Emergent synagogues, timid networks and ...

Another day, another airport and another newspaper. In this case, I had some time to kill with the Miami Herald in the tiny airport in Key West. There were at least three items in this one issue of the newspaper that could merit GetReligion attention, in my opinion. So I will combine them into one post, starting with the best.

* It is so, so, so hard to have good stories about the standard holidays, but reporter Alexandra Alter pulled it off with a feature for the opening night of Hanukkah. The headline was a snooze: "Synagogue Faithful Pick a Way to Pray." But the story offered an insightful journey into what David "Bobos In Paradise" Brooks has called "flexidoxy" -- an attempt to blend religious experience with the radical individualism of the American marketplace. Here's the opening of the story:

As 150 congregants gathered for prayer on a recent Friday evening in the sanctuary of Temple Beth Am, Rabbi Terry Bookman settled onto a yoga mat in another room. Angling his head toward the two votive candles, he moved gracefully from the downward facing dog position to the child's pose.

Clad in loose white pants and a long Indian shirt, Bookman wasn't ditching Shabbat service for yoga class. He was leading an alternative service, one of five happening simultaneously at Beth Am's Pinecrest campus.

The dizzying array of activity is part of Synaplex, the Jewish version of the multiplex theater -- where congregants can sing, stretch, pray, create art or just sit in silence. Developed by a Minneapolis-based organization to rejuvenate synagogue life, Synaplex was inspired in part by megachurches that tailor worship services to suit congregants of different ages.

Bingo. No, they didn't offer bingo. I mean Alter has hit the nail on the head. You just knew that, at some point, religious groups in the middle and the left of the American marketplace were going to start trying to follow the lead of the birds-of-a-feather evangelical Protestant franchises. What better time of year to run a few ads and fish for seekers?

What's next, an "emergent" synagogue movement, where hip meets ancient and everyone gets to make up his or her own tradition? You bet. Read the whole story. The details all fit. Oprah goes Shabbat.

* Over on the editorial page, Eileen McNamara took a stab at the ongoing debate about that UCC vs. the Normal Churches advertisement (click here for the LeBlanc-ian take on this). Once again, we have the same doctrinaire take on the controversy -- arguing that Bush-friendly forces in the shadows had zapped the ads because of the gay-rights thrust.

The latest act of fealty to the conservatism now in vogue in Washington is the refusal of CBS and NBC to run an ad from a mainstream Christian denomination on the grounds that its message could generate controversy and be perceived as "advocacy advertising." (ABC does not accept any religious advertising.) The networks say that they refuse such ads as a matter of policy, although they certainly showed no reluctance to run advocacy political ads this fall that were both inflammatory and false.

The radical notion promoted by the 30-second commercial from the United Church of Christ is inclusiveness, an idea deemed controversial because it encompasses gay people, the pariahs of the conservative-values crowd in the ascendancy this post-election season. Never mind that the disputed ad could not be more innocuous.

Here at GetReligion, we want to see the ads in prime time immediately. We are pro-free speech on these things. Run these ads in tandem with spots by Exodus International and other religious groups that cause nightmares for cautious media executives.

However, the gay angle misses the point. McNamara is right that there is nothing blatant in the ad's imagery that pushes homosexuality. It is very low-key. What the ads do proclaim is that the UCC is not racist, which clearly says that other churches are racist. She is right that the networks are too timid. But she misses the point. The hottest button in the ad was race, not sexual orientation.

* And finally, I mention another story simply because I was morally outraged by it. The Tropical Life section of the paper had, on its cover, what has to be the DEFINITIVE South Florida-South Beach trend story. You could say there was a ghost in it, since the story totally avoids asking any moral questions about an issue that raises all kinds of moral questions. You could say the same thing about feminist questions, by the way.

What is the issue? Should parents give their teen-aged daughters breast implants as high-school graduation gifts? Yes, the story has lots of art and people quoted on the record. Check it out. Where is Focus on the Family or Ms. magazine? Am I out of line on this one?

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