Columbine, through two pastors’ eyes

Worth reading: A Newsweek story about how two pastors were affected by the Columbine massacre a decade ago.

One pastor, a liberal Lutheran, did a private memorial service for Dylan Klebold, one of the murderers.

The second, the pastor of a non-denominational church, presided over the funeral for Cassie Bernall, the high school junior who supposedly affirmed her belief in God before she was murdered.

The article says: “Ten years later, these two men of God—radically different in personality and theological approach—are still struggling to deal with the damage done to them by two boys bent on murder and mayhem.”

Introducing the United Methodist (Rethink) Church

The United Methodist Church has started an interesting campaign to get people to…Rethink Church.

The idea is to get people to think about church as  a verb instead of a noun — a way to connect with people.

A United Methodist News Service story explained: “The campaign is designed to redefine church as a 365-days-a-year experience where people seeking a church community can become involved at various levels – many of them non-traditional – such as volunteering with groups outside the church building and even through making online connections.”

The denomination has unveiled a new Rethink Church website called 10THOUSANDDOORS.COM (as in, “What if church wasn’t just a building, but thousands of doors?).

“Faith itself is a bridge by which we see God and the work of God present in our world,” says the Rev. Larry Hollon of United Methodist Communications. “God is not contained in the walls of our sacred buildings. God is in the streets, at the well, in the least expected places.”

The whole Rethink Church thing is starting this Saturday (April 25), when United Methodists are being asked to skip lunch and spend the $10 saved on a mosquito net to prevent malaria in Africa.

The United Methodist “Nothing But Nets” campaign is here.

Ranking synagogues and rabbis

Last year, Newsweek magazine got some attention for piecing together a list of the 25 most influential rabbis in the country.

Now Newsweek has come up with the 25 most vital Jewish congregations in the land.

And on the list is Temple Israel Center of White Plains, a widely respected Conservative congregation. Everyone seems to admire Temple Israel and its senior rabbi, Gordon Tucker.

Newsweek simply noted that “Temple Israel is committed to diverse learning opportunities for congregants of all backgrounds and ages.”

Fair enough.

The magazine also recently came out with its second list of influential rabbis. Numero uno?

Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a potential “powerbroker” in Obama’s Washington (that’s him).

Both lists, by the way, were compiled by the same three guys (none of whom represent Jewish institutions): Sony Pictures Entertainment Chairman & CEO Michael Lynton, News Corporation Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg and JTN Productions CEO Jay Sanderson.

Dolan celebrates Mass at Bedford Hills prison; his ‘sacred responsibility’

Just back from Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, where Archbishop Dolan celebrated Mass for about 150 female inmates.

He told them that he had wanted to visit a prison during his first week or so in New York.

Jesus won’t judge him, he said, based on his visits to Yankee Stadium or even to St. Patrick’s Cathedral: “He is going to say, ‘When I was hungry, you fed me. When I was in prison, you came to see me.’ ”

Dolan smiled while he distributed Holy Communion at the only maximum security prison for women in New York State.

He told the women that they should never feel alone, as if they have been forsaken. Jesus received “capital punishment,” he said, and knows exactly what they’re going through.

After Mass, Dolan stood outside the chapel and greeted each woman individually. He embraced most and said at least a few words.He happily chatted with those who had a comment or question.

He asked many women to pray for him. Several of the inmates asked to be blessed by the new archbishop and one remarked “You are so cute.”

Afterward, Dolan took a couple of questions and told me that visiting inmates and others in need is his sacred responsibility.

“They do more for me than I do for them,” he said.

After the Mass, Dolan was going to visit with long-term patients in the prison’s hospital. Then he was heading to the nursery, where babies born to pregnant inmates can live for up to a year.

The media were not allowed to go on these two stops.

Security, as you would expect, is tight at Bedford Hills. The media had to go through several checkpoints before we made it to the chapel.

Through a couple of windows in doors, I did see the archbishop go through security himself.

Dolan promised the inmates that he would return, especially around holiday times.

Me at Maryknoll next Sunday

While I’m thinking about it, I’ll be speaking next Sunday — April 26 — at Maryknoll in Ossining about my years on the religion beat.

I’ll start talking at 2:30 p.m.

Here’s the title: “Following God Through the Lower Hudson Valley.” I kinda like it.

When I was putting together an outline for what I might say, I filled up a page pretty quick: What exactly is religion news? How do you write about faith? How does one (one being me) cover so many different religions in a place like New York? How are reporters seen and treated by religious authorities? Which religions are most difficult to cover? The most interesting?

I can go on and on.

And I will, next Sunday at Maryknoll.

Okay, not on and on. But I’ll talk for a while and answer questions.

Free. Open to all. Directions and other info HERE.

Jets’ schedule is meshugah!

Boy, if you’re a Jewish Jets fan and you’re paying big money for season tickets, you can’t be happy.

A full quarter of the Jets’ home games next season fall out on the High Holy Days.

The Jets’ home opener is on Rosh Hashanah and their second game, also at home, will end on the eve of Yom Kippur.

The NFL offices are in NYC, so you would think someone there knows that there are a lot of Jews in New York.

Jets owner Woody Johnson isn’t happy. In a letter to the league, he wrote: “I am extremely disappointed with the league’s decision to schedule us to play at home on consecutive Sundays that are in direct conflict with the Jewish High Holy Days. There has long been an understanding that neither the Jets not the Giants fans should have to bear completely the brunt of this issue since we are in the largest Jewish market in the country.”

I would expect the NFL to relent on this one and make a schedule change. We’ll see.

UPDATE: The Jets’ game on the eve of Yom Kippur has been moved from 4:15 p.m. to 1 p.m. so Jewish fans can make it home in time for services.

Still, have you ever tried to leave the Meadowlands after a Jets or Giants game? It can take hours to get out of the swamp.

Jewish fans will still be cutting it close to make Kol Nidre.

Thanking God for evolution

The Rev. Michael Dowd calls himself an “evolutionary evangelist.”

His book “Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World,” has gotten a surprising amount of attention.

Dowd and his wife, Connie Barlow, have made a ministry of traveling the country to explain to people how and why evolution and faith are not incompatible. They’ve spoken to more than 1,000 groups since 2002.

On Monday evening (April 20) at 7:30, Dowd will speak at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Briarcliff, Croton & Ossining, which is in Croton (directions here).

Dowd, a (former) United Church of Christ minister, says this: “I see sacred views of evolution as the Good News (the ‘gospel’) of our time, personally and collectively. I thank God for the entire 14-billion-year epic of cosmic, biological, and human emergence, because an inspiring interpretation of the history of everything and everyone builds bridges, provides guidance, and restores realistic hope for individuals and families, for humanity, and for the body of life as a whole.”

And away we go…

Yesterday, Gov. David Paterson and Archbishop Timothy Dolan shook hands at St. Patrick’s.

Today, Paterson announced plans to legalize gay marriage in NYS.

Today, the New York State Catholic Conference — which represents Dolan and his fellow bishops –responded with this: “In light of Gov. David Paterson’s introduction today of a bill that would redefine in New York State the historic understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman, the New York State Catholic Conference points again to a statement from the Bishops of New York State from June 2008. The Conference calls on the legislature to defeat this proposal, for which there is no compelling state interest and which will weaken rather than strengthen the institution of marriage, which is so important to a stable society.”

The full statement from June 2008 is HERE.

UPDATE: State Sen. Ruben Diaz, a Democrat and evangelical minister who opposes same-sex marriage, said it was disrespectful of Paterson to introduce the matter the day after Dolan’s installation.

Diaz said: “I think it’s a laugh in the face of the new archbishop. The Jews just finished their holy week. The Catholics just received the new archbishop. The evangelical Christians just celebrated Good Friday and resurrection. He comes out to do this at this time? It’s a challenge the governor is sending to every religious person in New York and the time for us has come for us to accept the challenge.”

UPDATE: A Quinnipiac University poll last week found that given three choices, 41 percent of New Yorkers say gay couples should be allowed to marry legally, while 33 percent say they should be allowed to form civil unions.

(AP Photo/Julie Jacobson, Pool)

Bottom line: Dolan’s a preacher

After two long days of watching Archbishop Timothy Dolan, I’m coming to think of him largely as…

…a preacher.

Yes, he loves to talk about baseball and food. He loves being around people. And he seems to genuinely enjoy mixing it up with the media.

But it all comes down to the same thing: preaching.

When he tells stories, when he answers reporters’ questions, he’s preaching.

His whole ballgame is preaching what he considers to be the truths of Roman Catholicism. He just does it in his own user-friendly, highly engaging way.

That makes him, I would think, an effective preacher.

Consider some statements he made at yesterday morning’s press conference.

Asked whether he would be a reformer of some sort, bringing change, he answered with a direct NO.

“On substance,” he said, “I couldn’t change things if I wanted to.”

On the contrary, it seems, Dolan believes that the way to reach people — the way to reel in Catholics who have drifted away — is to preach the faith more directly. Cut out the fat. Get right to it.

He openly wondered whether the Catholic Church in the U.S. has become too “subjective” in its teachings, perhaps tweaking things here or there to adjust to the times.

Evangelical megachurches, he said, might be doing well because they don’t tweak. They tell it like it is.

That’s what the new archbishop plans to do.

I always hate to boil things down to the old liberal/conservative scale, but Dolan is promising to be more conservative. He’s putting it right out there.

He will preach as an evangelical preacher might: This is what we believe. This is the truth. Try it and you will live a happier and more fulfilling life.

One thing that makes Dolan special is that he preaches with confidence. That’s why he is not afraid to take reporters’ questions and answer them as he sees fit.

When someone asked him about the decline of Catholic practice, he said: “Thanks for asking a tough question. Thanks for not throwing softballs.”

He said that being a priest — and committing oneself to a life of faith — is “one of the most freeing, liberating, joyful” ways to live. He said that priests have to live that way so that people will see it and feel it.

He’s an example for all of New York now.

That’s why Tim Dolan will be out there. He’ll be out there, showing his joyfulness and confidence and constantly preaching the unchanging truths of his faith — which he’ll talk about and explain, but which are not really up for discussion.

What a show

Not even a personality as large as Timothy Dolan’s could really stand out today at St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

Not when you have 11 American cardinals there. Plus more than 100 archbishops and bishops. And, oh yeah, something like 700 or 800 priests.

Not when Holy Communion is distributed to some 2,500 people in less than 15 minutes.

This was about the liturgy more than it was about the New Guy. Liturgy and tradition and the meaning of it all.

I think Dolan would agree. He said so in his homily:

“Let’s get one thing clear: This is not all about Timothy Dolan, or all about cardinals and bishops, or about priests and sisters, or even about family and cherished friends. Nope. This is all about two people: Him and her. This is all about Jesus and his bride, the church. For, as de Lubac asked, ‘What would I ever know of him without her?’ ”

Dolan was around, of course. Right out there. Before things got started, he stood on Fifth Avenue and greeted priests as they marched by and into the cathedral. After the Mass, he was back outside, waving and clasping his hands together and shaking them like you do when you have something to be proud of.

His press conference this morning was quite interesting. But I’ll get to that later, after I write my article for tomorrow’s paper.