Orthodoxy

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

HAEVEN ASKS:

I’m beginning to fast and was wondering if I should hide it from people because of the verse that says to. I don’t know if I can tell people without the intent to show off.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

We’re heading into Lent 2015, the annual season when Christians are most likely to undertake fasting, which is part of most religious traditions though now somewhat neglected in the West. For Christians, such times of abstinence from food are a spiritual discipline intended to foster communion with God, purification from sin, and love toward others.

Haeven is referring to words of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18): “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Let’s unpack some of what New Testament experts tell us about this.

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The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

What can be said about the images that are coming out of Libya, in that hellish Islamic State video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians -- explicitly for their faith and their connection to "crusaders"? This is a story with so much religious imagery and language in it that there is no way for journalists to avoid the ghosts.

Religion News Service, and some other news outlets, are using a very important quote from Pope Francis:

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland. The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”
“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said. He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.

The radicals hailed Jesus as a prophet respected in their Muslim faith, then beheaded followers of Jesus.

Now, who -- precisely -- were the victims?

Let me stress that it's true that, in Egypt (and in Libya), Christians of all kinds are often simply known as "Copts," because of a similar ancient heritage. So there are, for example, small numbers of Protestant Copts and Catholic Copts. However, the vast majority of Coptic Christians are Orthodox Christians.

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Yo, Baltimore Sun: Are modern 'green funerals' completely different than ancient 'traditional' religious rites?

Yo, Baltimore Sun: Are modern 'green funerals' completely different than ancient 'traditional' religious rites?

It is really, really, really hard to write a story about death, dying, funerals and burial rites without discussing, even for a few lines, the centuries of religious life and doctrine linked to those topics. However, the editorial team at The Baltimore Sun -- the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- has managed to pull off this difficult task.

The hipper than hip topic, of course, was "green funerals." This is a subject that has been covered here before at GetReligion, in this age in which rising numbers of idealistic, post-Woodstock Baby Boomers are planning their funerals or, well, taking part in them.

Are there secular or non-traditionally religious people -- seekers or even "nones" -- who are interested in "green" rites and burials? Of course there are.

But what about traditional religious believers? As I wrote, concerning an earlier almost religion-free story in The New York Times:

... Is this simple funeral trend found only in alternative forms of faith and non-faith? The story makes this trend sound like a march away from traditional forms of religious faith, as opposed to a rejection of American business as usual. That simply isn't the case.
I'm Eastern Orthodox and the simple funeral is becoming the norm, among many in my church. Then there are the various orders of Catholic monks who are making simple, beautiful, natural and very traditional caskets.
Business is, well, booming as you know what generation moves into its final decades. In other words, where is the rest of the story? Or, in the context of New York City, are simple funerals not as hip as green funerals? Maybe it was time to dig a bit deeper.

Well, this Sun report -- "Seeking a natural end in rural Baltimore County" -- is way, way, way more faith-free than that Times effort. It is so religion-free that, to my eyes, this must have been a conscious editorial decision.

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How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

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Attention editors: Concerning a seriously neglected church-state drama in the District of Columbia

Attention editors: Concerning a seriously neglected church-state drama in the District of Columbia

An important church-state story in the nation’s capital has largely been ignored in the news media except for an op-ed and online articles from the conservative Catholics at the Cardinal Newman Society.

On Dec. 2, the District of Columbia Council unanimously amended the city's Human Rights Act in order to end exemptions that aided religions opposed to same-sex relationships.

That's big news. Then on Dec. 17 the  Council unanimously amended that same act to forbid discrimination against employees’ “reproductive health decisions” to choose abortion, sterilization and contraception.

The D.C. votes create conscience-clause problems -- especially for those associated with Washington’s Catholic school system and for the Catholic University of America. The university’s unique status turns this from a mere local fuss into a nationally significant challenge to the institution of the Catholic Church.

Why is that?

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Some GetReligion Christmas this and a little bit of non-Christmas that (including a think piece for Hanukkah next year)

Some GetReligion Christmas this and a little bit of non-Christmas that (including a think piece for Hanukkah next year)

Yes, this is a Christmas post and it will serve several functions, including at least one note for journalists to stash away in their calendars for next year's holiday-news season.

Item I: Christmas is one of those cultural steamrollers that demands treatment on A1 even in the most secular of news publications. Most of the time, one wakes up and finds a piece of stand-alone art that screams "Christmas," but with no valid news story attached to it. Christmas is, in other words, colorful and omnipresent but not all that real. So did anyone wake up this morning and find a particularly excellent (or terrible) in the local paper? Please share the URL in the comments pages.

Item II: Your GetReligionistas will, like most folks, be all over the place in the next week or two.

I, for example, will be headed to the mountains of East Tennessee -- Oak Ridge to be specific (Cumberland mountains photo above) -- to spend a few days with family in the house that will become our home this coming summer. That's when I will join The King's College in New York City as Senior Fellow for Media and Religion (teaching in block classes several times a year), while spending a lot more time working on GetReligion.

Other members of the team will be traveling as well.

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The Baltimore Sun covers most of the voices in that controversial non-controversial D.C. art exhibit about the Virgin Mary

The Baltimore Sun covers most of the voices in that controversial non-controversial D.C. art exhibit about the Virgin Mary

The current exhibit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts is, as described in a weekend Baltimore Sun feature, certainly sounds like an "embarrassment of riches," featuring works by Michelangelo, Durer, Botticelli and Titian. Some of the art has never been in an American exhibit before. As the museum's website notes:

Picturing Mary: Woman, Mother, Idea explores the concept of womanhood represented by the Virgin Mary as well as the social and sacred functions her image has served through time. This landmark exhibition organized by the National Museum of Women in the Arts brings together more than 60 Renaissance- and Baroque-era masterworks from the Vatican Museums, Uffizi Gallery, and other museums, churches, and private collections in Europe and the United States.
Divided into six thematic sections, the exhibition presents images of Mary as a daughter, cousin, and wife; the mother of an infant; a bereaved parent; the protagonist in a rich life story developed through the centuries; a link between heaven and earth; and an active participant in the lives of those who revere her.

However, there is a problem.

Since the exhibit takes a rather conventional approach and focuses on a specific period of time in art history, it suffers from an shocking lack of elephant dung.

In other words, this exhibit has -- among a elite art critics -- become controversial because it is not causing controversy among (wait for it) religious believers who are, by definition, opposed to modern art. As the Sun report notes:

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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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