New Mexico

Beto O'Rourke and the eating-holy-dirt story is actually about a Catholic shrine in New Mexico

Beto O'Rourke and the eating-holy-dirt story is actually about a Catholic shrine in New Mexico

The story began to filter out a few weeks ago: How failed U.S. Senate (for Texas) and now U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke went off to find himself earlier this year and, in the process, imbibed “magical dirt” in New Mexico.

“Magical” dirt? Is that the right word?

Having lived a year in New Mexico as the city and entertainment editor for a small daily in Farmington, I knew of only one place where that could happen: The sanctuary of Chimayo, aka El Santuario de Chimayo, in a mountain village about 14 miles north of Santa Fe. The dirt there is said to have healing powers, like an American Lourdes.

The customs surrounding this site are explained here, and I’ve visited the place twice myself. Yes, visitors do collect small amounts of the dirt to take with them, as Lourdes pilgrims collect vials of water, but I’d never heard of anyone eating the dirt. This 2008 New York Times story says people occasionally do so, but it’s still rare.

Mentions of Beto eating the dirt first appeared in this March 19 Washington Post story, which categorized Beto as a modern-day Odysseus; a ‘bro-philosopher’ who drove north from El Paso into New Mexico to clear his head on whether a 2020 presidential run has his name on it. (His eldest son is named Ulysses, by the way.) Reporter Ben Terris tossed in one paragraph about the Chimayo visit:

Whatever post-defeat sadness Amy felt, she was able to kick quickly; she’s always been the stable one. Beto, on the other hand, more prone to higher highs and lower lows, was in a “funk.” In January, Beto hit the road, much as his father had done before him, and drew energy from the people he met, and — on one stop in New Mexico he didn’t write about in his blog — by eating New Mexican dirt said to have regenerative powers. (He brought some home for the family to eat, too.)

Odd that the writer didn’t figure out that Beto was in Chimayo. Or did Beto say more about the visit and Terris simply didn’t include it? Talk about a religion ghost which, if you’re not a regular reader of this column, means a religion angle to a story that a reporter completely misses.

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The second storytelling rule: Get the name of the church (click the link to learn the first)

The second storytelling rule: Get the name of the church (click the link to learn the first)

"The first storytelling rule: Get the name of the dog."

That terrific advice for journalists comes courtesy of Roy Peter Clark, the longtime writing coach best known for his work with the Poynter Institute.

The gist of Clark's idea: If the reporter remembers to ask the dog's name, then "he or she will be curious enough and attentive enough to gather all the relevant details in their epiphanic particularity."

To move that thought into the GetReligion realm, let's consider a second rule: Get the name of the church.

Adherence to that rule would have improved The Associated Press' recent coverage of an Iraqi man who helped the U.S. military but is now facing deportation:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Iraqi man who fled to the U.S. during the Gulf War and trained tens of thousands of American soldiers is facing deportation orders that could lead to his death in his homeland, his supporters say.
Kadhim Al-bumohammed, 64, decided to seek refuge Thursday inside a New Mexico church. He announced through his attorney that he would defy a federal immigration order to appear for a hearing where he was expected to be detained for deportation over a domestic-violence conviction in California.
"After consulting with his family, and with other members of the faith community, (Al-bumohammed) has chosen to seek sanctuary with the faith community," Rebecca Kitson, his lawyer, said to a cheering crowd outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Albuquerque.
Immigration officials typically don't make deportation arrests in churches and other "sensitive areas" such as schools and churches.

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In this journalistic desert, abortion supporters thrive while pro-life advocates go thirsty

In this journalistic desert, abortion supporters thrive while pro-life advocates go thirsty

Over the years, GetReligion repeatedly has cited the classic 1990 Los Angeles Times series — written by the late David Shaw — that exposed rampant news media bias against abortion opponents.

Just a few examples of our critiques:  here, here and here.

So feel free to file this latest post under the category of "Here we go again."

Among Shaw's findings a quarter-century ago were these:

* The news media consistently use language and images that frame the entire abortion debate in terms that implicitly favor abortion-rights advocates.
* Abortion-rights advocates are often quoted more frequently and characterized more favorably than are abortion opponents.

Which leads us to the above-the-fold, Page 1 story on abortion in today's Los Angeles Times.

Before we dive into this review, care to guess:

1. How many of the seven sources quoted in this front-page story support abortion rights?

2. How many abortion advocates are quoted before the Times gets around to a pro-life source?

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Albuquerque Journal profile of star Pakistani student has a huge religion-shaped hole

Albuquerque Journal profile of star Pakistani student has a huge religion-shaped hole

I scan a lot of newspapers from Denver to points west and there are a quite a few that seem to avoid religion like the plague. 

One is the Eugene (Ore.) Register Guard. Another is the Arizona Republic which has yet to cover the fact that the former (and disgraced) Mars Hill pastor Mark Driscoll has relocated from Seattle to Phoenix and started a church there on Easter. A third is the Albuquerque (NM) Journal, where the religion coverage gives new meaning to the word “minimalist.” I’ve been watching this publication for more than 20 years and it never fails to disappoint.

Now, please understand that I’ve lived in Oregon and New Mexico, and I know there are vibrant faith communities in each state -- but you wouldn’t know it from reading these newspapers. Then this past weekend, the Journal ran an article on a University of New Mexico graduate, her family’s move from Pakistan and her decision to give up a more prestigious college to care for her dying mother.

Is there a religion ghost that is hidden, or at least buried, in this story?

A tensile strength burns through Yalda Barlas in a combustion of grief and loss.
Now 22 and about to enter the University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Yalda somehow plowed through a double major in biology and chemistry, worked as a tutor and nursed her mother at home until her 2013 death from colon cancer.
Her mother Shasiqa told her she got her “smart genes” from her dad.
The father she resembles was killed by the Taliban 19 years ago.

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Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

Trinity and the atomic bomb: In New Mexico where the religion ghosts dwell

July 16 was the 70th anniversary of a world-changing event; the testing of the world’s first atomic bomb in a New Mexico desert. It would be less than a month before two such bombs would be released in the skies over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

If any event had grave moral consequences, it was this one. But the silence of any kind of faith-based element to this anniversary in the media is profound.

There are, of course, some bizarre God-connections to this event. The site of  the test was called “Trinity” supposedly after a John Donne sonnet, although no one really knows the origin of the name. It seems odd that a core Christian doctrine about the nature of God is attached to something connected with mass death.

Hinduism gets a role here too. When the main bombs went off in Japan, J. Robert Oppenheimer, the California physicist known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his work on the Manhattan Project, spouted Vishnu’s famous quote from the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

Yet, in the coverage I scanned that ran on the day of the anniversary, there was more about "atomic tourists" noting the anniversary than anything about religion.

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Sympathy for Santa Fe drag queen: The Los Angeles Times really pours it on

Sympathy for Santa Fe drag queen: The Los Angeles Times really pours it on

One could not avoid reading this story from the Los Angeles Times with this headline: “Great Read: A Drag Queen’s Final Tribute to the Grandmother Who Love and Accepted Him.”

It’s about events in New Mexico, a state where I lived 20 years ago. I was not in gorgeous Santa Fe, but in the northwestern corner of the state that was New Mexico’s industrial quarter with a chunk of Navajo reservation thrown in. Everyone in this part of the world knew Santa Fe was pretty left-wing and up there with Taos insofar as being favorite haunts for starving artists and rich Californians. Which is why it’s a bit surprising to read that a drag queen found disapproval there. The piece starts:

From under his black veil, sweat trickled down Paul Valdez's face.
On the long walk to the casket in the towering Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, dozens of pairs of drifting eyes found him and bored in. To his left, through the veil's spider web of nylon gauze, he could feel the spite in his aunt's voice.
"At your own grandmother's funeral," she hissed. "Dressed like a girl."… Framed in a tight bustle and trimmed with black crepe, the dress Valdez designed was inspired by Victorian mourning garments. He pressed the dress' black cravat close to his throat and felt himself sway for a moment before his grandmother's coffin.

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