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It's the Comedy, Stupid.
Over the weekend, Newt Gingrich decided to wade into a minor cultural skirmish by claiming that the new ABC dramedy GCB is an attack on faith fueled by anti-Christian bias.
As Gingrich is, from my perspective at least, prone to flights of intellectual fancy, I was at first prone to roll my eyes and ignore his latest sojourn into the ridiculous. But upon further reflection, I thought it merited a response because his notion that a satire could be the latest cannon fodder in the alleged war on religion (which usually means “war on Christianity” to those who invoke it) speaks to a larger cultural conundrum: Christians and our sense of humor (or, rather, the lack thereof.)
U2's Joshua Tree: 25 Years In God's Country
Dream beneath the desert sky
The rivers run, but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight
~ from "In God's Country" by U2
On March 9, 1987, U2 released The Joshua Tree, its fifth studio album and one that would catapult the Irish rock quartet from popularity to international superstardom.
Twenty-five years later, today The Joshua Tree is one of the most bestselling albums in history — with more than 25 million copies sold — and is considered to be among the best rock albums of all time.
Its spiritual and socio-political heft has, for me at least, only grown more powerful over the years. As I listened to it again today, the soul-shaking music and lyrics sounded even fresher in our current nervous times than they did to my teenage ears in the twilight of the Reagan era.
Doing Nothing for Lent
Last week, I spent a couple of days listening to Eugene Peterson share stories and precious wisdom from his 80 years on this little blue planet.
It was a blessing of unparalleled riches to sit at Peterson’s feet (literally — I was in the front row and he was on a stage that put me at eye level with his black tassel loafers) and learn.
For the uninitiated, Peterson is a retired Presbyterian pastor and prolific author perhaps best known for The Message, his para-translation of the Bible and titles such as Practice Resurrection and A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.
A native of Western Montana, Peterson and his wife of more than 50 years, Jan, returned to Big Sky Country several years ago to the home his father built on the shores of Flathead Lake when Eugene was a child.
Undoubtedly, it will take me many months — or years — to digest all that Peterson shared with a smallish group of youngish Christian leaders at the Q Practices gathering in New York City. But I can say what struck me most indelibly is how at ease — content, yes, but more than that — Peterson is in his own skin. Fully present. Mellow but absolutely alert, energized, fascinated by the world and the people around him.
Relaxed — that’s it.
'Purim Drunk': L'Chaim!
When is it appropriate — nay, even encouraged, both socially and spiritually — to turn up at your house of worship in full costume, make a boisterous racket, and proceed to get drunk as a lord?
Well, if you're a Christian (or a Muslim or a Buddhist) the answer is never.
But if you're Jewish, it's Purim!
Lost in Translation: Eugene Peterson and His 'Message'
Eugene Peterson has written more than 30 books on theology and the life of faith in his 80 years, but he is perhaps best known for the one book he didn’t write: The Bible.
Peterson’s “para-translation” of the Bible, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, was published over a span of nine years, from 1993 to 2002. And even a decade after its completion, critics still are debating the merits and missteps of his translation of Holy Writ into idiomatic, sometimes colloquial, modern English. To date there are more than 15 million copies of The Message in print.
During the two-day Q Practices gathering in New York City this week, Peterson talked about the epic translation project he says he still can’t believe he actually managed to complete.
“I didn’t feel it was anything special when I was doing it,” Peterson said. “I can’t believe I did this. Reading it now I think, ‘How did I do this?’ It truly was a work of the Holy Spirit.”
Eugene Peterson: The Pastor on Preaching, Women Clergy
NEW YORK CITY — Today and Wednesday, I have the privilege of attending a private gathering here in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan with Eugene Peterson, the 80-year-old theologian and prolific author best known for his para-translation of the Bible, The Message.
The two-day event, Q Practices, is part-retreat, part-seminar on the theme of how we might cultivate our inner lives in an age of epic distractions.
I'll be reporting more fully later, but wanted to share with you a few gems from Peterson, who recently published a marvelous memoir titled, simply, The Pastor, from this morning's sessions.
Peterson, who is a Presbyterian minister (now retired from the pastorate after 30 years), grew up in Montana in the Pentecostal Christian tradition. His mother, in fact, was a preacher who later founded and pastored her own church.
TRANSCRIPT: Barack Obama and The God Factor Interview
Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.
We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.
Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on God’s Politics.
~ Cathleen Falsani
Just Say It: Be God's Love, Grace and Mercy Today
"You and I have the power to change someone’s day. And so I am going to challenge you, on this Valentine’s Day, to not only tell family members you love them, but also others whom you care for.
"In a world where people are beat up and put down, God gives us the ability to completely turn negativity, criticism and rude opinions around. “Encourage one another and build each other up,” says 1 Thessalonians 5;11. That is one of the most significant verses in all the Bible because when we do this it sets off a chain reaction of blessing.” You become the voice of God’s mercy and grace in the lives of others."
Chocolate in the Baptismal Font: Things that Happen When Women Are Ordained
The Vicar of Dibley's Mother Geraldine is one of my all-time favorite television characters. Apart from her various entertaining antics, she also has a beautiful pastoral touch and way of communicating the grace and mercy of the gospel with honesty, passion and great humor — not unlike many of the women clergy I am blessed to know and have known over the years.
While women clergy are a given part of the life of the church for many of us, their presence in the Great Conversation remains a point of contention and controversy for not a few of our brothers and sisters in Christ. I was reminded of this Monday while reading the latest blog entry from our God's Politics contributor Nadia Bolz-Weber, pastor of the House for All Saints and Sinners church in Denver.
On Sunday, Nadia, an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Churchin America, received an email inquiry from a friend of a friend informing her of some less-than-love coming her way from her more conservative cousins in the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) who are aghast at something that went down at House for All's post-Easter Vigil party a while back.
As part of their celebration of Jesus' resurrection, House for All's Easter party included a three-tiered chocolate fountain set up in the church's baptismal font.
Whenever Two or More Are Gathered...Online
“There is no distance in the Spirit.”
After 30 years as a believer, I experienced the truth of that statement — powerfully and indelibly — in an unlikely place: online.
Like so many of more than 500 million (and growing) members, I signed up for Facebook, the social networking site, a few years ago out of pure curiosity -- to check in with old friends, boyfriends and former colleagues from a safe distance. With its plethora of personal photos, videos and regular “status updates” from members, it was a voyeuristic paradise, not to mention an excellent place to kill time.
I am by vocation a journalist, author and blogger and had grown accustomed to sharing glimpses of my life in print and online. Facebook was just another venue to do that, but little more.
That is, until early one morning in April 2008 when I signed on to my account, wiping sleep from my eyes with coffee in hand, and noticed the status update of a friend from college: “David is really sad that Mark died today.”
Afternoon Links of Awesomeness: Feb. 8, 2012
The Fray's Isaac Slade on life lessons from the president of Rwanda and Bono, who turns up in Timbuktu singing in French. (Really. We have video.)Who's your favorite on-screen Jesus? Why one author thinks the CCM should change it's name to "Caucasian Christian Music." Vintage Steve Carell. New The Lorax. A Supreme Court justice on Sesame Street. Madonna kicks off her world tour in Tel Aviv. (Natch.) And the First Lady kicks Jimmy Fallon's tush in a potato sack race.
U.N. World Interfaith Harmony Week: Gracespotting
Editor's Note: At the beginning of February, the United Nation celebrates World Interfaith Harmony Week. To mark the occasion the Tony Blair Faith Foundation asked people to share their stories of finding friendship and connection with someone of a different faith tradition. This is my story.
When it came time to read from the Torah — handwritten scrolls containing the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures that are kept in a special ark in every synagogue — something happened I’d never seen or experienced before. The Torah scrolls, which are kept in a blue velvet cover with gold embroidery, were taken down and passed to the congregation. I’d seen men in synagogue hold the scrolls, but I’d never seen them passed this way, from person to person, like the collection basket or the little trays of wine or bread in some of the churches I’d attended over the years.
I’m not Jewish, and in that little gathering of a dozen or so people, I think everyone there knew it. Still, when the scrolls got to me, the woman next to me, without a moment’s hesitation, placed them gently in my arms, like a newborn baby.
I’ve yet to conjure up the words to describe how that moment of inclusion felt. Sacred, yes. Grace-filled, absolutely. But also ancient — tying me to a whole history of a people whom I’d never before thought of as “mine.”
But they are. The Sechers are. The other people at the Bozeman synagogue were. The strangers at the supermarket where we bought matzo and wine were. The people who are reading these words are.
No. Tim Tebow Will Not Show You His Underpants.
~ I Sam 16:7 (NRSV)
Now, this may come as a great disappointment to a few Tim Tebow fans out there, but apparently the star quarterback of the Denver Broncos will not, we repeat, will NOT be stripping down to his skivvies for one of those famous (or infamous, depending on your tastes) Jockey undewear ads.
Tebow is the new spokesman for Jockey. But unlike '70s baseball heartthrob Jim Palmer (the relatively hirsute gentleman in the white Jockey briefs to your right) or soccer god (and father of four) David Beckham in his smoldering Emporio Armani undergarment spreads, the quarterback known as much for his Christian faith as his agility on the grid iron will not be posing in his underwear for the, well, underwear company.
Happy 103rd Birthday, George Beverly Shea!
This week, George Beverly Shea, Gospel Music legend and longtime musical companion of Dr. Billy Graham on his many revival meetings around the world, celebrated his 103rd birthday!
A native of Canada, Shea, who now lives in Montreat, N.C., not far from that whipper-snapper Graham (who turned 93 just recently), is still going strong.
“Karlene and I rejoice in the Lord’s overwhelming grace to give me 103 years of life!” Shea gushed on Monday (his actual birthday) according to the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's website.
When Actions Speak Louder than Words: Bill and Melinda Gates
"‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.'"
~ Matthew 5:21 (NRSV)
Because it's never too late to say thank you, I didn't want to let the best news I heard out of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland last week go unnoticed or unacknowleged.
Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and his wife, Melinda, announced during the forum that they would inject an additional $750 million into the United Nation's Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a public-private organization founded a decade ago to combat three of the world's most devastating diseases that have claimed millions of lives, particularly among the poorest of the poor in the developing world.
The Gates' new gift joins more than $650 million the couple already has given to the Global Fund since its inception. And their latest gesture of epic generosity couldn't come at a more opportune time, especially after news (a few days before the Gates' announcement at Davos) that the fund's executive director, Michel Kazatchkine, was stepping down from his post early, amidst allegations of misuse of funds and cutbacks in funding.
Waiting to Exhale
The apostle writes his letter to folks who are feeling anxious, worried, insecure, and unsettled. They don’t know what the future holds for their lives, the church, their well-being, their community. Sound familiar?
Mother Dolores Hart: God is Bigger than Elvis
During her brief career as star of stage and screen in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Dolores Hart won a Theater World Award, was nominated for a Tony Award and gave Elvis Presley his first on-screen kiss (in the 1957 film Loving You) when she was just 19 years old.
Now 73-year-old Hart — better known for most of the last 40 years as Mother Dolores, Prioress of the Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, Conn. — has a new claim to fame: Oscar nominee.
Last week, God is the Bigger Elvis, a short documentary film about her journey from Hollywood starlet to cloistered Catholic nun, received an Academy Award nomination for best short documentary film.
The Luck of the Irish: Occupy Ireland, The Gift and Punk Economics
Oh, how I love the Irish. Sure, I'm biased, being half a Celt myself with legion cousins still living on the old sod. (Shout out to the Bradys and Caffreys in Ballyjamesduff!)
As a self-confessed Gaelophile, I've been following the various Irish Occupy groups on Facebook for several months now, and they are endlessly entertaining — and interesting. The Occupy movement in the States is, largely at least, missing at least one key component: A sense of humor. The Irish Occupiers seem to understand that you can catch a few more flies with honey — and a good laugh — than you can with angry chants and somber rhetoric.
When I heard about a surprising turn of events at the County Cork occupation last month, I thought, That's brilliant. On Christmas Eve, members of the Occupy movement in the southern city of Cork found a present underneath the Christmas tree in their Peace Park encampment. It was a package containing a letter from "Santy" Claus, which read in part, "Dear people of Cork: Inside is a present, a gift from me to you, from all of us here at the North Pole."
The gift package also held the key to a padlocked, vacant, seven-story office building in the city center, and a list of instructions.
When Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis departed on his three-month sabbatical at the beginning of January, I sent him a list of books, films and music that I thought would nourish his mind and spirit in, perhaps, different ways than the media he normally consumes do.
Jim's sabbatical — a true Sabbath in the literal sense — is designed to be a time of rest and, more importantly, rejuvenation. It will also be a creative time when he will be working on a new book.
Jim is a creative. A writer. A visionary. He regularly digs deep into his heart and soul, breaks himself open and pours out his passion, hope and faith for the edification of others. If creatives aren't diligent, though, we can work ourselves into the ground. Our wells can run dry.
In sending Jim this list of what I like to think of as "soul food," I hoped to inspire his imagination and give him new fuel for the fire, if you will.
Gabby Giffords Says Goodbye to Congress (for Now)
On the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday afternoon, a year and 17 days after she was shot in the head by a would-be assassin's bullet, U.S. Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords tendered her resignation as representative of Arizona's 8th Congressional District.
An unusually emotional scene unfolded in the House chamber, with many members of Congress struggling — and failing — to keep their composure as Gifford's close friend, Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, tearfully read the resignation letter on Gifford's behalf.