Love thy (Christian and Muslim) neighbors

Tomorrow morning, I’ll be heading up to Yale to cover the first day of: Loving God and Neighbor in Word and Deed: Implications for Christians and Muslims.

This is a big, week-long gathering of more than 150 Muslim and Christian leaders from around the world.

Yes, the goal is to learn how to get along (better).

It dates back to last year’s open letter from 138 Muslim leaders to world Christendom, which basically made the argument that both Islam and Christianity center around a love of God and a love of the neighbor. So why can’t we get along?

340x.jpgAmong the many responses came a statement from scholars at Yale, which was eventually signed by more than 300 deep thinkers. Yes, everyone was in favor of getting along.

The Vatican hosted several of the Muslim letter writers for a meeting. More good vibes.

And now the first of several major conferences to further advance the good vibes is happening at Yale. Others to come at Cambridge U, the Vatican, at Georgetown U and in Jordan.

The Big Question, it seems to me, is how you get past the very general agreements (For example: We all love God) and figure out how to apply religious teachings to all the trouble in the world. That’s why it’s about Word and Deed, I suppose.

Day one of the public session (the scholars have been meeting behind closed doors for several days) will feature panels called “God is Loving,” “Loving God” and “Loving Neighbor.”

We’ll see how it goes. I hope to blog (Web connection permitting).

The keynotes will be by the Grand Mufti of Bosnia, H.E. Shaykh Mustafa Cerić (that’s him), and Sen. John F. Kerry. Kerry must have talked about interfaith relations during his ill-fated presidential campaign, but I don’t recall anything off the top.

The conference website defines the “issues” being faced this way:

Central to the task of the Reconciliation Program is bridge-building scholarship on the critical social, political, moral/ethical and theological issues which sometimes divide Muslims and Christians, and on concerns which unite them.

Though contemporary social and political issues often seem most pressing in the glare of media coverage, it is perhaps the theological and moral/ethical issues which are most important to Muslim and Christian people of faith. Reconciliation Program research seeks to help Muslims and Christians to find common ground on issues where they frequently think no common ground exists. And in areas where they do disagree, it seeks to foster mutual understanding, so that differences may be construed with respect, sympathy and fairness.

On this page we offer draft articles on a number of important theological issues and political issues in Muslim-Christian dialogue. The list of issues here is far from exhaustive, and the articles represent just a tentative beginning, but they are offered by way of beginning a conversation which we hope will enrich all concerned.

Is women’s ordination a closed Catholic subject?

Early last year, I went to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers to hear Sister Sara Butler (that’s her) explain why women cannot be Roman Catholic priests.

tjndc5-5dum5scb94xzw4j4l6b_layout.jpgAs I wrote at the time:

Butler made the case last night that the all-male priesthood is grounded in Jesus’ choice of 12 male apostles and the Catholic Church’s sustained understanding of what this meant for the priesthood.

“The answer is discovered in a tradition of practice that is traced back to the Lord’s choice of the 12,” she said.

To change the church’s traditional understanding of the priesthood, she said, would be to change the priesthood itself and disconnect the church from the apostles, ending what Catholics believe to be their church’s God-given power to teach.

You can read her lecture HERE.

Of course, the issue of (whether there can be) female priests is not likely to go away any time soon.

The liberal Catholic weekly Commonweal recently invited Father Robert Egan, a Jesuit who teaches at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash., to explore why the subject may not be closed for discussion. He wrote that the tradition of the all-male priesthood might be grounded in a “bias for subjecting women to men’s authority and power.”

Then Commonweal invited Butler to respond. As one of the first female members of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, an influential advisory group, she has the credentials.

You can read her response and Egan’s response to her response HERE.

Additionally, the all-everything Protestant scholar Martin Marty weighs in on the exchange (and the question of whether the Catholic Church changes its positions) in this column, out today:

On Women’s Ordination
— Martin E. Marty
Robert J. Egan, S. J., of Gonzaga University, started it all (this round) with an article in the April 11 Commonweal, in which he asked whether official Roman Catholics ought to consider reconsidering the Vatican declarations against the ordination of women to the priesthood. In best “fair and balanced” style the editors later gave space (July 18) to Sr. Sara Butler, MSBT, of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers. She draws on her book The Catholic Priesthood and Women (2007), which had helped prompt Egan’s response. And, also in the July 18 issue, Father Egan was given another chance. So today’s Sightings is a response to a response to a response to a response – almost ad infinitum?

Whether Catholics should change and begin ordination of women is their business, not mine, at least not here and today, though outcomes of Catholic debates do have huge “public religion” consequences. I can only testify to the manifest blessings so many churches, like my own (ELCA), have received during the past half-century from the ministry of women-ordained. My business instead picks up on Egan’s closing paragraph, where he argues against Sr. Butler’s reversion to and repetition of the claim that Rome does not change. Continue reading

Mormon leadership postpones meeting with gays

One religious group that we don’t see having many public rifts over homosexuality is the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Apparently, some higher-ups in the church leadership were to meet with gay Mormons next month, but the meeting has been called off.

The official explanation, the Chicago Tribune reports, is that one of the church leaders tabbed to participate has been reassigned. But David Melson, assistant executive director of Affirmation, an organization of gay and lesbian Mormons, believes that the real reason for the postponement is the debate over gay marriage in California.

The church is urging its 750,000 members in the Golden State to support a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage that’s on the November ballot.

“The church is playing hardball right now,” Melson tells the Trib. “And a meeting with us would be inconsistent with that position.”

Can eradicating poverty be a ‘distraction’ for Christian leaders?

Bishop Catherine Roskam has never tried to hide her belief that gays and lesbians should have full religious rights in the Episcopal Church (and society at large).

inpage_bishops_roskam2.jpgAs I noted last week, the assistant bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of NY has been writing in her blog from the Lambeth Conference about her deep disappointment that Bishop V. Gene Robinson — the openly gay bishop from New Hampshire — has been excluded from the worldwide gathering of Anglican bishops.

But sexuality, she writes in her latest post from England, is not the be-all, end-all of Christian concerns.

Apparently, the bishops were taking part in an Indaba (a Zulu work for community discussion) session on the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals for eradicating extreme poverty.

She writes:

While we are on the subject of a suffering world, I confess to you that I almost lost my temper in our Indaba session this morning when one bishop said he thought that our focus on the MDG’s was a distraction from the issue of human sexuality. I responded, trying to remain as civil as possible, that no matter what we might choose to discuss, the world’s suffering is not a distraction for a gathering of bishops from around a Communion riddled by poverty, violence and catastrophe.

I have never heard a bishop from the developing world call the MDG’s a distraction. For those of us in the developed world, suffering seems to us an aberration from a life intended to be free of it. Hence, we often ask “Why me?” when we experience the inevitable sufferings attached to being human. We are reluctant to recognize that for the vast majority of human beings on this planet, suffering is a way of life. And for some, extreme suffering is a daily occurrence. (If you would like some figures on this, I encourage you to google

It is as Gordon Brown said yesterday, people of faith can make a difference. The Anglican Communion does make a difference. Let us not spend time worrying about who is the wheat and who is the tare, but simply grow together in God’s garden, trusting in the abundance of God’s grace to get us through.

Catholic Mass: ‘And also with you’ to become ‘And with your spirit’

The Vatican has approved a new English language translation of the Order of Mass, the U.S. Bishops Conference announced today.

Here’s the press release from the Bishops Conference:


WASHINGTON— The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has received approval (recognitio) from the Holy See’s Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments for the new English-language translation of the Order of Mass (Ordo Missae).
tjndc5-5b239wdg4aa1bwz07k3i_layout.jpg This is the first section of the translation of the third edition of the Roman Missal. It includes most of the texts used in every celebration of the Mass, including the responses that will be said by the people.
In its letter, the Congregation pointed out that while the texts are binding, the approval “does not intend that these texts are to be put into use immediately.”
Cardinal Francis Arinze, Prefect of the Congregation, explained the reasons for providing the text at this time. The purpose is to provide “time for the pastoral preparation of priests, deacons and for appropriate catechesis of the lay faithful. It will likewise facilitate the devising of musical settings for parts of the Mass.”
The text is covered by copyright law and the Statutes of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.
The more significant changes of the people’s parts are:
1. et cum spiritu tuo is rendered as “And with your spirit”
2. In the Confiteor, the text “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault” has been added
3. The Gloria has been translated differently and the structure is different from the present text
4. In the Preface dialogue the translation of “Dignum et justum est” is “It is right and just”
5. The first line of the Sanctus now reads “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts”
6. The response of the people at the Ecce Agnus Dei is “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

At this time, no date is available as to when the entire translation of the Roman Missal will be released.

When Asbury roamed the Westchester countryside

Who is the godfather of Asbury Park, N.J.?

No, not Bruce Springsteen. It’s Francis Asbury, the Methodist circuit-rider who traveled up and down the Eastern seaboard on horseback during the late 1700s to spread the Gospel.

A Maine writer named Mark Alan Leslie has just published an historical novel about Asbury called “Midnight Rider for the Morning Star.”

midnightrider-72-medium.jpgAccording to Leslie, Asbury was “hunted by Indians, chased by highwaymen and even Revolutionary War soldiers, stalked by wolves, defied yellow fever in Philadelphia, and spoke out against slavery and liquor long before the anti-slavery and temperance movements.”

I’ve read through the first few chapters, which have Asbury arriving in New York City and almost immediately choosing to leave the comforts of the big city for the northern countryside — Westchester.

The book describes him coming upon a dance at a Westchester town hall and turning it into a revival:

He stepped quickly through groups of revelers toward the back of the hall and when he arrived to where the chamber members sat in their straight-back chairs, he turned and called out, “I know you all are waiting for the music of Franz Joseph Haydn and Theodore Pachelbel. But, beforehand, I have melodies of another kind for your ears.” He held high his Bible and declared, “The Lord is speaking to us tonight, right here in this room!”

A sprinkling of jeers from people more anxious to dance was drowned out by “Here-here’s” around the hall. Francis knew then that he had an audience.

Asbury later says that the people of Westchester are not stricken with “cityitis,” preventing them from hearing the Word: “I returned from that first trip to Westchester, West Farms, New Rochelle, Rye and East Chester and I was full of fire! These people in the countryside were ready to be harvested!”

Many Methodist churches are named after the circuit-rider — once known as “America’s bishop” — including Asbury UMC in Croton and Asbury-Crestwood UMC in Tuckahoe.

Leslie was inspired to write the book by a painting of Asbury, Man on Horseback, that hangs in the United Church of Monmouth, Maine. The painting serves as the cover of his book.

‘…to destroy the Episcopal Church’

Bishop Catherine Roskam, in her blog from the Lambeth Conference, continues to focus on the role of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, the openly gay New Hampshire bishop who is at Lambeth but not participating in Lambeth.

inpage_bishops_roskam1.jpgOn Tuesday, Roskam — the Dobbs Ferry-based suffragan bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York — sounded pretty down, lamenting that parts of the Anglican Communion seem out to “destroy the Episcopal Church:”

I was feeling pretty positive about our work so far, when I learned this evening that the Province of the Sudan has called for Gene Robinson’s resignation and has made various other demands. We New York bishops were particularly surprised by this, as the Archbishop of the Sudan, Daniel Den Bul, was at our Priests’ Conference in May, and as recently as that gave Bishop Sisk full assurances that he wished to remain in relationship with the Episcopal Church.

I will say more about this tomorrow, when I have more information. It seems that parts of the Anglican Communion still have in mind to destroy the Episcopal Church. I am greatly saddened that this latest salvo comes from an area of the Communion where there is such great suffering. Surely the bishops of the Sudan have better things to do with their time and energy than to feed the division.

I think those same destructive forces have been quite alarmed that the format of this Lambeth Conference has been producing such positive results. So let us do as the angels of scripture have told us, as has Jesus himself. “Do not be afraid.” Be faithful in following the One who is the Way and the Truth and the Life. The rest is in God’s hands.

Yesterday, Roskam wrote about the Episcopal dioceses of New England honoring Robinson:

This evening Province I of the Episcopal Church gave the first of two receptions and presentations for Bishop Gene Robinson to meet bishops and spouses from around the Communion who might wish to get to know him. It was well attended and I believe went a long way in fostering understanding and charity towards one another.

Free Hebrew school begins year two at New Rochelle synagogue

Just about a year ago, I wrote about Congregation Anshe Sholom — a modern Orthodox synagogue in New Rochelle — planning to offer a free Hebrew school for any and all Jewish kids.

You would not have to be a member of the congregation to enroll your sons and daughters.

During year one, 35 kids in grades K to 8 signed up for the weekly, Sunday morning school.

Now Anshe Sholom is enrolling kids for year two. (For info: (914) 632-9220.)

tjndc5-5b1u7xtljifbcgg1gqo_layout2.jpgThe congregation sees the program as community service, Jewish outreach, an opportunity to give a Jewish education to kids who otherwise might not get one.

Classes will begin on Sept. 7 and will meet on Sundays from 9:30 a.m. to noon. They’ll cover Hebrew, the holidays, Bible stories, Jewish history, the works.

Rabbi Ely Rosenzveig (that’s him), the spiritual leader at Anshe Sholom, will teach a weekly enrichment class on Wednesdays from 5 to 6 p.m. for students in grades 3-8.

Last year, Harold Gillet, who has belonged to Anshe Sholom with his wife, Jaye, since 1962, told me: “The future of the Jewish people depends on educating the young, so they will continue to be Jewish and support the Jewish community.”

On to year two…

Donations from several congregants are making the free school possible.

About that Batman movie

For the past few days, I’ve gone back and forth about whether to say something about the Batman movie.

Everyone is probably sick of hearing about it. It is another comic book film, after all, a popcorn movie.

And do the movie’s themes, while provocative, really have a spiritual dimension?

darkknight.jpgBut I came across a terrific commentary on the First Things website by Thomas Hibbs, distinguished professor of ethics and dean of the honors college at Baylor University. He focuses, like most writers, on Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker, which is truly scary, in both obvious and existential ways.

Hibbs writes:

Beyond good and evil, The Joker is off the human scale. In preparation for the role, Ledger studied the voices of ventriloquist dummies aiming for a chilling effect in which the voice itself sounds “disembodied.” Ledger and Nolan looked at Francis Bacon paintings to try to capture the look of “human decay and corruption.” As in William Peter Blatty’s definitive depiction of demonic evil in The Exorcist, so too here—the demon’s target is us, to make us believe that we are “bestial, ugly, and not worthy of redemption.”

Not worthy of redemption. Hmmm.

He goes on:

The Joker espouses a nihilist philosophy concerning the arbitrariness of the code of morality in civilized society; it is but a thin veneer, a construct intended for our consolation. If you tear away at the surface, “civilized people will eat each other.” As The Joker puts it, “madness is like gravity; all it takes is a little push.” In a wonderfully comic take on a Nietzschean sentiment, he sums up his beliefs: “Whatever does not kill you makes you stranger.” His character also illustrates the parasitic status of evil and nihilism. A thoroughgoing nihilist could not muster the energy to destroy or create. As The Joker puts it at one point, he’s like the dog chasing a car; he has no idea what he would do if he caught it.

When I was watching the movie, the Joker’s riotous but somehow coherent soliloquies on chaos and the “arbitrariness of the code of morality” struck me as frighteningly real. I could imagine some of history’s most ruthless characters feeding off similar rationales.

I’ve never been a Batman guy. To me, the story always came down to: “His parents got murdered. He’s real angry. End of story.”

But I thought The Dark Knight was powerful in a deeply disturbing way, too good (and scary) for a comic book movie.

Hibbs writes that the movie owes a great debt to “classic film noir.” He explains what he means beautifully:

Modernity is about human beings exercising control over nature and thus taking control of their destinies; in our modern technological project, knowledge and power are one. The postmodern turn in noir is about the loss of control, the absence of intelligibility, and the threat of powerlessness. But the quest has something pre-modern about it—a sense of human limitations, of the dependence of human beings on one another and on events not in their control. In this world, the outcome of the quest is tenuous and uncertain.

Jewish vote on someone’s mind

Just how important is the Jewish vote to Barack Obama?

The Wash Post writes today that Team Obama put tremendous focus on his visit to Israel, hoping to overcome Jewish skepticism toward the candidate.

756d149343584cd2a8f7d0b6212203e6.jpgThe Post says:

Plans for yesterday’s swing through Israel and the West Bank were hashed and rehashed, down to who would accompany the candidate, what venues he would appear at, whom he would meet, and even the order of those meetings.

“There was some very serious thought that went into this,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a national co-chairman of the Obama campaign who consulted with the campaign about the trip.

A group of Jewish leaders in New England met on July 11 in Boston to talk about concerns with Obama. Their points were relayed to Obama before he left for his international adventure.

“As impressive and phenomenal as the senator’s campaign has been, he just hasn’t been on the scene as long as others have been,” said U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes, a Democrat from New Hampshire. “And the Jewish community is one that has a special feeling when it comes to roots.”

Meanwhile, a Jewish adviser to Obama tells the Jewish Week that the candidate is “baffled” by Jewish resistance to his candidacy.

“I’ve heard him say that some of the things that have been raised about him in the Jewish community are baffling and ironic, in light of the depth of his relationship with the Jewish community in Illinois,” said former California Rep. Mel Levine.

James Besser, the Jewish Week’s Washington correspondent, sums things up:

There is an almost talismanic quality to the Jewish vote. Several Jewish Democrats said this week that while the 62 percent of the Jewish community Obama garnered in a poll last week may be high compared to his support from other white voter groups, the fact he is lagging behind other recent Democratic candidates suggests continuing unease about his foreign policy experience. And that may affect commentators and pundits, who increasingly regard the Jewish community’s views as a political benchmark on candidates’ foreign policy qualifications.

Obama’s 62 percent showing came in a poll by J Street, the new pro-peace process political action committee and lobby group, and was about the same as he scored in a Gallup survey in May. McCain captured 32 percent of the Jewish vote in the new J Street poll, which surveyed 800 Jews.