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St. Isidore and Laughing Stock Farm PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Tuesday, 15 May 2007 09:48

The memorial of St. Isidore, the saintly twelfth-century farmer made me think of another saintly farmer. I'd like to tell you a bit about him.

Outside Eugene, OR, in the rolling tree-covered hills of the Crow-Applegate district is a little slice of heaven called "Laughing Stock Farm." Paul Atkinson is a farmer who has had a profound influence in my life. I was present at his wedding to his wife, Syd, when I was just a residency student working at the Newman Center in Eugene. I remember well their simple ceremony and joyful reception on the farm owned by Paul's parents at the time, and now managed and owned by Paul.

Paul is passionate about farming, especially sustainable farming that feeds people who live in the area where the farm is located. He has worked hard to educate locals about the virtues of sustainable agriculture, including the state legislature. Since WWII, farming has changed dramatically in this country. New technologies, mechanization, increased chemical use, specialization and government policies that favored maximizing production has meant that more food is grown by fewer and fewer people. But there have been many costs. Prominent among these are topsoil depletion, groundwater contamination, the decline of family farms, continued neglect of the living and working conditions for farm laborers, increasing costs of production, and the disintegration of economic and social conditions in rural communities.

A growing movement has emerged since the late 70's to question the role of the agricultural establishment in promoting practices that contribute to these problems. Paul is one of a growing number of people involved in food production who are searching for more sustainable ways of farming. I remember visiting Laughing Stock farm one time and listening to Paul explain one small aspect of sustainable agriculture. We walked through a field in which free-range chickens were scratching through the grass. Paul explained that the previous year his small herd of cattle had grazed on the grass. This year the chickens were scratching through the manure in search of bugs. As they foraged, they worked the manure into the earth, naturally fertilizing it. To this day, Paul does not depend upon petroleum-based fertilizers to amend the soil.

I also learned of an ongoing project of Paul's. He has been correlating soil types and zoning laws in and around Lane County for years. What he has discovered is that the land that is most suitable for farming lies in the rich Willamette Valley floor. That land is almost exclusively zoned for commercial and residential use. The land zoned for farming is the least suited for farming in the area! This means that many farmers need to fertilize their soil, remove boulders, struggle with sloping fields that erode more easily, and other factors which increase their costs, raise their prices, and make their produce more expensive than that grown in Mexico, California, and other regions.

Part of the move to sustainable agriculture is to connect people with the farmers who produce their food, and to encourage people to buy local produce. My Dominican community and many families in our parish and beyond benefited from this aspect of sustainable agriculture. Our church became a drop-off point for a local farm that was participating in a program known as "community supported agriculture" or CSA. CSAs allow people to buy directly from local farmers, paying at the beginning of the season to share the economic risk with farm families. Farmers get cash flow to start the season without going into debt. Households receive a weekly box of fresh fruits and vegetables during the harvest. In Eugene, it meant we got fresh vegetables each week from May through October/November. Now in Eugene, some farms even offer chicken, cheese, honey and flowers!

Each week was a surprise. You never new what you were going to get, but the farm also supplied each box of food with recipes. Never had fresh spinach before? There would be a couple of great recipes to try. Don't like kale? People would gather at the steps of the church and trade vegetables with each other. It was a great experience, and prompted me to devote a small patch of our rectory backyard (which had no grass, only perennial flowers, bulbs, a few annuals, rhododendrons, azaleas, roses and wisteria) to an herb, tomato and lettuce garden.

I have very fond memories of helping Paul weigh and bag his free-range turkeys on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. They were all hormone free, and some of them topped 40 lbs.! Pulling the turkey carcasses out of their ice bath, draining the frigid water from them, stuffing them quickly into a bag, weighing them and putting the pricetag on the birds was gratifying labor, and made me appreciate the hard work involved in food production. Of course, our community always bought one of these delicious, juicy turkeys. They were incredible!

Why does Paul do this? It's not to make more money. In fact, today when I spoke to him on the phone, he mentioned that he's worried about the future. With agribusinesses (four major ones dictate much of our social policy regarding food production) promoting the use of ethanol and other grain alcohols to fuel our cars, the cost of food grains (whether used in the process or not) is going to increase. That means the grains that Paul uses to feed his pigs, turkeys and chickens will increase, and thus cause his costs to soar. Because he sells his meat locally, some of the cost will be offset by lower shipping expense, but I could tell he was worried.

Paul does this because he sees farming as an act of stewardship of God's creation. The farm's not his, he says, it's God's. Paul believes "that to eat from local farms is the most universal introduction and connection to 'home' and to 'place.'" As an intentional disciple of Jesus, he's doing his best to change food production in his county. He has worked with other farmers to improve the sustainability of pasture and livestock management through the development of a grazing network in Lane County, OR. He's taken his findings regarding land use to the state legislature. He's helped school children understand better where food comes from, and led a Lenten study project at St. Thomas More parish in Eugene which allowed members of the community to understand the hidden costs in the cheap food we so often find in our mega-super-dooper-markets.

If you want to read more about Paul and his farm, click on the title of this post and read what a writer for the Atlantic Monthly had to say about his "principled pork." Unfortunately, you need to be a subscriber to read the entire piece.

Happy Feastday, Paul - and all local farmers. God bless you!
Starting Over in Greensburg, Kansas PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 15 May 2007 09:05
Catholic News Service has a moving piece this morning about a 70 year old parish secretary in Greensburg, KS, who survived the tornado by huddling in her hallway with her oxygen tank.

They also interviewed Ellen Peters, a fellow parishioner at St. Joseph's, who was not alone in dropping everything to pitch in. "She told CNS the assistance was overwhelming. "I can't say enough about people learning Gospel living when the chips are down," she added.

One difficult aspect of volunteering, though, was hearing so many stories of loss.

"So many people lost everything," she said, noting that after the tornado it rained for three days, further ruining people's belongings. But even amid this loss, she heard countless stories of people picking through the rubble and finding items of personal value.

She also said the people she talked to showed amazing resiliency and faith. They frequently spoke of the storm as an "act of nature, not an act of God" and were convinced God would give them the strength they needed to move on.

"There was none of this, 'Why did this happen to me?'" she said. Instead, the Greensburg residents seemed determined to "keep at it and dig in, knowing they will be back.""

It may seem odd but people caught up in a large communal catatrophe don't usually ask "Why did this happen to me?". I know that was my family's experience as homeless hurricane refugees from the Mississippi Gulf Coast. A large tragedy seems much less personal than say, having your your house burn down while the houses next store remain untouched Having a community around you who really understands from the inside makes a huge difference.

Here is the latest news about diocesan efforts to respond to the destruction. One poignant note: The bell from St. Joseph's Catholic church is the only surviving bell in town. It is run twice a day - at noon and 6 pm - as a sign of hope.
Proclamation: Catholic and Protestant PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 15 May 2007 08:30

The Pope's visit to Brazil last week generated a lot of attention to the success of Protestant evangelistic efforts there. Pete Acosi raised an important point last week in his comments on the “God is a God of the Present” post below:

"I think we can take two courses of action when we see God clearly working among our Protestant brothers and sisters - we can 1) react or 2) humbly learn (as JPII encourages us in Ut Unum Sint) and grow. Though it puts us in a position of "weakness" - I think that is a good thing. Listen to the words of Cardinal Avery Dulles:

“The Church therefore has one inescapable task: To lift up Christ. When she seeks to lift herself up she becomes weak, but when she acknowledges her own weakness and proclaims her Lord, she is strong.”

Or we can imitate
St. Paul - who tells the Church in Philippi that some are preaching Christ for this reason or that ... and he goes on to say, "What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in that I rejoice!" (1:18)

In many ways Christ is being partially or fully proclaimed in many churches for many different sincere, insincere, or ignorant reasons ... but like St. Paul, I think we can learn to first rejoice as long as Christ is proclaimed... and then move from there... because, if our reaction isn't one of first rejoicing in the proclamation of Christ and him crucified - then we may need to allow God to purify our hearts..."

Sherry's response:

I think that there are a couple important issues here that are often conflated:

1) What is to be our response to non-Catholics who are effectively preaching Christ as they understand him?

2) How should we, as Catholics, preach Christ?

Issue number one: Our response to the evangelistic efforts of non-Catholics:

I think Pete is absolutely right. We should first be rejoicing that Christ is proclaimed, even if partially. (As will be outlined below, I don’t think this need be our only response.) Evangelicals are seeking to fulfill the “great commission” in Matthew 28 with great sacrifice and creativity and prayer and it makes no sense for us to grumble because they have been exceptionally faithful in this area in recent years and we have not.

(This wasn’t always the case. It was Catholics who were the great, creative, unstoppable missionaries of the 16th and 17th centuries when Protestantism was pre-occupied with other things. It was the great preachers of the 18th century – the Wesleys and Whitefields and the experience of the great awakening that began to change that. The evangelical missionary movement really didn’t get going until the 19th century and exploded in the late 20th century, just when Catholic commitment to the mission ad gentes imploded.)

Issue number two: How should we, as Catholics, preach Christ?

This is our real problem: We simply aren’t effectively proclaiming Christ to this generation. And so the evangelistically oriented among us naturally turn to those we regard as “experts” – evangelical-Pentecostal Christians.

I’ve spent time with Catholic leaders who were so frustrated with Catholic apathy and cluelessness in this area that they had come to these conclusions: 1) Catholics don’t evangelize; 2) the sacraments are only relevant to on-going, not initial conversion, therefore, 3) Catholicism has nothing to say about initial conversion and
4) therefore, we must think outside the “Catholic box” by following the methodology of our evangelical brothers and sisters.

We’ve got a problem when Catholics use evangelical evangelistic resources, approaches or programs, without vetting and amending them to reflect the fullness of Catholic teaching. That’s because evangelistic resources teach as well as evangelize.

Such resources explicitly teach the classical Reformation view of salvation – one’s personal faith alone is both the pre-requisite and the instrument through which one becomes a Christian, receives forgiveness for all sins, justification, adoption as God’s child, and eternal life.

We can’t expect them to teach the Catholic understanding that : “. . .the "good news" is directed to stirring a person to a conversion of heart and life and a clinging to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior; to disposing a person to receive Baptism and the Eucharist and to strengthen a person in the prospect and realization of new life according to the Spirit “ (Catechesis in Our Time, 6).

When we use evangelical materials, the sacraments are presented, at best, as symbols of the real salvific event which has already happened in the privacy of one’s heart. Once you have absorbed the idea that work of salvation happens entirely through the disembodied, invisible, and interior means of one’s personal faith, the proposal that the grace of God is truly made available to us through the visible, physical, public means of the Church and the sacraments makes no sense at all.

If Catholics rely entirely upon evangelical materials, they may be making one of the most important parts of our faith not only obscure but practically unimaginable. At a point of tremendous spiritual openness – perhaps the first in someone’s life - we would not be taking the trouble to tell them the whole truth.

Catholics should be preaching both-and: personal faith in Christ and repentence in the context of the sacraments and the Church. Of course, if the folks doing the lion’s share of proclamation don’t possess the fullness of the faith, we really can’t expect them to proclaim it.

As Billy Graham famously quipped “I prefer the evangelism that I’m doing to the evangelism that you’re not doing.”

The man has a point. It’s our job and, for the most part, we haven’t shown up for work.

Servants or Friends or ? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 14 May 2007 09:14
The Gospel pericope for today (John 15:9-17) is one of my favorites in the Gospel of John. Today we hear Jesus saying to us, his disciples,

"As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father. It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you. This I command you: love one another."

Fr. Michael Sweeney, O.P., co-founder of the Catherine of Siena Institute, presented a beautiful and profound reflection series on the topic of "Friendship with God". I highly recommend it.

A couple of things have struck me as I have reflected on the whole series of readings from the Last Supper Discourse during this Easter season. FIrst of all, Jesus is inviting us into an intimacy that so often we refuse. We prefer to be servants, rather than friends. When I was involved in campus ministry, students (always young men) would sometimes ask me, "Father, how far can I, you know, 'go' with my girlfriend?" In the Called & Gifted workshop I refer to this as "limbo theology," i.e., "how low can I go, Father?" This is, at best, the attitude of a servant or slave: what is the least that I have to do.

Our attitude with a friend, with someone we love, is much different. Jesus is not inviting us into just any friendship - a kind of friendship with Buddy Christ from the movie, "Dogma" that hints that no demands will be made upon us. In the passage above, John uses two word forms to describe this friendship - one of which indicates a willingness to "lay down one's life" for another.

When I think of my deepest friendships, there is a hint of that kind of love in them. I want to anticipate their needs. I think about them regularly. I hold them in prayer. I am happy to do what they want simply because I know it delights them, and it really doesn't make much difference what we DO together, because we're doing it TOGETHER.

I believe this is the kind of friendship Jesus is saying he wants of us. Yes, obeying the commandments are important. Following the Church's precepts are important. But they are the minimum requirements placed upon us, and a servant (particularly an unprofitable one) does only what he or she is commanded to do. Jesus is inviting us into a friendship with Him, in which we think about Him throughout our day and ask for His guidance. We can entrust the well-being of our earthly friends and family into His care with confidence. We seek to please Him through the way we treat every person we meet, particularly those who are most difficult to love, for He says, "Whatever you did to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did to me." (Mt. 25:40)

Servant or friend of God? How about both. When we've done all we've been commanded to do, we can take no pride in ourselves, for all that we have accomplished - all the fruit we have borne for the kingdom - has come because of our union with Jesus, the vine. It is truly his fruit, but our cooperation as servants was essential.

But at the same time, is it a servant who laments, "I am an unprofitable servant, I have only done what I was commanded"? (cf. Lk 17:10) Or is it truly a friend, someone who loves another enough to lay down his or her life for another, who would regret that they could not do more, or somehow anticipate an unspoken or unnoticed need?

We are servants of Jesus, Whom we rightfully call "Master" and "Lord". But in His love for us He calls us friends, and invites us into an intimacy that is as deep and profound as the intimacy the Father shares with Him.

You Know You're Back in the South When PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 14 May 2007 05:41
The flight attendent calls total strangers "darlin";

You get to explain to a visitor how to eat grits;

You are a part of a serious group discussion about the fine points of using the phrase "Yes Maam";

People use the possessive form of "y'all" - as in "Y'all's supper is gettin cold";

The church you are teaching in was once pastored by the poet laureate of the Confederacy;

The waiting areas in the airport are filled with rocking chairs.

You know that you are a former southerner who has lost touch by living too long in Colorado when you:

Point to the small bug hovering by your outdoor restaurant table and exclaim:

"Hey! That's a mosquito!"

Contemporary Signs and Wonders PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Friday, 11 May 2007 08:02
In preparation for our new seminar, "Making Disciples," Sherry and I have been studying the kerygma - the basic Gospel message preached by Jesus, and then by the apostles. Jesus preached the Kingdom of God (and is that Kingdom in flesh and blood) and that the apostles preached Jesus Christ crucified, died, risen and ascended. With all the reports about signs and wonders becoming more and more a part of the expectations of Latin American Christians (both Protestant and Catholic), I found the beginning of the description of the kerygma in the New Catholic Encyclopedia quite challenging.

The article on Kerygma begins, "the solemn and public proclamation of salvation in Christ made in the name of God to non-Christians; it was accompanied by an appeal to signs and wonders to dispose the hearers to faith, conversion, and a return to God."

What's interesting to me, is that the sentence is in the past tense! Perhaps it is an unspoken expectation on the part of many Catholics that God does not work through signs and wonders anymore. Until recently I would say I fit in that category. And some might reasonably say it is "a faithless generation that asks for a sign." (Mt 12:39; 16:4)

Yet as I study the charisms of the Holy Spirit given to the baptized, I realize that it is ordinary for God to work through us so that his power and providential care reaches them, and that extraordinary - really supernatural - things happen. A lonely person receives the hospitality of a Christian and is no longer lonely. Someone suffering in a hospital bed receives mercy from a nurse or physician and not only is their suffering reduced, but they experience their human dignity restored. A young child is encouraged by a one-on-one interaction with their teacher and suddenly have confidence in their ability to learn and succeed in the classroom. Moments like these won't make the headlines of our newspapers, and may even escape our attention unless we begin to look for them. Because some of them may be opportunities to share our faith, particularly if the person asks us, "why are you doing this?"

The work of Mother Teresa and her sisters continues to be a sign and a wonder. So, too, the pro-bono work of a Catholic lawyer for a poor defendant, or the willingness of a pro-life family to open their home to one or more orphans or foster children.

In the Gospel of Luke (11:32), when Jesus is asked for a sign, he says no sign will be given but the sign of Jonah, and goes on to speak about the sign of Jonah as the repentance of the entire wicked city of Ninevah. I would not doubt that one of the greatest signs and sources of wonder for non-Christians is a life transformed by grace. Seeing someone radically change; move from darkness to light, from death to life may be one of the most powerful ways in which God opens up the hearts and minds of non-believers.

In fact, it is in witnessing just such a conversion that has opened me to the effectiveness of "signs and wonders" in the proclamation of the Gospel.

It may be an act of faithlessness to demand a sign as a prerequisite for my belief.

It may also be an act of faithfullness to expect God to use a sign to generate curiosity in and openness to the Gospel.
Another Day in Paradise . . . PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 10 May 2007 20:46
But not till Sunday evening.

Off to Knoxville before dawn tomorrow, back Sunday evening. In the meantime, Fr. Mike will entertain you with cat tales and the other minions of our little blog community will contribute their thoughts.

Just had to share this:

This evening as I was digging up a new flower bed, a young man walked along the path that runs through the park behind my house and stopped.

The park has a full on view of Pike's Peak and the surrounding mountains. It was a perfect spring evening - cool, everything freshly green, and the sun low over the Rockies.

Pike's Peak is currently groaning with snow and the combination of the glow of the setting sun and some clouds meant that we saw the mountain's great shoulders through a golden haze.

The young man looked at me over the fence and said "I just have to say this. Another day in paradise!"

I could hear Ray Charles singing in the background:

Oh Beautiful, for spacious skies . . .

To Those Who Have... PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Thursday, 10 May 2007 12:26
I have been preparing for preaching this Sunday, as well as preaching each day during this season of Easter, when we hear consistently from the Gospel of John. For the past week or so we have been hearing the Last Supper Discourse from John's Gospel, and as I read Sherry's post on "Clapping for Jesus," something clicked.

If you recall, Sherry quoted a Time magazine article, "After decades of losing ground to the Protestants, the local Catholic clergy had also noted that these rival churches lured believers not just with promises of rewards more immediate than a place in heaven, but also by offering services that are more joyful, happier, friendlier and more down-to-earth. By comparison with the Protestants' approachable pastor next door, the rock and roll liturgy and the 24-hour service, the Catholic Church could look cold and distant."

Like a lot of fairly straight-laced Catholics, I am wary of religious services that are too slick, and that seem to play on my emotions. At the same time, however, I know our huge parishes can sometimes feel "cold and distant" to people who are suffering, or lonely, or depressed. We can forget that Christ is not only present in the Word proclaimed, the presider acting in persona Christi, and the Blessed Sacrament, but also in the "two or three [thousand] gathered in His name." The problems of my brother and sister in Christ should be of concern to me.

And this is where the readings from the Gospel of John come in.
On Monday of this week (June 7) we heard, "'Whoever has my commandments and observes them is the one who loves me. And whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and reveal myself to him.' Judas, not the Iscariot, said to him, 'Master, (then) what happened that you will reveal yourself to us and not to the world?' Jesus answered and said to him, 'Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.'"

Judas may have hoped for some powerful, universal manifestation of Jesus' divinity that would end the doubts of unbelievers. What Jesus proposes is more subtle - a presence of God in the innermost being of His creature, who responds in love to the love poured out upon him or her. It is a gift that is given ever more generously as we respond by living according to the word of Jesus, which in the Gospel of John can be summarized as "As I have loved you, so you also should love one another." (John 13:34)

It is love, ultimately, that brings people to Christ. Sometimes that love may be manifested in signs and wonders: miraculous healings, even the raising of the dead. In those situations, hearts and minds are opened quickly to hear the Gospel message. But love works just as powerfully, though perhaps more slowly, through kind words in the face of loss, companionship offered to the lonely, encouragement given to the depressed, kindness and patience offered where they are not expected.

Our communion with Jesus depends on our own response in grace and love to his word. The more we respond, the deeper the communion, and the more profound the transformation. Regardless of what our worship looks like (and there is a wide variety of acceptable expressions of worship within the Catholic Church), the most profound question has to do with whether or not my worship and my participation in the sacramental life of the Church is deepening the love I have for Christ and assisting me, through grace, to respond to his word. The indwelling that Jesus speaks of throughout his Last Discourse is His Father's gift of love to His Son's disciples. That indwelling should be recognized by a life that is transformed and that reaches out to others in love. That, too, is a sign and wonder! If our liturgies are experienced as "cold and distant," might it not be because those participating in the liturgy have not been transformed by it - and are themselves cold and distant?
Brazil and Abortion: Are Pentecostals a Pope's Best Friends? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 10 May 2007 10:36
John Allen raises a good point this morning:

"Though part of the unspoken logic for Benedict XVI’s trip to Brazil is to offset Catholic losses to Pentecostalism, now estimated at almost 20 million Brazilians and growing, political realities in the country on issues such as abortion and gay marriage in some sense make the Pentecostals the pope's best friends.

Such are the ironies of life in Latin America."

For example: The President of Brazil, a Catholic, is personally pro-life but feels that “the state cannot abdicate from caring for this as a public health question, because to do so would lead to the death of many young women in this country.” Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, the Vice-President of Brazil is a member of the Pentecostal Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and the strongest pro-life member of the administration.

“It’s not just the specific question of abortion or homosexuality,” one Brazilian journalist explained today. “It’s the broader question of the ‘religiousness’ of Brazil. If the pope had to rely just on the Catholics, the country would actually be much secularized than it already is.”

Just as Catholics and evangelicals have found common ground in this country over the battle for life (and numerous evangelicals were exposed to serious Catholic Christianity for the first time which has precipitated not a few conversions), so too in Brazil.



Understanding the Numbers Game PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Thursday, 10 May 2007 07:02
One of the things that is easily missed in grasping the spread of new forms of Christianity like Pentecostalism is the whole issue of what David Barrett, editor of the world Christian Encyclopedia, calls "double affiliation" or "double confession".

We usually assume that if you are one faith, that's it. If you are Protestant, you can't simultaneously be Catholic or Buddhist or Hindu. But, in fact, the world of faith is much more complicated than that. Many millions around the world are "double dipping" in two or more seemingly contradictory faiths at the same time.

In Brazil in the year 2000, for instance, Barrett estimates that over 55 million Catholics or 36% of all Catholics in the country were "double-affiliated", that is, simultaneously "affiliated to or claimed by the Catholic Church and by a church termed "Evangelica" by the government. And this sort of thing happens all over the US as well. Barrett estimates that there were 21 million "double affiliated" Christians in the US and nearly 200 million around the world in 2000. And the numbers are steadily growing.

In a place like India, "double confessing" of Christianity and another non-Christian faith is common since there are legal and financial consequences to one's formal religious affiliation. For instance, Barrett estimated that there were over 21 million "crypto Christians" in India in 2000. A "crypto Christian" is a person affiliated with a church but still listed by the state as being of another faith.

It gets every more complex. There is the whole phenomena of "Non-baptized Believers in Christ" in the Muslim and Hindu worlds. Muslims and Hindus who regard Jesus Christ as the messiah and Son of God but are not baptized and are still officially Muslim and Hindu. It is estimated that there are 15 million NBBC's in the world.

The boundaries between faiths has always been porous, not only officially but especially in terms of ideas and influence. This is especially common in times of relative peace and freedom where travel and interchange between peoples of different faiths is common and governments or local rulers or customs don't punish people for not strictly adhering to the faith of their birth.

In a globalized world saturated with media and technology, the boundaries are even more fluid. This has big implications for our evangelization and pastoral practices and is one of the situations in which extremely flexible, passionate communicators like evangelicals and Independent Christians thrive and in which "institutionally oriented", historic forms of Christianity like Catholicism, with its memories of Christendom, are at an disadvantage.

Unless we adapt to our new historical and cultural situation, which it seems that Catholics have been doing pretty successfully in Brazil recently. I'll try to write more on this later.
Stabilization in Latin America - and Clapping for Jesus PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 09 May 2007 06:37
The news story coming out of Brazil over the past two days:

The Catholic Church has stopped hemmorhaging members over the past three years. A government survey in 2003 showed that 73.9% of the population claimed to be Catholic after a 20 year free fall from 89% in 1980. Three years later, 73.8% responded that they were Catholic. Protestants inched up to 17.9%.

As Time magazine puts it:

". . .two factors behind the slowdown: The stabilization of Brazil's economy after decades of boom and bust; and the adoption by local Catholic diocese of some of the methods that brought success to the Protestant denominations.


Protestantism, says Neri, takes root quickest in impoverished urban areas where the state is absent. But significant income gains among the poorest sectors of society, combined with a far-reaching government assistance program, have given hope to people who once turned to Protestant Pentecostalism for financial and social aid.

After decades of losing ground to the Protestants, the local Catholic clergy had also noted that these rival churches lured believers not just with promises of rewards more immediate than a place in heaven, but also by offering services that are more joyful, happier, friendlier and more down-to-earth. By comparison with the Protestants' approachable pastor next door, the rock and roll liturgy and the 24-hour service, the Catholic Church could look cold and distant.

The best example of the trend is Father Marcelo Rossi, a charismatic and media-savvy priest who has sold millions of CDs featuring songs like "Clapping for Jesus," "Raise Your Hands" and the "Jesus Twist." Rossi has a daily radio show, two weekly TV shows and a busy web portal, and he hosts regular concerts-cum-shows at which thousands of young fans dance to his catchy gospel pop. He once attracted 2.4 million fans to an appearance in Sao Paulo, and his draw is such that he has been invited to give a live performance immediately after Benedict XVI says mass in Sao Paulo on May 11."

Sherry's note: My friends know that I simply loathe the easy dismissal of evangelical worship as "entertainment" and "happy clappy" by conservative Catholics. When we do that, we are taking the easy way out. We don't have to ask "why" because we can just dismiss the millions of Catholics drawn to these services as spiritual and aesthetic morons. And, of course, preen ourselves on our spiritual discernment.

But "Clapping for Jesus???" "Jesus Twist??????" Yeeeew. I can live in the faint hope that's just a bad translation.

But the fact that he was asked to perform for the Pope is significant. Why was Fr. Rossi chosen? While I am sure that his performance for Pope Benedict will be subdued, it certainly won't be Mozart. I wonder if it will be broadcast?


"Even in Guatemala, Latin America's most Protestant nation, there are signs that the more charismatic approach of the Catholic Church can reverse the trend. The number of Guatemalan Protestants stopped growing at the start of the decade and now numbers between 33% and 40%, according to Dr. Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Interim Director of the Religious Studies Program at the University of Texas. Every nation in this once homogenously Catholic continent has a bedrock of Catholic support that will never be eroded, and the numbers presented in Brazil last week may be a sign that those willing to choose an alternative have already done so. "It doesn't surprise me," Garrard-Burnett said of the study's findings. "You just see Protestant growth plateau and I think that may be true in Brazil."

Sherry's note:

Very interesting. Because at one time, Guatemala was expected to become the first majority Protestant nation in Latin America. Although a 40% minority is, admittedly, a really big minority, a minority with clout.

Are we settling down into a pluralistic but more stable religious environment? Or, as happened in Europe in the late 16th century, can a new, passionate, and more intentionally "evangelical" Catholicism regain some of the ground it has lost? A Catholicism that no longer takes its hegemony for granted but knows that even for Latin Catholics, the gospel must be proclaimed afresh to every person in every generation.

That it is true that even for Latin Catholics: "God has no grand-children".

EWTN Will Be Covering Pope's Arrive in Brazil Live PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 09 May 2007 06:36
Here is the schedule for EWTN coverage.

The live feed from the Vatican is here.
"Parent Evangelists" for Down Syndrome Children PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Wednesday, 09 May 2007 06:06
From today's New York Times:

The new push for universal testing for down's syndrome is having an entirely predictable outcome: 90% of parents choose to abort.

The result: there are only about 350,000 individuals with Down's Syndrom in the country today: ,less institutional support, less research, and a lonelier world. As one father put it: "How much more hostile will the environment be if there are fewer people with down syndrome?"

The parents of down syndrome children are organizing and fighting back:

They are offering expecting parents a chance to meeting their children and hearing their experiences before they make a decision.

The Times calls them "parent evangelists". Indeed.

The Times carefully portrays a large number of these parent advocates as "pro choice" and not religiously motivated, because, you know, because not being religiously neutral on this subject would be bad. It is very poignant to hear one mom described her motivation as possibly "selfish".

"Others admit freely to a selfish motive for their new activism. “If all these people terminate babies with Down syndrome, there won’t be programs, there won’t be acceptance or tolerance,” said Tracy Brown, 37, of Seattle, whose 2-year-old son, Maxford, has the condition. “I want opportunities for my son. I don’t know if that’s right or wrong, but I do.”

But love for their children has enabled these carefully neutral parents to grasp one essential thing:

"some see themselves as society’s first line of defense against a use of genetic technology that can border on eugenics. “For me, it’s just faces disappearing,” said Nancy Iannone, of Turnersville, N.J., mother to four daughters, including one with Down syndrome."

George Will calls it "a search and destroy mission". (Will is father of an adult Down Sydrome man named Jon. Jon was born in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade).

This is a work that pro life advocates should get behind in a heart-beat.
Knoxville, Tennessee This Weekend PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Tuesday, 08 May 2007 10:20
Speaking of the present:

I'll be teaching a Called & Gifted workshop at Immaculate Conception Church this coming weekend with Mark Egbert, one of our Colorado teaching team members.

As usual, the festivities begin at 7 pm on Friday and run through Saturday at 4pm.

I look forward to seeing some of you there!
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