Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Americans relocating faith of their fathers

The Florida Times-Union
February 26, 2008
By Jeff Brumley, The Times-Union

As a minister to Jacksonville college students, Shari O'Brien doesn't need a survey to tell her that a quarter of young adults claim no affiliation with a religious institution.

Nor did Gee Sprague, a local Methodist minister, need a poll to tell him mainline Protestant churches are in decline or that about half of American adults are quitting the faiths they were raised in for nondenominational congregations, other religions or no religion at all.

But confirmation that these trends are continuing as strong as ever came Monday when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life issued its U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults, the survey describes a nation where religious self-identification and loyalty are in flux.

"It's sobering to me, but it's not a surprise," Sprague, pastor of Crossroad Church in Jacksonville, said about the survey.

Luis Lugo, director of the Pew Forum, told The Associated Press the survey reveals that religion in America is "like a marketplace - very dynamic, very competitive."

"Everyone is losing, everyone is gaining," Lugo told AP. "There are net winners and losers, but no one can stand still. Those groups that are losing significant numbers have to recoup them to stay vibrant."

Read the full story.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Message From Stephen Simon

In January we presented Stephen Simon's (Spiritual Cinema Circle) Favorite Films of 2007. Following last night's Academy Awards, it seems appropriate this morning to post the "message for both the mainstream film industry and its film critics" with which he introduced his picks for 2007. As many of you know, we are HUGE fans of the Spiritual Cinema Circle and of Stephen Simon, so it should come as no surprise that we find his words worth repeating:

Before we look at my favorite films from 2007, I have a message for both the mainstream film industry and its film critics: You have both lost all connection with film audiences.
Hollywood has seemingly decided that “quality” now equates with dark, violent, and depressing; consequently, 2007 was one of the bleakest years ever for film distribution. To make matters worse, and to illustrate anew the fable of the emperor’s new clothes, film critics have fallen into lockstep with film distributors. As I write this column on January 1, 2008, the film that has garnered almost every film critic group’s nod as the best film of 2007 is NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, which centers around one of the nastiest, most vicious, and soulless serial killers ever depicted on screen. In the first ten minutes of the film, a man is graphically strangled while the killer looks positively orgasmic and then another innocent man is cold-bloodedly shot between the eyes. And then it gets worse…much worse. Nevertheless, the film critic for the Portland Oregonian said this about the film: “exact, spare, bloody, dark, and unrelenting, it’s superb.”
Excuse me?
While I respect every one’s right to say whatever they believe, I also reserve the right to ask, “What are you folks smoking”? “Best film” means the one film every year that is represented to the rest of the world as the premier achievement in the American film industry. Focusing on the craft itself is fine for categories like sound editing, costume design, or cinematography, but, when you’re talking about the “best film”, content itself should be of paramount importance.
For studios and critics, “superb” and “bloody, dark, and unrelenting” may belong in the same sentence but, fortunately, we in the audience don’t agree. The fall season of 2007 produced the weakest box office results for that period of time in the last ten years. The film industry is quite literally awash in red ink. According to a November 26, 2007 article in Video Business Weekly, the film industry lost a staggering six billion dollars in 2006.
In short, the business model of the film industry is broken. Creatively, it’s even worse. The chasm between the insular, dark, violent, and cynical tastes of most studios and film critics and the desire of audiences to have other choices is now deeper than the Grand Canyon.
I also think it would be wonderful, and more honest, if the Academy (of which I am a member) changed the characterization of awards from “best” to “favorite”. Factors such as both the film’s and the individual’s overall popularity always factor into Academy voting anyway, whether members want to admit it or not. Using “best” in regards to the art form of film is not only unfair to all concerned but also simply impossible to gauge. I have no idea what “best” means in films.
My own list of favorite films of 2007 consists of films that personally moved me, inspired me, and made me feel better about being human. When we post these choices on the message boards for subscribers to the Spiritual Cinema Circle, I’m sure our community will share some passionate opinions and disagreements of their own. That’s the fun of it. Let the discussions begin."
NOTE: You will find Mr. Simon's personal favorite films of 2007 posted in our entries on January 21st and January 28th. Click here for more information about the Spiritual Cinema Circle.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

New Mexican Style Bread Pudding

This recipe is more complex than we usually like to present, but you’ll find it more than worth the extra effort. Here it is, Common Tables style Capirotada (Mexican style bread pudding):

New Mexican Style Bread Pudding

Common Tables Caution: This recipe uses Madeira wine. It may not be suitable for those Tables with members who have alcohol prohibitions.

In place of the bread pudding standbys of milk and eggs, our version uses a homemade caramel sauce, lots of cheese, and sweet Madeira wine to create an elegant blend of flavors which raise this New Mexican Style Bread Pudding far above its more conventional relatives. Traditionally served during Lent, you will find variations commonly presented under the old Mexican name for this dish: Capirotada.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

8 ounces French style bread (about 1/2 of a normal sized loaf)
1 cup sugar
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon cinnamon (use Ceylon Cinnamon if possible)
4 Tablespoons butter
1 cup Madeira
¾ cup pinon nuts, lightly toasted
¾ cup raisins
4 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese (about 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter an 8” x 8” (2 quart) casserole dish.

Tear the bread into ragged one inch chunks, place on an ungreased baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned – about 10 minutes.

Cook the sugar in a heavy saucepan over medium heat – without stirring – until it begins to melt around the edges of the pan. Turn the heat down to low and start stirring with a metal spoon. As the sugar continues to melt, it will first turn a golden-yellow color. Stir continuously until all of the sugar has melted and is the color of dark honey. (This step isn’t as tricky as it sounds, but you’ll need to pay attention to avoid burning the sugar.)

Remove the pan from the heat and slowly add the water (a teaspoonful at a time to start). The sugar will boil, foam and generally create a lot of excitement, but just keep stirring and adding the water very slowly. When all of the water has been added, you will have a thin caramel syrup. NOTE: If you find you have some lumps of hard caramel remaining in the syrup mixture, simply return the pan to medium heat and boil until all lumps have dissolved.

While the caramel syrup is still hot, stir in the cinnamon and butter.

Spread the toasted bread in an even layer in the buttered casserole dish. Gently spoon the Madeira over each piece of bread. Sprinkle with the nuts and raisins; top with an even coating of the shredded Monterey Jack cheese. Then, taking care that the sauce reaches all of the bread, pour on the caramel sauce.

Bake at 350°F for 30 minutes. NOTE: Traditionally the pan is covered with foil during the entire baking time – which results in a bread pudding with a soft, custard-like texture. We prefer to leave the pan covered until the cheese has melted into the general texture of the pudding – about 20 minutes – and to then uncover for the last 10 minutes or so of baking time to allow the pudding to lightly brown.

While the pudding can be served either warm or cold, we like it best warm and garnished with vanilla whipped cream (or vanilla flavored Cool Whip) and lightly dusted with cinnamon. It seems to us that the cinnamon/whipped cream combination mellows the intense sweetness of the Capirotada.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Interfaith Dialogue a Moral Duty to Finding Common Ground

February 15, 2008
by Louay Safi, The American Muslim

Extreme voices in the three religions that claim the monotheist heritage of Prophet Abraham--Judaism, Christianity, and Islam--are busy sowing the seeds of confrontation and hate. They have recently taken the advantage of the politically rooted tensions between western and Middle Eastern countries to develop misunderstanding and mistrust among the followers of these religions.

Quoting selectively from Islamic sources, they have painted Islam as an intolerant religion that urges its followers to hate people of other faiths. This depiction belies both the historical record of Muslims dealing with the followers of other faiths, and, most importantly, the Qur’anic message itself. Although historical Muslim societies were imperfect, there are plenty of examples to show that Islamic values inspired Muslims to develop multi-religious societies in which people of diverse religious backgrounds lived in considerable harmony. The tolerance of Medieval Muslim Spain and the invitation extended to Jews expelled from Jerusalem to return to the city upon the defeat of the Crusaders are two shining examples.

The Qur’an reiterates a fundamental truth taught by all the prophets who were sent by God to guide human endeavors. It asserts that true and honest living is the assured way for spiritual and social harmony, and for protecting the long term self interests of every human being.

Read the full article

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Visit Common Tables on MySpace!

Another brief heads up:

Here at Common Tables we have opened the door into what is, for us, another new dimension within the Web 2.0 Universe. Yep, we’ve started the process of building a Common Tables Community on MySpace by signing up and creating our initial Profile!

Admittedly, it isn’t yet a very active space, but you can help make it a dynamic force in the international interfaith movement by visiting often (you can find us at www.MySpace.com/CommonTables). Let us know about you. Sign up in the Common Tables Community Group which we will be starting in the next few days (more about that next weekend).

Check back often. We’ll keep you posted as we continue to become an active presence in the Web 2.0 Universe.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Interfaith seminar draws 1,100 at FAU

12:46 AM EST, February 12, 2008
by JAMES D. DAVIS, Sun-Sentinel.com

Angels and demons, saints and murderers: Both are spawned by religion.

"There is no true religion, only true faith," religion scholar Thomas Idinopulos told 1,100 listeners at Florida Atlantic University on Monday night. "Religion can produce goodness and peace, but also madness, murderers, terrorists.

"Beliefs may be right or wrong; they may be idealistic or tyrannical. But faith doesn't deceive, because it leads to good works, and to social and moral justice."

Idinopulos, a comparative religion professor at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, was one of several speakers -- Muslim, Jewish, Christian -- the interfaith Shemin Trialogue Seminar.

Read the full story.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Common Tables - Now a FaceBook Cause!

We have now set up Common Tables as a "Cause" on Facebook.com! Find us by clicking here, then simply enter Common Tables in the "Search Causes" box at the top of the page.

The goal of Facebook Causes is what Facebook calls "equal opportunity activism." Facebook is trying to level the playing field by empowering individuals and newer non-profits to change the world. It sounds simple . . . and it is!!!

We will be using the Common Tables Cause on Facebook to help our friends recruit their friends into the Common Tables Cause, to keep everybody in the Cause up-to-speed on issues related to our global initiative and to keep members in-the-loop as media excitement related to the Common Tables Interfaith Initiative continues to grow.

Our presence on Facebook Causes gives everyone an opportunity to leverage their network on Facebook to effect positive change on a truly global scale. Our presence on Facebook creates an opportunity for all who really care about global harmony to quickly, easily and directly make a difference.

“Causes” provides the tools, you provide the network, Common Tables provides the global initiative. We encourage you to get involved, to get your networks involved . . . and their networks . . . and their networks! Together we can change the world . . . one meal at a time!!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Hindu-Buddhist Dialogue in Louisville (Kentucky)

Feb 1, 2008

A Hindu-Buddhist dialogue was organised at Vietnamese Buddhist temple in Louisville, KY on January 5 as part of the cultural exchange programme. The main organisers were Dr Yashwant Pathak, Dr Hieu Tran and Shri Gaurav Shrivastava.

The whole programme was focused on interacting for idea of common beliefs between two world’s great ways of worship i.e. the Hinduism and Buddhism. The dialogue offered an opportunity to share the wonderful values of life not only with each other but also with the next generations and the humanity at large. Since both the ways of worship originated from the same Vedic and Sanatan Dharma traditions from Bharat, hence there is a lot of opportunity to enhance the spices between two ways of worship.

Read the full story