Some compelling religion stories from Easter front pages

Fittingly, stories of rebirth and renewal made their way to many newspaper front pages on Easter Sunday.

One of my favorites ran in the Chicago Tribune. That story, by Angie Leventis Lourgos, highlighted Christians such as Edeette Chukro, a Syrian who celebrated her first Easter in America:

Easter is bittersweet for those seeking refuge like Chukro and her family, who were among the Christian minority in Syria. They fear for their loved ones overseas. They worry their mass exodus will diffuse their culture and identity.

And they note the paradox in fleeing Syria, a cradle of ancient Christendom, in order to worship freely.

St. Paul, once a tormentor of Christians, was converted on the road to Damascus in the New Testament’s Book of Acts. Aramaic, the ancient language of Jesus Christ, is still spoken in pockets of Syria today and is sprinkled in the Mass at St. Mary’s.

“Jesus went to Syria to preach. St. Paul went to Syria to preach. St. Peter went to Syria to preach,” said Bishop Paulus Benjamin, a leader of the Assyrian Church of the East, who is based in Chicago. “There’s a rich Christian history there. Unfortunately, Christians now must leave.”

Salt Lake Tribune Godbeat pro Peggy Fletcher Stack also told the story of a faithful foreigner finding freedom in the U.S.:

As Saman Lall joins other Utah Christians celebrating Jesus Christ’s resurrection on this spring-dappled Sunday, you could say the Pakistani educator has been reborn himself.

This is, after all, Lall’s first Easter in a country where freedom of religion is a bedrock principle, where all varieties of believers worship freely.

Lall could repeat the ancient prayers and ceremonies in a new land: Foot-washing, taking communion, carrying the cross, tracing the “stations of the cross,” experiencing darkness in the sanctuary, followed by lit candles, a flood of light, and then, hallelujah.

All without fear.

Other moving Easter stories included Oklahoman religion editor Carla Hinton’s piece on “New Life for Emma” and Tennessean writer Heidi Hall’s profile of a former drug addict and prostitute who found “A rebirth of her own.”

The Houston Chronicle reported on the reopening of a Galveston, Texas, cathedral closed for almost six years after Hurricane Ike. And the Arizona Republic produced a compelling narrative on a shrine scarred but still standing after a wildfire.

Some other Easter Page 1 angles:

[Read more...]

Easter season, check … Chip away at basic beliefs, check

You know all of those news articles you see published every year at Ramadan that ask if Muhammad really heard from the archangel Gabriel?

No? Well, how about all the stories each Divali that cast doubt on the goddess Lakshmi’s ability to bless her worshipers?

No? Then how about those articles for Eastertime questioning whether Jesus really did rise from the dead?

Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding!

Yep, those come out every year.

Case in point: a feature in the Washington Post on how divisive is this central tenet of the holiest day of Christianity.

The story, actually from the Religion News Service, sets up the resurrection almost as a straw man. First it briefly states the doctrine; then the next four paragraphs try to chip away at it.

It’s “the source of some of the deepest rifts in Christianity,” the story says — “and a stumbling block for some Christians, and more than a few skeptics.” Then it questions whether the doctrine is really that important:

Did Jesus literally come back from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one — a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?

As Easter approaches, many Christians struggle with how to understand the Resurrection. How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian? Can one understand the Resurrection as a metaphor — perhaps not even believe it happened at all — and still claim to be a follower of Christ?

When a story poses rhetorical questions favoring one side, you get a strong feeling that the tracks have already been laid for this train.

The article tries to argue that the doctrine of a physical resurrection keeps some people from celebrating Easter:

[Read more...]

Weed in Denver, but Easter news on other front pages

If you live in the Mile High City (no pun intended), you woke up Sunday morning to this banner headline on your hometown paper’s front page:

Welcome to Weed Country

Happy Easter to you, too, Denver Post!

Another Colorado newspaper had a much better week than the Post — and not just because it won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting. The Colorado Springs Gazette, edited my my friend and former colleague Joe Hight, filled up two-thirds of its Sunday front page with this headline:

The road to Chimayo

Yes, the Gazette published a major religion story — and not a marijuana tourism piece — on its Easter front page:

The road to Chimayo, N.M. is long and tiring during the Christian holy week leading up to Easter.

But the spirits of the estimated 30,000 to 50,000 pilgrims who walk for hours to reach a famous Roman Catholic church outside of Santa Fe are anything but weary.

George Warda of Parker has made the journey for the past 20 years. Maybe more; he’s lost count.

At about mile 13 of his 15-mile trek on Good Friday, Warda was sending thanks to God for his family’s blessings and praying for a little help with health challenges.

“There’s nothing more beautiful than this time,” he said. “It’s very spiritual. I wouldn’t miss it.”

Pilgrims, from babies in strollers to the elderly with canes, come from nearby towns and faraway states. Warda wore a Colorado T-shirt.

Across the nation, some papers — like the Post — failed to acknowledge Easter on the front page.

But many others — like the Gazette — recognized the news value of Christianity’s most important holiday.

[Read more...]

Glorious Pascha! The Baltimore Sun gets the key parts right

I keep saying this year after year, but it’s true. One of the greatest challenges for religion-beat specialists, season after season, is the long, steady march of feature stories that editors want you to produce linked to the major holy days in the various world religions.

Easter was always one of the biggest challenges for me, in part because it’s always on Sunday morning (or in the ancient churches, at the stroke of midnight and on into the early hours of morning).

That sounds really obvious, but think it through. That means this story has to appear above the fold on A1 in the biggest newspaper of the week, which means editors have to think very highly of this story. It will also need large and spectacular color photography, for the reasons just mentioned. From the point of view of most secular editors, Easter is also a much more explicitly RELIGIOUS season than, let’s say, Christmas. That’s a problem.

But back to the art issue.

Do you see the problem? How do you get large, spectacular Easter art when that art must be produced BEFORE the holy day itself? And what are most churches — liturgical churches, at least — doing in the days before Easter, when you need to shoot these photos? They are observing the rites of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday — beautiful, but solemn observances that, literally, offer visual images that are the exact opposite of what editors are going to want for that happy, happy Sunday A1 art.

In other words, it’s easier to report about Easter before Easter than it is to photograph Easter before Easter. You almost always end up with something that looks very fake and staged.

All of this is to say that I was rather surprised when I awakened from my post-Pascha (the Eastern Orthodox term for Easter) coma this morning (the service began at 11:30 p.m. and ended at 3 a.m., followed by a giant feast) and discovered that The Baltimore Sun had a produced a quite solid Pascha-Easter story for A1, a package that was way better than the norm.

The focus of the story was on the role of eggs in various Easter rites, but with the major emphasis on the beautiful “red eggs” tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy. The A1 art was a lovely picture of some children lighting beeswax candles at an icon stand on Holy Saturday, with lots of egg art inside the paper. This art was shot earlier in the week when the eggs were being dyed.

The story started with a general overview, before hitting the major themes:

Children pet bunnies and gobble jelly beans. Wal-Mart sells more than 500 types of Easter confection, including unicorn- and space alien-themed baskets. Just a few of them allude to Christianity.

How does eating a package of Peeps recall the man Christians believe redeemed the world by rising from the dead nearly 2,000 years ago? Balancing Easter’s secular and religious sides can be a challenge for area churches.

So you have your Catholic Easter egg hunts, symbolism-free Baptist services and mainline churches with hints of the ancient rites. Then:

[Read more...]

Did Jesus only become God at Easter?

ARTHUR ASKS:

Christians observe that the Son of God died to atone for human sins. But St. Paul says (Romans 1:4) that Jesus was “declared … to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.” So apparently Jesus wasn’t divine when he died (or before). How then does atonement work?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

A timely inquiry as Christians reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection, and also due to the clash between two new scholarly books, “How Jesus Became God” by skeptic Bart Ehrman, answered simultaneously (!!!) by an international team of conservatives in “How God Became Jesus.”

Arthur cites a sentence Paul wrote only a couple decades or so after Jesus’ crucifixion, and “form critics” think the apostle was quoting from a previous creed so these words date back to Christianity’s earliest days.

Thanks to www.biblegateway.com, The Guy compared 46 English translations and found “declared” is the typical wording. Other versions say that by the resurrection Jesus’ divine Sonshop was “openly designated,” “publicly identified,” “demonstrated,” “proved,” “marked out” and “shown,” while Bible commentaries add “displayed,” “proclaimed” and “manifested.”

So the expert consensus agrees with the 8th Century theologian John of Damascus that Paul meant that by the resurrection “it was made plain and certain to the world that Christ was the Son of God.”

Note that all the translators say “by” the resurrection, not “at” or “with” or “upon,” which could indicate Jesus’ divinity originated only at Easter. All this agrees with the early belief found elsewhere in the New Testament that Jesus was divine in his earthly life and beforehand (for instance Matthew 27:54, John 1:1-3, I Corinthians 2:8, Philippians 2:6).

But get this: A favorite conservative translation of the Bible could be read as suggesting Jesus only became God at Easter. The 2011 edition of the New International Version says Jesus was “appointed the Son of God” by the resurrection, vs. “declared” in earlier N.I.V. editions. Similarly, the first edition of U.S. Catholics’ New American Bible (1970) said Jesus was “made” the Son of God by Easter. The 1986 N.A.B. revision changed that to the ambiguous “established,” which to average English readers could mean either newly established or established for everyone to see.

Then, how does atonement “work”? What does it mean that “Jesus saves” or “Jesus died for our sins”?

[Read more...]

‘Christ is risen!’, for Greeks, Arabs, Russians & others

YouTube Preview Image

A blessed Pascha to the Orthodox readers of GetReligion. I hope you are recovering from the long, but glorious, week of services and the middle-of-the night rites and feasts. Personally, I think it is high time for a post-Great Lent barbecue run — soon.

In terms of Pascha news, I, for one, am stunned that a quick online search found next to nothing in terms of mainstream media coverage of what is, or is not, happening in Syria and Egypt — where there are are huge, endangered communities of Eastern Christians in the middle of the news events. Maybe tomorrow’s newspapers?

Here in America, I am also seeing/hearing discussion among some Orthodox of President Barack Obama’s interesting official statement marking Pascha. On one level, it’s quite solid, and much appreciated. But on another level — maybe not. Here’s the heart of the message:

For millions of Orthodox Christians, this is a joyful time. But it’s also a reminder of the sacrifice Christ made so that we might have eternal life. His decision to choose love in the face of hate; hope in the face of despair is an example we should always strive to follow. But it’s especially important to remember this year, as members of the Orthodox community have been confronted with persecution and violence, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa. For centuries, the region and the world has been enriched by the contributions of Orthodox communities in countries like Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. As a nation, we reaffirm our commitment to protecting universal human rights including the freedom of religion. And in this season of hope and restoration, we celebrate the transformational power of sacrificial love.

Now, other than a direct reference to the resurrection itself (which is a hard thing for a liberal Christian political leader to discuss), what is missing from this statement?

How about something specific about an unfolding drama in Syria, one involving the kidnapping by terrorists of Orthodox Bishop Paul Yazigi — the brother of Antiochian Orthodox Patriarch John X Yazigi of Damascus — and Bishop Yohanna Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church? It’s good to mention the generalities, but an actual call for the release of the two kidnapped bishops might have actually made news. Would that have rocked the U.S. State Department boat too much?

Meanwhile, the newspaper that lands in my front yard offered a quite nice Orthodox-angle Easter story that, as usual, focuses on Greek Orthodox life. Now, let me stress that the Greek Orthodox community in the Baltimore area is large and very important. It deserves coverage. However, the team at The Baltimore Sun seems to think that the Greek community and the Orthodox community are one and the same thing. This is not the case.

Anyway, Orthodox readers, check out the top of this story and tell me if you spot an interesting detail, or two (and I’m not talking about the fact that this particular Orthodox church has pews):

[Read more...]

Flash! Cardinal says all people created in God’s image

YouTube Preview Image

In a way, the existence of the short New York Times story that ran with this headline, “Dolan Says the Catholic Church Should Be More Welcoming to Gay People,” is simply a matter of journalistic math.

Fact 1: Cardinal Timothy Dolan is the Catholic shepherd of New York and the president of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

Fact 2: Dolan is articulate and, at times, even witty. He keeps showing up on television and in highly public places. He is hard to ignore.

Fact 3: In this case, he directly addressed the single most important subject on Planet Earth, from the perspective of the doctrines and worldview of this newspaper’s own college of editorial cardinals.

Add these factors together and, one way or another, you are going to get a news story — for better or for worse.

Now, from the point of view of the Times (classic Bill Keller faith statement here, in essay called “Is the Pope Catholic?“), Catholicism is in a state of crisis caused by its irrational commitment to ancient doctrines carved into dogma in the ages before Woodstock. Thus, the lede:

On Easter Sunday, weeks after he helped elect a new pope for a church struggling with declining numbers and controversy over social issues, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan said that the Roman Catholic Church could be more welcoming of gay men and lesbians despite opposing same-sex marriage.

In recorded interviews with George Stephanopoulos on the ABC News program “This Week” and Bob Schieffer on “Face the Nation” on CBS, Cardinal Dolan, the archbishop of New York and one of the leading voices of the Catholic Church in the United States, did not suggest any changes in church teaching. He defined marriage as “one man, one woman, forever, to bring about new life,” but, he told Mr. Stephanopoulos, “we’ve got to do better to see that our defense of marriage is not reduced to an attack on gay people.”

Actually, that second paragraph is pretty good and stresses the main point that needed to be made: Dolan said absolutely nothing new. The heart of what he said is found here:

Speaking just days after the Supreme Court heard arguments in two same-sex marriage cases, Mr. Stephanopoulos asked Cardinal Dolan what he could say to gay men and lesbians who felt excluded from the church.

“Well, the first thing I’d say to them is: ‘I love you, too. And God loves you. And you are made in God’s image and likeness. And — and we — we want your happiness. But — and you’re entitled to friendship,’ ” Cardinal Dolan said. “But we also know that God has told us that the way to happiness, that — especially when it comes to sexual love — that is intended only for a man and woman in marriage, where children can come about naturally.”

So, try to find the glaring news hook in that.

Actually, if the Times wanted to chase an interesting story, there is one linked to that. It could explore the writings and work of gay and lesbian Catholics who actually support the teachings of their church (sample here). That would be a new point of view for the world’s most powerful newspaper and, trust me, many of the points made in such a story would make the Catholic cultural right as uncomfortable as the usual suspects on the Catholic left.

However, the biggest stretch in this short story came near the end.

[Read more...]

Was the New York Times Easter error no big deal?

The New York Times has been taking quite a bit of heat for its shockingly erroneous understanding of Christianity. Earlier this week, it published a brief story about Pope Francis’ Easter message and went on to say that “Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life.”

Now, there are many things wrong with that line, as my kindergartner could tell you.

I thought my write-up of the piece was pretty mild. But reader Joshua wrote:

Ok, I understand the error and the argument of how egregious the difference in meanings are, but … call me crazy, I don’t understand the effusive, scornful finger-pointing hoopla over it. It’s not a religious newspaper, and errors happen.

And reader Jeffrey Weiss, well known as a religion-news beat professional, wrote:

Even Homer nods, as the saying goes, and even LeBron tosses the occasional airball. I’d not be quite so fast to dump the NYT for what is a bonehead mistake. For those of you of a particular religious tilt: It’s a human institution and all such are inevitably fallen, yes? Even in these reduced times, I’d put the Times record of accuracy up against most of the rest of the world. Surely tens of thousands of facts a day. In this case, the story showed up on a holiday, of course, where the editing crew is likely skeletal. People who really know Easter probably weren’t working. That’s not an excuse, of course. It’s a major unforced error.

Because I’m a human who errs with alarming frequency, I’m inclined to be understanding and I sure do love how Weiss puts the best construction on the folks working the Easter shift at the Times. And yet I am not sure I agree. Anyone who has gone through a New York Times editing process knows that there really are layers and layers of fact-checking and it boggles the mind that the error could have been made by a Vatican reporter, much less made it through that editing process on the way to press.

The Canadian scribe and human-rights activist Mark Steyn wondered — as relates to the correction and the initial mistake — “How could any expensively credentialed J-school grad type those words?“:

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X