Thursday, March 29, 2007

Local author attracting national attention

Dr. Joe Holoubek, author of the Christian novel "Letters to Luke" and retired physician, was recently interviewed by Catholic Exchange. The result of the interview with the 91-year-old Shreveport resident are part of a podcast available now.

It's particularly appropriate as we approach Holy Week. Dr. Holoubek is also known locally for his in-depth presentations about the medical side of crucifixion. I haven't had a chance to listen to the podcast, but if anyone else has, I'd love to hear what you think.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Last thoughts

Most soldiers in combat prepare for the worst by writing letters that start with something like "If you're reading this, I'm already gone..." This week's Newsweek features several such letters American families received after their sons were killed in Iraq.

They're heartbreaking but a great testament to the faith of Americans. They make it a point to reassure their families of their faith in God. Each one expresses confidence that the soldier is in a better place. One even decided the Marines are guarding Heaven.

Also striking to me was that each soldier apologized for mistakes they had made or for hurting family members or not being the best son/brother/boyfriend they could be. And each asked for forgiveness. I'm not sure whether that's a natural human tendency to be hard on ourselves or if they really had unfinished business. It seemed sad that their last thoughts would be of those past hurts, when I'm pretty sure family members had forgotten them.

For those of us who are lucky enough to have our families intact, I guess it's up to us to make sure we offer that forgiveness and reconciliation to anyone in our lives.

Photo: Funeral of local Marine Lance Cpl. John Edward Hale.Val Horvath/The Times

Monday, March 26, 2007

Post-Beth Moore thoughts

It always seems to take a couple of days to process one of these big religious events list the Beth Moore conference over the weekend. In general, I was impressed. She was very funny and obviously engaging since she kept people's attention for an hour and a half. And she spoke so fast, my fingers hurt from trying to keep up with her.

It was definitely a preaching to the choir kind of event, meant to inform and challenge those who already have a belief in Christianity. I think it would have been a bit too much for the non-believer, but I wasn't there for the altar call on Saturday, so maybe I'm wrong....

Here's a few more thoughts from Moore's Friday night teaching that I did not get to include in the story:

"You do not have the one compelling set of chains that Jesus cannot release you from."

"If we would change the way we think, it would change the way we feel."

"God will speak to you when you’re putting on your mascara."

"We keep our fear that God is not going to be faithful to us tomorrow, so we are unfaithful today. We are thinking that God has carried us this far, and we are not sure he’s going to help us tomorrow."

I did not go on Saturday, but I would love to hear any of your thoughts about the weekend.
Photo: from Friday's event. Val Horvath/The Times

Friday, March 23, 2007

What a sound

Yeah, they're singing now, and like organizer Deb Douglas guessed yesterday, it sounds like heaven might sound.

Even though I've heard the songs before I don't always know the names, so bear with me. But they just finished one that repeats "yes, Lord." To which worship leader, Travis Cottrell responded: "That’s a dangerous song to sing – you’re already saying yes to God and you don’t even know what he’s asked of you."

Oh, now they've gone and broke out one of my favorite hymns - "Come thou font of every blessing." It's been a rough week - I needed that.

they came from everywhere

On my way through the parking lot, I saw church vans from Camden, Ark.; and Teague, Tenaha and Georgetown, Texas. And I just talked to a woman from Vicksburg, Miss., who slept on the hotel bathroom floor last night to escape her mother's snoring.

I knew Beth Moore was popular, but that's some dedication.

they came from everywhere

On my way through the parking lot, I saw church vans from Camden, Ark.; and Teague, Tenaha and Georgetown, Texas. And I just talked to a woman from Vicksburg, Miss., who slept on the hotel bathroom floor last night to escape her mother's snoring.

I knew Beth Moore was popular, but that's some dedication.

10 minutes til show

Women who once covered nearly every square foot of stairs leading up to the CenturyTel Center have now poured in and they're getting settled to hear Beth Moore. There's a few seats in the far corners, but nearly everything else is full. Wow - this is going to be impressive when they start singing.

Ooops. The lights just dimmed to the cheers of 15,000 women. I'll keep you posted as the night goes on....

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Answered prayers?

For about 9 months, Deb Douglas has been leading a group of women to bring nationally-known evangelist Beth Moore to the CenturyTel Center. The event, which is expected to attract about 15,000 people (nearly all women).

I called Deb this morning to double check a few things for my coverage tomorrow, and I was surprised at how relaxed she sounded less than 48 hours from showtime. So I told her that. She laughed and said she had just finished praying before that she would at least appear calm. It worked.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Matthew 25 and Rescue Mission

The Rev. Henry Martin, executive director of the Shreveport-Bossier Rescue Mission challenged area churches to get involved with the Mission's work Wednesday during the grand opening of the agency's new shelter.

"We're doing what the church has been called to do," he said.

In his public remarks, Martin reflected on Matthew 25, when Jesus explains how people will be judged. According to the parable God will say: "I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.... Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

Well, the mission fed 107,000 meals last year, and Martin joked that they don't count glasses of water. They provided 48,000 nights of lodging last year and have given out thousands of pieces of clothing. They provide medical and dental care. And they have even picked up men from prison to give them a place to stay and a way to start over.

"We're in the ministry of helping the least," Martin said.
Photo: Jim Hudelson/The Times

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Thursday evening plans?

If you don't have any, I highly recommend attending the Hypogeum Society event featuring David Smith of Whitwell, Tenn. Smith was a small-town teacher (now he's assistant principal), who wanted to teach his students about respecting differences and the results of intolerance. So he started an after-school study of the holocaust.

The eighth graders involved wanted a concrete way to comprehend the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazis, so they started collecting paper clips. nearly 10 years later, they 30 million paper clips and an authentic German rail car to display what they have learned. A 2004 documentary "Paper Clips" tells the story.

Smith visited Congregation Agudath Achim last year and I was privileged enough to hear him speak. He's just a good, Christian southerner, who is very honest about overcoming his own stereotypes. It's a powerful testament to the power of middle schoolers.

If you're interested, the program will be held at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at B'nai Zion, 245 Southfield Road, with a reception following. The cost is $5 for adults and free for students.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Church, state and medieval history

Part of my weekend was spent doing some research for the church history class I'm taking. We've made it to the middle ages, which is a fascinating although disturbing period of time. The church at the time was a wreck - corrupt popes, even more corrupt emperors, and a near inseparability's of secular and spiritual authority.

It also led many of us in the class to a new appreciation of separation of church and state. Part of what led to the Inquisition was the thought that being a good citizen of the empire meant being a Christian. And if you weren't Christian, you were somehow subverting the government.

Somehow the church still stands. All I can do is marvel at how God works despite the best (or worst) efforts of people.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Calling all (potential) columnists

Ever wanted to write for The Times? Do you know of a minister whose voice you would like to see in the paper?

As part of our upcoming restructuring, I'm looking for a few pastors/ministers who would be willing to write a column about faith once a month. In theory, the faith column will run weekly and we'll rotate between four or five people. I have a few in mind, but if y'all have any recommendations or if any of you want to volunteer, e-mail me at

Walking across America

A couple showed up at Ban Suk Korean Baptist Church Thursday evening with tired feet.

They're walking from Los Angeles to Washington DC to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Pentecostal revival in South Korea. As well, they're thanking Americans for all their support of South Korea. The Rev. David Lee of Ban Suk said they came with a van and driver, who carried all their supplies for their trek of several thousand miles.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, South Korea boasts 10 of the 11 largest Christian churches in the world. Obviously, something is working there, but the couple is praying for the spirit of the 1907 revival to return.

Unfortunately, short notice and prior commitments prevented me from speaking with them before they continued their trip today. But I can't help but be inspired by their faith and dedication anyway.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Welcome spring

"See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.
Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me." Song of Solomon 2:11-13

Every religion seems to have some major holiday in the spring, and many relate to the idea of God bringing the earth back to life. I realize Spring doesn't officially start for a few days, but the flowers look great now. So I took my camera on a walk through the neighborhood yesterday and here's some of what I saw.

Note: I am certainly not a professional photographer. The pros I work with at the The Times have a truly God-given talent, but I had fun trying.

South Bossier expansion

Congratulations to South Bossier Baptist Church, which will start construction on an education building this month. Volunteers from six states will be on hand to help with the building.

The church was built in 2001, and they've grown enough for this building. When finished, it should include 10 classrooms, a youth room, fellowship hall and -- most importantly -- a kitchen. And it should only cost $650,000.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Dave Buckley, chief of the St. Mary of the Pines Men's Club catfish dinners, just called me to take issue with the claim in today's paper that St. Elizabeth Ann Seton's Knights of Columbus has the best catfish in town on Friday nights. Not only does St. Mary's have the best fish, he said, but also the best coleslaw. They serve about 200 plates each week.

I have never eaten at either place, so I can't say. But I do see a cook off brewing between the two south Shreveport churches. Nothing wrong with a little friendly competition.... How 'bout it men?

Photo: A 2005 fish fry at St. Mary's. Greg Pearson/The Times

Another recipe

Mollye Self of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans sent me a Lenten recipe after today's story had already gone to the presses. So here it is:

Meatless Mexican Casserole

1 onion, chopped
1 can ranch style beans
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can nacho cheese soup
1 can Ro-Tel tomatoes
1 bag Doritos
8 slices cheese

Brown onion and drain. Heat beans, soups and ro-tel together. Layer 1/2 bag doritos in dish, then soup mix. Place 4 slices cheese, then repeat. Bake at 350 until cheese is melted.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Back on the radar

After a period of quiet activity, the folks at Northern and Central Louisiana Interfaith are back in agenda-setting mode.

Their goal is to bring the faith community together to work with the political system for change in the local community. So far, their big achievement here in Shreveport-Bossier is advocating for Night Bus Service. I sat in on one of their monthly meetings today where clergy from all backgrounds and traditions talked about job training, the drop out rate and suicide prevention. They also prayed - together - and I don't think anyone was offended.

It's a beautiful group. I'm excited to see what project they tackle next. If you want more information, you can e-mail Perry Perkins, the local organizer at


Yesterday's Leonard Pitts column combined with this blog entry from Beliefnet kicked me in the spiritual pants. I don't know that I laughed at Britney's plight. I felt sorry for her, but I know I didn't think to pray for her.

What do y'all think?

Monday, March 12, 2007

Believing is seeing

I've heard this phrase a couple of times in the last week in reference to faith in God, but it didn't really click with me until Fr. Michael Joly of Richmond, Va., celebrated Mass at my church Sunday.

Joly has been blind since early childhood. He talked very little about it, but he didn't have to. He did speak about surrender to God and trusting him to quench our thirst. How do you ignore that message from a man who needed someone to guide him down the aisle? It was equally powerful to see him lead the rest of worship.

He'll be here through Wednesday leading a parish mission (sort of like the Catholic version of a revival). If any of y'all are interested the services will be at 6:30 p.m. today through Wednesday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 211 Atlantic Ave., Shreveport.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Friday food quandary

It's Friday, during Lent, and silly me made lunch plans at Superior Grill. Luckily, their shrimp fajitas are as good at the beef.

In Louisiana, especially, I think Catholics and other folks that skip meat on Fridays are always struck by this paradox: Lent is supposed to be a season of fasting and repentance but skipping meat for seafood is not exactly a sacrifice. My argument it may not be a painful sacrifice, but it is a change you have to make. Hopefully, that train of thought would lead you from dinner to tradition, church and God. I've also heard priests suggest that if you are going to have a more gourmet meal then you should donate an equal amount of money to charity.

How do you handle the Friday meals?
Photo: Times archives

Times are changing

Unless you want to be late for church Sunday, turn your clocks ahead Saturday night.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Getting to church

Even for the most devout, the temptation to sleep in on Sunday's is often hard to overcome. Before If you don't have the option of an evening service, I found this great column thanks to the folks at The Evangelical Outpost. Here's "How to attend service 52 weeks in a row."

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Church statistics

Pastor Andy Harris at Central Assembly of God passed on an e-mail ad about the new Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, which is an amazing compendium of statistics and a brief description of denominations.

With it came an ever popular list of the largest denominations in the country. Here are the top 10.

1. The Roman Catholic Church, 69,135,254 members, reporting an increase of 1.94 percent.
2. The Southern Baptist Convention, 16,270,315 members, reporting a increase of .02 percent.
3. The United Methodist Church, 8,075,010 members, reporting a decrease of 1.36 percent.
4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,690,672 members, reporting an increase of 1.63 percent.
5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no increase or decrease reported.
6. National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., 5,000,000 members, no increase or decrease reported.
7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,850,776, reporting a decrease of 1.62 percent.
8. National Baptist Convention of America, 3,500,000, no increase or decrease reported.
9. Presbyterian Church (USA), 3,098,842 members, reporting a decrease of 2.84 percent.
10. Assemblies of God, 2,830,861 members, reporting an increase of 1.86 percent.

Plain faith

It's always humbling from a temporal and spiritual sense when you meet folks who seem to have so little material good but such great faith. The people of Plain Dealing had much to teach me when I visited there a couple of weeks ago for a story that ran on Monday.

Henry and Margaret Williams live in a small house with peeling paint. Mr. Williams is disabled and Mrs. Williams is legally blind. Yet they consider themselves blessed, particularly after North Highlands Methodist built them a new wheelchair ramp. "It's a wonderful thing to be connected with God," Mr. Williams said.

Further, he decided to quit smoking when he realized he could ill afford to spend money from his fixed income on cigarettes. He quit cold turkey and left his last pack sitting on the coffee table as a reminder. "I can do it," he said. "Me and God."

Photo: The Williams' home. Greg Pearson/The Times


Sorry my links don't seem to be working -- thanks for letting me know Matt -- I'm trying to figure that out, but it's a longer process than I would like it to be. Grrrr. Apparently, it's a lesson in patience and perseverance.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Bishop watch

You should be able to hear cheers in Lake Charles from here. After a nearly two year vacancy, the Vatican announced that a Lafayette priest will be the diocese's new bishop.

As well, the successor to Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann was announced. He reached the age limit (75) for bishops in July.

Why do we care in Shreveport? Well, I hope this means the process is moving forward, and we won't have to wait as long as Lake Charles for a replacement for Bishop William Friend, who retired in December. According to Catholic Hierarchy, there are four other vacant dioceses in the United States, including some big ones like Pittsburgh. And I know several others have bishops who are past retirement age and waiting for a replacement.

If you want more insider gossip, this is one of the best places to check.

Need to simplify

As I got ready to got for a run on Sunday, I almost laughed at myself. I grabbed a water bottle and ID, strapped on my iPod, and fastened my GPS watch (which tells me the time, distance and rate of my run - and even draws a map!). Does it really take all that stuff to run 4 miles (or, according to the watch, 4.19 miles)?

No. Of course not. It struck me as funny, because part of the reason I started running was the simplicity of it. All it requires is shoes and a relatively traffic-free surface. But like much of society, I've bought into the idea that technology can cure all sorts of things. Again, not true. I still run about a 10 minute mile.

Does all this stuff also interfere with our spiritual lives? Have we cluttered prayer and study with the latest books and flashy presentations and forgotten the joy of silence and just reading a passage of scripture until finding a verse that speaks to you? Any thoughts?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Belated Purim blog

In the end of the week rush to get wrap up some stories, I completely forgot to wish all of the Jewish readers a festive Purim.

The holiday was celebrated Saturday evening to Sunday in honor of Queen Esther, a fifth century B.C. Jewish girl who became queen of Persia, partly by hiding the fact that she was a Jew. While queen, her husband's second in command, Haman, issued an edict that all of the Jews in the kingdom should be killed. At great risk to herself, Esther revealed her heritage to the king and asked that her people be spared. He agreed and ordered that Haman be hung.

It's a great story of courage and faith, and most interestingly, the Biblical account never mentions God.

A movie verson of the story, One Night with the King was released last year, which in some ways actually toned down the Biblical version. But it certianly captures the essence of the story and Esther's faith and devotion to her people.
Photo: from One Night with the King

Friday, March 02, 2007

Comments on the "Jesus Tomb"

By now, you have no doubt heard about all of the controversy surrounding a new book and documentary, "The Jesus Family Tomb." The book is already available and the documentary, produced by James Cameron of Titanic fame, will air Sunday on the Discovery Channel.

Quite honestly, I've been avoiding the topic since I didn't have anything intelligent to add to the firestorm. Yesterday, Louisiana College sent me an essay written by Professor Charles Quarles, chair of Christian studies at LC. I interviewed him about the Da Vinci Code in the spring and was impressed. He's read the book and offered some scholarly reactions to its claims. Here's some excerpts from his essay, "Initial Impressions of The Jesus Family Tomb":

It is a quick and easy read written in the fashion of the Da Vinci Code. This book, however, is intended for the history and religion sections of bookstores rather than the fiction section. That alone will give the book more credibility in the eyes of many readers. Despite the overstatements and leaps to conclusions unwarranted by the data, many readers will view the claims as fact. I urge everyone to read the book critically, raising the crucial questions,testing the assumptions, and carefully evaluating the book’s claims....

Although the writers frequently claim that the Talpiot tomb excavation was a provenanced archaeological find in which the contents remained undisturbed (in situ) until examined by qualified experts, the archaeological team responsible for the find referred to the excavation as “salvage archaeology.” Due to pressures from the
construction company that accidentally discovered the tomb, excavation that
would normally have taken weeks had to be rushed. Furthermore, the tomb lay open and exposed for over twenty-four hours before the archaeological team began its work. Bystanders actually observed neighborhood children using skulls from the
tomb as soccer balls. ...

We need to know much more about the ossuary inscriptions. The photograph of the most important inscription which reads “Jesus, son of Joseph” was not enlarged and the scratches on that particular surface so obscure the first word of the inscription that it cannot be transcribed with confidence from the photo. Perhaps the inscription does read “Jesus, son of Joseph.” However, I have heard rumors that some well-known experts in Aramaic script have disputed the original transcription...

Even if the inscription reads “Jesus, son of Joseph” this would not be shocking. We know of at least 104 different individuals with the name Jesus from this general period (330 B.C. to 200 A.D.) and at least 232 different individuals with the name Joseph. In fact, Joseph was the second most common name among Palestinian Jewish males from the period, second only to Simon. Jesus was the sixth most common name from the period. An inscription reading “Jesus, son of Joseph” would not be that sensational since another ossuary with that very inscription was found back in 1926.

The statistical argument does not prove at all that the Jesus of the ossuary is Jesus of Nazareth. It is neither statistically impossible nor improbable that this Jesus is another Jesus.

The appeal to DNA proof really proves little. They resorted to mitochondrial DNA
testing. Such testing determines whether there is a maternal relationship between two individuals. The test concluded that Jesus and Mariamne were not related maternally. The team then rushed to the conclusion that they must be husband and wife since one could not otherwise explain the presence of two unrelated people in a family tomb. Even if this is a family tomb, Mariamne could have been a half-sister, sister-in-law, cousin or aunt from the father’s side, rather than the wife of Jesus.

Christians must not attempt to dismiss the claims of The Jesus Family Tomb by claiming that they do not really matter. Instead, they should appeal to the compelling eyewitness accounts of the resurrection preserved in New Testament texts, our oldest and most reliable accounts of the events following Jesus’ crucifixion, and then carefully scrutinize the exaggerated, illogical, and poorly substantiated claims of the book and film.

If you want to hear more, the Rev. Greg Hunt of First Baptist Church, 543 Ockley Drive, Shreveport, will be talking about the film in a presentation at 5 p.m. Sunday in Frost Chapel.

And if you want a humorous take on it, check out Christianity Today blogger, Ted Olsen. Funny stuff.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Prayers for Ethan

Even if you don't read Ethan's story in today's paper, please, go visit his Web site. This 3 month old has led more prayers than most of us ever will with his remarkable story and his parents' amazing faith. He's up to more than 81,000 hits!

Ben Powell, Ethan's father, realized he might sound a little crazy when he was talking to me. He's almost too calm, and too confident. I've interviewed a lot of people in stressful situations over the years, and they usually believe God can heal them, but they don't necessarily believe he will. The Powell's believe he will.

"If you believe it, you believe it, or you don’t," Ben said.