The Seattle Times

In Washington state, humans can be turned into compost (Catholics have a problem with that)

In Washington state, humans can be turned into compost (Catholics have a problem with that)

It’s never boring living in Washington state, the land of legalized marijuana, orcas, lots of rain, a quasi-socialist city government and now the chance to become at one with the soil — extra quick.

Literally. We’re the first state to legalize human composting.

It’s not quite “Soylent Green” (the 1973 dystopian movie where dead people are made into food for a starving world), but it feels like a step in that direction. Some are calling it the chance to have “a better, greener death.”

This slogan goes better with some religions than others. The Christian flocks with ancient roots have lots of problems with this,

Let’s start with how the Seattle Times reported on it:

On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed SB 5001, “concerning human remains,”making Washington the first state in the U.S. to legalize human composting.

The law, which takes effect May 1, 2020, recognizes “natural organic reduction” and alkaline hydrolysis (sometimes called “liquid cremation”) as acceptable means of disposition for human bodies. Until now, Washington code had permitted only burial and cremation.

It’s part of a project called “Recompose,” also known as the Urban Death Project before being renamed, for obvious reasons.

The Recompose model is more like an urban crematorium (bodies go in, remains come out), but using the slower, less carbon-intensive means of “organic reduction,” or composting.

The process, which involves using wood chips, straw and other materials, takes about four weeks and is related to methods of “livestock composting” that ranchers and farmers have been using for several years. Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, a soil scientist at Washington State University, says that practice can turn a 1,500-pound steer — bones and all — into clean, odorless soil in a matter of months.

So that’s what farmers do with all those dead cows and horses. Do you get to tell your family where “you” get to be planted once you’ve turned into dirt? With the tomatoes out back? In the front flower bed?

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Given the byline on this profile of radio personality Delilah, it's no surprise that it gets religion

Given the byline on this profile of radio personality Delilah, it's no surprise that it gets religion

Radio personality Delilah Rene is the queen of sappy love songs and dedications.

When my kids were younger and still rode in the same vehicle as me, we’d always listen to the “Delilah” show. Alternately, we’d be touched by her heartwarming stories and chuckle at her willingness to dole out relationship advice after multiple failed marriages.

Last year, I pitched the idea of an interview about her faith — something that was evident on the show but about which I’d never heard much — to a national editor I know. But I got no bite.

So I was pleased this week to see an in-depth profile of Rene in the Seattle Times — and one that delves nicely into the radio host’s faith.

Grab a tissue before diving in:

IT HAS BEEN more than a year since he left her: the carefree 18-year-old son with the tousled hair and crooked grin.

Zachariah Miguel Rene-Ortega’s ashes are buried under an apple tree in a planting bed shaped like a tear. “Zack’s Grove” also includes Greensleeves dogwoods, two fig trees and a wooden bus shelter with a sign stenciled in white: “Every hour I need Thee.” Scattered about the grove are little talismans left by his friends.

Zack’s mother is Delilah Rene, the most-listened-to woman in American radio. She lives with her large family on a 55-acre Port Orchard farm, along with one zebra, three emus, three dogs, four pigs, five sheep, six cats, 30 goats and dozens of chickens. A remodeled 1907 farmhouse on the property serves as her six-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home. A multiwindowed turret on the second floor is set aside for prayer. This farm is where Zack grew up and made friends with local kids who still come over.

“Stuff just shows up,” Delilah says, standing in the rain at the grove. “I come out here and find little tokens, mementos, stakes and flags.”

She still dreams of Zack: happy, beautiful, ageless.

When asked how she gets through each day’s mix of regret and sadness, she mentions God. “I know he’s with Him,” she says. “And when my time comes, I’ll be with him.”

No, this writer isn’t afraid of faith — even complicated faith — which will become more clear if you read the whole piece in the Times’ Pacific NW Magazine.

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The Seattle Times waxes lyrical about anti-Trump 'Chick tracts' created by 'Patriotic Christians'

The Seattle Times waxes lyrical about anti-Trump 'Chick tracts' created by 'Patriotic Christians'

It’s not often that you read a religion story in the Seattle Times arts and entertainment section, but on Tuesday, there appeared this feature on about a pair of local artists — they are self-identified as “Patriotic Christians” — who put out “tracts” satirizing President Donald Trump.

Which raises some questions. What if a group was distributing tracts making fun of someone else, ie former President Barack Obama or “crooked Hillary”? Would it be a cute political joke still or would they be racist or sexist screeds?

Is it safe to only mock someone like Trump — and his supporters, of course — but no one else? And should a story of this kind include people who are offended by these products?

The article is clever, I do admit.

Little Dickie Glitz was born rich. His parents gave him lots of stuff, but he was never satisfied and always hollered for more. His parents were lax in the manners department, so Dickie earned a reputation as the loud, spoiled neighborhood brat. The other kids didn’t like to play with Dickie — every time he started losing a game, he stormed away, yelling: “I quit! This game is rigged!”

These habits continued into adulthood, and Dickie became a rich, arrogant loudmouth who made a deal with a devilish-looking guy (who bore a striking resemblance to Vladimir Putin) and somehow got elected President of the United States.

That’s the basic narrative arc of “I’m Rich!,” a roughly 3-by-5-inch comic-book tract printed on cheap, newspaper-grade paper and lightly sprinkled with gallows-humor wit and relevant Bible verses: “You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24), “Everyone who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5), “Beware! Keep yourselves from covetousness” (Luke 12:15).

“I’m Rich!” and its companion tract (“Good Morning Amerika”) were created and published by an enigmatic group called Patriotic Christians for a Better America (PCBA), who have been anonymous — until now. (Its national headquarters is in a cozy house in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)

As the story goes on, I learn some facts about the artists and see examples of their work.

But here is a very important journalism issue: Readers are never told, or shown, what sort of Christianity they follow, much less how they are “patriotic Christians.”

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LGBTQ redux: Seattle Times leans left while covering church struggles over the issue

LGBTQ redux: Seattle Times leans left while covering church struggles over the issue

On Sunday morning, the Seattle Times ran this story: “ ‘I am a gay Christian’: Debates about LGBTQ acceptance roil Seattle-area non-profits, churches.”

It was an even-handed headline, in the online version.

But in the print version, which was just above the fold on A1, the headline was: “When religion discriminates: LGBTQ debate roils faith groups.”

Reporters have no control over headlines, so this one inadvertently let us know what direction the story was going: Traditional religious groups are inherently discriminatory.

I am glad the Times tackled this, as it is a real issue here in the Pacific Northwest (even though as of Sunday night it only ranked third in reader viewership, after stories about an alleged remnant of an alien civilization and the burst water pipes that will happen if Seattle has an earthquake like Anchorage did last week).

But one does tire of the black/white view some reporters adopt. Which is: Liberal religious folks are good. Conservative believers are jerks.

Let me point readers to a multi-faceted story on the Christian music scene in Seattle that appeared three years ago this month in the Stranger, not a publication that is pro-faith by any means. Both sides were represented accurately and sympathetically.

So it is possible, but I can’t say the Times reporter did the same. Her article begins:

As board president of World Concern, Jun Young was a believer.

He felt called to the Christian development agency’s mission, spoke about it to donors, traveled to Sri Lanka to see the work up close and donated tens of thousands of dollars through his public relations company, Zum Communications.

“You are beloved.” That’s the message he said Shoreline-based World Concern imparts to marginalized people around the world. “I so believe in that. And I still do. It pains me that I can’t be part of that.”

This summer, parent organization CRISTA Ministries — a more than $100-million operation that runs schools, retirement communities and radio stations in addition to its international relief work — told Young he would not be invited to serve a second, 3-year term on its board or World Concern’s.

At 45, he had just unearthed a secret he had kept even from himself: He was gay.

The story then introduces us to two local Christian organizations who’ve been struggling with the issue.

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The death of a U.S. missionary: Was John Allen Chau's effort mere imperialism?

The death of a U.S. missionary: Was John Allen Chau's effort mere imperialism?

A few days ago, when news was dribbling out about a hapless American Christian missionary speared to death on an Indian island, I figured the story would be just a blip in the daily news flow.

Since then, a geyser of coverage of enveloped this story; not only about the slain man himself, but on the justifications used for missionaries being there in the first place. For some journalists, this has turned into another opportunity to bash missionaries, especially evangelicals, with one-sided stories that feature major holes, in terms of content.

Being that the John Allen Chau was from the southern half of Washington state, the Seattle Times (my local paper) has been full of coverage from the Associated Press.

SEATTLE (AP) — John Allen Chau spent summers alone in a California cabin as a wilderness emergency responder, led backpacking expeditions in the Northwest’s Cascade Mountains, almost lost his leg to a rattlesnake bite, and coached soccer for poor children in Iraq and South Africa.

But kayaking to a remote Indian island, home to a tribe known for attacking outsiders with bows and arrows, proved an adventure too far for the avid outdoorsman and Christian missionary. Police said Wednesday that he had been killed, and authorities were working with anthropologists to try to recover his body from North Sentinel, in the Andaman Islands.

“Words cannot express the sadness we have experienced about this report,” his family said in a statement posted on his Instagram account. “He loved God, life, helping those in need, and had nothing but love for the Sentinelese people.”

Since his Nov. 16 death, everyone has gotten in on this story either to editorialize on what those stupid missionaries are doing in parts of the world that clearly don’t want them or to puzzle out what drove a healthy 26-year-old to face certain death.

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Seattle Times tells winsome story of a year of Jubilee and generous Pentecostal landlords

Seattle Times tells winsome story of a year of Jubilee and generous Pentecostal landlords

It was the kind of story I rarely see in the Seattle Times.

We’re talking about a religion piece that is, well, positive about people with strong religious beliefs.

In recent years, religion headlines were mostly about Mark Driscoll, the former pastor of Mars Hill, once the city’s largest church. The rise and fall of that congregation left a sour taste in the mouths of many who wanted faith to not be so poisonous.

In this story written by the newspaper’s real estate writer –- the Seattle Times does not have a religion reporter –- we hear about how a pair of Pentecostal Christians are employing an Old Testament rule that dates back at least 3,000 years to apply to the 21st century.

Husband and wife Kory Slaatthaug and Mickey Bambrick are landlords. For the past half-century, Slaatthaug’s family has owned a small apartment building in Greenwood named for the Norwegian town where Kory’s father grew up.

They’re also devout Pentecostal Christians. When Slaatthaug, a 74-year-old retired carpenter, does repairs at the building, he drives there in a Jeep with a 4-foot-tall Bible on top.

The Old Testament has a passage about the year of jubilee — every 50 years, debts are to be forgiven.

So Slaatthaug and Bambrick are celebrating the family’s 50 years as property owners by doing something unheard of for a landlord: For the month of November, everyone in the 11-unit building goes rent-free.

Which is about $15,000 out of their bank account. Apparently the reporter spotted the story on Reddit and realized this couple’s complex is in a very nice section of Seattle. The couple apparently can’t afford the city’s stratospheric rents themselves; they live two counties away in Mt. Vernon, Wash.

But the property referred to in the article is worth $1.3 million, which they will hopefully get when it comes time to sell.

The jubilee-year reference that inspired the gift comes from Leviticus 25. It describes a process whereby slaves would be freed and debts would be forgiven every 50 years in ancient Israel.

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Muslim reporter helps the Seattle Times grasp the complexity of Ramadan in schools

Muslim reporter helps the Seattle Times grasp the complexity of Ramadan in schools

While zipping through the Seattle Times website for stories about religion, which are usually scarce, what should appear but a piece about how local schools are adapting to students who observe Ramadan while playing sports and attending graduation ceremonies.

The article showed an insider knowledge of local Muslims, a group most reporters would not have access to. It's pretty obvious when you are dealing with a reporter who is getting the details and facts right.

Investigating further, I saw one of the writers, Dahlia Bazzazz, is not only Muslim herself, but her family was from Iraq. She was born in Oregon, grew up close to my alma mater (Lewis & Clark College in Portland) and was editor-in-chief of the Daily Emerald, the student newspaper for the University of Oregon.

More recently, she’s been covering the education beat for the Seattle Times, which is how she came to write this:

As Renton High School seniors walked across the graduation stage on Wednesday, fellow graduate Sawda Mohamed stayed home with her family.

The 18-year-old had purchased her cap and gown, but earlier in the school year decided to skip the ceremony. Despite her mother’s protest, Mohamed described her choice as a fitting end to years of frustration she experienced in a school system she felt had little respect for her Muslim faith.

“Honestly, because everything I’ve dealt with in the past, just let it be,” Mohamed said earlier this week. “I bought the cap and gown for memories of the hard work and everything I accomplished, but it’s just not worth it at this point.”

This year, the most stressful time of the school year coincided with the holiest time for Mohamed: Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for a month in order to focus on spiritual growth, family and charity.

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Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

Drag show at Jesuit university gets a yawn (mostly) from mainstream press in Seattle

Last Saturday was religion day at The Seattle Times; no small thing in that the paper hasn’t had a religion reporter in several years.

There was a poll piece on how irreligious Washington state residents are becoming. Then a short piece on the fate of a historic black church:

Then there was an attention-grabbing piece about a drag show at a local Jesuit college.

Your head spins. A what?

Which is why most reporters would like to take a crack at the story. But is it news any longer that Jesuit colleges do crazy things?

Not really. Some of you may have read what Rod Dreher wrote about the drag show, but the Times had to wait for something to actually newsy to happen. Then a professor stole copies of the student newspaper that reported on the show. That was news.

Thus, the Times wrote: 

The photo of the Seattle University student performing at a drag show in a low-cut, sparkly leotard was well lit and captured the performer mid-pose.

The editors of the university’s student newspaper The Spectator say it’s a good photo, one that they don’t regret putting on the cover of last week’s edition.

That puts them at odds with the university’s president, who called the photo “obscene,” and at least one professor, who admitted to removing every copy of the newspaper from the stands at three separate locations on the campus.

The lede is kind of stodgy, as the real story is about the professor who stole the papers.

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Can a new Amazon HQ liberalize a devout, red-state America? The Washington Post weighs in

Can a new Amazon HQ liberalize a devout, red-state America? The Washington Post weighs in

It has been fun following Amazon’s search for a new headquarters city in the past few months. 

On Saturday, while waiting for my kid’s soccer game to finish, I dashed into the local (Seattle suburb) Starbucks for a quick pickup when what should I see on the front page of the Seattle Times, but a piece by the Washington Post: “The unspoken factor in Amazon’s search for a new home: Jeff Bezo’s support for gay rights.”

Well, you heard it here first.

As tmatt suggested in January, Amazon may use its massive influence to persuade certain red-state cities to soften up their stance on certain culture wars issues (ie transgender people and public restroom access) to be awarded the title of HQ2. I wrote a similar post in February after the list of the 20 finalist cities was published. And you know what? We were right.

What’s interesting in this latest installment of the Amazon-needs-a-new-home saga is that the religious element is front and center:

When Amazon executives recently toured the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one of 20 finalists for a second company headquarters, local officials touted its growing workforce and low taxes as perfectly suited to accommodate 50,000 planned Amazon jobs.

But the local team also brought an unexpected guest: the Rev. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas, pastor of a predominantly gay megachurch in Dallas. He impressed upon the Amazon representatives how inclusive and welcoming the community has been to him, his husband and the 4,000 congregants at his church, according to people familiar with the meeting.

In the high-stakes contest to become Amazon’s new location, it may have been a shrewd move. Although the company’s search materials don’t make it explicit, Amazon has quietly made rights for and acceptance of gay and transgender people part of its criteria in choosing a second headquarters, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to talk freely.

Cazares-Thomas pastors Cathedral of Hope, a United Church of Christ congregation, for those of you interested in such fact-driven religious details.

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