Conversation starter: A United Methodist church nativity scene is featuring a bloody Trayvon Martin in place of the infant Jesus in an attempt to stir a community conversation about gun violence.
In real life: Andrew Hamblin, who stars in the recent reality TV show “Snake Salvation,” will on Jan. 6 have to face a grand jury for illegal possession of dangerous wildlife. A central Pennsylvania man has pleaded guilty to beating a star of the TV series “Amish Mafia.”
On sexuality: RIP Duck Dynasty controversy? A&E reinstated Phil Robertson after his temporary suspension over his statements in a GQ article. The Boy Scouts of America will begin accepting openly gay youths on New Year’s Day, a historic change that has prompting various complications.
Bail sought: Lawyers for Philadelphia archdiocese Msgr. William Lynn will go to court today to seek bail for the monsignor whose conviction for shielding an abusive priest was overturned last week. David Gibson writes that the case was a symbolic setback for victims’ advocates.
Israel issues: Members of a Jewish group are testing the boundaries prohibiting speakers who are unsupportive of Israel. An informal grass-roots movement of Arab Christians, prompted in part by the Arab Spring, wants to cooperate more closely with Israeli Jewish society.
Circumcision conversations: A Pittsburgh rabbi is being sued after allegedly injuring a boy during circumcision ritual. Unrelated to that specific incident, a small but growing number of Jews are questioning the ancient ritual of circumcision.
Features worth reading: One former megachurch in Indianapolis is borrowing some of the language of the Slow Food movement to resist the “McDonald’s-ization of the church.” Many know the Salvation Army’s red kettles and bell ringers at Christmastime, but fewer people know that it is a church. Peggy Fletcher Stack explains. And one man credits Buddhist meditation with saving his life. And 2013 has afforded Jewish children’s literature the big break it has needed for some, argues Menachem Wecker.
In politics & law: President Obama’s faith appears more complicated, more private and perhaps more inclusive than that of previous presidents, not regularly going to church or Christmas services since his time in office. (Here’s a slideshow of Obama’s interaction with religion in 2013.) In Utah, one law professor suggests that the Utah Attorney General may have procedurally botched litigating the same-sex marriage case.
Internationally: Suspected suicide bombings in Russia have killed at least 16. A New York Times investigation suggests that the Benghazi attack “was fueled in large part by anger at an American-made video denigrating Islam,” an idea that has been contested by Congressmen. American missionaries who are caring for South Sudan orphans spent Christmas underneath their beds, hiding from gunfire amid a feared civil war. The White House says Northern Ireland peace talks are at a critical stage and urged Protestants and Catholics to compromise.
RT @JonathanMerritt: What are you doing to make your Sat. productive? I'm 2100 words into my day of 3,000 words//I've had 2 pieces of fudge.
— AndyStanley (@AndyStanley) December 28, 2013
Very difficult feat to describe spiritual experiences (apparitions, voices, conversations) in novels, without sounding like a nutter.
— Elizabeth Evans (@Wallacewriter) December 30, 2013
— NBC News (@NBCNews) December 30, 2013
Tomorrow is your last day to get out those year-end gifts. Keep RNS in mind.