In the News
group magazine: January-February, 2006
by Stephanie Martin
‘Godcasts’ Offer ‘Religion on the Fly’
ALEXANDRIA, Va.—As podcasting grows in popularity, more people are using the audio downloads to listen to religious programming.
Currently, almost 500 people or groups produce spiritual or religious podcasts, offering everything from weekly sermons to shows featuring Christian music and Scripture readings.
Mark Batterson, pastor of the National Community Church in Alexandria, Virginia, says the hourlong “godcasts” of his weekly service are bringing new worshippers to his church. “This builds toward a digital discipleship,” he says of religious podcasting. “We’re orthodox in belief but unorthodox in practice.”
Batterson also has used blogs to communicate with church members, saying such “spiritual multitasking” keeps people connected to their faith during the week. He says podcasting can impact the 21st-century church as much as the printing press impacted the 15th-century church.
Roderick Vonhögen, a priest who has 10,000 listeners for each of his Catholic Insider godcasts, says, “Podcasting for us has been a resurrection of radio. It’s the connection to a new generation.”
Professor Melissa Rogers predicts that godcasts won’t replace going to church. “Podcasts provide a way for people who are very busy these days to get their religion on the fly,” she says, “but for most people this will be a supplement, not a substitute.”
Source: The New York Times
Do you listen to podcasts? If so, how often, and to what types of programming? Are you surprised by the popularity of godcasts? Why or why not? What impact do you expect them to have on churches as a whole? on individual Christians? Do you expect them to impact and convert non-Christians? Why or why not? Would you be likely to listen to church sermons and other religious material on an iPod? Why or why not? Would this ever replace church worship for you? Why or why not?
Do you tend to forget about your relationship with God during the week? Why or why not? What are some ways you try to focus on God between Sundays? Besides church, what supplemental religious experiences do you participate in: Bible study? prayer chains? blogs? personal reading? other? What do these activities contribute to your spiritual life? Do you ever choose religious pursuits over entertainment or social opportunities? cross off religious activities from a too-busy calendar? Explain.
Should Christians be a little cautious of new technology? embrace it? Explain. Do we need to do whatever’s necessary to reach people for Christ, or should we avoid appearing worldly? Explain. Can religious communities form over the airwaves or Internet, or do people have to physically gather together to be spiritually united? Explain. Do you participate in any religious practices that you deem “unorthodox”? If so, explain.
Scripture links: Psalm 35:18; 122:1; Amos 5:21-27; Matthew 18:19-20; 2 Timothy 2:14-16; and Hebrews 10:19-25.
Prom Canceled Due to Extravagence
UNIONDALE, N.Y.—Citing a culture of “financial decadence,” a high school principal canceled his parochial school’s spring prom. In a long letter to parents, Brother Kenneth Hoagland lamented “the flaunting of affluence, assuming exaggerated expenses, a pursuit of vanity for vanity’s sake.”
For previous proms at Kellenberg Memorial High School, seniors made a $10,000 down payment on a party house and parents chartered a boat for a post-dance “booze cruise.”
Hoagland called the prom culture “sick,” “out of control,” and “beyond reform.” He added, “These are great kids; we just don’t want to put them in harm’s way.”
Support for Hoagland’s decision poured in from around the nation. But reactions at Kellenberg were mixed, with some students calling the move unfair. A group of parents rallying to organize an off-campus prom is selling “Got Prom?” T-shirts to raise funds.
Amy Best, author of Prom Night: Youth, Schools and Popular Culture, says parents often fuel the “growing consumption” surrounding prom by paying for everything their kids demand.
Examples of prom excess include an Ohio boy arriving in a helicopter, a California girl buying an $8,000 designer gown, and another girl having liposuction to fit into her dress.
Hoagland says the school is “willing to sponsor a prom but not an orgy.”
Sources: Associated Press, abcnews.com
Do you think Hoagland’s decision is warranted? is an
overreaction? Explain. How would you feel if you attended this school? were a parent of a student there? Would you support the administration’s wishes? fight them? Explain. Do you agree that prom culture is “sick”? Why or why not? What examples of excess have you witnessed or heard about in your school or town? Do you think “financial decadence” is evident elsewhere among teenagers? If so, explain.
Why do you think students spend so much money on prom? Do they just want to celebrate in a big way? like to show off? want to impress peers? other? Is it okay to have a blowout to commemorate a special rite of passage? If so, what are some appropriate guidelines to follow? Do you think financial decadence poses potential harm for young people? Why or why not? Why do parents often support their kids’ grand prom plans—and other material desires?
Is it okay to pursue and enjoy the good things God’s created? When does such enjoyment cross the line into materialism? How important is it to you to have nice things? to keep up with what your peers have? Do you consider yourself a vain person? Why or why not? What are your biggest material temptations, and how can you resist them?
Scripture links: Deuteronomy 8:10-20; Psalm 49:16-20; Eccle-siastes 2:4-11; Luke 12:13-21; 1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19; and 1 John 2:15-17.
University Offers Course in Exorcism
ROME—About 120 students from around the world are preparing to tackle Satanism head-on. They’re taking a four-month course titled Exorcism and the Prayer of Liberation at a Vatican university.
“There’s no doubt that the devil is intervening more in the life of man these days,” Father Paolo Scarafoni told the students, mostly priests.
One priest took the exorcism course after a “very unsettling experience” with a parishioner, who was transformed before his eyes. “I’ve met people who are suffering from this problem, and it’s not as rare as we might imagine,” the priest says.
Recent films such as The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Exorcist: The Beginning have boosted interest in the occult. In Italy, an estimated 5,000 people are members of Satanic cults. Three-quarters of them are between the ages of 17 and 25.
Father Gabriele Nanni says it’s important to learn whether the devil is at work or if a person has a psychological problem. Signs of demon possession include suddenly speaking or understanding a foreign language, having physical strength beyond one’s size, suddenly knowing about occult practices, and having a physical aversion to sacred things.
The Vatican’s exorcism rituals include prayers, the sign of the cross, denouncing Satan, and ordering him to “go back.”
What’s your reaction to this course? Did you think exorcism was still practiced today? Why or why not? Would you ever be interested in studying this topic? Does it scare you? Why or why not? Do you agree that Satan is active in people’s lives today? If so, how? Do you think he directly influences people’s thoughts and actions? takes over and possesses their bodies? Explain.
Do you think Satan is as active now as he was in biblical times? Why or why not? What traits or weaknesses might make people vulnerable to Satan’s control? Do you think he prefers to tempt and torment non-Christians or Christians? Explain. Why do you think young people are so fascinated with Satanism and the occult? What would you say to a peer who flirted with Satan worship or showed signs of demon possession? How much power does Satan really have over people, and vice versa? Can he change the course of people’s lives? Can people command him to leave them alone? Explain.
Have you ever had any unsettling experiences with occult practices, or with friends who’ve delved into them? What could you draw upon from your spiritual background and biblical knowledge to proclaim victory over Satan?
Scripture links: Matthew 12:22-29; Mark 9:14-29; 16:15-20; Luke 10:17-20; Acts 19:11-20; and 1 John 5:18-20.
Stephanie Martin is a contributing editor for group and writes weekly Breaking News discussion starters for group’s online resource MinistryandMedia.com. She’s a freelance writer and editor in Colorado.