- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 4, 2010

Orthodoxy rising

“… Orthodox Jews today comprise a third of all self-identified Jews ages 18 to 34 and well may constitute a majority of all American Jews in another two generations. The Orthodox ascendancy in the face of almost all expectations is one of the strangest and most singular events in religious sociology and also one of the most inspiring: Many of the brightest and most passionate young American Jews have embraced the ancient observances of Judaism. …

“What changed in the half century since 1952? If anything, the America of today is even more pluralistic than the America of the 1950s. The majority of Americans of Jewish descent have embraced cultural diversity and tolerance with more passion than has the population at large. The Orthodox have never been at greater variance with the Jewish majority. The sociologist Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College notes that, for most American Jews, religion offers ‘no final answer’ and ‘no irrevocable commitments.’ They ‘decide week by week, year by year, which rituals they will observe and how they will observe them.’ Their ‘principal authority,’ Cohen continues, is the ‘sovereign self’ …

“Orthodox Judaism was supposed to founder on rugged American individualism, but quite the opposite has happened: A Judaism assembled at a buffet of individual preferences has small interest for young adults seeking direction and meaning in their lives. Young Jews are likely either to abandon their religion altogether or to take it seriously. That is why there is a migration to Orthodoxy by young Jews raised in liberal or secular households.”

- Rabbi Ben Greenberg, writing on “The Orthodox Moment,” in the February issue of First Things

Evangelical mind

“Newswires buzzed recently with reports that a group of 10 Americans from an Idaho-based Christian charity were arrested trying to transport 33 Haitian children into the Dominican Republic contrary to the rules of Haiti’s government. Although details are still emerging, the story thus far suggests a potent mingling of good intentions with ill-advised plans.

“Fellow Christians embarrassed by the incident should have the grace to withhold the abuse many observers are now piling on the group, but we can still take a strong lesson on the need to match zeal with knowledge in every effort to ‘care for orphans in their distress.’

“According to their website, the group’s goal was to ‘rescue Haitian orphans abandoned on the streets … and bring them to New Life Children’s Refuge in Cabarete, Dominican Republic.’ … These rickety plans, along with the decision to remove the children from Haiti without approval, were a recipe for trouble. Adding further to the impression of sloppy do-goodism, it now appears that some of the children had living parents and were not in need of rescue at all.

“Appropriately, many relief organizations have voiced strong concern over the incident. Meanwhile, others in the foreign aid world - which often tends to be dismissive of volunteer efforts and highly critical of international adoption - have sought to make the situation a cause celebre.”

- Jedd Medefind, writing on “Strong on Zeal, Thin in Knowledge” on Feb. 3 at Christianity Today

Religious movie

“We love a redemption story. The profound appeal of rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches or the fall-from-grace-followed-by-a-spectacular-comeback is about as ingrained in our American psyche (and soul) as rooting for the underdog, generosity to those in distress and second chances.

“When I walked into the movie theater earlier this week for an 11 a.m. show of the new film ‘Crazy Heart,’ I was expecting to love it. I am a diehard Jeff Bridges fan (he is the Dude, after all) and almost as big a fan of T Bone Burnett, who wrote the original music for the film.

“What I wasnt anticipating was being deeply moved spiritually - transformed by it, in some small way, really. … As I watched the film and listened to the glorious music (Bridges has a beautiful voice, as does Colin Farrell, who plays Tommy Sweet, a country superstar who was mentored by Blake [Bridges] and owes him a debt for his mega-success), the big story behind (or above) the plot began to come into focus. While God is not a character listed in the credits, I believe the film is told through Gods gracious, and sometimes mournful, eyes. Blake is loved and cherished, beautifully and wonderfully made -a creator in the image of the Creator.”

- Cathleen Falsani, writing on “The weary kind: One Journey Ends, Another Begins” on Jan. 15 at her blog The Dude Abides

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