The Gospel According to Philip Seymour Hoffman

Our pal Jim Martin is excerpting parts of his book, “A Jesuit Off-Broadway,” over at BustedHalo. Today he’s talking about his experience working with Philip Seymour Hoffman on the set of “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” where Jim served as a theological consultant. “When I asked Phil Hoffman about his directing style on “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot,” he readily agreed with the inherent strength of the parable-or, in his words, the personal anecdote-in its ability to communicate more than a strictly worded directive. “It’s the way I normally direct,” he said. “The anecdotes and stories spark a discussion with the actors and it starts a give-and-take about the character or the scene.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Labor group alleges crucifixes made in sweatshops (RNS) Some crucifixes sold in the United States are made under “horrific” conditions in a Chinese factory, a labor rights leader said Tuesday (Nov. 20) in front of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, told reporters the products come from a factory in Dongguan, China, where employees _ mostly women _ work 15-hour days and are paid 26 cents an hour.

Is Mitt Romney nervous, or should he be?

Michael Luo tracks evangelical skepiticism over Mitt Romney-one woman wondered if Mormon prayers “even get through” to heaven-in Iowa in today’s New York Times. But it’s not just about Romney; it’s about the charging locomotive that is the Mike Huckabee campaign. Huckabee, you’ll recall, is not just an evangelical Southern Baptist, but a former Southern Baptist pastor to boot. From Luo’s dispatch: Barbara Heki, 51, from Johnston, Iowa, who began volunteering for Mr. Huckabee over the summer, compared Mr. Romney to Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who was dogged by accusations of flip-flopping when he ran for president in 2004. Nevertheless, Ms. Heki admitted that her evangelical faith also figured prominently in her choice.

Reincarnation Up for a Vote?

Elucidating earlier comments, the Dalai Lama said yesterday that the next Dalai Lama, traditionally “chosen” by reincarnation, could be democratically elected. The move is an apparent bid to keep China from appointing a lackey as his successor. For centuries, the search for the reincarnation of religious leaders, known as lamas – including the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual head – has been carried out by Tibetan monks following the leaders’ deaths, says the AP. The 72-year-old spiritual leader appears in good health, so this may not come to pass for some time yet, the DL himself says “detailed discussions have not yet started.” Still, China is ticked.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service State Baptist conventions urge prevention of child abuse (RNS) Following action taken on the national level this summer, several Southern Baptist state conventions took steps this fall to urge that children be protected from abuse. Baptist groups in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana and Ohio passed resolutions. Most encouraged churches to perform background checks on volunteers and staffers who work with children, reported Baptist Press, the news service of the Southern Baptist Convention. They also recommended use of abuse prevention materials from the denomination’s LifeWay Christian Resources.

Jewish food a profound and personal link to the past

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) While potato latkes are forever linked with Hanukkah, along with dreidels and menorahs, the potato part of potato latkes is actually a fairly recent invention in the history of Judaism. Who knew? Originally made with cheese, latkes are now made with an assortment of vegetables. What’s important is frying them in oil, symbolizing the miracle of the oil that lasted for eight days when Jews recaptured the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in 165 B.C. While Hanukkah may be a minor holiday, its emphasis on fried foods makes it one of the most popular, say Jewish culinary experts.

Churches push `Advent Conspiracy’ to teach real giving

c. 2007 Religion News Service PORTLAND, Ore. _ The Christmas contradiction gives Pastor Rick McKinley a headache. Americans will spend about $475 billion this year on gifts, decorations and parties that many won’t even remember next year. They will run themselves ragged _ shopping, wrapping and celebrating.

Huckabee: “Christian Leader”

Mike Huckabee’s newest ad leaves little doubt who he’s pitching (evangelicals in Iowa) and who he’s swiping (Mitt Romney). The most striking and hard-to-miss aspect of the ad are the giant words “CHRISTIAN LEADER” that scroll across the screen. Hmm … I thought he was running for president, not pope. Anyway, from Huckabee himself: “Faith doesn’t just influence me; it really defines me.

Beliefnet Seeking Votes on “Most Inspiring Person” is seeking online votes for “The Most Inspiring Person of the Year.” Visitors can vote by going to Beliefnet’s Web site. Nominees for Beliefnet’s 2007 Most Inspiring Person of the Year are: -Liviu LibrescuâÂ?Â?Self-sacrificing professor at Virginia Tech Holocaust survivor and engineering professor Liviu Librescu threw his body between his students and a gunman blasting his way into the classroom -Wesley AutreyâÂ?Â?New York City’s subway superhero When a man having a seizure fell onto the city’s subway tracks before an oncoming train, a complete stranger named Wesley Autrey dove to his rescue -Majora CarterâÂ?Â?Environmental advocate for the urban poor A lifelong resident of the South Bronx, Carter works to empower residents of New York City’s poorest borough to create a greener, healthier environment -Maj. Scott SouthworthâÂ?Â?Soldier and adoptive father of an Iraqi orphan When Maj. Scott Southworth of the Wisconsin National Guard volunteered at a Baghdad orphanage in 2003, he never expected that he would become a dad to one of the children and help many others -Coach Tony DungyâÂ?Â?2007 Super Bowl-winning Indianapolis Colts Coach A devoted Christian who overcame personal tragedy, Dungy led the NFL team to a Super Bowl victory, the first African-American coach to win this honor -Angelina JolieâÂ?Â?Celebrity advocate for the youngest war victims This actress’s humanitarian work and foundation continuously give hope to some of the world’s poorest families -Coach Luma MuflehâÂ?Â?Champion for refugee children An immigrant from Jordan, Coach Mufleh founded a soccer team for low-income kids who came to the U.S. from war-ravaged lands; her help continues off the field -Don CheadleâÂ?Â?Actor and activist for Darfur After his groundbreaking movie role in “Hotel Rwanda,” Cheadle became a leading advocate bringing attention to genocide in Darfur, through personal involvement and by producing a documentary and book about the crisis -Dr. Catherine HamlinâÂ?Â?Healer of damaged women At 83, Dr. Catherine Hamlin is continuing her life’s workâÂ?Â?helping women in Ethiopia get a second chance at life by repairing fistulas, the devastating internal injury that afflicts many after childbirth -Barbara MorganâÂ?Â?Astronaut and teacher-in-space Teacher Barbara Morgan watched in horror as the Challenger blew up with her friend and fellow teacher Christa McAuliffe aboard.

Survey: “Merry Christmas” Wins Over “Happy Holidays”

“Merry Christmas” is more popular as a seasonal phrase in advertising than “Happy Holidays,” says Rasmussen Reports. A new national telephone survey finds that 67 percent of American adults prefer when stores use the Christmas phrase, compared to 26 percent who voted for the more generic one. The polling information distributor found no gender gap and little difference among demographic groups on the question, but political leanings showed a difference: 88 percent of Republicans prefer “Merry Christmas” but 57 percent of Democrats do.

His Holiness meets His Holiness? Not this time.

The Vatican has announced that the Dalai Lama will not, after all, be visiting Pope Benedict in Rome next month, as was widely reported a month ago. As the pope’s spokesman noted, no such meeting had ever been officially announced. But in waiting an entire month to deny the reports, the Vatican effectively acknowledged that such a meeting had at least been contemplated before being ruled out. The Chinese government quickly made it clear that it would be unhappy indeed with such encounter, coming shortly after the DL’s high-profile visits to other world capitals, including Washington, where he met with President Bush and addressed Congress. The Vatican’s most pressing concern with regard to China, with which it has not had diplomatic relations for half a century, is the fate of the “underground” Catholic church there, which is loyal to Rome and persecuted by the government.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Oral Roberts University president resigns OKLAHOMA CITY (RNS) The embattled president of Oral Roberts University has resigned amid intense scrutiny over allegations of financial, political and other wrongdoing at the charismatic Christian university in Tulsa. Richard Roberts, son of the university’s namesake founder, submitted a resignation letter to ORU’s board of regents Friday (Nov. 23). The resignation came just days before the board was scheduled to hear the results of an outside investigation of allegations against him and his wife, Lindsay.

COMMENTARY: On eve of World AIDS Day, a sign of hope

c. 2007 Religion News Service NGOMBE, Zambia _ Most of us view HIV/AIDS as a statistical tsunami, a tidal wave of numbers so great we can hardly comprehend their significance. But in a country like Zambia, AIDS is personal. It is the face of the co-worker who goes home one day and never returns. It is the child who stops coming to class.

With pomp and circumstance, pope names 23 new cardinals

c. 2007 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ In two days of ceremony and celebration last weekend (Nov. 24-25), Pope Benedict XVI expanded the highest ranks of the Roman Catholic hierarchy by elevating 23 men _ including two Americans _ to the College of Cardinals. The events drew tens of thousands of Catholic faithful from more than a dozen countries to Rome, where they met and congratulated their religious leaders in an atmosphere that combined elaborate Vatican ritual with moments of informality. Benedict bestowed the red hat of office (called a biretta) on the new cardinals at a service, known as a consistory, on Saturday morning inside St.