Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I usually write a short article for each issue of Christianity Today, and last week I began contributing to the CT Liveblog, a coop blog for editors and reporters, with “Christian mission at the porn convention.” You probably also saw it here, as co-posting will be the M.O. when I blog for CT.
Today on the Liveblog, Stan Guthrie has a piece attributing the roller-coaster round of early primaries to economic uncertainty. And while I can’t say I agree with his political priorities or that I remember stagflation, he makes a strong point encouraging Christians not to worry about what tomorrow brings:
Every generation worries about the economy (remember the âstagflationâ of the seventies?), and while no one knows the future with precision, I would guess that we have less to fear than most generationsâeven if recession comes. There are many other issues we also must consider, such as the war on terror, peace in the Middle East, abortion, the environment, and other priority issues.
Beyond all that, as Christians, we should look at the coming election through the lens of faith, not fear. We are to trust God to provide, not the promises of politicians. As a certain nonpolitical leader once said:
âTherefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.â
Thus, whatever the economy brings, we are to be busy doing his workâincluding helping those who really are strugglingâtrusting him to provide our needs each day.
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January 14, 2008 | 8:13 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
There is the Unitarian Church known as The Onion, where Ken Kesey and his Band of Merry Pranksters held their first acid test in L.A. And, of course, there is The Onion newspaper, which publishes story with headlines like this: “Dairy Company Introduces Lots-Of-Pulp Milk.”
But there is also The Onion for Christians, better known LarkNews.com, via Christianity Today.
What keeps fans coming back for each month’s fresh material is a wit so sharp that, as with The Onion, people sometimes mistake its satirical stories for real news. In February 2003, for example, Kilpatrick made up an item that Zondervan would publish a gay-friendly version of its New International Version of the Bible. Like many gay advocates within churches, the theoretical gNIV assumed that Jonathan and David were lovers. Enough people sent in horrified e-mails that Zondervan issued a statement calling the report “a sick joke.”
Meanwhile, homeschooling bloggers fell for “Harvard forcing homeschoolers to ‘Fit In,’” which played off of stereotypes that such students need more social skills. And Christian radio stations were duped by “Wal-Mart rejects ‘racy’ worship cd”: “The latest Vineyard Music worship cd, ‘Intimacy, vol. 2,’ has raced to the top of the Christian sales charts, but Wal-Mart is refusing to stock the album without slapping on a parental warning sticker. The groundbreakingâsome say risquÃ©âalbum includes edgy worship songs such as ‘My Lover, My God.’”
Today’s top stories include “Warren to buy Saints, build Purpose-Driven Field,” “Blessing the iPod: Churches sanctify music devices” and “Holy Spirit neglects to show up at revival.”
January 13, 2008 | 4:05 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
A long-time voice for social justice in East Germany and its unified successor, the Rev. Christian Fuhrer is turning 65 and about to begin mandatory retirement. The New York Times made him the Saturday Profile.
CHRISTIAN FÃHRER was born in Leipzig in 1943, during World War II. Aside from how fitting his given name, Christian, is for a minister, his last name, FÃ¼hrer, simply means leader. Yet, for many â especially non-German speakers â the word is all but inseparable from Hitler. In addition to meaning leader, however, it also means guide, appropriate for a spiritual counselor.
A sickly child, he was fascinated by the way Jesus cared for the abject and the outsiders, and from a young age he knew he wanted to follow his father into the ministry. It was not a monastic life, however, but one of involvement that he sought. Pastor FÃ¼hrer cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the prominent German Protestant theologian who was part of a plot to overthrow Hitler, and was eventually executed in a concentration camp, as among his greatest influences.
âThe church must always be political,â he said, âbut there is a difference between political and party-political.â
If only American religious leaders and politicians agreed.
January 11, 2008 | 9:13 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
This all seems so eight years ago. A folksy Southern evangelical wins Iowa only to be stopped in his tracks by maverick John McCain. But will what happens next in the Republican presidential race be a replay of 2000? Will the Christian Right stop McCain cold in South Carolina? God-o-Meter doubts it. Let’s examine the evidence:
1. As opposed to denouncing the Christian Right as “agents of intolerance,” as he did in 2000, McCain is enthusiastically reaching out the movement. ...
2. McCain has launched a “truth squad” in South Carolina to smack down potentially ruinous attacks as they surface. Rumors spread by George W. Bush supporters about McCain in South Carolina—including that he had fathered an illegitimate child—hit him especially hard among “values voters.” 3. McCain got just as many evangelical votes in New Hampshire as Mike Huckabee. ... Does this mean John McCain will have an easy time in the Palmetto State? No. But for McCain, what happens next won’t be a replay of 2000.
January 10, 2008 | 4:26 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
My friends’ apartment resides in the bluish glow of Scientology’s LA offices, south and east of its Celebrity Centre in the former ChÃ¢teau Elysee. I’m actually always surprised by how little foot traffic I see coming in and out of the main buildings, but clearly the religion based on the writings of sci-fi author L. Ron Hubbard has quite the following. The New Yorker checks in on its draw from the entertainment industry.
From the outset, the conversion of celebrities was important to Scientology. An internal newsletter produced by the Hubbard Communications Office, probably in the mid-fifties, asserts, âThere are many to whom America and the world listens. On the backs of these are carried most of the enthusiasms on which the society runs.â It goes on, âIt is obvious what would happen to America if we helped its leaders to help others. Project Celebrity is part of that program. It is obvious what would happen to Scientology if prime communicators benefitting from it would mention it now and then.â The piece concludes with a list of the dayâs starsâOrson Welles, Howard Hughes, Walt Disney, and Greta Garbo among themâreferring to them as âgameâ and âquarryâ for Scientologists to âhunt.â Though Scientology is not known to have had success with this early group, the movement now counts Tom Cruise, John Travolta, Kirstie Alley, and many other celebrities as members.
Celebrity Centre is used for Scientology courses and for âauditing,â a mainstay of the religion, in which a person undergoes a guided talk-therapy session, usually while holding a device known as an E-Meter, which is supposed to measure oneâs spiritual state. The goal is to eliminate âmental image picturesâ associated with traumatic events; when a person is âClearââfreed of all such associationsâhe can advance to the mystical and esoteric levels of Scientology. The path to becoming an âOperating Thetan,â or pure spiritual being (âthetanâ being Hubbardâs word for the soul), is laid out in a table called âThe Bridge to Total Freedom: Scientology Classification Gradation and Awareness Chart of Levels and Certificates.â Scientology is a technological religion and claims to have developed âexact, precise methods to increase manâs spiritual awareness and capability.â Completion of the Bridge takes years, and each stage requires a cash investment. An initial twelve-and-a-half-hour auditing session costs between six and seven hundred dollars, Greg LaClaire, a vice-president of Celebrity Centre, says. (Aspiring Scientologists can mitigate the expense by choosing to be audited by a fellow initiate rather than by a staff member.) In the Holiday 2007 Dianetics and Scientology catalogue, a deluxe Planetary Dissemination Edition E-Meterâbilled as a âtool for Golden Age of Tech certainty,â to assist in âfaster progress up The Bridgeââwas offered, in âDiamond Blue,â for five thousand five hundred dollars.
On Celebrity Centreâs upper floors, there are thirty-nine hotel rooms to accommodate visiting Scientologists. An undated leaflet advertising âa safe environment for Celebrities and Scientologistsâ contains a plug from Travolta: âGood rest, good food, good service but most of all I felt very safe in this spaceâ; Celebrity, a magazine produced by Celebrity Centre, which features a Scientology celebrity on the cover of every issue, urges readers to stay at the hotel for five to six weeks âto complete your Basics books & lectures courses faster!â In the basement, thereâs a drug detox facility. The castle also fosters a feeling of community. âHollywoodâs not a very easy industry to bust into,â Hilary Royce, a former dancer who went to Sarah Lawrence and is now the director of community affairs for the Church of Scientology International, told me. âAny artist at Celebrity Centre would tell you itâs a safe place to study scripts, to network. Itâs really a hub.â
The promise of connectedness attracts many Hollywood hopefuls. Celebrity Centre offers a range of Success in the Industry SeminarsâBreaking Into Commercials, How to Get Cast in the Pilot Season, Hollywood Acting Classâwhich it promotes with flyers posted at auditions around town. A former actor I spoke with told me that when he first got to Hollywood, a decade ago, he went to Celebrity Centre for what âseemed like a legitimate industry workshop,â only to find that âit was more or less an opportunity for them to solicit people.â
âI stood in the foyer and watched this massive indoctrination presentation, where Marissa Ribisi, Juliette Lewis, and a casting director came out talking about how great it is to be in Scientology,â he said. âThis celebrity panel was confirming that the people in the audience could in fact realize their dreams if they took courses and got âClear.â Then I was followed by auditors, who tried to get me to go into another room and get audited. It was a pervasive, invasive type of sales pitch. I started to get really pissed, and then they started to say that my stress was causing discomfort in my life.â
The rest of Dana Goodyear’s piece offers a rhythmic history of the Celebrity Centre more than the Church of Scientology, not reminiscent of this staple from Rolling Stone.
January 10, 2008 | 1:40 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Yesterday, I added to my story list the fact that many Jewish Angelenos are upset with American Jewish University for inviting Karl Rove to speak at its vaunted Public Lecture Series. Then today I opened The Jewish Journal and saw that Rob Eshman had dedicated his column to that exact topic, and I realized how much better a story like this reads when it has the voice of someone who is allowed to inject their opinion.
Something has happened in the Jewish community, all across the political and religious spectrum, and it isn’t good.
Somehow too many people in the Jewish community have become stuck in a very dangerous place: their comfort zone.
They are loathe to confront and really hear ideas that differ from their own, and they cleave to the company of voices that echo their preconceived ideas and long-formed opinions.
A few people have picked up on this.
“There was a time,” Haaretz’s Gideon Levy said in an interview with The Nation, “when you’d ask two Israelis a question, and you’d get three different opinions. Now you only get one.”
In The Jerusalem Post, columnist Larry Derfner noted the problem in Israel, where public opinion fell into “lockstep” behind the war in Lebanon, the invasion of Iraq and the criticism of the National Intelligence Estimate report on Iran. How different, Derfner writes, from the Israel of old, where robust public debate was the norm.
“This is a society that’s been brainwashed by consent,” he wrote. “And when all hands are raised together, it not only enhances certainty, it offers the added comfort of unity.”
J.J. Goldberg, The Forward’s brilliant executive editor, wrote that the national Jewish debate is similarly afflicted. In fighting nouveau anti-Semitism, he wrote, “It doesn’t help when Jews ignore or deny Israel’s genuine shortcomings. It doesn’t help when they overreact to criticism—hostile, benign or just clumsy—and intimidate their critics into resentful silence, reinforcing their enemies’ worst stereotypes.”
The response to Goldberg’s essay? One organization head accused him of blaming the Jews for their own victimization.
And here at home things aren’t any better.
January 10, 2008 | 8:34 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
About a year before I joined The Jewish Journal, on the paper’s 20th anniversary, Tom Teicholz wrote this column in honor of Yiddish reportage. I just stumbled across it, and it’s worth a read, especially in light of that article I linked to earlier this week.
People who seem to actually like what I write are always telling me they wish it were published somewhere else. Somewhere better—i.e., more prestigious, with a larger circulation or certainly a less parochial one ... somewhere less, in a word, Jewish. “It’s really good,” I’m told as if that would disqualify my work for publication in a Jewish publication.
I won’t say that I haven’t, on occasion, shared these thoughts about other Jewish papers or Jewish journalism or even about my own ambitions for my writing. But when I do—and particularly on the occasion of The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles’ 20th anniversary—I call to mind the longer view and recall the great history, tradition and noble cause of Jewish journalism.
I’m not sure who qualifies as the first Jewish journalists. It may have been the biblical Caleb and Joshua, who reported on the land of Canaan and brought back the headline: “Flowing With Milk and Honey; Land of Plenty.”
Or perhaps it was Josephus (37 C.E.-100 C.E.) who chronicled “The Jewish Wars,” his firsthand account of the Roman conquest of what is today Israel.
Jewish tradition is marked by rendering the oral tradition in print and recording the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs, the accounts of the prophets, the tales of Kings David and Solomon and the tales of the rabbis. One can argue that the Jewish embrace of the responsibility to bear witness and pass along the stories from generation to generation is the cornerstone for a calling in journalism.
Regardless of the cause or the inspiration, by the late 19th century, Jewish journalism was flourishing, as were Jews who were journalists—some of whom would forever shape the course of journalism and the course of world events.
To give but one notable example: In 1894, among those covering the Paris trial of Capt. Alfred Dreyfus was Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian journalist. Witnessing the French crowds screaming “Death to the Jews!” profoundly impacted him. Two years later in 1896, Herzl wrote “The Jewish State,” the rallying cry for Zionism and the establishment of a Jewish homeland. Although he didn’t work for a Jewish publication, Herzl entered history when his reporting focused on Jewish matters. Herzl did not live to see the creation of the State of Israel, a mere 52 years later, but in recognition of his role in the founding of the state, and as per his wishes, he is buried there today.
In the United States, America’s first Jewish newspaper, The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, was published in 1843 by Philadelphia’s Isaac Leeser. More than a decade later in 1854, Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise of Cincinnati, leader of the Reform movement, founded The Israelite, a weekly that proclaimed itself “devoted to the Religion, History and Literature of the Israelites.”
Wise, himself an immigrant from Bohemia, was one of the most important Jewish figures of the post-Civil War era. The Israelite (later The American Israelite) was devoted to helping its readers become, as Wise once wrote, “Americans through and through.” However, Wise’s greatest contribution to American Journalism may not be The Israelite but rather his daughter, Iphigene “Effie” Wise, who married German Jewish immigrant Adolph Ochs in 1884.
In 1896, Ochs purchased The New York Times and set about making it the national newspaper of record. His descendants continue to steer The Times to this day.
Around the same time, the Hungarian-born Joseph Pulitzer, who had worked as a journalist for a German-language newspaper, acquired the St. Louis Post, later merging it with the St. Louis Dispatch. Pulitzer continued to acquire newspapers and became famous for sensationalist stories—or “yellow journalism.” In spite of that—or maybe because of it—he endowed the Pulitzer Prizes in Journalism at Columbia University.
English was only one of several possible languages for Jewish journalism in the United States. There was also a prevalence of German and Russian. The beginning of the 20th century saw a flood of Jewish immigration to the United States, bringing in a vast and engaged audience for Jewish papers in many languages, most notably Yiddish.
For many of its readers, there was a special quality to the Yiddish press that is missing from today’s Jewish journalism. Eddie Portnoy, a historian of Yiddish popular culture, said it this way: “The Yiddish press was a private conversation.”
It was by Jews for Jews, without concern about what the non-Jewish population might think.
Like FUBU for Jews.
Which brings me back to my original point: Don’t Jewish newspapers deserve a little more respect?
January 9, 2008 | 5:16 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Though he is not especially funny, Rudy Giuliani likes to begin with a joke. âDid you know that Iâm running for President of the United States?â
âThis is where we really need a leader,â he told her. âWe need somebody who can do the impossible. Now, I say that because I did this a lot in New York.â
Depending on whether you count his abortive race for the U.S. Senate in 2000, this is either Giulianiâs fourth or his fifth political campaign. In the earlier races, his goal was to persuade New Yorkers to vote for a Republican; this time around, itâs to persuade Republicans to vote for a New Yorker. Gone are the âGodfatherâ imitations, the snapping at the press, and the praise for immigration (âthe single most important reason for American greatnessâ). The candidate who stopped by the Letiziosâ, and before that had coffee at Suzieâs Diner, in Hudson, and before that went on a holiday stroll in Nashua, where he waited in line to buy a Christmas ornament of a moose, is a less ethnic, less impatient, and more conservative candidate than voters in Brooklyn and the Bronx ever knew. This Giuliani invokes Ronald Reagan, smilesâor tries toâat children, and pledges to âsecure our borders and identify every non-citizen in the nation.â
And yet the logic of his new campaign isâmutatis mutandisâthe same as that of the old. Once again, Giuliani is in the awkward situation of wanting to represent a group of people whose views he does not actually represent. Once again, appeals based on âvaluesâ or personal history are closed to him. (Fourteen years agoâbefore he had appeared in drag, or ditched his second wife on TV, or met his third wife at a cigar barâa âvulnerability studyâ commissioned by his staff noted that Giulianiâs âpersonal life raises questions about a âweirdness factor.â â) And so, once again, Giuliani is left to campaign on the basis of a single, strongly held idea: a great-leader theory of history, in which the great leader happens to be himself.