Big Man of Faith
by Michael Lee
The moment will never be forgotten, because it represented a possible detour — or end — to the life and career of a man who had already overcome such hardscrabble beginnings. But the dates, the feelings, the struggle had mostly been buried into the crevices of Nene’s memory, a chapter in his life that doesn’t require any special celebrations or recognition years later.
, surviving a diagnosis of testicular cancer at age 25 only serves as a reminder of how much the Washington Wizards
forward has been blessed, and how he believes God chose him to handle yet another seemingly insurmountable obstacle to serve as an example for others.
Nene, 30, didn’t even realize that last month he had reached the fifth anniversary of his surgery to remove the tumor because he was more concerned about fighting through a stomach virus to help the Wizards defeat the Orlando Magic
that evening. Still feeling the effects of his stomach ailment a day later, Nene simply reacted with a smile and surprise when told of the milestone as he munched on a grilled cheese sandwich and sipped soup in his hotel room.
“Wow. I don’t keep track,” he said. “I don’t keep track.”
But when the Wizards made a surprise visit to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital
in Memphis a few weeks later, Nene was forced to confront his toughest physical challenge as the players walked through the patient care center and medicine room, where children received cancer treatment. There, Nene was suddenly overwhelmed by the sensations of his own chemotherapy treatments — the burning in his limbs, the goose bumps, the taste on his tongue that he described as “salty and spicy,” and the fear that his organs would eventually shut down.
“It was like, amazing. A long time I don’t feel like that,” Nene said, before reflecting on that difficult period. “For four weeks, I was sick, I was weak. I could feel the liquid moving in the veins. I feel like a science fiction movie, where the liquid comes all over your body. It was like that.”‘God is going to provide’
Nene credits his deep faith for helping him become the first player from Brazil to be drafted into the NBA and for giving him the strength to get through the many physical and emotional hurdles that have followed.
Before cancer, there was the torn anterior cruciate ligament, sprained medial collateral ligament and torn meniscus in his right knee suffered two minutes into the 2005-06 season. Before the knee injury, there was leaving tiny Sao Carlos as a teenager and adjusting to a different culture while speaking little English. And before moving away from all he knew and loved, Nene had to prove himself as a worthy basketball talent, playing in cheap shoes covered in duct tape after they had completely splintered and surviving on what little scraps his poor family could provide.
“I always remember what I’ve been through to be here,” said Nene, who was born Maybyner Rodney Hilario before having his name legally changed to the Portuguese word for “baby” in 2003. “I have no shoes, I have no clothes, but I was blessed. I remember my mom. She have money to buy the food or give to God like you’re supposed to, because we’re Christian. She give to God and say, ‘You know, we don’t have food today, but God is going to provide our future.’ ”
Nene’s future is set financially: He has earned more than $70 million in his first 10 seasons in the NBA and is in the second year of a five-year, $65 million contract. Those riches were a fantasy for Nene when he first began playing professional basketball at age 15. He was motivated by a trading card of former NBA great Shawn Kemp that was given to him by a friend, and by a former coach who told him that a man of his size would have a career as a nightclub bouncer or grocery store bagger if he didn’t stay committed to the game.
Faith in the Face of Destruction By E.A. CARMEAN JR.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal ran a photograph of the damage the monster storm Sandy had inflicted on the Breezy Point neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. This beachfront community had been hit hard by air, water and fire, leaving the fourth classic Greek element, earth, strewn with rubble and ashes. The front-page photo, reproduced five columns wide, was taken by Natalie Keyssar. Its most striking feature was the centered presence of a wholly intact and upright sculpture of the Virgin Mary, still placed in an equally unharmed shell-crowned niche. Spread out behind the statue were blocks of devastation where private homes had once stood.
The stunning survival of this statue soon earned it the name of the Virgin Mary of Breezy Point. The sculpture and its setting of ruins were also featured on news coverage by Fox, CNN and NBC, among others. Not surprisingly, this statue's dramatic appearance has been linked to the discovery of the "9/11 Cross," the horizontal and vertical beams found standing amid the ruins of the World Trade Center in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Both have been viewed as miracles or divine signs.
The idea of the holy being imperishable to fire or other forces has deep roots within the Judeo-Christian tradition. In the Book of Exodus, Moses encounters God speaking from the Burning Bush, which although it is on fire, "is not consumed." In the Book of Daniel, when Babylon's ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, seeks to make a public example with his execution of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, he places them in a fiery furnace. When the three (there is also a protective angel with them) emerge untouched by the blaze, the ruler grants them freedom of worship.
And St. Paul, whose own travels were marked by episodes such as being run out of town by an angry mob and being in a shipwreck, evokes trial by fire in his first letter to the Christian faithful at Corinth.
Stories of saints or relics and sacred objects surviving fires and other destructions are legion across the Christian West. Hagiography accounts tell of saints who walked away from torture by fire, and relics are described as saving buildings around them. When the Chambery Chapel in Savoy, which then housed the Shroud of Turin, burned down, the shroud itself emerged with only slight scorching.
The most famous episodes of survival are those linked with Chartres Cathedral in France, today celebrated for its soaring Gothic architecture and luminous stained-glass windows. Around 876, Charles the Bald, the grandson of Charlemagne and the ruler of Western France, gave Chartres the Sancta Camisa
, a tunic said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary at the Nativity. Three days after fire destroyed the building in 1020, the Sancta Camisa was found intact in the ruins of the cathedral's treasury. Bishop Fulbert considered this a miracle and a sign, and rebuilding was soon begun. The whole population, from nobleman to peasant, and from Court Ladies to milkmaids, pulled wagons filled with materials to the cathedral's construction site, singing hymns as they moved along. The Sancta Camisa is still at Chartres Cathedral.
Even earlier, in the sixth century, Gregory of Tours describes in his "Eight Books of Miracles" how the workers on his mother's estate had set some straw on fire to keep warm, only to see the blaze rapidly spread: His mother, with holy items of St. Eusebius, "sprang from the table and lifted up the holy relics against the masses of flames and the fire went out." Later, with the same relic, Gregory defeated an approaching storm cloud, which "immediately divided into two parts and passed on the right and the left and did no harm to us or anyone else thereafter."
The Patron Saint of Firefighters is St. Florian, a third-century Christian martyr who was a member of a fire-fighting bucket brigade in the Roman army. Florian's profession of Christian faith over pagan idols led to his execution by drowning, being thrown in a river with a stone tied around his neck. This martyrdom lead to his also being a saint to receive prayers for victims of water and hurricanes.
Other Marian objects—not relics, but the Virgin's representation in art— while perhaps susceptible to destruction were still accorded extraordinary powers. During the English Reformation, Thomas Cromwell and Sir Roger Townshend seized the wooden statue of Our Lady of Walsingham in 1538 and took it to London to be ceremoniously set ablaze. After the Walsingham sculpture had made its journey, one woman loudly pronounced that miracles had occurred in its wake; she was put into stocks as a public example, but to little avail; Sir Roger wrote to Cromwell, "I cannot perceyve but the seed image is not yett out of the sum of ther heddes."
Far closer to our own time is the Leaning Virgin and Child of Albert, as discussed by Paul Fussell in his "The Great War and Modern Memory." Albert was a French town located amid the Battle of the Somme during World War I. Attacked and held back and forth by German and Allied forces, Albert saw the shelling of its church, Notre Dame de Brebières; a gilded sculpture of a Madonna and Child placed atop its tower fell, but only to a near-horizontal position. This "miracle" soon made the town and its sculpture famous; in October 1915, a Allies chaplain described it as the statue "that has never fallen." By the following July, it was becoming a sign of hope or of extraordinary presence; one soldier wrote home: "Marched through Albert where we saw the famous church with the statue of the Madonna and Child hanging from the top of the steeple, at an angle of about forty degrees, as if the Madonna was leaning down to catch the Child which has fallen."
Two years later, the statue would eventually be destroyed in a British attack on the town. A measure of its fame then is found in a New York Times headline: "Albert Now Death Trap: Town of former Leaning Virgin and Babe a Target for British Guns." Postwar, the town was renewed and its church rebuilt. A second version of the Madonna and Child now stands again atop the steeple.
Even more akin to the story of the Virgin of Breezy Point is that of the Madonna of La Gleize, told by Robert M. Edsel in "The Monument's Men," his account of soldiers dedicated to the preservation and recovery of important art and architecture during World War II.
In touring La Gleize in December 1944, protector and sculptor Walker Handcock observed that this small Belgian town's cathedral had only two things of note: a view, from its tower, over the Ardennes Forest and, in its nave, an extraordinary 13th-century wooden Madonna.
Two months later, Hancock returned after the Battle of the Bulge had swept through the region. La Gleize lay in ruins, including the cathedral. Bodies of soldiers from both sides lay frozen in nearby snow. But the Madonna remained standing in the nave, untouched. As Mr. Edsel writes, "the town was abandoned, but not entirely." Hancock oversaw the sculpture's move to safe storage in a nearby cellar.
Like the continuing presence of the Madonna of La Greize, the survival of the Breezy Point sculpture will be dismissed as coincidence by atheists, who—as they have with the 9/11 Cross—would have it banned from public property. Agnostics will perhaps pause at the sequence of two religious images emerging out of New York's two most destructive events some 121 months apart. Believers may have their faith in signs or miracles affirmed. Mr. Carmean is an art historian and a canon in the Episcopal Church. He lives in Washington.
A version of this article appeared November 6, 2012, on page D5 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Faith in the Face of Destruction.
In 2009 we began contemplating whether America's numerous and diverse places of faith (including the personal "spirituality" place of faith) are successful enough in teaching us virtues that are indispensable to a society trying to govern itself. While faiths aren't the only entities that teach virtue, they have a long history of doing so, and are generally considered to have been a great help in the founding, saving, and perpetuation of the American experiment in self-government.
We had noticed that there was a growing gap between the collective behavior one might expect from a "believing" country (~90% of American believe in God, by some surveys) and actual behavior.
- Americans as a whole are experiencing great difficulty with entering into and keeping marriage vows, historically and traditionally a religious rite.
- It would be difficult to argue that the religious majority "remember[s] the sabbath day, to keep it holy".
- Reports of domestic abuse, a contradiction of all forms of the Golden Rule, continue to grow.
- McMansions, reflective of materialism, anathema to almost all religious creeds, are not considered extravagant by most Americans.
While we didn't think that religion, or faith, would solve all of these - we observed that the tenets of many faiths naturally address a large number of our greatest problems. That is, we thought, if more of us followed more of our declared faiths' beliefs more carefully, would many of our problems be reduced in size?
So, we decided to try and initiate a national conversation about the collective capacity of our places of faith to instill necessary virtues in America's citizens. We would travel the country and visit places of faith to discover what virtues they taught, how successful they were in doing so, and the extent of their reach. At each church, synagogue, or temple we would interview the spiritual leader and lay members, as well as visit a worship service to take photographs. The collected information would be disseminated via various media outlets - something similar to what StoryCorps does.
The pilot program lasted about 18 months, and we surveyed 16 places of faith in Loudoun County, Virginia. It was exceptionally successful. We are now expanding the project nationally.
The subject of this blog from this point into the far future will mostly be to feature these places of faith and their virtue-teaching capacities, and bring the reader excerpts from the interviews and photographs. Hopefully we can all then carefully think about whether we are adopting virtues sufficient enough to be "keepers", as Ben Franklin used the word, of the republic.
I hope you will come back periodically and follow us on this national survey.
Below are some pictures of 2nd Mount Olive Baptist Church just east of Hamilton, Virginia. I will post some interview excerpts later.
Redskins’ Roy Helu is a different sort of running back By Rick Maese
, Published: October 13 Rookie Roy Helu
is the least known of the three running backs who split time in the Washington Redskins
’ backfield. There’s apparently a reason for that.
“He’s very different,” said New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara
, one of Helu’s closest friends and a former college teammate at Nebraska.
Helu has flash, but he’s not flashy.
“I don’t know how to describe it. You have to be around Roy to experience him,” said Redskins safety DeJon Gomes
, another college teammate. “He might seem dingy, but that’s not it at all.”
Helu is set in his ways, but he’s hard to pin down.
“He has a unique spirit about him,” said Matt Penland, the Nebraska team chaplain.
As coaches decide whether to start Ryan Torain or Tim Hightower
at running back in Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles
, Helu has been the backfield constant through four games. He’s a change-of-pace back who is averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He’s elusive and quick, and though he’s just 22 years old, coaches say they’re impressed with his focus.
“He’s a guy who lives without cable and television and Internet,” Amukamara said. “He doesn’t need that. He’s such a simple guy. He doesn’t really need much. He’s not someone who’d ever need to spend a lot of money on anything.”
In fact, earlier this month Helu texted Redskins wide receiver Niles Paul
, another Nebraska teammate. Helu was shopping for his first pair of Nike sneakers but was shocked to learn they would cost more than $100. “Get them, Roy! Get them!” Paul told him. But Helu didn’t. “That’s just Roy,” Paul said.
“You only can describe him as Roy Helu,” Paul continued. “He is Roy. He is his own person. He’s not embarrassed; he’s not ashamed of anything he does. He takes it all with a smile and goes about his business.” A father’s influence
Helu credits his father for his football ability, though Roy Sr. didn’t even know about football until he moved to the United States from Tonga in 1974. Roy Sr. grew up playing rugby, eventually earning his way onto the U.S. national team.
Living in California’s Bay Area, the Helus had six children. After three girls, Helu was the first boy. He started in soccer at a young age but began playing football when he was 8. His father’s skill set translated nicely to the football backfield.
“You have to have speed, vision, cutting ability and quickness,” Roy Sr. said of rugby. “It’s just like football.”
With his father helping teach him footwork and running, Helu eventually earned a scholarship to Nebraska. The Tongans are a tight-knit, family-oriented people, and Helu had to adjust to life away from home.
The football team was struggling as well, and Helu says he lacked a sense of direction. He called the team chaplain, who arranged to have breakfast. “The day I gave my life to the Lord, everything changed,” Helu said. “It gave me more purpose. Not more purpose, but purpose.”
His career took off, too. Helu totaled 803 yards as a sophomore and 1,147 as a junior. Roy Sr. still followed his son’s games closely. Watching Nebraska play Texas on television, he saw his son miss holes right in front of him. He flew out to Nebraska and sat down to study film with Helu. Roy Sr. was no football expert, but he knew running.
“Running is running,” Helu said. “Period.”
They studied the film and spent several days talking about the upcoming game. The next Saturday, Helu ran for 307 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri. Nebraska is known for its history of talented running backs, but no one before Helu — not Roger Craig, Calvin Jones, Mike Rozier, Lawrence Phillips, Ahman Green nor anyone else — had posted so many yards in a single game.
“After the game, he knew he was going to be a hot commodity for the media,”Amukamara said. “They’d want to ask him and talk about it. He said, ‘Watch, I’m just going to talk about Jesus. Let them hear about Him.’ ”
Former teammates say Helu shied away from any celebrity attached to his athletic prowess. He prays in practice and says his play on the field is an “opportunity to glorify God.” Football is merely a platform.
“We’d go into these retirement homes on team visits,” said Penland, the Nebraska chaplain. “A lot of the kids stand around and don’t know what to do, Roy just walks over, sticks his hand out and starts asking questions. He has so much charisma. And he’s not trying to promote himself, he’s genuinely interested in other people.” ‘You have to work hard’
Helu left Nebraska fourth on the school’s all-time rushing list. At the NFL Combine, he posted top-10 marks in six of his seven drills, including the best times among running backs in both the 20-yard dash and the 60-yard shuttle drill.
“He called me before the draft,” Roy Sr. said, “and he asked me, ‘Dad you never told me I can make it to the NFL. Why?’ I said, ‘No, I never told you that. I didn’t want you to think it’s easy to get there. You have to work hard.’ ”
During the NFL draft, when Helu’s name hadn’t been called through the first three rounds, the Redskins jumped, trading their way to the 105th pick. The Redskins saw a raw talent, a player with great one-cut ability. The same skills that made Roy Sr. one of the nation’s top rugby players had been passed on to his son.
“Once you have to teach a running back how to run, you have the wrong running back,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan
said. “When you get a guy like Helu, you don’t know why guys make plays, but the great ones do. I think Helu is giving people the idea that he does have some skills. . . . Hopefully, he just continues to grow.”
With both Hightower and Torain more likely to serve as a lead back, Helu knows his rookie season is one designated for growth. In the Redskins’ second game, against Arizona, Helu strung together 112 all-purpose yards, including 74 on the ground. After the game, he discussed his faith, then praised his offensive line before finally discussing his own play.
In the next game at Dallas, though, he had only 15 yards on five carries. Roy Sr. flew to Northern Virginia the following week, and once again, father and son spent several days watching tape, talking about footwork and identifying holes.
“I never interfere with any coach. I just talk to him,” Roy Sr. said. “The idea is to get better. And that takes a lot of work. This is what I’ve been telling him since he first started.”
Reversing the Decay of London Undone
Britain's chief rabbi on the moral disintegration since the 1960s and how to rebuild Article
By JONATHAN SACKS
It was the same city but it might have been a different planet. At the end of April, the eyes of the world were on London as a dashing prince and a radiant princess, William and Kate, rode in a horse-drawn carriage through streets lined with cheering crowds sharing a mood of joyous celebration. Less than four months later, the world was watching London again as hooded youths ran riot down high streets, smashing windows, looting shops, setting fire to cars, attacking passersby and throwing rocks at the police.
A priest and an imam join with the local community to pray as they begin to clean up the damage in the London borough of Hackney. In the 1800s, in Britain and America, religious and community organizations 're-moralized' those countries.
It looked like a scene from Cairo, Tunis or Tripoli earlier in the year. But this was no political uprising. People were breaking into shops and making off with clothes, shoes, electronic gadgets and flat-screen televisions. It was, as someone later called it, shopping with violence, consumerism run rampage, an explosion of lawlessness made possible by mobile phones as gangs discovered that by text messaging they could bring crowds onto the streets where they became, for a while, impossible to control.
Let us be clear. The numbers involved were relatively small. The lawkeepers vastly outnumbered the lawbreakers. People stepped in to rescue those attacked. Crowds appeared each morning to clear up the wreckage of the night before. Britain remains a decent, good and gracious society.
But the damage was real. Businesses were destroyed. People lost their homes. A 68-year-old man, attacked by a mob while trying to put out a fire, died. Three young men in Birmingham were killed in a hit-and-run attack. While it lasted, it was very frightening.
It took everyone by surprise. It should not have.
Britain is the latest country to pay the price for what happened half a century ago in one of the most radical transformations in the history of the West. In virtually every Western society in the 1960s there was a moral revolution, an abandonment of its entire traditional ethic of self-restraint. All you need, sang the Beatles, is love. The Judeo-Christian moral code was jettisoned. In its place came: whatever works for you. The Ten Commandments were rewritten as the Ten Creative Suggestions. Or as Allan Bloom put it in "The Closing of the American Mind": "I am the Lord Your God: Relax!"
You do not have to be a Victorian sentimentalist to realize that something has gone badly wrong since. In Britain today, more than 40% of children are born outside marriage. This has led to new forms of child poverty that serious government spending has failed to cure. In 2007, a Unicef report found that Britain's children are the unhappiest in the world. The 2011 riots are one result. But there are others.
Whole communities are growing up without fathers or male role models. Bringing up a family in the best of circumstances is not easy. To try to do it by placing the entire burden on women—91% of single-parent families in Britain are headed by the mother, according to census data—is practically absurd and morally indefensible. By the time boys are in their early teens they are physically stronger than their mothers. Having no fathers, they are socialized in gangs. No one can control them: not parents, teachers or even the local police. There are areas in Britain's major cities that have been no-go areas for years. Crime is rampant. So are drugs. It is a recipe for violence and despair.
That is the problem. At first it seemed as if the riots were almost random with no basis in class or race. As the perpetrators have come to court, a different picture has emerged. Of those charged, 60% had a previous criminal record, and 25% belonged to gangs.
This was the bursting of a dam of potential trouble that has been building for years. The collapse of families and communities leaves in its wake unsocialized young people, deprived of parental care, who on average—and yes, there are exceptions—do worse than their peers at school, are more susceptible to drug and alcohol abuse, less likely to find stable employment and more likely to land up in jail.
The truth is, it is not their fault. They are the victims of the tsunami of wishful thinking that washed across the West saying that you can have sex without the responsibility of marriage, children without the responsibility of parenthood, social order without the responsibility of citizenship, liberty without the responsibility of morality and self-esteem without the responsibility of work and earned achievement.
What has happened morally in the West is what has happened financially as well. Good and otherwise sensible people were persuaded that you could spend more than you earn, incur debt at unprecedented levels and consume the world's resources without thinking about who will pay the bill and when. It has been the culture of the free lunch in a world where there are no free lunches.
We have been spending our moral capital with the same reckless abandon that we have been spending our financial capital. Freud was right. The precondition of civilization is the ability to defer the gratification of instinct. And even Freud, who disliked religion and called it the "obsessional neurosis" of humankind, realized that it was the Judeo-Christian ethic that trained people to control their appetites.
There are large parts of Britain, Europe and even the United States where religion is a thing of the past and there is no counter-voice to the culture of buy it, spend it, wear it, flaunt it, because you're worth it. The message is that morality is passé, conscience is for wimps, and the single overriding command is "Thou shalt not be found out."
Has this happened before, and is there a way back? The answer to both questions is in the affirmative. In the 1820s, in Britain and America, a similar phenomenon occurred. People were moving from villages to cities. Families were disrupted. Young people were separated from their parents and no longer under their control. Alcohol consumption rose dramatically. So did violence. In the 1820s it was unsafe to walk the streets of London because of pickpockets by day and "unruly ruffians" by night.
What happened over the next 30 years was a massive shift in public opinion. There was an unprecedented growth in charities, friendly societies, working men's institutes, temperance groups, church and synagogue associations, Sunday schools, YMCA buildings and moral campaigns of every shape and size, fighting slavery or child labor or inhuman working conditions. The common factor was their focus on the building of moral character, self-discipline, willpower and personal responsibility. It worked. Within a single generation, crime rates came down and social order was restored. What was achieved was nothing less than the re-moralization of society—much of it driven by religion.
It was this that the young French aristocrat Alexis de Tocqueville saw on his visit to America in 1831. It astonished him. Tocqueville was expecting to see, in the land that had enacted the constitutional separation of church and state, a secular society. To his amazement he found something completely different: a secular state, to be sure, but also a society in which religion was, he said, the first of its political (we would now say "civil") institutions. It did three things he saw as essential. It strengthened the family. It taught morality. And it encouraged active citizenship.
Nearly 200 years later, the Tocqueville of our time, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam, made the same discovery. Mr. Putnam is famous for his diagnosis of the breakdown of social capital he called "bowling alone." More people were going bowling, but fewer were joining teams. It was a symbol of the loss of community in an age of rampant individualism. That was the bad news.
At the end of 2010, he published the good news. Social capital, he wrote in "American Grace," has not disappeared. It is alive and well and can be found in churches, synagogues and other places of worship. Religious people, he discovered, make better neighbors and citizens. They are more likely to give to charity, volunteer, assist a homeless person, donate blood, spend time with someone feeling depressed, offer a seat to a stranger, help someone find a job and take part in local civic life. Affiliation to a religious community is the best predictor of altruism and empathy: better than education, age, income, gender or race.
Much can and must be done by governments, but they cannot of themselves change lives. Governments cannot make marriages or turn feckless individuals into responsible citizens. That needs another kind of change agent. Alexis de Tocqueville saw it then, Robert Putnam is saying it now. It needs religion: not as doctrine but as a shaper of behavior, a tutor in morality, an ongoing seminar in self-restraint and pursuit of the common good.
One of our great British exports to America, Harvard historian Niall Ferguson, has a fascinating passage in his recent book "Civilization," in which he asks whether the West can maintain its primacy on the world stage or if it is a civilization in decline.
He quotes a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, tasked with finding out what gave the West its dominance. He said: At first we thought it was your guns. Then we thought it was your political system, democracy. Then we said it was your economic system, capitalism. But for the last 20 years, we have known that it was your religion.
It was the Judeo-Christian heritage that gave the West its restless pursuit of a tomorrow that would be better than today. The Chinese have learned the lesson. Fifty years after Chairman Mao declared China a religion-free zone, there are now more Chinese Christians than there are members of the Communist Party.
China has learned the lesson. The question is: Will we?
—Lord Sacks is the chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth.
I remember very clearly what would nowadays be called my spiritual awakening, the moment when faith became something personal to me. Until that day, I had been an extremely lucky child. I had a loving family and a comfortable life, and my father was a successful lawyer.
When I was 10, my father, just 40, suffered a severe stroke and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors were uncertain if he would survive. My mother, trying to keep a sense of normality for her children, sent us to school that morning.
To provide comfort to a frightened and bewildered boy, the head teacher, who was ordained, suggested that he and I kneel and pray for my father's recovery
. I knew this was not as straightforward as he thought, and I plucked up the courage to whisper, "I'm afraid my father doesn't believe in God."
My teacher's reply was to make a lasting impression on me. "That doesn't matter," the man said. "God believes in him. He loves him without demanding or needing love in return."
My father ended up making a good recovery after a long rehabilitation. Nearly 50 years later, he remains an atheist. And while I did not become a fully committed and practicing Christian overnight, that conversation with my teacher started the process in which I came to recognize that there is a purpose to our existence beyond ourselves.
I was confirmed while I was at college
, and faith has been a constant in my life. Yet even for nonbelievers, faith cannot be ignored. Today, religious beliefs -- whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or other creeds -- are at the core of the lives of two-thirds of the world's population, giving them sense and direction. And it is not only a matter of numbers -- faith matters because it inspires people to act and raise their sights beyond themselves.
Sadly, religion can be distorted into violent extremism. Having spiritual beliefs has never rendered a person incapable of doing wrong or evil. But far more often, faith can be a force for good. I have witnessed its positive impact wherever I've gone in the world. I've seen it at major disasters in the incredible humanitarian efforts of the Red Cross, Islamic Relief, or World Jewish Relief, all organizations inspired by belief. I've also seen it in the central role of synagogues, churches, temples, and mosques in helping the poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged in every country. In every case, men and women of faith who are trying to put the idea of unconditional love into practice are leading these efforts.
We should not allow those who use religion as a divisive force to succeed. We can harness its power and common values to bring us together. This is more important than ever in an age when the Internet
, mass communication, and travel are shrinking the world.
None of this means giving up our own beliefs -- I always say that no matter the company, I remain a Christian. But it does require focusing
on the vast areas we share and not on the much smaller areas that separate us. Two years ago, I launched the Tony Blair Faith Foundation. Among our projects
, we've connected students from different continents
and religions to help them learn from one another. We've united faith communities to fight against malaria, a disease that kills one million people a year. And we recently held a competition in which young people around the world created short films that showed what their religious beliefs mean to them.
That idea of unconditional love, which made such an impression on a frightened young boy so long ago, is at the core of all our great faiths. We need to get back to this guiding light
. By understanding one another, respecting one another, and acting with one another, we can show why humanity is made not poorer by faith but immeasurably richer. Tony Blair, who served as Britain's prime minister from 1997 to 2007, is the author of the new memoir "A Journey: My Political Life." To read more about his work, go to tonyblairfaithfoundation.org.
Couples who share religious practices tend to be happier than those who don't, study says By Donna St. George
Thursday, August 12, 2010; B01
African American couples are more likely than others to share core religious beliefs and pray together at home -- factors that have been linked to greater happiness in marriages
and relationships, according to a study
In what is described as the first major look at relationship quality and religion across racial and ethnic lines, researchers report a significant link between relationship satisfaction and religious factors
for whites, Hispanics and African Americans. The study appears in this month's issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family
True to the aphorism, couples who pray together stay together, said study co-author W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia
, and "African American couples are more likely to have a shared spiritual identity as a couple."
The study found that 40 percent of blacks in marriages and live-in relationships who attended religious services regularly had a partner who did the same, compared with 29 percent of non-Hispanic whites and 29 percent of Hispanics.
White couples, in general, reported greater relationship satisfaction than other groups, presumably because of income and educational advantages, the study says. But the racial gap lessens when religious similarities come into the mix.
"What this study suggests is that religion is one of the key factors narrowing the racial divide in relationship quality in the United States," Wilcox said.
The strongest difference-maker for couples was spiritual activities such as praying or reading the Bible at home. "Praying together as a couple is something that is very intimate for people who are religious," Wilcox said. "It adds another level of closeness to a relationship."
Such findings bear out in the four-year marriage of Sade and Charles Dennis, who live in Bowie. "Our relationship with the Lord has definitely been the glue that has held it together," said Sade, 34, an author and artist.
Sometimes the couple prays by phone as Charles commutes to his job as an accountant, or as Sade is just waking up and Charles reads her a devotional from his BlackBerry. At times of disagreement, when one can't see the other's point of view, one will interrupt and say: "Let's just pray," Sade said.
"Prayer is the great reconciler," she said. The Dennises attend monthly fellowships as part of a couples ministry at First Baptist Church of Glenarden.
In the whirlwind of daily life, prayer is also a moment to connect, she said. "We pray over every important milestone," she said. "We just really feel that God is the third person in this marriage. It's me, Charles and the Lord."
Cheryl J. Sanders, senior pastor at Third Street Church of God in Northwest Washington and a professor of Christian ethics at Howard University, said that with marriage in apparent decline, it is important to know what works in a relationship. "I welcome that kind of information," she said.
Deenice Galloway, 54, said faith has helped her marriage span 30 years, as she and her husband have raised two children in Bowie. "You have to use your faith to work through a whole lot of ups and downs and difficult moments," she said. "It makes it a whole lot easier."
Still, the study shows that religion did not have positive effects for all.
When one partner attends services regularly and the other does not, relationship satisfaction is lower.
Two nonreligious partners are more content together than partners with different practices, the study says.
"When couples do things together -- whether it's bird-watching, playing tennis or attending church -- they tend to do better," Wilcox said, and "when they don't share these activities, particularly when they are important, couples are more likely to suffer."
Still, experts such as Frank Fincham, director of the Family Institute at Florida State University, question whether the "active ingredient" that leads some couples to report greater satisfaction is really faith-based.
Fincham suggests maybe it's not religion but something else about the people who embrace it, or some other activity that couples do together.
The study's results are based on a recent analysis of a 2006 U.S. survey of 1,387 adults ages 18 to 59. Nearly 90 percent were married, and the others were living together.
The authors noted limitations of the study, such as relying on interviews with one partner rather than both. They controlled for income, age and education but not for other factors that might lead to relationship satisfaction, such as personality traits.
The Rev. James E. Terrell, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Northwest Washington, said that among his members he has observed shared beliefs as a source of marital unity.
"People seem to do better when they think there is a spiritual aspect to their marriage," Terrell said. That includes services and praying but also "seeking the Lord in terms of resolving problems and differences," he said. "Without a doubt, it helps to keep a marriage together."
Gregory Kane: Without church and parents, kids run wild By: Gregory Kane
Examiner Staff WriterApril 19, 2010
Just 7 years old. That's the age of the little girl who was gang-raped in a Trenton, N.J., apartment building a little over two weeks ago.
It's a crime so monstrous, so vile and so despicable that it has to boggle the mind. So far four people -- three juveniles ages 13, 14 and 17, and a 19-year-old adult -- have been arrested in connection with the atrocity. All are male. I refuse to call the 19-year-old a man for a very good reason.
Even a pack of wild dogs wouldn't have done what these males did. According to news reports, at least three other males were involved. This is what happened, according to Trenton police and several news stories.
The 7-year-old had a 15-year-old stepsister. Apparently, the 7-year-old had more good sense than the 15-year-old. The elder stepsister went to a party on the 13th floor of Trenton's Rowan Tower apartment building. The 7-year-old, concerned for her older stepsister's safety, tagged along. According to an April 2 Associated Press story, here's what happened next:
"The 15-year-old sold sex to men in the room, then took money to let them touch the younger girl. Touching turned to forcible sex as at least seven men raped the 7-year-old. The little girl then put her clothes on and left the apartments. That's when two women found her crying and took her home."
Police booked the 15-year-old sister on charges of promoting prostitution, aggravated sexual assault and other charges, according to the AP story.
This crime almost tops the one that occurred three years ago in West Palm Beach, Fla. In that case a bunch of thugs gang-raped a Haitian-American woman, brutally beat her then-12-year-old son and then forced her to perform oral sex on the boy at gunpoint. Juveniles as young as 14 years old were among the assailants.
We should all be wondering just how we reached this point in America, and we are no doubt asking where are the parents in all this.
, exactly, were the parents of the 7-year-old victim and her stepsister? Where were the parents of the 13, 14 and 17-year-old suspects? Where were the parents of the juvenile suspects in the West Palm Beach incident?
Where were those parents, and what kind of values were they giving their children? I'm far from a saint, and not much of a churchgoing man, but I still remember the values my mother -- a single mom, by the way, who had to raise six children alone and refused
to go on welfare -- gave me.
When I was 4 years old, I was in a movie theater watching Cecil B. DeMille's 1956 version of "The Ten Commandments." On Sundays, I was at Mass, and then Sunday school. When school dismissed for the summer, she made sure I made it to the Bible school of the nearest Catholic parish.
All that religious training, at the very minimum, instilled in me some very important values. Like not stealing or lying. Or brutalizing and raping.
Today many Americans openly sneer at religious values. Bill Maher, one of those who sneer at religion most passionately, has his own show on the HBO network. Illusionists Penn and Teller, two more members of the anti-religion brigade, have their own program on the Showtime network.
Today's entertainment industry has no tolerance for religion, while promoting the most gratuitous displays of sex and violence. The answer to the question of where those Trenton and West Palm Beach parents were may be an easy one.
Nowhere to be found, and letting television do the baby-sitting for them. Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.
Catholic Colleges and Tests of Faith A study's findings dismay conservatives By DAVID GIBSON
A new study on the faith of Catholic college students produced a Rorschach moment in today's church that was neatly typified by contrasting headlines in the Catholic media:
"Catholic colleges weakening students' faith, new study finds," declared the conservative-leaning Catholic World News.
"Study: Catholics at Catholic colleges less likely to stray from church," went the headline from Catholic News Service, the media outlet of the American bishops.
So which is it? Are Catholic colleges undermining the faith? Or are they an effective if leaky levee against the growing tide of secularism? The study, "Catholicism on Campus," was released on Jan. 31 by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA), at Georgetown University, which compiled the data from national surveys of more than 14,000 students at nearly 150 U.S. colleges and universities. Students were surveyed as freshmen in 2004 and then in 2007 as juniors.
The upshot is that while college-age students at all schools tend to move away from Catholic practices and beliefs, Catholic students at Catholic colleges are less likely to drift than Catholics at non-Catholic schools. The CARA authors conclude that "students self-identifying as Catholic at Catholic colleges and universities remain profoundly connected to their faith" by their junior year. While the study's authors acknowledge that Catholic schools could always do better, they "appear to be doing no harm—certainly in comparison to other types of higher education institutions—and at a more subtle level may be increasing their student's Catholicity."
Rebellion tends to define youth in every era, just as marriage and childbearing tend to draw adults back to their faith. But 46% of the Catholic juniors at Catholic schools surveyed said their "religiousness" became "stronger" or "much stronger" during college and 39% said there was "no change." Almost all expressed a strong belief in God, and nearly nine in 10 said "seeking to follow religious teachings in everyday life" was at least somewhat important to them. Overall, they were slightly less likely to pray when they left Catholic universities than when they entered, but slightly more likely to read the Bible and other sacred texts.
Yet nearly a third of Catholic students at Catholic schools were less likely to attend Mass—the baseline of Catholic practice—than they had been before arriving on campus, and just 7% said they were more likely. And the church teachings to which these students at Catholic colleges adhere most strongly are those that, in a sociopolitical context, would be called "liberal." For example, 21% of Catholic students at Catholic schools moved away from the church's teaching against capital punishment, while 31% moved closer to the church's position—a significantly higher shift in that direction than from Catholic students at non-Catholic schools, where it's almost a wash. On a range of social-justice issues, Catholic students at Catholic schools are even more likely to maintain or move toward church teachings and policies: opposing increased military spending; supporting higher taxes on the wealthy; and expressing much stronger support for "reducing pain and suffering" and "improving the human condition."
By contrast, on issues of personal sexual morality generally considered "conservative," students show the furthest drift from Catholic teachings over their college years.
For example, a significant number of all college-age Catholics tended to shift toward a more permissive view of abortion, with 31% of those at Catholic schools saying they were more supportive of legal abortion after their time on a Catholic campus and only 16% saying they had moved closer to the church's teaching. Catholic students' shift away from church teaching on legal abortion was slightly greater at non-Catholic schools. Overall, 56% of Catholic juniors at Catholic colleges say they disagree "strongly" or "somewhat" that "abortion should be legal." On the question of same-sex marriage, 39% of Catholic students at Catholic colleges distanced themselves from the church's opposition and only 16% moved toward that stance—a net change nearly as high as at other universities. By their junior year, only one in three Catholics at Catholic schools disagree "somewhat" or "strongly" that same-sex couples should have the right to marry.
Given that opposition to abortion and gay marriage are now the twin markers of orthodoxy for conservative Catholics—many of whom are also less likely to agree with the church or their kids on trimming military spending, increasing taxes for the wealthy, or ending the death penalty—it's no surprise that conservatives might be dismayed by the survey's findings.
Of course, Catholic colleges have been blamed for instilling "liberal" values since Catholics started attending colleges in large numbers in the postwar years—a criticism that has grown more pronounced as Catholic higher education became an arena for battles in the culture wars. "By inviting Barack Obama to be the 2009 commencement speaker, Notre Dame has forfeited its right to call itself a Catholic university," the noted Catholic philosopher Ralph McInerny said last spring as he prepared to retire after 54 years at the iconic university of American Catholicism. McInerny, who died on Jan. 29, seemed to confirm the predictions of Archbishop Fulton Sheen: Four decades ago he reportedly recommended that his family and friends "send their children to secular colleges and universities where they will be forced to defend their faith, rather than to Catholic ones, where their faith will be taken from them."
The CARA report now suggests that Catholics at non-Catholic schools tend to fare worse as far as fidelity and practice goes. But the larger issue is that Catholic higher education simply can't bear all the weight of passing on the faith.
Parents and families are the greatest single influence on a young person's faith, experts note, and the deterioration of family life often leaves Catholic students religiously adrift even as dioceses, parishes and the shrinking priesthood are increasingly ill-equipped to take up the slack.
Viewed from that perspective, perhaps Catholic colleges should be praised for providing young Catholics a sanctuary and incubator for at least some of the tenets of their faith until, let us hope, these men and women help birth a wider Catholic culture to better support their own children. Mr. Gibson, a biographer of Pope Benedict XVI, covers religion for PoliticsDaily.com.