Since Christopher Hitchens, renowned atheist and author, was diagnosed with esophageal cancer this summer, it seems everyone has started praying. Some are praying for his salvation, some that he will burn in hell, some pray that he will recover, and others pray that the spirit in which he lives his life – the wine-loving, controversy-inciting, love-to-hate him atheist – will continue in his life and his death.
Hitchens’ father died of esophageal cancer at the age of 79. It happened quickly in a time when medicine offered few treatment options. The junior Hitchens is 61, and while doctors have prescribed a rigorous regimen of what Hitchens calls chemo-poison, for the most part, effective detection and treatment of esophageal cancer remains a mystery. The odds are not good…
To prove a religious point, Moses turned his staff into a serpent before Pharaoh. On another occasion he drew water from a rock when he struck it. To the same end, Muhammad had a winged steed that flew him to the furthest mosque, to heaven and hell, and then back to earth. Then there is Jonah and the big fish, and Jesus and the fig tree; both signs to make a point. More contemporary (and less supernatural) signs include the work of Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary who began a campaign to send Bibles to Glenn Beck, and Terry Jones, pastor of the Gainesville, Florida church that threatened to burn copies of the Quran on September 11, they have the holy books themselves.
What’s the point of these signs, mythical or otherwise? Done well, grand demonstrations primarily help to affirm the faith of believers and are meant to convince non-believers to believe. It’s not the motive that’s important, but the sign itself…
I am writing to ask that you stop suggesting I have a baby. It’s true that I’ve been married nearly a year, and though you may think that relationship status, married; gender, female; and birth year, smack in the middle of childbearing range makes for a winning combination for baby advertisements, I’d like to remind you that my husband and I do not require offspring to harvest our Farmville crops.
In most cases, the ads you’ve posted next to my newsfeed are spot on. My current favorite dress is the result of an ad for that hip mail-order clothing boutique you often display. I appreciate reconnecting with friends from high school and college. Without your subtle, square suggestions, I would go on years without even thinking of people who, thanks to you, I can now call friends.
I should also thank you for the integral role you played in those first few electrifying days of my relationship with my now-husband. Because of you, we discovered commonalities like our Texas childhoods and love of beer. You also pointed out a mutual friend, and even though the mutual friend told now-husband that I may or may not be interested in men, it made for interesting first date conversation. Once that was cleared up, we made it official by alerting our Facebook community that we were in a relationship…
I recently spent several days at the annual sessions of the Religious Society of Friends in New England. Think of it as a Quaker conference, where a good sound system is necessary even though hours at a time are spent in silence. It was the 350th year that New England Quakers had gathered in this manner, and often the gathering had been held, as it was this year, in Rhode Island.
The theme was Jubilee. Friends were asked to approve all agenda items together, with minimal discussion, so that the bulk of our time together could be spent waiting to hear God’s call for our witness in the world. This required an incredible amount of trust, but despite some hesitation, the business was completed quickly and we began to wait.
Some Quakers would say it’s not possible to explain what happens in the silent worship we share. Often, silence was interrupted by sounds of fidgeting and shifting, but every so often, this white noise would cease as the silence grew palpably thick…
There’s slow food, slow money, and now slow reading. The Guardian recently published an article by Patrick Kingsley on The Art of Slow Reading that has been making its way around the webosphere. Kingsley and other slow readers advocate for finishing the texts we start. They want us to borrow and lend books, to read aloud, to not click blindly from hyperlink to hyperlink.
I’m a fan of slow food, of taking my time in gathering and preparing and eating. I even practice slow money, though it’s due to the size of my paycheck more than any particular ideals. Practicing slow food would mean something different for a chef than for my home cooking. Slow money on Wall Street? That’s truly radical. Slow is a luxury. It balks at demands and bedtimes and to-do lists…
Southern Baptists are not often known for their practicality, especially when it comes to public policy. Perhaps that is changing.
Recently, Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s public policy arm, partnered with 10 or so leaders from the Religious Right in encouraging President Obama to give a speech on immigration. They called for a speech of the oratorical magnitude of the President’s statement on race during the election race. On July 1 President Obama gave that speech and Land’s response to it was hopeful and supportive of what he believes are bipartisan efforts by the president. Though many of Land’s policy positions are smack-dab on the right of conservatism, he advocates for immigration reform that flies in the face of Arizona-style detain-and-deport policy: Land wants both secure borders and new pathways to obtaining legal status and even citizenship.
His reasoning? “If the new conservative coalition is going to be a governing coalition,” Land told NPR last week, “it’s going to have to have a significant number of Hispanics in it, that’s dictated by demographics, and you don’t get large numbers of Hispanics to support you when you’re engaged in anti-Hispanic immigration rhetoric.”
Today, the infrequent post-holiday Monday when most of the country doesn’t work, I’ve spent some extra time contemplating ideals like independence and freedom and patriotism. No, I haven’t crossed the Massachusetts border to New Hampshire to take advantage of tax-free shopping.
Many times as I watch fireworks, I find myself torn or even cynical toward values that make me love living in the USA, but sometimes exploit others, even other Americans. I’m mindful of the many people across the Americas who have made and still make sacrifices for those freedoms to continue: soldiers and veterans, native Americans, farmers in central America who provide produce and coffee and cheap labor, moms and dads who struggle to provide their kids with balanced meals and good education and quality time.
But freedom and independence are not synonyms.
The year-old Anglican Church of North America, which has broken away from the Episcopal Church, has formed a New England Anglican diocese that is seated in my new town of Amesbury, Massachusetts. The split was most notably precipitated by the controversy surrounding Gene Robinson, the openly gay bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Others argue that the split is about more than just homosexuality; it’s about fundamental theological differences between the more theologically liberal Episcopalians and the more conservative Anglicans.
More likely, the split has been caused by an explosive combination of differing opinions on Biblical interpretation, the importance of the historical Christian tradition, and the debate surrounding the ordination of Gene Robinson. Beneath these theological debates, however, fester issues of class and post-colonialism.
The entanglement of the online v. print literary worlds can be baffling, and these days who doesn’t have an opinion about adapting to the way of the future or preserving the way of the past. Recently, for the first time, I’ve gotten to know a writer, Susan Orlean, first online and then in print. I started following @susanorlean on Twitter because I saw her name listed on some post, somewhere, about the best authors to follow on Twitter. @neilhimself (Neil Gaimon) also made the list as did @MargaretAtwood, both of whom I’ve previously read in print and enjoy following online.
There were others on the list who I have not read and began to follow, but Susan Orlean is different. She is incredibly funny. She has interesting conversations, and not just with other authors. She is down to earth. Every once in a while our literary worlds cross cyber-paths, which is in part what can make Twitter fun.
Before I began to follow her, I’d heard Susan Orlean’s name, but couldn’t have told you what she’d written. When I started following her, I didn’t even know if she wrote fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or one of those fancy hybrid forms. Turns out, she says on her website that she loves “writing shorter pieces for magazines” but she’s now on her 8th book, many of which include portions of shorter columns or articles. From what she tweets, I gather that she travels a lot doing book tours and research. I knew I was hooked on her when she wondered how she’d managed to pack 3 pairs of shoes and no underwear.
Now that Lost is over, there are still many questions: was the island drawing Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Jin, Sun and Locke in, or was it all just coincidence? What will become of the island now? What’s up with the polar bear? Is there anything duct tape can’t fix? What will I do on Tuesday nights?
If you were expecting answers about science and the supernatural or free-will and pre-determinism in last night’s finale, you were probably disappointed. Jack volunteered to carry on Jacob’s role, but then tells Hurley he was only supposed to have that job for a little while. In the alternate Los Angeles reality, the passengers of Oceanic flight #815 keep crossing one another’s paths unexpectedly, however it’s not until Desmond gets a flash of “not Penny’s boat” written on Charlie’s hand that he begins devising an elaborate plan to help the survivors find one another. Chance or fate—it’s still a coin toss.
I’m not really a beach-reads kind of girl, since I’m usually too preoccupied with preventing skin cancer to get any real reading done between applying layers of sunblock. But I do get excited about warmer weather, when I can find some shade and read during my lunch break. Plus, now that I’ve moved way, way north of Boston, I have an hour bus commute to work and then home again.
Here’s what will occupy my reading time this summer…
Seems everyone these days is talking about the new kind of Christianity. And I don’t mean just the Brian McLaren book. There’s a renewed excitement about being Christian, and particularly being Christian here and now.
What’s the big change? I hear more and more Christians asking one another what it means for them to be Christian. I asked a similar question as a teenager, when I was encouraged to question anyone and everyone about what they thought would happen when they died – would they spend eternity with Jesus or not? I was fishing for an answer that used similar language to my own adolescent theological perspective. Just claiming Christianity didn’t cut it; there was one right answer and many wrong ones, all of which had dire eternal ramifications.
In the new kind of Christianity there’s a genuine curiosity about what it means to be Christian. This kind of openness to differing perspectives has been a long time coming. Christians moved past sectarian denominational divides years ago. Nowadays, it’s fairly common to switch from a Baptist church to a Methodist or Mennonite congregation and perhaps back again. With the rise of Bible churches and non-denominational megachurches, denominational lines continued to blur.
- No public Twitter messages.
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