Date published: May 16, 2012
SHARING STORIES: Members of the Temple B'nai Jeshurun in Des Moines, Iowa, wanted to throw the book at two teens, a boy and his girlfriend, who had scribbled neo-Nazi graffiti on their synagogue. Instead, Rabbi Steven Fink met with the youths as part of a restorative justice process. At the meeting, several Holocaust survivors told their stories. The male perpetrator told about his childhood of abuse and of running away from home and Unking up with the Aryan Nation. The youths were told that in the Jewish tradition they had to earn forgiveness. Each performed 200 hours of service for the synagogue, at the end of which the charges were dropped (Des Moines Register, April 22).
SPACE FOR GOD: When Anglican theologian Herbert Kelly was asked how we can know the will of God, he responded: "We do not. That is the joke." Agreeing with Kelly, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says we are left with our free will and our power of discernment to decide what in our Ufe comports with the will of God, and then we trust that God wiU pick us up and restore us if we make a mistake. Key questions to ask in the discernment process: "What course of action might be (even a little) more in tune with the Ufe of Christ? And what opens, rather than closes, doors for God's healing, reconciling, forgiving and creating work to go on?" (Rowan Williams, Where God Happens).
MODEST PROPOSAL: Stanley Hauerwas says he wasn't interested in the ecumenical movement when he graduated from seminary because it seemed to be about "denominational executives . . . trying to see how they could join their denominational headquarters under diminishing resources to discover how unity could occur without anyone losing a job." But he cared about the unity of the church. The kind of Christian unity he advocates is found on a poster on his office door: "A modest proposal for peace: let the Christians of the world resolve not to kill each other" (Postliberal Theology and the Catholic Church, edited by John Wright).
JOSHUA FOUGHT THE BATTLE: A Google search for "Joshua sermon" brought up 5,990,000 hits, many of them sermons from fundamentalist or evangelical preachers. Not many sermons on the book of Joshua are preached in mainline Protestant congregations. The story of the conquest and the apparent genocide of the natives of the land of Israel is too problematic for modem readers. Only three Joshua texts are used in the Revised Common Lectionary. Homiletics professor Stephen Farris tells his students, "Hard texts make good sermons." Wherever the mighty misuse power, Farris says, preaching from Joshua is difficult but necessary (Interpretation, April).
NORMAL FOLK: Since 2010 the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Samts has been running a public relations campaign featuring diverse Americans with the tagline, "I am Mormon." The aim is to show that "Mormons are not that strange," said one spokesperson. The More Good Foundation is also backing the church's efforts to present a good image on the Internet. One of its objectives is to help people searching for information get to Mormon-friendly sites rather than hostile sites run by evangelical Christians and ex-Mormons (Wilson Quarterly, Spring).
FAITH IN PRACTICE: According to a Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey, 73 percent of Mormons believe that "working to help the poor" is "essential to being a good Mormon." That compares to 49 percent who say that not drinking coffee and tea is essential to faithful Mormon practice. Mormons seem to practice what they preach: most go to church regularly, devote nine times more hours a month to volunteerism than other Americans, tithe regularly, and on average give $1,200 annually to causes beyond the church. Mormons "are the most pro-social members of American society," according to Ram A. Cnaan, social-work scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, who conducted the research (America, April 9).
PREEMPTIVE STRIKE: When 60 Minutes was working on a story about the exodus of Christians from the Holy Land, Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren called Jeff Fager, head of CBS News and executive producer of 60 Minutes. The ambassador said he had heard that the program would be a hatchet job. Later, Bob Simon, the reporter on this story, told Oren that he has gotten all kinds of reactions to stories he's done, but never before has he gotten a reaction to a story before it was broadcast. "Well, there's a first time for everything. Bob," the ambassador responded. The ambassador was concerned that the story about Christians leaving the Holy Land would have a negative effect on tourism, a multibillion-dollar business in Israel and the West Bank. He wanted the Christian exodus blamed on Muslim extremists rather than Israeli policies (60 Minutes, April 22).
ARERSHOCKS: When police tried to get help for a military veteran found wandering naked on a California street, the Veterans Administration hospital said it couldn't take him until morning. Later, the man was killed when he stepped in front of a train, an apparent suicide. About 25 American soldiers will take their own lives for every one killed on the battlefield this year, says columnist Nicholas D. Kristof. More than 6,500 veteran suicides take place every year, more than the total killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The V. A., which has established a suicide hotline and appointed suicide-prevention coordinators, is trying to overcome the warrior mentality that views mental health concerns as a sign of weakness (New York Times, April 14).
REVERE WARE: Paul Revere, made famous by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poem about his midnight ride, was a Boston engraver and siJversmith. Brown University recently discovered a small engraving by Revere that was tucked inside an old medical book donated to Brown by a member of the class of 1773. It shows Jesus being baptized by immersion. Revere was a Unitarian (NPR, April 15).