Sunday, January 30, 2005
You have one day more to join the throngs who have already voted in the first annual UU Blog Awards.
Update 2.1.05: Um, it occurs to me that the polls themselves say you must vote by February 1, not before February 1, so you really have yet another 24 hours. But come midnight on Tuesday, those polls will close.
An important religion story in today's New York Times gets enough space to move well beyond many stereotypes about American Christianity, left and right. John Leland doesn't start with Jim Wallis, but Wallis captures the essence of the story:
In postelection analyses, "values voters" were often equated with evangelical Christians, just as "values" were equated with opposition to abortion and gay marriage. But evangelical churches and seminaries have become increasingly mobilized around poverty both in the United States and abroad.
"The perception of evangelicals is that all they care about is abortion and gay marriage, but it isn't true," he said. "It hasn't been for years."
As evidence, Leland describes an upcoming National Council of Churches summit focused on "world peace and the elimination of global poverty" and a group of evangelicals including David J. Frenchak, president of the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education, who are working on a book that moves the "moral values" focus back to poverty, which is what the Bible emphasizes as a much more fundamental ethical concern than homosexuality or abortion. He also interviews Glen E. Stassen, a professor of Christian ethics at Fuller Theological Seminary:
"A lot of Christians who are worried about abortion see poverty as a pro-life issue, because if you undermine the safety net for poor mothers, you'll increase the abortion rate and infant mortality rate," Dr. Stassen said. "We've seen that happen since welfare reform, just as the Catholic bishops predicted."
Dr. Stassen, who describes himself as "pro-life," added that many evangelicals, including his students, want to change the current moral values rhetoric because they think it drives people from, rather than to, the church. "They're both offended and worried that it will persuade people concerned about justice that they should not be Christians," he said.
("One More 'Moral Value': Fighting Poverty," John Leland, New York Times 1.30.05, reg req'd)
One false note in an otherwise good article: Leland describes the National Council of Churches as "an association of liberal denominations that represents more than 100,000 congregations." The NCC's advocacy efforts may be well-known for their liberalism, but the association is an ecumenical organization made up of Protestant and Orthodox denominations that would be very hard to categorize as "liberal." The United Methodist Church, for example, is the largest denomination in the NCC — and it includes a sizable number of liberal congregations — but to call it a "liberal" denomination would be grossly misleading. Even the United Church of Christ, which plays the role of "most liberal Christian denomination" in the media these days, found in 2001 that members of its churches were "slightly more likely to self-identify as 'conservative' rather than 'liberal'—both theologically and politically." (United Church News, October 2004)
Christians who want to bring poverty to the top of the agenda in the churches will need to find effective ways to speak to other Christians without presuming that political liberalism is the starting point. The students at Fuller are allies in this cause, even if many liberal Christians disagree with them on other theological or political issues.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Universalist history in the news! A column in the Galesburg, Illinois, Register-Mail says that the last architectural remnant of the Universalists' Lombard College may soon be demolished. Lombard was founded in the early 1850s, but the properties were sold to the Galesburg School District in 1930 and the college's Divinity School merged with the Unitarian Meadville Seminary. Hence the name of the contemporary Unitarian-Universalist seminary in Chicago, Meadville Lombard Theological School. The last building from the Universalist college days is the two-story brick gymnasium, built in 1897.
("Old College Disappearing," Tom Wilson, Register-Mail 1.29.05)
Friday, January 28, 2005
A letter to the editor in today's Boston Globe:
While shoveling the steps this morning (again), I finally understood.
Of course. The Red Sox won the World Series, right? This is hell freezing over.
Thursday, January 27, 2005
Come now, people: Vote! Surely there must be more than 18 UU blog readers who have an opinion to share in this year's first-ever UU Blog Awards. You have until Monday before I begin to weep and gnash my teeth at the low turnout.
Meanwhile, have I noted how many fine new UU blogs have emerged in the last month alone? You can't vote for them until next year, but you should certainly start enjoying Peacebang, The ChaliceBlog, The Socinian, Left Coast Unitarian, Progressive Ink!, and The Culture Wars. What riches!
Now: Go vote! You don't even need to vote for me.
I've set up a Kinja digest that collects the latest posts from 35 politically progressive Christian blogs. If you write a Christian blog that discusses American politics and your politics fall somewhere left of center, I'd like to know about you.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
Alberto Gonzales, the man who gave President Bush the quasi-legal cover for the brutal abuse of detainees in the war on terror, is about to become the country's chief law enforcer. Think about that for a moment. Then call your senators and insist that they vote no on Gonzales's confirmation as attorney general.
Mark Danner, who covered Abu Ghraib for the New York Review of Books and is the author of the new book Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, recently wrote:
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Americans began torturing prisoners, and they have never really stopped. However much these words have about them the ring of accusation, they must by now be accepted as fact. From Red Cross reports, Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba's inquiry, James R. Schlesinger's Pentagon-sanctioned commission and other government and independent investigations, we have in our possession hundreds of accounts of "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment — to use a phrase of the Red Cross — "tantamount to torture."
So far as we know, American intelligence officers, determined after Sept. 11 to "take the gloves off," began by torturing Qaeda prisoners. They used a number of techniques: "water-boarding," in which a prisoner is stripped, shackled and submerged in water until he begins to lose consciousness, and other forms of near suffocation; sleep and sensory deprivation; heat and light and dietary manipulation; and "stress positions."
Eventually, these practices "migrated," in the words of the Schlesinger report, to Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, where for a time last spring the marvel of digital technology allowed Americans to see what their soldiers were doing to prisoners in their name.
Though the revelations of Abu Ghraib transfixed Americans for a time, in the matter of torture not much changed. After those in Congress had offered condemnations and a few hearings distinguished by their lack of seriousness; after the administration had commenced the requisite half-dozen investigations, none of them empowered to touch those who devised the policies; and after the low-level soldiers were placed firmly on the road to punishment — after all this, the issue of torture slipped back beneath the surface. . . .
Why is it so important to stop Gonzales's confirmation? Danner explains:
Mr. Gonzales is unfit because the slow river of litigation is certain to bring before the next attorney general a raft of torture cases that challenge the very policies that he personally helped devise and put into practice. He is unfit because, while the attorney general is charged with upholding the law, the documents show that as White House counsel, Mr. Gonzales, in the matter of torture, helped his client to concoct strategies to circumvent it. And he is unfit, finally, because he has rightly become the symbol of the United States' fateful departure from a body of settled international law and human rights practice for which the country claims to stand.
Daily Kos is collecting the names of bloggers who publicly oppose Gonzales's confirmation. I'm adding my name to their statement, which reads in part:
As the prime legal architect for the policy of torture adopted by the Bush Administration, Gonzales's advice led directly to the abandonment of longstanding federal laws, the Geneva Conventions, and the United States Constitution itself. Our country, in following Gonzales's legal opinions, has forsaken its commitment to human rights and the rule of law and shamed itself before the world with our conduct at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The United States, a nation founded on respect for law and human rights, should not have as its Attorney General the architect of the law's undoing.
(Thanks for the nudge, Left Coast Unitarian!)
Update 2.2.05: The Boston Globe reports:
Democrats yesterday delayed a vote on Gonzales's nomination, even though his confirmation is not in serious doubt, and would not allow a vote until tomorrow at the earliest, saying the matter deserved a full debate. Several Democratic senators and aides said at least 30 senators will vote against Gonzales, and one aide said the number could reach 40. The Senate has 44 Democrats, 55 Republicans, and one independent.
Call your senators today.
("Democrats Mobilize Against Gonzales," Rick Klein, Boston Globe 2.2.05)
Fellow Boston-area progressive Christians will want to know that Jim Wallis, the superstar of the Evangelical Left, will be speaking this coming Sunday afternoon at Trinity Church in Copley Square. The church Web site features this announcement:
Beyond Red and Blue: Moral Values and the Mainline Churches
After the divisiveness of the 2004 election, how will the nation come together? And how will churches play a role in reconciliation and healing? Come hear and participate in a discussion between Jim Wallis, author of God's Politics, and Sam Lloyd, with a booksigning by Jim Wallis immediately following in The Shop. Sponsored jointly by Trinity Church and the MIT Episcopal and Lutheran Ministries.
Sunday, January 30, 4:00 pm, in the Church
I can't find a permalink to the event announcement.
Monday, January 24, 2005
Cindy, a Unitarian Universalist director of religious education, says the thought occurred to her:
I almost slept on the floor of my office Saturday night in order to ensure that I’d be at the UU [church] to open Sunday morning. Honestly, I can remember thinking that it was the most logical choice. . . . I somehow felt that my choices were to be shoveled out at 7 am, (impossible due to my recently herniated back,) to try to bust my car through the snow drift that is perpetually at the end of our driveway, (highly unlikely given the plow patterns of our town) or to sleep over in my office.
Not Going To Work didn’t occur to me. . . .
I probably would have done it too, except my partner started singing that old Dolly Parton song, D-i-v-o-r-c-e.
Ah, that'll do it! Meanwhile, the Boston Globe reported this morning that one Episcopal church on Beacon Hill did hold its Sunday-morning service — but only the priest (who lives next door) and one parishioner showed up.
At long last, the voting has begun for Coffee Hour's first annual UU Blog Awards. Voting will continue through February 1, so you have one week to explore the official nominees and cast your vote in each of the nine categories. I realize that these are the Most. Important. Awards. Ever, but our process was imperfect and it's probably true that we have overlooked truly eligible and deserving blogs and entries. (I am truly sorry and most heartily repent.) Happily, comments are open and you may write in candidates or even type epic screeds about the injustice of it all. Next year will be even better. The purpose of these awards, as far as I'm concerned, is to draw attention to great work in 2004 — the year when, as I've said before, UU blogging finally arrived. So, as best as we are able, let's celebrate the good work of the past year and encourage even more in 2005.
Conflict of interest note: Obviously, there's the slightest chance that I, having cooked up this idea in the first place and having appointed myself the Nominating Committee, may have put my own biases and preferences into the awards. But you gotta start somewhere, and so let's consider this a first attempt — and remember, it's for fun! The prize money won't even get you out of my driveway (which is shoveled at last). Next year maybe we'll come up with something that looks like a more scientific system. I won't be voting until mid-week, so you'll never know how I've voted.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Here's something amazing and ambitious: A group of Unitarian Universalist young adults in the Pacific Northwest have pooled their Web skills into a site design and hosting service for their fellow UUs. Here's the amazing part: BUURN.org (yes, it's an acronym: "Building UU Resource Networks") is free to Unitarian Universalist groups and events.
Let's not all flood them with requests all at once — and, depending on your group's needs, budget, and timeline, you really may want to invest cash in developing a Web site rather than depending on a gracious offer of free labor — but still, that's pretty cool.
Thursday, January 20, 2005
I'm sorry, but today's Boston Globe feature story about the travails of being an atheist here in the very heart of the United States of Canada made me laugh out loud — and I was more than willing to give the story some degree of sympathy, being part of a skeptical religious minority myself. First there was this apparently unironic sentence about the monthly atheist Meetups near M.I.T. in Cambridge:
For atheists, the monthly meetings are an island of skepticism in a sea of religious conformity.
Yes, my friends: Cambridge, "sea of religious conformity." If you can't find secular friends in eastern Massachusetts, wow. But then there was this gem of self-awareness in a passage about 29-year-old Scott Gray:
Gray says he thinks the woman he's dating is Catholic, and that it deadens her appeal.
Hmm. He's charming, too! I bet that relationship ends in a hurry. ("God, No!" Jack Thomas, Boston Globe 1.20.05)
Reading Newsweek today about the prominent product tie-in for the new musical "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" reminded me, as so many things do these days, of my automated readers — those single-minded robots that click click click on the comments to tell the world about "texas—hold—em" and sundry stamina enhancers, wasting my time and probably occasionally mystifying you, the real yous who are my living breathing thinking readers. So I have gone to the trouble of changing the comments feature here yet again: You must now preview your comment before posting it.
And in anticipation of "trackback spam," I've eliminated the pop-up trackback window, which I suspect almost no one ever used. If you are looking for the trackback URL, you'll find it just above the comments on each individual entry page.
The First Baptist Church in Jamaica Plain, just up the road from the Unitarian Universalist church I served as worship leader during its minister's sabbatical in 2001, was destroyed by fire Tuesday night. Today's Globe tells two stories about the small but growing urban congregation that occupied the grand old gothic building in the heart of the neighborhood: "Community Aids Church as Ice Saves Historic Book" (Ralph Rinalli, 1.20.05) and "Historic Organ Lost in Jamaica Plain Fire" (Michael Levenson, 1.20.05). Here's the first article about the fire, posted late Tuesday night: "Fire Engulfs Boston Church" (AP 1.18.05). What a nightmare.
Tuesday, January 18, 2005
Most implausible search string to bring readers to Philocrites.
The board of trustees of the Unitarian Universalist Association will meet in Boston this coming weekend, and you'll be pleased to know that its meetings are open to the public. The full agenda is on-line along with dozens of reports, ready for the downloading. (They're PDFs.) The Board will be in town Thursday through Sunday, but if you're interested in the major business before the Board, Saturday would be a good time to spend in the observer's section at 25 Beacon Street in Boston.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Thinking about running for denominational office at the upcoming General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association? The deadline for candidates running by petition is February 1.
I guess all the talk about amending the U.S. Constitution to "protect marriage" was just so much election blather. Who ever would have guessed? The Washington Post says the President won't bother lobbying the Senate to support the amendment.
On the domestic front, Bush said he would not lobby the Senate to pass a constitutional amendment outlawing same-sex marriage.
While seeking reelection, Bush voiced strong support for such a ban, and many political analysts credit this position for inspiring record turnout among evangelical Christians, who are fighting same-sex marriage at every juncture. Groups such as the Family Research Council have made the marriage amendment their top priority for the next four years.
The president said there is no reason to press for the amendment because so many senators are convinced that the Defense of Marriage Act — which says states that outlaw same-sex unions do not have to recognize such marriages conducted outside their borders — is sufficient. "Senators have made it clear that so long as DOMA is deemed constitutional, nothing will happen. I'd take their admonition seriously. . . . Until that changes, nothing will happen in the Senate."
("Bush Says Election Ratified Iraq Policy," Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post 1.16.05, reg req'd)
Sunday, January 16, 2005
If you have wondered why "Eyes on the Prize," the PBS documentary series about the civil rights movement, hasn't appeared on television in a number of years — and wondered why you can't rent or buy a copy for your commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr Day — you may be unhappy to learn that music corporations think their copyrights cover archival footage of historical events. Thom Powers writes in the Globe Ideas section:
Thanks to rights restrictions on archival material used in the documentary, the 14-hour chronicle tracing the civil rights movement from the Montgomery bus boycotts in the 1950s to the rise of black mayors in the 1980s can no longer be released in new editions or shown on television. PBS's right to air the film expired in 1993. Meanwhile, the VHS edition has gone out of print and a DVD release would require relicensing. (Complete sets of used videos are currently going for as much as $1,000 on Amazon.)
The lesson seems to be: If you plan to make history, don't you dare sing "Happy Birthday" or "We Shall Overcome" while the cameras are rolling, or nobody will ever be able to afford to watch later. ("'Eyes on the Prize,' Off the Shelf," Thom Powers, Boston Globe 1.16.05)
Keeping an eye on multicultural ecumenical efforts, I bring you the story of Christ Congregational Church in Neponset, Massachusetts, where a tiny bunch of aging Congregationalists have started sharing their church with a growing congregation of Hispanic Pentecostals. Maria Cramer reports in today's front-page Boston Globe story that cohabitation hasn't been easy for two congregations with very different styles of Christianity:
The Congregationalists are mostly elderly; forming the core are descendants of immigrants from Europe who settled in the area over a century ago, although in recent years new people from Jamaica, Trinidad, and India have joined their group of about 25 worshipers. The Pentecostalists, who call their church Iglesia Oasis de Vida, are much younger. They worship in Spanish, and their services draw on Pentecostal tradition and popular culture from the Dominican, Peruvian, and Puerto Rican homelands of the bulk of their 80 congregants.
Some of the Congregationalists say they are uncomfortable sharing space with the Pentecostalists and with the loud, rambunctious style of worship they have witnessed in joint services. The Congregationalists complain about the clutter they say the Pentecostalists leave at the altar, such as the electric drum set and microphones that Oasis relies on for its exuberant service.
"We don't need all this up there," grumbled Marie Giuliana, 81, one of the Congregationalists, as she indicated an array of microphone stands and amplifiers.
The Pentecostalists are careful to express their gratitude when they talk about their move to Christ Community. But they also say the narrow pews make it hard to dance. The wine-colored carpets are dour, and the stark white walls need more color.
"If they let me . . . I would paint it . . . a color like mango. That would give it more life," said Jeannette Rodriquez, the wife of the Oasis pastor. "And I'd put a waterfall right in the altar."
Now that would be something to see! ("An Uneasy Communion," Maria Cramer, Boston Globe 1.16.05)
The non-stop vigil by parishioners at a Roman Catholic church closed back in August by the Archdiocese of Boston seems to be earning the Archdiocese's grudging respect. Bella English, who must have a good book's worth of material on the parish by now, reported in yesterday's Boston Globe:
The chairmen of a committee reviewing church closings for the Archdiocese of Boston visited the occupied St. Albert the Great parish for the first time this week and expressed admiration for the dedication of the Catholics who are fighting to keep their church open.
The officials — Sister Janet Eisner and Peter Meade — would not say whether they will recommend to Archbishop Sean O'Malley that he reverse the decision to shutter the parish, which has become a symbol of resistance in the ongoing controversy. Parishioners called it a productive meeting and said they gave Eisner and Meade "new information" they hope will persuade them to reopen the church. . . .
Before meeting privately with five parishioners for 2 hours Thursday night in the church rectory, Eisner and Meade were given a tour of the church property. In the sanctuary, they saw 300 parishioners who had shown up for the nightly lay-led prayer service. Parishioners have occupied the church around the clock since Aug. 29, and seven other parishes in the archdiocese have followed St. Albert into 24-hour vigils.
Eisner, president of Emmanuel College, said she was "amazed" and "very impressed" by what she saw at St. Albert. "Just talking with the people themselves, the level of commitment they have to the Church, to the mission of the Church. . . . They seemed very genuine, very deeply committed people," she said. "I was really quite impressed with what has happened there."
As an officially closed parish without a priest, St Albert the Great is probably more vibrant than many active churches in quite a few denominations, with or without an ordained minister. St Albert's has become an example of superbly empowered laypeople. How far-reaching will its legacy be? If the archdiocese decides to reverse course and allows St Albert the Great to reopen — as it seems it should — will that decision embolden other laypeople to take charge of more of the ministry of their parishes? One can only hope so. The story of St Albert's has struck the Philocrites household as one of the more inspiring religion stories of the past year.
("Dedication of Embattled Parishioners Noted," Bella English, Boston Globe 1.16.05)
Saturday, January 15, 2005
Looking for hymns suitable to your celebration of the inauguration on Thursday? I'm pleased to see that Badtux the Snarky Penguin has rescued two hymns by "Rev. Otho Bludge" from the comments at Fafblog! "I Love Thy Empire, Bush my Lord" is a common-meter hymn (126.96.36.199.), so you'll have no trouble finding a tune. ("Amazing Grace," for instance, works quite well.) "Coronation Hymn for Our Blessed Sovereign" is in long meter (188.8.131.52.); "Duke Street" or "Winchester New" are great choices for amplifying the buoyant bitterness of the lyrics, and could serve as a processional. Oh, the sermon at Fafblog! is good, too: "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry President."
More on the Bush Administration's blatant propaganda starring the disgraced — but not nearly disgraced enough — columnist and TV talking-head, Armstrong Williams, who was given $240,000 of taxpayer money to promote Department of Education policies:
But perhaps the most fascinating Williams TV appearance took place in December 2003, the same month that he was first contracted by the government to receive his payoffs. At a time when no one in television news could get an interview with Dick Cheney, Mr. Williams, of all "journalists," was rewarded with an extended sit-down with the vice president for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, a nationwide owner of local stations affiliated with all the major networks. In that chat, Mr. Cheney criticized the press for its coverage of Halliburton and denounced "cheap shot journalism" in which "the press portray themselves as objective observers of the passing scene, when they obviously are not objective."
This is a scenario out of "The Manchurian Candidate." Here we find Mr. Cheney criticizing the press for a sin his own government was at that same moment signing up Mr. Williams to commit. The interview is broadcast by the same company that would later order its ABC affiliates to ban Ted Koppel's "Nightline" recitation of American casualties in Iraq and then propose showing an anti-Kerry documentary, "Stolen Honor," under the rubric of "news" in prime time just before Election Day. (After fierce criticism, Sinclair retreated from that plan.) Thus the Williams interview with the vice president, implicitly presented as an example of the kind of "objective" news Mr. Cheney endorses, was in reality a completely subjective, bought-and-paid-for fake news event for a broadcast company that barely bothers to fake objectivity and both of whose chief executives were major contributors to the Bush-Cheney campaign. The Soviets couldn't have constructed a more ingenious or insidious plot to bamboozle the citizenry.
("All the President's Newsmen," Frank Rich, New York Times 1.16.05, reg req'd)
Friday, January 14, 2005
Happy birthday, Peacebang, who writes about turning 39 today:
[A] century ago, I would have been dead in childbed by now. Or from the influenza or stepping on a rusty nail. Or from drowning, as Margaret Fuller did in her late 30's in full sight of shrieking observers on shore, her skirts billowing around her as she went down in a shipwreck off Fire Island. Her dear friend Henry Thoreau died in his early 40's of an ailment that a round of antibiotics would have taken care of in a jiffy, if he'd had access to them. Our lives today are so much longer. Are they good-er? (I don't mean better, which is an entirely individualistic measure of quality. I mean more good. Interpret as you will).
On that note, friends, have a good weekend. Peacebang: You are the wickedest new blog in the Interdependent Web.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
I haven't finished making my own nominations for the Unitarian Universalist Blog Awards, but the deadline for nominations is tomorrow. (The pressure!) We've had some good nominations so far, but if we're going to have anything like a full slate of candidates for the various awards, we must pick one of the following approaches: (A) Let Philo the Impartial pick all the remaining candidates — kind of the Nominating Committee approach; or, (B) Let the people speak. I choose B. Speak, people, speak!
Questions my two years of blogging have not answered: Is anyone familiar with the parallel universe of LiveJournal users? Do they think of themselves as "bloggers"? There are dozens if not millions of Unitarian Universalist LiveJournalers — okay, there are 465 — and yet, to the best of my knowledge, we've been thoroughly unable to engage them in the nominations process or to draw them out of their friendship circles or what have you. I know a few of them pick up Philocrites using syndication, so let me appeal to those readers directly: If there are LiveJournals by UUs that deserve broader Unitarian Universalist attention, please nominate them.
Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Amy Johnson Frykholm's Christian Century essay on Eastern Orthodox Christianity in the United States is rich and fascinating, but I can't help but extract a parable from one portion of her article:
In central Colorado, far from the traditional centers of Orthodoxy in Constantinople, Moscow and Mount Athos, is a small monastery where five monks live together on the sagebrush foothills of the Buffalo Range. Their abbot, Archbishop Gregory, is a renowned iconographer and something of a renegade. The denomination to which he belongs, the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church (ROAC), is not in communion with most other Orthodox, who it claims have strayed from the true faith via the evils of “ecumenism.” Archbishop Gregory has joined and left several different groups on the fringes of Orthodoxy, and the Colorado monastery itself has changed hands more than once.
Brother John is a young monk who joined the monastery during his years at Trinity University in San Antonio. A former Presbyterian, Brother John recounted to me his early dismay at the liberalism he saw in the Presbyterian Church. He felt that the church was in “open denial of Christ and the apostles” and not adhering to biblical principles, and had been corrupted through accommodation to the world. At the end of his first year of college, he was seeking to be baptized into the Orthodox Church. Not only had he found the Bible-adhering church he sought, but he was also convinced that it was the one holy church founded by Christ and the apostles.
Most Orthodox churches do not rebaptize converts from other Christian denominations since the Orthodox teach that baptism is a one-time-only sacrament. Those who have been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit need only to be chrismated—anointed—to be received fully into the church. But Brother John felt that his baptism as a Presbyterian was not truly a baptism. His local priest in the Orthodox Church of America (OCA) refused to baptize him, and he grew frustrated. Much in the OCA seemed impure and wayward to him, and he began to look into groups farther from the Orthodox mainstream. His search for greater purity ended in an encounter with then Archimandrite Gregory in the Russian Orthodox Autonomous Church. The leaders of the ROAC consider the Russian Orthodox Church to be apostate and have broken communion with all those whom they consider “ecumenical.”
Brother John gave me a tour of the monastery grounds, including the recently built Byzantine-style church, which looked at home on the rocky hills. The walls of the church were covered with the strikingly clear and sparse iconography of Archbishop Gregory. Later, as Brother John walked me to my car, he said quietly, “American Christians need to understand that they are not where they need to be. God wants them in the Orthodox Church. All of the other churches and religions are not being fully faithful to Christ.”
Although he was adamantly countercultural in his approach, something of Brother John’s version of Orthodoxy struck me as distinctly American. In a search for the utmost purity, he had to link up with the smallest possible unit of religious organization he could find. Like many Americans of other denominations and generations, he had to become an outsider in order to assure himself that his faith was genuine.
"The smallest possible unit of religious organization he could find": Now there's a temptation that afflicts religious liberals, too.
("Smells and Bells," Amy Johnson Frykholm, Christian Century 12.28.04)
Monday, January 10, 2005
Also in the Globe this morning: an article about a Polish Roman Catholic parish in St. Louis that overwhelmingly rejected the archbishop's demand that the congregation revise its bylaws to allow him to exercise more control over the parish and its assets. Alan Scher Zagier reports that Archbishop Raymond L. Burke "has ordered the transfer of $9.5 million in church assets to the archdiocese to comply with canon law." The parish, however, has owned its properties outright for more than 100 years — and decided to tighten control over its assets instead:
St. Stanislaus members have controlled the church, which was founded by Polish and Irish immigrants in what was once a bustling ethnic enclave near downtown St. Louis, since 1891, the year Archbishop Peter Richard Kendrick deeded the property to a civil corporation made up of parishioners.
But lay leaders have tightened control of the church through a series of amendments to its bylaws, recently taking away the authority of the archdiocese-supported pastor to spend church money.
("Mo. Parish Rejects Church Takeover," Alan Scher Zagier, Boston Globe 1.10.05)
The battle between the parish and the archbishop isn't new — the Globe has reported several times before on the dispute, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has run numerous stories. In a December 26 Globe story, Zagier reported that the archbishop had written to the parish last March: "It is simply not right that a parish that calls itself Catholic and be so recognized by a Church authority, and at the same time, be under the exclusive direction of a civil corporation." That bit of canon law notwithstanding, the parishioners' fears about the archbishop's motives don't seem all that hard to understand:
Burke addressed the St. Stanislaus faithful at a special meeting in March soon after he announced his plans. Rather than soothe the crowd of several hundred parishioners, his appearance roiled them: The archbishop was heckled, jeered, and booed.
"They want all of our property. They want all of our money," said board member Roger Krasnicki, echoing a suggestion by some St. Stanislaus members that the archdiocese needs the money to help pay off legal settlements in clergy sex abuse claims. "It's a take-it-or-leave-it deal with them."
("In St. Louis, a Battle Over Polish Congregation's Future," Alan Scher Zagier, Boston Globe 12.26.04)
Although I'm disposed to find congregational polity and the strong empowerment of the laity great ways to check clerical authoritarianism — which is probably the major reason I'm a Unitarian — I'm also aware that other forms of church polity offer important checks against parochialism. I have no way of knowing which trend needs to be checked in this case, although my sympathies go to the parish.
What caught my attention about this story, however, wasn't a desire to toot congregationalism's horn. What startled me was that I had thought the vestiges of 19th-century American Catholic congregationalism — when laypeople exercised much more control over their parishes — had largely disappeared. I had assumed that lay-empowerment groups like Voice of the Faithful represent a partial resurgence of a kind of Catholic congregationalism, and that the Massachusetts parishes that have decided to occupy their churches around the clock after being closed by the Archdiocese represent an ad hoc congregationalism. But it had simply never occurred to me that there might be parishes in the Roman Catholic church in the U.S. that had such a long tradition of autonomy. That's fascinating.
Front page of this morning's Boston Globe:
On a spring day, Susan Lawrence was flipping through a magazine, Home School Digest, when she came across an advertisement that took her breath away. In it, "The Rod," a $5 flexible whipping stick, was described as the "ideal tool for child training."
"Spoons are for cooking, belts are for holding up pants, hands are for loving, and rods are for chastening," read the advertisement she saw nearly two years ago for the 22-inch nylon rod. It also cited a biblical passage, which instructs parents not to spare the ''rod of correction."
The ad shocked Lawrence, a Lutheran who home-schools her children and opposes corporal punishment. She began a national campaign to stop what she sees as the misuse of the Bible as a justification for striking children. She also asked the federal government to deem The Rod hazardous to children, and ban the sale of all products designed for spanking. Lawrence says striking children violates the Golden Rule from the Gospel of Matthew in the New Testament: "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you."
("Sale of Spanking Tool Points Up Larger Issue," Patricia Wen, Boston Globe 1.10.05)
Please remember that you have until Friday night to post your nominations for the first annual Unitarian Universalist Blog Awards recognizing great work on blogs, online journals, and community forums.
Saturday, January 8, 2005
Yesterday morning, listening to "highlights" of the confirmation hearings for Alberto Gonzales on NPR, I felt almost dizzy with disgust at his evasion of the most fundamental question: Does the president have the authority to operate above the law? Torture is so academic for this man. It's a subject about which he maintains such dispassion, such profound agnosticism. We'd never do it, you see, so who cares that I asked for justifications for redefining it and said that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to us, and anyway, let's not talk about Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, we've changed our policy, so let's just draw a curtain of discretion over the last two years, shall we? After all, at least I didn't employ a "nanny" or anything unethical like that.
Chris Suellentrop at Slate sums up Gonzales's apparent attitude:
Early in the day, Gonzales professed the requisite faith that America was "a nation of laws and not of men," but his opinion of the president's ability—however limited—to authorize individuals to engage in criminal acts suggests the opposite. This is a government of good men, Gonzales implicitly assured the senators, so there's no need to worry about legal hypotheticals like whether torture is always verboten. Don't worry, because we don't do it. It's a strange argument from a conservative: We're the government. Trust us.
Ah, but these are strange times: The executive branch is paying good money to insure our trust in its policies. A day after Gonzales led the Senate through a labyrinth of legal obscurities, we learned that the Department of Education paid conservative "journalist" Armstrong Williams $241,000 to promote the No Child Left Behind Act on his own program, in his syndicated column, and in his appearances as a commentator on CNN and other networks. Not only that, it turns out that the Office of Drug Control Policy provided local TV stations with a "news report" to broadcast just before the Super Bowl featuring a "journalist" reporting on a White House ad campaign on the dangers of drug abuse. Congress's Government Accountability Office called the practice illegal "covert propaganda," according to yesterday's Washington Post.
Your tax dollars at work, my friends.
Wednesday, January 5, 2005
I praised Peter Dula's Commonweal essay about conservative Catholics' support for the invasion of Iraq last month. Dula has now written a gripping and disturbing article for the Christian Century about life in Iraq, where he spent most of the last year on behalf of the Mennonite Central Committee. I read Dula's article this evening on the subway, and it amplified the unease I felt last night reading Chris Hedges' review of several new war memoirs while waiting for a friend at the airport. Dula's essay is brief, but you'll probably want to print out a copy of Hedges' article.
At last nominations have opened for the first annual UU Blog Awards. From now through January 14, you can nominate your favorite blogs and bloggers in a variety of categories. I think of the whole process as a way of celebrating the emergence of some great on-line voices — some focused on Unitarian Universalist life, others focused on other aspects of life — and, hopefully, on the emergence of a community of UU bloggers. (I'm going to wait a few days before nominating some of the blogs and posts I admire because I think it might look a little silly for me to invite nominations and then accept my own invitation right away.)
More critical theology from the Boston Globe op-ed page — this time from columnist Scott Lehigh. He focuses on Voltaire's response to the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that devastated Lisbon, Portugal, on All Saints Day, 1755, killing between 15,000 and 60,000 people. (Many of the people who died were crushed while worshiping in the 30 churches that were destroyed by the quake, a circumstance that provoked all sorts of religious interpretations.) Lehigh writes that Voltaire's disgust at theodicies in the aftermath of the quake has grown commonplace today — to the good of religion as well as science:
We now know that the shifting of tectonic plates causes earthquakes — and the notion that God uses natural disasters to punish sinners seems hopelessly antique to most of us. To profess that sort of belief is to betray oneself as a captive to a fundamentalist mind-set that has elevated faith above reason in apprehending natural phenomena.
Yet because we don't see God's hand at work in natural disasters, neither do tragedies that shock the mind strike us as a compelling argument against God's existence.
Now, one can argue that that's because the faith-eroding questions that would be raised are simply too disquieting to confront. Or that we don't have our own Voltaire to frame them for us.
Yet the larger reason is surely this: Science has so succeeded in separating the physical from the spiritual world that if we don't see the tsunami as God's wrath, neither do we realistically consider that divine intervention might have stayed the massive wave that claimed so many lives. Indeed, even as we pray for the afflicted, we neither fault God for the misery nor expect that he might have forestalled it.
Thus have faith and science come to exist in their own realms, a construct that largely sidesteps the great debate that followed the earthquake of Lisbon. By separating faith from the natural processes of the world, we have also removed it from the path of calamity. And made it possible to maintain our belief in the face of such a mystifying tragedy.
("Faith Meets Science," Scott Lehigh, Boston Globe 1.5.05)
I was starting to think I ought to track down one of the smartest Unitarian Universalists I know and convince him to set up a blog. Wouldn't you know? He has! At Daily Kos, the 600-pound gorilla of liberal blogs, no less. Friends, please stop by Doug Muder's diary, where he goes by the sublime name of Pericles. He's focused on reforming political liberalism — see this excellent bit of post-election reframing, for example — but I've come to admire his commentaries on religion in several Unitarian Universalist e-mail lists over the years, too. I'm delighted!
Tuesday, January 4, 2005
James Carroll turns to the biblical book of Job for his reflection on the tsunami:
Job is unforgotten not because of what he suffered but because of his refusal to respond with curses and quitting. He rejects the possibility that the human condition amounts to mere bedlam, nothing more. He condemns the injustice of every further twist of his fate, and therefore justice itself becomes his defining affirmation. His nobility lies in the simple act of insisting, in the face of unearned suffering, that things were not meant to be like this. A moral order emerges from his stand against otherwise victorious disorder, and what sets Job apart is the discovery, then, that moral order is what counts.
Across South Asia today, Job lives in the survivors of the tsunami. They protest against the supreme indifference of nature by caring more than ever. They care for the living, and they care for the dead. Grief becomes a way, literally, of life. Legions of the empathetic, meanwhile, attempt to rescue, heal, console, and rebuild. No curses. No quitting. Just clean water, sanitation, burying the remains, naming the disappeared. Dispersed members of the human family, on hearing of this disaster, experience it as happening to them.
("The Road Back," James Carroll, Boston Globe 1.4.05)
Monday, January 3, 2005
Update 1.6.05: I've added a clarification to my comments at the end of this post.
Unitarian Universalism watchers may have received an e-mail from the denomination's Youth Office on December 15 announcing the end of support for "Con Con," the annual continental conference of YRUU, the denomination's youth movement. (I'm going to do my best to get through this post with a minimum of acronyms and euphemisms, but we are talking here about the most acronym-happy organization in all of disorganized religion.) Earlier this year I had suggested that "Con Con: The Movie" could be the Unitarian Universalist companion to the parody of Evangelical adolescence in "Saved," but it looks like my proposed film missed its moment. Con Con is no more, and you'll have to forgive me if I don't shed a tear. Don't worry, though: The opportunities for parody have not disappeared entirely.
Sunday, January 2, 2005
Two new resources for Unitarian Universalists and other liberals thinking about marriage:
"Time To Commit": William J. Doherty, who heads the University of Minnesota's marriage and family therapy program, writes in the current issue of UU World:
I am at once proud of and bemused by our current denominational work on behalf of same-sex marriage. Given our collective silence on the value of marriage until recently, I wonder sometimes if we believe in marriage or just in the right to get married. Does it matter to us what happens to newlyweds of any gender after someone signs their license? With marriage now so prominently on our agenda, I hope we can ask ourselves why marriage matters in the first place and whether we want to help UU married couples achieve the audacious goal of a loving, lifelong union in the bosom of a community of faith and practice.
Doherty offers a critique of a broadly "liberal" acquiescence to what he calls "consumer marriage" — the notion captured by a UU minister in the 1970s with the vow "as long as we both shall love" — and offers a few starting points for a revived Unitarian Universalist theology of marriage.
"The Future of Marriage": In the November/December cover story of Harvard Magazine, Harbour Fraser Hodder examines marriage in contemporary America by interviewing a half-dozen Harvard scholars. One of them, Nancy Cott — author of Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation — observes:
"It's ironic and interesting that same-sex marriage advocates and conservatives of the 'family-values' school . . . have both contributed to a re-evaluation of marriage in the last 20 to 25 years." In the 1970s, marriage was at its lowest ebb in public approbation, she adds, "but by the late '90s there's a resurgence of appreciation of marriage, seen in the leveling off of the divorce rate." Although the claims for the value of marriage by conservatives and gay-rights proponents "were from two ends of the spectrum, they came together — at least at the rhetorical level — for what marriage . . . accomplishes and how crucial it is as a social institution."
Other scholars profiled in the excellent Harvard article include Peter Gomes, Claudia Goldin, Martin Whyte, Elizabeth Bartholet, Janet Halley, and Dudley Rose.
For a few other Philocrites recommendations for marriage-minded liberals, see this entry from last summer.
Saturday, January 1, 2005
Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who visited Philocrites in 2004. (That would be all 56,643 of you, according to my traffic monitor's tally of "unique visitors.") Your visits have delighted and perplexed me — "What are all these people doing here?," I occasionally find myself asking — and I hope you have found something worth the time you've given me. Your comments and e-mails especially have made Year Two of my blogging era enjoyable and illuminating. I hope you keep coming back.
Thanks also for new links in December from Desert Island Boy (a Bahraini-American's "Odyssey of Intellectual Discourse around the Globe"), First Congregational Church of Bakersfield, Calif., Infospigot: The Chronicles (Dan Brekke "celebrating a half century of excellence"), Politics and Culture, Something Beautiful (by a poetry fan), and Swerve Left ("Derisive diatribes," etc.).
I haven't had time to think up a new poll for December's installment of "Meet the Philocritics," but if there's something you'd like to know about your fellow readers, I'm sure I'd be interested, too. So feel free to leave a question you'd like me to ask and I'll use your suggestions in upcoming polls. (Previous installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, and Part 6.)