To everything there is a season — and a liturgy?

MenopauseThe story of Episco-Druid rites has moved from the Anglican blogosophere to print, and in two very different forms.

Julia Duin of The Washington Times reports the story, adding the detail of Bishop Charles Bennison’s statement (PDF) about the controversy.

Religion editor Shirley Ragsdale of the Des Moines Register writes a column that praises the Women’s Liturgy Project by the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries but does not mention the rite attributed to the Rev. Glyn Lorraine Ruppe Melnyk, or the firestorm of criticism it attracted from conservatives.

Ragsdale begins with this description of the liturgical landscape:

Women make up more than half of churchgoers, but so much of their lives is ignored in terms of religious rites, rituals and ceremonies.

There are ceremonies to baptize their babies, but no rituals to mark the passage from girl to woman or to celebrate conception or pregnancy. There are few rituals to mark losses such as miscarriages or passages such as menopause.

. . . The intent is to create liturgy that can be used within the context of a Sunday morning service to mark menstruation, conception, pregnancy, any form of pregnancy loss, childbirth, menopause and other changes or loss. Having passed almost all of those female milestones with little fanfare from my faith tradition, the idea that a woman’s church family might pay attention to some of them is appealing.

As a teen, I probably wouldn’t have appreciated an announcement in church when I got my first period, but I can imagine that a coming-of-age service where a number of girls could be recognized for reaching young adulthood might be something to be proud of.

Actually there are liturgies to mark “the passage from girl to woman” (and the passage from boy to man). For liberal Episcopalians, Journey to Adulthood offers spiritual formation, pilgrimages and a churchwide service called Rite 13.

I’ll leave aside the question of whether prayers about menstruation or menopause ought to become part of a Sunday service.

Ragsdale is strongest in telling the story of a Presbyterian woman who joined her sisters in persuading their mother to give up her car keys for the sake of her safety:

After dinner, one daughter said a prayer: “God, we are truly grateful for our mother and grandmother and friend. She has always been there for us. So many times she put each of our needs before her own. We ask you to be with her now in this time of sharing and in the days ahead when she will be sad because she cannot do the same kinds of acts of neighborliness and mercy that she could do when she was able to drive. Bless her and us, for this is a day of endings and beginnings.”

There were stories about the kindnesses the mother had performed, including emergency trips to the hospital and reliable transportation to church. Then they volunteered to make the mother’s transition easier. Grandchildren and teenaged neighbors offered to drive for her. Daughters committed to mother-daughter outings.

When the stories and promises concluded, the mother reached into her purse and with tears in her eyes handed the car keys to her daughters. It seems likely that the mother’s bitterness about giving up her independence was tempered by the sweetness of the prayer and ritual performed by her family and friends. I like to think that because of the ritual, the family was more likely to follow through on their promises.

It isn’t exactly liturgy. But it could be. The congregation could recognize the mother’s contribution to the church and join in the promise part.

That’s one way of looking at it. Here’s another way: Isn’t it amazing that this woman’s family rose to the liturgical and pastoral challenge without an official Service of Diminished Driving Capacities? And could it be that this mother and grandmother might prefer not to make her painful transition the focus of a corporate service?

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Why should the devil have all the bad music?

Mandm True story: Your humble scribe once got sucked into a conversation with a guy who thought his own taste in music should settle the argument for what is good and hip and cool. A few minutes in, I let slip that I enjoyed the songs of the late lamented crypto-Christian rock group Creed, which launched my friend on a whale of a rant.

He said the group was Very Bad and he questioned how I could claim to like them with a straight face. He got worked up and yammered on a bit but here was the kicker: “Their music is so derivative.” I shot back: “ALL music is derivative.” Objective observers might have wondered if his head was going to explode as he considered that one.

All of which is a long way of explaining that I’m not reflexively down on Christian rock. Sure, it’s often too preachy, and the unofficial Jesuses per minute quota is a bit much, but rock is supposed to be a populist art form. If Christian artists often sounded like their secular counterparts with more uplift and less faux Satanic posturing I could fall back on the fact that even the Rolling Stones began as a cover band.

That said, I’m still trying to process the news that Jesus rockers have decided to ape the most annoying thing to emerge from the world of official rock since “We are the world.” In the Washington Post last Friday, entertaining religion writer Hanna Rosin reported from the front lines of a Rock the Vote- (and Vote for Change-) like effort to use Jesus rock to sign up young evangelicals to cast ballots for whichever candidate best represents their values in the political arena. In other words, Bush.

The movement, which flies under several banners, including Redeem the Vote, has been using pop Christian music to register as many young churchgoing voters as possible, with some success. I encourage readers to follow this link to Rosin’s story and read it for the fun details and the sometimes loopy quotes. Contemplating our strange new world in which the Southern Baptists are sending around an 18 wheeler that used to belong to the Charlie Daniels Band just might be the perfect respite from the nail biting and nervous poll watching of this dreary election day.

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God's new party

Here’s a twist. Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin has hauled off and said that Sen. John Kerry’s slight rise in recent polls toward dead-heat status is clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. Well, OK, he didn’t put it that way. He said the president is down and Kerry is up and “That’s how God wants it to be.” There was no immediate response from press officials working for the Rev. Pat Robertson.

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Location, location, location

It is interesting to have to turn to Baptist Press for coverage of an event in the Roman Catholic community — for the most part — in Miami-Dade County. The Democratic League there has decided not to endorse Sen. John Kerry, primarily because of religious and cultural issues. The Baptists note that it has “more than 1,000 members and a reach that expands to 100,000 pro-life, pro-family Democrats in Miami” and that it is “primarily led by Hispanic-American Democrats.” It’s impossible to read the group’s 10 reasons for rejecting Kerry without hearing the voice of Pope John Paul II. I can’t find national coverage of this story, other than this weak nod in that direction.

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Ghost in the ghost story: Gannett has no doubts

priest ghostLongtime readers of GetReligion may remember the defining image used in the very first post on this blog. It has shown up in headlines several times since then.

I am talking about the idea of religion “ghosts” that haunt many reality-based news stories in mainstream media. It is our belief that these moral and religious implications often go unreported, in part because, as Bill Moyers like to say, too many journalists are “tone deaf” to the religious themes that are all around them. In other words, these journalists do not “get” religion.

Today I ran into a ghost while reading a story about, well, ghosts. USA Weekend ran a pop culture feature story by Gwen Moran titled “Real-Life Ghost Busters” that was, on the surface, quite ordinary. Here is a sample, about the work of the husband-wife team of Dave Oester and Sharon Gill:

When you’ve investigated more than 1,000 hauntings in the past 14 years, you’re used to the unexplained. Oester, 56, and Gill, 55, are founders of the International Ghost Hunters Society, a group of nearly 15,000 ghost investigators and enthusiasts. Armed with digital cameras, voice recorders and a fascination with the freaky, the Deming, N.M.-based couple travels the country investigating haunted places. And with more than one-third of Americans sharing a belief in ghosts, according to a 2003 Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll, there are many places to investigate.

Unexplained noises (such as knocking, footsteps or muffled voices), electrical appliances turning on and off by themselves and other mysterious happenings can be signs of an active ghost. … Some people in haunted settings have a feeling that they’re not alone, or they get inexplicably cold. In the most extreme cases, people feel they’ve been touched by something or have seen objects move, even when there’s no one there.

Pretty straightforward stuff. But as I read it again something hit me, like a cold chill running down my spine, as the mystery began to sink in. There was nothing in this story that offered the slightest hint that the journalism professionals at the mainstream Gannett newspaper empire had any doubts about the reality of the spiritual world implied by this report. Shocking, huh?

Try to imagine a similar hands-off attitude toward a story on other claims of supernatural religious experiences. Try to imagine a pack of charismatic Episcopalians getting to make claims about the power of the Holy Spirit, without scads of doubters getting to share their viewpoints. Ditto for Eastern Orthodox parishioners with myrrh-weeping icons. Ditto for neo-Madonna mystics doing whatever they are doing at the moment. And, you know what? That skepticism is a good thing. It’s good to see reporters pushed to chart the edges of supernatural claims. It’s good to ask tough questions of people who claim to have had mystical experiences. Just do it.

But don’t look for questions of this kind in this fluffy feature. The high point, for me, was the helpful “news you can use” sidebar entitled “How to get along with ghosts.” This is simply too rich to edit.

Calm down. “Sometimes, ghosts aren’t that different from 12-year-old boys,” ghost hunter Dave Oester says. “They’re having fun spooking you.” It’s no longer fun if you aren’t scared.

Talk it out. Give your ghost a name. If the ghost performs dangerous pranks, like turning on a gas stove, explain why it can’t do that. “It may be that your ghost is trying to get your attention,” Sharon Gill says. “Acknowledging it may be enough to get it to stop.”

Get positive. If you have an angry spirit, it’s likely because someone in your home has the same kind of energy, Oester says. He and Gill worked with a family in which a spirit was slamming doors, scaring the family. “We helped them create a rule where all of the problems were to be left on the front porch before anyone came in the house. They had to work on being positive in the house,” says Oester, who notes that the family reported a ghost-free house within months.

Oh, but Moran is sure about one thing: “Blessings, exorcisms and the like are nonsense.”

So you can chat the ghost up and help it wrestle with its self-esteem issues, but do not — repeat, do not — think that calling a priest will help. No sir. No doubts about that, either. Whatever you do, don’t take seriously the claims of traditional religious teachings on the subject of good and evil, heaven and hell, angels and demons.

P.S. Those interested in another mysterious story in a mainstream newspaper can turn to The Dallas Morning News, where friend-of-this-blog Rod Dreher has published a chilling little essay titled “A ghost in the family: Did Grandfather’s spirit stay behind to mend broken bonds?” Honest, Dreher has a great book stashed in his head that could be called Confessions of a Bayou Exorcist and some smart publisher needs to pay him big bucks to get it written.

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Is OBL lying to the American people?

Bunnybinladen_2Back from his near-death experience, Osama bin Laden emerged to make an anti-Bush ad in the form of an address to the American people. The bearded one closed with the warning: “Your security is not in the hands of Kerry or Bush or al Qaeda. Your security is in your own hands. Any nation that does not attack us will not be attacked.” Leading up to this statement, however, he took a series of swipes at George H.W. Bush and President Bush:

1) He claimed, “[President] Bush is still exercising confusion and misleading you and not telling you the true reason [for the attacks].” Hint: It wasn’t because al Qaeda envies our freedom.

2) He noted the “similarities of [the first Bush] administration and the regimes in [Muslim] countries, half of which are run by the military and half of which are run by monarchs.” Both of these familiar regime types and, by extension, the White House, “are full of arrogance and taking money illegally.”

3) In a bit of a chronological screw-up, he charged George the First with “suppression of freedom to his own country” by way of the PATRIOT Act.

4) Finally, he picked up on the fact that President Bush continued to read to elementary students on September 11 and said this: “[W]e never knew that the commander-in-chief of the American armed forces would leave 50,000 of his people in the two towers to face those events by themselves when they were in the most urgent need of their leader.”

For the latest partisan back-and-forth over the bin Laden tape, visit the websites of the Weekly Standard (start here and here) and the American Prospect. For what it’s worth, the pre-poll indicators seem to say that this will be bad for Kerry and good for Bush.

Two things surprised me about the video. The first was that Osama bin Laden has clearly been keeping tabs on the lefty criticisms of George W. Bush. The second was that he tailored his remarks to try to persuade a certain segment of voters. He charged that meddling by Americans and Israelis had prompted September 11. He attacked the democracy building and human rights rhetoric of the Bush administration and placed Islamic regimes on the side of freedom, in contrast to the American occupation, which was the closest he came to ever mentioning Iraq.

To certain ears, I’m sure it was it an almost reasonable address, with the reassuring message that no further aggression on the United States’ part would be met with no further violence by al Qaeda. But the speech glossed over the larger vision that led to the attack on the Pentagon and the destruction of the World Trade Center.

Here is a link to the text of bin Laden’s famous 1996 fatwa, and I encourage GetReligion regulars to go there and read it. Notice that the cleric holds the crusades against the U.S. and complains of a “Zionist-Crusader” alliance.

The document is sprawling and the complaints wide-ranging (from the free-spending Saudi royals to American involvement in the Middle East to the rotten nogoodniks in the press), but the overall vision is one of a crusading Islam. Bin Laden would expel westerners and Jews from lands that he considers to be Muslim turf and press for a stricter interpretation and enforcement of Allah’s law within that world. And his conception of what constitutes Muslim lands is quite extensive.

Not to put too fine a point on it, bin Laden now appears schizophrenic. Either he has changed his mind some since he penned the fatwa or else the notorious cleric was not being completely candid in his recent message. One of his deputies should have clued him in to the fact that a good cop/bad cop routine requires more than one person to pull it off.

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Druids and goddesses and Episcopalians, oh my

midsummerdruids.jpgEvery now and then, a religion story breaks out online that truly defies a quick and easy blog report. This is certainly the case with the slap-fest that is taking place between our friends at the Christianity Today blog and the trailblazing liturgists at the Episcopal Church’s Office of Women’s Ministries.

To get up to speed on the amazing story of the little neo-pagan Eucharist that could, start with Ted Olsen’s initial reporting at the CT blog. Read it all. There is no way for me to crunch this story down into a few paragraphs, but I can at least let you see the most explosive summary statement. And note that Ted Olsen absolutely nails the larger global story here, the larger story that we will have to look for in the mainstream media. That is, we can look for it once the mainstream media finishes with John Kerry and George Bush and realizes that the front lines in the bitter Anglican sex war may have moved. Here is how the story begins:

Imagine for one moment that you’re a leader in the Episcopal Church USA. You know that within the next few days, a global commission is going to release a report on how the global Anglican Communion should respond to your church, and is likely to be critical of the ordination of an actively homosexual man as bishop. You know, and have said yourself, that the debate isn’t just about sexuality: It’s about how one views the Bible. And you know that all eyes will be on your denomination over the next few weeks. What do you do?

What the real leaders of the Episcopal Church did was to take an action that makes ordaining a homosexual man as a bishop almost a non-issue. They started promoting the worship of pagan deities. This is not a joke nor an overstatement. In all truth and seriousness, leaders of the Episcopal Church USA are promoting pagan rites to pagan deities.

These sentences were written an eternity ago, in blogosphere terms. So much has happened since then, including the church’s establishment lashing out at Christianity Today, a magazine with a staff that is more than a few people who fluently speak the lingo of Episcopalians and even neo-feminists. It also should be noted that the main links to the controversial liturgy have — surprise — suddenly gone dead. But the printable version is still over here on another page. That’s where you will find all kinds of interesting images, such as:

“Blessed are you, Mother God, for the fertility of this world. We thank you for the sight and scent of flowers, for the way their shape evokes in us the unfolding of our own sexuality, and for their power to remind us of the glory and the impermanence of physical beauty. May our days of blossoming and of fading be days spent in your presence.”

Dipping her fingers into the bowl of salt water, one of the women says, “Sisters, this is the water of life. From the womb of the sea, Mother Earth brought forth life. From the womb waters of our own bodies our children are born. In the womb shaped fonts of our churches, we are baptized into community. This is the water of life.” Touching the water again, she continues. “This, too, is the water of our tears. Our power to weep is an expression of God’s love in and through us. We weep in sorrow for that which we have lost. We weep in anger for the pain of others. We weep in hope of healing and wholeness, and we weep in joy when our hearts are too full to contain our feelings.”

Dipping her fingers in the water, each traces a tear on the cheek of the woman beside her saying, “Remember, sister, tears are the water of life.”

That’s really old by now. Journalists should print out a copy quick for the files before that vanishes as well.

The Anglican blogosphere is all over this, especially the conservative heavy hitters here and here, the digital turf of Dr. Kendall Harmon and the amazing Canadian Anglican Web Elves (don’t ask). And CT continues to fight on, especially with this long and very detailed report.

There is so much to report, from the work of the Episcopal priest named Bill Melnyk, who is the same person as the Druid leader Oakwyse, and his neo-pagan partner Glispa, who is also the Rev. Glyn Ruppe-Melnyk — the woman who helped steer the feminist Eucharistic rite onto the Episcopal website in the first place. And the roots of some of these rites run back to their work with the modern druid clan called Tuatha de Brighid and perhaps, via some raisin cakes (it’s a long story) to the ancient goddess Asherah, the female counterpart to Baal.

Rites that connect to Baal worship are generally frowned on in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Like I said, we will have to see how the mainstream press handles this story, if it does. Watch the unusual interfaith evangelism forums, such as Beliefnet.com and the award-winning religion pages of the Dallas Morning News.

This story is moving rapidly, but keep clicking and hang on.

Let me close with two observations.

The first is that this story is old, old, old in several ways. After all, it has been more than a decade since I witnessed an Episcopal diocesan bishop lead a Eucharist that included this chant:

OBA ye Oba yo Yemanja
Oba ye Oba yo O Yemanja
Oby ye Oba yo O O Ausar
Oba ye Oba yo O Ra Ausar

Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens
Praises to Obatala, ruler of the Heavens
Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life
Praises to Yemenja, ruler of the waters of life
Praises to Ausar, ruler of Amenta, the realm of the ancestors
Praises to Ra and Ausar, rulers of the light and the resurrected soul.

– From the printed worship booklet for “Liturgy and Sermon, Earth Mass — Missa Gaia,” distributed on Oct. 3, 1993, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

And second, it was just a few days ago that the bookish Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright said that the key to the splintering of the Anglican Communion is that there are issues even more important than the redefinition of the Sacrament of Marriage and the blessing of same-sex unions. What happens if Anglican Christians start worshipping other gods? Will they still be Christians? Remember, Wright said:

The critical thing is there are some differences which would divide the church. For instance, if somebody decided to propose that instead of reading the Bible in church, we should read the Bhagavad-Gita or the Qur’an, most Christians would say this is no longer a church and that’s a difference that we simply cannot live with.

I also believe that the Decalogue in the modernized Book of Common Prayer continues to contain these words:

God spake these words, and said: I am the Lord thy God who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. Thou shalt have none other gods but me. Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law.

You can bet the farm on the fact that the worship of other gods, by name, is frowned upon in the growing Anglican churches of Africa and Asia, tense regions in which doctrinal clashes between Christianity and pagan religions are not taken lightly. It may be trendy for hip American clerics to experiment with the worship of ancient gods and goddesses from Africa. But African Christians will not be amused.

If the Episcopalians have decided to drop, edit or re-refine the Decalogue, those of us who cover the Godbeat/godsbeat will really have a story on our hands.

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Getting out the Amish vote

Elecamish_1Pre-Election Day reports about targeted campaigning are enough to make even a political junkie chant, “Make it stop, make it stop, make it stop!”

Religion News Service’s Article of the Week provides a wry glimpse into just how targeted the presidential campaign has become: Republicans hope to motivate Amish families to vote, based on concerns about abortion and homosexuality.

Sociologist Donald Kraybill, who was a frequent and eloquent critic of UPN’s Amish in the City, is no less concerned about the Republican Party’s Amish in the Swing States reality show: “I think the Republicans have been using the words abortion and gay marriage to frighten the Amish.”

Reporter Rich Preheim provides good background on why campaigning among the Amish may not be the best way to show religious sensitivity:

Amish, Hutterites and Mennonites are members of a Christian movement known as Anabaptism, which emerged out of the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 16th centuries. Some conservative groups, known as Old Orders, have largely avoided political involvement, while many members of others, such as Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Brethren, have become voters and office holders.

“Who’s going to vote them in if we Christians don’t?” said Joel Decker, a member of Starland Hutterite Colony in Gibbon, Minn., who plans on voting in his second presidential election next month.

“I’m ultraconservative in the political arena,” he said.

But other Old Order groups seem to be adhering closer to traditional beliefs. Amos Hoover, an Old Order Mennonite member and historian in Pennsylvania, said he has not seen increased interest in voting in his church.

“We discourage voting and try to take no part,” he said. “We try to pray every Sunday for the government.”

That was echoed by Steve Hofstetter, principal of an Indiana school affiliated with the Beachy Amish, a more progressive Amish branch. “We would pray for those who are voting,” he said. “We vote on our knees.”

What a startling moment: A man happily accepts the description of ultraconservative rather than having it foisted upon him by a reporter.

Preheim’s best detail comes from history professor John Roth, editor of The Mennonite Quarterly Review and a history professor at Goshen College:

As a teenager, he campaigned for George McGovern in the 1972 presidential election. But Richard Nixon’s landslide victory left Roth disillusioned and seeking explanation and comfort.

“When I discovered that there were things in my own (religious) tradition that gave language to my disappointment, I employed them,” said Roth, who has never voted. “I need to keep the outcome of any given political process in perspective. The kingdom of God does not hang in the balance of any earthly election.”

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