Reflecting local religious flavor

crab cake Most people are familiar with two of Christianity’s holiest days — Christmas and Easter. But those are just two of many holy days, or holidays, celebrated by Christians who follow a liturgical calendar. And the calendar has seasons that lead up to the high festivals.

Even people who have sung “The 12 Days Christmas” hundreds of times don’t think of Christmas time as comprising two distinct liturgical periods. Until the 12-day festival of Christmas arrives, the four weeks prior are Advent in the Western Church, which mark a solemn time of prayer and preparation for Christmas. The season begins in mid-November for the Eastern Church and is called Christmas Lent.

I like watching for stories that talk about what it’s like to celebrate the holy days of the season as a liturgical Christian, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this one from Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

But Advent has another purpose that is at even greater odds with the office partying, extreme shopping, egg-nog-sipping customs that the month of December has come to represent. According to the HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Advent “has a twofold character: It prepares for the commemoration of the Incarnation … and it looks forward to Christ’s second coming at the end of time.” Pastors say that second message is even harder to push through the wall of commercialism that Christmas in America has become.

The first part of Townsend’s story quotes extensively from St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke’s written column and a previous homily on Advent. He also speaks with a theology professor at Xavier University in Cincinnati and pastors at Presbyterian, African Methodist Episcopal, Roman Catholic and Methodist parishes. And that’s wonderful. But it made me realize that I rarely see any Missouri-Synod Lutherans in Townsend’s pieces. In fact, the last time I remember a piece about my brand of Lutherans was when our Synodical President faced an election challenge two and a half years ago. Ths could be an oversight of my newscrawling capabilities, to be sure.

But the reason it’s interesting is not because Missouri Synod Lutherans are one of the largest Protestant church bodies in the United States; it’s that they are headquartered in St. Louis. So I hope Townsend is spending time digging into the stories that are happening in his backyard. But I am completely compromised on this topic.

Let’s look at another example of a local news site and its relationship to the local religious scene. Recently The Washington Post started a religion blog called On Faith. The “conversation on religion,” hosted by Jon Meacham and Sally Quinn, is still getting started.

So far, 75 panelists take part in the conversations. By my rough count, you have a dozen Muslim experts or adherents, almost the same number of Jewish scholars, eight Anglicans, eight Roman Catholics, and several Baptists and evangelicals. This is based on my interpretation of their biographies, so I could be wrongly ascribing a religious view to panelists. A Latter-day Saint, Native American spiritualist, Wiccan practitioner, Hindu, Greek Orthodox, Lutheran and Baptist round out the discussion.

Why not include someone from the Seventh-day Adventist church, whose world headquarters are in Silver Spring, Maryland? It sure couldn’t hurt. Leaving them out would be like the Post neglecting to mention crab cakes in a regional food review. Any other suggestions for missing voices on that site?

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  • shenmede

    Yea! Welcome back, Mollie!

  • shenmede

    Sure; how about a Buddhist, Zoroastrian, Taoist, Confucianist, Mennonite, Anabaptist, Pietist, member of the Bretheren, Quaker, Stone-Campbell Restoration member (like me, for instance), pagan, atheist, theist, deist, Shinto practitioner, Rastafarian, and so on? Not forgetting, of course, a representative from that most populous of religions: a Poseur.

    (Thanks, Wikipedia!)

  • Charlie

    I’d suggest a Unitarian Universalist, but if none were available, an Episcopal bishop would serve.

    It really is cruel, btw, to post that crab cake photo, the Chesapeake Bay being some 2,500 miles from here. I sometimes get so desperate for the taste of crab cakes that I buy them from Costco, frozen. Maryland-style, of course — made in Paraguay. Have you no heart?

  • tmatt


    Well, Costco will never do!

    Try THIS on for size, from my own neighborhood.

    Also, for those interested, this season for the Eastern Orthodox is customarily called Nativity Lent.

  • Don Neuendorf

    Totally off topic… welcome back, Mollie. I’m sure you have not yet fully recovered from your recent loss. We always need to give the grieving process plenty of time. But know that you were born without data and you will die without data; data comes and data goes, blessed be the name of the Lord.

  • webwalker

    I would guess that the best way to make up a panel such as you’ve described is to find believers in each of these major groups (as they appear to have done) but I struggle to understand why the representation is constituted by popularity. Why have eight Catholics? Does it take that many to explain Catholic doctrine, practice and tradition? A dozen Jews and a dozen Muslims?

    It seems to me that the more monolithic or heirarchical a religion is, the less representation it should get. Sure, Catholicism as practiced in Walla-walla is different in cultural character than it is practiced in Bogata or Baghdad, but within the United States there tends to be more of a mono-culture.

    This would leave more seats for less common religions that don’t have a monolithic or heirarchical structure. Many of these would need to be represented by scholars of the subtype. I mean, who do you send to represent the views of Independent Baptist Churches? Someone from the IFCA?

    When you get in to many of the highly regional or pantheist religions who have no common agreement on doctrine, ritual, text, or deity but still use the same title (such as Wiccan) it becomes harder. A practitioner of one of these minority religions may be able to tell you how THEY feel about a topic or issue, but would be (by nature of their very loosely structured beliefs) unable to represent the views of others who shared their religious affiliation.

    So here’s my suggestion for the panel board: 30% majority religions (Barna would be a good place to start for percentages) and the other 70% to minority religions.

    To my mind, this would do two things: 1) The wide variety of practice and tradition would be emphasized and 2) The number of traditions and views SHARED would also be emphasized.

    There is a third thing that this would do, but I hesitate to mention it because it would require the hosts to periodically referee: It would virtually BEG the panelists to discuss WHY their views differ.

    If a religion or system of belief has the temerity to discuss exclusive truth claims, then it should have the temerity to do so on as practically level a playing field as possible. Otherwise, I think the moderators/hosts are playing population favorites.

    My opinion may note be what pulls readers, but I think it would produce better ‘news.’

    What do you think?

  • Martha

    Webwalker, my response to that would be along the lines of “Only eight? You mean there are only eight opinions?” If you did restrict it to one Roman Catholic, who would you pick? The Woman Priests representative? Catholics for a Free Choice? Society of Saint Pius X? There’s a lot of people out there willing to claim “We represent the *true* Roman Catholic church and you are a heretic/fundamentalist bigot”.

    Maybe there weren’t any Seventh Day Adventists either available or willing to come on and comment. Though yes, it would be nice to see some of the smaller and/or less common religions. Kind of reminds me of that bit in “Babylon 5″ when all the representatives of various Earth faiths – including an atheist! – were lined up to meet the Minbari ambassador.

  • Mollie

    Thank you to everyone for their kind words and thoughts after my burglary.

    As to the makeup of the panel, I’m not sure what to say. I think the problem with the overall panel is how predictable it is. I don’t mind the high number of Muslims because Muslims are making a lot of news right now and it wouldn’t hurt to explore their theology more.

    But there are a lot of voices missing. I don’t think there’s a cap as to how many people can be included, so maybe the Post can just add and tinker until they get a more exciting or fruitful collaboration.

  • Deborah

    Has no one at WaPo heard of “web elves?” IMHO, “On Faith” has a focus that’s not very, um, focused, and its comments board appears to have attracted every atheist and proselytizer with an Internet connection. The result reads like an unmoderated free-for-all trying to be all things to all people. It may be technically true that “there’s [no] cap as to how many people can be included,” but having that many panelists weigh in on every single question is just overwhelming. I’ll be surprised if “On Faith” doesn’t collapse under its own weight within months.

  • Dennis Colby

    Welcome back, Mollie, sorry to hear about your recent troubles. I hope everything works out for the best.

    As for the subject at hand, I think I’ve lost faith in “On Faith,” so to speak. The comments section is worse than even what the Internet’s usual low standards have prepared me for, and the dozens of panelists seem to be losing a gallant struggle to say something interesting. Or accurate.

    Did you read the panelist responses to the pope’s visit to Turkey? Only one of the four actually wrote about that, while the other three offered various criticisms over Regensburg, which was three months ago. One panelist (Waldman) misquotes the pope, another offers bromides about “our common humanity,” and John Dominic Crossan rolls out his tired act. At least he had the decency to make the unintentionally hilarious suggestion that returning some statues to Turkey will heal the East-West schism.

    And then I turned to the site’s “Faith Facts” section and learned that in 1054, there was a split between the Roman Catholic and “Greek Orthodox” churches. Just the Greeks, then? Bad news, Russia: you’re apparently still taking orders from the pope!

    Unless there are some significant format changes (fewer panelists, some kind of culling of the idiot commenters), I think we’ll have to write “On Faith” off as a noble failure.

  • Michael

    Other missing voices:

    - religious progressives beyong the ECUSA

    - Mainline voices outside of ECUSA

    - liberal African American voices

    - Pentecostals

    Ultimately, however, these kinds of panels are hard to assemble to please everyone. Look at the blogosphere itself, where even among religious consevative bloggers there is an overrepresentation of Catholics, the Orthodox, and “big city” relgious conservatives.

    You all have admitted that the bloggers here are not representative of religous conservatives in the general population, with no Pentecostals, or Nondenominational types, or even traditional Evangeilcals. That skew is representative of the blogosphere generally and in elite social conservative circles.