Religion and Values – Press Herald Sat, 24 Jun 2017 15:54:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reflections: Think of travel as a spiritual act, for we are one human family Sat, 24 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Since my husband and I were happily able to retire four years ago, one of our chief joys in life is travel. We’ve enjoyed road trips and ocean cruises, winter idylls in tropical places, and spring and fall explorations of different parts of Europe. We almost always have at least two trips in the works, and we do most of the planning ourselves – it’s part of the fun! In each European city we visit, we walk and use public transportation, because it gets us closer to the people who live and work there. We travel light, with only a 21-inch carry-on each, and we bring home almost no souvenirs except pictures, and the personal transformation that getting out of one’s domestic comfort zone offers.

After each trip, we talk together about our memories – the beauty of the landscapes, the wonders of art and history and culture in great museums, churches, synagogues and mosques. But more than any of these, we recall the personal encounters with people, both locals and fellow travelers, around things mundane and profound, particular and universal.

There was the hotel clerk in Amsterdam who considered being fluent in English, but also German, French, Spanish and Portuguese, and of course Dutch, unremarkable, and in fact necessary in order to work. There was the friendly group of young people who made room for us on the patio of a Brussels beer hall, including us in the celebration of the 30th birthday of one of the young men, a rite of passage with dubious overtones because he is, at this advanced age, unmarried. There were people in Berlin going to work and school, running mundane errands and carrying home groceries and children, amidst the Brandenburg Gate and remnants of the Berlin Wall, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, reminders of a history that is in books for us, but in the daily lives of Europeans. There was the German couple on vacation in Switzerland, who, when I shared that I was born in Germany, my father an American officer who was part of the occupying force after the war, told us about his father, conscripted into Hitler’s army at gunpoint and killed three days before the war’s end, their family then ostracized because they’d been on the wrong side of history.

And everywhere, there were immigrants: the server in Belgium whose parents were from Syria, the guide in Prague who had followed a job opportunity from Italy; the Scottish historian who found work in Switzerland; the Iranian family running a shop in Augsburg; the American living in Amsterdam because professional opportunities in the art world are there.

Friends at home sometimes ask if we’re worried about terror attacks, given the explosions in Brussels, the Christmas market attack in Berlin, the knife attacks in London, the concert bombing in Manchester. But frankly, we’re more concerned about gun crime in the U.S. than these far less frequent incidents, and we refuse to allow them to keep us from traveling. Our favorite travel writer, Rick Steves, has written about “Travel as a Political Act,” but we think of it also as a spiritual act – an act of solidarity with people whose lives and loves, whose hopes and dreams, whose struggles and joys are in countries and cultures and languages different from our own. For truly, we are one human family, as Lloyd Stone’s stirring lyric says so well:

This is my song, O God of all the nations, a song of peace for lands afar and mine;

this is my home, the country where my heart is; here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:

but other hearts in other lands are beating with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean, and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;

but other lands have sunlight too, and clover, and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:

O hear my song, thou God of all the nations, a song of peace for their land and for mine.

Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.

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Holy month of Ramadan enriches believers Sat, 24 Jun 2017 00:03:37 +0000 NAPERVILLE, Ill. — Not one bite of food or sip of water from sunup to sundown. No alcohol. No sex. No tobacco.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which began this year on May 26 and will end June 24, is hard. It’s supposed to be. It’s a time of sacrifice but also a time to focus on God and faith and family.

“We keep reminding people that we do not view Ramadan as a burden,” said Aadil Farid, former president of the Naperville Islamic Center. “We view Ramadan as an opportunity, as a platform, as a tool that enriches our mind, body and soul. It provides us an opportunity to stop and think and reflect. By refraining from food, it allows us to think that we are connected with the entirety of humanity through very basic needs.”

For healthy adults, fasting begins at sunrise, which was 5:24 a.m. on the first day of Ramadan and 5:19 a.m. on the last. Any meal must be consumed before that time. Then it’s no dinner until sunset at about 8:30 p.m. The only people excluded are the elderly, pregnant women, children and those who are ill, although all must still participate in daily prayers and reading from the Quran and can abstain from other things, such as watching television.

Ramadan is divided into three parts that each last 10 days. The final 10 days are considered the most blessed and the most important. “Within those last 10 days is when the first verses of the Quran were actually revealed,” Aadil Farid said.

The month of fasting and prayer is meant to be a time in which people re-assess their lives and improve their relationship with God and others, said Safa Farid, Aadil Farid’s 22-year-old daughter.

“When you’re not focusing on things meant to survive like eating, sleeping and drinking, then you’re more focused on the spiritual side of you,” Safa Farid said. “Then you can focus more on looking into the word of God and seeing what he said and working on your soul essentially.”

During Ramadan, many mosques and Islamic centers offer fast-breaking meals, called iftar, and prayer after sunset. Around 8 p.m. Thursday, people began trickling into the Islamic Center of Naperville in preparation of the end of that day’s fast.

Charity and generosity are particularly emphasized during Ramadan, so many volunteer to set up tables and serve food. “People compete to the extent that everybody wants to serve,” Aadil Farid said. “It is said this month that the reward of any good deed gets multiplied by 70 times normal.”

And for those who cannot fast, “anyone who assists in helping someone break their fast gets the reward that’s like the reward if they were fasting as well,” Safa Farid said.

The fast is traditionally broken with the consumption of dates, which the Prophet Mohammed consumed to break his own fast after God revealed the first verses of the Quran to him. Women eat and pray separate from the men, and the Islamic Center serves dinner to about 450 or 500 people each night.

Because the dates of Ramadan are set by the lunar calendar, the times of meals and prayers will change with the time of year. This year, dinner is served at about 8:45 p.m., and people eat and socialize until about 10 p.m. The food is catered and the menu changes every day.

The last prayer of the day begins about 10:20 p.m. Women pack various rooms in the mosque—those with children under the age of 10 and those who need to sit in chairs while they pray—have their own rooms. Some people leave after the first set of prayers, which this week ended at about 11:15 p.m. Others continue praying until after midnight.

Attendance for the nightly prayers in the first week of Ramadan drew nearly 1,500 people each night, Aadil Farid said. In the last few nights, close to 2,000 people are expected to attend.

Although the message is reinforced that the holy month is a time for self-evaluation, self-improvement and rededication to the faith, many will experience the “Ramadan slump” in the middle of the month, Safa Farid said.

The beginning of Ramadan draws excitement and a sense of community as people get to see their friends and family every day for the nightly prayers that are specific to Ramadan, Farid said.

“After the first week or week-and-a-half, the fatigue kind of starts to kick in from your lack of energy and your lack of sleep,” Farid said. But things kick into high gear at the end, Farid and her father agreed.

]]> 0 Muslim worshipper prays during the holy month of Ramadan as pilgrims circumambulate around the Kaaba, the cubic building at the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.Fri, 23 Jun 2017 20:10:33 +0000
Pope seeks to encourage Colombian reconciliation Fri, 23 Jun 2017 23:20:55 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis will preside over a reconciliation ceremony between Colombian victims and former guerrillas during a September visit aimed at consolidating the peace process to end Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict.

Francis will also pay homage to the patron saint of slaves, the 16th century Jesuit priest St. Peter Claver, when he travels to the former slave-trading hub of Cartagena.

The Vatican on Friday released details of Francis’ Sept. 6-11 trip, his fifth to Latin America and the first papal visit to Colombia since St. John Paul II’s pilgrimage in 1986.

Highlights include a Mass in Bogota’s Simon Bolivar park that is expected to draw up to 1 million people. A day later, the pope is scheduled to preside over a prayer for national reconciliation in Villavicencio, a traditional stronghold of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

Earlier this week, FARC members began the final handover of individual weapons as part of the nation’s historic peace accord, which was signed last year after an initial one was rejected by Colombians in a referendum.

Francis had said he would only come to Colombia once a peace agreement was sealed. He gave a strong push to Colombian negotiators when he visited Cuba in 2015, telling them they didn’t have the right to abandon peace efforts.

In addition to the main peace and reconciliation thrust of the trip, Francis is likely to use his time in Colombia to touch on drug trafficking and Colombia’s cocaine trade, the environment given Colombia’s location in the Amazon rainforest, as well as poverty and social inequality.

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Religion Calendar Fri, 23 Jun 2017 21:55:03 +0000 Gospel symposium. Free. Redeemer Lutheran Church, 410 Main St., Gorham, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday.

Drop-in meditation class on enhancing our kindness and improving relationships. $10. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland., 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Youth concert. Choir of over 30 voices from Burke, Virginia. South Freeport Congregational Church, 98 South Freeport Road. Free. 7:30 pm. Sunday.

Free half-day Vacation Bible School. South Freeport Church, 98 South Freeport Road. 9 a.m.-noon Monday through Friday.

Service of comfort and hope. Monthly evening service of contemplation where anyone may come into the sanctuary for reflection and prayer. Last Wednesday of each month. First Parish Congregational Church. 12 Beach St., Saco., 7-7:30 p.m.

Matthew Fox speaks on science and spirituality. $20 advance, $25 at door. First Parish Church, 425 Congress St., Portland. 8 p.m. Friday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

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Illinois Catholic bishop decrees no Communion, funerals for same-sex couples Fri, 23 Jun 2017 15:12:31 +0000 The bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, is calling on priests there to deny Holy Communion and even funeral rites to people in same-sex unions unless they show “some signs of repentance” for their relationships before death.

The decree by Bishop Thomas Paprocki also said that people “living publicly” in same-sex marriages may not receive the sacrament of confirmation or be admitted to the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a process by which many converts become Catholic, preparing them for baptism and confirmation.

At the same time, Paprocki said that children living with a Catholic parent or parents in a same-sex marriage may be baptized. But when it comes to same-sex unions, priests cannot bless couples, church property cannot be used for ceremonies and diocesan employees are forbidden from participating, the decree said.

The bishop’s decree has not yet been made public by the diocese, but was sent to clergy and diocesan staff in an email last week. That email, in turn, was shared with other clergy around the country, as well as Catholic LGBT organizations, which posted the document and condemned it as unduly harsh, particularly in light of Pope Francis’ more compassionate posture.

“Although some other bishops and dioceses have instituted similar policies in part, this document is mean-spirited and hurtful in the extreme,” Christopher Pett, incoming president of DignityUSA, said in a news release by the organization that rallies the church for full inclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Catholics.

Although same-sex marriages have been legal across the United States since the Supreme Court’s 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, the decree reiterates church teaching that marriage is a “covenant between one man and one woman.” The church’s official catechism states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.”

Four years ago, after gay marriage was legally recognized in Illinois, Paprocki “performed an exorcism in response to the law, suggesting politicians were ‘morally complicit’ in assisting the sins of same-sex couples,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

The 64-year-old bishop, trained as a lawyer as well as priest, has served the Springfield diocese since 2010. He was previously a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Chicago, and is known for his passion for running and penchant for playing hockey.

In a statement provided to The Post, the bishop said of the decree: “These norms are necessary in light of changes in the law and in our culture regarding these issues.” The decree states:

Jesus Christ himself affirmed the privileged place of marriage in human and Christian society by raising it to the dignity of a sacrament. Consequently, the church not only has the authority, but the serious obligation to affirm its authentic teaching on marriage to preserve and foster the sacred value of the married state.

Last year, the pope released a 256-page document, “The Joy of Love,” which affirmed the church’s traditional views on marriage, as The Post reported. At the same time, the pope said unconventional unions are not without their “constructive elements.” He called on the church’s clergy to be pastoral and not to use doctrine as a weapon.

Other clergy have also embraced a more welcoming approach. Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin, the archbishop of Newark, recently welcomed dozens of gay and lesbian Catholics to worship. “I am Joseph your brother,” Tobin told the group, according to a New York Times report. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”

The Rev. James Martin’s latest book – “Building a Bridge: How the Catholic Church and the L.G.B.T. Community Can Enter Into a Relationship of Respect, Compassion and Sensitivity – also calls for a gentler approach. Of the Paprocki degree, the noted Jesuit author said in a pointed Facebook post:

If bishops ban members of same-sex marriages from receiving a Catholic funeral, they also have to be consistent. They must also ban divorced and remarried Catholics who have not received annulments, women who has or man who fathers a child out of wedlock, members of straight couples who are living together before marriage, and anyone using birth control. For those are all against church teaching as well. Moreover, they must ban anyone who does not care for the poor, or care for the environment, and anyone who supports torture, for those are church teachings too. More basically, they must ban people who are not loving, not forgiving and not merciful, for these represent the teachings of Jesus, the most fundamental of all church teachings. To focus only on LGBT people, without a similar focus on the moral and sexual behavior of straight people is, in the words of the Catechism, a “sign of unjust discrimination.”

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Reflections: When all else fails, we should read the instructions Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I recently bought a new gas stove and a matching over-the-stove microwave for my home. The appliance company delivered the stove and installed it quickly. They were going to charge me a fee to remove the old microwave and install the new. I had seen it done a couple of times and thought I could easily do it myself. I removed the front panel of the old unit to locate the mounting bolts. I could see them but did not know how to access them. I then removed the bottom of the unit and still no luck. Starting to get frustrated, I remembered those famous words: “When all else fails, read the instructions.” Suddenly my mission was much clearer.

Earlier this month, Jewish people all over the world celebrated the harvest festival called Shavuot. This holiday is also recognized as the day the Ten Commandments were delivered by Moses at Mt. Sinai in the year 1313 B.C.E. The Ten Commandments have long held a special place not only in Judaism, but also within the broader configuration of values we call the Judeo-Christian ethic.

Most of the world’s major religions recognize and honor the values represented in the Ten Commandments. We believe that these commandments, along with the rest of the Torah which soon followed, serve as the instructions or blueprint for how we should lead our lives. Societies throughout the ages have tried in countless ways to live outside of these guidelines. Perhaps it is time to take another look and “read the instructions.”

I like to divide the Ten Commandments into three sets of three related principles, with the final commandment standing alone. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, says the following: “The first three commands, through which the people declare their obedience and loyalty to God above all else, establish the single most important principle of a free society, namely the moral limits of power. Without this, the danger even in democracy is the tyranny of the majority, against which the best defense is the sovereignty of God.”

This notion of the tyranny of the majority is also evident once again in the second three commandments, which reference and honor the creation of life. Once again, they establish limits to the idea of autonomy, namely that we are not free to do whatever we like so long as it does not harm others.

The third set of three commandments address principles that are essential to operating a properly functioning society. The basic concepts about the institutions of marriage, justice and commerce are guided by them. The final commandment prohibits the envy of that which belongs to others, whether it be your neighbor’s spouse, house, possessions or anything else. Envy lies at the heart of much of the violence, crime and moral decay that has existed since the beginning of our time on Earth.

The instruction manual known as the Ten Commandments guards against the “tyranny of the majority,” limits powers of autonomy, lays down guiding principles for society and teaches us to recognize and be content with what we already have. If all of us, those elected to office, business owners, teachers, friends and neighbors could live by these instructions, how much better off our world would be.

The Paris Agreement on Climate Change has been on my mind as I write this article. President Trump has decided that the United States will withdraw from this agreement and will not honor the commitments made by the Obama administration to limit any further negative effects of climate change on the world’s environment. The president was elected by a clear majority of votes in our Electoral College. As president, he seems to have the legal right to make that decision.

At the same time, his representation of the majority has been in question since he was elected. Clearly the vast majority of Americans, indeed the citizens of the world, support the Paris Treaty. Is our president using the tyranny of the majority and the support that he enjoys in the House and Senate against the will of the people? Does he understand that we are not free to continue to act as we wish unilaterally?

The Establishment Clause contained in the First Amendment, known as the Separation of Church and State clause, does not allow our government to be run according to any particular religious ideology. We may be a country built on Judeo-Christian values, but we are a nation of laws established under the guidelines of the Constitution. Whatever our government does on our behalf will always be criticized by some and applauded by others. Our system of checks and balances should ensure the legality of government’s decisions, but cannot ensure that those decisions are always reached with the good of the majority in mind. How about those pesky Ten Commandments? They have served as a set of instructions for mankind for more than 3,300 years. With all of the complex and far-reaching decisions that we all need to make, wouldn’t they still be the best guide for us today? We are now seeing some of the results that occur when we stray far away from the values that have guided us for so long. It is our duty as citizens of the world to continue to do whatever we can to repair that which needs repair, whether it be work on climate change, taking care of those less fortunate and underserved, or the erosion of common decency. Ours is a job that never ends and seems impossible at times. It is difficult even to know where to start. Maybe those famous words are true after all … when all else fails, read the directions.

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim and also serves as the executive director of The Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. He can be reached at:

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Reflections: Spiritual practice can help to bring us closer to God Sat, 03 Jun 2017 08:00:00 +0000 I was unfamiliar with the term “spiritual practice” until I began learning about Eastern religions. In the Protestant church I grew up in, I was not really aware of anything that fit in that category other than going to church every Sunday and saying prayers before meals.

When I first learned to meditate, a door was opened for me. Instead of hearing people talk about God, I was experiencing something expansive that felt “beyond” the “me” that I was used to. I could see that this practice could be a door, maybe not directly to salvation or enlightenment, but a way to begin to touch the unseen energy that people have called by many names including God.

But spiritual practice, I have learned, is more than finding a way to get high on God. Like learning anything new, it takes dedication, is sometimes arduous, and is by no means a way to bypass the hard work of deconstructing the ego.

Adopting spiritual practices from another religion is a journey not to be taken lightly. In the ’60s and ’70s, Hindu gurus and Buddhist monks came to this country to find many young people thirsty for what they had to offer. A lot of people had rejected their own tradition and were looking for something to fill the void. For some, this exploration led them back to their own tradition with a new awareness; others found a home in the Eastern traditions, in which spiritual practices are key. Changing our habits to leave more room for God in our lives is not just an act of willpower or desire; it is an act of faith in and of itself. It is not just about “self-improvement” or looking and feeling a certain way; it is a step into the unknown.

Certainly it is possible to have a spiritual practice that becomes rote and just another task, but I believe that spiritual practice, as envisioned in most of our religious traditions, is not meant to be like any of the other disciplines we might engage in. These practices are meant to be a portal, to take us somewhere which can help us see and even experience something of the immensity of God, the Buddha mind, Allah, and all the other words which are meant to describe something that cannot be grasped with our minds.

To enter a portal into the unknown is a frightening thing to do. We don’t know where this journey will take us, and despite having spiritual teachers tell us that this is the way to go, it is different when we face it ourselves. It is certainly much easier to just drop the practice when things get tough.

Do these spiritual practices like prayer, meditation, yoga, chanting, contemplation, lectio divina (the deep meditative reading of Scripture) have anything in common? While some of these practices may take place in a communal setting, they are all meant to bring each individual to closer communication with a divine creator or a higher consciousness. They all have a depth of silence or sacred sound at the core. They all take us out of our “normal” way of thinking and being. There is plenty of research these days touting the health benefits of some of these practices, which is certainly an added bonus, but those of us searching for ways to deepen our spiritual lives are more interested in communion with the divine itself.

Like most people who struggle with making space in a life filled with electronic “connection” and the fast-paced society we live in, staying with a spiritual practice has not been easy for me. Finding the right practice, establishing a discipline, protecting my times of solitude and prayer, all while battling my own inner demons and distractions, has made it a journey with many detours. I have found it important to discover and take into account my own natural rhythms. I am in awe of someone like the Dali Lama, who can get up at 3 a.m. to meditate for two hours before going on the treadmill and then meditating more hours before starting the rest of his more public day. Rather than compare myself to someone with such devotion, I have to acknowledge that for me finding something that truly brings me joy and peace and is sustainable is more important.

While I have not returned to the practice of attending church every week, I have returned to the practice of prayer before meals. It is a time when I can take a moment to express my deep gratitude for this amazing abundance that I have been given in my life, the miracle of food readily available, knowing that there are still millions of people who do not have that luxury.

I have also found the practice of mindfulness that the Buddhists teach to be a helpful way of seeing all of life. The idea is to bring more awareness into every moment, every action, and every thought. The Dali Lama says: “If we examine ourselves every day with mindfulness and mental alertness, checking our thoughts, motivations, and their manifestations in external behavior, a possibility for change and self-improvement can open within us.” Of course, this kind of awareness usually goes hand in hand with a meditation practice, which can help a person begin that kind of awareness in silence with no distractions before trying to be mindful in the busyness of life.

Whatever spiritual practice you may or may not have, it seems increasingly important to me in a chaotic world to be able to find that still point, to touch the eternal, to be able to ground life in a deeper truth. Finding a way to meet all of life’s challenges with compassion and love is what our spiritual practices are designed to teach us. Spring is a time of renewal and my prayer is that each of us will find the inspiration and will to renew our connection to the creative source in whatever practice is “home” for us.

The Rev. Cathy M. Grigsby is an Interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, is the co-founder of the Interfaith Ministers of New England, an artist, a spiritual director and a retired art teacher. She can be contacted at:

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Trump’s climate move seen as bad faith Fri, 02 Jun 2017 23:30:30 +0000 President Trump announced Thursday that he is withdrawing the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement, alarming religious leaders here and around the globe who decried the decision as a departure from the nation’s leadership role.

Mainline Protestant denominations, including the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, denounced the president’s actions. Major Jewish, Muslim and Hindu organizations also condemned the president’s withdrawal from the agreement.

Several Catholic leaders also denounced the move, which came just a week after Pope Francis at the Vatican personally handed the president his encyclical urging care for the planet. In the 2015 document, Francis called for an “ecological conversion,” saying Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”

But many evangelicals do not hold this view.

Christians are called to be both dominions over the earth and be stewards of it, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Al Mohler said on his podcast on Friday. Mohler said the secular-dominated environmental movement sees human beings as the problems to climate change. This worldview, he said, denies the purpose of creation, which was for humans to take dominion over it.

“We do have a responsibility to our planet,” Mohler said. “And we have a responsibility to our neighbor.”

He believes market forces – as opposed to the government – will create an economy for renewable energy.

While Catholics find common cause with evangelicals on many issues like abortion and their religious freedoms, many evangelical leaders remained mostly silent after Trump’s decision on Thursday.

While evangelical beliefs about whether climate change is occurring vary, the environment has not been a priority for many evangelical leaders in recent decades. Over the past decade, some leaders have taken up the issue and statements have been issued, but the environment is not usually a high concern for them and many are openly skeptical of the government’s involvement in the issue. Depending on who you ask, evangelical attitudes on climate changed tend to be shaped by a combination of politics, race, theology and beliefs about science.

“As a Christian, I believe that there is a creator in God who is much bigger than us,” Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., a graduate of evangelical schools Taylor University and Wheaton College, said at a town hall last week in Coldwater, Michigan. “And I’m confident that, if there’s a real problem, he can take care of it.”

Half of white evangelicals say global warming is occurring, according to a 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center, but only a quarter of them say it is caused by humans. And just 24 percent say global warming is “a serious problem.”

For many conservative Christians, climate change taps into a deeper mistrust they have of science over issues like abortion and transgenderism.

A tweet from Erick Erickson, editor of the conservative website the Resurgence, earlier this week about how he doesn’t have to care about global warming set off a debate over whether faith and environmentalism overlap.

“I worship Jesus, not Mother Earth. He calls us all to be good stewards of the planet, but doesn’t mean I have to care about global warming. – Erick Erickson (EWErickson)”

Erickson on Thursday said he believes man-made climate change exists, but he doesn’t see it as a priority. He said he recycles and talks with his children about conservation, but he thinks the scientific community has been fatalistic about climate change. They remind him, he said, of the end-times preachers.

“We are adaptable and innovative enough to get out of any problem,” Erickson said.

Most of his evangelicals friends, however, do not believe climate change is real. They are deeply skeptical of scientists because they believe scientists are anti-Christian, he said.

“They see it as another political movement out to get them, one that hates big families,” Erickson said.

Skepticism of man-made global warming is high among pastors, especially younger ones, according to a 2013 poll from LifeWay Research. Just 19 percent of pastors ages 18 to 44 agree with the statement, “I believe global warming is real and man made.”

The Christian right has been actively promoting climate change skepticism, especially on Christian media, said Robin Globus Veldman, a religious studies professor at Iowa State University who is working on a book on evangelicals and climate change.

“Environmentalists were caught in the crossfire because they were positioned on the other side of the aisle and tend to be less religious,” Veldman said. “They started to be described as allied with the people who were trying to push Christianity out of the public square.”

]]> 0 aren't sanctuaries from global warming, say practitioners of many faiths who decry President Trump's withdrawal of the U.S. from an international agreement that calls upon nations to reduce their carbon footprints.Fri, 02 Jun 2017 20:16:18 +0000
Reflections: We can rise again and again for the people who need us Sat, 27 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “Your great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone.”

– David Whyte

Last year, people I love and who count on me fell ill. Really, really sick. One was young, too young to deserve a cutting-edge 13-hour surgery with a chance of staying in a children’s hospital for a month. The medical team said, “We trust this procedure,” then added, “We’ll have to wait and see. This treatment has risks.”

Another loved one, 90 years older than the child, slipped enough to need assisted care, then skilled nursing. Uncertainty defines this one’s longevity and health. Ours, too. As poet Mary Oliver says in “Summer Day”: “Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?”

A third beloved received a cancer diagnosis. When I heard “tumor,” the word landed like the thud of a gut-punch. A skilled surgeon removed the mass. Then came weakness through six weeks of daily radiation and six months of chemotherapy. The oncology team hedged, “You could live from a few months to 10 years. Maybe longer. We don’t know.”

I hit the floor with each blow and I wobbled as I stood up again. But stand I did, with what my father called my sand. Remember those blow-up plastic kid-sized clowns we bopped in the nose? They would lean, lean, lean and then bounce upright because of the sand-weighted base. My dad warned us, “No matter what the fight, don’t ever lose your sand.” I didn’t. Yet I yearned for sure footing and got only shaky ground. I craved real answers and heard only more questions.

I wouldn’t say I hit bottom. I’d say I hit basics. I dropped out of senior college classes and said no to many worthy causes. I stopped teaching. I couldn’t write. Knocked down, I couldn’t afford to be weary-to-the-bone knocked out so I showered, brushed my teeth, put on cuddly sweaters.

I ran to meetings with doctors, drove to sessions with physical therapists, consulted occupational therapists, sped to the ER, phoned on-call doctors. Nothing extra. I sidelined huge chunks of life. In that stopping, in what meditation teachers call a sacred pause, in the long nights when I paced the floors, opened and closed the fridge, and looked at the stars, Mary Oliver’s final line in “Summer Day” whispered: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Wouldn’t I die at last, and too soon? How do I want to spend these care-giving, appointment-filled days? The answer flashed like a mantra: “Connected with others who are attuned to me and I to them. In love.”

I scribbled the names of “my people”: neighbors, friends, family, a few Invisible Sources. When I held that piece of paper, I too felt held whether I talked to my pals or not, whether any one of them showed up with Thai takeout or not.

Often I’d text them, or they me. Sometimes one would pop in bearing chocolate. Yet the list itself expanded my shrinking life and fed me with vital social nutrients. Reading those names showed me something larger than my rounds in the ring. Even as the note crinkled, I savored the nourishment of humankind, humankind-ness, as if outstretched arms hugged me, as if soft eyes caressed mine, wide open hands supported my back, and sweet smiles warmed my living room. As I sensed them cheering for me, I didn’t crash into the ropes so much.

With the love of others and my own sand, I shifted into deeper inhales with longer exhales and delighted in more space to breathe. With love and sand, we can bob and rise again and again for the people who need us. And we can know for sure that we are not alone. Ever.

Susan Lebel Young, MSED, MSC writes and teaches. She can be reached through or at

]]> 0 Fri, 26 May 2017 20:44:01 +0000
Reflections: When your cup runneth over, practice the art of self-emptying Sat, 20 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 As I sipped my coffee, listening to a friend share stories of an abundant life, I noticed the tears starting to flow. She shared that her full life, while appreciated, left her at times, feeling too full.

While her cup was often filled with blessings, she felt overwhelmed. At the moment, her cup was overflowing; she could not hold the pour. Her gratitude for abundance was evident, yet even in her gratefulness, she was simply too full.

Many of us long to be filled, yet our cups begin to overflow quickly. We ask ourselves: What is this feeling of fullness and what are we filled with?

It has been said that a cup cannot be filled with milk if it’s already filled with mud. We cannot be filled with the Spirit if we are already filled with pride, self-will or ego. Grace knows no limits, yet we, as humans, can be limited by our mud.

In the song “Empty Me,” singer-songwriter Chris Sligh shares:

Empty me of the selfishness inside

Every vain ambition and the poison of my pride

And any foolish thing my heart holds to

Lord empty me of me so I can be filled with you.

Emptying our mud can be a liberating experience, creating space for the Spirit to dwell. The art of self-emptying is an act of love that expands our hearts and engages us to look beyond ourselves. In this practice of self-emptying, we do not lose ourselves; we gain a deeper understanding and experience of our true self.

Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and ecumenical teacher, shares in his teaching on the Trinity: The Trinity is a circle dance of flow, communion, and relationship – which is the very nature of God, it is the template for everything created (see Genesis 1:26-27). Every created thing is the self-emptying of God. If we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and receive infinite grace, love will flow.

During the past several years, my spiritual practice has been focused on self-emptying, as I often awake with a full cup from the previous day.

To prevent my cup from overflowing, I reflect on the prior day, asking myself: What I am proud of? What could I have done differently? What did I learn? What do I let go of? What do I hold onto? How can I reimagine my experience and my approach?

The art of self-emptying helps to create a balance between letting go and holding on. It can be a delicate balance to hold on long enough to learn the intended lesson while also understanding when to let go so we don’t stay too long or become attached.

There’s a wonderful Zen story about a young seeker who desires to be a student of a particular master. He receives an invitation to an interview at the master’s house.

During the interview, the student rambles on and on about his spiritual experiences, past teachers, insights, skills, and philosophies. The master listens silently while he begins to pour a cup of tea.

He pours the tea and the cup begins to overflow yet he continues to pour. Eventually the student notices and interrupts the master saying: “Stop pouring, the cup is full!” The master responds: “Yes and so are you. How can I possibly teach you anything?”

We find it challenging if not impossible to embrace and receive everything life has to teach us and all the possibilities that await us if our cup is full or overflowing.

As a young girl growing up in Catholic schools, I was taught by the Sisters of Mercy to conduct a daily examination of conscience. This prayerful self-reflection, rooted in Scripture, served as a process for self-emptying.

I continue to use this process to pause, reflect, assess, understand, learn, hold on, let go, and move on. It does not mean that I understand everything fully before I let it go or that I will never pick it up again. There are also times when I choose to hold on to things as I am not ready to let go yet.

The art of self-emptying can become a natural flow in our spiritual practice to ensure we are filled with milk instead of mud, to ensure our cup is not overflowing, and to ensure we have space for the Spirit.

As we finish our coffee and my friend dries her eyes, we understand there are many ways to self-empty, and pouring our hearts out to friends is one of them.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at:


]]> 0 Fri, 19 May 2017 20:04:43 +0000
Reflections: Places only become sacred through the holy acts of believers Sat, 13 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Around the globe, in every country, in every culture, there is likely a place, a particular spot designated as “sacred.” These are places where the presence of the Holy is palpable for believers. Many have been enshrined and attract scores of pilgrims, eager to touch holiness and be touched by it. The ancient Celts had a name for such spots – thin places, they called them. These are places where the veil between heaven and earth, between the realm of the divine and humanity, between the world of Spirit and the material world around us, is very thin and the Holy can break through.

Many of these places are well known and draw great crowds. I have been fortunate to have visited some of them. In the holy land, I waded in the Jordan River renewing my baptismal vows. I walked along the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent so much of his ministry, healing and teaching. I climbed the hillside of Mt. Nebo, from which Moses viewed the promised land and where God spoke to him.

I have spent time on the windswept Isle of Iona where St. Columba landed in 563 CE to found an early Christian community and I’ve wandered the highlands of that beautiful country, touching centuries old standing stones keeping their silent vigil in an open field. In all these places, I experienced the presence of something beyond me. Holiness seemed embedded in the rocks and flowed through the water. Perhaps it was the faith of those who came before me, who saturated the site with their prayers and reverence, that made it so.

Of course we all have our own special sacred sites, places that draw us when we need to soothe our souls and remember that we are not alone in the world or even the universe, but are connected to the transcendent. In a world where it feels we have lost our way, these place, famous or personal, can ground us in our journey.

As I consider sacred places, I am reminded that the apostle Paul in his letter to the ancient Corinthian Church referred to the human body as a temple of the Holy Spirit.

The writers of some of the psalms also remind us that the essence of sacredness is not found only in a location but in a way of life. Sacred sites are preserved and revered because they help us to feel closer to God, and yet as the psalmists inform us we can be no closer to God than the values we uphold in our everyday lives. As inspiring as they are, visits to holy places, including the places we might gather for weekly worship are not the only manifestation of true holiness or sacredness.

Real holiness is determined by the honesty of our relationships, by the justice we promote in our communities, by the respect we express for others and by using our financial blessings to help those in need. The sacred is not limited to special places or moments but is personified in us.

I came across a quote on a magnet stuck on the refrigerator door in our church kitchen – “As much as people are capable of inflicting pain on others, we are also each other’s windows into healing.”

I believe that is true. When we live our faith through acts of compassion, justice, and mercy; when we practice humility and put peace at the center of our lives; and when love is the ground of our being we become a thin place for others.

We will not need to seek out holy places and shrines to find the holy because we will embody it.

The Rev. Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church, UCC, and can be reached at

]]> 0 Fri, 12 May 2017 19:55:42 +0000
Parishioners’ shock at accused priest’s removal is understandable, experts say Wed, 10 May 2017 00:58:06 +0000 WATERVILLE — Experts who deal with sexual abuse issues say it is understandable that parishioners of St. Joseph Maronite Catholic Church are in shock after learning that their former priest, the Rev. Larry Jensen, was removed from the priestly ministry amid allegations that he sexually abused a teenage boy.

“I think that with a lot of cases … that when somebody who is part of a community, who is well-known and well-liked and something like this comes out, it makes us question our own beliefs and what we know to be true and it can be very, very hard,” said Cara Courchesne, communications director for Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Jensen, 62, was the priest at St. Joseph for 10 years until Sunday, when Bishop Gregory Mansour of the Maronite Catholic Eparchy of Saint Maron of Brooklyn, New York, read a letter in the church saying Jensen had been removed from priestly ministry and that the Rev. James Doran would replace him.

Michael Thomas, vicar general of the Brooklyn Eparchy, said he confronted Jensen about the alleged abuse of a 17-year-old in Danbury, Connecticut, 15 years ago and Jensen did not deny it.

Thomas said Tuesday that the eparchy had not received any additional reports of sexual abuse by Jensen. The church has asked anyone else who might have been abused to report it to authorities.

Meanwhile, parishioners continue to mourn the loss of Jensen.

“He’s a good man and I hate seeing this happen to him, but there are rules and regulations,” Dale Sturtevant, a 45-year member of St. Joseph’s, said Tuesday. “There’s no variation on the predatory scale.”

Sturtevant said the new priest, Doran, celebrated Mass on Tuesday morning and parishioners got to meet him.

“He’s going to be a healing priest, and that is a good thing because that’s what we need,” Sturtevant said. “I was really angry with the church, very angry. I do not like the way the system is rigged with no forgiveness, and I actually asked Bishop Gregory when I saw him on Sunday, ‘Are my sins now not forgiven? Why can’t the church forgive Father?’ ”

Thomas said Tuesday that he feels badly if parishioners have the impression that Jensen was removed without cause.

“Father could have denied it and he did not, and that’s why everything moved kind of quickly, because of his maturity and his honesty, so I greatly respect him (for that),” Thomas said, adding that said he believes Jensen was being truthful by not denying the abuse. Jensen told Thomas the Connecticut case was an isolated incident, and Thomas indicated Monday that he had no reason to doubt that was the case.

Thomas said the abuse victim was a male nearly 18 years old, and the abuse occurred when Jensen was a priest at St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church in Danbury, Connecticut, where he worked for eight years before coming to Waterville. Before serving at St. Anthony, he served 10 years at St. Michael the Archangel Maronite Catholic Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Thomas said.

Attempts to reach Jensen have been unsuccessful and Thomas said he does not know who the victim is. An attorney reported the alleged abuse to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, which then notified the Brooklyn Eparchy, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and Danbury police.

Messages left Monday and Tuesday with the Danbury police were not returned.


Courchesne said some people who have committed crimes do turn their lives around and become upstanding citizens, but the impact on victims can’t be ignored.

“It’s not forgotten to the person who he perpetrated the abuse against,” Courchesne said. “It’s not forgotten to the person’s family, for the people in the person’s community. I think that what we’ve learned through a variety of cases like this … is that it doesn’t just go away.”

Melanie Sakoda, a board member of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said that while she is not familiar with the Waterville case, it is important that the church permanently removed Jensen from priestly duties.

“That’s a sign,” Sakoda said. “They didn’t do that easily, in my experience, but that’s something the parishioners should be looking at.”

Also, parishioners must be careful about defending Jensen publicly, because it might inhibit other potential victims from coming forward, Courchesne and Sakoda said.

“If you come forward too strongly and say, ‘Oh, he didn’t do it,’ is a child going to feel comfortable in saying, ‘Mom, Dad, it happened to me too’?”


Sakoda, who volunteers as a SNAP leader and board member, maintains a website,, that tracks abusers in the Eastern Rite churches. The Maronite church in the U.S., is relatively tiny compared to its Roman Catholic counterpart, she said.

“In my experience, such tightly knit communities make it more difficult for victims to come forward,” she said.

Sturtevant, the 45-year parishioner, said she has had deaths in her family recently, including her husband, and Jensen was helpful to her.

“I’ve been praying for Father Larry,” she said. “He was my godsend. I feel like I’ve just been confronted with another death, losing Father Larry, because he was there to comfort me and he was my friend and it hurt terribly.”

Sturtevant said about 75 people regularly attend Sunday services at the church. Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston attorney who was been involved in more than 2,000 cases involving sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, said church officials should focus on caring for the victim.

“The child was a minor,” he said. “… That is against the law, immoral and very harmful to the victim.”

Both Courchesne and Garabedian said parishioners often react with disbelief to allegations of abuse by their priest.

“I think that the lesson from all of this is that these are complex crimes,” Courchesne said, “and there are complex reactions to them.”

Editor’s note: does not allow comments on stories that deal with sexual abuse.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

]]>, 10 May 2017 10:10:52 +0000
Religion calendar Sat, 06 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Climb aboard the food train. Trinity Lutheran Church concludes sixth annual food drive for the Westbrook Food Pantry. Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook,, Saturday and Sunday.

Bereavement Talk. Discussion on grief and loss. Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Guild Hall, 307 Congress St., Portland , 9:30 a.m.-noon Saturday.

Guided tour of historic St. John the Baptist Church. Free, St. John the Baptist Church, 37 Pleasant St., Brunswick. 10-11:30 a.m. Saturday.

Concert: St. Cecilia Chamber Choir presents “Duruflé Requiem” and works by Brahms, Finzi, Haydn, Holst, Josquin, Purcell, and Söderman. $20 at door. Students free. Second Congregational Church, 51 Main St., Newcastle,, 3-4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

Buddhist reality check. Exploration of Buddha’s teachings on emptiness. $10, The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland,, 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Dances of Universal Peace. Chants from world spiritual traditions with simple circle dances. All dances taught. $5 to $15 sliding scale. Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Portland,, 2-4 p.m. Sunday.

Together We Pray. Celebration of community featuring spiritual leaders from multiple religious traditions and the chorus of Women In Harmony. Free. First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, 425 Congress St., Portland, 752-3470, 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

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Reflections: I am sustained by my faith, with a philosophical sigh Sat, 06 May 2017 08:00:00 +0000 “There is something else here, too, even more important: Explanations will occur to you, seeming to clarify; but they can be a kind of trick. You will think you have hold of the idea when you only have hold of its clothing.”

— From “Desert Notes” by Barry Lopez

Once you pose the question “Why does the universe exist?” you understand that you are living within an absurdity, stranded within a star-plain, this ridiculously unreasonable immensity where we live our incredulous lives.

Mental explanations galore exist as to why this improbable place but none have been able to take things down to the core. That this is Eastertide and I am fast aging toward non-being underlies my evolving exploration. I do not understand the ultimate mystery of myself … this self so aware of its transient nature, yet coupled with an unaccountable appetite for eternity. Cold reason asks, “Is it possible that I have been willed into being for this life only? Am I forever to be banished from myself?”

Giving in to the implied despair of these questions is to consent to what the Spanish mystic Unamuno called “the tragic sense of life” – that in the last we shall disappear into nothingness. Rationally, there are strong arguments for this being all there is. Were this true, then all the ventures of faith, our theologies, these fleeting flashes of love and life, would turn sad and become useless sighs, empty gestures and meaningless words. No longer could we trust our senses in the presence of art, music and great literature – all signifiers meant to awaken in us intimations of a vaster world transcending all our imagining. Perhaps, this is a kind of madness, an illusory hope fed by a passionate desire to escape non-being. This may be so. Still …

French-Algerian essayist Albert Camus allowed: “Nothing is true that forces one to exclude.” For that reason, I do not disparage that mind/spirit enterprise that chooses to consider the life after death discussion with all its irrational components. Perhaps I am hauling my thoughts mind-bogglingly close to the wind; believe me, I have no desire to abandon reason. Yet, I experience absurdity as a generative virtue inviting me to entertain such dreams as outdo my imagination. Therefore, I do not gawk inanely at existence; rather, I dwell in astonishment for consciousness of being midst the absurdity of it all. Mindfully, I am persuaded of everything being under the governing care of God’s underlying and reconciling love.

That I wish for life beyond the grave may in part be born out of my impotence and my foolishness, a kind of lunacy on my part. This poor little plot of earth that is myself dreams of participating in the Unending Plenitude that is God … dreams that the road it is on shall never end. Considering my waning life, I go with truth-teller Glennon Doyle Melton’s puzzlement when she wrote in her essay “Holy Holes,” “Life is a quest to find an unfindable thing. This is the problem. Life is a bit of a setup. We are put here needing something that doesn’t exist here.” I desire that God turn my poverty into riches and my temporality into eternity. This is to believe the preposterous. It means bypassing earthly wisdom’s petty designs, its trivialities and its dismissal of those mythic musings inborn to our humanity. That Christianity has taken thoughts of Jesus’ resurrection to their deepest intent is what explains the radical optimism of the Christian faith. My brothers and sisters who are of one of the other historic faiths will surely have another take on this theme; but as my thoughts are Christianly slanted, I hold that my destiny is tied to the destiny of Jesus. Embracing faith’s foolishness, I take heart in the message of an old Easter hymn which belongs to me from my Lutheran past:

Jesus lives!

No longer now

Can thy terrors, death appall us;

Jesus lives!

By this we know

From the grave He will recall us.

Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard decried the flattening of the mind’s landscape: reason alone does not define reality. His readers were to know that the mind’s landscape embraced mountainous absurdities as well. He avowed that with a “leap of faith” one could entrust oneself to the absurdity of existence. Just so! I too shall entrust this absurd plot of earth that is myself to God – from the grave He will recall me. Meanwhile, I shall try to bring to life in the present that which has been given me in hope. Now I am sustained by my faith, which remains a constant and worthy wife to me and my imagination. It’s with a philosophical sigh that my lips now silently trace the words of Odysseus: “I belong in the place of my departure and I belong in the place that is my destination.”

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church in Saco. He may be contacted at

]]> 0 Fri, 05 May 2017 20:45:51 +0000
Researchers say godless in America are undercounted Fri, 05 May 2017 23:21:21 +0000 KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Josh Stewart differs from most atheists. He’ll tell you there is no God.

But when he gets together with other faithless folks in the Kansas City Atheist Coalition, they color code their name tags. One hue for those who are proudly public about their beliefs, another for those whom photographers are asked to avoid.

“It is an issue,” said the 31-year-old Westport resident and coffee shop worker. “They’re worried how their boss or their family or somebody else might react. It’s not always good.”

Even in anonymous surveys, atheists tend to keep their views secret.

“There’s a lot of atheists in the closet,” University of Kentucky psychologist Will Gervais, whose research suggests their numbers are undercounted, told Vox. “If they knew there are lots of people just like them out there, that could potentially promote more tolerance.”

America is becoming steadily less religious. Fewer parents raise their children in the church. Those kids grow up less likely to worship. It’s not just that more people self-style their faith outside sect or denomination – although that’s happening, too. More people reject faith in the supernatural entirely.

Yet even as their numbers grow, researchers continue to find atheists a particularly unpopular lot. Americans, pollster Gallup reports, would vote for a Catholic, a woman, an African-American, a Jew, a Mormon, a gay or lesbian person, an evangelical Christian or a Muslim – in that order – before they’d consider an atheist president. Only socialists ranked in less regard.

Sociologists and opinion researchers define an atheist as someone who doesn’t believe in God. Yet even in anonymous telephone interviews, people are a third as likely to accept the label as to concede their belief, or lack thereof. Said one researcher: “They’re hiding it.”

A research group surveyed Americans in 2004 and again in 2014. The numbers remained virtually unchanged and declared a clear preference for the faithful over the irreligious.

A quarter of those surveyed thought atheists didn’t share their values. More than a third said atheists held a different vision for the country. A third said they lacked a moral center. Nearly half don’t want their children to marry an atheist.

A recently published study based on 2,000 interviews suggested that a quarter of Americans or more are atheist – multiples of what other surveys have found.

Gervais and fellow University of Kentucky psychologist Maxine Najle posed a list of innocuous statements – “I own a dog,” “I enjoy modern art”– and asked how many of the declarations applied to a respondent. Then they put the same statements to another group but added the statement, “I believe in God.”

By comparing the results, they concluded that 26 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t believe in God. Previous surveys in 2015 by Pew and Gallup asked directly about the belief in God and found the number of atheists at between 3 and 11 percent.

“Obtaining accurate atheist prevalence estimates may help promote trust and tolerance of atheists – potentially 80 million people in the U.S. and well over a billion worldwide,” the study said. For now, though, atheists remain largely out of view and disliked.

]]> 0 Fri, 05 May 2017 20:54:01 +0000
Reflections: ‘Arrival’ shows that living each day to fullest is not alien concept Sat, 29 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 How would you live your life if you knew when it would end?

As I methodically detailed to Tommy an arduous program of intensive chemotherapy with an uncertain future, he blurted out, “If I knew I’d be dead of cancer at 45, I’d have killed myself as a teen.”

I was shocked at his comment and it haunted me for some time. We all know we will eventually die, but we do not know when or how. Knowing that, is life still worth living?

Earlier this year, I viewed the Oscar-winning science fiction movie “Arrival” that shed light on Tommy’s intriguing conundrum. In what appears to be a flashback at the beginning of the movie, linguist expert Louise Banks is shown caring for her daughter who dies of cancer during adolescence. The scene then shifts to the arrival of 12 extraterrestrial spacecrafts.

Laura is summoned to decipher their language and discover why the aliens have come to Earth. While deciphering the unusual circular symbols, Laura has vivid dreams of herself and the whole childhood of her daughter.

The audience then discovers that Laura does not have a daughter. While communicating with the aliens, Laura is told that the dreams are not flashbacks but flash-forwards.

After the seeming threat of the aliens is resolved and they depart, a fellow scientist, who had worked with Laura on the deciphering project, professes his love for her.

At that point Laura must decide whether to allow the relationship to develop even though she knows that the daughter she would bear from this relationship will die in her teens. She also knows her husband will leave her when she tells him she has known all along the future of their daughter.

In the flash-forwards in the movie, we see the suffering Laura undergoes with her daughter as her daughter fights for her life, but we also see many delicious moments of love and tenderness Laura enjoys as her daughter is born and develops into a lovely young woman.

Was Laura right in accepting a life that results in the untimely death of her daughter?

To put the engrossing images of this movie in perspective, I sought wisdom in one of the biblical books written by King Solomon 3,000 years ago. Solomon had much to say about life and meaning in the book of Ecclesiastes.

In the third chapter he penned, “(God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 3:11-13).

By the end of the movie, Laura decides to live the life revealed in the flash-forwards. She knows there will be some very bad days but there will also be some very good days. Though she realizes she will never understand why and when many things happen, Laura grasps her new life.

We see early in the movie her new life is far richer than the lonely and narrow life Laura had before the events of the movie take place.

I wish the movie “Arrival” had been produced and released while Tommy was undergoing treatment. It would have offered a more vivid illustration of what his life was all about than the words I used to encourage him.

Though Tommy had a difficult course and lost his battle with leukemia within a year, he had enjoyed the blessings of a wonderful education and career, a loving and supportive wife, and three charming and intelligent daughters whom he was able to watch and participate in their lives as they grew into young adulthood.

If Tommy had taken his own life in his teens knowing his life would end in his 40s, he would have missed decades of joy, love and success.

It is best we do not know the times of our future distresses and inevitable death. Such knowledge would only cause daily anxiety and fear.

As Solomon continued in his book of wisdom, “I know that everything God does will endure forever: nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it” (Ecclesiastes 3: 14).

The future is in God’s hands. We cannot control it, but we can live each day the fullest, understanding there will be times of trial and loss.

Dr. Delvyn C. Case Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist and consultant to the department of spiritual care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

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Religion Calendar Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Chant with Swan Kirtan and Drum Circle with Namory and Todd. Benefit for children’s drumming school in Guinea, West Africa. $15, The Ranch, 1 Halls Hill Road, Falmouth. 9 p.m. Saturday.

Bake Sale. Pies, cakes, cookies, fudge and more. Free. St. Paul’s Anglican Church, 279 Congress St., Portland,, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

Coffee House. Juniper and Keith and Jennifer Perry. Holy Grounds Coffee House. Free. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday. Menu available. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,

Climb Aboard the Food Train. Trinity Lutheran Church in Westbrook sponsoring the 6th annual food drive for the Westbrook Food Pantry. office@trinity Sunday and Tuesday-Friday.

Buddhism Unwrapped. Practical aspects of being a Buddhist. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham., 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

Holocaust Remembrance Day Service. Readings and choral music by the synagogue choir. Reception to follow. Free. Adas Yoshuron Synagogue. 50 Willow St., Rockland. 594-4523,,, 6:30-9 p.m. Sunday.

St. Augustine Anglican Church is holding an essay contest for students ages 9-15. Win a summer camp scholarship. Email Valerie at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Service of Comfort and Hope. Last Wednesday of each month. First Parish Congregational Church, UCC, Saco 12 Beach St.,, 7-7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 22 Apr 2017 17:26:40 +0000
Reflections: ‘Bless those who curse you, pray for those who hurt you’ Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Who knows what the conflict was about? More than a decade ago, my friend and her family joined ours for an evening get-together. By the end she’d left, feeling hurt and declaring that she wouldn’t be back. Friendship over. As I watched her family walk out our front door into the cold night beyond, I felt terrible.

We’d met at church. At the time, my husband, Dana, and I had two young children. My friend and her husband had three. Soon, we each welcomed one more, swapping playdates and celebrating birthdays. Whenever I needed to vent or laugh or seek advice, my friend was there.

Then, all of a sudden, she wasn’t. After our unhappy parting, I wondered what I’d done wrong and how to fix it. Months passed, and since we no longer attended the same church, I didn’t see her. But daily I thought of my friend, questioning how to mend our broken relationship.

“Bless those who curse you,” the Bible says in Luke 6:28 (NLV). “Pray for those who hurt you.”

My friend hadn’t cursed me, but we were both hurt. For months, the unhappy incident looped through my mind on constant replay. As I considered what do, the thought came to me: What if, instead of harboring my hurt feelings, I decided to bless her? Whenever my friend came to mind, I pictured her in my mind and asked God to bless her. But bestowing a blessing isn’t just about kind petitions or words, the pastor of our little country church taught. To really bless someone, he said, reach out in a tangible way.

Knowing my friend loved to cook, I sent her a subscription to my favorite cooking magazine along with a card, saying I missed her. As soon as it arrived, my friend phoned and said that she missed me, too. The most ridiculous part? Neither of us even remembered what we’d been so upset about! I’m sure we both apologized anyway.

When we feel wrongly wounded, it’s easy to hold onto unforgiveness, rather than to respond in love. But had my friend and I allowed this trifling event to destroy our friendship, we would have missed out on an even bigger blessing.

You see, a year or so after we reconciled, my friend and her family signed up with a volunteer organization to host Ruth, a 16-month-old abandoned baby from a Ugandan orphanage. Ruth had cerebral palsy and was in Maine for physical therapy. Our friends opened their home and hearts to her, taking her to medical appointments, around town, and to church – the same church my family and I visited one hot August night that changed our lives forever.

As soon as our friends introduced us to Ruth, my husband suggested we adopt her! I thought he was crazy. But nine months of prayer and determination later – including a whirlwind trip to East Africa – we became Ruth’s legal guardians. The next year, we adopted her. Standing beside us in the Sagadahoc County courthouse when the judge signed Ruth’s adoption papers was my dear friend and her family.

Ruth filled our lives with joy and laughter. She also opened our hearts to the needs of other people in the developing world with disabilities. However, had my friend and I allowed a now-forgotten conflict to destroy our relationship, Dana and I would likely have never met our precious daughter. One small misunderstanding could have cost us dearly.

But thanks to the power of a blessing, I gained back my friend along with a precious daughter.

Meadow Rue Merrill is the author of the memoir, “Redeeming Ruth: Everything Life Takes, Love Restores,” released May 1 with Hendrickson Publishers. All personal proceeds benefit orphans and people with disabilities in Uganda.

Merrill writes for children and adults from a little house in the big woods of the midcoast. Connect at:

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Religion for ticker Thu, 20 Apr 2017 15:24:48 +0000 0 Tue, 20 Jun 2017 13:46:50 +0000 Pope decries ‘vile’ attack on civilians in Syria Mon, 17 Apr 2017 00:39:04 +0000 VATICAN CITY — On Christianity’s most joyful day, Pope Francis lamented the horrors generated by war and hatred, delivering an Easter Sunday message that also decried the “latest vile” attack on civilians in Syria.

Both in his impromptu homily during Mass in St. Peter’s Square and later in his formal “Urbi et Orbi” Easter message delivered from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis reflected on a litany of suffering in the world, including wars, oppressive regimes, human trafficking, corruption, famine and domestic violence.

He encouraged people to hold fast in their “fearful hearts” to faith, acknowledging that many people wonder where God is amid so much evil and suffering in the world.

Some 60,000 people, including multinational throngs of pilgrims and tourists, endured tight anti-terrorism security checks – and, later, a brief downpour – to hear Francis and receive his blessing.

The crowd size, cited by the Vatican security forces, was smaller in comparison to some other Easters, when about 100,000 turned out for the occasion.

After Mass, Francis toured the square in his open-topped, white popemobile and waved back to well-wishers.

In his balcony address, Francis prayed that God would sustain those working to comfort and help the civilian population in Syria, “prey to a war that continues to sow horror and death.”

He cited the explosion Saturday that ripped through a bus depot in the Aleppo area where evacuees were awaiting transfer, killing at least 100 people.

“Yesterday saw the latest vile attack on fleeing refugees,” the pope said, also praying for peace in the Holy Land, Iraq and Yemen.

]]> 0 Francis addresses a crowd of 60,000 prior to delivering his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and to the world) message from St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on Sunday.Sun, 16 Apr 2017 20:43:44 +0000
Pope points to injustice of ‘crucified’ human dignity Sat, 15 Apr 2017 23:32:26 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Saturday denounced how migrants, the poor and marginalized see their “human dignity crucified” every day through injustice and corruption, and urged the faithful in an Easter Vigil message to keep hope alive for a better future.

Francis presided over the solemn late-night ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica at a time of heightened security fears following a spate of Islamic-inspired attacks and tensions over Europe’s migrant influx.

Security was particularly tight, part of the heavier-than-usual safety measures that have been deployed around the world for Holy Week activities, particularly following the twin Palm Sunday attacks on Coptic churches in Egypt that killed at least 45 people.

Holding a single candle, Francis processed down the basilica’s center aisle, symbolizing the darkness that fell after Jesus’ crucifixion on Good Friday. When Francis reached the altar, the basilica’s floodlights turned on, symbolizing the light of Christ’s resurrection.

In his homily, Francis recalled the biblical scene of two women approaching Jesus’ tomb and said their desolation over his death can be seen every day in the faces of women whose children have been victims of poverty, exploitation and injustice.

“We can also see the faces of those who are greeted with contempt because they are immigrants, deprived of country, house and family,” he said.

Others are victims of paralyzed bureaucracies and corruption “that strips them of their rights and shatters their dreams,” the pope said, echoing two themes he has emphasized in his four-year papacy: caring for migrants and denouncing corruption.

“In their grief, these two women reflect the faces of all those who, walking the streets of our cities, behold human dignity crucified.”

But rather than remain resigned to such a fate, Francis urged the faithful to have hope, as symbolized by Christ’s resurrection.

He called for Catholics to “break down all the walls that keep us locked in our sterile pessimism, in our carefully constructed ivory towers that isolate us from life, in our compulsive need for security and in boundless ambition that can make us compromise the dignity of others.”

Saturday’s late-night service included the baptism of 11 people, including two children and one woman from China.

It came just hours after Francis presided over the evocative torch-lit Good Friday procession at Rome’s Colosseum, where he repeatedly denounced the “shame” of the blood spilled by innocent children, women and migrants in the world’s conflicts, shipwrecks and other tragedies.

]]> 0 Francis presides over a solemn Easter vigil ceremony in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, Saturday, April 15, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)Sat, 15 Apr 2017 21:38:49 +0000
Reflections: Jews, Muslims come together in U.S. Sat, 15 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 For over five decades, American Jews and American Christians have enjoyed a new era of interreligious relations. This is especially true for the Jewish-Roman Catholic relationship, created by one of the most extraordinary documents in all of religious history: Nostra Aetate (In Our Time) promulgated in 1965 at the very end of the yearslong meeting of Catholic clergy in a conference known as the Second Vatican Council.

The document was a call for the Catholic faithful to examine in great depth the nearly 2,000-year-old animosity toward Jews and Judaism known as the “teaching of contempt.” The examination brought an end to much of that teaching and gave rise to a new era of Catholic-Jewish relations.

Most importantly, Nostra Aetate ended for all time the nefarious charge that it was the Jewish people who were responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The 800-pound gorilla in the room of Jewish-Catholic relations was removed and allowed interreligious light to enter the previous darkness.

But another 800-pound gorilla has proven much harder to expel in the search for a useful dialogue between American Jews and another member of the so-called Abrahamic community, the more than 3 million Muslims who now call America their home.

Indeed, since the early 1980s, when the first national organizations were created to represent and be the voice of a growing American Muslim community, repeated attempts to initiate a meaningful dialogue between Jews and Muslims seemed to go nowhere. Despite the fact that both communities shared a long history of living together in both the Arab world and in the medieval Spanish Islamic territory known as Al-Andalus, a time that both Jews and Muslims recognized as a Golden Age of shared intellectual and literary achievements and dialogue, if not a shared equality of citizenship (the so-called dhimmi or second-class status of Jews and Christians) and despite the fact that both communities shared a religion based on laws of personal and communal observance, such an interreligious and organizational cooperation seemed impossible.

A decades-old conflict thousands of miles from American shores brought any meaningful effort at dialogue and cooperation to a halt. The struggle between Israel and the Palestinians, between Jews and Muslims, was a barrier that could not be surmounted. When Jewish organizations made the nondiscussion of the conflict a first step in the creation of any kind of cooperation with Islamic groups, it almost always ended with no cooperation at all. This was true at the national and local levels and on college campuses across America. The terrible tragedy of Sept. 11 only increased Muslim fears and Jewish mistrust.

That is, until the presidential election of 2016. With a new administration in Washington came a series of events that brought both fear and uncertainty to both Jews and Muslims. The dreaded words Islamophobia and anti-semitism took on new meaning as verbal and physical attacks against Muslims and the burning of mosques reached frightening levels. A so-called “Muslim ban” convinced some American Muslims that America was no longer the safe haven that had brought them to her shores.

American Jewry, too, experienced a level of anti-semitism in word and deed that it had not seen since the terrible times of the 1920s and 1930s when the growing threats of European fascism and Nazism found their American imitators. Whatever sense of “white privilege” that American Jewry was granted after the events of the Holocaust years and the discrediting of the term anti-semitism seemed to be coming to an end.

We seem, therefore, to be entering a new era in American Jewish-Muslim relations. There are several indications of this phenomenon worth mentioning:

The American Jewish Committee, the oldest human rights organization in America and long reluctant to engage in organizational relationships with Muslim groups, has formed in the past few months a Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, a joint partnership between the AJC and the Islamic Society of North America, the leading Muslim interest group in the country in order to “highlight the contributions of Muslims and Jews to American society; to develop a coordinated strategy to address anti-Muslim bigotry and anti-Semitism in the U.S.; and to work and protect the rights of religious minorities in the U.S. as enshrined in the Constitution …”

Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom is a 6-year old women’s group with chapters in several U.S. cities. The Muslim and Jewish members study sacred texts together and seek to break down the stereotypes that have separated the two communities. “Women navigate the world through relationships,” these women believe, and it is in this spirit that nearly 500 Muslim and Jewish women gathered at the group’s annual meeting recently, the largest such meeting ever held in the United States.

And finally, in perhaps the most dramatic event of all, in a recent meeting in San Francisco, two men, a rabbi and an imam, instead of simply engaging in some form of dialogue, spoke directly to their own co-religionists gathered in the hall. Both men urged Muslims and Jews to go beyond accepting just their respective culture or lifestyle and to accept the authenticity of each other’ religious beliefs. They said this in the spirit of Nostra Aetate and the new relationship between Christians and Jews.

Rabbi Donniel Hartman recited the watchword of Islamic belief in Arabic, the shahadah: La ilaha illa-llah, muhammadur rasulu-Ilah (There is no God but God, Muhammad is the messenger of God). “We Jews, he said, need to accept the shahada as Jews. The part about one God is easy, but accepting that Muhammad is a prophet of God, that’s the hard part but we have to try.”

He was followed by Imam Abdullah Antepli, the former Muslim chaplain at Duke University, who recited the watchword of Jewish belief, the Shema, in Hebrew: “Sh’ma Yisra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. (Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One). “For Muslims, he said, “I suggest we recite the Shema several times a day. The part about the one God is easy but we have to accept that God spoke to the children of Israel. We have to bring ourselves to a level of honesty and respect that says this is a legitimate story with whatever that entails.”

He ended by saying “the next stage of Jewish-Muslim dialogue: American Jews and American Muslims learn from each other, and teach each other: how do we stand up for our cultures in America? And when we tackle that one both Adonai and Allah (the Hebrew and Arabic names for God) will smile.”

The 800-pound gorilla in the room is still there but perhaps is looking for a way to leave.

Abraham J. Peck is a co-founder of Interfaith Maine and a professor of history at the University of Southern Maine.

]]> 0 Fri, 14 Apr 2017 20:51:25 +0000
Sikhs launch ad campaign that aims to stop hate crimes Fri, 14 Apr 2017 23:55:56 +0000 NEW YORK — Sikhs in the United States are launching a million-dollar awareness campaign that aims to stop hate-fueled attacks by explaining more about who they are and what they believe.

The “We Are Sikhs” campaign was years in the making, funded by Sikh leaders and their families across a dozen cities, who have been swept up in anti-Muslim sentiment since the Sept. 11 attacks. Their beards and turbans – symbols of equality in a religion that opposes India’s caste system – make American Sikhs easy targets for the angry and uninformed.

“Our hope was that as the memory of 9/11 goes down, things would get better. But they have not,” said Rajwant Singh, a dentist from suburban Washington and one of the campaign’s volunteer organizers.

The ads, which will air on CNN, Fox News and on TV stations in Fresno, California, home to a large Sikh community, make no mention of the more than 300 hate crimes reported by Sikhs in the U.S. since the 2001 terrorist attacks. Rather, they feature Sikh families explaining how the world’s fifth-largest religion, founded in India, aligns with American values.

Internet advertising will begin immediately as well, and subsequent TV ads are planned for at least three more cities with large Sikh populations.


“We teach our kids the American values go hand in hand with the Sikh values: tolerance, religious freedom, gender equality,” a bearded man in a red turban says in one of the ads shared with The Associated Press.

Another ad highlights Sikhs embracing U.S. pop culture: “We like ‘Game of Thrones,’ ” one person says. “I’m obsessed with ‘Star Wars,’ ” says another.

The ads, developed in consultation with Republican and Democratic consulting firms, do not mention President Trump, whose candidacy hammered on illegal immigration and Islamic extremism. While fundraising events in Sikh communities across the nation coincided with Trump’s rise, organizers insist the $1.3 million effort has no connection to the president.

“It’s a coincidence,” says Gurwin Ahuja, a 27-year-old political operative who also helped organize the new campaign. “Administrations have changed, and we still experience violence regardless of who’s president.”

Muslim advocacy groups launched a billboard campaign in recent years, while others developed public service announcements soon after Sept. 11.

Corey Saylor, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, praised the new effort, noting that Sikh leaders have “not allowed bias to divide religious minorities.”

“Years ago, they could have said, ‘Hey, we’re not Muslims.’ But they’ve always taken what to me was a very honorable stand that nobody should be targeted, period,” he said.

Surveys commissioned by Sikh leaders found that nearly 9 in 10 American Sikhs have experienced negative reactions or hate language, Singh said. Subsequent polling by a Democratic firm revealed that 60 percent of Americans know nothing at all about Sikhs.


“When people see us, they think we’re either religious extremists or terrorists,” said Ahuja, a Cleveland native who worked in the Obama White House. He recalled schoolchildren once asking during a White House tour if he was a member of the Taliban.

Many Sikhs are still haunted by the 2012 shooting inside a Wisconsin temple that left six dead. More recently, the FBI is investigating an early March shooting of a Seattle-area Sikh man as a hate crime. Three weeks later, a man was arrested after attacking a woman inside a Sikh temple in Oregon.

Hundreds of Sikhs gathered this past Sunday at a temple in Hicksville, on New York’s Long Island, that makes meals for the homeless. A woman led prayers from the Sikh holy book for much of the morning.

The Long Island Sikh community has escaped much of the violence that has plagued Sikhs elsewhere. But just four months ago, temple leaders said, a group of young men shouted in the parking lot outside: “Get out of here, you Muslims!”

Rana Singh Sodhi’s brother was shot to death outside a Phoenix-area gas station four days after 9/11 by a man who said he wanted to kill Muslims.

Sodhi says he recently spoke by phone with the killer, who is serving a life prison sentence. They agreed to work together to help educate the public about Sikhs if and when he gets out.

“It’s a long process,” Sodhi said. “We all are Americans.”

]]> 0 Singh Sodhi kneels near his service station last summer in Mesa, Ariz., next to a memorial for his brother, Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was murdered in the days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by a man who said he wanted to kill Muslims.Fri, 14 Apr 2017 20:00:23 +0000
Religion Calendar Fri, 14 Apr 2017 23:02:30 +0000 Climb Aboard the Food Train. Trinity Lutheran Church in Westbrook is sponsoring the sixth annual food drive for the Westbrook Food Pantry Sunday through Friday.

Easter services at St. Paul’s Anglican Church, free, 279 Congress St., Portland,, Sunday.

Meditations for a Clear Mind. Meditative, experiential course. $10. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland,, 10- 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Community Chaplains Needed. Open house for prospective students at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine. Hosted by modern mystic Guan dojo Joan Uraneck, a ChIME faculty member and graduate. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland,, 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 14 Apr 2017 20:50:56 +0000
Pope’s Good Friday procession at Colosseum wrapped in tight security Fri, 14 Apr 2017 22:56:06 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Thousands of people, including nuns, families with toddlers, and young tourists, patiently endured exceptionally tight security checks to pray along with Pope Francis at the traditional Way of the Cross Good Friday procession at the Colosseum.

Francis, wearing a plain white coat, presided over the evening procession from a rise overlooking the popular tourist monument as faithful took turns carrying a tall, cross and meditations were recited to encourage reflection on Jesus’ suffering and crucifixion.

Hours before the evocative, candlelit ceremony, pilgrims underwent the first of two rounds of security checks that started while they still were blocks away from the ancient arena. There was a heavier-than-usual police presence keeping watch on every aspect of the event.

Anti-terrorism measures have been heightened for large public crowds after several vehicle attacks in Nice, Berlin and other European cities.

Police opened handbags and backpacks. They checked computers, and, in at least one case, asked an Italian woman to open a package. It turned out to be a tray of pastries, and the woman good-naturedly offered one of the sweets to the officer.

Streets surrounding the Colosseum were closed to traffic, armored vehicles blocked intersections, bomb-sniffing dogs were used and police checked chemical toilets with scanners for explosives near the Colosseum.

“I believe that we have a situation in which we Europeans have to unite and take the issue of security very seriously,” Jose de Laoz, a businessman from Spain, said while the security sweeps were conducted near the Colosseum.

Terrorism’s repercussions were being felt in Christian communities across the Mediterranean. In Egypt, Coptic churches announced that Easter services would be limited to prayers, without festivities. The measure was taken after twin bombings killed 45 people at churches on Palm Sunday.

In Rome, the Good Friday gathering was calm as participants clutched candles in the silence of a warm night. Some parents hoisted children on their shoulders so they could watch. Many people kept their eyes fixed on a towering cross, studded with lit candles, that glowed against the Colosseum’s ancient stone.

Hours earlier at the Vatican, Francis prostrated himself in prayer during a Good Friday service in St. Peter’s Basilica. The 80-year-old pope lay for several minutes before the altar.

Papal preacher the Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa told the faithful in the basilica they were recalling the “violent death” of Jesus 2,000 years ago, even though most days now bring news of violent deaths, because the crucifixion “changed forever the very face of death.”

Cantalamessa called the cross the definitive “‘No’ of God to violence, injustice, hate, lies.”

]]> 0 Francis delivers his blessing as he presides over the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) torchlight procession on Good Friday in front of Rome's Colosseum on Friday.Fri, 14 Apr 2017 20:57:09 +0000
Southern Maine’s Jewish community marks Passover Wed, 12 Apr 2017 02:30:19 +0000 The Jewish community in southern Maine marked the weeklong Passover commemoration by holding a Seder, a ritual feast, in two locations Tuesday.

Second Night Passover Seder was held at Congregation Bet Ha’am in South Portland and the Minnie Brown Center in Bath, according to announcements posted on the Jewish Community Alliance of Southern Maine’s website.

Passover commemorates the Exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their transition from slavery to freedom. The main ritual of Passover is the Seder, a festive meal that can involve the retelling of the Exodus through stories, songs and the consumption of foods such as matzah (unleavened bread), haroset (a mixture of fruit, nuts, wine and cinnamon), and matzah ball soup.

Passover began on Monday evening, April 10, and will end Tuesday evening, April 18.

]]> 0 Tue, 11 Apr 2017 23:33:08 +0000
Reflections: Christ remains champion for the least among us Sat, 08 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 My conversion to my life of faith as a self-identified Christian happened at a weekend youth camp conducted by what today we would call evangelicals. My family was Congregational but my main interest in going to our church until then was for friendship, i.e. girls.

The conversion was in response to a speaker who portrayed Jesus as a man for others, a man of justice, kindness, courage and healing who loved God and us. “He was shamed and abused on the cross and no one stood up for him.” The nails pounded into his hands and feet were described in excruciating detail. “And no one stood up for him. (Dramatic pause) Is there anyone here who would have stood? Raise your hand.” My hand went up on its own. I was embarrassed by it but glad at the same time. “Thank you. You can take your hand down now.”

After we adjourned I was approached by a college age guy who said he noticed that I had raised my hand. “Would you like to know more about Jesus?” he asked. What could I say? We sat together in the front seat of a pickup and he asked if I wanted to inherit eternal life. It was an interesting question but had nothing to do with Jesus and me as far as I could tell. Still I said I hadn’t thought much about it but supposed I would if there was such a thing. He assured me there was for those who “accepted Jesus as Lord and savior.” All I had to do was say his magic words.

“That’s it?” I asked. “Just say words?” It seemed all too simple but I thought to myself, “What can I lose, I please him and it may be so.”

Within months I moved away from magic words and the idea that Christianity was primarily about saving my own skin. But Jesus and I moved closer to one another and he has been there ever since guiding, chiding, comforting, challenging, defining life’s meaning, purpose and heart.

It was a conversion, a conversion of dreams if you will, from a dream of personal success to a dream of human brother and sisterhood and as I grew in the dream, a dream of oneness with the whole of creation and its creatures, human and otherwise. From him I learned to seek God’s truth in other faith traditions as well as mine. He is the one who leads me into deeper and broader understandings of reality and the mystery of God and love and what being alive means and feels like.

One other story about Jesus and me. A number of years after that youth camp conversion, after college and marriage, after Nancy and I had our three children, I ended an undistinguished five-year career in business and started seminary to become a minister in the Congregational Church, United Church of Christ.

One of the churches I served was in Berkeley, California. It was a large church near the University with worshipers coming from miles around. Few lived near the facilities. Our near neighbors included hundreds of homeless people. In the evenings they sought shelter where they could find it, some on our outside covered walk called the Cloister. It was screened from rain by the roof and from the street by a line of rhododendrons.

One of those who slept in the Cloister was a worn woman, fifty or seventy. It was hard to tell. She wheeled a grocery cart holding most of her worldly possession including a portable TV which she shared with whomever slept near her. She carried two small dogs tucked into unbuttoned spaces in her shirt. Her name was Betsy. In spite of my welcome she would have nothing to do with me. Not a look. Not a word. Be that as it may I had an unexplainable certainty that Betsy was Jesus. If we could not offer a bed to Betsy we had no right to call ourselves a Christian community.

Along with Betsy and her expanding number of Cloister-mates came stench and litter and dying rhododendrons from urine poisoning even though a porta-potty was provided. As you can imagine those were interesting times in the life of Berkeley First Congregational Church. But when the smoke cleared the troubled, challenged and Jesus-loving people of that congregation saw more than a problem in our homeless neighbors. A conversion – new eyes, new ears.

During the next year other congregations and the City Council joined the work. First came a rotating shelter in church buildings then two permanent homeless shelters built and staffed for those who chose their offer of hospitality. Not Betsy, she didn’t want to sleep indoors.

After I moved from there to Maine I heard that Betsy was found dead in an alley she had claimed as overnight accommodations. I’ll never forget her.

“Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” Mathew 25:40.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 07 Apr 2017 21:24:06 +0000
Reflections: April Fools’ Day can bring out the best in human nature Sat, 01 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Today, April 1, is April Fools’ Day – or at least it has been, in more innocent and guileless days past. Pranks are fewer, good-natured deceptions less welcome nowadays. It seems in the 21st century, we are often in a race to be savvy and in the know, never surprised or caught unawares, and generally more-cynical-than-thou. The best of us is nobody’s fool, but once upon a time, we were happy to take our turn being the object of a joke, pleased to be surprised, and ready, if not eager, to believe in something and say so, even if it meant being made a fool for love or deeply held conviction.

The origin of April Fools’ Day has itself been the subject of more than a few jokes, but the most frequent serious explanation dates to 1582, when western Europe adopted the Gregorian calendar, beginning the new year on Jan. 1 instead of April 1. New Year’s celebrations having traditionally included hijinks and revelry, more than a few people who “didn’t get the memo” appeared publicly or at the homes of their neighbors decked out and ready for the annual new year’s celebration, only to be made fools by the revelation that they’d missed it by three months. As time passed and that particular foolishness died away, it was replaced in France by a prank that involved pinning a paper fish, known as “poisson d’avril,” or “April fish” to a friend’s back; and in Scotland by “Gowkie Day,” a gowk being a name for the cuckoo, symbol of the fool, when pranks were played by family and friends.

So what has become of the harmless prank, the silly surprise, the genuine and mutual laughter when one friend is tricked by another and made foolish? Is it the same fate of guileless affection, and of faith in that which cannot be seen and touched or bought and sold? Are we so humorless and coldly cynical that we can’t laugh at ourselves, or take a chance we may be caught believing in something, hoping for something, trusting in something that isn’t what we thought?

For centuries, religious and philosophical writers have weighed the costs and benefits of taking the chance, coming down on the side of belief – in God, in beauty, in love. Most famously, Pascal’s wager posited that believing there’s a God and acting accordingly could, at worst, cause one to have been made foolish at the end, but at best, could win the rewards of heaven. Earlier variants of this proposition are found in the Sanskrit writings of Vararuci, the Islamic discussion of Al-Juwayni, the Greek writer of Dionysus, the Sophist Protagorus, and more.

So I guess I’m in good company: Since girlhood, I’ve been a fool for God (/Spirit/the Divine), seeking Ultimate Meaning everywhere, creating spiritual practices for myself before I was old enough to learn them in church, eager to explore religious traditions from around the world. I’ve been a fool for love, too, faithfully sending cards and letters to friends and relatives over years of time and miles of distance, whether reciprocated or not, committing to marriage again after suffering heartbreak the first time, showering affection on many. And I’ve been a fool for beauty, gazing at sunrises and sunsets, waxing ecstatic at flowers and mountains and seascapes, weeping over poetry, drama and literature. I had a cousin who was too cool for all that, and made fun of me when we were kids, so maybe I was inured to the ridicule early on, choosing to endure it for the rewards of living with my eyes, my mind, and my heart wide open. Sure, it’s made me vulnerable to disappointment, embarrassment, heartbreak. But with Quaker writer and educator Parker Palmer, I choose to keep my heart soft, so that when it breaks – and it has and it will, again and again – it will not shatter into shards that can never be put together again, but rather, it will break open, making room for even more love, even more beauty, even more God.

So go ahead – let’s all be April Fools! Let’s put on the silly costume, show up for the party, dance and sing and cry. Let’s open our eyes and our minds and our hearts to beauty and love and God. Let’s live life as fully and deeply as we can, shrugging off the ridicule, reckoning on the better bet. As recently as 2008, Cambridge University Fellow Iain King (whom I’d guess is no fool!) wrote this contemporary version of Pascal: “What does it hurt to pursue value and virtue? If there is value, then we have everything to gain, but if there is none, then we haven’t lost anything.”

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Andrea Thompson McCall is a retired United Church of Christ minister who served as interfaith chaplain at the University of Southern Maine.

]]> 0 Fri, 31 Mar 2017 20:25:30 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 25 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Food Drive. Trinity Lutheran Church in Westbrook sponsoring sixth annual food drive for the Westbrook Food Pantry. office@trinity, Friday to March 31.

Informal Worship Service. First Parish Congregational Church, UCC, 12 Beach St., Saco,, 8-8:30 a.m. Sunday.

Psalms, Bible Study. Each Sunday morning, led by the Rev. Merle Steva. First Parish Congregational Church, UCC, 12 Beach St., Saco,, 9-9:45 a.m. Sunday.

Buddhism Unwrapped. Practical aspects of being a Buddhist. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham., 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

UCC Lenten Series. How to stop cycles of revenge and hatred in our world. State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland,, 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Sunday.

“Yes … Peace Is Possible.” Class series. Donations accepted. Unity Church of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Service of Comfort and Hope. Monthly service offered by First Parish Saco last Wednesday of each month. First Parish Congregational Church, UCC, 12 Beach St., Saco,, 7-7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

To God Be the Glory. A production about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Free, St. Christopher’s Roman Catholic Church, Barrel Lane, York,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 20:27:22 +0000
Finding community, spirituality on 2 wheels Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:07:20 +0000 BOSTON — Bicycling through Boston’s twisting, traffic-clogged streets may seem more about self-preservation than spiritual enlightenment.

For the Rev. Laura Everett, her daily 6-mile commute is a way of connecting to her adopted city, its residents, and her sense of community and vulnerability.

Instead of hopping on the subway and popping up in another part of town, Everett said, bicycling has exposed her to the warp and weft of Boston’s neighborhoods and the people who animate them.

It’s also led her to a new sense of spirituality and inspired her to turn her experiences into a new book, “Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels.”

“Part of the regularity of a daily commute is what I think forms it to be a spiritual discipline,” said Everett, 38.

“That commitment to the same route time and time again, starting to see the same people, seeing the same neighborhoods, seeing the trees change from budding to bursting – that is where I started noticing this is really having an effect not just on how I move through the city, but on my soul,” she said.

Along the way, Everett, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Churches, stumbled on an impromptu congregation – a tribe of fellow bicyclists who share the joys and terrors of Boston’s byzantine streets.

She has married bicycle couples and officiated at an annual “blessing of the bicycles” in which bicyclists gather to pray for fellow cyclists who have died and let Everett and others anoint their bikes with a mix of holy oil and chain lube.

Everett’s most poignant contribution may be her participation in “ghost bike” ceremonies.

Ghost bikes refer to the practice of painting a bicycle and its tires solid white and locking it near where a bicyclist has died, often after being struck by a car or truck.

“Bicyclists have the experience of knowing our own vulnerability, and knowing that in some ways our safety is dependent on the actions of others,” she said.

Ken Carlson, head of the Somerville Bicycle Advisory Committee, first met Everett at a ghost bike ceremony for Cambridge bicyclist Marcia Deihl, who died in 2015 after being struck by a dump truck.

“I was really touched and impressed with Laura and her deep sense of empathy, sympathy and connection to the bicycle community,” he said.

Bicycling raises another spiritual challenge, Everett said: anger.

“What does it mean to absorb other people’s anger? What do you do with your own anger? How do you live in a system that’s unjust,” she said. “Those roads aren’t fair.”

One goal of her book was to ponder what she calls “an intentionally urban spirituality.”

“What if what is transcendent and what is heavenly is less like the Green Mountains of Vermont and more like Blue Hill Ave.?” she said, referring to a busy Boston thoroughfare.

Becca Wolfson, executive director of the Boston Cyclists Union, sees the connection between cycling and spirituality.

“You’re thinking about your mortality on a daily basis and where you are going and how you are going to get there,” she said.

Everett didn’t always see herself as a bicyclist.

Although she rode for fun growing up in suburban New Jersey, it wasn’t until she moved to Boston and her car broke down on Interstate 93 that she turned to bicycling.

]]> 0 clergy placard on a bicycle belonging to Rev. Laura Everett, who wrote a book called "Holy Spokes."Fri, 24 Mar 2017 20:16:11 +0000
Pope urges leaders to eschew ‘false security’ Fri, 24 Mar 2017 23:40:09 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis urged European leaders on Friday to resist the “false forms of security” promised by populists who want to wall themselves off and instead bank on a future of greater solidarity and union.

Francis welcomed 27 EU leaders to the Vatican on the eve of a summit to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, the founding charter of the bloc. The summit falls just days before Britain triggers a procedure to leave the EU and comes amid a wave of anti-EU populist sentiment sweeping the continent that threatens the very essence of the EU.

In his remarks, Francis said Europeans seem to have forgotten the “tragedy” of the walls and divisions that inspired leaders decades ago to hope for a better future through union.

Today, he said, politicians are guided instead by fear and crises and fall prey to egotistical populism that “hems people in and prevents them from overcoming and looking beyond their own narrow vision.”

“Europe finds new hope when she refuses to yield to fear or close herself off in false forms of security,” he said. “Politics needs this kind of leadership which avoids appealing to emotions to gain consent but instead, in a spirit of solidarity and subsidiarity, devises policies that can make the union as a whole develop harmoniously.”

It was the latest papal appeal to European leaders to resist the temptation of closing in on themselves amid economic troubles, migration crises and general distrust or indifference among ordinary Europeans about the EU project. Francis made a similar appeal to leaders during a 2014 visit to the European Parliament and more recently in accepting the Charlemagne prize, the annual award for contributions to European unity.

And it came at a particularly challenging time as the EU prepares to open Brexit negotiations with Britain after it voted to leave the bloc. Francis didn’t mention Brexit by name, though he spoke of the solidarity owed to Britain to mourn this week’s attack on Westminster Bridge and at Parliament that left five dead, including the assailant.

Francis, the son of Italian immigrants to Argentina, has been particularly insistent that Europe continue to open its doors to migrants fleeing war and poverty, and he echoed that appeal in his remarks Friday. He said it wasn’t enough to think of migration as a question of numbers or security. Rather, it’s a question of culture and how Europe plans to recover its ideals rather than submit to fear, he said.

“Without an approach inspired by those ideals, we end up dominated by the fear that others will wrench us from our usual habits, deprive us of familiar comforts, and somehow call into question a lifestyle that all too often consists of material prosperity alone.”

At the end of the audience, Francis greeted each of the leaders and chatted amiably with them, giving a particularly warm hug to French President Francois Hollande. The leaders then posed with the pope for a photo in the Sistine Chapel in front of Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment” before getting to work for Saturday’s summit.

]]> 0 Francis addressed leaders of 27 European nations on the eve of their summit to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome. The Pope urged those leaders to resist false promises of security from populist and nativist candidates and leaders.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 20:08:19 +0000
Reflections: Passover should teach lessons of perseverance and hope Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:30:00 +0000 It should never be too late to do the right thing.

In a little more than two weeks, Jews around the world will gather to celebrate The Festival of Passover. This holiday requires Jews to refrain from eating leaven and is highlighted by the Seder meal in which we retell the story of the exodus from Egypt. There are many stories to be shared and retold every year at this time, but do you remember the Bible story of The Golden Calf? It is a story about what happened after the story of Passover.

As this story is told, the nation of Israel had recently been redeemed from a life of slavery to the Pharaoh in Egypt. They were journeying through the desert on their way to the Promised Land and had just made one very important stop. They made camp at the base of Mt. Sinai to await the return of Moses, who had made his way to the mountaintop to receive the law and the Ten Commandments. They expected him to return in 40 days. When he did not return when they expected him, the nation rebelled and fashioned a calf from gold as an idol to worship instead of worshiping God. Of course, Moses returned a day later to find the golden calf. He was so upset at this betrayal that he dashed the stone tablets on the ground and broke them.

Approximately seven weeks before arriving at Sinai, the people had been taken from Israel through a great series of signs, plagues and wonders. They promised to worship the one and only God, yet at the first opportunity had turned away from that promise to return to idol worship. How is it that they could not sustain their faith and commitment to God, even after witnessing so many miracles, for more than just a couple of months? This was such a series of momentous events that we gather together every year, now almost 3500 years later, to retell the story. Shouldn’t that have been enough for them to keep their faith?

It was relatively easy for the people to promise to love and honor God right after witnessing the miracles of the redemption. They had been on a honeymoon of sorts. The challenge was to continue that behavior after the honeymoon. The true test of faith was to maintain their good behavior in the days and weeks following that awesome experience. They fell short of that goal.

What about life today? What happens after the honeymoon, or the first anniversary? Do we have the commitment and the staying power to be in it for the long haul? Many people start out with every intention to live a committed life, only to see themselves fall back on old habits and lifestyles when things don’t go the way they had expected. Should we be given another chance, whatever our shortcomings may be?

Perhaps the very important lessons we need to draw from this embarrassing episode in our history are, firstly, that people do sin, human beings do make mistakes, and even inspired people who saw the divine with their own eyes can mess up badly. Secondly, and even more importantly, that even afterwards there is still hope, no matter what.

I was privileged to be able to stand under a wedding canopy in Jerusalem last month for my own wedding. At the end of the ceremony I broke a glass with my foot under that canopy as my bride watched. This custom teaches a very important lesson about life to a bride and groom who are about to embark on their own new path in life. What happens immediately after the groom breaks the glass? Everyone shouts “Mazel Tov!” The message is clear. Something broke? OK, it’s not the end of the world. We can even laugh about it and still be happy. This too shall pass. This is such a practical lesson for a newlywed couple to learn.

It is possible to pick up the pieces in life. Whether it’s our relationships with God, our marriage partners, our kids or our colleagues, we can make amends and repair the damage. All too often when life becomes difficult, we don’t stick around to do the hard work that is necessary to improve our situation. The nation of Israel did it after worshiping a golden calf. We should remember whenever we feel there is no going back.

Rabbi Gary Berenson is the rabbi at Congregation Etz Chaim and also serves as the executive director of The Maine Jewish Museum in Portland. He can be reached at:

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:38:26 +0000
Reflections: Hanging in there is what we do for the life we are given Sat, 18 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 My cousin emails me, “Did you hear that Karen (my age) fell while running, hit her head and is in critical care. Ugh. How can that happen to someone that fit?”

I agree with “ugh.” I know the shock of how-can-that-happen.

A friend texts to say her husband (10 years younger than me) is regaining strength after open heart surgery, although not sleeping nights so napping all day. She has a cold, which complicates her caregiving and she has to wear masks and gloves. She ends, “I’m exhausted; hanging in there.”

Hanging in there is what we do, right? For years. For the life we are given.

Weeks ago, a childhood camp pal received a diagnosis of “an aggressive leukemia.” An ex-neighbor last week had a stroke and can no longer read. I am at “that age” when I know that if we’re lucky, we grow old. If we’re .human, we get sick and die. That’s a big UGH.

Forty-two years ago I promised: “In sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.” I had no idea at age 26 what those words meant, that one of us will someday care for the ailing other. We agreed, too, that one of us will see the other one out. I know the truth of this inevitability; I vowed to be with it. But old age and sickness is hard on the heart, even if the head understands its fierce reality. An open heart is good, of course, and it aches because a part of me dies with every loss. Floods of sadness can feel like drowning.

I don’t accuse, “Why me” or “Why her and not me?” But because grief is turbulent and my heart has been broken a few times in almost 70 years, I find myself hoping things could be different from how they are, and imagining remakes of the past. I should’ve said YES when a writing partner invited me to a Sedona retreat before she died of a heart attack. If only I’d gone to Bates College to care for my aging grandparents in Lewiston in their last days, I could’ve helped them. Why did I give up skiing years before my arthritic tin-man joints now dictate it?.

With old life re-dos, I also sometimes make up fantasies of an impossible future – for me, for us, for this world – because feeling the fear of its uncertainty isn’t fun, either.

But there is transformation in a feeling life. All of it. My teachers tell me we are called to live, to continue living, as fully as possible, cracks in the heart and all. Fractured yet whole, embracing the reality of here and now and leaving the unreality of there and then, the illusion of perfect enduring health for me, you, them, and us. Because if a heart closes to pain, to frailty, to dis-ease, it closes. Joy and laughter stifle, too. There is no picking and choosing.

If I had shut out Karen’s fall, the ex-neighbor’s stroke, my rickety joints, I would have missed my 2-year-old granddaughter as she dragged my carry-on bag around her kitchen and sang in her lilting voice, “Susu, I hab your soupcase.”

Today, carrying my human soupcase packed with joys and sorrows, laughter and tears, I call a friend whose son just deployed for the third time. There is no fixing this life; nothing I say will vanish her worry. I ask if she wants to go for a stroll. She says, “Yes. Thanks. It’s lonelier this time. We can keep my sadness company.”

That’s it, isn’t it? That’s what this mixed-up life is all about, helping each other with the loads we are asked to hold; the break-ups, the illnesses, the deaths, our chaos and conflicts. Maybe all we can do is be with, share sadness and loneliness, hang in there with our soupcases full of past memories, present challenges, future unknowns and the UGHs we meet. Perhaps we are asked, in our limited time on Earth, to keep our porous hearts open as we look deeply at life and death, to live with more yesses and thank yous, to lean into what really matters as we walk each other home.

Susan Lebel Young, MSED, MSC writes and teaches mindfulness in its wonderful myriad forms. She can be contacted through or at

]]> 0 Fri, 17 Mar 2017 20:45:08 +0000
Maine churches discuss becoming sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants Sun, 12 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In December, the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles declared itself a “sanctuary diocese.”

The resolution adopted by the California diocese states it will resist efforts to deport millions of undocumented people or eliminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. For some churches, it could also mean offering living space to people who are at risk of deportation.

On the other side of the country, the Maine Episcopal Diocese took note.

“We’ve had a few inquiries from priests at individual churches,” said Heidi Shott, the diocese canon missioner for communication and advocacy. “They’ve come to the bishop and said, ‘Can we do this? What if?’ ”

The Pew Research Center estimates Maine has one of the smallest populations of unauthorized immigrants in the country – fewer than 5,000. So far, attorneys say there is no evidence deportation efforts have ramped up in the state.

A sign offers a proverb as a welcome to visitors at the entrance to the sanctuary at First Congregational Church. Several churches in Greater Portland are discussing how to shelter undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

But the local Episcopal diocese has scheduled a video conference with its counterpart in Los Angeles to learn more about sheltering undocumented immigrants. A small number of local churches in other denominations are also researching the idea, though some said it was too early to discuss publicly.

“It is a complicated and difficult set of circumstances to wade into,” said the Rev. Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches. “Every congregation could come out in a different place as to how they want to respond. But to do nothing or to not even talk about it is unthinkable given our current set of circumstances in the state and the nation and the world.”

Field said she is not surprised the idea has taken hold nationally and in Maine.

“We have to be asking ourselves in part because our scripture that we hold sacred says welcome the stranger,” she said. “The Old and New Testaments are pretty clear about that. The fact that churches are wrestling with how to respond is entirely appropriate.”

The practice of seeking sanctuary in a place of worship can be traced back centuries. Fugitives could find safe haven in Christian churches even during the Roman Empire. In medieval times, people accused of crimes could find temporary refuge in churches in England.

In the United States, the modern sanctuary movement has roots in a 1980s effort to shelter Central American refugees fleeing civil war. The idea spread when deportations increased under the Obama administration, but grassroots coordinator Church World Service estimates the number of churches willing to harbor undocumented people has doubled to 800 since President Trump’s election.

It is unclear how many churches across the country are offering sanctuary and how many are actively sheltering immigrants. But the movement has interest nationwide. A church in Denver attracted national news coverage in February when it took in a woman fleeing deportation. The Boston Globe reported at least three Boston-area congregations are willing to house undocumented people.

Participating in such a movement raises significant questions for local congregations.


“What does it really mean?” Shott said. “What are the implications for our churches? Would it be breaking the law in some way, and would people in our churches be willing to do that if that’s the case? We don’t have answers at this point, but in this climate, it’s worth asking those questions.”

An officer with a warrant can arrest an undocumented immigrant in a place of worship. But a 2011 memo states that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials should avoid detaining people in “sensitive locations” like schools, hospitals or churches. That policy is still in effect but could be revoked. A public affairs officer for ICE did not respond to an email inquiry about changes under the new administration.

Harboring undocumented immigrants is a crime, and The New York Times reported in 1986 on the convictions of several clergy members involved in smuggling Salvadorans and Guatemalans into the United States. Sue Roche, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project in Maine, said the legal ramifications of offering sanctuary are unclear, and she encouraged any immigrant fearful of deportation to speak with an attorney about his or her rights.

None of the churches contacted by the Maine Sunday Telegram said they knew someone in immediate danger of deportation. Most began looking into the idea because of interest from ministers or members.

The Rev. Cindy Maddox said First Congregational Church in South Portland is also in “the information-gathering stage.”

“The legal ramifications and the safety issues are certainly some of our concerns,” she said. “But we also are aware that living out our faith is not always safe.”

Prompted by emails from her congregation, Maddox said she is seeking more information. Her broader denomination, the United Church of Christ, is hosting a webinar about offering physical sanctuary to undocumented people. While the idea has not yet been presented to the congregation as a whole, Maddox said the membership of First Congregational Church would make a final decision together.

Shott said churches from different parts of the state have expressed interest, including southern Maine and Down East.

“We can’t mandate every congregation must be a sanctuary congregation,” she said.

Allen Ewing-Merrill, lead pastor at HopeGateWay in Portland, said he isn’t aware of any tangible plans to offer sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. He and other local clergy are talking about how to help in other ways – for example, by issuing a public statement of support.

“Clergy leaders and faith communities want to be sure that anything we do or say doesn’t further jeopardize immigrant communities,” he said. “We want to make sure that anything we do or say has integrity, and we are in conversation with the people who are most likely to be affected by it.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

]]> 0 Rev. Cindy Maddox at First Congregational Church in South Portland is gathering information, at the request of members of her congregation, about possibly sheltering undocumented immigrants at risk of deportation.Mon, 13 Mar 2017 11:00:10 +0000
Pope considers married men as ministers Sat, 11 Mar 2017 23:00:00 +0000 BERLIN — Pope Francis says the church must study whether to ordain married men to minister in remote communities facing priest shortages.

In an interview published Thursday with Germany’s Die Zeit, Francis stressed that removing the celibacy rule is not the answer to the Catholic Church’s priest shortage. But he expressed an openness to studying whether so-called “viri probati” – or married men of proven faith – could be ordained.

“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” he said.

The “viri probati” proposal has been around for decades, but it has drawn fresh attention under history’s first Latin American pope thanks in part to his appreciation of the challenges facing the church in places like Brazil, a huge Catholic country with an acute shortage of priests.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a longtime friend of Francis and former head of the Vatican’s office for clergy, is reportedly pressing to allow viri probati in the Amazon, where the church counts about one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.

Francis has shown particular openness to receiving concrete proposals for ordaining married men as well as his own pastoral concern for men who have left the ministry to marry.

He has maintained friendship with the Argentine widow of a friend who left the priesthood to marry, and he spent one of his Friday mercy missions last year visiting with men who had left the ministry to start families. He has also said that while he favors a celibate priesthood, celibacy technically can be up for discussion because it’s a discipline of the church, not a dogma.

Priests in the eastern rite Catholic Church are allowed to be married, as are married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism.

Francis also repeated his warning of the dangers of rising populism in Western democracies, saying “populism is evil and ends badly as the past century showed.”

In the interview, Francis also confirmed Colombia was on his travel itinerary for 2017, as well as India and Bangladesh. He ruled out Congo, which had been rumored, but mentioned Egypt as a possibility. Francis also recently said he hoped to visit South Sudan.

]]> 0 Francis delivers a blessing during the Angelus prayer in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican last Sunday.Sat, 11 Mar 2017 18:33:21 +0000
Reflections: Life’s struggles make us stronger – and happier – if we let them Sat, 11 Mar 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Recently, I had lunch with two former co-workers, one whom I had reconnected with a few weeks before and the other whom I hadn’t seen in 21 years. We lingered at lunch for three hours and only left when we heard the restaurant was closing for the afternoon. There was not a minute of silence or awkwardness as we spoke of the people in the agency we had all worked for and how our belief in its mission energized our work. We also spoke of the current divisions in our country, of family, and most of all struggles. We had all faced challenges in life that could have broken us: betrayal by a spouse, MS and an abusive relationship.

What united us was not the struggles that we faced and overcame but the attitudes with which we approached the events of our lives, not allowing them to ruin us, but to make us stronger and, yes, happier. This was such a tribute to the power of the will and the ability to make choices. Life’s challenges can often lead to an abyss of grief that threatens to swallow us. One of my shortest poems is: “Is there no one to hold me while I cry?”

Every human being has been in this place at one time or another. Sometimes depression can make it more difficult to get away from the edge but any spark of light or encouragement should be used to seek help physically, emotionally or spiritually. When we face a crisis, it effects the all of who we are and thus must be met with our total beings.

In responding holistically, we place ourselves on the path of becoming whole out of an experience that could have shattered us. Sometimes the only response is resilience as expressed in the following poem:



my secret companion

long before I knew

its meaning,

long before

I realized

there was anything

else that could

keep me alive.

Like the reed

that bends with the wind


was my face

to the world,


my fragile self,

enabling me

to come to this point

of know

there is more.

What was a common thread through our conversation was not the anguish we suffered, the physical challenges that seemed unsurmountable, the difficulty of beginning over. No, we spoke of coming through to a new place of strength, of growth in courage, of joy in our present lives. There was laughter and possibility and achievement.

We could have spent time comparing our tribulations, our discouragements, our setbacks, yet we did not. To me, this in no way minimizes what each of us has been through or the lingering pain we felt.

This proves that overcoming adversity is a larger accomplishment, more energizing and vital to a happy life. As I travel through life, these are the kind of companions I want at my side.

Where I Am Now

I don’t want to think anymore

about where I am from.

My focus is

where I am now

and where I’m going.

Happy and peaceful,

I’ve arrived at the resting place

that opens me to love’s embrace:

to the possibility of being

in the world as giver,

sharing my path that others

may also find theirs,

the way to their own truth

in the discovery of their voice.

Helen Rousseau, a Catholic nun for 30 years, is now an ordained interfaith minister. Her poems and writings are about her journey from dogma to interior spiritual freedom and from an abusive relationship to exterior freedom and joy. She lives in Kennebunk. She can be reached at

Poems are from “Coming to the Edge: Fifty Poems for Writing and Healing” by Helen G. Rousseau.

]]> 0 Fri, 10 Mar 2017 21:00:42 +0000
Pope open to studying ordination of married men as priests to address shortage Fri, 10 Mar 2017 12:33:07 +0000 BERLIN — Pope Francis says the church must study whether it’s possible to ordain married men to minister in remote communities facing priest shortages.

In an interview published Thursday with Germany’s Die Zeit, Francis stressed that removing the celibacy rule is not the answer to the Catholic Church’s priest shortage. But he expressed an openness to studying whether so-called “viri probati” — or married men of proven faith — could be ordained.

“We must consider if viri probati is a possibility. Then we must determine what tasks they can perform, for example, in remote communities,” he was quoted as saying.

The “viri probati” proposal has been around for decades, but it has drawn fresh attention under history’s first Latin American pope thanks in part to his appreciation of the challenges facing the church in places like Brazil, a huge Catholic country with an acute shortage of priests.

Brazilian Cardinal Claudio Hummes, a longtime friend of Francis and former head of the Vatican’s office for clergy, is reportedly pressing to allow viri probati in the Amazon, where the church counts around one priest for every 10,000 Catholics.

Francis has shown particular openness to receiving concrete proposals for ordaining married men as well as his own pastoral concern for men who have left ministry to marry.

He has maintained friendship with the Argentine widow of a friend who left the priesthood to marry, and he spent one of his Friday mercy missions last year visiting with men who had left ministry to start families. He has also said that while he favors a celibate priesthood, celibacy technically can be up for discussion since it’s a discipline of the church, not a dogma.

The church allows some exceptions to the rule. Priests in the eastern rite Catholic Church are allowed to be married, as are married Anglican priests who convert to Catholicism.

In the first major interview that Francis has given a German newspaper, the pope was asked whether he experienced moments in which he doubted the existence of God. He responded: “I, too, know moments of emptiness.”

But, he pointed out that periods of crisis are an opportunity to grow, saying a believer who doesn’t experience that remains “infantile.”

Francis also repeated his warning of the dangers of rising populism in western democracies, saying “populism is evil and ends badly as the past century showed.”

In the interview, Francis also confirmed Colombia was on his travel itinerary for 2017, as well as India and Bangladesh. He ruled out Congo, which had been rumored, but mentioned Egypt as a possibility. Francis also recently said he hoped to visit South Sudan.

]]> 0, 10 Mar 2017 18:26:58 +0000
Retired Rev. James Gill brings Lenten tradition out of the church on Ash Wednesday Wed, 01 Mar 2017 23:18:32 +0000 WINTHROP — For nearly four hours Wednesday, the Rev. James Gill sat with his sign and his jar of ashes in the lobby of the Commerce Center, ready to dispense the ashes that Ash Wednesday is named for.

People walked by, intent on getting out of the damp, cool air outside, headed either to the cafe or to a doctor’s appointment in one of the offices upstairs in the converted mill. Some avoided eye contact and others said hello as they passed. All had the chance to get ashes if they wanted to.

In Christianity, the season of Lent starts with Ash Wednesday and lasts about six weeks. It’s considered a penitential season during which believers often give up luxuries or treats, and fast and pray to prepare for Easter and the observance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Although he’s retired, Gill in recent years has spent part of his Ash Wednesday taking the rite out of the church and into the community as part of the annual Ashes To Go event. This year, Ashes To Go took place across the U.S. and in Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany. In Maine, Ashes To Go was expected to be available in at least eight other communities, including Portland, Bath, Waterville, Brunswick and Farmington.

By midday in Winthrop, about a dozen people had stopped by Gill’s perch by the door. Some he knew, and others he had not seen before.

“A couple of people hugged me and thanked me, which is always nice,” he said. “A hug goes a long way.”

Early on, he had help from Tom Ward, a senior warden at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Winthrop, who invited people to accept ashes and hear Gill say, “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” as he marked their foreheads.

That’s a reminder of mortality, Gill said, and at 87, mortality is something he thinks of more and more.

In the afternoon, when the stream of passers-by slowed, Gill was content to sit and reflect a little on penitence, because the ashes are a sign of that as well.

“It’s not self-flagellation,” Gill said. “It’s kind of an inverse humanism to say you are the worst sinner going.”

Instead, it’s an ongoing reflection. He invoked St. Ignatius of Loyola and the belief that life is a dance.

“If you step to the left, it’s desolation; and if you step to the right, it’s consolation,” he said. “At the end of the day, if I am thinking about it, I wonder which way I have taken steps in the day.”

It’s easy to identify sins of commission, but it’s less easy to define sins of omission – what you could have or should have done, but didn’t, he said. Moving past those sins requires a period of reflection or meditation, something that Gill practices regularly.

Two of the people he marked with ashes stopped by briefly as they were leaving the Commerce Center to remind Gill that they should put their hallelujahs away for the Lenten season.

“That’s right,” Gill said. “We don’t have those again until Easter Eve.”

Gill, who bore the mark of ashes on his own forehead, planned to attend the St. Andrew’s Ash Wednesday service at 5 p.m., at the Quaker Meetinghouse where the St. Andrew’s congregation meets, where it was possible that church members would drop pieces of paper with hallelujah printed on them into a basket in yet another symbol of the solemn season.

“I’m not leading the service,” he said, “but I will have a pew’s-eye view of it.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

]]> 0 Rev. James Gill chats with Theresa Edwards before marking a cross with ashes on her forehead on Wednesday at the Winthrop Commerce Center.Wed, 01 Mar 2017 18:59:50 +0000
Reflections: We can adapt to those around us or spread our wings and soar Sat, 25 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Who am I?

It was early in the morning and still dark as I entered through the side door at Starbucks. The barista quickly handed me a steamy Tall Flat White. Despite the early hour, there were two women sitting at a table already in conversation. I sat down at a nearby table and opened my book of daily reflections.

While I tried not to listen, their voices were easily heard in the empty space.

I found myself drawn to their conversation. They were discussing one of the questions in life we all encounter: Who am I?

It’s a question we all ponder at some point in our lives. We often reflect on this question during major life transitions. In our grief as we move through loss, in our doubt as we move through uncertainty, and even in our happiness as we move through success.

One of the women at the table asked her companion: “I wonder if other people see me the same way I see myself?” When I heard this question, I was reminded of a quote I read earlier in the week: “If I saw myself as my friends and other people see me, I would need an introduction.”

I found myself reflecting on the conversation the next day. I had recently begun to study “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.” Interestingly enough, the first exercise with my spiritual guide focused on: Who am I? The readings began with a perspective on the idea of three persons: the person I think I am, the person you think I am, and the person I really am.

The readings and reflection included a legend of an Indian boy who found an eagle egg. The boy decided to take the eagle egg home, where he placed it in a chicken’s nest. Eventually, an eagle hatched from the egg.

The baby eagle grew up with baby chickens. As a result, he believed he was a chicken. He behaved like a chicken: making chicken noises, scratching in the dirt, and desperately trying to fly yet only raising himself a short distance off the ground.

One morning, the baby eagle looked up in the sky to see a beautiful bird soaring. The baby eagle was amazed and said to one of the adult chickens: “What a marvelous bird!” The adult chicken replied: “That’s an eagle; he’s the king of the birds. Don’t get any silly ideas, you will never be an eagle and you will never be able to do what an eagle does.”

This legend prompted some reflection on my part. I wondered: Am I really an eagle who has adapted to the life of a chicken? Have I adapted so much to those around me that I’ve lost sight of who I really am? If I am an eagle who is happy being a chicken, is that really OK? Do I owe it to myself to spread my wings and soar like an eagle? Who am I?

In the Judeo-Christian story of creation, humans were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, shares: Our DNA is divine. The divine indwelling is never earned, it is only recognized and realized. “Who am I” is a gift from God and “What I become” is a gift back to God.

God knows us and loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is. God calls us by name even if we don’t understand: “Who am I?”

We hear in Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

before you were born I set you apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jer 1:5

There is a song titled: “Who Am I” by the Casting Crowns. In the opening verse, we hear: “Who am I that the Lord of all the Earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt? Who am I that the Bright and Morning Star would choose to light the way for my ever-wondering heart? Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are! I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind. Still You hear when I’m calling, You catch me when I’m falling. And you’ve told me who I am…”

As I reflect back on the early morning conversation at Starbucks, I was struck by the desire to see and understand: Who am I? – as an individual – in our relationship with others – and in a broader context of our place in the world.

Like the baby eagle, we may simply adapt to those around us or we could spread our wings and soar.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at: blog:

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Religion Calendar Sat, 18 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Buddhism Unwrapped. Introducing path to Buddhahood. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham,, 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

ChIME Interfaith Worship Service: Service led by student chaplains Jon Gale and Diana Pease. Free. Chaplaincy Institute of Maine, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland,, 10:30-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

“Yes … Peace is Possible.” Class. Donations accepted. Unity Church of Greater Portland, 54 River Road, Windham,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Community Chaplains Needed Now: Open House at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine. Dean Angie Arndt hosting. Free. 302 Stevens Ave., Portland,, 5:30-7 p.m. Thursday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

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Reflections: ‘Alternative facts’ needed when honesty is in short supply Sat, 18 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 “Honesty,” in the words of Poet David Whyte, “is reached through the doorway of grief and loss. Where we cannot go in our mind, memory or body, we cannot be straight with one another, with the world or with ourselves.”

If what he says is true, and I believe it is, it may explain why honesty is in such short supply these days and why we find the need to create “alternative facts” to protect ourselves and our world view. The term “alternative facts” is the most recent soundbite and euphemism for falsehoods masquerading as facts. The term may have originated with Kellyanne Conway, but the practice of creating them did not. Alternative facts have been used to explain away unfortunate emails, they have been used to deny climate change, even to justify going to war. (Most of us will remember the “facts” of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.)

Flights from facts are not limited to the political realm. Creationists present alternative facts to counter accepted science on the age of the earth, and the evolution of life on that earth. These “alternative facts” come from a literal interpretation of Genesis.

As children we may have learned the value of alternative facts to explain the broken window or the disappearance of cookies in the jar. I know I did, and my alternative facts often included my younger brother.

Consider David Whyte’s words and you understand why honesty is so hard. To be honest about ourselves, a situation or an event can be painful because it does so often involve loss. Fear of loss and its subsequent grief keeps us all dancing at that doorway causing us to perpetrate dishonesties, conscious and unconscious, great and small. Step into honesty, and we put ourselves in danger of losing the certainty of our faith, or our world perspective, or our prejudices about others. Step through that doorway into honesty about ourselves and we risk losing the esteem, the regard, even the love of others, be they our family and friends, our constituents, our colleagues. Step through that doorway and you come face to face with the undeniable fact that you are a human being, vulnerable, imperfect and mortal.

Scripture tells us “you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free,” to which many have appended, “Yes, but first it will hurt like hell!” No wonder that the truth is often described as “hard.” My courageous friends who have gone through Twelve Step programs toward recovery tell me about the searing internal inventory that must be taken as part of the process. That sort of honesty does hurt and the truth that is uncovered is often hard and ugly. But, as one person said, it is a “dark grace that saves us,” and in the words of Bill Wilson, founder of AA, the process “is for the sake of truth and humility and a growth in generosity of spirit” for the self and for others.

I see honesty, then, as more than a noble cause or virtue, but as a spiritual practice. Honesty is anchored in humility and love, and has no need of alternative facts, deceits, falsehoods or denial. We may step through the doorway and hit rock bottom, but at least we hit honest rock.

Grief and loss are part of the human condition and we cannot avoid them. We are all, at some time, forced through that fearsome doorway. Anyone who promises they can protect you from that experience, or who finds a scapegoat to blame, is in my estimation a charlatan, pulling strings behind the curtain. But when you find those who are willing to walk with you through the loss and grief, into whatever the future holds, who do not try to explain it away or deny your experience, you have found companions worthy of your trust. It may be you go with angels unaware.

The Rev. Janet Dorman is the pastor at Foreside Community Church, UCC, and can be reached at

]]> 0 Fri, 17 Feb 2017 20:41:14 +0000
Reflections: Now is the time for those of faith “to go ahead with” life Sat, 11 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 September 1950: Time: two o’ clock in the morning. Place: a railroad station, in San Antonio, Texas. Situation uncertain. Moments before, the grinding of steel against steel signaled my arrival in this never-before-experienced-land where an unknown future opened before me. Reaching up, I along with fellow inductees grab a suitcase from a spot above my head and move toward the exit. Stepping onto the platform, two khaki-clad airmen herd our band of manhood a few feet away from the train. There we are sternly advised to stand in two lines of our own making. We are hardly in place when …

Confronting us is a precisely dressed sergeant with a “stand-no-nonsense” look in his eye. The set of his jaw makes me wish I had not burnt all my bridges behind me. Almost immediately he clamps down on us with words that were all “forward” with no “back-up.” Whatever purpose our lives would now obtain would be prescribed by the United States Air Force. We were no longer our own. We were admonished to forget our mothers, that he would be mom, but cut of different cloth. And so I found myself caught up in events over which I was to have little control for the next four years. All second thoughts dissolved in a somber acceptance of what was.

My point is this: Uncertainty of what lay ahead, then, now shape these musings. But are not all our days characterized by uncertainty? Worldwide societies free and unfree are inextricably bound to one another. The global world has never seemed so small. Around the planet are the untethered flotsams of peoples displaced and distressed by obstinate wars. Nations and rulers have barricaded themselves behind dubious words and ideologies intended to justify their ways before the world. At the same time, the planet suffers and groans under the impact of swelling populations and the indeterminate consequences of our scientific and technological doings. More often than not, we find nation and societies caught up in events over which they appear to have little control. Human progress — if we can call it that — seems to have taken on a diabolical character of its own. Whether humanity has the will and wit to apply such remedies our times call for remains unknown. Meanwhile, even as I write this, our own cultural setting is engaging in a political “re-write” such as might not have entered the national mind a few months back.

Perhaps every generation perceives itself as living in a serious time. Still, I think one could make a case that this generation must quickly re-discover a reverence for all life, and take a fresh hold of those treasured principles and values that belong to a democratic society, lest we create the kind of place where all dreams fail. It is in this kind of world that God has called us to live out such purposes as God through the ancient prophet prescribed: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). We may not always agree as a people of varying faiths how we are to work the values and teachings of both faith and democratic heritage into our daily experience; nevertheless, a somber time does require that we make an earnest attempt to bring high conscience to bear upon our common life.

A serious time is not, writes Carol Bly in her book, Letters from the Country, a time “to bottle up social indignation, psychological curiosity, and intellectual doubt.” We are not to be spectators but to enter into the fray as people of keen mind and reverent spirit. As individuals we may not have at the ready solutions for the critical problems of our time; however, we do know enough of God’s will for our lives “to go ahead with.” We may even have some worthy ideas of our own to try within those circles wherein we move. And we can give ourselves to countless acts of worship for the wonder and mystery of our lives. In doing these things we become part of the solution and hopefully contribute nothing to the problems exacerbating our nation. With such thoughts we might make our way toward a different tomorrow.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Church, Saco, Maine. He may be contacted at

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Catholic conservatives level criticism against pope Sat, 04 Feb 2017 21:46:12 +0000 VATICAN CITY —Conservative criticism of Pope Francis intensified Saturday after his intervention in the Knights of Malta order, with posters appearing around Rome citing his actions against conservative Catholics and asking: “Where’s your mercy?”

The posters appeared on the same day that Francis cemented his authority over the Knights by naming a top Vatican archbishop, Angelo Becciu, to be his special delegate to the ancient aristocratic order.

Francis gave Becciu, the No. 2 in the Vatican secretariat of state, “all necessary powers” to help lay the groundwork for a new constitution for the order, lead the spiritual renewal of its professed knights and prepare for the election of a new grand master, expected in three months.

The Vatican’s intervention with the sovereign group had provided fuel for Francis’ conservative critics, who until Saturday had for the most part largely confined their concern with his mercy-over-morals papacy to blogs, interviews and conferences.

On Saturday, dozens of posters appeared around Rome featuring a stern-looking Francis and referencing the “decapitation” of the Knights and other actions he has taken against tradition-minded groups.

Within hours, the city of Rome had plastered over the posters. Police launched an investigation into the conservative circles believed responsible, aided by closed-circuit cameras, the ANSA news agency said.

The posters, written in Roman dialect, also cited the way Francis had “ignored cardinals,” a reference to the four cardinals who have publicly asked him to clarify whether divorced and civilly remarried Catholics can receive Holy Communion.

]]> 0 Press/Beatrice Larco On Saturday, posters appeared around Rome featuring a stern-looking Francis and questioning, "Where's your mercy?"Sat, 04 Feb 2017 18:06:06 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 04 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Buddhism Unwrapped. Explore its practical aspects. Free. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham,, 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

Dances of Universal Peace. Chants and simple circle dances. $5 -$15 sliding scale. Creating Space Yoga Studio, 1717 Congress St., Portland,, 2-4 p.m. Sunday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

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Reflections: No matter how much time is left, do what’s important to you Sat, 04 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 At Dora’s first appointment, I did all the talking. First there was the diagnosis and testing required to determine how far the lymphoma had spread. Then there was chemotherapy and side-effects. Finally there was prognosis and survival.

At Dora’s second appointment, she waved a piece of paper as I entered the examining room, and blurted out, “Now it’s my turn to talk.” Dora asked me if she might die and I nodded yes. She exclaimed, “Then this is what I wanna do.” Dora read from the piece of paper, “Australia, Italy, Ireland, New Zealand, and six others.” Dora realized I was puzzled, so she continued, “This is my bucket list. These are the top ten places I read about in a magazine that people want to visit before they die. I’ve always wanted to travel, and was going to wait until I retired. But since I could die from this cancer before retirement, I want to start now. I want to make the most of the moments I have left. Can I?” Because her treatment was monthly and had tolerable side-effects, the answer to her question was definitely yes. On her way home after her first intravenous treatment, Dora stopped at AAA to discuss her plans with a travel agent: “What’s not to love about dream vacations and thrills?”

Fast forward to Dora’s third big appointment nine months later when she finished her chemotherapy. Knowing that Dora had just returned home from another trip, I asked her how everything went. With a shrug, Dora answered, “I’m depressed. I’m lonely. I feel like I don’t know what’s happening with my children and grandchildren, my church, and everything.”

Dora had become alienated from her life at home. She had not attended any of her granddaughter’s track meets, soft ball games, or dance recitals. She knew more what was going on with the people she met on cruises than with her own children. Looking at the bulletin at her church, Dora did not recognize the people in charge of upcoming events. She felt more lost than just in the wrong pew. Dora pulled out the piece of paper, looked at it, and lamented, “I still have half the places to see. What am I going to do?”

Dora realized she was missing out what had been most important to her. Dora had to consider what was her mission in life. What is it simply to have fun? With a quick look at the Bible, Dora found some verses that showed her that the solution to her depression and loneliness was at home: “God sets the lonely in families” (Psalms 68:6), and “Children’s children are a crown to the aged (Proverbs 17:6).” “That’s were I belong,” Dora said with a sigh.

Dora realized her actions and beliefs could have an important impact on her grandchildren’s lives if she were with them. She found in the New Testament: “I have been reminded of your faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded, now lives in you also” (2 Timothy 1:5). She had much she could instruct her granddaughters with what she said and what she did. Though not looking for reward for her interaction with her family, she obtained comfort from the following in the Old Testament, “Her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). “I’m sure that applies to grandchildren as well,” Dora added.

Dora needed to change what was ON her bucket. She wanted to be part of her family’s life, not merely a spectator. As Dora looked at her bucket list, she realized traveling was not everything. She would not give up what mattered to her in family life, church, and community: “I’ve been on every committee at the Museum and there’s still something left in me to offer.”

But the trips? Should she give them all up? “Maybe I could take the grandchildren with me. Then we could all learn something and I could be with them.”

In reflecting on what she was going through with the chemotherapy, Dora found some consolation despite the distress of the treatment and the anxiety about the future: “I’m glad I’ve had to consider what should be on my bucket list. No matter how much time I have, I should always be doing what’s important to me.”

Dr. Delvyn C. Case, Jr. is a hematologist/oncologist, playwright and director, columnist and consultant to the Department of Spiritual Care at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

]]> 0 Fri, 03 Feb 2017 20:33:37 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 28 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Buddhism Unwrapped. Explore Buddhism. Free or $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham., 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

Say Something: Compassionate Activism in Trouble Times. Betsy Sweet will help us understand how we can become compassionate activists. Unity of Greater Portland, 54 River Road. Windham,, Noon-2 p.m. Sunday.

To submit an item for the Religion Calendar, go to and click on the calendar tab.

]]> 0 Sat, 28 Jan 2017 17:06:04 +0000
Museum head defies Russian Orthodoxy Fri, 27 Jan 2017 23:31:40 +0000 ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The director of a museums’ association has urged the patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church to recall its bid to take control of St. Petersburg’s landmark cathedral, a move that has inflamed public passions in Russia.

Several hundred people rallied outside St. Isaac’s Cathedral earlier this month. The cathedral is technically a museum, and critics of the plan fear that its transfer from city authorities to the church may inhibit public access. Another protest is set for the weekend despite church officials seeking to assuage protests by vowing that access won’t be limited.

The 19th-century neoclassical cathedral is the city’s third most-visited site. A regular ticket costs about $4, and it earned nearly $11 million in 2015, according to its director.

In a letter to Patriarch Kirill late Wednesday, Hermitage Museum Director Mikhail Piotrovsky argued that “peace in people’s souls and harmony in society are more important than any assets.” He urged the Russian Orthodox Church to temporarily recall its demand for the cathedral’s handover to help assuage the controversy.

Piotrovsky, who also serves as the head of an association of Russian museums, pointed out that the church has regained control over most of the assets it lost after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. The few buildings still left in state hands, like St. Isaac, he argued, “have special meaning not only for the church, but the entire multi-faith and multi-ethnic Russian society.”

Kirill’s spokesman, Alexander Volkov, responded calmly to Piotrovsky’s letter, saying in a statement carried by Russian news wires that the patriarch is ready for a “positive dialogue on the subject with all the interested parties.”

Church services are regularly held in the cathedral. Some museum experts are concerned that its transfer to the Orthodox Church could make it more difficult to visit the site. A specific timeframe for the transfer hasn’t been determined yet, but it could happen as early as this year.

The cathedral’s transfer has been widely seen as reflection of a growing trend toward social conservatism in Russia. The Russian Orthodox Church has played an active part in President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to consolidate Russian society by appealing to traditional values as opposed to Western liberalism.

Alexander Pelin, a spokesman for the Russian Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg, lashed back at Piotrovsky, advising him to focus on the Hermitage and criticizing the museum for hosting a “provocative” exhibition by Belgian artist Jan Fabre.

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Commentary: Trump’s faith manifests as patriotism and nationalism Fri, 27 Jan 2017 23:16:37 +0000 Many Americans appear ready to give President Donald Trump a pass when it comes to his lack of religious knowledge, sensibilities or behavior, but I think that’s a mistake.

Trump is quite pious and his religious convictions run dangerously deep. But his piety is not a reflection of a Christian faith. His piety is formed by his understanding of what makes America a country like no other.

Trump proclaimed Jan. 20, the day of his inauguration, a “National Day of Patriotic Devotion.” Patriotic devotion? Christians are devoted to God, not to any nation. Trump defended his call for a day of patriotic devotion by drawing attention to his other claim – taken on faith – that there are no greater people than American citizens. Faith in Trump’s view, though, requires belief in those things for which we have insufficient evidence.

There is nothing, in Trump’s view, the American people cannot accomplish as long as we believe in ourselves and our country. But Christians do not believe in ourselves or our country. We believe in God, but we do more than believe in God. We worship God. Nothing else is to be worshiped.

Christians have a word to describe the worship of that which is not God: idolatry. Idolatry, of course, can be a quite impressive form of devotion. The only difficulty is idolaters usually end up killing someone for calling into question their “god.”

Trump’s inauguration address is a stunning example of idolatry. His statement – “At the bedrock of our politics will be a total allegiance to the United States of America and through our loyalty to our country we will recover loyalty to each other” – is clearly a theological claim offering a kind of salvation.

Christians believe that only God demands “total allegiance.” Otherwise we run the risk, as Trump exemplifies, of making an idol out of some human enterprise.

The evangelistic character of Trump’s faith should not be missed. He suggests we will rediscover our loyalty to one another through our total allegiance to the United States. Quoting the Bible, he even suggests we will learn to live together in unity.

But history tells us people experience repressive politics for challenging such “oneness.” It is difficult to imagine those who have faced slavery and genocide can be in solidarity with those who want to let bygones be bygones.

Consider Trump’s use of the phrase “the people” in his inaugural address. “The people” have borne the cost. “The people” now own, rule and control the government. “The people” have not shared in the wealth of the country but now they will. “The people” will have their jobs restored.

To which one can only wonder: Who are these people? The answer must be they are Trump’s people who now wait for his call to action – to make America great again. Trump, in his mind, is not just the president of the United States. He is the savior.

Trump identifies as a Presbyterian. However, he has said he does not need a prayer for confession of sins because he has done nothing that requires forgiveness, one signal that he does not believe in a basic Christian tenet. He has identified with Norman Vincent Peale, who wrote the book “The Power of Positive Thinking,” which does not represent Christian orthodoxy. Christianity in Peale’s hands was closer to a set of beliefs a follower could make up to suit their desires. Trump has adopted this strategy and applied it to the country.

Christians must call his profound and mistaken faith what it is: idolatry. Christianity in America is declining if not dying, which makes it difficult to call Trump to task. Trump has taken advantage of Christian Americans who have long lived as if God and country are joined at the hip. I do not doubt Trump thinks of himself as a Christian, but America is his church.

Christians have a church made up of people from around the globe.

]]> 0 Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk out together after attending church service at St. John's Episcopal Church across from the White House in Washington, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Fri, 27 Jan 2017 19:34:33 +0000
Vatican takes over lay group after public spat Thu, 26 Jan 2017 00:58:56 +0000 VATICAN CITY — The Vatican announced Wednesday it was taking over the embattled Knights of Malta in an extraordinary display of papal power after the leader of the sovereign lay Catholic order publicly defied Pope Francis in a dispute over condoms.

The move is remarkable – and controversial – because it marks the intervention of one sovereign state, the Holy See, into the internal governing affairs of another, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, an ancient aristocratic order that runs a vast charity operation around the globe.

The Vatican said Matthew Festing, 67, offered to resign as the Knights’ grand master on Tuesday during an audience with the pope, and that Francis had accepted it on Wednesday. A Vatican statement said the Knights’ governance would shift temporarily to the order’s No. 2 “pending the appointment of the papal delegate.”

Festing had refused to cooperate with a papal commission investigating his decision to oust the order’s grand chancellor, Albrecht von Boeselager, over revelations that the Knights’ charity branch had distributed condoms under Boeselager’s watch.

Festing had cited the Knights’ status as a sovereign entity in refusing to cooperate with the pope’s investigation. Many canon lawyers had backed him up, questioning the pope’s right to intervene in what was essentially an act of internal governance.

The naming of a papal delegate signals a Vatican takeover, harking back to the Vatican’s previous takeovers of the Legion of Christ and Jesuit religious orders when they were undergoing periods of scandal or turmoil.

But those are religious orders that report directly to the Holy See. The Knights of Malta is a sovereign entity under international law, making the Vatican intervention all the more remarkable.

The Order of Malta has many trappings of a sovereign state, issuing its own stamps, passports and license plates and holding diplomatic relations with 106 states, the Holy See included.

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Reflections: Time for us to change the story, change the future Sat, 21 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Gift giving and receiving continue to be important parts of Christmas and birthdays for me. In my childhood and youth, the expectations of unopened presents was a major part of the season. In my grade school years, my brother and I kept track of the presents as they piled up under the tree. We counted each one and knew exactly which ones had our names on them. Our excitement grew as Christmas day drew near. The unwrapped gifts, however, seldom if ever met my expectations. I was looking for something a package couldn’t contain. In my maturity, I realize that I was looking, and still am, to be seen and loved.

Even knowing this, I have yet to learn how to find gifts to accomplish it. The gifts I get that come the closest to my heart’s longing are invitations to share outings or adventures. I’m trying to find gifts that do the same for others. Yet, in spite of “things” not making the grade as gifts given or received, sharing Christmas and birthdays with loved ones and friends continues to be priceless. It’s not the gifts per se but that at the heart of these gatherings is our family and our faith community celebrating one another and the mysteries of love. The things money can buy are at best symbols of the love.

This is probably old news to you. But it still is good news. And it is radical news when the story I’m telling becomes a metaphor for our materialistic culture. An important gift I received this season was the recommendation of a book, which I then bought, David Korten’s “Change the Story, Change the Future.” Korten sees the expectations of our western culture based in what he calls “the story of Sacred Money and Markets.”

While reading about this, I was reminded of my revulsion to then-President Reagan’s appeal to Americans to help the country get out of its sluggish economy by shopping more. He equated consumer spending with patriotism. This is wrong in many ways, not the least of which is to suggest that big spenders are the most patriotic. It is presidential counsel based on the foundational culture world view, i.e. story, that money is the heart of the matter.

Our consciousness is flooded by streams of media, much generated by Madison Avenue, that tells Sacred Money’s lie, that glamour is beauty and can be bought. Calling money Sacred means that it is a higher power to be served rather than a means to a higher end. This story says money is the measure of success, is worth dying for. In the thrall of this story, dominance supplants justice and an expanding economy is the path to personal and national soul satisfaction, i.e. winning.

The shortsightedness of the story is being exposed by two realities of our time. The first is the immoral distribution of resources for life among the people of the earth and within America. Think of the 1 percent. The second is the environmental degradation justified by the Sacred Money story tragically demonstrated in global warming..

Korten sees another story growing in our consciousness, a lifesaving story he labels “Sacred Life and Sacred Earth.” From the sound of this story’s title, you might think Korten is a theologian or a mystic. In some sense he may well be, but his training and career, including teaching at the Harvard Business School, are as an economist.

He understands the need for money in the economies of the earth. He is not an either/or polemicist. He advocates for first things first, life before money, money serving life and not the other way around. The subtitle of his book is “A Living Economy for A Living Earth.”

A new day inspired by a new foundational story is emerging around the world like flowers coming up in the cracking asphalt, “Sacred Life and Sacred Earth.” I see it everywhere and try to be a part of it. Either it prevails or we use up the earth and one another, sacrificed on an altar dedicated to Mammon.

You may remember Jesus telling his followers: “You cannot serve two masters… You cannot serve God and Mammon.” (Matthew 6:24) Mammon is the idol named Money.

If you use books to expand your world view and clarify your values, you will find “Change the Story, Change the Future” a worthwhile read.

Bill Gregory is an author and retired UCC minister. He can be contacted at:

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