Hail Epiphany and farewell to Christmas (and white Santas)

First things first: I hope that readers who are into that whole Christian calendar had a great 12 days of the real Christmas season, as opposed to the six or seven weeks of whatever that is that ends with an explosion of wrapping paper on Dec. 25.

Did anyone throw 12th night parties?

So this brings us to the great Feast of Epiphany, which in our ancient churches is the second most important day on the calendar after Easter/Pascha. More important than Christmas? Well, it’s hard to rank these things, but the key element of this day — marking the baptism of Jesus — is the scriptural account of the revealing of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. That’s big. In the West, the feast tends to focus on the arrival of the Three Kings at the cradle of Jesus.

To my surprise, Epiphany has been getting a bit more news ink in recent years (surf this search-engine file for a current sample).

Personally, I think it’s the whole photo-op principle at work. I mean, who doesn’t want to show up to put the following into shivering pixels?

SOFIA, Bulgaria (AP) – Thousands of young men plunged into icy rivers and lakes across Bulgaria on Monday to retrieve crucifixes cast by priests in an old ritual marking the feast of Epiphany.

By tradition, a crucifix is cast into a lake or river and it’s believed that the person who retrieves it will be healthy and freed from evil spirits throughout the year.

The celebration of Epiphany, or the Apparition of Christ, as Bulgarians call it, began in Sofia with a water-blessing ceremony. The head of Bulgaria’s Orthodox Church, Patriarch Neofit, said a prayer for the prosperity of the people and blessed the colors of representative army units — a tradition abandoned in 1946 and re-established in 1992.

Concerning that whole health and evil spirits thing: I think it’s wonderful, in stories of this kind, to mention folk and small-t traditions. However, it does help to include at least one sentence about why the feast exists in the first place and what church doctrine — that whole big-T Tradition thing — says about the symbolism of these kinds of rites.

Oh, and the “celebration of Epiphany” — as in the feast itself — began in Sofia? I think that what the AP team meant to say that this year’s celebration of the feast in Bulgaria began in Sofia. By the way, for the Eastern Orthodox this is known as the great Feast of the Theophany.

Anyway, I am glad to see increasing coverage of this great feast. I am curious, however: If Protestants are growing more interested in liturgy and ancient rites, is this truly affecting how they celebrate Advent, Christmas and Epiphany? There might be a story there next year.

As opposed to that other huge, massive, crucial, apocalyptic story almost everyone covered this year.

You know the one: The whole “white Santa” thing?

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When lawsuits attack, Catholic edition

A few weeks ago, a lawsuit in Nevada made news because it revolved around alleged 3rd Amendment to the Constitution violations. Third Amendment Rights are invoked so rarely as to be the butt of jokes. See, for example, The Onion‘s “Third Amendments Rights Group Celebrates Another Successful Year.”

The mainstream media went to town. Here’s Fox News, for instance:

A Nevada family is using a rare legal argument in a lawsuit claiming police tried to commandeer their homes for a surveillance operation and then arrested the homeowners for resisting — invoking the Third Amendment, which bars soldiers from being “quartered” in a residence without permission.

The Mitchell family, in a lawsuit filed July 1, detailed the incident from July 10, 2011. According to the complaint, it all began when the Henderson city police called Anthony Mitchell that morning to say they needed his house to gain “tactical advantage” in a domestic violence investigation in the neighborhood.

The story goes on to describe what the lawsuit alleges. I was speaking with a law enforcement officer who was appalled that so many people were just accepting the lawsuit’s narrative. I’ve reported on enough cases to know that one should never determine the facts based on either a police report or a complainant’s report. When I hear or read that the police or a complainant says this or that, I take it to mean little more than a claim is being made.

All this to say that we received some reader complaints about a story reporting on a lawsuit. It’s out of St. Louis and the story appears in the Post-Dispatch. Here’s the top of the story:

St. Louis Archbishop Robert Carlson knew that a priest was a danger to children before that priest was charged last year with molesting a teenage girl, according to a lawsuit filed Friday in Lincoln County.

The lawsuit was filed by the parents of the girl, who told police last June that the Rev. Xiu Hui “Joseph” Jiang, an associate pastor at the St. Louis Cathedral Basilica in the Central West End, had molested her. Jiang, 30, eventually was charged with first-degree endangering the welfare of a child. The girl had described him as a family friend.

In the lawsuit filed Friday, the girl’s parents said Carlson “knew that Father Jiang was dangerous to children” and “that allowing Father Jiang access to minors as part of his duties as a priest would result in Father Jiang harming minors.”

The suit does not provide details of how Carlson would have known Jiang was a threat to children.

According to the suit, the girl’s parents asked Carlson last year if Jiang, who was ordained in 2010, would be removed from the priesthood. Carlson responded “that he would remove Jiang if he ‘had sex’ with the child, but not for activities other than that,” according to the suit.

Among the various readers to submit the story for critiquing here, one said, “The unvalidated quote attributed to the Archbishop is particularly outrageous.” But what’s outrageous about it — journalistically speaking?

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Journalism and stem cell research 101

If you think general religion coverage is bad, try mixing it with media coverage of science. Then try to find a reporter who handles it well. It’s almost impossible. Back when I started at GetReligion, I could have posted daily on the errors in coverage of what used to be an extremely hot-button topic — stem cell research that destroys embryos.

In various media reports, embryonic-destroying stem cell research was shortened to “stem cell research.” This did a disservice to the debate on numerous counts, most importantly being that there was no debate over using stem cells that didn’t require the destruction of human embryos.

Demagoguery abounded, aided by a media onslaught that characterized one side as “pro-science” and the other as “anti-science.”

Much of the debate has been resolved by something you probably haven’t read terribly much about in the media: the tremendous success of stem cell research that doesn’t destroy embryos and the struggle for success with stem cell research that does. Also, the reporting simply got better. Distinctions were made between the two types of research and as reporters got more comfortable with the basics, they were able to write up those differences with greater ease.

So it’s weird to come across a story that muddles everything again. It comes from FoxNews.com and is headlined “Catholic Church gives its blessing to stem cell research in new book.” Of course, the Roman Catholic Church never withheld its blessing from stem cell research, however much this disrupts the narrative of its anti-scientific approach. It simply opposed — along with a great many other human rights activists and bioethicists and religious adherents — that research that destroys human lives.

To wit:

In the past 20 years, stem cell research has been thrust into the medical spotlight as celebrities like Michael J. Fox and Christopher Reeve have advocated for it.  Also, numerous studies have shown stem cell therapies have successfully treated a plethora of diseases.

And now, with the release of The Healing Cell: How the Greatest Revolution in Medical History Is Changing Your Life, the Catholic Church has given its stamp of approval on adult stem cell research by discussing the many ways these therapies work for the greater good.  In fact, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote the book’s introduction, which was co-authored by Dr. Robin Smith and Monsignor Tomasz Trafny, along with Max Gomez.

Stem cell therapy isn’t anything new. Using bone marrow transplants to treat leukemia, which started more than 40 years ago, is essentially the same procedure.  Through this process, doctors extract stem cells from the bone marrow and transplant them into the body to replace damaged cells caused by blood and bone marrow cancers. Sometimes cancer patients use autologous cells – cells harvested from their own body – and sometimes they use donated cells from another person’s bone marrow.

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Fox forces the Mass into Christmas

A friend put this picture up on Google+ (so I guess that answers the question of whether people still use Google+!). Around the same time, a reader submitted this story from Fox News, headlined:

Church devastated by super storm Sandy looks forward to Christmas mass 

At first I thought the reader submitted it because of the redundancy of calling worship on Christ’s Mass a “mass.” But that’s not why it was submitted, although it’s related to that issue.

For years The Oasis Christian Center had been a gathering place for the residents of Midland Beach, on the Eastern shore of Staten Island, New York.

“We’ve done our best,” Pastor Tim McIntyre said, “to reach our community with God’s love through food pantry and children’s programs, youth programs as well as our Sunday service.” …

McIntyre saw his church the day after the super storm. He says he didn’t think it would ever open its doors again, much less in time for Christmas mass.

Oasis Christian Center? Pastor Tim McIntyre? Mass?

The Mass is “the celebration of the Eucharist.” It is a term most commonly used by Roman Catholics, although other sacramental church bodies also use the term. Is Oasis Christian Center one of those?

I reviewed the quotes in the article and the church’s web site and I never found any mention of a Mass, Divine Service, Eucharist, Holy Communion, Communion, sacrament or the like.

Instead, there is information such as this:

What kind of church are we?

Oasis is a nondenominational church that is Biblical in practice and charismatic in expression. We are a Christ-centered community of faith that believes we have a mandate from heaven to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in our community.

We choose not be contentious about the non-essentials of the Christian faith, which version of the Bible we read, spiritual gifts, predestination, etc. There are a number of secondary beliefs that the leadership of Oasis is passionate about. Complete agreement is not required for those who choose to worship with us, but it should be known that we will preach, teach, and counsel in accordance with these theological convictions. It is important that we are all striving to diligently preserve unity and peace concerning these secondary beliefs.

It’s pretty clear that this is just a straight up error by the reporting. But it is somewhat funny, at least.

Should Fox News be telling you to lie and steal?

I realize I’m the fuddy duddy around here who is always telling kids to get off my lawn, but there have to be other people who were saddened by this FoxNews.com story headlined “Hotel confidential: Secrets to scoring hotel freebies.”

It’s just a silly, cheesy story about someone’s new “memoir of hotels, hustles and so-called hospitality,” published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Late in the story, we’re told about how to tip the concierge:

The Concierge: For something like directions around $2-3 will suffice, but if their getting you reservations at a popular restaurant you should give about $10-20. Even in the era of the Internet and smart phones, concierges still have firsthand experience with the best places in town. “You can try calling for a table yourself, but they’re the ones that will have good connections and real pull to get you that reservation,” [Jacob] Tomsky told FoxNews.com.

Their? I realize I’m a typo queen, but this is why copy editors are super important. Anyway, the next section is:

Extra Freebies: Tomsky says the overstocked and overpriced mini bar charges are the most disputed on any bill. Although it’s hard to believe in a world where most mini bars have become censored, he insists that all you have to do is tell the front desk you ‘never touched the minibar’ and they will wipe away the charges. “It would be a weird desk agent to say ‘you sure you didn’t have these?’ That’s a terrible stance to take,” Tomsky said.

Apparently free movie rentals are also easy to score. “Once you’ve finished watching your movie just call down to the front desk and tell them the movie just froze in the middle or it turned off suddenly,” Tomsky told FoxNews.com. “Usually there is a subscription fee that they pay for the hotel as a total so they’re not losing any money.”

Lastly, the luxurious and cozy bathroom robes. Of course they sell them for an outrageous amount in the hotel gift shop but Tomsky says you can take one home for free. “They’re supposed to have robes preset in each room but you can call up and tell them your room is missing a robe. In the time it takes someone to come up and deliver you another one, you can stash the extra robe right into your suitcase.” Tomsky told FoxNews.com.

I don’t know what a censored mini bar is, so I assume we’re going for “sensored.” But so much more importantly than these typos, for the love of all that’s holy, what is Fox News doing telling people they should steal from other people?

If I were an editor and was presented with a subject pitching a book about how to lie and steal — under the guise of how to get the most out of your stay in a hotel — I would never in a million years give it any publicity of the non-condemnatory variety.

What if the author pitching the book were talking about how to cheat on an exam or how to rape someone or how to commit voter fraud or how to hide a body — what’s the line that FoxNews won’t cross here? Am I just an old fuddy duddy who thinks that the mainstream media shouldn’t run stories about how to lie and steal?

Ten Commandments image via Shutterstock.


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