New Orleans

Wait a minute: Catholics have a special 'version' of St. Mary who handles hurricanes?

Wait a minute: Catholics have a special 'version' of St. Mary who handles hurricanes?

I thought I had seen just about everything, in terms of strange news-media takes on ancient-church teachings on prayer and the saints. Apparently not.

Just the other day, I wrote a post praising a news report on this topic, in part because of a short, clear, explanation of the term “venerate,” as opposed to “worship,” when dealing with a relic of a Catholic saint. See this: “Facing the heart of Jean Vianney: Reporters should be careful when covering saints and prayer.”

Now we have this “Oh, no!” headline at CNN.com: “As hurricane season starts, coastal Catholics call on this holy go-between for protection from devastating storms.”

Let’s start with the basics: Do Catholics believe there is some form of divinity, other than the Holy Trinity — God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit — who hears prayers and performs miracles?

In this headline the “holy go-between” is clearly St. Mary, the mother of Jesus. The term “go-between” is a bit brash, but does hint at the early church belief that is is proper to ask saints to join their prayers to God for a miracle or an answer to some other request. Are these believers claiming that the saint — St. Mary in this case — has the power to protect them or is that a God thing?

Truth be told, I have heard Catholics say things like “I prayed to St. Name Here and this or that happened.” In most cases, if you ask, “So you’re saying the saint performed this miracle?”, they will pause and acknowledge that it is God who hears prayers and responds, in one form or another.

So we need to see if this CNN.com report gets that right. But that isn’t the main reason a Catholic journalist sent me this CNN link. Check out this overture and see if you can spot the heresy in this news story:

(CNN) As Hurricane Matthew whipped up Florida's Atlantic coast in 2016, Beth Williby got scared.

"That hurricane, in particular, just got my back up," the Jacksonville mom of four recalled. "So, I did what any modern woman would do, and I Googled: Who do you pray to for protection from hurricanes?"

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There are must-read stories, and then there's this incredible story on 'The search for Jackie Wallace'

There are must-read stories, and then there's this incredible story on 'The search for Jackie Wallace'

Ted Jackson calls the response to his story on "The search for Jackie Wallace" unreal.

Yeah, you might say that.

As of the moment I'm typing this, Jackson's Twitter post sharing the story has been retweeted 127,641 times and received 273,000 likes. 

"This might be the most amazing bit of reporting I've seen in years," veteran religion writer Bob Smietana said in his own tweet. "There are stories that haunt journalists for years. This is one of them."

This is one of those cases where, if you insist, you can keep reading my post. Or, and I promise  you won't hurt my feelings if you choose Option No. 2, you can proceed immediately to the story in question and devour it just like Smietana and I did. It really is that good.

I mean, there are must-read stories, and then there's this incredible tale.

It's a lengthy read but so, so worth it. Here's the nuts-and-bolts summary from the Times-Picayune, the New Orleans newspaper where Jackson worked as a staff photographer for 33 years and won a Pulitzer Prize:

A New Orleans football legend reached the pinnacle of the sport.
Then everything came crashing down.
This is the story of his downfall, redemption — and disappearance.

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What media coverage tells us about the (lack of) faith of 'Story of God' host Morgan Freeman

What media coverage tells us about the (lack of) faith of 'Story of God' host Morgan Freeman

A decade ago, in reporting on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I met a couple who survived the storm by escaping to their church's balcony.

This was the lede on the in-depth narrative feature I wrote on Charles and Angela Marsalis:

NEW ORLEANS — "Girl, you better get out of town!” 
Angela Marsalis’ mother made it clear what she thought her daughter should do that weekend as Hurricane Katrina — a Category 5 storm packing 160 mile-per-hour winds — threatened a direct hit on New Orleans. 
In a perfect world, Angela — a substitute teacher who helped each day with an after-school program at church — would have done exactly as her mother urged. She, her husband, Charles, and their boys would have joined the clogged procession of vehicles fleeing the tempest predicted to make landfall Monday morning.
But Charles — who worked 12-hour days on a tugboat yet still volunteered most mornings at a Christian outreach center — had just spent $2,000 to fix the family’s blue 2000 Dodge Caravan, wiping out their bank account.
Jittery over the calamity that could befall the bowl-shaped metropolitan area, Angela begged her husband: “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go!” 
But her practical side knew they lacked the cash to keep their gas tank full. They simply could not afford to heed the mayor’s mandatory evacuation order. 

Over the last 10 years, I've made repeated trips to New Orleans to update the Marsalises' journey (here, here and here, for example).

Now, the Marsalises are about to be featured on actor Morgan Freeman's "The Story of God," a six-episode series that premiered Sunday night on the National Geographic Channel. 

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Tragic death of NBA coach's wife Ingrid Williams and a missing element in the news

Tragic death of NBA coach's wife Ingrid Williams and a missing element in the news

That could have been my wife.

Rightly or wrongly, many of us tend to judge tragedy by how close to home it strikes.

For me, that's the case with the death of Ingrid Williams, wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams.

Ingrid Williams was 44, about the same age as my wife. She was driving with her kids — about the same age as mine — on an Oklahoma City street that my family travels often. She was an innocent victim — hit head-on by a vehicle that veered into her lane. She also was a person of strong Christian faith.

In its initial coverage, The Oklahoman reported the news this way:

Ingrid Williams, the wife of Oklahoma City Thunder assistant coach Monty Williams died Wednesday from injuries suffered in a multiple-vehicle car crash Tuesday in Oklahoma City.
“The Thunder organization has heavy hearts tonight with the news of Ingrid's passing,” the Thunder said in a statement released Wednesday evening. “Words cannot adequately describe how deep our sorrow is for the loss of Monty's wife.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Monty and his family, and we will support him in every way possible. We know the entire community of Oklahoma City has them in their prayers.”

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After an Ashley Madison headline: A widow seeks grace and candor in churches

After an Ashley Madison headline: A widow seeks grace and candor in churches

For decades, I have been interested in issues linked to clergy stress.

This is, in part, because I grew up in a pastor's home and I understand what that's like. Let me stress that my father knew how to mix pastoral duties and family. He was not a workaholic and I learned, early, to thank God for that. When I got to Baylor University and started talking to other "PKs" -- preacher's kids -- I found that my father was not the norm. (Click here to read my tribute to my father, written before his death.)

So stories about clergy stress hit me right in the heart. I recently wrote a post about the death of a pastor and seminary professor, a story that was in the headlines because of its link to the hacking of the Ashley Madison website for people seeking, they thought, anonymous sexual affairs. Let me stress that this was a tragedy that, by all accounts, started with workaholism, then grew into a hidden maze of depression, sexual addiction and suicide.

That post about the Rev. John Gibson and his family started a sequence of events that led to my "Crossroads" conversation this week with host Todd Wilken. Along the way, I heard from this man's wife, Christi Gibson and ended up talking with her.

The original post focused on a CNN report in which Christi -- herself a member of a major church staff -- and their children were interviewed. I sensed that there was much more that they said, or tried to say, but their words about faith, divine love, repentance and grace ended up on the editing floor. The CNN report did include this:

In his suicide note, Gibson chronicled his demons. He also mentioned Ashley Madison.

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Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, I wrote a column reflecting on covering the "storm of the century" for The Christian Chronicle:

NEW ORLEANS — I see the faces, and the memories come rushing back.

Since Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, I’ve made repeated trips to report on the faith and resiliency of God’s people — both victims and volunteers. 

I’ve lost track of the exact number of times I’ve traveled to New Orleans. However, the faces — and experiences — remain fresh in my mind.

From my personal experience in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, I know the "faith-based FEMA" were a key piece of the recovery — in some cases, the key piece.

In Katrina's wake, thousands of volunteers motivated by faith in God housed, fed and clothed evacuees, cleaned up muck and debris, rebuilt homes and businesses and helped in a million other ways.

Given that, I am curious to see if God will show up at all in the anniversary coverage of Katrina making landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

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Sports Illustrated shuns the 'Christian' label in story of suicide, reality TV and hoops

Sports Illustrated shuns the 'Christian' label in story of suicide, reality TV and hoops

I don't know about you, but there are times when I can start reading a news feature and, even though there are no hints in the headlines, photographs or pull quotes, I can just tell that a religion shoe is going to drop sooner or later. 

That's how I felt when I started reading the epic Sports Illustrated story called "Love, Loss and Survival" about the struggles of New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson after his long-time girlfriend, reality-television star Gia Allemand, committed suicide. Read the opening lines of this story and see if you can spot the first clue:

The argument began, as so many do, over something small and seemingly insignificant. Ryan Anderson can’t even remember what it was. A text message? An offhand comment?
Then the quarrel grew, gaining strength. It carried over from lunch at a restaurant to the drive home, Gia Allemand’s voice growing louder. By the time Ryan dropped her at her apartment, in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, around six on the evening of Aug. 12, 2013, they’d said things they could never take back, and Gia’s anger had morphed into something else, dark yet strangely calm. Upon returning to his apartment, two long blocks away on Tchoupitoulas Street, Ryan flipped on a single light and slumped on the couch. All around were reminders of his relationship with Gia.

Spot it? 

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