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Saturday, 25 October 2014 05:15 pm

Russia and my soul-hunger

Saturday, 25 October 2014 09:33 pm
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I do not particularly like Vladimir Putin, nor indeed do most of my more educated Russian friends, both here and in Russia. Nor do I especially like Moscow, with its unpleasant mixture of Soviet pomp and post-Soviet shopping malls, which suggest that the only thing Muscovites have learned to do in the last 20 years is to get hold of money (I hesitate to use the word ‘earning’ in every case) and spend it. I have a love-hate relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church, in constant danger of getting caught in a quagmire in which institution takes precedence over spirit. I am sick of the nationalistic propaganda on the Russian subways, the constant reference back to a war which ended nearly 70 years ago, and the cheap anti-gay lobby. And I am mighty glad that, living all my adult life in continental Europe, I have got to age 65, earned a decent amount of money and bought a house without every yet having to pay anyone a bribe.

Yet something instinctively tells me, in the present US-(Europe)-(Ukraine) -Russia stand-off, not to be too harsh on the Russian side. In the battle of cultures (American vs- Russian), which is what Ukraine seems to me about (even if we Europeans are going to end up paying most of the bill), my sympathies are still weighted Russia-wards, even though the Russian-speakers in Donetz and Lugansk are not a very sympathetic group, and Russian mercenaries and ‘volunteered’ regular soldiers are pretty uninviting.

I admit I have not had a good run with the USA. My university years were the days of Vietnam. After this I worked eight years with a US bank in Germany (1974-82), including two spells in the US (1974 and 1976-77) in Chicago. I fear that what I saw in Chicago was not democracy, but power: keeping a wealthy caste in place and making sure that the underclass did not threaten it.  And an incredible inability to think in any other mould than the US one, even with the dollar in free fall against the German mark. I also have a pretty wide exposure to American Christianity, which at least in its majority Protestant form, fails to persuade or assuage me. All this – and my Russian girlfriend and now wife – explains why I have been 15 times to Russia and just twice to the USA, the last time over 35 years ago.

But a deeper reason for this relatively pro-Russian stance lies, I think, in what, for lack of a better word, I would call my ‘soul-hunger’ or ‘soul-thirst’. There is something in Russia, at its best, which I sense can meet this hunger better than America, and at least as well as Europe. This is horribly sweeping, I know. It is instinct rather than logic. It is something I felt strongly in Russia last summer, when I finally got away from Moscow and St Petersburg right up north, to the northern edges of the forest belt, 200 km south of Archangelsk. (But not in Russian Orthodoxy in Belgium, which has left me soul-starved.) In Europe I have been fortunate to be able to drink deeply, largely because I know where the better wells are hidden, and been able to change wells when one runs dry.

I think that it is this soul-hunger and sense of ‘soul-depth’ that makes many Russians highly uncomfortable with things American. This discomfort is couched in perhaps awkward terms: the dislike of gay marriages and marches, or the way human and gender rights are pushed. But I suspect it is something deeper: there is a sense of something missing in much of US, and a certain extent European culture, a very primitive sense of depth, not least a sense that societies obey very deep down laws, deeper certainly than popular democracy and gender equality, which you do not tinker with superficially.

But if indeed, as Putin accused it yesterday in a very outspoken speech, the US decided at the end of the Cold War “to reshape the world to suit its own needs and interests”; I hope with him that it does not succeed. This would really be “gaining the world and losing its soul”.

 

 

 

 



Community

Saturday, 25 October 2014 03:47 pm
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Posted by Kiri Van Santen

English

Banner with seven circles and a set of speech bubbles in the seventh one, reading 'Seven Years, Seven Wonders, Organization for Transformative Works, October 19-26 2014 Membership Drive'

The other day you saw the kind of awesome things our volunteers do. Today, we focus on YOU, the community, who make our projects wonderful.

When using an OTW project, you might not know that everything we do is so interconnected. All of our projects do unique things, but they are part of one big organization.

Below you’ll find an infographic with interesting stats about Fanlore and the Archive of Our Own. All the stats are based on activities you, our community members, do. You may have seen some basic stats from AO3 — such as 1,329,304 fanworks and 417,711 users — but have you ever looked deeper? Ever wondered how many works per day are posted, or how many series there are? Wonder no further!

As you read this, please remember that we exist entirely because of our community. Without you guys there is no OTW; we're all in this together. Take a look at the graphic below and know that your donations to the OTW help support our vital and brilliant community.

How Well Do You Know The OTW? Fanlore - 31,277 articles, 545,208 total edits, 39,501 edits in 2014. - Fanhackers - 1,879 articles in fan studies bibliography, 155 added this year. Archive of Our Own - 1,650 works on average posted and 4,075 works updated with new chapters every day. This year we set a record: 10 million page views in one day! That's about 7,000 page views per minute! 56,013,426 total kudos given,28,226,508 kudos given in 2014 alone.  Legal Advocacy -<br />Submitted 70,684 words of legal and policy arguments this year in 7 public documents to 5 governmental entities in 2014. Transformative Works and Cultures - 2014: 51 essays in 3 issues. Since 2007: 294 essays in 17 issues. What does all this cost? In 2014 our annual budget is US$ 221,863.44. It costs US$ 155,551,19 to run AO3 for one year. US$ 17.76 pays for one hour of reading on AO3. That's 120 drabbles at 200 words/minute!<br />US$ 75,000 will be needed to replace old servers and expand capacity in 2015. Of the total budget, 3% funds our Legal Advocacy, Open Doors, Fanlore, and Transformative Works and Cultures Projects; 4% covers administrative costs; 7% allows for outreach, membership development, and fundraising activities; 16% provides opportunities for professional development and training for all other personnel; 70% goes directly to servers, colocation, and staff development for AO3. Help support our work!

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Saturday Links: Kanye West = Jenny Holzer Edition

Saturday, 25 October 2014 04:00 pm
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Posted by Meredith

Meredith

Collage via Paper magazine.

Collage via Paper.

Flannery O’Connor once posited that “the basis of art is truth, both in matter and in mode.” Jenny Holzer and Kanye West—two of the greatest living artists and thinkers—have cornered the market on a certain mode: that of the existential one-liner. While they both create absolutely gorgeous things in longer-form mediums—Kanye in his lyrics, or Holzer in her Inflammatory Essays, for instance—both also use extremely short-form prose to illuminate concepts that linger in your brain for days, or maybe forever. This article, “15 Times Kanye West Sounded Like Jenny Holzer,” exposes the ways in which they’re operating on the same level of matter and mode, and that they deserve to have their art viewed in equal measures of enormous reverence.

This week saw the passing of renowned fashion designer Oscar de la Renta. The eternally influential clothier specialized in beautiful event dresses, which were worn by first ladies, diplomats, and the red carpet with equal aplomb. He began his formal education in fashion in his late teens at Balenciaga and Dior. After decades at a variety of fashion houses, he showed his first couture collection in 1993. He was known to be a warm, friendly person and an excellent friend to many of the women he dressed, as when he serenaded Sarah Jessica Parker with a full mariachi band, above. His legacy is worked into his garments and celebrated by the women who wore them.

Photo of Kate Bush's tour by Ken McKay via Kate Bush.

Photo of Kate Bush’s tour by Ken McKay via Kate Bush.

The goddess Kate Bush wrote an open letter to her fans about her second tour ever, which spanned 22 dates at one venue in London, and published it on her website this week. She called the series of shows “one of the most extraordinary experiences of [her] life” and expressed her gratitude for her creative team and her fans. Her live performances were a huge deal to so many people who grew up with her music, so the fact that it made her as happy as her audiences is lovely. Hopefully this results in international dates at some point in the very near future.

Gabby

Photo by Mark Seliger for GQ.

Photo by Mark Seliger for GQ.

I would like to get this excerpt from Nicki Minaj’s new GQ interview engraved on a commemorative gold plaque to hang above my bed:

“I like dealing with people, but I don’t really like a lot of bullshit, so maybe customer service wasn’t the best job for me.” She was fired from a waitressing job at a Red Lobster after she followed a couple who had taken her pen into the parking lot and then flipped them the bird. I asked her if it was a special pen. “No,” she said. “It was the principle.’”

While I didn’t really like how the author kept pitting Minaj against other female artists (after all, “When you stand next to a beautiful woman, who also sings, and not be insecure in who you are, you’re a queen, too”), I think this interview just confirms that Nicki Minaj is a genius who is so totally aware of the power she yields. Plus, it also mentions her eating Versace-print M&Ms and includes pictures of her posing with pastel poodles while wearing a leather bustier. Nicki Minaj is living her best life, and we’re so lucky that we get to witness it.

Stephanie

The Rookie heroine and writer Joan Didion will be the subject of a documentary titled We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live! The project is spearheaded by her nephew, Griffin Dunne, who worked with Joan on her book trailer for her most recent memoir, Blue Nights. Dunne launched a Kickstarter to fund the film and has already surpassed his $80,000 goal–not a surprise at all since backers had the opportunity to get rewards like a pair of Joan’s famous sunglasses (they were $2,500 and are already gone, sniff). I’m glad the campaign has been such a success, because I can’t wait to see Joan’s life play out in front of me on the big screen.

A still from The Simpsons via Simpsons World.

A still from The Simpsons via Simpsons World.

Do you love The Simpsons? Was the recent marathon of every Simpsons episode one of the best things to happen to your life? Well, here’s something EVEN BETTER: Simpson’s World, a website on which you can watch every Simpsons episode ever for free, whenever you want on your computer, phone, tablet as long as you have a cable subscription (or can ride on someone else’s)! Plus, you can see the popularity of each episode and there are fun extras, like this “15 Classic Ralph Moments” playlist.

Amy Rose

A photo posted by Tavi Gevinson (@tavitulle) on

This week, I bugged out with the sheer radiant joy of mad rad people showing support for Rookie Yearbook Three, which came out a handful of days ago. Sorry for semi-shilling for this beauty, but also, I’m kind of just excited, because I think the fact that the Broad City heaux did a Friend Crush just for this print version of our web’s site is pretty 100 200 300.

Lucy

FKA Twigs may have actually managed to make Google Glass look cool in this video, which she directed herself. In perfect Twigs style, the video incorporates gorgeous vogueing, bizarre makeup (replicate it with this tutorial by Arabelle) and a crew of robot dancers, in a video that was filmed partially through the glasses. The effect is mesmerizing, and goes to show the huge range of ability Twigs has in any/every medium she chooses.

In other music news that has become strangely dear to my heart, Julian Casablancas took to Twitter to clarify that he does not hate brunch, as previously reported by various hard-hitting news outlets. Plus, he wrote that he still very much enjoys performing with the Strokes, which to many fans (me included) is a great relief!

Brodie

OUR PRAYERS HAVE BEEN ANSWERED! In the third installment of Marcel the Shell With Shoes On, Marcel scurries out from under a plant to talk about grapes, his allergies and how “shrimps are the idiots of the sea.” Marcel was his usual warbly, excitable, sneezy self as he regaled us with a song he learned at camp that he sings “because my best friend lives far away.” This third instalment in the Marcel the Shell series, which started back in 2010 (aka AEONS AGO IN INTERNET YEARS), is out to commemorate the release of Marcel’s (and his creators’, Jenny Slate and Dean Fleischer-Camp’s) new book, The Most Surprised I’ve Ever Been.

Photo of Gough Whitlam with the singer Little Pattie in 1972 by Graeme Fletcher/Getty Images via The Guardian.

Photo of Gough Whitlam with the singer Little Pattie in 1972 by Graeme Fletcher/Getty Images via The Guardian.

This week, Australia has mourned the passing of Gough Whitlam, who was our Prime Minister in the 1970s. In just three years as the leader of our country, Whitlam made many important changes that have had a lasting effect on my country, including the introduction of universal healthcare and the Racial Discrimination Act, returning Australian troops from Vietnam, abolishing the federal death penalty, establishing government funded radio stations and arts councils that remain today and, one of the most important, the introduction of free university education. That sounds like a lot, but it’s really just scraping the surface of the positive changes he made to Australian society. Many tributes were given in Whitlam’s honor this week, and one of the most touching came from former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who said he was “gone, grieved for, but never to be forgotten,” and left behind “a legacy to be celebrated.” RIP, you bloody legend.

Caitlin D.

Photo by Hans-Maximo Musielik for VICE.

Photo of protesters in Iguala by Hans-Maximo Musielik for VICE.

Last month in Iguala, a town in the Mexican state of Guerrero, police officers arrested and disappeared 43 student activists. Their fate is now unknown. Iguala’s mayor went on the lam after facing accusations of collusion with local drug cartels in the matter. The horrific series of events has set off massive unrest. University students across the country went on strike for two days this week, massive protests took over the downtown area of Mexico City, and families and peers of the missing activists stormed Iguala’s city hall. Love to the protesters, citizens of Iguala, and the families and intimates of the missing.

This week, chatter about the actress Reneé Zellweger’s plastic surgery was a gross reminder that, though we demand pristine beauty from our Hollywood actresses, we balk at physical evidence of their pursuit of it. This piece deconstructs the public’s often-wrongheaded reaction to women who choose to get plastic surgery:

Of course Meryl Streep is still working and racking up awards, we say, smiling respectfully every time a younger actress states that their greatest goal is to share the screen with her. Of course Jessica Lange is the new face of Marc Jacobs, we nod, proud of our own progressive, subversive standards of beauty. We allow ourselves a few exceptional exceptions … if they’re pretty enough and we can believe that they would never sully themselves with a trip to a medical professional.

Loving this advice columnist’s All Hallow’s Eve beatdown delivered to a snooty trick-or-treat host. Free candy for ALL this holiday season! ♦

Halloween Origami

Saturday, 25 October 2014 03:47 pm
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Posted by gloucestercitylibrary

OrigamiBatJoin us for Halloween Origami on Wednesday, October 29, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Learn how to fold some great decorations with Origami Master Scott Gold.

This program is recommended for ages five and up. All children MUST be accompanied by an adult. Call us at 856-456-4181 to register!


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Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey &#124; Religion News Service

Religious groups are battling the state of California over whether employee health insurance plans require them to pay for abortions and some forms of contraception that some find immoral.

So is the state forcing churches to pay for abortions? It depends on who you ask.

The issue gained traction after Michelle Rouillard, director of the California Department of Managed Health Care, sent a letter to Anthem Blue Cross and several other insurance firms in August warning providers that state law requires insurers to not deny woman abortions. “Thus, all health plans must treat maternity services and legal abortion neutrally,” she wrote.

Rouillard wrote that state law provides an exemption for religious institutions.

“Although health plans are required to cover legal abortions, no individual health care provider, religiously sponsored health carrier, or health care facility may be required by law or contract in any circumstance to participate in the provision of or payment for a specific service if they object to doing so for reason of conscience or religion,” she wrote.

“No person may be discriminated against in employment or professional privileges because of such objection.”

However, two legal groups have filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, alleging the California rule puts faith-based organizations in a position to violate their conscience.

The August letter followed protests by mostly non-Catholic faculty at two Jesuit schools, Loyola Marymount University and Santa Clara University, over the schools’ plans to drop abortion coverage from their employee insurance plans.

Earlier this month, California’s Catholic bishops filed a federal civil rights complaint over the state requirement, claiming that the DMHC discriminated against those morally opposed to abortion, and requested an investigation.

“It is a flagrant violation of their civil rights and deepest moral convictions, and is government coercion of the worst kind,” said a statement from Bishop Robert McElroy, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of San Francisco and chairman of the Institutional Concerns Committee of the California Catholic Conference.

Seven churches in California received notifications from their insurers that elective surgical abortion coverage would be required as part of their employee health plans, according to Casey Mattox, an attorney with the Arizona-based Alliance Defending Freedom.

On October 9, ADF and the Life Legal Defense Foundation filed a complaint with HHS saying the California abortion-coverage mandate violated the 2004 Weldon Amendment, a measure passed every year, which prohibits funding from the HHS, Labor and Education departments going to states that don’t allow conscience exemptions to abortion coverage requirements.

In a statement, the California agency says it only regulates “health plans,” not the “purchasers” of health coverage.

The churches’ complaint suggests the state receives an estimated $40 billion from Labor Department funding each year. “California accepted those funds with full knowledge of the requirements of the Weldon Amendment, but it has chosen to ignore this law,” they wrote in their complaint.

Nonetheless, the insurance plans have the burden to cover abortion, said Maggie Crosby, senior staff attorney of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.

“California has not required churches — or any other employers — to cover abortion,” Crosby said in a statement. “It has clarified long standing law which regulates commercial insurance plans.”

That requirement has been in place since 2002, built on a state law passed in 1975, according to the August letter.

“Because insurers must offer comprehensive care, an employer can’t use a subpar health plan to deny a woman the full range of reproductive health care options,” Crosby said. “If an employer wants to deny its employees the comprehensive coverage required, it can self-insure.”

The question of whether abortion should be covered under health insurance was raised during debates over Obamacare. HHS crafted an accommodation to its contraception mandate for some religious employers that would require third-party administrators to pay for birth control services, but ongoing litigation focuses on whether the accommodation is sufficient.

“The ACLU didn’t ask for such an accommodation in California and DMHC didn’t create one,” Mattox said in a statement. “ACLU asked DMHC to require every health care plan in the state to include elective abortion coverage as ‘basic healthcare.’ DMHC agreed.”

A similar dispute is brewing in the nation’s capital.

On Thursday (October 23), ADF and six other organizations sent the City Council of the District of Columbia a letter arguing that a proposed bill violates federal law by forcing the groups to provide abortion coverage through their insurance plans.

The group argues that the District’s proposed Reproductive Health Non-Discrimination Amendment Act prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for any reproductive health decision, including abortion, which would require employers to provide health insurance for abortions regardless of the employers’ beliefs or convictions.

The letter argues that the bill would violate the law since the Hobby Lobby ruling earlier this year, when the Supreme Court ruled that the Hobby Lobby chain and other closely held private businesses with religious objections could opt out of the birth control mandate.

Clashes between the government and religious groups have intensified over health care related to women in recent years. More than 100 for-profit and nonprofit groups have sued over the contraceptive coverage required under the federal Affordable Care Act; the Supreme Court ruling only applied to for-profit businesses.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

The post Is California Forcing Churches to Pay for Abortions? appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by OnFaith

Psalm 149:3 says, “Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises to him with the tambourine and harp and the tap dance and pop-lock.” Or, maybe it stops at “harp.” But the people in these videos are finding their own delightful ways to “praise his name.”


Seminarian Tap Dance Duel

Push play for the singing, stay until 1:04 for the tap dancing.

Here’s a longer but better look at the whole thing.


Praise Break Breakdown

A compilation of dance moves for your next worship service, including “The James Brown,” “The Click-Clack,” and “Wait, Hold That Bus.”


Pop-Lock Praise

At this church, some people pop lock, and some people get their phones out to record the pop-lock.


Praise Break at Daddy’s Funeral

This one is worth watching because (1) it’s at a funeral (which is actually quite common), and (2) at 1:34, a woman with a broken foot can’t help herself any longer


Bro Franklin’s Offering Time

Church service planners, take note. This is how it’s done.


Plus one more: Pop-Locking Is the Key

This might not actually be a church video, but it’s close enough, and it’s a pop-lock classic.

 

The post The 5 Most Delightful Church Dance Videos on YouTube appeared first on OnFaith.

4 of Christianity’s Biggest Financial Blunders

Friday, 24 October 2014 01:46 pm
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Posted by Dave Albertson

Many well managed Christian organizations have done a lot of good in the world and are worthy of our appreciation — take a look at Samiritan’s Purse, Lutheran World Relief, Food for the Hungry, Catholic Relief Services, and World Vision. But plenty of major mistakes have been made, both unintentional and otherwise — some of which changed the world. Here is a list of four big financial mistakes in the history of Christianity.

496px-5_Prohibition_Disposal(9)1. Prohibition

Through much of the nineteenth century, alcohol was the bogeyman of American Christianity. People became convinced that the special sauce was the root of most social ills. Baptist and Methodist clergy sought to abolish the recreational use of alcohol and were able to create religious coalitions such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. These organizations created social pressure to gather nationwide support for banning alcohol. Inspired by their success, Christian denominations charged ahead as they helped form the Anti-Saloon League to lobby the government to create prohibition legislation.

It worked! In 1920 Prohibition passed as the Eighteenth Amendment, and with great fanfare. It also tremendously damaged the American economy. Thousands of jobs were lost, restaurants and theaters closed, and breweries were dismantled. Speakeasies replaced saloons. Black markets and gangsters took over the business. New York State lost 75% of its tax base and prohibition cost the federal government $11B in tax revenue over the following decade. The Amendment was so unpopular and so financially destructive that Franklin Delano Roosevelt incorporated its repeal into his 1932 campaign for President. Just over a year later it was formally repealed by the Twenty-First Amendment.

Because of the vast economic consequences, the prohibition of alcohol turned out to be an even worse social calamity than its widespread consumption.

This sixteenth-century Cardinal, Alessandro Farnese, held 64 benefices.

This sixteenth-century Cardinal, Alessandro Farnese, held 64 benefices.

2. Benefices

Most clergy do not like fundraising. Maybe it’s because in the good old days, we never had to. From the time of Constantine, Christian clergy were exempt from taxation and mandatory civil service and often received a pension. Over time, a new compensation model emerged as the Church accumulated more and more property. With benefices, instead of individual clergy being paid by the crown, the Church would lend property to the clergy in exchange for their spiritual duties. This gave priests a stable income, kept the land in the possession of the Church, and avoided taxation.

But it also promoted abuse — the only thing better than a benefice was two benefices, and getting an extra one wasn’t difficult. Things got so skewed that in 1215, the Fourth Lateran Council committed to regulating the practice. Nobody paid any attention. Finally, 800 (!!!) years later, the Second Vatican Council decided it was time to abandon the benefice.

Not everyone has been so eager.

The Anglicans still make use of the tradition as newly ordained priests must swear an oath to church and country before they are given rights to their appointed church and its parsonage. The United States even has some leftover elements of the benefice as the IRS still cuts clergy a discount on their income tax for property expenses. Long live the benefice!

3. Indulgences

Martin Luther nailing his 94 Theses.

Martin Luther nailing his 94 Theses.

Cathedrals aren’t cheap, but sometimes they’re necessary. So where does a savvy Pope turn to raise money to build a glorious church? How about selling forgiveness? That was Pope Leo X’s plan in 1517 when he offered indulgences as a fundraiser to build Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

The decision was not without precedence. Indulgences had been used for centuries. Since Christ used his infinite merit to procure God’s forgiveness, and since the Church was responsible for doling out this forgiveness, it only made sense that the Church could create innovative criteria of distribution. Forgiveness was like a limitless bank account with the Pope’s name on it that could be tapped on an as-needed basis. Indulgences helped fund the Crusades. They helped build medieval cathedrals. They seemed like the perfect fundraiser.

But in October of the same year as Leo X’s fundraiser, Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door in Wittenberg, with 49 of the theses focusing specifically on the misuse of money. Within a couple months, the document was copied and distributed throughout Europe and was causing quite a stir. Leo X was unimpressed, though, and issued a formal statement explaining that the Papacy could use indulgences however it pleased. Disagreement on the topic led to the Protestant Reformation.

The Roman Catholic Church did finally put an end to the misuse of indulgences in 1567. By then it had cost the Church not just the loss of fundraising income, but the loss of half its people and much of its political power.

4. Prosperity

God wants us to be happy, and for many contemporary Christians, that happiness is best expressed with extraordinary wealth. Nobody models this better than Bishop Edir Macedo of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God. His Brazilian church of 5 million faithful generates close to $1 billion in revenue every year. Campuses are scattered throughout the world, and Macedo visits them often, preaching a message of tithing and prosperity. His current net worth is $1.2 billion.

Macedo’s message — Give me money and God will make you rich — is used by Christian leaders all over the world. In America, Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, and various televangelists have used it with great success. Local churches have also found it to be very profitable. According to Kate Bowler, there are currently 114 prosperity megachurches in the United States, with nearly a million members all told.

But Macedo’s situation is perhaps the worst case in point. He is not just a pastor promoting prosperity to his congregation. Most of Macedo’s personal wealth comes from his ownership of Record, the second-largest television station in Brazil. He purchased it in 1989 for $45 million, which was loaned to him interest-free by his church. An investigation by tax authorities took 20 years to sort out — in Macedo’s favor. (The judge did notice that the church seemed to exist solely for Macedo’s benefit).

The church now buys advertising from Record and Macedo enjoys the blessing of self-dealing. In fact, all of the pastors at the Universal Church own private businesses that the church uses as service providers. It’s a prosperous business model. Maybe God really does bless those who bless themselves.

The post 4 of Christianity’s Biggest Financial Blunders appeared first on OnFaith.

How to Find Spirituality in a Nightclub

Friday, 24 October 2014 01:20 pm
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Posted by Benjamin Wachs

I didn’t invent the connection between spirituality and nightlife. The Sufi poet Rumi beat me to it by over 800 years, comparing a mystical union with God to drinking wine and dancing with his beloved.

COVER.Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City (cover)

Read more in the author’s recent book.

But that connection is something we recognize in theory. In practice, I get shocked looks when I say I found dancing with prostitutes in a Russian nightclub to be as spiritual an experience as singing Latin plainchant in a Swiss cathedral; partying at a tequila bar just outside Jerusalem’s Old City to be as religious as kissing the Wailing Wall; and running away from the Verona police with two Dutch girls and a Croatian woman to be as holy as living in a Buddhist monastery in India.

The surprise is understandable — but these experiences were all part and parcel of a single tapestry to me, because I entered them all in a state of pilgrimage.

My sophomore year of college the Off-Campus Programs officer, a mentor of mine, asked me to come to her office. She told me to sit down. She looked me in the eye and said, “Benjamin, if you could go anywhere in the world and do anything, what would it be?”

To my credit, I didn’t give a cheap or easy answer about the beaches of Tahiti or a career fast-track on Wall Street. I spoke from my heart, saying, “I’d like to live in a Buddhist monastery, not as an observer who’s asking, ‘Why do these quaint people believe what they believe?’ but as a participant, observing firsthand what that the life and the meditation practices do to your mind, and how it changes your life.”

She walked over to the wall, pulled down a brochure, and said, “Have I got a program for you.” It was exactly that.

If you find exactly what you were looking for, you’ve never really left your backyard.

I was able to make a wish — for anything — and see it granted. It didn’t fit with my course of study or life plan at all, but of course I had to do it. It was nothing like what I’d expected. I’ve never been the same.

About five years later, frustrated by graduate school and a nasty break-up, I realized that I was unhappy with the life I had built. “Well,” I said, “what is it that I really want to be doing?” I sat down, meditated using one of the techniques I had once learned in a Buddhist monastery in India, and eventually realized:

“I want to travel the world.”

Like going to the monastery, traveling the world required sacrifice. I quit my jobs in print and radio, left my Masters program just short of graduation, said goodbye to everyone I knew, and hit the road. Four months later, through a series of extraordinary coincidences, I was paying my way across the world by writing stories about international nightlife for Playboy.com. It was nothing like what I’d planned. I’ve never been the same.

One experience involved sitting very still, the other chasing bright lights into dark clubs, but I entered both in a state of openness and sacrifice — I had explicitly asked for a new life and then made room for what came. These experiences happened not just because I said, “This is what I want,” but because I willingly gave up my old life to pick up a new one, leaving behind plans, careers, and most of all, certainty. I learned two lessons: Saying “yes!” to the divine in your life is an active process, not a passive one; and you cannot go on a pilgrimage to a destination of your choosing. If you find exactly what you were looking for, you’ve never really left your backyard.

When the writer Cary Tennis told me that he wanted to publish a collection of my short fiction, I gave him a group of my recent stories to look over. At our next meeting, he mentioned, “A lot of your stories take place in bars.”

Did they? I hadn’t noticed. He was right — but that wasn’t the only pattern. Many of these stories involved people going into bars and finding a god there. Or having a spiritual revelation.

I was, I realized, processing my pilgrimages in my fiction.

Those stories are now a collection, A Guide to Bars and Nightlife in the Sacred City, and I’m asked on an almost daily basis, “How can you say there’s anything spiritual about going to a bar?”

Well, there doesn’t have to be, any more there has to be something spiritual about going to church — both can be passive processes in which you sit on an uncomfortable bench, put in your time, and leave exactly the way you were when you walked in.

It’s a pathetic divinity that can only appear beneath flying buttresses on Sundays.

But don’t we dream of more? Isn’t the whole point of a spiritual experience to change your life?

If bars were really about the booze, you’d drink at home. If going out were really about seeing your friends, you’d visit each other’s homes. Nightlife, at its essence, is the desire for something amazing to happen. To go out searching for a miracle. We may think of that yearning as distinct from “spiritual” experience because our culture generally associates religion with puritanism, but the same hope and need and desire for meaning can push us to both churches and clubs. It’s a pathetic divinity that can only appear beneath flying buttresses on Sundays.

Perhaps the biggest proof of concept of this today is Burning Man, which for hundreds of thousands of people is simultaneously a massive party and a spiritual pilgrimage. Bacchanalia? Sure — but that was a religious festival, too. What Burning Man offers most is possibility: you have no idea what you’re going to encounter when you cross the street, or what will happen as you step into the desert — but you have gone out of your way to get it. That voluntarily chosen “primacy of possibility” (to use the sociologist Philip Rieff’s term), a source from which anything can happen, is the engine that powers Burning Man as both spiritual pilgrimage and party, and is fuel that fires great spiritual journeys — whether monastic or sensual.

The fact that these possibilities are not necessarily benign, that they can do damage, that your soul is at risk, is exactly the point. A spirituality that is incapable of leading across loneliness, addiction, and tragedy has nothing to offer anyone in this broken world. The stakes are real, and anyone casually familiar with scriptures, let alone the deity, knows that a pilgrimage is not harmless. This isn’t self-help culture. Easy answers are not on offer. Sacrifice is the price of admission.

We take the pilgrimage up anyway, into churches and dive bars. We follow the divine’s path until it finds us.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Posted by Lisa Noel Seiwert

Islamophobia — the fear or hatred of Islam and Muslims — is not a liberal meme. Islamophobia is a real and insidious ideology that believes there is something innately wrong with Islam and its adherents. It’s the reason CNN anchors were unable to grasp Reza Aslan’s point that “Muslim countries” are not all alike. It’s the reason Bill Maher and Sam Harris are applauded for exaggerations, stereotypes, and sweeping generalizations about the “Muslim world.” And it’s the reason the New York Police Department reports that hate crimes against Muslims are up 143 percent.

But the ideology of Islamophobia in the United States does not exist in a vacuum. It is rooted in another ideology — that of Christian privilege, the idea that Christianity is normal and other religions are inferior or deviant.

Acknowledging privilege makes us squirm. I’m a white woman. When I first heard the term “white privilege,” I resisted. I felt somehow exempt because I love and care for all people, regardless of skin color. I didn’t see white privilege as part of a system of oppression, one that’s impossible to just step out of.

But in reality, people of color really are systematically disadvantaged in our society. We see this in access to education, housing, medical care, and in our criminal justice system. It’s just difficult for whites to feel the advantage. Our privilege is an ingrained part of the way we live.

Christians in the United States are also steeped in privilege. Christianity is the default and expected religious identification of Americans. Other religions are exactly that — they are “other.” And just as it’s difficult for me as a white person to see my white privilege, it’s difficult for me as a Christian to see the ways our culture privileges my Christian identity.

To shed light on these advantages, psychologist Lewis Schlosser created a list that I have found helpful in naming and understanding Christian privilege. The statements are designed to be read in a true-or-false fashion: Are these statements true or false for you?

– I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.

– I can be sure that my holy day is taken into account when states pass laws (e.g., the sale of liquor) and when retail stores decide their hours.

– I can assume that I will not have to work or go to school on my significant religious holidays.

– I can be sure that when told about the history of civilization, I am shown people of my religion who made it what it is.

– I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my religion.

– I can, if I wish, arrange to be in the company of people of my religion most of the time.

– I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a ‘credit to my religion’ or being singled out as being different from other members of my religious group.

– I can buy foods (e.g. in grocery store, at restaurants) that fall within the scope of my religious group.

– I can travel and be sure to find a comparable place of worship when away from my home community.

– I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my religion will not work against me.

– I can be fairly sure that if I ask to talk to the ‘person in charge,’ I will be facing a person of my religion.

– I can remain oblivious to the language and customs of other religious groups without feeling any penalty for such a lack of interest and/or knowledge.

To Schlosser’s list, I would add the following:

– I can feel confident that I will receive fair and due process under the law and will not be detained or interrogated due to my religious identity.

– In film and television, I am likely to see positive portrayals of members of my religion.

– I can feel confident that my religion will not be the primary motivation for an act of violence against me.

If you’re a Christian, you should attempt to view Schlosser’s exercise from the perspective and experience of a Muslim citizen — it might open your eyes to the invisible power and punch of Christian privilege. This list has helped me to imagine living as a Muslim in American society amid the daily bombardment of messages, subtle and overt, that a Muslim religious identity is less worthy.

Taking Christian privilege seriously means I have work to do. I need to recognize that the bigotry, hate crimes, and persecution against my Muslim sisters and brothers are inextricably linked to the privileges I enjoy as a Christian in this country. I need to learn to become attuned to the ways I have been shaped by the message that my religion is normal and right. I need to find ways to actively resist my privilege.

As a Christian, I can’t help but think of the gospels when I think about resisting privilege. The narratives portray Jesus time and again resisting privileges others attempt to bestow upon him. We see him washing feet, eating with sinners, healing lepers, and “lowering” himself according to the social standards of the day. We see him reaching out to those whom society marginalizes, demonizes, and classifies as unworthy.

In fact, it is my very Christian identity that compels me to push back against Islamophobic comments, to call out stereotypes and generalizations, to stand up for the value and worth of my Muslim sisters and brothers. And it is my very Christian identity that compels me to examine privileges bestowed upon me that I have unknowingly internalized and to find ways to resist the messages and the advantages.

I hope my fellow Christians — as individuals and congregations — will also consider Schlosser’s list and join me in the work of resistance. This is challenging and necessary work as we strive to imagine and build a society rooted in justice, mercy, and love.

“For I was a stranger [or made to feel strange] and you welcomed me.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Posted by Corrie Mitchell

Reformed theology — or Calvinism — gets a bad rap. Calvinists are often seen as condescending, believing themselves to be part of God’s “elect.” It’s a cold, rigid theology that leaves no room for grace, oppresses women, and eliminates the need for evangelism. Or is it?

A number of people (see here, here, and here) have written of a Calvinist revival happening in Christianity. The theology’s main proponents are some of the most prolific, publicized (and polarizing) voices: Tim Keller, Matt Chandler, John Piper, John MacArthur, and Mark Driscoll, to name a few. Though Calvinism and its counterpart, Arminianism, are roughly equal in numbers of adherents, Calvinists get most of the press — much of it misleading.

So, here are 10 things to know about Reformed theology:

1. Reformed and Calvinist are generally used interchangeably.

First, Calvinism is a system of theology, not a denomination. And it was one stream of theology to come out of the sixteenth-century Protestant Reformation. Lutheran, Anabaptist, Anglican, Presbyterian, and Reformed churches all sprung up as a result of the teachings of the Reformers, who, in addition to Calvin, included theologians like Martin Luther, John Knox, and Ulrich Zwingli.

Broadly speaking, Calvinism encompasses the whole of Reformed theology and its doctrinal distinctives. Many more churches hold to Reformed teaching than just the Reformed Church of America and the Christian Reformed Church. For example, some of today’s most outspoken Calvinists are Southern Baptist.

2. Reformed theology is more than the five points (or TULIP).

Calvinism is often distilled into the moniker TULIP — Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and Perseverance of the Saints. But, this systematic packaging is reductive and doesn’t nearly represent all that Reformed Christians believe. It is not creed, nor was it chosen by Calvinists to summarize their beliefs. In fact, the teachings that later become TULIP were a response to the Arminian Five Articles of Remonstrance.

While the five points summarize well the Calvinist principles of faith, they don’t say much about how that faith is expressed. They don’t express the high role of the sacraments — baptism and the Lord’s Supper — as a means of grace, a physical portrayal of the promise of salvation that is the gospel. And while the five points are true, they are not the truth. Speaking on being a Calvinist, John Piper says, “We begin as Bible-believing Christians who want to put the Bible above all systems of thought.”

(Also of notable importance to Reformed theology are the five solas — scripture alone, Christ alone, grace alone, faith alone, God’s glory alone. See the Westminster Confession of Faith for a more comprehensive exploration of the doctrines to which Calvinists ascribe.)

3. There is a broad spectrum of beliefs within Reformed Christianity.

Calvinism is a 500-year-old theology that people may think they’ve defined with an easy-to-remember acronym, but it’s still an ongoing point of contention. Not all Calvinists are five-pointers — some are seven-point Calvinists, as John Piper half-jokingly calls himself, and still others don’t necessarily “wave the Calvinist flag,” but hold to a Reformed understanding of the Bible.

There are New Calvinists (also called the Young, Restless, Reformed) and “Old” Calvinists, the Christian Reformed Church and the Reformed Church of America — an eclectic mix of doctrines falls under the Reformed superstructure. There are Reformed Christians who believe human free will and divine predestination are binary, and those who find a way to reconcile the two. Some Calvinists hold to the idea of reprobation (or double predestination), and many more don’t. As divisions exist within Christianity, so too among its Reformed.

4. Reformed theology is humbling, but it’s also about ultimate joy.

God’s glory and our joy are inextricably linked. So, while the Reformed view of God’s ultimate sovereignty humbles the believer, who has nothing to do with his own salvation, it does not diminish his worth. Christians are carrying out an ultimate purpose that results in God’s glory and our satisfaction.

Reformed theology reorients the believer to a God-centered view of reality. As Michael Horton writes, “God is not a supporting actor in our life movie. We exist for his purposes, not the other way around.” The end purpose of human life is to glorify God. The reason this isn’t bleak for us is that God is glorified by our enjoying him eternally. In Desiring God John Piper explains it this way, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Enjoying. Satisfied. These are good things for us.

5. The Reformed view of women is not oppressive.

To a lot of people (especially outside of the church), the Reformed view of specific gender roles seems retrograde. Yet, a number of modern, fully educated women accept as biblical the Reformed church’s view of complementarianism — essentially that man was made to reflect Christ’s sacrificial relationship to the church and woman to reflect the church’s submissive relationship to God.

What complementarianism really means has been twisted, not least by people inside the church. In no way does “submissive” mean a woman must be a silent, covered-up, stay-at-home housewife who shouldn’t be involved in ministry and whose only purpose in life is to marry, have children, and blindly follow her husband. Rather, Mary Kassian writes, “Who we are as male and female is ultimately not about us. It’s about testifying to the story of Jesus. We do not get to dictate what manhood and womanhood are all about. Our Creator does.”

(For more, read Thabiti Anyabwile’s on how complementarianism is made clearer by the Great Commission.)

6. The Reformed view of the Bible as “inerrant” doesn’t mean “literal.”

While Reformed theology teaches that the Bible is the inerrant word of God — that it is true, accurate — that doesn’t necessitate a literal reading of every word in the Bible. Though inerrancy and literalism are often joined together, they need not be to still affirm the authority of the scripture. Says Reformed theologian R.C. Sproul, “The focus on the veracity of what Scripture actually affirms also allows us to take into account the use of poetic imagery.”

In the same vein, if Jesus spoke in parables, why should we not see in parts of scripture the God-intended use of metaphors, hyperboles, symbols, or any other literary device? Their use doesn’t make the scriptures any less accurate, any less inerrant.

7. Reformed theology is a celebration of God’s grace.

More than anything, Reformed theology exalts God’s grace by hinging entirely upon it. Total depravity means there is no way apart from God that any human would seek God on his own. We are completely “dead” in sin. Yet, the beauty of Reformed theology is that God came after us anyway and makes us alive through the gift of faith by his grace — a grace powerful enough to overcome our resistance to it. Here’s an analogy I heard recently that describes the Reformed view of grace:

You’re dead at the bottom of the sea, lungs full of water. God jumps in, pulls you up, and makes you alive again — and he does so because of his great love. We are entirely at the mercy of God’s grace to rescue us.

8. Reformed theology manifests in a variety of cultural expressions.

The stereotype of Reformed Christianity is that it’s full of old, stodgy white guys. While that certainly exists within Reformed Christianity, it’s not exclusively so. I go to a highly multicultural (largely Hispanic) nondenominational church that holds to Reformed theology and has members who bring tambourines that they shake from their seats during worship, others who clap and mumble “thank you, Jesus” throughout the sermon, and a pastor who performs communion and reads a benediction at the end of each service. All of that is to say, Calvinism is attracting many more than the “typical” players — further shown by its representation within Christian hip hop.

9. The Reformed idea of “election” doesn’t negate evangelism.

It’s commonly assumed that if God has chosen from eternity who is saved, evangelism is rendered pointless. But Calvinists believe that God chooses to work through his people and through their preaching of his word to save those he has chosen. (See Romans 10.) God’s sovereignty over salvation, says Reformed theology, fuels the desire to evangelize. The pressure is off the Christian to persuade a person to believe — he trusts God to save even those who seem to him the furthest from faith. Because God chose to save independent of character or behavior, the Reformed preach to all, as no one is beyond the hope of salvation that was ordained from eternity.

Michael Horton, author of For Calvinism, says that election is what makes evangelism worthwhile. Without it, none would choose Christ, none would choose salvation — “we would all be left in our sins and there would be no point to evangelism.”

10. Reformed theology ≠ Jesus.

Often, Calvinists are accused of being cocky, arrogant, abrasive — usually toward those who don’t share the Reformed theology they believe to be exclusively accurate. The danger comes in elevating the theology, the doctrine above Christ. In the end, Reformed theology doesn’t perfectly answer or satisfy every question we have, for God is bigger and beyond any system or framework that we contrive.

I like the way pastor Art Azurdia reorients us to Jesus by saying, “The evidence of God’s mercy in your life isn’t determined by how much theology you know, by how many books you read, but by your active goodness to people in misery and in need.”

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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Our Routine Baby Delivery Was Totally a Miracle

Thursday, 23 October 2014 01:43 pm
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Posted by Rob Stennett

I was dead asleep when my wife whispered, “Honey it’s time.” She was 38 weeks pregnant. We were waiting for this baby like born-again Christians wait for the rapture. It could come at any day, any moment.

“Contractions?” I asked. She answered, “Three in the last 20 minutes.” This was our fourth child, but my first time waking up in the middle of the night to go to the hospital. I’d like to say I sprang out of bed, called the doctor, and rounded up the kids to go to grandma and grandpas. But things were slower. Groggier. In real life, I’m never quite the action hero I am in my head.

My voice shook as we made a plan of action. It was embarrassing. I felt like newbie parent. My wife clutched the bathroom counter in pain. Another contraction.

Most of our childbirths ended with me on top of the delivery bed screaming WHAT IS HAPPENING while doctors and nurses rushed in with alarms going off in the background.

By the time we got to the hospital, my wife’s contractions were so bad she could barely walk. It was 3 a.m. and the emergency room was dark and abandoned. Two security guards were lit by the bluish glow of an iPad.

“Delivery?” they asked. I nodded. “Elevator’s down the hall and to the left. Second floor.” My wife grabbed my shoulder and we ambled down the empty hospital corridor. On the second floor, we waited for the nurses to buzz us into the delivery wing.

They shuffled a pile of paperwork and asked how far along she was and how many pregnancies she’d had. My wife clutched the counter again and took a deep, slow breath. I looked at the nurses and said, “This baby is coming now.”

I followed everyone into triage, my legs shaking and head spinning. Why was I so nervous? This was my fourth delivery as a father. This was old hat. It should have felt routine. It wasn’t. Even if I was Jim Bob Duggar watching my life in labor for the 19th time, I wouldn’t have felt this was delivery as usual. My wife was in searing pain.

I looked up from my wife and watched the doctor and nurses. How were they feeling? This actually was routine for them. More like a business transaction than a life and death question. Delivering a baby is the most common medical procedure, like an oil change in auto shop. This team sees dozens of them everyday. One nurse watched the monitor. Another prepped sparkling sterilized medical tools. Two lives hung in the balance, but they acted more like they were about install a new hard drive.

The doctor asked me to cut the cord. It was like slicing through a Twizzler wrapped in bacon grease.

“It’ll be time to push soon,” the doctor said. I can’t remember the other doctors saying this. Of course, our other babies had crazy birth stories — most of them ended with me somehow on top of the delivery bed screaming What is happening while doctors and nurses rushed in with alarms going off in the background.

They had a bit more of a conversation and my wife said she was ready. The room changed. I looked at everyone’s faces, professional and focused, but there was a layer of humanity underneath their gaze. What was about to happen was necessary for the human race to go on. No patient seems more fragile than an infant.

Death by childbirth was so common in the “Little House on the Prairie” days. But now we have lasers and X-rays and the best doctors western medicine can produce. With all of that technology we all stood, holding our breath, waiting for my wife to deliver the baby.

The technology couldn’t help her.

A doctor, a team of nurses, and I were working in unison to bring that baby out alive. There wasn’t any reason to think she was in danger, but this wasn’t routine. This was sacred. Holy. Frightening. We all needed this baby to be okay.

“It’s coming!” she screamed. There was my daughter, all grey and alien-like. Some people have told me childbirth is beautiful. Those people are demented. Childbirth is not beautiful, but it is miraculous, inspiring, breathtaking, and mind-blowing to think this is how we all arrived.

As the baby came out, there was a cord wrapped around her neck. The doctor untangled it. I couldn’t swallow or think. I prayed. I bargained with God in my thoughts. I would have given any amount of money, sacrificed my future, and donated all of my internal organs to know she was okay. She cried out, letting me know that wouldn’t be necessary. I got all teary-eyed.

The doctor asked me to cut the cord. It was like slicing through a Twizzler wrapped in bacon grease. Mommy held the baby and kissed her and whispered to her. I hugged everyone in the room. This wasn’t a routine delivery. A miracle happened in here.

The next morning, I held my daughter and watched TV. A political ad came on involving a hotly contested choice/life issue in my state. I kissed my baby’s head. I didn’t like watching this. I didn’t like the way men on both sides were using women to get elected.

What I had watched a few hours before was one of the scariest things a human being can go through. Do we not realize this? I thought of all the moms who are scared and alone. They don’t need us to use them as props to further our arguments. They need our prayers and our help. What they are about to go through is anything but routine.

Image courtesy of Ernest F.

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15 Ways The Onion Tells 1 Joke About God

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 03:28 pm
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Posted by Patton Dodd

The Onion, “America’s Finest News Source” since 1988, has long been one of America’s finest sources of religious commentary. Christianity gets most of the attention, but the satirical website regularly deals with Islam, Judaism, atheism, and general spirituality. At its best, The Onion can be downright prophetic — a voice in the street calling people to come correct.

The Onion’s favorite religion topic is God, and its favorite joke about God is that he really is the big, bad, angry sky God so many people make him out to be. Most of its God stories are accompanied by a thumbnail fresco from the Sistine Chapel (above) depicting the Christian God in the act of creation. Actually, most God-humor at The Onion is is driven by the classic theological problem of theodicy: If God is good and all-powerful, why does evil exist? How can a good God allow bad things to happen? The Onion plays with these questions by answering them the same way every time, “God isn’t good. He’s evil. And the joke is on us.”

Here are 15 memorable looks at The Onion’s dark god, starting in 1997, the year after the launch of The Onion’s website, and leading up to this morning, when it posted an “exclusive interview” with a Creator Who Doesn’t Really Want to be Known.

1. “Lord Under Investigation For Failure To Provide” (1997)

The list of Justice Department allegations ranges from the mundane, such as the Lord’s reported September 1995 refusal to see to it that Terre Haute, IN, Presbyterian Joyce Halstrom receives a new set of drapes for her anniversary, to the catastrophic, such as last year’s Mexico City earthquake, in which God allowed an estimated 150,000 devout Catholics to be crushed to death under tons of debris.

“These are very serious charges,” U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno said. “I can assure you that our department will investigate them fully.”

The allegations directly contradict over 6,000 years of extravagant claims by the Lord’s prophets of “miracle” cures and other forms of all-encompassing heavenly grace.

2. “God Answers Prayers of Paralyzed Little Boy” (1998)

For as long as he can remember, 7-year-old Timmy Yu has had one precious dream: From the bottom of his heart, he has hoped against hope that God would someday hear his prayer to walk again. Though many thought Timmy’s heavenly plea would never be answered, his dream finally came true Monday, when the Lord personally responded to the wheelchair-bound boy’s prayer with a resounding no.

. . . “I know that God loves me, because it says so in the Bible,” Timmy said. “So right now, I am just glad that God took the time to answer my prayer. If only I could walk, this would be the greatest day of my life.”

3. “God Cites ‘Moving In Mysterious Ways’ As Motive In Killing Of 3,000 Papua New Guineans” (1998)

“Though the need for such a tidal wave is incomprehensible to you mortals, flawed as you are by sin, I can assure you that I had a very good reason for what I did,” God said of the disaster, whose death toll is expected to climb to 5,000 once the effects of disease, starvation and marauding crocodiles become known. “Trust me.”

4. “God Diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder” (2001)

Evidence of God’s manic-depression can be found throughout the Universe, from the white-hot explosiveness of quasars to the cold, lifeless vacuum of space. However, theologians note, humanity’s exposure to God’s affliction comes primarily through His confusing propensity to alternately reward and punish His creations with little rhyme or reason.

. . . [Dr.] Jurgens stressed that God’s earthly subjects need to understand that, because of His bipolar condition, He is not in control of His actions and does not realize how they affect others.

5. “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule” (2001, two weeks after 9/11)

“I’m talking to all of you, here!” continued God, His voice rising to a shout. “Do you hear Me? I don’t want you to kill anybody. I’m against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don’t kill each other anymore—ever! I’m f***ing serious!”

Upon completing His outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God’s shoulders began to shake, and He wept.

6. “God Promises ‘Big Surprises’ In Store for Hurricane Season” (2002)

“This year, it’s about more than just doing big numbers on the Saffir/Simpson Hurricane Damage Potential scale,” God continued. “It’s about more than 18-foot wave surges and 60-foot yachts being blown miles inland. This year, it’s about the whole experience. We’re going to be taking people directly into the eye of the storm. And when we’re done, people will feel like they truly know hurricanes inside-out.”

7. “God Outdoes Terrorists Once Again” (2005)

This is a roundup of headlines from Iraq and New Orleans in the wake of Katrina, including “Government Relief Workers Mosey In To Help” and “Shrimp Joint Now Shrimp Habitat.”

8. “God Makes Surprise Visit to Local Church” (2009)

Interrupting Pastor Terry Pridgen’s sermon on His unending mercy, God appeared suddenly before His flock as an intense beam of white light, instantly dispersing the earthly forms of those seated in the first two pews. Sources said the remaining congregants had to avert their eyes from their Creator, whose booming celestial voice overwhelmed their worldly senses and humbled their hearts as He politely apologized for not calling first.

9. “God Re-Floods the Middle East” (2012)

From The Onion Radio News: “Harley Minogue is a non-denominational spokesman for the all-powerful being: ‘God only promised humanity that he would never again flood the entire earth. He never said he wouldn’t flood specific areas.'”

10. “God Worried Apocalypse May Not Live Up to Expectations” (2012)

Also from The Onion Radio News: “While wishing to stay true to his originoal intention of defeating Satan, God says He really wants to apocalypse to ‘raise the bar on terrifying spectacle.'”

11. “God Reveals He Occasionally Eats Humans” (2013)

The all-knowing, all-powerful deity also acknowledged that though He doesn’t technically require any form of edible sustenance at all to survive, He simply “enjoys the taste of human beings” and planned on continuing to eat more for the foreseeable future.

When asked if He felt any qualms about devouring the very members of creation that He made in His own image, God simply stated, “No.”

12. “Report: Leading Cause of Death in U.S. Is God Needing Another Angel” (2014)

A pitch-perfect video news report: “According to the study, God’s continuing need for souls too beautiful for this world accounted for over 700,000 deaths in the U.S. in 2013.”

13. “Reclusive Deity Hasn’t Written a New Book in 2000 Years” (2014)

Hailed by critics as one of the most important authors in recent millennia, the eccentric divinity is said to have long ago retreated from the public eye, eschewing a life of celebrity for one of solitude and quiet. To this day, experts confirmed, His artistic reputation rests exclusively upon His bestselling and highly acclaimed first work, the Bible.

“God has granted no interviews, made no public appearances, and kept entirely to Himself for what seems like ages, and yet it’s fair to say that no other author has been quite so influential,” said noted critic and conference attendee James Wood, observing that while the fiercely private immortal being has only one book to His credit, He remains among the world’s most respected and quoted writers.

14. “God Admits He Rarely Forgives” (2014)

God went on to concede that while He understands why humans would, on a purely selfish level, seek to absolve themselves of wrongdoing, it would nonetheless be “an extraordinary waste of time and energy” for any human to seek the Lord’s forgiveness in such a case, and that doing so may in fact only incur a greater degree of His wrath.

In particular, God told reporters He holds a special contempt for those who ask for His mercy tearfully, with hands clasped tightly, while kneeling, or in one’s final moments before dying.

15. “One-on-One Interview with God” (2014)

The fullest, most succinct, and scariest realization yet of The Onion’s bad God.

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Ben Bradlee: Newspaperman, Family Man, Friend

Wednesday, 22 October 2014 01:57 pm
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Posted by Patton Dodd

Ben Bradlee, a legendary American newspaperman and son, brother, husband, father, and grandfather, died last night in his Georgetown home at the age of 93.

We already know that everyone respects Ben Bradlee. For those of us at OnFaith, it’s been a delight to witness that so many people love him, too.

Bradlee was editor of The Washington Post from 1965 to 1991. OnFaith was founded at The Post in late 2006 by Sally Quinn, a longtime Post columnist and Bradlee’s wife of 36 years. Since OnFaith was acquired and relaunched by FaithStreet, with Quinn remaining as Founding Editor, some of us here have had the pleasure of meeting Bradlee in his last year. And while this may be a strange note to strike, we think it’s worth acknowledging just how surreal, inspiring, and humbling it has been to shake this man’s hand, dine with him a time or two, watch his wife care for him so tenderly, and to note his singular accomplishments not only as a journalist and business leader, but also as a beloved community member, family man, and friend.

Bradlee, publisher of the Pentagon Papers (the Pentagon’s secret history of the Vietnam War), and inventor of the “Style” sections of newspapers, is most well known for Watergate, the early 1970s political scandal sparked by the reporting of two young Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, that eventually led to the only resignation of a president in United States history.

Watergate is of course a familiar touchstone for any discussion of Bradlee, but pause on it for a second: this man’s work has become part of our very language. Do half the people on Twitter even know why #GamerGate is called #GamerGate? No matter — it’s Ben Bradlee’s doing that we talk that way. We attach “gate” as a suffix to every controversy because Bradlee had the gumption to publish the Watergate stories.

“You never monkey with the truth,” said Bradlee. And elsewhere: “The truth is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run. I truly believe the truth sets men free.” That last bit sounds familiar, and it’s nice to hear a famous journalist paraphrase it. The ballyhooed conflict between journalism and religion obscures a deeper relationship between the two endeavors, which is the pursuit of truth. At their best, religious communities and journalists share a conviction that truth matters and is worth a life’s pursuit. Bradlee’s dedication to truth — getting things right, on the record, whatever may come of the powers that be — is a powerful model for truth-pursuers of all kinds.

The post Ben Bradlee: Newspaperman, Family Man, Friend appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by Gerard Russell

Ours is the oldest religion in the world,” said the Mandaean high priest to me in 2006, when we met during my diplomatic posting to Baghdad. He did indeed turn out to be the religious leader of an ancient people whose traditions go back to third-century Babylonia; he was also, for me, the man who opened a door to an Aladdin’s Cave of forgotten faiths.

Since then, I have witnessed on a mountaintop in the West Bank a sacrifice of lambs, done by Samaritan priests in precise observance of the Book of Exodus. I discussed Greek philosophy with Druze elders, who regard themselves as a branch of Islam but believe in reincarnation. I searched for the Zoroastrians of Iran, whose founder Zarathustra was among the first to teach (perhaps three millennia ago) that our fate after death might result from the good or evil that we do in our lifetimes. I encountered the Church of the East, which sent the first Christian missionaries to China in the seventh century and once, from its base in Iraq, covered a larger span of the earth than the Pope in Rome or the Patriarch in Constantinople.

When I went back to see the Yazidis in northern Iraq in August, it was like an immersion in a sea of misery.

These religions have survived fourteen centuries of Islamic rule, and their survival shows not only their own tenacity but also the potential for tolerance within Islam. Now, though, they are vanishing faster than ever before.

Read more in Russell's new book.

Read more in Russell’s new book.

The brutal terrorist group called the “Islamic State,” which the U.S. and its allies are now fighting in Iraq, burst onto the front pages in August with a massacre of a little-known people called the Yazidis. The Yazidis are an extraordinary people, who have preserved traditions dating back to the time of ancient Assyria and mixed them with ideas that emerged from the most radical and imaginative of Muslim thinkers. They have faced, by their own tradition, 72 persecutions. That number does not include the Islamic State’s campaign of rape and murder or, in 2007, the world’s second worst terrorist attack, which killed nearly eight hundred Yazidis at Qahtaniyah near Mosul.

When I went back to see the Yazidis in northern Iraq in August, it was like an immersion in a sea of misery. Stranded in tents and dependent on charity, Yazidi refugees saw no future for themselves in Iraq and asked only for asylum in the West. They want to join the 70% of Iraq’s Christians who have already left. As for the Mandaeans, almost all have now sought refuge in Europe, Canada and Australia.

Nor is it only war-ravaged Iraq from which the minorities are fleeing. I could hardly find Zoroastrians in the great cities of Iran, such as Shiraz and Esfahan; instead, I found their fire-temple in north London. I discovered that tens of thousands of Coptic Christians, who keep the language of ancient Egypt alive in their liturgies, now live in the suburbs of Detroit along with more than 100,000 Iraqi Christians.

What amazed me, though, about these religions was that they had survived into the modern era at all. Imagine discovering some island off the coast of Ireland where the Druids still held sway: meeting the Mandaean high priest in Baghdad was similarly a throwback to the distant past. How can a religion conceived in the era of paganism still exist today, after 1400 years of Islam? The answers teach lessons about Islam — and about ourselves.

First, they show the importance of religion. A warped form of religion is what motivated the Islamic State to slaughter the Yazidis. It is also however what helped the Yazidis to survive over the centuries and keep their traditions and their identity. Religion can be a great source of division, but that is intimately linked to its power to gather people and unify them.

Second, when minorities leave, countries are diminished. Islam was the religion of a great world empire, so prestigious that “Islamic State” wants to steal its name: the Caliphate. Islamic State’s brutal and narrow-minded imitation is quite different from the original. The first Caliphs had Christians among their closest counselors; later Caliphs used Jewish astronomers and pagan mathematicians to turn Baghdad into a center of world learning.

When Islam was at its strongest, it was also at its most open-minded. The West’s diversity and its prosperity have similarly gone hand in hand. It is a poor outlook for the Middle East if loses its ancient minorities.

The post The Religions that Survived 14 Centuries of Islamic Rule appeared first on OnFaith.

Mark Driscoll Tells of Family Woes

Tuesday, 21 October 2014 09:46 pm
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Posted by Sarah Pulliam Bailey &#124; Religion News Service

Mark Driscoll is back. Sort of. Days after stepping down as head of Seattle’s Mars Hill megachurch, Driscoll spoke briefly Monday (October 20) at the Gateway Conference in suburban Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas. Initially, he and conference organizers agreed that he would not give a formal address at the conference.

But Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church near Dallas, said Driscoll requested to come to the conference as an attendee. “That was big of him to just come and be ministered to,” Morris said.

“We could crucify him, but since someone’s already been crucified for him . . . ” Morris said, his voice trailing off. “It’s very sad that in the church, we’re the only army that shoots at our wounded. And I’d like you to stop it.”

Driscoll’s resignation came in the wake of accusations of plagiarism, bullying and an oversized ego that alienated some of his most devoted followers. Conference attendees gave Driscoll a standing ovation as Morris handed him the microphone.

“What do you want me to do?” Driscoll asked, teasing about the dangers of giving “a microphone to a preacher who’s been gone for a while.”

Driscoll spoke for three minutes, telling the crowd that he’s praying for Jesus to show him “blind spots” where he could grow.

“There are a lot of things I could say that would make me feel better. I don’t know if it would make me look better, but I don’t think it would make Jesus look better,” he said.

Driscoll asked the crowd for prayer for his family of five children, ages 8 to 17. “I’ve cried a lot lately,” he said. “It’s been a rough season for the family.”

Driscoll said his family has moved three times, people have been arrested at his home and he has received death threats. Recently, he said, he found rusty nails on his driveway.

When his children wanted to camp in the backyard, the family “woke up in the morning about 6:30 or so, and huge rocks about the size of baseballs come flying at my kids,” he said.

Days later, Driscoll said, media flew over his house in a helicopter. He said his eight-year-old son came down wearing a military jacket, loading up his Airsoft rifle, asking if his jacket was bulletproof. “He didn’t have any concept of media coverage,” Driscoll said. “He thought it was bad guys coming to kill his family.”

Addressing a conference of pastors and church staff, he said: “Every pastor needs a pastor. You pastors, your family needs you to be their pastor.”

Morris said that Driscoll had been preaching 50 times a year, sometimes six times a week, which was not healthy. “I’m glad he’s saying, ‘Help me learn to do it differently and do it better.’”

Morris joked about how he invited both Driscoll and North Carolina megachurch pastor Steven Furtick to the conference, both of whom “got bad media this year.” Furtick, who was already under fire for buying a $1.6 million house, came under the spotlight for “spontaneous baptisms” that turned out to be not nearly so spontaneous. Driscoll and Furtick smiled and shook hands.

Image courtesy of Mars Hill Church Seattle.

The post Mark Driscoll Tells of Family Woes appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by Jeffrey Huston

If someone were to ask me how God speaks – how he guides and leads his followers – I wouldn’t try to exegete Scripture, unpack theology, or even offer up my own personal experience. Instead, the best answer I could give is four simple words:

Watch Field Of Dreams.

The classic baseball fantasy from 1989, starring Kevin Costner at the peak of his career (when he was a better Gary Cooper than even Gary Cooper ever was) is nothing short of the greatest Christian parable in movie history. So on the occasion of its 25th Anniversary, along with the start of Baseball’s Fall Classic, it’s a perfect time to reflect on the ways The Voice parallels The Spirit, and how it actually stands in contrast to the “follow your passion” dream chasing that has become a common theme in so much of American Christianity.

Field Of Dreams is the story of Ray Kinsella, a humble Iowa farmer with a loving wife and young daughter. One evening while strolling through his cornfield, Ray hears a whisper from out of thin air: “If you build it, he will come.” The Voice repeats itself, quietly but firmly confirming its presence. The Voice does more than grab Ray’s attention; it stirs Ray’s soul.

This leads to an exchange between Ray and his wife, Annie, that is all-too-familiar for anyone who feels they’ve heard the Spirit’s leading:

ANNIE: What else did he say?

RAY: Nothing.

ANNIE: I hate it when that happens.

RAY: Me too.

This stirring leads Ray on a journey that requires much more than a leap of faith; it mirrors the full extent of what Christians call the Walk of Faith. It’s a walk that does not call us to pursue our own passions or desires; rather, it calls us away from them. It calls us to mortgage those dreams, to sacrifice them, to risk them all for the sake of what The Voice would have us pursue instead.

For Ray, his actual mortgage hangs in the balance. To build a baseball field — that has no apparent purpose — on the very land he grows his crops is foolishness, and it’s certain to cost him the very land he feels led to transform. But he follows The Voice anyway, because it’s about what The Voice wants on The Voice’s terms. Ray makes a decision to submit, and it’s a decision to which he must continually resubmit in the face of mounting reasons not to, including his own bitterness about how things work out (or don’t).

This is how I’ve experienced God speaking and leading. He coaxes and compels, mystically and in mystery, not spelling out details but just giving the necessary morsel in a spiritually profound way, at the time I’m ready to hear it. Every time I watch Field of Dreams and see how The Voice speaks to Ray and how Ray responds (both in compulsion and frustration), all I can think is, “Yep, that’s exactly how God works.”

Like The Voice, The Holy Spirit often leaves us guessing. He leads people not by convincing but rather provoking to do things that make no sense — like build a baseball diamond right in the middle of a cornfield. The Spirit doesn’t merely point us in the right (albeit bizarre) direction; he gives us the courage to go there. Or, as Ray puts it, “Until I heard The Voice, I’d never done a crazy thing in my whole life.”

One key lesson for Ray is that his journey is not just about him reaching his necessary healing, but also helping others reach theirs. I’ve found that the only way God often gets me to help others in the first place is to cause me to initially think these people were meant for my journey, rather than me for theirs. We each love to see ourselves as the lead in Our Story, but The Voice likes to cast us as the supporting catalyst in other people’s stories.

The Voice doesn’t call you to your bliss, but to other’s burdens. It doesn’t call you to your dreams; it calls you to ministry. It calls you to your life’s true purpose — which, by the way, both your passions and your reason are distracting you from. That’s why it takes supernatural guidance to lead you there.

Much like Ray, one of the biggest struggles we have is in wondering why The Spirit doesn’t speak more clearly. Why can’t God just make his desires and intentions plain? In Ray’s case, had The Voice laid out the path upfront, it’s unlikely that Ray would’ve even let him finish explaining it. The Voice’s authority and purpose can only become clear in the context of the pursuit, not prior to it.

The people that Ray has been led to help end up receiving the very benefit of the field’s mystical powers that Ray has longed for. But he’s left in the bleachers — not even on the bench — watching and not participating. When he’s not invited to join the others on the field, his anger and frustration explode at Joe, one of the field’s beneficiaries:

RAY: No, wait, I have done everything that I’ve been asked to do! I didn’t understand it, but I’ve done it; and I haven’t once asked, “What’s in it for me?”

JOE: What are you saying, Ray?


RAY: I’m saying . . . what’s in it for me?


JOE: Is that why you did this? For you?

The Voice knows what we need more than we do. That’s why we should trust it.

And of course that final shot, from who Ray is with on the field to what sprawls out from it deep across the horizon, is the image of what ultimately happens when we listen to The Voice, and obey. It’s what reconciliation looks like. It’s an image of what The Voice has done with Ray’s life, and it’s a vision of what God wants to do with ours.

The post Why “Field of Dreams” Is the Best Christian Parable in Movie History appeared first on OnFaith.

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Posted by Libby Anne

One summer home from college, my parents insisted that I meet with our pastor. I was questioning evangelicalism and exploring other Christian faith traditions, and my parents were very concerned about me. So they set up a meeting and sent me off. I could have refused, I suppose, but I was living with them and dependent on them for transportation, so I really wan’t in a place to put up too much of a fuss. The meeting could have been a whole lot worse, and besides, it was just the one meeting. Mostly my parents’ pastor simply quoted scripture to explain why I was wrong about this or that issue, and I stood my ground. But I was recently reminded of this meeting—and my not-so-voluntary role—when reading a blog post by Cynthia Jeub.

My first sister was kicked out in the early 2000s, and at 18 years old she was given the option to live in Kevin Swanson’s basement, having counseling sessions with him and my parents every night until she succumbed to their authority, or to leave and never see us again. She lasted for two weeks before she couldn’t take it anymore, and I didn’t see her for three years.

I am everlastingly glad my parents did not do that. That single meeting with our pastor was awkward and painful, especially given that it came in the context of the emotional abuse I was suffering from my parents at the time. After all, it was set up by my parents explicitly in the hopes that our pastor would be able to bring me back onto the straight and narrow—to make me “see reason.” But compared to what Cynthia’s sister Alicia faced, it was nothing.

Cynthia goes on to explain her parents’ current conditions for her and her sister Lydia:

A lot of people are asking me why everything I’m saying must be public. Why not just go to counseling, why not sort it out privately? We have tried.

. . .

Mom and dad found a counselor last month who we planned to go see, but then they took the liberty of spending two long sessions telling their own story to this counselor before inviting Lydia and me to join the conversation, and asked us to write an essay about our top three grievances so they could deliver these to the counselor secondhand.

We gently informed them that we thought they were controlling and cared too much about their reputation, and they said they disagreed. We said there was physical, emotional, and financial abuse, and they didn’t reply. We backed out – there were too many red flags surrounding the attempt to reconcile. We later found out that this counselor was recommend by a family friend who gave Christian counseling to both my sister Alicia and me (conflict of interest), and who made me distrust therapy in general for a long time.

Cynthia and I grew up in the same conservative Christian homeschooling subculture. When children in the movement become rebellious independent thinkers, it is common for their parents to try to force them back onto the straight and narrow through counseling sessions, often with a pastor or elder. These sessions do not tend to go well for the children, whether they are teens or young adults, in part because they are already beaten down by their parents’ emotional abuse and in part because the sessions are themselves designed to force them back into submission.

In other words, these counseling sessions, whether with a pastor or other religious leader or even, in some cases, a Christian counselor, are a tool wielded by overbearing, manipulative, and emotionally abusive parents to bring their children back into line—whether those children are 14 or 18 or even 22.

Movement children who have reached the age of majority have every reason and every right to refuse to participate in such sessions. Unfortunately, I know from personal experience that refusing often appears more difficult than caving and going, to be beat down only more. It is similarly unfortunate that when we back out of these sessions, our parents can claim that we are the ones who are the problem, because we refused to go to counseling with them to work through our issues and heal the rift.

Am I saying that parents and young adult children who have a troubled relationship should not go to counseling? Absolutely not! What I am saying is that in all too many cases in the movement, emotionally abusive parents use counseling not as a way to resolve disagreements but rather as a way to browbeat young adult children back into line. They choose a counselor they know, or a pastor, or some other individual they already know will be on their side, and they poison the well before the young adult child has a chance to explain their side. In these cases, counseling becomes a tool of abuse, not a way to resolve conflicts.

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"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

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