Oz movie poster, Courtesy Disney

Oz movie poster, Courtesy Disney

Like the masses, we flocked this past weekend to the megaplex for the opening of another would-be blockbuster, pleased to discover that the much-heralded and sometimes-maligned Oz prequel is even more good and wonderful than it is great and powerful.

Acting, plot, intrigue, color, mystery, and special effects: all these measure-up under the fantastic mastery of director Sam Raimi. But beyond the eye-candy, sensitive audience members might be as mesmerized by the movie’s deeper myth and redemptive meaning as by its cinematic technique.

Of course, if we remember the original movie and its myth, the wizard has issues, for there’s a man behind the curtain who is much more about a confession of subdued humility than a profession of supernatural agility. The prequel takes us back before the main myth — to see the man inside the man behind the myth.

Somewhere in the magical middle of this movie, the not-yet-wizard Oscar Diggs (James Franco) makes his confession: “I'm not the wizard you were expecting, but I may be the wizard you need.” We can apply this maxim everywhere. This truth uncovers the human simplicity of the Oz legend and its relevance to all our longings in realms related to power and spirit.

Adam Ericksen 03-11-2013
Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /

Jesus with Mary Magdalene, Zvonimir Atletic /

Last Friday was International Women’s Day. It was a day of celebrating how far we’ve come, but also a reminder of how far we need to go. 

I’m reminded of an experience I had with a member of my youth group a few years ago. We were volunteering for a social service project. A member of the group happened to be named Eve and we thought it was fun to play up the joke. I’d start greeting people, “Hi! I’m Adam,” and then Eve would chime in, “and I’m Eve!” 

We always received the strangest looks, which, of course, is why we did it. But this time it was different. A man at the service project actually said, 

“Oh. So you’re the one to blame.”

Eve was able to laugh it off and respond with grace, but I was pissed. I instinctively scowled at the man. It was a deep blow to me because, once again, religion was being used to put women down. But this time it was personal. Religion was being used to put down a member of my youth group.

Of course, religion hasn’t always been good to women. Or, maybe it would be better to say that religious men have used religion as a weapon to make women feel inferior. Whenever we blame someone else it’s a sign of our own weakness and insecurities. We don’t have the courage to deal with our own inner turmoil so we blame someone else. This is classic scapegoating and we men have been scapegoating women in this way since the beginning of human history. It’s pathetic. International Women’s Day is a reminder to me that women and men need to work together to end the religious bigotry against women.

My model for this is Jesus, my favorite feminist. [1]

So, in the spirit of International Women’s Day, I offer you the top 4 ways Jesus included women as full members of his posse.

Joseph Bathanti 02-11-2013

Hemorrhaging from the concertina / crown, brass knuckles, scourging, cigarette burns, / lurching the last meter of Golgotha

RNS photo courtesy Karen L. King

A papyrus fragment that may suggest that some early Christians believed Jesus was married. RNS photo courtesy Karen L. King

The Harvard Theological Review is postponing publication of a major article on the papyrus fragment in which Jesus seems to refer to his wife, raising further doubts about a discovery that was set to turn Christian history on its head when it was announced last September.

The article by Harvard Divinity School professor Karen King was scheduled for the review’s January edition. It was expected to provide answers to questions that had been raised about the relic’s authenticity soon after King announced the discovery to select national media and at an international conference of biblical scholars in Rome.

King told CNN, which reported the latest development on Jan. 3, that the article has been delayed because testing on the fragment is not complete.

iofoto / Shutterstock

Portrait of mid-adult male with missing tooth. iofoto / Shutterstock

In As I Lay Dying, the main character Anse appears self-absorbed when at his wife’s death he says, “God’s will be done.  . . . Now I can get them teeth.”  His character will certainly not be remembered for altruism.  But Anse will be remembered for the physical effects of poverty:  feet marred by labor, a spine permanently bent, skin unable to sweat from sunstroke suffered tending the fields, and a mouth without teeth. 

To be clear, poverty itself does not cause dental issues.  A local dentist reminds me, “Ancient skulls have minimal tooth loss.  Rough grains cause more wear.  For the most part rich, processed, sugary, and poorly nutritious foods destroy teeth.” 

Dentistry may feel far removed from Epiphany:  astronomical sighting, magi from the east, and three extravagant gifts. But I wonder, given the knowledge of these precious gifts and their use in that time for dental care, if perhaps that frankincense and myrrh would protect that winsome smile of Christ for the next three decades of his life. With these rich gifts in hand, the trio Mary, Joseph, and Jesus could leave to the safety of Egypt before Herod would threaten the life of Christ and every other young boy under two.

Emily Stone 12-04-2012
Photo: © Pressmaster /

Photo: © Pressmaster /

One of the great debates around Christmastime for Christians is whether to encourage or allow the belief in Santa Claus. I have friends and family on both sides of this debate, so I want to be careful here. I have a great deal of respect for the desire to keep the focus on Jesus and his birth at this time of year. I want to encourage that focus, too.

And, yet, I allow my children … I encourage them even … to believe in Santa.

We — my husband and I — don’t just stop there. We also have elves that visit our house every year during this season. Some would say that at best I am distracting from the message of Christ. At worst I am lying to my children.

The line between fantasy and falsehood is delightfully fuzzy during childhood. God created it to be this way and it is so important for a child to be able to play in this grey area.

Michael D. Bobo 12-03-2012
Simone Martini, Annunciation 1333 C.E.

Simone Martini, Annunciation 1333 C.E.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

The beautiful anonymity and soft innocence of a young girl in Nazareth would be stripped by an angelic visitation. Who could ever envision the global veneration soon to commence? This Holy Virgin of Martini's masterpiece cannot be Mary's vision. The gilded, enthroned Mother of God,  Blessed Virgin, Theotokos, Panagia. Millenia of adoration blurs the humanity of such a terrifying moment in the life of a child.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.

Gabriel's praise for her resounds the Earth this Advent Season. Martini paints the words spouting from Gabriel's mouth, invading Mary's space. Her shoulder shrug speaks to Luke's revelations of her humanity. The Gospel record exposes her vulnerability and reluctance to embrace such a startling event.

Tripp Hudgins 11-12-2012
Ethiopian cross. Photo illustration by Cathleen Falsani.

Ethiopian cross. Photo illustration by Cathleen Falsani.

I cannot
think that you don't
or breathe
or grieve
I will not
think that you don't
or ply
the cosmos
with love
or grace
lost again
I can believe
I can lose you
I can thwart you
I can set you up
I can watch you fall
to die
you breathe
and I
am here seeking
better signs

Jesus writes in the sand with his finger.

Jesus didn’t vote today
Not tomorrow
Not yesterday

Jesus didn’t need the bullet or the ballot box or
The bomb or bayonet or budget
Jesus didn’t vote today

Jesus didn’t authorize drone strikes to kill thousands
Jesus didn’t occupy other countries with standing armies
Jesus was occupied by the Holy Spirit that occupies us even still
Jesus was occupied by the truth of radical love

Jesus was not a feeble, timid, compromised, casual, comfortable, middle-class, 
Or otherwise complacent ap

Ed Spivey Jr. 11-02-2012

Get used to the idea of a married Jesus.

Tripp Hudgins 10-30-2012

How do we find a job? How do we find work? Maybe we shouldn't worry so much...LEAN into what feeds you.

Get out beyond the castle walls. The Kingdom of God is not a castle. It's a kingdom.

Sometimes it is our friends who remind us there is this kingdom and there is this Christ...

And a lot for "The Nones" to chew on here, too.

See the latest Busted Stuff video inside...

Kevin Gonzaga 10-19-2012
Pastor collar, Andrejs Zavadskis /

Pastor collar, Andrejs Zavadskis /

Editor's Note: Kevin Gonzaga tells his story of why he's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

Three years ago when I arrived at seminary to pursue my calling to fulltime pastoral ministry, one would probably have struggled to find someone in my generation more committed to the ministry and vitality of the local church.

While imperfect, I believed the church was the best hope of the world, and it was better to stay and work toward change than abandon the church and look for greener pastures. A year and a half later, I wrote a blog post explaining that I was no longer a Christian. I fear that this would only deepen the stereotype that seminary is a place where people lose their faith, so I should explain. 

The truth is I am one of growing number of people who choose not to affiliate with any organized religion. I am a “none,” and my journey to “none” started a long before I left for seminary. My disillusionment with, and eventual abandonment of, Christianity did not center around one traumatic event that shattered my faith, but rather it was something that coalesced from numerous experiences over a long time. 

It really started when I began studying the scriptures for myself in college. I was shocked to find many things I had been taught by the Church were wrong, were not in the Bible, or were even contrary to what the scriptures actually taught.

Christian Piatt 10-15-2012
Scales of justice, senk /

Scales of justice, senk /

Writing books is a strange process. When you’re in the middle of creating something this big, it tends to consume your every waking moment in some way. I can’t watch TV or have a conversation with a neighbor without my mind searching the content for narrative or thematic threads to weave into the chapter I’m working on. It can be a little bit maddening, at least for those around us, I expect. But I love it.

One unlikely wonderful source for material as of late for me has been the show “Louie,” by comedian Louis C.K. To say he’s irreverent would be underselling his shock value. He’s a little bit like Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame in that he levels the playing field of propriety simply by making nothing off limits. Some might not be able to get past his coarse and occasionally nihilistic approach to life, but I consider him to be nothing short of prophetic in his observations about the human condition.

Maurice Possley 10-15-2012
Stained glass window of Jesus scourging, Nancy Bauer /

Stained glass window of Jesus scourging, Nancy Bauer /

In 2009, after moving to Southern California, a neighbor, Tom Rotert, who is an attorney, asked about my reporting on wrongful convictions and wrongful executions while I was at the Chicago Tribune.

I explained that along with my fellow reporter Steve Mills, we had documented numerous wrongful convictions in Illinois and the executions of two innocent men in Texas — Carlos DeLuna and Cameron Todd Willingham.

 “You know who the ultimate wrongful execution is, don’t you?” Rotert asked. “It was Jesus Christ. They killed the son of God.”

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ doesn’t come up very often in discussions about wrongful convictions in America, but as California voters prepare to go to the polls to vote on Proposition 34 which would ban the death penalty in this state, two lawyers — one from Chicago and one from Minneapolis — are doing exactly that.

Jeanie Groh 10-03-2012
RNS photo by Pictorial Evidence via Wikimedia Commons

Church of Scientology "Big Blue" building in Los Angeles. RNS photo by Pictorial Evidence via Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON — Most Americans do not believe Scientology is a real religion, according to a recent poll by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair.

The survey, conducted by CBS News, found that 70 percent of Americans say that Scientology is not a true religion; 13 percent believe it is; and 18 percent either don’t know or don’t care.

Out of the more than 1,000 people polled, Christian Americans were even more likely to question Scientology’s status as a religion — 79 percent of evangelicals, 74 percent of Protestants and 72 percent of Catholics surveyed responded that they did not think Scientology is a religion.

L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction author, established Scientology in 1952, and the Church of Scientology has been acknowledged as a religion in the United States since 1993. Scientology is known for its celebrity followers, such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Brandon Hook 10-01-2012
Donkey Hotey / Flickr

Donald Trump Caricature. Donkey Hotey / Flickr

It seems like the Bible is the one piece of real estate Donald Trump is unfamiliar with. Or maybe he’s just never read any of that “Jesus” stuff in the New Testament.

Last Monday, the Donald told Liberty University students not to turn the other cheek but to "get even" with adversaries, particularly in business.

"I always say don't let people take advantage — this goes for a country, too, by the way — don't let people take advantage,” Trump said. “Get even. And you know, if nothing else, others will see that and they're going to say, 'You know, I'm going to let Jim Smith or Sarah Malone, I'm going to let them alone because they're tough customers."

Alessandro Speciale 09-30-2012

The Vatican's newspaper has declared the controversial “Jesus wife” papyrus fragment “a fake."

L'Osservatore Romano on Friday (Sept. 28) devoted two articles to Harvard professor Karen King's claim that a 4th century Coptic papyrus fragment showed that some early Christians believed that Jesus was married.

The announcement of the discovery on Sept. 18 made headlines worldwide but was met with skepticism by scholars who questioned the authenticity of the fragment.

In the Vatican daily, a detailed and critical analysis of King's research by leading Coptic scholar Alberto Camplani is accompanied by a punchy column by the newspaper’s editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, who is a historian of early Christianity.

Vian writes that there are “considerable reasons” to think that the fragment is nothing more than a “clumsy fake.” Moreover, according to Vian, King's interpretation of its content is “wholly implausible” and bends the facts to suit “a contemporary ideology which has nothing to do with ancient Christian history, or with the figure of Jesus”.

“At any rate, it's a fake,” he concludes.

RNS photo by Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

Quarterback Tim Tebow addresses the media on Mar. 26, 2012. RNS photo by Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

Can Tim Tebow do no wrong?

Michael Butterworth of Bowling Green State University has turned his attention to sports media coverage of Tebow, an evangelical Christian and New York Jets quarterback. The author of a forthcoming article in the journal of the National Communication Association, Butterworth talked about how Tebow coverage seldom treads beyond a “nice guy” image to delve into his faith.

Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Christian Piatt 09-24-2012

It’s amazing what a difference six words can make in our understanding of a figure as central as Jesus to the lives and faith of so many. Even historians and others who don’t claim Christianity personally are intrigued by the scrap of text recently discovered to contain, in Coptic, the sentence fragment: “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife…’”

Was this Jesus of Nazareth? is it authentic? Did the author have an original source to pull from, or simply word-of-mouth legend? After all, this writing seems to be several hundred years newer than the synoptic gospels. Perhaps Jesus was speaking in parable, as he often did, or maybe the “wife” was the Church, which often is referred to as “the bride of Christ.” Who knows? It’s likely we never will, but the buzz that this find creates is more interesting to me than the source of the scripture itself.

Why do we care so much if Jesus had a wife and kids or not? Why does it seem to matter if he died without ever having sex?

Karen King, an historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School, holds the papyrus that may suggest Jesus married.

In a surprise announcement that seemed scripted by the novelist Dan Brown, a Harvard professor revealed an ancient scrap of papyrus on Tuesday (Sept. 18) that purports to refer to Jesus' wife.

The so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" presents a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples, said Karen King, a well-respected historian of early Christianity at Harvard Divinity School.    

The fourth-century fragment says, "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...,'" according to King. The rest of the sentence is cut off. The fragment also says "she will be able to be my disciple," according to King.   

The discovery that some ancient Christians thought Jesus had a wife could shake up centuries-old Christian traditions, King suggested.    

But even King acknowledged that questions remain about the receipt-sized scrap, which contains just 33 words and incomplete sentences. Here are five of the biggest questions.