Tim Tebow’s plans for Easter ‘mass’

That Tim Tebow guy is something else. You would think with all of the New York City media following him around these days, that it would be hard for him to sneak off and make some kind of radical change in his religious life.

I am referring, of course, to his decision to become a Roman Catholic.

Wait, you didn’t hear about that?

That is certainly one easy interpretation of this rather jarring headline on the CBS Sports website.

Tebow to speak at Easter mass in Texas

Yes, that says what you thought it said — although the lower-case “m” in Mass is a bit strange. Here’s the short news clip under that headline:

New Jets QB Tim Tebow is going to be a guest speaker at Easter mass at a church in Texas, according to KVUE-TV in Austin. The church is expecting 30,000 people to attend the event, which normally draws closer to 7,500. Tebow is known as much for his strong Christian beliefs as he is for his football talent.

However, when one visits the KVUE website, there is no sign of the word “mass” or “Mass” at all.

I assume that, at some point, the story simply said that Tebow would be speaking at a “massive” Easter service and some print-challenged producer cut the story down to size a bit too much. Surely there are people at CBS Sports who have heard of the Reformation and know a little bit about Catholics and Protestants and the differences between these approaches to Christian faith?

But back to KVUE-TV. At the moment, the station has the following online:

GEORGETOWN – One of the biggest names in sports who also happens to be a devout Christian is heading to Georgetown for Easter Sunday.

On Wednesday, the first signs of Tim Tebow fever hitting Georgetown could be seen on 60 acres at the Celebration Church. Scaffolding and trellises were erected Wednesday on the church’s property for the Tebow visit. The New York Jets quarterback will speak for 20 minutes during an outdoor worship service that could draw as many as 30,000 people for the Easter Service beginning at 10 a.m.

“Obviously it’s our Super Bowl,” said Joe Champion, pastor at the Celebration Church. “Easter is the resurrection of Christ, which we celebrate in our faith. We feel like it’s going to be a testimony to the community. We want it to be a family event.” …

Pastor Champion still doesn’t know exactly why his congregation was chosen by the Tebow camp as a place for him to speak. The pastor did say that Easter was not the original date chosen by Tebow’s representatives.

Etc., etc. I’ll admit that this sounds like a rather massive service. It also sounds absolutely megachurch Protestant, from A to Z.

This is not rocket science folks. A click or two with a mouse yields browser results that would straighten anything out in somewhere between 20 and 30 seconds.

Rather embarrassing, methinks.

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The Times lets the big man speak for himself

In light of his upcoming elevation into the red-hat crowd, I thought it would be good to dip into my GetReligion folder of guilt and take a look at that recent New York Times mini-profile of New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan.

Of course, it is also important that the Cardinal-designate Dolan — as leader of the U.S. Catholic bishops — has been in the headlines throughout the religious-liberty battles between the Obama White House and a coalition of traditional religious groups over the new Health and Human Services regulations.

Here is my main comment about this solid feature story, other than one or two points about the accuracy of some language about doctrinal issues: It’s hard to write a nasty, unbalanced profile of a man who is an effective, unapologetic communicator, one who is not afraid to state his viewpoints clearly and with a touch of zip. It’s hard for reporters to do fair, informed coverage of religious leaders who — either through design or lack of talent — surround their most important statements with clouds of boring fog.

The bottom line: It’s much easier to accurately and fairly quote a religious leader who is not hiding, who is not terrified of being quoted in defense of his or her faith.

This comes across quite clearly in the Times article through its emphasis on Dolan’s often earthy sense of humor. Here’s what that looks like in practice, describing the soon-to-be cardinal’s radio show:

Since arriving in New York from Milwaukee, Archbishop Dolan, who was raised in Ballwin, Mo., has most often caught the public’s attention as the traditional unyielding Catholic voice of “no” — to same-sex marriage, to abortion and to sex education in public schools. His show, “A Conversation With the Archbishop,” which is broadcast on Sirius XM satellite radio, is an attempt to change that. It uses a modern talk-show format, with an Ed McMahon-like sidekick and guests, and features the archbishop’s booming bass voice and interest in subjects as varied as the Sept. 11 attacks and exorcism, along with jokes when the tone gets heavy. …

There is trendy theme music (“City of Blinding Lights,” by U2). And after his regular sign-on, “Praise be Jesus Christ,” the 6-foot-3, barrel-chested archbishop finds ways to work in regular jabs about his own weight (“I’m the only guy that breaks a sweat while he’s eating”), his ratings (“my mother is my only listener”) and his Irish heritage (“I tried to trace my family roots in Ireland, but I got so embarrassed that I had to stop. It was not a pretty picture.”).

His humor is both authentic and strategic, as he readily acknowledges. His hope is that by highlighting the ebullience he finds at the heart of the faith, he will win back some of the nation’s millions of straying or ex-Catholics. “Happiness attracts,” he often says.

The key question, of course, is whether it is possible to communicate the basic facts — as opposed to opinions — of Catholic doctrine in a way that would be winsome in any context defined by the Times.

Now, please understand that when I say “facts” I am not saying that Catholic doctrines are facts for those who have not chosen to be part of the Catholic Church. I am saying that these doctrines are the facts on the ground — for centuries — for those who want to take part in the sacramental life of the Catholic faith. Thus, a man like Dolan is not simply expressing his own feelings and opinions when he defends basic Catholic doctrines in statements to his fellow Catholics.

So, it probably is true that Dolan is the voice of “no” in relation to the Manhattan public. He is much more than the voice of “no” when talking to Catholics who genuinely seek to be in Communion with the Catholic Church, which is not a democratic, public institution. The Times is not the only publication that struggles to grasp the difference between these two roles, often struggling for reasons openly articulated by it’s former editor Bill “collapsed Catholic” Keller.

Take, for example, any statements that Dolan might make on — pick an issue — “sex education in public schools.” Dolan is speaking with one level of authority when he talks to practicing Catholics about that issue, perhaps suggesting that they should seek tolerance for their beliefs when wrestling with school administrators. He is speaking with a different, and less authoritative voice, when he speaks to those very administrators as part of an open, public debate.

With this distinction in mind, note this crucial paragraph in the Times mini-profile:

Pope Benedict XVI plans to make Archbishop Dolan a cardinal at a ceremony on Feb. 18 in Rome, giving him the red hat that signifies his new stature as a prince of the church. But even now, two and a half years after Archbishop Dolan arrived at the helm of the New York Archdiocese, his personality is not well known outside of religious circles. And the question remains whether this distracted, liberal, scandal-weary city is willing to listen to a conservative voice even as entertaining as his. …

Archbishop Dolan’s style is a striking shift from that of the man he replaced, Cardinal Edward M. Egan, who was known as a no-nonsense and at times aloof administrator during his tenure overseeing the New York Archdiocese, from 2000 to 2009. The last charismatic figure to lead the archdiocese was Cardinal John J. O’Connor, from 1984 to 2000, whose eloquence in expressing the church’s views made him a major figure in the life of the city and beyond.

Key word there? That would be “eloquence.”

By all means, read this whole piece. It’s worth the effort, because the Times lets Dolan speak for himself as much, or more, than is the norm. Readers can make up their own minds when it comes to accepting what the archbishop has to say.

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About that raptured pet owners insurance

As reporters often focus on brand new information, follow-up stories sometimes get left by the wayside. Tracking down a source or checking in on the end result of something might not lead to anything worth reporting. It’s nice to see NPR do some digging around on a story that was begging to be shared across the Internet.

Remember when Harold Camping’s prediction that the faithful would be raptured was all the rage for about a week in May? There were plenty of stories about end of the world predictions and what happened to people who believed such predictions. As we noted, NPR was one of the first to highlight the struggles families faced as the date drew nearer.

What happens, though, when media outlets report on a seemingly silly business, one that preys on people’s beliefs? Looks like Bart Centre made out with at least $35,000 by promising to care for people’s pets if the owners were raptured in the next 10 years. Of course, some people wanted a refund, which Centre declined.

Even with a few dissatisfied customers, he took on about 260 clients who promised to pay $135 for the first pet and $20 for additional pets. What was feeding his business? Here’s his take:

There might not have been much fallout to Centre’s business from the rapture not happening, but there was some fallout, in the form of complaints, when NPR first told Centre’s story. Many criticized him and said that he was taking advantage of people, but Centre says that’s not the case.

“I do not advertise my business. My business is advertised by the media and by word of mouth,” Centre says. “I don’t threaten people with the rapture coming; I outright tell them I do not believe in the rapture.”

Surely the business won’t end with Camping’s false prediction.

Centre says business has been a little slow and he’s added only a few clients since May. But he expects that around October 2012, close to when the Mayan calendar ends and what many people believe signifies the coming rapture, business might just pick up again.

It’s nice to see a follow-up story, tracking down whatever happened with the original story. Could the story use a balancing view of some sort, perhaps a scholar who looks at faith and business? Are people more likely to spend money on a service if something is tied to their belief, for instance? What do end of the world predictions cost families? Simply reporting on this one particular business with no other voices seems to legitimize it in some way.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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Headline most likely to be corrected, pronto

As I have explained before, one of the most painful realities that reporters face is that the vast majority of news consumers do not understand who writes, and who does not write, the all-important headlines that top news reports.

Any reporter who has worked more than, oh, a month or two, knows the pain of picking up the telephone at work and being chewed out by a reader who is furious about a headline and, thus, is furious about the story. It’s especially painful when you get this forwarded call via the company switchboard — a job that one would assume involve knowing who does what in the newsroom.

So, once again, here’s the crucial info: Reporters write news stories; copy editors or designers write the headlines. It is very rare for a reporter to be consulted on the contents of a headline. Trust me: I’ve worked as both a copy editor and as a reporter.

Now, to make matters more complicated, different copy desks may write different headlines at different stages of a story’s life in analog and digital ink.

When my column goes out from the Scripps Howard News Service, it has a headline on it produced by the DC bureau copy desk. That digital missive goes out to hundreds of North American newspapers where, if editors decide to use this particular column, the local copy desk team then writes its own headline that will fit neatly into the page layout. There may be a completely different headline in the online edition, one packed with magic words (this is what I am told) that appeal to search engine robots.

This brings us to a story that ran in the Sacramento Bee the other day. The headline proclaimed:

Baptist pastor convicted of molesting 5 girls in his Citrus Heights home

The lede for the story stated, of course, the essential facts.

The trial came down to the word of a Baptist preacher who castigated as liars the troubled little girls who called him a child molester.

Since this was a front page story — one with links, tragically, to a host of other molestation stories across America — it drew the attention of editors at the McClatchy newspaper chain’s bureau in Washington, D.C. The national desk clipped the story a bit and added a new headline.

However, while the lede for the story remained the same, the national desk changed the headline. It’s safe to say that whoever wrote this headline either (a) has never taken a course in church history or (b) never visited a Baptist church of any kind.

Here’s the headline that, at the time I wrote this post, topped this report on the McClatchy site:

Baptist priest in California convicted of molesting five girls

Of course, many GetReligion readers — especially Catholics — are sure to think that there is another explanation for this glaring error. It is also possible that someone saw the words “molestation” and “children” and, thus, his or her fingers went on auto pilot.

Correction, please.

And consider this another example of a “made for GetReligion” story. It’s a theme day!

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A Mormon college’s skinny jean ban (not)

The Internet soaked up a skinny jeans story yesterday when some writers thought Brigham Young University had banned the tight pants. It turns out that the confusion revolved around rules at BYU’s sister school in Idaho over those really tight pants the average Americans can’t fit into.

The story revolves around student who said that that a testing center employee told her she couldn’t take the test because her pants were too tight. Later reports reveal that there was confusion between departments, but the school ultimately does not ban skinny jeans.

Outlets like The Atlantic Wire to ABC News picked up the story. The Huffington Post another outlet that caught on with a post titled “BYU-Idaho Dress Code Prohibits Skinny Jeans: Report.” Adding “report” somewhere in your headline means that the writer thinks he or she can get away with posting just about anything and be absolved, I think.

If you read through the post, you’ll see an evolving story–seven paragraphs into the story.

But Kevin Miyasaki, BYU-I Student Services and Activities Vice President, clarified that there is not a skinny jeans ban per se. In an email to Gawker, he wrote, “We have not identified ‘skinny jeans’ as a specific violation of the dress and grooming standard.”

He added, “The Testing Center has not made any new standard, nor has there been a ban of a particular piece of clothing.”

So no ban. Butttt it still seems like those slim-cut J. Brands you’ve been hiding under your lofted BYU-I dorm bed are a no-no.

And then a correction at the bottom.

CORRECTION: Previously, this article incorrectly stated the university in question to be Brighman Young University, not Brigham Young University-Idaho. We have corrected the error.

It’s interesting to see most of the posts jump off of a story from Gawker, considering the writer admitted she wasn’t 100% sure the story was true (95% yes, but still). She did, however, do some follow-up by emailing school leaders.

Thanks to the confusion, the Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News wrote on the policy to clarify the spreading rumors. From Peggy Fletcher Stack:

…[T]he school has no policy against these popular pants, BYU-Idaho spokesman Andy Cargal said Wednesday.

“The testing center had chosen to make their own adaptation of the policy,” Cargal said. “The sign was up for about a week. When the university found out, that policy was discontinued.”

The school expects students to dress modestly, he said, but “we leave it up to them to use their own agency to figure out what’s modest and what isn’t.”

BYU-Idaho clarified the issue on its Facebook page, responding to an article in the student newspaper.

Wondering if skinny jeans are allowed on campus? They are. BYU-Idaho’s longstanding dress & grooming standards promote principles of modesty and restrict formfitting clothing, but skinny jeans are not singled out or prohibited. In addition, the Testing Center issue reported in Scroll has been corrected and is no longer in force.

So the Internet gets a field day over some pants. Less speculation and more clarifying with school officials could easily clear things up.

Skinny jeans image via Shutterstock.

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That big Catholic Family Circus

Among his fellow cartoonists, “Family Circle” patriarch Bil Keane was well known for many reasons, including his often surprisingly hip and bizarre wit (which, obviously, he deliberately left out of his oh-so-straightforward cartoons). Can you imagine Keane lending his pen to a series of “Zippy the Pinhead” cartoons? Sure, why not.

However, to his readers he was the cartoon cartoonist character — named Bil — with the flash-back family values that were so pure and wholesome that many online critics simply could not resist mocking them and worse.

The question that seems to have been left unanswered in so many of the obituaries for Keane is quite basic: If this man’s values were at the heart of his art, then where did these values come from? Obviously they came from real life and journalists had no problem discussing that. However, many clearly missed the higher source of those values.

The Associate Press report that ran widely, including The Washington Post, featured the usual language right up top:

PHOENIX – Bil Keane’s “Family Circus” comics entertained readers with a simple but sublime mix of humor and traditional family values for more than a half century. The appeal endured, the author thought, because the American public needed the consistency.

And later on:

Keane said in a 1995 interview with The Associated Press that the cartoon had staying power because of its consistency and simplicity.

“It’s reassuring, I think, to the American public to see the same family,” he said.

Although Keane kept the strip current with references to pop culture movies and songs, the context of his comic was timeless. The ghost-like “Ida Know” and “Not Me” who deferred blame for household accidents were staples of the strip. The family’s pets were dogs Barfy and Sam, and the cat, Kittycat.

“We are, in the comics, the last frontier of good, wholesome family humor and entertainment,” Keane said. “On radio and television, magazines and the movies, you can’t tell what you’re going to get. When you look at the comic page, you can usually depend on something acceptable by the entire family.”

Jeff Keane shared the sentiment, saying “Family Circus” had flourished through the decades because readers continue to relate to its values of family moments.

And so forth and so on.

However, Keane fans who were willing to search out other more “conservative” news outlets were able to read more about the roots of (a) those large family values and (b) all of the cartoon panels featuring stained-glass windows, pastors, prayers and other unusual elements, in the context of American newspaper humor.

Keane was, simply stated, a faithful, practicing Roman Catholic. While others ignored this fact, Catholic News Service put it right in the lede, as you would expect:

Bil Keane, the Catholic cartoonist who originated the comic strip “The Family Circus” more than 50 years ago, died Nov. 8 at age 89 in Paradise Valley, Ariz., near Phoenix. The cause of death was given as congestive heart failure.

Later in that same story, Keane himself notes:

The comic also is known for its occasional religious themes. While the worship depicted in “The Family Circus” is of a generic Christian nature, Keane told St. Anthony Messenger it came from the family’s long connection to the Catholic Church. “I draw out of my lifestyle,” Bil said. “I grew up Catholic, my kids grew up Catholic.”

Did secular journalists, writing for mainstream news sources, need to include this information?

That all depends on whether you thought that these journalists were writing to an audience that included “Family Circus” fans, the kinds of old-school newspaper readers who would be interested in the values advocated in all of those cartoons. If those readers cared about those values, and the man behind them, then, yes, it’s easy to argue that Keane’s Catholic faith should have been part of the mainstream story. Why not include that crucial element in his worldview and humor?

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Fit of knavery at The Mail copy desk?

There are times, in journalism, when one needs to laugh instead of crying.

This may or may not be one of those cases. I do not know. Honest.

To make a long story short, the following story from The Daily Mail is not the kind of report that I would be joking about, under normal conditions. Thus, let’s deal with the horrific details first, before we reach at the humorous mistake that provides a journalistic subplot.

You may want to sit down before reading this one:

Churchgoers were left stunned after a man tore out both his eyeballs in the middle of a priest’s sermon at Sunday Mass in a scene that resembled a horror film.

Parishioners in Viareggio, near Pisa, in northern Italy, could only watch as one of their number calmly stood up and carried out the horrific self-mutilation in front of them.

Aldo Bianchini, 46, who was born in Britain but has lived in Italy most of his life, is believed to have suffered from voices. He collapsed to the floor in a pool of blood as his mother frantically tried to help him while the local priest father Lorenzo Tanganelli rushed out to alert emergency services.

The drama happened at the Sant’Andrea church and last night surgeons at the local hospital said that after several hours surgery they had been unable to save his sight and he would remain blind.

Doctors said that before the surgery Bianchini had told them he had “heard voices” telling him to tear out his eyes and Dr Gino Barbacci said: “In all my 26 years of service I have never seen anything like this before. He was in a great deal of agony and he was covered in blood. He said that he had used his bare hands to gouge out his eye balls after hearing voices telling him to do so — to do something like that requires super human strength. …”

Terrible. Bizarre. Yet this was also a story made for the British tabloid story if there ever was one.

As you would expect, journalists probed for every colorful detail that they could in terms of the scene of this bloody drama and the precise sequence of events, as reported by horrified onlookers.

It is in this context that readers hear, once again, from the priest. I assume that this man is Father, not “father,” Lorenzo Tanganelli — as he was described earlier in the report. As we will see, the Mail reporter and editors who worked on this story have some gaps, when it comes to their knowledge of ecclesiastical language.

So let’s return to the story, with the priest noting:

“I had just started to read the sermon when all of a sudden there was a great commotion.

“This man at the back of the knave started tearing at his face and I realized he was gouging out his eyes. …”

Uh, is this the “knave” as in:

archaic — (a) : a boy servant (b) : a male servant (c) : a man of humble birth or position
2 — : a tricky deceitful fellow

Or might this priest actually have been referring to the “nave,” as in:

1 (n) The central part of a church, extending from the narthex to the chancel and flanked by aisles.

Let’s assume that the second word is correct.

Now, this is a rather silly little mistake. Nevertheless, I am curious. GetReligion readers, do you think this deserves a correction? Also, what think ye of the bizarre scriptural reference at the end of this news report?

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Thanking God for that smokin’ hot wife

Stop the presses. A pastor has prayed for his “smokin’ hot wife.” Truly this is a story made for YouTube, Twitter, blogs, Google+, Facebook, you name it.

Before a NASCAR race on Saturday, Pastor Joe Nelms delivered “quite a memorable invocation,” The Tennessean reports, naming very specific race cars.

Later in the prayer, Nelms channeled his inner Ricky Bobby when he delved into gratitude for his family.

“Lord, I want to thank you for my smokin’ hot wife tonight, Lisa, and my two childre, Eli and Emma, or as we like to call the, ‘The Little E’s.’ ”

Perhaps the most unforgettable line of the prayer came when Nelms quoted NASCAR Hall of Famer and Franklin resident Darrell Waltrip at the end of his prayer.

“In Jesus’ name, Boogity Boogity Boogity, amen,” Nelms said.

Over at the Orlando Sentinel sports blog, Shannon Owens writes, “It’s clear the prayer was meant to be taken as a joke, but it is unusual for a pastor to joke about prayer.” Then you’re invited to take a poll:

What do you think about Pastor Joe Nelms’ NASCAR prayer?

Outrageously funny. A pastor has a right to make jokes during prayer.

Out-of-bounds. A pastor should have more reverence for prayer.

You get to have two reactions, that’s it. I know it’s shocking, I tell you, that a pastor might have a little fun.

The Sentinel suggests that the prayer was inspired by Talladega Nights, starring Will Ferrell. Maybe that’s true. If you run in some Christian circles, however, you might already know that this smokin’ hot phrase has sort of been a cliche in recent years for some reason. For some perspective on Christian cliches, I invite you to head on over to this delightful post on Christianity Today‘s women’s blog (yes, for disclosure purposes, I am employed at CT). Karen Swallow Prior, who is the chair of the department of English and modern languages at Liberty University (Jerry Falwell anyone?) wrote the following about the smokin’ hot phrase just last week:

To me, calling one’s wife bride on any day after the honeymoon betrays a rather silly insistence that she is into perpetuity that sweet, young, virginal thing once greeted at the altar — or worse, a tacit acknowledgement that she’s not (wink, wink), so let’s just make like she is. Smokin’ hot, on the other hand, just sounds like someone trying a bit too hard to convince himself.

So there’s one reaction to the phrase.

Back to the coverage, my favorite line in the Reuters’ report is at the end: “Nelms was unavailable for comment Monday.” What were they planning to ask him? Pastor, what do you think about the reactions to your crazy prayer? If we’re going to dig a little deeper, why not include what kind of Baptist church is Family Baptist Church in Lebanon, Tennessee?

Boogity, boogity, boogity!

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