Anomalies From the Rooftop

Theology from Anomalies. One story a day from the world of Christianity that is just a little off-beat. Sometimes, in shouting the good news from the rooftop, Christians do some strange things.

Saturday, February 10, 2007 Launched

I’ve been working on (working on harder than I’ve been working on this site), which just launched as It’s built off, and specializes in Anglican / Episcopalian books and gifts. Check it out.

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Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Blog Back...but moved

I'm gonna try this blogging thing again, but I've renamed and moved things:

Anomaly Theology

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Americans Not Good at Filling Out Surveys

The Washington Post, along with many other mainstream news organizations, has reported on a new study out of Baylor University that claims Americans are actually better at being religious than they are at filling out surveys. The full report contains all sort of interesting findings about people's conception of God, their own religious self-identification, and the interplay between faith and politics. But, at least for this post, what's most interesting is that some 14 percent of the population selects "none" as their religious affiliation, but 10% of that 14%--or some 10 million people--wrote down that they worshiped at a particular place. In other words, they have no religion, but they are members of a congregation.

10 million people is a lot of people, so this is a relatively big deal in the world of religious demographics. And it all seems to point to the idea that denominational identity is increasingly irrelevant. As Kevin D. Dougherty, one of the authors of the survey and a sociologist at Baylor noted, "People might not have a denomination, but they have a congregation. They have a sense of religious connection that is formative to who they are."

What's so interesting about this trend, which can be experienced in everyday life and not just read about, is that religion has become captive to the individualizing tendency of modern life, rather than the tendency towards globalization/homogenization that are such major parts of the 21st century. People no longer identify as members of a denomination because their religion has essentially become their own--or at least limited in scope to the members of their own churches. And yet, everyone shops at WalMart. Why is it that people crave the individualism in their spiritual lives, but don't seem to mind a homogenized material existence? I don't think there is anything natural about religion that makes it move in an individualistic direction, but perhaps there is something about the American religious and political climate that makes religion move in that direction. Perhaps if we were a state that persecuted certain religious groups (which thankfully is not the case), people would feel more strongly about their religious identities.

Of course, if the US persecuted religious groups, people might be circumspect about filling out the surveys--which would save us the embarrassment of trying to explain why 10 million people aren't able to figure out the survey.

Monday, September 11, 2006

This just in from God: Celebrate Kunonga's Wedding Anniversary

The Bishop of Harare (Zimbabwe), the Rt. Rev'd Nolbert Kunonga ordered that all Anglican churches in his diocese close last Sunday (September 10th) to celebrate his wedding anniversary. Rather than celebrating the Lord's Day in their parish churches and with their parish communities, everyone was to attend the National Sports Centre in Harare, where everyone was expected to present that happy couple with gifts. The Mother's Union has been ordered to provide large quantities of food and drink. Apparently, the event is also going to start a fundraising drive for Bishop Gaul Theological College, which trains students from Zimbabwe to be Anglican priests.

It's pretty clear what's going on here: this is not about the glorification of God, but rather about the glorification of Bishop Kunonga.

Outside of the members of the Diocese of Harare, this doesn't have much in the way of practical effects. As the worldwide Anglican Communion girds itself to a battle about it's future destiny as a ecclesial organization, how disturbing that a Bishop in Zimbabwe can't even manage to let Sunday alone as a time of worship for his people. Of course, he's already been roundly condemned. Perhaps the only real shocking thing about this story is that he closed churches on a Sunday. Which is ludicrous.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Baptist Church Dismisses Female Sunday School Teacher, Citing 1 Timothy

First Baptist Church in Watertown, NY has created a public relations nightmare for itself in the firing of an 81 year-old female Sunday School teacher. The teacher, Mary Lambert, has been a member at the church for about 60 years, and had taught Sunday School for 11. She received notice of her dismissal in a letter from the church's diaconate board. The letter included the following reference to 1 Timothy:
A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became sinner. (1 Tim 2:11-14)
The news media immediately seized upon this as a case of a church firing a woman simply because she was a woman and therefore inferior, ignoring Ms. Lambert's own suspicions that the real reasons for her ouster were somewhat more complicated and political.

In a disarmingly conversational public letter, the pastor of First Baptist, Timothy LaBouf addressed this situation, noting that "
scriptural rules concerning women teaching men in a church setting was only a small aspect of that decision. Christian courtesy motivates us to refrain from making any public accusations against her." He also assured people that his "belief is that the qualifications for both men and women teaching spiritual matters in a church setting end at the church door, period." This is an important point, since he serves on the Watertown City Council with a female city manager.

The board's public letter, also available here, make the story all the more intriguing, as the board notes: "
Currently 55% of the Diaconate Board members of First Baptist Church are women. Additionally, by September, 87% of all Sunday School teaching positions will be filled by female educators." Clearly, since most Sunday School teachers are female, Ms. Lambert's status as a female has nothing to do with her dismissal. 1 Timothy was simply an attempt to seek a scriptural justification for church politics.

I can't comment on the inner-church politics in First Baptist, Watertown, NY. But I can say that it was absolutely inane to quote 1 Timothy in her dismissal letter. Thank goodness they stopped at 1 Timothy 2:14, and didn't include 2:15, which would have informed Ms. Lambert that she could still be saved by childbearing.

Friday, August 18, 2006

United Church of Canada Rejects Bottled Water

The United Church of Canada, which at about 600,000 members is Canada's largest Protestant denomination, has recently passed a resolution asking its members to stop buying bottled water. This proposal, which originated from a congregation in London, Ontario, seems to have had its roots in the Untied Church's Lenten program on water this past spring, Water in Focus. In turn, this is related to the ecumenical KAIROS project's current activities regarding water.

This is all well and good. Water conservation and municipal water development are serious social issues to be addressed. People probably do spend more money on bottled water than they need too, and it's certainly not the best use of our resources as Christians. If Christians put all the money they spent on bottled water towards food banks and homeless shelters, we could probably make a pretty substantial dent.

But why is it that the United Church of Canada is putting itself in the headlines by recommending against bottled water? The main thrust of their campaign, according to social policy coordinator Richard Chambers, is "concern about the privatization of water. The United Church is committed to supporting municipal water sources wherever they exist in the country and strengthening those.'' This rather socialist sounding line is logically absurd. People do not drink nearly is much water, bottled or otherwise, as they use for other purposes--cleaning, cooking, watering, bathing. The development of municipal water sources will continue regardless of whether some people buy bottled water to drink or not.

Moreover, why can't the United Church of Canada find a way to phrase its social justice initiatives in a way that sounds at least vaguely Christian? Or did I miss the part of the Bible that was anti-privatization and pro-municipal utility development?

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Illegal Immigrant Seeks 'Sanctuary' in Chicago Church

Elvira Arellano, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who has been deported once and later convicted of using a false Social Security number, has sought "sanctuary" from immigration authorities in a storefront Methodist Church in Chicago. Effectively convicted of identity theft, there is really no good reason she should still be in the country. But she has become something of an activist for immigration reform, and says she will stay in the USA because her seven year-old son, a US citizen, wants to stay. Of course, it is not at all clear that her son's citizenship is going to improve his life much if he is stuck in a church.

Slate has a good summary of the current and historical understandings and legal underpinnings of sanctuary. Basically, it's abundantly clear that there is no provision in US law for the principal of 'sanctuary' in a church. But Joel Fetzer, professor of political science at Pepperdine University, summed up the reality well in a Chicago Tribune article: "Just because you are in a church doesn't mean you are less deportable in a legal sense, but in a political sense, it looks very bad to be hauling people out of churches as the camera rolls."

But there is a huge difference between this kind of sanctuary and the kind enshrined in Christian history. Sanctuary used to be a place one could go, regardless of what one had done wrong. In this case, as in the sanctuary movement of the 1980's, the church only provides sanctuary to those who find themselves crosswise with what the church leaders judge are unjust laws. It's not sanctuary at all, but political protest. Even the pastor of the church, Walter Coleman makes this clear, perhaps unwittingly,
"She represents the voice of the undocumented, and we think it's our obligation, our responsibility, to make a stage for that voice to be heard."

Apparently the church did pray over this, and I have no doubt that they see this as an important social justice issue. But their prayers didn't do much to help the congregation or Ms. Arellano understand the term sanctuary. Sanctuary is not about "making a stage for that voice to be heard." It's not a social justice technique.
Sanctuary has something to do with providing a place where the mercy of God is real and tangible. But by making a stage for politics, Adalberto United Methodist Church is obscuring the Gospel in a deluge of political debate.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Australian Jesuit Wins Award for New Christmas Carols

Christopher Willcock, SJ and cartoonist Michael Leunig have won a major award in Australia at the 2006 Classical Music Awards. Their collection of Christmas carols, Southern Star, won 'Choir of Vocal Work of the Year.' Apparently by 'the Year' they mean 'recently,' for Southern Star was first performed on the radio in Australia in 2004.

The work, which is written to be performed by either and adult choir or a children's choir, accompanied by a harp, is a series of 9 Christmas carols. It seems a little out of place to be writing about Christmas carols this time of year, as my computer informs me that it is 102 degrees right now.

Apparently a recording Southern Star will be available by the holiday season, at least in Australia. Here's hoping that the recording, or at least the sheet music, makes it into the hands of some North American churches. Of course, we have very little experience with the Southern Star up here, but maybe the music is really about Christ and stuff...