Lifestyle

In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

In the jaw-dropping story of an NFL coach's search for his family, glimpses of faith emerge

Even without a religion angle, this would be an incredible story.

I'm talking about ESPN's in-depth narrative on an NFL coach's long search for his birth parents.

"Absolutely amazing." "Unbelievable." "Just astounding." That's how various readers have described the piece.

Others have seen God at work in the outcome.

"Wow Just, wow," said one reader. "This story has all the feels. The God of Heaven watches over us all. No, that doesnt mean life is all roses & picnics. But His hand can be seen...for those who have 'eyes that they might see..'" 

"This ESPN story about @coachdmc finding his birth parents is absolutely worth the read," said another. "Someone recently said to me that God is doing more behind your back than in front of your face. This story says yes and amen to that."

Intrigued yet?

I'm doing my best not to give away any spoilers, in case you haven't read the story yet and would like to check it out before I offer a few hints.

Basic storyline: A young mother gives up her baby for adoption. The baby grows up to become a football player and later a coach. All the while, although he loves his adoptive mother, he searches for his birth parents. He eventually finds them — and it turns out he had known his birth father almost his entire life. 

But yes, faith makes various cameo appearances as the ESPN writer, Sarah Spain, allows the spiritual angle to unfold naturally.

Early in the story, the adoptive mother references God:

By March of that year, Jon Kenneth Briggs had been renamed Deland Scott McCullough, and he was living at home with his new parents, Adelle and A.C.

"We were still in love, a good couple," Comer says. "We went to church, partied, went to cookouts. We were working together and doing this together and wanting to make a home for our children. We knew that God's hand was in it. Deland came so fast to us. We knew that it was meant to be. Both of us."

But things changed quickly. Comer's father had a stroke, and though A.C. wanted to put him in a nursing home, Comer brought her dad to live with the family in Youngstown. Their marriage deteriorated, and when Deland was just 2 years old, A.C. moved out.

"They went through a lot of hurt and disappointment, but they took it," Comer says of her sons. "I said, 'God gives you an example of what to be and what not to be. You have to make the choice.' And that's all I had to say, and they got it."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Location, location, location: Where a Supreme Court nominee kneels matters in DC life

Location, location, location: Where a Supreme Court nominee kneels matters in DC life

Greetings from Prague, in the Czech Republic. It's kind of interesting to visit a part of the world where the World Cup matters more than the latest tweets of Donald Trump. Needless to say, people do have strong opinions about what Trump is up to, in terms of England, Russia and beyond.

That open U.S. Supreme Court seat? Not so much. The assumption is that Trump has nominated a Trump candidate to please Trump people.

That's bad, of course. It also misses some of the most interesting angles in the Brett Kavanaugh story -- some of which are linked to religion and culture. So once you get past this man's love of charging baseball tickets on his credit card, and his ability to serve mac and cheese to the homeless, what kinds of picture is emerging for Americans who read major newspapers?

I was really intrigued, the other day, by the Washington Post story that ran with this headline: "The elite world of Brett Kavanaugh."

"Elite" is an interesting world in this case. This really is one of the cases in which, in D.C. Beltway culture, the word "elite" actually means rich, powerful and liberal.

On one level, this is a real estate story -- it's all about location, location, location. Before we get the Kavanaugh's church, let's look at the opening anecdote about his local bar.

The Chevy Chase Lounge is a neighborhood joint where bartender Tim Higgins is accustomed to bantering with long-standing patrons, including a middle-aged guy named Brett who likes to pop in for a Budweiser and a burger after coaching his daughters’ basketball games.

As he watched the news recently, Higgins learned something else about Brett Kavanaugh: He was among the judges whom President Trump was considering to nominate to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Most people in Washington tell you what they do,” Higgins said from behind the bar Tuesday, the day after Trump nominated Kavanaugh. “I never knew Brett was a lawyer. I expect we’ll be seeing him in here a lot less.”

Note: Not only did Kavanaugh not talk politics with his bar crowd, he wasn't even talking about what he does for a living -- on the second most powerful court in America. Maybe that's because he is a mainstream Republican living in one of greater DC's most prominent nests of liberal Democrats?

Location, location, location. How about education and church?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

New York Times asks this faith-free question: Why are young Americans having fewer babies?

Here's something that I didn't know before I read the rather ambitious New York Times feature that ran with this headline: "Americans Are Having Fewer Babies. They Told Us Why."

Apparently, if you ask young Americans why they are not choosing to have babies -- even the number of babies that they say they would like to have -- you get lots of answers about economics and trends in what could be called "secular" culture.

That's that. Religion plays no role in this question at all.

For example: In a graphic that ran with the piece, here are the most common answers cited, listed from the highest percentages to lowest. That would be, "Want leisure time," "Haven't found partner," "Can't afford child care," "No desire for children," "Can't afford a house," "Not sure I'd be a good parent," “Worried about the economy," "Worried about global instability," "Career is a greater priority," "Work too much," "Worried about population growth," "Too much student debt," etc., etc. Climate change is near the bottom.

You can see similar answers in the chart describing why gender-neutral young adults are choosing to have fewer children than "their ideal number."

Now, what happens if you ask people why they ARE choosing to have children? If the question is turned upside down, do issues of faith and religion show up?

It's impossible to know, since it appears that -- for the Times team and the Morning Consult pollsters -- religious questions have nothing to do with the topic of sex, marriage (or not) and fertility. Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

So what do Times readers find out about the reasons people give to have more children, even more than one or two? While it appears that no questions were asked about this issue, it's clear some assumptions were built into this story. This summary is long, but essential. Read carefully:

“We want to invest more in each child to give them the best opportunities to compete in an increasingly unequal environment,” said Philip Cohen, a sociologist at the University of Maryland who studies families and has written about fertility. At the same time, he said, “There is no getting around the fact that the relationship between gender equality and fertility is very strong: There are no high-fertility countries that are gender equal.”


Please respect our Commenting Policy

Thinking politics, and pop culture, on July 4th in this today's tense and wired America

Thinking politics, and pop culture, on July 4th in this today's tense and wired America

Stop and think about the following question: During the upcoming apocalyptic war over the empty U.S. Supreme Court seat, which group of public intellectuals (and I use that term very loosely) will play the larger role shaping public opinion among ordinary Americans?

(a) Scribes who write New York Times editorials.

(b) Law professors at America's Top 10 law schools.

(c) The writers and hosts of late-night comedy/news talks shows.

(d) The latest blasts from America's Tweeter In Chief, who is a former reality TV show star.

Now, if you've been around for a half century or so, you know that politicians have always paid close attention to the satirical offerings of Saturday Night Live and the late Johnny Carson always had way more political influence than he let on. Who was more skilled when visiting a late-night television show during pre-campaign work, former B-movie actor Ronald Reagan or whoever tried to knock him out of the headlines?

The power of pop culture in politics is nothing new -- but it's on the rise.

With that in mind, let's look at a special 4th of July think piece written by DC Beltway think-tank scribe Mark Rodgers, a former high-ranking GOP staffer in the U.S. Senate. He is probably one of the few people I know with U2's Bono in his smartphone favorites list.

The headline, featuring a popular active verb:

Has (Pop)Culture Trumped Politics?

You need a thesis statement? Here it is the overture:

It’s been a long time coming.

Almost 20 years ago, while working on the Hill and hosting a conversation with UVA sociologist James Davison Hunter over lunch, I recall waking up to the growing impact of the popular culture, and its inevitable trajectory to surpass education, family, faith and journalism as the dominant worldview shaping force in 21st century America, and possibly the world.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

Memory eternal: Was there a moral compass at the heart of Tom Wolfe's best journalism?

I was a journalism major in the first half of the 1970s, an era in which -- even at Baylor University -- everyone who wanted to be a journalist was reading Tom Wolfe. I even dreamed that Wolfe would venture down to Waco and write the definite magazine piece on just how crazy things really were in Jerusalem on the Brazos.

Even in the Bible Belt, Wolfe was the essence of hip, cutting edge journalism. Of course, everyone assumed this also meant "liberal," whatever that word meant back then.

As you would expect, his writings returned to my radar during my graduate work in 1981-82 at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Then there was a lull until the explosion of criticism of his reporting/fiction in "A Man in Full" and "I Am Charlotte Simmons." 

As I read press reactions to those novels, something hit me: Some of the gatekeepers in elite American media were truly afraid that Wolfe might, well, have a moral and cultural point of view that was guiding his sniper-like attacks on American culture.

Oh. My. God. Might the man in the white suits be some kind of "conservative"? Should these books be read while listening to Bob Dylan's acidic, countercultural work on "Infidels"? Was Wolfe a heretic? Hold that thought.

My task here is not to criticize or even to summarize the many, many Wolfe obituaries and tributes that are -- with good cause -- being published right now. I recognize that it takes genuine chutzpah to try to write about Wolfe, or even to write about other people writing about Wolfe. The subject is just too big, too colorful and too complex.

So right now, I would simply like to make a few observations about the articles in The New York Times and New York magazine. After all, everything begins and ends with Wolfe (a transplanted Southerner, of course) and the city that he stalked for half a century, decked out in the white suits that he called "Neo-pretentious" and “a harmless form of aggression.”

Let's start with a symbolic fact about Wolfe's life. The Times noted:

He enrolled at Yale University in the American studies program and received his Ph.D. in 1957. After sending out job applications to more than 100 newspapers and receiving three responses, two of them “no,” he went to work as a general-assignment reporter at The Springfield Union in Springfield, Mass., and later joined the staff of The Washington Post.

How many people finish a Yale doctorate and then head straight into an entry-level job on a newspaper city desk?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Muslim 'Queer Eye' actor needs some real questions, not just fawning press coverage

Muslim 'Queer Eye' actor needs some real questions, not just fawning press coverage

I don’t watch home décor shows or personal improvement programs since they all appear to be cleverly staged fake events to me.

Which is why I didn’t know about Netflix's reboot of the Queer Eye concept about five gay male makeover experts until I read a profile of one of them, Tan France, by the London Times. What caught my eye wasn’t the glam clothing or hunky builds but a headline that proclaimed this man to be a Muslim.

Gay? Muslim? Out of the closet? In many parts of the world, that’s a death sentence. But fortunately, in this rather fetching story, not so in the West.

The history of social change is unpredictable. But no one expected the first gay Muslim on western TV to pop up quite like this from nowhere. Or rather, Doncaster.
When watching the Queer Eye series, your eyes are too blurry at first to notice. It is an ultra-camp, ultra-American show that seems to be about makeovers. There is a gang called the “Fab Five” of gay male style experts who descend from New York to the Deep South. There they seize on a miserable redneck in a pair of stained tracksuit bottoms. Before you know it they -- foremost among them Tan, a lithe 34-year-old Asian with a GI Joe haircut -- have made him happy with a new pastel shirt collection…
Queer Eye is not a sensational popular and critical success because of a change of outerwear. It’s because of something Tan -- full name Tan France -- says at the beginning of every episode. It is not about tolerance any more, he says. Anyone who feels like an outsider -- female, black, gay, immigrant, Muslim, whatever -- is not settling for tolerance. “Our show is fighting for acceptance.”

Hmmm. Think about that for a moment. Tolerance is peaceful co-existence. Acceptance implies that the opposition agrees to your terms. 

When France was recently interviewed on NBC’s Today show, the host, Megyn Kelly, obviously struggled to make sense of this mystery man. He had never been on television before, but within six weeks of Queer Eye began to be mobbed on the street. Jon Bon Jovi wants selfies, which are broadcast to France’s 500,000 Instagram followers.
“You’re not just a gay man,” Kelly says, “but in your case an immigrant, Pakistani, Muslim gay man, all of it together!”
France smiles joyously and responds: “2018, baby!”

Please respect our Commenting Policy

More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

More ChurchClarity.org thinking: Digging into campus covenant details might be a hoot

So here is an understatement: Some people in my life (readers included) can't seem to figure out why I think that the work of the LGBTQ activists at ChurchClarity.org is a logical, constructive and potentially positive development on the Godbeat.

To catch up on this topic, please flashback to last week's "Crossroads" podcast post: "ChurchClarity.org: Sometimes asking blunt questions about doctrine makes news." Then, to get some hints at where I am going with all this, please glace here, as well: "Here we go again: When covering campus LGBTQ disputes, always look for doctrinal covenants."

The way I see it, both of those posts are related to the Hooters video at the top of this post. I kid you not.

The other day, our own Bobby Ross, Jr., showed remarkable restraint when, in one of his Friday Five collections, he mentioned an interesting controversy on a Christian college campus in West Texas. Here is a piece of the story he mentioned, which ran at The Dallas Morning News under this headline: "Abilene Christian University urges students: Don't work at Hooters."

Hooters is set to open in Abilene this month, but students at Abilene Christian University are being urged not to apply for jobs there. ...
In a written statement, Emerald Cassidy, the school's director of public and media relations, told the station that "we have asked students to consider both what Hooters represents and whether that is something they really want to support in terms of both their faith and the value this business model places on women."

Now, pay close attention to this part:

According to the university handbook, Cassady said, students are challenged to make decisions "that ultimately glorify God" whether on or off campus, adding that the university could review any student it felt did not uphold that standard on a case-by-case basis.

Yes, lurking in that paragraph is an implied reference -- specifics would be soooo much better -- to some kind of doctrinal statement or lifestyle covenant that frames moral and social issues for ACU students.

Yes, that would be precisely the kind of document that your GetReligionistas have consistently urged journalists to find online, when covering stories about hot-button issues in Christian education.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Style and substance: This award-winning religion writer, and this feature story, has them both

Style and substance: This award-winning religion writer, and this feature story, has them both

Somehow, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette didn't win one of the top awards in this year's Religion News Association contest.

Still, Smith remains one of my favorite religion writers.

The Godbeat veteran is one of those journalists who could write a compelling story about names in the phone book (my apologies to those of a certain age who have no idea what a phone book is, or was). But I digress ... 

Style and substance mark Smith's stories — and coincidentally, did I mention that the piece I want to highlight today is about style and substance in worship? How convenient.

This story is a few weeks ago and was published right around the time of the Sutherland Springs, Texas, church shooting. So I missed it at the time. 

But here's what I like about Smith's piece: It covers an issue — the aforementioned style and substance — with which many churches grapple. And it covers it in an interesting and compelling way.

The lede sets the scene:

For years, Bruce and Aricka Ladebu would allow the worship service to run as long as they felt the Holy Spirit moving at their small Crawford County church. Typically, that meant more than two hours of prayer, worship, preaching and testimony.
The idea was that “God will touch people and they will love it and come back,” said Ms. Ladebu, who with her husband is co-pastor of Victory Family Worship Center in Conneaut Lake.
Except that people didn’t love it and didn’t come back.
Over the summer, the church set a one-hour limit to their services. And more people began to attend, and to return.
“We didn’t change the content,” Ms. Ladebu said. “We still preach Jesus, very strongly.”
But now, attendance is about 120, good for a small town, she said, and most attendees had previously not been attending any church.
Ms. Ladebu was among scores of pastors and other church leaders — Protestant and Catholic — swapping such stories at a recent conference. The event, called Future Forward, took place in late October at Amplify Church’s campus in Plum.

Keep reading, and answer this question for me: How many "conference" stories have this kind of precise, revealing detail?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

In New York Times, a bizarre story about a fake wedding (yes, there are holy ghosts)

In New York Times, a bizarre story about a fake wedding (yes, there are holy ghosts)

Two things to know about the New York Times article I'm about to critique:

1. It concerns a fake wedding.

2. I'm not sure the story is meant to be taken as real news.

My suspicion is that Times editors envisioned this feature as a light piece with some fun art — even if the article itself appeared in the A section of the print edition.

In other words, I feel a little awkward offering a serious analysis of a bizarre story on a phony ritual. The piece reads and feels more like journalistic cotton candy than real steak. So the lack of hard-hitting trend analysis in the piece probably shouldn't surprise me.

Nonetheless, I'll raise a question or two related to the holy ghosts that haunt this Times feature.

Before I do that, though, let's set the scene with the colorful opening:

BUENOS AIRES — On a Saturday night in Buenos Aires, hundreds of guests turned out for what might have been the wedding of the season. The bride and groom were all decked out. So were the witnesses, family and friends.
But the altar was actually a stage. The priest’s questions to the couple were not quite what one would hear in a church. The wedding rings were inflatable, the cake plastic and the Bible oversize. It was all a bit burlesque.
This was no ordinary wedding. In fact, it was no wedding at all, but a “falsa boda” in Spanish, or “fake wedding,” and a really good excuse for a party.
In case there was any doubt, as the couple (hired actors) left the stage, colored lights flashed, the disc jockey started the music pumping, and the announcement was made to the paying guests: “The wedding is fake, but the party is real.”
“The purpose of the ‘falsa boda’ is to convey joy and fun and live the happy moments related to love, without having to fall into the traditional ritual of what a marriage is,” explained Nacho Bottinelli, 30, one of the organizers.

What's causing this trend?

Please respect our Commenting Policy