Faith

More Than Words

“Words! Words! Words!

I’m so sick of words!

I get words all day through, first from him, now from you. Is that all you blighters can do?” 

So, Liza Doolittle challenges the hapless Freddy Eynsford-Hill at the height of a dramatic confrontation in My Fair Lady. Freddy has come to her rescue, with his flowery, long-winded protestations of love, but poor Liza is fed up with words:

“Don't talk of stars, burning above. If you're in love, show me. Tell me not dreams, filled with desire. If you're on fire, show me.” 

And you know, Eliza has a point. A well-turned phrase won’t keep you warm at night.

It’s ironic that this drama was penned by one of the great wordsmiths of the English language. The play turns on the transformation of a poor Cockney girl into a proper English lady through the manipulation of her ability to master the English language. One argument put forth in the course of achieving this goal is that it doesn’t matter what you say as long as you say it properly. Style can compensate for the absence of substance.

In contrast, I listened this week to a powerful sermon preached by the Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber to a gathering of some 34,000 Lutheran youth gathered in assembly in New Orleans.

Poll: Most Americans Would Vote for an Atheist Presidential Candidate

For the second time in less than a year, the Gallup poll reports that a majority of Americans would vote for an atheist for president.

The latest survey, from June, found that 54 percent of those asked said they would vote a “well- qualified” atheist into the Oval Office — the highest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1958, when only 18 percent said they would back a nonbeliever.

On the other hand, the survey showed that those who do not believe in God still come in behind every other group polled for, including gays and lesbians (68 percent) and Muslims (58 percent).

Still, an imaginary atheist candidate passed the 50 percent threshold for the first time when Gallup asked the question in August 2011, so the trend is upward.

“We have seen an enormous change over time in the willingness to vote for an atheist,” said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, which reports the numbers in its current newsletter.

“But I think the numbers also remind us that this is a deeply religious country. That doesn’t mean we are all going to church on Sunday, but that having religion in your life is valuable to most Americans and I think that explains the resistance.”

What Christians Mean When They Bless You

Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Pastors at Little Church By The Sea in Laguna Beach, Calif., bless the Vanderveen family. Photo by Cathleen Falsani/Sojourners.

Christians toss out blessings like beads at Mardi Gras. They get offered so often and in so many contexts that it’s hard to know what exactly it means. So I thought I’d break down at least some of the kinds of blessings floating around out there.

The Post-Sneeze Blessing: This is a weird one, because we don’t bless people for coughing, yawning or any other bodily function. So why sneezing? No one is exactly sure, though some believe it dates back to Pope Gregory in the early first Century AD when the bubonic plague was everywhere in Europe. As the plague got closer to Rome, myth has it that the Pope ordered perpetual blessings around the city. So when someone sneezed, offering them a blessing was like a small insurance policy against the plague.

I actually heard a different one growing up that I liked better. There was an old superstition that sneezes were a means the body used to expel evil spirits from within. So once the bad mojo was on the outside, it was incumbent upon others to bless the sneezer, in an effort to keep them from sucking the demons or whatever back in.

The Backhanded Blessing: I grew up in Texas, and this was a real favorite in the south. It was generally offered in someone’s absence, and immediately following some kind of gossip or insult. An example might be, “Poor Mabel Jean’s husband has slept with everyone in town except for her, bless her heart.” Apparently the blessing neutralizes the damage of the bad stuff....

Religious Roots of Trees Branch into Many Faiths

Tree illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Tree illustration, Sandi Villarreal / Sojourners

Whether churchgoers realize it or not, the trees in their churchyards have religious roots.

Those tall, thin-branched trees on the corner of this city's Episcopal Church Center of Utah, Purple Robe Black Locusts, were probably named after a biblical reference to John the Baptist eating locusts and honey.

Nearby, the crab apple tree just outside the Episcopal Cathedral Church of St. Mark produces a small, sour fruit used by 15th-century monks to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and gallstones.

And the flowers of a nearby dogwood tend to bloom around Easter.

“My hope,” said University of Utah biology professor Nalini Nadkarni, “is [worshippers] will realize that nature and trees are as much a part of their sacred ground and worthy of reverence as what goes on inside a cathedral or church.”

Between a Rock and a Hard Place in Today's Church

Recently, Keith Anderson, my friend and co-author on Click 2 Save: The Digital Ministry Bible, wrote a  post that’s been stirring a good deal of interest — and concern — across the blogosphere.

Anderson’s piece, “What Young Clergy Want You to Know,” has, I suspect, attracted so much attention because it dives right into the middle of the frustration, anxiety, and discouragement one increasingly finds among clergy of all ages and levels of experience, but that is amplified among younger clergy because they’ve made a vocational commitment to the Church at a time when such a choice seems crazier than ever.

This, as Anderson points out in the post, is because younger clergy “understand they are presiding over the death of American Christendom.”

Younger clergy, says Anderson, “are worried about job security — not just about getting paid (which is not always a given) — but whether they can do the job they feel called to do in congregations that don’t want to change.” He continues, “Being prophetic is an attribute we laud in seminary, but it can get you fired in the parish.”

Well, there you have it. The unvarnished truth of vocational experience in institutional contexts that over time wears out even the most patient, most tolerant, most enthusiastic of clergy. The wrenching responses to the post make clear that Anderson struck a nerve among his clergy colleagues.

The HIV Minister (VIDEO)

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram

The Rev. Andrena Ingram is currently the only known Lutheran ordained pastor living openly with HIV. Her husband's death from an AIDS-related illness, and the shame that he felt, inspired the pastor to be open about her own diagnosis with HIV. She is known as "The HIV Minister" – a title that has helped others with HIV reach out to her for help.

Listen to Ingram tell her story inside the blog...

What Was Romney Like as a Mormon Bishop?

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Mitt Romney leaves 10 Downing Street after meeting with British Prime Minister David Cameron. Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Though Mitt Romney talks little about his faith on the campaign trail, he grew up in the Mormon Church and spent years as a top church leader in Massachusetts. From 1986 to 1994, he was president of the Boston stake, an entity similar to a Catholic diocese. Before that, Romney was bishop, similar to a lay pastor, of congregations in Belmont and Cambridge. Each job included both organizational work and counseling.

After leaving the stake president position, Romney taught Sunday school for a year, then oversaw the church’s programs for teenagers for around two years. Romney continues to tithe — giving 10 percent of his income to his church. In accordance with Mormon teachings, he does not drink alcohol, tea or coffee. He attends church services when he can. Romney's campaign did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

As a church leader, Romney ran the church with businesslike efficiency.

“He was very serious about doing an excellent job about things and he didn’t suffer fools,” said Helen Claire Sievers, executive director for the Harvard-affiliated WorldTeach, who was active in the church when Romney was stake president.

Turning the Tide on AIDS

A palpable feeling of hope and urgency hung heavy in the air of Washington, D.C., this week as thousands of activists descended on the nation’s capital to encourage and inspire colleagues and decision-makers to “turn the tide on AIDS.”

The International AIDS Conference 2012 has returned to the United States, thanks in part to the lifting of the HIV/AIDS travel ban by the Obama Administration in 2010, which followed work from President George W. Bush also to lift the ban.

As part of the Conference, faith leaders from across the world were invited Tuesday morning to a forum hosted by the White House. It was an opportunity to hear from U.S. and international experts and officials, as well as come together as a community of faith, standing up against the stigma and isolation which have been two of the biggest roadblocks to achieving the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

Tuesday’s event centered around two panel discussions — one examining what the faith community uniquely brings to the table in tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the other focusing on the relationship between governments and people of faith in building the effective partnerships needed to tackle it.

The tone of the discussions was, in many ways, extremely positive. We heard about vast improvements in treatments and holistic care, services often administered by faith-based organizations around the world.

“Hope,” as White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships Executive Director, Joshua DuBois, noted, is overcoming “fear.”

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