1/30/2009 3:12:25 PM
As the Vatican launched its own YouTube channel, the Pope tempered his embrace of new media with a contemplation on the meaning of friendship in an increasingly digital world. His thoughts were included in a letter that cautioned against the marginalization of offline relationships:
The concept of friendship has enjoyed a renewed prominence in the vocabulary of the new digital social networks that have emerged in the last few years. The concept is one of the noblest achievements of human culture. It is in and through our friendships that we grow and develop as humans. For this reason, true friendship has always been seen as one of the greatest goods any human person can experience. We should be careful, therefore, never to trivialize the concept or the experience of friendship. It would be sad if our desire to sustain and develop on-line friendships were to be at the cost of our availability to engage with our families, our neighbours and those we meet in the daily reality of our places of work, education and recreation. If the desire for virtual connectedness becomes obsessive, it may in fact function to isolate individuals from real social interaction while also disrupting the patterns of rest, silence and reflection that are necessary for healthy human development.
But while the Pope points out the spiritual shortcomings of cyberspace, he’s plugged in enough to recognize its potential to spread the gospel. He concludes his letter by encouraging young Catholics “to bring the witness of their faith to the digital world,” and, “to introduce into the culture of this new environment of communications and information technology the values on which you have built your lives.”
(Thanks, Articles of Faith.)
1/30/2009 1:06:21 PM
In such depressing economic times, the phrase “money can't buy happiness” is at once wishful and trite. But it's worth a shot to at least try to let go of our national money obsession and instead focus on quality of life, isn’t it? That's why Yes! magazine has devoted their entire Winter 2009 issue to “Sustainable Happiness,” the balance between happiness for humans and the planet they inhabit.
Articles include one family’s success with a “no-buy” Christmas and a list of “10 Things Science Says Will Make You Happy” with basic-but-true ideas like “Savor Everyday Moments” and “Avoid Comparisons.”
Image by Sabrina Campagna, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/26/2009 2:32:07 PM
Gender equality is a constant source of controversy within Orthodox Judaism. According to tradition and interpretation of the Old Testament, women must remain separate from men in synagogue and cannot go anywhere near the sacred scrolls of the Torah. They also do not count as part of the minyan, or quorum, needed to conduct services.
The latest issue of Moment —a magazine of independent, Jewish thought—profiles Tova Hartman, the "Orthodox feminist revolutionary" who cofounded Shira Hadasha, a traditional Orthodox synagogue that allows women privileges unthinkinkable for most Orthodox communities: the right to handle and read from the Torah. And to lead services—in front of men.
Hartman's progressive ideas were born of her own experiences. When Hartman was 15 years old, she moved with her family from Montreal to Jerusalem. Back in Canada, she'd always felt at home in her family's shul. Once in Jerusalem, however, her family began worshiping at a traditional Orthodox synagogue "where women were relegated to the balcony," and Hartman realized that she could not truly feel at home in a temple where women were so ignored.
For her ideas, Hartman has come up against plenty of resistance, both in Israel and abroad, but she's also found ample support. As Jessica Ravitz writes for Moment: Hartman is "smack in the middle of what some have called the 'Orthodox feminist revolution.' "
Image by jonny.hunter, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/26/2009 11:49:16 AM
The Vatican recently launched a YouTube channel so that "[the Catholic Church] is not a stranger to those spaces where numerous young people search for answers and meaning in their lives." So far, the channel includes papal press releases and video excerpts of Holy Mass. If you'd like to watch Pope Benedict VXI announce the Vatican's leap into the Internet age, you'll have to follow the link to YouTube; the embedding codes that allow reposting YouTube videos on other websites have been "disabled by request."
1/22/2009 2:29:47 PM
Buried in the Utne Reader library is nearly every issue of the sorely missed DoubleTake magazine. That’s where I stumbled across this letter from Walker Percy to Bruce Springsteen in 1989. When Springsteen finally responded, in 1993, it was to Percy’s widow. It’s a charming and intriguing correspondence that touches on the Catholicism and work of both men. DoubleTake ran the letters with a discussion between Springsteen and Percy’s nephew Will.
Here’s the exchange of letters:
Feb 23, 1989
Dear Mr. Springsteen—
This is a fan letter—of sorts. I’ve always been an admirer of yours, for your musicianship, and for being one of the few sane guys in your field.
The immediate occasion is that my favorite nephew, Will Percy, has even a higher opinion of you. He is a level-headed perceptive young lawyer and generally knows what he is talking about.
Of particular interest is from learning—from an article in America, the Jesuit weekly—that you are Catholic. If this is true, and I am too, it would appear that the two of us are rarities in our professions: you as a post-modern musician, I as a writer, a novelist and philosopher. That—and your admiration for Flannery O’Connor. She was a dear friend of mine, though she was a much more heroic Catholic than I. The whole time I knew her, she was dying of Lupus Erythematosus, a fatal and extremely unpleasant disease. A prime example of her faith: she was participating in a seminar with some modish ex-Catholics like Mary McCarthy. Mary, thinking to be generous toward the church, said something like: “Well, it is true, some of the Catholic rituals, like the Eucharist, are good symbols.” To which Flannery, who hadn’t said a word, responded with a single sentence: “I say that it it’s only a symbol, to hell with it.” You will recognize Flannery’s tone.
This is to say only that I am most interested in your spiritual journey, and if there is any other material about it, I’d be obliged if you will tell me.
Unfortunately, I have cancer and am taking radiation for it. I am far from well and am not able yet to receive visitors.
Since I don’t know your address I am handing this to Will who says he knows where to send it.
All my best wishes for your superb career.
+ + +
Dear Mrs. Percy,
This is a letter so long in coming I’m almost embarrassed to write, but I’ve gotten to know Will a little bit and he’s encouraged me on, so here we go.
A few years back when I received Dr. Percy’s letter, I wasn’t very familiar with his work…my memory is that [his] leter was written on a yellow legal pad and, as is mine, his handwriting was not the easiest to decipher. It was a passionate letter about the comforts and difficulties of reconciling the inner life of a sophisticated man, a writer’s life, with the Catholic faith. I recall Dr. Percy’s explaining how one had brought depth and meaning to the other for him. He was curious to know how I handled my issues of faith….
It is now one of my great regrets that we didn’t get to correspond. A while after receiving Dr. Percy’s letter, I picked up “The Moviegoer,” its toughness and beauty have stayed with me. The loss and search for faith and meaning have been at the core of my own work for most of my adult life. I’d like to think that perhaps that is what Dr. Percy heard and was what moved him to write me. Those issues are still what motivate me to sit down, pick up my guitar and write. Today, I would have had a lot to put in that letter….
I hope this letter finds you well and that someday when I’m down in your neck of the woods or you’re up in mine we can meet. I’d love to have you come to a show, you might like it!
P.S. I’m in Australia at the moment and I’ve just begun “The Message in the Bottle.”
Image courtesy of German Federal Archives.
1/21/2009 10:47:47 AM
For the past two weeks, 800 buses have run their routes through Britain’s streets emblazoned with the slogan, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” The Atheist Bus Campaign is comedy writer Ariane Sherine’s response to a hellfire and brimstone advertisement she saw on a London bus. Her intention is to provide a positive, reassuring counterpoint—a little more “eat drink and be merry”, a little less “for tomorrow you die.” (The slogan’s “probably” is more a nod to truth-in-advertising than to agnosticism.)
Richard Dawkins’ involvement with the campaign, however, belies the slogan’s purportedly “lighthearted and peaceful” tone. At the January 6 launch of the Atheist Bus Campaign he contended, “They have to take offense, it is the only weapon they’ve got. . . they’ve got no arguments.”
As Dawkins predicted, the campaign has succeeded in ruffling several believers in the UK. One devout London bus driver refused to drive buses carrying the ad. The Advertising Standards Authority has received nearly 150 complaints, which, if the ASA pursues the matter formally, could put some hapless British bureaucrats in the uncomfortable position of having to rule on the probability of the existence of God.
Other theists are self-consciously not rising to the bait, with long-winded articles that might as well be subtitled “Hey Everyone, Notice Us Being the Bigger People.” As the Guardian’s Andrew Brown notes, the campaign does little to promote intellectual discussion, instead waging sandbox warfare with a slicker, grown up take on the classic “I know you are but what am I?” And, as any good recess monitor would advise, when someone’s trying to get a rise out of you the best response is often no response. Besides, writes Ship of Fools contributing editor Stephen Tomkins, “If God is anything like as big and clever as we claim he is, he can probably take it.”
Adding to the glut of bus puns, Brown asks, “The wheels on the bus go round and round, but where do they lead?” Indeed, proselytizing seems a needless mission for atheists, some of whom are not on board the atheist bus for this very reason. Moreover, the slogan’s fatuity is especially vexing at a time when, whether or not you believe in an afterlife, there’s a hell of a lot to worry about in this life. Perhaps the money and energy being spent on both the Atheist Bus Campaign and the Christian ads that inspired it could be used more constructively to jointly address these worldly woes, since, as Brown puts it, “being told not to worry because there probably isn’t a God is about as useful as being told that Jesus will come back and make it all all right.”
1/21/2009 10:27:05 AM
Barack Obama’s announcement that he would take the oath of office on Abraham Lincoln’s bible set off a flurry of historical analogies between the two presidents. According to historian Eric Foner, interviewed on Fresh Air, “this whole Lincoln analogy has gone a little too far.”
Any religious analogy would be particularly historically problematic, Foner told Terry Gross, since Lincoln never belonged to a church throughout his life. And, unlike Obama, Lincoln didn’t have a preacher involved in either of his inaugurations. In the 19th century, according to Foner, “it was quite uncommon to have ministers there. You know, they believed in the separation between church and state back then.” In fact, John Quincy Adams didn’t take his oath of office on a bible at all, opting instead for a more secular book of laws.
It should be acknowledged, however, that Obama made strides, at least rhetorically, in the secular realm when he acknowledged “non-believers” in his inaugural address.
Image of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.
1/19/2009 2:25:20 PM
HBO chose not to include Bishop Gene Robinson’s invocation in its broadcast of Sunday’s inaugural festivities, but Sarah Pulliam of Christianity Today taped the prayer for those who might like to see it.
Episcopal Café has compiled several religion writers’ thoughts on why Robinson’s prayer was not televised.
1/16/2009 2:13:25 PM
Catholic Priest and longtime peace activist Roy Bourgeois has been told by the Vatican to end his advocacy for women's ordination or be excommunicated. He’s chosen excommunication. The independent Catholic paper National Catholic Reporter spoke with Bourgeois:
Hardly a day passes that a phone call or a letter doesn’t bring tears to his eyes. 'I never knew just how deeply women have been hurt by the church. And after hearing from so many women, I’m no longer comfortable being part of an institution that excludes them. Over and over again, they tell him of their struggles with faith, of the anguish of sexual abuse, of profound feelings of dejection. And of a rising anger. Some — like a woman who wrote him about being sexually abused by a bishop — are livid that the church, while finding women unworthy for ordination, protects pedophile priests and never threatens to excommunicate them.
Many are also incensed that the Vatican would so quickly take drastic action against Bourgeois. Bourgeois has done several stints in federal prison protesting the
U.S. Army School of the Americas
, which has trained dictators, assassins and death-squad leaders across Latin America. While he has appreciated letters that thanked him for speaking out for women who say they have no voice, Bourgeois is careful to make clear that he is not trying to speak for women, but to stand in solidarity with them.
Read the entire story here.
1/15/2009 9:49:28 AM
In the Fall 2008 issue of Tricycle—an independent magazine that excels at illuminating Buddhist thought for Western readers—Noelle Oxenhandler has a hopeful essay about dementia and the benefits of meditation.
“Already there is compelling evidence that the regular practice of meditation can ease the early symptoms of dementia,” Oxenhandler writes. But keeping your gray matter limber—tapping into the recent craze for brain fitness—is only one of the compelling reasons to practice mindfulness. Meditation also awakens the mind.
“If, as they say in Zen, the rain falls equally on all things,” Oxenhandler writes, “then doesn’t it follow that the bodhi mind—the awakened mind—is bright and vast enough to encompass the fog, despair, and disruption of dementia? … What is mindfulness if not the practice of brining the mind to those places it goes missing?”
A simple example of how mindfulness might benefit those with dementia is kindness practice. Paranoia is dementia’s common, understandable companion. It’s also a frustrating wedge between caregivers and the people they wish to help—injecting that relationship with suspicion, anxiety, even fear. Kindness practice, however, could “make us more resistant to paranoia,” in effect training the mind to open “the door to the unknown with a trusting and welcoming heart.”
“In a dharma talk, I once heard a meditation teacher recount a story about a longtime family friend who was suffering from dementia,” Oxenhandler writes. “Before his illness, this friend had been a highly intelligent and successful man, and he had always been very kind. When the teacher and her husband arrived for a visit, he threw open the door and exclaimed: ‘I have no idea who you are, but do come in and make yourselves at home!’ ”
Image by Gio JL, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/14/2009 5:07:15 PM
In the same vein as the recent treatise on the value of pie, Baltimore City Paper food columnist Henry Hong celebrates the much-maligned one-dish wonder, tuna casserole.
His argument was spurred by the growing cache of bacon among hipsters, who “gratuitously foist upon humanity culinary aberrations such as bacon vodka, bacon sausage, and the utterly insulting bacon chocolate.” Hong in turn worries that casserole will be the next blue-collar edible to be co-opted by the elite. He raves about the dish’s simplicity and flavor, and even delves into the long illustrious history of casseroles as a culinary phenomenon (Moroccan tagines through Depression-era penny pinching).
Equally as palpable as his reverence for the dish is his insistence that it stay on the lower rungs of the culinary ladder, remaining the uncomplicated and unclassy meal it’s always been. (Although, somewhat ironically, he includes his own recipe in the column which substitutes salmon for tuna and calls for spinach and sage....)
Image courtesy of Harris Graber, licensed under Creative Commons.
1/14/2009 10:11:15 AM
Esperanto began as a stab at linguistic utopia. Imagining a world unfettered by communication barriers, Ludovic Lazarus Zamenhof invented the grammatically simple language in late-19th century Poland. He dreamed that it eventually would be adopted worldwide as a universal second tongue. While these ambitious plans never reached fruition, the Boston Phoenix reports that a small, but tight-knit, international community of speakers keep Esperanto alive.
These loyal fans translate books, write songs, and hold annual conferences. They’ve also benefited from a host of web resources, using services like Skype and Facebook to stay connected and practice conversation. It helps that the language has only 16 basic grammar rules; the simple structure makes it easy for budding Esperantists to learn quickly.
Check out the article to learn more about the language and read comments by some enthusiastic speakers. Wikipedia’s also got an extensive page on Esperanto, with plenty of historical info and good links for further exploration.
1/5/2009 1:46:08 PM
George W. Bush’s controversial Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives (OFCI) will live on under the Obama administration, but with a slightly altered handle: The President’s Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (COFANP). More than mere semantics, this reimagined name signifies “a new commitment to strengthening the partnership between government and neighborhood community programs,” according to the Obama campaign’s position paper.
At Spiritual Politics, editor Mark Silk dissects the implications of the name change. “The Bush name implies that initiative comes from the non-profits, be they religious or otherwise; OFCI was supposed to ensure that faith-based entities were not shut out from government funding for what they wanted to do,” writes Silk, a professor of religion in public life at Trinity College. “COFANP makes the government an active participant in whatever happens—including in assessing the results.”
This new focus on partnership rekindles the issue of hiring discrimination for faith-based groups receiving federal funding. While Bush’s constitutionally dicey policy permits faith-based groups to hire only members of their own faith, the Obama plan expects religious groups to comply with federal anti-discrimination laws.
As partners with the federal government, faith-based groups will need to focus on using public funds for the public good, not to advance their spiritual agendas. The government’s role in the partnership will include judging programs based on effectiveness, and ending funding for programs that don’t work, regardless of their religious affiliation. As Silk puts it, under COFANP “programs will not be saved by faith alone; it will take works.”
1/5/2009 1:04:12 PM
In its January 2009 issue, Shambhala Sun is “Celebrating 30 Years of Buddhism in America” along with its anniversary (1978-2008). Among the thoughtful offerings: Senior editor Barry Boyce chronicles the dramatic changes Western Buddhism has undergone since it was introduced to the United States.
Marcia Z. Nelson reviews some of the most significant Buddhist books from the past 30 years, such as The Art of Happiness (1998), a Eastern-philosophy-meets-Western-psychology bestseller coauthored by the Dalai Lama and psychiatrist Howard Cutler. Nelson also singles out Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994) and Full Catastrophe Living (1991) as two books that brought mind-body meditation into the mainstream.
Another article—"What's Next?"—assembles thoughtful predictions from an array of Buddhist thinkers (excerpt only). “Just like pouring water from one container into another, this formless wisdom may be transmitted from one country, culture, and language to another by way of the cultural forms and conventions that contain it,” writes scholar and meditation master Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche.
Image by alicepopkorn, licensed under Creative Commons.
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