Scientologists in Wiki-trouble

Do you ever wonder about Wikipedia?

I do. Who writes this stuff? Who are these people who supposedly safeguard for accuracy?

Why do people do it? How do they find the time?

I don’t get it.

We do know that people and organizations update their sites to improve their public image.

But the Church of Scientology has apparently been banned from doing its own edits.

You can read the long Wikipedia page about the case. I skimmed it. There are lots and lots of findings and decisions, like this one:


Any editor who, in the judgment of an uninvolved administrator, is (i) focused primarily on Scientology or Scientologists and (ii) clearly engaged in promoting an identifiable agenda may be topic-banned for up to one year. Any editor topic banned under this sanction may be re-blocked at the expiry of a topic ban if they recommence editing in the topic having made few or no significant edits outside of it during the period of the topic ban.


There is also this warning about the “editing environment:”

Both experienced and new editors on articles related to Scientology are cautioned that this topic has previously been the subject of disruptive editing by both admirers and critics of Scientology making this topic a hostile editing environment. Editors are reminded that when working on highly contentious topics, it is crucial that all editors adhere strictly to fundamental Wikipedia policies, including but not limited to maintaining a neutral point of view, citing disputed statements to reliable sources, avoiding edit-warring and uncivil comments, and complying at all times with the policy on biographies of living persons in reference to the various living people whose names come up from time to time in these articles.

Old Methodist campgrounds still standing in Ossining

Methodists used to have the run of this region.

Around the turn of the 19th century, Methodist circuit riders roamed the country, including the Lower Hudson Valley, to visit churches and preach just about anywhere.

The most famous circuit rider, Francis Asbury, the founding bishop of American Methodism, traveled about 275,000 miles on horseback in the East and the Midwest. He is said to have preached 16,000 sermons and to have started countless churches, such as the Crestwood church known as Asbury United Methodist Church.

Even Bruce Springsteen’s adopted home, Asbury Park, has his name.

During the same period, Methodists founded many camp grounds for evangelism and prayer revivals. One of them, I recently learned, is in Ossining.

It’s known as CampWoods Grounds.

A group of Swedish Methodists organized their first meeting there in 1854. According to a history on the CampWoods website:


The pre-Civil War period of the camp meetings at CampWoods maintained its character as a religious jubilee in the countryside.  During the 1850’s, the atmosphere on the boats, trains and wagons coming to the 10-day meetings in the woods of Ossining and during the religious retreats themselves were jubilant and celebratory.  A typical camp meeting in August 1868 attracted an estimated 15,000 attendees.


Later, cottages were built in place of tents. Some people would stay for months.

The grounds were eventually winterized and secularized.

CampWoods is still there, home to 45 families that live there full time. The board that oversees the place still tends to the main church and summer services are open to the public.

In fact, for the next few Sundays, through July 5, CampWoods is hosting a Vesper Series at 7 p.m.

This Sunday (June 14), Jaime Rickert, a self-described “wandering minstrel,” will perform.

Next Sunday, on Father’s Day, the Rev. Gordon Anderson, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church of Ossining and a veteran evangelist of radio/TV ministries, will preach, as he has done in summers past.

On June 28, the Emanuel Ringers, a bell choir from Emanuel Lutheran Church in Pleasantville, will perform.

And on July 5, there will be a “bluegrass blessings” sing-a-long.

I hope to get to CampWoods over the next few weeks and write something about the place.

The pictures are from the CampWoods website.

The top one, I guess, is from back in the day. The bottom one is the “Swedish tabernacle” as it currently looks.

Apparent GOP takeover of NYS Senate could stop gay marriage vote

The apparent Republican takeover of the NYS Senate could mean that gay marriage is dead in its tracks.

Could mean.

Gay marriage was to be one of the major issues for the last two weeks of the regular session.

It’s not clear — at least to me — whether this bloodless coup will take hold. The Dems seem to be saying, not surprisingly, that it won’t stick.

The whole thing stems from Democratic Senators Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens deciding to form a coalition with the GOP. That’s them, Monserrate on the left.

The two promised to do so months ago — shortly after Dems took over the Senate for the first time in decades — if they did not get important leadership posts and a promise that gay marriage would not reach the floor.

(AP Photo/Mike Groll, file)

NYS Stem Cell Board to consider tax $ for egg donations

I mentioned last week that the Empire State Stem Cell Board, which gives out tax money for stem cell research, is considering whether public money should be paid to women who have eggs extracted for research purposes.

The board’s Ethics Committee has supported doing so.

The board is expected to take up the matter at a meeting on Thursday morning (10:15 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) You can watch it HERE.

Kathleen M. Gallagher, director of pro-life activities for the New York State Catholic Conference, released this statement today:


The New York State Stem Cell Board is poised to facilitate the exploitation of low-income women by using taxpayer funds to pay for the retrieval of eggs. This is a grossly unethical, dangerous and exploitative move that treats women’s body parts as commodities. It must be rejected. If the Stem Cell Board itself moves forward with this proposal, then the state Legislature must act to prevent it.

“No other state in the union allows eggs-for-research payments, and for good reason. The Board is considering up to $10,000 per retrieval, which, in the current economic climate, will induce low-income women who are struggling to put food on their table to undergo this painful and dangerous procedure. Such women face serious health risks and loss of fertility. Vulnerable women should not be coerced into risking their health and their lives for speculative science with speculative benefits.

“A compelling case cannot even be made that the medical benefits somehow mitigate the ethical lapse. Scientists are seeking these eggs to clone human embryos, which will be subsequently destroyed for their stem cells. Yet the science of stem cell research is moving in the opposite direction, toward research involving adult stem cells and the reprogramming of ordinary skin cells to act identical to embryonic cells. This type of research bears none of the ethical burdens of embryonic research.

“Payments to women for the extraction of their eggs crosses an ethical line that New Yorkers should not be forced to finance. Regardless of one’s position on embryonic stem cell research, we can all agree that women should not be exploited by researchers, with state approval. The Legislature should step in now to ban payments for eggs.

Coming to Jones Beach…an evangelistic crusade

If you’ve ever been to a concert at Jones Beach, you know it is a uniquely great spot.

Right on the water. A cool breeze, on the right night.

Yeah, sometimes it rains, but what can you do? I once saw Van Morrison there and the skies opened up just as he finished the final encore — Send in the Clowns. There was no where to run, so we just got wet.

Anyway, Jones Beach will take a break from the usual line-up of classic rock acts to host the Harvest Crusade Evangelistic Outreach.

Evangelist Greg Laurie will run the free two-day crusade, which will also feature Christian bands like Kutless on Saturday and Jars of Clay on Sunday.

Laurie filled Madison Square Garden in 2007 and 2008. He is senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., one of the most mega of the megachurches.

More than 110 churches from Long Island elsewhere in New York are expected to participate.

Steve Tomlinson, pastor of Shelter Rock Church in Nassau County, says: “There is a new spirit of cooperation among the local churches on Long Island to work together for a cause that is bigger than any of us. We believe the Harvest with Greg Laurie outreach at Jones Beach will help make an eternal impact on the community.”

According to a release: “Greg Laurie will talk nightly about spiritual topics that are applicable to any person, no matter the age: Why am I here?  Is God real?  What happens when I die?”

Then next week it’s back to business at Jones Beach with country star Kenny Chesney. Later this summer: Aerosmith/ZZ Top, Doobie Brothers/Bad Company, Def Leppard/Poison/Cheap Trick, Judas Priest/Whitesnake, CSR, Jimmy Buffett, Loggins & Messina, and more, more, more.

Who knew that Loggins & Messina were still at it?

Tonight’s subject in New Rochelle: The cost of Jewish day schools

Young Israel of New Rochelle will host a program tonight (Monday, June 8) on one of the most pressing issues in Orthodox and Conservative Judaism today: how families can afford the costs of day schools.

The program — “Day School Education in Challenging Times: Family, Institutional, and Communal Responsibility” — is being presented by the UJA-Federation of NY’s Westchester Region.

Start time: 8:30 p.m.

From a release, here’s the line-up:


Gary Rosenblatt, editor of The Jewish Week (that’s him), will moderate the panel discussion, which will feature experts in the field of Jewish education: Amy Katz, associate director for the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education; Scott Shay, past chair of UJA-Federation’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal and chair of the Task Force on Communal Jewish Education; and Dr. Jon Woocher, chief ideas officer at the Jewish Education Service of North America.


Also co-sponsoring are most of the region’s modern Orthodox congregations: Congregation Anshe Sholom in New Rochelle, Hebrew Institute of White Plains, Young Israel of Harrison, Young Israel of New Rochelle, Young Israel of Scarsdale, and Young Israel of White Plains.

Finding meaning in pieces of the ‘holy dead’


They’ve always fascinated me.

Pieces of the dead.

People travel from far and wide to see them, be near them, venerate them, pray by them.

When I’ve written about relics — usually in the Catholic world — I’ve been taken by the mysterious histories of many relics.

I wrote last year about relics of St. Barbara, a patron saint of firefighters, which were brought to St. Augustine’s Catholic Church in Ossining. The ocassion was a Mass to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11.

In doing a bit of research, I learned that there was much disagreement about her legend. And that several churches claimed to have at least some of St. Barbara’s relics.

But it was very meaningful to firefighters and others to have some relics of the saint in the midst.

Now, a writer named Peter Manseau has released a book about relics. It’s called “Rag and Bone: A Journey Among the World’s Holy Dead.”

It may have to be part of my summer beach reading (I know, it’s not everybody’s idea of beach reading).

Manseau’s website offers this description:


By examining relics—the bits and pieces of long-dead saints at the heart of nearly all religious traditions—Peter Manseau delivers a book about life, and about faith and how it is sustained. The result of wide travel and the author’s own deep curiosity, filled with true tales of the living and dubious legends of the dead, Rag and Bone tells of a California seeker who ended up in a Jerusalem convent because of a nun’s disembodied hand; a French forensics expert who travels on the metro with the rib of a saint; two young brothers who collect tickets at a Syrian mosque, studying English beside a hair from the Prophet Muhammad’s beard; and many other stories, myths, and peculiar histories.

What’s up in the Hudson River Presbytery?

The Rev. Susan Andrews of the Hudson River Presbytery of Presbyterian Church (USA) has been on the road quite a lot over the past year.

Andrews, the general presbyter or chief executive of the presbytery, preached or participated in worship with 40 of the presbytery’s 90 congregations, she wrote in a recent report on the presbytery website.

She also met or broke bread with 69 pastors. In the picture, she is preaching at Central Presbyterian Church of Haverstraw.

She writes that building relationships with clergy and lay leaders is “central to my job.”

The presbytery serves about 15,000 Presbyterians in seven counties through the Lower Hudson Valley.

Her report includes numerous developments, big and small, across the presbytery, such as this one:


The Presbytery Prison Partnership, under the leadership of Ricardo “Shepp” Sheppard and funded by he synod, the presbytery and 8 congregations, has engaged 45 congregations and 10 correctional institutions through worship, Christmas and Mother’s Day cards to inmates, Bible donation and distribution, education about the criminal justice system, and advocacy efforts to support criminal justice reform in Albany.


She notes that a “new South Westchester Clergy Support Group was birthed this year” and that “The Yonkers Initiative continues to coordinate the mission outreach of the three Presbyterian congregations in Yonkers.”

Andrews opened her report with the presbytery’s “calling statement,” which looks like this:


As members of the Body of Christ
Hudson River Presbytery
is called to live resurrection
with passion and partnership
in a changing world.


And she closed it with these thoughts:


Brothers and Sisters in Christ, God is at work in HRP inviting us to practice resurrection – to live resurrection – and to become resurrection for a world hungry for Good News. Thank for your partnership in this exciting, difficult, and challenging Resurrection Work.

Springsteen, Rahm Emanuel & ‘Hava Nagila’

I had heard that Bruce Springsteen sang a snippet of “Hava Nagila” at a recent show.

But until I stumbled on Jeffrey Goldberg’s blog for The Atlantic, I didn’t know that White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel played a part in Bruce’s choice of tune.

So did the Secret Service.

And David Brooks and Andrea Mitchell were also there in what Goldberg calls “an apparently all-Jewish section of the Verizon Center.”

You’ll have to go to the blog to make sense of it all.

‘I’ve come…to seek a new beginning…’

Much of the world is talking this morning about Obama’s speech in Cairo.

I’ll be spending the next few hours talking to people about it.

The picture is of a Muslim family in India watching (AP Photo/Sucheta Das).

I’ll highlight a few quotations and then paste the entire speech below.

A few highlights:


We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world — tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate.  The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars.  More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations.  Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.


I’ve come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition.  Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight.  I know there’s been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point.  But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors.


Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.  The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known.  We were born out of revolution against an empire.  We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words — within our borders, and around the world.  We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept:  E pluribus unum — “Out of many, one.”


Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task.  Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people.  These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.


Now, make no mistake:  We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military — we seek no military bases there.  It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women.  It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict.  We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can.  But that is not yet the case.


Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.  Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.


For decades then, there has been a stalemate:  two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive.  It’s easy to point fingers — for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel’s founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond.  But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth:  The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security.


America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.


Among some Muslims, there’s a disturbing tendency to measure one’s own faith by the rejection of somebody else’s faith.  The richness of religious diversity must be upheld — whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.)  And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together.  We must always examine the ways in which we protect it.  For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation.  That’s why I’m committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.


I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons.  (Applause.)  Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity — men and women — to reach their full potential.  I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice.  And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams.



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