Tuesday, January 15, 2013

It's the end of the world as we know it...

Do you feel fine? I do! And am finally taking some time off work to relax a bit and take things easy!!!

You can email me at Garrett@eviltheists.com if you would like to help out in any way! You can visit our sister rss feed site at MakeDifferences.org

Have a great new year!
Garrett Fogerlie

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

French Jews and Muslims grapple for answers to school shootings

PARIS (RNS) Children spilled out of Beth Hanna Jewish school under a spring sun and the watchful eyes of armed police. Leah Chicheportiche mingled with other waiting parents in this northeastern Paris neighborhood, including many men sporting the trademark black hat of Hasidic Jews.

"We're a bit worried -- even here in Paris --  after the incident," said Chicheportiche, a mother of five, keeping a watchful eye on two daughters licking ice-cream cones on Tuesday (March 20).

A day after a motorcycle gunman mowed down three children and a rabbi in the southern city of Toulouse, she added: "We hope they'll arrest him quickly."

As schools across France marked a moment of silence for Monday's victims and the government notched up its terror alert for the southwestern region and increased security around religious institutions, many ordinary French are grappling for answers.

Monday's shootings at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish school in Toulouse came days after the shooting deaths of three French soldiers of North African and Caribbean origins. Two were Muslim. Police say the same weapon was used in all the attacks. Now they are hunting down the killer -- and the nation is searching for solace.

"It's a very big shock and the most dangerous part is we don't know where he is," said Rabbi Mendel Azimov, who helps oversee Beth Hanna, which his father founded.

Azimov's uncle runs Ozar Hatorah, where the killings took place. "It's not just a community problem or a religious problem," he said, "it's a national problem."

The shootings have seeped into a presidential campaign already checkered with sharp exchanges on immigration and religion -- notably over Jewish and Muslim ritual animal slaughter practices. Both President Nicolas Sarkozy and his main rival, Socialist Francois Hollande, have suspended their campaigns following Monday's shootings.

"Barbarity, savagery, cruelty cannot win. Hate cannot win," said Sarkozy, who met with Jewish and Muslim leaders on Tuesday and vowed to find the killer.

France's Muslim and Jewish communities -- the largest in western Europe -- are organizing a silent march to mark the killings on Sunday.

"This march has no sense unless it's a joint march," Richard Prasquier, head of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France.

But others fear the incidents may only deepen differences between the two faiths.

"It doesn't unite us," said Victor Levy, a Jew from North Africa who owns a stationery shop a block from Beth Hanna. "It only increases the doubts between the two communities, because each wonders if the other is racist. Little words against the other that shock, that create hatred between the two religions."

Muslims and Jews have long been neighbors in this slightly grimy slice of Paris, known as the 19th arrondissement. In many ways, this neighborhood offers the face of 21st-century France: multicolored and multifaith.

Malians in traditional robes brush past ethnic Algerian Muslims and Tunisian Jews. Old men of all backgrounds play rounds of boules in playgrounds. Halal butchers and kebab joints vie for customers alongside kosher supermarkets and traditional bakeries.

Many Muslims and Jews here hail from the same area -- North Africa. But this is perhaps the only neighborhood outside of Brooklyn where you can get carryout from Crown Heights Pizzeria.

"I'm Jewish, and the guy across from me is a Muslim," said Levy, the stationery shop owner and a Sephardic Jew, pointing to a laundromat across the street. "We get along fine. But when people do idiotic things like what happened in Toulouse, it lights a fire."

But across the street, Moroccan laundry owner Bijuegda Dris, disagreed.

"This has nothing to do with the communities," he said. "The killer is just a crazy guy."

Tensions between Muslims and Jews in France periodically erupt, mostly keeping pace with the Israeli-Palestinian standoff. Jewish synagogues and cemeteries have been attacked in recent years -- either by gangs of Muslims or far-right youths, authorities say. Muslim institutions are also desecrated, often by neo-Nazis. Young Muslims and Jews occasionally clash.

But at Beth Hanna, Rabbi Azimov is focusing on healing. It is up to religious leaders, he said, to unite the two communities. Both must work to get beyond the killings.

"We have a special tradition that says that when bad things happen, you have to increase kindness and goodness and prayer," he said. "We have a belief that when you have light, darkness disappears."

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Romney’s Land of Lincoln

Illinois lynched the first Mormon to run for president, but 168 years later it may have sealed the GOP nomination for LDS scion Mitt Romney. If so, it will have been because Republicans in the Land of Lincoln are more moderate than their peers in Michigan and Ohio, big Midwestern states that barely ended up in the Romney column this year. Fewer consider themselves "very conservative"; fewer consider abortion the most important issue of the campaign. 

White evangelicals in Illinois are more likely to be of the moderate megachurch variety typical of the suburban Chicago grandaddy of megachurches, Willow Creek. Thirty-nine percent of them voted for Romney, as compared to 35 percent in Michigan and 30 percent in Ohio. Non-evangelicals are more likely to be moderate Methodist types. They gave 54 percent of their votes to Romney, as opposed to 45 percent in Michigan and 44 percent in Ohio. In 2008, Obama had the home-state advantage; nonetheless, it's telling that he was the choice of 15 percent of Republicans in Illinois, versus 10 percent in Michigan and eight percent in Ohio. And 37 percent of evangelicals, versus 33 percent in Michigan and 27 percent in Ohio.

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum is stuck with the task of revving up a pedal-to-the-metal evangelical base that is just not big enough in most of the states that lie ahead. Louisiana, in four days, won't change the narrative, regardless of how much he wins by. Nor does it help when he's got to disown cheerleading by zealous pastors like Rev. Dennis Terry, who got his flock at Greenwell Springs Baptist Church whooping it up by preaching: 

Listen to me. If you don’t love America, if you don’t like the way we do things I have one thing to say — get out! We don’t worship Buddha! I said we don’t worship Buddha, we don’t worship Muhammad, we don’t worship Allah, we worship God, we worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

According to CBN's David Brody, that's just "a good example of how the mainstream media just doesn’t understand the evangelical worldview. Yes the language was strong and bold from the pulpit but reporters interpreted the words incorrectly by painting a much broader brush than what was intended." Santorum's problem is that the suburban Republicans who gave Romney his 12-point victory in Illinois tend to interpret them the same way.

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“The Hunger Games” Gets Religion

What can we learn about Jesus through The Hunger Games? According to Julie Goss Clawson in her new book The Hunger Games and the Gospel, a lot. As she puts it, "The Hunger Games is not the Gospel, or even an allegory of the Gospel story, but it reflects the good news, helping to illuminate the path of Kingdom living for readers today." And it achieves that the same way Jesus did: by telling great stories.

If you're a Christian and a fan of The Hunger Games series, I urge you to check out Clawson's book. It's available as a digital download for only $4.99 and, at just under a hundred pages, you can probably read it in the time it takes you to wait in line to see the movie on Friday.

Throughout her book Clawson uses Jesus' Beatitudes as a framework for understanding the situation of oppression that we see in The Hunger Games and how that might parallel situations in the world today -- ones in which Americans may find ourselves, often as not, clueless Capitol citizens whose way of life depends on the coercion of others. That's a hard thing to contemplate, but an important one.

Here's a brief excerpt from chapter 1.

The system of oppression presented in The Hunger Games is modeled on the tactics used in the Roman Empire. Tribute and tessearae were common practices used by the Romans to keep their ever-expanding empire under their thumb. Roman citizens whose jobs had been outsourced to conquered slaves were granted tesserae, or coins that they could exchange for bread. The famous Pax Romana, where "peace" was maintained by quelling uprisings through intimidation and fear, enabled the Romans to extract tribute from the people they had conquered. With vast amounts of the food and wealth they had produced going to pay the Romans, occupied peoples sank deeper and deeper into poverty.

Jesus, of course, was born into this setting of Roman occupation and oppression.  When in the nativity story in Luke we read of the Roman Emperor conducting a census that required all peoples to return to their ancestral lands, what we are really reading about is the tribute system at work.  In Jewish culture land was not bought and sold (although it could be lost to debtors), but belonged to one’s ancestral line.  Joseph apparently had been unable to scratch out a living on his family lands and so had left to try to make it as a carpenter.  That is, until the Roman Empire declared that all people must return to work the land so that the Emperor could be sure to extract as much tribute as possible from the people he conquered.  It can be easy to forget when hearing the Christmas story that Jesus was not born to the elite or the powerful. His family was lower class and oppressed.  Even a very pregnant woman had no choice but to obey the Empire and travel to Bethlehem where her son would be born in the muck of a stable and laid to sleep in a feeding trough.  This is how the poor in spirit are born.

To question the Roman system of oppression resulted in death. For instance, around the time of Jesus’ birth the Romans responded to Jewish acts of rebellion in the Galilee region (like their refusal to pay tribute to the pagan gods of Rome) by slaughtering and enslaving tens of thousands of people.  In 4 BCE, the Romans burned the town of Sepphoris (just a few miles from Jesus’ boyhood home in Nazareth) to the ground, enslaving all its inhabitants.   We see similar acts of oppression in the Hunger Games.  After the Quarter Quell games and Katniss’ subversive act of bringing down the force field, the Capitol retaliates against her District.  No one in the town responds to her televised action with either protest or celebration, “yet within fifteen minutes, the sky was filled with hoverplanes and the bombs were raining down” (Mockingjay 7).  Like the Romans did to Sepphoris, the Capitol burned District 12 to the ground for daring to produce someone who challenged the absolute control of the Capitol. . . .

Oppression crushes hope in whatever way it can – through lack of resources, denial of freedoms, and the threat of violence.  This is Katniss’ world in the Hunger Games, it was Jesus’ world under Rome, and it is the lived experience of people all over the world today.

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Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup: Romney does less bad, Springsteen’s Catholicism, Orthodox abuse

As the Jewish victims in the French school shooting were being buried in Israel, police in France laid siege to the house of the suspect, a 24-year-old Islamic militant claiming ties to Al Qaeda.

French Jews and Muslims grapple for answers.

Mitt Romney won big in Illinois last night, and did less bad with conservatives and evangelicals than he has before. He did a lot better than the first Mormon to run for president did in Illinois, a state he didn’t leave alive.

So Romney’s good now, right? Please? CBN’s David Brody is already warning Mitt that he has to do more to win evangelical hearts and minds or it’ll be a “hold your nose” vote in the fall: “A standard evangelical turnout won’t do the trick for Romney.”

Illinois was considered a “must win” for Rick Santorum to remain viable. So now it’s on to Santorum’s next “must win,” Louisiana – which he could actually win, despite attempting to distance himself from the rather controversial remarks of Pastor Dennis Terry at a Baptist church service Santorum attended.

Among other things, Pastor Terry said, “If you don’t love America, and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say, get out!”

Now he has also explained that his remarks were misreported. “I said no such thing. I said those who do not love America and what she stands for should leave.”

This may require some deep exegesis.

So if Santorum loses, what’s he going to do with that cool Secret Service code name? Give it back to the Pope?

Speaking of the Pope, will he need a new ATM card now that JP Morgan closed their account with the Vatican?

Don’t go to Goldman Sachs, Benedict. They won’t even let the nuns in, and they’re shareholders.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about Archbishop-designate William Lori, the church’s point man on religious freedom who’s got himself a new gig in Baltimore.

Speaking of new gigs, Bruce Springsteen is promoting his new album, which features powerful religious language to convey its message:

“I got brainwashed as a child with Catholicism,” the Jersey guy (yeah, baby) jokes. “Its like Al Pacino in The Godfather: I try to get out but they pull you back in! Once a Catholic, always a Catholic.”

Barbara Johnson, known as the lesbian denied communion at her mother’s funeral, addressed a gathering of gay and lesbian Catholics in Baltimore. “It’s my mother’s love and compassion, and willingness to stand up for what is right that you see standing before you today,” Johnson said.

Not just a Catholic story: The Washington Post reports on the sexual abuse of children in the Orthodox Jewish community.

The Israeli parliament, the Knesset, has passed a law aimed at encouraging rabbinical courts to impose sanctions on husbands who refuse to give their wives a get, or Jewish bill of divorce.

The Knesset also prefers zaftig to skinny when it comes to women, and has a law that says so.

Cain and Abel redux: Son says sibling rivalry fueled the downfall of the Crystal Cathedral and the Schuller dynasty.

-- David Gibson

Photo credit: "Rolling Stone" cover via the Official Bruce Springsteen Site

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Friday, March 16, 2012

Crystal Cathedral downfall offers cautionary tale

(RNS) Last Sunday (March 11), Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman appeared for apparently the last time before some 800 people at the morning service of the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif.

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Sheila Schuller Coleman, eldest daughter of Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller, was latest member of the Schuller family to take the helm of the gleaming megachurch in Garden Grove, Calif. RNS photo courtesy Crystal Cathedral.

For members of the extended Schuller family who had built and shepherded the iconic megachurch into the spiritual home for 10,000 members, so much had changed:

-- Faced with staggering debts and a bankruptcy filing, the glass building was recently sold to the local Catholic diocese, but can remain Protestant in the short term.

-- The staff had dropped from 350 to 200, including the recent firings of Coleman's sister, husband and brother-in-law, who had all worked on its "Hour of Power" broadcasts.

-- Just the day before, her parents, Robert H. and Arvella Schuller, had departed the ministry they started more than 50 years ago, citing a multimillion-dollar fight with its board.

As members of the Schuller family head in new directions -- Coleman and brother-in law Jim Penner plan to start a new church this Sunday -- the famous glass-walled church offers a cautionary tale of the potential pitfalls facing family-run ministries.

"If you have a family ministry, the health of the relationships within the family is key to whether the governance of the ministry is going to work well or not," said the Rev. Wes Granberg-Michaelson, a former board member and former general secretary of the Reformed Church in America, the denomination of the Crystal Cathedral.

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Crystal Cathedral founder Robert H. Schuller, left, parted ways with his son, Robert A. Schuller, right, over the future direction of the “Hour of Power” television program in 2008. Religion News Service photo courtesy Crystal Cathedral.

Granberg-Michaelson said the turning point for the ministry came when the family disputed who should take the reins of leadership as Robert H. Schuller prepared to step back as the public face of the ministry. Initially, Schuller wanted to see his son, Robert A. Schuller, take his place, and passed on the mantle of senior pastor in 2006.

Within two years, the younger Schuller left after he and his father could not agree on the ministry's future direction. The next year, Coleman was chosen to handle administrative duties.

"I think that Robert A. could have carried that ministry and could have continued it," said Granberg-Michaelson. "I also think that it would have been possible to find a person from the outside that would make that a mission-driven ministry and essentially a ministry that moved beyond the family. But neither one of those things happened."

Miriam Carver, an Atlanta-based nonprofit governance consultant, tried to help the ministry in 2008. She advised the board that it was inappropriate to have board members who also were staffers and family members. "You can certainly see that phenomenon, but it's really bad practice because it's a conflict of interest," she said. The board declined to implement her recommendations.

The lessons from the downfall of the Schullers' ministry can be taught to a wide array of organizations, experts say.

"There's always been a caution against nepotism in all kinds of work," said Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Washington-based Ethics and Public Policy Center. "Why shouldn't it also extend to Christian ministries?"

Part of the reason Catholicism embraced priestly celibacy was to avoid "complicated inheritance issues" that surfaced in medieval times when priests were allowed to marry, said Christopher Bellitto, a historian at Kean University in New Jersey.

Family domination of a church has become increasingly rare, said Dave Travis, CEO of Dallas-based Leadership Network. His church think tank finds many of the first-generation pastors of large churches are taking a different approach. "They're not family-controlled churches, for the most part, and they don't necessarily aspire for their children to follow them into the ministry or into the ministry in that same church," he said.

To be sure, some inherited ministries can work, even thrive -- Jonathan and Jerry Falwell Jr., Joel Osteen and even Franklin Graham have all taken the reins of their ministries from their famous fathers. Travis said the family problems were only a part of the downfall of Crystal Cathedral, which also was affected by the focus on its TV ministry and its imposing building.

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(RNS) Sunset at Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. RNS file photo courtesy Creative Commons Website.    

"They put a lot of stock in the building where they were," he said. "As the neighborhood changed, they were kind of stuck there."

Now located in a far more diverse area than the predominantly white one it was decades ago, the Crystal Cathedral finds that its Hispanic congregation is one of its most thriving ministries. But that, too, is changing: On April 1, it will begin meeting at the Anaheim Convention Center.

As the remnant of the dwindling Crystal Cathedral congregants contemplate their next steps, remaining leaders are urging them to stay put -- and note that they will shun the contemporary flavor that Schuller's daughter and son-in-law had supported.

"We invite everyone to join us next Sunday for worship in the Crystal Cathedral," said John Charles, new chairman of the Crystal Cathedral Ministries' board of directors, in a statement. "Since sharing this news with our congregation, we have received an outpouring of assurance and encouragement from numerous members of the congregation about their excitement over the return to the traditional worship style on which the ministry was founded."

Whatever happens, the California church appears to be a shadow of its former self, when people across the globe would rave to Granberg-Michaelson during his travels about how they were helped by viewing Schuller's "Hour of Power."

"It touched countless people," he said. "To see this come unraveled, it's just a deep tragedy."

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The Bishops Assume the Position

The best thing that can be said about "United for Religious Freedom," the new statement from the USCCB's Administrative Committee, is that it's not hysterical. It is, however, uncompromising and disingenuous. Let us count the ways.

1. "This is not about access to contraception, which is ubiquitous and inexpensive, even when it is not provided by the Church’s hand and with the Church’s funds." On the contrary, for those of modest means, the cost of contraception is not inconsequential; denying them coverage can indeed deny them access.

2. "This is not about the Bishops’ somehow “banning contraception,” when the U.S. Supreme Court took that issue off the table two generations ago." Did the U.S. Supreme Court take the issue of abortion off the table as well, so far as the bishops are concerned? I don't think so.

3. "The mandate includes an extremely narrow definition of what HHS deems a “religious employer” deserving exemption—employers who, among other things, must hire and serve primarily those of their own faith." No mention here of the president's accommodataion, which would excempt a much wider range of faith-based institutions from the mandate by shifting the burden of coverage to their insurance companies.

4. "The introduction of this unprecedented defining of faith communities and their ministries has precipitated this struggle for religious freedom. Government has no place defining religion and religious ministry." Distinctions about what does and does not constitute a religious institution is a long-standing feature of federal anti-discrimination law. For example, a school must meet certain criteria in terms of religious purpose in order to be able to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds. 

5. "HHS thus creates and enforces a new distinction—alien both to our Catholic tradition and to federal law—between our houses of worship and our great ministries of service to our neighbors, namely, the poor, the homeless, the sick, the students in our schools and universities, and others in need, of any faith community or none." What do you mean by "our," bishops? Most of those great ministries are 501 (c) 3 non-profits with their own boards of trustees, unconnected legally to the any part of the Catholic Church and not subject the episcopal rule. That's not to say that many of them are not strongly identified with Catholicism, or that they don't advertise their connection to the faith. But just as the head of the Catholic Hospital Association has embraced the president's accommodation, so many of the "great ministries" may choose to depart from the bishops' campaign against the mandate.

6. "The HHS mandate creates still a third class, those with no conscience protection at all: individuals who, in their daily lives, strive constantly to act in accordance with their faith and moral values." So the bishops are hewing to a right of individual employers to exemptions from health care coverage according to their personal religious lights. If I don't believe in blood transfusions, blood transfusions are out? If I believe God condemns race-mixing, coverage of a spouse of a different race is out? To what degree do the bishops wish to permit conscience to trump laws? What of those fundamentalist Mormons who who are conscientiously obliged to practice plural marriage?

7."United for Religious Freedom." Regardless of how the question is asked, Americans believe that this struggle is not about religious freedom but about contraception. And they're right. If the bishops had gotten the exemption they wanted in the first place, they would not be fighting this fight.

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