Religion

Shavuot 2014

Celebrating the giving of Torah:

SHAVUOT

History
Shavuot is a Jewish holiday which celebrates God’s giving of the Torah to the Jewish people at Mount Sinai. It is also known as the “Feast of Weeks.” It has connections to an ancient grain harvest festival and is one of three pilgrimage holidays celebrated in ancient Israel.

Dates
Shavuot is celebrated seven weeks after Passover, exactly fifty days after the first seder. For this reason, some Jews refer to the holiday as Pentecost. It is a two-day holiday, though in Israel it is only celebrated for one day. In the Jewish calendar, it begins at sundown on the 5th of the month of Sivan and lasts until night falls on the 7th of Sivan.

In 2014, Shavuot begins on June 3 and ends on June 5.

Traditions
As Jewish kosher laws were part of the message included in the Torah, on Shavuot is is customary to eat dairy products. No work is done on this day. Holiday candles are lit, and some people stay up all night on the first evening reading the Torah.

Before the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, Jews would bake two special loaves of bread from their first grain harvest and present them to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Reflection
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, the founder and director of the Shalom Center, wrote a Shavuot reflection in a blog for The Huffington Post that relates the harvest of the grain to the spiritual rewards reaped by reading the Torah:

How can we unify the earth-Shavuot of wheat harvest with the word-Shavuot of Torah?

One first vision of a tiny practice that could bring new power to Shavuot: Each household bakes two loaves of bread to bring to the communal reading of that Moment on the Mountain.

As we share the bread with each other, touching the loaves and touching the others who are touching the loaves, we share with each other, with our partner the Earth, and with our Highest Selves, the One:

From Earth we receive,
To the One we give:
Together we share,
And from this we live.

 

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Church

2014: Seizing the Moment. How Episcopalians and Anglicans Will Fare.

Dr David Virtue paints a sobering picture:

The year past ended with one of the worst and most litigious years in the history of the Episcopal Church. At a time when congregations are shrinking and closing, millions of dollars are being spent on lawyers to take back church buildings that will inevitably be sold off to other (evangelical) church groups, to Muslims…anybody except to orthodox Anglican churches that could keep them open as places of Anglican worship.

The Episcopal Church is now more dysfunctional than ever and more and more people, especially Millenials, are simply not interested in The Episcopal Church and its constant rants about the need to accept pansexuality as a prevailing cultural issue. Talk of inclusion and diversity has not stirred them to suddenly fill Episcopal churches. Pews are emptying and will continue to empty with no salvific message of redemption and hope being heard from pulpits.

Endless preoccupation with social and “justice” issues, whether it is about the Middle East or women’s rights to abortion, or gay marriage, will not and is not, making churches grow. People are spiritually starving and hurting. There is more pain out there than ever before. Suicides are up, divorce is still rampant and perhaps the biggest single unaddressed issue in America today is loneliness. Millenials are not committing themselves to much of anything and, apart from occasionally “hooking up”, they are not committed to life-long marriage. I recently heard a wedding vow in which both partners said “till love do us part” not death.

A whole generation has given up on the church. Millenials don’t care. Once upon a time, they would have looked to the Church for aid and comfort. No more.

Read on here.

 

Church

Christian Persecution Expected to Rise in 2014

Vatican Radio reports:

The persecution of Christians is expected to rise in 2014, according to a nonprofit organization whose mission is to raise awareness about Christian persecution and to offer pastoral and practical support to persecuted Christians around the world.

Release International has highlighted two challenging areas for Christians this year, said spokesperson Andrew Boyd.

The first, he said, is “the continuing rise of Islamist persecution” in the form of militant groups that are seeking to change the governments within their countries and to take power, in particular, in Afghanistan and Nigeria, which are both set for elections this year.

The Taliban in Afghanistan, he said, will likely increase its attacks as NATO troops pull out by the end of 2014. In Nigeria, the Islamic militant group Boko Haram has already declared war on the Nigerian president and on Christians, said Boyd.

The second challenging area is the communist and post-communist world. Boyd identified North Korea to be the biggest concern. “North Korea has headed many organizations’ lists as the worst persecutor of Christians in the world for quite some time now,” he said.

He also identified a particular dynamic in countries of Central Asia, where majority-Muslim populations and a background culture of communism come together. Though constitutionally secular, in nations “where you have a strong Islamic culture and a strong communist culture, there you have really quite a great deal of oppression,” Boyd said.

Elaborating on the situation in Afghanistan, Boyd explained that “anyone who converted to Christianity (has) either faced persecution by the state or risked being murdered by their relatives”.

“There are Christians who are active in Afghanistan and there are Muslims who are wanting to convert. The numbers may be small but the oppression against them is absolutely severe and the authorities today are turning a blind eye to persecution in that country,” he said.

Boyd said the situation in Afghanistan is important to understand, despite the few Christians there, because it serves as “a reflection of what is happening in other countries, where there’s a hardening of religious fundamentalism against Christianity and against anyone who would like to change their faith.”

Christians, heeding the words of Jesus, know there will always be persecution, stated Boyd. “But that doesn’t mean that we stay silent about it,” he added. Scripture urges Christians to both remember those who suffer and to speak out against injustice, he continued.

“There is a need for advocacy. There is a need to say that this (persecution) is wrong,” he said. “Governments need to be taking action to do something about this. Laws are unjust. They need to be changed.”

Listen to the full interview with Andrew Boyd: RealAudioMP3