Century Marks

Century Marks

Occupational hazard I

Pastors are experiencing obesity, hypertension and depression at rates higher than most Americans, reports the New York Times (August 1). Clergy Health Initiative, a Duke University survey of Methodist ministers in North Carolina, cites clergy as having a 10 percent higher rate of obesity, for instance. One reason for the health problems: pastors are not taking time off for vacations. "They think that taking care of themselves is selfish, and that serving God means never saying no," says Gwen Wagstrom Halaas, a medical doctor who is married to a Lutheran minister and is the author of The Right Road: Life Choices for Clergy.

Can you do that?

Anne Rice, author of best-selling vampire novels, returned to the Catholic Church in 1998 and stopped writing fiction about the underworld. But recently on her Facebook page she announced to fans that she has "quit being a Christian." She said she remains "committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group." She refuses to be part of a church whose public face is antigay, antifeminist, anti-artificial birth control and antiscience (Facebook.com).

Category mistake

James Alison, Catholic priest and theologian, recalls two iconic images that appeared almost in the same week in 2004. The one pictured Private Lynndie England holding a leashed dog with a pile of humiliated male prisoners in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The other image is of two women walking down the steps of the Boston city hall waving a marriage certificate. Alison asks, "To which of these two images does the biblical category of 'Sodom' rightly apply?" It is a category mistake to use the language of wayward behavior to categorize people who are attracted both emotionally and erotically to persons of their own gender, he says. This is just the way these people are, neither by choice nor circumstances, and it is becoming clear that they are capable of "full-heartedness of love for each other," which "is not just lust nor a defect," but in fact is "a gift from, and an access to, God" (Broken Hearts and New Creations, Continuum).

Church do’s and don't's

When Roy M. Terry IV was asked to plant a church in Naples, Florida, he wrote to some wise people, asking them for the top five things they’d do if they were starting a church. From Stanley Hauer­was, his former teacher, he got this ad­vice: “Don’t start a Sunday school. Never have a men’s or women’s group. Don’t have a men’s softball team. Get the congregation involved in a soup kitchen or helping the homeless. Never use the language ‘New Church’; instead use ‘Be­coming God’s Church.’” It was this last point that really struck Terry. He has aimed his Corner­stone United Methodist Church at becoming God’s church, not starting something new or different or better. It is God’s work, not ours, he says (Wordcare, Ekklesia Project pamphlet no. 15).

Soviet legacy

Israeli politics have become increasingly conservative and resistant to making peace with the Palestinians due to an increased number of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose birthrate is nearly three times that of their secular counterparts. Many young people share in their worldview; they came of age during a time of pessimism about prospects for peace and  have no memory of Israel with its pre-1967 borders. An influx of about 1 million immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s has also contributed to this conservative movement. Its adherents have imported Soviet attitudes into Israeli life: nationalism, an intolerance of "the other" and a preference for strong leaders over the messiness of democratic processes. They also don't think that land should be conceded to a presumed enemy in a state so small it can be traversed in half an hour by car (Wilson Quarterly, summer).