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September 2005
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November 2005

Oct. 31, 2005

Yes, fiends, it's Halloween, that great religious holiday when we teach children the value of extortion

Halloween_2 Perhaps you are aware that Halloween, like almost everything else in life, really does have religious roots and connections, the primary now being that it's the eve of All Saints Day.

But some of the history of how Halloween developed is kind of intriguing. So today I'm simply going to give to several links to various versions of that story. Here's one. And another. Plus this one from the History Channel.

So poke around in this history and memorize a few facts that you can bore trick-or-treaters with tonight at your door. Speaking of Halloween facts, the Census Bureau the other day sent out a press release saying there are 36.4 million potential tirck-or-treaters in the U.S., meaning kids from 5 to 13 years old. The Bureau also reported that in 2004, the major pumpkin-producing states (my native Illinois led the pack) grew 998 million pounds of pumpkin.

If you turned one of those pumpkins into a jack-o-lantern, I hope you notified the next-of-pumpkin.

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

Today's religious holidays: All Hallows Eve (Christian); Reformation Day (Protestant Christian, celebrated yesterday); Samhain (Wicca/Neo-Pagan).

Oct. 29-30, 2005, weekend

In my Kansas City Star column this weekend, which I wrote from Montreal, Quebec, I described why I've changed my mind over the years about the the construction of huge and costly religious structures, such as cathedrals.

I described there a visit to the Notre-Dame Basilica of Montreal, a 19th-century edifice in the city's historic old French Quarter.

As I've mentioned before, one of the drawbacks of writing a newspaper column is that I don't have the option of including any photos with it -- well, except the photo of the handsome guy who writes it.

But I thought you might want to see a couple of pictures I took while at the church. One shows the main altar, one a small chapel and one the large and modern bronze sculpture in a large chapel behind the main sanctuary.

There are exquisite religious buildings of many religions all around the world, and they speak to us about the vision of the people who created them. I've had a chance to see many of them, and I recommend you take some time to visit the grand ones wherever you are.

Here are the Montreal pictures.

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

Today's religious holiday: Laylat el Qadr (Islam).

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Oct. 28, 2005

As I prepare for a class on Jewish-Christian relations that I plan to co-teach next summer with a rabbi, my reading is taking me in lots of interesting places.

HolocaustThe class will be the week of Aug. 7 at Ghost Ranch, a national Presbyterian conference center in northern New Mexico. (Register and join us.) My co-teacher will be Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of the New Reform Temple of Kansas City.

At the moment, I'm reading some of James Carroll's little 756-page book, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews. And today I just want to pass along a few sentences from it as a way of encouraging you to think not just about how Jews and Christians view the post-Holocaust world but also how people of various faiths can understand one another more fully and live together in peace. (That will be the subject of my Kansas City Star column a week from tomorrow, by the way. Tomorrow's column, written from Montreal, is about whether building expensive religious buildings is a waste of money.)

Here are a few thoughts from Carroll's book:

"The God who led a people out of Egypt is, of course, a redeeming God, but at Auschwitz the question must have become, Are God's saving acts only in the past? Some formerly religious Jews saw in the Holocaust only the absence of God, and moved on without faith. Other Jews went from atheism to the faith of Job, an affirmation devoid of piety. There are Jewish voices, from Elie Wiesel to Richard Rubenstein to Emil Fackenheim, who reject the idea that suffering such as Jews underwent in the death camps -- a million children murdered -- can be meaningful. To value those deaths in such a way is to diminish their horror. . . .

"These and other figures insist that the Holocaust shatters all previous categories of meaning, certainly including Christian categories. But isn't the state of being shattered, once reflected upon and articulated, itself a category? Does the very act of thinking about the Holocaust, in other words, diminish its horror by refusing to treat it as unthinkable? The more directly one faces the mystery of the Holocaust, the more elusive it becomes."

Do you agree with Carroll?

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

Today's religious holidays: Milvian Bridge Day (Christianity); Quds Day (Islam).

Oct. 27, 2005


Harriet Miers has withdrawn as the Supreme Court nominee.

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AND THIS: reported yesterday that Iran's president is openly calling for Israel to be wiped off the map. Anyone who thinks this attitude has been eradicated is sadly mistaken. Read it and weep.

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As Americans negotiate the increasingly diverse religious landscape of our nation, inevitably there will be bumps and bruises.

Interfaith_3But I think we can do better than at times we're doing.

I'm giving you links here to two distressing stories about ways in which Muslims have run into problems as they encounter a culture dominated by Christians. One is from northwest Indiana, the other from the Bay Area of California.

I'd be interested in your thoughts about how we can find ways to live in religious harmony with one another as we experience the growing presence of Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jains and many others.

We are moving from a time of being a Judeo-Christian culture to a Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture to one in which no religion will have a position of privileged majority by the end of this current century, if current demographic trends hold.

How should we handle this?

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

Oct. 26, 2005

As regular readers of this blog may recall, I'm auditing a class in Christian history at Central Baptist Theological Seminary (an American Baptist institution) in Kansas City, Kan. (See archived blogs for Aug. 20, Sept. 8 and Oct. 3.) And I'm filling in lots of gaps in my storehouse of information.

Jewchris_2We're required to do several papers for the class. Well, regular class members are. I suppose I could skip the writing of them since I'm only auditing the class. But I've decided to use the opportunity to write papers for the course so I can get comment from the professor, Robert Johnson. And I've decided to focus on these papers on the history of Jewish-Christian relations.

Well, I got my first paper back not long ago, and I was pleased that Dr. Johnson found that if he'd been grading me, he'd have given me an "A." One reason that especially pleases me is that I hope to use some of the material in these papers in a class I plan to co-teach next summer with a rabbi. It will be on how Jews and Christians view the world after the Holocaust, and will be offered the week of Aug. 7 at Ghost Ranch, the national Presbyterian conference center in Abiquiu, N.M.

I mention all this today simply to say that if you'd like to read my first paper -- which focuses on the first century after Christ -- send me an e-mail (at [email protected]) and I'll return a Word document copy of it to you. I'm sure there are lots of things I could have said but didn't in this 11-page paper and I'm sure some scholars would take issue with me on some things. But perhaps you'll find it helpful. Let me know.

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

Todays' religious holiday: Simchat Torah (Judaism).

Oct 25, 2005

When I was in New England recently, I picked up a Boston Globe and my eye quickly fell on a page 1 story about a Boston-based institution, the Christian Science Church.

ChristiansciWell, its members around this country (and in 138 others) know it as the Mother Church, but the official name for the denomination's headquarters is the First Church of Christ, Scientist.

The church's decision-making process about whether to sell unused church property in a time of financial problems probably is not something most of us will worry about. It's an internal church issue. But too often people in faith communities don't pay enough attention to the financial structures of their congregations, denominations or branches.

It is, of course, hard  enough to keep our own checkbooks balanced. But if we're going to be full participants in faith communities, it's part of our calling to mind the dollars and cents, too. And that can mean making sure we get a full accounting of how the funds we contribute are used.

The Christian Science story is of interest to Bostonians because it's the international headquarters of the church and its use of property can have ripple effects there. Major church headquarters have economic effects wherever they are located. It's why there was a big fight some years ago over where to locate the headquarters of my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). A church committee had recommended it go to Kansas City, but delegates to the General Assembly voted instead to locate it in Louisville.

In some ways, religious organizations are cogs in the economic wheel. It's wise for people inside and outside of faith communities to remember that and pay attention when religions make economic decisions.

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

Today's religious holiday: Shemini Atzeret (Judaism).

Oct. 24, 2005

Regular readers of my blog may recall an entry (it was Aug. 16, if you want to go back to the archives and read it) in which I talked about being in church the day a friend returned from heart transplant surgery this summer.

Heart_1Well, that friend, Dave Jeter (whose parents used to operate Jeter's food market at Gregory and Oak in Kansas City) and his wife Lydia, know what church is for. One thing it is for is to celebrate the joys in our lives. So Dave and Lydia decided they would ask our pastor, Dr. Edward Thompson, to help lead a worship service called "Celebrating the Gift of Life," in which we, as a church, could come together to acknowledge the joy of having Dave in our midst again with a new heart.

A week ago yesterday afternoon, we gathered at my church -- about 200 of us -- and did exactly that. What an inspiring service.

One of the speakers was my friend Keith Anderson, a church elder who also is executive director of an organization called the Gift of LIfe Foundation, which encourages people to arrange to donate organs and tissue at their death because there is much more demand for organs and tissue than there are donors to meet that demand.

Another speaker was my friend Dr. Bill Reed, a heart transplant surgeon at the University of Kansas Medical Center who also is a member of our church.

Bill noted that inevitably organs are give "at a time of great grief to the family" of someone who has died, "but," he noted, "they're doing it out of love." As Dave Jeter says, "There is always joy and grief inherent in every heart transplant." Bill has done many heart transplants over the last 20 years, and he says "one cannot doubt God's presence" when he, as surgeon, prepares the donated heart to be implanted into someone who urgently needs it.

Dave Jeter was suffering heart failure and heart rhythm problems. When he received his donated heart (from a 32-year-old female, which so far is all he knows about the donor) in July, there were 2,000 Missourians and 1,000 Kansans waiting for organs to be donated so they, too, could receive a transplant, he says. Dave's surgery was done at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis.

Dave's conclusion about his experience: "I believe I have been truly blessed by a miracle."

It's always hard to know how much about such matters to attribute to divine intervention and how much to attribute to great science and dedicated health care workers. I can't sort that out, except to say I believe both happen and in that, in the end, God's hand is at work in creating great science and dedicated health care workers.

I just know we're all glad to have Dave back with us and that we all should think about ways we can extend the life of our own bodies by making sure all our usable organs and tissue are donated at our death.

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

Today's religious holiday: Last day of Sukkot (Judaism).

Oct. 22-23, 2005, weekend

My column this weekend in The Kansas City Star was written from northern Vermont, from which I've just returned.

It was about the need to give ourselves time to enjoy and take in the world around us. It made a point I've made before -- that we live at a pace that's way too fast for the way our minds and bodies are built. At least a lot of us do, me included.

One of the problems with a column like that is that there's no space to give you pictures of the area I was writing about. But the magic of blogland allows me to offer some photos to you that connect to Saturday's column.

Most of these were taken in or near Georgia Center, Vt., north of Burlington. The one of the red building reflecting itself in the water is from Brookfield, Vt., location of a floating bridge. My wife is from Vermont and we try to make it back with some regularity.

So today, just enjoy some of the Vermont scenery that you had to imagine while reading the column. And if you want some greater theological context to the shots, scroll down to the Oct. 17 blog entry.

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Vermont16 Vermont19 See my About page to find out how to read online what I've written for The Kansas City Star.

Oct. 21, 2005


The religious controversy around the nomination of Harriet Miers to be a Supreme Court justice continues to grow. Here's a pretty good update from the Los Angeles Times.

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When I was in New England recently, I read a piece in the Boston Globe about priestly celibacy that I wanted to call to your attention.

CgpellIt quoted Cardinal George Pell, archbishop of Sydney, Australia, (pictured here) as saying it would be a "serious error" for the church to return to allowing priests to marry. (This link won't give you the Globe's piece but an Australian piece about the matter.) Priestly celibacy had an on-again, off-again history in the early years of Christianity. In the Middle Ages, there were even popes who flaunted their illegitimate children.

But celibacy in Roman Catholicism has been a tradition for centuries now, and it appears that it will take a major earthquake to get the church to change, even if changing would mean at least a partial answer to the growing shortage of priests.

Here's what Cardinal Pell said: "To loosen this tradition now would be a serious error, which would provoke confusion in the mission areas and would not strengthen spiritual vitality. . . It would be a departure from the practice of the Lord himself (and) bring significant practice disadvantages to the work of the church."

Celibacy is one of those hot-button issues in Catholicism. It's easy to hold opinions about it that aren't well thought through -- especially for non-Catholics. But I wonder what you see as the advantages and disadvantages to a celibate clergy. Let me know.

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

Oct. 20, 2005

A few days ago I returned from some time off in Vermont, my bride's home state.

While there, we did lots of wandering about, looking at scenic vistas and other things (including family) that takes us back to Vermont with some regularity.

This time, however, I was especially struck by how many churches are scattered throughout the state. It may seem obvious to everyone, but it really moved me profoundly to think that every Sunday, these churches -- big ones in cities, tiny ones in villages -- attract the faithful. These people come each week seeking hope, seeking to hallow important moments in their lives, seeking community.

I thought you might enjoy seeing some of these places. Just imagine what goes on in each one of them every week. Let me know if any of them looks familiar to you or if you think you can identify any of them.

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


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