Food

Your Thanksgiving think piece: How did 'prayer shaming' become a news media thing?

Your Thanksgiving think piece: How did 'prayer shaming' become a news media thing?

So it's Thanksgiving.

Has anyone heard whether it's OK to offer "thanksgiving" on this day, or has the implication that there is a Supreme Being to whom thanks should be is given been declared a microaggression? Is "thanksgiving" sliding into the "thoughts and prayers" category in American life, both public and private?

That's the subject lurking beneath the surface of an interesting news-related think piece that ran the other day at The Catholic Thing website.

The headline: "Resist 'Prayer Shaming' This Thanksgiving."

I noticed the essay and started reading it. Then I noticed that this piece was written by veteran journalist Clemente Lisi, who is one of my faculty colleagues at The King's College in New York City. Lisi is a New Yorker through and through and has two decades of experience in various newsrooms in the Big Apple, including reporting and editing duties at The New York Post, ABC News and The New York Daily News.

The overture of this piece quickly links the holiday and recent news trends:

Thanksgiving and prayer are intimately linked. While the holiday ... has its roots in Protestant England (the very first Thanksgiving in 1621 was held by the Pilgrims who fled Europe seeking religious freedom), Americans of all faiths have since embraced this uniquely American holiday of giving thanks to God.
You wouldn’t know this from how the mainstream media has generally chosen to cover it in recent years. Thanksgiving has lost its religious meaning -- many people don’t offer a prayer before addressing the turkey -- and has been replaced with a focus on football games and Black Friday shopping. Christmas, unfortunately, has also become less about Jesus and more about consumerism. It’s part of a larger trend whereby our society becomes gradually secularized, even on explicitly religious holidays. And prayer, so central to the lives of millions of Americans, is invisible to those who deliver the news to you each day.

This raises an interesting question for any GetReligion readers who are online today, either before or after the feast.

The key question: Was there any "Thanksgiving" coverage in your newspaper today?

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No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

No, drinking a Coke isn't a sin for Mormons — and that was true before BYU welcomed caffeine

It's a sin for Mormons to consume caffeine.

Everybody knows that, right?

Not so fast.

Given today's big headline involving Brigham Young University and Coca-Cola, it's probably not a bad time to remind readers of the actual facts.

But before we delve into specifics, let's catch up with the news, via this fantastic lede from the Salt Lake Tribune:

Don’t cue the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and no, Brigham Young University is not on a slippery slope to tapping kegs of light beer in its cafeteria.
But yes, the LDS Church-owned school has decided to end its more than half-century ”caffeine-free” policy on the Provo campus, at least when it comes to soda.
Based upon what church officials recently declared a long-running misunderstanding of the Mormon faith’s “Word of Wisdom,” BYU had banned caffeinated beverages — coffee, tea, and other than caffeine-free soft drinks — since the mid-1950s.

The Associated Press took a more straightforward approach, befitting its role as a national wire service:

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Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

Inside Higher Ed does best job of explaining a college president and a controversial meal

When I was in Tennessee two weeks ago, one of the fun things my daughter and I did was wade among some cotton plants, which we had not seen since we'd moved to the Pacific Northwest three years ago. You see them all the time in the Volunteer State this time of year. They’re kind of pretty, actually, if you don’t cut yourself on the sharp bracts that result when the boll has burst open and dried.

Even so, they can serve as an inexpensive table centerpiece were you trying to entertain a crowd, which is what drew me to the news about the president of a Christian college in Nashville who did just that.

But the black students who were his guests one night felt the cotton arrangements were a racist statement, according to the New York Daily News.

But note: If you look for any hints of the religious background of this Nashville college in this story, you will find none:

A dinner intended to give African-American students at a Tennessee university the opportunity to discuss their experience at the private liberal arts school left attendees shocked after tables were decorated with cotton stalk centerpieces.
Lipscomb University president Randy Lowry invited black students to his Nashville home Friday night for a dinner, but many of the students deemed the tableware and menu offensive.

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Fried Twinkies? Yes, please. And read this delightful story on a church's state fair food stand

Fried Twinkies? Yes, please. And read this delightful story on a church's state fair food stand

Fried Twinkies, please.

That was my request when I called dibs on critiquing the Des Moines Register's feature on a church's food stand at the Iowa State Fair.

You won't believe how the boss man — tmatt — responded. By saying this: "I am totally a fried pickle chips guy, with ranch dressing."

Repeat after me: Yuck!

But I do agree with tmatt on this: I'd like some fried Oreos to go along with my fried Twinkies. OK? (And in response to my GetReligion colleague Mark Kellner, who asked if my life insurance is paid up, "Boo! And yes, it is.")

Now, about that story: It's delightful — chock-full of nostalgia and revealing details. 

I should warn you that there's no mention of fried Twinkies (I was disappointed, too), but the United Methodist Church featured does serve eggs, bacon, loose meat sandwiches and pie. Lots of pie. (Can anybody tell that I'm writing on an empty stomach?)

Let's start at the top:

There’s a sign-up sheet in the basement of the West Des Moines Methodist Church that looks like the Container Store let loose on a poster board. It’s the king of sign-up sheets, and one glance at its methodically charted grids, tiny boxes, color codes and sticky notes denoting important updates tells part of the story behind the church’s beloved Iowa State Fair food stand.
For 11 days, the church needs 226 volunteers to staff two eight-hour shifts per day, plus a special two-person “clean-up crew” that works for two hours after the fair closes. Each of these volunteers will be pummeled with more numbers as the fair goes on: 350 egg sandwiches need to be ready by 6 a.m., each plate of biscuits and gravy gets two biscuits and, most importantly, every pie should yield exactly seven slices.
But figures tell only part of this storied stand’s tale; the other portion is less analytical and more spiritual. The West Des Moines Methodist Church is the last remaining Christian organization to host an eatery on the fairgrounds, making them the final vestige in a church food stand tradition that stretches back to the very first fair. Vowing to return every year they’re able, church members see staying open as a duty not just for themselves, but for the many religious stands that came before.
“It's a State Fair staple that has become a tradition for our fairgoers,” fair CEO Gary Slater said of the stand. “They do things the old-fashioned way, and people know, when you go down to the West Des Moines Methodist stand, they are going to serve you right."

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Hey Coke drinkers: These pastors' lawsuit will make you rethink your love for sugary soft drinks

Hey Coke drinkers: These pastors' lawsuit will make you rethink your love for sugary soft drinks

This post has been chilling on ice for a while. Or something like that.

I meant to write about this story when it came out a few weeks ago, but I got distracted. As a result, this piece ended up in my GetReligion guilt folder.

I'm talking about the Washington Post's recent coverage of a lawsuit filed by two black pastors against Coca-Cola and the American Beverage Association. 

I wonder if maybe — just maybe — there's a holy ghost lurking in the Post's otherwise excellent coverage. More on that in a moment.

But first, some important background: The Post reported that pastor William Lamar of D.C.’s Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church is tired of presiding over funerals for parishioners who died of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

More from the story:

Lamar and Delman Coates, the pastor at Maryland’s Mount Ennon Baptist Church, claim soda marketing has made it more difficult for them to protect the health of their largely black, D.C.-based parishioners.
Their case is similar to another suit that was filed, and later withdrawn, by the same legal team in California last January.
The lawsuit marks a break with tradition for African American and Latino community groups who have been reliable allies of Big Soda for years in policy fights across the country — despite overwhelming evidence that the harms of drinking soda impact their communities disproportionately.

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Where even God doesn't help: The Washington Post chronicles the despair of rural poor

Where even God doesn't help: The Washington Post chronicles the despair of rural poor

After President Donald Trump’s victory last year, not a few journalists traveled to the hinterland to find out just where were those disenchanted white folks who voted Republican. Who were these people and was it possible to get inside their heads?

The Washington Post has come out with three lengthy pieces about these folks, one of which was set in Grundy, Va., a town I stayed in six years ago when I was researching serpent-handling Pentecostals (which also ran in the Post). This section of Appalachia is where a lot of these believers live. The photo with this story is one I took in a town in Tazewell County, Va., just down the road from Grundy and where one in six working-age residents are on disability.

Would this series, I wondered, mention the faith that sustains many of these residents, who have little else in life to live for? The answer, I found, was yes and no.

The first part of the series, set in Alabama, focused on the stunning percentage of adults who are on disability across the country.

Across large swaths of the country, disability has become a force that has reshaped scores of mostly white, almost exclusively rural communities, where as many as one-third of working-age adults live on monthly disability checks, according to a Washington Post analysis of Social Security Administration statistics…
The decision to apply, in many cases, is a decision to effectively abandon working altogether. For the severely disabled, this choice is, in essence, made for them. But for others, it’s murkier. Aches accumulate. Years pile up. Job prospects diminish.

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Air India goes veggie; The New York Times and India's The Hindu play it way, way differently

Air India goes veggie; The New York Times and India's The Hindu play it way, way differently

Sometimes a story grabs my interest simply because of its timing. That’s the case this week with a New York Times piece out of India that I came across just a day prior to flying back to the United States following several weeks in Israel and Greece. It's about an Air India decision to serve vegetarian meals only to coach passengers on all its domestic flights.

So what's this beef all about? (Bad pun, I know. I promise I'll make up for it below.)

Try humanity’s Achilles’ heel, the often toxic mix of religious identity mixed with politics -- either real or imagined -- that accounts for so much of what we think of as religion news. This story ties together some powerful symbols.

About to endure two more coach flights from Tel Aviv to Frankfurt and Frankfurt to Washington, D.C. -- the last of six international flights booked for this trip abroad -- this story felt as if it was written just for me.

Perhaps that's also because I always order the Hindu vegetarian meal on international flights no matter the airline. I’ll say more about why, further down.

Here’s the top of the Times piece.

NEW DELHI -- Coming from some other debt-ridden airline, it might have been shrugged off as just another service cutback. But not this time: When Air India announced on Monday that coach passengers on its domestic flights would now be offered only vegetarian meals, the move provoked an uproar on social media.
G. P. Rao, a spokesman for the government-owned airline, said the change was made a week ago strictly to reduce waste and cut costs. But what people eat can be a sectarian flash point in India, especially since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party took power.
Many members of the Hindu majority are vegetarians, while the country’s Muslims and some other minorities eat meat. So the airline’s action was seen by many as discriminatory and part of a wave of religious nationalism sweeping the country.
“Only veg food on Air India,” Madhu Menon, a Bangalore-based chef and food writer, wrote on Twitter. “Next, flight attendants to speak only Hindi. After that, stand for national anthem before flight take-off.”

The story next offered a defense of Air India’s scheme (in Indian English, “scheme” loses its negative connotation; it's used as Americans might use “plan” or “proposal”).

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This is why some Catholics are questioning media reporting on gluten-free communion

This is why some Catholics are questioning media reporting on gluten-free communion

What's new?

That's Catholic media professional Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz's question. In an email to GetReligion, Szyszkiewicz writes:

The gluten-free host bit is old. The regulations have been in place for years and, for some reason, were raised again, this time by Pope Francis. 
Cardinal Sarah's letter is almost entirely made up of quotes from previous documents and nothing more. It's obvious that the journalists who reported on this didn't read the text to see that it's a rehash — or they didn't care about that fact. 
So what's the purpose of the reporting? To make the Vatican look like a bunch of bad guys who don't give a damn about celiacs?

What reporting is Szyszkiewicz talking about?

Here's the lede from the New York Times:

The unleavened bread that Roman Catholics use in the celebration of Mass must contain some gluten, even if only a trace amount, according to a new Vatican directive.
The directive, which was dated June 15 but received significant attention only after it was reported by Vatican Radio on Saturday, affirms an existing policy. But it may help to relieve some of the confusion surrounding church doctrine on gluten, a protein that occurs naturally in wheat and has become the subject of debates over nutrition and regulation.
The issue is especially urgent for people with celiac disease, a gastrointestinal immune disorder that causes stomach paindiarrhea and weight loss and that can lead to serious complications, or for those with other digestive conditions that make them vulnerable even to small amounts of gluten.
Many other people who do not have celiac disease may nonetheless have a sensitivity or allergy to gluten, and yet others have adopted a gluten-free diet in the belief that it is healthier — although science is far from clear on this point.

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Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

Faith in what, exactly? Courier-Journal series on Indiana town battling AIDS pulls up short

One of the most challenging assignments in the world is stuffing 10 pounds of sugar into a five-pound sack.

Reporters face this all the time: A carload of details that must be crammed into a small shopping bag.

Such may well have been the lot of investigative reporter Laura Ungar of the Louisville Courier-Journal, a daily now noted as "part of the USA Today network." After six months of reporting, she delivered a devastating three-part series on the HIV epidemic that still plagues Austin, Indiana, a town less than 40 miles north of the paper's offices, in a region known as "Kentuckiana."

Let me be clear: This is important work touching on a vital topic of national interest, and it deserves a wide readership, I believe. How HIV gripped this town, how addictions to opioids opened the floodgates, how transmission the virus is being fought and what the human and policy consequences are should concern every American. After all, as noted in the two-year-old PBS NewsHour video above, one trucker hiring a prostitute in Austin could subsequently carry the infection hundreds of miles away.

The articles focus on the health care and policy issues, subjects well within the reporter's wheelhouse. But we also get glimpses of faith elements at both ends of the series.

The glimpses left me wanting more.

The first piece begins with a discussion of the Christian physician laboring to help save the town, and the final installment boldly proclaims Austin as "having faith" in the midst of the crisis, Ungar -- or her editors -- seem to hold back when discussing the exact nature of faith that's involved.

The final installment's headline, "Healing Austin: Faith lifts small town from depths of HIV plague," could lead a reader to expect a more detailed discussion of just what that faith is, how it is practiced, what it entails. The subhead is equally promising: "As the outside world moves on, [a] small city draws on faith to save itself from drugs and disease."

Everyone who imagines we're going to get a few tales of tent revivals and the old "sawdust trail," please raise your hand.

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