Clergy

Happily God-less clergy say this time, it really is their year; Washington Post uncritically says, 'Amen'

Happily God-less clergy say this time, it really is their year; Washington Post uncritically says, 'Amen'

Back in the dim recesses of history, I wrote for several information technology publications.

A running joke in the late 1980s and early 1990s, was that this year, whichever year that was, would be the "Year of the LAN," or local-area network, that had long been prophesied. My colleagues and I would smirk a bit whenever some conference speaker declared this, and go back to our reporting.

The "Year of the LAN" did eventually arrive. Anyone who has a home network, wired or wireless, could be said to have ushered it in. But it came gradually, without the fanfare many in the industry sought to attach to this trend.

I had similar emotions when looking over a story in The Washington Post proclaiming the advent of a growing coterie of humanist clergy. Though posited as an oxymoron, the article noted that humanists -- who say there is no God and declare they can live ethical lives without a deity or scriptures to guide them -- need leaders, too. From the article:

These clergy without a God say that their movement is poised to grow dramatically right now, as American young adults report a lack of religious belief in higher numbers than ever before, but also yearn for communal ties and a sense of mission in a tumultuous time.
“Even more since the election, we have folks say, ‘I’m really looking for a way either to feel hope or to do justice,'” [conference organizer Amanda] Poppei said. The Sunday after the presidential election, dozens of distressed liberal Washingtonians showed up at her service, and many have gotten involved in the congregation. Now, Poppei sees an opportunity for not just her community but humanists nationwide. “To me it’s just about, how can we maximize what we’re doing to allow us to take advantage of the moment right now? I believe really strongly that being a person in a community makes you a better person. America needs it.”
Fueled especially by the millennial generation, the portion of Americans who say they don’t ascribe to any particular religion has increased dramatically, from 5 percent in 1972 to 25 percent today. A small portion of those 25 percent identify as atheist or agnostic. The rest tend to describe themselves using terms like “spiritual but not religious” or just “nothing in particular.”

The Post item is resonating in other quarters, it appears. Maine's Portland Press-Herald picked it up, and perhaps other papers have or will do so. It has the "man-bites-dog" quality of many click-worthy news articles.

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Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

Hey, New York Times! There's a long history of faith-based palliative care, don't'cha know.

The notion of caring for those at the end of life's journey is a relatively new one, dating back about 70 years to the work of Dame Cicely Saunders, a British physician who began working with the terminally ill in 1948. In 1974, Florence Wald, a dean of Yale University's nursing school, teamed up with a chaplain and two physicians to start the Connecticut Hospice in Bradford, Conn.

Since then, at least 5,800 hospice programs have been organized in the United States, according to the most recent figures available (2013) from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. There's no doubt these programs span a spectrum from highly secular to highly spiritual. It's the latter that has caught the attention of The New York Times, where the notion that organizations serving the needs of those in their final days seems to be a rather new concept.

Some background: Until a few months ago, a triple-amputee named B.J. Miller ran the 30-year-old Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco, California, where patients went to confront the end of life, receive palliative care and even, in one case, help plan a wedding for the family member of a hospice patient.

Thanks to the Times, we know these things take place in the city by the bay, and what interesting, innovative things they are! Read on:

... Miller also seemed to be on the cusp of modest celebrity. He’d started speaking about death and dying at medical schools and conferences around the country and will soon surface in Oprah’s living room, chatting about palliative care on her “Super Soul Sunday” TV show.
... Vicki Jackson, the chief of palliative care at Massachusetts General Hospital ... pointed to the talk Miller gave to close the TED conference in 2015. Miller described languishing in a windowless, antiseptic burn unit after his amputations. He heard there was a blizzard outside but couldn’t see it himself. Then a nurse smuggled him a snowball and allowed him to hold it. This was against hospital regulations, and this was Miller’s point: There are parts of ourselves that the conventional health care system isn’t equipped to heal or nourish, adding to our suffering. He described holding that snowball as “a stolen moment,” and said, “But I cannot tell you the rapture I felt holding that in my hand, and the coldness dripping onto my burning skin, the miracle of it all, the fascination as I watched it melt and turn into water. In that moment, just being any part of this planet, in this universe, mattered more to me than whether I lived or died.” Miller’s talk has been watched more than five million times. And yet, Jackson told me: “If I said all that — ‘Oh, I could feel the coldness of the snowball ...’ — you’d be like: ‘Shut. Up. Shut up!’ But no one is going to question B.J.”

 

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Killing priests: Religion News Service digs into some details about tragic trend in Mexico

Killing priests: Religion News Service digs into some details about tragic trend in Mexico

Murders and other atrocities have become so common in places like the Middle East, we Americans often overlook them closer to home -- for instance, in our next-door neighbor Mexico.

Thankfully, the Religion News Service does not. An incisive, indepth feature this week logs the series of murders of priests there in recent years. This exemplary article not only covers the details of some of the deaths; it also traces the ingredients of organized crime, priestly activism and government antagonism that made the killings possible.

The RNS team didn't get to the bottom of the matter, and it doesn't totally work its sources. But we'll get to that in a bit.

The story begins with the "bullet-riddled body of the Rev. Jose Lopez Guillen," found in Mexico's violence-plagued state of Michoacan. But rather than merely checking off his name, it quotes a member of his parish saying how he was "an excellent priest and very devoted to the community." It's a vital human touch.

RNS then broadens the scope, saying at least 15 priests have been killed over four years -- and 31 over the last decade. And it wisely adds context:

The murders come at a time of strained relations between church and state in Mexico, in part because Catholic bishops recently supported mass protests against a proposal to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide.
In the wake of the killings the church has also abandoned its normal reluctance to criticize the government and has publicly accused state officials in Michoacan and Veracruz of directing a defamation campaign against the priests.
Mexico is the country with the second-largest Catholic population in the world, with nearly 100 million people, or more than 80 percent of the population, identifying as Catholic. But the country has a long history of anti-clericalism and in the past century the government officially and often violently suppressed the church.

Sourcing for this story is impressive.

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Sticking to his guns: Episcopal priest denounces weapons, with Los Angeles Times' help

Sticking to his guns: Episcopal priest denounces weapons, with Los Angeles Times' help

An Episcopal priest in Oregon inserted himself into a gun controversy -- actually, created one -- and then he acted shocked, shocked at the public blowback.

So did the Los Angeles Times, in an article that could have been written by public-relations professionals working for anti-gun advocates.

Rather than lengthen this intro, let's just load up and chamber the first excerpt:

The Rev. Jeremy Lucas brought an olive branch to a gun fight recently, hoping for a mellow outcome. It began when he won a semi-automatic rifle in a local raffle, then revealed his plan to destroy it and was mostly congratulated for his stand.
But the 44-year-old Episcopal priest’s token attempt to take another gun off the streets did little to keep the peace. In response to his gesture, Lucas got threats and demands for his arrest.
"I’ve come to learn a lot about the nature of social media," Lucas said last week of some of the comments about his one-man, one-gun protest. "The rabid gun activists come out swinging, trying to close down any meaningful conversation and attempting to intimidate people into silence."

But the article has large silences of its own, including many primary sources and a religious "ghost."

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Powder-puff press: Tutu's daughter marries a woman, and media hand her the mic

Powder-puff press: Tutu's daughter marries a woman, and media hand her the mic

"Tell us how the bad men hurt you": As she often does, M.Z. Hemingway adroitly blends humor and precision in finding the nugget of a story.  Her suggestion for a GR post on the daughter of Desmond Tutu was devastatingly accurate, not only for the BBC but for the Guardian.

The Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth recently married a woman -- an atheist, at that -- and now she's complaining that the church yanked her preaching license. And the BBC and the Guardian help her complain. Not just by reporting her quotes, but enshrining every word as gospel.

Here we go with the BBC:

Reverend Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth followed her father into a life in the Anglican church, but when she decided to marry the woman she loved, she had to leave.
She married her long-term Dutch girlfriend, Marceline van Furth, in a small private ceremony in the Netherlands at the end of last year, but they went public last month when they had a wedding celebration in Cape Town.
"My marriage sounds like a coming out party," explains Ms Tutu van Furth.
"Falling in love with Marceline was as much as a surprise to me as to everyone else," she tells me.

At least the BBC quotes church law: "Holy matrimony is the lifelong and exclusive union between one man and one woman." So why is Tutu van Furth making an issue of it? To advance what she calls a "very important conversation'" about same-sex marriage:

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NYTimes story blurs issues in minister's employment problems

NYTimes story blurs issues in minister's employment problems

Many a reporter has started one kind of story that turns into another.  You can either break it into two or more stories -- or, as the New York Times recently did, stitch them together.

That’s my guess for why a Times article begins as a piece on problems of a young minister, then blurs it with several paragraphs on problems of young ministers in general -- then makes it about problems of a young, black female minister.

The main character is a Brooklyn minister who is doggedly pursuing her calling, despite money and employment issues. She served as an unpaid associate pastor and worked as a hospital chaplain, and she still couldn't make it work. Why she couldn't is the muddled matter.

To read the Times, Atchison is a commanding, evocative presence, blending vocal skills, body language and inspirational sermons:

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Generic person of God (or gods) busted for selling fake art

So, if you read a news report about a politician who did something really stupid or really bad — illegal even — what is the first question that would leap into your mind? Right. You’d want to know what kind of politician, what brand of politician, the story was talking about. Ditto for all kinds of other cultural figures, from scholars, to musicians, to business people or to any other kind of work frequented by a wide variety of people who believe a wide variety of different things.

Thus, a former GetReligionista emailed us the URL for an interesting New York Times piece, but it’s a piece with a rather strange hole in the middle of its facts. The headline:

Pastor Who Tried to Sell Fake Damien Hirst Paintings Is Sentenced to 6 Months

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AP's not-too-religious airport chaplain story

The entire long Thanksgiving weekend, it’s widely reported, is the busiest air-travel season in the United States. So, it’s not too difficult to imagine human interest stories about life in and around major airports, which The Associated Press rightly declares are “mini-cities” with a life and culture all their own, right down to a local church or, in most cases, an interfaith chapel.

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Rise of the tiny church, with its no-cost clergyperson

In recent decades mainstream journalists have spilled oceans of ink — with good cause — on stories about the declining number of men entering the Catholic priesthood. Fewer and older men are trying to serve a flock that is rapidly changing in ethnic makeup, while membership totals have continued a slow rise (largely due to Latino numbers).

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