Chocolate Jesus melts down

Update on the chocolate Jesus: Roger Smith Hotel in NYC has canceled the planned exhibit of “My Sweet Lord,” a nude, anatomically correct sculpture of Jesus Christ made of 200 pounds of milk chocolate.

The exhibit was to begin Monday and last until Easter Sunday. But waves of protest convinced hotel President James Knowles to put a wrapper on it.

“Your response … is crystal clear and has brought to our attention the unintended reaction of you and other conscientious friends of ours to the exhibition,â€? Knowles wrote in an open letter today.

Even the Orthodox face assimilation

Assimilation — away from Jewish life and into secular life — has long been a chief concern of the Reform and Conservative Jewish communities. But it’s not often thought of as a concern within the Orthodox world.

But the temptations of the broader culture are there for everyone. And certainly, Orthodox congregations want to reach the non-observant Jews in their midst.

The “Orthodox Union,”:http://www.ou.org/ which represents Orthodox congregations in North America, has just awarded grants to three synagogues for programs meant to counter assimilation.

One of them is Young Israel of New Rochelle, which will receive a $20,000 grant. Young Israel is setting up five teams — focused on learning, Shabbat, event planning, marketing and finances — that will develop community outreach programs.

An OU committee that awarded the grants released this statement:

“Outreach can be defined in many different ways. It is essentially reaching out to Jewish men and women having little or no affiliation with the synagogue and Jewish community, or to those new to Torah observance, to develop a heightened sense of Jewish identity and identification. By engaging in outreach, the synagogue not only ensures Jewish continuity, but expands the potential to welcome new members, while invigorating its community.�

Cardinal Egan on chocolate Jesus

Cardinal Egan just released this statement about the chocolate Jesus (see post below):

“The media have reported that a so-called ‘work of art,’ manifestly intended to offend the Christians of our community, will be displayed during Holy Week in the Roger Smith Hotel in Manhattan. It is a scandalous carving of Jesus Christ allegedly made out of chocolate. What the Roger Smith Hotel would hope to achieve by this sickening display, no one seems to know. The Catholic community is alerted to this offense of our faith and sensitivities. This is something we will not forget.â€?

Chocolate Jesus timing just ‘coincidence’

Just a quick note on the chocolate Jesus controversy…

In case you haven’t heard, a 6-foot sculpture of an anatomically correct, chocolate Jesus was to debut Monday evening at the Lab Gallery inside Manhattan’s Roger Smith Hotel.

It was to remain on exhibit until Easter Sunday.

The gallery’s creative director, Matt Semler, now says that the timing — exhibiting “My Sweet Lord” during Holy Week — was just a coincidence.

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“We’re obviously surprised by the overwhelming response and offense people have taken,� he said.

The gallery is considering its options, he said.

Sounds like the gallery was looking for some Holy Week publicity, but not this much. Semler must never have run into the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, who pounces on this sort of thing.

“It’s not just the ugliness of the portrayal, but the timing — to choose Holy Week is astounding,” Donohue said.

The VA says no to pentagram on grave marker

The federal Department of Veterans Affairs apparently does not recognize the Wicca religion.

Check out this interesting “article”:http://www.kccommunitynews.com/articles/2007/03/22/northeast_johnson_county_sun/news/all_news032207a.txt from the Kansas City Community News about a woman whose husband was killed in Afghanistan in 2005 and wants a symbol of Wicca — his faith — on his grave marker.

But the symbol, a pentagram, is not among 38 symbols of faith approved by the VA.

A Wiccan priestess who officiated at the memorial service for Army Sgt. Patrick Dana Stewart, whose helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, told the newspaper that:

“The Department of Defense will allow soldiers to have the (pentagram) on their dog tags and Wicca ceremonies on military installations, that’s no problem. But the VA won’t allow people to have the symbol of their faith on a grave marker.â€?

My RNN debut

If you haven’t seen the new Journal News/LoHud/RNN TV show, it’s called The Hudson Valley’s NewsCenter Now and it’s on every weekday from 5 to 7 p.m.

I make my debut today.

The show is really four half-hour segments. Each segment has new, live material and repeats certain things from the earlier segments.

It’s a new day for The Journal News and even LoHud.com. Newspaper people (like myself) are learning TV on the fly.

There will be a religion segment each Thursday. Tonight I’ll talk about how Grace Baptist Church in Mount Vernon is streaming live services on the Web and, more generally, how religious communities are going digital to spread their messages.

I’ll also be doing some live reports from time to time, as the news dictates.

The Regional News Network is on channel 19 in Westchester and Rockland and channel 20 in Putnam. If you have Direct TV instead of cable (like I do), it’s channel 62.

Jewish groups see immigration reform dying

Good piece in the new “Jewish Week”:http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=13852 about the Jewish community’s disappointment over the worsening outlook for immigration reform.

Jewish groups are concerned about the growing anti-immigrant sentiment across the country and what it might morph into. Many groups such as the American Jewish Committee, the ADL, and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs are united in their hopes for immigration reform.

But presidential politics, they fear, will kill whatever chances reform had.

“The fact is, we’re dealing with an immigration system that’s badly broken,� Richard Foltin, legislative director for the American Jewish Committee, told the Jewish Week. “We all understand that the longer this process gets stretched out, the harder it will be to pass because we will be getting into the political season. So it’s important it be done soon because the need is great and the politics will only get more complicated as time passes.�

Studying the Bible as literature, history

I blogged Tuesday about Time magazine’s cover story on whether the Bible should be taught in public schools — as a cultural and historical document. More and more groups across the religious spectrum are supporting the idea.

Today, the new president of the National Association of Evangelicals, Leith Anderson, put his stamp on the new movement by endorsing The Bible and Its Influence, a textbook about the Bible that was prepared by the “Bible Literacy Project.”:http://www.bibleliteracy.org/Site/index.htm

He wrote:

“In The Bible and Its Influence, the Bible Literacy Project has produced an outstanding textbook that will both encourage literacy and open students’ minds to the significant role the Bible has played in shaping our modern civilization. With excellent scholarship, it provides a broad-based curriculum that explores the history, culture and content of the entire Bible and demonstrates the value and relevance of biblical literacy for today.”

The text is now being used by 83 school districts in 30 states. It’s been endorsed by Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress, Archbishop Richard Sklba of Milwaukee (representing the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference), evangelical bigwig Charles Colson and many others.

The magazine of the New York State School Boards Association gave the text a very positive “review.”:http://www.bibleliteracy.org/Site/News/bibl_newsNYSchoolBoard060731.htm

Additionally, the “National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools”:http://www.bibleinschools.net/sdm.asp has produced a Bible curriculum called “The Bible in History and Literature” that is now being used in 380 school districts in 37 states (NOT including New York). The curriculum has been used in elective courses in 1,500 high schools, according to the NCBCPS.

Pope Benedict and the Muslim world

This week’s New Yorker has a lengthy feature about the Roman Catholic Church’s long and difficult relationship with Islam and how Pope Benedict XVI may or may not alter the course of history.

It’s a tough but generally positive portrayal of Benedict (less so of John Paul II) that also deals squarely with the steep challenge of communicating with the Muslim World. Jane Kramer, who writes the magazine’s Letter from Europe, describes the wildly diverse reactions of Muslims to everything from basic interfaith relations to Benedict’s speech last September at the University of Regensburg.

Of course, that was the speech that inflamed the Muslim world by quoting a Byzantine emperor who really did not like the prophet Muhammad.

Kramer includes a very interesting passage about journalists who cover Benedict receiving copies of the speech at 6 a.m. on the day he gave it. Supposedly, the reporters gathered at 10 and told Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi that the passage was going to be incendiary.

Kramer quotes Marco Politi of La Republica saying: “The point is that at 10 a.m. somebody got the message that the text was explosive.”

If that’s how things played out, the passage may not have been an oversight in an otherwise academic speech, as many have assumed.

The article is not available on line and I can’t summarize the whole gracefully written piece. But Kramer makes the case that one of Benedict’s two main goals for his papacy is “reciprocity” with Islam, meaning “to restore to Christian minorities in Muslim countries the same freedom of religion that most Muslims enjoy in the West.” She writes that reciprocity is Benedict’s pre-condition for relations with the Muslim world.

“He clearly thinks,” she writes, “that the Judeo-Christian West has been self-destructively shortsighted in its concessions to the Islamic diaspora, when few, if any, concessions are made to Christians and Jews in most of the Middle East.”

Finally, an interesting comment comes from Feisal Abdul Rauf, a widely respect NYC imam who is doing as much as any Muslim in America to find common ground with other faiths. He says that Benedict is primarily concerned about the decline of faith in the West (a point that the pope has made again and again).

“And he sees that in Islam religion is not only at the table; it’s in some ways at the head of the table,” Rauf says. “He’s jealous.”

Filmmakers on the pulpit

On the heels of James Cameron’s Tomb of Jesus, which made the case that Jesus’ body stayed in the tomb, comes The Case for Christ’s Resurrection.

It’s premiering on April 4 at 8:30 p.m. EST on the “Trinity Broadcasting Network”:http://www.tbn.org/ (TBN).

A press release says that a “team of veteran scientific researchers, historians, forensic scientists, botanists, theologians, and biblical archaeologists” analyzes the historical record, current medical knowledge and Scripture to “build a compelling case for the death and miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

It’s not going to get much attention from the secular media because it’s on a Christian network and there’s no Hollywood stars involved.