Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's so bad about marriage?

Slate published an astonishing piece on the decline of marrriage, increase in out-of-wedlock births and its affects on society. I've wanted to write a story about this for years, but I can't seem to wrap my head around it.

So I turn to you. Why is this happening? Is it a lack of faith? A too lenient society? The prevalence of sex in the media?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter!

Fasting and penance are done and Christians can now celebrate the hope of Easter -- that they too have a promise of eternal life.

I had some friends over and celebrated with the requisite ham, wine and chocolate bunnies. And then my fiance and I went into ancient epic movie mode. We both got each other "The Ten Commandments" for Easter (this thinking alike is not supposed to happen until after we're married!), so we settled in for the nearly four hours of biblical imagery and special effects.

As we talked exchanging the duplicate film, I realized how many other Eater-related movies are out there. Soe here's aew of my recommendations:

Quo Vadis - Takes place in Rome during one the reign of Nero, when Christians were persecuted. A Roman soldier falls in love with a Christian girl. It also features St. Peter in his post-Christ role as evangelist and church leader.

Ben Hur - Conversion of a Jewish merchant living in Judea at the time of Christ. Also starting Charlton Heston.

The Passion of the Christ - I actually can't watch this any more. The year it came out I had to see it about three times for work, and I can't take it. But it is a compelling picture of the crucifixion and the suffering of Christ.

Any others out there?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blessings for Holy Week

We have come to the holiest few days of the Christian year.

The 40 days of Lent are nearly behind us and we are hunkering down for the intensity of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Services of a variety of denominations and styles abound, and are listed here (all that typing is apparently my final Lenten penance).

For those of you who are not Christian or don't come from a liturgical tradition that holds special services for these days, here's my abbreviated Holy Week glossary:

Holy (or Maundy) Thursday: Services this evening officially end Lent. The scripture attached to the day centers around Jesus's last supper. He gathers for the Passover seder with his disciples and does two astonishing things. First, he washes their feet - a gesture usually performed by a lowly servant - and says go and do likewise. In other words, our job is to serve others. Many services will incorporate foot washing. Later in the meal, he takes the bread, blesses it and said "Take, eat; this is my body." This is seen as the institution of communion or the Lord's Supper.

Good Friday: The day Jesus died. Many somber services will reflect on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. For Catholics, it is a day of fasting.

Holy Saturday: Saturday tends to get a little overlooked. In terms of remembering as a way to kind of relive the events of Jesus' death, it should be another somber day. Jesus is still in the tomb, so to speak. After sundown, the mood changes. In the Catholic church, this is the time we begin to celebrate Easter and we baptize and confirm those adults who are joining the church.

Easter: The holiest day of the year. Christians believe Jesus has risen from the dead. Sermons will usually reflect on the glorious occasion and how Jesus's resurrection gives us hope for the same joy after death. We are through fasting and can rejoice.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Face of Louisiana religion

The Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey has generated lots of buzz about its conclusions that people are don't seem to be committed to their denominations anymore.

Yesterday's Conversations section featured a piece by Peter Huff, Centenary religion professor, analyzing this trend.

The survey has some interesting data specific to Louisiana. Here's a few tidbits:

* 31 percent of the state's population considers themselves Evangelical (which includes Baptists, Pentecostals and several non-denominational churches)

* 28 percent of Louisianians are Catholic

* 20 percent belong to historically black churches

* 8 percent are unaffiliated, compared to 16 percent nationwide

On a national level the survey compared religions on various demographic levels, and here's a few of those conclusions:

* More people in the 30 to 49 age group are likely to be unaffiliated than those in the 18-29 group.

* Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics are the most racially diverse groups.

* Hindus and Mormons are most likely to be married and least likely to be divorced

* Women are the majority of members in Christian churches and men are the majority in non-Christian traditions

Have fun digging through yourself. Any insights? Please share.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lent and Greek marketing

Just as most Christians are counting the days until their Lenten sacrifices end, the Greek Orthodox begin Great Lent today.

And these folks don't play when it comes to fasting and prayer for the season. The churches will add at least two special prayer services during the week, and they basically adopt a vegan diet (so no meat or dairy products) for 40 days.

For that reason, it's all the more impressive that the women of the Ladies Philoptochos Society (which serves the poor) of St. George Greek Orthodox Church are hosting a bake sale on March 20 -- Holy Thursday for Western Christians. Sweet breads, cookies and baklava will all be available. If I were them it would all be too tempting, but I'm sure there's a better market for their wares during Western Holy Week.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nuns and the law

This story reminded me of one of my favorite movie lines. In "Dead Man Walking," a state trooper pulls over Sr. Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) for speeding. He took one look at her and said:

"I never gave a ticket to a nun before. I gave a ticket to a guy from the IRS one time. Got audited the next year. I'll tell you what, this time I'll let this one slide, but keep your speed down, yeah?"

Muslim market

The Muslim community in Shreveport can no longer be ignored. When a community can support a grocery store, it's stable and probably growing.

Two new Lebanese restaurants have opened in town in recent weeks, and one, Mona's (just off Line Ave.) also has a grocery store component. I love Middle Eastern food, so we checked it out for dinner and wandered through the exotic spices and cheeses in the store section.

Much to my surprise there was a bag of marshmallows labeled "halal." I stopped and waved them at my fiance -- he should be used to me getting excited about semi-obscure religious customs. Halal is the Muslim version of kosher. As Jews in Shreveport will tell you, it can be difficult to keep kosher here, since there's no kosher grocery store.

Until now, I don't know if you could get anything that was officially halal. Now, you can at least get marshmallows, and I'm guessing other products will follow.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

God, belief and morality

Now that the Centenary Forum has concluded and everyone has had a chance to respond to the lecture by Erik Wielenberg, a philosophy professor from DePauw University, I'll take the opportunity to give my two cents.

Wielenberg argued that God is not necessary to have a sense of objective morality. I have had a hard time constructing a response because I've never taken any philosophy and I don't speak that language. I can come at it from a theological perspective, so that's what I'll try here.

In a way, I think Wielenberg is correct. You don't have to believe in God to live by a specific moral code. I have known plenty of non-believers, who still have a highly developed sense of right and wrong and who would normally be considered "good people."

However, God's existence doesn't depend on our belief. In the prologue to the Gospel of John, the writer says "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." God is there in our lives and our decisions and the world around us whether or not we believe.

Wielenberg is operating under a faulty assumption of who or what God is. He said in his lecture that if there is a God, it is an external force who guides creation. He tends to impose human characteristics on God, who is clearly operates in ways unknown to people. I believe God is much more infused in his own creation.

God did not just create morality and truth -- God IS morality and truth. In the book of John, Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life." And, by definition, objective morality or objective truth assumes that there is only one truth. Therefore, whenever we seek truth whether in Christianity, Islam or atheism, we will find God.