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Byline: Peter Steinfels The New York Times

This is the week of the calendar. People are hanging their favorite illustrated calendars for 1997 on the wall and scribbling all those crucial phone numbers in their pocket calendars, along with birthdays, anniversaries and urgent deadlines that cannot be trusted to memory. The entries transform blank pages into the milestones of a job, a family, a life.

A week ago, Religion News Service sent out its first calendar of religious events, holidays and meetings for 1997. It is an incomplete, bare-bones list that will be updated and expanded for journalists month by month. But it is nonetheless something of a plot outline, reflecting any number of stories about American religion: its diversity, theological turmoil and political involvement.

Next weekend, for example, the impact of Islamic law on personal and social identity will be the topic of a symposium at the University of Chicago. Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting and prayer, will also begin that weekend. A week later, Boston will be the site of a major conference on the future of Buddhism in the United States.

A few days after that, the president's inauguration coincides with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Does anyone need a clearer reminder of the complicated interplay between religion and political change in American life? If so, the annual anti-abortion March for Life is in Washington a few days later, and the annual convention of the National Religious Broadcasters in Anaheim a few days after that.

On this calendar, New Year's itself is a pointer toward the nation's religious diversity. Listed here are the Baha'i New Year (the Feast of Naw-Ruz, or new light, on March 21, the date of the vernal equinox) and the Muslim New Year (Ra'sal-'Am, the day that is the first of the month of Muharram and so begins the Islamic lunar calendar, falling this year on May 8 or 9, depending on when the new moon is sighted).

The calendar notes the New Year for the Tamil Hinduism of southern India (April 13). It also lists the festival of Diwali, on Oct. 30 this year, celebrated as a New Year's Day by many Hindus from other regions of India.

And it lists the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, on Oct. 1 - the first day of Tishri, the seventh month in the Jewish lunar calendar but the one in which tradition holds that God created the universe.

Not that all these dates are of equal weight. Rosh Hashana is a major holy day for Jews; Ra'sal-'Am is a minor one for Muslims. But they all divide time into a sacred rhythm, providing a counterweight to the other calendars Americans live by: the school year, the four quarters of the business year, the football and baseball seasons.

Part of that sacred rhythm, the calendar shows, involves intervals of fasting and self-examination: Ramadan, of course, but also Christian Lent, beginning this year on Feb. 12, Ash Wednesday, or, for Eastern Orthodox, on March 10. Listed too is a 19-day fasting period observed by Baha'is in March, and finally Yom Kippur on Oct. 10.

Alongside such enduring patterns, the calendar signals contemporary controversies. There are meetings of the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility, for example, as well as the fall Road to Victory conference of the Christian Coalition.

A listing for a national meeting on Celebrating Gay and Lesbian Commitments and Ministries Within the Episcopal Church points to another topic that continues to agitate religious groups.

Indeed, when the Episcopal Church holds its once-every-four-years general convention July 14-24, it will almost certainly see an effort to reverse the de facto permission that was given Episcopal bishops to ordain noncelibate homosexual candidates for the priesthood when a church panel last year refused to discipline a retired bishop, Walter Righter, for doing exactly that.

Another delicate topic, church unification, will be under consideration at the Episcopal gathering as well as at the biennial churchwide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the nation's largest Lutheran group. Both bodies will vote on a Concordat of Agreement that would allow members of the two churches to share Holy Communion together and would make Episcopal priests and Lutheran pastors equally eligible to officiate and be called to head congregations in either church.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 4, 1997

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