Friday, December 12, 2014
Friday, December 5, 2014
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Tim Funk
Friday, November 28, 2014
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.
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 email@example.com.
-- Tim Funk
Monday, November 24, 2014
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.
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.
Saturday, November 15, 2014
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.
Saturday, October 18, 2014
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
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.”
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
Thursday, October 16, 2014
Every week, it seems, another group holds its national convention in
But how many of them get a video greeting from Pope Francis?
Just one that we know of: This month’s meeting of Catholic Charities USA – professionals and volunteers from dioceses around the country who work to reduce poverty.
“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” the pope, speaking in Spanish, began his video message. “I send you my warmest greetings of peace and abundant joy as you gather together in Charlotte, North Carolina.”
Or “Carolina del Norte” – North Carolina in Spanish.
The pope spoke for more than 12 minutes and stressed, as he has repeatedly in his papacy, the need to care for the poor.
“They will precede us into the Kingdom of Heaven, they will open the gates for us,” he said. “We are called to be a church, a people of and for the poor.”
He signed off with a blessing and this humble plea: “I also ask you to pray for me because I need it.”
(Video courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.)
-- Tim Funk
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Barbara Brown Taylor -- theologian, Episcopal priest, college professor -- lives on a organic vegetable farm in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachians.
It’s a perfect place to experience the natural seesaw between the light and the dark– and to ponder the metaphorical and theological aspects of both. Taylor, 63, writes about these things in her latest book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” which was the subject of a Time magazine cover story this year.
Taylor, named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University, will speak this weekend at Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church. The Observer talked with her Tuesday. Here’s the full transcript.
A. The one I’m working on right this minute is Jacob wrestling an angel by the River Jabbok. Not in the middle of the night, but all night long. And it changes his life. God gives him a wound and a blessing and a new name.
I don’t know anything about God’s preference . . .
Q. I'm referring to God saying in Genesis, “Let there be light.” And Christians like to talk about Jesus as the Light.
A. Yeah, that’s cause we like light. We want God to be the way we like. But Exodus 19 has God saying to Moses, “I will come to you in a dark cloud.” So God doesn’t seem beholden to our fondness for light. I think anyone who professes faith in one God professes faith in a God of the dark and the light, of the night and the day, who put the sun and the moon in the sky. So a lot of what I’m up to in my writing and in my talks in Charlotte this weekend is doing my best to retrieve the wholeness of the vision of God and how God works.
Q. Clearly, many churches and religious books today are selling certainty and a sunny spirituality. But there is this rich contemplative tradition in Christianity that says the darkness is where the soul will find God. Is that how you see darkness as well?
A. Yes, but let’s keep both in there. Because what I find is that (because) I travel with a book called “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” people think I’m setting up a new opposition. I’m keeping the same old battle between dark and light; I’m just switching sides. And I don’t want to be in a battle at all. I want to talk about the cloud of unknowing and the drive to know God. I want to talk about the dark night of the soul. And I want to talk about the bright light in the morning and embrace all of those as parts of our whole life. I’ll talk about learning to walk in the dark as learning to walk the way of unknowing, a sacred way of unknowing, but there’s a sacred way of knowing as well. I’m trying hard not to play into a new opposition, but to do my best to hang on to the full package.
Q. How does living on a farm shape your spirituality and your befriending of the darkness?
A. I think there’s a lot less protection here from the elements. From darkness. From hawks that swoop down out of the sky and take your favorite chicken. And a horse that falls in a hole and breaks its leg. It’s not more exposing than living in a battlefield or a refugee camp, but there are certainly ways that living on a farm leaves me open to a lot more grief and joy than living a more protected city life.
Q. We live in polarized times where everybody wants to cloak their side in the light and cast those on the other side as purveyors of darkness. Is this the way to truth or just to more rancor?
A. We all like to be right, don’t we? If we want to be right, we’ll go to the biggest symbols and totems for rightness we can find – light and sun and God and nation. It’s real hard to be a human being who wants to be right without all those things. So, sure, I think we recruit them for our side and then, if anything, what we’re living through now is the consequences of that. We’re mired in opposition.
Q. You live on a farm and teach at small Piedmont College. Yet this year Time magazine turned its national spotlight on you and your work. Does that feel like being bathed in the light or blinded by the light?
A. Yeah, blinded by the light is a good metaphor. I live here on purpose, I teach at Piedmont on purpose. And as grateful as I am for Time’s (exposure), I like living a human-size life. So I’m happy for the attention and really happy that people have a short attention span.
Want to go?
Barbara Brown Taylor will speak this weekend (Oct. 17-19) at Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road. There's limited space for her $60 Saturday (Oct. 18) workshop on “Lunar Spirituality” (call church phone number below). She’ll also be speaking:
-- Friday (Oct. 17) at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary. Topic: “The Wedding of Heaven and Earth.” Will include a Q&A. Free.
-- Sunday (Oct. 19) at 9:30 a.m. (free) in Heaton Hall and at the 11 a.m. service in the sanctuary. Sermon topic: “The Treasures of Darkness.”
Details: mpbconline.org; 704-334-7232, ext. 15.
-- Tim Funk
Saturday, October 4, 2014
Starting Sunday (Oct. 5), The Park Church will move its Sunday morning worship headquarters to what used to be the Charlotte Merchandise Mart off Independence Boulevard.
The megachurch pastored by Bishop Claude Alexander bought the 23-acre site in 2006 for $11 million.
Up to now, Alexander has done his Sunday morning preaching in The Park’s church on Beatties Ford Road or at its satellite campus in Pineville. For 10 years -- August 2004 to August 2014 -- he’s even appeared live at both, being driven back and forth to the two locations.
But from now on, the bishop will be presiding during the 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services at the Independence campus. Both will be simulcast to the other two sites.
So, to see Bishop Alexander preaching live (and he’s one of the best in the pulpit), show up at The Park Expo and Convention Center (the former Merchandise Mart) at 800 Briar Creek Road (its official address).
But you can also catch him on screen during the same times (8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Sundays) at 6029 Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte and 13733 Lancaster Highway in Pineville.
Multisite simulcasting has become routine for many megachurches, including Elevation, Forest Hill and Mecklenburg Community churches in the Charlotte area.
-- Tim Funk
Friday, October 3, 2014
Don’t look for a big Jewish turnout at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Saturday (Oct. 4).
The reason: The annual race to raise funds for breast cancer research is being held this year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and one of the most sacred days on the Jewish calendar.
That’s upset some, who have pointed out that the race’s namesake, Susan G. Komen, was herself Jewish.
Komen Charlotte has reached out to the city’s Jewish temples with an apology, saying the conflict was unintentional.
“We have an annual tradition of having the (race) on the first Saturday in October,” reads its message, which appeared this week in the Temple Beth El bulletin. “By the time we realized that due to the changing nature of the Jewish calendar, both Yom Kippur and our race fell on the same day, it was too late to attempt to move the race. We are incredibly sorry that so many of our friends and supporters could not be with us.”
One Charlottean who will miss the race: Moira Quinn, a breast cancer survivor who’s past president of Temple Beth El and a member of the Komen Charlotte Survivor Outreach Committee.
“It was too late to change (the race) without incurring expenses that I personally, as a Jewish survivor, found to be unacceptable,” she said. “I want every penny to be spent on research and survivor support, not costs to move a race.”
-- Tim Funk
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Scandal. Burnout. Illness. Division.
Those are the reasons you hear most these days when a senior pastor exits a big church before reaching retirement age.
But the Rev. Steve Eason says his decision to leave Myers Park Presbyterian Church next April is a “good news story.”
“No hidden agenda,” Eason, 60, told me after emailing his decision to the church’s 4,700 members this week. “Nothing is wrong here at the church. It’s not a story of burnout. This change is coming out of a position of strength and gratitude.”
After 12 years of leading one of Charlotte’s most prominent – and most generous – churches, Eason said he’s being called to take what he’s learned and share it with other clergy.
As director of consulting services with Atlanta-based Macedonian Ministries, he’ll teach, coach and organize workshops for ministers of various denominations.
It’s a group that desperately needs more support in an age when men and women of the cloth are called on to be there 24/7 for others.
“We’re in a situation where clergy are dropping out of this profession at an alarming rate,” Eason said. “Or not going into it at all.”
So Eason will try to pass along to his next flock – a group ranging from Catholic priests to Pentecostal preachers – what he’s learned about preaching, empowering lay people and more.
He’ll take his leave from a Charlotte house of worship that’s now the biggest Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) church in North Carolina and the fourth largest in the country.
It’s one that’s blessed with enviable demographics: The largest age group at Myers Park Presbyterian, Eason said, is those between 30 and 40. That means young families with kids – a good predictor of growth into the future.
And it has deep pockets: members include developer Johnny Harris, former Bank of America CFO (and now top Carlyle Group executive) Jim Hance, and the Belks, the department store family.
But it’s also a church that gives in a big way: Under Eason’s leadership, it completed a $30 million capital campaign, then spent $11 million on everything from affordable housing in Grier Heights, a low-income neighborhood in Charlotte, to clean water projects in Malawi and the Congo.
“It’s a great witness for a church to make in this culture,” Eason said. “We didn’t raise that to spend it all on ourselves. I’m proud how mission-minded this church is.”
Eason also likes how Myers Park Presbyterian has weathered the intra-denominational battle over ordaining gays and lesbians – a change that prompted some big conservative churches to leave the PC (USA).
“We have conservatives, moderates and liberals, and they all end up together at the Communion table,” he said of his Charlotte church. “We disagree on things, but we don’t fragment and fight. … My job has been to not polarize the congregation.”
Eason will be around for seven more months, long enough, he said, to pastor his Charlotte flock through one more Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.
But the grieving has begun. Eason said he’s already gotten “a flood of affirming emails.”
The good feelings are mutual. “You have taught me so much,” Eason told members, “that I now can share with others.”
I’ll leave the last words to evangelist-author Leighton Ford, who’s been attending Myers Park Presbyterian with his wife, Jean (Billy Graham’s sister) for 20-plus years.
“He’s going to be terribly missed,” Ford said. “He’s loved. And the gift he’s given us – the clear, compelling preaching of Christ – has drawn in so many people.”
-- Tim Funk
Thursday, September 18, 2014
Alexander, born 55 years ago Tuesday (Sept. 23) as Jay Scott Greenspan, will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 21) at uptown’s Knight Theater. Although the show is a fundraiser for Temple Beth El and Temple Israel, two Charlotte synagogues, and the Levine Jewish Community Center, it’s open to the public.
Alexander talked this week to the Observer about a range of subjects: his one-man show, his Jewish upbringing, his last time in Charlotte, poker, magic, TV, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, of course, “Seinfeld.”
Here's the full transcript.
By the time I came along, a lot of it was no longer practical for them. But they kind of went through the motions for their parents, more or less. There was a very strong cultural feeling in my family growing up -- you know, a lot of pride being Jewish, a lot of pride in the history and culture of the Jewish people. There was not a strong religious feeling. We kept a kosher house until after my bar mitzvah.
I hated Hebrew school, as most Jewish boys do. It did not speak to me. The metaphor I always use for the experience is: "They taught me to read Hebrew, but not to understand it." So, at the perfect time, I could have actually learned this language and have it become a part of my life. Instead, that opportunity was wasted for appearances, to be able to prepare me for my bar mitzvah. It was a conservative synagogue.
My bar mitzvah was, I think, more demanding than the average of what I see nowadays. And once it was over, I basically went to my folks and went, "I'm out. I'm done." I pointed out to them that, as far as I knew, the Torah did not say you could not eat the flesh of the pig and shellfish except in a Chinese restaurant, which is how we were practicing the (Jewish dietary) law.
So, at that time, my parents basically let go even of the kosher house. We weren't really observing the Sabbath. I did not go to temple every weekend. And I sort of moved away from the religious aspect of Judaism as a teenager. I put my sons through Hebrew school and they were both bar mitzvahed -- again, more for my parents. And I said to my boys as I did it, "The chain breaks with you. If you have a feeling for this and you'd like to continue the tradition, that's great. If you don't, do not do it for me."
My spirituality is certainly informed by Judaism. Of all the religions I'm aware of, I think Judaism is probably the finest. I just don't believe in organized religion. So that aspect of being a Jew doesn't particularly speak to me. Ironic, since I am coming to North Carolina in support of two very well established synagogues. I support religious Jewish communities. I think it's great. I think the people who benefit from it, I think that's great. And I think the good works that synagogues and Jewish religious communities are able to do, I think are fantastic. But the idea of being a congregant does not speak to me. That's kind of the nutshell of me and Judaism.
I got to go to some Hornet games. And Poison was playing in town when I was there (laughs) and I actually hung out with those guys. The whole Charlotte experience while making that film was really terrific.
And it continues to create new audiences. My older son just graduated from college, my younger one has just begun college, and it's a huge phenomenon at colleges. It's a huge show around the world in places I would never have imagined it being seen or being successful. We don't know why.
I guess, at the end of the day, all we cared about when we made the show was: "Is it funny?" We didn't really focus on character integrity or learning or growing or hugging or any of that stuff. Is it funny? And oftentimes, what was funny in one generation doesn't translate to the next. But for whatever reasons I can't understand, "Seinfeld" continues to be experienced as a very funny show from generation to generation. I assume eventually that will not be true. But, for right now, it continues to be a phenomenon.
You know, he's caught having sex with a cleaning woman in his office. And when he's called out on the carpet for it, he actually comes up with an excuse like "Is that wrong? Should I not have done that?" (Laughs). I mean, that's a brilliant way to attempt to escape the responsibility of that indiscretion. So I adore the character and, apparently, the vast majority of the audience seems to.
If you go back and look at the early episodes, my role model was Woody Allen. And I was really doing a fairly flagrant Woody Allen imitation for the first half dozen to 10 episodes. Once I understood it was Larry, I really began to observe Larry as best I could and then bring elements of some really funny guys that I have seen over the years that you've seen, too. There's a little bit of Jackie Gleason in George, there's a little bit of Phil Silvers in George. There's a little bit of Fred Flintstone in George.
My sense of humor is a compilation of lots and lots and lots and lots of funny people that I've been exposed to. When my career started bending towards comedy -- because it was not what I set out to do -- I actually studied great comic actors and comedians to try to learn why they were so funny. And there are things that they all have in common. So, you kind of come up with a palette of colors that you can use to kind of paint a new character. So George is a real conglomeration of my observations and intuitions about Larry, colored by a whole bunch of other people I thought would flesh him out.
I think if you ask the four of us, was there one that kind of turned our fortunes around, it would be the masturbation contest. We were really just hanging on by a thread the first two seasons. That episode came around in season 3 in a very challenging spot. NBC finally put us on after "Cheers," which was the No. 1 comedy in television at the time. And if you didn't hold the "Cheers" audience, you were very quickly going to be taken off the air. We knew it was a sink-or-swim situation.
I think that was our third or fourth episode airing in that slot and it just destroyed the "Cheers" audience. We started at the same number that "Cheers" had. And by the time that episode was over, we had built on that audience. Because people were calling their friends and going, "You've got to turn this on. They're doing a show on masturbation." And our fortunes were rock solid from that point on.
So I think we point to that one as a really pivotal show, and it was a great one and we loved doing it. But I don't know if it was our favorite. I don't think we have one.
So we never really shot a show on a Friday night and said, "Hey, let's have dinner tomorrow." So when the show ended, we had no history of being social friends. And we all kind of went very different ways. Jerry and Michael went to New York for a long time. I had a show, Julia had a show. We were doing different things. So we don't see each other all that much.
But I've had several lunches and dinners with Julia. We email each other when things are happening. I've asked Jerry a dozen times to help me out on something, do a benefit for something, join me in a project. Every time it's a yes. He's done the same thing with me, the same thing with Michael. When we see each other, it's always like no time has passed. The bond has not diminished at all. There's no sense of "Oh, Julia, you've won a thousand Emmys." (Laughs). It's us, the four of us. And that's a lovely feeling. But, no, you would not look at our day-to-day communication and think, "These guys are really close friends,"
I have a comedy in development that we're pitching now for some cable outlets. And I'm open and available as an actor. I've actually tried to move a lot of my career to the directing side. But, yes, I would happily do another series if it was the right thing. The thing about series is that when you go to sign your name on the contract, you're making a multi-year commitment. And if you don't think it's something that you're going to want to do in year 2 or 3, it's a scary thing. If you don't think the quality is going to be there.
You know, I don't anticipate another "Seinfeld." There will not be another "Seinfeld" for me. So what you want to do is something that is challenging, something that connects with people, something that is quality. If you're going to bring the "Seinfeld" audience to something you're doing, you're kind of saying, "I think this is worth your while." I'd like to feel like it actually is. And, unfortunately, those are few and far between. And one of the reasons is that the world thinks of me iconically as George. They don't know that there are lots of other arrows in that quiver. I show them occasionally and they go, "Oh wow!" But nobody has said yet, "Hey, let's build a series on Jason that isn't George."
So, yes, I'm doing things like I'm doing in Charlotte. I am performing and working more than I care to. Life has not slowed down. It's just not often in front of cameras right now because most of what they give me in front of cameras is not that interesting to me. So I tend to say no because I have the luxury of being able to say no.
So, given that, there's only one other outcome and that is they've got to find a way to live side-by-side with each other in some sort of harmony and peace. I am optimistic that (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas is the real guy. He is wise, and I think he gets it and I think he sees the value of having a permanent peace with Israel and having a real Palestinian state. I think he is wise enough to know that, initially, he may need to make a lot of sacrifices and then build on the successes as peace becomes a reality.
I am not convinced that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is the best player in the game right now because every time he has an opportunity to further the relationship with Abbas he puts up a new settlement. And that makes Abbas' job with his own people much more difficult. So I do think that if the two right leaders are in office at the right time that there can be a very positive result. Is that the case today? No.
-- Tim Funk
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte will present “Pope Francis: Taking the World by Storm,” a free 90-minute program at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 10).
Monsignor Henry Kriegel, pastor of two inner-city Catholic churches in Erie, Pa., will examine how the popular pontiff has stressed tolerance, mercy and hope. He’ll also suggest what’s ahead for Francis’ papacy.
St. Gabriel is at 3016 Providence Road. For more information: 704-364-5431.
-- Tim Funk
Friday, August 22, 2014
Two possible contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination – Senator Ted Cruz and former Gov. Mike Huckabee – are scheduled to be in Charlotte on Sept. 14 to headline “Star Spangled Sunday,” a live national webcast from First Baptist Church of Charlotte.
The Rev. Mark Harris, who pastors First Baptist, said the event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the National Anthem, a.k.a. “The Star Spangled Banner,” is also set to include some other speakers popular with conservative Christians.
Namely Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, the national chain of craft stores, and the Benham brothers – David and Jason – of Concord.
Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act led to a narrow U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year saying corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraceptives. And the twin Benham brothers made national headlines when HGTV canceled their house-flipping show before it aired because of David Benham’s past comments on gay marriage and abortion.
Harris said churches all over the country will simulcast the event, which he said will enlighten Americans about “how God used ordinary Christians in the War of 1812 to do extraordinary things.” Witnessing the bombarding of Fort McHenry during that war -- on the night of Sept. 13-14, 1814 -- lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics of what became the National Anthem.
Sponsored by the Family Research Council, “Star Spangled Sunday” will start at 7 p.m. at the church, 301 S. Davidson St.
Asked whether the inclusion of Cruz of Texas and Huckabee of Fox News made the upcoming event look and sound a lot like a GOP rally, Harris said no way.
“The Family Research Council has spent a great deal of time reaching across party lines,” said Harris, who ran unsuccessfully this year for the Republican Senate nomination in North Carolina. “It’s less interested in party labels than it is in standing up for the principles we hold dear.”
-- Tim Funk
Tuesday, August 19, 2014
In the wake of entertainer Robin Williams’ suicide, Mecklenburg Ministries will sponsor a discussion Thursday (August 21) on how faith communities and their leaders can better understand and prevent mental health crises and suicide.
Kathryn Falbo-Woodson will facilitate the discussion at 11:45 a.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1000 E. Morehead St. She is the former director of advocacy and outreach at the Mental Health Association of Central Carolinas.
The event is part of Mecklenburg Ministries’ “Food for Thought” luncheon series. Lunch for $7 will be available. Register here.
-- Tim Funk
Friday, August 15, 2014
What a lineup...
That’s all I can say about the big names and brains coming to town, thanks to Chalotte’s religious community.
I’m talking Anne Lamott and Joan Chittister and Joni Eareckson Tada and Barbara Brown Taylor and Jason Alexander, aka George Costanza, Jerry’s balding buddy on TV’s “Seinfeld.”
Got your calendars? The details:
- Jason Alexander, a Tony Award winner and multiple Emmy nominee, will headline a one-man show Sept. 21 at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater. Although it’s a fundraiser – for Levine Jewish Community Center, Temple Israel and Temple Beth El – the event is open to the public.
- Author-blogger Anne Lamott will return to Christ Episcopal Church at 7 p.m. Nov. 20. Her 15 books (including “Bird by Bird,” “Traveling Mercies” and “Help. Thanks. Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”) are about life, God and writing.
She packed the church’s All Saints Hall last November. So register early here for this evening of conversation and book signings. Tickets are $25, which will include a copy of her new book, “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.” If the church runs out of seats, it will sell Standing Room Only tickets for $20. Details: 704-714-6945.
- Christ Episcopal will also host Catholic author-activist Joan Chittister at 10 a.m. Oct. 12. A Benedictine sister and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, Chittister has also authored books on contemporary spirituality and the need for change in the Catholic Church. Among them: “Following the Path – The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy.”
- Best-selling Christian author and disabilities advocate Joni Eareckson Tada will speak and sign copies of her books at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Billy Graham Library. Her newest is “Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing,” which will be available for purchase at the library. Guests can bring their own copies, too, though there’s a limit of two signed items.
A 1967 diving accident left Tada, then 17, a quadriplegic. She later learned to paint with the brush between her teeth. More details about her library event here. here.
- Myers Park Baptist Church will host the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor for three days in October. A professor of religion in Georgia, her latest book – “Learning to Walk in the Dark” – was the subject of a Time magazine cover story in April.
-- Tim Funk
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Heaven and hell are in the news again, thanks pretty much to one North Carolina family:
- Billy Graham will offer a message about heaven in a new film set to air in November, when the Charlotte-born evangelist turns 96. The never-before-seen footage was filmed at his Montreat home last year. His thoughts about the hereafter will be part of a DVD called “My Hope 2014 with Billy Graham.”
- Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, a Raleigh-based evangelist, has just released an updated version of her 2001 book, “Heaven: My Father’s House.”
- And Franklin Graham, head of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, begins his article in the current edition of BGEA's Decision magazine this way: “Heaven is not for cowards!”
- That brings us to hell: The cover of the July/August edition of Decision features a picture of what looks like a sea of lava and this headline: “COWARDS Destined For The Lake of Fire.”
- Speaking of hell, there’s no word about Billy Graham's next book, which – as we reported in March – will be about hell. “He’s not able to work on it,” Franklin Graham told me then. “But he gave us the outlines of what he wanted.”
Last November, on his 95 birthday, Billy Graham talked about the cross of Jesus in a DVD called “My Hope 2013 with Billy Graham.” It was aired on FOX News, at Graham's celebrity-studded birthday party at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, and in homes and churches around the country.
In the free-of-charge sequel, which will also be used as an evangelizing tool, the elder Graham will talk about heaven.
“Because he will turn 96 on November 7, his thoughts are constantly on Heaven,” Franklin Graham wrote recently. “And we have captured these in a video. ... It’s a powerful evangelistic film that weaves this new message from my father around several real-life stories of how the Gospel changes hearts.”
There’s a full-page ad for “My Hope 2014 with Billy Graham” in that current edition of “Decision.”
Several pages later, there’s an article by Anne Graham Lotz that cites biblical quotes about heaven.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about Heaven lately,” she writes. “My father seems to be in transition from his home here to our Father’s house. … My mother has already gone on ahead.”
And the edition’s cover article is Franklin Graham's, about the fate he says is waiting for cowards.
His magazine piece is based on a controversial speech he gave in May at a Washington gathering of the Family Research Council.
In his remarks, he referred to a passage in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation that lists eight groups of people that will end up “in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.”
Leading the list: cowards – a group, Graham suggested, that includes Christians who don’t speak out against abortion and homosexuality.
-- Tim Funk