Religion

Looking for spiritual ghosts, as the Ben Bradlee story moves to National Cathedral

Looking for spiritual ghosts, as the Ben Bradlee story moves to National Cathedral

Of course Ben Bradlee was raised as an Episcopalian.

This is Washington, D.C., and he was one of the giants of the city, a titan from his days consulting with (and covering) John F. Kennedy, Jr., to his final years working hard to encourage a new generation of journalists in The Washington Post newsroom as it struggled, like all major media institutions, to enter the uncharted waters of the digital age. He was larger than life and that kind of Beltway story can only end with a funeral in the interfaith, ecumenical, civil-religion holy place called National Cathedral.

The Post team, as it should, has pulled out all the stops in its eulogies for Bradlee, with untold inches of type -- analog and digital -- and numerous multi-media features. And the role of religion? Let's just say that the liturgical elements of this drama didn't go very high in the story. Here is the top of the massive Style section feature on the funeral:

Following a small choir’s soft alto affirmation of America’s beauty, the organ swelled, and the people joined in, and the national hymn that Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee chose for his own funeral filled the cathedral, its pews lined with the powerful and the ordinary.
Then a prayer, and two sailors delivering a taut flag to the editor’s widow, and a bugler sounding taps from high in the Gothic rafters, and then, because this was Mr. Bradlee who was being celebrated, a sharp break from the stately and solemn: The band struck up Sousa’s jaunty “The Washington Post” march and Ben Bradlee left the building as he had departed his newspaper on so many nights through the 26 years he led it: electrifying the room just by sweeping through it.

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5Q+1 interview: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

5Q+1 interview: From God and guns to Death Row salvation, JoAnne Viviano excels reporting on faith and values

JoAnne Viviano covers faith and values for the Columbus Dispatch, a central Ohio newspaper with a daily circulation of 120,000 and an average Sunday circulation of about 230,000.

Her Godbeat writing earned her the 2014 Cornell Religion Reporter of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association. That award honors excellence in religion reporting at mid-sized newspapers.

"I grew up in suburban Detroit, where my mom fostered in me an early love for books by taking me to the library regularly and teaching me to read as a kindergartener," Viviano said.

She received a bachelor of arts degree in English and communication from the University of Michigan ("not very popular here in Columbus!") before starting working as a reporter. She recalls "an amazing mentor there named Jon Hall, who helped me find the confidence I needed to turn my writing abilities into a career as a reporter."

Her first writing job came with her Michigan hometown weekly, The Romeo Observer, followed by stints with The Macomb Daily in Mount Clemens, Mich., the New Haven Register in Connecticut and The Vindicator in Youngstown, Ohio. Along the way, she covered beats ranging from general assignments to municipal governments to state courts to education to crime.

Shortly before a strike hit The Vindicator, she left an earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University. That led her to The Associated Press, where she worked for several years, starting in the Detroit bureau before moving to Columbus, eventually serving as a breaking-news staffer.

"I came to The Columbus Dispatch in 2012 because I missed beat reporting and being part of a metro newsroom," Viviano said. "It was a scary choice, with the way the industry has been, but I’m glad I made it. The Dispatch has remained strong and is a supportive, positive place to work."

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Posterized Bible covers: Enterprising newsfeature in Nashville Tennessean

Posterized Bible covers: Enterprising newsfeature in Nashville Tennessean

You hear so much about the "Word of God," it's easy to forget the need for it to look attractive as well. So the Nashville Tennessean showed some alert reporting in its newsfeature on a venerable poster company being tasked with a contemporary Bible translation.

Reporter Heidi Hall took an otherwise mundane announcement and made it into a solid, hybrid business-religion story:

The Common English Bible's Nashville-based distributor contracted Hatch to create new paperback covers showcasing three Scriptures — a fresh look for this Christmas giving season. The 2011 translation replaces anachronistic phrases with the language of today.
Its distributor's instruction to Hatch was frighteningly broad: Basically, just do that wonderful thing you do. But artist Amber Richards said she stuck with her employer's archive of text and picture blocks and asked question after question until her design emerged.

Hall, the reporter, spins the story several ways. She cites Hatch manager Celene Aubry noting that both the printer and the publisher, Abingdon, are venerable firms. "When the 225-year-old company wanted a fresh look, they came to the 135-year-old company," Aubry says.

Hall also stirs in a dash of history, noting that Hatch's first project was a flier in 1879 announcing a speech by the famous abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, a Congregationalist minister. So, she says, the Bible project is a homecoming of sorts for Hatch.

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Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

Is it a fact? Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley converted to Islam, New York Times reports

After James Foley's beheading by the Islamic State militant group two months ago, the American's Catholic background made headlines.

But in a massive, 5,000-word story Sunday, The New York Times reported that Foley converted to Islam soon after he was taken hostage.

The Times quoted 19-year-old Jejoen Bontinck of Belgium — identified as "a teenage convert to Islam who spent three weeks in the summer of 2013 in the same cell as Mr. Foley":

Mr. Foley converted to Islam soon after his capture and adopted the name Abu Hamza, Mr. Bontinck said. (His conversion was confirmed by three other recently released hostages, as well as by his former employer.)
“I recited the Quran with him,” Mr. Bontinck said. “Most people would say, ‘Let’s convert so that we can get better treatment.’ But in his case, I think it was sincere.”
Former hostages said that a majority of the Western prisoners had converted during their difficult captivity. Among them was Mr. (Peter) Kassig, who adopted the name Abdul-Rahman, according to his family, who learned of his conversion in a letter smuggled out of the prison.
Only a handful of the hostages stayed true to their own faiths, including Mr. (Steven J.) Sotloff, then 30, a practicing Jew. On Yom Kippur, he told his guards he was not feeling well and refused his food so he could secretly observe the traditional fast, a witness said.
Those recently released said that most of the foreigners had converted under duress, but that Mr. Foley had been captivated by Islam. When the guards brought an English version of the Quran, those who were just pretending to be Muslims paged through it, one former hostage said. Mr. Foley spent hours engrossed in the text.
His first set of guards, from the Nusra Front, viewed his professed Islamic faith with suspicion. But the second group holding him seemed moved by it. For an extended period, the abuse stopped. Unlike the Syrian prisoners, who were chained to radiators, Mr. Foley and Mr. (John) Cantlie were able to move freely inside their cell.

Given the circumstances, however, should Foley's "conversion" really be presented as a fact? That was my question as I read the story.

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And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

And this just in! Southern Baptists still convinced Christianity has been correct on marriage for 2,000 years

I think it is time for a moratorium on the use of the word "rail" by mainstream journalists, or at least by those who are not writing editorial columns or essays for advocacy publications.

Maybe it is time to say that we should only rail unto others as we would like them to rail unto us.

Now, I know that the word "rail" is legitimate and can be used accurately. I am simply saying that there is a high test for communications that can be accurately described with this word. Consider the following online dictionary material:


rail ... verb (used without object)
1. to utter bitter complaint or vehement denunciation ... to rail at fate. complain or protest strongly and persistently about. "he railed at human fickleness"

Elsewhere, you can find synonyms such as to "fulminate against, inveigh against, rage against, speak out against, make a stand against" and so forth. Now, some of those are fairly neutral and others capture the way this term is commonly used in news reporting. I think "rage against" is the hot-button concept.

So with that in mind, consider this USA Today report about the current Southern Baptist Convention conference on the dark side of family life in a post-Sexual Revolution world. 

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Los Angeles Times covers grieving students, but where are their voices?

Los Angeles Times covers grieving students, but where are their voices?

"How do you feel?" It's such a callous news cliché, especially shouted while sticking a mike in someone's face. But let's face it: When people are shot down senselessly -- as five high schoolers were at Marysville-Pilchuck High School near Seattle -- we want to know how their friends are taking it.

Unfortunately, we don’t find out in the Los Angeles Times'  coverage of the church vigil that followed the shooting.

The article sets an appropriate mood at the local Grove Church, crowded with students grieving for their fallen classmates. The Times even notes that students from a rival school were there -- and that the other school canceled and forfeited a planned football game.

The story adds movingly what the shooter, Jaylen Fryberg, really did to the kids:

Each bullet that Fryberg fired tore apart the region's safety and calm. As dusk fell and rain threatened, hundreds of students and parents, teachers and neighbors gathered together in search of solace. There were hymns, prayers and a moment of silence punctuated by tears.
There was Scripture: "Come to me all of you who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest."  There was horror. And there was hope.
"I hate this tragedy as much as any of you," Pastor Nik Baumgart told the mourners who filled the church auditorium and its lobby and flowed out into the parking lot. "I hate what's going on. I hate what we've had to see.
"And I remember all kinds of times when I've had the same thoughts that you've had about that city, about that situation, about those schools," he continued. "Now that's us. Now that's my alma mater. Here's what we're here to do tonight. It's simple. It's honestly overly simple. Love one another. Weep together."

That's perceptive reporting. The minister doesn't rush to judge or say the dead girl was "in a better place." He just confesses human frailty, and asks everyone to love and weep.

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God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

God news? Pope Francis gets earthy talking about 'family;' mainstream press ignores him

I would have thought that, in the wake of the recent media storm about the Synod on the Family, almost anything that Pope Francis said in public on that topic would be big news in the mainstream press.

Turns out, that is not the case. But I will plunge on. 

What if Pope Francis -- media superstar, par excellence -- even said something blunt and controversial about the meaning of a word like "family"? What if, in said quote, he even used a typically earthy Francis term like "bastardized"? Surely that would draw coverage?

With all of that in mind, consider the top of this Vatican City report from the Catholic News Agency (as opposed to The New York Times, NPR, Comedy Central or something mainstream):
 

In an audience with members of an international Marian movement, Pope Francis warned that the sacrament of marriage has been reduced to a mere association, and urged participants to be witnesses in a secular world.

“The family is being hit, the family is being struck and the family is being bastardized,” the Pope told those in attendance at the Oct. 25 audience. He warned against the common view in society that “you can call everything family, right?”

“What is being proposed is not marriage, it's an association. But it's not marriage! It's necessary to say these things very clearly and we have to say it!” Pope Francis stressed. He lamented that there are so many “new forms” of unions which are “totally destructive and limiting the greatness of the love of marriage.”

OK, that was blunt. Did he get into any specifics?

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Ebola-free nurse Nina Pham thanks God, and The Dallas Morning News takes notice

Ebola-free nurse Nina Pham thanks God, and The Dallas Morning News takes notice

At first glance, nurse Nina Pham's return home to Texas after beating the often-deadly Ebola virus failed to raise my GetReligion antenna.

A medical story? Definitely.

A political story? Perhaps, given Pham's Oval Office hug with President Barack Obama. 

But a religion story? Probably not.

The straightforward lede of The Dallas Morning News' front-page story on Saturday gave no indication of a faith angle: 

Nurse Nina Pham, the first person to contract Ebola in the U.S., returned home to North Texas late Friday with a clean bill of health, reassurance from President Barack Obama and the promise of a reunion with her dog, Bentley.
CareFlite pilot Jason Davis confirmed about midnight Friday that Pham had arrived at Fort Worth's Meacham International Airport: "She seemed good -- super nice family. She's in good spirits."
Pham, one of two Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas nurses who caught Ebola while treating Thomas Eric Duncan, was declared virus-free and sent home by the National Institutes of Health in Maryland. Officials also confirmed Friday that her colleague Amber Vinson has tested free of the disease, but they said they didn’t know when she’d be ready to leave Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Before Pham visited the Oval Office and got a hug from Obama, she expressed gratitude as she left the NIH facility.

But then I read Pham's own words — the next two paragraphs of the story.

 

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Baltimore Sun offers another look at generic faith of a key Raven player

Baltimore Sun offers another look at generic faith of a key Raven player

Anyone who is following the Baltimore Ravens knows that one of the most controversial issues looming over the NFL has been the suspension of superstar Ray Rice after a videotaped episode of domestic violence.

Behind the scenes, the team scrambled to replace its star running back. Out of nowhere, journeyman Justin Forsett has emerged as one of the feel-good stories of the year, with the tailback's yards-per-carry average ranking as one of the best in football (even though he is 5-feet-8, 197 pounds).

The Baltimore Sun ran a lengthy profile of Forsett last week and, lo and behold, a major theme in the story was his strong but totally vague faith. GetReligion readers who are into sports, and there are a few of your out there, will remember that the Sun has, in recent years, been amazingly consistent in its approach to players who are religious believers. The bottom line: All fog, with specific details ignored or buried. Clearly, this has become a newspaper policy.

So what are readers fold about the faith of this crucial Ravens player?

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