Jewish musical muse joins Reform faculty

Debbie Friedman, the much beloved singer/songwriter of “Jewish folk” music, has “joined”: the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion as instructor in music at its NY campus.

It’s hard to overstate the role that “Friedman’s music”: plays in the Reform Jewish world. She is the muse of legions of liberal Jews, inspiring many to connect with liturgy and Scripture in new ways. She also has a growing following in Conservative Jewish circles.

tjndc5-5b4uo8c45eq1l0sod7p4_layout.jpgI got to chat with her a few years back, before she led a healing service at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale. I couldn’t help but be impressed with her earnestness and her good humor. She understood how important her music has become to so many and yet remained seriously down to earth.

She teared up a bit when telling me about people who said that her music had helped them get through terrible thing.

Then she led a typically moving healing service, something she had created from an attempt a decade earlier to adapt a healing prayer to music. Friedman has led hundreds of healing services — unstructured combinations of prayer, music, talk and meditation that aim to help people get through whatever they may be facing.

Friedman has recorded 19 albums and celebrated her 25th anniversary in music with a 1996 concert at Carnegie Hall.

She said this about her new teaching role:

It was kol isha (the voice of women) for col isha (every woman) that inspired me to write inclusive music. It is beneficial not only for women, but for men and children as well. Singing helps us learn how to be vocal. The more our voices are heard in song, the more we become our lyrics, our prayers, and our convictions.

Congress wishes archdiocese ‘happy bicentennial’ after all

Controversy averted.

Congress passed a resolution marking the bicentennial of the Archdiocese of New York by voice vote yesterday — after powerhouse Rep. Henry Waxman had asked for Cardinal Egan’s name to be removed.

tjndc5-5b5mccr9wmfcb8z6ezi_layout1.jpgAs the NY Post reported, Waxman’s staff wanted to edit out any mention of Cardinal Egan because of the national sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church.

But Waxman relented, telling “the Post:”: “When people make a good argument, I think it’s worth listening to them. I had some reservations. I changed my mind.”

Apparently, Sen. Chuck Schumer was about to introduce a resolution mentioning Egan in the Senate.

What in the world must Cardinal Egan be thinking about all this?

(NOTE: I just noticed that Cardinal Egan has an “op-ed”: in the Post today, in which he trumpets the Catholic Channel on SIRIUS Satellite Radio and calls for the feds to allow the proposed merger of SIRIUS and XM.)

In a “statement,”: Rep. Vito Fossella, the Staten Islander who introduced the highly sensitive resolution, said this:

Congress has repented. It was wrongheaded for the Resolution to be held hostage to this demand. For 200 years, the Archdiocese of New York has nurtured the souls of millions of Americans, providing spiritual guidance, support and a helping hand to those in need. The Archdiocese of New York remains the center of Catholicism in the United States and one of the most important forces for positive change. The Archdiocese continues to reach deep into every community in the city to help make life better for New Yorkers. I am pleased the matter has been resolved and the Committee did the right thing in allowing a vote on it.

That old time ‘feel bad’ religion

Do you prefer “feel good religion” or “feel bad religion?”

Or a nice mix?

hoffman.jpgRabbi Lawrence Hoffman, a respected writer and thinker in the world of Reform Judaism, writes about the historical tug-o-war between the two camps in “this reflection”: on the week’s Torah portion.

It includes this:

The Jewish version of the tale is somewhat muted, since we never preached original sin. We, too, however, have capitulated to the Feel Goods. Most Jews (who treat synagogue attendance as an option) are not likely to attend a half-hour sermon that makes them Feel Bad. Most rabbis therefore advocate Torah study, which is neutral; they limit Feel Bad sermons to the High Holy Days when people are more likely to abide them.

I admit it; I too have been taken in by Feel-Good religion: prayers for healing, celebratory mazal tovs at the kiddush, happy-clappy services unmarred by reminders of people dying far away in war and nearby in city streets. That is why I shudder at this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Devarim, which proclaims, “These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel.� It sounds innocuous enough, but commentators are pretty much unanimous in identifying “the words� in question as reproaches, a litany of Israel’s sins.

Indeed, much of this final book of Torah altogether is reproaches — and worse: actual curses leveled against Israel should they turn aside in even the slightest degree from God.

Hoffman, who lives in Rye, is professor of liturgy at Hebrew Union College in New York.

In Boston, priest roster shrinking fast

One stark challenge that will face the next Roman Catholic archbishop of New York — whoever he is — is the worsening shortage of priests.

It’s a nationwide trend, of course. Many dioceses have been confronting it head on.

A planning committee in the Archdiocese of Boston, for instance, just “released a report”: saying that the number of active priests will fall from 500 to about 300 in only eight years (30% of active priests are over 65).

The committee says it’s time for Boston’s Cardinal Sean O’Malley to consider some serious steps: greater collaboration among priests in neighboring parishes; greater use of deacons and lay ministers for pastoral care; allowing parishes to hold Communion services, rather than Masses, with no priests present; and even allowing parishes to say there will be no funerals on certain days of the week.

One Boston pastor, Monsignor Paul V. Garrity, told the Boston Globe:

This is the first time the archdiocese officially has put down on paper what a lot of people have been talking about for years — the number of priests has been declining for decades. Boston is slow to change and recognize the realities, but other parts of the country people have already experienced these things. At some point, we have to say, what do we want to be doing, what are the priorities, and who do we have to do that with?

In NY, priests talk about the lack of fellow priests all the time. But Cardinal Egan, who came to NY talking about the need to increase vocations, has said little about the issue.

Many thought the archdiocese’s long-awaited plan for realigning parishes would include steps for dealing with the priest shortage. But it didn’t come up.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Egan’s successor says something about the priest shortage at his first press conference.

House committee wants to zap Cardinal Egan from birthday wishes

Doesn’t Congress know that Cardinal Egan is nearing retirement?

Instead of offering a gift, the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee apparently wants Egan’s name removed from a simple, everyday resolution praising the 200th birthday of the Archdiocese of New York.

Rep. Vito Fossella, a Staten Island Republican and the resolution’s sponsor, tells the NY Post that committee staff said the resolution won’t go through unless Egan’s name is stricken. (Note: I can’t seem to link to the Post story.)

The resolution includes: “Whereas the Archdiocese of New York is currently under the spiritual guidance of His Eminence M. Cardinal Egan, who was installed on June 19, 2000, and elevated to Cardinal on February 21, 2001.”

Fossella tells the Post that the objections have something to do with “the sex-abuse cases.”

Fossella says he won’t remove Egan’s name. He has a while to come up with something since the actual bicentennial doesn’t begin until spring.

Hindu group cites 11 countries for abuse

Hindus face discrimination around the world, but are faring well in the U.S.

A new “report”: from the Hindu American Foundation cites 11 countries where Hindus face systemic abuses: Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Fiji, the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Ramesh Rao, Executive Council Member of HAF and the report’s primary author, said:

From three countries that we covered two years ago, to eleven this year, HAF’s annual exercise in documenting human rights abuse is continually expanding. The countries covered in this report are not rank-ordered in terms of level of discrimination and human rights abuse, nor does it mean that each of the eleven are abusers of human rights to the same extent. What is important in the report is the careful documentation of attacks against Hindus, Hindu institutions, and Hindu places of worship – providing a unique record of human rights abuse that other human rights agencies either gloss over or report only in general terms.

There are more than 1 billion Hindus, making the faith the world’s third largest (behind Christianity and Islam).

Another bishop is named; NY next?

Last week, Pope Benedict named Edwin O’Brien the next archbishop of Baltimore.

This morning, “he named”: Bishop David Zubik the next bishop of Pittsburgh.

Who’s next? An archbishop of New York perhaps?

Today’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette includes this:

Bishop Zubik fits a pattern of Pope Benedict choosing intellectually savvy men with diplomatic personalities, said the Rev. Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, who studies the Catholic hierarchy.

Zubik is a former auxiliary bishop in Pittsburgh who has been serving in Green Bay.

Since last week’s Baltimore appointment, there has been no shortage of speculation about who will replace Cardinal Egan.

abmansell02.jpgThe clear favorite of the speculators (at the moment): Archbishop “Henry Mansell.”:

The former auxiliary bishop of New York (that’s him) has been on the list of everyone’s leading contenders for many years now. He’s served as archbishop of Hartford since 2003, after eight years as bishop of Buffalo.

Mansell makes sense, no doubt.

Others are still hoping for Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan.

The other favorites: Current auxiliary bishops Dennis Sullivan and Gerald Walsh (the recently named rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary).

Jehovah’s Witnesses: ‘Follow the Christ’

I couldn’t make it up to Newburgh this past weekend, but wanted to note that about 1,800 people from the lower-to-mid Hudson Valley gathered there for the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ annual, three-day convention.

Most of the folks were Witnesses themselves, but others were people who responded to a three-week advertising campaign.

That’s a pretty large number of people from the Westchester/Putnam/Dutchess/Fairfield area, a number that would probably surprise others who know little or nothing about “Jehovah’s Witnesses.”:

dirkbaptismresized.jpgThe theme of the gathering was “Follow the Christ.” There was a reenactment of events from Jesus’ “earthly life and ministry” and a program that explained the Witnesses’ pretty conservative take on the role of each family member in the home.

What do most non-Witnesses know about the Jehovah’s Witnesses? They don’t allow blood transfusions or celebrate holidays. They avoid politics and even military service. They do a lot of door-to-door evangelizing. They take conservative positions on most social issues such as gender roles and sexuality.

A statement from the Jehovah’s Witnesses before the convention stressed their fundamental belief in Jesus Christ:

They believe that the name of Jesus should truly inspire feelings of honor, respect and obedience. They feel that people need to know the central role that Jesus plays in the outworking of God’s eternal purpose to sanctify God’s name, Jehovah, and bring lasting blessings to faithful humans. Witnesses also strive to follow Christ’s example as closely as possible and encourage others to do the same.

Whether Jehovah’s Witnesses are Christians is a matter of interpretation. Most mainstream Christians — Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox — would say they are not because, among other reasons, they do not believe in the Trinity.

The Witnesses “believe”: there is one God (Jehovah) and that Jesus is his only son, a perfect human sent here to redeem humankind through his “ransom sacrifice.”

Now, the Witnesses’ believe they are the true Christians. A pre-conference statement said:

Though some may not realize it, in order for people to become Jehovah’s Witnesses they must accept Jesus as the Son of God. Witnesses hope that the convention program will bring into sharp focus the true nature of Christianity as taught in the Holy Scriptures. Witnesses consider Jesus as the greatest of Jehovah’s Witnesses, citing scriptures such as John 18:37 and Revelation 1:5.

In the picture, Dirk Meyer of Bethel, Conn., is being baptized on Saturday. A new Jehovah’s Witness.

The mystery of the 12-pound book

A couple of weeks back, I blogged about receiving a very large, very lovely, very strange book in the mail.

The book, “Atlas of Creation,”: was written by Adnan Oktar (also known as Harun Yahya), a Turkish Muslim who believes that the theory of evolution is phooey. The whole point of the 12-pound, 800-page book, which is filled with magnificent photos of animals and plants, is to show that life is exactly as it was way back when.

Nothing has evolved.

thumbphp.jpegLeave it to the NYT’s Science Times to write a “whole report”: today about the book, which has apparently been mailed to scientists around the country.

The Times’ story includes this:

The book caused a stir earlier this year when a French translation materialized at high schools, universities and museums in France. Until then, creationist literature was relatively rare in France, according to Armand de Ricqles, a professor of historical biology and evolutionism at the College de France. Scientists spoke out against the book, he said in an e-mail message, and “thanks to the highly centralized public school system in France, it was possible to organize that the books sent to lycées would not be made available to children.�

So far, no similar response is emerging in the United States. “In our country we are used to nonsense like this,� said Kevin Padian, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who, like colleagues there, found a copy in his mailbox.

He said people who had received copies were “just astounded at its size and production values and equally astonished at what a load of crap it is.”

The article wonders how the author paid to publish such a massive volume and mail it to disinterested academics across the country. No one knows.

Here’s my favorite part: “…for many, it is too beautiful for the trash bin but too erroneous for their shelves…”

My problem exactly. At the moment, I have the book on the floor, leaning up against the outside of my overstuffed bookcase.

New chair for religious freedom watchdog group

Evangelical leader/analyst Michael Cromartie has been “elected chairman”: of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, an important group that monitors religious freedom abroad and makes policy recommendations to the federal government.

cromartie.jpgCromartie, the vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in DC (a conservative think tank), gave an interesting talk about evangelicals in politics a few months back at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor. He was thoughtful (and pretty funny), calling on evangelicals not to lose sight of their religious mission in the pursuit of political power.

The independent commission was created by Congress in 1998. Among its recent activities: visits to Saudi Arabia and Turkey; reports on Russia, Bangladesh and asylum seekers; bringing attention to the plight of religious minorities in Iraq; and trying to come up with ways to counter growing anti-Semitism (and Holocaust denial) around the world.