Friday, December 12, 2014

Moses in 3-D -- special effects drown out theology, drama

Over the years, some clergy have confided to me that there are passages of the Bible they find difficult to accept, much less preach about.

To our modern ears, for example, some of what Paul wrote in the letters that became part of the New Testament sound sexist (“Wives, be submissive to your husbands”) or blind to systemic evil (“Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly”).

Then there are the stories in the Hebrew Bible where an angry God decides to punish or destroy, with fanfare, those who sin or stand in the way of God’s will.

You could argue that some evil people deserved to feel God’s wrath. But, as is the case with wars, a lot of innocent people who got in the way suffered, too. In Genesis, the Almighty decides to flood the world and, in Exodus, God inflicts plagues on Egyptians, including death to their firstborn children.

And that brings me to Hollywood, where biblical epics are back in style.

Some of the same passages considered difficult, even troubling, by those in the pulpit are irresistible to filmmakers with millions to spend on expensive actors and eye-popping special effects.

In this year’s “Noah,” starring Russell Crowe, director Darren Aronofsky drowns most of humanity, with hair-raising scenes of people crying in terror as the ground below them is rapidly submerged.

And in “Exodus: Gods and Kings” – now in a theater near you – I watched with awe through my 3-D glasses as director Ridley Scott and his CGI team waged apocalyptic war on the Egyptians.

Swarms of locusts rain down on Pharaoh and his subjects; frogs galore hop into their homes, even into their beds; monster-size crocodiles turn the Nile red with blood from all their human food; and, in a climax that’s more visually arresting than suspenseful, the waves of the Red Sea come crashing down on the Egyptian soldiers, sending them, their horses and their chariots into the deep.

Scott, the Brit who gave us the Oscar-winning “Gladiator,” must have felt a little like You-Know-Who as he presided over all this computer-generated doom and destruction.

The film purports to tell the story of how a faithful God sent Moses to lead the Hebrews out of slavery in Egypt. Actor Christian Bale, who was perfect as Batman, is an OK Moses. And there are some intriguing scenes in which Moses, a reluctant hero, is prodded by a hyper-articulate boy who is supposed to be either God or God’s messenger.

But the drama and most of the theology are, yes, drowned out by the real reason for this 3-D movie: The “oohs” and “ahhs” from the audience every time the director commands “Action!”

-- Tim Funk

Friday, December 5, 2014

In increasingly diverse Charlotte, God goes by many names

Two newsy items I came across recently got me wondering: In how many languages do people in Charlotte worship God these days?

I counted at least 20 – not a surprise when you consider how diverse our faith community has become. And I bet some of you could add to my list. (And hopefully will – see below.)

Those two newsy items:

  • At 7 p.m. on Thursday (Dec. 11),  thousands of Spanish-speaking Catholics are expected to converge on Bojangles Coliseum, 2700 E. Independence Blvd., for the annual celebration of the feast day of Our Lady of Guadalupe – or “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe.”

  • A Polish-language Mass will be celebrated at 3 p.m. on Dec. 21 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway.

To be sure, most local houses of worship still send their prayers up to “God.”

But, all over town, the Supreme Being is increasingly invoked by other names: “Dios” (in Spanish); “Gott” (German); “Elohim” and “Adonai” (Hebrew); “Allah” (Arabic); “Deus” (Latin); “Bóg” (Polish); “Theos” (Greek); “Dieu” (French); and many others.

I consulted a few folks in town who chart Charlotte’s growing diversity – including historian Tom Hanchett of the Levine Museum of the New South – and came up with a list of the languages of worship in the Charlotte area:

  • The Catholic Diocese has parishes where some or all of the Masses are in Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean and Latin. A few parishes periodically host Masses in other languages, including Polish and Tagalog (from the Philippines).

  • Orthodox Christian churches have services that are partly or totally said in Greek, Russian, Serbian, Armenian and Arabic.

  • The Jewish synagogues include prayers in Hebrew.

  • Muslims attending masjids, or mosques, are led in prayer in Arabic.

  • Various Protestant denominations – Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist – have immigrant congregations that worship in German, Khmer (the language of Cambodia), Korean, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Tagalog.

  • Buddhist temples are the spiritual homes to immigrant communities that speak Chinese, Lao (from Laos), Vietnamese and Khmer.

  • The sacred language at the Hindu temples is Sanskrit.

  • Haitian churches have services in French.

  • Immigrant churches with congregations from African countries worship in such indigenous language groups as Akan (from Ghana) and Amharic (from Ethiopia).

OK, that’s our list. What languages have we left out? Email them (and any related houses of worship) to:

-- Tim Funk

Friday, November 28, 2014

Services for those who suffer during the holidays

The cues to turn that frown into a smile are nonstop: “Merry Christmas!” “Happy Hanukkah!” “Ho-Ho-Ho!”

For many, though, the holidays can be a dispiriting time. Maybe they – maybe you – battle loneliness or depression, have lost a job or a loved one.

Faced with all the parties and the gifts and the caroling, those suffering often “wish the world would stop being so happy and recognize that there are brothers and sisters who are in pain,” says the Rev. Gary Butterworth, rector at All Saints Episcopal Church in Gastonia.

So Butterworth’s church is inviting those coping with sorrow, loss, pain and isolation to attend a “Blue Service” on Dec. 19.

It’s the third year All Saints has held this gathering, which features an inclusive liturgy.

“It’s the one time of the year that we get people of all faiths and denominations as well as the un-churched,” he says. “And there are lots of tears.”

Those who attend are given strips of cloth and a Sharpie pen. They’re invited to write down their pains, struggles, broken relationships, the names of those they’re remembering. During the service, they are asked to bring those strips to the Christmas manger “and give them to Jesus,” Butterworth says. The strips remain in the manger until the feast of the Epiphany in January.

In his past Blue Service sermons – he calls them meditations – Butterworth has acknowledged the pain of those who have come and then spoken of Scripture as “God’s love story with humanity, including lots of struggle, pain and joy.”

“We honor and affirm where they are,” he says, and then offer them this message: “There is hope.”

The 45-minute service is 7 p.m. at All Saints, 1201 S. New Hope Road, Gastonia.

 Details here. You can also call 704-864-7201.

Remembering children

The Charlotte chapter of the Compassionate Friends will be there next month for those bearing a special pain: the loss of a child.

Parents, family and friends are invited to a candlelight service at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at St. Matthew Catholic Church, 8015 Ballantyne Commons Parkway. It will held in the small chapel on the Rea Road entrance.

Names of the children being remembered will be read. Those who come are invited to bring a picture.

Details: 704-315-6913 or email

-- Tim Funk

Monday, November 24, 2014

Looking for uplift? Attend Tuesday's interfaith Thanksgiving service

If you’re distressed, as I am, by all the acrimony at home and abroad, I have a suggestion that could bring you some peace and uplift.

Show up Tuesday night (Nov. 25) at Mecklenburg Ministries’ 39th annual citywide interfaith Thanksgiving service.

You’ll find people of various races, cultural backgrounds and faith traditions praying and singing together – not judging and bad-mouthing each other.

The event will start at 7 p.m. at The Park Church, 6029 Beatties Ford Road. Get there early – it’s one of the best-attended events in Charlotte. (Last year, more than 1,000 people were there.)

In fact, come at 6:30 p.m. for the musical prelude.

As always, the night’s accent will be on gratitude. Delivering that message from the pulpit will be a trio of women clergy: Rabbi Judy Schindler of Temple Beth El, the Rev. Ophelia Garmon-Brown, M.D., of Novant Health, and the Rev. Christy Snow of the Spiritual Living Center of Charlotte. The title of their talk: “Committed to Love Amidst Paradox.”

Among the other speakers: Bishop Claude Alexander, who pastors The Park, and Imam John Ramadan of Masjid Ar-Razzaq. Ramadan also chairs the board of the sponsoring Mecklenburg Ministries, an interfaith group with about 100 member congregations.

The service will open with a Hindu Thanksgiving ritual prayer and include readings from the sacred texts of various religions. Sharing a story for the children will be the Rev. Sofia McGuire of Sufi Order International.

There will also be glorious music, led by 200-plus singers and musicians from the Interfaith Adult and Children’s Choirs and from the Queen City Ringers, the Gaston Choral Society, The Park Choir, and the Friendship Missionary Baptist Church Choir.

One last thing: If you’re coming, bring some canned goods to benefit Loaves & Fishes, which feeds our hungry brothers and sisters during the holidays and all year round.

More details:; 704-565-5455.

Also for your calendar ...

Here are some other upcoming holiday events:

  • Dec. 5: Franklin Graham and others from Samaritan’s Purse will lead a celebration of the 2.4 million shoe box gifts prepared in Charlotte for shipment to kids all over the world. 10:30 a.m. at the Operation Christmas Child Processing Center, 7100 Forest Point Blvd.

  • Dec. 12-13: The Choir School at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church will present its popular Christmas concerts. 7:30 p.m. each night in the church sanctuary, 115 W. Seventh St. uptown.

  • Dec. 16-17: The Congregation of Ohr HaTorah will mark the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah with two menorah lightings. 5 p.m. Dec. 16 at SouthPark Mall and 5:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at Trade and Tryon uptown.

--Tim Funk

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Days before death, Sunday school teacher got to see her book published

For more than 50 years, Edith Collins taught young children at Myers Park Baptist Church.

And during those decades of Sunday school and Through-the-Week school, Collins filed away stories about these 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds whose first and maybe best memories of the Charlotte church were of gentle “Miss E.”

Collins’ dream was to fill a book with these stories.

About Allison, the precocious little girl who responded to a recording of “Jonathan Livingston Seagull” by spreading her arms and “flying” around the room to the rhythm of the music.

About Adam, who riveted the class during Circle Time one Sunday morning with his report on a trip to the doctor and how the M.D. had said that his brain was boiling. (Translation: He probably had a high fever).

And about how, during the reading of “Jack be nimble ...,” one little boy taught the other children compassion by taking the hand of Judy, who had cerebral palsy, and helping her jump over the imaginary candlestick.

This dream-of-a-book was finally published this year, in April, as Collins, 87, struggled with illness.

Because of her declining health, her family and friends at Myers Park Baptist got the publisher, Lorimer Press in Davidson, to rush the first copy off the press.

When “Sprouting Acorns” by Edith Collins was presented to the author, “she just beamed and held the book,” says Myers Park Baptist member Ed Williams. “You could see the joy in her face.”

Four days later, Collins died.

But at 7 p.m. Thursday (Nov. 20) at Park Road Books, members of Collins’ church will gather to read from her book.

Among the scheduled readers: Bill Walker, retired WSOC-TV anchor; the Rev. Robin Coira, executive minister and the first woman ordained by Myers Park Baptist; poet-historian Mary Kratt; poet Kathie Collins; writer Lisa Rubenson; lawyer Ray Owens, the son of former Myers Park Baptist pastor Gene Owens; and Williams, former editorial page editor at the Observer.

They’ve now published enough copies of “Sprouting Acorns” to sell, for $12.99, at Park Road Books, 4139 Park Road, and at Myers Park Baptist, 1900 Queens Road.

Teacher Collins dreamed up that title because she considered her work to be turning tiny acorns into great oaks – or “sprouting children,” as she explains in the introduction.

“She just loved children,” Coira says. “And she had a magical quality that drew the children to her.”

The book’s stories, written with grace and wisdom and featuring the kids’ charming drawings of cats and birds and space rockets, offer a master class in how to deal with children, featuring an ever-curious and always-encouraging Edith Collins.

-- Tim Funk

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Anonymous donor honors Pope Francis with Habitat house in Huntersville

Today (Oct. 18) at 10:30 a.m., Our Towns Habitat for Humanity will raise the walls on The Pope Francis House at 11908 Titan Ave. in Huntersville.

An anonymous donor wanted to honor the pope with a house built for a family in need.

Volunteer and additional monetary support is being provided by two Catholic parishes – St. Therese in Mooresville and St. Mark in Huntersville – as well as the Davidson College Habitat chapter and Catholic Campus Ministries.

The donor, according to Habitat for Humanity, wanted to salute the pope for his commitment to social justice, support Habitat and provide a “celebratory opportunity” for Catholic and non-Catholic volunteers.

You can volunteer here.

-- Tim Funk 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Muslim and Jewish women to gather to share stories and traditions

Need a break from all the dispiriting headlines about Ebola, ISIS and nasty election-year TV ads?

Check out this news item: Muslim Women of the Carolinas is inviting local Jewish and Muslim women to gather later this month for “Tea for Two.”

“There’s not very many opportunities for Muslims and Jews to meet,” said Rose Hamid, president of the Muslim Women’s group. “I wanted to create some space to just build connections, ask questions of each other and ease fears.”

The plan is for the women to share stories and traditions about their separate religious holidays – this month, the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur and the Muslim holiday of Eid Al Adha fell on the same day.

There will be desserts and, as the event's name promises, tea --several types of tea, in fact. “Because Muslims come from all over the world, teas are a big part of their cultures,” Hamid said.

The event is 3-5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 26, at the Islamic Community of Bosniaks (they’re from Bosnia), 6200 Wilora Lake Road in east Charlotte.

Space is limited and organizers want a good mix. So, if you’re a Jewish or Muslim woman and want to go, RSVP here

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Pope Francis sends greetings to Charlotte

Every week, it seems, another group holds its national convention in Charlotte.

But how many of them get a video greeting from Pope Francis?

Just one that we know of: This month’s meeting of Catholic Charities USA – professionals and volunteers from dioceses around the country who work to reduce poverty.

“My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,” the pope, speaking in Spanish, began his video message. “I send you my warmest greetings of peace and abundant joy as you gather together in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Or “Carolina del Norte” – North Carolina in Spanish.

The pope spoke for more than 12 minutes and stressed, as he has repeatedly in his papacy, the need to care for the poor.

“They will precede us into the Kingdom of Heaven, they will open the gates for us,” he said. “We are called to be a church, a people of and for the poor.”

He signed off with a blessing and this humble plea: “I also ask you to pray for me because I need it.”

Catholic Charities USA met in Charlotte Oct. 4-7.

(Video courtesy of Catholic Charities Diocese of Charlotte.)

-- Tim Funk

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Q&A: Theologian coming to Charlotte to talk about treasures of darkness

Barbara Brown Taylor -- theologian, Episcopal priest, college professor -- lives on a organic vegetable farm in the Georgia foothills of the Appalachians.

It’s a perfect place to experience the natural seesaw between the light and the dark– and to ponder the metaphorical and theological aspects of both. Taylor, 63, writes about these things in her latest book, “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” which was the subject of a Time magazine cover story this year.

Taylor, named one of the 12 most effective preachers in the English-speaking world by Baylor University, will speak this weekend at Charlotte’s Myers Park Baptist Church. The Observer talked with her Tuesday. Here’s the full transcript.

Q. In your writings, you have pointed out that the word “darkness” has become shorthand for every bad thing out there. But you also point out that many of the most important stories in the Bible occurred in the dark. Give me one or two. And what does that say about God’s supposed preference for the light?

A. The one I’m working on right this minute is Jacob wrestling an angel by the River Jabbok.  Not in the middle of the night, but all night long. And it changes his life. God gives him a wound and a blessing and a new name.

I don’t know anything about God’s preference . . .

Q. I'm referring to God saying in Genesis, “Let there be light.” And Christians like to talk about Jesus as the Light.

A. Yeah, that’s cause we like light. We want God to be the way we like. But Exodus 19 has God saying to Moses, “I will come to you in a dark cloud.” So God doesn’t seem beholden to our fondness for light. I think anyone who professes faith in one God professes faith in a God of the dark and the light, of the night and the day, who put the sun and the moon in the sky. So a lot of what I’m up to in my writing and in my talks in Charlotte this weekend is doing my best to retrieve the wholeness of the vision of God and how God works.

Q. Clearly, many churches and religious books today are selling certainty and a sunny spirituality. But there is this rich contemplative tradition in Christianity that says the darkness is where the soul will find God. Is that how you see darkness as well?

A. Yes, but let’s keep both in there. Because what I find is that (because) I travel with a book called “Learning to Walk in the Dark,” people think I’m setting up a new opposition. I’m keeping the same old battle between dark and light; I’m just switching sides. And I don’t want to be in a battle at all. I want to talk about the cloud of unknowing and the drive to know God. I want to talk about the dark night of the soul. And I want to talk about the bright light in the morning and embrace all of those as parts of our whole life. I’ll talk about learning to walk in the dark as learning to walk the way of unknowing, a sacred way of unknowing, but there’s a sacred way of knowing as well. I’m trying hard not to play into a new opposition, but to do my best to hang on to the full package.

Q. How does living on a farm shape your spirituality and your befriending of the darkness?

A. I think there’s a lot less protection here from the elements. From darkness. From hawks that swoop down out of the sky and take your favorite chicken. And a horse that falls in a hole and breaks its leg. It’s not more exposing than living in a battlefield or a refugee camp, but there are certainly ways that living on a farm leaves me open to a lot more grief and joy than living a more protected city life.

Q. We live in polarized times where everybody wants to cloak their side in the light and cast those on the other side as purveyors of darkness. Is this the way to truth or just to more rancor?

A. We all like to be right, don’t we? If we want to be right, we’ll go to the biggest symbols and totems for rightness we can find – light and sun and God and nation. It’s real hard to be a human being who wants to be right without all those things. So, sure, I think we recruit them for our side and then, if anything, what we’re living through now is the consequences of that. We’re mired in opposition.

Q. You live on a farm and teach at small Piedmont College. Yet this year Time magazine turned its national spotlight on you and your work. Does that feel like being bathed in the light or blinded by the light?

A. Yeah, blinded by the light is a good metaphor. I live here on purpose, I teach at Piedmont on purpose. And as grateful as I am for Time’s (exposure), I like living a human-size life. So I’m happy for the attention and really happy that people have a short attention span.

Want to go?

Barbara Brown Taylor will speak this weekend (Oct. 17-19) at Myers Park Baptist Church, 1900 Queens Road. There's limited space for her $60 Saturday (Oct. 18) workshop on “Lunar Spirituality” (call church phone number below). She’ll also be speaking:

-- Friday (Oct. 17) at 7 p.m. in the sanctuary. Topic: “The Wedding of Heaven and Earth.” Will include a Q&A. Free.

-- Sunday (Oct. 19) at 9:30 a.m. (free) in Heaton Hall and at the 11 a.m. service in the sanctuary. Sermon topic: “The Treasures of Darkness.”

Details:; 704-334-7232, ext. 15.

-- Tim Funk

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Park's Bishop Alexander to preach from third campus

Starting Sunday (Oct. 5),  The Park Church will move its Sunday morning worship headquarters to what used to be the Charlotte Merchandise Mart off Independence Boulevard.

The megachurch pastored by Bishop Claude Alexander bought the 23-acre site in 2006 for $11 million.

Up to now, Alexander has done his Sunday morning preaching in The Park’s church on Beatties Ford Road or at its satellite campus in Pineville. For 10 years -- August 2004 to August 2014 -- he’s even appeared live at both, being driven back and forth to the two locations.

But from now on, the bishop will be presiding during the 8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services at the Independence campus. Both will be simulcast to the other two sites.

Got that?

So, to see Bishop Alexander preaching live (and he’s one of the best in the pulpit), show up at The Park Expo and Convention Center (the former Merchandise Mart) at 800 Briar Creek Road (its official address).

But you can also catch him on screen during the same times (8:45 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. Sundays) at 6029 Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte and 13733 Lancaster Highway in Pineville.

Multisite simulcasting has become routine for many megachurches, including Elevation, Forest Hill and Mecklenburg Community churches in the Charlotte area.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, October 3, 2014

Local Race for Cure sponsor apologizes to Charlotte's Jewish community

Don’t look for a big Jewish turnout at the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure on Saturday (Oct. 4).

The reason: The annual race to raise funds for breast cancer research is being held this year on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement and one of the most sacred days on the Jewish calendar.

That’s upset some, who have pointed out that the race’s namesake, Susan G. Komen, was herself Jewish.

Komen Charlotte has reached out to the city’s Jewish temples with an apology, saying the conflict was unintentional.

“We have an annual tradition of having the (race) on the first Saturday in October,” reads its message, which appeared this week in the Temple Beth El bulletin. “By the time we realized that due to the changing nature of the Jewish calendar, both Yom Kippur and our race fell on the same day, it was too late to attempt to move the race. We are incredibly sorry that so many of our friends and supporters could not be with us.”

One Charlottean who will miss the race: Moira Quinn, a breast cancer survivor who’s past president of Temple Beth El and a member of the Komen Charlotte Survivor Outreach Committee.

“It was too late to change (the race) without incurring expenses that I personally, as a Jewish survivor, found to be unacceptable,” she said. “I want every penny to be spent on research and survivor support, not costs to move a race.”

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Rev. Steve Eason: Time to leave, teach other clergy what he's learned in Charlotte

Scandal. Burnout. Illness. Division.

Those are the reasons you hear most these days when a senior pastor exits a big church before reaching retirement age.

But the Rev. Steve Eason says his decision to leave Myers Park Presbyterian Church next April is a “good news story.”

“No hidden agenda,” Eason, 60, told me after emailing his decision to the church’s 4,700 members this week. “Nothing is wrong here at the church. It’s not a story of burnout. This change is coming out of a position of strength and gratitude.”

After 12 years of leading one of Charlotte’s most prominent – and most generous – churches, Eason said he’s being called to take what he’s learned and share it with other clergy.

As director of consulting services with Atlanta-based Macedonian Ministries, he’ll teach, coach and organize workshops for ministers of various denominations.

It’s a group that desperately needs more support in an age when men and women of the cloth are called on to be there 24/7 for others.

“We’re in a situation where clergy are dropping out of this profession at an alarming rate,” Eason said. “Or not going into it at all.”

So Eason will try to pass along to his next flock – a group ranging from Catholic priests to Pentecostal preachers – what he’s learned about preaching, empowering lay people and more.

He’ll take his leave from a Charlotte house of worship that’s now the biggest Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) church in North Carolina and the fourth largest in the country. 

It’s one that’s blessed with enviable demographics: The largest age group at Myers Park Presbyterian, Eason said, is those between 30 and 40. That means young families with kids – a good predictor of growth into the future.

And it has deep pockets: members include developer Johnny Harris, former Bank of America CFO (and now top Carlyle Group executive) Jim Hance, and the Belks, the department store family.

But it’s also a church that gives in a big way: Under Eason’s leadership, it completed a $30 million capital campaign, then spent $11 million on everything from affordable housing in Grier Heights, a low-income neighborhood in Charlotte, to clean water projects in Malawi and the Congo.

“It’s a great witness for a church to make in this culture,” Eason said. “We didn’t raise that to spend it all on ourselves. I’m proud how mission-minded this church is.”

Eason also likes how Myers Park Presbyterian has weathered the intra-denominational battle over ordaining gays and lesbians – a change that prompted some big conservative churches to leave the PC (USA).

“We have conservatives, moderates and liberals, and they all end up together at the Communion table,” he said of his Charlotte church. “We disagree on things, but we don’t fragment and fight. … My job has been to not polarize the congregation.”

Eason will be around for seven more months, long enough, he said, to pastor his Charlotte flock through one more Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter.

But the grieving has begun. Eason said he’s already gotten “a flood of affirming emails.”

The good feelings are mutual. “You have taught me so much,” Eason told members, “that I now can share with others.”

I’ll leave the last words to evangelist-author Leighton Ford, who’s been attending Myers Park Presbyterian with his wife, Jean (Billy Graham’s sister) for 20-plus years.

“He’s going to be terribly missed,” Ford said. “He’s loved. And the gift he’s given us – the clear, compelling preaching of Christ – has drawn in so many people.”

-- Tim Funk

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Q&A: Jason Alexander talks 'Seinfeld,' Judaism, Charlotte, and more

He’s a Tony-winning song-and-dance man, but Jason Alexander’s main claim to fame is that he played George Costanza, Jerry Seinfeld’s balding buddy – and a poster boy for underachievers – on “Seinfeld” (1989-98). The classic TV sitcom about “nothing” also starred Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine and Michael Richards as the manic Kramer.

Alexander, born 55 years ago Tuesday (Sept. 23) as Jay Scott Greenspan, will perform at 7 p.m. Sunday (Sept. 21) at uptown’s Knight Theater. Although the show is a fundraiser for Temple Beth El and Temple Israel, two Charlotte synagogues, and the Levine Jewish Community Center, it’s open to the public.

Alexander talked this week to the Observer about a range of subjects: his one-man show, his Jewish upbringing, his last time in Charlotte, poker, magic, TV, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and, of course, “Seinfeld.”

Here's the full transcript.

Q. You're bringing your one-man show to town this weekend to help Charlotte's Jewish community. Is this something you do around the country or is this a first-time thing?

A. You mean doing my show or helping Jews? (Chuckles).

Q. Well, let's take them one at a time.

A. I tend to do both, to tell you the truth. The show is a stand-up comedy/variety show that I've been doing for about a year and a half all over the place. And a lot of the time it is for things just like this -- either corporate events or organizations doing big fundraisers at a theater.

Q. It's being advertised as "An Evening with Jason Alexander . . . And His Hair." 

A. Indeed.

Q. It won't be that toupee that Elaine ripped off George's head in "Seinfeld," will it?

A. No, Elaine threw that out the window, I'm afraid. There was no recovering it.

Q. Can you give us a hint on how the hair will factor in the show?

A. You'll have to come. I mean, I can't give away the goods in the store. If you look at the poster for the show, you'll see what the hair looks like. It's rather, I've been told, dashing. It's completely bogus. Dashing and bogus, all in the same breath.

Q. You grew up in a Jewish household in New Jersey. I guess you had a bar mitzvah?

A. Yeah.

Q. Did you family take you to temple often? Were you Reform? Conservative? Orthodox?

A. We had an interesting relationship with Judaism. My parents were older than most of my peers' (parents). So they came up in the generation where households were pretty observant. Certainly culturally. The Sabbath was a factor in their lives. It was normal for them to go to Schul (synagogue).

By the time I came along, a lot of it was no longer practical for them. But they kind of went through the motions for their parents, more or less. There was a very strong cultural feeling in my family growing up -- you know, a lot of pride being Jewish, a lot of pride in the history and culture of the Jewish people. There was not a strong religious feeling. We kept a kosher house until after my bar mitzvah.

I hated Hebrew school, as most Jewish boys do. It did not speak to me. The metaphor I always use for the experience is: "They taught me to read Hebrew, but not to understand it." So, at the perfect time, I could have actually learned this language and have it become a part of my life. Instead, that opportunity was wasted for appearances, to be able to prepare me for my bar mitzvah. It was a conservative synagogue.

My bar mitzvah was, I think, more demanding than the average of what I see nowadays. And once it was over, I basically went to my folks and went, "I'm out. I'm done." I pointed out to them that, as far as I knew, the Torah did not say you could not eat the flesh of the pig and shellfish except in a Chinese restaurant, which is how we were practicing the (Jewish dietary) law.

So, at that time, my parents basically let go even of the kosher house. We weren't really observing the Sabbath. I did not go to temple every weekend. And I sort of moved away from the religious aspect of Judaism as a teenager. I put my sons through Hebrew school and they were both bar mitzvahed -- again, more for my parents. And I said to my boys as I did it, "The chain breaks with you. If you have a feeling for this and you'd like to continue the tradition, that's great. If you don't, do not do it for me."

My spirituality is certainly informed by Judaism. Of all the religions I'm aware of, I think Judaism is probably the finest. I just don't believe in organized religion. So that aspect of being a Jew doesn't particularly speak to me. Ironic, since I am coming to North Carolina in support of two very well established synagogues. I support religious Jewish communities. I think it's great. I think the people who benefit from it, I think that's great. And I think the good works that synagogues and Jewish religious communities are able to do, I think are fantastic. But the idea of being a congregant does not speak to me. That's kind of the nutshell of me and Judaism.

Q. I did notice that you gave your sons Biblical names. Gabriel and Noah, right?

A. That's only because my real name is Greenspan. So when Gabe was born, we were looking for anything that sounded good with Greenspan. And Gabe sounded pretty good. And then Gabe actually named his brother. I think his thinking was that, if the baby cries, I could put all my stuffed animals in his crib and sing the Arky Arky Noah song and maybe he won't cry. And we went, "Ah, that's as good a reason as any," (chuckles) so  we named our younger son Noah because of that.

Q. You were in the movie, "Shallow Hal," which was filmed in Charlotte, so you have been here before. Any memories? It's a much cooler town now than it back then (in 2001).

A. Oh really? It was a pretty cool town then. I actually loved being in Charlotte. We had our weekends free and I will not remember the name of the sort of gorgeous giant lake that's not far from town. But I used to go out there with a lot of members of the crew and some of the cast. Every weekend, we'd rent jet skis and WaveRunners and we'd go out on the lake and it was gorgeous.

I got to go to some Hornet games. And Poison was playing in town when I was there (laughs) and I actually hung out with those guys. The whole Charlotte experience while making that film was really terrific.

Q. Well, you know we hosted the Democratic National Convention here in 2012 and Newman -- Wayne Knight -- came. And Jerry Seinfeld was just here with his stand-up act.

A. He's very good, that Jerry Seinfeld. He might work.

Q. My readers will kill me if I don't get a few "Seinfeld" questions in.

A. Sure.

Q. You stopped filming "Seinfeld" back in 1998. Now, 16 years later, the reruns are still all over the TV. Any theories about why it's still going strong? It's part of American cultural history rather than just a TV show.

A. I know. You know, if we really understood why it is so enduring, we could probably do it again. I think all of us are relatively surprised at the size of the success of the show. Certainly when we were doing it, we couldn't believe it because we started on nobody's radar. I mean, we were barely on the air when we began. And we just kept doing what we wanted to do. And then it caught on in an unimaginable way.

And it continues to create new audiences. My older son just graduated from college, my younger one has just begun college, and it's a huge phenomenon at colleges. It's a huge show around the world in places I would never have imagined it being seen or being successful. We don't know why.

I guess, at the end of the day, all we cared about when we made the show was: "Is it funny?" We didn't really focus on character integrity or learning or growing or hugging or any of that stuff. Is it funny? And oftentimes, what was funny in one generation doesn't translate to the next. But for whatever reasons I can't understand, "Seinfeld" continues to be experienced as a very funny show from generation to generation. I assume eventually that will not be true. But, for right now, it continues to be a phenomenon.

Q. Do you watch it and, if you do, are you able to laugh at the characters? Or do you just remember the making of it?

A. I never sit down to watch it. There are times when I'm flipping channels and I come on an episode and I'll sit and watch it out. What's amazing is that I don't remember even making most of them. People come up to me all the time and go, "Remember when you did such and such?" And I look at them with my jaw agape, and go, "Did I do that?" Whenever I watch it, I am reminded of the one defining truth of those years, which was: We were having a blast. 

Q. It looked like it.

A. We really enjoyed working together. We loved doing the show. And I think that is clear in every frame of every episode, that these four idiots are having a good time.

Q. How did you see George? As a lovable loser? Or a not-so-lovable loser? What's your take on him?

A. (Chuckles). You know, very quickly in the series, I understood -- not initially, but very quickly -- that George was an alter ego for (the show's co-creator/co-writer) Larry David. And I am incredibly fond of Larry David, with all his quirks and eccentricities. I'm completely charmed by the guy. And Larry used George to kind of explore -- most of the things that happened to George on the show happened to Larry in real life. And it was his way of doing what he wanted to do at the time or saying what he wanted to say at the time.

Q. Including the masturbation contest, right?

A. Yeah, Larry was really in that. That was a real thing. So, because of my affection for Larry, I don't see George as despicable as many could legitimately see him being. Was he a loser? Yes, if you think, well, he couldn't sustain a relationship, he rarely could sustain a job. He had many character quirks that would be considered undesirable (chuckles) or unappealing or unethical. But he was aware of it and somehow he was able to persevere through all of it. So, in that way, I kind of admire the little guy.

You know, he's caught having sex with a cleaning woman in his office. And when he's called out on the carpet for it, he actually comes up with an excuse like "Is that wrong? Should I not have done that?" (Laughs). I mean, that's a brilliant way to attempt to escape the responsibility of that indiscretion. So I adore the character and, apparently, the vast majority of the audience seems to.

Q. I saw you on Charlie Rose's show talking about "Seinfeld" and you seemed incredibly different than George. How do you figure out how to play someone who's not like you? Was it on the page?

A. First of all, yes, so much of George is on the page. The page gives you: what is he doing? What is he saying? What is his response? The stuff that I brought to the character was a keen ability to observe and distill. Most of my work as an actor has been character work and I have always been a student of human behavior. I love watching people. I have notebooks full of observations about different people -- how they move, how they talk, how they communicate or try not to communicate.

If you go back and look at the early episodes, my role model was Woody Allen. And I was really doing a fairly flagrant Woody Allen imitation for the first half dozen to 10 episodes. Once I understood it was Larry, I really began to observe Larry as best I could and then bring elements of some really funny guys that I have seen over the years that you've seen, too. There's a little bit of Jackie Gleason in George, there's a little bit of Phil Silvers in George. There's a little bit of Fred Flintstone in George.

My sense of humor is a compilation of lots and lots and lots and lots of funny people that I've been exposed to. When my career started bending towards comedy -- because it was not what I set out to do -- I actually studied great comic actors and comedians to try to learn why they were so funny. And there are things that they all have in common. So, you kind of come up with a palette of colors that you can use to kind of paint a new character. So George is a real conglomeration of my observations and intuitions about Larry, colored by a whole bunch of other people I thought would flesh him out.

Q. It seems like everybody has a favorite "Seinfeld" episode? Do you?

A. Not a favorite. They all had something going on, either in front of the camera or behind the camera, that made them special.

I think if you ask the four of us, was there one that kind of turned our fortunes around, it would be the masturbation contest. We were really just hanging on by a thread the first two seasons. That episode came around in season 3 in a very challenging spot. NBC finally put us on after "Cheers," which was the No. 1 comedy in television at the time. And if you didn't hold the "Cheers" audience, you were very quickly going to be taken off the air. We knew it was a sink-or-swim situation.

I think that was our third or fourth episode airing in that slot and it just destroyed the "Cheers" audience. We started at the same number that "Cheers" had. And by the time that episode was over, we had built on that audience. Because people were calling their friends and going, "You've got to turn this on. They're doing a show on masturbation." And our fortunes were rock solid from that point on.

So I think we point to that one as a really pivotal show, and it was a great one and we loved doing it. But I don't know if it was our favorite. I don't think we have one.

Q. You told Charlie Rose that the four of you on "Seinfeld" will always be like the Four Musketeers -- when somebody thinks of one, they'll think of the others. Are you all still in touch? Do you get together ever?

A. First, I have to give credit where credit's do. That was Jerry's line. Before we would tape any episode, we'd be behind the set and would do this silly thing called the Circle of Power, which was really nothing. We'd kind of huddle up and wish each other luck. And on the last episode, Jerry made that comment. He said, "You know, for the rest of our lives, if anybody thinks of one of us, they will think of all four of us. And I could not have wished for three people that I'd rather have that be true of." It was an extraordinary statement, especially from Jerry cause Jerry is not known for his sentimentality (Laughs). So it was a huge thing for him to say and it really struck us all.
You know, the interesting thing about the four of us is: we were great work friends. We loved coming to work, we loved seeing each other, we loved playing with each other, and we enjoyed each other thoroughly. We never, in the nine years that we worked together, really had a habit of being social friends. At the end of the work day, Jerry would go back to the writers' room, Michael would go back to Mars or wherever, and Julia and I had families. Our children are almost the exact same age and we wanted to get home and be moms and dads. And we had other jobs.

So we never really shot a show on a Friday night and said, "Hey, let's have dinner tomorrow." So when the show ended, we had no history of being social friends. And we all kind of went very different ways. Jerry and Michael went to New York for a long time. I had a show, Julia had a show. We were doing different things. So we don't see each other all that much.

But I've had several lunches and dinners with Julia. We email each other when things are happening. I've asked Jerry a dozen times to help me out on something, do a benefit for something, join me in a project. Every time it's a yes. He's done the same thing with me, the same thing with Michael. When we see each other, it's always like no time has passed. The bond has not diminished at all. There's no sense of "Oh, Julia, you've won a thousand Emmys." (Laughs). It's us, the four of us. And that's a lovely feeling. But, no, you would not look at our day-to-day communication and think, "These guys are really close friends,"

Q. TV is hot now. Big actors are doing things for HBO and other cable channels. Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a hit with "Veep." Would you be interested in going back to TV in a big starring thing on HBO?

A. Yeah! Listen, if I had one in mind or they had one for me, in a heartbeat, especially in the HBO model. What I'm not terribly interested in doing is going back on the big network TV. People are doing good work out there. But for the most part, the world of comedy has moved to cable and, particularly, to the Internet. And the really, really extraordinary dramas (are on cable.) Again, people are doing some wonderful things on the broadcast networks, but they're over-challenged. You have to pump 22 of them a year. In an hour slot, you have 40 minutes to tell your stories. There's barriers on language, there's barriers in behavior. And it has to play to as broad an audience as possible. So it's not easy to do profoundly good work on the broadcast networks.

I have a comedy in development that we're pitching now for some cable outlets. And I'm open and available as an actor. I've actually tried to move a lot of my career to the directing side. But, yes, I would happily do another series if it was the right thing. The thing about series is that when you go to sign your name on the contract, you're making a multi-year commitment. And if you don't think it's something that you're going to want to do in year 2 or 3, it's a scary thing. If you don't think the quality is going to be there.

You know, I don't anticipate another "Seinfeld." There will not be another "Seinfeld" for me. So what you want to do is something that is challenging, something that connects with people, something that is quality. If you're going to bring the "Seinfeld" audience to something you're doing, you're kind of saying, "I think this is worth your while." I'd like to feel like it actually is. And, unfortunately, those are few and far between. And one of the reasons is that the world thinks of me iconically as George. They don't know that there are lots of other arrows in that quiver. I show them occasionally and they go, "Oh wow!" But nobody has said yet, "Hey, let's build a series on Jason that isn't George."

Q. But you're a musical threat, too, right?

A. Yeah. And, in fact, a lot of what I'm doing right now is working on projects that would take me back to the theater in New York, which is really, truly, before "Seinfeld" happened, that's where I thought my whole career was going to be, very happily.

So, yes, I'm doing things like I'm doing in Charlotte. I am performing and working more than I care to. Life has not slowed down. It's just not often in front of cameras right now because most of what they give me in front of cameras is not that interesting to me. So I tend to say no because I have the luxury of being able to say no.

Q. Wikipedia says you're quite a poker player and you started out as a magician. Are those to talents linked in some way?

A. I wish they were. I'd be a far more successful poker player if I was a better magician. No, the magic is a hobby and a passion. The poker is, I just love the game. People give me a lot more credit at being better than I am. I'm a student of the game and it's a never-ending school. Very few people are maestros at the game of poker. I'm a good member of the orchestra, but I'm certainly not picking up a stick and leading the group. But I love the game. It's a great challenge and a great social game and I've met terrific people from playing it.

Q. Back to Judaism. Are you still active in OneVoice Initiative (which seeks out moderate Israeli and Palestinian voices to promote peace and a two-state solution)?

A. As much as I can be.

Q. Given what happened in Gaza, are you still optimistic about the peace process?

A. Well, yes on any given day. And no on any given day. I'm optimistic because there is no other outcome that is viable. Neither of these peoples -- the Israelis or the Palestinians -- are going away. Neither is giving up their cause. Neither is going to lay down and die. And the Israelis, thank God, are not willing, nor should they ever be, to obliterate the Palestinians. So it's not going to come to an Armageddon situation, all or nothing.

So, given that, there's only one other outcome and that is they've got to find a way to live side-by-side with each other in some sort of harmony and peace. I am optimistic that (Palestinian Authority President) Mahmoud Abbas is the real guy. He is wise, and I think he gets it and I think he sees the value of having a permanent peace with Israel and having a real Palestinian state. I think he is wise enough to know that, initially, he may need to make a lot of sacrifices and then build on the successes as peace becomes a reality.

I am not convinced that (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is the best player in the game right now because every time he has an opportunity to further the relationship with Abbas he puts up a new settlement. And that makes Abbas' job with his own people much more difficult. So I do think that if the two right leaders are in office at the right time that there can be a very positive result. Is that the case today? No.

Q. Last question: Anything you're excited about that your fans can look for? 

A. Yeah, I think. I have a movie floating around the festival circuit called "Lucky Stiff." It's a musical. Could be fun. We loved doing the movie. It's a quirky kind of thing. I've done a lot of television guesting. There's a new show on Comedy Central called "Big Time in Hollywood, Florida" that you'll see me in. And, again, there's a lot of stuff on the burner that I'm not sure where it's going to go.

Q. Well, it looks like you'll have a birthday a few days after your appearance in Charlotte. So happy birthday…

A. Thank you, sir.

Q. And we'll look forward to seeing you see in Charlotte on Sunday night. It was an honor to talk with you.

A. My pleasure. Bye bye now.

-- Tim Funk

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Pope Francis focus of talk at St. Gabriel

St. Gabriel Catholic Church in Charlotte will present “Pope Francis: Taking the World by Storm,” a free 90-minute program at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Sept. 10).

Monsignor Henry Kriegel, pastor of two inner-city Catholic churches in Erie, Pa., will examine how the popular pontiff has stressed tolerance, mercy and  hope. He’ll also suggest what’s ahead for Francis’ papacy.

St. Gabriel is at 3016 Providence Road. For more information: 704-364-5431.

 -- Tim Funk 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Cruz, Huckabee to headline 'Star Spangled Sunday' at CLT's First Baptist

Two possible contenders for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination – Senator Ted Cruz and former Gov. Mike Huckabee – are scheduled to be in Charlotte on Sept. 14 to headline “Star Spangled Sunday,” a live national webcast from First Baptist Church of Charlotte.

The Rev. Mark Harris, who pastors First Baptist, said the event celebrating the 200th anniversary of the National Anthem, a.k.a. “The Star Spangled Banner,” is also set to include some other speakers popular with conservative Christians.

Namely Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, the national chain of craft stores, and the Benham brothers – David and Jason – of Concord.

Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act led to a narrow U.S. Supreme Court ruling this year saying corporations with religious owners cannot be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraceptives. And the twin Benham brothers made national headlines when HGTV canceled their house-flipping show before it aired because of David Benham’s past comments on gay marriage and abortion.

Harris said churches all over the country will simulcast the event, which he said will enlighten Americans about “how God used ordinary Christians in the War of 1812 to do extraordinary things.” Witnessing the bombarding of Fort McHenry during that war -- on the night of Sept. 13-14, 1814 --  lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key penned the lyrics of what became the National Anthem.

Sponsored by the Family Research Council, “Star Spangled Sunday” will start at 7 p.m. at the church, 301 S. Davidson St.

Asked whether the inclusion of Cruz of Texas and Huckabee of Fox News made the upcoming event look and sound a lot like a GOP rally, Harris said no way.

“The Family Research Council has spent a great deal of time reaching across party lines,” said Harris, who ran unsuccessfully this year for the Republican Senate nomination in North Carolina. “It’s less interested in party labels than it is in standing up for the principles we hold dear.”

-- Tim Funk

Catholic Mass in Polish set for Sunday

The Catholic Diocese of Charlotte’s third annual Polish language Mass will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Sunday (August 24) at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 1400 Suther Road.

The Rev. Matt Nycz of Buffalo, N.Y., will preside at the Mass, to be said in honor of Our Lady of Czestochowa, a revered icon of the Virgin Mary.

Confessions in Polish and English will be heard at 1 p.m. After Mass, churchgoers can venerate a relic of Pope John Paul II, a newly canonized saint (from Poland) in the Catholic Church. It is a drop of blood on a piece of the cassock he wore the day he was shot in 1981.

There will also be a reception with Polish food.

For more information, call Mary Witulski at 704-290-6012.

-- Tim Funk

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Interfaith group to host talk on mental health, suicide

In the wake of entertainer Robin Williams’ suicide, Mecklenburg Ministries will sponsor a discussion Thursday (August 21) on how faith communities and their leaders can better understand and prevent mental health crises and suicide.

Kathryn Falbo-Woodson will facilitate the discussion at 11:45 a.m. at Covenant Presbyterian Church, 1000 E. Morehead St. She is the former director of advocacy and outreach at the Mental Health Association of Central Carolinas.

The event is part of Mecklenburg Ministries’ “Food for Thought” luncheon series. Lunch for $7 will be available. Register here.

-- Tim Funk

Friday, August 15, 2014

Coming to town: Anne Lamott, Jason Alexander and more

What a lineup...

That’s all I can say about the big names and brains coming to town, thanks to Chalotte’s religious community.

I’m talking Anne Lamott and Joan Chittister and Joni Eareckson Tada and Barbara Brown Taylor and Jason Alexander, aka George Costanza, Jerry’s balding buddy on TV’s “Seinfeld.”

Got your calendars? The details:

  • Jason Alexander, a Tony Award winner and multiple Emmy nominee, will headline a one-man show Sept. 21 at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center’s Belk Theater. Although it’s a fundraiser – for Levine Jewish Community Center, Temple Israel and Temple Beth El – the event is open to the public.

“An Evening with Jason Alexander … and his Hair,” featuring comedy, music and audience participation, is set for 7 p.m. Tickets are $50-$180 at 704-372-1000 and here.

  • Author-blogger Anne Lamott will return to Christ Episcopal Church at 7 p.m. Nov. 20. Her 15 books (including “Bird by Bird,” “Traveling Mercies” and “Help. Thanks. Wow: The Three Essential Prayers”) are about life, God and writing.

She packed the church’s All Saints Hall last November. So register early here for this evening of conversation and book signings. Tickets are $25, which will include a copy of her new book, “Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.” If the church runs out of seats, it will sell Standing Room Only tickets for $20. Details: 704-714-6945.

  • Christ Episcopal will also host Catholic author-activist Joan Chittister at 10 a.m. Oct. 12. A Benedictine sister and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, Chittister has also authored books on contemporary spirituality and the need for change in the Catholic Church. Among them: “Following the Path – The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose and Joy.”

She’ll talk with the Rev. Chip Edens, the church’s rector, in All Saints Hall about “Faith Purpose and the Second Half of Life.” Free. More details here.

  • Best-selling Christian author and disabilities advocate Joni Eareckson Tada will speak and sign copies of her books at 1:30 p.m. Sept. 8 at the Billy Graham Library. Her newest is “Beside Bethesda: 31 Days Toward Deeper Healing,” which will be available for purchase at the library. Guests can bring their own copies, too, though there’s a limit of two signed items.

A 1967 diving accident left Tada, then 17, a quadriplegic. She later learned to paint with the brush between her teeth. More details about her library event here. here.

  • Myers Park Baptist Church will host the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor for three days in October. A professor of religion in Georgia, her latest book – “Learning to Walk in the Dark” – was the subject of a Time magazine cover story in April.

She’ll be the church’s speaker for its continuing “Jesus in the 21st Century” lecture series. At 7 p.m., Oct. 17, Taylor will speak on “The Wedding of Heaven and Earth.” Free. On Oct. 18, she’ll conduct a workshop on “Lunar Spirituality for the 21st Century” (Admission $60). And on Oct. 19, she’ll give the sermon (“The Treasures of Darkness”) at the 11 a.m. service. Details and registration form for workshop here.

-- Tim Funk

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Grahams reflecting on heaven and hell

Heaven and hell are in the news again, thanks pretty much to one North Carolina family:

  • Billy Graham will offer a message about heaven in a new film set to air in November, when the Charlotte-born evangelist turns 96. The never-before-seen footage was filmed at his Montreat home last year. His thoughts about the hereafter will be part of a DVD called “My Hope 2014 with Billy Graham.”
  • Graham's daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, a Raleigh-based evangelist, has just released an updated version of her 2001 book, “Heaven: My Father’s House.”
  • And Franklin Graham, head of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, begins his article in the current edition of BGEA's  Decision magazine this way: “Heaven is not for cowards!”
  • That brings us to hell: The cover of the July/August edition of Decision features a picture of what looks like a sea of lava and this headline: “COWARDS Destined For The Lake of Fire.”
  • Speaking of hell, there’s no word about Billy Graham's next book, which – as we reported in March – will be about hell. “He’s not able to work on it,” Franklin Graham told me then. “But he gave us the outlines of what he wanted.”

Last November, on his 95th birthday, Billy Graham talked about the cross of Jesus in a DVD called “My Hope 2013 with Billy Graham.” It was aired on FOX News, at Graham's celebrity-studded birthday party at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, and in homes and churches around the country.

In the free-of-charge sequel, which will also be used as an evangelizing tool, the elder Graham will talk about heaven.

“Because he will turn 96 on November 7, his thoughts are constantly on Heaven,” Franklin Graham wrote recently. “And we have captured these in a video. ... It’s a powerful evangelistic film that weaves this new message from my father around several real-life stories of how the Gospel changes hearts.”

There’s a full-page ad for “My Hope 2014 with Billy Graham” in that current edition of “Decision.”

Several pages later, there’s an article by Anne Graham Lotz that cites biblical quotes about heaven.

 “I’ve been thinking a lot about Heaven lately,” she writes. “My father seems to be in transition from his home here to our Father’s house. … My mother has already gone on ahead.”

And the edition’s cover article is Franklin Graham's, about the fate he says is waiting for cowards.

 His magazine piece is based on a controversial speech he gave in May at a Washington gathering of the Family Research Council.

In his remarks, he referred to a passage in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation that lists eight groups of people that will end up “in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.”

Leading the list: cowards – a group, Graham suggested, that includes Christians who don’t speak out against abortion and homosexuality.

-- Tim Funk