African American churches

New York Times offers faith-free take on rugby fans hijacking 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'

New York Times offers faith-free take on rugby fans hijacking 'Swing Low, Sweet Chariot'

Let me start by confessing that I know very little about rugby or the fan culture that surrounds it in some parts of the world. In other words, I am an American.

However, I do know a thing or two about church music. Basically, I have been singing in church choirs (and academic choirs dedicated to classical and sacred music) so long that I don't even remember when I started. My childhood memories have always included choirs.

Thus, allow me to make a few comments on half of the material found in a fascinating New York Times feature that ran with this headline: "How a Slave Spiritual Became English Rugby’s Anthem." The story is labeled "rugby," which implies that it was a sports feature. However, it was also featured in the "international" news section of the Times online round-up.

Obviously, I want to comment on the feature's religious content and lack thereof. Here is the overture:

LONDON -- Barely a minute had elapsed in the match between the national rugby teams of England and France when the song first boomed around the stands at Twickenham Stadium.
“Swing low, sweet chariot,” thousands of fans sang, “coming for to carry me home.”
It is a famous refrain and melody. For many in the United States, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” enjoys a hallowed status as one of the cherished of 19th-century African-American spirituals, its forlorn lyrics invoking the darkness of slavery and the sustained oppression of a race.
But here, across the Atlantic, the song has developed a parallel existence, unchanged in form but utterly different in function, as a boisterous drinking song turned sports anthem.

The feature includes quite a bit of material about rugby culture. It also does a fantastic job of describing the symbolic role that this spiritual -- it could also be called a folk hymn -- has played in African-American history.

So what is missing?

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This is a national news story? Pastor with tiny flock sends email attacking new boy toy!

This is a national news story? Pastor with tiny flock sends email attacking new boy toy!

OK, let's try this again. One of the hardest things for journalists to explain to ordinary news consumers is the whole concept of what makes a story a "story."

For example, a "march" in your city that draws two dozen protesters may end up on A1, while a rally that draws thousands may not even make the newspaper. An editor would probably say that the "march" was about a new issue, while the massive rally was about a cause that's "old business." Readers may suspect that it has something to do with subjects that do or do not interest the editors.

So the other day I wrote a post asking why it wasn't news that the Catholic committee that coordinates Boy Scout work released a statement saying that a new policy allowing trans scouts will not apply to the many, many units hosted by Catholic parishes. What, I asked, about other doctrinally conservative faith groups? This is a big story, since religious groups host about 70 percent of America's Boy Scout troops.

But that wasn't a "story" in mainstream news publications.

Now we have a story -- that is receiving quite a bit of online push in the national USA Today network -- about an Asheville, N.C., pastor who has a problem with a new product from the American Girl company.

Why is this a national story? Look for the really interesting details in this overture:

ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A move by a national doll manufacturer to add the first boy to its lineup has one local minister in a tizzy.
The Rev. Keith Ogden of Hill Street Baptist Church sent a message to more than 100 of his supporters and parishioners Wednesday titled, "KILLING THE MINDS OF MALE BABIES."
Ogden invoked Scripture as he criticized the American Girl company for its debut of Logan Everett, a drummer boy doll, who performs alongside Tenney Grant, a girl doll with a flair for country western music. ...
"This is nothing more than a trick of the enemy to emasculate little boys and confuse their role to become men," the minister said in the e-mailed statement he sent at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday after watching a segment about American Girl on Good Morning America.

That's right! This pastor sent an email to about 100 members of his "supporters and parishioners."

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