More big-time lectures coming to St. Theresa’s in Briarcliff

The terrific lecture series at St. Theresa’s Church in Briarcliff Manor gets going again in a few weeks.

It’s free. Open to all. 7:30 p.m. each time.

A nice, small church with plenty of parking. Get there 20 minutes early if you want to sit toward the front.

Here’s the line-up for the fall:

Thursday, Oct. 8, Donald Lopez, “Buddhism: What it is and isn’t?” Lopez is distinguished professor of Buddhist and Tibetan studies at the University of Michigan and a translator for the Dalai Lama. He will explain why Buddhism appeals to so many Westerners these days.

Monday, Nov. 9, Father Robert Imbelli, “What is this pope up to? The theological vision of Benedict XVI.” Imbelli, a prof of theology at Boston College, will explain the vision behind the pope’s encyclicals, his book about Jesus and his changes in the liturgy.

Monday, Dec. 7, Jonathan Alter, “The Reality of Hope: Barack Obama’s first year.” The longtime political analyst will offer a preview of his new book detailing Year One for Obama.

Obama’s forgotten Harvard seminar

Much has been said and written about President Obama’s influences.

In fact, he’s written on the subject quite a lot himself.

But Religion News Service has a revealing feature about one, somewhat overlooked influence on the Obama Mind, a Harvard seminar that he took back in 1997 with an interesting mix of pastors, politicians and others.

According to Daniel Burke’s story, Obama was there as a community organizer and was one of the only African Americans in the room for the Saguaro Seminar.

“When people went around the room and said who they were, you could probably figure out why they were there,” the Rev. Jim Wallis, a progressive minister and activist, told Burke.

When they got to Obama, Wallis recalled, people thought, “Yeah, OK, why are you here?”

Check it out.

(AP Photo/Ron Edmonds)

‘…and God bless America…’

God, as expected, played a big role in the inauguration.

President Obama, early in his speech, said this: “We remain a young nation, but in the words of Scripture, the time has come to set aside childish things. The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness.”

Later, he said: “For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus – and non-believers.”

Non-believers. Has a president ever cited the role, even the existence, of non-believers in a major address?

He also spoke directly to the Muslim world:

To the Muslim world, we seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect. To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

And talking about the great challenges facing our nation, and the price and promise of citizenship, he said: “This is the source of our confidence – the knowledge that God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny.”

And he closed his inaugural address with this: “Let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.”

No, Rick Warren did not mention gay marriage in his invocation.

He did close his prayer by stating that Jesus is his savior — and by saying the Lord’s Prayer. Some didn’t want to hear an explicitly Christian prayer, but most didn’t mind, I would guess.

Warren also prayed: “Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but by our commitment to freedom and justice for all.”

He also said: “One day, all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.”

And: “We know today that Dr. King and a great crowd of witnesses are shouting in heaven.”

I don’t know how many people kept their TVs on to hear the Rev. Joseph Lowery pray after Obama’s address. The 87-year-old civil rights leader from Atlanta offered a very universal vision: “Because we know that you have got the whole world in your hands, we pray not only for our nation but for the community of nations.”

And he said: “Help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate, on the side of inclusion, not exclusion, tolerance, not intolerance.”

At the end, he said “Say amen” several times. And the great crowd did.

Civil rights vet to balance out Rick Warren at the inaug?

So Pastor Rick Warren will give the invocation at the presidential inauguration.

The benediction, though, will be given by the Rev. Joseph Lowery, 87, a retired United Methodist minister and a veteran of the civil rights movement. In 1957, he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy and Fred Shuttlesworth.

Obama’s more liberal supporters should be more comfortable with this choice. At the funeral for Coretta Scott King in 2006, Lowery hammered away at the war in Iraq even though President Bush was sitting right near him.

Warren, by the way, has released a statement commending Obama for choosing him despite opposition from his “base.” Here it is:

I commend President-elect Obama for his courage to willingly take enormous heat from his base by inviting someone like me, with whom he doesn’t agree on every issue, to offer the Invocation at his historic Inaugural ceremony.

Hopefully individuals passionately expressing opinions from the left and the right will recognize that both of us have shown a commitment to model civility in America.

The Bible admonishes us to pray for our leaders. I am honored by this opportunity to pray God’s blessing on the office of the President and its current and future inhabitant, asking the Lord to provide wisdom to America’s leaders during this critical time in our nation’s history.

Obama yesterday also defended his choice of Warren, who recently told Beliefnet that gay marriage to like allowing siblings to marry:

“We’re not going to agree on every single issue, but what we have to do is be able to create an atmosphere … where we can disagree without being disagreeable and then focus on those things that we hold in common as Americans,” Obama said.

Frequent church-goers still like the GOP

The Democratic candidate is doing well with Christians (but mostly those who go to church less).

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that Obama is scoring with Catholics who go to Mass less often and white evangelicals who to church…you guessed it!…less often.

Obama has the support of only 17% of evangelicals who frequent church and is breaking even with McCain (45% to 45%) with Catholics who are always at Mass.

Overall, though, Pew finds Obama leading McCain 52% to 38% with registered voters.


Graphic source: Pew Center for the People & the Press

Post-Al Smith Dinner criticisms arise

When I was writing something last week about the Al Smith Dinner, I noted that Bush and Kerry were not invited four years ago — in all likelihood, because Kerry is a pro-choice Catholic.

In the back of mind, I was wondering why it makes such a difference. Yes, Kerry is Catholic. But plenty of pro-choice pols who are not Catholic are invited to the big dinner, including (this year alone) Chuck Schumer (Jewish), Hillary Clinton (Methodist) and, of course,  Obama (UCC).

eganobama.jpegI thought about Cardinal Egan’s anti-abortion statement that was directed at Nancy Pelosi, which said: “Anyone who dares to defend that (the unborn) may be legitimately killed because another human being ‘chooses’ to do so or for any other equally ridiculous reason should not be providing leadership in a civilized democracy worthy of the name.”

That would seem to cover Obama, too. But there he was at the dinner, at Egan’s side.

But no one brought it up.

Until after the dinner. Conservative Catholic pundit Deal Hudson wrote a column for that made this point: “The sight of Obama and the cardinal palling around sends the message — whether intentional or not — that the pro-choice senator is fine in Egan’s eyes.”

The column seems to be getting some traction in the Catholic blogosphere.

CatholicsForMcCain says: “So, the Cardinal says that pro-abortion politicians should not be providing leadership in our country, yet will sit at a black-tie dinner and share laughs with a man who has supported infanticide and partial-birth abortion?”

Another blogger points out: “One line in particular, though, struck me as odd. During his remarks, Senator Obama stated that he “shared the politics of Alfred E. Smith and the ears of Alfred E. Newman.” Now, obviously, the worst thing you can do with a joke is overanalyze it, but I had to wonder: exactly what were the politics that Barack Obama thought he had in common with Al Smith? Presumably he was not referring to his positions on social issues such as abortion or homosexual unions, which were not major issues in Al Smith’s time, but on which he no doubt would have differed from Senator Obama.”

And the writer of ClericalWhispers gives a nice overview on where abortion fits into overall Catholic politics. He writes:

In a year like 2008, when the economy trumps social issues, Catholics are most likely to return to their roots in the Democratic Party. And that’s particularly true when they hear fellow Catholics arguing that Democrats reflect their religious values. McCain may have gotten a longer standing ovation on his way to the podium at the Al Smith Dinner and dropped references to “defending the rights of the unborn” in among his jokes. But it was Obama who won over Al Smith IV, the event’s emcee and great-grandson of the historic candidate. “Awesome,” Smith told Obama after the Democrat had finished speaking. “That was just awesome!”

The joke’s on everyone

Some thoughts on last night’s Al Smith Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria…

* The loudest applause of the evening, to my ears, went to 1. Mike Bloomberg and 2. Hillary Clinton.

* The introductions of the presidential candidates caused a lot of confusion. First, McCain was introduced. He entered and approached his seat on the dais. Then Obama was introduced. But no Obama. Then came Cardinal Egan, who moved between McCain and Obama’s empty seat. Then — a minute or so later — Obama popped out and was re-introduced. I heard more than few jokes that he insisted on coming out last.

* Alfred E. Smith IV is a genuinely funny guy. I don’t know who writes his material. But his gravelly delivery is really good. I bet he could MC the Oscars. One of his first lines: “I’m Al Smith and I approve this dinner.”

* What can you say about Renee Flemming singing Ave Maria? She was standing in the middle of the second row of a four-tier dais and every famous dignitary was turned directly toward her. She could have kept singing for another hour and no one would have moved. Even the media section was still.

974439d098ae4f8e8bf5ba6114030bdc1.jpg* I thought that McCain and Obama were terrific. Hysterical at points.

McCain opened up with some great material about our new folk hero Joe the Plumber: “… Joe the Plumber recently signed a very lucrative contract with a wealthy couple to handle all the work on all seven of their houses.”

Obama’s best lines were making fun of himself: “Contrary to the rumors you have heard, I was not born in a manger. I was actually born on Krypton and sent here by my father, Jor-el, to save the planet Earth.” That’s the Superman story, by the way.

* Maybe it’s me, but it was great to hear the candidates compliment one another as they finished their routines.

* Both candidates made touching remarks about the late Tim Russert, whose wife and son were in the audience.

* McCain made several jokes about the media’s infatuation with Obama. When Obama got the chance, he asked: “Is Fox News included in this media?” Rupert Murdoch, who was sitting in the middle of the first row of the dais, turned around to face Obama and laughed.

* At one point, McCain mentioned that he was pro-life. Cardinal Egan, it appeared to me, was the first person in the ballroom to applause — with everything he had. The crowd than joined in. Obama did not applause, no doubt hoping for the moment to pass quickly.

* Egan had a good line at the end of the evening, advising the winner of the race to come see him at the end of a possible second term — if he’s interested in a third: “I have a friend here in New York who is an expert at arranging that kind of thing.”

Yes, Bloomberg laughed.

* For $1,500 a plate, attendees got salmon.

* The Smith Foundation raised $4 million to serve the needy.

* When I got home, I watched McCain on Letterman. Boy, did Letterman grill him.  McCain must have been happy to get out of there and head for the Waldorf.

* There are few reds as red as a cardinal’s vestments in the middle of a black tuxedoed dais…

‘Take my wife (and my running mate), please’

Tomorrow is the big Alfred E. Smith Memorial Foundation Dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria.

Both John McCain and Barack Obama are supposed to be there. I hope to be there, too.

44f2ca7c28f74ebb8a7908575922d993.jpgI guess tonight the candidates will attack each other at the last debate. And tomorrow night they will try to make jokes about it.

Hopefully, Cardinal Egan will have a few good lines to open things up and lighten any post-debate tension.

The dinner, of course, remembers Al Smith, a 4-time governor of New York and the first Catholic to get a major party nomination to run for president (losing to Herbert Hoover in 1928).

Since 1946, Catholic and political insiders have come to the dinner to hear presidents, war heroes and others make quips about the issues of the day.

Four years ago, George Bush and John Kerry were not invited because of the “divisive” nature of the race. The real reason, of course, was that Kerry was (and is) both Catholic and pro-choice.

Will McCain make a Sarah Palin joke (some kind of reference to Tina Fey, perhaps)? Will Obama quip about Jeremiah Wright or his “Muslim” past? We’ll see…

(AP Photo/Amy Sancetta)

Obama’s people love values, values, values

Barack Obama’s people are still gunning for the religious vote. Votes. Voters.

His national director of religious affairs, Shaun Casey, just told us: “We are going to go out there and communicate Barack Obama’s values to people of faith.”

He said that Obama people are about to hold a series of town hall forums around the country to talk values. It’s called the Faith, Family & Values Tour. There won’t be an opening band (I think).

Casey made clear that the campaign is aiming at moderate values voters, people who are not single-issue voters (as in abortion). In Ohio, for instance, they’re talking to mainline Protestants. In Indiana, they’re going after United Methodists, not Southern Baptists.

Makes sense.

He said the campaign has a national faith outreach staff, staff in the field talking to people about values, outreach coordinators for Catholics, Jews and Muslims, and people who try to get on conservative Christian talk radio.

They also have “American values house parties” across the country in people’s homes (yeah, that’s what they’re called) to talk values, values, values.

Casey, who teaches Christian Ethics at Wesley Theological Seminary, seemed super-guarded, very cautious about saying the wrong thing or being misunderstood by a giant room filled with reporters.

Asked about the Palin effect, he said “We’re just trying to go about our outreach the best we can.”

He did say that Obama has the most robust religious outreach campaign in Democratic history.

“None of this was happening before,” he said. “It’s not because of us, but because of Barack Obama. It is a new day in Democratic politics.”

Joshua DuBois, Obama’s evangelical outreach coordinator, said he’s traveling the country trying to bring young evangelicals to the Democratic side. “My experience tells me something is afoot among young, college-educated evangelicals.”

He said that Democrats want to connect their politics to their values.

“One of the secrets of this campaign is that Obama does have an army in the field,” he said.

Are Obama’s people presenting a, well, overly rosy picture here? Yeah, probably.

John Green just told us a couple of hours ago that Obama is not making inroads with evangelicals (see below).

Mark Pinsky, until recently the religion writer for the Orlando Sentinel, said he has seen no sign of the Obama campaign in central Florida’s vast evangelical community.

And Florida is a key contest in this campaign, is it not?

The candidates’ religious bios

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public life has posted “religious biographies” of McCain and Obama.

They’re mostly pieced together from interviews and the candidates’ own writings. But each biography summarizes things well.

a5b794ddd97f495a9403e2f74707be74.jpgMcCain’s — which includes why he attends a Southern Baptist church after growing up an Episcopalian — includes:

Southern Baptists emphasize adult baptism as a symbol of faith in Christ, and McCain has said that his wife and two of their seven children have been baptized, but he has not. Responding to questions from a reporter in April 2008, McCain called his decision about baptism a “personal thing,” adding on another occasion that “I didn’t find it necessary to do so for my spiritual needs.” But he also has said that he has been in discussion with his pastor, Dan Yeary, about being baptized, adding that he would not do it during the campaign because it might appear insincere.

67a6dbe07e684b989157fb56787c5959.jpgAnd Obama’s story, which has become more familiar, includes:

Obama’s mother married Lolo Soetoro, an Indonesian businessman and non-practicing Muslim, and the family moved to Jakarta, Indonesia, when Obama was 6 years old. There, he attended a Catholic private school and later a predominantly Muslim public school. At an April 2008 forum for the Democratic presidential primary candidates that focused on the topic of faith and values, Obama said, “The brand of Islam that was being practiced in Indonesia at the time was a very tolerant Islam,” which “taught me … that Islam can be compatible with the modern world”

When Obama was 10 years old, he returned to Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents, Stanley and Madelyn Dunham, while his mother — who wanted him to receive an American education — remained in Indonesia. Obama wrote that his grandmother was raised with a “straight-backed form of Methodism that valued reason over passion and temperance over both,” while his grandfather came from a family of “decent, God-fearing Baptists” But neither continued to practice his or her childhood faith. In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Obama wrote that “Gramps” briefly enrolled the family in a local Unitarian Universalist congregation because, in his grandfather’s words, ” ‘It’s like you get five religions in one.’ ” In The Audacity of Hope, Obama wrote that “religious faith never really took root in their [his grandparents’] hearts”