Faith & Values

A news blog about religion and values in Anchorage.

John Paul II beatification announcement expected - 1/13/2011 12:24 pm

Mourning in America - 1/9/2011 9:15 pm

Defender of religious freedom gunned down in Pakistan - 1/5/2011 8:26 am

"God in America" coming to PBS - 9/30/2010 9:40 pm

Rainn Wilson on faith - 9/15/2010 10:55 am

Glenn Beck's Lincoln Memorial rally - 8/31/2010 9:27 am

Anchor Park United Methodist Church reaches out - 8/27/2010 8:18 pm

Greek festival at Holy Transfiguration Church - 8/22/2010 8:56 pm

First a bishop, then the president and now a father

I almost wrote about this last week and thought I'd better wait to see what transpired.
The president of Paraguay, a progressive former bishop, has admitted that he fathered a child while still the bishop of San Pedro in one of the poorest areas of a very poor country.
President Fernando Lugo's admission has thrown the country into tumult.
This story is interesting from many perspectives. Lugo resigned as bishop to run for the presidency, but the Vatican insisted throughout the campaign that once a bishop, always a bishop according to church law. It was not until two weeks before Lugo took power in August 2008 that the Catholic Church agreed to reduce him to a status of layperson, essentially relieving him of his priestly vows.

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Good Friday thoughts

I'm spending this Good Friday thinking of a former colleague, who died this week, and of other moments people are living through that are hell on earth. One of them is the earthquake in central Italy this week. A mass funeral was held today, and I saw a news photo online of dozens of coffins lined up for the service. Many of those held all the children from a single family. Others held college students and middle-aged women and fathers and lovers.
Last night, my husband said he had a great day. It was one of those really great days. He had a great ski, he got to see how his new work digs are shaping up, he got good work done. He got to have dinner with some runners he's coaching for an upcoming race. It's too bad more of us can't come home and say that. I think of the joy with which my daughter wakes up with every morning, and I'm struck by how happy she is all the time. She gets frustrated, but it quickly passes and she's buoyant again. The world is new to her, and she is enchanted by it.

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Passover begins Wednesday evening

For Anchorage's Jewish families, Passover begins Wednesday evening. Many families gather for a ritualistic meal called a seder on the first and sometimes on the second night of Passover. Passover itself is a seven-day religious celebration, marking the beginning of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt.
Congregation Beth Shalom offers a community seder event on Thursday, but for this year it's too late to make reservations. The congregation, the oldest in the state, invites members of the community to attend the seder.
At a typical seder, family and friends gather around to read one of the many versions of the Haggadah, the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt. Each item on the table is symbolic. For example, many families serve parsley or something like it to represent the bitter herbs the Jews had to eat on the flight from captivity.

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One little mistake

Students at Brigham Young University's had to pull nearly 18,500 issues of the Daily Universe this week after a mistake in a photo caption, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The caption on a photo from last weekend's LDS General Conference stated that "Members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostates and other general authorities raise their hands in a sustaining vote Saturday morning. ..."
An apostate is a person who abandons what he/she had believed in. I think they wanted the word apostles.
It pays to have good copy editors.

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Passing on traditions

So maybe you're not particularly religious. There's still a lot to be said for keeping tradition, even if the tradition is of your family's own making. My mom recently sent me an aged, mostly melted candle. In addition to the sweaters she knit for her granddaughter, she had sent along this heirloom.
It was used on her first birthday cake and the cakes of her seven siblings and later, she used it on my siblings' cakes and my first-birthday cake. So this poor little candle is onto the third generation. Lighting it and thinking about my mom and my aunts and uncles and then my brothers and sisters warmed me as I sliced into my daughter's first-birthday cake last week.

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A glorious Palm Sunday

I can see the setting sun directly outside my window, and it lulls me into thinking that I have the evening to reflect on Palm Sunday and Holy Week. Maybe you already read Mark 11:1-10 or John 12:12-16. Maybe you already know where you'll be on Good Friday.
I'm remembering a Holy Week spent in Andalucia, Spain with folks. Night upon night, the residents of Seville, Jerez de la Frontera, Málaga and other towns gather to watch floats made up of the sculpted Virgin Mary and Jesus be carried from church to church. It's a weird amalgamation of the sacred and profane. While I'm sure there are a lot of devout "costaleros" — people who carry the heavy, ornate floats — there are a lot of people partying in the street. I once saw a motorcycle cop stop his bike, dash into a bar, down a beer, and continue his patrols of the crowds. Some of these floats were built in the 16th and 17th centuries, at the height of Spain's empire. So they are loaded with the silver and gold of Spain's New World conquests and they were built to honor the Virgin and Jesus.

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Obama stirs up controversy at Notre Dame

Lest you think the University of Notre Dame is only about a storied football legacy, let me gently remind you that Notre Dame is one of the finest institutions of higher learning in the country and an independent Catholic university. It's run by the Congregation of the Holy Cross.
Officials there are doing their share of hand-wringing over their invitation to President Barack Obama to deliver the commencement address May 17 and receive an honorary doctor of laws degree. Opponents of abortion rights, which Obama strongly favors, have described him as the "abortion president." They see him as far more of an enthusiastic supporter of abortion rights, even more so than Bill Clinton.

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The Pope's visit to Africa

I haven't commented until now on Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Africa this week. He concluded the visit by celebrating Mass in Angola Sunday morning. On this trip, Benedict "created a firestorm" read at least one press account I came across for his statement that only premarital abstinence, and not condoms, could reduce the rate of HIV/AIDS. I'm not sure why this should be a shock to anyone who follows the Catholic Church or knows anything about its theology, but it is entirely consistent with its views. Yes, those views have to do with valuing every human life, but they also address in clear terms sexuality. In short, the church sees contraception as one of those modern inventions that separates us from the purpose of sex (always within marriage) and that is procreation. You can read Pope Pius XI's take on it in his encyclical, On Christian Marriage. Though the encyclical, known as Castin Connubii in Latin, was written in the 1930s, the doctrine of the church has not shifted even though contraceptive measures have improved.

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Covering religion

The intent of keeping this blog to begin with was to try to cover religion better. Most media outlets don't cover religion thoroughly at all. Alaska's news organizations lack someone dedicated to covering religion, though there are some fine church-affiliated publications such as the Catholic Anchor, the Anchorage Archdiocese's newspaper.
But I haven't managed to find the time to cover religion here in Alaska as well as I'd like. The blog's start coincided with the start of the academic year, and by then, all my energies were focused on UAA.
So imagine my delight when Beverly Smith contacted me and asked if she could meet with me. She is the Alaska spokeswoman for the Christian Science Church. She came up here from her home in Juneau to meet with some church members in Anchorage and stopped by my office at the university this afternoon to chat about some issues that Christian Scientists are interested in. Mostly, I think she just wanted to say hi to me and let me know she's a resource if I want to cover an issue related to Christian Science.

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The Episcopal-Angelican split

I'm in Denver visiting family so I'm going to keep this short. My dad is a long-time subscriber to the New York Times and until recently, the Rocky Mountain News. Now he's getting the Denver Post, which had a story this morning about how the Episcopalians and the Angelicans — formally the same — are now fighting over church property after their split. The lawsuit in question involves a splinter group, which parted company from fellow Episcopalians over theological differences. This doesn't mean that the conservative wing of the Episcopal Church has left, but a few parishes have split off. The story relates to a couple of parishes that splintered in Colorado Springs, some 70 miles south of Denver.

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A debate about Sudan

Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir has a warrant out for his arrest for war crimes, and as a result is purging international aid groups such as Doctors without Borders from Darfur.
Two prominent Christian leaders, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Franklin Graham, heir of the Billy Graham evangelical brand, had contrasting columns in the New York Times about how the world should deal with al-Bashir if they want to end bloodshed in Sudan. Graham wrote his column from Sudan, where his Samaritan's Purse organization runs aid programs.

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The Church of England and gays

Two things I read this weekend had me thinking about how the Christian churches are going to respond in years to come over gays. It's a touchy issue, and one that everyone from Pope Benedict XVI to the Rev. Rick Warren have addressed in the last few years.
The first item on my reading list was an article in March's The Atlantic about Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury, and how his beliefs and responses to the question of gays in the church has shifted and changed over the years. The archbishop of Canterbury is kind of like the pope to Catholics, only with a lot less power and no infalliability.

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Supreme Court rules on free speech issue

The Supreme Court ruled today that a small religious organization could not force a Utah city to place a monument to their faith in a public park.
The decision was unanimous. The park in Pleasant Grove City already has a mounument to the Ten Commandments. The sect, called Summum, wanted to place a monument to the Seven Aphorisms of its faith.
In the opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., said the following, "We think it is fair to say that throughout our nation's history, the general government practice with respect to donated monuments has been one of selective receptivity."

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A story about Christian filmmakers

NPR had a story the other day about Christian filmmakers. One of the people interviewed said that Hollywood doesn't get the audience and when it tries to do something for evangelical audiences, it fails.
But there are a lot of movies Hollywood produces that are true to the Christian ethic, I think. Perhaps "Slumdog Millionaire" fits this definition.

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Living it up on Fat Tuesday

So this is the last day you can live it up before the fast begins tomorrow. That is, if you're Christian. It's interesting to see how Lent has evolved over time. I remember as a kid the priests emphasized giving something up, especially something you liked. Their message, increasingly, is that it is a time for reflection.
I once tried to give up desserts. It was a fiasco and when Easter finally arrived, I gorged myself on high-calorie junk. I didn't learn a darn thing about Christ in the process, and I don't think his suffering was anything like mine.
Instead, what I do now is try to think about how I can alleviate the suffering of others. Maybe that's keeping my complaining about something work-related to myself instead of burdening my husband with it. Maybe it's writing my mom an extra e-mail or two.

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Sarah Palin, Jerry Prevo and Franklin Graham

As I write this, Gov. Sarah Palin is hanging out in rural Alaska with Jerry Prevo, pastor of the Anchorage Baptist Temple, and Franklin Graham, son of famed evangelical Billy Graham.
Well, hanging out is not the phrase. They left Wasilla this morning to visit the communities of Russian Mission and Marshall on the Yukon River to find out how residents are grappling with a crisis of high energy costs.
Graham's charity, Samaritan's Purse, is spending about $65,000 on food for Western Alaska villages. That's what Kyle Hopkins of the Daily News is reporting on the Alaska Politics blog. Samaritan's Purse goes around the world and helps people in times of need.

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Dan Savage, gays and faith

I'm off to see Dan Savage speak tonight at UAA's Wendy Williamson Auditorium, an event in part sponsored the student media at UAA that I have a role in shepherding along.
For those of you know don't know, Dan Savage is a fierce advocate for gays. But really, he's an advocate for people being comfortable in their own skin, sexually speaking. He has been known to say that he doesn't think monogomy is possible. He has been known to harshly criticize Christians whose views he thinks are anathema to love and acceptance. He famously led a campaign to give the word "santorum" a negative connotation because he opposed the far-right views of then U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa. And he recently did the same for "saddleback," the name of the church the Rev. Rick Warren founded in Southern California. Now it's come to mean a certain practice young people appear to be use when they want to conserve their virginity but still engage in sexual activity. And no, it's not oral sex.

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Obama expands faith-based programs

It seems I've been blogging a lot lately about President Barack Obama and faith issues. But doggone it, he is making headlines on the subject. I can't help it.
After naming his choice to lead the office of faith-based programs and neighborhood partnerships last week, Obama said this morning at a prayer breakfast that he would seek to modify and in some ways expand faith-based initiatives.
Obama said: "Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what was broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times."

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Obama's choice to lead Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships

President Barack Obama chose Joshua DuBois, a young former campaign staffer, to run the Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The announcement was made late last week.
The Washington Post reported Friday that DuBois is 26 years old and a former associate pastor for a small Pentecostal church in Massachusetts. He received a master's degree in public affairs from Princeton University.
Some critics of the faith-based initiative office that George W. Bush started thought that Obama might scrap it. The office provides government funds to religious social service groups. But it is viewed as a violation of the separation of church and state by certain sectors.

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Islam and the Netherlands

I don't have much time to comment on this, but I'm posting a column that appeared in today's New York Times. You might want to pair it with Charles Krauthammer's op-ed piece in today's Anchorage Daily News.
They are related just in the sense that they are about Islam and how the West views it and has dealt with predominantly Muslim nations and people.
I hope to come back to this later today.

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