Monday, 28 January 2013

A positive example of a Christian whose values are reflected in his business

Providing for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men. II Corinthians 8:21

A good news item for a change: Armour Shield Roofing, a business located in London, Ontario, won the Better Business Bureau of Western Ontario 's Integrity Award for 2012, after having twice previously been a finalist for the award. The company is owned by Assaad Eldik, a friend of mine from my days at the University of Western Ontario in 1987-88 when we were in a Bible study together. The picture accompanying the London Free Press article shows that Assaad has lost some hair in the 25 years since I last saw him--but then, so have I. Congratulations, Assaad, and keep up the good work.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

10 years ago: The death of Hugh Trevor-Roper

Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! Isaiah 5:21

Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, Romans 1:22

On January 26, 2003, British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper died at the age of 89. Mr. Trevor-Roper was reputed to be an expert on 17th-century Britain and Nazi Germany, but was exposed as a fool when he vouched for the authenticity of the "Hitler diaries" in the early 1980s, which were exposed as a hoax. Mr. Trevor-Roper mocked Christian belief in the truth of the history recorded in the Bible--a period of history that wasn't his specialty--but he couldn't recognize the fraudulence of documents from a very recent period of history that was his specialty.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

100 years ago: The birth of Cleon Skousen

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
II Corinthians 6:14-15

On January 20, 1913, political theorist W. Cleon Skousen was born in the Raymond, Alberta; a lifelong Mormon, he grew up in California. Mr. Skousen was an FBI agent from 1940-1951, and police chief of Salt Lake City from 1956-1960. He was a supporter of the John Birch Society and made his name writing and speaking against Communism and the New World Order. His best-known book was The Naked Communist (1958); other books of his included The Naked Capitalist (1970); The Five Thousand Year Leap (1981); and The Cleansing of America (2010). He died in Salt Lake City on January 9, 2006, 11 days before his 93rd birthday. Mr. Skousen's views have been embraced by some--including Mormons such as Glenn Beck--and denounced by many others.

I heard Mr. Skousen speak on the campus of the University of Alberta on May 5, 1983, following Eldridge Cleaver in an appearance sponsored by the Freemen Institute (now known as the National Center for Constitutional Studies). I had read a newspaper item sometime earlier stating that Mr. Cleaver, a former leader of the Black Panther movement in the United States and a professing Christian by the late 1970s, was flirting with Mormonism (strange, given the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' historic attitude toward blacks); indeed, seven months after his Edmonton appearance, Mr. Cleaver was baptized as a Mormon, and was apparently still a member at the time of his death at the age of 62 on May 1, 1998. Mr. Cleaver's conversion to Mormonism didn't have any apparent influence on his behaviour, since he developed a cocaine addiction and had numerous brushes with the law. As I recall his speech at the U of A, his message consisted mainly of how he became disillusioned with Communism after spending time in societies dominated by it. There was nothing in his address that mainstream conservatives would have disagreed with.

I'd never heard of Mr. Skousen or the Freemen Institute, but as I recall, the FI billed itself as an organization interested in promoting constitutional government. I don't remember much of Mr. Skousen's talk, but if I recall correctly it seemed to focus mainly on things that would have been of interest to Americans, and seemed somewhat inapplicable to Canada. I started to suspect that the Freemen Institute was a Mormon front, and that suspicion was heightened by a look at the audience, which consisted mostly of young people who had a "Mormon look" about them--better-groomed and better-dressed than average, looking as though they had stepped out of a television show from the 1950s.

Mr. Skousen and the Freemen Institute were popular with some Christians and political conservatives at the time, and some Christians were appearing at conferences sponsored by FI (as well as with the Unification Church ("Moonie") front organization CAUSA International, perhaps unwittingly (the Freemen Institute, like a typical front, didn't come right out and say that it was a Mormon front organization). This sort of fellowship with unbelievers on the basis of similarity of political views is in disobedience to scripture, and should be avoided by Christians, regardless of how worthwhile the cause appears to be. Such forbidden fellowship may have affected the results of a few elections in the last few decades, but it hasn't resulted in a more godly society.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Israeli scholar completes 30-year mission to "fix" textual errors in Old Testament

Another backlog item, as reported by Associated Press, August 10, 2012:

For the past 30 years, Israeli Judaic scholar Menachem Cohen has been on a mission of biblical proportions: Correcting all known textual errors in Jewish scripture to produce a truly definitive edition of the Old Testament.

Though his edits won't mean much to the average reader – they focus primarily on grammatical blemishes and an intricate set of biblical symbols – it marks the first major overhaul of the Hebrew Bible in nearly 500 years.

Poring over thousands of medieval manuscripts, the 84-year-old Cohen identified 1,500 inaccuracies in the Hebrew language texts that have been corrected in his completed 21-volume set. The final chapter is set to be published next year.

The massive project highlights how Judaism venerates each tiny biblical calligraphic notation as a way of ensuring that communities around the world use precisely the same version of the holy book.

According to Jewish law, a Torah scroll is considered void if even a single letter is incorrect or misplaced. Cohen does not call for changes in the writing of the sacred Torah scrolls used in Jewish rites, which would likely set off a firestorm of objection and criticism. Instead, he is aiming for accuracy in versions used for study by the Hebrew-reading masses.

For the people of the book, Cohen said, there was no higher calling.

"The people of Israel took upon themselves, at least in theory, one version of the Bible, down to its last letter," Cohen said, in his office at Bar-Ilan University near Tel Aviv.

The last man to undertake the challenge was Jacob Ben-Hayim, who published the Mikraot Gedolot, or Great Scriptures, in Venice in 1525. His version, which unified the religion's varying texts and commentaries under a single umbrella, has remained the standard for generations, appearing to this day on bookshelves of observant Jews the world over.

Since Ben-Hayim had to rely on inferior manuscripts and commentaries, numerous inaccuracies crept in and were magnified in subsequent editions.

The errors have no bearing on the Bible's stories and alter nothing in its meaning. Instead, for example, in some places the markers used to denote vowels in Hebrew are incorrect; or a letter in a word may be wrong, often the result of a centuries old transcription error. Some of the fixes are in the notations used for cantillation, the text's ritual chants.

Almost none of the errors Cohen found are in the sacred Torah scrolls, since they do not include vowel markings or cantillation notations.

Cohen said unity and accuracy were of particular importance to distinguish the sacred Jewish text from those sects that broke away from Judaism, namely Christians and Samaritans.

To achieve his goal, Cohen relied primarily on the Aleppo Codex, the 1,000-year-old parchment text considered to be the most accurate copy of the Bible. For centuries it was guarded in a grotto in the great synagogue of Aleppo, Syria, out of reach of most scholars like Ben-Hayim. In 1947, a Syrian mob burned the synagogue, and the Codex briefly disappeared before most of it was smuggled into Israel a decade later.

Now digitized, the Codex, also known as the Crown, provided Cohen with a template from which to work.

But because about a third of the Codex – nearly 200 pages – remains missing, Cohen had to recreate the five books of Moses based on trends he observed in the Codex as well as from other sources, such as the 11th-century Leningrad Codex, considered the second-most authoritative version of the Jewish Bible.

Cohen also included the most comprehensive commentaries available, most notably that of 11th-century Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki, known as Rashi.

The result is the completion of Ben-Hayim's work.

"It was amazing to me that for 500 years, people didn't sense the errors," said Cohen, who wears a knitted skullcap and a gray goatee. "They just assumed that everything was fine, but in practice everything was not fine."

The Hebrew University Bible Project in Jerusalem has also been working on a scientific edition of the Hebrew Bible, but theirs is directed toward scholars, while Cohen's output is aimed at wider consumption.

Rafael Zer, the project's editorial coordinator, called Cohen's work "quasi-scientific" because it presents a final product and does not provide the reader a way of seeing how it was reached. He credits Cohen for bringing an exact biblical text to the general public but said it "comes at the expense of absolute accuracy and an absolute scientific edition."

With the assistance of his son Shmuel, a computer programmer, Cohen launched a digital version he hopes will become a benchmark of the Israeli education system. He said his ultimate goal was to "correct the past and prepare for the future."

As a former teacher, Cohen said he took particular pride in a sophisticated search engine that allows even novices to explore his work with ease. He called computers a "third revolution" to affect Jewish scripture, following the shift from scrolls to bound books and the advent of the printing press.

"I want the Bible to be user-friendly," said Cohen, a grandfather of eight. "Today, we can create sources of information and searches that allow you to get an answer to everything you are wondering."

Israeli ultra-Orthodox politicians seek to broaden house of worship tax exemption to include all religions

Another backlog item, as reported by Aviel Magnezi of Ynet News, August 12, 2012:

It is not every day the representatives of one religion speak up for other religions. Following a petition to the Supreme Court about favoring synagogues over other religions' houses of prayer, Orthodox members of Knesset issued an amendment to the law last week.

In early 2012, The Jerusalem Institute of Justice, providing legal and public advocacy for marginalized communities in Israel, petitioned the Supreme Court to address discrimination in tax exemptions for tabernacles.

The petition stated that while all houses of worship are exempt from municipal tax, only synagogues get tax exemptions for halls outside the main house of prayer, whereas mosques and churches that include other structures on their premises must pay municipal taxes for those structures.

Shortly after the petition was filed, Knesset representatives turned to the Supreme Court, stating that Shas MK Nissim Zeev and Moshe Gafni of United Torah Judaism have issued a bill that offers exemption from municipal tax to additional property of all places of worship of all religions.

The petitioners demanded that until the discriminatory law is addressed, synagogues' tax exemption must be revoked. Zeev and Gafni emended the law, and the Knesset approved the amendment, promoting religious equality, though probably upsetting municipalities' tax balances.

Following the amendment, petitioners are about to file a motion to close the petition.

"Christian" Jim Wallis takes issue with pro-Israel ad

I've always suspected Jim Wallis, "spiritual advisor" to White House occupant B. Hussein Obama, of being a Communist, and I've never believed he was a Christian. It's a measure of how astray evangelicalism has gone in recent decades that while Mr. Wallis's pro-Communist and anti-American views haven't changed, evangelicalism has rapidly moved leftward to catch up to him, hence the label "evangelical" is now often applied to Mr. Wallis.

Another backlog item, as reported by Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 7, 2012:

A Jewish group and a Christian group are hanging ads in the New York subway system urging tolerance.

The ads being placed by Rabbis for Human Rights-North America and Sojourners, led by the Christian author and social justice advocate Jim Wallis, will go up on Monday and aim to counter a pro-Israel advertisement that reads "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”

The ad by Rabbis for Human Rights reads, “In the choice between love and hate, choose love. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.” The Sojourners ad says, “Love your Muslim neighbors.”

The ads reportedly will be hung near the anti-jihad ads in the same Manhattan subway stations, according to The New York Times.

A federal judge last Friday ordered the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to hang the pro-Israel ad sponsored by Pamela Geller, the founder, editor and publisher of and executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative.

"Christian"-Jewish Roundtable talks cancelled because of dispute over Israel

Another backlog item, as reported by Associated Press, October 19, 2012:

Major American Jewish organizations said Wednesday they have cancelled talks with liberal Protestant leaders after the churches sought an investigation of US military aid to Israel.

The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Conservative and Reform Jewish movements are among those withdrawing from the national Christian-Jewish Roundtable.

The dialogue group was founded in 2004 to ease tensions over escalating church protests against Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories.

The Jewish groups announced their decision in response to a request by several mainline Protestant leaders for Congress to re-evaluate US military aid to the Jewish state.

The church leaders said in an October 5 letter to Congress that Israel was guilty of widespread human rights violations against Palestinians that violated US legal standards for recipients of military aid.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism called the claims "repugnant, regrettable and morally misguided." The American Jewish Committee, a co-founder of the dialogue group, has requested a meeting with senior church leaders to "determine a more positive path forward."

ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said, "In light of the failure of any of the church leaders to reach out to us, we have decided not to attend this interfaith meeting. The blatant lack of sensitivity by the Protestant dialogue partners we had been planning to meet with has seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect, which is essential for meaningful interfaith dialogue.”

The church leaders seeking the congressional hearings represent some of the largest mainline Protestant groups in the United States. They include Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Gradye Parsons, a top executive of the Presbyterian Church (USA); Rosemarie Wenner, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops; and Peg Birk, leader of the National Council of Churches.

In the letter to Congress, the Christian leaders said both Israelis and Palestinians share responsibility for the conflict in the region, and church leaders acknowledged the suffering of both groups. But the leaders said, "we have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians."

Arguing that US military aid to Israel was "sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians," church leaders said Congress should investigate whether Israel has violated the human rights standards set by the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act.

The Christian-Jewish Roundtable was scheduled to meet next Monday. Tony Kireopoulos, an interfaith leader for the New York-based National Council of Churches, said Wednesday that the organizations were "disappointed that the meeting wasn't going forward" and they hoped to restart the dialogue.

The US Episcopal Church, also a member of the interreligious dialogue, didn't endorse the Protestant statement to Congress. Alexander Baumgarten, the Episcopal public policy director, said the request for congressional hearings was not in line with Episcopal policy.
As reported by Neil Rubin of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, October 15, 2012 (updated October 17, 2012):

On Wednesday, Jewish groups unilaterally pulled out of an upcoming annual Christian-Jewish roundtable meeting, saying the Oct. 22-23 forum was no longer viable. Earlier in the week, the Anti-Defamation League had announced that it would skip the meeting and called on representatives from other Jewish groups to follow suit.

The Jewish groups -- the American Jewish Committee, B’nai B’rith International, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism -- wrote to their Christian colleagues that the letter to lawmakers “represents an escalation in activity that the Jewish participants feel precludes a business-as-usual approach.” They called for senior leadership of Jewish and the Christian groups to meet to “determine a more positive path forward for our communities.”

In addition to its content, Jewish groups were upset that they had no advance warning of the letter and that it was released on the first day of a two-day Jewish holiday, when most Jewish organizations were closed in observance of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah...

...Saying “there’s been a betrayal of trust,” Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs umbrella group told JTA, “We have to discern if there’s a positive path forward.”

The Protestants’ letter, sent to every member of Congress, was signed by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.

Saying they have “witnessed the pain and suffering” of both Israelis and Palestinians, the signers said that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

The letter called for the launching of “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel” of agreements with Washington for alleged illegal use of U.S.-sold weapons against Palestinians. The signers also asked for “regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.”

In the past, many of these same church leaders have sent notes to Congress criticizing specific Israeli efforts, particularly settlement building. However, this is the first salvo against the $3 billion annual U.S. aid package to Israel.

A number of mainline Protestant churches have had fights at recent conventions over boycotting products made in the West Bank, divesting in companies doing business with Israel or harshly criticizing Israel’s rule of the West Bank.

This summer, the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected divestment from companies doing business with Israeli security forces in the West Bank by a 333-331 vote. A similar call was defeated more decisively at a Methodist assembly in May. And in September, the Quaker group Friends Fiduciary Corporation voted to remove a French and an American company from its financial portfolio over what it said was the companies’ involvement with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian areas.

Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, and a co-chair of the roundtable, initially told JTA earlier this week that boycotting the meeting was not the right response, despite the legitimate anger of Jewish groups.

However, on Wednesday he said, “Unfortunately, some Christian leaders chose to take their anger regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to Washington without any warning to Jewish partners in the roundtable. We need to meet to reset the framework for ongoing dialogue that has and can produce positive results.”

Felson said JCPA is considering asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts. Suggesting that American Jewish groups could retaliate by advocating against U.S. aid to the Palestinians, Felson said the signers of the letter are “opening up a Pandora’s box.”

In the meantime, Marans said Jewish groups should continue pursuing local Christian-Jewish ties in other venues.

“Liberal Protestants live side by side with Jews, and rabbis have relationships with local ministers," Marans said. "Once the antipathy toward Israel of some national leaders is communicated in the context of these relationships, the local religious leadership is heard from and communicates to their national leadership their concerns.

"The Jewish community understands that the overwhelming majority of Americans and American Christians understand that Israel must defend itself and that Israel is not an aggressor, that Israel is on the front lines of terrorism and has modeled how to create a balance between security and concern for the individual rights of all of the inhabitants.”

Indeed, some Presbyterians are openly angry with their leader, the Rev. Grayde Parsons, who signed the letter to Congress.

"We know there's a very small, very vocal group in the Presbyterian Church that wants to see Israel punished," said the Rev. John Wimberly, co-moderator of an unofficial group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. "We think we represent the 70 percent of Presbyterians polled in 2009 who said that maintaining a strong diplomatic and military relationship with Israel should be a U.S. priority."

He said Parsons’ signing of the letter “makes a lot of people mad and a larger number of people embarrassed."

Parsons did not return JTA's calls for comment.

David Brog, executive director of Christians United for Israel, a largely evangelical group often billed as the Christian AIPAC, called the move by the mainline Protestant churches to reach out to Congress an “accelerating trend” with a message for the Jewish community.

“This should be a wake-up call,” said Brog, who is Jewish. “Christians will be involved in Israel and the Middle East whether Jews accept that or not. We cannot take Christian support for Israel for granted. We have to actively engage our Christian neighbors and take the case to them, so that when they are active on this issue they support Israel.”
As reported by JTA on October 17, 2012:

...Rachel Lerner, vice president of the J Street Educational Fund, wrote last Friday on the Daily Beast website that her liberal pro-Israel group “opposes proposals to condition or cut security assistance to Israel.” She added, however, that J Street shared the Christian leaders’ “concern that conditions in the region are deteriorating to the point where they `threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace.’ ”

Lerner called for American Jews to put "at least as much energy and effort" into pushing for a two-state solution as they are putting into fighting such letters, of which she said there would be more.

Also, a dozen Jewish clergy allied with Jewish Voice for Peace praised the Protestants’ leaders call. Many of the organization's members have called for boycotts of Israel.

“It is altogether appropriate -- and in fact essential -- for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any U.S. laws or policies that regulate the use of U.S. supplied weapons,” said the statement signed by 10 rabbis, two rabbinical students and a cantor.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Welsh Muslim woman sentenced to life in prison for beating her 7-year-old son to death because he was slow in memorizing the Qur'an

As reported by Liz Keen of Wales News, January 7, 2013:

A mother collapsed in the dock of Cardiff Crown Court after being jailed for life for brutally murdering her seven-year-old son then trying to burn his body.

Maths graduate Sara Ege, 33, first swayed and then fell to floor, just seconds after the judge Mr Justice Wyn Williams announced she would serve a minimum of 17 years behind bars for cruelly beating the little boy when he failed to learn the Koran fast enough.

As she was picked up and helped to her feet by two female dock officers to be led away to the cells, her parents, visting Cardiff from their home in India, both became upset.

Her father, a businessman and retired antique dealer covered his mouth with a hankerchief and sat shaking his head, while her mother, who had arranged her wedding into a Cardiff family, which the judge said she had found difficult, wept.

Sara Ege herself, described as a devoted mother who only wanted her best for her child had been in tears throughout the half-hour sentencing hearing following her conviction a month ago for murder and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

She had denied both offences and blamed others for the violence and the fire at the family in Severn Road, Canton in July 2010.

Her little boy, city primary school pupil Yaseen Ali Ege was at first believed to have died in the blaze which started in his bedroom but was later discovered to have suffered catastrophic internal injuries.

The judge today said he believed she had beaten the little boy, sometimes with a large wooden pestle, over a period of three months as he struggled to learn the Koran to please her.

He told her: "Yaseen must have failed in some way that day and that failure was the trigger for the (final) beating you inflicted."

In confessions Ege made to police but retracted she said her child had collapsed in front of her, still reciting the holy verses as he died.
For the entire article, see pages 1, 2, and 3.

Bethlehem Roman Catholic patriarch celebrates Palestinian "state"

This will really help Roman Catholic-Jewish relations--as reported by Associated Press, December 24, 2012:

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — The top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land has celebrated the United Nations’ recent recognition of a Palestinian state in his annual pre-Christmas remarks.

Latin Patriarch Fouad Twal told followers at the patriarchate's headquarters in Jerusalem on Monday that they were celebrating “two occasions, the birth of Christ our Lord and the birth of the state of Palestine.”

From Jerusalem, Twal set off in a procession for the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Jesus’ traditional birthplace.

There, he was reminded that life on the ground for Palestinians has not really changed since the statehood recognition last month.

He had to enter the biblical city through a massive metal gate in the barrier of towering concrete slabs Israel built between Jerusalem and Bethlehem during a wave of Palestinian attacks in the last decade.

Donations from brewery help to rebuild Trappist monastery in California

Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations: Leviticus 10:9

Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. Proverbs 20:1

As reported by Lessley Anderson of the San Francisco Chronicle, December 22, 2012:

Vina, Tehama County - At this time of year, it's worth thinking of the Trappists. A strict order of Roman Catholics, they follow the rule of their patron St. Benedict, who believed the cloisters should be self-sufficient through their own industry - which, traditionally, includes making beer and wine.

That's what brought Scott Jennings, head brewer for research and development at Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., to venture to Belgium. A trim, redheaded former ski bum who grins easily and thinks a lot of things are "rad," Jennings turns very serious when he talks about this research trip.

"We were at Orval, and we were walking through this monastery. These beautiful springs were coming out of the ground, the monks are there, and you could feel the history. I've never been so inspired in my entire life."

The Orval monastery is one of the six Trappist abbeys in Belgium famous for its beer. Like other Trappist monasteries, they sell beer to a public that can't get enough. Westvleteran XII, for instance, considered by some to be the best beer in the world, was until this December only available for purchase at the St. Sixtus Abbey itself.

Jennings' trip led to one of Sierra Nevada's most unusual projects: the Ovila Abbey beers, an effort to match the free spirit of California craft brewing with the solemnity of the Trappists.

Up the highway from Sierra Nevada's headquarters in Chico is the Abbey of New Clairvaux - a Cistercian, or Trappist, monastery located in the hamlet of Vina. In the 1990s, the abbot approached Sierra Nevada for donations to help rebuild a 16th century monastery on its grounds.

Quirky history

The project had an unusual history. The ruined monastery, called the Santa Maria de Ovila, was a Trappist abbey originally located in Spain and purchased by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s. (The Chronicle is owned by the Hearst Corp.)

Hearst shipped it back in parts to the United States to use in a grand estate that he hoped would rival San Simeon, but the stones were never used. In 1994, the Abbey of New Clairvaux obtained the ruins and began raising money for its restoration.

Sierra Nevada founder and owner Ken Grossman suggested that the monks and the brewery do a beer project together and donate a portion of proceeds to the building project. New Clairvaux already produced well-regarded wines from its vineyards.

To prepare for the project, Jennings and Sierra Nevada's head brewer, Steve Dresler, went to five Belgian monasteries with New Clairvaux's then-abbott, Father Thomas X. Davis. The monk helped secure entry to the monasteries, access that ordinary beer tourists don't get.

"While we're geeking out on beer, taking pictures of the lauter tuns, Father Thomas would go off for meetings and prayer. For him it was a spiritual trip," Dresler says. "But I guess for us it was, too."

When they returned, Jennings and Dresler created four new beers in classic Belgian styles - a dubbel, saison, quad and golden ale. Because of the number of controls and equipment needed for brewing, Sierra Nevada ended up brewing the beer itself, with the monks giving their blessings rather than chipping in. Sierra Nevada called the beers Ovila in homage to the once-ruined monastery.

Sierra Nevada is traditionally known for hop-forward flavor, and these less hoppy, yeast-driven styles proved challenging.

The brewers spent a lot of time on the saison, for instance, a style characterized by aromatic, spicy yeast, trying to find just the right culture. They finally found it in an unlikely spot: a bottle of homebrew from a friend who had cultured his yeast from a small Belgian farmhouse beer whose yeast strain isn't available to commercial brewers.

The Ovila Saison is earthy, spicy and extremely dry. The other beers, too, are rich in body, with layers of aroma and flavor but with a very dry finish that keeps them from being cloying.

Battle in Michigan church between pastor and deposed deacons

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. I Corinthians 1:10 (KJV)

If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people?
Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases?
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life!
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church?
I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?
But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!
The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.
I Corinthians 6:1-8 (NIV)

As reported by Francis X. Donnelly of the Detroit News, January 2, 2013:

Saginaw — The Rev. Rodrick Smith's favorite character in the Old Testament is King David, the shepherd who became a fierce warrior and slayer of Goliath.

It was a prescient choice.

Smith, 50, pastor of Zion Missionary Baptist Church, is embroiled in a nasty fight with several political giants of Saginaw County — former Saginaw Mayor Joe Stephens and county Commissioners Moe Woods and Eddie Foxx.

The church removed them as deacons in 2011, saying they were shirking their duties. When they openly defied the move, they were kicked out of the church.

It has been open warfare ever since.

The pols filed a lawsuit in November to regain membership. They hold weekly strategy meetings and picket Sunday services.

One of their supporters, who also was kicked out of the congregation, was charged with trespassing. He was arrested in the sanctuary during a service.

"We opened a can of worms, and there's a bunch of worms in that can," said Barbara Anderson, 64, another supporter who was booted from the church.

In all, seven of the church's 550 members have been kicked out of the congregation — the three pols, two other demoted deacons and the two supporters.

Smith had warned the congregation the controversy would cause much consternation. "You all need to go and fasten your seat belts because this is going to be a rough ride," he said during a sermon in November. "There's going to be a whole lot of turbulence on this flight.

"I don't know of another church in this nation that is dealing with what we're dealing with."

The dispute has gone public and become personal.

Smith and other church leaders declined comment, but the pastor has discussed the matter during his sermons, which are available on the church website.

During those talks, he has referred to his foes as nuts and knuckleheads, clowns and reprobates, Satan and the Antichrist.

He also used a disparaging term for African-Americans. Smith and the ousted members are black.

"Them folk got the nerve to say it's scandalous that you got police officers in the church," Smith said during the sermon.

"What's scandalous is when Negroes don't know how to behave in the church. And the only way to get Negroes to act right in the church is by having police in the church."

The ousted members trumpet their allegations from the signs they take to church every week.

Congregation is split

The placards describe the pastor as a habitual liar, question a $10,000 raise he received two years ago and tweak him about his wife's arrest for shoplifting in 2007.

The dustup has caused a rift in the church, which, founded in 1868, is one of the oldest black churches in the Midwest.

Members who have shared the same pews for decades no longer talk to each other.

With membership already dwindling, given the advanced age of many members, the church can't afford to lose many more.

But, after 17 months of fussing and fighting, neither side has any intention of backing down.

"I'm in this for the long haul," said Curt Robinson, 65, the person arrested during the service. The charge was later dropped.

"We could go to another church, but we have so much invested here. There are some things you don't walk away from."

The trouble began in 2011, when seven of the church's 17 deacons received letters removing them from their positions.

The letters, signed by Smith and the chairmen of the deacon and trustee boards, said the seven had failed to make their "responsibilities as a deacon a priority."

Deacons are an extension of the pastor, helping with baptisms, serving communion to shut-ins, administering a fund for the poor.

Ever since arriving at Zion in 2001 from Plain Dealing, La., Smith has stressed that members be active in the church, according to the letters.

He chastised the deacons for failing to attend their monthly meetings and weekly prayer meetings and Bible studies.

If the deacons had put half as much energy into the church as they have in the protests, there wouldn't be a controversy in the first place, Smith said in a recent sermon.

"If you had all that energy, why didn't you use it while you were in here?" he asked.

Two deacons accepted their demotion; the other five fought it. They called and wrote Smith asking that the issue be brought before church members.

Smith refused, so they left fliers on members' cars reiterating their request.

Finally, during a church service last year, after the secretary finished reading the announcements, the demoted deacons stood in their pews.

Stephens, the former mayor, began to say a meeting would be held after the service, but Smith interrupted him and ended the service, which had just begun.

Standing in the pulpit, Smith said the deacons should be kicked out of the congregation and asked members who agreed with him to stand.

He later said nearly every churchgoer stood. The deacons said only half of them stood.

Stephens, 76, who has belonged to the church for half a century, said his group had no choice but to raise the issue during the service. "He wouldn't give us a chance to talk to the congregation," he said.

Stephens was chairman of the search committee that recommended hiring Smith and had traveled to Louisiana to interview him and acquaintances.

Asked how he felt about the decision now, Stephens just laughed.

Choosing sides

Every Monday, the ousted deacons and supporters meet at a Saginaw community center.

A meeting last month drew 21 people. With an American flag on the wall, they began and ended the hourlong session by joining hands and praying.

They listened to a CD of an earlier sermon by Smith in which he said the battle between him and the deacons was nothing less than good versus evil.

Church members need to decide whose side they're on, he said. If they choose wrong, they could face the wrath of God.

The deacons and their supporters tittered as they listened to the recording. Their laughs contrasted with the "amens" uttered by churchgoers during the sermon.

"I need to tell you something," Smith said on the recording. "We all have faults."

"You got that right," said Woods, the county commissioner.

Muslim and Jewish volunteers work together on social projects on Christmas Day--to give Christians the day off

I'm surprised Rick "Deeds, Not Creeds" Warren wasn't involved in this endeavour, as reported by Orlander Brand-Williams of the Detroit News, December 24, 2012:

Detroit — Close to 800 volunteers from the area's Jewish and Muslim communities will fan out across Metro Detroit on Tuesday for a day of volunteerism called Mitzvah Day.

It's the single largest day of volunteering for local Jews, organizers say.

And it's also the third year Muslims and Jews will work side by side in volunteer projects that will give Christian volunteers the day off so they can celebrate Christmas.

"It's becoming a real exciting thing," said Micki Grossman, one of three chairs for the Mitzvah (good deeds) Day Project, organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council.

"It's been wonderful. (Good deeds) is what we're supposed to do."

Participants will volunteer at 40 charities and community organizations from 6:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Besides the hundreds who will work on Christmas, there are 80 on a waiting list in hopes of being assigned to a project.

Dr. Muzammil Ahmed, chairman of the Michigan Muslim Community Council, said working with Jewish volunteers on Mitzvah Day is a great contribution to Metro Detroit and a "wonderful opportunity to share our wonderful commonalities."

Ahmed said he hopes Mitzvah Day reminds people some of the tensions between Jews and Muslims are "relatively new," having occurred only in the past 100 years or so.

He added that the two groups lived in harmony for more than a century.

Roman Catholic school in Traverse City, Michigan cuts Hanukkah song from Christmas concert

Syncretism seems to be hitting some obstacles in Traverse City, Michigan. In November 2012, a Congregational church there banned the Muslim call to prayer from a Veterans Day service. In December, there was this incident, as reported by Associated Press, December 19, 2012:

Traverse City — A Hanukkah song was dropped from a Roman Catholic school concert just a day before the show after an official said the season's focus should be on the birth of Jesus.

As a result, two music instructors who had been working with students declined to participate in the concert Tuesday night at Interlochen Arts Academy.

A traditional Jewish song, "Festival of Lights," was on the program for a concert by students from St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Middle School in Traverse City.

The kids have been under the instruction of chorale director Jamie Geurkink and band director Cress Smith, under an agreement that puts public school teachers in Catholic schools.

Mike Buell, superintendent of Traverse City-area Catholic schools, scratched the Hanukkah song Monday and said students would have new leaders at the concert.

"I don't have a problem with Jewish music," Buell said.

"But this is a Christmas festival, and that's what we've traditionally done. It's a Christ-focused time of our Advent season."

An official with the Traverse City school district said the Catholic school has a right to pick songs.

"We respect (their) desire to honor the belief of their congregation and to meet the needs of their faith and community," Assistant Superintendent Jayne Mohr said.

Traverse City school board member Marji Rich, who is Jewish, had been pleased with the "Festival of Lights" selection. She said it's important to teach students "important lessons of open-mindedness and embracing other cultures."

It's the second recent dust-up in Traverse City over music and culture. In November, First Congregational Church banned a Muslim call to worship that was part of a Veterans Day concert.

The call to prayer was part of a performance of "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace." A video runs during the singing, showing graphic war scenes followed by people from different faiths drawing together.

The Rev. David Walls said leaders of his congregation feared offending people at the concert.

Members of pseudo-Christian cult in China arrested for spreading December 21, 2012 fear

Hysteria about the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012 could be found anywhere. Another backlog item, as reported by Associated Press, December 18, 2012:

Beijing — Chinese police have detained more than 100 people, among them members of a fringe Christian group, for spreading rumors about the world's impending end, state media reported Tuesday.

Police seized leaflets, video discs, books and other apocalyptic materials in the recent arrests of 101 people across eight provinces and regions, from the prosperous east coast to less developed western China, the Xinhua News Agency said.

The detentions come ahead of Friday, Dec. 21 — a date some say the Mayans prophesized would be the end of the world and which was the subject of the apocalyptic movie "2012."

Nearly half those detained are reported to be members of the group Almighty God, which is also called Eastern Lightning, after a phrase from the Bible's Book of Matthew. Widely regarded as a heretical Christian sect, the group preaches that Jesus has reappeared as a woman in central China. It has been accused of targeting Christians, kidnapping and beating them to force conversions.

Chinese society has been in tumult as decades of rapid free-market economic growth discredit communist ideology, loosen social controls and pull hundreds of millions from the countryside to the cities. Into the spiritual void have rushed traditional Buddhist groups and Daoist practices, as well as evangelical Christian churches and other spiritual groups, some with unorthodox and apocalyptic visions.

Eastern Lightning first appeared around 20 years ago, and Xinhua said that its members had "recently latched on to the Mayan doomsday prophesy to predict that the sun will not shine and electricity will not work for three days beginning on Dec. 21."

The state-run Huashang website last week, citing local authorities, reported that the group is urging followers to "exterminate the great red dragon" — a reference to the Communist Party — "and found a country under the rule of Almighty God."

"No religious affiliation" continues to grow among Americans, while mainline Protestant churches continue to decline

Another backlog item, as reported by Terry Mattingly of United Features Syndicate, October 15, 2012:

After decades of sobering statistics about rising intermarriage rates, falling birthrates and their declining flocks, eventually Jewish clergy began talking about a future in which there would be "fewer Jews, but better Jews."

Faced with sobering evidence that the number of priests was falling, along with statistics for confession and weekly Mass, many Catholic leaders started talking about a future in which there would be "fewer Catholics, but better Catholics."

Now, according to a new survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, Protestant leaders should start preparing for a future in which there will be "fewer Protestants, but better Protestants."

For the first time, America lacks a Protestant majority, with only 48 percent of the population claiming ties to Protestant denominations. Meanwhile, the surging tide of Americans rejecting ties to specific religious groups -- the so-called "Nones" -- appears to pose a new threat to the declining "seven sisters" of liberal Protestantism.

These churches, in descending order by size, are the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Episcopal Church, the American Baptist Churches USA, the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

This survey shows that "it's going to be much more difficult for mainline churches to turn things around simply by focusing on higher levels of commitment," said political scientist John C. Green of the University of Akron, after a briefing at the annual meeting of the Religion Newswriters Association of America. This research was a cooperative effort with the PBS program Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly.

Part of the problem is that fewer Americans remain committed to supporting religious institutions and a high percentage of those who do seem to favor faiths that embrace the very doctrines and traditions the unaffiliated often reject. It also appears that young people who are rejecting traditional faiths -- during the past five years in particular -- are quitting organized religion altogether, rather than joining progressive institutions.

"It's going to be hard for something like a 'fewer Methodists, but better Methodists' approach to work because these mainline churches are already so small and there are so many of them," said Green. "The mainliners will have to find their niche. But who are they? What do they believe? Do they know?"

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Americans -- especially the young -- are now willing to say that they do not believe. The Pew Research Center numbers indicate that millions of Americans are no longer willing, as was common in the past, to remain lukewarm members of the religious bodies in which they were raised. Other key survey findings include:

-- One-fifth of the U.S. public -- a third of those under 30 -- are now religiously unaffiliated, for a total of 46 million Americans. The unaffiliated have risen from just over 15 percent of the adult population to nearly 20 percent in five years. More than 70 percent of the unaffiliated called themselves "nothing in particular," as opposed to being either atheists or agnostics.

-- Many "Nones" fit the "spiritual, but not religious" label used by many researchers, with more than two-thirds -- including some self-proclaimed atheists and agnostics -- saying they believe in God or a "higher power." More than half claim a deep connection with nature.

-- In 2007, 60 percent of those who said they "seldom or never" attend worship services continued to claim some tie to a religious tradition. But today, only 50 percent in this camp retain such a tie -- a 10 percent drop in only five years. At the same time, 88 percent of the "Nones" said they are not interested in considering future ties to religious institutions, either liberal or conservative.

-- The unaffiliated overwhelmingly reject ancient doctrines on sexuality with 73 percent backing same-sex marriage and 72 percent saying abortion should be legal in all, or most, cases. Thus, the "Nones" skew heavily Democratic as voters -- with 75 percent supporting Barack Obama in 2008. The unaffiliated are now a stronger presence in the Democratic Party than African-American Protestants, white mainline Protestants or white Catholics.

"It may very well be that in the future the unaffiliated vote will be as important to the Democrats as the traditionally religious are to the Republican Party," said Green, addressing the religion reporters. "If these trends continue, we are likely to see even sharper divisions between the political parties."
For more detailed information, go to The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and read "Nones" on the Rise: click on the links for the Executive Summary or the Full Report.

Exit polls highlight religious divisions in 2012 U.S. presidential election

Another backlog item, as published by The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, November 7, 2012 (click link to article to see detailed breakdown of voting patterns):

In his re-election victory, Democrat Barack Obama narrowly defeated Republican Mitt Romney in the national popular vote (50% to 48%). Obama’s margin of victory was much smaller than in 2008 when he defeated John McCain by a 53% to 46% margin, and he lost ground among white evangelical Protestants and white Catholics. But the basic religious contours of the 2012 electorate resemble recent elections – traditionally Republican groups such as white evangelicals and weekly churchgoers strongly backed Romney, while traditionally Democratic groups such as black Protestants, Hispanic Catholics, Jews and the religiously unaffiliated backed Obama by large margins.

Vote Choice by Religion and Race

Religiously unaffiliated voters and Jewish voters were firmly in Obama’s corner in 2012 (70% and 69%, respectively). Compared with 2008, support for Obama ticked downward among both Jews and religiously unaffiliated voters in the exit polls, though these declines appear not to be statistically significant. Both of these groups have long been strongly supportive of Democratic candidates in presidential elections. Black Protestants also voted overwhelmingly for Obama (95%).

At the other end of the political spectrum, nearly eight-in-ten white evangelical Protestants voted for Romney (79%), compared with 20% who backed Obama. Romney received as much support from evangelical voters as George W. Bush did in 2004 (79%) and more support from evangelicals than McCain did in 2008 (73%). Mormon voters were also firmly in Romney’s corner; nearly eight-in-ten Mormons (78%) voted for Romney, while 21% voted for Obama. Romney received about the same amount of support from Mormons that Bush received in 2004. (Exit poll data on Mormons was unavailable for 2000 and 2008.)

Compared with religiously unaffiliated and Jewish voters on the left and white evangelicals and Mormons on the right, Catholics and white mainline Protestants were more evenly divided. Among white mainline Protestants in the exit poll, 54% voted for Romney, while 44% supported Obama. This is virtually identical to the 2008 election, when 55% of white mainline Protestants voted for McCain and 44% backed Obama.

White Catholics, by contrast, swung strongly in the Republican direction relative to 2008. Nearly six-in-ten white Catholics (59%) voted for Romney, up from 52% who voted for McCain in 2008. Three-quarters of Hispanic Catholics voted for Obama, and Catholics as a whole were evenly divided in 2012 (50% voted for Obama, while 48% backed Romney).

Vote Choice by Religious Attendance

As in other recent elections, those who attend religious services most often exhibited the strongest support for the Republican presidential candidate. Nearly six-in-ten voters who say they attend religious services at least once a week voted for Romney (59%), while 39% backed Obama. Romney received as much support from weekly churchgoers as other Republican candidates have in recent elections.

Those who say they never attend religious services were again among the strongest Democratic supporters in the presidential election. More than six-in-ten voters who say they never attend religious services voted for Obama (62%). Voters who say they attend religious services a few times a month or a few times a year also supported Obama over Romney by a 55% to 43% margin.

Religious Composition of the 2012 Electorate

The religious composition of the 2012 electorate resembled recent elections, though there are signs that both the white Protestant and white Catholic share of the electorate are gradually declining over the long term.

Slightly more than half of 2012 voters describe themselves as Protestants (53%), compared with 54% in each of the three previous elections. Roughly four-in-ten voters were white Protestants in 2012 (39%); by comparison, 42% of 2004 and 2008 voters were white Protestants, as were 45% of 2000 voters. The decline in white Protestants’ share of the electorate is most evident among non-evangelicals, whose share of the electorate has declined slightly from 20% in 2004 to 16% in 2012. White evangelical Protestants constituted 23% of the 2012 electorate, compared with 23% in 2008 and 21% in 2004.

One-quarter of 2012 voters were Catholics, including 18% who were white Catholics. By comparison, white Catholics constituted 21% of the electorate in 2000, 20% of voters in 2004 and 19% of the electorate in 2008.

Jews accounted for 2% of the 2012 electorate, and Muslims and members of other non-Christian faiths together accounted for 7% of the electorate. The religiously unaffiliated made up 12% of 2012 voters; the religiously unaffiliated share of the electorate is unchanged from 2008, even though the religiously unaffiliated share of the adult population has grown significantly over this period.
To this blogger, the most surprising revelation from teh exit polls is that Mitt Romney received only 78% of the Mormon vote; I would have expected it to exceed the 95% of the Black Protestant vote for B. Hussein Obama (which, of course, was on the basis of Mr. Obama's policies and record, and had nothing at all to do with his skin colour).

Beware of falling crucifixes

Another backlog item, as reported by Chris Carola of Associated Press, November 7, 2012:

ALBANY, N.Y. -- David Jimenez was so elated over his wife's recovery from cancer that he offered to clean the large crucifix outside the Hudson Valley church where he spent many hours praying for her to beat the disease. On Memorial Day 2010, he was scrubbing grime off the cross when the 600-pound marble statuary toppled over, crushing his right leg.

The then-43-year-old immigrant from Mexico was flown to Westchester Medical Center, where doctors had to amputate his injured leg. He's suing the Roman Catholic church where he was hurt, and early next year his $3 million lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial.

"He attributed her recovery to his devotion to the cross and Christ hearing his prayers," Jimenez's lawyer, Kevin Kitson of White Plains, told The Associated Press.

Kitson said he filed the lawsuit in March 2011 after the church denied it was liable for the accident that resulted in six-figure medical bills for Jimenez. The bills were paid by charitable foundations, Kitson said.

The lawsuit is scheduled to go to trial in state Supreme Court in Orange County in January, Kitson said.

The attorney described David and Delia Jimenez as devout Catholics who immigrated to the United States from Mexico nearly 20 years ago. They have three children, ages 3, 13 and 17, Kitson said.

During delivery jobs for a bakery and a pizzeria, David would pull into the parking lot at St. Patrick's Church in the city of Newburgh to pray before the outdoor crucifix for his wife, who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2008. When she was deemed cancer-free two years later, the grateful David received permission from church officials to remove trash from the area around the crucifix, and to clean the crucifix itself, Kitson said.

On May 30, 2010, Jimenez was standing on the crucifix's base, using rags and soapy water to clean Christ's face. While holding onto the cross beam for balance, the whole crucifix snapped off at its base, sending Jimenez crashing to the ground, Kitson said. Pieces of the crucifix broke off, but the bulk of it landed on Jimenez's right leg, crushing it.

Kitson said only a single screw was holding the heavy crucifix to its base.

"There was no anchoring system, just that one screw," he said.

The church raised more than $7,000 for Jimenez and his family, but Kitson said his client has been unable to work since the accident.

Frank Raia of Rikin Radler, the New York law firm representing the church, wouldn't discuss specifics of the case. The church is part of the Archdiocese of New York, which isn't named as a defendant in the lawsuit, Raia said.

"Although the archdiocese and St. Patrick's Church recognize and understand this was a terrible accident and they have empathy for Mr. Jimenez and his family, it's our position that of the diocese and St. Patrick's Church are not liable for the accident."

Kitson's law firm said Wednesday that David Jimenez isn't doing interviews with the media.

Muslim call to worship banned from Veterans Day service at Michigan church

Another backlog item, as reported by Associated Press, November 19, 2012:

Traverse City — Leaders of a northern Michigan church are defending their decision to ban a Muslim call to worship that was part of the planned program for a Veterans Day concert by public high school and community college vocal groups.

The call to prayer was part of a performance of "The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace." A video runs during the singing, showing graphic war scenes followed by people from different faiths drawing together.

At a point in the video where Muslim worshippers are shown, there was silence rather than the call to prayer.

The decision to ban led Northwestern Michigan College to withdraw its sponsorship on the eve of the Nov. 11 performance, part of First Congregational Church's annual Mel Larimer Concert Series.

The Rev. David Walls, senior pastor of Traverse City's First Congregational Church, said leaders of his congregation feared causing offense to those at the concert.

"We were concerned that there was potential that some of our active military personnel, military families with sons or daughters in Iraq, who have even lost their lives there, would find it much too hard to handle," Walls told the Traverse City Record-Eagle. "A prayer in Arabic, addressed to Allah, with references to Muhammad for an event that was intended to honor veterans."

"We are clearly a Christian church and we don't apologize for that," said Doug Bishop, vice president of the First Congregational Church council. "We have the right to control our content."

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the Associated Press on Sunday that the church's action was ironic given the religious diversity that he experienced while serving in the U.S. Navy in 1994-98.

Walls "seems to be oblivious to the core values of the U.S. military," said Walid, who said he observed firsthand how the military provided worship opportunities for "Jews, Christians, Muslims, even Wiccans."

Alya Nadji, 16, is Muslim and a member of the Traverse City West High School Chorale. She said she ran from the room crying during a rehearsal when she learned the call to prayer was being cut from the program.

"I felt like I wasn't being treated equal," Nadji said. "I felt that I was unwelcome and that I didn't belong any place near there."

Kamran Memon, president of the Chicago-based Muslims for Safe America, said many Muslim Americans are veterans, with about 20,000 currently in the military.

"American soldiers have fought and died side-by-side with Afghan and Iraqi troops fighting against a common enemy," Memon said.

University of Toledo Chair of Catholic Studies promotes religious syncretism

Another backlog item, as reported by TK Barger of the Toledo Blade, November 10, 2012:

Peter Feldmeier, a professor who holds the Margaret and Thomas Murray and James J. Bacik Chair in Catholic Studies at the University of Toledo, gave the speech of his position on Thursday: the Murray/Bacik Lecture in Catholic Studies.

For “West Meets East: A Spiritual Transformation,” Mr. Feldmeier spoke about how using some aspects of different religious traditions can contribute to a better imagining of Christianity.

Mr. Feldmeier, who is a Christian, has taken part in Buddhist retreats and other encounters with Asian faiths and has studied world religions. In his talk, he read aphorisms of the Buddha as collected in the Theravadan Buddhist text, the Dhammapada, and suggested how Christian Scripture can be read with the same approach to focus on the here and now rather than the hereafter. He brought up Zen koans and compared the purpose of contemplating those perplexing questions to a way of thinking about Christian texts. And he looked at the different approaches of Daoism and Christianity.

“Could Buddhism help us understand Jesus’ parables and his teachings better?” he asked. “I think it really can.”

Mr. Feldmeier joked that for next year’s lecture he could repeat a legendary teaching about Nirvana. He could, like the Buddha, simply hold up a flower for an hour. Mr. Feldmeier turned to his colleagues in the university’s Center for Religious Understanding and said it would be profound, but saw that he’d have to do more preparation to please them than just bring a flower.

For the use of Zen to illumine a person’s Christianity, Mr. Feldmeier spoke about the koans that ask paradoxical questions, and said that the aim is not to find the right answer but, in a way, to understand the concept of the question.

“We might begin by realizing that idiosyncratic language is already embedded in our own tradition. The great theme in Jesus’ preaching was the kingdom of God,” Mr. Feldmeier said. “He regularly provoked our imagination about it, but never told us what it is.”

“The particular wisdom of the Zen tradition,” Mr. Feldmeier said, “is that it trains us to stray from trying to figure out the paradox and urges us rather to enter it for its transformational possibilities.”

For Daoism, Mr. Feldmeier spoke about some concepts from that tradition’s texts the Dao De Jin and the Zhuangzi. Rather than viewing the universe “as divinely governed by unchanging natural and moral laws” that come from God in the Western view, Mr. Feldmeier said, the Daoist writings present a world “where there is no permanent reality … There is just the ceaseless flow of life. Even physical things are more like events that are intrinsically related to other events.”

With this reorientation of thinking and being, Mr. Feldmeier said, dao, or way-making, is “a kind of eternal emergence.” He called attention to the yin and yang, to life as art, to a fluid way rather than Christian-imagined absolute natural law. “Think of how a nonimposing, nonconstricting posture could help one in pastoral ministry,” Mr. Feldmeier said. Rather than seeking solutions and conclusions, a person can “stop seeking a personal agenda and … be present as the suffering person needs one to be present.”

“These are just snapshots,” Mr. Feldmeier said in concluding his talk, “of possibilities of engaging other religions traditions in ways that expand our own proposed world.”

Social ministry unites various Ohio Lutheran churches

Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?
And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?
II Corinthians 6:14-15

The perceptive reader will note that the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, which is supposedly conservative, is uniting with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which is liberal as they come--such is the fruit of the social gospel.

Another backlog item, as reported by the Toledo Blade, November 10, 2012:

Every couple of years, Lutheran organizations in northwest Ohio that practice social ministry come together to sign an agreement, a covenant that they will work together. It focuses their attention that this is church work as well as social service assistance for people with mental and physical disabilities, for the elderly, and for others. It states in print that they’re doing what Christians are taught to do, and they’re partners in their ministry. And it shows that the Missouri and Evangelical branches of the Lutheran Church cross boundaries on social issues.

Earlier this week, the heads of four Lutheran social service agencies — Paul Oehrtman, executive director of Filling Memorial Home in Napoleon; David Roberts, president and chief executive officer of Lutheran Homes Society in Toledo; the Rev. Donald Wukotich, executive director and CEO of Luther Home of Mercy in Williston, and Nancy Yunker, president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Northwestern Ohio in Toledo — sat at a table at the Lutheran Homes Society, 2021 McCord Rd., and put their signatures on the three-page document.

They were joined by the Rev. Terry Cripe, president of the Ohio District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Rev. Marcus Lohrmann, bishop of the Northwestern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, both of whom also signed.

The organizations make this agreement every two years to assure that these are practices they live by and the papers are not just a covenant filed away.

Secular humanist leader Paul Kurtz dies at 86

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. Psalms 14:1 (also Psalms 53:1)

For those who missed it, Paul Kurtz, founder of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (formerly Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), died on October 20, 2012 at the age of 86. While doing some useful work in debunking pseudoscience, Dr. Kurtz, unfortunately, allowed his skepticism to extend to skepticism about the existence of God. He now knows better.

As reported by T.K. Barger of the Toledo Blade, October 27, 2012:

AMHERST, N.Y. — Paul Kurtz, a philosophy professor who was influential in American humanism and secularism, died Oct. 21 at his home in Amherst. He was 86.

In 1973, when he was editor of The Humanist magazine, published by the American Humanist Association, Mr. Kurtz cowrote the Humanist Manifesto II, which updated an organized statement of morals and philosophy oriented to people rather than the supernatural. The Humanist Manifesto was first published in 1933.

The author of more than 50 books and the founder of Prometheus Books, which publishes titles on skepticism, humanism, and atheism, Mr. Kurtz was also the founding editor of Free Inquiry and Skeptical Inquirer magazines, and he started institutions including the Center for Inquiry, the Committee for Skepticism, the Council for Secular Humanism, and the Institute for Science and Human Values.

Mr. Kurtz was a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and, in his service, he visited both the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps soon after they were liberated.

In his free-thought-oriented writing, Mr. Kurtz worked to advance the concept that morals are practiced between people and not tied to supernatural concepts. He came up with the term eupraxsophy, roughly meaning “good wisdom and practice in conduct,” according to the Center for Inquiry to identify that values are human-oriented.
The Center for Inquiry, which he founded, published a lengthy and sympathetic obituary of Dr. Kurtz.

Ultra-Orthodox rabbis in Israel oppose self-locking doors

Another backlog item, as reported by Kobi Nahshoni of Ynet News, November 13, 2012:

Prominent Hasidic and Lithuanian Ultra-Orthodox rabbis are demanding that public institutions avoid installing self-locking door handles, which make it impossible to open rooms' doors from the outside.

According to the rabbis, such a situation causes men and women to violate the "Yichud" prohibition – the seclusion of a man and a woman who are not married to each other in a private area.

Rabbis Shmuel Wosner and Nissim Karelitz, the most senior "poskei Halacha" (arbiters of Jewish Law) in the Ashkenazi Orthodox public, have determined that such doors are considered locked even if no human action has been taken to lock them, and that therefore men and women must be careful not to be left alone behind them.

'Don't use lock mechanism'
A warning published by the "Halacha Watch", a body sponsored by the two rabbis' tribunals, argued that late Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, "the generation's great posek," had also warned against this halachic obstacle which can be found in clinics, workplaces, etc.

"Recently-introduced door handles almost seem like regular handles from the outside, and the handles can be shifted from the outside as well, but they have an automatic electrical locking that prevents the door from being opened from the outside," the ad explained.

"There is a 'Yichud' prohibition, and whoever is familiar with these handles could recognize them by paying attention."

The "Halacha Watch" called on the public to avoid using this locking mechanism, both in entry doors and in internal rooms, so as not to create an obstacle. It invited "places with special needs" to contact its people "in order to reach a proper solution."

The proposed solutions include keeping the door slightly open.

5,600 sodomites join religious Jewish organization in Israel

Another backlog item, as reported by Ynet News, November 14, 2012:

Some 5,600 religious homosexuals have joined the Hod organization (an acronym for religious gays in Hebrew) since its establishment in 2008, according to figures presented by the organization in a special seminar held in collaboration with the Israel Psychological Association.

The figures compiled by Hod reveals that about half of religious homosexuals who underwent conversion treatments began leading a secular lifestyle, and about two-third of those who were married got divorced or are in the process of a divorce.

Hod founder Rabbi Ron Yosef presented data showing that the organization received 6,325 appeals since its establishment, 5,585 of them from haredi and religious homosexuals and 740 from parents, educators, counselors and professionals.

About 70% of the appeals came from the national-religious sector, and about 30% from the haredi and Hasidic sectors.

Faith crisis and self-hatred
The HOD organization initiated the seminar following a position paper on "conversion therapy" published earlier this year by the expert committee of the Israel Psychological Association.

According to the document, a patient should be presented with the existing knowledge, which warns against reparative therapy, but the possibility to change a person's sexual orientation should not be ruled out completely.

During the conference, Rabbi Yosef presented 291 testimonies of men who had undergone conversion treatments. Exact figures on the number of homosexuals who have undergone such treatments in Israel are unavailable, he told Ynet.

According to the rabbi, the only organization which supports such therapy is Rabbi Shlomo Aviner's Atzat Nefesh, which refuses to release exact figures.

"One of the reasons we established Hod about five years ago was because we began receiving evidence and complaints from people who had undergone conversion treatments," says Rabbi Yosef.

"About two years ago, we turned to the Israel Psychological Association and Health Ministry and asked them to address the issue. The Israel Psychological Association appointed an expert committee, which listened to the testimonies of professionals, therapists and patients and issued the position paper."

According to Rabbi Yosef, the 291 men who testified that they had undergone conversion therapy were asked to elaborate on the damage they had suffered as a result. A faith crisis was mentioned by most respondents. They also reported experiencing long periods of depression requiring medication, self-hatred and low self-esteem, as well as sexual dysfunction.

Another interesting figure is that out of the 291 men who underwent therapy, 165 began leading a secular lifestyle. In addition, 94 were married but only 36 remained married. The rest got divorced or are in the process of a divorce.

Eighty-two percent of those whose testimonies reached Hod are affiliated with Religious Zionism, 10% belong to the haredi sector, 7% are national haredi and 1% are from the Hasidic sector.

'Professional is not a missionary'
Dr. Gabi Weil, who headed the expert committee, presented the position paper to the conference participants. According to Weil, a professional must not allow his personal values to affect the patient's future in terms of treatment.

"A professional is not a missionary," Weil said. "It's problematic when a therapist with modern views tries to convince his patient that his beliefs are obsolete and wrong, but it's as problematic when a therapist tells his patient that if he hasn’t 'changed' it's because he doesn't want it enough or something of the kind."

According to Weil, the patient must not be given false promises and that the dangers and possible results of such a treatment must be put on the table.

'Halachic vagueness'
Prof. Tuvia Peri of the Department of Psychology Department at Bar-Ilan University said that his stance toward religious homosexuals had changed. In the past he believed that most of them could get married, but "today I realize from my long years of experience that this way of thinking causes a lot of damage."

He added, however, that each way had its price and that an absolute solution for the problem of homosexuality in the religious society had yet to be found.

Rabbi Yuval Cherlow, who concluded the conference, said that the homosexual orientation issue was subject to halachic vagueness. According to Cherlow, a lot of progress has been made on the issue in recent years from a public and social aspect, but there is no room for conclusive statements on the issue.

Israeli rabbi praises Islamization of Europe

The reader will note that this rabbi who denounces "Christian" hypocrisy supports Islamization of Europ--as long as it doesn't harm Israel. Another backlog item, as reported by Kobi Nahshoni of Ynet News, November 11, 2012:

As concerns grow over the increasing number of Muslims in Europe, it appears not everyone is bothered by the issue, including an Israeli rabbi who even welcomes the phenomenon.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati, a yeshiva head and community rabbi in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, believes that the Islamization of Europe is actually a good thing.

"With the help of God, the gentiles there will adopt a healthier life with a lot of modesty and integrity, and not like the hypocritical Christianity which appears pure but is fundamentally corrupt," he explained.

Rabbi Efrati was asked to discuss the issue by an oriental studies student, who inquired on Judaism's stand toward the process Europe has been going through in recent years.

Following the election of a hijab-wearing Muslim woman as the mayor of the Bosnian city of Visoko for the first time in continent's history, the student asked the rabbi on the Kipa website: "How do we fight the Islamization of Europe and return it to the hands of Christians and moderates?"

Efrati wrote in response that the Islamization of Europe was better than a Christian Europe for ethical and theological reasons – as a punishment against Christians for persecuting the Jews and the fact that Christianity, as opposed to Islam, is considered "idolatry" from a halachic point of view.

"Jews should rejoice at the fact that Christian Europe is losing its identity as a punishment for what it did to us for the hundreds of years were in exile there," the rabbi explained as the ethical reason for favoring Muslims, quoting shocking descriptions from the Rishonim literature (written by leading rabbis who lived during the 11th to 15th centuries) about pogroms and mass murders committed by Christians against Jews.

"We will never forgive Europe's Christians for slaughtering millions of our children, women and elderly… Not just in the recent Holocaust, but throughout the generations, in a consistent manner which characterizes all factions of hypocritical Christianity…

"A now, Europe is losing its identity in favor of another people and another religion, and there will be no remnants and survivors from the impurity of Christianity, which shed a lot of blood it won't be able to atone for."

'Islam a relatively honest religion'
The theological reason, according to Rabbi Efrati, is that Christianity – which he sees as idolatry – has a tendency to "destroy normal life and abstain from it on the one hand, while losing modesty on the other hand," as it "ranges between radical monasticism to radical Western licentiousness."

Islam, the rabbi added, is "a religion which misjudges its prophets but is relatively honest. It educates a bit more for a stable life of marriage and creation, where there is certain modesty and respect for God."

Efrati ruled, therefore, that "even if we are in a major war with the region's Arabs over the Land of Israel, Islam is still much better as a gentile culture than Christianity."

He added, however, that Jews must pray that the Islamization of most of Europe will not harm the people of Israel.

Israeli Zionist organization claims that many of Israel's rabbis haven't passed a written exam

Another backlog item, as reported by Aviel Magnezi of Ynet News, November 9, 2012:

Religious-Zionist movement Ne'emanei Torah Va'Avodah petitioned the High Court of Justice against the Chief Rabbinate on Wednesday, demanding that it set clear, equal and uniform criteria for the ordination of rabbis who have not taken written exams, particularly city rabbis.

The movement and its executive director, Shmuel Shattah, also requested that the public receive the names of all rabbis who have been given certification to serve as city rabbis without taking a written exam, from 1983 to this day.

The movement's representative, Attorney Aviad Hacohen, demanded that in the meantime the court issue an interim order prohibiting the Rabbinate to exempt applicants from taking written exams until the High Court delivers its ruling in regards to the petition.

'Fear of favorable treatment in exams'
The petition was filed in response to ordinations granted to rabbis who were not required to take written exams, according to the movement, "while practicing discrimination and arbitrariness, and seriously impairing the basic principle of equal opportunities and freedom of occupation for those planning to serve in the Rabbinate."

The movement argued that the Chief Rabbinate Council was ordaining its associates through this "loophole."

"Through this gate, which is wide open, enter not only righteous people and outstanding scholars – but sometimes also rabbis whose competence to serve is questionable… including rabbis who have failed exams," the petition stated.

According to information received by the petitioners, "Sometimes, the applicant receives the 'authorization' to serve as a rabbi within weeks or months - thanks to his personal connections rather than his skills."

The petitioners noted that "the shortcut" was designed in the first place for unusual cases, but soon became "the highway."

They noted that as far as they knew, since the State's establishment, dozens or even hundreds of rabbis have received a certification to serve in the Rabbinate – or as city rabbis – without being required to take these exams.

"In the absence of full transparency, the content of the exam, as well as its length and difficulty, are vague, creating serious concerns of favorable treatment," the petition stated.

The Rabbinate refuses to provide data on the number of applicants who pass the test, but according to information obtained by the petitioners, the number stands at about 100%, raising suspicions of unequal treatment in the oral exam. The refusal to publish criteria prevents proper criticism, the petition claimed.

Dr. Aviad Hacohen said after submitting the petition that "the defective practice of 'shortcuts' must end immediately, and every person applying to serve in the Rabbinate must be required to pass equal and similar exams."

According to Hacohen, "Every public leader – all the more so a rabbi in Israel – must make sure that there is no stain on his hands and that his skills, rather than his connections, will serve as the examination for his appointment.

"Taking a discriminatory policy toward certifications granted to rabbis impairs the basic value of equality, which is a key value both in democracy and in Jewish Law, and humiliates the rabbinical institution."

Finland's Jews advised not to wear skullcaps in public for fear of attacks

Another backlog item, as reported by Itamar Eichner of Ynet News, November 7, 2012:

Finland's Jewish community members have been advised not to wear a skullcap in public for fear of anti-Semitic attacks.

The recommendation was revealed by the security officer of the Jewish community in Helsinki in an interview to Yle, Finland's national public service broadcasting company in the Swedish language.

The security officer added that the community faced six to 10 anti-Semitic incidents a month.

Yaron Nadbornik, president of Helsinki's Jewish community, said in response that the advice was not issued by the community leaders but rather given by the security officer to several individuals in private conversations.

"The situation for Jews in Finland is vastly better than in other Nordic countries and has historically been very good. I personally walk to synagogue with a kippa regularly and have not felt or heard any kind of harassment," Nadbornik added.

Only 1,500 Jews live in Finland today, many of them descendants of the Jewish soldiers who served in the Russian army in Finland in the mid-19th century, when Finland was an autonomous grand duchy of the czarist empire.

The soldiers eventually gained the right to settle in the Nordic country and created basis for the Jewish community, establishing a synagogue in Helsinki in 1906. When Finland became independent in 1917, Jews were given full civil rights.

During World War II, Jews served along with Finns in the national army, fighting aggressions from both the Soviet Union and, later, Nazi Germany. Despite repeated pleas from one-time ally Germany, the Finnish government refused to take action against Jews or deprive their civil rights during the war.

Besides the Helsinki house of worship complete with Jewish school, there is also a synagogue in the western city of Turku, where some 200 Jews live.

U.S. anti-Semitism hits its lowest level in two decades, according to ADL

Another backlog item, as reported by Associated Press and David Shear of Ynet News, November 4, 2012:

Acts of anti-Semitism reported throughout the United States in 2011 were at their lowest in two decades, according to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents.

The audit, released last week, shows a decline of 13% over the previous year with a total of 1,080 incidents reported, compared to 1,239 in 2010.

“It is encouraging that over the past five or six years we have seen a consistent decline in the number of anti-Semitic incidents across the country and that the numbers are now at a historic low,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director.

“To the extent that these incidents serve as a barometer, the decline shows that we have made progress as a society in confronting anti-Semitism and pushing it to the far fringes, making expressions of anti-Jewish hatred unacceptable.

"These declining numbers, while promising, must nevertheless be viewed in the context of other factors, including online expressions of anti-Semitism that are impossible to quantify and often go unchecked.”

Not surprisingly, the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported was higher in states with larger Jewish populations.

The top four states with reported incidents were California with 235; New York, with 195 incidents New Jersey, with 144 incidents in 2011, and Florida, with 111 incidents in 2011.

Bullying at schools
According to the audit, anti-Semitic incidents increased in Massachusetts and Connecticut, but decreased in other New England areas and nationwide.

Hate incidents aimed at Jewish people in Massachusetts increased from 64 in 2010 to 72 in 2011. In Connecticut, incidents increased from 38 to 43.

ADL's New England Regional Director Derrek Shulman said the Internet ‘‘has breathed new life’’ into destructive stereotypes about Jews.

Nationally, many reported incidents involved bullying at schools.

But ADL found hate incidents dropped in Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire and Rhode Island, also posting a 9.5% national decline.

The organization uses crime statistics, and information from victims, law-enforcement officials and community leaders for the audit.

It identifies acts of harassment and intimidation, including threats, slurs and hate propaganda distribution.

This Zionist Israeli rabbi had no apparent influence on 2012 U.S. presidential election

Exit polls showed that 70% of American voters who identified themselves as Jewish voted for the re-election of White House occupant B. Hussein Obama in 2012, so they obviously weren't following the advice of this Israeli rabbi, as reported by Kobi Nahshoni of Ynet News, October 28, 2012:

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, one of the most prominent rabbis in Israel's Religious Zionism movement, believes that "every American citizen who believes in God and his prophets should vote for Mitt Romney."

In an unusual statement on US affairs, the rabbi argued that "the true friends of Israel" must be supported both in the presidential election and in the Congressional and Senate elections. According to Melamed, US President Barack Obama has proved that he does not fit that title.

In an article published in religious newspaper Besheva, Melamed wrote that American citizens had a great responsibility on their shoulders ahead of the elections, urging them to support a candidate who believes that "the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people, just like God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob."

Melamed, who serves as the rabbi of the Har Bracha settlement, explained that he was taking a stand in regards to the US elections because his weekly column in the newspaper was translated into English, published on the Internet and distributed to thousands of subscribers.

"One of the readers asked me to comment on the upcoming elections in order to encourage Israel's supporters to participate in the elections," he wrote, adding that Jewish Americans who immigrated to Israel must vote according to Israeli interests as "it is the moral thing to do."

'Obama a hostile president'
Rabbi Melamed went on to say that when Obama was elected president, he felt "elated" – like many others – and had tears in his eyes, but soon realized that he was one of the most hostile presidents to Israel.

Among the president's "sins", Melamed mentioned Obama's pressure on Israel to freeze construction in Judea, Samaria and Jerusalem – a move which the rabbi believes "put a curse" on the American people and their country.

Another "sin", according to Melamed, is Obama's response to the Arab Spring. According to the rabbi, encouraging popular uprisings in Arab countries – whether explicitly or by doing nothing to stop them – just because they were done in the name of democracy and freedom, put the entire world in danger.

The Israeli rabbi believes that strengthening these values in the Arab world, which is not ready for them culturally, led to the rise of the most radical and dangerous forces.

"The result is violence, chaos and bloodshed, as well as anger among the wide Muslim public, which feels Western countries are trying to impose a culture of lawlessness and permissiveness," he wrote.

Rabbi Melamed concluded by saying that "each and every citizen of the United States has a great responsibility on his shoulders. And as the Bible has taught us, the attitude towards the people of Israel is a way to measure the ethical stand of the world's nations and leaders.

"Therefore, there is room to take a stand in regards to the president and the Congress and Senate representatives according to their attitude toward Israel. Support those who back the Jewish people's return to their land and those who are against the Arabs seeking to rob us of our land."