FEBRUARY 11, 2001. In light of recent events, it seems surreal that only a few months back, Bush was doling out money to religious groups. Actually, it seemed surreal to me well before that.




© 2001 Roy Edroso

"Bush announced the creation of a new White House office focused solely on helping religious and community groups obtain federal tax dollars to fund social service work. The new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives... will be charged with distributing billions of federal dollars to a variety of religious groups and charities over the next 10 years."
-- CNN, January 30.

The White House Office's first grantees have been announced:

The Ayatollah Khomeni Arts and Crafts Center, Batavia, NY. Established in 1992, the Center's leadership (Sharif B'Zog, Curator; Latrell X, Iman) supports local religious art and handicrafts in the tradition of Giotto, Zurbaran and George Metesky. "We are dismayed that secular artists have turned away from the great, transcendent religious themes of the past," says B'Zog, "and while we are confident that Allah will soon make things right by drowning the infidels in their own blood, we endeavor in our own small way to fulfill His will through the creative arts." The Center's current exhibition is "Pipelines to Allah," Daria Es-Salaam's mixed-media assemblages (pipe fittings, sawdust, potassium nitrate), on display at the Center's Armaments Gallery. Thanks to government funding, this exhibition will soon tour various children's hospitals and federal buildings around the state. "The impact of this tour," writes Islam In Your Face! art critic Salman al-Dente, "will be felt throughout America."

Davenning for Life, Gaithersburg, MD. Though the Jewish population of Gaithersburg is small, people of all faiths benefit daily from these prayer/exercise sessions led by Rabbi Joshua Chayyim (known to his followers as "Johnny Rebbe"). "Davenning not only renews our connection to God," says Chayyim, "but also burns calories, relieves stress, and promotes proper breath control." Chayyim, former director of Yahweh Yoga, got the idea from "watching the old men doing that herky-jerky thing at the Wailing Wall. While I would never question the faith of these alte kockes, I can't help but think that their physical as well as their spiritual health would benefit from a really intense, pro-active davenning regime. At the same time, younger people of all faiths who feel that something's missing from their workout routine, but find yoga or tai-chi too demanding, might benefit from our faith-based aerobic exercises." Chayyim's innovations include "transverse davenning," which strengthens the obliques, and post-Sabbath "daven all night" parties where singles of all faiths meet and mingle while davenning energetically to the trance-klezmer sounds of ecumenical DJ Righteous Gentile, then relax at Chayyim's in-house watering hole, Bar Mitzvah, with Red Bull and Manischewitz cocktails. (Under the funding plan, the insignia of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives will now appear on Bar Mitzvah matchbooks, coasters and promotional banners.)

Institute for Decreasing Self-Esteem, Harrisburg, PA. "Of all the cultural challenges facing us today," says Institute founder and CEO Fr. Jonathan Edwards, S.J., "the most troubling is the self-esteem epidemic." Appalled to find that even Catholic schools are now teaching heretical notions of self-worth and autonomy, Fr. Edwards founded the Institute to remind young people that "without God, we are merely kindling for Satan's bonfires, and even with God, most of us are still pretty damn pathetic." Fr. Edwards is not in favor of abolishing self-esteem altogether, but of keeping it under tight, perhaps federally-mandated, controls and guidelines. "Self-esteem is like a potent and potentially lethal chemical, such as insulin or adrenalin," he says. "One should have just enough to stay alive, but no more." Thanks to federal funding, Fr. Edwards will soon bring his lectures, on topics such as "What Messiah Died and Left You Boss?", to urban public schools. On these tours Edwards will be accompanied by former Seattle Seahawks running back Lester Coolidge, self-styled "Enforcer of Unworthiness," who will berate attendees at intervals. "Our approach?" says Coolidge, "Tough love -- accent on the tough." Attendees will wear uniforms, including uncomfortable patent leather shoes and blazers crested with the Institute motto, "Cassus et Dissolutus" (Worthless and Weak), and sit quietly or kneel on metal rulers while Edwards and Coolidge hector them. Edwards and Coolidge will also conduct after-school classes for troublemakers, to include role-playing exercises ("I am God, You are Nothing") and, pending special clearance from the Bush Administration, beatings.

GodCorps, Pine Rock, AZ. "I am very excited by this new administration, and eager to help realize its dream of faith-based community service," says developer Charles H. Keating, founder of GodCorps. A full description of the charity was unavailable at press time, but Keating says that "we'll be taking our ecumenical, non-specific and perfectly legal message of faith to prisoners, students, urban youth, and others. We'll have soup kitchens, reading circles, and other helpful activities, properly organized and with full documentation of expenses available to the appropriate parties as soon as we possibly can manage it." While GodCorps' current base of operations is small, "we'll build centers all over the place as soon as the checks clear," says Keating. .