Giving peace that chance…

Just as the Vatican newspaper has forgiven John Lennon for his “more popular than Jesus” crack…

The Franciscan Friars of the Atonement at Graymoor are beginning an Advent Vespers series on Sunday called “Giving Peace a Chance: Anticipating the Year of Reconciliation.”

All we are sayyying is…

Here’s the line-up:

Nov. 30, Rev. Peter Sabune, Episcopal priest, chaplain at Sing Sing, and founder of Forgiveness and Reconciliation Project in Rwanda.

Dec. 7, the Rev. Elias Mallon, a Graymoor Friar and on the staff of Franciscans International at the U.N.

Dec. 14, Doug Hostetter of the Mennonite Central Commmittee.

Dec. 21, Sister Margaret Holden of the Canticle Ministry in NYC, which assists families and individuals coping with HIV/AIDS.

Each program will begin at 4 p.m.

Timetable set to translate the Bible

Another interesting Bible-related note:

Wycliffe Bible Translators, a company that — you guessed it — translates the Bible, has started its Last Languages Campaign.

The goal is to start a Bible translation program by 2025 for the remaining one-third of the world’s language groups that don’t have a translated Bible.

According to Wycliffe:

The project will bring first-time access to literacy and the Bible for some 200 million people in approximately 2,400 language groups over the next 17 years. The effort is fueled by new strategies and high-tech translation techniques, developed by Wycliffe personnel, that accelerate the pace of language development and Bible translation by three times the pace of a decade ago.

Wycliffe is an international association of 6,400 people working for more than 70 affiliated organizations in 93 countries on six continents.

The group is named for John Wycliffe, a 14th-century Oxford scholar who first translated the Bible into English.

Photo: Courtesy of Wycliffe Bible Translators

A new look at the beginning

Are you familiar with these lines:

“In principles the
powers that be
the universe conceive.”

How about these?

“When the waters,
dark and deep
veiled earth, the virgin wilderness
breathed alhim
the breath of life
upon the waters’ face.”

Ring any bells?

These are the actual opening verses of the Book of Genesis, according to the new Freeware Bible, which says it is offering “a verbatim translation of the oldest surviving manuscript of the Aramaic/Hebrew Bible.”

Its creators have produced “Genesis Rejuvenated,” described as “the word, word for word.”

The head of the project is a fellow named Bill Jemas, who was president and publisher of Marvel comics from 2000 to 2004.

When he left, he planned to produce Bible-based merchandise. Then a funny thing happened, as he writes:

I thought all I had to do was skim Bible literature for a couple of weeks and surface a bunch of controversial quotes for the PR campaign.

I was way wrong.

The literature made me look at the original text. And I have not been able to take my eyes off the Bible ever since. Reading the Words made me dig deeper and deeper into their meanings until . . . now, years later, the comic book pages are still on the drawing board and my team and I are dedicated to an entirely new project that takes the Creation story about as seriously as possible.

The War on Christmas, Act I

I don’t usually gush over Stephen Colbert.

For one thing, everyone else does.

For another, I can’t stay up late enough to watch his show.

But, yeah, he’s pretty funny.

You know that the War on Christmas has become a cultural thing when Colbert does an entire DVD on Christmas and much of it mocks the War on Christmas.

He says: “Christmas is rapidly approaching and enemies of the season are everywhere.”

You can see several videos on his website.

But here’s one, where Jon Stewart the Jew tries to influence Colbert the Christian to take an interest in Hanukkah:

<style type=’text/css’>.cc_box a:hover .cc_home{background:url(‘http://www.comedycentral.com/comedycentral/video/assets/syndicated-logo-over.png’) !important;}.cc_links a{color:#b9b9b9;text-decoration:none;}.cc_show a{color:#707070;text-decoration:none;}.cc_title a{color:#868686;text-decoration:none;}.cc_links a:hover{color:#67bee2;text-decoration:underline;}</style><div class=’cc_box’ style=’position:relative’><a href=’http://www.comedycentral.com’ target=’_blank’ style=’display:inline; float:left; width:60px; height:31px;’><div class=’cc_home’ style=’float:left; border:solid 1px #cfcfcf; border-width:1px 0px 0px 1px; width:60px; height:31px; background:url(“http://www.comedycentral.com/comedycentral/video/assets/syndicated-logo-out.png”);’></div></a><div style=’font:bold 10px Arial,Helvetica,Verdana,sans-serif; float:left; width:299px; height:31px; border:solid 1px #cfcfcf; border-width:1px 1px 0px 0px; overflow:hidden; color:#707070;’><div class=’cc_show’ style=’position:relative; background-color:#e5e5e5;padding-left:3px; height:14px; padding-top:2px; overflow:hidden;’><a href=’http://www.colbertnation.com/’ target=’_blank’>The Colbert Report</a><span style=’position:absolute; top:2px; right:3px;’>Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c</span></div><div class=’cc_title’ style=’font-size:11px; color:#868686; background-color:#f5f5f5; padding:3px; padding-top:1px; line-height:14px; height:21px; overflow:hidden;’><a href=’http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/211033/november-23-2008/a-colbert-christmas–jon-stewart’ target=’_blank’>A Colbert Christmas: Jon Stewart</a></div></div><embed style=’float:left; clear:left;’ src=’http://media.mtvnservices.com/mgid:cms:item:comedycentral.com:211033′ width=’360′ height=’301′ type=’application/x-shockwave-flash’ wmode=’window’ allowFullscreen=’true’ flashvars=’autoPlay=false’ allowscriptaccess=’always’ allownetworking=’all’ bgcolor=’#000000′></embed><div class=’cc_links’ style=’float:left; clear:left; width:358px; border:solid 1px #cfcfcf; border-top:0px; font:10px Arial,Helvetica,Verdana,sans-serif; color:#b9b9b9; background-color:#f5f5f5;’><div style=’width:177px; float:left; padding-left:3px;’><a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.colbertnation.com/video/tag/Christmas’>Colbert at Christmas</a><br /><a target=’_blank’ href=’http://shop.comedycentral.com/detail.php?p=76445&v=comedy-central_shows_the-colbert-report&SESSID=e404c55c0698e438f4508b6b848da5eb’>Colbert Christmas DVD</a></div><div style=’width:177px; float:left;’><a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.colbertnation.com/video?keywords=green+screen’>Green Screen</a><br /><a target=’_blank’ href=’http://www.colbertnation.com/the-colbert-report-videos/81003/january-18-2007/bill-o-reilly’>Bill O’Reilly Interview</a></div><div style=’clear:both’></div></div><div style=’clear:both’></div></div>

A spotlight on sex abuse in the Orthodox Jewish world

When the Roman Catholic Church’s sex-abuse crisis erupted in 2002, the focus was on bishops like Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston who allowed predator priests to continue to serve in parishes.

In recent years, there has been a growing awareness — thanks largely to the Jewish press — of sexual abuse within the world of Orthodox Judaism. But the problem has gotten only sporadic attention, in part, because the Orthodox Jewish community is so very different from the Catholic world.

Not only do you not have clear lines of authority. Unless you’re an insider — an Orthodox Jew — you are not likely to have any sense whatsoever of who is who and which rabbis have authority over which sects.

The very term “Orthodox Judaism” covers very different groups — from “modern” Orthodox Jews to ultra-Orthodox Jews to Hasidic Jews. And the lines are often blurred between the groups.

The kinds of people who usually help expose a problem like child molestation — the media, watchdog groups, public advocates — are largely locked out of the Orthodox world. By and large, the Orthodox community does not like its problems to leave the gates. And most outsiders, even if you want to begin to understand things inside, have no idea where to begin.

The Jewish press has exposed sexual abuse one rabbi at a time, one case at a time.

And this is why Assemblyman Dov Hikind has become such an interesting and controversial figure.

Hikind is an Orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who serves an Assembly district that includes Borough Park and is home to many Orthodox Jews. He has been a public voice for Orthodox Jews on many issues, opposing gay marriage and protesting Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ,” among other things.

He also has a Saturday night radio show on WMCA, 570 AM.

During the summer, Hikind talked about sexual abuse on his radio show. Since then, he says that hundreds of people have contacted him with accusations against more than 60 individuals.

Hikind appointed a task force to study the issue, but the chairman resigned after facing harsh criticism from within the Orthodox world.

Now there is tremendous interest in the information that Hikind possesses and what he may do with it.

According to an AP story on Hikind:

*****

Hikind said he won’t breach victims’ trust by disclosing his private exchanges to prosecutors — or to a lawyer who subpoenaed him in a civil case against a school accused of concealing abuse.

However, he has been working on devising mechanisms within the Orthodox world for reporting sex abuse and sharing information on school staffers’ previous positions. He aims to present a plan to rabbis this winter.

*****

One lawyer who has represented sex-abuse victims told the AP: “I don’t question his motivation, but at the same time, I don’t accept it as a reason” not to provide information that could expose child molesters.

Marci Hamilton, a professor at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University and an expert on sex-abuse law, writes that Hikind’s conduct is “infuriating:” “In the name of protecting victims, a state assemblyman is shielding people accused of committing the most heinous crimes imaginable.”

She says the Brooklyn DA should convene a grand jury to investigate abuse in the Orthodox community, just at the Philadelphia DA did on the Catholic mess there.

This is not going away.

‘…to be deeply involved in mourning’

Are you familiar with Rabbi Michael Lerner? That’s him.

He’s a San Francisco rabbi and one of the leaders of American Judaism’s left wing. He’s the editor of Tikkun, the liberal magazine of Judaism and culture, and a tireless promoter of interfaith cooperation.

Well, his father died a few days back. Joseph H. Lerner was 94, a lawyer, a Zionist, a Democratic activist and he was believed to be a descendant of the Baal Shem Tov, the “founder” of Hasidic Judaism.

I mention this because someone in Rabbi Lerner’s circle sent out an email to a wide group of people about Joseph Lerner’s death. The email included some advice for those who might make a Shiva call at Rabbi Lerner’s home to pay their respects.

I want to include the two paragraphs here because they tell you a lot about Jewish rituals for mourning — in a very personal way. I don’t think anyone would mind because the email was sent to a wide group and Rabbi Lerner is so dedicated to education and what might be called cross-cultural understanding.

So here it is:

*****

The traditions:

Bring vegetarian food to share whenever you come. The idea is to help out so that Rabbi Lerner does not have to do house work during the mourning period. Do not bring meat or chicken or shell fish. Please clean up before leaving-don’t let the burden fall upon Rabbi Debora Kohn Lerner, Rabbi Lerner’s wife.
Do not try to cheer things up by changing the mood from mourning to humor. The idea of Shiva is to allow and encourage the mourners to be deeply involved in mourning, not to “get them over it.” The primary form of conversation should be about the deceased. Your memories of him are welcome. So are your words of appreciation for Rabbi Lerner. So are words about healing the world (tikkun olam, politics, and Torah broadly conceived).

The mourning process continues for 30 intense days, and then saying Kaddish for the next eleven months.
Please do NOT call Rabbi Lerner to offer words of solace or support. You may send cards or letters to the home address, or emails to RabbiLerner… Please do not expect acknowledgment of your cards or emails. Again, the Jewish tradition emphasizes that the task of the community is to relieve the mourner of taking care of things, including taking care of the friends and relatives and supporters-i.e. the mourner should not have to be convincing you that he has recognized and appreciated whatever you have given or whatever you have expressed toward him. Don’t let the dynamics be shifted, particularly with someone like Rabbi Lerner whose natural inclination is to take care of everyone else, and who this time needs to allow himself to be taken care of. And one major way you can help is to simply show up, be witness to the mourning, even by sitting quietly, meditating, and just being there (particularly for morning and evening services, on time).

The Rev. (for now) Roy Bourgeois

That’s Maryknoll’s Rev. Roy Bourgeois on Sunday at the annual School of the Americas protest outside Fort Benning, Ga.

Friday was the deadline for him to “recant” his support for women’s ordination or risk excommunication.

So what will happen now? And when?

Bourgeois shared his thoughts with National Catholic Reporter last night at the end of the three-day demonstration. He said:

I knew (excommunication) was a possibility, but I thought it would be a canonical warning,” he said. “The most severe I thought might be a suspension. … I love my church. I’m happy in my ministry. It’s gonna be very painful not to be able to celebrate Mass, not to go home and baptize all these little babies, to do the weddings of my nieces and nephews, not to be able to speak at Catholic churches. There is some pain, and I know it’s going to be very painful when I get the official word, when Maryknoll tells me. You see my 30 days were up Friday. And when I get the official letter it’s going to be a shock. I mean when the reality sets in.

But even deeper than the sorrow, the pain, is that peace, that inner peace knowing that I did the right thing. I followed my conscience; I followed my God. When we do that we can’t go wrong.

Here’s the AP story about the demonstration:

By ELLIOTT MINOR
Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) _ Demonstrators renewed their call Sunday to shutter a school on a Georgia Army base for Latin American military and government officials and say they’re optimistic the new president or a more sympathetic Congress will act within the next year.

School of Americas Watch protests each November outside Fort Benning to mark the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. A United Nations panel concluded that some of the killers had attended the School of Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest who has been leading the demonstrations since 1990, said his supporters view President-elect Barack Obama as the “president who stands for peace.”

“Our movement has worked hard to get him into the White House,” Bourgeois said. “We think it is very reasonable to have a meeting with President Obama.”

Protesters also blame the school for human rights abuses in Latin America.

Obama could close the school by executive order or Congress could deny funding, a proposal that was narrowly defeated earlier this year, Bourgeois said.

“There is a good possibility we’ll shut the school,” Bourgeois said. “If we do, we’re going to gather here next year for a fiesta.”

Bourgeois has also taken on another cause. He has been threatened with excommunication by the Vatican for supporting the ordination of women as priests. But as of Sunday, he was still a man of the cloth, he said.

“I’m waiting to hear from Rome,” he said.

Fort Benning officials had no comment other than to say they worked with local officials to ensure a safe, peaceful gathering.

The protesters, many of them students from as far away as Minnesota and Washington state, listened to music, speeches and marched in a funeral procession. Some, dressed in black robes, carried mock coffins while the majority lifted white crosses as the names of alleged victims of human rights abuses were read.

They cheered an announcement that the crowd had grown to 20,000. But Capt. Mike Massey of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Department said deputies had counted about 8,500 entering the area in the morning. Most years, the group and local officials differ on crowd estimates.

Eric LeCompte, an SOA Watch organizer, said six protesters crossed a line on the military base and were arrested.

Juanita Sherba of Canfield, Ohio, has been attending the demonstrations for 12 years.

“We believe that Obama’s words are true,” she said. “He seems to be a man of conscience and I think he’s going to look into the way our government does business and truly make it a democracy again.”

For my next trick

Last week, I started my new weekly religion column, called FaithBeat.

I mused about the difficulty of pigeonholing “Catholics.”

For column #2, which ran/posted Saturday, I tried to explain what “civil” marriage means to people on both sides of the gay marriage debate.

Give it a looksy, if you may….

What subject can I attempt to demystify next week? The War on Christmas, perhaps…

A church grows in Dutchess County

Cardinal Egan got to do something yesterday that bishops don’t get to do all that often: consecrate a new church building.

He was up in LaGrangeville in Dutchess County to bless the brand, spanking new Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church.

The parish was started nine years ago as a mission church, serving about 320 people spilling over from Hopewell Junction.

But Catholic growth in the area has been so great that the new church can seat 1,000 people — and that’s how many people were there yesterday.

The new church’s namesake is Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk Indian woman who lived upstate in the 1600s and became a Christian despite opposition within her tribe. A reclic — or piece of her remains — was placed in the church’s altar yesterday.

Karl Rabe of the Poughkeepsie Journal got lots of great pictures, including these: