Serving the spiritual needs of Alzheimer’s patients

About 40 clergy and lay leaders came to a meeting in Mount Vernon yesterday about how to serve Alzheimer’s patients and their families. Most people thought it was a pretty good turnout.

Of course, there are thousands of clergy and lay leaders in the LoHud — and most probably know precious little about the spiritual needs of Alzheimer’s patients.

The program, which I “covered,”:http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070419/NEWS01/704190379/1028/NEWS12 was genuinely enlightening. Most people acknowledged that clergy and religious congregations probably look the other way (with sadness and a feeling of powerlessness) as Alzheimer’s patients begin to stay away from church or synagogue.

How do you serve someone who can’t remember their name or recognize their children?

But those familiar with the disease and other forms of dementia say that the world of religion may be best-suited to help those with Alzheimer’s. Even patients with little short-term memory, they said, can recall hymns from their childhood and be inspired by familiar readings from Scripture. The feeling of togetherness, of community, that comes from being at a house of worship can make Alzheimer’s patients feel truly at ease.

On the Alzheimer’s Association website, I found a downloadable brochure for African-American clergy. Having skimmed it, I think it could be of value to anyone who wants to learn the basics about Alzheimer’s and how to meet the spiritual needs of people who can’t recall but can feel.

Go the AA “website,”:http://www.alz.org/ search for “African American clergy” and click on the first PDF. I don’t know how else to get you there.

The ‘king makers:’ 10 religious figures who are helping shape GOP race

Religion News Service has come up with a list of 10 Republican “king makers” — religious figures who are helping to shape the race for the Republican nomination for president.

It’s an interesting idea at a time when religious conservatives are said to be dissatisfied with the GOP field.

RNS Editor Kevin Eckstrom said this:

“When Focus on the Family founder James Dobson can raise doubts by questioning whether Fred Thompson is a ‘Christian,’ or prays the nation doesn’t get ‘stuck’ with a President John McCain, that really reflects the power religious conservatives have to shape the GOP run for the White House. We wanted to find out who the GOP candidates are talking to, and maybe more importantly, who is returning their calls.â€?

Without further delay…the king-makers (as they are “described”:http://www.religionnews.com/press02/PR041807A.html by RNS):

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Broadcaster and psychologist James Dobson (right), whose Focus on the Family radio show attracts some 220 million listeners who tune in for his views on the merits – and failings – of various candidates.

· Michael Farris, founder and chairman of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, who one observer said had “a network of home-schoolers that will do anything for him.”

low1.jpg· Richard Land (right), the go-to political guru for the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists, who has been outspoken in declaring what is acceptable (Mormonism) and what is not (infidelity).

· Pam Olsen, president of the Florida Prayer Network, and a mother of four who set up a network of pastors and organizers in each of the state’s 67 counties.

· Rod Parsley, pastor of the 14,000-member World Harvest Church in the battleground state of Ohio, who can use his network of pastors to help a candidate fine-tune his message to reach conservatives.

· Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, the most powerful Christian lobbying group in Washington whose e-mail alerts reach 200,000 people each day.

· Steve Scheffler, head of the 4,000-member Iowa Christian Alliance, the most active – and credible – religious group in the Hawkeye State.

· Tamara Scott, Iowa leader of Concerned Women for America, who has talked with nearly every GOP candidate and is willing to back a candidate who’s “truly conservative,” even if he’s a longshot.

jay.jpg· Jay Sekulow (right), chief counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice and national radio host, whose blessing on Mitt Romney’s campaign was a huge stamp of approval for the Mormon candidate.

· Don Wildmon, chairman of the influential Arlington Group and head of the American Family Association, pontificates about politics and society on the 185 radio stations that his group owns across 36 states.

Episcopalians set to celebrate 400th birthday of Jamestown settlement

A year-long celebration is about to begin of the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Jamestown, Va., in 1607. It was the first permanent English settlement in the New World, coming more than a decade before Pilgrims seeking religious freedom settled in Plymouth.

There will be many, many “celebrations”:http://www.jamestown2007.org/ in Virginia. The “Episcopal Church”:http://www.episcopalchurch.org/400years/ will be holding a good many of them.

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The first settlers, of course, included members of the Church of England. A priest named Robert Hunt led the first prayer services at Jamestown on May 13, 1607. He led the first Communion service there the following month, according to the Episcopal Church.

The Episcopal Church will begin celebrating the 400th with a gathering in Virginia on April 26 that will be led by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori. Virginia Episcopalians will celebrate in Jamestown on June 24.

Will these commemorations be unaffected by the turmoil rolling through the Episcopal Church? I would think so. But who knows? It’s not hard to imagine certain people saying that their Church of England forefathers must be rolling in their graves — and so on, and so on, and so on.

Religious voices call for action on Darfur

A lot of synagogues around here, especially of the Reform variety, have green signs by their main entrances that say “Not On Our Watch.”

The signs are referring to the genocide in Darfur, a cause that a lot of synagogues and churches refuse to let die. Many are working with the “Save Darfur”:http://www.savedarfur.org/content campaign.

Several houses of worship in the LoHud have “Global Days for Darfur” events planned in the next week or two, starting with a Westchester Darfur Coalition kick-off this Sunday (April 22) at 7:30 p.m at “Woodlands Community Temple”:http://wct.org/index.cfm in Greenburgh (50 Worthington Road). Among other things, there will be a candlelight ceremony in memory of Darfur villages that have been destroyed.

Here’s a list of other events (from Woodlands Temple): Continue reading

The list of rumored Egan successors grows

On Cardinal Egan’s 75th birthday a few weeks back, I “wrote”:http://www.nyjournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070402/NEWS02/704020341 about the inevitable speculation about his future in New York. Bishops submit retirement papers when they hit 75, and many church-watchers believe that the pope may accept Egan’s one of these days.

The separate, but related, guess-gaming has to do with who will be the next Archbishop of New York, whether next month or down the road.

Today, Rocco Palmo’s extraordinary Whispers in the Loggia blog (read by most priests with their Cornflakes) shares a rumor from the UK about a former California dreamer who could get the job. It’s a wacky “scenario,”:http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/2007/04/inquisition-comes-home.html but worth reading for those intrigued by this stuff.

Rockland Muslims furious at jail chaplain

Not surprisingly, Muslim leaders in Rockland County hope they have seen the last of a full-time Protestant chaplain at the Rockland County jail who has been suspended for handing out anti-Islamic tracts.

“She should be let go. And why is she being paid while she is suspended?” Azra Fasihuddin, a member of the Islamic Center of Rockland, “told”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007704170351 my colleague Suzan Clarke.

Teresa Darden Clapp was suspended Thursday for passing out cartoon booklets that say derogatory things about Muslims, Allah and the prophet Muhammad. The tracts are produced by an evangelical company that targets Muslims, Catholics, Mormons and others.

Mohammed Ziaullah, an official at the Islamic Center of Rockland who works hard to build bridges with the non-Islamic community, said that Clapp was uncooperative when Muslims offered to volunteer at the jail.

“We were giving her the benefit of the doubt, but now when I heard this story, I am thinking maybe she was doing it purposefully,” he said.

The charges against Clapp are being investigated. The story has been noticed by Muslim groups and websites.

Anti-abortion leaders hail Supreme Court decision

Just got back from a conference on how clergy can work with Alzheimer’s patients and their families — to find out that the Supreme Court has “upheld”:http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/S/SCOTUS_ABORTION?SITE=NYWHI&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT a nationwide ban on partial-birth abortion.

I was greeted by a flood of statements from anti-abortion advocates, who may remember April 18, 2007, as a major day in their ongoing battle.

For instance, the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the conservative National Clergy Council, said this:

“We are grateful to God today that moral sense has prevailed at the court. This has been a long time coming and shows great promise for the future. Make no mistake, this is the beginning of the end for Roe v. Wade.”

And Operation Rescue President Troy Newman:

“This is the first legal crack in the crumbling Roe v. Wade foundation, and is the first, necessary step toward banning the horrific practice of abortion in this nation. If partial-birth abortions are unconstitutional, then all abortion should be as well.”

And Paul Schenck, head of the National Pro-life Action Center on Capitol Hill:

“In upholding the will of the people in this matter the Majority has laid the first blow to Roe V Wade and its putrefying spawn. We applaud the Court’s resolve to end this despicable practice.”

And Father Frank Pavone, the force behind Priests for Life:

“The United States Congress, and the vast majority of state legislators and American citizens, have made it clear over the last decade that this procedure – by which a child is killed in the very process of delivery – has no place in a civilized society. We are grateful to all who worked so hard to pass this law and to educate the public about this unspeakably violent procedure.”

And Richard Thompson, president of the Thomas More Law Center:

“Today’s Supreme Court decision may very well signal the willingness of the Court under Chief Justice Roberts to revisit its infamous Roe v. Wade decision and end legalized abortion in this country.”

Do you see a trend here? Each leader sees this decision as a step toward the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The other side in the abortion debate may be worried about the same thing. Their statements should be coming soon.

Religious voices on Virginia Tech

Religious figures are weighing in the Virginia Tech massacre. Here are a few (I’ll add more as I come across them):

A representative of Pope Benedict XVI “wrote”:http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/0702123.htm to the Catholic Bishop of Richmond, Va.: “In the aftermath of this senseless tragedy (Benedict) asks God our Father to console all those who mourn and to grant them that spiritual strength which triumphs over violence by the power of forgiveness, hope and reconciling love.”

United Methodist leaders “renewed”:http://www.umc.org/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=lwL4KnN1LtH&b=1723955&ct=3770273 their call for all governments to ban general ownership of handguns, assault weapons, automatic weapon conversion kits and weapons that cannot be picked up by metal detectors.

“…Had this ban been in place, this shooting might have been prevented since one of the guns used by the assailant was a 9-mm handgun,” said Jim Winkler, chief executive of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

Brian McLaren, a Christian writer and board chairman for Sojourners/Call to Renewal, writes on “Beliefnet.com”:http://www.beliefnet.com/blogs/godspolitics/2007/04/brian-mclaren-sorrow-that-makes-us.html that:

“Pain in times like this, I believe, is not simply something to be escaped, resolved, fixed.

Instead, it is something to be suffered, something that must, in a sense, crash over us like a wave or knock us down like a fever, shake us so that we truly feel our feelings and name them; so that we can speak of them and share them and feel an exchange with others of sympathy, empathy, common grief, and common sorrow.

This kind of sorrow doesn’t make us bitter; it makes us better. It doesn’t make us smug at having an explanation; it makes us humble as we understand our shared vulnerability. It doesn’t make us put up walls of blame; it tears down walls as we feel our common humanity. In so doing, it teaches us wisdom – wisdom that, in the scriptures, is often associated with pain and struggle. It softens us, makes us more sensitive to the pain that others suffer but we often ignore. It forms compassion in us.”

Rabbi Irwin Kula, president of the “National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership,”:http://www.clal.org/ offered this “spiritual response:”

“–The first priority must be to give comfort and care to those most directly affected by the tragedy. This is not the time for setting policy agendas, but for supporting the people at the center of the nightmare.

–Healing always points from the inside outwards. People not directly affected by the tragedy can over dramatize the danger. The shooting was a rare occurrence. What is significant is the randomness of the event. The only spiritual way to deal with the unpredictability is to love and care more deeply. That is what establishes hope.

–For people inside of the tragedy (the families of those killed), they don’t need explanations of political theories, they need the comfort of those around them. They need to mourn and grieve.

–For the survivors (those further away on campus), don’t focus on your vulnerability but help those who were closer to the inside. The survivors who were near the shooting need to be able to tell their stories and to come together as a community. They should be monitored by friends and family. Here is what we know about survivors—they must be built up one small step at a time. Even just getting out of bed is a step. And give them space. Each person process events in his/her own way.

–The larger cultural issue leaves us two options. We live in a highly open, pluralist, free society, which can leave us feeling greater vulnerability, fragility, and uncertainty. But that is what it means to be a human being. Need to learn how to live with life’s unpredictability. Alternatively, we can live in a closed society, with metal detectors, suspicion of our neighbors, strong borders, ID cards, and boundaries. This option will help banish chaos. We can either live in an open society or one that is shut down.

–We need to begin to care about each other in a way that will help alleviate the pain and suffering that people feel, not in a suspicious but in a comforting way. We yearn to feel 100% safe, but we live in the space between the security that we desire and the security that we get.

–For parents, your kids need to feel safe and secure. Emphasize that this rarely happens. Look in on your kids. Watch for nightmares, or crying. Affirm the rarity, particularly with all of the media images.

–For parents with college kids, bring their horror into line with the reality of what happened. This is a rare event, and in fact, never happened on this scale before. Be on the look out for your kids behavior—you know them best.

–This is about comforting those directly affected by the tragedy. Don’t turn it into a general societal statement or a blame game. That’s a deflection. We want to protect ourselves from horror. This is a scar in America’s soul. We must point outwards.”

Another godless lobbyist

It can’t be easy being a godless lobbyist.

The Albany-based “Institute for Humanist Studies”:http://www.humaniststudies.org/ has hired a new lobbyist to represent the non-religious viewpoint at the state capital.

Jennifer Lange will, among other things, support embryonic stem-cell research and sex education and oppose legislative attempts to “place religious institutions above the law.”

“As a humanist lobbyist, I will show lawmakers that non-religious New Yorkers, at two million strong, are a growing constituency. We have mainstream values and we vote for the politicians who represent those values,” she says. “Policy should be based on science, evidence and compassion. It should be based on reason, not faith.”

Lange previously worked as legislative director for Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo).

The Institute says that the number of non-religious New Yorkers doubled between 1990 and 2000 to about 1.9 million. It’s true that most polls and studies on religious identity have shown a recent increase in the number of people who do not claim membership in any religious group.

You have to wonder how legislators react to a humanist lobbyist. They know what they’re getting with most religious lobbyists, as far as positions on the issues and who the audience is. But when Lange visits, what do they say? Few legislators, even liberal Democrats, probably want to be seen as supporting the humanist cause.

There’s not much tolerance in the political world for the godless position.

The aftermath of the campus shootings (and Kurt Vonnegut)

The shootings at Virginia Tech will lead people to ask the same, very human questions that people always ask after needless, inexplainable suffering: Why? Why did the murderer do it? What could have happened to create such a monster?

People of faith will also ask about God’s role. Why did God let it happen? Could God have stopped the gunman? If so, why didn’t he?

Clergy across Virginia and across America will be addressing these questions on Sunday morning, for certain.

Asking these questions is part of the human condition, it seems. I’ve written a book that comes out April 30 (more about that soon) that deals with the questions asked of God after the great tsunami and other natural disasters. Those questions are a bit different, but not all that different, from the questions being asked today about the campus shootings.

I was thinking this morning about how the parents and siblings and friends of the victims will go on, and how witnesses to the shootings will be changed. Then I came across this very interesting column from the LA Times about Kurt Vonnegut by someone who worked as his assistant. It’s about how the bombing of Dresden created Vonnegut and his books.

It’s worth reading (and somehow related, I think), so here it is:

The Kindness of Kurt Vonnegut

Rodriguez writes a column for the Times.

By Gregory Rodriguez

Special to the Los Angeles Times

When I heard that Kurt Vonnegut died, I immediately went to my bookshelf to search for my hardcover copy of “Hocus Pocus.� No, it may not have been one of his greatest novels (I don’t think I finished it), but just before it was published at the end of summer of 1990, Vonnegut had handed me a signed copy in which he had drawn one of his famous caricatures of himself — unruly hair, bushy eyebrows, cigarette dangling from his mouth — and dedicated it to “Good Old Gregory, My Co-Author.�
Vonnegut will rightly be remembered as a darkly humorous social critic and the premier novelist of the counterculture. But the personal impression I will always hold of him is of a rather daft and kind old man whose vulnerability and honesty punctured through the pretensions of the world around him. Continue reading