Busted Halo
Features : Religion & Spirituality
November 17th, 2006
A brief guide to understanding meal blessings this Thanksgiving

In uncertain times, we are invariably drawn to absolute truths that help us make sense of the world. One such immutable verity is the ancient Thanksgiving Law: there can be NO turkey until we say grace. But in a pluralistic society such as ours how are we to know what is the appropriate expression of thanks?
What if you were actually charged with offering grace this year? When the moment of truth arrived would you stand there frozen while the host stares impatiently at you holding a carving knife and fork ready to be given the final dispensation to go ahead slice up the bird?
Fear not. After exhaustive research, BustedHalo offers these 7 tips for how to recognize and participate in the most common Thanksgiving blessings…

November 15th, 2006
Daniel Ellsberg

Most of us can identify certain teachers or mentors who have had a profound impact on our lives. The same can be said for particular books that have shaped our view of the world. With that in mind, BustedHalo asks the question:
“What books have helped you on your spiritual journey?”
Daniel Ellsberg was the source of “The Pentagon Papers,” the leak that exposed the deliberate deception that several presidents had engaged in regarding America’s involvement in Vietnam. Ellsberg’s actions made him a target of Nixon’s “plumbers” whose later arrest for breaking into Democratic headquarters at the Watergate Hotel set President Nixon’s demise…

November 14th, 2006
Making the case for my sainthood with High School English students

“You can’t be a saint,” one of my students told me, matter-of-factly.
I was a bit troubled by this, as I had just told my class at an all-girls Catholic high school that I wanted to be a saint. I asked if there were anything I could do to boost my chances.
“No,” another one said. “You have to be dead to be a saint. And you’re not dead.”
It seemed like pretty solid logic. I pointed out that a person probably had to do something in life, however, to wind up a saint in heaven. My students paused, contemplating this.
“I guess people can be saints in real life,” one of them said. “Like priests or nuns.”
“Not all nuns are saints!” another…

November 13th, 2006
Sacha Baron Cohen's hilarious new film cuts uncomfortably close to the bone

As the many diehard fans of British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen had hoped, Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan includes sixty minutes of the most amusing comic stylings to hit the big screen this year. Unfortunately, the movie is a half-hour longer than that delightful hour, and at both its entrance and exit stumbles badly. When departing the theater, many viewers will be asking two questions: the expected “Didn’t you think that was hilariously funny?” and the more troublesome “Didn’t you think that was impossibly offensive?” Alas, Borat is both, with the latter failing to contribute to the former in the ways likely intended…

November 9th, 2006
Catholic NO-It-Alls

I don’t often show it, but I’m a bit of a political animal.
In college, I majored in political science with a primary concentration in American politics alongside an independent study of the internal machinery of the church. For a long time, campaign season meant high-gear; I worked on races at all levels and on both sides of the aisle, ending up as a mix of strategist, spokesman or campaign manager on a smattering of local contests.
But somewhere along the way, something changed. I became frustrated with the guts of the process: the wordy statements that really said nothing, the ceaseless clawing of fund-raising and, most of all, the hollow superficiality, depraved tactics and poisonous polarization…

November 8th, 2006
Pure Sex, Pure Love

I’ve been really busy recently. I’ve been dashing into church 10 minutes late because I had to send “just one more email.” During Mass, I’ve been thinking about work rather than paying attention to the homilies. And back home in the evenings, I haven’t been writing in my journal—my most precious form of prayer—because I’m working up until the last possible moment when I have to finally go to sleep.
With good things happening in my career and personal life, this is one of the most exciting and successful times I’ve ever experienced. Yet I feel very far away from God.
Do prayer, meditation and conversation with God fall by the wayside as we go-go-go…

November 1st, 2006
On All Saints Day, prayers for every need, including scarce parking spaces, lost iPods and hard-to-find husbands

Complete this sentence:
“St. Anthony, St. Anthony…”
Don’t know it?
Then you’re not a real Catholic. At least not yet.
The one thing that connects the astoundingly diverse communion of saints with one another—besides their love of God and devotion to Jesus—is the fact that most have weird rhyming prayers in their honor. Certainly the most popular is the one to St. Anthony, the 13th-century Portuguese Franciscan saint best known not for his real-life devotion to the poor, but for helping you find your keys, your wallet and your Blackberry.

Here is the prayer in full: “St. Anthony, St. Anthony, please come around. Something is lost but cannot be found.”…

October 30th, 2006
This Halloween Modern Satanists are just asking for a little understanding

Syn Holliday is a family man with three young children, a loving wife and a suburban home next door to a devout Mormon family his children regularly play with. He’s also a Satanist.
Holliday leads one of the largest satanic covens in the Los Angeles area, the Syndicate of the Five Points. Donning dark clothing and an inverted pentagram around his neck, Holliday explains in his comfortable tract-home living room, not too far from his satanic altar, that a lot of the religious parents in his conservative community even allow their children to spend the night with his children in his home. “We respect their beliefs, and they respect ours,” says Holliday. (Like most of the Modern Satanists interviewed…

October 26th, 2006
A Catholic Ride Through America's Evangelical Landscape: by Peter Feuerherd

Visit Jerusalem in Orlando! Journey into the Sinai Wilderness! Expect to be inspired! These are some of the many exclamations splashed across the Web site for The Holy Land Experience, a Florida theme park advertised as “Orlando’s most inspiring destination.” This Holy Land facsimile, dotted with such sites as “The Dead Sea Qumran Caves,” “Calvary’s Garden Tomb” and the “Jerusalem Street Market,” is the locus, literally and figuratively, for author Peter Feuerherd’s introduction to the growing public influence of two religious groups in America: Catholics and Evangelicals. “This center of evangelical kitsch next to…

October 19th, 2006
Some of the Church's very best people did some very bad things. A conversation with author Thomas J. Craughwell.

Many Christians are familiar with the virtues of St. Mary of Egypt, who lived in the desert as a hermit for 47 years, devoting herself to God in prayer and meditation. But even the most devout Catholic might be forgiven for not knowing that, before her conversion, Mary had a wild hare that would make even Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan blush.

Mary was a seductress extraordinaire, who spent 17 years insatiably prowling the streets for sexual conquests. One day, she spotted a crowd of men—pilgrims, it turned out—waiting to board a ship bound for the Holy Land, where they planned to celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. Mary knew a party when she saw one, so she joined the voyage,…

October 13th, 2006
The Punk Priest

At first, clicking onto Fr. Bob Lubic’s website seems like a relatively conventional Catholic experience in the internet age. The sublime sound of Gregorian chant wafts from the computer and a photo of the Western Pennsylvania priest clad in Mass vestments fills the screen.
But then, out of nowhere, the sound of a scratching record signals that things might not be exactly as they seem. Suddenly, Lubic’s image transforms into that of an Ozzfest concertgoer and the music leaps into a ska-punk version of “Here I Am, Lord” more reminiscent of Goldfinger’s “Here In Your Bedroom” than anything you’d expect to hear on Sunday morning at the local parish.
Rare
To…

October 4th, 2006
The feast of St. Francis and the blessing of the animals

CNS Photo
Americans love their pets. More than 63 million households have one and the numbers are on the rise. We take our animal companions on walks, to the beach and on family trips. But have you ever taken your pet to church?
October 4th is the feast of St. Francis. On this day, Catholics across the globe carry their pets to church as part of the traditional blessing of the animals.
Franciscan Brother Joseph Wood notes “it is believed that it was not St. Francis, but Anthony of the Desert” who originally began the tradition of animal blessings in the first or second century in Italy. He said it was only centuries later that the Church changed the ritual to the feast of St. Francis.
Wild Thing
St. Francis was…

October 1st, 2006
A private Yom Kippur

Now that I live in North Carolina, I find myself explaining a lot. I grew up Jewish in New York, a place where it’s equally likely to hear someone saying oy vey when a subway door closes on them as it is to hear them mutter a four letter word.
But in North Carolina, things are different. About a month after I had moved here last year, the Jewish High Holidays came around. And I had to explain. The concept of Rosh Hashanah is pretty easy: it’s the Jewish New Year, just instead of popping open champagne and attending expensive parties, we dip apples in honey, say some prayers, and make our relatives feel guilty for missing the evening trip to temple. Yom Kippur is a little more difficult: it’s a day of atonement.…

September 29th, 2006
Turning Inside Out

As time goes on, and this column keeps evolving, I’ve found something interesting. For once, I hope I’m wrong on this one but, just in case, let me clue you in on what I’ve been thinking.
“Almost Holy” was conceived as a bridge between the ad extra (outside the church) audience of “spiritual seekers” for whom BustedHalo exists and the inside-baseball crowd who I seek to inform, entertain etc. on my blog, “Whispers in the Loggia.” In more ways than one, the chance to go beyond the cloistered comfort of insider-dom and put together some observations from the intersection of the Church and the World was a natural fit; I’ve spent most of my life at that…

September 29th, 2006
Slayer's new album confronts America's religious hypocrisy

In recent years I have found that I do not recognize many names on the Billboard music charts. Perhaps this is a sign I am getting older and less connected with what is “hot” right now but—to borrow a line from This is Spinal Tap—I prefer to think that my musical tastes have gotten a bit more “selective.”
In either case, I was very surprised recently to see a familiar and controversial name at the top of the charts. The thrash metal band Slayer had sold enough units of their new disc, Christ Illusion (over 60,000 in the first week) to break into the top five. The cd, Slayer’s first in five years, was favorably reviewed in numerous national newspapers, including the New York…

September 28th, 2006
Spiritual Soundtrack

As I wasn’t blessed with enough talent to be one, I’ve always kept a special place in my heart for musicians. It’s part envy, of course—a friend lent me his guitar for three years, at the end of which I still couldn’t play “Happy Birthday” —but also great admiration for the way a song can capture the mind and lift the soul in a way words alone can’t.
Since I don’t get to read much for pleasure, I write for a living (i.e. sit in seclusion for most of the day) and need something beside the 13 or so cups of black coffee I drink every day to keep me going. My twin life-savers—my iPod and satellite radio—are, by necessity, never far out of reach. I’ve built…

September 22nd, 2006
Catholic-Muslim Relations in the wake of the Pope's controversial remarks

As the firestorm of reaction cools to some sentences in Pope Benedict’s talk on September 12 at Regensberg University in Germany, the questions of the hour are: What lessons can be learned, and what impact will it have on Catholic-Muslim relations at-large?
The speech was in large measure a scholarly address criticizing the West for squeezing faith out the door in its love affair with reason, science, and technology. The section relating to Islam represented only three paragraphs, and came at the outset.

Pope Benedict began by recounting a conversation that took place between a 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor and a Persian scholar. “Show me,” he quoted the emperor Manuel II Paleologus…

September 20th, 2006
My unlikely journey of faith

When I was growing up my mother constantly reminded me that “the path to God is not easy” but as the child of an atheist father and—to my mind—an overly devout mother it was advice I ignored because I had no interest in finding a path to God.
My pragmatic father negated any possibility of a Godly existence within our world, and managed to shrink Jesus down to nothing more than a historically accurate character (he had been a history professor in Poland before we moved to Canada). My mother on the other hand, tried to save me from my father’s uninspiring certainty of realism by bombarding me with parables and tales of realms of divine existence. I chose to believe neither of them.
Total…

September 11th, 2006
because religion isn't the only hot-button issue

My last Pure Sex, Pure Love column bemoaned the craziness of the Bridal Registry. Instead of wasting hours, days, even months, learning about thread count and why you need a hostess set of silver, I argued that there are more important discussions brides and grooms should have as they look forward to making a life together.
While this isn’t an earth-shattering argument, you’d be amazed by how many couples would prefer to debate over throw pillows rather than talk about the big-and potentially contentious issues: How many children would you like to have? How will faith be integrated into your family life? What are each spouse’s future goals and dreams? And, of course, finances.
Hot Button #2…

September 1st, 2006
MTV and Mother Church

August may be behind us now, but last month offered two milestones we’d be smart to pay attention to. A month ago today, MTV marked its 25th anniversary, while just a few weeks back was the one year anniversary of Pope Benedict’s first foreign visit—to his native Germany, where he presided at World Youth Day in Cologne.
Not surprisingly MTV’s big birthday got an avalanche of coverage that acknowledged its role as a galvanizing force in the culture. But the first anniversary of the Cologne trip—where Benedict largely surpassed expectations and pumped up a crowd of young people estimated at over 1 million—largely went unnoted, even in the Catholic press and chattering circles.…

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