Friday Five: Trump's Christmas, Hatmaker's critics, Dallas monks, remote Catholic places and more

Friday Five: Trump's Christmas, Hatmaker's critics, Dallas monks, remote Catholic places and more

It's Friday again.

At least I think it's Friday. I've been on vacation all week celebrating Christmas, and I've mostly lost track of what day it is.

"Nobody knows what day of the week it is," John Mayer tweeted earlier this week. "Any attempt to answer is mere bluster and bravado. It’s just dark and not 2018 yet."

But I just checked the calendar and confirmed — just to make sure — that it's time for another Friday Five.

Here goes:

1. Religion story of the week: I'll admit that I haven't paid a lot of attention to the news this week — religion related or otherwise. Please refer to my earlier note about vacation (albeit not at GetReligion, which naps but never sleeps).

However, here's a well-done story I did catch (and highlighted in a post) from PBS: "How the 'war on Christmas' became a political rallying cry."

2. Most popular GetReligion post: Julia Duin has our most-read post of the week: "Evangelical rebel Jen Hatmaker deserved more from Politico than a puff piece."


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Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

Mummies and saints: Scientists found 'dark,' 'secret' lair under church altar in Lithuania? Really?

If you know anything about the history of sacred architecture, you know there is nothing strange about believers being buried inside church sanctuaries.

In fact, there is an ancient tradition of celebrating the Mass on altars built directly on or over the tombs of saints (see the New Advent online Catholic Encyclopedia). In Eastern Orthodoxy, altars and sanctuaries still contain relics of the saints, usually fragments of bones. Consider this 2014 column I wrote about efforts to rebuild St. Nicholas Orthodox parish at Ground Zero in New York City.

Some people find these traditions creepy. But the whole idea was to link heaven and earth, for believers in this life to worship with the saints of old.

Perhaps this is rather advanced material, in terms of church history. Still, I assumed that some journalists (maybe even at the New York Times copy desk) would know that the altar of the most famous church on Planet Earth -- St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican -- is build directly over catacombs containing the tomb of St. Peter and other popes. Don't these people read Dan Brown novels?

I bring this up because of a strange passage in a recent Times science piece that ran with this double-decker headline:

The Mummies’ Medical Secrets? They’re Perfectly Preserved
Mummified bodies in a crypt in Lithuania are teaching scientists about health and disease among people who lived long ago.

As it turns out, the crypt in question is located underneath an altar in a Catholic church in Vilnius, Lithuania.

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Covering the new female Buddhist monks, which reminds AP of Catholic scandals

Covering the new female Buddhist monks, which reminds AP of Catholic scandals

When journalism professors discuss about the traditional American Model of the press, with its emphasis on accuracy, balance and a lack of editorializing, we often talk about how this model is demonstrated in the work of wire services.

In fact, in recent decades advocates of edgier, trendier news styles have often gone out of their way to contrast their "new journalism" philosophies with "mere" wire-service writing. You know, that old-school journalism with its emphasis on inverted-pyramid hard-news stories and a neutral, balanced approach to reporting that is supposed to serve the needs of readers in news sources across America and around the world?

But clearly, someone has been putting something in the water some folks are drinking in AP land, especially when it comes to coverage of religious and moral issues.

Consider this recent AP feature on the rise of female monastics or "bhikkhunis" in modern Buddhism. On the surface, the key journalistic issue here is whether AP editors will allow any voices in traditional Buddhism to speak in defense of their beliefs. Surprise! The answer is no. Only the advocates of women being allowed to serve as monks are interviewed. 

Then there is something else interesting going on in this story. Read carefully:

NAKHON PATHOM, Thailand (AP) -- On a rural road just after daybreak, villagers young and old kneel reverently before a single file of ochre-robed women, filling their bowls with rice, curries, fruits and sweets. In this country, it's a rare sight.
Thailand's top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks. They can only become white-cloaked nuns, who are routinely treated as domestic servants. Many here believe women are inferior beings who had better perform plenty of good deeds to ensure they will be reborn as men in their future lives.
Yet with the religion beset by lurid scandals, female monastics or "bhikkhunis" are emerging as a force for reform, not unlike activists in the Christian world seeking gender equality including ordination of women as priests in the Catholic Church.

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AP produces a nice feature on Episcopal monks' 'silent sanctuary,' but not without a few ghosts

AP produces a nice feature on Episcopal monks' 'silent sanctuary,' but not without a few ghosts

Fascinating subject. Nice writing. But there are a few religion ghosts to discuss.

That's my quick assessment of The Associated Press' feature this week on the "silent sanctuary" provided by a community of monks near Harvard Square. The lede:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Just blocks away from the bustling heart of this city, a community of monks offers a silent escape from it.
The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an order of Episcopal brothers, has kept a guesthouse at its monastery for decades to give outsiders a place to unplug and relax in a place of deep, serene quiet.
Behind the stone walls, idle chatter is taboo. Cellphone calls are to be taken outside, or not at all. Signs posted throughout the house ask guests to respect the quiet.
It all acts as a counterweight to the hurry-scurry of Harvard Square around the corner, where crowds of tourists jostle with Ivy League academics amid the clamor of street performers, vendors and the thrum of traffic.
On the edge of that worldly world, the black-cloaked brothers say their goal is to offer spaces of silence and simple comfort.
"It's a place of sanctuary where you can be safe, and you can actually unpack what may be the jumble of your life," said Brother Curtis Almquist, one of the resident monks.

Keep reading, and the AP offers a little more insight -- a little more -- into the motivations of the people who come:

The meditative hush of the monastery is popular with parish groups on retreat, but guests come for reasons both religious and otherwise.
Many skip the chapel's worship services to dive into a novel or a nap. A few visitors have confided to the brothers that they mostly needed a place to stay for a conference.
"We're delighted to welcome them," Almquist said. "I think life is full of very mixed motives all the time."

However, here's my obvious question: For those who come for religious reasons, what would examples of those reasons be?

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Got news? Prayers and poetry in the Ukraine standoff

The daily march of the headlines from Kiev continues. The other day, I offered up a post linked to an amazing Associated Press photo of a quarter of Orthodox Christians, including at least one priest and one monk, who put themselves in the line of fire in between a wall of riot police and the brick-tossing demonstrators. Click here to catch up on that.

I want to return to that subject for a moment (also watch for an upcoming Crossroads podcast with George Conger on Ukraine coverage), because several Orthodox readers of this site have sent me links to additional information about what is happening with those priests and monks. It appears that their public witness for peace is continuing?

As George has been stressing in his posts, it’s important to realize that — in part due to the complexities of post-Soviet life in this region — there are two major Eastern Orthodox bodies and hierarchies in Ukraine, one aligned with Russia and the other is an autonomous Ukrainian church.

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Dancing alone in that D.C. Franciscan hermitage?

Back in my Rocky Mountain News days, I covered an ecumenical gathering in Boulder, Colo., focusing on contemplative prayer and meditation. One of the main speakers was a leader at the Nada Carmelite monastic community — part of the Spiritual Life Institute — located in Crestone, Colo., at on the western face of the Sangre de Christo mountains.

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