New England

Where are the young? Familiar religion ghosts in WPost report on Maine's aging crisis

Where are the young? Familiar religion ghosts in WPost report on Maine's aging crisis

If you have followed international news about abortion and demographics, you are used to seeing headlines such as the following in the New York Times, focusing on a side effect of China’s infamous one-child policy.

That headline: “Teenage Brides Trafficked to China Reveal Ordeal: ‘Ma, I’ve Been Sold’.”

Selling brides? Here is a crucial piece of background material in this must-read piece. Some government policies, you see, have unintended side effects.

China’s “one child” policy has been praised by its leaders for preventing the country’s population from exploding into a Malthusian nightmare. But over 30 years, China was robbed of millions of girls as families used gender-based abortions and other methods to ensure their only child was a boy.

These boys are now men, called bare branches because a shortage of wives could mean death to their family trees. At the height of the gender imbalance in 2004, 121 boys were born in China for every 100 girls, according to Chinese population figures.

Now, it may seem like a stretch, but when I read that Times piece I thought about a stunningly depressing business story that ran the other day in The Washington Post.

This is a story that is packed with religion ghosts — if you pay attention to the ties between religious faith and birth rates that are at replacement level of higher. The headline: “This will be catastrophic’: Maine families face elder boom, worker shortage in preview of nation’s future.

A preview of America’s future? That appears to be the case. Meanwhile, in Maine, this demographic trend is hitting home in a painful way — in facilities that care for the elderly. Here is a key phrase from this article: “There are simply just not enough people to go around.” Here is a key summary of background material:

Last year, Maine crossed a crucial aging milestone: A fifth of its population is older than 65, which meets the definition of “super-aged,” according to the World Bank.

By 2026, Maine will be joined by more than 15 other states, according to Fitch Ratings, including Vermont and New Hampshire, Maine’s neighbors in the Northeast; Montana; Delaware; West Virginia; Wisconsin; and Pennsylvania. More than a dozen more will meet that criterion by 2030.

Across the country, the number of seniors will grow by more than 40 million, approximately doubling between 2015 and 2050, while the population older than 85 will come close to tripling.

Need more information? Later in the story there is this:

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Catholic connection to Thanksgiving Day? That's a great story that is rarely told

Catholic connection to Thanksgiving Day? That's a great story that is rarely told

If Christmas is referred to as “The greatest story ever told,” America’s first Thanksgiving could very well be “The greatest story you’ve never heard before.”

The reason for that is because the first recorded Thanksgiving meal between the Pilgrims and Native Americans at Plymouth in 1621 may not have been the first of its kind. In fact, some historians say it actually took place more than 50 years earlier in St. Augustine.

Spanish documents, first highlighted by University of Florida Professor Michael Gannon, revealed that the first meal between European colonists and Native Americans on U.S. soil took place on the grounds of what is now the Fountain of Youth in 1565.

The city’s founder Pedro Menendez de Aviles and the colonists broke bread with the Timucua Indians soon after the Spanish made landfall on September 8. In Gannon’s book, The Cross in the Sand, he noted, “It was the first community act of religion and thanksgiving in the first permanent settlement in the land.”

De Aviles came ashore on that day and subsequently named the land St. Augustine in honor of the saint on whose feast day was August 28, the day Florida was first sighted by the ships. Members of the Timucua tribe greeted the fleet. Records show it was a peaceful exchange.

In his memoirs, Father Francisco Lopez de Mendoza Grajales, who celebrated mass that day, wrote: “The feast day [was] observed… after mass, [Menendez] had the Indians fed and dined himself.”

Although Gannon’s book was published in 1965, no one paid attention to it until 1985 when a reporter from The Associated Press called the professor looking for a new angle on the holiday. When the wire service put the article out for its member newspapers to print a few days before Thanksgiving, the story sent shockwaves across New England. Gannon was immediately dubbed, “The Grinch who stole Thanksgiving.”

The meal celebrated by the Spanish had already been planned as a feast to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, and coincided with their safe arrival. Historians like Gannon have argued that the first real Thanksgiving didn’t feature Protestant separatists in Massachusetts, but Catholic explorers in Florida.

Gannon, a legendary figure among Florida historians, died last year at age 89. Gannon may have died, but the Catholic case for Thanksgiving lives on thanks to other historians, researchers and writers who argue the honor should go to Spanish settlers.

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40-day pilgrimage takes faithful on spiritual journey along 400-mile river. But something's missing ...

40-day pilgrimage takes faithful on spiritual journey along 400-mile river. But something's missing ...

Years ago, during my Associated Press days, I wrote about running feeding the body, mind and spirit of a Texas seminarian.

This was the lede on that 2004 profile:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In what he calls his “Mother Teresa Run,” Roger Joslin looks for the divine in the faces of everyone he meets. When “Running With Alms,” the Austin seminarian takes along a few dollars to help those in need.
In Joslin’s view, a spiritual experience — even an encounter with God — is as likely to occur along a wooded trail as in a church, synagogue or mosque.
The 52-year-old master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest relates his experiences in the book “Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”
Published last year by St. Martin’s Press in New York, the book combines Joslin’s insights from 30 years of running with the spiritual journey that guided him toward the priesthood.
Joslin maintains that through chants, visualization and attention to the most obvious aspects of the present moment — the weather, pain or breathing — the simple run can become the basis for a profound spiritual practice.
“When running, search for the divine in the ordinary,” he writes. “Each run is not a pilgrimage to Chartres, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, but it is a pilgrimage nonetheless. … If the intention is to converse with God, you are a pilgrim. It is the very ordinariness of the run that enables it to become a central part of your spiritual life. When God appears in the midst of the mundane, we are making progress toward him.”

I was reminded of that old story when reading a feature this week — also by AP and also involving the search for God in nature — about a New England river pilgrimage.

The top of the AP report sets the scene:

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In the New England forecast: Lots of snow, with a chance of coffers drying up at houses of worship

In the New England forecast: Lots of snow, with a chance of coffers drying up at houses of worship

New England's tough winter is starting to make headlines — on the religion beat.

The Associated Press reported over the weekend:

BOSTON (AP) -- Religious leaders in snowbound New England are beginning to ask themselves how on Earth their houses of worship will make ends meet after all these acts of God.
Churches, synagogues and mosques report attendance is down at services, as poorly timed winter storms have hit on or close to days of worship. And getting the faithful to come out is challenging, with limited parking and treacherously icy sidewalks plaguing the region.
For many places of worship, that has meant donations are drying up just as costs for snow removal, heating and maintenances are soaring.
"You have this perfect storm of people not being able to go to worship and so not bringing in offerings, combined with much higher than usual costs," says Cindy Kohlmann, who works with Presbyterian churches in Greater Boston and northern New England.

The AP lede's emphasis on "churches, synagogues and mosques" drew this response from Ira Rifkin, one of my fellow GetReligionistas:

Hmmm ... just the big three, once again. I believe the Boston area has more Buddhist centers than any other city in the nation (needs fact checking). But even if not, it's just the big three. America's more diverse than that.

Interesting point, and honestly, not one that would have struck me on my own. Alas, Massachusetts does have more Buddhists than Muslims, according to a 2010 demographic report by the Association of Religion Data Archives.

Still, give AP credit for a timely, enterprising religion angle on the weather.

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That big U.S. Supreme Court case isn’t only 2015 gay dispute for religion-beat reporters to watch

That big U.S. Supreme Court case isn’t only 2015 gay dispute for religion-beat reporters to watch

Alongside that big U.S. Supreme Court case on gay marriage, another 2015 showdown merits journalistic attention.

It involves Gordon College, an evangelical campus located in the onetime heartland of the Massachusetts Puritans. Meeting Feb. 5-6, and again in May, Gordon’s trustees will ponder whether to scrap a rule  that “sexual relations outside marriage, and homosexual practice will not be tolerated” among students and staff, whether on or off campus.

The New England Association of Schools and Colleges has directed the college to explain its policy for a meeting in September. The association has the power to remove  accreditation if Gordon violated the requirement of “non-discriminatory policies and practices in recruitment, admissions, employment, evaluation, disciplinary action, and advancement.”

Background: Gordon’s president, D. Michael Lindsay, is no backwoods rube but a Princeton Ph.D. who was an award-winning sociology professor at Rice University. Gordon’s sexual stance drew attention because Lindsay gave a helping hand to groups like Catholic Charities, the National Association of Evangelicals’ World Relief and Bethany Christian Services, the largest U.S. adoption agency.

Last July he joined Catholic and Protestant leaders in writing a letter to President Barack Obama seeking exemption for such religious employers in a pending executive order to forbid federal contractors from discrimination against  lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered.  The religious petitioners lost that fight.

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