Orthodoxy

Rites of mourning in Ukraine, as well as that Chernobyl verse in the Book of Revelation

Rites of mourning in Ukraine, as well as that Chernobyl verse in the Book of Revelation

If you want to spend a sobering day -- but a fascinating one as well -- then you need to pay a visit to the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum in Kiev. I have been there twice and, if I returned a third time, I am sure that I would discover more layers of information and symbolism that I missed the first two times around.

Technically speaking, it's a very simple facility, with few of the multi-media bells and whistles that are now the norm in the museum world.

What hits you is the power of the, literally, the parables, icons and relics on display. The contents are simply overwhelming, for those with the eyes to see.

So if you ever enter the museum, look up at the ceiling above the main staircase and search for an explicit reference to the Book of Revelation. Here's what I described in a 2012 column:

KIEV -- The apocalyptic visions begin just inside the doors of the Ukrainian National Chernobyl Museum and many of them lead straight into the Book of Revelation.
The final pages of Christian scripture are full of angels, trumpets, flames, thunder, lighting, earthquakes and catastrophes that shake heaven and earth.
In this museum, the key is in the eighth chapter: "And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter."
When Ukrainians translate "wormwood" into their own language it becomes "chernobyl."

Didn't see that one coming, right?

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'Like a beautiful dream': Francis' rescue mission for Syrian refugees gets graceful coverage

'Like a beautiful dream': Francis' rescue mission for Syrian refugees gets graceful coverage

Pope Francis surprised news media yet again when he flew back from an ecumenical meeting last weekend with 12 new passengers: three families of Syrian refugees.

Francis said the Vatican would sponsor the families and get them settled in Italy, in a clear object lesson for other nations.  And the lesson was not lost on mainstream media, which covered the story with grace, sensitivity and intelligence. At least, when they got over being caught off guard again.

Francis came to the Aegean island of Lesbos to visit refugees from the war-ravaged Middle East along with two Eastern Orthodox leaders: Bartholomew I, patriarch of all Orthodoxy, and Ieronymos II, the archbishop of Greece.  But as NBC News and other media report, the pope got a last-minute idea to do more: to sponsor three families directly and set an example for the world.

Says NBC:

The religious leaders had lunch with eight refugees to hear their stories of fleeing war, conflict and poverty and their hopes for a better life in Europe. Then they prayed together, tossing a floral wreath into the sea in memory of those who didn't make it.
The pope vowed to continue helping refugees.
"Refugees are not numbers, they are people who have faces, names, stories, and need to be treated as such," he tweeted Saturday.

Video clips tell the story even more vividly. One from Euronews shows a man falling at Francis' feet, sobbing "Thank you, thank you." On CNN, a little girl clutches his ankles, apparently in overwhelming gratitude. He then gently lifts her to her feet.

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More than an academic question: Was one of the New Testament apostles a woman?

More than an academic question: Was one of the New Testament apostles a woman?

CLAUDE’S QUESTION:

How did you come to the conclusion that Junia / Junias in Romans 16:7 is an apostle?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Paul’s weighty New Testament letter to the Romans concludes with chapter 16’s greetings to various friends. Verse 7 applies the exalted label of “apostle” to Andronicus alongside someone named either “Junias” or “Junia.” Was that name, and thus the apostle, male or female?  What did the “apostle” title mean? And what does this tell us about gender roles in Christianity’s founding years?

Paul commends 8 or 9 women in the chapter, which was notably high regard in ancient patriarchal culture. He even listed the wife Prisca before husband Aquila in verse 3. Then verse 7 states this (in the wording of the Revised Standard Version translation):

“Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners;they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” (Most agree “kin” means the two prisoners were fellow Jews, not Paul’s blood relatives.)

Translation teams have reworked the RSV into the “ecumenical” New Revised Standard Version and the “evangelical” English Standard Version, and both changed the masculine name “Junias” to the feminine “Junia” while dropping “men.” The evangelicals’ popular New International Version and U.S. Catholicism’s official New American Bible (which never said “men”) originally used “Junias” but likewise switched to “Junia” in later editions.

What’s going on here?

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A stunning (and haunted) work of public art in honor of Cairo's famous garbage collectors

A stunning (and haunted) work of public art in honor of Cairo's famous garbage collectors

Now, here is a very beautiful and unusual story set in Egypt, one describing an astonishingly ambitious work of public art in a highly unusual place.

When I saw the headline -- "Sprawling Mural Pays Homage to Cairo’s Garbage Collectors" -- I immediately wondered if foreign desk at The New York Times was going to nail down the obvious religion hook in this story. Yes, this story contains a powerful religion ghost.

The headline raises two questions right off, one very obvious and one not so obvious: Who are the garbage collectors of Cairo? The second question: The implication of this tribute is that there is some organized or even natural mass of people who collect garbage in one of the most important cities in the Muslim world. Why is this?

Sure enough, there is a strong hint at the religion content at the very top:

CAIRO -- The intricate mural took shape over the past few weeks, little noticed at first, spreading across a harried quarter of Cairo where Egypt’s garbage collectors live, amid overflowing bundles of this overcrowded city’s trash.
By the time the painting was finished two weeks ago, it stretched across more than 50 buildings, making it the largest public work of art here anyone can recall. The mural, a circle of orange, white and blue in Arabic calligraphy, quotes a third-century Coptic Christian bishop who said, “If one wants to see the light of the sun, he must wipe his eyes.”
When the first photographs of the mural circulated, reactions ranged from astonished delight to disbelief. Some people, struck by its seemingly impossible scale, seemed convinced that the images had been digitally altered, according to the man behind the project, a Tunisian-French artist known as eL Seed.

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'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians

'Aides said' is the key: Why it was so hard to say ISIS is guilty of 'genocide' against Christians

If you are looking for the Washington Post story about the remarks on ISIS and "genocide" by Secretary of State John F. Kerry, don't look through the 50 or so stories promoted on the front page of the newspaper's website. This story wasn't that important.

You're going to need a search engine to find it. To save time, click here to get to this headline: "Kerry declares Islamic State has committed genocide."

But that headline doesn't capture the real news, since no one has been debating whether the Islamic State had committed "genocide" against the Yazidis. That was settled long ago. So the real news in this story was the declaration that that the word "genocide" also applied to members of the ancient Christian churches in this region, as well as other religious minorities.

Why did this step take so long? And why wasn't this an important story to the editorial masters of Beltway-land? Actually, you can see clues in a crucial passage way down in the Post story. Hold that thought, because we will come back to that.

First, here is some key material up top:

After months of pressure from Congress and religious groups, Kerry issued a finding that largely concurred with a House resolution declaring the Islamic State guilty of genocide. The resolution passed 393 to 0 on Monday night
Kerry said a review by the State Department and U.S. intelligence determined that Yazidis, Christians and Shiite groups have been victims of genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing by the radical al-Qaeda offshoot, a Sunni Muslim group also known as ISIS, ISIL and Daesh, its Arabic acronym.
“The fact is that Daesh kills Christians because they are Christians; Yazidis because they are Yazidis; Shia because they are Shia,” Kerry said in a statement he read to reporters at the State Department. “Its entire worldview is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”

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Exorcism growing among Catholics? San Francisco Weekly offers flawed investigation

Exorcism growing among Catholics? San Francisco Weekly offers flawed investigation

There are some publications that treat religion-news coverage like a trip to some mysterious planet where the inhabitants are incomprehensible. Such was the San Francisco Weekly’s recent take on a local exorcist. It was so crammed with mistakes, one wonders if anyone bothered editing or fact checking the piece.

The Weekly has had some decent religion stories in the past, but this was not one of them.

Which is a shame, because the issue of exorcism is wildly interesting, the stuff of movies and best-selling books. The reporter identifies himself as a lapsed Catholic non-believer, which makes it odd that the research would be so sloppy.

We begin:

Every Thursday evening, a few dozen people file into Immaculate Conception Chapel, a small Catholic church on the steep slope of Folsom Street on Bernal Hill's north face, carrying bottles of water, tubs of protein powder, small bottles of booze, watches, rosaries, and cell phones...
The people stir a few minutes past 7 p.m. when a tiny man wearing white robes -- a long rectangle of cloth with Vegas-worthy golden sparkles hanging around his neck -- appears from a door to the left of the altar. A few weeks shy of his 89th birthday, Father Guglielmo Lauriola walks slowly across the raised altar area to a waiting chair. Here he sits, facing away from his congregation in the style of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, to read from laminated card prayers and songs devoted to the Virgin Mary. Aside from Jesus on the cross, she is the principal figure of veneration here at the 104-year-old church.

So the scene is set. This priest conducts a Mass, after which, we're told "the show really starts."

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House says (393-0) that Christians are victims of ISIS genocide, but key voices are missing

House says (393-0) that Christians are victims of ISIS genocide, but key voices are missing

Clearly, "bipartisan" has to be the last adjective any journalist would use to describe the current political climate in the United States.

Thus, a 393-0 vote on a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives is an eyebrow-raising moment, no matter what issue is involved. In this case, it's crucial that the issue is linked to the Islamic State and its hellish massacres of religious minorities in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere -- including Orthodox and Catholic flocks that have lived and worshiped in these lands since New Testament times.

ISIS has destroyed ancient monasteries and churches, has razed or looted irreplaceable ancient libraries and sacred art. It has become rational to consider that Christianity may be wiped out in the region in which it was born.

So here is my question: Yes, this is a political story. But, for most readers, is this JUST a political story? Here is the top of the Associated Press "Big Story" report:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ratcheting up the pressure on the Obama administration, the House has overwhelmingly approved a resolution that condemns as genocide the atrocities committed by the Islamic State group against Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities in Iraq and Syria.
The non-binding measure, passed Monday by a vote of 393-0, illustrated the heavy bipartisan support for action on Capitol Hill. Secretary of State John Kerry is leaning toward making a genocide determination against the Islamic State and could do so as early as this week, when a congressional deadline for a decision has been set.
But the Obama administration officials have cautioned that a legal review is still under way and said it is likely Kerry will not meet Thursday's deadline.

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The Atlantic asks great question: What if your corporate chaplain needs a prayer rug?

The Atlantic asks great question: What if your corporate chaplain needs a prayer rug?

Anyone who has walked the religion-news beat for even a year or two knows that it's amazing how often questions of a truly theological nature can show up in daily life -- including in the workplace.

I've been meaning to pass alone an interesting piece in The Atlantic about the rise of corporate chaplains in major businesses and industries. It's all part of trying to increase worker wellness and the story does a good job of taking this concept seriously.

That's where the theology comes in. The following passage really surprised me with its dead-on accurate reflection on whether all faiths are created equal when it comes to the ability to practice them freely in a corporate space.

Many programs are contracted out through non-profit organizations such as Marketplace Ministries, a global, Protestant non-profit that claims to be the largest provider of workplace-chaplaincy services in the U.S. According to its CEO, Doug Fagerstrom, the organization added more new companies to its roster in 2015 than ever before.
... Workplace chaplaincies do seem to be overwhelmingly Christian. When I asked Fagerstrom about the diversity of Marketplace Ministries’ staff, he clarified that they have “over 50 different denominations represented” among their roughly 2,800 chaplains -- they’re all Protestant, in other words. In its mission statement, the company says it “[exists] to share God’s love through chaplains in the workplace.” And Fagerstrom said he and his staff try to hire folks who have biblical training -- “it helps them to be able to answer or direct some of those tough questions.” One of their closest competitors, Corporate Chaplains of America, has a similar mission: to “build caring relationships with the hope of gaining permission to share the life-changing Good News of Jesus Christ in a non-threatening manner.

This leads us to the following observation:

There’s nothing wrong with Christian chaplains, of course. But there is something specifically Protestant in the notion that spiritual fulfillment -- that “whole self” someone can bring to work -- is best attained through intellectual and emotional coaching, rather than the physical ritual of religious practice.

Precisely.

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Update on status of Samuel P. Huntington's predicted 'Clash of Civilizations'

Update on status of Samuel P. Huntington's predicted 'Clash of Civilizations'

The global news continues to grow grimmer. The great unraveling seems to be accelerating even faster than it can be Tweeted.

The primary focal points are the Middle East, North Africa and Europe -- the last largely as a result of the mass dislocations caused by war and poverty in the first two. Some sub-Saharan African nations -- Nigeria and hopelessly dysfunctional Somalia, to name just two -- certainly may be included.

Thanks to our globalized media, all this misery, fear, murderous depravity and loathing flows into our homes and awareness in real time. And we call this progress, a communications revolution.

An explanation for this meditation seems necessary.

Perhaps a good place to begin is by reflecting again on what has been labeled the "Clash of Civilizations." The term is most often attributed to Samuel P. Huntington, the late Harvard international affairs professor and Carter administration national security adviser, even though it was actually used years earlier by the Nobel Prize-winning writer Albert Camus and others.

For those unfamiliar with the term, the clash spoken of is the cognitive and emotional gulf that sets one portion of humanity apart from another, leading to hostility rooted in conflicting values generally expressed in religious, political and economic terms. Civilization refers to the sum total of a group's world view, its professed religious values acting as a cultural cornerstone.

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