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April 30-May 1, 2005, weekend

As many of you know, I have been quite insistent in my own Presbyterian denomination that otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians should be eligible to be ordained as ministers of word and sacrament and as elders and deacons.

My reading of the Bible on this matter leads me to conclude that there are no scriptural prohibitions that would preclude such persons from ordination. This conclusion is in conflict with official church position, but it's a position we've been fighting over for a long time. And the battle will continue.

As no doubt many of you also know, this same struggle is going on in many denominations and even in other religions.

As an example of that, today I want to point you to an essay by a gay Catholic priest, written as an open letter to the new pope, Benedict XVI.

Popeben3Among other things, this priest, who writes under a pseudonym, says if gays were banned from the priesthood, the church would lose many good and holy men at a time when there's already a tremendous shortage of priests.

There is both hope and frustration in the letter, and it represents similar hope and frustration among homosexual clergy and clergy hopefuls in many denominations. I believe the church eventually will get this matter right and will become open and affirming and inclusive and loving.

But right now, nearly all denominations are on the wrong side of the issue.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

April 29, 2005

In addition to people like me and my Kansas City Star colleague Helen Gray, who write about religion for the secular media, lots of people write about religion for religious publications.

Some of these people do wonderful work. For instance, in my own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), people such as Jerry Van Marter of the Presbyterian News Service and Leslie Scanlon of The Presbyterian Outlook do good and reliable work.

Now, some of this work is being made available for the first time in a new book called Changing Boundaries: The Best Religion News Writing, published by Seabury Books. It includes a forward by Gustav Niebuhr, the former national religion reporter for The New York Times.

ReligbookSome of the people who have work included in this book are members of the Presbyterian Writers Guild, a group to which I belong.

One reason to point you to this book today is to remind all of us that there are lots of sources for news about religion.

I have complained for many years that the secular press generally does a poor job of covering religion, though certainly there are exceptions.

But if you are trying to keep up with news about religion, you simply have to use multiple sources. It's the only way of making sure that you are getting a broad overview. Although I'm proud of the work Helen Gray and I do at The Star, you simply can't rely only on us or on any single source for all your religion news.

And sometimes the sources should include people employed by religious organizations, such as those writers whose work is included in this new book.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

Today's religious holiday: Holy Friday (Orthodox Christian)

April 28, 2005

One of the important faith-related events of this year that hasn’t gotten enough attention in the United States is the opening of a new Holocaust museum in Israel.


The $56 million museum at Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem memorial will be one more way to help people understand the gruesome story of Nazism and its attack on European Jewry, which was virtually wiped out in World War II.

I’ve been to the U.S. Holocaust Museum a couple of times and recommend it to everyone. I hope one day also to get to the new museum at Yad Vashem and would encourage others to do so, too.

At the opening ceremonies of the new museum in Jerusalem in mid-March, one of the speakers was German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. What he said is worth hearing:

“This is a moment of commemoration for the six million murdered by Nazi Germany. Of course, Germany is my country so it’s also a historical and moral responsibility to never forget what happened and the responsibility of my country for the Shoah.” (Shoah is the Hebrew word for Holocaust.)

Elie Wiesel, a Nobel peace prize winner and a survivor of Auschwitz, said this in the ceremony’s closing remarks:

“It was man’s inhumanity to man – no. It was man’s inhumanity to Jews. Jews were not killed because they were human beings. In the eyes of the killers, they were not human beings, they were Jews.”

By the way, another new Holocaust museum is due to open in Berlin May 10 -- 60 years and two days after the end of World War II. It's called the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It's spread across five acres near the Brandenburg Gate and is comprised of 2,711 concrete blocks.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

April 27, 2005

DURHAM, N.C. – So my sister and her husband were sitting around their dining room table with friends the other day planning an autumn trip to Europe.

My brother-in-law raised the question of who the Picts were in the history of Scotland.

I went downstairs and retrieved their 1980 World Book Encyclopedia and read the short passage about this ancient people, who, the book said, disappeared by about 900 C.E.

But I began to wonder what a 1980 encyclopedia would say about, say, Islam.

EncycloMuch of what was printed was simply standard history, but there were two bits of information that showed some of what has changed in 25 years.

The first was the size of the religion. Islam, said the World Book back then, “has almost 540 million followers.” Today the usual figure is 1 billion to 1.3 billion, though counting Muslims is a difficult business for many reasons.

The other thing I noticed in the 1980 account was something that almost never comes up any more: “Westerners often call Islam Muhammadanism and its followers Muhammadans. Muslims feel these terms give the incorrect impression that Muslims worship Muhammad.”

When I was a boy in India in the 1950s, we often referred to Muslims and Muhammadans. But I haven’t heard that term used for a long time.

What this short trip back into the Islam of 1980 teaches us, I think, is to be careful about what we think we know. Religion is dynamic. Some aspect of it is always changing even though it adheres to what it often calls eternal verities. So we would do well to be up to date about what we know about any faith we’re talking about.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

April 26, 2005

I mentioned Earth Day here the other day.

EarthdaySince then I have run across a moving poem by Bill Bauer called "Greater Power" in the new issue of Theology Today, a quarterly I've taken for years. The poem brought Earth Day back to mind because it reminded me of the way in which much of the rest of sentient creation must think of humanity. It began this way:

Caught in the country fence

the elk calf curled fetal and mewled.

God, meaning me, from my deck

watched her squirm.

Lovely phrase, "God, meaning me. . ."

If we are called to be created co-creators with God, as I believe we are, we would do well to start taking the task more seriously.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

April 25, 2005

Retreat. The word sounds like surrender. But if we think of it as surrendering to our need to recharge our bodies, our spirits, our minds, our souls, retreat is something all of us need.

I spoke recently to a retreat for pastors, reminding them that they, too, need help finding their own center so they have something to share with members of their congregations.

GrflowersThe photo you see here today I took at Ghost Ranch, a national Presbyterian conference center in northern New Mexico where I teach each summer. What a great place to retreat.

Yes, it's Presbyterian, but people from all faiths are welcome, and although the plurality of people who go there are Presbyterian, I've found a great mix of people over the 10-plus years I've taught there. So you, too, are invited to think about joining me the week of July 11 at Ghost Ranch to take a class called "Finding New Life in the Wilderness," which I'll be teaching with my senior pastor, Dr. Edward Thompson.

For a few days before that class, a Texas artist and I will be co-teaching a class at the Santa Fe campus of Ghost Ranch. It will be called "From Pain to Hope Through Writing and Images," and will run from July 7-10. I'd love for you to join us.

But however you do it, find a way to retreat this year -- to catch your breath,  to reimagine your place in the world, to gain some perspective.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

April 23-24, 2005, weekend

From time to time I like to share with you some of the things I'm reading for my work as a Faith columnist at The Kansas City Star and for my general knowledge.

Today I want to point you to a book I've been going through for a possible non-Star project on Polish Christians who rescued Jews in the Holocaust. It's a 2002 volume by Gunnar S. Paulsson called Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945.

SecretcityThe book tells a story that is at once heartbreaking and encouraging. The anti-Semitism it describes and the horrific slaughter of Polish Jews in the Holocaust simply leaves you weak with anger and disbelief. But the stories of courage and resourcefulness that allowed some Jews to escape death at the hands of the Nazi conquerers of Poland are remarkable.

Telling this story is no easy task. As Paulsson notes, "because this is a story of almost complete destruction, there has also been an almost complete destruction of evidence, and we therefore have to make do with whatever traces the past has been kind enough to leave us."

He notes in the introduction that 98 percent of the Jewish population of Warsaw perished in the Second World War. But by Paulsson's estimate there were some 28,000 Jews who remained in hiding in Warsaw, aided by 70,000 to 90,000 people for various -- and not always altruistic -- reasons.

Paulsson estimates that no more than 11,500 of these Jewish fugitives remained alive at the end of the war.

These are the stories we must know, our children must know, our grandchildren must know. And on and on. If we forget, we almost certainly will repeat something like the Holocaust. In fact, as such places as Rwanda have shown, people can engage in genocide even when the world remembers. But there is no hope if we forget.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

Today's religious holidays: Lazarus Saturday (23rd), Orthodox Christian. St. George's Day (23rd), Christian. Passover (24th through May 1), Jewish. Palm Sunday (24th), Orthodox Christian. Theravadin Buddhist New Year (24th), Buddhist.

April 22, 2005

This spring marks the 35th anniversary of the first Earth Day.

TreesSo I thought it might interest you to point you to a group called TREES (Theological Roundtable on Ecological Ethics and Spirituality) that operates at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif.

A story about TREES last year in Science & Theology News says the group is exploring the links between ecology and such matters as racism.

My own experience is that we seldom make the connnections between what we're doing in the physical sciences and issues of social justice. I'd like to know if any of you knows of other groups in the country with this focus.

Oh, and to celebrate Earth Day this year, recycle The Kansas City Star, but not until you've read my column tomorrow.

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

April 21, 2005

My faith-based joke pile has reached critical mass again. So I will share some with you.

Laughtrio_1Some of these come from, some from other sources.

And again, I urge you to share your religious humor with me, especially if it comes from traditions other than Christianity. My supply in those other traditions is sadly depleted.

Top Ten Conservative Catholic Pickup Lines

10. May I offer you a light for that votive candle?

9. Hi there. My buddy and I were wondering if you would settle a dispute we're having. Do you think the word should be pronounced HOMEschooling or homeSCHOOLing?

8. Sorry, but I couldn't help notice how cute you look in that ankle-length, shapeless, plaid jumper.

7. What's a nice girl like you doing at a First Saturday Rosary Cenacle like this?

6. You don't like the culture of death either? Wow! We have so much in common!

5. Let's get out of here. I know a much cozier little Catholic bookstore downtown.

4. I bet I can guess your confirmation name.

3. You've got stunning scapular-brown eyes.

2. Did you feel what I felt when we reached into the holy water font at the same time?

1. Confess here often?

Why’re You Always Telling Jokes About Jews?

Two men sitting on a train are talking. One guy says, “Did you hear the one about the two Jews who are walking down the street...”

The other guy says, “Hold it! Why are you always telling jokes about Jews? I find it offensive. Why must they always be about Jews?”

”You're right,” his friend replies and starts the joke again: “So, these two Chinese guys are walking down the street on the way to their nephew's bar mitzvah...”

The Wonders of God

A boy was sitting on a park bench with one hand resting on an open Bible. He was loudly exclaiming his praise to God. "Hallelujah! Hallelujah! God is great!" he yelled without worrying whether anyone heard him or not.

Along came a man who had recently completed some studies at a local university. Feeling himself very enlightened in the ways of truth and very eager to show this enlightenment, he asked the boy about the source of his joy. The boy replied with a bright laugh, "Don't you have any idea what God is able to do? I just read that God opened up the waves of the Red Sea and led the whole nation of Israel right through the middle."

The enlightened man laughed lightly, sat down next to the boy, and began to try to open his eyes to the "realities" behind the miracles of the Bible. "That can all be very easily explained. Modern scholarship has shown that the Red Sea in that area was only 10-inches deep at that time. It was no problem for the Israelites to wade across."

The boy was stumped. His eyes wandered from the man back to the Bible lying open in his lap. The man, content that he had enlightened a poor, naive young person to the finer points of scientific insight, turned to go.

Scarcely had he taken two steps when the boy began to rejoice and praise louder than before. The man turned to ask the reason for this resumed jubilation. "Wow!" Exclaimed the boy happily, "God is greater than I thought! Not only did He lead the whole nation of Israel through the Red Sea, He topped it off by drowning the whole Egyptian army in 10 inches of water!"

Lying is a Sin

A minister told his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17."

The following Sunday, as he prepared to deliver his sermon, the minister asked for a show of hands. He wanted to know how many had read Mark 17.

Every hand went up. The minister smiled and said, "Mark has only sixteen chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on the sin of lying."

Bat reduction

Three pastors were having lunch in a diner. One said, "You know, since summer started I've been having trouble with bats in my loft and attic at church. I’ve tried everything--noise, spray, cats--nothing seems to scare them away."

Another said, "Me too. I've got hundreds living in my belfry and in the attic. I've even had the place fumigated, and they won't go away."

The third said, "I baptized all mine, and made them members of the church. Haven't seen one back since!"

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

Today's religious holidays: Mawlid an Nabi (Islam). Ridvan (through May 2) (Baha'i).

April 20, 2005

Last month in The Kansas City Star, I wrote a piece about a group of Sudanese Christians in the Kansas City area collecting clothing to take to Darfurian Muslim Sudanese refugees in temporary camps in neighboring Chad.

AfricatransThe intriguing thing about this was that it was these Muslims who were the instruments of oppression against the Christians and now the Christians were planning to show their forgiveness by helping the Muslims now that the Muslims themselves were being oppressed.

Tom Pritchard, a priest at Christ Church in Overland Park, Kan., has led the group accompanying this mission of mercy, and I thought you might be interested in one of his recent e-mail descriptions of what they are finding.

So here are Tom's words:

Subject: Day Three in N'djamena

Dear Friends:

There is more news than I can tell you in my alloted time, and with the iffy connection with the internet than I have at the moment!   So let me hit some of the high spots.

First, the UN is flying our team of four. . .to Iriba tomorrow and back to N'djamena on Monday.

The UNHCR loaded our relief shipment onto trucks yesterday, and the trucks should be arriving in Iriba on Sunday.  We will be there to see them arrive, and to see the beginning of the distribution process.  Our relief shipment is quite large in comparison with other efforts, and the process of distributing the clothes is going to be complicated.  But the people in the camps have time on their hands, so the slow and complicated process of sorting and distributing the clothing is not necessarily a bad thing.

There was a time that the camps did not have adequate milk, but now the UNHCR has an adequate supply for the camps.  But there are thousands of needy people who are not in the organized structure of the camps, and this milk will be distributed to them.

The past 48 hours have caused us to feel elated, heartbroken, hopeful and angry.

Elated, as we saw our prayers answered that the obtacles to getting relief to the people seem to fall one after another.  The UNHCR and the US embassy have been so helpful.  We are overjoyed that the clothing is getting to the people in the camps for whom it was given, and that we will be present as they receive it.  Although we will not see it, we are blessed to know that the Atmit milk will be saving many lives among the most needy people of all in eastern Chad.

Heartbroken, as we have heard so many stories in the 48 hours of the terrible atrocities committed against the Darfurians.  Yesterday I interviewed a Darfurian young man who told me that five of his brothers had tried to defend their town from an attack by the government.  Three escaped, but the two that were caught had both of their hands and both of their legs cut off.  He doesn't know if they are still alive.  He returned from Darfur just two weeks ago, and said that the genocide is still continuing.  Villages are being burned, women are being raped, innocent civilians are being slaughtered.  He said the Darfurians are keeping the cease fire, but not the government, and the janjaweed militia.  He said that it is a lie that the government is not responsible, and that this is tribal violence.  He said "the government is the janhaweed and the janjaweed is the government... there is no difference."

Hopeful, as we have seen extraordinary moments of reconciliation among people who were once enemies.  Last night two Darfurian leaders met with a group of Sudanese Christians.  They explained that the Darfurians had been taught that the southern Sudanese were infidels, and that they were their enemies.  They said, "we see now that we are brothers.  We see now that you love God, and that you want to help God's children."  They also explained that they see Americans very differently.  They had been taught that Americans were to be hated, but now they see that in their hour of need, it is Americans, who have never met them, who are the ones who are coming to their rescue.  We are hopeful as we see walls of hostility breaking down, and new, deep friendships being formed. 

Angry, as we witness the defiant evil of the genocide.  Last night we were with two Darfurian leaders as they got news of a UN Security Council vote that the international courts will bring the perpetrators of the genocide to justice.  One Darfurian read out, one after another, the names of the war ciminals that the UN has identified, and the the other grinned with relief and hope that such a thing could be true.  But we had lunch today with the same two leaders, and they reported to us that this morning the government launched three military attacks against civiliain and Darfurian resistance targets (the government had agreed to a cease fire...which they and not the resistance, are repeatedly breaking).   

. . .We all feel extraordinarily blessed to be here in the name of all of you who have given and who are praying to make this possible.  This is a holy endeavour, that is not only changing lives, but changing hearts.  Please pray that in God's wonderful economy, that the effects of this effort will be multiplied a thousand fold!

Blessings to you all in Christ,

Tom Prichard

for the Sudan Council of Churches and Christ Church

See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.