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What the Mladić conviction shows us: 11-30-17

Given such racist events in the U.S. in recent months as the violent protests in Charlottesville, Va., it's worth taking a look at the roots of bigotry and at the worst-case examples of results of such racial, ethnic and religious prejudice.

MladicOne way to do that is to drop back a few days and look at the conviction of Ratko Mladić (pictured here), the Serbian leader who, it is now legally clear, led the genocide against Bosnian Muslims more than two decades ago. Which, of course, is quite different in scale from what happened in Virginia, though the roots of both events have some similarities.

David Rohde, the author of The New Yorker piece to which I just linked you, covered the war in Bosnia and, in the article, sought to explain why Mladić committed his crimes, which involved overseeing the systematic murder of thousands of Bosnian Muslim boys and men. To many people who watched what happened at the time, the reasons for this violence were mysterious.

Rohde wrote that "Carl Bildt, a European Union and U.N. peace envoy who had met with Mladić during the conflict and demanded that he protect the Srebrenica prisoners, told me that Mladić’s decision (to order genocide) still haunted him. While prosecutors were able to get some Serb officials to testify against Mladić, the thinking of the General when he ordered the killings remains unclear.

“'Why? That’s still somewhat of mystery,' Bildt told me by e-mail. 'Perhaps they simply got overwhelmed by the logistics of handling thousands of prisoners,' or 'anger/revenge/hatred easily took them into what for the moment might have looked like the easiest way of handling the situation.' He added, 'Perhaps. But I’m still struggling.'”

But Rohde has an explanation, and I think he's on target. He writes this:

"It seems then that Mladić was driven by simple bigotry. In the ruling, the judges also cited a Dutch peacekeeper’s testimony that the General warned him of the dangers of living with Muslims and members of other races. 'Mladić, commenting on the dark skin-colour of one of the DutchBat officers, told the witness that multi-ethnic societies were a problem for the Netherlands and that in ten years time he would be in the Netherlands, with his soldiers to protect the Dutch from Muslims and other races.'

"Mladić was wrong. Today, he is in a Dutch jail cell, where he is likely to die. Yet the prejudice-laced historical narratives that he used to justify his crimes persist." (On that point, see this piece.)

Whether it's Mladić's prejudice against people of dark skin and of the Muslim religion or it's the white supremacist narrative that many of the Charlottesville protesters have adopted as gospel, it's all bigotry rooted in a failure to understand that race is a shifting political construct, not a biological reality. The truth is that humans share DNA that is more than 99 percent exactly the same no matter what "race" or ethnicity we claim.

My own pastor made that very point last Sunday in this terrific sermon.

The contention that somehow "white" people (and I was reared to believe that I'm white) are superior to others is one of the grand lies of humanity, but far from the only one. And yet in many ways it forms an often-unspoken but strong foundation of our culture. At its worst, it leads to violence and death, as it did in Charlottesville. A similarly misguided bigotry rooted in a bad story led to genocide in Bosnia as well as in Darfur, Rwanda and Europe, the latter at the bloodied hands of the Nazis and their sympathizers.

There are healing stories we can tell about our common humanity. And those are the ones that we must tell whenever we see bigotry show its putrid face.

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New evidence suggests that the tomb in which tradition says Jesus was buried in what is now the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem may be old enough to be his real (temporary) tomb, though that's not yet a certainty. Isn't it fascinating how often humans demand physical proof of spiritual stories?

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Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith, by Benjamin L. Corey. Here, thank goodness, is another example of a Christian who has struggled with the idea of a God interested mostly in retributive justice. What the author finds, after a considerable struggle with fear, is a God mostly interested in restorative justice through love, forgiveness and compassion. "For all the unintended consequences of some expressions of the Christian religion," he writes, "I think fear is the most devastating -- because fear has a way of permeating all areas of our lives." In the process of discovering that he didn't have to give up Christianity, Corey had to come to terms with what he no longer believed and to find something believable to take its place. That process, he writes, did not lead to a loss of faith but, rather, a birth of faith. The world seems crowded with people who have rejected a certain approach to faith because it has locked them down in a fear that has paralyzed them. Fear need not be so powerful. When it is, you know something is theologically amiss. Faith that is not both liberating and challenging is not healthy. This book offers a compelling account of someone who discovered all that and eventually found a faith that could sustain him without scaring the hell out of him.

The core Christmas story is shocking: 11-29-17


Complaints about the commercialization of Christmas almost certainly go back to the arrival of the Magi at the birthplace of Jesus.

These seers (maybe astrologers from Persia) overspent on gold, frankincense and myrrh, when what Mary needed was a hug, a high-five and some Pampers.

And yet each year in American culture we go through the disheartening spectacle of Black Friday door busters, of people getting trampled trying to buy the last Imaginext DC Super Friends Batbot Xtreme or Barbie or Star Wars something or other. In fact, scholars now do studies, such as this one by a University of Delaware researcher, about how all this shopping affects us.

And who is guilty of all this? Almost everyone, including me.

All of that is bad enough. But perhaps worse are all the portrayals (check out the Hallmark Channel and other low-viewership TV offerings) of Christmas as simply a warm, fuzzy time when perpetual inside-the-family differences are put aside and people share a mug of hot cider around a suburban fireplace. Ah, yes, a fireplace as the site of conflict resolution is the meaning of Christmas.

It's not that such sentimentality doesn't have a place or shouldn't have a place. It's that it has almost nothing to do with the alarming story of Christmas, which is about the difficult theological concept of incarnation -- of God breaking into human history to dwell in our midst. Later theologians would declare that this Jesus of Nazareth was both fully human and fully divine, a paradoxical concept for which our words ultimately fail. God dwelling in our midst? The creator of the universe? The all in all? Here? Yikes.

I have been to Bethlehem twice, once at the end of 1957 and once in mid-2012, when I took the photo of the star you see pictured here today, located in the grotto of the Church of the Nativity, which tradition says was the exact spot where Jesus was born. (Some theologians don't believe a word of that story, of course, contending that Jesus probably was born in Nazareth. But, for the moment, let that go.)

Each human being who hears the Christmas story and the later accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus has to decide what to believe and how belief in the incarnation might require us to live.

But that decision may forever get put off if all we know of Christmas is shopping and decorating and myths about Santa and his reindeer and snowmen who come to life when outfitted with a certain hat. If Christmas is about anything, it's a celebration of the incarnation. Everything else is sidebar. Everything.

(You can experience a replay of the incarnation story in person this Friday and Saturday evenings at the church I attend, Second Presbyterian. I hope some of you will do that. Details are here.)

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Prince Harry's decision to marry a divorced and biracial American -- and the acceptance of all that by the Church of England -- reveals how quickly things have changed in the church and in the British royal family. And from this outsider's point of view, they are changes for the better in that they don't focus on just one or two areas of life, the ability to hold together a marriage and "racial" purity. The church, instead, should care more about whether someone loves God and loves neighbor. Failing those (which we all do) is much more serious.

Is religious freedom breaking out in Middle East? 11-28-17

One thing we know about many countries in the Middle East is that they aren't very religiously tolerant. Think, for instance, of Saudi Arabia, which permits the practice only of Islam. And although Mecca, Medina and other places there are sacred to all branches of Islam, Saudi Arabia promotes only the rigid Wahhabi brand of Sunni Islam.

Bahrain-mapEach year the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom produces a report that lists countries that do the worst at protecting religious freedom, and Saudi Arabia (as well as Iran) is consistently on the list.

The 2017 annual USCIRF report also said this about two other countries in the Middle East: "The challenge of supporting religious freedom and enhancing security can be seen in both Bahrain and Egypt. During the year, the Bahraini government has increasingly cracked down on the religious freedom of its majority-Shi’a Muslim population, yet the U.S. Administration is lifting human rights conditions on the sale of weapons to Bahrain. Egypt, on the other hand, is working toward positive progress on certain aspects of religious freedom, yet the overall state of human rights remains dismal."

If there is any good news in this it's that things in Bahrain may be changing for the better. And wishful thinkers among us are hoping this may be a harbinger of better days for religious freedom throughout the Middle East. We'll see.

In September of this year, the government of Bahrain issued what it called the Bahrain Declaration for Religious Tolerance. As the Christian Post reported in the second link I've given you in the previous sentence, the declaration "calls for an end to religious extremism and calls for greater religious tolerance in not only the Middle East but across the globe.

"'For hundreds of years, different religious groups have lived harmoniously, side by side, in the Kingdom of Bahrain, fully practicing the tenets of their respective faiths in blessed, peaceful coexistence with each other,' the declaration. . .reads. 'We humbly offer the centuries-old traditional Bahraini way of life as an example to inspire others around these principles.'"

What we simply cannot yet know is how serious the government of Bahrain, a Saudi neighbor, will take its own declaration and, beyond that, how the declaration might influence other regimes in the region to respond by becoming more open to religious liberty. We thought a few years ago that the Arab Spring, which started seven years ago, would be the catalyst that would bring democratic government to countries in the region, but that hope has been largely dashed.

The task of American citizens and their governmental representatives in all the religious freedom movements is to take praiseworthy note of the Bahrain development and to continue insisting that religious freedom is a fundamental human right always and everywhere.

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When terrorists blew up and shot up a Sufi mosque in Egypt the other day, killing more than 300 people, many Americans wondered just who the Sufis are and how they differ from the Sunni and Shi'a branches of Islam. Religion News Service has published this answer by Peter Gottschalk, professor of religion at Wesleyan University.

A church finally moves from male language: 11-27-17

The surprise was not that the governing body of a church decided to urge its leaders and members to use more gender-inclusive language when referring to God. Moves like that started happening decades ago.

Church-SwedenRather, the surprise (at least to me) is that the church was the Church of Sweden, a Lutheran denomination that once was the established state church of the country.

First, Sweden often has been in the lead of such enlightened moves. Why did it take so long to do something official about this language matter?

Second, the story to which I've linked you says that the church has 6.1 million baptized members in a country with a population of 10 million -- but, the reality is that Sweden is the least religious nation in the Western world. Church attendance there is abysmal. The story to which I've linked you in this paragraph reports that almost 80 percent of Swedes say they are either "not religious" or "convinced atheists."

So what possible difference is it going to make if pastors in Sweden quit referring to God as "he"?

The truth is that God should not be thought of as male or female. Rather, in Christian theology, God is spirit and, in a sense, beyond sexual identity (or perhaps inclusive of all sexual identities).

As I say, this is an old issue. And it's one reason recent translations of the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into English have sought to minimize use of masculine pronouns for God. And it's not just because God isn't male. It's also because in the original Greek and Hebrew the words that became masculine when translated into English often were not masculine. So frequently it's more accurate to the original to use gender-inclusive language.

I wish my Swedish-born grandparents still were alive so I could ask them about all this. They came to this country as Lutherans but eventually became Presbyterians. They were regular church attenders but we didn't talk much theology in their house, as I recall. Still, they birthed two daughters and no sons, so I'm guessing female pronouns outnumbered male pronouns in the house three to one, which would have made them ready for what the Church of Sweden finally has done.

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The visit to Myanmar by Pope Francis, starting today, no doubt will be full of tension because of the allegations that the country has been perpetrating ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state. It's a terrible situation and the pope would be failing to do his job if he didn't speak out against the actions that have been driving the Rohingya out. Those Muslims need his voice of support now.

Theologians call out evangelical Christians: 11-25/26-17

The last year has been a difficult time for people who identify as evangelical Christians. And the last few months have been especially tough for them.

Boston-decTheir support of Donald Trump in the 2016 election was, in many ways, an abandonment of their moral center, given his several marriages and affairs, his admitted sexual assault, his religious ignorance, his business dealings in support of gambling, his refusal to release his tax returns and thus be candid with the American people -- all of that and more has been almost impossible for his evangelical supporters to explain with a straight face.

And now the support many evangelicals are giving to the disgraced Senate candidate from Alabama, Roy Moore, has led many, including me, to suggest their actions amount to rank hypocrisy. In fact, most have done more than suggest. Accuse or declare is closer to the truth.

Now we learn that more than 300 hundred Christian theologians who attended the recent annual gathering of the American Academy of Religion and the Society of Biblical Literature have issued a statement condemning what they describe as abuse of the faith by some evangelicals. Here is the Religion News Service report on the AAR/SBL gathering and how Trump (well, opposition to Trump) dominated the proceedings.

As this National Catholic Reporter account of the gathering said, "Alarm about Trump's presidency — and the anti-intellectual forces several scholars say he has empowered — pervaded the annual joint meeting of the American Academy of Religion and the Society for Biblical Literature, which ended Nov. 21."

The statement issued by the theologians is called the Boston Declaration, and it's pretty pointed, though you can read it and draw your own conclusions.

Early on the declaration says this: ". . .we hear the cries of women and men speaking out about sexual abuse at the hands of leaders in power and we are outraged. We are outraged by the current trends in Evangelicalism and other expressions of Christianity driven by white supremacy, often enacted through white privilege and the normalizing of oppression. Confessing racism as the United States’ original and ongoing sin, we commit ourselves to following Jesus on the road of costly discipleship to seek shalom justice for the least, the lost, and the left out."

In the Christian tradition, such statements are examples of what's called a prophetic voice. In this case prophetic doesn't mean predicting the future but, rather, shining a light on what the issuers of such statements believe is wrong and in tension with core beliefs of the faith.

Having and using one's prophetic voice always has been an important part of both Judaism and Christianity, and the Boston Declaration, whether you agree or disagree with its contents, is a good example of what it means to view current events through the lens of a faith commitment and then respond to what one sees. Silence in the face of evangelical hypocrisy is not a useful option.

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A massacre at an Egyptian mosque on Friday has left more than 200 people dead. Can someone please explain how the perpetrators of such atrocities imagine that they are helping their cause through such means? I have never understood that thinking.

Here's your American religious history: 11-24-17

The history of religion in the United States before and after it became a constitutional republic is fascinating, at times strange, inspiring as well as embarrassing and, far too often, unknown among many Americans.

History-relig-1There's now a new chance to fix that last problem. And that's to read Bryan F. Le Beau's terrific new A History of Religion in America. Although it's done in two volumes, it totals roughly just 400 pages and is tightly written though with lots of footnotes for extra reading if this or that subject interests the reader.

This is a sweeping story by a local historian and teacher. Le Beau is retired from the University of St. Mary in Leavenworth. He was a professor of history, provost and vice president for academic affairs there. He now teaches an occasional course at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

In this kind of effort, as he acknowledges, it's impossible to touch on every single development or trend. Among the things he misses, for instance, is the founding of Unity, the alternative Christian (some would say "Christianish") movement with international headquarters in the Kansas City area. But the essential outline of the story of religion in America is here, often in intriguing detail.

Because I write about religion, I've read quite a few histories of Christianity and other faith traditions. What I found especially interesting about Le Beau's work is discovering details I didn't know and accounts of movements about which I knew almost nothing.

History-relig-2That discovery process began early in the first volume's treatment of "Native America religion," which Le Beau quickly acknowledges should be "Native American religions," plural. That's similar to anyone writing about "First Century Judaism," which really should be "First Century Judaisms," to take note of the several approaches to that tradition that existed then.

The rapidity of change is made clear in these books, too. For instance, Le Beau writes that "Before 1690, 90 percent of all congregations in Colonial America were either Congregationalist. . .or Anglican. . . By 1770, only 20 percent of all congregations were Congregationalist and 15 percent Anglican." The country's early years, in other words, were full of movement and even surprise -- not unlike religion in America today.

The various revivals and "Great Awakenings" that took place in America's early centuries also helped change the religious landscape. In fact, in the half century after independence, Le Beau writes, quoting another scholar, "the overall rate of religious adherence, the percentage of the population that belonged to a church doubled from 17 percent to 34 percent. . ."

And you, like many others, may have believed that almost everybody in early America's history was deeply attached to a religious congregation. Just not so.

Across these pages we learn about the religious roots of slaves (some were Muslim); the growth of the anti-slavery movement and how people of faith played various roles, both for and against slavery; the effect of the Civil War on religion in a reunited nation; the creation of native-born religions, such as Christian Science, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormonism; the ways immigration changed the religious landscape, including the often-opposed presence of Catholics; the development of the Social Gospel Movement; Fundamentalism's rise; the stark effect World War I had on people of faith who had wrongly imagined humanity was perfectible; the shock of the Holocaust and America's tepid response to it; the role of religion in the Civil Rights Movement; the post-war decline of Mainline Protestant denominations; how clergy helped lead the anti-war movement in the Vietnam era, which I wrote this recent column about; the growing political presence of conservative Christians; the rise of the religious unaffiliated; the growing interfaith movement, and on and on.

It's really a breath-taking story and it shapes who we are today as Americans. This is an important primer. I wish every high school senior were required to read it.

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And now for something completely different: This bit of animated satire to help you understand why God uses natural disasters to punish humans for, uh, well, doing stupid stuff, at least stuff that's stupid in the eyes of Pat Robertson. Warning: Occasional "adult" language and thinking.

A multi-lingual Thanksgiving: 11-23-17

Most of you get a day off today, so I'll mostly take one, too.

ThanksgivingBut not without thanking you for being a reader -- of my blog, my books and the columns I write for The National Catholic Reporter, The Presbyterian Outlook and Flatland. (Look on the right side of this page below my photo under the "Check this out" headline and you'll find links to those columns.)

And not without giving you a little help saying thank you in more than one language. A few samples:

-- Swedish (my mother was full Swedish): Tack

-- German (my father was full German): Vielen Dank

-- Yiddish: אדאנק

-- Afrikaans: Dankie

-- Hindi: धन्यवाद

-- Latin: Gratias tibi

-- Japanese: ありがとうございました

-- Filipino: Salamat

and, finally,

-- Russian: спасибо

(I add the latter for use by any politicians who feel grateful to the Russians. And if I got any of these wrong, blame

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A relatively new nonprofit, Purpose Nation, seeks to encourage Christians to become more engaged with science and technology. For Thanksgiving, Purpose Nation has collected these messages of thanks from scientists and science teachers. Without science-tech folks, I wouldn't be writing this blog and you wouldn't be reading it.

Recalling JFK and America's anti-Catholicism: 11-22-17


On this, the 54th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, we Americans might do well to remind ourselves of the distance we've come (not far enough but still quite a distance) in overcoming prejudice against Catholics.

JFK, as you may know, was only the second Catholic to be nominated by a major party for president. The previous one was Al Smith, governor of New York, whom the Democrats nominated in 1928 to run against Herbert Hoover. But Hoover crushed Smith, in no small part because of anti-Catholic bias.

That bigotry can be found in American history as early as the time of the Revolution, when the anti-Catholic language was bitter, harsh and effective.

Over time, Catholics began to be mainstreamed into American society, but anti-Catholic attitudes still were prevalent when Kennedy ran. I've told this story before, but I'll repeat here that the pastor of my own small-town Presbyterian church in northern Illinois told his congregation from the pulpit in that 1960 election year that if JFK won the pope would run the U.S. government. And he was serious.

To his credit, Kennedy -- like Mitt Romney and his Mormon faith later -- confronted the issue head on. JFK spoke about his Catholicism to a ministerial association in Houston, promising to defend constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion. And, in the end, he squeaked by Richard Nixon.

In the 2015 book that my pastor, Paul Rock, and I wrote, Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church, there's an acknowledgement of the anti-Catholic attitudes that have continued up to the present time, though it's been a sign of change that so many non-Catholics have admired and supported Pope Francis.

This year, in which we commemorated the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation, is a good time to remember the vile ways in which Protestants and others historically have treated Catholics in this country and to pledge to continue to work for an end to such nonsense (as some folks are doing in Wichita.)

There certainly were things to dislike about JFK (his reckless womanizing, among them) and reasons to disagree with him politically. But to reject him because of his religious commitment was evidence of a sickness that we've not completely healed even today.

(The photo here today of JFK's grave is one I took decades ago on what was obviously a wintry trip to Washington, though I'm no longer sure what year I took that trip. I think it was perhaps 1969 or 1970. And I've always liked the shot, so I was happy recently when I stumbled across it again while clearing out some old files.

(P.S.: The great Christian writer C.S. Lewis died the very same day Kennedy was assassinated, but that sad news naturally got pretty lost in the news that day.)

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Robert Mugabe, who resigned yesterday as president of Zimbabwe, had a strange and important relationship to Catholicism, this Economist piece reports. He was both challenged by churches opposed to his policies and supported by religious people because of his long connection to the Jesuits. The article to which I've linked you appeared just before news of the resignation.

Grasping Saudi Arabia's importance: 11-21-17

As much trouble as the U.S. is experiencing in terms of governance at the federal level, you might think we could just focus on Washington and not worry so much about other nations for a time.

Saudi_ArabiaThat would be a serious error.

A prime example of another country that is struggling to find a new way of being in the world and that matters a great deal when it comes to world religions is Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month I wrote here about some of the turmoil happening in the Saudi kingdom. I concluded then that "the kingdom seems to be sitting on tenuous ground, and it's in the interest not just of Muslims around the world but of everyone to be encouraging a peaceful transition of power to the younger generation there and to a much more democratic and religiously open society."

A few days ago I read this excellent analysis of current conditions in Saudi Arabia. It's written by Raj Bhala, a really smart law professor I know at the University of Kansas who has also written a huge and understandable book called Understanding Islamic Law (Shari'a). Raj is an expert in the field of international trade, so naturally he puts a fair amount of emphasis on that in the Bloomberg Quint piece to which I've linked you.

But he doesn't ignore questions of religion, in part because when it comes to Saudi Arabia, which is the location of Islam's holiest sites, you simply can't ignore religion and make sense of things the House of Saud is doing or not doing. Raj, who is Catholic by faith and Indian (India, not American Indian) by ethnicity, notes that Saudi Arabia's new crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman (known as MBS), has an opportunity to create better relations between Saudi Arabia, which is primarily Sunni, and Iran, which is heavily Shi'a.

"Yet," he writes, "trapped by yesterday, Saudi Arabia and Iran fear tomorrow." The "yesterday" of which he speaks are historical events from the Seventh Century that created the Sunni-Shi'a split and that are kept hot and alive even today.

"Christianity knows from bad experience," Raj writes, "something of schisms, and of the hope for reconciliation after centuries of bloodshed that engulfed Shakespeare’s England. Reformation Day, October 31, 2017, was the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing up his Ninety-Five Theses at All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Germany. The top Catholic and Protestant scriptwriters, Pope Francis’ Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation, gave thanks for the 'spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation.' Then came their most humbling line: 'Likewise, we begged forgiveness for our failures and for the ways in which Christians have wounded the Body of the Lord and offended each other during the five hundred years since the beginning of the Reformation until today.' This reconciliation is still a work in progress.

"Can MBS co-author with Iran an ecumenical script for Islam?"

That's just one of several matters the crown prince, given lots of leadership responsibilities by his aging king father, is facing these days. It's vital that Americans understand what's happening in Saudi Arabia and that we have a diplomatic corps that can advance the interests of the U.S. and the free world generally through its connections with the Saudi government. But, as we know now, the State Department is being ruinously deconstructed by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Perhaps the best that most Americans can do is to stay up on Saudi developments, tell our elected representatives our hopes for American policy there and then find ways to be in constructive relationships with Muslims in America. Today's a good day to start that process if you haven't already.

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The law requires the U.S. State Department to release (by Nov. 13) its list of countries guilty of religious freedom violations. But as of yesterday the list still wasn't available. This should surprise no one, given what I said above about Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Still, it's maddening. 

The SevenDays® response continues in 2018: 11-20-17

The people who organize the annual SevenDays® week full of events to promote interfaith understanding and peace have set the 2018 dates -- April 10-16. And the annual walk connected with those events will start this year at the National World War I Museum.

7-days-logoAll of this began after a neo-Nazi murdered three people outside of Jewish facilities in the Kansas City area in April 2014, William Corporon, his grandson, Reat Underwood, and Teresa LaManno. Mindy Corporon, daughter of William and mother of Reat, joined with Teresa's husband, Jim LaManno, and others to create an uplifting response to this hatred.

SevenDays® is sponsored by the Faith Always Wins Foundation and LaManno-Hastings Family Foundation in partnership with other organizations. It creates a theme for each of the seven days  -- "Love, Discover, Others, Connect, Go, You and Onward" -- and puts on events and programming under the theme "make a ripple, change the world."

Here's a link to an interview I did with Mindy in 2015 about how she came to understand -- and respond to -- the evil that afflicted her family.

The annual walk in 2018 will take place on Monday, April 16, starting at the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The walk will circle the grounds of the memorial. After the first of the year you can register for the walk at the SevenDays® link I've given you in the first paragraph above here.

There also will be several activities before the actual SevenDays® week, and those will be announced soon. The week itself will begin with an interfaith program and awards ceremony. A 16-member interfaith youth planning team, working in partnership with the Kansas City Interfaith Youth Alliance, is working on ways to make all of the events available on the internet. And there will be a scholarship competition for high school seniors and a songwriting competition, too. That information also is available on the SevenDays® website.

Mindy Corporon has been a remarkably resilient spark plug behind all of this, beginning the very day of the shootings when she showed up and spoke at an evening prayer vigil at which I and many others spoke.

Supporting efforts she and others have made is a strong way of saying no to the hatred represented by the shooter on that sad day. Although he meant to murder Jews, he wound up killing three Christians. But because Jews as a people were targeted, they also have had to find ways to respond. Here's is a column I wrote for Flatland about that subject.

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Did you see the slick new Lamborghini that Pope Francis got the other day? Well, he didn't buy it. It was a gift. And he's not keeping it. He's selling it with the proceeds going to three charities. But I hope he got at least one ride in it and that fun photos of that were taken, although that will give his critics something new to use in their #FakeNews about him. Sigh.