The Common Good

Religion

Should a Christian Watch 'Game of Thrones?'

Is there anything morally redeeming about Game of Thrones? Does the hit HBO series even have a moral vision?

The show is certainly entertaining, almost addictively so, and as Game of Thrones wraps up its third season on Sunday, the ratings reflect that popularity: a record of more than 5.5 million viewers have followed the ruthless struggles for power among the teeming clans of Westeros, the medieval-looking world created by fantasy novelist George R.R. Martin.

That success has also guaranteed that the show will be back for a fourth year of mayhem and passion, swords and sorcery, despite this season’s many violent endings. Or, as one tweet put it after the bloody penultimate episode: “Why doesn’t George R.R. Martin use twitter? Because he killed all 140 characters.”

But therein lies the moral problem for some: The appeal of the series seems bound up in the senseless violence and amoral machinations – not to mention the free-wheeling sex – that the writers use to dramatize this brutish world of shifting alliances and dalliances.

That, in turn, has prompted intense debates about whether Christians should watch Games of Thrones at all, or whether the show’s only possible virtue is depicting how the world would look if Christ had never been born – or what it could look like if Christianity disappeared tomorrow.

+Continue Reading

Marks

Editors Note: The following poem by Trevor Scott Barton was written while he was living in Africa and reading The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi.

Holding you in the palm of my hand
I see your tiny feet and hope you'll live and walk these stony paths
To the pump to get water.
Blessing you in your meekness and gentleness,
You are Jesus to me today.

+Continue Reading

My Messy Faith

The more I study theology and the more I take Jesus' teachings seriously, the more messy my life becomes. 

I was raised to believe that Christianity is about going to church on Sundays, not saying bad words, trying to be good, and having all the right beliefs (and knowing who doesn't have the right beliefs). Within this framework, Christianity is very neat and proper. One dresses in such a way that conforms to modesty (no tattoos and piercings, thank you); one uses coined phrases to know who's really in or out (we say 'blessed' not 'lucky'); one never touches a cigarette or consumes alcohol (because that's what makes us 'not of this world' right?); and one makes sure to only hang out with those who have the same beliefs (for having different beliefs or opinions is clearly a sign of waywardness). This was my world all the way into my 20s. 

Then something happened. Or, in actuality, many things happened. I am unable to pinpoint one thing that upended my world. It was a bunch of little and big things that projected me onto a path of radical living, and I give the credit to the Holy Spirit (and to my husband, but that's another story). 

As a result of those many little and big things, I began to see the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament in new light. Passages I had heard all my life took on a whole new and radically different meaning. Beliefs I had taken on without thinking came crashing down, as I began to hold them in view of Christ's teachings. It was then I started to discover how far off my thinking, and thus my life orientation, was. 

+Continue Reading

The Megachurch vs. Minichurch: Do Popularity and Growth Really Matter?

“God is doing amazing things!” is the Christian way of saying, “Look, we’re popular.”

The idea that faithfully following God’s will is associated with people attending (or donating to) churches, ministries, and organizations is a fallacy that can be debunked by simply looking around us. Islam is growing, Mormonism is growing, and so is Kim Kardashian’s Twitter following. They could all use the exact same logic: that popularity equals success. If we gauge God’s favor by the numbers of followers we have then Justin Bieber is probably God’s newly anointed prophet. 

But Christians are addicted to popularity. Denominations focus on church planting, pastors obsess over attendance, budgets rely on congregational turnout, and we pay special attention to Christian leaders who are famous.

In a Westernized culture captivated by success and money, we often make judgments based on the size of a church — or organization, ministry, and community. But our preconceived opinions are often wrong.

+Continue Reading

Canadians Turning Away from Organized Religion

TORONTO — A new national study shows that while Canada remains overwhelmingly Christian, Canadians are turning their backs on organized religion in ever greater numbers.

Results from the 2011 National Household Survey show that more than two-thirds of Canadians, or some 22 million people, said they were affiliated with a Christian denomination.

At 12.7 million, Roman Catholics were the largest single Christian group, representing 38 percent of Canadians; the second largest was the United Church, representing about 6 percent; while Anglicans were third, representing about 5 percent of the population.

Observers noted that among the survey’s most striking findings is that one in four Canadians, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation at all. That was up sharply from 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991.

 

+Continue Reading

We Don't Need Your Cookies

Back in 2005, I attended a “church growth” seminar in Dallas, Texas. The keynote speaker was Rev. Mike Slaughter of Ginghamsburg United Methodist in Ohio, one of the larger and faster growing UM churches in the country. He shared an experience that sticks with me.

That church had a “Cookie Patrol” that takes cookies to first time visitors. So, every Sunday afternoon, a group of people would meet down at the church to bake fresh cookies to be delivered to potential members.

One day, a member of the church came to Rev. Slaughter and told him, “I just love to bake, and I want to help with the Cookie Patrol. I’ve got a great kitchen at home, so let me tell you what I’ll do. I’ll make several dozen cookies each Sunday and bring them to the church. I just don’t have time to spend at church on Sunday afternoons.”

Pastor Mike responded, “You don’t understand. We don’t need your cookies. We need you.”

+Continue Reading

Post-Boston Bombings, Female Converts to Islam Face Growing Scrutiny

When Karen Hunt Ahmed and her Muslim husband divorced four years ago, many friends asked her, “Now you can stop this Islam stuff, right?”

Some friends, she thought.

“Like it was a hobby I took up when I got married and now I’m supposed to drop it,” said Hunt Ahmed, president of the Chicago Islamic Microfinance Project, which she founded with two colleagues in 2009.

Hunt Ahmed, 45, is part of a growing sorority of female American converts to Islam, especially those who are or were married to Muslim men, who must deal with the perception that they converted to Islam because of domineering boyfriends or husbands.

The stereotype was revived in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings, when news emerged that the wife of bombing suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Katherine Russell, converted to Islam after meeting Tsarnaev in 2009 or 2010 when she was about 21.

+Continue Reading

Boston Bombings Bring Chaplains into New Ground

Two days after the Boston Marathon bombings, Boston Medical Center chaplain Sister Maryanne Ruzzo was checking on staffers who’d been caring for the injured when she received a page. A bombing victim wanted to see her.

The bedside was fraught with worry. A woman in her 30s had lost a leg to amputation as surgeons deemed it unsalvageable. Still suffering multiple injuries, she was now heading into surgery again, knowing she might wake up with no legs at all.

Ruzzo stood among the woman’s parents and siblings and did what she does best: listen. She heard their fears, including concern for the woman’s husband, who was being treated at a different hospital and who also might lose a leg to amputation. Then she prayed.

“Other people might not want to feel the pain and say, ‘Oh, it’s going to be fine,’” said Ruzzo, the Archdiocese of Boston’s coordinator of Catholic services at BMC. “We just try to be present and listen to them. … I prayed for the surgeons and the nurses.”

In a week when Boston hospitals cared for more than 170 bomb victims, staff chaplains were suddenly in great demand. They moved calmly from emergency departments to waiting rooms and employee lounges, offering a compassionate ear and much-needed comfort to anxious patients, family members and staffers.

+Continue Reading