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Why Did the Pope Choose Francis as His Name?


by: Stephen S. Bowman on October 15th, 2015 | No Comments »

Watching Pope Francis cast his spell over America last week I found myself recalling the words of Shakespeare’s Juliet asking “What is in a name?”, or more precisely, why did Pope choose Francis to be his new name upon his ascendancy?  The common answer is that he was told by a friend to remember the poor, but that seems too superficial.   And perhaps equally curious, why have no other pontiffs in the past 800 years taken the name before?  It seems that Francis of Assisi, though the most beloved of all Catholic saints, was seen as just too revolutionary in the past, but that zeal is precisely why this pope chose the name, and it is in that spirit that he is leading us today.

To understand our Pope’s mission, one must review the often overlooked facts of the life of St. Francis, which are often obscured by hagiography and superstition.   Today he is often only remembered for taming wild beasts with a blessing and preaching to larks and sparrows.  But this narrow view does both the saint and ourselves a great disservice and diminishes his radical vision.

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

To understand St. Francis, we must put him in his proper context of the 12th century.  In the Middle Ages, Europe was a highly structured feudal hierarchy, largely illiterate, and struggling in subsistence poverty.   And the Catholic Church, was dominated by a monastic system that kept many priests and brothers locked behind the walls of their monasteries serving their God thru prayer.  The church orthodoxy was colored by St. Augustine who offered a bleak view of both human nature, and the world in which we live.   It was an otherworldly institution.


I Want to Be Left Behind


by: Brenda Peterson on August 27th, 2015 | 11 Comments »

Since the best-selling Left Behind series, the religious right in the US has been obsessed with Israel. Their support is not because they revere the Jewish traditions; in this Christian Zionist Armageddon belief, Israel is simply the setting for the longed-for Rapture – an evacuation plan that saves only Christians. All other religions are left to endure the Tribulations.

For decades this belief has dominated our international foreign policy, especially in the Middle East. Even today it is the subtext for much of the pro-Israel “blind support” as Rabbi Michael Lerner writes about in his recent letter: “There are an estimated 30 million Christian Zionists, and they play an important role in shaping the dynamics of the Republican Party and the Christian Right.”

Here’s an excerpt from the recent memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, by author Brenda Peterson, which describes the darkly comic, but deeply troubling world view that comes from this Rapture-bound belief still shaping our Middle East policies.


What Religion Tells Us About the Place of Wilderness in American Environmentalism


by: Dr. Mark Stoll on July 23rd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Muir woods.

Muir woods. Credit: CreativeCommons / Aftab Uzzaman.

Wilderness has long been regarded as a cause near the heart of American environmentalism. Typical histories trace rising appreciation for wild nature that runs through Henry David Thoreau and John Muir on up to present passionate defenders of wilderness. This is such solidly received wisdom that hardly anyone, from environmental activist to academic historian, really questions it.

I discovered a rather different story during research for my book, Inherit the Holy Mountain: Religion and the Rise of American Environmentalism. I investigated the religious backgrounds of major figures in the history of environmentalism. Intriguingly, for over a century they overwhelmingly were raised in just two denominations, even though adult beliefs varied considerably.


The Emerging Truth about Junipero Serra and the California Missions


by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on July 10th, 2015 | 4 Comments »

A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California's Indians by the Spanish Missions written by Elias Castillo.A Review of A Cross of Thorns: The Enslavement of California’s Indians by the Spanish Missions by Elias Castillo

Craven Street Books, 2015

Reading this book set my third chakra racing while my sense of moral outrage boiled over. Yet it is presented in subdued and sober terms, with fact after fact and story after story, building a sure case against the canonizing of Franciscan Friar Junipero Serra. The author, Elias Castillo, a three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, tells the truth of the fabled and now postcard-like missions of California, a truth that has often been hidden away in libraries containing correspondence and comments from the days of the mission founding while a myth of benign relationships with the native peoples has been promulgated instead.

In this book Father Junipero Serra, called by some the “Father of California,” is exposed in damning detail as the father of a system, the mission system, that systematically destroyed the culture of the indigenous peoples of California, who had lived at peace with the earth and more or less at peace with themselves over millennia until the Spanish arrived. With Castillo’s new research in hand, it makes all the more scandalous the current effort, supported by two Opus Dei archbishops and the Knights of Columbus, to canonize this sadistic person who is a poster boy for colonization and racism. Why, why, why is Pope Francis going ahead with this canonization? Who profits from it?


Pope Francis’s Encyclical and the Coming of Age of Creation Spirituality


by: Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on July 6th, 2015 | 1 Comment »


Aerial shot of melting glaciers.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Doc Searls.

Pope Francis’s recent encyclical boasts a title borrowed from the famous poem to Brother Sun and Sister Moon by his namesake, Francis of Assisi. “Laudato si’”, which translates as “Praise Be to You”, carries a message and a spirit that echoes much of the soul of St. Francis. Humans around the world are eager for some moral voices to stand up and be counted, so beset are we by multinational corporations and their lobbyists and their media moguls who, like secular popes, declare infallibly each day what is and is not news while they pad their corporate pockets with dark money raised by an avalanche of consumer goodies most of which feed the world unnecessary goodies. Surely this is one reason the Dalai Lama has the following he does. And it is the reason Pope Francis is being heard by more and more people around the world and why, borrowing from his idol, Pope John XXIII, he addressed this encyclical on climate change and ecology to all persons of the world, Christian or not, believers or not.


God(s), Same-Sex Marriage, and the Colossal Joke


by: on July 3rd, 2015 | 4 Comments »

Wedding bands on top of a rainbow.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Robert Couse-Baker.

God/Gods’s Mixed Messages?

Since the Supreme Court of the United States ruled marriage for same-sex couples constitutional in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, most of the major religious denominations throughout the country have since issued statements in response to this historic and wide-ranging decision. As there are numerous religions and denominations within each, we find also numerous and very disparate responses along a continuum: from very progressive and supportive to extremely conservative and oppositional.

Anyone with even the most rudimentary understanding of world history recognizes that many if not most conflicts between peoples and nations have centered on different (though not necessarily opposing) religious perspectives and viewpoints.

So I find the enormously contrasting responses to the Supreme Court not particularly surprising. But my primary question centers on this: “If all religious denominations truly believe they have been touched by, are privy to, and are following the will and word of the True (with a capital “T”) God(s), how can they come away with such varied and often contradictory perspectives?


Canonize Junipero Serra? Really?


by: Matthew Fox on June 23rd, 2015 | 2 Comments »

Alter for Junipero Serra.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Art4TheGlryOfGod by Sharon.

American peoples learned of Pope Francis’ decision to canonize Father Junipero Serra (1713-1784) during the papal visit to the United States in Fall. Serra is the Franciscan missionary who oversaw the colonial system of missions in California. The news of his prospective canonization is sad for what it says about Church ignorance – after all these hundreds of years – of Native American accomplishments; it is also sad for what it reminds us about the history of Christian missionizing. A Native American from California recently wrote me that “by virtue of this canonization of a conqueror, the pope has declared war on Native Peoples, globally.”

It is particularly sad that the first American pope ever, one who has caught the attention of millions for his efforts to cleanse the church of its sins and society of its “narcissism” and social and economic inequities, and who has actively sought the perspectives of the faithful, would be so blind to the history of indigenous peoples on two continents, and deaf to the protests of indigenous and non-indigenous Christians alike. And it is sad that as many nations and peoples await the pope’s encyclical on Eco-theology and Climate Change that still another stake would be driven into the indigenous legacy of respect for nature that is so central to their spiritual tradition and to the survival of the planet as we know it today.


For the Sake of Heaven


by: Melissa Weininger on June 23rd, 2015 | Comments Off

Close up of a flame.

Credit: CreativeCommons / Oliver.

According to reports, when a young stranger walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church last Wednesday night, the senior pastor, Rev. Clementa Pinckney, invited the young man to sit next to him so that he would feel welcome. It was literally an article of faith that the church should embrace the young man, though he was not a regular member of the community, though he was white in a historically black church. These things didn’t matter to Pinckney and the other members of the Bible study group that met that night. What mattered to them were tenets of faith and the standards of their community, a congregation built on the premise of inclusion, particularly inclusion of the marginalized and rejected.


Terrorism in Charleston: It’s About Racism, Stupid!


by: on June 23rd, 2015 | Comments Off

The following written on a cardboard box, "terrorism / noun / 1. the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes".

Credit: CreativeCommons / Jagz Mario.

While all available evidence points to Dylann Storm Roof’s racist motives in his admitted mass murder of 9 worshipers at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church on Wednesday evening, June 17, in Charleston, South Carolina, still, a number of conservative Republican politicians frame the tragedy as either something we can never truly understand, or primarily as an attack on Christians, Christianity, and religious liberty.

According to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley: “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

Well, Governor Haley, I believe that in most instances of terrorism directed against houses of worship in the United States, the attackers’ motives were crystal clear: white supremacism!


Sadhana: Coalition of Progressive Hindus Welcomes Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change


by: Sunita Viswanath and Christopher Fici on June 22nd, 2015 | Comments Off

An aerial shot of Herbert Volcano Caldera.

Credit: CreativeCommons / U.S. Geological Survey.

In his recent eco-encyclical (ecology and economy) Laudato Sii (“Praised Be”), Pope Francis invited every person on the planet into dialogue on the many pressing ecological issues facing humanity – and their impact on the poorest people of the world. The reality of climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (#25). Humankind is responsible for care of the natural world, and that responsibility extends toward protecting poor and vulnerable people and our children and grandchildren.

Pope Francis made five key points in this teaching document, a new foundation of Catholic teaching on the environment: