USA Today plays it straight: Star running back who is headed to the Catholic priesthood

USA Today plays it straight: Star running back who is headed to the Catholic priesthood

I had a sense of dread -- two of them, come to think of it, if that's possible -- as I started reading this USA Today story about Division III football star Jordan Roberts and his journey into the Catholic priesthood.

On one level I was afraid that the story would simply be too cute. You know: Future priest runs to glory and all that, like a bad version of "Rudy."

The flip side of that would have been to label on the snark, either about the church itself or the quality of football being played at this level. No, honest. A writer could have pulled that off. This school is so minor league that even a man in a collar can run the ball off tackle.

Instead, this turned into one of the most moving God-and-gridiron pieces I have read in quite a long time. I especially like the fact that the story started in church, rather than on the playing field.

ST. PAUL -- Sundays are sacred at the St. John Vianney Seminary, a plain five-story red-brick building across a grassy quad from the main chapel at the University of St. Thomas. It is the only day Jordan Roberts and 133 brother seminarians studying to be Roman Catholic priests may wear priestly garb for Mass -- black cassocks with the white Roman collar.
Rising at 6 a.m., they begin their day with Holy Hour prayer and morning Mass. They end it with a rosary and lights out at 9:30 p.m. Last Sunday, seminary officials permitted Roberts a brief leave in late afternoon to join another fraternal group -- his St. Thomas football teammates -- to watch the NCAA Division III playoff selection show. Roberts is the Tommies' top rusher and scorer.

There are all kinds of interesting details, starting with the fact that Roberts converted to Catholicism as a young man.

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AFP serves up some Kellerism: Getting hitched, sort of, as a threesome in Brazil

AFP serves up some Kellerism: Getting hitched, sort of, as a threesome in Brazil

Every now and then, I run into what appears to be a piece of GetReligion writing, only it isn't here at GetReligion.

It's no surprise when you see this from former GetReligionistas such as the Rev. George Conger, M.Z. Hemingway or Mark Kellner. But what about this piece -- "AFP on 3-Woman Marriage: Using News for Propaganda" -- by one Tom Hoopes at the Gregorian Institute at Benedictine College, Kansas?

Truth be told, this is a basic paragraph-by-paragraph story dissection, as practiced here on many occasions by Hemingway or, long ago, by the blog's co-founder, Doug LeBlanc (whose name remains in our contributors list because I refuse to remove it, since he's still out there helping behind the scenes).

As it turns out, Hoopes spent a decade as executive editor of The National Catholic Register and had some experience as a mainstream journalist and political press secretary, as well.

So what is he up to in this blog item? Let's look at a few pieces of this:

Fisking is a now-rarer art from the early days of blogging, kept nobly alive as by Father John Zuhlsdorf, whose blog ... helps us see what everything really says.
But when I read a story from Agence-France Presse news agency about the debut of court-sanctioned polyamory, I couldn’t resist using the “Zisking” style of emphasis and added comments. ...
Rio de Janeiro (AFP) -- Three’s a crowd? Not in Brazil, where three women have defied deeply conservative trends in Congress and wider traditional mores by celebrating a polyamorous civil union. [Not long ago, President Obama and Hillary Clinton were both against gay marriage. Now, suddenly, you need to be in the grip of “deeply conservative trends” to be against multiple spouses?]

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Religion ghosts in the Silicon Valley suicides? It would have helped to ask that question

Religion ghosts in the Silicon Valley suicides? It would have helped to ask that question

If you have been following mainstream religion-news coverage in recent decades, like quite a few GetReligion readers (and all of our writers), then you know the byline of Hanna Rosin, who once covered the beat for The Washington Post. If you have followed her work since then, both in her books and in The Atlantic, you know that her interest in topics linked to religion, culture and family life remains strong and her skills as a reporter and word stylist are unquestioned.

In recent days, several GetReligion readers have sent me URLs to her new Atlantic cover story on "The Silicon Valley Suicides."

One of the messages perfectly captured the message in the others: "See any ghosts in this one?"

This is a stunning story and it was worth reading to the very end. That said, I found it amazingly haunted and free of the moral and religious depth usually found in Rosin's work.

Ghosts? Totally haunted.

The story opens with the story of the suicide of at popular athlete and super-achieving student named Cameron Lee, the kind of normal young man who went out of his way to join friends for morning donuts and make people feel at home.

You need to read this one long passage to grasp the tone of Rosin's piece:

That morning the school district’s superintendent, Glenn “Max” McGee, called Kim Diorio, the principal of the system’s other public high school, Palo Alto High, to warn her, “This is going to hit everyone really hard.” McGee was new to the district that year, but he’d known the history when he took the job. The 10-year suicide rate for the two high schools is between four and five times the national average. Starting in the spring of 2009 and stretching over nine months, three Gunn students, one incoming freshman, and one recent graduate had put themselves in front of an oncoming Caltrain. Another recent graduate had hung himself. While the intervening years had been quieter, they had not been comforting.

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Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

Most U.S. Christians believe Muslim values are out of sync with America, but why?

In recent weeks, I've started reading the Houston Chronicle on my iPad — via an e-replica app that affords me all the joys of the print edition but leaves no ink stains on my fingers.

For the record, I'm totally fine with no ink stains, although I do miss the sweet smell of newsprint! 

Even though I'm a relatively new Chronicle subscriber, I'm already becoming a bigger fan of religion writer Allan Turner. I had, of course, praised some of his stories in the past. But I didn't follow his work on a regular basis (in part because of the Houston newspaper's paywall.)

In today's City-State section, the lead item is a commentary by the Chronicle's Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Lisa Falkenberg (with whom I worked at The Associated Press in Texas in the early 2000s) suggesting that banning Syrian refugees plays into terrorists' hands. My thanks, by the way, both to Falkenberg and Fort Worth Star-Telegram columnist Bud Kennedy for retweeting the link to my post yesterday concerning media coverage of the refugee issue (Kennedy even quoted me in a column).

To be clear, I wasn't calling out the Texas lieutenant governor. I was making the journalistic point that reporters should dig deeper when a politician such as Patrick cites "Judeo-Christian values." 

But I digress: Back to Turner and the reason for this post.

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It's closing time: Symbolic date invites press analysis of liberal Protestant seminaries

It's closing time: Symbolic date invites press analysis of liberal Protestant seminaries

Attention religion-beat scribes: Nov. 12, 2015, carries high symbolism for “mainline” Protestantism, which for centuries exercised such broad influence over U.S. faith and culture.

On that date Andover Newton Theological School, the oldest U.S. institution for graduate-level clergy training with a 208-year history, announced it is no longer ”financially sustainable” due to falling enrollment and must sell its leafy 23-acre campus outside Boston.

The school, which has “historic” links with the United Church of Christ and American Baptist Churches, plans two more years of operation while it ponders two radical proposals: either relocate and merge within a larger institution (preliminary talks are under way with Yale’s Divinity School) or else switch to ministry apprenticeships with basic coursework but no full-service residential campus.

As explanatory sessions ensue with Andover Newton students on  November 17 and December 3, and with alumni on November 20, it’s a timely moment for newswriters to assess future prospects for America’s Protestant seminaries.

The ever-solid G. Jeffrey MacDonald (himself a U.C.C. minister) reports in Religion News Service that to preserve an $18 million endowment, Andover Newton is paying its bills through a mortgage line of credit. Based on an interview with Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the Association of Theological Schools, MacDonald says  this and seminary trauma elsewhere is “the fallout from decades of declining membership numbers in mainline denominations,” noting that their seminary enrollments have dropped 24 percent since 2005.

At Andover Newton, enrollment totalled 271 students in the last A.T.S. report. Only 40 percent were full-time and only 25 percent lived on campus, compared with the 450 full-time students a generation ago. Enrollment is 63 percent female, and the average student age is 49.

The school requires no creed of the faculty, and instead defines itself doctrinally by “core values” like integrity, innovation, openness, understanding, academic freedom and the sustainability of creation. The school emphasizes “multifaith education” and 10 percent of its students are non-Christians (variously identified as Unitarian Universalist, Jewish, Muslim, Baha’i, Muslim, agnostic or atheist).

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Jerusalem crisis: Jews keep offering secret, generic prayers on holy Temple Mount

Jerusalem crisis: Jews keep offering secret, generic prayers on holy Temple Mount

Let me state my journalistic prejudice right up front.

If I am covering an event, in any faith, that centers on worship then I think it is relevant to quote some of the words being said by the worshipers. More often than not, in my experience, there are references in the worship texts themselves that are linked to the theme or event that has made this particular worship service newsworthy.

Does this make sense? If a worship rite followed a great tragedy, what were the prayers said in mourning? Were scripture readings chosen that offered some kind of commentary on the event? Using quotes from these texts can serve as a way to pull readers into the story.

I would argue that this principle would certainly apply if the worship itself is considered controversial. And what if the prayers are controversial or even -- imagine this -- illegal?

This brings me to a recent USA Today story -- focusing on the most controversial piece of land in the world's most controversial city -- that left me shaking my head. Here is how the story opens:

JERUSALEM -- In a move that could further inflame recent Palestinian violence, Jewish activists are defying Israeli law by secretly praying at a site holy to both Jews and Muslims.
On a recent Sunday at the hilltop complex known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, dozens of religious Jews shoved ahead of a line of tourists. While being closely monitored at the site by security guards, who questioned anyone suspected of engaging in prayer, a number of visitors from a group of about 15 mumbled prayers quietly as they pretended to speak on their cellphones and cupped their hands over their mouths. They recited the prayers from memory, as they had been instructed to leave behind their prayer books before entering.

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New York Times ghosts: ISIS offers its view of 'soul' of Paris and modern West (updated)

New York Times ghosts: ISIS offers its view of  'soul' of Paris and modern West (updated)

Once again, mainstream journalists covering the actions of the Islamic State seem to be struggling to grasp the "why" factor in that old-school "who, what, when, where, why and how" equation.

Why attack Paris, once again? Why hit certain parts of Paris, as opposed to other more famous, if well protected, locations? And what does all of this have to do with that word -- "caliphate" -- that ISIS leaders say is at the heart of everything they do?

Let's walk into this slowly, starting with the top of a July 31, 2014 BBC profile of The Man:

On 5 July, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, known by his supporters as Caliph Ibrahim, left the shadows and showed his face for the first time, in a Friday sermon in Mosul, Iraq.
While previous pictures of him had been leaked, Baghdadi had not shown himself in the four years since he became leader of what was then the jihadist Islamic State of Iraq (forerunner of Isis, then the Islamic State). ...
In July 2013, a Bahraini ideologue Turki al-Binali, writing under the pen name Abu Humam Bakr bin Abd al-Aziz al-Athari, wrote a biography of Baghdadi. It highlighted Baghdadi's family history which claims that Baghdadi was indeed a descendant of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad's Quraysh tribe -- one of the key qualifications in Islamic history for becoming the caliph (historically, leader of all Muslims).
It said that Baghdadi came from the al-Bu Badri tribe, which is primarily based in Samarra and Diyala, north and east of Baghdad respectively, and known historically for being descendants of Muhammad.

The key word there, in terms of the mindset of journalists covering ISIS, is "historically," as in the definition of a caliph as "historically, leader of all Muslims."

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Big picture: How can religious traditionalists shift strategies in cultural conflicts?

 Big picture: How can religious traditionalists shift strategies in cultural conflicts?

Big picture, it would be hard to over-state the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage upon believers who uphold longstanding religious tradition. The resulting soul-searching is a theme worth careful journalistic treatment going forward.

One fruitful avenue would be seeking reactions from prime sources to three future options proposed by a package of articles in the current issue of Christianity Today, the influential evangelical monthly.

The cover offers a degree of optimism: “Have No Fear: How to Flourish in a Time of Cultural Weakness.”

That’s the tone of the lead article by two authors better known for politics than religion, Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Both were speechwriters and then top policy advisors in the George W. Bush White House. Armed with a foundation grant, they interviewed many evangelical writers, academicians and non-profit leaders, with varied reactions, then drew their own conclusions.

Gerson and Wehner scan history, noting how rarely authentic Christians have exercised full political power. Key quote: “When Christians find themselves on the losing side of Supreme Court decisions, it isn’t cause for despair. Nor does it preclude them from doing extraordinary things.”

Realistically, they say, believers must simply adjust to a world of same-sex marriage. Any bids to reverse this culture shift “will be spectacularly unsuccessful.” But “this does not mean they have to endorse gay marriage.” Traditionalists must remain vigilant in protecting “vital religious liberty,” which is a mark of the healthy society.

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Religion news story of 2015? Epic Time cover on forgiveness in Charleston, S.C.

Religion news story of 2015? Epic Time cover on forgiveness in Charleston, S.C.

It's hard to know where to start in praising the Time magazine cover on the legacies of the nine believers lost at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. This story sets out to let readers meet all of them, using the voices of those who survived and others touched by the glimpses of hell, and heaven, during that nine-minute massacre.

It's true that the reporting team that produced "What it Takes to Forgive a Killer" -- David Von Drehle, with Jay Newton-Small and Maya Rhodan -- were given an extraordinary amount of space in which to paint this masterwork. When you start reading this, close the door for privacy and have some tissues ready -- especially if you watch the YouTube at the top of this post, which is referenced in the article.

In a way, the size of this article only raises the stakes. You see, forgiveness is a massive personal and theological subject and the goal of the article was to show that people are complex and that grace works in different lives at different paces. There are several theological perspectives to consider, and tons of biblical material to reference, with many places to stumble in handling the facts and the background. In a way, this article seems short, when one considers its ambition.

For me, as the son of a pastor in a Bible-driven tradition, the key is that this story focuses on a small circle of "Wednesday night" people, the ultra-faithful folks who end a long, long day by gathering with their shepherds for Bible study. This is not the Sunday morning crowd. If you were looking for the true believers, Wednesday night Bible study in Mother Emanuel is where you are going to find them.

At the heart of the story are three words, spoken by Nadine Collier, daughter of the fallen Ethel Lance,  to gunman Dylann Storm Roof. Sharon Risher is her sister. This is long, but essential:

“I forgive you.” Those three words reverberated through the courtroom and across the cable wires, down the fiber-optic lines, carried by invisible storms of ones and zeros that fill the air from cell tower to cell tower and magically cohere in the palms of our hands. They took the world by surprise.

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