A missionary priest at rest (however briefly)

I’m heading to Maryknoll this morning to chat with Father Michael Bassano, a priest who recently concluded an acclaimed 10-year assignment in Thailand.

For the first few years, he lived and served in the slums of Bangkok. Then he cared for AIDS patients and others who were dying alone — without family or any other means of care.

9dfae5ee0fa3b9d9cbe325c6de218ee1.jpgHe did so in a Buddhist temple about an hour north of Bangkok.

Bassano grew up in Binghamton. Yesterday, I talked to someone who went to high school with him. She said that he was always a selfless person, someone who put others at ease.

She also said that he is extraordinarily happy and at peace, even more so after his time spent with the poorest of the poor, holding onto gravely ill people with no one else in the world.

I’ll be writing about Bassano in the Journal News/LoHud over the next few days. He’s leaving later this month for his next assignment in Tanzania.

Mr. Bar Mitzvah to sign his books

I’ve written a few times over the years about Gary Chattman, a one-of-a-kind bar mitzvah tutor who calls himself, modestly, Mr. Bar Mitzvah.

Chattman, who lives in Yonkers, drives around with a mini-Torah and a bag of tricks and teaches Jewish kids who don’t go to traditional Hebrew schools how to be Jews. He covers Hebrew, history, literature, prayers, you name it, in a constantly evolving style that he caters to each child.

tjndc5-5fc74f0qlj6sxsw4nov_layout.jpgWhen bar or bas mitzvah time comes, Chattman, the student and the student’s family devise the service together. Then the student leads the service himself or herself, without a rabbi.

Not everyone would go for this sort of thing, needless to say, but there is tremendous demand for Chattman’s services (he has officiated at over 200 B’nai Mitzvot).

Last month, Chattman oversaw what is believed to be the first ever bar mitzvah at Ellis Island. The bar mitzvah boy saw an ad calling for donations to restore Ellis Island and decided to use the occasion of his bar mitzvah to raise money for the restoration.

Then he pulled out the stops and decided to do the whole thing where so many Jewish immigrants came to America.

Chattman has recently written two books. One of them, Coming of Age, is about his experience as a semi-maverick bar mitzvah tutor. The other, If I Should Die Before I Wake, is a novel.

Chattman will have a book signing for both books on Sunday (June 8) from 3 to 5 p.m. at the home of Joel and Mara Faden, 3 Laura Lane in Scarsdale. For info, call 914-237-2159 or 914-725-8208.

It should be something. I’m sure Chattman will have a lot of stories to tell. He’s a pretty animated guy and totally dedicated to his unorthodox calling.

By the way, Chattman’s son, Jon, was just featured in the Journal News/LoHud. He is a mustache obsessed, pop-culture maven who…well, read it yourself.

No love for the ‘Love Guru’

Rajan Zed, a prominent Hindu leader from Nevada, is continuing to protest the upcoming Mike Myers comedy, “The Love Guru.”

the-love-guru-mike-myers-jessica-alba-justin-timberlake.jpgZed and others say the film, out June 20, mocks Hindu belief and practice.

Myers plays an American who leaves the country to be taught by “gurus” and returns as a Deepak Chopra/Dr. Phil/flower power-type self-help dude called Guru Pitka who focuses on romantic happiness.

Thus, the love guru.

The movie’s website includes (mostly absurd) yoga poses, “mini-sutras” and sayings like “Go from ‘nowhere’ to ‘now’ ‘here.’ ”

Zed, who offered prayers before the U.S. Senate last year, and the Sanatan Society for Scientific Spirituality have asked Beliefnet to include their point of view alongside Beliefnet’s promotions for the movie. Beliefnet has apparently agreed to do so.

A slogan for the move, by the way, is: “His karma is huge.”

‘torture is wrong’ banners flying

Back from jury duty. I was not put on a jury. Got some reading done, though…
Anyway, a group called the National Religious Campaign Against Torture is enlisting congregations across the country to fly banners that say “torture is wrong.”

June is apparently Torture Awareness Month (which sounds silly somehow, no?).

2544001902_f68a7af405_m.jpgSeveral congregations from the LoHud have signed up to fly the banners. They are: Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church in Irvington; Nauraushuan Presbyterian Church in Pearl River (that’s it in the picture); Temple Beth Torah in Upper Nyack; and Congregation Kol Ami in White Plains.

I would expect the list to grow, as there are many churches and synagogues in this area that have been quite outspoken about the use of torture in the war on terror.

Cardinal George addresses Obama’s priest

At least one more day — today — of jury duty…

Interesting developments in the Archdiocese of Chicago, where Cardinal George has sidelined the radical, outspoken, social activist priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger. He was the guy whose anti-Hillary rant at Trinity United Church of Christ ultimately convinced Obama to leave his church of two decades.

Pfleger, long a controversial guy in Chicago, talked to the Chicago Sun-Times about his predicament. He said that he didn’t know his sermon would be online for all to see:

They told me it was down. Their live streaming had been down all day, and they didn’t know whether it was back up. . . . I regret the dramatization that I was naive enough to believe was just going to be kept among that church.

‘Faith and doubt’ in the New Yorker

I’m still on jury duty, at least through tomorrow.

images.jpgBut I did get to spend some time with the New Yorker’s “summer fiction issue,” which includes several essays that fall under a heading of “Faith and Doubt.”

They are provocative snapshots of individual faith journeys that would appeal, I think, to those who see faith as a living, breathing, changing thing (or something like that).

And they’re available for free on the New Yorker website.

You get a seminarian in Nairobi encountering two hungry boys as he enters church, reflections on a Bergman film and a painting of Jesus, a tale of praying for food in Haiti, a Muslim coming to terms with the relationship between faith and science, a Jewish woman’s memories of waiting for services to end when she was a child, and more memories of a Mass reader walking in on something unexpected at church and how it affected his faith.

Give ’em a try…

Cutting ties with religious problems

I have jury duty this week, so I don’t know if or when I’ll be able to blog.

We’ll see how it goes.

images.jpegSo, Obama has ended his two-decade membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Beside the whole Jeremiah Wright flap, he’s apparently unhappy with a recent appearance by the social activist Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger (that’s him), who mimicked Sen. Clinton crying over “a black man stealing my show.”

images1.jpegAnd John McCain has, of course, regurgitated the endorsements of televangelists John Hagee and Rod Parsley (and him).

So many troubling religious connections. I’m surprised Sen. Clinton hasn’t trotted out some mild-mannered Methodist minister to show off as a righteous religious mentor.

The Rev. C. Welton Gaddy, head of the moderate/liberal Interfaith Alliance, send the following note to the 3 candidates:

While I appreciate your decisions to distance yourself from the harmful rhetoric from people like Father Pfleger, Rev. Hagee and Rev. Parsley you share some of the responsibility. You have all gone after endorsements of clergy, and I sense that you are now having some buyer’s remorse. But you can’t have it both ways. You can’t continue to use clergy as political props when they serve your purpose, and then discard them when they no longer fit your image.

The clergy who have endorsed you share some responsibility. They open themselves up to criticism when they make political endorsements. The more the pulpit is treated as a stump for partisan politics the more clergy will be caricatured as cartoon figures. Houses of worship will be considered just like other institutions interested in power regardless of its cost. And politics and faith will be confused to an extent that harms both religion and democracy. When will it end? It must end soon or people will be fed up with politics and religion.

I ask you all to stop seeking clergy endorsements from the pulpit, and stop using religion as a political tool.

In the coming months, I hope you will talk about the role of faith in public life in a way that is constructive. What are the boundaries for you between religion and government? What role will your faith play in creating public policy? How will you balance the principles of your faith and your obligation to defend the Constitution, particularly if the two come into conflict?