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If only it were so easy...

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A simple email message from Rick Warren, pastor of the evangelical Saddleback mega-church in Southern California, garnered $2.4 million in donations in 48 hours, reports the Los Angeles Times. Warren had said the church needed $900,000 to continue with its ministries in the new year.

Granted, the church has some 22,000 congregants who attend weekly services at its five locations. But in these economic times, this kind of fund-raising is, well, almost miraculous.

Warren is the author of the best-selling "The Purpose-Driven Life," in which he counsels people to discover and follow God's master plan for their lives. He also was criticized--from both the religious right and secular left--when President Obama asked him to give the invocation at his inauguration.

You got to give him this: He trusts God--and his church members--to come through.

Life is attracted to order but uses messes to get there

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It has always impressed me how different workplaces, communities, parishes and organizations look depending on whether one is on "top" looking "down," or seeing from the "bottom up."

In the mid-1990s we did a two day-long discernment process here, faciliated from outside and designed to improve the ways in which we worked together. First, we workers met for a day, then the next day we met with management. Our two perspectives were alike as Bugs Bunny and his carrot. For one thing, workers agreed that gossip, so disparaged from the "top," was essential to the health, vitality and information transfer of the company. Gossip can sometimes be caring creativity seething out from under "top down" efforts to manage a bubbling cauldron of life. Put another way, from the "top," gossip looks like chaos; from the "bottom," a nutrient.

Jan.5, St. John Neumann, C.Ss.R.

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"Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, will commemorate the 150th anniversary of the death of Saint John Neumann with a special feast day Mass at the National Shrine. Saint John Neumann was the fourth Bishop of Philadelphia from 1852 until his death on January 5, 1860 at the age of 48. As Bishop, he was the founder of Catholic education in America and the first to organize a Diocesan Catholic school system."

"Saint John Neumann's body lies beneath the altar at the National Shrine which bears his name at Saint Peter the Apostle Church in Philadelphia."

Vatican tightens papal security ... a little

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tAn extra two yards of space has been added to the central corridor in St. Peter’s Basilica when the pope processes down the aisle during major liturgical celebrations, in order to give security personnel more room to maneuever should someone breach the barriers as happened Christmas Eve.

tMeanwhile, rumors are swirling in Rome that the woman who lunged for the pope on Christmas eve, Susanna Maiolo, a 25-year-old Swiss-Italian national, may soon get a tête-à-tête with the pontiff, perhaps at the end of a Wednesday General Audience. On Dec. 31, Maiolo was visited by Monsignor Georg Gänswein, the pope’s private secretary, and the head of Vatican security in the psychiatric hospital where she was admitted after the Christmas Eve incident.

tItalian news reports said that Gänswein relayed the pope’s forgiveness, and Vatican spokespersons said that Maiolo’s eventual release is probable.

In past incidents when people have breached papal security without malicious intent, they've often later been granted a few moments with the pope. While that's usually seen as a laudable humanitarian gesture, critics have argued that it may actually encourage such incidents.

Jews move to halt spitting at Christians in Jerusalem

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tGlobally speaking, the most serious new tension dividing Jews and Catholics is Pope Benedict XVI’s decision just before Christmas to advance the sainthood cause of Pius XII, the wartime pontiff whose alleged “silence” on the Holocaust has long been a subject of polarizing historical debate.

tOn the ground in Jerusalem, however, Jewish/Christian animus has a much more prosaic cause: Spitting.

tRecently, the Jerusalem Post carried a piece quoting Rabbi David Rosen, a veteran of Catholic/Jewish dialogue, acknowledging that incidents of ultra-Orthodox Jews spitting at priests, nuns and other Christian clergy is “a part of life” in Jerusalem. Such incidents have been occurring for the last twenty years and are now on the rise, according to the story, although they appear to be limited to Jerusalem.

tThe piece quoted a Texas-born Franciscan, Fr. Athanasius Macora, who heads the Christian Information Center inside the Jaffa Gate, who said that he’s been spat upon by ultra-Orthodox Jews as much as fifteen times in the last six months – not only in the Old City, but also outside his Franciscan friary.

The color of faith

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Time magazine (Jan. 11, 2010) has an interesting article on how some Evangelical megachurches are bridging the racial divide by making their parishes at least 20 percent multi-racial. The story centers on the work of Pastor Bill Hybels, founder and senior pastor at the Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago's northwest suburbs.

Some startling statistics are presented: According to Michael Emerson, a specialist on race and faith at Rice University, the proportion of American churches with 20 percent or more minority participation has languished at about 7.5 percnet for the past nine years. But among Evangelical churches with attendance of 1,000 people or more, the slice has more than quadrupled, from 6 percent in 1998 to 25 percent in 2007.

The hard-to-stomach decade

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With the end of 2009, a lot of people scrambled around, looking for something that defined the decade: the housing bust, the war on terror, perhaps Katrina. But none of that worked for me – none crystallized in one clear moment what 00’s were all about.

And then I saw it.

In Sunday’s Los Angeles Times. Page One. An article about stomach surgery.

For so many reasons, the national obsession with weight seems to symbolize much about the decade just passed: too many Americans indulged in record amounts of processed calories and then sought the quickest way out. To the honestly desperate, the morbidly obese, that answer became stomach-reduction (or stomach-stapling) surgery. This took the need for control and discipline out of the hands on the individual and placed it in the hands of a willing surgeon.

But now, according to the Los Angeles Times, the not-mobidly-obese want in on the action -- people with some weight to lose but not a life-threatening amount or diabetics unable to follow a nutrition regimen.

Chapel Veils? You've got to be kidding

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About a week ago, a friend of mine handed me the copy of a blog by someone who calls himself the “Catholic Knight.” It was an article saying that Catholic women are “required” to wear veils or head coverings in churches or chapels. It was not nuns he was talking about; it was all Catholic women!

As I read his very long piece, I realized that he is well acquainted with pre-Vatican II theology and biblical imagery. He spells out the traditional “Eucharistic” imagery he says is behind men not covering their heads, and women covering them. Just one crucial problem he overlooks: this may have been meaningful imagery for St. Paul, but it makes absolutely no sense in today’s world or today’s church. And it certainly makes no sense for today’s Catholic woman. What does headdress have to do with reverence for the Eucharist?

He dismisses the idea that attempts to veil women are due to male dominance. But he doesn’t make his case at all. When do Catholic women ever dictate what Catholic men will wear? My Muslim feminist friends would add a few interfaith insights on the same subject.

Brit Hume Goes Bonkers

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Fox News commentator Brit Hume has gone off the deep end, even by Fox News’ standards which are a pretty low bar. On the network’s Sunday show, Hume noted that Tiger Woods is a Buddhist but that he should “turn to the Christian faith” because only the Christian faith would provide him with the “forgiveness and redemption” the golf star so obviously needs.

Well, in seminary I was not exactly stellar at the pastoral care department, and I am a big fan of everyone becoming Christian. But, a person in crisis should probably not be counseled to abandon his or her own faith traditions unless the conversion was part of an organic process, not the result of advice offered on a Sunday talk show. Buddhism is not my cup of tea – I love creation and its delicacies too much – but it certainly embodies a means towards achieving forgiveness and redemption.

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