Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Devotional: I'm pressing on the upward way...

I'm pressing on the upward way,
New heights I'm gaining every day;
Still praying as I'm onward bound,
"Lord, plant my feet on higher ground."

My heart has no desire to stay
Where doubts arise and fears dismay;
Though some may dwell where these abound,
My prayer, my aim is higher ground.

I want to live above the world,
Though Satan's darts at me are hurled;
For faith has caught the joyful sound,
The song of saints on higher ground.

I want to scale the utmost height
And catch a gleam of glory bright;
But still I'll pray, 'til heaven I've found
"Lord, lead me on to higher ground."

Lord, lift me up and let me stand
By faith on heaven's table-land,
A higher plane than I have found:
Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.
...Johnson Oatman Jr. image

To the readers of this blog:
May the Lord Jesus bless and lead you to ever higher ground as you enter the New Year. May you leave behind all that holds you back- fear, regret, guilt-and move forward in your life of faith, running the race set before you, seeking His will and not your own, and may you know the peace of Him who holds our lives in the palm of His hand and trust in His sovereign mercy for all things!
A happy and blessed New Year to all!-Pat Dague

The Guardian and Radio 4 team up for a gruesome study of the Virgin Birth

Damian Thompson
Dec 31, 2008

The Guardian/BBC (have they officially merged yet?) has produced a news story/documentary on the "science of the Virgin birth" which suggests that Mary may have suffered from various gruesome gynaecological abnormalities.

The author of the Guardian article, Aarathi Prasad, is also presenter of tomorrow's Radio 4's programme. If you follow the link, you'll notice that "the miracle of Mary's virgin pregnancy" is followed by the word corrected in bold type. This because the Guardian does not know the difference between the virgin birth and the immaculate conception: hence also the disappearance of the original headline, "Immaculate deception" (geddit?).

That's odd, given that Prasad claims to have spent "many years with nuns" contemplating the virgin birth. She can't have been paying attention...

...Incidentally, what a nice touch of Radio 4, scheduling the programme for the Catholic solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. I look forward to a programme examining the ethics of the sexual relationship between the pre-pubescent child Ayisha and the middle-aged Mohammed – scheduled, of course, for the appropriate Islamic feast day. the rest

The Good Life

First Things
By Amy Julia Becker
Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In a letter to the editor of the New York Times, William Motley, a geneticist of Oxford University, writes, “Fighting Down syndrome with prenatal screening does not ‘border on eugenics.’ It is a ‘search-and-destroy mission’ on the disease, not on a category of citizens. . . . ” Similarly, a pediatric cardiologist writes about Down syndrome: “Tremendous social, medical and monetary burdens are inevitable parts of this disorder . . . these (prenatal) tests are invaluable, should be made available to all, and may help individuals possibly avoid a very significant life-changing illness.” Much as Mr. Motley might want to claim that prenatal screening is not about a category of citizens, the practical result of what he advises is indeed to eliminate an entire group of persons.

In a recent collection of essays titled Theology, Disability, and the New Genetics, Hans Reinders states a countervailing claim: “Life is good as it is.” Life is good as it is. It sounds simple. Theologically, it rings true. And yet the vast majority of individuals in our culture choose to terminate a pregnancy if they learn that their baby will be born with a disability. Why? If life is good as it is, why is it considered good by many in our culture to ensure that children with disabilities are not born at all?

the rest-Excellent!

African American churches leave the inner city for the suburbs

Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra

Urban blacks have been following the pattern of so-called "white flight" for the past several decades, leaving the city for the suburbs as they reach the middle class. Now their churches are beginning to follow, church leaders and observers say.

"Traditionally, African Americans were driving back to the home church in the central city," said Michael Emerson, founding director of the Center on Race, Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University. "But as you get into the second generation, they don't want to drive back to where they aren't from. That trend is only going to continue as you leave poverty behind."

Suburban churches are also attractive because they have a more contemporary model of worship, often including ministries such as after-school programs for children, according to Derrick Harkins, pastor of Nineteenth Street Baptist Church in Washington, D.C.

But when churches leave, they take with them a lot of services, funds, and charity work, said Lawrence Mamiya, professor of religion and Africana studies at Vassar College. "Black churches," he said, "have been the major institution in the black communities—the only stable institution to have emerged from slavery." the rest

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Devotional: Obedience makes the difference...

Many times we are content with sitting on the sidelines, always hearing about other's lives being changed in huge ways and God being so important in their life. We go to church and hear people talk about what God has been doing in their life. We go to events and conferences that we hope will microwave our Christian maturity to well done. We read books on how other's lives were changed. And that is good enough for us, but deep down inside, we wish we could have that happen in our own life. So we make promises to try harder. We recommit our lives to Jesus. We might begin having devotions more often. But, after a while, the desire dies off and the excitement has turned into duty and we give up.

Obedience makes the difference in a life that is sold out for God. It is seeing what God does with our attitude of following what He has in the Bible that brings about change in our hearts and a Christian walk that is on fire. ...Zach Conrad image

New Jersey Rules Church Group Discriminated Against Same-Sex Couple

December 29, 2008

A lesbian couple from New Jersey who were barred from holding a civil union ceremony last year at a beachfront pavilion owned by a church group won a legal victory on Monday.

The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights ruled that the refusal of the church group, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a Methodist organization that owns a square mile of beachfront property in Ocean Grove, near Asbury Park, to rent the spot to the couple violated the public accommodation provisions of the state’s Law Against Discrimination. the rest

Newdow Lawsuit Challenges Inaugural Oath and Invocation

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Michael Newdow's website reports that a lawsuit was filed yesterday in Washington, D.C. federal district court challenging two elements of the upcoming inauguration ceremony planned for Barack Obama. The complaint (full text and links to Appendices) in Newdow v. Roberts, (D DC, filed 12/29/2008) asks the court to enjoin the Chief Justice-- who will administer the oath of office-- from adding "so help me God" to the constitutionally prescribed presidential oath (Art. II, Sec. 1). It also asks the court to declare unconstitutional the use of clergy to deliver an invocation and benediction. Plaintiffs allege that both of these practices violate the Establishment Clause, Free Exercise Clause and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In addition to the Chief Justice, defendants include the Presidential Inaugural Committee and its leaders, and the clergy scheduled to take part in the ceremony. Over 25 individuals and organizations-- atheist and secular humanist in belief-- are named as plaintiffs.

the rest

Bishop Robinson comes to Seattle

by Joel Connelly
December 30, 2008

With support and sponsorship from the church in Western Washington, Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson will speak and worship in Seattle over the two day period of January 12 and 13.

Robinson, the Bishop of New Hampshire, is the first acknowledged, non-celibate gay man to lead a diocese in the Episcopal Church. He was confirmed in office by a vote of America's bishops at the 2003 General Convention of the church. the rest

Church of England puts its faith in Al Gore's investment arm

Tuesday, 30th December 2008
By George Conger

The Church of England’s Church Commissioners have gone green, investing £150 million with former US Vice-President Al Gore’s environmentally minded investment firm, Generation Investment Management.

On Nov 18 the First Church Estates Commissioner, Andreas Whittam Smith reported that in late September the Commissioners had placed the funds with Gore’s boutique management firm which follows an “environmentally sustainable global equities mandate.” Funding for the investment came from “cash and Treasury bills”, he said, and not from the sale of UK equities as initially planned.

In Oct 2007 Mr Gore was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in raising awareness of the potential threats from climate change. Generation Investment Management was founded in 2004 by Mr Gore and David Blood, former head of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, and had almost £5 billion under management before the market collapse. the rest

Jerusalem bishop warns Gaza health services 'overwhelmed'

Tuesday, 30th December 2008
By Nick Mackenzie

The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem has called for an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, warning that health services there are failing to cope with the injuries sustained in the Israeli attacks.

The Rt Rev Suheil Dawani, said that the three Abrahamic Faiths have observed their Holy Seasons with a sense of peace and goodwill, “therefore, we are greatly grieved by the severity of the ongoing military operations in Gaza that are occurring in heavily populated areas and impacting the civilian population.” the rest

Women bishops want male authority

Sydney Morning Herald
Andrew West
December 31, 2008

WOMEN bishops must enjoy the same authority as their male counterparts if they are placed in charge of an Anglican diocese, say two pioneering Australian churchwomen.

Barbara Darling, who was consecrated Assistant Bishop of Melbourne this year, said she opposed any plan that would diminish traditional authority of bishops over their dioceses.

In an attempt to heal the rift within the worldwide Anglican communion over women bishops, the Church of England has proposed a compromise that would permit its two most senior clerics, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, to appoint men as "complementary bishops" to care for parishes that do not accept women in the ministry. the rest

Church tries to quell dissent over female bishops with new role

Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent
The Guardian
Tuesday 30 December 2008

The Church of England has unveiled plans to create a new kind of clergy in an attempt to quell dissent over the ordination of female bishops, a historic change threatening its unity.

According to a series of official documents, published for the first time yesterday, the archbishops of Canterbury and York can nominate men as "complementary" bishops who will tend to parishes opposed to women's ministry. Such a bishop would perform functions in areas where the diocesan bishop is either a woman or a man who ordains women.

It is one of several steps designed to heal a rift over the ordination of women as bishops, a row that peaked last July during an emotional, sometimes angry, meeting of the General Synod, the Church of England's national assembly, while also removing the legal obstacles currently barring women from holding the office. the rest

Opt-out for parishioners opposed to women bishops

Attorney Generals to Challenge President Bush's New Abortion Rules for Docs

by Steven Ertelt Editor
December 29, 2008

Washington, DC ( -- Attorney General Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut says he will lead a fight against a federal rule issued by the Bush administration to protect doctors and medical facilities from being pressured to participate in abortions. The rule enforces federal law protecting the conscience rights of medical professionals.

Though the new regulations have nothing to do with birth control, Blumenthal is echoing the arguments from leading pro-abortion groups who claim its access will be adversely impacted by them.

"I will fight this outrageous rule -- the outgoing Bush Administration's latest and last swipe at women's health," he said in a statement obtained. "This rule is an appalling insult and abuse -- a midnight power grab to deny access to health care services and information, including even to victims of rape." the rest

Uganda Rebels Accused of Massacre at Church

By Associated Press Writer
Godfrey Olukya
Mon, Dec. 29 2008

KAMPALA, Uganda (AP) — Attackers wielding machetes hacked to death dozens of people at a church in remote eastern Congo, witnesses said Monday, and the Ugandan army accused the Lord's Resistance Army rebels of the massacre.

A European aid worker said more than 100 people are reported to have been killed in the attack the day after Christmas and that the Congolese military put the number dead at 120 to 150.

The accused Ugandan rebel group, which has waged one of Africa's longest and most brutal wars, denied responsibility. Spokesman David Matsanga said the Lord's Resistance Army had no fighters in the area and he accused Uganda's army of the killings. the rest

For Good Self-Control, Try Getting Religious About It

December 29, 2008

If I’m serious about keeping my New Year’s resolutions in 2009, should I add another one? Should the to-do list include, “Start going to church”?

This is an awkward question for a heathen to contemplate, but I felt obliged to raise it with Michael McCullough after reading his report in the upcoming issue of the Psychological Bulletin. He and a fellow psychologist at the University of Miami, Brian Willoughby, have reviewed eight decades of research and concluded that religious belief and piety promote self-control. the rest

Albert Mohler: Ten for the History Books from 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The year 2008 began with the anticipation that history would be made, and on that count the year certainly did not disappoint. Nevertheless, the year unfolded with more surprises than usual. The intellectual task of reviewing a year is always fascinating, usually difficult, and often humbling. That is certainly the case with the year 2008.

As a matter of fact, a good deal more time must pass until the meaning of 2008 and its events come into clearer view. In the meantime, here is a personal list of the events that shaped the year. Some may not make a list created by the historians of the future, but each is noteworthy in its own right. The list is not ranked in a specific order of relative significance, though the list is generally weighted toward the top.


Voted for Prop 8? You're fired

Same-sex marriage activists target businesses, employees
December 29, 2008 By Drew Zahn
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

Protests following the passage of California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman, made news headlines, but the Pacific Justice Institute reports a growing number of cases where those opposed to the ballot measure have taken out their anger more quietly: by harassing – and even firing – employees who voted for it.

PJI, a non-profit legal defense organization specializing in religious freedom, claims to be representing a San Francisco woman who was fired for voting for Proposition 8, but whose name remains confidential to protect her privacy and legal case. the rest

Firefighters ordered into 'gay' parade back in court

Monday, December 29, 2008

Devotional: When we grow old our God will still be the I AM...

And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
Isaiah 46:4

The year is very old, and here is a promise for our aged friends; yes, and for us all, as age creeps over us. Let us live long enough, and we shall all have hoar hairs; therefore we may as well enjoy this promise by the foresight of faith.

When we grow old our God will still be the I AM, abiding evermore the same. Hoar hairs tell of our decay, but He decayeth not. When we cannot carry a burden and can hardly carry ourselves, the Lord will carry us. Even as in our young days He carried us like lambs in His bosom, so will He in our years of infirmity.

He made us, and He will care for us. When we become a burden to our friends and a burden to ourselves, the Lord will not shake us off, but rather He will take us up and carry and deliver us more fully than ever. In many cases the Lord give His servants a long and calm evening. They worked hard all day and wore themselves out in their Master's service, and so He said to them, "Now rest in anticipation of that eternal Sabbath which I have prepared for you." Let us not dread old age. Let us grow old graciously since the Lord Himself is with us in fullness of grace. ...CH Spurgeon image

Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson Discusses Rick Warren and Proposition 8

Monday December 29, 2008
By Kevin Eckstrom
Religion News Service

Openly gay New Hampshire Episcopal Bishop V. Gene Robinson has spent the last five years seeking reconciliation with those who saw his election as immoral, unbiblical or, as one Nigerian archbishop put it, a "satanic attack on God's church."

Yet the choice of megachurch pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at the Jan. 20 presidential inauguration left Robinson deeply disappointed after Warren campaigned for Proposition 8, a California constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriages.

Robinson talked about seeking reconciliation with those who, like Warren, take a more conservative view against homosexuality. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.


Women reach for bishops' chairs in Church of England as last barriers fall

From The Times
December 30, 2008
Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent

When traditionalists mutter that dark forces are plotting to undermine the tradition of men-only bishops in the Church in England, they are closer to the truth than they know.

The first woman bishop is likely to be drawn from a group of senior Anglican women priests that goes by the name of Darc - deans, archdeacons and residentiary canons - and meets twice a year to offer mutual support.

Since women were first ordained in 1994, about 4,000 have been priested. Of those, nearly 3,000 are still active in the ministry, representing about a third of the total number of serving priests. Women priests are likely to outnumber men within a few years.

To these women, and many of the worshippers who have experienced their ministry, an episcopacy without women is unthinkable. One by one, the provinces of the Anglican Communion are succumbing. In 1988 the first women bishops were elected in the United States and New Zealand. Barbara Harris, the American bishop, turned up to that year's Lambeth Conference. the rest

No Lay Discipline in Proposed Canon Changes

December 29, 2008

In a change from an earlier draft, the Title IV Task Force on Disciplinary Policies and Procedures will not propose new canons to address discipline of members of the laity.

The much-anticipated new draft of its proposed changes to The Episcopal Church’s canon on discipline will be included in the church’s so-called ‘Blue Book’ of pre-filed General Convention legislation.

“It is the judgment of Task Force II that the time is not yet propitious for the inclusion of disciplinary provisions for the laity other than as already provided in the Book of Common Prayer, and no inclusion of laity is contemplated at this time,” the task force wrote.

The 48-page document includes a six-page introduction summarizing the work of the task force, listing the underlying theological principles upon which the task force based its revisions and brief description of the extent of changes. the rest

Bishop Schori's statement on Gaza

by Michael Paulson
December 29, 2008

Today comes the following statement from Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori:

"Yesterday afternoon in New York, outside the Episcopal Church Center, a demonstration took place in front of the Israeli consulate. The demonstrators included orthodox Jews. All were calling for an immediate end to the attacks in Gaza. I join my voice to theirs and those of many others around the world, challenging the Israeli government to call a halt to this wholly disproportionate escalation of violence. I challenge the Palestinian forces to end their rocket attacks on Israelis. I further urge the United States government to use its influence to get these parties back to the negotiating table and end this senseless killing. President-elect Obama needs to be part of this initiative, which demands his attention now and is likely to do so through his early months in office. I urge a comprehensive response to these attacks. Innocent lives are being lost throughout the land we all call Holy, and as Christians remember the coming of the Prince of Peace, we ache for the absence of peace in the land of his birth.

Immediate attention should focus on vital humanitarian assistance to the suffocating people of Gaza. In March of this year, I spent a day in Gaza visiting religious and community leaders and the Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City, run by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. Since that visit, the situation, which was already devastating, has only worsened, with supplies of food, fuel, power, and medical supplies either cut off or indefinitely delayed. Our hospital must now try to treat the wounded under the most impossible circumstances.

I ask all people of faith to join with the Episcopalians in Jerusalem who this Sunday dispensed with their usual worship services and spent their time in prayer for those who are the objects of this violence. I pray for leaders who will seek a just peace for all in the Middle East, knowing that its achievement will only come when they have the courage to act boldly. But they must do so now, before the violence escalates further. It is only through a just and lasting peace that the hope of the ages can be fulfilled, that hope which we mark in the birth of a babe in Bethlehem."

Found here

Comments at TitusOneNine

The Anglican Communion will finally split in 2009

This will be the year of unavoidable schism in the church
Monday 29 December 2008

A silence has descended on the Anglican Church in the United States – or should that be, Anglican Churches? Since the foundation of the conservative Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) at the start of December, all has gone quiet. Too quiet. Why is this, and how can we then predict what might happen in 2009? Is this, finally, going to be the year of the great schism?

First, a bit of theological background. Jesus made unity an intensely personal thing. St John quotes him praying to God the Father that his disciples "may be one, even as we are one". St Paul took up the theme: "We, being many, are one body in Christ." It is impossible to be a biblical Christian and not make unity a priority.

The reason that unity is such a good thing is that it affirms that Christ's Spirit is in everyone, however uncongenial they may seem. It is a fundamental belief that all are equally sinful and in need of God's grace (which is given freely). A schism occurs when one group believes itself to be better than another. There's a difference between unity and uniformity – everybody who shops around for a church he or she feels comfortable in, rejecting the ones that don't feel right, is indulging in schismatic behaviour to a degree; but because there isn't a group thing going on, this can be a mild, neutral judgement. the rest

Church of England unveils measure to allow women bishops

Monday, 29th December 2008
By Judy West

The Church of England has unveiled the legislation that could pave the way for women to be consecrated as bishops.

After an acrimonious debate at the Church’s General Synod in York last July, the draft measure and an example of a Code of Practice, were published this morning.

“We have published our further report at the earliest opportunity to give everyone the chance to study it before debate. We finished our discussions only just before Christmas,” said the Rt Rev Nigel McCulloch, Bishop of Manchester.

The Bishop is the chairman of the legislative drafting group on women in the episcopate, which has been under pressure from both sides in the debate.

“The General Synod mandated us to draft a Measure including special arrangements, within existing structures, for those unable to receive the ministry of women bishops and to do that in a national code of practice. We believe we have achieved that by providing for male complementary bishops, as we suggested in our earlier report, and now hand our work to the Synod to discuss the drafts in detail.” the rest

Massive Pro-Family Rally Floods Spain

By Associated Press Writer
Daniel Woolls
Sun, Dec. 28 2008

MADRID, Spain – Hundreds of thousands of people attended a Mass in central Madrid on Sunday designed to promote traditional family values in a predominantly Roman Catholic country that has legalized gay marriage and made it easier for people to divorce.

The service started with a message from Pope Benedict XVI, who urged Spanish Catholics to keep their families strong.

"Dear families, do not let love, openness to life and the incomparable links that join your homes weaken," the pope said in a message read out in Madrid. "The pope is by your side," the pontiff added.

The archbishop of Madrid, Antonio Maria Rouco Varela, added: "the future of humanity depends on the family, the Christian family." the rest

Marriage and Family

What Matters Most, Part 2
By Chuck Colson

This has been a great Christmas. Our son Wendell and his daughter Rebekah are about to arrive. And Emily and our grandson Max were just with us. As you may have heard me say before, Max, who is autistic, can be a handful. I marvel at Emily’s love for him and at the strength God has given her to be such a good mother. I am so proud of her, as I am of my sons Chris and Wendell, and their families.

In fact, I experience no greater joy than simply basking in the love of my wife, children, and grandchildren.

But I am also aware of how painful Christmas can be for many who mourn the loss of loved ones, or who are separated from their families—in the military or through imprisonment, or most sadly, through broken relationships. the rest

Part I here

Tale of two presidential workout fanatics

Michelle Malkin
December 27, 2008

Chris Matthews won the Media Research Center’s quote of the year with his Obamedia-topping Leg O’ Thrill and Tingle remark. But Matthews only took first honors because Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow waited until Christmas to file his tribute to Obama’s sun-kissed pectorals. Have they no shame? No, they do not.

The gushing reminded me of a blog post I did three years ago on how Bush-deranged journalist Jonathan Chait reacted to President Bush’s workout regimen. It’s the subject of my syndicated column today. More liberal double standards: It’s just how they roll. Here

Hope? Change? Try lowered expectations

Weekly Standard: Obama's blind spot-Don't Know Much About Economics

Abortion industry asks Obama for billions in funding

The Majority Of UK Nurses Against Assisted Suicide Legalisation

Date: 28 Dec 2008

A recent survey carried out on showed that only 20.9% of UK nurses think that assisted suicide should be legalised here.

With the recent high profile cases of UK citizens opting for assisted suicide in clinics overseas it raises the question of whether it should be legalised here in the UK. European countries such as Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg already allow assisted suicide to take place legally and there are growing calls in other European countries including the UK to follow suit. the rest

"You can church-shop and find a local parish that is accepting”

Membership in homosexual-oriented churches nosedives as mainline religions – including Catholicism – become more ‘gay-friendly’
December 29, 2008

Membership in homosexual-oriented churches founded as an alternative to traditional religions is dwindling as mainline churches become more “gay friendly,” the Riverside Press-Enterprise reports. As one example, the newspaper noted that membership in the homosexual Catholic organization Dignity has declined by nearly half over the last 10 years.

Press-Enterprise reporter David Olson interviewed Mark Shirilau, who calls himself the archbishop of the Ecumenical Catholic Church, which he founded in 1987 “to provide a religious home for gays and lesbians.” The Ecumenical Catholic Church “adheres to the majority of Roman Catholic teachings and uses a blend of Roman Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran liturgy,” according to the newspaper.

Shirilau, who resides in Riverside, told the Press-Enterprise that even he no longer worships in the Ecumenical Catholic Church, preferring instead to attend an Episcopal church. the rest

The Anglican vicars, father and son, who became Catholic priests

Times Online
December 29, 2008
Ruth Gledhill Religion Correspondent

In what is believed to be a "first" in the modern era, two former Anglican priests, father and son, have become Roman Catholics and are now both serving as Catholic priests in the UK.

And in a further ecclesiastical twist, Father Dominic Cosslett, 36, and his father, Father Ron Cosslett, 70, are both serving in the same archdiocese under the leadership of Archbishop Vincent Nichols in Birmingham, the favourite to succeed Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor as Archbishop of Westminster when he steps down early next year.

Father Dominic, formerly an Anglican priest at the Church of Christ the King at Lourdes, Coventry was ordained by Archbishop Nichols on Saturday 20 December.

Fr Ron Cosslett, aged 70, also a former Anglican priest, was ordained as a Catholic priest by the Archbishop of Birmingham on July 3, 2005. He is now priest-in-charge at St Joseph’s, Darlaston in the West Midlands. the rest

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Devotional: You will never find Jesus so precious...

You will never find Jesus so precious as when the world is one vast howling wilderness. Then he is like a rose blooming in the midst of the desolation, a rock rising above the storm.
...Robert Murray M'Cheyne image

Churches More Diverse, Informal Than 8 Years Ago

Adelle M. Banks
Religion News Service
December 26, 2008

(RNS) -- U.S. congregations have changed significantly in the last eight years, according to a new study, with them becoming more ethnically diverse, more technologically savvy and more informal in worship.

Predominantly white congregations reported greater racial and ethnic diversity between the first and second surveys of U.S. houses of worship by the National Congregations Study.

When the study was first conducted in 1998, 20 percent of churchgoers reported attending a church that was all white and non-Hispanic. In the second round, conducted in 2006-07, that figure had dipped to 14 percent.

The study also found that the percentage of congregations with no Asian members decreased in the same period from 59 percent to 50 percent, and the percentage of congregations with no Latino members dropped from 43 percent to 36 percent. the rest

Episcopal property dispute heads to Va. Supreme Court

By Gregg MacDonald
Loudoun Times-Mirror

A long-awaited property- settlement decision in Fairfax Circuit Court apparently will not be the end of a two-year-long conflict between a minority group of conservative congregations in the Episcopal Church that broke away from the church to join the Anglican District of Virginia.

On Dec. 19, Fairfax Judge Randy Bellows upheld the long-debated Division Statute, which was the backbone of the Anglican Church's case.

The break-away congregations include several from Fairfax and Loudoun counties. They had decided to break off from the parent organization after determining that church leadership was not following a proper reading of Scripture, particularly on the issue of homosexuality. the rest

Bishops deliver damning verdict on Britain under Labour rule

Leading bishops in the Church of England have launched a withering attack on the Government questioning the morality of its policies.
By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent
28 Dec 2008

Five of the Church’s most senior figures said the Government now presided over a country suffering from family breakdown, an unhealthy reliance on debt and a growing divide between rich and poor.

The Bishop of Manchester accused Labour of being “beguiled by money” and “morally corrupt”.

The Bishop of Hulme said they were “morally suspect” and the Bishop of Durham said they had reneged on their promises.

They were joined by the bishops of Winchester and Carlisle who claimed ministers had squandered their opportunity to transform society and run out of steam. the rest

Bishops hit out at ‘immoral’ Government

Human Dignity

What Matters Most, Part 1
By Chuck Colson

Two weeks ago, headlines across the world announced the release of the Vatican’s official position on bioethics. Naturally, the Catholic Church’s stance on the destruction of human embryos, the creation of designer babies, and the like was greeted with scorn by liberal Catholics and by many medical professionals and scientists.

But two things truly fascinate me about the release of this document. The first is its title: “Dignitas Personae”—or, in plain English: “On the Dignity of the Person.”

Now that’s an interesting title for the Catholic Church’s official teaching on bioethics. Actually, it’s the perfect title because the question of human dignity is at the root of virtually every major question facing humans today. Not just bioethics, but also medicine, the economy, and the environment.

And the question of human dignity hangs on the answer to this question: Where do humans come from? If human beings are the products of random chance, then human dignity is merely the product of our fevered imaginations. If we truly are the end result of a coincidental convergence of atomic particles, then the phrase “human dignity” is meaningless. We would have no more right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than would a mossy fern. the rest image

Mild earthquake shakes Lancaster County near Three-Mile Island

By Steve Esack
December 27, 2008

A minor earthquake rattled Lancaster County early Saturday morning, according to the U.S. Geological Survey...

...Grant said his office received calls from Lancaster County emergency dispatch and Three Mile Island Nuclear Facility.

"Three Mile Island always calls us when something is happening," Grant said. "They see what is happening on their seismographs." the rest

Tick tock ... tick - Extra second added to 2008

Sun Dec 28, 2008
By Jim Wolf

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Those eager to put 2008 behind them will have to hold their good-byes for just a moment this New Year's Eve.

The world's official timekeepers have added a "leap second" to the last day of the year on Wednesday, to help match clocks to the Earth's slowing spin on its axis, which takes place at ever-changing rates affected by tides and other factors.

The U.S. Naval Observatory, keeper of the Pentagon's master clock, said it would add the extra second on Wednesday in coordination with the world's atomic clocks at 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC. the rest

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Devotional: One of the most delightful qualities of divine love...

For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee. Isaiah 54:10

One of the most delightful qualities of divine love is its abiding character. The pillars of the earth may be moved out of their places, but the kindness and the covenant of our merciful Jehovah never depart from His people. How happy my soul feels in a firm belief of this inspired declaration! The year is almost over, and the years of my life are growing few, but time does not change my Lord. New lamps are taking the place of the old; perpetual change is on all things, but our Lord is the same. Force over turns the hills, but no conceivable power can affect the eternal God. Nothing in the past, the present, or the future can cause Jehovah to be unkind to me.

My soul, rest in the eternal kindness of the Lord, who treats thee as one near of kin. Remember also the everlasting covenant. God is ever mindful of it—see that thou art mindful of it too. In Christ Jesus the glorious God has pledged Himself to thee to be thy God and to hold thee as one of His people. Kindness and covenant-dwell on these words as sure and lasting things which eternity itself shall not take from thee. ...CH Spurgeon

A. S. Haley: A New Low in ECUSA's Tactics in San Joaquin

Friday, December 26, 2008

In an earlier post, I asked the rhetorical question: "How Low Can the Sun Sink on the Episcopal Church?" The answer is that after having already sunk, the sun can sink on it apparently lower still---especially if one is talking about the Church's legal tactics.

I have covered the Church's previous, questionable tactics in its San Joaquin lawsuit in a series of posts which you can find grouped under that heading on the Guide to This Site page. Although the case is technically "at issue", meaning that Bishop Schofield and the diocesan property entities which he heads have answered the second amended complaint filed by ECUSA and Bishop Lamb, and by their so-called "Diocese of San Joaquin", the plaintiffs apparently do not plan to let matters rest there. For they---the fifteen percent or so who stayed with ECUSA, that is---are not content with laying claim to all of the current Anglican Diocese's property and funds. (But of course, the law always agrees that 15% of a former group are entitled to 100% of the group's property---don't you realize that it is the Episcopal Church that we are talking about?) Now they want to go after funds which the original and true Diocese of San Joaquin (the one that existed before the vote on December 8, 2007 to leave ECUSA) paid out to its attorneys in anticipation of the lawsuit that ECUSA would bring. the rest

Christmas During the Blitz

(h/t Hugh Hewitt)

Israel launches air strikes on Gaza, at least 155 dead

Saturday, December 27th 2008

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip - Israeli warplanes retaliating for rocket fire from the Gaza Strip pounded dozens of security compounds across the Hamas-ruled territory in unprecedented waves of airstrikes Saturday, killing at least 155 and wounding more than 310 in the single bloodiest day of fighting in recent memory.

Hamas said all of its security installations were hit and responded with several medium-range Grad rockets at Israel, reaching deeper than in the past. One Israeli was killed and at least four people were wounded.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said "the operation will last as long as necessary," but it was not clear if it would be coupled with a ground offensive. Asked if Hamas political leaders might be targeted next, military spokeswoman Maj. Avital Leibovich said, "Any Hamas target is a target." the rest

WSJ: Israeli Attacks on Hamas Kill More Than 100

FOXNews: U.S. Condemns Hamas in Midst of Israeli Strikes

Egypt's Coptic pope bans phone confessions

posted 12/27/08

CAIRO (AFP) — Egypt's Coptic pope has banned the faithful from confessing their sins to priests over the telephone because intelligence agents might be listening in, a newspaper reported on Friday.

"Confessions over the telephone are forbidden, because there is a chance the telephones are monitored and the confessions will reach state security," the independent Al-Masri Al-Yom quoted Pope Shenuda III as saying.

The leader of the Coptic minority also said confessions over the Internet were invalid because they might be read by websurfers.

"A confession over the Internet does not count as a confession, because everybody can look at it and it won't be secret," he said. the rest

Michael Novak: The Complementarity of Man and Woman

Friday, December 26, 2008

It is worth noting that the fundamental energy of the family, in this vision, is spousal love. This love is not a sentimental feeling or a passionate desire, but a firm commitment to the good of the other. Not “her good” as you wish it were, nor even the good as she wishes it were, but her objective good as identified by reason. Thus, the point of even sex is realistic love. Not mutual self-indulgence, but the growth in adulthood and virtuous living that raising a family entails. (There is no point in getting married if you don’t want to hear the truth about yourself—especially all those truths you don’t really want to hear—from your spouse and your children.) Those who live closely together come to shed their illusions about each other, and to love in each other the better self that each would like to become. This is realistic love.

Full Essay

With Orthodoxy’s Revival in Russia, Religious Media Also Rise

December 24, 2008

MOSCOW — By the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, there were nearly 600 newspapers and magazines throughout Russia devoted to Orthodox subjects. They were all shut down by the Soviet regime by 1918.

Today, in a country that was officially atheist about two decades ago, there are again hundreds of newspapers, magazines and newsletters covering the world’s largest Orthodox church. There are about 3,500 Russian Orthodox Web sites, and some priests are even blogging.

The Russian Orthodox media, like the church itself, have not always fallen into step with the Kremlin line. The Moscow Patriarchate, its official newspaper and most Orthodox media have addressed the war with Georgia over the breakaway region of South Ossetia as a tragic misunderstanding between two countries that share an Orthodox Christian heritage. the rest image

Friday, December 26, 2008

Devotional: The day-star will arise in their hearts...

A Christian may for many days together see neither sun nor star, neither light in God's countenance, nor light in his own heart, though even at that time God darts some beams through those clouds upon the soul; the soul again by a spirit of faith sees some light through those thickest clouds, enough to keep it from utter despair, though not to settle it in peace. In this dark condition, if they do as Paul and his company did, cast an anchor even in the dark night of temptation, and pray still for day, God will appear, and all shall clear up, we shall see light without and light within; the day-star will arise in their hearts.
...Richard Sibbe image

Grace Episcopal leader steps down as trial approaches

December 26, 2008

If ever a church needed a strong leader, it was Grace & St. Stephen's Episcopal Church.
The congregation had been exiled from its home in the majestic stone structure on North Tejon Street, after a conservative faction that broke away from the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado remained in the building.

On Oct. 5, 2007, the diocese tapped the Rev. Michael O'Donnell to be priest in charge of a church that had no permanent home. His Episcopalian flock found a temporary place to hold services, first at Shove Chapel on the Colorado College campus, and then at First Christian Church downtown.Everything seemed to be going fine, and then, without warning, O'Donnell resigned in October.

There's nothing sinister going on. O'Donnell told me he wants to try something else, though he's not sure what that might be.

But he also said he wanted to leave before the start of the Feb. 10 trial over who owns the $7 million North Tejon Street church property: the Episcopal Church, or the breakaway group led by the Rev. Donald Armstrong, which then affiliated with the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America. the rest

As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

by Matthew Parris
From The Times
December 27, 2008

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. the rest

Episcopal bishop visits Pentagon, 9/11 memorial

By Adelle M. Banks, Religion News Service

ARLINGTON, Va. — Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori paid her first visit to the Pentagon on Tuesday, leading services with fellow Episcopalians and praying at the new memorial for those killed there in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"It's powerful," she said of the memorial to 184 people who died when terrorists flew an airliner into the west side of the Pentagon. "It's a remarkable design that speaks about new life in the midst of death."

Jefferts Schori, who was an oceanographer before she pursued ordained ministry, particularly admired the trees and the running water that are part of the memorial's design. Maple trees are planted amid memorial stainless-steel benches that are inscribed with the names of each of the victims. the rest

ENS: Presiding Bishop visits military chaplaincies in Washington, D.C.


Congregation feels ‘God’s presence’ in a humble setting

Again, an undercroft becomes the sanctuary as church professes faith amid hardship
By Jay Tokasz
December 25, 2008

The people of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church have been in this situation before.

They had only enough money in 1921 to build a foundation for a new stone church on Main Street, so they put up a temporary roof and began worshipping in the basement.

They scrimped and saved and stayed downstairs for seven years, before finally moving into a beautiful English Gothic sanctuary designed by a noted Buffalo architect.

But necessity again has forced worship into the humble confines of what parishioners affectionately call the undercroft. the rest

Chinese Government Launches Attacks Against Christians During Christmas Season

CHINA, Dec. 25 /Christian Newswire/ -- The Chinese government targeted Christians in Anhui province, Henan province and Xinjiang Autonomous Region between December 21 and December 24. On Christmas Eve in Henan province, nine Christian women were arrested during a nativity play and are still being held by police. In Anhui province on December 22, officials arrested 19 students and two house church leaders and threatened to demolish their house church building. On December 21 in Xinjiang Autonomous Region, a house church was forbidden to gather and the pastor threatened with arrest. the rest

Greatest gift for Iraqi Christians -- returning home

Hundreds of families are returning from exile. Security has improved and worshipers at Christmas services hope for peace. But violence is never far away.
By Kimi Yoshino and Ali Hameed
December 26, 2008

Reporting from Baghdad -- Three years ago, a note appeared at Lita Kaseer's door. It contained a bullet and a one-word message: "Leave."Kaseer fled, along with hundreds of other Christian families in the Dora neighborhood in southwest Baghdad, once a vibrant Christian community.

This year, she returned home from Syria, and on Thursday, attended Christmas Mass with her husband and 7-month-old son.

"It's always better to come home," said her husband, Khalid Kamil, 34. "In any other place, you are a stranger. . . . This is not the way our life should be."

Hundreds of Christians gathered to celebrate Christmas in Baghdad, most acknowledging that improved security conditions have allowed them to move more freely throughout the city after returning from years-long exiles in Syria, Egypt, Jordan or Iraq's northern Kurdistan region. the rest

Franklin Graham: What's the Fuss About?

The evangelist who once prayed at inauguration offers his take of Obama-Warren inauguration controversy.
Interview by Sarah Pulliam

President-elect Barack Obama chose California megachurch pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation at the January 20 inauguration, igniting fury from same-sex marriage advocates and progressives.

Obama and Warren both defended their decisions to reach across the aisle, even though the future president and megachurch pastor. Evangelist Franklin Graham was in the hot seat once after he prayed in Jesus' name at President Bush's inauguration in 2001. He spoke with Christianity Today about his reaction to Obama's decision and his advice for Warren. the rest

Peggy Noonan: A Year for the Books

Mother Teresa's secret, and other revelations from 2008.
December 26, 2008

None of these books were more important in the end than a modest and unheralded book called "Mother Teresa's Secret Fire" by Joseph Langford, a priest of her Missionaries of Charity and her close friend of many years. You wouldn't think there's much new to say here, but there is. Everyone knows that as a young nun in Calcutta, Mother Teresa, then Sister Teresa, left her convent, with only five rupees in her pocket, in order to work with the poorest of the poor in the slums of the city. But what made her do this?

On Sept. 10, 1946, on a train to Darjeeling, on her way to a spiritual retreat, she had, as Father Langford puts it, "an overwhelming experience of God." This is known. But its nature? It was not "some dry command to 'work for the poor,'" he says, but something else, something more monumental. What? For many years, she didn't like to speak of what happened, or interpret it. So the deepest meaning of her message remained largely unknown. Says Father Langford "What was deepest in her . . . is still a mystery even to her most ardent admirers. But it was not her wish that this secret remain forever unknown."

In this book, based on her letters, writings and conversations, he tells of how she came to serve "the least, the last, and the lost," not as a female Albert Schweitzer but as "a mystic with sleeves rolled up." Father Langford tells the story of her encounter on the train, of what was said, of what she heard, and of the things he learned from her including, most centrally, this: You must find your own Calcutta. You don't have to go to India. Calcutta is all around you. the rest


30 Donor Alert Ministries of 2008

List here

Religious tunes banned by school

Public interest law firm fight what it calls 'anti-Christmas virus'
December 24, 20087
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A public interest law firm has launched a new attack on what it calls an "anti-Christmas virus" evidenced by a school district that banned even traditional Christmas tunes.

According to the Thomas More Law Center, the public interest firm based in Ann Arbor, Mich., its lawyers have filed a brief in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia in a case challenging a New Jersey district's ban on the melodies.

"As so often is the case," the firm said in its announcement, "a complaint from one parent resulted in the district's policy that banned the playing of all Christmas music, including simple instrumentals without words." the rest image

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Settling down for a long winter's nap!
Merry Christmas from the Dagues!
Raymond, Pat, Ryan, Kevin and Herschel
(photos by Raymond Dague)

Christmas Message from Bishop David Bena

My Dear Sisters and Brothers of the Anglican District of Virginia,

Since, to quote song writer Meredith Wilson, "It's beginning to look a lot Like Christmas," it must be time for the Bishop's Christmas Letter.

Soon we'll all be in our churches, singing Christmas Carols and once again welcoming the Bambino Jesus into our hearts. My wish for you is that this will be a truly joy filled, peaceful time in the Lord. It's now been two years since Martyn Minns invited me to serve you as the ADV Contact Bishop. As I have visited parish after parish, I have gotten to know you and your personality: Christ-centered, mission oriented, compassionate, welcoming, fun people. You reflect the beauty of following Jesus in the traditional Anglican way - you are sacramental, bible believing people, filled with the Holy Spirit. It is, indeed, a joy to serve you as a bishop.

News that the Judge has ruled that we can retain our properties has brought a sense of peace throughout all ADV churches this Christmas. Our leaders had been following the "Bishop's Protocol for Departing Congregations" when negotiations broke off and we found our clergy and lay leaders being sued. Now, two years and millions of dollars in legal fees later, the Judge has ruled that we did follow Virginia law in departing the Diocese of Virginia with our properties and that the law
(57-9) is constitutional. Now what?

While the Episcopal Church and even the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia may choose to appeal the judge's ruling, my impression is that the judge's ruling is very well put together, reflects the constitutional "free exercise of religion" for us, and will be very difficult to overturn. So I hope we don't have to spend countless more dollars defending ourselves if an appeal is filed. Isn't there a better way? A more Christ-centered, Gospel way?

Two years ago, before the lawsuit was filed, representatives of both the Anglican District of Virginia and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia were able to sit together at a table, and pray and talk in a respectful way. Can't we return to that spirit of reconciliation? Can't all three sides lay down their "legal weapons of mass destruction" and save millions of dollars in legal costs - money that can be used for Christian mission? For instance, are there Diocesan mission projects to which the District might contribute? Are there District mission projects to which the Diocese might contribute? Can't we all just let the judge's ruling be the judge's ruling and now spend some time together talking about reconciliation and mission?

A number of us in the ADV have been praying about how to reach out to the leaders of the Diocese of Virginia, to hold out an olive branch, but we don't know how. Perhaps in this peaceful season of Christmas, we'll find a way. Now that the court case has been settled, maybe we can all reach a peaceful settlement with each other in the Lord. Would you pray with me about that?

The angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward all." May it be so for the Anglicans of Virginia.

Faithfully Yours in Christ,
David John Bena,
Contact Bishop, Anglican District of Virginia

Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Urbi et Orbi Message of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Christmas Sermon 2008

Modern 'David' defeats New York 'Goliath'

Empire State ordered to leave Christian man's Bible message alone
December 23, 2008
By Alyssa Farah
© 2008 WorldNetDaily

A New York man has won a battle with the New York Department of Transportation over a trailer he parked on his private property along a public highway that was targeted because of its Christian message.

Daniel Burritt installed a tractor-trailer for his company, Acts II Construction Inc., on private business property along U.S. Route 11 in 2007.

In May he got a letter from the New York State Department of Transportation stating that his trailer violated a state law and constituted a "public nuisance." The NYDOT said a permit had to be obtained or the trailer would be forcibly removed and legal action would follow, even though the agency does not require permits for commercial messages being displayed. the rest

Sacred texts: Vatican embraces iTunes prayer book

VATICAN CITY (AP) - The Vatican is endorsing new technology that brings the book of daily prayers used by priests straight onto iPhones.

The Vatican's Pontifical Council for Social Communications is embracing the iBreviary, an iTunes application created by a technologically savvy Italian priest, the Rev. Paolo Padrini, and an Italian Web designer.

The application includes the Breviary prayer book—in Italian, English, Spanish, French and Latin and, in the near future, Portuguese and German. Another section includes the prayers of the daily Mass, and a third contains various other prayers. the rest image

For first time, Christmas official holiday in Iraq

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Iraq's Christians, a scant minority in this overwhelmingly Muslim country, quietly celebrated Christmas on Thursday with a present from the government, which declared it an official holiday for the first time.

But security worries overshadowed the day for many, particularly in the north where thousands of Christians have fled to escape religious attacks. the rest

Spending Christmas

by Joseph Bottum

What fades in memory is not the fact, but the feeling. I can call up every detail of those Christmases of my childhood. A cold sparrow peering out across the lawn from under the snow-covered lilac hedge, while I sat at the window, waiting for my parents to wake. My father cocking his head to the side to concentrate on cutting out the sections of a grapefruit for breakfast. The heft of the Swiss Army knife from Uncle Howard, smuggled in the pocket of my dress pants to church. The steam rising while we washed the endless Christmas dishes, until the fog formed into little rivulets that raced each other down the kitchen window panes. The ink-and-paper new-book smell of Kipling's Jungle Books, read with a flashlight under the blankets after my mother had come in to shut off the lights and whisper one last Merry Christmas.

I can call up every detail -- except the emotion, the overwhelming waves that beat upon my sisters and me down the long stream of days in the Christmas season. To dwell on those memories is more to remember that I did have a certain feeling than to recapture just how that feeling really felt. They come faded like last year's pine needles that fall from the box of Christmas ornaments when you bring it down from the linen closet. Why should I remember the long-needled ponderosa tree we had when I was 6? The heavy-scented balsam tree, bending under the weight of the ornaments, when I was 8? The Douglas firs, the Black Hills pines, the juniper? The scalloped holly sprigs set on the sideboard and mantel, with a stern warning every year not to eat the berries? The silly-looking plastic mistletoe my mother would hang, giggling with my father over some joke they wouldn't explain to the children?
the rest image

Episcopal property dispute may head to Va. Supreme Court

By Gregg MacDonald
Fairfax County Times

A long-awaited property- settlement decision in Fairfax Circuit Court apparently will not be the end of a two-year-long conflict between a minority group of conservative congregations in the Episcopal Church that broke away from the church to join the Anglican District of Virginia.

On Dec. 19, Fairfax Judge Randy Bellows upheld the long-debated Division Statute, which was the backbone of the Anglican Church's case.

The break-away congregations include several from Fairfax and Loudoun counties. They decided to break off from the Episcopal Church after determining that church leadership was not following a proper reading of Scripture, particularly on the issue of homosexuality. the rest

Pilgrims Flock to Bethlehem for Christmas

By Robert Berger
25 December 2008

The faithful have flocked to the West Bank town of Bethlehem to celebrate Christmas.

A fragrant cloud of incense filled the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, as Palestinian Christians celebrated Christmas Mass. A few meters away, thousands of pilgrims from around the world visited the ancient grotto believed to be the birthplace of Jesus.

Adam Heyney came from the western U.S. state of Utah.

"It's amazing, it's always been a dream to come out here, you see all the stuff on TV, you read it in books, but it becomes reality. Just to be there in that spot was just an incredible experience," Heyney said. the rest

Calm brings record tourism to Bethlehem

Bah, humbug: Scientists warn Christmas lights harm the planet

By Graham Readfearn
December 24, 2008

SCIENTISTS have warned that Christmas lights are bad for the planet due to huge electricity waste and urged people to get energy efficient festive bulbs.

CSIRO researchers said householders should know that each bulb turned on in the name of Christmas will increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dr Glenn Platt, who leads research on energy demand, said Australia got 80 per cent of its electricity by burning coal which pumps harmful emissions into the atmosphere. the rest image

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All my heart this night rejoices!

All my heart this night rejoices,As I hear,
Far and near,
Sweetest angel voices;
“Christ is born,” their choirs are singing,
Till the air,
Now their joy is ringing.

Come, then, let us hasten yonder;
Here let all,
Great and small,
Kneel in awe and wonder,
Love Him Who with love is yearning;
Hail the star
That from far
Bright with hope is burning.

Blessèd Savior, let me find Thee!
Keep Thou me
Close to Thee,
Cast me not behind Thee!
Life of life, my heart Thou stillest,
Calm I rest
On Thy breast,
All this void Thou fillest.

Ye who pine in weary sadness,
Weep no more,
For the door
Now is found of gladness.
Cling to Him, for He will guide you
Where no cross,
Pain or loss
Can betide you.
...Paul Gerhardt

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Putting St. Joseph Back in Christmas

James Martin, S.J.

Here's a story about St. Joseph, the hidden man of Christmas, on What does his story have to say to modern-day believers? Plenty. For this story I interviewed both Lawrence Cunningham, professor of theology at Notre Dame, and Pheme Perkins professor of New Testament at Boston College.

--Perkins and Cunningham both see Joseph as a central figure in the Nativity story, one who can speak to contemporary men and women. The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that he is a "righteous man" who does what God asks of him. After discovering Mary's pregnancy, Joseph thinks of "quietly" ending their marriage plans, so as not to "disgrace" her. But an angel reassures him in a dream. "Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife," says the angel, who explains the unusual circumstances of the birth. Joseph's "righteousness" enables him to listen to God and carry out his difficult task.

His personality shines through wordlessly. "Here is a model of someone who represents all the virtues in the Hebrew Bible," says Perkins. "He is asked to do something shocking, but because he's righteous, he follows God's guidance. And it's no fun--not only to deal with that, but with the rest of the story--the flight into Egypt, too."
the rest image

CANA Missionary Bishop Martyn Minns’ Christmas message

Good News of Great Joy for All People!

We need some good news. A worldwide financial collapse is happening before our eyes and in many of our neighborhoods. Armed conflicts around the globe seem to be never ending. Oppressive governments continue to retain power.

Religious strife is on the increase. Poverty and disease continue to take their unrelenting toll of the most vulnerable. In many ways the world is not much different from that night of nights when the shepherds watched their flocks in the fields around Bethlehem . They needed some good news too!

The word from the angel was clear and simple: I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people! So . . . what on earth was this good news of great joy for all people?

First and foremost, the good news declared that the Creator of the universe had heard their cries and was about to intervene into their world and change the course of human history for good. This intervention had been long anticipated by the prophets but it was not to be a quick fix. The salvation of the world was now assured but it would take time - lots of it. God would bring healing and hope where there had been only brokenness and despair. God could have done all this by sheer force; but instead of following the pathway of power, God chose to work through one of the most vulnerable members of his creation - a newborn baby. It is a unique strategy that God continues to follow.

God also chose to make the good news very personal. Our salvation is not mechanical or automatic. It depends first on God’s grace and second on the response of each person to this amazing gift. And the great joy that the angel spoke about was the promise of this abundant life. We are no longer stuck in patterns of alienation and brokenness, but now we can begin to dream of a new world with new possibilities where freedom reigns and where the ravages of sin no longer hold us in their grip.

The world is still in need of this good news. God is still in the redemption business. During this Christmas season it is good to remember that God chose to bring the promise of healing and hope through one of the most vulnerable of institutions - the church! We have no armies to command or weapons to deploy. We are merely a people whose claim to fame is the one we follow - Jesus of Nazareth. But we know that through this solitary life the world was and is changed for good - one life at a time. And it is by His Spirit that we offer this promise of a new way of living until that day when heaven and nature will sing, “Joy to the world, The Lord is come!”. . . that's good news!

Your brother in Christ,
The Rt. Rev'd Martyn Minns
Missionary Bishop of CANA
(via email)

Pope's remarks on sexuality 'will widen Anglican rift'

The Pope's "clear" statement on the importance of heterosexual lifestyles will widen the rift with the Archbishop of Canterbury on the issue of homosexuality, senior Anglican conservatives predicted.
By Andrew Pierce
23 Dec 2008

To the fury of homosexual groups the Pontiff said that the defence of heterosexual relationships was as important to humanity as preventing the destruction of rainforests.

In a Christmas address to prelates in the Vatican the Pope, known as God's rottweiler because of his hardline views, said that the Roman Catholic Church had a duty to "protect man from the destruction of himself". He urged respect for the "nature of the human being as man and woman".

As homosexual groups condemned the Pope, his remarks drew applause from conservative Anglican groups in Britain. They welcomed the "clarity" of the Pope's thinking which they contrasted with Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. the rest