11/29/2007 9:39:30 AM
Many fans watch their favorite baseball team with a religious devotion. For Baseball Chapel, an evangelical organization with unrivaled access to Major League Baseball’s teams, sports are a vehicle to spread the word of religion. Reporting for the Jewish politics and culture magazine Moment, Karin Tanabem looks at the history and controversy surrounding Baseball Chapel, an organization that managed to keep a low profile since it was founded in 1973. In 2005, however, Baseball Chapel caused a stir when one of its chaplains confirmed Washington Nationals outfielder Ryan Church’s suggestion that his Jewish ex-girlfriend might be “doomed.”
The troubled relationship between evangelicals and baseball is nothing new. Until the mid-1800s, Tanabe writes, “most American churches staunchly opposed baseball because games were held on Sundays in violation of Christian-based Sabbath statutes or civic blue laws.” Today, religion and sports are intimately connected, with many football and teams incorporating chaplains in their organizations. Baseball Chapel, for example, boasts some 500 volunteer chaplains and $2 million in net assets, with donations up 25 percent over the past four years.
Baseball Chapel’s gradual shift toward a more sectarian approach has strained the relationship between religion and sports once again. The recent incident involving Ryan Church has drawn criticism from inside the religious community and out. Some have even accused the organization of “pandering to the Christian Right.” Still, Baseball Chapel insists that the organization doesn’t exclude people of different religions. The group’s website tries to have it both ways, saying:
Baseball Chapel is a non-denominational Christian ministry committed to the spiritual development of people throughout professional baseball. Although we hold to Christian beliefs, we seek to minister to baseball players regardless of their religious beliefs. Our desire is to encourage baseball people through the message of Jesus Christ, so that they would understand the importance of following Him.
The track record Baseball Chapel has demonstrated over four decades of service shows that the organization has never sought to be divisive, intrusive or to exclude anyone of another faith.
Ah, that clears it right up.
11/28/2007 3:12:55 PM
Everyone stuck trying to understand ethereal yet essential Buddhist concepts like “No universal truth contains Ego-Self” should probably take a peek at BuddhaNet’s comic-version of the sayings of the Buddha. The jaunty panels by veteran Taiwanese illustrator Tsai Chih Chung are like a spoonful of sugar to wash down the Buddha’s heavy pronouncements on existence, truth, and suffering. Presented in comic form, the Buddha’s message seems as deceptively simple as Chung’s classic draftsmanship. Don’t be fooled: Comics are easy. Wisdom—even in comic form—is not. —Brendan Mackie
11/28/2007 1:43:26 PM
Goth culture often elicits memories of moody, black-clad teenagers skulking through high school hallways. Devout religious practice and belief doesn’t fit easily with the stereotype. Maybe Satanism, but certainly not Christianity.
Gothic Christian youth are out there, though, worshiping Jesus from beneath their dark makeup. The fall issue of Geez (article not available online) points readers toward the strong presence that gothic Christians have on the web. Even the website names illuminate their dark form of religion: TheFirstChurchOfTheLivingDead.com, ShaddowCross.com, ThoseWhoMourn.com, and BloodGod.org among them.
Most of the sites focus on practicing Christianity rather than gothic culture. An overarching theme seems to be a search for acceptance, and a belief that God doesn’t judge based on image. According to ChristianGoth.com, “Christ died for everyone, even Gothic people. God doesn’t look at the outer appearance, only the heart.” —Sarah Pumroy
11/26/2007 5:21:10 PM
The editors at White Crane, a thoughtful and stirring quarterly (and 2004 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for spiritual coverage), team great writers with unexpected storylines to explicate gay spirituality.
Jonathan G. Silin’s piece on grief, “The Weight of Ashes,” (not available online), is reason alone to track down the latest issue (#74). After chronicling the struggle to legally assume possession of his lover’s cremated remains, the author then must face down the equally Herculean task of taking them from his closet shelf to dump them in the sea.
Stuart Timmons’s “Activist Love; The Loving Companions Harry’nJohn” (excerpt available online) profiles the celebrated, elder gay couple John Burnside and Harry Hay (“Harry’nJohn”), influential members of the gay community who worked to create a presence together since the early 1960s. A favorite line:
“The butch/femme tradition of [the 1930’s] dictated not so much that a butch was a masculine Gay man, but rather that he make every effort to believe he was actually a straight man taking advantage of a peculiar partner, often with the intervention of alcohol…. By the time he met John, Harry was determined to break out of this straight-acting culture…. It embodied a whole-hearted embrace of being Gay.”
11/26/2007 5:06:08 PM
While many faith-based responses to antireligious rants by Christopher Hitchens (God is Not Great), Sam Harris (The End of Faith), Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), et al. have been published, some of the more interesting critiques have come from fellow atheists. Theodore Dalrymple—an atheist and a fellow at the conservative Manhattan Institute—has a lively and thoughtful piece in the institute’s City Journal.
Dalrymple’s basic, but crucial observation is that this latest spate of antireligious book lack originality. “[They] imagine themselves to be like the intrepid explorer Sir Richard Burton, who in 1853 disguised himself as a Muslim merchant, went to Mecca, and then wrote a book about his unprecedented feat,” he writes. “They advance no argument that I, the village atheist, could not have made by the age of 14.”
The piece also criticizes these writers’ deeply condescending attitudes toward people of faith, as well as their selective use of evidence in support of a foregone conclusion (“First you decide what you hate, and then you gather evidence for its hatefulness”).
Dalrymple is at his best when challenging the new atheists on their own intellectual consistency, questioning, for instance, Dawkins’ wisdom in suggesting “a new set of Ten Commandments for atheists…without considering odd the idea that atheists require commandments at all, let alone precisely ten of them.”
At times, the prose is as self-important as, well . . . Christopher Hitchens. And there’s enough gratuitous name-dropping to make even a young graduate student blush. Still, it’s a sharply written and argued piece.
See also the Berlin weekly Jungleworld’s interview with Mitchell Cohen—reprinted in Dissent—in which Cohen, another atheist, offers some useful context for the debate. —Steve Thorngate
11/23/2007 11:28:17 AM
Crucifixes fashioned by sweatshop workers in China have been found for sale inside historic churches in New York City. The workers rights organization the National Labor Committee released a report that linked the crucifixes to a factory in China where women as young as 15-years-old were forced to work 15-hour days, seven days each week for 26.5 cents per hour. China’s minimum wage is legally 55 cents per hour, twice what the workers were being paid. A mandatory fee was then deducted from the workers’ salaries for room and board in “primitive and filthy company dorms,” the National Labor Committee reports, bringing the actual wages down to 9 cents per hour.
Since the National Labor Committee released the report, Trinity Church and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City have both pulled the crucifixes from their shelves, Democracy Now reports. The 4.63-billion-dollar Association for Christian Retail, however, has fought the report, calling it “unfounded and irresponsible.” In an interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, Charles Kernaghan, executive director of the National Labor Committee, compared the Association for Christian Retail to the retail giant Wal-Mart saying, “Crucifixes have been reduced to just another cheap sweatshop commodity.” —Bennett Gordon
11/19/2007 5:26:33 PM
Last month, 138 Muslim thinkers and leaders signed an open letter called
A Common Word between Us and You to Pope Benedict XVI and Christian leaders everywhere calling for peace and understanding between Christians and Muslims. “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace,” the letter said, “the world cannot be at peace.” Quoting extensively from both the Bible and the Qur’an, the signatories expressed their conviction to find a common ground between the two religions.
The latest issue of Christian Century covers the high praise the letter is receiving. Many Christian leaders have praised the emphasis on forgiveness and the love of God and neighbours as central to both faiths. Mirtoslav Volf, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture, spoke of the “enormous interfaith significance” he hopes the effort will have.
11/15/2007 3:22:37 PM
For more than a thousand years, a statue of the Buddha watched over northwest Pakistan’s Swat valley from its 120-foot-high perch on a mountain. No longer. The statue—one of the most celebrated pieces of Buddhist art in the region—was destroyed by Muslim fundamentalist vandals in broad daylight, reports Vishakha N. Desai of the Lebanon Star [subscription only]. While the Taliban’s bombing of the giant Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan inspired international condemnation, the Pakistan Buddha’s destruction has been met by media silence. The attack also points to a mounting threat to the rich Buddhist artifacts and heritage still surviving in Pakistan. —Brendan Mackie
(Thanks, Buddhist Channel.)
11/9/2007 5:17:49 PM
Under fire in Habbaniyah along the banks of the Euphrates near Fallujah, Navy Chaplain Michael Baker stands as the first line of defense against the mental and spiritual toll of the Iraq War. As part of a series of articles in the Christian Science Monitor, Lee Lawrence illustrates how chaplains navigate the ethical and religious quandaries on the battlefield and in the barracks.
Last June, for instance, a lance corporal on guard duty shot himself with his M-16 rifle. The reaction of higher-ups to the tragedy highlight highlights how obstreperous superiors and military culture can conspire to worsen the mental wounds of war. According to Lawrence, a noncommissioned officer told the lance corporal’s detachment that their comrade was in hell and it was time to wash the suicide from their memory.
At moments like these, Baker’s work becomes indispensable—even counterintuitive. When the secular military recklessly turns religious he must wear adhere strictly to his duty not to proselytize and play the role of rationalist.
11/9/2007 5:07:54 PM
In preparation for the holiday travel season, some 43,000 TSA security screeners will undergo cultural awareness training to prevent Sikhs from being unfairly targeted at U.S. airports. The program designed in partnership between the U.S. Department of Justice and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) coincides with TSA reforms to screening protocol. According to New America Media the TSA’s recent policy of singling out travelers wearing turbans and then requiring that all turbans be removed alarmed the Sikh community, which viewed the exposure as defacement and racial profiling. As of October 27th turbans now fall under the category of “baggy clothing” and, if it’s required, Sikh passengers can remove head coverings in private.
The educational training includes a video and poster available from SALDEF. The program’s approach is more than a little cheesy, especially the “dramatizations,” but it also proves to be enlightening; both because viewers will find themselves empathizing with Sikhs as they try and go about their days while overly paranoid citizens overreact, and with security officers, who must walk the fine line between civility and effectiveness. –Anna Cynar
11/9/2007 4:24:43 PM
It’s hard for spiritual leaders to compete with YouTube, eBay, and HBO-On-Demand. In a culture focused on the instant gratification of consumerism, messages of piety and sanctity don’t win people’s devotion—a quandary that’s sent many Christian leaders too far down the consumerist rabbit hole,
A church in Houston partnered with McDonald’s, which built a franchise on the church grounds. Other churches have partnered with Starbucks. That’s not to mention churches with ATMs and those that offer some form of refreshment—coffee and doughnuts, fruit, and bottled water. Gone are the hard, wooden benches and the suit and tie. Nowadays the seating is plush, the dress more casual, pipe organs replaced with synthetic drums and electric guitars. All this is fair game, proponents say, necessary to help the church compete in a crowded market.
At the root of Bass’s polemic against the “theological popcorn” being peddled today is the idea that there’s a crisis of spirituality in America. People are simultaneously attracted and repulsed by slick ad campaigns, and rather than offering a viable alternative, houses of worship are simply taking a page from the marketer’s playbook to get butts in the pews.
Bass never really gets into what that alternative would look like, really. Though Geez, the magazine of “holy mischief,” hints toward an out with a letter from a former vendor of Christian merchandise. While hawking her “Christian-ish” wares, the writer became uneasy profiting off bible verses devoted to Doc Martens and Birkenstock sandals. She’s now renounced her pseudo-spiritual business and thanks Geez for the inspiration.
11/9/2007 9:46:59 AM
As the holiday season approaches, school kids are once again adopting families and participating in food drives, clothing drops, and toy swaps. The intentions are good, of course, but it turns out these standard approaches to poverty actually reinforce stereotypes of the economically disadvantaged—students’ take away little understanding of the system that creates a need for the charity drives. In an effort to increase sensitivity and still encourage charity, Teaching Tolerance reports that several schools are now implementing service learning courses, which challenge students’ perceptions and allow them to design their own projects to aid their fellow citizens in more personable ways. Students will also travel to other local schools to share their experiences, and to ensure that good works don’t just happen during the holidays.
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