01: The Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society represents a growing movement of Buddhist “punx” consisting mainly of young people pressing for an “anti-establishment” version of Buddhism.
Founded by Noah Levine, a Southern California Buddhist teacher, the society has more than 20 affiliated groups nationwide. Infused with punk rock’s anti-establishment ethos, these so-called “Dharma Punx” do not wear robes or bow to statues of the Buddha. A chapter of the society can be started by anyone (although permission has to be granted by Levine) and the society de-emphasizes the notions of hierarchy found in many forms of Buddhism.
Without Zen masters or Tibetan lamas, Levine said he wants to reconnect Buddhism with what he sees as its radical roots. Levine says he draws inspiration from many strains of Buddhism (including Thai, Sri Lankan and Burmese traditions), but he adds that he wants to tear down the hierarchical difference between teacher and student that is common in those forms. Informality marks Levine and his society, and this seems to be the drawing point for many members.
That is what attracted Holly Brown, 39, a self-described “Goth girl” who has been a member of Against the Stream since it opened. “We all respect the Dalai Lama, but we’re living a totally different life than him,” she said. “Noah’s living our same life.”
(Source: Los Angeles Times, May 4)
02: Shukriy, a Puerto Rican New York D.J., has emerged as a leader of the Muslim hip-hop movement.
Born as Jorge Pabon, he was a leading secular hip-hop artist until he converted to Islam 20 years ago. At his concerts, clean hip-hop lyrics are sounded out by young men in wide trousers and women in head scarves, who dance in the style of Shukriy’s robotic movements. They do not touch each other unless they are married couples.
Hip-hoppers like Shukriy have given Muslims a large measure of respect within the industry. Most of the pressure comes from conservative Muslims who accuse Shukriy of sinning by dancing with women on stage and acting as a D.J. for a mixed audience. Some argue that even listening to music is a taboo in Islam. The artist says such critics ignore the opportunity of reaching hip-hoppers for Islam.
(Source: New York Times, April 24)
03: The Heralds of the Gospel, a fast-growing conservative Catholic movement, has received Vatican approval after remaking itself and distancing itself from its past.
Now found in 57 countries, the Heralds of the Gospel is an outgrowth of the Brazilian conservative Catholic movement Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) and its controversial founder Plinio Correa de Oliveira, a staunch critic of liberalism in the church and Brazilian society and an upholder of monarchism.
When Correa de Oliveira died in 1995, the TFP split between those members who favored the model of religious congregation and those favoring the model of a lay movement. The opposing sides went to court in 1997 to claim the TFP trademark—a case that has yet to be settled. The group that won the right to the TFP trademark in Brazil (although not in other countries) eventually formed the Heralds of the Gospel in 1999. By 2001—i.e. in a surprisingly quick time—the Heralds of the Gospel was recognized by the Vatican as an association of “pontifical right”. The group has grown very rapidly and has several thousand celibate members worldwide, mainly young adults.
The Heralds played a prominent role during the pope’s 2007 visit to Brazil and in the celebrations for the 100th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Sao Paolo in 2008. Several of its leaders have already been ordained and, unlike TFP, the organization has both male and female members and has developed friendly relations with some Brazilian bishops. At the same time, the group downplays its link with Correa de Oliveira and his political ideas, although its leaders are the same people who were associated with him in TFP.
The emergence of the Heralds of the Gospel can be seen as part of a long-range strategy in Brazil and other countries to cater to the needs of conservative and strict Catholics.
(Source: “TFP and the Heralds of the Gospel,” by Massimo Introvigne, presented at the Association for the Study of Religion, Economics and Culture conference, Washington, DC, 2009)
04: Tullian Tchividjian’s recent move to the pastorate of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale signals important changes in this bastion of the Christian Right, as well as in the wider evangelical world.
The 37-year-old Tchividjian (the grandson of Billy Graham), who was pastor of New City Church near Miami, was called to pastor Coral Ridge after the death of its pastor and new Christian right leader, D. James Kennedy, in 2007. Once visited by as many as 7,000 on Sunday mornings, Coral Ridge had shrunk to 1,400–1,500 regular attendees as Kennedy’s attention turned to national politics.
Tchividjian only agree to come to Coral Ridge if New City could be merged with the older congregation, a condition to which the elders somewhat unexpectedly agreed. New City and Tchividjian have pursued a different approach than Coral Ridge, eschewing politics and the culture wars and emphasizing worship and Reformed theology. Like other young evangelicals, Tchividjian tends to see politics as being reflective of culture (although he is strongly pro-life), and holds that the church should concentrate more on winning the hearts and minds of people (often in the cultural centers) than on changing policies.
(Source: Christianity Today, May)
05: The German branch of Islamic Relief has launched a hotline for helping people experiencing serious personal concerns or emotional despair.
Twenty two volunteers (among them two imams) have been trained with the help of Christian humanitarian organizations already experienced in the field, who will continue to provide supervision. Besides German, volunteers will be able to answer questions and concerns in Turkish or Arabic. In a first step, people will be able to call the hotline between 4 pm and midnight. Purely religious questions, without a situation of distress, will be redirected to other groups, e.g. local mosques.
Eissler remarks that support work of this kind is a relatively new phenomenon in the Muslim world, and that it has received an impetus in Germany in recent years from the need to provide help for Muslims in hospitals or emergency situations, especially as the Christian churches have already done this for many years.
(Source: EZW-Newsletter, Evangelische Zentralstelle für Weltanschauungsfragen, http://www.ekd.de/ezw/ newsletter.php)