Worship

Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Forget black masses for a moment: Some journalists need to check facts on the Mass

Truth be told, I have been sitting out the "black mass" media storms. I have no doubt that, for the ancient churches, we are dealing with sacrilege of the highest order. At the same time, I am very close to being a First Amendment absolutist and oppose blasphemy laws.

So why write about the following ABC News report (as run at Yahoo!) about the new brouhaha in Bible belt Oklahoma?

When you read the story, try to forget the whole black mass thing. Instead, focus on the facts in the story's material about the Catholic Mass itself. Just to keep things straight in some of these quotations, a key voice in this story is the leader of the devil-worshiping group, one Adam Daniels of Dakhma of Angra Mainyu.

The first strange reference is actually pretty mundate.

The upcoming event has generated controversy because black masses  mock Christianity and the rituals that make up their services but organizers see it as an integral part of their religion.

Yes, ignore that "Christianity" is singular and, thus, clashes with the plural reference -- "their services" -- a few words later.

Obviously, a black mass is offensive to all Christians, but that's almost beside the point. The dark rite mocks the belief of Catholics, and other ancient Christians, that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during the Mass. The whole point is to desecrate what has been consecrated. 

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Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

Concerning Pope Francis, 'trial marriages' and poorly covered media rites

When covering major events that are directly linked to the liturgical work and authority of the pope, it never hurts to spend some time reading the Catechism of the Catholic Church. In this case, let's look at the material found at this reference point: Paragraph 2391 -- IV. Offenses Against the Dignity of Marriage.

Some today claim a “right to a trial marriage” where there is an intention of getting married later. However firm the purpose of those who engage in premature sexual relations may be, “the fact is that such liaisons can scarcely ensure mutual sincerity and fidelity in a relationship between a man and a woman, nor, especially, can they protect it from inconstancy of desires or whim.” 184 Carnal union is morally legitimate only when a definitive community of life between a man and woman has been established. Human love does not tolerate “trial marriages.” It demands a total and definitive gift of persons to one another. 185 (2364)

Now, with that in mind, let's look at some important -- yes, rather picky -- issues of verb tense in the mainstream news coverage of that remarkable wedding rite that took place at the Vatican.

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Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Here's your weekend think piece: RNS does some complex Baptist math

Anyone who has worked in journalism for any time at all knows that some of the biggest, the most important news stories are the ones that are hardest to see -- because they unfold very slowly in the background, like shifting tectonic plates.

This is really, really true when it comes to changes in religion and culture.

Thus, if you care about religion news in postmodern America, then you need to read the short think piece (if that is not a contradiction in terms) that Tobin Grant posted the other day at the Corner of Church and State blog over at Religion News Service.

There is no way to briefly summarize the info in this short story, but there is a good reason for that. Reality is complex. Here is the start of the essay, which -- from a Baptist perspective -- offers the bad news. But hang on, things are going to get complicated really quick.

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The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes' front page

The religion beat: Hillsong rocks the evangelical world, and the NYTimes' front page

A photo of a crowd at what appears to be a rock concert dominates the front page of today's New York Times.

No, the image has nothing to do Apple's U2 album giveaway, although the Irish rock band makes a cameo appearance at the end of the Times'  Page 1 feature on a "megachurch with a beat."

I'll make a few constructive criticisms (that's why they pay me the big bucks, after all), but it's a solid story overall with a terrific, colorful lede:

LOS ANGELES — A toned and sunburned 32-year-old Australian with the letters F-A-I-T-H tattooed onto his biceps strode onto the stage of a former burlesque theater here and shouted across a sea of upstretched hands and uplifted smartphones: “Let’s win this city together!”
The crowd did not need much urging. Young, diverse and devoted to Jesus, the listeners had come to the Belasco Theater from around the city, and from across the country, eager to help an Australian Pentecostal megachurch that is spreading worldwide establish its first outpost on America’s West Coast.
The church, Hillsong, has become a phenomenon, capitalizing on, and in some cases shaping, trends not only in evangelicalism but also in Christian youth culture. Its success would be rare enough at a time when religion is struggling in a secularizing Europe and North America. But Hillsong is even more remarkable because its target is young Christians in big cities, where faith seems out of fashion but where its services are packing them in.
Powered by a thriving, and lucrative, recording label that dominates Christian contemporary music, it has a vast reach — by some estimates, 100,000 people in the pews each weekend, 10 million followers on social media, 16 million albums sold, with its songs popping up in churches from Uzbekistan to Papua New Guinea

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Janay Rice and the House of Ruth (yes, that's the Ruth in the Bible)

Janay Rice and the House of Ruth (yes, that's the Ruth in the Bible)

As the media storm continues to rage around former Baltimore Ravens superstar Ray Rice, let's pause for a moment and think about that dose of media criticism that his wife Janay offered yesterday via Instagram.

Was it me, or did the anchors on ESPN seem rather uncomfortable reading the following words?

I woke up this morning feeling like I had a horrible nightmare, feeling like I’m mourning the death of my closest friend. But to have to accept the fact that it’s reality is a nightmare in itself. No one knows the pain that the media & unwanted options from the public has caused my family. To make us relive a moment in our lives that we regret every day is a horrible thing. To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is a horrific [sic]. 
THIS IS OUR LIFE! What don’t you all get. If your intentions were to hurt us, embarrass us, make us feel alone, take all happiness away, you’ve succeeded on so many levels. Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is! Ravensnation we love you!

In the comments on her own post she added: "Hurt beyond words…”

In a short talk with ESPN's Josina Anderson -- when his wife handed him her telephone -- Ray Rice added: "I have to be strong for my wife. She is so strong. ... We are in good spirits. We have a lot of people praying for us and we 'll continue to support each other."

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Southern-fried stereotypes? Surprise, but this faith-and-football story serves up real meat

Southern-fried stereotypes? Surprise, but this faith-and-football story serves up real meat

When I saw the headline on the Washington Post's in-depth feature on college football as a Southern religion, I braced myself for plenty of Belt Belt cliches and stereotypes.

To be sure, there's some of that in this 3,000-word sports opus.

But mainly, the writer, Kent Babb, weaves a fascinating tale full of colorful characters and compelling scenes. Along the way, he peppers the Southern-fried narrative with a diverse variety of voices, both pro and con.

Some of the meat-and-potatoes up high:

In this part of America, college football fits somewhere between pastime and obsession, and like church, it is more than a weekend activity. Nothing says more about a Southerner than the team he cheers on Saturdays and the church he attends on Sundays — “the two things we love the most,” says author Chad Gibbs, Auburn fan and Methodist. To many, the merging of cultural forces feels natural; to others, the most stark instances are uncomfortable — maybe even inappropriate.
Throughout most of the United States, church attendance is on the decline, but according to a “religion census” sponsored by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies, eight states in the South, including Mississippi, saw increases between 2000 and 2010 — in some cases dramatically

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What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

What David Brooks said! Yes, religion is part of the Islamic State wars

From time to time, I receive private emails from readers who think this website's insistence that mainstream journalists need to cover both sides of doctrinal debates between Muslims is, to be blunt, just a clever way of bashing Islam.

Why else should journalists, for example, need to listen to and then quote what Islamic State leaders have to say about the role of women or the need for tough blasphemy laws in the modern world? We already know the radicals are wrong, so why be guilty of "false balance" and accurately quote what they are saying?

Why indeed? I would argue that journalists cannot cover the facts in these stories -- such as the gruesome executions of James Foley and Steven Sotloff -- without quoting the religious language in these religious debates. The bottom line: It is not prejudice against Islam to cover both sides of crucial debates between Muslims.

This brings me to the end of that stunning column today by David Brooks of The New York Times, the one about the powerful theological symbolism involved in beheading someone.

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Define 'New Age' religion: Give three examples

Define 'New Age' religion: Give three examples

LISA ASKS:

What exactly is the definition of “new age” thinking?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This loosely diffuse movement, largely located in America,  is so indeterminate that it’s tempting to simply say “new age” covers any recently formed “spiritual” or “psychic” or “mindful” or “self-discovery” groups that don’t fit snugly into other religious categories. As part of this, new agers don’t fall within the formal organizational life of Buddhism or Hinduism but often appropriate various ideas and practices from Eastern religions, alongside other influences.

A good place to start is “Melton’s Encyclopedia of American Religions” (Gale), issued in eight updated editions, most recently in 2009. This standard reference work should be in any well-stocked library. Author J. Gordon Melton is a Baylor University professor whose decades of research make him the acknowledged expert on the taxonomy of U.S. faiths, especially thousands of young, small, marginal and obscure groups most people have never heard of. Note that the new age phenomenon extends well beyond formal organizations listed in such an encyclopedia to include free-floating ideas, fashions, books,  gurus and other influences.

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Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

Howdy, partner: In Lone Star State, gospel with a front-page twang

"Gospel with a little twang" was how The Dallas Morning News billed its front-page Sunday story on cowboy churches.

The writer, Charlie Scudder, had a whole lot of fun with that little bit of twang.

The result: a nice trend feature (accompanied by video interviews and an excellent photo gallery) that took readers inside two western-themed congregations in Fort Worth:

FORT WORTH — At high noon in the Stockyards Station, just after the
longhorn cattle drive down Exchange Avenue and just before the
gunfight show, a congregation comes to worship.

Pastor George Westby has been leading services here at the Cowboy
Church at the Fort Worth Stockyards for 23 years. His services attract
visitors from all over the country as well as a handful of regulars.

But just off Exchange Avenue, down in the old horse-and-mule barn
where there’s real manure and fewer vacationing families, a second
cowboy church is here for the same reason.

The Cowtown Cowboy Church, led by pastor Sonny Miller, started meeting
in spring 2013 on a dirt patch under the vaulted ceilings of the old
stables.

The newer church is part of the Western Heritage Ministry of the Texas
Baptists, a group of more than 200 churches statewide that embrace the
Gospel with a little twang.

Next, the Morning News provides a nut graf designed to put the Fort Worth churches into a larger context.

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