Millennial Generation

Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there

Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there

Ah, yes. Another year, another trip around the liturgical calendar. That means another request from an editor for an Ash Wednesday feature or two.

Based on my own experiences in newsrooms, I have always wondered if the tradition of news organizations doing Ash Wednesday stories has something to do with the high number of ex-Catholics or cultural Catholics (as well as Episcopalians) in newsrooms. Who will show up for work in the afternoon with ashes on her or his forehead? What will people say (in a post-Ted Turner world)?

Then again, maybe Ash Wednesday is a story year after year because it's an assignment that comes with easy, automatic art. 

Finally, there is the fact that Ash Wednesday and Lent are highly serious religious traditions (think meditations on death and repentance) for the people that take faith seriously. However, for some reason, it also seems easy for people to tweak and/or laugh at these traditions. What editor doesn't want to smile in an ironic sort of way at an "ashes to go" lede? And there is an endless possibility of trendy (and stupid) variations on the "What are you going to give up for Lent" non-traditional tradition. 

Then again, it is possible (#Gasp) to do stories on the actual meaning of Lent and it's relevance to issues in our day and age.

Yes, ponder the spiritual implications of Ash Wednesday selfies. This very interesting advance story -- "#Ashtags: When posting Ash Wednesday photos, use your head" -- comes from Catholic News Service, via an online boost from Religion News Service. Here is the overture:

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Ash Wednesday seems to offer contradictory messages. The Gospel reading for the day is about not doing public acts of piety but the very act of getting ashes -- and walking around with them -- is pretty public.
This becomes even less of a private moment when people post pictures of themselves online with their ashes following the #ashtag trend of recent years.

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That InterVarsity headline at Time: New sign of LGBTQ ferment on evangelical left?

That InterVarsity headline at Time: New sign of LGBTQ ferment on evangelical left?

If you were following religion-beat news on Twitter yesterday then you know that the first big question for today is: "What did the leaders of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship say and when did they say it?" Mainstream reporters also need to keep asking, "Why did they say it now?"

The buzz started with a Time article that ran with this very direct headline: "Top Evangelical College Group to Dismiss Employees Who Support Gay Marriage."

It's clear that the story began with material and input from InterVarsity staffers who disagree with the theology behind this decision by the parachurch ministry's leadership. This is not surprising, to anyone who follows trends and news among evangelical progressives.

Thus, the online piece actually ends with the full text of the document circulated among InterVarsity staffers (following a four-year "discernment" process in the organization) that is at the heart of the dispute. Here is the top of the article:

One of the largest evangelical organizations on college campuses nationwide has told its 1,300 staff members they will be fired if they personally support gay marriage or otherwise disagree with its newly detailed positions on sexuality starting on Nov. 11.
InterVarsity Christian Fellowship USA says it will start a process for “involuntary terminations” for any staffer who comes forward to disagree with its positions on human sexuality, which hold that any sexual activity outside of a husband and wife is immoral.

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Sing it! Going to the 'chapel' (maybe) and we're gonna get married (on our terms)

Sing it! Going to the 'chapel' (maybe) and we're gonna get married (on our terms)

There is an old saying in the religion-beat world that goes something like this: You can always find interesting news trends if you keep looking at what happens when each generation moves through the symbolic crossroads of life -- being born, getting married, having children and dying.

During this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I talked about a number of different trends linked to marriage in this day and age, spinning off from two New York Times stories. One was about people flocking to New York City for secular weddings in a state-run marriage bureau chapel. Yes, "chapel." The other was about the trend toward very sexy -- but still white -- wedding dresses.

All kinds of issues came up in this discussion. For example: Lots of churches have had to establish policies on how to handle couples who have been "living in sin" -- that's what people used to call it -- before marriage. There are still interesting stories to be found linked to that topic. But times move on. I am curious. In the age of R-rated wedding dresses, are religious leaders going to have to have wedding dress codes for brides? Do priests and rabbis need to approve wedding dresses in advance?

Truth be told, there is a big, big subject looming in the background during this chat. We are talking about radical American individualism and its whole "this day is all about you" wedding ethos that produces both gigantic, break-the-bank church weddings and all of those destination weddings on beaches, mountain cliffs and who knows where.

The bottom line is even bigger than the financial bottom line: Is the wedding a sacrament or not? Is the rite defined by individuals or by worshipping communities?

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Time on decline of marriage among the young: What's God got to do, got to do with it?

Time on decline of marriage among the young: What's God got to do, got to do with it?

Even frequent critics of the various institutions linked to the Pew Research empire usually complain more about how Pew insiders parse and explain their data, as opposed to questioning the importance of the survey numbers they collect. In particular, news consumers can almost always count on the Pew scholars to pay attention to the religious, moral and cultural implications of trends they believe they have documented. When it comes to religion, Pew people consistently get it.

This is not always the case with people who try to spot the most newsworthy trends in all of those surveys and statistics. I make this observation at this time because of the Time magazine report that just ran, online, under the headline, "Why 25% of Millennials Will Never Get Married."

To be blunt, there is no religion content in this Time essay, no exploration of its religious implications. That is not the case when one looks at the actual Pew Research numbers and the executive summary. 

Moral implications, as opposed to mere economics?

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Winners and losers in our do-it-yourself religion era

No one on the national religion-news scenes writes with more vigor and enthusiasm about America’s sharp turn away from religious doctrine and traditional religious institutions than veteran scribe Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today. Her journalistic glee is completely justified, in my opinion, because this is one of the most important religion-beat stories of our age, especially on the religious left.

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