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Faith in food, food in faith: 7-8-14

From time to time over the years something I've written has wound up in some book or other.

Faith-in-FoodI remember, for instance, a story I wrote as a Kansas City Star reporter about a man barricaded in a house who turned out to be the son of a detective sent to try to investigate the situation. The lead of that story was used in a journalism book as a good example of how to get into these kinds of stories.

The most recent inclusion of one of my columns in a book is one I think readers of this blog might be interested in. The book is called Faith in Food: Changing the World One Meal at a Time, edited by Susie Weldon and Sue Campbell, with a foreward by the prince of Wales. (The link in this paragraph will take you to the U.K. site for the book. You can pre-order it in the U.S. at this Barnes & Noble site. It's due out in the U.S. by September, I'm told.)

The book republishes this column that I wrote for The National Catholic Reporter in 2010. It's about a Creighton University student's research project in which he sought to apply Catholic social teaching to producing and consuming food.

I didn't quite know what to expect as a final product when I was asked to allow inclusion of the piece in the book. But, in fact, the book is beautiful and full of fascinating essays about ways in which all of us can be more sensible about what we eat and can think about food in a more sustainable and moral way.

For instance, Prince Charles, in addition to writing the foreward, also has an essay called "What is Sustainable Agriculture?" And there are essays about the Eucharist in Christian tradition, about Hindu food festivals and about genetically modified organisms, among much else.

So I commend the book to you, just as I commend to you learning about the fascinating work of the Land Institute in Salina, Kan., where Wes Jackson and others have been working for years to produce perennial food crops, such as wheat.

If you've never been there, schedule a visit. Wes tells me we've been doing agriculture wrong for 10,000 years. Sort of makes you wonder how to do it right, doesn't it?

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Pope Francis met this week with victims of sexual abuse committed by priests and offered them these words (scroll down to find the English translation). Among them: "All bishops must carry out their pastoral ministry with the utmost care in order to help foster the protection of minors, and they will be held accountable." In Kansas City we're still waiting with growing frustration for that to apply to Bishop Robert W. Finn.

A Bible with an agenda? 7-7-14

Regular readers of this blog know that I take the Bible seriously but not literally. The two approaches, in fact, are mutually exclusive.

NIVOne reason not to take English versions of the Bible literally is the reality that the words are translated from the original Hebrew and Greek (plus a bit of Aramaic) and there always are translation questions and even difficulties for the most dedicated of scholars.

The fact that Hebrew and Greek as a rule don't mess with such niceties as punctuation marks makes translation into English all the more difficult.

That said, there are many excellent translations that are generally reliable as long as readers remember that translation teams always have to face uncertainties.

Back in the early 1980s, my then-pastor, who was of an evangelical bent, encouraged the use of the New International Version translation, which is known for the evangelical roots of its translation team. I've been well aware of that leaning, especially as I've read the study notes that accompany the Bible I have. But there's been much about the NIV that I've liked.

Recently, however, I discovered someone who has been comparing the NIV to the New Revised Standard Version (the Bible you'll find in the pews of my congregation) and has not been liking what he's seeing.

Indeed, he says the NIV team in many instances has purposefully mistranslated the Hebrew and Greek so that it fits more closely with evangelical theology. I am not a Hebrew or Greek scholar, so I am in no position to judge the findings he presents. But they are voluminous and fascinating.

I'd be interested to know your thoughts about the author's conclusions. (I asked the author for identifying information about himself and received this reply from Paul Davidson: "By profession, I am a Japanese-English translator living in Japan, Canadian by nationality. However, biblical studies is a major interest of mine, along with languages. I am also a moderator of the Academic Biblical and Biblical Archaeology forums at Reddit." Don't know about Reddit? Learn here.)

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A new survey indicates that a majority (though shrinking) of Americans think religion can provide answers to life's problems. Of course, sometimes misused religion itself is the problem that healthy religion needs to help fix.

The place of college chapels: 7-5/6-14

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When I was a student at the University of Missouri in Columbia in the 1960s, I was always aware of (though I rarely was inside of) the A.P. Green Chapel, part of the Memorial Student Union building.

Howard-chapelIt got used in a variety of ways that added a richness, a depth to campus life.

I was reminded of that when I toured Howard University's campus here recently as part of the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. One of the stops was the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel (seen in this photo).

This list of speakers who have been at the Rankin Chapel is quite impressive, and I wish we'd been able to get inside the building. But we were there on a Saturday evening with a student tour leader who did not have access to the closed building.

Still, today's blog posting isn't just about this one chapel. It's about what such chapels historically have brought to college campuses.

They have served as a reminder that an education is not just about the head. Rather, a full education is also about the heart, about an awareness of matters that can't be tested in a science lab, about mystery that is ultimate.

These chapels serve many purposes, of course, but high on the list is simply their ability to declare that the world is a complicated place that requires a commitment to something other than mere material blessings. Chapels, even as they sit locked in silence, ask questions about ultimate meaning and purpose.

And college students who don't finally ask those hard questions don't really get much of an education.

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Democrats in southern states, it's reported, are talking lots about how important religion is to them, too. Fine, as long as voters remember that there is no religious test for holding public office in this country -- no matter what some politicians and some religious leaders suggest.

But first, an amendment: 7-4-14

On this national holiday of independence, I know many of you are busy blowing things up and burning dead animal flesh on grills. So I'll be especially brief today.

XianflagI just want to give you the wording of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and to ask you to think about what it means to you today:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

I invite you to pay special attention to the first part of that, the establishment clause, and to imagine what the shape of religion in the U.S. might be today if, like so many other countries, we had a state-established religion.

Then you might want to thank God (and our founders) that we don't. And that the flag you see here is not, in fact, our American flag.

Happy Fourth.

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When the Nazis ran Germany they ran a contest to find a photograph of a baby to represent the perfect "Aryan" child. It can now be revealed that the kid whose picture they chose was Jewish. The baby survived, against the odds, and has grown up to be an American professor.

A waste or an inspiration? 7-3-14


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- When we arrived at the Washington National Cathedral last Sunday afternoon, the choir lofts in the front of the sanctuary were roped off, but a 20-voice choir was practicing for the 4 p.m. evensong service.

WNC-2The choir was singing Psalm 145, which begins "I will exalt you, O God my King, and bless your Name for ever and ever."

The lovely voices rose to fill the incredible space that is the main part of the cathedral.

Just before 4, the ropes came down and we were invited to find a place in the choir lofts for evensong. This service is one of many opportunities for people all over the world to come and see the national treasure that is this cathedral.

I had been to the cathedral before. I'd even been to an evensong service years ago, when I also sat in the choir lofts.

WNC-4But on previous visits, I hadn't wandered about in the building from the observation deck to the lower levels. Oh, my. There are chapels everywhere and artistic treasures everywhere.

Yes, it's a house of worship but also an art gallery and museum, all in one.

The question a building like this raises is why spend so much money on a beautiful building (not only in its initial construction but in years and years of additions and restorations) when so many people are hungry and homeless and in all kinds of economic need.

WNC-5I used to think that such extravagant expenditures were wasteful. But I've pretty much changed my mind.

I think a building like the National Cathedral is a work of art. And art is its own excuse for being. Among other things, art inspires humanity to reach beyond itself. And is there a better definition of ministry than that?

So today have a look at some of the beautiful sites in the cathedral through the photos I took there Sunday. And make it a point to visit it next time you are in D.C.

(The sanctuary and exterior photos here need no explanation. But the small seats with animals on the cushions in the photo on the right are found in a children's chapel in the cathedral. The stained-glass window shown at the bottom is relatively new and contains a rock from the moon.)

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A new survey indicates that Muslims around the world are worried and angry about terrorism done in the name of Islam. This will come as a surprise only to a lot of Islamophobes, who imagine that Islam teaches violent extremism. 

The necessity of doubt: 7-2-14


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On our last morning here after the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, my bride and I hit some of the museum sites, including the Hirshorn.

One of the exhibits there especially spoke to me. It's by artist Barbara Kruger and it raises questions about what belief is and whether it is worthy of humanity, especially religious belief.

In one of the quotes installed on a wall, Kruger says this:

"Belief is tricky because left to its own devices it can court a kind of surety, an unquestioning allegiance that fears doubt and destroys difference."


A famous question that the recently deceased Sen. Howard Baker became famous for in the Watergate scandal was "What did the president know and when did he know it?" A similar question might be asked of all people -- not just people of faith (but especially them): "What do the people believe and why do they believe it?"

This kind of question gives voice to something that is necessary for true faith -- doubt. If we haven't struggled with doubt we probably haven't acquired what I might call a mature faith, one that can stand the strains of crisis.

My friend Richard Prince, who was one of the speakers at our NSNC conference, did this interview a few years ago with Kruger about a previous art project that had to do with photographs. In it she expresses some thoughts that are quite in harmony with the trust of this new Belief-Doubt exhibit.

Doubt is not the enemy of faith but its friend. The enemy of faith is false certitude. Kruger seems to get that.

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When the U.S. Supreme Court rules on cases having to do with religion (as in this week's Hobby Lobby decision), what role does the religion of the justices play? It's hard to answer that, but it's easy to see that the current court is not representative of the broad sweep of religion in America. Rather, it is made up of six Catholics and three Jews. I'm not advocating any sort of religious test for picking justices but somehow a court made up of all or nearly all Protestants (which once was the case) or all or nearly all some other tradition causes the general population to wonder whether such a court can give a fair hearing to matters that touch on religion.

Finding faith news yourself: 7-1-14

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Over this past weekend, I've been here attending the annual conference of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

News-packetWhat a funny bunch of good people, who once chose me to be their president. Go figure.

Anyway, I'll get back to daily blogging here tomorrow, but in the meantime if you're looking for updates about religion news, I suggest you check in with Religion News Service here and at the Pew Research Religion & Public Life "Religion in the News" page.

Enjoy a couple of pretty much Tammeus-less summer days.

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NOTE: After a weather-reroute to Omaha last night because of storms in Kansas City, I finally got back to K.C. near midnight. I'll have more to say about my trip in upcoming posts.

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P.S.: Please plan to join me the evening of Wednesday, July 2, at the Downtown Kansas City Public Library when I talk about what Middle Americans, as I call them in my new book, Woodstock: A Story of Middle Americans, have contributed to this country. It'll be a Fourth of July week celebration. Details are here.

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ANOTHER P.S.: It's time to sign up for the workshop I'm offering about getting from pain to hope through writing the week of Aug. 11 at Ghost Ranch in northern New Mexico. For details of that class, click here. Come join us.