1,931 hand-crafted pipes of music

Organ aficionados, take note.

On Saturday, “Irvington Presbyterian Church”:http://www.irvingtonpresbychurch.org/ will host one of 16 recitals — worldwide — to mark the 125th anniversary of Johannes Klais Orgelbau, a world-famous maker of pipe organs based in Bonn, Germany.

tjndc5-5b3ijz0g1g6lez4p6jt_layout.jpgIrvington Presbyterian debuted its new, $500,000 Klais organ in April 2001. The instrument, which consists of 1,931 individually hand-crafted pipes, was featured on the April 2002 cover of The American Organist magazine (which you aficionados must read).

The church’s noontime recital (on Sept. 8) will feature Noah Wynne-Morton, winner of the 2007 AGO/Quimby Region II Competition for Young Organists. It is open to the public.

Irvington Presbyterian’s organ (that’s it in the picture) was only Klais’ seventh in the U.S.

Klais’ “website”:http://www.orgelbau-klais.com/index.php?newlang=english declares:

It is the very first tone that fills the room.
It is the first tone of the organ that suggests peace and quiet; solemnity.

Respect is the most important starting point for the organ builder’s work. Respect for the purpose of the instrument, for the room involved, for the music, for the performer. For more than 100 years – in the fourth generation now – organ building has been the principal concern of the Klais family. For more than 100 years they have both lived and worked under the same roof.

They are bound by tradition: preservation of old values, maintenance of what has proved worthwile. Yet with time new laws evolve. Modern technology may sometimes be applied discreetly. New methods appear in organ building. Klais aims to strike the right balance.

No TV time for Six13

Wouldn’t you want to hear an a cappella group sing “God Bless America” in six-part harmony?

I did — but ESPN did not show Six13 perform during the seventh-inning stretch of the Mets game last night. Instead, we got at least seven commercials (I stopped counting, so it may have been more).

I “wrote”:http://lohud.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070826/NEWS02/708260352/1028/NEWS12 yesterday about Six13, a group of Orthodox Jews that mostly sings prayers and passages from Scripture. They wrap modern arrangements around the super-traditional lyrics, though, creating a pretty unique sound.

They promised a captivating performance of “God Bless America.” I hope they did better than the Mets.


‘Big Love’ does religion right

HBO’s “Big Love” is a lot like “The Sopranos,” if you ask me.

Both shows are about large, dysfunctional families.

But I don’t know anyone who watches “Big Love,”:http://www.hbo.com/biglove/ which ends its second season on Sunday night. No one I know talks about it around the old water-cooler.

But I think it’s a terrific show that portrays religion in an authentic way and treats religious people with respect.

tjndc5-5f4b5oq6gf6zvoay36r_layout.jpgA lot of people are not going to like a show about polygamy, especially a show that makes a polygamous family seem vaguely normal.

But here’s the thing: “Big Love” presents Bill and his wives as people who are following their hearts. They pray and talk about God in a real way. They want to do what’s right (even if they know that society at large vehemently disagrees with their beliefs).

Their Mormon neighbors and associates, who strongly oppose polygamy, are also presented as being sincere and fueled by faith. These side characters are not as well developed, of course, but I don’t recall seeing anything on the show that belittles the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Of course, many Mormons would probably prefer that there not be a TV show that focuses on a polygamous family that believes itself to be “authentically” Mormon.

But week-by-week, scene-by-scene, “Big Love” presents characters that are really trying to live out their faith — as they understand it — in the world.

Most TV shows handle religious themes terribly and present religious people as crazed fundamentalists or simple-minded do-gooders. One exception, of course, is “The Simpsons.”

Greenberg here from the Jewish Journal…

Okay, you meet a reporter named Brad Greenberg from the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and the one thing you think you know about Brad is that he’s…Jewish.

Think again.

Someone just sent me this “Q&A”:http://www.forward.com/articles/11413/ that the Forward recently did with Greenberg, who does consider himself ethnically Jewish.

“I feel very connected to large parts of the Jewish community for multiple reasons,” he says. “One, intellectually, I think I’m very Jewish, and socially I think I’m very Jewish. I think like a Jew.”

His story is quite interesting.

Are these schools non-religious?

Can a school that focuses on teaching Hebrew — and is run by an Orthodox rabbi — not be a religious school?

This is the position of a public charter school in Hollywood, Fla., that’s “profiled”:http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/24/education/24charter.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin in today’s NYT.

Supporters note that there are hundreds of dual-language schools around the country. So why can’t one focus on Hebrew?

As the Times’ story notes, a similar debate is taking place over a proposed NYC public school that would focus on teaching Arabic and Middle Eastern studies. Critics have been calling the school a tax-funded madrassa.

The NYC Education Department “says”:http://schools.nyc.gov/doefacts/factfinder/ServiceDetails.aspx?id=135 it will be a non-religious school.

This is a debate that’s not going away. If public schools can emphasize, let’s say, Spanish instruction, why can’t they concentrate on Hebrew or Arabic?

But, how can a school that promotes the study of Hebrew not be religious in nature? Will an Arabic-centric school teach about the Middle East as an ordinary public school would?

There’s a tent revival going on

The idea of a tent revival may bring to mind fire ‘n’ brimstone preaching, while people fall to their knees in ecstatic prayer, get saved, forsake the devil, maybe speak in tongues.

I don’t know how much of that will go on at Memorial United Methodist Church in White Plains, which will hold a tent revival tonight (Friday, 24th), tomorrow and Sunday, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. or so.

This being Westchester and the revival being sponsored by several Methodist churches, I think the emphasis will be on the pursuit of social justice (although there will be opportunities to pray, get saved, and all).

mlkj-memorial-service-2.jpgA North Carolina minister, the Rev. Mazie Ferguson, will preach all three nights. She was the first female minister to be called as pastor by a Baptist church in North Carolina (and that’s Baptist country, folks). She is a well-known advocate for social justice and civil rights in N.C.

The revival also promises good music and storytelling for the kids.

Get the details on the revival — called Wake Up, Westchester — “here.”:http://memorial.ny.umportal.org/main/article.asp?id=2333

Mother Teresa’s life without God

So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives & hurt my very soul. — I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness & coldness & emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call of the Sacred Heart?

The above letter was written by Mother Teresa.

It is one of many that she wrote to confessors and superiors over 66 years that are included in a new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday).

tjndc5-5b4eboqqbs310l3xynb6_layout.jpgI just read a fascinating “account”:http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,1655415,00.html of the letters by TIME magazine’s longtime religion writer, David Van Biema.

Years ago, some letters were released that showed that Mother Teresa went about her work without feeling a connection to God. But the new correspondence goes much deeper, showing that she did not feel God’s presence for about a half century.

She lived in a state of spiritual crisis.

Only twice did she explicitly doubt God’s existence. But she felt unable to pray for decades.

She wrote: “I just have the joy of having nothing — not even the reality of the Presence of God [in the Eucharist].”


Dr. Richard Gottlieb, a teacher at the New York Psychoanalytic Society & Institute, tells TIME that Mother Teresa may have punished herself for her achievements by denying herself God’s love.

One priest helped convince her that her perseverance and pain echoed Jesus’ death on the cross.

The Rev. James Martin, the author of My Life with the Saints, concludes:

Everything she’s experiencing is what average believers experience in their spiritual lives writ large. I have known scores of people who have felt abandoned by God and had doubts about God’s existence. And this book expresses that in such a stunning way but shows her full of complete trust at the same time.

Mother Teresa did not want her letters released.

Banning religion books in prison

You can understand why prison inmates might want to read Harold Kushner’s “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

Or why some might want to try to turn things around with Rick Warren’s “The Purpose-Driven Life.”

But both books have been banned from a federal prison camp in Otisville, N.Y. (west of Middletown), according to a federal lawsuit filed this week.

Two inmates, Moshe Milstein, an Orthodox Jew, and John J. Okon, a Protestant, filed the suit, accusing the feds of dismantling religious libraries at federal prisons. They want their suit to be given class-action status so that it would affect prisons nationwide.

Apparently, federal prisons have been condensing religious libraries out of concern that certain books about Islam may inspire extremism.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Feldman told the AP that a study had concluded that prisons “had been radicalized by inmates who were practicing or espousing various extreme forms of religion, specifically Islam, which exposed security risks to the prisons and beyond the prisons to the public at large.�

The Muslim section of the Otisville prison library now contains only the Quran and two other books.

But Milstein and Okon don’t want the Jewish and Christian sections to be touched, it seems.

Their lawsuit says: “This purge is an unnecessary, unconstitutional and unlawful restriction of the ability of federal inmates nationwide to practice and learn about their religion and has substantially burdened their ability to exercise their religion.”

AJC: Young Americans should embrace national service

An American Jewish Committee task force is recommending that all Americans between 18 and 25 offer one year of voluntary national service, either military or civilian.

A 30-member group studied the history of national service in the U.S. — from the Peace Corps to AmeriCorps — and has set a goal of enlisting 1 million people a year in some sort of new national service program.

Read the report “here.”:http://www.ajc.org/site/c.ijITI2PHKoG/b.2818289/apps/nl/content2.asp?content_id={2370375B-FE8D-4F60-81CB-0483390071AD}&notoc=1

The group wants Republicans and Democrats to include the idea in their platforms (good luck there).

The group’s report says:

“Service programs link the rights and privileges of being American with a clear sense of responsibility. By helping to create habits of civic engagement in young people that last a lifetime, they provide benefits to both participants and society.”

A half-century after taking on school prayer

Ever wonder who’s responsible for the Supreme Court case that struck down school-sponsored prayer?

It was Ellery Schempp, a cradle Unitarian turned atheist and a world-traveling physicist, who is now 67.

He made it happen in 1956, when he started reading from the Quran at Abington (Pa.) High School.

The AP’s Jay Lindsay catches up with Schempp today:

MEDFORD, Mass. (AP) — His protest began a half-century ago, when Ellery Schempp opened the Quran during his high school’s mandatory Bible reading time and silently scanned passages he was too nervous to actually read.
tjndc5-5g7vfxz8bm8149u2k5fo_layout.jpg That minor rebellion led to a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case that outlawed school-sponsored prayer.
Schempp’s civil disobedience in 1956 is back in the public eye with a new book “Ellery’s Protest� by New York University law professor Stephen Solomon, which examines the effect of his case amid continuing controversy over the separation of church and state.
Schempp, a genial 67-year-old, clearly relishes the renewed activism as he’s become a sought-after speaker for humanist groups and church and state separatists.
For most of his life, Schempp gave little thought to the school prayer case, even as its impact rattled through the courts and culture. A physicist, Schempp had a busy career, two marriages and saw both the North and South Poles during extensive travel in which his legal legacy was an afterthought.
But his views have remained as controversial as they were when he was a teenager.
“I’m really dismayed that 50 years later, this is still a bit of an issue,� Schempp, an atheist, said in a recent interview at his home in Medford, just outside Boston. “There’s enough problems in the world. Does anyone seriously think that more prayer and more Bible reading is the answer to global problems, to political problems, to wars in Iraq?� Continue reading