Archive for February, 2010

Faith in the LGBT Community

Thursday, February 25th, 2010 by JEL

Representatives from Judaism and the Baptist, Episcopal and Unitarian Universalist churches recently met at the University of Maryland to discuss how homosexuality has affected their personal lives, their own congregations and their faith. The panelists’ viewpoints were scattered across the spectrum, but I found this quote quite powerful:

“Jesus doesn’t say anything about orientation in the Gospels. Instead he teaches love and compassion. If anything, the only thing he speaks out against is divorce, and you don’t see them trying to outlaw divorce. What we’re dealing with are anthropological issues about human dignity and human worth.” – Reverend Peter Antoci of the Episcopal-Anglican Campus Ministry

I Wish I Could Be in New Orleans This Weekend

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010 by JEL

Seven world-class religion scholars are convening in New Orleans this weekend at the 6th annual Greer Heard Point Counterpoint forum. The topic? “The Message of Jesus: What Did He Really Teach?” The headline event has the following heavyweights going toe-to-toe on their beliefs:

  • John Dominic Crossan, a theologian and co-founder of the Jesus Seminar, who doesn’t believe Jesus actually spoke most of those quotes in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. To this former Catholic priest, Jesus was a “philosopher, teacher and subversive who undermined the social order with a new ethic.”
  • Ben Witherington III, evangelical theologian, will take on the traditional Christian viewpoint.

Not His Last Name

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010 by JEL

Many people might be surprised to learn that “Christ” is not Jesus’ last name. As in, you wouldn’t instruct your young children to address Him as Mr. Christ in a chance encounter on Main Street. You shouldn’t even address him as Jesus Christ. Jesus the Christ is correct.

“Christ” is actually Jesus’ title and means, in Greek, “the anointed one.” I learned some things in this article.

The Vatican as Rock Critic

Friday, February 19th, 2010 by JEL

The Vatican’s official newspaper, L’ Osservatore Romano, recently published it’s “semiserious guide” to the top 10 rock albums of all time. The Beatles’ “Revolver,” Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” are all safe picks. Others are more interesting/curious. Oasis’ “(What’s the Story) Morning Glory?” made the list, as did one of my all-time faves, Donald Fagen’s fairly obscure “The Nightfly.” The two biggest head-scratchers for me are David Crosby’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name” and Santana’s “Supernatural.”

You’ll notice no Bob Dylan or Rolling Stones among the Vatican’s picks. In the latter’s case, “Sympathy for the Devil” probably did them in.

Lenten Sacrifices

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010 by PJM

For those who have lost track of time and haven’t seen Joe Biden’s forehead, today is Ash Wednesday–a day that marks the beginning of Lent. For many, this is a time of fasting and penance leading up to Easter. This year, bishops from the Church of England are calling for a cut in personal carbon use. Some of the ways they suggest doing so are to:

  • ditch electricity-sucking technology (like iPods),
  • eat more vegetables (that don’t require as much cooking as meat),
  • and don’t flush the toilet so often.

Overall, the gist of their suggestion is to go green for lent. I particularly like this because the result will benefit everyone and not just the individual making the sacrifice.

The Bible and Agatha Christie

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010 by JEL

I was perusing some best-seller lists for the past few years and became curious about the top-selling books of all time.  Here’s what Wikipedia has for the top 14:

  1. The Bible
  2. Quotations from Chairman Mao (Little Red Book)
  3. The Koran
  4. Xinhua Dictionary
  5. Chairman Mao’s Poems
  6. Selected Articles of Mao Zedong
  7. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
  8. Scouting for Boys: A Handbook for Instruction in Good Citizenship
  9. The Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
  10. Book of Mormon
  11. The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life (Jehovah’s Witnesses)
  12. On the Three Representations
  13. And Then There Were None (Agatha Christie)
  14. The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Quite the interesting list. I think Chairman Mao’s three entries greatly benefited from compulsory reading/ownership of over 1 billion people. Five are religious books; six if you throw in the Scouting book and its link to Christianity. And Agatha Christie?

The Origins of Valentine’s Day

Monday, February 15th, 2010 by JEL

It’s tough to pin down the real story about Valentine’s Day. One, there were a lot of early Christian martyrs named Valentine. Two, the most widely accepted versions deal with a Valentine from 269 AD.

Anyway, this Valentine was a Roman priest who was jailed for either refusing to renounce his Christianity OR for secretly performing marriages for Roman soldiers (the Romans thought married soldiers were not as effective as single soldiers…fascinating link to today’s Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell debate). While in jail, Valentine either restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter OR was in love with this daughter and wrote her a note on the night of his execution, signed “From Your Valentine.”

You can read about all the legends and the birth of a greeting card juggernaut here.

Reader Review

Thursday, February 11th, 2010 by JEL

When we were designing What He Said, we often thought it would be great for Bible study groups or religious education classes. For young people, or those diving deep into the Gospels, the new layout should make their efforts a little easier. Which is why it was so nice to see this new review which just appeared on our Amazon page:

“I bought this book for my husband for Christmas. This was exactly the book that he had been asking for. He had said over and over how he wanted a book that highlighted the words of Jesus, and What He Said does an excellent job of emphasizing the words of our Savior in context with the remainder of the Gospel. My husband is using the book to lead a small group class at our church.” – sval59, Greensboro, NC

Sorry to get all commercial on you, but I don’t think we’ve ever explicitly said that What He Said is only available at Amazon or in our e-Store. It might be available someday in your local bookstore, but not yet.

Morality and Religion

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010 by JEL

There’s a new article in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences that explores the link (and distinctions) between morality and religion. As Dr. Marc Hauser, one of the authors of the article, says:

“For some, there is no morality without religion, while others see religion as merely one way of expressing one’s moral intuitions.”

For years, the debate surrounding the origins of religion has been split into two camps. One camp believes that religion evolved as a way for non-related individuals to cooperate and live together. The other thinks religion emerged as a “by-product of pre-existing cognitive capacities.”

Dr. Hauser and co-author Dr. Ilkka Pyysiainen reviewed a number of moral psychology studies and found that people of varying religious backgrounds (including no religious background) showed no difference in making moral judgements. In other words, people knew the basics of right and wrong intuitively and were making their moral decisions independent of religious affiliation (or lack thereof).

The good doctors claim that this research supports the-religion-as-a-by-product camp, though I admit much of their argument goes swooping over my head. You can read their full article here.

Amazing Grace

Monday, February 8th, 2010 by JEL

I always thought “Amazing Grace” was a nice, sort of generic, hear-it-all-the-time-never-really-pay-attention kind of song. Then it popped up in one of my guitar lessons. It’s a classic tune for learning your first hammer-ons and pull-offs. The music I’ve been playing from doesn’t list a composer, just the word “Spiritual” as a sub-head.

And played slowly, with feeling (and flub-free) it is a very spiritual song. I thought it was another spiritual like “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” that came over with slaves from Africa. Not so. I learned today that the song was written by John Newton (1725-1807), an English sea captain responsible for transporting thousands of slaves from Africa to the New World.

During one fierce storm at sea, he had a religious awakening and converted to Evangelical Christianity. And then wrote “Amazing Grace,” among other hymns. I wonder if his tune was at all influenced by the music he heard rising up from the chains below decks on all those voyages.