Among the many responses that piece stirred up was a reader's comment that I want to unpack because I think it identifies an approach to Christianity that, though admirable in many ways, ultimately misses the mark.
A small c catholic
As a Protestant, I have, as usual, been looking in from outside Catholicism at a running news story -- and finding myself profoundly puzzled.
News of the Vatican's condemnation of the largest organization representing Catholic nuns in the United States -- the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- is not of the same magnitude as the long-running story of sexual abuse and cover-up in the church. But in its own way, it is needlessly damaging the church -- and not just the Catholic church, but the church universal.
It says to non-Christians that women cannot be trusted to think for themselves, to order their lives in ways that make sense, to take reasonable positions on issues, to be autonomous human beings outside the control of males.
I understand that some of these interpretations of what the Catholic church is saying to its women religious may be unfair, but as we all know, perception often trumps reality.
TEL MARESHA, Israel -- The underground cave in which we are digging for archeological treasures here is domed with rock, cool and a bit damp.
Our Jewish-Christian study tour group has stopped at Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park in the Judean lowlands to get a sense of the astonishing layers of history in the Holy Land. And the experts who oversee this ongoing archeological dig are letting us do some real digging.
Using small claw-like tools, we churn up soil that has remained untouched by human hands for at least 2,000 years. As we do so, we watch for pieces of pottery, jewelry or anything else that seems not to be chalky rock or simply soil. The burden of not losing history seems palpable.
I soon find a shard of pottery a couple of inches across, and I put it into one of the "save" buckets. Soon, one of the women in our group begins to unearth what turns out to be a large pot that could hold several gallons of liquid. It's quite an amazing find for an amateur, and the professionals helping us are thrilled.
SAFED, Israel -- Abraham Faraj, once an Israeli soldier who, for a time, was the driver for future prime minister Gen. Ariel Sharon, was selling juice -- orange and pomegranate -- from his little sidewalk stand here in this northern Israeli town.
His mood was good at seeing tourists. He was laughing, pointing this way and that at his wares, even offering samples.
And then the sirens blew.
It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, when at 10 a.m., all of Israel stops in silence for two minutes to remember and honor the six million Jews of Europe who perished at the hands of Hitler's deputized murderers.
Well, not all of Israel stops, it turns out. The ultra-orthodox -- who spend their time praying, studying Torah and not participating much, if at all, in the civic state of Israel because it would mean dividing their loyalties between it and God -- make it a point to ignore, sometimes ostentatiously, the two-minute observance.
On the day this column is to be posted, I am scheduled to be in Israel in the midst of a 10-day Jewish-Christian study tour I'm helping to lead with a rabbi and an Episcopal priest. There are several reasons I'm thrilled to return to the Holy Land. One is that I think we Christians should do whatever we can to help ourselves understand Jesus in his Jewish context. One way to accomplish that is to hang out in Israel for awhile.
Unlike some people I know, our next-door neighbors understand that a world exists beyond Kansas City, Mo., and even beyond the United States.
One way they keep in touch with the global community is by hosting high school foreign exchange students. At the moment, No. 11 is living with them -- a lovely, bright young woman from Germany.
"You know," the woman told me, "about the only exposure to the Bible most of us Catholics get is when we hear the weekly readings at Mass."
Clearly this disappointed her. Clearly she was hungry for more.
It was my duty and honor to provide an hour's worth of "more" for members of an adult education class at her parish one recent Sunday morning. I came away from the experience both exhilarated and sad.
ODESSA, Mo. -- It was sunny and in the mid-60s on a late February day in western Missouri -- in fact, it was Ash Wednesday -- as we stood at the gravesite here in McKendree Cemetery.
At the request of the family of a retired Presbyterian pastor, I conducted the graveside service, and we buried my friend Cecilia's ashes next to the grave of her mother, long ago a Cumberland Presbyterian missionary in Colombia.
When one of my daughters was in grade school, she participated in a summer program at a wonderful place called Missouri Town 1855.
In this living history museum, she spent part of each day for a week living in a 19th-century farming community. Her context there was radically different from the context of where she slept and ate at home. Sometimes it took a bit of time to reorient her at day's end.
The book is about the hospice care program at the Angola State Prison in Louisiana -- a program in which prisoners help other prisoners who are dying.