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Archive for September 2009

Good sites for the High Holy Days

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Why wasn’t the shofar, or ram’s horn, blown this year for the start of Rosh Hashana? Why is honeycake eaten this time of year? Get these and other answers at Chabad’s informative site on the High Holy Days.

RH, CHB

Free e-card from Chabad.org reads "Shanah Tovah," or "Happy New Year."

Chabad explains, in its typical engaging way, that Rosh Hashana is the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve. The day therefore “emphasizes the special relationship between G-d and humanity: our dependence upon G-d as our creator and sustainer, and G-d’s dependence upon us as the ones who make His presence known and felt in His world.”

It’s one of several fascinating sites on the Ten Days of Repentance, which started with Rosh Hashana at sundown Sept. 18. Here are a few others.

Aish HaTorah’s site has 12 thought-provoking articles that you can download all at once. A separate download is Rosh Hashana and the Art of Wanting, which observes that you are defined by what we want.

“On Rosh Hashana you are setting the direction of the upcoming year,” Yaakov Astor writes. “Rosh Hashana is about wanting the right things, because what we want — really want — is where we will be led.”

The Union for Reform Judaism reminds us that the time is also called Yamim Noraim. or “Days of Awe.”

Also interesting are the 11 songs on mp3lyrics.com that relate to the holy days. One, by a group called A For Me, says:

So many things, I have
beaten down to get my way
Go unnoticed when I make mistakes
Shine so perfect in the light
I did right this time

Finally, if you want to send a Rosh Hashana e-card, a number of sites like Chabad.org and 123greetings.com are fine. But those by RootsWeb and the Orthodox Union are a cut above. They offer classical designs of shofars, birds, Stars of David, even a pomegranate. You can also customize with your own words.

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Written by Jim Davis

September 20, 2009 at 1:29 am

Science and religion: mates or mismatch?

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What beautiful designs — one from a church, one from our DNA — and how similar. Why do so many people think we have to choose between them?

DNAThat’s the question posed in the article that the pictures illustrate: Can Science and Faith be Reconciled. Part of the Pew Research Center, the article gathers an eminent scientist and a perceptive journalist to sort out the issues.

First up is Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project. He discusses the basic questions of “why there is anything at all,” and, in the words of Eugene Wigner, a Nobel laureate in physics, why mathematics makes sense. He goes on to explain the unlikely fact that many “constants,” like gravity, are independent yet work together to make existence possible. His conclusion: God is more likely than not.

That would be a consolation to conservative Christians, but Collins’ firm belief in evolution might not be. He says that genetic findings of the last few years alone make the evidence for evolution overwhelming. He also calls the Intelligent Design idea both bad science and “questionable theology.”

Francis Collns

Geneticist Francis Collns

The rest of the article has NPR correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty discussing her research into spirituality and brain science. She notes that scientists have pinpointed the temporal lobe as a source — or perhaps a conduit — for mystical experiences. They can even create transcendent experiences by stimulating the brain, electrically or chemically.

What’s happening there, she says, depends on “whether you think of the brain as a CD player or a radio.” But she asks: “Why are we wired for mystical experiences in the first place?” After all, she suggests, if there were a God who wanted to communicate, wouldn’t he build in a mechanism to do it?

Pregnant thoughts, all. But Pew has other food for thought.

According to a new study, most Americans like science but don’t rate American scientists as among the best. More disturbingly, a third can’t think of anything outstanding that the United States has achieved lately.

Finally, you can test your own Sci-Q with a 12-question Science Knowledge Quiz. that compares how well you score against the general American public. How’d I do? Well, I don’t like to brag, but . . . (grin).

Written by Jim Davis

September 14, 2009 at 4:55 am

Praying in Jerusalem — via Twitter

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For centuries, Jews have written prayers on slips of paper and tucked them into Jerusalem’s Western Wall, hoping God would grant them. Now, Tweet Your Prayers automates this bit of devotion.

The process is pretty much what you’d expect. First, open a Twitter account, then sign up for the free service, which is called The Kotel (the Hebrew name for the Western Wall.) Then “follow” the site, and it will follow you back. Now CB018239you’re set up for prayer-tweeting.

The beauty of the process, as with anything online, is that your message arrives instantly. (But the Kotel folks in Jerusalem still have to print the requests and physically place them in the Wall.)

The downside? You have to keep it to Twitter’s limit of 140 characters. Any longer requests require fax or snail mail. The Jewish Agency for Israel says the nation’s phone company keeps a fax line for the Kotel: 972-2-5611-2222. (I haven’t tried it, though.)

Jews may find Tweet Your Prayers handy for getting on God’s good side before the High Holy Days. Still, as founders of the service note, lots of non-Jews have prayed at the wall, too — including President Obama and the last two popes.

Naturally, the founders don’t guarantee your prayers will be answered. As they say in a FAQ file: “Take it up with the Big Guy upstairs. We’re just the middle-men!”


Written by Jim Davis

September 3, 2009 at 3:59 am

Does God care how you work?

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In your lifetime, you’ll do only one more thing than sleep — work. Does God care how you do it?

Good questions while looking toward Labor Day weekend. And The High Calling offers some fresh insights.

“There is hardly a human occupation that does not in some way involve being a coworker, a cocreator with God,” writes CB007273Dave Williamson on the Texas-based site. “We are sharing in God’s work. We are expressing God’s image in our work.”

Williamson’s thoughtful article shows satisfying depth on the topic. He notes that “vocation” comes from vocare, or “to call.” He adds that the Hebrew avodah means both “work” and “worship,” suggesting that our attitude toward work points to our attitude toward God.

In other essays:

  • Artist-theologian Ginger Geyer reveals that even one’s own work can take a form that surprises the artist.
  • Medical clinic director John Willome shares how he once took an easy job rather than one he believed he was meant for.
  • Journalist Debra Klingsporn tells how forgiveness from her boss made her a better worker.

Some articles, of course, are better than others. One writer uses words like “bedraggled” and “entreat.” Her ideas are fresh, but the terms are canned.

The cleanly designed, quick-loading site is generous with back articles and podcast files — 3,000 items total. A quick “tour” gives highlights and acquaints you with how the site is built. The “Browsing Tools” is especially handy, helping you search by tag, author or content.

Written by Jim Davis

September 1, 2009 at 4:51 am

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