Respecting the real Church.

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof has done it again: Reminded us that there is more to a news story than its biggest, boldest headlines.

His column, “Who Can Mock this Church?” points out that there are two Catholic churches–”the old boys’ club of the Vatican and the grass-roots network of humble priests, nuns and laity…”

The Vatican–and plenty of laypeople–think that the members of the press are over-zealous in digging up dirt on the Church’s priestly scandals. That’s ridiculous. When I overheard someone at a dinner party bemoaning the “negative” nature of the news-gathering, I barely restrained myself from asking: “If your kid was involved, would you want the reporter to take it easy on the sexual-predator priest?”

But Kristof makes an important point when he adds that there is often “a liberal and secular snobbishness toward the church as a whole — and that is unfair.”

He’s absolutely right.

Indicting all clergy or the whole Roman Catholic Church does a disservice to the religious women and men who bring food, medical care, education and prayer to a world that needs all it can get.

Worse, such sweeping statements diminish the evil. The youngsters who suffered while in the care of priests were not victims of a faceless, impossible-to-control plague. They were preyed upon by men who could be counted, listed, and punished.

Sursum corda…and your voices too.

I’m not always wowed by what Maureen Dowd writes in her column for The New York Times. But when she nails it, she nails it.

She’s been a fiery commentator about the Roman Catholic Church and its sinful cover-ups of clergy who prey on children and adult parishioners. The more pundits, pulpits and parents who join that chorus, the better. This fight takes more than rhetoric, it takes heart and courage of the faithful.

Dowd’s latest piece on the Church mess is very good, and an unusually humble approach for she-of-the-sturdy-eg0. She turned the column over to her brother Kevin, a creche-collecting conservative Catholic. One snippet:

“The church is dying from a thousand cuts. Its cover-up has cost a fortune and been a betrayal worthy of Judas. The money spent came from social programs, Catholic schools and the poor. This should be a sin that cries to heaven for vengeance.”

The Vatican and the top-tier of the Church in this country are furious at Maureen Dowd. They dismiss what she says in ways direct and subtle. It won’t be so easy to ignore her brother.

Read the whole column here.

Hole in one? How about the Holy One.

Watching the endless mea culpa madness involving Tiger Woods, I can’t help but wonder why other international figures don’t learn something from his very public apologies.

The Pope, for instance.

I mean, come on, here’s one guy on the pro circuit ‘fessing up and doing 12-step speak on all the networks, while the captain whose team roster is filled with child-abusing clerics is sending his Brothers-in-Spin out to defend the Church.

Tiger’s working the program, leave the guy alone.

Now what we really need is for ESPN to get next to the Holy See for some live face-time.

The shabbos timer. Who knew?

I’ve seen one other thing that resembles our oven’s infuriating control panel. It was in the cockpit of an an FB111A fighter jet that I sat in for a few minutes at Pease Air Force Base about 30 years ago.

After spending 20 minutes trying to sort out the way to set the ridiculous bake-and-hold feature on the timer, I finally gave in and climbed to the highest cupboard to retrieve the user’s manual for the thing.

Imagine my surprise on discovering the page headlined, “To Set the Sabbath Feature (for use on the Jewish Sabbath & Holidays).” I can’t wait to tell my rabbi.

Once upon a time, this service came in the form of a Shabbos goy, the non-Jewish person, often a kid, who’d show up on Fridays to turn appliances and lights on or off for a small payment, allowing the observant Jew to honor the “no work on Shabbat” behavior.

Well, okay. I guess it would be downright churlish of me to stay mad at the stove’s timer now.

Prayer, American Style

“The Right Way to Pray” by Zev Chafets in the New York Times Magazine this past Sunday is a not-to-be-missed article.

Chafets is a fine reporter and writer. Fueled by intelligence, humor and doubt, he writes in the first person without excessive posing. I was surprised to discover that Chafets is 61-ish. I thought he was much younger.

His opinion columns drive his detractors absolutely nuts. A 2003 piece in The New York Daily News is still being quoted far and wide, usually by someone who is furious about it. It comments on the death of Edward Said, the renowned Columbia University prof widely known for his theories and work on anti-Arab/Islam attitudes in the Western world. (Said’s 1978 book “Orientalism” put him on the map.)

Chafets slammed the venerated Said, winding up with this:

“He[Said] didn’t blow up Marines in Lebanon in 1983, ignite the Palestinian intifadeh or send Wahhabi missionaries to preach violence against infidels. He certainly didn’t fly a plane into the World Trade Center. What he did do was jam America’s intellectual radar. He wasn’t the architect of 9/11, but he was the father of the 9/12 inability to comprehend it…
Ah, well, Said is in paradise now. As an Episcopalian, he’s ineligible for the customary 72 virgins, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s honored with a couple of female doctoral candidates. No one deserves it more.”

That Chafets article caused the sort of intellectual whiplash that good and controversial writers visit on me:

–Yes! I’m a Zionist too!
–No! I don’t despise Said!
–Yes! Love the one-liner about the virgins!

Anyway, back to his latest NYT Magazine piece. “The Right Way to Pray” describes the various ways Americans are approaching their theo-chats, seeking support from megachurches and prayer coaches.

Prayer is a subject usually neglected by newspapers, and very rarely written about in the first person. Selling a story on prayer to a secular publication is an uphill battle. For years I tried in vain to get whichever newspaper was employing me at the time to consider a piece on people praying in their cars. I am positive that more true prayer takes place behind the wheel than any other place in America.

Why? Because it is the one place most of us have real privacy and time for reflection. And because driving routinely puts us in situations that trigger involuntary entreaties to the Higher Power: Please don’t let that cop be coming after me. Please stop that speeding dump truck coming up in back of me at this stoplight. Please get me over this very high bridge without fainting. Please don’t let that rattling noise be anything expensive.

I’m sure cellphones have cut into drive-time prayer. Which is ironic, given that we should all be praying more often than ever: Please God, don’t let that guy texting his girlfriend plow into my car.

The hand of the diligent maketh rich

Long before organized religion in America was infiltrated by evangelical-meets-Amway versions of Christian leaders, there was Reverend Ike.

Long before “Right-wing” and “Christian” were inexorably linked, decades before the Messiah was co-opted as bumper-sticker content, and a generation before the presumptuous question, What Would Jesus Do? was abbreviated (WWJD?) on millions of imitation-silver bracelets, there was the Rev. Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II.

This larger-than-life minister, a self-made African-American Billy Graham-meets-P.T. Barnum, who preached personal gain as a direct result of devotion to God, died last week at age 74.

The New York Times quotes him: “Close your eyes and see green…Money up to your armpits, a roomful of money and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool.”

They heard, they closed their eyes, they saw green, and they sent a lot of it to Reverend Ike.

The IRS and the US Postal Service turned over every rock in the Reverend’s yard, looking for a way to nail the founder of the United Church of Jesus Christ for All People, for his stable of fine cars and lavish homes. They didn’t deter him or dampen his devotees’ enthusiasm. The man lifted his church and radio listeners way up. Reverend Ike talked of something beyond original sin and the long wait for the Promised Land. He distracted them from the here-on-earth realities of bigotry and want. He spoke the universal language of success, the creed of capitalism and the benediction of upward mobility.

It is a safe bet that no one dozed off during Reverend Ike’s sermons. As writer Christopher Lehmann-Haupt points out in The New York Times:

“Reverend Ike could be an electric preacher, whether at the old theater or on the road appearing before standing-room-only audiences. And he could make his congregations laugh, drawing on the Bible to drive home his message about the virtues of material rewards. ‘If it’s that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven,’ he would often say, citing Matthew, ‘think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn’t even have a bribe for the gatekeeper.’ “

Organized religion may well have once been the opiate of the masses. These days, when the opiate of the masses is well, opiates, a guy offering up some lively pastoral rhetoric doesn’t seem so awful.

Progress and social change in America have always been driven by religious movements and leaders. A lot of that change has been painful, much of it good. Commandment-embracer or nonbeliever, you can thank someone in a pulpit for some of your nearby food banks, transitional housing, health clinics and daycare.

And we can all mourn the passing of a man who put on a good show, and who figured God wouldn’t mind if we piled up a little treasure here on earth, not just in heaven.


Sisterhood is indeed powerful

If you could bottle nerve, the Vatican would look like a Coca-Cola plant at full throttle. The father-ship of the Church, that same institution that has enabled its clergy to misuse its power in the most heinous possible ways, then made an art out of covering it up, is now looking into its feisty sisterhood.

The Vatican is not happy with the independent nature of American Roman Catholic nuns, and they’re wielding the most effective device available to modern-day witch hunters: The “doctrinal investigation.”

As the New York Times reports, the nuns under scrutiny are not fooled by this latest Vatican-speak. They know what powerful women have always known: Get too smart, call too much bullshit and before you know it, someone in power is citing your wardrobe choices as proof that you need reining in.

These nun-rebels are a nervy bunch too. They teach, feed and care for people our government can’t seem to help. They pray for people they’ve never met, people who want nothing to do with God, Jesus, and certainly not organized religion.

Some think impure thoughts, such as “Maybe we should ordain women or married men” and “clergy who abuse children should be prosecuted.” Some are clearly unable to grasp the Vatican’s point that homosexuality is evil. Most of these women don’t wear habits; some teach meditation and practice healing arts. They are shamefully inept at kissing Vatican butt.

I wrote about the Stonewall anniversary earlier this week — the historic week in which gay and lesbian citizens got pushed too far and rioted. There’s another historic riot brewing and this time it won’t rage outside a Greenwich Village bar. And I bet it won’t take 40 years for the rest of us to wake up and support the cause this time.