Getting faith into SI story of patient D-League hoops star

Once again, I realize that the world of GetReligion readers seems to contain a stunningly low percentage of sports fans, especially in comparison with the American public as a whole. Nevertheless, I follow sports quite closely and I have always been fascinated by the unusually high percentage of sports stories that include faith angles.

Most of the time — take the whole Baltimore Sun ignoring Ravens religion-angles thrend — my GetReligion posts on sports have been rather negative. You know the kind of story I’m talking about. A sports star plays the God card or offers a highly specific comment about the role of faith in his or her life and a journalists never looks into the details or offers any context for these words.

The negative tone is so common, in fact, that people drop me notes from time to time wanting to know if anyone covering sports ever gets one of these stories right. Well, remember that amazing Sports Illustrated story about the great UCLA hoops patriarch John Wooden and the challenge he faced, and met, learning to embrace the great center Lew Alcindor as he made his pilgrimage into Islam and became Kareem Abdul Jabbar?

Well, now a member of the SI staff — one Lee Jenkins — has provided another wonderful example of getting the faith-angle right. This time around, we’re talking about a back-of-the-book feature about a player who is just as obscure as Jabbar is famous. The man’s name is Ron Howard of the Fort Wayne, Ind., Mad Ants franchise in the NBA’s Development League and he recently broke the career scoring record for a player in this minor-league circuit.

As Jenkins states it (heads of fans up great sports flicks):

On March 29, Howard sank yet another pull-up from the left wing at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum. The game stopped. The crowd of 4,024 stood for three minutes. Fans sobbed. Joyner ran to the parking lot and fetched the carrot cake with cream-cheese icing, cooling in her car. Howard’s 4,254th point set a D-League record, recalling Crash Davis’s 247th home run. “A dubious kind of honor,” Crash says in the bush league classic Bull Durham. “I think it’d be great,” Annie Savoy replies. “The Sporting News should know.”

Like Crash Davis, Howard has been to the Show, if only for a sip of coffee. After his first year in Fort Wayne he signed with the Bucks and played in the preseason. When they released him, coach Scott Skiles said, “You’re good enough for the NBA.” Since then the D-League has reported 235 call-ups, but none for Howard.

Now, as it turns out, that carrot cake and the fan named Cindy Joyner are in the story’s short, lovely lede — which offers the first hint at the religion angle in this piece:

The night he made history, Mr. Mad Ant drove back to the seminary and ate carrot cake.

The dessert was a gift from Cindy Joyner, who bought season tickets seven years ago, when the NBA’s Development League awarded an expansion franchise to her hometown of Fort Wayne, Ind. The team was dubbed the Mad Ants after the city’s namesake, Gen. Mad Anthony Wayne, and there were open tryouts to fill the roster. More than 120 hoop dreamers showed up at Indiana Tech in October 2007, paying $150 a head. Ron Howard, an unemployed 24-year-old living in a Chicago apartment with his wife and daughter, was an hour late.

“Who arrives an hour late?” recalls Howard, confused by the time change between Chicago and Fort Wayne. “I was too embarrassed to go in.”

Back to the seminary?

[Read more...]

Jews and Jesus: A ‘Spiritual Incursion’ in St. Louis

The breaking news — only 2,000 years old — that Christians and Jews have vastly different views of Jesus made the front page of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch over the weekend (and was picked up nationally by Religion News Service this week).

To be more specific, the Post-Dispatch featured a Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod congregation that seeks to convert Jews.

The newspaper’s main headline immediately cast the effort in a negative light:

SPIRITUAL INCURSION

Now, according to my online dictionary, incursion implies “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory.” Perhaps the headline is a major reason that the story upset so many folks in the LCMS. That, and the fact that the piece used phrases such as “targeted for conversion” to describe evangelism efforts by the Lutheran congregation.

The subhead was equally tilted:

Lutheran outreach draws criticism from Jewish groups

Contrast that with RNS’ much more down-the-middle headline, which perhaps sets a different tone:

Lutheran ministry seeks to convert Jews 

Now, at major newspapers such as the Post-Dispatch, copy editors — not the person with the byline on the story — typically write the headline. I thought the story itself, written by a Godbeat pro, was actually pretty good. Of course, given my role as a media critic, I do have a few quibbles with the piece. Call it an occupational hazard.

Let’s start at the top:

In a small storefront in Dogtown, a St. Louis neighborhood known for its celebration of the Christian missionary St. Patrick, sits a congregation dedicated to converting Jews.

Congregation Chai v’ Shalom is tiny by most standards, with weekly attendance averaging somewhere between 30 and 40 members. But it has the backing of the 2-million member Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

And its mission fits squarely into the Synod’s controversial effort to preach the message that Jesus was the Messiah to Jews, in hope that they will become Christian and gain salvation.

On a recent Sunday morning, a couple dozen gathered at Congregation Chai v’ Shalom, a makeshift space where stars of David, one with a cross placed in the middle, hang prominently on the walls, alongside what looks like a random collection of paintings.

The vast majority of those who attend Chai v’ Shalom are not Jewish, but they are interested in reaching out to Jews. The service itself even caters to Jews, where the Shema, a central Jewish prayer, is recited and much of the lively singing is in Hebrew.

That’s a nice lede, filled with important detail and colorful description.

My quibble is a single word that has become cliche: “controversial.” Would the lede be any less effective without that adjective? Would the writing be any more precise? To me, inserting that term there adds an unnecessary level of editorializing — even without the headline and subhead.

Instead, why not present the facts and let the readers decide if this approach is, in fact, controversial? 

Let’s read some more:

[Read more...]

Generic ‘God talk’ or something more?

YouTube Preview ImageWell here’s a pretty good example of what appears to be the failure to get religion details into a story. Here’s the top of the story from Yahoo! sports:

Concordia College Alabama coach Don Lee can’t help but think someone was watching over his team Saturday when the second of two buses headed for their game against Miles College blew up in front of them.

Lee, who is also the athletic director of the small school in Selma, Ala., was on the first bus when his phone and the phones of others on his bus started ringing. He looked behind him and saw his second bus wasn’t there. The driver of the second bus said they had blown a tire and, as they tried to pull off the road safely, blew another tire, which started a fire in the back of the bus.

“We had about 56 or 57 people on that bus,” Lee told Yahoo Sports. “When we didn’t see it, we got to a stop sign and turned around. We got to the bus and pulled everyone off. About 5 or 10 minutes after that, after we had gotten everyone to safety, the bus blew up. I mean blew up. We were just so blessed that we got everyone out safely.”

OK. So the coach thinks “someone” was watching over the team. He says they were “just so blessed” that everyone got out safely.

As the reader who submitted this piece noted:

The author writes the coach “can’t help but think someone was watching over his team” and and later cites a quote mentioning the team was “blessed.” Generic ‘god talk’? Or perhaps it might have to do with the fact the team is from a Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod college?

Even if I weren’t a member of this church body, I’d want to see the affiliation of the school in a story of this nature. This is perhaps one of the most pervasive problems in mainstream media today — failure to just identify the religious affiliation of a given individual or group. Remember, journalists, that religion may not be important to you does not mean it’s not important to readers. Or heck, it’s not even about religious affiliation so much as just basic details about a story. When I read about a college in another part of the country, I like to know if it’s public or private and, if private, what affiliation it has. It’s why I read the news. To learn more about other places and events.

Anyway, the point is that even if the coach weren’t referencing religion in his quotes, it would still be important information. But it’s even more glaring when the quotes clearly indicate a religious posture on the part of the coach or school.

[Read more...]

The ghost in Bud Day’s obituary

Of the many wonderful parts of the New York Times, my favorite is the obituary section. Perhaps it’s being a pastor’s daughter, perhaps it’s that my mother’s side of the family were morticians, but I love reading a good obituary. Let’s look at one headlined “Col. Bud Day, Vietnam War Hero, Dies at 88.”

Col. Bud Day, an Air Force fighter pilot who was shot down in the Vietnam War, imprisoned with John McCain in the notorious “Hanoi Hilton” and defiantly endured more than five years of brutality without divulging sensitive information to his captors, earning him the Medal of Honor, died on Saturday in Shalimar, Fla. He was 88.

His death was announced by his wife, Doris.

Colonel Day was among America’s most highly decorated servicemen, having received nearly 70 medals and awards, more than 50 for combat exploits. In addition to the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, he was awarded the Air Force Cross, the highest combat award specifically for airmen.

Col. Day was a genuine hero who earned much recognition. Later we get some details on how he was tortured:

Major Day was strung upside-down by his captors, but after his bonds were loosened, he escaped after five days in enemy hands. He made it across a river, using a bamboo-log float for support, and crossed into South Vietnam. He wandered barefoot and delirious for about two weeks in search of rescuers, surviving on a few berries and frogs. At one point, he neared a Marine outpost, but members of a Communist patrol spotted him first, shot him in the leg and hand, and captured him.

This time, Major Day could not escape. He was shuttled among various camps, including the prison that became known as the Hanoi Hilton, and was beaten, starved and threatened with execution. His captors demanded information on escape plans and methods of communication among the prisoners of war, as well as on America’s air war.

In February 1971, he joined with Admiral Stockdale, then a commander and the ranking American in the prison camp, and other prisoners in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” while rifle muzzles were pointed at them by guards who had burst into a prisoners’ forbidden religious service.

Great details, right? And isn’t that interesting that he was in a “forbidden religious service”? So what religion was Col. Day? And why in the world is this detail excluded from the obituary?

I’m interested in the religious views of … everyone. Whatever they are. Knowing how fully my faith in Christ informs everything, and seeing how others’ religious views inform them, it is the most important piece of information I look for in an obituary. When it’s not there, it confuses me. How could someone write up the life of an individual and leave out such an important part as their religion? It boggles the mind.

This is something of a common complaint I have, but in this case it’s also somewhat personal. I’m Lutheran, of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. So was Col. Day. I wanted to see how the Times dealt with his religion. Other than that reference to a “religious service,” it’s not.

[Read more...]

News crisis: when people agree (Lutheran edition)

YouTube Preview ImageI’m in St. Louis this week at the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s 65th regular convention. The convention was largely peaceful and unified. And where it wasn’t, the issues were extremely important but fairly unique to the LCMS. I keep thinking how difficult it is to cover a convention such as this. Religion reporter Tim Townsend, of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was at the convention.

He had a hilarious tweet the other day about the arcane language one must be familiar with when covering a denominational convention:

CCM approves reso to reconsider opinion 11-2598 and participation in 2010 Res. 8-30B — at open hearing of Floor Committee 4. #lcms2013

It’s funny but it’s also true that this is a completely typical form of discourse that must be parsed if one hopes to convey any substantive information to readers. It’s challenging to just get the acronyms, terminology, back story, theology and processes down. That’s key even before figuring out if it’s of interest to a general audience. Seen this way, it’s much easier to see why there’s more media coverage of those denominations that battle over sex and other cultural issues. Imagine what a disappointment it is to parse the debate only to find out that it’s on a topic such as distance-learning education.

Unlike previous conventions featuring narrow vote margins, nearly every resolution here was passing with huge margins — whether the topic was checks and balances of seminary faculty hiring, proper administration of the sacraments, review of non-seminary pastoral training programs, lay deacons, campus ministries, or other items. There’s interesting subtext there — we’re definitely in a new era in the LCMS, but it’s pretty tough to explain briefly. Which is probably why the St. Louis Post-Dispatch keeps publishing stories about how the Synod handled a First Commandment issue last year relating to syncretism, or worship with non-Christians at an interfaith worship service in Newtown, CT. (“Mono-maniacally obsessed” was how I heard one delegate refer to the reporter’s focus on the topic. “Tell him to get off the Newtown template,” was what another said. Consider it done.)

But you try to come up with something interesting to say about a huge convention taking place in your backyard when everyone is operating in peace and love (sadly, that might actually be big news when it comes to our church body and others …). Here was the St. Louis Post-Dispatch lede for the excitingly headlined “Lutherans end convention downtown after taking care of business“:

The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod closed its convention in downtown St. Louis on Thursday with the more than 1,000 delegates sticking to the event’s unofficial theme of unity.

Then there were, uh, four full paragraphs on “the Newtown template.” The rest of the story up some highlights:

[Read more...]

Podcast: English Anti-Catholicism & Ethiopian Lutheranism

Anti-Catholic bias is alive and well in Britain — however the animus to the “Italian mission to the Irish” comes not from the Church of England. Nor does it stem from the 1701 Act of Settlement (barring Catholics from the Royal Family), Guy Fawkes Night, xenophobia or other collective memories of the Britain’s past. The anti-Catholic bias one sees in England today is that of the political and media elites — those members of the chattering classes who detest the church for what it believes (not what it is).

Now there is an equal opportunity disdain at work — the Church of England is held in low regard also by the elites. Yet despite the best efforts of the magic circle, the small group of liberal prelates who control the English church, to conform the institution to the demands of the right thinking members of the establishment — the chattering classes reject the Catholic moral worldview (and have no problem saying so).

This is the theme of my chat this week with Todd Wilken, the host of Issues, Etc.  In our conversation broadcast on 21 Feb 2013, Todd and I discussed my article “Guardian wins week one of 2013 All-England pope-bashing contest” posted at GetReligion and discussed the phenomena of shoddy reporting on the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI. Todd asked whether I believed that this was a failure of journalism or if there was something more involved.

I argued that this was more than a failure of adhering to the reporter’s art, but represented a virulent anti-Catholic, anti-religious prejudice in the stories we discussed. How could one explain assertions made by the Guardian‘s man in Rome that Africans were unable to conform to the church’s requirements of priestly celibacy due to their being Africans? The Guardian (and the BBC) are the temples of the p.c. priests. How could such a  slur be allowed to make its way into print? Well if it is in a story that damns the Catholic Church it can.

The restraints of time and my inherent good breeding prevented me from giving full voice to my views. I would have liked to add that I was also concerned by the Guardian‘s decision to run so many pope stories — many not worth the bother reading due to the the ignorance of the authors — when other issues of equal merit in the world of religion were taken place over the past few weeks — the story about the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus (EECMY) being but one example.

No, this is not a joke on my part. While I do not downplay the importance of the pope’s resignation announcement, the sheer volume of nonsense being published and the absence of news about the EECMY speaks to the media’s inability to evaluate religious events.

[Read more...]

Covering opposition to syncretism in a syncretized world

There is nothing more fun about being a confessional Lutheran than explaining our position on syncretistic worship to those who aren’t.

I kid, it’s not fun at all. See, the world embraces syncretism. The general idea is, it goes without saying, that all religions are good and valid and different paths to understanding the same truth. If you don’t ascribe to that notion, you are probably a bad guy.

Civil religion has many components but one aspect is that it rather tries to transcend all religions while including them. All religions and all gods are to be equally tolerated, honored and respected everywhere. One of the most important aspects of American civil religion is participation in interfaith — or syncretistic — worship services. These worship services used to be more about “unionism” — the blending of Christian worship — whereas now they explicitly blend in groups that reject Christianity. It turns out that confessional Lutherans not only don’t support unionism and syncretism but it’s a big part of our story about how we came to America. The head of Germany was forcing joint worship (with the Reformed Christians) on confessional Lutherans and we took our doctrinal beliefs so seriously that we were forced to flee.

It’s a very serious issue for us. And one that most of our fellow Americans don’t understand (though they’ve graciously allowed us in and allowed us to practice our doctrinal beliefs).

We don’t do interfaith worship because of our understanding of the First Commandment, which is a demand for, as one of our scholars puts it, “a radical and absolute exclusivity in our relationship with the realm of divine beings.” And since the first duty of the believer is to worship, this is most clearly expressed in how we worship.

If you are a journalist who is genuinely interested in this topic and why we believe what we do, I’d encourage the book “The Anonymous God: The Church Confronts Civil Religion and American Society.” It’s a highly readable, succinct explanation of our doctrines and how American culture is hostile to our views. If you’re going for the quick and dirty version, I’d recommend (sorry …) my own Wall Street Journal piece on the matter the last time this became a big issue in the media, after a clergy member was suspended for his participation in interfaith worship:

In late June, the church suspended the Rev. David Benke, the president of its Atlantic District and the pastor of a Brooklyn church, for praying with clerics who don’t share the Christian faith.

Naturally, the suspension caused all hell to break loose. From the New York Times’ editors to FoxNews’ Bill O’Reilly, pundits and commentators chided the Lutherans for their intolerance. Mr. O’Reilly, not otherwise known for theological expertise, even accused the church of “not following Jesus.” A column in Newsday said Mr. Benke’s accusers were “advocating religious isolationism.” …

To participate in an interfaith service is, as the synod announced upon suspending Mr. Benke, “a serious offense” strictly forbidden by tradition and church law. But the source of the prohibition is Christ’s own words. “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). As the Rev. Charles Henrickson, a Lutheran minister in St. Louis, explains: “The gospel is not served, it is not confessed — indeed, the gospel is eviscerated — when Jesus Christ is presented as one of many options from which to choose on a smorgasbord of spirituality.”

Basically we think it’s fine to set aside differences to work together in many things unless the thing we’re supposed to agree to disagree on is Jesus and the context is worship.

Another issue arose when a Lutheran pastor who everyone agrees is doing a great job ministering to his congregation in Newtown in all sorts of ways took part in a syncretistic worship service. He explained why he thought it was ok, but many Lutherans thought it not, it was becoming a bit of a “scandal” (in the church sense of the term), and his supervisors asked him to speak a word of apology. He did. The President basically told both the people who thought his apology didn’t go far enough and those who want to change church teaching on syncretism that they should work together in love and compassion. While it’s not a huge issue within the church body, some folks have been pushing for secular media coverage of same since that’s a much more favorable climate for changing church teaching on this matter.

So if you thought it was less than enjoyable to have your patriotism questioned after 9/11, you can imagine how easy it is to explain your church doctrine on the First and Second Commandments in the subtle and unpolarized aftermath of the Newtown massacre. The headlines and stories have been full of outrage. Some of that is to be expected for anything as countercultural as our doctrine on this matter. Some of it is just not the best work.

Or as Vanity Fair‘s Kurt Eichenwald put it:

Truth: Lutherans angry at minister 4 praying w/ a Rabbi 4 a dead Jewish boy wouldve been angry 4 prayers at the Crucifiction of Jesus, a Jew

[Read more...]


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X