Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Herod - Just in time for Christmas

Since tonight is Christmas Eve, I thought I might pass along this (sort of) Christmas-related National Geographic article about the King Herod from the Christian gospels.

The article centers around recent archeologist's excavations that have shed some new light on Herod as a person, his political career and his affect on life in Judea at the beginning of the Common Era:

An astute and generous ruler, a brilliant general, and one of the most imaginative and energetic builders of the ancient world, Herod guided his kingdom to new prosperity and power. Yet today he is best known as the sly and murderous monarch of Matthew's Gospel, who slaughtered every male infant in Bethlehem in an unsuccessful attempt to kill the newborn Jesus, the prophesied King of the Jews.

Apparently, even soon after his death and before the rise of Christianity, he was hated by a significant part of populace of Judea:

The condition of the sarcophagi fragments confirm that Herod remained vilified even in death: Hammer marks reveal that the sarcophagi were intentionally destroyed. The one made of pink limestone received particularly savage treatment, and was broken into hundreds of pieces. This damage apparently occurred about 70 years after Herod's death, when Jewish fighters occupied Herodium during two brief, ill-fated rebellions, called the First and Second Jewish Revolts, against the besieging Romans. "They viewed Herod as a Roman collaborator, a traitor to the faith and political independence of the Jews,"...."They weren't just looting. This was revenge."

Though, with final requests like the following, that's not all that surprising:

During his last illness he devised a scheme to plunge the entire kingdom into mourning when he died, ordering his army to imprison a crowd of leading Judaean citizens in the hippodrome in Jericho, and to massacre them when his death was announced.

Clearly, not someone you would want to sit down and have a beer with.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

An angel brings hope

Congress has a whole lot of religious folks but do they have angels?

Last night I got a scary phone call from my mom, on her way to the hospital, because somehow my cousin had fallen on a clothing pole at work and it had gone into his eye.

By luck, a miracle, or an angel, the pole missed anything major. There was no damage to his eye, brain, skull, nerves, or blood vessels. He ripped up his eye lid and required stitches but, overall, an incredibly lucky guy.

It seems this girl in the Charlotte area may have had some angelic intervention:

Photo captures image of an 'angel' in Charlotte hospital
In dark time, mom of Mint Hill teen sees light of

By Jane Duckwall - Special Correspondent to the Charlotte Observer
. . .
What originally seemed like a bad cold nearly killed her. “She was on life-support from the moment she got there,” her mother said.

That was Sept. 21. Over the next six weeks in the hospital, Chelsea faced one threat after another: pneumonia in her left lung, then her right lung, then sepsis, blood clots, staph infections, E. coli, a collapsed lung and feeding problems.

In late October, doctors met with the family to discuss “a plan of action,” Colleen said. One of the decisions she had to make was whether she would take Chelsea off the ventilator. Earlier, doctors had removed Chelsea from the ventilator several times, but had replaced it when the struggle to breathe became too difficult for the teen.

But a family meeting Oct. 31 was a turning point. “At that point, the family… agreed that when she did come off the ventilator again, (they) weren't putting it back in,” Colleen said. “Whatever happened, would happen.”

On Saturday, Nov. 1, “they took her off the ventilator and she did good,” her mother said. “She was breathing on her own.”

The next day, “her stats went down,” and doctors put her in an oxygen mask.

But over the next few days, Colleen noticed her daughter “wasn't getting better. Things were kind of lingering.”

And Chelsea, who had been having anxiety attacks and crying throughout her hospital stay, was having more of them. “I said, ‘She's been through enough,'” Colleen remembers. “I said, ‘Can we just take her mask off? She's been through enough.'

“I wanted to do what the Lord wanted me to do. And I really felt like I've had her for 14 years, and if it's time for her to go to heaven, then I know she'll be healed.”

The mask didn't come off immediately, though. They waited until family members had a chance to come to see Chelsea – perhaps for the last time.

On the afternoon of Nov. 5, as family and friends prayed about the decision, a nurse practitioner called Colleen's attention to a monitor showing the door to the pediatric intensive care unit.

“On the monitor, there was this bright light,” Colleen recalls. “And I looked at it and I said, ‘Oh my goodness! It looks like an angel!” Colleen pointed her digital camera at the monitor to take a photo of the image, but the “first picture wouldn't take.” She tried again and succeeded. The image gave her a peace that stayed with her when hospital staff removed Chelsea's oxygen mask.

And then, “when they took the mask off of her, her stats went as high as they've ever been. “Her color was good, and the doctors and nurses were amazed,” Colleen said. “The nurse practitioner who saw the image in the monitor said, ‘I've worked here 15 years, and I've never seen anything like it.'”

Chelsea was removed from intensive care on Nov. 14 and went home three days later.Her mother believes it was a miracle – attended by a very real angel bathed in light at the door to the pediatric intensive care unit.
. . .
On Christmas Day, Chelsea will turn 15 – another miracle considering all of the medical trials she's faced, according to her mother.

“I'm learning,” Colleen Banton said, “that every day she's alive is a miracle.”

Read the full article and see the pictures here.

Religion in Congress

A few days ago the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study on the religious affiliations of the incoming members of Congress.

One of the more interesting, though not unexpected, findings of the study was how much more religious Congress is compared to the rest of the U.S. population:

Members of Congress are much more likely than the public overall to say they are affiliated with a particular religion. Only five members of the new Congress (about 1%) did not specify a religious affiliation, according to information gathered by Congressional Quarterly and the Pew Forum, and no members specifically said they were unaffiliated. By contrast, the Landscape Survey found that individuals who are not affiliated with a particular faith make up about one-sixth (16.1%) of the adult population, making this one of the largest "religious" groups in the U.S.

Also interesting is the disproportionate representation of some religious groups. Most notable among these is a group that is dear to my heart:

Among the nation's smaller religious groups, one group stands out in terms of its numbers in Congress: Jews, who account for just 1.7% of the U.S. adult population, make up 8.4% of Congress, including just over 13% of the Senate.

The United States' slowly emerging religious diversity is also apparent in the study. While the overwhelming majority of Congressmen are Christian or Jewish, the study shows that the 111th Congress will feature two Muslim Congressmen and the first two Buddhist members of Congress.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Articles that aren't so depressing

I just realized that most of the postings I've done so far center around the dismal economic situation in the world. Just to show that I think about things other than the financial crisis, I figured I'd share some non-finance related articles.

On Sunday, the New York Times ran an article discussing the difficulties the holiday season holds for interfaith couples. Here is an excerpt:

In 1970, 13 percent of married American Jews were in mixed marriages; by 2001, 31 percent were, according to the National Jewish Population Survey done by United Jewish Communities. And that rate has risen steadily; between 1996 and 2001 (the last time the survey was conducted), nearly half the Jews who married — 47 percent — married outside their faith. While most mixed families find their own way through the holidays, a small but growing number like the Gawleys, mainly in urban areas, have joined interfaith groups.

In a totally unrelated article, the Wall Street Journal discussed the business of selling the bible:

It's an astonishing fact that year after year, the Bible is the best-selling book in America -- even though 90% of households already have at least one copy. The text doesn't vary, except in translation. The tremendous sales volume, an estimated 25 million copies sold each year, is largely driven by innovations in design, color, style and the ultimate niche marketing.

There's Scripture as accessory, wrapped in hot pink fake leather or glittery psychedelic swirls -- or sporting a ladybug on the cover for no particular reason other than it's cute. There's Scripture as political statement: A new Green Bible, printed in soy ink on recycled paper, highlights passages with an environmental theme.

See, I do think about things other than the fact that the world is entering the worst recession that any of us have ever seen going through a little financial difficulty.

Church Closings

I know I said that I would stop with the finance related posts, but we all knew that I was probably going to do at least one or two more. So here it goes:

In yet another sign of the current financial crisis, the Wall Street Journal reports that churches across the country are being forced into bankruptcy because of falling donations:

During this holiday season of hard times, not even houses of God have been spared. Some lenders believe more churches than ever have fallen behind on loans or defaulted this year. Some churches, and at least one company that specialized in church lending, have filed for bankruptcy. Church giving is down as much as 15% in some places, pastors and lenders report.

In an interesting aside, the article discusses the considerate reaction of one Presbyterian Bishop to the bankers that foreclosed on his church:

Last February, the church couldn't meet its monthly interest payments. The lender, Talbot Bank, a unit of Shore Bancshares Inc., foreclosed in August, seeking $950,000, including principal and unpaid interest. It was one of five properties Talbot foreclosed on this year, but the only church, says W. David Morse, a vice president at the bank.

At the auction's end, Bishop Johnson shook hands with Mr. Morse. "These people are not Wall Street bandits, for crying out loud," the bishop said of his bankers. St. Andrew's congregants will likely stay in the building for several more weeks while the bank seeks a buyer.

Though, as is to be expected, some of the people involved in the foreclosure process weren't so happy about what they had to do:

The transaction gave James C. Andrew, the auctioneer, some pause. He was married in the building in 1997 when it was a Catholic church and his two children had been baptized there. "I'll probably wind up with coal in my stocking for Christmas," he said.

Just another sign of how bad things are out there.

St. Nick

I was watching Religion & Ethics Newsweekly on PBS this weekend and saw this piece on St. Nicholas, the original Santa Claus.

Here are some excerpts from the program:

St. Nicholas was a real person — not a fairy, not someone who’s flying through the sky with reindeer, but an actual person who lived and worked and died and had a full life. He had a Christian life because he was actually a bishop, a pastor.
. . .
He came from a very wealthy family. His parents died at an early age. His uncle was a priest.
. . .
Nicholas rose to leadership in the early church and was named Bishop of Myra, a city on the southern coast of what is now Turkey. During a time of persecution by Roman Emperor Diocletian, Nicholas was imprisoned for his outspoken faith. He was eventually released and continued his ministry until his death on December 6 in the year 343.
. . .
He was known for his generosity and his good will because he was very rich. He literally, by the end of his life, gave away all of his fortune. Many stories talk about the fact that he was so generous that he became known as the Gift Giver.
. . .
One of the most famous stories involves a poor family who couldn’t afford marriage dowries for their three daughters.

The parents were going to have to sell them off into slavery or into prostitution or whatever, and Saint Nicolas came by the house at night and dropped off three bags of gold coins.
. . .
Some legends say he secretly tossed the bags of gold through an open window, and one landed in stockings or shoes that were drying by the fire, thus launching the tradition of the Christmas stocking.
. . .
If you look at the name Santa Claus, you will see its “Santa” means saint, and “Claus” is simply an abbreviation from the “Nicholas.” But the reality is he became a secular image.
. . .
Church leaders emphasize that Saint Nicholas’s generosity was motivated by his Christian faith. The saint was following Jesus’ commands to love others, help those who are suffering, give sacrificially, and to do one’s good deeds in secret. They say Nicholas is a reminder that Christmas is really about the coming of Jesus.
May your stockings be full!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Hanukkah!

Whether you spell it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah or whatever, I wish all of my fellow Jews a Happy Holiday!

For those of you who are not familiar with the holiday, it commemorates the re-dedication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem following a successful revolt in the second century B.C.E. in Judea by the religious/military organization known as the Maccabees against the Seleucid Empire. The Maccabean revolt was started in response to efforts by the Seleucid King, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, to force Jewish assimilation into the greater Greek culture by outlawing Jewish religious practices. As part of this religious persecution, the Temple was converted to a temple to the Greek Gods. This conversion is what necessitated the re-dedication when the Temple was recaptured by the Maccabees.

For a more detailed account of the holiday, Wikipedia actually has a fairly comprehensive discussion.

One interesting quirk of Hanukkah is that while the story appears to be a celebration of the struggle against assimilation, the observance of Hanukkah, since it comes out very close to Christmas, has probably been influenced by Christian culture more than any other Jewish holiday. Just as an example of this Christmas influence, gift-giving, for the most part, isn't really a Hanukkah tradition and was only adopted by American Jews so their kids wouldn't feel left out at Christmas-time.

I realize that almost all religious traditions have been influenced by other cultures, but I still think it's strange that people would choose to transform a holiday celebrating a violent struggle to preserve traditional culture in the face of a dominant societal influence into an imitation of the Christian holiday that occurs at generally the same time. This is especially odd since the story of Hanukkah is far more interesting than the holiday that current American culture is trying to force it to become. Celebrating the religiously fueled violent overthrow of an oppressive regime and the subsequent purging of outside influences on the holiest site in all of Judaism seems far more exciting than celebrating Christmas' wimpy little brother.

On the other hand, with Christmas' wimpy little brother we get gifts. That's more exciting than any story I could ever tell.

God chooses the least

Yesterday Wendy and I started our Christmas shopping. Hopefully this doesn't become a Ledesma family tradition!

To rest our weary feet we stopped by the Angelika and watched Slumdog Millionaire.
The movie literally makes you cry and cheer. It's painful and brilliant. You can read some review excerpts at Rotten Tomatoes. It is the best movie I have seen all year.

As we sat and watched the credits roll at the end of the movie, I wondered about the $12.50 per ticket and two and a half hours out of our shopping day we spent watching the movie. Was it worth it?

Absolutely! And then some.

But, because the theater was so crowded and slow to exit, we had more sitting and thinking time and I thought this, When we die, as I believe, we go to Heaven (hopefully) and we enjoy in the goodness of God and the company of passed souls. While there, good and dead, will I think that my time spent on this movie was worth it?

And the answer was YES! That's how good this movie is.

The main character is a "slumdog," a "meek," a "poor," a "least," and he dares to dream, find a better life, and love. I love underdog stories and, remember, God repeatedly chooses the least.

In today's Gospel the angel Gabriel goes to a young woman named Mary and says, "Do not be afraid!" He explains what her role in history will be and when she presents her doubt he reminds her that "nothing will be impossible with God." And she believes and the rest is history.

In Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal Malik survives the slums by having no fear and believing. It's simple but it's powerful. It's a great story and perfect for the holidays.

You should see it.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Penn meets a "sane" Christian

It's not often you get to see Penn of Penn & Teller at a loss for words, but you can see it here:

As The Anchoress points out, one of the core messages from this video is what Penn says himself, “How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible, and not tell them that?”

Thanks to The Anchoress via Deacon Greg for pointing this video out.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Another Christmas Carol

I was debating posting this, but since we started with the Christmas music I figured I might as well.

Please enjoy "The Twelve Days of Bailouts":

Also, the Wall Street Journal ran an interesting article about the federal government's plans to bail out Christmas.

I promise, after this there will be fewer finance related posts.

Straight No Chaser for the Holidays

Last year I was watching this video repeatedly:

It turns out this group, due to their success on, got a record deal and cut a record:

Nicely done gents!

Update: Due to copyright issues now that they have a record deal, the old YouTube video is no longer available. Damn shame too! Here's a recent performance of theirs,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Obama picks Warren and the people are outraged

Today there is an outrage over President-elect Obama's choice of Pastor Rick Warren to do the Inaugural Prayer.

But, let's not forget that this is Barack Obama! This is the man who uneasily weaved and worked his political-talk through the LOGO Forum on GLBT issues. He is against gay marriage and cites his religion and historical tradition to support his opposition.

So, it comes as no surprise to me when he picks a religious leader (who I actually respect in a lot of ways) who does not fully support a lot of gay issues (which is where I respectfully disagree with him). Pastor Warren does support partnership rights for gays that include insurance and visitation rights but does not support gay marriage. He cites his religion and historical tradition for his opposition to gay marriage. Sound familiar?

In the interview where he states his support for equal rights, Pastor Warren somehow equates gay marriage to incest and polygamy which is ridiculous and where I vehemently disagree with him.

So, folks, Barack Obama is not the change you want him to be - at least not for everyone. I'm glad that Andrew Sullivan is dishing out the rallying cry for our country in saying that "a civil rights movement needs to realize that no politician can deliver for us what we have to deliver on our own."

I know that Sullie was specifically speaking about the gay rights movement, but the same should go for people who make education their movement or fair labor practice or global poverty or anything.

Barack Obama is not the deliverer. You are the change. Work for it. Work hard.

And, in defense of Barack Obama and his decision - one can be friends with and work with people that we tremendously disagree with and not have their beliefs affect what we do.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Charities Hurt in Fraud

As if things weren't looking dark enough in a world where parents are naming their kids after Nazis, we now learn that last week's arrest of Investment Manager Bernard Madoff, who was charged with operating a ponzi scheme that could end up costing investors upwards of $50 billion (yes, that's a b), is having a devastating effect on charities across the country. The Wall St. Journal reports (subscription needed) that Jewish charities are being hit especially hard:

Mr. Madoff was a central player in Manhattan's close-knit world of Jewish charities, serving both as a direct contributor and portfolio manager for individual foundations. Many of his clients are also a main funding source for charities, acting as the key donors who provide large checks necessary to keep them running.

"In the Jewish world, we've just taken a major, central player, and introduced fear and uncertainty all over the system. It's like finding out your brother is a murderer" said Gary Tobin, president of the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, which studies Jewish philanthropy. Dr. Tobin estimated the total amount of such giving in the U.S. to be as much as $5 billion annually.

In the most extreme cases, organizations affected by the alleged fraud are closing their doors.

NPR also gives an overview of the devastation.

Kids you should put on the prayer list

I read this in the NY Daily News today. Apparently a couple of dumb@$$M)+#@&)(%@$ named their three of kids after Nazis - including a three year old named Adolf Hitler. And, of course, they act surprised when people are shocked to hear their child's name. And, oh yeah, they live in NJ.

It pisses me off simply because these kids have stupid parents and it's not their fault. Pray for them please.

Here' are highlights:

Adolf Hitler Campbell is the middle child of three kids given Nazi-themed names by their parents, including a dad who denies the Holocaust occurred and decorates his home with swastikas.

. . .

Adolf has two sisters, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation and Honszlynn Hinler Jeannie. The latter, just eight months old, was named for Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler.

The bizarre names came to public attention after a local ShopRite declined to provide the Holland Township, N.J., family with a cake inscribed "Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler."

"Other kids get their cake," Campbell complained. "I get a hard time. It's not fair to my children. How can a name be offensive?"

. . .

The parents insist they are not racist, although they don't believe in mingling the races.

And Heath Campbell claims he doesn't understand why people are shocked when they hear his son's full name.

Here's the full text.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Worship, Gotham! begins

Yesterday Adam and I went to church. Yes, I took the guy who I hope will someday become a rabbi to church. And he liked it!

Some of the highlights of what he wrote over at Worship, Gotham!

To kick off Worship, Gotham!, Christian and I thought that it would be best to start with a place that was familiar to at least one of us. We decided to go to Trinity Lutheran Church, a Lutheran Church in Astoria, Queens that Christian and his wife regularly attend. Part of the thinking in choosing this church was that since we already had a network of people that we knew around us, hopefully I would feel somewhat comfortable even as I, the religiously ignorant Jew, found myself in the middle of a traditional Lutheran service.

. . .

As for the actual theology that was expressed in the service, to be honest, I am just as confused about Lutheranism and Christianity now as I was before the service. In terms of general Christian Theology, I am still confused about the basic idea of the Trinity. Shortly before the service began, I had the opportunity to read the Athanasian Creed (which is accepted as truth by all Lutheran Churches and by many other Christian Denominations) for the first time and this only confused me more. Apparently, Lutherans, and Christians generally pray to three distinct concepts that are in fact one. The Creed states:

We worship one God in trinity and the Trinity in unity, neither confusing the persons nor dividing the divine being.
For the Father is one person, the Son is another, and the Spirit is still another.
But the deity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is one, equal in glory, coeternal in majesty.

. . .

I assume the idea of how three beings are actually one has been flushed out by countless theologians. The general idea seems to be that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all distinct, but yet at the same time are one. How this actually works out is still confusing. This might seem like basic Christian theology, but my knowledge of Christianity leaves a lot to be desired (the correction of this problem is one of the main points of Worship, Gotham!).

. . .

In all, even though there is still a fairly large amount I don't know about Lutheranism, I think today was a success. First, I got to meet a bunch of good people. Everyone at Trinity was amazingly welcoming and friendly. Before I even entered the Church, when I was standing outside trying to figure out if I was in the right place, a member of the congregation came up to me and made sure I was OK and assured me that the doors were open and I was welcome. When I got inside, this friendliness continued. Within minutes after I walked in and sat down three people came up to me, introduced themselves, and welcomed me. Secondly, I got to experience my second Lutheran service and my first traditional Lutheran service (the first involved electric guitars and a rock band and was a totally different experience).

Lastly, I managed to get out of bed before 1 pm on a Sunday, which is amazing for me. All in all, it was a good Sunday.

So we have to work out some theological kinks but that's what this whole Worship, Gotham! thing is all about. Read his whole piece here.

Next up, more church! Especially for me. As part of this journey I'm probably going to be pulling double church action on Sundays. In the morning with Wendy and later in the day with Adam. Hey, you can never get enough God.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's Brutal Out There

Times are tough. Thousands of people have lost their jobs across the country and with the likely demise of one or more of the big three, thousands more will soon be in pain. In all this, New York City has probably been hurt worse than most places.

It seems fitting that at times like these, religion is experiencing a revival. When things are this bad, the only thing left to do is pray. Check out this article in the New York Times on the upswing in attendance at houses of worship across the country.

I guess this means we will have a lot of company for Worship, Gotham.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Chronicles of a Fast

Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18, "Moreover, when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."

Today I start a 48 hour fast. It's self-imposed and non-religious so you will see me look rather sad. I'm not going to hide it. There is a religious component to it, though, in that my fast ends with Communion on Sunday.

My first and only 2-day fast came about three years and a half years ago as part of the beginning of triathlon training. It's a way to force yourself to rest, cleanse, and jumpstart your body. During those two days I was on the couch a lot and slept a lot. I remember being very quiet and grumpy, and I don't remember much else. But, I felt like brand new when I came out of it. This time I'm doing as part of my pre-training for the NJ Marathon in May.

This weekend I'm going through it again, but this time, I'm updating on the blog every now and then to have a written record of what it feels like to go through it. My memory is hazy on the first one, so if I hated it, I have no idea.

As of 11:00am, my last solid food was a banana. It was delicious.

I will, for the next 48-hours, limit myself to water, herbal teas, and vegetable broth. Then, on Sunday morning, Communion!

I don't know if there will be any spiritually enlightening moments during this time, but if there are, I'll write them down.

I will warn you, though, that a hungry Christian is often a mean, grumpy Christian. So, if you happen to run into me this weekend, run away!

(Photo of Fasting Buddha at the Wat U-Mong temple in Chiang Mai, Thailand courtesy of astanhope)

The record of the fast

2.5 hours - Had some vegetable broth. It did a good job filling the belly. Not hungry, but my mind knows that solid food is two days away . . .
4 hours - I smell doughnuts. Everywhere.
5 hours - Every conversation I've had seems to involve food. Someone just said, "Let's go get food!" Bah!
7 hours - I'm hungry now. Took a nap. Going out to try and be social.
12 hours - I was able to not be too grumpy tonight by having another cup of broth. Food is everywhere. I see it, I smell it, I hear about it. Going out and being social helped from just staying ont he couch and thinking about food all the time. Going to go read in bed and sleep. Tomorrow will be a harder day.
20.5 hours - I woke up not hungry. I'm thirsty but not hungry. Today I'd like to go help at a fundraising sale at church. We'll see if I have the energy and character to pull it off.
23 hours - I napped for a while then took a nice long hot shower. I'm not hungry but my usually short attention span is much shorter.
25 hours - My mind feels muddled. Foggy. Going to go out for some tea and broth. Then try and help out at church. Saw a news piece on Kids Against Hunger - puts things in perspective. Still I kinda crave chicken mcnuggets.
30 hours - I spent a few hours at church helping with a Christmas sale. I felt like really tired. Going to have some veggie broth and take a nap. Not hungry. I long for the memory and taste of food but not hungry. I think this fast has gone better than the one I did 3 years ago because I've tried to keep myself busy. TV is the devil. Especially McDonald's commercials.
33.5 hours - Clarity achieved. All of a sudden I'm thinking clearly, my mind is fully . . . functional. More water, some tea, and some broth. Yet, Chicken McNuggets are still on the back of my mind. The power of advertising at its best.
38 hours - Wendy and I went to the movies to see Nothing Like the Holidays. Great cast, good movie. But, like many things latino, there was lots of food involved. Every other scene involved food. So, now, though I'm not hungry, I do miss food. And I do miss the feeling of satisfaction that a good meal brings. I also miss the simple energy that you get from eating. So, just 10 hours left. Eight of those hours will be me sleeping. I see the finish line.
46 hours - Slept like a baby but woke up feeling weak. I don't think I've ever felt this weak. Hopefully I don't faint. I have to watch what my first meal is. Has to be something simple yet enjoyable. A bagel? Mmmm.
46.5 hours - I feel sooo weak. Tempting to break fast now just to get some energy and not feel like I'm going to pass out. Read up on it and my first meal after Communion should be fruit. The carb should come a couple of hours later. I think I might order some pizza from across the street for dinner. But, no worries, it's like the healthiest pizza ever.
49 hours - I had Communion and it was wonderful. It was wonderful in the way that Communion should always be with the extra bonus that it was the first solid food in my mouth for 49 hours.
51 hours - after some fruit I went out and had brunch. Probably ate more than I should and I think I got a food/sugar rush. Will take it easy for the rest of the day. Hopefully the physical benefits are noticeable this week.

And thus ends my fast.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

God is Thinking of Joining the Teamsters

Staying (though some might argue that we were never there) on the subject of Jews, I thought I'd throw out this article from the City Journal regarding a movement within the Conservative Jewish Community to interpret halakha to encourage certain labor practices among Jewish businessmen (there might be a couple).

For those of you who are not familiar with the magazine, it is a periodical that is affiliated with the right leaning Manhattan Institute, so the article is slightly biased on whether this is a good idea or a bad idea. However, it does suggest that there is some dissatisfaction with this movement.

Maybe this means that the rise of Religious Left will cause scores of libertarians to flee to more pro-free market Churches and Synagogues. Who knows, but the article is definitely worth a read.

Once a Jew Always a Jew?

I had a friend who played his saxophone in the shabbat service for a local Jews for Jesus congregation. I happened to be in the same building for a teacher's workshop and dragged my good friend, Bob Who-Is-Allergic-T0-Religion.

When we got there, what struck me was how Jewish the Jews for Jesus tried to be. I simply didn't expect people to greet me with a kind "Shalom." Bob ran away after a couple of Shaloms and I couldn't stay much longer than that because of our workshop, but their setup looked like a small Jewish congregation.

The debate as to whether they are Jewish or not isn't a huge one, but it's still one that brings up a few issues:
- can you believe in a Messianic figure and be Jewish?
- what about the Lubavitch folks who believe Schneerson is the messiah? Are they Jewish?
- what about the halacha which states that once a Jew, always a Jew no matter the conversion?
- and finally from the Christian perspective, perhaps a Christian clergyman can chime in, are Jews for Jesus Christians?

From the Dayton Jewish Observer:

Area rabbis: 'messianic' Judaism not Jewish

The Dayton Jewish Observer/November 2008

The Cherish The Gift Of Faith advertising spread appears each Saturday in the Life section of the Dayton Daily News. Subtitled "A Listing of Worship Opportunities In The Miami Valley," and adorned with a cross as part of its heading, the two-page spread features display ads from area churches, listed by denomination.

Several months ago, an ad appeared under a new heading: Jewish. The ad, which has run every Saturday since, reads, "Beth Simchat Yeshua Messianic Synagogue invites Jewish Believers in Yeshua (Jesus) & Gentiles with a Jewish Heart to Shabbat Worship Services Saturdays 10:00 AM."

Thurlow Adams, who refers to himself as "Rabbi Tzion," placed the ads on behalf of his six-year-old, 30-member congregation, which meets rent-free in a room at East Dayton Baptist Church in Kettering each week.

A mechanical drafter by day, Adams says he's pleased with the response from the ad.

"I ran this ad in the Dayton Daily News just to reach out to folks who were looking for a Messianic Congregation," he says.

Each week, according to Adams, six to 10 people attend his Shabbat service. The only members with Jewish lineage, he says, are himself, his wife and two grown children, and one other woman in the congregation.

"The rest," Adams says, "are folks from a non-Jewish background who are believers in Yeshua, believers in Jesus and they just have felt and believed that there was something missing in their not being connected to the continuity of Judaism."

But according to Rabbi Judy Chessin, senior rabbi of Temple Beth Or, a Reform congregation in Washington Township, and chair of the Dayton Synagogue Forum, there is nothing Jewish about a "messianic" synagogue.

"When an individual chooses Jesus as their Lord and savior, they have become Christian," she says, "because that's the fundamental viewpoint of Christianity: that Jesus is Lord and savior, and Jews believe the Messiah has not come. It's as simple as that."

Rabbi Hillel Fox of Beth Jacob Synagogue, a traditional congregation in Harrison Township, concurs.

"Every single branch of Judaism agrees that 'messianic' Judaism is beyond the pale of Judaism," he says. " It is clearly Christian belief camouflaged to look like Jewish belief for the sole purpose of trying to convert Jews to Christianity."

. . .

Judaism's main movements - Orthodox, Conservative and Reform - agree that "messianic" Judaism is not Judaism. But the question of whether a Jew who adheres to another religion is still a Jew differs among the movements.

"The question is: is it a conversion to choose the theology of another faith?" says Chessin.

The answer depends on each Jewish movement's beliefs about halacha, or Jewish law.

According to halacha, if you are born a Jew, you are always a Jew, even if you convert to another religion. Even so, Chessin says, the convert would not be considered part of the Jewish community.

Fox says that for most Jews who convert to another religion, should they choose to return to Judaism, they would not have to go through a conversion within traditional Judaism.

. . .

Within Reform Judaism, which does not adhere to halacha, Chessin says, "once you convert to Christianity, you are no longer a Jew." An individual returning to Reform Judaism would have to undergo a conversion.

. . .

"One of the pitfalls for us is that we Jews don't understand," she says. "And when we run up against these people or missionaries or our children are approached by 'messianic' Jews on campus, the kids are not equipped to give the information, clear and straight, that if you believe in Jesus as the messiah, you are Christian. It behooves us not to bury our heads in the sand or run away, but actually become educated in this kind of thing and know that it is false advertising to say they are synagogues."

Read the full text here.

(Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Now it Gets Good

Christian's introduction seemed really formal and very television like, but what he says is true. After criticizing him repeatedly regarding the content of the blog, I feel the need to grace this fledgling project with my presence.

I have to admit that I'm a little new to this whole blogging thing, so I ask all of you (and by "all of you" I mean all three of you, since I would be amazed if more people than that actually read this thing) to bear with me for a few posts so I can get into a good groove. After that, I promise to wow you with new theological and philosophic insights that will shock and amaze.

In this "starting out slow" vein, check out this article on Slate discussing research that suggests that your typical believer in God is nicer than your average atheist. It was fairly interesting and seemed like a good way to jump into this "God Blogging." I promise that subsequent posts will have a little more analysis than "it was fairly interesting" but for now, that will do.

Oh and to expand a bit on Christian's introduction. Not only did Christian and I work together on the Science Newsletter in Junior High, I was the Editor-in-Chief. I know what you are thinking and it's true...I rock.

Aren't you glad I joined this project?

Welcome Adam Who-is-not-becoming-a-Rabbi!

My friend, Adam, who inspired the beginning of our project called Worship, Gotham!, is now officially a writer on this blog.

Welcome, Adam!

Our history is a long one and goes as far back as working together on the Junior High School Science newsletter. Did I mention we were really cool back then?

Adam hails from Brooklyn, comes from a Conservative Jewish background, and seems to be intrigued by religion. I'm hoping his intrigue will someday translate into his becoming a rabbi but, for now, we'll just pray for him.

So, look out for postings from "Adam Who-is-not-becoming-a-Rabbi" (the pseudonym he chose for himself) and please make him feel at home.

Also, stay tuned for what is sure to become the coolest project ever!

(Image courtesy of

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

I run to add another day

About four and a half years ago I started running, and soon after decided to run a marathon. I started running because the doctor kept telling me that with my high cholesterol and family history of heart disease, I was looking at a heart attack and possibly death by age 55. I started running to prevent that. Since then I've done my best to keep up my physical activity, never great at it, but I have become fitter than I was before 2004.

I have seen first-hand the effects of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes in my family. They're all terrible diseases, and in many cases, preventable. I run to prevent. I run to raise money to prevent them. I run to add another day.

Right now I am pre-training for the New Jersey Marathon in May of 2009 and I'm raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation. This article I found on explains why this is so important:

Cancer to pass heart disease as No. 1 killer

By Will Dunham

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Cancer is on pace to supplant heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death worldwide in 2010, with a growing burden in poor countries thanks to more cigarette smoking and other factors, global health experts said on Tuesday.

Globally, an estimated 12.4 million people will be diagnosed with some form of cancer this year and 7.6 million people will die, the U.N. World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer said in a report.

"The global cancer burden doubled in the last 30 years of the 20th century, and it is estimated that this will double again between 2000 and 2020 and nearly triple by 2030," according to the report.

By 2030, 26.4 million people a year may be diagnosed with cancer, with 17 million people dying from it, the report forecast.

In men, lung cancer was the most common form in terms of new cases and deaths, while breast cancer was the most common type among women in new cases and deaths, according to the report. More men than women get cancer and die from it.

"This is going to present amazing problems at every level in every society worldwide," the IARC's Peter Boyle said at a news conference.

In the near term, cancer is expected to bypass heart disease as the leading killer globally in 2010, American Cancer Society Chief Executive Officer John Seffrin said. Cancer currently accounts for about one in eight deaths worldwide.

Trends that will contribute to rising cancer cases and deaths include the aging of populations in many countries -- cancer is more common in the elderly -- and increasing rates of cigarette smoking in poor countries.

Some rich countries have made progress in cutting cigarette smoking, which causes most cases of lung cancer as well as many other illnesses. In the United States, the most recent figures show that for the first time since records have been kept less than 20 percent of adults were smokers in 2007.

However, cigarette companies are finding new customers in developing countries. Seffrin noted that 40 percent of the world's smokers live in just two nations -- China and India.

Decades ago, cancer was considered largely a problem of Westernized, rich, industrialized countries. But much of the global burden now rests in poor and medium-income countries.

Many of these countries have limited health budgets and high rates of communicable diseases, while cancer treatment facilities are out of reach for many people and life-saving treatments are seldom available, Boyle said.

"There are more deaths in the world from cancer than from AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined," Boyle said.

At the same time, progress against cancer has been reported by authorities in such places as the United States and Europe.

For example, health authorities in the United States reported last month that cancer diagnosis rates are now dropping for the first time in both men and women and previous declines in cancer death rates are accelerating.

They attributed the progress to factors such as regular screening for breast and colorectal cancer, declining smoking rates and improved treatments.

Cancer-prevention opportunities exist in countries of any income level, Boyle said, noting that many types of cancer are caused by individual behaviors such as smoking.

Some other "modifiable risk factors" for cancer that Boyle cited included alcohol consumption, too much exposure to sunlight, lack of physical activity and obesity.

Help fight the good fight. Donate if you can.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Congratulations to NET!

I'm watching the first official hour of NET!

Congratulations to Deacon Greg and everyone at NET for their launch! Best wishes for the success of good TV.

I wonder if they'd be interested in Worship, Gotham! . . . .

Worship, Gotham!

For the last two hours, I've been suffering from what I think may be my first-ever migraine. Advil hasn't worked and I hate bright light right now. But, through the pain, I received an email that got me excited and, if only for a few seconds, made me forget my pain.

My friend Adam Who-Is-Hopefully-On-The-Path-To-Becoming-a-Rabbi, sent me the following email:


We've gone to Hare Krishna prayer worship, I've taken you to
Reformed temples, you've taken me to Catholic and Lutheran Church. Now
that I've got some free time (and I feel like I need to learn more about
different religious services since I am reading my History of Religion book and
don't understand the differences between religions), do you want to do a tour of
the most impressive houses of worship services in NYC? I figure we should
re-hit Catholic and Reformed Jewish (just for St. Pats and Temple Emanu-El), but
I am more curious about other religions and denominations of Christianity.
The Buddhist, Hindu, Islam, Ba'hai and the like will take some time to research,
but just off the top of my head we will need to go to Trinity Church for
Episcopalian, Jewish Theological Seminary for Conservative Judaism and Society
for the Advancement of Judaism for Reconstructionist Judaism.

Let me know if you are interested.


This is the kind of email that makes my day.

I long for the days when I had easy access to various religious services, leaders, and scholars. When I was a student at NYU I was the Vice President of the Newman Club at the Catholic Center. In addition to the regular Newman Club meetings and Sunday Mass, I had access to the Islamic Center just across the hall, met a few times with the Rabbi at the Bronfman Center, hung out and talked religion with Ba'hai friends, went to Buddhist meditation days, attended ecumenical services with other Christian groups, and broke bread with the children of Abraham.

Adam sent a follow-up email saying that perhaps going to the "impressive" houses of worship may limit our experience and I agree. We should go to the places where the rabbis, imams, pastors, gurus, etc will spend time with us, teach us about their religion, and let us ask questions.

This will probably require arranged meeting times, etc. But, if you happen to be a religious leader and are reading this, your services would be greatly appreciated as we set forth to explore the religions of NYC.

Worship, Gotham! <-- that's what I've decided our series is going to be called. I could see this becoming a great television show, a sort of lay God Squad. If only we had access to a camera and production studio . . . .

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Team BadAss: Eric Harr

A long time ago, in a blog far, far away, I named professional athletes to Team BadAss. These are the professional athletes that embody what a professional athlete should be.

Today, I'll just do a quick intro of one the members of Team BadAss Eric Harr:Eric Harr was a guy who had fallen out of shape, was overweight, and working at a law firm in the Virgin Islands. He decided to sign up for a triathlon to help get him back into shape and ended up doing pretty well (finishing ahead of some pros).

Harr decided he was going to do something that few ever have the courage to do, follow a big dream. He decided, after just one race, that he was going to become a pro. He left his work, trained, ate well, trained some more, and by the end of his first year as a "pro" triathlete he was ranked #6 in the world.

Since then Eric Harr has continued racing, reported health segments on television, written a few books, given a ton back to charity, started his own online magazine, and raised awareness for global poverty and national obesity.

Here's a guy who had the balls, yes I said it, the balls to leave his profession for something many of us can only dream of. Granted, he can probably thank genetics a little, but still. How many of us have dreams that go un-pursued?

He dreamed big, made it, and is giving back.

Four years ago when I decided to dream big and run a marathon with no previous running experience, I bought Eric Harr's The Portable Personal Trainer. It's a small pocket sized book with health and fitness tips. Now that I'm training for another marathon and raising money for the Lance Armstrong Foundation, I pulled out the book and flipped through it.

The first tip is to not only dream big, dream huge! "It's time to demand more from your body," says Harr on page 11.


(I think that means that I should go for a run today...)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Advent Conspiracy

An old friend posted this on Facebook. I love it:

Do it!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Where do Communion wafers come from?

When I was little I used to think that the Pope, at the Vatican, had a big wafer-making factory and distributed them accordingly. I was off by about 4138 miles.

They're made in Rhode Island. Watch!

Hat tip to the good Deacon Greg, who has been getting a lot of press for his Mad Men-like ad blitz for the new NET channel!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

the fifth sentence of the 56th page...

...says, We all know how possible perpetual chastity actually is in reality, and just how few people actually do take this vow freely and deliberately!
From Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions.

There's always those chain emails and now Facebook things that people always try and get you to do. Well, I saw this one a couple of days ago and didn't do it. I hardly ever do any of them. But, I've seen some pretty hilarious ones recently. So, I stood up, looked for the book nearest me and opened up to the 56th page and read the 5th sentence.

But, wait, I took it one step further. I took the sentence, pasted it into Google, and did an Image search. This is what I got:
What are the cosmos trying to tell me?

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

I would be king and you would be my queen

We could be heroes. Just for one day.

Wendy and I were watching TV tonight and I somehow started humming Heroes, by David Bowie, during a commercial break. She sang along, but a different version, the Moulin Rouge mashup.

In any case, I went to look for a David Bowie version and for some unknown reason typed in Turns out it's a website dedicated to heroes, real and fictional. It's a fun place to look around if you get a chance. One of their home page stories features Marco Martinez, a former gang member who has received an award for bravery from the Marines.

Read on:
Former Gang Member Receives the Navy Cross
From a gang member to Iraq War hero, and the first Latino Marine fighting in Iraq to receive the Navy Cross, the nation's second-highest award for bravery.When former Marine Corps Sergeant Marco Martinez looks back on his life as a "gangbanger" in New Mexico, he believes he was one step from going over the edge.

Here is a young man who once sat in a car with a gun on his lap, waiting to kill a rival gang member.A few years later, Marco Martinez is ignoring intense enemy fire to save two fellow Marines from almost certain death.

"I was basically a leech on the side of America's body, sitting there, sucking blood out, not doing anything productive. Finally, when I joined the Marine Corps, I understood what it was to be an American," said Marco. You do not have to spend much time with Marco to realize that is his true belief.

On April 12, 2003, Marco, serving with the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, responded to a call to reinforce a platoon that had been ambushed. Under fire, Marco moved his team into supporting positions to assault the enemy. He eliminated two hostile fighters on the initial attack after his squad leader was wounded by a grenade blast. Marco took control and led the assault into the area where the ambush had began. Marco and his outnumbered men cleared a nearby building held by enemy fighters. As they entered another area, they took stronger small arms fire from the hostile forces inside. Marco and his men fought their way through the building into a courtyard, where the Fedayeen continued to engage the Marines from a garden shed.

Marco saw that the enemy had left a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher and two rounds on the ground on their way to the bunker. As his team provided cover fire, Marco ventured into the open and grabbed the RPG launcher and sprinted behind a palm tree. The hostile forces targeted Marco – but his assault had allowed his men to safely evacuate the wounded Marines. While the rest of the team took care of the injured men, Marco single-handedly attacked the bunker. Dodging bullets, he ran up to the shed and threw a grenade into the building, killing four enemy forces and ending the firefight.


"I really thought I was going to die, and I was at peace with that, because I had done so many things beforehand, where I might have died over misinterpreted glances, colors, girls," said Marco.


Despite his humility, the Navy Cross is something that's awarded to only a relatively few people. As a Marine colonel once said, you don't "win" the nation's second-highest military honor; you earn it.

Read the full story here.

And enjoy some Bowie while you're here:

And, upon Wendy's request, some Moulin Rouge:

Monday, December 1, 2008

Make me an instrument of your peace

'Cuz you can never have enough:

Barack Obama Way

Wendy and I have been confused by some reports we're hearing of things being named "Barack Obama" something-or-other.

Isn't it way too early?

Granted, he is the first African-American president-elect in our history! That's pretty neat. Yes, he has a good story. But, he hasn't done anything as President yet!!!!!

A Long Island Elementary School is now known as Barack Obama Elementary School. Couldn't they wait four years to make sure he actually turns out to be OK?

In a small town in Spain, the main avenue is being renamed Calle Barack Obama. Umm, why?

Babies are being named Barack Obama. Please don't do that yet!

I voted for him and hope, for the good of our country, that he does an amazing job. But what if he's terrible? Do you want to take the chance that you named your baby after a terrible President? I wonder how many little George W. Bushes are running around the country....

I'll say this, I like Obama's VP and cabinet picks so far. I can just see the day when we need to send someone to resolve some issue with some foreign wannabe. Who do we send?

How about, National Security Advisor Jim Jones? Badass!

Not a cabinet pick, but definitely on the Obama team, Senate Foreign Relations Chair John Kerry? He just might tase you bro!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? She won't take no one's crap!

And wait, if we really, really have to - if you step up to the US we might just have to unleash Vice President Joe Biden. We might as well give you a head start running. You done gonna get schooled Biden-style!

So, he has done that well. He picks a good team.

I have nothing but high hopes for our President-elect and I try to pray for him and his family every day. But, really, he hasn't done anything yet. Stop naming stuff after him please. Especially the babies. It's way too early.

One conservative blogger put it this way:
Imagine a child getting a trophy for just showing up for a little league baseball game.
Amen to that. I remember having to play a whole season before getting my plastic trophy. Sure, I sucked, but I played. He hasn't even started playing yet!

And, so, as I often like to do, I ask that you pray. Pray for our President-elect, our Vice President-elect, and their team. Expectations are high. I pray they're able to meet them.