Plastic bags

Here is an interesting presentation on the environmental impact of those little plastic bags that we get at the grocery stores. I try to do my part - as a Christian and as an American (which means that my part is bigger than many others') to recycle, to minimize my energy use and ecological footprint in general (since it is already disproportionately huge).

Personally, I prefer the old paper bags anyways, I would love to see them make a resurgence. Especially the really nice ones that had handles.



Patriarch responds to Muslim theologians

You may remember that some months ago 138 Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to various Christian teachers and leaders of major Christian Churches including the pope, the major Orthodox Patriarchs, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the heads of Lutheran and Methodist world-communions, and others asking for dialogue and a warming of relationships between the world's largest two religions.

Recently I read a response from Patriarch Alexy II, of the Russian Orthodox Church, that welcomes such a dialogue, while being careful to stress the need to guard the total theological integrity of both faiths. As an example, his letter includes a wonderful description of the character of God, working mostly from 1 John - explaining what we mean when we say that "God is love" and why this necessitates our belief in the Trinity, and how it also finds ultimate expression in our belief in the atoning death of Christ on the cross (both of which are, of course, explicitly rejected in the Koran). It's a wonderful expression of some of the foundation stones of classical Christian faith. I recommend it!

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Protestants and contraception

Last semester, a young man from the Catholic Campus ministry at ULL came to my office wanting to know what Methodists throught about contraception. He was writing a paper for a class on the subject of contraception and one of his campus ministers suggested that he come talk with me for an alternative view.

I explained to him basically that The Book of Discipline, in the Social Principles, contains official guidelines for social issues, but that (unlike the doctrinal and legal parts of the Discipline) they lack the force of Church Law. In any case, the Social principles don't really have much to say about birth control - except that we do not accept abortion as a means of birth control. So I did my best to offer a vague, situational, and "it's complicated" response to his question.

This is an issue of some interest to me because I feel it is likely that (as on the issue of divorce) Protestants in the West have by-and-large put the broader Christian ethical teachings on the back burner in favor of our own cultural assumptions (the Lambeth Conference famously flip-flopped on this issue after just a few decades).

As I began to read about this here and there, I learned that most of the anti-contraception laws that were struck down in the 50s and 60s had been put in place by the efforts of Protestant and Evangelical Church leaders in the 19th century. I began to wonder 'why are the Roman Catholics the only major US Christian group that holds this view today?'

One Sunday School teacher at the Methodist Church I attended in Dallas used this issue in passing to explain the four-fold way of theology (Scripture, Tradition, Reason, and Experience), saying "For example, the Roman Catholic position on contraception is simply not reasonable" without offering much further explanation, since it was (I suppose) self-evidently the case in her view.

I remember immediately wondering how well aquainted with Roman Catholic positions, or with ecumenical Tradition this person was. In my experience most Methodists are not very well aquainted with either (one reason the four-fold way of theology doesn't usually work for us - another is a tendency to assert that something does or does not "contradict reason" without doing the harder work of step by step logical analysis to back up that assertion).

From my barely cursory familiarity with Roman teachings on the body and sexuality, my impression was that they were generally much more thought out, deeply rooted, and internally coherent and intrinsically beautiful than Protestant teachings on sex which rarely go beyond "before you do it, first get in a Biblical marriage covenant." The Book of Discipline seems to stammer even in saying that much, though the Bible and the early Fathers do not.

I've been saying for years (and I said this to that young man who showed up in my office) that I need to just sit down and read Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that really articulated all this. I hear that John Paul II's Man and Woman he created them: A theology of the Body is also very good.

I know lots of Protestants are beginning to take interest in the theology of sex and reproduction, and Roman Catholic sources are usually more advanced intellectual touchstones for this (the rapidly rising profile of Homosexuality in our pop-culture in recent years is perhaps forcing us to think these things through more than we are accustomed to). I got to thinking about all this recently because I ran across this article at Duke Divinity School's website about Protestants who are taking interest in Roman Catholic teachings on 'natural family planning.' Now I'm not saying that I am endorsing a Roman position on contraception. At present I am not. But I am asking the question.

What about you guys? Have you given much theological attention to sex and contraception? Have you read Humanae Vitae? Do you feel threatened by the suggestion that the Roman Catholic Church might be right about some of this stuff? Are the historic Protestant Churches (Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, etc.) prepared to have a serious biblical and theological discussion on these issues even if it means taking positions that are at odds with our culture?

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Wesley: The Movie

Has anyone else heard about This? Now, I've often thought that I at least would enjoy a movie about this fascinating 18th century Anglican priest. But it wasn't until after the release of Amazing Grace that I thought there might actually be 1) a big enough market and 2) a way to do it well.

I have no idea if these guys are going to do it well, or even get a very broad release. But we'll see, I guess.

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Pittsburgh quits Episcopal Church

The Diocese of Pittsburg voted to leave The Episcopal Church (TEC) on Saturday and to realign with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone based in Argentina. Pittsburgh is the second diocese to leave the church and it is expected that one or two more may follow this year. Click here for story.



Does online social networking inhibit real friendship?

I'm a facebook user. Bigtime. A few weeks ago I commented to my father (rather sarcastically) that thanks to facebook, I can continuously 'catch up' with old friends - about what has been going on in their lives - without even bothering with talking to them, just by reading their profiles! The message exchange has replaced much of our phone conversation, which in turn replaced much of our face-to-face conversation.

I wonder how this could potentially affect us spiritually? Here is a very interesting article from The Christian Century addressing just this concern:

"...We may have multiple social networks and thousands of acquaintances and still find ourselves profoundly lonely. A sociological study found that between 1985 and 2004 the average American's number of close confidants declined from three to two, and that those reporting "no close confidants" jumped from 10 to 25 percent. Lynn Smith-Lovin, one of the study's authors, noted that "you usually don't expect major features of social life to change very much from year to year or even decade to decade." But the data suggest a "remarkable drop" in the number and quality of friendships in American culture..."

What shall the Church do in such a time as this?
Perhaps I may even be more specific - how can the United Methodist Church, committed as we are to moving our ministers around, at the same time also remain committed to nurturing authentic community?