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BBC pro visits 46 churches during Lent and shares what he saw, heard and felt

BBC pro visits 46 churches during Lent and shares what he saw, heard and felt

So here is a bonus think piece for this holiday, one of the most delicate and delightful pieces I have read in quite some time. Thank you to the folks (yes, hello GetReligion co-founder Douglas LeBlanc) who pointed it out.

The concept is rather simple and it's crucial to know that this was not an attempt to dig into religion NEWS, so much as religion CULTURE at the level of parishes and pews. So BBC broadcaster Adrian Chiles -- a convert to Catholicism -- decided to take on a unique Lenten discipline this spring, vowing to attend church for 46 days in a row.

The result: "What I learnt from 46 consecutive days in church." Let's let him pick up the narration near the top, as he explains the rules:

 I'm a Catholic, so it would be Mass every day for more than a month. It felt like it would be a real struggle -- a penance. It turned out to be anything but. It was a rich and enriching experience -- spiritually, obviously, but I was also enraptured by the churches themselves, the communities they serve, and the people with whom I shared all those Masses.
I made it extra hard for myself by undertaking to go to a different church every day, so by Easter Sunday I'd been before 46 different priests in 46 different churches in 46 days.

There is no way to summarize this piece, to be honest with you. His observations about art, people, preaching, etc., must be read in context.

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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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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Real estate vs. doctrine: Where are the people in story on sale of St. James Parish?

Trust me, your GetReligionistas understand that the timeline of the Anglican vs. Episcopal doctrine wars gets very, very complicated. Add to that the fact that the conflicts are taking place at the local, diocesan, national and global levels and you have very complicated stories on your hands, especially if you are a general-assignment reporter and not a Godbeat pro.

However, a recent story in The Orange County Register raises a completely different issue. When one of these battles ends, is it primarily a story about real estate or people? I mean, the dollars and cents of the church-property sale are important, but shouldn't journalists acknowledge that there are people out there -- perhaps even Register readers -- who care about what happens with these sacred spaces? Here is the top of the story:

The Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles is nearing the end of negotiations to sell St. James the Great Episcopal Church in Newport Beach to real estate developers.
Bishop J. Jon Bruno announced the sale to congregants Sunday, Diocese spokesman Robert Williams said. The sale of the church could bring in roughly $15 million -- twice the appraised value of the site, Williams said.

Services at the church will likely continue into the fall, Williams said. No information on where congregants will be moved or whether the congregation may reopen at a different site was available on Monday, he said.

So the current occupants of the church are Episcopalians. Got it. But here is one of those "people" questions. How many of these Episcopalians are there and, well, why are they leaving such a prime location? How do they feel about this deal?

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Maybe Al Jazeera America was a brand that just wasn't meant to work out

Maybe Al Jazeera America was a brand that just wasn't meant to work out

Remember Life Savers soda, a misguided 1980s idea from the marketers of Life Savers hard candies, the sweet-treat so named because they resemble mini life preservers? You don't? Well, neither do I. But Google "worst branding flops" and it shows up again and again.

I can imagine the shocked brain trust behind Life Savers soda sitting around a conference room table flabbergasted that it's bright idea was utterly rejected by consumers who -- surprise! -- equated it with drinking too-sweet liquid candy. What went so horribly wrong in a nation where half of all consumers guzzle at least one sugary drink a day?

Maybe the answer is negative linkage -- like the New Coke thing. And here's another example: It appears we may soon get to add two-year-old Al Jazeera America (AJA) to the list of noted branding miscalculations.

As GetReligion readers may know, the Qatar government-funded television network is drowning in management and staff problems, much of them self-inflicted. Then there's the network's minuscule viewership and the more than passing criticism of the entire Al Jazeera enterprise (by which I mean AJA, the older Al Jazeera English, AJE, and the parent Al Jazeera Arabic channel) as being anti-West and pro-Sunni Islamist.

(For the record, I'm a very spotty viewer of AJA's and AJE's online feeds but a somewhat more frequent reader of their Web articles. I've not watched AJA's TV product, which is unavailable on my local cable system.)

I'm not at all surprised by AJA's problems, particularly given the American public's general lack of interest in international news coupled with its post 9/11 suspicion of all things Arab and Muslim, which has made it exceeding difficult for AJA to gain U.S. broadcast outlets and, therefore, exposure to potential viewers.

Let's face it. American Arabs and Muslims generally have a pretty big p.r. problem right now.

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New York Post: Pope Francis finally opens door to reconciliation for women after abortions?

New York Post: Pope Francis finally opens door to reconciliation for women after abortions?

You know you are in for a wild ride when a GetReligion reader sends you a URL from The New York Post (or The New York Daily News, for that matter) with one of those, "Yeah, consider the source, BUT" notes that basically is warning you to duck and cover. Incoming.

So here is the headline on this one: "The Catholic Church will now forgive your abortion."

The loyal reader noted: "The title is bad, but it gets worse from there. Wouldn't have wasted your time with it, but it is such awful dreck that it seemed to me a perfect crystallization of what your site is so admirably attempting to combat -- sort of a 'why we fight' type of example."

At the heart of this story is a journalistic virus that seems to be affecting journalists around the world. You know the one, the "Everything Pope Francis touches is brand new" bug. As you could see from that headline, this one is an instant classic. Here's the top of the story:

Pope Francis will send an army of globe-trotting priests -- his “missionaries of mercy” -- to absolve women who’ve had abortions, in the latest Vatican bid to catch up with modern times.
The effort, which includes reaching out to doctors and nurses who’ve performed abortions, will commence in the Holy Year of Mercy, which Francis has declared will be celebrated between Dec. 8, 2015, and Nov. 20, 2016.
Archbishop Rino Fisichella, the head of the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization, announced the bold initiative and said the church should always be in the absolution business.

Catholic readers, you can get back up into your chair now or clean the computer screen onto which you spewed your morning source of caffeine.

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Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

The Pew Research Center scored ample ink at GetReligion and elsewhere with its important April report on global trends that all religion writers will want to keep on file: “The Future of World Religions: Growth Projections, 2010–2050" (.pdf file here). The 245-page publication provides religious population estimates as of 2050 for each of the 198 nations and territories that have  populations of 100,000 and above, by calculating such factors as birth rates, age distribution, migration, life expectancy and  rates of switching between religions in 70 nations for which we have data.

The headline item was the Pew team’s estimate that “by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” (Pew explains that Muslims might have outnumbered Christians sometime between 1000 and 1600 as Muslim forces repeatedly invaded Christian strongholds and the Black Death decimated Europe. But we’ll never know because estimates for the Middle Ages are “fraught with uncertainty.”)

The most significant response to Pew’s report (.pdf file here) comes from another essential resource for journalists, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  That analysis tapped the annual CSGC survey for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, which was expanded this time to include projections to 2050 (.pdf file here).  This center, which the Religion Guy recently visited, provides statistics for various reference books and has just began work on a 3d edition of its World Christian Encyclopedia.

As of 2050, CSGC projects a slightly lower global count than Pew for Muslims at 2.7 billion, and a considerably higher 3.4 billion for Christians.

Why the disparity?

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There's more to globalization news than cheap clothes and fresh fruit in winter

There's more to globalization news than cheap clothes and fresh fruit in winter

The age of globalization In which we live has both blessed and cursed humanity with the most far-reaching societal changes since the industrial revolution. International trade deals abound, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership proposal now before Congress, though not without some critics.

Still, with American consumers clamoring for cheaper clothes from Bangladesh and fresh summer fruit and vegetables from Chile in the middle of the Northern Hemisphere winter, it would seem that globalization is a smashing success. So why then would The Washington Post run a 2,500-word analysis of globalization's current state beneath a headline reading, "The Great Unraveling of Globalization"?

This late-April takeout ran in the newspaper's business section, where it consumed, with accompanying art, nearly two full broadsheet pages. Written by Jeffrey Rothfeder, former chief editor at International Business Times, the piece argued that globalization has not brought the economic gains promised -- the cheaper garments and year-round summer fruits beloved by consumers not withstanding.

For most -- in particular the multinational corporations and government coin-counters who fuel the consumer passion -- material gain is what globalization is all about. Given that Rothfeder's piece was a business section project, it's no surprise that he focused solely on globalization's economic side.

But globalization's far-reaching changes affect far more than the bottom line.

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An atheistic example of mainstream press fondness for single-sourcing

An atheistic example of mainstream press fondness for single-sourcing

Opinions expressed by individual writers and talkers are a legitimate aspect of journalism.

But.

But these days newspapers, TV news and allegedly journalistic Web sites are all tempted to overdo such single-sourcing. Mainly that’s because you have to pay a salary and benefits to a seasoned staff journalist so it’s cheaper to throw a few bucks at a freelance. As the saying in the business goes, the operative adjective is “free.”

Like science or medicine, religion is a highly complex news beat that suffers when a news organization lacks an experienced specialist. For example, the Wall Street Journal is pursuing an ambitious effort to expand general coverage beyond its business ghetto. But with religion, it typically limits matters to Friday op-ed pieces written by interested parties. They’re often worth a look but cannot match analysis by a non-partisan journalist carefully assessing various sides of a question.

Another sort of WSJ example occurred with the  April 27 special section titled “The Future Issue.” The religion aspect, not treated in the print package, was relegated to the online postings. The paper had noted Tufts University atheist Daniel Dennett tell us “Why the Future of Religion is Bleak,” while Vanderbilt Divinity dean Emilie Townes separately contended that “The Future of Religion is Ascendant.”

Problem was, the two profs often talked past each other and made some assertions a newswriter would challenge.

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