Lost (and Found) in Translation

Yesterday was an unusual Sunday for American Catholics, and reinforces the distinctive nature of worship in Catholic and Protestant Christianity. It was the long-anticipated introduction of the “new” Mass translation. It is, of course, a bit humorous to talk about “new” anything when referring to Catholic worship forms, but yesterday was a bona fide beginning as the 3rd edition of the Mass translation into English rolled out for mandatory use. Since the worldwide official language of the Mass is written down, in Latin, this is a big deal—bigger for priests than for parishioners, because the former have more speaking parts than the latter.

Many American Catholics have long ago memorized their lines, and even in one year’s time I pretty much had mine down. Except for the Nicene Creed, which—although I occasionally recited it in the Presbyterian and Reformed circles in which I ran—is sufficiently longer and more complicated than the Apostle’s Creed. My memorization skills, at age 40, are not what they were in college. If I’m remotely normal, then plenty of people will be using the pew cards for a long time to come.

I suspect memorized worship lines are a curiosity to evangelicals, among whom spontaneity retains not only psychological appeal but also religious appeal. [Read more...]

Protestant Mission Stations in 1925

I really like maps, and several weeks ago I posted a figure that illustrates the spread of world religions over history.  One of the themes of that figure is the relatively late expansion of Christianity throughout the world–mainly in the last several hundred years.

Here’s a map by sociologist Robert Woodberry, at the University of Texas, that pinpoints Protestant mission stations throughout the world in 1925.  (His website has the same map for other years as well).  They are concentrated in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, Eastern China, and Japan.  Clearly they were more successful in some areas than others, but this map illustrates the wide influence of these missionaries.

 

Faith, Race and Gender: An Historical Look at The Bowery Mission in New York City

New York is the largest city in the United States, so it should not be surprising that there’s plenty of religious organizations that do all manner of charitable work for the downtrodden. Much of this goes unnoticed (charitable organizations often don’t have advertising put in their budgets). However the folks over at “A Journey Through NYC Religions” have included an online photobook of the Bowery Mission (“mission” is one word used by Christians to describe some of their charitable work and organizations).

http://www.placematters.net/node/1046

I’m always keeping an eye out for material related to the Asian American religious experience and I was pleased to see that page 12 includes a short description of the charitable work among some Chinese immigrants back in 1909 (it’s a little blurry but the date is at the top; minor aside: my wife informs me that her great-grandfather was in this part of the country around the time that this story was reported-amazing what things I learn from editing a blog post!). [Read more...]

The Evangelical 99 Percent

A guest post by Richard Flory

Last week I spent a day at the annual Evangelical Theological Society meetings in San Francisco. My entree to the event was an invitation from some colleagues who are working on an project linking theological reflection and California culture, which allowed me to get a closer look at a gathering of several hundred evangelical theologians, biblical scholars, philosophers, pastors and political interlocutors–in effect, the brain trust of conservative American evangelicalism.

I went fully expecting to hear the working out of the theological and philosophical arguments that underlie the strident voices that emanate from the religious right. While there was a bit of shrill posturing (apparently some religions–one in particular–could legally be outlawed, according to one point of view), most of the sessions amounted to earnest attempts to uncover and present deeper thinking and reflection about the Christian scriptures, how Christians should live in the world and how they might have a positive influence in American culture.

I wasn’t surprised to see that most (85 percent or more) of the participants were white men. Still, there was what appeared to be a good number of blacks in attendance (in addition to a scattering of other minorities). But like the phenomenon described in the book Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? the non-whites gravitated toward one another in the conversations between sessions. This in itself isn’t too surprising, given the isolation that many people of color experience at evangelical colleges and seminaries, which tend to be overwhelmingly white.

Equally unsurprising was the assertion that [Read more...]

Haitian Catholics and Gratitude

With Thanksgiving tomorrow, I thought it best to re-post here a blog I wrote last Thanksgiving about what Haitian Catholics taught me about gratitude. The blog original appeared at the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities blog.

It is appropriate that Anne Barnard’s front-page New York Times piece on Haitian Catholicism, entitled “Suffering, Haitians Turn to Charismatic Prayer” appeared on Thanksgiving Day (2010), for one of the strongest themes of the Haitian Catholic Charismatic movement is gratitude. During the nearly two years of fieldwork I conducted in Haiti and among the Haitian Catholic communities of Miami, Montreal and Paris for my book Faith Makes Us Live: Surviving and Thriving in the Haitian Diaspora, I was also struck by how often Haitian Catholics thanked God for such blessings as food (however meager), life (however difficult) and faith (however severely challenged).

The modern ideal of autonomy—and its discontents

Many U.S. observers have been confounded over the decades by the resilience of Haitians’ faith in the face of poverty, dictatorship and—in January 2010—the worst natural disaster in the country’s history. Perhaps their joy in the midst of suffering confuses us because we moderns so often seek security in our homes, cars, neighborhoods, jobs, and health.  We believe that we can hide out from human frailty in a fortress of material comforts. A modern narrative of autonomy and self-fulfillment so common in the U.S. leads us to believe that our happiness depends fundamentally on ourselves. To suffer, then, seems a moral failure—a failure to fulfill our characteristically modern aspiration to self-sufficient success.

True, human beings are made for happiness and fulfillment. But to find them, we need relationships. And relationships demand [Read more...]


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