A new form of grieving

I came across an interesting story in the Oakland Tribute about memorial clothing — “RIP” T-shirts that are becoming increasingly common in inner cities as a way to pay tribute to fallen youth.

It may not be a religion story in the strictest sense, but there are spiritual overtones when people try to keep alive the memories of their loved ones.

One woman whose daughter was killed by a stray bullet in East Oakland explained: “I wear my shirt and have it done because I’m never going to forget my daughter, and I don’t want anyone else to forget her. So as long as you know someone can see her face, they can hear her story.”

The San Francisco Chronicle did a similar, longer story in 2004. It said: “The R.I.P. shirts — airbrushed or featuring scanned photos of lost loved ones — were just a novelty when they were first created a decade ago. But today they are an everyday ritual of death in many American cities, like choosing a casket or sending flowers. Shirt-making enterprises now thrive in areas where the homicide rates are high, including parts of the Bay Area, New York, Washington, D.C., Miami and Chicago.”

Episcopal gay debates getting old?

Is it me, or are we seeing less intense media coverage of the Episcopal Church’s internal gyrations over homosexuality?

I mean, the EC’s General Convention has been underway for a week out in Disneyland. First, Episcopal leaders passed measures saying that ordination should be open to all — softening, if not erasing, the church’s 3-year-old restriction on ordaining gay bishops. That’s Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, the first openly gay bishop, addressing his fellow bishops at the GA.

Yesterday, bishops authorized the church to start drafting a prayer for the blessing of same-sex couples.

You could argue that these are important steps that will further divide the EC from the worldwide Anglican Communion. And there has been plenty of media coverage. But the coverage seems to me to less vigorous then in recent years.

I get the feeling that after years of waiting for some sort of Episcopal/Anglican break-up, with every Episcopal action cited as potentially the fuse that will set it off, anticipation is starting to wane.

Haven’t we seen a pattern? The Episcopal Church does its thing, embracing gays and lesbians. Conservative Episcopalians and Anglicans condemn it all. A few Episcopalians break away. And life goes on.

Maybe there won’t be a pivotal turn, but the EC will slowly shrink and isolate itself a bit. Maybe.

Certainly here in the Episcopal Diocese of New York, where almost all Episcopalians are gay friendly, it’s much ado about nothing. That’s not to say that New York Episcopalians want to lose their Anglican friends overseas.

But they will be the church they want to be. And they’ll see what happens. I think.

(AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Missouri Synod’s Benke keeps going and going

Remember when the Rev. David Benke of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod got suspended by his denomination from taking part in an interfaith memorial service at Yankee Stadium after 9/11?

It was one of the biggest — and to many people, baffling — religion stories of 2002.

At the time, a letter from a superior to Benke said: “Joining in prayer with pagan clerics in Yankee Stadium was an offense both to God and to all Christians.”

The suspension was eventually lifted and Benke continued on as president of the Atlantic District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which basically covers eastern New York state and has its headquarters in Bronxville.

I mention this because Benke was just elected to a seventh term as president (a bishop-like position).

Benke, 63, has been president since 1991, making him one of this region’s senior religious leaders. He is a good-humored and well-liked fellow among his clergy and with clergy from other denominations.

He also serves as pastor of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church and School in Brooklyn.

In his remarks at the district’s 57th convention, he said: “Where do I get my energy? Long-time residents and denizens of Cypress Hills who have known me know for over 35 years often say, ‘You know you always look the same.’ And my response is invariably, ‘Good grief! I must have really looked old when I was young.’ ”

He then continued: “The secret to my spiritual energy is my baptism. And yours.”

But Benke has to update his letter on the Atlantic District webpage.

The headline? “Rain, rain go away.”

Inside stuff from Obama/Jewish meeting

The Jewish Week talked to several Jewish leaders who took part in last week’s meeting with Obama.

It sounds like nobody knew quite what to say to him about his statements concerning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Territories.

One unnamed participant said: “I think many will still have concerns, but they’re not going to go to war because the president still has most of the Jewish electorate behind him. So far, he appears very adroit in handling the concerns of our community, and I think that’s a real dilemma for those who are most strongly opposed to what he is doing in the Middle East.”

Jason Isaacson, Washington director for the American Jewish Committee, told the JW: “He’s very confident. He brackets almost everything he says with concerns about Israel’s security. He talks about Israel having the tools to defend itself. And he seems to know where the limits are.”

“He knows how to push while he’s hugging,” Jeremy Ben-Ami, executive director of J Street, the new pro-peace effort lobbying group, said of the president.

Davey & Goliath: The LOST episodes

You have to love any news related to “Davey and Goliath,” the goofy but lovable, claymation children’s TV series produced by the Lutheran church during the ’50s and ’60s.

For the last decade or so, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has trying to pump up the D&G legacy with bobble-heads, a TV documentary and more.

Now the ELCA is releasing “The Lost Episodes,” a DVD with 10 episodes that have never been seen.

According to the website:

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Some of the episodes were pulled from broadcast stations over 40 years ago, and some have never even been distributed on television or video.  Content issues, political incorrectness or unapproved visuals kept these episodes in the vault.  Now re-edited to acceptable video standards for young children, we hope you and your family enjoy these Lost Episodes of the beloved Davey and Goliath television series.

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Huh?

Content issues? Political incorrectness? Unapproved visuals?

What exactly were Davey & Goliath doing and saying back in the day?

Now that these shows have been edited to “acceptable video standards,” we’ll probably never know.

What a mystery.

Episcopal/Anglican split to widen?

When Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams attended the opening of the Episcopal Church’s national meeting in Anaheim last week, he said, “I hope and pray that there won’t be decisions in the coming days that could push us further apart.”

So much for that.

Yesterday, bishops at the General Convention voted 99-45 with two abstentions for a statement that “God has called and may call” gays and lesbians to ministry.

The day before, lay leaders and clergy had passed a similar resolution. Their group, the House of Deputies, is expected to approve the bishops’ version before things break up Friday.

Three years ago, the Episcopal Church took the position that restraint should be showed in the selection of bishops — meaning that choosing another gay bishop, after Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, would further anger much of the Anglican Communion.

Now, the EC appears to be moving away from that position. But it’s still not entirely clear (at least to me) how the new resolutions are expected to change things.

The AP’s Rachel Zoll writes:

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Drafters of the latest statement insisted that the resolution only acknowledges that the Episcopal Church ordains partnered gays and lesbians and is not a repeal of what was widely considered a moratorium on consecrating gay bishops.

“The constitution and canons of our church as currently written do not preclude gay and lesbian persons from participating,” in any part of the church, said the Rev. Gay Clark Jennings, on the committee that drafted the statement. “These people have responded to God’s call.”

Obama meets with Jewish leaders, talks Mid East and health care

President Obama met yesterday with Jewish leaders at the White House.

According to the White House:

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The President met with more than a dozen leaders from the Jewish community today for approximately 45 minutes. They had a substantive discussion, ranging from Middle East peace efforts and Iran, to reforming our health care system and policies to address global hunger. The President reiterated his unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and reiterated his commitment to working to achieve Middle East peace.

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Participants at the meeting were:

Alan Solow, Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Lee Rosenberg, President-elect, AIPAC

David Victor, President, AIPAC

Malcolm Honlein, Executive Vice Chairman, Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations

Abraham Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League

Jason Isaacson, Director of Government and International Affairs, American Jewish Committee

Nancy Ratzan, President, National Council of Jewish Women

Kathy Manning, Chair, Executive Committee, United Jewish Communities

Andrea Weinstein, Chair, Jewish Council for Public Affairs

Marla Gilson, Washington Director, Hadassah

Stephen Savitsky, President, Orthodox Union

Rabbi Steven Wernick, Executive Vice President and CEO, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President, Union for Reform Judaism

Ira Forman, Chief Executive Officer, National Jewish Democratic Council

Debra DeLee, President and CEO, Americans for Peace Now

Jeremy Ben Ami, Executive Director, J STREET


Legion priests ‘trained to suspend reason,’ former member says

The highly regarded Vatican journalist Sandro Magister has a terrific interview out with Father Thomas Berg, a long-time priest of the Legionaries of Christ who recently left the troubled order to become a priest of the Archdiocese of New York.

Berg is the head of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, a Catholic think tank. I had lunch with him a couple of years ago near the Legionaries’ big estate in Thornwood and was very impressed. He’s funny, personable and really smart.

He’s the highest profile Legionary to speak out about the problems facing the order, which has long been known for its secrecy and lock-step discipline.

The Legion had been known for its cultish loyality to its founder, Marcial Maciel Degollado, a favorite of Pope John Paul II. But Maciel, who had been accused of sexually abusing seminarians over many years, was sent into early retirement in 2006 by Benedict XVI. Then it came out that Maciel, who died last year, had also fathered a child.

This week, the Vatican is beginning a highly anticipated investigation into the state of the Legion.

So what does Berg have to say? How about this:

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I hope that the Legion will very quickly accelerate its disavowal of, and disassociation with, Fr. Maciel. On that point, I see no other way forward. All – and I mean all – the pictures of Maciel yet hanging in Legionary houses have to go. They have to stop referring to his writings in public (I understand that at one recent Legionary community mass the homilist still saw fit to quote from one of Maciel’s letters). A simple step in that direction, by the way, requires the immediate abrogation of their custom of referring to Fr. Maciel as “nuestro padre” or “mon père” – terms of endearment whose use he allowed and fostered. Amazingly, many if not most Legionaries still insist on using the term.

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Berg also supports some of the primary criticisms made of the Legion by so many over the years. Get this:

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More seriously, the lived manner in which Legionaries practice obedience is laced with the kind of unquestioning submission which allowed the cult of personality to emerge around the figure of Maciel in the first place and covered for his misdeeds. Legionary seminarians are essentially trained to suspend reason in their obedience and to seek a total internal conformity with all the norms, and to withstand any internal impulse to examine or critique the norms or the indications of superiors.

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Trained to suspend reason in their obedience. Yikes.

Another new Episcopal position on ordination?

Who can be ordained in the Episcopal Church?

Yeah, it’s still the $25,000 question.

Back in 2006, the EC’s General Convention decided that dioceses should show “restraint” when choosing bishops whose lifestyle could upset the wider Anglican Communion. They were talking about gays and lesbians, of course, in light of the super-controversial consecration of openly gay Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire.

Well, yesterday at the 2009 General Convention, the House of Deputies (consisting of clergy and lay leaders) voted 2-to-1 for a resolution declaring that the ordination process be open to all.

The House of Bishops will have to agree for the resolution to be enacted.

Does the new resolution clarify things or further muddy the ordination waters?

According to an EC write-up: “Committee vice chair the Rev. Ian Douglas (Massachusetts) noted that the committee chose not to propose a straight-forward repeal or support of B033 (NOTE: showing restraint) but instead chose this language as a more comprehensive description of the church’s current reality.”

Time for the usual round of condemnations and shows of support.

Minister duped for ‘Bruno’ movie hopes to reach the unchurched

You have to figure that a Birmingham, Ala., pastor who is interviewed by Sacha Baron Cohen is in big trouble.

In Cohen’s new movie, “Bruno,” the ambushed minister is Jody Trautwein, youth pastor at Point of Grace Ministries in Birmingham.

You’ve probably seen the TV trailers, in which Cohen’s Bruno character, a rather flamboyant fellow in absurd costumes, puts himself in positions where an openly gay (and bizarre) man is likely to be ridiculed.

Apparently, Bruno sits down for a “counseling session” with Trautwein, who explains that Christian faith can help one change their homosexuality.

According to the Birmingham News, Trautwein did not know he had been tricked until he saw commercials for the movie. It’s kind of hard to believe, as you would think that the Bruno character would be quickly dismissed as a goof of some sort.

Trautwein told the News: “He proceeded to ask me many vile, repulsive questions. It obviously turned out to be just deception and perversion, but the message in my heart is actually going to be shared with millions. It’s turning out to be a positive thing. If nothing else, people will hear me sharing Jesus.”

Cohen likes picking on Alabama, it seems. For his “Borat” movie, a dinner party in Borat’s honor — which turns out to be predictably repulsive — is held in Helena, Ala.

Trautwein doesn’t mind being duped.

“I see this turning around and being used for good,” he said. “There are people all over the world who may not go to a church. Somewhere in the middle of this movie they’re going to hear about the name of Christ.”