A Muslim holiday

If you don’t know much about Islam, but have heard that today is a Muslim holiday, here’s the basics:

Today is the first day of Eid-ul-Fitr, a three-day festival that marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Muslims celebrate the sacrifices they made during Ramadan, which, as most people now know, includes fasting during the day.

This morning, Muslims are meeting in large congregations for the traditional prayer at the start of the Eid. Then they often share a meal and visit one another’s homes. It is a time to wear one’s best clothes and to give to charity. And the kids like it because they get gifts.

The eid is a happy time, a period of thanksgiving and celebration that people of all faiths could easily recognize.

On naming this blog

When I started this blog a few weeks back, some of my colleagues at The Journal News/Lohud.com let me know that they thought that my blog name, “On Religion,” was dull. Uninspired.

To be sure, I had tried to come up with something a little catchier. But I couldn’t hit on anything that was clear, concise, appropriately neutral and inoffensive. So I settled on “On Religion.” It works, even if it ain’t sexy.

Well, my colleagues, always clever, astute and helpful, couldn’t let it go. They came up with a long list of alternative names for this blog. I’ve decided to share some of them. Others are not fit for public viewing (newspaper people often have an unorthodox sense of humor).

How do these sound?:

Oh my God

The Pulpit

Higher Power

My Testament

My Commandments

Blog to Bear


Calling All Saints

The Confessional

Heaven’s Gate

Pews and Views

The Passion of the Blog

The Religious Write

Give Us Today our Daily Blog

Have a Prayer

Parting the Cyber Sea

In Blog We Trust

Let There Be Blogging

The Dead Sea Blogs

The Burning Blog

You Gotta’ Believe

Holy Blogger

Salvation Station

Stairway to Heaven

One Blog Under God

The Steeple Chase


The Good Blog

The Patience of Job

The Collection Plate

In the Beginning

God is my Blog Pilot

The evangelical reading list

I realized on the day after the last presidential election how little most New Yorkers know about evangelical Christianity and the evangelical culture that affects daily life in so many ways between the coasts.

If you remember, the initial polls showed that white evangelicals who focused on “moral values” were a key factor in President Bush’s re-election. Wherever I went that day, and the days that followed, I heard people wondering about the political and cultural influence of evangelicals.

Well, if you want to understand a particular culture, any culture, a good place to start is its “reading list.” What books influenced and continue to influence a group’s thinking?

“Christianity Today,”:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/october/23.51.html which covers all things evangelical (and is one of the best religion magazines out there, if you ask me) has just released a “list”:http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/october/23.51.html of the “Top 50 books that have shaped evangelicals.” The list includes classics like C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” and modern best-sellers like Rick Warren’s “The Purpose Driven Life.” But it also includes a lot of surprising and quirky titles.

Here’s the top 10 (If you haven’t heard of any other than C.S. Lewis’ book, you know just how little you know about evangelical culture):
10. “Evangelism Explosion,” by D. James Kennedy
9. “Through Gates of Splendor,” by Elisabeth Elliot
8. “Managing Your Time,” Ted W. Engstrom
7. “Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger,” by Ronald J. Sider
6. “The Living Bible,” by Kenneth N. Taylor
5. “Knowing God,” by J. I. Packer
4. “The God Who Is There,” by Francis A. Schaeffer
3. “Mere Christianity,” by C. S. Lewis
2. “Understanding Church Growth,” by Donald Anderson McGavran
1. “Prayer: Conversing With God,” by Rosalind Rinker

The phone calls were Southern Baptist

I recently blogged about a pre-recorded telephone message I got at home that promoted a new Christian congregation forming in Westchester. I said that I would try to find out a bit about the church and its interesting marketing efforts.

Mystery solved.

“Christ the King Church”:http://www.christthekingchurch.info//component/option,com_frontpage/Itemid,1/ held its first service this past Sunday at the YWCA of White Plains. The congregation was started by two Southern Baptist pastors who wanted to plant a church in the Northeast and found their way to White Plains.

“There are a lot of churches in the area, but some are not really reaching out and sharing the Gospel with people,” the Rev. Shane Pierce, pastor of growth groups & evangelism for the church, told me. “People want a good, Bible-believing church in the area. New churches tend to be more evangelistic, more exciting.”

Let’s face it, marketing is not the strength of many Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches in the area. Some need it. Some don’t.

Pierce and the Rev. Bryan Sims, the lead pastor, come from the South, where evangelical churches aggressively market themselves and try to meet the social and family needs of all comers.

A church marketing service sent the pre-recorded calls to 50,000 homes in central Westchester. Christ the King got 127 responses. And 48 people came to the first service, about half of whom were strangers.

That might not seem like a lot. But there are many established churches around that don’t get much more than 48 people on Sunday morning. I’ll try to visit Christ the King in the coming weeks to see how they’re doing.

Democrats who talk ‘faith’

There’s been so much talk during the Bush years about the influence of evangelical Christians and, to a lesser degree, Roman Catholics on the administration. Early last year, Time magazine put together a list of the “25 most influential evangelicals in America”:http://www.time.com/time/press_releases/article/0,8599,1022576,00.html that’s gotten a lot of mileage.

Now “Religion News Service,”:http://www.religionnews.com/ an excellent secular wire service that covers matters of faith, has put together a list of the dozen most influential Democrats on matters of faith and religion. RNS wanted to introduce people to Democrats who are trying to appeal to religious voters.

Here’s their list:

· The Theologian: Shaun Casey, ethicist, Wesley Theological Seminary

· The House Trinity: Reps. James Clyburn, Rosa DeLauro and David Price

· The Preacher: Leah Daughtry, chief of staff, Democratic National Committee · The Model: Tim Kaine, governor of Virginia· The Insider: Mike McCurry, former White House press secretary· The `Blessed’ One: Barack Obama, senator from Illinois· The Prophet: Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism · The Matchmaker: Burns Strider, House Democrats’ Faith Working Group· The Agitator: Amy Sullivan, Washington Monthly magazine· The Strategist: Mara Vanderslice, Common Good Strategies

The priests council speaks

It would have been shocking if the priests council of the Archdiocese of New York did not support Cardinal Edward Egan after its two-hour meeting with him this afternoon.

But the council, in a “statement”:http://archny.org/news-events/news-press-releases/index.cfm?i=3058 just released, did not only back its archbishop. It aggressively went after the writer(s) of the anonymous letter that sent the archdiocese into a tizzy last week.

The “letter,”:http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/ of course, ridiculed Egan’s leadership and called on priests to vote “no confidence” in his leadership.

Well, the priests council, an advisory group, said that it is “appalled” by the anonymous letter and “upset and dismayed” that Egan has been personally vilified. The group supports Egan and looks forward to his continued ministry. And that’s that.

Of course, the speculation will only heat up on whether Egan will remain in New York after he turns 75 next spring or whether he will be called back to Rome to serve in the corridors of the Vatican.

In the meantime, priests and the media will try to decipher the meaning of what’s taken place over the past week. Some will say that Egan was permanently hurt by the anonymous letter, while others will say that he easily survived and is stronger for it.

A year from now, everyone will say they were right.

Arnie gets started

I was at the Jewish Community Center of Harrison last night to hear Arnold Eisen, the new chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and one of the de facto leaders of Conservative Judaism.

He’s an impressive guy. Funny. Engaging. Highly intelligent. All the good stuff. He’s the kind of guy who connects the dots very well, who puts things in such a way that you really know where he’s coming from.

JCC Rabbi Aubrey Glazer kept calling him “Arnie.” It fit.

Conservative Judaism has been waging an internal struggle to define itself. What does it mean to be centrist and moderate in the modern culture? How do you remain true to Jewish law and remain open to modern thinking on sensitive subjects like homosexuality?

Eisen insists that the Conservative approach — scholarly, open to rigorous debate, true to Torah — is as strong and necessary as ever. The movement just needs to be reenergized. “Let’s get to work,” he said.

He was speaking to clergy and lay leaders from 17 Conservative congregations across Westchester. It was the first of several town hall meetings he hopes to hold across the country.

Interestingly, after taking questions from the audience, Eisen asked three questions of the audience:
1. What led you to the Conservative Movement and what keeps you there?
2. What are your concerns about the Conservative Movement?
3. How specifically can JTS be of service to you, your congregation, and/or the Conservative Movement?

He’s “collecting answers”:http://www.jtsa.edu/progs/phi/areisen/facon.shtml for the forseeable future.

How will Egan react?

Priests are buzzing about the Cardinal Egan letter I blogged about earlier today.

Everyone is very curious about how Egan will react. He’s called a meeting with his priests council for Monday.

I spoke earlier with Egan’s spokesman, Joseph Zwilling. He noted, correctly, that the anonymous letter calling for “no confidence” votes on Egan could have been written by one priest. Or two. Or five. Or whatever.

Not surprisingly, I haven’t found a priest who will talk about this with his name attached. There certainly is a feeling out there that Egan would not appreciate one of his priests talking to the press about this — even if he had nothing to do with the letter.

The buzz is all on background.

Letter takes on Cardinal Egan

I heard a rumor a few days ago that a letter was circulating, written by New York priests, that was strongly critical of Cardinal Edward Egan. But I’d heard such things before.

It’s true, this time. A very popular blog on all things Catholic, Whispers in the Loggia, has posted “the letter.”:http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/ It calls on priests across the archdiocese, when they meet at regional viccariate meetings, to take votes of “no confidence” in the cardinal.

The letter reads, in part: “As you know, the collective memory of the presbyterate cannot recall a time in recent history when the morale of priests has been so broken and low. Some of our elderly priests can well recall the Cardinal Spellman years. Many remember the tenure of Cardinal Cooke and certainly everyone remembers Cardinal O’Connor. At no time has the relationship between the Ordinary and the priests of the Archdiocese been so fractured and seemingly hopeless as it is now.”

Wow. Whispers in the Loggia is written by Rocco Palmo, who writes for The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly published in London

I’ll try to reach Egan’s spokesman today for a comment. Where will this lead?

UPDATE: I forgot to say that the letter from the priests is unsigned. Maybe because it was obvious to me. We don’t know how many priests are behind this effort. Sorry.

What would the IRS do?

Everyone knows that religious groups and other tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations are not supposed to get involved in political campaigning.

The prohibition comes up every campaign season. Various religious groups and candidates for office are always accusing their opponents of violating federal tax law.

But have you ever tried to understand the law?

I took part in a conference call today with Judy Kindell, a tax law specialist with the IRS, as she attempted to explain what is prohibited and what is not to clergy around the country. Then I read the IRS “fact sheet”:http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=154712,00.html she was basically working from.

To say that the rules are open to interpretation would be quite an understatement. No wonder Kindell could only cite one church that has lost its tax-exempt status because of its blatant campaigning.

The next time you’re wondering whether a church group has crossed a political line, read the fact sheet and ask “What would the IRS do?”