The Hub Cool News

The Big Quiet

big-quietMeditation is being re-branded for big-city Millennials, reports Lizzie Simon in The Wall Street Journal (6/19/15). Central to this effort is The Big Quiet, which “allows New Yorkers to partake in a 20-minute group meditation,” followed by “a rollicking afterparty” featuring live music. “This is for city people who want to take a break and re-charge,” says Jesse Israel, the event’s organizer. It is also for those who want to quiet their minds without any particular religion attached. Jesse says he sees a need for “a new dictionary” that might make meditation and other spiritual experiences “more socially acceptable.”

Jesse’s expanded view of spirituality was sparked while biking through Tanzania in 2014 and noticing “that children faced miles-long commutes to school on foot.” So he began raising funds through his cycling group, the Cyclones, and, through Globalbike, a non-profit, will soon “break ground on a bike-and-rental shop in Tanzania owned and operated by women.” He later formed the Medi Club, “a collective of several hundred young New Yorkers, predominantly entrepreneurs and creatives in fashion, entertainment and technology.” They meet once a month “to meditate” and talk about various “facets of modern life.”

“Millennials are hungry for personal growth,” Jesse says. “They’re hipsters, let’s face it,” says Ian Noble, an attendee. Ian is executive director of SummerStage, which is hosting The Big Quiet and explains that the music tie-in is essential. “We want a reason for people to come and a reason for people to stay.” Jesse sees a potential ripple effect from The Big Quiet, eventually potentially reaching millions. Ganden Thurman of Tibet House US, which hosts weekly meditation classes, likes the idea, suggesting that “maybe life in general is spiritual. Getting in touch with yourself is probably inherently spiritual.”

Court of Zen

warrior-oneThe “mindfulness movement” has even reached the legal profession, reports Jacob Gershman in The Wall Street Journal (6/18/15). At the University of Miami School of Law, this meant students “deliberately losing an argument” for homework. Scott Rogers, a professor at the University of Miami “says looser vibes have touched a nerve with younger generations turned off by the perceived nastiness of the profession.” “It’s not about losing a fight or giving up at all,” says Scott, who directs the university’s Mindfulness in Law Program. “It’s developing greater insight in the ways we lose touch.”

The Miami program is “one of about two dozen across the country.” In New York, meanwhile, “dozens of law professors, litigators and judges” recently spent “three days meditating … under a blanket of silence and the tutelage of a Buddhist priest.” A Bay area real-estate lawyer, Judi Cohen, founded a mindfulness-coaching company called Warrior One — “homage to the mystical warrior-kings of Tibet” — with clients including Facebook’s legal department, who hope to “communicate better” with each other. One exercise involves having pairs of lawyers try to have conversations without interrupting each other.

Another exercise has lawyers “pick out three random people during the day and silently wish them well.” This was a non-starter for one lawyer, who said: “I didn’t see anyone worthy.” Sometimes it’s a victory just to get the lawyers to turn off their cell phones during training. One lawyer challenged the value of this: “If mindfulness is just about paying attention, couldn’t that make you a good assassin instead of a compassionate person?” he argued. But Cari Rincker, a family and divorce lawyer who participated in a mindfulness retreat, says that being in a room full of lawyers where no one was talking is “quite refreshing.”

The Cubs Den

southbend-cubsA century-old synagogue has been transformed into an altar of baseball, reports Andrew Keh in The New York Times (5/27/15). Built in 1901 and serving congregations until 1991 when its membership dwindled, the city of South Bend, Indiana purchased the structure in 2007. When Andrew Berlin — a self-described “twice-a-year Jew” — bought the Chicago Cubs’ Class A team in 2011, he also agreed to split the cost of a $1 million renovation with the city. “I thought of making a sanctuary for everyone, not just Jews,” he says.

Now known as The Cubs Den, the former synagogue’s “stained-glass windows and old chandelier … splash light upon racks of T-shirts and tables full of knick knacks like shot glasses and foam bear claws.” The effect is an “atmosphere of vague religiosity,” spiked by “a parody reproduction of Michelangelo’s ‘Creation of Adam,’ with God, in this version, reaching out with a baseball glove and the words ‘Play ball’ written in Gothic type.” While some find this offensive, Andrew says it’s just kitschy, that’s all.

“Everybody knows that Eve stole first and Adam stole second, so baseball is all throughout the Old Testament,” he says. Then there’s the cash register, located on the bima — “the holiest area of the synagogue.” This makes Robert Nevel, who once attended the synagogue, uncomfortable. “If this had been done by Rem Koolhaas I would think it was a sardonic commentary on what to pray to, the high priest of commerce. But I think this would be giving them too much credit.” Andrew says merchandise sales are up 850% since he acquired the team.

Cathy’s Chicken

chick-fil-aThe late Truett Cathy got his start making sandwiches from chicken rejected by Delta Airlines, reports Kim Severson in a New York Times obituary (9/8/14). The only thing wrong with the chicken was that the pieces "were either too large or too small for the airline’s food trays." So, Cathy "began experimenting, frying breaded chicken in a cast-iron pan with a lid, the way his mother used to," and making a simple sandwich of it, on a "soft, white buttered bun with nothing more than a couple of pickles for garnish."

He named his creation "so that a nation just falling in love with fast-food hamburgers might better understand his product: Chick-fil-A was meant to suggest a chicken steak. As malls came to the south, Cathy opened a Chick-fil-A at the Greenbriar Mall in Atlanta. It was a pioneering effort to put fast food in shopping centers." In so doing, he became "one of a handful of Southern entrepreneurs who in one lifetime took small, hometown companies to a global level." As of 2013, "Chick-fil-A had more than 1,800 restaurants."

If Cathy is famous for something other than his chicken sandwiches, it is his Christian faith, and the extent to which it guided his business practices — "he was at once a hero and a symbol of intolerance. Many admired him for closing his outlets on Sundays and speaking out against same-sex marriage. Others vilified the chain as a symbol of hate." The company has since stopped "funding most of the groups that were at the center of the storm," but continues to provide "for scholarships, camps and foster care." Truett Cathy was 93.

Christianity & Capitalism

In How The West Was Won, Rodney Stark argues that Christianity was the driving force behind capitalism, reports Henrik Bering in The Wall Street Journal (3/31/14). In fact, Rodney, a Baylor University professor of social sciences, "details how and why the vital aspects of modernity — defined here as a combination of sensible economic arrangements, political freedoms and scientific knowledge — developed in the West rather than elsewhere."

Other great empires, he asserts, were dominated by greedy leaders, "who thwarted their subjects’ motivation to produce with confiscatory taxes and lawless seizure." Their courts banned inventions like the printing press and mechanical clocks as threats, for instance. By comparison, medieval Europe readily adopted "new technologies such as gunpowder, the blast furnace, watermills and windmills." Rodney attributes the difference to cultural values, specifically Christianity’s "emphasis on reason and free will."

"The most fundamental key to the rise of the western civilization, has been the dedication of its most brilliant minds to the pursuit of knowledge," Rodney writes. He cites "the teachings of St. Benedict, who branded idleness bad for the soul" as helping "nudge monastic estates toward an early form of capitalism." He sees Britain’s and America’s leadership in the Industrial Revolution as a function of "the right mix of freedom, property and an educated population … originating in religious belief and practice."

Dead Bread

pan de muertoThe Guadalupana Bakery is extra busy answering seasonal demand for "bread of the dead," reports Rachel Wharton in The New York Times (10/30/13). The Bedford-Stuyvesant bakery sets aside its usual displays of "sandwich rolls and coffee" in favor of "an elaborate altar known as an ofrenda … festooned with sugared skulls, flowers" and "pan de muerto … a soft round of sweet, yeast-risen bread, similar to challah and topped with two crossed links of dough meant to symbolize crossbones." Some customers buy "10 loaves at a time."

It’s all in preparation "for Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, on Saturday," when the bread and other baked goods are "offered up … to the spirits of the dead, along with their favorite foods such as tamales, mole, tequila and coffee prepared however they liked it." "Food is the essence of the Day of the Dead because it’s by the scent of their favorite foods that the dead are driven back to the living," says Magda Bogin of Cocinar Mexicano, a cooking school in Mexico. The idea is that "families feast with the visiting spirits of their loved ones."

Fashioning the treats is its own special craft. Guadalupana’s Maria Rojas "deftly forms the basic dough into smiling skulls, dolls with braids and frilly dresses, or fluffy rabbits meant to honor children. She will give the dough a kiss of orange blossom water or almond extract, add cinnamon and raisins, paint on whimsical pink sugar swirls or add a patchwork or tiny crossbones that bake into flowery forms." Specialties also include a salty "flatbread covered with bright pink sugar loosely shaped into the form of a sleeping woman with crossed arms, as if in a coffin."

Blessed Innovation

marinating stick It took God 19 years to bring to market a better way to marinate big pieces of meat, reports Jack Hitt in The New York Times (10/19/13). At least, that’s more or less the way Mary Hunter tells the story of Mary’s Marinating Stick, which she says God invented in 1994, she developed, and is now poised to go on sale at Target Stores. "I was writing down some recipes and God said to me that I should take that ink pen and stick holes all through it and put a clip on one side so that you can open it," Mary explains. The result is a device that "introduces flavors" to meat. (image)

The gadget is said to mark the first real improvement in meat marinating technology in "almost 200 years." Most previous efforts involved injectors, but the problem "with shooting liquid spices into meat is that they tend to pool at the point of insertion, later revealing an odd circle of green in your sliced roast." Mary’s Marinating Stick instead simply holds "spices and aromatics" while allowing "enough flow to permit juices to move in and out." It was perfected with the help of industrial designer David Smith of the University of Illinois.

Both David and Mary are congregants at the Yes Lord Church in Gary, Indiania, and David also credits God as his co-designer: "I’m sitting there in Mary’s dining room, when God showed me an old commercial for the Maxwell House percolator." After 20 failed prototypes, David’s memory of the old TV spot provided the breakthrough. However, it wasn’t until Mary’s appearance last year on Invention Hunters, a TV show, that she got Target’s attention. The innovation is now available in Chef’s catalog, too, and Mary has also "created a sales force out of her church" to help spread the word.

Cloistered Chorus

forty part motetForty loudspeakers, each carrying the voice of an individual singer is creating a "transcendent" experience at New York City’s Cloisters museum, reports Jim Dwyer in The New York Times (9/20/13). In fact, the resulting performance of "The Forty Part Motet" is so powerful it moves its listeners to tears, and in some cases beyond words. "It’s too soon to talk," said Margaret Cardenas. "I’m kind of out of it – I can’t articulate it. Each speaker is a different person. It’s not something you think about: you feel it."

Margaret was in the area for a wedding, and traveling into the city "specifically to see a monumental installation by James Turrell in the rotunda of the Guggenheim Museum. Then she heard about the Forty Part Motet and trekked uptown." She says the Motet was "cooler, honestly, than Turrell." Others simply happened upon the performance, which was located in a 12th century Spanish chapel tucked into the Cloisters." "We had no idea it was here and then we heard it all along as we went around the exhibits," says Bengt Ehlim, a tourist from Sweden.

The experience is "rendered by the multimedia artist Janet Cardiff," using a year 2000 recording of the piece, "composed by Thomas Tallis sometime in the 16th century … What started as one microphone per singer is now a choir of black high-fidelity speakers arrayed in an oval, eight groupings of soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass." The work had previously been featured at MoMa, however, Jeff Gray, who had heard it there, said the chapel gave it a whole new vibe. "The kind of ghost qualities are a lot more apparent here," he says, "you kind of feel it float around you."

Monk Supply

saffron monk"People are not loyal to any traditional monk supply shop anymore," says Sakol Sangmalee in a Wall Street Journal piece by Wilawan Watcharasakwet (7/23/13). With this keen insight Sangmalee launched Hang Sangkapan, the world’s first – and apparently only — big-box store for monk supplies, in 2007. His epiphany happened when he was running all over Bangkok "from one tiny traditional shop to another … unable to find the items, and the quantities he needed, in one place." He was sponsoring "99 poor novice monks" and they all needed the things monks need.

Such items include the "obligatory saffron robes, which range from 1,000 baht ($33) for synthetic threads for monks on a budget, to several thousand baht for those desirous of more sumptuous cotton robes … Customers are ‘members’ – although no Costco-like fee is required – and get up to a 5% discount on purchases with their loyalty cards. The store advertises on the internet and offers phone orders and deliveries." As Sangmalee explains: "Consumer behavior has changed a lot … They will go wherever there’s an air conditioner and expect to get whatever they need in one visit."

Pra Somwang Gunkogkrued, a 62-year-old monk, is impressed: "Hang Sangkapan is for us," he says. "It’s convenient and comfortable." Some competitors, however, are dismissive: "Hang Sangkapan is nothing … they just do it for business," a rival shopkeeper says. With "nearly 300,000 monks and more than 60,000 novice monks" in Thailand as of 2012, it is a pretty big business, estimated at about 10 billion baht per year (about $320 million). Sangmalee sees an opportunity to build a franchise of perhaps "hundreds of shops" throughout Thailand.

Papal Shoes

The former pope’s blessings are giving a boost to a tiny shoe company from Mexico, reports Damien Cave in The New York Times (5/30/13). Benedict XVI is well known for his fashion sense (Esquire magazine named him "accessorizer of the year" in 2007), and his choice of footwear received considerable attention when he stepped down as pope earlier this year. As pope emeritus, he would no longer wear the famous red shoes associated with the papacy. Many assumed that whatever shoes he wore, they would be of Italian make, but that was not to be.

The speculation ended when the former pontiff appeared in public wearing a pair of brown loafers he received as a gift during a 2012 Latin American visit. The footwear was handmade by Armando Martin Duenas, a "third-generation cobbler," who crafted the shoes in hopes of making a statement about Mexico "as a country of talent, in a craft familiar to denizens of Rome." As president of the "local shoe industry association," Armando had the inside track on designing and making the gift. He spent six months on the project. "We wanted a shoe that was comfortable, but didn’t leave out elegance," he explains.

Armando’s enterprise is called Ackerman, after "a Swedish friend who worked with his father." It is based in Leon, which has a long history as the soul of Mexico’s shoe industry. "Irapuato has strawberries, in Toluca they have chorizo, but here in Leon, it’s shoes, always shoes," says local cobbler Jorge Calbillo. Indeed, entire malls are dedicated to nothing but shoes, made "at prices that draw all of Mexico." Needless to say, Armando’s sales are way up since Benedict’s retirement, and he now offers the same shoe, in black, brown, honey and red, on his website. He is also "studying the shoe size and choices of Pope Francis to create the ideal pair for Benedict’s successor."

Nun Better

“In contrast to the monastic vow, the marketing of monastic food has become contemporary, even tongue-in-cheek,” writes Jan Hoffman in The New York Times (3/13/13). There are, for example, “Nun Better Cookies, baked by the Sisters of the Holy Spirit in Cleveland, and Praylines made by the nuns at the St. Benedictine monastery in Canyon, Texas.” And then there are the “13 flavors of cheesecake” baked by the Eastern Orthodox Nuns of New Skete. It’s quite an enterprise, turning out “400 cheesecakes per baking session” for a total of more than 10,000 sold in 2012.

The nuns of New Skete work quietly, because when they “bake, they pray.” Sister Cecilia Harvey keeps a sense of humor about this, asking, “Can you not be aware of God while you’re putting cheese in a bowl and mixing things up?” Meanwhile, “wall-mounted religious icons” keep an eye on things. The monastery dates back to 1969, when “seven nuns, ages 21 to 40,” left a convent in Indiana, “searching for a way to live contemplatively and also engage with the world … After visiting the Monks of New Skete,” they built their own monastery nearby.

The cheesecake idea came along about eight years later via a local abbot, and the cheesecake recipe courtesy of one of the sisters. The nuns actually built their own “cheese-slicers, carts and boxing frames in their carpentry shop.” A basic cake weighs four pounds, “serves 16, has lemon accents, is lined by pulverized vanilla cookie crumbs and retails for about $41.” The business grew by word-of-mouth, although the nuns now keep a Facebook page in partnership with the monks, and of course a website “for their commercial products, and a second site for homilies and spiritual beliefs.”

Congregations & Cafes

“If the kingdom of God had departments, we’d want to work in research and development,” says Mark Batterson in a New York Times piece by Amy O’Leary (12/30/12). Mark is pastor of the 3,000-member National Community Church in Washington, DC, which holds its Sunday services “in six locations, mostly movie theaters, where the smell of Saturday night’s popcorn hangs in the air as pre-recorded sermons play on the big screen. The church also runs a coffee shop called Ebeneezers … where its religious affiliation is hard to detect.” With music emanating from the basement during services, patrons often wander downstairs to investigate, and then become members.

As Mark explains: “We felt like Jesus didn’t hang out at the synagogue, he hung out at the wells … Coffeehouses are postmodern wells. Let’s not wait for people to come to us, let’s go to them.” Mark now “has plans to franchise Ebeneezers, first in Charlotte, NC. ” His venture is part of a trend toward “church planting,” which seems to hold particular appeal among younger generations of pastors and congregants alike. Warren Bird of the Leadership Network, which tracks church trends, says it’s “uncool” among new ministers to join an established church.

“Why that has taken over may speak to the entrepreneurialism and innovation that today’s generation represents.” The Bent Tree Bible Fellowship in Texas is expanding into small, satellite spaces “that can operate seven days a week, with services like child care, shared office space and a community theater.” Paul Miller, its pastor of ministries, says its about “building a community center, more than … a worship center.” Houston Clark, who designs spaces for churches, says he’s seen a definite trend toward smaller spaces, like warehouses, saying that younger people “crave intimacy and authenticity. They want high-quality experiences, but don’t necessarily want them in huge, voluminous buildings.”


kopimism“Sweden’s newest religion may be the only faith that was born out of an insult,” reports Stephan Faris in Bloomberg Businessweek (2/13/12). That religion is Kopimism, and its “patron saint” is Peter Sunde, a leading activist and proponent of online piracy. The insult came courtesy of a lawyer prosecuting Peter for his role in Pirate Bay, a file-sharing site. When asked her opinion of Peter and his ilk, the lawyer said, “They’re a cult.” Peter went online and suggested starting the Missionary Church of Kopimism, holding “sacred the act of copying information,” and others ran with the idea.

“We have this history that every time somebody calls us something negative, we just take the name and make it ours,” says Peter. “We were called pirates, so we said, ‘Let’s make pirates cool.’ O.K., so now we’re a cult. Let’s make that fun as well.” Peter, himself, hasn’t joined the church because, he says, he’s an atheist. But a website devoted to Kopimism has attracted some 5,000 members (link). In January, the church was recognized by the Swedish government. “In the beginning it was a joke,” says church chairman Gustav Nipe. “But maybe we’ve stepped on something greater than we thought.”

To be recognized as a religious group, the Kopimists simply had to declare themselves as such and “hold some sort of meditative service.” For them, the first part was self-fulfilling and the second was a no-brainer — they “settled on file-sharing as their form of communal worship.” They did hit a snafu with some of the necessary paperwork, however. “They’re actually not so good at copying,” says Bertil Kallner of Kammarkollegiet, the Swedish agency that registers religions. Gustav Nipe envisions Kopimist weddings and perhaps even an official house of worship. “The Church of Sweden is selling a lot of its old churches,” he says. “I’d love it if we could buy one.”

Mazal Club

Few people realize that 90 percent of all diamonds on the US market pass through New York City’s Diamond District, reports Alexandra Cheney in the Wall Street Journal (7/23/11). Even fewer are aware of the "particular set of guidelines" that govern how business is conducted there. "People walk by oblivious," says Alicia Oltuski, who has written a 400-page book, Precious Objects, about the "stretch of 47th Street, sandwiched by Fifth and Sixth Avenues and anchored by towering diamond-shaped lamps on all four corners." It’s a subject with which she is quite familiar, given that her father is himself a 47th Street diamond dealer.

"The business model may seem archaic, but it works," says Alicia. It’s a model based "largely on trust" in which "at any given moment one dealer could be in possession of another man’s diamonds, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, with only a handshake as collateral. In this business, a man’s word means more than any amount of money." The practice actually "can be traced historically to Judaism. The Mazal, for example, which hails from the Yiddish phrase, ‘Mazal und brucha,’ or ‘luck and blessing,’ is the definitive word that signals the close of a deal." Such traditions are kept by a group known as the Diamond Dealers Club.

The Club is "a dual-floored facility where brokers can meet and arbitration tribunals are held." Its job has become more challenging, given "an influx of younger brokers and dealers entering the business," not to mention the global reach of the internet. Louis Rohde, director of member services, says some of this new generation "doesn’t fully understand the concept of Mazal," so the club is there to enforce it. The Club has also modernized, with an "intranet of sorts that connects the inventories of many members." But Alicia says traditions still prevail. "You may be able to take a course in gems, but you still can’t purchase trust or the years of education that come with being on this street," she says.

Ristorante delle Mitre

Elvira Go got the idea for a Catholic-themed restaurant after frequenting a small cafe near the Vatican, reports Jason Gutierrez via Agence France Presse (6/6/11). The cafe was popular with the clergy, and Elvira thought it would be cool to bring a similar idea back home, to the Philippines, where 80 percent of the population is Catholic. At first, she envisioned a small canteen, but the idea grew bigger because the Catholic Bishops Conference liked it. And so, last year, she opened Ristorante delle Mitre in Manila, featuring "a menu made in honor of the Catholic church’s bishops but priced to suit all members of the flock."

The restaurant’s head chef, Sister Evangeline Paras, says she considers her work to be "another ministry of the church," adding: "It also gives you a glimpse of how the priests and bishops live, what they do and how they eat." Indeed, Elvira devised the menu by asking each bishop to name their favorite dish. Items range from "salmon in tamarind stew" and "crispy pork legs" to "a selection of soups, salads, steaks, pasta and seafood from prawns to lobsters. Ice cream, bread, pizza and pastries are also freshly made in a backroom bakery." Also offered is a budget meal for less than a dollar.

The restaurant’s name was inspired by the hats bishops wear, and the decor includes "the glass-encased mitres of three late Filipino prelates." Also on display is a "life-sized mannequin in a cardinal’s vestments … towering over an altar with statues of the baby Jesus and Mother Mary." Meanwhile, a pianist plays "Amazing Grace." Sister Evangeline is a former personal cook to Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal, who loaned her to the restaurant. "Cooking for God’s people has always been my calling," she says. "You just have to cook with passion, with your whole heart and prepare every dish as you would for your loved ones."

Kosher Cokes

The history of kosher Coca-Cola leads back to a rabbi born in Lithuania in 1870, who landed in Atlanta in 1910, reports Samuel G. Freedman in the New York Times (4/23/11). Rabbi Tuvia Geffen understood the importance of kosher Coke, especially in the American South. "To not drink Coca-Cola was certainly to be considered un-American," says Marcie Cohen Ferris of the University of North Carolina. Rather than simply melt into the melting pot, Rabbi Geffen had "the majority address the distinct needs of a minority."

Already prominent for establishing Atlanta’s first Hebrew school, defending Leo Frank and urging his congregants "not to flee the South in fear," he approached Coca-Cola at the request of other local rabbis. He knew it was unlikely that many Jews would give up drinking Coke, kosher or not, and gained access to the beverage’s secret formula via "Harold Hersch, a Jewish Atlantan who was Coca-Cola’s corporate lawyer." This was 1935, and Rabbi Geffen’s resulting "rabbinical ruling, known in Hebrew as a teshuva, remains the standard."

Rabbi Geffen identified "the elements that rendered Coke nonkosher during the bulk of the year (oil of glycerine derived from beef tallow) and specifically during Passover (a corn derivative)." His remedies were simple: Replace the glycerine with "coconut or cotton-seed oils, and the corn derivative by cane or beet sugars." Kosher Coke, flagged by a "yellow cap bearing the orthodox Union’s certification," has since become a cross-denominational hit, owing to the "throwback flavor" of cane or beet sugar rather than high-fructose corn-syrup. Other brands, including Pepsi, Dannon and Lipton have since followed Coke’s lead into the kosher market.

Islamic Innovation

Mindful of the ground-zero mosque controversy, the New York Hall of Science is hosting a tribute to Islamic innovation, reports Clyde Haberman in the New York Times (12/7/10). The exhibit, called 1001 Inventions, is not, in fact, a response to the mosque controversy; it has been in the works for some 20 years, well before Nine-Eleven. But there’s no denying that shining a light on the Muslim world as "an incubator for scientific ideas" might stir controversy, particularly in New York City.

The exhibit’s creator, Salim T.S. al-Hassani, says he understands this. "We can’t be isolated from the sociopolitical environment," he says. But at the same time, "some of history’s finest scientists and scholars once emerged from predominantly Muslim societies, extending from Spain to China across a long stretch of time that began in the seventh century." This was a period known in the West as the Dark Ages, "after the heydays of Greece and Rome." Most people think nothing happened until the Renaissance, but that isn’t so.

For example, the exhibit features "innovations in surgery around AD 1000 by an Arab physician .. the founding of a university in the ninth century by a woman … an attempt at flight with a set of wings by a ninth-century thinker … and insights into how vision works by a 10th century polymath." It includes "long ago advances by Islamic thinkers" in a wide range of areas. As Dr. Hassani notes, these discoveries by Islamic societies led the way to the Renaissance by providing "the continuity, the smooth graph, of how ideas travel in humanity." 1001 Inventions runs through April 24th, 2011 (link).

Christian Yogis

The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has a problem with yoga as it relates to Christianity, reports Stephen Prothero in the Wall Street Journal (10/22/10). R. Albert Mohler says that Christians "must either deny the reality of what yoga represents or fail to see the contradictions between their Christian commitments and their embrace of yoga." More specifically, he says: "The idea that the body is a vehicle for reaching consciousness with the divine … that’s just not Christianity."

He continues: "Yoga cannot be neatly separated into physical and spiritual dimensions … The physical is the spiritual in yoga, and the exercises and disciplines of yoga are meant to connect with the divine." But Stephen Prothero, a Boston University professor and author of God Is Not One, disagrees, noting that Catholics "have long seen the seven sacraments … all of which by definition operate on the body — as vehicles of grace." Protestants, meanwhile, "have typically affirmed the sacramental nature of baptism and Holy Communion."

He writes: "There is no bending or twisting in these rites, but in both Protestants traditionally see the human body as a means of connecting oneself to the divine … So it is not quite right to conclude that, while Hindu yogis get to the divine through the body, Christian believers get to the divine only through the spirit." For those who remain uncomfortable with this, he suggests looking into "recent innovations such as ‘Praise Moves‘ — ‘the Christian alternative to yoga,’" which attempts "to bend yoga toward Christian ends."

Cyber Swearing

Because "old bad words have lost much of their meaning," Jan Morris thinks we need a dose of cursing two-point-oh (The Wall Street Journal, 10/13/10). "Blasphemy … means little today," she writes. "A religious reference used to give a curse or an oath extra authenticity, but today most of us don’t for a moment hesitate to take the name of God in vain, and anyway most of the sacred content was long ago elided into the language."

For example: "How many of us, when we use the grand old expletive ‘bloody,’ recall that we are invoking (‘by our Lady’), the mother of Christ? … When a Welsch-speaker exclaims ‘Godacia!’ — his equivalent of ‘Damn!’ — he little realizes he is echoing the old English curse, ‘God ache you!’" As religious curses lost their punch, dirty words based on s-x went on the rise. But, as Jan observes, "By now the ‘F’ word has become so commonplace throughout the English-speaking world that one does not even notice it."

She continues: "What we need now, if the tradition is to be revived, is a glossary of bad language based upon contemporary obsessions, and in particular upon the universal influences of our time … We need some cyber-swearing, some reality expletives, to reflect these changes. ‘Blog off,’ perhaps. Or ‘Up your USB!’ Or ‘What a load of apping, synching, twittering b–wls.’" Hm, whatever that means. Somehow that’s not as satisfying as saying, "Son of a mother duck."

Sacred & Funny

What would Jesus do? He would use irony and exaggeration, reports Paul Vitello in the New York Times ( 10/9/10). The Bible passage in question is the one in which Jesus says, "If anyone sues you to take your coat, let him have your cloak also." The Rev. Dr. Josephine C. Cameron cited this in a sermon, and dramatized her point by "ripping a shawl from her shoulders." She then explained, that, in Jesus’ day, giving up your coat and cloak "would have left most people" with nothing on at all.

This was a "wry point that his contemporary audience would have appreciated, but that is now lost on most Christians." Rev. Cameron’s congregants didn’t see the humor, and so she looked for advice from the Rev. Susan Sparks, a minister and comedian who coaches the clergy in a workshop called "Humor in Ministry." Rev. Sparks didn’t offer a punchline, advising Rev. Cameron to open a discussion about it instead. Her course, which she teaches with another part-time comic, Rabbi Bob A. Alper, explores "the theological underpinnings of religion and humor .. and the rhetoric of being funny."

"Being a comedian and being a minister are basically about the same thing, which is making people feel less alone," says Rev. Sparks. "I think of it as a rhetorical tool that can reach people in a way that no other rhetorical tool can reach them." She and Rabbi Alper offer general comedic guidelines, but her best advice is this: "If you make them laugh, you will never have a problem." She adds: "And remember, no matter how successful you are in life, no matter how many accolades you receive in this world, the number of people who show up for your funeral will always depend on the weather."