Posts Tagged ‘Faith & Church’

God never leaves us without the thing we most need, which is God’s own self.”

—- Roberta Bondi


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city, it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter,
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
see what desolations he has brought on earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth,
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
—- Psalm 46

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News of Clergy, Church leaders (Not Good Dept.)

Disturbing, alarming, sobering news, but not entirely surprising either. I’ve sat through enough required clergy seminars on sexual misconduct in my United Methodist Church–and have heard enough horror stories from my female colleagues in ministry–not to be too surprised by this study from Baylor. The article is from the Washington Post:

One in 33 Female Worshipers Is Target of Sexual Advances by Clergy Member

By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 9, 2009 1:13 PM

One in every 33 women who attend worship services regularly has been the target of sexual advances by a religious leader, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The study, by researchers at Baylor University, found that the problem is so pervasive that it almost certainly involves a wide range of denominations and religious traditions and a wide range of spiritual leaders.

“It certainly is prevalent, and clearly the problem is more than simply a few charismatic leaders preying on vulnerable followers,” said Diana Garland, dean of the School of Social Work at Baylor, who co-authored the study.

The study also found that more than two-thirds of the offenders were married to someone else at the time of the advance.

A growing number of denominations have become aware of the problem, particularly since the Catholic Church’s highly publicized sex scandal involving its clergy. At least 36 denominations now have official policies that identify sexual relations between adult congregants and clergy as misconduct, subject to discipline.

It is also illegal in Minnesota and Texas. The Texas law, for example, defines clergy sexual behavior as nonconsensual sexual assault if the religious leader “causes the other person to submit or participate by exploiting the other person’s emotional dependency on the clergyman in the clergyman’s professional character as spiritual adviser.”

Baylor used the 2008 General Social Survey, a nationally representative sample of 3,559 respondents, to estimate the prevalence of clergy sexual misconduct. Women over the age of 18 who attended worship services at least once a month were asked whether they had ever received “sexual advances or propositions” from a religious leader.

The study also found that close to one in 10 respondents reported having known about clergy sexual misconduct occurring in a congregation they have attended.

Researchers don’t know whether the incidence of clergy sexual misconduct had changed over the years or whether sexual wrongdoing by clergy is more, or less, frequent than that of other well-respected professionals in the community, such as doctors.

But, Garland said, “when you put [misconduct] with a spiritual leader or moral leader, you’ve really added a power that we typically don’t think about in secular society — which is that this person speaks for God and interprets God for people. And that really adds a power.”

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We all remember that special teacher who inspired us to learn or better ourselves.
This human interest story from the Chicago Tribune finds the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple connecting with his aging English teacher:

    Their friendship: Pure poetry
    Verse by verse, ex-student leads retired teacher out of darkness after stroke
    By Manya A. Brachear
    Tribune reporter
    Photo by Chris Walker, Tribune
    August 31, 2009

    In the well-appointed drawing room of an Evanston retirement home one recent afternoon, Rev. Philip Blackwell sat beside his former teacher George Ariffe, poring over volumes of poetry that were dog-eared, creased and yellowed by the passing of time.
    Ariffe tapped a page, prompting Blackwell to begin reading Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” with a cadence the teacher instilled in his pupil decades ago:

    Ah, love, let us be true

    To one another!

    for the world, which seems

    To lie before us like a land of dreams,

    So various, so beautiful, so new,

    Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

    Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;

    Ariffe, who has great difficulty speaking and cannot read or write because of a stroke, listened intently, nodding his affirmation when Blackwell read the closing stanza.

    Many of us have that teacher who left an indelible mark on our lives. For Blackwell, pastor of Chicago’s First United Methodist Church, that hero is Ariffe, his former high school English teacher.

    Rather than merely read John Milton and William Shakespeare, Ariffe made his students memorize lines, believing they could draw value from the verses later in life.

    In the days immediately after the stroke on April 13, the 85-year-old teacher struggled to find his words and the will to live. When Blackwell visited his former teacher for the first time four days after his stroke, Ariffe uttered only one sentence that Blackwell could comprehend: “I want to die.”

    “This was one of those teachers that changed your life because they opened worlds you hadn’t imagined,” Blackwell said.

    So he set out to do the same for his teacher, using the poetry they both treasured. “What I was looking for was a language he and I could share that was … significant,” Blackwell said.

    Blackwell bought a copy of Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” at a secondhand bookstore and read the verses when he returned to his teacher’s bedside on May 6.

    There lives more faith in honest doubt,

    Believe me, than in half the creeds.

    “It’s not my job to tell people whether they want to die or not,” Blackwell said. “I wanted him to know he was not outside the faith if he wanted to die and still had grand questions about why things are the way they are.”

    It was the least Blackwell could do for a teacher who had encouraged him more than four decades earlier.

    In 1960, Ariffe’s classroom was a sanctuary for Blackwell, the new kid at Libertyville-Fremont Consolidated High School, trying to establish an identity of his own.

    “My junior year was really an awkward year,” Blackwell recalled. “There was an in-group, and I wasn’t in it.”

    In Ariffe’s classroom, Blackwell memorized passages from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales,” Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” and Milton’s “On His Blindness.”

    “I would say that George’s class helped to place me,” Blackwell said. “Having read all that Shakespeare and learned those poems and gone to see ‘Antigone,’ his class opened up some options for me that I went back and claimed.”

    The following year, half the students at Libertyville-Fremont, including Blackwell, became the first senior class at Mundelein High School. Blackwell played trombone in the marching band, served on the student council and played football and basketball. He credits Ariffe for enabling him to memorize a script and star in the school play. He also graduated as valedictorian.

    Meanwhile, Ariffe had embarked on his own adventure, taking a sabbatical to co-edit four volumes of English literature from the 5th to 20th Centuries. After helping to select what he believed were the quintessential works of English literature, he wrote commentaries and biographies of the authors.

    Three days before Easter in 1967, Blackwell visited his favorite teacher to fill him in on his progress and his plans. A first-year student at Yale Divinity School, Blackwell was headed to England for an internship.

    Ariffe presented him with a goodbye gift — autographed copies of his opus. Volume I had the longest inscription: “Very best wishes to my good friend and favorite clergyman, Phil.”

    Though Blackwell was not yet ordained, the inscription assured him that his teacher approved of his career path. This year, the gift sparked a new chapter of their friendship.

    On May 11, Blackwell unearthed the collection from his library and carried it to the Presbyterian Home in Evanston where Ariffe lay recuperating. Ariffe could not articulate his thoughts, but Blackwell would remind him that he once did by reading those words back to him. He started with Milton’s lament “On His Blindness,”composed before Milton wrote his masterpiece, “Paradise Lost.”

    When I consider how my light is spent,

    Ere half my days in this dark world and wide,

    And that one talent which is death to hide

    Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent

    Ariffe seemed consumed by a darkness similar to Milton’s. Still insisting he wanted to die, he had refused food since entering the hospital.

    “I’d always been struck both by the pathos of an artist who lost his capacity to create and then also the affirmation that you can serve even when you’re mute or inactive or sidelined in some way,” Blackwell said.

    That following Sunday, May 17, Blackwell preached on the New Testament’s John 15, in which Jesus invites his disciples to be his friends. Blackwell told his congregation about his friend and beloved teacher.

    The Preacher & The Teacher

    The Preacher & The Teacher

    “True friendship,” he said, “is abiding, not fleeting; it is deep, not shallow. It includes giving of one’s self to another and receiving what another person has to give to us.”

    When Blackwell arrived by Ariffe’s bedside later that day, he learned the patient had started to eat. The pastor read Gerald Manley Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” a poem about the persistent presence of God despite humanity’s failures to do right by him.

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

    And though the last lights off the black West went

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs

    Blackwell continued to note a shift in Ariffe’s personality, a determination to recover that Blackwell had not sensed before. The new fighting spirit inspired him to read “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” by Dylan Thomas on May 25.

    Do not go gentle into that good night,

    Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

    Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

    “I thought: ‘George does not have access to his vocabulary, but he and I share vocabulary in large part because he gave it to me — these poems,’ ” Blackwell said. “If I read back to him his vocabulary, not only might there be some meaning in it, it might be a technique for him to retrieve some capacity to speak.”

    As the world outside has transformed from spring to summer toward fall, the poems have evolved too. Robert Browning’s “Prospice” was the first poem Blackwell read to Ariffe in May with the future in mind.

    O thou soul of my soul! I shall clasp thee again,

    And with God be the rest!

    Since then, words have slowly returned to Ariffe. Short simple sentiments occasionally roll off his tongue. But he frequently trips on the phrases “I wonder” and “I want,” never quite completing the thought after an hour of trying. A booklet of pictures and labels helps him communicate.

    Blackwell and Ariffe don’t need that picture book. Ariffe recently surprised Blackwell with a hardcover copy of his anthology returned from his parents’ estate and inscribed to “Mom and Pop.” Blackwell now reads from that edition when he goes to see Ariffe.

    One afternoon this month, Ariffe looked at the reporter in the room and clasped his hand to his chest. He had tried unsuccessfully for an hour to convey an important point. But now what Ariffe had to say rolled right off his tongue.

    “This one’s the best,” he said, gesturing toward Blackwell. “I’m so glad.”


    Copyright © 2009, Chicago Tribune

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It is difficult to learn to live the downward mobility of the gospel in this age of wealth. For the most part, those of us who are rich never meet those of us who are poor. Instead, nonprofit organizations serve as brokers between the two in a booming business of poverty management.
I believe that the great tragedy of the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor, but that they do not know the poor. Yet if we are called to live the new community for which Christ was crucified, we cannot remain strangers to one another. Jesus demands that we live in a very different way. I recently surveyed people who said they were “strong followers of Jesus.” Over 80 percent agreed with the statement, “Jesus spent much time with the poor.” Yet only 1 percent said that they themselves spent time with the poor. We believe we are following the God of the poor — yet we never truly encounter the poor.

—- Shane Claiborne
****Shane Claiborne, author of The Irresistible Revolution and Jesus for President, is a founder of The Simple Way, a community in inner-city Philadelphia that has helped birth and connect radical faith communities around the world. Www.thesimpleway.org

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Being with God in the midst of disaster

wildfiresBy Larry R. Hygh Jr.*
Sept. 4, 2009 | PASADENA, Calif. (UMNS)
The forest fires ravaging Southern California have destroyed one United Methodist Church worker’s home, forced members to evacuate and still may threaten two United Methodist camps.
As they wait and pray, church members in the United Methodist California-Pacific Annual (regional) Conference also are responding with compassion, preparing to house evacuees and setting up funds to assist fire victims.
And not even thick smoke could keep many of the faithful away from their sanctuaries.
The Rev. Yvonne Williams-Boyd, pastor of Altadena United Methodist Church, says several members were given mandatory evacuation orders, but the congregation was still able to have church on Sunday.
“Although the smoke was thick, the service was a very moving one and well-attended,” she said. “It was most inspiring to see how many people came out, as they felt that being with God and the congregation was the best way that they could get through this most difficult time.”
The California-Pacific Conference (United Methodist Church) has a fund set up to help victims of the fires. Checks can be made payable to the California-Pacific Annual Conference with the notation “Southern California Fires” noted and mailed to Attn: Treasurer’s Office, P.O. Box 6006, Pasadena, CA 91102-6006.
*Hygh is director of communications for the California-Pacific Annual Conference.

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Matriarch’s 300 descendants gather for funeral
Wichita Falls Times Record News © 2009 The Associated Press

VERNON, Texas — Gregoria Martinez, 94, might seem like your typical grandma. She made quilts for her grandchildren, encouraged them to go to church, prayed for them, and gave advice.

Except the Vernon grandma didn’t have just a handful of grandchildren when she died Tuesday.

She had nearly 300.

Ninety-eight were grandchildren; 164 were great-grandchildren and 16 were great-great-grandchildren — all descendants of her own 11 offspring.

That’s without counting her three stepchildren or any of their descendants — or the three great-great grandchildren currently on the way. The family purposely underestimated the total count, but felt if all were included it could be as high as 500.

Actually, they have been losing track. Now, with nearly half the family attending the funeral Wednesday, family members passed out index cards to update names and phone numbers while they had their chance.

Martinez’s survivors packed the 500-seat St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Quanah. The devout Catholic woman, whose husband, Ponciano, died at the age of 94 sometime after their 50th wedding anniversary, “could fill up our elementary school in Quanah with all the great-grandchildren and the great-great-grandchildren,” Jalamo said. And she knew practically all of them.

“If one of my sons would come up to see her, she’d say, ‘Are you JJ?’ He’d say, ‘It’s JJ, Grandma.’ And she’d say, ‘Are you doing right? Are you taking care of your family?'”

She didn’t preach about the benefits of large families, but did believe she was brought into the world to multiply.

“You know Catholics,” said daughter Elva Jaloma.

When Gregoria was raising her children, she and her husband were migrant workers, traveling to Wisconsin to pick tomatoes and cucumbers, then back to Texas to pick cotton. “They had 11 kids, and raised 14, and not one time did (they) draw a food stamp, a welfare check, or an unemployment check,” Jaloma said of his in-laws. “They didn’t believe in that. They said, ‘If you want something, you work for it.'”

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The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

strong>Words of wisdom from Philo of Alexandria, a first century Jewish philosopher, with commentary by jitterbugger, a 21rst century guy:

“BE KIND, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle,” Philo said.

And, indeed, life is hard, so hard that some moments–some hours, days, weeks or months or even years–it’s such a struggle as to feel like a “great battle” being waged within our very souls.
We need all the kindness we can get.
The people we encounter need all the kindness they can get.
I’m doing the best I can each and every day, and so are you, and so are our friends and loved ones and coworkers and bosses and the people stuck in traffic and the strangers in the elevator who quietly have a million thoughts or concerns or worries or anxieties spinning around in their heads.
We’re all doing the best we can, and we’re all broken people in need of God’s grace.
“Be kind.”

Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.
Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts . . . “

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The church’s role in reforming health care

The Good Doctor

The Good Doctor

**** IN THE PHOTO: Dr. Scott Morris, a physician and United Methodist minister, is the founder of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., which provides affordable medical care for the working poor and homeless in the area.
A UMNS file photo courtesy of Church Health Center.

By Vicki Brown*
Sept. 3, 2009 | LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (UMNS)

The church’s role in reforming health care begins at home, a family physician told United Methodist leaders.
Dr. Scott Morris, a United Methodist and founder of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tenn., said the inability to deal with health and wholeness is one of the fundamental reasons the U.S. health-care system is broken.
For their part, churches need to do more than check blood pressure on Sunday and host health fairs, he told close to 80 new district superintendents and directors of connectional ministries.

“We need to explore what it means to have a healing ministry in our congregations and in our lives,” he said at a late August training event sponsored by the Council of Bishops, the Board of Higher Education and Ministry and the Board of Discipleship
In his talk to new church leaders, Morris said often in his practice a patient will come to him with a complaint about back pain or some other problem when what is wrong is a broken heart.

“You can’t MRI somebody’s spirit,” he said.

In addition to ministering to their spirit, Morris said church leaders have a responsibility to teach and model healthy behaviors.

United Methodist clergy are 20 percent heavier than the rest of the population, he said.

Church leaders were each given a pedometer and a booklet from the Church Health Center titled, “On the Move in Congregations: Walking with Jesus.” District superintendents should help the clergy in their areas, Morris said.

“You can help them lead a healthy life. You cannot have a healthy church if you don’t have healthy leadership,” Morris said. “We also hope you will be advocates for your church members to lead healthier lives.”

On the national level, one way the church can help in the debate over health care is to talk about end-of-life care, Morris said.

He noted that one-fourth of the Medicare budget is spent during the last six months of a person’s life. For many people, 80 percent of lifetime health expenses come in the last six months of life.

“The government can bring this up, but surely the church has something to say,” he said, noting that health-care providers view death as the enemy and believe it is optional. “We in the church believe death is a part of life. Isn’t helping people to die with dignity a role the church can play?”

*Brown is an associate editor and writer in the Office of Interpretation, United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry.

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“To him be glory”


Ephesians 3:14-21
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (NIV)

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Regarding science: Never fear


If the believer’s faith in the Bible depends upon the Bible’s conformity to the norms of modern science, then that faith is very likely to be threatened, for the Bible is not a book of science and cannot, in light of modern science, be made to perform like one. Biology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and geology are only at odds with the Bible when the Bible is expected to speak with authority in the language of these topics, and its writings to confirm the discoveries and postulates of these sciences. If this test of science is applied to scripture, scripture will always fail.
Having said that, we have said really nothing at all, for scripture does not pretend to be science any more than science pretends to be scripture. The canons of one simply do not apply to the other, and neither is challenged or diminished by being simply what it is. . . . .
The Bible has nothing to fear from science, and science, with its sense of wonder and awe and infinity, has much to learn from the Bible. The believer need not be afraid.”
—- Peter J. Gomes, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart”

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