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January, 2005

Monday, January 31, 2005

Reggae, hip-hop and a love of God
Matisyahu finds an upbeat melody in Hasidic Judaism

By Quibian Salazar-Moreno
Special to The Denver Post

Monday, January 31, 2005 -

When Matthew Miller was a teenager, he was a hippie. He loved the Grateful Dead, he grew dreadlocks and wore his Birkenstocks year round. He even dropped out of high school to follow Phish on tour.

"In high school I got into Bob Marley and reggae music too, so that's how I lived," he said.

Now Miller, 25, sans the dreads, is known as Matisyahu - or Matis - a Hasidic Jew who promotes positivism and spirituality through hip-hop reggae music. In the past year and a half, Matis said his career has grown quickly, capping off 2004 with an appearance on ABC's "Jimmy Kimmel Live." He is on a nationwide tour that stops at Dulcinea's 100th Monkey on Wednesday and Trilogy in Boulder on Thursday.

"I've always done music, but it's really taken off in the last couple of years," Matis said. "For this tour, I'm hoping for a huge response."

Matis grew up in White Plains, N.Y., with his nonpracticing Jewish parents, whom he calls "reconstructionist," or secular, Jews. He attended public schools but didn't do well academically. As teenager, he felt a void in his life. He filled it when he came to the Rocky Mountains.

"I was on a wilderness trip one summer, and I think we were mainly in Durango and different parts of Colorado," Matis said. "That was one of the first times I was connecting to nature, away from home and thinking about God."

His faith grew after a visit to Israel. When he returned to the States, he went to school in Oregon, where he delved deeper into his musical side and studied reggae and hip-hop. Artists like The Roots, Common, De la Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and Nas all have influenced Matis' music.

He returned to New York two years later, and started at The New School, where he continued to work on music and in theater. During this time he also attended the Carlebach Shul, a synagogue known for its hippie vibe and free-form singing. His life changed ultimately, however, when he met a Chabad-Lubavitch rabbi. The Chabad-Lubavitch movement is a branch of Hasidic Judaism that Matis eventually took on. It was at this point he went from Matthew to Matisyahu.

Though his band, consisting of a drummer, guitarist and bass player, has been together only two years, it released an album in 2004. "Shake off the Dust ... Arise," is an array of reggae dance hall, dub and hip-hop tunes with a focus on the spiritual and uplifting parts of life. Matis says his purpose is not to sell records, but to send a message.

"The Lubavitch community that I'm a part of (is) in Crown Heights, Brooklyn," Matis said. "The whole thing is based upon the rebbe. A rebbe is sort of the spiritual guru or leader of the people. Our rebbe, Lubavitch Rebbe, we believe to be the Moses of our generation.

"The rebbe's message was to go out into the world and let the people know. Get the world ready and promote spirituality and promote God and turn the world over."

Creating and performing music may be considered edgy in most orthodox religions, but Matis said most of the people in his Lubavitch community are supportive. At his shows, especially in the New York City area, everyone from teenagers and young adults to the influential seniors of his community come out to enjoy the music.

"All the elders and all the leaders in Lubavitch are pretty much positive on my going out and performing music and being on TV and being in newspapers," Matis said.

The upcoming tour is his first major nationwide excursion, and because of some Jewish laws and beliefs, there are some things he cannot do, such as perform on Fridays and Saturdays because of the Sabbath. When going to his shows, though, don't expect to be preached to or told that you have to switch beliefs.

"In Judaism we don't look for converts," he said. "We believe that everyone has a mission and a purpose in the world, and non-Jews have a mission and a purpose just like Jews.

"We're not trying to convert people; we're just trying to promote spirituality, godliness, making godly decisions and living a godly and spiritual life. That's for everybody."

Sunday, January 30, 2005

‘Spiritual Cinema’ comes to Rio Theatre in form of ‘Indigo’

Stephen Simon is a maker of what he calls "Spiritual Cinema." And he may be about to change the way independent films are made and distributed.

On Saturday, Simon, a veteran producer known in Hollywood for "What Dreams May Come" and "Somewhere in Time," will make his directorial debut with "Indigo" at the Rio Theatre. The film depicts a middle-age man who loses his family as a result of a single fateful mistake but is given an unexpected chance at redemption through the unusual psychic gifts of his granddaughter.

Winner of the Audience Award at the 2003 San Diego Film Festival, "Indigo" will premiere Saturday at more than 600 locations worldwide, but not through mainstream distribution channels like Disney or Time Warner.

That’s fine with Simon. He broke with Hollywood two years ago, moved to Ashland, Ore., to set up his own production house and hasn’t looked back.

"Spiritual Cinema is a grassroots movement driven by an audience who has finally reached critical mass, which is nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population," says Simon. "This audience is actively looking for entertainment that upholds and support spiritual values. Except for the occasional film like ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,’ these pictures just can’t be made in Hollywood. So I decided to go out on my own and find a new way."

To distribute "Indigo," Simon went directly to New-Age, non-denominational churches and spiritual organizations nationwide and invited them to host the premiere. More than 500 agreed. He also negotiated a one-time-only lease agreement with about 100 AMC movie theaters.

"Indigo" was made in only 20 days for $500,000 and a minuscule advertising budget of $5,000. This is a film without big-name movie stars. There are no special effects or fancy editing and, says Simon, all 38 roles were performed by first-time actors. The film was co-written by James Twyman, who also served as the film’s executive producer, and Neale Donald Walsch, author of "Conversations with God," who stars in the film.

So what exactly is Spiritual Cinema?

"Spiritual Cinema is not a new phenomenon, really," says Simon. "Classic films like ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ fall in that category. So do films like ‘Groundhog Day,’ ‘The Sixth Sense’ and ‘A Beautiful Mind.’ Spiritual movies tell us compelling stories that transcend our negative or traditional beliefs about ourselves and our world. These stories reveal the possibilities of healing and the transformative power of love."

In seminars Simon gives around the country, he frequently encounters young filmmakers who are eager to make meaningful, spiritually based films. What advice does he give them?

"I tell them to focus on the story. The magic is in the story — not the action, not the movie stars, not the visual effects, not the editing. Ask yourself the question: What story do I want to tell? I also warn them to be careful about focusing on delivering a message. Most people actually resent it if they go to a movie and they feel like they are being hammered with a message. Movies are for entertainment."

For more information about the film ‘Indigo’ and The Spiritual Cinema Circle, visit: and

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A 'Spiritual Mother' of Spoken Word for a Hip-Hop Generation

Sonia Sanchez, 70, has been called the "spiritual mother" of spoken word by Danny Simmons, the executive producer of HBO's Def Poetry series, a showcase for spoken-word performers from the hip-hop generation. For Ms. Sanchez, a poet with more than 16 books and numerous awards to her name, the adoration flows right back.

"Talib and Mos Def, KRS-One, Ursula Rucker - they're saying things that are important," Ms. Sanchez said in an interview last week at Columbia University, where she recently began teaching a poetry writing workshop. "It's poetry. It's definitely poetry."

"That whole group of rappers and young singers and poets have put their fingers on the nation's pulse," she said, even though, she added, commercial hip-hop has descended into vulgarity and crude caricatures. "There's an important group of young people coming behind us, and they've got to be helped and protected."

That cross-generation fertilization was what Mr. Simmons envisioned for Ms. Sanchez's appearance at "Def Poetry Plugged In" at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last night, a concert fusing spoken word and music. The lineup included the Vernon Reid Poetry Project, featuring Ms. Sanchez and Ursula Rucker, as well as Karen Gibson Roc and Fluid, Sydnee Stewart, and Maritri and Tantra.

"She's the connection to history that young poets don't have," Mr. Simmons said of Ms. Sanchez. "I think Sonia has the history of the black struggle in the United States incorporated into her poetry. And her poetry makes sense of what's going on now. Young poets learn so much from not just her poetry but her delivery."

Ms. Rucker, 37, cited Ms. Sanchez as one of her main inspirations. "It's not just to write and get on stage," she said of what she has learned from the older poet. "It's to hip us to what's going on in the world and change hearts and minds."

Black Arts movement poets like Ms. Sanchez, Amiri Baraka and Nikki Giovanni produced intensely political work that "jumped off the page and went to the stage," said Faraji Salim, who started off as a slam poet and now has his own label, Soul Digital records, and has been campaigning for a Grammy Award category for spoken word.

Ms. Sanchez has just released her first solo spoken-word album with music. "The Full Moon of Sonia," features 18 poems set to music, including a message to Bill Cosby ("brother, come, catch your fire"), poems for Langston Hughes and Tupac Shakur, and a haiku encouraging women not to give in to abuse.

"We have a young band from Atlanta," said Ms. Sanchez, who is petite, with long, gray dreadlocks. "One of the things about poetry is it'll take you places you don't want to go. It's saying to the audience, 'Come, take this journey with us.' It's possible for a poem and a musical voice to come together."

Ms. Sanchez's live performances from "The Full Moon of Sonia" come as she works on a memoir and a new book of poems.

Ms. Sanchez, who speaks at the rapid clip of a former New Yorker (she now lives in Philadelphia), is known for both her writing and the causes she has embraced. She joined and left the Nation of Islam ("My politics changed"), used black dialect as a poetic medium, helped get black studies recognized and has spoken out for women's rights.

Her new album mirrors her commentary in books like "Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems" (Beacon Press, 1999) and "We a BaddDDD People," (Broadside Press, 1970).

"All poetry is political," Ms. Sanchez said, in her small, sparse office, which is decorated with a poster of W. E. B. DuBois. "It either maintains the status quo or it talks about change."

She takes the long view on change. "I never look at things in terms of a year or two," she said. "You get depressed. You have to look at a century. The most important question in the 21st century is 'What does it mean to be human?' " -read more-

~ ~ ~

Toltec author attacks hidden, 'poisonous' belief
The Voice of Knowledge is a mystical guide to inner peace.


Don Miguel Ruiz has tapped into the mystical wisdom of his Toltec ancestors to find antidotes to much of modern humanity's fear and suffering.

The former surgeon's 1997 book, The Four Agreements: A Toltec Wisdom Book, has sold nearly 3 million copies, spent more than four years on the New York Times bestseller list, and has been translated into 30 languages.

He followed it with a series of books utilizing the spiritual teachings of the Toltecs - not a race or a nation, according to Mr. Ruiz, but men and women of wisdom and knowledge who taught spiritual truths. The word "Toltec," he explained, means artist, and the Toltecs considered themselves to be masters of the art of living.

Mr. Ruiz's latest book is The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide to Inner Peace (Amber-Allin Publishing, $14), which continues the self-help approach to spiritual and emotional health by utilizing Toltec philosophy. In this book, he explains how society corrupts the natural "voice of integrity" that humans possess, which is evident in the joy and love of innocent children, by replacing it with "the voice of knowledge," which pushes people to become "successful" adults.

This "poisonous," hidden belief system becomes a self-perpetuating cycle when adults who are unable to express or understand their true feelings conform to the social norms, then pass their own "voice of knowledge" along to their children.

Mr. Ruiz, whose parents were Toltec healers in Mexico, quit his career as a medical doctor after a near-fatal car accident in 1979, then began exploring his spiritual roots and sharing his revelations through books.

"What is very interesting," Mr. Ruiz told The Blade in a 2001 interview, "is that I was healing the body [as a medical doctor], and now I am healing the mind."

Another book in the series, The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship (A Toltec Wisdom Book), which uses the same strategy of peeling back false teachings to unveil the true self, will soon be released in audio form.

The print version of the book has sold more than 600,000 copies thus far.

~ ~ ~

Body, soul and creation : feminist contributions to another possible world

“It has always been the women who have refused the decisions of the powerful and the destruction of mother earth. It has always been the women who shout out: no more mouths to suffer hunger, no more hands to remain empty, no more children to became the target of machine guns.”

In her opening remarks at a 27 January panel on “Women's spirituality, life and dignity” during the fifth World Social Forum (WSF) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Rev. Eunice Santana from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Puerto Rico emphasized that women have always felt “the interconnection between human beings, the creation and the wholeness of life”.

Organized by the World Council of Churches and attracting some 200 WSF participants, the panel presented different views on how women from their particular perspective can contribute to build another world that overcomes sexual and racist discrimination, violence and hierarchical structures.

According to Rev. Dr Wanda Deifelt, pastor of the Evangelical Church of the Lutheran Confession in Brazil, Christianity has to rediscover the human body. “We are concerned about the well-being of the soul, but not about the body,” she said, “although our faith proclaims the incarnation of Christ and the resurrection not only of the soul but also of the body.”

Deifelt stressed that “the human body should be more integrated into theological thinking and Christian spirituality,” so that theology might become more aware of the fact that “the body is a part of the wholeness of creation” and that “community is also a gift of God.”

A “spirituality of embodiment” cannot only celebrate the body in a hedonistic way. “Suffering, poverty and violence" need to be integrated into a Christian theology of the cross, Deifelt said, reminding her listeners that violence against women is an issue “the human body brings to the churches”.

Recognition of the interconnection between spirituality and ecology as a feminist contribution towards a better world was stressed by Rev. Dr Ofelia Ortega, a pastor in the Presbyterian Reformed Church in Cuba and a vice president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches. “Feminist theology and ecology are movements that criticise the patriarchal system that violates women and destroys nature,” she said. Drawing on that critique, a “theology of relations” would no longer consider human beings as the centre of creation but recognise humanity and creation as a unity.

That the feminist approach is not an exclusively Christian one was underlined by Korean eco-feminist and professor of theology Chung Hyun Kyung. “Without knowing others, we will never know who we are,” Kyung said, noting that, in an age of migration, people from different faiths may often happen to live next to each other.

“Our religious tradition, no matter which, is our power,” she said. “Wherever we are, our tradition is influenced by different conditions. What is most important is to make our life-giving tradition alive.”

~ ~ ~

Jerusalem Artist Merges History, Spirituality, and Modern Art

(Israel-Jerusalem) A breath taking interpretation of the Book of Psalms painted by Andrei Berger on permanent exibit at the Museum of the Psalms.

Andrei Berger's work “The Psalms” has been honored by the Government of Israel and the City of Jerusalem with a permanent museum of its own, The Museum of the Psalms. What is more amazing is that this great honor is bestowed upon a living artist. This national historic landmark houses 150 paintings each inspired by the 150 Psalms.

This interpretation of "The Psalms" is magnificent and dense with symbolism. One could be totally unaware of the Old Testament; yet, feel this work so personally. One is drawn to the colors, the abstract style and the extraordinary contemporary inner vision these works express. Berger's complete dedication is to a true "personal art" and this rich and important example of a New Renaissance.

The work challenges the viewer see a new dawn and as Monet and his contemporaries forced a different and original voice in their moment. This stirring exhibit "The Psalms" moves one in the way, I imagine, the audience felt, when visiting the Atelier, of Monet, Van Gogh, or Gauguin. An awe inspiring expression of sensual spirituality reaching into history and rendering a thoughtful contemporary view into the important historical and spiritual document The Book of Psalms. These works break beyond the bounds of subconsciously emulating tried and true subject matter and bring to light a visual interpretation of spiritual meaning.

The collection at Museum of Psalms is available for viewing and purchase online at

About the Artist:

Moshe Tzvi Berger studied his craft at the Belle Arte in Rome, followed by three years at the Beau Arts in Paris. His art has been exhibited in over 100 one-man-shows spanning three continents. The largest of his works, a 1988 mural in Brooklyn, NY, stood six stories high. Having immigrated to Israel in 1992, Moshe Tzvi currently resides within the inspiring environs of Jerusalem.

About the Museum:

The only museum of its kind, the Museum of Psalms, located near Jerusalem's Old City, was founded in 1995, under the auspices of HaRav Mayer Yehuda Getz, z"tl. Featuring Moshe Tzvi's paintings on permanent display, the Museum is centrally located at 9 ha-Rav Kook St. near Jerusalem's old City.

~ ~ ~

Learn to worship the Celtic way

Fran McKendree, an Episcopalian musician with roots he coins as "Celtic Soup - Irish, Welsh and Scottish," incorporates Celtic spiritual elements into his religious practices.

"I was raised Catholic and in my late 30s became an Episcopalian," McKendree said. "Celtic spirituality connects with me because of its language, symbols and the depth of experience of God in this world. God is present in every moment, not just something separate from work, play or relationships. It calls one to a richer relationship with all of creation. It's an organic process."

According to Newell, Celtic spirituality is a modern term used to describe an ancient phenomenon. Born in the fourth century in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, it features two main characteristics: one, the belief that what is deepest in every human being is the image of God; and two, creation is forever being born and is an expression of God.

The retreat coordinators chose to utilize the contemplative components of Celtic spirituality to usher in the Lenten season.

"Hopefully this retreat will stimulate people intellectually to ask questions of one's self and one's understanding of this spiritual journey," McKendree said. "We want it to be very conscious. There will be time to reflect and let it all soak in." -read more-

Thursday, January 27, 2005

World marks Auschwitz liberation

World leaders and Holocaust survivors are gathering in Poland to mark 60 years since the liberation of the Nazis' Auschwitz death camp.

The heads of state of both Israel and Germany will join those of Russia and other countries to remember the arrival of Soviet troops in 1945.

More than a million people, the vast majority of them Jews, were murdered in the Auschwitz "death factory".

Former inmates and Red Army veterans will lead a candle-lighting ceremony.

Events to mark the anniversary began in the German capital, Berlin, where parliament held a special ceremony including an address by a German-Jewish camp survivor, Arno Lustiger.

German poet and singer Wolf Biermann also took part, reading out poems by a man murdered in Auschwitz.

At a forum in Krakow attended by members of the Soviet unit which captured the camp, Israeli President Moshe Katsav said the history of the Holocaust should never be distorted.

He warned against "negationists who play down the Holocaust" and called on the European Union to prevent a rebirth of Nazism in young Europeans.

The BBC's William Horsley notes that since its liberation, Auschwitz has become a unique symbol of the evil that men are capable of, and a warning from history.

Remembering the dead

The start of the ceremony will be signalled by a train whistle at the Auschwitz-Birkenau site, where a railway track brought hundreds of thousands to their deaths.

Ecumenical prayers will be said as well as the Jewish prayer for the dead - the Kaddish - and the playing of a Jewish horn - the shofar - will bring the ceremonies to an end.

Six former inmates and three Soviet old soldiers will light the first candles at the main memorial there.

Following them will be Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Polish President Alexander Kwasniewski.

Other world figures will include French President Jacques Chirac, US Vice-President Dick Cheney and UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.

German President Horst Koehler is due to attend in Auschwitz, but will not speak at the main ceremony, in recognition of Germany's role as perpetrator of the Holocaust.

'Blood everywhere'

One of the Red Army officers due to attend the ceremony, Anatoly Shapiro, remembers leading his men into the first barracks as they entered the death camp.

Mr Shapiro, now 92, told the BBC of the horror that the camp inspired in his men before they set about washing and feeding the survivors:

"Just behind the door, we saw naked women's bodies piled up. There was blood everywhere. The smell was so bad you couldn't stay in there for more than five minutes. My men said, 'Comrade major, get us out of here.'"

Eva Kor, who was a 10-year-old prisoner at the camp when it was liberated, was subjected to medical experiments by the notorious Dr Josef Mengele.

She recalled for the BBC the moment when the Russians arrived:

"I ran up to them. They hugged us and they gave us chocolate and cookies. And this was the first kind, human gesture that I have in Auschwitz from the time we arrived.

"I was in Auschwitz nine months. I had been supposed to be dead, because Mengele injected me with a deadly germ.

"He stood by my bed and said, 'Too bad. She's so young.' I knew no matter how sick I was, no matter how hungry I was, I was never ever going to let them win."

You can watch a BBC News special programme "Auschwitz Remembered" from 1325 on BBC Two, BBC News 24 and BBC World on Thursday.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

'What the #$*!' makes 'Bleep' so popular

What the Bleep continues to fly far below the radar of the mainstream media and mainstream moviegoers. There have been a few notable blips: Michael Keaton recently praised the film on the Today show, and USA Today and The Wall Street Journal published articles on its popularity. But the usual media frenzy that accompanies such indie triumphs (My Big Fat Greek Wedding's Nia Vardalos doing her "Opa!" shtick on every morning talk show) is nowhere to be found.

So what the bleep gives?

"As much as the media and Hollywood like to think they're hip and happening, they're really conservative," says Mark Vincente, a cinematographer (Sarafina!) who co-directed the $5 million-budgeted film with William Arntz and Betsy Chasse. (Arntz -- an Internet millionaire -- reportedly financed the entire movie himself.)

"This film is just really out there. When you start discussing the very notion of God, and what reality is, it seems blasphemous in some way. And people get nervous talking about it. But I find it interesting that another film -- one that perhaps would have more violence or more sex -- would somehow be more acceptable." -read more-

~ ~ ~

"To The Mountaintop: King's Mission To Save America," by Stewart Burns

In "To The Mountaintop," Burns shows King in an era as turbulent and violent as our own. Rather than an icon of complacency, King emerges from obscurity as "moral warrior and nonviolent apostle; man of God rocked by fury, fear, and guilt; rational thinker driven by emotional and spiritual truth."

King struggled to reconcile these divisions in his soul and intellect. The book offers an intimate narrative of his intellectual and spiritual journey "from cautious liberal, to reluctant radical, to righteous revolutionary."
"He said things like: 'I want my four children to be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin.' Well now that's become almost a slogan of the conservatives, the anti-affirmative action forces. So everyone feels fine about celebrating that 'I Have a Dream' speech."

However, it was not long after the time of this speech that King broadened his agenda and his vision, focusing on issues that challenged the power structure. He spoke out for economic justice for the poor and against the Vietnam War, Burns said.

"That's not, certainly, what the Bush administration wants to hear about now. And most even liberal Americans, opinion-makers, media people ... they just want to keep King safe," he said. "They want to keep him sort of antiseptic. They want to keep him as this icon of greatness who didn't really challenge the values. At the end of his life he was calling for a revolution of values, a true revolution of values. And people don't want to hear about that now." -read more-

~ ~ ~

Fort Lauderdale man has become 'godfather of gay diversity'
By Margo Harakas
Staff Writer

January 19, 2005

He was a good kid, a mother's dream -- altar boy, patrol boy, Boy Scout, athlete, senior class president, recipient of his high school's Christian Leadership Award. The middle of seven children in an Irish-Catholic, Detroit family, Brian McNaught's overriding ambition as a small boy was to be God's best friend.

But in 1974, then a 26-year-old Catholic newspaper columnist and cable TV talk show host, McNaught drank a bottle of paint thinner, downed a vial of pills and sat down to die. "I'm going home to God," he thought. He'd be free at last from the pain of pretending to be someone he could not be.

Fortunately, he had second thoughts, paramount among them that he didn't want to hurt his mom and dad.

He rushed himself to a nearby hospital, had his stomach pumped and went home to tell his parents not of his suicide attempt, but that he was gay.

"The world is going to be awful to you," cried his mother, "and there is nothing I can do for you."

His dad, who was head of public relations at General Motors, concluded the problem was hormonal and that McNaught eventually would outgrow it.

Never again, vowed McNaught, would he hide who he is.

A few months ago, in London to address a group of high-powered international investment bankers, McNaught couldn't help reflecting on his good fortune, thinking how impossible it would have been to predict the sweet trajectory of his life from that nether point so many years before.

Today, in a newly built home in Fort Lauderdale, the man The New York Times dubbed "the godfather of gay diversity and sensitivity training," the author of three acclaimed books and five videos, a sought-after speaker who gets $6,000 plus per appearance, throws an arm over the back of an elegant sofa and exclaims in sheer delight, "I am so happy with my life today." -read more-

~ ~ ~

The Mississippi River flood of 1927

"The water came up so fast in the houses that some of the survivors broke shingles out of the roofs in order to get out of the house because they couldn't get out of the windows and doors."

Scott Ainslie is a blues scholar best known for his book "Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads," containing transcriptions of Johnson's recordings with annotated lyrics and historical notes.

He appears Friday night at Caffé Lena in Saratoga, where he will sing and play guitar on both classic blues and original, and often very political, topical subjects.

If you think history is dull, you haven't listened to Ainslie bring songs such as Lonnie Johnson's "Broken Levee Blues" to life in an historical context. The song is about the 1927 flood, and it can easily be passed off as "a sleepy little blues tune that's got a nice hook" until Ainslie puts it in context.

The last verse contains the lyric, "Work, fight or go to jail, but I ain't tatin' no sacks. I ain't gonna drown in that river, and you ain't gonna break my back."

Johnson recorded the song weeks after the flood receded from Greenville, Mississippi, and when you know the complete story behind it, this "sleepy little blues tune" becomes an amazingly powerful commentary on a racial struggle that, in 1927 at least, was still as large a powder keg as it had been in the Civil War.

"They ran out of sandbags at one particular levee," says Ainslie, "and law enforcement officials there, the poor whites, the sheriff's deputies and the deputized landowners who were there to try and keep blacks in place, had gangs of blacks there, and they ordered them to lie down on the levee to stabilize it with the weight of their bodies while they went for more sand.

"What the blacks were told was that they could lie down now and get up later, when the sandbags came, or they would be shot and their bodies would just simply be buried with the sandbags when the sandbags arrived, but that they were gonna lie down on the levee now.

"So hundreds of black workers lay down next to and on top of one another with the water of the Mississippi once in a while washing over their heads while they waited for more sand to be delivered and more sandbags to be filled."

"Learning to play guitar in a blues style is not that difficult," he says. "Learning to sing in a way that feels authentic and not an imitation is a real spiritual journey." -read more-

~ ~ ~

The Rza To Release Highly Anticipated Wu-Tang Manual
Thursday - January 20, 2005
By: Jay Casteel

Wu-Tang's leader, the Rza, has announced that he is finally releasing his much anticipated The Wu-Tang Manual book. The book has been repeatly mentioned on many of the Wu's albums as well as solo projects including Bells of War and the Gza's Liquid Swords, but was delayed in the final stages due to the untimely death of the group's own Ol' Dirty Bastard.

Since the debut of the 9-man super group, the Wu-Tang has constantly redefined themselves and to most of their cult following much is unknown. But with the release of the Wu-Tang Manual, fans and hip-hoppers will finally be able to understand and grasp the inner-most knowledge of what the Wu refers to as the 36 Chambers.

Written in a style that is at once personal and philosophical, The Wu-Tang Manual unravels the intricate web of personalities (and alter egos), warrior codes, numerological systems, and Eastern spiritual ethics that define the Wu-Tang dynasty.

The book will be released in into four books of nine chambers each, for a total of 36 chambers. All together, the books will provide the breakdown of essential Wu-Tang components.

Book I provides basic information, backstory, and a complete list of alter egos for each of the nine core members of Wu-Tang Clan: the RZA, GZA, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Method Man, Ghostface Killah, Raekwon, U-God, Inspectah Deck, and Masta Killa.

Book II breaks down nine key themes of the Wu-Tang universe:
• Spirituality: the spiritual journey through the Bible to Greek Mythology to Five Percent Nation to Ch'an Buddhism to a holistic spirituality.
• Martial Arts: from a fascination with kung fu movies up through a serious study of martial arts Eastern spirituality.
• Capitalism: from the now-famous original record deals that allowed the Clan to record together and as solo artists through the Clan's later diversification, including Wu-Tang Records, Wu-Wear, the Shaolin Style Playstation, and more.
• Comics: the influence of comic book heroes on hip-hop and Wu-Tang, including specific discussions of the bestselling Nine Rings of Wu-Tang comic books and Bobby Digital.
• Chess: the importance of chess to Wu-Tang both as a game and as a multi-sided metaphor.
• Organized Crime: Wu-Tang's personal, cinematic, and structural affinities with the Mafia.
• Cinema: includes both kung-fu and mafia movies, but also the cinematic sound of Wu-Tang music, plus sections on key filmmakers John Woo, Jarmusch, and Tarantino.
• Chemistry: brief history, anecdotes, and information about Wu-Tang Clan's experimentation, and how it has influenced their music.
• Slang: a dictionary-like compendium of Wu-slang.

Book III provides the lyrics and densely annotated explanations of nine Wu-Tang songs: "Protect Ya Neck," "Bring Da Ruckus," "C.R.E.A.M.," "Triumph," "Hellz Wind Staff," "Impossible," "Protect Ya Neck (The Jump Off)," "Uzi (Pinky Ring)," and "Rules."

And in Book IV, RZA discusses the art and craft of hip-hop as it relates to Wu-Tang:
• Wu-Tang Samples: RZA's unique, groundbreaking approach to sampling.
• Technology: history of key technological components RZA and the Clan had to master to make their music what they wanted it to be.
• The Spirituality of Producing: what goes into producing Wu-Tang's music and what it has meant to the RZA.
• Voices as Instruments: how the nine members of Wu-Tang Clan function like a symphony, with each member playing an instrumental role.
• The Art of Rhyme: a discussion of Wu-Tang lyric-writing, with key contributions from GZA and U-God.
• Live Performances: a brief history of the importance and the sensibility of Wu-Tang performances, up through their recent show in Los Angeles.
• The Way of the Abbot: RZA on his role at the center of the Wu-Tang Clan.
• Wuman Resources: the career management behind the Wu-Tang Clan and the solo careers of the individual members.
• The Saga Continues: The future of Wu-Tang...

For hardcore Wu fans, The Wu-Tang Manual will be a must and a definitive guide to the essence of Wu, one of the most innovative hip-hop groups of all time.

The firs installment of Book I is scheduled to drop in February, and will sell for $16.00.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

First Sound Waves Left Imprint on the Universe

SAN DIEGO -- The early universe rang with the sound of countless cosmic bells, which filled the primordial darkness with ripples like the surface of a pond pounded by stones. The wave fronts later served as spawning grounds for galaxies, astronomers announced Tuesday.

The effect had been predicted by theory. Researchers found its imprint on the sky in two independent, comprehensive galaxy surveys presented here at a meeting of the American Astronomical Society.

The findings give scientists greater confidence that their limited understand of the universe's structure, contents and evolution are on track.

Sound waves in space may sound unlikely. Here's what astronomers back in the 1960s theorized:

The universe was initially a thick, hot soup that trapped light. About 350,000 years after the Big Bang -- the theoretical beginning of it all some 13.7 billion years ago -- things cleared and an imprint of the earlier conditions was left on the entire cosmos. Scientists previously detected this imprint as the Cosmic Microwave Background. It is everywhere in the sky and packs important clues about the structure of the nascent universe.

Something similar should have happened with sound, explained Daniel Eisenstein of the University of Arizona and leader of one of the studies, based on the Sloan Digital Sky Survey.

In the dark era, if you pushed on a pocket of hot gas, it would resist being compressed and bounce back.

"The whole thing sits there and rings like a bell," Eisenstein said. The thick hot soup would transmit sound waves in the same manner that air or water do. When the fog cleared, the sound waves would have remained as countless ripples of material.

Here's the neat part: -read more-

~ ~ ~

High-Altitude Adventure in Pursuit of Leopards

There are bound to be creatures in the ocean depths that human eyes have never encountered, or microbial beings with intricacies as yet unexplained. When it comes to mammals, however, the beast deemed most elusive is the snow leopard, which prowls the "highest, most hostile of mountain ranges."

That Himalayan description comes from Hugh Miles, a sage naturalist who narrates and leads the expedition in this Zen-like, meditative installment of "Nature," which is being shown on Sunday night on PBS. The endangered snow leopard is sometimes stalked by poachers, who prize its pelt and bones, but the 5,000 remaining are now pursued mainly by shutterbugs. "Nature" filmmakers deploy hidden cameras with high hopes of detecting the feline prowling silent, windswept trails. -read more-

~ ~ ~

Spiritual connection
Choreographer Shiamak Davar says the movie Kisna showcases his best moves, a combination of western and Indian styles.

Lopamudra Maitra

Pune, January 10: I BELIEVE the only thing that stops a person from dancing is his will to dance,’’ says Shiamak Davar who was in the city on Sunday to attend a presentation of the winter batch of Shiamak Davar’s Institute for the Performing Arts (SDIPA).

As a teacher, Davar believes in the spiritual importance of dancing. “It is not about being fat or thin or tall or short, dancing should drive your soul. It is not only the mind and the body, but the spirit is also elevated through dancing,’’ he explained.

As a child, Davar was not trained in dance. ‘‘Since God has given me the gift of dancing, I want to share it with others,” he says of his passion. For Davar, dancing is more than a mere means of artistic expression. “It teaches you a lot of discipline and also imparts physical and mental training,” he avers.

You can see his choreography next on screen in Subhash Ghai’s Kisna, scheduled to be released next week and Davar promises, ‘‘It will be as memorable as my earlier work in Dil To Pagal Hai and Taal.”

In fact, Davar elaborates, ‘‘It is in Kisna that I feel I have expressed a different form of aesthetically creative dance in the song Wish comes true by A R Rahman, picturised on British actress Antonia and Vivek Oberoi. My 20 year dancing experience comes through in the dances here and tries to blend a Western form of dancing with a spiritual Indian touch.”

Alongside, what keeps Davar busy are his workshops with physically and mentally challenged children and with HIV positive children, which he often personally supervises.

“Under the theme ‘Dancing Feat’ we are making efforts to bring a new meaning of life into the lives of these kids,’’ adds Davar.

Speaking about his long association with Pune, Davar concludes, “Pune is a culturally conscious city. I enjoy coming here.’’

~ ~ ~

Surfing was a spiritual thing
By Matt Bond 12.01.2005

THE FRIENDS and family Charlie Folkard, the man who died last Wednesday in the Newquay surf, have paid tribute to the 21-year-old’s dedication to life and surfing.
Charlie’s body was discovered by friends on Thursday at around 12.30pm on Great Western Beach, a day after they had all gone into the water for what tragically proved to be their final surf together.

Charlie, originally from the Beeston area of Nottingham, moved to Newquay four years’ ago to pursue his nine-year passion for surfing. He gave up a French and Spanish degree to spend more time riding the waves.

While he surfed at every opportunity, his skills were not only evident in the water. Charlie also shaped surfboards for local manufacturer Many Returns and was gaining a reputation among his peers for his quality work.

Charlie's parents, who visited Newquay as soon as they learnt of the tragic news, have spoke of their son’s dedication to surfing.

"I am sure surfing was a spiritual thing to Charlie," said mother Sheila Folkard, 52. "He did talk about surfing to us, for him it was about self-sufficiency, freedom and independence."

Charlie, who had travelled to Morocco, California and Costa Rica for the surf, was last seen on Wednesday afternoon after going surfing with friends off Towan Beach. The waves were not very good and when he was nowhere to be seen his friends thought he had gone home.

His body was found the next day around 12.30pm by two of his friends less than a quarter of a mile from where he had disappeared.

Charlie's dad, Tim Folkard, 55, said: "I think his character and independent approach may have made surfing attractive to him.

"He was very sociable person and he made friends easily. He loved surfing from the first time he tried it.

Charlie chose to go to the University of Wales in Swansea because the Gower Peninsula was nearby and he had surfed there as a child.

Added Mr Folkard: "He was doing very well in Swansea but he found it too restrictive."He was very skilled at making surfboards which he enjoyed doing."

Charlie's body was discovered by two friends Seb Thomas, 23, and Sam Philpot, 22, who ventured out into the Newquay surf on Thursday morning.

"Sam snapped the leash on his board and swam over to some rocks," said Seb.

"I then heard him screaming. I made my way over to him and saw Sam cradling Charlie in his arms. He was yelling at me to get help.

"It was obvious Charlie was dead.

"I managed to find someone on Great Western Beach who had a mobile phone and got him to phone the police.

"I then went back to help Sam drag Charlie out of the water. The tide was coming in and there was a danger Charlie's body would be taken back out to sea.

"The police and ambulance crews arrived within minutes and took over.

"I think Charlie must have died the night before. We are all completely devastated by his death.

"I'm very proud to have known Charlie. He was a legend."

Newquay chef Matt White, 25, who had known Charlie since he moved to the town, said: "He was an experienced surfer and had surfed all over the world."

Matt was adamant that Charlie’s death was not caused by a lack of surfing ability.
"We all thought he had disappeared to do his own thing," he said.

Police have said that the death is not thought to be suspicious but they are asking for anyone who saw him in the water after mid-afternoon on Wednesday or during Thursday to contact them on 08452 777 444 – police ref 463 060105.

~ ~ ~

Stoveside Meditations

BEING A housewife, closeted within the four walls of the kitchen amid pots, pans and ladles, dishing out culinary delicacies for family, friends and relatives need not always be drudgery. It can end up in something as creative as getting together a 162-page anthology of poems, as Parvathi Vaidyanathan's `Kichenette Soul' will show.

The `By-the-stove-pondering by a homebound woman on Life, Meditation and Spirituality' has been published by Grow books. Ms. Vaidyanathan attributes the inspiration for her book to her Guru, Swami Akshara, who encouraged her to drop "scribbling on bits of paper and get them on to e-mails which took shape as a book." she says.

She says that waking up at around 4 a.m. to transcribe her Guru's tapes on to computer files were her most meditative moments. "Before 7 a.m. each day when my family wakes up, although I was with my pots and pans, all the creativity happened."The collection of over 110 poems on topics ranging from the market place to mindscape has been published in a paperback edition.

Santosh, a II Year BBA student, has done the page setting and cover design.

Priced at Rs. 55, it will soon be available in leading bookstores. Phone: 2847 3836/9840 438438.

By Swahilya

~ ~ ~

Zen and the art of plow maintenance

Mike Fitzmaurice grew up in Lexington, where he still resides, and graduated from Minuteman Tech. He worked at Millipore for 11 years before joining the Highway Division in 2001. He learned to operate a plow truck by getting behind the wheel, initially with a partner, then on his own. "When you're out here for 20 or 25 hours, you get it down pretty quickly."

Fitzmaurice's personal record is a 35-hour snow shift. "Once a storm is under control, you can get a coffee or a catnap. You eat your sandwich on the road," he said. "There is down time, but not a lot."

Some professors of snow removal populate the Bedford DPW. Fitzmaurice calls 30-year veteran Al Razzaboni the "snow guru... He taught me that every storm is different, and you have to react differently..." Earl Atwood, who heads the Highway Division, has decades of experience with the Metropolitan District commission "Everything we're doing, he has done." Fitzmaurice also praised the skill and dedication of the DPW mechanics.

"I think it's natural for people to take plow guys for granted. 'They drive around in circles, how hard could that be?' Once you're actually doing it, it adds another facet," Fitzmaurice commented. He also acknowledged the DPW's long-standing reputation as tops in the region for winter road maintenance. "This exceeds any town I've ever seen."

"It's quite a workout. I thought I knew what 'tired' was, until I started plowing," Fitzmaurice testified. Look at it this way: "Working a 15-hour storm is like driving a five-tonner all the way to New Jersey, going 15 miles an hour." At night, it's particularly challenging as the headlights reflect off falling flakes. "It's almost mesmerizing; it's much harder to focus," the driver said. -read more-

Sunday, January 9, 2005

George Leduc Spiritual journey

By EMILY CHRISTENSEN, Courier Staff Writer

WATERLOO --- Haunting notes reverberate off the Cellar's stone walls. One by one, tables quiet until the entire bar is silent.

The man on stage captivates with the music coming from a wooden flute. Nothing moves but his fingers and head. He, too, is entranced.

"My music is from my heart and in my soul. I don't make the sounds in the flute. I give breath to the music in the flute," he says.

The crowd absorbs stories told through melody.

"My wish is that the sounds take people on a spiritual journey to a world of simplicity."

George Leduc is a regular guy living, at least for now, in La Porte City. He has spent most of his life roaming this country and others, settling in places for usually no more than a year or two. His longest stint, in the late '80s and through much of the '90s, kept him in California. He owned a scuba shop and was an insurance broker for about eight years.

He married his wife, Michelle, and the couple moved to Springfield, Mo., then on to Iowa City and Lafayette, La. When Michelle's mother was diagnosed with cancer, the family moved to Oregon to be near her. There, Leduc attended Western Oregon University and Michelle enrolled in a course studying shaman beliefs.

The class changed his life. -more-

~ ~ ~

Why Is Everyone Going to Bhutan?

Published: January 9, 2005

Two years ago, Penny George "couldn't have located Bhutan on a map." But after hearing friends rave about their trip to the tiny Buddhist kingdom tucked in the Himalayas, Ms. George, president of a foundation that promotes holistic medicine, was hooked. This fall, she and her husband made the long journey from their home in Minneapolis to Bhutan's sole airport, then spent seven days on a guided tour, trekking into virgin forests, tiptoeing into temples and passing through villages where men and women still go about in traditional dress. "Bhutan has bubbled up in the collective consciousness," said Ms. George. "I just felt like I had to go."

Move over, Cambodia. Bhutan is the new must-see destination in southern Asia. With Tibet in the grip of Communist China and Nepal deemed unsafe by the United States State Department, this peaceful nation half the size of Indiana is emerging as a big draw, attracting those in search of a spiritual journey, a hiking adventure - or just a chance to experience a place before the rest of the world gets there. The number of visitors to Bhutan, as small as a few thousand not long ago, increased to 9,000 last year, a third of them Americans. Travel agents report an upswing in interest in Bhutan, and tour operators like Abercrombie & Kent are adding both trekking and cultural trips to their rosters. "Among those who have been everywhere, seen everything," said Rok Klancnik of the World Tourism Organization, a United Nations agency based in Madrid, "interest in Bhutan is growing."

But why? How did a place with one main road, and only five months of prime travel weather, catapult to the cutting edge of high-end tourism? And how, indeed, does any destination suddenly appear on the radar screen? Bhutan - a Brigadoon of astonishing beauty - has done what it takes to become a travel hot spot. -more-

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From Heart to Heart: Spiritual practice of being in `now' brings new life

By Charlie McClain
For The Register-Guard

Five years ago, I realized that when something bad happened to me, I would return to a "default" part of myself. By default, I mean I would go back to a place where I had been before, such as judging people, and being angry or impatient with others.
I grew tired of always going back to the source of those feelings - fear. I had a growing desire to learn lessons that could teach me a way to live without fear and to be truly loving. Little did I know at that time that I would be where I am today, deepening my relationship with God and walking a spiritual path.

A book I read literally woke me up. "The Seeker's Guide to Self Freedom" by Oregon author Guy Finley helped me see that I could live in the present moment, allowing "the true Charlie" to receive a kind of real-time guidance from something higher than my own thoughts and feelings.

At first, the work of being in the present moment was uncomfortable because I had visited it so little.

However, as I kept working on this spiritual practice of being in the "now," my awareness and relationship with divine love became real in my experience.

I could ask myself, "Who's in the driver's seat driving Charlie? Is it love or fear?"

I saw that my experience in life is determined by my choice of what I hold onto and what I let go of. I began to have a new view of myself and others and to experience a new kind of love for life. And in that, I became capable of expressing unconditional love.

Now, as I live my life in the fullest sense of cherishing and appreciating people - especially those closest to me - without having to figure them out or control them, I can surrender to divine love and find and feel that love is all around, infinite, and it's up to me to realize this and to stay awake to it.

Life gives me constant lessons in love to be learned and I have the opportunity to accept or deny them daily. I am truly blessed to now learn from every experience, even if it seems like a challenge, because now I know my life is according to the rules of divine love.

In the past, my impatience was coupled with anxiety. I can now fall silent to this battering of internal impressions. Free from those thoughts, I can feel awake and tuned in to the present moment. Daily, I am getting closer and closer to staying there.

In nature, and in life, I believe everything is constantly filling itself and emptying itself. As I receive this lesson, I know that by letting go of negative thoughts, I can then allow the moment to be fulfilled. To me, this is freedom. Without the ideas from the Life of Learning Foundation, I believe I would not be aware of all the beauty I now see.

Charlie McClain attends the interfaith prayer services in Eugene, and is a student of the Life of Learning Foundation based in Merlin. "Heart to Heart" is coordinated by the Two Rivers Interfaith Ministries, a network of more than 35 spiritual traditions in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, call 344-5693.

~ ~ ~

From Heart to Heart: Conscious parenting fosters spirituality in children

By Sherry Lady

Having watched my daughter-in-law leave to take my oldest granddaughter to her baby-sitting job, I cleared breakfast dishes from the table. I could hear the other four children discussing plans in another room. One child went out to play. The youngest, with a book in hand, climbed onto the nearby couch.
Two others went to the dining room table and, being home-schooled children, began working in their workbooks. This was done without complaint, without attempts to get out of the task or disagreements between each other; and, except for smiling at me when they passed by, did not seem to need my supervision.

I offered my assistance and was told, "No thanks, Grandma, Mom will check these with us later." So, for me, coffee and the crossword puzzle.

Except for a couple of sharp words over seating in the car and a dramatic response to a hurt finger that was soothed by the 14-year-old, I recalled only one heated argument in my five-day visit, and that was settled by the children themselves. How can this be, I wondered?

My observation is these children simply haven't been conditioned otherwise. For them, it is the natural way of being, learned from the expectation and example of their parents.

I came to see that in this household, accidents are OK, apologies and respect are expected, chores - everyone's responsibility - are done with firm reminders that are never derogatory. Bedtime is unquestioned and accompanied by stories and prayers, trips to the library are a weekly event and TV is rare. All is supported by consistent exposure to and participation in faith activities at their community spiritual center as well as at home.

In her book "Healing Letters," Myrtle Fillmore (co-founder of Unity) gives us a loving, helpful message to assist in the work of parenting. "What we want is the effect produced by faith in God. You represent God as you receive, nurture and assist this soul that has come to you. God is giving you needed wisdom, poise and sustenance to meet all requirements.

"Your part is to believe this, to trust, and to keep busy with the things that are yours to do, without anxiety or concern about what others are doing ... When negative attitudes or feelings of lack and worry come, allow God's abundant life to flow freely through you and order will be restored."

For "the effect" to manifest, it becomes obvious that inner discernment and insight develop best when unencumbered by ridicule, fear or disbelief in the viability and beauty of the child's own spiritual nature. From knowing the truth about themselves as spiritual beings, they become capable of taking care of the details of their lives while supporting others. I certainly saw the results of this in the way my grandchildren are showing up in the world.

You have this gift to offer your children and grandchildren. It has been said that in any relationship the most important thing is how someone is made to feel in your presence. I agree. Happy parenting.

Sherry Lady has served in Eugene as associate minister at Unity of the Valley and is now senior minister at the Unity Church in Ashland. She is also a member of the Two Rivers Interfaith Ministry steering committee. She is married with two children and 11 grandchildren. "Heart to Heart" is coordinated by TRIM, a network of more than 35 spiritual traditions in the Eugene-Springfield area. For more information, call 344-5693.

Sunday, January 2, 2005

Around Japan: Zen priest collects 107,000 icons for A-bomb victims

To mark the 60th anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki next year, an American Zen priest has collected more than 100,000 images of jizo, the Buddhist guardian deity for children.

Jan Chozen Bays, 59, is also a pediatrician.

She serves as a priest at a Zen Buddhist temple in Oregon.

She decided to collect drawings and figurines of jizo in memory of those killed in the bombings and as a prayer for peace while visiting Hiroshima in September 2002.

Her goal is to collect a total of 270,000 images, the number of lives believed lost when the two cities were bombed.

Born on Aug. 9, 1945, the day the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, she now cares for people physically as a pediatrician and spiritually as a Buddhist priest in Clatskanie, Oregon.

She has collected 107,000 jizo over the past two years and two months.

Figurines and drawings were sent to her by people in eight countries. Many of them came from within the United States. Others were sent from as far away as Germany, Australia and China.

About 300 jizo images came from Japan, she said.

``The thought that something has to be done for the victims in Hiroshima and Nagasaki is spreading among people little by little,'' she said.

``I hope that I will be able to collect jizo (images) from the seven continents throughout the world.''

Her collection of jizo items will be exhibited at the Nagasaki Peace Museum in Matsugaemachi district in August.(IHT/Asahi: December 28,2004)

~ ~ ~

A toast to 2004's best religion books and a lament for the worst
By RICHARD N. OSTLING, Associated Press
January 1, 2005

The year past was an unusual one in religious publishing because some fine books stemmed from Islam and Judaism while Christians bore the blame for the very worst ones.

Hallelujahs for the top four of 2004:

1. "The Quran" (Oxford University Press) by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem of the University of London, which fills the huge need for a scholarly yet readable translation. (Its only competitor is 2002's stiffer "An Interpretation of the Quran" by Majid Fakhry.)

2. "On the Reliability of the Old Testament" (Eerdmans) by K.A. Kitchen of the University of Liverpool. He provides bold conservative responses to Jewish and Christian scholars who've whittled away at Scripture's historical credibility, making the complex combat understandable.

3. "The Five Books of Moses" (Norton) by Robert Alter of the University of California, Berkeley. Without extremes, his new English translation of the Pentateuch conveys Hebrew's distinctiveness. The elaborate footnotes stress literature over religious tradition.

4. "Life After Death" (Doubleday) by Alan Segal of New York's Barnard College. Another Jewish blockbuster, it explores the history of Judaism, Islam and Christianity on this central belief (with analysis that invites some Christian dissent).

Also notable:

— The Southern Baptist Convention's "Holman Christian Standard Bible" translation. The case for yet another English version seems questionable, and ultimate assessment of this work's worth will require years.

— "The Twilight of Atheism" (Doubleday) by Alister McGrath of Oxford University. Quirkily fascinating. He sees plummeting credibility for atheism, which he formerly embraced.

— "Who Are We?" (Simon & Schuster) by Samuel Huntington of Harvard University. Equally idiosyncratic. He celebrates multi-ethnicity but contends that America's cultural glue remains the founders' "Anglo-Protestant" outlook.

— "A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush" (W Publishing) by David Aikman, former senior correspondent for Time magazine. Well-informed, and remains timely for obvious reasons. Aikman scored only months before with the more important "Jesus in Beijing: How Christianity Is Transforming China and Changing the Global Balance of Power" (Regnery).

— "A Stone of Hope" (University of North Carolina), another late 2003 book of significance. Historian David Chappell tells how the faith of Southern Christians, black and white, made America's civil rights revolution possible.

The year's most embarrassing books all emanated from Christian auspices:

— "Sanctity and Male Desire" by lay Catholic Donald Boisvert, published by the United Church of Christ book house, leered with "homoerotic longing" at the body of Jesus Christ and various saints.

— "Same-Sex Marriage?" by Presbyterian Marvin Ellison, also from the United Church's press, was a lamentably superficial liberal argument on the year's hottest topic. Notable mostly because Ellison mused about accepting threesomes and abolishing marriage altogether.

— "Why Bush Must Go" by Episcopal Church Bishop Bennett Sims, an apocalyptic left-wing ideologist attacking "apocalyptic right-wing ideology." Sims spread rumors that the Bush administration's "calculated" neglect produced the Sept. 11 attacks.

— "The American Prophecies" by evangelical Zionist Michael Evans preached an unsavory biblical scenario in which Sept. 11 was God's retribution upon America for supporting Islamic terror against Israel while forging an "unholy covenant" with "barbaric" Arabs.

— "The Shadow of the Apocalypse" by TV evangelist Paul Crouch combined belief that the End Times will occur "any moment" with silly "Bible code" games.

— "Good As New" by British lefty John Henson was a loose, loopy paraphrase of the New Testament that deleted books the writer disdained. At Jesus' baptism a voice from above exclaimed "That's my boy!"

— "The Word on the Street," by British evangelical Rob Lacey, similarly reprocessed chunks of the Old and New Testaments. At the start of the Ten Commandments, Lacey's Lord announced, "No other god's worth squat."

~ ~ ~

The Dark Side of the Moon
Doug Giles
January 1, 2005

I’ve got to be honest with you. I know it’s odd for someone to be honest nowadays, but it’s the New Year and I’m having a Diane Sawyer moment, and I have to come clean. My devotion to God, for the past twenty-one years, hasn’t really been all that hot. My faithfulness to Him and His Word has had all the consistency of Papillon’s prison gravy.

My life with Christ can be characterized as … let us say … “muddled” at best.

To be frank—I’ve flunked more spiritual tests than Joey Tribbiani has flunked calculus exams.
I’ve snapped under pressure like a weathered rappelling rope with a Mrs. Klump on the other end. And I’ve hit levels of frustration that are only eclipsed by the angst a white 16-year-old Baptist boy feels while watching the Victoria’s Secret special on TV with Tyra on the catwalk.

Yes, indeed … that’s me.

Instead of a TBN-type party, I’ve often experienced an MTV-like dirge. Instead of singing on the mountaintop with Carmen, I’m frequently singing the blues to an old Creed song in a valley. Instead of emitting world-conquering faith all the time, I’ve had epochs where I’m drowning in life-rattling doubt. Far from being the perfect poster child of the upright citizen’s brigade, more often I personify the “T” in Calvin’s “TULIP” acrostic, namely, totally depraved.

In my spiritual journey to the celestial city, I’ve spent about as much time in spiritual darkness as I have in heaven’s sunshine. This being my normative experience, and being very different from the “stuff” you see on Christian TV, I began to wonder what the heck is wrong with me? How come my Christian existence doesn’t resemble that of a game show host? What am I doing wrong?

Am I missing something?

Is it because I don’t give money to Benny Hinn?

What gives?

Trying to find some kind of solace in the scripture, some reassurance that what I’m plowing through is somewhat normal, I began to go through the Bible looking for times when God’s heroes went through major crapola and were hammered with setbacks and frustrations. I was looking to see if they spent as many moons as I have under divine darkness. And guess what?

I found huge, mondo chunks of scripture where the saints’ lives and walks with God sucked worse than an airplane toilet. That’s right! There are large blocks of time when our loving God allowed unlovely things to happen to those He loved. And, some of these dark time periods went on longer than Ben Stein singing “Inna Godda Davita” in Pig Latin.

My ClashPoint is this: sometimes … a lot of times … God ordains darkness for His people whom He’s going to greatly use. This is not darkness that’s a product of our sinful constituent nature. It’s not the darkness that comes through stupidity, and it’s not the darkness that’s the product of demonic interference. Instead, it’s a biblical blackout where God tests the heart of the one who professes His name.

Darkness tests our calling, convictions, courage and commitment. You know—all the stuff that we have and say we’ll never lose when the birds are chirping and we just got a raise at work. Darkness, or the extreme testing of our spiritual mettle, is the precursor to light and major use in God’s economy. It is coming to each one of us who is truly called by His name. How we handle it when it comes will determine whether we’re benefited by it or battered beyond repair.