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November 2005
Next month:
January 2006

Dec. 31, 2005, Jan. 1, 2006, weekend


General Motors, which has been having trouble selling cars, at least got what it considers to be some good news in the courts -- and about religion, of all things.

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Maybe the best way to end 2005 and start 2006 is with some stark truth-telling.

Holocaust_2Which means talking about my own field, journalism, and one of its many failures. At a conference in Philadelphia recently, a Holocaust scholar described how America's journalism schools and newspaper publishers refused to help Jewish refugee journalists fleeing Hitler and his Nazis.

Such failures were, of course, commonplace, but that doesn't make learning about them even 60-plus years later less painful.

This conference, sponsored by the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, heard a lecture by professor Laurel Leff of Northeastern University that outlined some of journalism's failures in this matter.

For instance, she said, in 1939, the American Newspaper Publishers Association (since merged into the Newspaper Association of America), at its annual convention, refused a request for a 10-minute presentation on the plight of Jewish refugee journalists. Also: None of America's journalism schools and departments took in Jewish refugee journalists and no major newspaper hired any of them.

Beyond that, she said, this kind of response often was accompanied by anti-Semitic language. She specifically qouoted the then-dean of the University of Illinois School of Journalism (now the Department of Journalism in the College of Communications) as saying that "the minute that Jews show up in numbers they become a threat to the others. . ."

Well, certainly times change. It's hard to imagine any J-school dean saying anything close to that today. But it's sobering to be reminded that we're not very far removed from this sort of indefensible behavior and speech, and, given different conditions, there's no reason to believe humanity isn't still capable of such reprehensible things.

To ready my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. My Saturday column is a lot less serious than today's blog entry.

Today's religious holiday: Watch Night (Christian).

Dec. 30, 2005


The pope outlines a solid position on the full humanity of embryos.

And, speaking of the pope, he's been invited to visit Auschwitz. (For thoughts about the visit to Auschwitz by the late Pope John Paul II, read the opening chapter or two of James Carroll's book, Constantine's Sword.)

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People continue to make faith-based decisions about where to live.


For example, in this year that's now ending, more than 3,000 North American Jews moved to Israel. The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), which announced that figure recently, said it was the highest number in more than 20 years.

JAFI has been helping Jews move to Israel since 1929. The immigration is called "Aliyah," and the agency says that its efforts have resulted in some 3 million immigrants, which is approximately two-thirds of Israel's current population. The agency works with a group called Nefesh B'Nefesh, which was created in 2001 to increase interest among North American Jews in immigration to Israel.

Lots of people-movement, both temporary (like pilgrimages) and permanent (immigration), happens for reasons tied to faith commitments. In fact, some days I think that if religion didn't exist, moving companies might have to invent it.

This movement to Israel, of course, raises many questions, some of them complex and hard to get a handle on. For instance, do the people who encourage such immigration believe that only in Israel can one live as a true Jew? Is, thus, the Diaspora a problem to overcome? And, if so, how would a large-scale movement of Jews from North America, say, impoverish the United States and Canada? (The movement of Jews out of my city, Kansas City, Mo., to the suburbs has meant many benefits to the suburbs but I believe it has wounded the city.)

Well, maybe there are simple answers to these questions, but I don't have them. Perhaps you do.

To see my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (Tomorrow's column will be some serious religious silliness.)

Today's religious holiday: Feast of the Holy Family (Catholic).

Dec. 29, 2005


Mormons have been celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of their founder, Joseph Smith. What's that got to do with my wife's home state of Vermont? Click here to find out.

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When I lived in India for two years of my boyhood, some of the neighbors in Allahabad I enjoyed a lot were Parsis, which is what Zoroastrians in are called in that country. (Zoroastrianism originated in Persia.)

ZoroastrianToday I want to send you to the Web site of an Indian Parsi -- perhaps someone you've heard of, Sooni Taraporevala, a screenwriter, photographer and author. Her films include "Mississippi Masala" and "Salaam Bombay!" Her latest screenplay is for a movie called "The Namesake," which is to be released in 2006.

On Sooni's site you will find information about her book: Parsis -- the Zoroastrians of India. The Parsis are a small part of Indian society. North America is home to about 25,000 Zoroastrians, by some estimates, including a few who live in Kansas City.

Sooni's Web site also contains a number of her photographs. I'm particularly taken with her pictures from Calcutta, taken this year. Sooni lives in Bombay, now called Mumbai, with her husband and two children.

She's just one more fascinating person from what in any culture is a minority religion.

If you want to read my latest work for The Kansas City Star, click here.

Dec. 28, 2005


The Vatican is reported to be doing away with the concept of limbo. Is this an issue that fires you up?

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It's time for a little end-of-the-year religious fun today. So the first person who takes this seriously will not be invited to my house for Christmas this year. Or wouldn't have been had I known last week that you were going to take this seriously.

ChurchsignYou can find a bazillion faith-based Web sites, including mine. One of them that came to my attention recently allows people to create their own wording on a couple of outdoor church bulletin boards, or signs.

I have no idea which First Baptist Church or Trinity Church these signs are really in front of, but the fun of dreaming up signage is worth a trip to the Web site. While you're there, by the way, you can find several books on church signage. One of them is by my friend Ron Glusenkamp, a Lutheran pastor. Buy a few dozen of Ron's books and eventually he'll become a hundredaire.

Anyway, I invite you today simply to create a few church signs and e-mail them to your unsuspecting friends. But be gentle. Be clean. Be nice. Just be funny.

Churchsign1To read my latest work for The Kansas City Star, click here.

Today's religious holiday: Holy Innocents (Christian).

Dec. 27, 2005


Most Americans, it's reported, believe in miracles. Do you?

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Sometimes, when talking with others about the often bitter history of relations between Christians and Jews, I get the sense that some people don't understand how deeply ingrained anti-Judaism has been in Christian history.


There are lots of places to look for this deplorable strain of prejudice in the history of my own religion, but perhaps the most persuasive places are the formal declarations of the church. For an example, let me take you today to the Fourth Lateran Council of the Catholic Church, which met in 1215.

It was that gathering of church leaders that, among other things, formally adopted the doctrine of transubstantiation as the church's explanation for what's called the "Real Presence" of Christ in the sacrament of Holy Communion, or Eucharist.

But it also adopted some statements about Jews, and these statements are representative of what author Adriaan H. Bredero, in the book Christendom and Christianity in the Middle Ages, calls "the presence of anti-Semitism in canon law."

I tend to use the term anti-Judaism to refer to prejudice against the Jewish religion, while I reserve the term anti-Semitism, often understood today as simply meaning anti-Jewish, for prejudice against the race of Semitic peoples, who certainly include more than Jews.

At any rate, click on the ("statements about Jews") link above to read the Fourth Lateran Council's words on Jews. I think they will help you understand how deeply anti-Judaism infected Christianity -- an infection that is not yet fully healed, though for sure we've made progress since the Shoah.

If you want to read my latest work for The Kansas City Star, click here.

Dec. 26, 2005

Well, hello. Welcome to our family Christmas tree.

Tree05aI'm taking the day off to celebrate Christmas because my office has declared this a holiday, Christmas yesterday having fallen on a Sunday. And whenever your employer declares a holiday, take it. That's my rule.

Perhaps you think I should spend my day creating endlessly fascinating blog entries for you. Well, I suggest you not only think again but that you get busy with the real purpose of today: unshopping.

But come back tomorrow and I'll offer you some serious blogisms.

Whatever you're celebrating this time of year, may your holidays be full of joy.

If you want to read my latest work in The Kansas City Star, click here.

Today's religious holidays: Zarathosht Diso (Death of Prophet Zarathushtra, Zoroastrian); Kwanzaa (26th-Jan. 1, interfaith); Hanukkah (26th-Jan. 2, Judaism).

Dec. 24-25, 2005, weekend


Benedict XVI, celebrating his first Christmas as pope, says it was all about God "becoming small."

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Here's a Christmas-time update on the troubled little town of Bethlehem.

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At the risk of offending you, Merry Christmas. At the risk of offending others of you, Happy Hanukkah. At the risk of offending no one (though you never know), happy birthday to my late grandmother. (By the way, the photo here today is one I took this spring in Illinois at a Mennonite relief sale of quilts and other hand-made works of art. I don't know who the artist is.)


On this holiday weekend, for some reason, I'm thinking about people whose birthdays coincide with major holidays. My maternal grandmother was among them. She was born Julia Amanda Karlsson on Dec. 24, 1881, in Fliseryd, Smaland, Sweden. She was the daughter of Karl Oscar Olsson and Fredrika Jonsdotter, a dour-looking couple whose picture hangs in an upstairs hallway of my house next to a photo of the parents of my grandfather, the man Amanda (as she was known) married in 1905 in the U.S.

I always felt a little bad for Grandma Helander because, as Swedes (well, I'm half Swedish), our custom was to open our Christmas presents on Christmas Eve, Grandma's birthday. So we'd hustle through singing her "Happy Birthday" and get her to open her birthday presents quickly so we could get on with Christmas.

I have another friend who has a Christmas Eve birthday, and I try to call her every year now that she has moved to Tucson. Well, a child can't pick his or her birthday, so I think it's wrong to short-change the celebration of folks whose birth anniversaries falls on big holidays.

I couldn't pick my birthday either, but I love the one I've got. It comes a few weeks after Christmas, so I always imagine that whatever I didn't get for Christmas I'll get for my birthday.

If Christmas Eve or Christmas or any other big holiday in any religious traditon is your birthday, well, here's a salute to you from me.

Peace to all of you in this holy season.

To read my latest work I've written for The Kansas City Star, click here.

Today's religious holidays: Christmas Eve (24th, Christian); Christmas (25th, Christian); Feast of the Nativity (25th, Orthodox Christian).

Dec. 23, 2005


A Sharia judge in Indonesia says last year's tsunami was God's judgment on wicked women. (Does this make you want to ask why the storm didn't hit, say, Nevada?)

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Last weekend in the Faith section of The Kansas City Star, I did a rather longish piece that tried to describe the ways various religious traditions understand Jesus.


I included a view of Jesus from the Hindu perspective, but, of course, one can never say all about anything, much less religion. After the piece ran, I had an interesting note from Linda Prugh of the Vedanta Society of Kansas City in which she described how Vedanta, which is the philosophical basis of Hinduism, thinks about Jesus.

I thought it was intriguing and wanted to pass it along to you:

". . .we consider Jesus to be an incarnation of God. Brahman, the absolute Supreme Being, manifests from time to time through incarnations. We see Jesus as being the same as Krishna, Buddha and others in the past and more to come in the future.

"In the Bhagavad Gita the Lord in the form of Krishna says: 'Whenever there is a decline of religion, I incarnate myself for the welfare of humankind. I incarnate myself in every Age.'

"Therefore, Vedanta sees Jesus as much more than a wise sage or prophet. An incarnation takes birth to aid mankind, not for any other reason. Jesus is God in human form, who comes from time to time to teach us how to love God and how to relate to the absolutely Supreme Being we cannot see."

Traditional Christianity, of course, would say "Amen" to her statement "Jesus is God in human form." Where Christianity would differ is on the question of whether Jesus was the unique incarnation of God. Vedanta would say no, there have been and will be others. Christianity would disagree and say God became flesh only once, in Jesus.

If interfaith dialogue is to happen in a constructive way, it's those kinds of central differences that must be laid on the table early in the discussion, but without rancor or arrogance.

To read my latest work for The Kansas City Star, click here.

Dec. 22, 2005


If you'd like to read the complete 139-page decision by a federal judge this week that forbids teaching Intelligent Design in public school science classes, click here.

Reporters David Brown and Rick Weiss of the Washington Post write that this opinion is "a passionate paean to science" that evolution's defenders no doubt will rely on to help make their case.

By the way, it might be easier for me if any group that doesn't have a statement to make about this case would send me an e-mail.

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I can think of no better way to start the second year of this blog than by quoting Jurgen Moltmann, one of the premier Christian theologians of our era. Moltmann is professor emeritus of systematic theology at the University of Tubingen in Germany.

Jewchris_4I felt privileged a couple of years ago to be able to hear Moltmann speak at a small dinner gathering at a Kansas City area seminary. I turn to Moltmann again today because he's written a piece in the current issue of Theology Today, the quarterly whose content is overseen by the Princeton Theological Seminary. (Moltmann's piece is not available online at the Theology Today site, at least not yet.)

Let me first just give you the abstract of the piece, then I want to quote a few sentences that I found particularly interesting.

Abstract: " 'Trust is good, control is better,' said Lenin and those who want the total surveillance state. But who controls the controllers? This ancient question is unaswered. No control works without trust. After looking into different levels of trust from psychology to politics, we ask about trust in God. Only a God who bears the sins and sufferings of the world is trustworthy. Can trust be restored when it is broken? Repentance, confession of guilt, change of the heart and reparation of damages can restore trust on the personal level as well as on the political."

Here's some of what Moltmann says in his piece: "I was never very happy with German politics in general and stood most of my time on the side of the opposition, but looking back on German postwar politics as a whole, I would say that it was a politics of reconciliation -- first with France, then with Russia and most recently with Poland.

"This politics of reconciliation replaced the old German 'realpolitik' power-politics. It began with the Nuremberg trials, which brought some justice into our bloody history, and with the Stuttgart Confession of Guilt made by the Protestant Churches in the summer of 1945. But the secret motivation behind it was and is 'Auschwitz,' as a reminder of the German change of heart.

" 'Auschwitz' became the primordial story of postwar Germany as after-Auschwitz Germany. In the center of Berlin, there is no monument of the unknown soldier of World War II, but the Auschwitz -monument. And last, but not least, German politics made reparation-payments to the victims of German crimes against humanity, with a strict commitment to peace. . . .

"This brings us to the following conclusion: The restoration of trust is politically possible. Every step to truth leads to new trust."

If you want to read my latest work for The Kansas City Star, click here.

Dec. 21, 2005


A priest announces he's gay and quitting his prominent post in response to newly published Vatican rules.

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Today marks the end of my first full year of blogging. My first entry was posted on Dec. 22, 2004.

BloggingI've really enjoyed the opportunity to communicate with you in this way. And I look forward to more. (Oh, no, you're not through with me yet.) But as I look back over the archives, I want to ask you a question I can't fully answer myself because I have a conflict of interest: Have I been an ethical blogger?

Have I, in other words, used this space for good, wholesome, moral purposes? Or have I sometimes simply run off at the mouth or unfairly attacked people or situations?

I'm thinking about all of this because of a piece posted recently by the Rev. Jerrod H. Hugenot, who teaches at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, where I've been auditing a class on Christian history. Jerrod is also president of the Roger Williams Fellowship, an American Baptist grassroots group advocating for Baptist principles since 1935. The first link I've given you in the previous sentence will take you to Jerrod's essay on ethical blogging posted on the Roger Williams site.

Did Jerrod get it right? Am I getting it right? Let me know.

AND a P.S.:

When I wrote my Dec. 13 blog entry, there wasn't a Web site to link you to for more information about a Christian Unity conference company up in Los Angeles. There is now. To get there, click here. I've also added that link to the Dec. 13 entry.

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

Today's religious holidays: Yule (Christian); Yule/Winter Solstice (Wicca/Neo-Pagan); St. Thomas Day (Catholic Christian).