Category Archives: Features

Does the spirituality or faith of our president matter?

By Rev. Jim CastroLang | SpokaneFAVS

A review of “The Presidents and their Faith:  From George Washington to Barack Obama” 

I came to this book with much ambivalence. Why does the faith perspective of our presidents matter? In my clearheaded thinking, it should not matter. The United States of America is not a theocracy. In fact many of the founders and first European residents of this land were fleeing the controls of religion upon their country. Of course, in typical human hypocritical fashion, many of the original colonies were set up as semi-theocracies requiring allegiance to one particular denomination.

Despite my doubts, I found myself strangely curious about the faith of our presidents. This book is not intended to go into great depth, instead it is a survey from what the public record shows about the religiosity of each president. All presidents’ have appealed to religious imagery sometime during their term especially in inauguration addresses and speeches in times of deep crisis. It seems all presidents have seen the power of appealing to the religious imagination of the American people. Authors Darrin Grinder and Steve Shaw try to access when this emanates from a sincere personal faith. They look to church attendance, reading the bible (and quoting it) and other signs that they took faith seriously before, during, and after their White House years.

There is a struggle in our American discourse about whether we were founded as a Christian nation. Our freedom of religion has boundaries of protection between state and religion but what of our presidents? Did they protect this separation or did they encourage us to deepen our Christian roots?

Read full post here.


Clifford Beers Clinic and Faith Communities Unite to Heal Trauma and Violence

HAMDEN — The Clifford Beers  Clinic, a leader in the treatment of childhood trauma, is hosting “A Leap of Faith – A Multi-Faith Symposium on Trauma and Violence” on Feb. 29 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Mishkan Israel in Hamden.

The symposium will bring together people of diverse faith backgrounds to explore the challenges faith communities face while seeking to minister in the midst of violent and traumatic situations. Clifford Beers is partnering with faith communities in the development of a resource network that will better serve the needs of those affected by such traumas as child abuse, domestic violence, clergy sexual misconduct, community violence, racial violence, and bullying.

The Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune, founder and senior analyst of the Faith Trust Institute in Seattle, will lead a multi-faith workshop which will explore sacred stories, and teachings which have shaped people of faith’s understanding of traumatic experiences.  The workshop will review sacred writings which have been used to justify trauma inflicted on others as well as teachings which have acted as a lifeline to victims of trauma and have helped make meaning of these experiences.  Barbara Tinney, executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance;  Elena Giacci, domestic violence specialist and Native American spiritual healer; and Rabbi Mark Dratch, founder and director of JSafe: The Jewish Institute Supporting an Abuse Free Environment round out the morning plenary.

Afternoon workshops will offer an opportunity to learn and discuss practical hands-on solutions and tools from a faith perspective. Among the featured workshops is “Conversations With My Molester — Conversations With the Church,” a dramatic presentation and conversation about healing the trauma of clergy sexual abuse. Other featured workshops include “Healing Rituals in Individual and Community Trauma,”  “Healing the Trauma of Religion Based Homophobia,” and “Vicarious Trauma and How to Take Care of Yourself from a Faith Perspective.”

This is a pre-conference event to the Healing the Generations Trauma Conference that will be held at Foxwoods Resort Casino March 1-2. Registration for the Pre-Conference Multi-Faith Leap of Faith event on February 29 is $75 and includes the morning plenary, 2 afternoon workshops, continental breakfast, and Kosher lunch.  For more information, or to register, contact Nicole Glorioso at (203) 772-1270 x 226 or

AFRAID, The Gospel of Mark coming to CT

Frank RunyeonBLOOMFIELD — In February Old St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church of Bloomfield and South Congregational Church of Granby will be presenting “AFRAID The Gospel of Mark”, a one man play by Frank Runyeon. This is a spellbinding performance set in the catacombs of Rome, enlivened by flashes of humor and ending with a deeply moving passion, according to a press release. Acclaimed by critics and scholars for over 20 years.

Runyeon is known for his many roles on television. He has also done work in the film industry, stage and radio. He has won national acclaim for his work as a translator and performer of Biblical texts over the past 20 years..

Where: South Congregation Church
242 Salmon Brook Street

Date: Feb. 4

Time: 7:30 p.m.

Special Information: A dessert reception will follow the performance and there will be a chance to visit with the star.

Price: $18.00 (paid at the door)
$15.00 (paid in advance)
$12.00 (student tickets)

Tickets are available in advance or at the door. Advance tickets can be obtained by calling David Russell at 860-653-7441, or by email at

God is the best matchmaker

Guest column by Tobin Hitt

The New Haven Register recently ran a new feature where they set up, and then sort of journalistically chronicle, a subsequent date.

The first two participants were sincere and open and good sports about it all. They graded their date, described their mutual rediscovery of kissing, and even handicapped the weighty possibility of a second date.

This feature was not as staged as the TV matchmaking that you see, if you have ever channel surfed.

I confess that I read the whole article, for pastoral purposes of course.

It ended up that the guy wanted a second date and the gal- bless her heart- said “My kids come first.”

She rendered this statement with a biblical like certitude and finality, but it struck as a sort of “the dog ate my homework” type of thing. I suppose I needed more on her back story. Perhaps there was still hope of reconciling with the father of those kids, her former love.

And for that matter, if kids come first, where does God come in? What about the whole First commandment thing and not having any idols?

And if kids come first, aren’t we needlessly pitting the good idea of filial devotion against the good idea of adult and male and female companionship, the latter of which might even benefit the kids?

It even might have been that God of Israel was trying to do his matchmaking thing. He put together Rebecca and Issac by the graced event of Rebecca watering not just the folks in Issac’s desert caravan, but the camels too. God also inspired his gal to do a little flirting with her veil, and before we know it, Issac and his people are sold (See Genesis 24, particularly verse 46) and the wedding menu is being planned.

It gets even clearer with how God orchestrated the love between Jacob and Rachel. They meet at Rachel’s daily well, where she waters her Dad’s flocks. Jacob’s just happens upon this very well after a long journey to meet her father, Laban. They were so taken up with each other, right from the start, that God gave Jacob the strength to roll away the stone covering the well all by himself, so all the various flocks may be quickly watered and they can be alone and share their ‘like you mean it’ kiss of a lifetime which leaves Jacob surrendered and crying for joy (Genesis 28, particularly verse 10).

I think in this modern age of endless choices a whole generation and a half of us (anyone come of age after 1960 say) seem to have a great difficulty in accepting and internalizing the idea of two people brought together by God, allotted and assigned to each other for one marriage, for better or worse, for their whole lives.

It’s a radical notion, but then again so is the notion of staying single to serve God, and so is the idea of everlasting love itself.

Think of all the married relationships that could have been saved if one or both parties to the marriage remembered that it was the Holy Spirit of God that likely brought them together (perhaps 10% of marriages are off from the get go), and then it was by the grace of God that they did the whole wedding and family thing.

A wise father toasted his newly married daughter this way “You have to believe that the Lord put you together in the first place.” (“Modern Love” NYT, by Sarah Healy. Oct. 30, 2011 p. 6.)

Think of Hosea forgiving his wandering wife Gomer. Think of Gerald Ford staying with Betty, before the clinic. Think of the aging spouse with all his faculties staying with a spouse who has dementia, after a pastor says it’s OK to leave.

I’m glad Register has embarked on this sort of cheesy new feature on matchmaking. It serves to remind us Christian folks that God does it better than anyone. It also prompts all of us to remember the various relationships we have received from God, and to internalize that these are often the most fertile and ripe faith fields, where we often reap just what we sow.

Book shows struggles of American Muslims

By Tracy Simmons
For many Americans, Islam didn’t enter the spotlight until after Sept. 11.

However, in Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad’s new book “Becoming American? The Forging of Arab and Muslim Identity in Pluralist America,” we are reminded of the overlooked struggles that Muslims have had to overcome to make a home here.

Haddad is a distinguished historian and a professor at Georgetown University. Her writing, though, isn’t overly academic. She presents her case clearly and captivatingly. Her argument is this: American Muslims are just as American as anyone else in this country.

Many Muslims immigrated here, just like my ancestors emigrated from Ireland years and years ago. And Muslims have a right to be here, just like the rest of us do.

But Haddad goes beyond simply sharing her opinion with us. Her book is filled with facts about Islam in America. For instance, she reports that about 80 percent of American Muslims are unmosqued.  And she presents us with a timeline where she explains, for instance, that in the 1980s Muslim Americans stopped questioning whether they could live in the U.S. or not, and began redefining what Muslim life in America actually meant. Since then new organizations came into existence, like the North American Association of Muslim Professionals and Scholars (in 1993).

The author also gives us an important reminder that Sept. 11 hasn’t been the only time Muslims have had to fight to show to their loyalty to the U.S. The Arab-Israeli conflict, the Salman Rushdie Affair and the Iranian Revolution were also instances that forced American Muslims to prove themselves.

“The goal of these reflections is not only to prove that Muslims living in the West are loyal citizens, but more importantly, that they share American values and are not associated with the teachings of those targeted in America’s declared war on terrorism, who have been variously labeled as extremist, fundamentalist, jihadist, terrorist, and proponents of an Islamo-fascist Islam,” Haddad writes.

It hasn’t just been everyday citizens that have given American Muslims a hard time. Haddad points out that the government hasn’t exactly been a cheerleader for Islam. The Bush Administration, she notes, once announced its intention to celebrate Eid-ul Adha with the Muslim community. Then the event was postponed. Then canceled. A statement was never made. Other acts by the administration made the country seem anti-Muslim, not anti-terrorism, Haddad writes.

Over the decades we have made progress, but in Hadad’s honesty she says that we still have a long way to go. Anyone interested in helping pave the way to a more understanding, intelligent, pluralistic and accepting nation can start by reading this book.

Breaking the Silence

By Rabbi Mitchell M. Hurvitz, of Temple Shalom in Greenwich

Last Shabbat, in the middle of an unexpected storm, we read about Noah. The flood and the fear, and the rainbow and dove are as familiar to us as our own family stories – it is one of the great tales of the Jewish people. But in considering Noah, we realize that in spite of his household name and his key position in the early order of the Torah, we know far less about the man himself. Torah describes Noah as: “A virtuous man, pure in his generation; who walked with God.”

In this week’s Torah portion, Lech-Lecha, Abraham is introduced to us using strikingly similar language. Interestingly, as in the case of Noah, Torah also points to Abraham’s life in relationship to how he walks with God. But instead of walking “with God,” as Noah did, God says to Abraham: “Walk “before” me, and you will be pure.”

Rabbinic commentators note an even greater level of similarity. They point out that both Noah and Abraham are described as being “pure” (tamim.) Thus, they ask and answer the key question that our text poses: If both are pure, and both walk in relationship to God, what is the distinction between the two men?

Noah walked with God; he needed to be supported in his righteousness. Abraham walked before God; thus, his righteousness would stand even if God wasn’t readily present to support him.

When God told Noah he was going to destroy humanity for their evil ways; Noah remained silent. In contrast, when Abraham was told by God that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah because of their evil ways, Abraham, vociferously and without regard for his own life consequences, argues with God. In the end, Abraham saved neither the good nor the evil people of those two cities, but even though he was unable , Torah tells us that he took action — he tried. Noah, whose name means “rest or comfort,” had a spirit that was not moved to action. Like his name, Noah thought only of his own comfort. His silence was his inaction; he didn’t do anything.

Religious life isn’t about what we think to do or not do. We embrace God solely when we speak up and act for God; when we break the silence. As Elie Wiesel taught: “Indifference is the epitome of evil.” As a religious, human, Jewish community, we are not permitted to stand idly by when there are wrongs being committed.

The most grievous sin is murder, and our tradition notes that saving a life takes precedence over all Jewish ritual law because anyone who saves a person has saved a whole world. Likewise, anyone who takes a life has destroyed an entire world. Even in our day, even at this moment: consider the lives, and the worlds, that we have the power to save simply by speaking up.

Noah’s sin was his silence, and as a consequence, the entire world was destroyed.  If atrocities are taking place in our time, and we fail to question, speak up, and effectively respond: we are as guilty as Noah. This is not an easy truth to accept, but it is real and right. And when we find the courage to take action, speak out against injustice, and do what is right, others will follow because we will be supported in our righteousness, by our own hearts and souls, and by one another. We will be walking before God.

Noah survived the flood; the world did not. Abraham became our Patriarch because he didn’t settle for merely surviving; he embraced the Divine mission to be a light unto the world.  It is this Divine Light that has been bequeathed to us for safekeeping, by Abraham and all of the generations that followed him. It is our duty, and our sacred mission, to ensure that our light continues to shine in the darkness of our world.

God spoke light into darkness, chaos into order, and life into being through the power of language, by breaking the silence that existed before creation. We, too, can find a sacred connection to God’s creative power so that we can bring justice and light our community and our world.

Please consider joining us for as many of our programs this week to combat Genocide as we “Break the Silence.” A full listing of our program calendar can be found by clicking here.


Bijou Theater presents screening of “Everyday Sunshine”

“Everyday Sunshine: The Story of Fishbone” – documentary trailer from Tilapia Film on Vimeo.

BRIDGEPORT — From the shifting fault lines of Hollywood  fantasies and the economic and racial tensions of Reagan’s America, Laurence Fishbone rose to become one of the most original bands of the last 25 years. With a blistering
combination of punk and funk they demolished the walls of genre and
challenged the racial stereotypes and political order of the music
industry and the nation. Everyday Sunshine is a story about music,
history, fear, courage and funking on the one.

At the heart of Fishbone’s story is lead singer Angelo Moore and
bassist Norwood Fisher who show how they keep the band rolling, out of
pride, desperation and love for their art. To overcome money woes,
family strife, and the strain of being aging Punk rockers on the road,
Norwood and Angelo are challenged to re-invent themselves in the face
of dysfunction and ghosts from a painful past.

Laurence Fishbone narrates Everyday Sunshine, an entertaining
cinematic journey into the personal lives of this unique Black rock
band, an untold story of fiercely individual artists in their quest to
reclaim their musical legacy while debunking the myths of young Black
men from urban America.  Highlighting the parallel journeys of a band
and their city, Everyday Sunshine explores the personal and cultural
forces that gave rise to California’s legendary Black punk sons that
continue to defy categories and expectations.

Nov. 15 at pm
Post Screening Q & A with the filmmaker, Chris Metzler

General Admission Ticket Price: $10

The Bijou Theatre, 275 Fairfield Ave., Bridgeport