I am a baller and life will be phat

jeangreaI attended my beautiful cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago where the pastor joked that he was going to do something unorthodox and not to report him to anyone. (Yes, I groaned at that point.) Anyway, he proceeded to rewrite King David’s 23rd Psalm from first person singular to first person plural! Isn’t that so cute and meaningful? Wow, the psalm just sat there and did nothing before this Denver pastor rewrote it.

Anyway, apparently there is something about that passage from Scripture that just invites people to mutilate it. Lilit Marcus and Patton Dodd write about new hip-hop masses for Newsweek. They show how the Rev. Timothy “Poppa T.” Holder rewrote the 23rd Psalm:

The Lord is all that, I need for nothing. / He allows me to chill. /He keeps me from being heated /and allows me to breathe easy. /He guides my life so that I can /represent and give shout outs in His name. / And even though I walk through the hood of death, /I don’t back down, for You have my back. / The fact that He has me /covered allows me to chill. / He provides me with back-up/In front of player-haters, / and I know that I am a baller and life will be phat. / I fall back in the Lord’s crib for the rest of my life.

So true. I AM a baller! Anyway, even with a generous reading of the Psalm, I’m struggling to see where that “represent” portion makes an effective hip-hop translation of the great psalm.

I am reading a lot of this Beliefwatch portion of Newsweek, and I commend a mainstream publication for trying to amp up its religious coverage. I do wish that they would permit their writers a bit more space to flesh out their stories.

For instance, this story takes the angle that hip-hop services attract youth, but does not cite anything objective to support it.

My own work with youth makes me highly doubtful that a hip-hop service would be more attractive to youth than a hip-hop concert. I love rap and hip-hop and I’m absolutely certain that I would not trust some priest to rock the mic better than Jean Grae. I would, however, trust a priest to rock the liturgy better than Jean Grae.

Jean Grae pic from Ms. Mo on Flickr.

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The devil isn’t the only one wearing Prada

joanna jepsonThe British papers have been having fun with the recent move of the Rev. Joanna Jepson to the London College of Fashion, where she’ll serve as chaplain. And before you ask, yes it does happen to be Fashion Week here at GetReligion. Anyway, here is some sample copy: Is God the new black? How could a benevolent God permit the latest Roberto Cavalli collection? Heavenly bodies and unholy tantrums get God. Curate fashions a catwalk pulpit, etc. etc.

But the papers quickly moved from the puns and cliches to more substantial analysis. Here’s the Telegraph‘s take:

As someone who has long taken an interest in fashion, Miss Jepson, 30, feels that the Church should have a presence in the business. “The fashion industry has a huge impact and influence on vast numbers in our society,” she said. “It has a particularly powerful role in shaping the self-image and views of young people, and it’s important for the Church to be involved with this type of community. It’s amazing that it hasn’t had this link before.”

The curate, who has previously criticised society’s preoccupation with image, said that she was switching from full-time parish ministry to the fashion world because she could make more of an impact there. Miss Jepson, the curate of St Michael’s Church, Chester, earns a stipend of around £16,000. She will be paid a similar amount by the college.

Miss Jepson, who will take up her post in September, believes that the Church needs to rethink how it tries to relate to popular culture. “We cannot merely remain in holy huddles in parish churches. It is imperative that there are more of these kinds of chaplaincies that reach into cultural networks and communities, which would otherwise be untouched by the Church.”

Miss Jepson, whose publicity photo for the new job was quite fetching, is an interesting choice for this position. She is mostly known for her work fighting a move toward aborting unborn children with minor physical defects:

Miss Jepson was born with a congenital jaw defect and first hit the headlines in 2004 when she took her local police force to court while campaigning against two doctors who assisted in the abortion of a 28-week-old baby diagnosed with a cleft palate.

The papers had fun with the story, but they also took the religious angle seriously. Perhaps The Washington Post‘s Style section should take note.

Photo via Labantall on Flickr.

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Tapping a Godbeat site down under

stephen crittendenIt’s hard for an American to come away from a meeting with international journalists without feeling a bit, well, guilty.

I try to keep up with the news, but I know that my grasp of international affairs is still weak. Spending a few days in Oxford discussing news trends with people from Nigeria, Kenya, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan, Peru, Norway and a few other nations is a sobering experience.

I also feel guilty, from time to time, about the lack of international news content here at GetReligion. However, I have to admit that international items seem to draw less feedback from readers. One glance at a Google chart that shows the location of our readers also shows the obvious — most of our 2,000 to 3,000 readers a day are in North America.

This probably is a chicken-and-egg, Catch-22 situation. Which comes first? More international coverage or more international readers?

Anyway, all of this is a setup to introduce you to a site that I bumped into the other day — offering transcripts and links to The Religion Report‘s broadcasts on ABC Radio National in Australia. The host is Stephen Crittenden (pictured) and he has been at this for almost a decade.

As you would expect, there is a heavy emphasis on global affairs — from the ecological views of the Orthodox Patriarch in Istanbul, to a topic that we discussed quite a bit during my visit to Oxford, “Freedom of Religion in Malaysia?” Australia is also a major player in Anglican affairs, which affects quite a few shows. Here is a sample of a recent interview transcript, in which Crittenden talks with veteran British journalist Andrew Brown about the efforts to find a compromise between liberal Episcopalians and conservative African Anglicans.

The host starts with the obvious question: How’s Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams doing, during the current crisis (cue: swirl of cathedral pipe organ)?

Andrew Brown: Well I don’t think it’s a dispute that anyone could have handled well. I mean to handle it well you’d have to have people on both sides, or even on one side who were interested in compromise, or who seriously thought they might be wrong. That isn’t the case.

Stephen Crittenden: Nonetheless, wasn’t it always going to be a pretty tall order to think that the Episcopalians would repent? They never had any intention of repenting, did they, of electing a gay bishop?

Andrew Brown: No, of course they’re not going to repent, because to repent implies you think you’ve done something wrong, and they don’t think they have, or most of them don’t think they have. Similarly it’s a bit of a stretch however often it’s put in the documents to expect the conservatives to listen to gay or lesbian people because they have no intention of doing so.

Well, that is certainly opinionated stuff, shooting in both directions. However, the reports at this site also include quite a few links to other sites, documents, etc. Check it out. And let us know other global Godbeat sites that you find helpful.

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X marks the spot for today’s England

Saint George IconOn one level, this post is a shout out to my teenaged son, Frye, whose patron saint is St. George.

So it is no surprise that he was a bit miffed when he heard the news — I believe the Daily Mail broke the story — that the modern Church of England is considering dropping St. George (the soldier lancing the dragon in all of those Eastern icons) as England’s patron saint. As reporter Steve Doughty wrote:

His dragon-slaying heroics have kept his legend alive through the centuries. But the Church of England is considering rejecting England’s patron saint St George on the grounds that his image is too warlike and may offend Muslims. Clergy have started a campaign to replace George with St Alban, a Christian martyr in Roman Britain.

The scheme, to be considered by the Church’s parliament, the General Synod, has met a cautious but sympathetic response from senior bishops. But it clashes with the increasing popularity of the saint and his flag in England.

I was in Oxford when this story broke in the British press and, of course, the tabloid’s timing was fantastic because the flag of St. George was flying everywhere during the World Cup.

I had a chance to talk with several friends of mine about the proposed swap, including a trained Anglican theologian or two. They all agreed, interestingly enough, that the change made sense and that St. Alban, as the nation’s first Christian martyr, would actually be a more appropriate choice. Several people said something like this: “I’ve never understood what the deal was with St. George in the first place.”

The link is a bit strange and there are, meanwhile, historians who claim that St. George never actually existed. Here is how the original Daily Mail story handled that background material, including a nod to the fact that the flag with the huge red cross has become identified with some nasty elements of English life.

The image of St George was used to foster patriotism in 1940, when King George VI inaugurated the George Cross for civilian acts of the greatest bravery. The medal bears a depiction of the saint slaying the dragon. However, George has become unfashionable among politicians and bureaucrats. His saint’s day, April 23, has no official celebration in England, and councils have banned the St George flag from their buildings and vehicles. …

The saint became an English hero during the crusades against the Muslim armies that captured Jerusalem in the 11th century. An apparition of George is said to have appeared to the crusader army at the Battle of Antioch in 1098. His dragon-slaying legend is thought to have begun as an allegory of Diocletian’s persecution of Christians.

englandstgeorgeHowever, my friends from various locations in the old British empire made one other point that I have yet to see underlined in the tabloid press. Is it safe to say that this change is all about getting the blood-red symbol of the cross off the flag in an era — especially after the cartoon crisis and its flag-burning riots — in which people are a bit tense?

In the St. Alban’s flag, a diagonal yellow cross is placed on a blue background. In other words, it looks more like a large X than the symbol of the Christian faith. For many, this would be a step in the right direction. The Evening Telegraph in Coventry noted:

Motasem Ali, of the Bangladesh Islamic Society, said: “St George is a concern in our community, especially with the present crisis in the world and the UK.

“All religions should be the same, teaching us how to maintain peace and harmony. The Christian authorities should think about it. The image of St George can create more problems in our community. If he was dropped, that would be one step forward.”

But what will happen when someone tries to step forward and claim the credit, or take the blame, for this change?

My British friends — who all thought the change was logical — thought there was no way it would pass. St. Alban may get bumped up a few notches in the public eye, they said, but there was no way the flag of St. George was going to be lowered for good. That would simply create too much heat among the masses.

What kind of heat? Here is a sample, a rather tongue-in-cheek blast from our friend Rod Dreher over at the Crunchy Con blog:

Lord have mercy. These people. … Look, why don’t these sherry-sniffing buttercups just surrender now and spare their enemies the indignity and tedium of having to beat up a bunch of sniveling jellyfish? I swear, you could arm the choirs of the ten Bible churches closest to where I sit deep in the heart of Texas with pool noodles and bullhorns, and they could run half the marmalade-spined clerics of the Church of England over the White Cliffs of Dover like a herd of shrieking Gadarene schoolgirls.

I am sure that stronger language would be used in pews and pubs.

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As Canterbury Turns: The mission of the church

mission of churchTime‘s Jeff Chu asked the Presiding Bishop-elect of The Episcopal Church ten questions about her view of the church’s mission, the relationship between religion and science and the exclusivity of Christianity. While the quality of her answers will be the subject of debate, I think he used a great — and simple — technique for getting information out of Katharine Jefferts Schori. And her answers are fascinating, I think. For instance, she says this about what the focus of the church should be:

Our focus needs to be on feeding people who go to bed hungry, on providing primary education to girls and boys, on healing people with AIDS, on addressing tuberculosis and malaria, on sustainable development. That ought to be the primary focus.

Jefferts Schori is more direct about her theological views than her predecessor, which may turn out to be a blessing or a curse. But it’s so nice that Chu just asks the questions and gives us her answers. That way we can compare her words with those of Nigerian bishop Peter Akinola in a letter from April 2005:

I am also thankful that while we are all engaged in many different expressions of practical concern for the poor and the oppressed at home and abroad we share a common commitment to the primary mission of the Church, which is to proclaim redemption from sin and the promise of life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ.

You see that? While so many reporters take the easy route and frame the debate in the Anglican Communion as centering on gay sex and female ordination, the issues are much deeper. The bigger questions are what the very mission of the church is. Is it to care for the temporal needs of humanity or the eternal? The physical or the spiritual? Is it, again, to proclaim Christ?

Jefferts Schori answers a Chu question about whether Jesus is the only way to heaven by saying that believing that way would “put God in an awfully small box.” Those are some pretty serious doctrinal divides that cross the Atlantic. Not that Jefferts Schori wants to talk doctrine. In one of her answers to Chu’s questions, she pooh-poohed doctrinal discussions, deriding them as bickering.

Other reporters might want to press Jefferts Schori on that last point, asking her which, if any, doctrinal points are worth debating and why. And whatever else can be said, I’m sure she would answer in a straightforward manner.

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As Canterbury Turns: The center cannot hold

AkinolaAs Terry has noted, the Archibishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently proposed a two-tier system of church membership in the Anglican Communion — the idea being that full and partial membership could save the Communion from schism. Anglican bishops in Nigeria responded this week. The Church of Nigeria is Africa’s largest Anglican church, with an estimated 17.5 million members, according to the BBC:

In their statement, posted on two websites, the Nigerian bishops commend Dr Williams’ idea as “brilliant as the heartbeat of a leader who wants to preserve the unity of the Church by accommodating every shred of opinion no matter how unbiblical”.

But they dispute whether the challenge is really to “fashion out a novel establishment that is elastic enough to accommodate all the extremes of the referred modes of expression of the same faith”.

“A cancerous lump in the body should be excised if it has defied every known cure,” they say.

“To attempt to condition the whole body to accommodate it will lead to the avoidable death of the patient.”

Instead Dr Williams should persuade churches that chose to “walk apart” to “return to the path”, say the bishops.

Here’s the entire response of the Nigerian bishops. It’s actually humorous to compare the words of the Episcopal Church’s leadership with those of the Nigerians. When you listen to Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori’s “mother Jesus” sermon and compare it to the Nigerian defense of orthodox doctrine, you find significantly different religious views.

But to the point of this blog, here’s what I’m wondering: The BBC did a great job of writing up this story about the Nigerian response. It provided background and a bit of forecasting, as British papers tend to do.

The Nigerians go for the postmodern jugular of the Episcopal Church (the Anglican Communion’s American branch). And yet that BBC story is the only one I found. The Nigerians call the Episcopal Church a cancer. That’s juicy enough for coverage, isn’t it? Seriously, what better hook are you going to get?

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Church bells, statistics and silence

1903933714At noon today, I was in a church in north Oxford taking part in our Oxford Centre seminar on blasphemy, freedom of the press and the digital age. It was a natural place to hear the bells chime in the stone steeple high overhead, while also hearing other church bells in the surrounding neighborhood.

All of England was supposed to stop for two minutes of silence at noon. Since we were in a church, it was natural for prayers to be said. But the silence was what united this nation, on this particular day. There are so many questions to remain unanswered and many questions that the British are struggling to ask.

The newspapers here — local and national — are packed with 7/7 stories covering every possible angle, including some of the obvious religious questions. There are personal stories and policy stories.

But as I walk past the news racks each day, the headlines capturing my eyes have been the ones about this nation’s very concept of itself and, of course, how this relates to the powerful Muslim minority in this land. Thus, the story from this week that I will remember is the Times report — reports, actually — growing out of its national research into the attitudes of the modern British, both Muslim and, well, infidel.

Yes, that is a strong word, but read this lead and see what you think:

A significant minority of British Muslims believe they are at war with the rest of society, the largest poll of Muslims in this country suggests. The Populus survey for The Times and ITV News has found that more than one in ten thinks that the men who carried out the London bombings of 7/7 should be regarded as “martyrs.” Sixteen per cent of British Muslims, equivalent to more than 150,000 adults, believe that while the attacks were wrong, the cause was right.

But the poll also revealed a stark gulf between this group and the majority of British Muslims, who want the Government to take tougher measures against extremists within their community.

And there you have it — the reality of the multiple Islams. Which has the accurate theological perspective? Which represents the global Muslim majority? How are their views about the bombings linked to their religious beliefs? And so forth and so on. Read the Times reports if you want to know more. There is no way around the fact that one in 10 (13 percent, actually) is a number that people have to take seriously.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said as much, shortly before the 7/7 anniversary.

Speaking ahead of Friday’s anniversary of the 7/7 London suicide bombings, the Prime Minister said that Muslim leaders should make clear to the extremists that not only were their methods wrong, but their ideology, interpretation of Islam and their “completely false sense of grievance against the West.”

“I think the roots of this extremism lie in the attitudes and ideas as much as organisation,” Mr Blair told the Commons Liaison Committee. “I don’t think there is an answer to this terrorism that is simply about police work or security measures.”

Obviously, this is the case.

070805londonThe poll results contain many comforting numbers, for those seeking evidence that mainstream Muslims reject the Islamists. Yet the polls also — when you do the math — contain some sobering clues as to how many homegrown terrorists may be at large in England. For example:

7% agree that suicide attacks on civilians in the UK can be justified in some circumstances, rising to 16 per cent for a military target

16% of British Muslims say that while the attacks may have been wrong, the cause was right

2% would be proud if a family member decided to join al-Qaeda. Sixteen per cent would be “indifferent.” …

50% think the intelligence services have the right to infiltrate Muslim organisations to gather information about their activities and the way they obtain funding.

These are the kinds of numbers that reporters must probe, seeking to understand where and why some — repeat some — Muslims believe what they believe. This is not a simple story. This poll is an example of coverage that delivers some light as well as heat.

UPDATE: For additional coverage and some nice links, please head on over to Ruth Gledhill’s blog, Articles of Faith, where the topic is history, Islam and 7/7.

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As Canterbury Turns: Is the rite wrong?

marriage1Of course it’s a theological issue, and one that is ultimately sacramental in nature. However, my original point was that in western media at least, there is a distinction made between civil unions and marriage whenever this is discussed. “Full inclusion in the life of the church” is also mentioned a lot — so, I’m curious to know how it is that civil unions are a practice of the church, for sure. But I’m also certain that no one in the western church, or not a lot of people, are really talking about developing gay marriage ceremonies, but rather same-sex-union ceremonies. Here’s a recent article that sort of deals with it.

Posted by Micah Weedman at 8:23 am on July 4, 2006

There can be a reality called “same-sex unions” in the secular marketplace and then another reality called “marriage,” but it is hard to draw these lines in the ancient doctrines of the Christian faith. As the Archbishop of Canterbury noted in his letter to the primates, the key theological issue is what relationships can be blessed or called sacraments and what relationships cannot.

Postmodern people may be able to say that you can create a new liturgical rite to bless same-sex relationships without affecting the status of the ancient Sacrament of Marriage, but premodern people in Rome, the East and conservative Anglicanism are going to reject that equation.

And what if the same-sex rites are clearly meant to take the place of marriage rites or to substitute for them? This is why it is so important that (a) the Episcopal Church’s liberal establishment is doing so much of this liturgical experimentation at the local level away from major media coverage and (b) that the media realize that the same-sex liturgies are just as important, or more important, than the issue of one or two episcopal elections. Again, read what Archbishop Rowan Williams wrote on that issue.

I also dug into this a bit several years ago in a Scripps Howard column on the trial rites. Click here to see that column. Here is how it started:

The couple holds hands before the altar as a priest guides them through their vows.

“I take you to have and to hold from this day forward, to love and to cherish, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as my companion, lover and friend.”

The congregation responds: “Blessed be God who appears to us in their love.”

There is the exchanging of rings, familiar scriptures, a kiss and a blessing on the couple’s “acts of tenderness and intimacy.” They may be crowned or anointed before Holy Communion. The priest may lead them in a procession around the altar, cover them with a veil or tie their hands with a cord.

This is not a wedding.

Nevertheless, “A Rite for the Celebration of Commitment to a Life Together” features a barrage of symbols from centuries of marriage rites. This 1996 text is an American example of the same-sex union rites that are shaking the 70-million-member Anglican Communion.

“This rite is clearly parasitic on marriage,” said Edith Humphrey, a Canadian Anglican who teaches at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. “At least this American rite is in your face, so you know what is being communicated. That kind of candor is refreshing. … This certainly looks like a marriage rite.”

But does that make this rite a sacramental statement, a kind of non-marriage marriage that makes the sacramental claims of a marriage? Read on.

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