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Why don't people talk about religion? 4-30/5-1-16

Which subject are you more likely to talk about with family or friends -- politics, sports, pop culture or religion?

Conversation-blockedA new Pew Research Center study suggests that if you're like most Americans, your answer will not be "religion." As the Pew press release about the study notes, "About half of U.S. adults tell us they seldom (33%) or never (16%) talk about religion with people outside their family. And roughly four-in-ten say they seldom (26%) or never (13%) discuss religion even with members of their immediate family."

Some of this reluctance may be due to an understandable desire not to offend others or make them feel uncomfortable. And some of it may reflect the reality that people don't have a firm enough grasp on their own theology to feel as if they have anything sensible to say.

But I suspect another substantial reason people avoid the subject of religion is that they have never been taught how to speak about it with clarity and, more important, with respect.

Instead, what we're likely to hear in faith-based discussions is ignorance, bigotry and challenge. This is where experience with interfaith conversations can help. Properly done, such dialogue requires excellent listening skills and the ability to ask appreciative questions that actually seek knowledge as opposed to questions designed to belittle or challenge.

I found it interesting that age didn't make much of a difference in the willingness of people to talk about religion with family and friends. As Pew reported, "Millennials may be less attached to institutional religion than older Americans, but generally they are no more argumentative about religion than other generations."

If more conversation about religion is going to mean more argumentative questions and challenges, I'm glad for the reluctance. But I wish we could create a culture in which religious conversation happened easily in a way that was simply informative. Let's try that today. And if it works there, maybe we can try it with politics and sports.

* * *


Someone has come up with these 50 ways Mainline churches can stop their membership decline of recent decades. The fun thing about this satirical piece is that it has the advantage of crazy inconsistency. If you're in a Mainline church, pass it along to your pastor. Or not.

What hospice care can provide: 4-29-16

I hope that those of you in the Kansas City area had a chance to read this past week's three-part series in The Kansas City Star about how hospice works and, particularly, the experiences of a hospice nurse. (Using that link, those of you who missed it, no matter where you live, can give it a read.)

Hospice-last-reIt was terrific journalism by my former Star colleague Eric Adler, a wonderful reporter and writer. (I was especially pleased -- and didn't know about it before publication -- that Eric chose to focus on a nurse who works for Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care, a non-profit organization on the board of which I serve.)

You certainly can learn more about how hospices work by checking out the websites of the more than 30 hospices operating in the Kansas City area (all but a handful are for-profit operations). And in the U.S. there are now thousands of hospices.

But today I want to suggest to you a new book by a hospice nurse that in more than 200 pages pretty much covers any questions about hospice and end-of-life care that you might have.

It's called Hospice: The Last Responder, by Ellen J. Windham. As you can tell from the cover shown here, it has a definite Christian flavor to it, including some personal stories from the author about how she became a hospice nurse and how she thinks about end-of-life matters.

But the material it contains about how hospices work and what you should know before making a decision about using hospice is quite thorough and useful for anyone no matter what religion he or she might follow.

She even provides a good history of the hospice movement and how, in the U.S., it eventually became eligible for Medicare funding.

As she properly notes, "Patients on hospice services receive care from an interdisciplinary team. The first and most important part of the team is the patient and family."

Windham laments that hospice care "remains misunderstood by many doctors and patients," resulting in patients getting hospice care for much shorter periods of time than they probably should have it. To be eligible for hospice, a physician needs to confirm that a person has a terminal illness that probably will result in death within six months. Because medical predictions are not a precise science, some people stay in hospice longer than that (and some get well enough to leave it), though many receive services for mere days. The general rule is that the longer someone is receiving hospice care, the longer he or she will live and the better his or her quality of life will be.

All the great world religions teach that every person deserves ultimate dignity. Providing end-of-life care that is as pain-free as possible and that respects the wishes of the person dying is in harmony with that teaching, and that's what good hospices try to do.

The mistake people make, often, is failing to make their end-of-life wishes known until it's too late and not being knowledgeable about the care options hospices provide. The Star's series and this new book both can help with that.

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A new study suggests that when congregations seek to become more racially diverse it may, at first, cost them some in attendance. My initial temptation would be to say good riddance to people who would leave because the congregation got more diverse racially. But maybe there's a more redemptive response.

More religious freedom in Saudi Arabia? 4-28-16

If you read the most recent annual report of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, you find that once again Saudi Arabia (the Saudi coat of arms is pictured here) is among those countries with the worst record of respecting religious liberty.

Saudi-coat-armsThat 2015 report says this, among other things, about the Saudi leadership: "The government privileges its own interpretation of Sunni Islam over all other interpretations and prohibits any non-Muslim public places of worship in the country. It continues to prosecute and imprison individuals for dissent, apostasy, blasphemy, and sorcery, and a new 2014 law classifies blasphemy and advocating atheism as terrorism. In addition, authorities continue to repress and discriminate against dissident clerics and members of the Shi’a community."

And yet there was this small sign of hope in the report: "Despite the fact that Saudi Arabia remains unique in the extent to which it restricts the public expression of any religion other than Islam, there were some improvements in religious freedom, including further progress on revisions to public school religious textbooks."

I think there's another small sign of hope for religious liberty that showed up in Saudi Arabia earlier this week: The House of Saud unveiled a long-term economic plan called "Saudi Vision 2030," designed to make the kingdom considerably less dependent on oil and designed to give ordinary Saudi citizens, including women, more economic freedom and opportunities.

When liberalizing economic reforms happen, social reforms (including religious changes) often happen, too.

There is no guarantee, of course, that opening up the Saudi economy in various ways will in fact produce a freer religious atmosphere. After all, the House of Saud has given leaders of the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam pretty free reign to guide the people in this rigid interpretation of Islam in exchange for supporting the monarchy.

But when people experience freedom in one part of their lives, they are less likely to settle for something less than freedom in other parts.

Beyond that, the Saudi government recognizes that it must change its economy because of rapid and costly changes in the oil market, which is not producing the kinds of profits the House of Saud has been used to.

I visited Saudi Arabia in 2002 and, for many reasons, came away after talks with government and religious officials feeling that the country's future was highly unstable over the long run. I've been a bit surprised that there hasn't been more internal unrest since then, but a government awash in oil money can spend it to keep power, obviously.

Now it needs another approach. And I hope the new path will offer opportunities for broader expressions of religious freedom. Ask me in 10 years how it's worked out.

* * *


The father of the leader of the Church of Scientology is about to publish a damaging book about the movement, and his son is trying to get it stopped, it's reported. It's an odd movement that attracts so many people who later write about what a terrible movement it is.

Refusing medical services to LGBTQ folks: 4-27-16

The several so-called "religious freedom" bills that would enshrine bigotry either in laws or state constitutions inevitably have spawned a discussion of other ways in which legally protected discrimination might be created.

Bible-medicineIf, after all, you can legally refuse to sell flowers to a gay couple for a wedding, why not make it legal to refuse to sell them a car or to prohibit them from renting a vacation condo or to stop them from receiving emergency medical services from the paramedics on an ambulance?

Clearly you can see where this is going.

And, in fact, it appears to be going precisely to such ridiculous lengths just to protect the beliefs some people hold that other people are less than fully human or are at least so disgusting that they should be treated as second- or third-class citizens.

This Atlantic piece, for instance, explores the question of whether, on the basis of religious beliefs, the providers of medical services can or should refuse to treat people because they are part of the LGBTQ community.

And this is not all just speculative thinking about what-if situations.

As the article notes, "In the first week of April, Mississippi passed a new law making it expressly legal for doctors, psychologists, and counselors to opt out of any procedure or choose not to take on any patient if doing so would compromise their conscience. The law is specifically designed to protect medical professionals who object to gay marriage and non-marital sex. Tennessee’s general assembly just passed a similar law, which would only apply to counselors, and a now-dead Florida bill would have protected religious health-care organizations from having to 'administer, recommend, or deliver a medical treatment or procedure that would be contrary to the religious or moral convictions or policies of the facility.'”

Read the rest of the piece and weep.

No one is suggesting that medical professionals shouldn't tailor their care so it's more appropriate for certain groups of people. For instance, a family physician should feel a responsibility to provide some weight-control guidance to obese people. And the fight against AIDS has tried to enlist the help of physicians and other medical providers to educate at-risk people about avoiding certain kinds of unsafe sexual practices.

But that is far different from refusing to serve someone simply because of who that person is. These religious freedom laws seek to make it acceptable to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, which is no different than discriminating on the basis of race, gender or creed.

Clearly some people of faith are seeking to misuse the political process to further their own prejudices. That needs to stop and reasonable people of faith need to be part of making it stop.

* *  *


The British people -- an increasingly diverse lot -- are in a major struggle over questions of religion and race, this New York Times piece reports. After you read it, take a look at this fascinating Atlantic article about how Islam created Europe, and you'll have a better sense of what's going on religiously and culturally on that side of the pond.

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P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online here.

Has 'just war theory' outlived its usefulness? 4-26-16

"Just war theory" has been around for centuries as an effort to help combatants and their leaders determine what kind of actions are morally justified in war and under what circumstances war itself can be justified.

Just-war-doctrineIn Catholic tradition it goes back at least to Thomas Aquinas, but many of the tenets of just war theory were codified in the Geneva Conventions of 1949. One of those tenets has to do with proportionality, meaning that the force used cannot be out of proportion to whatever injury was suffered.

In simpler days -- back when maybe you could outrun arrows -- just war theory had more usefulness than it seems to today when we have nuclear weapons, suicide bombers and sky-high unmanned drones that can drop death on human targets by remote control.

It's some of these more modern complications that have caused some people -- including now participants in a recent Vatican conference -- to question and even reject just war theory as unworkable today and even as an encouragement to military solutions.

As the National Catholic Reporter story to which I just linked you reports: participants in that conference "have bluntly rejected the Catholic church's long-held teachings on just war theory, saying they have too often been used to justify violent conflicts and the global church must reconsider Jesus' teachings on nonviolence.

"Members of a three-day event co-hosted by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the international Catholic peace organization Pax Christi have also strongly called on Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical letter, or some other 'major teaching document,' reorienting the church's teachings on violence."

This is exactly the kind of discussion that religious communities should be leading.

Some of the voices heard at the Vatican conference may seem a little radical in wanting to do away with just war theory, but if this tool is to be evaluated honestly (or at all), such voices are necessary to get the ball rolling.

I am not a pacifist, believing, as I do, that sometimes military force is necessary to protect innocent people from tyrannical force. I like the thinking behind Marie Dennis, co-president of Pax Christi International, who is quoted by NCR, which reported this:

"Dennis also said she understands that people may raise concerns in rejecting the just war theory over needing to stop unjust aggressors. Her group, she said, agrees that violent aggressors have to be stopped.

"'The question is how,' said Dennis. 'Our belief would be that as long as we keep saying we can do it with military force, we will not invest the creative energy, the deep thinking, the financial and human resources in creating or identifying the alternatives that actually could make a difference.'"

If religions are not being leaders in establishing peace, who will be? This area is one in which religion can lead, despite the many examples of having blood on its own hands for supporting and at times beginning and encouraging war. That mixed history should give people of faith some humility and a deeper desire to find ways to promote peace.

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What's with what seems to be the growing fear of Arabic? As this column makes clear, using such Arabic terms as "inshallah," which means "God willing," is good for everyone. Indeed, I use it fairly frequently. If you get used to using it, too, one day, inshallah, you will tell me merci.

Talking religion and politics with civility: 4-25-16

In this midst of this ridiculously bitter and disappointing presidential race, five people who don't see eye-to-eye on everything came together a few nights ago to speak with civility to one another about religion and politics.

APS-pol-relIt was an encouraging display that offered hope for people who worry that Americans have become hopelessly divided and that both religion and politics are to blame.

The event, held at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kan., was presented by the American Public Square and moderated by the Square's founder, Allan Katz.

The participants were the Rev. Adam Hamilton, COR's founder and senior pastor; Kansas state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald, a Republican who represents Wyandotte and Leavenworth counties; the Rev. Wallace Hartsfield II, pastor of Metropolitan Missionary Baptist Church and a professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary; the Rev. Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, and the Rev. Jim West, lead pastor of Colonial Presbyterian Church, which is part of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church denomination.

Did they agree on everything?

Oh, my, no. But they acknowledged common ground when they found it and they sought (and offered) deeper explanations about matters about which they seemed to occupy separate ground.

A few highlights:

Hamilton: "Seventy-five percent of Americans claim to be Christian. If that 75 percent actually lived out the gospel of love that Jesus taught, we could have a great discussion about issues."

Exactly. But we flawed Christians fail to live out that gospel a lot of the time so we fight each other over politics often in unfair, divisive ways.

Butler: "Unfortunately, in this day and age, we've sometimes forgotten some of the rules of civility."

Our common political discourse today is proof of that assertion.

Fitzgerald: "We (Americans) have an amazing amount of freedom. It's the first time in history that religious freedom is a right, guaranteed. (But) there can be no law other than the law of God."

Yes, Americans have that freedom, even the ones who make lack of religious freedom an issue where it isn't much of one. As for his second statement, let's move on to:

Hartsfield: (Responding to Fitzgerald's idea about the law of God): "The issue here. . .is who has the right or the power to discern what God's law is. I would think that politics, working in an ideal way, should provide a table at which all the voices are represented. Religion becomes one of the voices. . .The goal of sitting at the political table is trying to discern the common good."

Yes, when Fitzgerald mentioned God's law, he failed to say whose interpretation of that law gets privileged. In a properly operating American constitutional system, no one's interpretation automatically goes to the head of the class.

West: "The fundamental reality. . .is that we are all religious people."

Right. Even people who declare themselves atheist or agnostic or spiritual but not religious are making theological decisions.

I found myself more in agreement with Hamilton, Butler and Hartsfield than with West or Fitzgerald, especially on the way in which religion should affect politics.

Hartsfield put it this way: "Politics. . .(should) work to check the voice of religion if it dehumanizes."

One of the ways I would argue that some branches of religion currently are working to dehumanize people is through so-called religious freedom bills that would protect business owners who claim religious reasons for not wanting to provide such basic business services as baking cakes for same-sex marriages. As Hamilton and Hartsfield noted, this protection essentially is no different from protecting restaurants and hotels who didn't want to serve African-Americans before the civil rights movement got public accommodations laws passed.

But whatever the differences over public policies expressed by the panelists, all of them demonstrated what civil discourse looks like. And that is so rare today that I salute them all.

(In the photo here the panelists, left to right, are Hartsfield, Fitzgerald, Katz, Butler, West and Hamilton.)

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It's pretty humbling and remarkable to read about some of the Syrian refugees whom Pope Francis brought from Greece to Rome with him recently. In this Los Angeles Times piece, for example, one refugee "recalls a rebellious neighbor's decapitated head hanging from a balcony for three days," but now says, "I will stay here in Italy and live like an Italian," adding with a laugh, "I am loving this lasagna."

A new round of faith-based books: 4-23/24-16

It's time again this weekend to let you see the pile of new faith-based books that have stacked up on my desk in recent weeks and to tell you at least a little bit about them so you can decide if you want to buy and read them.

As an author, I encourage you to buy and cherish books new, but as someone who cannot afford all the new books I'd like to buy if I also want to keep eating, I understand buying books used and borrowing from the library.

In any case, I'm going to spend more than a few words on one of these new books and then tell you just a little about others. But in each case, I will link you to a site (often where you can learn more and purchase the book if you want to.

Outlaw-Christian-- Outlaw Christian: Finding Authentic Faith by Breaking the "Rules", by Jacqueline A. Bussie. I like this book quite a lot more than I like the title. The term the author adopts for herself, "Outlaw Christian," is, frankly, overdone. The word "outlaw" is used in the sense not of criminality but of being willing to question, to challenge, to refuse to accept answers about faith that are cliches and, thus, unsatisfying. And at least the word "Rules" in the title is in quotes, which gives you a hint that these aren't really rules, just traditions -- and often unhelpful ones at that.

What I found especially useful about this book is that the author, who teaches religion at Concordia College in Minnesota, understands why someone (me) would have this as the title of my next book: The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. It will be out later this summer, and although it takes a different approach from Bussie's book, it nonetheless is in harmony with a lot of her thinking about doubt and how it's hard to get to a useful, authentic, tested faith without going through the valley of the shadow of doubt: "Doubt," she writes, "is a sign of a healthy and deep-rooted faith, though most of us are taught to believe the opposite."

Bussie's book is one that takes the ancient and frustrating question of theodicy seriously: If God is good and loving, why is there evil and suffering in the world?

"Watching the person I loved best in the world die made me realize that nearly everything I as a Christian ever learned about suffering and evil was a crock," she writes. This realization frees her to speak to God with honesty and directness, so much so that "some of my friends think God and I are constantly on the cusp of divorce." No, they're not, but she doesn't hold back her anger from God, and she encourages others to approach God in that way, too, if they are in fact frustrated with God.

Bussie also has a good word to say about interfaith understanding: ". ..learning from another religious tradition helps me be a better Christian." Exactly.

Lord-willing-- Lord Willing? Wrestling with God's Role in My Child's Death, by Jessica Kelley. Speaking of the theodicy question, this book confronts it head on in the story of the death of Henry, the author's four-year-old son. Before Henry got a brain tumor, Kelley pretty much accepted the same kind of God-has-a-plan ideas that the previous author, Jacqueline A. Bussie, came to describe as "a crock." But when Henry's suffering made such easy explanations unpalatable, Kelley dove into the Bible to see if she could find a God who didn't let small children suffer as part of some grand scheme. She finds there -- especially through Jesus -- a God who is willing to be self-limiting, "creating free agents who, inherent to their very nature, have the capacity to thwart the loving will of God." What gives this book its authenticity is that it's told from the place of suffering and yet looks beyond that to discover a redemptive freedom.

The next two books are thematically related:

-- Seasons in My Garden: Meditations from a Hermitage, by Elizabeth Wagner. This convert-to-Catholicism Benedictine sister lives a contemplative life in a small hermitage in Maine, where she tends to the home and its garden and grounds. From that center and from that work she writes engaging essays about what her garden and her life are teaching her -- lessons translatable to many other lives.

-- Hidden in God: Discovering the Desert Vision of Charles de Foucauld, by Bonnie Thurston. Charles de Foucauld started life in 1858 as part of a wealthy French family, but as he grew up and was searching for his path in life, he pretty much frittered away his initial advantages. Eventually, as a military man in northern Africa, he was attracted to the disciplined life of faith he saw there in Muslims. The experience finally led him to a commitment to Christianity and to a hermit's life of poverty in the Sahara. As the author writes, "The ordinary Muslims' worship of God. . .initiated a process of metanoia (literally, 'turning around') in a lapsed Christian." This book draws from Foucauld's many writings to share the insights he found in that monastic setting and as he followed Jesus from Nazareth to the desert and to the places of Jesus' ministry.

-- Seeking Jordan: How I Learned the Truth about Death and the Invisible Universe, by Matthew McKay. Well, this is a book you'll have to decide what to do with. It's the story of a clinical psychologist whose young-adult son died in an accident and who has figured out how to communicate with him beyond the grave. Yes, even he has had doubts about his experiences with what's called "Induced After Death Communication." As he writes, "The relief of feeling Jordan on the other side -- answering me -- has been enormous. Yet so has the doubt, the sense that I am violating all my commitments to science and reason." The author claims that the last several chapters are even co-authored by his dead son Jordan. Whatever you make of this, it appears that this experience has brought comfort to McKay, and surely that is worth something.

Four-keys-- The Four Keys to Everlasting Love: How Your Catholic Marriage Can Bring You Joy for a Lifetime, by Karee Santos and Manuel P. Santos. These married couple authors unpack these four keys: Being faithful and forgiving, being free, being fruitful and being loving totally and forever. Easy? Of course not. As they acknowledge on the first page, ". . .all too often, reality intrudes." This is a book rooted in Catholicism, but its advice is much more universal than that.

-- You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K.A. Smith. One reason the First Commandment is first in the Ten Commandments -- the one that says you should have no other gods before God -- is that ultimately all sin comes down to idolatry, putting something ahead of God. The idea is found in different forms throughout this book, as it seeks to alert us to where our loves are leading us and what we can do to return to what should be our primary love. It's not a call for new forms of worship or liturgy but for a rediscovery of the rich trove of liturgical resources within historical Christianity.

-- Letters to My Lord: Intimate Conversations with Christ, by Daniel A. Lord. These 16 engaging personal letters between this Jesuit priest and Christ were written just before his untimely death from cancer in 1955 and first published in 1963. They hold up remarkably well in this republication and can be a model for developing a more intimate relationship with God.

Dont-jerk-- Don't Be a Jerk: And Other Practical Advice from Dōgen, Japan's Greatest Zen Master, by Brad Warner. Some 800 years ago Eihe Dōgen, a Japanese monk, wrote a classic work that, though revered by Buddhists today, hardly gets read. So Warner, a Soto Zen priest, has produced a paraphrased version much more accessible to readers today. There's also a lot of Warner in this, which makes it quite readable. Any book about Buddhism that quotes Kurt Vonnegut is OK with me.

-- For the Glory: Eric Liddell's Journey from Olympic Champion to Modern Martyr, by Duncan Hamilton. To be officially published May 10, this is the fuller (and more interesting) story of the man who was the subject of the popular 1981 film, "Chariots of Fire." It describes Eric Liddell's commitment to Christian missionary work in China and how that eventually cost him his freedom and his life. An especially helpful addition here are family photos and letters, making this larger-than-life man seem real and even approachable.

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President Obama's trip to Saudi Arabia has raised the question of why it has taken so long to release the remaining secret pages of the 14-year-old report from Congress on the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The New York Times editorial board makes a persuasive case that those hidden pages should be made public. The relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia has been prickly and problematic almost since the beginning of that desert nation in the 1930s. Things won't improve if we're hiding truth from the American people.

A move to redeem a Hitler history site: 4-22-16

The history of every religion contains stories of both light and darkness. Great saints doing marvelous deeds and knaves dragging the religion into murder and intrigue. They're both there.

Potsdam_Garnisonskirche_um_1900In some ways this religious chiaroscuro shows up with starkness in German history, especially in the Nazi period, when much of the Christian church there caved into Hitler's evil.

Indeed, on the day when Reich President Paul von Hindenburg turned power over to the country's new chancellor, Adolf Hitler, on March 21, 1933, he did so at the famed Garrison Church in Potsdam (pictured here about 1900 in a public domain photo via Wikimedia Commons), which was an ongoing symbol of German military might that was baptized by religion.

That church was badly damaged in World War II and eventually demolished in the 1960s. But now there is a serious move to rebuild at least part of this notorious structure.

As Religion News Service reports in the piece to which I just linked you, ". . .a synod of the Evangelical Church of Berlin-Brandenburg has just agreed to help finance the reconstruction of the Potsdam landmark. After years of debate, it approved an interest-free loan of 3.25 million euros ($3.7 million) to get the project started."

The church itself has a deep and disturbing connection to military history, and there has been quite a bit of opposition to rebuilding any part of it for that reason.

But it looks as if plans now call simply for reconstruction of the famous tower, minus all the military insignia, and to dedicate the site to the work of peace and reconciliation. If that's what happens, the new structure might stand as a symbol of redemption and resurrection, and surely the world needs such symbols as reminders that darkness doesn't always prevail.

All of this is a reminder that history is not written in black and white. If ambiguity, paradox and mystery are missing from the stories of history -- especially religious history -- that someone is telling you, you can bet you're not getting a full accounting.

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Now that the decision has been made to put Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, Religion News Service has come up with five facts about her Christian faith. What a fascinating and remarkable woman.

Walking together to oppose hatred: 4-21-16

This past Monday afternoon, I went to the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kan., to pick up T-shirts for my wife and me to wear that evening in the GiveSevenDays walk.

Seven-1There was Mindy Corporon (pictured at right), the primary driver behind this community effort to stand against the hate and evil that drove the racist neo-Nazi who murdered her son and father plus another person on Palm Sunday 2014 at two area Jewish facilities.

It was the last of this year's Seven Days events and I asked Mindy if she was holding up pretty well. She said she'd had a York peppermint patty to start her day and was ready to see this week-long commemoration of love through to the end that night.

As Marcia and I walked that evening from the Jewish Community Center to COR, we happened to join up with some friends -- a mother and her daughter. I said to the mother how impressed I was with the response Mindy has made to the disaster that struck her family and how she has garnered the support of much of Kansas City.

"She's just amazing," our friend said. "In fact, she's like from another planet."

Well, Mindy and the family of Terri LaManno along with many good civic citizens of our area have shown not just Kansas Citians but also the world how best to respond to evil.

Mindy-Corporon-7-DaysAs I wrote about Mindy in this recent National Catholic Reporter column:

The Christian response (to evil and suffering) can be this: I don't know why evil and suffering exist, but I will represent Christ to those who are suffering. I will mediate the grace of God to those in pain. I will be a channel of God's love to those for whom life has turned dark and hopeless.

Mindy Corporon has chosen to respond in exactly that way generous, loving way even though she and her family are among those grieving because of the Palm Sunday murders of her son, father and another woman (all Christians, though the shooter said he was trying to kill Jews).

Among the hundreds of people walking Monday evening in solidarity with the Corporon and LaManno families I saw quite a few friends and religious leaders, including the Rev. Adam Hamilton, Mindy's pastor at COR, and Rabbi Arthur Nemitoff, who leads Congregation B'nai Jehudah, which the walkers passed on Nall Avenue.

But beyond such leaders there were just lots of everyday Kansas Citians, white and black, young and old, Asian and Latino, male and female (though as this editorial in The Kansas City Star correctly noted, this effort needs more such diversity).

Their message is Mindy's message: Love will win out over hatred and bigotry. That is a constant struggle, of course. So the message must continue to be proclaimed in new ways as the years go on.

But Kansas Citians can be proud of the way they have publicly shown their revulsion for the antisemitic nonsense that gave the shooter purpose that dark day.

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What should interfaith dialogue and cooperation look like? Well, there's a great current example of it in Lansing, Mich., where a mosque has made a temporary home for a Unitarian Universalist congregation waiting for construction of its own building. No rent. No requirements. Just welcome. Note the UU congregation's good response. Now go and do likewise.

Why are good Samaritans so rare? 4-20-16

One of the most well-known parables told by Jesus is called the parable of the good Samaritan.

Good-samaritanIt involves an injured man on the side of a road. Several people pass him by without helping before a Samaritan eventually stops and assists. The shock in the story is that the hero of the story is a Samaritan, an outcast and despised people at the time. It would be like making Osama bin Laden the hero of such a story today.

People today regularly use the term good Samaritan to refer to people willing to lend a hand in an emergency of some kind, especially like a car accident, fire or medical need.

But new research coming out of Cornell University suggests good Samaritans are few and far between for people experiencing medical emergencies -- especially if such an event is happening to an African-American.

As the news release to which I've just linked you says, "In the first study of its kind, Cornell sociologists have found that people who have a medical emergency in a public place can’t necessarily rely on the kindness of strangers. Only 2.5 percent of people, or 1 in 39, got help from strangers before emergency medical personnel arrived, in research published April 14 in the American Journal of Public Health.

"For African-Americans, these dismal findings only get worse. African-Americans were less than half as likely as Caucasians to get help from a bystander, regardless of the type of symptoms or illness they were suffering – only 1.8 percent, or fewer than 1 in 55 African-Americans, received assistance. For Caucasians, the corresponding number was 4.2 percent, or 1 in 24."

The release quotes the study's author this way: “'It’s very surprising and disappointing to find such low rates of people helping each other and that African-American patients and those in poorer counties are left to wait longer for help,'” said lead author Erin York Cornwell, assistant professor of sociology and Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow. York Cornwell wrote the study with Alex Currit, a doctoral student in the field of sociology at Cornell."

I could -- and will -- speculate about why those numbers are so low, but my thoughts are just speculation.

Surely some of it has to do with simple fear. Is the person really having a heart attack or is it just a ploy to draw you in so he can swipe your wallet? Broadcast media reporting about crime is so pervasive that even though crime rates are down from historical highs, we now imagine sneaky robbers everywhere.

Some of it also has to do with a desire to avoid legal tangles. If you try to help someone after a car wreck and that person eventually dies, will you somehow be held accountable? Besides, we have an official system for dealing with such matters -- ambulances, 9-1-1 operators, paramedics and on and on, leading people to think that if they simply get on their cell phones and call for help they've done all they need to.

The racial disparities reported in the Cornell study is merely a reflection of the deeply rooted racial prejudices found in our society. I would have been surprised had no such disparity been found.

Finally, some blame must be laid at the doorstep of religion for not instilling in adherents the values of our common humanity so that we know that if one of us is in trouble we're all in trouble. In Ubuntu Theology, the idea is that the whole community cannot be well if even one member of it is not well.

It's a theology that needs a wider audience.

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Some details are emerging about the Syrian refugees who recently flew from Greece to Rome on Pope Francis' plane, and those details make the story all the more poignant. Let's hope other refugees also can find what so far appears to be a happy ending.