9/11

Believers must face this: All kinds of people (pastors too) wrestle with depression and suicide

Believers must face this: All kinds of people (pastors too) wrestle with depression and suicide

This week’s “Crossroads” podcast about the death of the Rev. Jarrid Wilson (click here to tune that in) was not business as usual. Here is my original GetReligion post on this topic: “Symbolic details too painful for words: Shocking death of Jarrid Wilson stunned us all.”

For me, this topic got personal really quick.

First, there was the subject of depression and suicide. Anyone who has wrestled with depression (or has had loved ones face that darkness) knows that, at times, people swim in what seems like an ocean of irrational feelings and impulses.

My senior year of high school was like that. Several times I kind of came to my senses and would not know how I got to where I was — usually the classical music section of the main Port Arthur, Texas, music store. I still cannot hear the second movement of Beethoven, Symphony No. 3 (Eroica), without shuddering. There are memories there (cue at 8:46 and hang on).

I am sure that whatever I experienced was only a glimpse of what Wilson faced. It’s amazing to me that he preached on these topics and bravely took on the task — the calling — of helping others. Wilson said that he wanted God to show him a purpose for his life. He had to know that answering the call involved risk.

Also, then there was the timing of this week’s tragedy. Yes, this unfolded hours just before Suicide Awareness Day. And then came the anniversary of Sept. 11.

I found myself thinking about Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan friar who served as a chaplain for New York City firefighters. He ran into the North Tower of the World Trade Center with the first responders. When the South Tower fell, firefighters discovered that the 69-year-old priest had collapsed. His heart gave out. Firefighters carried his body out of the rubble and placed at the altar of the nearby St. Peter’s Catholic Church. Then the firefighters went back to work.

This priest had to know that there was risk involved in running into that last fire. But that was part of his calling. At his funeral, his friend Father Michael Duffy said this in the sermon:

Mychal Judge's body was the first one released from Ground Zero. His death certificate has the number '1' on the top. Of the thousands of people who perished in that terrible holocaust, why was Mychal Judge number one? And I think I know the reason. Mychal's goal and purpose in life was to bring the firemen to the point of death so they would be ready to meet their maker.

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New York Post probes Greek tragedy at ground zero, while asking few Orthodox questions

New York Post probes Greek tragedy at ground zero, while asking few Orthodox questions

To be perfectly honest, this is a story that tears my heart out.

I have been reporting and writing about the destruction of the St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in lower Manhattan ever since Sept. 12, 2001. This was, of course, the tiny sanctuary crushed by the fall of the south tower of the World Trade Center.

I have also written columns about the long and complicated efforts by Orthodox officials to obtain a site near ground zero so that a new St. Nicholas could be built as a memorial and sanctuary. When I am in Manhattan, l live and teach nearby and pass the new construction site almost every day. My favorite pub is 50 paces away.

Now there is this, a recent headline from The New York Post: "How a church destroyed on 9/11 became mired in controversy." The overture states the basic facts:

St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was to be a “beacon of hope” at the World Trade Center site, glowing at night as a symbol to the faithful and those seeking solace on hallowed ground.

Thousands of visitors were to walk through the church doors on Liberty Street to worship, light a candle or just sit quietly in a nondenominational meditation room overlooking one of the 9/11 Memorial’s reflecting pools.

Now the church is a half-built eyesore, and when those doors will open is uncertain. The project has been stalled for five months and become a quagmire of accusations and millions of dollars in missing donations and cost overruns. What was to be the proud symbol of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and the only house of worship tending to the masses at Ground Zero, is now mired in controversy. ...

GetReligion readers will not be surprised to know that the main thing missing from this long and detailed report is (wait for it) religion. And here is the big irony in this story: If the Post team had probed the religious elements of this story if would have been even more painful to read, especially for the Orthodox.

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Video chat between tmatt and a serious Catholic conservative with news-media concerns

Video chat between tmatt and a serious Catholic conservative with news-media concerns

Trust me, it's not the headline that I would have chosen for a conversation on this topic.

I am referring to that headline on the YouTube atop this here video feature that proclaims: "Religion Reporting Tends to Suck."

But, hey, in the streaming-video world of conservative Catholic commentary the hosts can get a little bit edgy sometimes.

I mean, after all, I talked the show's host out of, "Why Religion Reporting Sucks." Period. So there.

The talk-show host, in this case, is Patrick Coffin. I was on his show a few weeks ago and the URL is now up for anyone who wants to go there.

Who is Coffin? Lots of Catholics will know the answer to that one already. He is a media pro and public speaker who, in the past, was best known as the host of the "Catholic Answers Live" radio show, which was syndicated to nearly 400 stations and carried on Sirius Satellite Radio. Here's his farewell show in that project.

Coffin takes on quite a few topics in this programs, with some politics -- but just as much material about issues of religion and culture. Click here for his homepage.

So, during this particular video-blog we ranged all over the place, starting with my home office in the secret city of Oak Ridge, Tenn., (my political cartoon collection is visible in the background) and then a political hot-button topic -- Melania Trump's choice of footwear.

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Hey AP: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 9/11 ground zero will be 'flanked by towers'?

Hey AP: St. Nicholas Orthodox Church at 9/11 ground zero will be 'flanked by towers'?

I think about 9/11 every day, during my weeks in New York City teaching at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

There's a logical reason. When in New York, I live in a residence hotel next to ground zero. Each morning I walk around the edge of the park containing the footprints of the World Trade Center towers. That includes St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which is being rebuilt close to its original location 250 feet from the corner of the south tower.

At night, I often go a block or two out of my way to check out the construction. I started writing about the fate of this church -- the only house of worship destroyed on 9/11 -- two weeks after the towers fell. As an Orthodox Christian, I find one detail of the church's destruction especially haunting.

Orthodox believers want to search in the two-story mound of debris for the remains of three loved ones who died long ago -- the relics of St. Nicholas, St. Katherine and St. Sava. Small pieces of their skeletons were kept in a gold-plated box marked with an image of Christ. This ossuary was stored in a 700-pound, fireproof safe.
"We do not think it could have burned. But perhaps it was crushed," said Father [John] Romas. "Who knows? All we can do is wait and pray."

The safe was never found (click here for a 2014 update). How do you burn cast iron?

I was glad to pick up my newspaper here in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and see that the Associated Press, in its advance story for this 9/11 anniversary, focused on the construction of the new St. Nicholas National Shrine at the World Trade Center. It's a pretty solid story, yet it contains one or two details that need clarification.

In one case, I am sure the Orthodox would appreciate a correction. Will the new shrine have towers like the current Hagia Sophia? Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- A Greek Orthodox church taking shape next to the World Trade Center memorial plaza will glow at night like a marble beacon when it opens sometime next year. It also will mark another step in the long rebuilding of New York’s ground zero.

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Religion newswriters take note: Scholarly specialists are joining 'The Conversation'

Religion newswriters take note: Scholarly specialists are joining 'The Conversation'

Reporters and editors who specialize in religion should be aware of a young Web site -- TheConversation.com -- and regularly check out its section devoted to “Ethics + Religion.

This innovative site was launched in 2011 in Australia, 2012 in Britain, and then 2014 for the United States, with funding from 11 foundations and sponsorship by a constellation of 19 major U.S. universities (oddly, no Ivy Leaguers).  

The stated concept here is to provide “an independent source of news and views” that allows “university and research institute experts to unlock their knowledge for use by the wider public,” as opposed to writing articles for narrow academic journals. TheConversation hopes that its “explanatory journalism” from experts will “promote better understanding of current affairs and complex issues.”

The editor for the ethics + religion section is Kalpana Jain, a former reporter for The Times of India who has been a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

The site can help reporters by offering three things: 

(1) Added angles and background on themes in the news.

(2) Ideas for new stories.

(3) Perhaps most important, names of knowledgeable scholars on specific topics to keep on file as needed in the future.

This is, of course, similar to the ReligionLink material offered by the Religion News Association. Of course, when it comes to solid sources of information, reporters want to bookmark as many as possible.

A good example of this new site’s resources is the detailed July 19 piece “Explaining the rise in hate crimes against Muslims in the U.S.”

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Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

Weekend think piece: The New York Times offers R.R. Reno's take on America's new cold war

If you have been paying attention to gossip about the news industry lately, you may have heard that many New York Times readers were not amused when the leaders of the great Gray Lady's editorial pages decided to add another conservative voice to the mix

Ever since the first column by one Bret Stephens -- a piece criticizing how the cultural left pushes climate change (but he does not reject the reality of climate change) -- large numbers of Times nation citizens have been voicing their wrath about this invasion of a beloved safe space, primarily by canceling their subscriptions.

I have not heard of a similar reaction to the recent Times opinion essay by the Catholic scribe R.R. Reno, who is editor of the conservative interfaith journal First Things. The title: "Republicans Are Now the ‘America First’ Party."

Now, let me stress that this Reno think piece does not contain large chunks of theology or commentary about religion. Instead, it's about how one Donald Trump has moved the ground under the feet of Republicans who had, for a long time, assumed that the GOP orthodoxy of Ronald Reagan would last 1,000 years or so.

The central theme: The new GOP enemy is globalism, not big government.

As I read this Reno piece, I kept waiting for religious material, for cultural and moral material, to show up. After all, I read newspapers through the lens of the great historian Martin Marty, as described in an "On Religion" column I wrote a year after 9/11 (at an event that started the dominoes falling that led to the birth of GetReligion). Here is the top of that 2002 column (this is long, but essential):

It is Martin Marty's custom to rise at 4:44 a.m. for coffee and prayer, while awaiting the familiar thump of four newspapers on his porch. ... America's most famous church historian prepared for a lecture in Nebraska by ripping up enough newsprint to bury his table in headlines and copy slashed with a yellow pen.
A former WorldCom CEO kept teaching his Sunday school class. A researcher sought the lost tribe of Israel. Believers clashed in Sudan. Mormon and evangelical statistics were up – again. A Zambian bishop said he got married to shock the Vatican. U.S. bishops kept wrestling with clergy sexual abuse. Pakistani police continued to study the death of journalist Daniel Pearl.
Marty tore out more pages, connecting the dots. Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey feared an Anglican schism. Public-school students prayed at flagpoles. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia explored the border between church and state. And there were dozens of stories linked to Sept. 11, 2001.

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The Palombo 10: At the 9/11 anniversary, an exceptional story of family and faith from CNN

The Palombo 10: At the 9/11 anniversary, an exceptional story of family and faith from CNN

I didn't read or watch a whole lot of coverage of the 9/11 anniversary.

To a large extent, I can identify with what a good friend and fellow reporter wrote on Facebook:

Truth: I want to forget what I saw live on television on Sept. 11. I want to forget that it brought April 19 back to life for me. I want to forget what I saw in person on April 19. I won't forget. I can't forget. But I really don't want to remember.

Like my friend, I covered the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. The bombing was, until Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil. And like my friend, I still can't think about one without recalling the other. 

But I did allow myself to digest one story timed to the 15th anniversary of 9/11 — and I'm so glad I did. I perused this piece because a faithful GetReligion reader shared the link and suggested that it really needed our attention. 

"IT IS SO GOOOD," the reader said.

After reading it, I agree 110 percent. In fact, this is one of those cases where I really should just share the link and tell you to read it. No commentary necessary:

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New York Times tackles the complex story of Saudi Arabia spreading influence and problems

New York Times tackles the complex story of Saudi Arabia spreading influence and problems

Soon after I started contributing to GetReligion last year I posted a piece that ran under the headline: "Do American newspapers have the time, space and patience to cover Saudi Arabia?" I concluded that more meaningful coverage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), as the petroleum-rich monarchy is formally known, was needed for Americans to better understand the Middle East's interrelated array of serious problems.

I'm sure my post has nothing do with it, but I'm pleased to now write that The New York Times in recent months has published a series of probing, in depth stories on the KSA that should be required reading for all.

For religion and international affairs reporters in particular, Saudi Arabia is a critically important story to follow. That's because if for no other reason, global Muslim terrorism is a deadly, ongoing phenomenon that has no end in sight.

And guess what. The KSA's brand of deeply conservative Islam known as Wahhabism is one reason for this brutal chaos.

Journalists should learn all they can about the kingdom's exportation of Wahhabism throughout the Muslim world, including its influence on the Islamic State (ISIS), Al Queda and other jihadi groups.

The Times is as well positioned as any elite, international newspaper -- and, seriously, how many are in its league to begin with? -- to report the breath of the KSA's often negative impact on global affairs.

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The New York Times digs into 'Arab' sex problems (and all Arabs are alike, you know)

The New York Times digs into 'Arab' sex problems (and all Arabs are alike, you know)

At the time of 9/11, my family was part of an Eastern Orthodox parish in South Florida in which most of the members -- a strong majority -- were either Arab or Lebanese. It was an eye-opening experience to say the least.

One strong memory: The anger of grandparents noting that their grandchildren were being harassed at local schools -- in one case, pushed around on a playground -- because they were "Arabs" and "Arabs" attacked the World Trade Center. This American-born child from a Christian Arab home was wearing his gold baptismal cross at the time the other kids jumped him.

Don't people realize, parishioners kept saying, that "Arab" is not a religious term, that "Arab" is not the same thing as "Muslim"? Don't they know that Christians have been part of Middle Eastern culture since the early church? Don't they know that the "Muslim world" is not the same thing as the "Arab world"?

I thought of this while reading a New York Times Sunday Review article that ran with this headline: "The Sexual Misery of the Arab World." Here is how it starts:

ORAN, Algeria -- After Tahrir came Cologne. After the square came sex. The Arab revolutions of 2011 aroused enthusiasm at first, but passions have since waned. Those movements have come to look imperfect, even ugly: For one thing, they have failed to touch ideas, culture, religion or social norms, especially the norms relating to sex. Revolution doesn’t mean modernity.

Note the reference to "ideas, culture, religion or social norms." Let's continue:

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