More on Holy Land Earth

I blogged yesterday about “Holy Land Earth,”: a new business that is selling pouches of actual soil from Israel.

I couldn’t help wondering from where in Israel the soil is coming.

I heard from Steven Friedman, who started the Brooklyn-based business. He said:

“All the soil comes from biblical Israel, not from the outskirts, not from any contested land. It’s all from right outside Jerusalem. That soil is the finest and nicest in color. It’s all from Israel and pretty much the center of Israel.”

Friedman also commented on something that I wrote in yesterday’s blog — that observant Jews have long included a bit of Israeli dirt in caskets. He noted that what’s used is actually sand, since you are generally not allowed to bring foreign soil into the U.S.

But Friedman, working with scientists, has developed a process to cleanse the soil so that it is kosher to import.

As I noted yesterday, Friedman is working with a rabbi who oversees the whole process — the collecting, packaging and importing of the soil.

The cost: $20 for 16 onces of holy land.

About those ashes…

Since today is Ash Wednesday…

Here is a well-done “feature”:,1,4916670.story?coll=la-headlines-pe-california from the LA Times about the ashes — Where do they come from? What do they mean? How long have they been used?

I wrote something along the same lines maybe seven or eight years ago, but it’s not web-friendly.

‘Watch the tripping, Father…’

More than 300 Catholic priests and seminarians from 50 nations are about to take part in the first Clericus Cup, a soccer tournament in Rome.

Officials hope the tournament will be peaceful and God-fearing, after rioting at a recent match in Sicily, a match-fixing scandal and other football-related troubles in Italy (home of the World Cup champs).

“I expect (the tournament) to create a friendly relationship among the players and the teams,� Cameroon’s Father Emil Martin, who plays with a team of the Pontifical Urban College, told the AP. “I hope each one can learn to win but also to lose, because not everybody knows how to lose.�

Still, referees will have the option of handing out blue cards to errant players, good for a 5-minute suspension.

The games begin Saturday.

Bishop Sisk: “Gay and lesbian people are God’s beloved children”

Bishop Mark Sisk, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, released a brief statement to the press yesterday in response to Monday’s challenge from Anglican leaders to the Episcopal Church.

Here it is:

“It is very important that a fundamental truth not get lost in these processes – the love in Christ for all humanity. I give my assurance that I am not prepared to retreat from ministry among and with gay and lesbian people, and I believe this is a biblical mandate.

The communiqué issued by the Anglican Primates is extensive and reflects their vastly different perspectives and will take further study to understand completely. We look forward to hearing from our Presiding Bishop.”

Anglican leaders called on the Episcopal Church to ban the consecration of gay bishops and to state that it will not sanction union ceremonies for gay couples. It doesn’t sound like Sisk (that’s him at the Church of St. Barnabas in Irvington) is ready to take those steps.

In a more extensive statement sent to Episcopal leaders throughout the diocese (which was forwarded to me), Sisk reveals a bit more about his thinking:

“Over the years I have been prepared to make certain accommodations to meet the concerns of those whose view of the Gospel promise differs somewhat from my own. I am fully aware that those accommodations have not been uncontroversial. Now, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am not in the least prepared to make any concession that strikes at the heart of my conviction that gay and lesbian people are God’s beloved children. They are we. Our witness to the Gospel would be unthinkably deformed if by some tragic misjudgment we willingly submitted ourselves to vivisection. We are one body in Christ. Each and all of us rely upon the love of God, as revealed in Jesus, to attain to the life that is ours in Him. We have all been called by God to offer ourselves for the transfiguration of our lives in order that we ‘may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory.’ This vision of a God who embraces all in the arms of Divine self-offering love is the vision that is at the heart of the Gospel as I know it.”

Sisk also says:

“I look forward to working with others to discover if there are ways in which we might give the assurance which our brothers and sisters around the world have requested. It is my hope that through that process, our relationship across the Communion will broaden and deepen.”

Buy your Holy Land: $20 for 16 ounces

I blogged last week about a Jewish “funeral home”: in NYC that will stream funerals on the web so loved ones can watch and listen from distant lands.

Now a company will make it possible to buy soil from Israel — holy land from the Holy Land — to include in your loved one’s grave. Or to plant around a tree in someone’s memory. Or just to have.

“Holy Land Earth”: imports Israeli soil. A re-sealable 16-ounce pouch goes for $20, with 15 percent of profits going to charities in Israel.

Observant Jews have long placed small amounts of dirt from Israel inside caskets. Holy Land Earth aims to make the soil more accessible for everyone.

“I originally got the idea from speaking with family and friends,” entrepreneur Steven Friedman, who started the company, said in a statement. “The very grounds of Israel are considered holy by not only Jews, but other religions as well. So if you can’t visit or be buried in Israel, the next best thing is to bring some earth from Israel to you.”

Friedman says he came out with a way to cleanse the soil so that it is legal to bring into the U.S., but still rich and fertile. His website says “Imported with USDA approval.”

He also says he has a rabbi who does kosher certifications — Rabbi Velvel Brevda, the director of the Council of Geula, Jerusalem — who oversees the collection, cleansing and packaging of the soil.

By the way, Holy Land Earth says it will sell you enough earth for an entire burial. But there is no cost listed.

The website doesn’t say from where in Israel the soil comes. I think I’m going to email Friedman and see if he’ll tell me.

Back to that whole nativity scene dispute…

I know it’s mid-February, and we’re looking toward spring. But I have to mention a key Supreme Court decision today — make that a no-decision — on the contentious issue of holiday displays on public property.

This past December, we saw numerous conflicts across the country, including right here in the Lower Hudson Valley, related to what can and what cannot be included in displays on town greens, schools, libraries, etc.

If you have a Christmas tree, should you have a menorah? If you have a menorah, should you have a nativity scene? What’s religious? What’s a secular symbol? You know the drill.

Well, the U.S. Supreme Court looked at a case that many hoped would clarify things and announced today that it would punt. The court will not review a New York City policy that bans nativity scenes from holiday displays, but allows just about everything else: Santa Claus, reindeers, Christmas trees, menorahs, and an Islamic star and crescent.

A Roman Catholic mother from Brooklyn sued NYC in 2002, saying the city’s policy promoted and endorsed Judaism and Islam but not Christianity.

The 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last year that the city’s policy aimed to encourage respect for different traditions, but did not intend to denigrate Christianity.

That decision will stand, now that the Supreme Court has turned its attention elsewhere.

I would love to hear a public school principal try to explain the federal case law to a parent who wants a creche instead of reindeer in their school’s holiday display.

And don’t forget that the Episcopal leader is a woman

One more thought (for now) on the Anglican showdown with the Episcopal Church:

A colleague pointed out to me that the situation has clearly been exacerbated by the fact that the new presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church is a woman. There are many Anglican bishops who believe that women should not be priests, let alone bishops.

So when Katharine Jefferts Schori was elected last year, it represented yet another challenge to conservative Anglicans who just don’t get the Episcopal Church.

Only two other Anglican provinces (New Zealand and Canada) have female bishops. And Schori is the only woman who leads a province.

When several Anglican bishops refused on Friday to take Holy Communion with Schori, they issued a statement saying that “We are unable to come to the Holy Table with the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church because to do so would be a violation of scriptural teaching and the traditional Anglican understanding.”

The traditional Anglican understanding they were talking about may have had to do with not only gay bishops, but female bishops.

Anglican leaders to Episcopal Church: Act now on gay bishops, same-sex couples

I’ve asked quite a few Episcopalians in recent years whether their church will leave — or be forced the leave — the worldwide Anglican Communion over homosexuality (and/or what the Bible says or doesn’t say about homosexuality).

Most have had their doubts, but have acknowledged that it is a real possibility.

When I interviewed Bishop Mark Sisk, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, last year, he said that Western thinking would win out long term. Gay priests, and perhaps gay bishops, would be accepted over time.

“We’ve paid a price, but I don’t regret the price,” he told me.

The price may soon get steeper. Anglican leaders yesterday demanded that the Episcopal Church, once and for all, ban the consecration of gay bishops and pledge not to authorize a rite for commitment ceremonies for gay couples. These are steps that the Episcopal Church has been unwilling to take.

It’s hard to imagine Episcopal leaders backing down now.

Anglican leaders, at the conclusion of a six-day meeting in Tanzania, gave the Episcopal Church until Sept. 30 to clarify its positions or risk some level of estrangement.

Their “statement”: included this:

“At the heart of our tensions is the belief that The Episcopal Church [5] has departed from the standard of teaching on human sexuality accepted by the Communion in the 1998 Lambeth Resolution 1.10 by consenting to the episcopal election of a candidate living in a committed same-sex relationship, and by permitting Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions. The episcopal ministry of a person living in a same-sex relationship is not acceptable to the majority of the Communion.”

The Anglican leaders do want to see the end of conservative Episcopal dioceses and parishes “leaving” the Episcopal Church and affiliating with Anglican bishops overseas. They recommended the creation of a pastoral council and a special vicar to oversee such parishes and dioceses.

The Episcopal News Service focused on this development in its “coverage.”:

So what does Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, the church’s new, gay-friendly leader, do now?

Florida preacher who says he’s Jesus getting a lot of face time

If you haven’t heard of Jose Luis de Jesus Miranda, you probably will. So I’ll offer a brief introduction.

Miranda says he is Jesus Christ. The Second Coming.

He says that all established religions are about to end and that his church is the “Government of God on Earth.”

This may all seem quite amusing, but Miranda (that’s him) has a packed church in Miami and claims thousands of followers in 30 countries (a claim we are free to doubt).

Anyway, Miranda is starting to get some serious media coverage. He was on “CNN”: yesterday. His “website”: flaunts the many news reports about him, even though most have a skeptical feel.

The “King of kings and Lord of lords,” as he describes himself, is 61, a native of Puerto Rico, and a former heroin addict.

He told CNN that he found out he was Jesus in 1973 when he was visited in a dream by angels:

“The prophets, they spoke about me. It took me time to learn that, but I am what they were expecting, what they have been expecting for 2,000 years.”

His website has plenty of video footage, in case you want to watch him preach. He wears plenty of jewelry. And he has a “666” tattoo, apparently because he says he is the antichrist since he has replaced the first coming of Jesus (or something like that).