Friday, December 12, 2014

Moses in 3-D -- special effects drown out theology, drama

Over the years, some clergy have confided to me that there are passages of the Bible they find difficult to accept, much less preach about.

To our modern ears, for example, some of what Paul wrote in the letters that became part of the New Testament sound sexist (“Wives, be submissive to your husbands”) or blind to systemic evil (“Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly”).

Then there are the stories in the Hebrew Bible where an angry God decides to punish or destroy, with fanfare, those who sin or stand in the way of God’s will.

You could argue that some evil people deserved to feel God’s wrath. But, as is the case with wars, a lot of innocent people who got in the way suffered, too. In Genesis, the Almighty decides to flood the world and, in Exodus, God inflicts plagues on Egyptians, including death to their firstborn children.

And that brings me to Hollywood, where biblical epics are back in style.

Some of the same passages considered difficult, even troubling, by those in the pulpit are irresistible to filmmakers with millions to spend on expensive actors and eye-popping special effects.

In this year’s “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, director Darren Aronofsky drowns most of humanity, with hair-raising scenes of people crying in terror as the ground below them is rapidly submerged.

And in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” – now in a theater near you – I watched with awe through my 3-D glasses as director Ridley Scott and his CGI team waged apocalyptic war on the Egyptians.

Swarms of locusts rain down on Pharaoh and his subjects; frogs galore hop into their homes, even into their beds; monster-size crocodiles turn the Nile red with blood from all their human food; and, in a climax that’s more visually arresting than suspenseful, the waves of the Red Sea come crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers, sending them, their horses and their chariots into the deep.

Scott, the Brit who gave us the Oscar-winning “Gladiator,” must have felt a little like You-Know-Who as he presided over all this computer-generated doom and destruction.

The film purports to tell the story of how a faithful God sent Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. Actor Christian Bale, who was perfect as Batman, is an OK Moses. And there are some intriguing scenes in which Moses, a reluctant hero, is prodded by a hyper-articulate boy who is supposed to be either God or God’s messenger.

But the drama and most of the theology are, yes, drowned out by the real reason for this 3-D movie: The “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience every time the director commands “Action!”

-- Tim Funk

Friday, December 5, 2014

In increasingly diverse Charlotte, God goes by many names


Two newsy items I came across recently got me wondering: In how many languages do people in Charlotte worship God these days?

I counted at least 20 – not a surprise when you consider how diverse our faith community has become. And I bet some of you could add to my list. (And hopefully will – see below.)

Those two newsy items:


  • At 7 p.m. on Thursday (Dec. 11),  thousands of Spanish-speaking Catholics are expected to converge on Bojangles Coliseum, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., for the annual celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – or “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.”


  • A Polish-language Mass will be celebrated at 3 p.m. on Dec. 21 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.


To be sure, most local houses of worship still send their prayers up to “God.”

But, all over town, the Supreme Being is increasingly invoked by other names: “Dios” (in Spanish); “Gott” (German); “Elohim” and “Adonai” (Hebrew); “Allah” (Arabic); “Deus” (Latin); “Bóg” (Polish); “Theos” (Greek); “Dieu” (French); and many others.

I consulted a few folks in town who chart Charlotte’s growing diversity – including historian Tom Hanchett of the Levine Museum of the New South – and came up with a list of the languages of worship in the Charlotte area:


  • The Catholic Diocese has parishes where some or all of the Masses are in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Latin. A few parishes periodically host Masses in other languages, including Polish and Tagalog (from the Philippines).


  • Orthodox Christian churches have services that are partly or totally said in Greek, Russian, Serbian, Armenian and Arabic.


  • The Jewish synagogues include prayers in Hebrew.


  • Muslims attending masjids, or mosques, are led in prayer in Arabic.


  • Various Protestant denominations – Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist – have immigrant congregations that worship in German, Khmer (the language of Cambodia), Korean, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Tagalog.


  • Buddhist temples are the spiritual homes to immigrant communities that speak Chinese, Lao (from Laos), Vietnamese and Khmer.


  • The sacred language at the Hindu temples is Sanskrit.


  • Haitian churches have services in French.


  • Immigrant churches with congregations from African countries worship in such indigenous language groups as Akan (from Ghana) and Amharic (from Ethiopia).



OK, that’s our list. What languages have we left out? Email them (and any related houses of worship) to: tfunk@charlotteobserver.com

-- Tim Funk

Friday, November 28, 2014

Services for those who suffer during the holidays


The cues to turn that frown into a smile are nonstop: “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

For many, though, the holidays can be a dispiriting time. Maybe they – maybe you – battle loneliness or depression, have lost a job or a loved one.

Faced with all the parties and the gifts and the caroling, those suffering often “wish the world would stop being so happy and recognize that there are brothers and sisters who are in pain,” says the Rev. Gary Butterworth, rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Gastonia.





So Butterworth’s church is inviting those coping with sorrow, loss, pain and isolation to attend a “Blue Service” on Dec. 19.

It’s the third year All Saints has held this gathering, which features an inclusive liturgy.

“It’s the one time of the year that we get people of all faiths and denominations as well as the un-churched,” he says. “And there are lots of tears.”

Those who attend are given strips of cloth and a Sharpie pen. They’re invited to write down their pains, struggles, broken relationships, the names of those they’re remembering. During the service, they are asked to bring those strips to the Christmas manger “and give them to Jesus,” Butterworth says. The strips remain in the manger until the feast of the Epiphany in January.

In his past Blue Service sermons – he calls them meditations – Butterworth has acknowledged the pain of those who have come and then spoken of Scripture as “God’s love story with humanity, including lots of struggle, pain and joy.”

“We honor and affirm where they are,” he says, and then offer them this message: “There is hope.”

The 45-minute service is 7 p.m. at All Saints, 1201 S. New Hope Road, Gastonia.

 Details here. You can also call 704-864-7201.


Remembering children

The Charlotte chapter of the Compassionate Friends will be there next month for those bearing a special pain: the loss of a child.

Parents, family and friends are invited to a candlelight service at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway. It will held in the small chapel on the Rea Road entrance.

Names of the children being remembered will be read. Those who come are invited to bring a picture.


Details: 704-315-6913 or email sam3arm@aol.com.

-- Tim Funk

Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking for uplift? Attend Tuesday's interfaith Thanksgiving service


If you’re distressed, as I am, by all the acrimony at home and abroad, I have a suggestion that could bring you some peace and uplift.

Show up Tuesday night (Nov. 25) at Mecklenburg Ministries’ 39th annual citywide interfaith Thanksgiving service.

You’ll find people of various races, cultural backgrounds and faith traditions praying and singing together – not judging and bad-mouthing each other.

The event will start at 7 p.m. at The Park Church, 6029 Beatties Ford Road. Get there early – it’s one of the best-attended events in Charlotte. (Last year, more than 1,000 people were there.)

In fact, come at 6:30 p.m. for the musical prelude.

As always, the night’s accent will be on gratitude. Delivering that message from the pulpit will be a trio of women clergy: Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El, the Rev. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, M.D., of Novant Health, and the Rev. Christy Snow of the Spiritual Living Center of Charlotte. The title of their talk: “Committed to Love Amidst Paradox.”

Among the other speakers: Bishop Claude Alexander, who pastors The Park, and Imam John Ramadan of Masjid Ar-Razzaq. Ramadan also chairs the board of the sponsoring Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith group with about 100 member congregations.

The service will open with a Hindu Thanksgiving ritual prayer and include readings from the sacred texts of various religions. Sharing a story for the children will be the Rev. Sofia McGuire of Sufi Order International.

There will also be glorious music, led by 200-plus singers and musicians from the Interfaith Adult and Children’s Choirs and from the Queen City Ringers, the Gaston Choral Society, The Park Choir, and the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

One last thing: If you’re coming, bring some canned goods to benefit Loaves & Fishes, which feeds our hungry brothers and sisters during the holidays and all year round.

More details: www.meckmin.org; 704-565-5455.

Also for your calendar ...

Here are some other upcoming holiday events:


  • Dec. 5: Franklin Graham and others from Samaritan’s Purse will lead a celebration of the 2.4 million shoe box gifts prepared in Charlotte for shipment to kids all over the world. 10:30 a.m. at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center, 7100 Forest Point Blvd.



  • Dec. 12-13: The Choir School at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church will present its popular Christmas concerts. 7:30 p.m. each night in the church sanctuary, 115 W. Seventh St. uptown.




  • Dec. 16-17: The Congregation of Ohr HaTorah will mark the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah with two menorah lightings. 5 p.m. Dec. 16 at SouthPark Mall and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Trade and Tryon uptown.


--Tim Funk

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Days before death, Sunday school teacher got to see her book published


For more than 50 years, Edith Collins taught young children at Myers Park Baptist Church.

And during those decades of Sunday school and Through-the-Week school, Collins filed away stories about these 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds whose first and maybe best memories of the Charlotte church were of gentle “Miss E.”




Collins’ dream was to fill a book with these stories.

About Allison, the precocious little girl who responded to a recording of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by spreading her arms and “flying” around the room to the rhythm of the music.

About Adam, who riveted the class during Circle Time one Sunday morning with his report on a trip to the doctor and how the M.D. had said that his brain was boiling. (Translation: He probably had a high fever).

And about how, during the reading of “Jack be nimble ...,” one little boy taught the other children compassion by taking the hand of Judy, who had cerebral palsy, and helping her jump over the imaginary candlestick.

This dream-of-a-book was finally published this year, in April, as Collins, 87, struggled with illness.




Because of her declining health, her family and friends at Myers Park Baptist got the publisher, Lorimer Press in Davidson, to rush the first copy off the press.


When “Sprouting Acorns” by Edith Collins was presented to the author, “she just beamed and held the book,” says Myers Park Baptist member Ed Williams. “You could see the joy in her face.”

Four days later, Collins died.

But at 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 20) at Park Road Books, members of Collins’ church will gather to read from her book.

Among the scheduled readers: Bill Walker, retired WSOC-TV anchor; the Rev. Robin Coira, executive minister and the first woman ordained by Myers Park Baptist; poet-historian Mary Kratt; poet Kathie Collins; writer Lisa Rubenson; lawyer Ray Owens, the son of former Myers Park Baptist pastor Gene Owens; and Williams, former editorial page editor at the Observer.

They’ve now published enough copies of “Sprouting Acorns” to sell, for $12.99, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, and at Myers Park Baptist, 1900 Queens Road.

Teacher Collins dreamed up that title because she considered her work to be turning tiny acorns into great oaks – or “sprouting children,” as she explains in the introduction.

“She just loved children,” Coira says. “And she had a magical quality that drew the children to her.”

The book’s stories, written with grace and wisdom and featuring the kids’ charming drawings of cats and birds and space rockets, offer a master class in how to deal with children, featuring an ever-curious and always-encouraging Edith Collins.


-- Tim Funk

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Anonymous donor honors Pope Francis with Habitat house in Huntersville


Today (Oct. 18) at 10:30 a.m., Our Towns Habitat for Humanity will raise the walls on The Pope Francis House at 11908 Titan Ave. in Huntersville.

An anonymous donor wanted to honor the pope with a house built for a family in need.

Volunteer and additional monetary support is being provided by two Catholic parishes – St. Therese in Mooresville and St. Mark in Huntersville – as well as the Davidson College Habitat chapter and Catholic Campus Ministries.

The donor, according to Habitat for Humanity, wanted to salute the pope for his commitment to social justice, support Habitat and provide a “celebratory opportunity” for Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers.


You can volunteer here.

-- Tim Funk 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Muslim and Jewish women to gather to share stories and traditions


Need a break from all the dispiriting headlines about Ebola, ISIS and nasty election-year TV ads?

Check out this news item: Muslim Women of the Carolinas is inviting local Jewish and Muslim women to gather later this month for “Tea for Two.”

“There’s not very many opportunities for Muslims and Jews to meet,” said Rose Hamid, president of the Muslim Women’s group. “I wanted to create some space to just build connections, ask questions of each other and ease fears.”


The plan is for the women to share stories and traditions about their separate religious holidays – this month, the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha fell on the same day.

There will be desserts and, as the event's name promises, tea --several types of tea, in fact. “Because Muslims come from all over the world, teas are a big part of their cultures,” Hamid said.

The event is 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Islamic Community of Bosniaks (they’re from Bosnia), 6200 Wilora Lake Road in east Charlotte.

Space is limited and organizers want a good mix. So, if you’re a Jewish or Muslim woman and want to go, RSVP here

-- Tim Funk