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Aug. 31, 2005


Before I get to today's topic, I just want to remind you that you, too, can lend a hand to agencies working to clean up after Hurricane Katrina.

Many people in the Gulf Coast area and beyond are in terrible situations and need our help. There are many ways to do this. My wife and I made a donation to the Salvation Army, so I've given you a link for that. But however you choose to help, please do.

And to give you a sense of how it is there, here's part of an e-mail from a Baton Rouge friend:

". . .we didn't lose power, which was amazing, because most of Baton Rouge did. And we live in an old downtown neighborhood with lots of big old trees. During the storm, we had A/C, TV and cold beer. But we're not celebrating our good fortune. We have four friends from New Orleans staying with us, and it's heartbreaking to see them glued to the TVs, trying to identify their neighborhood from the aerial shots and wondering when they can go home and what will be there when they return. Multiply their stories by thousands and you have some idea of the immense human cost of this storm."

Thanks for whatever you can do to help.

* * *

Although I didn't know him well -- had never, in fact, met him in person -- I was saddened to learn of the death recently of Prof. Walter R. Bouman of Trinity Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio, at age 77.

Wbouman_1Bouman was a prominant Lutheran theologian and retired professor of systematic theology at the seminary, which is one of eight seminaries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

More than 10 years ago, I wrote a column after President Bill Clinton partook of Holy Communion in a Roman Catholic Church in South Africa. As a rule, non-Catholics are not invited to do that, though the White House staff had cleared it with the priest at the church (who turned out to have, in effect, misread rules from the bishops).

At any rate, Clinton's participation stirred up a firestorm of protest, and I wrote about it. That led to an international Eucharist E-Mail Discussion Group I put together from among the many people who e-mailed me about my column. That group went on for some months. That, in turn, led to my putting together a talk about all of this.

But to get a better understanding of the Aristotelian science that underpins the Catholic understanding of transubstantiation, I sought out some theologians and corresponded with Bouman, who was very helpful even though he had no obligation to be so. I'd like to share with you what Bouman wrote about how to grasp the ancient science behind transubstantiation in an era when that science has been replaced at least twice -- by Newtonian and later Einsteinian science.

Here's what Bouman wrote to me: “We need to look at matters in terms of an Einstenian four-dimensional world-view. Jesus is not somewhere in outer space from whence he must come by special miracle (Roman Catholic transubstantiation) or to which we must go by faith (Zwingli).

"He is in a different time: the final eschatological future of the Kingdom of God. He comes to us from the future with the power of the future. The Eucharist is anticipation of the final messianic banquet. Jesus is present as his self-offering to enable the offering of ourselves in service to the Kingdom of God. "I think this is how to understand Calvin’s ‘Real Presence’ as ‘spiritual presence,’ for the Holy Spirit is the down-payment (Ephesians 1:13-14, etc.) on the final consummation of the Kingdom of God. I think this also is how to understand Luther’s confession of the ‘Real Presence’ and also how to understand the Roman Catholic doctrine.”

Well, all of this may seem like counting angels dancing on pin heads (I've been accused of being one -- pin head, not angel), but I think it's crucial subject matter if Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox Christians are ever going to find Eucharistic unity. So I was grateful to Walter Bouman and sorry to learn of his death caused by colon cancer.

By the way, I have an electronic copy of the longish talk on this Communion subject I'd be happy to e-mail to anyone who is interested. Just let me know.

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

Aug. 30, 2005

A week or three ago, I wrote a column about various kinds of scandals in faith communities, mentioning at the start of it the disputes that have particularly torn apart the Greek Orthodox Church in the Holy Land.

GocrossWord came last week that the church now has elected a new patriarch to replace Patriarch Irineos, who was, in effect, fired because of allegations of misconduct that had to do with real estate dealings. The new leader is Metropolitan Theofilos, a Greek-born cleric.

It's not yet clear how all this will resolve itself, however, because Irineos has denied any wrongdoing and refused to be deposed.

Some of these developments have implications for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict because most of the Greek church's members in the Holy Land are Palestinians and the church is one of the largest landholders in Jerusalem, according to a recent report from Ecumenical News International.

Remember that wonderful old hymn that says, "They'll know we are Christians by our love"? Some days it seems we should remove the word love and insert "fights."

What a witness.

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

Aug. 29, 2005

In some ways I hesitate to tell you about what looks like a wonderful documentary about the Holocaust coming up because it appears that not all PBS stations are carrying it. For instance, the PBS station I watch, KCPT-TV in Kansas City, will be focusing on its pledge drive and the program director tells me the station won't be running this documentary until sometime later in the year.

Jewchris_1But perhaps it will be on where you are as well as here eventually. At any rate, I want to draw your attention to an installment in PBS's "POV" (Point of View) series that is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Eastern time (9 Central) tomorrow night, Tuesday. It's called "Hiding and Seeking: Faith and Tolerance After the Holocaust."

It will relay the story of an Orthodox Jewish father who tries to help his adult sons understand the risks of building barriers between themselves and those of other faiths. To do that, he takes them to Poland to find the family whose members risked their lives to hide the boys' grandfather during the Holocaust. I'm doing some preliminary work on a possible book project about Poles who hid Jews then and was really looking forward to seeing this.

There are many places on the Web that tell some of these stories. One of the best is the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. Take a look.

But remember that most Christians in the Holocaust did the wrong thing. That is, they either were silent or they participated in the Nazi-led effort to destroy European Jewry. Telling the story of the brave people who tried to hide and save Jews is the right thing to do but it must be kept in perspective. And as a Christian, I can tell you that perspective is painful and shameful.

But if you find a way to see the "Hiding and Seeking" special, do so. In fact, tape it and send me a copy in case I miss it when it appears here in November or December.

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

Today's religious commemoration: Beheading of John the Baptist (Christian).

Aug. 27-28, 2005, weekend

Several weeks ago I wrote a column saying I agreed with a group called Take Back the Memorial, which says the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in New York should be about 9/11.

Wtcnew_1If that seems like an obvious conclusion, please be aware that planners of the memorial site (the photo here shows what it might look like eventually) want to include an International Freedom Center and other cultural institutions. The freedom center says it wants to use its display space to help people learn about the Holocaust and Jim Crow laws and lots of other things. Those are worthy subjects for museum and other space, but they don't belong at Ground Zero, where nearly 2,800 people, including my own nephew, died on Sept. 11, 2001.

Anyway, a couple of members of the Take Back the Memorial group recently visited little Anthony, Kan., which created its own 9/11 memorial. The first story to which I've linked you in this paragraph will describe how much they have appreciated what the people of Anthony have done and how the Ground Zero planners could learn some things by paying attention to Anthony.

The 9/11 attacks happened because of religion gone mad. What happened at the World Trade Center in 2001 -- and in 1993 -- is the story that needs to be told in memorial display space on the site. Thanks to the folks in Anthony for getting it right.

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

Today's religious holiday: Krishna Jayanti (Hindu).


Aug. 26, 2005

Just a quick note today to alert you to an almost-done visit to China by representatives of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

UscirfThe Aug. 14-28 visit may produce some recommendations to the Bush administration about how to proceed when advocating human rights and religious freedom (both in shamefully short supply) in China. It's not yet clear when such a report would be issued, but China should be high up on the list of countries where America should be insisting that the government enforce internationally adopted and recognized human and religious rights.

The commission was created in 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of religion abroad. It is supposed to give policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of State and the Congress. On the whole, it's done good work in this area, though too often the Clinton and Bush administrations have ignored its advice.

I think you'll learn some interesting things by poking around in the commission's Web site. Pay special attention to its annual reports.

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

Aug. 25, 2005


Having called for the assassination of the president of Venezuela earlier this week, the Rev. Pat Robertson now apologizes. If he were smart, he'd keep in his coat pocket a standard apology to read every time he said something stupid and outrageous, even though it might take him less than a month to wear out the pocket reaching for it.

* * *

My church started an AIDS ministry in 1989, and we're still at it.

Rickwarren1It took people of faith way too long to get involved in this difficult area, but eventually churches like mine created ways to help. Largely absent from the ranks of the helpers have been many of the more conservative Christian churches -- perhaps partly because of their belief that the Bible condemns homosexuality, and AIDS at least at first was a disease that primarily affected young gay men.

Well, the absence of those churches is starting to change, and thank goodness. Welcome to the battle, I say.

The most recent evidence comes from the new national star of evangelical Christianity, the Rev. Rick Warren (pictured here), pastor of the huge Saddleback church in California. He recently wrote a piece for the Baptist Press describing how his wife's interest in this area finally made him realize that "this crisis could be the greatest opportunity for the church to be the church."

Warren and others will be hosting an HIV/AIDS conference Nov. 29 through Dec. 1 at his church in Lake Forest, Calif.

If I were to offer a word of guidance to them and others just now moving into AIDS ministry, it would be to view this work as an opportunity for ministry, which primarily means giving yourself away to people in need, not an opportunity for evangelism or proselytizing. People being served will learn about your motives and your values through what you do and who you are, not through what you feel driven to tell them about your faith. They are people desperate for all kinds of help and not, first, evangelism targets.

Perhaps folks like Warren and others will be wise enough to seek the counsel of faith communities that have been doing this work for a long time.

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

Aug. 24, 2005

OK, folks, it's humor break time again.

Laughinlucy_2As regular readers here know, some of these jokes come from you, some from, some from God-knows-where, but not a single one is original with me.


1. A pastor, known for his lengthy sermons, noticed a man get up and leave during the middle of his message. The man returned just before the conclusion of the service.

Afterward the pastor asked the man where he had gone. “I went to get a haircut,” was the reply.

“But,” said the pastor, “why didn't you do that before the service started?”

“Because,” the gentleman said, “I didn't need one then.”

2. An elderly woman who had a reputation in her congregation for never having spoken a bad word about anyone was at the church door saying farewell to her pastor.

Challenging her reputation in a playful way, the pastor asked her what she thought about the devil.

“Well,” she replied, “he’s awfully good at what he does.”

3. Yossi and Janine, an elderly Jewish couple, are sitting together on an airplane flying to the Far East. Suddenly, over the public address system, the Captain announces, "Ladies and Gentlemen, I am afraid I have some very bad news. Our engines have ceased functioning, and this plane will be going down in a few minutes time. The good news is that I can see an island below us that should be able to accommodate our landing. The bad news is that this island appears to be uncharted - I am unable to find it on our maps. So the odds are that we will never be rescued and will have to live on the island for a very long time, if not for the rest of our lives."

Yossi turns to Janine and asks, "Janine, dear, did we turn off the oven?" and Janine replies, "Of course."

"Janine, are our life insurance policies paid up?"

"Of course."

"Janine, did we pay our pledge for the synagogue appeal?"

"Oh my God, I forgot to send off the check."

"Thank Heaven! They'll find us for sure!"

4. A fellow reported that he has his wife have been letting their six-year-old go to sleep listening to the radio, but he’s beginning to wonder if it’s a good idea. Last night the boy said his prayers and wound up with: “And God bless Mommy and Daddy and Sister. Amen—and FM!”

5. A woman invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to her six-year-old daughter and said, "Would you like to say the blessing?"

"I wouldn't know what to say," she replied.

"Just say what you hear Mommy say," the mother said.

The child bowed her head and said, "Dear Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?"

6. A parish priest was being honored at a dinner on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his arrival in that parish. A leading local politician, who was a member of the congregation, was chosen to make the presentation and to give a little speech at the dinner, but he was delayed in traffic, so the priest decided to say his own few words while they waited.

"You will understand," he said, "the seal of the confessional can never be broken, however I got my first impressions of the parish from the first confession I heard here. I can only hint vaguely about this, but when I came here 25 years ago I thought I had been assigned to a terrible place. The very first chap who entered my confessional told me how he had stolen a television set, and when stopped by the police, had almost murdered the officer! Further, he told me he had embezzled money from his place of business and had an affair with his boss's wife. I was appalled! But as the days went on, I learned that my people were not all like that, and I had, indeed, come to a fine parish full of understanding and loving people."

Just as the priest finished his talk, the politician arrived full of apologies at being late. He immediately began to make the presentation and give his talk.

"I'll never forget the first day our parish priest arrived in this parish," said the politician. "In fact, I had the honor of being the first one to go to him in confession."

7. The Hodja (teacher) was selling olives at the market and business was slow. He called to a woman who was passing by and tried to entice her. She shook her head and told him she didn't have any money with her.

“No problem," the Hodja grinned. "You can pay me later." She still looked hesitant, so he offered her one to taste.

"Oh no, I can't, I'm fasting," she responded.

"Fasting? But Ramadan was 6 months ago!"

"Yes, well, I missed a day and I'm making it up now. Go ahead and give me a kilo of the black olives."

"Forget it!" shouted the Hodja. "If it took you 6 months to pay back a debt you owed Allah, who knows when you'll get around to paying me!"

8. A Unitarian Universalist walks into a fabric store and asks the clerk for nine yards of material. The clerk asks, "What are you going to make?" The UU says, "I'm making a nightgown for myself as a present for my husband."

The clerk says, "But nine yards is way too much material for a nightgown."

The UU says, "I know, but my husband would rather seek than find."

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

Today's religious holiday: St. Bartholomew Day (Christian).

Aug. 23, 2005


Before I get to the topic today, here is one more reason why the Rev. Pat Robertson should never, ever again be taken seriously and why he's an embarrassment to his religion: He's calling for the murder of a politcal leader. Really.

* * *

In yesterday's post, I talked a bit about reformers in Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Muslim world.

DrislamToday I want to take note of an interesting move led by Muslims of the same reforming spirit in this country.

A recent piece in the Crescent-News of Defiance, Ohio, reports that a Muslim physician in Toledo is leading a national grassroots movement to get imams, Muslim worship leaders, to condemn terrorism and suicide bombing in each weekly sermon, or "khutba."

Mahjabeen Islam (pictured here), a native of Pakistan, is a family practice physician at St. Vicent Mercy Medical Center and has lived in Toleda for 22 years. She is calling her effort "Project Friday Khutba."

"It only has to be one imam at a time, one mosque at a time," she says. "If all my fellow Muslim Americans do this, the message will be loud and clear throughout the land. It's time we stpe up to the plate."

It's heartening to see such local efforts go national and, one can hope, eventually global.

In a recent column in The Kansas City Star, I decried religious scandals of various sorts, but pointed out that, to me, the worst religious scandals happen when faith leaders adopt extremist positions and do such things as foment and condone violence in God's name. That's what has happened with radical Muslims, and it's a disaster that, in the end, only Muslims can stop.

But the rest of us can cheer on efforts by people like Dr. Islam.

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

Aug. 22, 2005

Sometimes it seems as if all we in the U.S. hear about Islam and especially the Arab world has to do with extremists.

Map_arabWell, fanatics are a major problem. And Islam needs to figure out how to defang them. And the rest of us need to figure out if we can help somehow.

But the picture of the Arab world (which makes up only part of Islam) would be distorted if it doesn't include information about the reformers trying hard to make a difference there.

Recently the Middle East Media Research Institute reported on some things those brave reformers are saying. You can read the full report at the link I've given you, but let me highlight just a few comments.

A Saudi intellectual named Mashari Al-Dhaydi, a columnist for the London daily, Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, recently criticized Europe for being too lenient on Muslim extremists. The fanatics, he wrote, "have used (European) freedom to spread religious fanaticism everywhere."

A similar voice is Abd Al-Rahman Al-Sashed, director-general of the Al-Arabiya TV channel. He's been calling on European countries to expel Islamic radicals. The ideology of the extremists, he said recently, "is now spreading like a plague among Muslims in Britain and among those immigrating to Britain."

And the former editor of the Saudi daily, Al-Watan, Jamal Ahmad Khashoggi, says the "time has come for us to take a firm, clear stand that will come from the highest institutions of Islamic law and ban, explicitly and without exception all 'suicide operations.'" (The Al-Watan link I've given you will be in Arabic; I can find no English version.)

A couple of years ago, when I was still on the editorial board of The Kansas City Star, I wrote a long Sunday piece about the fragile moves toward reform in Saudi Arabia, some of which were being encouraged by Crown Prince Abdullah, who recently became king when King Fahd died. The Saudi reformers have had a hard time of it, and it's not at all clear whether reforms can come quickly enough to save the country from dissolving into chaos.

But wherever the voice of reform and moderation occurs in the Arab world, we need to cheer it on in a way that acknowledges it as authentic and not tied to -- or funded in any way by -- American or Western interests. It must be a pure, local and credible voice.

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

Aug. 20-21,2005, weekend

Starting Tuesday, I'm going to be auditing a class in Christian history at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan.

CentralbapCentral is an American Baptist institution, though its students come from a wide variety of denominations, including my own, the Presbyterian Church (USA).

I thought it might be interesting to share with you some of the books and other material we're using in the class. And, as time goes on, I also may share some things I'm learning.

I've never attended a seminary, except to take a lay theology course or two at Colgate Rochester Divinity School (now Colgate Rochester Crozer) in the late 1960s. Those classes were essentially forums open to any citizen. And I'm not taking this Central Baptist class for course credit. But I hope to stay up with the reading and I hope to learn a lot.

We're using three text books plus a compact disk called "Christian History Tutor," produced by Luther Productions. The textbooks are: Christianity: A Global History, by David Chidester; Readings in Christianity, by Robert E. Van Voorst, and Reclaiming Our Roots: An Inclusive Introduction to Church History, Vol. 1, by Mark Ellingsen.

I've had a chance to read a little of the Chidester book and to look through some of the tutorial disk. The disk looks like a great tool that would be useful for anyone who wants a quick resource on the development of the faith.

It will seem a little odd to be returning to the classroom at age 60, but I'm really looking forward to it. And I'll try now and then to pass along things I'm learning.

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