theodicy

Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

Washington Post offers totally haunted look at one family's pain and glimpses of heaven

The Zika virus is all over the news, right now, so it isn't surprising that journalists are looking for other news stories they can connect to it.

This past week, I received several notes from readers about the following Washington Post "Inspired Life" feature. One came with the traditional trigger warning: "Have tissues ready."

The reader could have added this warning: "Prepare to read about a powerful human drama that is haunted by a religion ghost." The headline: "What this amazing mom of two girls with microcephaly has to say about Zika scare." Here is the classic feature-story overture:

Gwen Hartley’s 19-week sonogram was normal. Her baby girl, her second child, was going to complete her storybook life. She’d married her high school sweetheart, they already had a healthy son, a house and a dog.
When Claire was born, Hartley looked adoringly into her daughter’s big eyes and remembered thinking that she’d forgotten how tiny a newborn’s head was. Then the doctors whisked her baby away. Something was wrong. Something that couldn’t be fixed.

After a series of misdiagnoses, the Hartleys, of Kansas, were told Claire had microcephaly, a serious birth defect that causes babies to have extremely small heads and brains, and, in her case, made it unlikely she would live beyond a year. Almost five years later, Claire was defying the odds and, although she couldn’t speak or walk or even sit upright, she was a happy and vibrant child. The Hartleys felt ready to get pregnant again.

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Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

So what kinds of thoughts pop into your mind when you are watching a newscast, after some kind of tragedy, and the anchor-person ends a report by saying, "All of our thoughts are with the families involved in this event," or words to that effect.

The key buzz word, of course, is "thoughts." In some parts of America, anchor-people still dare to say "thoughts and prayers."

Either way, here is what I usually think when I hear that: "Really?"

Cynical? You betcha. This brings me, of course, to this week's media storm about The New York Daily News cover -- in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre -- with the infamous "God Isn't Fixing This" banner headline. Click here for Julia Duin's post on the "prayer shaming" debate that followed that piece.

The key, of course, was whether one took the headline as a shot a God, a shot at Republicans who issued statements about praying for the victims (as opposed to calls for gun-control legislation) or as both.

Lots of folks, this week, asked why I thought the Daily News ran that headline. I immediately thought about the numbers in the Pew Forum report that put the "nones" -- the growing number of religiously unaffiliated Americans -- in the news. You may recall that one implication of that survey was that a coalition of secularists, "nones" and our nation's small cohort of religious liberals was now the largest constituency group in today's Democratic Party.

Clearly, Democrats -- with the media that service them -- need to please that base, from time to time (just as Republicans have to worry about the concerns of the very religious). Might the Daily News leaders (who desperately need someone to fund their newspaper) have been courting that audience?

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Religion news story of 2015? Epic Time cover on forgiveness in Charleston, S.C.

Religion news story of 2015? Epic Time cover on forgiveness in Charleston, S.C.

It's hard to know where to start in praising the Time magazine cover on the legacies of the nine believers lost at the Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. This story sets out to let readers meet all of them, using the voices of those who survived and others touched by the glimpses of hell, and heaven, during that nine-minute massacre.

It's true that the reporting team that produced "What it Takes to Forgive a Killer" -- David Von Drehle, with Jay Newton-Small and Maya Rhodan -- were given an extraordinary amount of space in which to paint this masterwork. When you start reading this, close the door for privacy and have some tissues ready -- especially if you watch the YouTube at the top of this post, which is referenced in the article.

In a way, the size of this article only raises the stakes. You see, forgiveness is a massive personal and theological subject and the goal of the article was to show that people are complex and that grace works in different lives at different paces. There are several theological perspectives to consider, and tons of biblical material to reference, with many places to stumble in handling the facts and the background. In a way, this article seems short, when one considers its ambition.

For me, as the son of a pastor in a Bible-driven tradition, the key is that this story focuses on a small circle of "Wednesday night" people, the ultra-faithful folks who end a long, long day by gathering with their shepherds for Bible study. This is not the Sunday morning crowd. If you were looking for the true believers, Wednesday night Bible study in Mother Emanuel is where you are going to find them.

At the heart of the story are three words, spoken by Nadine Collier, daughter of the fallen Ethel Lance,  to gunman Dylann Storm Roof. Sharon Risher is her sister. This is long, but essential:

“I forgive you.” Those three words reverberated through the courtroom and across the cable wires, down the fiber-optic lines, carried by invisible storms of ones and zeros that fill the air from cell tower to cell tower and magically cohere in the palms of our hands. They took the world by surprise.

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ESPN: Baylor's fallen QB, tears in his eyes, delivers faith-free challenge to team

ESPN: Baylor's fallen QB, tears in his eyes, delivers faith-free challenge to team

Fellow sports fans, how do you feel when you are watching the post-game show of a major sporting event -- let's say college football -- and Jesus shows up in the commentary on the sideline?

I am not referring to the tradition that many players have of kneeling together -- a circle involving players from both teams who want to take part -- to offer prayers of thanksgiving for their safety and to pray for anyone who was injured in the contest. That isn't a situation in which television cameras are automatically part of the scene (especially in the National Football League, in which the powers on high never show these images).

I'm talking about the moment when the sideline reporter asks a player a basic question and he opens his remarks with a few phrases of personal testimony about his faith. Let me be clear: The players have free will (and the First Amendment) and can say what they want. I am also not saying that these moments are all shallow or fake. No way. I am saying that I understand that many viewers may shake their heads and doubt the sincerity of some of these mini-sermons.

This is even true, for me, when watching Baylor University football games. What can I say? Decades ago I covered the team for the Baylor student newspaper and, well, I knew some of those players and knew that some were much more faithful and sincere about those testimonies than others.

This brings me to a recent ESPN piece about Baylor's star quarterback Seth Russell, who is out for the year after breaking a bone in his neck. Apparently, Russell was part of a remarkable scene the other day in which, with a brace around his neck, he confronted the team and urged them to get behind his replacement and to carry on. Here is how that story opens:

WACO, Texas -- When Baylor’s lifting session ended ... strength coach Kaz Kazadi and his staff stepped out of the weight room. Art Briles wasn’t there, nor were his assistants.
Just Baylor’s players. On most days, they’d gather around Kazadi as he stood over them atop a plyo box and delivered a parting message. Instead, their quarterback was front and center.

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Does Stephen Colbert's progressive Catholicism still make some journalists nervous?

Does Stephen Colbert's progressive Catholicism still make some journalists nervous?

Forget, for a moment, whatever you are thinking right now about American politics.

Just think about journalism, for a moment.

Forget what you think about Vice President Joe Biden. If you are, like me, one of America's surviving pro-life Democrats, or you are a traditional Catholic, try to forget what you know about Biden's political career on legislation linked to abortion and how he has tried to mesh his actions with his acceptance of core doctrines in his Catholic faith. For a moment, forget his loyal-soldier work in the current administration.

Now, also try to forget for a moment what you think of the laugh-to-keep-from crying humor of funny man Stephen Colbert.

Lay aside, if you can, whatever you think he does or does not believe when it comes to the fine details, especially on moral theology, of the Catholic Catechism he taught as a leader in his New York-suburb parish during his Comedy Central years. If you are a traditionalist, when it comes to Catholic doctrine, go ahead and assume that Colbert is a "progressive," whatever that term means these days.

Then again, be honest and wrestle with the content of the nights when Colbert embraced and riffed with Catholic conservatives or shredded some liberals, on his old talk show.

Now, after saying all of that, watch the Late Night interview between Biden and Colbert and ask yourself a question about journalism: How would you deal with the content of this chat without facing the fact that its intimacy and depth (unless they are both really good fakers and I've seen people on CNN suggest that) is rooted in the fact that this is a pair of Catholic guys talking about faith and family?

Looking at Colbert, is it possible -- whether his work inspires you or troubles you -- to deal with his talent, his brain and his heart without taking into account the content of his Catholic faith and its role in his grief-haunted life? This was the subject of one of my recent On Religion columns ("From John Henry Newman to Stephen Colbert: Ancient truths on suffering and death") and the topic surfaced again in a follow-up post here at GetReligion.

Well, this past week kept adding layers of news content on top of this topic -- leading up to the Biden interview -- and provided the hook for this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken. Click here to tune that in.

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At this point, why would journalists ignore faith issues in Colbert's life? (updated)

At this point, why would journalists ignore faith issues in Colbert's life? (updated)

As far as I am concerned, there was journalism about comedian Stephen Colbert before the GQ cover story by Joel Lovell -- "The Late, Great Stephen Colbert" -- and then there is journalism on this subject after that piece.

It's not that this was some kind of stunning investigation into Colbert's career, his finances, his alleged politics, etc., etc. It's not even that this story covered totally new material about Colbert's faith and family history.

Trust me. I've had a research folder open on Colbert and Catholicism since 2005 or thereabouts and I've read most of the crucial speeches and interviews in which he talks about his beliefs. I have a pretty big collection of iTunes selections and Comedy Central URLs that feature revealing quips and comments. I've written some columns on this guy and led seminar sessions focusing on the debates about his work.

What made this interview special was the depth of the comments and the way in which they linked the wounds in Colbert's past to the strengths of his comic sensibility today. It was really quite stunning, even for people (I've heard from some) who didn't take Colbert all that seriously in the past. 

After that interview, why would journalists for a major news organization -- The New York Times leaps to mind  -- fail to explore the God questions (and answers) that haunt this guy? In a major magazine feature before his arrival last night on CBS, this is what the Times team offered while trying to talk about the "humanity" that Colbert has hidden in the past:

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Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

Theodicy on the sports page: Did Glover Quin really say God took out Jordy Nelson?

It's time for another weekend of preseason National Football League games -- those meaningless revenue generators in which the league's top players try to get ready for the new season, while doing everything they can (praying even) not to get hurt.

This brings us, whether most sports reporters know it or not, to centuries of debates about the sovereignty of God.

Yes, one of the hottest topics in sports news this past week (click here to scan the nearly 2,000 news articles) was whether Detroit Lions defensive back Glover Quin was crazy when he said superstar Green Bay Packer wide receiver Jordy Nelson's season-ending knee injury had something to do with God's plan for his life. Looking at this from the viewpoint of Packer fans, you could even say this was another one of those stories that centered on "theodicy" questions (previous GetReligion discussions here) about why God allows evil to exist.

From a journalism perspective, what this sad case study demonstrates is that there are times when it is simply wrong to yank one tiny simplistic soundbite out of a long, complex quotation about a complex topic.

Here is the top of an ESPN feature examining the wreckage in this case:

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin defended himself ... after his comment about the injury to Packers receiver Jordy Nelson and the will of God caused a backlash in social media.
Quin, when asked ... about Nelson's injury, said he respected Nelson and hated to see him hurt. But as part of the answer, Quin also said "God had meant for Jordy to be hurt." The comment was part of a bigger answer on what Quin believes about how and why injuries happen. ...

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Logical Southern question for Dylann Roof: Young man, where do you go to church?

Logical Southern question for Dylann Roof: Young man, where do you go to church?

Lord have mercy. I have spent the past three days moving from Baltimore to the hills of Tennessee and, while no one can unplug completely from news in the age of smart phones, I have been packing in a house with no WiFi, at the wheel of a car and finally unpacking in a house with no WiFi. I have been as unplugged as I have been in ages.

So, first, a word of thanksgiving to the other GetReligionistas for carrying on during two amazing days of religion news at the national and global levels. And much of my personal email, of course, has come from friends and colleagues concerned, and praying, about the vision of heaven and hell that unfolded in that Bible study at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.

Of course I have questions and, yes, the word "theodicy" in relevant.

Most of my questions concern the actual content of that Bible study, the hymns, Bible talk, prayers and fellowship that, briefly, made Dylann Roof think twice about his mass-murder "mission." What was the religious content of this nearly one-hour gathering? At the very least, what was the Bible passage or passages they were studying? Wouldn't that add context and details to his stunning drama?

it's clear that the press, so far, has been -- understandably -- locked in on the basic, human details of this scene, with hints of spirituality. The top of a new Washington Post story shows this approach, starting with the Bible study itself -- in vague terms -- and its leader, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney:

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Arizona Republic examines evil through the eyes of a victim

Arizona Republic examines evil through the eyes of a victim

The mystery of evil may be a religious concept, but it's still the focus of many anguished essays. The Arizona Republic brings the question horrifically home via an interview with a priest who was scheduled to say a requiem Mass last night for a fellow cleric.

Both men, fathers Joseph Terra and Kenneth Walker, were attacked a year ago -- in the ironically named Mother of Mercy Mission in Phoenix -- when Terra opened the door of their rectory. He was beaten suddenly and savagely with an iron rod, with the side of his face smashed and a finger mangled. His friend Walker (the subject of this tmatt column a year ago) was shot fatally.

The suspect, ex-convict Gary Michael Moran, is mentioned only briefly in this new article; he was picked up after he boasted about beating and robbing a priest, the Republic says. Nearly all the focus is on Terra: how he's healing, physically and emotionally, and how he carries on after what happened.

The brutal incident has, of course, sharpened for Terra some classic Christian themes like theodicy, forgiveness, redemption and grace. Still, the Republic says, he sat down for an interview only reluctantly, with spare sentences, carefully choosing words, "guarding his emotions." But he gradually opened up on his memories of that night and his thoughts about living the ideals he preaches.

The Republic cites Terra on forgiveness, but without the facile, high-minded way that many media treat the topic.

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