Journalism about Womenpriests

royWe have noted the generally weak coverage of Roman Catholic Womenpriests so it’s worth noting a publication that did better. The New Orleans Times-Picayune wrote about the looming excommunication of an actual Roman Catholic priest who participated in a Roman Catholic Womenpriests ceremony.

Check out how the paper delicately handled the competing claims of the two groups:

The Rev. Roy Bourgeois, the missionary priest from Lutcher who has devoted his career to opposing U.S. policy in Latin America, appears to be on the brink of excommunication from the Catholic church for participating in a ceremony that purportedly ordained a woman to the priesthood.

Bourgeois, a member of the Maryknoll order, said the Vatican recently gave him 30 days to formally recant his position in favor of women’s ordination, or face excommunication. In a response posted on the Web site of the National Catholic Reporter, an independent newspaper, Bourgeois told the Vatican he could not in conscience do so. He said he believes a call to the priesthood comes from God and it is inappropriate for the church to interfere with it.

“Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral, ” he wrote.

The Catholic church teaches that men and women are of equal dignity and entitled to equitable treatment at home, work and in other arenas. But it holds that Christ defined the priesthood as an all-male corps modeled on himself, and it is powerless to change that.

One quibble is that the article doesn’t explain where its statements about the Catholic church come from. It just states them as fact, as in the last paragraph above.

This information is not that hard to find, if you can enter “John Paul II” and “ordination of women” into a search engine. Here’s the definitive document, the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

The article notes Catholic teaching in multiple places, which is nice. And it does a tremendous job of putting Bourgeois’ activism in context, though, and really makes his story come to life. It quotes him at length, explains the ceremony that got him in trouble, notes his larger opposition to Catholic teaching on women, and tells of his activism at the Army’s School of the Americas. It even explains that he met the female who was ordained at the ceremony that got him in trouble at a School of the Americas protest.

All in all, the article is informative and engaging. It’s sympathetic portrayal of Bourgeois is balanced with a straightforward description of Catholic teaching. And those descriptions aren’t just about what the Catholic church opposes but what it supports. That’s journalism.

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Religion disappears from narrative

obama in PACompared to the primary election, the subject of the religion and faith of Democratic Presidential Nominee Barack Obama’s has largely been absent from the pages of Midwestern newspapers and magazines. Some of this can be justified by the fact that the Midwest is reeling in an economic slump that is seeing people threatened with the loss of their jobs and homes and the collapse of the auto industry and other manufacturing industries that make up a substantial portion of the region’s economy. People want to hear the candidates talk about their economic plans more than their spiritual backgrounds.

In addition, Republican Nominee John McCain has refused to make Obama’s former pastor a campaign issue as opposed to the way Hillary Clinton’s campaign made the issue front and center. Topics relating to religious issues have also been largely absent from the debates. As a result, reporters have not had much of a hook to write about either candidate’s religion lately.

This doesn’t mean that religion should be absent from the narrative though. See here this Sunday Chicago Tribune article on Obama’s “improbable journey from rookie to rock.” Here is a snippet:

Harsh as it was, the primary not only educated Obama, it flushed out all the tough attacks he would eventually face. The fact that he sorted them out during the fight with Clinton meant there was time left for the dust to settle before the general election.

One prominent presidential historian thinks the rate at which Obama got up to speed is evidence that he wasn’t maturing under the spotlight so much as displaying what he already had.

“The notion of growth works best if you think of Obama over his entire life span,” said Fred Greenstein, author and professor of politics emeritus at Princeton University. “It’s not that the last four years have seen a callow youth transformed into a mature leader. … By the time he got into a heated presidential campaign, in my view, he actually had little fundamental learning to do.”

There are huge religion holes that could have been covered in this story even though the article is not primarily about religion. Religion and faith have been apart of the Obama narrative in the past. Why aren’t they as much anymore? The influence of his former church on his life and his conversion to Christianity made up a reasonable portion of his personal story. But here there is nothing in the article on Obama’s church life, his faith or his decision to break ties with the church that he attended for a significant portion of his life.

Instead, the article spends much of its focus on the fact that Obama’s personality appears to be rather cool and collected. One could conclude that this is all mere stage management or that there an aspect of this that goes to the core of Obama’s character? Would it be too much to ask whether his character was influenced by his faith?

Two days earlier, the Tribune wrote about Obama’s rise in the Illinois Statehouse. The subject and focus on a specific time-frame of Obama’s life provided the reporters with an excellent opportunity to analyze and report on the influence of Obama’s faith and church life on his rise in Illinois state politics. Unfortunately there is not even a hint that religion played a role.

Instead the article focused mostly on how Obama worked relationships and issues to benefit his broader goals:

In fact, few in those early days — legislators, reporters, lobbyists — pegged Obama as a star destined to explode onto the national scene. He wasn’t a party leader and he wasn’t a behind-the-scenes player; he wasn’t a journalist’s go-to person.

Yet Obama, in retrospect, handled himself as though he expected this all along. Most lawmakers focused on the events of the day, the usual route to power in the General Assembly. Obama, in contrast, quietly nurtured relationships with power brokers and influential editors, and focused on building a record that would help him far beyond.

When Obama arrived in the Illinois Senate, he was a member of the Democratic minority, laboring under the heavy-handed rule of powerful suburban Republicans. Unable to take the lead on major issues, he worked mostly in obscurity.

The perspective of the article is unique because it was written by a Tribune reporter who covered the Illinois Statehouse during Obama’s tenure there. While the article provides insight into Obama’s relationship with the media, his fellow lawmakers and various stake-holders, there is nothing on his relationship with his family during this time or with his church or faith. Could readers conclude (or assume) that religion and faith were never prominent issues while he was in the state’s capital (away from Chicago and his home church)? Or perhaps it was and that perspective is missing from the story. Either way, readers should never have to assume when reading a news story.

The religious narrative may return to Obama’s story at some point, but before it does, determining why religion and faith has disappeared from the Obama story could produce some interesting questions and answers.

Image of Obama campaigning in Pennsylvania in October 2008 used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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WWW open Communion

IMGP1364So it seems there is “closed Communion,” “open Communion,” “open, open Communion” (Communion without baptism) and then there is “World Wide Web open Communion.”

While “Communion without baptism” seems to be a development on the theological left in progressive oldline Protestant churches, the WWW Communion seems to start with a free-church Protestant understanding of the Lord’s Supper and then swings all the way across the spectrum to, well, what you might call open-source theology.

Lisa Miller took a look at this in her latest “Belief Watch” column at Newsweek, a mini-feature that contains lots of reporting this time around and little or no opinion-based snark. Here’s the crucial thesis paragraph in “Click In Remembrance Of Me,” which then moves into a Protestant application of the innovation:

As technology reshapes our world, as our “friends” become the people we know on Facebook as well as the ones we invite home for dinner, the definition of community is taking on radically new meanings. Nowhere is the concept of community more crucial than in religion. In the West, people traditionally worship together, in a group, in one room; that togetherness has theological import. In Christianity, the sacrament of communion underscores the unity of the faithful; consuming the consecrated bread and wine binds Christians with each other, with the saints in heaven and with the Lord. Now, at the farthest corners of the Christian world, a few people are applying new-tech concepts of community to this ancient rite. The example above is among the most avant-garde. The celebrant, Zeph Daniel, is a musician who preaches online to a group of Christians disconnected from the traditional church. One of his slogans is “Leave religion and find God.”

The experiment is underway in more mainstream corners of the Christian world as well. Two Methodist ministers have (in unrelated efforts) put communion services online. The Rev. Thomas Madron, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Nashville, says he was moved to build an interactive communion site (holycommunionontheweb.com) to help people get what he calls “spiritual buttressing” when they need it, regardless of whether they regularly go to church. A former technology-company CEO, Madron is convinced that religious institutions need to rethink the way they deliver their services.

The key, of course, is whether it is possible to have a sacramental community through electronic pulses, rather than in face-to-face Communion. In the ancient Churches, of course, this Communion would also have to be rooted in other Sacramental practices — in the flesh. Take Confession, for example.

Then again, online Confession is another trend out there. Remember?

Miller knows what is going on and — sit down — she even ends with an affirmation of church history.

Can a Christian community be authentically replicated online? For Roman Catholics, especially, who believe the communion wafer is the body of Christ, a disembodied ritual makes no sense. Anne Foerst is a professor of computer science at St. Bonaventure University. She is also a practicing Lutheran who has a doctorate in theology. The whole point of religion, she insists, is embodiment — the being together, physically, with others and with God. The sacrament “cannot be simulated. The experience is not about you and the eucharist. … If you can’t make the time to experience the community, then why do you need the sacrament?”

OK, then there is a tiny bit of snark:

To those who say they feel alienated from the traditional church, Foerst invokes the message of Jesus. Nobody’s perfect, she says. Get over it.

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Wide, wide open Holy Communion

Paten on chalice big 01Regular readers at this weblog are probably aware of the fact that each of my computers — at home and work — contains an email folder labeled “GetReligion guilt.” It contains religion-beat articles that I really intended to write about, but things, kept, getting, in, the, way.

Every now and then, I dig in there and pull out an article about which I feel an especially high level of guilt.

That’s the ticket. So I have been traveling quite a bit during the last week or two and, well, you may have noticed that there is this election coming up in a few hours. So I never got around to writing about the Boston Globe article that several of you sent in that ran with the headline, “Who is worthy to receive? Open Communion trend stirs hearts, a quiet controversy.”

Now, this piece by reporter Michael Paulson focuses on a behind-the-scenes controversy inside the Episcopal Church about who should and who should not be receiving Holy Communion. That should raise a red flag right there.

Why do I say that? Well, because the Episcopal Church has already been practicing what is historically known as “open Communion” for, well, so long that I don’t even know — as an issue of church history — when the practice began. If there is a reader who knows, please leave a comment with info and a solid URL for this key fact.

The term “closed Communion,” as one would guess, is the opposite of “open Communion.” So what is “closed Communion” and who practices it? As a rule, the more ancient a Church, the more likely it is to practice “closed Communion,” meaning that the Sacrament is received only by believers who are in full doctrinal fellowship with that Church, people who have, so to speak, taken and kept their vows. The Roman Catholic Church and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy keep this tradition and so, last time I checked, does the conservative Missouri Synod branch (and several other smaller branches) of the Lutheran tradition.

“Open Communion” is practiced in churches where professing Christians from other denominations are welcome at the altar, if they, in good conscience, choose to receive the Sacrament or the symbol elements or whatever the church in question practices.

So, if a Presbyterian goes to Mass at a Catholic Church, they would not be invited to receive Communion because he or she is not part of the body of the Catholic Church.

If that same Presbyterian goes to Mass at an Episcopal Church, this Presbyterian would be free to receive.

This brings us to the Globe report, which begins this way:

A quiet revolution is taking place at the altars of many churches – in the form of bread and wine.

Communion, the central ritual of most Christian worship services and long a members-only sacrament, is increasingly being opened to any willing participant, including the nonbaptized, the nonbeliever, and the non-Christian.

The change is most dramatic in the Episcopal Church, particularly in liberal dioceses like Massachusetts. The denomination’s rules are clear: “No unbaptized person shall be eligible to receive Holy Communion in this Church.” Yet, a recent survey by the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts found that nearly three-quarters of local parishes are practicing “open Communion,” inviting anyone to partake.

Why make this change? Some liberal Christians say that the goal is to be as open and welcoming as possible. Why judge people’s beliefs by denying them Communion? Some say that allowing people to explore their feelings by taking Communion is a form of evangelism.

Others say that this is heresy. Remember that fight a few months ago, when Sally Quinn of the Washington Post — who is not a Christian believer — elected to receive Communion at the Catholic Funeral Mass for the late Tim Russert? That was a collision between several different interpretations of this doctrine.

johninWhy make people feel bad by turning them away?

Among those persuaded by that rationale is Tina Roberts, a worshiper at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Westwood, who was raised as a Catholic.

“I grew up in a home where my parents were divorced, and my mom didn’t take Communion, and although I was only a child, I felt bad for her,” Roberts said.

Roberts and her husband left the Catholic Church over a variety of disagreements about issues such as the Church’s teaching on birth control, and found their way to an Episcopal church after they had children. Roberts said that the church’s open Communion “felt a little weird to me at first,” and that she struggled in particular with the absence of a first Communion ritual, ultimately choosing to read a book for children about Communion to their eldest before allowing him to participate for the first time.

But here is the problem I have with this story. It never makes it clear that what is happening in many churches is not really “open Communion,” as traditionally defined in opposition to “closed Communion.”

Instead, we are dealing with something completely new — “wide open Communion” or “postmodern open Communion” or something like that. Maybe this is not as wide open as that St. Francis Day Gaia Mass I witnessed long ago at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine (second picture), where worshippers brought their pets and I saw a faithful dog or two given Holy Communion, but still something radically new.

This was a good story that is covering an important new issue. Bravo. But the Globe needed to do a better job of defining its terms. The readers needed to know just how “open” this new practice truly is.

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Return of the Womenpriests

womenpriestCongratulations are in order for Jessica Rowley, a St. Louis woman on the verge of giving birth to her first child. The pregnancy was deemed newsworthy by a St. Louis alternative paper called the Riverfront Times:

A little over a year ago, 26-year-old Jessica Rowley shattered the stained-glass ceiling, so to speak, by being ordained a Catholic priest. Now the St. Louisan is on the verge of giving birth to her first child, and a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for women’s ordination says that makes Rowley the world’s first pregnant Catholic priest.

“I’m due November 19, but the doctor believes it could be any day,” says Rowley. “I’m feeling very ripe.”

Rowley is one of roughly a dozen pastors with two X chromosomes presiding over churches in the Ecumencial Catholic Communion, a splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church.

This is an alternative paper, so it’s allowed some liberties. But there are at least two factual problems. The first, obviously, is implying in the lede that Rowley was ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, which does not ordain women. The second is stating the Ecumenical Catholic Communion is a splinter group of the Roman Catholic Church. Both the ECC and the Vatican would say that’s incorrect. The group claims, as one clergy member says, to be part of smaller, ancient and non-Roman branch of Catholicism. So rather than go for the drama, let’s try for the facts.

This week the Chicago Tribune ran a story about Roman Catholic Womenpriests that was better, factually speaking, but had a horrible headline:

Woman hears call to priesthood
But in Catholic Church, price is excommunication

The Catholic Church would not agree that Barbara Zeman, the subject of the article, heard a call to the priesthood. And either way, the headline replaces the facts of the situation with emotion and drama that makes the church look bad. It’s not the job of the Tribune to make the Catholic Church look bad.

Here’s the lede:

On the window ledge of her Edgewater apartment, where she prays, Barbara Zeman keeps a cross, a pile of sacred books and a small, plush black sheep. Zeman said the sheep is a symbol of women’s exclusion from priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

But Zeman and others are fighting to change their black-sheep status by taking the bold step of ordaining themselves.

Again, the reporter is doing her job when she reports Zeman’s views. But there’s a difference between Zeman saying she feels like a black sheep and the reporter writing that women have black-sheep status in the church. This isn’t that difficult to understand, is it?

The article does handle the competing claims of Zeman and the church fairly well:

On Saturday, an activist group hoping to pressure the church into dropping the ban on women’s ordination will hold a ceremony at a Protestant church where they will declare Zeman a Catholic priest. The Vatican has warned that participants in such ordinations are automatically excommunicated. . . .

The ceremony, to be held at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Lincoln Park, is being organized by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that is not recognized by the Catholic Church. The group, which began in 2002, also will ordain three women as deacons in preparation for priesthood.

It also explains why the Vatican says only men may be ordained priests and what excommunication means for Catholics. The stance of the archdiocese is included. So the article could be worse.

There was another line that jumped out:

After ordination, she plans to become a hospital chaplain and is considering starting a congregation for disenfranchised Catholics that would include gays, lesbians and clergy who have left priesthood to marry.

Disenfranchised means to deprive of a franchise, a legal right or some privilege or immunity. What does that word mean in this sentence? What franchise have gays and lesbians been deprived of in the Catholic Church? And in answering that question, is this word really fair to use in this context?

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Reporting stuff we already know

duh duhThe Detroit News and Baltimore Sun recently produced two shockingly non-news worthy articles about the role or religion in this 2008 presidential election.

First, the Sun‘s effort to explain that once again Catholics are swing voters in this election treads close to sounding like an opinion piece at times. Catholics concerned with issues such as abortion and pre-martial sex are said to adhere to “pelvic theology” while Catholics who do not make those issues as significant follow the more acceptable “social theology.” Aside from the slanted terminology, which I should note are put-forth in quotes by the president of a Catholic Democratic group, the article just doesn’t say anything new that couldn’t have been said in any given election cycle:

Just a day after he was announced as Barack Obama’s running mate, Sen. Joe Biden was back in Delaware, taking his usual seat in the pews of St. Joseph on the Brandywine in the small community of Greenville.

That he would participate in a Roman Catholic Mass so soon after being added to the Democratic ticket was of little surprise. Biden once vowed that “the next Republican that tells me I’m not religious, I’m going to shove my rosary down their throat.”

Similar passions lie behind the efforts of the Obama campaign and Democratic strategists this year to win over Catholic voters, considered by many to be a crucial constituency that could determine the next president. Emotions have grown heated, with Biden under attack from national Catholic groups for his views on abortion, and Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin energizing many socially conservative voters.

The article’s facts are frequently lack citations. For instance, when, where and to whom did Biden promise to impale someone’s throat with a rosary? The article states without any support that part of the reason Biden was chosen was because of his Catholic faith. The article uses qualifiers “could” and “can” four times each. In other words, the Catholic vote is up for grabs once again and could determine the outcome of the election. The same could have been said about the 2004 and 2000 elections. Catholics could have voted Democratically in large numbers for the president. But they didn’t.

The article frustrated me most in the following paragraph:

Social issues of concern to many religious voters had taken a back seat this year until McCain selected Palin, the governor of Alaska and a staunch abortion opponent, as his running mate. As the public learned biographical details, such as how Palin continued a pregnancy after learning the baby would be born with Down syndrome, the abortion issue has grown in prominence.

The author assumes that readers know that most Down syndrome babies are aborted. The implication is that abortion only became a big issue when the public found out that Palin did not abort her Down syndrome child. That’s certainly true but by failing to highlight the fact that 90 percent of babies with Down syndrome are aborted the eradication of Down syndrome children in this country goes unsaid. Why should readers be allowed to assume the fact that when people find out they have Down syndrome children they are aborted? Is the statistic too shocking to be repeated to many times? Readers deserve a more thorough explanation for why allowing a Down syndrome child to come to term raises the issue of abortion.

The Detroit News takes a slightly different approach in writing about how “social issues may become secondary at” the polls. Yes, the word “may” is used in the headline. Would you ever see in the paper’s sports section that the Indiana Pacers may finish ahead of the Detroit Pistons this year? I doubt it. That’s too speculative. Why should matters of public policy and voter preferences be any different?

See this paragraph for an example of speculative news writing:

Values voters, whose religious beliefs often dictate socially conservative electoral decisions, have been especially prized by candidates since the votes were counted in 2004. But a week before the election, some of the assumptions about how they will vote in 2008 have changed, values voters and observers say. While evangelical Christians are committed to their values, they are unlikely to drive McCain into the Oval Office in the same way that they propelled President Bush, based on issues like gay marriage, abortion and nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Aren’t there better things to put in news stories than speculative feelings that reflect the popular consensus (or the often-wrong “conventional wisdom”)?

For some hard religion-political news from my neck of the woods, check out Spiritual Politics and its highlighting of the fact that polls show that evangelicals are supporting McCain 57-33 as opposed to the 77-22 support they threw Bush in 2004. With evangelicals accounting for 35% of my state’s electorate, that vote could be critical in determining the state’s outcome which is tied according to the most recent polls. Or maybe not. Polls are just a bit ahead of the popular consensus that reporters sometimes and unfortunately rely upon, but at least there is some hard data that can be tracked from poll to poll.

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Judging God v. Mammon

worship of mammonCould the Sunday article in The Washington Post‘s Style section on families turning from money to faith have been told without mentioning religion at all?

The article is about how the current economic crisis is forcing families to look to things other than money for satisfaction. Churches and spiritual leaders are involved in this transformation, which is primarily driven by people’s dwindling portfolios and fears of losing jobs or not getting raises. No longer are children going to get everything they want as they have since the Great Depression and oh how those kids will suffer:

At a time when the magnitude of the nation’s economic decline has been staggering and panic-inducing, a quiet resolve is emerging in many middle-class families to take a step back and reconsider their lives in a spiritual or philosophical way, according to interviews with clergy, economists and residents.

It may be a natural response to crisis, but some, including Platais, suggest that the accumulated loss and turmoil have produced a will to find meaning in other ways: refocusing on relationships and values, helping people in need. Many parents are talking to children about buying less, saving for what they really want and delaying gratification.

“We have to go back to the things that are really important, which aren’t things at all,” Platais said. “They are people and relationships, and it’s love and your faith and your neighbors and the people you take care of.”

This concept is easier for those whose losses are few or more abstract — say, in retirement accounts that might not be touched for a decade. It is tougher for those who feel immediately imperiled by the downturn, who have lost homes, jobs or money they need now.

The article describes these families as if they were sinking ships. All that has mattered up until now in keeping these Titanics afloat was money to buy stuff and the hopes of more money to buy more stuff. Now that’s no longer the case for the average middle class American. A vague sense of “spiritual prosperity” is going to take the place of materialism. I don’t get a very good sense from the article what that is, nor do I get a sense that the people who are talking about “spiritual prosperity” know what they mean by spiritual prosperity.

The vague sense of spiritual prosperity could have been re-enforced if more authoritative sources were quoted, such as the Old or New Testament. An appeal to historical examples beyond the Great Depression could also have backed-up the concept portrayed in the article.

The article leaves me with a couple of thoughts as journalists strive to cover the spiritual side of the economic crisis.

My first thought is that this article plays the story fairly straightforward in the sense that materialism and faith are equally valid methods of maintaining happiness within a family. The article reminds me of a fashion piece describing the shift into the winter seasons. The summer fashions will slowly disappear, and as much as we liked the summer styles, it is just time to move on. Once the economy gets better, will it be OK to return to materialism since that seems to be what everyone wants anyway? In that sense, the article is fairly objective.

In a significant way, readers are left to decide for themselves the value they wish to place on materialism. And I liked that. Unfortunately, I came away from the article with little idea of what it means to grow my “Spiritual Prosperity.”

Second, I hope we see some coverage of the prosperity theology, which teaches that genuine religious faith and acts result in people prospering financially. Along with this, I would hope journalists take the time to read the most profound book of Job in preparing to interview people who teach this version of the Gospel. The story of Job should generate some interesting questions for people who believe that one’s material worth is tied to their spiritual devotion.

Image of the 1909 painting The Worship of Mammon by Evelyn De Morgan used under a Wikimedia Commons license.

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To pray or not to pray

stock market crashOne of the hardest questions to answer for young reporters is this one: What is news?

One of the simple, but almost useless, definitions of “news” is this: What people are talking about. OK, but which people? In the newsroom? In the offices of major advertisers? The weather is news. But is last night’s episode of “The Office” really news? A1 news?

I thought of this the other day when I clicked on veteran Time religion writer David Van Biema’s feature called “Is It OK to Pray for Your 401(k)? A Theological Primer.”

Well, it’s not hard news. But it’s certainly what people are talking about — including the religion angle. Be honest. Didn’t you think about that? Didn’t you think twice about how to pray for, uh, the market? Thus, Van Biema writes:

TIME talked to Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim clerics about the kind of prayer that is appropriate in a time of possible economic peril and found strong agreement on some basic advice.

“People absolutely need to know that it’s natural to ask God’s [personal] help in times of crisis,” says James Martin, a priest, editor at the Jesuit magazine America and author of the book My Life with the Saints. “It’s human and we can’t not do it.” Martin points out that the Psalms — in many ways the Western model for all personal prayer — are full of such special pleading. And in the Lord’s prayer, Jesus doesn’t forget to include “give us this day our daily bread.”

Daniel Nevins, dean of the rabbinical school at New York’s Jewish Theological Seminary, also recognizes the legitimacy of the “help me” prayer, noting that the third of four prayers that religious Jews are expected to recite after meals asks God to “grant us relief from all our troubles. May we never find ourselves in need of gifts or loans from flesh and blood, but may we rely only upon your helping hand, which is open, ample and generous.” Says Shamsi Ali, imam of the huge Islamic Cultural Center on 96th Street in Manhattan: “In this kind of situation, Muslims turn their face to God and say, ‘Almighty God, we submit ourselves fully to you, heal us and strengthen us. What you give, no one can prevent, and what you prevent, no one can give.’ “

Where some people veer off the doctrinal charts is with prayers for, well, windfalls that show up in their bank accounts. In other words, praying for protection and wisdom and even for God’s blessing is different than a prayer for wealth or divine intervention in the market. Does God act in that way? Most theologians would say that question is above their pay grade.

So this is a valid religion feature, creating a bridge between hard news and the daily bread concerns of readers.

As I read it I thought of a column that I wrote a few years ago, hours before a hurricane knocked out the power in our home in West Palm Beach, Fla. How do you pray when a hurricane is headed your way? Pray for it to hit someone else? Vanish into thin air? It’s interesting, I think, that the doctrines that apply to hurricanes are also very useful during storms in the marketplace.

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