Behold, the pope is … Catholic?

In a week in which the homepages of the heavy media hitters have been drenched in Michael Jackson coverage, there has, believe it or not, been other news. President Obama met with Russian leaders Medvedev and Putin and negotiated agreements of import to the United States. U.S. troops died in Afghanistan implementing new U.S. strategy. And oh, by the way, Pope Benedict XVI issued a new 144-page encyclical, “Charity in Truth,” or “Caritas in Veritate.”

Although Benedict appears to sound consistent concerns against birth control, abortion and gay marriage, it is his criticism of capitalism and call for a new “world political authority” that is disturbing some conservatives (can this be the real Benedict?) and cheering some liberals.

As Reuters points out in this “Factbox,” this encylical fits into a long traditional of papal papers that veer a little left on economic issues. This tradition has influenced not only succeeding popes but also the formation of various Western European political parties.

So how the media handled (those in the media who were paying attention) the publication of a long, complex, and timely document that challenges easy categorization? At the Times Online website, Ruth Gledhill sticks very close to the pope’s text, which gives readers a place to begin (although I’m not clear from the coverage whether the encyclical calls for “supplanting” or reforming the United Nations). Jacqueline Salmon’s restrained article (linked above) sticks to the facts, with a few quotes to make the point that this document is being received in some very different ways, depending on where one falls on the ideological spectrum.

I’m particularly intrigued by George Weigel’s speculation that the pope’s apparent reformist inclinations were a sop to the “left-leaning” members of the Vatican bureaucracy. The “bureaucracy” at the Vatican has taken a lot of media hits in the past year for infighting and bad public relations — it seems to be the group to critique when you aren’t quite sure who is responsible.

At USAToday.com, Cathy Lee Grossman highlights some of the economic points that could be most interesting to general readers. Her lede does a good job of summing up some of the pope’s more controversial ideas for economic reform:

Pope Benedict XVI today called for reforming the United Nations and establishing a “true world political authority” with “real teeth” to manage the global economy with God-centered ethics.

In his third encyclical, a major teaching, released as the G-8 summit begins in Italy, the pope says such an authority is urgently needed to end the current worldwide financial crisis. It should “revive” damaged economies, reach toward “disarmament, food security and peace,” protect the environment and “regulate migration.”

Benedict writes, “The market is not, and must not become, the place where the strong subdue the weak.”

As the parent of a teen-aged girl with a liking for vampire novels, I can’t blame Benedict or Grossman for where my mind goes when I read “real teeth.” But I do wish that if she’d have balanced the Father Tom Reese quotes with more extended ones from Kirk Hanson — again, both the pope’s “life ethics” and the left-leaning economic critique in this encyclical are an historical strand of Catholic social teaching.

A duet by Rachel Donadio and Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times has what I think is probably the best economic analysis of the articles I’ve seen. I’m particularly taken by the quote from Vincent Miller of the University of Dayton:

In many ways, the document is a puzzling cross between an anti-globalization tract and a government white paper, another signal that the Vatican does not comfortably fit into traditional political categories of right and left.

“There are paragraphs that sound like Ayn Rand, next to paragraphs that sound like ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’ That’s quite intentional,” Vincent J. Miller, a theologian at the University of Dayton, a Catholic institution in Ohio, said by telephone.

Donadio and Goodstein don’t note the places in the encyclical where the pope does address issues of concern to conservative Catholics. But by quoting the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Novak, they give the article a weighty (albeit “uncomfortable”) conservative voice on the economic issues — and, lets face it, that’s the news in this encyclical. I’d love to see some more conservative Catholics quoted on the economic issues discussed in the encyclical.

Over at Reuter’s FaithWorld blog, Daniel Bases has an interesting interview with CEO and former Gov. Frank Keating on precisely that topic.

The pope is scheduled to receive the president at the Vatican on Friday. At the least, Pope Benedict has given him and the G-8 posse material for a very meaty discussion. Let’s hope we hear about substance, not solely ceremonials. And let’s hope we get some analysis of how this encyclical, addressed to the world, is being received, both by believers and by the secular powers to whom it is also addressed.

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The economy in divines

Talking about the clergy job market may seem a little crass — pondering the job market in the midst of widespread job loss, even more so. As an ordained minister, I tend to think of the folks in congregations who are losing their jobs, and the impact it has on their lives rather than wondering how my fellow clergy or seminarians waiting for calls to congregations are riding out the storm.

I haven’t come across any other articles on this topic, so I was happy to see New York Times religion writer Samuel Freedman examine how one seminarian, Lynette Sparks, is coping with seeking a call in turbulent times. As I’ve said, I have a bias towards matter-of-fact stories about how people cope with daily life and make practical decisions, because I feel that this is where most readers tend to connect with newspapers or online media. Freedman’s story certainly fits that bill, although there are moments of what may be purposeful vagueness that are a little irritating.

Freedman’s story begins, appropriately enough with a sermon:

One Sunday in late March, Lynette Sparks stood at the altar of a Presbyterian church in upstate New York to sermonize about seven verses from Romans and the notion of transitions. Ms. Sparks talked about the early Christians waiting for divine revelation. She talked about the construction project under way near the sanctuary. She talked, as preachers sometimes do, indirectly about herself…

Ms. Sparks was engaging in both homiletics and autobiography when she called transition a “wilderness place, a place of wandering, a place of suspended animation, a place that appears dry and lifeless.” Her husband, Brad, who works in the auto-parts industry, had barely escaped three rounds of layoffs. And the ministry, her chosen profession, was suffering from a recession of its own at the very time she was going into the job market.

Freedman immediately draws the reader into the very human problems confronting the Sparks family — although he probably upset a few Presbyterians who do not, as a matter of conviction, have altars, but tables at which to commemorate the Last Supper. Then Freedman makes the larger point: clergy, like other job seekers, are watching their pension funds “dry up” and seminary graduates are being compelled to look for part-time work.

The anecdotal evidence collected by the Association of Theological Schools, which covers 250 graduate institutions in the United States and Canada, has found job listings for ministerial positions down by about one-third at major seminaries serving both evangelical and mainstream Protestant denominations. The Jewish newspaper The Forward reported last month that Jewish seminaries accustomed to placing nearly all their newly minted rabbis were finding jobs this year for only about half.

Denomination by denomination, the severity of the current downturn does vary. While evangelical churches tend to see it as a temporary reversal in a continuing boom, the Conservative Jewish movement and mainline Protestant denominations like the Presbyterians had been retrenching well before subprime mortgages and credit-default swaps intruded into congregational finance.

Here’s where I’d like to see some quotes and facts and rather than generalizations. Are all Jewish seminaries having problems placing graduates? What “evangelical churches” is Freedman talking about? What does “retrenching” mean in this context? Later in the story, Association of Theological Schools executive director Daniel Aleshire is quoted referring to “changes in congregational life” as they impact clergy employment, but Freedman doesn’t analyse what that means — doctrinal battles? Culture wars? A shift from mainline churches to megachurches as some Americans move fluidly from denomination to non-denomination?

More clarity would have been really helpful in anchoring this essay. I’m still grateful that readers get to experience the dilemmas and anxiety of a clergy family so much like their own family or that of their neighbor. And I love the end quote.

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Ave Maria, minus the snark

ave-ajpgFor some reason, there’s just something about a billionaire pizza czar trying to build a neo-Frank Lloyd Wright Catholic college and a conservative, faith-friendly town to go with it that makes mainstream journalists get miffed. I mean, check out some of these earlier GetReligion visits to the press coverage of Ave Maria University near Florida’s west coast.

However, reporter Mitch Stacy recentlly paid a visit to Immokalee, Fla., and came back with a perfectly normal Associated Press story about a powerful man and his big dream. I don’t think there are any basic facts screwed up or anything.

Hurrah for normality. It’s a kind of mini-journalistic miracle, the snark-free Ave Maria story.

The news hook this time around is rather obvious — the bad economy. How much money has Thomas Monaghan of the Domino’s Pizza past invested into his “spiritual military academy” (he says $400 million) and how far behind schedule is he, they or it?

The recession has a stranglehold on much of southwest Florida, but billionaire Thomas Monaghan’s vision for the 1,100-seat church and the Roman Catholic school he created continues to take shape, even if construction isn’t progressing as quickly as he had hoped.

The 72-year-old founder of the Domino’s Pizza chain had hoped to have a gym built for the basketball team by now. He and the town’s developer also expected to see more than the 300 or so houses and condos that have gone up, and more restaurants and stores open in the town center surrounding the towering church. And plans to erect one of the largest freestanding crucifixes in the world — 65 feet tall, with a 40-foot body of Christ — on the church grounds had to be put on hold.

But that’s not what Ave Maria, the town, is famous for. Right? You want to know about the sex stuff.

Monaghan made headlines before the first shovel of dirt was turned, saying that stores in Ave Maria would be prohibited from selling contraceptives and pornography, and the cable TV system wouldn’t carry adult movies. He backed off after civil rights advocates raised a stink, but says he hopes those things will remain unavailable here.

It is true that the story — at a normal wire-service length — does not pay a great deal of attention to some of the problems that have plagued Ave Maria, such as the long-running fight inside the law school, arguments about the architecture, the usual academic personality wars, etc.

I agree that it would be fascinating to know more about the people — especially the owners of the businesses — that are working with Monaghan and developer Barron Collier Cos. on the project. Who has the pizza franchise, for example? It seems the town has been highly influenced by planned-community trends, which is often territory dominated by progressives. What’s up with that?

However, it does sound like Ave Maria, the school, is still growing, from 367 students in 2007, to 697 this year and an expected 900 this coming fall. Things are going a bit slower than expected in the town, which is probably good. The powers that be still say the goal is 5,000-plus students in 20 years, surrounded by a town with 25,000 residents.

This is just a wire-service update. That’s all. When you compare this with the snarky MSM coverage of the past, this is progress.

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Questioning Obama’s religious rhetoric

Most news stories I have surveyed on President Obama’s speech Tuesday on the economy (among other things) have mentioned his use of the biblical metaphor of the nation’s economy being built on a rock, but few have gone beyond the message’s surface. (See here, here, here, here, here, and here.) For starters, none of the stories I read mentioned that President George W. Bush used a lot of religious metaphors and was at times criticized for using such language.

Obama has used the Sermon on the Mount before in his political rhetoric, (namely to express his support for civil unions), but this is one of the first times that I remember where biblical passages have been used for an area outside the social issues:

Here are the actual words of the speech, which, interestingly enough, are prominently highlighted on the Whitehouse.gov Web page with the headline “‘The House Upon a Rock.’”

Now, there’s a parable at the end of the Sermon on the Mount that tells the story of two men. The first built his house on a pile of sand, and it was soon destroyed when a storm hit. But the second is known as the wise man, for when “the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house, it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.”

It was founded upon a rock. We cannot rebuild this economy on the same pile of sand. We must build our house upon a rock. We must lay a new foundation for growth and prosperity — a foundation that will move us from an era of borrow and spend to one where we save and invest; where we consume less at home and send more exports abroad.

It’s a foundation built upon five pillars that will grow our economy and make this new century another American century: Number one, new rules for Wall Street that will reward drive and innovation, not reckless risk-taking — (applause); number two, new investments in education that will make our workforce more skilled and competitive — (applause); number three, new investments in renewable energy and technology that will create new jobs and new industries — (applause); number four, new investments in health care that will cut costs for families and businesses; and number five, new savings in our federal budget that will bring down the debt for future generations. (Applause.)

That’s the new foundation we must build. That’s our house built upon a rock. That must be our future — and my administration’s policies are designed to achieve that future.

David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network appropriately notes that the “rock” spoken of in these passages is anything but the economy. In fact, that “rock” is Jesus. Whether Obama’s speech writers (or Obama himself) intended the speech to convey that type of message is unlikely, but it does raise questions reporters must ask, as reporters did for President Bush, about whether or not this type of language is appropriate.

Of course, looking closer at the use of language is necessary to understand the difference in its usage. Obama is being very explicit about his use of biblical language. Bush was not always so explicit and often left reporters confused. Some even acted surprised when the language was “revealed.”

Here a non-Christian analyzes Obama’s use of biblical imagery to make his political points:

In a multireligious democracy, we should be concerned when politicians’ arguments rely on appeal to the authority of their particular religious texts (especially if theirs are shared by a religious majority). But contra Lynn, not all Bible quotes are appeals to divine authority. “The Bible says not to steal wages from your employees” is an appeal to biblical authority. “Let’s not copy Moses’ mistake when he hit the rock instead of talking to it” is an appeal to biblical wisdom.

I bring this up because I think it explains why, as a non-Christian (in a democracy with a Christian majority), I’m not bothered on a gut level when a Christian President quotes the New Testament parable about building your house on sand or on a rock to make a point about our economic recovery. The plain meaning of Obama’s speech is not that the Bible commands us to make new rules for wall street, investments in education, etc… His plain meaning is that this metaphor from his tradition, which may be familiar to many listeners, illustrates well why it’s urgent and worthwhile to do so.

This is not always a clear-cut distinction. But I think it’s a useful one. Maybe a useful thought experiment in assessing what kind of appeal to religious text we’re dealing with is to consider: Would using this quote in this way still make sense if the speaker’s religion were different from the quotation’s?

Reporters should not allow this one to slide because it is a significant speech and a significant use of biblical imagery.

While the story is still fresh, questions should be asked about why Obama decided to go to the Bible to assistant in his explanation of his economic plan. (See here for an example of good questions asked regarding Bush’s use of religious rhetoric.) Is it just a convenient well-known story that people understand or is there a deeper meaning to Obama’s multiple uses of the Sermon on the Mount in his police rhetoric?

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Shameless plug for a student

taxesHere’s a hard-news story that I have been interested in, ever since some of the details of President Barack Obama’s stimulus and tax plan began to surface. Thus, I have been watching for mainstream coverage of the topic.

Needless to say, Religion News Service is the logical place to look for this kind of tight, narrowly focused coverage. That’s what specialty wire services do for a living and we can only hope that, as the mainstream media evolves into whatever is coming next, RNS and other specialty wires and websites find some way to hang on.

So here’s the top of the report, as it appeared in USA Today:

WASHINGTON – President Obama’s proposed 2010 federal budget contains a 7% cut in charitable tax deductions for the nation’s wealthiest taxpayers. Some religious groups are asking how that will affect their bottom line.

The answer: it depends who you ask.

Here’s what it means in real terms for the 5% of Americans whose household income exceeds $250,000 a year. Those families can currently save $350 in taxes for every $1,000 donated to charity; under Obama’s plan, that amount would drop to $280 per $1,000 donation.

“By doing this, you raise the cost of giving” said Roberton Williams, a senior fellow at The Tax Policy Center, a liberal Washington think tank.

Now if you keep reading and you choose to read between the lines, as I tend to do, it would appear that religious institutions of higher learning, especially those looking for new buildings anytime soon, have more to fear than ordinary churches, which depend more on the giving of ordinary people in the pews.

Another angle worth pursuing: How about the impact of this tax increase on religious hospitals and other large networks that offer charity to the least of these? In hard times, can the White House sell any policy that takes money away from religious and non-religious caregivers, as opposed to large donations for football stadiums, art galleries and other high-ticket items?

Readers also need to read all the way to the end to get another grace note from the nakedly political side of the story:

All of this may be moot by the time Congress takes up the budget later this summer. Sen. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who chairs the powerful Senate Budget Committee, has already indicated there may be trouble ahead.

Conrad told U.S. News and World Report that he’s already heard so many complaints about the proposal that he could “absolutely be sure we can’t pass this budget.”

Like I said, it’s hard to take money away from charities. Perhaps this note of reality could have been mentioned higher in the story. I’ll mention that to the reporter this morning, since Karin Hamilton is one of my students at the Washington Journalism Center. You gotta keep ‘em on their toes, you know.

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Faith ghosts in the global recession

469px-la_fe_ls_carmona_mrabasf_e-108_01The world’s economic troubles have many journalists writing articles about how the global society is changing as a consequence of the recession. For example, the Atlantic had this cover story on how communities like New York City will benefit from the financial crash (not exactly original or surprising considering the author). The Economist writes about how we may see a return “of economic nationalism.”

On the other hand, as Tmatt noted here, some are predicting the collapse of the Christian evangelical community.

The two hypothetical narratives for the future are not connected in any of the articles, but they should be. Regardless of the merits of the predictions that communities like NYC will benefit and evangelicalism will diminish, the two issues are connected in ways that reporters should explore.

For one reason or another, Anthony Faiola did not touch for a minute on religion in this Washington Post report on the drying up of the global economy. The article does a great job exploring the affect the economy has had on individuals all over the world, but not once is religion mentioned:

Globalization took years to reach Mae Sot, a remote town surrounded by jade-colored hills and tropic streams on Thailand’s border with secretive Burma. It did not stay long. …

When the global economy went code red, Thailand’s exports collapsed. In December, the factory where Lamin worked began losing contracts. In mid-February, her employer joined dozens of others shutting down in the region and adding to a swelling refugee crisis. All 800 Burmese workers at Lamin’s job site were fired.

Tucking away her $350 life savings, she tried to join many of her jobless co-workers crossing back into Burma. On the way, she was shaken down by Thai police who are conducting crackdowns in the area as public opinion shifts against foreign workers in hard times. Now penniless, she is living in a halfway house in a dusty corner of town, sleeping on a concrete floor and hoping to persuade her old employer to fund her return home.

“I don’t want to go back to Burma. It is a horror, there is only poverty, no jobs,” she said, eyes downcast as she spoke through a translator. “They only wanted us in Thailand when they needed us. Now, they just want us gone.”

I don’t recommend this story if you’re not prepared to be seriously depressed. The picture is not pretty, and the consequences of the global economic meltdown appears to be getting uglier by the day.

But how does religion affect the economic crisis, and how will the economic crisis affect religion? Will Christianity continue to grow in the countries that used to be considered developing? Will Western countries continue to send missionaries? How will Islamic countries respond to the drying up of their oil revenues?

News stories deal with these subjects are difficult to report on because it does require some level of informed speculation and prediction. But as we have seen with both stories dealing with the economic crisis and with the future of Christianity, it is not impossible to report on predictions for the future. In addition, things are happening today with massive amounts of migration as demonstrated in the Post story that has to involve religion:

Thousands of foreign workers, including London School of Economics graduates with six-digit salaries and desperately poor Bangladeshi factory workers, are streaming home as the economy here suffers the worst of the recessions in Southeast Asia. Singapore is an epicenter of what analysts call a new flow of reverse migration away from hard-hit, globalized economies, including Dubai and Britain, that were once beacons for foreign labor. Economists from Credit Suisse predict an exodus of 200,000 foreigners — or one in every 15 workers here — by the end of 2010. …

As exports crash worldwide, factories from China to Eastern Europe are shuttering. The World Bank estimates the crisis will trap at least 53 million more people in poverty in the developing world this year. Last week alone, $1 billion fled emerging markets — the largest weekly loss since October, according to Merrill Lynch. Some of the hardest hit are migrants and foreign contract workers. Malaysia is expelling 100,000 Indonesians as part of a new policy to put Malaysian workers first as the recession sparks job losses. In Britain, strikes broke out nationwide to protest the hiring of foreigners at one the country’s largest refineries even as thousands of Eastern European immigrants headed home anyway because they could not find work.

Migrations and immigrations have always impacted religion both in the destination country as well as the home country. People tend to rely and return to their faiths during times of hardship. Will churches in countries with large populations of returning migrants see a boost in church, mosque and synagogue attendance? Which religious institutions will see the most increase and if so, will they end up stronger as a result?

The faith ghosts in this story should not be ignored. Please let us know if anyone has seen the subject addressed. I would not be surprised to see publications like The Economist or The Atlantic deal with it, but to date, I have yet to see anything.

Image of Allegory of faith, by L.S. Carmona (1752-53), used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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“Holy” high rollers: no yoking matter

I don’t know about you, but when I read about the collapse of a pyramid scheme that takes down wealthy, well-educated investors and nonprofits, I shake my head and wonder how such smart people made such (in hindsight) dumb choices.

The answer, in part, seems to lie in affiliation, or the cultural, ethnic and religious ties that seem to form a powerful lure for even the brightest and most successful individuals and institutions. Think Bernie Maddoff and Yeshiva University. In the 1990′s John Bennett, Jr. and his Foundation for New Era Philanthrophy spread a net that swept in many conservative Christian institutions and individuals, causing much heartburn and soul-searching. In a potential sign that the Jewish community is still grappling with the aftermath of the Madoff scandal, I found this wry reference.

Reporters sometimes seem uneasy weaving religion organically through a business story, even when its clear that it was a factor. So congratulations to Michael Forsythe and Allison Fitzgerald of Bloomberg for doing such a good job in examining the insular culture nurtured by Allen Stanford, alleged perpretrator, along with two of his executives, of an 8 billion dollar “Ponzi scheme.”

(And they even explain, for forgetful readers, what a “Ponzi scheme” is: “an investment scam in which new money is used to pay off earlier investors.”)

Forsythe and Fitzgerald’s vibrant story starts with this apt anecdote, illustrating the idea that in Stanford’s world, faith and finance were as tight as PB & J:

When Jason Green wanted his team of financial advisers to sell more of Stanford International Bank’s certificates of deposit, he knew where to turn: Proverbs 13:11.

“Wealth from get-rich-quick schemes quickly disappears; wealth from hard work grows,” Green wrote, citing the biblical passage in a 2005 e-mail to his U.S.-based “Superstars” team. He was pushing them to sell $62.5 million of CDs in three months for the chance to earn a trip to Zurich to meet the company’s founder, R. Allen Stanford.

Interviews with 21 current and former employees over three years show that religious faith, personal ties and the iron grip of Stanford himself created a culture that helped promote the bank’s CDs, the center of what the Securities and Exchange Commission calls an $8 billion “massive Ponzi scheme.”

A quote from financial advisor Hank Mills later in the story plays off the anecdote that follows in a way that Mills undoubtedly didn’t intend:

“We all seemed to be of common yolk,” said Hank Mills, 49, a Stanford financial adviser, in an interview. The sales people “seemed to be involved in their community, in churches.”

In a 2004 training video, Mills recounts how he received a phone call from a dying man who then agreed to have Stanford manage his money.

“We pray together,” Mills says in the video. “He shares his financial picture, and he decides I’m the person that he wants to involve with his family to take care of them when he leaves.”

Obviously, the quote doesn’t mean that Mills (who is not apparently among those being sued by the SEC) is guilty of anything except perhaps shrewdly grasping a marketing opportunity. But it does give you a wonderful window into the culture, which was apparently one in which prayer was routine. The two writers also take a look at the family ties that connected Stanford employees-and possibly, as a few quotes imply, made it tougher for those who suspected fraud to penetrate the alleged high-level financial monkeyshines–and easier to label whistleblowers as troublemakers.

It seems as though religious, specifically Christian affiliation was just one thread in the many ties that bound Stanford employees. Although this is a business story, and Fitzgerald and Forsythe don’t have a lot of time to get into the nuts and bolts of denominations and particular beliefs, they still do an excellent job of showing how both the apparent reality and the trappings of faith permeated the Stanford International corporate culture-even to the end.

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Giving up carbon for Lent

lowcarbondietconsumerguideOne of the things I wish we saw more were casual inclusions of religion in stories about general life. It seems that there’s a lot of compartmentalizing of religion — as if stories are completely secular or they’re pigeonholed as religion news.

So I like the ideas behind theses two stories. The first comes from a U.S. News & World Report blog called Fresh Greens. It covers the “green movement and looks for ways to be an ecofriendly consumer without breaking the bank.” Producer Maura Judkis looks at whether Lent will decrease Catholics’ carbon footprint. She calculates that 354 million pounds of meat will go uneaten during Lent — using the number of registered Catholics and per capita meat consumption.

To put that abstract figure into perspective, that’s the equivalent of to 1.5 million round trip flights from New York to Los Angeles not being taken.

Obviously, I realize that this is not a precise science – more like a game of “What if.” There are plenty of Christians other than Catholics who give up meat for Lent, and there are plenty of Catholics who don’t participate. There’s also the factor of the carbon emissions from fish that many eat on Lenten Fridays instead, which I left out because there are so many kinds of fish that we eat, and each has a different carbon footprint. Either way, Catholics that participate in Lent are automatically lowering their carbon footprint, which is a good thing, since some church officials have urged Christians to give up carbon for the 40-day period.

I also just thought the blog post was funny in that way that makes you think that sometimes journalists can only understand a Christian spiritual discipline if in coincides with another political aim that journalists admire. I guess it’s a good thing that Lent is politically correct! Still, it’s a funny hook for a Lenten story and a good thing to enter into the “religion of environmentalism” files.

The next story was published on CNNMoney.com and is headlined “Hired! Going to church to get a job.” Why else would one go to church? It’s actually a cute story with good advice about how unemployed individuals should work their networks to help them get a job. But it has that same tone deaf quality — not quite understanding the sacred aspects of church life.

The story really just follows the steps taken by one unemployed individual, which included attending a church’s free career workshop. Experts say it was a good idea:

Our panel of career coaches agree that Butler was wise to tap into local organizations that could help him brush up on his job search skills and expose him to other job seekers sharing their experiences.

“Church groups are a good way to use existing community connections to expand your network of people,” according to Career and Business Consultant Kathy Robinson. But the danger is that “you could be getting 20-year-old resume advice,” she warned. “As long as the members are keeping themselves current on job search techniques it’s actually a fabulous resource.”

I confess I don’t quite get this quote. Why would churchgoers be 20 years behind in resume technology?

Still, this is a prime example of how I wish religious life were better incorporated into everyday stories and I’m glad to see it.

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