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July 31, 2006


So after church yesterday, my bride and I stopped by her favorite coffee shop for a light lunch, and I picked up the Sunday New York Times and read this piece on the cover. It's about an evangelical pastor of a Minnesota megachurch who thinks maybe conservative Christians have tied themselves too closely to the Republican Party. See what you think.

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July has left a lot to be desired, what with global bad news, heat galore and on and on.


So because it's my youngest sister's birthday, let's end the month on a lighter note with some faith-based jokes. As regular readers of this blog know, many of them come from, while others come from readers and other strange sources.

So take a laugh break today. If you don't find these funny, send me some you think are.

* * *

1. Nine-year-old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned at Sunday school.

"Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

"When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely.

"Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved."

"Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?" his mother asked.

"Well, no. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!"

* * *
2. Jack was in front of me coming out of church one day, and the preacher was standing at the door as he always is to shake hands.

The preacher grabbed Jack by the hand and pulled him aside. The pastor said to him, "You need to join the Army of the Lord!" Jack replied, "I'm already in the Army of the Lord, Pastor."

Pastor questioned, "How come I almost never see you except at Christmas and Easter?"

Jack whispered back, "I'm in the secret service."

* * *
3. After a long illness, a woman died and arrived at the Gates of Heaven.

While she was waiting for Saint Peter to greet her, she peeked through the gates. She saw a beautiful banquet table. Sitting all around were her parents and all the other people she had loved and who had died before her.

They saw her and began calling greetings to her. "Hello!" "How are you? We've been waiting for you!" "Good to see you!"

When Saint Peter came by, the woman said to him, "This is such a wonderful place! How do I get in?"

"You have to spell a word," Saint Peter told her.

"Which word?" the woman asked. "Love."

The woman correctly spelled love, and Saint Peter welcomed her into heaven.

About six months later, Saint Peter came to the woman and asked her to watch the Gates of Heaven for him that day.

While the woman was guarding the Gates of Heaven, her husband arrived.

"I'm surprised to see you," the woman said. "How have you been?"

"Oh, I've been doing pretty well since you died," her husband told her. "I married the beautiful young nurse who took care of you while you were ill. And then I won the lottery. I sold the little house you and I lived in and bought a big mansion. And my wife and I traveled all around the world. We were on vacation and I went water skiing today. I fell, the ski hit my head, and here I am. How do I get in?"

"You have to spell a word," the woman told him.

"Which word?" her husband asked."


* * *

4. 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."
* * *

5. A faith healer asked Moshe how his family was getting along. "They're all fine," Moshe said, "Except my uncle. He's very sick."

"Your uncle is not sick," the faith healer said. "He THINKS he's sick."

Two weeks later, the faith healer ran into Moshe on the street. "How is your uncle getting along?" he asked.

Moshe shrugged, "He THINKS he's dead."

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

July 29-30, 2006, weekend


In Seattle, one person is dead and five wounded in a shooting spree at a Jewish center by a Muslim man who said he was angry at Israel. Police have increased security to prevent further attacks. The question is always the same: What in the world drives someone to religious violence? And just to ask the most pragmatic question, has such behavior not always created more problems than it has solved?

* * *


You know you're behind the times when even the pope has more high-tech gadgets than you do. Vatican Radio employees recently gave Benedict XVI an iPod, it's reported. Yes, but my question is whether he knows God's e-mail address.

* * *


As the 2008 presidential campaign season revs its engines, it's time to consider a question that continues to surface: Will Americans elect a Mormon president?

Mitt_romneyMitt Romney (pictured here), the Republican governor of Massachussets (right there is an anomoly -- the Bay State electing a GOP chief executive), is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And by all accounts, he wants to be president.

But when another Mormon, Sen. Orrin Hatch, ran in 2000, he did so in the face of a 1999 Gallup poll showing 17 percent of voting Americans declaring they'd never vote for a Mormon. Indeed, some people who would describe themselves as conservative Christians at times refer to Mormonism derisively as a cult.

So today I'm giving you links to several pieces that discuss this matter to get you thinking about it more carefully. As you look at all this, think back to when John F. Kennedy ran in 1960 in the face of prejudice against Catholics. (My own Presbyterian minister in northern Illinois told us then that if JFK was elected, the pope would run the country. I was a teen-ager then and couldn't vote yet.) Is the Romney-Mormon situation parallel to the JFK-Catholic connection or are there substantial differences?

The first piece is from the Weekly Standard, and is somewhat dated, appearing in June 2005, but it's worth a read. (You also may want to look at my July 4 blog entry in the archives for another brief discussion of this matter.)

An even earlier piece from Newhouse News Service raised many of the same issues, as did this piece from the Boston Phoenix.

A few months later, in September, the Washington Monthly did this piece about what it called Romney's "evangelical problem."

This spring, weighed in on the subject with this article.

And earlier this month, Religion News Service offered this piece, mentioning that more recent polling shows 37 percent of Americans now say they won't vote for a Mormon.

So, is this just a rerun of the nonsense about the pope packing up and moving to the White House in 1960? Or is something else at play here?

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My Saturday column this weekend was written from Quincy, Mass., birthplace of John Adams, and has to do with how children learn about religion.)

AND a P.S.:

I'll be teaching a weekend writing class Oct. 6-8 at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, Pa. Think about joining us. For a description of the class, click here. It's called "From Pain to Hope through Writing." In it, we'll spend some time thinking about what Christianity means by hope and then we'll go to those places of personal or collective pain in our lives and write about them, remembering what it means to have hope. We'll also share some of that writing with each other. Writing about pain can be a healing process as we write toward the light. The weekend begins with a Friday evening dinner and session and ends with lunch on Sunday. An Autumn weekend in the Poconos spent with words. What could be better? Hope to see you there.

July 28, 2006


Over the last 60 or so years, dozens and dozens of new translations and paraphrases of the Bible have appeared in print. Among the more intriguing paraphrases have been the Living Bible, the Cotton Patch version and the Message. But now Australians have fallen in love with a slang version, The Aussie Bible. Some of you know that I collect Bible translations. But this is one I don't yet own. Getting one would be a good excuse to visit Australia, however, which I've never done. If you have a favorite translation or paraphrase of the Bible, what is it?

* * *


I'll be quite brief today because I know many of you are busy today mourning the death on this date in 1750 of Johann Sebastian Bach, undoubtedly the greatest composer of organ music ever.

Keyboard_1I always mark his death date by remembering a quote from famed media critic Ben Bagdikian, who once said that trying to be a first-rate reporter and writer on an American newspaper is like trying to play Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" on a ukelele.

At any rate, from time to time here in this space I like to point you to other blogs I find interesting and worth my time. I hope you will find them worth yours, but not spend so much time on them that you forget mine.

One is written by Andy Bryan, a United Methodist minister in North Kansas City, Mo. It's called Enter the Rainbow, and I commend it to you. It's a good way of getting inside both the head and heart of a member of the clergy.

Another blog I recommend is written by Jim Jordan, an Episcopal layman from North Carolina. His blog is called, simply, Idle Thoughts: God, Christianity and Religion. Jim is a retired American history teacher who regularly looks at things in ways I hadn't thought about.

There are a hundredyskillion blogs out in the blogosphere, and I keep waiting to read about a multiblog pile-up on the information superhighway. If, among all those choices, you have one you particilarly like that's somehow faith related, let me know.

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My column, tomorrow, by the way, is about how children learn about religion, and is written from a recent trip I took to Quincy, Mass., to visit the birthplace of John Adams.)

AND a P.S.:

Speaking of writing, I'll be teaching a weekend writing class Oct. 6-8 at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, Pa. Think about joining us. For a description of the class, click here. It's called "From Pain to Hope through Writing." In it, we'll spend some time thinking about what Christianity means by hope and then we'll go to those places of personal or collective pain in our lives and write about them, remembering what it means to have hope. We'll also share some of that writing with each other. Writing about pain can be a healing process as we write toward the light. The weekend begins with a Friday evening dinner and session and ends with lunch on Sunday. An Autumn weekend in the Poconos spent with words. What could be better? Hope to see you there.

July 27, 2006


More evidence of deep strains in the Episcopal Church appeared this week with a resolution adopted by the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Forth Worth. If it finally gets approved, it could mean the diocese will separate itself from the church. Again the question is: When do you stay and struggle from within and when do you leave? Anyone have a 25-word answer to that complicated question?

* * *


Jews -- and many Christians and others -- know the Sh'ma, sometimes spelled Shema, the most important prayer in Judaism.

As found in the sixth chapter of Deuteronomy, it says, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one," in the translation by the Jewish Publication Society.

ShemaIt is, in a summary way, the core of Judaism's monotheism. But something about it struck me with special force recently as I was reading a fascinating book by Michael Wex, Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods.

Here's what Wex had to say about the Sh'ma and its relation to Jewish, and specifically Yiddish, culture:

". . .Judaism has always been more of an aural than a visual culture. Where the eye has been the primary sense organ in Western Christian culture since at least the fourteenth century, the most important sights in Jewish history -- the parting of the Red Sea, the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai -- are known only by dint of hearing about them. There are no pictures, no traditional iconography. The Torah doesn't say, 'See, O Israel'; the Torah say, 'Hear.'"

Yes, precisely. And I believe it's from this aural background that Christianity derives its affinity for the word, despite what Wex calls more recent Christian culture's preference for the eye. With Judaism, Christianity says God created by speaking the world into existence. Then, diverging from Judaism, Christianity calls Jesus Christ the Word of God, who, the author of the Gospel of John says, was with God in the beginning and was, in fact, God.

My own engagement with faith was first experienced not through seeing ritual or icons or statues but through hearing and reading words. Maybe that's why I've spent my working life with words. They have enormous power. They can change lives.

And how fitting that the Torah affirms this connection to the power of words by telling Israel to listen. I think we have lost something important by overemphasizing visual stimuli. Words heard and read form us differently from images flashed before our eyes, MTV-like. And if we care about the spiritual formation of our children and grandchildren (the subject of my Kansas City Star column this Saturday), we would do well to pay attention to the spoken and written word and to help the next generation grow into an appreciation of that.

P.S.: If you want an excellent little book explaining various aspects of Judaism in concise and understandable language, click here and you can read about and get a copy of Accessible Judaism, by Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of the New Reform Temple of Kansas City, Mo.

ANOTHER P.S.: The discussion in the comments left on this blog yesterday was lengthy and passionate. Again it was pretty civil. Thanks for continuing to try to see the humanity of those with whom you disagree. I'm not advocating Rodney Kingism. I like honest debate, and for the most part that's what's happening here.

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

July 26, 2006


Remember the case in Afghanistan a few months ago when a man was threatened with executiion for converting to Christianity from Islam? Well, conversion rules are not an issue just there. India has been struggling with all that, too, and the other day lawmakers of the state of Madhya Pradesh adopted legislation regulating conversion. I have a particular interest in India because I lived there for two years as a boy, but this kind of controversy makes me glad I'm a resident of the U.S., not of India.

* * *


The other day I received a note in the mail from the Shower of Stoles Project, which seeks to be a voice for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender ministers and congregational officers -- those who have come out of the closet and those who haven't.

ShowerAnd it occurred to me that some of you may not be aware of this rich and moving resource that represents justice for leaders of all sexual orientations in faith communities. So the place to start learning about it is here. From the opening page, you can visit lots of pages that tell more about the group.

It began more than 10 years ago when my friend Martha Juillerat (pictured here with a few of the thousands of stoles now in the collection), then a Presbyterian minister, and her partner, Tammy Lindahl, also Presbyterian clergy, felt they had to give up their ordinations. But they wanted church officials to know they weren't the only gay or lesbian clergy in the denomination. So before the regional meeting at which they planned to announce their decision to give up their ordinations, they asked other gay clergy to send them stoles that could be displayed at the meeting. For the rest of that history, click here.

I certainly am aware that most Christians disagree with my position, which is that there should be no barriers to the ordination of otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians. And I know that various denominations, including my own, the Presbyterian Church (USA), are deeply divided over this issue. In fact, I keep hoping that we can find a way to live with our differences over this instead of spending so much time and energy on it, detracting from our ability to do ministry to a hurting world.

At any rate, I just wanted you to know about the Shower of Stoles Project today and to see if you can find a way to hear some of the voices that the project represents. Hearing from and about people whose lives are directly touched by this issue is the only way hearts and minds will be changed.

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

AND a P.S.:

I'll be teaching a weekend writing class Oct. 6-8 at the Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, Pa. Think about joining us. For a description of the class, click here. It's called "From Pain to Hope through Writing." In it, we'll spend some time thinking about what Christianity means by hope and then we'll go to those places of personal or collective pain in our lives and write about them, remembering what it means to have hope. We'll also share some of that writing with each other. Writing about pain can be a healing process as we write toward the light. The weekend begins with a Friday evening dinner and session and ends with lunch on Sunday. An Autumn weekend in the Poconos spent with words. What could be better? Hope to see you there.

July 25, 2006


The European Union has adopted what some call a compromise position on research using early, or embryonic, stem cells. Sometimes on this issue it seems as if lines are getting drawn in the sand even as the sand is shifting. Is this a compromise you would have supported? For the National Institutes of Health primer on stem cells, click here.

* * *


Since I visited Saudi Arabia in 2002, I've been especially interested in efforts to move that kingdom toward granting more religious freedom to its citizens. Well, since 9/11, everybody has been interested in Saudi Arabia because 15 of the 19 hijackers came from there and claimed to be acting in the name of Islam.

Saudiflag_1At any rate, there essentially is no religious freedom in Saudi Arabia today. The only religion allowed is Islam, and it's the puritanical Wahhabi version of Islam that the state promotes. If a Christian were to try to organize a public worship service, he or she could be arrested.

But as I've also noted in articles, columns and blog entries, there is a reform movement in Saudi Arabia, and here and there you can find small signs of progress toward opening up the society and toward more freedoms for the Saudi people.

One agency that keeps close track of religious freedom there and in other countries in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. It's a good agency that issues helpful reports and seeks to advise the government on policies that might add to religious freedoms around the world in harmony with American support for basic human rights. I wish the administration would pay more attention to it.

Just the other day, the Commission said it was pleased that the State Department, which is also charged with monitoring religious freedom in other countries, had reported that there were some small signs of religious freedom progress in Saudi Arabia. This information came in a report to Congress by John Hanford, ambassador at large for religious freedom.

There is, of course, much work to be done to get the Saudis to start treating their citizens the way people in all nations should be treated -- that is, to grant them the freedom to worship as they please. It is not, of course, up to Americans to decide what religions will be practiced in what countries. But it is up to America to stand up for basic human dignity, and that includes the right to freedom of religion.

I hope you're encouraging the people who represent you in Washington to pay attention to this issue -- not just in Saudi Arabia but everywhere in the world.

By the way, to read the Commission's 2003 report on Saudi Arabia (the latest available), click here. And if you want to read a stunningly complimentary piece on King Abdullah's first year on the Saudi throne, written by the Englaish-language daily, Arab News, click here. And I'm not kidding about stunningly complimentary.

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

Today's religious holiday: St. James the Great Day (Christian)

July 24, 2006


A religion whose followers worship Norse gods has become the center of attention in a scheduled execution of a death row prisoner. What do you know about Asatru? And should we be worried about it?

* * *


If you had to pick one place on Earth that says "sacred" to you, where would it be? A place where you could see foliage like this? (I shot this last fall near where I live.), one of the best spiritual Web sites, asked something like that question recently and has put together a photo gallery of the places that its readers and members have suggested are important to them in this regard.

It's worth a look.

But, more, it's worth thinking about what makes someplace particularly sacred to you. I'm partial to physical spaces that take me outside myself and help me understand my own context in the universe as well as the amazing complexity of the creation. I always think of Annie Dillard's comment in one of her books: "The Creator loves pizzazz."

I don't have a photo of one of the places that, in memory, means a lot to me in terms of sacredness. It's in the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains, where I was in boarding school for a time in my boyhood in India. I was attending an Easter sunrise service there and I watched the sun rise through a V-shape in the mountains.

I also am spiritually attached to places like Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico for its stark beauty in a rugged land.

But I also am mindful of what God said to Moses: Remove your shoes. You are standing on holy ground. I have understood that to mean that in some sense all ground is holy.

Once you visit the Beliefnet gallery, think about what you consider sacred space. And if you've got a great picture of the place, e-mail it to me at [email protected]. If I get a nifty little collection, I'll put together our own gallery.

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

Today's religious holiday: Pioneer Day (Mormon).

July 22-23, 2006, weekend


The man who led the global Human Genome Project describes how he went from being a non-believer to being a man of faith. Do you have a similar story about yourself?

* * *


As turmoil in the Middle East continues, I'll try to give you some additional resources to understand various aspects of the situation. Click here for a Voice of America report on Hezbollah. Click here for the Library of Congress' "Country Studies" report on Lebanon. For an Australian newspaper's report on the declining influence of the U.S. in the Middle East, click here. For the views of longtime White House correspondent Helen Thomas, click here. And click here for a Boston Globe columnist's criticism of Israel in all of this. What I'm giving you is just a taste of the opinion and analysis that's out there. So don't stop trying to learn just with this.

* * *


In the last year or so, I've been giving speeches in which I've bemoaned the failure of many Christian churches to be prepared with formal liturgy and prayers for the inevitable brokenness of our lives. (My guess is that other religions don't do much better at this, but I'm willing to be educated.)

Episcopal_shieldFor instance, as I've noted, my first marriage began in a church but ended in a courtroom. Where was the church with a ceremony of some kind to bless me on my way as I sought to recover from the trauma of that experience and move into the rest of my life?

In my speeches, I've said that for people really to feel cared for by their congregations, those faith communities must be ready ahead of time to offer formal words of blessing and prayer at all kinds of transitional and trauma times -- from the birth of a developmentally disabled child to the news that a long-time employee is being downsized out of a job. For the most part, congregations fail at this.

But I'm happy to report that the Episcopal Church, USA, at its recent General Convention, paid attention to this failure and is working to do more to fix it. The Episcopalians, perhaps more than any non-Catholic Christian denomination, have led the way for a long time at the task of creating liturgies for special occasions. But now they're going to do more. Good for them.

To read a copy of the resolution that mandates this work, click here. As you will note, the intention is to beef up the church's "Book of Occasional Services."

This work is being done by the church's Standing Committee on Liturgy and Music. Click here to read its convention report. If you scroll down in that report to Page 10, you will find a detailed discussion of the need for such new liturgies. I hope you'll spend a little time understanding what's said here and thinking about what it would take to get your faith community to take this kind of work more seriously.

The language found in ceremonies doesn't solve everything. In fact, it can become a substitute for real pastoral care if a church is not careful. But when a church is prepared to use such carefully thought-out words to mark special occasions -- of either joy or sadness -- the people involved get the sense that the church cares and that their lives are being taken seriously.

If congregations -- of whatever faith -- can't do that, what good are they?

To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (My Saturday column, written from Vermont, is about pastoral care given by non-clergy.)

July 21, 2006


In the aftermath of the U.S. House vote this week to protect the "under God" words in the Pledge of Allegiance, I thought you might be interested in some editorial comment from newspapers on the subject. For one from Pennsylvania, click here. And here's one from another paper in Pennsylvania. So far the people worrying about the Pledge are taking it on the chin. But for a little balance, click here for the Web site of a group fighting to keep "under God" in the Pledge. Where do you stand on this?

* * *


In a blog entry the other day here about an effort to create an international charter for Muslim women's rights, I said that "the religion as defined by the Prophet Muhammad, in fact, was in many ways liberating to women."

Hijab_1Several readers challenged me on that assertion. So I'd like to delve into that a little deeper today and why I stand by the statement.

Although it's true that some verses in the Qur'an are problematic for women -- especially when read through Western cultural eyes -- the fact is that the Qur'an, standing in an almost revolutionary way against its time, gave women rights to inheritance, rights to own property, right to keep their own wages, rights to create marriage contracts beneficial to themselves, rights to receive material and physical support from their husbands and other rights.

One of the most respected Islamic scholars in the world, Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor of Islamic studies at George Washington University, says this in his 2004 book The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity:

"Considering the practices that were going on in pre-Islamic Arabia, the regulations of Islam effected a remarkable transformation in bestowing economic and social rights upon women and protecting them from injustice."

In the next sentence, however, he acknowledges that "human beings being what they are, there continue to be Muslim husbands who are cruel toward their wives and who abuse them physically -- against the injunctions of Islam. . . But to neglect for one moment the power that most Muslim women wield within the family and in the most important decisions affecting the lives of family members is simply to misunderstand the actual role and status of women in Islamic society."

There is much more about women and Islam in this enlightening book and I commend it to you.

Another scholar who has been helpful to me in my understanding of Islam and particularly the role of women in that religion is Marilyn Klaus, who has taught classes about Islam at both the University of Kansas and at Wichita State University.

When I asked her about my contention that in the beginning Islam was quite liberating for women, she said, "I certainly would concur with you."

"The subject," she said, "has generated so much general interest and scholarship that there are now very well argued positions by both male and female Muslim scholars who are doing linguistic, historical, critical analysis of the Qur’an similar to the higher criticism of the Biblical texts. One of the best is Believing Women in Islam: Unreading Patriarchal Interpretations of the Qur’an by Asma Barlas. I used it last semester in my Women and Islam course, and, though it is very challenging to undergraduates, most students were very excited about have the old stereotypes based on traditional reading of the Qur’an challenged in very compelling arguments."

Klaus also recommends a book called A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed to help you understand this subject.

And she is reading, but hasn't yet finished, a new book called Shattering the Stereotypes: Muslim Women Speak Out, edited by Fawzia Afzal Khan. She's finding it helpful, too.

"But mostly," she adds, "I believe, the best ways to approach this issue is to underscore that 'what the Qur’an says' is determined by cultural attitudes and customs and that those are as diverse in the Islamic world as in the West. Islam is not monolithic. Women’s lives, rights, treatment vary depending on economic status, family traditions, political position, power structure, current events (such as a US-led war on Iraq), on what type to Islam is promoted (Shi’a, Sunni, etc.), marital status, etc. Muslim women’s lives are every bit as diverse as the lives of all other women."

One other quote from an interesting book (published in 1975): Muhammad: The Messenger of God by Betty Kelen: "The tenderness he (Muhammad) felt for women would be reflected in the Qur'an, in laws that put an end to cruel and primitive social conditions in which many women then lived -- being lucky to find themselves alive at all and not buried at birth for being female or respectively married instead of prostituted by their clan heads."

Earlier this year, I spent some time in the Washington, D.C., area attending a seminar on religion in America. One of our speakers was Asra Q. Nomani, author of Standing Alone: An American Woman's Struggle for the Soul of Islam.

Nomani went straight to perhaps the most problematic verse for women in the Qur'an, Surah 4:34. Here is one of the translations of part of that verse: ". . .and as to those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them, and leave them alone in the sleeping-places, and beat them. . ."

In other translations, the word "beat" is softened to mean, essentially, a threatening or light-touch gesture. But Nomani was clear that she thinks there is no good way to interpret the verse and that a reformed Islam would strike it as impossible to live with. And yet Nomani has not left her faith. She believes women in Islam can be whole and free and believes the Prophet Muhammad meant for them to be exactly that.

Well, there is much more that could be said on this subject, but perhaps that's enough to interest you to do some more reading on it. Or to talk with Muslim women about their views on all this.

By the way: Speaking of Muslim women and their status, here's an interesting story about their slowly-slowly growing role in the Saudi Arabian government.

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

July 20, 2006


President Bush's veto yesterday of a bill that would have expanded funding for early, or embryonic, stem cell research naturally has produced lots of reaction. For instance, Arthur Caplan, a widely known ethicist, blasted Bush in this commentary. As might be expected, the U.S. Conference on Catholic Bishops, in a statement issued in anticipation of the veto, had a rather different take. Nor is it surprising to find "Human Events Online: The National Conservative Weekly," praising Bush for his veto. Similarly unsurprising was this blog entry from "Think Progress," a project of the liberal American Progress Action Fund, criticizing Bush and saying his facts are questionable. And just FYI, here's the way Baptist Press covered the veto story. It looks to me as if Bush is defending a position taken by a minority of Americans. Whether the majority can find the political will and muscle to put together a veto-proof bill, however, remains doubtful for now. (We'll see after this fall's congressional elections.) So we seem to be stuck here. If you were the monarch, what would you do?

* * *


I finally had a chance the other day to see the Al Gore (pictured here) environmental movie, "An Inconvenient Truth," and I agree that it's well worth seeing.

GoreEven if it seems a little alarmist at times (and it may well not be alarmist), it's done in a plainspeaking way that helps everyone understand what's at stake.

But partway through the movie I heard one word that sounded to me like fingernails on a blackboard, a word that almost certainly will move Christians who think of themselves as conservative to question whether Gore knows what he's talking about.

Just before a description of an African lake that has pretty much dried up in recent years, Gore described something in relation to the last book of the Bible, which he called the book of "Revelations."

I wanted to shout, "No, no. It's singular, for heaven's sake. It's Revelation."

That seems like such a nitpicky point, but it's exactly the same mistake that the U.S. Treasury and Justice Department made in their reports about the Branch Davidian crisis outside Waco, Texas, in 1993. The reports consistently added an "s" to the name of the book of Revelation. And as I wrote in a 1994 series of Kansas City Star articles about the Waco disaster, "that may seem like a small matter, but it's like trying to explain Hitler by saying you've read Mine Camp."

Al Gore grew up as a Southern Baptist. But like lots of national Democrats, he seems unable to articulate some faith matters very clearly. (Many analysts say that same failure contributed to John Kerry's loss in 2004.) Several years ago I criticized Gore in a column for joining a long list of American politicians -- from Ronald Reagan to Lyndon Johnson -- who declared, in effect, that God had selected America as a chosen nation.

Sitting in the theater, I could imagine conservative Christians hearing Gore refer to "Revelations" and saying to themselves, "Well, this guy doesn't know what he's talking about," thus dismissing much of the otherwise-excellent material in the movie.

Where were the movie's editors? Didn't they know not to add an "s" to Revelation either?

OK. End of rant.

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

P.S.: At the risk of repeating myself, thanks again to you readers who have engaged in civil discourse here in your comments in recent days. This really is a model for how to disagree without being disagreeable. And I appreciate it. Bill.