Bobby Ross Jr.

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

A decade ago, while working for The Associated Press in Dallas, I wrote a feature on frequent-flier rabbis.

I was reminded of that story when I came across an NPR report this week on "roving rabbis."

NPR's descriptive lede: 

Mountains and forests surround the little town of Show Low, Ariz. It's home to only 10,000 people, but the heavily Mormon community is still the biggest place for more than hour in every direction.
It's not the kind of setting that typically fosters a thriving Jewish community — which is exactly why Hasidic rabbinical students Zalman Refson and Yaakov Kaplan are here.
Residents of the rural West have historically relied on the talents of people passing through — traveling doctors, traveling circus performers and traveling preachers. So-called roving rabbis like Refson and Kaplan are carrying on that tradition, meeting rural Jews who otherwise might rarely interact with others of their faith.
They're two of the hundreds of rabbinical students who travel to rural places all across the globe each year. These roving rabbis make these journeys in the name of Chabad, a movement within Orthodox Judaism.
Young, bearded and dressed in black pants and long-sleeved white shirts, even in the Arizona heat, the two men stick out in Show Low. Kaplan says being a roving rabbi is all about helping Jews reconnect to their faith.

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Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

Pod people: Taking money OUT of the collection plate and more on the 'black mass'

The "Money for Nothing" video accompanying this post has only a tangential connection to the subject matter.

Alas, I'm a child of the '80s, and that three-decade-old hit by the British rock band Dire Straits seemed like a good tune for a Friday afternoon.

As I noted earlier this week, about 300 members of a Chicago church received money for something — $500 each to spend, invest or give away.

In the post, I pointed out that WGNtv.com seemed to bury the lede at the end, reporting with no explanation that the church involved has a $50,000 budget deficit. 

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss the Chicago story. 

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Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

Devil's in the details: Oklahoma journalists cover Satanic 'black mass'

While most of her Godbeat colleagues were in Atlanta enjoying #RNA2014 this past weekend, The Oklahoman's longtime religion editor Carla Hinton remained in her home state of Oklahoma to cover a big news story.

If you're a regular GetReligion reader, you've seen our past posts on the national media attention leading up to Sunday's Satanic "black mass" in Oklahoma City.

For good background on the black mass, check out Tulsa World religion writer Bill Sherman's excellent interview with the Satanic organizer. Sherman produced a good story, too, on Monsignor Patrick Brankin, a Catholic exorcist who reports increasing demonic activity. From that story:

Bishop Edward J. Slattery of the Diocese of Tulsa said the practice of exorcism is gaining ground in the Catholic Church.

This summer the Vatican formally recognized the International Association of Exorcists, an organization of Catholic exorcists to which Brankin belongs. Exorcism conferences are held at the Vatican.

When Slattery arrived in Tulsa 20 years ago, he said, the diocese was getting about one call a year concerning demonic activity, and those callers were determined to have psychological problems, not demon possession.

“But in the last few years, we’re seeing more demonic activity,” he said, a trend he attributes to an increasingly secular society that has turned to Ouija boards, witchcraft, astrology, fortune telling and other occult practices that “open the door to the demonic.”

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God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

God-given gifts and a financial windfall for members of a Chicago church

I came across a story about a Chicago church giving away $500 to each of its 300 or so members via CNN's Eric Marrapodi, who, by the way, did an exceptional training session at #RNA2014 on video interview best practices.

Sadly, though, Marrapodi had no tips to improve voices — like mine — made for print. 

But I digress.

The version of the story that Marrapodi tweeted came from WGNtv.com in Chicago:

A Chicago church came into some money following a decades old real estate deal. What to do with the extra dough weighed heavily on the pastor’s mind. Then she decided to do something crazy.
She wanted the church to tithe and give 10% of the money away. That may not sound so crazy, but here’s the hitch, she gave it back — all $160,000 of it–to the congregation. Anyone who is “actively engaged in LaSalle Street Church” got a sizable check. Not $5 or $50 – we are talking $500 a person. Personal checks made out directly to the parishioners to go forth and spend, invest or give away as they see fit. No strings attached.
Pastor Laura, as she’s known, is beaming–ever since she announced to her congregation of 300 back on Sept 7th that they would all get $500 from the church.
“Some started to cry,” she said. “Their mouths started to drop. I started to sweat because it sounded so crazy.”

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Best of the Godbeat: At #RNA2014, Religion Newswriters Association honors top religion journalism

Best of the Godbeat: At #RNA2014, Religion Newswriters Association honors top religion journalism

Here at GetReligion, we've been big fans of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's exceptional religion writers.

So we weren't surprised to see former Post-Gazette Godbeat specialist Ann Rodgers, Pittsburgh's longtime "queen of religion news," and her successor, Peter Smith, take top honors in the Religion Newswriters Association's annual writing awards. 

Religion News Service's David Gibson — known for his analysis pieces — won first place in the Religion Reporter of the Year category for large newspapers and wire services.

Time magazine's Elizabeth Dias earned first place in the Supple Religion Feature Writer of the Year contest for work that included a cover story on "The Latino Reformation." Her winning entry includes the full, 3,500-word story on Hispanic evangelicals, which was hidden behind a paywall when it was originally published.

Winners were announced Saturday night at #RNA2014 — RNA's annual meeting — in the Atlanta area.

For GetReligion readers, a number of other names on the award list will be familiar, too.

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'Jesus is not a member of the NRA,' Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014

'Jesus is not a member of the NRA,' Episcopal bishop tells religion writers at #RNA2014

"Jesus is not a member of the NRA."

Of all the words said by all the experts who spoke on all the panels at the information-packed Religion Newswriters Association annual meeting this weekend in the Atlanta area, those may be the most memorable.

Journalists, after all, know a good soundbite when they hear one.

That explains why both religion writers for The New York Times and many of their colleagues tweeted the NRA quote, which came during a session on "God and Guns" at 

Given the number of firearm deaths in America, all five panelists seemed confident that Jesus wouldn't be out advocating for his right to own a gun.

What did the other side — people of faith who oppose gun control efforts — have to say? That was the awkward part. That side was not represented on the panel.

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A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum

A story of biblical proportions: WPost tackles plans for $800 million Bible museum

I have a confession to make: I"m typing this in a hurry.

I'm headed to Atlanta for the Religion Newswriters Association's annual meeting (see our 5Q+1 interview with RNA president Bob Smietana, if you happened to miss it, and follow #RNA2014 for live tweeting).

So I'm going to make this post short and sweet. Real sweet.

Earlier, we critiqued some media coverage of a planned Bible museum in the nation's capital and found it lacking — here and here, for example.

But the Washington Post's award-winning religion writer, Michelle Boorstein, has produced an excellent, magazine-length story on the gigantic project.

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5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

5Q+1 interview: Religion writer Bob Smietana on the Godbeat, #RNA2014 and, yes, GetReligion

Godbeat pros will convene in Atlanta this week for the Religion Newswriters Association's 65th annual conference.

In advance of the national meeting of religion journalists, RNA President Bob Smietana did a 5Q+1 interview (that's five questions plus a bonus question) with GetReligion. I'll sprinkle a few #RNA2014 tweets between Bob's responses.

Q: For our readers unfamiliar with you, tell us a little about your journalism career and your background in religion writing. And catch us up on how your beloved Red Sox are doing after winning a third World Series title in 10 years last season.

A: I’ve had a pretty fun career. I wrote a weekly religion column in college then decided to go out and save the world by working at nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity. Turns out I was terrible at saving the world.

So, in my mid-30s, I became a writer instead. I started small — my first freelance religion story paid $35 — and then landed a job writing for a small religious magazine in Chicago called the Covenant Companion, where I stayed for eight years. One of my big breaks came in 2001, when I got the chance to spend a summer at Medill, studying religion writing with Roy Larson.

Eventually I became religion writer at The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville, which I loved. Spent six great years there. Now I write about research and church trends for Facts and Trends magazine here in Nashville.

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Guess who's making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!?

Guess who's making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!?

This is the headline atop the latest Satanist feature in the Detroit Free Press:

It's Satanist vs. Satanist in Detroit's newest political tug-of-war

I don't know about you, but I'm clicking that link.

But after doing so, here's my question for the Free Press headline writer: Is this really a political story? As much we might like to condemn all politicians to hell (kidding, mostly), isn't this actually a religion story — or given the subject of the debate, a non-religion story?

Let's start at the top:

A new Satanic religious group that debuted in Detroit this month already has encountered outspoken opposition: other Satanists.
The Rev. Tom Erik Raspotnik, 49, of Oxford decries the Satanic Temple’s atheism and progressive ideals. He said his Temples of Satan honors the deity of Satan, and he and others with him are pro-life and believe in animal sacrifices.
“I would be like a tea party Satanist,” Raspotnik said, adding that he has participated in tea party events, but that people at the events might not have known he worships Satan.

Later, a Norwegian expert on Satanism quoted by the Free Press suggests that the Satanic Temple folks underplay the Satan aspect and focus on atheism and free speech/religion issues.

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