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Higher Ground: Honoring the life of Pope Benedict XVI

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Welcome to Higher Ground, the faith-centric newsletter focused on the intersection of culture and politics from experienced journalists at The Washington Times.

The first pope in 600 years to resign his office, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, died early Saturday at the age of 95, days after Pope Francis told a Vatican audience his predecessor “is very ill” and needed prayer. 

Pope Francis, 86, who succeeded Benedict in 2013, will preside over the funeral Thursday in St. Peter’s Square. Matteo Bruni, the Vatican’s spokesman, said “Benedict specifically asked that everything — including the funeral — be marked by simplicity, just as he lived his life,” according to the official Vatican news service.

Cardinal Wilton Gregory, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, said Benedict “lived a distinguished and generous life in service to Catholicism and humanity. His long life included not only his ecclesial contributions, but his impassioned pleas for world peace, human understanding, and global solidarity.”

Others who knew Benedict remembered him as a quiet, retiring scholar whose idea of a fun evening was dining alone at a Rome restaurant with a just-purchased book as his dinner companion.

“I didn’t know him well, but I know a lot of people who did know him, and if anything, he was very gentle, very soft-spoken, a bookish academic,” Bishop Robert Barron of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Winona-Rochester in Minnesota, said in an interview shortly before Benedict’s death.

Benedict’s emphasis on Jesus as the incarnation of the “logos,” or word, of God led to his advocacy of reason as the means by which “we can know certain moral and intellectual and aesthetic truths,” Bishop Barron said.

Kirk Cameron drew an overflow crowd Thursday at the Indianapolis Public Library and at the Scarsdale Public Library in New York on Friday to hear him read “As You Grow,” the actor’s recently released Christian-themed storybook, after a squabble between the libraries and his publisher, Brave Books.

“Huge opening day success for this movement!” tweeted Brave Books on Thursday.

Mr. Cameron was greeted by cheers and applause as he made an initial appearance in the main reading area, saying about 1,000 people on different floors came out to hear him read.

The illustrated book touched off a cultural battle in December after Brave Books said 54 libraries rejected or ignored offers for appearances by Mr. Cameron, the former teen star of the ABC-TV sitcom “Growing Pains,” even though the libraries had hosted Drag Queen Story Hour events.

A couple trying to find some “alone time” as friends interrupt. A son whose father angrily rejects him. And a leader agonizing about an upcoming event that could cost more than just his career.

It sounds like the stuff of a daytime (or nighttime) soap opera, but these are plot lines from Season 3 of “The Chosen,” a planned seven-season, 56-episode telling of the story of Jesus, his initial disciples, and the world in which they operated some 2,000 years ago. The show is a streaming success, garnering praise from critics, even if it offers what one called “plausible fiction” to flesh out the Gospel accounts. (John’s Gospel, for example, can be read in about an hour, so a fair amount of additional content might be needed for the full series.)

Critic Adam R. Holz of Focus on the Family’s Plugged In movie and TV review website said this expanded approach “puts skin on these characters in a way that allows us to say, ‘Oh, wow, I never thought about what that might actually be like. I think it does it in a way that they are attempting to be faithful to biblical theology even as they’re giving us a dramatization that they admit is fictionalized.”

Around the world, members of the Sikh religion have served in their nation’s armed forces, often with distinction. Not too long ago, a Sikh was Canada’s defense secretary, for example.

But the U.S. Marine Corps has been a holdout in recent years, requiring recruits to shave their long hair and beards — both regarded as expressions of their faith — to complete basic training. The Marines placed a Sikh officer on limited assignment because he maintained his beliefs.

That’s changing, thanks to a federal appeals court in Washington, which ruled members of the faith can maintain those beards and long hair while serving, a decision that caps a two-year legal battle. 

The Family Research Council said in late December that outgoing Rep. Jody Hice, Georgia Republican, will join the conservative Christian organization as a senior adviser to longtime President Tony Perkins.

Mr. Hice, a former Southern Baptist pastor in Georgia before serving in Congress, said in an interview he was “extremely honored and excited to be able to join the FRC team starting in January.”

Mr. Hice said the nation needs to refocus on its founding values.

“I believe we are in many ways in the fight of our life for our country, morally, spiritually, as well as the obvious areas, economically and politically,” Mr. Hice said. “That spiritual aspect has never left me, and there is no organization that I know of that has the impeccable reputation of Family Research Council and Tony Perkins, both on Capitol Hill and among the evangelical community nationwide.”

Selfless acts offer hope for the new year. With all the bad news out there — war in Ukraine, a “bomb cyclone” delivering horrible weather and death to Buffalo, New York, and homeless lining the streets of Los Angeles and other cities — it’s tempting to believe the darker elements are winning.

Hold on a minute, Billy Hallowell writes. One of the best ways to look forward to a better new year, he says, is to focus on how we can each give to others in need, giving readers four acts of recent kindness to remind them of the importance of selflessness.

The new antisemitism. On a much darker note, Victor Davis Hanson writes about a  dangerous new antisemitism is trending, predominantly among Blacks — especially prominent politicians, celebrities and billionaires. 

On the nation’s campuses, Middle East activism, course instruction and faculty profiles are now virulently anti-Israel — and indistinguishable from anti-Jewishness, he argues.

Drag queens in schools. “Our children are not your social experiment,” Tamra Farah writes, arguing that there is no reason for transgender people to “dress up as seductresses and perform lewd acts” in schools. And she points out the 

importance of “mama bears” who have gone to school board meetings across the nation to try to get sexualized material removed from their children’s classrooms.



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