About Mark Stricherz

MarkStricherzI wrote Why the Democrats Are Blue: Secular Liberalism and the Decline of the People’s Party (Encounter Books), released this October. The book touches on many subjects I intend to write about for GetReligion: the media’s treatment of secularism; the Catholic Church and Catholic social thought; American politics and government; and American mores and culture.

To see why I am interested in and qualified to write about these subjects, a little background seems in order.

I was born in San Francisco in 1970 and raised in the Bay Area. I earned a B.A. in political science from Santa Clara University and an M.A. in the social sciences from the University of Chicago. In between, I worked for the Jesuit Volunteer Corps to redevelop an inner-city neighborhood in Baton Rouge, La., and worked as a literary assistant at America.

After school, I became a newspaper reporter. My stories on a contracting scandal in Brentwood, Calif., led to the resignation of a top city official. In 1997, the late great Michael Kelly hired me as a reporter-researcher at The New Republic. I then covered Congress for States News Service and was a staff writer at Education Week.

My stories have been cited by The Week in August 2003 as among the best in the country and received an honorable mention in 2005 from Washington Independent Writers.

My articles have appeared in many national publications, including The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, The Weekly Standard, The New Republic, Christianity Today, Commonweal, National Catholic Register, and Inside Catholic. To research Why the Democrats are Blue, I received grants from the Phillips Foundation in Washington, D.C., and the Lyndon Baines Johnson Foundation at the University of Texas in Austin.

I am the product of an eclectic, wonderful, and enfeebled Bay Area Catholic culture from the 1970s and ’80s. This helps explain why I play basketball and follow most team sports; love the Bay Area, especially San Francisco; read newspapers, magazines, and books; listen to U2, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and ’80s pop music; watch mainstream movies; jawbone with my friends; and attempt to follow the Seven Sacraments.

I live in Washington with my wife, Angy, and our daughter, Grace. We are parishioners at St. Peter’s Catholic Church on Capitol Hill.

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E.P. Hemingway is in the house

The Book Jacket PhotoIt took several days to get the basic facts together with a photograph, but we can pass along the happy news that the Divine Ms. M.Z. Hemingway (and hubby) are the proud parents of a baby Lutheran.

We have gone back and forth on whether their daughter’s name needs to jump straight into the world of Google and I, as the taskmaster at this blog, have decided to simply stay consistent with female Hemingway style and use the initials.

Thus, let’s say that E.P. “Eve” Hemingway was born last Thursday at 11:02 p.m. The vital statistics — 8 lbs., 8.5 oz., 20 inches.

The baptism rites are planned, if you know the Hemingways, at the logical place at the logical time this weekend.

The proud parents sent this lovely quotation out with the digital birth announcement (meaning that the announcement was digital, not the birth):

“You showed Your mercy before I could perceive it. You came to me with Your Kindness before I could long for it. Your generosity encompassed me before I could offer thanks for it. You not only marvelously formed me in my mother’s womb, but also drew me out from the womb. You have been my hope since I was at my mother’s breast. I was cast on you from birth. From my mother’s womb you have been my God.”

– Johann Gerhard, “Thanksgiving for Life and Birth,” Meditations on Divine Mercy

And don’t forget that this would be a great opportunity to check out the baby-related GetReligion.org swag at our CafePress store. Wink, wink.

M.Z. is trying to get lots of sleep. Please be patient with the other GetReligionistas as we carry on without her and, for those of you who do such things, keep this happy family in your prayers.

Feel free to use the comments pages to send your best wishes.

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Late-summer GetReligionistas lull

parkwayLongtime GetReligion readers will know that my favorite place in the world is the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, where my family flees from time to time to escape telephones, offices, commuting and, to a lesser extent, weblogs and email. If you can find Pensacola, N.C., on a map, then you own a really good map.

However, we are able to roll on in to the soon-to-reopen Dotcom Cafe in nearby Burnsville from time to time, so I will not vanish completely for the next four or five days. Basically, the goal is to take lots of walks, read books, play the guitar and perhaps brave the icy waters of the nearby swimming hole. And beat back the email every other day as best I can while enjoying a fruit smoothie or two.

Anyway, I should mention that we are approaching a kind of late-summer lull here at GetReligion — caused by a convergence of several different changes, large and small. We are not making a total break, but the flow of posts may thin a bit. It may take longer for one of us to get back to you with a comment.

As I mentioned, I am out and about for a few days relaxing and, next week, I am teaching with my colleague Dr. Arne Fjeldstad in a week-long seminary in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Oxford Centre for Religion & Public Life (new website is here). This seminar is on, well, why mainstream journalists struggle to “get religion.” It is the sequel to last year’s seminar in Oxford, England, on press freedom in the wake of the global controversy over the Muhammad cartoons.

Meanwhile, it is time for young master Daniel Pulliam to update his GetReligion bio page. In addition to his recent marriage, he has left his work at the National Journal Company’s Government Executive site and has (as of today) moved back home to Indianapolis, where he will begin law school. He still plans to stay in journalism, in one form or another in this changing world, and will officially become GetReligion’s scribe in charge of paying extra close attention to news in Middle America.

And as she mentioned the other day, the divine Ms. M.Z. Hemingway is a few weeks away from the birth of her daughter. This is, of course, going to mean some much-needed time off. We can only hope that this human dynamo returns to the blog quickly, perhaps during the long naps that we are sure the baby will be taking. She will also, of course, take a break from her work at Federal Times.

Add in the fact that the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc is currently off chasing Anglicans and Episcopalians — again — and things will be a bit quieter than usual the next few days and even weeks. So please hang in there with us. We will do the best we can to keep the doors open.

Please keep it clean on the comments boards. OK? It’s a journalism blog, remember.

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Influential? We GetReligionistas?

banner faithcentral2Why thank you.

Jolly good (and other silly things that Americans think we are supposed to say to sound a wee bit British). Texans would say, “Thanks a bunch.”

It seems that the Faith Central blog at The Times — led by writer and broadcaster Libby Purves — has decided to create a handy collection of, well, here is what the introduction to the list says:

30 Most influential religion blogs

Bloggers about religion blog religiously so Faith Central has compiled a list of the most influential among them. In no particular order, this is intended to evolve, so let us know your suggestions.

So if you scan down a bit, you will find the following reference:

Get Religion

A blog on religious affairs and based on the premise that the press just don’t get religion. Based in Washington D.C. this is the blogchild of the Oxford Centre for Religion in Public Life.

Representative quote: “What struck me was the blunt description of these fighters as ‘Islamic militants’. This seems to me to be too direct a link between the faith of Islam and the actions of the militants.”

We point this out for two reasons: (1) We are all in favor of more online guides to resources linked to religion and the news. (2) Then, well, you know, there’s sinful pride and all that other stuff.

But seriously, this is a rather global and interfaith list, which is always a good thing. You might want to bookmark it.

You might want to write in to make some suggestions of your own. For starters, I think they should look to Dallas and consider adding Rod Dreher’s Crunchy Con blog as well as The Dallas Morning Newsreligion site. The Rev. Canon Kendall Harmon’s TitusOneNine blog has readers all over the world, too, and covers resources linked to many faith issues other than the Anglican wars (with links on left and right). They should look at Amy Welborn’s open book, too.

And your nominations? I mean, other than simply pointing to Beliefnet’s BlogHeaven library. That would be cheating.

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Bring back the M!

GR RatingThis rating from Mingle2 may surprise nobody who reads GetReligion regularly.

A tip of the GetReligion beret to my friend David Morrison, whose Sed Contra achieves a paltry R.

Here are ratings for some of my favorite websites and blogs:

Arts & Letters Daily: NC-17
The Christian Century: G (Theolog is R)
Christianity Today: G (Liveblog is R)
Episcopal Cafe: G (The Lead is NC-17)
First Things: G (On the Square is R)
Philocrites: G
Religious Left Online: NC-17
Stand Firm: PG-13

Finally, visit the MPAA if the headline seems too obscure by half.

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5Q+1 soundbites from Fred Barnes

157037Fred Barnes is a Christian conservative who runs an openly conservative magazine and attends a conservative Anglican parish. He also spends a lot of his time in the world of talk television, which means he is used to stating his views in short bursts of information and he doesn’t mind if people disagree.

With all of that in mind, what we have here is a very short and opinionated take on GetReligion’s 5Q+1 questions.

Once again, I think that the crucial point about Barnes — made in an earlier post on this blog — is that he is a religious or moral conservative more than he is a political conservative. He sees religious issues through the lens of his church (even more than through his famous eyeglasses).

Also, let me sound a note of serious, serious doubt about the answer that Barnes gave to question No. 1. Whether you agree with his opinions or not, it’s clear from his writing and editing that he reads much more widely than Christianity Today and World, when it comes to gaining information about the world of religion. I also think it’s interesting — and a glimpse into his own story as an adult convert to real Christian faith — that he lists his own grown children as major influences on how he sees the world. Every time I have ever heard Barnes speak, he has referred to the impact that his own children — daughters, if I remember correctly — have had on his faith and beliefs. Interesting.

So here come the Barnes soundbites. Prepare to fire back at him.

(1) Where do you get your news about religion?

Mostly at church, The Falls Church in Falls Church, Va. Or from my grown children, all Christians, or from Mike Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, who knows everything about religion. Also, I belong to two Bible studies. Oh, yes, I read Christianity Today and World.

(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just do not get?

That’s simple. It’s the threat from Islamic radicalism. The media sees it as a problem in Iraq and Afghanistan, but not a real threat to Western civilization and Christianity. The media reports on it without understanding it at all.

(3) What is the story that you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?

The decline and fall of the Episcopal Church. I belong to a parish that voted to withdraw from the Episcopal Church. It’s a vote I don’t regret in the least.

(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?

Because religion in one form or another drives events in many if not most parts of the world.

(5) What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?

The leaders of the Episcopal Church, who are liberal and politically correct and in favor of multiculturalism, now feel compelled to criticize, and criticize quite stridently and intolerantly, the Anglican leaders in Africa and Asia, who are orthodox believers.

BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?

The coverage is biased against traditional forms of Christian faith.

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Shameless appeal on behalf of a friend

dublin skyline 2 Over at his Crunchy Con blog, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher has decided to celebrate the anniversary (one third of a century, in fact) of the turning-point day in the life of our dear friend Frederica Mathewes-Green, a columnist, radio commentator, author of a bunch of books, etc.

Please hang in there with me while I join him in this effort. However, rest assured that I have some GetReligion.org business to attend to, as well, in this post.

The story begins with Frederica and her husband — Father Gregory Mathewes-Green, now our parish priest — tramping through Europe on their honeymoon. She is, at this point in her life, a kind of feminist, Hindu hippie. This brings us to the key passage in Frederica’s book Facing East: A Pilgrim’s Journey Into the Mysteries of Orthodoxy:

On June 20, 1974, we took the ferry from Wales to Ireland, then hitchhiked to Dublin. After dropping our bags at a hotel, we walked sightseeing through the city in the waning light and stopped at an old gray church squeezed into the facade of a city block.

I strolled in the dim interior, past the massive main altar, past the statues. At last I came to a small altar surmounted with a statue of Jesus. The sculptor had depicted Jesus’ heart visible in the center of his chest, twined with thorns and springing with flames. I remembered from girlhood the story: he had appeared like this to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque three hundred years ago. He had told her, “Behold the heart which has so loved mankind.”

When I came to myself again I realized I was on my knees. I could hear a voice speaking inside. It was saying, “I am your life.

“I am your life. You think that your life is your name, your personality, your history. But that is not your life. I am your life. …”

She was, in a word, converted to Christian faith in one of those knocked-off-her-horse conversion experiences. Today, Frederica is one of those rare commentators whose traditional faith is rather hard to peg with American political and cultural labels. I mean, she is the author of a pro-life book called Real Choices that looks at the issue strictly through the eyes of women and features an endorsement by (wait for it) Naomi Wolf.

But when it comes to theology, Mathewes-Green is, well, orthodox and Orthodox.

That’s why, back in April, GetReligion called attention to a bizarre article about her in the Lynchburg (Va.) News & Advance, published just before she visited the area for a speaking engagement about her latest book, The Lost Gospel of Mary.

There were a number of strange passages in this article — things that Frederica knows she didn’t say because she knows the details of her own life and faith rather well. But then there was the really, really out of line section that said:

“People are hungry to know more about Mary,” she said. “They want a prequel to the Jesus story.”

Among other things, Mathewes-Green’s research led her to believe that Mary did not live out her life as a virgin.

“No one expected that of her,” she said. “She was a normal human being.”

In another sense, however, Mathewes-Green is quite conservative.

As I said at the time, a misquote is one thing. Heresy is another. Thus, I was one of several people who tried to contact the newspaper — since GetReligion takes his kind of journalistic error rather seriously — to request a correction.

Well, the version of the story on the newspaper’s website remains uncorrected.

So let’s try again. I was spurred to action, in this case, by the news that the ecclesiastical shepherd who leads our corner of the Antiochian Orthodox Church — one Bishop Thomas — heard about the case and suggested that the legal office of the archdiocese might want to give the newspaper a call. For journalists, an error is an error. However, the Orthodox do take doctrine rather seriously.

But perhaps we can head this off at the pass. If you wish, you might want to join me in contacting The News & Advance. Contact information is here. The reporter’s name is Darrell Laurant (dlaurant@newsadvance.com) and the managing editor is Joe Stinnett (jstinnett@newsadvance.com).

I know that this rather late for a correction. Still, it’s the right thing to do. Better late than never.

Photo: The Dublin skyline

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Online confession, round two

ConfessionIt’s a sad thing when you hit middle age and your mind starts to go.

I recently wrote the other GetReligionistas (should we have a kind of Grateful Dead-ish shirt saying that at CafePress?) asking if we had done a post yet about MSM coverage of the whole online confession trend. You know, the ongoing stream of stories like this column by Nancy McLaughlin in the Greensboro (N.C.) News-Record:

He hasn’t paid taxes in 20 years, he tells IveScrewedUp.com.

“I keep moving and switching jobs to make it hard for the IRS to catch up with me,” the writer, who claims to be 38 and from Florida, taps into the keyboard. “I want to fix this but every time I think about it the anxiety grips me so that it causes convulsions.”

… Such anonymous soul-sharing, once reserved for the other side of a dark confessional booth, now unfolds daily in cyberspace. Visitors are encouraged to browse the Web sites — even to comment on the misdeeds of complete strangers.

Some people of faith say they think cyberspace confession provides a needed outlet. Others scoff at the trend, saying it trivializes a long-held spiritual tradition.

Personally, I think it would be hard to think up something more “Protestant” than online confession. By that, I mean that most free-church Protestant flocks have every right to adapt to modern times in any way that they feel is consistent with their private or collective interpretations of Scripture (on the right) or evolving Scripture plus The New York Times‘ editorial pages (on the left).

And then there is the question of the fading practice of sacramental confesssion in the Church of Rome (I have never seen any statistics on confession in Eastern Orthodoxy), while evangelical Protestants are trying to come up with their own small-t traditions, whether they are online or in small groups or in the giant, massive, enormous world of pastoral counseling.

Hot story tip for reporters: Check out the ratio of counseling majors to M.Divs on the evangelical seminary campus nearest you. Are pastoral counselors the true priests of American Protestantism these days?

Anyway, I thought of all of this when I received an email this morning pointing me toward a very fine essay on this topic at First Things. Here is a sample:

So where, how, and when does forgiveness come into play, if at all? In what ways are these online confession sites or Oprah shows similar to what you might get from a traditional church’s means of confession? Does the confessing individual forgive himself? Does the community forgive? Where’s the absolution?

American society has placed confession and absolution on two wholly separate tracks. In the church, there is no separation: We confess that we are poor, miserable sinners who have failed to do good and have broken the Commandments. And God absolves us, forgives our sins on account of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place.

… The culture views confession as psychologically therapeutic. By contrast, the “therapy” that the Church seeks to offer is the healing of the soul. That cannot happen with one’s computer. If the thousands of confessions dealing with online pornography and adulterous email relationships are any indication, penitents might want to forgo online confession and simply get away from the computer altogether.

And the author of this essay? One Mollie Ziegler Hemingway.

Turns out, we have looked at this before. Check out the Divine Mrs. MZ’s piece and let us know if you have seen any interesting variations on this theme in media near you. It ought to hit broadcast news pretty soon.

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