Religion and Values – The Portland Press Herald Fri, 24 Feb 2017 19:55:02 +0000 en-US hourly 1 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

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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.

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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.

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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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Religion Calendar Sat, 21 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Broken 51. Holy Grounds Coffee House. Dean Richardson opens. Food, coffee, drinks. No cover. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Buddhism Unwrapped. Class will introduce path to Buddhahood. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham. 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

Finding inner freedom through meditation. Drop-in classes exploring fundamentals of meditation. $10, $5 students and seniors. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland. 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. St. Augustine Anglican Church conducts Bible study every Wednesday at 6 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough.

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

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Reflections: Museum exhibit will highlight Maine’s Jewish community Sat, 14 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 In the spring of 2018, the Maine State Museum in Augusta will open what will be the largest exhibit on Maine Jewry ever presented

Although, until recently, never more than about 10,000 strong, Maine’s Jewish community has always reflected the themes that have characterized the more than three and one-half centuries of Jewish life in the United States (1654-2016):

A belief in the promise of America.

Faith in the pluralistic nature of America.

A quest for economic and professional success.

A commitment to the survival of the Jewish community.

Maine Jewry has sought to balance its American social contract, the notion of being a “good American,” with the understanding that they were part of a “holy community,” whose essential purpose was to “be a light unto the nations,” and that those nations would understand that redemption could only be achieved through the moral and ethical life, individually and collectively.

For those Jews who began to come to Maine and Portland from Eastern Europe in the 1860s, many of them to escape from the oppression of Czarist Russia, the state seemed a reassuring haven. When Portland celebrated its centenary on July 4, 1886, Barnard Aaronson, designated to speak for the small Jewish community of the time , observed:

“We number 60 families, and over the majority portion being of the middle or poorer class, yet content with their lot…. The form of religion is Orthodox, and yet (we) are thoroughly liberal in thought and action.”

In looking back at the 20 years since the Great Portland Fire of 1866 had attracted a group of Jewish merchants and peddlers to help the city’s efforts in rebuilding, Aaronson could only find a positive relationship to his Christian neighbors: “…our city fathers have in the past fully merited the good will and affectionate esteem in which they are held by us.”

Yet, Aaronson was more cautious about the future: “We sincerely hope nothing will occur in the future to mar the harmonious feeling now existing between the denominations….”

He had every reason for such caution. As two of the other speakers during the program recounted, the religious past had been, at best, a difficult one.

The Rev. J. G. Wilson, representing the Abyssinian Church, one of the first African American churches in America, spoke of a Portland past that included slavery, physical violence, and religious and racial exclusion.

No less appalling was the history of the Roman Catholic presence recounted by Bishop James Augustine Healy of Portland: “In those days (1830s and 1840s) it was difficult, almost dangerous, to show a kind face or fair dealing to Catholics.”

Healy concluded his frank historical assessment, “Let us remember… when the name Catholic was like a badge of ignominy in our town.” He was less frank, and with good reason, about his racial background, which was one half African American, the result of his mother’s status as a slave in Georgia.

But Aaronson’s optimism was not an illusion. Unlike Jewish life in Europe, where Jews were by far the most visible and persecuted minority over a 2,000-year period, Jews in Maine could be comforted in the knowledge that other groups, especially Roman Catholics, often stood ahead of them as victims of religious and sometimes racial intolerance.

Yet there was a problem. The classic Yankeefied Puritan spirit, in which the Maine Yankee was recognized as the most authentic, played a decisive factor in shaping the image that the state of Maine wanted to project to the outside world and to itself. It was an image that sought to confront, overwhelm, and neutralize the “religious dissenters, profane economic opportunists, and non-English immigrants (who) disrupted the region’s Puritan and, later, Yankee culture and identity.”

That confrontation was highlighted in the 1920s by the presence of the Maine Ku Klux Klan, led by F. Eugene Farnsworth, who, at a Klan rally, threw out a challenge to the anti- Klan opposition:

“Gather together all the anti-Klan voices you can – Catholic, Negro, Jew, and Italian – all the gang, and I wouldn’t give you 10 cents for the whole bunch….”

By the late 1960s, Maine’s Jewish community had achieved a position of recognition, both in terms of its involvement in social welfare and the prominence of its business and professional communities. But the opportunity for Jewish business people to socialize with their Christian counterparts beyond the 9 to 5 workday was a rare or even non-existent occurrence.

This was especially true of institutions where business and professional groups met on the golf course or over the two-martini lunch or dinner. The same was true for many of Maine’s summer resorts where Jews were not welcome, and in exclusive Maine neighborhoods where certain covenantal restrictions excluded Jews and African Americans.

The historical record shows that Jews in Maine faced both the harshness of religious and social bigotry as well as receiving the help of non-Jewish politicians who shared their view of an ideal community and helped to break down the barriers of discrimination.

Among the most important of these was a non-Jewish Republican legislator, Sen. S. Peter Mills of Franklin County, who in 1968 attended a panel in Portland where he stated that it was a good thing that Maine was free of intolerance toward Jews or any other groups. He was told by a friend, a Jewish lawyer from Portland, that this was not the case – that the new director of the Portland Symphony Orchestra had just been turned down by an exclusive Portland club simply because he was a Jew.

“When I was driving home to Farmington that night,” Mills remembered, “this information bothered me terribly. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought it was a disgrace that the state of Maine could tolerate such a situation where a person could be barred because of race, religion or color.”

As we enter a time of political and social uncertainty, perhaps an exhibit highlighting the story of one old “New Mainers” community and its struggles to overcome prejudice and discrimination and yet maintain its religious ideals can be a lesson for those current immigrant and refugee “New Mainers” who must find their own voices and carve their own futures as Americans.

Abraham J. Peck, a historian at the University of Southern Maine, is the co-author (with Jean M. Peck) of “Maine’s Jewish Heritage” (Arcadia Publishing, 2007) and a member of the Maine State Museum’s Jewish exhibit advisory group.

]]> 0 Fri, 13 Jan 2017 20:16:34 +0000
Reflections: New Year’s reminds us it’s never too late to begin again Sat, 07 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 Just one week into the new year, the resolutions we made in the light of Jan. 1 fireworks may already have lost their sparkle, too.

The books we vowed to read may still be on the shelf unopened, the rooms we resolved to de-clutter and tidy still a mess, the exercise routine we swore to undertake still in the planning. There’s something about that fresh, first page on the calendar that inspired us, but with the passage of each day, our resolve erodes, leaving us feeling more and more as though we missed the New Year’s boat and its opportunity to make a new start.

Good news! The first of January is an arbitrary notion of when the year begins. It came to us by way of the Roman Empire, whose Julius Caesar decreed Jan. 1 to be the beginning of the new year in a political compromise, winning out over the winter solstice and the vernal equinox, the latter of which was his personal preference. Calendar reform under Pope Gregory tweaked the length of the year and leap days and was adopted in countries most influenced by the Roman (or western) Catholic Church; thus the eastern, or Orthodox tradition, still following the Julian calendar, often reflects Christmas and Easter dates different from ours.

This is but one of the culturally diverse notions of when the old year ends and the new one begins. The first full moon day in January (this year, Jan. 12) marks the celebration of the Mahayana Buddhist New Year, which, although more solemn, bears resemblance to our own in that it encourages reflection on one’s life and attention to important goals for improvement in the journey toward enlightenment. A fire ceremony sometimes invites individuals to write negative karma – the consequences of failures or poor choices – on papers, which are then burned to symbolize release.

With the new moon on Jan. 28, Chinese communities around the globe will welcome the New Year of the Rooster with celebrations ranging from three days to 15.

Homes are cleaned to sweep out any bad luck from the past year and make way for good. Families hold reunion feasts, honor deities and ancestors, and mark the event with fireworks and parades and parties and tokens of good health and fortune. So if 2017 no longer feels new, the lunar New Year offers a chance to begin again at the end of January.

Even though we’re likely still to be slogging through slush and snow, March brings another opportunity. The vernal equinox, the official start of spring when the length of daylight is equal to that of darkness, is on March 20. For Wiccan and other Pagan spiritual communities, it is Ostara, one of the eight great Sabbats that are sacred to mark the turning of the Wheel of the Year. For Baha’is and Zoroastrians, it is Naw Ruz or Norooz – New Year’s.

Among India’s 1.2 billion people, whose vast religious and cultural diversity places New Year’s celebrations from mid-February until late March and even into April, there are many rituals and traditions that help individuals, families, and communities to mark a new start.

For all of these and many more, there are seasonal and spiritual new beginnings when we celebrate what has been and what is yet to be, with new possibilities and the perennial emergence of new life.

If calendars are arbitrary, then New Year’s is in the mind and heart of the seeker. Any birthday, any new moon, new month, even any new week or new day can be a new beginning, another opportunity to begin that project, mend that relationship, get on the road to the degree or to health and wellness or just (just?!) being more the person that you long to be. It’s never too late to begin again, and every new beginning is a triumph over disappointment, defeat and despair, an opening, some of us would say, for grace, which makes all things possible.

As writer Anne Lamott puts it, “Grace is spiritual WD-40. It eases our way out of grippy, self-righteous stuckness,” and “We get to start a new, sillier, more self-forgiving day whenever we want to.

Yes, maybe we eat a tiny, tiny bit more candy than is ideal. Then? We start over again, and again, and again. Starting now. Ready, set, go!”

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

]]> 0 Fri, 06 Jan 2017 20:19:39 +0000
Jewish artists use Christ to break taboos Fri, 06 Jan 2017 23:30:23 +0000 JERUSALEM — At the center of the Israel Museum’s newest art exhibit stands an imposing, life-size marble figure of Jesus Christ. The sculpture, titled “Christ Before the People’s Court,” would not be out of place in a church in Rome.

Yet in this depiction, the Christian savior wears a Jewish skullcap.

The sculpture, created by Russian Jewish artist Mark Antokolsky in 1876, is part of a collection of more than 150 artworks by 40 Jewish and Israeli artists who have used Christian imagery to challenge long-held taboos in both communities. It showcases the evolving attitudes of Jewish, Zionist and Israeli artists toward a figure whose place in Jewish history has been negotiated and reinterpreted over more than two millennia.

It is a risky statement for an Israeli museum.

Throughout history, Jews have traditionally shunned Jesus and his gospel. And while the Holy Land might be his accepted birthplace, for Jews in the modern state of Israel there is often resistance to learning about or even acknowledging Christianity. This stems mainly from a fear of centuries old anti-Semitism, especially in Europe, where the crucifixion of Jesus was used as an excuse to persecute Jews.

“We are talking about a 2,000-year-old tension between Judaism and Christianity and the fact that anti-Semitism grew in Christian thought and theology,” said the exhibition’s curator, Amitai Mendelsohn.

Mendelsohn said he was surprised at just how many Jewish artists throughout history, and today in Israel, have used Jesus and Christian themes as inspirations for their work.

It is a delicate subject for Jews everywhere, including in Israel, but artists by nature “are attracted to something that is forbidden for them,” he said.

Ziva Amishai-Maisels, a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem who specializes in Christian imagery in Jewish art, said that religious Jews, who might be opposed to such depictions, would probably stay away from the exhibition. “Those who do go might be stunned,” she said, “but I don’t think they will react badly.”

Some of the works, though, could offend pious Christians, she said. “They might feel the images are sacrilegious, but the wall texts are explanatory enough – if they read them, it should calm them down.”

While some of the older works by European Jews challenge Christian anti-Semitism or look at how Jesus’ Jewish roots could act as a bridge between the religions, more contemporary pieces explore Jesus as an anti-establishment figure, who suffered not being understood.

Ronit Steinberg, an art historian from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, said the appeal for Jewish artists in depicting Christ has changed over the years, but all are tied together by a common thread.

“In the 19th century, the main issue was the Jewish artist feeling emancipated, and it was important for those artists to connect with their surrounding and the time. For Israeli artists, it’s also a kind of emancipation from the heavy Jewishness of their country,” she said.

There’s the “Yellow Crucifixion,” a 1943 Marc Chagall painting showing Jesus Christ as a Jew. Hued in yellow, perhaps representing the star the Nazis forced Jews to wear, Jesus is strung from a cross wrapped in a Jewish prayer shawl and phylacteries.

Another artist, Moshe Hoffman, a Hungarian Jew who survived the Holocaust, used his art to question Christianity’s role in the genocide. In one work, “Six million and 1,” Hoffman shows a Nazi guard attempting to pull Jesus from the cross to make him Jewish prisoner number 6,000,001.

Others used Jesus as a Jew to connect their Jewish identity to Christian surroundings. While Antokolsky was the first Russian Jewish artist to be accepted by his peers, he suffered an identity crisis from being Jewish and Russian.

]]> 0 Chagall's "Yellow Crucifixion," part of a new exhibit in Jerusalem, shows the suffering of Jewish Holocaust victims through the image of Jesus Christ as a Jew.Fri, 06 Jan 2017 18:58:59 +0000
Americans less Christian, but Congress same as 1960s Fri, 06 Jan 2017 23:22:51 +0000 WASHINGTON — The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but today’s Congress is about as Christian as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by the Pew Research Center.

The survey finds that among members of the new, 115th Congress, which took office Tuesday, 91 percent describe themselves as Christian. That compares with 71 percent of U.S. adults who consider themselves Christian.

The 91 percent figure is nearly the same percentage as the 87th Congress, which served from 1961 to 1962 and is the earliest year for which comparable data are available. That Congress was 95 percent Christian.

Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new Congress, all but two identify as Christians; there are two Jewish Republicans in the House of Representatives — Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee.

Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian, at 80 percent. But the 242 Democrats in Congress also include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist — as well as the only member of Congress to describe herself as religiously unaffiliated, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

In addition, all 10 members of Congress who decline to state their religious affiliation are Democrats.

Like the nation as a whole, Congress has become less Protestant over time. The percentage of Protestants in Congress dropped from 75 percent in 1961 to 56 percent today. During this period, the share of Roman Catholics in Congress went from 19 percent to 31 percent.

The analysis finds some religious groups, including Protestants, Catholics and Jews, have greater representation in Congress than in the general population. Jews, for example, make up 2 percent of the U.S. adult population but account for 6 percent of Congress. Other groups — including Buddhists, Mormons, Muslims and Orthodox Christians — are represented in Congress in roughly equal proportion to their share in the U.S. public.

The group that is most notably underrepresented is the religiously unaffiliated. This group — also known as religious “nones” — now accounts for 23 percent of the general public but just 0.2 percent of Congress.

]]> 0 Fri, 06 Jan 2017 19:04:33 +0000
Pope treats homeless to lunch, celebrates Epiphany Mass Fri, 06 Jan 2017 23:05:29 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis treated a few hundred homeless people and refugees to a simple sandwich lunch on Friday, and urged the faithful to find God in the peripheries of society, not its palaces.

Francis celebrated Mass marking Epiphany, the biblical tale of the three wise men who set out to find the infant Jesus and offer precious gifts. At the end of the service, homeless people and refugees joined volunteers to hand out 50,000 booklets with biblical tales of God’s mercy to pilgrims gathered in a frigid St. Peter’s Square.

Francis said he too wanted to give the faithful the gift of God’s mercy for the coming year.

He then offered some 300 needy people a simple lunch of a sandwich and drink, the Vatican said, part of his long-running outreach to the poor and homeless around the Vatican.

Francis has emphasized the humble setting of Christ’s birth while criticizing a church that is closed in on itself. It’s a message Francis has repeated during his papacy, faulting those who are obsessed with Christianity’s rules and morals over God’s mercy.

Francis criticized those who are “anesthetized” to God’s mercy, who want to “control everything and everyone” and fear any challenges to their wealth or station.

They suffer, he said, from “a bewilderment born of fear and foreboding before anything that challenges us, calls into question our certainties and our truths, our ways of clinging to the world and this life.”


]]> 0 Francis shows a booklet on Jesus Christ that will be distributed to faithful during the angelus prayer from his studio's window overlooking St. Peter's square, at the Vatican, Friday, Jan. 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)Fri, 06 Jan 2017 19:02:41 +0000
Maine’s Catholic diocese offers training to prevent, respond to violence in churches Thu, 05 Jan 2017 18:11:17 +0000 The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are teaming up to train priests and other clergy and religious leaders how to prevent and respond to active shooters and other violence.

The one-day workshops being held this month in Scarborough and Bangor will be open to religious leaders and staff members from all religious denominations, an announcement by the diocese said.

“These workshops will educate participants on incidents of violence that have caused disruptions at churches,” said Michael Magalski, director of the Office of Professional Responsibility for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland, who also had a career as a member of the U.S. Secret Service. “The day will include discussions about working with local emergency response teams, preparing communications protocols, and the best practices for planning and response.”

Participants will get guidance from Department of Homeland Security instructors on developing emergency action plans, identifying strengths and weaknesses in physical security, and learning how to prevent disruptive incidents by recognizing behavioral indicators.

The workshops coincide with the sentencing of Dylann Roof in South Carolina. Roof was found guilty last month of killing nine African-Americans during a Bible study at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.

“I believe that incident, plus a number of other instances throughout the country, show that we have to start thinking about these possibilities in our houses of worship,” Magalski said.

Magalski, who spent 30 years in the Secret Service, joined the diocese three years ago. When he learned about the active-shooter training, he asked the Department of Homeland Security to host workshops for the diocese and other religious denominations in Maine.

“I think we have to make certain security and safety plans for our facilities, our corporations, our houses of worship, our schools,” Magalski said. “We need to put some thought into it now, because the worst time to start thinking about what to do is when something is happening.”

In similar workshops and online resources on active-shooter situations, the Department of Homeland Security outlines three possible options – run or hide or, as a last resort, fight.

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland includes 141 churches in 55 parishes statewide. Dioceses spokesman Dave Guthro said most have emergency plans, but this training will help update and expand those policies.

“The diocese wants to do everything it can to ensure that worship sites in Maine are safe,” Guthro said.

The Department of Homeland Security offers similar workshops across the country for many organizations and employers. According to a 2013 presentation on emergency operations plans, more than 250,000 houses of worship operate in the United States. The Washington Post documented eight mass shootings in religious institutions since 1980, including at a youth center, a Sikh temple and churches for various Christian denominations.

“It’s an issue every denomination faces in every house of worship,” Magalski said.

Identical workshops will be held Jan. 24 at St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Scarborough and Jan. 26 at St. John Church in Bangor. The workshops are free and open to all denominations. To attend, register by online at: or

For more information about the workshops, contact Michael Magalski at 321-7836 or


]]> 0, 05 Jan 2017 23:59:56 +0000
One of last Shakers in Maine dies Tue, 03 Jan 2017 00:16:07 +0000 One of the last Shakers in Maine has died.

Sister Frances Carr, 89, died Monday afternoon, according to a post on the website of the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village in New Gloucester.

She had experienced a brief battle with cancer.

“The end came swiftly and with dignity surrounded by the community and her nieces,” the post read. “We ask your prayers for her soul.”

An offshoot of the Quakers, the Shakers were founded in England in the 1740s and moved to America in 1764. At one time, Maine was home to three Shaker villages – in Gorham, Alfred and at Sabbathday Lake. By the 1930s, the remaining Shakers consolidated their resources in New Gloucester.

Their celibate community comprised adult converts, and the numbers dwindled in recent years. The Shaker Museum and Shaker Library at Sabbathday Lake still preserve the history and traditions of the Christian community.

Only two Shakers – Brother Arnold Hadd and Sister June Carpenter – remain. Hadd declined to be interviewed Monday night.

Carr, who came to the village a 10-year-old orphan from Lewiston, was a leader for the small community. In 1985, she published a cookbook called “Shaker Your Plate: Of Shaker Cooks and Cooking.”

“What is Shaker cooking?” Carr wrote in the introduction.

“Basically it is plain, wholesome food well prepared. This book is not intended for the sophisticated palate, nor for the gourmet (although many people have referred to some of the dishes as being gourmet). It is not meant for those who enjoy eating in expensive restaurants where one may find lobster dishes, steaks and prime rib of beef. Shakers in Maine did not have this type of food. It is intended for those people who enjoy simple food painstakingly prepared.”

Visiting hours for Carr will be held in the brick Dwelling House at the Shaker Village in New Gloucseter on Friday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m.

Funeral services will be held in the Dwelling House Chapel at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The Shakers asked that donations be made in Carr’s memory to Androscoggin Home Care and Hospice in Lewiston.


]]> 0 Frances Carr, an elder at the Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, preparing dinner in the community's kitchen in April of 2000. She died Monday at 89.Tue, 03 Jan 2017 22:25:29 +0000
When you’re the only one who shows up to church Sun, 01 Jan 2017 09:00:00 +0000 All of Portland seemed to be in a bad mood that Sunday afternoon not too long ago. The sky was spitting rain in intermittent bursts, frustrating both the people who had gone through the trouble to bring an umbrella and the ones who hadn’t. Longfellow Square had become a knot of traffic; drivers honked at jaywalkers, who cursed back, as I rounded the corner on my way to St. Luke’s Cathedral.

I opened the church door. Inside, it was silent.

Had I gotten the time wrong? I was new to Portland and I’d only been to St. Luke’s, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of Maine, once before – and that was for the busy, colorful morning service. I felt a pang of dismay as I hovered on the threshold, deciding whether to investigate further or just go home. Through the open door, I could smell the distinct fragrance that seems to emanate from every old church: incense, candles, flowers. I stepped inside.

The wide, empty nave was dark except for the light coming in through the stained-glass windows. My footsteps had never sounded louder as I walked toward the little octagonal chapel at the back, where the Rev. Anne Fowler sat alone by the altar.

“Oh,” she said. “I guess it’ll just be us tonight.”

I was the only one who’d shown up for the 5:15 service.

I would’ve understood if she’d apologized and said there weren’t enough people to justify holding the service. But instead, Anne said, “We’ll wait a few more minutes before we get started,” and then went to put on her vestments.

I took a seat and looked up into the chapel’s spire. Every once in a while, some muffled fragment of a sound would surface briefly – a faint siren, rain on the roof – before dissolving. Candlelight brought a warm glow to the chapel’s wood-paneled walls, which fold into a partial dome over the altar. If you haven’t been to an evening event there, just imagine being cradled in a conch shell under a dark sea.

In those minutes, my understanding of the word “sanctuary” deepened.

I’d been to many small services before, like the nightly Mass at the Catholic college I went to, but I’d never been the only congregant. I wasn’t sure how it would work, but Anne was.

“I’ll start with these prayers, as usual,” she said, opening the program. “Would you like to do the readings?”

I told her I would, and we began. The service started just like any other, except that Anne’s voice was quieter than it would have been otherwise. Many of the prayers are fixed in the liturgy, so the words don’t change from week to week, but they sounded different this time. They weren’t just being recited into the ether. They were being spoken to me. They were being offered for me.

Such a poor turnout for an evening service isn’t surprising given the national trends. Episcopal churches, like those of other mainline Protestant denominations, are far emptier than they used to be. The Episcopal Church in the United States says average Sunday worship attendance at its churches declined 26 percent between 2005 and 2015. The Diocese of Maine says it lost nearly 17 percent of its baptized members in that decade, although some congregations in southern Maine are growing.

But Anne says the evening we met was the first time she had ever celebrated the 5:15 service with only one person.

“Usually there are somewhere between 10 and 20, and there is a core group that is pretty regular,” she told me later.

There have been times – just a few in her 30 or so years as a full-time minister – when no one came to one of her services, though.

The evening I showed up alone, the readings were both beautiful and challenging, as they often are. The first turned out to be from one of my favorite parts of the Bible: the book of Ecclesiastes. It’s a musing on the ephemeral cycle of life and contains some of the more recognizable verses in Scripture. (Its chapter about everything having its own season provides the text for Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!”)

But this was one of the book’s darker passages, focusing on the futility of life on Earth. The walls echoed my own voice back to me as I stood in the center of the chapel, reading:

“What do mortals get from all the toil and strain with which they toil under the sun? For all their days are full of pain, and their work is a vexation; even at night their minds do not rest.”

I was tired.

“Church is supposed to make me feel better about my life, not worse,” I thought.

The Gospel was difficult, too: one of Jesus’ least comforting parables, in which a successful farmer stores his extra crops in barns only to incur God’s wrath for hoarding material wealth.

“You fool!” God says. “This very night your life is being demanded of you.” Harsh.

Normally the priest gives a sermon after the Gospel reading, but Anne sat down next to me. She didn’t preach. She wanted to know more about me, and asked what brought me to this church on this night.

I told her I was feeling adrift. I’d recently moved across the continent and, as much as I was loving Portland, hadn’t had time to adjust or relax. My life was changing rapidly, and it seemed like the world was too. When I feel ungrounded, I gravitate to the firmest ground I know, which is the church.

She asked how the readings made me feel.

“Confused,” I said. “And a little afraid.”

She nodded.

“These are some tough ones,” she said. “This language of fear and uncertainty is troubling, especially when it comes from the mouth of Jesus.

“And yet,” she went on, “he is speaking. He is there. He’s showing us a path so that when things do go wrong, we know where to go.”

As we talked, I thought about the timeliness of this little scene. In an age when many Americans have abandoned the institutions they once turned to for solace and truth, there we were, a priest and a journalist huddled together in an empty church. With the light fading and our voices low, it felt almost subversive, as if even kindness were a political act.

After we had shared communion and taken some time for silent prayer, she concluded the service and sent me on my way with the traditional blessing: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

“Thanks be to God,” I responded, more sincerely than usual.

She started putting out the candles as I walked out into the night.

]]> 0, 02 Jan 2017 19:40:56 +0000
Reflections: Ask yourself: What do you know for sure? Sat, 31 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 There was a time when I used to watch Oprah and she would ask her guests, “What do you know for sure?”

I was always impressed with the clarity of someone who could speak about what was true for them and how they lived their truth from day to day. I used to try to write in my journals about what I knew for sure and couldn’t come up with my own answer. I could only recite what I had been told by others about what was true: the refrain of their songs that played in my head for decades and which I sang with true belief when that was all I knew. I was guided by religion lessons of my childhood, Catholic dogma, theology and philosophy classes and hundreds of books that I read with great devotion. I was inspired to live a good life within the boundaries of a certain system.

But my personal search for truth became more authentic when I learned to listen to my own voice, my own wisdom, when I learned that the divine light within me was my best guide. This was not the decision of a moment. Sometimes we have a transformative experience that can totally turn our lives around. Most times, it’s trial and error. We live through dark nights that test every bit of knowledge and faith we have. There are also radiant moments that defy explanation. The human journey of growth eventually releases us from our childish thinking and acting, our fear of walking outside the rigid lines, and challenges us to look at life with new eyes, listen with new ears and open our hearts to life as we have never done.

The designated path is safer, of course, but it keeps us subservient to outside forces. I don’t believe we can grow as human beings if our inner life is still that of a child. The uncharted path is scarier and demands lots of trust: trust in life and trust in one’s self.

I have found that when I get to those scary places, and have no idea where to go from there, then the only way to go forward is to surrender: to stop trying to rely on my limited knowledge, to stop living in fear of what could be ahead. Saying yes to what is and not fighting it brings me to a deeper freedom. When I look through my writings, at certain places on my path, I have written songs or poems about surrendering, saying yes. This saying yes to the unknown with complete trust in a good outcome, even though we cannot see it, has guided me for many years. It has released me from the monkey-mind of thinking, the fear of not getting it right, and the anxiety that accompanies fear. A complete surrender is the ultimate release of control. It is the acknowledgement that, in reality, we know so little. The gifts that life is waiting to give us come only to open hands and open hearts that do not grasp but wait in silence. I would like to share a poem with you that expresses what I believe about surrender:

Only Silence

Why is not the question.

There is no question.

There is only an answer,

which is yes.

There is no understanding,

only acceptance.

There is no way,

no prayer or vow.

There is only silence.

From this silence will come

all the answers.

This poem comes from my new book, “Coming to the Edge: Fifty Poems for Writing and Healing.” It does not provide any answers but through prompts, based on the poems, you are asked to engage with your own truth, your own story and to work to find your own solutions. Remember, our inner wisdom is our true teacher. In one of his poems, e.e. cummings says “Yes is the only living thing.” Our “yes” can resound in the silence. Our hearts are waiting for us to sing our own tunes, our own truth, what we know for sure.

Helen Rousseau is an interfaith minister and spiritual guide. She can be reached at or

]]> 0 Sat, 31 Dec 2016 17:49:43 +0000
Interfaith relationships on the rise in the U.S. Sat, 24 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Interfaith relationships are more common in the United States today than decades ago.

A 2015 survey from the Pew Research Center found that nearly 70 percent of couples share the same faith, but that percentage is lower among newer marriages. While fewer than 20 percent of couples married before 1960 said they have a religious intermarriage, nearly 40 percent of Americans who had wed since 2010 reported their spouse belongs to a different religious group.

Interfaith relationships are even more common among unmarried couples living together, accounting for almost half.

Certain religious groups – Hindus, Mormons and Muslims – are more likely to choose a partner of the same religion, the Pew survey found. Many recent interfaith marriages and relationships are between Christians and religiously unaffiliated people, or between two people of different Christian traditions, and 65 percent of Jewish people living in the United States reported they are married or living in a romantic relationship with someone of a different faith.

“Certainly, the trends in Jewish life and in American life more generally are toward folks marrying someone of a different faith or cultural background,” said Jodi Bromberg, chief executive of Interfaith Family.

Since 2001, Interfaith Family has offered online resources and on-the-ground networking for families interested in Jewish life. Bromberg said their website traffic spikes around the holidays – for example, in December around Hanukkah and Christmas. The homepage includes links to a video about making latkes, a guide to Hanukkah traditions and a “cheat sheet” on lighting a menorah.

The Rev. Jane Field, the executive director of the Maine Council of Churches, said families can find common threads between Hanukkah and Christmas. For example, the light of candles is an important symbol in both Christian and Jewish traditions.

“I think every family weaves that together in ways that are particular and work for them,” Field said.

Beyond the holidays, incorporating two faith traditions into one family can be even more challenging – especially if a couple have children. Bromberg said Interfaith Family often fields inquiries from young families celebrating life events, like weddings or the birth of a child.

“One piece of advice again and again is around open and honest communication, being really clear about what’s important to you about your religious and cultural traditions,” Bromberg said.

Religious or interfaith organizations can often connect families with multiple faith traditions to each other.

“Read, read, read,” Field said. “Look for resources online and in the bookstore and in the library. Find some other families who are facing this challenge too and maybe even some that are further along, with kids in high school. Get everyone in the room together, share a meal and let people support each other.”


]]> 0 Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:05:12 +0000
Reflections: Seeking the light in this dark time, when collective fears thrive Sat, 24 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The dark stirs us in ways that cause us to hide and run away. This time of year reminds us of the hidden recesses, the collective fears of our unconscious ravings, which have nothing to do with any logic we might find in the light of day.

I was striving in this election cycle to remain open to the deep fear of marginalized people, the manic hatred of the disenfranchised, and the sheer confusion of the masses of information and misinformation, which seemed to produce more fear in groups of people pitted against one another. There were times when I felt I could barely breath.

As all of this pressed in on me with a collective weight, that I have not felt so keenly since 9/11, I wondered what the Congress was thinking putting Election Day in November, in the downward cycle of darkness and cold. I’m sure they had no idea about the rise in depression around the holidays, or maybe that didn’t happen back then. Or maybe they just thought it was the perfect time to stir up the darkness that would naturally show its face to us this time of year anyway.

No matter which side of the battle one is on, it was quite obvious to me that boundaries of decency and compassion in public discourse were utterly destroyed. I found myself in mourning, not so much about the outcome of the election, but the way it was suddenly OK to demonize groups of people. This election felt like an ugly exposure of the dark underbelly in this country that has been there all along, but was something we felt we were making progress in changing. Each of us must struggle to make sense of it, to rail against it, to act or not act, to find a way forward.

All of our religions point to the golden rule as the way forward. We are told this is the greatest mission we are given from God – to love one another. None of these religions has any added clauses about how it is OK to not love those who are another color, or gender, or who live in another country. And yet history is full of terror and war being performed in the name of religion. This country was founded on the idea that we would at least tolerate one another; that if our team lost we would still have a voice, power would shift, we could join together with others to make a change.

Why is it so hard to keep the channels of compassion open? Why are we so eager to demonize, to point fingers, to pull the trigger? Are we programmed for this kind of violence – kill or be killed? Can we rise above our demons to be a Jesus, or an enlightened being, or even an honest ethical informed citizen?

I wish I had answers to these big questions. The thing I know to do is to keep digging. Am I falling into a pit of hatred when I think of certain politicians? Am I horrified, and do I demonize someone I know because they voted in a way that I find irresponsible or dangerous? Do I harbor ill will toward the man who stands on the street corner with the political sign that I find disturbing?

This kind of self-examination, I know, would not be enough if we were to face some kind of totalitarian takeover where our very democracy would be threatened, but for now, it is the place for me to start. It is the only thing I have control over – how do I react to violence and fear? How do I harbor violence and fear? How can I keep my heart open when there seems to be vitriol and hatred spewing rampantly? How can I hold the sadness and grief without losing my capacity for the miracle and joy of this life?

Every person has his or her own way of moving forward, but for me, Nature is a daily solace. I went for a walk in the woods the day after the election and through the whispering of the trees and the light glinting off the babbling brook, God said to me “This is real.” Despite what we have done to her, Mother Earth continues to give to us her miracles, expecting nothing in return. In the complex beauty of nature, God shows us a way to be that is free of greed, hatred, racism, and all the other human constructs, which are not love.

I also gathered with my friends and listened to their fears. I sought out the wisdom of my teacher, Beverly Lanzetta, who says in her book “Emerging Heart,” “The mystic in us is the knower of the unknown, see-er of the unseen, who is able to withstand – without sacrificing or abandoning love – the contradictions and confusions of the world.” I pray for the politicians, the immigrants, the poor, and the depressed. And I pray for our country, that it truly lives up to the ideal of being a place of freedom for everyone.

I know some people who are trying to put a positive spin on this rise in hatred and distrust, and there certainly have been many times in history when great good has come from terrible dark times. But for now, for me, it is enough to allow myself to feel it all, and to look the darkness in the eye knowing that there is something much greater, which is beyond this particular battle. Whether you call it God or Allah or human goodness, this is our human heritage. On this knowing, my faith in humanity is unfailing. I know there are millions of people who are working very hard to make the world a better place for everyone. My prayer for healing sings on the wings of the “real,” the miracle of the life we have been given.

The Rev. Cathy Grigsby is an interfaith minister who teaches at the Chaplaincy Institute of Maine and is the co-founder and coordinator of the Interfaith Ministers of New England. She can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Dec 2016 20:20:30 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 24 Dec 2016 02:53:29 +0000 Christmas Eve candlelight service with lessons, carols, live creche and Portland Brass Quintet. All are welcome. State Street Church, 159 State St., Portland,, 7-8 p.m. Saturday.

Christmas Day service. St. Augustine Anglican Church, 656 Route 1, Scarborough., 10:30-11 a.m. Sunday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. Bible study, St. Augustine Anglican Church, 656 Route 1 in Scarborough, 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:07:09 +0000
Inauguration prayer service complicated by rhetoric Sat, 24 Dec 2016 02:45:42 +0000 Donald Trump’s inaugural weekend will include an interfaith prayer service at Washington’s National Cathedral, a customary event but complicated this year by anger over the president-elect’s rhetoric on Muslims, immigrants and others.

The service was announced Wednesday by the presidential inaugural committee, which provided no details on the ceremony or participants. A similar 2013 event for President Obama’s second-term inaugural included about two dozen religious leaders, including three Muslims, along with representatives of Judaism, evangelical Christianity, mainline Protestantism, Orthodox Christianity and Sikhism.

Cardinal Donald Wuerl, the Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, has been helping plan the Jan. 21 service and will participate, said his spokeswoman, Chieko Noguchi. She said the organizing “is still in its early stages.”

Washington Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde, who oversees the cathedral, declined an interview request Wednesday. A cathedral spokesman released a brief statement saying the service “is a moment for our next president to pause and contemplate the incredible responsibility he has been entrusted with and to listen as the faith community offers prayers for the office of the president.” In an interview Tuesday on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show,” Budde said “all faiths will be represented at (Trump’s) request and we will pray for the good of our nation.”

Trump won 81 percent of white evangelical voters and 52 percent of the overall Catholic vote. Conservative Christians and others have been deeply heartened by Trump’s promise to appoint conservative U.S. Supreme Court justices, among other pledges.

But Trump lost Latino Catholics and attracted only 24 percent of Jews. He has drawn condemnations from a wide range of religious leaders for calling Mexicans rapists, while pledging to deport large numbers of immigrants in the country illegally and promising during the campaign to temporarily ban immigrants from Muslim nations. Earlier this month, more than 300 American Muslim leaders sent a letter to Trump expressing grave concern about his incoming administration, including appointees who have cast suspicion on all Muslims as a potential terror threat.

These tensions could discourage some religious leaders from participating in the cathedral service.

Rizwan Jaka, board chairman of the Washington-area mosque ADAMS, one of the largest mosques in the country, said “it would be very good for Muslims to be a part of this” cathedral service. The spiritual leader of ADAMS, Imam Mohamed Magid, was one of the three Muslims who participated in the 2013 service at the cathedral for Obama.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Dec 2016 22:35:44 +0000
Mormon Wikileaks website launched Sat, 24 Dec 2016 01:05:30 +0000 A former Mormon launched a website Monday offering a secure portal for people who want to leak internal documents or videos about the Utah-based church.

The Mormon Wikileaks website seeks to build on a growing number of leaks that have shed light on the inner workings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its position on controversial issues such as gay marriage.

The site was launched by Ryan McKnight, of Las Vegas, Nevada, who gained national attention in October after posting a series of inside conversations between senior Mormon church officials on a YouTube channel called “Mormon Leaks.”

“Our goal is, pure and simple, transparency,” McKnight said in an interview. “Sometimes people come across information through the course of their jobs that makes them feel uneasy or like it is something that church members deserve to know.”

He said the web site provides an anonymous “avenue” for them to share it.

The website comes as digital information is easily shared and is modeled after Wikileaks, the international group that has collected and shared millions of government documents.

A spokesman for the Mormon church declined to comment on the new site. Church employees sign non-disclosure agreements.

McKnight grew up in the church, went on a mission and got married in a Mormon temple. About three years ago, at the age of 32, he became disillusioned by aspects of Mormon history, including the polygamous practices of early church leaders. He said he felt like he had been taught a “white-washed version of the truth.”

He stopped going to church in 2013 and had his name removed from the membership rolls a year later.

In 2015, he said he helped bring widespread media attention to a memo that updated a church handbook detailing a revised position on same-sex households in the aftermath of the legalization of gay marriage. Access to that handbook is usually reserved for church leaders.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Dec 2016 20:21:26 +0000
American Muslims share in holiday season Sat, 24 Dec 2016 01:02:08 +0000 WASHINGTON — In rural Waverly, Tennessee, population 6,000, locals shower the only Muslim family in town with Christmas gifts.

The same neighbors who voted for Donald Trump have been Dr. Maysoon Shocair Ali’s patients since 1976, their bond strong enough to withstand the ugliness of the election campaign.

As they do every year, two elderly patients dropped off coconut cake at the doctor’s office. Ali’s collection of Christmas decorations includes Santa figurines another longtime patient left her in a will. Ali and her best friend of three decades, a retired Baptist teacher who supports Trump, already have exchanged their gifts.

There’s no single Muslim approach to Christmas – some celebrate as part of American culture, others don’t observe at all – but Ali is a believer in the holiday’s ability to spread joy across even the deepest divisions. And this year, she said, there are many wounds that could use the balm.

“In my profession, I’m supposed to be a healer and this is a time for healing,” Ali, 69, said one recent morning, sporting tiny bells as earrings and a wreath-shaped brooch pinned to her sparkly red sweater. “The spirit that comes with it is what we celebrate. It’s not about Muslims, Christians, Jews – it’s about the meaning, the connection with people, the human interaction.”

Every year, American Muslims debate whether it’s OK to celebrate Christmas as a cultural, if not religious, occasion. After all, Jesus is a beloved prophet in Islam, though Muslims don’t believe he’s the son of God. The Quran shares the story of Jesus’ birth and his ability to perform miracles. There’s a whole chapter devoted to his mother, Mary, the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran.

Even so, conservative Muslim scholars largely reject celebrations of Christmas, with varying explanations: Its pagan roots don’t have anything to do with reverence for Jesus, Muslims aren’t supposed to emulate the faiths of others, the holiday is more about consumerism than about Jesus’ teachings, and so on.

The clergy’s stance, however, hasn’t stopped Muslims across the country from joining the throngs of Americans shopping, decorating and cooking this season.

Thousands of Muslims will mark Christmas in their own ways, through cobbled-together traditions that typically focus on the secular aspects of the holiday, such as big family meals and Santa Claus.

Under #MuslimChristmas on Instagram, one woman incorporated her hijab into an elf costume, with a caption proclaiming herself “Santa’s first Muslim helper.”

Two generations of another Muslim family, the Murads, are pictured striking poses in front of their tree, clad in matching Christmas pajamas.

In another, a man poked fun at Muslims feeling left out at Christmas with a photo of himself looking wistfully out the window, waiting in vain for Santa to arrive.

Given the widespread vilification of Islam, Muslims say, other Americans probably have no idea how many Muslims either celebrate Christmas or attend events in solidarity with Christian friends.

Irfana Anwer, 40, of Virginia, said she turned awkward Christmas-related moments into a chance for dialogue. Case in point: when co-workers wish everyone in the office a merry Christmas but aren’t quite sure what to say to her.

“There’s a pause when they see me and they say, ‘Happy holidays,'” Anwer said. “I say, ‘No, no, it’s OK to say merry Christmas,’ and we’ll have a conversation about it.”

She said Muslims should feel secure enough to guide those talks. Real interfaith work, she explained, “is where you can pick up the religion of another and engage with it as if it’s your own without feeling like you’re losing anything of your own.”

Some interfaith initiatives are spending the Christmas holiday organizing against Trump’s anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant policy ideas.

Politically charged Christmas memes are passed among activist circles: A popular one reads “Jesus was a Middle Eastern refugee.”

In Houston, this is the seventh year of Jewish/Muslim Christmas, a project led by two friends, Rabbi Steve Gross and Muslim activist Shariq Abdul Ghani. It’s typically private, with about 75 guests engaged in group discussions, followed by a shared meal from a Pakistani or Polish restaurant.

The night Trump won, the rabbi and the Muslim exchanged concerned text messages and decided immediately to turbocharge this year’s gathering, which takes place on Christmas Day. They picked the theme “Dealing with Fear,” opened up the event to the public, invited an extra synagogue and moved it to the site of a major Islamic conference. Speakers are to include survivors of the Holocaust and the Bosnian genocide.

“At first we were going to do something more social,” Ghani said. “But the night Trump was elected, we decided to take it up a notch.”

]]> 0 Maysoon Shocair Ali is a Muslim doctor in rural Waverly, Tenn. Ali is among American Muslims who celebrate Christmas as a cultural, if not religious, holiday. (Hannah Allam/Fri, 23 Dec 2016 20:22:38 +0000
Pope rebukes Vatican resistance to reform Sat, 24 Dec 2016 00:15:40 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Thursday denounced the resistance he’s encountering in reforming the Vatican bureaucracy, saying some of it is inspired by the devil and that the prelates who work for him must undergo “permanent purification” to serve the Catholic Church better.

For the third year in a row, Francis took the Vatican bureaucracy to task in his annual Christmas greeting. He said the reform process he was elected to push through in 2013 isn’t aimed at a superficial facelift for the Holy See, but rather a profound change in mentality among his collaborators.

“Dear brothers, it’s not the wrinkles in the church that you should fear, but the stains!” he said.

In 2014, Francis stunned the Vatican Curia, or administration, when he listed the 15 “spiritual ailments” its members were suffering. He accused them of using their careers to grab power and wealth, of living “hypocritical” double lives and of forgetting – due to “spiritual Alzheimer’s” – that they’re supposed to be joyful men of God.

Last year, Francis listed a “catalog of virtues” they were supposed to show instead, including honesty, sobriety, respect and humility.

This year, he gave the priests, bishops and cardinals who work for him 12 guidelines that are inspiring his reform process, which has involved consolidating Vatican departments and creating new ones.

He called for a “definitive end” to the Vatican’s face-saving way of getting rid of unqualified or problematic staff by promoting them to a higher office.

“This is a cancer!” Francis said.

Francis said it’s entirely natural that there should be resistance during such a profound process of reform – but he said there’s good resistance and bad.

Positive resistance is an open willingness for dialogue but “hidden” resistance comes from the “fearful or hardened hearts” of people who say they want change but really don’t, he said.

And then there’s “malevolent resistance … when the devil inspires nasty intentions often dressed as lambs.”

He urged his collaborators to undergo an ongoing process of spiritual purification guided by the Gospel. Later, he told staff who work for the Vatican City State that the Gospel also should dictate the Vatican’s labor practices to make sure people have proper contracts.

]]> 0 Francis holds a baby during an audience to exchange Christmas greetings with Vatican employees Thursday.Fri, 23 Dec 2016 20:24:29 +0000
Public invited to menorah lighting Saturday in Portland Fri, 23 Dec 2016 05:01:10 +0000 The public is invited to attend the traditional lighting of the menorah and a community Hanukkah celebration Saturday at Portland City Hall.

Rabbi Moshe Wilansky of Chabad of Maine said in a news release that the 12-foot menorah will be lit on the City Hall plaza at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Saturday’s event marks the first night of Hanukkah.

“It is a holiday that enriches our lives with the light of tradition,” Wilansky said. “In ancient times our ancestors rededicated the temple in Jerusalem with the menorah. Today, we rededicate ourselves to making this world a better and brighter place.”

Wilansky said Portland’s menorah will be one of 15,000 that will be lit across the world. The menorah symbolizes a universal message of religious freedom.

“Chabad centers all around the world are dedicated to spreading light and goodness in their respective communities. Chabad’s answer to the darkness and destruction is an increase in light and warmth,” Wilansky said.

After the menorah has been lit, the program will move inside City Hall to the State of Maine room, for an all-you-can-eat buffet, hot latkes and doughnuts, dreidels and gelt, and live music.

]]> 0 Fri, 23 Dec 2016 21:39:56 +0000
Reflections: Mystery and wonder live at heart of holiest season Sat, 17 Dec 2016 02:00:00 +0000 A few years ago, my husband and I decided to go back to school to study theology. Attending graduate school is a challenge at any age and being a student at midlife was no exception.

My husband was struggling in a theology class taught by the renowned Jesuit scholar, Don Gelpi, S.J. He studied for hours to prepare for the oral exam. The stress was apparent.

As he left for class, I wished him luck. On the way out the door, I smiled and said: “If he asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, simply say it’s a mystery.”

While he didn’t completely understand my Catholic sense of humor, ingrained at an early age and nearly perfected over time, some of us can identify with the Baltimore Catechism and using mystery as our “go to” answer.

As I reflect on this season of Advent, I am always humbled by the mystery of the Child. We are called to behold the mystery of a Child, a Child born to earthly parents who is the Son of God, a Child who enters the world humbly, a Child who rests in a manger in rural anonymity.

The great mystery is that Jesus shows up naked, vulnerable and defenseless. He comes to us without fanfare. He comes to us hidden in plain sight. While it’s a glorious revelation; it’s also a great mystery.

While God could have sent His Son with a majestic flourish, there was no pretense in His arrival. Even though God chose the humblest setting, the birth is accompanied by the attention of the heavenly hosts as well as the shepherds. This is a story of wonder and mystery.

We are given a sign: “For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:10-11.

We are called to behold this Child and we are reminded that we always become what we behold. This mystery, this sign in Luke’s account, combines praise and simplicity. Jesus’ birth is shared as a divine activity that invites joy and reflection.

We often think of mystery as something we cannot understand. Our traditional definition is something that is difficult or impossible to explain.

We are perplexed, puzzled, and stumped by this conundrum or secret that we cannot explain or solve. We are also told that mystery is unknowable except by divine revelation. While all of this may be true, we all seem to love a good mystery.

Franciscan priest Richard Rohr invites us to view mystery from another perspective. He reframes it in this way: “…mystery isn’t something that you cannot understand – it is something that you can endlessly understand! There is no point at which you can say, ‘I’ve got it.’ Always and forever, mystery gets you!”

During the season of Advent, we are reminded of the Great Mystery as we view the nativity scene. In 1223, on Christmas Eve in the village of Greccio, St. Francis of Assisi created a scene to connect everyone to this mystery and to recall how “…simplicity was honored and poverty was exalted.”

During the time of St. Francis, mystery and miracle plays were popular forms of entertainment and education. These portrayals were originally performed in churches and later in public arenas. This was the way people learned scripture, as Latin was the language of Mass and very few people understood it.

St. Francis’ nativity scene helped people understand and emotionally engage with the mystery. Within a couple of centuries, St. Francis’ nativity scenes spread throughout Europe. Today, they continue to remind us of the Great Mystery.

We are also reminded: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” John 3:17. Salvation is about readiness; it is the capacity and the willingness to stay in relationship. God is absolute readiness. As long as you show up, the Spirit keeps working.

Regardless of our beliefs, we are invited to enter into the Great Mystery revealed yet hidden in plain sight, a mystery that begets all mysteries. We reflect: “God is love.” John 4:8-16. This is a mystery we don’t have to get – it gets us.

While Professor Gelpi wouldn’t accept “mystery” as an answer in the oral exam, it caused him to smile and my husband passed the test.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:23:31 +0000
Interfaith service in Waterville shows support for Jews Sat, 17 Dec 2016 02:00:00 +0000 WATERVILLE — The voices of men, women and children from all faiths rang out in song and prayer Friday night at Beth Israel Congregation in a show of support for Jews in the wake of an incident last weekend in which a swastika was painted on a large rock at a city-owned park.

More than 200 people from across the state turned out for the interfaith service of healing on a cold night when the temperature hovered near zero.

It was warm inside the synagogue, where Rabbi Rachel Isaacs of Beth Israel said it was an honor to have so many people attend the service. Isaacs, who also is assistant professor of studies at Colby College and director of the college’s Center for Small Town Jewish Life, sought to make sense of the swastika incident, which occurred at Quarry Road Recreation Center.

She said no human being is completely good or bad and everyone struggles with that dichotomy.

“Unfortunately, in this previous week, the evil urge got the best of one of us,” she said. “We’re here today to embrace our good urge and show the best of who we are.”

Police are investigating the painting of the swastika, an emblem that was used by Nazi Germany, on the rock near the entrance to the Devil’s Chair hiking trail.

Police Chief Joseph Massey, who attended Friday night’s service, said earlier in the day that police continue to work on the case.

“We have not identified who left the swastika up there on the rock,” he said.

The incident, reported to police Dec. 10, led City Manager Michael Roy and Mayor Nick Isgro to post a message on the city’s online web page saying Waterville will not stand for such activity.

“In situations like this the city of Waterville stands firmly united against any form of hate and intolerance,” the post says. “From the arrival of the Franco-Canadians and the Lebanese Maronite Catholics to our proud Jewish community and beyond, Waterville has always been, remains, and will always be an open and accepting community that will not be torn asunder by individuals or groups who believe otherwise.”

As of early Friday evening, the city’s Facebook post had garnered 600 likes, 124 shares and about 40 comments.

Isaacs told the congregation Friday she feels blessed to be in Waterville, where people are caring and supportive. Earlier in the week, Isaacs was at the White House delivering the invocation at a Hanukkah reception hosted by President Obama.

To illustrate just how open and inclusive the Waterville community is, the 33-year-old rabbi, who two years ago was named one of America’s Most Inspiring Rabbis by the Jewish Daily Forward, told a personal story of the journey that led her to Waterville.

She said she was ordained as a rabbi five years ago and decided to be ordained in the conservative movement. She was the first openly lesbian rabbi ordained by the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary.

As she became ordained, she began to worry that she would not be able to find a job. She recalled being told to prepare herself that it was a real possibility no one would hire her, but if she did get a job it would likely be in New York or California. But those who warned her turned out to be wrong. She was embraced by not only Beth Israel, but also Colby and the Waterville community.

“Look what happened,” she said. “I ended up in Waterville, Maine. That’s not something to be taken for granted.

Waterville is special place, she said, with decent, authentic people who care about one another.

“It’s personally special to me, and I think it’s empirically special,” she said.

She pointed out that the synagogue’s water fountain was given to Beth Israel by the Lebanese Youth Organization in the city; the kosher meat, by Joseph’s Market, which until recently was owned and run by a Lebanese family.

“How many Jewish communities can say we are sustained by the Lebanese community in the town?” she asked. “Believe me, we are the only one.”

Hate crimes, Isaacs said, happen everywhere, but the quality of a community is assessed not by the bad things that happen there, but how the community responds to such incidents.

“This is how we respond,” she said, referring to the large gathering of support Friday.

The Rev. Thomas Blackstone of the Pleasant Street United Methodist Church offered a reading and said it was his privilege to represent his church in standing solidly with Beth Israel and anyone else who is threatened by hateful actions.

“Today we are all Jews,” Blackstone said. “A threat to any one of us is a threat to all of us.”


]]> 0 gather at an interfaith service Friday evening at Beth Israel Congregation in Waterville in response to a swastika being painted on a rock at a city-owned park.Fri, 16 Dec 2016 22:23:05 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 17 Dec 2016 01:58:39 +0000 Seminar: “Angels in the Bible” with Dr. Fred. If you’ve ever wondered what the Bible really tells us about angels, then you won’t miss this opportunity. Free. Lunch provided. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell, 9:30 a.m.-noon Saturday.

Holy Grounds Coffee House presents Lisa Gallant Seal & LGS Band. Free. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rejoicing Spirits. Special worship service for people with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free. Trinity Lutheran Church, Westbrook, 612 Main St., Westbrook, 854-5653, 4 a.m. Sunday.

Freedom From Attachment. Drop-in meditation classes. $10. $5 students and seniors. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland,, 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Buddhism Unwrapped. Open to beginners and advanced practitioners. $10 suggested donation. Merrymeeting Arts Center, 9 Main St., Bowdoinham,, 10-11:15 a.m. Sunday.

ChIME Interfaith Worship Service: luminous gifts, sharing music, reflection and stories of love and light in a season of darkness. Free, donations accepted. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., Portland, 347-6740, 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Bar Mills Community Church Christmas Cantata. The choir and other local talent will tell the story of the Nativity with carols and hymns. Free. Bar Mills Community Church, 13 Hermit Thrush Drive, Buxton,, 4-5 p.m. Sunday.

Longest Night Worship Service. Tuttle Road United Methodist Church, 52 Tuttle Road, Cumberland, 829-3766, Wednesday.

St. Augustine Anglican Church continues its Bible Study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough, where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church. For more information, call Father Jeff at 615-7989.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Dec 2016 21:22:37 +0000
Is secular Europe about to get religion? Fri, 16 Dec 2016 23:50:46 +0000 LONDON — Not much has united Britain, France and Germany in recent months. There is one striking attribute, however, that they share: the influence of religious beliefs on the politics of these nations.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has acknowledged that her Christian faith informs many of her political decisions. She also has a clear message for her fellow Christians: Don’t be afraid to speak out about your faith.

Across the English Channel, champion of Catholic values and former French prime minister François Fillon recently won a primary contest to be the conservative nominee in the country’s presidential election, scheduled for next year.

In neighboring Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel, leader of the Christian Democratic Union, has led the country for 11 years and hopes to get reelected next year. Merkel’s Protestant Christian values were credited for her decision to let almost 1 million refugees into the country last year.

All three countries either have or could have observant Christians as political leaders next year. But all three countries are also among the world’s least religious. The phenomenon is another unexpected result of the political upheaval of 2016, which included Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, the presidential victory of Donald Trump in the United States, and the rise of far-right movements in France and Germany.

A survey of 65 countries conducted by Gallup International and the Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research last year found that 66 percent of British citizens identified as not religious or as atheist. In Germany, 59 percent of the population identified that way. In France, the number was 53 percent. The survey is based on 63,898 interviews.

No European country is generally considered to be more secular than France, at least officially. Collecting information about ethnicity or religious beliefs, for instance, is generally prohibited in France. The law – which was passed in 1978 –was a response to historical injustices. Particularly in the decades after Jews were ordered to sew yellow stars on their clothes during World War II, questions about citizens’ ethnic or religious identities had bitter connotations. France’s secular state model also means that religious displays are generally prohibited in public spaces.

Yet, as The Washington Post’s James McAuley recently observed, Fillon could shift the meaning of secularism in France: “He is viewed as a crusader in the throes of a holy war. . . . In short, what he promises is a return to his nation’s roots. And in his eyes, those roots are fundamentally Catholic.”

The far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, a likely top contender in France’s presidential election, also has used Christian values to justify some of her policy proposals. An increasing number of moderate Catholics blame what they deem a loss of values for the devastating attacks over the past two years in France and for a divided society.

In Germany, Merkel has attempted a balancing act. Christian believers have always been an influential voting bloc in the country, and she has disappointed many of them, shifting away from traditional conservative positions over the years.

Fearing defeat in the upcoming election, Merkel has recently defended some of her less popular decisions as influenced by her Christian values. This came as the anti-immigration movement Pegida, for instance, carried Christian crosses at many of the group’s marches.

To the members of that group, Merkel’s decision to open the borders to hundreds of thousands of predominantly Muslim refugees threatened the country’s Christian roots. Some Catholic politicians from Merkel’s own party voiced similar concerns, calling her refugee policies “not Christian.”

Amid such criticism from her core voter base and political allies, Merkel has repeatedly tried to frame her policies in a Christian context. With more than half of Germans identifying themselves as atheists, her attempts to explain her more liberal policies with religious arguments reflect her struggles to appeal to those nonreligious voters as well as her increasingly disgruntled core supporters.

Like Merkel, Britain’s May is the daughter of a pastor.

“It 1/8the Christian faith3/8 is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things,” she was quoted as saying in a 2014 interview. It is “there and it obviously helps to frame my thinking and my approach.”

]]> 0 Fri, 16 Dec 2016 20:40:51 +0000
Reflections: Hope of Advent accepts reality and sees ways to make it better Sat, 10 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Christians are in the Advent season. It is the season of preparation and expectant waiting. The watchword is hope, and these days, there is a lot of hoping going on, though much of it is more humbug than hope. Retailers hope for good sales numbers. Shoppers hope to find a deal on the latest and greatest gift, and we all hope that everyone will be satisfied on Christmas morning.

Churches hope too. They hope the Christmas Fair will be successful, and the choir will get enough practice, that the pageant will have enough parts, the pews will be full, and the preacher will have something new and inspiring to say (preachers hope that too!). Yes, indeed, there’s a lot of hoping all around. I think, however, what’s going on is more wishing than hoping.

Advent hope is different. It is more than wishing for good things to happen. It is more than optimism. It is more than believing all will turn out for the best. Advent hope is firmly rooted in unvarnished reality, and stares clear-eyed at the world around. It looks beyond the hard present to what is possible in the days ahead.

In the words of writer Pamela Hawkins, “Hope opens something in the human heart. Like shutters slowly parting to admit a winter dawn, hope permits the strands of light to make their way to us even when we still stand in cold darkness.”

It is this hope we hear echoed in the readings for the Advent season, grounded in a belief that God is present even in, or especially in, the darkest times. Thus, Isaiah can speak to a people walking in the darkness of exile and say that they will see a great light, that a shoot will come from a dead stump and the wolf will lie down with the lamb.

Mary, unwed and pregnant, can sing defiantly that her soul will magnify the Lord, and rejoice in God, her savior, who will fill the hungry with good things and pull the powerful down. Angels appear in the night sky and sing to shepherds living under the heel of Roman oppression, bringing glad tidings. It’s hope grounded in a future vision that overturns the status quo and challenges the structures of empire – fear and oppression.

This hope is not limited to a liturgical season in the Christian calendar, nor does it fall within the confines of any particular religious tradition. It transcends the boundaries of specific beliefs but it does require we be willing to imagine, to dream, to articulate a vision for a future based on justice and love for one another and for our planet.

It demands we not take “No it’s hopeless!” for an answer. This is not easy, but it is vital.

The late Rev. Dr. Peter Gomes of Harvard University wrote that having this future vision was essential. In his words, “the courageous thing, the faithful thing, the hopeful thing is to say that there is a future worth waiting for, worth living and working for, worth praying and dying for, for in that future is not more of the same.”

We strive for this future vision not because we are sure of success in our lifetime, but because it is good, it is right and it is just.

As the year winds down, the light dims and life at times seems fragile, but Advent invites me to open my heart and pull back the shutters promising a dawn even in a bleak midwinter.

I read the Advent texts and remind myself that I am not preparing to reenact something that happened ages ago, but preparing to be attentive and encouraging to the ways in which small bits of the vision are visible now.

I see hints of Advent’s promise within my own congregation. I see it in the way they treat each other with care and love in spite of differing points of view. I see it in their many acts of kindness and compassion, in their decision to be Open and Affirming of all people, regardless of who they love, and in their generous response to a crisis, be it close to home or far away. I see how some have befriended refugee families, offering a gesture of welcome and support in a foreign and, sometimes, hostile place.

In ways too numerous to name, they embody Advent hope, pushing back against despair and darkness.

On this spinning planet light is always dawning. As Gomes also wrote, “We are able to bear the present darkness because we believe in the coming dawn,” and in that dawn, “we will be able to tell the difference between hope and humbug.”

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

]]> 0 Fri, 09 Dec 2016 20:26:57 +0000
Reflections: Addressing a dark legacy – Martin Luther and the Jews Sat, 26 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The year 2017 will mark a milestone in German and in Protestant Christian history. It will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation launched by a renegade Roman Catholic monk, theologian and academic named Martin Luther (1483-1546).

There can be no doubt that Luther’s letter to his Roman Catholic superiors ,written on October 31, 1517,began a religious schism and conflict that would forever change the face and shape of Christianity. In it he denounced the sale of so-called indulgences and included 95 theses that were to be the basis for a discussion on the topic,

What is less well known is the positive reaction of Germany’s Jewish community of the time to this event and to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. For at least a decade, beginning in 1513, Luther identified with the persecuted Jewish communities of Germany and declared that both he and the Jews suffered from Catholic bigotry. He used the sad plight of the Jewish community as a means to further attack the Church.

Not only did Luther not hold the Jews responsible for the Crucifixion, but he wrote an essay in 1523 entitled “That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew” in which he called on his followers to show only Christian love for the Jewish people and to abolish the social and economic restrictions against them.

There was an ulterior motive to Luther’s actions. His aim was to use such calls to convince German Jewry to convert to his anti-Catholic Christian movement, thus fulfilling a goal that had been denied to the Church for over a thousand years.

But the Jewish “no” to his conversionary mission was as loud as it had been in denying the Roman Catholic call for conversion. By the 1530s, Luther began to write and preach only criticisms of Jews and Judaism culminating in a vicious essay entitled “Concerning the Jews and Their Lies” (1543). In it he suggested, among other actions, that the princely authorities should “set fire to their synagogues or schools.” Jewish houses should be “razed and destroyed,” and Jewish “prayer books and Talmudic writings, in which such idolatry, lies, cursing and blasphemy are taught, [should] be taken from them.” In addition, “their rabbis [should ] be forbidden to teach on pain of life and limb.” Shortly before his death in 1546, an ill and dying Luther began to repeat the worst anti-Jewish charges of medieval Roman Catholicism. “We are at fault for not slaying them,” he fumed shortly before his death.

Martin Luther’s anti-Jewish sermons and writings joined a long list of those by German philosophers, theologians and professional politicians who shaped centuries of anti-semitic attitudes in Germany and beyond.

In 1933, a part of the Lutheran Church in Germany sought to create a Protestant Christianity entirely free of Jewish influence, a movement known as the German Christians, that was violently anti-Semitic and devoted to National Socialism and its racial and political goals and to Martin Luther’s anti-Judaism.

As one member of the German Christian movement put it during a celebration of Luther Day, an annual event that took place throughout Germany:

“And if Martin Luther had met the Fuehrer, Adolf Hitler… he would peer deeply into his eyes and clasp both his hands and say: ‘Thank you, German man. You are of my blood, kind of my kind. We both belong together.”

When the gates of Auschwitz and other death camps were opened, both Protestants and Roman Catholics asked the unaskable and thought the unthinkable: “Could our churches and their teachings have contributed to the destruction of 6 million Jewish lives?”

It took several decades for the Roman Catholic Church to ponder that awful question and to issue an historic statement in 1965 on its relationship to Judaism and the Jewish people and to reject centuries of anti-Jewish teaching.

Nearly three decades later, in 1994, one of the most important Protestant denominations in the United States, the 5 million-strong Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, joined their Catholic brothers and sisters in declaring to the Jewish community that:

“In the long history of Christianity, there exists no more tragic development than the treatment accorded the Jewish people on the part of Christian believers … Lutherans belonging to … the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America feel a special burden in this regard because of certain elements in the legacy of the reformer Martin Luther and the catastrophes, including the Holocaust of the twentieth century, suffered by Jews in places where the Lutheran churches were strongly represented.

In the spirit of truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther’s anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews … we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations ….

… we express our urgent desire to live out our faith in Jesus Christ with love and respect for the Jewish people … Finally, we pray for the continued blessing of the Blessed One upon the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and Jews.”

As we enter the commemoration of 500 years of Protestant Christianity, one can only say amen and amen.

Abraham J. Peck is research professor of history at the University of Southern Maine. He is the co-author (with Gottfried Wagner) of “Unwanted Legacies: Sharing the Burden of Post-Genocide Generations” (2014).

]]> 3 Fri, 25 Nov 2016 20:17:46 +0000
Portland’s Bishop Deeley will chair key U.S. committee Mon, 21 Nov 2016 03:09:17 +0000 The leader of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland is going to serve as chairman of a key committee of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

U.S. Catholic bishops meeting in Baltimore elected Bishop Robert Deeley as chairman-elect of the Committee on Canonical Affairs and Church Governance.

The committee assists bishops by interpreting law and providing direction in implementation of church law. Deeley begins his duties in the fall of 2017.

Deeley has served as bishop in Maine since 2014. The Massachusetts native was ordained to the priesthood in 1973 at Sacred Heart Parish in Watertown, Massachusetts. He previously served in positions including auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Boston.

]]> 2 Mon, 21 Nov 2016 08:11:56 +0000
Augusta’s clergy will help city draft new zoning regulations Mon, 21 Nov 2016 01:53:38 +0000 AUGUSTA — A new ad hoc committee will tackle the most controversial aspect of several proposed zoning changes and seek to reach consensus on the contentious question of how to define and regulate places of worship and where they may be located.

City councilors approved four of six proposed zoning changes Thursday, tabling action on the other two more controversial proposals.

The two proposals tabled to allow time for additional debate are new definitions and regulations regarding meal centers and food pantries, including soup kitchens, and religious institutions and places of worship.

Area religious leaders have expressed concerns about the city trying to define religious activities and what constitutes worship, suggesting that the new zoning definition and rules could be an infringement on their right to freely practice religion. Of particular concern has been a proposal to limit new “associated uses,” which may occur at a church or other place of worship, such as soup kitchens, day care centers, food pantries and clothing drives, to no more than 16 hours per week unless those uses are permitted in the zone in which the place of worship is located.

Local religious leaders, including the Rev. Erik Karas, priest in charge of St. Mark’s Church and pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, have said feeding the hungry, housing the homeless and providing other services are parts of how they worship and parts of their primary religious function.

Mayor David Rollins said the ad hoc committee formed Thursday will try to reach consensus on a new place of worship definition and regulations for city zoning rules. He said the committee will include Karas, the Rev. Kristin White of Green Street Methodist Church, Ward 1 City Councilor Linda Conti and At-Large Councilor Marci Alexander. The proposal will be tabled until they have a recommendation.

“They’re going to work together, all parties, the neighborhood, clergy, city, to come up with proper language for this,” Rollins said.

He said that councilors will work on changing the proposed new definition and regulations for meal centers and food pantries themselves.

He said downtown merchants have asked that meal centers and food pantries be removed as “conditional use” in the downtown area. He said those uses are conditional uses in the current proposal, but councilors will discuss banning new ones from moving in to the downtown zone at their Dec. 8 meeting.

Conditional uses, generally, undergo a higher level of review and must win Planning Board approval.

Existing operations would be grandfathered from the new rules. Bread of Life Ministries currently has a soup kitchen downtown, which would likely fit under the definition of a meal center.

City Manager William Bridgeo said officials may want to consider making meal centers and food pantries an allowed use in some city zones where they are conditional uses now.

Councilors Thursday did vote to approve four zoning ordinance changes recommended by the Planning Board defining and regulating the location of dwelling units, group homes, rooming houses and shelters.

All six of the proposed new definitions were proposed to clarify city zoning rules after officials and residents expressed concern about the possibility that the St. Mark’s Church property, which is for sale, could be sold and turned into a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter or a similar use.

The zoning ordinance changes also were proposed to clarify the definitions of group homes and rooming houses, and to address definitions that the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals deemed too vague when it overturning a city code enforcement officer’s previous ruling denying an application for a female veterans’ home on Summer Street.


]]> 0 Mayor David Rollins hopes that by including the city's religious community in zoning discussions, members will feel less concerned about their ability to worship freely.Sun, 20 Nov 2016 20:59:39 +0000
Pope warns against ‘virus of polarization’ Sat, 19 Nov 2016 23:05:09 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis warned against what he called a “virus of polarization” and hostility in the world targeting people with different nationalities, races or beliefs, as he led a ceremony Saturday giving the Roman Catholic Church 17 new cardinals from six continents.

The consistory ceremony in St. Peter’s Basilica formally inducted the churchmen into the cardinals’ ranks.

Francis used his homily to caution the new “princes of the church,” as cardinals are sometimes called, to guard against animosity creeping into the church as well, saying “we are not immune from this.”

The pope spoke of “our pitiful hearts that tend to judge, divide, oppose and condemn,” and cautioned somberly against those who “raise walls, build barriers and label people.”

Earlier this year, when asked about the plan by Donald Trump, then a Republican U.S. presidential candidate and now president-elect, to build a wall to keep Mexicans from entering the U.S., the pope replied that anyone advocating building walls isn’t a Christian.

In Saturday’s homily, Francis commented how “we see, for example, how quickly those among us with the status of the stranger, an immigrant, or a refugee, become a threat, take on the status of an enemy.”

]]> 0 Francis, second from right, talks with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI on Saturday during a Vatican ceremony to induct new cardinals.Sat, 19 Nov 2016 19:54:09 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 19 Nov 2016 21:40:47 +0000 Mehuman Jonson and Holly Joy Grant. Holy Grounds Coffee House. Free. Home-cooked food available for purchase. Church of the Holy Spirit, 1047 Congress St., Portland,, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Rejoicing Spirits. Special worship service for persons with cognitive or developmental disabilities, followed by fellowship and supper. Free. Trinity Lutheran Church, 612 Main St., Westbrook, 854 5653, 4 p.m. Sunday.

P.R.A.Y. Religious Award Program designed to help children become friends with Jesus, create games that reinforce Bible lessons and provide opportunities for families to explore God’s love together. $5, Bath United Methodist Church, 340 Oak Grove Ave., 9-10 a.m. Sunday.

Interfaith worship service: Counting on your blessings. Free, but donations gratefully accepted. Portland New Church, 302 Stevens Ave., 11:30 a.m. Sunday.

Weekly Tibetan Meditation. Come and join us while we learn the principles of meditation. $10 suggested donation. First Parish Church United Church of Christ, 9 Cleaveland St., Brunswick, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. St. Augustine Anglican Church continues its Bible study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough where the parish shares worship space with the West Scarborough United Methodist Church. 5:30-7 p.m. Wednesday.

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

]]> 0 Sat, 19 Nov 2016 17:09:27 +0000
Reflections: Active giving of thanks can surpass mere gratitude Sat, 19 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 The holidays are upon us, one each month of the last quarter year, creating a very busy stretch that all too frequently leaves us feeling spent, emotionally and financially. Increased spending on Halloween adds to Christmas in terms of cost and effort, so this week provides a welcome opportunity to pause and reflect on what we already have in our observance of Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is a uniquely American festival that combines religious and civic sentiments. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim sacred texts are filled with admonitions to give thanks to God, but the notion of a national day of thanks has historically been controversial. George Washington, John Adams, and James Madison each issued one-time proclamations, but Thomas Jefferson refused to do so.

It was in 1863, in the midst of the American Civil War, that Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation declaring an annual national day of thanks in hopes of “healing the wounds of the nation” through gratitude.

Whether in the midst of war or in the aftermath of one of the most contentious presidential elections in our history, we know that gratitude is good for us. Scientific studies have even been conducted on the beneficial effects of gratitude to happiness, frame of mind and overall wellness. So much has been said and written on the topic of gratitude that it defies originality and even threatens to be hackneyed and old.

But what if we try thinking of Thanksgiving as a verb rather than a noun? What if we think about the giving part as readily as the thanks? Religious texts call us to give thanks, and I would suggest this is not simply semantic. A study at Indiana University found not only that being thankful fosters happiness and a sense of well being, but further, that giving to others intensifies and strengthens feelings of gratitude and cements measurable and verifiable changes in the part of the brain known as the “neurological gratitude footprint.” Thankful giving strengthens our ability to live gratefully, and promotes the flow of goodness through us to others around us, actually making the world a better place.

In greater Portland, a free community Thanksgiving dinner is funded by donations and prepared by volunteers every year. It’s a great start, but just one day. Holiday giving may bring out our generosity, but again, it’s season specific. What about the rest of the year? Perhaps we can extend the season of giving thanks by resolving to live gratefully all year. This may include giving to others a portion of all that we receive – the principle of tithing (literally meaning 10%), giving to church or charity a portion of all income. My experience of this principle has shown me unfailingly that sharing from our abundance makes our lives more so. The more we give, the more we have. Living gratefully is living more fully, in every season. And the ripple effect of more grateful generosity would surely provide more well-being for us all, addressing persistent issues of income inequality and poverty across the land.

Maybe you don’t feel you have enough for yourself and your family, to say nothing of extra to give away. But the principle of giving thanks applies, and it works, no matter what. If money feels too tight your gift can be some of your time. Just a few hours a week will make a real difference for others and for you. Dozens of churches, projects, and agencies in Greater Portland depend on volunteers to do their good work. Greater Portland United Way ( or Volunteer Maine ( will happily refer you to one that needs what you have to give. I promise you, you will receive more than you give. Simply experiencing yourself as a person who gives to others enriches you in myriad ways. Whatever you give, whomever you give it to, giving is transformative for individual and community.

As we gather with friends or family this Thanksgiving to celebrate what we have received, can we be inspired also to celebrate what we can give? Can we open our hearts and our hands, becoming conduits of plenty for ourselves and for others? Could this help to “heal the wounds of the nation” at a time of deep discord and division? In hopes that it may, let’s resolve to make this Thanksgiving the beginning of Thanks-giving that lasts all year long.

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

]]> 0 Fri, 18 Nov 2016 19:30:57 +0000
White evangelicals embrace unlikely champion Sat, 19 Nov 2016 00:37:06 +0000 For months, Rose Aller kept her support for Donald Trump a secret from colleagues at the Northern Virginia school where she works as a substitute teacher.

“You’re judged for your beliefs,” she said. “Our media branded you a racist, a bigot, a homophobe if you were Republican.”

So Aller stayed quiet. Only at church did she feel surrounded by people who think like her, people who were distraught over the changing values they perceived around them and were pulling for Donald Trump as their unlikely standard-bearer to bring their chosen Christian policies back into the White House.

Late last Tuesday, Aller discovered that she and other members of her church were far from alone. Eighty-one percent of white evangelical voters had voted for Trump. Aller, 46, went to school that Wednesday wearing a red-for-Republican T-shirt and beaming at a few other teachers who seemed jubilant instead of despondent about the election results. She wasn’t the only Trump supporter in school, it turned out.

And that night, at church, she was one of hundreds.

“Let’s take a moment,” Pastor Gary Hamrick exhorted about 500 uplifted congregants at Cornerstone Chapel in Leesburg that Wednesday night, “to pray for our President-elect, Donald Trump.”


Hands of praise shot into the air.

“Every church is going to be influenced by the culture,” Hamrick said. “The issue becomes, will the church rise up and become an influencer of the culture?”

During the eight years of President Obama’s administration, white evangelical Christians, who make up one-quarter of the American electorate, felt the dominant culture moving away from them.

They watched as same-sex marriage became the law of the land, and as Christians were reviled for saying they didn’t want to provide pizzas or cakes or photographs for those weddings. They heard “Black Lives Matter” and didn’t understand when they were demonized for responding “All Lives Matter.”

They witnessed their nation elect and reelect a president who had disparaged people like them who “cling to guns or religion,” and then later seemed to think that anyone should be allowed to use any bathroom they like.

And then on Wednesday, evangelicals woke up remembering what it’s like to feel victorious in American politics.

“Their deepest desires may be enacted into laws – or hated laws repealed. Their prayers were answered – by electing a rude, crude and morally unacceptable nonbeliever,” Scott Thumma, a Hartford Seminary professor who studies megachurches and nondenominational evangelical churches, wrote in an email. “I have interacted with a few evangelicals since the election … and every one of them were proud and happy to have had a part in Trump’s election – not exactly because of who Trump is, but what he stood for.”

To be sure, these white evangelical supporters knew Trump was an odd champion. He is a self-declared Presbyterian but never a churchgoer. He is thrice married with a history of boasting about his infidelity, and he leveled insults at people including a beauty queen, a disabled reporter and even the pope.

Exit polls showed that 49 percent of Trump’s voters said they had reservations about him, and almost 1 in 5 voters who considered Trump unqualified to be president still cast a ballot for him. Whenever they spoke in church about Trump, they, too, did it with caveats.

Of course he’s not a Christian like we are. Of course I wish he hadn’t said that thing about grabbing women by the crotch. Of course. But … .


“People wanted to vote for Hillary because they’re like, ‘Trump is a bigot.’ He is! But Hillary is 10 times worse,” Scott Risvold said, sitting on an overstuffed couch in the lobby at Cornerstone Chapel, where he was 45 minutes early for the Wednesday night worship service.

On the opposite couch, Rob Cole nodded. “My sister, I just wanted to unfriend her on Facebook today, because she’s a die-hard Democrat,” he said.

Cole told Risvold, who left a position in military intelligence last year at 29, about a video he watched online in which a Christian speaker abroad hailed Trump’s victory. “It really makes you feel great to be a Christian,” he said.

That’s how Aller, the substitute teacher, felt too. “There’s been a big attack on our Christian faith. I think Christians took a big stand this time and said we’re going to stand up for our faith.”

The morning after the election, Aller said, a black second-grader came into her school and declared, “Trump was elected, so we’re moving.”

Aller said she responded: “We’re going to miss you. Let me know when your last day is. We’ll throw you a goodbye party.”

She said she’s sure the boy knew she was joking.

Then a little girl, also from a minority racial group, said she was unhappy about the result of the election, too, Aller recalled. “I think you should have a more positive attitude about that,” Aller said she told the girl.


Sitting in the back row of Cornerstone’s huge sanctuary on the night after the election, Aller related these stories to fellow churchgoer Morgan Hamrick, who also works as a substitute teacher. “That’s what I was telling the kids. What do you think is going to happen that’s so bad? Like, make America great again,” Hamrick, 23, said.

Hamrick’s father-in-law is the pastor at Cornerstone, a bustling church almost 40 miles outside Washington. Cornerstone’s congregation, predominantly white and multigenerational, is growing fast, and that post-election service was the last Wednesday service before it moved into a new building with a sanctuary twice the size. Stripped for the move, the room was unadorned except for an eight-foot-tall wooden cross on one wall and a few gourds on the stage where a well-amplified band played rock-style hymns.

About 500 people had gathered for worship, and about 220 young people, from a year old through high school-age, met separately for services at the same time.

A number of these Leesburg churchgoers make the long commute to work in the District of Columbia, where many of them feel like the only conservative – and perhaps even the only Christian – at their workplace, Gary Hamrick said. Church is normally their refuge, their place for meeting with like-minded people. When he laid out the candidates’ platforms in a pre-election sermon and then preached that they should vote for the candidate who best matched their values, they almost all knew he meant Trump.

Hispanic Catholics, Jews and some from other faiths voted heavily for Clinton on Election Day. White Catholics and mainline Protestants split for Trump, by a much smaller margin than evangelicals did. But the people who worship at Cornerstone and similar churches turned out in legion for Trump. White evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate, according to the exit polls, and Trump won about 8 in 10 of their votes.

White evangelicals were crucial to Trump’s victory. Had no white evangelicals voted, Clinton would have won in a landslide, 59 percent to 35 percent.

]]> 3 - In this Jan. 18, 2016 file photo, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures during a speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. The list of prominent evangelicals denouncing Trump is growing, but is anyone in the flock listening? The bloc of voters powering the real estate mogul through the Republican primaries is significantly weighted with white born-again Christians. As Trump's ascendancy forces the GOP establishment to confront how it lost touch with so many conservative voters, top evangelicals are facing their own dark night, wondering what has drawn so many Christians to a twice-divorced, profane casino magnate with a muddled record on abortion and gay marriage. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)Fri, 18 Nov 2016 21:00:03 +0000
Pope praises contributions of Latinos, immigrants Sat, 19 Nov 2016 00:03:54 +0000 BALTIMORE — Pope Francis on Tuesday sent a message to U.S. church leaders praising the contributions of Latino Catholics, a week after Donald Trump was elected president and on the day the bishops put a Mexican-born archbishop in line to be their leader.

Francis noted that the U.S. church has welcomed immigrants throughout its history and said the “rich variety of their languages and cultural traditions” had enriched the church and the country. He urged the U.S. church to “go out from its comfort zone” and heal a society facing “increasing polarization.”

“Our great challenge is to create a culture of encounter which encourages individuals and groups to share the richness of their traditions and experience; to break down walls and to build bridges,” he said.

During the campaign, Trump called Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals and pledged to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.

The pope sent the message to the annual Baltimore meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Earlier Tuesday, the bishops elected Los Angeles Archbishop Jose Gomez as the conference’s first Latino vice president. The vice president customarily becomes president after a three-year term, putting Gomez in line to be the first Latino head of the conference.

Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, archbishop of Galveston-Houston, Texas who was elected president for the next three years, said, “we certainly respect the government. … But we also have the shepherd’s heart. If there’s somebody hungry, we’re going to feed them. … If there’s somebody who is a stranger, we want to make them welcome.”

]]> 0 Francis has called on the U.S. church to heal a society facing "increasing polarization" and to celebrate the contributions of Latinos and immigrants.Fri, 18 Nov 2016 21:01:10 +0000
Central Maine interfaith gathering counters election angst Wed, 16 Nov 2016 03:47:20 +0000 AUGUSTA — Representatives of more than a dozen local religious groups offered prayer and song Tuesday night in an effort “to rise above the rancor” of the recent presidential election.

More than 90 people listened and sang in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Community Church during the interfaith service, which was called “We the People Rise up Singing: A Multi-faith Service of Healing, Hope and Unity.”

“I’ve seen all the discontent after the election,” said Tracy McNaughton of Farmingdale. “I came to be uplifted and to gather with people from different faiths and learn some different hymns.”

Marty Soule of Readfield said this is a time when people need to be together. She normally wears brown, she said, but on Tuesday she had some purple on to symbolize her belief that “the red and the blue in this country need to come together.”

“These are challenging times,” she said. “There is a lot of pain from the election and a lot of pain that led to where the election went. I think we need to take care of everybody, and (in particular) people who might be endangered.”

Soule said gathering people from many different faiths is a good way to increase love and openness.

“I’m here to stay happy,” said Edda Thiele of Hallowell. “I’m here to remember to feel good.” Thiele also said she belonged to several choirs, so she came to sing. She added that she represents four religious traditions: Buddhist, Episcopalian, Jewish and Unitarian Universalist.

The service was organized by the Rev. Carie Johnsen of the Unitarian Universalist church; Rabbi Erica Asch of Temple Beth El, and Pastor Maggie Edmondson of the Winthrop Center Friends Church.

It began with “Call to Prayer” from the Islamic tradition, and at one point, Rita Moran, representing Immanent Grove, part of the pagan tradition, introduced the song “Last Night I had the Strangest Dream.” She said, “It starts with middle ‘C,’ neither to the left nor the right.” Moran, who is also chairman of the Kennebec County Democratic Committee, said she wanted to dedicate the song to the men and women and children in Mosul, Iraq, who were not safe Tuesday night and who did not know when they would be safe.

Claire Cline of the Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is, read from the Tablets of Baha’u’llah, saying, “Our hope is that the world’s religious leaders and the rulers thereof will unitedly arise for the reformation of this age and the rehabilitation of its fortunes. Let them, after meditating on its needs, take counsel together and, through anxious and full deliberation, administer to a diseased and sorely afflicted world the remedy it requireth.”

As Johnsen was readying the sanctuary and answering questions before the service, she said she hoped that people of deep differences could come together to recognize and celebrate common ground.

She said the week between the election and the service gave people “time to process their own reactions,” and now they could come together to celebrate their diversity and find what they have in common.


]]> 1 pins in a bowl are available for people to take and wear Tuesday during a multi-faith service of healing, hope and unity sponsored by Capital Area Multi-faith Association at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church in Augusta.Tue, 15 Nov 2016 23:27:35 +0000
Augusta parish will celebrate church’s 100th anniversary Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — When work began on the foundation of St. Augustine Church in June 1915, architects stopped construction because they feared the building would sink into Sand Hill.

Church lore has it that the Rev. Zenon Decarie held an all-night prayer vigil, and the next day, builders found the ledge they needed to continue construction of the granite church designed to hold more than 1,300 people.

And now, 100 years after the church was completed, St. Michael Parish will celebrate the anniversary of the church’s opening with a special Mass and reception Nov. 19.

The Mass begins at 4 p.m. at the church, the first stone church built by Franco-Americans in Maine, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.

The Rev. Frank Morin said it will be a celebration of not only the building itself, but also of the community it created.

“It’s honoring the French Catholic expression of faith and remembering our roots in an appreciative way, because we’re the way we are today because of (them),” Morin said.

Several generations have experienced baptisms, communions, weddings and funerals inside the historic church, and Morin and David Madore, co-chairman of the celebration committee, hope that continues for generations to come.

“It should always feel like you’re coming home, no matter how long you’ve been gone,” Madore said.


]]> 1 Rev. Frank Morin stands in front of the altar Friday at St. Augustine Church in Augusta. The parish is celebrating the centennial of the opening of the church building.Sat, 12 Nov 2016 00:26:31 +0000
Religion Calendar Sat, 12 Nov 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Letting Go of Anger. Mini-Meditation Retreat: Overcoming anger becomes easier the more we practice; this retreat is the perfect opportunity to learn how to do this. $25. The Yoga Center, 449 Forest Ave., Portland, 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Saturday.

Eastern Maine Pagan Pride Day. Free. Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, 120 Park St., 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday.

P.R.A.Y. Religious Award Program, God and Me religious award program designed to help children become best friends with Jesus. Games that reinforce Bible lessons and opportunities for families to explore God’s love together. $5. Bath United Methodist Church. 340 Oak Grove Ave., 9-10 a.m. Sunday.

Making meaningful change: How God’s love can change your life and the world with Christian Science practitioner Mark McCurties, former educator and athletic coach. Free. First Church of Christ, Scientist, 61 Neal St., Portland, 1-2 p.m. Sunday.

Brunswick Weekly Tibetan Meditation. Come and join us while we learn about the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation. $10 suggested donation. First Parish Church United Church of Christ, Brunswick, 9 Cleaveland St., 5:30-6:45 p.m. Monday.

Prayer, Promises, Hope and Faith. The Rev. Jeff Monroe, St. Augustine Anglican Church, continues Bible Study series every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at 656 Route 1 in Scarborough.

Hallowell Buddhist Meditation. Learn the principles of Tibetan Buddhist meditation and philosophy. This is not a religious class. All are welcome. Class will begin with a short lecture, followed by guided meditation, group discussion and more meditation. $8 suggested donation. St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 20 Union St., Hallowell, 5:30-6:45 p.m. Wednesday.

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

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Election may mean evangelical schism Sat, 12 Nov 2016 00:29:24 +0000 Teryn O’Brien has stopped calling herself evangelical. As a 28-year-old living in Colorado Springs, O’Brien has held concerns with the conservative brand of evangelical Christianity for years now, but she described this election as “the final straw.”

O’Brien said American evangelicals have historically held the upper hand in America and are seeing that power slip away. Searching to recapture it, many of them turned to Donald Trump, someone she sees as racist, misogynist and antithetical to Christian behavior.

Now O’Brien, who now attends an Anglican church, has dropped the “evangelical” label, simply calling herself a Christian. But she said it has become hard to distinguish “evangelical” from “Christian,” given that evangelicals make up about a quarter of the U.S. population.

Among evangelicals, which as a group are about three-quarters white, are definitely the loudest group by far, she said. And so they often get the most attention. Exit polls show 81 percent of white evangelicals across the country backed Trump.

“This election has truly shown the underbelly of the toxic relationship that can develop between politics and religion,” O’Brien said.


Political divisions have run deep within churches and families, and observers say this election cycle has exposed underlying political and racial divisions within Christianity as a whole, but especially among evangelicals. As a result, some religious leaders are afraid of damage done to the perception of the Christian faith in the United States during this election cycle.

Evangelical pastors say tensions have soared during the election season, and some are questioning whether they can even continue to use the label evangelical for fear of being associated with Trump.

“I keep trying to disavow that I am ‘that’ brand of evangelical but after tonight, I don’t know if I even want to have any association with that label anymore,” Helen Lee, who works for evangelical publisher InterVarsity Press, said on Tuesday.

Eugene Cho, a pastor of an evangelical church in Seattle, said that his church building was recently painted with “F– organized religion,” though he is unsure whether it’s connected to Trump or the election.

“The election has made things more hostile or given permission to people to be more aggressive on both sides,” Cho said.

Cho, who has pledged that he will never endorse a candidate from the pulpit, joined a group of evangelicals in the fall condemning Trump, arguing his campaign “affirms racist elements in white culture.”

“People just think that all evangelicals support Donald Trump or support particular platforms or a certain way of thinking,” Cho said. “This was just to communicate there isn’t a monolithic thought within the so-called evangelical wing of Christianity.”

After a video of Trump was released showing he joked about sexually assaulting women, some religious leaders said that while his comments were inappropriate, he was still the best candidate. Others rejected the idea that those leaders were speaking on everyone’s behalf.


“The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come,” Richard Rohr, a Franciscan author and teacher tweeted after those comments.

Some leaders are worried about the lasting impact this election will have inside churches. Russell Moore, who leads the Southern Baptist Convention’s political advocacy arm, is deeply concerned about the impact of Christian leaders who defended Trump and the potential damage it has had within churches.

“One evangelical woman said to me, ‘I’ve spent all my life saying the church is going to be a place where you can go when you face this sort of thing.’ Now I’m looking around, and a pastor is saying ‘This isn’t a big deal.’ That’s going to take a lot of work to undo,” he said.

The contrast between different groups of religious voters this election season is striking, said Mark Silk, professor of religion in public life at Trinity College. Polls ahead of the election showed Catholics divided, and that many Mormons abandoned the Republican Party compared with years past. But evangelicals voted for Trump in even greater numbers than they voted for Republican candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain.

“Trump has been a candidate where one could say, ‘Is there no point at which you won’t vote for the Republicans?'” Silk said. “I think that’s what’s given away the extent to which personal identity for religious conservatives and churchgoers has become wrapped up in Republicanism.”


In their book, “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us,” Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam and Notre Dame political scientist David Campbell argue that the extraordinary rise of people who affiliate with no religion is due in part to their rejection of its entanglement with politics. Today 22 percent of the population says they have no faith.

“For many, their aversion to religion is rooted in unease with the association between religion and conservative politics,” Putnam and Campbell wrote. “If religion equals Republican, then they have decided that religion is not for them.”

Michael Wear, who did evangelical outreach for President Obama’s campaign in 2008, said that people have been talking about rebranding evangelicals or even Christianity in America for several years.

“The people I work with view Trump as a moment for Christians to actually separate themselves from towing a particular party line,” Wear said. “We’re going to have four years to test that theory.”

White Christian Protestants have dominated America’s political and social landscape for most of its history. But 2008 marked the last in which Protestants represented a majority of Americans, said demographer Robert P. Jones.

For most of U.S. history, mainline and evangelical Protestants have dominated the landscape, spiritually and politically. But as Protestants’ majority has waned, Jones writes in his book, “The End of White Christian America,” Young Americans are less than half as likely to be white Christians as those 65 and older.

This timer, there was a divided voice among Christian leaders as a whole, Jones said. Catholic bishops were much quieter than in elections past, while the so-called “values voters,” Christian conservatives who historically coalesced on issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage, largely backed Trump.

“It’s going to be poignant that the group that has sold themselves as ‘values voters’ has abandoned those arguments and justifications,” Jones said.

]]> 0 Donald and Melania Trump got prayers from Pastor Joshua Nink in Iowa during the campaign, not all Christians see the president-elect acting in good faith.Fri, 11 Nov 2016 19:32:29 +0000
To some evangelists, Trump a gift from above Fri, 11 Nov 2016 23:31:47 +0000 Evangelist Franklin Graham said that prayer – and God’s answer to it – helped Donald Trump and Mike Pence pull off “the biggest political upset of our lifetime.”

Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Samaritan’s Purse, did not formally endorse Trump, but he has shown his support for the nation’s 45th president.

“Did God show up?,” Graham wrote on Facebook on Thursday morning. “In watching the news after the election, the secular media kept asking ‘How did this happen?’ ‘What went wrong?’ ‘How did we miss this?’ Some are in shock. Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor.”

Evangelical leaders from the religious right – including Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins and Ralph Reed – stood by Trump during a heated election season.

By Wednesday morning, Christian leaders across the United States also extended congratulations and prayers to the president-elect.

Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, showed support for Trump and his plans to “make America great again.”

Graham also congratulated the president-elect and vice president-elect on their win.

“One thing is for sure, we need to pray for our new president, vice president, and our other leaders every day – whether we agree with them or not,” he wrote Wednesday on Facebook.

“They need God’s help and direction. It is my prayer that we will trying be ‘one nation under God.’ ”

He reiterated that statement again Thursday.

]]> 3 Rev. Franklin Graham believes his prayers were answered Tuesday night.Fri, 11 Nov 2016 18:44:19 +0000
Lawsuit filed in Wisconsin over teaching religion Fri, 11 Nov 2016 23:24:39 +0000 EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — A faith-based advocacy group has filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students whose community service doesn’t count toward graduation because it involved teaching religious doctrine at a church.

The university requires 30 hours of “service learning activity” before graduation.

“If the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire wants to require its students to perform community service, then it must treat all forms of community service as equally valuable and equally worthwhile.

“This kind of animosity toward religion, this kind of discrimination towards religion, in unconstitutional,” said the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is representing the students.

Assistant Chancellor Mike Rindo told WQOW-TV that the university’s guidebook says time spent promoting religious doctrine or worship won’t be counted.

In this case, one student was assisting a second-grade religion class at Newman Parish. The other was teaching Sunday school at the same church.

Students are encouraged to work with their advisers to get prior approval of their service work, the university said. The lawsuit filed on behalf of students Alexandra Liebl and Madelyn Rysavy was filed in the Western District of U.S. District Court.

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Pope asks homeless to pardon unsympathetic Christians Fri, 11 Nov 2016 23:24:14 +0000 VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis asked homeless people during a moving ceremony Friday to pardon all the Christians who turn away from the poor instead of help them.

Francis stood silently in a Vatican auditorium with his head bowed as he let several homeless individuals place their hands on his shoulders or clutch his cassock.

Some 4,000 people from 22 countries who either are now homeless or who spent years living on streets filled the auditorium in one of Francis’ final events during the Catholic Church’s Holy Year of Mercy.

“I ask pardon,” the pope said, on behalf of Christians who, “faced with a poor person or a situation of poverty, look the other way.”

After some of the homeless recounted their difficult lives, Francis praised the poor for holding fast to their dignity.

He asked his homeless guests to stay seated while he stood to pray that God “teach us to be in solidarity because we are brothers.”

Rome daily La Repubblica on Friday published the pope’s response when he was asked on the eve of the U.S. presidential election what he thought of Donald Trump.

“I don’t give judgments on persons and political men,” Francis replied.

Instead, the pontiff reportedly told La Repubblica, “I only want to understand the sufferings that their way of proceeding causes the poor and the excluded.”

Friday’s audience with homeless people was scheduled for the day the church honors St. Martin of Tours, famed for cutting his cloak with his sword and giving half to a poor man shivering in winter. Francis has given medals depicting Martin to world leaders.

The church’s Holy Year of Mercy, which stressed attention to those on life’s margins, ends Nov. 20 with a Mass celebrated by Francis.

]]> 0 Francis is greeted by faithful during an audience with the participants of homeless jubilee Friday at the Vatican.Fri, 11 Nov 2016 18:58:04 +0000
As election nears, Pope Francis warns against political use of fear, building walls Sun, 06 Nov 2016 17:31:42 +0000 Pope Francis on Saturday condemned the political use of fear and the building of walls, describing the refugee crisis as “a problem of the world” and urging political leaders to do more, according to America magazine.

The pope did not name names and did not refer to the upcoming U.S. presidential election, but he spoke about issues that have come up in the 2016 campaigns, including immigration and refugees. The speech, given in Spanish, included a quote from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“No tyranny can be sustained without exploiting our fears,” the pope said, according to comments published by the Vatican Radio. “Citizens are walled-up, terrified, on one side; on the other side, even more terrified, are the excluded and banished.”

Fear “is fed and manipulated,” Pope Francis said. “Because fear – as well as being a good deal for the merchants of arms and death – weakens and destabilizes us, destroys our psychological and spiritual defenses, numbs us to the suffering of others, and in the end it makes us cruel.”

Pope Francis gave his remarks Saturday evening during a meeting at the Vatican with participants in the World Meeting of Popular Movements, a collection of grass-roots organizations that include the poor and the unemployed. The pope urged the defeat of “false prophets who exploit fear and desperation, who sell magic formulas of hatred and cruelty or selfish well-being and illusory security,” according to comments published by Catholic News Service.

Francis said that mercy is the “best antidote” to fear, according to CNS. It works better than antidepressants, he said, and is “much more effective than walls, iron bars, alarms and weapons. And it is free.”

Trump has proposed building a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to keep undocumented immigrants from entering the United States. After he visited the border during a visit to Mexico in February, the pope said that politicians who propose building walls instead of bridges are “not Christian,” leading to a scuffle with Trump. Vatican officials said later that the pope was not speaking about specific candidates.

Trump has also proposed a ban on Muslims and refugees from countries experiencing terrorism. A newly named cardinal, Archbishop of Indianapolis Joseph Tobin, made headlines last year when he openly defied Republican Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s decision to try to block Syrian refugees from the state. Pence, who is Trump’s vice presidential running mate, joined dozens of governors last year in objecting to the federal government’s program to resettle refugees from Syria in the Unites States, citing security risks. The bishops, including Tobin, openly challenged the governors.

“No one should be forced to flee his or her homeland,” Francis said on Saturday, according to CNS. “But the evil is doubled when, facing terrible circumstances, the migrant is thrown into the clutches of human traffickers to cross the border. And it is tripled if, arriving in the land where he or she hoped to find a better future, one is despised, exploited or even enslaved.”

The Obama administration announced in September that the United States is planning to accept 110,000 refugees in 2017. A vice president at Catholic Relief Services said that aid organization welcomed the news, but that it was not sufficient enough to address “the 65 million globally displaced people around the world right now.”

On Saturday, Francis quoted from one of the sermons of King, the late civil rights activist. “Hate for hate only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe,” he said.

Francis said politics is not the place for “anyone who is too attached to material things or to the mirror, those who love money, lavish banquets, sumptuous houses, refined clothes, luxury cars.” Seeking power or money “sullies the noble cause” of politics as service, the pope said.

“Fight the fear with a life of service, solidarity and humility on behalf of the people, especially those who suffer,” he said, according to CNS. “Against the terror, the best remedy is love. Love heals all.”

]]> 2 Francis arrives for his weekly general audience, in St. Peter's Square, at the Vatican, Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)Mon, 07 Nov 2016 08:01:57 +0000