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Ubiquitous Shen Yun ads spin off Twitter memes and profiles on Falun Gong

Ubiquitous Shen Yun ads spin off Twitter memes and profiles on Falun Gong

If it’s spring it must be time to see Shen Yun, the mysterious Chinese dance troupe that charges a small fortune for its performances in top culture venues around the country.

Their ads are so widespread, there’s a Twitter discussion about how their billboards can be found even on Mars.

Few people know that Shen Yun represents a quasi-Buddhist group known as Falun Gong and that the Chinese government seems to persecute its followers even more than they hate Christians and Muslims. Which, considering the Nazi-style internment camps for Muslims in western China and the government’s crusade to destroy Christian churches, is saying a lot.

Fortunately, there’s been a few articles out about the group, including one by the Seattle-based The Stranger that calls the dance spectacles “dissident art.” There’s also one that came out last month in the San Francisco Chronicle that begins thus:

Unless you live under a rock, you've probably seen a billboard or heard dozens of ads for Shen Yun Performing Arts.

In the Bay Area, people are so used to seeing the ads on TV and on the sides of buses come December, people even joke winter should be renamed "Shen Yun season." Since I started writing this article about two minutes ago, I've already seen a Shen Yun spot run on KTVU…

Shen Yun bills itself as "the world's premier classical Chinese dance and music company." They have performances in 93 cities around the country, from Billings, Mont., to Little Rock, Ark., to three Bay Area locations. The dress code suggests you might want to wear a tuxedo or evening gown since you're "in for a special treat." If you buy a ticket to a show (which run from $80 to $400 in San Francisco), you can expect two hours of traditional Chinese dance accompanied by a live orchestra.

And yes, it’s here in Seattle from April 2-7.

And if you're to believe Shen Yun's own advertisements, you'll get so much more. The hyperbolic 2018 ad promises the performance will "move you to tears" and change how you see the world…

Some people who go to the show complain they didn't know what they were in for. Because nowhere in the effusive advertisements is it mentioned that Shen Yun has a political bent. Shen Yun translates to "divine rhythm," and according to the show's website, the artists who put on Shen Yun practice Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, a belief system that encompasses meditation, tai chi-type exercises, and "strict morality" (smoking, alcohol, and extramarital or same-sex sexual relations go against the teachings).

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Houston's drag queen story hour: KHOU tells us librarians let in a child molester. Who fought this?

Houston's drag queen story hour: KHOU tells us librarians let in a child molester. Who fought this?

I last wrote about drag queens reading stories to kids at public libraries about six weeks ago and now the story has taken off.

Someone –- we are not told who –- did some document digging as part of an ongoing campaign to stop drag queens from taking up space at the Houston Public Library and made an interesting discovery.

KHOU TV, the CBS affiliate in Houston tells us what that was:

HOUSTON — A registered child sex offender has been reading to children at Houston Public Library as part of its Drag Queen Storytime.

A group called Mass Resistance, which has been trying to put an end to the program, contacted KHOU about the child sex offender.

Mass Resistance claims it had been asking the City of Houston for months to disclose information about the drag queens, and when requests went unanswered, they did their own digging and made the shocking link.

The library has been trying to fix this PR disaster ever since.

A media spokesperson for the library confirmed one of the program’s drag queens, Tatiana Mala Nina, is Alberto Garza, a 32-year-old child sex offender. In 2008, he was convicted of assaulting an 8-year-old boy.

“Most parents would not allow that individual to sit in this library and be held up as a role model to our children. Shame on you, Mayor (Sylvester) Turner!” said Tracy Shannon with Mass Resistance.

In a statement, the Houston Public Library admits they didn’t do a background check on Garza and said Garza will not be involved in any future library programs.

A photo of Garza in drag appears with this blog post. Despite this hiccup, the American Library Association isn’t dropping the idea of drag queen stories any time soon. See the ALA site’s resource page for libraries facing “challenges” with staging these events.

As this NBC-TV story points out, these story hours bring “pride and glamor” to libraries and have spread like wildfire across the nation in three short years. As the Brooklyn (N.Y.) library system says on its website: “Drag Queen Story Hour captures the imagination and play of the gender fluidity in childhood and gives kids glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.”

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San Francisco Chronicle's piece on RVs and the homeless is latest look at huge trend

San Francisco Chronicle's piece on RVs and the homeless is latest look at huge trend

I never knew there was a hidden population of people in church parking lots across the country. Then I read a piece in the San Francisco Chronicle about how some congregations were helping alleviate a crisis of homelessness on the West Coast.

It makes sense, actually. Most days a week, church parking lots are pretty much empty.

I thought the Chronicle’s story was unique until I did a search and found out that church parking lots-and-the-homeless have been covered quite a bit. KTVU, a local TV station, covered the same topic a month ago. Here's the Chronicle's piece:

Last year, Arnell Clark and his girlfriend, Mataele Robertson, moved their young family out of an East Palo Alto house because they could no longer afford the rent. The couple figured they’d get more room in a 34-foot recreational vehicle.

But the stigma hit hard. When they were renters, neighbors used to say hi. But in an RV on the street, “we’re invisible,” said 39-year-old Clark, a laid-off package handler. “It’s the unspoken that tells me how you feel.”

The solution: moving to a church parking lot. For months the couple have stationed their RV in the lots of local churches. They are currently on the East Palo Alto property of St. Samuel Church of God in Christ, an arrangement that Clark finds a blessing…

With no end in sight to soaring housing costs, several Bay Area faith organizations have become a sanctuary of sorts -- not just channeling donations and distributing food, but also offering a safe place for people living in cars or RVs. The arrangement has sometimes grated on neighbors, but for pastors, it’s simply an extension of their mission to serve humanity.

The newspaper offers a list of churches -– mainly in Silicon Valley -– that are letting either RVs or people sleeping in their cards take up space in their lots.

The "Safe Parking" sign that introduces this post is from Morgan Hill Bible Church that's well to the south of San Jose. Back to the feature itself:

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Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Episcopal cathedral plans Beyonce 'Mass'? California media fall over themselves praising it

Every so often, a piece crosses one’s desk that makes you wonder how journalism has survived up to this point.

Puff news coverage of a “Beyonce Mass” does leave one shaking one's head. How, you wonder, can a singer better known for quadruple platinum albums be associated with the holiest rite in Christianity?

Answer: When the host organization is San Francisco’s Grace Episcopal Cathedral and the music critic penning the piece doesn’t know much about religion.

Here’s what appeared recently in the San Jose Mercury News:

For die-hard fans, the words “worship” and “Beyonce” have gone together for years.
Yet, probably not like this:
San Francisco’s stunningly beautiful Grace Cathedral will host a contemporary worship program featuring the music of Beyonce on April 25. This “Beyonce Mass,” which is part of the church’s Wednesday night The Vine service series, is at 6:30 p.m. and admission is free. No, the megastar won’t be there -- at least in person.
“Beyoncé? At church? That’s right!” says an announcement on the church’s website. “Come to The Vine SF to sing your Beyoncé favorites and discover how her art opens a window into the lives of the marginalized and forgotten -- particularly black females.”

(In response to that, redstate.com sarcastically noted: Surely the poor and marginalized will be so relieved to know there’s a church out there brave enough to let one of the richest women in America speak for them.”)

Now, a Mass is a specific rite in a specific denomination: The Roman Catholic Church. Grace Cathedral is Episcopal, not Catholic. There are conservative Anglo-Catholics who frequently use the term "Mass" in an Episcopal context, but -- obviously -- that is not what we are dealing with here.

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Friday Five: YouTube shooter, Pearl Joy, Trump's Latino adviser, a mom's Easter Taser and more

Friday Five: YouTube shooter, Pearl Joy, Trump's Latino adviser, a mom's Easter Taser and more

After a woman named Nasim Najafi Aghdam shot and wounded three people at YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, Calif., before killing herself this week, the San Francisco Chronicle had an excellent angle for a meaty religion story.

The Chronicle reported on what its headline characterized as "a troubling rush" by social media users to view the shooter as "driven by faith."

To some extent, this was a typical "Muslim backlash" story — the kind that often make headlines after someone of the Islamic faith is involved in an attack such as this.

But there was a major problem with the online rush to judgment, as the Chronicle noted: 

In the end, investigators said the shooter, Nasim Aghdam, was angry about YouTube’s “policies and practices” — a message echoed by her family. And her videos reportedly included messages describing herself as of the Baha’i faith — a religious minority in Iran.
The same pattern has often emerged following mass violence — a wave of presumptions that the incident is linked to a perpetrator’s religious practices, assumed to be Islam. Muslim Americans, and others, see a profoundly unsettling routine.
“It’s sad to see how some people are literally giddy rather than somber after a shooting when they can exploit the tragedy to further their racist agenda,” said Dalia Mogahed, research director for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a think tank in Washington, D.C., that seeks to empower American Muslims.

It's an interesting piece, although I wish the paper had identified the social media offenders rather than referring to them in vague, anonymous terms.

Meanwhile, let's dive into the Friday Five:

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Yes, there's a religion 'ghost' haunting news coverage of Kate Steinle's family and faith

Yes, there's a religion 'ghost' haunting news coverage of Kate Steinle's family and faith

The tragic shooting death of Kathryn "Kate" Steinle on a San Francisco pier some 30 months ago stunned the nation and help inspire some of the rhetoric in Donald Trump's 2016 White House campaign. At the end of November, a San Francisco jury failed to convict Jose Ines Garcia Zarate, who was in the United States illegally, of either murder or manslaughter, setting off another firestorm.

That's the public story. But what of the personal story, the family story? Steinle's family has been vocal about their loss in 2015 and, to an extent, the verdict in Zarate's trial. But, both in 2015 and now, there's what we at GetReligion call a "ghost" -- a missing religion angle -- hovering around the edges of coverage discussing how the family is making sense of the senseless.

The journalism issue: For a profession so keen on detail, I've found multiple instances of reporters not asking the kind of "who, what, when, where, why" questions normally answered in such reporting. It's downright puzzling.

Most recently, the San Francisco Chronicle, via editorial page editor John Diaz, gave us some insights. Even though the piece appeared on the opinion pages, it reads very much like a news feature, since no "opinion" from Diaz or the paper is expressed there.

So here is my question: Where is the hard-news coverage of this angle of the story in the mainstream press, especially in papers out West?

The Chronicle headline stated: "Exclusive: Kate Steinle’s family talks about the anguish and frustration." The passage relevant to this discussion appears more than 20 paragraphs into the story:

Now and then an acquaintance would angrily suggest that Kate’s killer should be executed and ask: “What do you think, Jim?”

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News question: Why are statues of this saint going the way of Confederate monuments?

News question: Why are statues of this saint going the way of Confederate monuments?

First, it was the defacing (or removing) of Confederate statues in the East and South.

Now it’s the defacing and vandalism of St. Junipero Serra statues in the West. This is a comparatively new wrinkle in the news -- this trend of destroying the symbols of history with which one doesn’t personally agree. I wonder if such vandalism is the new normal. This certainly raises reporting questions for journalists covering this kind of story.

For the latest on what’s happening in California, we turn to various local media on how they’ve covered the latest incidents. First, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

A bronze statue of the Roman Catholic priest Junipero Serra at the Old Santa Barbara Mission was decapitated and doused with red paint on Sunday night or early Monday morning.
The statue, on the western side of the Central Coast property near the mission's office, has since been covered with a tarp. The Santa Barbara mission has been called the "Queen of the Missions."
The statue was vandalized in a similar fashion as another Father Serra statue in Monterey last year. That figure, which was beheaded but not painted, has since been repaired. Another, in Santa Cruz, was vandalized with the word "genocide" in late 2015.

Then comes a tiny piece of background:

Serra was a Franciscan friar in the 18th century who founded nine of the state's 21 missions. He was canonized as a saint in 2015 by Pope Francis -- a decision that met criticism by those who believe Serra unfairly treated Native Americans. Some say that Serra "imposed" Christianity upon natives, forcing them convert and then work on building missions while relinquishing their traditions, customs, dress, and language in favor of Spanish ones. 

The article ends soon after that, with no quotes from anyone (the local Catholic diocese, for instance) decrying the vandalism and the assumptions that led up to it.

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Persecuted Chaldeans: San Diego Union-Tribune delivers an Easter story with content

Persecuted Chaldeans: San Diego Union-Tribune delivers an Easter story with content

At the newspapers I used to work on, I was responsible for coming up with a splashy feature each year for Easter day. At one point, I used this opportunity to hit up my employers for business trips, such as a trip to New Mexico in 1998 for the country’s largest pilgrimage at Chimayo, just north of Santa Fe. But it never occurred to me to not have a story, as the big religious holidays were my chance to get above the fold on A1.

So this year, I surveyed a bunch of California newspapers to see which ones had made any effort to provide decent Easter coverage. The Orange County Register covered a cowboy service and a sunrise service; in other words, the minimum. 

The San Bernardino Sun covered how the local Catholic bishop did not preach on the previous week’s shootings that left a student and teacher dead and a student wounded. A story about the Easter Bunny got better play. The Sacramento Bee had an opinion column on the difficulties of explaining the Easter Bunny to foreigners. Chances are those foreigners, like the Chaldeans, knew more about Christ and the Resurrection than the Easter rabbit. 

The San Francisco Chronicle barely gave lip service to two sunrise services while devoting much of its Easter wrap-up to a Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence event featuring a contest for the best Hunky Jesus and Foxy Mary. 

I could find nothing in the Los Angeles Times other than a San Diego Union Tribune story that I’ll get to in a minute. The Ventura County Star had nothing. But the Redding Record-Searchlight had several over the weekend: An account of Easter at two local churches and the recreation of Christ’s walk to the cross by several Hispanic churches. Redding is the site of the enormous Bethel Church so religion is important to much of the local populace.

Back to the Tribune’s story on the local Chaldeans, 60,000 of whom live in their circulation area.

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No pro-lifers? Journalists find that Women's March on Washington doesn't want them

No pro-lifers? Journalists find that Women's March on Washington doesn't want them

When I first moved to Washington, D.C. in 1995, one of my first assignments was to cover the annual March For Life that commemorates the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

It was around that time that the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians asked to be a part of the march, only to have its chief organizer tell them they weren’t welcome.

Everyone I knew disagreed with this organizer –- who has since died -– because most people felt abortion was so evil, there needed to be a much larger coalition opposed to it other than the usual suspects. The PLAGL folks marched anyway and they were welcomed, as far as I know. They have been marching for years, now.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, culturally speaking.

The Women’s March on Washington, slated for this Saturday, was supposed to be about women, right? It turns out access to abortion is one of the basic principles in this march, which, The Atlantic reported Monday, puts one group of women in a bind.

Pro-life women are headed to D.C. Yes, they’ll turn out for the annual March for Life, which is coming up on January 27. But one week earlier, as many as a few hundred pro-lifers are planning to attend the Women’s March on Washington, which has been billed as feminist counterprogramming to the inauguration.
With organizations like Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America co-sponsoring the event, pro-life marchers have found themselves in a somewhat awkward position. What’s their place at an event that claims to speak for all women, but has aligned itself with pro-choice groups? With roughly a week to go before the march, organizers also released a set of “unity principles,” and one of them is “open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people.”

Nevertheless, the magazine reported, organizers had originally granted a pro-life group partner status in the rally. But once that news got leaked out, the organizers did an about face.

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