Our lives are governed by our attitudes

Our lives are governed by our attitudes.
U2 singer Bono once wrote that explaining belief would always be difficult. How could you explain love and logic at the heart of the universe when the world was so out of whack? How could you explain the concept of vision over visibility? Of instinct over intellect?
Bono said he found the answer to that in the writings of another musician, the giant-slayer David. In the biblical psalms, some of which are believed to have been written by David, Bono found an element of the blues.
“It’s man shouting at God `My God, why have you forsaken me? Why do you seem so far from helping me?’
“Abandonment and displacement is the stuff of my favourite psalms,” said Bono.
“It’s in the despair that the writers of the psalms really reveal their nature of their special relationships with God.”
It’s all there in the most famous of the psalms, the 23rd; the one beginning with “The Lord is my shepherd” and telling of green pastures, still waters and that valley of the shadow of death.
It is only 15 lines long, 57 words in Hebrew, yet it has a power to comfort even the non-religious in grief and fear.
Rabbi Harold Kushner, the prolific American writer, examines the psalm in his book The Lord Is My Shepherd and concludes that it tackles serious questions about the world we live in and the people around us.
It destroys the illusion that this planet is a safe place at the same time as maintaining we can live here courageously without fear.
“Why do we love this psalm so much, more than any of the other 149 psalms? Why do we reach out for it at moments of personal distress?” asked Kushner.
“It is a beautiful literary creation, but the anthologies are full of beautiful writings, and they don’t capture our hearts in the same way.”
Kushner believes the psalm offers a realistic way of seeing the world that renders it less frightening. It has the power to teach us to think differently and, as a result, to act differently.
It’s not really the fear of death that scares us. It is the anticipation, the sense that our time is limited.
We are afraid of coming to the end of our lives without having the impact on the world we once dreamed of.
The psalm does not deny the reality of death, or minimise how painful loss can be. It confirms the awful truth — that much of the time, we cannot control what happens to us.
The psalm never asks us to pretend, as some religious teachings do, that death does not change things, that moving from life to death is no different than moving from Hobart to Melbourne.
But it introduces us to a God who is with us in the pain, and who leads us from the dark valley back to light.
The psalm is a reminder that although our physical beings will die, everything about us that is not physical — our memories, values, sense of humour and identity — cannot die.
The psalm reminds us that God’s promise was never that life would be fair. The psalmist does not say God will save us from death; merely that God will be with us when we walk through the shadow of the valley of death. The message is that we will not be abandoned.
Our world may not be perfect, but it is God’s world and that makes all the difference.

Pope Francis asks priests to forgive abortion

Pope Francis has told priests to forgive repentant women who have had an abortion.

In a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, the pontiff urges priests to express “words of genuine welcome” to repentant women who have undergone abortions, “combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed.” He tied his decision to the yearlong jubilee celebration of Catholic faith, which begins in December.

“I have decided, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, to concede to all priests for the Jubilee Year the discretion to absolve of the sin of abortion those who have procured it and who, with contrite heart, seek forgiveness for it,” the pope said in a letter addressed to Archbishop Rino Fisichella, president of the Pontifical Council.

The Catholic Church deems abortion a “moral evil” and “gravely contrary to the moral law.” A person who cooperates in an abortion should be excommunicated under canon law, although that person can be welcomed back into the church if the person is truly repentant and asks for forgiveness.

While the papal letter does not change church doctrine, it brings to the fore an issue Francis has talked little about during his papacy. In writing to Fisichella, the pope addressed “the tragedy of abortion” and said some people do not realize the “extreme harm” caused by terminating a pregnancy.

Francis also turned at length to women who believe they have no other option but to go through with an abortion.

“I am well aware of the pressure that has led them to this decision. I know that it is an existential and moral ordeal,” the pope wrote. “I have met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision.”

Post-traumatic church syndrome?

IN her raw memoir, “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome,” Reba Riley describes her struggle to heal from wounds inflicted by institutional Christianity.

The book claims to remind readers that “sometimes we have to get lost to get found.” .

She says her book “reminds people that their religious past does not have to shackle them, and that it can become the bedrock of transformation. That’s why there is a peacock on the cover: it is the physical equivalent of the mythical phoenix rising from the ashes, a symbol of healing, transformation, and personal resurrection. “Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome” may be my story of physical and spiritual change, but it is also the story of everyone who has witnessed the way God can transform brokenness into beauty.

See more at: http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2015/08/24/post-traumatic-church-syndrome-yep-its-a-thing/#sthash.MSfFph7K.dpuf

Italian Catholic Church scrambles to explain its role in lavish Mafia boss funeral

ROME (RNS) Italy reacted with disgust to the lavish funeral procession held for alleged Mafia boss Vittorio Casamonica, including a gilded horse-drawn carriage procession, rose petals dropped from a helicopter, and the “Godfather” movie soundtrack.

Now the Roman Catholic Church is grappling with its role in the extravagant funeral as it wrestles with how it might continue to offer the sacraments to members of crime syndicates without appearing to condone their lifestyles.

During the funeral, the walls of Rome’s San Giovanni Bosco Catholic Church were adorned with posters, reading “King of Rome” and “You have conquered Rome, now you will conquer heaven.”

In the days following the funeral, the church tried to distance itself from the elaborately orchestrated spectacle, with Auxiliary Bishop Giuseppe Mariante stating church officials did not know the ceremony would be accompanied by “Mafia propaganda.”

“Of course, if we had had the suspicion of a show of this type, we would have taken precautions,” Mariante was quoted as saying in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s semiofficial newspaper. “We absolutely would not have accepted conducting that funeral.”

The church does not deny last rites, including Communion, to Mafia members or other criminals if requested by relatives, said Bishop Vincenzo Bertolone of Catanzaro-Squillace in Italy’s southern Calabria region, the heartland of the powerful ‘Ndrangheta crime syndicate.

“But the directions for the ceremony ask that it is done in a simple way, without pomp, nor flowers, nor music, nor songs, nor beatifying commemorations,” Bertolone added.

Giancarlo Maria Bregantini, who for 13 years was bishop of Calabria’s Locri-Gerace Diocese, said that in his experience in southern Italy, Mafia bosses use funerals and processions to assert themselves and impose their power.

“In this sense the Church in Calabria has suffered and now has a lot to teach other churches,” he said.

Pope Francis has taken a strong line against the Mafia. During a visit to Calabria last year, he lambasted the Mafia for its “adoration of evil” and said mobsters had excommunicated themselves.

Defining God in one word

Huffington Post Religion decided to conduct a little experiment. They asked readers to define God in just one word.

It was a challenge that gained more than 2,200 responses on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Huff Post has been combing through these answers for the most popular words, and came up with a list that represents a few different perspectives — everything from God is “fiction” to God is “faith.”

Despite their diverse religious backgrounds, it was pretty clear what word came to mind most often when readers thought about God: See the rest here



Want ‘sustained happiness’? Get religion, study suggests

A NEW study suggests that joining a religious group could do more for someone’s “sustained happiness” than other forms of social participation, such as volunteering, playing sports or taking a class.

A study in the American Journal of Epidemiology by researchers at the London School of Economics and Erasmus University Medical Center in the Netherlands found that the secret to sustained happiness lies in participation in religion.

“The church appears to play a very important social role in keeping depression at bay and also as a coping mechanism during periods of illness in later life,” Mauricio Avendano, an epidemiologist at LSE and an author of the study, said in a statement. “It is not clear to us how much this is about religion per se, or whether it may be about the sense of belonging and not being socially isolated.”

Researchers looked at four areas: 1) volunteering or working with a charity; 2) taking educational courses; 3) participating in religious organizations; 4) participating in a political or community organization. Of the four, participating in a religious organization was the only social activity associated with sustained happiness, researchers found.

The study analysed 9,000 Europeans who were older than 50. The report that studied older Europeans also found that joining political or community organizations lost their benefits over time. In fact, the short-term benefits from those social connections often lead to depressive symptoms later on, researchers say.

Although healthier people are more likely to volunteer, the researchers found no evidence that volunteering actually leads to better mental health. Benefits could be outweighed by other negative impacts of volunteering, such as stress, Avendano said.

The researchers noted that it is unclear whether the benefits of participating in a religious organization are connected to being in the religious community, or to the faith itself.

Sister Monica’s secret ministry to transgender people

(RNS) Sister Monica lives alone in a small house at the edge of a Roman Catholic college run by a community of nuns.

She doesn’t want to reveal the name of the town where she lives, the name of her Catholic order or her real name.

Sister Monica lives in hiding, so that others may live in plain sight.

Now in her early 70s and semiretired because of health problems, she remains committed to her singular calling for the past 16 years: ministering to transgender people and helping them come out of the shadows.

“Many transgender people have been told there’s something wrong with them,” she said. “They have come to believe that they cannot be true to themselves and be true to God. But there is no way we can pray, or be in communion with God, except in the truth of who we are.”

She spends her days shuttling between email and Skype, phone calls and visits. Since 1999, she has ministered to more than 200 people, many of whom have come to rely on her unflinching love and support.

Although the Catholic Church has issued no clear teaching on transgender people, church teaching that homosexual relations are a sin suggests a similar view of transgender people. A Vatican document in 2000 said gender reassignment surgery does not change a person’s gender in the eyes of the church. In 2008, Pope Benedict urged Catholics to defend “the nature of man against its manipulation.”

“The church speaks of the human being as man and woman, and asks that this order is respected,” Benedict said.

Though Pope Francis is credited with a more compassionate and pastoral tone to gays, Sister Monica fears that the Catholic hierarchy would punish her or her community if her work with transgender people became public.

Despite this, she is as committed to her calling as when she gave her life to Jesus straight out of high school.

“I have great love and fidelity for my community, my call to religious life and obedience to my prioress,” she said.

That calling, as she defines it, is working with people on the margins. To her, transgender people are a part of that margin, and therefore part and parcel of her calling.

Sister Monica began working with gay, lesbian and bisexual people in 1998 after finishing a term as her congregation’s vocations director.

She had long been pained at how her gay friends and relatives had been treated, she said. The call to minister to them came from God, she said.

Early in her ministry, she met a transgender woman, and her work shifted to helping people find peace with bodies that do not match how they see themselves.
Here’s what they heard from priests: ‘Look between your legs. What you see is who you are. God will tell you who you are. Do you want to be damned to eternal hell?’” she said, her voice rising.

That attitude only reinforces the scorn and rejection many transgender people experience in the church, she said.

Early on, she fought this emerging calling.

“I told God so many times: You gave this ministry to the wrong person. I’m not the right person to swim upstream and carry the banner for the cause.”
But these days, she is much clearer about her focus.
Over the years, Sister Monica says she has received “quiet support” from two bishops and several priests. The end of two Vatican investigations that questioned American nuns’ loyalty to church teaching has also relieved some pressure on her ministry secret.

Still, experience tells her she cannot be completely open about what she does.

She has a quick answer to people who say “God made them man and woman,” quoting the Book of Genesis.

“God made day and night. There was also dusk and dawn and twilight. There’s no light switch,” she said. “There are 2,000 kinds of ants and there can’t be more than two kinds of people?”

“We cannot have a relationship with God if we are hiding from ourselves or God,” said the nun.

Melancholy and the art of emptiness

MEDICOS of the Renaissance and Middle Ages referred to depression as the state of “being in Saturn”.
Those obsessed with the saturnine side of life were said to have been temporarily and literally affected by the weight of the ringed planet.
This could induce withdrawal, solitude, profound sadness, weariness and emptiness.
Yet the influence of Saturn was not always considered negative. It was also claimed to make some people contemplative and inspire “cool consideration”.
Today, depression is still a mystery. Its causes are largely unknown.
Respected American writer, psychotherapist and theologian Thomas Moore acknowledged the seriousness of clinical depression in his book Original Self. But he claimed it could not be reduced to a purely physical malady, treatable only with drugs.
Moore attributed a soul element to melancholy.
He also said the presence of profound sadness — the feeling of an emptiness in personal lives — almost always had a positive side.
“People often say there is no imagination in depression. It is a void, a dark pit, a cave with no exit.
“But our problem may be that we are not used to appreciating the particular kind of imagery proper to depression.”
“It feels vague and therefore without meaning,” he said.
“But if we could become better at articulating the imagery of despair and sadness, we might be that much closer to the meaning that would make it bearable. We need a depressive aesthetics; an art of emptiness.”
Moore’s philosophy is that depression, although painful, takes our thoughts “deep and far”. Our thoughts are so heavy because they bear so much meaning, even if at the same time they may feel empty.
“Paradoxically, emptiness is one of the heaviest ideas in religion and philosophy.”
Moore said we have a choice when faced by deep sadness — to respond to its causes, or to maintain a pretence that “this is the way it is, always was, and always will be”.
Han De Wit, an author who specialises in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, contrasted “contemplative psychology” with conventional Western psychology.
He argued that followers of contemplative traditions assumed a freedom to shape their own minds, while mainstream psychology assumed that our minds shape us. The spiritual traditions were more creative because they allowed us to mature.
St Augustine said we understand everything in relation to what we have remembered.
Memory gave us not only personal remembrances of events but also archetypal images. Augustine said everyone had suffered hurt. But the guiding principle of hope was that many had survived the pain and prospered emotionally.
Perhaps no more graphic example of this was the powerful message scrawled on a filthy bathroom wall in the death camp of Auschwitz by a 14-year-old Jewish boy soon to die. He wrote: “I know the sun exists even when I can not see it. I know love exists even when I can not feel it.”
Somehow, the boy had looked beyond his insane world.
T HOMAS Moore has complained of the modern penchant to worship at the altar of good health.
“We look forward to the day when we will be fully balanced and adjusted. We believe we will all have arrived the day when our troubles fade and we feel chronically carefree,” he said.
Moore said this was a “salvational fantasy” based on the hope to be saved from aspects of life that seemed unpleasant.
“I don’t mean to criticise the desire for happiness, but only to point out that it has a companion — the necessity of suffering. Put these two together and we have a complete view of life, one carved out of blissful desires and painful failures.”
Humans seem to have a preference for straight lines. Progress always moves forward, and regression or deviancy are not cherished notions.
Yet writer Rainer Maria Rilke once said: “I live my life in widening rings.”
She said we should relax into the circumambulations of life that turn us over and over, polishing the same arcane stone of our most essential selves.

WE see in life what we want to see

WE see in life what we want to see. If we search for evil we’ll find plenty of it.
But the opposite is also true. If we look for the extraordinary in the ordinary, we will see it.
Hope is described in the book The Science of Optimism And Hope as a conscious choice rather than a random feeling
Martin Seligman, Professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote that we all learn to feel either hopeful or helpless.
He said pessimists could be taught to have “skills of optimism”. People taught the skills were less prone to depression and there was evidence that optimism might delay the ageing process.
He also quoted studies that indicate the immune systems of pessimists function less well than those of optimists, that optimists have greater life expectancy than pessimists and people like optimists more than pessimists.
Optimistic HIV patients show slower immunity decline and symptom onset.
Prof Seligman and his team studied the “optimism levels” of US presidents and found 27 out of 29 winners of the presidential race were graded as more optimistic than their unsuccessful opponents.
HOPE is possibly different to optimism. Optimism can be shallow, naive, complacent and inherited.
Optimistic parents are more likely to have optimistic children. But faith, not something we are born with but can choose, is both vulnerable and trusting.
Those who hope can see something positive beyond the world’s suffering.
Helen Keller, the deaf, sightless mute who inspired the world, said: “When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
It is practical to hope. We should, as Pearl Buck said, be able to accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

What is a family?

THERE are those who see techniques such as in vitro fertilisation as the first step on a slippery slope to the Brave New World.
Some believe the issue of IVF treatment for anyone outside the traditional family throws the whole nature of family into doubt.
The family, according to the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State”.
But does the definition preclude a homosexual couple or a single person raising a child created through reproductive technology?
The nuclear family is far from a recent western European invention. The unit of intimate partners, often with children, has been the core of virtually all societies. But same-sex couples, and single women who want children are also social realities.
Homosexuality was condemned by both Christianity and the ancient Greek philosophers.
Although the philosopher Plato was supposedly homosexual, he argued that, since neither animals nor birds indulge in it, nor should humans.
But he also regarded monogamous marriage, with parental responsibilities, as a threat to social solidarity. He recommended instead that wives and children be shared in common.
According to Plato’s philosophy, the basic laws of the universe were timeless and simple. Parenting was a community matter, not confined to parents.
Science has made parenting possible, in theory, for everyone.
But what is the authority of science? Is it the best type of knowledge we possess, or just the most influential?
Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Man is condemned to be free”. On the other hand, our freedom obliges us to make something of ourselves; to live authentically or truely. Life is not a technical or mechanical process. There is a far deeper reality to existence.
The vital ingredient — the essence of us — seems to be that mysterious element called soul. It distinguishes us from all other beings on the planet.
Benedict De Spinoza argued that, with our souls, we should see everything from the perspective of eternity. He influenced John Locke, who in turn argued that subjugation of people on sexual grounds was invalid.
Many of those who philosophically followed — including Voltaire, David Hume, Immanuel Kant and Soren Kierkegaard — questioned the standard definitions of family.
The Moral Majorities of the 19th and early to mid 20th centuries were pretty clear that families entailed a male and female parent and at least a couple of kids. Child-rearing was considered tough but necessary and rewarding work.
The Techno Age radically altered our lives, allowed us to die more slowly, possibly surrounded by machines rather than family and friends, and threw up great ethical dilemmas.
N OW we have the age of ethical debate. Some scientists claim human cloning is achievable with relative ease. The spiritual and ethical implications are challenging.
So are the questions surrounding IVF availability outside traditional relationships.
First we have to define what family really means.
Single parent families are prevalent, divorce is common, many parents avoid marriage, a significant number of marriages have no children, and many lesbians and gay men establish long-term and committed relationships.
We know the traditional family is not always a haven from the perils of the world, but is sometimes a site of violence, exploitation and danger, especially for women and children.
American minister Mark Kowalewski and religious scholar Elizabeth Say examined the up and down sides of homosexual relationships in the book Gay,Lesbians and Family Values.
They concluded that many couples had constructed pluralistic family values filled with love, care and humor despite “virulent bigotry and ignorance of extremists who claimed restrictive values of family”.

Fear is an unworthy belief system

WHAT are you really afraid of?

The Roman philosopher Petronius concluded 2000 years ago that “fear created the gods”.

Petronius said fear of unknown powers, mysterious events, hunger and especially eventual death were natural horrors to man.

God was created, he said, to overcome the environmental and psychological obstacles over which man felt he had no control.

Science has managed to some extent to narrow the circle of unexplained phenomena. But fear still governs many lives.

There is much fear of random violence, nuclear war and road rage. And psychologists have coined a new word – AtmosFear – to describe the widely held belief the world’s supply of good food, water and air is about to run out.

Collectively, we are afraid of almost everything. Instead of natural harmony, we see disorder, chaos and extinction.

Social researcher Faith Popcorn, according to the Los Angeles Times, that companies should take advantage of social fears.

She advised airlines, for instance, to list the training and experience of their flight crews in transit lounges. Reassurance would lead to
greater sales, she said.

Religion has often not been the antidote to fear. Indeed, too many churches have consciously and unconsciously, verbally and non-verbally, taught fear of damnation, fear of nature (particularly our own), fear of our bodies, fear of others and fear of the world.

Religions built on fear must keep preaching their fears to survive. They do injustice to the mystery of faith.
Because of this many people believe that traditional Western religions are inadequate to adult spiritual needs.

It has driven many to seek solace in ridiculous pseudo-sciences. Nervously clutching crystals and consulting horoscopes, they slide back into superstition and, sadly, greater fear.

It is hard to learn wisdom when you lack a basic trust in a loving creator.

It should not be this way.

We learn to trust as children. But bad parenting, or bad experiences, can destroy the concept.
Then it is a matter of being healed to regain faith. This reconciliation ought to be a function of religion. It probably once was.

Pisteuin, the original Greek word most often used by Jesus in the New Testament to convey “faith”, also means “trust”.

He said faith, or trust, had the power to heal the sick; even to move mountains.

Augustine later understood faith as “intellectual assent”. Trust in one’s own existence, he said, was the basic meaning of faith.

The early Hebrews had a passion and reverence for the process of change. They believed the natural changes that embrace us all – including the birth to death process – should be embraced, not feared.

Death was seen, not as the natural consequence of Original Sin, but as the final expansive explosion of our being on the planet.
“We are of God and that is enough to know for us to live in peace,” is an old Jewish saying that sums up the philosophy.

Release from the fears is seen by most psychologists as the key to better relationships.

The great German writer Goethe saw the value of self-trust and other-trust.
He wrote: “If you treat a person as she appears to be, you make her worse than she is. But if you treat a person as if she already were what she potentially could be, you make her what she should be.”

The message is that trust, or faith, in the miracle of existence and the goodness of change can eradicate fears that have bound us.

As Albert Einstein wrote: “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
“He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead.”

Sudan detains 10 women for wearing miniskirts and trousers to church

Sudanese authorities have detained 10 Christian students on a charge of indecent dressing, a criminal offense, after they wore miniskirts and trousers to church.

The young women were arrested last month in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church in the war-torn Nuba Mountains region in South Kordofan.

The girls, ages 17 to 23, had attended a ceremony at the church.

Police charged 12 women under Sudan’s 1991 Criminal Act, but two were released. The rest are to appear in court in coming days. If convicted, each will face 40 lashes.

“Sudan must drop the charges and release these women immediately,” Sarah Jackson, Amnesty International’s East Africa Deputy Director said on Sunday (July 12). “A hem-line is not a crime.”

Jackson said authorities imposed the charges in a discriminatory and inappropriate way and violated the women’s rights.

The 17-year-old student’s case has been transferred to the juvenile court. The rest of the women have court dates this week.

The Sudanese government is now trying two Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church pastors. The pastors face a possible death penalty conviction on charges of spying.

Yat Michael Rout was arrested last December after he delivered a sermon in a church in Omdurman area, while Peter Yein Reith was arrested weeks later after he raised the arrest issue with Sudan authorities.

Islamic law is strictly imposed in Sudan, and its government has increased persecution of Christians.

Darlene Zschech Leads Worship For The Pope

Australia’s iconic Christian singer Darlene Zschech led worship for Pope Francis at an ecumenical prayer gathering of more than 30,000 people at the Vatican this week.

The event, was a prayer and worship gathering for the persecuted church called Voices In Prayer led by Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square.

It was part of the 38th Annual Convocation of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, a Holy-Spirit centred movement within the Catholic Church also known as Renewal In The Holy Spirit (Rinnovamento nello Spirito Santo).

Darlene sang alongside the world-renowned tenor and devout Catholic Andrea Bocelli, US worship leader Don Moen, and Israeli singer-songwriter Noa (Anchinoam Nini).

Together they led the gathering of believers in singing Amazing Grace.

The event brought together Protestants, Catholics and Jews together to pray for believers around the world who are being martyred and persecuted.

It was the first ever ecumenical event held in St Peter’s Square

That judgemental thing

One of Jesus most famous teachings is, “Do not judge or you too will be judged.” But in the very same chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus also teaches that we should judge people by the “fruit” of their lives. Is judging others an absolute no-no or not?

Author Hugh Halter explores the heart of this issue in his new book Brimstone: The Art and Act of Holy Non judgment –

A excerpt—-Christians should stop trying to make the call of heaven or hell, in or out, dirty or clean, and instead model our humanity after Jesus’ humanity. If every Christian actually followed Jesus’ lead, the Christian movement would be the least judgmental but most influential movement the world has ever seen.

Here’s an interview with him.


Obama Sings ‘Amazing Grace’ During Charleston Eulogy

PRESIDENT Obama traveled to Charleston, South Carolina to deliver the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, one of the nine victims of last week’s shooting. It was an emotional speech, which included this memorable passage:

Blinded by hatred, the alleged killer could not see the grace surrounding Reverend Pinckney and that Bible study group. The light of love that shone as they opened the church doors and invited a stranger to join in their prayer circle. The alleged killer could have never anticipated the way the families of the fallen would respond when they saw him in court, in the midst of unspeakable grief, with words of forgiveness. He couldn’t imagine that.

Near the end his speech, Obama began to sing “Amazing Grace.” Soon, the congregation joined him. Watch:

Quiet please!


IN the early 1700s, a new drug was hailed as the likely cure for depression.
“Providence has been kind to us beyond all expression in furnishing us with a certain relief, if not the remedy even, to our most intense pains and miseries,” trumpeted Scottish physician George Cheyne.
The wonder drug opium had no side-effects; no drawbacks, he claimed.
A century later, after society was awash with opium addicts, science found a way to extract “a positively non-addictive” constituent called morphine.
Doctors happily prescribed it until it was realised patients were becoming morphine dependent.
Next came heroin, said at the time to be far safer than morphine, then cocaine, which Sigmund Freud prescribed to wean his patients off their morphine habits.
Then ecstasy, which some doctors prescribed to patients with marital problems.
Now we have, as part of the pleasure principle panacea, the many wonder drugs that claim to make people feel better rather than well.
They not only seem to stave off depression, but enhance the personality and make people feel more attractive.
About four million Australians take anti-depressants. Such is the chemistry of happiness.
But you have to wonder whether meddling with a person’s internal chemistry is going to be risk- free. Especially spiritually.
Happiness, as John Stuart Mill said, is not something you can patent or buy. There are no chemical shortcuts.
We seem to have lost the art of drawing from the deep well within us. We have lost the ability to fight and survive on our own God-given instincts and resources.
An Australian woman who went with her husband to work with AIDS-infected children in Thailand wrote of being startled by the victims’ amazing will to live after being diagnosed.
“It struck me that they lived in appalling physical conditions yet drew on their spiritual natures to fight this virus, whereas in Western cultures — which have great standards of living — there is a suicide epidemic,” she wrote.
“We in the West have everything, except what we need to survive.
“That’s why there is such a reliance on chemicals and on filling up each moment of our spare time with chatter, loud music and television. We don’t want to confront the quiet truth that we do not really know how to survive.”
The great monk Thomas Merton, who was concerned with the spiritual yearning of every human heart, thought drug, alcohol and sex addictions arose from the fear of living with emptiness. He said we could distract ourselves forever, playing roles and never really understanding our true self.
Merton called for more solitude in lives — solitude that could lead to touching an inner part of the soul separate from all except the Creator.
IT was in solitude that we could best confront and deal with social disintegration, job insecurity, ceaseless pressures and the devaluing of all that was decent by the “greed is good” philosophy, he said.
Poet Carl Sandburg said only those who learned to live with solitude could come to know themselves and life.
“I go out and walk, and look at the birds and trees and sky,” he said. “I listen. I sit on a rock or stump and say to myself `Who are you, Sandburg? Where have you been and where are you going?’ ”
The process can be difficult because some of the answers you hear in solitude’s self-evaluation can be confronting.
But it can also be the best place for encouraging the “soft voice of inspiration” Thomas Merton reported sometimes hearing.
“You gradually become more attuned to the frequency God uses to speak to us,” he said. “The depths of God and ourselves meet in the abyss of solitude.”

Outside the box it looks peacful

APOLLO 8 astronaut Frank Borman was moved to tears the first time he glimpsed our tiny fragile planet from outer space.

“When you’re finally up at the moon looking back on earth, all those differences and nationalistic traits are pretty well going to blend, and you’re going to get a concept that maybe this really is one world and why the hell can’t we learn to live together like decent people,” he later said.

Michael Collins, a traveller on Apollo 11, said he believed that if the political leaders of the world could see their planet from the moon their outlook could be fundamentally changed.

“That all-important border would be invisible, that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn, serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified façade that would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment,” he said.

Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut, put it more bluntly. “From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch’.”

Albert Einstein was no atheist; 27 letters up for auction show ‘he believed in God’

einstein22222222 Over two dozen of Albert Einstein’s personal letters, some which reveal that he was not an atheist, will be auctioned this week. California-based auction house Profiles in History is putting the letters up for auction in Los Angeles. “We all know about what he accomplished, how he changed the world with the theory of relativity. But these letters show the other side of the story — how he advised his children, how he believed in God,” said Joseph Maddalena, founder of Profiles in History, The Associated Press reported.

On the issue of God, Einstein dismissed the belief that he was an atheist.

. “You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the spirit of the professional atheist. … I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being.”

Mr. Maddalena said the letters are on sale from $5,000 to $40,000 each. He said the total take could range from $500,000 to $1 million, AP reported. “These are certainly among the most important things I’ve ever handled,” Mr. Maddalena said, AP reported. “This is not like a Babe Ruth autograph or a signed photo of Marilyn Monroe. These are historically significant.”

Vatican orders former archbishop to stand trial on child abuse charges

In an unprecedented move, the Vatican announced its former ambassador to the Dominican Republic, Jozef Wesolowski, would stand trial on charges he paid for sex with children.

Wesolowski, 66, who had the title archbishop during his five-year post in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic capital, was recalled to the Vatican in 2013. He was later the first person to be arrested inside the Vatican on child abuse charges.

He also faces charges of possessing child pornography during his stay at the Holy See and ahead of his arrest in September 2014, the Vatican said in a statement.

The decision to put Wesolowski, a native of Poland, on trial was announced nine days after a Vatican prosecutor requested the ex-archbishop be indicted. The first hearing is scheduled to take place within the Vatican walls on July 11.

The upcoming trial will prove to be a test case for the Holy See

There Are More Catholics In The World, But Fewer Priests: Report

A new report mapping the Catholic Church’s more than 1.2 billion souls — on track to reach 1.64 billion by 2050 — holds some surprises.

And not all bode well for the church’s future as it faces major demographic and social shifts.

“Global Catholicism: Trends & Forecasts,” released by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, looks at seven regions of the world.

The focus is on “the three most important indicators of ‘vitality’ for the Catholic Church … the number of Catholics, the number of parishes, and the number of priests.”

Among the key findings:

The global Catholic population has grown by 57 percent since 1980.

It’s up from 7.83 million in 1980 to 1.2 billion. However, this growth varies steeply by region.

Europeans are rapidly shedding the continent’s historic Catholic identity while the Global South, particularly Africa and Asia, booms with Catholics.

Europe saw only a 6 percent increase — from 271 million to more than 289 million. Meanwhile, the number of Catholics in Africa was up 238 percent, from 58.6 million in 1980 to 198 million in 2012.

But that growth is primarily due to a higher birth rate, “not to conversion or evangelization,” observed the Rev. Thomas Reese, a social scientist and columnist for the National Catholic Reporter who has seen the report.

More people than ever before are receiving the core sacraments of Catholicism including baptism, First Communion, confirmation, and marriage in the church.

But the growth in absolute numbers disguises more telling numbers.

Worldwide, there has been just a 7 percent growth in parishes, the brick-and-mortar churches where these rites are held. And the overall rate per 1,000 Catholics receiving the sacraments “is in uninterrupted decline worldwide. It’s not keeping up with population growth,” said Mark Gray, senior research associate for CARA and a co-author of the report.

The reasons vary from a lack of interest in the West to a lack of access to parishes and priests in developing countries to simple demographics.

If birth rates fall, there are fewer babies to baptize. As life expectancy increases and the average age of Catholics rises, those areas with older Catholics have lower baptism rates: “You only get baptized once in your life,” said Gray.

In raw numbers, marriages are increasing. But measured by the rate per 1,000 Catholics, marriage in the church, said Gray “is one of the hardest-hit sacraments around the globe.”


Tony Campolo Calls for churches to welcome Gay & Lesbian Christians

I do not put up this post to be controversial but to inspire respectful discussion of the issues that face all Christians. This morning, Dr. Tony Campolo, well known evangelical activist, educator, speaker, and founder of Red Letter Christians released a statement on his blog announcing his official change of heart and mind on LGBTQ inclusion in the church. In the statement he says: “While I have always tried to communicate grace and understanding to people on both sides of the issue, my answer to that question has always been somewhat ambiguous. One reason for that ambiguity was that I felt I could do more good for my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters by serving as a bridge person, encouraging the rest of the Church to reach out in love and truly get to know them. The other reason was that, like so many other Christians, I was deeply uncertain about what was right. It has taken countless hours of prayer, study, conversation and emotional turmoil to bring me to the place where I am finally ready to call for the full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” To read his full statement go here http://tonycampolo.org/for-the-record-tony-campolo-releases-a-new-statement/#.VXZ4_Gd-8iT

New Study Shows Israelis And Palestinians Would Gain Billions From Peace

Israelis and Palestinians would gain billions of dollars from making peace with each other while both would face daunting economic losses in case of other alternatives, particularly in case of a return to violence, according to a new study.

The RAND Corp., a U.S.-based nonprofit research organization, interviewed some 200 officials from the region and elsewhere during more than two years of research into the costs of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Its main finding was that following a peace agreement, Israelis stood to gain $120 billion over the course of a decade. The Palestinians would gain $50 billion, marking a 36-percent rise in their average per-capita income, the report said.

In contrast, the Israeli economy would lose some $250 billion in foregone economic opportunities in a return to violence, and the Palestinians would see their per-capita gross domestic product fall by as much as 46 percent, the report said.

The findings are in line with long-time arguments that peace is in the economic interest of both sides.

“We hope our analysis and tools can help Israelis, Palestinians and the international community understand more clearly how present trends are evolving and recognize the costs and benefits of alternatives to the current destructive cycle of action, reaction and inaction,” said C. Ross Anthony, co-leader of the study and director of RAND’s Israeli-Palestinian Initiative.

The study looked into five different scenarios: a two-state solution, a coordinated unilateral withdrawal, an uncoordinated unilateral withdrawal, nonviolent resistance and a violent uprising. Not surprisingly, the economic benefit for both sides dropped considerably in each alternative scenario down the ladder.

Some of the elements of the nonviolent resistance scenario are already unfolding with Palestinians taking actions to put economic and international pressure on Israel. The study found that Israelis could lose $80 billion and Palestinians could lose $12 billion relative to current trends. But compared with a two-state solution, losses from the non-violent resistance scenario become even more dramatic: about $200 billion for the Israelis and $60 billion for the Palestinians.

RAND teams are currently in the region, presenting their findings to both Israeli and Palestinians officials.

Nice guys really do finish last, says study

Food for thought – Does it pay, at least in worldly terms, to be a jerk?
At the University of Amsterdam, researchers have reportedly found that semi-obnoxious behavior not only can make a person seem more powerful, but can make them more powerful. The same goes for overconfidence. Act like you’re the smartest person in the room, a series of striking studies demonstrates, and you’ll up your chances of running the show. People will even pay to be treated shabbily: snobbish, condescending salespeople at luxury retailers extract more money from shoppers than their more agreeable counterparts do. And “agreeableness,” other research shows, is a trait that tends to make you poorer.

The transgender dilemma

On April 24, all-American sporting superstar Bruce Jenner, who won gold for the decathlon in Montreal in 1972, announced that he was transsexual and that for all intents and purposes, “I’m a woman”.

This week, she revealed that her new name was Caitlyn. The shock was seismic: Jenner is not only a sporting hero but also features in the reality TV series Keeping up with the Kardashians, as until recently she was married to Kris and stepfather to her children.

What really perplexed evangelicals however, was that she was both a Christian and a Republican – neither of which really seemed to fit with her new identity. She said in her interview with Diane Sawyer: “I would sit in church and always wonder, ‘In God’s eyes, how does he see me?'”

Jenner’s revelations made headlines because of who she is. But there are more and more people, and not just in the US, who identify themselves as transsexuals – generally used for people who transition from one sex to another – or transgendered, whose sense of their gender differs from their physical sex. In a sign of how what was once rare is now becoming mainstream.

For some Christians, helping people to transition from one gender to another is a compassionate response to a deeply-felt need. Others are profoundly uncomfortable about the theological implications of such interventions. So what are the issues, and how should Christians approach them?

Treatments for the condition span the full range from counselling to full-scale gender reassignment surgery. People who don’t choose that or aren’t suitable candidates might have speech therapy, hair removal or hormone therapy. If they do want to make a full transition they’d be expected to live in their chosen gender identity for at least a year beforehand. The rigorous process of assessment generally seems to ‘work’: according to the NHS, after surgery most transsexuals are happy with their new sex and feel comfortable with their gender identity. One review of studies carried out over a 20-year period found that 96 per cent of people who had gender reassignment surgery were satisfied (though a 2011 Swedish survey found “considerably higher risks for mortality, suicidal behaviour, and psychiatric morbidity than the general population”).

However, many evangelical Christians have serious theological doubts about the procedures, and about the increasing normalisation of the ‘transgendered’ identity.


Happy birthday Sgt Pepper’s


ON this day, June 1, in 1967, the Beatles’ 40-minute masterpiece Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was released.
Those 12 songs (with a reprise of the title track at the end) changed pop music forever.
The Beatles spent 129 days, 400 hours, recording this album.
it all started, according to Paul McCartney, over a conversation with road manager Mal Evans on a flight home to England. The topic was salt and pepper. It was misheard as Sgt. Pepper . And so the seed was planted of a fictitious band whose hope was that fans would all “like the show”.

Awake after being Trapped inside his own body for a decade

AFTER an unknown illness sent him into a vegetative state, Martin Pistorius’ parents were told that their son had less than two years to live. The Pistoriuses plummeted into depression. They had lost their boy before he ever reached adulthood, went to college, or had a chance to wed and have children. Or so they thought.

A decade later, emerging computer technology allowed Martin to communicate that he was still alive, but trapped inside his own body. This allowed doctors to help him return from the darkness and regain his life.

His gripping memoir, Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body, shares the consequences of misdiagnosis and what Martin experienced at the hands of abusive caretakers. Sitting in a wheelchair and talking through a computer, he shares how faith sustained him through that dark decade.

He wrote:

I don’t know how I came to realize God. He was just always there.  He still is there. I grew up in a Christian home, but we very rarely attended church. This combined with the path my life had taken meant that I never learned the formalities of faith. But I became very close to God. There were many, many times where I felt utterly alone, even if there were people around me. But while a part of me experienced the extreme loneliness and isolation another part of me always felt the presence of the Lord.

Unlike the people around me, God knew I existed. And I knew He existed. I often found myself talking to God. Perhaps one could call them prayers, even though my eyes were open and my hands weren’t pressed together.