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Blog Archive/January 2007

January 31, 2007

A.V. Must-Sees

Count 'em, not one, but three clips to brighten your day:

* Josh Gosfield (Saint of the Month Club) and multi-media artist Alex Sherwin's new, un-p.c. flash animation al-Cuties.

* Benny Hinn, in "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor!" (Nod to The Very Left Rev.)

* C.S.I. Miami--Endless Caruso One-Liners.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 30, 2007

Welcome, Theolog

The Christian Century enters the blogosphere with Theolog, the purpose of which is to provide a "space for the Century to reply to blog chatter about stuff we publish, and occasionally start some of our own," says Century editor Jason Byassee, in an email. Jason serves as the blog's principal writer and editor.

Incidentally, when Jason isn't busy over at the Century writing articles and winning Associated Church Press awards, he's writing books. This past fall, he published Reading Augustine: A Guide to the Confessions (Cascade Books), which Carol Zaleski calls "a delight to read and a wonderful resource for everyone who wishes to become the faithful and discerning reader Augustine so fervently desired."

His forthcoming books include "Praise Seeking Understanding" (Eerdmans) and "An Introduction to the Desert Fathers" (Cascade Books).

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 29, 2007

The 2007 Emergent Theological Conversation

Every year, Emergent holds an informal three-day "theological conversation" with a heavy like Stanley Hauerwas, Dallas Willard, Walter Bruegemann, and Nancey Murphy. Last year's event was held at Yale Divinity School and featured theologian Miroslav Volf (read my report here).

This year, Emergent descends on Eastern University, in Philadelphia, to chat with John D. Caputo, April 16-18. The topic will be "What Would Jesus Deconstruct?" (My answer: "the Roman Empire.") A professor in the religion department at Syracuse and the author of "Radical Hermeneutics" and "More Radical Hermeneutics," Caputo is "arguably the preeminent interpreter of Jacques Derrida and was a close friend of the deconstructionist-in-chief," according to Tony Jones, Emergent's national coordinator. Joining Caputo in conversation will be Richard Kearney, the chair of the philosophy department at Boston College.

For more information, click here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 25, 2007

Rob Bell's "Sex God"

Bell seems smart (albeit a little unfocused), earnest, at times humorous, and, as the evangelicals would say, it's obvious that his "heart's in the right place." But I'm just not sure what, in the end, his book contributes to the incredibly difficult and contentious topic of sex and Christianity. With ten thousand in his congregation and such a compelling personality, he has the power to say a lot and to bring about real change. To remind us that sex is more than the sex act and that human beings are more than just animals is hardly groundbreaking or helpful; to package the old truisms and prejudices of his father's generation in this glossy, hip wrapping is downright deceptive and potentially harmful.

Read Astrid Storm's review, "Hip Puritan Sex," here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 23, 2007

Mmm, Squirrel Stew!

Mary Beth Crain fancies herself a "lover of all God's creatures," and can't fathom killing anything, "with the exception of mosquitoes and terrorists." So our senior editor knew she'd be rubbing elbows with hunters when she recently moved from Los Angeles, her home for 30 years, to rural Michigan, where hunting is as much a part of life as traffic jams are back in the City of Angels. But how would she respond to an invitation to a wild game dinner? Would she offend her new neighbors by bowing out with a lame excuse, or would she stock up on antacids, steel her resolve, and tuck into a bowl of squirrel stew?

Read here to find out. [Disclaimer: No animals were harmed in the writing of this essay. They were all shot dead beforehand.]

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    hunting wild game elk

January 22, 2007

Great Ideas for Lent--If You Don't Mind Daily Text Messages from the Church

British worshippers who can't decide what to give up for Lent can try a different approach this year. The Church of England has come up with a list of good deeds they will text message churchgoers for a fee of 10p per suggestion, "with half the profits going to charity and the other half being kept by the Church of England," the Telegraph reports.

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, and John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, are promoting the campaign as a way that worshippers can "spread generosity and happiness in their community." Suggestions include: hug someone who needs it; give up your place in line to a person in a rush; and buy low-energy light bulbs to save energy.

My favorite: Say something nice behind someone's back. Sounds corny, but hey. It's easier than fasting or giving up chocolate and booze, right?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 21, 2007

Richard Dawkins: His Way or the Highway?

If you like indulging in guilty pleasures, then by all means drop in at Richard Dawkins'  website and take a glance at the YouTube videos of his speech in Lynchburg, Virginia. In that speech, the famed British evolutionary biologist/ethologist/atheist--who maintains in his current New York Times bestseller, "The God Delusion," that evolution by natural selection is overriding proof of the non-existence of God--is the essence of forced civility, until he suggests that audience members who are professors or students at Jerry Falwell's nearby Liberty University find a reputable school to either teach or study at. We giggle and find ourselves murmuring "Yes, that's about right."

Of all the delicious little insights that come from wrestling with Dawkins, few are probably more delightful than the realization that Dawkins' recent fame owes more to Dobson than Darwin.

Continue reading Benjamin Shobert's If Dawkins Makes Sense to Me, Does That Make Me an Atheist?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 15, 2007

"Armed & Famous": Not Exactly Famous. But Armed? Definitely.

I've said it before. We at SoMA love to hate reality shows. We've gleefully suffered through "God or the Girl," "Clean House," and "House of Tiny Terrors," the review of which spawned a bizarre debate that is still raging, more than a month after the piece appeared, in the comments section here. Talk about Surreal Life.

And now we--no, make that Billy Frolick--has appraised CBS' new reality show "Armed & Famous," in which five D-list celebrities (LaToya Jackson, Jack Osbourne, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuna, Trish Stratus, Erik Estrada) play cops with real guns and badges on the streets of Muncie, Ind.
Why bother with these shows? Good question, and it's one that Tom Shales addresses in his Washington Post review of "Armed & Dangerous":

"Is there any point in subjecting such programs to critical appraisal? There is to the extent that they're symptomatic--symptoms of a fad that has become a plague. The shows self-deconstruct; they're like third-generation parodies. In a reversal of show-business tradition, some of these programs are bad on purpose. Not only does no one expect them to be good, no one wants them to be."

Or as we like to think, we're just doing our small part to help improve the quality of television that we at SoMA each spend 16 hours a day viewing.

Read Billy Frolick's "Armed & Lame-Ass" here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 14, 2007

MLK and the 40-Years-in-the-Making Sleepover

It was a minor milestone, unheralded and unnoticed, really, by all but me. And truly, it was no big deal. But since it's my motherly duty to catalog "firsts"--the first tooth, first steps, first words--I couldn't help but quietly make a mental note as my daughter packed her same-old PJs, hairbrush, jeans and Old Navy T-shirt in her same-old overnight bag for yet another sleepover. Only it wasn't exactly same-old; it was her first interracial sleepover, which was, of course, no big deal. This is, after all, the 21st century, the gilded age of pluralism. Archie Bunker last topped the Nielsen ratings more than 30 years ago; integration is just a footnote in history books; and the melting pot has long since bubbled over, even here in the Deep South.

And yet as I dropped my daughter off, it dawned on me that this was probably the first time anyone in her entire extended family, throughout generations of Hunts, Woods, Petries, Blums, and related genteel Southern white folks, had spent the night with a best friend who happens to be African-American. So the fact that it was no big deal, just a run-of-the-mill, stay-up-too-late, eat-too-much-junk sleepover, was ever so subtly, dare I say, a big deal.

Continue reading Stephanie Hunt's Dream On.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 14, 2007

Meet Stephanie

It's a great pleasure for me to welcome a new contributing editor to our fold--Stephanie Hunt. As her bio notes, Stephanie "brings a Southern accent to SoMA." She grew up in North Carolina (as a Methodist), majored in religion at Duke, and did her master's degree at Vanderbilt Divinity School. She finally settled down with her family (as a Congregationalist) in Charleston, S.C. But, most significantly, as those of you who read her first essay for us know, Stephanie is a hell of a good writer.

Be sure to read her latest piece, a reflection on Martin Luther King and racism today, here, and keep an eye out for future dispatches from our correspondent in the Holy City, as church-cluttered Charleston is also known. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 12, 2007

Amy-Jill Levine on What to Do with the "Old Testament"

This may seem like an odd issue to some. But back in college, I took biblical studies courses in which we discussed the "Old Testament." Then I went to divinity school, where we were strongly urged to call the "Old Testament" the "Hebrew Scriptures" instead. The idea was that the term "Old Testament" suggested that the Jewish texts were inferior to, and had somehow been replaced by, the Christian New Testament. This concern was fair enough. But the ensuing change created some confusion.

Take Christian Bibles that include Old and New Testaments. The last book of the "Old Testament" is Malachi. Not so in the Jewish Scriptures; the "Tanakh" ends with 2 Chronicles 36. They're just not the same books. And let's face it: You can't stop talking about the "Old Testament" that has been part of Christianity forever, and still is, from what I hear.

Oh, and what if you've got a Bible in which the Old Testament is a Greek translation? Should you refer to that as the "Hebrew Bible"?

That's just the beginning. I don't remember how we resolved these confusions in div school, though I do recall that the few conversations we had about them were tense, as no one wanted to seem insensitive to anyone else's faith.

So I was delighted when I recently read Amy-Jill Levine's great new book, "The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus," and found that towards the end she examines the "Old Testament" versus "Hebrew Scriptures" debate, making a wonderful suggestion as to how we can all finally stop tripping over terminology. It's as simple as it is brilliant: "Instead of using the falsely neutral, Protestant, linguistically inaccurate term 'Hebrew Bible,' Christians might simply use the title 'Old Testament,' which is the title found in most family and pulpit Bibles. Jews should continue to use 'Tanakh.'"

Anyway, if you've ever found yourself caught in this biblical linguistic mess, you really should read Levine's treatment of it in "The Misunderstood Jew," which I've excerpted (with full permission, natch) here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 9, 2007

Sharlet's Web(log)

Jeff Sharlet has free time? Huh? The guy is a contributing editor for Rolling Stone and Harper's and he runs The Revealer and teaches at NYU. He's awaiting the publication of one book ("Power in the Blood," about American fundamentalism) and writing another ("The Hammer Song," about American protest music). Somehow, though, he's managed to start a new blog, Call Me Ishmael. When he does he work on it? While brushing his teeth? Or maybe instead of brushing his teeth. That's gross, Jeff.

But his potetntial loss in dental health is our gain in, I dunno, mental health. The other day, for example, I got a much-needed chuckle from his entry on evangelical artist Ron DiCianni. You've probably seen DiCianni's "Praying for Peace," which depicts George Bush praying at a podium with the ghosts of Lincoln and Washington. Well, looking at other examples of DiCianni's religious lithographs, Jeff makes a fascinating observation--some are really kind of... gay. Like "The Chisel," in which "God appears to be carving a golden Chelsea boy," or "Daughter of the King," in which a dashing blond knight, decked out literally in shining armor, is proposing on bended knee to a rather plain-Jane girl in blue jeans. OK, so the painting isn't exactly Tom of Finland. But as Jeff rightly asks, "Who's hot and who's not in this picture?" Visit Call Me Ishmael here. 

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 8, 2007

The Power of Food

Today, cooking is the trendiest activity since the power workout. In fact, in this era of 30-minute meals, Food Challenges and mega-chefs, the kitchen seems to have transplanted the gym as the site of our primary exercise routines.

The overwhelming popularity of the Food Channel has made superstars out of plumpies like Mario Batali, Paula Deen, Ina Garten, a.k.a. The Barefoot Contessa, and those Two Fat Ladies, one of whom may she rest in peace. It has put more than a few pounds on once-diminutive Rachel Ray, and has made us wonder if skinnies like Sandra Lee and Giada di Laurentis are either bulimics or simply don't eat most of what they serve to everybody else.

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's Food and God: Cooking as a Spiritual Calling.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 7, 2007

Absorbing Osteen

I realize that talking about things 2006 is sooo last week, but did you catch Barbara Walters' list of the "10 Most Fascinating People" of the year? No? Goody. Guess who she included. Author Francis Fukuyama? Nope. Al Gore? Nah. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales? Uh-uh. How about 17-year-old golf phenom Michelle Wie? Negative.

Try Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie. Jay-Z. John Ramsey. Anna Wintour. Walters also included "Dr. McDreamy," a character on "Grey's Anatomy." Gosh, she must have such a rich inner life.

We shouldn't be surprised, though. After all, Walters' 2005 list included Tom Cruise and Teri Hatcher. Scintillating.

But the name on Walters' 2006 list I can't get over is televangelist Joel Osteen. Osteen's cotton-candy theology and packed-auditorium pep rallies may have nothing to do with Christianity, but hell, they sure sell. Osteen leads the nation's largest congregation--his Lakewood Church in Houston boasts 35,000 members--and he is the author of the number 1 New York Times bestseller, "Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential." I'm not saying Osteen doesn't deserve to be on some kind of notables list--the whitest teeth of '06, say--but the most fascinating people?

The only thing about Joel Osteen and his perky Barbie doll wife Victoria that could possibly be interesting is what dark secrets they might be hiding. Yes, Victoria did allegedly flip out on a Continental airplane, freaking out passengers as she stormed the cockpit and pounded on the door until flight attendants restrained her. But I doubt that's why Barbara Walters finds her husband so intriguing. Plus, the incident happened in 2005, not 2006.

I've got a better choice of megachurch pastors for Walters' list--Ted Haggard, the former senior pastor of New Life Church who resigned as president of the National Association of Evangelicals amid allegations involving crystal meth and a gay prostitute he'd been seeing for three years. Now that guy's fascinating.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 7, 2007

God, Inc.

There's so much tragedy and suffering in the world it's tempting to think some kind of sadistic deity is running the show. But, as a new web comedy series called "God, Inc." asks, what if all the problems on earth were caused not by a spiteful god or crazy karma, "but just office politics and the Peter Principle?" Michael Scott as God? "The Office" as heaven? Hey, why not? Check out "God, Inc." here or at creator Francis Stokes' site here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

January 1, 2007

The Buddha's Views on Women

If there was a Buddhist instructor today who taught that men are superior to women, and that women are slaves to their bodies and thus incapable of transcending the bonds of the physical world, odds are he wouldn't get invited to speak at, say, Spirit Rock or the New York Open Center. And yet, these were beliefs espoused by none other than the Buddha himself.

Of course, the Buddha lived in India some 2,500 years ago and, as with any teacher, we must understand him in his historical context. Here to give us that perspective is an essay by Dr. Robert Schwarz. Since the good doctor also happens to be a relative of our senior editor, Mary Beth Crain, I'll let her introduce him.

I am proud and delighted to present what I hope is the first of many contributions by my uncle, Dr. Robert Schwarz, retired distinguished professor of philosophy at Florida Atlantic University, renowned authority on Buddhism, and a heck of a guy. Uncle Bob--you can call him that if you like and I'll bet he won't mind--is quite a fascinating fellow who, at 85, is as erudite, brilliant, and charming as he was when I was growing up and had a huge crush on him. He was born and raised in Vienna, where, as a Jew, he was forced to escape to England via the kindertransports in 1939. He came to America soon afterwards and met my mother's sister while in graduate school at Syracuse University. They married in 1946. This year, upon their 60th wedding anniversary, these two remarkable individuals renewed their vows.

It's been many years since I've visited with Uncle Bob. I grew up, we grew apart, and, living on opposite coasts, rarely got to see each other. But when he recently sent me a few of his articles, I called him and we renewed our relationship as if no time had elapsed at all. He still has that great Viennese accent and irrepressible sense of humor that made him a beloved teacher at FAU and a sought-after lecturer both here and abroad. He loves to tell jokes and will, with almost no prompting, launch into his Peter Lorre imitation or his unique recitation of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas." Maybe we'll get him to do them on a video link at some point, and he'll have a whole new career in standup comedy!

Uncle Bob used a computer for the first time three weeks ago, when my cousin introduced him to SoMA, and he says he's still "getting the hang of it," and should be fairly proficient by his 90th birthday. He looks upon this, his first online published work, as the beginning of a brand new life in the 21st century.

Although born a Jew, Uncle Bob has written some intriguing stories about his personal experiences with Buddhism, stories I hope he'll share with us at SoMA. Meanwhile, in "Was the Buddha a Male Chauvinist?" he takes us back to fifth century B.C. India and the Buddha's world.

Read Dr. Robert Schwarz's "Was the Buddha a Male Chauvinist?" here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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