Previous month:
June 2010
Next month:
August 2010

Liszt-ing great composers: 7-31/8-1-10

When I think about great composers of sacred music other names come to mind before I get to Franz Liszt (depicted here).


And yet this 19th Century Hungarian composer and pianist produced three large-scale settings of the Mass, two oratorios and many other works of sacred music.

And this weekend is a good time to be remembering Liszt, because he died on July 31, 1886. Indeed, he nearly died years earlier because of his adoption of some radical ascetic practices, but he survived into his 70s and produced more than 1,200 works and, in many ways, set piano music on a higher plane than it ever had been before.

There is a tendency today to dismiss Liszt, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and so many others as old dead white guys who have precious little to say to our postmodern world. And that's too bad. Oh, for sure we need music that speaks to our particular time and that represents our culture in ways that 19th Century European classical music does not and cannot.

But that doesn't mean that Liszt and others have lost their ability to communicate eternal truths to us through their music, especially music written for religious purposes or with religious themes.

If you want just a taste of Liszt's piano music, click here for a YouTube video.

* * *


I'm not sure I'd recommend this procedure to others, but a clerk being held up at a store in Florida decided not to give the robber the money but, instead, tell him God had a different and better path for him. And it worked.

Do these words matter? 7-30-10

Does "freedom of worship" mean the same thing to you as "freedom of religion"? That's the issue raised in this interesting piece, which says that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have switched from using "freedom of religion" to saying "freedom of worship."


The implication is that the latter phrase means much less than the former and that we all should worry about this linguistic sleight-of-hand.

Well, it's an interesting point but one I'm not going to lose a great deal of sleep over yet. What will matter more than this noticed change of language will be a change of actions to downplay religious freedom. I'm not quite sure how that might occur but it will be worth watching to see if it does and worth complaining about if it does happen.

I do know that since it was formed under Clinton's administration, the USCIRF (U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom), mentioned in the piece to which I've linked you above, has done some excellent work but has been essentially ignored by the State Department (which seems to get the willies when thinking about pushing a religious freedom agenda with other nations) as well as by the Clinton, Bush and now Obama administrations.

But, in the end, the president and secretary of State are not the final arbiters of religious freedom in this country. So although we need to pay attention to how and whether they stand up for it, what's more important is how it's being taught to our children and whether the courts are protecting it.

I personally wish Obama, Clinton and others representing our government would speak about "religious freedom" and not just "freedom of worship" because I believe that the former term really does point to the reality that one's commitment to a religion affects all of one's life -- at least in theory -- and not just when and how one worships.

But for now let's monitor things to see if there's really any cause for alarm.

* * *


The Swiss Guard at the Vatican -- a group of snappy dressers -- is cracking down on immodest clothing worn by tourists. Though I'm always surprised by people I see out in public who obviously either don't own a mirror or know what it's for, I do wonder whether the Jesus we see on many a crucifix would meet the Guard's new standard.

* * *

* * *



Through Fire and Water: An Overview of Mennonite History, by Harry Loewen and Steven M. Nolt. The Anabaptist tradition -- a radical reforming movement -- dates itself to 1525, soon after Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on a cathedral door and, without exactly meaning to, kicked off the Protestant Reformation. The Anabaptists weren't happy with several aspects of the Reformation, but primarily insisted that infant baptism was wrong. Rather, baptism should not happen until a person was old enough to make that choice. Today there are Anabaptists all over the world -- mostly Mennonites and the Amish, and their commitment to being peacemakers and to standing for justice today is much better known than their aversion to infant baptism. This book is a revised edition of one that first was published in 1996. It has been updated in various ways and offers a highly readable, non-academic account of Mennonite history, though set in the broader context of Christian history. It says it's written primarily for Anabaptists, but it's really a helpful read for anyone who wants to understand this vibrant branch of the Christian family.

* * *

P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read "Reaping what we sow: evangelizing Africa," click here.

A cheerful giving primer: 7-29-10

Well, look. Let me tell you up front that I'm a harsh critic of movies. Always have been because I find that so many of them are a waste of time. At the end of many of them my only accomplishment is being two hours closer to my death.


So when friends half-dragged me off to "The Blind Side" last New Year's Eve, I had few hopes of anything worthwhile. And yet I was intrigued by this film about a rich white couple taking a poor black kid into their family -- a kid who turned out to be a star NFL football player, Michael Oher. It was a flick that engaged the heart and that challenged viewers to think about generosity.

Still, when I got a review copy of a book by Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy (with writing help from Sally Jenkins), the couple in the movie played by Sandra Bullock and Tim McGraw, I figured it would be just an amateurish attempt to capitalize on the fame obtained through the movie.

But, in fact, In a Heartbeat: Sharing the Power of Cheerful Giving is not only a fun read, it's one that reveals a couple motivated by faith and by their own histories of dealing with the traumas that life throws at people -- the early death of a parent, the aftermath of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in Memphis, poverty and on and on.

If it's true that there are no normal families (an assertion my unnormal family and I will defend), then the Tuohy family fits right in, as did the families from which each of them came. And what those families produced were two people who have figured out what it means to follow the biblical rule to be cheerful givers.

You will end up caring about Sean because of what he went through as the son of a great high school basketball coach who suffered a stroke in his early 40s and died a few years later. And you will wind up caring about Leigh Anne because of the turmoil in her life when racist Memphis, where she lived, reacted to a school desegregation order by creating dozens of private white-flight schools, one of which she attended.

And you will care about both of them because of what they have to teach all of us about giving -- not major gifts of money to cure cancer but, rather, small gifts to individuals in ways that change lives.

I didn't like this book in a heartbeat. It took me three or four pages. I'm thinking you'll have a similar experience with it.

* * *


Over the years I've been an admirer of Rich Cizik, once the chief Washington lobbyist for the National Association of Evangelicals. He's always seemed to be a reasonable and wise man to me. After appearing on NPR's show "Fresh Air" in late 2008, he was dismissed from that job because of several things he said. Cizik was back on the show yesterday and seemed to be his same old self. The branch of American Christianity that calls itself evangelical would do well to give people like Cizik a fair hearing.

* * *

P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read "Reaping what we sow: evangelizing Africa," click here.

The Bible: History or myth? 7-28-10

For a long time now -- but especially since the 19th Century -- a debate has raged about how much of the Bible is accurate history and how much is, instead, truth-filled story telling.


In many ways -- but not in all ways -- it doesn't matter all that much. I know there are people of faith who would disagree with me and even be outraged by what I just said. But what I mean is that the Bible is full of life-transforming truths even if some of the stories it contains either can't be verified by the standards of 21st Century historians or they never happened at all.

So I was intrigued that someone sent me this 2001 Los Angeles Times piece recently as if it were brand new and maybe even shocking. In it, scholars are quoted as saying they have grave doubts about whether the Exodus ever happened, about whether Moses, if he was real at all, ever spent 40 years wandering in the sand and so forth.

Well, whether Judaism is dependent on the literal historical truth of those stories may be up for debate, though Christianity really is dependent on whether Jesus ever lived. If he's a fictional character made up by the writers of the New Testament, then the whole faith falls apart because the faith is rooted not so much in the message of Jesus as in his person and, more specifically, in his resurrection as an article of faith.

Even the Apostle Paul writes that if Jesus was not resurrected then the faith of Jesus' followers is in vain. (And, yes, it's true that the actual resurrection event, as scholar Luke Timothy Johnson points out, is not one that can be verified by the standards of modern historians.)

And yet other parts of both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament carry truth whether or not they are history. I need not, for instance, imagine that Job was a real live human being to understand the message of the book of Job, that suffering is not necessarily a sign of having sinned. And I certainly need not believe that Jonah was a literal figure of history who was swallowed by a literal whale to understand that the book of Job wants readers to grasp the high stakes involved in following -- or refusing to follow -- God.

When I help to lead Bible studies, I urge readers not to worry so intently about whether the story being told ever really happened (though I believe many of the stories did) but, rather, to pay attention to what the story is trying to tell us about God and about our relationship with God. That's what the Bible is all about instead of it being a facts-and-figures history book.

* * *


The lieutenant governor of Tennessee says Islam may not be a religion so much as "a cult." Good lord. Where do these know-nothing people get this nonsense? Yes, it's true that the term "cult" once meant simply a religious group, but that's no longer what it means to most people. It means, rather, a closed, radical religious group whose members often are led around by the nose by a charismatic leader. Islam, which has more followers in the world than any religion except Christianity, has been around nearly 1,400 years. It's fine to have differences with it (as a Christian, I surely do) and it's fine to ask serious questions about the source of violent extremists who have emerged from it. But it's not fine to dismiss it as something other than a religion. This is not the kind of political leadership we need when we're trying to figure out how to live in religious harmony at a time when our religious landscape is changing.

* * *

P.S.: What promises to be an informative seminar on immigration issues will take place this Saturday at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kansas. For all the details you need to attend, click here.

Clergy on the move: 7-27-10

The reality of life among clergy is that, not unlike people in military uniforms, they move around a fair amount.


The other evening, for instance, I attended a farewell gathering at Grace & Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Kansas City for the cathedral's dean, Terry A. White, who has been elected bishop of Kentucky. (That's Terry on the right in this photo, next to Abbot Gregory Polan of Conception Abbey in Conception, Mo. I guess when it's your goodbye party you can wear a pineapple shirt and not a clerical collar.)

Terry has been in Kansas City for six years, having come here from the Chicago area, where he had served a couple of churches.

He has done good and faithful work here and I wish him well in Kentucky. To hear what Bishop Barry Howe of the Diocese of West Missouri had to say about Terry at the farewell event, click on this link: Download Bishop Howe. And to hear what Terry himself had to say, click on this link: Download Terry White. Both audio clips are just a few minutes long.

The idea of clergy in motion has been on my mind recently because my own church has called a new pastor, and he is moving to Kansas City this week from New York City, where he's been an associate pastor at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church for the past six years. To see a YouTube video of the Rev. Paul Rock talk about his move to my congregation, click here.

As we anticipate Paul's arrive, we held a farewell celebration this past Sunday at my church for our interim pastor, John Ross, who has served my congregation for a year and four months. That's John you see in the picture on the right with Mark Hash, who helps to lead our AIDS Ministry. John and his wife Tara will be leaving Kansas City and considering other interim possibilities now.


It's both an exciting and a scary time for people like Terry and Paul. In the tradition of Abraham, they have followed what they believe is a call from God to move to a new location and to trust that once there they will figure out what they are to do in obedience to God's call.

A good clergy friend just made such a move from a church Oklahoma to one in Ohio, and he acknowledges that it has taken him some time to find his sea legs in his new location (just as it took Abraham some time to figure it out).

Yes, I know. People in business move a lot, and often from city to city. But the difference for clergy is that they aren't to do it out of personal ambition or for some other selfish reason (of course I know there are exceptions). Rather, they are to do it after doing their best to discern where God would have them be. And figuring that out can be harder than following your own ego. But the testimony of clergy is that it's a wonderful experience when you get it right.

* * *


From the time they fell in love, Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky, have attracted speculation about how they will live together as people of different faiths -- Chelsea being Christian and Marc being Jewish. Well, this writer uses the occasion of their wedding as an opportunity to talk about interfaith marriages, which is a good use of the occasion. But because I care so little about alleged celebrities, I'm tempted to wonder why this wedding is any of our business beyond just wishing the couple well.

* * *

* * *



Connecting Like Jesus: Practices for Healing, Teaching and Preaching, by Tony Campolo and Mary Albert Darling. As many of you know, Campolo is a fascinating figure who is a bit hard to categorize theologically because, a bit like Jim Wallis, he's an evangelical Christian with a strong prophetic voice calling people to ministries of social justice. He has combined here with a woman who teaches communications to offer insights into ways in which Christians can communicate effectively and passionately with people -- by taking those people seriously. Their argument is that Jesus modeled a profoundly effective way to connect with people so they could hear his message of self-sacrificial love. We can learn from Jesus how to do that ourselves, Campolo and Darling say, so that we can minister effectively to others. This is a book that clergy will find helpful but it also contains good guidance for any Christian who wants to improve his or her ability to learn from others by good listening and to teach others with effective techniques.

* * *

P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read "Who will be the last Presbyterian?" click here.

On faithful eyewitnesses: 7-26-10

When Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn and I were writing They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, we felt it important to be as careful as possible about eyewitness testimony of Holocaust survivors.

Browning book

Where their memories could be matched against historical events, we sought to make sure they at least got the dates right. In one case, one of the survivors knew the date on which he almost died and insisted it was a particular day of the week -- Monday, as I know recall. But we checked the calendar for that year and discovered it was a different day of the week.

At any rate, we talk some about this in the introduction to our book, even quoting the Holocaust historian Christopher Browning about the need to be cautious about eyewitness testimony. Indeed, Rabbi Jacques and I had gone to hear Browning speak in early 2008 about such matters at a lecture at Kansas State University in Manhattan.

In that speech, Browning talked about a case in which a judge egregiously rejected the eyewitness testimony of many people to acquit a Nazi of his role in the destruction of some Jews. That is the subject of his most recent book, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp. And it's that book that is the subject of this interesting piece about Browning and his views on eyewitness testimony.

To hear my personal recording of Brown's 2008 talk at K-State, click on this link: Download Christopher Browning 2-18-08. I warn you that this tape runs about an hour and a half, but his comments about eyewitness accounts and the case mentioned in the piece to which I've linked you come pretty early in the tape after he is introduced.

In Judaism, memory plays a crucial role. Yes, we must be careful about trusting all eyewitness accounts but we also must be careful to honor memory and to honor the people who have survived terrible trauma with memories they have come to cherish or abhor.

* * *


You may remember that I wrote here recently about a panel discussion I did in Indiana with Dr. Alvin Rosenfeld, a Jewish scholar at Indiana University. This past weekend he wrote a lovely piece about the difference between "causeless hatred" and "causeless love." I found it a special insight into Jewish sensibilities. To read a pdf file of it, click on this link: Download PERSPECTIVES ON FAITH. The piece appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times, and if you want to read it there, click here. But know that you'll need to sign up for a minimal subscription to the paper to read it all there.

* * *

P.S.: My latest Presbyterian Outlook column now is online. To read "Who will be the last Presbyterian?" click here

A leader rethinks church: 7-24/25-10

As I mentioned here a few weeks ago, a Kansas City area pastor, the Rev. Landon Whitsitt (pictured here), has been installed as vice-moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). It's the second-highest office in our denomination. He'll be serving with the new moderator, Elder Cynthia Bolbach.

Whitsitt-small[1] (2)

Landon, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of suburban Liberty, Mo., is a great example of young pastors in our branch of Christianity who understand what it means to do ministry in this post-modern age.

I asked Landon to respond to some questions about his new role and about the future of the church. Here's our e-mail conversation:

* How does someone who takes such a national office balance local pastoral duties with national duties, especially the travel?


"One of the particular gifts of being Presbyterian is that those of us who are pastors are not 'in charge' of the church, nor are we called to 'do the ministry' of the church. In the Presbyterian Church (as you know) it's the Elders who have the call from God to make sure the business of the church gets done, but not even they are supposed to do it. Rather, they are to equip the individual members to do it. We have been talking a lot about this at FPC (First Presbyterian Church of Liberty) for the last 2+ years, and when this opportunity came up the Elders seemed to be the most excited that they now got a very real chance to jump in with both feet and do the kinds of things we've been reaching for.

"The GA (General Assembly) will pay for pulpit supply (guest preachers), but the 'real work of ministry' is already being grasped by the Elders and membership. Even before the election, I've noticed an ownership from the Session (the board of ruling elders) that I'd not seen in my previous 3 years there. It's exciting to watch.


"Just last night, the Session communicated that they thought a lot of our Christian Ed needed to be moved online. Wow! That's something I can still do, even from the road."

* What are the moderator's and your primary goals for your term?


"Cindy's passion for the last 4 years has been the nFOG (Tammeus note: that's Presbyterian-speak for "new form of government"), so the primary talking she will be doing for the next year will be about that. But in a larger frame of reference, it's really about finding and telling the stories of how Presbyterians are 'doing it differently.'


"The nFOG is emblematic of a larger shift in our church (I think) towards a more fluid and responsive organizational identity. It starts with a new Constitution, but it doesn't stop there.

I've been vocal of my desire to see our church 'open source' itself, but that's really just a hipster way of talking about the same thing."

* What are the most important issues facing the PCUSA and the church universal?


"Even though they are intertwined, I'll say there is one that's theological and one that's political.

Theological: As Phyllis Tickle says in The Great Emergence, the most important questions of our day is 'Where is the authority?'  'Sola Scriptura' is dead most places, and dying rapidly in others. So where do we lodge the authority of our faith? That's the real battle we see fought in the church. We're not really arguing about LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) inclusion, we're arguing about how we read the Bible.


"Political: Again, it is connected to the first issue, but the political question is 'Who gets to play?' The church is faced with the questions of who gets to participate and at what level. The Roman Catholic Church just made a statement on women's ordination that caused a riot. The Presiding Bishop of the ECUSA (Episcopal Church) couldn't wear her mitre to preside over Mass in England. Anglican Churches are splitting right and left over LGBT bishops. We Presbyterians talk about it every GA. People always ask: 'When are we going to settle it?' My answer is: 'When we finally let everyone in.'"

* Mainline churches have been losing members for 40 or 50 years. So what?


"So what, indeed. Exactly. The Moderator of the 218th GA, Bruce Reyes-Chow, is noted for saying that he has no interest in saving the Presbyterian Church. What he does have an interest in saving in the gift the Presbyterians give to the world: the belief that we discern the mind of Christ and the will of God best together.




"It was trendy at this year's GA for people to get a picture of me and my tattoo of the PCUSA seal (pictured at left) (it's quite prominent on my left forearm). Every time people would joke about what I was going to do if the church split or died. I would be okay. For me the PCUSA (and its seal) represents a moment in time when God has gathered a group of people to live in a particular way. But it won't always be this way, and rather than being bound to the 'how' of something I'd like us to be bound to the 'why.'"


* What can the Emergent Church Movement, which has come primarily out of the evangelical branch of the church, teach the Mainline churches? On a scale of 1 to 10, how important is that movement?


"I don't know if ECM can 'teach' the Mainline anything, frankly. I have always kind of thought that the ECM is the vehicle that is dragging Evangelicalism into a form of faith similar to what the mainline churches experience.


"I'm sure they'd disagree, but, as an example, a lot of folks in the ECM are jazzed to the hilt about Walter Brueggemann right now. I'm so sick of Bureggemann after reading countless books during seminary. They love N.T. Wright. I'm not trying to be rude when I point out that those are Mainline folks.


"What the ECM challenges us on, however, is our creativity. We've gotten liturgically and politically lazy. No one wants to be a part of a bureaucratic institution anymore and no one wants to spend a hour on Sunday morning sitting through what is essentially a business meeting with some hymns. But 'emergence' in general (a la Tickle): This is nothing short of our age's Reformation.


* In her new book, Almost Christian, Kenda Creasy Dean says youth in churches are learning to be adherents of a watered-down religion called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and not learning to be adherents of Christianity, with its call for self-sacrificial living as followers of Jesus. What will you do as vice moderator to change that reality?


I love Dean's work, and she's 100% right. I don't know what a person in my position can do except name the problem in as many ways and in as many places as possible. But it won't be fun if we start to believe it. Our church has lost members because we didn't give them a place to 'feel good.' At our church we say that 'Big kids take care of the little kids.' Our entire purpose for being is to serve others. That's a tough pill to swallow - especially for privileged Americans.

* Whatever else you want to tell me.


"I'm allergic to watermelon, and can cook you the best scrambled eggs you ever had.  :)"


Here's Landon's bio information:


Landon Whitsitt is the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Liberty, Mo., (Heartland Presbytery), husband to Jerilyn and dad of 4 boys.

A 2005 graduate of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Landon has served in campus ministry, and as the music director for a postmodern new church development. Before entering the pastorate he served on the Session of First Presbyterian Church in Lawrence, Kan., (Presbytery of Northern Kansas), and was ordained as the program director for The Center for Interfaith Relations (Louisville, Ky.).

He has been active with Presbymergent, the PC(USA) Ecumenical-Interfaith Network, and has served on the PC(USA) Committee on Theological Education since 2008.

When he is not serving his congregation, Landon can be found penning his forthcoming book, Open Source Church, and producing the weekly podcast God Complex Radio with Carol Howard Merritt and Bruce Reyes-Chow (


* * *




The Russian Orthodox patriarch has nice things to say about Pope Benedict XVI but has lambasted Protestants who believe in treating gays and lesbians on an equal basis with heterosexuals and who ordain women to ministry. I was especially struck by his statement on homosexuality: “It is written in black and white that it is a sin.” For rather different view -- but one that takes the Bible seriously -- see my essay on this subject under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page. And if you know the patriarch's e-mail address, send the link for the essay to him, too. It's time he woke up on this.


* * *


P.S.: At 7 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 19, you'll have a chance to hear Sister Marilyn Lacey speak at Visitation Catholic Parish in Kansas City about her work with the Sudanese people. She's founder of Mercy Beyond Borders, which works in Sudan to educate women and girls in various ways. For a pdf with more details, click on this link: Download Lacey_Fundraiser_Flyer_0710.

Toward interfaith hospitals: 7-23-10

Perhaps because my wife used to work at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, I've been pretty aware of the incredible diversity of patients at most hospitals.


Among the many things that means is that hospital chaplains and chapels must meet the needs of a wide variety of people of faith. If you think this is a Christian nation, drop by a hospital chapel or meditation room some day.

So I was intrigued by this Religion News Service piece taking note of the fact that there's a move among American hospitals to create not just the old model of faith-specific chapels but, rather, meditation rooms that are welcoming to people of any and all faiths -- and of none.

This is just one more example of the ways in which Americans are negotiating life in a new and changing religious landscape. It's happening in various venues in the U.S., from hospitals to many offices, in which managers must be more aware of the variety of religions practiced by employees and to be sensitive to their needs.

The goal of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council is to make the KC area the most welcoming of all religions and traditions of any community in the U.S. The hospital story to which I've linked you today is one more way to do that, and I hope communities all over the country compete for the title that KC is striving to achieve.

* * *


Ah, yes. Nuance. Gray vs. black and white. That's the reality of much of life, and it's exactly what a pollster has found in California when asking people about gay marriage. Even people of faith, the poll shows, are divided on this question, it turns out. Why doesn't that shock me?

* * *

P.S.: Cheers and best wishes to Sister Rosemary Flanigan, who is retiring from the Center for Practical Bioethics in Kansas City after 24 years. Well done, Sister.

Thanksgiving in July: 7-22-10

Most Americans never think of the Puritans until Thanksgiving rolls around, and they hear the story again of the folks in England who grew upset with the failure of reform in the Church of England -- so upset they left the place and settled in the New World. You know, the Pilgrims.


Well, we're a long way from Thanksgiving, but today is another good time to remind ourselves of these people of faith and the role they played in the formation of the U.S.

Why? Because it was on this date in 1620 that a small congregation of English Separatists left Leiden, Holland, to which they had fled, and returned to England on their way to what became the United States.

They were led by their pastor, John Robinson.

But let scholar and author Mark A. Noll tell the story from his book, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada:

"While other Puritans were still contending in England for the thorough reform of the church and the religious life of the nation, the Plymouth settlers had largely abandoned that effort in order to carve out a separate society for themselves. Among the more extreme Protestants who were deeply disappointed when the Scottish James I, successor in 1603 to Queen Elizabeth, did not embrace the Puritan cause, were local congregations that had begun to meet together beyond the jurisdiction of the national church. One of these in Scrooby, Nottinghamshire, grew so uneasy with the course of religious events in England that it resolved to migrate to a more friendly environment. Under its pastor John Robinson, this congregation chose first to go to Holland. But in that land they were disappointed. The Dutch allowed them to worship as they pleased, but the English immigrants found the Dutch culture unappealing. . . .So after a dozen years they resolved to move much further afield to find the space they needed to worship and live as they thought best."

By Sept. 6 of 1620 they were aboard the Mayflower, heading to Virginia. But they wound up, instead, on Cape Cod. And the rest, as they say, is history. But it's history we'd do well to remember.

(I found the image of the Pilgrims at Plymouth above at

* * *


As I'm sure you know, there's been an ongoing debate about a proposal to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York. Although I want to know more about its funding sources, I have not opposed it as a member of a 9/11 family. Indeed, I not only see no reason a mosque can't be located there, I think it would be a good thing in many ways. And so does Boston University teacher and author Stephen Prothero, who has written this good piece explaining his views. By the way, if you haven't read Prothero's book on the failure of Americans to know much about religion, please do. And if you want to read a dozen or so pieces about the mosque debate on the "On Faith" blog of the Washington Post, click here.

Facing world hunger: 7-21-10

Here in the O.S.A., Obese States of America, many people rarely imagine the kind of hunger that plagues much of the world.


I thought this Baptist Press story might help all of us think not only about how malnourishment and killing hunger is experienced in many lands but also what those of us -- especially people of faith -- who go to bed at night well fed should do about it.

When I was a boy, as some of you know, I lived for two years in India, and saw there the hunger that my father was working to relieve through his work on a University of Illinois agriculture team that sought to teach Indians how to produce more, better and more nutritious crops.

So I'm not completely unfamiliar with what people mean when they say "world hunger." Still, it's hard to picture the kind of food deprivation that, as described in the Baptist Press piece, drove some adults to choose not to eat and to starve to death so that younger people could survive. (For Bread for the World's overview of the world hunger problem, click here.)

Religion insists that each of us has a duty to care for our neighbors, and that surely means helping to provide the basics of food, clothing and shelter. Many people of faith give their lives to doing exactly that, but the reality of hunger around the world reveals that something continues to be terribly wrong, and we are called to find ways to respond.

What will you do to help today?

* * *


A blogger for The Guardian in the U.K. makes some good points about baseless opposition in the U.S. to the construction of mosques, especially the one near Ground Zero. Is there cause to be concerned about extremists who claim to be Muslims? Absolutely. But does this mean we toss out the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution? If so, we are terrorizing ourselves.