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Archive for May, 2010

The goalie who thanks Jesus, Mary and Joseph for each save05.28.10

Hockey is not nearly as popular as it was when I was a kid.

Back then, most kids between Coney Island and Brighton Beach followed the Rangers and/or Islanders about as closely as they did our favorite baseball, football and basketball teams.

These days, the NHL playoffs get little attention, especially if the Rangers are uninvolved.

But the Stanley Cup finals will begin Saturday night between the upstart Philadelphia Flyers and the “Original Six” Chicago Blackhawks.

Whispers in the Loggia’s Rocco Palmo points out that Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki, an auxiliary of the Archdiocese of Chicago who is about to become bishop of Springfield, Ill, is not only a big hockey fan, but a player.

A goalie, in fact. The Holy Goalie.

He’s also a marathon runner.

Last year, he told the newspaper of the Diocese of Green Bay:

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When I’m running, I’m constantly saying a prayer. I say Hail Marys. I have a little finger rosary and I’m praying Hail Marys while I’m running. When I’m out there on the ice, if somebody’s coming at me on a breakaway, I say, ‘Oh my God, Jesus help me.’ Then if I make the save, I say, ‘Thank you Jesus, thank you Mary, thank you Joseph, thank you guardian angel. I say all these little prayers while I’m out there.

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Great stuff.

Paprocki—a great name for a bishop/athlete, no?—has even written his own guide to the Cup finals.

He includes this nod to hockey toughness: “The grit and determination of the Chicago Blackhawks is epitomized by defenseman Duncan Keith, who lost seven teeth when he was hit in the face by a puck in last Sunday’s game that clinched the semi-final series against the San Jose Sharks. He only missed four shifts and ended up playing a game-high 29 minutes, 2 seconds and assisted on the tying goal.”

The Holy Goalie’s prediction? Blackhawks in 5.

What did you expect from a Chicago bishop?

Photo: (Sam Lucero | The Compass, Diocese of Green Bay)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archdiocese of Chicago, Bishop Thomas Paprocki, Diocese of Springfield Ill, Hockey, Marathons, Rosary beads, Stanley Cup Finals, Whispers in the Loggiawith No Comments →

A Protestant Vatican on the Hudson05.27.10

You gotta like the sound of that…a Protestant Vatican on the Hudson.

Ambitious. Bewildering. Ridiculous.

It was the original vision, I guess, of the Interchurch Center, that 19-story office building at Riverside Drive and West 120th on the Upper West Side that was built in 1958 to house the leaders of Protestant America.

When President Eisenhower laid the cornerstone that year, 30,000 people came to watch.

This week, the building—known far and wide as the God Box—was rededicated. And, oh, have things changed.

The place was built, really, to house the leading denominations of mainline Protestantism and the mainline world’s chief ecumenical group, the National Council of Churches.

As we all know, mainliners have a much smaller (and quieter) influence on the culture these days.

Evangelical Protestant Christianity, a movement that includes about a quarter of all Americans, would have little interest in what goes on inside the God Box.

In fact, the building is not really Protestant any more. It’s taken on more of an interreligious feel.

As Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, said at the rededication:

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The Interchurch Center is a richly diverse community of many faiths – Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and more. We are theologians, administrators, actuaries, health professionals, food preparers, building management specialists, educators, students, communicators and more. We are a community of many races, ethnicities, languages, nations. The Interchurch Center family today is almost a perfect microcosm of God’s world.

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An Orthodox priest, a rabbi and an imam offered the call to worship at the rededication.

John D. Rockefeller played a big role in planning and financing the God Box. His grandson,  Steven C. Rockefeller, professor emeritus of religion at Middlebury College, came to the rededication service.

You have to like Kinnamon’s line on what changes will take place inside the big, old building over the next half century: “Just state your plans for the next 50 years if you want to hear God laugh.”

There is something about the Morningside Heights neighborhood where the center is located. Right across the street you have Union Theological Seminary and Riverside Church. And close by are the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Each institution is a NYC landmark of sorts. But all have faced their share of changes and challenges.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in God Box, Interchurch Center, Mainline Protestantism, Michael Kinnamon, Morningside Heights, National Council of Churcheswith No Comments →

Glenn Beck’s sacred fire for George Washington05.26.10

Oprah’s book club has made literary stars out of many authors, so why wouldn’t an all-out endorsement from Glenn Beck do the same?

The Fox News personality’s promotion of a book about George Washington’s faith—George Washington’s Sacred Fire—has pushed the 1,200-page tome from 2006 to Number 2 on Amazon’s list.

I haven’t read the book and hadn’t heard of it until a few days ago. But it seems that the book makes the case that the Father of Our Country was a committed Christian and not a deist as he has been described by many historians.

The book was written by Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, a Protestant seminary in the Reformed tradition that has compuses in Philadelphia and London.

A transcript from Beck’s website includes this: “Our churches stand for nothing, many of them. I’m begging preachers, you are about to lose religious freedom. You must go out — America, I want you to buy this book today. This is George Washington’s Sacred Fire. I got it last week. It’s by Peter A. Lillback. I think it’s been out for, since 2006. Sacred Fire. Go out and buy this book today. Get on Amazon and buy it today. Sacred Fire. You will understand the relationship of God and our founders.”

Liberal voices are ready and willing to argue with Beck’s point of view.

Of course, the faith of the Founding Fathers has been the subject of an historical tug-o-war since, I would imagine, the early days of the country. In recent years, many books have been written contending that the FFs were or were not religious and were or were not Christians.

The only notable Washington biography I’ve read was Joseph Ellis’ His Excellency: George Washington, which I picked up because Ellis’ Founding Brothers was real good.

In his Washington bio, Ellis made the case that GW was not religious and likely not a Christian. I remember that, toward the end of the book, Ellis made a point of noting that Washington did not ask for a minister at his death bed.

Is Ellis or Lillback correct? Beats the heck out of me.

But Beck’s legion of followers will go for Lillback’s version of history, it seems.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "George Washington's Sacred Fire", Amazon, Faith, Founding Fathers, Glenn Beck, Joseph Ellis, Peter Lillbackwith 10 Comments →

Introducing…the Westchester Jewish Council05.25.10

The Westchester Jewish Conference, a venerable consortium of synagogues and Jewish groups from across the county, has decided to rename itself.

The conference has become a council, the Westchester Jewish Council.

According to a statement: “The change was made to better reflect the Jewish community relations council function of the organization, and to bring the name into alignment with its 100 sister organizations nationwide.  This name change is the first step in a major new effort to more dynamically portray the organization in all communications and interactions with the community.”

Fair enough.

Council President Ronald E. Burton explains:  “We felt that WJC deserved a ‘larger’ name; the word ‘Council’ sounded good to us from the first time we tried it.   So far, the response from the public has been overwhelmingly positive.  To me, it reflects this notion of well-intentioned people sitting around the table for the common good of the Westchester Jewish community – that’s not only the hope, but it’s also the expectation – it’s what we do.”

The group also notes that the word “conference” makes one think of a regular or semi-regular gathering of people, and the group is clearly more than that.

The WJC’s website, which does not yet reflect the new name, notes that the group was once known as the Jewish Community Relations Council of Westchester. So the new name is a return to the group’s roots.

But the WJC gets to keep its initials, which is always nice.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Ronald Burton, Westchester Jewish Conference, Westchester Jewish Councilwith No Comments →

Jewish blogosphere debating article on American Jewish/Israeli divide05.24.10

Most people don’t read the New York Review of Books and other pointy-headed journals, in which Ivy League-educated “intellectuals” argue with one another over the issues of the day.

You might want to know, however, about a growing debate (at least in the blogosphere) about a recent article in the lefty NYRB by Peter Beinart. It was called “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment.”

The point of the article was that many—most?—American Jews feel a growing disconnect with Israel over Israel’s policies/behavior/attitude toward the Palestinians and that the American Jewish establishment, which defends Israel at every turn, is out of touch with what is happening.

Beinart, currently a writer at The Daily Beast, is former editor of The New Republic, the venerable liberal/centrist journal that has long been a strong defender of all things Israeli.

Beinart writes:

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Morally, American Zionism is in a downward spiral. If the leaders of groups like AIPAC and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations do not change course, they will wake up one day to find a younger, Orthodox-dominated, Zionist leadership whose naked hostility to Arabs and Palestinians scares even them, and a mass of secular American Jews who range from apathetic to appalled. Saving liberal Zionism in the United States—so that American Jews can help save liberal Zionism in Israel—is the great American Jewish challenge of our age.

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I was going to gather a sampling of opinion on Beinart’s strong words. But the Capital J blog of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has already done so today, putting a lot more time into the effort than I could have.

So I’m going to link to them HERE and offer a sampling of opinions that JTA collected.

The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier: “Beinart’s pseudo-courageous article is an anthology of xenophobic quotations by Israeli hawks and anguished quotations by Israeli doves: familiar stuff. I stand with the anguish, and have said so many times in these pages. But liberal Zionism must be as much Zionism as liberalism, and I do not see that the depredations of the settlers and their political sponsors relieve one of the obligation to include Palestinian behavior prominently among the causes of the conflict…”

Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas: “American Jews will not “abandon” Israel per se, but their perceptions of Israel, the majority of which were forged after the watershed year of 1967, may very well impel them to a redefinition of relations.”

Conservative writer David Frum: “These liberals cannot understand why Israel would build a border fence, or invade Lebanon and Gaza, or lose interest in a peace deal with the Palestinians. They don’t know enough or care enough about Israel’s security predicaments to investigate the reasons for these Israeli actions. They are satisfied with the explanation that Israelis used to be nice people, but have now become not nice people.”

The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg: ”…the essay’s placement, in the New York Review of Books, the one-stop shopping source for bien-pensant anti-Israelism, is semi-tragic. If Beinart’s goal is to talk to the great mass of American Jews who support the institutions of American Jewry but who are troubled by certain trends in Israeli politics, this is not the way to do it.”

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "Failure of the American Jewish Establishment", Israel, New Republic, New York Review of Books, Peter Beinartwith No Comments →

Do you have faith in ‘Lost?’05.21.10

I tried to watch “Lost” once.

It may have been the second or third season. After 10 or 15 minutes, it was pretty clear to me that there was no catching up with the plot.

So I abandoned ship. And I’ve wondered ever since: Are they on some kind of island or not?

I know a lot of people are looking forward to Sunday’s series finale. So I wanted to make note of religion writer Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s story in today’s Wall Street Journal about the “search for meaning” in Lost.

She writes:

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The show’s writers have hooked an invested group of about 11 million viewers, and these devotees want to believe some larger purpose exists in the storytelling, something meaningful that makes six seasons of watching worthwhile. Each week, however, every answer seems to lead to more questions, leaving enthusiasts with grave angst.

Yet this is how all of life unfolds. In the end, we may find only an approximation of the truth. The viewers’ search for meaning in “Lost” exemplifies a microcosm of that experience. If we give the writers a little grace and extend some patience, the suspense leading up to the finale of this television show could teach us something about faith in general.

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Later, Craig Detweiler, director of Pepperdine University’s Center for Entertainment, Media and Culture, tells Bailey: “The power of the show is the air of mystery that it always preserves. In the same way we would never want to put God in a box, I would hate to see ‘Lost’ wrapped up in a tight bow. Maybe the show will leave us with a sense of critical self-reflection about whose side are we on and which parts of our backstory do we need to reconcile.”

I often believe that people work too hard to find religious themes in TV shows, movies and other elements of pop culture. I remember cringing when commentators suggested that Rocky, in the final “Rocky Balboa” movie, was a Christ-like character because he, well, made a comeback.

Is the mystery of “Lost” remotely like the mysteries of faith?

I am not in a position to say.

But I love “Friday Night Lights.”

(AP PHoto/ABC, Mario Perez)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "Lost", Faith, Religious themes, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Series finalewith 1 Comment →

Fighting censorship by dissing Muhammad05.20.10

It just came to my attention that today is Everybody Draw Muhammad Day.

Apparently, because the South Park guys received a couple of threats for making fun of the prophet, some folks on Facebook decided that others should do the same as an organized opposition to self-imposed censorship.

A Swedish artist was also recently attacked because of his depictions of the prophet.

According to CNN, by mid-morning, “more than 7,300 images had been uploaded to the Facebook page, most of them drawings of Mohammed.”

19 Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonists—including the Journal News/Lohud’s own Matt Davies—have signed a petition supporting South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker.

But the Washington Post writes today that most editorial cartoonists have not included Muhammad in their work today.

It seems to me that the American Muslim community ought to consider how it will respond when the prophet is treated in ways it does not like in this country or elsewhere.

Because it will happen. Over and over.

The reality is that no institution, religious or otherwise, can escape media attention that it does not like.

In the U.S., everything is deconstructed—by academics, comedians, artists, bloggers, you name it.

Consider the treatment of Christianity in the West. The U.S. is in many ways a Christian country, in practice if not on paper. And yet, Jesus and his followers are critiqued in every conceivable way.

In the last 25 years alone, how many books have been written about the “search for the historical Jesus” by academics who question the divinity of Christ? Entire libraries worth. And Christians consider Jesus to be God, not merely a prophet.

So how can the Muslim world simply demand that free societies lay off their prophet?

It can’t. (Well it can, but it won’t work).

That’s why American Muslims need to fashion some sort of new approach to dealing with media depictions of and criticisms of Muhammad (and Islam itself).

Threats of violence and actual violence in Europe and elsewhere will only serve to piss off those who already desire to mock the prophet.

They will also alienate Americans and others who might be inclined to support peaceful explanations of Muslim traditions and beliefs.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Depictions of, Everybody Draw Muhammad Day, Facebook, Prophet Muhammad, South Parkwith 1 Comment →

Make yourself at home, Your Holiness05.19.10

The Dalai Lama holds court tomorrow, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Radio City Music Hall.

The first three days, he will teach Nagarjuna’s Commentary on Bodhicitta and A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva.

The last day, he will give a talk called “Awakening the Heart of Selfishness.” Huh?

The description: “His Holiness will discuss the process of realizing true selflessness and how this realization awakens a genuine caring for others. This is how we achieve inner peace for ourselves, a feeling of responsibility for the happiness of others, and ultimately a more compassionate world for everyone.”

In the picture, he is speaking yesterday at the University of Northern Iowa.

New York magazine has a “Guide to the Tibetocracy”—those groups in NY that support the DL and and Tibetan cause.

The guide, for instance, notes that Tibet House, the “primary New York cultural outpost for all things Tibet,” had a hard time getting going in 1987. “Even the Grateful Dead wouldn’t do a benefit concert for us because they hoped to tour in China,” says Robert Thurman, its well-known boss.

I got an email yesterday with a subject line reading: “Dalai Lama Propagates Spiritual Errors on his U.S. Tour.”

I thought it was odd that some Buddhist group or other was critiquing the Dalai Lama’s teachings.

But it was only an email refuting all of Buddhism by a group called ChristianInvestigator.

It noted, for instance, “Tibetan Buddhism teaches reincarnation. However, the Bible teaches that reincarnation is not a possibility. The Bible clearly teaches that there is one life and then comes judgment.”

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in "New York" magazine, Dalai Lama, Radio City Music Hall, Tibet Housewith No Comments →

No runs, no hits, no errors?05.18.10

After a day off…

I feel like I should at least acknowledge the NTY’s long, page one Sunday story about the Archbishop of New York and how he dealt with sex abuse in St. Louis and Milwaukee.

When I picked up the paper, I probably had the same reaction as a lot of folks: Oh boy. I wonder what they got on Dolan.

I read it all the way through and came out thinking: Not much.

I realize that these things are in the eye of the beholder, but I thought the story gave one a good sense of the very difficult situations that Dolan faced. The main anecdote, about an allegation of abuse in St. Louis, left me without any clear sense of what Dolan should have done.

In the end, although Dolan said and did a few debatable things, I thought the story made him look pretty…good.

The Catholic League’s Bill Donohue, not surprisingly, saw the article as a failed “hit,” noting that it was largely ignored by other media.

On the Commonweal blog, veteran journalist Paul Moses concluded “No runs, no hits, no errors.”

In the comments section, former Commonweal boss Peggy Steinfels more or less agreed: “I thought the reporter managed to convey the hard places in which Dolan found himself over the years.”

Dolan did blog about the NYT on Sunday, but didn’t mention that day’s article by Serge Kovaleski.

The Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests—SNAP—usually responds to major media reports about abuse. SNAP was featured prominently in Sunday’s article, but I don’t see any statement from the group on their website.


Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Milwaukee, New York Times, Sex abuse, St. Louiswith No Comments →

Are charter schools competition for Catholic schools?05.14.10

When Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C., allowed the city a couple of years ago to convert several troubled Catholic schools into charter schools, many were surprised.

To save the schools, Wuerl was allowing them to give up their Catholic identity.

Now Archbishop Dolan is planning to launch a bunch of initiatives to save Catholic education in New York. He announced his intentions during a recent speech, printed as an op-ed in the NY Daily News:

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We must rediscover a sense of boldness. We’ve got to get dramatic. We’ve got to have some fresh thinking. Our new strategic initiative, Pathways to Excellence, is going to do just that. Let me give you the broad outlines of what’s to come.

First, I feel that the greatest priority of my work is to find, train and keep our principals – because if you have a first-class principal, you have a first-class school.

Second, we’re going to propose entering into partnership with our Catholic colleges and universities. Unfortunately very often we Catholics don’t have our act together, so that we don’t ask our universities to work with our high schools or high schools to work with our grade schools.

Third, we have to take a look at questions of governance. We have to ask the question of whether the current model of Catholic education is the best one. Now, most of our schools are parochial – run by a parish. More and more pastors, parents and principals are telling me that those days are over. We need a shared responsibility for recruitment, maintenance and subsidies of our schools.

Next, we need to face that some schools will probably have to close – not to cut away further at Catholic education, but to strengthen it in the long run. I’ll borrow from Jesus; he observes that the best way to get a vine to grow and grow strong is sometimes to prune back a branch.

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Notice, no word of charter schools.

The Economist magazine, of all place, notes that charter schools represent a new, secular competition for Catholic schools:

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Overwhelmed by its burdens, the Washington, DC, archdiocese converted seven of its schools to charter status in 2008. This means that the taxpayer picks up the bill and students pay nothing, but that the school can no longer operate as a religious establishment.

Could this work in New York? Archbishop Dolan rules it out, as he believes the Catholic element is what makes his schools succeed. Unfortunately for the Catholic schools, charters have adopted many of the same practices, including uniforms, discipline and the promotion of a clear set of values. That means that they have started to attract the pupils who might have gone to Catholic schools. “They are killing us,” says Sister Catherine.

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That’s Sister Catherine Hagan, the principal of St. Mark the Evangelist School in Harlem.

It’s very interesting, at least to me, that charter schools are adopting some of the qualities that have made Catholic schools unique and successful (without the Catholic part, of course).

One more aside: Dolan also wants to focus on enrolling more Hispanic kids in his schools.

In demographic terms, this would seem to be a key to the long-term health of Catholic education in New York.

Only 4 percent of Hispanic kids now attend Catholic schools, which is kind of amazing.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Archbishop Dolan, Archbishop Weurl, Catholic education, Catholic schools, Charter schools, The Economistwith 1 Comment →

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