September 30th, 2014
07:42 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog EditorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - Husain Abdullah can kneel and pray pretty much anywhere in America he wants. Except, perhaps, for an NFL end zone.
The Kansas City Chiefs' safety and devout Muslim was flagged for "unsportsmanlike conduct" after sliding to his knees in prayer to celebrate a touchdown Monday night.
On Tuesday, the NFL said the referee botched the call.
"Husain Abdullah should not have been penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct," said Michael Signora, a league spokesman.
The rules prohibit players from celebrating while on the ground, but officials should not "flag a player who goes to the ground as part of a religious celebration," Signora added.
As many observers have noted, Christian players often celebrate by kneeling in prayer after making big plays.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil rights group, called on the NFL to make its rules about on-field celebrations more clear.
“To prevent the appearance of a double standard, we urge league officials to clarify the policy on prayer and recognize that the official made a mistake in this case,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
September 29th, 2014
06:00 AM ET
By Moni Basu, CNNFollow @MbasuCNN
(CNN) - Fillet of sole with tyrolienne sauce. Supreme of pheasant Veronique. Chocolate lotus blossoms. These are culinary creations that were served in the past to Indian prime ministers visiting the White House.
But on Monday, when India’s newest leader meets with President Barack Obama, his plate will be empty.
That’s because Narendra Modi will be in the middle of a strict fast for Navratri, Sanskrit for nine nights. It's a Hindu festival devoted to the manifestations of the goddess Shakti, a symbol of purity and power.
Navratri’s timing depends on the lunar calendar but usually is observed once in March-April to usher in summer and again in September-October, before winter. Modi intends to survive solely on “nimbu pani” or water with lemon for nine days. FULL POST
September 24th, 2014
12:34 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog editorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashana, God decides who will live and die during the next year. For Cantor Shlomo Glick, the holy days - which begin the Jewish new year - are particularly poignant.
Not only does Glick, who lives in Jerusalem, stand at the front of synagogues and sing solemn prayers on Rosh Hashana, but he is an EMT for United Hatazalah, a volunteer emergency service.
Glick, 36, spoke to CNN via email about his spiritual and secular roles - including a time he stopped religious services to treat a man in cardiac arrest.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: For people who might not know, can you explain a bit about the role of a cantor?
A: A cantor leads Jewish congregations in prayer. We are professional singers who have extensively studied the order and meaning of the prayers in addition to how to carry our voices. A good cantor tailors the tunes and style of prayer with the audience to ensure that everybody sings in unison and finds meaning in the service.
Q: Which job, EMT or cantor, do you think is more important?
A: I love performing and inspiring people in prayer, but there is no greater feeling than saving a life.
Q: You work closely with human frailty. Does that make the High Holy Days more poignant for you?
September 23rd, 2014
05:35 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - The Vatican announced on Tuesday that it has placed a former ambassador under house arrest while he faces charges for "serious acts of abuse of minors."
Jozef Wesolowski is accused of molesting young boys during his stint as the pope's official representative in the Dominican Republic. Wesolowski had been appointed to the post in 2008 by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
The former envoy, who was defrocked by the Vatican in June, is one of the highest-ranking church officials to be accused of abusing children during the Catholic Church's widespread and costly sexual abuse scandal. It is the first time a top Vatican ambassador has faced such charges.
Wesolowski's arrest, the Vatican said Tuesday, "is a result of the express desire of the Pope, so that a case so serious and delicate would be addressed without delay."
Francis has pledged to maintain a policy of "zero tolerance" for Catholic clergy who abuse children.
Wesolowski's case provides a high-profile chance for the Pope, who has been accused by some victims' groups of downplaying the sexual abuse scandal, to take concrete action against one of the Vatican's own.
The Vatican said that Wesolowski suffers from an unnamed but medically documented health condition, and will be placed under house arrest in Vatican City, which is a sovereign state.
Pressure had been building on the Vatican to proceed with criminal charges against Wesolowski, a Polish native ordained by Saint John Paul II, since the accusations against him became public.
That pressure intensified when The New York Times reported last month that Wesolowski had been seen walking freely about Rome.
The United Nations Committee Against Torture has also urged the Vatican to move swiftly on Wesolowski. A report by the committee in May noted that Poland had reportedly asked for the archbishop's extradition.
Under Vatican law, Wesolowski, if found guilty, could face a maximum sentence of 12 years in prison.
September 23rd, 2014
12:30 PM ET
(CNN) - The football coach at a publicly funded charter school in Arizona has been suspended after directing a player to lead a team prayer.
One side says it's a violation of the coach's religious liberty. The other says it's a violation of the players' rights to have a religion-free locker room.
Watch the video above to see more.
September 21st, 2014
09:44 AM ET
Opinion by Amy-Jill Levine, special to CNN
(CNN) – It was once said, “religion is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”
Jesus’ parables – short stories with moral lessons – were likewise designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.
These teachings can be read as being about divine love and salvation, sure. But, their first listeners – first century Jews in Galilee and Judea – heard much more challenging messages.
Only when we hear the parables as Jesus’ own audience did can we fully experience their power and find ourselves surprised and challenged today.
Here are four examples of Jesus’ teachings that everybody gets wrong:
September 17th, 2014
05:36 PM ET
Opinion by Candida Moss and Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) – The Air Force has reversed course again and will allow an atheist airman to omit the phrase "so help me God” from its oath, the military branch said Wednesday.
“We are making the appropriate adjustments to ensure our Airmen's rights are protected,” Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James said.
Earlier, the Air Force said the unnamed airman would not be allowed to re-enlist unless he recited the entire oath, including the disputed "God" section.
It was the latest religious controversy in the heavily Christian Air Force, but this particular issue has ancient and somewhat surprising roots: In the early days of Christianity, it was Christians who refused to swear by powers they didn’t believe in.
The oath was written into law in 1956 and, like the Pledge of Allegiance, did not originally include any reference to God. The final sentence came into the text in 1962, just eight years after “under God” was added to the Pledge of Allegiance.
Even then, however, it was not an absolute requirement in the Air Force: Official policy had stated that “Airmen may omit the words ‘so help me God,’ if desired for personal reasons.” But the lenient policy was updated and eliminated in 2013, leading to the most recent standoff, which Wednesday's announcement seemed to solve.
"The Air Force will be updating the instructions for both enlisted and commissioned Airmen to reflect these changes in the coming weeks, but the policy change is effective now," the Air Force said.
"Airmen who choose to omit the words 'So help me God' from enlistment and officer appointment oaths may do so."
The repeated fights over the Air Force oath highlight the fraught relationship between faith groups and military service.
September 16th, 2014
03:50 PM ET
Opinion by Matthew Paul Turner, special to CNNFollow @JesusNeedsNewPR
(CNN) – There’s one detail about the Adrian Peterson child abuse charges that no one seems to be noting: his alleged crimes didn’t happen simply under the guise of “parenting” but rather “Christian parenting.”
But the NFL star's Christianity shouldn’t be missed or undervalued in the sharp debate about his actions. Those of us who grew up in conservative Christian churches know all too well the culture that shapes the parenting beliefs of people like Peterson.
Today, the most notable proponents of spanking are American evangelicals. They not only preach the gospel of corporal punishment, they also impart messages that lay the foundations for abuses against children and the protection of such abuse by our legal system.
We have books about spanking. Popular Christian talk shows promote the benefits of spanking. Pastors preach and theologize spanking. Organizations like Focus on the Family offer parents resources about how and when to spank.
The ties between Christianity and corporal punishment are so strong that a large number of conservative Christians parents simple deny studies that suggest spanking does more harm than good.
Now, I’m not saying that evangelical churches are to blame for what Peterson did to his son. But the church isn’t innocent in the matter, either.
Without the church, the popularity of spanking would have dwindled. Stricter laws would probably be in place to protect the rights and livelihoods of children. And people like Peterson would not feel as though he has a license to do whatever he wants to his child.
For decades, American evangelicals have fiercely fought any legal or cultural limits on parents’ “rights” to discipline their children.
As a result, American children are some of the least protected people in the world. They are often innocent pawns to the vile disciplinarian doctrine of folks like Michael and Debi Pearl, pro-spanking theologians who suggest that corporal punishment should begin when a child is only 6 months old.
But spanking theologies are not simply the teachings of Christian extremists.
September 16th, 2014
09:10 AM ET
Wenzhou, China (CNN) - At a gray church on the outskirts of Wenzhou in eastern China, Christians from across the county keep a nervous watch.
Some stand behind the iron gate; others sit just inside the church door. For more than two months they've waited, preparing themselves to protect the cross on top of their church.
"If I have to, I am going to hold it in my arms and protect it," one elderly man says. "They have no right to tear it down, that is why we have to defend our church."
Wenzhou is known as the "Jerusalem of China" and throughout this year the local Communist Party authorities have demolished scores of churches and forcibly removed more than 300 church crosses.
Chinese church leaders say it's the worst anti-Christian crackdown in decades.
"What the government here is doing is so barbaric, they're like bandits and we are furious with them," says Chen Zhi'ai, a respected church leader in the Wenzhou area. "Today we've seen the fundamental symbol of our faith violated and it hurts us deep inside our hearts."FULL STORY
September 14th, 2014
08:39 AM ET
By Jeff Wilson, special to CNN
(CNN) - Mindfulness meditation is a huge phenomenon – and a multibillion-dollar industry – in the United States.
It’s being used to help soldiers deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, to assist schoolchildren with attention difficulties and to bring stress relief from the hospital bed to the boardroom to the bedroom.
In fast-paced, multitasking modern America, mindfulness is used both to take a vacation from our hectic lives and to help us manage ever more work and stimulation in a mindful manner.
This mindfulness movement is diverse, but it traces back to Buddhist awareness techniques, especially as promoted by UMass Medical School researcher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn.
Essentially, mindfulness is a technique of open awareness without judgment, which allows the meditator to observe their physical and mental actions and reactions without attachment or aversion.
Once upon a time, mindfulness meditation conjured up images of an orange-robed monk with a shaven head, sitting quietly somewhere in a jungle cave.
But now, the average mindfulness practitioner is a suburban soccer mom who meditates in order to increase her work efficiency, deal with her kids’ needs, watch what she eats and keep her sanity,
Whenever a foreign practice becomes mainstream, naturally, some confusion occurs. Here’s a list of four common misunderstandings that have appeared as mindfulness spread from the monastery to the middle-class home.
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