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Middle East

X-ed Out of Saudi Arabia?

Kingdom will reportedly ban letter because it looks like a cross. Plus: Mount Soledad cross case ends, another Quran oath dispute, Bobby Welch's successor under fire, and other stories from online sources around the world.

No "top five" today. Just links.

Church and state | Church property disputes | Swaziland to tax churches | Islam and religious freedom | Catholics and Communists | Va. delegate's remarks | Politics | Global warming | Sudan | Iraq | Iraq refugees | Immigration | Life ethics | James Kopp trial | Crime | A Bizzaro "Rev. King" | Va. priest accused of theft | Abuse | Education | School crucifix ban | Evolution | Secularism | Jews and evangelicals | Anglicanism | Catholicism | Boston Globe on relics | Pentecostalism | Church life | Martin Luther King | People | Kenya televangelist soap opera | Media and entertainment | Books | Music | Toronto homeless shelter | Money and business | Other stories of interest

Church and state:

  • Chavez's holy war | Chavez's Kulturkampf has manifested itself in publicly insulting any Catholic bishop questioning government policy (he once called Cardinal Rosalio Castillo Lara an "outlaw") and his efforts to diminish church influence upon education (Samuel Gregg, The Washington Times)

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Church property disputes:

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Swaziland to tax churches:

  • Plans to tax churches underway | This comes in the wake of widespread debate that it was high time the church paid tax because of the large amounts of money they generate (The Swazi Observer)

  • Yes, churches are not exempted, says Commissioner of Taxes | In what will shock many people, religious organisations may have actually been cheating government for over two years in unpaid taxes. Actually, churches are no longer exempted from paying tax as many are made to believe. Such was reviewed about two years ago under the Income Tax Order (The Swazi Observer)

  • Churches under 'tax' scrutiny | Enterprise and Employment Minister Lutfo Dlamini has tasked a team from his ministry to investigate the registration of churches in the country (The Swazi Observer)

  • Not all churches should be probed—Lutfo | Minister of Enterprise and Employment Lutfo Dlamini has said only churches which registered under his portfolio should be investigated for profit-making (The Swazi Observer)

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Islam and religious freedom:

  • Will Saudis ban the letter 'X'? | The letter "X" soon may be banned in Saudi Arabia because it resembles the mother of all banned religious symbols in the oil kingdom: the cross (Youssef Ibrahim, The New York Sun)

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Catholics and Communists:

  • Ex-Polish bishop denies concealing past | The Roman Catholic prelate who resigned two days after becoming Warsaw's archbishop denied Saturday that he had concealed his cooperation with the communist-era secret police from Pope Benedict XVI (Associated Press)

  • Polish church to check ties to the secret police | Leaders of the Roman Catholic Church called for all bishops to be investigated for past ties to the secret police (The New York Times)

  • The Polish church's secret past | For the last 17 years the Catholic Church, once known as a major bulwark against communism, managed to cover up its cooperation with the Polish communist-era secret police. But now, with fresh allegations of former spies within the country's church leadership, the floodgates have been opened (Der Spiegel, Germany)

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Va. delegate's remarks:

  • Another moment | Hargrove is a decent man, but his words suggest how easily 2,000 years of indefensible attitudes can burst out of the West's subconscious (Editorial, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.)

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  • Leaps of faith | Under the public radar, federal, state, and local governments are funding, training, and even helping to create religious social service organizations (National Journal)

  • Prayerful beginning | When the pastor scheduled to give the invocation to start the official proceedings went missing, Ted Strickland decided to offer the prayer himself (The Beacon Journal, Akron, Oh.)

  • McCain to make amends with Dobson | Sen. John McCain said Tuesday he hopes to patch things up with conservative Christian leader James Dobson, who recently said he wouldn't support the Republican's presidential bid under any circumstances (Associated Press)

  • Democrats seek the middle on social issues | Democrats in Congress say they are committed to governing from the center, even on divisive social issues (The New York Times)

  • Clergy seeks 'basic right' of health care for all citizens | Group contends 400,000 uninsured Connecticut residents 'not acceptable' (The Day, New London, Ct.)

  • Pols question Romney on issues | Florida's leading religious conservatives grilled Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Friday over his changed positions on gay rights and abortion, suggesting the former Massachusetts governor could be a tough sell for the party's influential right wing (The Miami Herald)

  • Romney's religious rights | These days, American public life often seems awash in cheap piety and religious sentiment — things quite distinct from genuine conviction (Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times)

  • The minimum wages of sin | Long ago, we're now told, the Prophet Amos came out demanding a higher minimum wage for American workers (Mark Tooley, The American Spectator)

  • No voters' card, no Holy Communion, says bishop | The statement from the Church gave the parishioners up till February 7, to possess voters' cards or they will not be allowed not just from receiving Holy Communion but from other sacraments (This Day, Nigeria)

  • Also: Bishop orders Nigerians to vote | Bishop Francis Oboko has warned worshippers that they will be turned away from church if they do not register for April's elections. (BBC)

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Global warming:

  • Science and faith join forces | Some leading scientists and evangelical Christian leaders have agreed to put aside their fierce differences over the origin of life and work together to fight global warming. Representatives met recently in Georgia and agreed on the need for urgent action. Details on the talks will be disclosed in Washington on Wednesday (Associated Press)

  • Common sense in the warming debate | If ideology is getting in the way of science, maybe both sides of the debate are letting that happen (Cathy Young, The Boston Globe)

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  • Officials: Darfur clashes kill over 200 | More than 200 people have died in clashes between ethnic African farmers and nomadic Arabs in South Darfur in the past week, leading the Sudanese government to send emissaries to try to reconcile the tribes involved, officials said Saturday (Associated Press)

  • Duo succeeds in changing town's tune on Sudanese | A campaign by an unlikely duo - a Tamworth publican and an Anglican priest - has paid off, with both men instrumental in persuading the city council last night to overturn its earlier decision to reject five penniless Sudanese families (The Australian)

  • Car washes and genocide | It's clear that the Darfur cease-fire was a consequence of all those armbands and lawn signs (Nicholas D. Kristof, The New York Times)

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  • Chaldean Seminary and Theological University inaugurated in Kurdistan | After being forced to leave Baghdad, the Chaldean Church's two educational institutions have reopened. Meanwhile the capital is being emptied of its Christians whose historic neighbourhood is presently in the hands of Sunni militias. (AsiaNews.it)

  • GIs are uplifted by Iraq services in Spanish | The language helps Marines discuss their feelings and seek God's assistance as they face questions of mortality, a Navy chaplain says (Los Angeles Times)

  • Hangings fuel sectarian split across Mideast | A pan-Muslim unity from the war between Israel and Hezbollah is waning and Sunni-Shiite tension is rising after the executions of Saddam Hussein and two lieutenants in Iraq (The New York Times)

  • Weep for victims, not the dictator | Saddam's execution was not entirely right and proper, but our sympathy should be directed first to his many victims (Cardinal George Pell, The Daily Telegraph, Australia)

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Iraq refugees:

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  • Christian groups torn over illegals | Evangelical Christians say the issue of illegal aliens in the United States often creates a conflict between their allegiance to the Gospels and their loyalty to the government (The Washington Times)

  • Pope: Migrants should heed host's values | Without naming any country or nationality, he lamented the "painful" conditions refugees, exiles, the homeless and the persecuted often endure (Associated Press)

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Life ethics:

  • Life force | Dr. Ira Byock is changing the way people die by changing the way they live. (The Boston Globe)

  • Archbishop fires 1st salvo at Gov. Ritter | The Catholic leader blasts a plan to restore state funds to family-planning clinics that offer abortion (The Denver Post)

  • Uterus transplant may enable pregnancy | A New York hospital is taking steps to offer the nation's first uterus transplant, a radical experiment that might allow women whose wombs were removed or are defective to bear children (Associated Press)

  • Dead end | Capital punishment: At a crossroads, or is this the exit? (Neely Tucker, The Washington Post)

  • Sextuplets are born into a religious debate | The premature babies may need blood transfusions to survive. But their parents' faith prohibits such treatments (Los Angeles Times)

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James Kopp trial:

  • Doctor's killer tries to make abortion the issue | The convicted murderer of a doctor who performed abortions is charged with violating a law forbidding the use of force to prevent access to reproductive health care (The New York Times)

  • What is Kopp trying to prove in his self-defense? | It's clear from watching him last week in court that Kopp still thinks he can get his message across. Kopp believes abortion is wrong, that he was justified in shooting Slepian, and that he only meant to wound Slepian - not kill him - to prevent him from performing abortions (The Buffalo News, N.Y.)

  • It seems to us . . . | Kopp can't apologize (Editorial, The Buffalo News, N.Y.)

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  • ID theft targets lose $20,000 | The scheme — allegedly masterminded by 40-year-old inmate Robert Thompson, also known as John Lawson, and carried out in November — involved tapping into three church telephone accounts and various individuals' personal accounts, the documents say (The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.)

  • O.C. sect leader who battled health authorities gets 10-day sentence | 'I feel I serve my country better by not sitting in jail,' says Marie Kolasinski, who would not allow her group's restaurant to be inspected. She also got three years' probation (Los Angeles Times)

  • Loved ones try to explain what led murder victim to bigamist | Love, ambition drove wife to preacher, they claim (San Diego Union-Tribune)

  • Minister's faithful checking turns up apparent scam | Pastor Neil Stevens of Everson Evangelical Church is all in favor of helping his fellow man -- when the person is truly deserving. But this week, state police in Uniontown said Stevens thwarted an apparent con artist by checking out the facts before sending cash (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

  • Fires strike 2 churches in eastern N.C. | Police increased their patrols of churches across the city Sunday after fires broke out at two Baptist churches during the night and a break-in was discovered at a third — all within an hour (Associated Press)

  • The embezzlement plate | No church can take everything from its clergy on faith (Editorial, Palm Beach Post, Fla.)

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A Bizarro "Rev. King":

  • Rev King begins crusade in Kirikiri Prison | Condemned General Overseer of Christian Praying Assembly (CPA), Lagos, Emeka Ezeuko popularly known as Rev King yesterday led other inmates in his new abode, Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison in an early morning Sunday worship to win more souls for God (Daily Champion, Nigeria)

  • He deserves the sentence, by other men of God | Will Emeka Ezeugo a.k.a Reverend King be hanged as Justice Joseph Oyewole ruled? Or will he get any reprieve if he goes on appeal? Indeed, what do other men of God think of the fate that befell one of their own? (Vanguard, Nigeria)

  • 'Murder is bad, to die by hanging is crude' | Reactions have continued to trail the death sentence by hanging passed on Rev. King, a Lagos-based founder of Christian Praying Assembly who had been facing trial for murder and attempted murder of some of his church members (Vanguard, Nigeria)

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Va. priest accused of theft:

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  • Victims suing diocese can seek punitive damages | Sexual abuse victims of a defrocked priest can seek punitive damages from the Diocese of San Diego in a lawsuit that alleges officials knew the priest was abusive and did not protect them, a judge ruled Tuesday (Los Angeles Times)

  • A safe church: Abuse, but no scandal | One little church in Concord has shown the entire Roman Catholic Church how to handle sexual abuse allegations. It's easy: If there's a credible allegation, alert the entire congregation immediately (Editorial, Union Leader, Manchester, N.H.)

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  • A mission of understanding | At U-Md., evangelical Christian teen breaks into the mainstream, out of his comfort zone (The Washington Post)

  • Rumble in the Wren: Religion prof to take on author | College of William and Mary religion professor David Holmes has agreed to debate conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza in the controversy over the Wren Chapel cross (Daily Press, Hampton Roads, Va.)

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School crucifix ban:

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  • Evangelicals wage anti-evolution war | Kenya's world-class collection of hominid bones - primates belonging to a family of which the modern human being is the only species still in existence - is at the centre of a silent but intense war being waged by a section of the evangelical churches. (The East African Standard, Kenya)

  • Why can't we discuss Intelligent Design? | While intelligent design might not hold up to scrutiny, it raises questions that Darwinists shouldn't dodge or discourage (J. Scott Turner, The Chronicle of Higher Education, sub. req'd.)

  • Dinosaurs, humans coexist in U.S. creation museum | Ken Ham's sprawling creation museum isn't even open yet, but an expansion is already underway in the state-of-the art lobby, where grunting dinosaurs and animatronic humans coexist in a Biblical paradise (Reuters)

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  • Religion, born again | Amid wrenching change worldwide, people are returning to old-time religion. In the name of God, terrorists are happily maiming and killing; in the United States, the Christian Right has a stranglehold on government. On this increasingly God-fearing globe, only Western Europe looks like the last bastion of secularism - or are the faithful here too returning to the fold (Rainer Traub, Der Spiegel, Germany)

  • Atheists: the bigots' friends | Most Christians back gay rights - and to claim otherwise only boosts the fundamentalists (Giles Fraser, The Guardian, London)

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Jews and evangelicals:

  • Evangelicals mourn Shtern's passing | Christian supporters of Israel around the globe mourned the death on Tuesday of MK Yuri Shtern, who spearheaded Israel's burgeoning relations with the Evangelical world over the last several years (The Jerusalem Post)

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  • Va. churches' dispute with Episcopal diocese come to a boil | A potential courthouse showdown looms this week between 15 Northern Virginia churches, including two that predate the Revolutionary War, and the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia (USA Today)

  • Rowan Williams accused of helping to 'destroy Church' | The Bishop of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, the Right Rev Paul Marshall, charges the Archbishop of Canterbury with endorsing the "crudely divisive" actions of conservatives and of "callous treatment" of North American Anglicans over the issue of homosexuality (The Times, London)

  • Fracture in the church | Heathsville body divided as many shift to Anglicans (Richmond Times-Dispatch, Va.)

  • Can he revive Episcopal diocese? | A child of the 1960s, The Rev. Mark Beckwith grew up in an affluent Connecticut suburb but chose to spend much of his career in urban congregations, where he set up soup kitchens, homeless shelters and AIDS ministries. He's a theological liberal who said Jesus was "radicalized" by the gap between rich and poor in Roman-occupied Judea (The Bergen Record, N.J.)

  • Churches request Anglican diocese, bishop | Many seeking conservative alternative to Episcopal faith (David Waters, The Commercial Appeal, Memphis)

  • Creating division is not the way to unify Episcopalians | Like many schismatics, John Yates and Os Guinness claim to represent the true church. But, in fact, they are objecting to decisions made democratically by duly elected representatives (Penelope Duckworth, San Jose Mercury News, Ca.)

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  • Collared | Behind the stone walls of St. John's Seminary in Brighton, fewer and fewer young men are training to be Catholic priests. As their numbers dwindle, those who remain are fighting to earn back the moral authority lost in the abuse scandal - and praying to stay relevant (The Boston Globe)

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Boston Globe on relics:

  • Saints alive! | In a non descript cardboard file box, in an ordinary cabinet, inside the modest building that houses the archives of the Archdiocese of Boston, is a manila folder with a name written in small, neat letters on its tab: Matthew (The Boston Globe)

  • 'Relics, they always are' | For all believers, there are objects revered as sacred (The Boston Globe)

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Church life:

  • First Baptist members say pew to new pastor's changes | The Rev. David Cox modernized the altar of First Baptist Church of Daytona Beach with a hardwood stage, twin movie screens and music equipment worthy of a rock band. On Wednesday, Cox went to the same altar to defend his job, less than six months after succeeding the much beloved Bobby Welch as senior pastor of the area's largest congregation with 4,000 members. Cox is under fire on everything from his spending habits to his taste in church music (Daytona Beach News-Journal, Fla.)

  • Four out of ten pastors lack strong interest in increasing community outreach | Just what churches are doing to evangelize their communities differs quite a bit by denominational group (Ellison Research)

  • Converted critic | Gay pastor who could be expelled supported by former opponent (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Also: Church panel to consider charges | An Evangelical Lutheran Church in America disciplinary hearing committee will meet in Atlanta on Friday to consider charges against the Rev. Bradley Schmeling of St. John's Lutheran Church in Midtown (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Let there be darkness, officials say of ads projected on cathedral | Video artist projects huge ads on the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. Officials say: 'Let there be darkness.' (Los Angeles Times)

  • Also: Church sign a billboard? No, it's art | When people talk about seeing holy signs, they don't usually mean "Your Ad HERE" on the side of a church. That 50-foot message, visible to thousands of commuters on a nearby freeway, was projected Wednesday evening on a dark portion of the bell tower of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (Associated Press)

  • A few churches cross longstanding racial divide | A recent study found that only 7 percent of congregations nationwide are multiracial, defined as places where no one racial group is 80 percent or more of the people attending (The Seattle Times)

  • Churches retain racial divide | Theories around the divisions and whether unity is fully possible vary, but none deny the issue has been a setback in the country's culture (Tuscaloosa News, Ala.)

  • Church van in crash scare | Reports varied on the number of people inside the van. Police were unsure of the number, but Mingo insisted it did not exceed the 15-passenger maximum. Witnesses, however, claimed they counted up to 24 (The Jersey Journal, Jersey City, N.J.)

  • Thomas Road Baptist Church tithes, offerings on track to top $11 million | It's a $3.8 million increase over the preceding fiscal year at Jerry Falwell's congregation (The News & Advance, Lynchburg, Va.)

  • Dialogue to examine Communion debate | Sides to give arguments for and against opening rite to those who aren't members of particular church (Albany Times Union, N.Y.)

  • Lusaka priest barred from entering church | The two groups were engaged in a scuffle with some almost exchanging blows inside the church when tempers flared and police were called in to quell the violent behavior (The Times of Zambia)

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Martin Luther King:

  • New generation of preachers stepping in | The last of the black preachers who came up in the era of Martin Luther King Jr. are nearing retirement, giving way to a generation who learned about the civil rights movement instead of living through it (Associated Press)

  • King's legacy of faith | Just 10 days before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. stood before a group of rabbis and shared his remarkable vision of what the world could be. I was there, and his message is still with me today. It was remarkable that his words and actions united all people, regardless of race, gender or — indeed — religion. It's a model the world is sorely missing (Gerald L. Zelizer, USA Today)

  • Writings show King as liberal Christian, rejecting literalism | An interview with Clayborne Carson, editor of Advocate of the Social Gospel (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • King would understand new evangelical push | The civil rights movement exemplified the power of an inclusionary evangelical force for social change, unlike the pronouncements from Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and other fundamentalists who focus on sanctimonious separatism (Editorial, Palm Beach Post, Fla.)

  • Musings, random & otherwise | He was what some today might call a religious fanatic, a theocrat, or (as a US senator said of the president last year) a "moral ayatollah." He was Martin Luther King Jr. (Jeff Jacoby, The Boston Globe)

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  • Mungiki leader to be baptised | Prisoners and officers at Kamiti Maximum Prison say outlawed sect leader's conversion to Christianity has stirred a lot of excitement (The East African Standard, Kenya)

  • Finding faith, and responsibility, after making a new start | After running away from failure, a Brooklyn man found a church that connected him with nearly everything he needed (The New York Times)

  • Songwriter's heirs sue evangelist aunt | Country songwriter Darrell "Wayne" Perry made his fortune with hits such as Lorrie Morgan's "What Part of No" and Tim McGraw's "Not a Moment Too Soon." Now, nearly two years after his death, a dispute over his estate is unfolding like a heartbreaking country ballad (Associated Press)

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Kenya televangelist soap opera:

  • Jilted ex-husband speaks of his deep love for Bishop Wanjiru | Barely a week after tele-evangelist Bishop Dr Margaret Wanjiru Kariuki introduced in her church a South African, Mr Samuel Matjeke, as her fiancée, a man from Gachie in Kiambu has now emerged to claim the self-confessed witch-turned preacher has been his estranged common-law wife (The Nation, Kenya)

  • Bishop tells off man who claims to be her husband | Renowned tele-evangelist Margaret Wanjiru yesterday disputed claims by a man who says he married her in 1979 under common law (The Nation, Kenya)

  • Bishop's alleged husband to sue | Bishop Margaret Wanjiru's former husband yesterday threatened to go to court to stop her wedding South African fiancee Samuel Matjeke until the paternity of her two sons is determined. (The Nation, Kenya)

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Media and entertainment:

  • The gospel of '24' | Nowhere else on television will you find such an overt and powerful parallel between character and Christ (Albany Times-Union, N.Y.)

  • Clocking a cult's final days in Jonestown | The testimony of Stephan Jones, one of Jim Jones's sons, is reason enough to watch a documentary that would otherwise merely invite dim circumspection (The New York Times)

  • A painful account of abuse and a celebration of family | PBS's documentary on sexual molestation in the church is a stinging denunciation, but it is also a celebration of the family that survived the ordeal and was in some ways strengthened by it (The New York Times)

  • Behind the red curtain | Documentary filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of the speaker, leaves the blue states for some cultural learnings of her own (San Francisco Chronicle)

  • 'I'm out of Christian comedy!' | Jonathan Slocumb tore into the Christian comedy citing money issues and being disrespected and taken advantage of as reasons for his dismount (EurWeb.com)

  • That's just not funny | Little Mosque on the Prairie is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's contribution to the Religion of Peace cause (Doug Gamble, National Review Online)

  • 'Faith Day' part of Rockies' promotions lineup | The Colorado Rockies for the past two seasons have hosted "Christian Family Day." While the team has put a new label on the day, it's unclear whether it will alter the content. The Rockies are still ironing out the details (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • 'A religious experience' | Rock opera star Ted Neely says it's easy to get swept up in adulation (The Star Phoenix, Saskatoon)

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  • The lion in winter | The inner life and last years of the man who created Narnia and explained God. Cynthia Haven reviews The Collected Letters Of C.S. Lewis Volume III: Narnia, Cambridge, and Joy 1950-1963 (The Washington Post)

  • A crazy, blessed alliance | Evangelical Christians love Israel. American Jews view this warily. Steve Weinberg reviews A Match Made in Heaven by Zev Chafets (San Francisco Chronicle)

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Toronto homeless shelter:

  • Outcry dogs plans for homeless shelter | A minister at St. Aidan's Anglican Church says the church hopes to open an Out of the Cold facility that would give overnight shelter to the homeless as soon as this Monday, despite an outcry from some Beaches residents (The Globe and Mail, Toronto)

  • Fear stalks the Beach | Residents of the `liberal' enclave afraid of importing homeless—but won't speak out (Toronto Star)

  • The Beach has nothing to fear from the homeless | Churches are architectural monuments to our good intentions (Jim Coyle, Toronto Star)

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Money and business:

  • Bill limits workplace politics, religion | Employers would be forbidden from requiring workers to attend meetings on political or religious matters under a bill introduced in the Iowa House (Des Moines Register)

  • New tax law stricter on church gifts | IRS rules taking effect this month may further change the way Americans contribute to houses of worship. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 prohibits donors from declaring contributions to churches or other charitable organizations unless they can produce records of the transactions (Contra Costa Times, Ca.)

  • Moral failure | Is socially responsible investing a sham? (Bradford Plumer, The New Republic)

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