Category Archives: Doctrine & Practice

First person: Breaking the chains of religious tradition

By FRAIDY REISS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) Where I come from, girls are married off as teenagers to men they barely know and are expected to spend their lives caring for their husband and children. They are required to cover their hair and nearly every inch of their skin, and to remain behind a curtain at parties and religious events.

Where I come from, if a woman wants to feel her hair blow in the wind or wear jeans or attend college, the courts have the authority to take her children away from her.

Where I come from, you might be surprised to learn, is the United States. Specifically, New York and then New Jersey, in the Orthodox Jewish community.

Recently, two women have brought national attention to the fact that Orthodox Jewish women who leave that insular community risk losing custody of their children: Deborah Feldman of New York, whose memoir about her escape from the Satmar Hasidic sect hit The New York Times best-seller list; and Perry Reich of New Jersey, whose custody battle — which includes accusations from her husband that she sometimes wears pants — earned her an appearance last month on the “Dr. Phil” television show.

My story is similar to theirs. When I was 19, my family arranged for me to marry a man who turned out to be violent. With no education and no job, and a family that refused to help me, I was stuck. By age 20, I was a trapped, abused, stay-at-home mother.

Ten years later, still trapped and unhappy, I finally took what became one of my first steps away from Orthodox Judaism: I stopped wearing a head covering.

The consequences were swift and severe. My family cut off contact with me; one of my five siblings kept in touch long enough to inform me the others were contemplating sitting shiva for me, or mourning as if I had died.

Perhaps most shockingly, several rabbis informed me I should say goodbye to my children because I was going to lose custody of them during my looming divorce proceeding.

They were not bluffing. Numerous family attorneys unaffiliated with any religion advised me to stop publicly flouting Orthodox laws and customs.

As the attorneys noted, and as illustrated by Feldman’s and Reich’s experiences, judges look at religion as one factor in a custody dispute and generally view stability to be in the children’s best interests.

They have been known to award custody to the parent who will continue to raise the children in the same religion as before the family breakup.

Where I come from — that means here in the United States, in 2012 — women fear, legitimately, that they might lose their children if they lose their religion.

Feldman and I each managed to settle and avoid divorce trials, and each of us retained custody of our children. Others have not been as lucky. Reich, for example, remains mired in her custody battle.

Fear in the religious community, therefore, persists. I recently started a nonprofit organization, Unchained At Last, to help women leave arranged marriages, and the most common inquiry I receive is from Orthodox Jewish women who want to leave the religion and are willing to accept ostracism from their family and friends, but are terrified that a judge might remove their children.

For many, their situation seems especially hopeless because they, like Reich, felt pressured to allow a beit din (an Orthodox Jewish court) arbitrate their divorce.

The beit din’s binding decisions and agreements routinely include a provision that the children will be raised within Orthodox Judaism.

Secular courts generally enforce those decisions and agreements, even if a mother later realizes she does not want to raise her children in a religion where men bless God every morning for not making them a non-Jew, a slave or a woman.

Where I come from — the United States — the First Amendment is supposed to empower people to choose whether and how to practice religion, without interference from secular courts. What went wrong?

(Fraidy Reiss is the founder/executive director of Unchained At Last. She lives in Westfield, N.J. A version of this commentary first appeared in The Star-Ledger of Newark, N.J.)

Advertisements

The discussion continues – Believe, Behave or Be One?

The Triple Gem. Photo courtesy Steve Lee.

Editor’s Note: Writer Steve Lee liked this week’s Viewpoint’s question so much he decided to write an extended response below.

Steve Lee

By Contributor Steve Lee

Consider the various ways in which a faith may be lived: belief, behavior, or “belonging.”

For some faiths, belief is paramount. I once heard, for example, the evangelist Franklin Graham proclaim, “If you cannot name the day, hour, and minute when you declared your undying belief in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, you are doomed to eternal life in Hell.”

Buddhism is popularly seen as an exception to this kind of salvatory faith. Perhaps you’ve seen the refrigerator magnets that market this concept of Buddhism’s supposed devaluation of faith? A popular version, quoting The Buddha, reads:

“Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”

I must admit: I have such a magnet on my own fridge…

But the quote, however, is a snippet taken out of context from a much

The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamaku...

The Great Buddha statue, Kōtoku Temple, Kamakura, Japan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

longer passage of a sacred text called “The Kalama Sutta.” In this story, the Kalamas of Kesaputta province in northern India—apparently adherents of no particular faith—have been visited by a number of different religious teachers that we might call “missionaries.” Then, Siddharta Gautama comes to town, and the Kalamas decide to check out “Gotama the Contemplative,” the one we label The Buddha. Here’s a portion of the sutta that gives the context:

As they sat there, the Kalamas of Kesaputta said to the Blessed One, “Lord, there are some brahmans and contemplatives who come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. And then other brahmans and contemplatives come to Kesaputta. They expound and glorify their own doctrines, but as for the doctrines of others, they deprecate them, revile them, show contempt for them, and disparage them. They leave us absolutely uncertain and in doubt: Which of these venerable brahmans and contemplatives are speaking the truth, and which ones are lying?”

What follows is a teaching conversation between The Buddha and the Kalamas. Without reference to any particular belief system, he skillfully walks them through the logic of his own teachings and concludes with the tenets of his own system. What follows is how the commentator Bhikku Bodhi describes what happened:

The Buddha next explains that a “noble disciple, devoid of covetousness and ill will, undeluded” dwells pervading the world with boundless loving-kindness, compassion, appreciative joy and equanimity. Thus purified of hate and malice, he enjoys here and now four “solaces”: If there is an afterlife and kammic result, then he will undergo a pleasant rebirth, while if there is none he still lives happily here and now. If evil results befall an evil-doer, then no evil will befall him, and if evil results do not befall an evil-doer, then he is purified anyway. With this the Kalamas express their appreciation of the Buddha’s discourse and go for refuge to the Triple Gem.

Read the entire sutta here.

In other words, The Buddha leads the Kalamas from their doubt to a belief in the power of The Buddha’s approach to salvation. This salvation, at its essence, is a new way of relating to the exigencies of life. The salvation offered by the Buddhist path is a way of relating to whatever life throws at you with openness, equanimity, grace, wisdom and compassion.

As for behavior and belonging, Buddhism does not discount either. Both are integral to the Buddhist path. In the quoted section above, the Kalamas are said to be going for “refuge in the Triple Gem.”

When someone becomes a Buddhist, they go through a ceremony of “Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem.” The Triple Gem is: the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.

Initiates take refuge in The Buddha as a model, exemplar, and archetype of the possibilities of awakening to a new way of living. They take refuge in the Dharma—the teachings of the Buddha that exist in accordance with the natural laws of the universe. And they take refuge in the Sangha—the community of adherents and practitioners who support one another on the path to awakening.

There you have it—belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging.

VIEWPOINTS: What’s more important to your faith – believing, behaving or belonging?

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

A new survey out last week from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has some sobering figures about millennials leaving Christianity behind.

“A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics Among College-Age Millennials” said while only 11 percent of the millennials surveyed were religiously unaffiliated as children, now 25 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated. Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations lost the most footing among millennial membership.

At the same time, some Americans in middle age are returning to the faiths of their youth.

So this week’s Viewpoints deals with a human’s core desire when involved in a belief system or no faith at all:

What’s more important to your faith- believing, behaving or belonging?

David Scott

David Scott

I assume, in this context, that believing means religious belief or faith. If that’s the case, believing is not that important to me. In my case, I would prefer to define believing as having confidence that the spiritual and social beliefs I had were moral, logical and best for the common good. Without this type of belief system, my life would seem empty, meaningless and without purpose.

My first impulse to this answer is to reply “Behavior is by far the most important,” and I guess that comes close to what I think. What good is a religion or faith if it allows its adherents to behave poorly? What good is a belief system that allows its followers to justify criminal means to reach a selfish, misguided, or even a noble end? In modern society, we observe a series of perennial “holy jihads” fought by religious fundamentalists of all stripes who are convinced that his god is on his side. If a god condones this type behavior, what good is he?

Belonging is important to most people in that it helps to affirm one’s worth, gives identity, and provides many social advantages. Conversely, belonging can also have a corrupting influence on an individual, if that person finds himself belonging to a group that adopts a doctrine that is immoral, unenlightened, or counter to achieving the common good. In my observation, many groups, religions, political parties, or cults have seduced good individuals and indoctrinated them to become robotic monsters—puppets of groupthink or mob psychology.

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging. Belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. Read Steve Lee’s expounded post on how Buddhist texts inform the values of believing, behaving and belonging later today on WilmingtonFAVS.

Philip Stine

Philip Stine

In the stream of Christianity where I grew up, right belief was all important. You had to believe in certain things, e.g. the resurrection, the need for personal salvation, or a triune God, to be a “real Christian.” I learned later that right belief is hardly even biblical. What is required is right relationships: we are to love God with our whole being, and we are to love what God created, specifically, our fellow human beings. Behaving and belonging are natural results of the these relationships. If we love others, we will act in certain ways, and instead of creating divisions, we will see how we are joined together.

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

In the context of faith or no faith at all, it seems belief would determine behavior and belonging.

A friend of mine once told me about a tragedy that happened a decade earlier to her son, then in his early twenties. When he was at a large public event, a young man stepped out of the crowd and held him up at gunpoint.

Her son was so shocked, he cried: “Are you going to shoot me?”

The mobster hesitated a fraction of a second; then shot.

Although he gravely wounded my friend’s son, he missed killing him, by a fraction of a… doubt?

The police later reported the mobster was required to kill four people that day, in cold blood, to gain admission in a street gang.

The mobster’s hesitation proved to me that he was not motivated by belief in a certain set of values but by a desire to belong.

A desire so strong that it drove him to attempt murder.

At the other end of the spectrum, I attended a retreat in August 2009 with Thich Nat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who founded the Unified Buddhist Church. He gave a lecture on the Three Jewels of Buddhism: The Buddha (the teacher), The Dharma (the teaching), The Sangha (the community of believers). He emphasized the importance of belonging to a community of believers. That tenet echoed everything I’d heard before in my Yoga training.

Swami Satchidananda put it this way: “Associate yourself with like-minded people.”

In the two Christian churches I’ve belonged to in Wilmington, studies showed “fellowship” was the number one reason people became members.

Discrimination of belief is paramount since it dictates behavior. Without belief, behavior and belonging balanced as a solid tripod, we might be condemned to play musical chairs.

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

BRIEF: Temple of Israel plans an “Invite your neighbor” service

The Temple of Israel is planning its first Invite Your Neighbor Shabbat service at 8 p.m. on May 4 at 1 S. 4th St. The service will include explanations of Jewish prayers and customs and a “Torah Roll” (a close-up look at and explanation of the Torah scroll).

Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, courtesy StarNews file photo by Paul Stephen

“Many people are curious about Judaism and often aren’t sure if they are even allowed to enter a Temple or attend a service,” said Rabbi Paul Sidlofsky, spiritual leader of Temple of Israel, Wilmington’s reform Jewish house of worship. “Of course they are always welcome, and this is a great chance to reach out to people, both unaffiliated Jews and those who are not Jewish.”

Details: 910-762-0000.

– Amanda Greene

Matchmaker, matchmaker, make me a (Hindu) match

A Hindu wedding ceremony. RNS photo courtesy Flickr

By MEGAN SWEAS
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Kamna Mittal and her husband moved to the Bay Area soon after they were married in India in 2000. In addition to being in a new country, the couple were new to each other. Their marriage had been arranged.

“When you go for an arranged marriage,” she said, “it’s a total gamble.”

Now a mother of two, Mittal counts herself lucky that it worked out, but 12 years later, she wants to help Indian-American singles in the Bay Area meet directly.

Turns out even love can use a little help every now and then, and the age-old practice of arranged Hindu marriages is getting a 21st-century makeover.

Sapna Thakur, 34, recently moved to the Bay Area and attended Mittal’s first mixer in February, a Valentine’s Day-themed singles party. “Why not? Give it a shot,” she thought before going.

“It was a bit awkward in the beginning but then it was fine because there were a lot of games and people were mingling. I had a nice time.”

The marriage process is in flux in Indian-American culture, opening the door to new avenues for matchmaking. Even as singles’ attitudes on dating change, Hindu tradition still holds sway through mixers, matrimony websites and matchmakers.

Within Indian culture (which is predominantly Hindu), marriage is as much about families coming together as it is about couples coming together. Hinduism orders families into four major castes and thousands of sub-castes, each with their own particular ritual role or profession. Ideally, a couple must be in the same sub-caste, region and religion. Priests also compare their horoscopes to ensure compatibility.

Especially in Indian villages, matchmaking tends to be informal, using “extensive kinship networks,” said Lindsey Harlan, chair of religious studies at Connecticut College. When an Indian gets to a marriageable age, “aunties,” who are not necessarily related, start looking out for potential life partners.

A family also might hire a marriage broker to help the process along. These days, matrimony websites can serve the same broker role as the “aunties.”

Parents, both in India and in the U.S., create profiles listing their children’s personal and familial information — including caste and religion — on sites like Bharatmatrimony.com, which has more than 20 million profiles worldwide.

The website’s CEO, Murugavel Janakiraman, said 10 percent of clients are immigrants to the U.S. or American-born Indians.

“There have been a lot of more modern inventions trying to achieve the same goal as matchmaking by ‘aunties,'” Harlan said. Such inventions, she said, are “a reaction to the fear that kids will make inappropriate choices and suffer the same divorce rates that the (U.S.) does in general.”

Parties like Mittal’s can serve to either continue or break tradition: Singles might click with somebody outside their caste, or they could meet more of “the kind of people that your parents would like you to marry” than they might in everyday life, Harlan said.

Thakur’s parents encouraged her to go the singles party, even though they had wanted to arrange a marriage for her when she was younger. Now that she’s older, her father is more open-minded about who his daughter marries — “but it has to be an Indian,” she added, and preferably from one of the higher castes.

Thakur herself is also more open to arranged marriage than she was when she was young.

“When you’re working, it’s really difficult to meet people,” Thakur said. “You go there, you meet someone. You can meet them a few times. It’s basically semi-arranged.”

Thakur’s desire to marry reflects Indians’ traditional values at a time when only 51 percent of American adults are wed, according to 2010 Census data.

“It’s not like a flirty or just everyday kind of party,” Mittal said. “From the girls’ side or boys’ side, they are both serious about finding a life partner.”

Indian immigrants tend to look for the same religion, caste and region, Mittal said. American-born Indians might want somebody who is Indian, preferably raised in America, too. Ninety percent of Hindus in America marry within the faith, according to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“I’ve seen so much that blows those stereotypes out of the water,” said Jasbina Ahluwalia, a Bay Area matchmaker who serves the South Asian community. Still, culture can add a burden to dating.

“Separating one’s own priorities and values from expectations of others — family, parents — I think can be very challenging,” she said.

Even if parents approach her, as they sometimes do, the first consultation must be with the single person, in private. “If someone says,’I want to find another Indian,’ I ask why,” she said.

Ahluwalia doesn’t necessarily advocate a wholesale break with tradition, but clients need to have thought through their answers. If a woman says she wants to marry a Hindu, for instance, Ahluwalia asks what that means: Going to temple each week? Simply being spiritual?

Thakur is willing to look within the parameters set by her parents, but she has her own priorities: physical attraction, education, good employment and stability. She didn’t meet anybody she liked at Mittal’s party.

“I guess you become more fussy when you get older,” she said.

Bride and groom hold hands during a Hindu wedding ceremony. RNS photo courtesy Flickr

‘The Voice’: New Bible translation focuses on dialogue

Bruce Boling, holds a Bible open while participating in a Bible study group in Gallatin, Tenn., Sunday, April 1, 2012. RNS photo by Jeff Adkins/USA Today

By BOB SMIETANA
c. 2012 USA Today
Reprinted with permission

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (RNS) The name Jesus Christ doesn’t appear in “The Voice,” a new translation of the Bible.

Nor do words such as angel or apostle. Instead, angel is rendered as “messenger” and apostle as “emissary.” Jesus Christ is “Jesus the Anointed One” or the “liberating king.”

That’s a more accurate translation for modern American readers, said David Capes, lead scholar for “The Voice,” a complete edition released this month by publishing company Thomas Nelson. Capes says that many people, even those who’ve gone to church for years, don’t realize that the word “Christ” is a title.

“They think that Jesus is his first name and Christ is his last name,” says Capes, who teaches the New Testament at Houston Baptist University in Texas.

Seven years in the making, “The Voice” is the latest entry into the crowded field of English Bible translations.

Unlike the updated New International Version or the Common English Bible — both released last year — much of “The Voice” is formatted like a screenplay or novel. Translators cut out the “he said” and “they said” and focused on dialogue.

So in Matthew 15, when Jesus walks on the water, scaring his followers, their reaction is immediate:

Disciple: “It’s a ghost!”

Another Disciple: “A ghost? What will we do?”

Jesus: “Be still. It is I; you have nothing to fear.”

“I hope we get people to see the Bible — not as an ancient text that’s worn out — but as a story that they participate in and find their lives in,” Capes said.

The title for “The Voice” came from the New Testament Gospel of John and from the Greek word logos. It’s usually translated as “word” in verses such as John 1:1, which reads: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” in the New International Version, one of the most popular English translations.

In “The Voice,” that passage reads: “Before time itself was measured, the Voice was speaking. The Voice was and is God.” Frank Couch, the executive editor and publisher of “The Voice,” said that translation better captures what logos means.

Mike Norris of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Murfreesboro, Tenn., disagrees. His congregation follows the belief that the King James Bible is the most accurate translation in English. Other translations, he says, don’t stick to a word-for-word translation.

“They say the other translations are easier to read and more accurate,” he said. “We disagree.”

(Smietana also reports for The Tennessean in Nashville. Heidi Hall of The Tennessean also contributed to this story.)

 

Why Ross Douthat thinks we’re ‘a nation of heretics’

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat doesn't mince words in his new book ``Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.'' RNS photo by Josh Haner/New York Times

By DANIEL BURKE
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) New York Times columnist Ross Douthat doesn’t mince words in his new book “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.”

Since the 1960s, Douthat argues, institutional Christianity has suffered a slow-motion collapse, leaving the country without the moral core that carried it through foreign wars, economic depressions and roiling internal debates.

In its place heresies have cropped up — from the “God-within” theology of Oprah to the Mammon-obsessed missionaries of the prosperity gospel, says Douthat, a Roman Catholic.

In an interview with Religion News Service, Douthat explains his definition of heresy, why he thinks Mitt Romney and President Obama are both heretics, and why more Americans should argue about religion.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: The idea for the book came to me late in the Bush presidency, when the debate over religion in America was generally dominated by the clash between the New Atheists — Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett — and conservative Christians. In many ways, the debate over the existence of God is the most important debate there is, but I thought it would be useful to step back and consider what kind of shape American religion is taking.

Q: And what did you see?

A: In some ways, depending on what kinds of measurements you use — such as belief in God or spiritual experiences — the country might be more religious than ever. But that doesn’t mean that there are more traditional, orthodox Christians. Instead you have heresy: religions that draw on Christianity and yet are still miles away from the historic core of the Christian faith.

Q: How do you define heresy?

A: Looking at Catholics, Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians, there is an intellectual core in the Christian faith. Sometimes that core gets blurry in various places, but you have the Nicene Creed, the belief that the Bible is the inspired word of God, that the four Gospels are the best sources of information about Jesus of Nazareth. There are a lot of religious movements and ideas that diverge from that core enough to be heretical but not to be a different religion entirely.

All of this is totally debatable, and people can look at the same landscape and disagree about who a heretic is. But the term is still quite useful in describing the reality of a country that is neither traditionally Christian nor post-Christian in any meaningful way. We are in a zone between those two things.

Q: You’re not going to start another Inquisition are you?

A: (Laughs) Well, controversy is good for book sales. Obviously the hunt for heretics has a long and horrible history. An orthodoxy that doesn’t leave any room for heresy is dangerous and destructive; and a world that is all heresy and leaves no room for orthodoxy is dangerous as well. But I don’t see any particular danger in using the term to describe America today.

Q: I’ve read that you think both Mitt Romney and President Obama are heretics.

A: A lot of evangelicals and conservative Catholics will say straight out that they don’t think Mormons are Christians. If you flip that around, you find that Mormons themselves think that all evangelicals and Catholics are in a state of apostasy, that Mormons have the true Christianity. It can be an endless and pointless argument. They both claim ownership of the same religious tradition.

Q: What makes Obama a heretic in your view?

A: Obama’s personal religious beliefs are a little more opaque than Romney’s. He’s not part of a church or specific denomination. But the church (Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago) where he basically converted, or reconverted, back from agnosticism, is a church whose theology diverges and stands in judgment over the traditional Christian churches. The theology of Jeremiah Wright’s sermons is radical — and that’s the whole point. Black liberation theology is much more explicitly political and revolutionary than traditional Christianity.

Q: But is it heretical?

A: I think using the word just clarifies the distance — the very real theological distinctions — between Jeremiah Wright’s vision of Christianity and what a lot of traditional churches consider Christianity.

Q: Even if heretics are no longer burned at the stake, it seems that many Americans have an aversion to labeling others heretical, no?

A: And I would disagree with that very strongly. The promise of a liberal society is that we agree to a kind of truce where nobody will impose their religion on anyone else and the government will not set up an established church, or the Spanish Inquisition. But part of religious freedom is the freedom to have arguments about religious beliefs. People who take religion seriously should have serious public arguments.

Q: You quote Philip Rieff’s idea of a modern prophet who denounces the rise of a therapeutic, ego-driven faith. Do you see yourself in that role?

A: (Laughs) I don’t think I’m comfortable calling myself a prophet. I’m more comfortable calling myself a critic. Even though I use pretty strong language to criticize trends in contemporary theology, I also want to get at what it is about “Eat Pray Love,” for example, that so many people respond to. It’s very easy to be mocking and dismissive from a more highbrow perspective. But there is a coherent theological core at the heart of the prosperity gospel and the “God-within” schools, and I take them seriously.

Q: Why do you say this book was written in a spirit of pessimism?

A: As a practicing Catholic, I have an obvious bias in favor of institutional religion. But if you look at Christian history, the belief that everyone can follow Jesus on their own is not a particularly realistic approach to religious faith. It is a faith best practiced in community with doctrine passed down through generations. What makes me pessimistic is that all the trends in contemporary American life are toward deinstitutionalization, not just in religion but across the board.

Ministry for people with disabilities coming to the Carolinas

Wheelchair by the lake. Photo courtesy of Special Touch Ministries.

Andy Lee

By Blogger Andy Lee
Walk the Talk

According to Special Touch Ministries, the statistics are staggering: 58 million handicapped people in our country are unreached by the church.

One out of five families in America have a handicapped family member, and the divorce rate of marriages with handicapped children is 98 percent. There is a tremendous need to help these families.

Marshall and Gilda Wise know this need first hand. They know the

Marshall and Gilda Wise with their son, Chad. Photo courtesy of the Wise family.

physical, mental and emotional challenges of families with handicapped children because their son, Chad, has cerebral palsy. Perhaps this is why after retiring from pastoral ministry in January 2011, they decided to expand the national Special Touch Ministries, Inc. to North Carolina and South Carolina.

Special Touch Ministries, Inc. was founded by Debbie and Charles Chivers in 1982 when they held a summer camp in Wisconsin for children and adults with disabilities. Only 32 people attended the Summer Get A Way that first year, but the camp attendance continued to double each summer, and the ministry has expanded nationwide. The camps and chapters can now be found in Oklahoma, Arizona, New England, Florida, Illinois, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

A Summer Get-A-Way for our area is in the making. Wise hopes to have a camp developed for the Carolinas by 2013. These “get-a-ways” include recreational and worship experiences tailored for the handicapped ages 10 and older.

A Get-A-Way camper. Photo courtesy of Special Touch Ministries.

But Special Touch Ministries is not just about a summer camp,. It’s about reaching out to people with disabilities and their caregivers and supporting them with local chapters all year long. The chapters are interdenominational groups who meet once a month for support, fun activities and fellowship. They are love in action.

They are also the source for funding the Summer Get-A-Way camps. Each chapter reaches out to the businesses and churches in the community for financial support.

Finally, Special Touch desires to raise awareness of the lack of involvement of handicapped people within our churches. Many disabled in our community are bored and isolated. They need to be given a purpose, which is the difference between existing and living.

Questions Marshal Wise wants churches to ask are:

  • Besides providing handicapped parking and ramps, how is the church ministering to this special group?
  • Does the church provide classes for special needs?
  • Do we have a place of ministry for them?
  • Are we providing respite for the caregivers?

Interviewing Marshall and Gilda Wise made me realize how few handicapped people I remembered in the many churches I’ve attended throughout my life. Why is that? Where have they been?

As Gilda so beautifully put it, “People with disabled bodies don’t have disabled spirits.”

Let’s walk the talk.

To get involved email: the3wiseguys@specialtouch.org

An Armenian family tradition passed on for Orthodox Easter

Christine Moughamian kneading dough for her Armenian Easter breads. Photo by Jim Downer.

By Blogger Christine Moughamian
One Yogini, Many Paths

April 13 was Armenian Good Friday.

It also was the day my mother in France received the Armenian breads I’d baked here last week on our Good Friday. She had passed on to me my grandmother’s recipe that she had mastered over the years. In turn, I used it to bake from scratch Armenian breads for the first time in my life.

When I spoke to my mother on the phone, she had just opened her package. She enjoyed seeing the breads – golden, shiny braid and spirals – as much as eating them. She kept close to her a photo my boyfriend took when I was kneading the dough.

With emotion in her voice, my mother said: “When I look at your hands, I am happy and proud. Our Armenian family tradition has been passed on.”

Group says ‘Titanic’ film gets ‘women and children first’ doctrine all wrong

By RON CSILLAG
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS/ENInews) A spate of books, films, TV programs, and commemorative events are seeking to capitalize on Sunday’s (April 15) 100th anniversary of the RMS Titanic’s sinking, especially the new 3-D version of James Cameron‘s 1997 epic movie, “Titanic.”

But for one Texas-based Christian ministry, Cameron’s film still delivers a decidedly un-Christian message: That “class warfare” aboard the doomed ocean liner resulted in the disproportionate deaths of poor, female and young passengers, thus sinking the “Christian doctrine” of “women and children first.”

That’s why Vision Forum Ministries in San Antonio and the Christian Boys’ and Men’s Titanic Society are sponsoring “Titanic 100: An International Centennial Event” in the resort town of Branson, Mo., which is also home to a Titanic museum.

Using drama, music and interactive events, including an “Edwardian Ladies Tea,” the group aims to “set the record straight” by disproving Cameron’s portrayal of the ship’s demise, and to showcase “the legacy of heroism” aboard the Titanic, “as men and boys on board the ship gave their lives so women and children might live.”

On the group’s website, Vision Forum Ministries argues that as the ship foundered, the “Darwinian notion of survival of the fittest was rejected in favor of the age-old Christian doctrine that the ‘strong sacrifice for the weak.'”

“The Christian doctrine of ‘women and children first’ was firmly upheld.”

Doug Phillips, president of Vision Forum, founded the Christian Boys’ and Men’s Titanic Society the same year as Cameron’s original film, and each year, the society hosts a gathering on the anniversary of the disaster to commemorate the legacy of “male chivalry” demonstrated while the ship sank.

Cameron’s film, which won 11 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, advances “a false image of Marxist class-warfare,” the ministry claims, “with the rich seeking to bribe their way to freedom, the poor deliberately prevented from reaching safety, and the nobility of Christian sacrifice minimized and ridiculed. … Such depictions are historical nonsense.”

The ministry cites Lee Merideth, author of “1912 Facts About Titanic,” saying that of the 706 survivors of the disaster, almost as many Third Class passengers survived (174) as did First Class (202) and crew (212). “Other than ‘women and children first,’ there wasn’t any attempt to save one class of passengers over another,” the ministry argues.

The Titanic Historical Society in Indian Orchard, Mass., which bills itself as the world’s largest such group, offers a more nuanced view.

According to George Behe, the society’s past vice president, 52 percent of First and Second Class passengers were saved while 26 percent of Third Class passengers survived. In First and Second Class, 94 percent of women and children were rescued, while the rate was 47 percent in Third Class.

Far fewer men did survive than women. The official inquiry into the sinking noted that the overall survival rate for men was 20 percent; for women, 74 percent and for children, 52 percent.