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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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Narrating the details of my seventy-plus year pilgrimage would bore me almost as much as it would bore others. I do, however, remember a few events that might be interesting enough for public airing. One of them is the time that I turned down an invitation to appear in Penthouse magazine.
The phone call—it was the late 1970s, I think—came to our home in Grand Rapids late one afternoon. A pleasant woman asked me if I was willing to fly to New York City to serve on a panel of religious ethicists discussing “evangelicals and sexuality.” When I asked about the sponsorship of the panel, she immediately told me she would get to that topic after some other details, and then she reeled off the proposed date and the amount of a generous honorarium. I persisted: Who was sponsoring the panel? She answered: “I am calling on behalf of Bob Guccione of Penthouse magazine.”
“Oh, for crying out loud!” I exclaimed into the phone, and began to say that I would not do it. But she shot back, mentioning that a well-known professor from a university religion department had assured her that I was the right kind of person to appear in this published discussion. I got angry, urging her to tell the professor and Mr. Guccione what they were “full of.” And I hung up.
Read it all.
The World Council of Churches condemns the latest attacks and atrocities by the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) most recently against Christian villages in the region of Khabour in the governorate of Hassake, Syria. According to reports received, in the early morning of 23 February large numbers of IS fighters attacked these villages, killing a number of civilians, taking approximately 100 people captive, and provoking a mass exodus from these communities. These attacks seem to be attempts at opening a new corridor towards the Turkish border that could facilitate the procurement of both weapons and mercenaries.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Syria * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches Other Faiths Islam Muslim-Christian relations * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq are living at the edge of extinction.
They are marginalized and under threat from the genocidal actions of the Islamic State in Iraq, resulting in the purging of religious and ethnic minorities from their historic homes.
If immediate action is not taken, the existence of religious and ethnic minority communities, such as Christians, Yazidis, Shabak and Turkmen, will continue on a trajectory of precipitous decline into virtual non-existence.
In the last decade, the Christian community has plummeted from approximately 1.5 million to 300,000.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Iraq * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches
Undaunted by the slaughter of 21 Christians in Libya, the director of the Bible Society of Egypt saw a golden gospel opportunity.
“We must have a Scripture tract ready to distribute to the nation as soon as possible,” Ramez Atallah told his staff the evening an ISIS-linked group released its gruesome propaganda video. Less than 36 hours later, Two Rows by the Sea was sent to the printer.
One week later, 1.65 million copies have been distributed in the Bible Society’s largest campaign ever. It eclipses even the 1 million tracts distributed after the 2012 death of Shenouda, the Coptic "Pope of the Bible."
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church * Theology
The Irish Church today is still marked by relatively high levels of religious adherence and participation compared to most of its fellow European countries. Two of the book’s contributors, Elizabeth Oldmixon and Brian Calfano, find most Irish Catholic priests do not feel “burned-out” and report reasonably high levels of job satisfaction, in line with ministers in other religious traditions.
Another contributor, Bernadette Flanagan, finds a lively spirituality still at work within the Church, one that can now be informed by practices from other cultures as well as from the country’s own past.
Throughout the essays, the writers agree the potential is great for an Irish Catholicism that otherwise stands liberated from long relationships to political power and social privilege.
Read it all from the Irish Times.
My modest purpose is briefly to lay out six factors that illegitimately inhibit apologetic engagement today. If these barriers are removed, our apologetic witness may grow into what it should be in Christ.
Too many Christians don’t seem to care that Christianity is routinely ridiculed as outdated, irrational, and narrow-minded in our culture. They may complain that this "offends" them (just as everyone else is complaining that one thing or another "offends" them), but they do little to counteract the charges by offering a defense of the Christian world view in a variety of settings. Yet Scripture commands all Christians to have a reason for the hope that is within them and to present this with gentleness and respect to unbelievers (1 Peter 3:15). Our attitude should be that of the Apostle Paul who was "greatly distressed" when he beheld the idolatry of sophisticated Athens. This zeal for the truth of God led him into a fruitful apologetic encounter with the thinkers gathered to debate new ideas (see Acts 17). It should for us as well. Just as God "so loved the world" that he sent Jesus to set us right with God (John 3:16), Jesus’ disciples should so love the world that they endeavor to reach the lost by presenting the Gospel and answering objections to the Christian faith (John 17:18)....
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The brother of two of the 21 Coptic Christians murdered in Libya last week has thanked their killers for including the men's declaration of faith in the video they made of their beheadings.
Speaking on a live prayer and worship programme on Christian channel SAT-7 ARABIC yesterday, Beshir Kamel said that he was proud of his brothers Bishoy Estafanos Kamel (25) and Samuel Estafanos Kamel (23) because they were "a badge of honour to Christianity".
Harrowing scenes of the murders have been seen around the world. The last words of some of those killed were "Lord Jesus Christ".
Read it all.
As New York lawmakers began to consider a bill to legalize physician-assisted suicide, the New York State Catholic Conference launched a new website "to offer Catholics moral clarity and guidance on the church's teachings regarding end-of-life decision-making."
"Talking about death and dying can be difficult and uncomfortable, yet perhaps no conversations are more profound or necessary for all of us," says the "About" section of the site. "The fact is that most of us will face challenging decisions regarding treatment and care at the end of life, either for ourselves or our family members."
Developed with a grant from Our Sunday Visitor, the site provides links to resources, church teaching, advance directives and a variety of Catholic sources all across the country.
The Catholic church teaches that physician-assisted suicide is immoral and unethical.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Health & Medicine Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General State Government * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
Pope Francis is himself conservative enough to see that those problems, baffling as they may be to outsiders, run too deep to be solved overnight. But he is throwing out a challenge. People who cannot come together for a ritual of sacrifice in a church are being cast by circumstances into a single, dire community of fate. In one sense, that very fact renders their differences irrelevant. It also challenges people living in safer circumstances to work harder on tearing barriers down.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Economics, Politics Terrorism * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches Coptic Church Roman Catholic Pope Francis
Two deacons, one Episcopal, one Catholic, were standing on a street in Beverly Hills, in front of Tiffany's, across from Louis Vuitton.
It could have been the set-up for a joke — and some passersby thought it might be. Or maybe somebody was filming something? They stood and stared at the men dressed in purple stoles, white surplices and long black cassocks.
"Are you real? For real?" one woman in oversized Chanel sunglasses asked Scott Taylor of All Saints Episcopal Church and Eric Stoltz of the Church of the Good Shepherd.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Lent Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic
arriage is in crisis throughout the Western world. The data from the United States alone tell an unmistakable—and unmistakably sad—story. Fifty years ago, some 70 percent of American adults were married; today the figure is just over 50 percent. Then, close to 90 percent of children lived with their natural parents; today fewer than two-thirds do. The birth rate has declined, and the abortion rate has climbed from less than 1 percent of live births to over 20 percent.
Everyone suffers from the current crisis in marriage, but some suffer more than others. A growing class divide is becoming alarmingly clear. College-educated men and women marry and are unlikely to get divorced. The less educated are less likely to marry, and those who do so are three times more likely to get divorced. Rates of illegitimacy are even more striking. A very small percentage of college-educated women have children out of wedlock (6 percent). Nearly half of women without a college education now have children out of wedlock.
In considering the demise of marriage culture and the decline of the institution of marriage, we are profoundly aware of the challenge posed by the Lord, that “whatever you did to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matt. 25:40). The effects of the decline of marriage on children are dramatic, unequal, and deeply disturbing. Among the well-educated and economically well-off, the traditional family remains the norm. This is no longer true for children born to less educated and less affluent women. By age fourteen, nearly half of these children no longer live with both parents, posing dire consequences for their futures. Young men raised in broken families are more likely to go to prison. Young women in these circumstances are more likely to become pregnant as unwed teenagers. The dramatic decline of marriage is a major factor in the misery of many in our society.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Sexuality * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
The Ash Wednesday liturgy offers us, first of all, the passage from the prophet Joel, sent by God to call the people to repentance and conversion, due to a calamity (an invasion of locusts) that devastates Judea. Only the Lord can save from the scourge, and so there is need of supplication, with prayer and fasting, each confessing his sin.
The prophet insists on inner conversion: “Return to me with all your heart” (2:12). To return to the Lord “with all [one’s] heart,” means taking the path of a conversion that is neither superficial nor transient, but is a spiritual journey that reaches the deepest place of our self. The heart, in fact, is the seat of our sentiments, the center in which our decisions and our attitudes mature.
That, “Return to me with all your heart,” does not involve only individuals, but extends to the community, is a summons addressed to all: “Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. (2:16)”
The prophet dwells particularly on the prayers of priests, noting that their prayer should be accompanied by tears. We will do well to ask, at the beginning of this Lent, for the gift of tears, so as to make our prayer and our journey of conversion ever more authentic and without hypocrisy.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Lent Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Francis
Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India said on Tuesday that his government would not “accept violence against any religion, on any pretext” and that it would take forceful steps to prevent and prosecute such crimes, in a speech widely interpreted as a response to a series of attacks on Roman Catholic churches in and around New Delhi.
“My government will not allow any religious group, belonging to the minority or the majority, to incite hatred against others, overtly or covertly,” Mr. Modi said at a New Delhi ceremony to honor the recent canonization of two Indians by the Vatican. “I strongly condemn such violence. My government will act strongly in this regard.”
For weeks, church officials and rights campaigners have urged Mr. Modi to address a growing sense of insecurity among the country’s religious minorities, which include large populations of Muslims and Christians.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Asia India * Religion News & Commentary Inter-Faith Relations Other Churches Other Faiths Hinduism Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The Egyptian army launched airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya hours after the release of a video showing the beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts kidnapped by Libyan Islamists in December 2014 and January 2015. One may be tempted to say that President Sisi’s response to these murders is comparable to King Abdullah’s after a Jordanian pilot, Moaz al-Kasasbeh, was burned to death by ISIS. However, a closer examination of both leaders’ reactions shows a number of significant differences.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Watch it all and you can also read his statement there.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * International News & Commentary Africa Libya England / UK Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Orthodox Church
"The terrible cruelty of the murders in Denmark, Libya and Nigeria call for deep compassion for the bereaved and killed. The killers seem to rejoice in ever more extreme acts carried out to inflict ever greater terror. We must all weep with those affected, and know that in the love of Christ all evil will be overcome.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Archbishop of Canterbury --Justin Welby * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Pope Francis on Monday denounced the murder of 21 Coptic Christians by ISIL militants in Libya. The Islamist terrorist organization released a video of the killings on Sunday.
Speaking in Spanish to an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father noted those killed only said “Jesus help me.”
“They were murdered just for the fact they were Christians,” Pope Francis said.
“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” said the Pope. “If they are Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it is not important: They are Christians. The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ.''
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Roman Catholic Pope Francis Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Egypt's Copts are the largest Christian community in the Middle East and are estimated to account for around 15% of the country's population.
"Coptic" is used to describe the native Christians living in the country, where Christianity is a large minority religion.
The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in the first century by Saint Mark the apostle, who wrote the second Gospel of the New Testament.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Islamic State released a video on Sunday purporting to show the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians kidnapped in Libya, violence likely to deepen Cairo's concerns over security threats from militants thriving in the neighbouring country's chaos.
Egypt's state news agency MENA quoted the spokesman for the Coptic Church as confirming that 21 Egyptian Christians believed to be held by Islamic State were dead.
In the video, militants in black marched the captives, dressed in orange jump suits, to a beach the group said was near Tripoli. They were forced down onto their knees, then beheaded.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
A video has emerged showing the beheadings purportedly of 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya.
The footage shows a group wearing orange overalls, being forced to the ground and then decapitated.
Egypt's National Defence Council is to meet in emergency session to discuss its response to the killings.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Egypt * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
The United Methodist Church could have openly gay clergy and clergy could officiate at same-sex marriages if a proposal affirmed by a denomination-wide leadership body prevails.
The Connectional Table plans to draft legislation that members hope can be “a third way” in church’s long debate over homosexuality.
The body on Feb. 10 overwhelmingly affirmed a proposal to remove prohibitive language that makes it a chargeable offense under church law for clergy to be “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” or to officiate at same-sex weddings.
The action was not a formal vote, but the reported results of two hours of small-group discussions. The Connectional Table will take up proposed legislative language for an actual vote when it meets in May in Nashville, Tennessee.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Sexuality * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Methodist Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths) * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
The story started at home, with the multiple ways Graham helped shape the movement’s internal culture. For one thing, he prompted evangelicals to shift their focus from the venial sins of cussing, smoking, drinking, dancing, and premarital sex to the mortal sins of greed, lust, racism, and, above all, faithlessness. Which is to say, he prompted evangelicals to shift their focus from moral misdemeanors to moral felonies. That did not mean that he started out that way. Nor did it mean that he ever winked at the misdemeanors, or got entirely beyond preaching about them himself. But it did mean that he helped evangelicals establish a sense of scale. In a closely related move, Graham also alerted evangelicals to the difference between core and peripheral doctrines. Not every doctrinal difference was worth going to the mat for. He brought many of them to appreciate, in other words, the philosopher William James’s dictum: “The art of wisdom is the art of knowing what to overlook.” Or at least, gaining a mature sense of which doctrines should— and should not— qualify as a test of fellowship.
Then, too, Graham helped evangelicals see that justice for everyone, regardless of social location, was not peripheral but central to evangelicals’ affirmations and obligations. He did not always lead the way as boldly as he might have done, even by his own lights, but he was rarely very far behind the movement’s shock troops, and far ahead of the great majority of his constituents. To be sure, Graham never retreated one inch from his conviction that enduring social change started with changed hearts. But if changed hands did not follow, hearts needed to go back into the shop for more work.
The preacher helped his co-workers both deploy and regulate their entrepreneurial impulses....
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Culture-Watch Books Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals
At its heart this book, Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, is an extended effort to assure gay and lesbian people that entering the church will not mean the suppression of their longings and loves. It will, Tushnet promises, mean that those loves will be changed, reshaped, or reconfigured. But it won’t mean that they’ll simply be erased. Borrowing the historic language of vocations, she speaks of “figuring out how God is calling me to love and then pouring myself out into that love.” If gay people fear that becoming a Christian equals a one-way ticket to lifelong loneliness, Tushnet’s book is one long argument to the contrary.
The book has an uncluttered structure. Following several chapters that narrate her upbringing, including her coming out at age 13, her days as a student activist, and her eventual conversion to Catholicism while an undergraduate at Yale, Tushnet simply examines several possible ways that gay Catholics may give and receive love while remaining faithful to traditional Christian sexual ethics. There’s a chapter on friendship—not the anemic variety we now associate with Facebook verbs (“friending” and “unfriending”), but the vowed, lifelong kind associated with the church fathers and saints like Francis of Assisi and Clare, his spiritual sister. There are chapters on intentional community and parish life. There are explorations of service (Tushnet herself volunteers at a crisis pregnancy center, where she speaks of how her “connection to other women does have an adoring and erotic component, and [how she] wanted to find a way to express that connection through works of mercy”). And there are discussions of possible roadblocks gay Catholics may encounter in their search for loving community.
This book articulates, better than anything I’ve been able to find, the real yearnings, fears, and questions of gay Catholics (and other traditionalist Christians). But more than that, it also portrays, in vivid and personal terms, the hope of the church—the hope of the gospel that speaks to those desires and fears and beckons us on, to a brighter future in the household of God. I recommend it wholeheartedly, without reservation, as the best book of its kind.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Books Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals Roman Catholic Sexuality Debate (Other denominations and faiths) * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology Theology: Scripture
What do the ancient Christian communities of the Middle East, many of them threatened with extinction in lands where they have survived since the dawn of their faith's existence, most need from their co-religionists in the West? Some want more military support, but others take a different view. That difference emerged during a visit to London by Archbishop Bashar Warda, the top Catholic cleric in Erbil, the only Iraqi city where Christians live in significant numbers.
At a meeting yesterday in the House of Lords, co-organised by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, the archbishop reminded people of the hard realities facing his flock. As of a result of last year's onslaught by Islamic State, perhaps 400,000 people fled their homes in Mosul and the neighbouring Nineveh Plain and many sought refuge in the adjacent area controlled by the Kurdish regional government. The displaced include Christians, Yazidis and other religious minorities. Of the 300,000 or so Christians who remain in Iraq (down from 1.4m a couple of decades ago), the great majority now live in Kurdistan, of which Erbil is the capital.
Iraqi Christians are practical, energetic sorts, the archbishop told his British hosts, and they are not sitting around bemoaning their fate. Huge efforts are being made to get the displaced families, who are now holed up in tents, portakabins and half-built shopping centres, into better accommodation where they can become economically active and their children can pursue studies. The archbishop is working hard to start, by next autumn, a new university which will be Catholic in inspiration but open to all faiths.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Foreign Relations Politics in General Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East Iraq * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Other Faiths Islam * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
As we ponder this momentous ruling of our nation’s highest court, let us pray that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will guide all of us in our response: Above all, that the gifts of wisdom, right judgment and courage will flourish among us.
Moreover, we cannot fail to proclaim the gospel of life with both vigor and joy: that every life has an inherent God-given dignity from the moment of conception until life’s natural end. And let the words of St. Paul we heard in today’s second reading ring out in our minds and hearts: “If I proclaim the Gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The mission ahead of us is not committed only to a few. Rather, it is mine; it is yours; it is ours.
With God’s help, which he offers in this Eucharist, may we fulfill this obligation to proclaim the Gospel for the welfare of all our brothers and sisters.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Children Health & Medicine Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Marriage & Family Psychology Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Canada * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
European Bishops have deplored the “unacceptable loss of life” of at least 29 migrants by hypothermia in the Mediterranean Seaand and are calling for “greater clarity and greater political will among all of the EU member states on an acceptable resolution of the refugee crisis”.
Just over two months have gone by since Pope Francis appealed to European policy-makers not to allow the Mediterranean to become a vast graveyard. But migrants continue to die during the dangerous crossing as they seek to flee poverty and conflict.
In the latest tragedy of the sea 29 migrants have died of hypothermia and others are in serious condition after they were picked up from inflatable boats by Italian coastguard vessels.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Foreign Relations Politics in General * International News & Commentary Europe * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Christians in Iraq "do not have much time left" without direct military action on the ground, the Archbishop of Irbil has told UK peers and MPs.
Archbishop Bashar Warda said air strikes were "not enough" to defeat Islamic State militants and "begged" for Western troops to be deployed.
He said Iraq's Christian population was declining and that he would speak to the UK government about further action.
The government has said efforts to defeat IS were "comprehensive".
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Violence * Economics, Politics Defense, National Security, Military Terrorism * International News & Commentary England / UK Middle East Iraq * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology
Ambiguity is the devil’s volleyball, said former President of Yale, Kingman Brewster, Jr. Robin A. Parry and Christopher H. Partridge’s book, Universal Salvation? The Current Debate (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003...) gives us a well matched game of back and forth with the theological hot potato that is at the heart of the book’s “debate.” While the writers in this volume are articulate and responsible in handling this (again) current hot topic among evangelicals, if there is one null theme the critical reader may pick up is that the debate is fueled, in part, by the inherent ambiguity of the concept in the biblical text that all sides claim for their points of view. Biblical ambiguity is the one reality few seem ready to confess when conceding an opponent’s point on the issue.
The volume’s “debate” opens with three chapters (Part I) by Thomas Talbott, a professor of philosophy at Willamette University and an advocate of the universalist position (in effect, Talbott argues that Scripture teaches the ultimate salvation of all people, including those in Hell). His treatment and defense for this position is thorough, reasoned, and responsible. Though Talbott’s case for universalism includes arguments from theology and a Pauline interpretation of relevant texts, the strength of his argument is philosophical. His logical treatment of theological thoughts on the subject is exemplary and rigorous. Neither Talbott nor the writers who respond adversarial to his views shy away from claiming the authority of the Bible, or the primacy of Scripture to inform theology, tradition, and reason to put forth their arguments.
The remaining part of the book (parts II to V) consists of rebuttals to Talbott’s arguments by other evangelical scholars.
Read it all.
Officials from the United Methodist Church and Episcopal Church have joined together at the Washington National Cathedral to mark an agreement bringing the two oldline Protestant denominations closer together.
“Today as Episcopalians and United Methodists, we remember who we are kin too. We celebrate our family tree and our common roots in the Lord Jesus Christ,” proclaimed the Rev. Dr. Kim Cape, General Secretary of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church.
Cape gave the January 25 sermon at the Episcopal cathedral, declaring the day “historic” and that the two communities were acting “to mend a long division.”
Read it all.
Catholics are called by their faith to assist all those in need, particularly the poor, the suffering and the dying. Comforting the dying and accompanying them in love and solidarity has been considered by the Church since its beginning a principal expression of Christian mercy.
Helping someone commit suicide, however, is neither an act of justice or mercy, nor is it part of palliative care. The decision of the Supreme Court of Canada today does not change Catholic teaching. "[A]n act or omission which, of itself or by intention, causes death in order to eliminate suffering constitutes a murder gravely contrary to the dignity of the human person and to the respect due to the living God, our Creator." (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2277).
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Aging / the Elderly Health & Medicine Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Canada * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic
If religious liberty doesn’t apply to small or unpopular minorities, then it isn’t liberty at all but becomes another government handout to a special-interest group. We want a candidate who will argue consistently for soul freedom for everyone, even those we would argue with about everything else.
This isn’t only a Republican issue. Democrats and Republicans stood together for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act—signed by President Clinton. Perhaps it is time for Hillary Clinton to stand up for Jefferson’s vision of freedom of conscience against the sexual-revolution industrial complex in her party, which too often dismisses basic protections of free exercise as a “war on women” or a “right to discriminate.”
Likewise, a Republican who seems embarrassed about religious freedom, or who takes weeks to muster up an opinion on basic questions of whether consciences ought to be respected, will find that evangelicals will pay no mind when that candidate starts spouting “God and country” talk borrowed from a 1980s-era television evangelist.
Religious liberty is too important to see it become one more culture-war wedge issue.
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The selflessness of four Army chaplains who saved others aboard a sinking ship during World War II continues to serve as an example to pursue "greater service," speakers said at a ceremony Sunday.
On Feb. 3, 1943, the U.S. Army Transport ship Dorchester, bound for Greenland, began sinking after an attack from the German submarine U-223. Four Army chaplains helped usher passengers to safety and ultimately gave up their own life jackets - and lives - to save others. In all, 230 out of 904 people aboard the Dorchester survived.
On Sunday afternoon, about 40 people honored the chaplains at the Peter Gallan American Legion Post 104. American Legion member Dennis A. Baptiste served as the master of ceremonies during the event that featured the parade of colors, the national anthem and speeches.
The event focused on the legacy of the four chaplains: Lt. George Fox, a Methodist minister; Lt. Alexander D. Goode, a rabbi; Lt. John P. Washington, a Roman Catholic priest; and Lt. Clark V. Poling, a Dutch Reformed Church minister.
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Brother QUENON: He loved being in the midst of nature, you know. The birds were his friends.
VALENTE: What do you think he did out here?
Brother QUENON: Well, read a lot and wrote. For him, praying was just to abide in the presence—the presence of the Lord.
(touring cottage): There’s the kitchen and then a bedroom. And then, a chapel was added later on.
VALENTE: Merton wrote this in his journal:
Mr. ATKINSON (reading from Merton’s journal): For myself I have only one desire and that is the desire for solitude: to disappear into God; to be submerged in His peace; to be lost in the secret of His space. I have gone to the hermitage not because I hate the world. I go to the hermitage to deepen my consciousness, to be more in communion with the world.
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Leaders in nation’s largest Protestant denomination are preaching that integrated churches can be a key driver of racial justice in society. But that could be a hard sell to those sitting in Southern Baptist Convention congregations.
The Rev. Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, is one of several white leaders calling for multiethnic congregations in the wake of the unrest spurred by the killings of black men by white police officers in Ferguson, Missouri, and New York City.
“In the church, a black Christian and a white Christian are brothers and sisters,” Moore wrote recently. “We care what happens to the other, because when one part of the Body hurts, the whole Body hurts. ... When we know one another as brothers and sisters, we will start to stand up and speak up for one another.”
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[joshua] Harris is the oldest of seven children of Gregg Harris, one of the early national leaders of the Christian home-schooling movement and a strong advocate of independent learning. Joshua was 21 when he wrote “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” a memoir that became a cult classic to young evangelicals by urging them not only to hold off on sex but even dating — saying it was a form of promiscuity to spread around one’s emotional intimacy.
In the years since, nondenominational Christianity became more popular and loose. Informal networks of churches, groups and individuals have formed, such as the Vineyard, Willow Creek and the Gospel Coalition — the last of which Mahaney and Harris were leaders. But these are akin to social groups and not meant to hold one another accountable as denominational organizations often do....
Harris said he expects that studying at Regent College, a graduate school of theology, will broaden his perspective, including on accountability.
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As my last posting noted, the first edgy thing which the new Greek government did was to downgrade, albeit very politely, its relations with the church. The second thing was to upgrade a relationship whose historic roots are at least partly religious, with Russia. On his first day in office, prime minister Alexis Tsipras met the Russian ambassador, and then distanced Greece from an EU statement which protested over Russian actions in Ukraine and threatened further sanctions. He then named a foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, who enjoys cordial relations with the religious-nationalist segment of the Russian elite.
Lots of questions arise. Is this a great historical paradox - the consolidation of a sentimental tie based on common Orthodox Christianity, under a secular Greek government and a stridently pious Russian one? That would be an interesting reversal of the cold war. Or is the relationship more cultural and historical, based on common memories of shimmering mosaics and swirling incense, rather than actively religious? If that is true, then it is not particularly dependent on what people on either side now believe.
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Until last July, St. Bernard School in Mt. Lebanon hadn’t had a religious sister as a principal since 1991, leading some students to worry when they found out that Sister Daniela Bronka would be filling the position.
“We thought she’d be really strict and not fun at all,” said eighth-grader Chloe Morycz.
“I thought she’d be really old and have a big veil covering her whole face, but then she turned out to be really young. Like 20,” said fourth-grader Damien Szuch.
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“It’s true, Jesus has saved us all, but not in a general fashion. All of us, each one with their name and surname. And this is our personal salvation. I am truly saved, the Lord looked at me, gave his life for me, opened this door, this new life for me and each of us can say ‘For me.’ But there’s a danger of forgetting that He saved us individually but at the same time as part of his people or community. His people. The Lord always saves his people. From the moment he calls Abraham and promises to make them his people. And the Lord saves us as part of this community. That’s why the writer of this Letter (to the Hebrews) tells us: ‘Let us be concerned for each other.’ There is no salvation solely for me. If that’s the way I understand salvation, I’m mistaken and going along the wrong path. The privatization of salvation is the wrong path.”
Pope Francis explained that there are three criteria for not privatizing salvation: ‘faith in Jesus who purifies us,’ hope that ‘stirs us to look at his promises and go forward’ and charity: namely taking care of each other, to encourage us all to practice charity and good works.’
“And when I’m in a parish, in a community -- or whatever it is – I am there, I can privatize salvation and be there only on a small social level. But in order not to privatize salvation, I need to ask myself if I speak and communicate the faith, speak and communicate hope, speak, practice and communicate charity. If within a particular community there is no communication between people and no encouragement is given to everybody to practice these three virtues, the members of that community have privatized their faith. Each of them is looking for his or her personal salvation, not the salvation of everybody, the salvation of their people. And Jesus saved all of us but as part of his people, within a Church.”
Read it all (Vatican Radio).
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The Catholic archbishop of Birmingham says he wishes the Church of England’s first female bishop well in her ministry and will be remembering her in his prayers. Archbishop Bernard Longley is the Catholic co-chair of ARCIC, the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. He told Vatican Radio that the consecration of Bishop Libby Lane on Monday was a “historic moment in the life of the Church of England” but noted that there has long been “the presence, the witness and the work of women” as bishops within the worldwide Anglican Communion.
The Reverend Libby Lane was ordained in York Minister as the new Bishop of Stockport, after the Church of England voted to adopt legislation last November to allow women bishops. Archbishop Longley said that while the ordination of women presents challenges to the Anglican-Catholic dialogue, this latest development “shouldn’t affect the way in which the dialogue is continued”.
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Holy God, we bless thee for the gift of thy monk and icon writer Andrei Rublev, who, inspired by the Holy Spirit, provided a window into heaven for generations to come, revealing the majesty and mystery of the holy and blessed Trinity; who livest and reignest through ages of ages. Amen.
These news items have begun to clarify my mind, just as I have been reading a short but challenging book by Scott Hahn: Evangelizing Catholics. Now I understand what the phrase means: every baptised Catholic, lay or clerical, has an apostolate, proper to their state, to spread the good news of salvation and the quickest way to achieve it: through participating in the life and mission of the Church. Hahn, who is an American and who was once a Protestant minister dedicated to bringing lapsed, unwary and ignorant Catholics into the Protestant fold, is now a well-known Catholic evangeliser, biblical scholar and academic. He has been using his gifts since his own conversion to explain why the Church’s claims and teachings are true and how they are supported by scripture.
In this book – significantly, it is dedicated to Pope Francis – he sets out to explain to his fellow Catholics why they must change their mentality and realise that they have a duty to share their faith. As he remarks, Catholics tend to think this is being “Protestant” – something they would rather run a mile from than undertake themselves. Sometimes, he suggests, this is ignorance of their faith; unlike Protestants, many Catholics, badly catechised, have “never encountered Jesus Christ in a meaningful and personal way.” Other Catholics, who do know their faith, prefer to keep their heads down, wanting to blend in with their neighbours so as not to appear weird. But, as he points out, “Our faith withers if we don’t share it.”
Quoting St John Paul II, “No believer in Christ, no institution of the Church, can avoid this supreme duty”, Hahn reminds readers that in sharing our faith, whether in our family life, at work, by our example, through the media and through friendship, we slowly start to change the culture around us – a culture which we are generally ready to criticise while doing nothing constructive to alter it.
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In the wake of an interfaith Vatican conference on marriage two months ago, a coalition of Roman Catholics and evangelicals -- including Southern Baptist Timothy George -- has issued a statement calling the legalization of same-sex marriage "a graver threat" to society than either "easy acceptance of divorce" or "widespread cohabitation."
"We must say, as clearly as possible, that same-sex unions, even when sanctioned by the state, are not marriages," the statement, titled "The Two Shall Become One Flesh: Reclaiming Marriage," says. "Christians who wish to remain faithful to the Scriptures and Christian tradition cannot embrace this falsification of reality, irrespective of its status in law."
At least two additional Southern Baptists -- Rick Warren and Daniel Akin -- have endorsed the statement, which is slated to appear in the March 2015 issue of First Things, the journal's editor Russell Reno told Baptist Press. A list of approximately 30 Christian leaders to endorse the statement may include other Southern Baptists when it is finalized, Reno said.
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Reading N. T. Wright's latest book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes It Good (HarperOne), is somewhat like listening to a compilation album. All the classic hits are here: "the kingdom of God is for earth now," "the gospel is the key moment in a story," "resurrection is about bodies," "something has happened," and, of course, the well-loved ballad "fundamentalists and liberals are both missing the point." For those who are new to Wright, Simply Good News will offer a helpful introduction to and summary of his work. For those who have read plenty of him already, or for those who dislike compilation albums in principle, it will probably have less to offer.
The focus of the book is admirably clear: to explain what the gospel is, and why we should think of it as good news. In eight succinct chapters, Wright explains the nature of good news (chapter one), the essence of what that good news is (chapters two and three) and is not (chapters four and five), and what it means for the way we live now (chapter six), think about God (chapter seven), and pray (chapter eight). Each of these chapters is readable and insightful, characterized by Wright's familiar mixture of rich scholarship, vivid illustration, and contemporary application.
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Bishop [Kevin] Rhoades served as the main celebrant for the Vespers, asking that “the Lord bless us and the Church, that we may be united in our Baptism as brothers and sisters in Christ.” He acknowledged that true unity is only possible through the work of God. “By our own efforts, our own works, we cannot achieve peace. It is only through the gifts of the Holy Spirit that this will be possible; that is why we are here this evening.”
Throughout the service, cantor Alicia Nagy from St. Matthew Parish led Psalms and hymns of praise, in the hope of unity. A combined choir from St. Matthew and the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. James accompanied Nagy.
Bishop [Ed] Little offered the sermon for the event, first acknowledging both his gratitude to Bishop Rhoades and the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for their hospitality and graciousness.
He exclaimed that “acknowledging this friendship provides a sound foundation to remind us that we come together in prayer so that the Lord will make us one. It also signifies that we have unfinished business, specifically to welcome one another as Christ has welcomed each of us — and to do so for the greater glory of God.”
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As a statement about the making of church doctrine, that comment might not sound too startling, and it is quite obvious to Catholic and Orthodox believers. But it does point to a major paradox in the thinking of that numerous and influential section of the world’s Christians who are evangelicals. Surprised, and even shocked, as they might be to hear it, they are in fact far more Catholic than they might ever have thought.
Evangelicals pride themselves on their reliance on Scripture alone, the core Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura. If you look at evangelical debates, the question will soon arise: how do you ground this in scripture? Give me chapter and verse!
But here’s the problem. Evangelicals believe absolutely in core doctrines of faith that cannot be derived simply from scripture, but rather grow out of church tradition.
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In an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, the bishop said Nigeria’s military was weakened by incompetence, corruption and Boko Haram infiltration within its ranks.
He warned that drastic action was urgently needed as the attacks earlier this month in the town of Baga showed that Boko Haram was poised to become a threat well beyond Nigeria’s borders and was recruiting from Niger, Chad, Cameroon and Libya.
Bishop Dashe Doeme, whose diocese is the heartland of the Islamist terror group, said: “The West should bring in security – land forces to contain and beat back Boko Haram. A concerted military campaign is needed by the West to crush Boko Haram.”
Read it all from Catholic Herald.
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Tartu Theological Seminary (Estonia) appointed its first ever woman Rector in January 2015. The Union of Free Evangelical and Baptist Churches of Estonia invited Dr Einike Pilli to be the leader of educational life and development in the Estonian baptistic faith movement.
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In 1979, Larry Lewis picked up a copy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and saw a full-page ad listing the Southern Baptist Convention among denominations that affirmed the right to abortion.
"Right there beside the Unitarians and universalists was the Southern Baptist Convention," Lewis, a St. Louis pastor who went on to become president of the Home Mission Board (now the North American Mission Board), told Baptist Press. "... That bothered me a lot."
So Lewis did something about it, proposing in 1980 the first of more than 20 pro-life resolutions adopted by the SBC over the next few decades. When Lewis became HMB president of in 1987, one of his first actions was to create the office of abortion alternatives to help churches establish crisis pregnancy centers.
Thanks to Lewis and others, newspapers do not call the SBC pro-choice anymore.
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Many of you who read my editorials are pastors of a local church as I am. Imagine this scenario. One hundred of your most committed and loyal members write you a letter. You know they love your church. Most of them have been members for decades. They serve faithfully in your congregation’s ministries and they give generously. Their letter states they are deeply concerned about a matter they believe is endangering the health of the church they love and they hope you will act to address it.
How would you respond? Would you ask to meet with them and hear them out? I know I would. Maybe you would decide to sit down with a few of their leaders and ask them to speak for the group. Short of that, would you send a letter of your own, thanking those who wrote for sharing their concerns? If not inclined to go that far, would you at least in some way acknowledge that you had received their letter? I mean, you would respond, right? Even if you did not agree with their concerns, as a leader you would feel it important to respond to your members who took the time to write, wouldn’t you? And if not as a leader, then wouldn’t simple politeness require you to make some kind of reply to your brothers and sisters in Christ?
What if you did nothing? What would you expect those 100 members to do? Would you expect them to continue to look to you for leadership? Listen to your sermons, telling them how we Christians should treat each other? Pay your salary?
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In October, Seacoast’s Mount Pleasant Campus pastor took the stage to tell its 14,000 weekend attendees that he felt God calling the church to alleviate, even end, the local foster care crisis.
A few weeks later, 550 church members showed up for two interest meetings to learn more. An orientation meeting drew nearly 100 serious about becoming foster parents, almost as many people as licensed foster homes existing in Charleston County today.
Next week, the first series of foster parents licensing classes is full with 20 couples.
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For [the] Rev. Jason Catania, Pope Benedict XVI's Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus, is a blessing.
"I still remember the day in the fall of 2009 when it came to be. I couldn't believe it," said Catania, an American Ordinariate priest.
This was Pope Benedict's response to Anglicans requesting to join the Catholic Church — to come into communion with Rome yet retain much of their Anglican patrimony.
The Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum Coetibus ("groups" of Anglicans), establishes a new structure within the church. It allows Anglicans who become Catholics to keep their spiritual, liturgical and pastoral traditions.
"This is something that was dear to the (former) pope's heart. It is a novel opportunity, to allow Anglicans to retain their own identity and still be full members of the Catholic Church," said Catania.
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In addition to personal hurt, the baggage accumulated here, again, might result in the “baby” of holiness getting thrown out with the “bathwater” of legalism. If the ex-fundamentalist does not become a New Atheist — the inverted modernist equivalent of the rationalizing fundamentalist — he might drift in the Anglican direction. Here he will decide whether to let John Spong usher him through the dusty halls of a bygone Protestant liberalism back towards Dawkins et. al. or, via the “Canterbury Trail,” he will head towards the more romantic tradition of Anglo-Catholicism. The temptation then is to construct an Anglican identity that is more concerned with “not being fundamentalist” than with being Christian. So ex-fundamentalists are largely reacting against pride and legalism, while ex-evangelicals are reacting against the spiritual emptiness of faddish evangelicalism. But, of course, there are degrees of mixture between the two.
In closing, I want to say that although this new generation of Canterbury Trail Anglicans has a lot to offer the Anglican and Episcopal churches which we now inhabit — especially in our greater desire for unity than many a Boomer who busies himself with ecclesial marketing, lawsuits, or even doctrinal and moral “purity” — we also carry a lot of baggage. Not having “stayed put” in those places where we originally received the faith, we struggle here too in this Anglican place to practice what we have come to preach. Here we counsel the local “cradle” Anglican evangelical not to throw overboard the riches of the tradition in order to fill the pews. But we also need to be reminded that without mission, evangelism, and, yes, conversion, the tradition simply becomes liturgical histrionics, much to the annoyance of the local Anglican evangelical. Finally, the new Canterbury Trail Anglicans need to be more than “not fundamentalists” or “not-Southern-Baptists.” Not only would such an attitude contradict the ecumenical spirit, not only does this tempt us to throw out the legitimate orthodoxies held by those we react against, but, contrary to the spirit of humility, it also tempts us to “via media” pride, as if we somehow have got it all together. Truth, humility, and unity are a package.
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To begin with, the language and culture of confirmation as a rite of passage isn’t going away any time soon, and so we might as well use it to our catechetical advantage. By dispensing with required confirmation preparation and reception, the sacrament can truly become a moment of conversion for Catholics, regardless of when it occurs. In this way, confirmation will take on particular importance for Catholics returning to the Church after being away for a time, especially when such a return coincides with significant life changes—like marriage for instance, or having that first baby. And young people who never drift away from the Church? They’ll likely seek confirmation in their teen years anyway. Thus, for all recipients, the sacrament will cohere with their actual lived experience of faith.
There’s an additional catechetical value to this approach: Confirmation classes will start to mix together maturing teens, young adults, and the retired—and everyone in between! Younger candidates will get to hear older Catholics share about their struggles and joys; in turn, those older Catholics will get to hear the younger candidates express their aspirations and enthusiasms.
I can’t think of a better way to foster the idea that confirmation (and Christianity) is really for grown-ups—grown-ups, that is, that humble themselves and come to Jesus.
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Listen to it all from the BBC World service (about 3 minutes and 40 seconds).
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Although not widely reported in the United States or in Europe, at the Coptic Cathedral on Christmas Eve, President el-Sisi said the following:
I would like to say a few brief words. Please, allow me. It was necessary for me to come and present my wishes to you. I hope that I am not interrupting your prayers. I wanted to tell you something… Throughout millennia, Egypt brought humanism and civilization to the whole world…. And I’d like to tell you that the world is looking to Egypt even now, in this day and age and in the present circumstances. I thank you very, very much, but honestly, I don’t want His Holiness the Pope to be upset with me. Listen, it is very important that the world should see us… that the world should see us, Egyptians… and you will note that I never use a word other than “Egyptians.” It’s not right to call each other by any other name. We are Egyptians. Let no one ask, ”What kind of Egyptian are you?” or “From what religious denomination?” Please, please, listen to me. With these words, we are showing the world the meaning of …we are opening a space for genuine hope and light. As I said, Egypt has brought a humanistic and civilizing message to the world for millennia, and we are here today to confirm that we are capable of doing so again. Yes, a humanistic and civilizing message should once more emanate from Egypt. This is why we must not call ourselves anything other than “Egyptians.” This is what we must be — Egyptians, just Egyptians. Egyptians indeed!
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Emblematic of this, in the Gospel infancy narratives, is King Herod. Feeling his authority threatened by the Child Jesus, he orders all the children of Bethlehem to be killed. We think immediately of Pakistan, where a month ago, more than a hundred children were slaughtered with unspeakable brutality. To their families I wish to renew my personal condolences and the assurance of my continued prayers for the many innocents who lost their lives.
The personal dimension of rejection is inevitably accompanied by a social dimension, a culture of rejection which severs the deepest and most authentic human bonds, leading to the breakdown of society and spawning violence and death. We see painful evidence of this in the events reported daily in the news, not least the tragic slayings which took place in Paris a few days ago. Other people “are no longer regarded as beings of equal dignity, as brothers or sisters sharing a common humanity, but rather as objects” (Message for the 2015 World Day of Peace, 8 December 2014, 4). Losing their freedom, people become enslaved, whether to the latest fads, or to power, money, or even deviant forms of religion. These are dangers which I pointed out in my recent Message for the World Day of Peace, which dealt with the issue of today’s multiple forms of enslavement. All of them are born of a corrupt heart, a heart incapable of recognizing and doing good, of pursuing peace.
It saddens us to see the tragic consequences of this mentality of rejection and this “culture of enslavement” (ibid., 2) in the never-ending spread of conflicts. Like a true world war fought piecemeal, they affect, albeit in different forms and degrees of intensity, a number of areas in our world, beginning with nearby Ukraine, which has become a dramatic theatre of combat. It is my hope that through dialogue the efforts presently being made to end the hostilities will be consolidated, and that the parties involved will embark as quickly as possible, in a renewed spirit of respect for international law, upon the path of mutual trust and fraternal reconciliation, with the aim of bringing an end to the present crisis.
Read it all from Vatican Radio.
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Watch and Read it all and there is some information on the Coptic Orthodox Church here
It is with great sorrow and deep regret that the Ecumenical Patriarchate follows the ongoing and increasing waves of violence and brutality, which continue to plague various regions of our planet and especially the entire Middle East, and in particular the native Christians there, often in the name of religion. We will never cease to declare to all from this Sacred Center of Orthodoxy – to our brother Primates of the Orthodox and other Christian Churches, the leaders and representatives of other religions, the heads of state and every person of good will everywhere, but above all to our fellow human beings that, whether motivated or not by others, place their own lives at risk in order to deprive others of their lives; for they, too, are created by God – that there can be no form of true and genuine religiosity or spirituality without love toward the human person. Any ideological, social or religious expression that either despises humanity created in the image of God or else teaches and permits the death of our fellow human beings, especially in the savage and primitive ways that we see, surely has nothing to do with the God of love.
Dear brothers and sisters, as we turn our attention to the situation prevailing in our world today, we condemn the tragic events stemming from hatred of other religions and enmity toward people, which we witness so frighteningly close to us as we hear and see the terror so readily through social media. In response, we offer as the only powerful antidote to contemporary violence the "ultimate poverty" of God, which always acts as love and which surprised the wise men and the entire world. This is the mystical power of God, the mystical power of the Orthodox Church, and the mystical power of the Christian faith. This is the power that conquers and overcomes every form of violence and evil through love.
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Though Ms. Hillenbrand recounts Zamperini’s conversion, she doesn’t say much about how it influenced the rest of his life. In the movie “Unbroken,” Billy Graham goes unmentioned, and Zamperini’s redemption narrative is largely reduced to a few title cards flashed before the closing credits. Yet Zamperini himself believed that the religious event was the pivotal moment of his long journey. In his 2003 memoir—titled, like one he published in 1956, “Devil at My Heels”—Zamperini recounts the tent-revival experience in detail and thanks Billy Graham in the acknowledgments “for his message that caused me to turn my life around.”
In some ways the 1949 revival was also a turning point for Billy Graham: The Hollywood-handsome Southern evangelist had started his crusade ministry in 1947, when he was 29 years old, but it was the success of his Los Angeles Crusade that brought him to national prominence. The revival went on for eight weeks, with Mr. Graham preaching 65 full sermons. He addressed nearly 350,000 attendees, and by the end 3,000 people had committed their lives to Christ.
Those numbers prefigured things to come. When Mr. Graham retired from public life nearly seven decades later, more than three million souls who heard his sermons had signed commitment cards pledging their faith.
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The world’s churches have become an arena for the debate over whether it is better to tackle global warming by divesting from fossil fuel companies or by holding shares and engaging with energy groups to spur more climate-friendly business models.
The World Council of Churches, which represents around 560m Christians in 140 countries, has adopted a divestment strategy for its SFr16.7m investment portfolio. Its finance policy committee decided in July that fossil fuels should be added to the list of sectors in which the council would not invest.
“The use of fossil fuels must be significantly reduced and by not investing in those companies we want to show a direction we need to follow as a human family to address climate changes properly,” said Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, WCC general secretary.
But the Church of England, which has an investment portfolio worth around £9bn, has opted for engagement. It announced last month it would use its stakes in Royal Dutch Shell and BP to urge the companies to cut their carbon emissions and invest more in renewables.
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Dear friends, this is the question that the Church wishes to awaken in the hearts of all men: who is Jesus? This is the spiritual longing that drives the mission of the Church: to make Jesus known, his Gospel, so that every man can discover in his human face the face of God, and be illumined by his mystery of love. Epiphany pre-announces the universal opening of the Church, her call to evangelize all peoples. But Epiphany also tells us in what way the Church carries out this mission: reflecting the light of Christ and proclaiming his Word. Christians are called to imitate the service that the star gave the Magi. We must shine as children of the light, to attract all to the beauty of the Kingdom of god. And to all those who seek truth, we must offer the Word of God, which leads to recognizing in Jesus "the true God and eternal life" (1 John 5:20).
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Epiphany * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI * Theology Christology
Before Jesus told His disciples about the many mansions and before He gave them the hope of Heaven, He said, “You believe in God, believe also in me.” Then He said, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).
Eternal life comes by and through the Lord Jesus Christ. To put it in the Bible’s words, here is the secret of the blessed hope: “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36).
When Christians die, they go straight into the presence of Christ—to Heaven—to spend eternity with God. An unsaved sinner’s destiny is separation from God, a place that Jesus has called hell.
I wonder where you are going. Have you given your life to Jesus Christ? Have you been transformed by the power of the Spirit of God?
Read it all.
Dr. Seitz, one of the pledge’s authors, said that as an academic he does not “do the kind of weddings on a regular basis as someone whose full-time job” is in the clergy. And many of those who have signed his pledge appear to be laypeople, or women in traditions in which women do not perform weddings. Like them, he is mostly an observer, and one of his observations is that we are in “a funny time.”
If marriage moves toward becoming just “a contract between two people, the state can take care of that,” Dr. Seitz said. “And it makes a lot of sense — property, custody of children.” But he believes that marriage needs more, and that the state may be weakening, rather than enhancing, the customs and mores that uphold the institution.
Dr. Radner, the pledge’s other author, is on sabbatical in France, which has long separated religious marriage from civil marriage. Seeing the separation up close has only made him more of a fan.
“Just living here made me realize that the church can function rather well,” he said, “and also avoid some of the conflict that we seem to get all embroiled in in the U.S. over sexuality matters, by being somewhat disentangled, practically, from the civil marriage system.”
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During this year past year, I made a very difficult decision to leave the only church I have known. I grew up in an Assemblies of God (AG) church. My family has been AG since the 1930s and is one of the oldest Pentecostal families in New Orleans. My father is an AG pastor and I have two brothers who are ordained AG ministers. I have held AG ministerial for a couple of years, but with the recent transition of the New Year (2015), my AG ministerial credentials have lapsed. God willing, I will be confirmed on January 25th into the Anglican Church by Bishop Todd Hunter at Holy Trinity in Costa Mesa.
I am not leaving with hurt, bitterness, or resentment. Quite the contrary, I maintain a deep love and respect for the church that taught me the name of Jesus. The last AG congregation I was a part of (in Pasadena, CA) was a wonderful group of people led by a theologically capable pastor that I appreciate greatly. I am excited about the direction of the AG (under George Wood) and I am confident that it will continue to thrive in the decades to come.
Because of my positive wishes toward my friends and family in the AG, I was not planning on sharing publicly my reasons for leaving. That is, I am not trying to convince people to leave the AG or even that it was a good idea for me to leave the AG. I actually want people to stay and make the AG even better. (I tried myself really hard to stay, and finally had to acknowledge that God was calling to the Anglican Church—or perhaps more accurately, God was making me into an Anglican). However, my friend (and fellow AG minister) Dan suggested that I give a public explanation for why I am leaving. His reasoning was that if people continue to leave silently, how will the AG address those issues which led to their exit from the church? I think Dan is right and so I am taking some time to explain how I became Anglican.
Read it all.
What about what some call the greatest mission field, which is our own secularizing or secularized culture? What do we need to do to reach this increasingly pagan society? I think we need to say to one another that it’s not so secular as it looks. I believe that these so-called secular people are engaged in a quest for at least three things. The first is transcendence. It’s interesting in a so-called secular culture how many people are looking for something beyond. I find that a great challenge to the quality of our Christian worship. Does it offer people what they are instinctively looking for, which is transcendence, the reality of God?
The second is significance. Almost everybody is looking for his or her own personal identity. Who am I, where do I come from, where am I going to, what is it all about? That is a challenge to the quality of our Christian teaching. We need to teach people who they are. They don’t know who they are. We do. They are human beings made in the image of God, although that image has been defaced....
Read it all--quoted in part in the morning sermon by yours truly.
1. The number of unchurched people in America would make the 8th most populous country in the world.
As of 2014, the estimated number of people in the U.S. who Barna Group would define as “churchless”—meaning they have not attended a Christian church service, other than a special event such as a wedding or a funeral, at any time during the past six months—stands at 114 million. Add to that the roughly 42 million children and teenagers who are unchurched and you have 156 million U.S. residents who are not engaged with a Christian church. To put that in context, if all those unchurched people were a separate nation, it would be the eighth most populous country in the world, trailing only China, India, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the remaining churched public of the United States (159 million).
2. In the past decade, more people in the U.S. have become churchless than live in Australia or Canada.
Barna tracking research has seen significant shifts in church involvement over the past decade. During that time, the number of adults who are unchurched has increased by more than 30%. This is an increase of 38 million individuals—that’s more people than live in Canada or Australia.
3. The vast majority of America’s churchless have attended a church.
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More must be done in 2015 to combat the "suffering, destruction and devastation" of ancient Christian and other communities in the Middle East, according to a leading bishop from the region.
Bishop Angaelos, leader of the UK's Coptic Orthodox Church, warns that it is becoming "increasingly difficult" to give hope to those suffering gross violations of their human rights.
He says in his New Year message that much has been done to help already, but it still went nowhere near far enough.
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Philip Yancey’s book What’s So Amazing About Grace? has been a modern classic in Christian reading for more than 15 years. In it, Yancey explored what grace in action truly looks like.
This fall, the best-selling author released Vanishing Grace, in which he argues that the American church has often failed at communicating grace and shows how we can get back on track.
We talked to Yancey about his new book Christians in politics and what it looks like to live in grace in a “post-Christian” society.
Read it all.
When written by journalists like Newsweek‘s former editor Jon Meacham or TIME reporters such as David Van Biema, the articles were often balanced and genuinely insightful. Meacham and Van Biema knew the difference between theological liberals and theological conservatives and they were determined to let both sides speak. I was interviewed several times by both writers, along with others from both magazines. I may not have liked the final version of the article in some cases, but I was treated fairly and with journalistic integrity.
So, when Newsweek, now back in print under new ownership, let loose its first issue of the New Year on the Bible, I held out the hope that the article would be fair, journalistically credible, and interesting, even if written from a more liberal perspective.
But Newsweek‘s cover story is nothing of the sort. It is an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective leveled against the Bible and, even more to the point, against evangelical Christianity. It is one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise.
Read it all.
The death of a church isn’t an easy subject, particularly to those who are losing their spiritual home.
But it is something being talked about more and more as church closings are becoming an increasingly regular occurrence — some estimates are nine a day in the United States.
The trend took on a very high profile Dec. 28 when Baptist author and pastor Rick Warren gave the final sermon at Mars Hill Church, the Seattle-based megachurch that dissolved after Mark Driscoll, its lead pastor of 20 years, resigned amid church discipline and leadership issues.
In a pre-recorded video beamed to Mars Hill’s numerous campuses, Warren urged members of the dissolving church to be gracious and forgiving to Driscoll and other church leaders during their grief. He urged an avoidance of bitterness and gossip, and an embrace of forgiveness and gratitude.
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It’s easy to forget the purpose of Christmas. This time of year we have so many things that can get in the way: commercialism, traditions, even family and church commitments.
To find the real purpose of Christmas, you have to fast forward from the shepherds, the wise men, and the dirty stable. We have to go to a statement Jesus made during his adult years about why he came: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV).
The reason we celebrate Christmas is because Jesus came to Earth to seek and save the lost.
Jesus uses three stories in the gospel of Luke to demonstrate what it means to be lost: the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. They teach us that when we’re disconnected from God, we lose....
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It’s a story so strange we could not have dreamed it up by ourselves, this story of how God was incarnate in Jesus the Christ. An embarrassing pregnancy, a poor peasant couple forced to become undocumented immigrants in Egypt soon after the birth of their baby, King Herod’s slaughter of the Jewish boy babies in a vain attempt to put an end to this new “King,” From the beginning the story of Jesus is the strangest story of all. A Messiah who avoids the powerful and the prestigious and goes to the poor and dispossessed? A Savior who is rejected by many of those whom he sought to save? A King who reigns from a bloody cross? Can this one with us be God?
And yet Christians believe that this story, for all its strangeness, is true. Here we have a truthful account of how our God read us back into the story of God. This is a truthful depiction not only of who God really is but also of how we who were lost got found, redeemed, restored, and saved by a God who refused to let our rejection and rebellion (our notorious “God problem”) be the final word in the story.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Methodist * Theology Christology
Anti-Christian violence in 2014 saw a transformation from under-told news coverage, to routine reports of radical Islamists seeking to obliterate Christianity’s presence.
Religious freedom experts captured the dire situation of Middle Eastern Christians in comments on Friday to The Jerusalem Post.
"Persecution no longer adequately describes the treatment of Christians in a growing number of Muslim areas.
Religious cleansing, a type of cultural genocide, which is a crime against humanity, is the more accurate description.
Read it all (my emphasis).
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I guess you could argue that this is all old news. A lot has happened since late November, and there are plenty of other stories to cover. By and large, the international media have moved on. But the refugees are still there, huddled together on the grounds of the church, or in other sites scattered around Kurdish-controlled territory (which has offered them a warm welcome despite its own lack of resources). The world may have forgotten these people, but they’re still struggling to come to terms with the catastrophe. The accounts repeat and overlap: “I hid our money in the house, thinking we’d be back in a few days. But now we realize that we’ll probably never be able to go back.” “They knew our cellphone number, so a few days later, they called us up and said they’d hunt us down and kill us.” “They took him away, and we’ve never heard from him again.”
Mukhlis Yusef Yacoub, 37, could be considered one of the lucky ones. Thanks to a benefactor from his hometown of Qaraqosh (a predominantly Christian city just east of Mosul), he’s found a job in Erbil, selling clothes from the back of a car, which gives him just enough money to afford a closet-sized apartment for him, his wife, and their three kids. But this is small consolation for the loss of their world.
“They came on August 6,” Yacoub told me, remembering how the jihadists began their assault on Qaraqosh. Islamic State fighters detained him and his 9-year-old son, Mark; his wife and two daughters managed to flee. His captors demanded that Yacoub convert to Islam. When he refused, they beat him so viciously that he lost his sight in one eye. Yet he would not bend — so his jailers decided to go after his son. “They tied a rope around Mark’s body and legs, and then they dragged him down the street behind a car.” But still, he said, he refused to submit. After 7 days, his jailers tired of the game, and they expelled Yacoub and his son from IS-controlled territory. The two of them walked on foot for miles until they reached the safety of Kurdish territory.
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The Gospel is not that Jesus Christ comes to earth, tells us how to live, we live a good life and then God owes us blessing. The Gospel is that Jesus Christ came to earth, lived the life we should have lived and died the death we should have died—so when we believe in Him, we live a life of grateful joy for Him. If these things didn’t happen, if they’re just parables, what you are saying is that if you try hard enough, God will accept you.
If Jesus didn’t come, the story of Christmas is one more moral paradigm to crush you. If Jesus didn’t come, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere around these Christmas stories that say we need to be sacrificing, we need to be humble, we need to be loving. All that will do is crush you into the ground. Because if it isn’t true that John saw Him, heard Him, felt Him, that Jesus really came to do these things, then Christmas is depressing.
First John 1:3 says, “Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son.” “Fellowship” means that if Jesus Christ has come, if Christmas is true, then we’ve got a basis for a personal relationship with God. God is no longer a remote idea or a force we cower before, but we can know Him personally. He’s become graspable.
Read it all.
May Jesus save the vast numbers of children who are victims of violence, made objects of trade and trafficking, or forced to become soldiers; children, so many abused children. May he give comfort to the families of the children killed in Pakistan last week. May he be close to all who suffer from illness, especially the victims of the Ebola epidemic, above all in Liberia, in Sierra Leone and in Guinea. As I thank all who are courageously dedicated to assisting the sick and their family members, I once more make an urgent appeal that the necessary assistance and treatment be provided.
The Child Jesus. My thoughts turn to all those children today who are killed and ill-treated, be they infants killed in the womb, deprived of that generous love of their parents and then buried in the egoism of a culture that does not love life; be they children displaced due to war and persecution, abused and taken advantage of before our very eyes and our complicit silence. I think also of those infants massacred in bomb attacks, also those where the Son of God was born. Even today, their impotent silence cries out under the sword of so many Herods. On their blood stands the shadow of contemporary Herods. Truly there are so many tears this Christmas, together with the tears of the Infant Jesus.
Dear brothers and sisters, may the Holy Spirit today enlighten our hearts, that we may recognize in the Infant Jesus, born in Bethlehem of the Virgin Mary, the salvation given by God to each one of us, to each man and woman and to all the peoples of the earth. May the power of Christ, which brings freedom and service, be felt in so many hearts afflicted by war, persecution and slavery.
Read it all.
It’s tough to be on the receiving end of love, God’s or anybody else’s. It requires that we see our lives not as our possessions, but as gifts. "Nothing is more repugnant to capable, reasonable people than grace," wrote John Wesley a long time ago.
Among the most familiar Christmas texts is the one in Isaiah: "The Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (7:14) Less familiar is its context: Isaiah has been pleading with King Ahaz to put his trust in God’s promise to Israel rather than in alliances with strong military powers like Syria. "If you will not believe, you shall not be established," Isaiah warns Ahaz (7:9). Then the prophet tells the fearful king that God is going to give him a baby as a sign. A baby. Isn’t that just like God, Ahaz must have thought. What Ahaz needed, with Assyria breathing down his neck, was a good army, not a baby.
This is often the way God loves us: with gifts we thought we didn’t need, which transform us into people we don’t necessarily want to be. With our advanced degrees, armies, government programs, material comforts and self-fulfillment techniques, we assume that religion is about giving a little, of our power in order to confirm to ourselves that we are indeed as self-sufficient as we claim.
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"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined" (Is 9:1). "An angel of the Lord appeared to [the shepherds] and the glory of the Lord shone around them" (Lk 2:9). This is how the liturgy of this holy Christmas night presents to us the birth of the Saviour: as the light which pierces and dispels the deepest darkness. The presence of the Lord in the midst of his people cancels the sorrow of defeat and the misery of slavery, and ushers in joy and happiness.
We too, in this blessed night, have come to the house of God. We have passed through the darkness which envelops the earth, guided by the flame of faith which illuminates our steps, and enlivened by the hope of finding the "great light". By opening our hearts, we also can contemplate the miracle of that child-sun who, arising from on high, illuminates the horizon.
The origin of the darkness which envelops the world is lost in the night of the ages. Let us think back to that dark moment when the first crime of humanity was committed, when the hand of Cain, blinded by envy, killed his brother Abel (cf. Gen 4:8). As a result, the unfolding of the centuries has been marked by violence, wars, hatred and oppression. But God, who placed a sense of expectation within man made in his image and likeness, was waiting. God was waiting. He waited for so long that perhaps at a certain point it seemed he should have given up. But he could not give up because he could not deny himself (cf. 2 Tim 2:13). Therefore he continued to wait patiently in the face of the corruption of man and peoples. The patience of God. How difficult it is to comprehend this: God’s patience towards us.
Through the course of history, the light that shatters the darkness reveals to us that God is Father and that his patient fidelity is stronger than darkness and corruption. This is the message of Christmas night. God does not know outbursts of anger or impatience; he is always there, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, waiting to catch from afar a glimpse of the lost son as he returns; and every day, with patience. The patience of God.
Isaiah’s prophecy announces the rising of a great light which breaks through the night. This light is born in Bethlehem and is welcomed by the loving arms of Mary, by the love of Joseph, by the wonder of the shepherds. When the angels announced the birth of the Redeemer to the shepherds, they did so with these words: "This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger" (Lk 2:12). The "sign" is in fact the humility of God, the humility of God taken to the extreme; it is the love with which, that night, he assumed our frailty, our suffering, our anxieties, our desires and our limitations. The message that everyone was expecting, that everyone was searching for in the depths of their souls, was none other than the tenderness of God: God who looks upon us with eyes full of love, who accepts our poverty, God who is in love with our smallness.
On this holy night, while we contemplate the Infant Jesus just born and placed in the manger, we are invited to reflect. How do we welcome the tenderness of God? Do I allow myself to be taken up by God, to be embraced by him, or do I prevent him from drawing close? "But I am searching for the Lord" – we could respond. Nevertheless, what is most important is not seeking him, but rather allowing him to seek me, find me and caress me with tenderness. The question put to us simply by the Infant’s presence is: do I allow God to love me?
More so, do we have the courage to welcome with tenderness the difficulties and problems of those who are near to us, or do we prefer impersonal solutions, perhaps effective but devoid of the warmth of the Gospel? How much the world needs tenderness today! The patience of God, the closeness of God, the tenderness of God.
The Christian response cannot be different from God’s response to our smallness. Life must be met with goodness, with meekness. When we realize that God is in love with our smallness, that he made himself small in order to better encounter us, we cannot help but open our hearts to him, and beseech him: "Lord, help me to be like you, give me the grace of tenderness in the most difficult circumstances of life, give me the grace of closeness in the face of every need, of meekness in every conflict".
Dear brothers and sisters, on this holy night we contemplate the Nativity scene: there "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light" (Is 9:1). People who were unassuming, people open to receiving the gift of God, were the ones who saw this light. This light was not seen, however, by the arrogant, the proud, by those who made laws according to their own personal measures, who were closed off to others. Let us look to the crib and pray, asking the Blessed Mother: "O Mary, show us Jesus!".
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Church Year / Liturgical Seasons Christmas Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained Preaching / Homiletics * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Francis
When many religious orders were founded centuries ago during the Middle Ages, agriculture was more than a way of life; it was a way of survival. Monasteries were self-sustaining, growing the food they ate. While farming has become less common as society has urbanized, Schortemeyer says the abbey's farm is more than just a quaint business. Other sisters have questioned the ranch's value, but Schortemeyer says it keeps the sisters connected to the outside world.
"When our neighbors are suffering from drought or suffering from flooding, we can totally relate to them. We're not above and beyond. ... It's good to be at the mercy of the environment, and so that other people know we don't live some ethereal life," she says.
Benedictine monasteries, with orders like the Trappists and Cistercians, use the motto Ora et Labora, meaning prayer and work. That motto doesn't represent separate ideas to the sisters. All day long, prayer and work are intertwined.
"Praying with the scriptures is like chewing your cud," Schortemeyer says. "So all through the day, we're ruminating on it. We chew, chew, chew, swallow, regurgitate. So it's not just 'the Lord is my shepherd,' it's 'the Lord is my cowboy.' "
Read or listen to it all.
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MAKING CALVINIST THEOLOGY MEANINGFUL to modern Americans is a tough challenge, but insofar as it can be done, Robinson does it. In her Iowa trilogy (Gilead, Home, and Lila), she takes a classic, white, educated Calvinist vision of grace, a kind of loving and restrained Midwestern serenity, and opens it up. She shows how this deeply thought-out faith interacts with the disorienting extremes of slavery, racism, alcoholism, prison, poverty, illiteracy, and prostitution—extremes that are made manifest in the small town of Gilead through the experiences of damaged, outcast characters. Robinson’s great theological achievement is to show us the predictable limits yet surprising expansiveness of this fatalistic faith, which she demonstrates in plots that trace the ways white, male ministers and their families rise to the occasion of grace, or don’t, and in sentences that express a remarkable aesthetic vision that finds beauty and radiance in almost everything.
Gilead is narrated by the aging minister John Ames, and Home contains the same events told from the perspective of his best friend’s daughter Glory Boughton. In Lila, a prequel, Robinson returns to an outsider perspective reminiscent of her long-ago first book Housekeeping to show the encounter with grace from the perspective of a woman on the margins, Lila Dahl. Though Lila eventually marries the middle-class Ames, she grows up as a migrant farmworker, raised by a beloved foster mother whom she loses to jail. Armed with wariness and a knife, Lila makes her desolate way through the fields and brothels of Missouri and Iowa, finally arriving in the sanctuary of Gilead. For a while Lila lives in a ruined cabin in the woods outside of town, haunting the church and parsonage and graveyard, craving baptism for reasons she can’t understand, and teaching herself to write by copying Bible verses in a tablet. Eventually she and Ames begin an unlikely marriage that brings them unprecedented consolation, but also leaves Lila with unresolved desires to return to the wild world outside Gilead, to unbaptize herself and claim kinship with the lost people who live beyond the reach of religion.
In Lila’s story, Robinson extends the reach of grace farther than she ever has before— stretching it across boundaries of literacy and class, and testing it with extremes of evil and loss, and yet it survives, lovely and glowing.
Read it all from Briallen Hopper.
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Pope Francis issued a blistering critique Monday of the Vatican bureaucracy that serves him, denouncing how some people lust for power at all costs, live hypocritical double lives and suffer from "spiritual Alzheimer's" that has made them forget they're supposed to be joyful men of God.
Francis' Christmas greeting to the cardinals, bishops and priests who run the Holy See was no joyful exchange of holiday good wishes. Rather, it was a sobering catalog of 15 sins of the Curia that Francis said he hoped would be atoned for and cured in the New Year.
He had some zingers: How the "terrorism of gossip" can "kill the reputation of our colleagues and brothers in cold blood." How cliques can "enslave their members and become a cancer that threatens the harmony of the body" and eventually kill it by "friendly fire." About how those living hypocritical double lives are "typical of mediocre and progressive spiritual emptiness that no academic degree can fill."
Read it all.
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Take the time to listen to it all--deeply relevant in the current climate.
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‘Cheer up, you’re worse than you think,” Rev. Timothy Keller says with a smile. He’s explaining that humans are more weak, more fallen, more warped than they “ever dare admit or even believe.” Then comes the good news: At the same time people are “more loved in Christ and more accepted than they could ever imagine or hope.”
Do you know many New Yorkers who believe that? Perhaps not, but on Sundays some 5,500 city folk file into the church Mr. Keller founded 25 years ago, Redeemer Presbyterian, at eight packed services across three Manhattan locations, the Greenwich Village campus of which I attend on Sundays. The service is traditional, the congregation less so: Most who show up, if you can believe it, are single and under 35, whether bankers, lawyers, actors or artists.
Mr. Keller has a growing national following and is often described as a Christian intellectual who takes on the likes of Nietzsche, Marx and Freud in a sermon rooted in a specific Biblical text. He’ll sprinkle in references from popular culture—something about contentment he read in the Atlantic, a poignant passage from “Lord of the Rings.” His fruitful work has multiplied. Redeemer efforts have helped plant more than 300 churches in 45 cities, from Santiago to Dubai.
Read it all.
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There we are: Evangelicals are hidebound and change-allergic, straining attempts at compromise. Never mind that Archbishop Welby – who, as the Times itself says, "backed the push for female bishops" – is himself widely known as an evangelical.
There's also a glitch in the Times saying that Libby Lane's appointment will test the compromise. If Thomas' concern is male oversight for conservative churches, why wouldn't he be satisfied with a female suffragan who draws her authority from a male bishop? He should have been asked, don’t you think?
Nor does the article's grasp of history sound much better. Not when the story says, "The tradition of all-male bishops dates to the Church of England’s break with Rome five centuries ago, in the days of King Henry VIII."
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Though I respected, and continue to respect, both groups [IVCF and Campus Crusade] equally, I eventually chose IVCF because it put more focus on friendship evangelism and less on door-to-door evangelism. Whereas the door-to-door method follows a sales model, with the evangelist approaching a stranger and then taking him through a carefully scripted gospel presentation (the booklet of choice in my day was “The Four Spiritual Laws”), the friendship model attempts first to cultivate a relationship with a non-believer (who might live in your dorm or attend classes with you) and then introduce the gospel in a more casual and natural way.
At the time, I did not possess any theories about the most effective or most biblical method of evangelism. I gravitated toward friendship evangelism because it better suited my personality and because, well, it “felt” right. Like many other Americans, I’ve always hated the “hard sell” and have quickly (if politely) closed the door or hung up the phone whenever a solicitor has tried to sell me something. If I was going to share the message of grace with my fellow students, I did not want it to sound like a sales pitch. I wanted it to rise up organically from our friendship, or at least from a sense of shared interests and passions.
Jonathan Dodson, founding pastor of City Life church in Austin, Texas, has practiced, and clearly respects, both forms of evangelism. However, in his new book, The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing (a 2015 CT Book Awards winner), he argues that our current social-cultural moment has made the door-to-door model not only less effective, but potentially counter-productive. “Wave after wave of rationalistic, rehearsed (and at times coerced and confrontational) evangelism,” he writes in his preface, “has inoculated, if not antagonized, the broader culture.”
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Evangelism and Church Growth * Culture-Watch Psychology Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Evangelicals * Theology Christology Soteriology
Our guest speaker was His Grace Bishop Youssef, Bishop of the Diocese of the Southern United States of the Coptic Orthodox Church. His sermon focused on learning how to deal with persecution from the examples laid out for us in Holy Scripture. He expounded on how St. Stephen had two options during his martyrdom: look to his persecutors, or lift his eyes to heaven. The saints in the Middle East join
Stephen, with their eyes lifted up to the prize of their calling, Jesus Christ, seated on the right hand of His Father, in heaven. He commented that our service of prayer for our suffering brothers was kindred to the saints praying for Peter when he was thrown into prison....
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Christian Life / Church Life Liturgy, Music, Worship Spirituality/Prayer * Culture-Watch Violence * Economics, Politics Terrorism * International News & Commentary Middle East * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Coptic Church * South Carolina
While certainly Neuhaus was..-[indeed] still is - a tremendous influence on me, [my wife] Dianne's announcement set me to examining my Lutheran life, and in some ways it's not as Lutheran as it once was. I write regularly for a Catholic magazine. Everybody senior on the staff at First Things is Catholic. I know as many priests as I do pastors, people I hang out with on email and the like, and I point out not a few of those priests were once Lutheran pastors. Not to slight you or anyone you know, it has just happened in my life that my intellectual and best theological compatriots these days are largely Roman Catholic.
What I have always sought - since seminary on - is to be in a church that finally gives expression to the catholicity of the Augsburg Confession. There is no Lutheran expression doing that. Most of my 17 years as editor of Forum Letter was spent, so it seems, showing Lutherans how far we have fallen from the practice of parish life described in our own confession.
There are evangelically catholic centers of Lutheran congregational life, and some that are deeply so, And there are evangelically catholic-minded pastors seeking parish renewal by Creed, Catechism, Confession, and praise God for it. The Church must continually struggle "against forces that always strike the Church and gospel: the fashions and fads of Gnosticisms ancient and new . . . the devaluation of the sacraments through neglect, the socially accommodating spirit of Church Growth excitements, and the gross appetite of a politicized bureaucracy." (Forum Letter 19:9, September 1990). It may be, I'll find out, the best field for the contestation in that struggle is with Rome.
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Newman, as [Ian] Ker points out, realised that conscience can be “easily puzzled, obscured, perverted”. Nor is it “a judgment on any speculative truth, any abstract doctrine, but bears immediately on conduct, on something to be done or not done”.
This certainly dispels the anxieties that Gladstone stirred up. Yet, Ker argues, it also has consequences, for our generation, living after Vatican II. “The frequently voiced claim,” Ker writes, “that Newman allowed for conscientious dissent from Church teachings is incorrect.” Drinking first to conscience referred to a response to papal orders. In questions of faith, Ker insists, “a believing member of the Church has a conscientious duty to believe the teachings of the Church, not to pick and choose what to believe”. If someone doesn’t believe, of course, he might decide to leave the Church.
In his Grammar of Assent (1870), Newman defended propositions or articles of faith as “necessary to the mind in the same way that language is ever necessary for denoting facts”. Yet “the object of faith is not simply certain articles,” he wrote in a letter, “but the whole word of God, explicit and implicit, as dispensed by his living Church”.
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There’s only one problem: apparently none of it ever happened.
Yes, a version of that quotation was uttered by a pope, but it was said decades ago by Paul VI, who died in 1978. There is no evidence that Francis repeated the words during his public audience on Nov. 26, as has been widely reported, nor was there was a boy mourning his dead dog.
So how could such a fable so quickly become taken as fact?
Part of the answer may be the topic of the pope’s talk to the crowd that day, which centered on the End Times and the transformation of all creation into a “new heaven” and a “new earth.” Citing St. Paul in the New Testament, Francis said that is not “the annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us, but the bringing of all things into the fullness of being.”
The trail of digital bread crumbs then appears to lead to an Italian news report that extended Francis’ discussion of a renewed creation to the question of whether animals too will go to heaven.
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It is not surprising that such remarks [from Pope Francis] would be ignored, given the media's high-priestly role within our "current Kingdom of Whatever," to use Brad Gregory's felicitous phrase, in which "men and women in larger numbers prioritize the fulfilment of their self-chosen, acquisitive, individual desires above any social (including familial) solidarities except those they also happen to choose, and only for as long as they happen to choose them." By warning that any society that mistakes rights for competing individual interests and freedom for mere licence will inevitability descend into resentment and violence, Francis was effectively storming the West's holy of holies, the sacred centre of liberalism as such. Far easier to grant blanket coverage the pope's off the cuff "Who am I to judge?" remark, which poses no challenge whatsoever to the effete sensibilities of liberal individualism, than to wrestle with a thoroughgoing challenge to the sustainability of liberalism itself.
Nor is it surprising that the media would be drawn to a broad-brush characterisation of an ageing, listless Europe, made by a pope who has graced the cover of Rolling Stone, no less! Once again, this says rather more about the media's slobbering servitude to "the new" - which cannot help but sneer at any tradition or institution or system of thought that does not melt away before the ineluctable demands of fashion and the fickle rule of individual choice - than it does about the pope's open-handed invitation to join together "in building a Europe which revolves not around the economy, but around the sacredness of the human person, around inalienable values ... a Europe which courageously embraces its past and confidently looks to its future in order fully to experience the hope of its present."
On both counts, the media conceals its ignorance, its arrogance and its incurious disregard for whatever does not fit within its unavowed agenda behind the threadbare alibi that it is simply reporting what is newsworthy - as if that were an objective category which the media is duty bound to serve, and which it itself has no role in shaping.
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A new troubling trend marks the U.S. church: the decline in Catholic funerals. It will affect Catholic life in the future if a basic tradition dies out. It also affects pastoral life now if people deprive themselves of closure after the death of a loved one.
Those for whom funeral rites are not celebrated today have often been lifelong Catholics who presume their children will arrange a traditional funeral for them when they die. Some parents may want to alert offspring that they want a funeral Mass.
In 1970, according to statistics from the Georgetown University-based Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), there were 426,309 Catholic funerals in the United States. More than 40 years later, in 2011, there were 412,145, a decrease despite an increased U.S. Catholic population over that time.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family Psychology Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic * Theology Eschatology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
Two October evenings in 1949 brought together an alcoholic war hero and a fiery young evangelist. From then on, neither would be the same.
The preaching in that rented circus tent in Los Angeles changed Louis Zamperini, then 32 — who put away the bottle forever and devoted the rest of his life to Christian testimony and good works.
And those Los Angeles nights also changed the preacher, Billy Graham, and the future course of American evangelicalism as well. In Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am,” he calls that chapter of his life “Watershed.”
On Christmas Day, a movie directed by Angelina Jolie about Zamperini’s extraordinary survival amid the horrors of Japanese POW camps opens in theaters. “Unbroken,” is based on the award-winning book by Laura Hillenbrand.
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The Anglican-Lutheran International Co-ordinating Committee (ALICC) held its second meeting at the Mariners’ Club, Hong Kong, 19 to 25 November 2014, under the leadership of the Rt Revd Dr Tim Harris of the Anglican Church of Australia (acting co-chair as Archbishop Mauricio was unable to attend), and of Bishop Michael Pryse of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
The meeting was hosted by the Anglican Communion and the Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui. The Committee warmly appreciated the generosity and the hospitality received from the Mission to Seafarers.
The Committee continued its work of mapping Anglican and Lutheran relationships around the world. In order to fulfill its role to be a catalyst for such relationships, it drew up a template of the differing patterns of relationships and the contexts in which they are lived out. For example, some are national churches meeting with other national churches, while others share the same geography. Some have relatively the same demographics, while in other places one church is much larger than the other. The Committee hopes to provide examples of the kinds of joint initiatives which might be appropriate for some rather than others.
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Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal - Anglican: Primary Source -- Reports & Communiques Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Religion News & Commentary Ecumenical Relations Other Churches Lutheran * Theology
The film doesn’t ignore faith, but it includes no mention of Jesus or Graham. Faith is portrayed more generically — unlike the 2010 book by Hillenbrand (she also wrote the best-selling “Seabiscuit”), which was praised by Christian readers for capturing the drama of Zamperini’s conversion.
Zamperini died from pneumonia on July 2 at age 97. His son, Luke Zamperini, is helping promote the film.
Jolie’s role as director prompted questions about the film’s faith element; given Jolie’s own lack of faith, some reviewers questioned whether the actress would give short shrift to Zamperini’s faith.
“There doesn’t need to be a God for me,” Jolie said in 2000. “There’s something in people that’s spiritual, that’s godlike.” Her husband, actor Brad Pitt, has said he is “probably 20 percent atheist and 80 percent agnostic.”
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When members of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church celebrate their patron saint's feast day on Dec. 6, they may be able to mark the occasion with prayers on newly blessed ground in lower Manhattan.
It depends on work schedules at the construction site for their new sanctuary, which will overlook the National September 11 Memorial. This is a problem Greek Orthodox leaders welcome after a long, complicated legal struggle to rebuild the tiny sanctuary -- located 80 yards from the World Trade Center's South Tower -- which was the only church destroyed in the 9/11 maelstrom.
"It's all of this powerful symbolism, and its link to that September 11 narrative, that lets people grab on to the effort to rebuild this church and see why it matters," said Steven Christoforou, a youth ministry leader at the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.
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Among the entries:
--Cheerful Confidence after Christendom
--How to Survive a Cultural Crisis
--Is Christianity in Britain in Terminal Decline?
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This month marks the tricentennial of the birth of the most famous man in America before the Revolution. George Whitefield, born on Dec. 16, 1714, was a Church of England minister who led the Great Awakening, a series of Christian revivals that swept through Britain and America in the mid-1700s. Whitefield drew enormous audiences wherever he went on both sides of the Atlantic, and his publications alone doubled the output of the American colonial presses between 1739 and 1742. If there is a modern figure comparable to Whitefield, it is Billy Graham. Buteven Mr. Graham has followed a path first cut by Whitefield.
What made Whitefield and his gospel message so famous? First, he mastered the period’s new media. Cultivating a vast network of newspaper publicity, printers and letter-writing correspondents, Whitefield used all means available to get the word out.
Most important, he joined with Benjamin Franklin, who became Whitefield’s main printer in America, even though Franklin was no evangelical. Their business relationship transformed into a close friendship, although Whitefield routinely pressed Franklin, unsuccessfully, about his need for Jesus.
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Archbishop Welby says while the event in the Vatican was a unique event, bringing together so many different religious leaders, it's also crucial to build on that momentum with a programme of implemention and he says he believes the Global Freedom Network has the ability to do that.....
In the Church of England, he says, two dioceses are already very involved in teaching and training people in awareness of this issue to help people ask questions of how they invest, where they buy things from and where those goods might be made.....
In the modern slavery bill currently going through the British parliament, he notes, there are obligations on retailers to look at their supply chains....the Anglican leader also says he's been involved in running ethical funds and has seen first hand the impact that they can have on pressuring retailers to stop the use of slavery in the manufacturing supply chains....
Read it all and listen to the whole interview (just over 4 minutes).
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