Oct 2, 2015


A mural at a "Western City," Dasing, Germany.

Sep 24, 2015

"one of those witnesses who testified to the joy of the Gospel"

Pope Francis canonizes Junipero Serra, a Franciscan missionary to California during Spanish colonization:

The recognition of sainthood is not without controversy. As Sarah Pullman Bailey writes for the Washington Post, many hispanic Catholics are thrilled. But, she writes,
For many Native Americans, however, Serra is no saint. The Indians who joined the missions that Serra built were forced to shed their own culture, including their religion, dress and food. Thousands of them died prematurely from diseases common in Europe ... 
Treated as a hero by many in California, Serra established Catholic missions along its coast as he marched north with Spanish conquistadors. A statue of him stands in the U.S. Capitol, where each state is allowed two statues. Some historians and the Catholic Church focus on Serra’s dedication to Native Americans, while others say he oversaw and even contributed to a system that mistreated tribes.
In the mass, Francis spoke of Junipero Serra as an embodiment of the church that brings the "reconciling tenderness of God" to the world. He also talked about the missionary's efforts to protect the natives from the violence of the colonizers, from the mistreatment and wrong "which today still trouble us."

Serra is the first saint to be canonized in a mass celebrated in the US. The last North American to be recognized as a saint was Kateri Tekakwitha, an Algonquin-Mohawk woman born in what is now New York. She was canonized by Pope Benedixt XVI in 2012.

Sep 21, 2015

A pentecostal foreign policy

Cartoon by Charles Ramsay, a cartoonist for the Pentecostal Evangel for 43 years.

Sep 18, 2015


Photo booth, seen in Berlin.

Sep 17, 2015

Marilynne Robinson on the freedom of a Christian:

Sep 15, 2015

Baptist wrestling in 1940

In May 1940, a Baptist church in Jefferson City, Mo. was offering Bible classes, a special "Roger Williams" class for men -- and wrestling:

Evangelical outreach programs that adapt secular entertainments are frequently critiqued as a modern "dumbing down" of Christianity. They're not that modern, though. The old days, it turns out, were a lot like the present.

This photo was one of more than 8,000 taken by John Vachon documenting American life during the Great Depression for the United States Farm Security Administration. Many of these photos are made publicly available by Yale.

Sep 14, 2015

How Hillary Clinton's faith is a catch-22 on the campaign trail

Speaking from a Methodist pulpit on Sunday morning, Hillary Clinton explained her political vision with a reference to the classic Sunday school song “This Little Light of Mine.”

“Too many people,” she said, “want to let their light shine, but they can’t get out from under that bushel basket. It is way too heavy to lift alone. And that’s where the village comes in.”

It is the 200th anniversary of Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, where the Clintons worshiped regularly when Bill Clinton was president. Hillary Clinton spoke during the bicentennial celebration Sunday about how her faith and faith community have shaped her.

She spoke of her mother, who she said taught her the wisdom of John Wesley, the 18th-century founder of the Methodist church, who believed in putting faith into action. She spoke of her youth pastor. She spoke of her college church, her church in Arkansas when her husband was governor of the state, and of walking to Foundry through the snow from the White House in 1993.

“In place after place after place,” Clinton said, “the Methodist church and my fellow Methodists have been a source of support, honest reflection and candid critique.”

Talking about her religious commitments has presented a bit of a quandary for Clinton as she runs for president. There is no obvious way for her to talk about her faith on the campaign trail. But avoiding the topic doesn’t seem like a good idea, either.

Voters consistently say they want politicians to have faith, yet they often don’t believe them when they talk about it. For Clinton, this seems especially true.

Read my latest essay at the Washington Post: Hillary Clinton showed up for church today. Will faith help or hurt her on the campaign?

Sep 12, 2015

Off to a little Bible College in Missouri

Bible College occupies a pivotal place in the single from Josh Ritter's new album:

Mama got a look at you and got a little worried
Papa got a look at you and got a little worried
Pastor got a look and said, 'Ya'll had better hurry'
Send her off to a little Bible College in Missouri  
And now you come back sayin' you know a little bit about
Everything they ever seemed to hope you'd never figure out
Eve ate the apple 'cause the apple was sweet
What kinda God would ever keep a girl
From getting what she needs?

Sep 11, 2015

Free religious practice requires conversation, accommodation

Religious pluralism requires real work. It can only be sustained with careful, studied, face-to-face negotiations, adaptations and accommodations. It depends on pragmatic judgements.

To make religious pluralism work -- freely allowing robust religious practices from diverse minorities that variously offend and befuddle the majority while at the same time disallowing any group's imposition of its beliefs and practices on others -- a society has to be willing to make pragmatic judgements. Judgements have to be made case-by-case. The principle calls for compromise. The ideal, in practice, values actual humans and life and its messiness over the clean and clear pronouncements of ideological abstractions.

US law, as it currently stands, does this.

For example, as Eugene Volohk recently explained in the Washington Post, the law since 1972 has required private and public employers to exempt employees from rules they find religiously objectionable, except when the exemption would cause the employer undue hardship.

The law says, essentially, "work it out."

Sep 9, 2015

Was Freddy Kreuger Baptist?

Other people found Jesus at Hough Avenue Baptist Church, in Cleveland, Ohio.

Wes Craven only found himself profoundly lonely.

"It was this experience," Craven recalled to his biographer, "of being the last one who doesn't feel it or doesn't get it or somehow Jesus can't find a comfortable place in his heart, you know? It was just a feeling of desolate loneliness or mixed with having rejected what had to be embraced."

Wes Craven died late last month at the age of 76. The director of "Nightmare on Elm Street," the "Scream" movies, and a long list of other films, Craven was considered the master of slasher movies, according to the New York Times. He was the "granddaddy" of that horror genre, according to the Washington Post.

Observers have frequently turned to the church of Craven's childhood to explain his dark vision of the world. Freddy Krueger, it has been suggested, is a specifically Baptist nightmare on Elm Street.

Sep 2, 2015

The childhood of Beverly Lewis

A brief promotional, biographical documentary of Beverly Lewis, the evangelical woman who started the genre of Amish romance fiction:

Aug 28, 2015

New study Bible looks to be best seller

A new study Bible out this week underscores how simmering questions about the accuracy and authority of translations drive demand for new versions of an old text. A mix of firm authority and breezy accessibility seems to be key to the commercial success of many study Bibles.

No official sales projections are publicly available, but if history provides a guide, the “NIV Zondervan Study Bible” could easily sell 100,000 copies by the end of the year -- probably a lot more. The new study Bible by Zondervan, a Christian publishing house in Grand Rapids, Mich., owned by HarperCollins, could follow earlier blockbuster sales. The last NIV study Bible, published by Zondervan in 1985, sold more than 9 million copies.

The Bible business is booming. There are annual sales of 40 million Bibles -- from study Bibles to family Bibles to pocket Bibles. That’s not even counting foreign markets. As journalist Daniel Radosh observed, “The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: The Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year.”

The proliferation of Bibles underscores the anxieties people have about whether or not they are reading the right Bible.

Read my latest essay at the Washington Post: The most popular Bible of the year is probably not what you think it is

African Methodist Episcopal Church, Indianapolis, Ind.

Aug 24, 2015

How Donald Trump felt like Billy Graham

Donald Trump, the populist presidential candidate currently leading in the Republican primary polls, has connected himself to Billy Graham, the famed evangelist and pastor to presidents.

At a rally in Alabama last week, it was the first thing Trump said.

He came out on stage and "Sweet Home Alabama" was playing and people--about 20,000 people--cheered and applauded.

Trump said, "Wow wow wow. Unbelievable. Thank You. That's so beautiful. You know now I know how the great Billy Graham felt. Because this is the same feeling. We love Billy Graham. We love Billy Graham."

What does it mean to say he felt like Billy Graham felt?

It doesn't seem obvious, in context.

Aug 21, 2015

United Church of Christ, Chicago, Ill.