Sunday, July 31, 2005

the price of fame

If you're a Catholic priest in the USA and you become famous, statistically, it's probably for the wrong reasons. The good guys usually fly under the radar. Unfortunate but true.

Look at some of the guys who have been in the news in the past few days. Not exactly your Bing Crosby-BellsofStMary's-role model types...

How about this Msgr. John Woolsey guy? The NY Daily News loves this story. $800,000 from the parish into his personal slush fund and his defense says it was merely 'a little sloppy bookeeping'? They'll have to do better than that to keep Msgr. out of prison.

Another two clerical miscreants made the news, one in New Jersey, the other in Chicago. Again, trouble keeping their hands out of the collection basket. Incidents both petty and demeaning as far as anyone who takes the priesthood seriously is concerned.

On an even graver note, the Vatican announced that former Boston Archdiocese priests Eugene O'Sullivan and Paul McDonald were officially dismissed with all faculties removed as a result of sex abuse charges. Both have been inactive for over ten years and are serving sentences imposed by civil courts for their crimes.

Finally, the story that really caught my attention was the saga of the famed Italian mystic, spiritual director and founder, Fr. Luigi Burresi. The 73 year old 'Fr. Gino', as he is called by his devotees, holds the dubious distinction of being the first defrocked priest whose deprivation of faculties was signed by the new prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, former Archbishop of San Francisco, William Levada.

The accusations against Fr. Burresi date back to the 70's and 80's when he supposedly abused various followers and seminarians of his foundation, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. He is also said to have violated the seal of the confessional and the confidentiality of spiritual direction by his accusers. Although the statute of limitations is well past regarding the charges, administrative action has been taken - conspicuously, under the pontificate of Benedict XVI - to terminate Fr.Burresi's continued fame and following as mystic and transmitter of 'supernatural messages'.

It is quite interesting that such decisive and crippling action has been taken against this elderly founder, renowned for his supposed charism. While other priests, of lesser profile and more recent and substantiated accusations, have often gone unnoticed or, at least, unprosecuted by Canon Law for long stretches, this case could suggest a new precedent.

The comments of Sandro Magister try to draw a parallel between the Burresi case and the investigation concerning Fr. Marcial Maciel, founder of the Legion of Christ. Frankly, I find more differences than similarities and, if anything at all should come of the Maciel investigation, would expect a very different outcome.

In short, the news tells us about about the questionable few. The vast majority of solid, saintly priests who simply do their duty to God and fellowman, are not - and should never be - newsworthy. The value of a priest's ministry is usually inversely proportional to his running headline quota.

The exorcist knows these things.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

got church?

Dan Barry has a column in today's NY Times titled A Prayer for a Church Unsaved. How was I not supposed to read that?

There are conspicuous similarities between old St. Brigid's in Tompkins Square - I think that's East Village - and the hispanic, city church I am presently assigned to. I couldn't help but wonder if our fate is destined to be the same...

St. Brigid's was built in the mid-19th century by Irish immigrants but by the 1970's was serving an almost entirely hispanic community. Puerto Ricans, Mexicans, Dominicans and others found refuge in the familiarity of a close knit Catholic parish amid the harsh differences that they encountered living in a new and not always friendly country.

But as the hispanics settled in they became less strangers and less attached to the faith and tradition so reminiscent of their homelands. The church fell into disrepair and the archdiocese preferred closure to rescue. The 200 or so that still hoped and prayed at the foot of her candle specked altar are expected to go elsewhere.

The Archdiocese of New York boasts of only closing one parish in 1984, in stark contrast with other diocese, like Boston, for example. But there is little comfort in statistics for the ex-parishoners of St. Brigid's. Especially those who helped raise 100G to fix the building rather than lose the parish.

Our situation is not as dire, but similar in many respects. Built by German immigrants, the parish I'm at became a haven for hispanic Catholics midway through the 1960's. It still is, of sorts. The demographics have changed radically, as has the nature of the immigrant communities in the area. The hispanics of this city, for better or worse, have been quasi assimilated into the urban landscape. Not that they are treated as equals nor given a fair shake - their houses, schools and jobs leave a lot to be desired. But they're here, in large numbers and making their way. They are not strangers in a strange land. Sometimes their kids don't even speak Spanish.

The spiritual and family values of hispanic Catholics have suffered decay analagous to that of the old churches that barely even remind them anymore of what used to be. The American has succeeded in emptying their souls while promising to fill their pockets.

Anyway, yesterday evening I sat on the steps of a school across from the parish, aimlessly enjoying a Montecristo (the perks of having Dominican parishoners...) and tried to imagine where this 135 year old church would be in ten years. There aren't big cracks in the building, from basement to roof, like at St. Brigid's...

But, then again, it's not really the building I'm wondering about.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

good luck, space travelers

The Discovery is poised to lift off in about 20 minutes.
Be safe. Come home soon.

Monday, July 25, 2005

the same ol' same ol'

Qoheleth muses: "Nothing is new under the sun. Even the thing of which we say, 'See, this is new!' has already existed in the ages that preceded us." (Ecc. 1,9-10)

I offer this gem of Old Testament wisdom as a reference for getting some perspective on the story breaking this week of the nine women 'ordained' by three other women who identify themselves as Catholic bishops. This monumentous and corageous novelty was performed on a ferry floating along the St. Lawrence River in Canada.

The presiding bishopesses(?) claim to have been themselves ordained secretly by male bishops in good standing of the Catholic Church. They also purport to enjoy the clandestine favor of many high ranking Vatican officials, notwithstanding the ipso facto state of excommunion that they incurred upon themselves by engaging in the ersatz ordination.

The media will enjoy this circus for a few days before losing interest. They will probably call it a new challenge to the hopelessly outdated practice of purely male ordinations in the Catholic Church. They may even brandish that most fearsome and inassailable of arguments: "polls show that 62% of those questioned approve of women priests...". The wiley spinmasters of the media know that nothing strikes more dread into the heart of the Church than the latest USA Today poll.

In 13th century Europe the story of the first woman pope surfaced in anti-papal circles. Pope Joan apparently gave herself away during one of those eternal Vatican ceremonies when she, rather unceremoniously, went into labor and gave birth to a child. "Damn!," she reportedly exclaimed, "and everything else was going so well..." All this in Latin, naturally.

Since then, it's been pretty much downhill for the champions of women's ordination. Such antics aren't new and they cause barely a ripple on the surface of the Catholic Church. Only the really colorful tales, like that of Pope Joan the Pregnant, even make it to the mythology books.

What these types of spectacles do illustrate, however, is that the nature and meaning of the priesthood are increasingly misunderstood and nearly impossible to communicate above the din of today's painfully weak and muddled thinking on all things related to the faith.

Other varieties of Christianity consider the Lord's Supper a memorial meal, a sharing in communal fellowship, a symbolic gesture of unity. The ministry is conceived in terms of funcionality alone. It therefore matters little if the minister who mc's the communion ceremony is man or woman.

Catholicism has a different view of the priesthood altogether.

Both the priesthood and the Eucharist are sacraments: visible and efficacious signs of what they re-present. Their reality and meaning is understood exclusively in relation to the First Sacrament, which is Christ Himself. Through the sacrament of Order the priest becomes ontologically identified with Christ and acts in persona Christi. Christ's sublime act of giving Himself totally to His Church, 'as a husband loves his wife' - in the words of St. Paul, is embodied in the Eucharist. "This is my body", says the priest. "Do this in memory of me", said the Lord.

The usual complaints about the Church's practice of ordaining only men to the priesthood reflect a very protestant and utilitarian concept of the priesthood. It is a merely job and can, therefore, be done arguably as well by a woman as by a man. Women clergy would be the ultimate recognition by the Church of the equality between man and woman. A patriarchal Church would benefit greatly by a greater participation of women...


It is not about function, it is about sacrament. It is not about equality in the sense we throw the word around today. Men and women are equal in dignity, but they are quite obviously not the same. They may be equal, but they are not interchangeable. Total sacramental identification with Christ through Holy Orders is to be taken for what it truly means. It is not about rights or sharing power. It is about understanding the gift received and conserving it faithfully.

The spokesperson for the nine newly 'ordained' women, when asked about the validity of their state in the Church said they had chosen to ignore the discipline and practice of Tradition. They, in turn, will be ignored by the Church they have voluntarily abandoned and, unless one of them pulls a Pope Joan on us, by history. 'Nuff sed.

Friday, July 22, 2005


I ran across some further evidence that the baby boomers, as they age, continue to look out for number one. On Wednesday, USA Today (sorry but Star was sold out) reported on the scant interest of major drug companies in developing pediatric therapies. Kids are not a market they pursue eagerly. The seniors have the bucks and are willing to spend them on exorbitantly priced medicines and treatments. Still trying to buy longevity...

I spotted another bird yesterday evening in the patch of yard behind the rectory. I am amazed at the diversity of our urban ecosystem. I saw, very close up, a northern flicker! Can you dig it? This is an inner city parish. A card carrying woodpecker right here in dumpsville! I'm going to have to get the Discovery Channel up here.

Finally, if you want to see the work of a VERY good photographer, check out Sharad Haksar's website. It's only a small sample of his portfolio, but you'll definitely get the hang of his thang. I especially like his Nike and Master Card photos...

I read on the Al Jazeera site that he's being sued by Coca Cola India (he once did their publicity) for putting up a billboard with a picture of unfilled water jugs by an empty well against the backdrop of a wall brightly painted with the logo: "Drink Coca Cola". Nothing like a little well targeted irony to piss off big business.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

all this talk of getting older...

Do you ever think about getting older? Not about what you're hoping to do when you're older, but about getting there, the aging process itself. A process that will, ultimately, deposit your sorry posterior on death's one way doorstep...

Aging is somehow scarier than passing away. The body fails, but more than that it's the internal drama of getting older that intimidates me. I like a strong one occasionally, yet I just don't know if I'm up to that particularly potent cocktail of nostalgia, remorse, frustration, resignment, memories, desires and fears that we call old age.

One of the frequent contributors to the NY Times wrote a piece called 'The Greediest Generation' way back on May 1. I saved it. Then forgot about it. And recently remembered it again. Forgetfulness is part of aging.

The point Kristof makes in his note is that the generation known as the baby boomers has aged, and has done so selfishly. Those that championed the Pill now clamor for Viagra. Right to die issues and Social Security are just a two of the political hot potatoes that ride high on the agenda of the gray legions, voters, lobbyists and tax payers all. The privileges and entitlements garnered by today's seniors weigh heavily on a federal system already many trillions in debt.

On the other hand, America's children have only the twelfth lowest infant mortality rate, vaccinations for diseases like measles and polio rank in the 80's worldwide, nearly 30% have no medical insurance and nearly 20% live in poverty - roughly the same percentage as 40 years ago.

Kristof says that the 'me first' attitude we so often assail in young people is actually their rightful inheritance. Instead of insuring a better world for those who follow, the boomer generation has sought to insure its own well being to the bitter end.

I think the man may have a point. Yet he dwells exclusively on the economic and social impact of the passing generation's self-centeredness.

I think that the clearest, most lapidary and durable affirmation of self over the children was the decision to legalize abortion. There was a time, perhaps, when being a parent meant giving your life for your children if necessary. Now it includes taking your child's life when your own comfort or convenience is threatened.

The baby boomers age, but not as gracefully as they might like to think.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

the wild side

After digging up fragments of the Pazuzu idol in northern Babylon (Iraq) I had a rough couple of months that culminated in getting thrown down a flight of stone steps by Captain Howdy.

I needed a change of scenery.

I am now assistant pastor and resident exorcist at an inner city parish in New England. The church I serve was built in 1872 by the German immigrant community in what was then a residential area. Now the parish is 98% hispanic and it's hard to imagine its surroundings ever being residential. Train tracks, a four story parking garage, an old Firestone service center and two highway overpasses comprise the view.

This is the church. Cel phone photo. We're on a tight budget.

The external setting is urban wasteland, yet I have become increasingly aware of the fact that I am not alone. The rectory, also late 19th century, and the few trees and brambles that adorn it are home to a variety of furry and feathered friends. To wit:

1. a family of cardinals - the nest appears to be on a transformer box atop a pole that leans precariously over the railway tracks, sporadically visible from my second floor bathroom window

2. a family of blue jays - not sure where they nest, but the male polices the airways and enforces a no fly zone on the crows that regularly intrude

3. at least two families of robins - garrulous and inquisitive; they, too, think they own the place

4. crows - dark and threatening, I've seen them poaching the other birds' young

5. a family of groundhogs - one entrance to their tunnels is directly under the kitchen window, another is by the garage and I suspect they have other exits across the tracks

6. squirrels - they come up to the sacristy door, they break into the attic and they fear neither God nor man

7. at least two skunks - they aren't noisy, yet somehow you know when they're around

8. lots of bats - they zip around the windows of the rectory at night in an aerial ballet of sheer lunacy, I have found that they dislike cigar smoke

Well, you're thinking, it would appear that the exorcist has a lot of time on his hands to be so observant of the exuberant wildlife around the parish...

Yup. And those are just the critters on the outside of the church.

Wait till you see the assortment of creatures we have on the inside.
Oh, yeah. A real Noah's Ark...

Monday, July 18, 2005

the mystery behind the science

On July 7 the NY Times ran an OpEd piece by Christoph Schönborn, cardinal archbishop of Vienna, regarding the position of the Catholic Church on the topic of evolution. As if that wasn't strange enough, there was an extensive follow-up article published on the Times' front page two days later. Finally, on July 13, another note appeared citing petitions made to Pope Benedict in recent days asking him to express himself directly on the issue of compatibility between scientific theories of evolution and Catholic theology.

Since the early 20th century, the question of the evolution of the species has been a litmus test is the hands of fundamentalist Christians who hold the Biblical story of creation to be a literal rendering of the birth of the universe and the gift of life. In the strict 'creationist' version, there is no room for biological evolution. Faith and science are at a stand off.

The Catholic Church has consistently affirmed that there can be no insurmountable chasm between science and faith if both modes of knowing seek the truth and recognize their mutual dependence in the quest. Science has its own specific realm of competence: the rational understanding of the natural world. Faith is understanding of an entirely different kind. Faith goes beyond science in search of the absolute, the final answer, the beginning and end of all things, the ultimate meaning of all that is... with revelation as its starting point.

In a nutshell, Cardinal Schönborn states that Catholicism does not blindly accept any scientific theory of evolution. There is, in fact, not one theory, but many variations on the theme. Schönborn rejects the idea, present in some neo-darwinian scripts, of an unguided, random process dependent solely on the mechanism of natural selection.

The Times articles seek to place the Cardinal's remarks on one side or the other of the evolutionist-creationist debate, in essence stating that Schönborn's essay signifies a sudden about face of the Church's supposed endorsement of evolution.

The press routinely has trouble with nuance, but the NY Times is especially hackish in its handling of Catholic teaching. That's what makes us exorcist types such avid readers...

Simply stated, there is no overt conflict with Catholic theology - the science of revelation - if a given theory of biological evolution or genetic relation between species avoids overstepping its limits. There are, after all, Catholic scientists that are not innerly torn between conflicting allegiances... between the Bible and the laboratory. A scientific theory is not necessarily an atheistic theory.

A scientific hypothesis that does not rule out the possibility of a Creator, that does not postulate the origen of life as a purely chemical fluke with no greater design than the chaotic churning of the primal puddle and that does not reduce man's spiritual nature to a consequence of mere biological survival will likely survive the scrutiny of theologians.

A scientific theory that does express itself on God, the origen of life and the human soul is no longer scientific. It has become ideology. There is a die hard positivistic lobby in the academia that would like nothing better than to banish spirit and mystery from our universe. But what is spiritual and, therefore, mysterious, falls outside the limits of science.

I saw that new documentary movie, March of the Penguins, this afternoon. There must have been 50 or 60 people at the matinee, but the silence was total. Five dozen people barely breathing. It was THAT incredible.

All the unfathomable drama of life, death, need, loss, community and quest is exquisitely captured and portrayed in a documentary about emperor penguins. Spirit and mystery. The penguins reflect it and thrive on it.

Need we be so blind?

Sunday, July 17, 2005

pit bull attack

Where is Linda Blair when you really need her?

Seems that her beloved pit bulls are getting jiggy with us of late.

Beloved Hitler was shot after growing unruly. In Manchester, CT two pit bulls were shot, run over and zapped with a stun gun, and one of them still managed to terrorize the community for a few days until she was corralled by frazzled police officers. In Atlanta, GA 37 malnourished doggies held in a clandestine kennel were liberated by the authorities... whom they promptly ate.

Looks like we're going to the dogs.

shark attack

The 1975 blockbuster Jaws is 30 years old this summer.

Everyone is celebrating.
Including the sharks.

Ask Lidia. Ask Craig. Ask Armin. And Jamie? Well, you can't ask Jamie.

The Discovery Channel's program Mythbusters is doing sharks this week. I tried their quiz on the web site. Great fun.

Not too convinced by question four, though. I got it wrong, according to Mythbusters.

Don't know. Not a shark expert.
But these suckers come across as anything but finicky eaters...
Check the bunnies.

alligator attack

They say that it's unlikely, even as far as freak accidents go.

They say that a little common sense is usually enough to avoid the problem.

They say that few of these encounters turn out to be fatal.

I submit to you that, from the alligator's viewpoint, what occurred in Sarasota this weekend was anything but an accident, revealed extraordinary common sense and was only fatal after the fact. Again, the reptile's perspective.

The Careful Parents web site would seem to bear out my scrutiny of the situation as they remind us that alligators, as a rule, eat small mammals. Your children, argues the webpage, as a rule, are small mammals. Draw your own conclusions.

Will alligators and man ever see eye to eye?

tiger attack

This is the only attack of the week that was a pleasure to watch.

Tiger, man. The real deal. The bomb diggedy.

Can't even list his stats. They go on forever.

Today he won his second British Open and completed his second grand slam. At the ripe old age of 29.

Amazing. And fun to watch.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

déja vu all over again

The Evil Empire has received its just deserts.

Yes, Big Papi, it was Divine Retribution.
You are the instrument of truth and justice in a corrupt world.

Sound familiar?
Check May 28.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

the exorcizer bunny

Check this out and tell me.
Am I being made fun of?

the united church of whatever

As recorded in a previous post, on the fourth of July the United Church of Christ (UCC) boldly went where no mainstream Christian church had gone before. The General Synod corageously, boldly, heroically encouraged all its congregations to embrace and perform same sex marriages.

But its work was not done.

Other, less pressing considerations littered the agenda of the Synod for the remaining days after the momentous fourth of July announcement. Among these other issues was the motion to include a profession of faith in the rite of ordination of UCC ministers. It was proposed that candidates to the ministry affirm their personal "faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour" as is stated in the church's doctrinal platform.

The motion was handily defeated by the Synod on the grounds that it would stipulate an unfair litmus test for candidates to the ministry.

One UCC pastor remarked that he was a little surprised by the Synod's rejection of the resolution. "Surely, this is one thing we can all agree on? ", he mused.

Well, I'm just your friendly neighborhood exorcist, but if you ask me, Mr. UCC Preacherman, sir, I reckon you darn near hit the nail on the head...

When the content of our faith is reduced to 'that which we can all agree upon' it is no longer faith. It's what we call consensus.

Friday, July 08, 2005

the Gollum syndrome

In Tolkein's masterpiece, the inherent bundle of contradictions that is man comes graphically to life in the character of Smeagol.

Or is that Gollum?

It is Smeagol and it is Gollum. The depth of the conflict between 'the two', oddly enough, does not diminish the identity of the one character. It merely puts everything he is on the table. Therein lies the art of Tolkein's creation. Smeagol is not less Smeagol because he is Gollum. Gollum is only truly Gollum as long as he remains Smeagol.

This is the defining essence of humankind. We are many things at once, and it is no single element that defines us. We are Red Riding Hood and the wolf. We are Snow White and the jealous Queen. We are the nameless protagonist and Tyler Durden.

If this is true on an individual level, how could it not define us as society? Is there any reason to think that, all together, we become somehow less antonymous? More coherent?

Americans are the most rampant consumers in the world, yet we are a very religious society. We impose our political and economic will on other countries with almost missionary zeal, yet we receive more immigrants and donate more money and aid to foreign causes than any other nation. All human groups are complex and contradictory. We're all a little bit Gollum and a little bit Smeagol.

Perhaps it is worth reflecting in this vein when trying to understand the judgment of the Muslim world on the terrorism of Muslim extremists.

First, we should recall that there is no central Islamic authority and, therefore, no unified Muslim voice. What is orthodox to one Muslim is, often, heretical to another. All refer to the Qur'an as their guiding principle. When final authority is attributed to a text, inspired or not, chaos ensues. Any text can be made to say any number of things if there is no superior point of reference to authoritatively interpret it. That's exactly what happens to fundamentalists in the Christian world who cite Scripture as the bottom line for doctrine and morality.

But internal divergences aside, why the sense in the west that there is no real, unequivocal condemnation of terrorist violence by the Islamic world, even when its victims are civilians?

Thomas Friedman goes there in his OpEd in today's NY Times. He points out that the only lasting way to curb the 'jihadist death cult' that thrives in Islam's midst is for Islam itself to come to grips with it and root it out. That has not happened. It does not look like it will happen in the short term. Friedman marvels that no Muslim cleric of note has yet issued a fatwa condemning Usama Bin Laden, when author Salman Rushdie, for what was an infinitely lesser offense in western eyes, received a virtual death sentence from a shiite iman.

But that is a constant in the Muslim world. Was anyone surprised by the totally underwhelming reprimand given by the Egyptian government to the Iraqui Al Quaeda cell that kidnapped and offed its leading diplomat in the war torn country? The uproar was notably stronger when Newsweek reported that the Qur'an had been mishandled in Gitmo...

The west asks, how can Muslims not be horrified by acts of planned terror that take innocent lives? I venture that they are. Even when they strike nations perceived as aggressors, like the US and the UK. They are human, they have families, they are not unaffected by the suffering of others.

I also venture that they are not. Muslim nations feel they have been historically mistreated, shut out and left behind by the west. They bear the brunt of a campaign against Islam born of fear and distrust. They know that, if not for the oil reserves under their soil, the west would care little for the advancement of their culture or the resolution of their conflicts.

The Qur'an sanctions retaliation against the enemies of Islam. Today's mujaheddin fight back the only way they can: innocent lives for innocent lives. That is how they see it.

When the west is hit by terror the Muslim world deplores it and doesn't. With equal sincerity.

No one should have to suffer the effects of a suicide bomb.
Yet, somehow, didn't they have it coming?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

the madness continues

"Whosoever should slay an innocent man, it is as if he had slain all men. And who ever saves an innocent man has saved all men." (Qur'an 5,32)

Today my thoughts and prayers are for the victims of the London attack. The dead in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine benefit nothing from the mindless slaughter of civilians. The reactions on the muslim blogs I follow regularly have been eloquent: islamicate, veiled4allah, degrouchyowl, muslimwakeup and sajshirazi.

Any idea how many muslims were riding the subway and the bus lines when the attack was launched? Does it even matter anymore who kills who? How do you stop the madness when neither side is capable of understanding the other's fears?

Maybe some day we'll all just get so tired of living in a state of constant terror that we'll resort to more humane ways of settling our differences. Insha' Allah...

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

eternal sunshine

My sister is in town, staying with my Mom for a couple of days. We got together for dinner last night. She is a bit of an enigma for me. I hope she's happy.

In her honor:

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot;
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind,
Each prayer accepted and each wish resigned."

(Eloisa to Abelard, Alexander Pope, 1717)

is Angelina for real?

I probably express a fairly common sentiment when I say that celebrities who cast themselves as experts on the deepest problems facing humanity make me throw up a little bit.

That's why Angelina Jolie has me in a quandry.

She has just adopted an Ethiopian AIDS orphan of less than a year old. She went to Addis Ababa, paid $20G, did the paperwork and took home a baby girl who otherwise would still languish among the other 5 million hopeless Ethiopian orphans. Ms. Jolie already has an adopted three year old Cambodian son. Maddox.

Adopting babies is serious business. More serious than giving millions to charity, which, apparently, Ms. Jolie also does. Definitely more serious than playing a rock concert whose logo is the African continent in the shape of a guitar. Music is cheap. Talk is cheap. Adopting babies is anything but.

I am perplexed by Angelina Jolie. Could it be that, beneath the lunacy and shallowness of Hollywood for which she has often been the covergirl, a caring heart beats in the Tomb Raider?

Two orphans. What are two adopted babies out of the millions of discarded children that wander the earth? The plight of children abandoned through war, famine, Aids and poverty is numbing.

One thing I do know, however. If this world is to be saved, it will be done one soul at a time.

Just maybe Angelina has done the math.

come as you are...

The Congregational Churches were the fourth religious body to arrive in the North American colonies after the French Reformed, the Roman Catholic, and the Anglican churches. Congregationalism was the established church of the New England colonies until the revolution. It was the church of Connecticut until 1818 and of Massachusetts until 1833. Both Harvard (1636) and Yale (1701) were founded by Congregationalist communities dedicated to higher education.

I guess it is not surprising then, that a church so steeped in US history should choose the fourth of July to announce what it calls a "corageous declaration of freedom". Freedom is, after all, what we celebrate on Independence Day.

The Congregational Churches are, since 1957, part of a larger body that includes the remains of the 'Christian Churches' born of Methodism in the early 19th century, the German speaking Reformed Church, originally invited by William Penn to the state that bears his name, and the surviving communities of the Evangelical Synod of North America.

The whole conglomerate is today known as the United Church of Christ, one of the more socially liberal and theologically fuzzy components of the Protestant mainstream. The UCC has roughly 1.4 million members, over 6 thousand churches and about 10 thousand clergy.

On Monday, while many of us were gathered around the grill and the cooler, the 25th General Synod of the UCC, its chief policymaking authority, gathered in Atlanta and voted overwhelmingly to support equal marriage rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. The vote constituted not only a protest against social discrimination but, in the Synod's own words, a theological statement.

"In the Gospel we find ground for a definition of marriage and family relationships based on the affirmation of the full humanity of each partner, lived out in mutual care and respect for one another."

I wonder if the UCC honestly feels that the New Testament provides a scriptural basis for same-sex marriages.

It's one thing to throw around social and legal arguments to justify our moral confusion and there will always be experts and analysts who can make even the most aberrant behaviour seem fashionable. But to reference the Gospel when making a case for allowing gay marriage hardly seems advantageous.

The UCC insists that the Jesus of the Gospel would not exclude or close the door on anyone. So, the alternative to exclusion is same-sex marriage? Not great logic.

The Gospel is generally not too useful for promoting social or political agendas. Jesus was not a social reformer. He did not embrace a political platform. He was about one thing only: revealing God to man. Even his preference for the poor and oppressed can only be completely understood in the context of his one mission: revelation.

The UCC has done Christianity a huge disservice by invoking the Gospel in its muddled capitulation to a harmful, though popular, stance on a purely political issue. But again, what could be expected from a church body whose most profound 'theological' concepts are hospitality and tolerance?