All hope is not lost: Easter in America’s newspapers

That New York Times doozie-of-a-correction notwithstanding, many American journalists understand exactly what Easter means for Christians.

That fact was evident in some of the exceptional enterprise stories that graced leading front pages on Sunday.

Eight of my favorites (in random order):

1. Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about a parish’s ministry to the poor resonating on Easter:

Easter is the oldest and most important Christian celebration. It marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. But more symbolically, Easter represents for Christians a procession — through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection — from death to new life.

“When we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are also celebrating our own resurrection,” said the Rev. Bruce Forman, Sts. Peter and Paul’s pastor since 1990. “In our lives, we have smaller deaths and resurrections. We die to selfishness, anger and resentment. And when we overcome those things, we discover that something new happens.”

2. Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer shared the emotional story of a liver transplant bringing new life:

DAVIDSON — On this Sunday morning, when more than a billion Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Easter’s promise of new life will have special meaning for the Rev. Lib McGregor Simmons and her 1,400-member congregation as they march into the sanctuary singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

For Simmons, the bleakest moment of the year came on Jan. 20, as she conducted the funeral for a 97-year-old member of her flock at Davidson College Presbyterian Church.

“It’s very likely,” she told herself during the service, “that my husband’s funeral will be the next one.”

Gary Simmons was only 63. But unless he got a new liver soon, he had only months, maybe weeks, to live.

3. Renee Elder of the Raleigh News and Observer focused on the rebirth of faith and hope for one family:

CLAYTON — As Christians gather to observe Easter and the resurrection of Christ, the Blackmon family of Clayton has another rebirth to celebrate: their baby daughter Sofie’s second chance at life.

During Sunday morning services, parents Melissa and Brent Blackmon will speak at the Church at Clayton Crossings, giving thanks for the congregation’s many prayers and gestures of support through Sofie’s ordeal. They also will tell their own story of faith and how it grew – even as hope seemed dim for the life of their youngest child.

4. Mary Niederberger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlighted an agreement between Episcopalians and Anglicans to allow a homeless ministry to continue:

When Leonard Williams attends the Easter service today at Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, an Anglican church for the homeless in Uptown, like Christians everywhere he will be celebrating the resurrection of Christ from the tomb.

But Mr. Williams, 53, and others who attend Shepherd’s Heart also will be celebrating the new life that has been breathed into their church after a recent significant agreement between Pittsburgh’s Episcopal and Anglican dioceses. A long-running conflict in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh resulted in a 2008 split, with many of the churches leaving and creating the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh,linked to the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America.

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This NY Times Easter correction is a doozie

The reporter who passed this one along to us wrote, simply:

they just make it real easy for you guys, don’t they?

Another reporter on Twitter put it:

That NYT correction has to be throwing @GetReligion HQ into all-hands-on-deck mode. “I need EVERYONE ON THIS NOW!”

Sadly, we’ve had such reason to be down on general religion coverage in recent weeks, that I’m not even sure anyone is surprised by this.

But still. But still.

The New York Times published a fairly straightforward story about Pope Francis’ first Urbi et Orbi message. With this paragraph:

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. In urging peace, Francis called on Jesus to ”change hatred into love, vengeance into forgiveness, war into peace.”

Yes, the professionals at the New York Times are confused about what Easter marks. If you were satirizing the poor state of the Grey Lady’s understanding of religion, this would seem over-the-top. And yet it’s real. My favorite part is the correction to the piece — yes, it was corrected to drop the “into heaven” and replace it with “from the dead.” The correction is:

An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter. It is the celebration of Jesus’s resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven.

To be clear, not only is Easter not about Jesus’ “resurrection into heaven,” Christians don’t believe Jesus “resurrected into heaven” period. There are some ancient creeds that could be quickly accessed (for those who have never heard them) that explain all this. Those creeds confess Christ’s ascension into heaven, not “resurrection.”

Since it’s Opening Day, I will share this fake correction I saw elsewhere:

In last Thursday’s story, “Americans excited to visit ‘ball parks,’” the sport of baseball was repeatedly spelled bayspall. The number of ‘bases’ was given as five; the correct number is three. “Home plate” is a marker embedded in the ground, not a trophy awarded to the winner of the World Series. “Babe” Ruth was the popular nickname of George Herman Ruth Jr. (1895–1948), generally regarded the greatest baseballer of the early twentieth century, and not the African-American mistress of Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter F. O’Malley as stated in the article. The Times regrets the errors.

Wait, that is a fake correction, right?

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Render unto Google the things which are Google’s …

First of all, let me state right up front that it is hard to do a news critique of a graphic device. I concede that point.

At the same time, I also know that Google is not, in and of itself, a news source.

Google is, of course, much more than a news source.

Google is one of the most powerful forces shaping culture and information in this digital age in which we live, read and think.

Google is a portal, a door and a gateway. If the editors at Google decide to shape our world, our reality, into some new form then dang it, it will be shaped into that new form. If the principalities and powers at Google decide that certain forms of information are more worthy, more valuable, more acceptable than others, then that perception will become search-engine reality. It’s kind of like that showdown between Apple’s iTunes overlords and the circle of religious conservatives that produced the Manhattan Declaration.

Anyway, the Google overlords have a tradition of doing cute little graphic frameworks for the word “Google” on major days of interest in the culture, such as “The Holidays,” St. Patrick’s Day, the Super Bowl, Earth Day, the 4th of July, Halloween, etc. They also enjoy doing occasional salutes to major historic figures, often on their birthdays.

Which, of course, brings us to today — which is the most important day of the year in the Western version of the Christian calendar.

In other words, today is Easter for most of the world’s Christians. Those of us who are Orthodox Christians, and follow the older Julian calendar, will celebrate Pascha (Easter) on May 5th.

So what did the Google folks do today? Well, on one level, they decided to mark the 86th birthday of union leader Cesar Chavez. In my opinion, they ended up profoundly insulting this famous Catholic.

Thus, I would like to associate myself with this morning’s post on the topic by Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher, which states in part:

Nothing against Chavez, but what the heck? Chavez, who was a devout Catholic, probably would have been bewildered as well.

Google could have ignored Easter, and nobody would have noticed. But choosing to observe something other than Easter on Easter Sunday is deliberate.

It’s a small thing, of course, but this kind of thing, accumulated, signals an intentional de-Christianization of our culture, and the creation of an intentional hostility to Christianity that will eventually cease to be latent, or minor. It cannot have been an accident that Google decided to honor a relatively obscure cultural figure instead of observing the most important Christian holiday, a day of enormous importance to an overwhelming number of people in the United States, and to an enormous number of people around the world.

The only part of that statement that I would word differently is that I would say America is evolving from from a predominantly Protestant culture that, imperfectly, attempted to avoid state endorsement of any particular religion into a culture that is increasingly hostile to traditional forms of religion — while openly endorsing modernized forms of faith that our national elites find acceptable. I think it’s simplistic and inaccurate to call America’s emerging civil religion “secular,” since it officially favors some forms of religion and rejects others.

Then again, what was that whole “stomp on Jesus” incident down in South Florida all about?

With an indirect nod to a Rob Stroud post at the Mere Inkling weblog, Dreher ends up quoting a haunting piece of the famous C.S. Lewis novel, “That Hideous Strength,” that looks forward to life in an England that is blending science and the occult, while, yes, stomping on Christianity:

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Winners and losers in our do-it-yourself religion era

No one on the national religion-news scenes writes with more vigor and enthusiasm about America’s sharp turn away from religious doctrine and traditional religious institutions than veteran scribe Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today. Her journalistic glee is completely justified, in my opinion, because this is one of the most important religion-beat stories of our age, especially on the religious left.

On one level, her latest piece on this topic — the headline is “Relationships are the new religion for many” — is best seen as part of the wave of mainstream coverage following the “Nones on the Rise” survey about the surging number of religiously unaffiliated Americans, research that grew out of a partnership between the Pew Forum on Religious & Public Life and the PBS program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Toss in new research numbers from a number of other sources, such as the LifeWay team linked to the Southern Baptist Convention, and you have yet another chapter in the important story of do-it-yourself spirituality in postmodern America. The holy days hook at the top of the story, fleshed out with some name-specific anecdotes, is perfectly natural:

Emily Hilliard will cook a festive brunch with friends on Easter Sunday. But none in her Washington, D.C., social circle of foodies, folklorists and fiddlers will go to church that day.

In Denver, Ambra Vibran will enjoy an Italian feast with cousins that Sunday. But she says, “My spiritual life is in hiking, skiing, kayaking and enjoying God’s creation.” It’s a stretch to recall when Vibran last went to church.

Eleanor Drey plans a Jewish traditional meal where family and friends will talk about freedom. But it won’t be on Passover, Monday night this year. Folks are tied up with their kids’ spring vacations. They’ll gather at Drey’s San Francisco home in April instead.

The new data kicks in at the summary paragraph, where the line between the religiously devout and the new American normal is made quite clear. This is long, but you need to read it in order to get Grossman’s main point:

This week, most Americans will celebrate essential stories of Christianity and Judaism: God freeing the enslaved is a key Passover theme. Easter’s core is Jesus’ resurrection, offering a doorway to salvation.

But many will celebrate with a twist. While 73% of Americans call themselves Christian, only 41% say they plan to attend Easter worship services, according to a March 13 survey of 1,060 U.S. adults by LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian research agency. Passover is a home-centered celebration, but it’s not known how many Jews plan to recite the prayers and serve symbolic foods at their Seder meal.

In the gap between faith and practice are millions of people who will delight in Easter and Passover as “holidays,” not “holy days.” They’re just as Christian, just as Jewish, in their own eyes as people who follow traditional scripts — church on Sunday before carving the ham or the Seder rituals before slurping the matzoh ball soup. They’ve simply redefined their spirituality to center on the people at the table — shared time, shared values with their nearest-and-dearest.

“Relationships have replaced religion for many Millennials,” says Esther Fleece, who spent three years specializing in outreach to young adult Christians for the evangelical group Focus on the Family.

Now, the only part of that I would question is Grossman’s summary judgment that these believers consider themselves “just as Christian, just as Jewish” as traditional believers. To be more specific, the only words in that summary that I want to question are “just as” — as opposed to millions of Americans still calling themselves Christian or Jewish, but then turning around and saying, something like “but I choose not to sit in a pew” like those who are still affiliated with traditional religious institutions.

They consider themselves “just as” Christian, “just as” Jewish as the orthodox? I’m reading the same surveys, but I don’t see that judgment in the numbers — although it’s in a few of the anecdotes. I see numbers suggesting that the unaffiliated people are saying, “but I still consider myself Christian” or “I still consider myself Jewish.”

So here is the key question. How does one interpret the personal identity being articulated in the following quote:

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