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Sports Illustrated wrestles with tough, tender NFL star Steve Smith, while missing faith clues

Sports Illustrated wrestles with tough, tender NFL star Steve Smith, while missing faith clues

If you follow the National Football League at all, then you know that wide receiver Steve Smith -- formerly of the Carolina Panthers, now with the Baltimore Ravens -- has a reputation. He's small, but really tough. Some people say he's arrogant. He has been known to fly into a competitive rage and punch people, even his own teammates.

This is not the NFL player you expect to be walking around with a study Bible.

So I was fascinated, the other day, when Sports Illustrated ran one of its patented player profiles that hint at faith themes and realities -- but the team then drops the ball on specifics. For example, read the following overture:

Smith leaves football at the team facility. “I actually love to read,” he says, citing business texts such as The Richest Man in Babylon and motivational works like A Tale of Three Kings and The Last Lecture among his favorite books. He collects passport stamps, traveling through China, Italy, Australia and all over Africa; he’s been to Jerusalem, Barcelona, London and Paris. He says things like “Tanzania is known for tanzanite.” At one point Smith pauses because he knows this all sounds strange coming from, well, Steve Smith. “There’s a perception of me that I’m a hothead and an idiot,” he says. “That because I’m aggressive on the football field, I’m a thug. But look, just because you see me [doing one thing] in my workplace doesn’t mean I walk around stiff-arming people and spinning cantaloupe in the grocery store.”
That, of course, is what the 35-year-old Smith is known for, a career spent in perpetual combat: three documented fistfights with teammates, scores of altercations with opponents, countless spins of the football in defiant celebration after every catch, even in practice.

So the story lists many of Smith's tips for success, such as "play angry." That's the thug hothead, right?

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So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

So why, pray tell, are the Democrats in so much trouble in the Bible Belt?

Several years ago, I attended a forum here in Beltway territory about religion and politics, featuring a presentation by one of the official voices of the Democratic Party establishment -- E.J. Dionne of The Washington Post op-ed page. This was about the time that he released his book "Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics after the Religious Right."

During the question-and-answer session, I identified myself as someone who grew up as a moderate or conservative Democrat in Texas, back when that was the dominant political worldview in that state. In other words, this was before the whole red zip codes vs. blue zip codes phenomenon was identified, also famously symbolized by the "Jesusland vs. The United States of Canada" cartoon.

I asked Dionne if Gov. Mike Huckabee was nothing more than an "ordinary pre-Roe v. Wade populist Southern Democrat." This would explain, for example, why a secular libertarian like Rush Limbaugh detests Huckabee so much. 

Dionne thought about it for a second and replied that it would be very hard to argue against that thesis.

This brings me a piece that ran recently on the McClatchy wire -- "Democrats are all but extinct in the South." This news story was, timed, I am sure, to be relevant after the long-awaited fall of U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, the last Democratic senator in the old South (or as many journalists prefer to say, the old Confederacy).

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Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

Post-Zionism seems to baffle The Washington Post

It comes as no surprise that Jordanian officials believe that Israel bears responsibility for tensions over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. But is it proper for The Washington Post to believe it, too? 

The Post is well within its rights to make this assertion on its editorial page. I may disagree with its arguments, but opinion journalism is designed to offer these arguments. The classic model of Anglo-American journalism, however, mandates a news story offer both sides of a story equal time.

I have my doubts about a recent article by the Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief entitled “Relationship between Israel and Jordan grows warier amid tensions in Jerusalem." My reading of this piece leaves me wondering if it is unbalanced, incurious, incomplete or lacking in context. Could it have been written from an editorial mindset that blames Israel first?

Or is there something more at work here?

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5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Lilly Fowler on covering faith and the front lines in #Ferguson

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Lilly Fowler on covering faith and the front lines in #Ferguson

"Everyone has an agenda."

That's one lesson Lilly Fowler said she has learned covering faith and the front lines in Ferguson, Missouri, the St. Louis suburb engulfed in racial unrest and sometimes violent protests 

Less than a year ago, Fowler joined the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as its full-time religion writer.

Born in Mexico and raised on the border of Arizona and Mexico, Fowler earned two master's degrees: one in theology from the University of Notre Dame and one in journalism from the University of Southern California. 

And she shared this personal note: "I like punk and psychedelic music!"

Q: What has been your role on the Ferguson story? What kind of hours has this required? 

A: I’m the religion reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, so my primary role has been to find the faith angles in Ferguson. But this has been an all-consuming story, with the entire newsroom working long hours, so I’ve often been deployed to cover stories outside the realm of religion. I recently covered Black Friday protests related to Ferguson, for example.

 

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Black church unites with white church: A symbolic story about modern 'Baptist' life

Black church unites with white church: A symbolic story about modern 'Baptist' life

Veterans on the religion beat know that there are Baptists, Baptists, Baptists and then there are other kinds of Baptists.

There are Southern BaptistsAmerican Baptists, several kinds of National Baptists (not to be confused with the Progressive National Baptists), Free Will BaptistsReformed (Calvinist) Baptists, various Conservative BaptistsPrimitive BaptistsCooperative Baptists and legions of others. Then, of course, there a kazillion totally independent Baptist congregations with no ties that bind them to anyone.

So the Rev. Pat Robertson, last time I checked, is a Baptist and so is the Rev. Bill Moyers. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a Baptist, as is the Rev. Billy Graham. Former President Bill Clinton remains a Baptist and the same is true for former President Jimmy Carter, although he famously dropped his Southern Baptist ties.

What's my point? When journalists write about Baptists it helps to provide a bit of context. Take, for example, the very interesting Huffington Post story the other day that -- in the midst of #Ferguson shock waves -- ran under this headline: "Two Florida Churches Merge With Hope Of Bridging A Racial Divide." Here's the top of the report:

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Trying to hear the voices of faith in the Ray and Janay Rice story

Trying to hear the voices of faith in the Ray and Janay Rice story

It must be real challenge to cover the domestic-violence drama of Ray and Janay Rice -- the actual story of the human beings themselves, as opposed to the melodrama within the bazillion-dollar kingdom called the National Football League -- without including some of the Godtalk.

Mr. and Mrs. Rice continue to talk about sin, forgiveness and redemption. The same goes for the Ravens head coach, who is an outspoken Christian, and ditto for the general manager. The team's director of player development (and moral issues) is an ordained minister. Many of Ray Rice's closest friends among Ravens players -- like wide receiver Torrey Smith -- are Godtalkers as well.

How do you quote these people without covering the religion angle?

Faithful GetReligion readers know that the team at The Baltimore Sun is up to that challenge.

Thus, I was curious to see what would happen when Rice won his battle with the NFL powers that be and was reinstated as an active player in the league. It's the hottest storyline of the pro-football weekend and, here in Baltimore, local news channels ran BREAKING NEWS! alerts onscreen during regular programming for two or three hours, which wouldn't happen if there was a peace settlement in Syria.

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What role did clergy play during #Ferguson chaos? If journalists looked, they were there

What role did clergy play during #Ferguson chaos? If journalists looked, they were there

Anyone who has studied the role of religion in American history knows why the voice of clergy have always played such a crucial role in the story of African-Americans in this land.

During the darkest days in the generations after death of slavery, fierce racism continued to prevent all but a few brave blacks from pursuing degrees in law, medicine and other elite fields. The vast majority of those who earned elite degrees served others in black communities and that was pretty much that.

But in the historic African-American churches, men went to seminaries (and among Pentecostals, in particular, women as well) and returned to become the public voices of the people in the pews and on the streets. They were the faces that were turned outward, into society as a whole.

This brings us to #Ferguson, of course, and the coverage of the events after the grand jury report was made public.

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Once again, #Ferguson defies easy analysis but demands solid journalism and context

Once again, #Ferguson defies easy analysis but demands solid journalism and context

Three months ago, the question was: "What the hell is happening in Ferguson, Mo.?"

Here we go again. 

I'm supposed to write a post this morning critiquing media coverage. But honestly, the situation at this point defies easy analysis and understanding.

Daniel Burke, editor of CNN's "Belief Blog," made an excellent point on Twitter: "Journalism, and context, are so crucial." Can our Godbeat friend get an "Amen!?"

I do know that some excellent religion writers are on the scene, including Lilly A. Fowler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who has been tracking the faith angle in Ferguson for months and — after a late night — was back bright and early this morning.

CNN's Eric Marrapodi is in Ferguson, too. 

While his duties extend beyond religion, he's certainly attuned to that crucial angle.

If you see solid religion reporting in Ferguson or come across any holy ghosts, please don't hesitate to let us know — either in the comments section or via @getreligion.

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In advance of Ferguson grand jury decision, something's missing when Los Angeles Times goes to church

In advance of Ferguson grand jury decision, something's missing when Los Angeles Times goes to church

With a grand jury decision expected soon in Ferguson, Mo., the Los Angeles Times went to church Sunday:

First, the pastor asked congregants to pray for the parents of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot over the summer about three miles away. They murmured yes.

Then she asked the several dozen mostly black parishioners at Christ the King United Church of Christ on Sunday to pray for the families of the other black men in the region who had been shot by police officers. Some of them murmured yes.

Next, the Rev. Traci Blackmon asked her congregation a question not often heard on the turbulent streets of neighboring Ferguson, which remains tense with fear, anger and uncertainty as the conclusion of a grand jury investigation into Brown's Aug. 9 death looms ever closer -- perhaps as soon as Monday.

“Will you pray for Officer Darren Wilson?” Blackmon asked.

Hearing the name of Brown's shooter, the congregants remained silent.

The Times story focused on Christ the King United Church of Christ, describing it as "an oasis of warmth and calm, albeit one not far removed from the pressures that have gripped the region."

On the surface, it's a perfectly fine story. But after reading it the first time, something gnawed at me, even if I couldn't quite place my concern. So I read it again. And again.

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