Subject: NCC Weekly News: New Year, New Resolutions

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From Jim: New Year, New Resolutions
Bishop Tom Bickerton tells the story of being passed on the road one day by an angry man who gave him the finger as drove by. It turned out to be one of his parishioners. The following Sunday, when congregants were invited to pray at the altar, the man came forward and asked for forgiveness. 

He also started attending Bible study and seeking ways to deepen his faith. He went on to become a Bible study leader, a small group leader, and a little league baseball coach. His life was changed because he flipped off his pastor.

As I review 2016, I can identify plenty of times and places where I fell short. The question for me will be whether my faults will impel me to change and follow through on my New Year’s resolutions. When and if I make any progress on my annual resolutions, I am pleased. As I get older, I find it is more and more challenging to change my habits.

Just this morning, for what must be the thousandth time, I told my wife I intend to jump out of bed each morning to exercise in the gym. Rarely do I follow through. Instead, I get a cup of coffee and something to read and talk with my wife about our schedules for the day and the errands that must be run.

For a number of years, I have accomplished one resolution and that has been to read the Bible daily. I read the “One Year Bible: Catholic Edition.” It’s well worn by now and pretty well marked up. New Revised Standard Version, of course.

I would like to write a book in 2017. I would love to lose 20 pounds over the course of the year. I want to engage in meditation regularly. All of these goals are doable and require daily discipline I have heretofore lacked. I confess I find it far easier to indulge my lifelong love of reading than to set aside time for some changes I believe would be good for me. 

Right now, I have ten books on hold at the local library. I’m reading “White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide,” by Carol Anderson and “Spiritual Defiance: Building a Beloved Community of Resistance,” by Robin Meyers. Over the holidays, I relaxed with several novels including “The Whistler,” by John Grisham, “The Wrong Side of Goodbye,” by Michael Connelly, and “The Eastern Shore,” by Ward Just.

I anticipate 2017 will be a challenging year in many ways. My parents are facing growing health problems as they age. I pray for them daily and am grateful for my sister who carries much of the burden in caring for them. Our national political scene will result in drastic and negative changes for the poor and impoverished. Threats to immigrants, refugees, and racial and religious minorities abound. In June, we will mark the 50th anniversary of the 6 Day War and the beginning of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, an occupation with no end in sight.

Thankfully, I am blessed with a wonderful family and co-workers and have the opportunity daily to serve God through the exciting ministry of the National Council of Churches. Much remains to be done to advance the cause of Christian unity, but our work in the areas of faith and order and justice and peace continue and great things are on the horizon for the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible. 

I pray God will give me strength, wisdom, and insight in the coming year and I pray you will join me on the journey.
Yours in Christ,

Jim Winkler
President and General Secretary

In Year of Anti-Muslim Vitriol, Brands Promote Inclusion

The gentle piano music starts as the doorbell chimes. A white-haired Christian pastor greets his friend, a Muslim imam, and the two converse and laugh over a cup of tea, wincing about their creaky knees as they prepare to part ways. Later, it spurs the same idea in each for a gift: kneepads sent via Amazon Prime. (It is a commercial, after all.)

The piano notes accelerate as the men open their deliveries with smiles, and then each uses the item to kneel in prayer: one at a church, the other at a mosque. The final chords fade.

The ad from Amazon and its message of interfaith harmony became a viral sensation this holiday season, at the end of a year in which talk involving Muslims became particularly ominous. Amazon — which aired the commercial in England, Germany and the United States — cast a practicing vicar and Muslim community leader in the lead roles and consulted with several religious organizations to ensure the ad was accurate and respectful.

“This type of a project is definitely a first for us,” said Rameez Abid, communications director for the social justice branch of the Islamic Circle of North America, one group Amazon worked with. “They were very aware that this was going to cause controversy and might get hate mail and things like that, but they said it’s something that they wanted to do because the message is important.”

His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew: The Patriarch of Solidarity

The role of the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, as the primary spiritual leader of the Orthodox Christian world and a transnational figure of global significance, grows increasingly vital. Bartholomew made huge efforts to organize the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church in Crete earlier this year. Likewise his promotion of religious freedom and human rights, his initiatives to advance religious tolerance among the world’s religions, together with his work towards international peace and environmental protection continue. They justly place him at the forefront of global visionaries, peace-makers and bridge-builders as an apostle of love, peace and reconciliation.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Archbishop of Constantinople, granted a special interview to the World Council of Churches (WCC) news. Part of the conversation took place in the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul at the beginning of December when the WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, met with Patriarch Bartholomew. The meeting took place conjointly with Bartholomew marking 25 years as Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch.

We meet in his residence office, a warm and welcoming room with strong colours, padded with books and icons. It tells His-All Holiness’ life story. He greets warmly, offering coffee and cakes, immediately making you feel welcome.

Black Preaching After Trump

Preachers do not step into the pulpit just because another Sunday morning has rolled around. We don’t preach just for the sake of preaching. For some of us, especially black pastors in the United States, preaching is an opportunity every week to invite human beings to participate in the in-breaking reign of God.

The idea that such in-breaking is even possible is not a feel-good, idealistic notion. It is the ground upon which black preachers have built and sustained their abiding belief that God’s justice, freedom, and peace can exist on earth. As a result of this commitment—some might call it idealism—balck preachers have long worked to repair the dilapidated structures at the intersection of American theology and politics.

In the wake of the recent presidential election, the deterioration and decay at that intersection is more visible than ever. What now is the role of black preaching in this new age, in this new America of soon-to-be President Donald Trump?

For generations, black pastors from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright have warned that America’s house is on fire with injustice and oppression. Do we follow King’s call and be America’s firefighters, helping extinguish the fire and save the house? Or, given the election results, is it time to abandon the house—both America and its Christianity—and condemn it as unsalvageable?

Massachusetts bishops oppose Trump’s pick to lead EPA

The bishops of the Episcopal Church in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Dec. 12 issued a letter to President-elect Donald J. Trump expressing their dismay at his choice of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The Episcopal Church stands strongly for the protection of the environment. We respect the facts of science. We support the laws and policies that address the reality of climate change,” the bishops say in their letter.

Weakening and dismantling the EPA’s protections of the natural world threaten the common good and compromise national security, the bishops write.

“We wonder why a person who has consistently and adamantly opposed all laws and policies that provide even minimal ‘protection’ to the environment should be entrusted with leading such an agency,” the bishops say.

“As citizens of this beloved country, we intend to write our members of Congress, urging them to block the nomination of Scott Pruitt to lead the EPA. We will pray for a better choice,” the bishops conclude, with an assurance to the president-elect of their continued prayers as he assumes “this office of tremendous responsibility for the good of all.”

Exodus calls for President Obama to commute unjust sentences for all non-violent and overcharged federal inmates in a final act of power

An official request to the White House from Exodus has been made, asking President Obama to adopt the Exodus Coalition Plan before he leaves office in order to systematically commute the sentences of all non-violent and overcharged federal inmates. Developed by Rev. Dr. Madeline McClenney-Sadler, President, and founder of Exodus, the Exodus Coalition Plan establishes a new and fairer set of criteria for clemency. The press is invited to join Exodus in front of the White House on December 19th at 3 p.m. for a press conference during its ongoing vigil until President Obama's term ends.

The official request states, "We applaud the work of the White House Office of Pardons and the Clemency Project 2014; yet, under the current guidelines, only 10% of commutation applications are actually approved. We would be remiss to ignore the harsh sentences of the 80,000 federal inmates left behind classified as nonviolent and likely thousands more who have been overcharged." The Exodus Coalition Plan was designed to assist President Obama and to strengthen his hand to do justice.

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