Lottery winner attributes outcome to beliefs

CNN:

Bartlett, an accountant from Dundalk, said he made a bargain with the multiple gods associated with his Wiccan beliefs: "You let me win the lottery and I'll teach." Both tickets he purchased had numbers chosen randomly from the computer.
...
He and his wife, Denise, were on their way to the shop where he occasionally teaches Wicca and Reiki healing when they stopped at a liquor store and bought two $5 Mega Millions tickets for Friday night's estimated $330 million jackpot.
...
Bartlett said the money won't change him, although he plans to invest in Mystickal Voyage. "I'm going to live my life like I have been," he said.

The roar of Rumi

I'm a man who's not afraid of love;
I'm a moth who's not afraid of burning

We continue now with our morning theme, the 13th century. Today is the birthday of the Sufi poet known as Rumi.

BBC

For many years now, the most popular poet in America has been a 13th-century mystical Muslim scholar.

Translations of Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi's - better known as Rumi - verse are hugely popular and have been used by Western pop stars such as Madonna.

They are attracted by his tributes to the power of love and his belief in the spiritual use of music and dancing - although scholars stress that he was talking about spiritual love between people and God, not earthly love.

Rumi, whose 800th birth anniversary falls on Sunday, was born in 1207 in Balkh in Central Asia, now part of Afghanistan.

Read the story from Rumi's birthplace here.

Tehran Times

Turkey is to celebrate Rumi’s birthday with a giant whirling dervish sama performance and the celebration will be aired live in eight different countries using 48 cameras.

“300 dervishes are scheduled to take part in this ritual, making it the largest performance of sama in history,” the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of Turkey Ertugrul Gunay told the Turkish Daily News on Friday.
...
The Persian service of ISNA noted that the Iranian professor of Persian language and literature Jalaleddin Kazzazi believes that Rumi’s thoughts are those of a great man who grew up in the culture of Iran, but whose philosophy is not restricted to any land or border.

“Rumi’s thoughts break the bounds of time and place. Even those who do not understand Persian and cannot read his poetry in its original language, feel astonished when they read translated versions,” he remarked.


Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
How could a zephyr ride an ass?
Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.

Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear;
be lost in the Call.

A crisis for Crisis

Commonweal reports that Crisis, an archconservative Catholic magazine has ceased publication and now exists exclusively online.

Have a look at this description. Remind you of any outlets for commentary in the Episcopal/Anglican world?

It has long been the practice of writers and editors at magazines like Crisis to proclaim smugly the imminent demise of “liberal Catholicism.” As Deal Hudson put it, “Dissenting and left-leaning Catholic publishing...will continue to wither away.... The leadership of in-name-only Catholics is crumbling, and a new generation has set a new agenda.”

Liberal Catholicism, and liberal Catholic magazines, are not without their problems, and Commonweal tries not to hide or minimize them. The task of handing on the faith in an often hostile culture is daunting. Assimilating what is of undeniable value in secular modernity’s embrace of religious pluralism, freedom of conscience, individual autonomy, and the equal dignity of men and women requires genuine discernment. Still, claims about the death of liberal Catholicism are premature. The ad hominem attacks one often found in Crisis—the glib assumption that every “liberal” Catholic secretly longs for the destruction of the hierarchical church-deserve a decent burial. “Why call for dialogue about teachings that the church says cannot be changed?” Hudson wrote in a good summary of his magazine’s core conviction. “A call for dialogue on settled issues is itself a symptom of dissent.”

Is it just "culture"?

In the New York Times earlier this week, Slavoj Zizek, the international director of the Birkbeck Institute for the Humanities, defended the Chinese Government's recent efforts to regulate religion--including Order No. 5, a law covering “the management measures for the reincarnation of living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism.” One of Zizek's more provocative arguments is that even in the West religion is largely becoming a mere matter of culture, rather than faith:

It is all too easy to laugh at the idea of an atheist power regulating something that, in its eyes, doesn’t exist. However, do we believe in it? When in 2001 the Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed the ancient Buddhist statues at Bamiyan, many Westerners were outraged — but how many of them actually believed in the divinity of the Buddha? Rather, we were angered because the Taliban did not show appropriate respect for the “cultural heritage” of their country. Unlike us sophisticates, they really believed in their own religion, and thus had no great respect for the cultural value of the monuments of other religions.

The significant issue for the West here is not Buddhas and lamas, but what we mean when we refer to “culture.” All human sciences are turning into a branch of cultural studies. While there are of course many religious believers in the West, especially in the United States, vast numbers of our societal elite follow (some of the) religious rituals and mores of our tradition only out of respect for the “lifestyle” of the community to which we belong: Christmas trees in shopping centers every December; neighborhood Easter egg hunts; Passover dinners celebrated by nonbelieving Jews.

“Culture” has commonly become the name for all those things we practice without really taking seriously. And this is why we dismiss fundamentalist believers as “barbarians” with a “medieval mindset”: they dare to take their beliefs seriously. Today, we seem to see the ultimate threat to culture as coming from those who live immediately in their culture, who lack the proper distance.

Perhaps we find China’s reincarnation laws so outrageous not because they are alien to our sensibility, but because they spill the secret of what we have done for so long: respectfully tolerating what we don’t take quite seriously, and trying to contain its political consequences through the law.

Read it all here.

Bring back Zeus?

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, Mary Lefkowitz suggests that it is time to bring back the Greek gods. She writes: By allowing mortals to ask hard questions, Greek theology encouraged them to learn, to seek all the possible causes of events. Philosophy -- that characteristically Greek invention -- had its roots in such theological inquiry. As did science.

Read it all.

Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

From the Associated Press: When some of the world's leading religious scholars gather in San Diego this weekend, pasta will be on the intellectual menu. They'll be talking about a satirical pseudo-deity called the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose growing pop culture fame gets laughs but also raises serious questions about the essence of religion.

There's no more scientific basis for intelligent design than there is for the idea an omniscient creature made of pasta created the universe. If intelligent design supporters could demand equal time in a science class, why not anyone else? The only reasonable solution is to put nothing into sciences classes but the best available science.

"I think we can all look forward to the time when these three theories are given equal time in our science classrooms across the country, and eventually the world; one third time for Intelligent Design, one third time for Flying Spaghetti Monsterism, and one third time for logical conjecture based on overwhelming observable evidence," Henderson sarcastically concluded.

Read it all. And then, on a somewhat more serious note (honest) consider the church of the Moo shoo Burrito.

Teacher pardoned for bear gaffe

In September 2007, Gillian Gibbons, a teacher at Unity High School in Khartoum, Sudan, was teaching her class about animals and their habitats so allowed her class of primary school pupils to choose the name of the class teddy bear. The class of seven year olds chose "Muhammad" and for that Ms. Gibbons spent 15 days in jail and was deported.

Ms. Gibbons was arrested for insulting Islam, after another school staffmember complained to the Ministry of Education.

According to the New York Times:

Under Sudanese law, the teacher, Gillian Gibbons, could have spent six months in jail and been lashed 40 times.

“She got a very light punishment,” said Rabie A. Atti, a government spokesman. “Actually, it’s not much of a punishment at all. It should be considered a warning that such acts should not be repeated.”

Gibbons, a British subject, who teaches at a private school, began a project on animals and asked her class to suggest a name for a teddy bear. The class voted resoundingly for Muhammad, one of the most common names in the Muslim world and the name of Islam’s holy prophet.

As part of the exercise, Ms. Gibbons told her students to take the bear home, photograph it and write a diary entry about it. The entries were collected in a book called “My Name Is Muhammad.” Most of her students were Muslim children from wealthy Sudanese families.

The government said that when some parents saw the book, they complained to the authorities. In Islam, insulting the Prophet Muhammad is a grave offense, and in northern Sudan, where Khartoum is, it is a crime. The government said it was insulting to name an animal or toy Muhammad.

Hard-line Muslim groups picked up on the incident and responded with protests. Several thousand Muslims marched in Sudan's capital Khartoum on Sunday, calling for a rough sentence.

According to news agencies, some of the protesters chanted: "Shame, shame on the UK", "No tolerance - execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad".

The hardline Khartoum protesters gathered in Martyrs Square, outside the presidential palace in the capital, many of them carrying knives and sticks.

But, Ekklesia reports, other Muslim groups were horrified at the calls for violence.

But Muslims elsewhere expressed horror and sadness at the treatment of Ms Gibbons, condemning also some sensationalist reporting in the tabloids.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (Fosis), which represents more than 90,000 Muslim students in Britain and Ireland, had said it was "deeply concerned" at what was a "gravely disproportionate" verdict.

The federation's president, Ali Alhadithi, said: "What we have here is a case of cultural misunderstandings, and the delicacies of the matter demonstrate that it was not the intention of Gillian Gibbons to imply any offence against Islam or Muslims. We hope that the Sudanese authorities will take immediate action to secure a safe release for Gillian Gibbons."

Not many Sudanese, though, took part in the protests outside of those mobilized by the groups, according to the Times:

Despite the attempts by Islamic clerics to mobilize the masses against Ms. Gibbons, many Sudanese did not take to the streets.

Najla Hussein, who works at a mobile phone company in Khartoum, said she thought Ms. Gibbons should have been set free.

“Our government creates such problems to divert the eyes of the world community from our domestic problems,” Ms. Hussein said. “I am sure that the case of the British teacher is politically motivated and has got nothing to do with our prophet.”

The Times says that the arrest may have been in response to criticism of Sudanese government by British representatives to the United Nations.

Sudan’s relations with the West — especially Britain — are as strained as ever. Many developed countries are increasingly frustrated with what they consider stalling tactics by the Sudanese to delay the deployment of peacekeepers to Darfur, the troubled region of western Sudan.

Sudan, meanwhile, has accused the West of being anti-Islamic.

Beyond that, on Tuesday, Sir John Sawers, the British representative to the United Nations, criticized the Sudanese government on a number of issues, including the languishing international arrest warrants for a Sudanese official and a militia leader in Darfur.

The next day, the Sudanese government decided to press charges against Ms. Gibbons.

Read the Eklessia story here , the New York Times coverage here, and other press coverage here and here.

Multi-city music event heralds new Hanukkah trend

A Jewish record label (JDub Records) is putting on a multi-city music festival featuring acts performing "klezmer-punk, hip-hop in Arabic and folk-rock tunes" this weekend for Hanukkah, which starts today at sundown. The event is expected to draw some 7,000 people in nine cities, according to a Washington Post article about the event:

The Jewish music industry has flourished over the past decade and uses Hanukkah, a minor religious holiday that begins tonight at sundown, as a time to party.

While still tiny in the grand scheme of the overall music business, the movement that some call "new Jewish music" is seen by musicians and fans as thriving. It uses sounds and lyrics and language from the Jewish world present and past. Three labels have started since 1995, including JDub, which opened in 2002 and produced Hasidic reggae star Matisyahu as well as the rock band LeeVees, which is made up of Jewish members of better-known bands and has sold over 10,000 copies of its 2006 album, "Hannukah Rocks."

While the industry and shows go on all year for such bands, the Hanukkah is a key time in the United States because of the Christmas-driven party season. Last year, XM Radio launched a Hannukah station (which runs for the holiday's eight days), and with the increase in contemporary Jewish bands, more concert halls and bars are hosting Hannukah music parties each year.

The proliferation of music has raised a broader question: What is Jewish music? Unlike the Christian music world, most of what's coming out is not God-worshiping. Some bands have Jewish members. In other cases, musicians may be non-Jews, but the words, sounds or performance styles are inspired by Jewish history. Much of it is a blend.

Read the whole thing here.

People ignore the noble aims of festivals

(Updated)

The movement of the Muslim lunar calendar placed the festival of Eid al Adha (عيد الأضحى) in the week before Christmas this year. In the multi-ethnic land of the United Arab Emirates (e.g., Dubai and Abu Dhabi) this meant a prominent coincidence of these celebrations. Although the country is more than 90 percent Muslim, malls and hotel lobbies are trimmed for Christmas.

Clerics speak out, and are on the same page regardless of faith:

Dr Mohammad Mattar Al Ka’abi, Director-General of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Auqaf (GAIAA), has called upon people, with no bias towards any nationality or religion, to realise the actual meaning and real goals of the holy celebrations.

He pointed out that nowadays most people simply ignore the noble aims of the festivals.

“Extravagance and over-spending on some aspects of these celebrations, like eating, drinking, and clothing, in order to express pleasure is something unacceptable by God Almighty. Dedicating some of this money to charitable activities is much better than spending on useless ways,” said Dr Al Kaabi.

He also pointed out that this type of materialism might cause a community gap. “The revealed religions, whether Islam or Christianity, are aimed at remembering Allah (God) and spreading love, peace, happiness, and kindness among all people, not only the rich, but also the poor, the needy and the ill,” stressed Dr Al Kaabi.

As for the Eid itself, it is an opportunity for litigants to bury their hatchet, to forget and forgive.

Muslims should become more cooperative, tolerant, charitable and forgiving in such happy occasions, he stated.

Monsignor Paul Hinder, Bishop of the Apostolic Vicariate of Arabia, based in Abu Dhabi, explained that religious holidays are celebrated by two types of people: the pious ones, who are still deeply marked by their faith; and the people who practise little, if at all, their religion.

Update: I will be ending my six year stay in the United Arab Emirates in a few days, and joining the rest of the Cafe newsteam in working from a US time zone. Here's some of the things I'll miss.
- A roundup of
Christmas photos
taken by Gulf News photographers.
- The 40 year tradition of Christmas in UAE. (Actually Christianity predates Islam here.)

A handbook for Muslim teens

Jane Lampman of The Christian Science Monitor writes:

Growing up in today's culture can be exciting, confusing, and chock-full of challenges.

For young American Muslims, navigating adolescence has proven especially daunting since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. They must sort out not only who they are individually but also how they fit into a society that knows little about them but holds a host of impressions.

"The American Muslim Teenager's Handbook," was written to offer some guidance.

Read it all.

The Dharma Index

The latest evolution in social responsible investing comes out of Dow Jones & Company, which has partnered with the Indian firm Dharma Investments to create new "dharma indexes" that will track the stocks of companies that observe the values of dharma-based religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism.

The Dow Jones Dharma Indexes are the first to measure dharma-compliant stocks and now track more than 3,400 companies globally, including about 1,000 in the U.S., according to the company. In addition to the global index, Dow Jones has created dharma indexes for the U.S., Britain, Japan and India.

...

"The principle of dharma contains precepts relevant to good conduct, but also the implicit requirement of mindfulness about the sources of wealth -- and therefore responsible investing," said Dharma Investment CEO Nitesh Gor.

Advisory committees of religious leaders and scholars will screen and monitor companies' environmental policies, corporate governance, labor relations and human rights, among other criteria. Companies from business sectors deemed un-dharmic, such as weapons manufacturers, pharmaceuticals, casinos and alcohol, are barred from the index.

Bhakti Charu Swami of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness said, "If one only considers the profit motive of an investment without recognizing how that profit was generated, one may unknowingly commit sinful activity. Every link in the entire chain of events is liable for the results."

The whole thing is here.

Religious freedom runs off track

Juashaunna Kelly, a Muslim girl from a Washington, D. C. high school, was disqualified during an invitiational meet in neighboring Montgomery County, Maryland, after meet officials ruled the unitard she wears for religious reasons violated National Federation of State High School Associations' standards. The girl's coach pointed out that she has competed in that uniform for two years without incident.

Follow the Washington Post's coverage of this story here and here. And don't miss this slide show. Update: this morning's editorial.

The most troubling quote in either story is this one:

"What she needs to do is get some religious documentation saying it's part of her heritage and bring it with her to every meet," said Jim Vollmer, the commissioner of track for Montgomery County public schools.

An added twist: Kelly is running winter track right now, but she also excels at cross country. Much of the high school cross-country season takes place during Ramadan, so Kelly runs 30 miles per week or so while fasting.

New Age faith and mental health

A University of Queensland PhD thesis come to some interesting conclusions about new-age spirituality and mental health:

Rosemary Aird examined a possible correlation between new forms of spirituality and mental health as part of her University of Queensland PhD studies.

After surveying more than 3700 Brisbane-based 21-year-olds, she found spirituality and self-focused religions may undermine a person's mental health.

"I had a look at two different beliefs - one was a belief in God, associated with traditional religions, and the other was the newer belief in a spiritual or higher power other than God," Dr Aird said.

The research found non-traditional belief was linked with higher rates of anxiety, depression, disturbed and suspicious ways of thinking and anti-social behaviour.

New-age beliefs promote the idea of self-transformation, self-fulfilment and self-enlightenment, which could see many people excluded from a community environment, she said.

"Traditional religion tends to promote the idea of social responsibility and thinking of others' interests, whereas the new-age movement pushes the idea that we can transform the world by changing ourselves.

"The downside is that people are very much on their own and not part of a community, which may lead to a kind of isolation."

Young people with new-age beliefs were twice as likely to be more anxious and depressed than those with traditional beliefs, the research found.

Why would this be the case? Aside from the lack of community, Aird notes the lack of a stable belief system:

As people have moved away from traditional religious beliefs in recent times, most have been left with a desire to find meaning and purpose in life, she said.

"People who are into the new-age spirituality tend to shop around and will often borrow from all sorts of old beliefs, like Wicca, witchcraft or Native American religions.

"It's a whole mish-mash and changes all the time, where they'll do something for a while before doing something else."

Read it all here. Hat tip to Religion News Blog.

What do you think?

California Conservative rabbis support same-sex marriage

As evidence of significant change in the attitudes of Conservative Judiasm, over a dozen Conservative rabbis have signed a statement supporting same sex marriage. As Forward explains, this reflects a sea change that began when the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards decided in December to allow gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex commitment ceremonies:

In 2005, when a Jewish gay-marriage activist first pressed California rabbis to sign a statement supporting full marriage equality for gays and lesbians, only a handful of Conservative rabbis lent their names. Over the course of the past two months, however, more than a dozen Conservative rabbis here have signed on to a growing list of clergy who support gay marriage in the civil realm.

What changed in between was the December 2006 decision, or teshuvah, by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards to allow gay and lesbian clergy and same-sex commitment ceremonies — a decision made after 15 years of rancorous argument about the issue. As a result of that long-simmering debate, observers note, Conservative rabbis, many of whom were previously uninformed on issues of gay rights in the civil sphere, did their homework and read up on the issues. Others who may have already supported gay marriage finally felt freed up to express their views publicly.

“Conservative rabbis might have been privately supportive of same-sex marriage, but they hadn’t been willing to step out,” said Denise Eger, rabbi of the gay and lesbian Reform synagogue Congregation Kol Ami, located in West Hollywood. “The teshuvah, for people who have held their own private opinions, especially West Coast rabbis, has empowered them to be able to speak more publicly.”

. . .

As of yet, Jews for Marriage Equality has corralled 92 rabbis to sign its clergy statement; 22 of them affiliated with the Conservative movement. The statement, a lengthy document affirming the right to same-sex civil marriage, calls on Jewish leaders to embrace gay and lesbian rights.

“Efforts to prevent civil marriage for gays and lesbians through legal means, such as state or federal Constitutional amendments that deprive them of the benefits and dreams others enjoy, are unjust and discriminatory…” the statement reads. “We as rabbis, cantors and community leaders committed to Jewish tradition urge all Jews to remember our heritage of justice and to recommit ourselves to not wavering on this holy principle.”

In Massachusetts, an anti same-sex marriage amendment was roundly defeated in 2005, and again in 2007 at the state legislative level. Rabbi Menachem Creditor, a former Bay State Conservative rabbi who in June of last year became rabbi of Berkeley synagogue Congregation Netivot Shalom, helped organize rabbinic efforts to defeat the Massachusetts bill. Three years ago, 97 Massachusetts rabbis signed a public advertisement opposing the proposed legislation. But according to Creditor — who founded Keshet Rabbis, an organization of Conservative rabbis who support gay and lesbian equality — only seven of those signatories were Conservative. Following passage of the law committee decision in December 2006, Creditor said, many more Conservative rabbis signed their names.

Read it all here.

A green Purim

While Christians are gearing up for Easter, this weekend also marks the festival of Purim in the Jewish faith, as noted in this story from the LA Times' "Babylon and Beyond" blog:

Jews in Israel and around the world are celebrating Purim, the holiday marking the escape of the Persian Jews from a plot to exterminate them devised by Haman, vizier to King Ahasuerus who ruled Persia in the 5th century BC.

The Book of Esther tells the story of the plot and the reversal of fate by which the community was saved. Among the good deeds Jews are obliged to fulfill during the holiday is "mishloah manot"- the sending of portions [of food], and "matanot la'evyonim"- gifts, charity to the poor.

(The customary masquerading, mostly by children, is another prominent if relatively modern tradition -- and is becoming more modern by the minute. Among secular kids, Queen Esther is out; SpongeBob Squarepants, sadly, is in.)

This year, Israelis went all-out with holiday spirit. They showered love, giving and gifts on the town of Sderot that has suffered rocket attacks for the past seven years. The southern town and its environs have been worn thin by years of fear, financial losses and government promises, and thousands have abandoned it in recent years. The rockets that started out crude and with more bark than bite have evolved into lethal weapons; fired from Gaza, they take a fleeting 15 seconds to land in Sderot, where mundane activities have become dangerous gambles.

That story is here.

Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post has published Sviva Israel's list of ten tips for an environmentally friendly Purim. Many of the tips are practices we can incorporate in our own gift-giving rituals, such as:

1. Trash the baskets - What can you do with so many straw baskets and gift bags? Package your Mishloah Manot in useful, reusable containers such as storage containers, glasses, mugs and pasta drainers for year-round usability.

2. Wrap it up - For the more creative, wrap up your food items in a pretty hand towel, apron, cloth table napkins, oven mitts or other useful fabric item.

3. Sustainable stuffing - Instead of padding out your package with shredded cellophane or colored paper, use banana chips, sunflower seeds or popcorn (only for recipients over three years old).

4. Bag it - Follow the fashion trend and give your gifts in eco-friendly cloth bags that your friends can reuse for shopping.

The complete list is here.

Mega Good Friday

Turns out yesterday was a convergence of matters holy. In addition to Good Friday and Purim, other notable Holy Days from around the world that took place on March 21. Among them, Eid--the birth of the Prophet, among some Muslims. More remarkable is the fact that such a convergence is incredibly rare, due to the fact that none of the major occasions marked on Friday is keyed to the same calendar date or event. You've probably seen the reports that Easter is unusually early this year, making the scramble for flowers more pressing, and that the last time it was this early was nearly a century ago.

But Time notes the significance of this year's Good Friday:

But unlike some holy days — say, Christmas, which some non-Christians in the U.S. observe informally by going to a movie and ordering Chinese food — on this particular Friday, March 21, it seems almost no believer of any sort will be left without his or her own holiday. In what is statistically, at least, a once-in-a-millennium combination, the following will all occur on the 21st:
  • Good Friday
  • Purim, a Jewish festival celebrating the biblical book of Esther
  • Narouz, the Persian New Year, which is observed with Islamic elaboration in Iran and all the "stan" countries, as well as by Zoroastrians and Baha'is.
  • Eid Milad an Nabi, the Birth of the Prophet, which is celebrated by some but not all Sunni Muslims and, though officially beginning on Thursday, is often marked on Friday.
  • Small Holi, Hindu, an Indian festival of bonfires, to be followed on Saturday by Holi, a kind of Mardi Gras.
  • Magha Puja, a celebration of the Buddha's first group of followers, marked primarily in Thailand.

"Half the world's population is going to be celebrating something," says Raymond Clothey, Professor Emeritus of Religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "My goodness," says Delton Krueger, owner of www.interfaithcalendar.org, who follows "14 major religions and six others." He counts 20 holidays altogether (including some religious double-dips, like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) between the 20th (which is also quite crowded) and the 21st. He marvels: "There is no other time in 2008 when there is this kind of concentration."

And in fact for quite a bit longer than that. Ed Reingold and Nachum Dershowitz, co-authors of the books Calendrical Calculations and Calendrical Tabulations, determined how often in the period between 1600 and 2400 A.D. Good Friday, Purim, Narouz and the Eid would occur in the same week. The answer is nine times in 800 years. Then they tackled the odds that they would converge on a two-day period. And the total is ... only once: tomorrow. And that's not even counting Magha Puja and Small Holi.

Unless you are mathematically inclined, however, you may not see the logic in all this. If it's the 21st of March, you may ask, shouldn't all the religions of the world celebrate the same holiday on that date each year?

No. There are a sprinkling of major holidays (Western Christmas is one) that fall each year on the same day of the Gregorian calendar, a fairly standard non-religious system and the one Americans are most familiar with.

But almost none of tomorrow's holidays actually follows that calendar.

The story is here. HT to ePisco Sours.

Passover

Passover is being celebrated by Jewish people around the world beginning tonight at sundown. Passover celebrates the Exodus of the Hebrew slaves from Egypt and one of the most important events in the history of the Jewish people.
Some customs and laws of Passover are:

To prepare for the holiday, houses are cleaned thoroughly and dishes and utensils are replaced with those used on Passover only.
Bread and other leavened food (chametz) is forbidden and removed from the home before Passover begins. Many Jews will eat only food specifically marked as "Kosher for Passover."
Matzah, a flat bread made just of flour and water, is eaten.
Work is prohibited on the first two and last two days (in Israel, the first and last days only), when rules akin to those followed on the Jewish Sabbath are followed.
In Temple times, Passover was one of three annual pilgrimage festivals to Jerusalem.
The Seder Ritual: The seder is held on the first night or two (depending on custom) of Passover. Some characteristics of this ritual meal are:
The story of the Exodus is retold, using a book called a "Haggadah."
Bitter herbs are eaten to recall the pain of slavery, and greens to celebrate the onset of spring. Other foods include haroseth--a fruit, nut, and wine mixture--and of course, matzah.
The youngest at the table recites the Four Questions.
Four cups of wine are consumed.
A festive meal is eaten.


Passover takes on new meaning in each generation with the incorporation of the present struggles for liberation with those of the original event. Beliefnet reports:

The custom of customizing even extends to Judaism's most traditional branch. The Orthodox Jewish publishing house, Artscroll Mesora, offers some 50 different Haggadahs, one of which is written by Hasidic rabbi and addiction specialist Abraham Twerski to address the experience of substance abusers.

Adapting Passover's message to fit a range of needs is practically as old as the holiday itself.

"Over and over again, the Bible itself uses the Exodus to justify all sorts of things," from caring for the poor to "any number of laws and practices," Sarna said. "So the idea of trimming the Exodus to justify whatever it is you want to justify really has very deep roots."

Even before people fiddled with the text of the Haggadah, they incorporated illustrations that reflected their times, depicting the modern-day Egyptian as a Russian warrior or Nazi soldier, said Sarna, adding that even the traditional text requires reinterpretation.

"It says in every generation, they arise to destroy us and God saves us. Well, if that's the message," then "obviously we are supposed to interpret this story in light of contemporary events," he said.

Without fail, Passover offers a fitting backdrop for any number of modern-day struggles.

That's why the American Jewish World Service, an international relief organization, dispatched a mass mailing to U.S. synagogues with readings that offer a "fifth question" to Passover's traditional four questions asked at the Seder table. The cards depict a refugee from Darfur and ask: "How can we make this year different from all other years?"

Click here for more coverage of the many aspects of Passover.

In other Passover news, according to Rachel Zoll of AP, Pope Benedict XVI became the first pope to visit an American synagogue Friday, bringing greetings for the Passover holiday and accepting gifts of matzo and a seder plate. Benedict, 81, stopped briefly at Park East Synagogue on Manhattan's Upper East Side, near the Vatican residence.
Read it here.

Gay men at Jewish Theological Seminary

Yesterday's New York Times included a very interesting profile of the first gay men permitted to attend the Jewish Theological Seminary:

Aaron Weininger stood in the ballroom of a Florida hotel last April, a college senior given the compliment of leading the Passover Seder for an audience of university administrators. He reached the sentence in the Hagaddah that implores each generation to feel that it was the one liberated from Egypt. There were few passages in the liturgy he had known better or longer.

In this particular moment, though, the words rippled with new meaning. One week earlier, the leading seminary of Conservative Judaism had dropped its longstanding ban on admitting, teaching or ordaining openly gay students to be rabbis. Ten days later, Mr. Weininger had his interview at Jewish Theological Seminary, seeking to be the first person to break those barriers.

“That line of the Haggadah spoke so directly to me,” Mr. Weininger, 23, recalled in an interview. “To feel what it was like to be liberated from a narrow place. Egypt can mean different things in different generations. And I felt like I was on the threshold of crossing the sea, of leaving that place of narrowness. I hadn’t reached the Promised Land yet, but I was on my journey.”

As Passover of 2008 commences Saturday night, Mr. Weininger, along with Ian Chesir-Teran, is one of two gay rabbinical students at J.T.S., as the seminary is routinely known. Their presence has essentially, if not always easily, settled decades of roiling debate within the Conservative movement over homosexual members of the clergy.

While the centrist Conservative denomination in its middle-of-the-road way operates with three different policies on ordaining gay men and lesbians — two opposed and one in favor — the facts have been established, probably irreversibly. Even before J.T.S. made its decision, the Conservative movement’s other major seminary, the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, had done so.

Conservative Judaism reached a similar juncture a generation ago when it first admitted women as candidates for the rabbinate. Mr. Weininger was born in the same year, 1985, when J.T.S. ordained its first female rabbi, Amy Eilberg. In the months just before he won admission to the seminary, he happened to bump into Rabbi Eilberg at a synagogue in Jerusalem and solicited her advice.

“I encouraged him to remember that since he is a pioneer, some people will project onto him feelings and assumptions that they have about ‘the cause,’ ” Rabbi Eilberg recalled of their conversation in an e-mail message. “As hard as it is not to take others’ criticisms and attacks personally — since they are personal — it is essential to work at remembering that this is about the larger issue.”

Interestingly, the seminary chancellor who permitted gay rabbinical students to enroll, Arnold Eisen, spoke of Mr. Weininger and Mr. Chesir-Teran in almost an opposite way. “Face to face,” Mr. Eisen said in an interview, “you get to know the people and you get to like the people, not as representatives of a cause or an ideology.”

The tension between being an individual and being an emblem animates both Mr. Weininger and Mr. Chesir-Teran. Both had staked out public positions as advocates of gay equality in the Conservative movement even before being allowed to apply to the seminary. Both were involved last month in a major conference at J.T.S. about issues of inclusion, provocatively titled “Adam and Eve, Meet Adam and Steve.” Mr. Chesir-Teran’s taste for the limelight even includes his current stint in an Israeli reality-TV series in which the parents of two gay households swap families.

Read it all here.

Reclaiming the word "jihad"

Omar Sacirbey of Religion News Service writes:

The end to Ani Zonneveld's "jihad" on "jihad" came during an episode of "Desperate Housewives," when Lynette (Felicity Huffman) discovers she has cancer and throws a stone at a possum.

"Look at yourself," replies her husband, Tom. "You've declared jihad on a possum."

"At that point," said Zonneveld, the co-director of the advocacy group Muslims for Progressive Values, "I think it is too late to redefine the true meaning of jihad."

Strictly speaking, "jihad" is supposed to mean an inner struggle toward holiness. But for many Americans, the term connotes holy war, especially when militant groups like al-Qaida vow to wage jihad against the United States.

Zonneveld's frustration with how "jihad" has come to be associated with violence reflects a broader concern among many Muslim Americans who believe various Islamic terms are being misused by the media and politicians, and co-opted by Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim critics.


Read it all.

Blogging the Qur'an

The Qur'an is the sacred book of Islam. In the view of Muslims it speaks to all humanity (not just those who believe) but its message is often hard to grasp. Its unconventional structure makes it unlike any other book and its 114 suras (chapters) are not arranged in chronological order but according to their length. Its literary style is considered by Arabic speakers to be neither prose nor verse but something unique.

Each week, writer, broadcaster and cultural critic Ziauddin Sardar blogs a different verse or theme of the Qur'an. Guardian columnist Madeleine Bunting helps frame the debate.

This week Humanity and Community are explored in verses 49:13, 30:32, 23:52, and 17:70.

"Why isn't this kind of astonishing insight more widely evident within the Islamic world?" The answer has two components. First, the Muslims are good at quoting the Qur'an but not very good at living up to it. Second, the current political conditions in Muslim societies, where despotism is the norm, and fanaticism is deeply entrenched, does not permit more enlightened interpretation of the Qur'an to come to the fore.

Equality is a recurrent theme of the Qur'an. All human beings are "the children of Adam" and have been "honoured" and made to "excel" (17:70). Furthermore, as God's creation we become truly human because each of has the breath, or spirit of God, breathed into us. Therefore, we all deserve to be treated with equality and dignity.

But the Qur'an goes on to make some more explicit points. All human beings, whatever their creed, race, class, and culture, are equal, we are told. And it is not just the individuals who deserve respect. The "diversity of your tongues and colours", we read in 30:20, are "his signs". So discrimination is forbidden not just on the basis of colour, but also on the basis of language and culture. The Qur'an insists that all languages and cultures are equal, equally important for maintaining diversity, and have to be valued equally. Thus Arabic is as important as, say, Swahili and Urdu, one language cannot claim superiority over the other. And the culture of, for example, Australian Aborigines is as important and deserving of respect as European cultures. One cannot assimilate the other; or relegate the other to the margins

.

For more about the project and the authors, click here.

Rosh Ha-Shanah: birthday of the world

Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah reflects on the importance of Rosh Ha-Shanah and how it helps all of us to remember:

Rosh Ha-Shanah, the Jewish New Year, will begin as the sun sets on Monday evening (September 29). Jewish life is complex; there are actually two other significant new years besides Rosh Ha-Shanah: the new year for months is in the spring, starting with the month of Nisan, which ushers in the festival of Pesach (Passover) on the 15th of that month; and the New Year for Trees, known by its date, Tu Bishvat, is celebrated on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Sh'vat.

Rosh Ha-Shanah, literally, "the head of the year", which falls at the beginning of the seventh month, Tishri, as the year turns, is the New Year for years. This new year will be 5769. But the number of years, based on the chronologies given in the Torah from the account of creation onwards - a mythical number - is far less significant than the concept behind it: Jewish time begins, not with the first ancestors of the Jewish people, Abraham and Sarah, but rather with the beginning of everything. On Rosh Ha-Shanah, the liturgy proclaims: "Ha-yom harat olam." (Today is the birthday of the world.) So, at the core of Judaism: universalism.

A remembering people, our collective remembering centres on the creation of the world and the exodus from Egypt; each recalled, not just annually, but in the daily liturgy, and emphasised in the weekly observance of the Sabbath, which is a "memorial" of both. The purpose of our remembering is not simply to recollect the past, but to learn from it, so that we may acknowledge the present and shape the future.


She continues:
We remember, but there is no going back. Jewish time is not caught in an endless cycle; it spirals towards the future. The word, shanah, "year", suggesting "repetition", also evokes "change". The new year summons us to transform our lives. It teaches us that we can stop repeating destructive patterns of behaviour and move on. This year Rosh Ha-Shanah coincides with the 70th anniversary of that infamous moment on September 30 1938, when Neville Chamberlain stepped off a plane, following his meeting with Adolf Hitler in Munich, waving a sheet of paper like a white flag of surrender, and then declared outside 10 Downing Street peace for our time. Less than six weeks after Munich, on the night of November 9, known later as Kristallnacht (the night of broken glass) following five years of systematic discrimination, the violent assault of the Jewish people began.

Seventy years on, as we face a new year, forgetfulness reigns: yet more tyrants; yet more victims. And so, the summons of "the birthday of the world" seems ever more urgent - not just for Jews, but also for humanity.


Read it all here.

Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah is rabbi of Brighton and Hove Progressive Synagogue

It's Mitzvah Day!

Today is the annual Mitzvah Day in London--a tradition that began in many U.S. Jewish communities and that is now spreading to Jewish communities across the world. Julia Neuberger explains:

For some years now in the United States, Jewish communities in any given area hold an annual Mitzvah Day, literally a "good deed day". In Los Angeles, for example, tens of thousands of Jews mark the day by giving time, rather than money, to support not only their own community but their neighbours' communities too.

My friend, Laura Marks, experienced Mitzvah day for herself when she lived in the US. She was much moved by the spirit behind it and the atmosphere it engendered, so she brought the idea to London, to the Jewish Community Centre for London (JCC), which has been the nursery garden in which it could take root.

The JCC will be taking an active part again this tomorrow, but now Mitzvah Day is going national in the UK too, under Laura Marks's charismatic leadership. This year, mitzvot (good deeds) will be being done from Exeter to Leeds and Glasgow to Brighton. Over 10,000 British Jews are involved, maybe cleaning out an overgrown garden, collecting recycling, visiting an elderly or disabled person, or in one of 250 other ways, reflecting the 250 projects taking place around the country.

But the idea has not only gone national. It has also spread to other communities. When asked why she would involve herself in something called Mitzvah Day, Atheah Ghani of Nottingham's Muslim community replied: "With common moral values across our faiths of respect for fellow human beings, care for the rest of creation and building towards peaceful coexistence, there wasn't a single reason for me not to get involved."

Read it all here. Seems to me that this is a day we all of us should celebrate (and not just one day each year).

Islam's tele-evangelists

The latest article in the New York Times series Generation Faithful examines the rise of tele-evangelists in Islam. The series looks at the Islam and religious revival of among young Muslims:

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Conversations with a theocracy

Bishop John Bryson Chane of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington recently spoke with Sister Maureen Fiedler of Interfaith Voices about his trip to Iran in October and his meeting with the country's leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (20 minutes)

Naked and you clothed me

Episcope has a full round-up of the mainstream media's coverage of yesterday's National Prayer Service, which we covered here. But the work of the Church isn't all about blessings presidents and squabbling about sexual ethics. Sometimes it is about helping a Jewish girl collect prom dresses. That's right, prom dresses.

Have a look at this item from Mobile, Alabama, about a Jewish girl working with an Episcopal Church to help collect prom dresses for girls who can't afford to buy them.

Young Muslims combat extremism

Young Muslims are leading the world in new ways to live together. Pew Forum reports on a group of 300 who are seeking help with combatting extremism and Religious Dispatches interviews two investigators who are looking into the discussion among Muslims and others in the virtual world.

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Pope lifts excommunication on bishop who denies Holocaust

The New York Times reports that Pope Benedict XVI has reinstated four schismatic bishops, one of whom does not believe the Holocaust took place and thinks that the United States government staged the attacks of September 11, 2001, as a pretext for invading Afghanistan. Episcopalians need to keeps this in mind the next time the Vatican lectures us on our grave moral failings, such as permitting women to be priests, and blessing the relationships of monogamous gay and lesbian couples.

Ruth Gledhill has the chilling video and other coverage.

Abuse scandal roils Brooklyn Hasidic Jews

NPR:

The Reichman case is not isolated. Four ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Brooklyn have been sued or arrested for abusing boys in the past three years. That's a tiny fraction of the actual abuse, says Hella Winston, author of
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels
. She says that in researching her book, she encountered dozens of alleged victims who told her sexual abuse is an open secret in the Hasidic community. But the community is so insulated and the rabbis are so powerful that few dare to come forward.

"If I become known as an informer, then people also won't want to have anything to do with my family," she explains. "They won't want to marry my children, won't want to give me a job. This is the fear."

But more and more accusations against rabbis have begun to circulate....

[Brooklyn District Attorney Charles] Hynes says the Jewish leaders — like Catholic bishops — try to handle these affairs internally, through a rabbinical court. It's a practice that infuriates him.

"You have no business taking these cases to religious tribunals," Hynes says. "They are either civil or criminal in nature. Or both. Your obligation is to bring these allegations to us and let us conduct the investigation."

Read the NPR report and find audio and other links here.

Sex, anti-Semitism and the Roman Catholic Church

Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic who is worried about the direction his church has taken under Pope Benedict XVI writes:

There is, it seems to me, a connecting thread between all the various depressing bits of Catholic news this past week, beginning with the clueless, insular outreach to reactionary SSPX anti-Semites and culminating in the latest revelations about the serial child rapist protected by John Paul II, Father Maciel. That thread is not sex or anti-Semitism. It is the abuse of absolute clerical power.

This trailer for the film Vows of Silence delves into Maciel's past.

Some of Sullivan's other items about the pope also make worrisome reading. These insightful items from the blog of America magazine, which is published by the Jesuits are also worth a look. (It is worth remembering that the pope had the previous editor of America sacked.)

Reuters Faith World blog has covered the backlash against Benedict, and the reversal it produced, as has The New York Times.

G-dcast

G-dcast is an experiment to increase Jewish Biblical literacy. Watch this one about the Exodus. Links to other stories here. Some of the re-telling of these stories is difficult for me to accept but then the next video will have more of the story from an entirely different point of view. Just like reading the Bible! Think Midrash. I love the stories - even a hip hop Jacob. Look for it.

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Church of England called to convert non-Christians in England.

The Church of England Synod voted on Wednesday to urge its members to reach out to their non-Christian neighbors in an effort to share the gospel of salvation offered uniquely in Christ Jesus. The vote represents a break from the previous stance of focusing on what was common and shared between people of different faiths in the community.

From the article on the Times website:

"The Church’s General Synod, meeting in London, overwhelmingly backed a motion to force its bishops to report on their ‘understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multifaith society’ and offer guidance in sharing ‘the gospel of salvation’ with people of other faiths and none.

[...]The Rev Nezlin Sterling, who represents the black-led churches and is a minister in the New Testament Assembly, said that the marginalisation of Christianity was proceeding at a rapid rate, with further examples reported every day.

She said that the churches were so anxious to be politically correct that they were in danger of forgetting their mission. ‘We have positioned ourselves like the disciples did immediately after the death of Christ, behind closed doors, paralysed with fear of the world.’

Evangelisation should be a priority, she said. ‘Every person in my mind is a potential convert.’"

Read the full article here.

The true leader of Iran uses his religious authority to steer a nation's course

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is not a very familiar name to most Americans. But it is well known to Iranians. Khamenei, the successor to Ayatollah Khomeini is the real power in Iran, merging both religious authority with secular authority by virtue of his role within an explicitly theocratic state.

NPR has a long article today about how Khamenei's thinking is shaping the present course of the Iranian state. It summarizes his early influences, his rise to power, how he chooses to use his authority. A particularly interesting bit of the article talks about Khamenei's unwillingness to allow western thinking and paradigms to be used to undergird programs in Iran. Instead he insists on using purely Islamic based ideas.

There's a vignette included in the article that gives a sense of Khamenei's thinking by describing a surprise meeting between him and Bishop John Chane (the Episcopal Bishop of Washington):

"Last year, Chane was attending a conference on religion and politics in Tehran. 'Out of the blue, somebody came over and said, 'You're going to meet the supreme leader. Be out in the hallway in 10 minutes,'' he recalls.

Chane and a handful of other Westerners went to meet the leader in a room across town.

'It had a beautiful Iranian woven Oriental rug. There were chairs along the wall. ... And he speaks very softly, so it's not a matter of sitting around the table, you know, hammering out stuff. It was a very quiet conversation,' Chane says.

In that quiet voice, Khamenei spoke of his country's historic involvement with the West.

'He said it had been hurtful,' Chane says. 'It had inhibited its ability to become an independent nation. ... It was unwelcomed.'"

Read the full article here.

There's an interesting related article on the San Francisco Chronicle website that describes how muslim investors have managed to avoid ruin in the financial markets these past few months by their adherence to Islamic investment principles rather than those of western financial institutions.

Happy Purim

Cathleen Falsani, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, and is the author of Sin Boldly: A Field Guide for Grace, discusses the Jewish festival of Purim at her blog, The Dude Abides:

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Blessing the sun for Passover

Traditionalist Jews and tree-huggers alike are coming together for Birkat HaHammah, a Jewish holiday that falls only once every 28 years, marking the sun’s return to its original position at creation, according to Ethics Daily.

This year, the celebration takes place at sunrise April 8, followed by the start of Passover at sunset. The timing is a coincidence that won’t happen again until 2437; unlike major Jewish holidays, which run on a lunar cycle, the “blessing the sun” is based on the Julian calendar.

Still, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life has encouraged Jews to take advantage of the convergence, offering suggestions for tying the obscure observance with the major annual holiday.

Drift, not rupture, explains decline

The Washington Post has a story that should put an end to the canard that the decline of mainline Protestant denominations like the Episcopal Church is caused by theological liberalism:

Americans have given up their faith or changed religions because of a gradual spiritual drift than switched because of a disillusionment over their churches' policies, according to a new study released today which illustrates how personal spiritual attitudes are taking precedence over denominational traditions.

PB, other Christians leaders praise Obama's Cairo speech

From Episcopal Life Online:

A diverse group of U.S. Christian leaders has written to President Barack Obama following his historic June 4 speech in Cairo saying they stand ready to support "robust U.S. peacemaking efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Signed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and more than 50 Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical and African American church leaders, the open ecumenical letter to Obama noted that "after decades of tragic conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians despair of the possibility of peace, yet with your determined leadership we believe the promise of two viable, secure and independent states can be realized."

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CANA and the coming campaign against Islam

Last March, in an article about Archbishop Peter Akinola and the 2004 massacre of 650 or more Muslims in the Nigerian town of Yelwa I wrote:

It is sometimes said that in electing Gene Robinson its bishop, the people of New Hampshire "exported" the American argument over homos

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President Obama greets Muslims for Ramadan

The Baltimore Sun reports:

President Barack Obama [took] advantage of the start of Ramadan on Saturday to make another overture to the Muslim world. In a holiday message now on the White House Web site, he wishes Muslims Ramadan Kareem, and then details U.S. efforts to engage Muslims in much the same language that he used during his address in Cairo in June.

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Tomorrow is Gandhi's birthday

Amitabh Pal says, in advance of the observance of Mahatma Gandhi's 140th birthday on October 2nd, that the spirit of nonviolence lives on around the world, including in Muslim societies.

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An answer to the "Why?" question

The Big Question:
Why is the Catholic church offering a home to congregations of Anglicans?
By Paul Vallely

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How Hitchens sees Christians now

Christopher Hitchens, one of the chief critics of any faith in God, has now become enough of a celebrity that he is regularly appearing in Christian churches debating about the existence of God. As such he's starting to revise his opinions about Christians as a body. He's not a convert at all. He just thinks that one has to recognize that there's a broader spectrum to Christian belief than he had previously thought. Oh, and he doesn't like Calvinists. Or "mealy-mouthed" liberal Christians.

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An American in Mecca

A writer from Brooklyn makes the Hajj:

On the buses to Mecca, Wessam led us through the ­Talbiya, a chant that signals a pilgrim’s arrival in the holy land. “I respond to Your call Lord, and I am obedient to Your command.” Our coach filled with the prayer as night fell.

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Synagogue gives gift to Episcopal parish

Most of the news today is about the Vatican's new program that invites disaffected Anglicans into a special relationship with the Roman based church. But there's also a lovely story of a Synagogue in Kansas who decided to reach out to support an Episcopal parish in need.

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The Swiss vote to ban minarets

Yesterday, Swiss voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on the construction of any minarets in the country. The minaret is to a mosque what a steeple is to a church, a clear architectural sign of the building's use and purpose. Effectively the ban will have the effect of hiding any public sense of the presence of Muslim believers in Switzerland.

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The case for multi-faith education

Rabbi Justus N. Baird, writing for The Alban Institute talks about why we need interfaith education:

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Obama to meet with Dalai Lama

Despite protests from China, President Obama will meet with the Dalai Lama:

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U.S.-Muslim relations addressed at Doha summit

Participants in the US-Islamic World Forum in Doha, Qatar see this summit coming at a crucial time in relations between the United States and the Muslim world.

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Interfaith education to build cooperation

The Center for Interfaith Reconciliation based at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia will be hosting a conference entitled, "Encounter Islam" on February 12-13.

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Bishop Chane in Qatar

Gulf Times reports on the U.S-Islamic World Forum:

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National Cathedral to host Christian-Muslim Summit

The Washington National Cathedral will host a Christian-Muslim Summit between March 1-3:

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Dalai Lama in 140 characters?

Oprah, Lance Armstrong, the Archbishop of York, and now...the Dalai Lama has joined Twitter. Will the Archbishop of Canterbury follow suit? Time will tell.

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The role of religious leaders in diplomacy

The Washington National Cathedral concluded their program on Christian and Islamic dialogue last night. In yesterday's Washington Post, Diocese of Washington's Bishop John Chane writes on the role of religious leaders in diplomacy.

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Zimbabwe tribes show Jewish descent

The people of Ethiopia have claimed a jewish heritage for most of their recorded history. And there's some reason to think that their memory and lore is accurate, the scientific verdict is still out.

A new group claiming Jewish descent has been found in the nation of Zimbabwe much further to the south on the African continent.

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Tweeting the Exodus - it begins

Tweet the Exodus begins today with a link to a clip from The Ten Commandments followed by a link to the modern day slave trade.

Follow it at Tweet the Exodus

Sunday is Holocaust Remembrance Day

April is Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, and marks the start of a week's worth of National Days of Remembrance.

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It's the dogma, stupid

If something is too true to be true, it probably is:

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Pondering religious identity in wartime

The New York Times published a reflection on religious identity during wartime, by Capt. Henry Brewster. How does our religious identity affect our attitudes and responses to others? Captain Brewster offers up this reflection; well worth pondering:

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Dalai Lama fosters dialogue between Buddhists & Muslims

The Dalai Lama is in Bloomington, Indiana to foster dialogue between Buddhists and Muslims, and to launch a new book on the subject, Common Ground Between Islam and Buddhism.

A blessing from the Dalai Lama
By Eboo Patel in the Washington Post/Newsweek's "On Faith"

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Homeshuling

Amy Melzer keeps Homeshuling: A Jewish parenting blog Beliefnet and she talks about the joys and challenges of faith formation in the home.

She writes:

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On Faith: Should religions intermarry?

The Washington Post's "On Faith," has posed the question, "Should religions intermarry?" and the posted responses are good food for thought.

What's your take?

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Australian politics: Archbishops critical of atheist PM

Australia holds a national election and so far the campaign has focused on the perceived flaws of the current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. She's an unmarried, childless, co-habitator with -- as some see them -- pendulous earlobes, and all that counts against the PM say her opponents.

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Ramadan fasting increases awareness

Tonight, with the new crescent moon, the Ramadan fast begins for Muslims around the world. Since it occurs in August this year, the fast is longer in the Northern Hemisphere than most years. Aziz Junejo discusses the benefits in The Seattle Times:

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Religious Freedom at Ground Zero?

Though protected by the 1st Amendment, just how much religious freedom will Americans tolerate? A recent article posted at "Religion Dispatches" reflects on the current controversy of plans for a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City.

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NY Bishop Mark Sisk on Islamic Center

Received by email
August 24, 2010

Dear Sisters and Brothers in the Diocese of New York

I am writing to tell you that I wholeheartedly join other religious and civic leaders in calling on all parties involved in the dispute over the planned lower Manhattan Islamic community center and mosque to convert a situation that has sadly become ever more divisive into, as Archbishop Timothy Dolan recently stated, "an opportunity for a civil, rational, loving, respectful discussion."

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What ACNA Archbishop Duncan wants

An interesting interview with the schismatic Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan:

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Four New Yorkers on what it means to be Muslim

Religion Dispatches posts the reflections of four New York Muslims on the occasion of the anniversary of 9/11, and in honor of the end of Ramadan. They think about piety, patriotism, the courage and goodness of New Yorkers, and the horrific event that has shaped a generation of American Muslim life.

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Islam in America, 9 years after 9/11

This has been a tumulteous week in interfaith relations. A fringe pastor threatened to burn the Quran on the anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. The rhetoric in Manhattan escalated around the building of a Muslim community center on the southern part of the island, and now even Donald Trump has inserted himself into the arc of the story. Muslim Americans have decided out of fear to not celebrate the traditional religious festival that falls on today (Eid) because of their fears for their safety.

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Pope: atheism, secularism borders on Godless Nazism

By playing the Nazi card, the pope's opening address has caused something of a stir:

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What do you know about religion?

UPDATE: The Café's own Torey Lightcap comments here

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Generating enthusiasm for Hanukkah

There's a theme running through news/op-ed coverage of Hanukkah. Can it be made more than it has been? How much is tongue in cheek I'm not sure.

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Who was neighbor to the man?

Mr. Narayanan Krishnan, a Brahmin Hindu searches out the homeless and feeds, clothes, bathes, shaves and loves them.

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Jesus and Buddha on holiday

WWJABDOH. What would Jesus and Buddha do on Holiday? A new graphic novel in Japan explores the question of what Jesus and Buddha would do if they were on holiday today:

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Will Congressional hearings fan flames of Islamaphobia?

William Wan of The Washington Post writes:

They called it a summit to teach Muslims how to fight prejudice and fear. But all day long, fear was inescapable in the fluorescent-lit meeting hall of the Long Island mosque.

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September 11, Islam and your congregation

Alban Institute explores questions of a post 9/11 Christian faith and how congregations interact or not with their Muslim neighbors:

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Romania cracks down on witches

The Washington Post reports that Romanian officials are targeting witches:

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How do Japan's religions confront tragedy?

CNN's Belief blog considers how Japan's religions might confront tragedy in general, and the catastrophic effects of the earthquake and tsunami:

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Overcoming hate

The Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, the Dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine reflects on breaking the cycle of hate between Christians and Muslims in the Huffington Post:

Turning Cheeks: Why Christians and Muslims Should Break the Cycle of Hate

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Evolution for Muslims

Christians aren't the only world-faith that has had its world-view challenged by the mechanism of Natural Selection (Evolution). While Islam has not dealt with the challenge to the extent that Christians in the West have, there are the beginnings of debate within Islam as how to accommodate of view of Creation that ranges somewhere between strict Creationism and Evolution.

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Passover begins with interfaith seders

Discovering each other, two stories of interfaith seders:

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Muslim groups respond to Osama bin Laden's death

Muslim groups respond to Osama bin Laden's death:

No Fireworks, Only Candles: Our Work as Americans and Muslims
From ReligionDispatches

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Catholic abuse report authors defend findings

Amy Goodstein has a roundup of criticism of the abuse report and the defense put up by its authors of the Woodstock theory.

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Conservative Jewish seminary ordains first openly gay female rabbi

Debra Nussbaum Cohen reports on The Sisterhood blog at the Jewish Daily Forward:

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Hijab: to wear or not to wear

Nadia Elawady writing at the blog Inner Workings of My Mind has a secret. She wanted to find out what life was like without the hijab, her Muslim headscarf:

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The phony sharia threat

Writing for USA Today, Amy Sullivan explains what sharia is, how it is used in U. S. courts, and why it is not the threat that every one of the top Republican presidential candidates claims it to be:

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Austrian Pastafarian wins right to wear strainer on his noodle

BBC:

After receiving his application the Austrian authorities had required him to obtain a doctor's certificate that he was "psychologically fit" to drive.

According to Mr Reinthaler, "the licence has been ready since October 2009 - it was not collected, that's all there is to it".

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Muslim Americans affiliate with their religion and the US

Tuesday, Gallup issued a report, Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future.

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Reflections for Ramadan: Somali famine

Imam Khalid Latif is blogging his reflections during Ramadan in the Huffington Post:

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Eid Ul Fitr and Muslims in the U.S.

Eid Ul Fitr celebrates the end of the fast of Ramadan. Huffington Post writes:

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Rosh Hashanah and incomplete repentance

Rosh Hashanah: The Incomplete Repentance
From the Huffington Post

Rosh Hashanah is tonight and the buzz word throughout Jewish media and, of course, on the lips of rabbis everywhere, is repentance. As familiar as we all are with the word repentance, it is a difficult concept to truly wrap one's minds around.

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Is there a Do Not Baptize list?

From Forrest Wickman in Slate:

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Basketball tip-off rescheduled to honor Jewish Sabbath

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Robert M. Beren Hebrew Academy’s basketball team won its regional championships to advance to a semifinal game in Dallas, scheduled for Friday at 9.m. The Jewish Sabbath begins at sundown on Friday evening and ends at nightfall on Saturday, and the team strictly observes it.

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For synagogues' cantors, ordination means a lot

In a move long anticipated, Reform Jews are phasing out "investiture" of cantors and are moving toward ordination, JTA reports.

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Joplin, Mo., mosque razed by second fire within a month

The Associated Press has the story:

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Unification Church head Rev. Moon dies

The founder of the Unification Church, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon has died. AP reports:

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Finding joy in the High Holy Days

Lisa Miller, who writes a weekly column for The Washington Post, says she looks forward with "foreboding" to the Jewish High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah begins tomorrow at sundown.

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Hanukkah

Hilary Leila Krieger writes about Hanukkah in the New York Times:

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Who will be the next pope?

Cardinals are discussing who they think might be the new pope, strengths and challenges of various possible candidates, Laurie Goodstein writes in the New York Times

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Losing weight for peace

Religion Dispatches

In a recent NY Times Op-Ed, Dina Kraft describes a group of Muslim and Jewish women in Brookline, Massachusetts who attend weekly meetings to discuss “the universal theme of weight-loss support.”

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Questions and nonsense questions

Jeffrey Weiss of Real Clear Religion says the question Is Islam a Religion of Peace is a nonsense question.

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Ramadan begins

Muslims around the world are fasting for the month of Ramadan.

President Barack Obama sends Ramadan greetings:

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Breaking: Lutherans elect first female presiding bishop

Ann Rogers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has the story:

Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of Cleveland has been elected presiding bishop of the 4 million-member Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

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Largest U.S. Muslim group meets

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) holds it annual meeting this weekend. According to its home page:

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"Thanks for thinking about my soul..."

Emily Yoffe, aka Dear Prudence, joins Washingtonpost.com weekly to chat with readers. The leadoff "back to school" question was of religious nature:

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Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—begins today, September 4, at sundown. It marks the start of the High Holy Days, a ten-day period of penitence and spiritual renewal that ends with the holiday of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby writes:

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Pope Francis suggests Catholic Church could tolerate civil unions

Pope Francis has acknowledged that loving same-sex relationships are not a threat to civilization as we know it. The Huffington Post has the story, which is based on an interview with the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

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Atheism vs Atheism

Andrew Sullivan is exploring the divide among folks who don’t believe in God over on his blog, including some who have found a welcoming home in churches.

One commenter writes,

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Muslim scholars offer prizes for peace studies and teams

Reuters reports on Islamic scholars who are establishing prizes for peace and recommending Muslim peace teams:

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Women wanting conversation on LDS ordination told to stay away

Huffington Post, in a article by Antonia Blumberg, has a feature on the movement to ordain women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

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ISIS and the Sunni-Shia conflict

As militants from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) continue their takeover of Iraq, international spotlight is once again on the ancient Sunni-Shia conflict at the root of much of the violence. The Religion News service has a brief primer on the Sunni-Shia conflict:

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Mormon women's group founder excommunicated

Sarah Pulliam Bailey reports that Mormon Women's group leader, Kate Kelly, has been excommunicated by the Latter Days Saints church. Religion News Service has the story:

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Ramadan Reflections

Yesterday marked the beginning of Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer. In the Huffington Post Religion section, several prominent Muslims offer personal reflections on Ramadan that go beyond fasting, including a reflection on what it means to be human by Qamar Ul Huda of the U.S. Institute of Peace:

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UCC to replace Episcopal Church as member of Omaha Tri-Faith Initiative

TriFaith_fade.jpgThe Tri-Faith Initiative in Omaha Nebraska is in the process of gaining a new Christian partner in the project to build an inter-faith campus. Temple Israel has already begun building at the site and the American Institute of Islamic Studies and Culture plan to break ground this fall. The Episcopal Church is changing its role to one of support for a new full partner Countryside Community Church (UCC). Countryside voted Sunday to enter into this partnership with study and funding implications.

Some background on the Tri-Faith Initiative is found at Episcopal News Service.

Discussion and video of the vote by Countryside Community Church (UCC) is at their website.

The following motion was voted on and passed.

“We authorize the Church Council and its designees to undertake whatever additional steps are necessary to determine the potential costs and implications of relocating our Church to the Tri-Faith campus, as well as what resources are available to cover the costs. The Church Council will provide the Congregation with a report of their findings so that the Congregation can vote at a future meeting of the Congregation, whether to relocate our Church to the Tri-Faith campus.”

The vote tally was as follows:
326 Aye
159 Nay
2 Abstentions

From the Rt Rev Scott Barker of the Diocese of Nebraska. Via email:

Both the timing and the cost have been challenging for the Diocese of Nebraska. The church on the Tri-Faith campus needs to be sufficiently large and vibrant that it can be in equal partnership with a particularly robust Jewish community in Temple Israel. Starting such a congregation from scratch, and constructing a church building to house it, has proven to be a difficult challenge for our diocese. We would have accomplished the work given enough time, but the other faith-partners are far ahead of us in terms of both congregation building and fundraising. In order for the larger project to move ahead, the Christian presence needed a jump-start.

Countryside Community Church has a long history of interfaith ministry and is exactly the kind of large and vibrant local church needed by the Tri-Faith effort. They are welcoming our ongoing support and I know we will offer that in real ways.

I am so proud of the contribution of our Episcopal Church to the Tri-Faith Initiative. We stepped up when no other Christian denomination would, and embraced this vision with over six years of prayer, hard work and an investment of nearly two million dollars. It would not have happened without the Episcopal Church.

+ J. Scott Barker

Time line of the initiative is here.

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