THE POPE AND THE JEWS
The current visit to Poland by Pope Benedict XVI will include a stop at the infamous Auschwitz death camp. One of the best ways to understand what is at stake in such a visit -- especially by a pope born in Germany and essentially drafted into the Hitler Youth -- is to read a monumental book by James Carroll, Constantine's Sword. In the early part of the book, pay special attention to his description of the late Pope John Paul II's visit to Auschwitz. I believe Benedict must continue the excellent work that John Paul did to improve relations between Christians and Jews, and this trip is a good chance for him to do just that.
Speaking of those Christian-Jewish relations, I'll be co-teaching a weeklong seminar on that subject in August with a rabbi. I invite you to take a look at the course description and to come join us at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. We'll have a chance that week to learn each other's story and even to have some fun. If you're Christian, bring a Jewish friend. If you're Jewish, bring a Christian friend. If you're an adherent of another religion, come and join the conversation.
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CLERGY UNDER PRESSURE
One of the reasons I started writing the series I call "Conversations with Clergy" in The Kansas City Star was to help readers understand that ordained folks are very much like the rest of us, warts and all. And one of the things that happens sometimes to these fully mortal folks is they get stressed out by their difficult work.
Big surprise, huh? Well, no. The surprise is that many of them don't take better care of themselves or don't know how to.
In response to this -- and in some ways it can be called a national clergy crisis -- a new center has been established to help vulnerable clergy cope with the pressures of their job. It's called the Davidson Clergy Center Endowment, and its goal is to raise and distribute funds to help pay for the spiritual, physical and mental wellness of clergy.
People who have created this new ecumenical Christian endowment say that even when clergy know they need retreats and other ways of coping with pressure, they often can't afford to take advantage of the programs in existence.
The idea is to help clergy with mental and physical health services, spiritual direction, career advice and other resources and programs that will give them a better chance of doing good ministry because they themselves are not wounded healers.
In my experience, clergy suffer burnout when their congregations are demanding without understanding what it takes to do this work. Sometimes, of course, clergy bring it on themselves by being workaholics or simply untrained and, thus, bad administrators who get overwhelmed because they are essentially disorganized or distrustful of others and thus unwilling to delegate work. Ego plays a part of this at times.
But whatever the cause, wise congregations will keep an eye on all of that and know that such resources as the Davidson center are available.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (By the way, my column tomorrow will be about fear that casts out love. Also, don't miss our Faith section beautiful photo essay of sacred structures as we take advantage of our slick new presses and show off some great color photography by Rich Sugg of our Star photo staff.)
P.S.: After his conviction yesterday in the Enron case, Ken Lay spoke of God's will. Just curious: How do you react when you hear convicted criminals using profoundly religious language? I confess that my first instinct is to think about a cartoon I once saw in which a boxer stands over an opponent he's beaten to a bloody pulp and says: "First, I want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ for this victory."