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The story of one man, one clash in complicated Israel

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SAFED, Israel -- Abraham Faraj, once an Israeli soldier who, for a time, was the driver for future prime minister Gen. Ariel Sharon, was selling juice -- orange and pomegranate -- from his little sidewalk stand here in this northern Israeli town.

His mood was good at seeing tourists. He was laughing, pointing this way and that at his wares, even offering samples.

And then the sirens blew.

It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, when at 10 a.m., all of Israel stops in silence for two minutes to remember and honor the six million Jews of Europe who perished at the hands of Hitler's deputized murderers.

Well, not all of Israel stops, it turns out. The ultra-orthodox -- who spend their time praying, studying Torah and not participating much, if at all, in the civic state of Israel because it would mean dividing their loyalties between it and God -- make it a point to ignore, sometimes ostentatiously, the two-minute observance.

Christians should get to know Jesus in his native land

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On the day this column is to be posted, I am scheduled to be in Israel in the midst of a 10-day Jewish-Christian study tour I'm helping to lead with a rabbi and an Episcopal priest. There are several reasons I'm thrilled to return to the Holy Land. One is that I think we Christians should do whatever we can to help ourselves understand Jesus in his Jewish context. One way to accomplish that is to hang out in Israel for awhile.

The Bible should have a place in life outside of Mass

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"You know," the woman told me, "about the only exposure to the Bible most of us Catholics get is when we hear the weekly readings at Mass."

Clearly this disappointed her. Clearly she was hungry for more.

It was my duty and honor to provide an hour's worth of "more" for members of an adult education class at her parish one recent Sunday morning. I came away from the experience both exhilarated and sad.

Staring the immensity of death in the face

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ODESSA, Mo. -- It was sunny and in the mid-60s on a late February day in western Missouri -- in fact, it was Ash Wednesday -- as we stood at the gravesite here in McKendree Cemetery.

At the request of the family of a retired Presbyterian pastor, I conducted the graveside service, and we buried my friend Cecilia's ashes next to the grave of her mother, long ago a Cumberland Presbyterian missionary in Colombia.

Churches must remember context or else risk irrelevancy

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When one of my daughters was in grade school, she participated in a summer program at a wonderful place called Missouri Town 1855.

In this living history museum, she spent part of each day for a week living in a 19th-century farming community. Her context there was radically different from the context of where she slept and ate at home. Sometimes it took a bit of time to reorient her at day's end.

The best way to describe our prison system? 'It's nuts'

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Several weeks ago, I saw an exhibit of photos featured in the compelling new book Grace Before Dying, by Lori Waselchuk and Lawrence N. Powell, and I wrote about it on my daily blog, "Faith Matters."

The book is about the hospice care program at the Angola State Prison in Louisiana -- a program in which prisoners help other prisoners who are dying.

A church is more than a building, but the building matters, too

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Just a few days after Christmas, a historic Presbyterian church in midtown Kansas City, Mo., burned to the ground.

Westport Presbyterian Church had only a few dozen members, but my friend Scott Myers, the pastor, and some members of his aging congregation had figured out how to continue serving the kicky neighborhood that has been the church's home for 176 years.

Bold predictions for the religious world in 2012

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One reason I've cherished my long and extinguished career as a columnist is that, as you well know, columnists have the gift of prophecy.

In fact, we have a double gift of it. First, we speak resolutely with our prophetic voice, calling on the world's many wayward people to do the right thing, which always means urging them to do what we columnists want them to do. Or at least what we think will amuse us if they really do it.

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August 29-September 11, 2014

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