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The audacity of faith: 1-20-09

On this Inauguration Day, I want to acquaint -- or maybe reacquaint -- you with some of our new president's thinking about religion and its connection to politics and politicians.


For that I turn to Barack Obama's 2006 book, The Audacity of Hope, and specifically to the chapter called, simply, "Faith."

* ". . .white evangelical Christians (along with conservative Catholics) are the heart and soul of the Republican Party's grassroots base -- a core following continually mobilized by a network of pulpits and media outlets that technology has only amplified.

"It is their issues -- abortion, gay marriage, prayer in schools, intelligent design, Terri Schiavo, the posting of the Ten commandments in the courthouse, home schooling, voucher plans, and the makeup of the Supreme Court -- that often dominate the headlines and serve as one of the major fault lines in American politics."

* "If I have any insight into this movement toward a deepening religious commitment, perhaps it's because it's a road I have traveled.

"I was not raised in a religious household. My maternal grandparents, who hailed form Kansas, had been steeped in religion as children: My grandfather had been raised by devout Baptist grandparents after his father had gone AWOL and his mother committed suicide, while my grandmother's parents -- who occupied a slightly higher station in the hierarchy of small-town, Great Depression society (her father worked for an oil refinery, her mother was a schoolteacher) -- were practicing Methodists. But for perhaps the same reasons that my grandparents would end up leaving kansas and migrating to Hawaii, religious faith never really took root in their hearts."

* "In (my mother's) mind, a working knowledge of the world's great religions was a necessary part of any well-rounded education. In our household the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf alongside books of Greek and Norse and African mythology. On Easter or Christmas Day my mother might drag me to church, just as she dragged me to the Buddhist temple, the Chinese New Year celebration, the Shinto shrine, and ancient Hawaiian burial sites."

* ". . .the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world. . . .You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it; rich, poor, sinner, saved, you needed to embrace Christ precisely because you had sins to wash away -- because you were human and needed an ally in your difficult journey, to make the peaks and valleys smooth and render all those crooked paths straight.

"It was because of these newfound understandings. . .that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized. It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

Well, no one's spiritual journey can be captured in a few paragraphs. But perhaps what I've shared here today gives you a little better insight into how Obama approaches these matters. I find there both an openness and a sense of humility that I find refreshing and hopeful.

* * *


And as this Los Angeles Times piece correctly points out, religion has played a prominent role in presidential inaugurations for a long, long time. The trick is to reflect the religious nature of the American people without crossing the constitutionally prohibted line of promoting one religion over another.

Trying to 'reason together': 1-19-09


As we think -- on this Martlin Luther King Jr. Day -- about what will happen in the United States under an Obama administration, which begins work tomorrow, one of the questions that engages me is whether members of our increasingly diverse religious landscape can work together for the common good.

Another way of asking that: What will happen in the Culture Wars? (Warning: I've given you a Wikipedia link in the previous sentence, and Wikipedia is not always accurate.) Will there finally be at least a truce or will new people in power add firepower to the weapons being used?

I want to tell you today about one hopeful sign. I participated in a conference call for media late last week in which people of faith from a pretty broad range of views came together to issue what they called a common "Governing Agenda." They are calling this effort: "Come Let Us Reason Together: A Governing Agenda to End the Culture Wars."

Some describe themselves as religiously progressive and some call themselves evangelical and conservative. But so far they have agreed to pursue four issues together. As listed on the group's Web site, those issues are:

  • Reducing abortions (reducing abortion through reducing unintended pregnancies, supporting pregnant women, and increasing support for adoption)
  • Supporting employment protections for gay and lesbian people (protecting the rights of gay and lesbian people to earn a living, while protecting the freedom of religious organizations to follow their own beliefs)
  • Renouncing torture, and
  • Creating secure and comprehensive immigration reform

    These are eminently sensible goals and I think that if people are sincere and persistent, they can make lots of progress in achieving them. They may not quite measure up to the description of "a bold new common ground agenda" offered by Katie Paris of the group Faith in Public Life, but they're good objectives. However, I guess I have watched enough changes of administrations (FDR was president when I was born) that although I will be hopeful about achieving this agenda I will not be unrealistic about its chances. This will be a tough sell in many quarters because lots of people have a lot invested in continuing the status quo.

    And this group needs more participants, including African-Americans, who -- despite recruitment efforts -- seem badly underrepresented here at the start of the administration of our first black president. Still, as one of the conference call participants said, "For far too long we have allowed the common good to be sacrificed on the altar of our disagreements.

    So I invite you to have a close look at the "Reason Together" Web site, where you can read a letter to President-Elect Barack Obama and some other documents support this effort. See if you can find a way for your faith community, if any, to become engaged in this laudable effort to work for the common good.

    If you want to listen to an audio tape of the conference call announcing all of this last week, click here.

    (The art here today is from

    * * *


    Pope Benedict XVI again spoke out Sunday on behalf of innocent victims -- this time the ones killed in the fighting in Gaza. That's his job. That's the job of people of faith, to stand up for the vulnerable, though at times it's easy to wonder if it makes a heck of a lot of difference.

    * * *

    P.S.: Speaking of Martin Luther King Jr., my friend Pat Marrin of the National Catholic Reporter staff writes this good essay saying that the Obama presidency almost certainly could not have happened without the civil rights movement that King helped to lead.

  • A Darwinian celebration: 1-17/18-09

    But first: For my birthday today, I'm looking for others born Jan. 18, 1945. If you are such a person, e-mail me at [email protected].

    * * *

    As you may well know in less than a month -- on Feb. 12 -- the world will take note of the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin (pictured here).


    It's too simplistic to say that all arguments between science and religion stem from Darwin, but for sure many of the disagreements about the nature of the creation have sprung not just from Darwin's work but from the work of many scientists after him who have followed up on some of his research.

    So what are we to make of all this? And should people of faith celebrate the work Darwin did or regret the day he was born?

    Well, I'm not much for regretting anyone's birth, though I can think of some people we could have done better wthout.

    So I'm thinking that people of faith might do well to understand what Darwin was really saying and what the theory of evolution today proposes. Indeed, people of faith would do well to understand what a scientific theory is and to know that it's a whole lot more than just a wild guess. Rather, it's more of a model based on the best available evidence.

    So I want to link you to a fascinating site that religion reporters will be using over the next several weeks to write stories about Darwin and his connection to religious arguments. It's ReligionLink's Darwin site, done by the Religion Newswriters Association.

    There you will find lots of resources that should help you get a handle on the current status of Darwinian thinking and the debates it has led to in our day.

    I might also recommend a book I've recommended here before. It's by John F. Haught and is called  After Darwin: A Theology of Evolution. In it Haught makes the case for how to understand evolution as God's way of drawing us into the future. I like Haught's thinking.

    * * *


    One of the strongest voices in the Emergent Church movement, Tony Jones (of Kansas City), writes for that Barack Obama's choice of Bishop V. Gene Robinson to give a pre-inauguration prayer should have received lots more media attention than the choice of Rick Warren to give the inaugural prayer. He cites as a reason some speculation about gay pressure on the media. Oh, I'm not sure that's the answer. I just think the media was on to other things after one pray-er controversy story. Besides, must there be a big to-do over every such choice?

    Want to be a preacher?: 1-16-09

    No doubt you've heard of the Future Farmers of America. Well, what about the Future Preachers of America?


    Something like that is forming. It's called the Academy for Preachers and its goal is to encourage young people to explore whether they are called to Christian ministry.

    The Academy is being funded initially by the Lilly Endowment, which provides money for lots of interesting and worthwhile religious projects.

    One of the things that intrigues me is that the Academy is being administered by St. Matthews Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where the pastor is Leslie Hollon. He used to be pastor at Wornall Road Baptist Church in Kansas City. I knew him some when he was here and thought he had considerable gifts for ministry.

    The new preaching academy is going to have several events over the next year that you can read about on the site to which I've linked you above.

    My own experience in my denomination is that local churches don't do a particularly good job of identifying people who may be called to ministry and then encouraging them to explore that possibility. Maybe this academy can make a difference.

    * * *


    A new report from the Vatican says homosexual behavior in Catholic seminaries has declined since church officials paid more attention to that after the priest abuse scandal. If you think there's a shortage of Catholic priests now -- and there is -- wait until all gays are either drummed out of the priesthood or not allowed into seminaries.

    * * *

    P.S.: Newsweek magazine, which seems to be getting better at covering religion, has this interesting piece in the current issue that updates the status of Ted Haggard, the former head of the National Association of Evangelicals who fell from grace in a same-sex scandal.

    Happy birthday, Notre Dame: 1-15-09

    As a native of northern Illinois, I grew up hearing about the University of Notre Dame in neighboring northern Indiana.


    But because I didn't grow up Catholic, I didn't pay a lot of attention to it and I didn't know many people who ever went there, though for sure I heard about the Fighting Irish football team.

    I bring up this great institution for historical reasons. The school was chartered under Roman Catholic auspices on this date in 1844, so Notre Dame today is celebrating its 165th birthday.

    Although the school traces its beginnings back to 1842, the Notre Dame Web site reports that it "was officially chartered by special act of the legislature of the State of Indiana on January 15, 1844. It is worthy of ecumenical note that a Methodist state senator, John B. De Frees, was responsible for this action and for the writing of the University's charter as a degree-granting institution."

    When I took my first post-college job in Rochester, N.Y., in 1967, I shared an apartment for a time with a Notre Dame graduate, and he pretty much talked my ear off about how great the school was, though, of course, I had to tell him that when it came to journalism he had missed his chance to go to the oldest and best J-school in the country, the University of Missouri.

    Still, Notre Dame has contributed a great deal to our country. It's especially interesting to go through the list of "notable alumni" on the ND site.

    One of the Kansas City area alumni who made that list is John McMeel, a 1957 graduate who is co-founder and president of Universal Press Syndicate and chair and president of Andrews McMeel Universal. So at least some ND folks have made a name for themselves in journalism. John graduated the same year as TV's Phil Donahue.

    So happy birthday, Notre Dame. We Presbyterians tend to be proud of the many ways we have supported education in America, but the Catholics can be proud of Notre Dame.

    * * *


    Speaking of things Catholic, Pope Benedict XVI has come under fire this week by Jewish leaders who are withdrawing from the Italian Catholic Church's annual celebration of Judaism. These leaders say B-16 has set back Catholic-Jewish progress 50 years. At times this pope has shown himself to be sort of tone deaf, despite good intentions. This may be another example of that.

    * * *

    P.S.: From time to time here I have written about the genocide in Darfur, taking particular note of the fact that the most consistent voice against what's happening there has come from American Jews. Today I want to link you to this review of a book by a woman who served in Darfur with the group Doctors Without Borders. I haven't read the book, but just the review offers some new insight into the disaster that's been happening there.

    * * *

    ANOTHER P.S.: Newsweek (which I read mostly for Fareed Zakaria) has published a really insightful essay in the Jan. 19 issue called "'Uncle Bernie' and the Jews." It captures Jewish angst over the Bernard Madoff scandal like nothing else I've read.

    * * *

    YET ANOTHER P.S.: Several days ago here I showed you a night-time photo I had taken at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. The picture included one of the playful large shuttlecocks there. We learned yesterday that the co-creator of those, Coosje van Bruggen, has died.

    Some faith-based humor: 1-14-09

    Folks, we've gone way too long here without a humor break. So to prepare us for a new administration in Washington, we're going to laugh today in a sort of pre-laughter celebration on the hunch that what the new president is facing won't be so funny.


    Remember: These alleged jokes aren't original with me. If they were, they'd be funnier. Or not. Some come from Others from you. Others just appear.

    1. Grandson (staring at his grandfather): Grandpa, were you on the ark when the Flood came?

    Grandpa: No, certainly not.

    Grandson: Well, then, why weren't you drowned?

    2. A Sunday school teacher asked her students to draw a picture of their favorite Old Testament story. As she moved around the class, she saw there were many wonderful drawings being done. Then she came across the drawing of one little boy. He was busy drawing a man driving an old car. In the backseat were two passengers—both scantily dressed.”

    "It's a lovely picture,” prompted the teacher, “but which story does it tell?”

    The little boy seemed surprised at the question. “Well,” he exclaimed, “doesn't it say in the Bible that God drove Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden?”

    3. An Irish priest was transferred to Texas.

    Father O'Malley rose from his bed one morning. It was a fine spring day in his new Texas mission parish. He walked to the window of his bedroom to get a deep breath of the beautiful day outside. He then noticed there was a jackass lying dead in the middle of his front lawn. He promptly called the local police station.

    The conversation went like this:

    "Good morning. This is Sergeant Jones. How might I help you?"

    "And the best of the day te yerself. This is Father O'Malley at St. Ann's Catholic Church. There's a jackass lying dead in me front lawn and would ye be so kind as to send a couple o'yer lads to take care of the matter?"

    Sergeant Jones, considering himself to be quite a wit, replied with a smirk, "Well now Father, it was always my impression that you people took care of the last rites!"

    There was dead silence on the line for a long moment.

    Father O'Malley then replied: "Aye, 'tis certainly true; but we are also obliged to notify the next of kin."

    4. The custodian of a church quit, and the pastor of the church asked the organist if she would be able also to clean the church sanctuary.

    The organist thought before replying, "Do you mean that I now have to mind my keys and pews?”

    * * *


    The Religion Blog of the Dallas Morning News asked several Texas folks how they viewed the way their former governor, George W. Bush, dealt with religious matters while he has been president. As you might expect, the answers vary all over the lot. I personally will be happy to enter a new administration, which I think will have a more widely palatable approach to the way religion and public policy intersect. AND: Religion News Service has done this analysis of Bush's "faith-based initiative."

    * * *

    P.S.: Speaking of humor (or something), by one measuring device, my blog entry yesterday attracted this number of hits: 666. Should I be worried?

    Seminarians and sex: 1-13-09

    What's the big issue that is tearing apart faith communities these days?


    Human sexuality.

    What's the big issue that seminarians are learning essentially nothing about in their theological training?

    Human sexuality.

    Go figure.

    A new study says seminaries are failing to prepare clergy to deal with the myriad aspects of human sexuality that cause division in congregations. You have to wonder why.

    The study was done for the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing, founded in 2001 as what it calls "a multi-faith organization dedicated to advocating for sexual health, education and justice in faith communities and society."

    I'm pretty sure a similar study done by almost any group -- with or without an agenda -- would find the same failing among seminaries.

    I find this failure indefensible, given the priest abuse scandal, the deep divisions over issues related to ordaining gays and lesbians and such matters as where faith communities stand on same-sex marriage.

    Does anyone want to speak up for the seminaries?

    * * *


    A court has ordered a Florida school district to quit promoting religion in various ways. Good for that court. At the same time, I wish our justice system would be equally vigilant when school districts and other units of government do things that unconstitutionally restrict religious expression. There are breaches of the law on both sides of this issue and they both need to be addressed.

    * * *

    P.S.: Among the many Martin Luther King Jr. celebrations around Kansas City is one on Monday, Jan. 19, at the Westport Center for the Arts at Westport Presbyterian Church. Click here for information.

    * * *

    ANOTHER P.S.: Yes, you may be reading the main postings here and even some of the comments left by readers. But have you seen what else is here under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page? Explore.

    * * *

    AND YET ANOTHER P.S.: I wrote yesterday about Rick Warren, whom Barack Obama has chosen to give the inauguration prayer. But did you see this story about the minister he chose to preach at the national prayer service the day after the inauguration? Seems like a choice more in line with Obama's theology.

    * * *

    A FINAL NOTE: Anger about what's happening in Gaza is growing, and my hope is that the fighting will end immediately and that Israel and the Palestinians can move toward a permanent peace that means security for both. But there are incendiary voices adding to the anger needlessly and with simply outrageous words that must be condemned. One such voice is Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who recently prayed that Allah would kill Jews "down to the last one." Look, Israel is far from blameless in the continuing Mideast turmoil, but this kind of radical and hateful language hurts the Palestinians' just desire to live in freedom much more than it helps it. And Israel understands that al-Qaradawi is not alone in expressing such a desire.

    What Warren should pray: 1-12-09


    A week from tomorrow, Rick Warren, the well-known pastor of the Saddleback Church in southern California, will offer a prayer at the inauguration of Barack Obama and Joe Biden.

    As you know -- unless you've been living in Borneo recently -- Obama's choice of Warren (pictured here with Obama) has been controversial, mostly because some people consider him homophobic. I don't want to get into all that again here today. Rather, I want to suggest the prayer that Warren might consider giving. Here goes:

    We Americans call you by many names, gracious God, including by no name at all if we are convinced you don't exist.

    I myself and millions of other Americans know you most fully through Jesus Christ. But by whatever name we know you, I want to give you thanks for this historic day and for what it represents for the United States, a nation infected with the sin of slavery at its birth. I ask your blessing on our new president and vice president -- not so they may press for my own religious agenda but so that they may govern all Americans wisely and with courage and may help preserve our religious freedom among all our other freedoms.

    Help them always to remember that they are servants of the American people and that in all religious traditions servanthood is understood as a high and important calling.

    Lord, we ask for peace, starting in our own hearts but also extending to our sometimes-contentious political system and to a world in turmoil. Help the new administration and all of us act in ways that show our love for our own country, that promote the common good and that foster an ethic of peace and respect across the globe.

    If we disagree, Lord, help us do that with respect and civility, remembering that when it comes to the future, now we see through a glass darkly. So help us avoid the arrogance of false certitude and remain humble.

    We pray this day that you would give our new president both humility and boldness, both an attitude of respect and the courage needed to defend us, both a willingness to listen and the gift of others being able to hear what he has to say, especially when he represents your own admonition that each of us should love you as well as love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

    I pray these things on behalf of all our citizens, and I pray them through all the names by which we know you. Amen.

    * * *


    In Turkey, which has chosen a different political route from many other predominantly Muslim countries, there's political turmoil, with more arrests of alleged coup plotters on Sunday. In some ways, all this means that citizens there continue to fight about the path set by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey.

    * * *

    P.S.: On my New Year's Day posting here, I showed you video of four of my grandchildren wishing you happy new year. But my other two grandkids weren't available then for the taping. Now they've squeezed me into their busy schedules, so today -- just a few days late -- you get to see them wish you a great new year. Just click on the links below.

    Download Piper

    Download Cole


    The religion-terrorism link: 1-10/11-09

    Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks (if not before), people have been searching for ways to disconnect terrorism from religious motives. Such a decoupling, it's suggested, may remove some of the passion of the terrorists, who might finally be persuaded that terrorism in God's name is indefensible.


    Well, whether this will ever work is unclear, but I'm glad people still are talking about it.

    The latest example is the new chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, who addressed this as almost his first words after taking office the other day.

    In the process, Omar Abdullah (pictured here) became one more Muslim voice speaking out to condemn terrorism: ". . .terrorism has no religion and no religion permits terrorism. I can say it with confidence that my religion, Islam, neither preaches nor condones killing of innocent people, whoever they are and which ever community and country they belong to.”

    As I've said before, the world needs more such voices from Muslims.

    Kashmir has been in dispute between India and Pakistan for decades, and at least once that struggle has nearly led to nuclear war. It's long past time for a solution that guarantees the people of Kashmir security and freedom, whether they align themselves with India or Pakistan or whether they choose to be a free and independent nation.

    * * *


    When Barack Obama is sworn in as president on Jan. 20, he'll be using Abraham Lincoln's Bible. This good commentary by a rabbi explains some of the symbolism behind that. The writer says that Lincoln wasn't a "churchgoer." Well, he attended worship regularly enough at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington that there's a pew named after him still there today. For more on this, once you're at the church's Web site page to which I've linked you, click on "Civil War."

    AND: Obama has indicated he wants to -- and will -- and the words "so help me God" to the oath of office when he takes it. So: help him, God. He'll need it.

    * * *

    P.S.: As many of you know, my weekly (freelanced) Faith section column for The Kansas City Star was canceled Nov. 15 in the midst of major staff and budget cuts. This situation is not unique to The Star, as this intriguing piece in The Atlantic points out. (By the way, you can read my column I now write for The Presbyterian Outlook by looking for it under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)

    * * *

    ANOTHER P.S.: Don't forget about the Martin Luther King Jr. interfaith service at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Congregation Beth Shalom's 9400 Wornall location in Kansas City.


    Attacking Ghost Ranch: 1-9-09



    You'll have to excuse me today as I spend just this one posting on kind of an internal debate within my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). Listen in if you like. Or just come back tomorrow.


    A publication called The Layman is widely considered a voice for people in the denomination who would identify themselves as evangelical or conservative. The publication often is critical of the governing structure of the denomination, both in its editorials and in its news coverage.


    In the January issue of The Layman, there's a piece by James D. Berkley (scroll to page 5 of this pdf file) called "Ghost Ranch's stunning emptiness." Berkley is a PCUSA minister who lives in Bellevue, Wash., and who, the January issue announces, will be writing news stories and commentaries for the publication. Ghost Ranch (pictured here in a photo either I or my wife took) is a national Presbyterian conference center in northern New Mexico. I have taught there every summer except once since 1995 and will do so again this July. (For information on that, see the link to my class under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)


    I recently submitted a letter to the editor of The Layman that described Berkley's piece as "misleading and silly." The article was, in fact, more than that. It was snide and full of erroneous assumptions. It also seemed to me to be a cry to turn the ranch into a Bible camp with a narrow theological agenda. Let me repeat here (with some additions) a few points I made in my letter to the editor, which already has been published on The Layman's Web site:

    • Berkley: “Don’t look for the Bible, don’t look for Jesus, and don’t look for classic Reformed theology.” I’ve been teaching at Ghost Ranch since 1995. The very first class I taught — called “Theology Even the Clergy Can Understand” — was a weeklong admiring review of classic Reformed Tradition theology using the Bible, the Book of Order and writings by such theologians as Donald G. Bloesch, Shirley Guthrie and, yes, John Calvin. One finds a wide range of classes available at the ranch, from art to hiking to music to theology and more. Many of the people who come to the ranch are pastors on study leave or vacation. And often they'd prefer for a week to set aside deep theological study and take a break by painting or digging for dinosaur bones.

    • Berkley: “If one were to set out to establish a vital and thriving national conference center…one would probably not locate (it) in the middle of nowhere.” The church didn’t pick the location. Ghost Ranch was a 1955 gift to the church, which then had to figure out the best use for it. In the years since then the denomination’s financial support for the ranch has dwindled to essentially nothing now, requiring the ranch to be self-sufficient. So although the ranch is in some ways a ministry of the PCUSA, it is that in the same unfinanced way that many colleges with Presbyterians roots are. If the General Assembly, the ruling body of the PCUSA, wants to have more of a say in the classes offered at the ranch, perhaps it should find ways to provide financial support. I don't think that's about to happen, and I actually prefer that the ranch be free to make its own choices about what to offer. Berkley’s dismissive “middle of nowhere” remark also has been used by theologians to describe the location God chose for Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection. Hmmm.

    • Berkley: “Ghost Ranch would seem to produce little actual Christian formation. It’s not the kind of place where kids find faith in Jesus Christ. . .” I believe the first sentence to be rank speculation based on no research, and it is quite at odds with my own experience. As for the second sentence, Berkley should first have asked many of the parents of children who have spent time at the ranch and many of the college students who have served as summer staffers.

    • Berkley: “What’s the point?” My question about his article exactly. My answer to my question: To slam people gratuitously whose approach to being Presbyterian may not be exactly his own. How sad and divisive. But at least the photos were lovely. Wonder who took them.

    I also was taken with Berkley's description of the famous artist Georgia O'Keeffe, who lived and painted on the ranch, as "eccentric and scandalous." I wonder in what way this fascinating woman scandalized him. I'm sure Berkley knows that one of the charges against Jesus was that he scandalized people of his time and later. (No, I am not equating O'Keeffe with Jesus, just for the record.)


    Finally, I find criticisms unhelpful when they rely on essentially meaningless labels. Berkley refers, for instance, to "progressive goodies" to describe the ranch's course offerings and says they appeal only to "the liberal fifth of our denomination." Those labels are not meant to inform but to denigrate.


    Well, there is more, but Berkley's is the sort of piece that contributes to dissent in the church at a time when we need to be looking for ways forward together. If my own responses added to that dissent, I apologize.


    * * *



    Did you know the Gideons are celebrating 100 years of giving away Bibles? I wonder if anyone did more to spread around the name of the group than the Beatles, who included them in their "Rocky Raccoon" song.

    * * *

    P.S.: The other day here I mentioned the sanctions the Vatican has put in place against an American Jesuit theologican. To follow up on that story, here's an analysis from John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter.


    * * *

    ANOTHER P.S.: If you haven't made plans to attend the Jan. 26 final Festival of Faiths event in Kanssas City -- Newsweek editor Jon Meacham -- do so now. I'll be moderating a Q&A after he speaks.