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Next generation

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At first glace, the report about Smith College in Massachusetts firing its three chaplains seemed to be about the big-bad administration cutting the budget at the expense of religious life at the school.

Turns out, however, that there wasn't much "religious life" going on. According to the school's dean of religious life, only about 50 students were participating in regular religious services offered to Catholics, Protestants and Jews.

This, out of a student body of 2,600--all women, who at least traditionally have been more regular church-attenders than men. Of course, Smith is not a school with religious roots, and some 40% of students check "no religious affiliation" as incoming freshmen, the New York Times article said.

Granted, attending formal religious services isn't the only way to be religious, especially during one's college years. And it's sad that today's financial realities have made head-counting like this a necessary way to determine which services stay and which go.

Kathy Kelly: the real offense in the McChrystal saga

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Kathy Kelly, a co-director of Voices for Creative Non-Violence and a long-time anti-war activist and chronicler of what’s happening in war zones, was recently in areas of Pakistan that are regularly in the news, and she also spent some time in Afghanistan with members of an Italian relief organization. She’ll be writing about her experiences and observations for NCR in the near future.

I emailed her today to see what she thought of President Obama relieving Gen. Stanley McChrystal of his command in Afghanistan. Here’s her reply, one that you won’t get on this evening’s news:

“It seems to be rearranging the deck chairs. In the Rose Garden, President Obama said there would be no change in policy. Def. Sec. Gates replaced General McKiernan with Gen. McChrystal because he and others in the Obama administration wanted to employ McChrystal's experience in organizing special operations. In Iraq, that experience involved developing death squads, planning night raids, and coordinating undercover assassinations.

'Smokestack lightning'

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One of the benefits of living in Kansas City, Mo. is the Saturday Night Fish Fry, a music program on local public radio you can hear every Saturday night from 8 to midnight. The host, Chuck Haddix, serves up vintage and current blues, soul, jumpin' jive, zydeco, funk, doo-wop, four-handed boogie woogie piano, Mardi Gras mambos, gospel, R&B ballads, and Cajun stomps, along with notable barbecue recipes and lively chat about the local music scene and domino games in summer backyards. In our house the Fish Fry is welcome background music, but over the years I notice it's also become, for me, an kind of ongoing prayer, though of the "noisy contemplation" variety.

Do these names ring a bell? Pinetop Perkins, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vincent, Muddy Waters, Slim Harpo, Professor Longhair, Etta James, Ma Rainey, Peetie Wheatstraw? They're all stellar lights in the genre known as the blues, which is largely the music of black America a few generations ago, what 60 years ago used to be called "race music." It's the fertile seedbed of rock 'n' roll and has become the quintessential music of American working folks.

Top Philippine military officer says he will serve new president

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So you think President Obama has problems with his top Afghanistan military officer, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who war relieved of his command just moments ago.

It could be worse.

This only vaguely reassuring report comes out of the Philippines, where the top military commander says he will serve the incoming president, Benigno Aquino.

If you have to say it, something is wrong.

MANILA, Philippines - The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) will be at the service of incoming president Benigno Aquino, Jr., its top official said today.

The military will be a good follower for the next administration, obedient enough that it is going to follow the national leaders even if they happen to be likened to "dogs," Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales told reporters.

The Aquino government therefore must not fear that the AFP wants to topple the next administration, Gonzales said.

Aquino, who will replace incumbent president Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo, will take his oath as the country's 15th chief executive on June 30.

Report: 245 million women around the world are widows and over 115 million live in poverty

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At least 245 million women around the world have been widowed and more than 115 million of them live in devastating poverty, according to a new study launched Tuesday night by Cherie Blair, wife of the former British prime minister.

The most dire consequences are faced by 2 million Afghan widows and at least 740,000 Iraqi widows who lost their husbands as a result of the ongoing conflicts; by widows and their children evicted from their family homes in sub-Saharan Africa; by elderly widows caring for grandchildren orphaned by the HIV/AIDS crisis, and by child widows aged 7 to 17 in developing countries, the report said.

"Across the world, widows suffer dreadful discrimination and abuse," Blair said. "In too many cases they're pushed to the very margins of society, trapped in poverty and left vulnerable to abuse and exploitation."

The Catholic Key and Who Speaks for the Church

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I give Jack Smith, editor of Kansas City diocesan paper, a good deal of credit. His “Catholic Key” blog breaks beyond the usual church-sponsored model of communication. It is provocative, in tune with the bishop, Robert Finn, for whom he works, and a good place to get perspective on conservative views in the Church. (I rarely agree with his political points and think he’s taken some real cheap shots on a number of issues, but that’s another story.)

The Catholic Key blog, in other words, is a good read. But is it more than that? And should it be?

Yesterday, Smith weighed in on the controversy surrounding Cardinal Francis George’s comments at the closed door meeting of the US Bishops last week. It’s a long story (background here), but the essence of it is that the “Catholic News Agency” attributed remarks to George that the spokesperson for the US Bishops Conference, Helen Osman, says are a “fabrication.”

Austrian laity in new push for church reform

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The Associated Press is reporting today that Austrian Catholics are ramping up a campaing for reform in the church, partly as a consequence of the ongoing sex abuse scandal.

The Austrians, as do Germans, have a unique bit of leverage. When they leave the church, they stop paying a controversial, government-administered church tax. Tens of thousands of Austrian Catholics are leaving each year, with the number predicted to grow significantly this year, and many are citing their wish not to support a church that harmed children and that is led by what they perceive as an out-of-touch hierarchy.

Fire McChrystal

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When I began managing Kramerbooks & Afterwords Café back in 1987, the first thing the owner told me was to hire my own replacement. I thought this a bizarre request seeing as he had just hired me to run the place. He explained that many people depended for their livelihoods on the café running successfully and that if I got hit by a bus, the whole operation could not come grinding to a halt. My first task, therefore, was to make sure that I had in place one or more colleagues and subordinates who knew how to do the schedule, examine the payroll, train new staff, etc. This was sage advice.

Interview with Cardinal Scola on Christian/Muslim relations

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By JOHN L. ALLEN JR.

One frustration about inter-faith dialogue has long been that it tends to be delegated to, and thus dominated by, a narrow band of experts. While smart and well-meaning, these folks sometimes have more in common with one another, both biographically and theologically, than with either the rank-and-file or the policy-makers in their own traditions.

Trying to bring the mainstreams into the game was part of the reason that Cardinal Angelo Scola of Venice launched the “Oasis Foundation” in 2004, which promotes solidarity among Christians in the Middle East and dialogue with the Islamic world.This week, June 21-22, Oasis held the annual meeting of its “Scientific Committee,” which brought together 70 Christian and Muslim leaders in Beirut, Lebanon, to talk about the theme of education.

Scola, 68, was widely tipped as a potential papabile, or candidate to be pope, in the run-up to the conclave of April 2005, and depending on the timing, he could well be in the mix the next time around.

According to notes from the Beirut meeting released by Scola’s media office, it was a bit of a good news/bad news experience.

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July 4-17, 2014

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