Why God made bishops

I think it is safe to say that this story represents the end of the Romanian convent-from-hell episode. Bishop Corneliu Barladeanu stepped up and did what bishops are supposed to do — protect the faith. You know things are totally out of control when the nuns start attacking a bishop, attacking as in physical assault. Here are a few more interesting details from a wire update:

The church, which is faced with a shortage of priests, had granted Corogeanu the right to work as a priest, despite the fact that he had not completed his theological studies, Barladeanu said. He added the church now planned to introduce psychological tests for men entering the monastic life. The Holy Trinity convent was built in 2001 by a lawyer and had not been sanctified by the Orthodox Church, Barladeanu added.

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Sacred and wicked candles

This is a Chicago Tribune story, but I just ran into it while reading through the drifts of South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspapers that collected while I was in Washington, D.C. The tradition of burning candles is, of course, very ancient. Try to find a reference to public ritual in the Bible that does not involve this tradition (and incense).

I had no idea that the whole seven-day candle phenomenon was this modern. In fact, I am going to try to do some more digging online to see if reporter Monica Eng has this straight. Hey Amy Welborn, if you are reading this, let us know what you think! Ditto for you, Dawn Eden.

But here is the part of the story that amazed me. It turns out that this very populist form of devotion has, well, spread into other parts of life. If you live in the right kind of ethnic neighborhood, you can find all of this at the local grocery store. Who knew?

The use of these candles has evolved far beyond a religious context. On the same Web site and even on the same store shelf, you can find Virgin Mary candles not far from “D.U.M.E. Black List” candles that are purported to help you, well, kill your enemies.

More common uses include attracting a specific mate with a “Come to Me” candle while simultaneously sabotaging the mate’s current relationship with a “Break Up” candle. According to Carlos Soto, manager at Indio Products, a chain of botanicas in Southern California, the “Come to Me” + “Break Up” combo is his No. 1 seller.

Isn’t that kind of mean? “Not really,” Soto says, “because usually [the customer] is a woman . . . whose husband or boyfriend is cheating, so she is just getting back what was hers.”

Be careful what you pray for, people. You might get it.

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The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the liturgy

Last Sunday’s clown Eucharist at the Episcopal Church’s powerhouse congregation of Trinity Wall Street has miraculously eluded any coverage in The New York Times, though it picked up a squib in the Daily News. That paper’s headline made the inevitable reference to Judy Collins’ hit song: “Rev. sends in clowns to teach a lesson” (to which I feel compelled to add, “Don’t bother [maudlin pause] they’re here.”

Trinity Wall Street’s rector, the Rev. Dr. James Herbert Cooper, came prepared with theological reflections on living the clown life. “Clowns represent the underdog, the lowly, the remnant people. Their foolishness is a call to unpretentiousness,” Cooper said in the Daily News article. “As St. Paul said, ‘The foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of the world.’”

The niche-market Downtown Express nabbed this remark by Cooper from Trinity Wall Street’s website: “In the clown, God has shot from his cannon for us a vivid symbol of divine foolishness.”

Hey, speak for yourself, brother.

If you’ve been eager to relive the days of Godspell, there’s a streaming video (requires Windows Media Player) of the clown Eucharist — every ostentatiously unpretentious minute of it — on Trinity’s website. (If you prefer the mime-only sermon, clown-walk here instead.)

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Terri speaks! — from Heaven

SoultoHeaven.jpgIt’s the sort of glurge one expects in the Inspirational category of sympathy cards at the chain grocery story: the human soul is in Heaven, watching our every movement with newly acquired supernatural powers. Except in this case the body is not dead yet:

I am Terri Schiavo. I died and my soul came to Heaven long ago. What was left behind wasn’t me. It was the body I used to live in.

When I look down and see pictures in the newspapers of my body — gape-mouthed, blank-staring — it makes me sick. Is my body some circus curiosity?

Let my body die and let me rest in peace.

So Terri Schiavo can now write a letter to the editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch? From Heaven, no less? Who knew? (It did require channeling her thoughts to a resident of Montross, Virginia.)

This ostensibly Christian understanding of the ethical debate swirling around Terri Schiavo is becoming increasingly common among churchgoers, if a report by Neela Banerjee in this morning’s New York Times is any indication.

Banerjee’s article is a good roundup of what churchgoers had to say as they left worship services Sunday in Boston, Chicago, Washington and New Orleans. Many worshipers speak of how their confidence in going to Heaven would free them from anxieties about any suffering they experience as they die.

But some express an understanding of the soul that is — how else to say this? — biblically illiterate:

After 9:30 Mass at Holy Name Cathedral in downtown Chicago, Stephanie Zacharias, a 34-year-old personal trainer, said she saw a correlation between Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection and the Schiavo case. “Terri Schiavo deserves to end her suffering on this earth and go to a better place just like Jesus did,” Ms. Zacharias said. “What is her life? What kind of life is that? She’s a shell. Her soul is not living. I think she died 15 years ago and her body is just being kept alive to comfort somebody else.”

The Times never explains the church’s historic teaching that the soul animates the body, that the soul and body are separated at physical death and that the soul and body are reunited at the end of time.

Even Gnosticism normally would not say that the soul is gone when a body remains alive. Were a Gnostic to write in the name of Terri Schiavo, the message might be: “My pure spirit is imprisoned in this corrupt body. Please free me from it.”

But for Americans even that is not a sufficiently cheery presentation of Terri Schiavo’s condition. Instead, we are told she is strolling about Heaven already, or her soul is dead, regardless of what her body is doing.

In contrast, George Felos — Michael Schiavo’s attorney — offers a less authoritative answer on what Terri’s soul may be up to. Sharon Tubbs of the St. Petersburg Times wrote a sharp-eyed profile of Felos in 2001, before he had published his book Litigation as Spiritual Practice (“This book is a miracle,” says Conversations With God author Neale Donald Walsch).

Tubbs mentions in the profile that Felos says one disabled woman’s soul spoke to his and asked, “Why am I still here?”

But he’s reserving comment on Terri:

Does Felos believe Terri Schiavo’s soul has spoken to his?

Felos declines to answer, showing his lawyerly side. “It’s a pending case,” he says.

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Reporting vs. fear-mongering

PrimatesGaggle.jpgWhen the Rev. George Conger is on an Anglican story, it’s hard to top his firsthand reporting for thoroughness, relevant details and good humor.

Consider Conger’s report this week for The Church of England Newspaper (part 1, part 2), which gives a fuller picture on why primates from the Global South boycotted Communion with U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold:

Archbishop Akinola wrote to Dr Williams on behalf of the global south coalition stating they would not share altar fellowship with Bishop Griswold. Dr Williams suggested a “pastoral Eucharist”, and then proposed a priest be brought in to celebrate Communion.

Archbishop Akinola responded it was not the worthiness of the minister that prompted their objections, but their belief that unity of doctrine preceded unity of worship. It was not a question of receiving “from” Bishop Griswold, but “with” Bishop Griswold.

. . . The endorsement of the communiqué, however, did not return harmony to the Primates. After the deal was done, Archbishop Williams announced he was going to lead the noonday Eucharist on Friday and invited all the Primates to attend as a gesture of unity. The global south primates declined.

Compare this to the primates’ meeting in 2003, also reported by Conger, in which the Archbishop of Canterbury insisted that Global South primates partake of Communion with Griswold if they wanted the emergency meeting to occur.

Observers at the Lambeth Conferences of 1988 and 1998 said both meetings reflected the Global South’s growing strength in numbers and in influence. In a similar way, the primates meeting of 2005 is now reflecting its own southward shift in authority.

At another point on the journalism spectrum, Stephen Bates of the Guardian offers another installment in his series of “all the villains are on the Right” narratives. In this spine-chilling episode, Bates reports that a conservative primate already has “defied the agreement within hours in order to address traditionalist parishes in Canada.”

The primates’ communiqué discourages primates from initiating alternative oversight in provinces not their own. How this prohibits a primate even from addressing a gathering — not ordaining new priests or confirming new church members or welcoming a new breakaway parish — is a mystery that remains to be explained in Bates’ reports.

Bates also relies on an anonymous primate who claims that conservative primates treated the Archbishop of Canterbury rudely and that African primates will — imagine the audacity! — rely on different American sources to meet their financial needs. “I understand they have been told that American fundamentalist millionaires have promised to match any funding the African church would have received from the Episcopal Church dollar for dollar,” Bates’ deep-cover source tells him.

That’s right, American fundamentalist millionaires! No names, no proof, no explanation of what makes these shadowy figures so clearly fundamentalist. At moments such as these, even Bates’ feverish conspiracy theories and name-calling achieve that sublime status known as hathos.

Photo: Primates Peter Akinola, Nigeria; Drexel Gomez, West Indies; Datuk Yong Ping Chung, South East Asia. Photo by James Rosenthal, Anglican Communion News Service.

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The most hathotic religion columnist? (No, not Paul)

passion.jpgThe following entry may sound very, very cruel, but I hope there is a valid reason for my madness.

I would like GetReligion readers to help me answer a crucial question: Is the Rev. Steve Gushée of The Palm Beach Post America’s most hathotic religion writer or columnist? (The photo with this post is of someone else. More on that in a minute.)

Before we go any further, let me make a major concession. First of all, I am sure that many people will think that I am tempted to make this judgment because he is an ultra-liberal Episcopalian and I am, well, an Eastern Orthodox Christian who once spent some time in evangelical Anglican pews. Believe me, I can understand this concern.

However, I enjoy reading the work of a wide variety of religion reporters, writers and commentators on the left and right, without agreeing with their views. No, there are two major reasons that Gushée’s work consistently pushes me into a state of hathos.
[Read more...]

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Brainstorming for Newsweek

Rob Moll of Christianity Today Online’s Weblog has pointed out the imbalance of Newsweek‘s cover story on the Nativity, and GetReligion has previously identified Jon Meacham’s frequent practice of warning against the dangers of “certainty” and “literalism” in stories involving historic Christian dogma.

I’ll comment on this week’s issue of Newsweek from a different angle, then: The headline and deck (“The Birth of Jesus: From Mary to the manger, how the Gospels mix faith and history to tell the Christmas story and make the case for Christ”) feel a tad anemic for a story that assumes the virgin birth probably is just another quaint myth, then quotes mostly those academicians who reinforce the assumption.

Here are some other story ideas, accompanied by punchier headlines and decks, on which Newsweek may wish to find the via media between historic Christianity and disbelief:

Advent
Deck the Halls, Already: For thinking Christians, fourth-quarter consumerism isn’t the problem. It’s where to find the best bargains and hip stocking-stuffers. [Note to sales reps: This could make for a great Special Advertising Section tie-in.]
Sidebar: Christmas or Chrismahanukwanzakah?: Culturally aware believers are torn. [Thanks to reader Bruce Geerdes for the link.]

Epiphany
Other Mansions, Other Voices: No thinking Christian believes the Three Wise Men found their way to the infant Christ. Newsweek decodes this legend’s actual message that all paths — including astrology! — lead to God.

Lent
Ashes to Ashes: How the institutional church, with the help of Opus Dei, hoodwinked its members into 40 days of self-denial and asceticism.

Easter
He Lives in Our Memories: The Jesus Seminar has settled the myth of bodily resurrection. But that’s no reason to deprive our irony-loving children of chocolate bunnies and Marshmallow Peeps.

Pentecost
Substance Abuse and Denial in the Early Church: The crowd had it right — the first Christians were drunk at nine in the morning. An exclusive Newsweek investigative report.

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Kerry on my wayward son

Was I out of the country when the decision was made to turn the presidential debates into the Hour of Power? In round two, Kerry tried to offset some of the damage he was about to incur with his answer on the Silent Scream issue by saying that he was an altar boy back in the day and that that “faith” still leads him today.

In last night’s debate (here’s a transcript), Kerry went all out with the faith offensive. It started out when he was answering moderator Bob Schieffer about whether the candidates thought homosexuality is innate (and thanks for opening up that particular can of worms, Bob) with Kerry explaining that “we’re all God’s children,” including — he actually said this — “Dick Cheney’s daughter, who is a lesbian”; not by choice but by divine fiat.

Schieffer threw out the fact that several Catholic bigs have opined that it would be a sin to vote for Kerry, to which Kerry replied, “I respect their views. I completely respect their views. [Liar! -- ed.] I am a Catholic. And I grew up learning how to respect those views. But I disagree with them, as do many.” Then he launched into an attack on Bush’s supposed intention to overturn Roe v. Wade, and I thought we were moving back to familiar territory.

But oh no. Kerry decided to revise and extend his remarks:

Now, with respect to religion, you know, as I said, I grew up a Catholic. I was an altar boy. I know that throughout my life this has made a difference to me. And as President Kennedy said when he ran for president, he said, “I’m not running to be a Catholic president. I’m running to be a president who happens to be Catholic.”

My faith affects everything that I do, in truth. There’s a great passage of the Bible that says, “What does it mean, my brother, to say you have faith if there are no deeds? Faith without works is dead.”

And I think that everything you do in public life has to be guided by your faith, affected by your faith, but without transferring it in any official way to other people. That’s why I fight against poverty. That’s why I fight to clean up the environment and protect this earth. That’s why I fight for equality and justice. All of those things come out of that fundamental teaching and belief of faith.

In his response, the president avoided mentioning God or religion. In fact, the God talk had to be coaxed out of him by Schieffer, who asked, point blank, “what part does your faith play on your policy decisions?”

Bush replied:

[M]y faith is a very — it’s very personal. I pray for strength. I pray for wisdom. I pray for our troops in harm’s way. I pray for my family. I pray for my little girls. But I’m mindful in a free society that people can worship if they want to or not. You’re equally an American if you choose to worship an Almighty and if you choose not to. If you’re a Christian, Jew or Muslim, you’re equally an American. That’s the great thing about America, is the right to worship the way you see fit.

Prayer and religion sustain me. I receive calmness in the storms of the presidency. I love the fact that people pray for me and my family all around the country. Somebody asked me one time, “Well, how do you know?” I said, “I just feel it.”

Religion is an important part. I never want to impose my religion on anybody else. But when I make decisions, I stand on principle, and the principles are derived from who I am.

I believe we ought to love our neighbor like we love ourself, as manifested in public policy through the faith-based initiative where we’ve unleashed the armies of compassion to help heal people who hurt. I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe.

And take it away Johnny:

Well, I respect everything that the president has said and certainly respect his faith. I think it’s important and I share it. I think that he just said that freedom is a gift from the Almighty.

Everything is a gift from the Almighty. And as I measure the words of the Bible — and we all do; different people measure different things — the Koran, the Torah, or, you know, Native Americans who gave me a blessing the other day had their own special sense of connectedness to a higher being. And people all find their ways to express it.

I was taught — I went to a church school and I was taught that the two greatest commandments are: Love the Lord, your God, with all your mind, your body and your soul, and love your neighbor as yourself. And frankly, I think we have a lot more loving of our neighbor to do in this country and on this planet.

We have a separate and unequal school system in the United States of America. There’s one for the people who have, and there’s one for the people who don’t have. And we’re struggling with that today.

And the president and I have a difference of opinion about how we live out our sense of our faith. I talked about it earlier when I talked about the works and faith without works being dead. I think we’ve got a lot more work to do. And as president, I will always respect everybody’s right to practice religion as they choose — or not to practice — because that’s part of America.

OK now, fun game. Given the content above, try to formulate front page headlines for the websites of, say, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the Washington Times. Scratch something down; I’ll wait.

In the order given, they were:

Personalities vs. policies are focus of final debate

A Deep Divide on Domestic Front: Bush, Kerry Spar Over Economy, Health Care, Gay Marriage in Last Debate

Energized Bush rips Kerry

The articles weren’t nearly that bad. The Post, for instance, mentioned the testimonial stuff in the third paragraph and then cycled back to it later in the story and chewed on it for awhile. But all of the reports that I read seemed to have a hard time fitting the faith thing into a larger narrative.

Not that I blame them. I mean, just imagine trying to make sense of all of this on deadline:

Reporter 1: OK, and after Pell grants and gay marriage, Kerry launched into his altar boy shtick.

Reporter 2: Let’s leave that out. He did that last time and we don’t have many words to work with.

Reporter 1: We can’t leave it out.

Reporter 2: Why not?

Reporter 1: That’s the part where he compares himself to Kennedy. Major church/state implications.

Reporter 2: But the Kennedy thing doesn’t make sense.

Reporter 1: Huh?

Reporter 2: Well Kennedy was saying, look, I was born this way, it’s not like I’m going to take orders from the pope or anything, so chill. But Kerry launches into this thing about how faith guides everything he does–

Reporter 1: Except his votes on abortion.

Reporter 2: See, I don’t get that.

Reporter 1: Get what?

Reporter 2: Well, if it’s “transferring your articles of faith” to others to ban baby killing, how would welfare or pollution not make the cut?

Reporter 1: I dunno.

Reporter 2: If he said “faith without works is dead” and his faith is causing the government to use our taxes to do stuff that we might disagree with, isn’t that imposing his faith on us? It doesn’t make any sense.

Reporter 1: (Thoughtful pause.) Religion is heady stuff.

Reporter 2: Guess so. And Bush–

Editor: Ten minutes, guys!

Reporter 1: Uh, you take healthcare, I’ll take the stuff about Laura and Lovey.

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