COMMENTARY: Getting in Our Own Way

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Thanks to a Hollywood ending and avoidance of the novel’s more bizarre musings, I doubt that many viewers will walk out of “The Da Vinci Code” questioning their faith, planning to leave the Roman Catholic Church or embracing paganism. Some might join me in thinking this a better film than early reviews had suggested. What I treasure is how this movie-going experience deepened my understanding of Scripture. We had tickets for the movie’s opening night on Friday.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Loyola Cuts Programs After Katrina Devastated Campus, Budget NEW ORLEANS (RNS) Loyola University’s board of trustees has approved a major restructuring plan in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, cutting a host of degree programs and 17 faculty positions as it prepares for lower enrollment next fall. The trustees unanimously adopted the plan, “Pathways Toward Our Second Century,” after a private two-hour meeting Friday (May 19) at the Catholic university’s campus. Although the trustees made some changes in the original plan’s consolidation of schools, the list of proposed cuts in programs and faculty slots was approved as first presented in April. Loyola’s leaders predict a drop in enrollment due to the fear that the Katrina disaster has tainted New Orleans as a dangerous place to send sons and daughters.

For Hollywood, Faith Has Always Been a Contentious Issue

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) There is faith, and there is religion, and Hollywood has never really embraced both. Movie makers have occasionally paid lip service to the second. The Old Testament remains a sturdy source of spectacle; the rites of the Roman Catholic Church regularly enliven horror movies. Screenwriters in search of a dependable heartwarmer can always bring on a feisty Irish priest, while “The Jazz Singer” is still available for tearjerkers.

COMMENTARY: `Da Vinci’ Didn’t Weaken My Faith _ It Made It Stronger

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) It’s getting harder and harder to be a true Christian. I know, I know, nobody said it would be easy _ look at how poorly they treated the only man who did it perfectly. True Christians get lumped together these days with mean-spirited, intolerant folks who are anti-gay, anti-Hollywood, anti-fun, anti-compassion. Tell some liberals that you believe in Jesus and they look at you like you have three eyes.

COMMENTARY: It’s Time to Break the Money Taboo

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) It’s time to break the money taboo. The fact that we can’t talk about our finances is getting us into trouble. Even in supportive religious communities, the taboo is so strong that our money matters are very rarely discussed. I interviewed a family living in the suburbs of Orlando, Fla., who had gotten into nearly $100,000 of credit card debt and were driven into bankruptcy.

`Da Vinci’ Strong But Not Super at Box Office

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) You don’t need a Harvard symbologist to decode this one. With its built-in advantage of a best-seller source novel _ and the dependable Ron Howard directing fan favorite Tom Hanks _ “The Da Vinci Code” translated fame into box-office success on its first weekend in release. Its estimated Friday-through-Sunday (May 19-21) gross was $77 million, according to Exhibitor Relations, more than the rest of the Top 10 movies combined. Those numbers still couldn’t nudge the film into the $100 million club, however, the preserve of genuine blockbusters like the “Harry Potter” films. Those looking for the year’s biggest hit probably won’t find it here.

SIDEBAR: Tips on Keeping Faith in the Workplace

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) How to give employees room to express their spirituality without smothering others: _ Holiday swapping: Provide a process by which employees can swap days to cover religious holidays not included in the corporate holiday calendar. This could be as simple as providing a list of dates known to be observed by different faiths. Workers sign up for the days they need off and swap with others, subject to supervisor approval. _ Flexible paid time off: Instead of separating time off into banks for vacation, sick days and personal days, combine them into one large bank.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2006 Religion News Service Diverse Groups Join to Seek Common Ground on Sexual Issues WASHINGTON (RNS) Delegates of Planned Parenthood, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Organization of Women and the National Council of Churches have all reached some agreement on a topic that usually divides them _ sex. Members of these groups, and 14 others whose views range from abortion and birth-control rights to staunch opposition to abortion, together released an interim report Thursday (May 18) on the sexual health and behavior of Americans. While the points of consensus were relatively controversy-free _ such as a call for parental responsibility and a condemnation of sexual violence _ the fact that members of such diverse groups came together marks a milestone, officials said, even though some groups walked away from the process. “We feel that America needs to talk more about sex and sexual health, and especially in a mature and respectful fashion,” said Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general and interim president of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Progressives Gather to Reignite Spiritual Activist Movement

c. 2006 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ After wandering the political desert for nearly 40 years, organizers of a “Spiritual Activism” conference here this week said that the religious left is taking tentative steps toward the Promised Land. “We’re talking about first, baby steps here,” said Rabbi Michael Lerner, head of the Network of Spiritual Progressives and editor of the progressive Jewish magazine Tikkun. For the first time since the Vietnam War, according to Lerner, the “spiritual” or “religious” left is building a viable political coalition. The goal is not to tip elections toward Democrats in 2006, or even 2008, but to develop a grass-roots network that all politicians must reckon with for years to come, Lerner said.

`Da Vinci’ Follows Long Line of Touchy Films

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Hollywood loves a good argument. You’re not supposed to talk about sex, race or politics in polite American society. Yet the movies’ first blockbuster _ D.W. Griffith’s “The Birth of a Nation” _ did all three in 1915. And although it was immediately met by protests by the NAACP, it went on to become an enormous hit.

`The Da Vinci Code’ Isn’t the First Film to Anger Catholics

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) “The Da Vinci Code,” which opened in theaters Friday (May 19), is not the first film that some Catholic leaders hope will be religiously avoided. In fact, such protests are commonplace. Here are five movies available on DVD that got a thumbs-down from church authorities. (If you’re curious about the church’s stand on other films, visit _ “The Last Temptation of Christ” (R, 1988) Willem Dafoe stars in Martin Scorsese’s adaptation of Nikos Kazatzakis’ novel about the Passion of Christ.

COMMENTARY: The McCarrick Mystique

c. 2006 Religion News Service (UNDATED) There’s a reason why they call him Uncle Ted. Washington Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who officially entered retirement on Tuesday (May 16), is a rare bird among America’s Catholic bishops and, sadly, one of a dying breed. Many things would make a man like McCarrick stand out _ his approachable style, his quick wit, the Irish twinkle in his eye, his incredible “I’m not holy enough” self-deprecation, his memorable three-point homilies. The Washington Post praised him as “humble by nature” and “disarmingly impish.” The New York Times hailed him as a “natural diplomat.” The Rev. Robert Drinan, a Catholic priest who once served as a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, said McCarrick had “no enemies” in his archdiocese.

In New Orleans, No Time or Energy for `Da Vinci’ Fight

c. 2006 Religion News Service NEW ORLEANS _ While the opening of the film “The Da Vinci Code” might once have met boycotts and angry opposition from local churches, it is being engaged here much differently: with quiet counter-education and, where the post-Katrina struggle still dominates life, something like dismissiveness. The movie, which opened Friday (May 19), is an adaptation of a blockbuster novel whose assertions about fraudulent claims of Christianity made it a cultural phenomenon. But in the land of FEMA trailers, gutted homes, too much work and too little help, getting collectively excited about a movie seems an indulgence from a lost past, several local clergy said. “For most of us in New Orleans, we’re so overwhelmed it’s not even on the radar,” said the Rev. Dennis Watson of Celebration Church in suburban Metairie.