Rolling Stone

'Bullets Rarely Miss': Rolling Stone offers faith-free vision of suicides in the American West

 'Bullets Rarely Miss': Rolling Stone offers faith-free vision of suicides in the American West

To the extent that it’s possible to write beautifully about suicide, with sympathetic portraits of people who have killed themselves and of the survivors who must live with the wreckage and agonizing questions of what they could have done differently, Stephen Rodrick has achieved it in “All-American Despair,” a 9,000-word report for Rolling Stone.

This is the type of longform reporting — comparable to the magazine’s field reports from the counterculture’s dance of death at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969 and the trampling of Who fans at a general admission concert in Cincinnati in 1979 — that for many decades made Rolling Stone more than a source for record reviews and lots of first-person-voice (“ … as I drove down the highway with Julia Roberts, I noticed that …”) visits with celebrities.

Yet in these 9,000 words, any concept of God or of a meaningful spiritual side of life is nebulous. The first sentence mentions Toby Lingle’s funeral at Highland Park Community Church after he shot himself.

That’s poignant. Yet there’s no indication of why Highland Park was the host of this somber gathering. Was Lingle an occasional visitor? Was his sister a member? Was it simply a matter of seating capacity?

We learn deeper into the story that whatever faith Lingle had was extinguished by the death of his mother, who protected him from verbal lashings by his father:

Toby and his older brother, Tim, and his sister, Tawny, grew up in the one-gas-station town of Midwest, Wyoming, about 40 miles outside Casper. His graduating class was just 16 kids. His mom was an EMT who answered the doctorless town’s medical questions at all hours. His father was a mean alcoholic who worked in the nearby oil fields before retiring on disability. Often cruel, according to Tawny, their dad took particular pleasure in tormenting his youngest son. When a teenage Toby quit a hard, unforgiving job in the oil fields, his father sneered, “We’re not going to have Christmas this year because of you.”

Toby’s brother joined the Navy, and his sister had a baby and moved away. It was just Mom, Dad and Toby in the small house. Toby’s mom tried to protect him the best she could. But she had her own problems: long, unexplained crying jags that scared her kids. Then, at just 46, a lifetime of smoking caught up with her, and she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Toby took her to Casper for doctor appointments and begged her to stop smoking, but she couldn’t. She died six months later; Toby was 19. Talking to his friends and family, it’s clear that Toby’s emotional growth ended the day his mom and protector died. (His father died two years later.)

“He said, ‘God couldn’t exist if he took our mom,’” Tawny told me at her tidy Casper apartment where Lingle would crash when he was having one of the crying spells that tormented his adult life. “He could never see any good in the world after that.”

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Garry Wills on Thomas Merton: Longform writing and the space for faith to breathe

Garry Wills on Thomas Merton: Longform writing and the space for faith to breathe

Shallow Calls to Shallow,” an essay by Garry Wills in the April edition of Harpers, is one example of an encouraging trend: longform magazine coverage that treats religion as worthy of reflection and an essential piece of the American cultural fabric.

I find this trend encouraging as one who left the daily morning newspaper in Baton Rouge in 1989 and began editing a magazine for Compassion International. I have worked with magazines, in varying degrees, ever since.

In a time of increasing pressures for listicles and factoids, magazines at their best offer a place for the longer view. A magazine seized by one ideology can be just as dreary as an ideological website, to be sure, but when a lively mix of editors choose the material, a magazine has the potential to dazzle.

What makes this Harpers essay more remarkable is that Wills, who has spent most of his academic and journalistic career as a liberal Catholic, takes Thomas Merton down several levels on the hierarchy of liberal Catholic saints. He does this by devoting nearly 3,600 words to reviewing On Thomas Merton by Mary Gordon (Shambhala).

Merton left a durable record of celebrity for a man who entered a monastery at age 26 (in 1941) and remained a monk (though not always abbey-bound) until his death in 1968. Merton was a prolific writer. A brief biography on the Abbey of Gethsemani website says that “more than 60 titles of Merton’s writings are in print in English.”

Merton gained a following through his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), but he broadened his audience during the 1960s because of his friendship with popular musicians like Joan Baez, his opposition to the Vietnam War and his later interest in Buddhism.

Paul Elie considered Merton’s literary legacy in The Life You Save May Be Your Own (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), which counted Merton in the esteemed company of Dorothy Day, Flannery O’Conner, and Walker Percy. No less a progressive icon than former Dominican Matthew Fox (an Episcopal priest since 1994) has endorsed the book-length theory that Merton was not killed by a faulty electrical fan in his room during a trip to Bangkok, but by CIA operatives in Southeast Asia.

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Young Satan worshippers foiled in Florida -- but there's a deeper story here somewhere

Young Satan worshippers foiled in Florida -- but there's a deeper story here somewhere

You don’t get much creepier than this. Combine Satanism, teen-aged girls and weapons and you’ve got a keeper of a story.

Bartow, Florida, is in the central part of the state — due south of Lakeland and about an hour’s drive southwest of Orlando. Because of the Assemblies of God college in Lakeland, the area is full of pentecostal-charismatic churches. There are other evangelical houses of worship in the area and a significant Catholic population, as well.

Then from WFTV-Ch. 9 in Orlando came one of the better headlines of the day: “Leave body parts at entrance': Bartow MS girls planned to kill classmates, drink their blood: Cops.”

Is this a religion story or a crime story, or both?

BARTOW, Fla. — Two students at Bartow Middle School came to school with knives and planned to attack students Tuesday, according to the Bartow Police Department.

The school resource officer was alerted to a complaint about armed students around 1:30 p.m.

· Police said the girls allegedly planned to kill as many as 15 students.

The girls have (understandably) been expelled. Although some of the news accounts seem sensationalized, remember that it’s been less than a year since a massacre only a few counties to the south of Bartow — when 17 people were killed at Stoneman Douglas High School. That shooting surpassed Columbine High School’s 1999 massacre as the deadliest yet on high school property.

From USA Today:

Police say the girls — ages 11 and 12 — were found in a bathroom stall, allegedly with multiple knives, a pizza cutter and knife sharpener in their possession. The girls planned to commit suicide after stabbing other students, police say.

"The plan was to kill at least 1 student but were hoping to kill anywhere from 15-25 students," an affidavit said. "Killing all of these students was in hopes it would make them worse sinners ensuring that after they committed suicide ... (they) would go to hell so they could be with satan."

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In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

Once upon a time, there was this era in American life called the Sixties. As the old saying goes, if you remember the Sixties, then you really weren't part of them -- which kind of implies that the only people who remember the Sixties were Baptists, or something like that.

Anyway, lots of things in the Sixties were "cool." Some things were even "groovy," although I thought -- at the time -- that no one who was actually "cool" would have fallen so low as to use the word "groovy." 

Whatever the word "cool" meant, journalist Tom Wolfe was "cool," while at the same time being "hot." If you dreamed of being a journalist in the late Sixties and early 1970s, then you knew about Wolfe and you looked at his writing and thought to yourself, "How does he DO that? That is so cool."

Revolutionaries were "cool" and traditionalists were "not cool."

So with that in mind (and as an introduction to the content of this week's "Crossroads" podcast), please read the following quotation from a 1980 Rolling Stone interview with Wolfe. The key is to understand why, at one point, he calls himself a "heretic." This is long, but essential:

RS: I believe it was in the New Republic that Mitch Tuchman wrote that the reason you turned against liberals is that you were rejected by the white-shoe crowd at Yale.

WOLFE: Wait a minute! Is that one by Tuchman? Yeah, oh, that was great.

RS: He talked about your doctoral dissertation. 

WOLFE: Yeah, he wrote that after The Painted Word. It went further than that. It was called "The Manchurian Candidate," and it said in all seriousness that I had some-how been prepared by the establishment, which he obviously thought existed at Yale, to be this kind of kamikaze like Laurence Harvey -- I think that's who was in The Manchurian Candidate, wasn't it? -- to go out and assassinate liberal culture. I loved that.

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Only ABC News got the God angle on deranged California parents of 13 children

Only ABC News got the God angle on deranged California parents of 13 children

Since I’ll be heading to California at the end of the month for a gathering of religion writers, I thought I’d scan the headlines to see the day's news in that part of the country. Some of it was delicious, such as the movement for all of the central and eastern parts of the state to split off into "New California," a 51st state without the baggage of the coastal cities.

Others showed a hole in news coverage, in that few newsrooms in the nation’s third largest state employ a religion specialist –- even part time -– and many, like the Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, now have none.

Thus, when one of the most famous churches in southern California -- Church on the Way in Van Nuys -- had a fire last November, only the Los Angeles Daily News covered it. And the reporter who wrote the follow-up story didn’t seem to know any of the history behind this Pentecostal church, which was a national center for the Jesus movement in the 1960s and 1970s.  

However, the big story in southern California for the past two days has been about a couple living outside of Riverside who were discovered on Sunday to have kept their 13 children shackled in an innocent-looking suburban home.

I’ll start with a summation from the Rolling Stone

Authorities in California have arrested 57-year-old David Allen Turpin and 49-year-old Louise Anna Turpin on nine counts of torture and child endangerment each, after discovering their 13 children were held captive in their house, with "several children shackled to their beds with chains and padlocks in dark and foul-smelling surroundings," the Riverside County Sheriff's Department said in a news release.
Last Sunday, a 17-year-old daughter escaped the house, located in a quiet suburban town named Perris, roughly two hours southeast of Los Angeles. She told law enforcement that her siblings remained trapped against their will, according to the news release. Police and deputies initially thought all were children, but they found that the "victims appeared malnourished and very dirty" and were "shocked" to learn that seven of them were actually adults.
The children, who range from age 2 to 29 -- seven were legally adults –- were interviewed at the Perris police station, where they received "food and beverages after they claimed to be starving," before being transported to nearby hospitals for medical examinations and additional treatment, according to the news release. Authorities did not say how long the children were shackled. Their conditions have not been released.

Hmm, I wondered, could there be a religion angle to this?

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Ties that bind in Warriors locker room: Might those game-day Bible studies be important?

Ties that bind in Warriors locker room: Might those game-day Bible studies be important?

Hello, all of you sports fanatics out there in GetReligion reader land!

Yeah, right.

I realize there may only be a dozen or so of you, based on the digital silence that has followed most GetReligion posts about sports-news topics. However, I (along with Bobby Ross, Jr., the Texas Rangers acolyte) have bravely soldiered on and written quite a few posts about the God-shaped holes found in the coverage at most mainstream sports-news outlets (hello, ESPN).

So here I go again, with a follow-up post to the recent NBA championship run by the Golden State Warriors. I want readers to answer a simple question about news coverage (one that will take us into territory linked to the never-ending saga of Steph Curry and his sneakers).

The question: Which of the following two news topics do you think will receive the most post-championship coverage?

(a) Debates about whether these Warriors from the deep-blue Bay Area will visit Donald Trump's White House.

(b) New evidence of faith ties -- a Bible study group to be precise -- that bind among some of the key players at the heart of this pro-hoops juggernaut.

If you are not following the White House story, here is a sample of the verbiage there, care of Rolling Stone:

Fresh off winning their second NBA Championship in the last three seasons, the talk about the Golden State Warriors quickly turned to whether or not the team would visit President Donald Trump at the White House. Within hours of defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 5, CNBC's Josh Brown tweeted, "NBA champion Warriors skipping the White House visit, as a unanimous team decision per reports." Brown later said on Twitter, "I have no idea if its true, hence 'per reports.'" The tweets were later deleted, but the news spread and the team issued a statement clarifying their current position. ...
Several Warriors including Stephen Curry, David West, Shaun Livingston and coach Steve Kerr, have been outspoken regarding President Trump and his rhetoric.

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'Real Housewives of ISIS' on BBC gets laughs from Muslims; who'd have thunk it?

'Real Housewives of ISIS' on BBC gets laughs from Muslims; who'd have thunk it?

Every so often, a religion story comes along that is simply fun to read about. Such is the reporting on “Real Housewives of ISIS,” a BBC comedy spoofing the daily regimen of the women who went to Syria to become jihadi brides.

The photo with it gives you an idea of what’s to come. Four women who are fully cloaked in hijabs and body-covering black robes, stand arm-in-arm gazing at one of the women’s iPhones as she takes a selfie of them all. Another of the women is wearing a suicide vest.

Instead of wallowing in political correctness and seeking out every indignant Muslim group possible, British media stuck to the basics of a piece on religion and satire.

Here’s how The Guardian describes it:

As 23-year-old student Zarina watches Real Housewives of Isis on a phone amid the bustle of Whitechapel market in the east end of London, she puts her hand to her mouth and gasps before bursting into laughter.
On the screen a hijab-wearing character models a suicide vest for her fellow jihadi wives. “What do you think?” she asks. “Ahmed surprised me with it yesterday.” The pal reacts by excitedly posting a picture on Instagram, saying: “Hashtag OMG. Hashtag Jihadi Jane. Hashtag death to the west, ISIS emoji.”
The comedy sketch – aired this week as part of BBC2’s new comedy series Revolting – has come under fire from some viewers who have called it “morally bankrupt” and insensitive, while others have accused the BBC of making “Hijabis feel more isolated [and] targeted by Islamophobes”. Comedians, however, have said that reaction to the sketch is part of a growing culture of offence which – alongside stories that overhype the reaction – are in danger of stifling one of Britain’s most successful exports: its satire.

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Rolling Stone, Slate note the lack of God-talk during Donald Trump's victory lap

Rolling Stone, Slate note the lack of God-talk during Donald Trump's victory lap

Although he threw in everything but the kitchen sink, Donald Trump barely mentioned religion or culture wars themes during his 116-minute speech Thursday night. As the Charlotte Observer noted, were it not for Mike Pence, the God mentions by major speakers at this convention would have been pretty sparse.

Maybe that's because Trump knows that nearly every time he refers to the Bible, he makes some kind of mistake? It's one thing to mess up in front of Liberty University students; it's another to goof up when you're accepting your party's nomination for President. 

For the record, here's the only religion content in Trump's speech:

At this moment, I would like to thank the evangelical and religious community in general who have been so good to me and so supportive. You have much to contribute to our politics, yet our laws prevent you from speaking your minds from your own pulpits. An amendment, pushed by Lyndon Johnson, many years ago, threatens religious institutions with a loss of their tax-exempt status if they openly advocate their political views.
I am going to work very hard to repeal that language and protect free speech for all Americans.

An earlier draft of Trump's speech that got leaked did not have the words “and religious.”

Here's an explanation of that Johnson amendment, courtesy of Politifact. Thursday night was such sparse pickings for anyone looking for divine content that Slate termed it "The GOP's Godless Convention." Fortunately for us, Rolling Stone -- yes, Rolling Stone -- released this analysis Thursday afternoon about infighting among evangelicals over the GOP nominee.

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Another journey into the hell of sexual abuse by priests: Two Altoona-Johnstown questions

Another journey into the hell of sexual abuse by priests: Two Altoona-Johnstown questions

Trust me. I understand that it would be almost impossible to write a daily news report about the hellish subject of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy that would please all readers. However, someone has to do this work and do it well.

It's hard to talk about this story having "two sides," unless you get more specific about the actual topic of a given report. After decades of reading this coverage -- some of it courageous, some of it rather shoddy -- I think it's crucial for reporters to make it clear that there are multiple issues being discussed linked to these horrible crimes against God and innocent children and teens.

First, there is the issue of secrecy among high church officials. At this point, you will encounter few people anywhere in Catholicism who have the slightest interest in openly defending what cannot be defended. Maybe behind the scenes? If so, nail them.

However, this brings us to a more complex, and related, issue. How, precisely, should predators in the past be prosecuted and punished? The biggest issue is whether to lift the statute of limitations -- which imposes deadlines on when victims can bring civil suits or state prosecutors can press charges against alleged abusers. In some cases, lawmakers have attempted to target the clergy, alone, in these legal efforts, even exempting, to name one example, teachers in public schools from facing new accusations.

The second question is also linked to the prosecution of priests. Should it be assumed that accused priests are guilty until proven innocent, if that can be proven? How do reporters handle cases in which memories have faded, or the details in stories have become muddled?

With these questions in mind, let's look at today's report in The New York Times -- "As Pennsylvania Confronts Clergy Sex Abuse, Victims and Lawmakers Act." To my eyes, this is pretty solid. Still, there are two points at which I think editors should have added at least one or two sentences for the sake of clarity.

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