How is the Eastern Orthodox Church turned inside out?

Okay, this has been bothering me for over a month now.

On May 25, the NYT’s Alessandra Stanley started a review of the TV show “Mental” with this lead:

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There is nothing wrong with turning a proven success inside out — reversible raincoats, “Grendel” and the Eastern Orthodox Church have all shown lasting appeal. Opposites aren’t always apposite, however: an Oreo cookie assembled backwards is a little too gooey to handle.

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For the life of me, I don’t know how or why the Eastern Orthodox Church is a proven success that’s been turned inside out.

I understand the proven success part. The Orthodox Church has been around a while.

But turned inside out? Like a reversible raincoat?

I asked a Greek Orthodox priest the other day and he had no idea.

Stanley is a former Rome correspondent for the Times who covered the Vatican extensively and wrote often about the Orthodox Church, as well. She knows what she means. But I don’t.

What does she mean?

Pope defines bishop’s role

I’m off again this week, watching the kids until camp starts next week.

But I’ll post now and then.

I was interested to read about the pope’s remarks this morning when giving the pallium to his new archbishops, Tim Dolan among them.

The story from Catholic News Service is here.

Interesting that he said that bishops should not act like “prison guards.”

“To shepherd the flock means to be careful that the sheep find the right nourishment,” which for Christians is the word of God, he said.

Kum-ba-ya

Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya,
Kumbaya, my Lord, Kumbaya, oh, Lord, Kumbaya.

Stop smirking.

I know you hate.

Everyone does. Well, almost everyone.

But why?

It’s such a simple, innocent song.

Read FaithBeat tomorrow and find out everything you wanted to know about Kumbaya.

What it means.

Where it came from.

Why we hate it.

Meet the first woman to head a rabbinical group

I have a story in today’s Journal News/LoHud about Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, a resident of the City of White Plains who on Wednesday will become executive vice president — the boss — of the Rabbinical Assembly.

The RA represents 1,600 Conservative rabbis around the world (1,200 or so in the U.S.).

She is believed to be the first woman to serve as chief executive of a rabbinical group.

Schonfeld is very bright, has a tremendous amount of energy and is brimming with ideas. And it’s a good thing. She gets the top job with the RA at a time when Conservative Judaism is antsy and not quite focused.

She will be an interesting figure to watch, I think, and will make her presence felt.

In an interesting quirk, she replaces the retiring Rabbi Joel Meyers, also of White Plains. Both Schonfeld and Meyers are members of Temple Israel Center of White Plains, one of the best-known Conservative congregations around.

For metropolitan archbishops, only

You may have heard or read that Archbishop Dolan left yesterday for Rome, where he will on Monday (June 29) receive a pallium.

A pallium?

It is a wool stole that goes around an archbishop’s neck.

Every archbishop named in the past year to head an archdiocese will get one.

The pallium represents Dolan’s authority over the Archdiocese of New York and the other dioceses of New York state. See, he’s a metropolitan archbishop.

The pope wears a pallium, too. He has authority over a larger jurisdiction.

Church historian Christopher Bellitto explained in his book “101 Questions and Answers on Popes and the Papacy:”

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A  pallium is a circular piece of white wool about three inches wide marked by six black silk crosses, four of which are decorated with pins, with two slips of wool a bit over a foot long hanging down the front and back. A metropolitan archbishop’s pallium symbolizes his jurisdiction over a  geographic area, while the pope’s pallium represents the universal jurisdiction as Peter’s successor that is his alone. Pope Benedict XVI wears an elaborate form of the pallium: a version larger and longer than the usual one that looks like a stole tossed over the left shoulder, with red crosses instead of black. This style was used in the ancient church: mosaics depict early bishops wearing such a pallium, although it often looks like the decoration on their vestment, instead.

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By the way, I think it’s safe to say that most media coverage of Dolan so far has been quite positive, if not enthusiastic. He’s a tremendously likeable fellow and there is, to be honest, a great sense of relief after a decade of no media access to Cardinal Egan.

But the Archdiocese has to be especially thrilled by some recent columns by the Daily News’ Joanne Molloy, who is absolutely fawning in her coverage of the New Boss.

She has a column today that is datelined “EN ROUTE TO VATICAN CITY,” which appears to mean that she’s going on the trip to Rome. (Yeah, I’m jealous.)

She writes:

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He is charged with helping not only Catholics but all poor New Yorkers as head of the local branch of Catholic Charities, which wants to halve America’s poverty rate in 10 years.

But, for now, it was time to leave the world’s problems behind and take to the plane.

“I’m so excited,” said Suzie Palmgren of upstate Bearsville as she boarded the Alitalia flight that somehow seemed safer with Dolan on board.

“This is the first time I’ve left my husband and kids behind in 19 years.”

Michael Jackson as pop theologian (and celebrity god)

Wondering this morning if there was a religious dimension to the life — or death — of Michael Jackson, I came across reports that he had converted to Islam.

Somehow I had missed it.

Reading several reports from last year about his conversion, it’s not clear to me that he really did become a Muslim. The guy was pretty reclusive, after all. And he could have changed his mind by now. But it’s possible.

We know that he spent most of his life as a Jehovah’s Witness. And that he was, well, Michael Jackson, with everything that being Michael Jackson entails.

Anthea Butler, an historian of American religion who is in residence at Harvard Divinity School’s Women’s Studies in Religion Program, writes on ReligionDispatches today that MJ was something of a tabloid god.

If you think about it, it makes some sense.

It’s been over the last 25 years or so — the age of Jackson — that America has become a celebrity-worshiping nation. I know we’ve always loved Marilyn and Bogart and Bing and all those guys, but things have been different since the ’80s.

Celebrities now dominate the news, the royalty of our culture. And Michael Jackson was the king — or a god.

Butler also notes the spiritual, if humanistic, component of MJ’s songs. And I guess you can find it, if you can put aside some of the ugliness and weirdness that surrounded the last third of his life.

She writes:

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Yet, for all of the crass tabloid fodder, Michael was his best when singing these hopeful songs that called listeners to become a better human being. He most certainly reached more people than the average religious figure, and his songs had an affect on an entire generation weaned on MTV. His own religious journey, from his childhood as a Jehovah’s Witness, to a foray in the Nation of Islam, to finally professing Shahada to become a Muslim, shows an interior struggle, despite all of the fame, to find the peace he so often sang about. In all of the accolades and obituaries to come, Jackson will never be called a theologian, though he was one. A Pop theologian, to be sure, but a theologian nonetheless. Struggling with his humanity, half man, half child, he danced as much to entertain I suspect, as to take away his pain. In the dance, he became transcendent, divine. And in the end, it was the very body that he used to beguile millions that failed him.

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(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

ADD: Deepak Chopra, who was a friend of MJ’s and had contact with him in the last few days, shares his thoughts about the Mysterious One on Beliefnet.

A summertime revival in the country

I’m just back from CampWoods Grounds in Ossining, where a century ago thousands of Methodists and other Protestants would gather each summer to hear preachers and pray several times a day.

Imagine: They took a steam boat up from the city and then a trolley to Ossining. The men wore suits and the ladies long dresses. At the end of the day, they slept in tents or simple cottages.

Boy, they must have been hot.

I have before me a post card written in 1911 from the camp by Ethel A. Uhlson to Ellen Erickson in Wilmington, Del. She wrote: “How lovely this camp is. You can not imagine until you have been here.”

Another fellow wrote: “Dear wife, We arrived safe and having a good time. Henry”

It was a different time.

I’ll be writing more about CampWoods Grounds — including who lives there now — for LoHud/The Journal News over the next week or so.

‘Strike him down, Lord…’

Can it ever be right to pray for harm to come to someone?

Sure, says Wiley Drake, a Southern Baptist pastor from Buena Park, Calif., who has been praying for the death of President Obama.

He explained to Religion News Service: “That doesn’t mean I spend every waking hour praying for the death of the president. Of our prayers, 98 percent should be good prayers and 2 percent should be imprecatory.”

RNS explains a bit about imprecatory prayer — prayer for bad things to happen to bad people.

Drake, by the way, is not partisan when it comes to his prayers. As RNS tells it: “For his part, Drake is an equal-opportunity prayer warrior. His intercessory hit list has included Lynn, California megachurch pastor and best-selling authorRick Warren, and former Presidents Bill Clinton and even George W. Bush, whom Drake once maligned for not pardoning two border guards.”

So there you go.

‘Humanitarian veteran’ gets top evangelical post

Remember when Richard Cizik, the “moderate” head of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, resigned some six months ago?

He had acknowledged changing his feelings about same-sex marriage and was subsequently booted.

Well, the NAE has named his replacement, Galen Carey, a fellow with a long history of fighting poverty and AIDS.

According to an introduction in Christianity Today:

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The new director’s résumé spans four continents and numerous job descriptions. Carey spent 26 years working for World Relief, three of them in Washington as director of World Relief’s advocacy and policy. Most recently, Carey built a church network to combat HIV/AIDS in Burundi, Africa.

Carey will be responsible for representing the NAE and its constituents — which include 45,000 churches from more than 50 denominations — to lawmakers and advocacy groups.

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Carey acknowledges the much-publicized broadening of the evangelical agenda in the U.S. He says it’s been going on for a long time: “Evangelicals have been more apt to be directly engaged in addressing issues like poverty or HIV/AIDS on the community level. As a result, we recognize a public policy dimension, which leads us into more political engagement. It’s probably people in the mainstream belatedly discovering that evangelicals do have quite a variety of interests.”

Pumping up those ELCA churches

The Rev. Jack Horner has got a tough job now. And he knows it.

He is the new Assistant to the Bishop for Evangelical Mission in the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

His job is to travel around the vast synod — we’re talking about 200 churches from NYC up to Sullivan and Ulster — and help congregations develop mission strategies and strengthen their congregational outreach.

In other words, stand up straight and get their spiritual act together.

I talked to Horner recently at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection in Mount Kisco, where he was the pastor for a decade. Until two weeks ago.

Only days after his final service as pastor, he returned in his new role. He jokingly introduced himself to his “old” congregants and handed out his new business cards.

Horner, a tall minister with a red goatee and a lot of energy, has to pump up congregations with stagnant or shrinking memberships in a synod that has been — ministers say — somewhat stagnant.

And shrinking.

But Horner told me that his new job is not about counting members.

“I’s not just about numbers,” he said. “It’s about thinking as missional churches and missional people, understanding themselves as people sent by God to do his work in the world. You can have a vibrant church with 75 people on Sunday, if there is great outreach and mission, loving God and love each other.”

He does believe, he told me, that great things can happen.

“When I read the Book of Acts, a lot of amazing things occur,” he said, laughing.

Horner is still living in Mount Kisco and his wife, Linda, remains outreach coordinator at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, a vibrant place where a sign facing those leaving the church reads: “You are now entering the Mission Field.”

“All churches have to be the Lutheran church of the resurrection,” Horner said. “I believe that to my core.”