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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Taking in a hurricane.

Reading the newspaper this morning, and more thoroughly again at lunch, and then reading online news accounts throughout the day brought me a sense of increasing astonishment at Hurricane Katrina's scale. Abandoning a city of half a million people is mind-boggling in itself; the mayor's comment that thousands may have died in the flooding is horrible to ponder.

Unitarian Universalists will want to take a look at's first round of news coverage, which went up tonight. The Community Church in New Orleans is in the submerged West End, where the 17th Street Canal levee failed and water from Lake Pontchartrain rushed into the city; the church building may have been destroyed. Members of the Baton Rouge church — and, it appears, from other churches in the district — are taking in refugees from the three New Orleans-area churches. The Southwestern UU Conference has put up a Web page to help connect willing hosts with displaced families.

Meanwhile, the UUA has launched a fundraising effort to help the congregations and individual UUs in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama recover from the damage; please give generously to the Gulf Coast Relief Fund.

I find it impossible to imagine what so many residents of the Gulf Coast are going through. What a disaster.

("Three New Orleans Congregations Devastated; UUs Open Homes to Refugees," Donald E. Skinner, 8.31.05)

Update 9.2.05: The second story is up: "First Church Minister Will Hold 'Virtual Service' for Scattered Congregation" (Donald E. Skinner 9.2.05)

Posted by Philocrites, August 31, 2005, at 11:11 PM | 2 comments

James Ford, UU minister and Zen master.

Here are two articles about the Rev. James Ford, the Unitarian Universalist minister who has just been designated a Zen master:

  • "Minister and Zen Master," Daniel E. Black, Newton Tab 8.31.05

  • "Unitarian Universalist Minister Named Zen Master," Jane Greer, 8.28.05.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 31, 2005, at 06:37 PM | 1 comments

  • Red Sox theology watch returns!

    It's been a long time since the last episode of the Red Sox Theology Watch here at Philocrites. But today's Boston Globe delivers the real deal — on the front page, no less: a profile of the evangelical Christianity embraced by more players on the Red Sox than on any other team in Major League Baseball. Bob Hohler describes the influence of Baseball Chapel — "a ministry that provides all 30 major league teams with a chaplain" — and the Rev. Walt Day, the chaplain who meets with a dozen Red Sox players regularly for prayer, Bible study, and discussion. What's it all about?

    Win or lose, Schilling and his fellow evangelicals said, the message remains the same.

    "This is our platform, our place to speak our faith and live our faith," Timlin said. "This is a special gift from God, to play baseball, and if we can spread God's word by doing that, then we've almost fulfilled our calling."

    Noteworthy: The team's new owners have been much more accommodating to Baseball Chapel and Rev. Day. Non-evangelical players, like Gabe Kapler (who's Jewish), say the evangelicals are a harmonious bunch who respect different beliefs. Several people attribute the team's strong esprit de'corps to the "spiritual unity" of the players — and it keeps them on straight and narrow:

    Olerud said the Christian players serve as a support system, particularly on the road, where the seeds of many marital problems are planted.

    "There are a lot of temptations on the road," Olerud said. "Having a group of guys who share a similar mind-set helps you get through the season."

    Also worth noting: the players who participate regularly in Baseball Chapel are all white guys — Nixon, Timlin, Wakefield, Varitek, Schilling, Mirabelli, Mueller, Clement, Olerud, Myers, Graffanino, and Bradford — although Hohler writes that "a number of the team's Latin American players also have attended chapel."

    Now if we could just get Curt Schilling a copy of the letter 800 students and faculty at Calvin College wrote to President Bush when he visited their Christian college . . .

    ("Faith Binds Many on Sox: Evangelical Christians Give Sport a Spiritual Context," Bob Hohler, Boston Globe 8.31.05, reg req'd; "Bush Visit to Calvin College Exposes Divisions," Collin Hansen, Christianity Today 5.20.05; previous installments of the Red Sox Theology Watch)

    Posted by Philocrites, August 31, 2005, at 08:05 AM | 4 comments

    Monday, August 29, 2005

    Friends of Philocrites on the air.

    I was listening to NPR's "On Point" this evening — the conversation featured Gary Hart and David Ignatius on the Democrats and Iraq — when who should call in but friend-of-Philo Hank! Which reminds me that I also caught part of a recent rebroadcast of Christopher Lydon's June 1 "Open Source" about that online religion [mp3 available], during which Lydon read an email comment from another friend-of-Philo, MyIrony's very own Chutney. Go team!

    I'm scratching my head trying to remember whether I've ever called in to a talk radio program. Comin' up blank. How about you? Are you a regular or semiregular or wholly irregular radio commentator?

    Posted by Philocrites, August 29, 2005, at 08:33 PM | 4 comments

    Sunday, August 28, 2005

    'Red-baiting in ecclesiastical garb.'

    Michael Kranish pulls back the curtain from a particularly nasty conservative Catholic organization in his Boston Globe examination of the Cardinal Newman Society. The group — which shouldn't be confused with the Cardinal Newman Center campus ministry programs but which undoubtedly gains some prestige in being confused with them — spends its time chasing after "heretics" on the faculty of Catholic Church-affiliated colleges. Earlier this month, the Society demanded the firing of three Boston College professors for helping "pave the way for the killing of Terry Schiavo."

    Turns out the group falsely claims to have Archbishop Sean O'Malley as an "ecclesiastical advisor" and falsely claims its tax-exemption as a religious organization under the auspices of the diocese of Arlington, Virginia, and the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. (Oops, says the Society's founder and president.)

    The group has close ties to right-wing political organizations, naturally, with L. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and Conservative Victory Fund on the board, along with Connaught Marshner, formerly of Paul Weyrich's Free Congress Foundation.

    The group appears to believe that the Church can't properly locate or identify heretics on its own, and so has set itself up as a free-range Inquisition. And Catholic colleges have decided it's time to fight back.

    "It is red-baiting in ecclesiastical garb," said the Rev. John Beal, canon law professor at Catholic University of America. In his view, Beal said, none of the professors on the society's target list fit the definition of heretic.

    After Boston College last week dismissed what it called the society's ''unfounded accusations," Charles L. Currie, president of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, followed suit. The society's "attacks can no longer go unchallenged," he said. Their most recent activities "follow a long trail of distorted, inaccurate, and often untrue attacks on scholars addressing complex issues."

    Michael James, vice president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said the society is "destructive and antithetical to a spirit of unity in our commitment to serve society and the church." Boston College is a member of both associations.

    The Rev. James Keenan, a Jesuit at Boston College who was also targeted by the Newman Society, gets the last word in the Globe story:

    "There is something terribly indicative here of the degree of contentiousness in the United States Roman Catholic Church today," Keenan said about the Cardinal Newman Society. "Hopefully, someday our bishops will call us to end this awful conduct, which hurts not only those of us targeted, but more importantly, the unity of the church itself."

    "Group's Church Role Questioned: Organization's Tactics Generate Disputes, Cash," Michael Kranish, Boston Globe 8.26.05, reg req'd; "Catholic Group Rips 3 at BC for Stance on Schiavo," Ralph Ranalli and Michael Kranish, Boston Globe 8.17.05, reg req'd)

    Posted by Philocrites, August 28, 2005, at 08:44 AM | 0 comments

    About my amazing powers.

    I busted out laughing at the end of the Book Review's "Nonfiction Chronicle" when I came upon this passage from Marion Roach's The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair:

    "That redheads are untrustworthy, fiery, unstable, hot-tempered, highly sexed, rare creatures is what passes for common knowledge today," writes Roach, a redhead herself. "While we no longer burn them at the stake, we still carry potent, inflammatory beliefs about their power."

    It's a shame that Roach no longer carries inflammatory beliefs about herself. I, on the other hand, continue to believe that my hair is not red at all, but orange.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 28, 2005, at 08:14 AM | 1 comments

    Thursday, August 25, 2005

    And just how busy is Philocrites?

    Why, I'm so busy I don't even have time to comment on the recent resurgence of James Luther Adams blog posts! But Clyde Grubbs and Scott Wells are discussing one of his more famous phrases — the "prophethood of all believers."

    Posted by Philocrites, August 25, 2005, at 07:46 AM | 0 comments

    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    How blue are the communities with UU churches?

    Ask and you shall receive! Andy McIntire has combined the 2004 county-by-county U.S. presidential results with the zip codes of the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association to produce a map showing how blue the communities with UU congregations really are. The map itself in a 900K+ pdf, but it's well worth examining. I wonder what it shows.

    If such a map could integrate yet another level of detail, what would you want to know? I imagine incorporating the number of reported members of each congregation — to show UU density by county. (Are we bigger in true-blue counties? Or perhaps we grow faster in reddish purple counties?) We could look at rates of membership growth, too, although I'm not sure what that would really illustrate. Other socioeconomic indicators would be interesting: Average home price by county, average income by county, number of college students per county. What would you love to see on such a map? And where does it suggest new opportunities?

    (I also have this dream of someday having an academy of UU infographics people. If you want to nominate yourself to join Andy in its illustrious ranks, let me know. And way to go, Andy!)

    Posted by Philocrites, August 23, 2005, at 10:07 PM | 5 comments

    Why even liberals try not to hire prophets.

    Clyde Grubbs is thinking about why religious liberals, who proclaim the "prophethood of all believers," don't typically call prophets to be parish ministers. Instead, he writes, "it is among the unchosen laity that we witness prophecy in our midst" — in the awkward, impolitic people who ask the right sharp question at what feels to so many of us like the inopportune time. (Obviously, he too is thinking about Cindy Sheehan.)

    Posted by Philocrites, August 23, 2005, at 09:54 PM | 0 comments

    Monday, August 22, 2005

    Watching Brother Roger's funeral on the Web.

    Brother Roger of Taize, taize.frTomorrow's funeral for Taize founder Brother Roger will be broadcast on the Internet via radio and video broadcast from several European stations. Details are available here. The funeral takes place at 12:00 GMT, which is 8:00 a.m. here on the east coast. The audio broadcast will also be available to listen to over the Internet after the service.

    See also Taize's obituary for Brother Roger, which includes a list of his books as well as a useful history of the community.

    Updates 8.23.05: The BBC's first article about the funeral says 10,000 people attended Brother Roger's funeral ("Solemn Funeral for Taize Founder," 8.23.05). More funeral coverage: "10,000 at Funeral in France of Slain Taize Leader" (AFP, 8.23.05, reg req'd); "Resurrection Eucharist for Brother Roger of Taize" (J.M. Rosenthal, Anglican Communion New Service 8.23.05).

    And here's a wonderfully evocative story about a Concord, N.H., church youth group that had gone to Taize three years ago — "It put religion into the church youth group," says one teen, only somewhat tongue-in-cheek — and who mourned his death this week in their monthly Taize-style worship service. Of all the newspaper stories about Taize I've read in the past week, it does the best job of describing simply what the experience of being at Taize is like. My hat goes off to the reporter. ("For Youth Group, Brother Roger, 90, Inspired," Anne Ruderman, Concord Monitor 8.22.05)

    Updates 8.24.05: The New York Times highlights a piece of Brother Roger's story that deserves much more reflection:

    Brother Roger Schutz pursued many ecumenical dreams in his long life, but in death one of them came true: At a Eucharistic service celebrated Tuesday by a Roman Catholic cardinal for Brother Roger, a Swiss Protestant, communion wafers were given to the faithful indiscriminately, regardless of denomination. . . .

    Petra Simmert, a schoolteacher from southern Germany, came with her husband and two children. She is Protestant, he Catholic; one child is Catholic, the other Protestant. "We're an ecumenical family," she said, with a laugh. Watching the funeral of Pope John Paul II on television, they saw Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, give communion to Brother Roger, even though he was not Catholic. "That struck us," she said.

    ("At His Funeral, Brother Roger Has an Ecumenical Dream Fulfilled," John Tagliabue, New York Times 8.24.05, reg req'd)

    It struck me, too.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 22, 2005, at 10:47 PM | 0 comments

    Sunday, August 21, 2005

    One reason I'm proud to be Unitarian Universalist.

    Here's a great story about what sounds like a fine Episcopal church in Virginia, a gay couple who are active members there, and the Unitarian Universalist congregation that will bless their union because the Episcopal Church cannot yet do so: "Couple Will Wed, but Not at Their Church: Woodbridge Men To Exchange Vows Despite Episcopal Ban" (Aymar Jean, Washington Post 8.21.05, reg req'd).

    Posted by Philocrites, August 21, 2005, at 11:37 PM | 3 comments

    A prophet confronts a king.

    Doug Muder writes:

    Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's vacation home is being interpreted in many divergent ways, but I'm coming to favor this one: A prophet is confronting a king.

    You simply must read the rest.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 21, 2005, at 11:18 PM | 0 comments

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Brother Roger, founder of Taize, killed in worship.

    It's with profound shock that I report that Brother Roger — founder and abbot of Taize, the ecumenical monastery known throughout the Christian world for its sung prayers and for its ministry to young people — was stabbed to death during Tuesday night's prayer service in the Taize Community's Church of Reconciliation. According to Agence France Presse, a 36-year-old Romanian woman stabbed the 90-year-old spiritual leader of Taize three times in the back. The Australian Associated Press reports that he died immediately. The young woman is in police custody.

    ("Meurtre de Frère Roger à Taizé : une femme en garde à vue," AFP, 8.16.05; "Taize's Founder Stabbed to Death" (AAP, National Nine News 8.17.05. Update 11.16.05: Both links have now expired; see more complete coverage linked below.)

    I can only imagine the confusion and grief at Taize right now, where more than 4,000 people had gathered from all over the globe when Mrs Philocrites and I were there two weeks ago. We each received a blessing from Br Roger during one of the evening worship services: At the conclusion of the service, he sat in a chair near the monks' door and put a trembling, gentle hand on the head of each person who knelt before him. In retrospect, I see that tangible contact between a famous and revered person and the thousands of pilgrims who came to his community as a sign of willing vulnerability — he was a person of peace who refused to wall himself off from others. Even though someone took terrible advantage of this vulnerability, it was nevertheless a blessing to thousands of people who experienced it as a tangible grace during the six decades of his ministry at Taize.

    My prayers are with everyone at Taize now and with everyone — especially the young people — for whom Taize has been a transformative experience, for whom this news can only be even more distressing than it is for me.

    Updates 8.17.05: "Taize founder dies after stabbing" (BBC 8.17.05); "Frère Roger a été tué lors d'une agression à Taizé" (Le Monde 8.17.05).

    The Taize website now features a prayer and a brief statement that says that Brother Roger's body will be placed in the church each afternoon from 3:00 to 7:00 "so that all who wish may go and meditate close by him"; his funeral is next Tuesday at 2:00 pm.

    The World Council of Churches responds to his death with a letter to the brothers at Taize. The Archbishop of Canterbury offers a brief statement. Pope Benedict XVI expresses shock in a Catholic News Service story.

    Updates 8.18.05: The Associated Press now has more details about the woman who killed Br Roger:

    The 36-year-old intruder, who was not named, visited Taize for a week in June and was considered psychologically fragile. Brother Emile said they had learned from colleagues that she was ''a very sick woman in Romania" who screamed in churches.

    "We asked her not to stay," Brother Emile said in a telephone interview. She returned about two days ago, bypassing the reception area.

    On Tuesday night, she jumped a small, symbolic hedge separating the choir from the congregation to join the monks. Brother Emile said brothers thought she might be the mother of one of the children. The attacker offered no resistance when she was grabbed.

    The prosecutor in nearby Macon, Jean-Louis Coste, said the suspect had bought the knife the day before and her intentions were clear.

    ("Christian Leader Stabbed to Death During Evening Prayers," Elaine Ganley [AP], Boston Globe 8.18.05, reg req'd; another version of the AP story quotes Romanian media that more fully identify the woman)

    The need for a critical history of Taize is apparent in the conflicting obituaries: The Times (UK) says Br Roger was the son of a "Swiss Lutheran pastor and a French mother," while the New York Times says he was "the son of a Swiss Calvinist pastor and a French Protestant mother." The Associated Press describes his parents as "a Swiss Protestant father and a French Catholic mother," which makes more sense.

    ("Brother Roger: May 12, 1915 - August 16, 2005," The Times 8.18.05; "Brother Roger, 90, Dies; Ecumenical Leader," Marlise Simons, New York Times 8.18.05, reg req'd)

    Updates 8.22.05: I'm disappointed not to find a church in the Boston area that will offer a memorial service for Brother Roger on Tuesday — the day of his funeral — as Greenhills Community Church in Cincinnati will. Taize groups in the United States remembered Brother Roger this week in a variety of ways. Here are articles about local observances from Milwaukee and Richmond, Va..

    ("The Gentle Brother Roger of Taize," Thom Shumann, Cincinnati Enquirer 8.22.05; "Taize Leader Touched Many: Pilgrims from Milwaukee Area Recently Visited Brother Roger's Center," Tom Heinen, Journal-Sentinel 8.19.05; "Service Will Honor Slain Taize Founder," Richmond Times-Dispatch 8.20.05.)

    Mrs Philocrites and I will remember him Tuesday morning at the same hour that his funeral service will take place in France; in the sermons we preached this past Sunday, we tried to give people some small sense of the impression he and his community made on us — but it's almost impossible to convey. Our hearts are with the pilgrims all over the world who have been there and felt the joy and blessing of the community to which he gave his whole life, and who have tried to share that blessing with others.

    Updates 8.23.05: Christianity Today's Weblog also offers a good round-up of coverage of Brother Roger's life and death.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 16, 2005, at 09:07 PM | 4 comments

    Sunday, August 14, 2005

    Dreaming of new blogs.

    Dan Harper is looking for blogs that get beyond partisan cheerleading and dear-diary confession. He likes place blogs, but would also like to find:

    A blog written by a fictional character about his/her fictional life.
    A blog by a real person about his/her travels in a fictional place.
    A blog of literary or arts reviews (by multiple authors).
    A "historical blog," written from the point of view of a historical figure as if s/he were blogging in her/his own era, a sort of blog re-enactment; e.g., a Plimoth Plantation blog, a Civil War soldier's blog, etc.
    A blogicization of Dante's Inferno, or Defore's Journal of a Plague Year, etc.
    Or best of all, something that's just plain new and different.

    As for me, I'm particularly interested in hearing people's visions of multi-author blogs, especially ones that might touch on liberal religious concerns. (Personally, I'm going to go looking for Taize-visitors' blogs.) Any more wish lists out there?

    Incidentally, Shawn Anthony of Lo-Fi Tribe has set up a blog to encourage religious humanist blogs: The Alliance of Religious Humanism.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 14, 2005, at 07:51 PM | 16 comments

    Mr and Mrs Philocrites, guest preachers.

    Mrs Philocrites and I are sitting here on our couch, each working on a sermon to preach next week. I'll be preaching at the First Church in Jamaica Plain, a Christian-friendly Unitarian Universalist congregation in Boston where I served as worship leader during the minister's sabbatical five years ago. (By "Christian-friendly," I mean that the congregation retains several traditional Unitarian worship practices, including the Lord's Prayer and the "Ames Covenant.") If you'd like to come worship with me and the very friendly people of First Church in J.P., the service is at 11:00.

    Mrs Philocrites has two Episcopal preaching engagements this month, so Boston-area friends can hear her next week or the week after; email her for details.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 14, 2005, at 06:05 PM | 0 comments

    Why I often feel like a moderate.

    I am not at all surprised, but it turns out I grew up in the 237th most liberal city in the United States [doc] — which is to say, in the most conservative city in the U.S. with more than 100,000 inhabitants. (Actually, I grew up in Provo's smaller urban Siamese twin, Orem — but there are no political or cultural differences between them. Orem may even be more conservative than Provo.)

    And now I live in Cambridge, the 8th most liberal city in the U.S. I've been here almost ten years, but you'd think I'd still be experiencing whip-lash from a transition so comprehensive. Instead, I simply feel some sympathy for the attitudes and perspectives of both sides. Mind you, the conservatives are wrong, and it's easier to feel sympathy for them at a distance, but they're not alien to me. I also don't actually travel in lefty circles in Cambridge. In other words, my years as a liberal Utahn prepared me for a happy life of Massachusetts moderatism. (Hey, is anyone surprised that the Bay Area Center for Voting Research discovered that the Bay Area is the most liberal region in the country? Via Kevin Drum.)

    Meanwhile, I've been thinking it would be really cool to find a geographer or really geeky map-and-statistics person who could superimpose the locations of each U.S. Unitarian Universalist congregation on a county-level electoral map from the 2004 election. Wouldn't you love to know how many UU congregations are in blue counties, purple counties, and red ones? Care to guess?

    Posted by Philocrites, August 14, 2005, at 02:36 PM | 3 comments

    Saturday, August 13, 2005

    Feuding advocates for 'politically correct corpses.'

    In April I pointed to a Boston Globe story highlighting the new practice of environmentally-friendly burials, in which one's body actually does return to dust rather than lay there, chemically-preserved for all time, in a sealed casket. The New York Times discovers a new angle to the story — and some great soundbites — and puts it on the front page today:

    In the green scheme of things, death becomes a vehicle for land conservation and saving the planet. "It is not enough to be a corpse anymore," said Thomas Lynch, an author, poet and Michigan funeral director. "Now, you have to be a politically correct corpse."

    But just what is a politically correct corpse is an increasingly thorny issue. In recent months, there has been a struggle for the soul of the emerging industry between [35-year-old Tyler] Cassity, an enfant terrible of the funeral business, who has made a fortune producing A&E-style digitized biographies of the dead, and Dr. Billy Campbell, who pioneered the movement in the United States and who has the studious intensity of a somewhat nerdy birder.

    Good reading! And despite Patricia Leigh Brown's entertaining and dismissive tone — "the generation of composters who wrote their own wedding vows and opted for natural childbirth," ha ha! — I'm still hoping that by the time I shuffle off this mortal coil, green burials will have gone mainstream.

    ("Eco-Friendly Burial Sites Give a Chance to Be Green Forever," Patricia Leigh Brown, New York Times 8.13.05, reg req'd)

    Posted by Philocrites, August 13, 2005, at 10:37 AM | 4 comments

    Thursday, August 11, 2005

    Resuming a conversation about liberal moral values.

    In a comment to my post about the political impact of the Christian right's "moral values," Dudley Jones asked a great question that I've suggested really belongs in a serious discussion of morality itself, rather than in a discussion of conservative political agendas. I've redirected the discussion to a post I wrote last summer, "Do Unitarian Universalists Have Morals?", and have quoted Dudley's question to help restart that conversation. I hope you'll chime in.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 11, 2005, at 08:20 AM

    Wednesday, August 10, 2005

    'Moral values' decisive in Bush's victory after all.

    When 22 percent of voters told exit pollsters that "moral values" had been the decisive factor in the way they voted in the last U.S. presidential election — overwhelmingly for George W. Bush — many liberals expressed surprise and dismay. (I wrote about this for UU World early this year.) But soon many commentators also began discounting the impact of the so-called moral-values voters. After all, most voters hadn't selected "moral values" as their primary concern, and "moral values" wasn't the highest-rated factor overall. Furthermore, some argued, "moral values" shouldn't be assumed to refer to the pet causes of the Christian right: An anti-war progressive, for example, might have selected "moral values" because her opposition to war was a deeply moral position. And besides, the number of fundamentalists or Evangelicals or born-agains or even "conservative Christian" voters hadn't gone up significantly in recent years, so the activist ministers who were taking credit for giving Bush a second term were hyping the moral-values story well beyond any reasonable interpretation. Right?

    In the new issue of Religion in the News, the exceptionally good publication of the Greenberg Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life at Trinity College, John C. Green and Mark Silk examine the full set of exit-polling data and ask how "moral values" played out regionally and by faith community. (Unfortunately, the data don't provide state results "because the number of interviews per state in the national exit poll is not high enough to give meaningful results for many states — and not all state exit polls included a 'moral values' option." Important caveats.) So how big a difference did the moral-values voters actually make?

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Philocrites, August 10, 2005, at 08:02 AM | 6 comments

    Monday, August 8, 2005

    Thoughts from sea level.

    So it turns out I didn't have much chance to write from Denver. Being one of the few remaining "laptopless" people around, I wasn't willing to pay by the minute to check email or write a blog entry. I'm sure you missed me terribly...

    The UUMN conference was a blast. Exhausting, to be sure, but chock full of great stuff. Workshops with John Beuhrens, Allaudin Mathieu and others were certainly a highlight. The Interfaith Music Festival was truly a powerful, deeply moving experience - one which I hope to duplicate here in Nashville next spring. And just being with colleagues from around the country who are giving their hearts and souls to the work of transforming our congregations through music and the arts is always a tremendously inspiring experience. If I get a chance later this week I'll try to write about all of those things in more detail.

    What I really want to write about today is an unexpected, unplanned, unprogrammed experience of real interfaith exchange that totally blew me away. It turns out that our 250 or so UUMN'ers weren't the only church folks having a conference in Denver last week. We shared the city with 30,000 from the Assemblies of God, one of the Pentecostal traditions. Their conference included a youth arts component, and night after night there were kids lounging around the hotel lobby playing the baby grand or strumming their guitars and singing together.

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Jason Shelton, August 8, 2005, at 12:16 PM | 7 comments

    Forward my calls to the Musee d'Orsay.

    I haven't taken two weeks of vacation in five years, so when Mrs Philocrites and I boarded a British Airways 747 fourteen days ago, I not only felt like a country mouse headed for the big city — Paris! — but also like an addict going cold turkey: no work, no phone, no Internet, no news. The transition came more easily than I expected. After all, every Internet cafe in the Latin Quarter seemed to close when August came around, and so did the local newspaper stand. The French are serious about their vacations, and — why buck the stereotype? — being a blue-state French fry-eater, I like the idea of extended vacations for everyone. I also liked French highway signs, rest stops, little green sanitation trucks, and several other features of their bloated state. More about that later.

    I'll be writing about several parts of our European trip over the next few days, and I may post some of that writing here — as well as a picture or two, having joined the ranks of digital shutterbugs — but please don't expect a flood of posts from me. The next two weeks at work promise to occupy more than my full attention. Although I won't be absent the way I've been for the last two weeks, I've decided that Philocrites is still enjoying something like an interruptible sabbatical.

    And let's hear it for guest-bloggers Thom and Jason! It was great to come home and read through their engaging posts yesterday. I'll have some things to add to the discussion about Emergent and Singing the Journey from my experience at Taize, the ecumenical Christian community where Mrs Philocrites and I joined 4,000+ young people from all over Europe, Africa, and the Americas for several days of prayer, singing, and small-group discussion. I may never get around to blogging about the Louvre, but you will be hearing about Taize.

    It's good to be home, but I seriously considered trying to move in to the Art Nouveau furniture exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay, following the example of the two kids who moved in to the Met in From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E. Frankweiler. Never having been much of a traveler, I feel incredibly lucky to have taken this trip: The contexts for so many parts of my life have been stretched and, I hope, changed.

    Have you ever taken a life-changing trip? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

    Posted by Philocrites, August 8, 2005, at 08:05 AM | 1 comments

    Sunday, August 7, 2005

    Welcome back, Philocrites!

    I received a note today saying that Philocrites has returned from his blogging sabbatical. And not a moment too soon: I was contemplating transforming this site into a retailer of imported prescription drugs from Canada, an epicenter of spam, and headquarters of the great UU pyramid scheme. (Bring a friend to church, keep 15% of their pledge.) Alas, so much for dashed hopes and failed dreams.

    However, I did want to blog poetic about what I learned about blogging from these past couple weeks of being a guest writer.

    Lesson #1: Philocrites must be obsessed. To turn out the volume and quality of material that he does on the range of interests that he has is something special. And it is harder than it looks. I was lucky to write three posts a week.

    Lesson #2: Spam removal makes for great procrastination.

    Lesson #3: It feels really good to get comments... even from readers who take you to task. (They're still readers!)

    Lesson #4: The "Bill McKibben" piece was something new for mentioning members of my congregation (and then emailing them and telling them I had posted my thoughts on-line.) I am intrigued by the thought of a (well-moderated) blog within a congregation but visible to outsiders that discusses theology and ethics.

    Thanks Philocrites for the opportunity to crash out on your cyber-sofa!!! (I've been invited to hang around for a little longer.)

    Posted by Thom Belote, August 7, 2005, at 06:47 PM | 4 comments

    Flirting with Emergent, part IV (final part).

    Before Philocrites returns to take his rightful place at the helm, I wanted to finish my series on "Flirting with Emergent." In late June / early July I attended Jacob's Well, a local Emergent Church, for three consecutive Sundays. Then I decided to blog about the experience of being a "mystery worshipper" and also ask some questions about the "soul" of Emergent and what UUism might learn from it.

    I realize that in the previous entries, I've said a lot about the form and style of Jacob's Well, but not a lot about the content. So I want to briefly describe each of the three sermons I heard there.

    The first sermon was on the subject of generosity. It was probably the most listenable stewardship sermon I've ever heard. It was not a sermon specifically about how the church needs your money. In fact, the preacher even said at one point (without a hint of suggesting otherwise) that the church was doing so well financially that it didn't need the financial assistance of anyone who gave out of any feeling other than a love of God. The sermon was based on 2 Corinthians 8 and reflected the Pauline theology of emphasizing the motivations and attitudes underlying actions. All in all, it was a challenging sermon that left space for me to ponder my own relationship with generosity. Rating: Excellent.

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Thom Belote, August 7, 2005, at 06:22 PM | 3 comments

    Wednesday, August 3, 2005

    Bill McKibben: 'How a Faithful Nation Gets Jesus Wrong.'

    Earlier this week one of my parishioners sent me a note recommending the essay by Bill McKibben in the current issue of Harpers. The title is "Christian Paradox: How a faithful nation get Jesus wrong." I was dismayed to find that I couldn't read it for free on-line, but elated to find that another parishioner had sent me a copy of the same article in the mail. (Thanks!)

    McKibben exposes dangerous misreadings of the Bible by American Christians such as the apocalyptics who justify violence and militarism with a twisted reading of Revelations. However, McKibben really hits his stride when he argues that many American Christians have "replaced the Christianity of the Bible, with its call for deep sharing and personal sacrifice, with a competing creed" of 'God helps those who help themselves', self-absorption, and greed.

    Click to continue . . .

    Posted by Thom Belote, August 3, 2005, at 11:42 PM | 9 comments

    Tuesday, August 2, 2005

    Sermon illustration needing sermon.

    I had lunch today with some mainline clergy friends including the homiletics professor of a local American Baptist seminary. During the conversation someone mentioned Portland, Oregon. I mentioned that I had lived there when I was an undergraduate at Reed College. The homiletics prof then mentioned that he had heard a story about my alma mater used as a sermon illustration:

    Every Spring a liberal arts college known for its godlessness threw a wild campus-wide party, known to all for its hedonism and excess. This party was a weekend of debauchery, indecency, chemical experimentation, and free love. A group of local missionaries had heard about the party, and one day during a conversation they joked about evangelizing to the students at the party. The suggestion was offered in jest, but soon one of the missionaries was taking the joke seriously.

    When the party weekend came, these missionaries dressed up as priests and set up a modest booth draped in black cloth on the campus. The sign out front read, "Confessional Booth." Soon enough, along came a student who had already tried many things for the first time over the weekend. Inhibitions lowered, the student saw the booth and thought, "Why not?" The student entered and sat down and said, "I suppose I should tell you what I've been doing this weekend."

    "No," the missionary replied, "We are here to confess to you. The Christian Church has been guilty of many sins. We started the Crusades and many wars in the name of God. We burned witches and heretics at the stake. We conquered lands and forced our religion and values on others. We endorsed discrimination. We were the enemy of science. We taught people to be fearful of God and hateful towards one another."

    The lunch conversation soon went off in another direction. I left without having the chance to ask the homiletics professor what the point of the sermon had been in which this illustration was used. So here's my question: What was the sermon that used this illustration about?

    ps. It is frustrating to have gone to a school whose reputation is one of "out-of-control hedonism" when it is really an excellent, demanding academic institution with amazing teachers and classes.

    Posted by Thom Belote, August 2, 2005, at 04:12 PM | 10 comments

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