New Hampshire

Ghost in the opioid crisis? Haunting New York Times report probes New Hampshire's pain

Ghost in the opioid crisis? Haunting New York Times report probes New Hampshire's pain

If you spend much time in New Hampshire, as I do (visiting family), you know that it's a complex and interesting state.

Lots of people know about "Live free or die," the state's motto. Lots of people -- The New York Times quotes the regional slang, "hella wicked many” -- know about the state's unique tax structures and its state operated liquor stores.

Of course, I am interested in the state's interesting mix of secularism and radical individualism. Take a look at the Pew Research Center's "How religious is your state?" website and there's New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, right at the bottom of the chart. Note that 43 percent of folks in New Hampshire are absolutely sure that they believe in God.

So, how does one handle religion -- or a glaring lack of religion -- when dealing with haunting subjects like this state's opioid crisis? When dealing with hurting hearts, tortured minds and ravaged bodies, should journalists raise any questions about the human soul?

I thought about that as I read a stunning New York Times feature that ran with this headline, "1 Son, 4 Overdoses, 6 Hours." It was based on a year of face-to-face research with an addict named Patrick Griffin, his father Dennis (a recovering alcoholic), his mother Sandy and his sister Betsy, a recovering addict.

This is the rare case in which I want to praise a story that appears to have zero religious content. It's a great story, one that few readers will forget if they read to the final shattering lines. However, I also want to raise a journalism question: Should someone, at some point, have asked a few religious questions when covering a story that is packed with stark, life-and-death questions about moral issues and choices? Yes, where is God during this family's agony? Are there religious issues linked to the drug culture in this secular region? The Times notes:

In Patrick’s home state of New Hampshire, which leads the country in deaths per capita from fentanyl, almost 500 people died of overdoses in 2016. The government estimates that 10 percent of New Hampshire residents -- about 130,000 people -- are addicted to drugs or alcohol. The overall burden to the state, including health care and criminal justice costs and lost worker productivity, has ballooned into the billions of dollars. Some people do recover, usually after multiple relapses. But the opioid scourge, here and elsewhere, has overwhelmed police and fire departments, hospitals, prosecutors, public defenders, courts, jails and the foster care system.
Most of all, though, it has upended families.

This is, of course, a story centering on a health crisis that affects the mind and body. But, throughout the piece, there are constant references to a great mystery: Why do some people recover and others do not?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

40-day pilgrimage takes faithful on spiritual journey along 400-mile river. But something's missing ...

40-day pilgrimage takes faithful on spiritual journey along 400-mile river. But something's missing ...

Years ago, during my Associated Press days, I wrote about running feeding the body, mind and spirit of a Texas seminarian.

This was the lede on that 2004 profile:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — In what he calls his “Mother Teresa Run,” Roger Joslin looks for the divine in the faces of everyone he meets. When “Running With Alms,” the Austin seminarian takes along a few dollars to help those in need.
In Joslin’s view, a spiritual experience — even an encounter with God — is as likely to occur along a wooded trail as in a church, synagogue or mosque.
The 52-year-old master of divinity student at Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest relates his experiences in the book “Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner’s Guide to Breathing, Meditating and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport.”
Published last year by St. Martin’s Press in New York, the book combines Joslin’s insights from 30 years of running with the spiritual journey that guided him toward the priesthood.
Joslin maintains that through chants, visualization and attention to the most obvious aspects of the present moment — the weather, pain or breathing — the simple run can become the basis for a profound spiritual practice.
“When running, search for the divine in the ordinary,” he writes. “Each run is not a pilgrimage to Chartres, to Mecca, to Jerusalem, but it is a pilgrimage nonetheless. … If the intention is to converse with God, you are a pilgrim. It is the very ordinariness of the run that enables it to become a central part of your spiritual life. When God appears in the midst of the mundane, we are making progress toward him.”

I was reminded of that old story when reading a feature this week — also by AP and also involving the search for God in nature — about a New England river pilgrimage.

The top of the AP report sets the scene:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Coastal New Hampshire paper's nearly pitch-perfect on decline in region's religious stats

Coastal New Hampshire paper's nearly pitch-perfect on decline in region's religious stats

I'm not at all sure when the first story about declining church attendance might have been written, but it's surely been a staple for the past two or three decades. Perhaps the modern iterations stem from the famous April 8, 1966 cover story in Time magazine, headlined, "Is God Dead?"

Since then, we've seen any number of pieces on how church attendance is in decline, how congregations are shrinking and, here's the biggest trend, how the old mainline Protestant denominations are in straitened times. 

I've written such stories myself.

Whatever the present-day genesis, a piece in Fosters Daily Democrat, a daily in Dover, New Hampshire and the state's seventh-largest paper by circulation, examines the decline of faith in the state's seacoast region. There are several good things to read here, but also a couple of easily avoidable omissions, I believe.

Let's dive in:

Seacoast religious leaders said a recent cultural shift towards secularism has caused them to make significant changes, including altering their strategy for attracting members and consolidating churches.
Secularism, which experts say has always been prevalent in New Hampshire and has continued to rise, have caused attendance to dwindle in many religious congregations. A Gallup poll in 2015 stated 20 percent of New Hampshire was considered "very religious," the lowest percentage found in the poll. Mississippi came in at the highest with 63 percent.
In Portsmouth, Corpus Christi Parish, which is comprised of St. James Church, St. Catherine of Siena Church and the Immaculate Conception Church, is being consolidated into one church, and St. James Church is being put up for sale.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Wait, what!? You've heard about Iowa's evangelical voters, but what about the ones in New Hampshire?

Wait, what!? You've heard about Iowa's evangelical voters, but what about the ones in New Hampshire?

As the 2016 presidential race — which began sometime during the Paleolithic era — trudges toward actual voting, it's impossible to miss the headlines about candidates courting evangelicals in Iowa.

For a twist, how about a story focusing on religious voters in New Hampshire?

Wait, what!?

I'm always fascinated by coverage of religion in New England. That region boasts the four least religious states in the nation (Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Massachusetts), according to Gallup. Connecticut (at No. 8) and Rhode Island (No. 13) don't trail too far behind.

I wrote this sticky lede for The Christian Chronicle in 2013:

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. — Folks in the Green Mountain State like their economy syrupy sweet.
The rural, thickly forested New England state produces 39 percent of the United States’ maple syrup.
The state’s 626,000 residents are less sweet on religion: Vermont ranks as the nation’s most secular state,  according to a 2012 Gallup poll.

So how did evangelicals in New Hampshire — where roughly three out of four residents characterize themselves as nonreligious or only "moderately" religious — gain the attention of Republican operatives?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

It’s God-and-country time for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

  It’s God-and-country time for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

The new year will bring a significant strategic shift for the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, which remains influential among U.S. conservative Protestants and has $371 million in assets.

Since 2000 the BGEA has been led by the great evangelist’s son Franklin, who kicks off the new look in Des Moines on Jan. 5.

That’s when Franklin launches his politically-tinged “Decision America Tour" series of prayer rallies that starts off in Iowa and includes the other early voting states of New Hampshire (Jan. 19) and South Carolina (Feb. 9). He plans to preach and tweet his way through all 50 states by Election Day.

Though Billy Graham has befriended politicians and uttered socio-political comments over the decades, his revival meetings always focused hard on appeals for attendees to personally accept Jesus Christ as their savior from sin or to renew such commitments. Franklin will likewise “preach the Gospel.” But he’ll also be urging the Lord’s people not only to pray for the nation but “take action” by being sure to register and vote at all levels of government, and to consider runs for office.

The campaign will also ask Americans to sign a pledge that “where possible” they’ll vote for candidates who “uphold biblical principles, including the sanctity of life and the sacredness of marriage.” Franklin cites these biblical proof texts: Psalm 139:13 and Proverbs 24:11 on abortion, Matthew 19:4-6 on marriage, and Proverbs 14:34 on civic duty.

Perhaps with the BGEA tax exemption in mind, Franklin won’t be endorsing specific candidates and presents the tour as non-partisan, declaring:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

For Boston Globe, a crazy question concerning New Hampshire and John Kasich's faith

For Boston Globe, a crazy question concerning New Hampshire and John Kasich's faith

The headline from the Boston Globe grabbed my attention:

In N.H., talk of faith from Kasich

So I clicked the link and read the lede:

HENNIKER, N.H. — It was one of the last questions at a town hall meeting, and it happened to come from a recent retiree from Ohio: How had Governor John Kasich’s time as that state’s chief executive prepared him to be president?

“Early in your administration, my colleagues in the public and private sector, kind of viewed you as rather intense and kind of dictatorial,” Jeff Weber said inside of New England College’s Simon Center. “They said you’ve mellowed some.”

“How has the job changed me?” asked the governor who is beginning to break through in a Republican primary field packed with 17 candidates, the most noted of whom is businessman and reality TV showman Donald Trump. “Number one, my faith has gotten deeper. Why does that matter? Because it’s given me perspective.”

There were religious overtones to many of Kasich’s remarks on everything from climate change to the national debt Wednesday morning as he wrapped up a five-event, two-day swing through a state that usually doesn’t embrace overtly religious candidates. Yet the Ohio Republican is appealing to voters in New Hampshire with its first-in-the-nation primary.

So far, so good.

The Globe spotted a key religion angle on the campaign trail and went for it. 

I kept reading, excited about getting to the meat of the story. I just knew — or at least I hoped — the Globe would provide important context on the role of religion in Kasich's personal life and presidential aspirations. Alas, such details never came.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Post offers faith-free report on alleged rape at famous pre-Ivy boarding school

Post offers faith-free report on alleged rape at famous pre-Ivy boarding school

Obviously, pre-Ivy League prep schools such as St. Paul's in Concord, N.H., have their share of traditions. One of the buzz-worthy and truly distressing Washington Post stories of the week so far focused on the tradition of the "senior salute" at this elite campus, in which senior men compete to see who can sleep with as many younger girls as possible.

How elite? The Post report notes that a year on the 2,000-acre campus costs $55,000-plus and other media outlets put the figure at more than $60,000. Alumni include legions of executives, Pulitzer winners, three major candidates for the presidency, ambassadors, various members of Congress, Secretary of State John Kerry and legions of clergy, including a former Episcopal Church presiding bishop. Oh, and Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau.

The chapel is really beautiful, too, which is fitting for a school with a strong religious history. Hold that thought. 

So what happened when senior Owen Laurie met with that 15-year-old girl in an attempt to add her name to his online "score" spreadsheet? Laurie insists that he did not sleep with her. Drawing on information from The Concord Monitor, the Associated Press, The Boston Globe and other sources, the Post noted:

According to the affidavit obtained by the Monitor, Labrie sent the freshman girl a “senior salute” e-mail asking her to “hook up” with him four days before graduation. She initially declined, but then agreed on the understanding that “hook up” referred to kissing. Two days later, on May 30, 2014, Labrie allegedly took the girl to the top of the school’s math and science building.
They kissed, then Labrie allegedly began to pull off her underwear. She resisted several times and twice told him “no,” according to the affidavit.

Laurie denies having sex, but the sexual-assault nurse at the local hospital claims otherwise. The media description of the critical encounter also includes a strange and fascinating statement:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A New Hampshire woman's passion for helping Syrians: Can you spot the religion ghosts?

A New Hampshire woman's passion for helping Syrians: Can you spot the religion ghosts?

Way up top, a fascinating, in-depth profile in the Boston Globe hints at a strong religion angle:

NASHUA — In a warehouse on a cold spring night, volunteers heaved boxes from a truck parked in one cargo bay to a 40-foot shipping container in the next.
A woman in a sea-green hijab helped lug the last of the boxes out and swept the truck floor clean. Another truck, packed to the ceiling with boxes, was waiting to pull in.
She hopped onto the platform, long skirt brushing the tops of her black Pumas, and called out to the crew to unload the next truck even faster.
“They need to leave in five minutes,” she said. “My God, this is a crazy house!”
Not long ago, Nadia Alawa spent her time home-schooling her eight children in East Hampstead, N.H., ferrying them to soccer practice and robotics competitions and volunteering commitments. But as revolution exploded into civil war in Syria — the native country of her husband and her father — the crisis reordered her life.
“This was my cause,” the 44-year-old Alawa said. “I couldn’t stop.”
With little more than a computer, a cellphone, and a knack for getting people to help, she created an international relief agency out of her house. In the last two years, NuDay Syria has sent 53 shipping containers packed with medical supplies, clothing, food, and toys to conflict zones in northern Syria.

"This was my cause." 

Is there a possibility that cause has a religious motivation? That was my question as I kept reading the Globe's riveting account of the circumstances in Syria and Alawa's passion to make a positive difference.

Please respect our Commenting Policy