Der Spiegel: Never let a good @Pontifex go to waste

The clear differences in the style of Pope Francis as opposed to his predecessors, both as Bishop of Rome and in his former position as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, have electrified the world media. Here, they exclaim, is a clergyperson who is “walking the talk” about living to serve others.

Few places seem to relish this new approach more than Der Spiegel, the German newsweekly issued forth from Hamburg, in the mostly-Protestant north of the country. On Sep. 14, in an article now translated into English, the magazine declares:

Last week Rudolf Voderholzer, 54, the bishop of the Bavarian city of Regensburg and one of Germany’s younger church leaders, was taken to task at the Vatican by the pope himself. In an admonishment to the German bishop and others attending a seminar for new bishops in Rome, Francis said: “Be close to the people and live as you preach. Always be with your flock, do not succumb to careerism and ask yourselves whether you are truly living as you preach.”

Now, there’s nothing in the official text of the speech to suggest a direct attack on Voderholzer or anyone else. In fact, the official text doesn’t even contain the exact words Der Spiegel is quoting here, though the English Spiegel text is a translation from the German; there might have been some modification in the process.

Regardless of translation, the current pope’s emphasis on austere and authentic living is clear, and it gives Der Spiegel a chance to bash both the German Catholic hierarchy and Francis’ predecessor, who just happens to be German as well:

“This is a new message for German princes of the church. Many of them have long cultivated a lifestyle oriented toward strict dogmas, prestige and a career within the church, much like former Pope Benedict XVI. But now that his successor arrives at meetings in an old car, there has been a fundamental shift. Loyalty to the pope is being completely redefined, and not just in Regensburg, where Voderholzer’s predecessor Gerhard Ludwig Müller, a fervent devotee of former Pope Benedict, alienated many Roman Catholics.”

After repeating the much-told bit about Pope Francis’ eschewing of the papal apartments for more modest quarters, Der Spiegel again hones in on national Catholic officials:

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Praying Jews flock to the Temple Mount; world notices

If there is a “Ground Zero” for the world’s three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — it would be the Temple Mount, or “Haram Al-Sharif” (“Noble Sanctuary”) in the center of Jerusalem.

Jews revere it as the site of the First and Second Temples, wherein the “Holy of Holies” was contained. Christians revere the Temple as the place where Jesus walked and reasoned with the rabbis — as well as chastised the Pharisees and money changers. Muslims view the site as the the third holiest location in Islam, the location of the Prophet Muhammad’s journey to Jerusalem and ascent to heaven.

Within the space of two days, two prestigious newspapers have covered the relatively recent phenomenon of more and more Jews, mostly Israelis, visiting the Temple Mount and praying, usually surreptitiously. Though captured by the Israeli Defense Forces in the 1967 “Six-Day War,” the Temple Mount was almost immediately returned to Muslim control, and Jews were advised not to visit.

No longer, says The New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor, both of whose Jerusalem correspondents have investigated. Both stories document the relatively quiet return of worshipping Jews to the site, the occasional protests of Muslims there, and the now-increasing warnings from local Islamic leaders that unless the Israeli government does something, matters could get out of hand.

From Jodi Rudoren at the Times:

For decades the Israelis drawn to the site were mainly a fringe of hard-core zealots, but now more mainstream Jews are lining up to enter, as a widening group of Israeli politicians and rabbis challenge the longstanding rules constraining Jewish access and conduct. Brides go on their wedding days, synagogue and religious-school groups make regular outings, and many surreptitiously skirt the ban on non-Muslim prayer, like a Russian immigrant who daily recites the morning liturgy in his mind, as he did decades ago in the Soviet Union.

Palestinian leaders say the new activity has created the worst tension in memory around the landmark Al Aksa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, and have called on Muslims to defend the site from “incursions.” A spate of stone-throwing clashes erupted this month: on Wednesday, three Muslims were arrested and an Israeli police officer wounded in the face. And on Friday thousands of Arab citizens of Israel rallied in the north, warning that Al Aksa is in danger.

“We reject these religious visits,” Sheik Ekrima Sa’eed Sabri, who oversees Muslim affairs in Jerusalem, said in an interview. “Our duty is to warn,” he added. “If they want to make peace in this region, they should stay away from Al Aksa.”

Writing for the Monitor, Crista Case Bryant reports:

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Communing with a Lubavitcher ‘saint?’

One of the most fascinating communities in Orthodox Judaism has to be the Lubavitcher group, whose “mitzvah tanks” prowl mid-Manhattan in search of Jews they want to invite for a brief prayer. Around the world, from Montana to Mumbai, Lubavitch emissaries seek out other Jews, perhaps detached from formal observance, in an effort to win them back into the fold.

The late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was at the center of the Lubavitch revival of the past 60 years or so and remains at the heart of the Lubavitch movement, despite having passed to his rest in 1994 at the age of 92. His grave is in a cemetery in the Cambria Heights section of Queens, New York, and that’s where Sarah Maslin Nir, Queens reporter for The New York Times (and who is “is not related to any other journalists with a similar name,” her online bio insists) picks up the story. Nir reports on Lubavitchers (as members are often called) and others visiting the gravesite, or ohel in Hebrew, and leaving prayer requests at the tomb of Schneerson, affectionately called “the rebbe” by the faithful.

In the small hours of Thursday morning, visitors sat in the center beside a giant picture of the white-bearded rebbe, scribbling prayers on notepaper to be tossed onto the grave.

The rebbe, the belief goes, will deliver them to God.

That’s not entirely unexpected, since Jews (and other pilgrims, including then-Sen. Barack Obama and Pope John Paul II) have left notes with prayer requests at the Western Wall in Jerusalem for decades, if not centuries. But the near-veneration of Schneerson, while understood vis-a-vie his followers, could use some context in the broader picture of Judaism and its practices. Moses’ grave on Mt. Nebo, for example, is described in the Bible as unknown, suggesting Jews were not to make pilgrimages there. (A Catholic Church stands today on the spot believed to be where Moses eyed the Promised Land he did not enter, but that’s another story — and a different tradition.)

But what do other scholars and thinkers make of this, um, adoration of Schneerson? How, well, “Jewish” would or should it be considered? Is there anyone willing to tackle that question — even a Lubavitcher spokesman such as Rabbi Motti Seligson? We don’t know, because Nir doesn’t tell us in this piece.

She does offer plenty of color and detail and glimpses of some who make the, pardon the expression, “lobster shift” (i.e., middle-of-the-night) journey to the grave:

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The ‘exceptional importance’ of the Hobby Lobby case

It’s no surprise that the “Hobby Lobby” case is in the news. The valid headlines this week are that this religious-liberty case is on the doorstep of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Hobby Lobby craft-store chain is owned by the evangelical Christian Green family of Oklahoma, and the family is seeking an exemption from the Health and Human Services mandate requiring employer payments for contraceptives — including those that induce abortions. Hobby Lobby is a national chain, and the Green family’s stance is well known.

However, the Los Angeles Times team let a few ghosts into its examination of the high-court development, which begins in an apocalyptic tone:

WASHINGTON — The Obama administration set the stage Thursday for another Supreme Court showdown on the president’s healthcare law, this time to decide whether for-profit companies can be forced to provide full contraceptive coverage for their employees despite religious objections from their owners.

The administration’s lawyers asked the justices to take up the issue this fall to decide whether these corporations can claim a religious exemption to this part of the healthcare law.

U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald Verrilli Jr. called the issue one of “exceptional importance” that needs to be resolved soon.

While the Greens may appreciate the move to get a quick decision from the Supreme Court, we have to wonder just why this is suddenly an issue of “exceptional importance” to the administration.

We also wonder what a reader coming to this story for the first time might make of the “religious objections” alluded to in the piece. That’s because allusion is all that happens here: we’re not told, in the story, anything about what the Green family believes, or why. There’s a mention of the abortifacient drug issue, but it’s almost too, well, casual.

Large employers are required to provide health coverage, and the law says this insurance must pay for standard contraceptives, including the “morning after” pill.

But some employers object on religious grounds. They went to court, arguing that they cannot be compelled by the government to subsidize birth control or abortions.

As it has doubtless been mentioned here numerous times, a wide range of differences exist among Christians of differing stripes (i.e., faith communities) over what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of birth control.

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Seeing through a famous glass cathedral, rather dimly

The 2010 bankruptcy of Crystal Cathedral Ministries, founded in 1955 by the Rev. Robert H. Schuller atop a drive-in movie theater’s concession stand, stunned much of the church world.

One year later, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange bid $57.5 million for the Crystal Cathedral campus itself, a sprawling facility in the city of Garden Grove, which sits at the heart of Orange County, California. Architects Richard Neutra and Philip Johnson designed the two main buildings on the site — Neutra’s Arboretum and Johnson’s Crystal Cathedral, now renamed Christ Cathedral. The news these days is that the latter is undergoing massive and much-discussed renovations to transform the space from what was, essentially, a hyper-Protestant television ministry’s epicenter into a specifically Catholic liturgical space.

The Los Angeles Times — under the awkward headline, “Changing faiths at the Crystal Cathedral” — looked in on renovations, and while presenting an interesting summary, it seemed to skirt some essential issues. And note that headline on this long, front-page feature story: Is Catholic Christianity really a different FAITH than Protestantism? Aren’t both of these flocks part of the Christian faith?

Meanwhile, reporter Rick Rojas, whose beat is a general one covering Orange County, hints at a couple of issues, and that’s about it:

The diocese launched a $53-million undertaking to refurbish the complex, moving the congregation of nearby St. Callistus to the Christ Cathedral campus and handing over the old Catholic church to the Crystal Cathedral’s refugees. (The transition hasn’t gone without tension: The removal of engraved markers, called Walk of Faith stones, during the construction process has upset some of the Schuller followers who bought them.)

Having paid $57.5 million for a 30-year-old structure that had been fairly well maintained, at least until the offering money ran out, one wonders why a nearly identical amount would have to be spent to “refurbish the complex.” A few details perhaps?

The Times story hints at some things that will need to be installed: “a traditional altar, a gospel lectern called an ambo and [a] baptismal font,” as well as “prominent images of such figures as the Virgin Mary, the apostles and, especially, the church’s namesake,” i.e., Jesus Christ.

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Advent of a GetReligion scribe: Mark Kellner climbs aboard

Greetings, I am Mark Kellner, and right now you can call me the “new kid” on the GetReligion block.

First things first: Alongside my faith, there’s something else in which I deeply believe: journalism. That may seem heretical — or even just dumb — but hear me out.

More on that in a minute. Here are the basic journalism facts about my work.

By day, I’m privileged to serve as news editor for two magazines: Adventist Review and Adventist World, general papers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By night, I write about several topics, mostly for The Washington Times, one of which is religion. I’ve had an interest in religion news for many years, having written on the subject for a bunch of publications including Christianity Today, Charisma and even (once upon a time, during the Reagan administration), Religion News Service. Long ago (in 1996, to be precise), my book, “ “God on the Internet” was published, and the wonderful and learned Phyllis Tickle called it a sine qua non in her book, “God-Talk in America.”

My other longtime journalistic interest, albeit on hiatus now, is in personal computing technology. For nearly 22 years, I wrote a weekly column, “On Computers,” for The Washington Times as well as working for (and, in one case, editing) computer magazines for business and personal users. I’m a confirmed Apple “fanboy,” but with a non-religious reason: the stuff works better than most other alternatives out there. (Discuss amongst yourselves, please, and of course, your mileage may vary.)

One of my favorite t-shirts, from the Religion Newswriters Association, says, “Religion Writers Are Sects Experts,” and given my interest in American-born religions (among other topics), I certainly agree with that statement. There are few areas in journalism as interesting or constantly changing as the religion news scene, so following developments there is of great interest. Watching how other people write about religion news is equally interesting.

Which leads me to my interest in serving the GetReligion community: having had exposure to a wide range of religion news topics, while on both sides of the notebook, I hope to bring some of that knowledge to bear in looking at how this news is being covered.

Like others here, I believe religion news is best covered by professionals who know a thing or two about the subject. Just as a police beat reporter could, conceivably, write a serviceable account of the U.S. Open tennis championship, you’re more likely to get a better report from someone who knows more about the game and the players. In religion, those who understand some of the basics and even some of the background/subtext behind a story are more likely to convey things clearly and, one hopes, fairly. It’s journalism, in other words.

That’s what I mean when I say that one of the things in which I “truly believe” is journalism. It is through journalism — content that is professionally created and, to use an au courant word, “curated” by an editor (or via several editors) before appearing online or in print — that we can learn reliable information about what’s going on in the world, and that includes the world of faith. From that basis, we can then make informed decisions about various issues of the day. Thus, I believe good journalism can improve a society, and perhaps even change lives. When journalism is poorly done, covering religion or anything else, no one is well served.

The other thing in which I truly believe is God, whom I’ve found as a believer; that includes what might be deemed a traditional view of Christian faith. That won’t keep me from writing, and I hope fairly, about other faiths, but as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isa. 40:8) I respect other points of view, of course, and hope you’ll respect mine.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me, and I hope you’ll find my contributions useful.