Sometimes, the best Godbeat stories don't make for the best GetReligion posts.
Like most everybody in the blogging world, we're focused on producing engaging content that people will read, share and, just maybe, comment on.
That means that we often gravitate toward the hottest, most timely topics — the kind trending on social media — when deciding which stories to review.
Moreover, negative posts pointing out journalistic problems and bias in mainstream media coverage of religion news tend to generate much more interest and buzz.
Please allow me to summarize the response to most of our positive posts about stories that do everything right: zzzzzzzzz. In case you need a video illustration of that response, here goes:
But since — amazingly — you actually clicked on a post promising "great reads," I'm going to reward you with three nice stories by Godbeat pros. All published within the last week, these are the kind of excellent pieces that sometimes get lost in our GetReligion guilt files.
What's the common thread that binds all three of these stories together? For one, all of the writers are religion beat pros who've received frequent praise from GetReligion: Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and our former GetReligion colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post.
Kaleem reports on Sikhs opening their temple doors to strangers fleeing a potential disaster:
RIO LINDA, Calif. — Each morning before the break of dawn, Nirmal Singh makes his way to a small stage at the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple adorned with roses and silk. There, the priest sits and reads prayers from a centuries-old Indian text to open the day.
It's usually a quiet affair, with words spoken in Punjabi to an empty hall the size of a large backyard — a solemn start at the small Sikh temple that sees few people outside of weekend services.
But this week, Singh had company. Bodies shuffled under blankets in front of him. On Tuesday a Mexican couple and their kids woke up to his right, revealing the head scarves they wore in respect of Sikh traditions. In a nearby room, an African American man was also was getting up to the sounds of prayer.
As tens of thousands fled low-lying regions on the Feather River this week amid warnings of flooding from the rapidly filling Lake Oroville, Sikh temples across in the Sacramento area opened their doors to evacuees.
Just as I wondered "why Sikhs?" the L.A. Times writer provides the crucial background:
Sikhs in Sacramento, home to 10 temples and about 11,000 Sikh families, began putting out calls for supplies and volunteers on Sunday evening after 180,000 people living in communities downstream of Lake Oroville were given short notice for mandatory evacuations.
Smith, meanwhile, offers a fascinating account of "The Duquesne Weekend: a retreat that started a movement":
David Mangan looks back on a retreat held 50 years ago this weekend as a life-altering event. And not just for him. Roman Catholics throughout the world are still feeling the effects of the spiritual movement launched by the small gathering at a retreat house about 15 miles north of Pittsburgh.
Mr. Mangan, a recent Duquesne University graduate, had joined a group of Duquesne students and staff in mid-February 1967 for a three-day retreat focused on biblical teachings about the Holy Spirit.
There, he was struck by a speaker’s comment that when the Bible promises “power” to Jesus’ followers, it uses the same Greek word that forms the root for “dynamite.”
“I had to come to grips with the fact that although I was a solid Catholic, dynamite was not the descriptor of my spiritual life,” he said.
That was soon to change. He went upstairs to pray in the retreat house chapel — a small, carpeted room with few furnishings other than some cushions and an altar.
“When I walked into the chapel, I was completely overcome by the power of God,” the Turtle Creek native, now living in Michigan, said. “I found myself prostrate on the floor. Little explosions were going on in my body. I knew it was God. I knew it was the Holy Spirit. When I went to thank him, I started speaking a language I didn’t know. I later found out that was the gift of tongues.”
And Bailey travels to Denver for a profile of an undocumented immigrant seeking sanctuary at a church:
DENVER — On Wednesday morning, Jeanette Vizguerra was scheduled to show up for a check-in at the local office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Service.
Instead, Vizguerra, a 45-year-old undocumented immigrant from Mexico, senther attorney to request a stay of her deportation. As Hans Meyer entered the low-slung brown brick building, a pastor by his side, scores of protesters waving signs shouted “No hate, no fear. Immigrants are welcome here.”
A few minutes later, Meyer returned. Vizguerra’s request had been denied. Then an activist put Vizguerra on speakerphone and held it up to a megaphone and, her voice choking with tears, the mother of four delivered her announcement to the crowd: Vizguerrahad decided to seek sanctuary 15 miles away in a makeshift bedroom in the basement of First Unitarian Society of Denver. There, she would remain indefinitely.
“This is not the end… This is just a step in a long, long journey,” she declared in Spanish.
ICE public affairs officer Shawn Neudauer affirmed in an email that Vizguerra was denied a stay of her deportation. He called her “an ICE enforcement priority” based on two misdemeanorconvictions.
Propelled by President Trump’s campaign rhetoric and the election in November, the number of churches and other houses of worship that have declared themselves sanctuaries for undocumented immigrants like Vizguerra has doubled to an estimated 800 over the past year, according to leaders of the loosely-knit movement.
Beyond the specific bylines that drew my attention, each of these stories impresses me with insightful reporting and helpful context (mixed with important history).
And, yes, they are full of specific religious details, which in case you hadn't noticed, we highly recommend.