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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) Executive Council * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Middle East Israel Jordan Lebanon The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The people must be alert, analytically and democratically. Populist movements are gaining strength, forcing emotional, hasty, binary and often blind reactions. Political and religious leaders, intellectuals and students, women (in the heart of their legitimate struggles) as well as ordinary citizens bear a heavy responsibility. They must become the masters of their fate. If democratisation is to mean anything at all, it must be in terms of freedom and responsibility. Time has come to stop blaming the West, the neighbouring countries and the "powers" for the crises they continue to suffer.
The Great Powers undoubtedly played a role in the uprisings - they continue to wield great influence and have not stopped promoting their interests, dictatorships or not, democracy or not. Engaged as they are in a painful transition, the MENA countries must now face their destiny. However, beyond the strategic planning of the Great Powers - both the western countries and the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, China) - these countries have a historic opportunity to take their destinies in their hands; to create a new regional balance of power, new ways of handling the religious reference. They can profit from the emerging multi-polar economic order to celebrate cultural and artistic creativity, and take seriously the welfare and the superior interests of their peoples.
Where to begin? With a true process of liberation, an intellectual and psychological revolution that must first overcome the obsession with western approval, as if, once liberated, these countries must still seek legitimacy and tolerance.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Syria * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam
I was recently struck by some photos and reports I saw on the al-Arabiya network, the most respected news outlet in the Middle East. There was a starving child in Yemen, a burnt-out ancient souk in Aleppo, Syria, car bombs in Iraq and destroyed buildings in Libya.
What links all these images is that the destruction and the atrocities were not perpetrated by an outside enemy. The starvation, the killings and the destruction in these Arab countries were carried out by the same hands that are supposed to protect and build the unity of these countries and safeguard their people. Who, therefore, is the real enemy of the Arab world?
Many Arabs would say it is Israel — their sworn enemy, an enemy whose existence they have never recognised. From 1948 to today there have been three full-scale wars and many confrontations. But what was the real cost of these wars to the Arab world and its people? The harder question that no Arab wants to ask is: what was the real cost of not recognising Israel in 1948 and why didn’t the Arab states spend their assets on education, healthcare and infrastructure instead of wars? But the very hardest question of all is whether Israel is the real enemy of the Arab world and the Arab people.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Poverty Violence * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Middle East Egypt Israel Jordan Lebanon Qatar Saudi Arabia Syria The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle UAE (United Arab Emirates)
Events in recent days have illustrated just how quickly the violence in Syria could spiral into a regional war. After Syrian mortar bombs once again fell on Turkish soil, this time killing five civilians, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan felt compelled to act. The Turkish military's retaliation on Wednesday and Thursday startled the international community.
With its actions, Turkey obviously proceeded with caution: It answered the repeated attacks from Syria with a few artillery shots -- not missiles. And the permission for further military action granted to Erdogan by his parliament is intended primarily as an intimidation measure. There is no apparent intent to declare all-out war -- at least for the time being. The United Nations Security Council, meanwhile, has strongly condemned the Syrian attack on Turkish soil and called on both sides to show restraint.
The fact of the matter is that the longer Syrian civil war continues, the more often incidents like that seen earlier this week will occur -- particularly in Turkey and Lebanon. A large part of the border region around Syria has already become a war zone. Previously, the international community had worried that a military intervention could fuel a regional wildfire, but now it is being forced to look on as this increasingly appears to be the reality -- without it ever even having gotten involved.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Violence * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Lebanon Syria
Islam is bound to play a larger role in government in the Arab world than elsewhere. Most Muslims do not believe in the separation of religion and state, as America and France do, and have not lost their enthusiasm for religion, as many “Christian Democrats” in Europe have. Muslim democracies such as Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia all have big Islamic parties.
But Islamic does not mean Islamist. Al-Qaeda in the past few years has lost ground in Arab hearts and minds. The jihadists are a small minority, widely hated by their milder co-religionists, not least for giving Islam a bad name across the world. Ideological battles between moderates and extremists within Islam are just as fierce as the animosity pitting Muslim, Christian and Jewish fundamentalists against each other. Younger Arabs, largely responsible for the upheavals, are better connected and attuned to the rest of the modern world than their conservative predecessors were.
Moreover, some Muslim countries are on the road to democracy, or already there.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Africa Libya Tunisia Asia Bahrain Middle East Egypt Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam
They could be the earliest Christian writing in existence, surviving almost 2,000 years in a Jordanian cave. They could, just possibly, change our understanding of how Jesus was crucified and resurrected, and how Christianity was born.
A group of 70 or so "books", each with between five and 15 lead leaves bound by lead rings, was apparently discovered in a remote arid valley in northern Jordan somewhere between 2005 and 2007.
A flash flood had exposed two niches inside the cave, one of them marked with a menorah or candlestick, the ancient Jewish religious symbol.
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Democracy is part of America's very identity, and thus we benefit in a world of more democracies. But this is no reason to delude ourselves about grand historical schemes or to forget our wider interests. Precisely because so much of the Middle East is in upheaval, we must avoid entanglements and stay out of the domestic affairs of the region. We must keep our powder dry for crises ahead that might matter much more than those of today.
Our most important national-security resource is the time that our top policy makers can devote to a problem, so it is crucial to avoid distractions. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the fragility of Pakistan, Iran's rush to nuclear power, a possible Israeli military response—these are all major challenges that have not gone away. This is to say nothing of rising Chinese naval power and Beijing's ongoing attempt to Finlandize much of East Asia.
We should not kid ourselves. In foreign policy, all moral questions are really questions of power. We intervened twice in the Balkans in the 1990s only because Yugoslav dictator Slobodan Milosevic had no nuclear weapons and could not retaliate against us, unlike the Russians, whose destruction of Chechnya prompted no thought of intervention on our part (nor did ethnic cleansing elsewhere in the Caucasus, because it was in Russia's sphere of influence). At present, helping the embattled Libyan rebels does not affect our interests, so we stand up for human rights there. But helping Bahrain's embattled Shia, or Yemen's antiregime protesters, would undermine key allies, so we do nothing as demonstrators are killed in the streets.
Of course, just because we can't help everywhere does not mean we can't help somewhere.
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Filed under: * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Foreign Relations * International News & Commentary Africa Libya America/U.S.A. Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria
The other night I found myself dreaming, drifting simultaneously through two parallel worlds, 800 years apart.
In the first vision, I was on the ramparts of the Kingdom of Jerusalem in July 1187. News came in from Galilee that the Crusader Armies had been decimated by the overwhelming Muslim forces of the great Sultan Saladin at the Battle of Hattin. Jerusalem, already an island in an angry, surging Muslim sea, was about to be totally engulfed.
My second dream was in the same place, but I was witnessing a 21st-century Islamic encirclement of modern-day Israel. This second trance was apparently shared by some Israeli columnists who openly fear Egypt’s chaotic regime could be followed by an extremist Islamic government, reinforcing that nightmare Crusader scenario of encirclement.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt Iran Iraq Israel Jordan Saudi Arabia Syria
Anyone who’s long followed the Middle East knows that the six most dangerous words after any cataclysmic event in this region are: “Things will never be the same.” After all, this region absorbed the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Google without a ripple.
But traveling through Israel, the West Bank and Jordan to measure the shock waves from Egypt, I’m convinced that the forces that were upholding the status quo here for so long — oil, autocracy, the distraction of Israel, and a fear of the chaos that could come with change — have finally met an engine of change that is even more powerful: China, Twitter and 20-year-olds.
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Bethany Beyond the Jordan, Jordan // Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, laid the cornerstone of an Anglican church yesterday on the eastern bank of the Jordan river as part of a four-day pilgrimage tour to the Holy land.
“This place is set apart for prayers for honouring the name of John the Baptist, the prophet of Bethany and for the praise of the most holy name of our Lord,” he said in prayers as a congregation of around 600 Anglican worshippers in Jordan gathered around him.
Once built, John the Baptist church will be one of eight different Christian churches and monasteries under construction at the site, which was discovered in 1996. The site already boasts remnants of more than 20 churches, caves and baptismal pools dating from the Byzantine period.
Jordan hopes to turn the site – at which John the Baptist baptised Jesus Christ – into a global pilgrimage destination.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams voiced grave concern Saturday over the eroding Christian presence in the Holy Land on the first stop of his four-day pilgrimage to the region.
Williams, the spiritual leader of the Anglican communion worldwide, held a sermon for hundreds of faithful at the River Jordan after dedicating the cornerstone of an Anglican church to be built at the site where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist.
Williams said he "worried deeply" about the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Mideast, and stressed that it was the church's duty to support Christians who face hardship due to regional conflicts.
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Update: Some preliminary information on the Archbishop's visit to the Holy Land may be found here.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Middle East Jordan * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches
...when Pope Benedict XVI visits Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories starting on Friday, the world may be excused for holding its breath. In his four years on the job, this pope has not always demonstrated a deft symbolic touch. If he simply manages to get back to Rome without starting a war, some might declare the trip a success.
Yet Benedict can, and should, do much more. Granted, the pope is not a politician, and this trip is more a pilgrimage than a diplomatic mission. Nonetheless, Benedict can make a unique contribution to the peace process at a moment when it obviously needs the help.
The reason for this is that popes enjoy a tremendous advantage over Western politicians in engaging the Middle East. This is the realm of "theopolitics," where religious convictions always shape policy choices. A pope can engage those convictions in a way that secular trouble-shooters like former Senator George Mitchell, President Obama's envoy to the Middle East, never could.
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Filed under: * International News & Commentary Mexico Middle East Israel Jordan The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI
Jordan's king urged President Barack Obama Sunday to take a more forceful role in the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, warning of a new Mideast war if there is no significant progress in the next 18 months.
Speaking to NBC's "Meet the Press," King Abdullah described the Israeli-Palestinian dispute as the core problem of the region and solving it would help the U.S. in dealing with Iran and combatting the appeal of radical Islamic groups like Al-Qaida.
"In the next 18 months, if we don't move the process forward, and bring people to the negotiation table, there will be another conflict between Israel and another protagonist," he said in the interview recorded in Washington on Friday.
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