Oprah Interview Stirs Debate: What is an Atheist?

Long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad. Photo courtesy Debby Wong / RNS

What was supposed to be a touchy-feely, one-on-one interview by Oprah Winfrey with long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad has morphed into a broader, sometimes angry exchange about what it means to be an atheist.

Earlier this month Winfrey, 59, hosted Nyad on “Super Soul Sunday,” her weekly talk program on cable’s Oprah Winfrey Network. Nyad, 64, recently completed a 53-hour solo swim from Cuba to Florida.

During the hourlong segment, Nyad declared herself an atheist. 

Faithful Filibuster: Christian Leaders Read Scripture, Exhort Congress to Care

Photo by Brandon Hook for Sojourners

 Under a cloudy and drizzly sky, across the street from the U.S. Capitol, David Beckmann read passages from the prophet Isaiah.

“Comfort, comfort my people, says your God,” read Beckmann,  president of Bread for the World and one of several Protestant and Catholic leaders who gathered Wednesday to launch  “Faithful Filibuster.”

The effort is intended to remind members of Congress that the government shutdown is hurting poor and vulnerable people.

Malcolm Gladwell on His Return to Faith While Writing 'David and Goliath'

Malcolm Gladwell speaks at PopTech! 2008 conference. Photo via RNS/courtesy Kris Krüg via Wikimedia Commons

Author Malcolm Gladwell may not be known for writing on religion. His New York Times best-selling books “The Tipping Point,” “Outliers,” “Blink” and “What the Dog Saw” deal with the unexpected twists in social science research. But his newest book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants,” also includes underlying faith-related themes, and not just in the title.

Gladwell said that while researching the book, he began rediscovering his own faith after having drifted away. Here, he speaks with RNS about his Mennonite family, how Jesus perfectly illustrates the point in his new book and how Gladwell’s return to faith changed the way he wrote the book. 

Water Initiatives Get Congregations to Pledge to Conserve

Children from Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., under the sign for Spalsh! Kid's Camp. Photo via RNS/courtesy Betsy LaVela

At an interfaith summer camp in northern New Jersey, two dozen children explored a swamp to learn how creatures depend on safe water.

In Southern California, a Unitarian Universalist congregation installed a dry well so water from its church rooftops drains into underground pipes to replenish the water table.

In Vermont, members of a Lutheran church removed cars and appliances that had been dumped in a nearby stream and restored its banks with local willows and oaks.

Across the country, water has become more than a ritual element used in Christian baptismal rites or in Jewish and Muslim cleansing ceremonies. It has become a focus for worshippers seeking to go beyond water’s ritual symbolism and think more deeply about their relationship to this life-giving resource.

The Hidden Immigration Impact on American Churches

Pastor Rick Behrens during a bilingual service at Grandview Park Presbyterian Church in Kansas City, Kan. RNS photo:Sally Morrow

As Congress makes a final attempt this fall to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the debate is focusing on “securing” our borders and offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million residents here without proper documentation. These politicized arguments, however, don’t see the forest for the trees.

We’re not viewing the broader impact that immigration has had on American society, especially since the last major immigration reform of the 1960s. In particular, we’re missing the way immigration is transforming the religious life of North America.

We commonly view immigration as introducing large numbers of non-Christian religions into U.S. society. True, because of immigration in the last half century, America has become the most religiously diverse country in the world, with thousands of mosques and temples dotting our religious landscape.

Our Obsession With Violence and the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear

Typewriter, sematadesign /

Typewriter, sematadesign /

Upon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence, and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit, or video game. Violence, death, and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People. It is as though there is a stranglehold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite. And in the times I've followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the Gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence, and death.

10 Things You Can't Do While Following Jesus

Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign /

Footsteps in the sand, hpbdesign /

Lots of people claim to be “following Jesus” and then they do stuff like this. Sure, people who follow Jesus do these things all the time, but you can't say you are doing them because you are trying to follow Jesus' example.

(Clearly, this is not a complete list but it's a good place to start).

10) Exclude people because they practice another religion.

Jesus was constantly including people, and he did it with a radical disregard for their religion. We do not have a single recorded incident of Jesus asking for a person's religious affiliation before being willing to speak with them or break bread with them. We do have several records of Jesus seeking out those who happen to practice faith differently from him. There was even this one time when he used a hated Samaritan as an example of how we are supposed to take care of each other.

Lifetree Cafes Offer Space for Tough Topics

Axel Lauer/Shutterstock.

Avenue of blossoming trees. Axel Lauer/Shutterstock.

On a recent Monday evening, a room inside Christ Community Church was transformed into a coffeehouse with fresh-brewed coffee, plenty of popped kettle corn and the thorny subject of racism on the table.

For an hour, about 20 people gathered around tables, shared personal experiences about racism, watched a short documentary and answered questions meant to stimulate conversation.

The event is called Lifetree Cafe, and it’s a new evangelical tool gaining popularity with churches reaching out to potential members.

Is Religious Freedom At Risk in U.S.?

RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

Amardeep Singh (l), Rev. Eugene Rivers, Shaykha Reima Yosif at religious freedom conference. RNS photo by Lauren Markoe

In a conference full of people who champion traditional religious values, Amardeep Singh knew that everyone might not appreciate his recounting of the “uncomfortable” cab ride he had taken the previous day.

Singh, a featured speaker at the second annual National Religious Freedom Conference in Washington on Thursday, told the several hundred attendees that his D.C. taxi driver had the radio tuned to a religiously minded commentator, who was explaining that women become lesbians because they had been abused.

His cab story — both his telling and the reaction to it — reveals fault lines in the coalition of Americans concerned that government and popular culture are eroding religious freedom and trying to banish religion from the public sphere.

Left Behind: Families Struggle to Navigate Life After Suicide

Photo by Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune

Ken and Lyn McGuire with a dragonfly lamp in their Draper, Utah home. Photo by Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune

DRAPER, Utah — As young brothers, Kris, and Kourt McGuire often spent hours chasing the shimmering dragonflies that floated above a lush, green pasture behind their house.

One day, when their mom told them to come inside to clean their room, they silently obeyed — or so she thought. After a time, she went to check on the two youngest of her four sons. She found their bedroom alive with dragonflies, which they had tied with strings hung from the ceiling.

She smiled, and they all broke into laughter.

It’s one of Lyn McGuire’s favorite recollections of the two boys — a memory that predates the heartache of losing them both.

Kris died at age 8 in 1986, when a car hit him on the way to school. Kourt died about 10 years later, at age 17, killing himself amid depression and the still-stinging absence of his older brother.