In the wake of the staggering loss of life and physical devastation of December's south Asia tsunami, one of the questions commonly heard was, "How could a loving God allow this to happen?"
The United Methodist Church's global communications office seeks to provide some answers, or at least explore the challenging questions, in a thoughtful and thorough multimedia package titled, God, why? Teachings from the Tsunamis.
The set, which includes one DVD and one CD, features numerous interviews with clergy as well as reports from eyewitnesses, accounts and a PowerPoint depiction of scenes of the Dec. 26 tsunami, which struck 12 nations, took 280,000 lives, and affected more than 1 million people.
God, why? does not offer pat answers, but rather uses Scripture and spiritual studies to help people of faith deal with the difficult emotions and tough questions resulting from the terrible tragedy.
The discs include resource materials for small-group studies and special liturgies for use in church services. It is available for $19.95 - with discounts for bulk orders - from the United Methodist Communications office in Nashville, toll-free at 1-888-346-3862 or online at www.umc.org.
They don't call it "WOW" for nothing: Since 1995, the most popular Christian music has been compiled in a series of collections titled "WOW." The annual two-disc sets, released through a unique collaboration ofthree leading Christian record labels, have been consistent best-sellers, with four of them hitting double-platinum status (sales of 2 million or more), 10 others earning platinum status (1 million copies), and 10 gold albums (500,000 copies sold).
The latest addition to the "WOW" family is "WOW #1's," featuring 30 chart-topping hits from throughout the last 10 years, with a list of artists that reads like a who's who of the Christian music industry: Steven Curtis Chapman, Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, MercyMe, Third Day, dc Talk, Kirk Franklin, Newsboys, Jars of Clay, et al. There's one new song included, with former Backstreet Boy Brian Littrell performing a passable version of the dramatic standard, "In Christ Alone."
The two-disc set has a suggested price of $21.98 but is widely discounted.
Sensational stories: Have you ever wondered how some of the more offbeat Bible stories would have been reported by supermarket tabloids?
If you haven't, John Deems has done the wondering for you with his new book, Jesus Alive! Elvis Still Dead (Silas Press, $14.95).
A former Toledoan now living in Huntersville, N.C., Mr. Deems takes a lighthearted look at some of the more extraordinary Bible stories, imagining them as cover features for a biblical-era tabloid called The Spiritual Inquirer, whose motto is "All the Good News That's Fit to Print."
The chapters include "Jesus Hangin' Ten ... With No Surf Board," based on the Scriptures describing Jesus walking on water (Matthew 24:22-36), and "Well-Done Men Call Fiery Furnace 'Cool'," about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being tossed into the red-hot furnace by Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar - and walking out unscathed (Daniel 17:1-30).
While the book takes a humorous approach, with a special effort at appealing to youths, it also has a serious side. Mr. Deems, a church youth leader and Sunday School teacher, follows the "tabloid" stories with spiritual reflections, questions for discussion, and the actual Bible verses on which the chapters are based.
Did Hollywood get one right? It seems that every time Hollywood turns the camera on a subject that has religious connections, somebody somewhere is offended.
But Kingdom of Heaven, a major Hollywood epic dealing with one of the most controversial topics in religious history - the Medieval Crusades - gets a "thumbs up" from the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
The 20th Century Fox film, which opens worldwide Friday, stars Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, and Jeremy Irons and focuses on the 12th century period between the Second and Third Crusades.
"Our overall impression is that Kingdom of Heaven is a balanced and positive depiction of Islamic culture during the Crusades, said Sabiha Khan of CAIR. "Muslims are shown as dignified and proud people whose lives are based on ethics and morality."
He called it "a rare occasion when a Muslim filmgoer can leave the theater feeling good about a movie's portrayal of Islam."
More information on the film is available online at www.kingdomofheavenmovie.com.
Speaking of heaven: The first season of the popular 1980s television series, Highway to Heaven starring Michael Landon, has just been released by A&E Home Video.
The seven-disc set contains all 24 episodes from 1984 with Landon starring as Jonathan Smith, a handyman who is an angel on a mission from God.
The videos, which list for $79.99, received the Seal of Approval from the Parents Television Council for its "well-written scripts that promote socially responsible, family-friendly themes."
Up-to-date Pope: Proof that Pope Benedict XVI is in touch with the times: He's got an e-mail address. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
David Yonke is The Blade's religion editor. Contact him at email@example.com or 419-724-6154.