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March 13th, 2006
The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005

A quick glance at the “inspiration” section in any large bookstore is all one needs to determine that books classified as spiritual writing occupy a large tent. Joseph Cardinal Bernardin’s The Gift of Peace nestles next to Bruce Wilkinson’s The Prayer of Jabez, while Kabbalah for Beginners and books of Sufi poetry fill the shelves immediately below. The poems, confessional essays, journalistic analyses and riffs that fill the pages of Best American Spiritual Writing are of the decidedly literary variety, having been gleaned from mainstream periodicals like The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly and The New York Times magazine, as well as more specialized journals and literary magazines…

March 6th, 2006
Give up yourself this Lent and strengthen your relationships at the same time

At age 16, I told my father I was giving up going to church for Lent. At 19, I told him I was giving up my virginity for Lent. In the end, I was never that rebellious: I usually gave up chocolate, but it was a whole lot of fun to torment my ever-patient father.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized you don’t have to give up something for Lent. The Lenten period is a time where we prepare to remember Christ’s death and celebrate his resurrection to new life. We’re supposed to think about the ways we can strengthen our faith and help others as God comes to give us a second chance.
There are three parts of Lenten preparation, says Father Dave Dwyer of the Paulists: prayer, fasting and almsgiving. He gives…

March 2nd, 2006
The author of Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right talks about America's spiritual crisis

FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover once called Michael Lerner the most dangerous man in America because of his anti-Vietnam war activities. A sixties radical and member of the Seattle Seven (radical anti-war protestors who were charged with “conspiracy to incite a riot” in 1970), Lerner went on to practice psychotherapy, edit a magazine and—perhaps most surprising of all—become a rabbi. He brings these multiple perspectives to bear in his new book on religion and politics, The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right.
The Left Hand of God begins with a lament for the spiritual crisis Rabbi Lerner sees in contemporary America. “We live in a world in which a technocratic…

February 22nd, 2006
Understanding Muslim reaction to the Mohammed cartoons

As television newscasters were reporting every night for weeks back in April 2002 on the story of Israeli troops surrounding Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity and the Franciscan Monks who had given asylum and shelter to some militant and some civilian Palestinians I barely glanced up from my microwaved Lean Cuisine dinner each evening.
The only reason I was aware of these events at all was because my good friend Madian Khouly would urgently tell me what was happening at the site of Jesus’ birth. It was important to him and he thought it should be important to me, since I am a Catholic. Madian is in his mid-thirties and owns the computer store where I get all my techno-gadgets. He comes from a Palestinian family…

February 21st, 2006

Robert Ellsberg had some explaining to do.
When his book All Saints appeared in 1997, readers celebrated its fresh take on the lives of “365 saints, prophets and witnesses for our time.” But many wanted to know: “Where are all the women?” It was a fair question, given the book’s lopsided male-to-female ratio of four-to-one.
With Blessed Among All Women, Ellsberg returns to address the question head on. In the introduction, he acknowledges the imbalance of All Saints, but is quick to portray it as a symptom of a larger problem. “Among the wide company of official saints,” Ellsberg laments, “women are vastly underrepresented.” Blessed Among All Women…

February 18th, 2006
How Can Churches Help Young Catholics Find Their Match?

So you’re single and looking for love. What’s on your list? Does she have to be beautiful, smart and funny? Does he have to be caring, tall and handsome? What about the bigger things: Does she share your dreams for the future? Does he want to have a family? And on this list of must-haves in your true love, where does religion come in?

“Every time you slice the pie again, the potential piece you are looking for gets smaller and smaller,” a 29-year-old woman recently said to me recently. “Did God really intend for it to be this difficult for me to find a man who shares my faith and who I want to kiss?”
The Un-Guide
Todd Hertz and Camerin Courtney address this and other challenges of faith-based…

February 11th, 2006

“Do you believe in love? How would you define it? What examples have you seen in your life?”…

February 10th, 2006
Censorship and the Super Bowl

It seemed like only a year ago we had buried the Super Bowl censorship debate for good.
When Paul McCartney took the stage with his piano in January 2005 for twelve of the most saccharine, inoffensive minutes in the history of musical performance, it was as if our bad memories of Janet Jackson disappeared. All thoughts of “wardrobe malfunctions” seemed to go the way of the “na na na’s” from “Hey Jude,” which innocuously floated out from Sir Paul’s lips into deep space where, some day, they will reach a race of super-advanced, soft-rock-loving aliens, convincing them to spare our planet.
But now once again we are asking ourselves about what’s appropriate…

February 6th, 2006
Pure Sex Pure Love #20

A few weeks ago Pope Benedict delivered his first encyclical — a papal letter to the universal Church — entitled Deus Caritas Est (God is Love).
OK, so he probably wasn’t talking about Whitman’s-Sampler-in-a-heart-shaped-box kind of Valentine’s Day love, but bear with me: There are many languages of love.
Our faith tells us that the longing we feel for love — from our family, our spouse, and our friends — is, at core, a longing for God’s love. Why can we never be satisfied with the gifts of love that special someone gives us? Because they are human, and we’re searching for a greater love.
Body and Soul
“We speak of love of country, love of one’s…

February 1st, 2006
A New Documentary Shows Shocking Truth of Flesh Trade

Since the fall of the Berlin wall roughly 8 million Eastern European women have gone missing. Most have been trafficked into sexual slavery in North America, Asia and the Middle East.
In the former Soviet Bloc, salaries average the equivalent of $2200 a year. Traffickers find many women willing to risk everything for the opportunity to earn a better life and support their families from abroad. Instead of the promised jobs as nurses, caregivers to the elderly and nannies in first world countries, these women find themselves sold, beaten, drugged and raped before being forced into a life of prostitution. After drugs and arms smuggling, human trafficking is the second largest and most lucrative organized crime.…

January 30th, 2006
An ancient practice under a different name

When she was 13-years old and working as a waitress near Vera Cruz, Mexico, Rosa was offered an opportunity to make more money as a waitress in the United States by a man acquainted with her family. The man insisted that it was a no-lose situation-–Rosa could change jobs if she were not satisfied or even return home at any time if she wished.
She asked her parents for permission, but they flatly refused. Rosa, though, did not want to miss out on a chance to better her own life or that of her family, so she took the man up on his offer and secretly met him late at night as per his arrangement. Waiting for Rosa were a car and several more girls from nearby towns.
The youth were quickly transported to a location near the Mexican-American…

January 25th, 2006
A Portland parish becomes devoted to the environment

On the long list of social justice causes that the Catholic Church advocates for, issues like poverty and the right to life are usually foremost in people’s minds. But, with the help of their pastor, a parish in the Pacific Northwest has rallied around their concern for the environment with a fervor that has not only enabled them to have a significant, tangible impact on their surrounding community but also illuminated a neglected area of Catholic Social thought that continues to grow in relevance.
When Paulist Father Steve Bossi was assigned to St. Phillip Neri parish in Portland, Oregon, he was excited to return to the Pacific Northwest where he grew up, but he knew he was going to face a huge challenge in…

January 24th, 2006
Wisdom, courage and a good family life, the Old Testament's Deborah "had it all"

Ok, I admit it…in the Bible the men pulled off some pretty incredible feats: Moses parted the sea; Elijah called down fire from heaven to incinerate the wicked priests of Baal; Peter miraculously healed a cripple. Not unlike Hollywood, in the pages of sacred scripture it often seems as though all the juiciest, action-hero roles are reserved for men. And while they fill us with inspiration and admiration, I sometimes wonder where all the women are. Where are my spiritual sisters?
Jezebel!
Often, we are led to believe that all women of leadership and personal strength are Jezebels–evil to the core and deserving of their horrible fate (lest we forget, the original Jezebel of the Bible was thrown from…

January 23rd, 2006
The M-Bomb

Conventional wisdom has it that a woman, ever-obsessed with getting married, starts pairing her first name with his last name before the end of date #1—and will be the one to bring up the initial suggestion of marriage as a hope for the future. The first part is true: Rare is the woman who hasn’t (at least once) started plotting the romantic fairytale ending of a relationship in her head before the end of the first act. But my research finds that the second part is false: If the relationship is moving in that direction, it’s men, not women, who will bring up that first, tentative conversation about marriage.
More than 90% of BustedHalo respondents said they believed that women were usually the first…

January 22nd, 2006

“How many of the Ten Commandments can you name? How many do you think you keep?”…

January 19th, 2006
John Paul II gave us a moment that we need to remember

When Pope John Paul II’s would-be assasin, Mehmet Ali Agca, was released from a Turkish jail last week after serving almost 25 years behind bars — except for the complete transformation of his hair from jet black to grey—the man who emerged looked strikingly similar to the person who inhabits one of the more enduring images that I hold dear of the late pope. In that scene John Paul is huddled in a corner talking quietly at close range with the man who tried to kill him. It was an extraordinary act of forgiveness that continues to be extremely rare—if not unheard of — on the world stage and one I don’t remember nearly enough in my own life.

After Agca shot John Paul II six times at close range while thousands of pilgrims looked on in St. Peter’s Square, people around the world were shocked. “Who would want to kill a Pope?” was the question on many people’s lips. “He should get the chair,” my mother remarked angrily. And we all agreed.

Breaking the endless cycle

It was an understandable reaction. Think about it, how often do any of us forgive or ask forgiveness for the many comparatively small transgressions in our own lives? How often in our history books, filled with accounts of hatred and violence, do we come across unpredictable acts like this that break the endless cycle of vengeance? Months after his recovery, the Pope’s visit to his attacker in prison was a radical step in a different direction. He looked at his would-be killer in the eye, conversed with him, shook his hand, and even prayed for him!

January 16th, 2006
The challenge of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

By 1967, Martin Luther King had already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his leadership in overturning the vicious Jim Crow laws that denied African-Americans their God-given freedom and equality by forcing them to live a separate and unequal existence, whether on buses, in schools or in most other public places. We know the story, Amen?
In the year 1967, US citizens who were previously denied the right to vote through all manner of unjust poll tests were now allowed to cast their ballot free of the raced-based discrimination that plagued many Southern precincts. We know the story, Amen?
In 1967, because of Martin’s movement, young African-American high school students could think, for the first…

January 16th, 2006
BustedHalo's conversation with the co-founder of Killing the Buddha and author of the memoir Vows: The Story of a Priest, a Nun, and their Son

By the time he was in his late twenties, Peter Manseau had already received a bachelors degree in religion, spent time in a Trappist monastery considering a vocation to be a monk, worked at the National Yiddish Book Center and started the popular website Killing the Buddha which bills itself as “a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches.” If it seems like Manseau has a terminal case of God on the brain it is understandable, it is after all the family business. He is the youngest of three children born to Rev. Bill Manseau a former priest of the Archdiocese of Boston who refused to renounce his priestly vows when he married a former nun, Mary Doherty, in the late 1960s.
In his moving memoir, Vows:…

January 12th, 2006
Critic Harold Bloom wrestles with God in Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine

Who is Jesus? Who is God? Is it possible to discuss them apart from theological abstractions, as personalities with distinctly individual ways of seeing the world? And if so, do these personalities matter to us now in contemporary America? These are the questions that Harold Bloom addresses in his provocative new book, Jesus and Yahweh: The Names Divine.
Bloom comes to this task with an extraordinary pedigree. A professor at Yale, he is one of the most influential literary critics of the last forty years, the author of more than twenty books and the winner of numerous prizes, including a MacArthur “genius” award. In recent years, he has taken to writing for a general audience: The Western Canon, a…

January 10th, 2006
A Letter From the Editor

“Make no mistake” a priest friend of mine said to me during a recent phone call “it’s a disaster.” I had called to wish him a happy new year but our conversation had veered toward a difficult subject. He was reacting to the Vatican’s document on the suitability of homosexual men for the priesthood that was released in late 2005. My friend, who also happens to be gay, was commenting in part on the more open-ended interpretations of the document that some church officials have offered publicly. But he was also responding to what seems to be a collective shrug of indifference on the issue from many priests—gay and straight—in the United States who seem to think that,…

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