cancer

Friday Five: McCarrick news, Alex Trebek, comedian's faith, ECFA scrutiny, scary baseball

Friday Five: McCarrick news, Alex Trebek, comedian's faith, ECFA scrutiny, scary baseball

According to the New York Times, the nation’s long run of recent bad weather might wind down by the weekend.

Speaking on behalf of Oklahomans and residents of other states hit hard by tornadoes and flooding, I pray it’s so.

Now, let’s dive into the (hopefully sunny and calm) Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Perhaps you (like the New York Times so far) missed this big scoop concerning restrictions placed by the Vatican on former U.S. Cardinal Theodore McCarrick way back in 2008.

Not to worry: Our own Julia Duin can fill you in on a former aide to McCarrick spilling the beans to Crux and CBS.

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When it comes to Alex Trebek's 'mind-boggling' cancer recovery, have prayers really helped?

When it comes to Alex Trebek's 'mind-boggling' cancer recovery, have prayers really helped?

In March, when longtime “Jeopardy” host Alex Trebek revealed his diagnosis of stage 4 pancreatic cancer, he pledged to beat the “low survival rate statistics for this disease.”

Trebek, 78, told viewers he’d do so “with the help of your prayers.”

“So, help me,” he concluded. “Keep the faith, and we’ll get it done.”

Today, People magazine reports that Trebek — in a cover story due on newsstands Friday — said he is in “near remission” and has experienced a “mind-boggling” recovery.

To what does Trebek attribute this amazing turn of events?

“Well wishes” is one way to put it, and People uses that phrase.

But is the answer deeper — more spiritual — than that? More from the magazine:

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Jeffrey Weiss, a religion reporter who covered his own cancer fight, is gone. Here's his last speech

Jeffrey Weiss, a religion reporter who covered his own cancer fight, is gone. Here's his last speech

It was about 10:30 a.m. my time on Wednesday when I heard that longtime God beat pro Jeffrey Weiss had died at home at noon Dallas time, surrounded by his family. I’d last seen Jeff in September at a Religion News Association conference in Nashville. His family told me he’d probably last until January. Less than seven weeks later, he is gone.  

Last December, he learned he had glioblastoma, a terminal brain cancer and the same ailment that Arizona Sen. John McCain has. Not wanting to use the word “death” to describe his fate, he came up with “egress” and used it with much humor during the last year of his life. He decided to “go out with fireworks,” as he told his employer, The Dallas Morning News, so he spent his last few months writing a column on dying for Religion News Service and  pushing the Food and Drug Administration to move quicker in finding solutions for terminally ill people like him.

See here for a fabulous sketch by Morning News staff artist Michael Hogue of Jeffrey climbing a Mt. Everest-like slope shaped like a brain.

Last month, the RNA gave its Lifetime Achievement Award to Jeff for his work. After receiving the award at the RNA banquet the night of Sept. 9, he presented a speech read by his niece, Lindsey Weiss. As you can see by my photo (above), he stood to her left during the entire thing, wearing his trademark Fedora with a card stuck in it proclaiming "Cancer sucks."

It's a bit of a tearjerker, so I’ve transcribed it below (and here’s the video of him delivering his speech)  for those of you who wish to remember Jeff’s last words to the reporters covering a beat he loved so much. “It’s kind of like his home room of beats,” his wife, Marni, told us.

I appreciate this award, even more so than when I was told my first time about this. And I’m here. I am working better than I am not working. I have loved this organization, even from my odd angles. I'll admit it might not have been a ton of angles and at times more so than I’ve expected. At the moment, I know I may have a particularly short amount of time because of my brain cancer. My glioblastoma may be setting a clock for me and maybe my egress will be at the time of my 63rd birthday this coming January.

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'He did it!' -- MLB coach beats cancer, but media remain vague on faith that sustained him

'He did it!' -- MLB coach beats cancer, but media remain vague on faith that sustained him

"People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby

• • •

Is it time yet for pitchers and catchers to report?

I've mentioned a time or 500 how much I love baseball. Since I was a 14-year-old boy going to see my first major-league game, the Texas Rangers have been my favorite team.

Last week, I was pleased to see some wonderful news on the Twitter feed of my beloved Rangers. This news was enough to warm a fan's heart in the cold of winter: After an 11-month battle with cancer, Texas third-base coach Tony Beasley received a clean bill of health.

And yes — just in case baseball isn't a spiritual enough undertaking for you in its own right — there's a religion angle to Beasley's recovery.

That Fort Worth Star-Telegram headline — "Faith deepens for Rangers coach Beasley during bout with cancer" — gave me hope about the potential contents of the story.

As some GetReligion readers — particularly the baseball fans — may recall, I voiced frustration last summer about vague treatment of Beasley's faith by sportswriters:

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Battling cancer, major-league coach puts faith into action — but what exactly does that mean?

Battling cancer, major-league coach puts faith into action — but what exactly does that mean?

This is an inspiring story.

For those concerned about holy ghosts in the mainstream press, it's also a frustrating story.

I'm talking about a heart-tugging feature from the Dallas Morning News on a major-league coach battling cancer.

As a longtime Texas Rangers fan, I'm particularly drawn to this emotional profile by one of my favorite baseball writers. The subhead on the print version noted that third-base coach Tony Beasley sees his cancer ordeal "as a chance to put faith into action."

ARLINGTON -- This is how he has spent his season: chemotherapy treatment during spring training, five weeks of radiation in April and May and, in the next week, a five-hour surgical procedure to remove the remnants of a tumor from his bowel.
And this is how Tony Beasley describes the year: "My most rewarding in baseball."
Beasley is the Rangers' third-base coach in title, but he's had to move into more of a quality-control role for this season during a fight with cancer that is stretching into its eighth month. The disease may have turned his role upside down, but he'll be damned if it's going to do the same to him.
"It doesn't sound right to [call it rewarding] when you are dealing with a disease; you don't relate that to a reward," Beasley said. "But there has been so much good on so many fronts.
"Somebody once told me not to see obstacles, only opportunities. And this has given me the opportunity to be the man who I said I am. I've always said I'm a man of faith, but we can say things and not live it. This has given me a chance to live it. I'm thankful if people have had a chance to see it."

That's powerful writing, but I want to know more about Beasley's faith.

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A high-profile believer's 'amazing' cancer recovery: God is (not) in the details

A high-profile believer's 'amazing' cancer recovery: God is (not) in the details

Frustrating.

That's how I'd describe the Dallas Morning News' Sunday front-page profile of Bekki Nill, wife of Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill.

Frustrating because the story comes so close — oh, so close — to explaining the role of faith in Nill's "amazing" cancer recovery. 

But ultimately, holy ghosts end up haunting the in-depth feature.

The first clues that religion is, or should be, a major angle in this story come right at the top:

In the nearly three years since she came to North Texas, Bekki Nill has seen two of her kids graduate from college, one get engaged and her husband's career flourish.
And she became a grandmother!
"Amazing things," she said.
Blessings, truly, and somewhat newsworthy because Bekki's husband is Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill, architect of one of this NHL season's most improved teams.
But more so because Bekki, 55, is nearing the fifth anniversary of being diagnosed with incurable cancer and told she had two months to live.
Would anyone blame her if she quietly focused on prolonging her life while privately cherishing these milestones? Instead, she openly discusses her cancer fight while becoming a guiding light within the Stars' organization -- and an inspiration to many outside of it.
"The way she lives her life probably allows me to do this," Jim said last Monday, mere hours after acquiring Calgary's Kris Russell before the NHL trade deadline. "She doesn't put herself first in anything, though she probably should at times."

It's impossible to read that opening and not suspect strongly that there's more at play here than a positive outlook on Bekki Nill's part. All the signposts point to Nill being a woman of faith. Strong faith. 

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God, cancer, a videogame: Did WIRED dig deep enough into the facts of this mystery?

God, cancer, a videogame: Did WIRED dig deep enough into the facts of this mystery?

I have had the following debate several times with editors over the past 40 years or so, while working on news features or columns about religious issues and the believers involved in them.

In terms of reaching mainstream readers, an audience that is both secular and religious, which of the following two methods is best?

When writing the final version of the piece, should you include lots of specific facts and information about the religious beliefs and practices of the people involved, for the simple reason that these details are crucial to their lives and, thus, the story?

Or maybe you need to turn that around. Should you write about their faith in a very general way, so that more readers have a chance to get involved in the story without baggage or prejudices? After all, saying that a story focuses on a circle of "evangelical" Christians will turn off people who are angered by that whole "evangelical" thing.

For many people, this is another version of the old debate between "spiritual" storytelling and "religion" news.

Let's look at a perfect example of this debate in practice. I'm interested in how readers react to the decisions that writer Jason Tanz and the editors at WIRED made while producing the absolutely wrenching feature story called "Playing for Time." The kicker for that headline: A father, a dying son, and the quest to build the most profound videogame ever."

Yes, once again we are dealing with another "theodicy" story that revolves around ultimate questions about God, pain, evil, sickness and death -- when bad things happen to good people. The people at the center of the story are videogame pro Ryan Green, his wife Amy and Josh Larson, the co-designer of the game called "That Dragon, Cancer."

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God and baseball: Why sportswriters keep ignoring this MLB pitcher's Christian faith

God and baseball: Why sportswriters keep ignoring this MLB pitcher's Christian faith

Daniel Norris makes no secret of his Christian faith — no secret at all.

The Detroit Tigers pitcher's Twitter profile is typical of that openness:

I live to find 3 things. 1. Eternal life. 2. The strike zone. & 3. Good waves - 2 Peter 3:18 - Just Keep Livin' *dirtbag*

So why do sportswriters — again and again and again — either totally ignore that aspect of Norris' character or keep the nature of his faith vague?

The latest examples of how sports journalists treat the top prospect's faith come in recent reports on the 22-year-old having a malignant tumor removed from his neck this offseason. 

Despite a drive-by scattering of terms such as "prayer," "faith" and "eternal life," holy ghosts haunt the reports.

The Detroit Free Press notes:

After the season, Norris announced his cancer on Twitter and Instagram.
“I’m a firm believer in the power of prayer,” he posted Oct. 19. “So now, I’m asking for prayers.”
His faith is the center of his being. “It’s something to lean on,” he said. “Without faith, I don’t think I would be in the big leagues.”

Photo by Mark Cunningham, Detroit Tigers

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Detroit Tigers pitcher with cancer believes in 'power of prayer,' but why?

Detroit Tigers pitcher with cancer believes in 'power of prayer,' but why?

Daniel Norris believes in "the power of prayer."

The Detroit Tigers pitcher made that clear in an Instagram post Monday in which he revealed he will undergo surgery for a malignant growth on his thyroid.

However, sportswriters seem to be leery of Norris' faith. Again.

This is the Detroit Free Press' lede on Norris' cancer diagnosis:

Daniel Norris will be put to the test.
His opponent: thyroid cancer.
The Detroit Tigers’ young left-handed pitcher announced on Instagram and Twitter this afternoon that he was diagnosed with the disease earlier in the season while playing with the Toronto Blue Jays and will undergo surgery to remove a malignant tumor in the off-season.
He acknowledged playing baseball helped him deal with the troubling diagnosis and that a doctor determined he could wait until after the season to have surgery.
"I've been debating for months as to how or even if I should share this with people," he posted on Instagram. "I'm a firm believer in the power of prayer. So now, I'm asking for prayers.”

Give the Free Press credit for using Norris' direct quote asking for prayers in the fifth paragraph. But did the Detroit newspaper bury the lede?

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