Spokane’s religion wrap-up: Easter baskets, genealogy, Passover and Tutu

By Tracy Simmons
SpokaneFAVS.com

For kids, the best part of Easter is getting a basket filled with bunny-shaped chocolates and plastic eggs filled with coins. But when was the last time mom got an Easter basket? This year Christ Kitchen is selling ‘grown-up Easter baskets’ filled with soups, breads and other home-made goodies. You can order online.

(By the way, you still have time to get your Easter listings turned in to SpokaneFAVS, but better hurry).

Since we’re on the topic of family — are you interested in learning more about your genealogy? The Spokane West Stake will host a Family Search Symposium from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 28. It’s free and you can register online here.

Flickr photo of Passover seder by Suzie T

Let’s not forget that Easter isn’t the only sacred holiday on next weekend’s calendar. Passover begins April 7 and continues through April 13. Passover is a time to commemorate the freedom of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt under the leadership of Moses, who was directed by God. Traditionally on the first two nights of Passover, it is traditional for a Jewish family to gather for a special dinner called a seder in which the story of the Exodus is retold.

In this month’s newsletter from the Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod, the director of evangelical mission writes an interesting reflection on missional leadership. Helga Jansens writes, “Being missional means worrying less about ourselves: a self-denying forgetfulness about our congregational  size and resources. It is to be concerned with what God is already doing and what God wants to have done in  the community.” She offers some ideas in her piece about how to be more missional-minded.

Finally, you probably know Desmond Tutu is coming to Spokane later this year. But did you know his visit isn’t without controversy. The Inlander did a nice job explaining this story here.

Have something you think should be included in next week’s wrap-up? Email it to tracy.simmons@religionnews.com

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The night we betray Jesus

By Contributor Eric Blauer

Pastor Eric Blauer

The Easter Holy Week is almost here and it’s often forgotten that one of the central themes of the Gospel story is our betrayal of Jesus.

Many Christians memorialize the last days of Jesus by practicing foot washing, celebrating the Eucharist and spending time singing hymns and praying together as a church community. Woven into all those moments of Jesus’s passion were narratives of human abandonment.
Jesus washed the feet of disciples who would betray, deny and desert him.
Jesus shared the bread and wine with the disciples who were about to betray, deny and desert him.
Yet, he washed and fed.

Photo from biblical-art.com

Many churches begin communion times by reciting 1 Corinthians 11:23, “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed.”

This passage offers us a deep and sacred place of human experience with the divine — the dark night.
Every person’s spiritual journey is made up of dark and light. It’s in the night time where Jesus dines and serves us, with the full knowledge of the blackness of our kisses and curses.
We can resist and reject this revelation like Peter did in his self-righteous moment at the last supper. We often offer up our grandiose narratives of personal fidelity. We are too dishonest about the brief span of our saintliness that is quickly drowned out with the mornings rooster cries.
We sing the songs of Sunday’s worship with the same mouths that kiss him amidst Monday’s mob of unbelievers.
We eat and drink at the table of our heart with angels and devils and yet are quick to recount the falleness of others — who doubt, desert and deny.
The holy night of betrayal is a path of confession for us all, a washing in the water of our own waywardness. A dip of bread in the wine of our own devilish possessions. A dark moment when we recognize our own adultery as we pass the holy kiss.
This Easter week, let’s take time reflecting in the mirror of the Passion and don’t forget what we have seen when the celebrations are all over.

Dalai Lama wins Templeton Prize for work on science, religion

Chris Herlinger

Photo of the Dalai Lama by Tracy Simmons

The Dalai Lama is best known for his commitment to Tibetan autonomy from China and his message of spirituality, nonviolence and peace that has made him a best-selling author and a speaker who can pack entire arenas.

But somewhat under the radar screen, the Tibetan Buddhist leader and Nobel Prize laureate has also had an abiding interest in the intersection of science and religion.

That interest won Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, the 2012 Templeton Prize on Thursday (March 29), a $1.7 million award that is often described as the most prestigious award in religion.

The Dalai Lama is the highest-profile winner of an award that in recent years had been given to physicists and theologians not well known to the general public, but earlier had been given to the likes of evangelist Billy Graham and the late Mother Teresa.

“With an increasing reliance on technological advances to solve the world’s problems, humanity also seeks the reassurance that only a spiritual quest can answer,” said John M. Templeton, Jr., the president and chairman of the Pennsylvania-based John Templeton Foundation and the son of Sir John Templeton, who founded the prize in 1972.

“The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being.”

For his part, the Dalai Lama, in a video statement released during a live webcast announcing the prize, struck a modest note. He said he was nothing more than “a simple Buddhist monk,” despite the 2012 Templeton or his 1989 Nobel Peace Prize.

The Templeton honor, he said, was “another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly, nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions.”

The Templeton Foundation noted that the Dalai Lama has long had an interest in a variety of scientific subjects, including astrophysics, behavioral science, neurobiology and quantum mechanics.

As one example, the Dalai Lama helped initiate a “Science for Monks” program, based at Buddhist monasteries in India. The program hosts Indian and Western scientists who wish to explore possible connections and overlaps between science and Tibetan Buddhist traditions.

In turn, the program also provides education in scientific inquiry to monks interested in biology, chemistry, cosmology, mathematics, physics and quantum mechanics.

In its announcement, the foundation noted “the rigorous commitment of Buddhists to meditative investment and reflection similarly follows the strict rules of investigation, proof and evidence required of science.”

But the Dalai Lama also has been involved in many academic conferences on science and religion. Some of these have resulted in best-selling books like “The Art of Happiness,” “The Universe in a Single Atom,” and “The Dalai Lama at MIT.”

Aside from the “Science for Monks” program, the foundation noted that the Dalai Lama co-founded the Colorado-based Mind & Life Institute in 1987, dedicated to “collaborative research” between science and Buddhism.

Among other things, the institute hosts conferences focusing on contemplative science, consciousness and death, and destructive and healing emotions.

Another institution formed with the Dalai Lama’s collaboration is Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education.

In his recommendation to the awards committee, Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote: “More than any other living human being, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has served humanity to catalyze the advancement of ‘spiritual progress’ and to help us all to cultivate a better understanding of the spiritual dimensions of human experience.”

The Templeton Prize — the world’s largest annual monetary award given to a single individual — will be presented to the Dalai Lama at a May 14 ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The Dalai Lama becomes the second Templeton Prize laureate who has also won the Nobel Peace Prize. Mother Teresa won the first Templeton, in 1973. Six years later, she received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Paying off our nation’s debt is a spiritual issue

By Contributor Rev. Bill Ellis

Rev. Bill Ellis

And so now, as often happens, we meet at the intersection of religion and politics streets.

Representative Paul Ryan’s budget committee of the U.S. House has produced a budget that cuts 5.3 trillion dollars from projected deficits over the next decade, a formidable number that does not erase the whole thing, but makes a decent dent in it. When he explained this budget on Meet The Press he emphasized the need to solve this budget crisis now, before it is too late, in a way that reduces federal spending and produces private sector jobs. These are laudable goals; indeed, the Obama Administration shares them.

What concerns me is how Ryan’s committee proposes to do all this. Medicaid would be cut by 800 billion dollars over the next decade, Medicare would be transformed into a system in which government subsidies for the purchase of private health insurance would replace the present reimbursement system, and 261 billion of projected cuts in Defense Department spending would be restored to the Pentagon, financed in part by cuts to food stamps and federal employee pensions.  There are other huge cuts to social service programs.

Ryan/Wikipedia

On the revenue side, the top tax bracket would be reduced from 35 percent to 25 percent. Ryan justified the tax cut by stating that along with the reduction in tax rates for the wealthiest Americans there would be a corresponding closing of tax loopholes — though he did not specify just which loopholes those would be — assuring us that total revenue would remain steady, “neutral” is the term he used, while spending would be reduced, assuring us all that in the aggregate the wealthiest Americans would pay no less in taxes than they do now.

This is precisely the problem. By Ryan’s own analysis the richest people in this country would contribute precisely zero to solving our budget crisis; they would pay no more than now. The folks who use Medicaid, food stamps and other social service programs would shoulder the entire burden.

Apart from the question of the dubious relationship between tax rates and job creation, the fact that even by Republican analysis the burden of solving the debt crisis falls entirely to the poor and lower middle class is deeply troubling. The Hebrew Bible image of the jubilee immediately comes to mind. We don’t know if a jubilee was ever actually declared in ancient Israel, but the notion was that every 50 years all debts would be remitted and all property alienated during the previous half century would be returned to its ancestral owners.  The poor get a chance to start over. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus reads the jubilee text from Isaiah of “good news to the poor” and declares that this is what the kingdom looks like.  What we have before us here is an anti-jubilee, a decree that only the poor must pay, it is the wealthy who get a new start.

I realize most analysts are saying this budget has no chance of passage; fair enough. But the spirit of this budget is alive and well, and I just can’t believe this is what we as a nation really want. Let us find a way that everyone really does contribute to the economic recovery that everyone wants. Let us find a means by which all help pay off the nation’s debt. Only then will we be able to look our spiritual heritage in the eye; anything less will represent the complete failure of our spiritual imagination.

Meet Zach Oxford-Romeike, writing about religion, politics and respect

Zach Oxford-Romeike

Zach Oxford-Romeike was born and raised in Spokane and  is currently a sophomore at Eastern Washington University. He’s studying psychology and sociology and minoring in creative writing and economics. He plans to be a therapist and a writer after he graduates.

“Though raised a Catholic and sent to a Catholic elementary school, I fell away from tradition and am now more agnostic than anything else, with a firm belief in compassion,” he said.

For SpokaneFAVS he writes about religion in politics and respect between both religious and secular groups.

It’s not gay couples marriage needs protection from

By Contributor Rev. Liv Larson Andrews

Rev. Liv Larson Andrews

As a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I rejoice in the opportunity now offered by the state of Washington to marry same-sex couples. Not all my siblings in faith agree with me. Invitations crowd my mailbox to pray and act to protect marriage. From what, I wonder?

People of faith are hotly divided. It’s a bit stormy out.

As a married person, I rejoice in the blessing of my spouse. It is within the community, the Body of Christ, that our marriage is kept sacred and held accountable. Public accountability is the call and the gift of marriage within the church. The risen Christ, tangible in this community, protects and sustains my marriage; and will do so for gay couples, too. Isn’t this kind of community what we humans need?

Flickr photo by slgckgc

It is not from gay couples that my marriage needs protection. War, protracted and senseless, shatters marriages every day. Capitalism has warped weddings into a circus-like industry. Brides and grooms of all kinds fear the task of wedding planning, thinking if they can survive that process together, marriage will be a cinch. So I propose we pray: Dear Lord, protect us from David’s Bridal.

When we lived in Chicago, my spouse and I attended an urban Mennonite church. At the wedding of two friends, we ate potluck style and offered our hand-stitched quilt squares into their wedding blanket. The next day was an all-church gathering at the lakeshore. Our newlywed friends showed up, riding in on a tandem bicycle sporting a cardboard “Just Married” sign. It didn’t take long for others to start requesting rides. Soon, everybody around was hopping on and off the goofy tandem bike with joy. My husband and his buddy, Doug, took it for a spin along the lakeshore path, cardboard sign still attached. As they passed by two old men on a park bench, they heard, “Huh? Two guys?!” and then “Don’t knock it. It’s a beautiful thing.” They hardly stayed upright they were laughing so hard.

I guess I agree with the second old man: don’t knock it. Marriage is a beautiful thing. And it’s a powerful testimony to marriage that so many want to pursue it.

Lastly, as a child of the ’90s, I feel it is fitting to cite the Indigo Girls as a response invitation to my fellow Christians: “To let this love survive would be the best gift we could give. Though it’s storming out, I feel safe within  the arms of love’s discovery.”

Before politics, Mitt Romney was a Mormon bishop

Peggy Fletcher Stack
Religion News Service

Former Governor Mitt Romney speaking at CPAC FL in Orlando, Florida. RNS photo by Gage Skidmore

The Mitt Romney whom many Americans see today is often depicted as wealthy, wooden and out of touch with the working class. To some, he seems gaffe prone, detached, even distant.

But that’s not the man Boston Mormons knew in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when many saw him as an eloquent speaker, a compassionate counselor and a creative problem-solver, generous with his money and quick to help any in need.

Are the two guys related?

While Romney was building his career at Bain Capital, he was also a Mormon bishop (equivalent to a pastor) and a stake president (presiding over several area congregations) in suburban Belmont, Mass.

Because the Salt Lake City-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has no paid clergy, Mormon men take turns overseeing wards (congregations) and regional stakes while continuing their full-time careers.

As a religious leader, Romney met weekly with students, teachers, immigrant converts and Utah transplants. He had to learn how to give sermons, advise squabbling couples, organize worship services, manage budgets and address the diverse spiritual needs of more than 1,000 Mormons in the region.

By most accounts, Romney was a good listener, a measured thinker and an innovative manager who considered various positions before making decisions. He was occasionally willing to work around bureaucratic edicts from Salt Lake City, such as allowing divorced men to continue in their leadership positions.

When LDS Family Services refused to place a baby with Brett and Janna Sorensen because Janna planned to return to work, Romney backed the couple. Eventually, the policy against adoptions for working moms changed.

To most members, Bishop Romney was pragmatic and open.

Given Romney’s experience in the working world, friends say, he was attracted to competence. He chose men with keen expertise as his two counselors in the stake presidency.

“I don’t think Mitt cares whether people are male or female, rich or poor, Republican or Democrat, old or young,” said Helen Claire Sievers, director of the WorldTeach program housed at Harvard, “but he really cares about their competency.”

Romney was “comfortable in his skin,” recalled Philip Barlow, an expert on Mormon history and culture at Utah State University, who was one of Bishop Romney’s counselors. The future Republican front-runner even showed off his “moon-walking” skills one day, gliding backward in a smooth imitation of Michael Jackson.

Like some Mormon leaders, insiders say, Romney could be insistent on the rightness of his position. He was used to dictating actions, then having the members raise their hands in support. That didn’t work so well with feminists.

The insiders also say that although sometimes progressive in his approach to women’s issues, Romney nonetheless was a product of the church’s male culture of the time. He didn’t initially believe, for example, that there were cases of physical or sexual abuse of women in his stake, though plenty of evidence pointed to it.

As a young bishop, Romney got word that Carroll Shelton, a woman in his ward, was considering an abortion. This was Shelton’s sixth pregnancy. She was in her 40s, had four teenage children and had developed medical complications. Her stake president had already approved the procedure when Romney arrived at the hospital and forcefully counseled her against it.

Peggie Hayes, a single woman with a child, was in Romney’s ward when she became pregnant. She alleges that Romney threatened her with excommunication if she didn’t put up the baby for adoption, Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman write in their book “The Real Romney.”

“Give up your son,” was the message Hayes said she got from Romney, “or give up your God.”

Romney has denied the story, and Ronald Scott, author of the recent “Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics,” doubts it happened that way.

“Local members do not recall a single person who was excommunicated or disfellowshipped while Mitt served as president of a stake that probably has as many religiously rococo and fiercely independent academics, writers and thinkers as any in the church,” Scott said.

Besides, Scott noted, threatening excommunication like that would have been against the rules — and Romney was a rule-follower.

Mormon women in Boston still talk about an extraordinary 1993 meeting Romney called to address the women of the stake. One by one, the more than 250 women called out their issues while he stood at the front with three pads labeled: policies we can’t change, practices we can change, and things we can consider.

“I was really surprised,” Sievers said. “He implemented every single suggestion that I would have.”

Not long after Grant Bennett fell off a ladder and broke his foot while trying to dislodge a hornet’s nest outside his second-story bedroom, Romney came to offer sympathy and show Bennett a smarter way to deal with the festering insects — from inside.

Before Doug Anderson had even finished getting family out of his burning house, Romney showed up with a brigade of neighbors to salvage beloved belongings from the remains.

Barlow, from Utah State, does not support Romney’s politics but believes his former bishop has been unfairly caricatured in the press.

Asking the candidate to “appear more informal is ironically asking him to become less authentic so that he can appear as more authentic,” he said. “We ought to allow him to be who he is and make our judgment on that basis.”

Tony Kimball, who served as executive secretary during Romney’s stint as stake president, saw Romney as “very warm and outgoing.” Although some Mormon feminists back then nicknamed Romney “the plastic man,” that wasn’t Kimball’s experience.

Even so, “the hard-line profile he seems to be pushing is light-years away from where he was when he was stake president.” In this current incarnation, Kimball said, “I have absolutely no clue who this guy is.”

Read SpokaneFAVS contributor Diane Kipp’s related post “Romney knows reality of poverty”