Monday, August 31, 2009

All Saints' (Episcopal) Convent goes to Rome

I've done personal retreats at All Saints' Convent, Catonsville for many years. Another sorrow for The Episcopal Church and yes, the Anglican Communion. A great loss - though quite understandable. Sister Emily Ann is one of my favorite people on the planet. Many prayers and lots of love go with them.

From here:
BALTIMORE, Maryland, AUG. 31, 2009 ( On Thursday, a community of Episcopal nuns and their chaplain will be received into the Catholic Church by the archbishop of Baltimore.

Ten sisters from the Society of All Saints' Sisters of the Poor will be received into the Church by Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, along with Episcopal Father Warren Tange, the Baltimore archdiocesan newspaper reported last Thursday.

Having spent seven years in prayer and discernment, the sisters felt drawn to the Catholic faith due to its orthodoxy and unity.

The superior of the community in Catonsville, Mother Christina Christie, affirmed that after studying Catholic teaching for two years, the sisters are "very excited" for their upcoming reception.

In their convent chapel, the nuns will receive the sacrament of confirmation, and will renew their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Their chaplain will also enter the Church at that time, though he is still discerning the possibility of becoming a Catholic priest.

Mother Christina affirmed, "We felt God was leading us in this direction for a long time."

The communiqué noted that many of them were troubled by recent changes in the Episcopal church, including the approval of women's ordination, the ordination of a gay bishop and other "lax" stances on moral issues.

Another nun, Sister Mary Joan Walker, said, "We kept thinking we could help by being a witness for orthodoxy."

The superior explained, however, that the effort was "not as helpful as we had hoped it would be."

She continued: "People who did not know us looked at us as if we were in agreement with what had been going on [in the Episcopal church]; by staying put and not doing anything, we were sending a message which was not correct."

They acknowledged that some friends in the Episcopal church have been hurt by their decision to leave, accusing them of abandoning the fight to maintain orthodoxy.

"We're not," said Sister Emily Ann Lindsey. "We're doing it in another realm right now."

Papal leadership

In the uneasiness with certain issues in their church, the sisters spent time researching various Episcopal splinter groups, as well as other Christian denominations. Finally, they came to the realization that they were independently feeling drawn to the Catholic Church.

"This is very much the work of the Holy Spirit," Mother Christina said.

Now, two years after having begun the study of the Second Vatican Council and other Church teachings, they affirmed that there were hardly any theological obstacles to overcome.

The concept of papal infallibility was a difficulty at first for some, but now the sisters affirm that the Pope exercises an authority not found in the Episcopal church.

"The unity that Christ called for can be found in the Catholic Church under the leadership of the pope," they said

"Unity is right in the midst of all this," said Sister Catherine Grace Bowen. "That is the main thrust."

Two nuns who decided not to become Catholic will nonetheless continue to live with the community and work together with their religious sisters.

The nuns dedicate themselves to prayer, giving retreats, visiting people in hospice care, and designing religious cards.

The community, which maintains a traditional full black habit with a white wimple, is a branch of the society founded in England. The American branch has been in Baltimore since 1872, working with the poor in the region as part of their charism of hospitality.

An Interview with Bishop Martyn Minns

Friday, August 28, 2009

Welcome to the Episcopal Collective

The Episcopal Church's Presiding Bishop issues a statement following that fray caused by her "heresy" sermon at General Convention. From here:
I always am delighted when people listen to what I say in a sermon or address. Sometimes I am surprised by what they hear.

In my opening address at General Convention, I spoke about the "great Western heresy" of individualism (see the full text here). There have been varied reactions from people who weren't there, who heard or read an isolated comment without the context. Apparently I wasn't clear!

Individualism (the understanding that the interests and independence of the individual necessarily trump the interests of others as well as principles of interdependence) is basically unbiblical and unchristian.

The spiritual journey, at least in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is about holy living in community. When Jesus was asked to summarize the Torah, he said, "love God and love your neighbor as yourself." That means our task is to be in relationship with God and with our neighbors. If salvation is understood only as "getting right with God" without considering "getting right with (all) our neighbors," then we've got a heresy (an unorthodox belief) on our hands.

The theme of our General Convention, ubuntu, was chosen intentionally to focus on this. Often translated from its original African dialects as "I am because we are," ubuntu has significant biblical connections and warrant. The Hebrew prophets save their strongest denunciation for those who claim to be worshiping correctly but ignore injustice done to their neighbors (e.g., Amos 5:21-24), and Jesus insists that those who will enter the kingdom are the ones who have cared for neighbor by feeding, watering, clothing, housing, healing and visiting "the least of these" (Matt 25:31-46).

In my address, I went on to say that sometimes this belief that salvation only depends on getting right with God is reduced to saying a simple formula about Jesus. Jesus is quite explicit in his rejection of simple formulas: "Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt 7:21).

He is repeatedly insistent that right relationship depends on loving neighbors – for example, "those who say, ‘I love God,' and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen" (1John 4:20). The Epistles repeatedly enjoin the followers of Jesus to "give evidence of the hope within you" (1Pet 3:15ff), that "faith without works is dead" (James 2:14-26), that our judgment depends on care for brother and sister (Rom 14:10-12) and that we eat our own destruction if we take Communion without having regard for the rest of the community (1Cor 11:27-34).

Salvation depends on love of God and our relationship with Jesus, and we give evidence of our relationship with God in how we treat our neighbors, nearby and far away. Salvation is a gift from God, not something we can earn by our works, but neither is salvation assured by words alone.

Salvation cannot be complete, in an eternal and eschatological sense, until the whole of creation is restored to right relationship. That is what we mean when we proclaim in the catechism that "the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ" and that Christian hope is to "live with confidence in newness and fullness of life and to await the coming of Christ in glory and the completion of God's purpose for the world." We anticipate the restoration of all creation to right relationship, and we proclaim that Jesus' life, death and resurrection made that possible in a new way.

At the same time, salvation in the sense of cosmic reconciliation is a mystery. It's hard to pin down or talk about. It is ultimately the gift of a good and gracious God, not the product of our incessant striving. It is about healing and wholeness and holiness, the fruit of being more than doing. Just like another image we use to speak about restored relationship, the reign of God, salvation is happening all the time, all around us. Where do you see evidence?

Read it all here. We are not saved by loving people, by the way - we love people in response to our being saved. Very, very different.

And beware of those who shoot down what they complain and redefine as "individualism" (though it may be couched in flowy happy talk) - note that she defines "individualism" to suit her collective interpretation. Selfishness is not a virtue, certainly, but neither is collectivism masquerading as community.

"Individualism" is at the heart of privately held property, of our individual liberties, and it keeps in check the powers of the state. It is intensely creative - and dares to step out where no one has gone before. Individualism is not a heresy - except to those who are threatened by liberty. The General Convention of 2009 was run like a collective - make no mistake about it.

Sometimes it's individualism - and sometimes it's just Gary Cooper.

Rowan Williams: Working in the grain of creation?

Somewhat overwrought PSA from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Perhaps it would be far simpler just to pull out some John Denver who was green as green can come, long before it was cool.

But how different John Denver's optimistic approach was back in the day, celebrating creation and the beauty of the earth with it's deep connection to embrace individual freedom and creative expressio. But then it's not about freedom today, is it?

That's not what we hear from the Archbishop of Canterbury.


It's all about fear.

Here's some more from John:

What do you think? Fear - or freedom?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Dylan due to release, yes, another album this year - and this time it's for Christmas!

Rumors have been swirling about that Bob Dylan is set to release a second album this year, this time covers of classic Christmas songs. Here's the cover for Dylan's upcoming Christmas album from Rolling Stone. Proceeds from the album will go to charity. Discussion is all ready underway on the meaning of cover (but of course!).

It appears to be Victorian-era art for a Christmas card. I found the image online here entitled "Victorian Holiday." Of course, our modern nostalgia for the Christmas season comes from the Victorian era. But Dylan would reach back to that era and pull up this card, well, it is rather odd. is also now announcing the pending arrival of this Christmas album:
"Christmas In The Heart" to be Released October 13

Bob Dylan will release a brand new album of holiday songs, Christmas In The Heart, on Tuesday, October 13, it was announced today by Columbia Records. All of the artist’s U.S. royalties from sales of these recordings will be donated to Feeding America, guaranteeing that more than four million meals will be provided to more than 1.4 million people in need in this country during this year’s holiday season. Bob Dylan is also donating all of his future U.S. royalties from this album to Feeding America in perpetuity.

Additionally, the artist is partnering with two international charities to provide meals during the holidays for millions in need in the United Kingdom and the developing world, and will be donating all of his future international royalties from Christmas In The Heart to those organizations in perpetuity. Details regarding the international partnerships will be announced next week.

“When we reached out to Bob Dylan about becoming involved with our organization, we could never have anticipated that he would so generously donate all royalties from his forthcoming album to our cause,” said Vicki Escarra, president and CEO of Feeding America. “This major initiative from such a world renowned artist and cultural icon will directly benefit so many people and have a major impact on spreading awareness of the epidemic of hunger in this country and around the world.”

Bob Dylan commented, “It’s a tragedy that more than 35 million people in this country alone -- 12 million of those children – often go to bed hungry and wake up each morning unsure of where their next meal is coming from. I join the good people of Feeding America in the hope that our efforts can bring some food security to people in need during this holiday season.”

Christmas In The Heart will be the 47th album from Bob Dylan, and follows his worldwide chart-topping Together Through Life, released earlier this year. Songs performed by Dylan on this new album include, “Here Comes Santa Claus,” “Winter Wonderland,” “Little Drummer Boy” and “Must Be Santa.”

Feeding America provides low-income individuals and families with the fuel to survive and even thrive. As the nation’s largest domestic hunger-relief charity, our network members supply food to more than 25 million Americans each year, including 9 million children and 3 million seniors. Serving the entire United States, more than 200 member food banks supports 63,000 agencies that address hunger in all of its forms. For more information how you can fight hunger in your community and across the country, visit

Read it all here. I can't wait to hear "Here Comes Santa Claus" by Bob Dylan. Oh, this is just too good to be true. I have to say, though, that the alleged quote from Dylan in this article sounds nothing like him.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Monday Night at the Cafe: Praise my Soul, the King of Heaven

What may be one of the major historical moments in recent memory in the Anglican Communion. Each person - every person - processing in has a story, every single one.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Presiding Bishop: "General Convention was wonderful!"

Wonder if she attended the same one I did? From the Gazette Times:
GT: Last month you were at General Convention in Anaheim, Calif. How did it go?

Jefferts Schori: General Convention was wonderful! People were careful with each other, and respectful — it was a different convention (from the last one) in that sense. There was no animosity. People treated each other appropriately. We had so many visitors from around the Anglican Communion (the worldwide organization that includes the Episcopal Church and 37 other provinces) — 15 primates and a number of other bishops, and lay people too! We invited them to come see how we make decisions. A lot of them were surprised at the strength of our House of Deputies (one of two legislative houses of General Convention, made up of clergy and lay people; the other is the House of Bishops). In many places, the bishops tell everyone how things are going to be, so we were delighted that people came and saw the way we work.
And lay people too! Oh, the spin makes me dizzy.

And just in case we forget how it really was:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Be anxious for nothing - no, really!

Phil Ashey of the American Anglican Council (AAC) has a super column here called Do not worry" - a devotional and a testimony. Here's an excerpt where he gives a powerful illustration of how God does provide and in ways we could never dream:
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matt. 6:31-32 NIV)

What's his promise? You put God first, you put his purposes first, you put his Kingdom first, and you will be first place on His providing agenda. All the things that are mentioned in this text, "All these things will be added unto you."

What things? The necessities of life. Food, clothing, shelter, daily bread, appropriate clothing, appropriate housing, the basic provisions of life so that you don't need to worry-and that includes everything your congregation needs to do the mission and ministry God has called you to do-including a place to worship, pray, and care for others!

Let me close by sharing the story of a friend, the Rev. Matt Kennedy (known to many of you through StandFirm) and his congregation, the people of Good Shepherd, Binghampton, NY. Good Shepherd fought to leave TEC with their property and lost in the courts. They had to leave the church, the rectory and their memories behind them. The Diocese and TEC were so unkind to them in the process, that when they came in to take possession of the buildings, they removed Good Shepherd's signs directing the poor and the homeless to the new location of their soup kitchen!

But God had so much more provision, so much more in store for Matt and the people of Good Shepherd. The local Roman Catholic priest heard that Matt, his wife Anne+ and their four children were being evicted from the rectory and had no place to go, so he offered them the rectory of a vacant Roman Catholic church right there in town! The old rectory at Good Shepherd Episcopal had only 3 bedrooms, one bathroom upstairs (for a family of 6), and no air conditioning. The new rectory they moved into has 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms and air conditioning.

But it gets even better.

Matt was praying about the vacant Roman Catholic church and within days of his prayers, the priest called him up and offered the church, the storage facility, the parking lot, and the attached school to the people of Good Shepherd rent-free. The whole campus was appraised at $720,000, and Matt and the people of God Shepherd had saved up only $150,000 to purchase a place to worship. Buying the property seemed out of reach. They did not know this, but the priest was also on the finance committee of the Roman Catholic diocese. He came back to Matt and said, "We can't offer you the building for $720,000 - we are going to knock off $200,000 and offer it to you for $500,000... and with the equity you will have in the building, you should have no problem getting a loan for the balance of $350,000."

And that's exactly what Matt and the people of Good Shepherd did. So right now, within four months of losing their court case and being evicted, they are worshipping in a church with a sanctuary that is four times the size of their old one, a parking lot that can accommodate 100-120 cars (as opposed to the 10-car parking lot they used to have) with a huge storage space, a rectory that is finally comfortable for Matt and his family, and a day school whose income is paying for their mortgage!

And as a result, their church is growing. They are attracting 20-30 college students from the local college every Sunday. They are growing in numbers, and in faith!

And so will you, as you put God first, you put his purposes first, you put his Kingdom first, you too will be first place on His providing agenda.
Read it all here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Thursday Night at the Cafe: It's Over

Mark Harris wonders why it's so quiet right now, writing, "It has been a month since the end of General Convention. The Archbishop of Canterbury has written from afar about the actions we took and the actions he believes the Anglican Communion might take. Otherwise there has been the usual bangs and thumps from various bloggers and then in the past two weeks an odd falling off of comments and even much news."

Why is it so quiet? Perhaps it's quiet because it's over.

Rowan Williams: Episcopal Church could face reduced status

From here:
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has suggested that the Episcopal Church may have to accept a secondary role in the Anglican Communion after voting to allow the ordination of gay bishops and blessings for same-sex unions.

Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, said in a statement from England that "very serious anxieties have already been expressed" about the pro-gay resolutions approved by the Episcopal Church at its General Convention in Anaheim, California.

While "there is no threat of being cast into outer darkness," Williams said, certain churches, including the Episcopal Church, may have to take a back seat in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue because their views on homosexuality do not represent the larger Anglican Communion.

Many of the world's Anglican churches oppose homosexuality as sinful and unbiblical.

"It helps to be clear about these possible futures, however much we think them less than ideal," Williams said, "and to speak about them not in apocalyptic terms of schism and excommunication but plainly as what they are—two styles of being Anglican."

Williams said the mechanics of a two-track system "will certainly need working out," but could well include the kinds of "cooperation in mission and service" that is currently shared between sister churches in the communion.

Episcopal Church officials in New York did not make an immediate response to Williams's statement. But Mark Harris, a member of the church's Executive Council, said on his blog, Preludium, that the archbishop "nicely and in his usual nuanced style essentially said that no one is fooled: . . . the Episcopal Church has strayed from the fold."

As head of the Church of England, Williams serves as spiritual guide of the Anglican Communion, a worldwide fellowship of churches that includes the 2.1 million-member Episcopal Church.

Though he lacks the power of a pope to enforce his will on the communion, Williams remains extraordinarily influential among Anglicans; he has proposed the two-tiered system several times in recent years as a way to make the communion's 38 provinces more mutually accountable.

At the start of the July 8-17 Episcopal convention, Williams urged the U.S. church not to take steps that would exacerbate Anglican tensions, which began to rise after the consecration of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire in 2003. Despite the warning, Episcopalians overwhelmingly voted to lift a de facto ban on the consecration of additional gay bishops and approved a broad local option for bishops who wish to allow gay and lesbian couples to receive nuptial blessings from the church.

At the end of the convention, Episcopal leaders sought to cut off criticism with a letter to Williams that described the measures as "more descriptive than prescriptive in nature"—more in keeping with a church that is ministering to a culture with rapidly changing understandings of homosexuality.

Williams responded July 27 with a pastoral, five-page reflection that gently chided Episcopalians for overturning centuries of Christian understanding of marriage and homosexuality without there being a wider consensus among Anglicans.

The archbishop also suggested that Anglicans could settle their differences with a proposed covenant that would outline acceptable beliefs and practices, particularly on divisive issues like homosexuality. Churches that could not agree to the covenant would be given a reduced role in the communion.

"Perhaps we are faced with the possibility rather of a 'two-track' model, two ways of witnessing to the Anglican heritage, one of which had decided that local autonomy had to be the prevailing value," he wrote.

"The question is not a simple one of human rights or human dignity," he said. "It is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences." By pressing ahead without wide consensus, the Episcopal Church "risks becoming unrecognizable" and renders itself "strange to Christian sisters and brothers across the globe," he said.

Susan Russell, president of the pro-gay Episcopal group Integrity USA, said that it is clear that the steps her church took in Anaheim "were contrary to what the archbishop said he hoped would happen."

But Russell said she does not expect Episcopalians to back off on consecrating gay bishops or blessing same-sex unions. In fact, she said, the Diocese of Los Angeles, where Russell is a priest, is expected to consider electing a gay or lesbian candidate as suffragan (assistant) bishop later this year.

Bishop-theologian N. T. (Tom) Wright of England, in a July 30 post on the Thinking Anglicans Web site, said the Canterbury statement drew wide-ranging reactions—from calling the archbishop "a hopeless liberal" to saying he "sold out to the conservatives." Said Wright: "There is much to welcome, and much whose implications need further unpacking."
Read it all here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How the boy wizard won over religious critics -- and the deeper meaning theologians now see in his tale

From the Boston Globe:
The world of religion was not, at first, particularly enthusiastic about the arrival of the Potter boy.

For several years, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series topped the American Library Association’s lists of the most-challenged books (reasons cited in 2001: “anti-family, occult/Satanism, religious viewpoint, and violence”). Evangelical Protestants were skeptical: would the positive depiction of wizardry mislead children? And some Catholics were worried too, ranging from Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), who warned that “subtle seductions” in the text could “corrupt the Christian faith,” to the Rev. Ronald A. Barker, a Wakefield priest who yanked the books from his parish school library.

But over the last several years, religion writers and thinkers have warmed to Harry - both Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine, and L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, have praised the latest film. The Christian Broadcasting Network, home of Pat Robertson, now features on its website a special section on “The Harry Potter Controversy,” with the acknowledgment, “Leading Christian thinkers have disparate views on the Harry Potter products, and how Christians should respond to them.”

At the same time, scholars of religion have begun developing a more nuanced take on the Potter phenomenon, with some arguing that the wildly popular series of books and films contains positive ethical messages and a narrative arc that is worthy of serious scholarly examination and even theological reflection. The scholars are primarily interested in what the books have to say about the two big issues that always preoccupy people of faith - morality and mortality - but some are also interested in what the series has to say about tolerance (Harry and friends are notably open to people and creatures who differ from them) and bullying, the nature and presence of evil in society, and the existence of the supernatural.

Scholarly interest in the Harry Potter books began long before the series was finished, and shows no signs of slowing. There have been several academic books, with titles such as “The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon” and “Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives.” The American Academy of Religion last fall offered a panel at its annual convention titled “The Potterian Way of Death: J. K. Rowling’s Conception of Mortality.” And there is a raft of articles in religion journals with titles including “Looking for God in Harry Potter” and “Engaging with the spirituality of Harry Potter,” as well as the more complex, “Harry Potter and the baptism of the imagination,” “Harry Potter and the problem of evil,” and the crowd-pleasing “Harry Potter and theological libraries.”

“There is a whole burgeoning field of religion and popular culture, not just looking at what exact parallels there are, does it jibe with religious beliefs or is it counter to religious beliefs, but looking at these stories as a reflection of the spiritual or religious sensibilities of the culture,” says Russell W. Dalton, an assistant professor of Christian education at Brite Divinity School in Texas and the author of “Faith Journey through Fantasy Lands: A Christian Dialogue with Harry Potter, Star Wars, and The Lord of the Rings.”

“When stories become as popular as the Harry Potter stories, they no longer simply reflect the religious views of the author, but become artifacts of the culture, and they say something about the culture that has embraced them,” Dalton says. “And that is certainly the case with Harry Potter.”

The academic interest in The Boy Who Lived is part of a larger search by religion scholars and writers for signs of faith, and in particular for echoes of the Christian narrative, in culture. The search is not new, though scholars have historically concentrated on high art - like painting and literature. More recently, religion journalists have turned their attention to popular culture, authoring books with titles like “The Gospel According to the Simpsons,” by Mark Pinsky, and “The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,” by Cathleen Falsani, while scholars are examining the role of religion in Madonna’s videos, in the Star Trek series, and on “Lost.”

“We have to be engaged with the conversation that’s going on in the public,” says Jeffrey H. Mahan, a professor of ministry, media and culture at the Iliff School of Theology in Colorado and an early proponent of studying religion and popular culture.

There is also a long history of children’s literature being used as a form of religious pedagogy. Amy Boesky, an associate professor of English at Boston College, says that the use of children’s literature to teach moral values goes back at least as far as Erasmus, who wrote during the Renaissance, and includes children’s classics from “The Pilgrim’s Progress,” published in 1678, to “A Wrinkle in Time,” published in 1962. The best known example is the seven-volume Chronicles of Narnia, written in the early 1950s by the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis, which, in addition to being entertaining fantasy literature, is often read as a Christian allegory featuring Aslan, a heroic lion and obvious Christ figure.

Although some scholars now see Harry Potter as a Christ-like figure, the parallels are subtler, and, undoubtedly, for many readers vastly overshadowed by a dizzying torrent of magical spells, strange creatures, and Quidditch games. Harry is, himself, a complex adolescent hero, haunted by the murder of his parents but at times conflicted about his own role in the world and unsettled, as anyone would be, by his mind’s strange connection with that of the series’s evil antagonist, Voldemort.

“The Potter books are not explicitly religious in the way that C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tales are, but there is a strong sense of evil, and issues of good and evil are not only philosophical issues but also theological issues,” says Gareth B. Matthews, a professor of philosophy at UMass Amherst.

Some scholars take the search for Gospel themes in the Harry Potter series quite far. Oona Eisenstadt, an assistant professor of religious studies at Pomona College, offers a particularly elaborate analysis, arguing that Rowling explores the complex natures of biblical characters by presenting two versions of each in the Potter books. Snape and Malfoy, she argues, represent competing understandings of Judas - each seeking to kill Dumbledore, but one because he is serving evil and one because destiny demands it. Eisenstadt sees Dumbledore and Harry, in different ways, as Christ figures - perhaps Harry representing the human Jesus, and Dumbledore the divine. And she posits that the New Testament depiction of elements of the Jewish community is represented by the goblins (unappealing bankers) and the Ministry of Magic (legalistic and small-minded).

“Rather than offering a one-to-one allegory which would shove a theology down the throats of her child readers, Rowling’s role doublings, her one-to-twos, are an invitation to them, and to us all, to think,” Eisenstadt writes.

Some religion scholars seem most interested in the Potter series as social commentary - in particular, they focus on Harry’s refusal to take part in the anti-Muggle bias demonstrated by some pure-blood witches and wizards, as well as the hostility toward giants and ghosts and other menacing magical creatures that some characters in the series evince. “One of the overall themes of the Harry Potter series has to do with race and race-based persecution,” says Lana A. Whited, a professor of English at Ferrum College in Virginia and the author of “The Ivory Tower And Harry Potter.” And Dalton, of Brite Divinity School, takes the argument a step further, suggesting that the series’s association of tolerance with the heroic characters is a critique of fundamentalism.

“To Dumbledore and Harry and his friends{hellip} it didn’t matter whether you were Muggle-born, or whether you were a giant,” Dalton says, “whereas clearly the Death Eaters, the evil ones, were intolerant of people who were unlike them.”

But not all scholars are quite so enthusiastic. Elizabeth Heilman, an associate professor of teacher education at Michigan State University and the editor of “Critical Perspectives on Harry Potter” says that, unlike Hermione, who adopts the cause of the house elves, “you don’t see Harry Potter ever taking up a cause for the sake of the downtrodden. He’s really a reluctant hero, and I’m not convinced the narrative has him effectively going beyond personal motives.”

The interest of religion scholars in the Potter series has intensified in the wake of the much-anticipated seventh and final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which was published in 2007. The question of whether Harry would die (Spoiler Alert!) was much debated before the book was released, and it doesn’t require a divinity degree to see the themes of sacrifice and resurrection in the resolution of that question.

“I remember anticipating book seven, and having conversations with my kids about whether Harry Potter would die, and a lot of that conversation was about to what extent Rowling was going to make this a Christian book: was Harry going to die and save the world?” says Stephen Prothero, a religion professor at Boston University.

The denouement (really: Spoiler Alert!) is the starting point for many religion scholars, because in the final scenes, Harry realizes “that his job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms,” Rowling writes. Harry allows himself to be killed - or at least struck by a killing curse - in order to save the wizarding world, but then returns to life, egged on by a vision of Dumbledore that tells Harry, “by returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart.” Harry then vanquishes Voldemort, and is described in the book as being seen by the crowd that witnessed the final battle as “their leader and symbol, their savior and their guide.”

“At the end of the last book, we have a dying and rising Potter - he has to be killed to deliver the world from the evil personified by Voldemort,” says Paul V.M. Flesher, director of the religious studies program at the University of Wyoming and the author of an article about Harry Potter for the Journal of Religion and Film. “There’s a Christian pattern to this story. It’s not just good versus evil. Rowling is not being evangelistic - this is not C.S. Lewis - but she knows these stories, and it’s clear she’s fitting pieces together in a way that makes sense and she knows her readers will follow.”

Rowling herself, in the wake of the final book’s publication, says she thought the religious themes had “always been obvious,” and scholars note there were at least two unattributed quotations from the New Testament in the series, one on the tomb of Dumbledore’s mother and sister (“Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” from Matthew), and one on the tomb of Harry’s mother and father (“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” from I Corinthians).

Harry’s ultimate struggle with death has cemented the romance between religion scholars and the Potter series, the initial controversies over wands and wizardry now largely overshadowed by discussion of Harry’s character and life choices.

“Rather than decrying as wicked certain elements of the series - as far too many Christians have done - we ought to be inviting our communities into deeper appreciation of both the similarities and the contrasts between the stories and our Christian faith,” Mary Hess, of Luther Seminary in Minnesota, writes in the journal Word & World.

Sure enough, Leonie Caldecott, writing in Christian Century a few months after the publication of book seven, opines, “As is revealed in ‘Deathly Hallows,’ far from trying to cheat death, Harry willingly embraces death when he comes to understand that this is necessary to save others, and not just those he particularly loves.”

Dumbledore, early in the series, makes clear his own views on this subject, saying, “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

At the American Academy of Religion conference, panelists mined the final scene, as well as other depictions of death in the Potter series, for meaning. Paul Corey, a religious studies lecturer at McMaster University in Canada, rhetorically asked, “What is the difference between a Christian and a Death Eater?” as a starting point for thinking about how Voldemort’s quest to conquer death might differ from, or resemble, the desire of Christians for eternal life in heaven. And Lois Shepherd, a bioethicist at the University of Virginia, said she found in the series an argument against prolonging physical life at all costs - a rejection of what she called a “quest to avoid death” that she said was played out in the real-world debate over Terri Schiavo.

“Death, in the philosophy of the series, is not to be feared,” Shepherd says. “It is in fact those who fear death the most - Voldemort being the supreme example - who engage in unspeakable acts of evil.”
Read it all here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Archbishop of Canterbury now recognizes that The Episcopal Church is walking apart

From the Church of England Newspaper, Andrew Carey reports:
It’s been a week full of bad hair days for Anglican liberals. Their worst nightmare came to pass. Not one but two of Anglicanism’s world-renowned theologians made statements that had liberals fulminating, frothing and spitting in rage.

Firstly, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s surprisingly strong reaction to The Episcopal Church’s General Convention dealt a final blow to the bizarre pretence by the American leadership that their controversial resolutions were merely descriptive. Dr Williams realized that ‘pastoral generosity’ amounted to a green light for same-sex blessings, and that the reference to ‘no’ extra-canonical restraints on Episcopal elections was a turning away from an already very weak moratorium on the consecration of practising homosexuals.

Furthermore, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s clear recognition that the Episcopal Church was walking even further apart from the Anglican Communion was followed by strong language of a twin-track communion — with the Episcopal Church on the outside track.

Many liberals can scarcely conceal their sense of betrayal at the Archbishop of Canterbury’s defence of the ecumenical, traditional and biblical consensus on human sexuality. They thought he was one of them when he was appointed. After seeing off Carey, they were certain that good old Rowan would support a gradual overturning of Christian teaching on marriage and sexuality. Instead, he has supported Lambeth Resolution 1.10 as the ‘mind of the Communion’ at every stage. Perhaps he is now more aware than ever that the novel, liberal teaching on homosexuality would represent a massive departure from universal Christian norms and our ecumenical partners?

And then the worst nightmare came, the New Testament theologian, NT Wright, added his voice to the Archbishop’s censure of The Episcopal Church. Let’s not forget that this is a theologian who demolishes weak, tendentious and dishonest theologies for breakfast while the rest of us are blearily chewing our Weetabix. The Bishop of Durham both supported the Archbishop of Canterbury’s analysis but also called for immediate action to twin-track the Communion now. Don’t wait for the Covenant and the endless delaying tactics of The Episcopal Church, he warned, the Communion can be restructured tomorrow allowing a substantial and faithful remnant within The Episcopal Church to rally around the Anaheim statement with its declaration of loyalty to the Communion.

He was described as ‘megalomaniacal’ by Colin Coward of Changing Attitude for this contribution to the debate. But an even clearer sign that the archiepiscopal broadside had rattled the liberals was the knee-jerk statement by 13 liberal organizations, including Inclusive Church.

The statement’s muttering about strengthening bonds of affection “with those … who share our commitment to the full inclusion of all of God’s faithful”, together with their criticism of a “two-track communion” amounted to a declaration of guerrilla warfare in the Church of England.

The initial thinking is not just to strengthen ties with liberals in North America, but to encourage the creation of an Episcopal chaplaincy in England along the lines of the Convocation of American Churches in Europe.

But they are also intent on planting more facts on the ground. It has worked in North America, so why not here? The first initiative is a survey of gay and lesbian clergy in the Church of England in an attempt to demonstrate that far from being anomalous these relationships and civil partnerships are widely accepted. This might amount to a massive exercise in ‘outing’ clergy, but it could, in fact, be groups like Inclusive Church who are exaggerating the numbers of practising homosexuals in ministry. The other declaration in the statement is that they will “continue to work towards liturgical and sacramental recognition of the God-given love which enables many LGBT couples to thrive”. This is another aspect of planting facts on the ground, with the stepping up of same-sex blessings despite the fact that these are not permitted in the Church of England.

In other words, lawlessness on the part of those who claim to uphold the law of the Church of England and who have criticized evangelicals and others for undermining canon law.

Read it all here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

A complete unknown?

NEW UPDATE: Yep. See at end of this post.

Got to wondering if Mr. Dylan was out "visiting" again (see story below). He has been building a track record of late: see here and here. It's not the first time he's been seen leaving the company bus.

So, just who might have lived in Long Branch, New Jersey? A person did come to mind overnight and then checked it out this morning - yep, too good to be true - guess who was born in Long Branch, New Jersey?

Yes, the celebration is on over the 40th anniversary of Woodstock. Ever wonder why the concert was at Woodstock and not, say, Milwaukee?

In 1966 there was a major motorcycle crash that shook the rock world. The injured musician ducked out the lime-light and went off into the shadows after five intense years of turning the world up-side-down.

In 1969 there was an attempt to coax him out and so the venue was picked to hold a major rock concert not far from the musician's home. Where did the musician live? Woodstock. And who was the musician? Bob Dylan.

But he didn't come out, he stayed home and the landmark concert simply called Woodstock went on without him.

Now it's forty years later and apparently someone missed the memo. From ABC News (with tip of the tinfoil to Doug):

Bob Dylan was detained by police in Long Branch, N.J. last month, when a young officer failed to recognize him, police said. The officer proceeded to go to earnest lengths to ensure the hooded, disheveled, rain-soaked music legend was, in fact, who he said he was.

Dylan, 68, one of the most celebrated, eccentric artists in American history, was in the area on July 23 as part of a national concert tour -- a fact lost on 24-year-old Long Branch police officer Kristie Buble.

To hear the young New Jersey police officer describe it, the scene was like something out of one of Dylan's epic song-poems: It was pouring rain, Dylan was soaked and wandering alone, far from the traveling home of his entourage of tour buses.

When Dylan wandered into the yard of a home that had a "For Sale" sign on it, the home's occupants became spooked by his appearance and called police with a report of an "eccentric-looking old man" in their yard, Long Branch Police said. One of the occupants even went so far as to follow Dylan as he continued on down the street.

And what does this event remind us of? Apparently it's not the first time he's been off wandering - as we see here and here. But this is the first one that comes to mind, off Modern Times:

LATER: Speaking of Woodstock, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this week, it is interesting to reflect that why a generation was finding it's way to Woodstock, Bob Dylan was blocking the door. He actually got there first.

In fact, it was during this period forty years ago and following the Woodstock carnival that he finally gave up on living in Woodstock, packing up his family and heading out. He'd show up in the Isle of Wight Festival, where the Beatles showed up in the audience, and then did the landmark Bangladesh benefit concert for George Harrison. But it wasn't until the Rolling Thunder Tour that Dylan went back to the stage with gusto, reclaiming his legendary status and fame but loosing everything he had achieved in Woodstock.

Here's an article from today from Gannet that reflects on Dylan's late Woodstock years when the big happening at Yasgur's Farm (NOTE: The photo does not look like he's dressed to head over to Yasgur's Farm, having left his hipster-self out on :
He writes prose with a conversational tone suited for a bus driver talking with a lone passenger on an hours-long excursion.

Unknown by most beyond his music and lyrics, he reveals insecurities, peculiarities, irritations and longings. Bob Dylan, in his memoir, "Chronicles: Vol. 1," often comes across as one of the hundreds of lyrical characters he has sung about for decades.

"Chronicles," which was published in 2004, offers up dozens of tasty tidbits that will leave fans of his music watering at the mouth and students of 20th-century history turning pages.

When Dylan moved to Woodstock, he had achieved fame, shunned public adoration and was reveling in his role as a father.

Dylan and longtime Woodstock musician Happy Traum were close friends, played music together and socialized with their families.

"We became very friendly," says Traum, who played on Dylan's landmark, two-album set, "Greatest Hits Vol. 2." "He was staying at home a lot back then - he was just a parent. He had some kids the same age as my kids. They were friendly."

"Early on, Woodstock had been very hospitable to us," Dylan wrote.

But, "... intruders started to break in day and night. Tensions mounted almost immediately and peace was hard to come by."

The magic with which Dylan has written some of history's most memorable songs and colorful characters is reflected in his prose.

"Moochers showed up from as far away as California on pilgrimages. Goons were breaking into our place all hours of the night. At first, it was harmless enough, but then rogue radicals looking for the Prince of Protest began to arrive - unaccountable-looking characters, gargoyle-looking gals, scarecrows, stragglers looking to party, raid the pantry."

Dylan had two pistols and a Winchester rifle. "But," he wrote, "it was awful to think about what could be done with those things."

The Woodstock chief of police told the songwriter he would go to jail if anyone was shot accidentally. Also, "creeps thumping their boots across our roof could even take me to court if any of them fell off," he wrote.

Dylan added, "I wanted to set fire to these people."

Woodstock Police Chief Harry Baldwin said in 2004 the same laws still stood in Woodstock.

"Just because somebody is trespassing," Baldwin said, "if you shoot them for trespassing, you'd be in big trouble."

Recalling events that occurred when he and Dylan were close, Traum said, "There were definitely stalkers and people who would come from great distances to worship at his feet."

Regarding Dylan's book, Traum said, "In many ways, I think it was exaggerated. I can only say what I saw from the outside."

Traum recalled Woodstock residents, as opposed to out-of-towners, respecting Dylan's privacy and refusing requests for directions to his house.

"I think he might remember the negative parts more," Traum said.

Mary Lou Paturel in the 1960s ran the Espresso Cafe - now the Center for Photography at Woodstock - and rented an upstairs room to Dylan. Paturel said Dylan liked red wine, could be a private person, but was not completely averse to socializing.

"He had many, many moods," said Paturel, who is a Woodstock resident. "He was just a person who had different moods for different moments."

In his memoir, Dylan takes the reader on journeys to other regions of the country - St. Paul and Minneapolis, Minn., where he explored folk music and devoured Woody Guthrie songs; to the folk scene of Greenwich Village, where he crashed on couches and braved the cold; and to New Orleans, where he recorded his album "Oh Mercy," the process of which is described in detail that is both tedious and fascinating.

But only Woodstock, the community nestled in the mountains, gets truly singed by Dylan's pen.

"Each day and night was fraught with difficulties," he writes about Woodstock. "Everything was wrong."
Read it all here.

Chronicles Vol. I is excellent and rumors abound he's working on Volume II. Even his autobiography carries biblical connotations.

His "second crash" was a humdinger. He responded by going back to the roots, just as he did in the infamous one. One actually could say that Dylan has had three major crashes as evidence in his music: the literal motorcycle crash of 1966, the crash on the domestic tracks in 1977, and the near death-bed crash in 1997 when he "thought he'd be seeing Elvis soon" and the radio stations were preparing for his passing. Each of these "crashes" has produced extraordinary periods of creative genius, in my opinion, and with each of these crashes he went back to the roots of music.

The first crash obviously is the mysterious motorcycle crash of 1966 that led to his withdrawl from public life for at least four years, but also produced the infamous Basement Tapes and a return to the roots of music.

His second crash in 1977 led to a personal spiritual revival that produced Slow Train Coming and an entire catalogue of gospel compositions that are not only standing the test of time, they are in revival themselves right now. However, it also produced more booing, booing he hadn't seen since he plugged in at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. His 60s-era fans still like to pretend it never happened. How could Bob Dylan find Jesus?

The third crash, on reflection, seems to be when he was hospitalized in 1997 for a life-theatening heart infection. He had just finished Time Out of Mind, one of his great albums, and he survived the illness. He has been on a roll ever since, like a man raised from the dead, blazing through a creative expeditition like a man who has the "blood of the land" (fun pun, Bob) "in his voice."

SATURDAY AFTERNOON UPDATE: RWB has his excellent commentary over at his place. He picks up more from the wires on the story, including:

The incident began at 5 p.m. when a resident said a man was wandering around a low-income, predominantly minority neighborhood several blocks from the oceanfront looking at houses.


Dylan was in Long Branch, about a two-hour drive south of New York City, on July 23 as part of a tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp that was to play at a baseball stadium in nearby Lakewood.

A 24-year-old police officer apparently was unaware of who Dylan is and asked him for identification, Long Branch business administrator Howard Woolley said Friday.

“I don’t think she was familiar with his entire body of work,” Woolley said.


The police officer drove up to Dylan, who was wearing a blue jacket, and asked him his name. According to Woolley, the following exchange ensued:

“What is your name, sir?” the officer asked.

“Bob Dylan,” Dylan said.

“OK, what are you doing here?” the officer asked.

“I’m on tour,” the singer replied.

A second officer, also in his 20s, responded to assist the first officer. He, too, apparently was unfamiliar with Dylan, Woolley said.

The officers asked Dylan for identification. The singer of such classics as “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” said that he didn’t have any ID with him, that he was just walking around looking at houses to pass some time before that night’s show.

The officers asked Dylan, 68, to accompany them back to the Ocean Place Resort and Spa, where the performers were staying. Once there, tour staff vouched for Dylan.

The officers thanked him for his cooperation.

“He couldn’t have been any nicer to them,” Woolley added.

RWB contrasts Dylan's response with being confronted in a neighborhood by the police with a recent infamous incident that called in the President of the United States. Looks like Barry won't be getting a call on this one.

RWB picks up the story with this gem, writing "A lot more details on this in a story by Chris Francescani at ABC, in which the police officer concerned speaks for herself. She maintains she knew who Bob Dylan was, in general terms, but didn’t believe that this guy was Bob Dylan. It’s quite hilarious." Here's the story:

Following her police training, [Officer Kristie] Buble said she indulged him.

“OK Bob, why don’t you get in the car and we’ll drive to the hotel and go verify this?’ ” she said she told him. “I put him in the back of the car. To be honest with you, I didn’t really believe this was Bob Dylan. It never crossed my mind that this could really be him.”

Buble made small talk on the ride to the hotel, asking her detainee where he was playing, she said, but never really believing a word he said.

“He was really nice, though, and he said he understood why I had to verify his identity and why I couldn’t let him go,” Buble said. “He asked me if I could drive him back to the neighborhood when I verified who he was, which made me even more suspicious.

“I pulled into the parking lot,” she said, “and sure enough there were these enormous tour buses, and I thought, ‘Whoa.’”

Whoa, indeed. Great story, great ending. Question of the Day - was he indeed looking for Springsteen's birthplace? What do ya say, Boss?


Yep, turns out Mr. Dylan was in the neighborhood where Bruce Springsteen wrote Born to Run. Heh! ABC News is now speculating:

Was Bob Dylan looking for the home where Bruce Springsteen wrote "Born to Run" in 1974 when he was detained by police near the Jersey shore last month?

The 68-year-old music legend was picked up one Thursday last month by a 24-year-old cop who failed to recognize him as he walked the streets of Long Branch, N.J. in the pouring rain.

It may have been as simple as it appears: Dylan told police he was talking a walk and looking at a home for sale.

But the area where Dylan was picked up was just a couple blocks from the beachside bungalow where Bruce Springsteen wrote the material for his landmark 1975 album "Born to Run."

In the past nine months, Dylan has visited the childhood homes of Neil Young and John Lennon, in both cases appearing without fanfare and barely identifying himself after he was recognized.

What ABC News misses the rather significant detail that \that Bruce Springsteen was actually BORN in Long Branch, but grew up in Freehold, New Jersey. He may have written Born to Run there when he grew up, but the fact remain he was born to run there.

Here we go:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bishop Lawrence calls for a Special Convention for the Diocese of South Carolina

A must-read here. One part particular section stands out to us here at the Cafe:
The Archbishop has expressed in section 25 of “Communion, Covenant and our Anglican Future” his strong hope that “elements” [dioceses?] will adopt the Covenant. I believe we ought to sign on to the Ridley Draft of the Covenant as it presently stands in all four sections. (If it means we need to withdraw from a lawsuit we withdraw from a lawsuit). Therefore we need to begin the process of studying the Ridley Draft in every deanery and parish and be prepared to vote on it either in the special convention in October or, if that’s too ambitious a time frame, no later than our Annual Diocesan Convention in March 2010.

You need to know that the Anglican Communion Development Committee has already had its first meeting and will begin this fall to vigorously establish relationships with a broad array of Provinces across the Communion. You have heard me speak of this often, including during my Bishop’s Address last March. This still strikes me as one of the most important activities we should pursue. We can work with several of the Provinces within the Communion, and, if they are so inclined to partner with us, we should work with GAFCON and ACNA from within TEC to further gospel initiatives.
Do note the willingness, for the sake of Christian unity, to stand down from the lawsuits that have been underway for quite a while between the Diocese of South Carolina and AMiA parishes. It is an example of Lincoln's own prayer for the revival of the south, "with malice towards none, with charity toward all," especially when it comes to those in ACNA and those outside the gates. May it be so, though it seems to have taken an Anglican Covenant to make it so, so be it. The open door of entering into indeed what the Archbishop of Canterbury prayed, that we would find common mission when we do have common mission indeed between the ACNA and the Diocese of South Carolina - is there courage to say this is so? It was right there in front of all to see at General Convention, if one had eyes to see it.

Read it all here - and indeed, all our prayers do go out to the people of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. What does concern us, though, at this late hour is that the talk appears to be ten, fifteen years too late. And ten, fifteen years ago this type of talk was given, statements made, statements signed. The work is all ready done. The sentiments are exemplary, no doubt, and welcomed. But the reality on the ground is something else. This talk was focused on the clergy of the Diocese of South Carolina - but it is the laity who hold the purse.

Photo from the consecration of Bishop Mark Lawrence, January 2008.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poetry Reading: Joseph Brodsky reads Odysseus to Telemachus

One of my most-favorite poets and creative essay writers is Joseph Brodsky. There are many videos of him online reading and speaking in Russian. This is one of the few of him reading his poem, Odysseus to Telemachus in English.

I wrote about Brodsky three years ago:
Joseph Brodsky was a Russian poet who was forced into exile by the Soviet government and he immigrated to the United States, later becoming an American citizen. “I’m the happiest combination you can think of," Brodsky said, after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. "I’m a Russian poet, an English essayist, and an American citizen!”

I remember the night I met Joseph Brodsky. I had gone to an evening reading where he was reading his poetry. I had taken my copy of his collected essays Less Than One for him to sign. After the reading I went up to him to get the book signed. People ahead of me all had their brand new copies of his books to sign and I realized - with some horror - that my copy was so worn from my constant reading and re-reading, full of underlined passages and my comments in the margins, it was nearly falling apart. It was bent and dogeared and I thought, oh my God, why didn't I have the sense to go get a new copy? But it was too late and suddenly it was my turn to face the poet.

I handed him my copy of Less Than One hoping he wouldn't be too insulted of what I had done to his book. I hung my head, expecting the worse. He was my favorite living poet. Look what I had done to his book.

He took my copy in his hands and turned it over and over and over again. I realized that others standing around were also watching and I wanted to disappear into the floor. What was he doing? Then he looked at me and smiled, really smiled. I was astonished. Why was he smiling? Finally, he opened to the first page, paused a moment, then wrote something more than his name.

"To Mary," he wrote, "from the man behind these words. Joseph Brodsky."

I didn't realize it until that moment, but I had paid him the highest compliment. He handed me back the book, laughing. I wasn't just a reader. I was his student.
He came to mind tonight and so again we toast his memory. He left us too soon. More posts on Brodsky here. Here's one from 2007:

Stone Villages
The stone-built villages of England.
A cathedral bottled in a pub window.
Cows dispersed across fields.
Monuments to kings.

A man in a moth-eaten suit
sees a train off, heading, like everything here, for the sea,
smiles at his daughter,
leaving for the East.

A whistle blows.

And the endless sky over the tiles
grows bluer as swelling birdsong fills.
And the clearer the song is heard,
the smaller the bird.

J. Brodsky

Wednesday Night at the Cafe: Man in the Long Black Coat

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Question: What if it's more about class than race?

Camille Paglia asks the question.

It's on my mind because my home parish is caught up with some major challenges coming from the local City of Fairfax over our hosting Love the World Fellowship on Sundays for worship and a community meal (last week's meal was provided as a gift from the excellent Brion's Grille in Fairfax).

Truro was charged by the City's zoning administrator with "serving charitable meals" in a residential area (never mind the church has been on the property since the 1840s, long before the city itself was established and it was just a dusty crossroads with a courthouse). Fortunately the Board of Zoning Appeals overturned that ruling. Unfortunately, the City Council is considering appealing that ruling to the Circuit Court (and let's not get into the federal issues that would spring from that regarding the Constitutional freedoms of free religious exercise, especially in a church that's been "serving charitable meals" inside the current building for the last fifty years!). In fact, a member of the Board of Zoning Appeals reminded his fellow members that the very nature of church worship involves a meal and he was right. It's at the heart of who we are as Christians.

But it's not about serving charitable meals, is it? Is it about race - is it about the fact that the vast majority of those who are participating in the worship and the meal are men and women of color? Perhaps. But reading Camille Paglia's piece tonight causes me to pause and wonder if it's not completely about race, but about class. For these aren't just men and women of color, these are men and woman who are homeless.

Fairfax City has just been awarded the distinction of being the #3 best place to live in America. It has changed remarkably in the past few years and the downtown is now a series of restaurants and a few shops, though it has been hit hard by the current recession. Even so, it's a wonderful place to be.

There's a spectacular new public library and a new post office and a brand new courthouse as well all inside the city limits. Trees have been planted, street lanterns have been lit, and new homes have been built inside the city limits. It is a beautiful place to live - but for whom? What is the ambiance that is being created and for whom? Are all welcome here or it implied that the spectrum is narrow? Its' true, Fairfax City does feel more like Palo Alto these days than a pass-through for DC commuters heading to Middleburg. And seeing lines of homeless men and women waiting to get into church does not exactly fit the bill of the #3 City in the nation.

In that vision, though, is there no room for the poor and if so, at the end of the day, is that really a beautiful city?

Here's an excerpt from Camille Paglia's latest column, where she asks the question if we're dealing with issues of class - in a country that is not supposed to be about class:
Obama made the terrible gaffe of declaring that, even without his knowing the full facts, Cambridge, Mass., police had acted "stupidly" in arresting a friend of his, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Obama's automatic identification with the pampered Harvard elite (wildly unpopular with most sensible people), as well as his insulting condescension toward an officer doing his often dangerous duty, did serious and perhaps irreparable damage to the president's standing. The strained, prissy beer summit in the White House garden afterward didn't help. Is that the Obama notion of hospitality? Another staff breakdown.

Both Gates and Obama mistakenly assumed that the original incident at Gates' house was about race, when it was about class. It was the wealthy, lordly Gates who committed the first offense by instantly and evidently hysterically defaming the character of the officer who arrived at his door to investigate the report of a break-in. There was no excuse for Gates' loud and cheap charges of racism, which he should have immediately apologized for the next day, instead of threatening lawsuits and self-aggrandizing television exposés. On the other hand, given that Cambridge is virtually a company town, perhaps police headquarters should have dispatched a moderator to the tumultuous scene before a small, disabled Harvard professor was clapped in handcuffs and marched off to jail. But why should an Ivy League panjandrum be treated any differently from the rest of us hoi polloi?

Class rarely receives honest attention in the American media, as demonstrated by the reporting on a June incident at a swimming pool in the Philadelphia suburbs. When the director of the Valley Swim Club in Montgomery County cancelled its agreement with several urban day camps to use its private pool, the controversy was portrayed entirely in racial terms. There were uninvestigated allegations of remarks about "black kids" made by white mothers who ordered their children out of the pool, and the racial theme was intensified by the director's inept description of the "complexion" of the pool having been changed -- which may simply have been a whopper of a Freudian slip.

Having followed the coverage in the Philadelphia media, I have lingering questions about how much of that incident was race and how much was social class. Urban working-class and suburban middle-class children often have quite different styles of play -- as I know from present observation as well as from my Syracuse youth, when I regularly biked to the public pool in Thornden Park. Kids of all races from downtown Syracuse neighborhoods were much rougher and tougher, and for self-preservation you had to stay out of their way! Otherwise, you'd get knocked to the concrete or dunked when they heedlessly jumped off the diving board onto our heads in the crowded pool.

In general, middle-class children today are more closely supervised at pools because the family can afford to have a non-working parent at home -- a luxury that working-class kids rarely have. What happened at the Valley Swim Club, whose safety infrastructure was evidently also overwhelmed by too many visiting kids who were non-swimmers, may have been a clash of classes rather than races. Were the mothers who pulled their kids out of the pool that day really reacting to skin color or what they, accurately or not, perceived to be an overcrowded, dangerous disorder? The incontrovertible offense in all this, which went unmentioned in the national media, was the closure for budgetary reasons by the city of Philadelphia this summer of 27 of its 73 public pools. There is no excuse for that kind of draconian curtailment of basic recreational facilities for working-class families, sweltering in the urban summer heat.

Read it all here. What happens when two hundred homeless men and women and their children gather inside a church in the City of Fairfax for worship and a meal on a Sunday afternoon? Does that make the city worse for it?

Or does it in fact make it a real city with real people with real needs, a beautiful city, a city that welcomes all.

A city with a heart.