liturgical calendar

Predator priests: CNN notes pope is silent on (a) secular holiday or (b) holy day celebrating purity?

Predator priests: CNN notes pope is silent on (a) secular holiday or (b) holy day celebrating purity?

Every reporter knows this truth: The typical news story -- even a longer feature -- doesn't have room for every single detail that you want to include.

Ah, but how do you decide which details make the cut? 

In my experience, reporters and editors think about the potential audience for a particular story. On the religion beat, I have always assumed that there is a good chance that people who read religion stories care about the religious details -- especially when they serve as symbols of major themes in the story. I also love details in liturgies, hymns, biblical texts, etc., that offer poignant or even ironic twists on the news.

This brings me to a rather angry note that I received from a reader -- a nationally known historian, who will remain anonymous -- about a symbolic detail in a CNN report linked to the stunning Pennsylvania grand-jury report covering seven decades of Catholic priestly sexual abuse in six Pennsylvania dioceses. The CNN.com headline: "Critics slam Vatican's 'disturbing' silence on abuse cover-ups."

The CNN report noted that Paloma Ovejero, deputy director of the Vatican's press office, simply said: "We have no comment at this time." Meanwhile, U.S. bishops of all stripes have urged Pope Francis to speak out. That led to this passage, with an expert academic voice offering commentary:

"The silence from the Vatican is disturbing," said Massimo Faggioli, a theology professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania. "I don't think the Pope necessarily has to say something today. He needs time to understand the situation. But someone from the Vatican should say something." 

Faggioli noted that Wednesday is a national holiday in Italy, and many church offices are closed. But he also noted that it was well-known that Pennsylvania's grand jury report, which was in the works since 2016, would be released on Tuesday. 

"I don't think they understand in Rome that this is not just a continuation of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States," Faggioli said. "This is a whole different chapter. There should be people in Rome telling the Pope this information, but they are not, and that is one of the biggest problems in this pontificate -- and it's getting worse."

Ah, what was this national holiday? 

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Here is a good question about something familiar: Why do Christian clergy wear black?

Here is a good question about something familiar: Why do Christian clergy wear black?

THE QUESTION: So, the question of why Christian clergy often wear black was posed to The Religion Guy during a conversation a while ago. The thought had never occurred to me. So this is a good example of things we tend to take for granted and don’t think about. Thus it makes a good “Religion Q & A” topic. (Please feel free to submit your own questions at any time by clicking right here.)

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER: Black is becoming the new black. In recent days we’ve seen members of Congress attending the president’s State of the Union address, and preening showbiz celebrities at the Golden Globe awards, wearing that color (or non-color) to proclaim their solidarity with victims of sexual harassment and the burgeoning #MeToo cause.

The House Democratic Women’s Working Group invited women and men of both political parties to participate. One leader, California Congresswman Jackie Speier, said “this is a culture change that is sweeping the country, and Congress is embracing it.”

One year ago this same Working Group urged members to wear white during President Trump’s address to Congress in order to broadcast their support for “reproductive rights” (the favored euphemism for abortion), Planned Parenthood, equal pay, paid maternity leave, and affordable health and child-care coverage from the government.

The black of 2018 carries a suggestion of sorrow, since black is the color traditionally worn by people in mourning or repenting of their past sins (the biblical sackcloth and ashes having long gone out of style).

Then we have the question at hand, that longstanding tradition of Christian clergy wearing black, not to demonstrate alignments but as everyday garb.

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What do you know? Washington Post runs 'news you can use' feature about real St. Nicholas

What do you know? Washington Post runs 'news you can use' feature about real St. Nicholas

First things first: A blessed Feast of the Nativity to one and all, especially for those in church traditions that follow the liturgical calendar rather than the calendar of the Chamber of Commerce. Christmas is here and, well, Donald Trump has nothing to do with it.

So, thinking about church history, I was worried when I saw a Washington Post analysis piece with a headline that proclaimed: "Five myths about Saint Nick."

I was, of course, worried about that word "myth." Quite frankly, I was worried -- in the context of St. Nicholas of Myra -- about either of the most common definitions of this term:

1. A traditional story, especially one concerning the early history of a people or explaining some natural or social phenomenon, and typically involving supernatural beings or events. ...
2. A widely held but false belief or idea.

As an Eastern Orthodox Christian, calling St. Nicholas of Myra a "myth" is, well, fightin' words. At the same time, connecting the secular superhero named Santa with St. Nicholas the saint would present trouble for other people. I've written a whole lot about both sides of that tension (click here for more).

Some Orthodox folks might quibble with a few words of this piece, written by Adam C. English, a Christian studies professor at Campbell University, a Baptist campus in in North Caroline. He is the author of “The Saint Who Would Be Santa Claus: The True Life and Trials of Nicholas of Myra.”

However, the big idea of this piece is spot on: Yes, there is a real St. Nicholas. However, he is not the man at the shopping mall.

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Glitter and ashes, bikinis and other adventures in news about 'American Lent'

Glitter and ashes, bikinis and other adventures in news about 'American Lent'

So let's say that you are a religion-beat reporter and your editor assigns you to do a news feature about Lent, beginning with the Ash Wednesday rites found in Western Christian traditions.

What are the questions that you need to ask at that point?

That's where this week's "Crossroads" podcast starts, spinning out of my recent post with this headline: "Live coverage of Ash Wednesday stories? Be on alert for ironic theological twists out there." Click here to tune that in.

A savvy religion-beat reporter would -- first thing -- try to find out what the editor means when she or he says the word "Lent."

Are we talking about Roman Catholic Lent? Pre- or post-Vatican II? Fasting or no fasting?

Are we talking about Anglican Lent? Lutheran Lent? Yes, there is such a thing in some congregations, on the doctrinal left and right. How about Eastern Orthodox Lent, in which many believers -- on the fasting side of things -- basically go vegan for the whole season? (By the way, who can name the rite that opens Lent among the Orthodox?)

Here is the key: Is the editor talking about what I call "American Lent," which basically allows a person to create their own version of the season. That's the whole "give up one thing for Lent" thing. The problem is that the ancient rites and traditions of Lent are not -- to say the least -- an exercise in American individualism. Just the opposite.

You see, there is a good chance that the editor may actually want a story that is FUNNY, not solemn. The editor may want "10 hip things for Millennials to give up for Lent in 2017" (I suggest kale or skinny jeans). Somehow, Lent has turned into a novelty story. Here's the tone at The New York Daily News:

If you notice people walking around with smudges on their forehead today, don't be alarmed: It's Ash Wednesday. (It's definitely not schmutz, so please don't try to rub it off of anyone.)

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Final nod to confusing themes in Christmas coverage: Time finds that 'Joy to the World' is about Santa?

Final nod to confusing themes in Christmas coverage: Time finds that 'Joy to the World' is about Santa?

A final Merry Christmas to any readers out there who are on the Western calendar and preparing for services tonight or tomorrow for Epiphany (or Theophany among the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics). The 12 days of Christmas are past, unless you are in an old-calendar Orthodox parish that celebrates Christmas on Jan. 7th. We can expect a few news reports on that tradition in the next few days, as always.

Still, we are at the end of Christmas for readers who follow Christian traditions, as opposed to the calendar of the dominant mall culture. With that in mind, let me give a shout out to those of you who sent me email about a truly interesting, if bizarre, little item from the Time online site. I'll slip this one in, right at the last minute.

The goal in this piece was to try to draw a line between the secular and sacred, when it comes to Christmas music. The headline: "TIME crunches the merry numbers behind the most popular Christmas songs of the modern era." The goal, through the study of commercial recordings since 1978, was said to be separating the sacred ("songs about the birth of Christ") from the commercial or secular (songs "about Santa and snow").

You can see the confusion that's ahead for readers, right? Time was defining secular and sacred according to function, not content.

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Hail Epiphany and farewell to Christmas (and white Santas)

First things first: I hope that readers who are into that whole Christian calendar had a great 12 days of the real Christmas season, as opposed to the six or seven weeks of whatever that is that ends with an explosion of wrapping paper on Dec. 25. So this brings us to the great Feast of Epiphany, which in our ancient churches is the second most important day on the calendar after Easter/Pascha. More important than Christmas? Well, it’s hard to rank these things, but the key element of this day — marking the baptism of Jesus — is the scriptural account of the revealing of the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. That’s big. In the West, the feast tends to focus on the arrival of the Three Kings at the cradle of Jesus.

To my surprise, Epiphany has been getting a bit more news ink in recent years (surf this search-engine file for a current sample).

Personally, I think it’s the whole photo-op principle at work. I mean, who doesn’t want to show up to put the following into shivering pixels?

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Everything you know about Christmas is wrong

George just posted about an old story being rehashed for Christmas, which reminded me that the regular attempts to debunk Christianity around its holy days has become my favorite tradition. What would Christmas and Easter be like without a semi-blasphemous newsweekly magazine cover questioning some central tenet of the religion?

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Xmas quiet in Jerusalem? Check the Julian calendar

Along with millions of other Americans, I am on the road this fine Christmas Day. Thus, when checking into a typical American hotel, I was immediately presented with the Holiday edition of USA Today.

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Here I stand: Martin Luther on film

So while the rest of you are focused on Halloween, we Lutherans are busy celebrating Reformation Day. To be sure, some churches moved their celebrations to earlier in the month or last Sunday, but my congregation is keeping it real with services at 7:00 PM tonight.

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