A vicar in the Church of England was arrested during Britain's second major police investigation in as many years into bogus marriages, staged to help immigrants win visas. The church immediately suspended Canon Patrick Magumba amid claims he was involved in scores of sham weddings. Magumba, from Uganda, is accused of failing to read the banns, which is part of a safety net to make sure a marriage is legitimate. Reading the banns involves reading the names and addresses of engaged couples at three separate Sunday services. The banns are necessary in Britain to acquire a marriage certificate (ENI).
The U.K. and us
Apr 21, 2011
Alyssa Battistoni, an American graduate student at Oxford University, wonders why Americans seem more resigned to cuts in public services than people are in the U.K. The only political movement in the U.S. that seems to have real steam, she says, is the Tea Party movement, which is demanding cuts to public services. Brits tend to expect more from their government to begin with and have never taken to the idea that lowering taxes leads to economic growth. Brits are also more aware of class differences and are less optimistic that economic mobility is possible (Salon, March 31).
Apr 20, 2011
After talking with David Beckmann of Bread for the World, food writer Mark Bittman decided to go on a fast to protest cuts in the federal budget that would affect poor people. Speaking about a House budget bill, Bittman said: "These supposedly deficit-reducing cuts—they'd barely make a dent—will quite literally cause more people to starve to death, go to bed hungry or live more miserably than are doing so now." While corporate profits in 2010 increased at a greater rate than any year since 1950, a record was also set in the number of Americans using food stamps (New York Times, March 30).
Price of conversion
Apr 19, 2011
The chief Sephardic rabbi in Israel is accusing foreign Orthodox rabbis of accepting bribes for certifying conversions to Judaism. One rabbi allegedly received $1 million for one conversion. The Sephardic rabbi said this is happening in North and South America as well as in Europe. The allegations arose during discussion of a two-year-old policy that stipulates that conversions aren't accepted unless the Orthodox rabbis honoring them are members of designated rabbinical organizations. The policy has resulted in some converts being denied immigration rights under Israel's law of return (Haaretz, March 17).
Apr 13, 2011
The fiery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison did not share the opinion of many American Christians today that the U.S. Constitution is a sacred and God-blessed document. Garrison blamed the Constitution for the institution of slavery and called it a compact between the North and the South, "a covenant with death, and an agreement with hell." He even burned a copy of the Constitution as an act of protest (John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Westminster John Knox).
And a side order of peace: Conflict Kitchen is a takeout restaurant in Pittsburgh that sells food from countries with which the U.S. is in conflict. Every four months a different country—and menu—is highlighted, along with the culture and politics of the country and the reasons for the conflict. It is now serving Iranian food, with assistance from Pittsburgh’s Iranian community (kubidehkitchen.com).
Parenting myth: Studies show that parents today spend more time with their kids, yet kids don't seem happier, more independent or more successful. They seem more troubled and needy. To raise healthy kids, put your marriage first and your children second, argues David Code (To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, Crossroad). Code says current priorities set a poor example of marriage for children and create anxious households—and kids soak up that anxiety.
The flesh is weak: Mark Souder, the Republican congressman from Indiana who recently resigned over an extramarital affair, made this confession to World magazine: "I prayed multiple times a day, sang hymns with emotion and tears, felt each time that it wouldn't happen again, read the Bible every morning. . . . So how in the world did I have a 'torrid' (which is an accurate word) many-year affair?" (RNS).
As Arizona goes? While Arizona’s new immigration law may be controversial, demographically the state may be a precursor of things to come in the U.S. It has both a large Hispanic population (30 percent) and a significant generation gap: of those over 65 years of age, 83 percent are white; of those under 18, only 43 percent are white. An estimated 400,000 undocumented residents live in Arizona (Christian Science Monitor, May 24).
Value of words: President Obama reported that royalties from his two books—Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope—netted between $2 million and $10 million in 2009. Vice President Joseph Biden’s 2007 memoir, Promises to Keep: On Life and Politics, brought in somewhere between nothing and $200 in 2009 (Christian Science Monitor, May 18).
A room for grandma? Kenneth Dupin, a Methodist pastor in Salem, Virginia, thinks he has a way to address the needs of an aging population: MEDcottage, a portable dwelling that can be placed in a backyard and equipped with technology to monitor a person’s vital signs, filter air and communicate with the outside world. Critics call them “granny pods” and warn that they will create a “not in my backyard” movement (Washington Post, May 6).
Boundary crossing:Century senior editor Richard Kauffman traveled to Iran in 2008 and talked to a range of Iranians—from government officials to university professors to Muslim seminarians to people in the street. Moved by their stories, he felt compelled to tell them for a wider audience. His just-released book, An American in Persia (Cascadia), is about people moving across cultural and religious barriers to enter each other’s worlds.
Wheeze control: Children with severe asthma who are enrolled in a preventive-care program at Children's Hospital Boston receive free inhalers from insurance companies. The hospital sends nurses to visit families after discharge to make sure children have medicine and know how to use it; it provides home inspections to root out mold; and it offers vacuum cleaners to families who don’t have them. After one year of the program, the hospital readmission rate for young asthma patients dropped by over 80 percent and costs plunged as well. But empty beds meant lost revenue for the hospital (New Yorker, April 5).
State of poverty: Bread for the World has an online resource providing state-by-state information on hunger and poverty (see “State Hunger Facts” in the resources section at offeringofletters.org)—a great comparative tool. In Illinois, 11.1 percent of households struggle to put food on their table, compared to 17.4 in Mississippi and 14.6 nationally; 12.2 percent of households in Illinois live below the poverty line compared to 21.2 in Mississippi and 13.2 nationally.
Beck's world: Fox News TV host Glenn Beck urged his audience to leave congregations that refer to social justice or economic justice. “Look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site,” he said. “If you find it, run as fast as you can.” Bread for the World has invited people to sign an online petition to Beck that reads: “Economic and social justice are central to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Quit using your bully pulpit to spread misinformation and fear by comparing faithful Christians who care ‘for the least of these’ to Nazis and communists” (Bread for the World).
Just in case: Virginia state legislators passed a bill preventing employers or insurance companies from placing microchips in humans against their will. Mark L. Cole, sponsor of the bill, was concerned that the devices could someday be the “mark of the beast” mentioned in the Book of Revelation. Says Cole: “My understanding—I’m not a theologian—but there’s a prophecy in the Bible that says you’ll have to receive a mark, or you can neither buy nor sell things in end times. Some people think these computer chips might be that mark” (Examiner, February 14).
Only a moment: When New York–based writer Edwidge Danticat was able to contact relatives in Haiti after the earthquake, she learned that one cousin had been killed in the collapse of a four-story building, another had an open gash on her head that was still bleeding, and a third had a broken back and could find no place to have it X-rayed. Crying over the phone, Danticat apologized to a cousin for not being with the family. “Don’t cry,” she said. “That’s life. . . . And life, like death, lasts only yon ti moman” (a little while) (New Yorker, February 1).
Handel this: Handel’s Messiah is most often sung during the Christmas season, but Handel intended it to be performed during Holy Week. In his lifetime the work was seldom sung in churches but was sung in playhouses, where opera was performed. When the influence of Puritans in 18th-century England led to the banning of operas during Lent, oratorios like the Messiah became a popular alternative form of entertainment (Frank Burch Brown in Interpretation, January).