Orthodoxy

So what was the point of that 'Tom Hanks goes to church' post the other day?

So what was the point of that 'Tom Hanks goes to church' post the other day?

Hang in there with me for a moment on this one. I want to respond to a few comments I have heard after my recent post on that faith-free Washington Post feature story about superstar Tom Hanks.

But first, let me dig into a topic that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I discussed in depth while recording this past week's podcast (we're getting to this late because of technical issues). Click here to tune in on that.

Why is Hanks such an important, symbolic cultural figure in the first place?

Let's ponder this for a bit.

Long ago, I had a chance to interview Hollywood director Phil Alden Robinson about some of the cultural and religious themes woven into his famous "Field of Dreams" blockbuster. We discussed, for example, (a) the mental process he went though as he was casting the highly symbolic role of Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham and (b) what he thought of the theory, which some articulated even as he was preparing to film this classic, that he was trying to produce the Baby Boomer edition of "It's A Wonderful Life."

Imagine, he told me, how many people would have connected those two movies if his first choice to fill the Moonlight Graham role had been able to play the part.

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Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Any list of the defining moments of Christian history -- if not the history of religion on Planet Earth, period -- would have to include the Great Schism of 1054.

That's the split, of course, between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West and there is hardly anything that you can say about the who, what, when, where, why and how of that schism that will not lead to a millennium or two of debate. It's complicated. 

However, it's pretty easy to understand that the Church of Rome and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy are not in full Communion -- with a big "C" -- with one another. The primary symbol, and reality, that demonstrates this is that their clergy cannot celebrate the Eucharist together.

Now, with that prologue, let's flash back to the recent meetings in Istanbul between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Since I am Orthodox, lots of people have asked me what I thought about their latest statements on their desire for full unity, meaning Communion. My question, in response, was: Yes, the pope asked Bartholomew to bless him, but did either man kiss the other man's hand? There was also quite a bit of confusion about the rite they took part in at the Phanar.

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Was the Washington Post all that interested in the heart and soul of superstar Tom Hanks?

Was the Washington Post all that interested in the heart and soul of superstar Tom Hanks?

Every year, the Kennedy Center Honors are handed out and this often creates, in my opinion, some of the most interesting Beltway journalism about the arts and culture.

The point, of course, is that these honors are given to truly transcendent artists, those who have helped shape American life or who somehow symbolize essential trends in our times (as defined, of course, by the principalities and powers behind the honors process).

The Washington Post features team, as you would expect, rolls out massive, deeply researched stories about these artists. This brings me to the long, long feature that ran the other day about actor Tom Hanks, who is about as likely a Kennedy Center honoree as anyone who has ever lived.

The big theme in this piece is that people respect Hanks as a thinker, as an artist and as a man, yet they also know that he has kept his private life in the shadows. The bottom line: It's just hard to find out what makes this guy tick. Here is the crucial passage:

Poke around. Ask other actors. Google at will. There’s not much you can find on Hanks. No storming off sets. No DWIs. No errant tweets. He did once extend his middle finger to the paparazzi after being stalked at lunch, but he has never pulled an Alec Baldwin.
In person, he is warm, thoughtful and funny. ... Just don’t mistake that warmth for accessibility. Tom Hanks, the public figure, has rehearsed his lines as well as Tom Hanks, the actor. Long ago, he built a wall between his personal and professional lives. No magazine cover is worth scaling it. Over the years, the few snippy comments the genial Hanks has made to interviewers have come when others have tried to intrude.
“If people don’t know the real me or know what my life’s about, that’s good, because I don’t want them to,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.

All well and good. Hanks has been a rather private man, but not all THAT private. 

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Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

For the past 20-plus years, the overwhelming majority of my students have come from schools that could, to one degree or another, accurately be described as part of "evangelical" Protestant life here in America.

Yes, there are quotes around the word "evangelical," not because the word is scary, but because many people, including journalists, are not sure what it means.

Early on, most of my students -- when asked what kind of church they attend -- would have described themselves as part of flocks that were "independent," "nondenominational" and "evangelical." A few would have added the word "charismatic." The common denominator, however, was the word "evangelical."

Then, about six or seven years ago, that totally changed. Oh, most of my students still come from schools that can be called "evangelical." Most grew up in "evangelical" churches and most still attend churches that can be called "evangelical" to one degree or another. However, many if not most students are now backing away from that word -- "evangelical."

The reason why is pretty obvious: "Evangelical" has become a political term in public discourse.

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Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

The Church of England has, after several decades of debate, voted to allow women to become bishops. As the New York Times story noted, in the lede, this act "overturned centuries of tradition."

That is true, but it's important for readers to understand why that matters and to whom it matters. This is especially true since, while the Church of England is important, it no longer represents the statistical future of Anglicanism worldwide. The story notes:

“Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together,” the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said after the vote.
Two decades after the first female priest was ordained, the issue of women taking senior roles in the church hierarchy remains divisive. As recently as 2012, the proposal had been defeated by six votes.
But Archbishop Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who supported the vote from the start, had warned fellow church leaders this year that the public would find the exclusion of women “almost incomprehensible.”
On Monday, however, he acknowledged that a split in the worldwide Anglican community was now a serious possibility. “Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” he said.

The heart of this story is found in Welby's hope that Anglicans will be "moving forward together" which is then contrasted, a few lines later, by his comment that without "prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures." Via media, at best.

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Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

LISA ASKS:

What do Christians say happened during [Jesus'] “descent into hell,” and do most denominations believe this happened?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This week, as every week, uncountable millions of Christians attending church will profess that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead…”  So states the venerable Apostles’ Creed, which includes a cryptic “descent” phrase about the period between Good Friday and Eastern. Some modern rituals say Jesus “descended to the dead” instead of “hell.”

Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed moves directly from Jesus’ crucifixion and burial to his resurrection with no mention of a descent. Lisa’s full question pointed out this key difference between the two ancient creeds that have long dominated Christian worship services and catechisms.

The Apostles’ Creed is part of Catholicism’s baptism ritual and widely recited by Protestants. Though Eastern Orthodoxy uses only the Nicene Creed in worship it has affirmed Jesus’ descent since ancient times.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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Here we go again: What does 'moderate' mean in today's Syria warfare?

Here we go again: What does 'moderate' mean in today's Syria warfare?

Several years ago, I was asked to travel to Prague to speak to the newsroom staff at Radio Liberty. The topic: Efforts to improve news coverage.

However, once I was there it became clear to me that some members of the staff wanted me to discuss a much more specific topic. Thus, I ended up in a small room with a circle of Muslim journalists linked to radio broadcasts into Afghanistan and surrounding regions. The key question: Why do American journalists insist on using "fundamentalist" and "moderate" as labels to describe Muslims, since these are terms never used by members of that faith? Don't they know these labels are offensive?

One journalist said, and I paraphrase: Do Americans basically use "fundamentalist" to describe Muslims that they don't like and "moderate" to describe Muslims that they do like?

I said: "Yes." What to do? Instead of accepting these labels, I urged them to try to use quotes that showed where different Muslim leaders stood in relation to the issue or issues being covered in a particular story. Show the spectrum of belief, in practice.

Oh, and I also read the following passage from that famous "Preserving Our Readers' Trust" self study of The New York Times self study published in 2005 (and quoted many times here at GetReligion):

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Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

For some reason, I got a bit fired up during the recording of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in). The subject wasn't all that controversial, but it really got under my skin. We were talking about my recent post on the topic of the spiritual wanderers called the Baby Boomers (talkin' 'bout my generation) and the trend toward "green funerals." 

Now, that is a topic that has interested me for several decades -- dating back to when I taught as "Communicator on Culture" at Denver Theological Seminary (right after my exit from full-time religion-beat reporting at The Rocky "RIP" Mountain News).

At that time, 1991-93, America was still in the (a) New Age religion era, while also (b) experiencing a wave of death-and-dying movies at the local multiplex (biggest hit, of course, was "Ghost"). Thus, I led a seminar on "The Good Death" and how traditional Christian views on the subject were not what was being sold at the local shopping mall (or most funeral homes).

The main takeaway from the seminar was that the spiritual adventures of the 1960s era were leading Americans in all kinds of different directions, from Eastern religions to traditional forms of Christianity and Judaism, from Oprah spirituality to damned-if-I-don't secularism. There was, in other words, no one trend dominating the death-and-dying landscape.

That was true then and I would argue it's still true today, which is why the recent Washington Post report on "green funerals" bugged me so much.

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