These past few weeks has seen the release of several surprisingly good films (though some will receive wide release in January). We could bicker about what makes a film "good" forever, but for the sake of argument, let's define say that a good film as one with images and sound so well integrated that the story satisfies, inspires, is through-provoking, entertaining, and sometimes offers a glimpse into the soul.
The health care bill that passed the Senate in the wee hours of the morning is much, much better on the issue of abortion funding than the original bill it amended. The most important new provision is that which requires a woman who has purchased a plan that includes abortion coverage in the federally-managed exchanges to write two premium checks, one for the basic plan and the other for the part of the plan that covers abortion services. This is very similar to the “abortion riders” that the Stupak Amendment foresaw in the House-passed bill.
Does a rider by any other name smell as sweet? Yes. The purpose of the “riders” was to demonstrate two things, both of which are important. First, a rider paid for entirely out-of-pocket would show that the federal subsidies are not paying for the abortion coverage. Here the funds are not arbitrarily segregated for accounting purposes, as the original bill decreed properly raising the charge that it was an accounting gimmick. Here the funds are not segregated because they are never combined in the first place.
Disagreements over homosexuality and the Bible have divided mainline Protestant churches for years. In evangelical churches, though, the majority view has held firm — the Bible clearly condemns homosexual acts. The common refrain at evangelical churches: "love the sinner, hate the sin."
This makes the Rev. Mark Tidd an outlaw pastor of sorts. His Denver congregation, less than a year old, is an evangelical Christian church guided both by the Apostle's Creed and the belief that gay people can embrace their sexual orientation as God-given and seek fulfillment in committed same-sex relationships.
Read the full AP story here: Evangelical church opens doors fully to gays - and learns the cost of being a renegade
A friend of mine is thinking of getting a "quickie confirmation" for her son down in Mexico. For decades, Californians have raced across the border for quickie divorces in Baja -- but fast-n-easy sacraments are something new.
An article in Monday's Los Angeles Times spotlights one priest from Baja California who's gotten in trouble with his archbishop. Seems Fr. Raymundo Figueroa from Rosarito Beach in Mexico's Baja California has a special way of raising funds for his parish: he comes over the border to the U.S. and sells sacraments to time-stressed Americans. According to the Times, Fr. Figueroa charges up to $180 for fast-tracked confirmations, baptisms and first communions.
No one accuses the priest of pocketing these proceeds -- he plows the funds back into his parish, which now has a stunning church that is the envy of all the surrounding towns. And maybe this would not be much more than an amusing tale -- except that it is apparently not at all unique.
Religious women today facing the disapproval and scrutiny of officials in Rome might take some consolation from the life of the Venerable Mary Ward, founder of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary, known in the United States as the Loreto sisters. In the 17th century, when she wanted to form an unenclosed order of women, she was too far ahead of her time. Rome not only balked at the idea, but at one point accused her of heresy.
Recognition of her efforts came slowly. On Dec. 19, Pope Benedict declared her venerable, an early step on the way to sainthood.
Every year, on Interfaith Voices, I interview leading religion journalists about the top religion stories of the year just past, and about the top religion newsmakers of the year. This year, I talked with Kevin Eckstrom, Editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton of Religion and Ethics Newsweekly on PBS TV.
Both of these top-notch analysts named President Obama as the “Religion Newsmaker of the Year.” They cited his speech at Notre Dame University, his address to the Muslim world in Cairo, his faith-based outreach, and even his Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, where he cited the just war theory, and for many, gave new voice to the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr. I agree with them. Whether you agree or disagree with the substance of what he had to say, he has become a consequential figure in the world of public religion and public theology.
"The Way Humanity Treats the Environment Influences the Way It Treats Itself"
Here is the statement Archbishop Celestino Migliore, permanent observer of the Holy See at the United Nations, delivered Thursday to the U.N. conference on climate change in Copenhagen. Archbishop Migliore is head of the Holy See delegation to the meeting.
This conference reiterates how long it takes to create the clear and firm political will necessary to adopt common binding measures and adequate budgets for an effective mitigation and adaptation to ongoing climate change.
Is this political will slow in taking shape due to the complexity of the interlinking issues that we must tackle? Is it mainly a problem of conflicting national interests? Or is it the difficulty in translating into numbers the by-now acquired principle of common and differentiated responsibility? Or is it still the predominance of energy policies over care of the environment? Undoubtedly, there is a little of all of this.
Irish Columban Missionary Fr. Seán McDonagh sent this report on Saturday from Copenhagen:
"Columban missionaries like myself who worked in Mindanao, Phillipines, in the 1970s and 1980s will remember that, at many of our heated meetings on issues such as peace, social justice and concerns with the behavior of the army or the police, one well-known Columban would ask: Where is God in all of this?
I am not sure whether there was much God-inspired love for the poor, future generations and the planet itself, in the formal negotiations, as nations put their own immediate economic future before long-term concerns for the poor of the world or future generations.
Once again at COP 15, there were presentations by scientific institutions such as The Hadley Centre in Britain. Warnings from them and their companions in the scientific community are becoming more apocalyptic each year in terms of telling us how quickly climate change is happening and how much more destructive the consequences will be if no serious remedial action is taken within the next decade.
Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, former master general of the Dominican Order, said the the clergy sex abuse scandal now rocking the church in Ireland, is more "a crisis of clerical culture" than it is a crisis of sexual abuse.
"Unless some legislator pulls off a last-minute double-cross, health care reform will pass the Senate this week. Count me among those who consider this an awesome achievement. It’s a seriously flawed bill, we’ll spend years if not decades fixing it, but it’s nonetheless a huge step forward.
It was, however, a close-run thing. And the fact that it was such a close thing shows that the Senate — and, therefore, the U.S. government as a whole — has become ominously dysfunctional."
So writes Paul Krugman in today's New York Times, a column worth pondering.