Author: tgf

Is Somebody Up There Keeping an Eye on the Cubs? (From the Archives)

(First printed in the Chicago Sun-Times October 3, 2003)

Is God a Cubs fan?

Arnold Kanter certainly seems to think so.

Every Yom Kippur for the last 20 years, Kanter, a 60-year-old, self-described “recovering lawyer” and Cubs season ticket holder, has stepped up to the microphone at the Jewish Reconstructionist Congregation in Evanston between services to plead his case.

In 1999, he published his collected Yom Kippur musings in a slim paperback titled, Is God a Cubs Fan? (Its second edition, Is God Still a Cubs Fan?, was published last year.)

“It’s a question we’re continually exploring,” Kanter was telling me the other day. “If he’s a Cubs fan, he’s probably got a lot of explaining to do over the years.”

“Wrigley Field, it’s such a religious place to be. Where else do you get 40,000 people together rooting for someone they’re pretty sure is going to lose? That’s a real testament of faith.”

For Kanter, arguing about whether God is even a baseball fan is pretty much the same thing as arguing about whether God exists.

How can God not be a baseball fan? Of course God is, he says.

God, Kanter insists, is a season ticket holder at all 30 baseball clubs. National and American leagues.

God’s got great seats, too, come to think of it. And being omniscient, never misses a game.

But how does Kanter know that the Almighty prefers the Nort-siders to the Sout-siders, or any of the other venerable ballclubs?

Process of elimination.

Left field from the stands at Wrigley Field. Photo by karlnorling via Creative Commons/Flickr.
Left field from the stands at Wrigley Field. Photo by karlnorling via Creative Commons/Flickr.

1) God is not a Yankees fan. That’s just a given.

2) God would not be a fan of any team with a domed stadium. Blocks God’s view. So, sorry Seattle, Toronto, Montreal, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Phoenix, Houston and Milwaukee.

3) God wouldn’t be a fan of any team that offends Native Americans. Bye-bye Atlanta and Cleveland.

4) God wouldn’t root for any team that had artificial turf. Ever. The White Sox lose on this point. (Anyone remember the “Sox Sod” Astroturf at old Comiskey?) It also rules out Kansas City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and St. Louis.

5) God clearly would not be a fan of a new team. If God’s a Diamondbacks or Devil Rays fan, then who did God cheer for before 1998?

Kanter has reasons to eliminate every team in Major League Baseball except for two: The Cubs and the Red Sox.

Spooky.

“Sometimes those two teams seem indistinguishable,” Kanter writes in Is God Still a Cubs Fan? “Both play in great old ballparks, neither has won a World Series in over 80 years, Cubs first baseman Leon Durham blew the 1984 pennant by letting a ground ball go through his legs and ex-Cubs first baseman Bill Buckner blew the World Series for the Red Sox with an error two years later.”

So which is it? Cubs or BoSox?

“We do what the ancients do,” Kanter says. “We look for a sign.”

Kanter says he’s seen signs at Wrigley before. Honest.

“When the Cubs put in lights at Wrigley, it was about the driest year Chicago ever had and the first night with the lights the game was rained out.”

Mmm. Yes. Biblical even.

But God’s not supposed to take sides, right? In wars or on the playing field.

Well, if the stories from the Hebrew Scriptures are true, God may love everybody, but God does have favorites.

Look at the Israelites. God’s chosen people. So why not God’s chosen team?

Actually, the biblical history of the Israelites has parallels with that of the Cubs. Or at the least, their fans.

Both wandered in the wilderness for a long time. Forty years for the Israelites. Ninety-five for the Cubs. But who’s counting.

Both were faithful and believed — for the most part — that eventually, God would lead them to the promised land. (Now, will Dusty Baker be a Moses or a Joshua?)

Both have been persecuted by their neighbors and had some less-than-effective leaders from time to time.

Chicago Cubs vs the St. Louis Cardinals, May 8, 2013, by NoNo Joe via Creative Commons/Flickr.
Chicago Cubs vs the St. Louis Cardinals, May 8, 2013, by NoNo Joe via Creative Commons/Flickr.

In Scripture, both Hebrew and Christian, God has a clear preference for the meek and downtrodden. Clearly, God likes underdogs.

For sure, God loves people of faith, and Cubs fans are nothing if not faithful. Quite literally.

The Bible tells us, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

That certainly describes the opening-day crowds at Wrigley. Even when the Cubbies are cruising in last place, what do the fans say? “Maybe next year.”

It may sound silly, even sacrilegious, to say God could enjoy baseball enough to have favorites. But why not? God is God, after all, and there is nothing too big — or too trivial — for the Creator.

In Christian tradition, there is something called common-grace theology which says, basically, that God takes pleasure in all of creation — including culture — and that all goodness is God’s goodness. Including good baseball.

That’s not to say that God doesn’t also equally enjoy Sumo wrestling, competitive yoga, Greco-Roman wrestling, surfing, bowling, synchronized swimming, or any other number of physical pursuits that can showcase the beauty of the human spirit.

And nothing says triumph of the human spirit like winning the World Series after being perennial losers for most of a century.

So, is God a Cubs fan?

Hey, hey! Holy cow!

Absolutely.

To order a copy of Kanter’s Is God Still a Cubs Fan? for $14.95, call the Jewish Reconstructionist congregation in Evanston, (847) 328-7678 or go to www.jrc-evan ston.org/publications.html.

Ethiopia: How Foreign Aid Has Helped a Generation

A local woman walks past a field of corn, in a village near Lalibela, Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

LALIBELA, Ethiopia — You know the images you have in your mind of Ethiopia from 27 years ago? The ones from the nightly news reports on TV about the famine in the Horn of Africa as the death toll and horror stories grew.

Scorched, cracked earth. The carcasses of emaciated, dead cattle lying in the baking sun. Hundreds of thousands of stick-thin refugees wandering in the dust, hoping to have enough strength to make it to a camp that might have water and food. The babies and children with orange hair and distended stomachs — indications that they were in the advanced stages of malnutrition and starvation.

I am happy to report that the Ethiopia of 2012 is not the Ethiopia of 1985.

Thanks to global efforts (Live Aid, etc., back in the day), foreign aid, and the very real efforts of the Ethiopian government and people themselves, the land I saw earlier this month looks nothing like those old images in my mind. In fact, parts of the country that we traveled through were so verdant and lush — farmlands rolling out in various shades of green like a St. Patrick’s Day quilt  — that if you’d blindfolded me when I got on the plane and taken the blind of when I stepped of the bus in the rural area outside Bahir Dar near the Sudanese border, I might have thought I was in Ireland’s County Kerry rather than Ethiopia’s Amhara Region.

Ethiopia is beautiful. In every way. Its people. Its resilience. Its ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit. In the way it cares for its land and its people, and the way they care for each other and their visitors. There is a spirit in Ethiopia I’ve experienced elsewhere only rarely.

In a word I’d call it HOPE. But it’s a hope not based on daydreams and fairytales. It’s a hope based in hard work, smart planning, and forward thinking.

The ONE MOMS/ONE MUMS group I traveled with to Ethiopia this month spent a few days out in the northwest of Ethiopia, visiting hospitals, clinics, agricultural collectives, demonstration farms, and a remarkable group of women bee keepers (but I’ll save that for a future post.)

What those few days in the Amhara region put regal faces, calloused hands, quick minds, strong backs, and busy feet to the statistics we hear so often about foreign aid to the developing world — Africa in particular — and what financial resources from the U.S., U.K., and the rest of the G8 (and their posses) can and cannot do on the ground half a world away.

Let me tell you what I saw: A lot. Epic change. Hope for the future. Plans to avert disasters — “natural” or human-made.

In 1992, the proportion of the Ethiopian population that was undernourished was 69 percent. Today, the percentage of undernourished Ethiopians is 41 percent. That’s still a lot of hungry people, but it’s a dramatic decline in 20 years. Infant mortality in Ethiopia is one of the highest in the world (68 per 1,000 live births) — but that rate dropped 39 percent between 1990 (when the rate was 111 deaths per 1,000 live births) and 2010, according to UNICEF.

Ethiopia also has reduced the under-five mortality rate by 47 percent between 1990 and 2010.

“These achievements are largely a result of Ethiopia’s investment in a community health system and a cadre of 35,000 health workers who provide front-line care,” Dr. Rajiv Shah, administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), wrote in the May/June issue of Frontlines magazine. In a nation where only 10 percent of births occur in health facilities, community health workers — skilled in birth attendance and equipped with affordable tools to save the lives of mothers and newborns — serve a critical role.

“But despite this significant progress, one in 11 children in Ethiopia do not live beyond their fifth birthday,” Shah wrote. “Development is full of problems we have few ways to solve. Helping children reach their fifth birthday is not one of them.”

Here are a few statistics (because I know some of you have an easier time getting your heads around numbers than stories) that speak to the challenges Ethiopia (and elsewhere in the developing world) still face:

  • In 2011, Ethiopia’s under-five mortality rate was 88 child deaths per 1,000 live births (and childhood mortality is higher in rural areas than it is in urban areas.)
  • 29 percent of children under the age of five are underweight, and 44 percent of all children in Ethiopia are stunted
  • Only one in every four children 12-23 months old has been fully vaccinated (according to 2011 statistics) — but that is a 19 percent increase since 2005.
  • Ethiopia has a high maternal mortality rate — 676 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2011.
  • In Ethiopia, 30 percent of all deaths of women ages 15-49 are pregnancy related, and only 34 percent of pregnant women receive post-natal (or antenatal, as they call it in Ethiopia) care from a skilled provider after their most recent birth
  • According to 2011 figures, the most significant barriers in Ethiopia that prevent women from seeking adequate pre- and post-natal care are the distance they must travel to the nearest health facility (66 percent), the availability of transportation to the health care facility (71 percent), and a lack of money (68 percent.)
  • 7.6 million children worldwide under the age of five die every year because they don’t have access to basic life-saving interventions such as vaccines and bed nets
  • 370,000 children are born every year with HIV, transmitted to them by their mothers

OK. So that’s the bad news.

But there’s good news, too, and lots of it, from what I witnessed in person across Ethiopia.

There is a new program, run by the Ethiopian government and funded by USAID, called the Integrated Family Health Program (IFHP). It’s a five-year program (begun in 2008) that ultimately is expected to reach half of the Ethiopian population with training and services to improve health practices both in individual households and in communities at large. One of the program’s big pushes is to get young children fully immunized. So, for instance, when a mother or parents come into a health center or outpost to discuss family planning — Ethiopia is encouraging the use of long-term contraception such as Depo Provera injections or sub-cutaneous contraceptive implants — their child or children can be immunized at the same time.

The USAID’s IFHP works side-by-side with an innovative program of the Ethiopian government itself called the Health Extension Program. The Ethiopian government had trained and salaried more than 35,000 health care providers — the vast majority of them women — and dispatched them to 286 districts in the country serving approximately 32 million people. Most of the people served by Health Extension workers live in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are few and far between. They go out to the villages and make old-fashioned house calls, providing services from prenatal exams and post-natal follow-ups to immunizations and basic health care needs.

I had the privilege of meeting some of the Health Extension workers and they are an extraordinary bunch. Young, ambitious, and seemingly tireless. Their work has been credited with the 28 percent decrease in under-5 child deaths, literally saving the lives of 560,000 children since 2005. Amazing.

MADERA WOREDA HEALTH OFFICE AND NBESAME HEALTH CENTER

Listen to one of my traveling companions, the marvelous British ONE Mums blogger Michelle Pannell (aka @michelletwinmum) talk about our visit to the health centers below as you view the slide show of my photos from that amazing day in rural, northwest Ethiopia.

At the end of 2011, a severe drought began in the Horn of Africa, leading Ethiopia’s neighbor to the east, Somalia, officially to declare a famine in June. The drought is believed to be the worst in more than 60 years, affecting more than 13.3 million people — echoing the emergency and images of the famine that struck Ethiopia in the mid 1980s. But this time, in Ethiopia, the story unfolded differently because of a safety net. After a severe drought hit the country in 2003, with the help of USAID and other foreign donors, the Ethiopian government launched a food security program — the Productive Safety Net Program.

This safety net “ensures families living on the edge are not forced to sell off their assets, mainly livestock, in order to feed their families,” Dina Esposito, director of USAID’s Office of Food for Peace, told Frontlines magazine earlier this year. “The labor, the quid pro quo for those fit enough to partake, is channeled into public works projects designed to improve communities as a whole.”

Watersheds and irrigation systems were built. Canals were dug, and schools and health clinics were constructed or rehabbed by workers who were at the risk of becoming food insecure. According to USAID, today, because of Ethiopia’s safety net program, 8 million people receive assistance in a timely and predictable way, and crises — like the famine of the 1980s — have been averted.

Our group visited a USAID-funded project — Empowering New Generations to Improve Nutrition and Economic Opportunities (ENGINE) — that compliments the Ethiopian government’s food safety net program in Lalibela, a rural district about 150 km from the urban center of Bahir Dar. The program, focused on women and their children, strives to improve nutrition and financial stability by teaching new agricultural and nutritional skills.

We visited what is called a “demonstration farm,” nestled in the verdant rolling hills and farmlands, where goat, sheep, and cow herders passed by on their way to and from pasture land. At the farm, ENGINE workers have planted new crops — such as beet root, cabbage, carrots, chard, and other greens — that are rich in nutrients and vitamins in the hopes of getting local mothers to introduce them into their everyday menus.

Women from the surrounding villages come to the farm for classes, learning about cultivation, nutritional values of the new foods, and, perhaps most importantly, how to prepare the vegetables ways that preserve their nutritional content best. This led to one of the more enjoyable outings of our sojourn in Ethiopia: a food demonstration where mothers (many of them with a toddler at their elbow and an infant nursing at their breast) watched as ENGINE workers showed them how to prepare the traditional porridge — a starchy staple in Ethiopian diets, particularly among children — with a nutritional and protein boost by adding legumes to the grains, and then stewed or chopped carrots, greens, beets, etc., to the mix to give it flavor and more vitamin power.

Baby food! It was so simple and yet so brilliant. By adding a handful of ground beans and a soupcon of Swiss chard and mashed carrots to the porridge, children would receive a complete protein in one dish.

At the end of our visit to the farm and baby food cooking demonstration, I was asked to say a few words to the villagers — mostly mothers and girls, but a few men looking on from a safe distance, too. I told them (in English, as a USAID guide interpreted for me) that while we may look different and sound different than they do, we are essentially the same. They are our sisters. Their children are our children. And we care for them, want them to be healthy, and succeed, just as we do our own children.

I said it was an honor  — a blessing, realy — to meet them, that we would share their stories with the rest of the world so that other mothers in other countries who are struggling to make ends meet, feed, and care for their children, would be encouraged.

And I told them that we would remember them and pray for them.

I hope you might join me in that effort, praying for their continued strength and tenacity, and giving thanks for the same. I also hope you will join me in reminding our politicians in this election season that U.S. foreign aid does make a difference. It saves lives. It changes whole communities and can help transform a whole generation.

Let’s do what we can to make sure foreign aid stays safe and that our budgets aren’t balanced on the backs of — or by mortgaging the lives of — the poorest of the poor.

Below you can see a few images from the farm and cooking demonstration.

They are such beautiful people — in every way.

USAID/ENGINE DEMONSTRATION FARM

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Photo credit: All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

What Americans Think About Foreign Aid Might Surprise You

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and ‘Being Made One’

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

What Americans Think About U.S. Foreign Aid Might Surprise You

Children outside the Anbesame Health Center in rural northwest Ethiopia. Photo by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

In an OpEd that appeared on POLITICO Monday, Mike Huckabee, the former Republican governor of Arkansas, and Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas — who together co-chair ONE Vote 2012, a non-partisan campaign to make global health and extreme poverty foreign policy priorities in the 2012 presidential election, wrote about the importance of maintaining U.S. foreign aid to the developing world that has helped make significant improvements in the health and sustainability of myriad nations, including many on the continent of Africa.

They wrote:

We recognize that Americans today are suffering at home from one of the worst economic recessions in modern history. We understand that there might be temptation to cut back on U.S. humanitarian programs and investments abroad. However, the cost of cutting back on such programs is not worth it. Not even close. It would affect too many peoples’ lives and damage American economic and national security interests at a time our world is more interconnected than ever.

It might come as a surprise to learn that less than one percent of the U.S. budget is spent on foreign assistance. It might even be shocking to discover that, despite this relatively small amount, these funds are literally saving millions of lives and improving the lives of many more millions of people.

For example, American investments in cost-effective vaccines will help save nearly 4 million children’s lives from preventable diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea over the next five years. We’ve also helped to deliver 290 million mosquito nets to Malaria-stricken countries, and put 46 million children in school for the very first time. And thanks to the leadership of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, 8 million HIV/AIDS patients now have access to life-saving treatments, up from just 300,000 a decade ago, making an AIDS-free generation a real possibility within our lifetimes.

A healthier, less impoverished planet is good for all of us.

Read the post in its entirety HERE.

Our friends at the ONE Campaign spent 48 hours asking everyday Americans what they thought about US Foreign Aid.

(Source: The ONE Campaign)

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and ‘Being Made One’

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tewahedo, and 'Being Made One'

An illuminated book of scripture the monk at Entos Eyesu told us dated to the 7th century. On the right is St. George on his white horse, slaying a dragon.

LAKE TANA, Ethiopia — Spirituality imbues every corner of Ethiopian culture, from its music and dance, to its artwork and even its unrivaled rich-as-the-earth coffee.

Home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world (having adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century), the sites and sounds of Christendom were ubiquitous wherever we traveled in country this month.

Art and iconography — both ancient and modern — from Ethiopian Orthodoxy (also known as Tawahedo or “being made one” in the Ge’ez language that remains the official language of the Orthodox liturgy here) were ever-present — in shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies as well as in the myriad churches and monasteries, and the sounds of ancient Christian prayers and the chants of monks filled the air from the capital city of Addis Ababa to the kebeles (or neighborhoods) on the outskirts of Bahir Dar, another major city about 60 km from the Sudanese border that was once intended to be the capital itself.

The religious population of Ethiopia today is about 63 percent Christian (the vast majority of those adherents members of the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition) and 34 percent Muslim. There is also a tiny, but historic, Jewish population, the Beta Israel, who live in northwestern Ethiopia. In the 1990s, however, most Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel through diaspora relocation programs run by the Israeli government known as Operation Moses and Operation Solomon.

Each morning in Addis and Bahir Dar, I’d awoke to the sounds of the Muslim call to prayer, or azan, emanating from the minaret of a nearby masjid and, often, soon after (and sometimes at the same time) the ancient prayers from an Orthodox church or monastery, mixed with the cock-a-doodle-doo of the occasional rooster and the omnipresent barking of dogs. You can hear a snippet of that intoxicating, otherwordly chorus of sound below.

While visiting Bahir Dar, capital of the Amhara region or kilil, which boasts a population that is more than 87 percent Ethiopian Orthodox, my traveling companions from ONE Moms and ONE Mums (our British sisters) — 14 of us in all — boarded two small pontoon boats docked on Lake Tana for what was described as a “three hour a tour” (“a three hour tour…” a la Gilligan’s Island) of one of the 20 medieval monasteries built on some 37 small islands in and around the lake.

After a 40-minute journey (where the weather did not start getting rough and our tiny ships were not rocked) we alighted at a rocky inlet, surrounded by a canopy of bowing mulberry trees, on a small island, Entos Eyesu, home to a monastery that is, as I understand it, reserved only for women. The adjacent island, Kebran Gabriel, houses a much larger monastery, church, and compound, but alas … no girls allowed.

Several academic sources date the Entos Eyesu monastery and church to the 17th century, with some attributing its construction to the Portuguese under the auspices of Emperor Fasilades, and more recently renovated (perhaps by an Egyptian monk), which explained why some of the elaborate paintings and frescoes that decorated the interior of the monastery looked so freshly painted.

Entos Eyesu is beautiful, but perhaps not quite as historically “important” as some of the other island monasteries, each established somewhere between the 13th and 17th centuries as a kind of hermitage for Christian contemplative monks, but later used as refuges to protect important artifacts of Christendom — including the a number of ancient sacred texts, the mummified remains of several Ethiopian emperors and, reportedly, the Ark of the Covenant (which, according to the Bible, contains the stone tablets upon which are written the Ten Commandments), which Ethiopians now believe to be housed inside the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum.

Whether Entos Eyesu was less “important” in an historic sense didn’t seem to matter to our motley band of would-be pilgrims, among us a couple of nonreligious Jews, several renegade Evangelical Christians, a lapsed Catholic or two, a Latter-day Saint, and a handful of what sociologists of religion might call  “nones” these days. Setting foot on the island, a reverent hush descended on our normally chatty lot as we walked along rocky paths through the lush jungle of mango and banana trees, up a steep set of stone steps to the monastery/church itself.

A round domicile with a pitched, metal roof topped by a stylized Coptic cross, we stopped outside its stone and cement walls to take off our shoes and cover our heads with scarves. Once inside, though dimly lit, the round room — built around a small “holy of holies” room that houses a tabot, or replica of the Ark of the Covenant secreted behind banana-yellow locked doors — the paintings covering the walls, depicting biblical and historical scenes from Ethiopian Orthodox history and lore, exploded in a riot of colors.

Jesus is featured, as he would be, in many of the paintings. He’s depicted as mixed-race, appearing much like a modern-day Ethiopian. There were scenes from Hebrew Scripture, such as Abraham being interrupted by an angel (and a ram caught in a thicket) as he was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac; the massacre of the infants by the order of Herod (who’d hoped to kill the newborn King of the Jews in the process, but was thwarted when Mary and Joseph took their infant son to Egypt); Jesus ordering a servant boy to pour water into jugs (which the Lord then turned into a very good vintage wine) in his first miracle; the healing of a leper; Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey for what we call Palm Sunday; the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the last judgment.

Ever present — alongside Jesus, Noah, and other biblical figures — is St. George (patron of Ethiopia, always shown decked out in royal regalia atop his white steed, slaying a dragon) and the Archangel Michael.

Everyone in the group solemnly snapped pictures of the artwork and various religious artifacts, before putting our shoes back on and heading down the hill to our boats. On the way down, a few of us stopped in a small museum (about the size of an average American walk-in closet) where a monk showed us a few manuscripts — some of them brilliantly illuminated with hand paintings — that he claimed were from the 7th century. I lingered in the small space as three young Ethiopian women from the hotel where our group was staying in Bahir Dar who had accompanied us on our lake adventure, stood rapt, hanging on the young monk’s every word (all of which were spoken in Amharic.) Maya, one of our ONE Moms who is a native of Ethiopia, translated bits and pieces for me.

But I didn’t really need to know what the monk was saying. I was struck far more by the posture and reverence the young women, including Maya, had for the obviously sacred space in which we were standing.

We finally returned to the boats, where the rest of our group was waiting patiently, and on our journey back to Bahir Dar, I began thinking about pilgrimage and how, perhaps, what you believe (or don’t) actually doesn’t matter. It’s the journey itself that makes it sacred.

Tewahedo, the name of the the Ethiopian Orthodox church, means “being made one.” How appropriate for our group — ONE Moms and Mums from the ONE Campaign, an organization co-founded by Bono of U2 who wrote a song years ago, also called “One,” with the lyric:

We’re one, but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other.

That’s what our trip to Ethiopia was all about. That’s what the ONE Campaign and ONE Moms are all about. We — all of us humans — are in most ways the same, and it is our responsibility (and our blessed vocation) to carry, care for, and mind each other. We may look, sound, think, eat, walk, talk, dress, worship, and believe differently, but we are, essentially, the same.

My story is your story. Your story is my story. Or, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu is fond of reminding us, there is another word for this idea: Ubuntu. It’s an African word (that I have tattooed on my back), which means, “I am because you are.”

We are one.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

GGNFT (Ethiopia Edition): Teddy Afro

God Girl’s New Favorite Thing for Oct. 12, 2012:
Ethiopian Pop Star Teddy Afro

ADDIS ABABA — Pretty much everywhere we’ve gone in Ethiopia this week, we’ve heard Teddy Afro’s voice.

The 36-year-old Ethiopian singer whose given name is Tewodros Kassahun or ቴዎድሮስ ካሳሁን in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, is sometimes referred to as the “Michael Jackson of Ethiopia.” But, to my ear at least, he’s more the equivalent of, say, Ethiopia’s Usher (if he were more political, that is.)

Afro’s debut album, 2001’s Abugida, spawned several hit singles, including “Halie Selassie” (his tribute to the late Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie I), and “Haile, Haile,” which honored Ethiopian Olympic runner Haile Gebrselassie.

It was his third album, 2005’s Yasteseryal, the release of which coincided with a national election in Ethiopia, seems to have put him on the map and squarely in the crosshairs of some members of the government. Its themes of peace, unity, social justice and true political reform managed to irritate some politicans than the government banned four songs from Yasteseryal.

Afro has a new album out called Tikur Sew (the Amharic for a “black person”) that’s getting a lot of play over here. It’s his first new album since his arrest, trial and imprisonment on hit-and-run manslaughter charges in 2008 — charges that many maintain were spurious and politically motivated. The singer served a little more than a year of a six-year sentence before an appeals court released him for good behavior.

The video for the title track of his new album, Tikur Sew, is “based on the historical Battle of Adwa (March 1, 1896) in which Ethiopian forces, under the leadership of Emperor Menelik II and Empress Taytu Betul, defeated the invading Italian army and secured Ethiopian sovereignty,” according to its official English description on YouTube.

Afro’s music is can be catchy and kitschy, or controversial and thought-provoking. Afro is an iconoclast that way — an iconoclast with a voice and beats that will make you want to drop it like it’s hot.

I’ll leave you with Afro’s tribute to Bob Marley (and dare you not to chair dance at least a little bit.)

Cathleen is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopia: The Face of God

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

 

Ethiopia: The Face of God

BAHIR DAR, Ethiopia — When I posted this photograph of a beautiful little Ethiopian girl holding a daisy a few days ago, my friend  and fellow author Christian Piatt responded on Twitter with a four-word comment:

 

“The Face of God.”

Christian’s remark stopped me in my tracks … because it’s absolutely true.

The Bible even tells us so.

So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. ~ Genesis 1:27

When I look into the eyes of the hundreds of Ethiopian children I’ve met, given high (and low) fives to, fist bumped, hugged, and waived to in the last few days, my thought is always the same: Oh my God, they are so beautiful.

What I didn’t recognize Christian’s profound four words is that Oh my God, they are so beautiful is also a prayer. A “wow” prayer, to borrow an idea from Anne Lamott.

Since Christian called my attention to the face of God, I haven’t been able to look at any of the remarkable souls I’ve spent time with here in Ethiopia without thinking about God’s face.

That Divine Spark reflected in our eyes. Our faces and bodies, hearts and souls all beautifully and wondrously made in the image of the Creator.

Nowhere is the face of God more evident than in the faces of children. They haven’t learned to cover up their divine face with masks yet, like so many of us adults have. Their joy is pure and unfettered, as is their fear and pain.

Below you can see for yourself what I’m on about — the face of God in the faces of a few of the hundreds of Ethiopian children I’ve been immensely blessed to meet on my journey to their truly sacred land. (More on that last bit in a forthcoming post.)

Oh my God, they are so beautiful.

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All photos by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

Cathleen is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

Read more of Cathleen’s posts from her Ethiopian journey by clicking on the links below.

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Ethiopia: God Is Even Bigger Than We Think

Ethiopia: Motherhood is Powerful, Precious

Speak out for those who cannot speak,
for the rights of all the destitute.
Speak out, judge righteously,
defend the rights of the poor and needy.

~ Proverbs 31:8-9

ADDIS ABABA — These words of King Solomon have been running through my mind since our ONE Moms delegation — 13 mothers from the United States, the United Kingdom, and France — arrived in the Ethiopian capital on Sunday.

I hear these verses as a clarion call to action. As someone who strives humbly to follow the Way of Jesus and be involved in The Work that God is doing in the world, I want to respond and do what these verses command.

And as a believer who also happens to be a mother (a fairly novice one, still learning the ropes, if you will), I must do.

Sunday afternoon, after us ONE Moms dropped our luggage at the hotel, piled into our chartered bus, and drove to the outskirts of the city to the Mary Joy Aid Through Development Association, we met our Ethiopian sisters who are speaking out for those who cannot; who are advocating on behalf of the destitute, judging with righteous wisdom, and defending the rights of the poor and the needy.

The verses that follow Solomon’s charge in Proverbs 31 are well known. He goes on to describe the ideal woman, mother, and wife — the one who is “far more precious than jewels.” She is industrious, good with money, makes beautiful things with her hands, tends to the needs of her children (and those of others), has strong arms (here I picture Michelle Obama), rises early and works late, spins and weaves and sews.

“She opens her hand to the poor,” Solomon says. “Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.”

And her children “rise up and call her ‘blessed.'”

As we alighted the bus at the gates of Mary Joy, dozens of Ethiopian mothers and children — from babes in arms to older teens — greeted us with flowers and mega-watt smiles that would light up even the darkest of places. They embraced us, kissed our cheeks, shook our hands, and then they broke into exuberant singing and dancing.

Our welcoming committee were those “Proverbs 31 women” that, as an evangelical Christian, I’ve heard so much about over the years. Such women are precious — and scarce. I have met only a true few in my lifetime. That is, until Sunday.

You see, the mothers at Mary Joy (with a few fathers as well), have heeded the words of Proverbs 31: 8-9 by reaching out to orphans, widows, the elderly, and others who are struggling to survive amidst poverty and tragedy such as the loss of the family matriarch or patriarch and breadwinner, disease (often HIV/AIDS), or some other cataclysm that has left them bereft, voiceless, alone on the margins of society.

Mary Joy, which is a non-religious, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization (NGO) has, since 1994, been working tirelessly to assist and empower women, children and families through a host of educational programs — from HIV/AIDS prevention and hygiene to nutrition and other vocational training — and by assembling a small army of “peer mothers” who act as stand-in parents for children who are parentless.

ONE Moms got to know the Mary Joy organization through one of our own members, Maya Haile Samuelsson, a model and native of Ethiopia who, with her husband, Chef Marcus Samuelsson, supports the education and wellbeing of 10 children at Mary Joy. (Maya’s even more beautiful on the inside than she is out — and she’s absolutely stunning; the picture of grace and a generous heart.)

UNICEF estimates there are 5 million orphans in Ethiopia — about 650,000 of them having lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. Of those orphans, more than 2 million live below the poverty line, which in Ethiopia is about 80 cents a day. Many thousands end up living on the streets.

During our visit with the mamas and children of Mary Joy, we were briefed officially by executive director about the work the organization does. But we learned so much more just by being with the mothers and kids as they celebrated life and welcomed us into theirs.

A group of adolescent boys performed acrobatics, juggled brightly colored bowling pins and blazing batons — one boy even filled his cheeks with lighter fluid and spit flames into the air as we collectively gasped the way mothers do.

And we danced. Some of us more gracefully than others, some of us with a child on our hip, or the hand of new friend in ours. But we all moved with joyful abandon.

We sat in a happy heap on blankets on the ground, flirted with babies, smiled at each other — affirming one another in that motherhood-is-global-and-mighty-powerful way that doesn’t need a common language to be understood. It just takes a look. Straight in the eyes. Deep into the soul. We see each other and we know.

It was a glory day. And it was the perfect the beginning of a journey here in Ethiopia, a land oozing with sacred spirit and beauty at every turn — perhaps most vividly in the places where people have the “least.”

In the slideshow below, you can see some of the faces of the mothers from Mary Joy and a few of my traveling companions from ONE Moms.

The journey continues with blessings, lessons, and audacious grace.

I’ll have more stories to share soon. (Dear St. Isidore, patron saint of computers and the Internet, please put in a good word for this weary traveler).

Thank you for joining us on this adventure.

If you’d like to learn more about Mary Joy or consider sponsoring one if its children, please click HERE.

Cathleen Falsani is Web Editor and Director of New Media for Sojourners. Follow Cathleen on Twitter @GodGrrl. Cathleen is traveling in Ethiopia this week as an expense-paid guest of the ONE Campaign on a listening-and-learning visit to programs and organizations that work primarily with women and girls. Learn more about ONE Moms and the Ethiopia trip HERE. Watch for Cathleen’s tweets (and those of her ONE Moms traveling companions) on Twitter with the tag #ONEMOMS.

GODSTUFF

WHAT WOULD JESUS DRINK? DEPENDS ON WHO YOU ASK . . .

A rabbi, a priest and a minister walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “What is this, a joke?”

In one Pennsylvania bar, it’s no laughing matter.

On the last Friday of every month, teams of chaplains — one male and one female — will set up camp in the Market Cross Pub in Carlisle, Penn., for a few hours to lend a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear to patrons looking for someone to listen to their tales of woe.

“We’re not going to strong-arm anybody,” Chuck Kish, the Assemblies of God pastor who started the bar chaplaincy program told the (Carlisle, Penn.) Sentinel newspaper, adding that the bar chaplains aren’t there to proselytize or stop anyone from drinking. “We give more pastoral care, listening to what you have to say.”

Even if you’re slurring your words and don’t remember it the next morning.

There is little consensus across religious traditions about whether alcohol consumption is morally right or wrong, beyond the near universal condemnation of drunkenness.

In Islam, for instance, the Quran forbids the consumption of any intoxicant, even in small amounts. But, as I understand it, the Prophet Muhammad came to that conclusion over time. First, he forbade Muslims to drink before prayer; then, he said that alcohol has both good and evil qualities but that evil usually outweighs the good. Eventually, he determined alcohol was “Satan’s handiwork,” designed to lead the faithful away from God.

Buddhism is even more straightforward. The fifth of the mandatory Five Precepts, governing the ethical behavior of all Buddhists, says: “I undertake to abstain from intoxicating drink.”

In the Jewish tradition, wine is a symbol of the blessing of God’s creation and is used to mark many significant spiritual occasions, including weddings, circumcisions and the Passover Seder. It even has its own blessing, the Hagafen.

Hebrew scripture includes stories extolling wine as a harbinger of joy, as well as cautionary tales of how too much wine has brought low the mighty, including Noah, whose grown sons saw him naked — a big no no — when Noah was drunk, and Lot, who got drunk and had sex with his daughters.

And Christianity, the predominant theological voice in our culture, is even more ambivalent about whether to drink or not. Gospel accounts say Jesus’ first public miracle was at a wedding in Cana where he turned jugs of water into fine wine — think Chateau Margaux, not Two-Buck Chuck — for wedding revelers who were already three sheets to the wind.

For the first 1,800 or so years of Christendom, alcohol — or wine, at least — was common in the faith. Wine was used during the sacrament of communion, and wine and beer were part of quotidian existence. (I read somewhere John Calvin — the great Protestant Reformation theologian — received part of his annual salary in seven barrels of wine.)

But in the 19th century, in response to a growing awareness of the scourge of alcoholism, temperance (abstaining from alcohol as a spiritual practice) and eventually prohibitionism (outlawing the consumption of alcohol altogether as inherently sinful) became part of the Christian cultural norm.

Christian attitudes today toward alcohol include a whole spectrum from moderationism to prohibitionism, with the prevailing condemnation of inebriation as sinful and destructive.

Perhaps one of the questions bar chaplains will help patrons answer is What Would Jesus Drink?

Fifteen shots of Jager? Probably not.

Wine with dinner? Sure.

One of my favorite bartenders is Bouchaib “Bouch” Kribech, from the Billy Goat Tavern & Grill, the unofficial watering hole of Chicago’s media off of lower Michigan Ave. I’ve known Bouch for years and he is unfailingly kind and caring, whether I’m drunk as a lord or sober as a judge.

Bouch is an observant Muslim. He might pour the drinks, but he doesn’t partake himself. When I told him about the bar chaplain idea, he chuckled and then grew uncharacteristically serious.

“I cannot speak for Muslims, but I can speak for myself,” he said. “This is the toughest question . . . . When I tend bar, people will talk to me, and they share. I share my problems with them, and they start to share theirs.

“Sometimes, when people drink, they feel more comfortable,” Bouch said. “But me, I can talk about my problems with just a glass of water.”


TODAY IN GOD:
RELIGION NEWS BITES FOR YOUR SNACKING PLEASURE

Religious police ban red roses

SAUDI Arabia’s religious police have banned red roses ahead of Valentine’s Day, forcing couples in the conservative Muslim nation to think of new ways to show their love.

The Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice has ordered florists and gift shop owners in the capital Riyadh to remove any items coloured scarlet, which is widely seen as symbolising love, newspapers said.

“They visited us last night,” the Saudi Gazette quoted an unidentified florist as saying.

It is not unusual for the Saudi vice squad to clamp down ahead of Valentine’s Day, which it sees as encouraging relations between men and women outside of wedlock, the newspaper said.

Saudi Arabia imposes an austere form of Sunni Islam that prevents unrelated men and women from mixing, bans women from driving and demands that women wear a headscarf and a cloak.
SOURCE: news.com.au

Missionaries Spread the News, but Don’t Read It
For most Mormons, the last few weeks have been a time of shocks. Gordon B. Hinckley, the president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as the faith is formally known, died Jan. 27 at the age of 97.

Then Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, last week suspended his campaign for the presidency; he was the first Mormon with a plausible chance of winning a major party’s nomination since his father, George Romney, ran in 1968.

Mr. Romney’s setback surely must have demoralized Mormonism’s foot soldiers. They are the young men in black suits, white shirts and ties who pass out church literature on street corners in cities around the world, including New York City.

But that does not seem to be the case, if Siale Langi, 20, and James Kelley, 19, two Mormon missionaries in Manhattan, are any indication.

True, Mormonism has always had a reputation for unshakable optimism whatever the setbacks of the day. But missionaries are also unusually blinkered, forbidden from reading newspapers, watching television or listening to the radio.

As of 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, nearly 50 hours after news broke of Mr. Romney’s withdrawal, Mr. Langi and Mr. Kelley had still not heard of it, nor were they told.

Asked if anything had surprised him in current events, Mr. Langi replied that some New Yorkers had mentioned a public-television series on the Mormons that was broadcast last year. Anything else? Yes, he continued, a 2006 film on a controversial chapter in 19th-century Mormon history called “September Dawn.”

Mr. Kelley offered, “Some people have asked me, ‘Are you hoping Mitt Romney wins?’ I just say, ‘Whatever happens is whatever happens.’ ”

Like other missionaries, who number about 170 in Manhattan, the Bronx, Westchester County and Connecticut, Mr. Kelley and Mr. Langi are carefully schooled to be politically neutral, said Richard Searle, mission president for the area. (There are about 73,000 Mormons in New York State.)
FOR THE FULL STORY (NY TIMES) CLICK HERE

Obama’s longtime pastor retires
In a stirring sermon that weaved the hopefulness of past African generations with dreams for the future, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. preached his final sermon Sunday at Trinity United Church of Christ, leaving a 36-year legacy as pastor and activist in the black community.

Despite the howl of a bitter wind, hundreds packed into Trinity, 400 West 95th Street, to hear Wright, 66, a fiery speaker, preach at the church one last time. Wright had served as spiritual mentor to Sen.Barack Obama. In the late 1980s, Obama joined Trinity and would later base his historic speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention on a Wright sermon called “Audacity to Hope.”

Obama was one of the thousands who joined Trinity under Wright’s leadership. When Wright became Trinity’s pastor in 1972, the church had 85 members. Today, Trinity has a congregation of 8,500, with more than 80 ministries, making it one of the largest and most influential black churches in the nation.

At Sunday’s 11 a.m. service, Wright preached on the New Testament account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in the sermon “Looks Can Be Deceiving.” He spoke about the tradition of African storytelling to illustrate how past generations preserved and passed on stories to teach their children how to hold onto hope amid the pain and suffering of slavery.

Though Wright did not mention Obama by name, he spoke about how a biracial child could use that same hope to overcome racism, go to an Ivy League law school and become a politician. Obama received his law degree from Harvard University and was the first black editor of the Harvard Law Review.

“How many children of biracial parents can make it in a world controlled by racist ideology?” Wright said.

“Children born to parents who are of two different races do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it in America, especially if the momma was white and the daddy was black. A child born to that union is an unfortunate statistic in a racially polarized society,” he said.
FOR THE FULL STORY (MARGARET RAMIREZ IN THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE) CLICK HERE

Gay Mormons hope to meet new leader
SALT LAKE CITY — A group of gay Mormons is seeking an unprecedented meeting with the new church president and his counselors, hoping to begin a conversation and find ways to address the concerns of its members.

The group, Affirmation, with more than 2,000 gay, lesbian and transgender members, is not recognized by the church, which at one time labeled homosexuality as a problem that required help.

“Although there are many areas of hurt and disagreement that have separated us, there are many more areas on which we can find agreement, and in doing so, become a blessing in the lives of many of the Saints, both straight and gay,” the group wrote in its invitation to Thomas S. Monson last week.

Monson assumed leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints last week after the death of President Gordon B. Hinckley.

Such a meeting with Monson and his counselors — a triumvirate known as the First Presidency — would be unprecedented, said David W. Melson, the group’s assistant executive director.

“This was something we’ve talked about for a while,” Melson said. “With the death of President Hinckley and the installation of new church leadership, it seemed like the appropriate time.”

Church teachings consider homosexuality a sin and hold up traditional marriage as an institution ordained by God.
FOR THE FULL STORY (AP VIA LA TIMES) CLICK HERE

Protesters poke at Scientology turf
Anonymous, the new foe of Scientology, stepped out from the shadows of the Internet on Sunday with protests in Clearwater and around the world.

Some 200 marchers, mostly young people wearing sunglasses, hats and sometimes masks, met in downtown Clearwater to shout down Scientology at the church’s spiritual headquarters.

The protesters met at 11 a.m. and split into three groups, winding their way around Scientology buildings.

Their signs were direct: “Scientology kills.” “Religion is free, Scientology is not.” “Don’t tase me L. Ron.”

Disguised with fake beards, face paint, scarves and bandanas, protesters said they hid their identity for fear they would be tracked down and harassed by Scientology.

Organizers – who also held rallies in London, Paris, New York and other cities around the world – chose Sunday’s date because it would have been Lisa McPherson’s 49th birthday. A 36-year-old Scientologist, McPherson died in 1995 while in the care of church staffers in Clearwater.

Anonymous members brought a cake and sang Happy Birthday in her memory. They tried to lay plastic flowers outside the Fort Harrison Hotel where she died but police asked them not to, saying they would be trespassing.

Despite Anonymous’s online promises to “expel” Scientology from the Internet and “systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form,” the march was peaceful, with police reporting no arrests or injuries.

Still, church spokeswoman Pat Harney compared Anonymous to the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan.

“It’s similar to burning a cross on somebody’s lawn,” she said. “It’s a bunch of yahoos. They get on the Internet and they don’t use real communication.”

Anonymous’s opposition to Scientology has coalesced in the last month after a video of Scientologist Tom Cruise was leaked to YouTube and then promptly removed because of threats from Scientology attorneys.

Members of Anonymous claimed this was an affront to the freedom of the Internet. A video message from Anonymous taunting the leaders of Scientology had received 2.2-million views on YouTube as of Sunday.
FOR THE FULL STORY (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES) CLICK HERE

RELATED: Masked protest over Scientology

LONDON — Masked demonstrators gathered outside London’s Church of Scientology in protest against the organisation.

The group, called Anonymous, said they wanted to highlight the organisation’s “inherent flaws” and “fight for freedom of knowledge and information”.

The City of London Police said about 200 people took part in the peaceful protest in Queen Victoria Street.

After about two hours the protestors moved to the Scientology Recruitment Centre in Tottenham Court Road.

Similar gatherings took place outside Scientology Centres across the UK and in countries including Australia, Canada and the US.

In a video statement broadcast online, the organisers said: “The idea of Anonymous is to systematically dismantle the Church of Scientology in its present form.”
FOR THE FULL STORY (BBC NEWS) CLICK HERE

Ritual of Dealing With Demons Undergoes a Revival
POCZERNIN, Poland — This wind-swept village is bracing for an invasion of demons, thanks to a priest who believes he can defeat Satan.

The Rev. Andrzej Trojanowski, a soft-spoken Pole, plans to build a “spiritual oasis” that will serve as Europe’s only center dedicated to performing exorcisms. With the blessing of the local Catholic archbishop and theological support from the Vatican, the center will aid a growing number of Poles possessed by evil forces or the devil himself, he said.

“This is my task, this is my purpose — I want to help these people,” said Trojanowski, who has worked as an exorcist for four years. “There is a group of people who cannot get relief through any other practices and who need peace.”

Exorcism — the church rite of expelling evil spirits from tortured souls — is making a comeback in Catholic regions of Europe. Last July, more than 300 practitioners gathered in the Polish city of Czestochowa for the fourth International Congress of Exorcists.

About 70 priests serve as trained exorcists in Poland, about double the number of five years ago. An estimated 300 exorcists are active in Italy. Foremost among them: the Rev. Gabriele Amorth, 82, who performs exorcisms daily in Rome and is dean of Europe’s corps of demon-battling priests.

“People don’t pray anymore, they don’t go to church, they don’t go to confession. The devil has an easy time of it,” Amorth said in an interview. “There’s a lot more devil worship, people interested in satanic things and seances, and less in Jesus.”

Amorth and other priests said the resurgence in exorcisms has been encouraged by the Vatican, which in 1999 formally revised and upheld the rite for the first time in almost 400 years.

Although a Vatican official denied reports in December of a campaign to train more exorcists, supporters said informal efforts began under Pope John Paul II — himself an occasional demon chaser — and have accelerated under Pope Benedict XVI. A Catholic university in Rome began offering courses in exorcism in 2005 and has drawn students from around the globe.
FOR THE FULL STORY (WASHINGTON POST) CLICK HERE

Chocolate and Lent: St. Louis chocolatier takes hit

Chocolate. Some people think it’s divine, yet for many Christians, it will be off-limits starting today.

It’s tough to say, but chocolate could be the most oft-selected edible to give up for Lent. And Lent comes especially early this year, putting it into direct conflict with the most choco-centric celebration of the year: Valentine’s Day.

For chocolate lovers who surrender their bonbons for God, this presents a vexing problem, or at least a cruel scenario. How can they say no to the tempting contents of all those heart-shaped boxes?

For at least one chocolate company, the situation goes beyond mere dilemma and actually puts a dent in sales.

“We’ve gone through quite a number of Valentine’s when Lent comes before,” said Ken Kellerhals, president of St. Louis-based Bissinger’s Handcrafted Chocolates. “It definitely has an effect.”
FOR THE FULL STORY (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH) CLICK HERE

Singers Try to Hit the Right Pitch To Win a Spot in the Ballpark Choir
By 10:30 a.m. yesterday, Theresa Ellsworth was in the hot seat.

That’s what people in the basement lobby of St. Matthew’s Cathedral were calling the chair right outside the audition room. All morning, Catholic after Catholic filed in — one every five minutes — for the chance to sing a few hymn verses, demonstrate vocal range, be thanked and then be sent home to await word. They were all hoping to have snagged one of the 250 spots in the choir that will sing at Pope Benedict XVI’s Mass on April 17 at the new Nationals stadium.

With more than 550 people from local parish choirs signed up to audition, the vibe was far more intense than simply performing a Sunday morning song at church. It was more like “Vatican Idol.”

“It’s good as you get older to do things that make you a little uncomfortable,” said Ellsworth, a music historian and alto from Cleveland Park. “I said: ‘You’re 62. Get out and do something that scares you a little.’ “

Inside, Ellsworth took her place before a black music stand with a few sheets of music; a pianist was poised at the keys. To her left, two judges sat behind a table, and to her right, an image of Jesus Christ on the cross hung on the wall.

Yesterday’s scene was to play out 10 times across the region to accommodate the hundreds of Catholics who want to sing at the papal Mass, the first time a pope will be in the nation’s capital since 1979.
FOR THE FULL STORY (WASHINGTON POST) CLICK HERE

GODSTUFF

THE CONTAGIOUS AUDACITY OF HOPE: OBAMA ’08

Riding the Green Line el train to the Loop in Chicago earlier this week, the most extraordinary thing happened to interrupt the otherwise sullen monotony of my cold morning commute.

At a stop in the middle of the city’s West Side, four people boarded the train and buffeted the other passengers with a burst of joyful energy.

“OBAMA!” one of them, a smiling older woman with her hair tied back in a long ponytail and clutching a red, white and blue placard with the Illinois senator’s name on it, announced to no one in particular.

“Woo, that was really bitter cold, man,” said one of her companions, a man in his early 40s with “OBAMA ’08” pins stuck to the lapels of his down jacket. “If I didn’t love the guy so much. …”

“Obama! Ohhhhh-baaaaaaaah-maaaaaaaaaaah!” chanted another in their company, a bespectacled man with a close-cropped white beard and an “OBAMA-Yes We Can” bumper sticker stuck to his gray felt fedora.

They were volunteers for the Obama campaign who had come to Chicago from Michigan to canvass for Super Tuesday. As we rode along, passengers started talking to them and to each other, striking up friendly conversation in lieu of the de rigueur ignore-them-and-don’t-make-eye-contact posture that typifies public transportation commutes.

Two young female passengers even signed up to volunteer for the Obama campaign on the spot.

“He’s gonna win big,” the pony-tailed woman said.

“I hope so!” one of the freshly minted volunteers answered.

Hope.

Barack Obama has built his campaign around hope. “Hope-mongering,” he calls it. But hope is not a political idea. It’s a thoroughly theological one.

Speaking last month at Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church once co-pastored by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., on the anniversary of the great civil rights leader’s birthday, Obama punctuated his sermon with the stirring refrain, “But I had hope.”

“I wasn’t born into money or great wealth, but I had hope!” he told the Atlanta congregation. “I needed some hope to get here. My daddy left me when I was little, but I had hope! I was raised by a single mother, but I had hope! I was given love, an education and some hope!”

In that sermon laced with “hope,” Obama called for a return to the kind of radical compassion that feeds the hungry, cares for the poor and treats the “least of these” as our own.

I would argue that Obama’s hope-mongering is, in fact, a rallying cry for radical spiritual renewal, to the kind of faith-in-action that can move mountains.

“Hope is a theologically grounded notion, and I think that perhaps is especially true as Sen. Obama uses it,” Ted Jennings, professor of biblical and constructive theology at Chicago Theological Seminary, told me. “Hope would have to be distinguished from optimism, which is simply supposing things will turn out well.

“Hope is daring to envision something that is beyond either optimism or planning. It is an articulation of a vision, and, as the Bible says, without a vision, the people perish,” Jennings said. Obama’s hope is “grounded in a notion that what God intends is justice and mercy and compassion, even if that seems, under current circumstances, to be unrealistic.”

The Catholic philosopher-theologian Thomas Aquinas defined hope as the movement toward a future, difficult yet possible good. And while in the Catholic tradition, theological hope and general or political hope are distinct, they are connected, and Obama is making that (unspoken) connection in his campaign.

“It’s a powerful religious idea that he’s sort of tied into,” said Dominic Doyle, a professor of systematic theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass.

“In hope, you approach God as merciful. . . . There’s something about hope that resonates really closely with being present with people in their difficulties.”

David Myers, a psychology professor at Hope College in Michigan, says the hope Obama speaks about is what “Christianity is all about,” a call to wholehearted, spiritual change.

“One thinks again of Martin Luther King Jr. — only through spiritual transformation, he said, ‘do we gain the strength to fight vigorously the evils of the world in a humble and loving spirit,’ ” Myers said.

Of course, inviting people to that kind of hope can be politically treacherous because it invariably invites a cynical response that says hope is nice and all, but what are your plans?

“While [planning] is an important issue, that isn’t what talk of hope fundamentally does,” Jennings said. “What talk of hope fundamentally does is invite people to look up and look well beyond their current circumstances, beyond what seems to be possible or plausible, and to imagine that there is a power in the universe that is working to make something new possible.”

No matter how you parse it, that is a leap of faith.

And the Bible says, as Obama well knows, faith is the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not yet seen.

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi has died

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a guru to the Beatles who introduced the West to transcendental meditation, died Tuesday at his home in the Dutch town of Vlodrop, a spokesman said. He was thought to be 91 years old.

“He died peacefully at about 7 p.m.,” said Bob Roth, a spokesman for the Transcendental Meditation movement that the Maharishi founded. He said his death appeared to be due to “natural causes, his age.”

Once dismissed as hippie mysticism, the Hindu practice of mind control that Maharishi taught, called transcendental meditation, gradually gained medical respectability.

He began teaching TM in 1955 and brought the technique to the United States in 1959. But the movement really took off after the Beatles visited his ashram in India in 1968, although he had a famous falling out with the rock stars when he discovered them using drugs at his Himalayan retreat.

With the help of celebrity endorsements, Maharishi — a Hindi-language title for Great Seer — parlayed his interpretations of ancient scripture into a multi-million-dollar global empire.

After 50 years of teaching, Maharishi turned to larger themes, with grand designs to harness the power of group meditation to create world peace and to mobilize his devotees to banish poverty from the earth.

Maharishi’s roster of famous meditators ran from The Rolling Stones to Clint Eastwood and new age preacher Deepak Chopra.

Director David Lynch, creator of dark and violent films, lectured at college campuses about the “ocean of tranquility” he found in more than 30 years of practicing transcendental meditation.

Some 5 million people devoted 20 minutes every morning and evening reciting a simple sound, or mantra, and delving into their consciousness.

“Don’t fight darkness. Bring the light, and darkness will disappear,” Maharishi said in a 2006 interview, repeating one of his own mantras.

Donations and the $2,500 fee to learn TM financed the construction of Peace Palaces, or meditation centers, in dozens of cities around the world. It paid for hundreds of new schools in India.

In 1971, Maharishi founded a university in Fairfield, Iowa, that taught meditation alongside the arts and sciences to 700 students and served organic vegetarian food in its cafeterias.

Supporters pointed to hundreds of scientific studies showing that meditation reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, improves concentration and raises results for students and businessmen.

Skeptics ridiculed his plan to raise $10 trillion to end poverty by sponsoring organic farming in the world’s poorest countries. They scoffed at his notion that meditation groups, acting like psychic shock troops, can end conflict.

“To resolve problems through negotiation is a very childish approach,” he said.
FOR THE FULL STORY (ASSOCIATED PRESS) CLICK HERE

Five years or so ago, I spent a few days in Fairfield and Vedic City, Iowa – the TM capital of the United States. It was a trip, in every sense of the word.

You can read my dispatches from Vedic City HERE

Grateful Dead for Obama

OK, this is just too cool. Bobby, Mickey and Phil held a press conference and concert in San Francisco Monday to rally support for Barack Obama’s presidential run.

REUTERS reports:

Saying Barack Obama embodies political hope absent since Robert Kennedy was slain 40 years ago, three surviving members of the Grateful Dead rock band reunited on Monday for the first time in four years to back the presidential candidate.

“Every few generations a guy like this comes along,” drummer Mickey Hart told a news conference a day before California’s primary, in which Obama, a senator from Illinois, faces New York Sen. Hillary Clinton. “It seems like desperate times and we’re desperate people.”

The counter-culture band, known for its loyal “Deadhead” fans, broke up in 1995 after the death of its leader, guitarist Jerry Garcia. They have since played together occasionally, most recently in 2004.

At a San Francisco concert in front of 2,400 fans, singer-guitarist Bob Weir, 60, said the band had never before, performed on behalf of a presidential candidate, although they have often embraced liberal social causes.

“The last time hope was in the air, it was ended by a bullet,” Weir said, referring to Kennedy, who was assassinated on the night he won the California Democratic primary in 1968. “We’ve been reluctant to do political events all along.”

Bassist Phil Lesh, 67, said he met Obama, who told him he has some Grateful Dead songs on his iPod music player, last year.

he concert started with a short video from Obama, filmed on an airplane, thanking the band. A thick cloud of marijuana smoke wafted through the air then and throughout the concert, and some fans engaged in free-style dance as though magically transported from 1968.

Obama’s dapper, clean-cut image contrasted with the tied-dyed shirts and long, shaggy hair of fans who lined up for hours to attend the “Deadheads for Obama ’08” event.

“Long live the Dead!” said Ron Svetlik, 51, who said he had attended more than 200 Grateful Dead concerts, starting in 1974.

The home builder said he had already voted by mail for the Green Party candidate, but added: “If I had to cast a write-in ballot, I’d put Jerry Garcia.”

The three band members neither promised more concerts nor ruled them out. “It’s a lot like family,” Weir said, referring to complicated relationships dating back more than 40 years. “What we have is thicker than blood.”

Here are the boys, urging Deadheads and everyone else to get out the vote on Super Tuesday:

BTW, they played an acoustic version of”Ripple.”
(Sob.) How appropriate.

For posterity, here are the words:

“Ripple”

If my words did glow with the gold of sunshine
And my tunes were played on the harp unstrung,
Would you hear my voice come through the music,
Would you hold it near as it were your own?

It’s a hand-me-down, the thoughts are broken,
Perhaps they’re better left unsung.
I don’t know, don’t really care
Let there be songs to fill the air.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

Reach out your hand if your cup be empty,
If your cup is full may it be again,
Let it be known there is a fountain,
That was not made by the hands of men.

There is a road, no simple highway,
Between the dawn and the dark of night,
And if you go no one may follow,
That path is for your steps alone.

Ripple in still water,
When there is no pebble tossed,
Nor wind to blow.

You who choose to lead must follow,
But if you fall you fall alone,
If you should stand then who’s to guide you?
If I knew the way I would take you home.

(Somewhere nearer than we know, Jerry’s gotta be smiling.)

More Obama endorsements: YAYS!

GARRISON KEILLOR ENDORSES OBAMA

Garrison Keillor, host of public radio’s “A Prairie Home Companion,” has endorsed Democratic Sen. Barack Obama for president, Obama’s campaign announced Sunday.

“I’m happy to support your candidacy, which is so full of promise for our country,” the best-selling author and humorist wrote in a letter declaring his support. “Seven years of a failed presidency is a depressing thing, and the country is pressing for a change and looking for someone with clear vision who is determined to break through the rhetorical logjam and find sensible ways to move our country forward. That’s you, friend.”

Obama’s campaign provided excerpts of the letter; Minnesota holds its caucuses on Super Tuesday.

In the letter, Keillor, whose books are set in the fictional town of Lake Wobegon, said seeing Obama and his family in front of the U.S. Capitol next January is a happy prospect that would “bring an end to a long sour chapter in our history.”

“And of course it will be exciting to have a president who can speak with grace and power to the American people,” Keillor wrote.

Obama addressed a crowd of nearly 20,000 at the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis on Saturday.
FOR THE FULL STORY CLICK HERE

MARIA SHRIVER ENDORSES OBAMA

This has always been a mixed marriage, the union of Republican California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, she of the Democratic Kennedy clan.

But Shriver made it even clearer today, in Los Angeles, where she stood at a campus rally for Sen. Barack Obama to endorse the Democratic candidate for president. Shriver’s husband, the GOP’s own “Terminator,” had already endorsed fellow Republican Sen. John McCain.

“I thought, if Barack Obama were a state, he’d be California,” Shriver told the crowd jamming the rally at the University of California at Los Angeles. “I mean think about it. Diverse. Open. Smart. Independent. Bucks traditiion. Innovative. Inspiring. Dreamer. Leader.”

This, on the heels of singer and songwriter extraordinaire Stevie Wonder’s testament to Obama. Standing alongside Obama’s wife, after a long and emotional warmup of the crowd by televisioon’s Oprah Winfrey, Wonder led the crowd in a little a capella chorus of Obama’s name.

Wonder had sung at a closed-door fundraiser for Obama, but this was a very public appearance: “I now say yes to someone who I think can bring us togeith the singer,” Wonder said.
TO READ MORE FROM THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE’S “THE SWAMP” BLOG, CLICK HERE


TODAY IN GOD:
RELIGION NEWS BITES FOR YOUR SNACKING PLEASURE

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s baaaaaa-aaaaaaaack!
After a months-long absence while GG completed the book manuscript for Sin Boldly, our mostly-daily religion-and-spirituality news blog is back. Please for to enjoy …

Clinton, Obama found faith in the Land of Lincoln

The Democratic presidential race is down to two senators with roots in the state of Illinois. And although Barack Obama wasn’t born in the state, it was in the land of Lincoln that both he and Hillary Clinton found their connection to faith.

Obama found religion in his mid-20s, after moving to Chicago in the 1980s. As a community organizer in the city’s depressed south side, Obama began attending services at Trinity United Church of Christ, a black “mega-church” that stresses black self-reliance and community service. The title of Obama’s recent best-seller, The Audacity of Hope, comes from a sermon given by that church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.

Melissa Harris-Lacewell, an associate professor of politics and African-American studies at Princeton University, worshipped with Obama and his family when she lived in Chicago. Harris-Lacewell says the church’s message drew people to the faith.

“I suspect that it was exactly that message, that ‘You are good enough, God loves you, and if you want to demonstrate your love back to God, your responsibility is to your fellow men and women’ — that was the attractive thing that finally led Barack Obama to actually join a church,” she says.

In the predominantly white suburb of Park Ridge, to Chicago’s northwest, Clinton grew up as an active member of the city’s First United Methodist Church.

“She is one of the most committed Christians I know,” said Rev. Don Jones, who served as the church’s youth pastor when Clinton attended in the 1960s.

FOR THE FULL STORY WITH AUDIO (WEEKEND EDITION AT NPR.COM) CLICK HERE

Some non-Christians feel left out of election
DALLAS — In a U.S. election campaign where presidential candidates from both major parties have talked openly about their Christian faith, some non-Christians feel shut out or turned off.

Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, religion plays a big and sometimes decisive role in politics in America, where levels of belief and regular worship are far higher than those in Europe.

“Non-Christians are concerned that they will be excluded from the process,” said Ahmed Rehab, a spokesman with the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“I welcome faith values if they inspire candidates to do good things. But I worry if it is used as a litmus test to include someone in political participation.”

About 75 percent of the U.S. population, long a melting pot of immigrants from around the world, identifies itself as Christian, according to several estimates.

That is a huge but divergent source of potential votes for Republican and Democratic candidates in their long contest for the nomination to run for the White House in the November election.

U.S. politicians are not shy of talking about their religion and regularly appear in church.

In recent decades, part of the American political drama has been scripted by the “religious right” — mostly white evangelical Protestants united by strong opposition to abortion and gay marriage who have been a key base of support for the Republican Party.

Republican hopeful Mike Huckabee, who scooped up strong evangelical support but whose campaign is fading ahead of next Tuesday’s nominating contests across the country, is a Baptist preacher who peppers his speeches with Biblical allusions.

Mitt Romney is a Mormon who was moved to address questions about his faith in a speech in December. John McCain has long sought to smooth relations after including leaders of the religious right among those he called “agents of intolerance” during his failed presidential bid in 2000.

The leading Democratic presidential contenders have also been open and candid about their faith.

That faith, and that of the Republican candidates, is Christian, although candidates have also spoken about the need for religious tolerance.

A false rumor that has circulated on the Internet about Democratic candidate Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan, is that he is Muslim who has lied about his religion. The rumor appears to illustrate the importance some voters attach to a candidate being Christian.

FOR THE FULL STORY (REUTERS) CLICK HERE

Evangelical Democrats, Exit Polls and a Matter of Balance
If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? If a born-again Christian votes in a Democratic primary and no exit poll records it, does it matter?

If you want to know what percentage of voters in the Republican caucuses and primaries described themselves as born-again or evangelical Christians — and whom they voted for — exit polls will tell you. If you want to know what percentage of voters in the Democratic caucuses and primaries consider themselves born-again or evangelical Christians, well, sorry. No one knows.

No one knows because the exit polls did not ask.

Let’s be clear. Exit polls cannot ask about everything. The questionnaires handed voters hurrying away from polling places cannot be any longer than two sides of a single sheet of paper. Pollsters have to make choices. And representatives of ABC News, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, NBC News and The Associated Press, who have formed the National Election Pool that has conducted state and national exit polls since 2003, have good reason to be tight-lipped about what goes into making those choices.

Still, it has not gone unnoticed that in five states, voters in Republican contests were asked their religious affiliation, and in four states they were asked how frequently they attended religious services. Voters in Democratic contests were asked those questions in only three states.

In four states, voters for Republican candidates were asked how much it mattered that a candidate shared their religious beliefs. Nowhere was that question put to voters for Democratic candidates.

And most notably, in every state voters in Republican caucuses and primaries were asked if they were born-again or evangelical Christians. Voters in Democratic caucuses and primaries were never asked.

FOR THE FULL STORY (PETER STEINFELS’ “BELIEFS” COLUMN IN THE NYT) CLICK HERE

NFL Pulls Plug On Big-Screen Church Parties For Super Bowl
For years, as many as 200 members of Immanuel Bible Church and their friends have gathered in the church’s fellowship hall to watch the Super Bowl on its six-foot screen. The party featured hard hitting on the TV, plenty of food — and prayer.

But this year, Immanuel’s Super Bowl party is no more. After a crackdown by the National Football League on big-screen Super Bowl gatherings by churches, the Springfield church has sacked its event. Instead, church members will host parties in their homes.

Immanuel is among a number of churches in the Washington area and elsewhere that have been forced to use a new playbook to satisfy the NFL, which said that airing games at churches on large-screen TV sets violates the NFL copyright.

Ministers are not happy.

“There is a part of me that says, ‘Gee, doesn’t the NFL have enough money already?'” said Steve Holley, Immanuel’s executive pastor. He pointed out that bars are still allowed to air the game on big-screens TV sets. “It just doesn’t make sense.”

The Super Bowl, the most secular of American holidays, has long been popular among churches. With parties, prayer and Christian DVDs replacing the occasionally racy halftime shows, churches use the event as a way to reach members, and potential new members, in a non-churchlike atmosphere.

“It takes people who are not coming frequently, or who have fallen away, and shows them that the church can still have some fun,” said the Rev. Thomas Omholt, senior pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in the District. Omholt has hosted a Super Bowl party for young adults in his home for 20 years. “We can be a little less formal.”

The NFL said, however, that the copyright law on its games is long-standing and the language read at the end of each game is well known: “This telecast is copyrighted by the NFL for the private use of our audience. Any other use of this telecast or any pictures, descriptions, or accounts of the game without the NFL’s consent is prohibited.”

FOR THE FULL STORY (WASHINGTON POST) CLICK HERE

Needing a Hail Mary, Fans Find a Monastery
PHOENIX — There is no sauna, no heated pool, no chauffeur or sommelier. In fact, no alcohol is allowed on the premises, and guests share a bathroom with their next-door neighbor.

But for $250 a night in a city where Super Bowl rentals are topping out at $250,000 a week for a mansion in Scottsdale, the sisters at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery figure they have an offer that cannot be beat.

In debt from the recent purchase of a nearby parcel, the Benedictine nuns are hoping to make a dent in their mortgage by converting their 10-bedroom spiritual retreat into a crash pad for Super Bowl fans this weekend.

“A Super Bowl doesn’t happen in a city very often,” said Sister Linda Campbell, the prioress of the monastery where rooms usually go for $105 a night. “Then we heard of all the folks that were renting out homes and we thought, wow, that would be something that would be beneficial to the monastery and help us to help others.”

With 125,000 fans expected to arrive from out of town this weekend, even midlevel hotels are charging more than $500 a night for rooms. A Hampton Inn, for example, is sold out for the weekend at prices up to $799 a night. Not far away, a Residence Inn by Marriott on Wednesday still had a two-bedroom suite available for $999 a night.

With its posters of Mother Teresa, vinyl tablecloths and second-hand furniture, the monastery’s offerings do not match up to some of the Super Bowl packages that nearby hotels and resorts are offering, with free cocktail hours, personal concierge service and sometimes even a meet-and-greet with N.F.L. players. Though there is no curfew at the monastery, some Super Bowl visitors may be dismayed to learn that along with the ban on alcohol (forget about keg stands or late-night drinking games), overnight guests cannot smoke.

Guests at the monastery will sleep in single beds in rooms named after Saints Hildegard, Helen, Monica and Ann. Most of the rooms sleep three people, and there is no telephone or television in the rooms.

FOR THE FULL STORY (NEW YORK TIMES) CLICK HERE

Church airs ads targeting scientists

Hoping to mend a millennium-old feud between religion and science, the United Church of Christ launched a new web-based advertising campaign geared toward the scientific and technological communities. The UCC purchased ads on more than 30 popular science-oriented blogs during February to promote a pro-science, pro-faith message, UCC News Service reported Tuesday.

The campaign is part of the UCC’s “God is still speaking” identity effort, a multi-million-dollar initiative that included national TV, radio, web and print advertising. The web-based ads will link to an expanded “faith and science” section on the UCC’s website dubbed “not mutually-exclusive” and direct visitors to UCC congregations.

The UCC also is hosting a sermon-writing contest on science and technology for pastors and seminarians, with two $500 top prizes, and the denomination is asking local churches to honor persons working in science-related professions during worship services on Sunday, May 18.

“A New Voice Arising: A Pastoral Letter on Faith Engaging Science and Technology,” as well as information about the UCC’s science-related advertising effort, is available at ucc.org/not-mutually-exclusive.

SOURCE: UPI VIA RELIGIONANSPIRITUALITY.COM

Work starts on Hindu cow centre

Building work is to start on a cow and working oxen protection centre at a Hertfordshire Hindu temple.

The unit at the Bhaktivedanta Manor temple near Watford will be dedicated to Gangotri, a 13-year-old cow put down by lethal injection by RSPCA officers.

This act sparked outrage and a campaign to change the UK law on animal cruelty.

A temple spokesman said Hindus regard cows as sacred and should be exempted from cruelty laws, but the RSPCA challenges the campaign for change.

The RSPCA said the cow had been sick and was suffering.

The spokesman for the Hare Krishna temple said that some suffering was part of life and it was a outrage to kill the animal on ground the Hindus regarded as sacred.

“Followers of religions such as Islam and Judaism have immunity from the laws because their animals are killed for religious food.

“Hindus try to preserve life and are vegetarian. We want the same treatment to allow our cows and oxen to die naturally.

“Our new protection centre is designed to care for the animals from birth to death.”

FOR THE FULL STORY (BBC NEWS) CLICK HERE

Should a Clubhouse Be a Chapel?
The highlight of Josh Miller’s eight-year minor league umpiring career came last June, when he was the plate umpire in Roger Clemens’s final warm-up start before he resumed his major league career with the Yankees.

The lowlight of Miller’s career — besides being released at the end of last season, that is — was the discomfort he experienced throughout his career over participating in baseball chapel services every Sunday morning.

“From Day 1 it was uncomfortable,” Miller, 31, said. “I was in extended spring training, and on Sunday there was a knock on the door. I thought it was a joke. This guy was coming to preach to us in our little locker room. He had two little handouts that said Baseball Chapel and prayer of the week.”

Baseball Chapel, an evangelical group, has existed for 35 years and supplies Sunday morning chapel leaders to all major and minor league teams. “Our purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ!” its Web site, baseballchapel.org, proclaims.

“They preach to you,” Miller said in a telephone interview. “Some are more overbearing than others. At the end they ask if you have anything ‘you want me to pray for.’ The other guys would say ‘our families, safe travel.’ I’d say nothing. Then they would pray. It was very uncomfortable. They’d say Jesus this and Jesus that. At the end they’d say ‘in Jesus’ name.’ ”

In chapel services for the teams, players have the option of attending or not. Umpires may not realistically have that option.

“The players go to a separate room,” Miller said of the chapel services for the team. “For umpires, they always came to our room. They didn’t want to mix players with umpires even though they often mix the teams.”

The Sunday routine left Jewish umpires, like Miller, in a difficult position. With the umpires’ locker room as a setting for Christian prayer, they could not avoid it.

FOR THE FULL STORY (MURRAY CHASS’ “ON BASEBALL” COLUMN IN NYT) CLICK HERE

Muslim woman sues hairdresser for job descrimination
A Muslim woman suing an Islington hairdresser for religious discrimination says she has received hate mail and has more than doubled her compensation claim.

Bushra Noah, 19, took legal action against salon owner Sarah Desrosiers after she was turned down for a job at Wedge, in Caledonian Road, because of her Muslim headscarf.

Miss Desrosiers, 32, turned the teenager down following a trial day last March saying it was a basic job requirement that customers be able to see her stylists’ hair.

An employment tribunal was due to start on January 16 but was postponed at the last minute when Miss Noah upped her compensation claim from £15,000 to £35,000 in damages.

Miss Noah claims she has received hate mail because of the high profile press coverage the case has attracted.

Miss Desrosiers said: “I found out she’s claiming that she’s got hate mail as a result of the publicity. That’s beyond my control.”

Canadian-born Miss Desrosiers faces financial ruin if she loses but says she does not regret her decision.

FOR THE FULL STORY (ISLINGTON [U.K.] GAZETTE) CLICK HERE

Chicago Sun-Times endorses Obama

Some of the best bits:

We like that this man of faith believes in something bigger than himself. He told the Sun-Times that he believes all people — Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists — know the same God.

“I am a Christian,” he told us. “I have a deep faith. I believe that there are many paths to the same place.”

He speaks powerfully of his faith and manages not to alienate nonbelievers. This man can get both votes.

Quite some trick.

Obama’s worldview is shaped by his multicultural upbringing. He was born in Hawaii in 1961 to a white mother from a Protestant family and a black father from Kenya. He grew up in Indonesia. This global heritage can go a long way toward repairing our image abroad, particularly in dealing with Islamic terrorism and national safety.

America would instantly gain credibility on the global stage, and that’s huge. Even a right-wing thinker like Andrew Sullivan put it this way:

“It’s November 2008. A young Pakistani Muslim is watching television and sees that this man — Barack Hussein Obama — is the new face of America. In one simple image, America’s soft power has been ratcheted up not a notch, but a logarithm . . . a brown-skinned man whose father was an African . . . who attended a majority-Muslim school, is now the alleged enemy. If you wanted the crudest but most effective weapon against the demonization of America that fuels Islamist ideology, Obama’s face gets close. It proves them wrong about what America is in ways no words can.”

Click HERE to read the entire Sun-Times endorsement editorial.

Click HERE to read the Chicago Tribune‘s endorsement of Obama from Sunday, Jan. 27.