponents with their constitutional right to hold their political opinion and to propagate it among the general public’.

“It demands that all political party leaders declare and enforce zero tolerance for political violence and to bring culprits to book by handing them over to law enforcement institutions,” they said.

“It means that all political leaders must give the planned for ‘national dialogue’ a chance to succeed by committing themselves to dialogue without preconditions with a view to levelling the playing field.

Read it all (requires subscription).

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Ethics / Moral Theology, Politics in General, Religion & Culture, Violence, Zambia

(WSJ) Peggy Noonan: America Needs More Gentlemen–The age of social media has worked against the ideas of decorum, dignity and self-control

A gentleman is good to women because he has his own dignity and sees theirs. He takes opportunities to show them respect. He is not pushy, manipulative, belittling. He stands with them not because they are weak but because they deserve friendship. Once at a gathering of women in media, I spoke of a columnist who years before had given me helpful critiques of my work and urged me on. “A gentleman is an encourager of women.”

It goes deeper than memorizing and repeating certain behaviors, such as standing when a woman or an older person enters the room. That is a physical expression of inner regard. Being a gentleman involves not only manners but morals. The 19th-century theologian John Henry Newman —an Anglican priest who became a Catholic cardinal—said a gentleman tries not to inflict pain. He tries to remove the obstacles “which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him.” He is “tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absurd. . . . He is never mean or little in his disputes, never takes unfair advantage.”

David Gandy, a fashion model, wrote a few years ago in London’s Telegraph that his work had taught him “being a gentleman isn’t about what you do or what you wear, it’s about how you behave and who you are.” A gentleman “holds chivalry and politeness in great regard. He holds the door for people; he gives up his seat; he takes off his coat to a lady on a cold evening.” These are old-fashioned actions, but a gentleman still holds to them “even though the world has changed.”

Yes, a gentleman does.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Men

(Economist Erasmus Blog) The case of Bishop George Bell–The legacy of a great clerical humanitarian is threatened by abuse allegations

Archbishop Welby responded by apologising for the sloppy investigation. But he insisted that a cloud still hung over Bishop Bell’s reputation. “No human being is entirely good or bad. Bishop Bell was in many ways a hero. He is also accused of great wickedness.”

That is what prompted the seven eminent historians to re-enter the fray and insist that “there is no credible evidence at all that Bishop Bell was a paedophile.” The professors, who include a leading authority on Nazism, Sir Ian Kershaw, added that

We believe the historical figure of George Bell is safe in the hands of historians even though, very sadly, it would appear to have been impugned from within his own Church of England.

The historians insist that they are not implying that the accuser is speaking deliberate falsehoods: merely that the things that she believes she remembers should be cross-checked against other available evidence.

On one point, at least, Sir Ian and his colleagues deserve a hearing. Bishop Bell’s record as an internationalist and humanitarian is a matter of general historical interest, not just a detail in the history of the church. It follows that the investigation of his life should be conducted outside the confines of the church, as transparently as possible, with a fair hearing for all interested parties. That has still not happened.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

A Prayer for the Feast Day of Saint Fabian

Almighty God, who didst call Fabian to be a faithful pastor and servant of thy people, and to lay down his life in witness to thy Son: Grant that we, strengthened by his example and aided by his prayers, may in times of trial and persecution remain steadfast in faith and endurance, for the sake of him who laid down his life for us all, Jesus Christ our Savior; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Posted in Church History, Spirituality/Prayer

A Prayer to Begin the Day from the Pastor’s Prayerbook

Grant to us, O Lord, the royalty of inward happiness, and the serenity which comes from living close to thee: Daily renew in us the sense of joy, and let the eternal spirit of the Father dwell in our souls and bodies, filling us with light and grace, so that, bearing about with us the infection of a good courage, we may be diffusers of life, and may meet all ills and cross accidents with gallant and high-hearted happiness, giving thee thanks always for all things.

–Robert W. Rodenmayer, ed., The Pastor’s Prayerbook: Selected and arranged for various occasions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960)

Posted in Spirituality/Prayer

Meet the Cincinnati Zoo’s viral social media star Fiona the hippo

As the prematurely born Fiona the hippo continued to grow in size, her social media following through the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden Facebook page also grew.

Enjoy it all.

Posted in Animals, Photos/Photography

(WSJ) Avi Schick–New York’s Bid to Control Religious Schools

Even ardent opponents of school choice accept that parents have the right to send their children to private schools. That may soon change in New York state, where education officials are preparing new guidelines to impose strict regulations on the instruction that religious and other private schools provide, while empowering local school districts to shutter those schools if they fail to meet state standards. The plan is not only ill-advised, it may end up costing the state billions in annual school aid to nonpublic schools.

Parents have had a legally recognized constitutional right to guide their children’s education for nearly a century. The Supreme Court’s 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters established that children are “not mere creatures of the state” and that parents have the right to choose “schools where their children will receive appropriate mental and religious training.” Almost 50 years later, in Wisconsin v. Yoder , the court reaffirmed these rights, recognizing the “fundamental interest of parents, as contrasted with that of the State, to guide the religious future and education of their children.”

The trade-off has always been that parents, not the state, must foot the bill for private education. In New York the government saves billions annually because parents choose to send their children to religious or private schools. New York’s Jewish and Catholic schools alone educate 330,000 children, nearly 200,000 of whom attend New York City parochial schools.

Only a fraction of these savings finds its way back to New York’s nonpublic schools and students.

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Education, Religion & Culture, Urban/City Life and Issues