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Happy couple has 100 grandkids: Can you (as opposed to AP) spot the religion ghost?

Happy couple has 100 grandkids: Can you (as opposed to AP) spot the religion ghost?

This has to be one of the #DUH items to ever grace the cyber pages here at GetReligion. Let's see if you can spot the religion ghost in this one.

So let's say that you are reading a story about a nice elderly couple in Illinois named Leo and Ruth Zanger. The story appeared in the Quincy Herald-Whig that was picked up by the Associated Press, which is why several people (Hello M.Z. Hemingway!) saw it and sent me stunned, even incredulous notes.

Now, the key to this story is that Leo and Ruth Zanger recently celebrated the birth of their 100th grandchild. Thus, here is the top of the story:

It's a big deal when Leo and Ruth Zanger's family gets together. Seriously, it's a really big deal -- with added emphasis on the "big" part.
The Zangers recently welcomed their 100th grandchild, which makes family functions more than a get-together.
"We rent out a church hall," said Austin Zanger, a grandson of Leo and Ruth.
When Austin's wife, Ashleigh, gave birth to their second child, Jaxton Leo, on April 8, it became a historic moment. Jaxton was grandchild No. 100 for Leo and Ruth. For the numerically inclined, Jaxton was also No. 46 among the great-grandchildren. The Zangers also have 53 grandkids and one great-great-grandchild for a nice round 100.
"The good Lord has just kept sending them," Leo Zanger said of the grandkids. "We could start our own town."

Ah, but what kind of church hall? Seriously, as you read the top of this story didn't the following thought drift through your mind: "The Zangers must be really serious Catholics."

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Buffalo paper posts intirguing piece on would-be nuns that omits a few questions

Buffalo paper posts intirguing piece on would-be nuns that omits a few questions

There’s been a lot of press in recent years about the newer more conservative type of American nun and how influxes of 20-something women joining fairly new religious communities.

That is, the new breed of nun isn't joining up with some of the traditional orders. They are inventing their own or joining communities that have taken old, old traditions and pulled them into the modern world, trusting that they are still relevant and will appeal to the young.

Here’s a story of a quintet of young women who are doing just that, care of the team at The Buffalo News

Nuns have long been the bedrock of the Catholic Church in Western New York. At the height of their numbers in the late 1960s, more than 3,500 sisters ministered in the region, teaching and healing hundreds of thousands of people in schools and hospitals. Hundreds of sisters remain active in the area today, but most are well into their 60s and 70s, and their communities have long passed the stage of being able to replenish themselves with fresh-faced recruits. Most communities of women religious in the area haven’t welcomed a new nun in decades. Some have given up on looking for candidates.
Yet, on the Lake Erie shoreline in Derby, a Catholic retreat house now teems with the youthful exuberance of Martin and four other women, all in their 20s and hoping to become nuns together in what could be the first religious community built from scratch in the Buffalo diocese.

That's a nice punch statement in a summary paragraph. Now, here are some additional details.

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Religion angle? WWII vet united with his prayer book, long after it fell from 30,000 feet

Religion angle? WWII vet united with his prayer book, long after it fell from 30,000 feet

For a decade, starting in 1995, I led a month-long reporting "boot camp" here in Washington that always included Memorial Day. Year after year, I was amazed at the personal stories that would emerge as I helped young reporters cover these events for local newspapers across the land.

You want symbolic details in poignant stories? Cover Memorial Day in greater Washington, D.C. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Memorial Day stories.

This brings me to an amazing Baltimore Sun story -- "Towson WW II airman's prayer book returned from Europe after 70 years" -- timed for Memorial Day that, for some reason, the editors decided to play on A2 with timid art.

This story really got to me, and not in a good way, in part because of how it failed to take seriously it's strong and obvious religion angle. Let's start with the "probably" angle in a lede -- atop a story with a near miraculous fact that slid down a few paragraphs. 

By the time he was drafted and deployed to Italy in 1945, Larry Hilte was probably familiar with one of the most popular songs of the World War II era, "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer."
The lyrics of the song describe the plight of desperate airmen trying to find their way back from bombing runs over enemy territory in airplanes either shot full of holes, on fire or both.
Little did the Towson resident know then that 70 years later his prayer book, which fell from the Consolidated B-24 Liberator he rode on a mission over Europe in the final months of World War II, would find its own safe landing. Hilte does not know exactly when the prayer book fell from the plane, and, at this point, it doesn't really matter.

Right. The details of a pop song the veteran may or may not have known are more important than the personal details linked to his "Jesus Teach Me to Pray" prayer book that fell from the sky onto a house, where it was retrieved and ended up, decades later, in a flea market.

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A killer and a theologian: Touching CNN story gets jailhouse religion — and journalism

A killer and a theologian: Touching CNN story gets jailhouse religion — and journalism

Last month, we critiqued a New York Post story on Jeffrey Dahmer's killer that totally failed to get religion.

Basically, the piece was journalistic trash.

Now, for something totally different: a touching CNN story that absolutely gets jailhouse religion — and journalism.

Really, this is an amazing, extremely well-told story.

The compelling lede:

Atlanta (CNN) A few months ago, Kelly Gissendaner wrote a letter to a pen pal across the Atlantic. She told him the state of Georgia was about to fix a date for her execution. One evening soon, she would be strapped to a gurney, needles would be inserted into her arm, and poison would course through her veins until she was dead.
The letter arrived a few days later at the home of an 88-year-old man in Tubingen, Germany. After reading it, he took one of his white handkerchiefs, folded it neatly and placed it in an envelope to mail to Georgia's death row.
"When the tears are coming," he wrote, "take my handkerchief."
The man in Germany was Jurgen Moltmann, an eminent theologian and author who met Gissendaner in prison in 2011. The two have kept in touch through letters ever since.
The circumstances of their lives are vastly different. And yet, they found commonality.

Keep reading, and the story delves into the faith journeys of both Moltmann, who at age 18 was recruited into Adolf Hitler's army, and Gissendaner, who was sentenced to die for recruiting her boyfriend to kill her husband.

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Washington Post gets it: The Duggar TV empire made all kinds of people nervous

Washington Post gets it: The Duggar TV empire made all kinds of people nervous

In recent days, I have had quite a few emails asking what the GetReligionistas think of the fall of Josh Duggar of the Family Research Council and then the whole "19 Kids and Counting" TLC reality-television empire.

As always, people seemed to be asking what we thought of the story itself, as opposed to our reactions to the mainstream news media coverage of the story. That's two different issues.

As always, most of the coverage has looked at the story through a political lens, asking how this scandal among hypocrites on the Religious Right would impact public debates about same-sex marriage, same-sex marriage and same-sex marriage.

That's an interesting angle, since I never got the impression -- as someone who has never seen a complete episode of the show -- that the Duggars were the kinds of folks who were very effective as apologists, when it came time to changing many minds on the cultural left. They seemed, to me, to be the ultimate preaching-to-the-choir niche media product. For those who are interested, here is the family's public statement on the controversy.

It's safe to assume that folks on the cultural left pretty much hated these folks, with good cause. The more subtle point is that the Duggars were also very controversial among evangelicals, including among folks who are often accurately described as very traditional, or even patriarchal, on family issues. This television empire made all kinds of folks nervous, with good cause.

Here is the key, if you want to dig into the serious coverage. How early does the name "Bill Gothard" appear and to what degree does the coverage make it sound like Gothard and his disciples represent mainstream evangelicalism or even orthodox (let alone Orthodox or Catholic) Christianity?

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The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

It’s important to know right from the start that Kirsten Powers is a cradle liberal who has never once voted for a Republican.

She was a Clinton-Gore operative in 1992, a Clinton administration appointee, press secretary for Andrew Cuomo’s first New York governor race and held other partisan posts. She then shifted into opinion journalism, currently as a USA Today columnist and token liberal commentator on Fox News.

Powers’s credentials as a card-carrying political liberal have helped create buzz about her iconoclastic new “The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech” (Regnery). It’s proclaimed “an important book” by no less than Ron Fournier, National Journal’s editorial director and former Washington bureau chief of The AP. More predictable praise comes from conservatives like Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Krauthammer and George Will, her fellow Fox pundits.

What possessed Powers to issue a broadside against what she calls “the illiberal left”?  Mainly two things.

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Scandal! Sikh man removes his turban in order to follow teachings of his faith!

Scandal! Sikh man removes his turban in order to follow teachings of his faith!

As we all know, religious doctrines are bad. Thus, breaking them is good. That seems to be the implication of a bizarre AOL.com news item -- a piece of aggregation, actually -- sent to your GetReligionistas the other day.

The key, as in many mistakes involving aggregated news, is that the writer appears to have spent zero time or energy investigating the facts of the story. In fact, it appears that the AOL desk didn't even pay that much attention to the New Zealand Herald story it was slicing and dicing. The goal was a conflict-driven click-friendly headline: "Sikh man breaks religious rules, removes his turban to help an injured boy." As a reader noted:

The title and the bulk of the article attempt to create a conflict between the "rules" of religion and real compassion. On the plus side, the article does note that "the Sikh religion makes exceptions for taking off a turban in emergencies," yet it still plays up the phony conflict.

Let's look at two pieces of this short item:

A New Zealand Sikh put religion aside and took off his turban to help an injured child.
The New Zealand Herald reports 22-year-old Harman Singh saw a 5-year-old boy had been struck by a car outside of his home Friday. Despite religious beliefs not permitting him to remove his turban and show his hair in public, Singh didn't hesitate to take off his headdress and cushion the bleeding child's head.

You have to love the "put religion aside" reference and the reference to "religious beliefs not permitting him to remove his turban." The key word is "permitting."

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God forgives. What about bikers? Sin, death and dollars near Jerusalem on Brazos

God forgives. What about bikers? Sin, death and dollars near Jerusalem on Brazos

It had to be Waco, right? It had to be a Sunday showdown in a shopping mall neo-Hooters on the edge of Jerusalem on the Brazos, the city where there are more Baptists than people, on the opposite side of town from the site of the Branch Davidians cable-TV firestorm.

Like or not, Waco is a kind of -- in the words of one police official on the scene -- "Anytown, USA." If suburbanites can end up in the line of fire during a bikers vs. bikers vs. police melee in Big Box shopping land in Waco, it can happen anywhere (or at least anywhere in the zip codes that draw bikers).

I'll be honest and admit that I was not looking for religion ghosts in this story, even if the drama unfolded near my old haunts in Waco.

However, the co-founder of this weblog -- the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc -- did more than his share of reading and sent me a URL to an interesting Sojourners commentary on the showdown between the dominant Bandidos Motorcycle Club and the emergent Cossacks, who were said to have ties to the national Hells Angels. The headline: "The Theology of a Biker Gang." The key passage:

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the U.S. And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:
God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

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In praise of William Zinsser (1922-2015), 'Who Guided Many Pens' with his 'ministry'

 In praise of William Zinsser (1922-2015), 'Who Guided Many Pens' with his 'ministry'

Almost everyone in the business knows “The Elements of Style,” the crisp 1920 handbook  by William Strunk Jr., later revised by  his onetime Cornell University student, E.B. White of The New Yorker.  Every would-be writer should also absorb a similar and much more enjoyable book that was the best thing to come out of America’s bicentennial year, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.

As the headline on his New York Times obituary proclaimed, Zinsser (1922–2015) was an “Editor and Author Who Guided Many Pens.”

Indeed, 1.5 million copies of his classic are in print. He embraced all the Strunk commandments about clarity and concision but with a magazine writer’s flair, e.g. “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.” A Zinsser maxim about writers: “If their values are solid, their work is likely to be solid.”

After World War Two Army service in North Africa and Italy, Zinsser achieved his “boyhood dream” and was hired by The New York Herald-Tribune. That stylish voice of Eastern Republicanism (final edition April 24, 1966, R.I.P.) was the last serious broadsheet competitor of The Times until The Wall Street Journal recently expanded its general news coverage.

The Religion Guy harbored Zinsser’s same ”dream” after a junior high tour of the paper’s 41st Street plant inspired the journalistic vocation, but it was not to be. Pardon the nostalgia, but here’s Zinsser describing the venerable paper’s city room in “Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher”:

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