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How to remember 9/11: 8-31-11

We now are less than two weeks away from the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which, as we know, was a horrendous example of religion run amok.

WTC-lights As you might imagine, I've been moving toward this anniversary with both dread and anticipation because I'm part of a 9/11 family. The only son of one of my sisters perished that day as a passenger on American Flight 11.

I dread every 9/11 anniversary just because I loved my nephew so much and because his death has been so hard on my family. But I anticipate this anniversary more than previous ones because I think this may be the last major one our nation will commemorate in such a public and sweeping way.

I will have three columns on this subject in three different publications -- the Sept. 5 issue of The Presbyterian Outlook, the Sept. 7 online edition of The National Catholic Reporter and the Sept. 11 editorial pages of The Kansas City Star.  I'll have links to each of them here on the blog as they are available.

As for how you might want to commemorate this date, I have just a couple of suggestions. First, if you're in the Kansas City area, I hope you'll attend the 9/11 memorial service at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11, at Community Christian Church, 46th and Main. I'll be there and will be one of the readers, though the centerpiece of the event will be a performance of a wonderful piece of music. Tickets are required, but free, and you can arrange for them at the Web site to which I've linked you in this paragraph.

Next, I invite you to look at the 9/11-related material put together by my friends at That includes this good piece by Philip Gulley, whose new book I reviewed recently here. And there are some other 9/11 resources at, too. Also, in case you missed it, click here for a 9/11 TV coverage wrapup by The KC Star's Aaron Barnhart.

In all of this, let's remember the damage toxic religion can do, compared with the good that healthy religion can bring to individuals and to society.

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As Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan with Eid al-Fitr commemorations, CNN reports decidedly mixed feelings of both joy and apprehensions in various countries around the world. These major holidays provide an opportunity to check in on the vibes coming from various religious traditions. And it's good to keep track of those vibes.

Catholics learning about Islam: 8-30-11

I am always gratified to find faith communities that seek to educate their members not just about their own tradition (though surely that's the place to start) but also about the religious traditions of others.

St.-anthony A great Catholic (in this case Franciscan) example of that is the current issue of The St. Anthony Messenger magazine. It has spent a fair amount of effort to tell people the basics of Islam and to provide some wise Islamic voices, such as that of Eboo Patel, founder and head of the Interfaith Youth Core. To read the Messenger's piece about Patel, click here.

The publication, desiring to add to the post-9/11 dialogue, offers a quick review of the basics of the faith of Muslims by listing 10 things to know about Islam, from the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad. It is possible, of course, to provide only a glance at Islam in such a limited format, but nonetheless it's a helpful start.

As John Feister says in his introduction to the collection of pieces about Islam, "I promise you a rich serving of both inspiration and practical information—and perhaps a bit of a challenge as well."

Another good thing about this, of course, is that the Messenger staff put it all online so everyone could have access to it. Read away.

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New York Times columnist Roth Douthat makes good points in suggesting ways that journalists should be covering the issues of religion in current presidential politics. In my view, the problem with many stories about religion and politics is that some of the journalists who report them don't understand religion very well. My guess is that even if they did the extremist voices at either end of the politio-religion spectrum would continue to stir up fear and misinformation. What we need is a more educated and discerning public. But I won't hold my breath.

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Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey Into Meditative Prayer, by Richard J. Foster. Because of his excellent work over decades helping Christians understand and exercise spiritual disciplines, the author has a large and dedicated following. This book will add to that group. In it, Foster helps readers understand what meditative, or centering, prayer is about and why it's important. And he helps them into the practice of it not just through descriptions of what to do but also through personal stories of his own experiences with it in different settings. In meditative prayer, Foster writes, "we are learning tosink down into the light and life of Christ and becoming comfortable in this posture. . .In meditative prayer we are creating the emotional and spiritual space that allows God to construct an inner sanctuary in the heart. . .Jesus is knocking; meditative prayer opens the door." Foster also offers an excellent explanation of a way of reading Scripture called lectio divina, which can help create the atmosphere necessary for centering prayer. This is a small book, barely 150 pages of text. But for anyone who needs to experience the transformative power of meditative prayer, this is an excellent place to start.

Blaming the Social Gospellers: 8-29-11

What part does religion play in American foreign policy, particularly the motivations behind our nation's involvement in various wars over the years?

Christian-world It's a difficult question, and I've seen reasonable arguments that religion has played almost no role in many of the major wars of the 20th Century, including World Wars I and II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

But two experts in comparative religion are arguing this: "America’s foreign interventions over the last century arise from deeply held religious motivations."

They tie their contention to what's been known as the Social Gospel, which has acquired many definitions over the years.

Here's one from Stephen Prothero's helpful book, Religious Literacy: "Protestant theological movement that sees sin and salvation as social and seeks to apply Jesus' teachings to socioeconomic problems."

And here's one from the reliable Merriam-Webster's Encyclopedia of World Religions: "American religious social-reform movement that was prominent from about 1870 to 1930, especially among liberal Protestant groups dedicated to the betterment of industrialized society. Labor reforms. . .constituted the Social Gospel's most prominent concerns."

James K. Wellman, Jr., and S.R. Thompson write in the Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion that the rationale for the 2003 invasion of Iraq is, to quote the piece's abstract (the only part available to nonsubscribers on the IJRR Web site), "a legacy of the Social Gospel movement in the late nineteenth century. Social Gospellers believed that 'Christianization' of society would occur first in the United States and then spread across the globe because of the dominance of the U.S. economy, political system, military, and Protestant religion."

Beyond that, they argue this in a related piece in a "Sightings" entry at the Web site of religion scholar Martin E.Marty: "Traces of this movement mark the Spanish American War, the Filipino intervention, World War I and II, the multiple interventions into Latin America in the twentieth century, the Vietnam War, and the recent involvements in the Middle East." (To read the "Sightings" piece click here.)

Well, what to make of this theory? I find it intriguing and worth thinking about more. Certainly we Americans have rarely hesitated to project our values, our religions and even our systems onto the rest of the world on the assumption that we have it more right than most folks.

This, of course, leads us into all kinds of trouble, from being labeled as "The Ugly American" tourist to being the source of arrogant and rigid Christian missionaries (much less true today than 100 years ago).

But my guess is that the authors are giving the Social Gospel movement too much credit (or blame) for being the driving force behind our foreign interventions. I think run-amok capitalism, healthy atruism, misguided friendships and many other factors play a role. I'd love to see someone do a more thorough analysis of all possible causes and assess how much each contributes. I'm thinking Social Gospel might come in fourth or fifth down the line.

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It's bad enough that the Pat Robertsons and Glenn Becks of the world over and over say ridiculous things they think are from God. What's worse is that people continue to be duped by such foolishness. Beck now says the Irene storm was a blessing from God. I wonder if he'd have the courage to say that in person to the families of the people who died because of Irene.

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Faces of Grief: Stories of Surviving Loss and Finding Hope, by Sherry Lee Hoppe. In many ways grief is intensively individual and private. Which is to say that the one whose husband, wife, child or friend has just died often feels as if no one in the world has ever felt what he or she if feeling now. And in a sense that's true, because the person who died had never died before. But there is a certain commonality to bereavement, a certain plot of common ground on which all mourners stand. And this book helps to find that ground, identify it and suggest to readers that others have stood there before and stand there even now with them. The author writes from the personal experience of going through the death of her husband, and thus the essays in the first part of the book are not dry academic exercises but are, instead, drawn from her own life. In the second part we get fairly brief, often paintful stories of grief and how others have dealt with that experience. Especially instructive is Hoppe's observation that "I have learned to be grateful I had so much to lose." I did, however, find it odd that although she counsels against easy answers, such as telling a bereaved widow that her husband now is "in a better place," she nonetheless seems to engage in that herself. At the end of one chapter about the death of a couple's son, for instance, she writes: "Maybe God needed Jason's compassion and love in heaven, and that's why He called him home." Such sentiments are understandable (at least temporarily) coming from grieving parents seeking to integrate their loss into their lives, but they amount to trite misconceptions and death denial when they come from others.

How to teach the children: 8-27/28-11

The mandate for Christians to teach their children the things of the faith finds its roots in the Hebrew scriptures. Here, for instance, is what Deuteronomy 6:6-9 says:

"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be a frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates."

Will-There-Be-Faith But some Christians have done better at that than others. And no one has done it perfectly. One of the results is that it's not uncommon for the children of church members to drift away in their teen-age years. Sometimes they never come back.

All branches of the faith have worried about how best to provide religious education to children (to say nothing of adults who often stopped their theological education about sixth grade).

A new book, rooted in the Catholic tradition, should help everything think through this difficult but vital issue.

Will There Be Faith: A New Vision for Educating and Growing Disciples, by Thomas H. Groome, is a careful, comprehensive, enlightened and practical guide to help families and congregations re-imagine Christian education.

I won't give you chapter and verse here about the approach taken by Groome, who is chair of the Department of Religious Education and Pastoral Ministry at Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry. But I will tell you a few foundational things that Groome gets right so you will have a sense that you can trust his insights.

First, he encourages people to educate their children in a particular faith tradition and to be committed to that tradition even while respecting other traditions: "We must ground them in the particular. . .in a way that diligently discourages sectarianism and bitterness toward 'others.' Let us enable people, instead, to embrance the universality of God's love for all humankind and to respect and appreciate all life-giving religions traditions." (And, yes, I know some people think that only their tradition is life-giving.)

Next, he understands and clearly communicates the reality that Jesus first and foremost taught the "reign" or "kingdom" of God. That was what Jesus came to proclaim. That's what the gospel meant to Jesus. Groome: "Jesus taught God's reign and now we, like Paul and the first Christians, must continue to teach what Jesus taught -- the reign of God -- and to teach Jesus as our Lord and Savior, God's definitive agent in the ongoing coming of God's reign in human history."

In addition, Groome emphasizes that the responsibility for teaching our children religion lies not only with our churches but also with families themselves. It's a crucial point.

As I say, this is a book rooted in Catholic tradition, but Groome's vision is wide enough to be helpful to all Christians. Indeed, even non-Christians might learn some approaches here that would benefit them, as long as they can translate what Groome writes about Christianity to their own tradition.

All over the world -- but especially in the West -- Christians are worrying about how to pass along the treasures of the faith to the next generations. This book can offer some practical and, I'm betting, effective techniques. They are techniques founded on thoughtful theology and not just tricks of modern marketing.

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A former East German Communist official, of all people, has some praise for Pope Benedict XVI prior to the pontiff's visit to his homeland. In religion, too, one should have no permanent enemies.

Stopping hatred locally: 8-26-11

Sometimes people tell me they feel helpless to make a difference when it comes to all the religious hatred, violence and misunderstanding in the world.

Bigot And I admit it's easy to feel that way if we are looking at the global picture.

But if we narrow our focus to what's in front of us, things become clearer and our duties become more obvious.

An example: The other day a fellow I know sent out an e-mail to a group of us. He began by saying that his wife told him not to forward what he was forwarding, but "hey, I have no sensitivity." The e-mail contained what was alleged to be a collection of allegedly (two alleges in one sentence) humorous observations about Muslims by comedian Jeff Foxworthy.

Well, it was xenophobic crap. I immediately wrote him back saying, "Your wife was right. Change Muslim to Jew and you have blatant antisemitism. You can avoid sending this kind of junk to me in the future."

The result? He quickly sent out a second note apologizing to everyone and acknowledging that what he had sent was prejudicial and simply wrong.

It was, in fact, wrong in ways he may not have even realized. He could have checked to determine that Jeff Foxworthy was not -- repeat not -- the source of this garbage.

You may not be able to stop violent extremists from planting bombs in Iraq or shooting at our troops in Afghanistan, but you can object when you see bigoted anti-religious junk that comes into your own e-mail inbox from people you know (or don't).

The obligation to do so seems obvious enough.

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York is taking hits for banning prayer from the city's upcoming 9/11 10th anniversary commemoration. He should be taking hits. It's a goofy decision. There are sensitive and proper ways to bring religion into this public square. After all, what was 9/11 about if not religion gone bad. Why can't a commemoration be an example of religion done right?

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Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11,  by Wendy Starr Healy. As the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks approaches, many of us are focused on the brutal cost of that day. In my case, it was the death of my nephew Karleton, a passenger on American Flight 11 from Boston. And, of course, there is no way to forget that cost. There is, however, the redemptive truth that 9/11 changed some people's lives for the better, giving them new direction, new hope -- even if they never would have asked for such a disaster to change them. This little book tells the inspiring stories of a dozen or so people (mostly people with Lutheran connections) who have experienced that transformation. The stories are a reminder that the gift of life that we've all been given does not need a catastrophe to lead us to choose to do something worthwhile with our lives. We can find a healing path now. I was especially glad that the author did not take a pollyanna approach to this but, rather, acknowledged frankly that "almost 3,000 people never got a second chance to make their dreams. . .happen after 9/11."

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P.S.: Typepad, the blogging site I use, made "Faith Matters" its featured blog yesterday. To see what the nice Typepad folks had to say, click here.

Daily life in Jesus' time: 8-25-11

As I am preparing to help lead a trip to Israel next April with a rabbi and an Episcopal priest (for details, click here), I'm doing some reading about the history of the Holy Land.

Life-Year-One One of the most helpful books I've found to give me a pretty detailed sense of what life there was like in Jesus' time is a 2011 volume called Life in Year One: What the World Was Like in First-Century Palestine, by Scott Korb.

This is not some thick scholarly work that will teach you things but make your eyes glaze over. Rather, it's a light-hearted but thorough book that covers the waterfront.

And by that I mean that you'll read a chapter on what the world looked like in what Korb calls Year One, then a look at money in Year One, then chapters on home, food, baths, health, respect, religion, war and death.

In all these chapters what Korb tries to do is to get the reader as close to reality for the average Year One resident of the Holy Land as is possible. Sometimes, he admits, we simply don't know some things. But in a general way we can get a pretty good picture of life in Jesus' time.

I've learned quite a bit from this book, including the fact that Jerusalem at the time had a population of somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000. (By contrast, the population today is in the 775,000 range.) Oh, and did you know that Jesus' hometown of Nazareth had fewer than 400 residents at the time -- 500 max, according to other sources? (Nazareth today is in the 72,000 range.)

I was pleased, too, to find Korb giving a fairly nuanced picture of religion and culture at the time, including the reality that there were First Century Judaisms, plural, not simply one Judaism. Beyond that, the book gives readers a good sense of Greek and Roman influence.

I plan to be drawing more from this book as we prepare to do some classes on "Israel Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" in advance of our April 2012 trip. You can read about those classes at the link I gave you in the first paragraph.

I hope you'll think about joining us on this trip and, in preparation, giving Korb's excellent book a read.

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The Jewish Daily Forward earlier this year launched a campaign to get the private owner of George Washington's famous letter to the Jews on religious freedom to put the letter back into public access. This column in The Wall Street Journal talks about that and describes why it's important for this document to help lead Americans today through the process of learning how to live in religious harmony in a time of increasing pluralism. I agree with the thrust of the piece and am happy The Forward raised the issue. To read The Forward's latest piece about all of this, click here.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.

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ANOTHER P.S.: Typepad, the blogging site I use, made "Faith Matters" its featured blog today. To see what the nice Typepad folks had to say, click here.

Seeing faith's concrete results: 8-24-11

Once in awhile people of faith get reminders of the ways in which what they do can make a difference for good in the lives of people they don't even know.

HopeCare That happened to me again the other evening when a strategic planning task force I'm chairing for my church, Second Presbyterian, met at Hope Care Center, the 24-hour skilled nursing facility for HIV/AIDS patients near 83rd and Main. Our congregation helped to get that center started.

I moved our meeting there because I want members of our task force to become more familiar with the various agencies that our church supports with money and volunteers. And several members of our task force had never been to Hope Care before.

Hope Care grew out of a need that was made all the more evident when an AIDS wing at an area nursing home dissolved in the early to mid-1990s.

Those of us who had been doing volunteer work at that nurshing home's AIDS section knew how valuable it was to have medical staff devoted to HIV/AIDS patients. So some of us began to look around to see if we could create a skilled nursing facility precisely for that population.

Our congregation put up some important seed money for the project and many of us put in lots of volunteer time to turn an old nursing home into Hope Care, which opened in the fall of 1996 as a 16-bed facility.

Hope Care has offered compassionate care to many, many people in the intervening 15 years, and being in the facility the other night for a meeting brought back good memories -- along with a feeling of satisfaction that many people of faith, including some from my own congregation, were instrumental in getting Hope Care off the ground.

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Terry Mattingly, who has been a religion journalist for a lot of years, is also a Texas native. And in this good piece on, he tries to help out non-Texas journalists who will be coming to the state to write about Gov. Rick Perry's presidential run. As Terry notes, "If you’re headed to Texas to cover politics or anything else you had better get up to speed on religion. Religion is a big deal in Texas, a really big deal." Good advice.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.

Religion for the brainy? 8-23-11

Let's test your assumptions about who among whites in America is an active (or at least relatively so) participant in a religion.

Mortarboard-cross Do you think those persons with four-year college degrees or those whose education essentially ended in high school are likely to be more active in a faith?

If you're like me, your first guess might have been that the less-educated are more active, although now that I think more deeply about that I'm not sure why I'd have said that.

In any case, that seems to be the wrong answer.

In fact, new research just released from the American Sociological Association shows -- in the words of a press release about this, that although "religious service attendance has decreased for all white Americans since the early 1970s, the rate of decline has been more than twice as high for those without college degrees compared to those who graduated from college."

To put some numbers on it: "In the 1970s, among those aged 25-44, 51 percent of college-educated whites attended religious services monthly or more, compared to 50 percent of moderately educated whites and 38 percent of the least-educated whites. In the 2000s, among those aged 25-44, 46 percent of college-educated whites attended monthly or more, compared to 37 percent of moderately educated whites and 23 percent of the least-educated whites."

To read the study in pdf format, click on this link: Download Wilcox_Religion Strat Econ ASA

I suppose those of us who thought less-educated people would be more active in faith communities than college graduates may have bought into the prejudice of non-religious people who think that the more educated one is the more likely one is to abandon all that silly superstition of religion (in their words).

I should have relied more on my own experience to respond to this because I know all kinds of college-educated people who are profoundly committed to one faith tradition or another. Indeed, to be able to take faith seriously one must bring to the task the kinds of skills for discernment that one obtains primarily through higher education. Faith ain't simple, folks, though sometimes we who are people of faith make it too complicated.

At any rate, this new research may be further proof that when you connect with a faith tradition you need not leave your brain at the door. For more on this study, click here.

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What's it been like to grow up Muslim in post-9/11 America? Well, of course, that experience has been different for different people, but this Associated Press story captures at least some of what may be a common experience.

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God Can't Sleep: Waiting for Daylight on Life's Dark Nights, by Palmer Chinchen.Theologians use the term theodicy to refer to the eternal question of why there is evil in the world if God is good and all-powerful. It is, in fact, the open wound of religion. There is no exhaustive answer. In the end, all theodicies fail to explain suffering, pain and evil. This new book by Palmer Chinchen has the decided advantage of acknowledging that many of the cheap and easy answers that people of faith -- especially Christians -- offer when confronted with suffering are inadequate at best and misleading at worst. Drawing on cultural understandings from Africa, where this Arizona pastor has spend about two decades, Chinchen writes personal and compelling stories of suffering and how people have dealt with it. The stories are interesting, though the writing is pretty pedestrian. And, in the end, the understanding of suffering and evil he offers is not especially profound, at least when compared to such writers as the Reformed French Christian, Jacques Ellul, author of Hope in Time of Abandonment. Still, Chinchen is asking the right questions and often pointing readers to wise sources, including C.S. Lewis and Brennan Manning. And if you've never experienced soul-shattering pain and, thus, never imagined how to recover from it, this book will at least let you see what both of those experiences might look like.

Rituals for just one sex: 8-22-11

In many religions there are rituals, tasks and roles traditionally filled by men and rituals, tasks and roles traditionally filled by women.

Circumcision-ceremony Over the centuries, many of these gender-exclusive practices have broken down, so that, for instance, since 1956, my denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has ordained women as clergy.

And yet some such practices continue.

Take, for instance, circumcision in Judaism. The biblical witness is that God instituted this for males as a sign of the covenant between God and the people of Israel. And for centuries Jewish males (and now, of course, many non-Jews) have been circumcised.

But in this intriguing piece in The Jewish Daily Forward, a female mohel (it means someone specially trained to do circumcision), talks about this male-only ceremony and what Jewish feminists might think about it.

I was especially taken with these comments:

"As a woman and as a feminist I have often felt conflicted that this important rite is centered on boys, but ultimately I have come to see it from a truly Jewish perspective. Judaism is an interesting religion. The name Israel, given to Jacob, means to struggle and we are truly the people who struggle. We are the people who challenge, who question, who reinterpret.

"I have come to see brit milah as another example of this Jewish struggle, this irony. Judaism is a matrilineal religion, so without daughters we have no religion, we have no more Jews. To me this clearly demonstrates the importance of women in Judaism. Yet, our 'most important ritual' centers on boys only. I no longer have a knee-jerk reaction that this implies we value boys more the girls within Judaism, instead I see the way the importance of this ritual reflects the conflicts and questions within Judaism. We value our daughters who provide us with future Jews, and we value our sons and invented an important ritual of welcome."

Are there -- or should there be -- gender-exclusive roles, rituals or practices in your faith tradition? And how have those changed over time?
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I thought this column by Roger Cohen of The New York Times was particularly insightful about being Jewish in today's world -- especially being Jewish outside of Israel. What are they called to do and be? See if you agree with Cohen. I think he makes a lot of sense.
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Tombstonesabt Tombstones and Banana Trees: A True Story of Revolutionary Forgiveness, by Medad Birungi with Craig Borlase. No matter where we live or what we do, each of us inevitably needs forgiveness and each of us inevitably is called to forgive others. But sometimes, and in some places, the circumstances are so extreme that the stories about them hold universal lessons for all of us. That is the case with Uganda native Medad Birungi, who grew up in extreme poverty abandoned by his father but who today is a Christian pastor. Birungi takes time early in the book to describe in painful detail what life was like for a small boy in a small village in a large family that included not just his mother and father but also several other wives of his father and the many children they bore. They and those around them were at least nominally Christian, but the conditions of crushing poverty were appalling, and his father's brutality, fueled by alcoholism, left a wounded young man who was vulnerable to living an angry life. This is the story not just of that life but also of how Jesus "arrested" him, forgave him and moved him to forgive others. As he writes: "Everything that was made ugly by pain and anger was turned to beauty by one incredibly simple yet unbelievably revolutionary thing: forgiveness." Beyond all that, one thing about the book I found particularly instructive was reading an African Christian describe the approach to the faith that is, I'm told, common on the continent. It is a faith that deals with the reality of poverty and for that and other reasons a faith that includes a deep concern about the daily necessities of life. It's also a faith with a fairly high demonology, which is to say a belief that wicked spirits always are on the lookout for a human home. The author writes this: "Once your heart is full of the Holy Spirit, there is no room for demons." There are, of course, many books on forgiveness, but few with the raw power of personal testimony found in this one.

And now for 'endarkenment': 8-20/21-11


Friday here on the blog, I introduced readers to a small stack of new books, many of them in the spiritual self-help category, which is to say books by people who think they know the route to enlightenment, peace, happiness and possibly even a way for your kids not to drive you nuts.

Ah, yes, enlightenment. It is, in many ways, the Holy Grail of modern spiritual America, the prize that you get when, after navel gazing for long enough, you find self-contentment, if not wisdom.

Whether that's too much of a non-communal, even selfish, goal is perhaps a subject for another time. But today I want to suggest to you that in addition to enlightenment, we might also do well to seek and understand what Dutch author Tijn Touber calls "endarkenment."

In this intriguing piece in Ode Magazine, Touber invites us to understand the reality that "the pursuit of enlightenment can cast a long shadow."

And it's the shadows in our lives, he says, to which we also should pay attention.

"If I've learned one thing over the years, it's that you can't get to the light without bringing your shadow along, simply because you won't be complete."

What I invite you to think about today is how this endarkenment idea might be found within your own faith tradition. Is there room in Islam, in Christianity, in Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Taoism or any other path for adherents to go intentionally looking for the shadows in their lives, those places that, not unlike black holes, suck in light? And what do the various faiths suggest adherents do when they locate those shadows? Is "repent" too easy an answer?

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The entry of Rick Perry (and others, but especially Perry) into the presidential race has stirred up lots of concern about using the political process to advance religious agendas. Here's a piece by a Catholic writer who raises exactly that. It's not an idle concern but, rather, an idol concern.