Latin American Christianity: Colorful, Complex, Conflicted

It’s that time again! Although I don’t mention every issue on the site, when Christian History Magazine has a real stand out issue that I think would be of interest to you I like to give it a shout out.

Christian History Institute (CHI), publisher of Christian History magazine (CH), announces its latest issue, #130, titled: “Latin American Christianity: colorful, complex, conflicted.” The entire issue explores the formation of more than 20 Central and South American nations since the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 and the continent’s conquest by Spanish Crown and Conquistadors (conquerors), and the emigration of various Europeans, Africans and Asians. This is the story of the Catholic Church acting as an arm of the powers of conquest, colonialism and oppression in Latin America and those who repeatedly opposed them. As in previous Christian History issues covering difficult topics such as the Crusades and US slavery, these stories demonstrate how Christians who made terrible mistakes inspire others to avoid mistakes of the past.

The articles contained within are:

Christianity converted by Brian Larkin – The initial encounters between Europeans and Latin Americans

Dancing sickness, ancient gods by Javier Villa-Flore – Religious traditions clashed in Latin America

A long road by Pablo Miguel Sierra Silva – Slavery and Christianity in colonial Latin America

Making faith their own by Matt Forster – Worship, devotion, and folk religion in Latin America

Strangers in a strange land by Joel Morales Cruz – Protestantism and power in nineteenth-century Latin America

“¡Llegaron los pentecostales!” by Carlos F. Cardoza-Orlandi – How Pentecostalism spread in Latin America and the Caribbean

Virgins, nuns, preachers by Evelmyn Ivens – The many roles of women in Latin American Christianity

“A new Pentecost” by Edgardo Colón-Emeric – The story of Medellín

Charity toward all by Charlie Self – Fascinating stories from 500 years of Latin American Christianity

Rooted and released by the editors with Justo L. González and Ondina E. González – Diversity and complexity mark today’s Latin American church

The best part is, it’s FREE to view online! Visit here to check it out!

Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of goddesses, and so I’ll admit the main reason I wanted to check out Jo Jayson’s “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” was because the cover art was beautiful and the subtitle is “A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson”. I figured a book full of art like what was on the cover was worth a look.

“Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine: A Guide through the Paintings & Channelings of Jo Jayson” is a thoughtful exploration of what it is to identify as a woman. Jayson explores the lives/folklore and wisdom of Guinevere: The Queen, Mariamne of Magdala: The Magdalene, Brighid: Mother Goddess of Ireland, Isis: One Who is All, Mary: The Mother, Jeanne D’Arc: Maid of Orleans, Miriam: The Prophetess, Guan Yin: Mother of Compassion and Mercy, Morgan Le Fey: The Water Spirit, Artemis: Maiden of The Hunt, Kali Ma: The Dark Mother, Inanna: Star of Heaven and Earth, and Grandmother Spider: The Weaver.

First and foremost, the artwork is BEAUTIFUL! The book is hardcover with full color glossy pages, perfect for showcasing Jayson’s work. Each entry includes a brief history lesson and what we can learn from them. There is also a prayer and then some exercises you can work through. “Self-Love through the Sacred Feminine” is equal parts artbook, workbook, and history lesson. It’s wonderful book!

You can learn more here.

The Heart of the Goddess

“The Heart of the Goddess: Art, Myth and Meditations of the World’s Sacred Feminine” by Hallie Iglehart Austen was originally published in 1990, but Austen felt the time was right to bring it back.

She’s right. In this time of #resistance, Austen’s look at universal spiritual feminism is right on the mark. Respect for the earth, community building, and reclaiming the power womanhood all blend together in “The Heart of the Goddess”. Instead of your typical who’s who of female deities, Austen discusses each goddess from the perspective of a piece of artwork featuring the deity. This allows for a discussion of the origin of the art (geography and date) and with it, the history and culture surrounding the goddess.

To make “The Heart of the Goddess” a spiritual journey for the reader, the deities are collected into 3 parts: Creation, Transformation, and Celebration. Along the way Austen presents meditations, prayers, and thought exercises with the goddesses.

Regardless of how many books you own or have read about goddesses, I guarantee you that you’ve never encountered anything like this. Informative, spiritual, and filled with art pieces from antiquity to contemporary times, “The Heart of the Goddess” is, and will remain, a classic.

Learn more here.

Medieval Lay Mystics

Christian History magazine is back with a new issue I thought many of you would be interested to check out, the latest issue is titled “Medieval Lay Mystics”.

Christian History Institute (CHI), publisher of Christian History magazine (CHM), announces its latest issue, titled: “Medieval Lay Mystics”. The entire issue explores a mysterious question for many Christians, historians and scholars – What did it look like and what did it feel like to be a medieval Christian?

Spanning four vivid centuries, from 1000 to 1473, CHM issue #127 takes an in-depth look at the lives of notable medieval mystics, especially those who were not ordained clergy.

By the twelfth century devout women, monks and hermits came out of seclusion to preach and minister to others, proclaiming the gospel in local languages so that common people could understand it. They called on both fellow laypeople and clergy to repent and enter a genuine relationship with Christ. This spiritual process, culminating in an inner, mystical union became known as mysticism.

Scholars agree, that around the twelfth century, a variety of forces led to a cultural and spiritual renewal among those living outside formal religious institutions and traditions. First by thousands, then by the tens of thousands, common people responded to the gospel. Thirsty for a vital Christian life, they fostered devotional lifestyles, joining various movements of piety and service to others that offered opportunities to grow spiritually.

Three centuries before the Reformation, scholars began to also translate the Bible into local languages. Outdoor preaching became common and itinerant preachers traveled across Europe calling people to a life of repentance. This led to 300 years of repeated revival movements and waves of spiritual renewal across Western Europe leading up to the Reformation, which began around 1500.

“People from these movements penned timeless devotional classics, many still popular, writing of their desire to reach a mystical oneness with the Christ they loved,” said the managing editor of Christian History, Jennifer Woodruff Tait. “Here, I think, is the point where we can connect their lives with ours. We both desire to learn how to be more devoted to Jesus.”

CH issue #127, contains 7 features and 4 shorter side-bar articles; a chronology time-line; an archive of rare art-work & photos; a ‘letter to the editor’ section and an extensive reading list compiled by the CHM editorial staff.

I read the issue and found it an interesting, worthwhile read. What’s great is, you can read this issue, all their past issues, and access all sorts of other resources for FREE on their website! You can find it all here.

The Devil and Father Amorth

The Orchard will release “The Devil and Father Amorth” theatrically in New York and Los Angeles On April 20th.

Years after he changed the landscape of American filmmaking with 1973’s “The Exorcist”, director, co-writer and legendary storyteller William Friedkin moves from fiction to fact with his new documentary, “The Devil and Father Amorth”. What began as a brief conversation between Friedkin and Father Gabrielle Amorth – the head Exorcist for the Diocese of Rome for over 30 years – as two professionals who knew of each other’s work soon transformed into an once-in-a- lifetime opportunity, as Amorth agreed Friedkin could film an exorcism ceremony. It would be the ninth exorcism for a painfully afflicted woman, Cristina (a pseudonym), who had already been under Father Amorth’s care – and it would be filmed by Friedkin alone, with no other crew allowed, no light other than the natural light in the room and a small digital camera-and-mic unit that could capture the ritual and its revelations.

Combining the startling and singular footage from Cristina’s exorcism with interviews from priests and psychologists, neurosurgeons and non-believers, Friedkin guides us on a journey into the twilight world between the boundaries of what we know and what we don’t with a singular and startling guide in the form of the urbane, charming and self-deprecatingly funny Father Amorth, a man who laughs in the face of the Devil both figuratively and literally. Combining Friedkin’s past memories and present observations with archival footage and new interviews – as well as also presenting what may be the only real exorcism ceremony captured on film – “The Devil and Father Amorth” is a startling and surprising story of the religion, the ritual and the real-world victims involved in possession and exorcism.

Food & Faith

As most of you know by know, I’m quite the fan of food and learning about religion. That’s why when Christian History Magazine emailed me about their latest issue I was pretty intrigued and wanted to share it with you. The issue is “Faith & Food, 2000 Years of Feasting and Fasting”.

As they explain:
This issue is packed with tid-bits of information about foods mentioned in the Bible and Christianity’s holiest meal, the Lord’s Supper. Many more meals and meal traditions have been documented, among them: potlucks and fellowship meals, soup kitchens and church gardens, Christian cookbooks and Christian diets, the temperance movement, feasting, fasting and practices of hospitality.

Articles:
Good food from the good book, A partial primer on biblical foods by the editor

What should Christians cook?, Faith in the kitchen by Jennifer Trafton – Jennifer Trafton, author, artist, creative writing teacher, and former managing editor of Christian History.

The royal way, Feasting or fasting? the constant Christian tension in the public square by Kathleen Mulhern, who teaches Christian formation and church history at Denver Seminary.

Fasting: from the Orthodox front lines, we should consider the spiritual discipline of not eating by Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of Welcome to the Orthodox Church and numerous other books, and frequent essayist and public speaker.

Recipes, recipe suggestions from friends of Christian History by Josh Hale, Barbara J. Hale, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Julie Byrne, Mary Anne Tietjen Byrne, Quita Sauerwein

Everyday substances, heavenly gifts, From the beginning, the holiest Christian meal used everyday food by Andrew McGowan – J. L. Caldwell McFaddin and Rosine B. McFaddin Professor of Anglican Studies and Pastoral Theology and dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. He is the author of Ancient Christian Worship and Ascetic Eucharists.

Eating (and not eating) with the church fathers, Things church fathers said about food compiled by Jennifer Woodruff Tait – Managing editor, Christian History.

Raise a juice box to the temperance movement, Getting unfermented wine from the vineyard by Jennifer Woodruff Tait – Managing editor, Christian History.

What would Jesus buy?, How nineteenth-century Christians transformed our grocery aisles by Matt Forster – freelance author living in Clarkston, Michigan, and a frequent contributor to Christian History.

The sacred duty, a Seventh-day Adventist menu by LaVonne Neff – freelance author and blogger at LivelyDust, raised an Adventist.

From Cana to Jell-O, Christian fellowship meals: feeding the hungry and each other by Barton E. Price – director of the Centers for Academic Success and Achievement at Indiana University–Purdue University Ft. Wayne and teaches history, music, and religious studies.

Welcoming the Stranger, Serving the guest—including with bread by Carmen Acevedo Butcher – lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of Man of Blessing: A Life of St. Benedict.

I haven’t read the entire issue yet, but I’ve read a few articles so far and I find it interesting. The articles are well written and the art is beautiful. Are you interested? Well good news, you can read it for free online at the Christian History Institute’s website! And if you like what you read, you can subscribe with a donation of any amount you choose.

Prison Evangelism

I received an interesting press release that I’d like to share, along with some personal observations. First, let’s take a look at the press release:

Oil industry veteran David Howell is working a rich new harvest field—saving souls and reducing the prison population through a graphic guidebook, allowing public funds to be diverted to other pressing needs.

Mailing copies of his How To Be a Child of God to prisoners for just 54 cents a copy offers a remarkable 7,000-to-1 return on investment, according to Howell. That’s because keeping someone from returning to prison by helping them find new life and hope as a Christian saves around $31,000 a year in incarceration costs.

With a record 2 million-plus people currently behind bars in the United States, Howell now wants to expand the reach of his Prison Evangelism project by distributing an additional 600,000 free copies of How To Be a Child of God to prison chaplains nationwide. Doing so responds to Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 25 for his followers to remember those in prison, who have an extremely high conversion rate when presented with the gospel.

“Imagine the impact we can have, not only on individuals and their families, but on society as a whole, as they find new purpose and power for living and put prison behind them,” Howell said.

Prison Evangelism research on distribution to date shows that one in 10 people who reads the 52-page booklet makes a commitment to Christ. That means if the national campaign saw a similar response and those impacted did not return to prison, the saving to taxpayers would be $2.1 billion annually. Additionally, the reduced inmate population would be equivalent to closing 60 prisons.

The owner of Houston-based pipeline consulting firm Pipeline Equities, who began working in the oil and gas fields as a 14-year-old “roughneck,” Howell has been active in sharing his faith since becoming a Christian in 1984. That decision “turned my life around,” forsaking drinking and wayward living, he said.

Involved in a wide range of other ministries at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, Howell created How To Be a Child of God in 2010 to pass out to people he met. Asked to provide some copies for use in prisons, he was amazed by the response. Letters began to come in from prisoners transformed by what they read. Among them was a man in jail in Midway, Texas, who wrote how the book touched his heart. “This book has been an inspiration to me. It opened my eyes to some great things and I soaked it all up like a sponge. I’ve finally put my life in His hands after all I’ve been through. Now I’m growing spiritually every day,” he said.

Since then, Howell has printed and distributed more than 110,000 copies to prison chaplains across the country, including 25,000 in Spanish. The book has been translated into a dozen languages, and turned into a 20-minute online video (www.howtobeachildofgod.com). He has also produced two popular follow-up books in similar style, Seeking God Through Prayer & Meditation and Fully Alive and Finally Free.

Howell credits the impact of the publications, written at a sixth-grade reading level, to their simple language and the emphasis on being transformed by the resurrection power of Jesus Christ. Additionally, as a standalone piece that can be reread and studied by prisoners who may be isolated or have time on their hands, it self-directs the reader into making a commitment to Christ without requiring others’ involvement.

“These are people who have come to an end of themselves, and that is where all of us must come before we are willing to accept the need for a power greater than ourselves,” said Howell.

John Salmon, chaplain at Diboll Correctional Center in Diboll, Tex., said that How To Be a Child of God had been “very popular” with the men there. “They actually read it,” he wrote. “And you know what happens when people expose themselves to the Word of God.”

George Hanson put copies out for chapel services at the Price Daniel Unit in Snyder, Texas, “and they flew out of the door,” he said.

Having poured more than $300,000 of his own money into the project, Howell formed Prison Evangelism as a nonprofit a couple of years ago. Now 77, with three granddaughters and a great-grandson, he said, “I know that this is the reason God is keeping alive, for this project. It is what he designed and created me to do.”

Before deciding to feature this on my site I asked to receive a copy of “How to Be a Child of God” to read for myself. And although I’m not a Christian lass, I found nothing offensive in the book. It’s essentially a simply written book, with full color illustrations, instructing you on how to accept Jesus Christ into your life. The book also has a section about introducing others to Jesus Christ and I liked the part where it said, “we are not seeking to make bad people good, but spiritually dead people alive”. Making sure that they understand that just because a person hasn’t accepted Jesus Christ doesn’t make them a bad person, just different. The focus of the book is on the internal life of the individual, it’s not a vehicle of radicalization.

I think it’s nice that Howell has found something like this to put his energy into. I believe in prison outreach be it through assorted chaplains, yoga and meditation classes, service dog training, or any number of other programs that are out there. Yes prison is a punishment, but it should be a place that offers rehabilitation too.

Prison Evangelism (www.prisonevangelism.com) is a faith-based nonprofit committed to transforming and rehabilitating offenders through the distribution of “How to Be a Child of God” and other evangelistic and discipleship materials designed to help prisoners find new purpose and power in life through a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Biblical Conspiracies

I love conspiracy theories. That’s not to say I believe them, but I do love them. I’m not sure why. If you’re like me and enjoy reading conspiracy theories, tell me in the comments why you do. Maybe it will help me figure it out. Anyway, I love me a conspiracy theory and as you might guess from my website, I also love religions. So when the Science Channel folks reached out to me with an advance screener for an upcoming episode of a show called “Biblical Conspiracies” you know I took them up on the offer.

This particular episode, just in time for the Easter/Passover season, is “Biblical Conspiracies: Jesus Family Tomb?” It discusses the controversy of The James Ossuary, a burial bone box that dates to the 1st century, and has on it, an inscription that states, “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Some believe it is a simple forgery, others point out that the names James, Joseph, and Jesus were super common names during that time period, and others think it may have a link to the “Jesus Family Tomb”, discovered in 1980 in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb. I don’t want to give too much away, but this episode has plenty of history, science, and yes, conspiracy. It was a good time.

“Biblical Conspiracies: Jesus Family Tomb?” premieres Easter weekend, Saturday, April 15 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Science Channel.

The Seen and Unseen Dimensions of Time

By Carisia H. Switala, MTS

I assume most people are aware of the recent “Voice of an Angel” story reported on the news about an 18-month old girl who was found alive in an overturned car 14 hours after it crashed in a Utah river. The four police officers who rescued the little girl said they heard a woman’s voice calling out for help. However, the girl’s mother died in the crash and there were no other people in the car. The officers really believe something otherworldly took place. Perhaps this story is a good example of the temporal and eternal dimensions of time merging together allowing the mother to call for help from the unseen dimension.

After years of research, I came to the realization that time is an elusive concept. Most individuals believe that looking at their watch and hurrying to get to work on time is the extent to which this concept is relevant. However, in my opinion, time is so much more than a measurement of sequential events. For many years, philosophers and scientists have been trying to explain time. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, believed that time is the measurement of change. Whereas Sir Isaac Newton, an influential seventeenth century English physicist and natural philosopher, believed that space was a static container and time was an absolute flow. Newton hypothesized that absolute time exists independently of any observer and moves forward at a steady pace throughout the universe. He also thought that humans perceive ordinary time as a measurement of objects in motion like the sun.

Saint Augustine, an early Christian theologian and philosopher, believed that time was only in the mind and a human invention that cannot be applied to the universe or to God. Augustine’s view was that God existed in a timeless void. However, as the human mind evolved into a thinking machine that applies science to philosophical questions, the idea of relativity introduced the opinion that time is a physical dimension governed by physical laws. This opened up a more expansive view of the world and the universe.

I believe that the ancient idea of eternity, endless time, is a very profound and complex aspect of the subject. What seems like the passage of time in a changing world is but an illusion in a three-dimensional space.

It is difficult for humans to visualize space. The standard human experience of space can be described in terms of three dimensions: width, depth, and height. Once the fourth dimension of time is added to the equation, parallel dimensions and universes become a clearer possibility in a space-time continuum. This advancement in thought and knowledge reveals the endless nature of time and the continuation of life, defusing the idea of a timeless void. It is a perspective that views eternity as endless time, not the absence of time as Saint Augustine suggested.

We measure the passage of time in seconds, minutes, hours, and years, but this doesn’t mean that time flows at a constant rate. Just as the water in a river rushes or slows depending on the size of the channel, time flows at different rates in different places. Einstein believed that the past, present, and future all exist simultaneously. In other words, time is relative. So relativity makes it possible, with the proper technology, such as a very fast spaceship, for one person to experience several days while another person simultaneously experiences only a few hours or minutes.

After I delved into scientific theory, I discovered that the idea of parallel universes in quantum mechanics suggests that all possible quantum events can occur in mutually exclusive histories. These alternate, or parallel, histories would form a branching tree, symbolizing all possible outcomes of any interaction. If all possibilities exist, any paradoxes could be explained by having the paradoxical events happening in different universes. This concept leads to the conclusion that time travel is possible, and a time traveler should certainly end up in a different history than the one he or she started from. Hence, relativity and ancient notions of time variation and parallel universes are very similar.

My research into philosophy, theology and science inspired me to merge scientific and religious views about time into one reality of infinite time. The Bible contains many time-centered passages and reveals eternity to humanity. Science is also on the verge of discovering the possibility of opening up the fourth dimension of time in order to make breakthroughs in time travel. When these two disciplines work together, who knows what incredible insights into the seen and unseen dimensions of the universe will be revealed. The result will most likely be humanity’s inspiration to attain absolute knowledge of the mysteries of eternity.

The new paradigm of time I discerned is endless time. It encompasses the eternal dimension of the universe that allows for infinite life. This dimension contains the unending transformations of nonstop creation. And life doesn’t have to start in the temporal world in order to be infinite because life is eternal and therefore has no starting point. The illusions of the third dimension emanate from a static view of space and time where objects exist and events take place in a linear sequence. Perhaps one day the next brilliant scientist will be able to mathematically prove the existence of eternity.

About Carisia Switala, MTS:
The idea for Carisia Switala’s book “Eternity’s Secret: What the Bible & Science Have to Say About Time” was conceived of several years ago while she was a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School (of which she is holds a Master’s of Theological Studies from). After a strange experience following her mother’s passing-away, Switala finally reached a point where she decided to write a book focusing on the insights and knowledge she had acquired from her scholarly pursuits. She lives with her husband, Lekan Obadeyi, near Washington, D.C. To learn more visit: http://www.carisiaswitala.com/

A Bible Above the Rest

I’m not here to pass judgment. Oh wait, that’s EXACTLY what I’m here to do, since this is a book review. I’ve got to tell you, spoiler alert, that I am duly impressed with the “NIV First-Century Study Bible” with notes by Kent Dobson. Now you may be wondering how does a piece of work like yours truly go about accessing the worth of a Bible? Honestly, I could have just gone by sheer mass. Seriously. If it wouldn’t be some sort of vortex opening super sin, you really could kill a man with the latest hard cover edition. The publisher used thinner than normal paper. Not flimsy or shoddy, just thinner. I would hate to imagine the size and heft if it had been printed with standard paper. The injuries my wrists take just getting out my copy of “Absolute Watchmen” are intense. I would need an assistant to get this off the shelf if they hadn’t taken appropriate measures. Now before you think I didn’t put any thought or consideration into this at all, let me show you that I do know how to do my non-paying job.

NIV stands for New International Version. According to the Preface, “The complete NIV Bible was first published in 1978. It was a completely new translation made by over a hundred scholars working directly from the best available Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek texts. The translators came from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, giving the translation an international scope. They were from many denominations and churches – including Anglican, Assemblies of God, Baptist, Brethren, Christian Reformed, Church of Christ, Evangelical Covenant, Evangelical Free, Lutheran, Mennonite, Methodist, Nazarene, Presbyterian, Wesleyan, and others. This breadth of denominational and theological perspective helped to safeguard the translation from sectarian bias.”

The even created a committee to keep up on biblical scholarship and to those ends the NIV Bible has been revised twice. The latest copy available builds on those revisions and reflects the latest effort to best translate international scholarship to English. That kind of work impresses me. But then, just in case their efforts to be as neutral and throrough in their interpretation as possible slips up, that’s where Kent Dobson comes in.

Dobson lived and studied in Israel where he earned a Masters Degree in History and Geography of the First Temple Period from Jerusalem University College. He also studied Comparative Religion at the Rothburg International School of Hebrew University. And Dobson provides all kinds of notes throughout the Old and New Testament and each Book has an introduction that provides outside context to the religious text you’re about to read. I know this is going to sound stupid, but I’m still going to say it, someone could really use this to study the Bible!

An important reason to not only have outside context notes as well as the best attempt at neutral translation can be found with everyone’s much loved Leviticus 18:22 which gets bandied about as the Biblical argument against homosexuality. “The NIV First-Century Study Bible” says:

Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

However when we go to the note it is revealed that, “Most of the Old Testament information about homosexuality is in the context of either rape or ritual prostitution. The Bible associates homosexuality with Canaanite depravity and cultic pagan worship. A clear break from Canaanite practices is a major theme in Leviticus, from dietary restrictions to sexual relations.

That’s a bit different, eh? And it’s there, thanks to the addition of Kent Dobson’s notes.

It’s not every day a gal is asked to assess the worth of a Bible, and I have to say, I never really thought I would find that much here to set it apart. Yet as they say, “The Lord (in this case) works in mysterious ways” and I’m sitting here with a Bible I’m pretty enthusiastic about reading. Who knew?

If you find yourself in the market for a Bible for spiritual or academic reasons, I heartily recommend the “NIV First-Century Study Bible”.