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Missouri celebrates the first night of Hanukkah

Caitlin Kerfin Dec 17, 2014

Students on the ground floor of the MU Student Center poked their heads up from their books Tuesday to join the group gathering to light the real candles of the over 7-foot tall menorah for the first night of Hanukkah. The Jewish holiday lasts eight days commemorating the rededication of the Temple.

For the first time the MU chancellor, R. Bowen Loftin, was in attendance for this event. Former chancellor Brady Deaton was unable to attend the first year this event was held and was in transition during the second. After a few words, Loftin climbed the ladder to light the first, middle candle of the large menorah holding eight candles with a ninth in the middle. Afterwards, prayers and songs were sung together including the upbeat dreidel tune.

“It’s all about the students,” Loftin said. “I like to show up where they are.” His motto is “go where the students go.”

This is third year Chabad, a Jewish organization for students, is hosting the public lighting event. It changed the location to Tiger Plaza last year but members realized it was too cold to have it outside. The lighting ceremony was changed back to the MU Student Center. The group is Orthodox and separate from the Hillel organization on campus.

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10 Anti-Christmas Christmas Cards if you’re not feeling holly and jolly

Kimberly Winston Dec 16, 2014

(RNS) It’s mid-December, about the time Holiday Hostility Syndrome clicks in. You know the symptoms – a freakish aversion to “Jingle Bells,” a refusal to attend yet another cookie decorating party and frequent expressions of “Is it January yet?”

Holiday greeting cards are expressing HHS with increasing frequency. Here is a selection that manages the line between naughty and nice.

"Lonely." Image by Katri Niemi, via Flickr.

Do They Know It’s Christmas in Ferguson?

Steve Swope Dec 11, 2014

Thirty years ago, a group of pop singers gathered as Band Aid to record “Do They Know It’s Christmas” and raise money for hunger relief in the midst of the Ethiopian famine.

The premise of the song was that Christmas stood for generosity toward others – giving – and without significant help, victims of the famine wouldn’t “know it’s Christmas.”

From a Christian standpoint, Christmas means a lot more than giving, even generous giving to a worthy cause. In the Christian calendar of holy days and seasons, Advent comes first to recall the suffering of God’s people and God’s promise to deliver them.

Christmas, then, is God’s answer to suffering and oppression – not just a spiritual Redeemer carrying us off to heaven, but “the Word became flesh and lived among us.” “Emmanuel” in the carols means God-with-us, not God-far-away-somewhere-else.

And how does God live with us? Jesus demonstrated a life that wasn’t based on power or prestige or profit, but on compassion for the needy, acceptance of all people, and confronting the evils and injustices that destroy relationships and confuse interactions.

Angelina Joli with Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal

Will Angelina Jolie’s ‘Unbroken’ disappoint Christians? It depends

Sarah Pulliam Bailey Dec 10, 2014

Angelina Jolie’s highly anticipated film “Unbroken” features the true story of an Olympian and World War II veteran who was only able to extend forgiveness to his captors after he encountered Christianity.

The problem? The Christianity that is central to Louis Zamperini’s life is almost entirely absent from the film.

That could prove a disappointment to Christian viewers who read the best-seller by Laura Hillenbrand that spawned the film, or who have been courted by the filmmakers to see the film, which opens in theaters on Christmas Day.

The question is whether Hollywood can lure faith-based audiences with a story that’s based on faith but doesn’t pay much attention to it, especially against the blockbuster biblical epic “Exodus,” which opens on Dec. 12.

“Unbroken” features the real-life story of Zamperini, whose plane crashed in the Pacific during World War II. After spending 47 days adrift at sea, he spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war.

After the war, he wrestled with addiction and his marriage nearly ended in divorce. All that changed in 1949, when he attended a Los Angeles crusade by an up-and-coming evangelist named Billy Graham. The two would team up together during later crusades.

“Unfortunately early reports are that #Unbroken gives very short shrift to the faith side of Zamperini’s journey. When will Hollywood learn?” author Eric Metaxas tweeted on Wednesday (Dec. 3).

Actor Jack O’Connell as teenage World War II veteran Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal
Actor Jack O’Connell as teenage World War II veteran Louis Zamperini. Photo courtesy of Universal

The film doesn’t ignore faith, but it includes no mention of Jesus or Graham. Faith is portrayed more generically — unlike the 2010 book by Hillenbrand (she also wrote the best-selling “Seabiscuit”), which was praised by Christian readers for capturing the drama of Zamperini’s conversion.

Billy Graham’s fiery preaching and celebrity converts such as war hero Louis Zamperini at the 1949 Los Angeles evangelism campaign, propelled Graham to national attention. Photo courtesy of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Billy Graham, Louis Zamperini and the two nights in 1949 that changed their lives

Cathy Lynn Grossman Dec 9, 2014

(RNS) Two October evenings in 1949 brought together an alcoholic war hero and a fiery young evangelist. From then on, neither would be the same.

The preaching in that rented circus tent in Los Angeles changed Louis Zamperini, then 32 — who put away the bottle forever and devoted the rest of his life to Christian testimony and good works.

And those Los Angeles nights also changed the preacher, Billy Graham, and the future course of American evangelicalism as well. In Graham’s autobiography, “Just As I Am,” he calls that chapter of his life “Watershed.”

On Christmas Day, a movie directed by Angelina Jolie about Zamperini’s extraordinary survival amid the horrors of Japanese POW camps opens in theaters. “Unbroken,” is based on the award-winning book by Laura Hillenbrand.

The film version of “Unbroken, however, ends before he reaches Graham’s tent revival, the climactic chapter of Hillenbrand’s best-seller.

Yet it was this eight-week sin-slaying marathon where the story of “Billy Graham as an icon begins,” said Duke Divinity School historian Grant Wacker. He’s the author of “America’s Pastor: Billy Graham and the Shaping of a Nation,” published just before Graham’s 96th birthday last month.

“There were white evangelicals in the room in Ferguson who were weeping when the Garner decision came down,” said the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of the Washington-based social justice group, Sojourners.

After Ferguson and Eric Garner decisions, white Christians say it’s time to stand with blacks

Adelle M. Banks Dec 8, 2014

“African-American brothers and sisters, especially brothers, in this country are more likely to be arrested, more likely to be executed, more likely to be killed.”

It’s the kind of statement that’s often cited by black clergy and civil rights activists. But hours after a grand jury on Wednesday (Dec. 3) chose not to indict the New York City police officer who put Eric Garner into a fatal choke hold on Staten Island, those words came from none other than white evangelical leader Russell Moore.

With back-to-back grand jury decisions that white police officers will not face charges in the deaths of unarmed black men, white Christians, including evangelicals, have grown more vocal in urging predominantly white churches to no longer turn a blind eye to injustice and to bridge the country’s racial divides.

“It’s time for us in Christian churches to not just talk about the gospel but live out the gospel by tearing down these dividing walls not only by learning and listening to one another but also by standing up and speaking out for one another,” said Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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Challenging the tampon tree: Christian college students resisting confrontation evangelists

Anna Sutterer Dec 4, 2014

College campuses frequently host evangelist speakers attempting to convince students of the Gospel truth and Biblical teachings. Not so often is this message accompanied with props like damning shouts and a tampon tree, a metal pole with dangling red-stained feminine products illustrating the disgusting nature of sin, however. But Brother Jed Smock, the founder of Campus Ministry USA, is not your average campus evangelist.

A frequent face at campuses across the country, including University of Missouri and University of Kansas, Smock’s controversial approach is drawing increasing reproach from Christians on these campuses.

“As a Christian, I bear the same title as those who are preaching hate in the plaza,” said Nate Lake, sophomore at Colorado State University. Lake has publicly denounced the approach of Smock in the CSU newspaper, Collegian. “Therefore, I must take responsibility for the actions of those who bear the same title as me. People have asked me why I would apologize for the actions of others, for things I didn’t do, but that’s essentially what Jesus did on the cross. It broke my heart that people would possibly form their opinion and view of Christianity from these Pharisees, and I simply could not sit still and not say something about it.”

Smock is an infamous character at Speakers Circle, one of Columbia’s most weathered centers of religious discussion. He travels with wife Cindy to college campuses nationally and together they engage in Biblical teachings often described by audience members as aggressive and vicious. As their performances often motivate commotion and confusion, a movement of Christian students abroad has arisen in an attempt to extinguish hostility, expressing a more amiable Gospel message.