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Cultural Commentary

How JFK changed religion in America

Archbishop of Boston, Massachusetts, Richard Cardinal Cushing (L), addresses visitors during visit by President John F. Kennedy (C) and Jacqueline Kennedy (R) to the Pontifical North American College (also known as American College of the Roman Catholic Church of the United States) in Rome, Italy (Credit: White House/The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum/Cecil W Stoughton) One of the biggest news stories of 2013 will be the 50th anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy.  Conspiracy theories still abound; 75 percent of Americans do not believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating the president.  Books from Edward Jay Epstein's 1966 Inquest to Larry Sabato's new The Kennedy Half-Century have examined his death and its implications.  Others will follow in the weeks to come.

The media will focus on Kennedy's face-off with the Soviet Union in Cuba, his remarkable eloquence, and his enduring political significance.  One area that will likely receive less attention is his enormous relevance to our religious self-understanding.

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Tattooed Jesus: blasphemy or blessing?

In a Jesus Tattoo video, Jesus is depicted sporting several tattoos -- including an oversize one on his chest reading Outcast (Credit: Imagine you're driving down the highway today and see a billboard about Jesus.  That's not unusual in these days of "billboard wars" between atheists and Christians.  But this one is different: it depicts our Lord tattooed with the words "Outcast," "Addicted," and "Jealous," among others.  What would be your first thought?

An anonymous group called "Jesus Tattoo" has erected 59 such billboards all over Lubbock, Texas.  Some find them "very derogatory" or "blasphemous."  By contrast, a pastor describes them as "cleverly done" visuals of "Jesus taking the sins of people and . . . giving them a new start, which is what the gospel is about."  I agree.

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'NO MUSLIM Parking' signs make headlines

No Muslim parking signs come down in Spring Branch (Credit: KPRC-TV)Signs recently posted at a Spring Branch, Texas shopping center stated: "NO MUSLIM Parking in Westview Shopping Center.  Your Car Will Be Towed."  There's more to the story, however.  Mall employees told reporters that there had been a problem on Fridays, the Muslim day of worship, as those attending the nearby mosque filled their parking lot.

Unfortunately, it seems that no one from the mall spoke with the mosque to reach a solution.  The last church I pastored faced a similar parking problem with nearby retail tenants; if they had posted "NO CHRISTIAN Parking" signs, our members would not have been pleased.

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Malala Yousafzai: what you need to know

Malala Yousafzai gives her first speech since the Taliban in Pakistan tried to kill her for advocating education for girls, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, July 12, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid)Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997 in Pakistan.  Her father is a poet and educator.  At the age of 11 she began speaking up for education rights.  The next year she started a blog for the BBC describing her life under the Taliban, which had begun banning girls from school.  She continued speaking out on behalf of the 57 million children around the world who are unable to attend school.

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Is Jesus better than religion?

Jefferson Bethke performing his poem Why I hate religion, but love Jesus (Jefferson Bethke via YouTube) Jefferson Bethke played baseball in college, got a degree in politics and government, and taught high school social studies in the Seattle area.  On January 20, 2012, he released a YouTube video titled, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus."  Within three days it had received six million views.  It has now been seen more than 25 million times.

Jonathan Merritt, one of my favorite faith and culture writers, recently talked with Bethke about his new book, "Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough."  In the interview Bethke affirms discipline, church attendance, rhythms and routine.  However, he worries about "people that use [religion] to describe moral behaviors that place you in right standing with God."

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