One man’s recovery credited to God

People often ask if miracles still occur.

Does God intervene in our lives?

The members of Grace Point Gospel Church in New City point to their fellow congregant Ed Ilarraza as proof that they do and he does.

Back in the spring, we wrote about how Ilarraza’s heart stopped beating during Easter services and how he was revived by paramedics and doctors against all the odds.

That’s him after his initial recovery in April and now, fully recovered and going for physical therapy.

My colleague Jane Lerner writes today that the folks at Grace Point — a large, fast-growing Pentecostal church, probably one of the most vibrant churches in Rockland County — are more certain than ever that Ilarraza’s comeback was God-driven.

Matt Poterbin, a pastor at the church, says: “We have all seen God use his miraculous powers in Ed’s physical recovery.”

Ilarraza’s son, J.P., says: “We believe that there was some higher intervention.”

The congregation is holding a fundraiser to help the family pay their medical bills.

Dropping the ‘C’ in YMCA

So the YMCA is dropping the MCA.

Become just the Y.

The organization explains that the change is being made as part of a “new brand strategy.”

The new name will “align with how people most commonly refer to the organization.”

Neither the Y’s press release nor a story in yesterday’s NYT mention that the “C” being dropped stands for Christian. It’s the Young Men’s Christian Assocation.

Is the group changing/dropping/downplaying its traditional Christian roots? No way to tell.

The Times notes that “The Y’s new name coincides with its efforts to emphasize the impact its programs have on youth, healthy living and communities.”

Clearly, most YMCAs have expanded their missions in recent decades, providing all sorts of community services to people of all faiths and backgrounds.

Christian identity, it seems, has varied from branch to branch.

Five years ago, my colleague Ernie Garcia wrote about the Yonkers WMCA refocusing on its Christian message. This meant staff people offering Bible readings and worship to residents, plus prayer in a children’s camp.

At the time, a Yonkers Y official told Garcia: “The C doesn’t stand for cash, it stands for Christian.”

Garcia also contacted other Ys across the LoHud and most offered no religious programming.

His article included this:


The state YMCA executive committee offers small grants to YMCAs that offer programs with Christian emphasis. Nationally, there is a wide diversity of secular and religious programs offered by YMCAs, which operate independently.

“Many Ys in the South provide Bible study because they recognize a need in their communities,” said Arnold Collins, a spokesman for the YMCA of America. “I understand that Yonkers is very strong with this program, and I understand that there are others around the country that are interested in this. It has obviously struck a chord in some places.”


Across the country, 2,687 Ys serve about 21 million people.

Finally, in case you were wondering, the Village People do not plan to change their song “YMCA” to YYYY.

The grounds crew at Yankee Stadium can rest easy.

By the way, rest in peace, Mr. Steinbrenner.

The Voice of God

…is gone.

That’s what Reggie Jackson called Yankees public-address announcer Bob Sheppard, who died yesterday.

Billy Crystal called him that, too.

Back in 1998, as one of the best Yankee teams ever was about to begin the World Series, I interviewed Sheppard in his small announcing perch high above the old Yankee Stadium.

There was definitely a cathedral-like flair to the setting.

Sheppard, whether he was the voice of God or not, was a very religious man. He attended Catholic Mass daily and was a very active parishioner of his Long Island church.

He detested profanity and was known to walk from the kind of off-color joking around you get in locker rooms.

He did not like to talk about himself, which made for an interesting interview.

”My style is simple, the way I am, ” he told me. ” No one told me how to do it. I speak the way I speak at home, in the classroom, at church when I am asked. I do not change my speaking style whether at the ballpark or the beach. That would not be my style. ”

He told me that George Steinbrenner once asked him to give a flowery introduction for a politician — and he refused.

”I told him that the fans do not like politicians, anyway, ” Sheppard said.

He did get a kick out of all the impressions that announcers, players and fans did of his eloquent speaking style. He particularly liked broadcaster Jon Miller’s ”Sheppard ordering breakfast.”

” I’ll have a NUM-ber one. SCRAM-bled eggs. CRISP bacon. NUM-ber one, ” Sheppard said.

Bus ads, no-fly lists, gay debates

Three interesting notes for a Friday:

1. The NYC MTA has apparently removed some advertising featuring bikini-clad women from buses passing through Hasidic Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The community did not like the ads.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, writing for the Wash Post’s On Faith blog, calls the decision “nothing less than complicity in the Talibanization of Brooklyn.”

He writes:


…like the members of the Hasidic community which objected to the ads and called for their removal, I agree about their being objectionable. But when any one group gets to decide what any of us has a right to see, we are all in trouble, especially when that conclusion is reached through political pressure as opposed to democratic process.

If the Hasidic community were to take the lead in organizing people across the political, cultural and religious spectrum to lobby for stricter guidelines about what belongs on any bus, I might join them. Or I might not, preferring to deal with the challenges of a pop culture saturated with ersatz sexuality in other ways than limiting expression.


2. CAIR — the Council on American-Islamic Relations — has issued an advisory to American Muslims that if they travel overseas they may not be able to get back into the U.S.

The group says that Muslims are being put on “no-fly” lists without explanation or access to legal representation.

CAIR says: “In the past few months, CAIR has received a number of reports of American Muslims stranded overseas when they are placed on the government’s no-fly list. Those barred from returning to the United States report being denied proper legal representation, being subjected to FBI pressure tactics to give up the constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent, having their passports confiscated without due process, and being pressured to become informants for the FBI. These individuals have not been told why they were placed on the no-fly list or how to remove their names from the list.”

3. Presbyterian Church (USA) has been fighting internally for so long about whether gays and lesbians can be ordained that it seems that outsiders are no longer paying much attention.

But, just so you know, at the denomination’s 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis, a committee has approved an overture for new ordination standards — which would erase the current standards requiring that clergy be married or chaste.

The full assembly will soon vote. If the overtured is approved, it would have be passed by a majority of regional presbyteries across the country.

Calling for ‘kosher’ standards for BP and other ‘consuming’ bodies

I mentioned yesterday that a group of religious leaders went to the Gulf to “bear witness” to the BP disaster.

One of those leaders is Rabbi Julie Schonfeld of White Plains, the executive VP of the Rabbinical Assembly, which represents Conservative rabbis.

She has a column today on about the Conservative movement’s initiative for “ethical corporate certification” on kosher foods — a response to scandals at a giant kosher meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa. The idea is to give certification to kosher foods that are not only kosher in the traditional sense, but have been produced by workers who are treated ethically.

Schonfeld relates the new certification’s standards and goals to the BP mess. She writes:


Although it was designed for ethical food production, the Magen Tzedek seal, a holistic Jewish response to the responsibilities of food and consumption, can serve as a model for the corrective needed now for BP. The areas of review of the Magen Tzedek speak directly to the tragedy in the Gulf region: environmental responsibility; corporate accountability; worker safety and other concerns and animal welfare.

The Magen Tzedek seeks to give voice to the large and growing need, not only in the Jewish community but throughout the world, to have concrete ways to connect our values to our consumption. Judaism has always recognized that the human being and the human community are creatures of “appetite.”

In a constructive sense, those appetites can be a creative force, driving society forward and give human beings the impetus to achieve. So, Jewish tradition created an extensive body of “sumptuary laws,” principles by which we consume wisely and moderately. The driving principle behind the limits to our individual consumption is a sense that because we are part of a larger human community, we cannot consume in a way that would harm the basic needs of others.


It’s not related, but…

Newsweek religion editor Lisa Miller has a column worth checking out about the high cost of being Jewish.

High cost in a dollars-and-cents sense.

The cost of living an Orthodox Jewish life has been much discussed in recent years. Miller notes that “an Orthodox Jewish family with three children could expect to spend between $50,000 and $110,000 a year on school fees, synagogue dues, summer camps, and kosher food.”

But she focuses on the simple matter of synagogues collecting mandatory fees from members in order to support their budgets and what this means for families during a difficult economic time.

Around here, most congregations charge $3,000 or $4,000 in annual fees — although virtually every one will make concessions for families that can’t afford it.

Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, calls it a “bizarre pay-to-play philosophy.”

But Miller also quotes Arnold Eisen (that’s him), chancellor of the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC: “The bills are very high. People need sacred spaces, but when you’re looking at budgets, you’re looking at heat and air conditioning.”

‘Testifying’ about the BP oil mess

A coalition of 13 religious leaders has traveled to New Orleans to “bear witness” to the BP oil disaster and “testify” about what they have seen.

The outing appears to have been organized by the Sierra Club, which sent out a press release. I don’t see anything about it on their website (which is tracking the amount of oil leaked in real time).

A group called Interfaith Power & Light, which calls itself “a religious response to global warming,” is also involved.

According to the release:


Leaders of different faiths will join together to reflect, restore, and renew. They will highlight the moral dimension of our costly dependence on oil, call for restoration of the Gulf communities and ecosystems, and begin to envision a future based on clean energy, to help us all renew and protect creation.

Leaders will take a boat tour of the affected region, hear from local residents, and will then join a press teleconference to share their experiences with the media.


Here’s a list of the participants:

The Rev. Canon Sally Bingham – Founder, Interfaith Power and Light
The Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, Pastor, Providence Missionary Baptist Church
Fr. Dan Krutz, Episcopal Priest and Director, Louisiana Interchurch Conference
The Rev. Jim Wallis, Editor in Chief, Sojourners Magazine
Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism
The Rev. Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Progressive National Baptist Convention
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed – Islamic Society of North America
Lynne Hybels – cofounder of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago
Rabbi Julie Schonfeld (of White Plains/that’s her) – Rabbinical Assembly
Pastor Chris Seay – Senior Pastor Ecclesia Church in Houston, TX
Susan Stephenson – Executive Director, Interfaith Power and Light
Tom Costanzas, Director of the Office of Peace and Justice, Catholic Charities
Rev. Gilbert R. Washington, Louisiana Home and Foreign Mission Baptist State Convention

Speaking of religious perspectives on the oil leak, the New Yorker’s Nick Paumgarten muses about the meaning of “acts of God” and whether there is some sort of divine role in a man-made disaster like the oil spill.

He quotes Edward Hugh Henderson, professor of philosophy at Louisiana State University, as saying: “God does not smash in from outside to overthrow creatures, to put out of gear the order of nature that God has over eons of evolution brought to its present state. What the oil is doing to the Gulf and its denizens is what oil, being oil, would do.”

Back from the ‘buckle’

What exactly is a Christian Realty company?

I don’t know. They’ve shut down, so I couldn’t ask them. Maybe the concept didn’t work out.

But I wasn’t exactly surprised to see a Christian Realty biz in Nashville, where I spent a few days last week. Nashville isn’t known as the “buckle” of the Bible Belt for nothin’.

References to Christianity — to faith, God, Jesus, Our Savior, etc. — are everywhere in Nashville.

One of the first things I noticed when we got to town was that a big, fold-out map of the city in the Yellow Pages included all the major churches. And there are lots of them.

When my wife and I stopped in the Charlie Daniels Museum downtown (yes, there is a Charlie Daniels Museum), I was struck by two bumper-stickers displayed side-by-side: “I know Jesus personally” and “Proud to be a Redneck.”

Every souvenir shop in town — and there are lots of them — are filled with T-shirts, mugs, and other items that espouse three things: drinking; being a Redneck and/or southerner; and Jesus.

Struck me as a strange mix. But what do I know, being from New York and all.

We went to the Grand Ole Opry, which is back in the wonderful Ryman Auditorium because of flood damage to the Opry House. Several performers sang songs that included references to their faith. The evening’s headliner — the incredibly talented Marty Stuart — had a cross on the back of his rhinestone-studded jacket.

Country music and Christianity have been intertwined from the start (of the music, that is), as I learned at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Also got to see Elvis’ 1970 Cadillac, which supposedly had 40 coats of paint that included Japanese fish scales and crushed diamonds. He rode in it back and forth from Memphis, where he lived, to Nashville, where he recorded many of his hits.

Including plenty of Gospel records, of course.