Wednesday, November 27, 2013

November is Family Violence Prevention Month

Here in our province, November is Family Violence Prevention Month. Earlier in the month I attended a workshop on family violence and here are a few observations. 
   First of all, I was pleased to see a decent turnout from the clergy members of our Ministerial Association. Faith communities and faith leaders need to be more involved in the prevention of family violence. 
   Second, I realise that I have, over the years, actually been
Image credit: Alberta Human Services
involved with prevention by offering pre-marital counselling sessions that emphasise effective communication and peaceful, respectful conflict resolution.
   Third, there are some excellent resources out there available to victims and their families as well as help for abusers and community organisations, including faith communities. The following bits and pieces of information reveal some insights as well as hard, cold facts about family violence.
  • Close to 100% of prostitutes have been abused as children.
  • 70% of patients in mental hospitals and institutions have suffered some abuse that has changed their brain development.
  • 27% of violence is done in homes. 
  • 16,000 women go to shelters or safe houses here in Alberta every year. 
  • In the U.S.A., family violence is the number one health risk.
  • 25% of abused women turn to drugs and alcohol. 
  • The cost to society and the health care system in relation to family violence is estimated to be in the billions of dollars, since the impact of abuse is profound in terms of mental, emotional, physical, social, and spiritual illnesses and diseases. 
   Prayer of Commitment: Dear God of Justice and Mercy, we the church, acknowledge today that violence and abuse exists in our midst. We the church acknowledge and embrace our abused and battered people. We, the church, acknowledge our brokenness and we come before you in repentance. We the church, commit to study the Scripture and preach the truth on abuse and injustice. We, the church, invite you to expose and end abuse in all homes, for your glory. We the church, accept your teaching on how to comfort and address both the abused and the abuser. We pray, in the name of Jesus Christ, who knew the pain of violence. Amen. (Prayer from a power-point handout at the workshop lead by a staff member of Riseup).
   Websites that offer valuable information on family violence prevention: Alberta Human Services

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Prayer of the Day/Collect Christ the King Sunday

Christ our King: Your rule is perfect servanthood and your throne is the cross. Over against all earthly rulers who abuse their power by dominating and oppressing others; you welcomed the last, the lost, and the least, and said that in your realm those who are first now shall be last; and those who are last now shall be first. May your gentle rule of loving service, peace and justice continue to come among us as we await the day when the realms of this world shall become the realm of God; in the name of Christ our King. Amen.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Sociological Tidbit: Cursive Writing

Cursive Writing: I have re-blogged the following article, “States try to save cursive writing in the classroom in the digital age,” by Julie Carr Smyth, The Associated Press, November 14, 2013. I know that since I’ve started with using the computer, I can now type faster than I write—prior to regular computer use, the reverse was true. The quality of my writing has also diminished. However, I do have a bit of a fetish for fountain pens and the aesthetic quality of the cursive written print. I too wonder about the downside repercussions of losing cursive writing. A friend of mine, who is now a retired theology professor, told me once that he preferred to write out his books in cursive writing first, then he would use the keyboard to type them out.  What do you think dear readers? I’d love to read your comments. :-) Eclecticity

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The swirling lines from Linden Bateman’s pen have been conscripted into a national fight to keep cursive
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writing in American classrooms.
   Cursive. Penmanship. Handwriting.
In years gone by, it helped distinguish the literate from the illiterate. But now, in the digital age, people are increasingly communicating by computer and smartphone. No handwritten signature necessary.
   Call it a sign of the times. When the new Common Core educational standards were crafted, penmanship classes were dropped. But at least seven of the 45 states that adopted the standards are fighting to restore the cursive instruction.
Bateman, a 72-year-old state representative from Idaho, says cursive conveys intelligence and grace, engages creativity and builds brain cells.
   “Modern research indicates that more areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard,” said Bateman, who handwrites 125 ornate letters each year. “We’re not thinking this through. It’s beyond belief to me that states have allowed cursive to slip from the standards.”
State leaders who developed the Common Core – a set of preferred K-12 course offerings for public schools – omitted cursive for a host of reasons, including an increasing need for children in a digital-heavy age to master computer keyboarding and evidence that even most adults use some hybrid of classic cursive and print in everyday life.
   “If you just stop and think for a second about what are the sorts of skills that people are likely to be using in the future, it’s much more likely that keyboarding will help students succeed in careers and in school than it is that cursive will,” said Morgan Polikoff, an assistant professor of K-12 policy and leadership at the University of Southern California.
States that adopted Common Core aren’t precluded from deviating from the standards. But in the world of education, where classroom time is limited and performance stakes are high, optional offerings tend to get sidelined in favour of what’s required.
   That’s why at least seven states – California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah – have moved to keep the cursive requirement. Legislation passed in North Carolina and elsewhere couples cursive with memorization of multiplication tables as twin “back to basics” mandates.
   Cursive advocates cite recent brain science that indicates the fluid motion employed when writing script enhances hand-eye co-ordination and develops fine motor skills, in turn promoting reading, writing and cognition skills.
   They further argue that scholars of the future will lose the ability to interpret valuable cultural resources – historical documents, ancestors’ letters and journals, handwritten scholarship – if they can’t read cursive. If they can’t write it, how will they communicate from unwired settings like summer camp or the battlefield?
“The Constitution of the United States is written in cursive. Think about that,” Bateman said.
All the fuss seems a bit loopy to certain members of Gens X, Y and Z – which have diverged increasingly from handwriting to computers. The volume of first-class mail at the U.S. Postal Service fell in 2010 to its lowest level in a quarter-century, just as computer use – and the keyboarding it involves – was surging. Some 95 per cent of teens use the Internet, and the percentage using smartphones to go online has grown from 23 per cent in 2011 to 37 per cent today, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2012 Pew report found the volume of text messages among teens rose from 50 a day on average in 2009 to 60 a day on average two years later.
   Pew research has also shown that educators don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. A survey of teachers of American middle school and high school students published in July found 78 per cent believed digital tools such as the Internet, social media and cellphones were encouraging their students’ creativity and personal expression.
   Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at Pew’s Internet & American Life Project, said researchers found it surprising – given those results – that 94 per cent of the 2,462 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project surveyed still said they “encourage their students to do at least some of their writing by hand.”
Teachers gave two primary reasons, she said: Most standardized tests are still in paper-and-pencil format and teachers believed having students write by hand helped them slow down their thinking, encouraging deeper and fuller thinking during the writing process. Pew surveys of teens have found many prefer to write on the computer, which they found faster and neater, but many still use handwriting for notes, letters, journals, short stories or music lyrics – as well as for school.
   “I find it hard to think creatively when I am typing,” a high school boy from the Pacific Northwest told Pew for a 2008 study. “So I like to handwrite everything, then I put it on the computer. I don’t know, that is just how I am.”
   Kathleen Wright, handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser, a Columbus, Ohio-based textbook publisher, said colleges of education that have focused on “whole language” education have turned out a crop of young teachers who are unable to either write or teach cursive writing themselves.
   That has financial implications to what’s required in the Common Core. “One of the things I’ve seen over the years is the hesitance on the part of some boards to legislate specific things because it may require additional training for teachers,” Wright said. “If you specifically require things for handwriting at different grade levels, you have to provide professional development. That may be the reason why it wasn’t included in the Common Core.”
Adults unable to write cursive might think back to the experiences of Jacob Lew when President Barack Obama nominated him as treasury secretary in 2013. As treasury secretary, Lew’s signature would be on U.S. currency. But that signature looked more like a series of loops than the distinct letters in his name. “Jack assured me that he is going to work to make at least one letter legible in order not to debase our currency,” the president joked at the time.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Advent is coming

Advent is coming: "But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood come and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour." (Matthew 24:36-44)

Beginnings and endings—that’s what we become more aware of and engaged in as the church year winds down, and a new church year begins with the First Sunday of Advent. The gospel pericope from Matthew—which is selected from the first Sunday in Advent—admonishes us to “keep awake” and “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” One of the ways in which the church, in its collective wisdom, deals with such ominous texts and admonitions is by systematizing life into some sort of secure, comfortable order; by inventing meaningful rites and rituals and seasons to try to make sense of life in the face of what might cause folks to live in paralytic fear and chaos.

   Hence the church came up with the season of Advent in about the fourth century. The season’s name is based on the Latin Adventus, meaning, coming or the coming. The season originally was one of prayer, fasting and repentance—that is how the early church dealt with the admonition to “keep awake” and “be ready” for the Son of Man’s unexpected coming. Because of this threefold emphasis on prayer, fasting and repentance, the season was similar to that of Lent, and some even referred to it as “the winter Lent.”  The season also was originally longer than it is today—in Western Christendom it began on November 11, St Martin’s day, and stretched over to the Day of Epiphany, on that day candidates for baptism were baptized. In Eastern Christendom, Advent begins on November 15 and goes right up until December 25, which is forty days. In the Western church year calendar, eventually the First Sunday of Advent was considered the first Sunday of the church year. Eventually the season was shortened to the four weeks before Christmas.

   I think the more sober mood of Advent is also reflected in many of the Advent hymns, which are set in minor keys rather than major. One of the downsides of Advent is the war we clergy often have with worship committees and even parishioners over the selection of hymns for Advent—clergy, in most cases, prefer to sing the Advent hymns, while laity would much rather sing Christmas carols. Laity also seem to want to eclipse the mood and emphasis of waiting, watching, preparing and repenting—one of the perils I think of living in a life in the fast lane, instant society.   

   The Advent wreath—or in some churches log—and Advent calendar traditions originated with German Lutherans—the wreath likely goes back to the time of the Reformation, while the calendar is traced back to the 1800s. The candles on the wreath mark the weeks of Advent. The first candle symbolizes hope; the second one symbolizes peace; the third one symbolizes joy; and the fourth one symbolizes love. All four virtues which we are gifted with thanks to Jesus the coming Messiah.

   The emphasis of the season also has changed with time—the original, sober emphasis on fasting and repentance has fallen out of practice by most Western Christians. Instead the emphasis is now on the three main ways in which Christ comes to us: his first coming in the past as the Incarnate One; his coming to us in the present time through Word and sacrament and the communion of saints; and his so-called second coming sometime in the future.

   However the biblical texts for Advent do have a sombre emphasis in them, and beg the questions: Have you made adequate preparations for the Coming King of kings and Lord of lords? If Christ the Messiah-King were to come at an unexpected time, would you be ready and awake? If someone important comes to our homes, we usually “clean house” and prepare for their coming. Maybe even set out the best silverware, plates, etc., and serve up an extravagant meal. How much more then do we need to “clean the house” of our hearts, minds and lives to prepare to meet Jesus face-to-face when he comes? With all of the secular consumerism of Christmas that seems to come earlier and earlier; with so many pre-Christmas parties to attend; it seems that by the time Christmas arrives most folks have already had enough of Christmas.

   So, as Christians, how about being more intentional in celebrating Advent during Advent rather than Christmas during Advent? Perhaps during this year’s Advent season we might be
Image by Eclecticity: Amen, come Lord Jesus!
willing to consider preparing for our Lord’s coming by going out to serve those in need. Right now, the news is full of stories about the plight of the Filipinos who have lost everything after the death-dealing typhoon there. Might we open up our hearts and wallets to help them out? There are, of course, countless other causes that we can contribute to as well, both here in our city and around the globe. Who knows, in our serving we may very well meet up with the face of Christ himself?!

   Prayer: Stir up your power, O Lord, and come. Protect us by your strength and save us from the threatening dangers of our sins. Have mercy upon and provide for the people in the Philippines, the Syrian refugees, and others who face sufferings of all kinds. We give you thanks for all of the blessings you have bestowed upon us. We especially thank you for your grace; may your Holy Spirit’s presence fill our hearts and minds and lives and give us the direction we need to serve you and your holy purposes; in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Jewish-Christian Relations

Encountering the other – a halachic exploration

Rabbi Dr Raymond Apple over at is Rabbi Emeritus of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, Australia. He has also been involved with the Australian Council of Christians and Jews. In
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his recent paper delivered to that organisation, Rabbi Dr Apple highlights some of the historic traditions concerning Jewish beliefs and practices towards Gentiles—in particular, Gentile Christians.

   One fascinating point he makes is that originally the term “gentile” referred to someone who belonged to any people, including the Jewish people, since according to the Tanach, even an Israelite was a goy. Rabbi Dr Apple goes on to highlight Jewish trading with Gentiles on their festivals; saving the life of a Gentile; accepting a gift from a Gentile; participating in the wedding feast of a Gentile; pikku’ach nefesh [saving the life in an emergency] of a Gentile. In his conclusion, the rabbi states that one of the key questions regarding relations with the two other monotheistic religions was whether or not they were idolaters—if so, then their religions and theology were false and that would prevent them from engaging in relations with such idolaters. However: “Thanks to Menachem Me’iri and similar teachers, Judaism decided that the other monotheistic faiths fostered morality and uprightness and Jews could work with them.” You can read the whole paper here

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Pray for Persecuted Christians

There have likely always been—and perhaps always shall be—persecuted Christians. No one knew this better than our Founder, Jesus himself. In his Sermon on the Mount and/or Plain, he raised the bar very high for all of his would-be followers: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12) “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.” (Lk 6:22-23)
   What a strange upside-down world/realm Jesus describes here. I don’t know about you, but I have a difficult time rejoicing and being glad and leaping for joy when I feel or actually am: persecuted, reviled, am the subject of all kinds of evil being uttered against me falsely on Jesus’ account, am hated, excluded and defamed on account of the Son of Man. How about you? Perhaps you’re a much better, more faithful Christian than I. Jesus’ words here seem to me well nigh impossible to obey. Yet, there have been some “saints” and/or “martyrs” who have purportedly lived up to Jesus’ teachings regarding persecution. In fact, the martyrs were very popular in the ancient church; story after story has been recorded and transmitted for the edification of the faithful.
   However, of late I have become rather troubled and annoyed by the lack of coverage of the Western secular press and yes, even organisations like Amnesty International—of which I’ve been a member for about 27 years now—who seem to be turning a blind eye and/or are minimalizing the current “war and/or ‘open season’ on Christians” around the globe. According to one commentator on the subject, who claims to have travelled extensively in 53 countries that persecuted Christians; there were up to two million slain in southern Sudan by the Muslim north that even folks like the Pew Forum discount.
   Speaking of the Pew Forum, they claim that between 2006 and 2010, Christians living in 139 nations of the world—almost three-quarters of the world’s nations—faced some form of discrimination. The Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, state that an average of 100,000 Christians have been killed in what they describe as ‘situations of witness’ each year for the past decade. If that is the case, then 11 Christians are being killed somewhere on the earth every hour, 7 days a week, 365 days a year for their faith.  
   No, Christians are not living with a martyr complex. No, Christians are not fantasizing stories about martyrdom. No, Christians are not exaggerating. What is true is that stories about Christians being persecuted have been extremely UNDER REPORTED.
   In the meantime, what can you do about it? Well, for starters PRAY. Pray for Christians who are being persecuted and the families of those who have lost their loved ones because they were martyred, murdered and/or tortured senselessly. You can find information on praying for the persecuted Christians here.  You can also be informed by reading articles like this one in The Spectator