Looking back at Bishop Paul Moore

Oddly enough, Bishop Paul Moore ran the Episcopal Church in New York before the church became identified with deep internal divisions over homosexuality.

From 1972 to 1989, when he served as the Episcopal bishop of NY, Moore became widely known for speaking out against poverty and corporate greed. Because of his unrepentant liberalism, he was often a divisive figure.

But New Yorkers knew who Moore was — a leader who transformed the Episcopal Church, in part, from a church for the rich to a church for the poor. He was a player on NY’s religious scene, not a bystander.

In March 2003, two months before he died, he took the pulpit of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to denounce the war in Iraq.

And, yes, he was the first Episcopal bishop to ordain a lesbian.

bishopsdaughterhonormoorepreview2008.JPGThis week’s New Yorker has an excerpt from a forthcoming book by Moore’s daughter, Honor Moore. The book is called The Bishop’s Daughter (May 2008, W.W. Norton).

The excerpt powerfully describes how her father changed when he put on his vestments and how he communicated best, even with her, from the pulpit.

Honor Moore also writes about discovering her father’s homosexuality and, after his death, meeting her father’s lover of three decades.

While these revelations are bound to get the most attention, I found myself most pulled in by Honor Moore’s description of the Eucharist and her father’s devotion to it.

She writes:

Just as I came to understand that his splendid vestments were not ordinary clothes, I learned that during the Eucharist the bread and wine were shot through with something alive, which vibrated and trembled, and when I watched my father, enormously tall, the color of his vestments blurry through all the incense, in all the candlelight, it seemed to me he brought all this about.

You can’t read the article online, but you can hear this New Yorker interview with Honor Moore.

(Photo: W.W. Norton)

Union Seminary names first female boss

Union Theological Seminary in NYC, the academic center of liberal, mainline Protestantism, has chosen Serene Jones to become its 16th — and first female — president.

photo1202.jpegJones, who will start on July 1, comes from the Yale Divinity School after 17 years there. She has also served as chair of Gender, Woman, and Sexuality Studies at Yale.

She is an ordained minister in both the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ.

David Callard, chairman of the Seminary’s Board of Trustees:

Dr. Jones’s exceptional leadership style and distinguished scholarship make her the ideal person to lead this vibrant theological institution, which has been home to notable scholars Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. With Dr. Jones’s vision and commitment, Union is positioned not only to continue its role as a leading institution of theological education but also to be a strong voice at a time when religion, with all its pluralistic manifestations, has become an increasingly powerful and divisive issue.

Jones will succeed Joseph Hough, Jr., who is retiring after serving as president since 1999.

New York Methodists call for gay/lesbian support in email letter

A group of United Methodists from within the denomination’s New York Conference is urging fellow Methodists to sign an open letter to church leadership that calls for better treatment of gays and lesbians.

The group, calling itself Methodists in New Directions, was formed in late 2006 by members of Park Slope UMC and other United Methodist churches. Its goal was to “open the hearts and minds and doors of the United Methodist Church until it finally recognizes its gay and lesbian members as equal children of God.”

tshirt.jpgThat’s their T-shirt.

The United Methodist Church — the nation’s third largest religious denomination with about 8.2 million members — does not allow the ordination of gays and lesbians and does not allow clergy to bless same-sex unions.

The open letter from Methodists in New Directions to New York’s UM community, circulating via email, reads like this:

Marriage is an important covenantal relationship recognized and supported by the church, but in its doctrine and policies the United Methodist Church wrongly excludes lesbian and gay people from this recognition and support.
Wherever people come together to grow as people of faith, God gives recognition and support. What matters to God is not who comes together, but why. The Gospel proclaims an unrelenting message of welcome in God’s kingdom for the unexpected, the outcast, the marginalized. And yet the United Methodist Church denies gay and lesbian people the right to marry in God’s name. The Church must aspire to God’s extravagant welcome. Continue reading

Obama the ‘Muslim’ not going away?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife got one of those mass emails alleging that Barack Obama is some sort of Muslim in disguise or a Muslim sympathizer or something very, very bad.

I kind of dismissed it. But it seems that the whole “Obama is really a Muslim” smear campaign is not going away.

tjndc5-5ivzkz3ruv61co6d81rg_layout.jpgOf course, the instantly famous photo of Obama wearing the local garb while in Kenya in 2006 has caused tremendous controversy. The Drudge Report says the photo, taken by the AP, is being circulated by Clinton staffers (which the Clinton people deny).

Retired Air Force Gen. Scott Gration, an Obama adviser who went on the trip to Kenya, told reporters that Obama was trying to learn how tribes organize themselves:

And in the course of this, Senator Obama was given an outfit and as the guest that he was, the great guest, he took this outfit and they encouraged him to try some of it on. It was a thing that we all do.


The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance, said this in a statement:

If it is true that this photo was circulated by the Clinton campaign, then they should be ashamed of themselves, and Senator Clinton should apologize. This incident is the latest example of presidential candidates using religion to divide this nation rather than to unite it. Senator Obama is not a Muslim and never has been; but even if he were, it should not matter. Candidates should be judged on their merits, not on what house of worship they attend.

The circulation of this photo is clearly not aimed at promoting better interfaith relations, and it has the broader impact of marginalizing the Muslim community as a whole. It is a modern day scare tactic in the tradition of the Willie Horton ad.

The executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote in the Chicago Tribune that the smear campaign raises all sorts of ugly questions:

Whenever I address young Muslim audiences that may be struggling with identity issues, I remind them that this is their country, too. I tell them they should observe their civic duties, vote and, if it behooves them, run for public office and help bring about the positive reform they often passively expect of others.

It goes against all that I advocate that the mere rumor of a person being a Muslim — let alone actually being one — could be a tool to destroy political aspirations. This in a nation that prides itself on being the heart of the free world.

And, boy, it can’t help things that Louis Farrakhan is talking up Obama. If anything will feed the conspiracy theories out there, it’s the Nation of Islam leader coming out of health-related hiding to praise Obama.

In case we forget, Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ.



Catholic Church losing people, gaining people and holding steady

Large numbers of Roman Catholics are leaving the church — but are being replaced by immigrant Catholics, according to a major study of American religion released today by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

major_religious_traditions.gifThe Pew Forum’s U.S. Religious Landscape Survey is based on interviews with more than 35,000 people 18 and over. (That’s Pew’s graphic from their website.)

Pew found that:

While nearly one-in-three Americans (31%) were raised in the Catholic faith, today fewer than one-in-four (24%) describe themselves as Catholic. These losses would have been even more pronounced were it not for the offsetting impact of immigration.

Thanks to the immigrant influx, Catholics represent 23.9% of the population — about where they’ve stood for some time.

It’s going to take me a while to sort through all the numbers, but here are some initial findings of interest:

  • Respondents were 78.4% Christian.
  • Evangelicals make up 26.3% overall and mainline Protestants 18.1%.
  • Members of historically black churches account for 6.9% of respondents.
  • Only 4.7% of the population adhere to non-Christian faiths.
  • But 16.1% say they are unaffiliated.

In New York state, 39% of respondents were Catholic, 16% mainline, 11% evangelical, and 5% from historically black churches.

Jews make up 6% of New Yorkers, compared to 2% of the national population.

And New York’s unaffiliated group? 17%.

Meditation — new and improved (maybe)

Can one go deeper into meditation?

I know that many Western believers (and non-believers) have been experimenting with meditation in recent years, intrigued by the growing interest in Buddhist practices.

tjndc5-5emdoadp98o18ceanjxz_layout.jpgThere’s “Jewish meditation” and various forms of “Christian mediation,” not to mention many more traditional forms that are available to everyone (there are plenty of Zen centers here in the burbs).

I came across a funny piece in the Buddhist magazine Tricycle by a veteran “sitter” (slang for one who meditates) named Barry Evans.

After years of meditating, he concludes that meditation does not get better or deeper over time — but just is. He writes:

For me, meditation is a haven away from the ubiquitous world of self-improvement. It’s not just that there’s no such thing as “bad� meditation, but there’s no such thing as “good� meditation either. It is what it is. So when I hear words like “effort� and “discipline� and phrases like “deepening one’s practice� and “advancing along the spiritual path� spoken in the same breath as the word “meditation,� I wince. Just sitting (shikantaza)—doing and wanting nothing, breath coming and going unbidden, eyes seeing, ears hearing—in this effortless state, thoughts flurry like falling leaves.

So can a so-called experienced meditator offer anything to someone new to the practice? Probably not. If what we’re really talking about is awareness, how can we help someone notice what’s going on? This is what’s going on: no more, no less. Unlike a subject like, say, carpentry, where we learn from the experience of those who have gone before us, meditation is defined by spontaneity, by not knowing. As the Roshi says, “practice only one level.� Perhaps the best we can do is to reassure newcomers that each of us starts over with every sitting and every breath.

A community of cantors to sing out

Cantorial singing is an amazing art form.

A cantor, in synagogue, sings a musical recitation of liturgy. But he (or she) does so liketjndc5-5b4nq4toi0wt22zhnb6_layout.jpg an opera singer, seeking to stir the hearts and souls of their congregations.

So when at least 20 cantors sing together this Saturday evening (March 1) at Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains, it should be really something. Thunderous. (Pictured is Cantor Elizabeth Grover of the Sinai Free Synogoue in New Rochelle, one of the cantors scheduled to sing.)

It will be the debut performance of Kol Hazzanim — the Westchester Community of Cantors.

The event will keynote the 32nd annual gala of the Westchester Jewish Conference.

You can get more info here.

Authority on Catholic hierarchy to speak Monday in Briarcliff

It was the height of the clerical sex-abuse scandal.

June 2002. In Dallas. The nation’s Catholic bishops met to confront an impossibly ugly crisis.

There were many memorable moments and speeches. Among them was an address to the bishops by Notre Dame professor Scott Appleby.

I remember looking at the faces of the bishops as Appleby told them that they had lost the trust of the faithful. They were arrogant and isolated, he told them

Appleby told them that the nation’s young Catholics already ignored the church’s hierarchy.appleby31.jpg

“At this moment in American history, they are not comparing you to the apostles,” he said.

What a line. Cutting.

On Monday, Appleby will speak at 7:30 p.m. at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor, 1394 Pleasantville Road. It’s free and open to the public.

Appleby is a terrific writer and speaker. He currently runs the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame — although he remains a leading analyst on all things Catholic.

He will talk about “Adrift or awakened: Catholic leadership and authority after the abuse crisis.”

He’s bound to touch on the pope’s upcoming visit…

Another plea to check our ‘pope page’

If you haven’t taken a look at LoHud’s new “pope page,” please do so.

We’ve posted several videos about Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit, plus lots of other info.

popelogo1.jpgMake sure to take a peek at the drawings under “NY papal visit venues,” where you can see artist renderings of what Yankee Stadium and St. Joseph’s Seminary might look like when Benedict is in town.

Also, NewsCenter Now on RNN will show a couple of our videos on tonight’s 5:30 p.m. broadcast.