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Blog Archive/May 2007

May 31, 2007

One-Third in U.S. Think Bible is Literal Word of God

So says a new Gallup poll. It also says that belief in the literal Bible is strongest in the South. Go figure. Equally interesting: said belief is also strongest "among those whose schooling stopped with high school and declines steadily with educational level, with only 20% of college graduates holding that view and 11% of those with an advanced degree."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 31, 2007

Michael Lerner's Global Marshall Plan

From The Network of Spiritual Progressives; discuss:

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 25, 2007

The Prodigal Son?

You don't have to be a fundamentalist to know how God punishes sin. Anyone who's seen "Caddyshack," for instance, understands that if you curse God for ruining the best golf game of your life, He'll zap you dead, even if you're a vicar, and even if your curse is as benign as "Ratfarts!" Which leads me to wonder: What did Jesus recently do or say to invoke His Father's wrath?

Last week--true story--a bolt of lightning shot out of the sky and struck a 33-foot-tall statue of Jesus at the Mother Cabrini Shrine in Golden, Colo. The bolt broke off one of Jesus' arms and a hand and damaged one of his feet, sending white marble crashing to the ground, the Denver Post reported.

One of the sisters at the shrine assured the Post that the damage was just a freak of nature--and not an act of God. Now, I don't mean to start a theological debate with a nun, but Job 37:3 says "Under the whole heaven He lets it go, and His lightning to the corners of the earth."

That's His lightning, sister. Not Mother Nature's lightning.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 24, 2007

Not-So-Joyful Noises

In his review of Alain de Botton's "The Consolations of Philosophy" several years ago, the Irish novelist John Banville lamented the many ways our bodies let us down:

"How problematic to have both a body and a mind, for the former stands in almost monstrous contrast to the latter's dignity and intelligence. Our bodies smell, ache, sag, pulse, throb, and age. They force us to fart and burp, and to abandon sensible plans in order to lie in bed with people, sweating and letting out intense sounds reminiscent of hyenas calling out to one another across the barren wastes... Our bodies hold our minds hostage to their whims and rhythms. Our whole perspective on life can be altered by the digestion of a heavy lunch."

So true. And in the summer issue of Geez magazine (#6), writer Angela Balcita reminds us that at no point in life do our bodies seem to embarrass as much as when we are self-conscious teens. In her gem of an essay, Balcita recalls struggling for redemption in the seventh grade after accidentally making a less-than-joyful noise in front of the girl she idolized at Catholic school.

Read Angela Balcita's The Peculiar Sounds of Grace.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 22, 2007

How Funny Is Fred Phelps

Jerry Falwell was never harsh enough in his denunciation of homosexuality--who knew? Well, I'll tell you who knew--Fred "God Hates Fags" Phelps and his fellow nutcases at Westboro Baptist Church, in Topeka, Kan., which maintains that homosexuality is responsibile for U.S. soldier deaths in Iraq. Last week, the hate-filled church announced it was going to skip their demonstration at a 21-year-old Army specialist's funeral in Texas to protest at Falwell's funeral in Virginia. Explained one member: "There are dead soldiers everywhere. You don't have a very high-profile, cowardly, lying false prophet like Falwell dying every day."

Good times in the Bible-belt!

But if you think those folks are fit to be tied, get a load of "America's second most-hated family," Westboro's farcical meat-on-meat-hating sister church, Eastboro Baptist:

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 21, 2007

Charleston Church Goes Green

They call Charleston, S.C., the Holy City because of the many steeples that rise above its historic skyline. But now one of the city's oldest churches has something other than a spire on its roof--grass.

Make that sedum grass--a drought-resistant, cactus-like plant rooted in four inches of soil that will help keep the roof cool in the summer, thus saving energy. The grass is just one of many environmentally friendly features in a new building that makes the 325-year old Circular Congregational Church Charleston's first "green" house of worship.

SoMA's own Stephanie Hunt, contributing editor, helped oversee the three-year project as president of the congregation at Circular. "It was a stretch for us," says Stephanie. "The Church had both a tight budget and a restricted building site, hemmed in by buildings and a graveyard in the midst of an urban historic district, but we had a broad vision. We wanted the new addition to complement the 19th-century architectural gem it adjoins, and also to reflect our progressive theology and commitment to environmental stewardship."

"Sacred space, especially, should be sustainable space," she adds.

Among the building's other "green" features: a cistern that stores rainwater for irrigation, an energy-efficient elevator that doesn't use hydraulic oil, and a geothermal system that requires less energy for heating and cooling. See the news clip!

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 17, 2007

Thought I Was Harsh?

Check out what Christopher Hitchens had to say about Falwell on CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360." The author of "God Is Not Great" makes some excellent points, and his vehemence and candor are as refreshing as they are jarring. But unlike Hitchens, I think Falwell actually believed much of what he said. A destructive, moneygrubbing crackpot, yes. But a total fraud, no.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 15, 2007

Jerry Falwell, 1933-2007

The Rev. Jerry Falwell--founder of the Moral Majority and the leader of the religious right in the '80s--died Tuesday after he was discovered unconscious in his office. We at SoMA offer our prayers for Falwell's family, friends, and flock. Our prayers also go out to Falwell himself.

Now that the evangelist has finally met his maker, we pray for his sake that God is an amiable old white guy with a long grey beard, and is not, say, a big purple Teletubby with a triangle above his head and a magic bag dangling from his arm. Tinky Winky as Divine Judge might have a beef with Falwell. Having outed Tink as gay, Falwell denounced the beloved children's TV character as "damaging to the moral lives of children." That had to hurt, considering TW's line of work.

We also pray for Falwell that God is not a feminist, an environmentalist, a pagan, a secularist, or, in any way, shape, or form, a supporter of an "alternative lifestyle."  We pray that God is not a liberal, or a member of the ACLU, and we pray that God is not a welfare mother. Or a child struck with AIDS--a form of divine punishment, as Falwell often reminded us.

And of course, we pray on behalf of Falwell's soul that God isn't Jewish. The Good Reverend once told a group of ministers that the Antichrist is a Jewish male, alive and walking the Earth today. (Personally, I pray that God isn't like the folks at the fundamentalist church I attended as a kid. Though they considered Falwell a brother in Christ and the Southern Baptist Convention, they judged him for not being separatist enough, fraternizing with people of false faiths, like Catholics and Mormons.)

But if God does turn out to be one of Falwell's old punching bags, we pray that He will find it in His heart to forgive the founder of the Thomas Road Baptist Church, and to welcome him into eternity with open arms. After all, even though Falwell supported the apartheid regime of South Africa and, back in the day, opposed the Civil Rights movement--and even though he founded Liberty U as a haven from integration--the Rev. Jerry Falwell still did some good. He helped to keep alive the debate about the role of religion in public life--and he made it entertaining, however unintentionally. And Falwell's outrageous voice gave his opponents across the aisle a bigger voice, from critics like Bishop John Shelby Spong to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn.

Falwell's influence extended far beyond religion. Doesn't Bill Maher owe his career, in part, to the likes of Jerry Falwell? And what about Larry Flynt? For years the Southern pornographer and the Southern  preacher were linked in the public imagination like Frazier and Ali, Siskel and Ebert, Bluto and Popeye, and both their empires flourished as a result.

Among Falwell's virtues were his consistency and dependability. If Pat Robertson wasn't available for a crackpot comment following a national disaster or an international crisis, Falwell always stepped up to the plate. After Sept. 11, Falwell infamously opined that the terrorist attacks were God's punishment for our nation's wickedness.  (Footnote: Falwell made his 9/11 comments on Pat Robertson's "The 700 Club," and Robertson amplified them in the same program, yet Falwell took the bullet. That's what kind of soldier Jerry Falwell was.)

Falwell has left some mighty big shoes to fill. Though there are plenty of loose cannons out there, has anyone come out to declare that God had struck Falwell down for his iniquities? No, and they probably won't, either. Like Robertson, Falwell was among the last of a breed that felt compelled to make such ghastly pronouncements--self-righteous condemnations somehow made less shocking by their frequency. However insensitive Falwell's remarks were, we tolertated them because they reflected his religious beliefs, and a lot of people (voters, consumers) shared them. Jerry Falwell was good for business.  

I don't know what history will deem to be Falwell's greatest legacy. For me, it will always be his Institute of Biblical Studies--a videotape home Bible college he touted as the "finest biblical studies program ever developed." Years ago, I bought the video course--"just four easy payments, all major credit cards accepted"--and, for fun, I completed it, earning the diploma.

The many biblical lessons I learned included: 1) there were dinosaurs on Noah's ark and they "took up as much space as they wanted"; and 2) Jesus advocated the death penalty: "If ever there was a platform to cry out against capital punishment, our Lord had it on the cross." No kidding. Read my report here.

Professor Falwell, we will miss you. And once you get settled on the other side, please report back what it's like to finally be in a place filled exclusively with born-again Christians like you. Totally awesome, or what?

Oh, one more question. Just curious. How hot is it where you are?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 12, 2007

Going Bananas

Over the past couple weeks, I received several press releases announcing an ABC "Nightline" debate about the existence of God. The May 9 smackdown was to feature, on the side of theism, former "Growing Pains" child star Kirk Cameron and "best-selling author" Ray Comfort. In the other corner, no doubt sprouting horns and flashing forked tongues, were "members of the Rational Response Squad."

At first, I thought someone was pulling my leg. But no, it was for real.

"Proving the existence of God is actually a lot easier than you think," Cameron said in one release. The ex-teen heartthrob and his sidekick promised to show that "the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith."

Now, I didn't tune in (I get all my theology from Gary Coleman and Eve Plumb) so I can't tell you if this debate was as stupid as it sounded. But I just did a search, and I'm so glad I did. How do you demonstrate the existence of God? Remember what Phoebe Cates did with that carrot in "Fast Times at Ridgemont High"? Well, apparently you do something naughty like that, only with a banana. Though not from the "Nightline" debate, here are Comfort and Cameron making their case for God:

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 11, 2007

Here's a cheery little question for you: How would you like to find out the exact day you're going to die?

Can such a thing really be predicted? And if so, do you really want to know the answer? Well, according to Ronald Bailey of "Reason Magazine," thanks to advances in biotechnology, we're getting closer to being able to pinpoint a human being's death date. "Improved genetic testing," he observes, "will tell more and more of us about our future health and likely ends."

Read more of Mary Beth Crain's essay, Dead Reckoning.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 11, 2007

Herod and "The Busted Halo Show"

Want to learn more about King Herod's recently discovered tomb--and how I unwittingly stumbled onto it, video camera rolling, when I toured Israel three weeks ago? I'll be discussing my Herodian adventure on "The Busted Halo Show with Father Dave Dwyer," this coming Monday, May 14, at 7:40 PM, on Sirius Satellite Radio.

PS: Have you ever trespassed onto a sacred space, either for a taste of the mysterium tremendum et fascinans, or just an Indiana Jones-like thrill? Then Laurel Snyder wants to hear about it. Go to her blog post about my "tomb raiding," and share your story in the comments section.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 10, 2007

Stumbling Upon Herod's Tomb

The key to archaeological discovery, they say, is a lot of research, hard work, and luck--being in the right place at the right time. And though it was by sheer dumb luck that I stumbled onto Herod the Great's tomb at Herodium in the West Bank three weeks ago, it was more a matter of being in the wrong place at the right time.

I say the wrong place, because my guide, Brian Schultz, and I had to duck under tape that closed off the excavation site to the public. But we were there at the right time, because it was a Saturday afternoon, the Sabbath, and except for a few Israeli soldiers observing the West Bank from the top of a fort above us, we were the only souls there. And we had a video camera. It was April 14, and archaeologists at the site had not yet announced the discovery of the tomb of the first-century king who, according to the New Testament, tried to have the infant Jesus killed.

But as the ancient stone structure that the archaeologists had unearthed came into our view, we realized we were seeing architectural features that no one for hundreds or perhaps a thousand or more years knew existed. So we started videotaping everything we saw...

See the video footage, read my essay, at Beliefnet.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 3, 2007

Earth-Like Planet Discovered

Scientists have discovered a planet a lot like Earth 20 light-years away. Today's Onion "American Voices" poll asks folks their opinion. Two "responses":

"If it's Earth-like, then it's probably near destruction and of no use to us."

"How Earth-like? 'Temperate and able to sustain life' Earth-like or 'completely overrun with self-absorbed assholes' Earth-like?"

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 3, 2007

A Labor of Love

As one of very few private gardeners in America to cultivate a neem tree in her backyard, Ruhan Kainth keeps alive the legacy of its sacred place in her native culture. In her devotion to the community of the land she has helped to create, she has taken her place as a citizen, not of the Punjab or America but of "the land." Here the seed and the tree are cultivated in a relationship defined as kinship--"adoption," as she puts it--a commitment to loving responsibility.

Read more of A Punjabi Garden, Part III.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 2, 2007

A Healing Garden

How complex, the negotiation of so many boundaries in the garden. Questions of who plants, what is planted, and where it is planted make plain a host of unspoken rules about the decorum of how one ought to present oneself in the garden. The landscape is such a powerful marker of nationality and class.

Ruhan is mixing it all up. An educated woman from a wealthy family in India, she cultivates a peasant's garden in America, down on her knees, digging in the dirt. What her neighbors and friends from India cannot see is the act of faith in her labor, the patient devotion of her commitment, a healing of the land that comforts her and keeps her family healthy and strong.

Continue reading A Punjabi Garden, Part II.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

May 1, 2007

A Sacred Garden

Some who know me realize I've become an aspiring gardener in recent years. Which means I've spent the past few summers toiling in the dirt in my backyard, hoping to show one day more for my efforts than worn elbows and knees. Well, that's not entirely true. I get plenty of pleasure from just digging and planting and breathing fresh air. As the old cliche says--it ain't about the destination, but about the journey.

Anyway, I'm not doing any gardening this season, thanks to a crazy book deadline (that's right, I'm a sucker for labor-intensive pursuits that yield limited returns, at best).  Fortunately, though, I've been able to scratch my gardening itch by reading my friend Patricia Klindienst's wonderful book, "The Earth Knows My Name: Food, Culture, and Sustainability in the Gardens of Ethnic America," now out in paperback from Beacon Press.

Patricia profiles 15 gardeners of various ethnic backgrounds who are determined to preserve their cultural heritage and restore their new land--no small feat in some cases, considering that a lot of American soil is dead from years of heavy chemical fertilizer treatments.

My favorite chapter is about Ruhan Kainth, who moved from her native India to suburban California in the '70s and started her garden on less than an eighth of an acre. The soil was as fertile as desert sand, but using rural farming techniques she learned back home, Kainth was able to cultivate a remarkable garden that extends to her sidewalk and consists of more than 50 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs, including a neem tree, rare in the United States but revered in ancient Indian texts as a "curer of all ailments."   

"Its bark, twigs, leaves, flowers, fruit, and seeds all have healing properties, providing natural forms of antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, pesticides, wormicides, and fungicides," Patricia writes. "For centuries Indians have brushed their teeth with neem twigs; women have known how to treat menstrual disorders using its leaves. Parts of the tree have been used for millennia to heal skin wounds, including snake and spider bites; it is a powerful remedy for malaria, leprosy, and common fever. Postpartum mothers and their nursing infants are strengthened by the juice from its leaves." That's just one tree on Kainth's remarkable little plot of land.

I'm reprinting the chapter, entitled, "A Punjabi Garden," and you're welcome to read it as long as you swear on your prize roses to buy Patricia's book. I'll publish it in three installments this week, starting with Part I here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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