Search Results for: theodicy

Life in Haitian cathedral ruins?

Haiti is a very complex, but intense, culture when it comes to religion. Thus, the more time that passes after this killer earthquake, the more journalists will be surrounded by stories linked to the faith of the locals and the faith of those who pour into the country to offer help.

The journalists will be surrounded by faith and by painful questions, of course, questions linked to one of the basic stories of the secular Godbeat — “theodicy.” To cite a great essay by C.S. Lewis, God is now “in the dock” and on trial.

A clear journalistic pattern is emerging, in my opinion.

The best stories on these complex issues are being filed by reporters who are listening to the voices in Haiti. The worst pieces are being filed by editorial writers who believe that the essential questions can be answered by politicos in America.

One of the most poignant stories that I have read focuses, literally, on the eternal questions and the life-and-death challenges being faced by those working in the ruins of the Catholic cathedral in Port-au-Prince. Here is the top of the Los Angeles Times report by Tracy Wilkinson:

The woman wailed outside the ruins of the Notre Dame Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, the iconic Roman Catholic church that symbolized Haiti’s religious fervor.

“This is what God did!” she cried. … “See what God can do!”

Tuesday’s earthquake brought down the roof of the enormous pink-and-cream church, filling the apse and nave with tons of rubble. The quake punched out its vivid stained glass windows, twisted its wrought-iron fencing and sliced brick walls like cake. The western steeple, which had soared more than 100 feet, toppled onto parishioners praying at an outdoor shrine to St. Emmanuel. Flies buzzed around the pile of copper, plaster and felled columns. …

Haiti is, officially, predominantly Catholic, with some Protestant faiths. But across the board is an underlying belief in, or respect for, voodoo and other indigenous traditions, which are often mixed in with those religious practices.

As you would imagine, the emotions stirred at this kind of scene — workers report that 100 or more priests are missing, ravaging the church’s hierarchy — range from steady faith to outright despair. The prose in this story is simple, yet painfully blunt. Consider these details: The cathedral’s signature stature of St. Mary was either stolen or destroyed. A thief was looting the box containing the offerings, but ended up helping a church worker recover them.

The reporter does the wise thing and listens:

Many have turned to God for an explanation of this catastrophe visited upon Haiti. Tens of thousands of people have been spending the nights in the streets, singing hymns and calling out the Gospel.

Dudu Orelian, whose brother and nephew were killed, stood outside the cathedral.

“God is angry at the world,” Orelian said.

I must admit that this particular passage left me wondering about the precise meaning of the phrase, “calling out the Gospel.” Were these “judgment day” sermons by street preachers? People reading scripture? This is where I would have appreciated just a bit more content. What are people saying and doing, when it comes to voodoo faith and practice?

Reporters also continue to struggle with details about the titles of some of the missing clergy. In this story, workers continued to try to save a symbolic leader who — I have been searching for an update — apparently is still buried in the ruins and may still be alive. I have seen conflicting reports about whether this man is a priest or a bishop:

Hope remained that the church’s general vicar, an active, popular priest in his 80s, might still be alive. Father Charles Benoit, buried under a collapsed four-story building that contained his residence, managed to get a cellular telephone call out to Francois Voleile, a lifelong parishioner, two days ago. He said he was unharmed and had water and juice, but no way out.

Voleile had been keeping vigil at the site ever since, while a couple of other people armed with a tiny mallet and pocket flashlight tried to work their way into a small opening on the side of the mountain of rubble. On Friday, they were getting nowhere.

By all means, read it all. And — if you are a believer — please continue to remember the faithful, the lost and the living, in your prayers and offerings.

Photo: Notre Dame Catholic Cathedral of Port-au-Prince, before the earthquake.

Haiti: ‘God is coming back’ (updated)

I do not know about you, but I have been overwhelmed by the coverage of the earthquake in Haiti. I feel like I have been stranding underneath a digital waterfall of pain, trying to make some sense out of all of the details, trying to see the larger picture.

I fear, of course, that the larger picture is even more hellish than the sum total of all of the grim close-ups. The story is so huge, so overwhelming that no one has managed to write the theodicy-angle story, or at least I haven’t seen one yet.

What are we suppose to make of this lone voice screaming in the middle of a New York Times visit to a morgue in Port-au-Prince?

A man dressed in white wandered among the onlookers, repeatedly shouting into a loudspeaker, “God is coming back!”

But the grim pileup of bodies all but masked one positive note: Haiti’s barely functioning state had begun to work, if still just minimally, by sending the police to gather bodies. The police pickup trucks were virtually the first organized recovery efforts seen in many parts of the city.

Millions of Americans are going to take out their checkbooks and rush donations to a wide variety of groups — secular and religious — that will now attempt to rush aid to the living, braving the realities of the always weak, but now shattered, infrastructure of Haiti. Many of these groups will, of course, be acting in the name of God. This is a coverage angle that will dominate many stories in the days ahead, since these kinds of offerings form immediate and practical bridges between the generous Americans and those who are suffering.

This is especially true here in Baltimore, the kind of city that offers a major port within shouting range of Washington, D.C. The Baltimore Sun put this angle on A1 and, logically enough, focused on the efforts of the city’s huge Catholic community.

On an ordinary day, Katie Goldsmith would be monitoring political and security conditions in West Africa from Catholic Relief Services’ Baltimore headquarters.

But on Thursday, with Haitians still waiting for international help in recovering from the earthquake that leveled Port-au-Prince, Goldsmith was working the phones at the agency, trying to find a port where it could begin landing food, medicine and supplies in the Caribbean nation of 9 million.

“We’ve heard that the commercial port in Port-au-Prince is nonoperable,” Goldsmith said in between calls. “We’re really trying to figure out where we can ship stuff, how we can ship stuff, who’s going to be able to pick up the stuff that we ship, and how?”

It was one of dozens of challenges, large and small, confronting the emergency response veterans at the agency’s West Lexington Street offices, as they shifted focus from accounting for the 300 staff members stationed in the Western Hemisphere’s poorest nation to figuring out how to begin delivering relief to the millions of Haitians now in need.

There are other agencies, of course, and several of them are mentioned. Barely.

Lutheran World Relief and World Relief in Baltimore and IMA World Health in New Windsor are also sending staff and supplies, and several local organizations, faith-based groups and individuals are raising funds.

The International Committee of the Red Cross on Thursday estimated the dead at 45,000 to 50,000, but with communications down, hospitals destroyed and bodies still lying in the streets, it was impossible to get an accurate toll. For survivors, aid officials were warning of a dire need for drinkable water, food and shelter.

As I stated, it’s obvious that the agency linked to the U.S. Catholic bishops is going to get the major plan in Baltimore. However, I did flinch when reading that passage since the city does include the headquarters of at least one other global aid agency that is gearing up to work in Haiti — the International Orthodox Christian Charities. That’s my own church, of course, so that jumped out at me. I wonder if the Sun missed any other major local operations of this kind.

The Catholic Church is, of course, the major player in the very complex reality that is religion in Haiti. At the Washington Times, Julia Duin stressed that fact in her report and included one detail that, in my opinion, should be receiving more attention in stories about the impact of the earthquake on the highest ranks of Haiti’s leadership.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced it would take up a special collection in churches this weekend to go to Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which has committed an initial $5 million to Haiti. Students at Catholic University celebrated a Mass for the victims Thursday and began a novena — a nine-day period of prayer — during which they will be raising money for CRS.

Catholics make up about 80 percent of Haiti’s population, and Haitian Catholic Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot was killed in the earthquake. His cathedral is in ruins, as is the Episcopal cathedral, Holy Trinity, in Port-au-Prince.

The death of the archbishop has to be affecting the church’s ability to get organized there in response to this epic tragedy. And speaking of the death of the archbishop, what is up with this reference in a Fox News report on his death?

The body of Msgr. Joseph Serge Miot, 65, was found under the rubble of the archdiocese, and may be one of only hundreds of victims trapped in the ruins of Church buildings on the island.

Monsignor? Catholic readers, is there any reason to call an archbishop a monsignor instead of, well, an archbishop? Or is this simply a strange mistake?

Please keep reading and help us spot some of the stories from Haiti that “get religion” or needed to do so.

The prince of piece?


Let me own up to being on the losing side of the great American dialogue about guns. Linked to my pro-life beliefs is a deep skepticism that the answer to violence on American streets is owning guns to use in self-defense. Thus I find it unsettling when pollsters, as Pew did last spring, track a rise in anti-abortion sentiment — and a call for less regulation of guns. Is there a connection?

The way the media covers the “keep your laws off my guns” disputes that roil Congress periodically (and are now heading to the Supreme Court again) and gun violence tragedies often leaves out voices that really ought to be heard in these debates. We don’t often get good quotes from shopkeepers and other workers striving to make a living in communities plagued by gun violence, and bystanders traumatized by the aftermath of it. Those who witness shootings may be asking some pretty fundamental questions: why did this happen on holy ground? Why was that man or woman killed or hurt? Why was I spared?

Underneath our belief that a place of worship is sacred space (that makes it so shocking when that space is torn asunder by violence) is another narrative — that many Americans subscribe to the Second Amendment as a secular article of faith. In the following story, it helps to be aware of both. A writer for the Associated Press takes a look (I cribbed from their punny headline) at how some pastors are coping in high-crime Detroit: bringing their guns to church with them. The AP story puts the incongruity of having clergy bring a gun onto sanctified ground right up in the lede:

The Rev. Lawrence Adams teaches his flock at the Westside Bible Church to turn the other cheek. Just in case, though, the 54-year-old retired police lieutenant also wears a handgun under his robe.

Adams is one of several Detroit clergymen who have taken to packing heat in the pulpit. They have committed their lives to a man who preached nonviolence and told followers to love their enemies. But they also say it’s up to them to protect their parishioners in church.

“As a pastor, I’m referred to as a shepherd,” Adams said. “Shepherds have the responsibility of watching over their flock. Do I want to hurt somebody? Absolutely not!”

Hurting someone isn’t a theoretical conundrum for Adams, who has already shot a would-be burglar.

This is one of those articles where readers get more strung-together facts than a cohesive story. Are we talking about a trend or a few maverick Detroit clergy? Are clergy taking another look at what it means to “shepherd” the flock as a result of the highly publicized fatal shootings of the past few years? How about quoting a clergyperson who has theological reasons for not bringing deadly force into the sanctuary? I have no idea why the writer brought in the national statistics, since he or she doesn’t use them to explore other facets of the story.

In comparison, last week’s Washington Post ran a beautifully written, tragic story by William Wan that illustrated, from many angles, the plight confronting many congregations who fear an eruption of violence in their sanctuaries. Wan begins his story by recalling a fatal shooting in a Maryland suburb — and its aftermath in the eyes of a parishioner who tried to help a dying woman.

Months later — long after the ambulance rushed her to a hospital, long after the 52-year-old legal secretary was pronounced dead — Fuller found himself constantly replaying this scene in his head. He had lost patients before, but this was different.

He had known this woman, exchanged greetings with her at services for years before her blood came to be smeared on his hands, mouth and suit.

Plagued by the vision, Fuller asked God to restore peace at his church and in his heart. But just as peace seemed within grasp, Kelly’s trial and conviction this month and his approaching sentencing this week have stirred everything back up.

The doctor still doesn’t understand why God let Patricia die, why He had placed Fuller so nearby if not to save her.

“I’ve prayed and asked,” Fuller said. “I haven’t received an answer yet. I don’t know if I ever will.”

There isn’t any neat ending here — no comforting resolution. Just the stark, naked questions of theodicy (why God permits, or doesn’t always intervene, in suffering and evil). Wan includes some evocative quotes from the pastor of New Life Church, where a gunman killed two people. It’s compelling, unsettling reading — particularly in light of quotes from those who believe that church shootings are rising across the country.

One caveat — Wan doesn’t present much evidence that the culture wars incite shootings. That’s a provocative enough assertion that readers should get a more detailed examination.

But generally the writer is doing what journalists with some religious savvy do so well after a tragedy — honoring the pain and courage of survivors as they try to get on with living while asking — where are you, God? Their question becomes, if but for a painful moment, your question, the human question.

The Buddhist in your foxhole

UnclesamwantsyouRemember what I said about guilt? Well, this next post falls into that category.

It’s about Thomas Dyer, the Army’s first Buddhist chaplain. (This isn’t that surprising. When I profiled an Army chaplain back in 2005, I learned that of the 1,400 active-duty chaplains, only nine were Jewish, six Muslim and six Orthodox Christian.) The Memphis Commercial Appeal offers a fascinating newsmaker profile that opens with Dyer’s conversion:

For Thomas Dyer, there was fire and brimstone. “There was the idea that there’s an angry God and somehow you could really make Him mad.”

Dyer grew up fearing God. He was a Cumberland Presbyterian, then a Baptist. He had hoped religious conviction would lead to contentment. He attended seminary and preached as a Southern Baptist minister.

That seems like a lifetime ago as Dyer, 43, sits on a cushion in the shrine room of the Pema Karpo Meditation Center in Raleigh. Six statues of various Buddhas are positioned against the walls. His teacher, a Tibetan monk who founded the temple, listens as Dyer explains his exodus from the pulpit in search of nirvana.

“The question that arose in my mind is, ‘Why is there so much suffering?’ Christianity did not have a satisfactory answer. I wanted to be happy. The idea that we have to live with suffering until we die just did not make sense to me — the idea that God wants you to suffer so you can then enjoy heaven.” Dyer kept asking, “Is this all there is to life?”

What follows is a descriptive journey through Dyer’s religious past and present. The prose is rich, and there are plenty of great details about Buddhism:

He has left his boots at the door of the temple, but in the temple room he wears a standard Army camouflage uniform. Instead of a cross or crucifix on the right chest his uniform bears the “dharma wheel” insignia as a symbol of the Buddhist faith.

But, in a feature that is neither long nor short, the issue of unresolved theodicy is, well, unresolved. It’s left out like spoiled meat, casting a foul odor over the religion of Dyer’s foolish childhood.

Reader MJBubba, who brought the story to our attention, had this reaction:

The Commercial Appeal has run a few articles and opinion pieces each year that say Christianity has no answer. The fact that the majority of the Christian philosophers have addressed the issue with a very good answer that is borne out in the way the world works and provides hope and comfort to the grieving and hurting has not appeared in this paper that I can recall. We do get a steady diet of universalism in our local paper. No wonder so many people are confused. The paper seems to have an editorial position of wanting to chisel away at orthodox Christian faith. This article just fits into a longstanding pattern.

I can’t answer that. Discussing theodicy in a news article is like bringing up predestination in a college Bible study. It’s a difficult, tricky subject, and it can seriously distract the audience. And the reporter may have just thought it was better to pretend the elephant wasn’t there than to ask it to leave. If so, I’d advise against such an approach.

As for the Commercial Appeal, I’m not a regular reader. In fact, with special offense to my friend D Madd, I can’t stand Memphis. Sorry, Beale Street, but it’s a John Calipari thing.

But what I do know is that, building on the Commercial Appeal’s story, Bob Smietana of the Tennessean delivered longer feature much more likely to make your GetReligionistas happy. (And you know that’s what every member of the MSM strives to do.)

Smietana thinks big picture and looks at what Dyer’s deployment will mean at a time when the “military chaplaincy is facing all the complications that have affected American religion over the past 40 years.” He talks about the chaplaincy’s makeup, its requirements and responsibilities and its strict though not strictly followed prohibition on “the E-word.” That is the strength of this story.

But, and possibly because this story appears to have been enterprised from Commercial Appeal’s Dyer profile, the Buddhist chaplain is really just used for bookends. Dyer fills the first three paragraphs and the final four, and Smietana gets him to talk about how he will minister to soldiers who aren’t Buddhist. (I’m not sure how many Buddhists are in the Army; I’ve always thought of them as pacifists, even in Tibet, but that’s not really explored in either article.) This isn’t bad. It was just a bit disappointing.

Clearly both articles were written to serve different functions. They actually would have been great to run side by side — possibly even with the addition of a sidebar about theodicy. But three articles about the military chaplaincy? Talk about a prayer.

To do: “Sonogram, funeral plans”

large_babyinfantcaskets_upload_1There are two kinds of people in this world who cannot avoid wrestling with the term “theodicy” — clergy (especially hospital chaplains) and reporters who are committed to covering religion news.

It’s a theological term, obviously, and it gets used here at GetReligion from time to time. Here’s a crisp definition:

Main Entry: the*od*i*cy

* defense of God’s goodness and omnipotence in view of the existence of evil

This term certainly comes to mind when reading (and viewing) the materials in multimedia Dallas Morning News package about Deidrea and T.K. Laux and the birth of their baby boy, Thomas Gordon. I heard about this series (several links in that post), of course, through Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher and the Crunchy Con weblog. He knows painful, inspiring, stunning theology when he sees it, too.

There are journalism issues that we could discuss, such as why the unborn child is a “fetus” when medical personnel are in the room, but Thomas Gordon is an unborn child the rest of the time. I think reporter Lee Hancock did a fine job of not letting this kind of issue get in the way of the story. And what a story it is.

There are dozens of passages that I could cite and that’s just in day one. You are simply going to have to grab a box of tissues, and a Bible if that’s something you are comfortable doing, and start reading.

But here is a crucial passage, as these parents wrestle with the medical realities of rare chromosomal glitches called Trisomy 13 and 18. There is no way to avoid religious questions in this series, especially since the parents are devout Christians, and this is a case in which the word “devout” is demonstrated again and again.

Deidrea felt like she was having an out-of-body experience as she heard herself say that they’d already agreed to love any child God gave them.

The doctors’ careful phrases looped in T.K.’s head — “incompatible with life,” “usually fatal,” “option of termination.” If their baby wouldn’t survive the pregnancy, he blurted, why continue? How could they let their baby suffer and put Deidrea at such risk?

Hours later, Deidrea couldn’t sleep. Alone on their living-room couch at 3 a.m., she prayed: Why them? What now? How could she and T.K. come together — not apart?

She felt a flutter in her belly.

She mouthed the name that she and T.K. had settled on just before the sonogram that morning, what now seemed a lifetime ago. Thomas was for T.K., whose given name was Thomas. Gordon honored her grandfather, who died only weeks before she and T.K. learned that they were pregnant.

Thomas, she said to the darkness. Thomas Gordon Laux.

The movement in her belly was unmistakable. Thomas kicked hard. It felt like answered prayer.

There are many crucial players in the story, as well as the parents. They are surrounded by a strong religious community. There is a hospice nurse who is gifted — almost beyond words. The editors were granted permission to reproduce sections of the mother’s private letters to her unborn son (which, of course, made me think of the classic “Letters To Gabriel“).

Read it all, or try to. Then try again. It’s hard to do this kind of journalism, but this is what happens with journalists wrestle with real life.

May her memory be eternal

Angels in a cubeThe theological term is “theodicy,” and, as I have said before, this concept is woven into many religion-news stories for at least two good reasons.

The basic question is this: Where was God? The most common variation is: Why did God allow this to happen? Or, for those who know their publishing history: Why do bad things happen to good people?

This ancient theological puzzle constantly affects news because (1) disaster and tragedy are part of this sinful, fallen world and (2) the word “why” remains part of the whole “who, what, when, where, why and how” equation at the heart of hard-news reporting.

Of course, it is also possible to wrestle with these big eternal questions in first-person, confessional journalism. Click here to see one A1 example from the Los Angeles Times not that long ago and then here to see some of the reaction to it.

I thought of this while reading the latest “Stairway to Heaven” column by Julia Duin at the Washington Times. It takes quite a bit to make me tear up on my commuter train, but “Requiem for Susan” did just that. This is wrenching, highly personal journalism, but it is journalism.

You need to read the whole thing, but know that it focuses on the shocking death of one of Duin’s friends — Susan Shaughnessy, executive assistant to the provost for the John Paul II Institute at Catholic University. What took the life of this young woman?

She’d gone to a doctor, complaining of the flu and headaches, and was sent home to rest. After she went to bed the evening of Oct. 25, she never woke up. Her frantic housemates rushed her to the hospital, where doctors discovered Susan’s autoimmune response to a freak virus had wiped clean her brain. The technical name is acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. A neurologist from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told the family her case was the worst he had seen. None of the doctors held out any hope.

When word went out last Saturday that the family was disconnecting her respirator, I rushed to Fairfax Hospital’s neurological intensive care unit. She lay, silent, one hand clasped about a rosary. Her hands were warm as I held them. Her parents, brother and Eduardo sat there, numb.

“God had a reason for this,” a friend told me later over the phone.

“No, He didn’t,” I responded. “This was the devil.”

Who was responsible for the fact that Susan, who wore a long, sweepy red dress as maid of honor at a friend’s recent nuptials, will never attend her own wedding? Was it her doctor, who could have noticed something was gravely wrong? Was it God or Satan who structured — or interfered with — Susan’s body so it would attack itself thus?

Read to the last line. Please.

I hope the Times finds a way to get this piece noticed out front on the website, with its spinning cube that displays the top four stories of the day. This is not conventional journalism, but it raises issues that will hit readers right where they live and die.

Listening for questions in the weeping

china mapIt’s a saying that I have heard repeated time and time again by people who study China or work there on issues of human rights: Anything that you want to say about religion in China is true, somewhere in China.

You want persecution of minority religions? Check. You want look-the-other-way toleration of minority religious groups? Check. You want gigantic underground Pentecostal house-church networks and loyal-to-Rome Catholic parishes? Check. You want strict enforcement of laws that push believers toward the state-recognized religious bodies? Check.

So where did this gigantic earthquake hit, on the religion-in-China map?

So far — in my rush through the New York Times reports — I have not seen the kinds of, yes, theodicy questions that you would expect to see in stories about a similar tragedy in predominately Christian or Islamic settings. So if there are people there crying out to God, what are they crying out and to whom?

It is a real struggle to work through this story, in particular, that ran with the headline, “‘No Hope’ for Children Buried in Earthquake.” This focuses on the collapsed school in Dujiangyan where hundreds of children are dead:

Little remained of the original structure of the school. No standing beams, no fragments of walls. The rubble lay low against the wet earth. Dozens of people gathered around in the schoolyard, clawing at the debris, kicking it, screaming at it. Soldiers kept others from entering.

A man and woman walked away from the rubble together. He sheltered her under an umbrella as she wailed, “My child is dead! Dead!”

As dawn crept across this shattered town … it illuminated rows and rows of apartment blocks collapsed into piles, bodies wedged among the debris, homeless families and their neighbors clustered on the roadside, shielding themselves from the downpour with plastic tarps. The earthquake originated here in the lush farm fields and river valleys of Sichuan Province, killing almost 10,000 people and trapping thousands more.

Click here for the longer Times report containing even more basic facts about the tragedy. But the story, again, lacks a second layer. It’s that “Why?” question that would be asked in some cultural contexts, but not in others.

Is that a statement about China? This part of China? Mainstream media assumptions about China? Are the people simply weeping, with no cries to the heavens for answers? Is that kind of silent acceptance — that that is the reality on the ground in China right now — a piece of some larger religious or secular view of life and death?

I have questions. I’ll keep looking for some answers. Right now, if you search Google News for “China, earthquake, God” this is what you get. Notice the reactions from Iran and from Catholic leaders. Notice that Los Angeles Times report on earthquakes as expressions of the “wrath of God.”

The silence is unnerving, to me. Then again, I am a traditional Christian in a culture where the “Why?” question would be automatic.

A haunted story, handled just right

11516One of our goals here at GetReligion is to find stories in mainstream journalism that are “haunted” by religion ghosts, which we define as a clear religious element or theme that the reporters and editors either didn’t notice or simply ignored.

We have also been known, from time to time, to take a shot or two at the masters of snark — the team that produces the Washington Post‘s Style section.

So it brings me great pleasure to point GetReligion readers toward a story in that Style section that is, indeed, haunted by faith issues and reporter Tamara Jones saw them, reported them and wove them into the story just right. Bravo.

The entire Virginia Tech massacre story was haunted. I suspected that right away and other religious details quickly emerged. Now, it is a year later and Jones took a familiar route to an anniversary feature story, profiling one of the victims who survived the carnage — the often interviewed witness Derek O’Dell.

There is a strong faith element in this story. It does not dominate the story, but the big theological question is not hidden. The theological question, of course, is linked to theodicy — as are many other stories (click here for a sample) linked to horrible events in our world.

What struck me, as I read this story, was that Jones allowed religion to play a normal role in this young man’s life. She did not spotlight it and it would have been strange if she had. A sample:

Derek discovered two more holes in his fleece jacket, most likely from the bullets fired through the classroom door as he held it shut. He tried the jacket on; one of the holes was over his chest. He fingers the silver cross he always wears, a gift from his girlfriend; it was the only shield, he thinks, between a bullet and his heart. A Catholic, he remembers asking his priest why his life was spared that day, what this all meant. It’s a mystery of faith, he was told.

Here’s another image, where the faith element fits in at the end of another symbolic story, one that begins with yet another emotional issue facing Derek O’Dell’s family:

Roger O’Dell had undergone successful surgery for ocular cancer the year before, and Derek had been anticipating the university’s annual Relay for Life fundraiser for months. The overnight marathon fell on the Friday after the Monday massacre. His parents tried in vain to talk Derek out of going. Beneath his jacket, a small photograph of each of the five people killed in Room 207 was pinned to his sling, and mentally, he checked off another name each time he circled the track. This is Lauren’s lap, that was Nicole’s lap, Mike’s lap, Maxine’s, Herr Bishop’s. Luminarias lit the field, arranged to spell the word CURE. As the night wore on, the candles were rearranged, and Derek saw the new message they spelled: HOPE.

Weak and fatigued by the time the event ended just after dawn, O’Dell was amazed to hear that another student had run an entire mile for each victim of April 16. He caught up to offer congratulations to the stranger. “Man, that was incredible, how did you do it?” O’Dell exclaimed. His voice catches even now, repeating the answer a year later.

“It was easy. I had 32 angels running with me.”

I was impressed with another image in this story, a non-religious theme that still provided a wonderful emotional structure for parts of the feature. This young man is a chess player and, now, his life is like a match in which he is having to move the pieces of his life very carefully, just to get by, then to try to heal.

Faith is one of the pieces in that match. This Post story played that piece very well.