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Blog Archive/December 2006

December 27, 2006

Think You're the Buddha?

How can you tell if you're the incarnation of Guatama Siddhartha? Slate's "Explainer" explains.

Sample criteria: You must be free from suffering and desire, and possess "32 signature physical characteristics, including 40 teeth and body hair that curls clockwise."

Hmmm. Could Dwight Schrute be the next Enlightened One?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 23, 2006

A Muslim in Congress

Congress is supposed to represent us Americans in government. This is especially true of the House of Representatives, which has become increasingly diverse. Surprisingly, until Keith Ellison (D-MN) was elected to represent Minnesota's 5th District in November's election, no Muslim had ever been elected to serve in Congress. Perhaps it's providential that such an event would happen at a time when our country, the United States, is at war in two Muslim countries. Perhaps it will send a positive signal to the world at a time when the country's reputation around the world is at perhaps an all-time low. Only five years after 9-11 rallied the world to our side, weýre reviled as a country because of our arrogance and what is taken by many around the world as war-mongering. But this election of Keith Ellison is a beacon of hope to the world, suggesting that this is a place that values its diversity.

Continue reading Dr. Bob Cornwall's A Muslim in Congress--What's the World Coming to?

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 22, 2006

Religious Fun and Games

Do you still have people left on your Christmas shopping list? If so, don't worry. I'm not going to stress you out by reminding you that you have only two days left and that all the good gifts are probably gone from the mall. Rather, I'm here to help with ideas--new religion-themed games and toys I read about in a recent Boston Globe article by Douglas Belkin.

Missionary Conquest: a "sort of Risk for the Evangelical set," in which players try to raise money to start new missions around the world.

Catholic-Opoly: Unlike Monopoly, which is about getting rich and bankrupting other players, the object of this game is to "build as many churches and cathedrals as possible in order to 'help spread the word of the Lord'."

Fulla: a faith-based alternative to Barbie. Popular across the Muslim world, Fulla may not have a Dream House, but she does come with prayer beads, a prayer mat, and a head covering.

To read about more games, such as Bible Blurt, Bible Gap, and Mormon-Opoly, check out the Globe article here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 21, 2006

Religion Joke of the Week

There are three religious truths:

1) Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
2) Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian faith.
3) Baptists do not recognize each other in the liquor store or at Hooters.

--Submitted by J.S.
 Heard a joke you'd like to share? Does it have to do with religion? Send it to editor(at)

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 21, 2006

The Lucrative "Christmas Wars"

"I imagine in some circles, the 'controversy' is still a fairly big deal, but my sense is that this year's 'war on Christmas' is largely a bust. It was vaguely faddish last year, but most sensible people got sick of the issue quickly. Reasonable, levelheaded Americans figured out a long time ago that there is no war, the vast majority of the country celebrates and enjoys the holiday, and the conservative culture warriors probably just need to pick up a new hobby.

"But they can't. Not because there's a nefarious scheme to undermine Christianity, and not because there are key skirmishes yet to be fought, but because the religious right has figured out that this silly little 'War on Christmas' is a cash cow..."

Continue reading this at The Carpetbagger's Report. For some reason, I can't link to this site, so here's the url:

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 20, 2006

CNN's "After Jesus: The First Christians"

Tonight CNN airs "After Jesus," a two-hour documentary (7 to 9 p.m.) on the early years of Christianity--from the crucifixion of Jesus to the conversion of Constantine, who legalized Christianity and instituted many faith-based reforms, such as a law stating that, because we're all made in God's image, men condemned to die in the arena couldn't be branded on their "heavenly beautified" faces, only on their feet. (I don't know if the special mentions that last tidbit, but it's interesting, no?) Liam Neeson narrates the documentary.

About the program:

CNN examined archaeological evidence and spoke with the most renowned authorities on the ancient church to answer 'the' question at the heart of the story: How did Jesus, a wandering rabbi from the hinterland, and his illiterate followers, triumph over Roman persecution and establish a worldwide faith?

In telling this remarkable tale, viewers may be surprised to learn that followers of some early branches of Christianity believed in more than one god; that there were many more Gospels than those included in the New Testament; and that Christmas was originally a springtime celebration. There was also a group of Christians--the Gnostics--who believed that manýs existence on Earth was a mistake and that salvation required a mystical experience of self-discovery and self-realization. They wrote their own Gospels, and their power struggle with the orthodox Christians was a threat to the new faith.

"After Jesus" also examines the Biblical history of Israel, the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem and the events during the Council of Nicaea that have come to define modern Christian orthodoxy.

Experts appearing on the show include: Bart Ehrman (whom I recently interviewed), Richard Freund, the Rev. Robin Griffith-Jones, Amy-Jill Levine, Judith Lieu, Marvin Meyer, Father Gerry O'Collins, S.J., Claire Ruth Pfann, and Lawrence H. Schiffman.

The documentary replays on Friday, Dec. 22 at 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.; and on Saturday, Dec. 23, and Sunday, Dec. 24, at 8 p.m. and 12 a.m. All times Eastern.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 18, 2006

Bart Ehrman on the Historical Jesus

Every holiday season, we can count on at least three things: a flood of yuletide TV specials, mayhem at the malls, and more skirmishes in the Christmas culture wars, as Christian groups try to stem the tide of secularism and "put Christ back in Christmas." Ironically, it's often Christmas' biggest defenders who take for granted the "reason for the season": Jesus--who he really was, what he actually said and did. They talk about Jesus with an easy familiarity, as if he were a kid brother or a next-door neighbor, and not an enigmatic prophet who lived in an alien world 2,000 years ago.

The truth is, people have always disagreed about who Jesus was and why he matters. Even those closest to Jesus, his family and followers, had trouble figuring him out. And we face obstacles they didn't. The four Gospels of the New Testament, our main sources of information about Jesus, offer different and sometimes conflicting accounts, and it's easy to see why. The Gospels were written 35 to 65 years after Jesus lived, and they weren't based on eyewitness reports but on stories that had evolved as they circulated by word of mouth in various lands and languages for decades.

So who was the "real" Jesus? For help sorting out an answer, I called Bart D. Ehrman, a leading authority on the life of Jesus, the New Testament, and the early church...

Continue reading "Apocalypse Then," my interview with Bart Ehrman, here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 15, 2006

Stallone's Latest: a Knockout. No, Really. It Is.

Let me get the boxing metaphors out of the way immediately. "Rocky Balboa" beats the odds and goes the distance.

The idea that someone might Google my name and read the above sentence would have induced vomiting two weeks ago. That's when I RSVP'd to a Writers Guild of America screening of "Rocky Balboa" which promised a Q&A with the film's writer/director/star, Sylvester Stallone.

The whole notion of the movie had camp appeal from the moment it was announced last year, provoking jabs (sorry) from Leno and Letterman. You know, that Rocky would enter the ring with a walker, get endorsement deals with Geritol and Depends, ad infinitum.

What's shocking about "Rocky Balboa" is that it doesn't suck. What's surprising is that it's funny, engaging, and--oh, yeah--nostalgic.

Continue reading Billy Frolick's review, A Sly Feat.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 13, 2006

Evil Seeds

TLC, home of bottom-of-the-barrel reality TV, has really hit the jackpotty this time with their newest show, "House of Tiny Terrors." It's "Nanny 911," "Shalom in the Home," and "ER" all rolled into one, as three sets of desperate parents and their unbelievable brats check into a rehab home for, well, desperate parents and unbelievable brats, run by child psychologist Dr. Tanya Byron.

The program goes like this: for six days and nights, the families live in the center, a sort of mansion/clinic described as a "purpose-built residence," while Dr. Tanya observes everybody's bad behavior on closed circuit TV; counsels mom and dad in the noble but sadly forgotten art of good parenting; and reins in their awful offspring whenever things really get out of hand, which is, like, every two minutes.

It's both horrifying and hilarious--horrifying because you simply can't believe that parents can be so stupid and pathetic, and hilarious because, once again, a Brit has to bail out those spoilt Yanks.

Continue reading Mary Beth Crain's House of Tiny Brains.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 12, 2006

Punk Schmunk

Thank goodness I have plans tomorrow night to watch season one of "The Office" on DVD. Because this means I won't be able to catch the series premiere of Jay Bakker's show, "One Punk Under God: The Prodigal Son of Jim and Tammy Faye," on the Sundance Channel. His parents were televangelists! He has piercings and tattoos! He loves Jesus!  

What's my favorite line from "Hannah and Her Sisters"? Oh yeah. "If Jesus came back and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 11, 2006

Sylvester Stallone: God's Vessel

If you've ever thought "Sylvester Stallone," and immediately thought "God," then you're not alone. Sylvester Stallone makes the exact same connection.

"I always felt as though I was a conduit for God's word," Stallone told Meg Welch Dendler of, who interviewed the Rambo star about his upcoming film, "Rocky Balboa." Stallone said his script for the original 1976 "Rocky" had to have been divinely inspired. "[I] didn't come from an academic background," he said. "I never was a major in English, and all of a sudden I write a screenplay that is being nominated for best picture of the year, so I figured it had to have come from God."
What's with all this God-talk from Stallone, you ask? He's promoting "Rocky Balboa" to church leaders as having a strong spiritual message. "Rocky is the most spiritual character I've even been involved with," he told Welch Dendler. "The first image of Rocky in 'Rocky I' was the picture of Jesus on the rafters of the fight club. It goes over the word 'resurrection' and down onto Rocky being pummeled, and we know that moment that he's being chosen by Jesus for a special mission. And that mission is to bring all these other outcasts together and accomplish something really wonderful."


That's not all. Stallone has created a website offering "Rocky Resources" for those who'd like to use his new fight film as a "teaching, preaching or outreach opportunity." Check it out here.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 6, 2006

Sacrificial Lambs

Scene: The White House. The President and Mrs. Bush relax in their private quarters. He opens mail at his desk. She reads on a chaise.

"Dang it, First. Another letter from a mother who lost a daughter in Eye-rack. They all want to know why the twins don't enlist. Like I don't have enough problems. I still have acid reflux after that lunch with Pelosi."

"Not now, Bushie. I'm reading 'Crime and Punishment.' Oh, how I wish I could share this classic with the many unfortunate war orphans of Eye-rack."

"If I've told those mothers once, I've told them a bazillion times: the twins are too busy volunteering in countries nowhere near Eye-rack to fight in Eye-rack. By the way, where are the girls this week?"

After Jenna's UNICEF deal in Paraguay, they went to Argentina and Barb got her purse snatched. Can't keep those two out of trouble."

Continue reading Adrian Hein's Bush Babes Beheaded.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email
Tags:    Bush Iraq War

December 5, 2006

Bill McGarvey & the Good Thieves

Our pal over at, editor Bill McGarvey, is a talented singer-songwriter and a Catholic whose tunes have a spiritual dimension, but don't call him a Christian musician. "The image makes me cringe," Bill says. "It's like, 'Oooh. He wears black boots, he's got a band--and he's a Christian!' Musicians who cling to that label are looking for some kind of instant credibility, but it often cheapens both the music and the faith."

"I may be a Christian," he adds with a chuckle. "But I'm not a professional Christian."

And that's what we like about Bill--and his music. His thoughtful lyrics explore what's important in life and don't settle for easy answers or cheap grace. His latest album, "Beautiful Mess," features a song entitled "Turn Around," which begins: "I still lose my faith, nearly every day. Wonder if I'm still awake at all." (Listen here.) We can relate.

With "Beautiful Mess" now out, Bill and his band, the Good Thieves, plan to promote it with a series of performances. Tonight they're playing at The Living Room in New York, on Ludlow between Stanton and Livington, at 7 p.m., followed by a CD release party at 10. And Thursday, Dec. 7, they'll be at Catherine Rooney's Irish Pub in Wilmington, Del., at 7 p.m.

For more information, visit, and you can sample "Beautiful Mess" at his page at Myspace. Also, check out the profile of Bill in a September cover story of the National Catholic Reporter.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

December 4, 2006

Holiday Candles

On my sister's mantel, above where the stockings are hung and the fire is laid, in the space reserved for displaying family finery, sits a modest tin candle mold. She inherited it from my grandparents' hearth, where it stood tall and proud for as long as I can remember. Like a miniature pipe organ, eight cylinders are lined up side-by-side, and on either end are graceful handles, like on a trophy, only flat and made of tin. "If you put them together," my sister says describing the handles, "they'd make a heart."

My great-uncle Pete made this candle mold, and hundreds like it, at his tinsmith shop in Old Salem, a traditional Moravian settlement in the North Carolina piedmont. Though not antique silver or fine porcelain or an heirloom of great monetary value, it possesses elegance in craftsmanship and function that make it mantel-worthy. Beyond aesthetics, the tin mold holds a place of honor in our family, I believe, because of what it was designed to do: cradle warm beeswax into hand-dipped candles, candles that in my mind have always been the centerpiece of Christmas...

Continue reading Stephanie Hunt's The Sustenance of Flame.

Posted By John D. Spalding | Email

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