411: Readers Tell Us About … a Passover spy story, humorous bumper stickers, baseball — and Obama on campus

All this week, we’ve been focusing on good news, good humor—and hope in the midst of troubling times. Once again, thanks to readers like you, we’ve got your feedback to share …


    Rabbi Bob Alper’s Wednesday story about slipping into the Cold War Soviet Union with Jewish supplies and encouragement—a story called, “The Mezuzzah,” clearly was the favorite with readers this week. Here are just a few things we heard:
    Jewish educator and writer Gail Katz: “I loved reading it!!” (The 2 exclamation points were Gail’s and she’s a skeptical reader, so: Thanks Gail for that encouragement.)
    Retired Lutheran pastor Tom Walker called it “the religious equivalent of John Le Carre,” which is high praise, indeed. A whole lot of religiously motivated people moved in and out the Eastern Bloc in those years, helping various faith communities survive. At one point, Tom said he visited several small churches in what was then East Germany. “These were living saints to me,” he said. The photos with Bob Alper’s story helped set the mood. “I remember thinking everything … behind the Iron Curtain was gray, like ‘Wizard of Oz’ in reverse. … When I visited it was winter and it even seemed that way to me in person.”
    Fran McKeen, a writer in California, said, “I’m always amazed, talking to anyone under 30 about McCarthyism or the whole Cold War—that something that big that was almost like the picture frame of the world as we all saw it—is now almost forgotten. … I enjoyed the rabbi’s story.” And, Fran said, “I had never seen a photo like that of Brodsky. I once got to go to a writer’s workshop where Brodsky spoke. He recited in Russian and English. Will never forget him.”

    OUR OTHER major Passover interviews also continue to draw comments. We’ve heard from several readers inquiring about Rabbi Jill Jacobs’ work and book. (Click on this link and you can visit her publisher’s Web site to buy a copy now. And, yes, as we said—we think it can work well for a small group in a Christian church that wants to learn more about the roots of Jewish social-justice teaching.)
    PLUS, our interview with Rabbi Irwin Kula prompted some interest among Christian clergy wondering what a “Pastors Without Borders” might look like. Mike S, who is “still a Catholic,” wrote to remind us that many Catholic priests across the U.S. have tried a program often called, “Theology on Tap.” Typically, the priest invites parishioners to show up at a local pub and talk about issues they encounter in daily life.


    Thursday, we published a story with the sub-head “Humor, Humor Everywhere.
    Bumper stickers—one of the items on that page—caught readers’ eyes.

    Sue Crisoli, a Missouri Mom who likes Rob Bell and considers bumper stickers “fun poetry,” sent along her favorite:
    “If going to church makes you a Christian,
    “Does going to the garage make you a car?”

    Greg Mann, a reader in Virginia, sent along his favorite:
    “Jesus saves!
    “And Esposito scores on the rebound!”
    (Sorry, but as editor of ReadTheSpirit, I’m not much of a sports buff. So, a special, “Thanks, Greg!” He explained the bumper sticker: “Phil Esposito was a high-scoring center for the Boston Bruins in the ’70s. He often camped out right in front of the goal, ala Holmstrom for today’s Red Wings. But he was a perennial 100-point scorer when, before him, 50 points was a good season for a center.”)

    Here’s one that made me smile, recommended by a Facebook reader:
    “That was Zen.
    “This is Tao!”

    We’d love to hear more ideas from you. Drop us an email with your favorite bumper sticker.


WE HAVE RECOMMENDED Kurt Kolka’s “The Cardinal” comic strip a number of times. Kurt is both a journalist and a comic artist and author, whose costumed crime fighter The Cardinal is not “supernatural”—he’s a classic comic hero—but he is spiritually motivated.
    Kurt is also a sports fan and, this week, he published a unique tribute to the passing of a near-legendary pitcher, an eccentric talent called “The Bird.” Kurt remembered that, once up on a time, The Bird crossed over into comic book mythology. He shared the story, and cool imagery, with readers. Check out Kurt’s comic-book tribute to The Bird.
    And stop by Kurt’s Cardinal comic site online, as well.


THANK YOU, Father Tom Reese! He’s the Jesuit scholar, author and journalist (in print, online and often on TV as well) and he forwarded the following commentary to us about President Obama’s visit to Georgetown University. Some of our readers, like “TeacherJo2,” who teaches high school in Indiana, have sent us things about the tempest in a teapot over Obama’s invitation to Notre Dame. “Makes me angry that people are stirring this pot,” TeacherJo2 jotted.
    Tom writes, basically: “Pshaw! Much ado about nothing!” Then, Tom offers some helpful and hopeful analysis of what Obama did at Georgetown. Well worth reading:

    While conservative Catholic pundits were ringing their hands over Notre Dame University’s invitation to President Obama to speak at its commencement, their total irrelevance was apparent when the President popped over to Georgetown University to give a major speech on the economy. Protests were minimal and excitement was palpable.
    So many students wanted to attend the speech that the university had to establish a lottery to determine who got tickets. And then the site crashed when too many students tried to register at the same time. When I gave an extra ticket to a student, she was so excited you would think I had offered her a trip to the moon.
    The enthusiasm and hope of young people for Obama is like nothing we have seen since the days of John Kennedy. And the polls show that his support among the public at large has only increased since his election. This is driving conservative pundits crazy and making them even shriller.
    Yet rather than holding a rally for his fans, President Obama gave a substantive talk on the economy. Step by step he took his audience through the causes of the current crisis, what his administration has done so far and what challenges have to be faced in the future. This was prose, not poetry, as he explained at the beginning of his talk. But it was clear and concise prose explaining the situation better than do the shouting heads who claim to present the news.
    The students sat with rapped attention hopping for an applause line, but there were few. My guess is that most people at home changed the channel. Economics, even from Professor Obama, is still the dismal science. But it is a science we had all better learn. The great communicator Ronald Reagan told us stories that made us feel good about America, but Obama recognizes that America has serious economic problems that have to be understood and addressed. He has become the Economics Professor in Chief.
    He avoided the cheap shot of blaming the previous administration for the crisis. He was not afraid to explain why we cannot let banks fail and credit dry up. He took on his critics from the right and the left, not with sarcasm but with intelligence and honesty. He responded to critics who think he is doing too much and those who think he is doing to little.
    Honest and intelligent people can still disagree with him and on some issues they may be right, but Obama has set a standard for serious political discourse that is not simply ideological appeals to the base. He is demanding that his audience stretch their minds and concentrate. It is nice to have a president who is more interested in educating the public than simply pleasing them. Whether we will rise to the challenge remains to be seen.


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    (Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)

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