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'World Christianity' and America: 7-19/20-14

Manchester, N.H. -- I am feeling a bit ahead of my time. Why?

Theology-todayWell, for at least a decade I've been giving talks and writing about how immigration has been changing the American religious landscape.

Especially since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed immigration reform into law in 1965, lots of people from Asia and the Southern Hemisphere have come to the U.S., bringing with them their Islam, Hunduism, Buddhism and other faith traditions.

One of those other traditions has been what is now called "world Christianity." It is changing the face of Christianity in the U.S.

Recently the quarterly journal Theology Today devoted an entire issue to world Christianity and to how it is causing historians and others to re-evaluate and redefine Christian history. And I just finished reading the issue as I landed here in New Hampshire on my way to Vermont for a family wedding.

As theologian Joy Ann McDougall wrote in the opening essay, one result of this growing emphasis on grasping the breadth and depth of world Christianity is that "the traditional Western version of the history of Christianity gave way to a more complex and indeed 'polycentric' understanding of Christianity's origins and developments."

World Christianity, she says, now is a "rapidly emerging field" of interest and study.

And in the U.S., she writes (and I've been saying), "A startling diversity of Christian traditions is already present in our classrooms, pews and neighborhoods, and this diversity is rapidly transforming the contemporary landscape of North American Christianity."

But, she says, it's important to note that "plurality reaches all the way down to the earliest roots of the Christian witness."

In some way, writes Paul Kollman, who teaches theology at Notre Dame, "social and cultural differences generate new Christianities." These new Christianities, of course, are deeply connected to the Christianities that emerged from Judaism (well, to be more accurate, the various Judaisms) in the First Century and after, but they bear marks of local histories and traditions.

What all of this says to me is that we would do well to broaden our vision of not just Christianity but of all faith traditions in a time of rapid travel and communication, for just one perspective of any faith will be inevitably distorted, while a faith informed by wider experiences will inevitably be richer.

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LIKE A MALE SARAH PALIN

Todd Akin, infamous for his "legitimate rape" quote in a Senate race in Missouri, now is making news because he says he felt he was in the midst of spiritual warfare at the time. Oh, my. Why does anyone think anything he says is worth repeating?


When memory battles death: 7-18-14

NORTH SPRINGFIELD, Vt. -- As I type this (July 9) I'm in a room next to the room in which my wife's sister died two years ago today.

Leslie-treeEverything is different now. And everything still is the same. That's how it is with death. I feel as if I could walk into the next room and visit Leslie again in her rented hospital bed in her home. And yet I feel as if she's been gone almost forever.

Her husband John, with whom my wife and I are staying for a couple of nights, has grieved deeply and has begun to find his sea legs again. Last night we met the woman he's been, well, if not exactly dating at least hanging around with a fair amount. We like her a lot.

I'm reminded of a poem about Lazarus, whom Jesus resuscitated from death after a few days. In the poem, poor Lazarus discovers that the world has moved on beyond him. His wife has rearranged his room, given away his dog, acted as if his return was simply out of the question.

Death leaves its mark everywhere. A few weeks ago I was in my hometown of Woodstock, Ill., giving a few talks about my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans. I passed by my old house, where my now-dead parents lived for most of 50 years. I passed by the nursing home where both of them died. And I went to Oakland Cemetery to visit their side-by-side graves and place some flowers there.

Almost everywhere I went in Woodstock I ran into my parents' remembered presence.

And here in Vermont I run into Leslie's remembered presence. Her photos still adorn the refrigerator in the kitchen of her home. Seeing her daughter and granddaughter brings back memories of when they would come to this house as Leslie lay dying and simply be present with her. And John still speaks of her with love, with fondness, with joy for their long lives together.

Death seeks to obliterate us. It inevitably fails because we have memory, we have hope of afterlife, we have each other. And in our remaining common life together we refuse to let the one who has died become the one who is forgotten. Scripture asks, "Death, where is thy sting?" But, in fact, we feel the sting, all right. But its pain is not the final feeling, not the final word.

In our remembering, our speaking about the dead, our acknowledgement of our loss, the final word is ours. As it should be.

(The photo here today shows a tree with a bow on it that was sent  to Leslie's house as a gift as she lay dying.)

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THE COURTS AND FAITH

Have you, like me, found it hard to keep up with the many U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have to do with religion? Well, here is a good analysis of such cases handled by the Roberts court in the last several years as a reminder.


Faith news while I'm gone: 7-17-18

HARWICH, Mass. -- I'm here in New England for a family wedding and to see other members of my extended family.

NewsI'll get back to daily blogging here on Friday, but in the meantime if you're looking for updates about religion news, I suggest you check in with Religion News Service here and at the Pew Research Religion & Public Life "Religion in the News" page.

Enjoy a couple of pretty much Tammeus-less summer days. Or go to the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page and have a look at the various offerings I put up there. I hope you'll find there what author Kurt Vonnegut once said was the duty of writers to produce: beauty and enlightenment -- at top speed.

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P.S.: Got home after midnight last night, but at least I'm home. Please tune in at 10 a.m. today to Central Standard on KCUR-FM (89.3). I'll be a guest and will talk about Midwestern -- or, more broadly, Middle American -- values.


Faith news when I'm gone: 7-16-14

HARWICH, Mass. -- I'm here in New England for a family wedding and to see other members of my extended family.

NewsI'll get back to daily blogging here on Friday, but in the meantime if you're looking for updates about religion news, I suggest you check in with Religion News Service here and at the Pew Research Religion & Public Life "Religion in the News" page.

Enjoy a couple of pretty much Tammeus-less summer days. Or go to the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page and have a look at the various offerings I put up there. I hope you'll find there what author Kurt Vonnegut once said was the duty of writers to produce: beauty and enlightenment -- at top speed.

* * *

P.S.: Please tune in to Central Standard at 10 a.m. tomorrow on KCUR-FM (89.3). I will be a guest and will talk about Midwestern values -- or, more broadly, Middle American values -- based on my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans.


Read more here: http://billtammeus.typepad.com/my_weblog/#storylink=cp


Faith news while I'm gone: 7-15-14

HARWICH, Mass. -- I'm here in New England for a family wedding and to see other members of my extended family.

NewsI'll get back to daily blogging here on Friday, but in the meantime if you're looking for updates about religion news, I suggest you check in with Religion News Service here and at the Pew Research Religion & Public Life "Religion in the News" page.

Enjoy a couple of pretty much Tammeus-less summer days. Or go to the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page and have a look at the various offerings I put up there. I hope you'll find there what author Kurt Vonnegut once said was the duty of writers to produce: beauty and enlightenment -- at top speed.

* * *

P.S.: Please tune in to Central Standard at 10 a.m. on Thursday on KCUR-FM (89.3). I will be a guest and will talk about Midwestern values -- or, more broadly, Middle American values -- based on my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans.


Read more here: http://billtammeus.typepad.com/my_weblog/#storylink=


Faith news while I'm gone: 7-14-14

WARREN, Vt. -- I'm here in New England for a family wedding and to see other members of my extended family.

NewsI'll get back to daily blogging here on Friday, but in the meantime if you're looking for updates about religion news, I suggest you check in with Religion News Service

 

here

and at the Pew Research Religion & Public Life "Religion in the News" page.

Enjoy a couple of pretty much Tammeus-less summer days. Or go to the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page and have a look at the various offerings I put up there. I hope you'll find there what author Kurt Vonnegut once said was the duty of writers to produce: beauty and enlightenment -- at top speed.

* * *

P.S.: Please tune in to Central Standard at 10 a.m. on Thursday on KCUR-FM (89.3). I will be a guest and will talk about Midwestern values -- or, more broadly, Middle American values -- based on my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans.


A film focused on evil: 7-12/13-14

In my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans, I have a chapter near the end about our efforts to explain evil.

Deliver-EvilThe problem for Christians and other people of faith in this effort is that every possible answer to the old question of theodicy -- Why is there evil in the world if God is good? -- fails ultimately. We simply don't have an exhaustive answer to explain evil and suffering.

And yet because evil is a mystery, we feel compelled to continue trying to understand it. So we write books, essays and blog postings. We preach sermons and give seminars. And we make movies in which the subject is evil.

One such movie has just been released, "Deliver Us from Evil," a line obviously taken from the traditional English translation of the Lord's Prayer.

Christianity Today recently published this fascinating interview with the director of that film, Scott Derrickson. A few highlights from the interview:

* Much of the movie is about the sacredness of language and the power of words. Christians believe that "in the beginning was the word" and that God spoke the world into existence. So there's something about the power of language in this movie that plays in a significant way.

*  I think there's a real mystery to the inexplicable irrationality of true evil—both human and spiritual. 

* I genuinely don't understand why everyone isn't obsessed with discovering and unmooring a deeper understanding of it. If we're not compelled to gain a deeper understanding of good and evil, how can we make the world a better place? How can we find ourselves at the end of our lives and know that our lives were significant?

Well, there's more in the interview. So go read. And if you find an exhaustive answer to the presence of evil in the world, please let me know pronto. That's a scoop I'd love to own.

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WARREN, Vt. -- While I'm in Vermont for a family wedding don't look for the usual second item here on the blog. I hereby give you back a few extra minutes a day. Use them well.


Explaining 'honor killings': 7-11-14

A couple of days ago here on the blog, I shared with you a piece about the Jain religion written by my boyhood friend from India, Justice Markandey Katju.

Honor-killingMarkandey identifies as an atheist but he is marinated in deep social and communal values that are very much in harmony with values taught by the world's great religions.

Sometimes, as we know, cultural practices, traditions and views can overwhelm a religion's teachings. That's certainly what has happened in many predominantly Islamic countries when it comes to the equal treatment of women, who felt quite liberated by the Islam that the Prophet Muhammad introduced to the world in the 7th Century. And it's certainly what has happened in the U.S., with a majority Christian population, when it comes to the idolatry of money and power.

But as Markandey, a retired justice on India's Supreme Court, notes in this blog entry, there's also a cultural clash between values that hold the individual in the highest esteem and the cultural values of shame and honor, which lie at the root of many cultures in the Middle East and parts of Asia, among other places.

The "shame and honor" system, as I think of it, requires you to respond (read retaliate) if someone has shamed you or your family or in some way dishonored you. We see elements of this system in the U.S. with the increasing use of the word "disrespect," or simply "dis," especially in gang disputes.

The extreme cases of shame and honor -- and ones that most Americans find so repugnant -- are the killing of young women who have married outside their religious tradition and, in the view of their parents, thus shamed the family.

That's what Markandey writes about when he says: "This 'honour killing' is a barbaric, heartless, cold blooded and savage feudal practice which must be put down with an iron hand by the authorities." I don't disagree with his description, but I'm not sure we've seen any evidence that putting the practice "down with an iron hand" will help.

And, of course, as an opponent of capital punishment, I disagree with Markandey that the death penalty should come into play for those convicted of honor killings.

It's interesting that Islam believes that its second most important prophet, Jesus, was never crucified. My understanding of a main reason for that is that crucifixion would have brought shame on one of God's prophets, so Islam has other explanations for Jesus' death.

And until we understand cultural systems of shame, guilt and fear, we'll never grasp why such things as honor killings happen.

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WARREN, Vt. -- While I'm in Vermont for a family wedding don't look for the usual second item here on the blog. I hereby give you back a few extra minutes a day. Use them well.


Surrounded by miracles: 7-10-14

There are, at base, two attitudes about miracles. One says nothing is a miracle. The other says everything is.

MiraclesI tend to belong to the latter group.

The first attitude once was expressed by the American humorist Elbert Hubbard this way: "A Miracle: An event described by those to whom it was told by men who did not see it."

The second attitude once found expression in words by Walt Whitman this way: "To me every hour of the light and dark is a miracle,/Every cubic inch of space is a miracle."

When I think of miracles, I think of long odds. Move back in time 1,000 or so years (quite a tiny span, given the age of the universe) and imagine, for instance, the odds that you would exist. Think just of all that had to happen in terms of sperm finding egg that brought into being your great-grandparents, your grandparents, your parents and you.

The odds were a hundredyskillion to one that you'd be here at all. (The term hundredyskillion is a highly technical one that I once made up to cover such circumstances.)

All of this talk about miracles on the 505th anniversary of the birth of Protestant reformer John Calvin (what if he had never lived?) brings me to this YouTube Torah commentary by my friend and co-author of one of my books, Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn.

Jacques puts himself in the camp of those of us who tend to think of everything as miraculous. Have a listen. And in honor of Calvin, make sure that, like many of his followers, you're not a hyper-Calvinist.

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NORTH SPRINGFIELD, Vt. -- While I'm in Vermont for a family wedding don't look for the usual second item here on the blog. I hereby give you back a few extra minutes a day. Use them well. One way to do that is to read my latest National Catholic Reporter column, which now is online here.


Jainism: A religion of openness: 7-9-14

When I was a boy in India, where I lived in 1956 and 1957, I first encountered Jainism. It's an ancient religion that today would be understood to have a deep concern for the welfare of all of life as well as for the planet itself.

JainismReally deep.

My first memory of seeing Jain adherents was watching someone walk down the street sweeping the sidewalk (or maybe road) ahead of him so as not to step on insects or other living creatures.

As a teen-ager I thought that was both amazing commitment and, frankly, a bit over the top.

But the more I learned about Jainism, the more respectful I became of it and its followers. Which is why I was happy to read my friend Markandey Katju's recent blog about Jainism. Markandey and I went to school together in India. He's retired from India's Supreme Court and now is chairman of the Press Council of India.

As Markandey writes, "The cornerstone of Jain philosophy is the concept of Anekantavad. This is defined as 'non-absoluteness', or 'non-onesidedness', or 'many-foldedness'." That means Jainism is "against dogmatism. It believes that reality is complex and multi-faceted."

You understand, no doubt, that there is a distinction between dogma and dogmatism. Every religion has dogma. But dogmatism is when the tail wags the dogma.

In a world where many people of faith are absolutely certain that they hold the only truth, we all could learn something from the theological modesty of the adherents of Jainism.

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NORTH SPRINGFIELD, Vt. -- While I'm in Vermont for a family wedding don't look for the usual second item here on the blog. I hereby give you back a few extra minutes a day. Use them well. One way to use them today is to check out my latest National Catholic Reporter column, which should post by mid-morning here.

* * *

THE BOOK CORNER

Surprised-scripture

Surprised by Scripture: Engaging Contemporary Issues, by N.T. Wright.  As I've noted before, I don't think Bishop Tom Wright has ever had a thought that hasn't been published. On the whole, that's a good thing, because Wright is a clear, helpful thinker about matters of faith. This new volume is a series of essays that have had a previous life in one form or another, including as speeches. Wright seeks to help readers understand that the Bible today can be a remarkably useful tool in understanding and evaluating contemporary matters even though it was written centuries ago. I found Wright to be at his most interesting in this book when discussing 9/11 and the problem of evil. Here's part of what he writes: "The reaction in America and Britain to the events of September 11, 2001, was a knee-jerk, unthinking, immature lashing out. Don't misunderstand me. The terrorst actions of al-Qaeda were and are unmitigatedly evil. But the astonishing naivete which decreed that America as a whole was a pure, innocent victim, so that the world could be neatly divided into evil people (particularly Arabs) and good people (particularly Americans and Israelis), with the latter having a responsibility to punish the former, thus justifying the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is a large-scale example of what I'm talking about -- just as it is immature and naive to suggest the mirror image of this view, namely that the Western world is guilty in all respects and that all protestors and terrorists are therefore completely justified in what they do. The Western world, then, has not been able to cope with evil from within its modernistic beliefs."