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Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

Life after the DUI bishop: Deseret News listens to Episcopal voices talk alcohol

I imagine that faithful GetReligion readers noticed that in the past I have paid very close attention to the story of the DUI Episcopal Bishop in Maryland -- now simply Heather Elizabeth Cook, after she was defrocked.

It was, after all, a local story since I was living in Maryland at the time. This was also a story with the potential to have a strong impact on regional and national leaders in the Episcopal Church, even if Baltimore Sun editors didn't seem all that interested in that side of things.

With the trial ahead, it is also clear that this story is not over. Several Maryland Episcopalians and former Episcopalians kept raising an interesting question: If it is true that Cook was drunk AND texting, might she have been doing church business on a work cellphone when she struck and killed that cyclist? If so, what are the implications for the shrinking Maryland diocese?

Then there is the issue of the Episcopal Church and its love/hate relationship with alcohol. This is the stuff of cheap humor (insert joke about four Episcopalians here), but it is also a serious topic linked to substance abuse and people in power looking the other way. 

So during the recent Episcopal General Convention in Salt Lake City, the Cook case made it impossible for church leaders not to talk about alcohol. To their credit, it appears that they took this issue fairly seriously. With gay-marriage rites in the news, however, the coverage of the topic was light.

Thus, I want to point readers toward a major feature story on this topic that ran in The Deseret News. It is somewhat awkward to do this because it was written by former GetReligionista Mark Kellner, who now works on that newspaper's national religion desk. But sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Besides, how can you pass up a story with an anecdotal, on-the-record lede as devastating as this one?

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Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

July 16 was the 70th anniversary of a world-changing event; the testing of the world’s first atomic bomb in a New Mexico desert. It would be less than a month before two such bombs would be released in the skies over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

If any event had grave moral consequences, it was this one. But the silence of any kind of faith-based element to this anniversary in the media is profound.

There are, of course, some bizarre God-connections to this event. The site of  the test was called “Trinity” supposedly after a John Donne sonnet, although no one really knows the origin of the name. It seems odd that a core Christian doctrine about the nature of God is attached to something connected with mass death.

Hinduism gets a role here too. When the main bombs went off in Japan, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the California physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his work on the Manhattan Project, spouted Vishnu’s famous quote from the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Yet, in the coverage I scanned that ran on the day of the anniversary, there was more about "atomic tourists" noting the anniversary than anything about religion.

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Listening to Chattanooga voices, in the mosque and public square (but not in churches)

Listening to Chattanooga voices, in the mosque and public square (but not in churches)

From the beginning, the New York Times reporters probing the shootings in Chattanooga have shown a willingness to dig into the religious questions linked to the troubled life and mind of Mohammod Youssuf Abdulazeez. They have not blown questions about the role of Islam out of proportion, but they have certainly not ignored them, either.

The journalistic task at hand was simplified by the faith-related blog materials that Abdulazeez left behind that, to some degree, described his state of mind. Meanwhile, the young man's personal struggles were right there in the public record. There was no need for speculation, other than covering the actions of authorities who were trying to find out if Abdulazeez had any online ties to violent forms of Islam.

As it should, this research led to the local mosque to see how this Muslim community -- deep in Bible Belt territory -- was reacting. The Times did an fine job with that story, as well. And the reactions of believers in the faith community on the other side of this drama? Hold that thought.

With the mosque story, the regional context (just down the road from my Oak Ridge home) was crucial:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. -- Just beyond a massive strip mall, with its Best Buy and Hobby Lobby, Abdul Baasit, the imam at the Islamic Society of Greater Chattanooga, found himself preaching on Friday about a nightmare.
It was Eid al-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, normally a time of gift-giving and carnival celebration. But the party that had been planned was canceled: A man who had attended prayer services at the center’s mosque killed four Marines on Thursday. And Mr. Baasit, 48, was trying to help Chattanooga’s Muslim faithful cope with their grief over the deaths, and their fear of reprisal. ...

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Back to Katy Perry and the nuns: Media may be getting actually factual

Back to Katy Perry and the nuns: Media may be getting actually factual

The tug-o-war continues between the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and five religious sisters. Now, however, it looks like mainstream media snickering over "Katy Perry versus the nuns" is finally giving way to interest in the facts.

For Those Who Came In Late: The often-ribald pop star has had her eye for some time on the eight-acre hilltop convent belonging to the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which has dwindled to five elderly sisters. Perry struck a deal with the archdiocese, then found the sisters had already sold the place to a restaurateur. The archdiocese filed a lawsuit, saying the Vatican gave it control over the estate. The nuns countersued, saying the archdiocese had no right to sell their land to Perry or anyone else.

To be sure, a few outlets are still draining the last drops of "tee-hee." Take Perez Hilton (please!), with its headline "Holy Cow! This Katy Perry Convent Drama Is Heating Up! The Nuns Filed Papers To Fight For Ownership!"

"We always thought nuns were peaceful, but these ladies are prepared to fight!" Perez exclaims. "It'll be inneresting (sic) to see who comes out victorious is (sic) this buyer battle!"

At least the gossip blog got it right, that it was nuns against the archdiocese. Stories last month chortled over the (inaccurate) image of black-clad biddies fighting a flamboyant pop diva.

Better is the Los Angeles Times, whose columnist Steve Lopez  broke the story in late June. In contrast to the forced humor of that story, though, the new article sticks to facts. Note how it interweaves news and background:

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How did 'Christian' — as an adjective in mass media — come to mean shallow and lousy?

How did 'Christian' — as an adjective in mass media — come to mean shallow and lousy?

On one level, this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is a follow-up discussion of my recent blog here about the New York Times article that, allegedly, tried to look for Jesus at Comic-Con 2015. That event in San Diego is, as I described it in my discussion with Todd Wilken, the great annual gathering of the pop-culture tribes for a "sacred dance" of hero worship and, of course, marketing.

The Times team apparently went to this event looking for evidence that the emerging mini-industry of films and television miniseries targeting "Christian" consumers -- in this case, "Christian" clearly means "evangelical" -- just isn't with it, or cool enough, when it comes to competing in the pop-culture major leagues. But that article, I argued, really didn't pay attention to (a) the work of Christians in mainstream media and (b) the ongoing debates, decade after decade, about aith questions raised in franchises such as "Star Wars," zombie movies, the X-Men, Doctor Who, etc., etc., etc.

In the end, the podcast ended up focusing on how the term "Christian" -- used as a adjective for marketing purposes -- has in our times become another way of saying shoddy, cheap, shallow and derivative. This led to some obvious questions.

Was J.S. Bach a "Christian" composer? Is Christopher Parkening a "Christian" classical guitarist?

Was J.R.R. Tolkien a "Christian" novelist?

How about C.S. Lewis? How about Jane Austen? How about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn? When Fyodor Dostoyevsky sat down to write, was he thinking to himself, "How can I please the 'Christian' marketplace?" How about Flannery O'Connor? By the way, her work was the subject of my "On Religion" column for Universal this past week.

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Retired Playboy editor gets airbrushed treatment in newspaper profile

Retired Playboy editor gets airbrushed treatment in newspaper profile

Ever wonder about the morality or spirituality of a Playboy editor? Well, when you read a newspaper profile on one of them, you'll still be left wondering.

The Sunday feature, in the Sarasota, Fla., Herald-Tribune, drops a hint or two in telling of Gretchen Edgren, who worked as an editor for 25 years in the Playboy empire. She's a "churchgoing mother of two." Now living in retirement in Holmes Beach, she was "brought up in a religious but open-minded household" in Oregon. But aside from those glancing blows, the article pretty much rambles for 800+ words.

The hook is apparently that this calm, silver-haired lady once edited a magazine and several books for Hugh Hefner's libertine realm. As a further paradox, although she's on nickname terms with "Hef," she never even visited his Playboy Mansion.

The Herald-Tribune takes pains to say that Edgren was a "serious journalist" whose first gig was at the The Oregonian before becoming an assistant editor for VIP, the magazine for Playboy Club members. She then edited annual collections of Playmates and a 40-year retrospect of the flagship magazine.

How did she regard the focus of her trade -- which one of her annual projects celebrated as The Year in Sex? No problem, says the Herald-Tribune, but it doesn't really say why:

“I considered myself a feminist, but the whole feminist thing about 'Playboy' exploiting women wasn't right,” says Edgren, whose first job was as a reporter for The Oregonian. “Women were not being rounded up and forced to pose. They were lining up at the door, and for a lot of reasons.”

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Must read: Baltimore Sun explores rich world of ushers, in black church traditions

Must read: Baltimore Sun explores rich world of ushers, in black church traditions

During my two decades -- sort of -- teaching journalism in Washington, one of the sharpest and most talented journalists I got to know was Hamil Harris of The Washington Post.

Now, this ultra-energetic man -- a student once called him Hurricane Hamil -- is talented in so many ways. Name me another former Florida State University gridiron lineman who is a great multi-platform reporter, speaks Russian, is a talented Gospel musician, has worked as a tech aide (hope I got that right) in emergency room surgery and has a theology degree. Does he fly airplanes too? I forget.

I could tell so many Hamil stories. But the key for this post today is his constant emphasis, speaking to my students, on never losing sight of the human element in reporting. Journalism is about people, their voices, their stories, their pain, their joy and, yes, the information in their heads and at their fingertips. Journalism is often about famous people, but wise journalists know that everyone they meet knows something about some story, information that could be crucial in the future. Treat them right. Respect them. Listen to them.

That's Hamil talking. This brings me to his insights, through the years, into the role that ushers play in African-American church life. They are more than doorkeepers. Ushers are a crucial part of what these churches do, both in worship and in community building. They are the eyes and ears of the body of the church.

So I thought of Hamil when The Baltimore Sun ran a fine news feature the other day under the somewhat bland headline: "Ushers serve as 'doorkeepers' to worship." The opening anecdote captures the "eyes and ears" concept.

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You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means (maybe)

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means (maybe)

To be perfectly honest about it, I never "got" the Grateful Dead. I mean, I recognized the greatness of Jerry Garcia's work as a guitarist and, frankly, I love a good instrumental jam session. How many copies of the Allman Brothers Band classic "At Fillmore East" do you own?

But I understand the group's importance in the history of American rock 'n' roll and I have read my share of dreamy articles about the legendary multi-generation congregation of Deadheads who follow them from gig to gig, packing portable microphones and recording units to create live recordings -- with the band's blessing.

In terms of religion, I also understand that, as with many things '60s, these tribal gatherings are frequently described as having a "spiritual" quality (Hello Ira) due to the unique brew of music, a strong sense of community and the presence of, well, other things in the atmosphere.

Still, I cannot quite get myself to accept the very specific religious language used in a recent New York Times piece about the band's Fare Thee Well tour and its significance to the folks with their tape machines. The lede sets the stage for the key paragraphs:

CHICAGO -- Between his first Grateful Dead show in 1988, at the age of 15, and the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995, William Walker saw the band about 130 times, a modest number in the Deadhead universe. But Mr. Walker has experienced many, many more of the band’s concerts through his passion for live audience taping, collecting thousands of cassettes and terabytes-worth of digital audio, while also contributing his own recordings to the seemingly endless archive.

And then the key images:

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Shocker! Press discovers that QB Russell Wilson is still a traditional Christian believer

Shocker! Press discovers that QB Russell Wilson is still a traditional Christian believer

Good grief. Have we really reached the point where journalists are shocked, shocked that traditional Christian believers strive to follow 2,000 years of doctrine asking them to hold off on sex until after they have taken their wedding vows?

Or, are the world-weary journalists who cover pop culture (that includes sports, most of the time) predestined to roll their eyes when really hot superstars -- in multiple senses of that word -- affirm traditional doctrines on sex when asked awkward questions in public?

Call it Tim Tebow syndrome, for obvious reasons.

In this case, the man on the hot spot is the unusually composed quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks. I give you the elite journalistic work of professionals at People:

Russell Wilson ended months of speculation about whether he is dating Ciara during an interview with Pastor Miles McPherson at San Diego's Rock Church on Sunday. But the bigger surprise from the interview was the news that the couple is abstaining from sex for religious reasons.

"I said to her -- and she completely agreed -- 'Can we love each other without that?' " the Seattle Seahawks quarterback, 26, said in the interview. "If you can love somebody without that, then you can really love somebody."

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