Highlights for May

“Noli me Tangere” Léon, Spain, ca. 1115-20. Ivory, traces of gilding. Image/Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
‘Noli me tangere’: A reflection in the time of pandemic

By Pamela A. Lewis
Touch is one of our most powerful senses, connecting us with our environment as well as with other human beings and creatures. Much of the world would be meaningless were it not possible for us to experience it through our sense of touch, and human relationships, partly built and nurtured by touch, would feel incomplete without it. It is not entirely metaphorical when we speak of the “human touch,” suggesting as it does that touch transmits something significant from giver to recipient.

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Top, the Rev. C. Melissa Hall named her paintings on wood she found along the Hudson River in Hoboken, N.J., “River Bones.” Left, Debra Cook’s painting “Holy Week” using acrylic, watercolor and gold leaf. Right, the Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber painted “Coastal Impressions 2” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Images/courtesy of the artists.
Artworks help buoy the spirit during widespread crisis

By Sharon Sheridan
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced people across the world to shelter in place, many turned to the arts for entertainment, solace and inspiration. To help lift readers’ spirits during this continuing global health crisis, Episcopal Journal offers these profiles and pictures from painters, the Rev. C. Melissa Hall, Debra Cook and the Rev. Lynne Bleich Weber, in the Diocese of Newark (N.J.).

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Highlights for March

A “carte-de-visite” photograph shows a young Harriet Tubman seated in an interior room. The photo dates from approximately 1868-69 and is jointly owned by the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Library of Congress. Photo/Benjamin F. Powelson via Wikimedia Commons

 

Faith made Harriet Tubman fearless as she rescued slaves

By Robert Gudmestad
Millions of people voted in an online poll in 2015 to have the face of Harriet Tubman on the US$20 bill. But many might not have known the story of her life as chronicled in a recent film, “Harriet.”
Harriet Tubman worked as a slave, spy and eventually as an abolitionist. What I find most fascinating, as a historian of American slavery, is how belief in God helped Tubman remain fearless, even when she came face to face with many challenges. (Read the full article on The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/faith-made-harriet-tubman-fearless-as-she-rescued-slaves-127592)

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Forty days (and more) without plastic

By Linda Brooks
In the past, I usually didn’t give up anything for Lent mainly because of what I heard other people giving up — Facebook, favorite TV shows, cigarettes, beer. Somehow giving up what could be considered a “luxury” of our modern life didn’t seem to make much sense in the way of sacrifice and soul-searching.
But last year was different. It seemed like the whole world was on fire and there was nothing I could do as one individual that would make any difference.

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Highlights for February

Bob Libby
For a Lenten practice, try forgiveness

By Bob Libby
It was the last thing that I thought I would ever do. I was on a pre-Lenten retreat at a monastery and although I was an Episcopal priest, it was a Roman Catholic establishment run by the Trappist monks in Conyers, Ga. and a place where you’re not allowed to talk, or so I thought.
I came equipped to do some heavy reading, having packed both Augustine’s “Confessions” and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship,” along with my Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. I had really set out to impress God, but the Lord had other plans.

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The Rev. Gayle Pershouse Vaughan, second from right, is presented to the congregation at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Mass. after her ordination as deacon. Photo/Tracy Sukraw
Massachusetts deacon’s ordination brings #MeToo moment of healing

By Tracy Sukraw
Diocese of Massachusetts
For her ordination as a transitional deacon on Nov. 10, the Rev. Gayle Pershouse Vaughan chose for the Gospel reading the passage from John 20 in which Mary encounters the risen Jesus.
“That speaks to me profoundly,” she said during an interview a couple of weeks before the ordination would take place at the Parish of the Epiphany in Winchester, Mass., her home parish for the past 15 years.

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Highlights for January

Bill Camp, left, as Wilbur Tennant and Mark Ruffalo, right, as Robert Bilott in “Dark Waters,” a Focus Features release. Photo/Mary Cybulski/Focus Features
Actor Mark Ruffalo blends film and
faith-fueled activism in ‘Dark Waters’
By Emily McFarlan Miller
Religion News ServiceActor Mark Ruffalo said he’s had a hard time melding his activism with storytelling.
Then Ruffalo encountered the story of the people of Parkersburg, W.Va., who were exposed for decades to “forever chemicals” produced by DuPont, one of the world’s largest corporations.
And he was moved by attorney Robert Bilott’s 15-year battle to bring DuPont to justice, putting his family, his career and his health at risk for others.
“In a moment in time where the stories that we are being told are so cynical and the stories we hear all the time are like ‘people are just horrible people’ and ‘just be as selfish as possible’ and ‘no one’s doing anything for the greater good, really; it’s all personal gain,’ I believe in a different reality than that,” Ruffalo said.

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N.T. Wright explains the world of the
New Testament in new book
By Emily McFarlan Miller
Religion News Service
New Testament scholar N.T. Wright has spent most of his life teaching people how to study the New Testament.
And the most important thing, he says, is getting the context right.
Without that context, it’s “fatally easy for people to distort bits of Christianity,’” Wright said.
“If we ignore the context, we can make the New Testament stand on its hind legs and dance around the room and play to our tunes — and that that has always been the case, no doubt,” he told Religion News Service in a recent interview. “But the correction is always to go back to, ‘What was the context?’”

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Highlights for December

An artistic rendering of the future St. Paul’s Commons in Northern California. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Walnut Creek would like to open its affordable housing complex in December or January. It’s called St. Paul’s Commons, and it will be a mixed-use development with community spaces operated by St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. It will include 45 affordable apartments. Image/courtesy of Resources for Community Development
‘Yes in God’s Backyard’ to use church land for affordable housing

By Alejandra Molina
Religion News Service
Faith congregations across California are responding to the state’s housing crisis by sharing their parking lots with people living in their cars, providing mobile showers for the homeless and joining their neighbors in calling for rent control in their communities.
But another form of housing advocacy has been taking place among spaces of faith.
A number of churches are exploring ways to build affordable housing on their own land. It’s what pastors and other leaders are referring to as YIGBY, or “Yes in God’s Backyard.”
The acronym is a play off of the term NIMBY — short for “Not in My Backyard” — a term often used to describe community pushback against affordable housing or other similar projects.
“Jesus very clearly tells us to keep our eyes open to those who are in need,” said Clairemont Lutheran Church pastor Jonathan Doolittle.

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Visitors from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Little Rock, Ark, view art in the “Abraham: Out of One, Many” exhibition at St. Paul Cathedral in Boston. Photo/Aysha Khan/RNS
With interfaith exhibit, Boston’s Abrahamic faith groups revisit their shared roots

By Aysha Khan
Religion News Service
Just over a year ago, the day after the deadly mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, more than a thousand locals gathered together on the Boston Common to mourn and pray.
As the Rev. Amy McCreath, dean of the historic St. Paul Cathedral that overlooks America’s oldest park, watched people of various faiths unite once again to mourn another national tragedy, she was hit with an emotional realization.
“I looked out over the crowds of people, and it was so clear that all of them really want a peaceful future,” she remembered. “We want to work together against violence, but we don’t even know each other. Unfortunately, the odds are good that something like that will happen again, and we need to be prepared to support one another and defend one another.”
That’s part of the reason the Episcopal cathedral agreed to host a new interfaith art exhibit that explores the faith and life of Abraham, the shared spiritual forefather of the world’s three largest monotheistic religions — and launched an accompanying interfaith book study to spotlight Abraham’s wives, Sarah and Hagar.

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Highlights for November

A reflection on racism and forgiveness

By Bob Libby
I have had a cross burned on my lawn, but I am a racist.
I have an award from the Hollywood Radio and Television Society, that honors me for creating “The World’s Best” radio public service announcement on racism. But, nonetheless, I am a racist.
Oh, like many parish priests, I have quoted the moving Rodgers and Hammerstein ballad from “South Pacific”: “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear.”
But I am a racist.
While there’s a lot of truth to that song, I believe there’s more to racism than learned behavior.
President Obama often contended that racism was in our nation’s DNA.

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When a judge gives a Bible: Converting or consoling?

By Pamela A. Lewis
“That woman is not a heathen!” said my friend, practically coming through my phone receiver. She continued: “she was trying to convert her!” (With that statement I could almost make out my friend’s head.)
“That woman” was Amber Guyger, the 31-year-old white former Dallas police officer who had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for fatally shooting Botham Shem Jean, a black neighbor, last year in his apartment. She claimed to have mistaken his apartment for her own and said she had believed that Jean was an intruder.
The “she” who was trying to “convert” Guyger was Judge Tammy Kemp (who is black), who presided over Guyger’s trial.

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Highlights for October

Massachusetts pilgrims hike part of a migrant trail in the desert to leave jugs of water for those who might need it. Photo/courtesy of the Diocese of Massachusetts
Young Episcopalians bring back stories from US-Mexico border

By Bridget K. Wood, Diocese of Massachusetts

With the migrant crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border in the news, a group of seven high school-aged Episcopalians, along with three adults, set off in August for a week in Nogales, Ariz., to hear the stories of people who are experiencing it firsthand.
Their trip was part of Las Fronteras: Faith in Action, a yearlong Diocese of Massachusetts program that helps young people from different congregations get to know one another and together explore issues relating to the border.

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Becca Gardner, of St. Elizabeth’s in Whiterocks, Utah, holds the talking stick. Photo/courtesy of the Diocese of Utah
Native American ministries renew connections in the west

By Craig Wirth

A new generation of western Native American Episcopalians joined their elders and priests at the first “Mountains and Deserts” conference in a decade, held June 18-20 at the Episcopal Church Center of Utah in Salt Lake City. The Episcopal Church Missioner for Indigenous Ministries, the Rev. Bradley Hauff said the gathering represented a new network of support for isolated reservation and rural congregations.
About 50 attendees discussed ways to continue to combine centuries of culture with Episcopal liturgy, how to involve more youth, how to share church life including attendance and support for each new ordination of a Native American, and ways to raise up new ordained leadership.

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Highlights for September

‘Skin’ filmmaker shares story of real-life racism and the road to redemption

By Emily McFarlan Miller
Religion News Service

Jamie Bell stars in “Skin.” Photo courtesy of A24

Filled with sex, violence and profanity, it may not be the feel-good movie of the year.
And Academy Award-winning filmmaker Guy Nattiv is careful to note it’s not a redemption story.
But Nattiv’s new film, “Skin” — inspired by the true story of Bryon Widner’s departure from white supremacy — is, at its core, a story about good and evil and people’s capacity to change.
“I really wanted to tell a story that deals with forgiveness and acceptance,” Nattiv said.
It’s hard to ask people to forgive, the Israeli filmmaker said. But acceptance is a different matter. If you can’t accept someone who wants to leave hate behind, he said, you don’t give them a chance to change.
And Widner wanted to change.

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The Hudson River School romantics and the theology of landscape

By Dennis Raverty
“We are still in Eden; the wall that shuts us out is our own ignorance and folly” —Thomas Cole
Art history as it is currently practiced in both Europe and the United States is a very secularized field of study — and this is true even among those scholars who specialize in the European old masters, like Michelangelo or Rembrandt, artists who openly deal with sacred or biblical content directly.

“October in the Catskills” by Sanford Robinson Gifford. Photo/Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Nineteenth-century painters are said to have secularized Western art but it is perhaps more sacralization than secularization in the case of landscape. A minor, formerly profane genre, landscape became elevated and sacralized by the Romantics, taking on lofty themes with a high moral tone and a transcendent gravitas formerly reserved for religious painting alone. In the United States, these Romantic landscapists are often referred to as the “Hudson River School,” a Romantic tendency evident over the course of two or three generations of artists. After falling out of favor for a while, appreciation for Hudson River School painting increased dramatically during the postwar period, when the alienated, Romantic abstractions of artists like Pollock and DeKooning created a new appetite for the sublime.

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Highlights for July/August

Good Omens’: Exploring the spaces between good and evil

By Linda Brooks
Television programs with religious themes or characters seem to be on the upswing. A new six-part mini-series from Amazon Studios and released on Amazon Prime has a pretty broad sweep. “Good Omens” takes on heaven vs. hell and the coming apocalypse as the basis for its story.

Based on the 1990 book “Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch,” by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, “Good Omens” offers a wickedly funny satirical observation of the relationships of angels and demons to their human charges. In the process we learn something about ourselves as well.

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Bishop David Bailey, left, and Bishop Michael Smith participate in the blessing of the Hozho Center. Photo/Dick Snyder
Convocation hears about signs of hope in Navajoland

By Dick Snyder
Navajoland gets by with a little help from its friends, Bishop David Bailey explained during the 43rd annual convocation held June 7-9 in Farmington, N.M.

“There are a lot of challenges, mostly economic,” Bailey said in his address. He explained that most of the buildings in Navajoland are old with outdated electrical service, galvanized pipes and leaky roofs. For instance, use of the St. Mary in the Moonlight church in Monument Valley has been suspended because the roof collapsed, he noted.

But there are signs of hope which include a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundation to make major repairs at Good Shepherd Mission in Fort Defiance, Ariz., and partnerships with other dioceses, parishes and church organizations.

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