Tuesday, April 22, 2008

New (and hopefully improved) Everyday Faith

Faith requires change, so I am trusting in the system and moving the blog to The Times' new website. It has its own blogging software, which should boost visibility, and that is one of the points of this exercise (If a journalist writes, and no one reads it, does it matter?). So as of today, I'll be moving to that location: http://www.shreveporttimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=EVERYDAYFAITH

I'm still figuring out how the new site works and the best way to structure things. But I can tell you that it's much easier to comment. So I look forward to hearing from more of you on the new page!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Passover and converts

In all the other religious excitement going on now, I nearly missed Passover, the Jewish holiday which remembers the Exodus.

A friend of mine is in the process of converting and she's trying to figure out exactly what she needs to do for her first Passover. Jews don't usually make a big deal of the sacrifices the week entails, but it can be pretty extensive. The law requires that the house be emptied of all bread products with leavening -- which includes rice and corn syrup. Many Jews have a seperate set of dishes and cookware so the food is not contaminated. My friend has emptied most of the bread from her pantries and found kosher for Passover Diet Coke, so I think she's set.

It made me realize that people new to a faith tend to get caught up in the rules and regulations. They want to make sure they are doing everything "right." Those rules certainly have a point -- usually, the goal is to bring us closer to God -- but when does it become too much? When do we commit the sin of scrupulosity or legalism?

Local reactions to the pope

Even over the phone, I could tell Monsignor Earl Provenza was glowing this morning when he called to tell me about his couple of days in DC with the pope.

"I sense a fresh air," he said. "The window was opened to hope."

As the diocesan administrator he was able to attend the meeting with the bishops on Wednesday which has received significant attention because of the pope's mention of the sexual abuse scandal. Provenza said he was frank but fatherly in talking about the crisis, which has understandably shaken the faith of many.

"He said his heart was so heavy but he said we need to extend help to victims, move forward and I see goodness in the horizon," Provenza said. "A a priest I was very pleased that he said this. He surely wasn't hiding anything."

The atmosphere for the welcome ceremony and Mass was electric, he said, as more than 45,000 people gathered for worship. They clapped, responded and cheered. Provenza also appreciated Pope Benedict's attention to the shortage of priests.

"Any young man to hear him they will be encouraged to think about priesthood," he said.

I also heard from Casey Simpson, a member of the Cathedral of St. John Berchmans, who attended Thursday's Mass with his 11-year-old daughter. Part of his story made it in today's paper, but here's more.... Simpson was particularly impressed by the emphasis placed on unity of people regardless of race and culture. The Mass included people of all hues, and the pontiff spoke in Spanish toward the end of his sermon. Simpson thought it was a direct comment on the controversy over immigration laws.

The experience also renewed his zeal for his faith.

"The man is inspired by God," he said. "I need to pay more attention."

The day was not all cheering the pope. He saw some protesters, but was particularly struck by a priest who stopped to talk to them.

"He’s trying to show the protester the love of the risen Christ," Simpson said. "He was doing what I’m supposed to be doing too by loving those who would oppose me as a Christian."

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Analyzing the pope

I founda few more websites offering some interesting reaction and insight on the pope.

The Washington Post/Newsweek blog On Faith, gives a broader perspective with commentary from ardent supporters to anti-pope ex-Catholics.

Thanks to beliefnet's David Gibson, I just found the American Papist -- another young Catholic blogging about the church. He had a particularly cool entry of photos of popes and presidents.

And somehow in all this I forgot about the ever-insightful John Allen of National Catholic Reporter, who has been covering all things Vatican for years.

Bishop update

While we're talking about all things Catholic, I have some more details on the new bishop's ordination. Everything will be held May 19 at the Convention Center.

The Cathedral looks big from the outside, but if you start bringing in family and friends of Bishop-elect Duca, all the priests/religious of the diocese, community representatives, and just Catholic folks who want to welcome their leader, it fills up quickly. So the Convention Center isn't as pretty, but we just saw that even a ballpark can be sacred space.

Mass will be at noon and a reception will follow. I'll let you know more as I hear....

Papal Mass no. 1

What a beautiful worship service. I had the webcast of the Mass in Nationals up off and on for the last couple of hours and it was a great example of Catholic worship. It's even more cool that we can share this experience across the globe.

His homily (sermon) was full of encouraging words but also a call to constant conversion. The theme of his visit was hope and today's gospel reading (which provides the basis for the sermon) was from John 20, when Jesus appears to the disciples. Here's a few excerpts:

"The Church in America can rightfully praise the accomplishment of past generations in bringing together widely differing immigrant groups within the unity of the Catholic faith and in a common commitment to the spread of the Gospel. At the same time, conscious of its rich diversity, the Catholic community in this country has come to appreciate ever more fully the importance of each individual and group offering its own particular gifts to the whole."

"I have come to proclaim anew, as Peter proclaimed on the day of Pentecost, that Jesus Christ is Lord and Messiah, risen from the dead, seated in glory at the right hand of the Father, and established as judge of the living and the dead (cf. Acts 2:14ff.). I have come to repeat the Apostle's urgent call to conversion and the forgiveness of sins, and to implore from the Lord a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Church in this country."

"The world needs this witness! Who can deny that the present moment is a crossroads, not only for the Church in America but also for society as a whole? It is a time of great promise, as we see the human family in many ways drawing closer together and becoming ever more interdependent. Yet at the same time we see clear signs of a disturbing breakdown in the very foundations of society: signs of alienation, anger and polarization on the part of many of our contemporaries; increased violence; a weakening of the moral sense; a coarsening of social relations; and a growing forgetfulness of Christ and God. The Church, too, sees signs of immense promise in her many strong parishes and vital movements, in the enthusiasm for the faith shown by so many young people, and also in the number of those who each year embrace the Catholic faith, and in a greater interest in prayer and catechesis. At the same time she senses, often painfully, the presence of division and polarization in her midst, as well as the troubling realization that many of the baptized, rather than acting as a spiritual leaven in the world, are inclined to embrace attitudes contrary to the truth of the Gospel."

"It is in the context of this hope born of God's love and fidelity that I acknowledge the pain which the Church in America has experienced as a result of the sexual abuse of minors. No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse. It is important that those who have suffered be given loving pastoral attention. Nor can I adequately describe the damage that has occurred within the community of the Church. Great efforts have already been made to deal honestly and fairly with this tragic situation, and to ensure that children - whom our Lord loves so deeply (cf. Mk 10:14), and who are our greatest treasure - can grow up in a safe environment. These efforts to protect children must continue."

"Those who have hope must live different lives! (cf. Spe Salvi, 2). By your prayers, by the witness of your faith, by the fruitfulness of your charity, may you point the way towards that vast horizon of hope which God is even now opening up to his Church, and indeed to all humanity: the vision of a world reconciled and renewed in Christ Jesus, our Savior. "

Papal Mass underway

You can see the Mass here. I'm amazed at how a ball park can be turned into a sacred space. I'll have excerpts/impressions later...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Who needs charisma?

It was bound to happen in the first few seconds of any TV story or the first few paragraphs of most print accounts of the pope's visit: some mention of Pope Benedict XVI's "lack of charisma" especially in contrast to his predecessor John Paul II.

ABC News was making that statement last night as I edited a story about the 15th anniversary of the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco. I had to think to myself, is charisma really necessary for a religious leader?

Granted there have been plenty of holy men, who were well liked and attracted a crowd -- JPII, Billy Graham, Rick Warren. But more often than not, it seems that when religious leaders are described as "charismatic" bad things happen. Think David Koresh, Jim Bakker, Jim Jones.
Benedict may not be a rock star, but he is a deep theologian and thinker. Even more appropriate to his office, he is a teacher, capable of translating complex ideas into ordinary language. We need more of those, in all denominations.

I have visited lots of new churches, where the worship services are full of glitz and flash and the pastor is a laid back, easy to talk to guy. But they are startling in the lack of substance. One pastor even told me he didn't think theology was important. I had to bite my tongue to keep from saying something inappropriate.

In a way, that pastor can't be blamed. As a society we seem hung up on the idea of likability and convenience. It's even permeated the presidential election. Tell me what I need to know in two minutes or less. How do you get people to sit in church or even in a Bible study at home and wrestle with complex issues?

Polls show deep disagreements between American Catholics and the teachings of the church. I wonder how many of them have tried to understand why the church teaches what it does or if they have dismissed it was being "out of touch."

Slowly though, we're seeing a change. Those denominations that are growing -- Pentecostals, Mormons -- demand much from their members. And I've talked to plenty of friends who want substance from their spiritual leaders. They want to be challenged. Personally, I am much more impressed by local pastors who have a great grasp of their theology even if I don't agree with it.

Maybe that is what American Christians can learn from Benedict XVI. Ideas and theology are important, and they are not easily grasped. We must be less concerned with high-tech, high-energy and more concerned about what we believe, why we believe it and how it can change the world.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Montessori and "liberal religion"?

All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church will recognize the Montessori School for Shreveport with its annual Ralph Waldo Emerson Award.

In the past that award has recognized "individuals or organizations in the wider Shreveport-Bossier community that best exemplifies the principles and practices of liberal religion." I'm not sure exactly what they mean by liberal religion, but recipients have included Sister Margaret McCaffery of Christian Services, Dr. Peter Huff of Centenary College, Shreveport civil rights attorney John Hodge and the Rev. Mack McCarter of Community Renewal International.

The Montessori school is not at all connected to any faith tradition but it does promote individuality, diversity, respect for children and the belief that “the path to world peace is through children.”

Head of the School, Angie Day will accepting the award at the 11 a.m. church service on Sunday, 9449 Ellerbe Road, Shreveport.

Questions for the pope

Pope Benedict XVI will arrive at Andrews Air Force Base to be greeted by President Bush and a host of church dignitaries. His visit has already begun with some statements to the press on the plane.

From what he said to reporters and other writings, this pope is not afraid to address hard issues. According to the New York Times story, the Vatican chose the questions the pontiff answered on the plane and it was issues of pedophilia and immigration. He did not mince words when talking about the scandal: "Who is guilty of pedophilia cannot be a priest,” he said.

I'm also currently listening to his book Jesus of Nazareth, and I saw the same trend. In his exegesis of The Lord's Prayer, Benedict acknowledges that the beginning of the prayer "Our Father" is hard for those who have not had a good example of father. As well, he asks the question "what about God as mother?" It's clear this is a man so confident and rooted in his theology that he sees the answers to these difficult questions.

As he meets with members of other religions and denominations and address the youth at a seminary, difficult questions will be a consistent theme through his visit. In his blog yesterday, Gary Stern of the Gannett suburban papers had some great questions. What questions would you have for the pope?

Monday, April 14, 2008

The pope is coming!

We're just more than 24 hours from Pope Benedict XVI's first visit to the United States, and both secular and Catholic media sites are in a frenzy.

The trip to Washington DC and New York is centered around an address to the United Nations, but his itinerary also includes meeting with President Bush, public Masses in both cities, meeting with leaders of various faith traditions, a youth rally, prayer at Ground Zero and the pontiff's 81st birthday (April 16).

A video message released last week expounds on the theme for the week, "Christ our Hope," which continues the subject of his second encyclical. It struck me that he's speaking to a much wider audience than just Catholics. In the message to Americans, the pope said: "I have chosen as the theme of my journey three simple but essential words: “Christ our hope”. Following in the footsteps of my venerable predecessors, Paul VI and John Paul II, I shall come to United States of America as Pope for the first time, to proclaim this great truth: Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language, race, culture and social condition."

Locally, I know we have a few people that have tickets to one of the Masses, and I will do my best to catch up with them later in the week to see what it was like.

In the meantime, if you're looking for more coverage, here's some recommendations:
* Conference of Catholic Bishop's site has official news.
* Beliefnet has a blog by pope watcher and biographer David Gibson.
* Lohud.com, our sister site in the NYC suburbs has an extensive site with stories, charts, blogs, etc.
* And of course, Whispers in the Loggia is on the ground in DC. Palma does a particularly good job of printing the full text of the pope's speeches, etc.

And feel free to comment and discuss the pope's message and the spectacle of it all.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Let the weddings begin

This is the year of the wedding for the Haag family. My brother, my oldest cousin and I (that's three of the four grandchildren on that side) are preparing for nuptial bliss.

My brother starts the trend this weekend. I'm excited for him, and I adore my soon to be sister-in-law. As we've done all the preparations, it also made me realize how important it is to have faith to lean on at this time. The whole idea of marriage is saying there is something bigger than you now. That might just be the relationship, or for people of faith, it would be God. Even though I haven't experienced marriage myself, that would be my thought for them: when life gets tough, remember you're not in this for yourself, but for God and each other.

Now, I turn to you -- what is your advice to those of us preparing for marriage?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Changing Times

After more than five years on the religion beat here at The Times, I'm starting a new adventure. I'm now a full time editorial writer as of this week.

Don't panic. I will not let down the two dozen of you or so that read this page regularly. Everyday Faith will remain, and I'll probably keep my hand in some faith-related reporting, but it will just be on a different scale. The Conversations, or opinion, section certainly lends itself to lots of great stories about the intersection of faith and life (think the current election or the ways churches are involved in creating social change). It also might allow me to write about more theological questions. I can envision something about suffering or forgiveness. Day to day religion coverage will be handled by the Metro staff.

Obviously, I'm still trying to figure out what my role will be, but I'm excited for the challenge and the chance to use my skills in a different way. We'll still be talking faith and religion here and in the pages of The Times, and as always, I look forward to your thoughts.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Thank you, Ethan

Ethan Powell never learned to walk or probably to talk very much. He spent much of his 16 months of life in pain as his tiny body battled leukemia.

Yet, he was one of the most powerful evangelists this area has seen. The night of his diagnosis, Ethan's father, Ben, set up a website asking for prayers. Within weeks, it became a phenomenon as tens of thousands of people across the country checked in to read the daily progress reports from St. Jude Hospital in Memphis. Ethan's picture appeared around town at bone marrow drives and benefits. Throughout, the Powells kept reminding us that "Prayer Works!"

For whatever reason, the miracle of a cure was not realized for Ethan. It's tempting to say that we didn't pray enough or didn't have enough faith. But I would still consider him a miracle worker. It's a miracle his parents had such faith that they would share their story so openly. It's a miracle that leukemia has received renewed attention and people were willing to give their own bone marrow if it would help. It's a miracle that so many people came together to pray.

We are all still praying, for the family and for a cure.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Remembering a great dreamer

40 years doesn't sound like a round number, but 40th anniversaries are key. Many times it is the last big anniversary where the majority of the players in an event are still alive. So today, we stop to remember a man and an era that forever changed our history: the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King.

You can still visit the spot. At Christmas, I went to see my parents in Memphis and I took my brother and our respective fiance(e)s on a trip through the historic sites of the city. The Lorraine Motel - now the National Civil Rights Museum - was a must see even though the museum was closed (it was Christmas Eve).

Without a doubt, it is one of the eeriest museums I have ever visited. Just south of all the new construction and development downtown is a relic. Time appears to have stopped at April 4, 1968. It's got the same aqua colored doors and the same model cars that were parked out front. the only thing new is a giant wreath in front of room 306, marking the spot where the Civil Rights leader was slain.

All around the motel life has moved forward, but this place always remembers and tries to shout above the nearby clubs, restaurants and galleries: Something important happened here! Please remember and don't let it die here!

Whether we have fulfilled that mission is a topic for another day. But I'll let history speak for itself, and maybe call you to remember through these images and the following excerpt from Rev. King's "Mountaintop" speech. (Complete audio and text can be found here)

"If I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" ...

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy."

Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee -- the cry is always the same: "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn't done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I'm just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I'm happy that He's allowed me to be in Memphis....

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation....

I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! "

Religion and the election

Charles Haynes brings up an oft-asked question in today's Conversations section: Does religion matter when we choose a president?

Haynes is a first amendment scholar, who I have talked to before, so I don't doubt his legal opinion. Basically he said it shouldn't matter, but he glossed over what I see as the deeper question people are really asking. It doesn't matter as much what religion they profess, but how do they practice it. Do they really believe and follow all that their faith proclaims?

The faith itself can tell you a lot. For instance, I tend to lean toward being socially conservative and economically liberal. I believe we rise and fall together as a society, so we should be helping each other out and raising up those on the bottom. Much of that is informed by my Catholic faith. Similarly, I would expect a Baptist, whose theology is more focused on individual responsibility and salvation to be socially and economically conservative and to lean a little more on the pull yourself up by your bootstraps mentality while still being compassionate.

So how well you believe that faith tells me a lot more about your future decisions than if you just check a box marked Episcopalian or Jewish. Rudy Giuliani and John Kerry claim to be Catholics, but their beliefs and actions demonstrate that they reject much of what the church teaches. That raises even more alarming questions in my mind. Similarly, I don't agree theologically with Mormonism, but if Mitt Romney is a faithful Mormon, then I feel I can trust where he's coming from.

What do you think? Should religion matter in the presidential election and how do you evaluate it?

Why is this bishop a big deal?

I went t get my haircut last night, and I was telling my hairdresser that I was exausted from all the bishop news yesterday. And she asks why is he so important? Then I got paranoid that I hadn't adequately explained it so I actually called work later to tweak the story.

And I thought I would explain a little more here. Basically a bishop is a leader of a geographical region, or diocese. He is a priest who gets promoted and is the head teacher, preacher and pastor of an area.

He is particularly important because Catholics believe in "apostolic succession." After Jesus' death, the 12 apostles spread out across the known world to preach the good news. And Catholics believe that those teachings and practices have been handed down from leader to leader ever since. If you look up former Bishop William Friend on Catholic Hierarchy (which is pretty cool, if you're into Catholic politics), you can find the bishop that ordained him, and the one who ordained that bishop, and so on all the was to the 16th century. Before that, choosing Bishops was a little less formal process, plus I'm guessing the records get foggy.

So Catholic faithful see the bishop as the person trusted by the church - past and present - to carry on its teachings and lead the people to God. In the case of Shreveport, that means supervising 44 congregations and 40,000 believers.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

More from Bishop-elect Duca

The hard thing about print is you can't write everything, so here's some more excerpts from the morning events with the new bishop.

* He noted that everywhere he went people were smiling. I can verify. Everyone is thrilled to have him and I heard more than one person say something along the lines of "he's everything we wanted."

* He's Italian -- rare for a bishop in Louisiana -- and true to that he was already looking forward to trying local restaurants. Apparently, some of his family members own a deli in Dallas.

* "Every time I read something, I'm encouraged by the depth of the programs here." Duca especially noted the Greco Institute, the adult education arm of the diocese.

* Ecumenism has been part of his ministry for several years. He is part of the American Religious Town Hall meeting TV program, which brings ministers of several faiths to discuss issues.

* Being a shepherd means he will "walk with the people, not so far ahead that they have to look up to you."

* He also celebrated his first Mass, surprising some of the regulars at the Cathedral's noon service. It was his first time to wear the purple (pink?) skull cap of the bishop, which he was a little resistant to until he was assured it was appropriate.

* In his homily, he referred to the first reading assigned for today from Acts, which talks about the early Christians sharing everything they owned.

"Those who are ordained are ordained to share that gift with the whole community," he said. "You begin to understand its not with the parish, or the diocese but the whole church. I am beginning to experience that kind of giving. I do that with a joy in my heart...."

"When we are faithful to our commitments they will drag us through life in an unexpected way.. I pray I will be everything God wants me to be and everything you desire for a bishop."


The pope's mission prayer intention for the month of April is "That the future priests of the young Churches may be constantly more formed culturally and spiritually to evangelise their nations and the whole world."

And the same day he names the rector of a seminary to lead the Diocese of Shreveport. I think Benedict is trying to tell us something...

First impressions

So far the news is good for Bishop-elect Michael Duca, as he marks the halfway point in his whirlwind, introductory tour of the diocese.

The Catholic Center was all smiles and twitters this morning as people through around words and phrases like affable, easy going, extroverted, perfect match and mission minded to describe the new bishop of Shreveport. Duca first appeared at a press conference and seemed very comfortable behind the microphone and willing to answer questions.

It could just be he was thrilled to finally admit the news. The papal nuncio called him two and a half weeks ago, and he was sworn to secrecy.

He also looked a little overwhelmed, like he was still trying to figure out exactly what he does next, but that's understandable. From what he said, he's clearly a man who believes God will lead him as he goes.

Bishop watch comes to conclusion

Monsignor Michael Duca, rector of the Holy Trinity Seminary in Iring, Texas, will be the new bishop of the Diocese of Shreveport.

Here is the official announcement from the Vatican (the English version should be posted later this morning. And here is a little more scoop on the new shepherd from the ever-present and very helpful Rocco Palmo.

Bishop-elect Duca should be present at this morning's press conference and I'll certainly have more to share here and at shreveporttimes.com.

UPDATE: Here's the official release from the Diocese of Dallas.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

What's so bad about marriage?

Slate published an astonishing piece on the decline of marrriage, increase in out-of-wedlock births and its affects on society. I've wanted to write a story about this for years, but I can't seem to wrap my head around it.

So I turn to you. Why is this happening? Is it a lack of faith? A too lenient society? The prevalence of sex in the media?

Monday, March 24, 2008

Happy Easter!

Fasting and penance are done and Christians can now celebrate the hope of Easter -- that they too have a promise of eternal life.

I had some friends over and celebrated with the requisite ham, wine and chocolate bunnies. And then my fiance and I went into ancient epic movie mode. We both got each other "The Ten Commandments" for Easter (this thinking alike is not supposed to happen until after we're married!), so we settled in for the nearly four hours of biblical imagery and special effects.

As we talked exchanging the duplicate film, I realized how many other Eater-related movies are out there. Soe here's aew of my recommendations:

Quo Vadis - Takes place in Rome during one the reign of Nero, when Christians were persecuted. A Roman soldier falls in love with a Christian girl. It also features St. Peter in his post-Christ role as evangelist and church leader.

Ben Hur - Conversion of a Jewish merchant living in Judea at the time of Christ. Also starting Charlton Heston.

The Passion of the Christ - I actually can't watch this any more. The year it came out I had to see it about three times for work, and I can't take it. But it is a compelling picture of the crucifixion and the suffering of Christ.

Any others out there?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blessings for Holy Week

We have come to the holiest few days of the Christian year.

The 40 days of Lent are nearly behind us and we are hunkering down for the intensity of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Services of a variety of denominations and styles abound, and are listed here (all that typing is apparently my final Lenten penance).

For those of you who are not Christian or don't come from a liturgical tradition that holds special services for these days, here's my abbreviated Holy Week glossary:

Holy (or Maundy) Thursday: Services this evening officially end Lent. The scripture attached to the day centers around Jesus's last supper. He gathers for the Passover seder with his disciples and does two astonishing things. First, he washes their feet - a gesture usually performed by a lowly servant - and says go and do likewise. In other words, our job is to serve others. Many services will incorporate foot washing. Later in the meal, he takes the bread, blesses it and said "Take, eat; this is my body." This is seen as the institution of communion or the Lord's Supper.

Good Friday: The day Jesus died. Many somber services will reflect on the trial and crucifixion of Jesus. For Catholics, it is a day of fasting.

Holy Saturday: Saturday tends to get a little overlooked. In terms of remembering as a way to kind of relive the events of Jesus' death, it should be another somber day. Jesus is still in the tomb, so to speak. After sundown, the mood changes. In the Catholic church, this is the time we begin to celebrate Easter and we baptize and confirm those adults who are joining the church.

Easter: The holiest day of the year. Christians believe Jesus has risen from the dead. Sermons will usually reflect on the glorious occasion and how Jesus's resurrection gives us hope for the same joy after death. We are through fasting and can rejoice.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Face of Louisiana religion

The Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey has generated lots of buzz about its conclusions that people are don't seem to be committed to their denominations anymore.

Yesterday's Conversations section featured a piece by Peter Huff, Centenary religion professor, analyzing this trend.

The survey has some interesting data specific to Louisiana. Here's a few tidbits:

* 31 percent of the state's population considers themselves Evangelical (which includes Baptists, Pentecostals and several non-denominational churches)

* 28 percent of Louisianians are Catholic

* 20 percent belong to historically black churches

* 8 percent are unaffiliated, compared to 16 percent nationwide

On a national level the survey compared religions on various demographic levels, and here's a few of those conclusions:

* More people in the 30 to 49 age group are likely to be unaffiliated than those in the 18-29 group.

* Jehovah's Witnesses and Catholics are the most racially diverse groups.

* Hindus and Mormons are most likely to be married and least likely to be divorced

* Women are the majority of members in Christian churches and men are the majority in non-Christian traditions

Have fun digging through yourself. Any insights? Please share.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Lent and Greek marketing

Just as most Christians are counting the days until their Lenten sacrifices end, the Greek Orthodox begin Great Lent today.

And these folks don't play when it comes to fasting and prayer for the season. The churches will add at least two special prayer services during the week, and they basically adopt a vegan diet (so no meat or dairy products) for 40 days.

For that reason, it's all the more impressive that the women of the Ladies Philoptochos Society (which serves the poor) of St. George Greek Orthodox Church are hosting a bake sale on March 20 -- Holy Thursday for Western Christians. Sweet breads, cookies and baklava will all be available. If I were them it would all be too tempting, but I'm sure there's a better market for their wares during Western Holy Week.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Nuns and the law

This story reminded me of one of my favorite movie lines. In "Dead Man Walking," a state trooper pulls over Sr. Helen Prejean (played by Susan Sarandon) for speeding. He took one look at her and said:

"I never gave a ticket to a nun before. I gave a ticket to a guy from the IRS one time. Got audited the next year. I'll tell you what, this time I'll let this one slide, but keep your speed down, yeah?"

Muslim market

The Muslim community in Shreveport can no longer be ignored. When a community can support a grocery store, it's stable and probably growing.

Two new Lebanese restaurants have opened in town in recent weeks, and one, Mona's (just off Line Ave.) also has a grocery store component. I love Middle Eastern food, so we checked it out for dinner and wandered through the exotic spices and cheeses in the store section.

Much to my surprise there was a bag of marshmallows labeled "halal." I stopped and waved them at my fiance -- he should be used to me getting excited about semi-obscure religious customs. Halal is the Muslim version of kosher. As Jews in Shreveport will tell you, it can be difficult to keep kosher here, since there's no kosher grocery store.

Until now, I don't know if you could get anything that was officially halal. Now, you can at least get marshmallows, and I'm guessing other products will follow.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

God, belief and morality

Now that the Centenary Forum has concluded and everyone has had a chance to respond to the lecture by Erik Wielenberg, a philosophy professor from DePauw University, I'll take the opportunity to give my two cents.

Wielenberg argued that God is not necessary to have a sense of objective morality. I have had a hard time constructing a response because I've never taken any philosophy and I don't speak that language. I can come at it from a theological perspective, so that's what I'll try here.

In a way, I think Wielenberg is correct. You don't have to believe in God to live by a specific moral code. I have known plenty of non-believers, who still have a highly developed sense of right and wrong and who would normally be considered "good people."

However, God's existence doesn't depend on our belief. In the prologue to the Gospel of John, the writer says "He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him." God is there in our lives and our decisions and the world around us whether or not we believe.

Wielenberg is operating under a faulty assumption of who or what God is. He said in his lecture that if there is a God, it is an external force who guides creation. He tends to impose human characteristics on God, who is clearly operates in ways unknown to people. I believe God is much more infused in his own creation.

God did not just create morality and truth -- God IS morality and truth. In the book of John, Jesus says "I am the way and the truth and the life." And, by definition, objective morality or objective truth assumes that there is only one truth. Therefore, whenever we seek truth whether in Christianity, Islam or atheism, we will find God.

Friday, February 22, 2008

48 Hours revisited

Over the past few months, I've written about my involvement in the case of Herb Whitlock and Randy Steidl, two men wrongly convicted of murder in Paris, Ill.

They're both free and CBS will air an updated version of "48 Hours Mystery" with our story at 9 p.m. Saturday. If anything, this was our contribution to their freedom -- raising awareness of the situation. So check it out - you'll see me as a college senior running around small-town Illinois.

Atheism and the Methodist academy

When the Rev. Betsy Eaves sat in front of me at last night's Centenary Forum, I figured she would be the perfect person to respond to the evening's speaker for the story I was writing.

Instead, she was nervous and chose her words carefully. All day she had been assaulted by e-mail from people wanting to know why a Methodist college was bringing an atheist to campus. The liberal college was obviously trying to brainwash students, the e-mails said.

The speaker at the center of the controversy is philosophy professor Erik Wielenberg, of De Pauw University. He visited the Methodist college to talk about values and God as part of the annual Centenary Forum. Specifically, he addressed the question: is God necessary for morality? Wielenberg, also an atheist, made an intelligent argument, (I'll respond more later) and he presented it well judging by the good questions that were asked and the fact that the students were paying attention.

After listening to him, I was confused by the vehement reactions Eaves was receiving.
Isn't the college the perfect place for these sort of discussions? Aren't students supposed to be challenged and confront the other?

It is through those challenges that we are forced to understand and articulate what we believe. Fear of these ideas is just a sign that we do not trust our own faith or that of the students. And I know Eaves, as chaplain, does all she can to promote faith and encourage students to take ownership of their beliefs.

The Forum seems to be a brilliant concept because it has reaction built in. Unlike many lectures, this one will not stand on its own. For the next week, everyone will have a change to mull over his argument and at 7 p.m. Monday, two students and two community members will give their response.

Through that discussion I expect many people will surprise themselves to find they have an even deeper understanding of what they believe and why.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Lutherans coming together - eventually

It's hard for anyone to acknowledge their current operations aren't working. For churches, it can be especially painful.

But two Missouri Synod Lutheran churches in Shreveport decided they might be stronger together than continuing to operate alone. Our Savior on Bert Kouns and Redeemer on Shreveport-Barksdale have already been sharing a pastor for about a year, so combining programs, congregations and eventually buildings wasn't much of a leap, said the Rev. Perry Culver, pastor.

"What it came down to was with me preaching at both churches, and the talk of not having enough resources, we realized it doesn’t have to be this way," he said.

They'll be able to eliminate some duplication in committees and councils and some of those folks can put their energies to outreach and growth. Together, the churches would have a congregation of about 250.

The next step is to choose a name and develop a mission statement. Then they'll start thinking about property. The plan is to sell the current buildings and build new -- probably in Southeast Shreveport.

For now, the congregations will continue to worship separately, although Culver expects some church mixers and combining some programs. When one of the buildings is sold, they will combine worship.

It takes a lot of guts to make these moves, and I know it’s hard for founding members to abandon a building they poured so much life into. But Culver said he's got great reactions from members.

"Everyday I get calls about names," he said. "People want to get involved where maybe haven’t been involved in the past."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Enlarging territory

Remember the "Prayer of Jabez" that was super-popular a few years ago?

That's how I've felt for the last week as I've tried to get used to my new temporary position. I've been expanding my territory and learning new skills and trying to think about issues in a different way. I'm really enjoying the opportunity, but I need to get back on track with my blogs. Keep passing me stories, and I'll do my best to make them reality.

So here's a few notes that I missed last week:

*Two Missouri Synod Lutheran churches have voted to merge. I've talked to the pastor and I'll have more on this in a later post.

* Update on Speed Sunday at Ellerbe Road Baptist Church: the church bulletin reported that 24 vehicles from as far away as Dallas participated in the car show. And they had an increase of 94 people in attendance compared to a normal Sunday service.

* Bishop Larry Brandon, pastor of Praise Temple Full Gospel Cathedral attended the 56th annual Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC on Feb. 7. It sounds like an amazing event with religious, governmental, business and military leaders present. President Bush addressed the group about the importance of prayer:

"The people in this room come from many different walks of faith. Yet we share one clear conviction: We believe that the Almighty hears our prayers -- and answers those who seek Him. That's what we believe; otherwise, why come? Through the miracle of prayer, we believe he listens -- if we listen to his voice and seek our presence -- his presence in our lives, our hearts will change. And in so doing, in seeking God, we grow in ways that we could never imagine."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Temporary change in duties

Today starts a bit of a shift for me here at The Times. I'm not going anywhere, but for the next two months my byline and work will be appearing more in the Conversations section of the paper.

A colleague will be on medical leave, so I'll be filling in over there. I'm really excited for the chance to learn some new skills and explore some issues -- religion and otherwise -- in a little more depth.

Religion briefs and bulletins will remain part of my job. But the daily religion news will probably shift to whichever reporter is available. I'm going to do my best to maintain the blog, so that we do keep some religion presence in the paper -- plus I just like doing it.

So please, continue to send me your story ideas (dhaag@gannett.com) and we'll do our best to get your news out there. Some of it might even fit in the Conversations section. And like I said, this is just temporary, so I'm sure I'll be haunting your sanctuaries again soon.

Evangelists' next target: NASCAR fans

I'm not sure if there's a convention-wide effort here, but at least two local Baptist churches have latched onto a NASCAR theme for their latests evangelism efforts.

Since Jan. 12, Brookwood Baptist's pastor the Rev. Mark Sutton has been leading a sermon series titled, "Speed." With sermon titles such as "The Race," "Pit Crew," and "The Crash," he uses the analogy to talk about living a Christian life with good friends and how to change your life when its gone off track. Apparently, the sanctuary is also decorated with NASCAR memorobilia. The series continues through Feb. 17.

And this weekend, Ellerbe Road Baptist Church is hosting "Speed Sunday," a "Sunday with a strategy" to reach out to unbelieving NASCAR fans. A car show will begin the morning during the normal Sunday School hour, and NASCAR Champion Lake Speed will speak. They aren't having a formal srvice but a "gathering" so Speed can share his story, people can ask questions and the gospel can be presented.

I'm intrgued by how the strategy works for them. I guess I assumed -- wrongly? -- that most NASCAR fans were already Christian, since the sport originated just up the road from the Rev. Billy Graham's hometown. But You certainly can't deny the popularity of NASCAR, so maybe it will attract some attention.

What do you think about using something like NASCAR to spread the gospel?

A shift for values voters?

I have a feeling this news from the Romney campaign is going to make the faith questions in this year's election even more interesting...

What do you think? Have you even thought about religion/faith/values as you ponder your choices in Saturday's primary?

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bishops weigh in on Louisiana ethics reform

The Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops is encouraging the governor and legislature to make some substantial changes during the upcoming special session on ethics reform.

In a statement released today Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans spoke for the seven dioceses of Louisiana. He cited the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states: "Authority is exercised legitimately only when it seeks the common good of the group concerned and if it employs morally licit means to attain it."

He then reminded officials of the goals of the code and said: "Unfortunately, Louisiana has a sad history of corruption at all levels of government. This is harming the common good in various ways. First, it discourages our citizens from participating in the political process itself. Secondly, it convinces out-of-state business interests that it would be a mistake for them to invest in our state."

"We urge the new state Legislature to work with Governor Jindal to pass legislation that provides improved clarity in the way state government operates. The public needs to see this occur in three areas: (1) personal finance disclosure by public officials, (2) campaign finance disclosure, and (3) spending by lobbyists."

Lenten blessings to all

The party is over, and today Christians start our reflection and soul-scrubbing to get ready for Easter.

While Lent is probably most associated with the Catholic church, since it has all sorts of rules for eating and what not, it is not an exclusively Catholic celebration. And this year, it seems to me, more churches are getting in the spirit of the season. Maybe they just did a better job of telling me what they're doing, but I noticed more Bible studies and other special Lenten devotions.

To me, Lent is more about spending more time with God than giving something up (although I'll do some of that too), so all of these extra prayers provide structured ways to increase prayer. Here's some that have crossed my desk for y'all to consider:

BARKSDALE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 1465 Patricia Drive, Bossier City: 7 a.m. Wednesdays through March 12. Lenten breakfast.

BROADMOOR UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 3715 Youree Drive, Shreveport: 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays through March 19. Lenten worship and Bible studies for all ages.

CHURCH OF THE HOLY CROSS, 875 Cotton St., Shreveport: 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesdays through March 12. Soup Days with soup, desserts and coffee. Cost: $3.

FELLOWSHIP UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 4750 Barksdale Blvd., Bossier City: 7 a.m. weekdays, Holy Communion. 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays, supper and small group studies with activities for children.

FIRST LUTHERAN CHURCH, 2115 Line Ave., Shreveport: 6 p.m. Wednesdays through March 12. Soup supper followed by Bible study on The Fruit of the Spirit.

LAKEVIEW UNITED METHODIST CHURCH, 5550 Lakeshore Drive, Shreveport: 5 p.m. Sundays through May 4. Lenten Bible study, "The Life and Teachings of Jesus Christ."

ST. MARY OF THE PINES CATHOLIC CHURCH, 1050 Bert Kouns Industrial Loop, Shreveport: 5 to 6:30 p.m. Fridays through March 21. Lenten Fish Fry. Plates are $6 or a 1 pound fish only plate for $9. 6 p.m. Feb. 17-19, Lenten Mission with the Rev. Tim Hurd.

ST. PAUL LUTHERAN CHURCH, 4175 Lakeshore Drive, Shreveport: 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays through March 12. Soup supper followed by Vespers prayer service.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Super Tuesday - Louisiana Style

Folks in the rest of the country are worried about picking up votes, while we're worried about catching beads and that last piece of King Cake.

Jim McGill, a long time instructor at the Diocese of Shreveport's Greco Center, gave an incredible presentation last year about Mardi Gras, Lent and Easter and how they all fit together in a spiritual sense. I'll do my best to give you my own recap/interpretation of why Mardi Gras is a spiritual season.

It starts with Christmas, when Christians believe God took on human form and came to Earth as the Baby Jesus. That act seems to support the idea that being human is a good thing, and we should relish in the incredible gift of life and the tangible, beautiful, messy parts of being eternal souls with bodies.

Enter Mardi Gras. We sometimes go overboard with our celebrations, but in the best sense this season is about enjoying life -- eating, drinking, being merry.

After a few weeks of that though, we start to wonder is there soemthing else out there? Ash Wednesday forces that discussion. We fast, pray, give alms and perform other sacrifices depriving that same body we just celebrated. In other words, we seek. We look for our souls and examine it. What should we do better? How can we find a balance of spirit and worldliness?

The intensity of Lent leads to Easter. Jesus rises from the dead. We too have a fresh start. We can now live in the world revivied, with a new understanding that there's more to it than the eating, drinking and being merry.

When Jim gave his theological analysis of the seasons, I thought about the many conversion stories I have heard in my five years of covering the religious community. They all sound like that same pattern. Someone enjoys life a little too much, hits bottom, searches for some meaning and often finds that in a religious community. And to some extent it sounds like a cycle we all have to live of constant examination and conversion.

So enjoy your King Cake today. Tomorrow we will have questions to ponder.
Photo: A family cheers on the Highland Parade Sunday. Jim Hudelson/The Times

The If Gathering

Cool title for a prayer meeting, isn't it? At least, it intrigued me. The Rev. John Butler, an ordained Baptist minister and member of First United Methodist Church in Plain Dealing is calling together people of various churches for a new monthly prayer meeting.

It's based on the oft-quoted 2 Chronicles 7:14 "If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

Butler said local and national news had so disturbed him over the last few months that he wanted to do something. As he studied his Bible, this verse came to him.

"This is the answer," he said. "This is our only hope."

The first meeting will be at 7:30 Tuesday at First United Methodist Church, 300 E. Mary Lee St., Plain Dealing. Black and white ministers and lay people of various denominations are involved.

Since it is the inaugural gathering, it will have a more formal program with singing, a couple of different ministers and a testimony before the congregation is asked for its prayer requests. Later meetings will include a devotion and then prayers.

"From East to West, we've had one calamity after another," Butler said. "Something has got to be done."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Cheering on Matthew Campbell

Many of you may have heard the story of Shreveport teenager Matthew Campbell, who has undergone two heart transplants and one kidney transplant. (If not, here's his CaringBridge site with updates)

Well, folks at Centenary College are putting together a rally to support him in his battle. They are asking anyone who is free to come to the Fitness Center at noon Friday to cheer him on. The rally will be recorded and a DVD will be sent to Matthew, giving him a full picture of the support he has from folks here in Shreveport. Chaplain Betsy Eaves asks everyone to "bring banners, balloons and enthusiastic voices." Cards and donations for the family will also be collected.

“In my visit with him earlier this week I reminded him that there are many people supporting him, praying for him and cheering him on,” Eaves said. “I told Matthew that while we could not run this race for him, we believe in him and that there are hundreds of cheerleaders out here.”

How cool that technology allows us to make a video and show support and prayers through audio and video.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

More thoughts on Hinckley

The Latter-day Saints I talked to yesterday were sad to see their leader, Gordon B. Hinckley, go, but not distraught in anyway. A couple remarked with joy that he would be with his wife again (the church teaches that families are families for eternity).

Hinckley's experience as a missionary led him to higher authority in the church. He realized the need for better material to distribute to non-believers and he made a career of promoting the church and its teachings in an easy to understand manner.

"He’s always been a great missionary and encouraged us to spread the word about the gospel of Christ and invited anyone who wanted to hear the message about Christ," Shreveport Stake President Brent Merrill said.

It reminded me a little bit of Pope John Paul II. The late pope was widely travelled and a great advocate for evangelism who, even as an elderly man, connected with youth.

Jeffrey Loftin, a Shreveport native now studying at BYU saw Hinckley speak a couple of times. He told me about some of his journal entries after seeing the president.

"At the top it says – I’ve had a constant burning in my chest for 10 minutes," Loftin said.

To Loftin, that was confirmation from the Holy Spirit that Hinckley was a man of God and was speaking God's truth.

"Every time I have written specific impressions from the Spirit. It’s a deep knowledge – every word he says he’s saying for a reason. He’s genuine and open and honest."

Funeral services for Hinckley have been set for 10 a.m. Saturday in Salt Lake City. They will be broadcast on BYU television, which is apparently available on many Sattelite carriers.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Mormon leader dies at 97

Mormons around the world and here in Northwest Louisiana are mourning the death of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since 1995.

He was 97, but had been in generally good health so it caught some folks a little off guard. Hinckley was known for extensive travel, and enormous growth of the church. He took the worldwide stage during the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Read more about him on the LDS site or the Salt Lake Tribune (that site is understandably swamped, but keep trying).

The local stake is still trying to figure out what they might do to honor Hinckley's life, and they are hoping to be able to carry a simulcast of the funeral. I should have some comments from people that met him and others in the church later today.

Friday, January 25, 2008

More than 15 faiths under one roof

Once a year, all the diversity of Shreveport's religious community comes out to educate, share and learn.

This year's annual World Religion Day will be held from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Highland Center, 520 Olive St., Shreveport.

Contrary to popular belief, the religious landscape in Northwest Louisiana is more than Baptists and Pentecostals. We have Hindus, Baha'is and Wiccans. Some of the groups are tiny and often misunderstood, and the event gives them a chance to say this is who we are. Organizers are very strict about discouraging any sort of proselytizing, so you have nothing to fear their.

And if its any more enticement, they have asked me to be the keynote speaker. Some of y'all know I'm a writer, not a speaker so I can't promise any fireworks, but I'll do my best to share my perspective on the local religious scene.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

MLK beliefs

When I walked into St. Luke CME Church Monday to cover the Martin Luther King Day service, I expected about an hour long deal with prayers and a short sermon. I got full-blown church. It was a wonderful service, great singing, good preaching and prayers that we might live out Dr. King's beliefs.

Included in the program was an "Affirmation of Faith" that was taken from the writings of Dr. King. I found it on another website attributed to the United Presbyterian Church. Regardless, I found it powerful, so here it is:

I refuse to believe that we are unable to influence the events which surround us.

I refuse to believe that we are so bound to racism and war, that peace, brotherhood and sisterhood are impossible.

I believe there is an urgent need for people to overcome oppression and violence, without resorting to violence and oppression.

I believe that we need to discover a way to live together in peace, a way which rejects revenge and retaliation. The foundation of this way is love.

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. I believe that temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.

I believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.

I believe that what self-centered people have torn down, other-centered people can build up.

By the goodness of God at work within people, I believe that brokenness can be healed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Celebrating 25 years in Blanchard

First Baptist Church in Blanchard celebrated a rare milestone over the weekend - the Rev. James Hill has been pastor for 25 years.

We do have several pastors in the area that have served their churches for decades, but in general, pastors tend to move fairly frequently to bigger churches or new opportunities. Unfortunately, in the craziness that was last week, I left out the notice of the service in the religion briefs. The church historian was kind enough to send a list of Hill's accomplishments, so I hope to recognize him in this space.

Hill came to the church in 1983, and started a campaign to pay off the church debt. That began a series of building projects resulting in a remodeled sanctuary, education building, recreation complex, and in 2003 a new sanctuary. The church also launched new efforts to reach children through children's worship and a child development center.

All the efforts are reflected in church growth. Membership now stands at 1211, and requires two worship services on Sundays. Hill also added four full-time staff positions.

Under his leadership, the church has fearlessly promoted its beliefs in public. In Januaries past, the church has erected white crosses representing abortions conducted. In 2005, it erected a 6-foot-tall, 2-ton monument of the 10 Commandments during the height of the controversy over public displays of the Biblical laws. Hill conducted a 10-week sermon series to go with it.

Hill also presided over tragedy in the church. In 2003, Julian Brandon, minister of senior adults, was murdered. Brandon was remembered during the dedication of the new sanctuary, and at that time Hill told me: "We learned to depend on (God) and love each other," he said. "I wouldn't wish this on anybody, but it helped us draw closer to the Lord that we would have otherwise."

Clearly, his congregation feels close to him as well. Congratulations to Rev. Hill, and apologies for not recognizing the achievement sooner.
Photo: Hill with 370 crosses in front of his church in 1998. Each represented 100,000 abortions. From Times archives

Monday, January 21, 2008

Beyond the dream

Across the city, I'm sure plenty of people will be quoting the Rev. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. It's a wonderful piece of oratory, but King had a lot more to say. Here's some excerpts from sermons he gave throughout the years, many of which address theological and moral questions that are just as relevant today....

Feb. 28, 1954 "Rediscovering Lost Values":

"There are moral laws of the universe just as abiding as the physical laws. I'm not so sure we all believe that. We never doubt that there are physical laws of the universe that we must obey. We never doubt that. And so we just don't jump out of airplanes or jump off of high buildings for the fun of it—we don't do that. Because we unconsciously know that there is a final law of gravitation, and if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences—we know that. ... But I'm not so sure if we know that there are moral laws just as abiding as the physical law. I'm not so sure about that. I'm not so sure if we really believe that there is a law of love in this universe, and that if you disobey it you'll suffer the consequences. I'm not so sure if we really believe that."

July 4, 1965. "The American Dream" delivered at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta:

"Each of us has certain basic rights that are neither derived from or conferred by the state. In order to discover where they came from, it is necessary to move back behind the dim mist of eternity. They are God-given, gifts from His hands. Never before in the history of the world has a sociopolitical document expressed in such profound, eloquent, and unequivocal language the dignity and the worth of human personality. The American dream reminds us, and we should think about it anew on this Independence Day, that every man is an heir of the legacy of dignity and worth."

March 31, 1968, "Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution" delivered at the National Cathedral, Washington, D.C.:

"One day we will have to stand before the God of history and we will talk in terms of things we’ve done. Yes, we will be able to say we built gargantuan bridges to span the seas, we built gigantic buildings to kiss the skies. Yes, we made our submarines to penetrate oceanic depths. We brought into being many other things with our scientific and technological power.

It seems that I can hear the God of history saying, "That was not enough! But I was hungry, and ye fed me not. I was naked, and ye clothed me not. I was devoid of a decent sanitary house to live in, and ye provided no shelter for me. And consequently, you cannot enter the kingdom of greatness. If ye do it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye do it unto me." That’s the question facing America today."

Friday, January 18, 2008

Prayers for Unity

Today begins the 100th annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week was founded by the religious community, the Society of the Atonement, to pray for reconciliation between the Anglican and Roman Catholic Church. Each year, prayers, dialogues and celebrations occur between the Feast of the Chair of St. Peter (formerly on Jan. 18) and the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul on Jan. 25.

Since then participation has been sanctioned by both churches and encouraged by the National Council of Churches, which includes dozens of other denominations. This year's theme is "Pray without ceasing from 1 Thessalonians 5:17, and here are Pope Benedict XVI's intentions for each of the remaining days.

18 January: Pray always. "Pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5, 17).

19 January: Pray always, trusting God alone. "Give thanks in all circumstances" (1 Thessalonians 5, 18).

20 January: Pray without ceasing for the conversion of hearts. "Admonish the idlers, encourage the faint-hearted" (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

21 January: Pray always for justice. "See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all" (1 Thessalonians 5, 15).

22 January: Pray constantly with a patient heart. "Be patient with all of them" (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

23 January: Pray always for grace to work with God. "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5, 16).

24 January: Pray for what we need. "... help the weak" (1 Thessalonians 5, 14).

25 January: Pray always that they all may be one. "Be at peace" (1 Thessalonians 5, 13b)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Lesson of life and death

We buried my fiance’s father on Monday.

His death was unexpected and seems unfair. I hate saying that his funeral “was beautiful.” It shouldn’t have been at all.

I last talked to Charles just after Christmas. I picked up the phone to hear “Hi future daughter-in-law” and we both laughed, looking forward to July when it will be official. I didn’t know him well, but the Charles I knew was warm, told great stories, and frequently made me laugh. I was looking forward being part of his family.

He was a committed military man -- so much that his son is an Air Force officer and his daughter married one. After retiring from active duty, Charles spent the next 21 years training young men and women in an Air Force Junior ROTC program. Current and former students filled a couple of pews at the funeral Mass with stiff, blue uniforms and tears creeping down their cheeks.

Now the arrangements are done. The flowers have been laid on the grave and we continue with a gaping hole in our lives.

I’m trying to see where this fits in God’s plan and what I’m supposed to learn. That's the only way I can come close to accepting his death. As my brother-in-law to be poignantly noted during the eulogy, we do not know the hour when God will bring us home. Usually we think of those verses in terms of preparing our own souls. But we must also repair and nurture our relationships. Resolve petty arguments and remind people you care – with more than a standard “I love you.”

I’ve also learned how much the little things matter. No one can do anything to make the situation better, but I’ve had friends checking on me and just to know that people are praying for us is a huge comfort. Please don’t underestimate those things next time you have a neighbor, co-worker or friend lose a family member. The "I'm sorrys" mean the world.

And I hope we learn from Charles himself. The man who raised my beloved believed in God, service, integrity and family. Those lessons will not die.

Questions about Islam?

Sarah Zitterman hopes to provide answers. She and her husband are hosting their second Meet Your Muslim Neighbor Event from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Broadmoor Library.

Sarah is incredibly knowledgeable about her faith. A convert, she can also understand why it might seem strange to people on the outside. And personally, I'm impressed by anyone willing to give up more than six hours on a Saturday to promote understanding of her faith.

The first couple of hours are more open house and then they will have sessions on the basics of Islam, Women in Islam, Islam in America and the Quran and Science. No question is a bad one, so feel free to ask!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Happy anniversary

Today marks one year of this little journey I call Everyday Faith.

I had planned to do some big reflective piece, but a family emergency has had me distracted all week. Prayers are appreciated.

Instead, I'll just say it's been fun. I've tried to stay true to my mission, which was to find bits of faith in everyday life and to share insights and some of the extra reporting that often gets left out of stories.

I'd love to hear your thoughts. What can I do differently/better/more of /less of in this space? I'm looking forward to another great year in our faith journey.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Justice for one party

Herb Whitlock, who was convicted of murder 21 years ago, walked free today. I wrote about him a few months ago, and my work on his case as a college student.

This is one time in my life, where I honestly almost gave up hope. I always believed he was innocent, but I just didn't know how to convince the state of Illinois. Years of prayers were answered, and today he met his grandson for the first time.

The gospel of John didn't let us down: the truth will set you free.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Praying together and staying together?

My fiance and I are nearly cleared to be married now. We spent Friday evenings and all day Saturday at the marriage prep weekend sponsored (and required) by our church.

It was a good weekend full of all that relationship conversation that usually causes men to break out in hives, but my guy was good. We had some honest conversations and realized we were were in agreement on all the important things (we will probably still have "discussions" about the air conditioning).

One thing that the counselors and lay people brought up was the importance of prayer in a marriage. We go to church together, bless our food, and - I trust - pray for each other in private, but we don't necessarily pray aloud together. One longtime married couple, who shared their story with the group, said their whole relationship changed when they started praying together - they were more honest and better able to tackle the issues of the day.

So I'm asking y'all for your experience. Do you pray with your spouse? What does that look like? And how does it affect your relationship?

Friday, January 04, 2008

Obama, Huckabee and Evangelicals, oh my!

If the faith and politics stew was simmering before, it has come to a full boil with Mike Huckabee's triumph in the Iowa caucuses last night.

Evangelical Christmas apparently made up 60 percent of Republican caucus goers, and nearly 80 percent of Huckabee's supporters. It makes sense - he's a former Baptist minister.

On the other side, Obama is a Christian with a more liberal theology. Faith came up some, but seemed to play no real role in his victory in Iowa.

So what do you see for the future? In 2004, pundits (particularly those in the Northeast major media markets) were blown away by the "values voters." Will faith continue to play a large role in the mind of voters? Or are we in the media making more out of this than is really there?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Holy snacks?

If snacks are religious-themed, do they count against your New Year's Resolution?

Maggie Martin passed on a little blurb from Rachael Ray's magazine about faith-based treats. I've seen the little mints with scripture verses, but this takes the concept to a new level.

My favorites were Holy Chocolate Hot Chocolate, created by the Rev. Stan Smith, an Eastern-Syrian Orthodox priest in California. The money from the company now supports Smith, so he does not have to take a salary from his church. The website claims that the all natural ingredients combine to form "Heaven on Earth."

And for the kosher foodies out there, there's Thou Shall Snack. The founder loved her grandmother's kosher cooking and sought to create her own snack versions of the treats. She came up with latke crisps, based on the Hanukkah tradition, and a few other goodies. Five percent of the proceeds are donated to charity.

I have not tried either, so I certainly can't vouch for them. I'm not sure whether this exploiting faith or just expressing it in a new way, but it's certainly an interesting idea. What do you think?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

Blessings from the book of Numbers:

The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you!The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!