Easter

Friday Five: Godbeat grant, Sri Lanka bombings, Easter perspective, Israel outlook, softball hot dogs

Friday Five: Godbeat grant, Sri Lanka bombings, Easter perspective, Israel outlook, softball hot dogs

I’ve highlighted it twice this week — here and here — but I’m still contemplating that big Lilly Endowment Inc. grant for religion reporting.

In case you missed my earlier posts, the $4.9 million Global Religion Journalism Initiative — long a topic of speculation — was confirmed this week.

It’ll fund 13 religion journalist positions at The Associated Press, Religion News Service and The Conversation and create a partnership resulting in RNS content going to AP subscribers.

The Global Religion project has the potential to be really, really awesome (to borrow one of RNS editor in chief Bob Smietana’s favorite adjectives). But the ultimate verdict will rest in the implementation and what happens beyond the initial, 18-month grant period.

Here’s wishing the involved entities all the best in that process!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

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Mark Hemingway takes GetReligion-like stroll through years of New York Times religion gaffes

Mark Hemingway takes GetReligion-like stroll through years of New York Times religion gaffes

There was an interesting op-ed the other day in The New York Post that had a very GetReligion-esque feel to it, to say the least. The headline stated: “New York Times hits new low with mortifying Notre Dame correction.”

Then there was that familiar Hemingway byline.

“Mark Hemingway, that is.”

I realize that I have already written a post about this latest Gray Lady offense against 2,000 years of Christian doctrine, history and language. If you missed that one, click here: “Priest rushes under the flames inside Notre Dame Cathedral to save a ... STATUE of Jesus?” Here is a refresher, care of Hemingway:

… The New York Times later appended this correction to the story: “An earlier version of this article misidentified one of two objects recovered from Notre-Dame by the Rev. Jean-Marc Fournier. It was the Blessed Sacrament, not a statue of Jesus.”

How could the newspaper possibly confuse these two things? The most logical explanation is that Father Fournier referred to the “body of Christ,” and the reporter took his words literally and not seriously. It doesn’t appear to be a translation error; the reporter who wrote the story, Elian Peltier, appears to be fluent in French and tweets in the language regularly.

Why return to this subject?

What Hemingway offers in this short piece is a collection of stunning and, at times, unintentionally hilarious Times errors linked to essential Christian doctrines — including the narrative of Holy Week and Easter. (For Western Christians, this past Sunday was Easter. For Eastern Christians, such as myself, this week is Holy Week and this coming Sunday is Pascha, or Easter.)

Since we are talking about GetReligion basics, let me stress that no one believes that editors at the Times — the world’s most prestigious newspaper — need to BELIEVE these essentials of Christianity. The goal is to understand them well enough to be able to write about them without making embarrassing errors. Try to imagine Times-people making errors like these when dealing with the basics of Judaism, Islam or, for heaven’s sake, the latest Democratic Party platform.

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'We got $1,000 from an atheist': Amid lots of bad news, here's an inspiring Easter story you must read

'We got $1,000 from an atheist': Amid lots of bad news, here's an inspiring Easter story you must read

The Easter Sunday massacre in Sri Lanka has dominated religion headlines the last few days, and rightly so.

That depressing news came on the heels of last week’s catastrophic Holy Week fire that ravaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

As Anne Murray sang, “We sure could use a little good news today.”

I found some in a rather unexpected place: a Washington Post story about one of the three predominantly black Louisiana churches recently destroyed by arson.

Now, you wouldn’t expect a report on a burned church to be inspiring. Yet this one was.

Give credit to the Post for sending a reporter to cover the Mount Pleasant Baptist Church’s Easter Sunday worship at its temporary home:

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Political style question for tense times: What do you call people killed in church on Easter?

Political style question for tense times: What do you call people killed in church on Easter?

I have been covering the religion beat, to one degree or another, for 40 years and I have never heard “Easter worshippers” used as a replacement for the word “Christians.”

Is this a reference to people who worship ON Easter or, well, people who worship Easter?

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, I am well aware that Christians around the world — due to the much-covered clash between the Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar — usually celebrate Christianity’s most important holy day (called “Pascha” in the East) at different times. (For the ancient churches of the East, today is the Monday of Holy week this year.)

All that aside, there is no reason to substitute an awkward term like “Easter worshippers” for the word “Christian,” when referring to the victims in the horrible Easter morning bombings in Sri Lanka.

So I was surprised to see this oh-so-Twitter firestorm erupt yesterday. Here is the top of a key D.C. Beltway report. The pro-forma headline at The Hill states: “Obama condemns attacks in Sri Lanka as 'an attack on humanity'.” And here is the overture:

Former President Barack Obama on Easter Sunday condemned a series of explosions at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka as "an attack on humanity."

"The attacks on tourists and Easter worshippers in Sri Lanka are an attack on humanity," Obama tweeted on Easter Sunday. "On a day devoted to love, redemption, and renewal, we pray for the victims and stand with the people of Sri Lanka."

As you would expect, “Christians” pounced and this quickly became a story in “conservative” media.

What caused this bizarre mini-train wreck? I can think of two reasons — one based on journalistic caution and the other based on Donald Trump-era cynicism.

Let’s start with the closest thing to logic that I can come up with, if one is seeking a non-political reason for this switch. To bluntly state the point: The terrorists attacked churches AND hotels, so one could make a case that Christians were not the only people attacked.

Now, yes, that still doesn’t explain “Easter worshippers” in the tweets by politicos.

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What explains the durable popularity of Handel’s 'Messiah' (especially at Christmas)?

What explains the durable popularity of Handel’s 'Messiah' (especially at Christmas)?

THE QUESTION: Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” — the Easter cantata that is so frequently heard at Christmastime — is probably the most-performed and most-beloved piece of great music ever written. What explains this long-running appeal?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Underlying this theme is the poignant reality that our culture and many of its churches are gradually losing historical moorings that include the excellent fine arts created in former times. So how and why does “Messiah,” which exemplifies the “classical” musical style and faith of 276 years ago, so hold its own today?

By most estimates, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) does not quite equal a peerless fellow German composer and a contemporary he never met, J.S. Bach (1685-1750). But in terms of popularity and number of performances, not to mention seasonal sing-alongs, this one among Handel’s 30 oratorios overshadows Bach’s monumental Christian works such as the “Christmas Oratorio,” “Mass in B Minor,” “St. John Passion” and “St. Matthew “Passion.”

Handel biographer Jonathan Keates tells the remarkable story of the famed oratorio in his 2017 book “Messiah: The Composition and Afterlife of Handel’s Masterpiece” — a good gift suggestion.

In a fit of inspiration, Handel dashed off all of his oratorio’s 53 sections in just three weeks. (Of course tunesmith Bach was expected to turn out a new choral number almost every week.) The first performance in the Easter season of 1742 — in Dublin, Ireland, instead of England — was a triumph.

The London premiere the following March is remembered because King George II stood during the “Hallelujah Chorus” and was imitated by the audience. Listeners have done the same ever since, a tribute normally limited to patriotic anthems. George never officially explained his deed. But it has always been assumed he believed a Christian king should express obeisance to the eternal “King of Kings and Lord of Lords” per the text sung from the Book of Revelation.

There was some trouble with the London gig.

Bluenoses thought it faintly blasphemous that a Christian oratorio was being performed in the secular Covent Garden theater instead of a church.

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The crimes stunned Knoxville: But faith brought Channon Christian's father back to life

The crimes stunned Knoxville: But faith brought Channon Christian's father back to life

It’s one of the biggest puzzles on the religion beat, one that readers ask me about all the time. Here’s the question: Why don’t news organizations cover more “spiritual” stories, as in stories about the impact religious faith has in the daily lives of real people?

The short answer is one that readers don’t want to hear: Most editors don’t think that positive stories about changed lives is “news.”

Now, if the person whose life is changed by faith is a politician, a celebrity or the starting quarterback for the local football team, then that might make this a “news” story. Maybe. Well, it also helps if this “spiritual” hook is combined with some issue that’s controversial.

This is what the cynic in me thought the other day when I saw this headline in The Knoxville News Sentinel, my local newspaper: “Gary Christian: From rage to restoration, a murder victim's father finds the faith he left.

If you live in East Tennessee, this headline calls back years of headlines about a horrific crime story that seized this region like few others — the torture, rape and murder of Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom. In aftermath, the face of Channon’s father — Gary Christian — became an iconic image of loss, grief, agony and, yes, wrath.

This massive News Sentinel feature dug deep into what has happened since the trials. It’s a story about rough, realistic healing and the spiritual changes that allowed a man to return to faith. To be blunt: You don’t see many stories of this kind in news print.

First, here is the long, but essential, overture.

Gary Christian stood in an East Tennessee church pulpit on a sunny August Sunday, speaking about pain and death and faith and God. It’s not a place — or a point — where the father of murder victim Channon Christian would have been 18 months ago.

For 10 years Christian never talked to the Lord he had loved all his life. He left God behind after his beautiful, compassionate, smart 21-year-old daughter was carjacked, tortured, raped, beaten and murdered in January 2007.

Then, last April, kneeling at his child’s grave and surrounded by friends, Christian asked for God’s help.

God had been waiting. He'd never left.

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Amazing grace: KKK leader transformed by baptism, repentance and other vague stuff

Amazing grace: KKK leader transformed by baptism, repentance and other vague stuff

What an amazing religion story NBC News offered the other day about sin, repentance, forgiveness and a Christian pastor showing some genuinely amazing grace to a KKK leader.

Well, it would have been an astonishing religion feature, if only the newsroom team had included a reporter or a producer who recognized that Christian faith was at the heart of this story of human hatred that was baptized -- literally, in this case -- in love. 

It's hard to leave religion out of a born-again story like this one, but the NBC team did its best.

So here is the dramatic, but faith-free, headline on top of the report: "Ex-KKK member denounces hate groups one year after rallying in Charlottesville." And here is the faith-free overture:

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Nearly one year ago, Ken Parker joined hundreds of other white nationalists at a Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. That day, he wore a black shirt with two lightning bolts sewn onto the collar, the uniform of the National Socialist Movement, an American neo-Nazi group.

In the past 12 months, his beliefs and path have been radically changed by the people he has met since the violent clash of white nationalists and counterprotesters led to the death of Heather Heyer, 32.

Now he looks at the shirt he wore that day, laid out in his apartment in Jacksonville, and sees it as a relic from a white nationalist past he has since left behind.

So where is the faith element in this born-again story? Well, Parker had some contacts with opponents of the alt-right that left him somewhat shaky, in a good way. He began to think twice about his beliefs.

Then this happened:


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Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

Pope's (maybe) hell comment sparks firestorm, while NPR offers Easter spit-take (and more!)

First things first: Yes, your GetReligionistas received your messages and saw your many tweets about National Public Radio's amazing Easter correction. 

However, it's important to see the larger picture.

In terms of strange news and social-media -- Twitter in particular -- was this an amazing (Western) Holy Week  and Easter or what? Is the pope Catholic?

I'll deal with some of the tweets first, but it's important to know where we are going -- which is the larger story linked to what Pope Francis did or didn't say about hell, in his latest sit-down with his 93-year-old atheist friend, and journalist, Eugenio Scalfari of La Repubblica.

Hold that thought, because we have quite a distance to go before we get there. In my opinion, the most amazing part of that Holy Week story was the Vatican's sort-of denial that was issued to straighten out this latest Scalfari drama.

The now famous NPR correction was attached to a story about this Francis statement, under the headline: "Pope To World: Hell Does Exist." 

The Washington Post actually published an analysis piece about this correction, placing it in the context of decades of debate about media bias linked to religion. Here is the top of that piece:

An NPR report on Good Friday described Easter inaccurately and, in doing so, practically begged Christians to renew charges that the media is biased against them.
“Easter -- the day celebrating the idea that Jesus did not die and go to hell or purgatory or anywhere like that, but rather arose into heaven -- is on Sunday,” read an article on NPR’s website.
Easter, in fact, is the day when Christians celebrate their belief in the earthly resurrection of Jesus.

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Preview features for 'Jesus Christ Superstar: Daily Beast and NYTimes did it best

Preview features for 'Jesus Christ Superstar: Daily Beast and NYTimes did it best

Without a doubt, the religion event of the week in the world of 21st century pop culture was NBC’s live Easter Sunday broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar last night.

Having played the role of Mary Magdalene in ninth grade, I know almost every lyric and note by heart. I was interested in hearing about this bare-bones rendition of the rock opera compared to Norman Jewison’s over-wrought 1973 movie version.

My daughter and I would have enjoyed last night's show had it not been interrupted every five seconds by commercials, which utterly ruined the flow of the performance. There were lots of great performances; the kiddo loved the music and I got a big nostalgia dose.

Most favorite moment: Jesus getting mobbed by TV news crews while fans were taking selfies. More of my reaction further down.

But first, I was curious as to how reporters previewing the performance would treat the religion angle –- other than the obvious fact that the show is about the founder of a faith that has more than 2 billion adherents. Would they delve into the not-so-obvious?

Many did not. More were taken with how, for the first time, Jesus was played by a black actor, like this NPR story:

This Easter Sunday, NBC will debut its latest one-night live musical event, Jesus Christ Superstar Live In Concert. The event's source material is the 1970s rock opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, an interpretation of the final days of the life of Jesus Christ. But it's not your old school Sunday morning gospel. This time around, John Legend, the messiah of pop-R&B love jams, will take on the titular role of Jesus Christ for the production. ...

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