Godbeat

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

Bone again: MassLive could teach NYTimes how to report on relics

I wrote in this space on Tuesday that the New York Times' coverage of the Archbishop Sheen body battle was missing information on why relics are important to Catholics. By contrast, a recent article by Anne-Gerard Flynn at MassLive.com, although light on theology, captures the sense of the faithful who see in relics a living connection to saints.

Flynn seeks to capture the atmosphere of devotion among those venerating a relic of St. Anthony of Padua on loan to a local parish. She begins with an adept verbal snapshot of one woman paying her respects to the 13th-century Franciscan friar:

Springfield resident Brenda Madison was among the first area residents to venerate the relic of St. Anthony of Padua, and the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary containing the bone fragment of the saint, born in Portugual in 1195, left her in an emotional state.
"I teared up. I was just so happy. All of these years I have prayed to Anthony, and now I got that close to a part of the saint," said Madison, who attended a brief prayer service, Sept. 6, marking the reception of the relic into the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, at St. Michael's Cathedral.

Flynn is doing something subtle and powerful in the lede as she writes "the physical experience of putting her lips to the glass reliquary ... left [Madison] in an emotional state." Instead of asking an expert in Catholic theology about what it means to venerate a saint, she is trying to capture in words what such veneration means to the believer: physical contact with a person who, although dead to this present world, is alive in heaven.

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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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Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Truth be told, I have been sitting out the "black mass" media storms. I have no doubt that, for the ancient churches, we are dealing with sacrilege of the highest order. At the same time, I am very close to being a First Amendment absolutist and oppose blasphemy laws.

So why write about the following ABC News report (as run at Yahoo!) about the new brouhaha in Bible belt Oklahoma?

When you read the story, try to forget the whole black mass thing. Instead, focus on the facts in the story's material about the Catholic Mass itself. Just to keep things straight in some of these quotations, a key voice in this story is the leader of the devil-worshiping group, one Adam Daniels of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu.

The first strange reference is actually pretty mundate.

The upcoming event has generated controversy because black masses  mock Christianity and the rituals that make up their services but organizers see it as an integral part of their religion.

Yes, ignore that "Christianity" is singular and, thus, clashes with the plural reference -- "their services" -- a few words later.

Obviously, a black mass is offensive to all Christians, but that's almost beside the point. The dark rite mocks the belief of Catholics, and other ancient Christians, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. The whole point is to desecrate what has been consecrated. 

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Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

When covering major events that are directly linked to the liturgical work and authority of the pope, it never hurts to spend some time reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this case, let's look at the material found at this reference point: Paragraph 2391 -- IV. Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage.

Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, “the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.” 184 Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate “trial marriages.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another. 185 (2364)

Now, with that in mind, let's look at some important -- yes, rather picky -- issues of verb tense in the mainstream news coverage of that remarkable wedding rite that took place at the Vatican.

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Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

Tales from the crypt: NYTimes reports on Sheen body battle

The New York Times took its time getting around to the news that broke Sept. 3 concerning the dispute over the remains of saint-in-the-making Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, but Sharon Otterman's story that went online yesterday is worth the wait.

Otterman, the Times' Metro religion reporter begins with a soft lead before getting to the, ahem, body of the story:

The Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria, Ill., has already constructed a museum in honor of Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen, a native son whose Emmy-winning television show during the 1950s brought Catholicism to the American living room. It has documented several potential miracles by him and compiled a dossier on his good works for the Vatican.

It has drawn up blueprints for an elaborate shrine in its main cathedral to house his tomb and sketched out an entire devotional campus it hopes to complete when its campaign to have him declared the first American-born male saint succeeds.

There has been just one snag in the diocese’s carefully laid veneration plans: the matter of Archbishop Sheen’s body.

We are then given some straight-up details: Peoria Bishop Daniel R. Jenky recently announced that the effort to canonize Sheen -- who was nearing beatification -- is being stalled because Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, refused to permit his body to be released from its crypt at St. Patrick's Cathedral.

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Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything.

The maxim is as true in acting as it is in writing.

What set Jack Benny (pictured) or Groucho Marx apart from their peers was not the quality of their material, but their delivery. Great comedians, as well as actors, singers, writers and other performers are masters of rhythm and tempo – delivering their lines at the right moment, with the right emphasis that conveys the external and internal meaning of their lines.
 
Timing is also important in journalism. One of the marks of superior journalism is its auricular qualities: It sounds as good as it reads. And there is also the timing of sources and material in constructing a story.  This gratification of eye and ear is what sets the great above the commonplace reporters.

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Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Anyone who has worked in journalism for any time at all knows that some of the biggest, the most important news stories are the ones that are hardest to see -- because they unfold very slowly in the background, like shifting tectonic plates.

This is really, really true when it comes to changes in religion and culture.

Thus, if you care about religion news in postmodern America, then you need to read the short think piece (if that is not a contradiction in terms) that Tobin Grant posted the other day at the Corner of Church and State blog over at Religion News Service.

There is no way to briefly summarize the info in this short story, but there is a good reason for that. Reality is complex. Here is the start of the essay, which -- from a Baptist perspective -- offers the bad news. But hang on, things are going to get complicated really quick.

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What is this? Concerning that Time anti-news essay on modern nuns

What is this? Concerning that Time anti-news essay on modern nuns

At least once every month or two I get a junk-mail letter -- with spam emails coming more frequently -- from the business office of Time magazine, a publication for which I happily paid good money for several decades. 

Perhaps you get these as well, the messages that say, "We want you back!" urging me to renew the subscription that I cancelled a year or two ago. Apparently these people do not pay attention to return messages or even the people who do their telephone research with former subscribers.

Does Time want me back? If so, why do the magazine's editors keep dedicating oceans of ink -- real and cyber -- to opinion essays about religious, moral and cultural topics that deserve serious journalistic attention? Is this just the spirit of the MSNBC-Fox age spreading over into the old prestige media? I assume so.

Take, for example, the new essay that ran under the headline, "The Great Nunquisition: Why the Vatican Is Cracking Down on Sisters." This piece is the complete anti-news package.

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Vermont bacon wars: How much religious info does a news report need?

Vermont bacon wars: How much religious info does a news report need?

One of the most interesting questions my students ask me all the time can be stated like this: In an age of short stories and even shorter attention spans, how do I know how much information is enough when I'm dealing with a complicated topic? 

You can see the relevance to the religion beat, right? How do you know how much the average reader actually knows about a given world religion (think Islam) or even, in an American context, details about different forms of Judaism or Christianity? How do you know when you need to stop and spend a few precious words explaining something that, to some readers, may be perfectly obvious, but not perfectly obvious to others?

Well, I saw an interesting little story the other day from Burlington, Vt., that perfectly illustrated this situation and I stashed it away for later discussion. Reading it a second time I noticed that, well, it was written by a former student of mine, someone with whom I have had this precise discussion.

So, let me clearly state that connection and note that the following is not a slam job. I honestly do not know whether this little story has to have an addition fact paragraph or two. I also don't know if the reporter (hello there, April) write additional material that was removed by an editor. Things happen. This is one reason GetReligionistas rarely mention reporters by name.

So what's the subject here? Well, it's Islam and bacon.

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