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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Highlights for June

Book asks ‘who is my neighbor?’

Review by Solange De Santis

Jesus often spoke in parables, reducing complex ideas to straightforward stories that his listeners would understand.

Jennifer Grant’s “Maybe I Can Love My Neighbor Too,” a large-format book with jaunty illustrations by Benjamin Schipper, follows the same principle.

In Grant’s previous book, “Maybe God Is Like That Too,” a boy notices examples of virtues such as kindness and patience in the city where he lives and thinks, “maybe God is like that too,” concluding that “maybe I can be like that too.”

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Then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, right, and Cardinal Walter Kasper, then-President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, walk to an ecumenical reception at the 2008 Lambeth Conference. (Photo/ACNS)
Archbishop of Canterbury invites ecumenical observers to 2020 Lambeth Conference

From Anglican Communion News Service

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is inviting leaders of other Christian churches to send observers to next year’s Lambeth Conference of Anglican bishops. Invitations are being extended to a greater number of Pentecostal and Evangelical churches and bodies than at previous Lambeth Conferences. A conference spokesperson said that this was to “recognize their importance in the changing face of world Christianity.”

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Highlights for May

Scott Gunn
The church is dead. Long live the church!

By Scott Gunn
Several of my church-going friends shared a recent op-ed from Fox News Opinion on their social media, “Church as we know it is over. Here’s what’s next.” The op-ed says that “the church needs to accept the fate of physical church as we know it, so we can move into the next phase of digital church.”

Yes, the old expectations that people will somehow just show up in churches must die. But the replacement is not digital church.

While I love connecting online, it isn’t the same as being part of a gathered community. Church as we know it may be over, but it’s time to reboot church as we know it — and our expectations.

Christians need to go to church. It’s that simple.

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Rooney Mara stars as the title character in the new film “Mary Magdalene” alongside Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. (Photo/courtesy of IFC Films )
In new film, Mary Magdalene is reimagined

By Cathleen Falsani, Religion News Service
Daughter. Sister. Doula. Repairer of nets. Fisher of men (and women). Revolutionary. Believer. Healer. Baptizer. Companion. Witness. Disciple. Apostle to the apostles.

In the new film “Mary Magdalene,” the biblical character Mary of Magdala is all of these things and more — but not the one role in which she was historically (mis)cast: the so-called “fallen woman.”

Misunderstood, misinterpreted, and maligned, only in recent years has Mary Magdalene’s reputation been restored, both by official religious decree and in popular consciousness.

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Highlights for April

The Rothko Chapel in Houston features large paintings with subtle nuances of black. Photo/Runaway Productions
Rothko’s stark vision graces Houston chapel
By Dennis RavertyUpon entering the Rothko Chapel in Houston, one is immediately aware of a quiet, contemplative ambience unlike either the noisy city outside or the typical atmosphere in a gallery or a museum, where paintings by the mid-century abstract artist Marc Rothko (1908-70) are more likely to be seen. Dimly lit by a concealed skylight and entirely without windows, the space has the hushed air of a sanctuary. It is only after your eyes have adjusted to the lower level of light that you notice the huge monolithic black paintings that dominate every wall of this octagonal space.

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Heiress saved Jewish children in Nazi-occupied France
Reviewed by Rick HamlinSuzanne Spaak would seem to have unlikely makings for a saint. She was a rich Belgian heiress living in occupied Paris during World War II in a sumptuous Palais Royale apartment (upstairs from the writer Colette) that was filled with paintings by her friend the surrealist Magritte. Spaak raised her son and teenaged daughter—the latter a possible inspiration for Colette’s Gigi—with little financial help from her bounder of a husband, as all the while she was rescuing hundreds of Jewish children from the Nazis.

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Highlights for March

Book suggests exploring Lent through the senses

Review by Neva Rae Fox
I was taught the significance and a deep appreciation of Lent as a young girl attending Catholic elementary school. Ever since, I annually approach Lent with the commitment and respect that bespeaks of the 40 days of penance and reflection.
For many years, I, like thousands of others, gave up something for Lent, ranging from sweets to smoking to a memorable Lent as a teen when I gave up Cheese Doodles (that was a sacrifice!). My observances for Lent modified over the years, and for the past two decades I have taken on self-improvement reading, ranging from an examination of St. Paul and Islam to books by Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Merton. Of late, I have been searching for a new way to observe the 40 days of penance, and I am delighted to have discovered it in a compact book, “Sense and Sensibility.”

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Iconography by Tobias Haller, BSG.
‘Beauty of holiness’ visual art sought

By Episcopal Journal
Episcopal Church & Visual Arts has scheduled its spring member exhibition, titled “Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness.” The submission deadline is March 9 and the exhibition will be displayed digitally at www.ECVA.org beginning April 14.
“Worship and praise of the Divine has taken many forms through time and space,” exhibit curator and ECVA member Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, writes in the call for artists.
“Much of it has been verbal, but the words of prayer and liturgy have often been accompanied by a humble sense of their inadequacy to comprehend the incomprehensible greatness of God.”

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Highlights for February

Missionary a point of light on island hell

Review by Shelley Crook

A heroic Episcopal priest is just one of the colorful characters in “Damnation Island,” a history of what is now known as Roosevelt Island in New York’s East River but once was called Blackwell’s Island.
In the 19th century, the island was the site of a lunatic asylum, a workhouse, an almshouse, a hospital for the poor and a penitentiary.
The story of Blackwell’s Island proves the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Conceived as a shining beacon to the world, the island was purchased by the city of New York in 1828 in an attempt to relieve overcrowding at Manhattan’s Bellevue Hospital.

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Book probes the spirituality of body image

By Jacob Lupfer
Religion News Service

As a teenager, J. Nicole Morgan was fond of her reflection in the mirror. She liked her eyes and her smile. But then she looked at her arms and stomach and reminded herself that she was not pretty and could not possibly be the person God made her to be.
God doesn’t want you to be fat, she told herself. Fat can’t be beautiful.
It’s a message that stuck with her for years, said Morgan, author of a new book, “Fat and Faithful: Learning to Love Our Bodies, Our Neighbors, and Ourselves.”
Part memoir and part theological reflection on body image, community and food, Morgan’s book challenges congregations and people of faith to think about what it means to embrace one another as created in the image of God.

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