THE POPE IS GOOD FOR BUSINESS
Yes, the pope represents spiritual matters, but his presence also can mean economic activity, as shown in this report from the little town where he has spent some recent vacation time. So even if it's possible to separate church and state, it may not be possible to separate church and estate.
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WHAT IS THE RED MOSQUE?
Earlier this month, when Pakistan's Red Mosque was the center of violence, Reuters put together an interesting fact box about the place. Given the new violence there, I thought it would be helpful to link you to that background.
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FAITH IN SOME NEW BOOKS
It's time again to pass along the titles of some new (some brand new, some pretty new) books that deal with various matters of religion and ethics.
* How the Quakers Invented America, by David Yount. Small religious groups in the United States often have had influence far beyond their numbers. The Quakers are among them. This account, by a nationall syndicated columnist, unpacks the many ways in which Quaker values have helped to shape our nation.
* Forgiveness: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School, by John L. Ruth. And speaking of the influence small religious groups can have, the Amish showed that in the forgiving way they responded to the terrible disaster in October 2006 when a gunman killed five Amish school children, wounded five others and then killed himself in Pennsylvania. The author, a Mennonite minister, helps us understand how the Amish response was possible.
* Plain Secrets: An Outsider among the Amish, by Joe Mackall. A clear-eyed, careful writer offers us an inside look at this fascinating group of people who choose to live against the tide of modernity in many ways.
* Don't Chew Jesus: A Collection of Memorable Nun Stories, by Danielle Schaaf and Michael Prendergast. These Catholic-educated writers give us a fun and revealing look at their 20th Century Catholic education, and the remarkable women who gave it to them.
* Encyclopedia of Catholicism, by Frank K. Flinn. This part of the Facts on File Library of Religion and Mythology series on world religions gives us more than 600 interesting pages about many aspects of Catholic Christianity, though the one-paragraph entry on the word "nun" isn't nearly as much fun as the previous book's stories about nuns.
* The Complete Idiot's Guide to Kabbalah, by Rav Michael Laitman, with Collin Canright. If you want an understandable introduction to this mystical path of Judaism, this is the book for you. Well, this and the Web site operated by the author Laitman.
* Emerging Ministry: Being Church Today, by Nathan C.P. Frambach. The emerging, or emergent, church movement is producing some fresh thinking in Christianity, and this small volume adds to it with a Lutheran perspective. For more information, see this Web site.
*Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination and Spirit, by Luci Shaw. The author, a poet and teacher, who "vowed never to cut myself off from beauty," explores the connection between religion and art in helpful ways.
* When Grief Comes: Finding Strength for Today and Hope for Tomorrow, by Kirk H. Neely. This Baptist pastor writes not from an abstract theological perspective but from the personal experience of profound loss, including the death of his son.
* Crisis in the Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities, by Robert M. Franklin. The author, both a scholar and a preacher, draws on both academia and the church to suggest remedies for the disasters that have plagued black Americans.
* The Seduction of Extremes: Swallowing Camels and Straining Gnats, by Peter Kurowski. This pastor in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod offers a wise word of caution about taking extreme religious positions as well as the virtues of learning to live with paradox.
* From Eden to Exile: Unraveling Mysteries of the Bible, by Eric H. Cline. This is an archeologist's scholarly but accessible take on some of the mysterious stories in the Bible, including Noah's Ark and the Ten Lost Tribes.
* From Power to Purpose, by Sen. Sam Brownback, with Jim Nelson Black. Think of this as a presidential campaign book if you want to, but it gives you a chance to understand Brownback's thinking, including his religious views, on his own terms.
To read my latest Kansas City Star work, click here. (In my Saturday column this weekend, I write from the high desert country of northern New Mexico and ask this question: Was humanity meant for misery?)