This is one of those days in journalism when reporters, faced with the death of a humanitarian giant like Nelson Mandela, face the toughest of questions: Where do we begin? The anti-apartheid hero died yesterday at 95; an initial roundup of reax is here; the comprehensive NYT obit here. His anti-apartheid ally, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, called him “a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity.” NCR has a good wrap-up of Mandela’s appreciation of the church. Word on the street is that Washington National Cathedral will host a memorial service next week.
Perhaps the late Pope John Paul II said it best in his 1995 trip to South Africa: “I wish to pay tribute to you, Mr. President, who, after being a silent and suffering ‘witness’ of your people’s yearning for true liberation, now shoulder the burden of inspiring and challenging everyone to succeed in the task of national reconciliation and reconstruction.”
Meanwhile, among the rest of us mere mortals …
From the Dept. of Bad Taste: A Dutch website is selling what appear to be letters from the Auschwitz concentration camp; according to The Forward, “a prisoner’s identity card from the Mathausen concentration camp is going for $512.” Also this: an outspoken priest from the disgraced Legionaries of Christ is marrying the woman who bore his child — who turns out to be the daughter of equally outspoken former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican Mary Ann Glendon. The couple has asked for travel funds in their wedding registry.
Popes old and new: Pope Francis gets his due at Rome’s wax museum this weekend; they’re using a mix of wax and silicone because the wax-only statue of John Paul II didn’t work out so well: “We did John Paul II in wax and he melted,” the museum’s director, Fernando Canini, told AFP. Meanwhile, Eric Lyman asks whether the relics of St. Peter that Francis recently cradled in his arms actually belonged to St. Peter. And it sounds like President Obama is itching to visit Francis, who he called “an extraordinarily thoughtful and soulful messenger of peace and justice.”
Martin Luther’s potty mouth: And this, ladies and gentlemen, is why Tobin Grant is one of our new bloggers. He follows on the Martin Bashir/Sarah Palin controversy with an interesting historical tour de force of Martin Luther’s endorsement of potty mouth. Says Tobin:Luther viewed insults as part of the messiness of life on this side of Heaven. Slander may be a tool of the Devil, but people live in a world under the Devil’s control. So, leaders might as well use slander and insult to humble an enemy, revealing him as he really is.”
Wandering in the wilderness is cool again: Some religious leaders are turning their ways of living the faith inside out — literally. They’re taking believers into the woods, rivers and deserts to find spiritual truth through adventure and environmental awareness.
New solution for an old problem: Our own David Gibson looks at yesterday’s announcement that Pope Francis will create a commission to advise him on the clergy sex abuse scandal, and the unanswered question that everyone is asking: What will Francis do about bishops who covered up the abuse but kept their jobs?
New life at New Life: ICYMI (I did), Patton Dodd — new “On Faith” guru and former biographer of Ted Haggard — revisits his old stomping grounds at New Life Church in Colorado Springs and chronicles the rebound of the megachurch after it was brought to its knees by scandal.
Atheists for a Judeo-Christian nation: Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, who’s nothing if not a quote machine, wants atheists to protect followers of “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Why? because”if you were completely areligious, completely atheistic, but you wanted to have a free country, and you wanted to have it safe and protected, then it would sound like — from historical purposes — that it might be a good thing to encourage those who believe in God to keep doing so. Because when a nation’s leaders honor that God, that nation is protected. It’s only when it turns away that it falls.”
A new face for American Judaism: New York’s famed Central Synagogue has tapped an Asian female rabbi for its top job. Born to to an American Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother, Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdahl was previously the synagogue’s cantor. The Forward says the promotion makes her “the first Asian-American leader of one of the nation’s largest Reform synagogues.”
Christians lend a hand to West Bank farmers (USAT/RNS)
Are Christian reality TV shows bad for Christianity? (Jonathan Merritt/RNS)
The faith and loss of Joan Didion (Laura Turner)
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