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A small c catholic

To understand, study Catholic and Protestant thinkers


When I described here recently how Jacques Ellul, the 20th Century French Reformed Church leader, thought about hope, several Catholic readers expressed gratitude for my having introduced them to a brilliant Protestant thinker.

It got me thinking about great minds in our different traditions that we don’t know much about because they are outside our theological walls.

Baptism agreement shows all Christians part of same family


A few weeks ago, the American Catholic Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) -- my spiritual home -- joined to become one church.

Did you miss it?

What happened was this: The Presbyterians -- not to mention three other Reformed churches -- reached agreement with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on mutual recognition of each other’s baptisms.

Hope: Demanding the divine words


A bedraggled cliché says that people tend to enter a new year with hope. But hope itself, at least in a Christian context, is often badly misunderstood, hung with the cheap, glittering tinsel of vague sentimentality.

So as we move into 2011, I want to draw on a great thinker who came from largely Catholic France but whose commitment was to the Reformed Church of France. Jacques Ellul (1912-1994) can help us think more realistically about hope.

Pope's condom remarks leave much unsaid


Catholics may be sick of this subject, given the overwrought press coverage it has received in recent weeks, but I want to return to what Pope Benedict XVI said about condom use in remarks that appear in the new book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Sign of the Times.

I bring this up partly because its ripple effects may go on a long time. I also raise it as someone who has been part of an AIDS ministry at my church since 1989 and, thus, as one who has been with dozens of people, including at least one Catholic priest, as they’ve fought AIDS and lost.

With shrinking congregations, churches must inspire


Several months ago, in the column I write for a national Presbyterian magazine The Presbyterian Outlook, I pondered my denomination’s shrinking world and wondered who the last Presbyterian might be.

I was being only a little facetious. American Catholics might well be wondering something similar, given the findings of a survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life that showed that one out of every three adult Americans who had been raised Catholic has left the church.

On anniversary of Reformation, it's time to get ecumenical


We Protestants just commemorated Reformation Sunday, annually timed to note the Oct. 31 date on which Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenberg.

My Presbyterian denomination locates itself within what is called the Reformed Tradition. Our motto is Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda, which means “a church reformed and always reforming.”

An ethical base for politics must come from all of us


For several weeks now I have been marinating in the speech Pope Benedict XVI gave to a Westminster Hall full of British politicians on his recent journey to the United Kingdom.

What has especially engaged me is what he described as “the central question at issue,” which is, “Where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found?”

To avoid clergy burnout, parishioners have to lend a hand


Last year as I was gathering information to write the centennial celebration book for a large Catholic parish in Kansas City, Mo., I asked the current priest and several men who formerly served there as priests to gather for conversation.

I wanted to unpack their brains to help me understand what makes Visitation Catholic Parish tick.


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