Monthly Archives: December 2011

How to take spiritual stock of 2011

By Blogger Clay Ritter

“Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them. (Is 42:9)”

The dawn of a new year is a unique time. Many of us will reflect on our lives over the course of the past year. Was it a good year? Bad year? Somewhere in between?

I suppose that the thing that determines whether we consider 2011 a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ year has something to do with our perspective; how we measure the past year of our life. If I asked you to rate the past year, what criteria would you use? Finances? Career? Health? Relationships? Spiritual growth?

In reality, all of these are valid areas to evaluate, as they are all important aspects of our lives. They are things we should take stock of from time to time.

Now, from a biblical standpoint, there isn’t a scripture that tells us that on Jan. 1 we should take stock of our lives, and make New Year’s resolutions. But there are verses that tell us to examine ourselves.

For instance, Galatians 6:4 tell us:

“But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another.” (Gal 6:4)

So as we move into this new year, I leave you with three questions to ponder:

#1 Are the things I am doing today; physically, emotionally, spiritually, working for my life?

#2 Am I being a good and faithful steward of the things God has entrusted to me?

#3 Am I living my life with purpose?

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A call for the “12-Step Church” in 2012

By Blogger Bo Dean

Imagine if we did “church” on Sundays the same way that 12-step groups do their meetings. A moderator opens the meeting with a prayer, readings are done, and then a topic is suggested for the meeting based on a shared principle or a problem or situation that someone is struggling with or experiencing at that moment.

From that point on, each person in the room shares his or her “experience, strength and hope” on the subject or related issues. The moderator or meeting chair guides so that one person never dominates, and there is this amazing sharing that goes on. Typically, the sharing is so gut-level and real that the honesty in the room is palpable. Imagine us as Christians doing this very thing.

I have begun to think more about this as I not only experience the way in which we do “church” but how we choose the very churches that we attend. The one-stop shop delivery of “the message” by one person in a typical Christian church is how most churches operate. Sure, there are hymns sung or music played, some readings that are based on some lectionary whose origin or development I would bet most people have no real knowledge of, and then there is “the sermon” or the homily or some form of speech that may or may not be based or derived from the readings of that day. But there is no discussion, no room for questions and the only “message” comes from the top down.

For me, I have learned to want and pray for spiritual growth. I know that is what truly counts in my life. I will leave behind me what I have done, not what I accumulate. So, increasingly, I need in my “church” or in my life (which is church…as those gathered together to share and witness in God are a church) to be a place of sharing and differences and that growth. Where is the challenge if I am fed what I believe? Where is there a call among each other to grow?

As Christians, where is there anything remotely resembling that call for love, hope, charity, if we cannot worship, discuss, and find our way as a body? Where is there true understanding if that understanding is coming from just one source or from a theology based on an understanding we have not explored with one another?

I was introduced to these posts as a writer and a voice for LGBT issues. Well, I am a gay man, happily married these last 15 years, and someone who is deeply, devotedly, and gratefully a servant as well as a loved son of God. I have discovered in my own journey, through just those questioning bodies, through understanding my own heart, and through seeing the work of my God in the world around me that I am just as he would have me and just as he made me. So, as I write, I write with one and only one certainty: that I am loved just as I am.

I am going to write on this blog about my spiritual beliefs, about issues that we face as a world and, yes, about my experience as a gay man. But I believe I am going to write them like what I would like to see in that 12 step church.

I will write my experience, strength and hope and share my viewpoint and hope that if there is discussion that arises from it, it will come from each person’s experience, strength and hope. In this “church” we all have a place to share what we believe with that certainty of love. In this “church” we can open ourselves up to other thoughts, ideas and notions and not be subject to heresy. It is my hope that in the writings ahead this can be a place to be about the business of true spiritual work.

So, let’s have church.

Kissed at the center of the labyrinth – a spiritual New Year’s tradition

By Blogger Christine Moughamian

Have you ever been kissed under the mistletoe, in a church, at the center of a labyrinth?

If you’re looking for a new way to step into the New Year, tonight’s the night!

The Labyrinth in the floor of Church of the Servant's sanctuary courtesy of the church's Web site

On Dec. 31, 2006, I took my boyfriend to Church of the Servant in Wilmington, to celebrate the New Year with a different rite of passage: walking the labyrinth in a candlelit sanctuary. A labyrinth veteran, I’d extended the invitation to a novice on the path. That he agreed to it was in itself a good sign. That he followed me quietly on the long and winding road was a bonus. And that he kissed me at the center, under the mistletoe, was the proof that he was “the one.” We’ve since walked the labyrinth together many times, an experience that keeps binding us closer.

One of over 1,200 labyrinths in the USA, the labyrinth at Church of the Servant is the exact replica of the labyrinth in my hometown cathedral in France, Notre Dame de Chartres. By a twist of fate, I’ve come all the way across time and the Atlantic Ocean to America, to walk on what was always there at home, unbeknownst to me, at the time hidden under the chairs, fallen out of use.

The labyrinth

Circular, the path winds itself eleven times in four large quadrants before reaching the center, a six-petal rose or “rosette.” From there, the way in becomes the way out. As stated on the pamphlet available at the church and titled “Experience the Labyrinth,” “This labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends.”

The walk can be akin to a process of self-transformation, progressing in three stages.

– The first stage, walking in, is like shedding old ideas, habits or unwanted thoughts. The physicality of it quiets the mind and relaxes the body.

– The second stage, sitting on the floor or in a chair at the center, is a place to meditate, pray, listen for answers or even experience a feeling of illumination.

– The third stage, walking out, retraces one’s steps back to the entrance to re-enter the world empowered by the union with the Divine.

Although pre-Christian structures exist dating as far back as 3,500 years and stretching from India to Crete and Hopi traditions, labyrinths also were installed in 13th-century French cathedrals. In times troubled by the Crusades, walking the labyrinth became, for the faithful, a symbolic pilgrimage to Jerusalem, a safe rite of passage to the Holy City.

In 1995, Lauren Artress pioneered a labyrinth renaissance in the USA with her book “Walking A Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool,” and the labyrinth she helped create in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. The labyrinth in Chartres was chosen as the template.

You can walk the labyrinth tonight 9 p.m.- 12:30 a.m. at Church of the Servant, 4925 Oriole Drive. Journals are provided with pens and colored pencils, along with prayers and questions to contemplate on the threshold of the New Year. Or you can stand at the entrance and simply hold an intention in mind, such as Inner Peace or Prosperity, or ask a question and let the walking reveal the answer, step by step, breath by breath.

If you cannot stay up late past midnight on Saturday Dec. 31, you may want to join in a World Peace Meditation at 7 p.m. at Unity of Wilmington, 717 Orchard Avenue, or greet the New Year on 11 a.m. Sunday Jan. 1, also at Unity, with a Burning Bowl Ceremony to “bring the light of awareness to the past so we can release all that no longer serves us.”

Either way, you’ll step into the New Year much Light-er!

Happy New Year, filled with Blessings of Love and Light, Health and Wealth!

What does the new National Atheist Party stand for? Reason in U.S. policy, of course.

By AMANDA GREENE
Religion News Wilmington

When he’s not writing pieces for Religion News Wilmington, blogger Han Hills posts occasional podcast interviews with key players in the local and national Freethought movement on his site, Cape Reason.

This week, Hills posted an interview with Jacob Kramer, Vice President of Outreach for the National Atheist Party, a new American political party that formed in 2011 to represent the views of growing secularist movements across the country.

In the interview, Kramer said that the National Atheist Party “believes that policy should be based on evidence-based conclusions from experts and not cronies or people who have no experience in their field.”

He also said that the National Atheist Party encourages our nation’s policy makers to learn from successful government or health care models around the world.

“Socialism is not a dirty word for us though we’re not a socialist party,” Kramer said.

Check out the rest of the podcast at Cape Reason.

Amanda Greene: Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

Bill Cosby brings his comedic touch to the Bible

By ADELLE M. BANKS
c. 2011 Religion News Service

061003-N-0000K-001 Dr. William H. "Bill&q...(RNS) Like many Americans, Bill Cosby owns multiple Bibles — eight, in fact. And, like many Americans, he doesn’t read any of them regularly.

But for a half-century or more, Cosby’s been looking for funny nuggets from the Bible, particularly the book of Genesis. He’s had audiences roaring, imagining poor Noah struggling to build his ark with pairs of animals and cubits of wood.

“Am I on ‘Candid Camera’?” Cosby’s Noah asked.

At 74, the iconic comedian has tackled the Bible again. In his new book, “I Didn’t Ask to Be Born (But I’m Glad I Was),” Cosby devotes a lengthy chapter to what he calls “The Missing Pages” of the story of Adam and Eve.

“Why did God need a rib to make a woman?” he wonders.

And, he says, he can’t figure out how the couple managed to use leaves to cover themselves once they realized they were naked in the Garden of Eden.

“There have to be some missing pages, because the writers don’t say anything about where Eve got the needle and thread to sew the leaves together,” Cosby writes.

The star of “I Spy” and “The Cosby Show” and creator of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” will see his 1964 comedy album, ” I Started Out As A Child,” entered into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2012.

Though he takes two comic looks at the Bible, he doesn’t think it’s generally a funny book.

“I don’t see much comedy in the Bible, where people are writing about funny people,” he said in a phone interview. “It’s not there. This is not Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner.”

But Cosby, who grew up in a Philadelphia housing project named for AME Church founder Bishop Richard Allen, appreciates the Bible’s lessons on a range of human behavior.

Take the story of Naaman, an army commander from the book of 2 Kings, who didn’t want to follow God’s detailed instructions for being cured of leprosy.

“I know and I’ve met people like that, who you send them to do something and it’s for their benefit and they come back and they didn’t do what you told them to do because they were impatient or whatever,” Cosby said.

“That, to me, is a human behavior that I find hilarious.”

He compared it to people who stop taking prescribed medicine when their symptoms go away rather than following doctor’s orders. But biblical teachings are “better — I’m serious — than most psychologists or psychiatrists will give you,” he said. “You read it and you can see yourself.”

For his part, Cosby identifies with both the Methodist and Baptist branches of his family tree, and writes that he believes in and fears God. But, when it comes to living out his faith, he calls himself more of an “absentee voter.”

“There are times when I will regard and think consciously about it,” he said, “and then there are times when I move without it.”

Though he has focused his attention most recently on characters from the Bible, Cosby also doesn’t hesitate to critique and support modern-day Christians.

For instance, he continues to challenge black churches that he says could do more to combat drugs and crime in urban neighborhoods. It’s quite clear, he said, “if you visit these neighborhoods and look, the thing that stands out with the black Muslims is no drugs, no alcohol.”

On the other hand, football player Tim Tebow’s openness about his Christianity on the gridiron is just fine with Cosby. “I have no problem with his outspokenness about his faith,” Cosby said. “Let him speak about it.”

But he has little patience for people like the man he recently met on the streets of Syracuse, N.Y., who offered Cosby a miniature Bible and repeatedly asked him “Do you know that Christ loves you?” after the comedian had already assured him he did.

“It seems that you are more interested in conquering someone, and if you would read more about Jesus as he walked and talked and what he represented, you’ll find that he is not what you are,” Cosby told the man. “That’s, as far as I’m concerned, not a model for the way Christ behaved.”

He politely declined that man’s Bible.

Then again, he had eight already.

Five Zen Haikus to honor Christmas Eve

By Blogger Steve Lee

Zen Christmas Haiku # 1 8 p.m.

The lights are well-strung.
Ornaments glisten brightly.
What is the present?

Zen Christmas Haiku # 2 9 p.m.

Sitting quietly,
Doing nothing. All is still…
Drat! Stockings to stuff.

Zen Christmas Haiku # 3 10 p.m.

Was that a sleigh bell?
I heard a distant click-click-click.
No mind. Be here now.

Zen Christmas Haiku # 4 11 p.m.

I remember now—
The present is the present.
What a gift of love.

Zen Christmas Haiku # 5 Midnight

Now, long awaited day!
Yet still the breath goes in, out.
Ever-present gift.

What are the 12 Days of Christmas?

By Blogger Tracy Bua Smith

Although the calendar says December 26 and the Christmas carols are no longer playing on the radio and in stores, it is still Christmas!  Christmas begins on Christmas Day and continues for 12 more days until the Feast of the Epiphany on Jan. 6, when the Magi visit the Christ Child and bring Him gifts.

So did you know that the famous Christmas song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, celebrates the beginning of the Christmas season, Christmas Day, in the liturgical calendar and ends on the Feast of the Epiphany?   Many mistakenly believe that the 12 days refers to the 12 days prior to the celebration of Christmas Day.

On our Christmas tree we have this beautiful ornament of a partridge in a pear tree that was given to my husband and me by an aunt who has since passed away.  We treasure this gift from our loved one and it wasn’t until I started researching about the song “The 12 Days of Christmas” that I realized that there is some controversy surrounding what the partridge in the pear tree symbolized, as well as the other items mentioned in the song.

christmas 2007

Image by paparutzi via Flickr

Several years ago, I read that “The Twelve Days of Christmas” has religious symbolism and according to Father Edward Dowling in the article, “The Real Meaning of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, The Twelve Days of Christmas” was written to educate the faithful in the doctrines of the faith and yet not be obvious to the persecutors. The numbers are simply a mnemonic to help Catholics remember some basic facts. Recall the words of the song. “On the 12th day of Christmas, my true love gave to me: 12 lords a leaping, 11 pipers piping, 10  ladies dancing, nine drummers drumming, eight maids a milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves, and a partridge in a pear tree.”

Father Dowling’s article then lists what each phrase of the song means as a way for Catholic Christians to remember the doctrines of the faith: “My true love” refers to God, “me” is the individual Catholic.
The “12 lords a leaping” are the twelve basic beliefs of the Catholic Church as outlined in the Apostles Creed.
The “11 pipers piping” are the eleven Apostles who remained faithful after the treachery of Judas.
The “10 ladies dancing” are the 10 Commandments.
The “nine drummers drumming” are the nine choirs of angels which in those days of class distinction were thought important.
The “eight maids a milking” are the Eight Beatitudes.
The “seven swans a swimming” are the Seven Sacraments.
The “six geese a laying” are the Six Commandments of the Church or the six days of creation.
The “five golden rings” are the first five books of the Old Testament (called the Torah) which are generally considered the most sacred and important of all the Old Testament.
The “four calling birds” are the Four Gospels.
The “three French hens” are the Three Persons in God or the three gifts of the Wise Men.
The “two turtle doves” represent the two natures in Jesus: human and divine or the two Testaments, Old and New.
The “partridge” is the piece de resistance, Jesus himself, and the “pear tree” is the Cross.
It wasn’t until I did a search on the internet about “The Twelve Days of Christmas” that I realized that the religious symbolism behind the song is thought to be fiction.  For example,Snopes states that the song was NOT created as a “coded reference to important articles of the Christian faith.”  Then Snopes goes into detail why some claim this to be false.  “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, according to many articles that I have read, might have been mixed up with another song titled, “A New Dial” which dates to at least 1625 and assigns religious meanings to each day of the 12 days of Christmas.

After reading many articles about the real meaning of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song I’m not  sure if the song has religious symbolism or not since it appears there is no sound proof for it to be true or false.

What do you think?

Have you heard about the religious symbolism in “The Twelve Days of Christmas”?  Were you aware of the differences of opinions in whether or not the song was created as a type of catechism during a time of persecution?   I think this is a fascinating topic and would love to hear what others think about it.

There are many parodies that have come from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” song and I would like to conclude this post with 2 variations that you may have never heard, but I found them to be fun and entertaining.

The first video is titled “The Twelve Days of Homeschooling” which I found funny as a homeschool mom myself to my four children.

This second video is the group Straight No Chaser singing a creative and entertaining version called “12 Days of Christmas Medley”.

On this first week of Christmas, I wish you a Merry Christmas!

Wilmington’s community Kwanzaa celebration in its fifth year

By Blogger Christine Moughamian

On Dec. 28, 2009, I was invited to my first Kwanzaa ever.

With curious anticipation, I met a girlfriend at 6:30 p.m. at the Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation (BEMF) in downtown Wilmington, rang the doorbell and stepped into… Africa!

Our hostess, museum founder Islah Speller, wore a traditional African robe and headdress. She led us into a room richly decorated, packed with African-Americans of all ages. We sat among the participants who squeezed in to make room for us. Although we were the only Caucasians, we felt warmly welcomed.

I Speller Kwanzaa photo

Brochures were passed around detailing the holiday’s history, its symbols and principles. Kwanzaa is observed in the USA from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1 to honor African-American heritage and culture. The Swahili name means “first fruits” in reference to African harvest festivals.

There were brief introductions that I barely heard. I just couldn’t take my eyes off the garlands around the windows, shining with the colors of Africa – green, black and red – or the children’s drawings pinned on the walls, or the photos of family ancestors and black heroes. Up front stood an altar covered with a hand-woven cloth, laden with a basket of fruit and corn, a seven-branch candleholder and a mysterious earthen vessel, “the Libation Cup.”

“Let us now partake in the Libation,” Speller said. She raised the cup, declared the Libation Statement, poured its water into small individual cups. She explained that “cold water is poured from the same cup each night, so that we all drink from Kikombe Cha Umoja, the Cup of Unity.”

Unity. Umoja, the first of the seven Kwanzaa principles.

Although I’d missed a couple of days, with that simple affirmation of Unity, I was at once united with my fellow participants. In turn, I raised my cup, said “Harambe,” (Let’s pull together) and drank from Unity.

Speller lit a candle, asked the question calling forth the principle of the day:

“Habari Gani?” (What’s the news?)

“Ujima,” (Collective Work and Responsibility) the congregants answered in unison.

Speller introduced Sonya Bennetone who invited personal testimonies. From children to parents and grandparents, everyone shared personal stories where they either helped a brother solve a problem or were helped by a sister. Recounting their personal experiences further contributed to build and maintain everyone’s sense of community.

The evening closed around 7:30 p.m. after prayer, meditation and spiritual study. I enjoyed it so much that I went back a few times. On the last day, Jan. 1, 2010, the celebrations began with drumming, proceeded with the seventh principle, Faith (Imani) and concluded with Karamu, a feast of homemade fares and refreshments featuring ingredients that Africans brought to America, such as sesame seeds, peanuts, sweet potatoes and spicy sauces.

I left feeling nourished in all levels of my being, resourced and renewed.

This year will see the Fifth Annual Community Kwanzaa hosted at the BEMF. I asked Speller what inspired her to host Kwanzaa. She said that after establishing the BEMF, she wanted to “restore something of moral and cultural value to the community.”

Because its principles support “the foundation of family out to the community, to be a good family member and a good citizen,” Kwanzaa was the perfect vehicle, Speller added. The BEMF, a non-profit organization she founded to preserve Wilmington’s black heritage in downtown Wilmington and for which she won the 2011 YWCA Rachel Freeman Award, became the next logical venue.

“Kwanzaa celebration enables us,” Speller said, “to recommit to our community, to reclaim, to rejuvenate and affirm together the principles from the African ancestors.”

Would you like to experience Kwanzaa this holiday season?

What: The fifth annual Community Kwanzaa

When: 6:30 -7:30pm, Dec. 26, 2011-Jan. 1, 2012

Where: Burnett-Eaton Museum Foundation, 410 N. 7th St.

Details: Each day of Kwanzaa, a different candle will be lit on the kinara (candelabra), each representing a different principle: Umoja-Unity, Kujichaguliai-Self-Determination, Ujima-Collective Work & Responsibility, Ujamaa-Cooperative Economics, Nia-Purpose, Kuumba-Creativity, Imani-Faith.

795-8597 or e-mail SpellerIslah@yahoo.com

Meet Bo Dean, our LGBT issues blogger

Saying Bo Dean is a big voice in the Wilmington area’s academic, philanthropic and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) communities would be an understatement.

But there is no other way of defining Bo’s experience in shorthand – especially in Wilmington’s gay and lesbian community with his founding of OutWilmington.org. That’s why I’ve asked him to be our LGBT issues blogger.

Find out more about Bo here:

“Bo is a native North Carolinian born in Fuquay-Varina and raised in Chapel Hill. Actively involved in the Wilmington community, Bo has served on the boards of the Cape Fear Community College Foundation, Wilmington Health Access for Teens, and the Leadership Wilmington Alumni Advisory Board, and has served through appointment on the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board as well as the Wilmington Housing Authority Board of Directors. He has served two terms on the statewide board of Equality North Carolina and founded and ran Outwilmington.com, an online LGBT virtual community center from 1999-2007. He is actively involved in the American Heart Association, Wilmington Interfaith Hospitality Network, and Coastal Horizons Inc. Bo is currently the development director for the Cameron Art Museum. Bo can be reached at 910-409-5627 or by emailing him directly at bowilmington@gmail.com.”

Welcome to Religion News Wilmington, Bo!

Decorating Jesus’ birthday cake – a Smith family tradition

By Blogger Tracy Bua Smith
This poster image for the 2010 campaign, Baby Scan Jesus, is from ChurchAds.org
When I put this photo on my Facebook page and personal blog last year and this year, some readers thought that I was announcing that I have been blessed with another precious soul to add to the other 4 blessings sent from above.
While indeed our family and friends would be excited to welcome a new child into our hearts and home,  this photo is announcing that a child more precious and more blessed than any that ever was born in the past, present, or future will soon be here.   This child, Jesus Christ,  came into the world to not only change history, but to change hearts.
In the Old Testament in Isaiah 9:6 it was prophesied  that “for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
In the New Testament, this prophecy was fulfilled with the Christmas story and the telling of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-14, Luke 2:15-20).  According to many historians, Jesus’ birthday may not have been on Dec. 25, but our family doesn’t celebrate whether the  birthdate is accurate or not,  but rather we celebrate who this day is for.
This year, as in years past, I will look forward to celebrating Christmas (Old English: Crīstesmæsse, literally “Christ‘s Mass“) with my family by attending Christmas Eve Mass which is always so beautiful with all the sacred hymns, candles, and bright red poinsettias.
Another tradition we do as a family is make a birthday cake for Jesus and sing “Happy Birthday to Jesus!” My children love this tradition as they decorate the cake with lots of icing and multi-colored sprinkles.
The tradition of the birthday cake helps our children remember that beyond all the secularism of Christmas there is a deeper,  more sacred meaning of Christmas which is the celebration of when “the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14).  It has been a joy to keep Christ in CHRISTmas by continuing this family tradition!
As Catholic Christians, our family is called to give to God’s son more than what can be found at a store or put into a package.  Our faith calls us to give the greatest gift of all, our hearts.
Yes, the Son is on his way, the Prince of Peace, the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, Emmanuel (“God with us”).  After four weeks of lighting our Advent candles and preparing for the coming of our Lord born in a manger over 2,00o years ago, it is almost  time to light birthday candles, celebrate the joy of the Christmas season, and announce to the world that the Son is here!