Thanking God for that big hit

The Colorado Rockies are apparently a faith-based baseball team.

Its front office runs the team based on “Christian principles.” Chief Executive Charlie Monfort told USA Today in 2006:

“Christians, and what they’ve endured, are some of the strongest people in baseball. I believe God sends signs, and we’re seeing those.”

So I guess they won’t give up after last night’s opening game debacle.

tjndc5-5h3ti8dcj8z1i606v3jm_layout.jpgBut as Dave Zirin and Tom Krattenmaker “write”:,0,7817597.story?track=rss in the LA Times, it’s not easy to live by religious principles in the hyper-competitive world of pro sports:

The Rockies’ playoffs triumph is almost enough to make believers out of sporting heathens too. But faith and sports are not the match made in heaven some would have us believe — as moments from the Rockies’ storybook season make clear.

You might recall this play: Left fielder Matt Holliday slid safely at home plate to score the winning run in the 13th inning of the crucial, one-game playoff with the San Diego Padres that sent his Rockies into the postseason. The problem, as replays made clear, was that he never touched home.

When asked about the call after the game, Holliday apparently felt no duty to confess. That’s in keeping with the values and norms of professional sports, where competitors never give an inch, even to the truth. But Holliday went on to implicate God in the umpire’s error by publicly thanking the Lord for the victory and the season’s many blessings.

The church as ‘tribe’

It is one of the great dilemmas shared by religious congregations: How to appeal to young adults.

The truth is, many congregations hope that young adults will have children and then want their children to be part of a religious community.

They hope, and they wait.

The Rev. Carol Howard Merritt, a Presbyterian minister in her mid-thirties, believes that churches can do more. She’s written a book called “Tribal Church,”: in which she contends that churches should offer the kind of close bonds that characterize (you guessed it) a tribe.

Her website puts it like this:

al337.jpgOutlining the financial, social, and familial situations that affect many young adults today, she describes how churches can provide a safe, supportive place for young adults to nurture relationships and foster spiritual growth. There are few places left in society that allow for real intergenerational connections to be made, yet these connections are vital for any church that seeks to reflect the fullness of the body of Christ.

Using the metaphor of a tribe to describe the close bonds that form when people of all ages decide to walk together on their spiritual journeys, Merritt casts a vision of the church that embraces the gifts of all members while reaching out to those who might otherwise feel unwelcome or unneeded.

Merritt will be preaching Sunday (Oct. 28) at “Larchmont Avenue Presbyterian Church.”: She’ll be at the 10 a.m. worship service and will lead a forum afterward.

Does your congregation have what it takes to go tribal?

Why traditions believe what they do about…homosexuality

Homosexuality may be the most divisive religious issue going.

Not abortion? Well, pro-lifers and pro-choicers are pretty much immovable objects. The debate is played out through elections and the courts.

But on homosexuality, people of faith who disagree are still very much engaging — fighting it out over what Scripture says, what tradition holds and what God wants.

The Anglican world may be cracking up over it. Conservative Judaism is just beginning to come to terms with a decision to ordain gay rabbis. Presbyterian Church (USA) will again duke it out over whether to remove a ban on gay clergy. And on and on.

Today I’m in NYC attending a day-long press briefing called “By what authority? How religious traditions think about homosexuality.” It’s being put on by the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture.

The idea is for scholars representing Judaism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, mainline Protestantism and evangelical Protestantism to explain, according to materials, “not only what their traditions teach but how they ground this teaching — in what authoritative texts or by what authoritative means of interpretation or by what forms of philosophical reasoning or by what kind of reliance on scientific or social scientific findings or personal experience.”

So there we go.

Who will I and a few dozen other journalists get to hear?

The presenters: Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the University of Judaism in LA; Stephen Pope, theology prof at Boston College; Ebrahim Moosa, associate prof of Islamic Studies at Duke University; Stanton Jones, provost of Wheaton College; and William Stacy Johnson, systematic theologian at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Also, Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress will talk about the legal side of things.

I plan to write about the program for the Journal News/, although it probably won’t run until the weekend.

The issue certainly isn’t going away any time soon. I just got a press release from the The Community Unitarian Church at White Plains, which is hosting a multi-faith roundtable on Nov. 4 about how to better advocate for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender New Yorkers and their families.

It’s part of a Empire State Pride Agenda Foundation program meant to mobilize New York’s “progressive religious community.”

The Reverend Carol A. Huston, minister of the church, says:

There is pain, fear, and anguish for those who come out as gay in this society. There is also pain, fear, and anguish for their families, especially for those spouses who find that they have been married to someone who is gay. I’m proud of the fact that CUC has become a haven for all of these groups of people.

Most religious communities want to provide havens for those in pain. But when it comes to gays, lesbians and their families, there is great disagreement on how it can be done.

‘Cardinal, can we have a picture?’

A lot of Yonkers living rooms will soon be sporting new pictures of Cardinal Egan.

He was at St. John the Baptist Church last night to celebrate Mass and have a reception for folks from all 20 Yonkers parishes. During the reception, Egan just worked the jam-packed room, shaking hands, getting introduced to mothers and grandmothers, and posing for picture after picture with entire Yonkers families.

Cardinal Egan has his share of critics, but he certainly seems most at ease when visiting parishes, talking about the importance of parish life and greeting people who can’t wait to meet the cardinal/archbishop of New York.

“I think it’s very important that we get together and have a cookie and a chance to chat,” he said at the reception.

Last night was Egan’s sixth visit to one of the archdiocese’s vicariates — or regions — to celebrate the upcoming 200th birthday of the archdiocese. He has 13 more planned through April. At each stop, he has dinner with priests and deacons before Mass and a reception (with finger sandwiches, pastries, fruit and other goodies provided by the archdiocese).

“We celebrate the oneness of our faith here in Yonkers,” Monsignor Hugh Corrigan, vicar of Yonkers, said at the start of Mass.

During his homily, Egan talked about reviewing a series of prayer books that belonged to Cardinal Francis Spellman and were given to him by Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (the future Pope Pius XII). He talked about the various prayer cards and notations that Spellman left in the books, saying they were part of the long history of the archdiocese.

Egan also spent a lot of time praising the clergy and religious of New York. “There would be no Archdiocese of New York had it not been for the religious,” he said. “The religious created our schools, our hospitals and so much else.”

The cardinal was in a laudatory mood, citing several figures — including Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, Pierre Toussaint and Dorothy Day –who he believes should be sainted at some point.

Egan did not mention the growing speculation about when Pope Benedict XVI might accept his retirement papers. His focus was on the archdiocese and its parishes — “We are a Eucharistic people,” he said again and again — not on the archbishop.

In fact, toward the end of Mass, he joked “We’ll do it again in 100 years, and we’ll do it the same way.”

The faith of Bart and Homer

I’m finally getting around to reading the updated version of The Gospel According to The Simpsons by “Mark Pinsky,”: the religion writer at the Orlando Sentinel.

The original version was a hoot and spawned a whole bunch of books looking at religion in pop culture.

mp_wchurchset_5060small.jpgPinsky’s book (that’s him) found an audience, I think, both because it’s a good read and the religious themes in The Simpsons and are so clear and so darn funny.

In his new intro, Pinsky writes about the epiphany that led him to write the book:

In many ways, Simpson family members were both defined and circumscribed by religion. The family attended church every Sunday, read the Bible, and said grace before meals. Their next-door neighbors were committed evangelical Christians. When faced with crises, the Simpsons turned to God and prayed aloud. God often answered their prayers and intervened in their world.

In the updated version (the cover says “BIGGER and Possibly Even BETTER!”), Pinsky added an afterward about the uneven adult cartoons that followed the Simpsons and how they deal with the divine.

On South Park, Pinsky writes that the show’s quartet of characters are “nasty, naughty and nihilistic.” But, he writes, “Today, South Park is one of the most cosmological shows on the small screen, where the philosophical nature of the universe is examined and a place where occasionally scatology meets eschatology.”

Lisa Simpson would know what that means.

Updating James the brother

Bard College up in Annandale-on-Hudson has started the Center for the Study of James the Brother.

That would be James the brother of Jesus Christ.

Now, not all Christians believe that James had a brother. Most Roman Catholics, for instance, hold that James may have been a relative of Jesus, perhaps his cousin. Catholics generally believe that Mary, the mother of Jesus, remained a virgin for life.

A brief introduction on the James Center’s “website”: offer this:

THE CENTER FOR THE STUDY OF JAMES THE BROTHER OF JESUS addresses a critical period in the study of both Judaism and Christianity: the thirty years between 32 C.E. and 62 C.E. when Jesus’ movement was guided from the Temple in Jerusalem by James. Some see Peter in that role, and view the existence of Jesus’ four brothers, of whom James was the eldest, inconvenient. The goal of the Center is to make the hard data and critical interpretation of this research better known, and to explore the significance of James for Jewish-Christian relations in the 21st century.

Bruce Chilton, a prominent scholar of religion at Bard and director of the James Center, was even more provocative in a press release:

The existence of Jesus’ four brothers, of whom James was the eldest, is obviously inconvenient for those who believe that Mary was a virgin both before and after Jesus’ birth. The prominence of James as the first leader of the early Christian movement comes as an embarrassment to those who see Peter in that role. But the reality that Jesus had a brother, and that James was his successor in Jerusalem, has been well established in critical scholarship.

It’s always hard to generalize about these things, but…most Catholics do not believe that James was Jesus’ brother (although some Catholic theologians think it’s possible). Orthodox Christians often believe that Joseph fathered James through a previous marriage, making James the half-brother of Jesus. Many Protestants accept that after Mary had Jesus, she had other children with Joseph.

Again, these are not clear-cut positions.

On Thursday, Nov. 8, the James Center will host biblical scholar Sean Freyne from Dublin, whose presentation will be called “Retrieving James/Yakov, the Brother of the Lord: From Legend to History.” A release says he will examine the “historical background of the James legends.”

The 4 p.m. lecture will be shown on a live webcast at the James Center’s “website.”:

As an aside, it was Chilton’s colleague at Bard, Rabbi Jacob Neusner, who was widely quoted in Pope Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth.”

Crunching the Bible on the Web

And the most cited biblical verse on the Web is…

John 3:16.

No surprise there. For non-Christians or anyone who doesn’t remember, it’s the one that goes:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

An Internet survey of 37 million Bible references has ranked the most cited verses, as well as the most cited books (Number one: Ephesians) and chapters (Number one: 2 Peter 1) of the Bible.

Check it all out at “”:

Experts on Christian-Jewish relations wrestle with Israel

You’ve probably never heard of the “Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations.”:

But there is such an animal, and its members held their sixth annual meeting yesterday and this morning at Iona College in New Rochelle. The group’s current chair is Dr. Elena Procario-Foley, who holds the Brother John G. Driscoll Professor of Jewish-Catholic Studies at Iona.

The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations — as you can probably tell — is an umbrella group. It represents 28 academic centers, most based at colleges, that focus on relations between Christians and Jews.

Relations between Christians and Jews have, of course, improved dramatically over the last 40 years or so, inspired mostly by Vatican II. But the various Christian-Jewish centers study the history of Christian anti-Semitism and the new theological understandings that have developed.

They also speak out when there are bumps in the road. When Mel Gibson’s movie came out, for instance, the Council of Centers put out a statement that said, in part:

…while the events of the Passion are central to Christian faith, elements of their portrayal, particularly in popular Passion Plays, have often been theologically and morally problematic. Specifically, their portrayal of Jews collectively as killers of Christ has historically fomented hatred and violence toward Jews. In the wake of the Holocaust, the Roman Catholic Church and all major Protestant denominations have officially rejected the claim of deicide and collective Jewish guilt for the death of Jesus. In a world where antisemitism is on the rise, these teachings take on new urgency.

At this year’s meeting, the members of the Council of Centers have dealt with a very sensitive and complex matter: the different ways that Christian communities criticize Israeli policies and what it means for Christian-Jewish relations.

I spoke to several members about this subject this morning and will write about what they told me in tomorrow’s Journal News/

“It has been a source of some tension,” said Father John Pawlikowski, director of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

In ‘Magic,’ there are choices…

I read an essay the other day that started like this:

There comes a point in most believers’ lives where faith transforms from an inevitability to a choice. Something alters life’s usual patterns — a personal tragedy, perhaps, or an intellectual realization — and what seemed so true suddenly can’t be trusted. This isn’t true just for God-fearing people; any creed is vulnerable to such a crisis. Getting past it can feel like an accomplishment or a sneaking betrayal, depending on whether you genuinely renew your convictions or just decide that credulity is the best way to survive.

Provocative. But it wasn’t from a religious periodical or blog.

It was a “review”:,0,7511785.story?coll=cl-albumreviews of Bruce Springsteen’s new record by Ann Powers of the LA Times.

There has been a lot written over the years about religious imagery — Catholic imagery — in Springsteen’s music, not to mention the moral questions that drive many of his best songs.

Powers goes on:

bruce-springsteen-vandy.jpgFew artists must feel the obligation to keep the faith as heavily as Bruce Springsteen. For nearly 40 years, he’s relentlessly returned to one great subject: that moment when an ordinary person confronts some higher power, whether it’s love or death or the state patrol, and makes an ennobling if sometimes fatally wrongheaded commitment to act.

Springsteen’s fascination with these personal epiphanies has earned him a massive cult, and why not? His lyrics blend religious and secular scenarios to describe the various apocalypses his fans might encounter in their own lives. Rife with Catholic imagery but attached to the kind of rousing rock that follows directly from American revivalist and black church traditions, Springsteen turns his tales into rituals. Each hearing allows the committed fan to renew her devotion, not just to the Boss, but to her own path.

What happens, though, when the prophet begins to wonder if it’s all a hollow game? That’s when choice comes in.

That’s where the “record review” part kicks in…

Two Catholic educators honored

Sister Joan Curtin, director of the Archdiocese of NY’s Catechetical Office, and Nancy Doran, director of religious education at St. Francis of Assisi in West Nyack, are being honored tomorrow by Fordham’s Graduate School of Religious Education.

Curtin and Doran will receive the 2007 Sapientia et Doctrina Award for “service to the renewal of the Church.”

Curtin has spent almost her entire religious life as an educator. She’s led the Catechetical Office since 1986.

Doran, in addition to her service at St. Francis of Assisi, is director of catechist formation for the Catechetical Office.

The Graduate School will also honor the “God Squad,” Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Gellman will be the keynote speaker at Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.